Sopron Travel Blog

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Sopron 1982

One sunny morning in the late 1970s, I needed to make a telephone call to my friend Michael Jacobs, who was supposed to be in Budapest. I had just arrived in the town of Sopron in north-west Hungary. I made my way to the town’s large fin-de-siècle main post-office. In its entrance there were a number of coin operated public telephones, which I approached. These had instructions in Hungarian only, and did not look simple to operate. I decided to enter the main hall of the post-office to find a desk from which an operator would be able to put a call through for me. The large hall was surrounded by counters all of which bore labels in Hungarian.

Sopron 1982
Not one of these had words that resembled anything that I could recognise as being related to telephony.

I must have looked lost as I stood in the midst of the busy hall staring at words that made no sense to me. All of a sudden a youngish man dressed in a suit approached me, and addressed me in good English:

May I help you?”

I said that he could. He continued:

Today, is my day for helping foreigners.”

I explained what I wanted, and then he took me to one of the counters and spoke to the official behind its grille. My helper explained that I needed to pay what seemed to me to be quite a large amount of money. I did not quibble; I wanted to get through to Michael. After a few minutes, I was told that the call could not be made.  My money was not refunded.


Immediately after this abortive transaction was over, my new companion, Lajos by name, asked me:

You like wine?

I told him that I did, and he told me to come with him. He led me to a group of men dressed formally, and then said:

Meet my colleagues from Austrian Railways. They are spending the day here. Come with us.”

It was nearing lunchtime, and I had a concert ticket which I had bought on the previous day. The performance was due to begin soon, but I decided that I would risk missing this by joining Lajos and his ‘colleagues’.  Lajos led us to a large passenger van that bore the logo of Austrian Railways. We piled in, and were driven to a wine cellar in the historic centre of Sopron.

We sat at wooden tables in the gothic vaulted cellar.

Lajos made sure that I was seated next to him. By now, I was getting hungry. In front of us there were wooden platters laden with slices of salami and something that looked to me like white grated cheese. To assuage my hunger, I took a pinch of the white ‘cheese’ and popped it into my mouth. Immediately a searing sensation shot up through my cheeks towards my eyes. The ‘cheese’ was raw freshly grated horse-radish.

Soon, bottles of red wine were served. We all began drinking. The Austrians attacked the wine with gusto, many of them becoming merry remarkably quickly. Lajos, who was supposed to be hosting his ‘colleagues’ from across the border, ignored them. Instead, he concentrated on me.

It is so wonderful,” he said, pronouncing the ‘w’ like a ‘v’.


I nodded.

It is so wonderful,” he repeated, “You could have visited New York. You could have visited Paris. You could have visited Rome…”

He paused. For a moment, I thought that he would begin to cry, but he did not. Full of emotion, he continued:

Instead, you have visited our little Sopron. That is so wonderful.”

Not knowing how to reply to this, I continued sipping the Kekfrankos wine.

After a while, Lajos stood up. The Austrians raised themselves, some with difficulty, and followed Lajos to their van in order to return to Austria. After we had seen them off, Lajos took me to a shabby looking green minibus. He took the wheel and I sat beside him whilst he drove us to the edge of Sopron. We stopped outside a building, and then Lajos announced:

Hotel Lokomotiv.”

We entered what seemed to be some kind of club or recreation centre for railway workers, and took seats in its canteen. For the next couple of hours, Lajos continued to drink wine, but I moved on to carbonated soft drinks. Eventually, I decided that it was time to part from my new companion who was becoming increasingly incoherent. He said to me:

I will take you back to your rooms.”

Lajos, staggering badly, and I walked back towards the centre of Sopron. I, the stranger to the town, had to guide Lajos, the local, because it appeared that during the afternoon he had lost all sense of direction.

As we walked through the twilight, Lajos said to me:

Next time you are in Sopron you will stay at my house.”

I expressed my gratitude. He continued:

I will put wife in other bed, and you will sleep in mine.”

By the time that he had made this kind offer, I realised that we had reached the place where I was staying. I thanked Lajos, and left him to stagger back to wherever he and his wife lived.

On the next day, I entered a travel agent, and asked about ‘phoning Budapest. They put me through immediately, and charged me a small fraction of what I had paid on the previous day. On reflection, what I wasted in the post-office was easily compensated by my afternoon with Lajos..

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Sopron 1982
Sopron 1982
Sopron 1982
Sopron 1982
187 km (116 miles) traveled
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photo by: AdamR3723