Over a year ago, in the heat of the COVID-19 pandemic, I was designated as the next Bulgarian Ambassador to Hungary. At the time, there were not too many options to travel by air, so I decided to reach Budapest by car and this gave me the freedom to pick the date of my entry. In short, I began my new assignment on the memorable day – March 15, 2021 – as a first tribute to all my Hungarian friends.
Making local friends
Speaking of friends, I have to humbly admit that I am privileged to have made many throughout the places Destiny had taken me to. “Do like the locals do” is the first survival rule for any diplomat and key to quick adaptation and understanding of all processes that really matter at the new posting. If you are lucky, like me, to rely on age-old good Hungarian friends – and here I wish to particularly thank my dear and sincere friend Peter and his family – you can greatly benefit from drinking water directly from the well. Speaking of water-wells in Hungary, I am very proud to also mention the numerous water-fountains built by Bulgarians as per our tradition to pay tribute and to offer free access to the refreshing and cleansing powers of the running water (… but more about these I will share in another specially dedicated article).
As I was not so fortunate to get to learn the Hungarian language before my assignment, upon my arrival to Budapest, I had to sharpen all my senses and to employ all alternative means of communication in order to successfully interact and befriend Hungarians at all levels. Throughout my first year of breathing the Hungarian air, drinking the Hungarian water (…and wines) and eating the Hungarian bread (… which is uniquely diverse and delicious), I acquired even more friends who all made my life in Hungary so much more enjoyable, rewarding and with added new knowledge.
The cobblestone connection
In this new chapter of my life most memorable is the first Saturday in Budapest when my friend Peter invited me to join him for buying groceries at the Krisztina téri termelői piac (‘Krisztina Square Farmers' Market’), as early as 07.30 in the morning. This unique temporary farmers’ market, which emerges only on Saturday mornings in the shadow of the Our Lady of the Snows Parish Church, immediately enchanted me with its yellow ceramic cobblestones, which are exactly the same as the ones which pave the central part of the Bulgarian capital Sofia. These yellow cobblestones are indeed completely identical with the iconic pavement of Sofia, which were brought from Hungary in the beginning of the 19th century via freight trains traveling on the ‘Orient Express’ line and to date beautify Sofia’s central part.
A stage of sincere human interaction
On that frosty but sunny pre-Easter early morning began my direct acquaintance with real Hungary. Everyone at the market knew each other and it seemed that they came together not only to buy and sell, but rather to meet and enjoyably participate in a time-honored ritual. I could observe a trustful exchange of not only goods for money, but also of smiles, handshakes, jokes and small gestures. The market was the stage of that sincere human interaction which our hectic daily routines and tight agendas have been surely and steadily depleting.
As I like cooking and really care about the food and beverages to be offered to my family and friends and I also try to always shorten the distance from the farm to the fork, the Krisztina Square market became my new base. Here, I can find everything I need for the week. All products are 100% Hungarian – not only seasonal fruits and vegetables, but also farm milk and eggs, fresh and cured meats and variety of delicious cheeses and breads. Not to be missed are also the beautifully presented flowers, the spices, the pickles, the jams and the honeys. One interacts directly with the proud producers, there is no unnecessary packaging, no prefixed size or number – and all this gives me the pleasure of partnering with responsible and sustainable farmers. This market regularly supplies me also with the real feeling of the country. Nothing here can be faked or counter-faked.
The memory of Bulgarian gardeners
Furthermore, the Krisztina Square market experiences keep reminding me of the stories of the Bulgarian gardeners who have chosen Hungary as their place to work and live in the late 19th century. They have been both popular producers of vegetables through state-of-the-art methods of seeding and irrigation and retailers of their produce directly to the customers. They brought the seeds and their knowledge of when and how to plant them, when and how to water them, when and how to harvest them and when and how to bring them to the table of the Hungarian customers. I believe that this is the secret of the successful integration of the Bulgarian gardeners into the Hungarian society and this is why they were and still are so well accepted and respected by the Hungarians.
A market for all seasons
I have now resided for one complete year here in Budapest and have gained true experience of the cycle of Nature through the seasonal products offered at the Krisztina Square market. Easter is approaching again and I look forward to visiting the market where I will be looking for the traditional Hungarian Easter ham and horseradish to go with a loaf of fresh potato bread… and accompanied by a Hungarian white or rosé wine, or by a Bulgarian red (sorry – I believe we do somewhat better in this wine segment)…
Thank you, my dear Hungarian Friends!
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