It’s the start of our first full day in Hungary. By the time I woke, about 10:30, Dad had already been up, dressed, gone to the store, made breakfast and was ushering us into the kitchen [gently but with military style. All it lacked is the in your face barking]. This was particularly difficult for us as we usually need 20 minutes and 2 cups of (Canadian) coffee to fully wake the body, mind and soul and then sync all three into a cohesive sociable entity.
So I sat in the kitchen mustering all that I had into being sociable; all the while trying to hurry the syncing process. So Dad starts in a chipper tone, (he’s been up for 4 hours) “We have to get going so we need to pack everything and I’ll get the car from the underground and you bring the suitcases out to the curb…”; “…what curb”, I blurted, having only heard the last part of the chipper dissertation. After my 2 cups of coffee and 20 minutes of getting my “sh*t” together, I usually have breakfast which typically consist of juice, eggs any which way, and some protein like bacon, or sausage with some buttered rye bread toasted. So I’m looking around in the kitchen table for these life sustaining ingredients, none of which is to be found. So I asked; and Linda too was eagerly waiting for the answer, only to be shot down. I don’t have any coffee, but we do have tea. I hate tea! Linda was relieved as she is a tea granny. So as the tea arrives at the table, Dad asks Linda, “Do you want one or two lumps of sugar?”. “Oh I don’t take sugar, just a little milk, please” she requests. “Sorry I don’t have milk” I hate milk” he replies. After a five minute exchange over the lack of milk, we move on to the second hurdle. It was apparent that asking for eggs and bacon or sausages would have met with similar futility. We had toasted buns, (he doesn’t like bread) and we had option of cold cuts or a large variety of preserves to put on the toasted buns. I guess this was to be a modified continental breakfast. While there was also a wide selection of sours, this was our first hint of Dad’s addition to sugar. Breakfast came and went in relative quiet, conversationally at least. The self closing drawers and cupboard doors slamming shut and utensils dropping on the tile floors in random form made both Linda & me jump. The loud bangs didn’t phase Dad, as he is almost deaf.
Cleaning up after breakfast, closing up the couch and Murphy bed, packing and generally tidying up we were ready to move on to his house in Eger, some 120 km to the east of Budapest. He said he would get the car from the underground garage, all we had to do is bring the luggage to the curb.
As the car emerged up the parking ramp, I got the first glimpse of our transportation. It was a candy apple red SEAT Leon. That’s “a what?” I said. As it turns out its a Spanish derivative of a Fiat, about the same size as a Honda Civic. Well, most of you know me to be a larger than average person, you know large framed and big boned with two bum knees. The whole time we were loading the luggage I was mentally trying to figure out how I was going to sit into the Lion, I mean the Leon, gracefully, so I look like I like I belonged. Linda in the back with my walker and Dad behind the wheel. Dad at 93 and weighing about the same, occupied less than a third of the front seat space. I on the right side, filled in the rest of the front. Now that I painted this picture, and thinking back, I now begin to understand why we used to get strange looks from cars and pedestrians. I just got the mental picture. Just like 95% of all vehicles in Hungary this Lion, I mean Leon, is a six speed standard shift. As we begin our journey to the country side a couple of facts are important to interject here and significant to remember as we go forward. Dad is in his 94th year and nearly deaf.. The traffic lanes in Budapest are narrower that we are accustomed to. Drivers of Hungary have a DNA disposition to aggressive driving. While this is not a scientific fact it is an anecdotal observation. While there are speed limits posted, drivers seem to interpret them as suggestions rather than maximums.
To give you a flavor of the motorists around you here is a clip from the German autobahn where there are no limits. [Look for the speedometer inside the steering wheel on the dash. At times it tops out at over 300km/hr.]
Here is a brief video of Budapest on a motorcycle. Just to give one a sense of the environment we are about to immerse ourselves with a 93 year old in control.
So off we go. The car was a comfortable temperature of about 25 degrees, but by the time we reached the freeway, I was sweating bullets. Remember, I said the SEAT Leon was a standard shift. As we wound our way through the city towards the expressway, at several red traffic lights a weird thing would happen. Standing still, as the red light turned green the engine would scream; the tachometer would streak to 6,000 rpms and Dad would bellow “Bloody Hell”! “What’s wrong”? I dared ask. “They put the brake and accelerator pedals too close to each other!” He said. “Bloody Hell”! ..I replied. But what I’m really thinking is that everything in this car is too close together. Of course every time this happened, we would be slow off the mark on the green light and the cars behind us would be leaning on their horns. Mercifully, I thought, we finally reach the express toll road eastward bound for the town of Eger.
Finally some relief from the constant gear shifting up and down, he can finally set into 6th gear and just smoothly sail along. While Dad prefers the left lane he is not prejudiced; he will drift frequently into the right lane, but his favorite is just to straddle the lane demarcation line. This of course causes both lanes of traffic to get annoyed, not just the left lane folks who wish to wind out their engines to see how fast they can really go. So as this meandering continues, I’m getting particularly nervous as we approach transports from the left lane slowly closing in on the transport in the right lane from both behind and drifting in towards the transport’s lane, when at the last minute Dad swings back left into the passing lane. I can see in the side mirror the car behind us, who was eager to pass just slammed on his brakes as he thought we were clearing the way for him. Silly perceptions.
After about 20 minutes of sticking in the left lane, and cars repeatedly passing us on the right; no correction, screaming past us on the right both from the speed of the car and the frustrated voices of the drivers, I said to Dad, “Why do you stick to the left lane? There are cars wanting to pass and your blocking their way!” Of course I have to repeated a couple of times as he is hard of hearing to the point where I a shouting which could easily be interpreted as “Yelling”. Dad retorts “I’m going fast enough!” I looked at the speedometer and he was going at 165km/hr. For me it certainly was. But all I could say was “They don’t think so!”. Clearly that was the wrong thing to say. Fearing he would stay in the lane and speed up, I quickly added “Why don’t you move over to the right lane and let them pass at their speed.” Finally he relented and mover over. Well. This car came screaming past us; jumped in front of us and slammed on the brakes in a fit of anger, shaking his fists. Dad slams on the brakes and yells “Bloody Hell! What’s his problem!”
Every time a little incident like this occurs, I could hear a little squeak out of the back seat, as Linda is gasping for air. I think she covered a nine day novena in 90 minutes. But here is the “piece de resistance”. About an hour into this journey, Dad says anyone care for a coffee? I’m getting a little sleepy! I think both Linda and me spoke simultaneously in the affirmative. We pulled off at the next gas bar to get a coffee. He said he always pulls off here after about an hour as he gets drowsy.
After several attempts I succeeded to unfold myself and got out of the car. As we were walking towards the little restaurant I was mentally summarizing our predicament. We are on a highway without observed speed limits; in a tiny car that’s more compact than a coffin; piloted by a hard or hearing 93 year old driving in a manner that would demand a breathalyzer, driving on a freeway where he thinks everyone should drive at 165km/hr and no more, and is prepared to enforce it all by himself, yet needs to have a coffee as he may nod off and we still have an hour to go. You’ve got to hand it to the man, He does have spunk! As we are sitting at the coffee shop table waiting for Dad to get the coffees, never one to let an opportunity pass, I looked Linda straight in the eye and said “OK this is Day 2; Are we having fun yet?“
Then I saw another opportunity to make all this go away. He left the car key on the table! I scooped it up faster than you can spell Mississippi backwards. The only task left was to convince Dad that me taking over the driving was his idea. The fact that you are reading this blog is proof of our success in that regard. ¬