Architecture and a fish fest in Szeged

Our Sunday afternoon drive on the motorway to Szeged was easy and free-flowing and we pitched up along the river Tisza at a down-at-heel looking camp by 4pm. Workers were noisily dismantling the summer season’s camp,  so we wandered across the river to explore Hungary’s southern-most city.

Szeged, and its close neighbour Subotica across the border in Serbia, are known as marvels of Art Nouveau. Both cities rapidly expanded at the end of the 1800s and enthusiastically supported the new architecture of the Hungarian masters of Secession.

Bertha at the riverside camp

Bertha at the riverside camp

We admired the highly unusual Reok Palace that boasts curved walls and lines, sculptured balconies and a lilac and green floral decoration. It’s an art house now but was originally built in 1907 for the engineer Ivan Reok by a 29-year old Ede Magyar, on his way to becoming one of Hungary’s giants of architecture.

Other notables are remembered in the National Pantheon, which runs along three sides of the main square and is a columned walkway housing busts and reliefs of famous generals, scientists, doctors, architects and theologians. We recognised many names from the street signs of Budapest, and it was interesting to see their faces.

In front of the brick cathedral stands the 12th century Demetrius Tower all that is left of the original Romanesque cathedral. We wanted to see inside the gigantic Serbian Orthodox Cathedral but it was shut that day to visitors so instead we joined the crowds thronging the riverfront at the city’s annual Fish Festival.

People danced to wild-sounding folk music and gulped down greedy mouthfuls of hot fish goulash served steaming from impossibly giant cauldrons that bubbled on top of wood fires. The aroma was alluring but on closer inspection the broth was greasy-looking and not especially appetising.

Instead, we enjoyed a river fish freshly deep fried and served whole on a paper plate, together with the famous Sarme, a blisteringly hot meat and rice-filled cabbage parcel. Delicious if difficult finger food!

We meandered happily along the length of the river bank and back for a couple of hours enjoying the festival atmosphere. Local wine and beer merchants were plying their wares so later on we sampled a glass of Hungarian Riesling and Barocca before heading back to Bertha in the dusk.

At midnight the festival’s fireworks lit up the skies and the waters of the river with colour. It seemed a suitably celebratory way to end our very enjoyable stay in Hungary.