A good souvenir

A good souvenir from a trip abroad should tell a story. Luckily mine from Szentendre have one to remember.

Just a 40-minute commuter train ride north out of Budapest lies the town of Szentendre. An artist’s paradise, the community is known for its creative vendors and artisan crafts. Just walking down the cobblestone, you can come across an old woman selling authentic Hungarian embroidery, a young man offering handmade mugs and a couple working in their jewelry business together.

A welcome home

My friends and I began our journey to this picturesque town by walking through the downtown area. We passed the family-owned Szamos marzipan shop and museum, where they offer the traditional chocolates filled with an almond paste and chocolate reservoir in the center. The baby-shower-pink building with white-chocolate letter piping and a candy-striped awning invited us in, tempting us with the gelato freezer and chocolate racks peeping through the glass doors.

We then came across the strangest and most beautiful feature of the fairytale that is Szentendre. Charming my eyes, pastel-colored lamp shades dangled on a black line, running from one side of the street to the other. We felt Szentendre welcoming us into its living room and offering us a beverage on our arrival.

Our group of eight ventured to the town’s kitchen to eat at a café. I sat down in the sun and basked in the beauty and hominess of the city center. I read the menu (or tried to), found the first thing in English and ordered it. Though only 10:30 in the morning, I ate my spaghetti carbonara until the bowl looked licked clean.

Silliness in the side streets

My friends Caroline, Christina, Reagan and I strolled down one of the streets that branched off from the center of Szentendre. Looking into shop after shop, we felt mesmerized by the tasteful artists’ talent. An older gentleman tucked himself under the shade of another shop. I observed him for a few minutes as he painted small 5×7 postcards of the best Budapest scenes, from the Buda Castle to Fisherman’s Bastion.

A short one-minute walk led to a smaller and quieter street. Once again, another string hanging above the street made me gaze in awe. No rain presented in the forecast, the rainbow-colored umbrellas swayed peacefully in the light breeze above a design gallery.

A single stone staircase led to another street. We proceeded to do what aspiring journalists do and held a mini-photoshoot walking up and down the narrow steps, snapping away with our cameras. Giggling and smiling at each other saying, “You go girl” and “Walk those steps” as we strutted down the stairs. It felt strange to be on the other side of the camera.

Shopping for a good souvenir

Our photo adventures in Szentendre quickly turned into a shopping hunt, as we scavenged to find the best things to mark our time from there. I paced down the streets not looking for anything in particular and came across a small boutique full of turquoise.

Rows of artisan mugs, plates and jewelry, all carefully crafted, sat on the tiny shop’s shelves. My mind quickly turned to my mother. Her favorite color is turquoise, the hue of the ocean at her home and my birthplace, Curacao. I instinctively reached for a necklace with a small circle pendant, half-turquoise and half-gold. Inspecting the chain, I noticed the circle resembled concrete. It made me think of Szentendre and the artistic energy driving its craftsmen to pursue their passions. I knew then I would buy the necklace.

Our day ended with the tempting gelato from the marzipan shop serving as our reward for walking in the sun all morning. The scoop of white chocolate hazelnut in a sugar cone replenished my energy enough to go back to the center of the city to find the man painting postcards.

Christina and I located him and quickly asked about his work. He said he paints the cards himself on the church steps where he displayed his craft. I took time to examine each one, from the smallest piece about the size of a baseball card to the largest baking-pan size work.

Once again, my eyes were drawn to the color of one card in particular. I recognized the view from the top of a hill, one that my fellow study abroad friends and I ventured to on our first official tour of Budapest. On that uphill climb I finally gained an appreciation for the city’s beauty and splendor.

Extending my hand with the forints I had, I smiled at the artist and complimented his work. Immediately recognizing us as Americans, he asked us what brought us to Szentendre. I stated we were journalism students studying abroad in Budapest. He seemed confused at my statement, as he asked me what I meant by journalism. I tried to explain my major and he quickly understood. He asked what we thought of Hungary’s capital and I began to beam about my temporary home.

My souvenirs tell a story, a story of a local artist, a story of a quaint town and a story that I will remember forever.