Kecskemét City Hall
It had taken us over an hour to drive from Budapest to Kecskemét, and by the time we arrived the sky was cloaked in darkness. I had things to do and see. My cousin—my generous escort—suggested we head to the city square after our visit to the military base. Charming buildings many hundreds of years old surrounded us. In the 13th century, the prairies of Kecskemét were invaded and settled by Mongol tribes. By the 14th and 15th centuries, the French, Turks and Hapsburgs had all taken their turn. Each of those conquerors left their cultures through architecture: French Renaissance, Baroque, Gothic, Moorish and Art Nouveau. Take a look here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=23vFWrOB9U4&feature=related
With the wind in their faces and their breath swirling in the freezing air, the local inhabitants trudged through the streets, bundled tightly in their thick coats. I fancied that the square knew it had once bustled as an open market. I could imagine peasants hauling their produce, pushing their fruit carts, urging their horses to pull wagons laden with wares. I saw barking dogs corralling cattle for trade. There must have been bargaining, bartering, haggling. I retrieved my camera and clicked away, taking touristy photos of statues, churches, synagogues, a mid-1800s university, and an opera house. If you are interested in learning more about Kecskemét, here is a link: http://www.csipero.hu/Kecskemét/latnivalok.php?nyelv=gb
My next stop was the City Hall. This beautiful salmon-colored building was built in the Art Nouveau style. But it offered something more. Every hour, on the hour, its bells chimed. You can listen here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a7CJ-79M6Fc&feature=related
With the bells still ringing in my ears, I headed through the wrought-iron gates and into the entryway of the city hall. I passed handcrafted furniture, leather chairs, stained-glass windows, paintings and chandeliers. All beautiful. I entered the immense archives, with its high ceiling, thousands of books, and clerks everywhere, busy carting papers, binders and books for filing. The room smelled of old paper. A clerk asked me in Hungarian if I needed help. I answered in English. If you recall my unpleasant experience in Budaörs, you will understand my unwillingness to speak my mother tongue. I had asked my cousin not to interpret but to let me talk. He obliged with a good-natured smile.
To my surprise, the woman spoke decent English, though with a heavy accent. She apologized for being ill-prepared for my questions. I asked if I could see photographs of Kecskemét before and after World War II and before 1956. She whisked herself away, and in no time returned with stacks of leather-bound books. We spread them across a table and opened the pages. There I found photographs of a parking lot full of hundreds of horses attached to wagons. I found other information, too, that I never would have thought I needed. I asked a lot of questions, and the clerk handed me her card and offered to help me by email. She has kept her word, and I thank her for that.