Travel Right
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Travel Right

To Market in Debrecen, Hungary

by Don Beil (Somali Republic 1964–66)

Start your walk to the Debrecen public market at the Civis Grand Hotel Aranybika (Golden Bull Hotel), the largest and most well known hotel in this, the second largest city in Hungary. When I stayed there recently (November 1999), my room rate was 8100 forints per night (242 forints = $1.00, so the rate in dollars was $33.50 per night). The public areas are grand, the rooms comfortable, neat, and spacious.
     If you need something sweet to get you going, linger in the lobby of the hotel where over 60 different types of pastries are offered in three large glass cases at prices ranging from 45 to 156 forints each. If you’re in the lobby at the right time — around 8:30 AM, you can watch as the pastry trays are hand carried from the kitchen and arranged in the cases; if you do watch, you’re sure not to leave the lobby empty-handed.
      As you exit the hotel, show you’re a regular by going against your natural urge to pull open the right glass door — it’s locked — and, instead, pull open the left glass door.

Kossuth tér in Debercen
Crossing the square
You now have a choice to make as you prepare to cross Debrecen’s central square, the expansive Kossuth tér at this end of Piac utca (Market Street); there are two crosswalks, one to the left of the hotel entrance and another to the right. In front of the hotel, the square is composed of a narrow street, a grassy park, three traffic lanes in one direction, streetcar lines, and finally three traffic lanes in the other direction. When crossing this formidable array, the left crosswalk appears to be the more popular choice with those living in Debrecen, so I made it my crossing preference even though it takes a bit longer to reach the ultimate goal.
     At intersections, everyone waits for the green crossing signal. There is almost no jaywalking in Debrecen, although I wonder if I regularly set the wrong example while there. It was not impatience on my part, although I admit that I don’t know what it was, since I was not in any hurry. After several days I did slow down, and followed the Hungarians’ lead waiting patiently for the familiar, red stick-figure on the traffic signal to turn green. In doing so, I was rewarded with the discovery that the changing crossing light was enhanced by a buzzing noise, an auditory indication that it was time to cross the street.

Bottles within bottles
The first stop
Once you’ve successfully crossed the square, go right and cross to the other side of Csapo utca, and turn left on it. Stop at the first doorway on your right — a combination café and wine store. The window displays a selection of wine in unique bottles that I’ve only seen in Hungary. Each of the two that I purchased in this shop (2800 forints and 2000 forints) contained both white wine and red wine (from Eger, a charming town known for its wines — particularly for its red Bulls Blood). Each had white wine in the main body of the bottle, and the red wine within a glass bunch of grapes. Now here’s the great part — one bottle had the wine-filled grapes within the bottle (something like a ship in a bottle). The other had the red grapes connected on its outside. Both portions of each bottle had separate corks. They make unique gifts, but you must plan to take them back to the States in your carry-on luggage — you wouldn’t dare pack them. (While on this walk, you may want to stop here on the way back to the hotel if you’d like to make a purchase, instead of on your way out as described here, so that you won’t have to carry the bottles for as long.) What I liked about this store was that it sold these wine bottles in smaller sizes than I had seen elsewhere in Hungary. They therefore made their point later to those receiving them, while making them particularly appealing for the trip home.
     The purchase itself was typical of those I experienced in many shops throughout Hungary. Little or no English is spoken, but it was never a problem as there was always a great deal of pointing and gesturing, and smiling and laughing. (Being a teacher of the deaf, and thus one who can communicate in sign language, certainly was a help.) However, in this store we were simply not communicating, although each of us was trying our best. The young, energetic clerk brought all kinds of bottles out from the back of the store. (These bottles-within-bottles were obviously for tourists, and although displayed in the store window, were not available on shelves in the main part of the store.) Even going outside so that I could point at my selection in the window was not successful, so we went back inside, and the clerk opened the large framed pane of glass at the back of the window to reach the bottles from the inside. The pane of glass, which swung up on a piano hinge across the top of the window, was quite heavy, and a customer, who had been observing the transaction, put aside his coffee, and immediately volunteered to hold the window. After narrowing down the choices, the clerk and I were finally able to communicate and I was able to identify exactly what I wanted. I signed my thanks to the helpful customer, who insistently refused my offer of a coffee refill for the long five minutes of holding the glass window up over his head.

Another opportunity for a sweet
Upon leaving the shop, turn right, and continue down the street, passing the Versace store on the corner at the end of the next block. If you chose not to fill up on sweets in the hotel lobby, you may wish to stop at the Francia pékség (French bakery) you pass between 13 and 15 Csapo utca. It’s hard to miss; you first walk past large windows where you can watch the dough being shaped into pastries and placed in ovens; the next door is the sales area. I discovered a pastry called a pacsni (35 forints) — barely sweet, a bit like a slightly puffed, oval-shaped, pita bread, very satisfying. Again, all communication was done by pointing, and I learned that Hungarians hold up their thumb to indicate “one” (in response to what must have been Hungarian for “How many do you want?”); Americans use the index finger for the same purpose.

Finding the building
Exit the store, again going to the right, and if you eat the pacsni fairly quickly, you’ll finish it at the same time you see large numbers of people entering and emerging from a pedestrian alleyway across the street. Look down that alley which is lined with vendor tables and at the end you will see a large building with a sign “Vasarcsarnok.” Cross the street, and walk to that building. Note that the news vendor’s table includes computer books in Hungarian on Visual Basic and C++, and walk through the glass doors (pull either one, they’re both unlocked) — you’ve arrived at the Debrecen market hall.

For a view inside the market
For the past 25 years, Don Beil ( has been teaching computing to deaf and hard of hearing students at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID) at the Rochester Institute of Technology, Rochester NY. NTID is a partner with the Hungarian association of schools for the deaf in a grant from the Soros Open Society Institute to improve information technology education in the schools for the deaf in Hungary.
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