Hungary: Horsemanship on steroids
I have from time to time seen photos of Hungarian horsemen riding their horses while standing on the horse. Finally, a couple of years ago, I had the chance to see this. I was traveling with a few other travel writers. Our excursion from Budapest was typical of what any tourist can experience.
We were transported to the Lazar Equestrian Park at Godollo; quite a few other overseas visitors were arriving at the same time.
Preliminary to the riding exhibition, we had a short ride on a horse-drawn wagon, and I sat with the costumed driver. This ride let us look around the farm a bit.
We were offloaded at a horse barn to look at some of the animals and a small display of open-top coaches used by the Lazar brothers (Vilmos and Zoltan) in horse-drawn coach races. They have won several world championships.
We were told the horses live 20 to 30 years but are retired at 16 and live out their lives on the farm.
The centerpiece, the horse show demonstrating various skills of men and horses, was up next.
It featured a variety of routines as follows: horse- or pony-drawn coaches or carts of two types; demonstration of nomad archery on horseback; demonstrations of the whip usage and of trained horses willing to lie down or even sit like a dog while owners cracked whips all round them; oxen-pulled cart or carts; some silliness involving a donkey and rider trying to imitate the “real” horsemen; a woman playing the former empress, Sissy, riding sidesaddle on a dancing horse, and the “puszta-five,” or the horseman who drives five horses, arranged with three in front, two at the back. The horseman stands on the two horses in back.
All men were costumed, mostly in baggy blue sleeves and blue skirts, with black vests, traditional horsemen’s garb.
The show was a somewhat dusty experience (no surprise) and it was a warm day; if it was warm for us, it must have been a hot exercise for the performers. I have a real appreciation for their skills. It has to be seen to be believed.
Show over, it was time to eat, which, quite naturally, provided all visitors with a traditional menu in a large dining hall with Gypsy entertainment. The meal started with goulash soup, then moved to a tray of meats with pickles, cabbage, mashed potatoes (seemingly mixed with something I could not identify), then “milk pie,” a dessert that was better than it sounds or looks.
There was then a short amount of time to keep our last appointment here, a tour of the local Godollo Palace, dating from the 18th century but now in its 19th century form. It was most used in the 19th century by Sissy, the Hapsburg Emperor Franz Josef’s beloved empress. It was used as a summer residence.
We were told the palace, with more than 100 rooms, was in terrible shape after World War II and after the communist era when it had been used by Soviet soldiers and as an old folks’ home. It was restored after 2000.
On such visits, on-site guides impart all sorts of mostly useless but interesting information.
Our guide here said Franz Josef and Sissy had 28 palaces and traveled with furniture. She said some original furniture was saved because locals had had it and harbored it, returning pieces when restoration occurred.
The Hapsburgs had papier mache chandeliers, of all things.
The guide also said that children made the fires in the palace’s dozens of stoves because only they were small enough to get into the spaces behind the stoves and add fuel.
She said Sissy’s hair was more than a meter long, i.e., more than three feet long. The empress wanted a bathroom in the palace, which was apparently a scandal at the time. I say, with so much hair, the indoor running water was essential!!
We spent a little free time on the grounds, but those grounds cover 28 hectares — and then, another quick tour was over.
Time is always short when traveling, it seems.
This blog and photos are by Nadine Godwin, BestTripChoices.com editorial director and contributor to the trade newspaper, Travel Weekly. She also is the author of “Travia: The Ultimate Book of Travel Trivia.”