The Castle in the Fog

Zur deutschen Fassung.

When I last set out to hike into a foggy morning in Hungary, I had discovered Roman ruins. Thus, on the next November day that was just as foggy, I set out again, excited what I would discover this time. In Székesfehérvár, I take the bus no. 32 all the way to the last stop, where the city ends and the countryside begins, and walk east, where the sun is set to rise.

I discover: nothing.

At least initially. The fog is so dense, if I wasn’t an early riser and could estimate the time by how hungry I have gotten in the meantime, I wouldn’t even know if it was ante or post meridiem. Or if the sun had already ceased to work and we were merely enjoying its last rays.

The only birds I hear are crows. Crows cawing derisively as they see someone marching to his doom and demise. Dead trees stick out of the moor like the arms of sunken bog bodies. Are they crying for help, or are they trying to warn me?

I did notice the green wagon, but I’d rather not check on it. People who live out here and haven’t spoken to another soul for years might overreact when there’s a sudden knock at the door.

One kilometer further down, a fire is still smoldering, and I see a few men disappear into the mist. Probably peat cutters who are stocking up for the upcoming winter. It’s gonna be a harsh one, they say.

Here, too, I pretend not to have seen anything. I don’t want them to take me for the estate administrator or the county policeman and start shooting at me.

Sheep are standing by the wayside, but not happily chewing and baa-baaing as usual. Instead, they stare at me with apathy. As if they are bewitched. Or want to warn me of getting bewitched myself.

Maybe the shepherd lives in the wooden wagon? Or the peat cutters were poachers? Then why the fire? Why is everything so eerie around here? Where the heck is the sun?

I like nature, I really do. But when you’ve been out in nature long enough, you’re happy about any piece of civilization. In this case, it’s the railroad tracks. Relieved, I decide to follow them.

After all, they have to lead to Székesfehérvár. Or to another town. And if I am lucky, which is usually the case, there will be a train and the driver will spot me, stop the train and let me hop on, instead of running me over.

But apparently, the railway workers are on strike today, because there ain’t no train.

As I finally reach the next station, having walked the whole way, I realize that this has been suffering from a strike, too. Ever since World War II, by the looks of it.

But what is this?!

No, I don’t mean the two horsemen of the apocalypse galloping past me without a greeting, their heads wrapped in hoods, one with a rifle over his shoulder, the other with a dead sheep over the saddle.

I mean this:

Between the trees, in the middle of a large clearing, a building, with what seem to be two horns, timidly peeks out of the still dense fog. And not a normal building, no, but a castle! No idea how that got here.

I’m glad that I am alone. Because by now, any companion would be begging: “Andreas, let’s get out of here!” And I admit, the calls of the crows, the bodies in the bog, the thick fog, the peat cutters, the fire, the horsemen who looked more like ghosts than people, it is all a bit eerie.

But also tempting, isn’t it?

Anyway, my general rule is: If there is a castle (or a secret military object), I will inspect it more closely. Nice country estate, with a large park. You can still see the fountain even.

On the door, there is a warning that uninvited intruders may be electrocuted. Not very hospitable. But walking all around the castle, I notice an open window to the cellar.

Just as I let myself drop through the open window in such a smooth way that it looks like an accident, it occurs to me: “Oops, how am I ever going to get out again?” Sometimes, it would be better to travel with a friend.

Especially because the inside of the castle is no longer quite stable. And because I almost crash through the ceiling a few times.

Whoops, that was close.

But such are the risks I take in order to reward those of you interested in the interior design of palaces with exclusive photos from my holidays.

And there is the solution for the way back, as you can see. Out of the beams that are lying around, I can build a ladder with just a little bit of craftsmanship – skills which I still have to acquire somehow, though. Because without a ladder, I noticed, it would be impossible to climb out of the basement. Surely, these wooden pillars can’t be the ones supporting the whole palace, can they? I start pulling and dragging, with the castle groaning and wobbling. I just hope that there is no one walking past outside who can hear or see anything.

Speaking of outside: The sun is slowly coming out. And this not only makes everything warmer and more cheerful, it also instills me with the care-free confidence needed to simply jump from the balcony, putting an end to all the miserable DIY attempts.

And lo and behold, in the time I’ve spent in the catacombs, getting lost in the castle and fiddling with my escape plans, it has actually turned into a beautiful day.

Compared to the spooky fog images from just a few hours earlier, this is rather kitschy now, isn’t it?

In any case, it will become really kitschy a few hours later, when I get to the next castle. But that’s for another article.

Only later did I hear about Countess Báthory, who had murdered hundreds of young girls in order to bathe in their blood. But I don’t want to burden you with that story now. After all, you should visit and enjoy the castle without any bias.

Practical advice:

  • You can also take bus no. 718, 8010 or 8013, which takes you very close to the castle. The bus stop is Csala Alsó. The ride from Székesfehérvár costs 400 forints (= 1 euro). The bus runs about every hour, even on weekends.
  • If you want to follow my route, take bus no. 32 from the train station in Székesfehérvár to the last stop, Kassai utca / Nagyszombati utca, and walk east from there, always following the path between the fields. At one point, you have to walk through a river, but it’s not deep, don’t worry. At the end of photo no. 5, you turn north/left, and soon you will see the castle. The walk takes no more than an hour.
  • If you have been walking for much longer without finding the castle, you got lost. Sorry!

Links:

About Andreas Moser

Travelling the world and writing about it. I have degrees in law and philosophy, but I'd much rather be a writer, a spy or a hobo.
This entry was posted in Hungary, Photography, Travel and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to The Castle in the Fog

  1. Jackie Danson says:

    Fabulously spooky! Loved it. x

    • Thank you!

      I am really glad I took the camera with me on that day, because I don’t think anyone would have believed this scene otherwise.
      And I don’t know if I had dared to visit a second time.

    • Jackie Danson says:

      I learned that the hard way: always take your camera! Many decades ago I was in Paris visiting a friend, and left it at home deliberately when I went to the (old) Opera house to see a exhibition of opera costumes.
      I was expecting some dimly-lit faded costumes behind cases.

      I couldn’t possibly have been more wrong. The second I walked in the door I knew i had to go all the way back to the apartment, which was some way away, to fetch my camera.

      The entire foyer of the opera house was filled with fabulously-costumed mannequins, dramatically and theatrically spotlit, draped over the banisters in engaging poses; walking down the beautiful staircase, full of life and movement – truly a spectacular sight.

      Whilst seeing it in person is, of course, a not to be forgotten memory and an experience – no matter how expert the photographer – the camera cannot quite exactly replicate, it’s wonderful years later to have the pictures and be able to remind myself of the sensations it evoked, and share the dynamic drama of the stylish presentation. As much the display itself as the costumes, which theirselves were also fabulous!

      So now I never deliberately leave my phone at home. As your adventures demonstrate, who knows what unique sight we might, at any moment, chance upon a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Your photos are redolent off atmosphere; along with the text I almost felt I was there and was very pleased your camera actually was!

      But .. can I easily lay my hands on said shots? Er …

    • I have to admit, if it wasn’t for this blog, I would not be taking any photos.

      For a long time, I travelled around the world without ever taking one photo. And I felt more free, not having to think of composition, lighting, and so on. I felt that I got more out of those trips. I definitely have better memories, maybe because I could focus on my own eyes instead of a camera lens, and especially more on conversations and other non-visual memories.

      But then, I am also the kind of person who never looks at his own photos anymore. I revel more in stories, and I don’t need any visual prompts. Or if at all, maybe a map.

      But sadly, when you tell stories without photos, many people don’t believe the stories…

    • Jackie Danson says:

      Yes, I know what you mean. Taking photos makes it a very different type of experience. If you looked at my photos of India or Egypt you could be forgiven for believing I had the pyramids and Taj Mahal to myself! Whereas that represents only how it was in my fantasy.

      Interestingly though, my photos form part of my memories of the occasion. I used to write a diary: now my photos serve that function. The danger of course being that it can dominate the memory over things which – whether not photographed by chance or by choice – were equally or more an essential part of the experience.

      For example, having gained entry a couple of years ago to my mother’s and grandmother’s flat in Breslau which they were expelled from in 1939, and to my astonishment found living there an elderly woman who had moved into it as a child from
      Kazakhstan in 1945, I felt like I was suddenly touching history in a way I’d never have imagined was possible. I respected her wish not to photograph her. Some things are so special they require your entire presence without diverting it to take a photo. Whether out not anyone believes that story: I know it happened – I was there.

      So yes – I think I understand what you mean. Taking photos changes the experience.

    • And your last point is an important one for me, too. As people will have noticed, I hardly ever take photos of other people.
      Basically only if they are far away, in a group, or if they ask me too.

      These photos could often add a lot to the readers’ experience (e.g. all the people who pick me up when I am hitchhiking), but whenever I am in the moment, I feel it would destroy the bond I am trying to establish. I mostly worry that people would feel uncomfortable, but also that their behaviour would change.
      (I usually don’t take notes either while speaking with people, but try to memorize as much as possible, and write everything down as soon as I/they leave.)

      That’s why I hate most video-logs, where people walk around with the camera constantly turned on and filming everyone into their face.
      I sometimes watch videos of fellow hitchhikers, and I would find it really odd to pick up a dude who is constantly filming and talking into his camera.

    • Jackie Danson says:

      I think, from the reader’s point of view, when one’s photos are as good as yours are it adds an extra dimension to the experience of reading – esp in a blog about travel adventures. The written description of the people you encounter is sufficient without photos and the detail can be left to the reader’s imagination (if she even needs any further detail at all, as I have no problem conjuring them from your description alone).

      But with the progressing landscape and unfolding discovery of every step, your atmospheric photos make me feel I’m travelling alongside you in a way that the words, however well written cannot, alone. It’s like layering in an additional dimension.

      The problem though is that, for the traveller, it changes the experience — and not, in all cases, for the better (although equally, in my experience, not always for the worse, either)! And as you say, Wilson a camera can make others present also respond differently than they would to just a pure encounter. But as the reader, I love to see your photos whichI regard as an integral part of the story-telling and, as you have chosen to share these adventures, I’d urge you not to shy away too often from indulging us with the (even) profounder level of engagement they offer. I for one am loving it!

  2. Frieda says:

    Mystery and fog – I love it;)

    Best

    Frieda

  3. I was reading an article by a photographer who basically said that they thought at first that taking photos would ruin the experience for them, but they’ve learned that by focusing on one scene they become even more aware of the background that scene occurs in.

    I’m glad you take photos. I have a good imagination, but with architecture so different from what I’ve seen before, sometimes it’s difficult to imagine.

    It’s sad how many beautiful buildings have fallen to rubble, or nearly so. Isn’t it odd how spooky fog can be, even during daylight hours? 😱 What a beautiful, enchanted place the castle became after the fog was gone though. You must’ve broken the spell that kept it shrouded😂

    • Also, I would be terrible at explaining what a castle looks like, let alone what a spooky forest looks like.

      That day, it was really spooky, because I had been to that area for the first time and had no idea where I was walking, really. And then all those strange people, the sheep and that mysterious wooden wagon, it almost made it spookier as if it had only been nature.
      And I am glad I even spotted the castle, because if I had taken a slightly different path, I might have walked past, totally oblivious.

      This one was actually still in pretty good shape, I would say. Someone who knows anything about buildings would probably disagree, but it had not sunken into the ground or titled dangerously. The floors were all there, and the few holes in them could be repaired. I don’t know if it could still support heavy furniture, but I was not afraid that it would cave in.
      And I noticed that the roof was either new or repaired. So it seems like somebody has a plan for it, or at least doesn’t want it to decay.

      In Hungary, there is actually such a castle in almost every village. It’s where the local nobility or the landowners used to live. And then they left after World War I (if they felt more Austrian-German and didn’t want to live in newly independent Hungary, especially immediately after the war, when there was a brief spell of communism and an invasion by Romanian forces) or were expropriated after World War II (when Hungary became communist).
      The castles were then often put to communal use, as schools, hospitals, or – especially in the countryside – to store grain or house cows. From what I read later, this was also the fate of this particular castle. So, the shepherds and the cow-milkers had a nice place to stay, at least.

  4. Brí says:

    Such a haunting hike! Thanks for sharing…I have to agree with the sentiments above about photographing an encounter like this. Whenever I have a camera, I look at things differently, perhaps more in depth. I’m not sure photos always do an adventure justice, but it helps paint a picture and when done well, can elicit similar emotions for the reader/onlooker as you experienced yourself!

    • I do hope indeed that readers feel a little bit of the fog and the cold and the dampness, and then of the sudden elation as the castle and sun appeared, almost in unison.

      And I am really bad at “nature writing”, so I need the photos anyway.

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