One of the main reasons I wanted to go to Europe was to visit Hungary. My father was born there and hasn’t been back since he came to Canada when he was 10 years old. When he showed me a picture of the house he grew up in, I knew I wanted to visit his hometown. It was a tiny black and white photo that showed a small house in Miskolc, a town just over two hours away from Budapest by train. He told me his parents built the house themselves over 60 years ago. Now that I had the chance to visit his hometown, I saved the black and white photo and took down the address of his childhood home.
The Small Town of Miskolc
My father was right, two hours after leaving Budapest, we found ourselves in the small town of Miskolc. It’s the fourth largest city in Hungary and many tourists come for the neighbouring castles and cave baths. But my motivations were different – I wanted to visit my dad’s first home and learn as much about my heritage as I could along the way.
Home at Last
When we arrived, I almost felt like I had made it home. Even though I couldn’t speak the language, I knew I was no gringo here. I can’t say the same for Felicia who was the only Mexican-looking person in the entire city. After settling into our room, we roamed the streets (our usual new-city ritual) and found one of the nicest restaurants in town for dinner. We had schnitzel, goulash and cabbage rolls covered in paprika. It was such a treat and so cheap compared to our other meals in Europe.
The next day we decided to walk across the entire town towards my father’s old house. Once we left the main street, we started to notice the old Soviet-looking buses. “Those are the same buses they had 50 years ago” I would hear my dad say when I showed him the pictures afterwards. Outside of the main area, the buildings looked more and more abandoned with fenced off yards and even some boarded up shops.
We turned onto a side street, not much wider than an alley where every single home was fenced off. It wasn’t until we started walking towards the house that we realized why: nearly every house had a dog in the front yard.
The dogs were non-stop barking at us the whole way up the street. The fences did their job and at least kept the dogs away but there wasn’t much we could do about the curious neighbours peeking out as us – the only two ‘tourists’ in sight.
I wasn’t sure if we would recognize the house when we got to the address I had marked down but, to my surprise, it was the exact same house as the one on the picture I held in my hand. We didn’t linger long out of fear that we’d attract a little too much attention from the barking dogs but I took some photos of the house and was excited to show my father.
Walking away, I felt a sense of accomplishment. There I was, in a small town in Hungary standing in front of the house my grandparents built. Aside from my grandmother, I was the first in my family to come back to Hungary after my father left 50 years ago. It was a great first visit to uncover my roots, but I don’t think it will be my last.