Perhaps just a little more on Nick Hunt’s book, Walking the Woods and the Water. I’ve said that in Holland and Germany, Nick found a lot of industrial development and traffic that he bemoaned. When he got to the Danube, he added the many hydro-electric developments to this list, which had mostly occurred after Paddy Fermor’s time.
As I’ve already said, there was a lot about his book that I liked, but I found his insights into the people to be fascinating, in particular the Hungarians. Rick comments that he found the Hungarians saw themselves as the victims of other empires, first the Austrians, and later USSR. And on a contemporary note, one of the insights that I appreciated was into the Hungarian attitudes to EU, the loss of parts of Slovakia and Transylvania (in the Treaty of Treaty of Trianon of 1920). Sure, to some extent these feelings were at the time of the book (and still are) fanned by Orban’s nationalistic lines, but these obviously were being received by a receptive audience.
On the other hand, there’s resentment by the Slovaks about the failure of Hungarians in their country to “integrate”, and, for the Romanians, Hungary was the historical tyrant.
In both Slovakia and Romania, Rick observed the outward signs of the obliteration of the former (usually Hungarian) aristocracy; the Nazis had started the process and the Communists finished it off. Paddy had a string of aristocratic connections through what is now Slovakia, Hungary and Romania; for Rick, this was a trail of ruined country mansions.
Especially in Romania, or at least the Transylvanian part of Romania, Rick visited the sites of number of the grand houses that were previously owned by the Hungarian overloads, who had provided a lot of hospitality to Paddy. Rick found that many were in ruins, and others were now in use as institutions for the disabled and the like, with the current users having no real knowledge of their history. The manager of one institution, when asked about the former owners, merely stated, “I think perhaps they moved to Hungary. They donated their land to the Romanian state. No one really knows…..”.
A little later Rick met with a the great grand-daughter of a former Count (who Paddy had met). The family’s estate had been nationalised and the family imprisoned. The girl had only found out about the whole history from her grandmother after Ceausescu’s fall, and the family had won back the house. By then they had no idea what to do with such a property, so they continued renting it to the state. And Rick visited other houses that Paddy had stayed at, but were now ruins.
Likewise he came across former resorts (in particular Baile Herculanae), which used to be fashionable for the gentry in the 1930s and for the masses under communism, but which was at the time of his visit only a shadow of its former self.
And of course in most places, the Roma were unpopular (or worse).
Paddy’s books took years for him to write, and one had to be published after his death, and seem to have been a little selective. I think Walking the Woods and the Water is less selective. It’s shorter than Paddy’s three books, of course, but still contains a lot of reflections on people, places, history and more. I followed some of Rick’s progress on a road atlas, and I think he probably glosses over occasional nights when presumably little of note was worth recording. Just the same, like Paddy, the range of accommodation that he had was extensive: sleeping rough, the occasional hotel room, basic accommodation presumably found through Couchsurfing and similar and a lot of friends and friends of friends. In one or two places, he mentions that he stayed with those who assisted the project financially, as it seems that the finance for his trip came from crowdfunding on the WeDidThis site (I think he means the British site, not the Latvian one. The British site has now apparently been acquired by another crowdfunding entity).
At times, he leaves a warm lodging so as to walk in the rain or snow….stating that, “in that winter, walking alone through a snow-covered landscape seemed like the greatest happiness I could know.” And his final words are to thank everyone who offers kindness and hospitality to wandering strangers; he certainly encountered a great deal of this, which in this day and age, is reassuring.
Footnote: Patrick Leigh Fermor’s former house at Kardamyli is to be used as a cultural hub (and for a few months each year, as a hotel). Thanks to W for this link.