Tag Archives: Esztergom

Easter – the bridge at Esztergom, and Between the Woods and the Water free audiobook

Crowd river watching Esztergom  1934

A happy Easter to you all wherever you are and however much space in which you have to move around; I hope that you remain well. The weather here in England is lovely. The South Downs, which are a short run away for me, were soggy and treacherous for runners just four or so weeks ago. Now, after a number of weeks of dry sunny weather, the chalky soil has drained, and is even cracking apart it is so dry on the surface.

The South Downs, and Chilcomb church at Chilcomb near Winchester, England, UK, Easter 2020

Back to Paddy. At Easter time we always find we have left him mid-stream on the Mária Valéria bridge which joins Esztergom in Hungary and Štúrovo in Slovakia, across the River Danube. The bridge, some 500 metres in length is named after Archduchess Marie Valerie of Austria, (1868–1924), the fourth child of Emperor Franz Josef, and Empress Elisabeth (now she has a sad tale to tell).

Paddy crossed into Esztergom and watched an amazing Easter service led by the bishop with crowds nobles, soldiers and their ladies dressed in their finest clothes and colourful uniforms. A sight that will never be seen again.

This Easter I offer you a selection of photos of Esztergom, some from 1934, and the Audible audiobook of Between the Woods and the Water, to complement that of A Time of Gifts which I posted a couple of weeks back.

Enjoy this strange Easter as best you can. Please keep inside, safe and well, so that your medical services are not stretched to the point of collapse by this terrible virus.


Easter 1934 Paddy arrives at the Danube read by Siân Phillips

An Easter treat for you. Siân Phillips reads from page 277 of A Time of Gifts (paperback) as Paddy arrives at the Danube, spots Esztergom, has his passport stamped by the Czechoslovakian border guards, and lingers ‘in the middle of the bridge, meditatively poised in no man’s air.’

‘The air was full of hints and signs. There was a flicker and a swishing along the river like the breezy snip-snap of barbers’ scissors before they swoop and slice. It was the skimming and twirling of newly arrived swifts. A curve in the stream was re-arranging the landscape as I advanced, revealing some of the roofs of Esztergom and turning the Basilica to a new angle as though it were on a pivot. The rolling wooded range of the Bakony Forest had advanced north from the heart of Transdanubia, and the corresponding promontory on the northern shore – the last low foothills of the Marra mountains, whose other extremity subsides in the north eastern tip of Hungary – jutted into the water under the little town of Parkan. Reaching for each other, the two headlands coerced the rambling flood yet once more into a narrower and swifter flow and then spanned the ruffie with an iron bridge. Spidery at first, the structure grew more solid as the distance dwindled. (Twenty miles east of this bridge, the Danube reaches a most important point in its career: wheeling round the ultimate headland of the Balcony Forest and heading due south for the first time on its journey, it strings itself through Budapest like a thread through a bead and drops across the map of Europe plumb for a hundred and eighty miles, cutting Hungary clean in half. Then, reinforced by the Drava, it turns east again, invades Yugoslavia, swallows up the Sava under the battlements of Belgrade, and sweeps on imperturbably to storm the Iron Gates.)

In an hour, I had climbed the cliff-path into the main street of Parkan. A little later my passport was stamped at the frontier post at the Czechoslovakian end of the bridge. The red, white and green barrier of the frontier post at the far end marked the beginning of Hungary. I lingered in the middle of the bridge, meditatively poised in no man’s air.’

(Extract from A Time of Gifts by Patrick Leigh Fermor, with thanks to John Murray Publishers.)

March 2012 – Nick reaches the bridge at Esztergom

Imagine Paddy standing in the middle of this bridge looking at the cathedral

It took Paddy until Easter 1934 to get to this bridge. Nick is moving well now. The bridge at Esztergom was one of my first blog posts back in April 2010!

The bridge linking Slovakia and Hungary, between the towns of Štúrovo and Esztergom, also links A Time of Giftsand Between the Woods and the Water. Here Paddy paused both in his walking and his writing, ‘meditatively poised in no man’s air,’ before crossing into Hungary and the second phase of his journey.

I reached that bridge a week ago (or rather the reconstruction of that bridge — the original was destroyed in 1944), and in a rather unbelievable way came to the very last page of my notebook standing above the Danube … read more

Related article:

Easter 1934 – Paddy reaches the Hungarian border at Esztergom

A pilgrimage to Esztergom

I am not the only one who takes the opportunity to visit some of the places mentioned by Paddy in his books when travelling. Here is a nice note I received recently from Ed Ricketts …

Dear Tom,

Just writing to say that, in Budapest last weekend with some spare time before a conference, and having just learned of Paddy’s passing, I felt it appropriate to make a brief trip out to Esztergom – the town on a bend in the Danube where, on the bridge, A Time of Gifts ends and Between the Woods and the Water commences.

After a winding 90-minute train ride down a single-track line, I emerged at the end of the line, Esztergom, and into a sleepy provincial eastern European town (the fact that it was Sunday lunchtime probably the defining reason for this). After a good 30 minute walk into the town centre, past a very pleasant main square with some almost northern Italian architecture, you suddenly see the mammoth marble basilica overlooking the town on a hill. This is the seat of the Hungarian Catholic Church, and an important place of pilgrimage. Around the basilica are grouped some nice old cobbled streets and religious buildings, while the Danube flows calmly by.

I scrambled up a back way to the basilica, then climbed up onto the cupola which provides an incredible view of the Danube bend and nearby hills (see the attached photos). All the while, I tried to imagine a young and inquisitive countryman with a knapsack doing a similar thing in 1934. What I left until last was walking over the bridge (destroyed in 1944, so it’s sadly not the same structure Paddy tramped over) which now links Slovakia and Hungary. Reading the two books had a considerable effect on me, so this was quite an exciting moment. After a brief meditative pause in the middle, and a few minutes’ ambling on the Slovakian side, I returned over the bridge into Esztergom having toasted Paddy with a small cigar en route.

So a very pleasing day trip overall, with just one slight regret – that I didn’t have the two books with me at the time!


Ed Ricketts

Related article:

Easter 1934 – Paddy reaches the Hungarian border at Esztergom 

Easter 1934 – Paddy reaches the Hungarian border at Esztergom

After what must have seemed an amazing four months to a young man of eighteen, Paddy arrives at the Czechoslovak-Hungarian border at Esztergom, which as he says (p 276 A Time of Gifts) contained ‘the Metropolitan Cathedral of all Hungary’. It is these last closing pages of his first volume that he describes the colourful preparations for an Easter service as he watches from no-man’s land in the middle of the bridge spanning the Danube. It is from this point that he picks up the story in volume two ‘Between the Woods an the Water’.

Wikipedia tells us: Esztergom (Hungarian pronunciation: [ˈɛstɛrɡom], also known by alternative names), is a city in northern Hungary, about 50 km north-west of the capital Budapest. It lies in Komárom-Esztergom county, on the right bank of the river Danube, which forms the border with Slovakia there.

Esztergom was the capital of Hungary from the 10th till the mid-13th century when King Béla IV of Hungary moved the royal seat to Buda.

Esztergom is the seat of the prímás (see Primate) of the Roman Catholic Church in Hungary. It’s also the official seat of the Constitutional Court of Hungary. The city has the Keresztény Múzeum, the largest ecclesiastical collection in Hungary. Its cathedral, Esztergom Basilica is the largest church in Hungary.

Imagine Paddy standing in the middle of this bridge looking at the cathedral