The Big White- A Winter Walk at Normafa

Whenever I go up to Normafa, I feel a bit like one of the Bagginses setting out on an adventure. As the bus or the cogwheel train makes its unhurried way up the hillside, I am slowly surrounded by names that would not sound out of place in a Tolkien story- or Winnie the Pooh’s forest, for that matter.  The slope of God’s mountain leads up towards streets variously named after fairies, weasels, does, ants, cuckoos, clouds, pirates, finches or perhaps the dusk.

There’s streets named after kings as well, and there’s even a street summing up the whole vibe: Tale street elegantly leading into Ordas street, where even translation fails, as ordas is used to denominate the big bad wolf of folk tales, but is actually a colour, namely dun or fallow, though in English dun is used more for the mane of a horse than the coat of a wolf. I will end this train of thought slowly turning into a rather self-serving linguistic rambling by mentioning that fallow is however used for greyhounds, so Hungarian and English here meet in canine friendship.

This weekend, however, Normafa upped the stakes in the fairy tale department even more by looking like that elusive, often mentioned but rarely seen phenomenon: a winter wonderland. While the centre of Budapest had turned back to its drab wintry grays in a day or two after that measly inner city snowfall of a couple of weeks ago, up on the hill the snow was left to its own devices, and then enhanced with frost as well. And if that was not enough, some fog settled among the trees to turn everything into a giant sparkling whiteness, punctuated by dogs, kids on sleds (parents often attached for traction) and runners, sometimes converging into the nec plus ultra of snowy Normafa saturdaying : the runner pulling a child in a sled with a dog in tow.

Nevertheless, the harsh realities of life do sometimes insinuate themselves into the most perfect of backdrops, and the call of the wild turns into the very domestic need for either some nutrition, or perhaps a toilet- for the dangers of micturating in icy environments, refer to Top Gear’s Polar Special. The Normafa trail has however been enhanced with several units made of rather surrounding friendly looking wood, which hide toilets that were clean and perfectly functional at below freezing temperatures too. Nutrition was somewhat restricted compared to summer fun times, but could be found at the Chairlift house- which chairlift was sadly not running due to the inclement weather.

But we could at least warm up with some mulled wine before making the ascent to the Erzsébet lookout- the bit upwards proved a piece of cake on the unslippery and superbly efficient running track, and we were rewarded with the sight of…well, a big white nothing with a flag heroically frozen stiff in the middle of it all. The road downwards proved trickier though, as against my better judgement I agreed to take the stairs. Now, there are many things I am pretty skilled at, but keeping my balance on icy surfaces is not one of those things. As a matter of fact, I am as rubbish at it as I am at pressing pomegranates without making the kitchen look like a crime scene from one of the gorier Jo Nesbø novels and to put things into perspective, I’ve spent the better half of this day trying to make the kitchen look respectable and it still isn’t.

Since I am here writing this piece, you can however conclude that I successfully survived the ordeal and would very warmly recommend a frozen outing to Normafa to anyone looking for some real winter for a tiny fraction of the price of travelling to say Austria or Slovakia. Just don’t take those stairs- if you do and somewhere halfway feel like the whole universe will implode around you, remember, I did warn you.

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