Q. When is a museum not a museum?
A. When you can spend the whole day there.
Having been to the ethnographical museum in Városliget, I was well-prepared for a slow „death by folk culture“, but thankfully, the Skanzen museum near Szentendre isn’t the murderous type. It needn’t be regarded as a museum at all; rather a collection of historic, picturesque villages set against the Pilis hills. If you think you can combine it with a trip to Szentendre, you’d better be talking about the weekend rather than the afternoon.
At the entrance, now a faithful replica of the railway station in Mezőhegyes, a map gives you some idea of the scale of the site, which sprawls out over 60 hectares. As I stroll towards region VI, “Market Town In the Great Hungarian Plain”, which feels like the natural direction to walk in, the landscape unfolds. The sails of a windmill emerge over the ridge against a backdrop of green hills, while authentic thatched cottages appear further along the path.
Many buildings are open to the public. The furnishings are quite literally at home, sidestepping the predicament of the conventional museum: i.e. how to present functional day-to-day items without harming your visitors‘ brain function. Nosing around authentic houses from the last three centuries left my senses pretty much intact.
Barns, shops, workshops, mills and a small farm are all teeming with activity, presenting numerous opportunities to observe, purchase or take part in a small piece of Hungarian village life. Hammering holes into pieces of leather with a blunt chisel is also a decent way to keep 10-year old children occupied.
The amount of time you spend at the Skanzen really depends on how much you like wandering around villages and whether you’re aware of everything on offer. House-viewing fatigue does set in after a while, so a visit to the wine cellar or the inn might perk you up a bit.
The Skanzen’s peaceful car-free environment is ideal for a picnic, which can be supplemented with produce from the local bakery. Granted: bread may be bread may be bread, but the Skanzen’s bread hasn’t been sitting in your bag all day.
The latest addition is a railway line that connects up five of the regions, complete with a 1930s railcar (which, this being Hungary, was still in regular service until 1989.) For 500Ft, and if you get your timing right, you can make the long walk back to the car park a breeze. Well, if breezes travel at 15km an hour, that is.
You can get to Szentendre in 40 minutes by HÉV (the suburban railway), leaving from Batthyány tér or Margit hid. The Skanzen is a further 20 minute bus journey from Szentendre station.