Sunday, September 27, 2009

Once Excursion, Now a Hop—One More on Travel

After we first settled in happy Hopkins, Minnesota, we soon learned that our town had once been a stop on the train route that linked Minneapolis to its chief resort, Lake Minnetonka to the west. Minnetonka is a big body of water with multiple, extended bays and a shoreline of 125 miles in length. The train once ran from the city to Excelsior, on the lake, a distance of 20 miles. Hopkins was more or less in the middle of that route, 11 miles from the Minneapolis. Trains no longer ran to Excelsior from Hopkins in our day, but the rails were still on the ground when we arrived; they’d been removed by the time we left.

We soon found Lake Minnetonka, just a brief drive away. In later times our treasure, a modest blue-white yacht we’d named Serendipity, lay anchored in one of Minnetonka’s bays. For some years we threw money into a hole in the water (as the saying has it), but it was money well spent: the memories of that time still gleam; they remain while money still keeps flowing out.

Palics Water Tower

But no sooner had I learned of this relationship—town and lake resort—than I remembered Lake Palics in what was then Hungary. Palics (now Palić in Serbia) was a mere 5 miles from the big city where we lived, Szabadka (Subotica now). The emblem of Palics, still there today, is its water tower. Five miles is no distance in this day and age, but in the wonderfully sunny times that memory preserves, going to Palics was a genuine excursion. Nobody owned cars. We went by streetcar. And, indeed, the two concepts were preserved in verse by one of Hungary’s poets, Izidór Milkó (1855-1932) in this fragment:

Uncle Dóri looks towards Palics
And wonders if the streetcar’s on its way.
The same in the original (to please the Hungarian reader, if there ever happens to be one):

Dóri bácsi Palics felé tekint,
hogy jön-e már a villamos.
The idyllic, sunny, and magical sometimes combine with the shocking, painful, and dark. It was in Palics, where mother and her children were summering—as we did every year in a rented cottage—that news came that my Father, fighting on the Eastern Front—indeed just a few miles east of Lodz in Poland where Brigitte lived as a girl—had been severely injured and his left arm had been amputated. And a few weeks later he came there himself, with the empty sleeve of his uniform tucked into a pocket.

But let me, having paused, startled by this memory, continue my comparison. In Hopkins too, no doubt, families took the train from the station to spend a weekend on the splendid lake. Excelsior indeed—and even in our day, some of the splendor remains, I mean on shore: the water and the sky are ever and unchangeably the gift from above.

Hopkins Depot, now a Café

Funny thing. Hopkins actually owes its name to the building of this artery, the name of a man, and that man’s self-assertion. The town, then called Village of West Minneapolis, wished to take advantage of the railroad and built a station house. They persuaded a man called Harley H. Hopkins to sell them the land for the depot. He finally agreed—but only if they put his name on the building. As this picture shows, they did. And the people, coming and going by train, saw that name. And the place, consequently, came to be known as Hopkins. Eventually the city elders caved to the inevitable, the vox populi.

The Sopot Rainbow Fountain

Brigitte, in her childhood, spent her summers on the Baltic at the still thriving resort of Sopot. That place, as always in such cases, was a mere hop by car (about 8 miles) from Gdynia to the north and Gdansk to the south. In her case vacation was a real trip because she first took the train from Lodz to Gdynia (200 miles); but the distance from there to Sopot is now a hop but then was an excursion, still accomplished by taking a train. Now beaches are the same all over the world, and in their dunes of sand and roaring surf almost generic; therefore I choose here to illustrate Sopot by one of its parks and a fountain known as the Rainbow.
Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia available here: Palics, Hopkins, Sopot.


  1. This post is a strange mix of now and then.
    I almost thought the Sopot photo was one you had taken this summer because I thought the skinny boy in front of the fountain was Henry - whose resemblance to you is sometimes stunning. Last weekend, Henry and I also watched the rainbow created by the tall gyser in the reflecting pool at Sceaux.
    And don't you think the Palics water tower looks a little like the Detroit pumping station? I did and looked twice - but then, I'm not all that familiar with the Detroit pumping station...

  2. And furthermore, just recently - I don't remember in which context -, Henry, Malcolm and I were talking about those very railway tracks that ran behind the Saint Albans house. I didn't know they had been taken out.
    And yet some more present and pest linking, Henry, who is learning the capitals of the countries of Europe said he knew one for sure : Budapest, because that's where Opi was born! He asked if we could go there...

  3. The tracks behind the St. Albans house are still in active use. The abandoned, and ultimately removed, tracks were further inside Hopkins.

    The words "Detroit pumping station" doesn't bring anything to mind. But water towers, especially in Europe, and some here, do tend to be clad in such architectural garb as at Palics.

  4. Railways and water fronts. Nice post.

    Let me just add a quick note here about the railway lines behind the St. Albans house. Those same lines run all the way downtown, of course, and further. The point is, from St. Louis Park, where Patriicia lives, she used to commute downtown along the new, paved, bike paths that were installed along that same rail line. As far as I know, those bike paths go all the way to Minnetonka and, mind you, these are bike paths that are plowed in the winter. People actually use them year round, in Minnesota! Terrific, no?

    Yes, the Twin Cities are still full of people who understand the benefits of the commons. Long may it be so (despite economic cycles)!


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