Just Life in General

Hello! This will be a shorter post (I hope!). I hope everyone has made a nice transition into December, as we’re drawing into our last month here. As people around the world are preparing for the winter holidays, Europeans are no exception, specifically here in Hungary. On November 30th for example, we celebrated Andy’s ‘name day.’ The ‘name day’ is one of the Hungarians’ strongest traditions. Each day of the year, there are one or two Hungarian names that get celebrated, each day being a different name. A name-day is like a birthday. And people always know who’s name-day it is, because Hungarian calenders come with the names printed on the days. So old friends call each other, families gather together, you usually receive gifts, and chocolates, or flowers. Luckily, Andy and I both got traditional Hungarian names, and even though people give us funny looks when we say them (i.e. “Yeah it’s pronounced No-Amy, not Nay-Omy or No-Emi”) We get to have something of a second birthday. My name-day is on April 22nd for instance, along with another Hungarian name on that day: Csilla.

We also celebrated the first and second days of the Advent, by making Advent wreaths. The first Sunday of Advent was November 27th. Then, each Sunday until Christmas, we light one more candle. The 4th of December was the second Sunday, so we lit two candles. And there are four candles in all. The wreath is made of pine branches, typically decorated with ribbons, holly berries, silver and gold chains, and the candles.

Today was also St. Nicholas Day, we Americans call him Santa, Hungarian children call him Mikulás. Last night, children across the country cleaned out their best pair of boots or shoes, and put them on the windowsill. This morning, they found their shoes full of presents. Things like nuts, oranges and apples, chocolate, and small toys are common. It’s sort of like our tradition with stockings hanging over the fire, except they do it on the sixth of December, instead of the 25th. What did we get? Well Andy’s shoes contained a pineapple, mine a pommelo (A grapefruit type thing). We saw the fruits hiding inconspicuously on the kitchen counter the day before, so it wasn’t much of a surprise, but we gobbled them up anyway.

The Christmas Village is also a large step in getting ready for Christmas. Most of the bigger towns and cities have there own ‘village.’ It’s a small market, usually with a light display, and homemade goods and candies, and boiled wine being sold. (Boiled wine is a specialty, containing cinnamon and cloves. My dad tells me it tastes like apple cider, just with alcohol.) The Christmas Village is typically opened the first week of December. My Grandma, “Mama,” is already preparing her recipes for Christmas. This weekend we celebrate my dads’ birthday, and next week we head back up to Budapest, hopefully in the snow, to meet some family friends who decided to come and join us for a while in Europe.

Hmmm… Well that’s all I have to say on this subject at the moment, but I do want to say, in the category of road-schooling, that now, entirely without my permission, my brain mixed up a language setting somewhere and I’m reading and writing and even partly dreaming in Hungarian. The speaking was always easy, but I had never quite been able to write it, and reading a sentence could take ages. But now it’s almost as good as my English. I suppose it comes naturally, now that we have been immersed in the language for so long, but it still took me as a surprise. The good thing at least, about Hungarian, is that they spell everything just the way it sounds, which makes it easier to read if you can sound it out.


Well this wasn’t as short as I’d hoped, seeing as it took me nearly an hour to write this, and it wasn’t about travel, just life in general. But I’m glad I finished it now. Whew!





Gittin’ me some culture

The week after our trip to Rome has been mostly a restful one, but we did get out a couple of nights and enjoy some of Szolnok’s best entertainment. On Thursday Andy, Kriszti and I went to the Szigligeti Szinhaz (theater) to watch the Hungarian adaptation of W. Somerset Maugham’s play “Home and Beauty” (Imádok Ferjhez Menni). It was a musical comedy and quite good (as much as I could understand it…I could easily get the gist, but there were a lot of jokes and song lyrics that went right over my head). I enjoyed the experience as much for the atmosphere as for the content of the play. Szigligeti is a beautiful theater, and it is fun to watch all the people watching everyone else.

On Friday night we went to the “Aba-Novák Kulturális Központ” (Szolnok’s Cultural Center) to watch the “Itt-Honi Népzenei és Néptánc Találkozó”. If you read Noémi’s recent post (Budapest part II) you know that we often play with the words Itthon (“HERE at home”) and Otthon (There at home). The title of this even is also playing with that theme and refers to local Folk Music and Folk dance performers.

The program featured folk dancers and musicians of all ages. We were able to see a friend of Andy’s dance–a boy he knew from when he went to kindergarten here. Our favorite part of the event was the finale when the Tisza Néptáncegyüttes performed. These are professional dancers and for their 65th anniversary, they came on stage together with the Tiszantul Néptánce Együttes (Tiszantul is an expression meaning “trans-Tisza” or “across the Tisza river,” but here it could also refer to the dancers who have grown too old to be in the professional troupe. At the height of the final performance there were over 100 dancers and musicians on the stage. It was really fun to watch from the front row where we were seated. If you have ever seen this kind of folk dance, you know that it has a lot in common with modern forms such as Stomp where the dance steps are like percussion. Here is a YouTube video of this same group on the same stage (different performance with fewer performers):

Tisza Neptancegyuttes

Budapest part 2. And more…

About a week ago, we arrived back to Szolnok from Budapest. The rest of our week there went by in a blur. On Wednesday we explored Szentendre. The little town is about half an hour from downtown Budapest. We took the Hév, which is like a mini above-ground train, mostly used by commuters living in the suburbs. When we got off, we strolled around the main streets where all the tourist shops are. Amazingly, in the main square, among the brightly painted two and three story buildings and the cobble-stone streets, they were filming a movie. It was the perfect location, after all, the little town doesn’t look as if it has been changed much at all in the last century. There was maybe a dozen men and women dressed up in clothes from the 18th-19th century or so. As well as the actors and actresses, there was stage directors rushing around, and cameras, and equipment. A huge crowd of locals and tourist alike had gathered around the filming area. My mom inquired around and discovered they were filming a scene from a movie about Picasso. We watched as two actors conversed at an outdoor café table, and as a man and a women strolled arm-in-arm while conversing loudly. And then the scene was over. But still, how exciting!

We managed to find a thin, dark alleyway that led away from the main square. It wasn’t wide enough for two people to fit side-by-side, so we walked in single file up a steep slope. The alleyway opened up into wide steps. Halfway up the steps was a small entrance into a small courtyard. A few picnic tables and benches had been set out, and the aroma of incredible, frying food was wafting about. We went up to the counter and ordered lángos (pronounced ‘lang-osh’). 

I would try to explain what it is for those of you that are not familiar with it, but the intense incredibleness of the lángos, just can’t be described well enough in the English language. The translated plaque next to the counter said ‘a fried yeast dough,’ but that just doesn’t give it back. Andy had his stuffed with cabbage. The typical way to eat it is with sour cream and cheese. We ate the lángos while watching a cat on a neighboring rooftop groom itself. This little village was so quiet and peaceful, you could never guess it was so close to the big city. We walked up more steps, and got treated to a beautiful view of the village. We kicked our way across fallen leaves and chestnuts and walked down the hill again. Through the streets and the main square, and down by the river a bit. And the day was gone. It was such a refreshing break from the city, it seemed as if it had it’s own time. We got on the Hév again and made it back to the apartment.

Thursday we walked, and walked, and walked. There is so much to see of Budapest on foot, that I just can’t elaborate on all the things we did. On Friday we rested. We found it such a fun pastime to lay on the couch all day. Saturday we went to the Margit Island (Margit Sziget). No trip to Budapest is complete without going to the Island. We adored the colorful leaves and the November sunshine, the walking paths, and the tourists as well. We even saw the old ruin, which, though it has crumbled, has remained there much the same, for the past many years. On Sunday we came home. Well, our temporary home. We like to play around with the Hungarian phrases: itthon and otthon. When translated, it-thon meaning here-home and ot-thon meaning there-home. We like to say Szolnok is our itthon while we’re here and the same while we’re back in Oregon. It’s a nice feeling to have two homes.


Just two days after arriving in Szolnok, Anya and Apa (known to everyone else as Tim and Kriszti) were leaving for Rome. We all needed some time to recuperate. Although I’m sure there adventures in Italy were magical, we were having a great time with my other grandma, Mama. She is known for her incredible cooking. We enjoyed eating it. We painted, drew, read, and ate. It was fun. Monday the 21st, the parents arrived back early in the morning. November 21st is a special day in the family, as it was my littlest cousin’s (Dominika’s) 11th birthday as well as my other grandpa’s (Tata’s) 75th birthday.

We have, and will continue to have, incredible adventures here in Europe, but, I can’t keep the excitement from my voice when I say there’s only 5 more weeks until we go home. This is a very bitter-sweet place, because wherever we are, we continuously miss our other home, our otthon. It may be the only down-side to having two homes and two families that are so far away that it is a rare thing when we could all be together. So, as I said, I’m enjoying our trip so much, that it’s going to make coming home all the more fun.




Kriszti and I just came back from a four-day visit to Rome, Italy.

From Rome 2011

(Click on any of the photos to view full size or see the whole album at the bottom of this post).

One of the amazing things about Europe for me is how close things are…we left Szolnok on Wednesday afternoon (we chose to fly Wizz Air which has incredibly low-priced flights, but a very strange schedule), taking the train to Budapest’s Liszt Ferenc (Franz Liszt) airport. Our flight left Budapest at eight-something and arrived in Rome at a quarter to ten. The flight was roughly the same length of time as the train trip.
One of the difficult things for me to get used to on many European flights is that they don’t assign seats, so everyone queues up an hour in advance of the flight, then there’s a rush for seats and confusion ensues (including a fair amount of pushing and shoving, jostling and so forth). We paid a little extra for “priority boarding” which, essentially, meant we were able to cut to the front of the line…anyway enough said about that.
We arrived to Rome city center around midnight (after waiting on the shuttle bus for an hour in the airport parking lot) so we ended up taking a taxi to our accommodations–a sort of B&B called “Residenza Maxima” the pictures you see on their Web site are of the room we stayed in, but they tend to make it look just a little better than it actually was). It was located a bit far from the center, but roughly half-way between the center and the “Centro Congressi” a conference center deep in the suburbs where the TESOL Italy conference (http://tesolitaly.org) was being held.
We found the apartments, woke up the manager and got our keys and fell into bed, exhausted. Early the next morning we were up early and out about for our first forray into the city.

From Rome 2011

It took us a while to get oriented (find the right tram into the city, buy tickets, etc.) but we were soon at the Piazza Venezia with our mouths hanging open because everywhere you looked there were jaw-droppingly beautiful monuments to look at.

From Rome 2011
From Rome 2011

Kriszti and I both love taking pictures and we adopt a machine-gun approach to photography–we were each snapping pictures like mad. Between us we took over seven hundred pictures in our first two days–I love digital! Can you imagine how much that would have cost in the days of film?

From Rome 2011

We walked until our feet couldn’t hold us up anymore, then we headed back to our neighborhood where we dropped into a small market to buy some groceries. The guy at the deli counter was singing and whistling while he cut prosciutto and cheeses and served customers. And though he only had a little English and we (meaning Kriszti) only a little Italian, he helped us put together an amazing meal for only a few Euros, all the while laughing and joking with us. We already had some pasta in our basket, and he packaged up a small container of fresh pesto, several slices of prosciutto, a chunk of cheese (to die for), and olives (also to die for); in addition we bought a bottle of white wine, a jar of antipasti, some cookies and sweets and sundries. we took all this home to the apartment and Kriszti cooked the pasta while I set up a Skype call with the kids.
The next day I went off to the conference and Kriszti did sight-seeing, then hooked up with a local Nia teacher and eventually ended up teaching Nia classes in Rome! (it’s up to her to write about her experiences, nudge, nudge). We met up in the evening and had a magical night visiting some beautiful places such as the Trevi Fountain

From Rome 2011

, Piazza Navona and the Pantheon

From Rome 2011

On Saturday I attended the conference and gave my presentation in the afternoon. My presentation was scheduled for 3:15 and at 3:10 I was standing in front of an empty room. I was starting to worry that everyone had gone home early, or, worse yet, they simply hadn’t found my presentation abstract interesting, but it turned out that the plenary speaker had gone long, and people were late getting the next sessions. Within a few minutes the room filled up and I proceeded to give my presentation, “Leveraging Internet tools and resources for creating CLIL classroom materials…” I won’t bore you with the details, but I was very happy to say that it was well received; several people came up afterwards to congratulate me and say how much they enjoyed the presentation.
After the conference, I met back up with Kriszti and we spent another evening running around Rome until our legs nearly fell off.

From Rome 2011

Sunday we slept a little later and then went to the Porta Portese Flea Market in Trastevere…this was a huge market with what seemed like a million people crowding into narrow lanes between stalls selling just about everything you could imagine. We had fun buying T-shirts, fridge magnets, and other kitschy tourist stuff for about a third of the price it cost in the city center. Unfortunately, Kristi had arranged to teach another class and we were stuck in the middle of this huge mob. We had a slightly stressful fifteen-minute rush along a surprisingly long lane packed with shoppers. Eventually we made our way out and then hopped on busses and metros to get here to where she was going. At this point we split up: she went to teach her class and I went back to the apartments to check out and collect our bags. We met back up in the city, then stashed out bag at the Termini station. We spent our last few hours in Rome doing more walking (blisters!) and a little gift shopping.
More planes, trains and walking and we were back in Szolnok. The last little bit of spice to our adventure was that the handle to our pullman wouldn’t come out and I had to pull it from the train station in Szolnok to our apartment (normally about a ten minute walk) at 2:30 am. Kriszti said the wheels sounded like a tractor in the early morning silence, but the bag was too heavy to carry having been stuffed with our dirty cloths and all the gifts we had purchased.

Rome 2011

Now we are home relaxing in our pajamas and recovering…I think after a day or two of rest I’ll be ready to go on another adventure.

Budapest Part 1.

Well whats been going on with us? We haven’t written a blog post for weeks! The truth of the matter is, this is mainly a travel blog and we just haven’t been traveling! We have been simply living. We have been learning, going on long walks in a variety of places, and eating incredible food. I guess we finally realized that taking a five-month sabbatical didn’t mean we would be traveling five months straight. Part of this vacation had to be about relaxing. And that’s exactly what we have been doing. Well at least up to now. Two days ago we took the hour-long train ride to Budapest and we decided to spend the week here. So it’s not much of a trip I suppose, if we only had to travel an hour to get here, but so far it has been satisfying our travel needs.

From Budapest November 7-13

(click pictures to see full-size)

Day one in this big city was Monday. We arrived here and promptly began to walk around the city until our legs felt like bricks. We took a short break in our little apartment that we are renting here from a friend. It’s on the Buda side of the city with a lovely rooftop veiw as we are  on the sixth floor.

From Budapest November 7-13

After lunch we proceeded to climb the Gellert Hill. Well we bussed up it anyway. And down. But we still walked around the top, took pictures of the view, browsed the tourist shops, my dad got a spiced wine (looks and smells like hot apple cider, except alcoholic). We had a good time.

From Budapest November 7-13
From Budapest November 7-13

Yesterday we got up in the morning, walked across the bridge and browsed around in the market hall. Note: this is nothing like the little outdoor farmers markets at home. Imagine a huge old building with three stories packed with most things imaginable.

From Budapest November 7-13

This is the market hall. It’s sort of like a shopping mall but the stalls are mostly farmers selling their garden fruits and vegetables, and whatever else they’re passionate about. For example there were people selling pastries, fresh honey, fish and meat, fresh dairy products and cheeses, art, gifts, crocheted and knitted hats and scarves and jewelry. It was a  pretty amazing experience.

From Budapest November 7-13

After this we walked a lot more looking for the basilica, as it was on the list of stuff we wanted to see. Well we found it. And we found out that you could climb to the top.

From Budapest November 7-13

So of course we had to do it. First there was a spiral staircase that was so long, I lost count of the steps. We got to what we thought was the top, when we discovered it was just a big, empty room resembling a warehouse. We walked across the floor which felt like it could break at any minute, only to find: another staircase!

From Budapest November 7-13

This one was even more rickety if possible. Well we didn’t want to turn around so we just kept climbing. We climbed for maybe another ten minutes? I don’t know, but it felt like hours. Then we reached a huge open room with rafters and a big dome. We were inside the cupola! We found the door that led outside. We were at the very top of the building! There was a railing that led around the big dome and platforms for taking pictures. But you could walk around the whole thing and get an amazing 360 view of Budapest.

From Budapest November 7-13

It was worth all those scarey rickety steps, although I felt a  little silly when we found out about the elevator, which we gratefully used on the way down.

From Budapest November 7-13

Well that was the basilica adventure. Of course we got lunch and managed to walk until our legs where sore. Later in the evening we did a little night-walk, as the lights lit-up the city. We also found a pancake house and went out for real Hungarian Palacsinta. Right now it’s Wednesday morning. Today we plan to take a little excursion into the nearby Szentendre (St. Andre), a quaint little town. Well we will just have to see how the that goes… I’llwrite another post about the rest of the our weekhere in Budapest Part 2.

From Budapest November 7-13

Lots of love to family and friends!

Budapest November 7-13



From Eger October 2011

Noemi won’t rest until I post to the blog, so here goes. Last week I took a day-trip up to Eger, one of my favorite cities in Hungary. Eger is in the northern part of the country in the Mátra mountains that run east-west along the border between Hungary and Szlovakia. Eger is a very historic town beloved to Hungarians for it’s famous wines (the famous Hungarian “bull’s blood” for example) and for a famous battle against the Turkish invaders in which a small garrison was able to withstand a siege against a much larger force–this is chronicled in a Hungarian novel, “Egri Csillagok” (the stars of Eger, but entitled “The eclipse of the Crescent Moon,” in English). It is required reading for elementary school children here and our Niece, Boglarka, was reading it this summer.

From October 10, 2011

I drove up through the flatlands of the Alföld (the Hungarian great plains), through numerous villages where life seems less touched by modernization than in the cities. Instead of driving straight to Eger, however, I took a detour into the mountains to explore and to enjoy the fall foliage. I only stopped long enough to hike up to an ancient castle ruin of Sirok (Siroki Vár)…which dates back at least to the thirteenth century.

From October 10, 2011

I took a number of photos then proceeded on to Eger. I didn’t really have a plan for the day, I simply enjoyed wandering around the winding streets of Eger, I climbed to the top of the minaret (which is reported to be the northern most Turkish minaret dating from the Turkish occupation) and got a great view of the city, then had a quick lunch in the main square (Dobó István tér).
One of the highlights of the day was a side trip outside the city to the vinyards where I sought out a local grower selling wine from his “pince” or cellar (in Eger these are usually dug into the hillside). I bought a couple of bottles to take home and taste with Tata.

From October 10, 2011

Grape harvest and wine making

We had our “szüret” (grape harvest) and wine making over the last week or so. We picked 185 Kg (about 400 lbs) from Tata’s garden–it’s amazing how many grapes can be packed into a moderate sized garden. After picking the grapes, we ran them through a grinder to separate the fruit from the skins and stems. After that the stems and other debris were removed and the “must” was placed in large containers for fermentation. Due to good weather, the first stage of the fermentation was over relatively quickly (about 5 days). After this the “lé” was filtered out and the skins were run through a press. All together we calculated roughly 120 liters of wine.
You can see highlights of the process in the following video montage: