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Archive for August, 2011

Balaton

We did indeed visit a lake for two days while we have been here, the magnificent lake Balaton. I think our greatest motivation for going was the heat, although we jumped at an opportunity to rent a house at the Balaton. Like all large lakes, it enjoys a slightly cooler micro-climate. Seeing as how the temperature has hardly dipped under 90 degrees the whole time we’ve been here, it was a welcome escape. And one must not forget that the Balaton is one of the family’s (and my) favorite destinations anywhere, let alone here in Hungary.

From Balaton 2011

Instead of posting about our visit to the Balaton, which was enjoyable regardless of coverage and will doubtless be covered anyway, I plan on discussing the lake itself–mostly stuff I found out about its history–for this post. I will, however, summarize it in bare-bones form.

A brief overview of our trip: we left from Szolnok around 10:00 in the morning on the Friday the 26th and arrived at our rental house in Balatonlelle (the name of the town) around 1:00, went to the beach and had a delicious lunch (consisting of lángos, which is a traditional fried flabread eaten with cheese, sour cream, salt and garlic), spent the afternoon there, went back to the house and changed clothes, had a nice restaurant dinner, came back and went to bed. We spent the whole next day at the beach including lunch–apart from a walk we took downtown–and had another restaurant dinner. On the 28th we got up, took a windy early morning walk on the marina, not far from the beach we had spent the previous day at, had breakfast, went souvenir shopping (not me; I was too tired and sunburned to walk by the end of it), and drove back arriving as always back home in time for a late lunch (notice any theme here?). 🙂

So, lake Balaton is a famous tourist destination amongst Central Europeans today, but it also has a history. One resort called BalatonfĂĽred (which we’ve been to before) had been used by aristocrats as a medicinal bath and resort since the 15th century during the first Hapsburg dynasty, although records show the use of several locations around the lake as baths since Roman times. It started catering to middle class tourists in the mid 1800’s.

From Balaton 2011

The lake has seen war too. Archaeological evidence indicates that several different battles occurred in various parts of the lake region between the 12th and 13th centuries B.C.E., possibly between resident Slavic or Illyrian tribes. In World War Two a joint counter attack between the German and Hungarian forces assaulted a recently established British/Soviet stronghold on the lake in an unsuccessful attempt to recapture oil reserves. This attack that has become known as the “Lake Balaton Offensive” or “Operation FrĂĽhlingserwachen.”

Badacsony, a region named after a large hill on the north side of the lake is known for its great wines, which have also been here since Roman times. Viniculture is hugely successful in the region because the lake reflects sunlight back onto the hills, allowing the grapes to recieve more. My dad says we’ve visited a few times, but it must have been when I was younger because I don’t really remember.

I got some of this information from wikipedia, some from a Hungarian website called congraf.hu, and some just from knowledge, but I’m not planning on citing these posts unless I’m made to. That’s all for today. Fun trip. Awesome lake.

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Hello readers! We just got back from our mini-trip (two nights) at Lake Balaton in the West of Hungary. It was a ton of fun being able to enjoy it with family was a lot of fun, as we had our cousins and uncle there with us as well. We stayed in a little vacation cottage about a ten minute walk from the shore.

From Balaton 2011

We were staying in between two little towns on the South shore, called Balaton-Boglar and Balatonlelle. The first day we took a two and a half our drive from our base in Szolnok to Budapest to Balaton. We got out of the car and walked to the shore and spent almost the entire day swimming. It was insanely hot, over 100 degrees but splashing in the cool, emerald water was so fun we hardly noticed the heat.

From Balaton 2011

The beach is not exactly what you would call sandy. It was grassy, although some resorts on the Balaton bring in imported sand to put on their beach. Not that the grassyness bothered me. After hours of swimming we had a delicious dinner at one of the restaurants along the beach. I opted for having a bit of everything so I asked for an extra plate and when the food arrived everyone gave me a portion. Unorthodox, I know, but an amazing meal all the same. We walked back to the cottage and I slept like a rock. The next day was a bit cooler. We rented a paddle boat for an hour (in Hungarian, vizibitcigli, which literally translated means water bicycle) which was really fun.

From Balaton 2011

Later we tried the slides that were set up on the beach and played frisbee in the water. We walked home and played a board game with cousins. That evening there was a storm warning and we saw heavy wind. Again I slept like a rock, probably because the bed I was sleeping on was as hard as a rock! In the morning we packed our things and drove back home were treated to a huge meal my Grandma. All in all, a great little excursion, and I hope there are many more like this in the future.

Noemi

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The heat is hovering around a 100 today and there’s not much else to do but lounge in front of the “ventilator” (electric fan) and read and blog.

We had a nice lunch today with Kriszti’s mom and dad: Mama and Tata to us. As often happens, just prior to eating, Tata comes around with an “aperitiv”…in this case Hungarian megy palinka (cherry brandy) which is followed during lunch with a glass or two of his homemade wine, “Tigred”–they live on Tigris Utca (tiger street) and he only makes red wine, thus: tig-red.

Lunch today consisted of two courses. It’s too hot for soup, so the first course was gazpacho with eight varieties of tomato picked fresh from Tata’s garden and garnished with diced cucumber,  paprika (red and green peppers), and homemade croĂ»tons. The second course was rantott (breaded and deep fried) chicken, cauliflower and mushrooms served with rice and homemade “kovaszos” pickles.

From August 2011

Over lunch the subject came up of Tata’s childhood and he told us a story of when he was a child and the newly triumphant communists “kitelepitett” (which, roughly translated, means transplanted) undesirables from the city out into the small villages far from the capital. His family lived in just such a village, TiszabĹ‘, where they were “kisgazdak”–not gentry, but “small landholders.” At that time he remembers that three families were transplanted into their small village home. One into the house itself, another into their enclosed porch and yet another into the sheep stalls. As Tata remembers it, this occurred around 1950 and the families were to stay there with them until around 1955 when the government began to loosen it strict controls somewhat, probably in the wake of growing unrest that eventually led to the 1956 “ellenforradalom” or “counter-revolution.”

“One thing they [the communists] didn’t consider,” he told us, “was the cultural impact this would have on the village. Imagine the effect all these well-educated, cultured people had.” The head of one family was a prominent officer from the army, others were engineers, university professors and musicians. He told us of a clear memory he has of a professor from the music academy who was transplanted as a cowherd. Each morning he would lead his charges out to pasture with his Stradivarius violin. “At the gate he would stop and tip his wide-brimmed hat saying ‘Szervusz Rozsika!’ to the cows as they passed by.” I love stories like this that show that even in such hard times, people can keep their sense of humor.

We laughed and enjoyed each other’s company, and managed to beat the heat staying mostly behind the foot-thick walls of Mama and Tata’s house.  In the afternoon we helped prepare “szilvas gomboc” (plum dumplings), which are large dumplings made from potatoes and flour, each with a whole plum in the center. This became our dinner served with a plum sauce and sugared cinnamon to sprinkle over the top.

From August 2011

I’m not sure where we will find the strength to make it home this evening after such a trying day.

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Mini Cultural Analysis

Hello everyone! It’s Noemi writing. Before we left we promised all the friends and family that we left behind that there would be some “school-related” posts on this blog as we aren’t going to be attending school here. When we meet people and tell them about what we are doing here in Europe, one of the first questions that come up is, “So what about school?” Awkward pause. “Well… we are going to be… learning on the way.” Is usually along the lines of what we reply. Trust me “Roadschooling” is not easy to explain to Hungarians. Some people think it’s a delightful idea and others confront it critically. But after awhile of explaining what our goal is here, they usually come around to thinking that it’s a great learning opportunity. In school, when we learn about the ancient Romans or Greeks or about Communism or the World wars or any of those kind of subjects like History or Geography, we see it from a textbook. But when you can actually experience these things close up, like looking at ancient Roman ruins or Communist sites, it actually means something to you. Though we haven’t gotten around to doing any of these things yet, I hope we can do all of that and much more.

So now I want to get to the original reason for writing this post, my mini culture analysis. What I noticed was this: America is a huge part of the average Hungarian persons’ world, yet here in America if you were to ask a random person about Hungary they could probably say three things. 1. Something about  Hungarian paprika. 2. There is a city there called Budapest. 3. It’s a country in Europe. And that’s if you were to ask an educated adult. I know this bound to happen because America is HUGE and Hungary is just an itty-bitty country nestled between all the other itty-bitty countries in Europe. And it’s not a bad thing, I just happen to find it interesting.

From Selected Sabbatical Pix

A few examples: A lot of schools require Hungarian children to learn English so most people, (although some old Hungarian grandparents can be very traditional and protective over their heritage, believing there is no point in learning English), at least most young people, know some basic English. Some English words have been mangled into Hungarian slang as well, like some people say “Hello” when they answer the phone. 80% (just estimating) of popular music is English music. So if you turn on the radio your bound to hear Rihanna, Beyonce, Black Eyed Peas, Bruno Mars, Avril Lavign, etc, etc. My two cousins are good examples as well, I mentioned them in an earlier blog post. They have Hannah Montana, Twilight, and Justin Beiber posters on their walls. They watch all the popular Disney Channel shows that are popular with kids back in America albeit they are dubbed into Hungarian. And the older one (we call her Bogi) who is 11 has read all of the Twilight books, translated into Hungarian.

From August 2011

One last example: Clothes. Most T-Shirts and Sweaters being sold in stores here have English words on them. My cousins always have a good laugh when we translate that the pink T-shirt they are wearing says something like “Love is a peaceful world of cats” or some other random, meaningless english phrase someone came up with to put on a T-shirt. The point is that America has had a big impact in the pop-culture of Hungary.

 

That’s all for now, but I’ll write again soon.

Love to everyone back home,

Noemi

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Debrecen

Day 13 of the trip and I have returned from our four-day foray into Debrecen, the 2nd largest urban area in Hungary. My favorite part of the stay was the ice cream (as always), but I also enjoyed walking around “Kossuth Lajos tĂ©r” (Lajos Kossuth was a famous Hungarian political figure; tĂ©r means “square” as in a city square), visiting the nagyerdö (big forest), going inside the huge marble university building, watching the fireworks on August 20th–the biggest Hungarian national holiday–playing darts (mostly just me throwing darts at the board by myself because nobody else seemed to like it), and just spending time with family.

From Selected Sabbatical Pix

Debrecen is big, but by American standards, not huge. Wikipedia says 207,000 residents last year. I’ve heard several people say that the greater metropolitan area is closer to 300,000, but that still puts the figure far away from what you would expect for the second biggest city in the country. It just reminds you what kind of quiet little farm country this really is.

We arrived, once again, by train, which is an easier, simpler, sometimes cheaper and ultimately more fun way to travel long distances in Hungary than by car. The house we stayed at–my uncle’s–was larger than the apartment here at Bajtárs utca, but significantly smaller than our house in Sherwood, Oregon. It was located about twenty minutes walk from downtown, so we did walk once or twice, but instead of suffering almost an hour of walking plus the hours downtown, we went by bus or car when we could. The second full day was when we took our most extensive trip, making a long loop around town through the cobblestone streets of old town and the big nagyerdö city park. We visited a lot of sights downtown. I’m not going to try to remember all of them. On the fourth day (the fifth day if you count our first partial day as day one), we got up, ate a leisurely breakfast, waited for anya (mom) and my sister to get back from the dentist–did I mention my uncle is a dentist?–and took the noontime train back to Szolnok in time for a late lunch.

Since we’re going to be living here for five months, I think I will try to familiarize myself with the history of this and other parts of the country to a greater level. I don’t know much about Debrecen but I found this brief visit fun. I realize this post was shorter than the previous two, and perhaps the shortest post I will write, but its closer to the size I want to make my posts over the next few weeks.

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I am pleased to say that our journey went well. Better than expected, in fact. I love it here in Hungary, as I always have. There seems to be much more to do here on a daily basis than at home. The size of the apartment, the harder European beds and the lack of ice water are the only meager minuses in this equation, and the pluses include better food, more scenic environment, awesome grandparents, better TV programming (hehe), so all in all I am having fun!

By request of my parents, my schooling (which we are now referring to as roadschooling) will be supplemented by a bi- or tri-weekly blog post. This can be considered the first.

We arrived about a week ago, on August 10th, having left the previous day. The day of arrival was–as my comic Hungarian uncle Zoltán says–“kĂłmás” or “comatose,” and consequently more memorable for my brain’s less than fully functioning state than for the arrival itself. I ended up sleeping half the afternoon that day, which is the most chronic and unfortunate symptom of a 14-hour string of flights and layovers that starts at about 3 AM, especially when the flight is to somewhere as pleasant as here.

That morning we awoke on the flight to Frankfurt at around 3 AM local time once more (at least I did), laid over in Frankfurt until 6:30, got to the Ferihegy airport somewhere around 8:00. Having looked at tickets online back home, we got on our train as planned, but we had to take an unexpected stop in CeglĂ©d before arriving at Szolnok VasĂştállomás (Szolnok train station). Imagine our impatience when we arrived via taxi here at their apartment and find that mama and tata were not home! So we called them on a cell phone we borrowed from our taxi driver, waited for about 10 minutes for them to get back from the store and finally were able to rest. After eating fresh local bakery bread, Trapista sajt (a mild Hungarian cheese), kolbász (spicy Hungarian sausage that is the equivalent of a string of pepperoni except thinner and tastier), and drinking ripe, summer peach juice, we retired and slept soundly… only to get up at 3 AM local time again!

The second day we went for a walk down the Tisza, a river that runs through Szolnok which is much bluer than the Danube, trust you me! I really wanted ice cream but apparently it was too early, so we arrived back in time for lunch at mama and tata’s other house on “tigris utca”–“tiger street;” they own a second home: a family house that is only slightly bigger than their first home that they only keep for the garden and as a house for when guests come. We talked, swang on swings and stayed for dinner.

Day three we went shopping, then ate ice cream. Apart from the ice cream, there isn’t much to say.

Day four and five we were spent entertaining my mom’s brother’s family: my uncle Zoltán, and my cousins Boglárka and Dominika, both of whom are younger than my sister.

From August 2011

Day six (yesterday) we walked downtown and bought grapes at the farmers market, called the “piac.” My mom (Noemi and I call her “anya,” which means mom in Hungarian) absentmindedly asked for 2 kilos. We got ice cream again.

Today I am blogging. Nothing has happened yet and probably we will just be doing another walk and some other mild things today, but we are planning on going to Debrecen tomorrow. That will probably be my next post. Until then, I’ll be having fun here on my dad’s radical sabbatical!

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We Made It!

Hey, this is Noemi, writing my first blog entry! We have been in Europe for one week now and finally got the internet for our laptops working. We had an easy flight across the Atlantic from Portland with a short layover in Chicago and Frankfort before arriving in Budapest on the 10th. From there we took a bus and a train here to Szolnok (pronounced sol-nok), just an hour and a half  south-east of Budapest. My grandparents have a compact little one-bedroom apartment here as well as a little garden house a few blocks away. We are still adjusting to everything, especially the timezone. Its been getting better, but we still find ourselves waking up at 4.00 am. The language is also taking some time to adjust to as we have forgotten so many words. When people talk we understand them perfectly but sometimes when trying to respond we turn towards one-another and ask them, “how do you say this again?” But we are still having a blast here. Just wanted to mention that Hungary has AMAZING ICE CREAM!

From August 2011

We have decided to sample some ice cream from each shop and parlor here in town, so far we have hit four different places and I’ve already had a total of about six scoops of ice cream in six days! Yum! The weather is great, yesterday we got up to about 95 degrees farenheight. In August we plan to go back up to Budapest for a day trip, visit Debrecen (pronounced deb-re-sen), another city in eastern Hungary where my uncle and two cousins live, ages 10 and 11. We are also planning to visit lake Balaton, a huge lake in western Hungary. Its absolutely beautiful, dotted with little villages all along the shoreline, surrounded by sunflowers. Its a huge tourist attraction as well. In early September we are planning on doing our main trip in Italy before returning to my Grandparents just before my thirteenth birthday on the 11th. That’s all I know, but we are definitely going on several more big trips in the coming months.

 

Hope you all are having some great adventures of your own,

Noemi

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