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Archive for the ‘Family Adventures’ Category

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!

Lots

of

Love,

Noemi

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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.

Love,

Noemi

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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

-Noemi

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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:

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From Croatia

I’m sure all of our readers have figured out that we went to Croatia, and it was officially awesome! But here is the trip from my perspective:
We woke up on Thursday morning promptly at 3:45 am, got everything ready, and set off at 4:30. The night was still dark and I fell asleep for a while. The 7 and a half our drive was long and by the time we got there we were exhausted! Our first stop was not the city of Pula itself but a neighboring town called Medulin. Apparently, Medulin has the ‘best sandy beach in Croatia’ so we decided to check it out. It was really an incredible beach, with the warm, clear water lapping at the shore, and lots of families splashing and playing. But we didn’t really appreciate it until afterwards when the only beaches to be found where either pebbly or rocky. We spent the first night there in Medulin, but the next morning we drove right to Pula. Pula was a very fun stop and I’m so glad we did go to check it out. It was “my city” because I chose it and did research on it before hand, and got the opportunity to lead my family around the city for the first time.

From Croatia

We visited the ancient Roman amphitheater, one of the best preserved roman amphitheaters or Colosseums outside of Rome. Pula has a long and interesting history and that is one of the reasons I chose it. Apparently they found evidence of Homo Erectus dating back to 1 million years ago in a cave outside the city. It was a well-known Roman city, but they believe it may also have been a Greek one before that, because archaeologists found a half-statue of Apollo and lots of Greek pottery and tools, as well as the fact that in the ancient Greek myths of Jason and Medea, when Jason allegedly stole the golden fleece, the Colchians chased him into the Adriatic sea, and when they couldn’t catch him, they took refuge in a city called Polai. This points to the fact that the Greeks attributed the foundation of the city now called Pula, to the Colchians. But anyway, after Pula was declared a Roman city, the Romans built the Arena (as they call it) for entertainment purposes. They created the city’s first water and sewage system as well, under the rule of Julius Caesar. They also built 10 gates around the city, so as to fortify it. Only four of the gates remain standing today and we saw two of them during our visit: the twin gates.

The Romans also built the Temple of Augustus, which is also one of the ancient Roman relics left standing. I loved the beautifully carved Corinthian columns, the most detailed of three types of ancient columns. (Naturally we took tons of pictures!) The city was the taken over by tons of people, the Ostrogoths, the Franks, (under Charlemagne) The Austro-Hungarian too, and tons more. Which makes it all the more amazing that all these ancient Roman sites actually survived all those years to modern times.

From Croatia

We only stayed in Pula for a few hours, but I relished being able to set foot in a city with so much history. On the drive up to our final stop, Rovinj, we drove through Bale, a small town where they actually discovered dinosaur tracks! We even saw a statue there commemorating the event. Upon arrival in Rovinj, we immediately parked the car and wandered the winding cobblestone streets, before finding a place to stay. Eventually we found the perfect little place, a rental apartment attached to the owner’s home, with two bedrooms, a bathroom, and a kitchen. From there we set off to the beach, which was, though pebbly, quite beautiful. With the smell of baking pine trees above us and the brilliant blue sea below, I think we all felt like we have been given a little slice of paradise. We swam and enjoyed the clear warm water and the view of Rovinj from afar.

From Croatia

In the evening we went back into the city and enjoyed some more shining cobblestone streets. It was like a maze, and though the city itself was small, it would have been easy to get lost. You would be walking down a tight, narrow, little street and then it would open up and you would find yourself in a busy square or maybe a restaurant.

From Croatia

We walked up to the top of the town, where Rovinj’s famous bell-tower stands. From there you could see everything: the town, the harbor, the ocean, the beaches, and even the tiny island of St. Catalina, all under the purple haze of twilight. We shuffled home, and I fell asleep as soon as my head touched the pillow.

Our second day in Rovinj was spent much as the first. We went to the market which was wonderful and bought fresh grapes and figs as well as some soft pretzels for breakfast. We walked around the city much as we had the day before, and for lunch we picnicked on the beach. A lot of the rest of the afternoon was spent swimming and sunbathing and shell-collecting in bliss.

From Croatia

In the evening we went to a restaurant for dinner to celebrate the night before my birthday. We found the perfect restaurant, one with good prices, amazing food, and it wasn’t to crowded, as it was in one of the back streets. My dad and I shared a grilled meat plate, my brother had fettucine pasta with truffle sauce and my mom a seafood plate with plenty of squid (eurgh). But I think we all had an amazing meal in the perfect atmosphere.

From Croatia

The next day was my birthday, September 11th, and the day of coming home. It was a sad thing to be leaving this wonderful place after so short of a time but we were excited as well, to come home. We left at 5:30 am and were home by 2:30 in the afternoon. Waiting for us was the entire gang: grandparents, cousins, and uncle, as well as our beloved Tiny. We ate a delicious home-cooked meal and out came the surprise birthday cake that we weren’t expecting.

It was an incredible adventure, and we all learned so much!

Signing off,

Noemi

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Croatia Slideshow

We could fill pages with text about what we did and what we saw in Croatia, but if a picture is worth a thousand words, a slideshow with over 70 pictures should be worth at least 70 thousand…right?

Kriszti put the pictures together and I created the slideshow with another song from Andy (“Me Mr. Moo”)

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Ice Cream

From Croatia

Fagylalt, gelato, une glasse, an ice cream. Whatever you want to call it, it’s one of the tastiest substances ever created.

We’ve been here for a few weeks now, and I wanted to post about a subject that I think is near and dear to all of our hearts: ice cream. When in Europe, my family make a casual unspoken goal of eating as many scoops of the stuff as possible. We’ve eaten ice cream so many times that it has practically become family tradition, along with all the customs and habits that go along with ice cream.

From Selected Sabbatical Pix

Over the past few years we have eaten ice cream in cones and bowls, probably spanning a hundred or so flavors, and from various countries including the United States, Hungary, Italy, and most recently Croatia. I have to say that nothing so far has quite matched the delicious gelato we enjoyed at Roma Gelato in Rimini, Italy on our visit in 2009, but there are many other places that have come close including the Marcipán Cukrázda here in Szolnok.

According to wikipedia, the modern milk or cream based ice cream is Arabic in origin and was invented around the 9th or 10th century. It’s possible that this dessert was based on water-ice based chilled dessert recipes coming from ancient Rome, Greece, Egypt, Mesopotamia, Persia and Arabia, the earliest estimated dates being around 400 B.C. The Turks continued the practice of making chilled milk desserts, with the exception that they added rock salt during the creation process to aid its freezing and delay the melting. Italian merchants brought ice cream back to Europe during the renaissance, and was served only to nobles and royalty for several centuries because of the high cost of bringing ice in from the mountains, the only method of cooling available during the time period. It wasn’t until 1718 that the first known published recipe appeared in the famous London cookbook Mrs. Mary Eales’s Receipts. From the 1940s onwards, the cheap cost of refrigeration made it possible for ice cream to become a franchise. And that’s how we got the tasty treat we all enjoy today!

From Selected Sabbatical Pix

I have to say that when it comes to ice cream, I do have my own preferences. Here’s where personal opinion comes in. I’m not picky about what flavor of ice cream you enjoy best, as long as you enjoy it. Whatever floats your boat, I say. Nonetheless, I decided to take a poll about my family’s favorite flavors, just for fun. Here’s what I found out. My favorites are lemon (citrom) and hazelnut, although the Italian “pompello rossa” is pretty close. My dad said grapefruit (pompello rosso in Italian) and lemon, anya (my mom) said kókusz (Hungarian for coconut) and wild berry, and my sister’s are cantaloupe and zöldalma (green apple). Funny enough, most experienced ice cream eaters like ourselves seem to enjoy fruit flavors. I don’t know about the rest of our family. I’ll ask mama and tata about theirs at the nearest opportunity.

From August 2011

Although they are not nearly as famous for it as Italy, France or other Mediterranean countries, I would think–based on my experience–that Hungary is a pretty decent producer of ice cream, both by quantity and quality. You can go almost anywhere in the country and find little indie ice cream places, and the only chains available are American and other foreign brands that have overflowed. You can bet that for every 5,000 or so people living in a town, there will be at least one ice cream place. Though some are more commercial than others, walking around we have found at least 20 locations of ice cream vendors in Szolnok alone. Only time will tell if we will try them all.

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