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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.

On the road to Croatia

Thursday last week we decided to borrow the family Fiat and drive down to the Istrian peninsula in Croatia. It is about a nine-hour drive with stops along the way, so we decided to leave early in the morning (4:30 AM-ish). We were through Budapest before 6 and in Croatia by 9. I was doing the driving, and when we stopped for gas just over the border (after about five hours driving), I was definitely needing some coffee (in Croatian it is called “kava”).
The problem was I didn’t have any Croatian money (Kuna). I paid for gas by card and didn’t want to use it again just for coffee.
Back in the car I told the family my dilemma, and it wasn’t much later we were driving down the road singing:

No Kuna, no kava
What a wonderful phrase
No Kuna, no kava
Ain’t no passing craze
It’s a caffeine free philosophy
No Kuna, no kava…

Hello readers! I’m sitting down to fill you in with all the things that have happened and in doing so, completing my weekly blogpost! Well I’ll start by saying last week was “Szolnok Napja” or “Szolnok Day” here in Szolnok. It’s the city’s ‘birthday,’ So to speak, and this year our cute little city of Szolnok has turned 936 years old! We went to several of the many events and mini-celebrations that abounded last week.

Just to give you an idea of Szolnok before I go on to tell you about the events: Szolnok is one of the top ten largest cities in Hungary I believe, and though I wouldn’t say that it’s HUGE (because in American standards, it’s pretty small) but it has everything one would need to get by. One of my favorite things about it is the market, called the “Piac” in Hungarian. A Piac is a common thing in Hungary, almost every single town has one. In Szolnok’s case it is an outdoor-indoor market place, that goes on every day all year round, though some days are better market days than others. All of the vendors are local farmers, come to sell their fruits and vegetables, or meat and cheese, or whatever they’re products are.

From August 2011

Szolnok isn’t perfect, and it’s not stunningly beautiful either, (although I still love it) but it’s being improved everyday. Just last week they where filling in all the pot holes on our street. They have been painting and improving a lot of the buildings around town, and last year they built a brand-new ultra-modern bridge crossing the Tisza, one of the two rivers here in town.

Anyway about the events… My mom, Andy, and I went to visit the city’s museum to get some back-round history about Szolnok as part of roadschool. It was a beautiful building near the main square. When we stepped inside we noticed we were the only people there and we got tickets without waiting in-line and got to tour the museum alone. Since we were a bit pressed for time we visited the Archeology and “Ném Rajz” (which I’m not sure of the translation but it was a study of how people lived long ago) sections. It was really fun to see the all the archeological discoveries found around Szolnok. There where things like tools and pottery and even a human skeleton, preserved very well, found a few miles from here. Then in the second section it showed models of clothes and displays of furniture and art and even money. I loved seeing the gigantic hoop skirt that was made to emulate the dress of a lady of higher status. And all the small thin silver coins about the size of a penny. All in all a very interesting visit.

From August 2011

A few days later was a my favorite event the “mécses úsztatás” which was where people brought candles to light and float upon the water of the overlooking the river.

From Szolnok

I loved the atmosphere here. The next day there was a concert near the train station. We walked down to where it was taking place and enjoyed listening to the Hungarian singer’s version of songs like ‘Mamma Mia’ and ‘Twist and Shout’ in English. Then, just a few days ago after coming of the library we witnessed a marching band parading down the road. I love how the Hungarians have so much spirit!

This past weekend we went to Vác by train to visit my great-uncle and aunt, but that is a long, long story so I’ll leave it to someone else. Before I finish up I just wanted to talk very briefly about what kind of schooling we do here at “roadschool”. These days I usually do a lot of internet reasearch for subjects like math, science and history. Right now more specifically I’m starting Algebra for math, and doing some biology and earth science. History is my favorite and writing now I’m learning about the middle ages. I’m reading a novel in Hungarian and two in English (I like to read…hehehe) Emma, by Jane Austin and Sherlock Holmes. In Hungarian I’m reading a translated version of a book I read back home, called Percy Jackson. I’m also starting Italian.

Well Ciao for now!

(And thanks Mia for sending us our very first comment!!)

Noemi

Yesterday we took a day-trip to Vác to visit Kriszti’s Aunt and Uncle, Margit and Pali. We got up early and dropped Tiny off with Mama and Tata, then took the train to Budapest where we changed to the “Zonázó” a light rail train that zipped us quickly, quietly and cleanly (all novel experiences for those used to the Hungarian railways of yesteryear) up to Vác in 25 minutes.

From Vác

Uncle Pali (Pali Bácsi) picked us up at the train station and took us home for a quick breakfast. I have been visiting this family for nearly 20 years, so I wasn’t surprised when he persuaded me to start the morning off with a small glass of pálinka (Hungarian fruit brandy–this was törkörly, or grappa). I don’t drink that much and never in the morning, so it wasn’t a surprise that after lunch I would end up snoozing on a lawn chair in the garden. I could have said no, but…well, you know, “when in Rome.”
After visiting for a while, Pali, who is a retired history teacher, took us into town for a tour. We have seen a lot of this before, but it is always entertaining and informative to go with Pali. We visited the “Maria Kapu” which is a large arch commemorating the visit of Maria Tereza in 1764. We walked along the Danube river then went to the main square which, to our surprise, was the location of the “Lecsó Fesztivál”. Lecsó is a traditional Hungarian peasant dish–a kind of stew made from bacon, paprika (peppers) and tomatoes. We took lots of pictures and videos, but unfortunately, they don’t have technology yet for capturing the wonderful smell that filled the Baroque Square.
The best part of the trip, however, was seeing the family. Both of Kriszti’s cousins and most of their children all stopped by to say hello. It was a nice reunion which, of course, included a lot more food. All of this can be seen in the video slideshow here. The music to the slide show, “Raindrops” was composed and created by our very own maestro, Andy VanSlyke.

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 Balatonfüred (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 Frühlingserwachen.”

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.

The Balaton Lake

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

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 croûtons. 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, Tiszabő, 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.

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

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 tér” (Lajos Kossuth was a famous Hungarian political figure; tér 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.

Well, here we are.

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–“kómás” 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 Cegléd before arriving at Szolnok Vasútállomás (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!