Bicycling to Szent Mihály Kápolna

With the harvest finished last Sunday, the family was able to spend the morning on a bicycle trip.  This trip took us 10km along the Balaton bicycling path to Szent Mihály kápolna (St. Michael’s chapel), a small church atop a hill at the edge of lake Balaton.  The trip was pleasant; as you would expect the path along the lake is flat for the most part.  At about half way, we stopped for a break at a small cove by the lake that offered this pleasing view:

You can see the Badacsony hill, our previous bicycling destination, in the distance.  Part of the path we rode upon is shown here, with a glimpse of the chapel atop the hill in the background:

Once at the hill, we pushed our bikes to the top.  Here are a couple of scenes from in and around the chapel:

Life…on a smaller scale

One of the challenges of moving to the city, particularly a European city, is dealing with the smaller size of everything.  We currently stay in a small apartment, with roughly 500 sq. ft. of living space. It’s not that bad, and I’m constantly amazed at how efficiently space can be used. Without giving you a pictoral tour of the whole apartment, I thought I’d share this one picture of our bathroom to give you an idea of how space is used efficiently:

Here in one short row is the sink, the bath tub (which shares it’s water source with the sink), the water heater (above my head, which supplies hot water to the entire apartment) and the washing maching.  I’ve placed myself  in the tub to give you a sense of scale, though Dora assures me that small tubs like ours are not the norm.

One thing that is missing from the picture is the toilet.  In Hungary (and many other European countries), the toilet get’s its own room, the WC (water closet). WC is an apt name, it is essentially just a closet with only a toilet. Sometimes, the small space can smell pretty bad, but on the flip side, the bathroom never does.


Harvest (szüret)

As I mentioned last week, the grape harvest at the lake was last weekend.  Overall, it was great fun, but also a lot of work.  Here’s a not so short recap of how you start with grapes and wind up with a barrel (or more of wine).

First, obviously, you must cut down all the grapes.  The have some clippers that you use to cut the bunches of grapes (you can see Panka holding a pair in the first picture).  The kids (especially Panka) loved helping with this part.  The picking was 2/3 done when we arrived on Friday afternoon, but we finished the rest up that evening.

When the bucket of grapes is full, it is taken to a machine that grinds up the grapes.  The bucket is poured in the top and then when you crank the wheel, it basically just smushes the grapes and also separates out most of the stems. What is left is a large container of grape soup with peels and a few stems floating around.

Before the end of the evening, nagypapa checked the sugar content of the grapes to determine how much sugar he will need to add to the barrels at the end to get a good fermentation (this is your chemistry lesson for the day).  We also got to enjoy some of the juice.

The next morning (Saturday) we began loading the smushed grapes into the press.  Bucket by bucket we carry the grapes and load them into the press.  Most of the peels and remaining stems get caught up in the wooden slats of the press while the juice runs down, goes through a strainer, and is collected in a bucket. Once the press is full, a wooden disc and some blocks are fitted on the top and you can begin to press the grapes.  This takes a while, since once it becomes hard to press any further, you can wait 5 or 10 minutes and the pressure diminishes a bit allowing you to press further.  The whole operation took 5 or 6 hours, and once the first pressing was done, all the remaining grapes were loaded on top for some more pressing.  At the end, all of the remaining grape material feels solid, but spongy, sore of like an eraser.

In the middle of the pressing, we enjoyed my favorite Hungarian meal, bableves (bean soup), thanks to nagymama.

During and after the pressing, all of the collected juices are taken to the cellar and poured into barrels.  This harvest produced over 300 liters of juice.  I’ll try to report on the quality of the final product (the wine) next year!

Balaton village churches: Nemesvita

We’ll be back to the lake this afternoon to finish up the harvest of the grapes this weekend.  Before we go, here’s part 3 of my tour of village churches in our area.

Nemesvita is the next village north from our home in Balatonederics along the slopes of the Kesthely hills.  Nemesvita is further from the lake with no direct lake access and fewer nice views of the lake, and thus has few vacation homes (other than a very nice horse ranch/resort) than Balatongyörök or Baltonederics did. The village consists mainly of narrow roads wandering up the hillside, with simple, stucco-covered homes. The templom in Nemesvita stands rather high up on the hillside, offering inviting views as it rises above the village.  From up-close, it is a bit run down and not as tidy as the others so far, though on the Saturday that I biked there I was able to hear some glorious organ music blasting from the church as someone practiced. It was great to just rest and listen to the music a bit, and I found myself surprised that these small churches in the small villages have organs that sound so grand.

Without further ado, here’s a set of photos from the village:

Cars, cars, cars

Cars in Hungary are beginning to resemble American cars more and more with each visit — they seem to keep getting bigger and bigger (not a good trend, in my opinion, especially given some of the narrow streets).  With that having been said, I’m always happy to see some of the old, Socialist era cars still out on the road.  They were easier to find here when I first visited a decade ago, but you still find a few these days.  Here’s a sampling of what I’ve found:


The first one is a small Fiat (Polski Fiat 126p) that I encountered near the beach. The owner of this fine vehicle is a handsome, young man in his 20s that lives in our village by the lake (Balatonederics).  I have seen him driving it several times — he seems very content with this small vehicle, though I suspect he aspires to a newer model some day.

This next example is a Trabant — a car made in the former East Germany.  This particular one looks to be in very good shape and resides outside our apartment in Budapest.  People really seem to like the old Trabants.  Last weekend we even encountered a group of 5 of them travelling together; it seemed to be a group of car enthusiasts out for a weekend drive.

The final example is a Lada, a product of the former USSR.  Dora tells me that these were the most prestigious, reliable, and sought after cars during the socialist era. Dora tells the story of how her family was “allowed” to purchase a Lada while she was in high school.  This was just before the fall of the iron curtain, and desirable cars like the Lada were rationed out, requiring a family to wait a considerable time on a list before being allowed to purchase the vehicle.  When her family finally rose to the top of the list, they were presented the opportunity to purchase a Lada of a particularly unattractive shade of green. Not wanting to refuse this vehicle and potentially move back on the list, they purchased it.  A few years later, the socialist era ended and their next car was a Toyota.

While these vehicles aren’t flashy or particularly fast, they never need to be hooked up to a computer and it seems that people are pretty resouceful at keeping them going. Dora also likes to remind me that 20 years ago, these were the ONLY cars out on the streets in Hungary, so it’s not surprsing that at least a few of them should remain.


This weekend’s excursion brought us to the town of Visegrád, which lies along the Duna (Danube), about a 1 hour drive north from Budapest.  It has some beautiful hills and marks where the river takes a 90° bend and heads south toward Budapest. Visegrád’s position at the river’s bend was of strategic importance, thus high above the Duna sit the remains (and some reconstruction) of a castle, seen here from the adjacent hill:

Accessing the castle requires a bit of a hike (or alternatively, you can drive, but that’s not as fun).  It’s not to long, but obviously involves a bit of climbing. The kids did well, but Matthew was firmly against sitting in the backpack carrier we have and wound up doing most of the climb by foot.  At the start of the climb sits a gate and a tower (shown here)

Once at the top, one has impressive views of the Duna and the surrounding landscape:

Here is a part of the castle itself.  Dani and Panka are at the top of the steps, while Matthew is just beginning his ascent.

And of course no outing is complete without a treat of some kind.  This week we enjoyed a Hungarian favorite, lángos, which is perhaps most similar to fried dough in the US.  You can get lángos with a variety of toppings; most common are sour cream and/or cheese.  Below you see us enjoying our lángos sima (literally: “flat” but meaning plain here), but with a bit of garlic sauce on top.

From here we continued our hike to a neighboring hill (where the first picture of the castle was taken from).  Fortunately, Matthew relented and agreed to go into the backback carrier, eventually succumbing to a well-deserved nap.


Working the land

We just found out that the grape harvest at the lake will be next weekend.  I’d been planning to finish a draft and post about the grapes before the harvest, so I guess I’d better get that out now…

The Lake Balaton region has soil and climate well suited for the production of  wines, particularly white wines.  It comes as no surprise then that a large part of the arable land in the region is dedicated to growing grapes (as you may have already gathered from my pictures in previous posts).  The harvest is approaching next week, but I already had a glimpse into the work that goes into caring for the vines this summer.  Dora’s parents have a small vineyard of there own; it was larger but they’ve slowly cut back to make the workload more manageable.  One of the tasks that I helped with when we first arrived was covering all of the vines.  The grapes are delicious, and flocks of birds can sometimes decend on a vineyard for a tasty meal.  Thus, nets are draped over the grapes and clipped at the bottom.  Fortunately, most of the grapes survived me and my constant snacking as I helped clip the nets.

I’m not sure what kind of grape this is (they have several varieties).  Perhaps riesling. They also have a grape called muscataly (muscat in English, I believe) that was particularly ripe and delicious.

A row of the grapes covered with the nets.

A close up of the nets clipped at the bottom to cover the grapes.

In addition to grapes, they grow a lot of fruits and vegetables too.  I’ve seen some large, modern farm operations in the area, but there are also a lot of small plots worked by villagers.  Here’s a picture of a small plot just down the road from Dora’s parent’s house.  The older gentleman (and others that I’ve seen) cares for the land with the help of his horse and wagon.  On this day he was cutting some hay; last year he was doing it by hand with a scythe, this year I saw him out with a weedwhacker.

Weekend at the lake

Last weekend, we traveled from Budapest back to Lake Balaton for a couple of days while the weather is still nice.  We started out on Saturday morning and drove to Fonyód, a nice village on the south side of the lake that has a market on Saturdays.

The market had lots and lots of stuff, everything from your typical flea market goods to homegrown produce.  Most of it is open-air, but here is one scene from a building devoted to selling meat.  Unfortunately, the picture fails to capture the aroma of the building…

The kids also got some treats.  Here are Dani and Panka enjoying kürtőskalács, a warm, fresh spiral bread coated with sugar and other flavors (in this case, one vanilla and one with nuts).

The kids also became official Europeans, acquiring their first soccer jerseys.  Bonus points award to anyone that can identify the two players (answer will follow toward the end of the post).

Once we returned to Balatonederics, we enjoyed a wonderful lunch of grilled pork, complements of the “grillmaster” nagypapa (Hungarian for grandpa).

On Sunday, we went for a short hike in the hills near the house.  Here are the kids in the forest.  Also, you can (almost) see the answer to the earlier quiz: Frank Ribery of France and Wayne Rooney of England.

Our destination was a lookout tower atop a hill the overlooks the lake.  Here Dani at the top of the tower, with the omnipresent Badacsony looming in the background.

After our hike, it was back home for dinner, then to the beach for a quick swim before heading back to Budapest.

Balaton village churches: Balatonederics

I’ll have a post on our weekend activities by the lake in the next couple of days, but for now here is the second installment in my series on village churches, at our home village at Lake Balaton, Balatonederics (the first installment is here).

Like many lake communities, Balatonederics has a mixture of permanent village homes and vacation/weekend homes.  The lower part of the village (where the church is located) is densely populated with a few thousand people.  As you reach the upper slopes, you get more fields and weekend homes.

At the center of the village is the templom (church).  Balatonederics’s church seems to be quite well maintained.  Here are a few perspectives:

View from above (actually from our driveway)

View from the outskirts of the village

Another shot from just within the village

Close-up view

Kérsz Fagyit?

They say that you can tell a lot about people from the ice cream that they eat (actually, I just made that up, but it sounds about right, doesn’t it?). The ice cream in Hungary differs dramatically from the US, both in consistency and flavors. It is less creamy, but still packs a lot of flavor, with lots of flavors to choose from. Some of the more unusual flavors that I’ve encountered include: gesténye (chestnut), sárgadinnye (Melon, one of Matthew’s favorites), and túró (cottage cheese). I’ve never really been disappointed by any of them.  Also, you can get an ice cream cone (albeit a small scoop) for very cheap.  Thus, we can go as a family for ice cream for a couple of dollars total at night and not feel like we’re doing serious damage to our health or pocketbook.

In the picture below, you’ll find one of the more decorative ice cream stands that we’ve encountered.  This one is at the base of the castle hill in the village of Szigliget, along the shore of lake Balaton. Some of the unusual flavors in this display are zöldalma (green apple, 2nd from the left and my choice on this day) and sárgadinnye (bottom row toward middle).