Fall Weekend at the Balaton

First, a programing note:  We’ll spend the next week in Bled, Slovenia (Daniel has his fall break from school) and I won’t be doing any posts.  Look for a full report when we return.

Last weekend, we enjoyed a long, 4-day break at Lake Balaton. The weather was glorious for mid-October; likely the last warm stretch we will get as we head into winter.  The lake and warmer weather gave some beatiful, foggy mornings as you can see in these two panorama shots.

The first day, we went for a hike in the hills behind the house.  There is a large ridge that run behind the house, which you can see part of in the photo.  I’ve always wanted to scale the hill, and we finally consulted the map and found what looked to be a suitable trail.  It was only 3-4 kilometers, but it took much longer than expected.  The first part (up) was very steep, as you might expect.  The kids did great, though (Matthew was napping, which also meant that I didn’t need to lug him up in the pack). Once at the top, the going was much easier, though the trail isn’t used much and is poorly marked, leading us to take a number of wrong turns on intersecting hunting trails.  Also, the top is tree covered, so you don’t get much of a view, with the exception of a brief glimpes of the Balatonederic church we had on the descent.  Still we had a good time and were happy to enjoy the beautiful weather.







The following day we traveled to Sárvár, a small city about an hour north from the lake.  We spent the morning at the Sárvári fürdő (bath), a set of pools and spas. The Sárvári fürdő has a particularly nice area for children, with areas that both Matthew and the older ones could enjoy.





After the kids splashed around for a few hours and lunch, we wandered through the town.  The town has a beautiful park with an old castle on the grounds.  The castle buildings still function as a museum and government buildings.


Dad, Can I Have a…?

This question is asked by children all over the world (if the desired response is not given, it is usually followed closely by, “Mom, can I have a…?”).  However, the object of a child’s fancy changes from country to country.  Here are a couple of our children’s favorite things here in Hungary:

Kid Kave (Coffee).  This is a powdered mix that allows kids to have their morning coffee with no caffeine.  It isn’t actually decaf (which still contains small amounts of caffeine), but instead is made of chickory, a natural, coffee-flavored alternative.



Sportszelet.  This is sort of like a candy bar.  There is a thin layer of chocolate on the outside and a sort of fudge on the inside.  The second picture shows Matthew demonstrating his love of Sportszelet.


October 23

Memorial Plaque at "October 23 Street" that I walk past each day

While we’ve been in Budapest that last few weekends, we’ll be back to the lake for a long weekend starting on Friday.  There will be a 4-day weekend, as Tuesday is October 23rd, a national holiday in Hungary.  No, they aren’t so enthusiastic about chemistry that the nation stops for mole day (for the non-chemists, October 23 (10/23) is celebrated by chemists as “mole day” to commemorate the mole, a unit in chemistry that is equal to 6.02 x 10^23). Instead, October 23 marks the start of the Hungarian Revolution against the Soviet Union in 1956.  During the revolution, Hungarian protestors seized control of the country from the communist government and maintained control of the country for about 2 weeks, until tanks from Moscow rolled in and squelched the opposition. If you’ve encountered Hungarians in the United States, there’s a good chance that they immigrated in or around 1956. For an interesting take on the revolution through the eyes of the men’s Olympic Water Polo team competing at the same time, I highly recommend the movie “Freedom’s Fury“, or a really great Sports Illustrated article about the story of the defections of many of the Hungarians at the 1956 Melbourne olympics.

Budapest By Night

The last 3 weekends have all been spent in and around Budapest.  We’ve done a few smaller trips, including a recent evening outing to the Castle Hill, one of the famous tourist sites in Budapest. 

We started out at the lánchíd (chain bridge), the most famous of the bridges spanning the Duna (Danube). From there, we took the sikló, a cable car up the hill that takes you up the incline to the castle. This gives you more sights of the river and Parliament (see pictures below). 

At the top of the hill, you can wander by the castle (where there seem to be festivals outside every weekend).  When we went there was a festival with music and lots of food and wine. 

You can also wander down the streets and find several museums, the fisherman’s bastion, and Matyas Templom (shown in the picture to the right).



Friday Night Lights

Or, more accurately: Sunday Afternoon, No lights.

In the US, many communities rally around their high school’s football team.  In Hungary, the community gathers to watch the village soccer team play.  In August, we were fortunate to be in Balatonederics (our home village at lake Balaton) on a Sunday when the village team had a home game.

On a morning bike ride, we knew there would be a game as some of the streets around the field were blocked off and vendors were already staking out their territory near the field. At 2PM, Daniel, Matthew, and I walked to the field for the start of the match.  Here you can see the teams gathering at the start of the match:

Balatonederics is in the blue, while the visitors from the village of Nyirád were in the red.  As you can see, the teams wear nice uniforms and there are officials assigned to the match.  The teams are not affiliated with the schools, and the players’ ages vary greatly; the captain of the Balatonederics squad (standing next to the referee) is probably about 50 years old and played as one of the center defenders.

These two pictures show the vendors outside the stadium and the villagers gathered to watch the game.  The vendors sold mainly toys, though there was some food and drinks and also pony rides. The gameday was quite windy and chilly, so I think the crowd was rather small and business was slow.

Above is one action photo from the actual game.  We’ve played on the field on non-game days; it’s bumpy and dusty and makes for some uneven bounces.  Overall, the quality of play was pretty good given the small sizes of the villages involved. The most skilled player (to my untrained eye) was actually the old captain for Balatonederics. He didn’t move that well but was always in a good position and handled the ball very well.  Daniel though that #11 in the center of the picture looked like former president Franklin Pierce, so we referred to him as such throughout the match. Balatonederics seemed to be the better team, but neither team scored, at least up until the 80th minute when the rains came and Nagypapa fortunately drove over to pick us up.

Panka’s Óvoda (preschool)

While Daniel is trying to navigate his way through the second grade, Panka is enjoying another year of preschool/daycare.  Panka is 5 years old now and would be in kindergarten in the US (and is being taught the kindergarten material at home), but there is no kindergarten in Hungary.  In fact, it seems as though many (most?) children don’t begin school (1st grade) in Hungary until they are 7 years old; Daniel is 7 with a February birthday and he is the youngest of about 25 children in his second grade class.

Anyway, onto Panka’s school…  There seems to be a variety of ages in her class, ranging from about 4 to 6 years old.  They play some games and sing songs and do quite a few crafts.  Here is a picture of Panka at the entrance of her school:

On Friday, they had a special harvest celebration at her Óvoda. All of the children brought in some grapes and other treats, and they pressed the grapes to get the juice (nothing like teaching the winemaking tradition early). In the afternoon, all of the families came for a program where all the children were dressed in traditional outfits and there was dancing and then refreshements.  Here are some pictures from the dancing:

Below you can see Panka with a couple of her friends.  The girl behind Panka in the beige skirt is Lola.  Lola is Panka’s best friend, since her dad is British and she is able to understand English. In front of Panka is a small boy named Mark.  Mark just started at the Óvoda at the same time as Panka and really has taken a liking to her.  When she arrives in the morning, he usually comes to the door and grabs her hand.

Finally, here is Panka with her two teachers, Kati néni and Rita néni.  Both are really great with the children.

Work — An introduction to ELTE

As I mentioned in my last post, I want to start doing some posts about my work in a research lab in Hungary (yes, I do actually do work here!) I figured I’d start by giving you a brief overview of Eötvös Loránd University, also known as ELTE.  The University is the largest in Hungary, with over 30,000 students.  However, there are several campuses spread across the city, so it doesn’t feel that large.  The Lágymányosi Campus where the Faculty of Sciences resides is located along the Danube, a little over 1 mile from our apartment.  In September, I used a combination of walking and public transportation to commute each day, but this month I’ve given up my pass and am walking to and from the university each day.  So far so good!  It’s nice to get some exercise each day, something I sorely missed in the US.  Here are some photos from the campus where I work:

This first one show some of the neighboring buildings.  The buildings have a very modern look with some unusual architecture.

This picture is actually from my lab window.  Next to the modern buildings is the construction of a new research facility that will house the national academy of sciences.

Here are some shots of the building where I actually work:

Though the building seems to have gone through several additons/renovations, they’ve done a good job of giving it a nice exterior look.  From the inside, you can see different styles in different sections of the building.  All of the offices and labs, even in the older parts, are in pretty decent shape, though.  I’ll devote a full post to what research in the lab is like and how it is similar to and different from my experiences at US universities, but for now, here’s a picture of my actual lab:

Hello = Goodbye?

I still have a backlog of summer vacation posts, but I want to try to keep up with timely posts about life, work, and school.  I’m putting together the first post about my work, but for now here is a language-related observation that has puzzled me on a few occasions.

The Hungarian language has an informal greeting, “Szia” (conveniently pronounced just like see ya’ in English), that is used to greet a friend, but also used when as you are leaving (much like “Ciao” in Italian). Not surprisingly, Hungarian has adapted some foreign words into its language; one of them is hello (or, technically, hallo).  This is used often when answering the phone, but more recently I’ve seen it used in conversation as a substitute for “szia”.  Thus it is common for people to say hello when greeting you, but what is puzzling is that it is equally common for someone to be leaving while enthusiastically declaring, “hello, hello”.