Breakfast, Hungarian style

I’ve never been a big breakfast guy, but it may be my favorite meal here in Hungary.  In the US, I eat a healthy breakfast each day, it’s just that I’m not that picky about what I eat and it’s more about nourishment than enjoyment.  I’d conservatively estimate that I’ve eaten 3,000 bowls of Raisen Bran (mostly Kellogg’s) in my life.  It’s not that I love it that much, it’s just that I can eat it every day and never really tire of it.

In Hungary breakfast is a different story altogether.  The components of the meal are nothing to out of the ordinary; it all starts with a good chunck of fresh bread.  Bread of substance, where a loaf often weighs a kilogram (2.2 pounds for those who don’t compute in metric). Certainly better than any bread that I get in the grocery store in the US.  I suppose good bread is available in bakeries in the US, but here it seems that you can only get really good bread, whether from the bakery just down the street or in the grocery stores.

Next we have kolbasz, a Hungarian specialty.  A sausage (the origin of the meat is not known to me, but likely pork) spiced with Hungarian red pepper (paprika).  Very tasty, with a variety of different flavors (some spicy, some not).available. A whole kolbasz is shown in the picture at the top; this can last the family a good week.  Only about six small slices are enough for a good breakfast.

Sometimes I’ll mix it up and add in some fresh vegatables (pepper, tomatoes, etc) on the side.  Typically, I just have my bread with butter, but there are other toppings that I like to, like körözött, a cottage cheese/paprika (red pepper)/garlic spread that is quite tasty.  And now I have a breakfast and can, and do, eat and enjoy every day (now I’m hungary…).

Two Car-free Weeks

Last Saturday, I came to the realization that it had been 2 weeks since I had last sat in a car.  In that time, I had used a variety of alternative forms of transportation: walking (to and from work, mainly), various forms of public transportation (buses, streetcars, trains), and bike (recreation).  We’ve still managed to move around a bit, including an outing with my research group outside of the city limits.  One definite advantage of being in the city is being able to move around so easily!

Dani’s Foci (Soccer)

One of Dani’s favorite things to do here in Hungary is to play soccer. He plays with a club that meets at his school 3 afternoons each week for practice (In fact, he is there right now)..

The practice typically begins with some exercise drills.  Running, running backwards, running on your toes, etc.

The majority of the time is spent on skill drills.  Dribbling through cones with the inside of the foot, dribbling with the outside of the foot, repeat.  Both feet receive equal attention.  At the end of the practice, there are usually a couple of games.  There are about 14-16 kids, so they are split into 3-vs-3 or 4-vs4 games. 

I have to say, Dani’s skill level has increased tremendously since he’s been here.  I’ve thought a lot about why and there are a couple of factors at play:

1.  The other kids around him have a lot of skill.  When he started, it was clear that he was less skilled than the other kids his age.  The kids here just grow up around soccer much more.  If you go to a park, you will always find kids (even 2 year olds) with a ball at their feet, either playing with their friends, or parents, or grandparent (mothers and grandparents have a surprising amount of technical skill, Dora included).

2.  The emphasis in the clubs is very different.  In the US, Daniel’s soccer team practiced some, but mostly just played games against other clubs.  Here in Hungary, Daniel has no formal games, just practice 3 days each week.  The club, which has groups at several different schools in the district  does have teams for the best players at each age level, but this is not applicable to the vast majority of kids.

Math Class

Thursday was a special day at Daniel’s school; the parents were invited to come and sit in on their child’s first class from 8-9 AM.  This was Math class for Daniel, and both Dora and I crowded into the back of the classroom with some other parents to see what goes on. 

At 8 o’clock, a bell rang, and all the kids stood from their desks in unison.  They then proceeded to wander through the classroom singing a song.  It was a repetitive song that had them counting by 10’s at various points; Daniel said they do this each day.  Everything seemed very orderly; in general the class seemed pretty structured, which I guess is a good thing when you have 1 teacher and 25 kids.  One of the boys was having a bad morning (he said he didn’t get to sleep until midnight) and received a few stern warnings from the teacher during the class.

The class is currently working with numbers, particularly from 1-99.  Adding them, subtracting them, odds/evens, figuring out what the nearest 10’s are, and Roman numerals (which are still used more in Hungary than the US).  They started out with a brief quiz (5 questions), where the teacher read problems and the students had to mark their answer on a card.  They then reviewed the answers as a group — it was just a self-graded exercise. 

The class proceeded with more questions, which the kids answered in a little notebook that they have for the class before reviewing the answers. Interspersed in the questions were some fun adding games and competitions.  Overall, it was pretty interactive (moreso than I expected it would be) and the kids were all engaged.  They also seemed to cover considerable ground.  One thing that may be tough is that if a child is having trouble, it might be difficult to detect since everything is done and reviewed fairly quickly.  The teacher asks who got it right (most kids raise their hand, typically), and I suppose she has a good handle on who is struggling.

The thing that surprised me most was how tough the class must be for Daniel.  We always assumed that math would be the easy class for him; he’s good at math and his lack of Hungarian shouldn’t hurt him much in a numbers class.  Not true!  Everything was done orally, so it was important for him to listen carefully to try to understand.  On the first 5 question quiz, I was only able to understand 1 of the 5 questions; Daniel did much better and got 4 out of 5 right.  Similarly all of the of the other questions were delivered orally.  Daniel sits next to a bright and helpful boy; at times he leans over and tries to explain some things to Daniel.  Daniel tries really hard and isn’t shy about volunteering answers or participating in the games.  At one point, he was picked for a game where a number is afixed to a crown on his head and Daniel must use clues given by his classmates to figure out the number.  The teacher was careful to make sure Daniel understood the clues his classmates provided, but Daniel seemed pretty good on his own.  Overall, we were really surprised by the challenges Daniel faces but thrilled with his effort and enthusiasm.

So I got a Green Card….

sort of…except that it’s red.  Those of you that have been reading religiously may remember that at the beginning of the trip, I had to file some papers for residency.  We had tried our best to navigate the many options and requirements, and finally were informed that, since Dora is a citizen, I should be applying for temporary residency.  Since then, we’ve had some visits from the immigration authorities.  On the first visit, we weren’t home, but they were able to verify from others in the building that I did indeed live there.  The next time they came at a scheduled time; I was at work but Dora gave them all the information they needed.  They seemed surprised that I had filed in the first place; apparently what  I do doesn’t actually qualify as work (since I’m paid by LVC), and I could legally stay in the country for 90 days at a time as long as I leave briefly in between (not that anyone’s checking).  So, all for naught, but I was approved and now can legally work and reside in Hungary for the next 5 years.  I even have the red card with a terrible mug shot to prove it!

Slovenia (part 3 of 3): Cities and Villages

On our way to and from Bled, Dora planned out a couple of nice stops in some of the cities and villages along the way.  It was a nice way to break up the drive for the kids and also to see some different parts of the country.  Our first stop was in the small city of Maribor on the northeastern side of Slovenia.  Maribor is actually the second largest city in the country, with just under 100,000 inhabitants.  We stopped for a lunch of some traditional Balkan cuisine: Pljeskavica and Ćevapčići (very filling and very delicious) and then walked through the center of town a bit. It has a nice town square, lots of old walking streets winding through the city, and a nice riverfront.






One the return trip, we planned two stops, one in the village of Skofja Loka and another in the capitol city, Ljubljana.  The forecast was for rain, and rain it did for much of the day.  Miraculously, the clouds parted briefly for each of our stops and we were able to enjoy both places.  In fact, it was pouring as we first drove through Skofja Loka.  We thought we would just do a driving tour and continue on our way, but just after we turned around in the village the rains came to a sudden halt.  We found some parking and then walked through the old part of the village, though we don’t have much to show for it, as our camera battery finally chose to give up midway through.







We continued from Skofja Loka to Ljubljana, and Dora managed to get the camera battery changed. Ljubljana also has a lovely old riverfront with lots of walking streets.  Rising on the hill just above the city stands a castle; we rode an incline to have a look at the castle and a view of the city. The city is fairly large (~400,000 people, which is large when you consider the mountinous country only has a population of 2 million), but seemed very nice and livable.






We also were in the city at lunchtime, and Daniel and I identified our target restaurant –Surf and Fries — in a free brochure at our hotel in Bled.  Just as we reached the restaurant, another heavy rain began; fortunately they had a dry pavilion long with their 40 different flavors of fries to choose from. Even more amazingly Dora agreed to go let us go there for lunch — so a huge bowl of fries it was (with a few chicken nuggets on the side).  And on the side, a small order of the chocolate fries (which I’m holding in the first picture).  We for the most part agreed that the two should not mix, though Matthew was a big fan.


Slovenia (part 2 of 3): Natural Wonders

While Bled and Lake Bled are beautiful, there are many other nice places just a short drive from Bled.  In fact, our first trip on our first day was a hike in the Vintgar Gorge.  The weather forecast was promising, so we made the short drive through several small villages with even smaller roads to the Gorge.  Some of the people at the hotel and Bled tourism office seemed nervous about the Gorge when they saw our small children, so we were sure to bring the backback carrier to keep Matthew out of trouble.

The gorge was beautiful.  Fortunately, the autumn colors held out just long enough for us to enjoy spectacular scenery.  The stream wanders initially between the 2 hills with a nice trail and lots of trees.  Later on, the gorge becomes quite narrow, with a narrow wooden path pinned into the rocks serving as your trail.

The trail proceeds for about 1 mile, before the gorge opens up with the Alps in the distance and two large waterfalls. The woman at the entrance said the whole hike should take us about 1 hour, but I don’t think she factored in how many pictures Dora would take, as we returned 2 hours later.


Our final full day was accurately projected to be rainy, but nonetheless we went out for another drive to Lake Bohinj.  Lake Bohinj is larger and less well known than Lake Bled, but still charming. We took the “scenic” driving route on the way there, twisting our way up some of the larger foothills of the Alps. Predictably, Daniel’s stomach didn’t agree with the route (though Panka and Matthew happily napped), forcing a short stop along a small, snow-covered road.  Daniel was happy after we descended back into the valley.

It was a wet, overcast day, as you can see in some of the pictures, though the Alps, as always, loomed in the mist.  There was also a charming little church (if you’ve been reading along, you know that I love those village churches).  The style is slightly different in Slovenia, often incorporating different colors.  The running joke was that they’ve also build a small chapel on the top of every hill, which seemed to be true.

The main attraction at Lake Bohinj, however, was the Savica Waterfall.  The Savica is Slovenia’s most famous waterfall, falling first 50 m, followed by a second 25 m drop.  To access the falls requires a bit of a hike — not long but lots of stairs.  Fortunately, Dora brought boots for all of us, as it was muddy and raining. As you can imagine, the kids didn’t think it was such a great idea, so the final stages of the climb involved lots of coaxing and carrying kids (with the exception of Daniel, who did really great).  Finally we reached the top, rested, took more than enough pictures, and then enjoyed a much easier descent back to the car.  Daniel was pleased that we took the road through the valley on the return trip to Bled.

Slovenia (part 1 of 3): Bled

Lake Bled and surroundings as viewed from Castle Bled

Well, we’ve returned from Slovenia, where we had a great time in a gorgeous country.  Slovenia has a rugged landscape and only about 2 million people, but has really great infrastructure (we passed through about 10 tunnels on our way there), everyone is friendly and speaks fluent English, and all the drivers stop for pedestrians in crosswalks. l’ll try to describe our trip over a series of 3 posts: The first will describe the village of Bled and Lake Bled (where we stayed); the second will show some of the nearby natural wonders; and the final one will cover 3 of the cities (Maribor, Skofja Loka, and Ljubljana) that we visited while traveling to/from Bled.

Village of Bled from across the lake

First up is Bled, one of the most frequented sites in Slovenia, due to its location at the foot of the Alps and the adjoining lake.  The village has only about 5000 residents. The lake is relatively small (about 6 km around), small enough that we both biked and walked around it during our stay.

Island, Castle, and Alps by Lake Bled

In the middle of the lake is a small island with a chapel on it.  There are boats (pletna)  that take you there.  We were fortunate to hitch a ride on a boat along with another American

family; they were living in Brussels for 3 years and had 2 girls (3 and 5 years old) that really hit it off with our kids. Fortunately, we ran into them again at a restaurant the next day and the kids had some more fun.

Castle Bled as viewed from our hotel window

Bled is also well known for its castle, which sit high atop a hill just outside the village.  We hiked to the top on our second day and toured around.  The panorama photo at the beginning of the post was taken from the castle.  The first picture of the castle that you see to the left was actually taken from our hotel window, which provided great views each morning (Good work on finding the hotel, Dora!).