Minefield!

Lots of people have dogs here in Budapest.  That’s great; people really seem to enjoy their companionship.  What’s not great is that people aren’t as great about cleaning up after their dogs as they are in the US.  After several bad experiences, Dora has developed a complete mental map of each and every dog poop between our apartment building and Panka’s preschool.  I, unfortunately, have not.  Panka is well trained and kept trying to alert me to approaching danger, but alas, I wound up cleaning my shoe (again) this morning…

Sopron/Vienna

Last weekend we took another short trip, this time to Sopron, a small city on the west side of Hungary, and (briefly) to Vienna, Austria.  We stayed at a small panzio (almost like a bed and breakfast) in Sopron, and spent most of our time there.  The weather was bitter cold all weekend, but we did a good job of balancing indoor and outdoor activities.

The Fire Tower in Sopron

Sopron is a beautiful old city — the central downtown has narrow winding streets with some buildings dating from the 12th century. During the evenings, there was a Christmas market in the central square, so both night we braved the elements to enjoy some food and music (Dora even met up with one of her former high school classmates, who is a jazz musician that was performing).

   

 A highlight on Saturday was our visit to the Esterháza,  palace in the nearby village of Fertőd.  The palace was built in the mid-1700s and was one of several gigantic homes owned by the Esterházy family (a part of the palace can be seen in the panorama photo at the top).  They had some child-friendly holiday programs on the afternoon that we visited.  First was a very nice puppet show, which the kids liked a lot (Matthew even sat relatively still, despite bursting out in laughter periodically even though there wasn’t anything funny).  After that came a visit from, Mikulas!  In Hungary, Santa doesn’t visit the malls (at least not that I know of, though I don’t visit often), and he travels in style!

Mikulas walks to the palace

Mikulas arrives at palace

On Sunday, we drove to Vienna, less than an hour north from Sopron.  We navigated into and through the city and found a nice parking garage near the center.  We walked through the walking street to Stephensdom, a large cathedral with one of the tallest towers in the city. We (and many other tourists) entered the cathedral, trying hard not to disturb the ongoing mass.  We took an elevator to the top of one of the towers for a view of the city — the kids were not thrilled to step onto the wire grated floor of the lookout high above the city.
 After St. Stephendom, we wandered through more of the city, eventually arriving at one of Vienna’s famed Christmas markets.  It was a bit funny, we went to a similar market in Budapest and liked it a lot better.  However, the one in Budapest had very few Hungarian visitors (mostly tourists), while the Vienna market was packed with Hungarians.  Someone should tell them to save their money and shop at home.

Mikulás

Yesterday, December 6th, was the  Mikulás celebration in Hungary.  Mikulás (the Hungarian equivalent of Nicholas aka Jolly ol’ St. Nic) is the day when “Santa” (Mikulás, or “Télapu”- winter father) visits the children. It is celebrated on the 6th of December, so as to separate St. Nicholas from the religious celebration of Christmas. Mikulás serves as the equivalent of the stockings children in the US receive on Christmas morning, while larger presents are still exchanged at Christmas.

The night before Mikulás, the kids must set out their boots to be filled with goodies.  Presentation is important — the kids must have there boots nicely cleaned or risk being left with nothing. We told our kids to clean their boots, and Daniel and Panka vigerously set off with the brushes we provided.  Matthew disappeared with his boots; we became concerned when we heard the bathroom faucet turning on.  We found Matthew along with two boots full of water — not quite what we had in mind.  In the morning, the kids (if they were good) awake to find a bag of treats awaiting them.

A Lesson in Hungarian History – Dora Intervenes

So Tim wrote a blog post about our trip to Margitsziget and about ‘some ruins’ we visited on the island. Well, I have to put my two cents in here because we didn’t just visit ‘some ruins’. Every kid in Hungary knows the story of Margitsziget (Margaret Island) and it is an important part of the Hungarian folklore (besides its culture and history). So here it is:

Hungary had a king named Béla the fourth and during his rule the country was invaded by the Tatars, a nomadic group from the East (I’m sure you have heard about Genghis Khan). This was the year of 1241. After losing a major battle at Muhi, the King Béla and his queen fled to what is today Croatia (Dalmatia). There, in the fortress of Klis, was born their 9th child, Margit (Margaret), in January of 1242. The king and the queen were desperate, as after the invasion the Tatars had free reign and had occupied and ransacked most of the country. They offered their newborn, Margit, to God in order to save their kingdom. Then suddenly the Mongols – as they were readying to attack the king’s fortress in the spring of 1242 – decided to withdraw and leave the country altogether (Genghis Khan had died).

The king and the queen were true to their words and when Margit turned three she was placed in the care of Dominican nuns in Veszprém (a pretty town in Hungary, worthy of its own blog post). Later she moved to the Dominican convent on Rabbit’s Island (what is known today as Margitsziget) and became a nun at age 12. The ruins that you can see today are the remnants of the convent which was established by Margit’s father, Béla the fourth, in honor of the Virgin Mary.

Margit lived on the island for the rest of her life refusing to abandon her solemn vows when marriage was offered to her (once by the Czech king, Otokar the second and once by the polish king). She is revered as an example of Christian humility and love; she worked the most menial jobs and wore the worst dresses. Margit died on the island in January of 1270 and became a saint in 1276. Her resting place can be found today among the ruins with her full name in Hungarian: Árpád-házi Szent Margit.

The convent on the island was abandoned by the nuns during the Turkish invasion of Hungary in the 16th century and hasn’t been used since then. The island has been referred to by different names since the 14th century, but since the 19thcentury Margitsziget is the name it is known by. Today, as Tim described it, the island is a spot of green in the middle of the busy city where people go to take a stroll, bike or ride one of the bringos. Or to play capture the flag (‘számháború’ in Hungarian, meaning ‘number war’) among century old ruins. And that’s part of what makes our trip to Budapest special: the ability to live and play among ruins that predate Columbus.

 

The Bridges of Budapest City

A few weeks ago, while still clinging to warm autumn days, the family took a bike trip in Budapest to Margitsziget, in island oasis dedicated to outdoor recreation.  To get there, we first biked to the Danube (~ 1 mile away, right at the University where I work).   From there, we went 5 or 6 miles along the river, passing by many of the leading tourist sites: Gellert hill, Castle hill, Parliament (from the opposite side of the Danube).  Nearly the entire way was on dedicated bike trails, so there were no worries about the kids and traffic.  In fact, once again, the kids did great despite a physically challenging adventure.

Parliament Building from the Buda side of the Danube.

Finally we reached our destination.  There are no cars allowed on the island, only a few buses that service the island.  The main road goes around the island, which is 1.5 miles long; in between there are many smaller paths criss-crossing the island. All along there are many playgrounds and small parks.  We stopped for an hour to play and eat lunch (followed by some cotton candy from a vendor).   We also stpped by some ruins of what was a convent in the middle ages.  You can walk through and on them; while we were there, a group of 20-year olds were playing a rousing game of capture the flag .

Path on Margitsziget

Margitsziget ruins

The trip home was largely uneventful.  Along the way, Dora made a point of stopping to document each of the bridges that we passed.  There are eight major bridges spanning the Danube in Budapest, and our journey took us past five of them.  Without further ado: here are the bridges that we passed en route:

Petőfi híd (Bridge), adjacent to ELTE (the university where I work)

Szabadság híd (Liberty Bridge)

Erzsébet híd (Elizabeth Bridge)

Lánchíd (Chain Bridge) -- the best known of the bridges. The Parliament building is to the right of the picture in the background.

Margit híd (Margaret Bridge) -- the island can be seen at the middle of the bridge.