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…

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.


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…).

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.

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).



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”.