Here in Hungary, Matthew and I have a weekly ritual doing the grocery shopping. Normally, in the US we go to our grocery store by car (how else?). Here in Budapest the first thing I decided was not to use a car for grocery shopping. I wanted to enjoy a year of grocery shopping sans cars. Since we live in a city we were able to carry this out easily. There is a large grocery store (a chain called SPAR) and a market (called piacin Hungarian)in a 10-minute walking distance or two bus stops away from our block. The bus stops almost in front of our house.
Here I can buy everything I need. I use SPAR for milk, bread, meat and other food items. I buy fruits, vegetables and honey at the market. SPAR has those items as well but I like the idea of supporting the small producers at the market. As a bonus the market has on its 3rd floor a really good food court. It is not your American style food court that you find in the mall. The vendors are all small businesses – no Burger King, Sbarros or KFC here – and the dishes sold are Hungarian staples such as babgulyás, palacsinta, lángos, etc. The food is good and it’s really cheap; for about $3-4 you can buy a full meal of soup, main course and a palacsinta. So sometimes I skip the cooking all together and buy our dinner here ready-made.
So a couple times a week Matthew and I set out on our trip likes this: me with my little ‘pulley’ and Matthew on his ‘motor’. Pulleys and motors are essential part
of life in Budapest. I most often see seniors with pulleys – these are little carts that puts your purchases on wheels making the hauling your groceries home much easier. And the push toy that Matthew is sitting on is the ‘motor’. It resembles a motorbike hence the name. I’ve never seen these in the US and I’m told it’s a Hungarian invention. Indeed, it seems that if you have a toddler in Hungary you must own a ‘motor’. And it makes sense. It’s not just that the kids like to ride motors but also they can ride motors at the same pace as adults walk. This makes moving around town with your toddler a much more enjoyable experience.
Best wishes to my wife, Dora, as we celebrate her nameday today. In Hungary, there is a tradition where each given name is celebrated on a particular day; often this corresponds to the birthdate of a saint with the same name (if such a person exists). So today, February 6th, all the Doras in Hungary are celebrated. Families will gather, best wishes will be sent, and flowers or chocolates will be given. Most calendars in Hungary come equipped with the nameday listed for each day. My own nameday (at least for the Hungarian form of my name, Timót — though I’ve never met a Hungarian with this name) was celebrated last month.
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.