Boldog névnapot, Dóra! (Happy Nameday, Dora!)

HikeBest 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.

Scanning the weekly ads

I wanted to give you a sense of the cost of living in Hungary from the perspective of the grocery store aisle, so I pulled out the weekly ad circular from our nearby store, Spar (their catchy jingle, “Jó Hely, Jó ár, Jó döntés” — Good place, good price, good decision — plays frequently on the radio here at work). Before, I list some of the specials of the week, here are the relevant conversion factors:

  • $1 (US) = 220 Forints (Hungary’s currency)
  • 1 lb = 0.453 kg (kilograms)
  • 1 gal = 3.78 L (liters)
  • 1 L = 33.8 fl. oz. (which is a ridiculous unit if you think about it)

The currency takes a bit of getting used to, but if gets easier if you equate 1000 forints (HUF) as roughly $5.

Here are the sales on some staples from the past week (conversions to $ and recognizable quantities provided):

  • Milk: 169 HUF for 1 L ($2.90/gallon)
  • Cheep beer (not a recognizable brand): 166 HUF for 0.5 L can ($0.53 for 12 oz can) — and yes, Pennsylvanians, you can find a large selection of beer, wine, and spirits in the grocery store.
  • White bread (from bakery): 219 HUF for 1 kg ($0.56 for a 20 oz loaf)
  • Tomatoes (on vine): 570 HUF for 1 kg ($1.17 per lb)
  • Bananas: 299 HUF for 1 kg ($0.62 per lb)
  • Ground pork (beef is not very common): 849 HUF for 900 g ($1.94 per lb)
  • Eggs: 399 HUF for 10 eggs ($2.18 dozen)

So, in general, food is pretty cheap — usually either close in price or substantially cheaper than we are used to.  In general, these savings don’t seem to carry over into other goods such as clothes and household items.  There it seems like prices are the same or sometimes even more expensive (I’m always surprised at how much shoes cost here).

Oh, and in case you were wondering, no, I don’t consider cheap beer to be a staple.

Christmas Break

Well, it’s back to blogging after a restful Christmas and New Years.  I hope those of you who are folowing along had an enjoyable holiday season as well.

We spent the entire break in Budapest, but still managed to see and do quite a few things. With the cold weather (around the freezing point most days) and small apartment, we had to be creative in making sure the kids didn’t sit around and watch TV the whole vacation (though they didn’t seem to think this was a problem).  So off it was…to an aquarium, to a nearby palace in Gödöllő, to playgrounds (on nicer days), to a children’s music and craft festival, and visits with relatives and Dora’s friends.  Almost everyday had a program of some sorts.  I’ll describe one of them in the next post (a handball match), but I also wanted to share a couple of Hungarian seasonal treats.  One of them is the Szaloncukor, a wrapped, chocolate covered treat that hangs from the tree as a decoration (at least until Matthew gets ahold of it). 



The second treat is a pastry — bejgli.  It is a long roll that has a spiral filling, traditionally either a walnut paste (quite yummy) or poppyseed (not a favorite in the Peelen household).



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…).

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.


Life…on a smaller scale

One of the challenges of moving to the city, particularly a European city, is dealing with the smaller size of everything.  We currently stay in a small apartment, with roughly 500 sq. ft. of living space. It’s not that bad, and I’m constantly amazed at how efficiently space can be used. Without giving you a pictoral tour of the whole apartment, I thought I’d share this one picture of our bathroom to give you an idea of how space is used efficiently:

Here in one short row is the sink, the bath tub (which shares it’s water source with the sink), the water heater (above my head, which supplies hot water to the entire apartment) and the washing maching.  I’ve placed myself  in the tub to give you a sense of scale, though Dora assures me that small tubs like ours are not the norm.

One thing that is missing from the picture is the toilet.  In Hungary (and many other European countries), the toilet get’s its own room, the WC (water closet). WC is an apt name, it is essentially just a closet with only a toilet. Sometimes, the small space can smell pretty bad, but on the flip side, the bathroom never does.


Our apartment

While in Budapest, we will be staying in an apartment building on the Buda side of the city.  Budapest is divided in half by the Danube (Duna) river; the Buda side to the west of the river and is hilly and more residential.  The Pest side is flat and has more business and attractions (Parliament, Opera House, etc).  Our apartment, which  it formerly belonged to Dora’s grandmother, is conveniently located in the same building as Dora’s parents. To give you an idea of where we are situated, here are a couple of panorama shots taken from our apartment windows:

This first picture is from a bedroom window facing the street.  It is a bit distorted because I used a program to stitch a couple of shots together to get the panorama (I can assure you that the street and buildings are straight).  It is a fairly busy thoroughfare, though you can see the hills of Buda in the background. 

This shot is from our kitchen.  It shows the inside of the block formed by a couple of busy thoroughfares.  You can see the backs of some large apartment buildings, but also some other smaller houses and buildings that have apartments in them.

We have arrived!

Well, we’ve arrived safely in Budapest.  The trip itself was mostly uneventful.  We’ll spend the next few days getting acclimated to our new surroundings and time zone.  Matthew seems the most jet-legged at this point (I type this at just past midnight in Budapest and Matthew plays blocks in the small kitchen).  Ironically (or perhaps not),  he slept the best on the trip; I think perhaps having an awful trip, getting exhausted, and then starting from scratch might be the best way to adapt.  Ultimately, it seems like no matter what we try, we always descend into a pattern of just sleeping and eating whenever I want upon arrival.  Our plan for the next week is to get everything set up in the apartment  (more posts on that will come in due time) and take care of lots of paper work – getting the kids school enrollment finalized and getting me a residency permit, which can sometimes be an adventure!

Among my initial observations upon arriving:

Things seem mostly the same (I was here last summer), but small things change.  For instance, the interior of the apartment building has been updated.  The old gloomy walls have been refreshed with a coat of white paint and the small elevator has new (digital!) electronics and a new door.  Gone is the rickety wooden door that you needed to slide shut yourself before ascending or descending – I’m going to miss that old elevator.

Here you see Panka modeling the new panel.  The way they refer to floors is different in Hungary and worth mentioning.  The F stands for “földszint”, which translates to ground floor but is not the 1st floor.  The next floor up, Fe, is the “felemelet”, or half floor.  Finally, above this you reach the 1st floor, though this would be the 3rd floor by American conventions.

The bread and kolbasz (sausage) are still amazing. I’ll have a full post on breakfast at some point on our trip.

I’m still getting used to the different keyboards here.  We  brought our own laptops, but also use the laptop in my in-laws appartment (like I am right now).  The Hungarian alphabet has several additional characters, like á, é, í, ó, ö, ő, ú, ü, and ű.  These take up the space to the right of the letters, but before the -enter- key, so I seem to miss the enter a lot.  Also, the y and z keys are reversed.  You’d be surprised how often you use these keys when you type.

Ready to Depart!

Well, our adventure in Hungary is rapidly approaching.  We’ll be leaving on August 1st and will fly from Newark, NJ to Warsaw, Poland and then on to Budapest.  I’ll use this blog to cover many of the highlights of our year-long journey, including:

  • Living in Budapest.  We’ll stay in a small apartment on the Buda side of the city in the same building as Dora’s parents.
  • My work at Eötvös Loránd University. I’ll be working with Zoltán Novák, on a photochemistry project trying to use dye molecules to harvest light energy and initiate chemical reactions.
  • The experiences of our children, Daniel and Panka, in the Hungarian school system.  Daniel is 7 and will be in the 2nd grade.  He’s been working with his mom on his Hungarian, but isn’t fluent yet.  We expect that will change quickly.  Panka is 5 and will be in the equivalent of kindergarten in Hungary.
  • Our travels in Hungary and the rest of Europe.
  • Two of my students, Tai Nguyen and Rachel Denny, will visit and work with me at the university in the Summer of 2013 as part of the Arnold Experiential Grant Program and Lebanon Valley College.

If you are looking for pointers on what you need to bring with you when traveling abroad with a family of 5 for a year, this picture should give you an idea:

…and here is (some of) the stuff we left behind: