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.


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!).


Fall Weekend at the Balaton

First, a programing note:  We’ll spend the next week in Bled, Slovenia (Daniel has his fall break from school) and I won’t be doing any posts.  Look for a full report when we return.

Last weekend, we enjoyed a long, 4-day break at Lake Balaton. The weather was glorious for mid-October; likely the last warm stretch we will get as we head into winter.  The lake and warmer weather gave some beatiful, foggy mornings as you can see in these two panorama shots.

The first day, we went for a hike in the hills behind the house.  There is a large ridge that run behind the house, which you can see part of in the photo.  I’ve always wanted to scale the hill, and we finally consulted the map and found what looked to be a suitable trail.  It was only 3-4 kilometers, but it took much longer than expected.  The first part (up) was very steep, as you might expect.  The kids did great, though (Matthew was napping, which also meant that I didn’t need to lug him up in the pack). Once at the top, the going was much easier, though the trail isn’t used much and is poorly marked, leading us to take a number of wrong turns on intersecting hunting trails.  Also, the top is tree covered, so you don’t get much of a view, with the exception of a brief glimpes of the Balatonederic church we had on the descent.  Still we had a good time and were happy to enjoy the beautiful weather.







The following day we traveled to Sárvár, a small city about an hour north from the lake.  We spent the morning at the Sárvári fürdő (bath), a set of pools and spas. The Sárvári fürdő has a particularly nice area for children, with areas that both Matthew and the older ones could enjoy.





After the kids splashed around for a few hours and lunch, we wandered through the town.  The town has a beautiful park with an old castle on the grounds.  The castle buildings still function as a museum and government buildings.


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).



Friday Night Lights

Or, more accurately: Sunday Afternoon, No lights.

In the US, many communities rally around their high school’s football team.  In Hungary, the community gathers to watch the village soccer team play.  In August, we were fortunate to be in Balatonederics (our home village at lake Balaton) on a Sunday when the village team had a home game.

On a morning bike ride, we knew there would be a game as some of the streets around the field were blocked off and vendors were already staking out their territory near the field. At 2PM, Daniel, Matthew, and I walked to the field for the start of the match.  Here you can see the teams gathering at the start of the match:

Balatonederics is in the blue, while the visitors from the village of Nyirád were in the red.  As you can see, the teams wear nice uniforms and there are officials assigned to the match.  The teams are not affiliated with the schools, and the players’ ages vary greatly; the captain of the Balatonederics squad (standing next to the referee) is probably about 50 years old and played as one of the center defenders.

These two pictures show the vendors outside the stadium and the villagers gathered to watch the game.  The vendors sold mainly toys, though there was some food and drinks and also pony rides. The gameday was quite windy and chilly, so I think the crowd was rather small and business was slow.

Above is one action photo from the actual game.  We’ve played on the field on non-game days; it’s bumpy and dusty and makes for some uneven bounces.  Overall, the quality of play was pretty good given the small sizes of the villages involved. The most skilled player (to my untrained eye) was actually the old captain for Balatonederics. He didn’t move that well but was always in a good position and handled the ball very well.  Daniel though that #11 in the center of the picture looked like former president Franklin Pierce, so we referred to him as such throughout the match. Balatonederics seemed to be the better team, but neither team scored, at least up until the 80th minute when the rains came and Nagypapa fortunately drove over to pick us up.

Bicycling to Szent Mihály Kápolna

With the harvest finished last Sunday, the family was able to spend the morning on a bicycle trip.  This trip took us 10km along the Balaton bicycling path to Szent Mihály kápolna (St. Michael’s chapel), a small church atop a hill at the edge of lake Balaton.  The trip was pleasant; as you would expect the path along the lake is flat for the most part.  At about half way, we stopped for a break at a small cove by the lake that offered this pleasing view:

You can see the Badacsony hill, our previous bicycling destination, in the distance.  Part of the path we rode upon is shown here, with a glimpse of the chapel atop the hill in the background:

Once at the hill, we pushed our bikes to the top.  Here are a couple of scenes from in and around the chapel:

Harvest (szüret)

As I mentioned last week, the grape harvest at the lake was last weekend.  Overall, it was great fun, but also a lot of work.  Here’s a not so short recap of how you start with grapes and wind up with a barrel (or more of wine).

First, obviously, you must cut down all the grapes.  The have some clippers that you use to cut the bunches of grapes (you can see Panka holding a pair in the first picture).  The kids (especially Panka) loved helping with this part.  The picking was 2/3 done when we arrived on Friday afternoon, but we finished the rest up that evening.

When the bucket of grapes is full, it is taken to a machine that grinds up the grapes.  The bucket is poured in the top and then when you crank the wheel, it basically just smushes the grapes and also separates out most of the stems. What is left is a large container of grape soup with peels and a few stems floating around.

Before the end of the evening, nagypapa checked the sugar content of the grapes to determine how much sugar he will need to add to the barrels at the end to get a good fermentation (this is your chemistry lesson for the day).  We also got to enjoy some of the juice.

The next morning (Saturday) we began loading the smushed grapes into the press.  Bucket by bucket we carry the grapes and load them into the press.  Most of the peels and remaining stems get caught up in the wooden slats of the press while the juice runs down, goes through a strainer, and is collected in a bucket. Once the press is full, a wooden disc and some blocks are fitted on the top and you can begin to press the grapes.  This takes a while, since once it becomes hard to press any further, you can wait 5 or 10 minutes and the pressure diminishes a bit allowing you to press further.  The whole operation took 5 or 6 hours, and once the first pressing was done, all the remaining grapes were loaded on top for some more pressing.  At the end, all of the remaining grape material feels solid, but spongy, sore of like an eraser.

In the middle of the pressing, we enjoyed my favorite Hungarian meal, bableves (bean soup), thanks to nagymama.

During and after the pressing, all of the collected juices are taken to the cellar and poured into barrels.  This harvest produced over 300 liters of juice.  I’ll try to report on the quality of the final product (the wine) next year!

Balaton village churches: Nemesvita

We’ll be back to the lake this afternoon to finish up the harvest of the grapes this weekend.  Before we go, here’s part 3 of my tour of village churches in our area.

Nemesvita is the next village north from our home in Balatonederics along the slopes of the Kesthely hills.  Nemesvita is further from the lake with no direct lake access and fewer nice views of the lake, and thus has few vacation homes (other than a very nice horse ranch/resort) than Balatongyörök or Baltonederics did. The village consists mainly of narrow roads wandering up the hillside, with simple, stucco-covered homes. The templom in Nemesvita stands rather high up on the hillside, offering inviting views as it rises above the village.  From up-close, it is a bit run down and not as tidy as the others so far, though on the Saturday that I biked there I was able to hear some glorious organ music blasting from the church as someone practiced. It was great to just rest and listen to the music a bit, and I found myself surprised that these small churches in the small villages have organs that sound so grand.

Without further ado, here’s a set of photos from the village: