You might have heard about the huge floods that affected Europe at the beginning of June. Here are some pictures and our experiences from Budapest.
The Danube river flows through Budapest and slices the city into two: Buda and Pest. The Danube starts in the southern part of Germany, in the Black Forest and flows into the Black Sea, in Romania, passing through 10 countries along the way. We heard about the flooding in Germany well before the crest arrived in Budapest, so the city had plenty of time to prepare (in fact, the whole country had to prepare as the Danube runs through the middle of Hungary). Interestingly, we experienced virtually no rain before and during the flood time; it was all the rain upstream in Germany that (over)filled the Danube. The ‘flooding’ was a slow process; the river rose to its highest level for over a week and then took about another week to recede to its normal level.
Budapest has a long history of floods. After an especially destructive 1838 flood, it was decided that protective walls would be built along the river bank. So toward the end of the 19th century those plans became reality and the ‘rakpart’ (‘docks’ in direct translation) was built. ‘Rakpart’ is basically a road lying lower than the city level and is separated from the rest of the city by a high stone wall. You can see on the picture to the right what the ‘rakpart’ is.
When the Danube floods they close the ‘rakpart’ and the river can expand in those areas. On the pictures below you can see how the ‘rakpart’ looks like when the river flooded in June. The road signs popping out of the water show you where the road is (and a sense of how much water is covering it!) You can also see a floating dock where ships can be boarded . You enter the dock from the ‘rakpart’ level so that is underwater on this picture. The stop for the ship (a glass contraption) is underwater as well. All ship transportation was cancelled during the flood since the ships could not pass under the bridges.
The city can be protected from flooding up to 9 meter high water levels. The recent flood was 8.92 meter high. Phew! 8 centimeters away from disaster. You can how the water crept up to the steps of the Parliament. An underground garage is being built next to the parliament. The building site had to be flooded in advance of the crest so the already built portions would not collapse under the water pressure.
Last week was Farsang in Hungary, which is roughly the equivalent of Halloween. Kids get dressed up in costumes and there are programs at the schools. Panka had a nice program where the kids sang some songs, then took turns showing off their costumes, followed by treats and games for the families. Notable absent from the Hungarian version of the holiday is trick-or-treating or (for better or worse) any exchange of candy.
Earlier, I posted about Daniel and Panka’s adventures at ski school. This weekend we were able to finally put their skills to the test at a nearby resort in Mátraszentistván. Hungary isn’t exactly a mountainous country, so there aren’t a lot of great skiing options in the country (especially with the Alps beckoning nearby). Still, Dora found a nice place in a hilly region east of Budapest called the Mátra, where we spent 2 half days on the slopes.
Panka and Dani ready to ski!
I haven’t had a chance to watch kids during their ski lessons since I stay home to watch Matthew, so this outing was my first chance to see them on skis. I was super impressed with their new skills. They really look natural on the hill; firmly in control and starting to make turns very nicely as well. We stuck mostly to the easy trail, but both of them tackled a more difficult medium grade slope during the trip. Panka’s challenging experience came about mostly by accident. The most difficult part for Panka was actually getting up the hill (no chair lifts, just surface lifts such as platter lifts or T-bar lifts that tow you up the hill), and on our first time up the biggest lift Panka fell off on the steep part. This led to a mini adventure in which Dani continued up to the top of the hill, during which time I coaxed Panka down the steep slope and then frantically tried to explain the situation to the skilift operators in my broken Hungarian. Panka did great on the steep trail and everything turned out fine — Daniel and I eventually reunited. Overall, it was a very successful weekend with beautiful snow-covered scenery; we look forward to future family ski outings!
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.
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.
Last Saturday, I came to the realization that it had been 2 weeks since I had last sat in a car. In that time, I had used a variety of alternative forms of transportation: walking (to and from work, mainly), various forms of public transportation (buses, streetcars, trains), and bike (recreation). We’ve still managed to move around a bit, including an outing with my research group outside of the city limits. One definite advantage of being in the city is being able to move around so easily!
Thursday was a special day at Daniel’s school; the parents were invited to come and sit in on their child’s first class from 8-9 AM. This was Math class for Daniel, and both Dora and I crowded into the back of the classroom with some other parents to see what goes on.
At 8 o’clock, a bell rang, and all the kids stood from their desks in unison. They then proceeded to wander through the classroom singing a song. It was a repetitive song that had them counting by 10′s at various points; Daniel said they do this each day. Everything seemed very orderly; in general the class seemed pretty structured, which I guess is a good thing when you have 1 teacher and 25 kids. One of the boys was having a bad morning (he said he didn’t get to sleep until midnight) and received a few stern warnings from the teacher during the class.
The class is currently working with numbers, particularly from 1-99. Adding them, subtracting them, odds/evens, figuring out what the nearest 10′s are, and Roman numerals (which are still used more in Hungary than the US). They started out with a brief quiz (5 questions), where the teacher read problems and the students had to mark their answer on a card. They then reviewed the answers as a group — it was just a self-graded exercise.
The class proceeded with more questions, which the kids answered in a little notebook that they have for the class before reviewing the answers. Interspersed in the questions were some fun adding games and competitions. Overall, it was pretty interactive (moreso than I expected it would be) and the kids were all engaged. They also seemed to cover considerable ground. One thing that may be tough is that if a child is having trouble, it might be difficult to detect since everything is done and reviewed fairly quickly. The teacher asks who got it right (most kids raise their hand, typically), and I suppose she has a good handle on who is struggling.
The thing that surprised me most was how tough the class must be for Daniel. We always assumed that math would be the easy class for him; he’s good at math and his lack of Hungarian shouldn’t hurt him much in a numbers class. Not true! Everything was done orally, so it was important for him to listen carefully to try to understand. On the first 5 question quiz, I was only able to understand 1 of the 5 questions; Daniel did much better and got 4 out of 5 right. Similarly all of the of the other questions were delivered orally. Daniel sits next to a bright and helpful boy; at times he leans over and tries to explain some things to Daniel. Daniel tries really hard and isn’t shy about volunteering answers or participating in the games. At one point, he was picked for a game where a number is afixed to a crown on his head and Daniel must use clues given by his classmates to figure out the number. The teacher was careful to make sure Daniel understood the clues his classmates provided, but Daniel seemed pretty good on his own. Overall, we were really surprised by the challenges Daniel faces but thrilled with his effort and enthusiasm.
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.
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.