It has been interesting to mark this “Pandemic Experience” by the month, as it really allows for a broad perspective on our energies as they change. Sometimes I feel like I could reflect weekly as things change so quickly, but other times weeks fly by and I struggle to put words to how this time-lapse sense of uncertainty feels. The world keeps turning, and life goes on even when countries are in a collective pause. Mother Nature reminds us that time can’t be stopped as she breathes life into the buds that went to sleep over the winter. Everything is blooming and fragrant, and being outside has given us a much needed respite from monotony. Things have opened up in Hungary over the last month, and as of the 18th of May nearly all stores were permitted to open as long as they had social distancing and safety protocols (mostly masks and shopping times for the elderly) in place. In spite of things opening again, I still dread food shopping. We got the green light to travel within Hungary so we took full advantage of this and went out exploring every weekend, including overnights in the towns of Szeged and soon to Pécs, two places we have been meaning to visit for two years. What better excuse to explore inside our own country (and appreciate it more!) than now, when borders remain closed and we have been cooped up for a couple of months!
School continued at its usual pace this month, but I sure will be glad when it is officially over. I noticed the kids have begun to lose interest and have started doing their work at the crack of dawn so they can finish and have the rest of the day to do their own projects. The days have been longer and they’re resisting their normal bedtime (it’s so bright!) and they’re anticipating the freedom of summer. I gotta be honest – so am I! As much as structured time during distance learning has been very helpful so the kids have things to focus on, it has been a lot of work for me too. Three children with three very different expectations and lesson plans, all of which I need to supervise, support, and hold them accountable for…I am spent! Here’s to hoping schools can open up regularly in the fall. This has been a learning experience for all of us, but the kids really need the structure and community of school. My creativity has gone down the tubes too, in favor of simple routines and spending time engaged with the kids as they do their schoolwork.
I didn’t do much for baking this month, but when I did, it was comfort foods. With more of my energy going to travel planning (dreaming of when the borders open), and self care, I found that the oven took a back seat. I’m still excited about what I learned in the kitchen this pandemic and find myself feeling confident about whatever I consider making instead of doubtful, as I was before lock down. That’s a win to me!
Dianna and Willow have also learned a lot, and especially noteworthy is their self-taught gymnastics! Didi went from not being able to complete a cartwheel, split, or handstand to doing nearly perfect versions of all three, plus setting goals for herself to do even more like a front walkover and walking on her hands! Willow is not far behind, and is totally fearless. She couldn’t do anything at all besides a somersault before, but has been watching and perpetually practicing alongside her big sister and it is SO fun to see her progress. These are two determined little ladies! Willow has just about nailed a very acrobatic looking handstand, one handed back bend, and is even close to a split! You go, girls! Beau has grown, too. Most notably is his independence. His new favorite thing is taking his bike (and face mask) to the bakery about a mile from our house and buying up super cheap and delicious loaves of bread. He is so thrilled to contribute to the household and is stepping up to do his part with chores and acts of service. I’m proud of our little man – who also happens to wear my shoes these days (size 10). They just about fit him!
Big daddy has also taken on a lot. We are waiting to hear what our next assignment will be with great anticipation. In the meantime he is taking a course to earn his boat license so we can someday (soon?!) rent a boat as a little family and cruise the Adriatic Islands around Croatia. This is a huge bucket list item for us! All the unknowns, including the collective pandemic question marks, have made this time especially uncomfortable, but we are leaning into that feeling and supporting each other through it.
HEREND. One sunny afternoon we stole away to nearby Herend Porcelain Factory in Herend, Hungary to see the world famous Queen Victoria porcelain pieces and pick up a gift for a friend. I found myself drooling at all the gorgeous porcelain – and also throwing up a little in my mouth when I saw the prices. This is the real deal; heirloom porcelain doesn’t come cheap! A small teacup and saucer will run you a minimum of $60, a teapot several hundred, and a full tea set over $1,000! I am an artist at heart, though, and found myself getting lost in all the patterns, details, and unique items they had on display. This Japanese-inspired porcelain style is the pride of Hungary and has been around for nearly 200 years! To this day it is the largest operational porcelain factory in the world. Learn more here.
VESZPRÉM. On the first “open” weekend it was a beautiful day, so we decided to go to the Veszprém Zoo. The last time we went we had the whole place practically to ourselves, but not this time! The parking lot was so packed people were parking along the road! Amazingly, it didn’t feel too crowded, and we were able to enjoy the animals and the playground with appropriate social distancing. The lemurs were my favorite this time, as little babies had been born and the mama was such a boss nursing two and handling three at a time. It is also accurate to say the playground at the zoo is the nicest in Hungary. I haven’t seen a better playground, I daresay, since moving to Europe! Bravo, Veszprém! We were joined by our Polish friends who we thought would be leaving this summer but we are so happy to hear they have another year in Pápa, too!
After the zoo we shared a nice, relaxing patio dinner at Chill Bistro in Veszprém. I love the atmosphere of this place, and although the inside was closed for now due to Covid-19, the outside seating area was ample. The service is pretty slow and the food was only ok, but drinks are great and I love that the kids can run around in the square while we waited for our food.
After dinner we walked around again up the old streets toward the Veszprém castle and the beautiful overlook of the city. We walked down the path to Benedict Tip, then found some ice cream along Kossuth Lajos, the walking street. It can’t be understated how much we appreciated being outside and being able to hang out with friends!
LILIOMKERT. The next day we visited Liliomkert, the large outdoor market down in our favorite region of Hungary to hike, in the volcanic hills north of Lake Balaton. Liliomkert was even better than what we expected, with loads of homemade treats and handmade goods. I was hoping there would be more furniture, but even without that we came away with plenty of great stuff including creamed honey and fruity dessert wines! I was especially happy to see fresh flowers there, as well as Hungarian classics like embroidered fabrics, antique Herend porcelain and paprika products by the dozen. The brick oven pizza we had was better than any street pizza we’d had in Hungary so far. There were so many paths with stalls that we got twisted around a few times, but managed to figure out how it works. I can’t wait to go back and stock up on gifts!
In mid May the poppies were in full bloom, and after taking such beautiful photos of the kiddos in the fields last year, our Norwegian friends wanted to have a few photos together in the fields as well! It was fun to capture these beautiful humans in the full blazing glory of the red poppy fields!
SZEGED. In late May we took our first overnight holiday since February to Szeged with our Polish friends. On the way we stopped at Bory Castle, a beautiful architectural marvel in the town of Székesfehérvár, Hungary. The famous artist Bory created his impressive and impractical castle that we were able to explore. I’ll be writing a lot more about Bory in a separate post soon.
SZÉKESFEHÉRVÁR. After our stop at Bory we went into town for a drink in downtown Székesfehérvár. Café Frei is a funky, yummy chain here that reminds me of Starbucks, except their drinks are sourced from all over the world. We enjoyed our drinks and walked around to see the major sites – the glockenspiel, church, and main square areas. This town was founded in 972 and has a rich history! Surprisingly, this town used to be the capital of the Kingdom of Hungary for approximately 500 years at the start of the first century. The first kings of Hungary were crowned and buried here. It is only about 75 minutes from Pápa, so I think we may come back to visit again for a change of scenery.
SZEGED. We made it to the town of Szeged in time to spend a couple of hours at the Sunshine Aquapolis Fürdő (water park). First we let the girls play at the Elizabeth Park where there were tons of old logs to climb around on, then we hit up the pool. It was decent enough weather to enjoy it but even better that it is a thermal waterpark, so the water was nice and warm. Only the outside part of the park was open (inside is closed indefinitely at the fürdő due to Covid-19) but it was enough to satisfy with the slides and several pool areas. Unfortunately I didn’t get a single picture of the thermal pools and instead just jumped in and enjoyed myself in the water! Oh well. We had a great time! This stock photo gives you the idea:
After the pool we cleaned up (nice mohawk, Beau!) and walked over the bridge to have dinner at a burger-and-craft brewery joint called Maláta kézműves sör- és grill kert. Phew! Long name, really good beer. The kids could run around at the nearby playground while we ate outside in their cute beer garden patio area. After dinner we walked around to the Votiv Church of Szeged and surrounding Turkish-style square, then back through the walking streets in search of gelato. We scored big at A Capella Cukrászda near the Millenium Fountain.
The next morning it was unexpectedly raining, but that didn’t stop us from finding our way into town for breakfast. We parked on the empty streets and hopped over to Kelesztő, a delicious (tiny) eatery where we were all able to fit and enjoy selections of Eggs Benedict, English breakfasts, and Croque Madames with drinks. We loved it! We missed out on the timing to grab road snacks in the nearby Spar (elderly shopping from 9-12 and we entered at 9:20. Oops!) so we decided to head towards our next stop.
THE DESERT OF HUNGARY. The sand dunes of Fülöpháza outside the town of Kecskemét are hard to find but well worth the discovery! We were so happy to see the skies clearing as we drove north, and even happier to fit in this funky spot on our timeline for the travel day. I will write a more detailed blog just for this place to help others find it as it is not exactly intuitive!
We had fun letting the kids jump, dive and roll around in the sand for a bit before hitting the road home. It was especially fun because we were the only ones there until we were ready to leave, and since it had just rained that morning, the dunes looked wavy and undisturbed except by our footprints. When we got home we attempted to pick strawberries near Győr, but we learned our intel was off by a few days and we’d have to wait for the fields to open later in the week.
All three kids have also had a busy few weeks of birthday “parties” (some from a distance, some in small backyard gatherings). It is absolutely incredible that at this one birthday (right) there was a boy from the USA, Norway, the Netherlands, Estonia and Poland. In addition to the countries listed, Beau’s class also has students from Sweden, Bulgaria and Hungary. It is amazing that Willow’s classmates include children from Greece, Finland, Norway, Slovenia, Poland, and the USA. And in Didi’s small class there are students from Romania, Bulgaria, Norway, Poland, the Netherlands and the USA. What a tremendous experience for these kids! We sure hope the international opportunity can continue as long as possible. It has been wonderful in so many ways.
It seems hardly possible that May is nearly done, but I find myself uncharacteristically looking ahead with high hopes for a somewhat normal summer. I love to plan and look forward to things, but by nature am a “here and now” person so this time has been especially strange with a blank slate ahead of us and the same thing at home day in and day out. Probably everyone is experiencing some form of monotony – we’re all in this together! We just try to remember to laugh, take it one day at a time, and keep our hopes up, remembering this is temporary and we are being primed for a season of BIG gratitude when all of this is over!