Category Archives: Hungary

On my 1,000th Geocache

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A little over four years ago, while killing time before class in my M.Sc. days in Cleveland, I was looking around for new apps for my iPhone and remembered a thing I’d heard about called geocaching.  It was the idea that a person would hide a box somewhere (the geocache) and upload the GPS coordinates to the Internet, and then other people would find them in a bit of a scavenger hunt.  It was an idea that I found interesting when I first heard of it in college, but a GPS was too pricey for me as a student (and I had no car, making me a lot less mobile) so I promptly forgot about it.  But a search that day revealed that in the smartphone era one could go geocaching via a smartphone’s GPS, and there was even a free app, and hey there are a lot of these things around Cleveland!

I promptly went out that weekend to start finding a few of these things and the rest is history, as it turns out geocaching is a great thing to do when searching for an adventure.  The thrill of the hunt aside (and occasional swag to trade), they tend to be hidden in interesting locations that someone wants to bring you to, so a little research before traveling to an area on popular geocaches there rarely disappoints.  So far geocaching has taken me to extraordinary viewpoints from Italy to Tanzania…

IMG_2173girl-at-ngorongoro

Re Teodorico, Verona and NgoroNgoro- A Big African Caldera Continue reading

Photo: Tokaj Vineyards, Hungary

IMG_0679I went to Hungary last week on yet another random Dutch holiday- seriously, all our holidays are in springtime except for Christmas- and one of the things we had to do was a pilgrimage out to Tarcal, the small village both sides of my family are originally from (Tarcal is on the south side of Tokaj mountain, and where all the best Tokay wine comes from as a result).  And after things like visiting our great-grandparents’ graves we had to do an equally important task of going up to the family grapes which my uncle still runs every year and sample his latest wine.

I’ve been here before, obviously, but not in a few years and it is always such a nice, pleasant thing to sit with a glass straight from the barrel and contemplate the scenery.  It just looks so lovely and right, and I always idly wonder if that’s because generations of my ancestors looked onto the view here and thought the same thing…

Photo: A View of Budapest

So here’s a curious detail of my life during the past year: I have visited Hungary four times, most recently this past weekend, and don’t think I’ve mentioned it once here.  Such is the curious nature of familiarity, and the nature of going somewhere when the primary intent isn’t so much to explore it so much as to visit your relatives (in my case my brother in Budapest and my grandmother and cousins in Miskolc, two hours train ride east).

Not like we just sit around at home of course- in the past year I’ve toured the Hungarian parliament twice (once in Hungarian, once in English), climbed the hills on the Buda side to the old castle four times, clambered around the Bukk mountains in the northeast, took a dip in the Cave Bath (as awesome as it sounds, a thermal spring in a natural cave), sample the local nightlife as well as the local wine and palinka

Ok I guess we do a lot of exploring but in familiar-to-us places so it never gets mentioned, so here’s a nice view of Budapest with a statue of King St. Stephen and the Freedom Bridge spanning the Danube with my brother’s university in the distance.  Cheers!

On Dual Passports and Secret Agents

I can’t quite recall if I ever officially mentioned it here, but a few months ago I finally officially received my Hungarian passport.  This statement probably confuses many people who know me in the real world who always just assumed I had it (Hungarian isn’t one of those languages you just pick up usually), but the long and short of the situation is when my twin brother and I were born in 1986 all male Hungarian citizens were required to enter the army.  At the time no one thought the communist government was going to topple in a few years, so what was the point of registering two American-born children for their Hungarian citizenship with a nice requirement like that looming over one of them?

Fast forward about a quarter of a century, and it turned out that one of those twins was getting tired of paying exorbitant visa fees on her American passport, and both of those twins were considering moving to Europe.  So I decided to get that ball rolling, which turned out to be a mess of a process that dragged on for well over a year due to a mountain of paperwork one would expect from a former communist country. Lots of forms in Hungarian that at times made even my mother pause to understand their meaning (to give you an idea, my favorite was one just to confirm I wanted my name spelled “Yvette” instead of the traditional “Ivett”), all of which disappeared into the consulate… and while the process was supposed to take six months, it dragged on to over a year.  Klassz!

But in the end it all worked out, I finally had the Hungarian passport itself in hand in November, and it’s around this time that I discovered my new travel hobby.  Because you see, I now have a passport from a former Soviet Bloc country that is as yet not scanned or marked in any way, on a citizenship that a few months ago did not yet exist on paper…

That’s right, now when I go to the airport I alternate between my Hungarian and American passports when asked for identification to ensure the bad guys can’t trace me.  And I’ve been pretty successful shaking them off so far, except of course for that one gun fight on a speedboat racing through the Amsterdam canals that I don’t like to talk too much about.

Plus hey, my flirtations as an International Woman of Mystery aside, the visa fees to many a country just got a lot cheaper and the E.U. can now never kick me out. Win! As for where it may take me, I will just refer all curious folks to the cover of my passport holder:

2011: A Year in Review

When I think back on 2011 it will undoubtedly go down as the year where I did more in 12 months than most people do in a lifetime.  If I didn’t personally already defend a thesis, become a published author, move to a different country, and explore 20 countries on 4 continents along the way I would accuse myself of lying because I’m tired just thinking about it.  But I apparently did because I lived through all of it! Continue reading

On Moving to Europe

One of my favorite words in the world is a Hungarian one, világgá.  It comes from the root word vilag, or world, which is the source of all sorts of fascinating words if you add suffixes to it- add an “-os” for “have something” turns it into világos which means light or illuminating, and while világegyetem is a mouthful that means “the world’s university” literally it actually means the universe.  Hungarian has a bit of poetry to it that most people never stop to think about even when they speak it every day.

But anyway, világgá translates literally as “of the world” really means something that doesn’t have an English equivalent but translates something like “to go off into the world and seek your fortune.”  The heroes and heroines of Hungarian fairy tales go világgá all the time- of all fairy tales really but most languages don’t have a word for it- so it’s really not surprising that I daydreamed a lot about adventures as a kid and then decided to go világgá on my own a few times already.

Tomorrow I’m about to go világgá again to find a new home in Amsterdam, by way of a week in Hungary in case anyone’s wondering why I’m parsing Hungarian tonight. (It’s a habit that finds magic in the strangest of places.  Did you know that “sibling” in Hungarian is testvér, which literally means “body blood” and hence what you share with your brother and sister?   Or that the only difference between “lion,” oroszlán, and “Russian girl” is the latter has a -y on the end of it?)  I’ve done this before- I did a semester abroad in New Zealand, and I’ve flown to an exotic continent with no plans to return twice now- but the longest of those was six months abroad.  This time I’ll be abroad for at least four years, and while I’m sure I’ll be back there’s no way around how they’ll be visits.

For me, going abroad is the right thing to do- I am ready to spend years in a new place to get to know it really well, and my work there gets me as excited as I was about astronomy when I first read a book about it on the school bus 12 years ago.  It is a new adventure that I am ready and excited to experience, even though I know all adventures have bumps along the way the storytellers like to gloss over in the telling.

So time to go világgá.  I’ll catch you guys on the flip side.

Photo: Pécs, Hungary

It’s not hard to see why Pécs (pronounced “paey-ch”) is a 2010 European City of Culture- the main square is dominated by an old Turkish mosque that now functions as a Catholic Church, and you can explore treasures like the earliest Christian cemetery dating from the 4th century and the Vasareley museum.  I don’t know anyone who’s visited and didn’t love this gem of a city!