Category Archives: Hungary


Of course, the highlight of Hungary was hanging out with my cousins-image543

Left to right is Bogi, Gyuri, Judit, and Judit’s boyfriend Balazs.   Bogi has lived in the U.K. the past few years but was home for the holiday, Gyuri is currently a cop in Miskolc, Judit of course was with me in Thailand, and Balazs is a surgeon in a town near Budapest.   We had a lot of fun.image546

My first full day in Miskolc was a Thursday, meaning we had to go to “The Rocky.”   This is the de-facto name for the university nightclub in Miskolc called the Rockwell Club, as I have yet to hear anyone call it anything but The Rocky.   I last visited three years ago when they had an entertaining “New York! London! Tokyo! Miskolc!” decoration on the wall because clearly Miskolc is in league with those places as a party destination, but unfortunately (fortunately?) they’ve changed it.

And because I have nowhere else to really mention it, I do find it entertaining that if you go dancing in a Hungarian club guys will try to grab girls on the sly around the waist to get you to start dancing with them, as if you somehow wouldn’t notice.   Sort of a heralding back to the days when the marauding Magyars would sweep through Europe picking girls up onto their horses in order to get a wife.

Anyway, because it’s important in Hungarian culture, my cousins also made a point of introducing me to palinka, the national schnapps-like liquor made from various types of fruit- image5661

Here’s a fun statistic for you from The Economist, which two years ago came out with the  list of countries that had the most alcohol consumption by volume.  Number one was Ireland, surprising everyone, number two was Luxembourg, confusing everyone, and number three was Hungary, freaking everyone the hell out.  You know why?  Because the Irish drink beer whereas Hungary is not really a beer-drinking country, preferring wine or spirits.  In fact, if you are not offered a shot of palinka within five minutes of entering a Hungarian household it’s a pretty safe bet that the owner hates you.  Pity the stuff burns-


A Kurt Vonnegut quote springs to mind- “If you have a Hungarian for a friend, you don’t need an enemy.”

To counter the madness, the next morning is spent a bit more like this-image632

Me and Bogi on the swing in my cousin’s yard.  I have a long history of being lazy on this swing- image5931

Me on the swing today- yeah I don’t know what happened either-


A retaliatory picture of Bogi with one of their two Welsh terriers, Rudi-


Not to be confused with the second terrier, Gypsy-image550Of course, I have a problem telling the two dogs apart so I’m half-expecting Judit to comment here, telling me they’re both pictures of Gypsy and forcing me to dig up another picture.  Hmmm… Anyway, before I get distracted on this point I will just wrap things up and say my cousins are awesome.  And if you visit Hungary don’t forget to be careful with the palinka.

Back to Nature


Miskolc is not the most photogenic of cities.   As  the old industrial city of Hungary it probably wasn’t going to top the list in the first place, but then the communist government in another one of their bursts of stupidity decided they should tear down a lot of the lovely old houses for ugly block apartments instead.   Put it this way, I once met a pair of girl backpackers in Western Europe excited to get to Poland to tour a “Soviet planned community” and I stared  at them in incomprehension.

A few minutes outside Miskolc, fortunately, is a completely different story-


These are the Bükk mountains, which means literally the “beech mountains” thanks to the ten million beech trees everywhere.   It’s regarded by many as the prettiest terrain in Hungary.   And if you go out in the springtime when the wildflowers are blooming and you get that beautiful new green color,

My first adventure in the hills was on a hike with my mom’s cousin Klari-


Klari  is one of those very outdoorsy people who you feel could hike through the entire mountain range without getting lost once.   Our goal on the hike was the famous-in-Hungary Szeleti Cave, one of over a thousand caves in the Bukk-


Which is pretty huge inside, and I got to use my headlamp!


The Szeleti Cave is noteworthy because a century ago a naturalist named Otto Herman discovered Stone Age artifacts in said cave.  And on a random tangent, I also really don’t like it when Hungarians have two first names as their real name, because you say your last name first (I am “Cendes Yvette” rather than the other way around) so I always get a touch confused.


One of the many, many beautiful views Klari and I saw along our hike.  Beyond being a lovely person, the reason it was fun to hike with Klari is because she falls into that class of people who knew my mom while growing up and can tell me stories from a different perspective or ones I never heard of altogether.  My favorite involved a hiking expedition that ended in disaster thanks to Soviet Premier Khruschev visiting Miskolc that day- a story I think I’ll leave hanging like that because your imagination will probably come up with a better story than the one I would tell.

image647A view of the final destination of the trip, Lillafured with its lovely “Palace Hotel.”  It’s a small resort area for tourists not at all far from Miskolc that was a highlight to visit each summer because of this-image653Known as the kis vasut (“little train”) it runs from Miskolc to Lillafured in about a half hour, and trust me when you’re six this is the coolest thing ever. (Actually when you’re older too- I think my dad was always as excited about the trip as we were, and I rode it once with my grandma this year too just to reconfirm its awesomeness.)

So that was my first little adventure into the Miskolc surrounds.  The second one I’m posting almost just to freak the hell out of my animal rights activist friends-


That’s right kids, my uncle took me hunting! To clarify, hunting in Hungary is not exactly the same as the “Ah wanna kill summin’ so I cayn be a man!” redneck stereotype one encounters in the US, but rather a necessary thing to do because there are no more natural predators in the country.  So every year the hunting clubs are given a quota by the government on how many wild boar, deer, elk, etc. they can shoot to keep the population at sustainable levels. (They do this in a lot of countries actually, like how kangaroos are culled every year in Australia.)


Me in the watchtower in the picture above, taking in the view-image638We arrived over an hour before dusk and didn’t stay much after 9pm because there was no moon.  Saw two deer that came for the salt lick, but my uncle didn’t shoot because he was only going to shoot for elk if he saw one.  Actually the way to think of my uncle is he mainly uses hunting as an excuse to get out into the forest and observe how it changes day to day.  I have never met a person more in love with nature in general and animals in particular than him.

Tarcal (Tokaji Region)


I am one of those people who has never, ever needed to question where my family is from.  If anyone asks on both sides of my family the roots are from a tiny Hungarian village called Tarcal, in the Tokaji wine region.  Here for more generations than we can easily keep track of Csendeses earned PhDs at a time when most people in Europe were peasant farmers, discussing things like law and science over good wine.

And then World War II came and pretty much everyone fled, and what the Russians didn’t steal was slowly acquired by the subsequent communist government.  But a small piece of land survived the turmoil, where my uncle still grows grapes every year.  Thus it was only natural for me to head out to Tarcal one afternoon with him, which is an hour’s drive from Miskolc.


A ubiquitous stork nest spotted on the drive to Tarcal.  Back in the day having a stork build a nest on your chimney was considered good luck, even though I imagine it sucked to not be able to light your fire anymore.  So you still spot them everywhere, particularly in small villages, though they have now moved from chimneys to the tops of telephone poles.


This house looks just like any other in Tarcal but is nonetheless important, as my maternal grandmother used to live here. (She dismissed my picture-taking on the grounds that the house doesn’t look like it did, not surprising considering we’re talking over 50 years ago.) Not photographed but to the left of this house is where my paternal grandmother used to live, meaning my grandmothers used to chat over the fence between them.  My paternal grandmother ended up marrying into my other grandmother’s extended family, actually, meaning my parents are very distant relatives.

It should also be noted that since everybody in my family history is connected to Tarcal it means both sides have some good gossip on the other and lots of drama.  For example, in my family technically all the girls are Catholic and all the boys are Protestant, because there have been several occurrences of a Catholic girl wanting to marry a Protestant boy, the families getting into a huge row about it, and finally working out this compromise.  I’m sure the wine didn’t hurt.


And here, ladies and gents, is the family vineyard!  Not much, but a decent year is basically enough to ensure my family doesn’t need to buy wine and maybe sell some grapes to a bigger establishment (or at least I’m pretty sure how it works).  Unfortunately last year the grapes were hit by disease, meaning no harvest, but hopefully this year will be better.

image6051The beautiful view from the vineyard… towards the next vineyard… and then the vineyard after that… Trust me, the Tokaji region is a nice place to be and I’m not just saying that because I’m predispositioned to (it’s actually a World Heritage Site).


And because it is a bit obligatory, me sipping some of the family wine at the vineyard. (I’m holding a blooming lilac branch in my other hand here, noteworthy because it’s several weeks early.) It’s an entertaining process to get a glass actually- one needs to go down to the cellar with a candle and extract it directly from the barrel, meaning it’s exactly cellar temperature when you sample it.  Oh, and there’s this thick dark green mold down there that my uncle was all too happy to break off and show to me because it is only found in this region of the world, striking because I can’t think of a prior circumstance where I was told to admire a variety of mold before.  But these are the reasons we go abroad, right?  Family roots, good wine, and mold.

Hungarian Easter Holidays

If this blog has been quiet lately, it’s because my Hungarian relatives held me hostage for over a week the second I showed up in the country.  Which I mean in the kindest, most “what do you mean you’re not eating more?!” sort of way one can say of extended family everywhere.  But I couldn’t exactly go on a trip around the world and not succumb to such affections, right?

Anyway, my maternal grandmother, mom’s brother and everyone else affiliated with that side of the family lives in Miskolc, an old industrial city two hours from Budapest in the northeast of the country.  I used to spend every summer here, my brother, sister and me forming a kis banda (“little gang”) with my three cousins-image592Yeah, we were all dorks when we were little.  Especially that little girl on the right whose parents never let her grow her hair long like her sister’s so she looked like a boy throughout childhood.  But I digress.

Anyway, the reason to show up in Hungary at this particular time was Easter- it’s a fairly big holiday in Hungary lasting two days, with a few peculiar customs I’d heard about but had never actually seen because I only ever visited in the summer. (Coincidentally, this also marked the approximate halfway mark of my journey so laying low in familiar territory and buying sorely needed items wasn’t bad either.) However, because I have never been here anytime except summer the weather decided to cooperate with unseasonable warmth, which we were all quite appreciative about but I still feel like I’ve only ever been to Hungary in the summer!

Anyway, Easter.  On Easter Sunday I obviously accompanied my grandmother to her Greek Catholic church, which is an odd mix of Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox religion (they follow the Pope, but the priests are allowed to marry for example)-


See that red building on the right, by the way?   My mom went to high school there, as did my cousin Judit.


After church it was time for Easter lunch outside in the garden at my cousins’ house, which you can see looks quite lovely this time of year, but we got a random rainstorm passing through and had to eat inside instead-image5721

Hilariously, due to the space constraints at hand (10 people altogether) we still had a “kids table” and a “grown-ups table” even though the age range at the kids table was 21-28.   Young at heart, right?   I spent most of the lunch really excited about the glass I got to use, which has panda bears on it and I used to love when I was little.   I think this is why it’s important to visit places that were important to you when you were little by the way- to be reminded of things like the importance of an awesome-looking panda bear glass.

After dinner I discovered the first neat thing about a Hungarian holiday- you know how back in the US if you have a huge holiday like Easter or Christmas everyone sits around bored at home because nothing is open?   In Hungary this isn’t the case, as they think it’s supposed  to be a holiday for a reason!   So the cousins and I went to the local park, to hang out and try the Bobsled Hill Of Doom-image576

Built sometime in the last three years, ie the last time I was here, the bobsled course is similar to alpine slides you find in the US- you get a cart and go down a track while controlling your speed with a break as nessecary.   Except this is Hungary and Judit’s boyfriend spent all the time while standing in line reminding us loudly of the potential shoddy workmanship and the time he flipped over on the bobsled course, and as a surgeon he knew what broken bodies looked like and it wasn’t pretty…

And then spent the entire time chasing after me and my cousin Bogi while almost running into us on the course.  I took a video on my camera but almost don’t want to post it on YouTube because the subsequent language would make a sailor blush and there are videos on there already anyway.image5783

My cousins Gyuri (ie George) and Judit, who never wanted to touch the break and hence got paired together for two of the three times we did the bobsled track.

Anyway, once we were done it was time for a  snack!image582

This has got to be the biggest cotton candy I have ever had.   You could have hidden a toddler with it, either via size comparison or the fact that the toddler would have run away after getting dosed with a massive amount of sugar.image583

Obviously, we didn’t need to still be little kids ourselves to act strangely… and then head home, half of Easter holiday over.  I say half because it’s a two-day holiday here…


What happens on Easter Monday in Hungary  is something I have never heard someone try to connect to Christianity because it’s too out there- quite something for a holiday where a bunny delivers eggs to children.   It’s called the locsolas (“watering”) and goes like this: during the morning the women sit at home with copious amounts of food and alcohol, while the men go calling.  At each house where the guys stop (that of a female relative or a crush or something like that) the gentleman sprinkles perfume on the lady’s head, for which she will give him a painted egg.  I know what you’re thinking and I agree- this has got to be the most symbolically sexual tradition you will ever hear of.

By the way, it should be noted that I never did this at home despite being in a very Hungarian household, except how randomly on Easter Monday my brother would attack me with his water pistol and then demand rights to my Easter candy.  Naturally I grew up thinking this was the stupidest holiday ever.

Anyway, at my grandmother’s house the callers were various male relatives, such as my cousin and uncle in the picture above.  My uncle, it should be pointed out, got me with a water gun instead of perfume.  Some things never change? image5892

But for fun this is by far the cutest caller we had- my second cousin once removed named Vince, who is three years old.  Vince is playing with an old scooter my grandmother passed on to him as a present, which I can attest is old because I remember playing with it when I was three.  I even had this irrational little voice in the back of my head saying “but that’s mine!” that I kept telling to shut up.

And thus I spent the holiday the way it should be spent- amongst a bunch of relatives with a lot of good food.  I knew I kept saying I was going to show up in time for Easter for a reason!