Lillafüred Revisited

Lillafüred Revisited

If there’s one thing I love it’s the outdoors. Whether hiking through mountains, deserts or forests —being outside, moving across a landscape is a pleasure I never tire of. Living in Hungary now, I’m seriously excited to explore the national parks and wild places throughout this enthralling country in the heart of Europe.  One place I’ve been to many times over the past ten years is Lillafüred. Driving from downtown Miskolc, up the city’s 12 km long main drag (some call it the longest Main St. in Europe, though it’s actually a series of 9 adjoined streets) you pass a city time has not been kind to: The fall of Communism, and subsequently the collapse of industry, has left Miskolc and its tough inhabitants in a bind. Crumbling, empty factories and derelict neighborhoods are common sights as you drive west towards the Bükk Mountains. You could say it’s Hungary’s Detroit. Miskolc is improving though.  Sleek new trams can be seen sliding through town, the summertime Opera Festival is gaining traction and plans for a new soccer stadium are in the works. For me, however, the hills will always be this city’s main attraction. Past the towering smokestacks, past the ramshackle Roma areas of Bulgárföld, past the soulless, Soviet-Bloc housing monoliths that line the road from Győri kapu to Diósgyőr, the main road gives way to a valley of wooded beauty and the “old-world” villages of Hámor and Lillafüred. Hámor is walled by two steep, tree covered hillsides and the tiny village abounds with unique alpine-style houses along the Szinva Creek.  This cozy town is also home to two limestone cliffs...
Blinking frogs and frozen noses

Blinking frogs and frozen noses

Meat-jello. Four whole days of celebrations centered on meat-jello. Welcome to the Miskolc Kocsonya Festival.  This annual extravaganza is held on the first weekend in February and attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors. The event is part of the Hungarian Farsang Season or “Festival Season” that essentially celebrates the coming of Spring. Other festivals take place all over Hungary, including the more famous Busójárás in Mohács.  Our original plan was to drive cross-country to Mohács, but being that I’d never been to the Kocsonya Festival and that we live in Miskolc, we chose the latter.  So let’s dig in! What the hell is kocsonya? The international term for this gelatinous dish is aspic. Many European nations and a couple of Asian countries have their versions of kocsonya ,and it’s believed the jiggly creation originated in the middle ages. A French cookbook written in 1375 apparently contains a recipe and  Les Francais are particularly creative with their gélatine.  In Hungary, Kocsonya is a wintertime delicacy and people eat it with thick slices of crusty bread.  Miskolc-ians are known for being especially kocsonya crazy. How it’s made and what the fuss is all about: Let’s be clear: I am not a fan of kocsonya. It actually tastes alright but the texture is vile. Maybe it has something to do with growing up eating sweet jello in the States. I don’t know.  Before I go into details about the festival though, I’d like to explain how kocsonya is made and how the Miskolc tradition began. First, you make a seasoned and clarified consommé from pork trotters (but you can use beef or...
Cold Weather, Warm people

Cold Weather, Warm people

Our decision to move to Hungary was a difficult one. Anita and I have many people we love and care about back in California. There’s my family of course, friends that I’ve known for nearly 20 years, and newer friends Anita and I made during our seven years there together.  Some friends, the ones I went backpacking and climbing with, feel more like brothers to me. Our relationship is that close. There were many reasons to stay in California, but it’s said that every seven years you begin a new cycle in life. We spent seven years in the States, so I suppose we were due for a big transition. Since we’ve been together, Anita and I have moved about every 12-24 months. Whether it was from Ireland to Spain, Spain to Hungary, Hungary to the States or from apartment to apartment in California— we’re always on to the next adventure. But this lack of permanence is starting to take its toll, especially on Anita.  While many people question our sanity for leaving the Golden State behind, I can see and feel my wife’s contentment here in Hungary.  I think we can settle here—at least for a while. “It’s an ancient tradition in Hungary that the man moves to where the woman’s family is,” my friend Zoli told me after one of our workout sessions last week. “So I think for your wife, it’s not just that she feels good here in her mind . . . she feels it in her cells.” So where do we live in Hungary? Anita is from Miskolc, an industrial city of about...
Mick Jagger Was Right

Mick Jagger Was Right

We made it! Anita and I are here in Hungary now. All bundled up in 35 degree weather while it’s 84 in California. I have to admit, it’s a bit dreary here but it is winter mind you.  We’ve been here in Miskolc for four days now and haven’t gotten around to doing much yet besides adjusting to the nine hour time difference. I have managed to ingest my fair share of gulyas, Hungarian salami and homemade wine though. And that’s what matters. The afternoon before our flight, Anita and I attempted to check in online. Much to our surprise, the seats we paid $115.00 each for were nowhere to be found.  Since we were traveling with our dog Whoopi in the cabin, we had requested seats at the emergency exit or bulkhead row to have a bit of extra room. Now, when you travel with a pet in the cabin, you are required to call the airline to purchase the tickets. We did this; twice in fact. Both Lufthansa representatives confirmed our seats at the emergency exit.  And there we were staring at the seat map on the computer screen, 24 hours before our flight, with two seats nowhere near the emergency exit. I promptly called Lufthansa. “I’m sorry sir but these are the seats you chose and confirmed,” said the woman with a nasally voice. “And it’s impossible that they would’ve given you those seats because passengers with a pet are not allowed at the emergency exit,” she continued.  I responded by explaining that two of her colleagues had confirmed with me that we had purchased those...