Today we have Kaitlyn Long and Erika Echternach blogging with us – not only because they have some fabulous insights on yesterday’s experience, but also because they have been a part of my (Mrs. U’s) Food & Travel Writing club this year, and we saw this as a great opportunity for them to practice some of the skills they’ve been learning. (See how we even incorporate curriculum while overseas? Talk about multi-tasking! Anyway….)
Tuesday started out with a departure from WOL Toalmas in 2 vans. We stopped for lunch at a Macdonalds just outside of Budapest–and unbelievably, the Macdonalds was clean and efficient and yummy, with an entire counter dedicated to coffee and pastries (much like a Starbucks). They do fast food right in Hungary (among many other things).
We then went in to the city and first visited the Fortress (which everyone agreed looked exactly like Hogwarts) . . .
. . . and finally the Parliament House.
At Parliament, we had a guided tour (in English, yay!) and were reminded often that this building as decorated with gold. Pure gold. Lots of gold. There were even gold cigar stands for members of parliament to set their cigars on while they went into the meeting room to vote or hear a speech.
The parliament building was modeled after the Houses of Parliament in London. However, after WWII, when Hungary was divided up between the victors, the country did not need such a large Parliament House. So currently only half of the building is actively used. We toured the inactive (unused) portion. This portion is also where the Hungarian Crown Jewels are displayed – though we were not permitted to take pictures of them. If you wish to know what actually happens if you disobey this no-photographing-the-crown-jewels rule, just ask Ross McCracken. (Great story.)
The building is, of course, stunning. And with all – or nearly all – the remnants of Communisism essentially gone. Disappeared. Except for a display downstairs, exhibiting the communist star that once presided at the peak of the Parliament. Now, this lone token rests in the basement.
Other bits and pieces, small reminders, of this dark period in Hungary’s history have been cropping up here and there. There’s even a mark on an exterior wall of the WOL Castle where the red star of communism once stood. Now what Hungarian churches and believers are finding is that people, schools, communities, even the government, is open to Bible teaching and Christianity. Such an incredible and exciting time for Hungarian believers!
Here’s a few other parliamentary shots from yesterday.
From Parliament we went to do a little shopping at a Hungarian market. There was heaps of bartering (which usually ended with us shrugging and handing over money because “yes” and “thank you” and “hello” and “mushroom” severely limit you when trying to negotate prices). We did have Atilla (WOL staff) and Danny (WOL intern) with us who are Hungarian and made sure no one was taken advantage of. But that really was not a concern. Most shop keepers spoke English and were quite welcoming and hospitable and eager to share with us insights into traditional Hungarian culture.
Of course, shopping makes everyone Hungary – oops, I mean hungry. So dinner was up next. So I’ll hand the mic over to Erika.
Warning: when you first walk into Trophea Grill you’re going to think you’re in Heaven. Spoiler alert: you’re not, which is unfortunate because you’ll want to spend an eternity there. This is the buffet to end all buffets. Not only vast quantities of food but insane quality. We walked by the buffet just to tantalize our senses before our loud and large group (which included a Richard) was seated in the wayyyyy back. Coincidence? You decide.
Anyway, our first encounter was with beverages. Spread out intermittently across the table were giant spray bottles containing carbonated water. Beside them were small pitchers holding what looked like olive oil. Our waiter explained that it was honeysuckle nectar that we poured just a touch of into our glass before filling the rest up with the sparkling water. One by one we each sampled this curious liquid which ultimately left us with 2 questions: Is this honeysuckle nectar or nectar of the gods themselves? And how can America get in on this action!? Europe has really been holding out on us. Needless to say everything was hunky dory, that is until the spray seltzer proved to be a problem for some group members (Nicole) who got a little spritz happy and subsequently ended up slightly drenched. However, nothing could put a damper on this evening when there was still a buffet to be explored!
A substantial part of the reasoning for bringing us to such an astonishing establishment was to give us the chance to try some authentic Hungarian dining. This took on a variety of forms from fruit soup to salmon and ricotta cakes. If there’s one thing to take away from the night, it’s that Hungarians know how to spice things up! When it comes to balancing acidity, these people are second to none. They are the masters of seasoning, tempering spices with mellower herbs and savory with sweet. And they marinate like CHAMPS. The rest of the world best take notes, because class is in session.
These skills were especially evident at the hibachi-like grill where customers selected their pre-seasoned meats (think dill, lemon, sesame, etc.) and any add ons ranging from cheese to quail eggs, then handed their plate of delicacies to the nice Hungarian man who grilled it up to perfection. Here’s the catch, you don’t fill your plate to overflowing like a fat American (Keegan). That’s a rookie mistake. The trick is to just take a little, but go up 17 times until you’re on a first name basis with the grill master.
Once you’ve finally received your plate of yumminess, you are bombarded by flavor from every angle. You’re going to be overwhelmed. The best thing you can do at this point is to simply close your eyes and let the flavors dance across your tongue in a perfectly orchestrated poultry polka. Other Hungarian dishes included venison, polenta, beef tortilla, and a savory pancake/crepe thing that nobody could determine what exactly was inside, but each bite of it resulted in a party in your mouth so it was all good. Also, Hungarians will eat potatoes in every form imaginable, including puffed into delightful little pillows of fluff!
What’s that? You’re not into traditional Hungarian cuisine? Well allow me to introduce you to my pal the sushi bar! Or perhaps you’d get along better with the good old pizza bar. Worst comes to worst, there always an extensive bread bar at which there is a gigantic knife that the restaurant staff has no qualms about leaving out for patrons to help themselves from any loaf. It’s a beautiful thing.
Just when you think you cannot possibly stuff yourself with any more deliciousness, it’s time for dessert! Hopefully, you’re not allergic to dairy or there could be some issues. However, if you can hold down your lactose, there is cheesecake galore! Other desserts include peach sour cream squares, giant custard filled cream puffs, chocolate mousse stuff, brownies (for our traditional folk), and more cheesecake. There are also these dispensers of a mysterious scrumptiousness that leaves one thinking, “Is it a slushie? Is it ice cream? I DON’T KNOW BUT IT’S WONDERFUL.”
Finally, as we were all blissfully slipping into a food coma, the waiter brought a dozen flowers for all the females as part of International Women’s Day. What!? Why is this not a thing in the states!? Dear Hungary, please write a book on chivalry. Thanks.
Anyway, in short, it was the most fantastic experience of my life. To top it all off, it turns out Trofea translates to “trophy”, which makes SO MUCH SENSE. Because seriously, someone please get this place an award.
After dinner, for dessert (a feast for the eyes, if you will), we traveled over to Castle Hill. Kaitlyn is going to share her experience:
“My house in Budapest, my hidden treasure chest” were lyrics that most likely floated through everyone’s mind yesterday. Yesterday we spent the day sightseeing in Budapest. After spending the day visiting Hero Square, the parliament building (which is breathtaking), the market, and having dinner together, we made our way to Castle Hill. Castle Hill, is exactly what is sounds like, a castle upon a hill. Actually, it’s more like a city upon a hill. There’s gothic arches, cobblestone streets, old churches, all of which were beautiful. The evening was cold, and the air was crisp, but that didn’t stop us from making our way through the Hill, and we are glad we did. Once we saw the view from the top, the fact that we were all freezing no longer mattered. The view was worth it. From the top of the Hill, you can see the Parliament building, and the Danube River which runs right thought the heart of Budapest. Not to mention all the bridges. We took a moment to take pictures, and talk about the view. Then, we all stood silent, spellbound, looking out over the city, taking in the view. After a moment of silence to embrace the view, we all huddled together, and prayed for the City. We prayed that God would be found within this beautiful city. We prayed that the people of Budapest, and all of Hungary would allow God into their lives, and that God would become visible. I think everyone would agree that Castle Hill was a highlight of the night. It was a wonderful moment of fellowship, a chance to pray for a beautiful city, and a beautiful group of people. It was a chance to be together as a big family.
” Then I saw an angel flying in the midst of heaven, having an everlasting gospel to preach to those who dwell on the earth- to every nation, tribe, tongue, and people- saying in a loud voice ” fear God and give glory to him, for the hour of His judgement has come; and worship Him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the spring of water.” Revelations 14:6-7
Our prayer is that the people of Budapest will see God, and accept him as their Savior, and that they will fear Him.
So that was our day of sightseeing – a long post, I know. But we actually saw and experienced far more than we can describe here. Your students will be bursting at the seams to fill you in. Today (Wednesday) we began our work projects on the WOL grounds. Girls are working on cleaning, guys are working on graveling a new parking area – and they have plenty more for us to do once that’s done. Lots of dirt under the fingernails tonight. Can’t wait! Talk to you all soon!