First of all, Alfonz made this lovely video about our first few days in Budapest Hungary! <3 <3 <3 this talented man!
What does Christmas mean to me?
Hungarian Christmas for us means celebrating on the 24th, walking through the lit up streets and peeking into the decorated windows the week before and after Christmas buying ourselves the things we don’t have time to buy during the year. You know those items not available in France, and those little items that remind us of our Hungarian heritage. Stopping for treats on our walks, eating langos, torczni potato pancakes, linzer cookies, giant grilled sausages in buns, handmade candy, and lastly our children’s favourite; Költös kalacs, which is a pastry rolled over an iron rod, turned over hot coals until brown and covered in either ground coconut, chopped walnuts, chocolate powdered, sugar or cinnamon. In the above video that Alfonz made, it shows what I am talking about.
On December 17th Angelina came home early from school on Thursday, right before lunch, and the moment Daniel finished school at 15:00 we left for Hungary. The van was already packed full of French foods: foie gras, cured hams, blue cheese, Muscat wines, bio olive oils, and a bottle of our favourite red wine from our village (Provenquiere) to share with our family and friends in Hungary. I also had collected chocolates, soaps, and treats for our family to try from all over France. Our warm clothes were packed and ready for 4° weather, and our family left excited to make the long trek to our other home in Elizabethtown 7th district Budapest.
The kids were set up in the back seat of the Viano with videos and earphones. Alfonz and I were up front with GSP and music ready to go.
The first day we travelled five hours along the coast through the Cote d’Azur to San Remo Italy, a small town nestled cliffside overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. We left warmer temperatures in the Languedoc of 16°-18° to arrive to Italy at 12°. With my crutches I hobbled up the stairs, a man helped carry my luggage to our room, and I was already lying down ready for bed with Angelina in the shower just after arrival.
On route, I started off with a sore throat and ended up with a high fever by the time we reached our destination. In the seat on the van, the 5th hour got pretty uncomfortable and I prayed the second day would go faster. The boys went for a long walk to explore the city. Once back we shared the last of our prepacked ham and cheese sandwiches for dinner, watched ‘Salt’ with Angelina Jolie on TV and we were out for the night.
In the morning we went down stairs to the lobby for a nice breakfast included in the price at the Hotel Des Anglais. It was nice to have scrambled eggs and hot coffee before leaving, very different to the continental breakfasts we are used to in France. A good start to the longest day of travel ahead of us. I took some painkillers and hoped for the best.
We left Italy by 8:30 heading towards Slovenia. I looked outside while we travelled through the countryside and watched the landscape change from green with tropical birds, and ocean front beaches, to rolling hills covered in evergreen trees, little perfect houses tucked between pastures in the hillsides, misty landscapes with 6° temperatures and ski resort style homes with wooden trim. The last hour I couldn’t swallow, and I felt I had strep throat. I was in rough shape upon arrival to Slovenia.
Alfonz had found us a very nice hotel in Maribor Slovenia, the second largest city in the country with a population of 96,000. We were close to the center of town. It was already pitch dark upon arrival and it was only 18:00! We were not in southern France anymore that was clear. Cold and dark. However the people were super friendly, well dressed and most Slovenians can speak a high level of English. They were very welcoming.
The streets were clean, the store fronts were organized and shiny new. It seemed this former communist city was doing very well for itself; decorated in Christmas lights and festive cheer. Alfonz loved this city the instant we arrived. On foot, the concierge pointed us towards some good restaurants near-by. We explored our neighbourhood looking for Spaghetti for Angelina, hot soup for me and miraculously found a nice place and we all ate for around 20€ including beer! Cheap!
We got back to our hotel and I was the first to fall asleep. In the morning the breakfast was a full spread of fresh tasty breakfast foods. Content we decided to explore the city centre. Maribor was having a large Christmas market in the centre of town next to the river. The people were bundled up selling their goods while Christmas music played. People were happy, cheerful and it felt like we were in a very special place. We tucked into a coffee shop for hot chocolate and we could feel the locals agknowledge we were not from there with polite glances and warm smiles as if to say, wow in the dead of winter we still have tourists, we must have a very special city. Yup you do!
After a long walk we jumped in the car and were on the highway for the last three hours to Hungary. We went straight to the shopping centre for food items and to have lunch. We filled our cart with the local flavours we miss living in France: yellow wax peppers, salamis, körözöt which is a mix of paprika, onions and cottage cheese spread! We were home in our apartment by 15:00 and instantly set up the tree and we were unpacked in no time at all.
Since then we have explored the entire downtown Pest side of Budapest on foot. From our home towards the big market by Liberty Bridge, up Vaci Street towards the big Citadel, over towards the Synagogue and home. We have visited all our regular restaurants and found a few more, including The Drum Cafe, where the food tastes like my Nagymama’s!
We also walked up and down the Christmas markets looking for the perfect gifts for one another.
We also had appointments to visit marketing companies to help build our new business in Hungary. We made contact with people who will help us set things up and we arranged to get the paperwork in order. Our first week was productive, even with me now on antibiotics and with a broken foot hobbling on crutches, we manage to get some work in.
Christmas Eve was quiet. I made roasted duck with nokedli and red cabbage. We watched Star Wars and endless episodes of GLEE. We wore new PJ’s and the children put on variety shows for us playing the guitar and singing. It was lovely, even though I still could not swallow much or drink at all. First sober Christmas ever!
December 26th with Christmas behind us, we decided to take advantage of the Hop on Hop off bus tour and explore a larger part of the city during the day and to see the Budapest in Christmas illuminations. It was great. Kids were free. And we got a coupon book full of great deals including free drinks and food throughout the city. A separate post is to follow with photos Alfonz took during the bus tour.
December 27th, 28th and 29th we headed towards a resort Vargesztes villa park, a resort where we rented out two entire houses and met up with Alfonz’s 4 cousins of his father’s big sister. Two of the cousins stayed with us, and two and the mother in the other house. We all chipped in and brought food to share. From France I brought Cassoulet for everyone to try which is duck cooked in its own fat with white beans. It is super rich and where we live in the southern part of France, three separate cities in a triangle around our village, all claim the origin of this yummy recipe.
The resort grounds were full of activities to entertain the children; an indoor swimming pool, a sauna, a hot tub, a slide, a billiards table, an indoor jungle gym, a ping pong table, and a bowling alley. Outside were farm animals to meet, two separate playgrounds and lots of paths to walk on.
The first afternoon, we decided to take all the children swimming. By 16:00 we were all in the pool really enjoying ourselves, splashing and talking to the families when all of a sudden the power went out. We had to get the children out of the water and get them dressed and return to our homes for safety reasons. But when we returned we noticed all the homes were without power! That night we shared our French cold dinner items; cured hams, foie gras, blue cheeses, wine from the Languedoc. We stayed up very late drinking and talking by candle light, except it wasn’t candles by iPhone lights, but you get the picture. We were luckier than the other house who didn’t turn on all the heaters upon arrival as we did. Our house remained toasty warm until the power came back on a few hours later. Then it was time for bed.
I woke up in the middle of the night, maybe 15:00 completely covered in sweat from fever. My clothes drenched through and I felt as though I was going to be sick. Unfortunately, something I ate made me very sick and just my luck after the first week of hell, I was up all night again sick as a dog. At 18:30 I finally felt I might be able to go back to sleep and climbed back to bed with what was now a very empty stomach. It would prove to be the last illness during the holidays, thankfully, my luck turned for the better.
The next day I awoke hungry. Alfonz made me eggs, my favourite. During the next day and 1/2 we took all 10 kids ranging from 4 months to 20 years old for walks, swims, played card games and watched movies with them. It was truly a fabulous three days and when it was all over, I was sad to leave. I hadn’t felt this connected to Alfonz’s family ever and they were all so nice.
We left after lunch on December 29th and made our way back to our home in Budapest. We had just enough time to sort out our laundry, rest a little in front of the TV when our property manager came over to go over the year end accounts. After giving him his Christmas present, and business sorted, we left for dinner by 21:00. Another late night, we finally got home at 22:00. We all went straight to sleep, because tomorrow would prove to be another very busy day!
I set the alarm for 7:00 am and made coffee, showered and packed our stuff up. We had to be on the road no later than 8:30 to make the 10:00 Star Wars The Force Awakens movie in Székesfehérvár. We were meeting my cousins and their wives at the theatre, to watch the movie in 3D. After, we told my family how Alfonz had to go back to the city to pay our taxes, and get some things sorted out at the government office. Unfortunately, being the last full work day before New Year’s, it was now or never. So while he left to go to work, I enjoyed a wonderful lunch with my family and children.
Angelina and I enjoyed popping into the girlie shops. We were spoiled by my family.
Then we got into one of my cousin’s cars and drove back to the little village of Bakonysárkány, the village where my grandparents and my parents met. Once we settled in, my cousin’s dropped me and the kids off at my aunt’s house where we would be having dinner while they took their baby to the doctor. She made my favourite; roasted hand fed, free range duck that they raised. It was so good! Alfonz eventually made his way back in time for dinner and then we went back to the house for the night. We stayed up chatting until about 1:00am, and the next day was New Year’s Eve over at Zsolti’s house, the same place where Daniel goes each year in the summer solo.
We talked about how they want to be off the grid, and how they plan to have a self contained farm growing vegetables, having fruit trees and a full farm with everything organic. It was funny as the night before we were having the same conversation with Alfonz’s cousin who lives in Canada. They both inspire me to eat better, live better and if one day I have the opportunity, I ask myself would I go for the farmers admirable life? I would if I was a wee bit younger maybe, but all I see is a tonne of work. I could see a co-op arrangement or a group housing unit with solar panels and shared farms and gardens to tend too, like the Amish. But a stand alone, I feel my back aching just from thinking about it!
In the morning I was feeling tired after so much illness, I wasn’t getting enough rest between shindigs so instead of going out with all the men and the children tractor riding over their 350 hectares of land, which normally I would be all over, I decided to stay home with lovely Zdenka and the baby and have a nice girl’s morning in. I had a long shower. I did my hair. I got dressed. I put on makeup. Angelina came back early and Zdenka did her makeup and hair too! We were looking pretty festive when the boys came back. We headed over to the other house to join the party around 17:00 for New Year’s dinner and staying up past midnight with all the kids even the little ones, singing karaoke. It was a lovely time, great food and excellent company.
The next morning we had a late start with breakfast at 10:00 and then we packed our bags and said goodbye. We were leaving the next day, December 2nd, towards our French home, and decided on two long days instead of three shorter days for the ride back. That way the kids would not miss any school.
For our last night in Budapest however, with me eating very little over the holiday, Alfonz took us out to an all you can eat buffet, just incase we didn’t get our fill of all our favourite foods while in Hungary. I wish I could remember the name of the restaurant, it was on Kiraly Street in the basement and it was so cheap that all the students go their. 4€ for all you can eat! Up stairs is a women serving different soups and stews in giant bread bowls. I took photos of her signs by mistake. Darn.
Once back inside the apartment, the kids and I settled in for the night. We packed up all our bags and we put on our PJ’s by 16:00. We watched some more GLEE. I cleaned the house. Alfonz had to go and say goodbye to Budapest, and he went for a little walk. He bought the last of the perishables for the ride home; dried salamis, my favourite cottage cheese sandwich spread, a few things for the cooler. He had a beer in a little pub. When he came home I made instant Hungarian soup so in the morning we would have nothing to clean up. We were all in bed by 22:00. Good night Budapest. This time leaving would be very hard.
In the morning we loaded up the van and were on the road by 8:45 only 15 minutes late. We travelled all day until 18:30, when we reached a small town in Italy where Alfonz had booked a Bio hotel with restaurant attached. Casteggio Italy in the hotel Le Vigne di Corvino. It was an oasis. Beautiful clean rooms, excellent service, located just off the highway. At 8:00 the restaurant opened, and all the guests came downstairs to enjoy a beautiful meal. The menu was small, but very good. We started with tuna carpaccio, and cheesy risotto. Alfonz had roasted pork in balsamic sauce while I had 8-hour slow roasted beef with sauteed potatoes. We also paired our meal with a local Italian red wine, which has deep ripened black cherry flavours, a robust richness that went well with the beautiful flavours of our meal. They made spaghetti special for the children, and I had a bite and it was delicious. After our meal, we tucked ourselves in bed, and fell asleep quickly.
The next morning I snuck down for a coffee before anyone woke up. It was lovely. The server made an espresso for me, then another and then I had a cappuccino! It was a moment of complete bliss before the last leg of the race home before school starts on Monday!
We arrived home safely to Capestang just after 16:00. By the time we went to bed all the laundry was done, suitcases unpacked and the kids enjoyed pizza from La Grille while watching GLEE.
It was a long drive home, but visiting our home in Budapest is always worth the uncomforts of driving long hours. Back home in Capestang to warmer weather, we settle into our daily routines once again.
I want to take another moment to wish you all a very Happy New Year! from our family to yours; live long and prosper!