Europe Trip: Castle Hill Part 2 – Mátyás-templom

Continuing on our tour of Castle Hill, we made our way to the Mátyás-templom. The church, which in English is called Matthias Church, holds historical significance, because according to church history, it sits atop the site of the church originally founded by Hungary’s first king, Stephen I, although no remains of the original church can be found today. Originally holding names such as “The Church of Mary” and “The Church of Our Lady” it was given its current moniker in the 19th century, being named after Matthias Corvinus, King Matthias I who reigned as King of Hungary and Croatia from 1458-1490.  During his reign, Matthias not only ordered the transformation of the original Southern Tower, but he also had two weddings on the site; the first wedding was to his second wife, Catherine of Poděbrady and, after her death, the second wedding was to his third wife, Beatrice of Naples. The exterior of the church was restored by Frigyes Schulek in the late 1800s in honor of Hungary’s 1000th anniversary. Schulek adhered to the original plans for the church, which dated back to the thirteenth century, restoring the church to its original intended splendor.

Mátyás-templom

Mátyás-templom

Exterior views of the Mátyás-templom the smaller colorfully tiled tower is the Béla torony the taller tower is the Mátyás torony

Exterior views of the Mátyás-templom the smaller colorfully tiled tower is the Béla torony the taller tower is the Mátyás torony

The Béla torony, which is the church’s smallest tower, is named for Hungary’s King Béla IV, during whose reign the church was originally constructed. The tallest tower, Mátyás torony, is named for the church’s namesake King Matthias Corvinus. The church was not only noted for royal weddings, but also for royal coronations. Two kings of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy were crowned there: Franz Joseph in 1867 (for which Franz Liszt – in Hungarian its Liszt Ferenc – composed and performed his Coronation Mass) and Charles V in 1916.

Mátyás-templom

Mátyás-templom

Exterior church architecture

Exterior church architecture

A closer look at the carving

A closer look at the carving

The interior of the church is absolutely spectacular with gorgeous colorful hand painted patterns and motifs covering most of the columns and walls that were modeled after designs found on stone fragments of the original church. The frescoes on the church’s interiors were painted by Bertalan Székely and Károly Lotz who were two of the most notable painters in the country at the time of the church’s restoration. The pair were also in charge of the church’s stunning stained glass windows. Your admission ticket also gets you into the Museum of Ecclesiastical Art which is housed in an upstairs gallery with lovely views of the sanctuary below. While the entire church is filled with spectacular views, the one from the King’s Oratory, which is where you will also find the Matthias Chalice and a replica of the Hungarian Royal Crown, is the best of all. When we were coming down the staircase from the Museum into the Maltese Knight Chamber, both boys were excited to find the statue of the bust of Empress Elisabeth in her Hungarian Coronation costume, whom they both recognized from our visit to the Hofburg in Vienna. We ended our Church tour with the St. Steven Chapel, which is my favorite part of the whole church. The chapel walls have seven frescoes of St. Steven and twelve stained glass windows depicting several Hungarian saints.

The stained glass windows

The stained glass windows

Looking up toward the museum gallery from the sanctuary

Looking up toward the museum gallery from the sanctuary

David helps Big Guy light a candle

David helps Big Guy light a candle

Big Guy tries it himself

Big Guy tries it himself

One last candle

One last candle

The ceilings

The ceilings

The boys in the sanctuary

The boys in the sanctuary

Posing in front of the portals

Posing in front of the portals

My guys in front of one of the portals

My guys in front of one of the portals

The tomb of King Béla III and Anna (Chatîllon) of Antiochia and a view of the sanctuary from an upstairs gallery

The tomb of King Béla III and Anna (Chatîllon) of Antiochia and a view of the sanctuary from an upstairs gallery

Sanctuary views

Sanctuary views

They guys in the Museum of Ecclesiastical Art

They guys in the Museum of Ecclesiastical Art

The boys posing with the bust of Empress Elisabeth and me and the little guys in the King's Oratory

The boys posing with the bust of Empress Elisabeth and me and the little guys in the King’s Oratory

Little man rests and  Big Guy poses with the crown replica in the King's Oratory

Little man rests and Big Guy poses with the crown replica in the King’s Oratory

David and Mat in the King's Oratory

David and Mat in the King’s Oratory

Standing on the King's Oratory balcony looking back toward the organ and the view directly in front of the Oratory

Standing on the King’s Oratory balcony looking back toward the organ and the view directly in front of the Oratory

King's Oratory Balcony looking toward the main altar.

King’s Oratory Balcony looking toward the main altar.

The royal staircase

The royal staircase

St. Stephen Chapel

St. Stephen Chapel ceiling

St Stephen chapel stained glass and frescoes

St. Stephen chapel stained glass and frescoes

Saint Stephen Chapel frescoes

Saint Stephen Chapel frescoes

Leaving the church and taking the long back staircase as we leave Chapel Hill

Leaving the church and taking the long back staircase as we leave Castle Hill

Europe Trip: Budapest’s Castle Hill Part 1 –  Halászbástya

Europe Trip: Budapest’s Castle Hill Part 1 – Halászbástya

Budapest’s famed Castle Hill District rests on the Buda side of the Danube and boasts views of the many of the city’s top attractions. It is most noted for the Halászbástya, Mátyás-templom, Buda Castle/Royal Palace, The Budapest History Museum, The Hungarian National Gallery and The National Széchényi Library, the national library of Hungary. On our last full day in Budapest we took our time exploring Castle Hill focusing primarily on the Halászbástya and Mátyás-templom. Narrowing down pictures was a bit difficult so today’s post will focus mainly on the Halászbástya.

The Grand Staircase leading up to Castle Hill

The Grand Front Staircase leading up to Castle Hill 

Castle Hill looking toward the Fisherman's Bastion

Castle Hill looking toward the Fisherman’s Bastion

Part of the Halászbástya (left) and The Trinity Statue and  Mátyás-templom (right)

Part of the Halászbástya (left) and The Trinity Statue and Mátyás-templom tower (right)

Fisherman’s Bastion

Fisherman’s Bastion

More of the Fisherman’s Bastion

More of the Fisherman’s Bastion

Climbing the stairs or the Fisherman’s Bastion

Climbing the stairs or the Fisherman’s Bastion

As you approach Halászbástya, or Fisherman’s Bastion, you can’t help but feel like you are stepping into a Disney fairy tale. Although it was built from 1895-1902, the bastion looks and feels much older. The architecture has a certain medieval feel and has been described as both Neo-Gothic and Neo-Romanesque. The structure was built in celebration of Hungary’s 1000th anniversary and the seven towers are representative of the seven tribes of Hungary.  The Architect, Frigyes Schulek, also restored Mátyás-templom, or Matthias Church, which sits in front of the Halászbástya. The building of the Halászbástya was actually intertwined with the restoration of the church, so today they flow together seamlessly. The Halászbástya was designed to be both a panoramic view terrace as well as a grand entrance which served to enhance the beauty of the Mátyás-templom. From the Halászbástya you can see stunning views all along the Danube, including Budapest’s best view of the Parliament Building.

Little Man poses with a gargoyle and Big Guy with a view of Matthias Church in the background.

Little Man poses with a dragon on the Fisherman’s Bastion and Big Guy with a view of Matthias Church in the background.

View of the Parliament building from the Fisherman’s Bastion

View of the Parliament building from the Fisherman’s Bastion

David poses with the boys in front of the Parliament Building

David poses with the boys in front of the Parliament Building

Me and David with part of the Fisherman's Bastion, the Danube and the Royal Palace in the background

Me and David with part of the Fisherman’s Bastion, the Danube and the Royal Palace in the background

Mat with the same view

Mat with the same view

Me and Little Man with views of the Danube

Me and Little Man with views of the Danube

Another view of the Parliament building through the arches

Another view of the Parliament building through the arches

Posing in the Fisherman's Bastion arches

Posing in the Fisherman’s Bastion arches

Clowning around the Fisherman's Bastion

Clowning around the Fisherman’s Bastion

The boys found a quiet place to rest

The boys found a quiet place to rest

The hawk and the St. Stephen Statue on Castle Hill

A giant hawk (or falcon maybe) and the St. Stephen Statue on Castle Hill

The boys in front of the base of the Saint Stephen Statue

The boys in front of the base of the Saint Stephen Statue

Statue of Andras Hadik on Castle Hill

Statue of Andras Hadik on Castle Hill

The boys stopped to rest outside this doorway on Castle Hill.

The boys stopped to rest outside this doorway on Castle Hill.

Things I Love: April Picks

Things I Love: April Picks

2015-04-Jennifers Aprip Picks

It is half way through April, so it is about time I did my picks for this month. Yesterday’s book review has left me suffering from a mad case of Anglophilia, so all of today’s picks fit into my British inspired theme. I hope that you’ll like these products as much as I do!

  1. The Royal We: Yesterday I did a review of The Royal We by Go Fug Yourself  creators, Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan (read it here) but I had to include it in my April picks because I thought it was that much fun (plus it fits the theme). It is a light, quick read that will be enjoyed by both Anglophiles and royal watchers alike.
  2. Ann Carrington Art: I was first introduced to Carrington’s works when she was featured on Robert and Cortney Novogratz’s show 9 By Design (which is unfortunately no longer on the air). It was love at first sight! Carrington is an extremely talented artist and while I love all of her work, I am especially obsessed with her Pearly Queens. Absolutely stunning. I dream of one day owning a Carrington piece of my very own!
  3. Better With Age Limited Edition Print by Kristen Smith: I go back and forth all the time on my favorite Austen work but have narrowed it down to my top three: Emma, Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion. When I first read Pride and Prejudice I fell in love and almost didn’t want to read any of her other works because I didn’t think that any of her other works would measure up. Then I was persuaded to read Emma because it was the inspiration for one of my favorite movies, Clueless, and I fell just as hard for it as I had Pride and Prejudice. So then I read more of her work and Persuasion quickly became a favorite. It wasn’t as whimsical as Emma and it wasn’t as clever as Pride and Prejudice but the story somehow seemed to resonate with me in a way that the others hadn’t. My absolute favorite quote from the book is featured on this gorgeous print by graphic designer Kristen Smith that I found on Minted . I just ordered it yesterday, by the way, and I am seriously in love! I can’t wait for it to arrive. Be sure to check out some of Kristen Smith’s other work as well (I think she might just be my new favorite Minted designer – she’s a serious talent).
  4. Kate Middle-Toe Socks: Have you heard of Chattyfeet? I hadn’t either until I saw them featured a while back on the Huffington Post but this UK company seriously has the cutest socks I have seen in a long time. I haven’t ordered from them (yet) but I am currently obsessed with all of their quirky designs (the Kate Middle-Toe is my favorite but the Don Cottone design is pretty rockin’ too). If anyone is looking to get me a late birthday gift, then look no further. So cute!
  5. Hunter Original Tall Rain Boots: These Wellingtons (“Wellies”) are an iconic wardrobe staple, but David gave me a hard time when I bought myself a pair because it so rarely rains in California. My money was well spent though because I wear these babies every time it rains and they keep my feet dry and happy. Made of waterproof natural rubber with a quick dry nylon lining and a sturdy textured sole for grip, these are the perfect boot for a rainy day or for walking through mud. Plus, they’re totally cute and they have been spotted on everyone from British Royalty (Queen Elizabeth and Princess Diana) to Hollywood Royalty (Sarah Jessica Parker, Anne Hathaway, Reese Witherspoon and Kate Moss just to name a few). They come in a wide variety of colors but my personal favorite is Olive Green because it goes with absolutely everything.
  6. Dr. Who Yahtzee: My kids go absolutely bonkers for anything Doctor Who related (we watch a lot of science fiction in our house). On any given day you can find yourself tripping over Sonic Screwdrivers, Dr. Who Potato Heads and even Custom Dr. Who Lego men (you can find great custom Legos on Etsy). My oldest got this Yahtzee set for Christmas last year and it is just a fun update to a classic game and something that the whole family can enjoy together.
  7. McVitie’s Digestives: When my dad was living in London he used to bring us loads of McVitie’s goodies every time he came home. David’s favorite are the Hobnobs but I am partial to the Digestives. According to the McVitie’s website, the first digestive was made by Sir Alexander Grant in 1892 at the McVitie’s factory in Edinburgh, Scotland. I like all of the flavors but if I have my choice, I almost always pick the Milk Chocolate (first sold in 1925). After my parents moved away from London, I went through some pretty serious McVitie’s withdrawals but now you can buy them everywhere from select super markets to Cost Plus World Market and even Amazon. Trust me, one bit and you’ll be hooked.
What I’m Reading – The Royal We

What I’m Reading – The Royal We

Heather-Cocks-Jessica-Morgan-TheRoyalWe-smlfeat image holder

Judging by the cover art, one might assume that this is simply a piece of William and Kate fan fiction, which would have been enough for me to pick it up, but after reading only a few pages into the book you can see that it is so much more than that. Written by the dynamic duo behind the hugely popular blog Go Fug Yourself, Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan,  The Royal We follows the love story between American student Rebecca “Bex” Porter and Britain’s future king, Prince Nicholas from their meeting in Oxford and through the trials and tribulations leading up to their impending wedding. It is a wonderfully satirical romp and a touching romance all rolled into one.

The Royal We opens the day before the couple’s royal wedding, but something is amiss and we are left with the troubling proposition that an event so terrible has occurred that it may cause the wedding to be called off entirely. We are then taken back to the beginning to witness how Bex Porter went from being an American exchange student to the possible future Queen of England.  Along the way we meet a fascinating cast of extremely well-developed characters such Rebecca’s much more outgoing twin sister, Lacey (hello, Pippa), Nick’s fun-loving, rakish younger brother, Freddie (Harry), and a group of friends so believable that you’ll be ready to grab a pint with them at a local pub. Part of the fun in reading The Royal We is deciphering exactly who certain characters are based on and just how close to the truth those portrayals might actually be. Some, like Lacey and Freddie are fairly obvious, but there are others that only the most dedicated royal watchers will catch. The book is also peppered with inside jokes and references that daily readers of Go Fug Yourself will surely be able to pick up on.

Cocks and Morgan are quick to pull back the opulent curtain of royal life, exposing the dark reality that can sometimes accompany and overshadow the glamour and privilege that royal life entails. In order for Bex and Nick to be together, they must make sacrifices that take them so far away from who they once were that it leaves us, and them, questioning whether their love is worth all of the sacrifice. Questions turn from whether they want be together to should they or can they be together. It also looks at how when a person falls in love with the heir to the throne, they aren’t just marrying the man, they are marrying the institution.

Although it is a breezy novel at heart, The Royal We has its fair share of hard hitting questions which at times causes you to question whether the end result will be that of a fairy tale or a cautionary tale. It is reminiscent of Bridget Jones’ Diary with its charming characters, witty dialogue, and clever plot line that leaves you guessing right up to the end. My only complaint is the ending. The book ends rather abruptly and I felt like it would have been nice to have a bit more. I can’t really explain exactly what I mean without giving away the ending other than to say that I was a bit disappointed that the story didn’t continue for at least a couple more chapters because I would have liked to have seen how the dust settled after the final decisions were made. The way that things ended, however, may have just left open enough room for an eventual sequel (fingers crossed).

Easter 2015

Easter 2015

I hope that Everyone had a lovely Easter. The boys had spring break all last week so I took the week off from work to just hang back and chill with them. When I asked them what they wanted to do for Spring Break, their answer was “Nothing.” They didn’t want to go anywhere or see anything. They just wanted to relax and unwind. I could totally deal with that! We did get out to see a movie (Cinderella – it was awesome) and the boys had a couple of play dates, but for the most part, we just chilled. I did not turn on my computer once for the entire week and all of the extra morning cuddles and lazy afternoon naps were well worth the extra work I’ll have to make up this week.

My little family on Easter Sunday

My little family on Easter Sunday

Posing with David's parents

Posing with David’s parents

With my parents

With my parents

The boys with our family from Seattle and with Papa

The boys with our family from Seattle and with Papa

Easter this year was a big family affair at my parents’ house. My mom’s aunt, uncle and cousin arrived from Seattle Saturday night on their way to their own Spring Break destination. We had such a lovely time catching up with them (we don’t get to see them nearly enough) and they joined us for a Saturday evening barbeque, dying Easter eggs and they stayed yesterday for our egg hunt, Easter brunch and our late lunch before heading out on their own adventure. We were also joined by my brother, sister-in-law and niece as well as David’s parents, his uncle, cousins, godbrother and our good friend. And of course my grandpa, or “Papa” as the boys call him, was on hand for the festivities as well.

The Easter Bunny came!

The Easter Bunny came!

The Easter Bunny was crafty this year and the boys had to climb trees to get some of the eggs.

The Easter Bunny was crafty this year and the boys had to climb trees to get some of the eggs.

Little Man stayed out hunting eggs the longest.

Little Man stayed out hunting eggs the longest.

David manned the camera so there was more than just one picture of me, of course in most of them I'm doing something random like taking pictures of the rose garden with my phone.

David manned the camera so there was more than just one picture of me, of course in most of them I’m doing something random like taking pictures of the rose garden with my phone.

We had a wonderful pool party and we ate so much food that I felt like I was going to explode. It was a wonderful day and I was sorry to see it end. Here are a few more shots from my and David’s instagrams:

The boys scoping out the hunt.

The boys scoping out the hunt.

We dyed brown eggs this year and they turned the most beautiful dark shades.

We dyed brown eggs this year and they turned the most beautiful dark shades.

Me and David doing our traditional "selfie"

Me and David doing our traditional “selfie”

Big Guy modeling his Easter look (which he put together all on his own)

Big Guy modeling his Easter look (which he put together all on his own)

And of course, our American Easter Bunny hid a Hungarian flag Easter egg.

And of course, our American Easter Bunny hid a Hungarian flag Easter egg.

Unfortunately, after the egg hunt the camera seems to have disappeared and we were having such a good time that we didn’t take any more pictures. Oh well, I guess the memories of the day will just have to sustain us! Happy belated Easter!

18 Years

18 Years

Jennifer Dolak, David Dolak

I have been with this man for 18 years. We met at a friend’s birthday party. Our friend Todd had actually been trying to set us up for months but he told David that I had an “awesome personality” and he told me that David was “the nicest guy ever.” As I’m sure you can imagine, we assumed that “awesome personality” and “nicest guy” translated into “not so great to look at.” If we had only listened to Todd, we could have had several extra months together but there is no sense dwelling in the past. After the party we were inseparable and we started dating soon after. All I know is that I wouldn’t trade these last 18 years for the world and I am so looking forward to spending the rest of my life with this wonderful man!

 

Europe Trip: És Bisztró Review

Europe Trip: És Bisztró Review

As I have been sorting through the remainder of the pictures from our summer trip in Europe, I’ve had a hard time trying to decide what to include here on the blog. I honestly hope that I haven’t bored you to death reading about our travels and I also want to include things that I think are interesting or that you might enjoy. It can be hard finding the right balance, but I hope that I’ve been doing an okay job. Anyway, I’m putting together a final look at Budapest and everything was coming together nicely except I wanted to write about this restaurant that we visited but it wasn’t really fitting in with the rest of the post so I have decided to write about it separately.

Image via the Kempinski Hotel Corvinus website

Image via the Kempinski Hotel Corvinus website

The restaurant is called És Bisztró and according to its website it is a “wine bar, beer pub, terrace, bistro, restaurant, brasserie.” Located in the heart of the pedestrian zone in Budapest inside the Kempinski Hotel Corvinus (the hotel also houses Nobu), És Bisztró has everything that you would expect from a trendy restaurant, but it also has a traditional twist that sets it apart from the other cool kids in the restaurant business. This is no small feat considering that És is just one of many hip restaurants in Downtown Budapest’s Gastronomic Quarter.

The embroidered napkins add to the overall atmosphere

The embroidered napkins add to the overall atmosphere  

I would love to say that we had done a lot of research that led us to dining at És, but the honest truth is that the boys were tired and hungry and Little Man saw one of the plates being presented to a customer and he insisted, “I want to eat there, right now!” It was a beautiful day so we opted to eat on the patio. The wait staff was warm, welcoming and conversed just as easily with Mat in English as they did with David in Hungarian. The thing that won me over with the staff was how they treated my children. The boys are extremely well behaved in restaurant situations but often times when you walk into a restaurant with little kids (especially a fashionable or popular restaurant), they not only give you dirty looks, but they relegate you to the furthest corners of the restaurant where you are often forgotten or at the very least treated insufficiently. This was not the case with the staff at És. After the warm welcome we were shown to a prime table at the center of the patio and our waitress made a point of addressing the boys as if they were actual people instead of talking over their heads. This is a rarity not only in trendy upscale restaurants, but in restaurants in general.

Traditional Hungarian food is the best!

Traditional Hungarian food is the best!

As their website notes, És serves “typical dishes of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy” but with a modern flair. És actually means “and” in Hungarian and the name is representative of the fact that fine dining does not have to be an either/or experience but can be all-inclusive. You can have traditional dishes AND modern interpretations; you can have a fine dining experience AND a relaxing meal with friends. You can be warm and welcoming to adults AND small children. As their website asks, “Why have ‘either-or’ when you can also have ‘ÉS’?” There are a lot of great restaurants in Budapest but it is hard (and before finding this one I thought impossible) to find one that is both trendy AND traditional.

Even the presentation is beautiful!

Even the presentation is beautiful!

Traditional with a modern flair doesn’t even do the food at ÉS justice. The chefs at the restaurant take everything that I love about Hungarian comfort foods and, through culinary innovation and ingenuity, they take it to a whole other level. Everything was cooked perfectly, the flavors melded together seamlessly and everything flowed together harmoniously. Whatever you do, don’t pass up the bread. They bring it out piping hot in terracotta pots and serve it with delicious butter sprinkled with black salt. Divine! It has definitely been added to the list of places that we must visit the next time we are in Hungary.

The bread was amazing!

The bread was amazing!

Happy Spring and Blueberry Muffins

Happy Spring and Blueberry Muffins

Happy first day of spring! We are having a beautiful start to spring here in Southern California and we’ve already received several invitations to beach parties this weekend. I can’t wait! I’m finishing up things at work right now so I can get an early start to the weekend, but I thought I’d share this recipe that I made the other night when I had some leftover blueberries. These were eaten piping hot out of the oven and there were no leftovers, so I guess they were a success. I hope you have a lovely weekend!

Gluten-Free Blueberry Muffins *Hungarian Housewife*

Gluten-Free Blueberry Muffins

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups gluten-free multi-purpose flour (like King Arthur)
  • ½ cup almond flour/almond meal
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon xanthan gum
  • ¼ teaspoon sea salt
  • ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
  • 8 Tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • ½ cup milk
  • 2 Tablespoons sour cream
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 ½ cups fresh or thawed frozen blueberries

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees and line muffin tins with liners.
  2. In a medium sized bowl, combine flours, baking soda, xanthan gum, sea salt and cinnamon and set aside.
  3. In another bowl, cream together butter and sugar.
  4. Add eggs, one at a time until combined.
  5. Mix in milk, sour cream and vanilla extract.
  6. Slowly add dry ingredients into wet ingredients, mixing until just combined.
  7. Fold in 2 ½ cups blueberries.
  8. Fill muffin cups with batter.
  9. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until tester inserted into the center of the muffins comes out clean.
  10. Allow muffins to cool in the muffin tin (or eat them piping hot with butter!).
Europe Trip: Wine Tasting in Tokaj

Europe Trip: Wine Tasting in Tokaj

I only have a few more posts about our Europe trip, but they are all pretty special so I don’t want to leave them out. One of the most memorable nights of our trip was the night we took a journey into wine country. Dédi’s village is not far from Hungary’s famous Tokaj region so it wasn’t a long journey, but it was an exciting one.

Wine tasting in Tokaj

Wine tasting in Tokaj

Before I get too far into our adventure, there is something you must understand about consuming alcohol in Hungary. In the last few years Hungary has adopted a no tolerance policy when it comes to alcohol, meaning that you cannot have any alcohol whatsoever in your system if you are going to be driving. This isn’t a problem and is actually a good law, but it is the sort of law that makes it difficult to go wine tasting, especially in a country where wine tasting involves consuming several large glasses of wine in their entirety. You see, in Hungary when you are wine tasting, you don’t take a sip and spit it out like you might do in Napa Valley. Really, calling it wine tasting is a bit of a misnomer since you don’t simply taste the wine, you imbibe it. The process starts when they give you your first full glass of wine (and I mean FULL). You must consume the entire first glass of wine if you have any hope of testing any others because you have to use the same glass for each sample. There is also no nifty little receptacle in which to dump the extra wine so it is imperative that you dump any excess down your throat. Do you see where I’m going with this? To go wine tasting in Hungary means that you will be consuming copious amounts of wine.

The drive from Dédi’s village to Tokaj is beautiful

The drive from Dédi’s village to Tokaj is beautiful

Aren't those hills gorgeous?

Aren’t those hills gorgeous?

When we were invited to go wine tasting, David volunteered to drive because Mat had never been wine tasting in Hungary and the last time I went I was only able to smell the wine because I was pregnant with Big Guy at the time. Our hosts, however, were having none of that and wanted to ensure that everyone was able to partake. They told us not to worry about anything and that they would pick us up at Dédi’s house in a couple of hours. What they didn’t mention over the phone was that they would be arriving in a tour bus… a big one. You cannot even imagine the commotion a giant tour bus arriving in a tiny rural Hungarian village causes. To say all eyes were on Dédi’s house would be an understatement. The boys immediately dubbed it the “party bus.”

The "party bus" outside of Dédi’s house

The “party bus” outside of Dédi’s house

Our hosts for the evening are very good friends of David’s parents and they actually own a touring company, driving tour busses filled with tourists all over Europe. While we knew what they did for a living, we never imagined that they would use one of their tour busses to take us wine tasting. Let me just say that you haven’t experienced the small winding roads of Hungary’s wine region until you’ve done it in a giant tour bus. I had no idea something that large could make such small turns.

Do you think I was excited about our transportation?

Do you think I was excited about our transportation?

It's okay though because Mat was excited too.

It’s okay though because Mat was excited too.

Buddies

Buddies

Getting ready to depart.

Getting ready to depart.

Dédi and Ági en route to Tokaj.

Dédi and Ági en route to Tokaj.

Our evening took us to a small wine cellar where the vintner, a sweet man named Török Lajos (Hungarians always put the last name first), hosted a lovey evening at the start of which he told us that he hoped we had come prepared to eat, drink and be merry. We had. Hungarian wine tasting is never done on an empty stomach. Our first glass of wine was served along with Kalács, a Hungarian braided sweet bread (is extremely similar to challah). We were also treated to sweet cherries and meggy (sour cherries – which are not actually sour, but tart).

We enjoyed the first part of our tasting outside on the terrace.

We enjoyed the first part of our tasting outside on the terrace.

Eating Kalács

Eating Kalács

Seriously, we had the best time!

Seriously, we had the best time!

The vintner, Lajos, bringing out freshly picked cherries

The vintner, Lajos, bringing out freshly picked cherries

There is nothing like freshly picked Hungarian cherries

There is nothing like freshly picked Hungarian cherries

Meggy (sour cherries) are the perfect mix of sweet and tart

Meggy (sour cherries) are the perfect mix of sweet and tart

The Tokaj region of Hungary is quite famous among oenophiles and France’s Louis XV is said to have once called it “the wine of kings and the king of wines.” While it produces many types of wine, the region is most noted for its Aszú which dates back to the mid-17th century, making it one of the oldest types of wine in the world. It is a sweet amber colored wine produced from grapes that have been allowed to nobly rot (basically the grapes turn to raisins while still on the vine and start growing a benign grey fungus). It sounds gross, but I assure you that the resulting wine is delicious. Aszús are rated from 1 point to 6 points, 6 being the highest and most sought after rating (and the sweetest). Anything ranked higher than 6 points falls into the category of Aszú-Eszencia, which is quite rare and something that you don’t usually encounter on a wine tasting excursion. However, we were treated to the experience of tasting Tokaji Aszú-Eszencia (Tokaji Essence of Aszú) on this particular evening.

Our first glass of wine

Our first glass of wine

Lajos taught us all the Hungarian way of holding a wine glass

Lajos taught us all the Hungarian way of holding a wine glass

Our happy table

Our happy table

Big guy took a minute away from playing to sit with us

Big guy took a minute away from playing to sit with us

My handsome guy

My handsome guy

The Essence of Aszú has been described by some as the most exclusive wine in the world. It is EXTREMELY expensive (like thousands of dollars for one little bottle) and not something that you would just have sitting around to break out at a casual dinner with friends. I’m not quite sure how to best describe it to someone who hasn’t tasted it before. It actually can’t technically be labeled wine because it has such a high concentration of sugar. It is sweeter and more concentrated than honey and it smells like orange blossoms in spring. Honestly, months later I can still remember the exact smell and taste. It is not generally used to drink on its own but rather used in the blending of wines. It has a very low alcohol concentration (3-5%) and it is filled with probiotics. It will also keep for centuries without degrading in quality. Dédi never drinks, but she did sample the Eszencia.

The boys couldn't drink wine but they had lots of fun

The boys couldn’t drink wine but they had lots of fun

Bug guy climbing a tree and our dinner being carried inside

Bug guy climbing a tree and our dinner being carried inside

We were also treated to tasting a glass of wine that had not been fully fermented. Treated might not be the best term because partially fermented wine is anything but a treat. It was educational and I’m glad I got to taste it as part of the overall experience, but drinking partially fermented wine is a lot worse than you can even imagine it would be. Thankfully, we weren’t given a full glass of that one.

David enjoying his wine lesson

David enjoying his wine lesson

The photographer at work

The photographer at work

Lajos teasing that Dédi drank all the wine

Lajos teasing that Dédi drank all the wine

The boys all enjoyed playing with Legos

The boys all enjoyed playing with Legos

Another thing that sets Hungarian wine tasting apart is that the vintner often drinks alongside you and gets more generous with his/her pours with each glass. Of course, as the night wore on we also became more generous with our pocket books agreeing to take home several bottles of wine that we would later have to figure out how to get home into our suitcase. The wine tastings are also almost always accompanied by a large family style meal of traditional Hungarian foods and a tour of the wine cellar.

Getting ready for dinner

Getting ready for dinner

Examining a map of the Tokaj region

Examining a map of the Tokaj region

Sitting down to eat

Sitting down to eat

About to go down into the cellar

About to go down into the cellar

The cellar (or pince) is the best part of the whole experience. It is extremely cold and everything is covered with noble mold, of which the vintners are always quite proud. It is always fun to hear about where the various wines are in the process of their fermentation and to see all of the barrels neatly lined up. Mat was able to sample some wine straight from the barrel using a special wine thief (lopó).

The barrels of wine inside of the pince

The barrels of wine inside of the pince

Bottles of wine covered in "noble mold"

Bottles of wine covered in “noble mold”

Mold growing on paper money from around the world

Mold growing on paper money from around the world

We found a dollar!

We found a dollar!

Lajos pulling wine from the barrel

Lajos pulling wine from the barrel

Mat sampling the wine

Mat sampling the wine

Mat learned how to work the lopó

Mat learned how to work the lopó

By the end of the night, we were all three sheets to the wind and quite thankful that we had a bus to take all of us home. While Tokaji wine’s high sugar content makes you feel its effects sooner, and despite the fact that I consumed more wine that night than I probably had any other, I nor anyone else in our party had any adverse effects the following day. Many Hungarian’s swear that you will never get a hangover from drinking Aszú and judging by our wine tasting adventure, they may just be right.

At the end of the night  I clearly look as though I consumed my fair share of wine.

At the end of the night I clearly look as though I consumed my fair share of wine.

The Stressed Heart

The Stressed Heart

Solo before being dropped off on Friday

Solo before being dropped off on Friday

Last week was a bit more stressful than normal so when we went to church yesterday and the sermon was titled “The Stressed Heart” I started to wonder if my pastor had been spying on me.

Of course, there were the usual stresses of work and the kids’ school and the added strain of having several design projects culminating at the same time and the impending arrival (hopefully) of new equipment that we need to fit into an already cramped workroom. Those were all stresses I could handle. I can schedule out the design projects so overlaps are minimal and I like rearranging things in the workroom every now and then to make things more efficient. There was another stress, however, that felt more immediate at upsetting.

The main source of my anxiety in the last week was my dog, Solo, and more specifically his health. We took him into the vet for a routine exam and discovered that they needed to do a biopsy on a lump he has on his back. Of course, immediately my mind went to the worst. He’s eleven years old and everyone is always commenting on how peppy he is for a senior dog. I think deep down, I was waiting for the ball to drop. Then as the vet looked him over she said that he needed some dental work, which I had sort of suspected because his breath was unusually bad the last few weeks. This shouldn’t have upset me and it really shouldn’t have been a cause of anxiety, but it was. Dental work meant that they needed to put him under and that’s when I really started to panic.

He has had his teeth cleaned several times, so being put under wasn’t anything new but this time it felt different. The last time he was in for anything routine, which at that time was vaccinations, he nearly died. I’m not being dramatic when I say that. He had an extremely severe reaction and had to have two blood transfusions. I could feel my heart pounding and my ears started to burn. I knew these were early signs of an impending panic attack, but with David’s comforting support and yoga breathing, I was able to ward off the attack.

Once we got to the car it was a different story though. I was in all out panic mode. What if? What if? What if? I had a hard time even putting all of my what ifs into words. What if they pull his teeth and his tongue sticks out? What if he has a bad reaction to the medicine? What if his biopsy comes back and it is cancer? What if the absolute worst happens? I couldn’t even bring myself to say out loud what the absolute worst was. David knew exactly what I was thinking but he remained calm. He’s an eternal optimist not unlike Sonny (Dev Patel) in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel who says, “Everything will be all right in the end… if it’s not all right then it’s not yet the end.” David kept reassuring me that everything would be fine.

We took him in on Friday and I did my best to keep myself busy to avoid excess worry. The vet told us she would call around three o’clock and if everything went well we could probably pick him up around five thirty. When David’s phone rang just after lunch, my heart sank. I was sure that something was wrong. David listened intently and it was impossible to read his expression. Finally he smiled and said, “That’s great news, we’ll be there.” I exhaled deeply feeling like I had taken my first real breath in days. He was waking up from his dental work, which went great, and the lab results came back and that suspicious lump was just a fatty deposit under the skin. Everything was fine. All the worry had been for nothing. The reason the vet was calling so early was that Solo is apparently a champ and he was done way ahead of schedule. When we went to pick him up from the vet, all of the veterinary assistants were raving about how sweet he was and how much they loved him. He was a bit dopey for the rest of the afternoon and he has to take medication and eat special food for the next couple of weeks (he did have to have some extractions but the good news is that his tongue is still perfectly contained in his mouth). I had worried for nothing. He’s even one of those weird dogs who have no problem taking their disgusting antibiotics (seriously you can put anything on his food and he will still eat it).

Anyway, at church on Sunday the pastor’s sermon reiterated that all of my worry had been for nothing. The sermon’s message focused on two verses from Philippians that say, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7). This week’s goal is to meditate on those verses and start worrying less.