Saturday, March 31, 2012

St. Stephen's Basilica

We were so excited to see this beautiful Basilica in Budapest.  My pictures don't really do it justice.


View from behind

St. Stephen's actual uncorrupted right hand is kept in the Basilica.  Before he died, King Stephen clutched a rosary in his right hand, raised it and asked the Virgin Mary to watch over the Hungarian people.  He died on the feast day, The Assumption of Mary in 1038.  For several years, several miracles were attributed to him and when his tomb was reopened, it was discovered that his right hand was virtually intact and still had the rosary in it.  His hand was removed and is now one of the greatest treasures in Europe.  Most of his other bone relics have disappeared.


Saw this car on the street with the passenger window cracked open and a small bucket taped inside the window.
See the sign below and notice that it's in English. 

Also saw falconers but missed seeing their show

Happened to catch a changing of the guard outside this beautiful building, not sure what it was but the boys liked it.

OH - it's just the Office of the President of the Republic of Hungary!

Museum located next to the President's office

Buda castle at night
(wish I had a better camera)

Museum at night with Chain Bridge in foreground

When we arrived in Budapest, there was a festival going on in downtown.  There were a couple of these vendors set-up cooking and serving traditional Hungarian food.
What's that?  Why yes, they do serve rooster testicle stew! 
No, we didn't try any of it.

St. Stephen's Basilica at night

Pictures I never got around to posting (Kim)

Hungarian 'hamburger' - enormous bun with some type of meat patty

We ate at the Hard Rock Cafe in Budapest - the boys had real hamburgers.  Sam has a carrot stick in one hand and his burger in the other hand.

Good morning 5:45am Miskolc - hence the blackout shades mentioned in a previous post

This statue of 3 girls was in Miskolc.  We decided to have a little fun with it!

 Sam jumping in the hay in Miskolc
Love that this 'tough guy' on the playground is wearing a PINK sweatshirt with the words

Second day of School

Happy brothers!!

First day of school!

Traditional pictures with Dad

The boys started Montessori at St. Mary's on Tuesday.  Drew had some tears when we left and Sam looked pretty unsure but didn't cry.  We had asked for them to be in different classes.

At 10am, my phone rang.  Luckily, Mrs. Julie gave me a good report that Drew was doing well and Sam was a 'spitfire'.  Don't we know it!!

It's GREAT to be home! (from Kim)

We made it home last Thursday night and finally made it in to bed around 1 am.  Gus was so excited to see us and finally meet the boys in person!  We kept Gus home from school on Friday - several of his classmates were at the regional science fair, there wasn't much going on.  The weather was absolutely beautiful and the boys had a great time playing outside.  They bonded so well that first day!

On Saturday, we had lots of visitors!  We loved seeing everyone and the boys played hard all day.

The boys were great in mass on Sunday.  Gus was an altar server and they loved seeing him up on the altar.  They met Msgr. Waldow and Bishop Zurek.  Sunday was the one year anniversary of the cathedral dedication and cake was served after mass.  The boys sure liked that!!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Persistance Pays Off

Ok, some quick travel trips:
  • When travelling in other countries, sometimes you have to insert your room key in a holder by the door to turn on all electronics. 
We knew this when we arrived in Budapest on Monday.  It was a beautiful day here and very warm about 70 degrees.

We got out of the room to see some sights and also let the boys run off some energy.  When we made it back to our room about 8pm, it was sweltering inside.  We put our room key in the holder and cranked down the AC.  The room never cooled down.  Aaron and I kept inspecting the windows to see if they opened but they look more like skylights and we couldn't figure out how they would open.  We decided to say something in the morning when we went down for breakfast.

  • Hotel A/C only works in the summer months.
Aaron spoke to someone at the front desk this morning and she told him to open the windows or the door to the hallway.  He replied that he didn't think the windows opened and she said she would send someone up.  No one ever came.  I finally called down to the front desk to ask her about the A/C.  Her response was, "it's only March, we don't have air conditioning right now."  Keep in mind, this is a very nice hotel.  Her suggestion was again to open the door to the hallway.

  • Persistance pays off
Aaron and I again started inspecting the windows to see if there was some way they could open.  Aaron noticed at the top, a very small strip of wood with hinges on it.  He pulled on the strip of wood and the window swung open.  We have been in heaven ever since!!

It is nice to have fresh air during the days and nights.

Szoboszlo then Miskolc then Szikzso then Tiszaujvaros then Budapest then Amarillo (from Aaron)

Our last couple of weeks in the apartment in Szoboszlo was harder for me than the first 2.  The anticipation of moving on with this journey affected my ability to sleep soundly and although everything was pretty regular before, not so regular now.  (for those of you were wondering how that was going from my first post.) 

On Hungary’s version of the 4th of July, March 15th , it is a beautiful day (Thursday) and George from Szoboszlo talks me into a couple of beers with him, then on Friday the day before we leave he corners me again and this time with Chaba, read “Underbelly of Szoboszlo” for background on this guy.  I think to myself, I cannot wait to get out of Szoboszlo and get on to the next place.  This encounter with Chaba, which is during the day and there are a lot of people around, still makes me nervous.  George and Chaba call me over to their car right near the walkway where everybody is walking.  He opens up his trunk and takes out a couple pair of jeans for me to consider buying - stolen or heisted, or shoplifted, no doubt.  I say they don’t fit and reiterate that I have to go meet my family.  He brings out another little pair of jeans, and I say they are too small.  He then produces from the truck a large packed link of Csipos Hungarian Sausage, (hot sausage).  I say, ah no thanks but I appreciate it, trying to tell him that I have just eaten.  Then George and Chaba talk to each other and George says, “here it is your gift from Chaba.”  And Chaba hands me the sausage link which is marked 1200 forint or about $6.  George says, “you are our friend, no!”  I exited quickly and didn’t see them again after leaving the next morning.  I also should say that the first time I met George he wanted to have my skype address and I gave it to him.  He called me in the apartment about a week ago and that conversation was short and nobody really understood anything. 
George and Chaba peddling their wares from the trunk of Chaba's car


We arrived in Miskolc on Saturday.  It was a beautiful day!!  We kept commenting on how different the weather was from when we left.  There was a street fair or something going on right outside our hotel.  If you remember, our hotel is on one of the main streets in Miskolc as the city train runs only on this street. I felt invigorated, high energy, like the first weekend of college football or something.  The mood was festive.  We ate lunch and then went down an ornate alley off the main street and low and behold……..we stumbled onto an afternoon beer festival!  There were stands setup with different beers that you could by with different food stands.  Kimbo and I looked at each other and said yes this is it.  Even the boys had some things to do and play on.  See pictures.  It was called Fozdefest and it translates into beer and food folk art festival.  Okay, perfect for the Saturday afternoon. 

Beer Festival

Miskolc is a testament to the tough economy in Hungary.  Kimbo looked at some nice coats that we considered buying the first time we were in Miskolc when we were there.  This little shop was just about 50 yards from the hotel.  So we said, let’s wait and see what they have when we are back in about a month.  So Saturday we go back and the shop is cleaned out and closed!  I went to the store next door and the lady who owns that store gave the lady’s card and said please call her.  So we called her and she met us at the hotel lobby a few hours later with a couple of the coats.  I asked her why she closed and she said, “no business in Miskolc, nobody has any money.”  By the way we got a great deal.

By the way, Kimbo and I watched a fruit stand and a book store close overnight in Szoboszlo.  One day they were there the next day they were gone. 

Sunday the 18th we attended church at the beautiful Minorite Church 5 minute walk from the hotel and enjoyed Sunday mass in Hungarian again.  It felt good though, last mass in Hungary, it was about 50 degrees warmer in the church than when we were first there for our first mass.  It was symbolic, like we were coming out of the big freeze and getting to go home.  After mass we toured again the Avas Hill Church and cemetery close to the hotel.  This is one of the earlier structures of the city and it is beautiful, mysterious and spooky all at the same time.  It feels like a Transylvania novel with some vampires lurking about.  As we walked up the steep hill to the church I can hear the pipe organ playing and as I arrive at the entrance their service is getting out and there are a lot of well-dressed people attending the service. 
Shot of the Avas Hill Cemetery, some headstones date to 1700's some to as recent as last year

Monday the 19th.  D-Day

We knew Monday was going to be a big day so we took it easy and went to bed plenty early Sunday night.  This is the day that we sign the final papers in Szikszo about a 20 minute drive from Miskolc.  Why we go to this smaller town for this I don’t know.  You would think it would be Miskolc, the 2nd largest city in Hungary but no. 

This takes about 1.5 hrs to do all the paperwork, this process is very harmless with lots of pleasantries and small talk between us, the boys and the ladies preparing the paperwork.  Neither Kimbo nor I are too emotional here, even though we are officially changing everyone’s lives with the stroke of a pen.  But, we already knew for a long time we were doing it so…..

 We have to high tail it with the “official papers” back to Miskolc to another government office so they can make new birth certificates for the boys.  We got there and Kimbo went in with the social worker and the translator.  They emerged about 20 minutes later with birth certificates that said that Samuel Zsolt Sage and Andrew Christopher Sage were born in Miskolc but Kimbo and I are the parents we live at 3213 S Milam Amarillo, TX.  Pretty amazing. 

To really close out their existence in northeast Hungary, we have to go to a village  Tiszaujvaros to close out their “bank accounts” at the OTP Bank of Hungary.  This is sure to be interesting and adds a little lightness to the rest of the day.  On the way there, Kimbo and I debate how much money is in their account.  I thought early on they told us there was 14,000 forint or about $60 and Kimbo thought she heard 30,000 forint or about $140. 

Ding ding ding ding ding ….. pull the lever all the cherries lined up!  They each have 32,000 forint for a total of about $300 between the two of them.  We joked that Sam will eat that much in groceries in one week, man that kid can eat.  I asked the social worker why they would even have a bank account much less one with anything in it from what we knew of their background.  She explained that the Hungarian government makes the parents open bank accounts for each newborn and the government puts some money in.  Okay, thanks Sam and Drew, the seed money for your college funds. 


After closing the accounts, we go to Budapest, about a 2hr drive, to the passport office.  Here we will submit all the paperwork and pay to have their passports expedited so we can leave on Thursday.  We check into the Hotel President (see other post regarding this place) and settle in for the next couple days while visas and passports get sorted out. 

The architecture and buildings in Budapest amaze me.  We saw the “Buda Palace” the Basilica of Saint Stephen (they have on display the actual hand of Saint Stephen from the 13th century), the Parliament building and numerous other places.  They have open air markets that are enormous that have rows and rows of meats and vegetables.  Budapest seems to be very different than what they call the countryside of Hungary.  Kimbo and I met one guy from Dallas who works in Budapest for Price Waterhouse accounting firm and who is also an Aggie! Cool!  He told us that everyone considers there to be 2 places in Hungary, Budapest and everything else is “the countryside” 
Hungarian Parliment in Background

St Stephen Basilica

President Hotel in Budapest

We are staying at the President Hotel in Budapest, its in the middle of the Government district and 50 meters from the U.S. Embassy.  It has been a very pleasant experience and George, our coordinator negotiated a very good rate. It has been very good. 

Maybe this is a testament to Kimbo and I's need for friend interaction, but we found the hotel's Promotional Video to be absolutely hilarious.  This is the info video that plays on channel 1 when you turn the TV on that has info on events happening around the hotel and the hotel restaurant, etc. etc...  It is also playing in the elevator and on a flat screen at check in.  We would kill for a translation to the words to the song.   You can pick up "hotel president" and "budapest" in the lyrics but that's it. Please watch through to the end and enjoy! 

(i was going to video it from the TV in our room, but took a shot and found it already posted on YouTube)


Kimbo and I celebrated our 13 year wedding anniversary yesteday!  When we checked into the Hotel President, one of the first things we noticed was "child care available" in the information catalog in the room (kimbo always reads through them thoroughly as long as I have known her, as soon as we check into the room.  You know the guest services catalog that nobody but her ever reads.)

It took most of Tuesday morning to get across to the lady working the desk that we didn't need child car seats but a "baby sitter."  I would say, "do you have a baby sitter available?  your guest services book says you have child care."  She would say "one moment" and come back with a child booster seat for a car. 

Finally we said, today is our anniversary, we haven't had any time to ourselves the last 30 days and we were wondering if you have someone that can come into the room when we aren't there, but the kids are.  So they produced "Porche" pronounced like the car.  Porche is the hotel marketing director and young, and typical of the attractive Hungarian women I have described in my previous posts.  She will do it for 50 euros!

So Kimbo and I got to enjoy 4 hrs of Budapest just on our own.  It was wonderful.  Turns out we made friends with Porche and saw her everyday we were here.  We didn't have the heart to ask her if she was responsible for the marketing video above. 

Porche with Drew and Sam

Roma Gypsies (from Aaron)

As already discussed on the blog previously, there is a minority here in Hungary and most European countries that are Roma descent, also called Gypsies, and this race of people come from the Gypsies as we learned about them in school growing up.  Over the last centuries they wander around not really having homes and are nomadic.  Sam and Drew are Roma.  Today they are the poor minority of the Eastern European countries, they live in country villages, and make a good portion of the homeless you see in Debrecen, Budapest or Miskolc.   Lately, they have been greater tensions between the Gypsies and White Hungarians and it is related to economic conditions.  Tensions rise and fall with the economic condition in Hungary.  The tougher times are the more whites lash out at the gypsies for competing for jobs and living on government services. 

Sam and Drew are Gypsy children and no doubt they are the product of poor parents unable to hold work or make a living.   Kimbo and I have witnessed first hand the discrimination against gypsies.  Numerous times, people have looked at them looked at us and said “Gypsy”?  some have smiled but many have rolled their eyes and turned away quickly.  On the playground the other day, the little white kid were calling Sam and Drew “Gyp, Gyp, Gyp.”  The one that sticks with me the most is a lady who knew little English at a wine stand about 10 days ago.  She says, “are they gypsy?”  I said yes, and she made that “nnsstt” sound, “they r no good, ver r u frum?  I said Texas.  She said, “they r gypsy though.”  I said, “they won’t be gypsies when they get to Texas.”  I really didn’t know what else to say and that was it.  This event in particular left me feeling particularly uneasy.  I have oscillated since the beginning between being proud of injecting some diversity into our family and on the other hand, wondering why we are making ourselves vulnerable to racial incidents.  I am amazed that Hungarian people can identify who is a gypsy and who isn’t.  There are Hungarians who are dark complected dark hair that look white but could gypsy.  I don’t know.  After being here a while I think that Roma Gypsy people have a distinct eye color they are very dark / black, whereas dark complected dark haired Hungarians have blue or green eyes.   In my observation and in talking with people over the last 6 weeks.  I would say that this racism is much worse than any in the US.

It makes my heart hurt that they are discriminated against and it only makes me more motivated to raise these 2 boys strong and solid, and teach them to hold their own and contribute to society during their life. 
Sam and Drew, Texans Now

Monday, March 19, 2012

Blog is now public - you shouldn't have to sign in any more to read it.

It's Official!

Introducing Drew and Sam Sage

Andrew Christopher Sage (by Aaron) born May 9, 2007
Samuel Zsolt Sage (by Kim) born June 7, 2008

Officially ours on March 19, 2012

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Cool apartment feature

Our apartment had these neat blackout blinds on the outside of the window.  They could be pulled completely up or lowered a little bit (1st picture) or lowered completely (2nd picture) to black out the room.  This was great for when the boys needed to nap during the day.  The blinds were on all the outside windows and doors.  This was the door out to the balcony.

Last Meal in Szobozlo

Friday, March 16th
Cheese pizza tonight and cereal tomorrow morning

Our cheese pizza

the boys' cheese pizza


Off to Miskolc Sat & Sun nights then Budapest until we leave Thursday morning.

Hungarian Independence Day (from Kim)

Written on Friday but not posted
Thursday, March 15th was a national holiday in Hungary.  In 1848 the Hungarians declared their independence from the Hapsburgs.  Even though they lost their independence a few years later, the holiday is still celebrated.  Because it falls on a Thursday this year, everyone is also taking Friday off so they can have a long 4 day weekend.  Today and yesterday have been really nice days and lots of people are out and about.  Most of the clothing and grocery stores are closed but the restaurants and bars are open.

After lunch Thursday, we had a visit from our facilitator George.  He wanted to go over the events of the next week with us.

We will be leaving our little apartment on Saturday morning and going back to Miskolc.  Aaron and I wanted to do this so we could attend church on Sunday morning.  This has been a good little home for us.  At first we were pretty skeptical but we have grown to like the area and our place. 

We’ve ventured out more the last couple weeks and tried some different restaurants and more traditional Hungarian food.  Overall, the food is really good.  We haven’t been adventurous enough to try any liver or knuckle dishes.  One thing we’ve found odd is that they use huge chunks of bacon fat in recipes and then serve it right along with the food. 

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

TVs are really cheap!

Less than $50 - anyone want one?

Updates (from Kim)

Well, we’ve had a pretty good last week.  No major issues or temper tantrums.  It’s like we are all finally getting used to each other.

We are just following our daily routine and the weather has been good so we’ve been getting outside as much as possible. 

On Monday (Mar. 5), we had a visit from Adam and the social worker.  We thought they would want to spend time with the boys but they really wanted to know how we were doing.  It’s more like they are worried we will change our minds or something.  We also spoke with Adam more about plans for leaving and he suggested we plan on March 22nd - YOOHOO!!

On Wednesday, I took the boys to the park for a little while before Aaron joined us and we headed to the water park.  YEAH – no incidents at the pool this time!!  In fact, things were going so well that I left after a couple hours to do some grocery shopping and some computer work. 

On Friday, we took the bus to Debrecen.  We went to the Reformed Great Church, we thought this was the Deri Museum but later found out we were wrong.  The lady working there was friendly and was able to tell us what to do with hand signals.  The first part she told us to go through was a 150 foot tall bell tower.  The lady had made this motion of going up, round and round and smiled, so we thought it would be fun and good for the boys.  We didn’t know what we were in for.  The higher we went, the smaller the ladders became.  It got really interesting when we met a family trying to come down a narrow ladder.  Aaron and Sam scrunched themselves into a corner and Drew and I stepped of the steps into a little cubby hole that I couldn’t even stand up in.   When we made it to the top, it was pretty cool but there wasn’t much to do but look out the windows and then climb down again. 

The next section we entered was the church.  It had a lot of history on Martin Luther and the Reformation.  One interesting thing is that church services are still held on Sunday, but during the week, it’s a museum.  Also displayed are some US bonds that were issued to fund the Hungarian Revolution in 1848.

The last section contained 15-17 little landscapes that depicted life in Jerusaleum, Nazareth, and Bethlehem during the time that Jesus was alive.  This was really cool and we liked that it also had the English translations so we knew what it was about. 

We left the museum to have lunch.  The boys love pizza – especially sonka (pronounced shonka) pizza or ham pizza.  This was one of the first words that we knew so we really connected over ham pizza.  Since this was Friday though, we had a margarita pizza and a 4 cheese pizza that was awesome!  One thing I like here is that the cheeses are wonderful!  I’m not sure if I’m too scared to try different things at home or what, but since cheddar is impossible to find over here, we’ve been enjoying feta, camembert, trappista and fresh mozzarella cheeses.
After lunch, we decided to try some shopping.  The boys are generally pretty good in stores but trying to find something that doesn’t say “Moxy Chix” or something else in rhinestones is almost impossible.  I don’t know how many times I’ve found something that I really like only to look at the back and see someone went nuts with a bedazzler.  Aaron thinks all of the men’s stuff is a little too fitted or European for him.

We also visited St. Anne’s Cathedral.  Luckily there was some English literature in the cathedral so we were able to learn a little about it.  The first church to be named St. Anne’s was built in the 1200’s, but the actual Cathedral church was built in the early 1700’s, but not a cathedral until 1993.  One wonderful aspect over here is that many of the churches were visited by Pope John Paul II and they all have plaques commemorating the event.  Even the Reformed Great Church had a picture of Pope John Paul II and it was a reformation church. 

It was a beautiful day and we managed to walk around for until 3:30 before heading back to the bus station.