Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Floating Down the Danube While Others Walked

My husband and I landed in Budapest, Hungary at the beginning of September to take a Viking River Cruise up the romantic Danube.
Hungarian Parliament in Budapest
That same weekend thousands of emigrants also arrived in Budapest en route to Germany and Sweden. However, they were detained at the city's train station by Hungarian police who were refusing to let them board.
Scene at the Keleti railway station in Budapest, Hungary. Photo: Reuters 
Undeterred, the displaced multitudes set out for central and northern Europe on foot.
 The distance from Budapest to Germany is about 300 miles! photo:
Just like the Syrian and North African emigrants, we began in Budapest then traveled west. Our boat stopped in Vienna, Austria; Melk, Passau, and Regensburg, Germany. We eventually disembarked in Nuremberg. At the end of the trip, we spent a couple of days in Prague, Czech Republic.
Our journey, however, was starkly different than the trip being endured by emigrants. We watched the Danube's scenic banks float by from comfortable deck chairs, while they trudged for miles.
As you can imagine, those on foot were never far from our minds. We increasingly felt the tug-of-war between compassion on those emigrating from danger and the citizens' fear of those immigrating to European physical and economic safety.

The debate was being carried out beneath our noses. Security police blocked our entrance to the Buda Palace,
because European Union leaders were in Budapest to reach consensus between the open invitation to refugees offered by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofeven and the closed-door, nationalistic policy of the Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban. 

In spite of our empathy toward those fleeing danger, as we toured the historic sights in Budapest, we could at least understand the nationalism of Hungarian leaders.

Over the centuries, Hungary has been tossed between eastern Turkish empires and western Hapsburg monarchs.  After being defeated with Germany in World War I, they lost most of their land and population. During World War II, they switched loyalties and fought against Germany. However, in the peace agreement that followed, they were annexed by the Soviet empire. Only in 1989, did they free themselves of Soviet domination. For less than 30 years, they have been trying to regain stability as a free Republic.

As you tour Hungary, reminders of their conflicted history are everywhere. In fact, the whole region shares a repeated theme: citizens versus invaders.

As evidence, the landscape we passed is dotted with fortified castles, refurbished cathedrals, and innumerable war memorials.

Is it any wonder that Hungarians feel a strong nationalism and self-protectionism? 

Their pride in their beautiful capital, Budapest, is certainly justified. At night it is spectacular!

Budapest is a twin city like Dallas/Fort Worth or Minneapolis/St. Paul. Buda (the wealthy upperclass part of the city on the hilly west bank of the Danube) was connected with the more plebeian Pest district (on the flatter eastern river bank) in 1873, when engineers were able to construct a suspension bridge. Even today, the Chain Bridge is a marvel.
No wonder Budapest is dubbed "Queen of the Danube". At night, the illuminated Parliament building   is dazzling.

 Strings of lights twinkle from the now seven bridges spanning the Danube River.
In the post to follow, Budapest's landmarks will illustrate their historic struggles against outsiders. In turn, perhaps we can begin to comprehend the emigrant vs. immigrant divide. The past certainly helps us to understand the present.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Ralph S. Mouse Rides Again

How many of you remember the adorable little imaginative character brought alive by Beverly Cleary, Ralph S. Mouse? This adventurous little fellow rode into our hearts on his red motorcycle.
Ralph was the celebrity at our third grandson's fourth birthday.
Here he is in his mouse costume, i.e. tail and ears! Surprisingly, his siblings and cousins even agreed to wear their mouse ears and tails! 

 Surprisingly, his siblings and cousins even agreed to wear their mouse ears and tails! 

A mouse on a birthday pastry? You know the little boy is obsessed.
Here is imaginative Nate designing a mouse under a volcano.  Where do kids come up with these ideas?

You can see where birthday boy gets his creativity. Here are strawberry mice his mama made for the party.

As quirky as Nate's fascination with mice may seem, you have to admit the hot-roding rodent is endearing.

However, this furry stuffed toy is as close as Nate got to getting a mouse for his birthday!

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Star Wars Birthday Party

Our daughter and son-in-law have three sons and a daughter. In the fall, I wrote about the youngest son's first birthday with the Richard Scary Busytown theme. As the boys get older, they have definite ideas of the theme they would like. In the late spring before the latest movie's fanfare, the oldest boy wanted a Star Wars theme. His mother was happy to oblige.

Stars were the party's motif...

 Black and white with a touch of red was the color scheme.
Two storm troopers were excited to come in costume.
 Princess Leah was invited.
The kids' table was decorated with storm troopers and Star War images.
The guest of honor had his place marked with a special balloon.
The birthday cake was the center piece on the "adult" table.

Guests took home Star War stickers and cups.

 Each droid, stormtrooper, princess and dark warrior left feeing part of the force!

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Fresh Face for a New Year

Winter white has replaced Christmas red at our house.

Outside, the crisp air and brisk temperatures reboot my energy.
Inside, forced paper whites bloom alongside whimsical snowmen.
My Lenox snow people are the creation of Lynn Bywaters. Her snow creatures wear mittens, hats, and scarves, and are each surrounded by brightly feathered friends.

Through my kitchen window you can see that the grass is still green from the lingering El Nino temperatures. Perhaps these cheery porcelain figures will be the only snowmen we see this winter.
I would be just fine without snow drifts. As far as I am concerned, the tiny white Kalanchoe blossoms in my blue and white  Canton compote will be a fine replacement for snow covered trees and bushes.
How about you? Do you long for snowdrifts and snowy-day holidays? For those who like a break from school or work, I guess one powdering would be welcome, "as long as I have no place to go, let it snow, let it snow, let it snow."