“Mummy – because we are part Hungary, is that why I am hungry a lot?” my young daughter asked me one day.
Many of us have family roots that spread far beyond where we currently live. So it’s only to be expected that our young children will start wanting to know more about their heritage.
For my family, that is the Eastern European country of Hungary, which my mother left after the 1956 Hungarian revolution.
It was a time when her family was in hiding and she saw things a young teenage girl never should, including severed heads on stakes by the road.
In the 1980s, my family (mum, dad and four kids, ranging in age from 5-11 years), travelled to Europe on a five-month motorhome holiday, which included a few weeks in Hungary. It was the first time my mum had been back.
As an 11 year old, I remember some of it. I remember the small village where my mum’s family was in hiding – and the tears that flowed when she found some of the villagers who had helped them.
I remember seeing landmarks that were so important to my mum and had played a part in her early years – and meeting the relatives with who she so easily slipped back into loving relationships.
I know that if I’d never experienced that, I wouldn’t have an emotional understanding about the country and culture that is half of who I am.
So, when the opportunity came to visit Hungary with my own children, then aged 6 and 8, I jumped at it. How can we not go?
Don’t just listen – experience
In 2013, 27% (6.4 million) of Australia’s estimated resident population were born overseas.
As the daughter of a first-generation Australian, I was keen for my children to have the opportunity to visit Hungary with their grandmother.
One of the main benefits of this – apart from the fact we could see first-hand people and places from my mother’s life as a child in another country – was the fact she is still fluent in the language.
This came in handy as only about 14% of Hungarians can speak English.
Today, everyone is time poor and many of us don’t live close to our parents. But even if we do, visits can be flying and it is rare that we are truly in the moment.
This is particularly true of grandparents. Usually by the time our children are interested in knowing more, it is too late.
But what better way for our children to learn about a culture that is part of their own history than to see it for themselves – rather than sitting in a lounge-chair listening to stories that mean nothing to them.
Planning the trip
Out of a six-week holiday, that also included time in Italy and the UK, we first decided how much time we were going to spend in Hungary and what we wanted to do.
We allocated time to spend with relatives (in our case, my mum’s cousins and their children).
We decided to spend 5 days in Budapest, followed by 4 days at Lake Balaton, Europe’s largest inland lake, and a place I remembered loving as a child.
Unless you want to save costs by sharing accommodation, I recommend booking separate accommodation in close proximity. In our case, my parents, my brother and his family, and my family stayed in separate apartments across two buildings in the same street.
I think it is important to have your own space to unwind in as it can get overwhelming at times (like when I had an argument with my own brother and some heated words were exchanged).
Holidays with extended family need guidelines and forethought to help ensure it all goes smoothly.
The beauty about holidaying this way is that memories are in a lot of what you do as a tourist – on the double decker tourist bus, my mum suddenly realised we were passing the hospital she was born in.
On a tram ride, we saw the building her grandmother lived in.
We visited the thermal lake at Heviz (now that is a place to visit if you are ever in Hungary), where my own grandmother and her sisters used to holiday as young girls.
It’s almost incidental, but it builds a picture and it is interesting because you are there.
We could be tourists just like on any family holiday. But we also got some special treats too, as Mum started talking Hungarian to people, much to their surprise as the other 8 people in the group had absolutely no idea.
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What the children said
Writing this, I asked my children, now aged 10 & 13, what they liked about their holiday in Hungary.
“Grandma knew how to talk Hungarian, so she could order us lunch and do other stuff. It was really fun going with grandma and cool meeting some of her family and seeing where she grew up,” Miss 10 said.
“She grew up in another country, which is a different sort of reality to mine. I understood her a bit more. And I learnt a bit of the language.”
Mr 13 said the experience made him feel closer to his grandma.
“I wanted to learn more about grandma’s history and the place that she came from. I found it more exciting to actually experience the Hungarian culture compared to having someone just talking to me about it.”
Today, my children still celebrate that they are “quarter Hungarian”. They have chosen the country for school assignments. Just recently I spent a couple of hours cooking chicken paprika and nokedli (home-made noodles) for my daughter’s class.
I think their experience will be with them forever and will leave them with a special memory of their grandma.
So, if you are contemplating such a holiday, I can only urge you to go ahead and do it. Putting it off may result in it being too late.