Free-Range Flashback

Hi Readers and greetings from Csopbanka, eeenearazf
, a town of 3000 outside of Budapest, where I am staying with a friend I haven’t seen in  (ahem) a couple of decades: Erno Gyori, and his family.

Erno, Lenore, Erika at the Gyori home in Csobanka!

Erno, Lenore, Erika at the Gyori home in Csobanka!

We met way on a train going from Paris to Istanbul – same route as the Orient Express – except really cheap. I was traveling solo, and at the time (don’t do the math) Eastern Europe was still Communist, so it was kind of cool for folks on this side of the Iron Curtain to meet a young woman from the other side.

And vice versa. Somehow Erno and I got talking and he ended up inviting me to stay with his family for the night, in Budapest. His mom fried fresh fish his dad had just caught, spiced, of course, with paprika. The grandparents were there, too, reminiscing about the time the granddad was taken prisoner by the Americans in WWII and ended up being a chef for them in a German hotel. (Not a bad war, for him, so he was happy to see an American again.) It was a memorable night.

Then, two years ago, Erno heard me on a radio interview broadcast here and – thank you, Facebook – got back in touch. When I was coming to Europe to give some talks, I wondered if I could swing by – and here I am. Now Erno has a beautiful family of his own – wife Erika, and daughters Eniko and Julcsi. Time flies. And in a few hours they’re taking me to meet his parents again!

I mention all this because when I was heading out on that long-ago trip, lots of people thought it sounded great – including my wonderful parents, who gave me their blessing. But there were also those who said, “You’re going to Turkey? Haven’t you seen ‘Midnight Express’?”

It seemed weird to me that people were avoiding an entire country based on one terrifying movie. Still does. Except now I have a word for it. They were worst-first thinking. One scary story was enough for them to think: “Turkey? That’s where Americans end up in jail!”

I didn’t end up in jail. The Turkey part of the trip was fantastic, too. Istayed with a bunch of families I met along the way, who fed and fed and fed me, just like Erno’s family is doing today.

Long story short?

Free-Range isn’t just for kids. It’s sort of a way of life. Live it and some day you may find yourself in the home of old friends in the sunniest town in Eastern Europe, about to go eat fresh strawberries from their garden for breakfast.

Thank you, mom and dad. – L.



44 Responses to Free-Range Flashback

  1. Jessica June 14, 2013 at 8:52 am #

    Hope you are enjoying travelling, Lenore!

    I travelled extensively while at university. As soon as I had enough money to travel on a tight shoestring budget, I was off again. My parents never really said much about it. I would have ignored them even if they had. Others minded though. Like why on earth would I stay, as in to live, in Japan for a while. The only thing they actually voiced concern over was a trip to Cambodia, and my mother has prohibited me from flying some airlines (choking up the airfare with a more reputable airline). I did fly within Cambodia and that was the only time, thus far, that I feared I wouldn’t survive. I had a great time throughout my stay. I was never scared but at times my gut alarmed me to this feeling of something not being quite right.

    I fell into a discussion on trafel and safety in a part of Europe recently. It’s summer, tourist-season and peak of pick-pocketing, stealing and whatever ruses there are. And while you grow self-assertive and protective enough while travelling, there are some simple rules. Keep informed, take some precaution to keep safe (from pick-pocketing, ATM scams etc., as the topic now was), trust that most people are nice, some are not, but mostly people want to be kind and helpful.

  2. Christina June 14, 2013 at 9:45 am #

    What a great story Lenore !! And so true -You are such an inspiration!

  3. Carol Maloney June 14, 2013 at 10:26 am #

    People’s ever-changing travel fears are pretty amusing sometimes, although the fear of Turkey seems to have a particularly long shelf life. My youngest brother lived in Ankara for a year, working as an ESL teacher, almost 30 years ago, and I can still remember certain people complimenting me on staying so calm at a time when I must be worrying constantly about his safety. I also remember the nervous silence and loaded questions which greeted my parents’ plan to visit him there on vacation. Sorry to hear that after three decsdes, nothing much has changed.

  4. Sally June 14, 2013 at 10:37 am #

    Teared up a bit reading this one. Good on ya, Lenore, and enjoy!

  5. Captain America June 14, 2013 at 10:45 am #

    Sounds great, good story. For more than a decade I’ve wanted to visit Constantinople—but now it’s Istanbul—and swim across the Bosphorus.

  6. dreamerpoet June 14, 2013 at 11:01 am #

    Can I just say, VERY jealous you’re in Hungary, that one’s on my bucket list

  7. Monika June 14, 2013 at 2:28 pm #

    What a nice story, Lenore!
    Enjoy your time in Budapest and Hungary! I am Hungarian, so I feel very happy and proud that you like it over there! 🙂 Yes, it’s different, it even may seem kind of exotic for an American but it’s not dangerous at all… just like other big cities nowadays anywhere in the world…

  8. anonymous this time June 14, 2013 at 2:33 pm #

    The home of my ancestors! Enjoy.

    And yes, thank you for articulating the sense I have intuitively that it is the spontaneous connections we make with others… often while travelling… that truly bring delight and richness to life.

    Fear doesn’t work too well in facilitating that kind of connection, so best not to pack it along with you, wherever you are journeying—to the grocery store, or the ends of the Earth.

  9. J.T. Wenting June 14, 2013 at 3:47 pm #

    in the current political climate there, I’d not go to Turkey. Too much chance of getting mixed up in a riot (which almost happened to me once in the USSR, wasn’t a pleasant idea), and there chances of the riot police opening fire with life ammo on protesters wasn’t as great as it is in Turkey today.

    But I’ve been in Turkey before, during the peak of the PKK activity, and had no trouble (though other travelers we met told stories of hearing mortar bombs flying over their campground during the night, seeing army units approach with weapons drawn thinking they were PKK fighters, things like that.

    I always say I’ll never die traveling, having survived a plane crash, several emergency landings, and car accidents.
    But that doesn’t mean I seek out danger.

  10. lollipoplover June 14, 2013 at 5:10 pm #

    Wonderful story! Long live adventures and making new friends.
    And now I’m craving Hungarian Chicken Paprikash soup….

  11. Crystal June 14, 2013 at 5:11 pm #

    That’s beautiful, Lenore. My mom took me on an African safari when I was 16, just the 2 of us. It seemed like no big deal at the time. Looking back, it’s pretty amazing to think 2 very petite women traveled all across the world not knowing hardly anything about the destination — and we survived and had a wonderful time. The world is a good place.

  12. Cin June 14, 2013 at 6:46 pm #

    Hubby and I are planning some adventures farther afield once the youngest child is school-age — including the pilgrim’s trail to Santiago de Compastella eventually. Right now, due to ages and budgets, we stick closer to home — but still have adventures.
    We’re off to Tofino early next month to camp in bear country and learn to surf.

    I love showing my kids that the world is a mostly safe place filled with mostly good people.

  13. Betsy June 14, 2013 at 9:02 pm #

    I’m so glad that we eschew popular culture enough that I have no idea what the movie “Midnight Express” is! If I were lucky enough to do some foreign travel, I’d stick with the current State Department recommendations. I’ve talked to several people who have been to Turkey, and though the first time I heard about their pit toilets, I thought I’d never go, then someone told me that they’re the cleanest toilets around, and now that I am approaching middle age, I think it would be just fine, sans kids (sitting on my heels is one of my fave yoga poses, and seems to come to me much easier than many folks!). But I digress. I think I could enjoy a lot of countries as long as they came with clean bathrooms. It was annoying to have to pay for them in Spain, however. Enjoy your travels, Lenore!

  14. Suze June 14, 2013 at 9:03 pm #

    Thank you for your story! My husband is Turkish and we are traveling to Turkey next month to introduce our baby to his family. My MIL came over a few months ago but other then that, no one on my husband’s side has met our baby. We were a little nervous to travel at this time with our baby, considering the political climate, but after talking to family, my husband said that it is really no worse then it was for him growing up, other than a lot more media coverage. Now I can worry about the flight with a baby!

  15. Betsy June 14, 2013 at 9:07 pm #

    I should have said that we love to take road trips with our kids to introduce them to different things. But as the 7 year old is extremely hyperactive, foreign travel (with long plane trips) doesn’t really much enter our minds. When we recently spent a week in SoCal (from the Midwest) for a wedding and vacation, I made sure to take the kids to an old Spanish Mission, and Old Town San Diego, so that the place was not just all McDonald’s and Disneyland. People who recognize that places can be different, and still good, can make the connection that the same holds true of people and their ways or customs.

  16. SKL June 14, 2013 at 11:42 pm #

    Yes, I loved to travel before I had kids, I traveled to get my kids, and now I’m traveling with my kids. To developing countries, where we go a little off the beaten path so we can choose our own program. Every travel day comes with many opportunities to worry – or not. My kids are more likely to fear than I am, so it’s that much more important for me to hesitate only when it’s really necessary. (And sometimes it really is necessary.)

  17. Donna June 15, 2013 at 1:23 am #

    Considering I hauled my kid to remote US territory in the South Pacific for a year and a half (and to 2 foreign countries while there), I’m all for off-the-beaten path travel, even with kids. Don’t know that we will have the money for international travel again anytime soon but a potential road trip from California to Colorado to deliver a car to my brother may be brewing.

    Speaking of travel, although neither remote nor really on topic, I am treating my daughter to all the wonders of modern civilization southern California has to offer after said life on a small remote island. This included Legoland today. Legoland is really for little kids more than adults so my 7 year old rode many rides by herself. I noticed that she was one of the very few (often only) kids in line by herself for these kiddie rides. Parents would stand in line with their kids and then go out the exit once the kid boarded the ride. Really? Kids can’t stand in line for 10 minutes by themselves anymore? I understand waiting with preschool kids or in long lines, but this was every kid in every line. The one that really stuck out was the line for the driving school ride. The ride is only for kids age 6-13, so no preschoolers, and the line was only about 10 minutes long and fully visible from the ride viewing area and yet every kid except mine was accompanied by an adult.

  18. hineata June 15, 2013 at 1:34 am #

    How exciting, Lenore! Have a great time.

    Wow, I had no idea Turkey was considered dangerous. It’s simply another one of those places that every young Kiwi on their OE has to go to, so they can visit Gallipoli. Maybe it’s more exciting than I realised, LOL! Might have to go have a look-see :-)….

    @Betsy – by pit toilets, do you mean the concrete and porcelain ‘squatty potties’ that are relatively standard in Asia etc, or actual dirt pits with the wooden slats or something over them, like outhouses? The concrete and porcelain ones should be really clean, especially in Muslim countries, because of the hoses for cleaning practices, which most people seem to also use to generally rinse the loo area too (I know we did). Dirt pits would be rather more ‘exciting’ to keep clean, I would have thought…:-). Certainly our old camping ones, and the DOC outhouses, fairly stank in summer…..

  19. Donna June 15, 2013 at 1:46 am #

    Was Turkey considered dangerous before the American woman (traveling alone) was killed there earlier this year? Not that I think there was anything wrong with her going. I just don’t remember Turkey being considered an unsafe place to go when I originally left the northern hemisphere in 2011. In fact, I seem to remember it as being pretty desirable among younger travelers then so I am not sure when the shift occurred.

  20. Natalie June 15, 2013 at 8:27 am #

    Donna –

    Turkey was a popular destination for many post-army Israelis as well as families, couples, etc probably since the 70’s. People would go on their own and/or in groups. It was such a popular destination for Israelis that in certain parts of the country, you would find Hebrew-speaking Turks running Israeli-style eateries playing classic Israeli movies in the background.

    I don’t know if it was considered dangerous in the US, but it wasn’t considered dangerous by Israelis. Granted, this doesn’t apply to the entirety of the country as the south-eastern part hosted many battles with the Kurds.

    If there is a change now, it’s probably due to politics and the tension between the secular and religious – the PM is considered by many to be Islamist and a threat to their secular government, there’s also Turkey’s stance with Iran, which the US doesn’t like, the flare up with Israel over the Mavi Mara, the effect of the Iraqi War, the Syrian refugees etc on the borders, and the Kurds.

    As for a woman traveling alone? You get harassed more. And in some cultures you are considered to be fair game because you aren’t with anyone, there’s also a stigma about the behavior of Western women.

    I never took that as a reason not to travel alone – but I was more careful.

  21. Papilio June 15, 2013 at 9:04 am #

    Haha Lenore, what a sweet story, and what a wonderful coincidence he heard you on the radio (and recognized your name etc)! Have they already tried to fatten you up with rabbit stew (home slaughtered!), at noon at 30/86 degrees? 🙂
    As far as I’m concerned, you really don’t need FRK reasons to ‘mention all this’, it’s fun to read about your trip anyway! I look forward to your Velo-city stories as well!

    P.S. I don’t get the ‘don’t do the math’ comment on Eastern Europe being communist – it remained communist for another decade or so… (if I did the math on you traveling solo correctly)

  22. Papilio June 15, 2013 at 9:20 am #

    @Donna & Natalie: Well, I do know why Dutch parents would hesitate to let their daughters go to Turkey, for a long time anyway:
    I’m surprised about Israelis liking Turkey – all I hear about that combination is stupid teenagers of Turkish descent saying hateful things about Jews. (Idiots. They’ve likely never seen one from up close.)

    A side effect of reading this (sweet, Hungarian) post is that I now have this (sweet, Hungarian) song stuck in my head:

  23. Michele June 15, 2013 at 11:18 am #

    Awesome! Thanks for sharing.

  24. gap.runner June 15, 2013 at 12:58 pm #

    I remember the trip my husband and I took to Hungary back in 1998. I had the best fish soup that was a regional specialty in Eger. If you have time, you really need to see Eger. The whole city center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Eger is also famous for its red “bulls’ blood” (Eger Bikaver) wine. Hungary is a wonderful country and the people are very friendly! It sounds like you’re having a great holiday.

    People can be funny about travel. Before I moved to Germany in 1992, people were warning me about the neo-Nazis. Most of the neo-Nazi protests were in the former East Germany, while we were moving to the southeastern part of Germany. We were nowhere near the protests, but people were saying that it was still dangerous in Germany. It would be the equivalent of someone saying not to go to San Francisco because there are protests in San Diego.

  25. E. Simms June 15, 2013 at 2:12 pm #

    What people forget about Midnight Express is that the guy was guilty of trying to smuggle about five pounds of hashish out of Turkey and admitted so. The chances of getting arrested in most other countries is miniscule as long as you familiarize yourself with the country’s laws before you leave and abide by those laws while you’re there. Also, remember that your American rights do not travel with you outside the US.

  26. Julie June 15, 2013 at 7:49 pm #

    I am not very well-travelled outside the US, but I did go to Istanbul last year–and it was utterly fantastic! Just an amazing place. It actually never occurred to me that it would be less safe there than any large US city. I was warned by two different people about sexism against women in Turkey, but I honestly didn’t see it. The men were always quite helpful. I didn’t wander much outside the touristy areas, so maybe I didn’t see it as much as they did, but the worst thing about my trip was the fact that I came home with a new appreciation for Turkish food, and certain dish in particular that I cannot find served ANYWHERE in my whole (very large) metropolitan area.

  27. Peter June 15, 2013 at 9:19 pm #

    For more than a decade I’ve wanted to visit Constantinople—but now it’s Istanbul

    But it was Istanbul then Constantinople. Now it’s Istanbul not Constantinople. Been a long time gone, Constantinople. Now it’s Turkish Delight on a moonlit night.

  28. Natalie June 15, 2013 at 9:58 pm #

    Turkish delight, on a moonlit night!

  29. Natalie June 15, 2013 at 10:06 pm #

    There’s some bad blood now on both sides because of the Mavi Mara incident, but that was only a few years ago.

    I know, as you say, some have held onto stereotypes about Jews and money for a long time now, I don’t know why. I had two people from Turkey in my lab a while back who said things quite offensive to me, that they thought to be common knowledge. I tried to explain why it was offensive, it’s just so ingrained in their culture.

    There were never a large number of Jews in Turkey, and many of them emigrated to Israel, the US, etc., so you’re right in that many who believe these things have never met a Jew, maybe just Israeli tourists in some areas.

  30. J.T. Wenting June 16, 2013 at 1:21 am #

    parts of Turkey have been dangerous for decades, especially the interior near the Syrian, Iraqi and Iranian borders.
    That’s Kurdistan, a civil war has been raging there since the 1970s if not longer (bit of on-off affair, but never completely gone).

    As to pit toilets, I’ve seen them very clean and very dirty both. Some are so filthy you just don’t want to go in there or if you have to want to put on surgical gloves and throw away your shoes afterwards.
    The porcelain ones are easier to clean, sure, but doesn’t matter much if they’re set in a dirt or porous concrete floor which they often are, with bare concrete or wood walls.

    In all, Turkey as a whole is nice, but know which areas to avoid, like most any country (you’d not want to walk through Harlem at night as a white person for example, in New York, right? Same with some parts of Turkey).

  31. J.T. Wenting June 16, 2013 at 1:25 am #

    @natalie and don’t forget that a lot of them probably deliberately avoid contact with Jews because of their prejudice.

    I’ve worked with Muslims (Moroccans, not Turks, but similar attitudes) who refused to be in the same room as our Jewish colleagues on general principle.
    Could get rather petty, with on one occasion the guy standing in the door opening rather than entering a meeting room for an all staff meeting because there was a Jew in the room.

  32. Rachel June 16, 2013 at 3:02 pm #

    Hi Lenore–So glad you are having a good time on your trip! It also sounds like you had a wonderful adventure travelling around when you were there as a young girl.

    I really enjoyed staying with a host family in Sarajevo during my senior year of high school. It was in the 80’s, so a couple years before war broke out there. My parents were concerned about shipping me off for 10-months so far away. There was no internet then and no cell phones. I spoke to may family in the States about once a month, since phone calls were very expensive. I had a great time, and also appreciate that my mom and dad had the courage to let me go–I hope my boys also find the chance to travel around and see the world in a couple years.

  33. Papilio June 16, 2013 at 3:05 pm #

    @JT Wenting: That’s just disgusting. Can’t find another word for it. ‘On general principle’? Tsss.

  34. Papilio June 16, 2013 at 5:09 pm #

    @Natalie: And the Turkish people who migrated then taught their children those same old stereotypes, as if they’re talking about wolves in fairytales.
    Someone should tell them Jew-bashing is just soooo last season – it’s all about bullying blondes now! [/sarcasm]

  35. Leon Patterson June 16, 2013 at 8:58 pm #

    I’ve been in 21 countries and hitch hiked through Europe twice – in ’70 and ’71. I stayed in bed and breakfasts the first time and youth hostels the second time. On the second trip, I slept under the stars several nights in Switzerland and Spain. I had 3 other trips to Germany for factory training in the ’80’s and ’90’s. I took extra time for vacation and always picked up hitch hikers. It’s a wonderful way to meet great people. I succeeded in passing my wanderlust on to my daughters. My 23 year old daughter has visited 24 countries, most recently visiting a friend from high school who teaches school in a remote village in Ghana. My 21 year old has been to about 10 countries – she had been to Europe 4 times before her 17th birthday – and is currently serving as a camp counselor at a youth camp in the Yukon Delta. A few months ago, she texted me, “Thank you for teaching me to be confidant and self-reliant,” because most of her friends at college aren’t either. We also hosted German girls with People To People successive years. We kept their time here packed with activities. The highlight of the trip for the first one was driving our old Farmall Super A around our 120 acre farm. For the second one, it was getting to pilot a Cessna 260 for about an hour and a half. The second one e-mailed our younger daughter about a week after she got home that she cried every day because she wanted to come back to America and live with us. We’d take her in a heartbeat.

  36. Natalie June 16, 2013 at 9:53 pm #

    @JT- Wow. I’ve never encountered anything that extreme. Was this in Morocco? There aren’t that many Jews left there either, most leaving for Israel, the US, Montreal, France, etc.
    Morocco is on my list of countries to see with the family. My in-laws were born there and moved to Israel in the 60’s. there’s still some distant family there. I’d like my girls to know their Moroccan heritage as well as their Ukranian heritage (that’s from me).

    @papillo- I don’t know, it doesn’t get old in some cultures, I guess. What I found surprising is that the two turkish people in my lab were secular, educated, worldly, and liberal as far as Turkey politics goes. But for them, stereotypes of Jews were just common knowledge that they never bothered questioning. It didn’t even register that I, as a Jew, did not fit any of their stereotypes and I was the only one they had ever met. We all got along fine and found a lot of common ground. They were great people. It just didn’t occur to them, I guess, that they were holding anti-Semitic views until I pointed it out.

  37. Natalie June 16, 2013 at 9:55 pm #

    Re: pit toilets.

    Most disgusting experience ever was one in Gorky Park. I couldn’t even make my way to the pit.

  38. P a p i l i o June 17, 2013 at 5:11 pm #

    @Natalle: So – you had told them you were Jewish and they still held on to their stereotypes, just assuming things about you without thinking twice?

  39. Natalie June 17, 2013 at 8:31 pm #

    @Papilio – They knew all along that I was Jewish. It wasn’t a big reveal. But knowing that I was Jewish and didn’t adhere to their stereotypes didn’t contradict anything. It’s the “some of my best friends” phenomenon. Jews do x, y, z, but I’m different.

    I don’t think that they still adhere to these stereotypes, although I haven’t checked. It was an awkward conversation to begin with and I haven’t revisited the topic since then.

    Coming to the US can be a big shock to people who haven’t been outside their own country before (and they hadn’t) and there’s a lot of diversity on college campuses that is hard to find outside of huge metropolitan areas – this was in grad school that I met them. We had people from about 20 different countries in our department alone. They also held negative stereotypes regarding Arabs and Asians – who are both so numerous and diverse I don’t know how that’s possible but whatever.

    They both went on to work at companies where that same diversity seen in grad school is sustained. I think they’d be hard pressed to keep holding onto stereotypes.

    And they’re good people. It’s really just a matter of time, especially after it was pointed out to them.

  40. Joel June 18, 2013 at 4:48 am #

    Lenore –

    Of all the topics I’ve read on your site, this one hits the closest to home for me. Travel, worst-first thinking, Turkey, Hungary, solo traveling in Europe….

    I feel extremely lucky to have visited Turkey and Hungary back in 1992 when they were very undiscovered by Western tourists. The interior of Turkey (Cappadocia) was untouched – we saw only 2 other English speaking tourists in 2 weeks of traveling. One of my fondest memories travelling ever.

    I’ve also had the fortune (by age 40) to have spent over two years of my life (combined) traveling as a budget backpacker. I’ve been to over 60 countries, many of them for weeks, even months. The last trip in 2007 was the biggest – 18 months straight. Africa, Southeast Asia, Middle East, India, China and more.

    We heard a lot of “worst-first” pessimism from our American friends & family (especially when we were in Middle East) . The fears always revolved around terrorists and kidnappers. I told them I’m no more afraid of the people in general than anywhere I’ve been in the U.S. BUT – that there is real danger and fear in traveling. The rewards to me are worth it. The danger comes with the 50 year poorly maintained buses driving on horrible overcrowded roads, with drivers who secretly want to drive for Nascar. There are many other dangerous situations I’ve experienced traveling, but terrorism / bombing / kidnapping are so unlikely that it’s not worth thinking about.

    I’ve had my first child late in life and I had decided to raise my children “free range” before I discovered Lenore. I had observed modern parenting amongst my friends and neighbors, and it was very troubling to me. So, I found Lenore by Googling around, searching for like-minded people. Honestly, if I could find a way to financially do it, I would raise my kids outside the Western world (at least the English speaking part). I’ve been to dozens of countries that still raise kids the old fashioned way – raised by the village. I think we’ve lost all sense of reality in the U.S.

  41. Natalie June 18, 2013 at 8:30 am #

    Don’t know if anyone is still looking at this thread, and this is somewhat connected, but is anyone following what’s happening in Turkey? Anyone have an opinion on that?

  42. Papilio June 18, 2013 at 4:54 pm #

    @Natalie: I usually take the other way around: my mom holds some positive yet stereotypical views of Jews (apparently you are all very smart & talented and always help eachother), and I just shrug, because I have no way of verifying that. So to me you’re Normal People Until Proven Otherwise 🙂

    (Sorry, no interest for Turkey here…)

  43. Natalie June 18, 2013 at 8:33 pm #


    Sounds good to me! 🙂

  44. Papilio June 19, 2013 at 1:44 pm #