Blog and Photo Gallery: Women's Water Polo in Hungary

Blog and Photo Gallery: Women's Water Polo in Hungary

Looking over the town of Eger, Hungary (photo courtesy of the Harvard women's water polo team).

Members of the Harvard women's water polo team will be contributing to a blog and photo gallery during the team's nine-day training trip to Hungary. For continued posts, check

The Crimson were also featured in a Hungarian news story, which can be viewed here.

Friday, January 13
To our devoted readers,

Today was our last day in Budapest, and it was truly a perfect end to our wonderful trip. After a delectable breakfast in the hotel, we walked across the bridge to Margaret Island for a morning scrimmage. On the way, we took in the beautiful view of Parliament along the river. The scrimmage was a tough battle with a particularly physical team.  Shayna Price's suit took one for the team as it ripped on both straps, and in order for her to change into a new suit, we had to use a Swiss army knife to cut her out of it.

After the scrimmage we went to lunch at the water polo pizzeria. We were all quite skeptical of the thick, cold, pink-colored soup because it looked just like Pepto-Bismol. To our surprise it was quite delicious as it tasted just like a strawberry smoothie. In fact, it was our overwhelming favorite soup of the trip!

Following lunch we visited the House of Terror Museum. The building is the former execution headquarters for both the Hungarian Nazi and Communist Parties. Interestingly, the location for this building was purposely chosen to be on Andrássy Boulevard, which is named after a famous Hungarian statesmen, as a symbol of these parties' imposing authority. This museum was particularly sombering as it was the actual location where Nazi and Communist officials held their offices and where prisoners were held and tortured in the basement. Additionally the House of Terror deepened our understanding of Hungarian culture and knowledge of Nazism and Communism during this period.

After the museum, we took some time to shop for souvenirs before our farewell dinner. Everyone was excited to buy some paprika after we tasted it at the pizzeria. In fact we enjoyed it so much at lunch that the waitress brought us all little cups of peppers so we could make our own paprika at home!

Our farewell dinner was held at Columbus Jazzklub, which is a boat docked on the Danube River across from the fortress.  We enjoyed a three course meal of goulash, chicken and rice, and grundel pancakes for dessert. It is probably safe to say that the dessert was the favorite dish of the night - what could be better than flaming crepes covered in chocolate ganache! While waiting for the bus to arrive, we couldn't help but make like leprechauns and do a little jig on the dance floor. Assistant coach Jessi Wood caught it on video, so it is bound to turn up sooner or later! Keep your eyes peeled.

At the hotel we said goodbye to our awesome tour guide, Imre, who has truly become part of the Harvard Water Polo family. We are now packing our bags for our noon flight tomorrow. This has been such an amazing experience, and we will cherish these memories for the rest of our lives. We grew as a team both in and out of the water, and we especially gained skills that we will carry through the rest of the season.

We sincerely want to thank everyone who has helped make this trip possible, it has truly been an irreplaceable opportunity and an unforgettable experience.  

Now for the second installment of preseason back in Cambridge!

Yours aquatically,
Riley Kessler and Shannon Purcell

Thursday, January 12
Hi all,

Today was our first day in Budapest. We had our normal breakfast at our hotel in Eger then packed up the bus with its trailer and drove the 2 hours back. Once in Budapest we checked into our new hotel - Hotel Csaszar, then we hopped right back onto a tour bus for a city wide guided tour of the city.

Our first stop: Hero Square. This enormous plaza was built at the end of Andrassy Street to commemorate Hungary's first millennia as a state. Statues representing significant figures throughout all of Hungary's history were were arranged around the plaza along with a World War I memorial. The history and the design combined with all the different styles of architecture in the buildings (the fine arts and the modern arts museums) around were amazing to see.

Next we drove past the zoo which has 5,000 different animals inside. The Szechenyi Baths were on our other side. Hungary is known for its many kinds of natural spring waters which are thought to be healing for many kinds of illnesses and ailments. We made a quick stop at a castle which was a beautiful conglomeration of many kinds of major architectural styles. It was here that we also saw the statue of Hungary's mystery man, shrouded in his cloak. This man was said to have brought old manuscripts of Hungary's early history and the pen that he holds is said to give luck in the coming year to whoever touches it (similar to John Harvard's foot, though hopefully with significantly less urine). Needless to say, we have a sweet flip video of us all touching the pen. Even head coach Ted Minnis and assistant coach Jessi Wood.

Driving around town, we passed the largest synagogue in Hungary, the US Embassy, Hungarian Parliament (where unfortunately we did not stop to take pictures), and crossed the Chain Bridge from Pest into Buda and the Castle District. The palace and a beautifully designed and old Matthias Church were the key features of this area. We had time here to walk around the winding streets, still in medieval style, and buy more Hungarian desserts and coffee (surprise, surprise).

Our last stop was the top of another hill. The monument here was built by an old Austrian military fort that was converted for other uses at the formation of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The statue here was of a woman, built by the Russians post World War II, though her Soviet Russian features including the red star and the names of the Soviet soldiers who died during Budapest's liberation were removed. Other statues symbolic of Soviet occupation and influence were removed and placed in Statue Park outside of Budapest, where they joined nearly all other statues erected by the Soviets during their occupation from the 1950s to 1990. The lady figure still remains as a symbol of Hungary's freedom, much like our Statue of Liberty.

We had our first practice on Margaret Island tonight. I say tonight because it really was night when we got to play. The national teams were using the pool before us (I'm sure Teddy was hoping it was the senior men's team so he could meet Tamas Kasas who is arguably one of the best players in the world). We played in one of their outdoor pools under a bubble. The team we played tonight was rough as well but I think with our newfound ability to handle the physicality of other teams helped us to adapt quickly. I'd say we were definitely the stronger team. Not really a question.

Dinner was at this awesome water polo themed restaurant. Lunch was there too earlier in the day and once again we amused ourselves reading the history blurbs and calling dibs on various people in the pictures (mostly of former men's national teams, let's be honest) all over the tables and walls of the restaurant. Dinner was pizza and dessert was berry cheesecake which I can safely say was a nice change of pace, familiar, and an overall crowd pleaser.

Now here I am, finishing up my blog post for the day, struggling to no end to type on Jessi's iPad. The sheer amount of history here and the value this country has for water polo will never cease to amaze me. I've been loving learning about everything historical, including things like many of the buildings built to 96 meters because Hungary celebrated its millennia in 1896, as well as all of the ways and the extent to which water polo is ingrained in the culture here. So, many many thanks again to Friends and everyone who helped us to get here. I couldn't have asked for a more perfect and fantastic way to start my senior season.

Cheers! (Or "egesegedre" in Hungarian, though I'm sure I spelled it wrong)

Lizzie Abbott

Wednesday, January 11
Hello again everyone!

It seems each day here grows upon the others; today was the best day yet! Once again, we awoke to Eger snow-covered and gorgeous, and a delicious breakfast (although this one was a bit earlier than yesterday's).

Like every other day, we then walked down to the pool to scrimmage the Eger team. This time was a bit different, however: we gave up Devan Kennifer and Lizzie Abbott to the other team and enjoyed a bit more difficult of a scrimmage.

However, half-way through our scrimmage, we turned to look back at our coaches, and saw them searching the bleachers furiously for some reason. We soon discovered that our locker key was missing, and dropped everything to aid in the search. Both teams came together diving around the pool for the key, but to no avail—fifteen minutes into our search, we still hadn't found it! Eventually, Shannon realized the key just couldn't be on the pool floor (if 30 girls couldn't find it, it couldn't be there), so she asked Devan for about the 10th time to check her suit. Devan checked, checked again, and then sheepishly pulled the key from in her suit- it had been there the whole time! We all laughed together about it, and then finally finished the remainder of our scrimmage.

Our adventures weren't over yet though! The day continued with a trip to the basilica and a private organ concert. The organist was incredible—his fingers and toes flew over the keys. We were all stunned! After about five pieces (some Bach, some others), we learned a bit about the organ. It was the largest organ in Hungary, with over 8,700 pipes! The largest was over 36 feet long, while the smallest was barely three millimeters. We heard the three different types of pipes, the softest sound, and the grandest sound the organ could make—you could feel the room vibrate as the sound poured into the church.

After our concert, we briskly walked over to a crystal shop to buy some souvenirs – hand crafted crystal and jewelry -- and then hurried back to the pool to make our afternoon practice. This time, we were able to practice in the outdoor pool, naturally heated by the sulfur springs. Although the quick trip from the locker room to the pool was frigid, the pool was actually quite warm—the steam was so thick you couldn't even see the other side! We intermixed teams and began the most enjoyable "scrimmage" yet. Between not being able to see half the pool, girls popping out from under the water, additional "rules" to make things more challenging, and a questionable nine field players (and perhaps an additional goalie) in at a time, the game was anything but boring. We laughed and laughed, and dreaded saying goodbye to our new friends. But the time soon came, so after many pictures and attempted exchanges of words, we bade farewell to the other team.

The day continued on with a quick trip back to the hotel, and then another brisk walk back to the pool to watch the pro teams scrimmage a bit. We were quite impressed with their skill, and hated to leave only after the first quarter, but we still had more to do!

As a last adventure, we all piled into a small bus, and drove about 10-15 minutes out of town to visit a local winery. Eger is famous for its wine—above all the iconic "Bull's Blood" (a mixture of red wines). Our host took us down into her family's cellar, where we walked among the thousands of barrels deep in the volcanic-caves. I never knew that wine making was so complicated—she had so many different types of barrels, all marked with a specific age and type of wood or metal that would be used for each different type of fruit and wine. Smelling the new Hungarian oak versus the three-year old wooden barrels on the other side, however, we could tell the difference. After our tour, we were escorted into the home, where we were treated with a three course meal, more delicious than anything we had tasted yet! It began with made-from-scratch breads and cheeses, continued with a pork/onion dish, roasted chicken, vinegary salad, and of course potatoes, and ended with a traditional bread-plum dessert. After everything was over, our guides bade farewell to us as well (although Imre will be staying with us in Budapest) and passed out small gift bags to each of us. We will miss them!

It has been a long day, but we loved every minute of it! We miss you all; thank you again for the support! Looking forward to our adventures in Budapest!!

- Jasmine Griffin

Tuesday, January 10
Jo napot (Hungarian for good day!) 

John Ruskin once said, "Sunshine is delicious, rain is refreshing, wind braces us up, snow is exhilarating; there is really no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather."

True to that sentiment, today was definitely the most exhilarating day so far! Waking up to a beautiful, snow-covered Eger and another delicious breakfast was absolutely wonderful (especially since we were lucky enough to have an extra handful of minutes to sleep in).

Like our past mornings, we scrimmaged the local Eger team. We both played hard, but like every other scrimmage, we couldn't quantitatively conclude which team was the victor (that comes later in the afternoon). The scrimmage was fun and rewarding nonetheless and we can't wait to scrimmage the girls again tomorrow!

After another lunch at the local restaurant (where we all finally perfected our 'thank yous' in Hungarian), one of our wonderful guides, Imre, brought us a harvest of sweet, delicious Hugarian oranges and showed us pictures of his daughter's wedding (which was held at the Castle of Eger!).

After seeing Imre's lovely photos, we were all excited to tour the castle. In addition to the incredible view of the snow-capped roofs of Eger, we were also treated to an amazing history lesson of the castle.

In 1552, two thousand Hungarians held off over 40 thousand Turks from the castle. The story of this epic battle was told in the book "Eclipse of the Crescent Moon" (which some of us bought to read during the rest of the trip!). During the tour we enjoyed learning about Eger's history, sipping hot beverages in the chilly weather, and exploring dark tunnels beneath the castle with blazing torches.

After the tour we were mostly frozen but completely thrilled and ready to play the Eger team in our official game. After four suspenseful quarters we managed to pull ahead and win by one point (15-14).

Tired, sore, but excited about our first win of the season, we walked back to the hotel for another perfectly prepared dinner and our beds. Even though we are all ready for bed, we can't wait for the adventures tomorrow will bring!

- Elise Molnar

Monday, January 9
Happy Monday! Today we continued building upon our knowledge and understanding of Hungarian politics, history and culture by attending a reception with the Vice Mayor of Eger after our morning scrimmage. He gave us insight into the inner workings of local politics and discussed the trifold importance of the city as a cultural, educational and athletic center. With pride, he spoke of the quality of the wine produced in Eger and we look forward to our upcoming visit to the cellar of the Winemaker of the Year. Next we descended into the "City under the City" where, in the Middle Ages, about 13 million liters of wine were stored by the Catholic Church to provide income for the operations supporting this county, which at the time constituted one fifth of Hungary's land mass. The cellar stretches 90 miles underground and now serves as a historical exhibition. Upon returning to street level we had a real European cultural experience in a cafe sampling delectable Hungarian desserts and we were running on sugar for the rest of the afternoon :) For the last time before our official game tomorrow, we scrimmaged the Eger club women's team and they stepped up their level of aggression giving us some good practice/scratches. Thanks again for all the support back home, we are truly enjoying our once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!

- Jelena Cyr and Monica Zdrojewski

Sunday, January 8
Szia! (hello in Hungarian)

Today was a sporty day. We woke up to a wonderful breakfast buffet once again.  Not knowing what to expect with the food we have all been surprised with the delicious meals from the hotel and local restaurant.  We have had some great soups, pasta, meats and of course seasoned jelly.  After breakfast and an attempted dry land session we got in the pool for our first scrimmage.  We faced once again the local Eger team and worked on our man down and man up plays.  It was another close battle in the pool but we have been working hard allowing us to grow as a team.  Following lunch we went to the sports museum.  It opened in 1993 to commemorate the Olympians that played, coached, and trained in Hungary with a focus on players from the Eger area.  The building was a renovated prison that had been used throughout the 1800s.  The most popular sports in Hungary are water polo and swimming and it showed in all of the items in the museum.  Right when we walked in we were stunned by the items collected by the museum.  The first room held 9 torches from every Olympics since the games in Berlin in 1936, when the torch was first introduced.  Even more impressive, he pulled out the Vancouver and Beijing torches for us to hold like true Olympians!  The subsequent rooms held vast amounts of medals, awards, pictures, and clothing from the Olympics.  It was really cool to see because the majority had to do with water polo which is such a shift from what we are used to.  We learned about the "Blood on the Water" game which was the semifinal game between the Soviet Union and Hungary in 1956.  The Soviets had just sent tanks into Hungary, and the players reflected the animosity between the two countries.  The game was so brutal the water turned red, and when the captain left the pool with a bloody eye he became a symbol of the Hungarian resistance during the Cold War.  The game had to be ended early by the refs when it basically turned into a brawl.  The museum had documentation not just from recent games but from the very first competition in Athens.  It was very inspiring and interesting to see first hand such amazing accomplishments.  After a quick, well deserved nap we went to the pool to play again.  Once we finished we ran home to ensure we all got the good desserts from the hotel buffet.  I wish we could tell you what we ate but the labels are not in English.  However, we have confirmed the desserts are excellent whatever they are.  Everyone seemed ready for a good nights sleep and to continue our Hungarian adventures tomorrow.  So far it has been an amazing experience and we can't wait to see what else Hungary has to offer.  We are so appreciative of everyone's efforts to provide us with this chance.

Thanks and we hope you enjoy our blog!

Kalina Grabb and Ariel Dukes

Saturday, January 7 
Today was our first full day in Eger, and boy, were we busy! We have been walking all over the town so far, which gives us a really great feel for it. It is also really convenient to walk from our hotel to our lunch spot, the pools, and all of our touristing sites.

This morning we started at Dobo Square, where two statues stand to commemorate the defeat of Turkish invaders by a severely outnumbered Hungarian force. This force included women who sprang into action, dumping hot oil and soup on the enemy from ladders! We're trying to keep that tenacity in mind for our upcoming scrimmages : )

Next up was the Minorite church that towers over the square. It was built in the Baroque style and has very impressive pillars to prove it! Inside was even more beautiful, with a very intricate fresco ceiling and handmade pews. It was built in 1771, and shows it's age in some ways, but still obviously a living church, as it's Christmas trees and lights were still up on the altar.

Our first scrimmage was against a team from Budapest (BVSC), which was stiff competition for us. They were a women's team in their mid-twenties with some national team talent. It was our first test of teamwork, and we learned a lot from their great anticipation. As is common in international play, we gave Harvard pins to each member of the other team, and they gave us some local chocolates. It is so great to have the opportunity of this kind of water polo experience so early in our season in order to get a jumpstart on our learning curve.

Speaking of which, this evening we played the same team that we did last night, and tonight we were significantly more dominant over them. Perhaps a mix of our increased experience and sleep, we enjoyed some solid success in the pool.

In between games, we toured a candy museum, but none like you've ever seen before. The owner and head confectioner has won a number of titles in "Confectionary Olympics" and is world renowned for his edible creations. The museum was set up in an exhibit style with over 200 pieces, and some of our favorites included a 10 foot tall wall bottle, (Eger is the wine capital of Hungary), an oversized set of Babushka dolls, a Picasso painting, and an entire fancy 17th century style room of his sugar creations. It was absolutely amazing!

After the museum we went over to the minaret. Built in the 17th century, we learned about the minaret's colorful history including it's origin as part of an Ottoman mosque, then converted to serve St. Joseph's Catholic church, and finally as a symbol of Eger. Lastly, we got to climb the 97 steps of the minaret and view the Eger skyline at sunset. At 26 meters high, (the entire minaret is 40 meters) the panoramic views from the lookout were incredible!

Even with all of what we covered today, the bird's eye view of the town made real how much more we have to explore on this awesome water polo trip!

Thanks for your continued interest and support!

All our best from Eger, Hungary,

- Devan Kennifer and Victoria Frager

Friday, January 6
Leaving Boston at 8:30pm, it took a six hour flight to Munich and then a hour flight to arrive in Budapest, Hungary.  We were excited about the in-flight meals and personal movie screens, which kept most of us up all night. From Budapest's airport we were met by our guides who drove us two hours to the city of Egar while passing through the country side. Right away we were taken to eat lunch at a local restaurant where we ate a mysterious soup and pasta. After our lunch, which was really our second breakfast since Hungary is five hours ahead of EST, we crashed in our hotel rooms for a quick nap.  With not much sleep under our belts, we were escorted to the local indoor pool that included our own private locker room that's ours for the duration of our stay. We scrimmaged a girls team who looked to be about our age and gave our tired bodies a run for our money.  There were no scoreboards so the final score is undeterminable, but let's just say we won.  We ate a buffet dinner back at the hotel with a lot of unknown items on the menu, but it was scrumptious all the same. Now everyone is sure to fall asleep right away and be prepared for what lays ahead for us tomorrow. Love and miss you all!

- Shayna Price and Aisha Price