thanksgiving matpakke

Lunch culture in Norway revolves around the matpakke.

A matpakke (translated – food pack) is lunch from home – typically slices of bread with some sort of pålegg (sandwich fixin’s) on top. These include cheese (white or brown), salami, sliced cukes or pepper, pate, or maybe some shrimp and mayonnaise if you are feeling fancy. Norwegian eat open-faced sandwiches (smørbrod) and each slice of bread has only one or maybe two toppings. The slices of pålegg-topped bread are separated by sandwich special sandwich separating paper (pre-cut pieces of waxed paper).

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(And, if that wasn’t enough bread and pålegg for you, breakfast often consists of the same.)

This is what 95% of the Norwegians in my office eat day in and day out. I’m fine with sandwiches – I survived grad school off of PB and J (but 2 slices of bread please!), but enjoy my left-over lunches too. And most people from the rest of Europe are used to warm lunches as well.

Until recently, our office was mostly Norwegians, all eating their smørbrod matpakke for lunch. But in the past few months we’ve had a bunch more foreign PhD students and visiting researchers join us. Which means… a line to use the microwave! It also means a lot more english spoken in the lunchroom.

So as you know, today is Thanksgiving. I’m a little jealous of everyone back home with the day off (but don’t feel too bad for me, I am jetting off to London for the weekend…). I made a small thanksgiving meal last weekend and have been enjoying the leftovers all week.

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With that, I introduce you to the Thanksgiving-style matpakke (with a shot of cranberry sauce on the side). It is sure to be a hit!

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frankfurt, germany

Earlier this fall I had a conference to attend in Frankfurt and, as I am wont to do, I arrived a few days early to do some exploring. Similar to last year’s trip to Brussels, Frankfurt is not the most exciting city to visit in Germany. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t worth a few days of wandering. Extra beer and bratwursts never hurt anyone.

So if you go, what should you do? 

Take a tour

I did a great walking tour with Frankfurt on Foot (12 euros). We were a small group of 10, which interestingly enough consisted of 4 tourists and 6 recent expats to Frankfurt who wanted to get a introduction to their new home. As I said earlier, Frankfurt doesn’t have to historical uumph of some other German cities, but the tour covered all the basics such as the Roemerplatz (city square), Atle Oper (Opera House), and Goethe’s house (don’t know who he was? yeah neither did I…).

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We also made an impromptu stop at a delish bakery and had time to wander through the market hall. And as always, the tour was good to get a feel of the layout of the city (it gives you a good sense of direction for future wanderings).

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I even learned something relevant to Trondheim as well. “Stumble stones” (as seen below) can be found all over Frankfurt, Trondheim, and Europe, to commemorate victims of the Holocaust. They mark the last known residence of the victims. There are 3 stumble stones on a corner which I pass by several times a week. It wasn’t until after I returned from Frankfurt that I took the time to actually look closer at them and understand what they signify. 

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Drink some wine

Frankfurt is close to the wine growing region along the Rhine River. It was a beautiful day so we took an easy train trip out there to walk along the vineyards (travel trip: you can by a group ticket for the train for just 14 euros that lets up to 5 people take the train – including hop on-hop off – all day). We first stopped in Eltville (a suggestion from my tour guide). It was a cute town with several wine bars along the river as well as a castle-like building with a pretty garden.

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There were people strolling around on a late Sunday morning, but the town was rather quiet – so we decided to move on. To Ruddesheim, which is basically the opposite of quite (it was a manageable tourist trap in the off-season, but in peak season it might be a bit too much). We took a walk up to the vineyards (we were too cheap to take the cable car and too lazy hungry to walk all the way to the top). On the way we saw a tour guide with a group of people – all about my parents’ age and North American-looking. I joked that was probably the kind of tour my parents would take when they visit Germany next summer. Then I saw a cruise boat on the river and sent a quick text to my mom. Yes – this will be my parents next June!

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I wanted weinersneitzel. Don’t go to this restaurant (Mom, are you paying attention?). The food was marginal, and the service was unbelievably slow (not just from an American perspective – had we not already eaten our salads, we probably would have just gotten up and left).

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We then wandered around the narrow streets until we wandered into this wine garden were we enjoyed reislings, roses, and onion cake (a traditional German fall dish – savory cake, not sweet). It wasn’t a bad way to spend a sunny September Sunday.

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Try the appelvin too

Frankfurt is famous for it’s appelvin (apple wine). Or maybe that should be infamous. My first day in town corresponded with the final day of the Harvest Festival. There were stalls of bratwurst, farm cheese, and apples. With brat in hand, I headed for the appelvin. It was… um ok?!? It tastes like a sour, dry cider. It was drinkable for the experience, but throughout the rest of the weekend I stuck with beer. 

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Random fact (that I learned on my tour) – back in the olden days the striations on the glass helped you keep a grip on your appelvin when you had greasy fingers from the fatty meats you were inevitable consuming along with it. 

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Take in the views at (Europe’s only actual skyline)

Frankfurt is sometimes referred to as Mainhatten due to its location on the Main River and being Europe’s closest rival to a Manhattan skyline. I was shocked when a friend of mine commented that she saw a skyscraper for the first time while in Frankfurt (when she was in her late 20s). Oh yeah, I guess there aren’t that many around in Europe…

I’m a sucker for views and decided to head to the observation deck of the Main Tower. It was a big cloudy, but in a cool foggy-like way, but from 200m (656 feet), I got to take in the city of Frankfurt. Not too shabby.

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Get your Mexican on at Chipotle

OK, you will probably only find this interesting/exciting if you are an expat living in a country without an appreciation of burritos. But if that is the case – eat up! While not intentional, Chipotle was a mere 5 minute walk from my hotel. Best 9 euro ($11) burrito I’ve ever had. I had to wash it down with a Corona too (which is likely sacrilegious in Germany).

And Chipotle is an easy 30 minute train trip from the airport – so if you ever find yourself with a long layover in Frankfurt…

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And there was some shopping, kebab-eating, and of course a haircut to round out the trip. All in all, a successful travel adventure – what more can you ask for.

A shout-out to my friend’s sister for all her advice on what to do while in Frankfurt (she lived there for a few years). And my haircut was awesome – thanks for the rec!

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questions answered

While there are stories in my head, there never seems to be the time (or motivation) to put them on paper (otherwise known as the blog). I really want to work on this because I enjoy reading about people’s experiences and adventures living abroad, and thus feel like maybe I too should contribute to this field of “literature” (spoken as a true researcher!). Perhaps to jumpstart me, Jen at Lady, Relocated (one of the expat/travel blogs I enjoy reading) nominated me to answer some questions.

What 3 items do you always pack on a trip?

1. My cameras (typically my DLSR and my iPhone – but on a few recent short trips, I’ve left the big camera at home (gasp!) and managed with just the iPhone).

2. A book – these days of the electronic variety. I typically use my iPad (that is what I read from at home) but I’ve recently considered going back to my Nook when traveling so I don’t have to worry about it too much (I would not be as sad if the Nook got stolen or wet or sand in all its nooks and crannies).

3. Good walking shoes – I walk A LOT when travelling (although I’ve been struggling recently to find something that is comfortable, cute, and versatile. Any suggestions?).

What is the best meal you’ve ever had and where did you have it?

This is a hard one. I’ve had many good meals in my life. These days I most miss the variety and creativity of American food (which often comes from other cultures). But if I was on death row and got to pick a final meal, I’d probably request a pulled pork sandwich and sweet potato fries from Buckley’s in Queen Anne (Seattle).

Where are you planning to go on your next trip(s)?

November is full of travel! I’m headed to Marseille, France on Friday to visit a friend. And consume lots of wine and cheese. The day after I return I’m headed to Gotenburg, Sweden. It is a work trip, but I’ll have a few hours to explore the city and visit a(nother) friend. And then at the end of the month I’m taking a quick weekend trip to London to eat, shop, and see the Book of Mormon.

What’s your favorite blog post that you’ve written? Please share the link!

Most of my posts focus on either adjusting to life in Norway or on my travels.

My favorite life in Norway post is probably the story about the time I picked up 7 Norwegian fellas in parking lot of a ski resort and got them to invite me to dinner. When ever I drive by their house just outside of Oppdal, I still think of that evening.

My favorite traveling post is about my trip to Brussels. Because Brussels isn’t the most exciting place in Belgium to visit, yet I had a great time and seemed to convince several friends that they should visit. Brussels Tourist Information, if you are reading – I’ll take my payment in chocolate and beer :)

5) What are your hobbies?

Travel. So many places to see, so little time… I’ve visited 47 US states (to answer the inevitable question – Kanas, Missouri and Alabama) and over 30 countries (mostly in North/Central America and Europe). I love visiting new places and seeking out interesting experiences.

Spending time outside. I love to ski, hike, run (love/hate relationship), and ride my bike.

As I’ve gotten older, I more appreciate cozy days/evenings at home. This appreciation comes in handy during the dark days of a Norwegian winter. I like watching crime dramas on Netflix (currently watching The Killing), playing boardgames (currently playing Ticket to Ride), and reading (currently finishing up Me Before You by Jojo Moyes and getting ready to start Above by Isla Morely). I’m learning how to knit and how to cook these days as well. I should probably spend more time working on my blog.

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a hungarian wedding

The purpose of the trip to Budapest was to attend a wedding. I can attest that if you search in Google for “what to wear to a wedding in Hungary,” you won’t get much help (although after I publish this post, there will now be help for future foreigners invited to Hungarian weddings, ha ha!). I’d never been to a wedding outside of the US so I had no idea what to expect. Turns out, that besides the language, Hungarian weddings aren’t too much different from American weddings.

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The wedding was about 90 minutes outside of Budapest, so the bride had family friends pick us up at our hotel in the city and drive us to the venue – Pannonhalma, a UNESCO World Heritage site. And conveniently also one of Hungary’s wine regions. Before we even got on the road, the father of the family pulled out a bottle of unicum, which is traditional Hungarian liquor. He suggested a shot every 20 km and seemed a bit disappointed that we were satisfied with just one to kick off our journey (note – he wasn’t driving).

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The ceremony was in the church at the monastery. It was a roman catholic mass so while the language was different (the priest actually switched back and forth between Hungarian and German – the bride was from Hungary and the groom from Germany), the mass was exactly the same as in the US. 

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After the ceremony we moved over to the adjacent restaurant for the reception. Overall, the reception was much like a reception in the US. We had a delicious meal, drank lots of wine, the bride and groom had a first dance and cut the cake, and then we all danced to the wee hours of the night. Even though I was the “plus 1” at the wedding and knew no one but my date (well, I had met the groom for a beer when I was in Germany last summer), I had an absolutely fantastic time. It seems not to matter what country you are from or what language you speak – if you are in your early 30s-late 20s, you seemingly will have no problem singing and dancing with new friends and old to the Backstreet Boys or Britney Spears.

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What I found most interesting was seeing some of the traditional aspects that are likely common-place at a Hungarian/German wedding, but traditional in another sense when we Americans talk about family traditions. For example, there was one dance were people stood in line to drop money in a hat in order to take a spin with the bride – common in the US, but originating in Eastern Europe.

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So now that I’ve gotten one foreign wedding under my belt, I’m ready for the next. Galicia (Spain) here I come!

{And in case you did come here via Google because you wondering what to wear to a wedding in Hungary – dress choices were similar to that of an American wedding, I wore a dress that was more formal because I knew the wedding itself was a bit fancy (and because I don’t have much opportunities to wear this dress!), but there were plenty of people in more informal dresses who did not look out of place.}

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budapest

I’m a sucker for new places. When Julian’s high school friend invited us to his wedding, I managed to find a way to get there despite unreasonable high ticket prices (gotta love Mom and her million – literally – airline miles). Before arriving, I knew very little about Hungary – I had an old babysitter from there, it was in the Eastern Bloc, Hungarian is a really hard language, they make good wine, and most importantly, it was some place I’d never been. My impressions after – it was a lovely city with friendly people, a lot of history, and plenty to do. A long weekend in Budapest wasn’t long enough to see it all.

The city of Budapest is split by the Danube River into two parts – hilly Buda to the west, and bustling Pest to the east.

Buda…

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and Pest

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We stayed in Buda and spent a lot of time wandering through Pest. And I loved it!

If you find yourself with an opportunity to visit Budapest, go for it! And while you are there, you should:

Go on a tour, or two

In addition to my standard free tour (see below), I splurged on a food tour (Jewish Cuisine and Culture). It was a bit pricey ($85) but it was a small group – just 3 of us with the guide – and included several stops for food and drink. We enjoyed matze ball soup, goose liver pate salad, some baked bean/goose leg dish, stuffed goose neck (it was like a sausage), and a layered dessert with poppy seed, plum and apple goodness. Everything was delish – and perhaps more importantly, something I’d never order on my own.

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We also wandered around the Jewish Quarter discussing life for Jews in Budapest. For many years, Jews faced persecution in Hungary, culminating when the Nazis occupied Hungary in 1944 (they were aligned during the war, but at some point, Germany got mad at Hungary for talking with the enemy, Russia, and turned on its ally). Most of the Jews in the countryside were sent to concentration camps, while Jews in Budapest were forced to live in horrible, cramped conditions in the Jewish Ghetto.

The Great Synagogue with its Holocaust Memorial

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Currently there is a controversial memorial under construction in the city. It is meant to depict “evil Germany” preying on Hungarian Jews. But many people – the German government, the US government, Jewish organizations, and most importantly, Hungarians (Jewish and not), have spoken out against this monument claiming that it whitewashes the actions of Hungary and places all the blame of the atrocities of the war on Germany, when Hungary spent many years prior to WWII persecuting Jews, and it was Hungary who took it upon itself to send Jews to concentration camps. Since the start of construction this spring, families of Hungarian Holocaust victims have protested the memorial, with their own memorial of sorts.

The protest memorial in front of the construction of the actual “memorial” in the back.

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While I enjoyed the tour, it was, as I said, a bit pricy. I’m slightly hesitant to recommend it on that account, but I do recommend food tours in general (I did my first back in Philly and it was fabulous!). And there are other (free) tours of the Jewish quarter as well.

My second walking tour didn’t disappoint. Free tour options in Budapest included a standard city tour, a Jewish quarter tour, and a Communism tour, which we did. It was great. Our tour guides were enthusiastic and informative (without being annoying). We focused on everyday life in Budapest under Soviet control, as well as post-communist Budapest.

Communist housing blocks from above

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At the end of WWII, Hungary was “liberated” from the Nazis by the Soviets. Although liberation is not quite the most accurate term. Hungary was actually one of the most “liberal” communist countries of the Eastern Bloc, and after the death of Stalin in the 1950s, they lived under “happy communism.” Budapest is home to the first McDonalds behind the Iron Curtain.

We learned about housing, media, health care, education, and travel on our tour. Related to travel, there were 2 different types of passports in communist Hungary. The blue one was commonly issued and let one travel to other Eastern Bloc countries. In line with communist propaganda, travel among communist countries was heavily subsidized. A week at a seaside resort along the Black Sea would cost about 40 euros (travel, hotel, food…). If  you wanted to travel outside of the communist countries, you needed to apply for a red passport. It was expensive and could take several years to get it issued, and when you were authorized to travel, you were often supervised (by tour guides who basically served as spies) or had to check in often during your trip.

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We also discussed the challenges which Hungary is facing today as a post-communist country. It has only been 24 years since they have emerged from communism, but in terms of the economics, political system, and social policies, there is still a lot to be desired (at least according to our Hungarian tour guides).

All in all, it was a really interesting tour, especially if you are like me and did not learn any post-WWII history in school.

Drink some wine

Who knew that Hungary is known for its wine?! At first I was a bit skeptical after reading all the different varieties they produced (how can they be good at producing so many?) but it turns out that as Hungary is at the border of several different geographical regions, it is full of many microclimates and soil types. I first had Hungarian wine a month before our trip. Friends brought back a bottle after their own trip, and greedily gulped down several glasses, despite not typically being a fan of white wine. Every glass of wine I had in Budapest was delish. The wedding we attended was held in one of the wine regions that is especially known for having good wine. Next time I’m back in Budapest I’d like to do some tastings at one of the many wine bars to further explore Hungarian wines.

The wine list at a nice restaurant we ate (and drank) at – all Hungarian wines!

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Hungary also has some nice craft brews (TasteHungary has a craft brew tour too). We had a yummy black IPA (for $2.50 a pint, heaven!) at Csak a jó sör (translates as Only Good Beer), a great little bottle shop and pub. 

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And I had a massive (ok, just 0.5L but a huge glass) award-winning Legenda Joker IPA at a cute little café near our hotel (that we only discovered on the last night…).

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Visit the Great Market Hall

Remember in Stockholm how I said I had a bit of a fear in shopping at the market halls. Well, still there – but I did manage to buy (with the help of Julian) some paprika, dried fruits, and danish-like treats.

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We also enjoyed the famous langos (fried dough covered with sour cream and cheese). Supposedly it is perfect for hangover recovery, but also good for second breakfast.

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Market Hall tip: get there early! We were there before 10 and it was easy to move around and explore, but when we left an hour later the crowds were rather unpleasant.

Go to the baths

Budapest is built over thermal springs and there are several thermal baths around the city. We decided to visit the Szechenyi Baths, the biggest thermal baths in not only Budapest, but all of Europe.

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There are outdoor and indoor baths but we stayed outside (as suggested by Rick Steves), where there are 2 relaxing pools and one swimming (laps) pool. The water is  between 86 and 100F and the sulfate, calcium and magnesium in the water is supposed to be good for inflammation and such. The baths also seemed to be good for 30-somethings who were still a bit sluggish after a long night of drinking and dancing at a wedding…

Szchenyi from above (on the bottom left you can see the pools)

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While there were plenty of tourist, the place was also popular among the locals.  It wasn’t a luxury experience though (in my mind, I was comparing it to the Blue Lagoon in Iceland, although that is quite the tourist attraction as opposed to a local hangout like Szchenyi). Things like the locker room and shower areas were, not really dirty, but certainly outdated and not sparkling clean.

Even though there were many people, it was quite relaxed and a really fun experience!

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Drink up at a ruin pub

Ruin pubs came about in 2004 when the city was determining what to do with all the buildings and courtyards that were in disrepair after years in the post-communist era. For one particular block the plan was to tear down many buildings, but someone came up with the idea to wait until fall for the demolition, and use the space as a pub for the summer months. The idea was a hit, the concept stuck, the buildings weren’t torn down, and now there are tons of what are now called ruin pubs around the city (concentrated near the Jewish Quarter).

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Typically you enter through what look like abandoned entry ways and find yourself in large open courtyards or halls with funky and eclectic décor. The above picture is from when we popped in early in the afternoon to check it out, but when we arrived at “happy hour” time for drinks, there was more atmosphere and energy.

We visited the original ruin pub, Szimpla Kert, but there are over 20. Rick Steves even has a ruin pub crawl in his book.

Enjoying Hungarian beers at Szimpla Kert

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Take in the views

Castle Hill (the neighborhood we stated in, in Buda) has great views over the River Danube and Pest.

 View from our hotel room window

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While there are some attractions at the top of the hill (the castle, some museums…), we chose to just walk around and take in the views in the early evening when there were not many people around.

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In a nutshell, my trip to Budapest was fantastic! There was so much to do (there was a lot that we never got too), a lot of interesting history, and a great atmosphere. I highly recommend making the trip. In fact, maybe I’ll join you. I do still have to try the goulash…

(Wedding recap to come as well!)

Travel details

Hotel: We stayed in a great little hotel in the Castle District – Bellevue B&B. It was a good price for a clean and rather large room. The location was both a plus and a downside. Plus in that we had great views, it was quiet, and we got to explore a neighborhood we would have been likely to skimp on otherwise. The downside was that it was a bit far from the rest of the attractions (30-40 minute walk or 10 minute metro ride) so you once you were out for the day, you tended to stay out.

Transport: From the airport, there was a shuttle bus system that would drop you off at your destination. Not as fast as a cab, but cheap and easy. Within the city it is easy enough to walk around, but the metro system is also fast and convenient. Trips were about $1.50 each. Budapest has Europe’s oldest metro line, and what must be (at the time of writing this) Europe’s newest metro line – it just opened in April and is really nice.

Food: I didn’t eat any goulash, whoops! But we did have a really great dinner at Klassz. I actually was surprised to find Budapest wasn’t all that cheap (about the same as in the US), but for about 40 euros at Klassz, we had several glasses of good wine, an appetizer, and entrees, all in a great atmosphere. Another favorite was Hummasbar – simple, yummy, and to die for lemonade!

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