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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no such thing as a cheap date

Here are current beer prices in Trondheim. Today’s conversion rate is 1 USD = 5.98 kroners.

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You can get a pint of Dahls (a crappy, flavorless pils) for 55 kroner at Mormors. That would be $9.20. Ouch!

Head to TGIFriday to get that same beer for $14 – to go with your $20 cheese sticks. Double (or triple) ouch!

I’m thankful that I’ve moved past that stage in my life where I consume large quantities of alcohol. I’m thankful that I’ve moved past that stage in my life where I think beers like Dahls taste good.

And I’m thankful that I will be back in the US next week. I promise not to complain about $5 pints of microbrews!

Posted in all things norwegian, daily life | Leave a comment

it is only an exam (that counts for your entire grade)

Tonight I sat on my balcony, grading exams while enjoying the warm and sunny evening.

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I’m in countdown mode to my summer vacation, but can’t complain about working late tonight as I just got back from a mini-vacation in Budapest. Grading sessions are so much more productive at home anyway.

As always in academia, the end of the semester is rough. I have 80 exams to grade before Friday. Exams that are written in Norwegian. I’m halfway done. And I really hope the second half goes faster than the first!

While I only have 2 American universities to compare it to, the exam procedures in Norway are certainly different from what I am used to. This semester I not only gave an exam (in the course I teach) but took an exam (my Norwegian class is a full-fledged university course).

From the teacher perspective I found the whole experience to be rather stressful, and I wasn’t even taking the exam. First, final exams here (and in most of Europe, I believe) count for a significant part of the students’ grade for the course, and in some cases the entire grade. So it is a rather serious and structured procedure. A week before the exam I had to submit it to the examination office, who would then make copies and distribute to all the students on exam day. The exam had to be written in 2 different languages – Bokmål and Nynorsk (2 official versions of Norwegian, I obviously got help with this) and checked by someone else in my department. As things have been quite busy, I spent right up to the deadline working on writing the exam and felt a bit wary that everything was A-OK with the questions when I turned it in. But at least it was in, and I didn’t have to think about it for a week.

But then came exam day…

Exams are administered completely different here (although maybe not so different as a course with 300 students at an American university – I just never took a course so big). The majority of students take their exams in a building that is a concert/event space. Retirees serve as proctors (it is actually really cute!) and professors only show up twice during the 4 hour exam to answer any questions. Students from multiple courses are in the same room.

As I said, it is all very formal and structured. And there is very little flexibility. A student of mine broke her hand and is unable to write. I suggested she ask if she could use a computer to take the exam but she was told that she needed to register to use a computer back in February… (instead she will take an oral exam in August along with the others who fail and need to retake the exam).

My students were spread out in 4 different locations around campus. There were the “normal” students, and a few students that had combinations of additional amounts of time and use of a computer to address different learning and physical challenges. This meant that it took over an hour to make each round (in the rain – first day it had rained in weeks).

And of course there were 2 little mistakes. Nothing major at all. In previous (US) exam settings, you could just write the correction on the board and say something aloud. But in this setting, I had to go back to my office, type up a correction and bring it back to distribute to the students. By this point it was close to 3 hours into the exam and many people had left. It is not the biggest problem in the world, but just an extra hassle to deal with (answering questions after the fact about it and adjusting my grading to compensate for it).

So, in a nutshell, the whole exam experience was filled with frustration, but I think it is just something that I have to/will adjust to over time. The good news is that I’ve survived my first semester of teaching – after a few more hours of grading, of course! It can only get easier from here (I hope!).

{And about my exam: I take my Norwegian classes at the university, and while they are good and cheap (not that I pay for them), they are a lot of work and have an intensive final exam at the end. I was prepared (enough) but learning a new language means learning SO MANY WORDS! I can still remember all the lyrics from songs I used to listen to in high school, but struggle to keep straight all the conjugations of å ligge, å legge, å sitte, å sette (to lie, to lay, to sit, to set…). Our exam consists of an oral part where we have to have a conversation with our teacher, and then a dictation (where we listen to a text and write down what we hear), grammar section, and essay. I’m glad it is over, but now the challenge is to keep up with my learning over the summer to be prepared for the next level.}

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lyngen, take 2

What is better than 2 days skiing in Lyngen? A whole week!

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This year’s Easter ski holiday took me back up North, with a few American friends in tow. Kristina and Nick from Seattle, and Langley, who I know from Seattle but currently lives in the south of France, met Julian and me in Tromsø for a week of backcountry skiing.

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I found a great little cabin on Airbnb that was right in the heart of Lyngen, in Lakselvbukt. Seriously, check out the surroundings (and Kristina’s gymnastic endeavors)! And in addition we had easy access to all the ski possibilities in Balsfjorden, Tamok, and Kåfjord too.

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As it often can be in the Spring, the weather was variable. We experienced clouds and sun, and snow and rain, but the good news was that there was snow right down to sea-level. Visibility hampered our summit attempts, but we still managed to ski 6 out of 7 days (5 for me as I made the unfortunate decision to take a rest day, which was then followed by a forced rest day due to rain).

Both Kristina and Langley also have blogs. Kristina will do a far better job than me of recounting our mountain adventures in a humorous and detailed way (thus far she has written about her first impressions of Norway and our trips to the grocery store, but check back for skiing stories). And Langley is much more philosophical in her trip report. I find it interesting to read others’ impressions on the place that is my new normal.

Here is my take on our trip.

Day 1: Daltinden (1533m) – the weather started out promising as we made the long approach in along the river valley. 

Is that a tutu you’re wearing Kristina? Oh yes it is. She wins for most fashionable on the mountain.

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But the clouds moved in. We made it to about 1100 meters before we were surrounded by white and getting major snow clump-age on our skins.  Given the lack of visibility we decided it was best to turn back. We got a few good turns in before making it back to the river valley where the snow was just wet enough to make it a slog out.

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Tutus – 0, Mother Nature – 1

Day 2: Middagstiden (1072m) – it was snowing and the avy danger was high, so we tried to find some tree skiing. But that is not so easy when you are about the Arctic Circle. We did find some trees, but they were dense and on flat terrain. We made it to the top of the treeline but couldn’t even begin to make out the mountain we were standing on. Not awesome.

The map says it should be right in front of us…

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Hmmm, are you sure?

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On the bright side, we did get some fresh snow!

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Visibility low, spirits high!

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Tutus – 0 (they didn’t even come out to play), Mother Nature – 2

Day 3: Sjufjellet (1086m)

Even night we worked out a puzzle – where was the best weather forecast, the least avy danger, a mountain that gave options given the avy danger, minimal flats… After the previous 2 days, we were anxious for a summit. Would Sjufjellet do it for us?!? It was cloudy, but you could still see the mountain (and yes, that is a tutu you see on the German).

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There is no photographic evidence because it was damn windy up there, but we made it. Finally a summit! And we had a good ski down – good enough that Kristina, Nick and Julian went for a second lap on the bottom half of the mountain.

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Tutus – 1 (making a comeback), Mother Nature – 2

Day 4: Giilivarri (1163m)

On Thursday we made the 2 hour drive to Kåfjord in search of sun and fjord views. The group skinned up the first 400 or so meters together, and then Langley and I headed right towards Giilivarri, while the other 3 were a bit more ambitious and headed left towards Nordmannviktinden. Can you spot Kristina, Nick and Julian below?

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Both groups had successful tours, complete with fjord views on the ski down. This is what we came to Lyngen for!

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Tutus – 2, Mother Nature – 2

Day 5 – Personal rest day

The weather wasn’t so stellar (again) and I took a rest/study Norwegian day while the others went out for a tour. They came back a few hours later with stories of making it halfway up the mountain before hiding out behind a rock, waiting for the weather to clear for a ski down. The highlight of the tour seemed to be the big air that the car got on the bumpy roads on the drive home. I didn’t seem like I missed much, but in retrospect, given the weather the next day, I wished I joined them.

Seriously bumpy roads. Poor rental car.

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Tutus – 2, Mother Nature – 3

Day 6 – Forced rest day.

We woke up to rain and wind. Lots of it.

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We made a brief sojourn to the grocery store for more beer, took a {really} short walk on the beach, and spent the rest of the day playing games, reading and napping. There are worse ways to spend the day…

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Tutus – 2, Mother Nature – 4

Day 7 – Rissavarri (1251 m)

Kåfjord seemed to be the magic spot, so we made the drive over there again for our final {Easter Sunday} tour.

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We started out with sun and it  was warm enough to skin in a tank top, for at least a few minutes.

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It was a bit icy/crusty on the way up, requiring crampons for the first time all week. The visibility decreased near the top, but we waited for a clearing, and skied down to great fjord views. We stopped halfway down to savor our last Lyngen lunch in the sun.

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Toasting to Easter skiing. Langley even took a dip in the water – brave girl!

Tutus – 3, Mother Nature – 4

While the score may make it look like Mother Nature won out, it was a great, relaxing, and safe week of skiing and appreciating the great outdoors! And thanks for coming to visit guys – it was great!

(Some pictures were snagged from J, K and L – thanks guys!)

Posted in a bit of home, the great outdoors | Leave a comment