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Sunday
Mar162014

BOARDapest

I've seen this building many, many times. How can I see it differently?

If you live in the same city for a while, you start to know it too well.  You have trouble exploring.  After all, how can you find something new when you’ve already found everything?  To make it worse, you know the most efficient way to get everywhere, so you rarely have to try a new way or take a wrong turn.

I don’t know everything about Budapest.  I haven’t been everywhere, and I haven’t seen all there is to see.  Plus, even if I had, things change so there’s always something new to find.  But, I tend to have to go farther and farther away to find areas that I’m not familiar with.  It’s hard to find the motivation to do that when I live and study right in the middle of some really cool neighborhoods.

So, in the spirit of my Innovation class (which only has a small amount of homework – you’ll understand this reference if you keep reading), I decided to innovate my exploring.  I bought a longboard.

 

Isn't it beautiful?

Suddenly, I can go farther at much faster speeds.  I just explored a big park that I’ve been to a bunch of times, but this time I saw more than ever before.  Instead of thinking, “no, that way looks like a long walk to nothing, I’m not going to bother,” I found myself just taking it and finally seeing what was at the other end.

Unfortunately, I haven’t had time to explore as much as I would like.  The gods of school seem to frown upon fun, and they took this opportunity to send unprecedented lightning bolts of homework.  Also, my body is struggling to keep up with the new muscles needed to travel this way.  It seems they’re slightly different than the “metro riding muscles.”  Shocking.

If anyone knows of places with long, smooth sidewalks or roads, let me know!  I’ll check them out.

 With castles like this around, I decided I needed a helmet to protect my brain!

Hungarian word of the day:

Longboard

I don’t feel the need to translate this for you.  It seems that it’s a new enough concept that the Hungarian language didn’t find it necessary to make a new word.  But, if it makes you feel better, “skateboard” is “gördeszka.”

Monday
Feb172014

Why Hungary?

I can only find elephants in the zoo. So, that can't be the reason I'm in Hungary...I’ve lived in Hungary for nearly four years.  That means that I’ve met a lot of people, and nearly everyone has asked me the same question:

“Why Hungary?”

They want to know why I came to this country.  The world is a big place, and Hungary isn’t particularly well known.  At the moment, it’s not known as being too prosperous or desirable.  A large percentage of Hungarians (especially young people) are moving abroad to find more a better quality of life.  Therefore, it usually comes as a shock to people that this is where I choose to spend my time.

But, I think they’re missing the point entirely.  They always want to know what made me come here in the first place.  Despite the fact that I often try (but rarely succeed) to convince people I only came here because I got lost, the question actually has a simple and boring answer.  I found a job.  It’s that straightforward.

A lot of people are in Hungary because of marriage. So far, I'm safe from that one!

What people should ask is why I have stayed in Hungary.  I originally came with an employment contract of one year.  When I did that, I assumed I would either like teaching and move to another country to continue exploring, or I wouldn’t like it and would go home.  Instead, I moved to the capital city and continued.  One more year of that, and then I switched back to studying without moving to a new land.

So, that’s a much more exciting question.  What do I like about Hungary?  What has kept me here?

This answer isn’t so easy…

There are a lot of reasons that I like Hungary, so I have a new goal to start writing them, one-by-one.

Cool houses, that's one thing I love about Hungary.

Reason #1:  I feel welcome here.

That sounds cheesy.  I guess it is cheesy.  I don’t care.

Hungarians often get a reputation among foreigners as being “mean” or “cold,” but I disagree with that (except if you forget to acknowledge that something was invented by a Magyar).  Most people frown when they walk down the street by themselves.  They don’t make polite conversation to strangers on a bus.  But, that doesn’t mean they’re rude.  Well, some are, but you’re always going to have exceptions (they’re probably just mad they didn’t invent something yet).

I think there are a lot of different historical reasons (that I won’t go into) of why their culture has adopted that practice, but it’s not very different from many other nearby countries.  Plus, Hungarians tend to be very jolly when they’re sitting in a café with friends.  They smile while they chat on trains.  They even have absurdly polite (and confusing) expressions that are often used in their language.

The thing is, I feel like they don’t particularly care for strangers.  But, it’s really not difficult to stop being a stranger.  I’d like to compare them to dogs (keep reading, before you think this is an insult).  I love dogs, and one of the biggest reasons is that a dog treats you very well if you give it a little bit of food and love in return.  Hungarians tend to be the same (except, they commonly greet people by shaking hands, not the other method which dogs prefer…).

Hungarians...

I can’t count how many times I’ve met a Hungarian, and they almost immediately insisted on doing some huge favor for me.  It’s actually more difficult to get them to leave you alone.  “No, it’s okay, I can take care of it myself” is a phrase that seems to have been left out of their English textbooks.

If they decide you’re hungry, they give you food (even if you just ate).  If they decide the place you asked about is far away, they will drive you there right away (even if you don’t really want to go).  If they decide you’re bored, they’ll start talking to you to entertain you (even if, at some point in the discussion, they forget to keep speaking in English).  The list never ends...

It seems that every time I start to feel homesick or out of place, it happens.  A Hungarian pushes their way into my life and immediately includes me in something that’s going on with them.  I could give you a lot of examples, but mind your own business.  Just go make friends with a Hungarian - you’ll see what I mean.

So if you feel unwelcome in Hungary, it’s because you’re not actually talking to anyone.  That’s your fault, not theirs (but as soon as someone realizes it, they’ll start talking to you).

 A castle, maybe that's the trick to welcoming people.

Hungarian word of the day:

Csókolom

This word is pronounced “Cho-ko-lome,” and it’s a polite greeting to say to a lady.  It means something along the lines of “I kiss your hand.”  I told you the Hungarians are polite.  Try saying that to a lady in any other country and the year 2014…

Saturday
Feb152014

University Of Colorado At Budapest

Walking down the streets of Budapest, I see a lot of weird clothes.  Between the European love of shirts with funny (and often incomprehensible) sayings, and the amount of second hand clothing stores in the city, you never know where something might come from.  That’s why I wasn’t entirely surprised when I saw something from home…

I was on my way to school, and I was absentmindedly thinking about the person wearing the University of Colorado jacket on the sidewalk in front of me (here’s the logo, if you don’t know it).  It didn’t feel strange to see someone representing my alma mater until I realized that it was a world away from me.

In hindsight, it probably would’ve been cool to go stop the person and ask if they were actually from Colorado, or if they just got the Buffaloes jacket somewhere. 

But, I had two problems with that idea:

  1. I was late for school.
  2. I don’t like when strange people approach me on the street, so I wanted to save her the trouble of a creepy guy bothering her first thing in the morning.

So, I snapped a few quick, blurry pictures with my phone and ducked down into the metro station.

 

Hungarian word of the day:

Egyetem

This means “university.”  It’s difficult to pronounce because of the impossible “gy” letter in it, but you’ll get fairly close by saying “Edge-eh-tem.”

Friday
Jan312014

First Snow Of Budapest

Fact #1:  I love snow.

Fact #2:  It has been avoiding me this winter.

Before I begin, you must know that I’m the guy who often surprises people by saying I love winter more than summer.  Many describe it as a dark, cold, depressing time of the year.  I think of it as a time to bundle up in clothes and enjoy the cozy feeling of cafes and houses with fireplaces.  Plus, my fair skin gets sunburned in the summer, and that just isn’t healthy.

This winter, I spent nearly a month in Colorado, and I only saw a few flakes.  That doesn’t mean I was climbing mountains looking for it, but I expect it to come to me every now and then.  The one time it did snow, I was visiting another state and missed it.  My bad luck is kind of impressive.

The good news is that it wasn’t snowing in Budapest either.  I didn’t miss some awesome, fun blizzard while sitting in a sunny region.  My Hungarian friends also weren’t throwing snowballs.

Then, when I returned to Hungary, the weather got really cold.  It’s been fluctuating between freezing frreezing frrreezing and just really cold, but it still has been pretty intent on prohibiting snowflakes.  It almost seemed like this winter was a lost cause.

Finally, it happened!  There was a nice (light) snowfall on the city.  So, naturally I got so excited that I grabbed my camera and got ready to go out and take some pictures.  I was really excited, and then I checked the temperature.  I don’t remember what number it was, but it was much lower than I would like to see when my hands have to be exposed to operate a camera.

So, naturally, I made a cup of tea and watched some TV.  It was comfortable, so I repeated.  Again and again.  Until the sun was nearly setting.  Uh oh.  Did I waste the day?

No.  I threw on some warm clothes and dashed out into the night.  The pictures weren’t great because of the lack of light.  Even the snow seemed to be missing.  That’s when I noticed an army of men with brooms doing their best to clear their sidewalks.  I started snapping pictures furiously.

The moral of the story is that you can’t pretend snow will just last.  Even if the temperatures are enough to make a penguin put on a coat, some flock of city workers may be doing their best to exterminate the little bit of frozen stuff that makes you happy.

 

Hungarian word of the day:

Tél

This word is pronounced like „tail,” and it means „winter.”

Friday
Jan102014

Break The Travel “Rules”

Istanbul, Turkey.

Lately, the years seem to just be flying by.  Every year I expect that I’ll do more traveling than the previous one, but that doesn’t always happen.  But, I suppose a lot of people set yearly goals of reducing things (such as body weight), so I’m really pretty awesome that I can decrease something.

In some ways, 2013 was a letdown of a travel year.  When I look at the list of countries I visited, it’s unsettlingly small:  Hungary, Turkey, Serbia, and Austria (I don’t find it necessary to throw the USA on that list).  However, I broke that down to cities and events visited, and I feel a little better about myself (but, I’m too lazy to list all that here).  Let’s just say I looked at other continents, saw furry monsters, had free tickets to see a famous rock band, drank coffee in palaces, walked by bombed buildings, saw a major river flood a city, saw protests from my window, watched a marathon finish line, and rode in a terrifying cable car up an Alpine peak.  That’s not all, of course, but I’m tired of listing things.

But, instead of listing places visited, what about a different strategy of measuring my travel?  I may not have gone as many places, but in 2013 I continued to make a lot more friends from different countries.  This, in my opinion, is an overlooked form of “travel.”

Belgrade, Serbia.

Budapest is becoming quite a touristy city.  That isn’t surprising given how beautiful it is, but parts of it baffle me. 

There are two major types of tourist that I often see:

1. Tour Groups

They file off of their buses or river cruise ships like a pack of trained animals.  Their cameras start rocketing off pictures, and they follow guides who speak to them in their language of choice.  They head to (usually) beautiful restaurants where they eat a “traditional” Hungarian meal.  Then, they head back to their hotel or ship, and prepare to see somewhere else the next day.  It’s unlikely that they ever actually speak to a Hungarian person.

Now, I do think this is a much better way to travel than staying home and watching TV, but it does leave out some important aspects.  For example, it takes away the satisfactory feeling of discovering something on your own.  Also, all of your experiences were designed by someone else, so you end up seeing a place in the way that they do.  But, most of them are old, so more power to them!

2. Party People

Budapest is starting to get a reputation as a cheaper alternative to Western European cities, and nightlife is one of its specialties.  I see a lot of people (particularly from a certain island nation which shall not be named) who come to the city and stumble over as many streets as possible.  They appear to have a great time, but I hope they take a lot of photos because someone at home may ask what Budapest was like.  I don’t think they can depend on their memories…

I’m rambling on again.

The flooding Danube River in Budapest, Hungary.

My point is that I could easily travel by following one of those methods (or something similar).  But, is that really getting the full experience?

On the other hand, I spend most of my days hanging out with people from a multitude of different countries.  In doing this, I’m accidentally having the cross-cultural experiences that other travelers tend to miss when they have their nose stuffed in a guide book.

I’ve been taught many little tidbits of language that phrasebooks don’t include.  I’ve had home-cooked, traditional foods from countries (and continents) I’ve never even been to (keep in mind, it’s not always good, but it’s diplomatic to say you enjoy it).  I’ve become caught up in elections, natural disasters, and other national events that involve people I’ve never met (and I often have to ask people to translate news stories because they aren’t covered in international media).

I could keep listing ways that I accidentally get involved in other cultures, but the point is to focus on the basis of culture.  If a goal of travel is to see culture, it’s important to remember that this is a phenomenon that surrounds people much more than places.

My advice is simple:  Be a little racist.  Go find someone who is from somewhere different than you and start being friends with them.  There’s a good chance that you can have a much deeper “travel” experience than someone who rides a boat through six countries in a week.

But, seriously, I also want to go more places this year.  Where should I go?

A cable car up the Untersberg near Salzburg, Austria.