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Thursday
Sep182014

Bikes. Classic Video Games.  Amsterdam.

It would be tough to say what Amsterdam is most famous for, but I’m sure bicycles make it into the top ten.  Creating a strong cycling infrastructure is something that’s admired around the developed world as a civilized, responsible, and environmentally friendly way to transport citizens from Point A to Point B.  However, it’s my opinion that the developed world needs to rethink its value system because a city full of bikes is TERRIFYING.

Before you start to think that I’m being sponsored by an oil company, let me explain it in an easy way for you to understand.  Have you ever played the classic game Frogger?  If you haven’t, I would advise that you don’t admit it to your friends, but you continue reading so you can at least join the conversation about this later.  It’s a game about poor little frogs who seem to desire incredibly dangerous daily commutes.  They’re forced strategically maneuver through cars, floating logs, and other types of deadly items, and their timing is absolutely critical.

Amsterdam is the game, and I am the frog.

Pedestrians, bikes, motorcycles, cars, trucks, and trams all share the same streets.  I can’t prove it, but I’m pretty sure that the boats sometimes use the road, too.  All of this wouldn’t be so alarming, but since the street is usually crammed between a canal and an ancient building, it’s usually about wide enough for a narrow car or 1.5 cyclists.

Fortunately, Amsterdam is a civilized city, so there are rules to keep everyone safe and in order.  Unfortunately, no one seems to care about the rules.

I can hear the arguments now.  “Alex, you just arrived in Amsterdam, so you don’t know how it works.  It’s very organized – you’re just ignorant.”  That may be true…  But, I must remind you that central Amsterdam seems to be about 60% tourists who also don’t know the rules, and many of them have recently consumed one of the city’s other famous products which has caused their brain to be temporarily incapable of though (if it ever was before).

Anyway, the more time I spend here, the better I get.  We’ve started thinking of it as different levels of the video game, because we move to more challenging situations as we become numb to the fear.  I’ve yet to ride a bike down a busy street while using both my hands to apply makeup to my face (yes, I saw that last week – and she was doing a pretty good job), but I’m on track (for the bike skills, not the makeup thing).  It will just take time, practice, and dedication.

But, do you want to know the most impressive part of the whole situation?  I’ve yet to see a dead frog on the street.  They seem to be better at this than my little friend in the video game.

 Some creative person made this sign a litlte more lifelike.

Dutch Word of the Day:

Fiets

In a not very impressive way, I’m using a dictionary to find this word that is supposed to mean “bike.”  Therefore, I don’t know if it’s correct, and I’m not even sure how to pronounce it.  If you speak Dutch, any help would be appreciated.

Wednesday
Sep172014

Art On The Street - Amsterdam

 This is an interesting mix of characters!

After a summer busy with writing an MBA thesis, and the other stress that follows finishing grad school, I find myself in Amsterdam.  So, you should prepare for some interesting stories and lots of pictures.

The ironic part is that even though I’m in one of the more photogenic cities in the world, I’m attracted to pictures of graffiti type art on walls.  Yeah, the canals are super beautiful, but my pictures just look like everyone else’s (and the cover of every Amsterdam guidebook ever written).

So, let me get some grungy stuff out of the way, and I’ll share more words soon.

I'm not an art historian, but I'm starting to see some familiar faces.

 Van Gogh took a selfie and someone painted it on a wall.

Dutch Word of the Day:

Dag

This word literally means day, but seems to be used as a pretty general “hello.”  Basically, you say “dock,” but pretend you choke on something as you get to the C.  It’s not so graceful, but at least it’s easy…

Be careful about being brainwashed!

Don't forget: Some people HATE being viewed as a tourist. Try not to insult them.

Recruiter Jeroen - 0031 (0)20-3080923

Saturday
Jul052014

Fourth 4th Of July

Time doesn’t fly when you’re hungry, but it does when you’re in Hungary!  It’s been a while since I’ve (publicly) made one of those jokes, so I thought it was about time I do it.  Feel free to laugh and tell your friends.

The reason I’m thinking about time flying by is that it just hit me that this is the fourth summer I’ve been in Hungary.  It takes noteworthy occasions to point this out, and for me, that was the 4th of July (aka Independence Day in the USA).

Four.  Four summers.  Four periods of unrelenting heat with virtually no ice cubes.  And that doesn’t even count my initial arrival in August, so really it’s more like five.  Most people spend summers in countries with beaches or nice climates.  Well, most people aren’t very creative.

Anyway, I wanted to talk about July 4th.  It’s weird spending your big national day in the borders of another country.  The internet allows you to see in real time that your friends are holding flags, sitting at baseball games, and doing other patriotic acts.  Yet, the people walking down the street next to you seem completely oblivious.

To make it worse, the World Cup is going on.  I grew accustomed to seeing American flags waving on this particular day, but this year it was mostly the three horizontal German colors waving around.  Maybe it’s a geographical location issue, but out of the four important games yesterday, I’d give the Cup to Germany and second place to Brazil based on fans wearing their support.  Maybe the French are boycotting Budapest because of its lack of croissants.  And what is Colombia’s excuse?

But, soccer wasn’t on my menu yesterday.  Actually, my menu seemed to be set with a single option that wasn’t very tasty:  my MBA thesis.  With the deadline approaching, it seems to trump most other social activities.  It’s pretty cool.

In order to spare me from my pain, I’ve been able to escape the distractions and heat of the center of the city in favor of a house in a nice quiet neighborhood in the hills.  The nights are quiet, the air is clean, the wasps are making nests around me, and it seemed almost perfect for July 4th.  But, I forgot my baseball bat, so my options were limited.

In a kind gesture to make me feel at home, it was arranged to have a little Hungarian style American cookout.  The conversation went a little something like this:

“So, in America, what do you do to celebrate this day?” I was asked.

Starting to get excited, I said, “Blow things up, grill hot dogs, and play baseball.”

“OK, we can grill hotdogs…”

Notice how she left out the blowing things up and playing baseball?  That’s what you get for hanging out with women.  They always skip the important stuff.

So, we set up a little charcoal grill.  After some confusing time spent on opposite sides of a language barrier, I finally got it across that I had no idea how to do it because I always used a propane grill.  I was then politely banished from attempting to ruin dinner, and I took the opportunity to get some pictures to capture the moment.

The “hot dogs” were good, and the onions were even better.  Since proper buns are scarce, we improvised with “kifli” or crescent shaped rolls (that, for some reason, are super popular and can be found everywhere).  To add a Hungarian touch, we had to throw on some “szalonna” to give the meal some more taste.  Szalonna, in my part of the world, is called “bacon fat.”  But the Hungarians love it, and I’ve been told I’ll never understand because it’s not in my blood.

So, Happy 4th of July, everyone!

 The delicious dinner!

Hungarian word of the day:

Virsli

This is pronounced “Veer-sh-lee,” and it’s a kind of sausage food.  Wikipedia describes it as Vienna sausage, but I would say it’s the closest thing I can get to hot dogs, but still not quite right.  No problem, though, they made for a great (and delicious) grilling experience.

Monday
Jun302014

Nazis At The Beach

DISCLAMER:  I’d like to make it perfectly clear that I think Hitler sucked.  So, if you’re looking to join a Nazi fan club, I suggest heading back to google and trying your search again.  This article has the intention of making fun of that angry little man.

So, I recently spent some time around Lake Balaton which is frequently referred to as the “Hungarian seaside.”  It seems to have a wide range of things from palaces to tourist traps to wineries, and it all blends together in a strange way.  This keeps you on your toes because you’re never sure whether to feel like an aristocrat or a redneck (or, a Nazi, but keep reading for that…).

Last weekend, I was bumping around the town of Balatonlelle, and it had that feeling that can only be achieved by a town which people visit until they’re too sunburned to remain.  There were a lot of beach town essentials around:  restaurants with greasy food, hairy men wearing nothing but a speedo on a public street, and plenty of junk shops.

We had a brief period of aimlessness between our morning coffee and our artery clogging langos brunch, so we decided to look for souvenirs and have flashbacks to our childhoods in the trinket stores.  Shockingly, the boy in me wanted the bow and arrow while my female companion was much more interested in the elaborate bubble making toys.

Anyway, we stopped at one shop where I was drawn in by a cultural lesson on some “very Hungarian” little clay pots that were suggested as souvenirs for my friends and family back home.  Then we drifted past the matchbox cars, more bubbles, and wandered into the Adolf Hitler section.

I’m not joking, you could by your mini Adolf in whichever outfit you preferred, and he even was locked into his famous saluting pose.  Next to him, for the man who wants to complete the set, was Rommel and some other members of the Nazi All-Star Team.  Charles de Gaulle and other less controversial figures were further down the line, but they obviously weren’t what draw in the customers.

Now, it could be argued that I shouldn’t pass judgment because I don’t know what they’re for.  They were very small, so they weren’t any toy (sorry young Nazi children, you have to look elsewhere for those), and my guess is they are used for creating some kind of historical diorama or something.  Perhaps my friends are boring, but I’ve never been sitting on the beach and heard someone say “I’m heading over to the shop for a Coke and I’m going to check if they have the khaki-uniformed Hitler, do you want anything?”

So, if you know what these are for, I’d be happy if you shared it.  Until then, I’m going to be reading up on beach etiquette out of fear that I’m missing some critical part.

 

Hungarian word of the day:

Balaton

This is slightly different because it’s a name – not just a word.  But, it’s said to be the biggest lake in Central Europe, and it’s a pretty popular summer spot in Hungary.  So, if you need a place to cool off in the summer, or just want to by some mini Nazis, you have found your destination.

Sunday
Jun222014

Driving In The Trees

I haven’t posted anything in a while.  I’m, unfortunately, aware of that.  Finishing my exams, writing my thesis, and searching for a job seemed more important (even if more boring…).

Anyway, I did make it on a cool trip a few weeks ago.  I can say with almost 100% certainty that you don’t know anyone else who has stayed where I did.  I have some nice pictures and interesting stories, and this is picture is a reminder to myself to share them with you.

So, new story, coming soon…

 

Hungarian word of the day:

Fa

It’s pronounced “faw,” and it means tree.  Rarely are Hungarian words this short and easy.