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December… Again…

 The city is beautiful even when it's cold!

December is an interesting time in Budapest.  To say it in a very basic way, it sucks.  It’s really dark and always cold.  The metros seem extra crowded.  Lines in grocery stores seem longer than usual, and the frowns on people’s faces look more intense.

If you’re still reading after that paragraph, then you’re wise.  December is one of the best times to visit Budapest, but I wanted to do my part to help that remain a secret to keep the crowds down.

Really, all those negative things are true, but they are overshadowed by the beauty of a city that is preparing for Christmas.  Many of the squares have markets set up with nice little houses in them.  There are Christmas trees all over the place.  A lot of the big boulevards (especially Andrássy út, my favorite) have lights on the trees lining them.

Lights along Andrássy út.

Everywhere you go, you can smell that delicious scent of hot mulled wine.  The cold weather gives an extra excuse to spoil yourself with hearty Hungarian food and delicious desserts.  You can either go into a cozy little café, or brave the weather to enjoy the steam at one of the outdoor markets.

There are multiple outdoor ice rinks set up.  One is in the shadow of a castle in the City Park, and another lies in the square in front of St. Stephen's Basilica.  The Opera House repeatedly shows The Nutcracker (although I’ve never actually been to see it…).  Plus, I’m sure there are a lot of other stereotypical Christmas things to enjoy.

Just the other day, I saw people dressed as Santa Claus (or Mikulas, as we learned the other day) walking down the street handing out candy.  I wouldn’t really be surprised to see eight tiny reindeer walk by.

So remember, when someone asks if they should visit Budapest in December, read them the first paragraph.  That way you’ll have more room on the ice rink, and a shorter line for the hot wine.  Don’t worry about me taking up space, I’ll be inside studying for my exams…

 People enjoying themselves at a Christmas market.

Hungarian word of the day:


You know what it means, but the pronunciation is a little different.  Try “Dets (Lets with a D) – em – bear.”


Lasers And A Church

“Let’s take old, intricate buildings and project a laser show onto the side of them.  Then, we can sync it to music and give it a moving, 3D appearance.”

I don’t know who first said this, but I would give that guy a high-five.

On another cold, December night, I was walking to get some dinner as a break from studying.  With St. Stephen's Basilica being on my way to the restaurant, I decided to cut through the square and see the Christmas market.  Almost immediately, I realized my mistake.

With an exam the next day, walking quickly was a necessity.  But, if you’ve ever been to a Christmas market, you know that the people there would all lose a race to a sloth.  It’s not fair to blame them, because they are just trying to enjoy the moment.  But, fair or not, I still kind of hate everything about them.  Who cares about “Christmas spirit”?  It’s cold and I have exams to worry about…

Anyway, as I looked at the mass of unmoving people blocking the route to my destination, my vision suddenly became a lot darker.  I was pretty sure it was the beginning of my transition into a super villain, but I shortly became disappointed.  It was simply the lights on the front of the church going dark to start the laser show.

Lasers!  I guess there was another super villain nearby…

I happened to have a perfect view since I hadn’t yet entered the fray, and all the other sloth people were trapped in their web of frozen movements, so no one was able to rush in and block my way.  So, I spent at least half of the five minute show without any little kids bumping into me.

The good news is I had my camera with me.  The bad news is that I didn’t have a lens that was wide enough to take pictures of the whole building (in defense of my lens, the building is gigantic).  So, I was able get some cool picture in bits and pieces, but not the whole scene.

And if you think I would’ve moved backwards into the man eating crowd to get a picture of the whole basilica, then you’re a crazy person who has clearly never been to a Christmas market in Budapest.  In that case, I recommend you go.  They’re lovely.

Oh yeah, about the show.  It was weird.  There were a lot of snow flakes and windows that moved around.  Then lines of light would trace all the lines of stone in cool patterns.  Then a bunch of presents fell out of these imaginary windows.  More snow.  A giant Christmas tree grew in front of the place.  Snow.  The front of the building turned into Santa with a crazy mustache.  Then clouds and bursts of light exploded from the mosaic of Jesus in the center.

Then all the Italian people went back to their shopping (and standing).


Hungarian word of the day:


This word is pronounced “TEM(like ten with an M) – plome (rhymes with home),” and it means “Church.”


Communicating With A New Species

If you know me, you know that I can barely speak Hungarian.  I understand a lot, but I mostly only know words (not sentences), so I sound like a child when I speak.  A stupid child - not a cute and funny one.

Christmas lights? I better get out my camera!

Anyway, it was freezing the other night, and I was going to get on the metro at the stop in front of the Opera.  There was a Christmas tree and a nutcracker statue out front, and my camera was in a bag under my arm.  So, I pulled it out and fired off some shots.  This was all easier because of my fingerless gloves that I was wearing.

As I popped down the stairs, I pulled out my metro pass and said “hello” to the ticket inspector in Hungarian.  He had simultaneously greeted me in English, and then he laughed heartily.  His explanation followed, and it was something about thinking I was a tourist because of my camera around my neck.  I smiled and walked away.

But, the ancient metro station of the Metro 1 doesn’t allow you to walk far.  And, having just missed a train, I had to stand and wait.  He saw it as an opportunity, and my headphones didn’t discourage conversation.

He noticed my half-gloves, and pointed at them and told me (in Hungarian) that it was too cold to wear them.  I kind of chuckled and put on a face that I hoped looked manly, but it might just have come off as mentally unbalanced.  Then, I thought our conversation was over.

No.  It wasn’t.

This guy started it all...

Now, you should know that most metro ticket checkers seem to be incapable of anything more than grunting.  They pay so little attention to your tickets that I’ve considered showing them something else to see if they noticed (like a driver’s license, or maybe a dog…).

But, this inspector walked a little closer and kept the conversation going (requiring me to now remove my headphones).  But, I didn’t understand his next sentence, so I was forced to bring out my most useful phrase that explains I don’t speak much Hungarian.

Then, Inspector #2 decided to also break the important “Grunt Only” rule of the Budapest Transit Company.  He asked, in English now, where I’m from.  I told him, and we all smiled and nodded for a second.

Back to Hungarian!  This translation is probably slightly off, but Inspector #1 said something like, “Seriously, why don’t you have fingers on your gloves?  You’re carrying a nice camera, so you obviously have enough money to buy the other 20% of the fabric necessary to prevent freezing.”  But, he said it with genuine concern – not as an attempt to make fun of me.

I tried to explain that I can’t operate the camera with my fingers covered, so this does just fine (what’s wrong with the pockets in my jacket, anyway?).  At this point, I switched into my typical Hunglish speaking where any word I don’t know in Hungarian simply comes out in English.  I’d like someone to film me doing this, because it happens subconsciously and I bet it’s pretty entertaining.

With market stalls selling things like this, how can I resist taking pictures?

I said the Opera is beautiful, and Inspector #1 got excited because he thought I was going to see a performance.  I tried to tell him I was just taking pictures, and seemed equally excited to find out I had just been inside the building with my camera.  I hadn’t, and I’m pretty sure it’s forbidden to take photos inside, so it seems he hasn’t either (not surprising – he didn’t really look like the opera type).

Then, there was a pause in the conversation, and Inspector #2 asked (in Hungarian this time) if I was American.  I thought we’d already established that, but “yes” is an easy word, so I took that route.

We all nodded happily…

Follwed by an awkward silence…

They continued to stare at me, and I had nothing else to say…

Still waiting…

Seriously, how long do these trains take?

Suddenly, I heard people coming down the stairs and they were speaking Spanish so they would distract the ticket checkers!  Nope, just the happier guy.  The America obsessed one continued to stare at me like I had two heads.  Finally, he said, “New York?”

For what I have decided is the last time in my life, I told someone I’m not from New York.  It’s worse than telling a kid the Easter Bunny isn’t real.  Then Inspector #1 came back, said some other incomprehensible Hungarian words, and I smiled and nodded.  They smiled and nodded.  We all smiled and nodded together.

Finally, the train came.  We said goodbye and I left.

And that’s the story of bridging the gap between ticket inspector and human beings.  Clearly I should hold some high diplomatic position to solve more of the world’s problems.  Also, I’m going to wear my half-gloves every time I see a hot girl waiting for the metro, and maybe she’ll engage in concerned conversation with me…

 Don't worry, it's hot!

Hungarian word of the day:


You’ll never be able to guess the pronunciation or meaning of this word…  But, doesn’t that little accent on the O make commuting seem more fun and exotic?


Santa Claus The Lawyer


This morning, I woke up to find that Mikulás (a.k.a. Santa Claus) didn’t visit me at my apartment, so I was rather disappointed seeing how it was the night he visits Hungary.  And I really thought I had been nice this year!  Fortunately, the problem would redeem itself when I arrived at school.  My Business Law class began with an unexpected surprise…


He bore a strange resemblance to the director of my MBA program, but I was too distracted by his big red bag full of szaloncukor that he distributed to everyone who was on time (a challenge for a class that isn’t usually held first thing every morning).  I assume it’s just coincidence that bribery was one of the topics of today’s lesson.

And people think that law is boring.  It’s clearly just misunderstood…

 These schoolchildren are dressed for the occasion.

Hungarian word of the day:


It’s pronounced “ME-cool-osh,” and it is the Hungarian name for Santa Claus (coming from the name Nicholas).


Gödöllő - Heat In The Palace

On a sweltering morning in the heat of August in Budapest, I was sitting in my apartment wondering how to last another day without melting.  Suddenly, my phone broke the silence with its piercing ring, and I picked it up.


“Hey, do you want to go to Gödöllő?”


“Right now, we’re on the metro heading that way.”


For a little back story, you should know that Gödöllő is a town near Budapest that I’ve been meaning to visit for a very long time.  It’s easy to get to, and has a famous old palace there (and I love palaces).  I’d been thinking about going for the past few weekends, but the heat always killed my motivation to get up and go.

But, on this particular day I decided I might as well just sweat somewhere else, so I got dressed and headed out.  I took the metro to the HÉV (Budapest suburban railway) where I bought a sandwich and met my friends.  After about an hour long train ride through some nice cool forest, we arrived.

Most of the day was spent at the palace, which was nice.  The downside was that we had to constantly dodge the multiple weddings taking place there.  The upside was that we got to constantly watch wedding guests.

The highlight was watching one of the brides throwing her bouquet.  The other girls all grouped behind her, and she threw the flowers right over her head and they landed about one inch behind her.  In other words, the bouquet made it less than 1% of the distance that it needed to go.  Everyone laughed, and they tried again.

On the second attempt, the bride managed to get the bouquet to her friends.  They all pushed to try and catch it, but at the last second, they all scattered as if it was a biological weapon.  Then, they picked it up off the ground and forced it upon who girl who it seemed to have touched before its crash landing.

Despite my best efforts, I wasn’t able to join this heavenly party of single women who seem to be terrified of marriage…

Enjoy my pictures.  I didn’t take any of the inside of the palace because you had to pay extra to bring your camera in, and that was outside my student budget.


Hungarian word of the day:


This word looks pretty easy, because most of the Hungarian months are similar to the names in English.  Make the „u” into an „oo” sound, and the „s” into a „shh” sound, and you’re good to go.