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December 2017

Moving Abroad, Personal Stories

What We Did for our First Christmas in Budapest

December 26, 2017
Family Christmas in Budapest

Today is December 26th and still an official holiday here in Budapest. Sadly, my parents flew back home to Toronto this morning. However, my sister and her husband are still here – woo hoo! Andrew and I are at home today and getting organized to move to our new apartment. It’s been a great couple of days, so I thought I would share what we did for our first Christmas in Budapest.

Hungarian Traditions

Christmas is celebrated a little differently here in Hungary compared to the typical Christmas in Canada.  Santa or “Mikulas” visits on December 6th and leaves chocolates and small presents in your boots.  Mikulas serves a similar purpose as the Western Santa Claus in that he keeps track of the good and bad deeds of children all over the world. This tradition is why you don’t see “Mall Santas” here at Christmas.  No photo op with Santa to be found (much to my husband’s distain).

Christmas Tree

Decadently decorated trees at the Gresham Palace Hotel – but few Santas to be found.

Christmas Eve is when families get together. It’s when the adults set up and decorate the Christmas tree and place the larger gifts underneath.  Even in Canada as a child, I had to wait until a heard a bell ring to tell me that the angels (or Baby Jesus) brought the tree and the gifts for me. There is much more of an emphasis on advent and other Christian traditions.

In case you were wondering, the angels brought us a new flatscreen TV 😉

Our Family Christmas Eve

To celebrate our first Christmas in Budapest, I was lucky enough to have my family here from Toronto.  My mother, father, sister and brother-in-law made the journey arriving in the days before. In addition to my immediate family, we also hosted my Aunt (a Budapest resident) and our friend, Wes, from the travel blog, Feather and the Wind.

We decided to celebrate at my parent’s rented apartment so they didn’t have to be the ones to travel.  Like every city, its hard to get a taxi on Christmas Eve.

The Food

Rather than trying to sort out the pots and pans at an AirBnb, we decided to order dinner from one of our favourite downtown restaurants, Kiosk.  Early on December 24th, Andrew and I hopped on the Number 2 tram and went to pick up one whole turkey, one whole duck and all the holiday fixings.  The food was delicious.  I would highly recommend their services for the future.

We ate my mother’s deviled eggs and cabbage rolls as starters.  We ate tons of turkey and duck. We finished off our casual night with a shot of palinka and my Aunt’s traditional (and homemade) chestnut cake for dessert. A very happy and full bunch indeed!

Christmas Dinner

Christmas Day

Christmas Day in Budapest was GORGEOUS.  Full sun and twelve degrees.  We’ve had Christmases in Florida with similar weather! We wanted to have a family brunch at the Gundel Restaurant. The Gundel is located just beside City Park. Gundel is the restaurant where you can find traditional Hungarian dishes based on original recipes, served in an exceptional ambiance. For those of you reading from Toronto, it is a similar experience as going to the Old Mill for Christmas Lunch.

It was a fabulous day and I was so happy to be able to spend it with my family here in Budapest, Hungary.  Missed were my step-children who celebrated Christmas in Haliburton, Ontario and Calgary, Alberta respectively. Fingers crossed to seeing them here for the holidays sometime soon.

Moving Abroad, Personal Stories

How to Find the True Meaning of Christmas This Year in Budapest

December 23, 2017
Christmas Angel Budapest

As you saw in my last post, Budapest is an absolutely beautiful place to spend Christmas.  This Christmas I am even luckier as my parents, sister and her husband have all come from Canada to share it with us here.  However, Andrew and I wanted to do more then just simply over-indulge, and set out on a tiny journey on how to find the true meaning of Christmas this year.

My husband and I enjoy volunteering. We typically spend around 1000 hours per year donating our time to various organizations and events.  This Christmas in Budapest, we were offered the opportunity to sponsor a local child and help make his Christmas wishes come true. Thanks to Chris Clarke of Clarke and White, we became part of the “Scottish Mission’s Children’s Christmas Event”.

Scottish Mission Christmas

Rev. Aaron C. Stevens, Minister at the Scottish Mission and Chris Clarke of Clarke and White.

Three years ago, a few “Elves” came up with the idea of making dreams come true for Christmas. However, many children from in and around Budapest are not so fortunate, and can’t always get a present. Their parents simply can’t afford to buy any. This is why the children are asked to send a letter to Santa, and wait to see if “Santa” can reply.

Letters to Santa

As part of the letter, each child is asked some simple questions: “What is your favourite colour”, “Who is your best friend”, and of course, “What do you want for Christmas”. This year the Scottish Mission of Budapest  is the main channel of selecting the children.  They decided that an organization called “Kontúr Egyesület“, from the 10th district of Budapest would be where the recipient children came from.  This is pretty much a slum area of Budapest with very poor facilities meant to be torn down in the near future.

Andrew and I received our “Letter for Santa” from a 3 year old boy named, Krisztof. And my mother (being here for Christmas), kindly agreed to sponsor a 4 year old girl named, Hanna.  Off we went in search of the perfect gifts with a set price limit of only 10,000 HUF (about $50 CDN). It was tempting to spend more, but all the kids gifts were meant to be relatively equal.  Once we found them, we wrapped them and delivered them to Clarke and White’s offices. Chris and his assistants took on the gargantuan task of organizing and moving 100+ gifts to the St. Columba’s Scottish Church in time for event day.

Scottish Mission Christmas

The letter we received written to “Santa” telling us all about Krisztof and his wishes for Christmas.

Scottish Mission’s Children’s Christmas Event

The event was well attended by the local and expat community who donated their time, expertise and gifts.  We sat in the back of the hall and let the excitement of the afternoon focus on the children.  We watched a sweet performance of the Nativity play and listened to Hungarian carols. Once concluded, there was more music, magic, food, fun and of course, Santa.

Scottish Mission Christmas

All the “Santas” waiting for the children to arrive –  including the British Ambassador, Iain Lindsay and his wife. Amazing support for our community!

Andrew and I were lucky enough to see our “child”, Krisztof, with his gift. We spotted him because we recognized the wrapping paper we used!  He attended the event with two other siblings who also appeared to be sponsored that afternoon.  We saw his mother packaging up the unopened gifts with string to take them home. I presume to open officially on Christmas Eve as is the custom here in Hungary.

The Scottish Mission

The congregation belongs to the Church of Scotland and the Reformed Church in Hungary.   The church was founded by Scots 175 years ago. However, it was only with the cooperation, support and service of Hungarians that they survived many turbulent periods, including times when Scots were not allowed to remain but the congregation continued just the same.

Happy Christmas Everyone

I love Christmas, and seeing so many happy faces makes it even more meaningful this Christmas.  It was so easy for us to take part in this event. Thanks again to Chris Clarke for letting us be part of it.

Scottish Mission Christmas

Andrew and I waiting for the children to arrive!

As you all know, similar events take place in every city in the world, and I encourage you to be part of them.  Find the true meaning of Christmas and make a difference in your local community.  Your heart will thank you.

Moving Abroad, Personal Stories

Exploring the Christmas Markets in Budapest

December 19, 2017
Christmas Market Budapest

This past week has been crazy busy with organizing our new life, but when we take a break, we head out to go exploring the Christmas markets in Budapest. Luckily, there are several of them spread out around the city – both big and small.

The main Christmas markets are located on the “Pest” side of Budapest. One of these is located at Vörösmarty Square .  This includes lights, music, amazing food and drink stands, artists boutiques and other handcrafted goods.  All vendors are specially chosen for the high quality of their goods – and they are wonderful. There is a stage for live performances and Christmas lights are projected onto the facade of the iconic Café Gerbeaud. Established in 1858, Gerbeaud is Europe’s finest coffee house and pastry shop.

This Christmas market has been voted one of the Top 10 in all of Europe. To see some other great Christmas markets, click here.

Christmas Market Budapest

Vörösmarty Christmas Market at night. Our view from the St. Andrea Skybar looking at Gerbeaud.

Another huge tourist draw is the Christmas market located at St. Stephen’s Basilica.  This market features a spectacular 3D visual show projected on the front of the Basilica a few times every night. Andrew and I just LOVE watching it.  I’m sure he’s trying to figure out how he could do it himself at home for next Christmas 😉

In addition to the market booths, there is also a small skating rink for children under the huge Christmas tree located in the middle of the market. The sights, sounds and smells in this market are all delicious!

Basilica Christmas Market

The St. Stephen’s Basilica Christmas Market complete with skating rink.

Of course, we would be remiss not to tell you about our top three things to consume at any Budapest Christmas Markets.  1. Mulled Wine 2. Fried Potato Pancakes and 3. Marzipan Chocolate.  Okay, number 3 is really for Andrew as I personally find marzipan gross  – but Andrew can’t get enough of it!

Hungarian Potato Pancakes

A Hungarian Potato Pancake. We like to top ours with sour cream and shredded cheese. Yum!

Thanks for reading!  Andrew and I are popping out for another glass of mulled wine…



Moving Abroad, Personal Stories

Beginning our Everyday Life and Finding our New Home

December 8, 2017
Egg Nog Coffee

The past week has been a busy one… part tourist and part new resident. We are beginning our everyday life of shopping, laundry, home cooking, etc.  We also got busy finding a permanent place to live. Luckily, we are succeeding fairly well on all fronts.

Everyday Life

Grocery shopping has been the most frustrating task for me so far. Not the part where I actually go to the grocery store, but the part where I can’t read the ingredients.  I am traditionally an obsessive label reader and will spend a long time comparing items. I currently have no idea what is in my “healthy” cereal or yogurt and am suspicious it may be filled with sugar because my husband is eating both without complaint! LOL

Hungarian Bread

I definitely can’t decipher the ingredients listed on bread packages for toast. So far Andrew and I are enjoying the green one.

On the other hand, coffee here is always amazing.  There are tons of coffee shops from tiny to huge all over Budapest. Andrew and I have been enjoying many of them immensely  – with or without a donut on occasion.

Our New Apartment

The most exciting news of the past week was signing the lease on our new apartment. Thanks to the diligent work of Viktoria from Inter Relocation, we successfully navigated the current rental market and signed about 1000 pieces of paper to finally get the keys to our new home in Budapest’s 5th District.

Aniko and Andrew

On our way to sign our lengthy bilingual lease. While it was great to have an English version, the Hungarian version is the legal one. It was good to have a professional there to make sure they were actually the same.

Unlike Toronto, here in Budapest, you don’t pay “First and Last”.  There is no credit check. What you do pay is a two month deposit along with your first month’s rent up front.  You then continue to pay your rent up front monthly moving forward.  You get your deposit back shortly after you move out (providing there was no damage or other monies due).

To facilitate this, a lengthy pre-move inspection is done with both tenant and landlord present.  Every appliance is tested and run, all electronic devices are turned on and off, every piece of removable furniture, linens, dishes, etc is cataloged and photographed and finally, all meter readings are taken and recorded. Copies of all of this are then dispersed between all parties to review again when we move out.

In our case, Inter Relocation will come back with us again to do that inspection. It must be noted that having Viktoria with us was invaluable.  Not only is she friendly, fun and bilingual – but a consummate professional taking note of all details.  We highly recommend this service if you are moving to Budapest for the first time. I really don’t know how Andrew and I would have muddled through on our own…

We are thrilled with our apartment located on Egyetem Square and will make it our official home by the end of the month.

Our Art Deco building is picture here located on the lovely Egyetem Square.    Photo: Kőrösi Tamás

A Walk in the Park

Since we continue to enjoy chilly but sunny days, we decided to go for walk in Budapest’s City Park (Varosliget). We bundled up our dog, Lucy, put her in her carrier and took the subway to Hero’s Square to begin our walk in the park. City Park is close to the centre of Budapest, Hungary. It is a 0.9-by-0.6-mile rectangle, with an area of 302 acres, located in District XIV. It even contains a castle! The Vajdahunyad Castle to be specific.

Lucy in carrier

Lucy riding the subway with her carrier. Dogs in a bag ride free. All dogs outside of a bag must wear a muzzle and have a ticket.

Hero's Square

The beautiful Hero’s Square. What you see when you exit the subway station.

Daddy and doggie

Andrew and Lucy heading off into City Park.

Skating in City Park

The huge skating rink in City Park. At night its even prettier with all kinds of lights.

Meeting the Irish Ambassador

Thursday night we attended our first expat event here in Budapest by invitation from Chris Clark of Clark & White. We got in the festive spirit and headed off to the the Irish Hungarian Business Circle‘s Christmas Party at Jack Doyle’s Irish Pub. For the first time in a couple weeks, English was the main language spoken and Andrew was able to get a proper pint of Guinness. The party included expats not just from Ireland, but from many parts of the UK.  And while we met many lovely people at the party, we were lucky enough to meet and chat with the Irish Ambassador himself, Pat Kelly.  It turns out he is from the exact same part of Dublin that all of Andrew’s siblings were born in.  What a small world!

Jack Doyle's Irish Pub

Jack Doyle’s Irish Pub hand painted Christmas windows.



Moving Abroad, Personal Stories

6 Interesting Things we Discovered after our First Ten Days in Budapest

December 1, 2017
Anikó & Andrew

Life here in Budapest is certainly very different than in Toronto – but that is exactly what we hoped for.  We’ve managed really well so far, but here are 6 interesting things we discovered after our first ten days in Budapest.

1. Cursive

There is widespread use of cursive writing on a variety of signs, shops and personal notes.  While this may not seem strange to anyone over 35, this would be tricky for anyone under 30 in North America to decipher. Shortly after I married my husband and became a step-mother in 2009, I was shocked to learn they no longer teach cursive in the Canadian public school system.  When I left notes for my step-kids, I had to ensure to PRINT them for comprehension.  When they visit, I will have to put them to the test 😉

2. Public Transport

During my very first trip to Budapest, I learned the public transport was inexpensive and easy to use. However, now that we’ve been using for more than just to visit tourist hot spots, we’ve ascertained how really amazing it is!  Using the BKK (Budapesti Közlekedési Központ) you can get anywhere in Budapest.  In fact, you will often have two or three choices of routes to get there. Compared to the TTC (Toronto Transit Authority), it is nothing short of miraculous. The BKK app I mentioned in this post, makes it almost impossible to get lost. We have been to OBI, IKEA, doctor and veterinarian offices, 3 major shopping malls, Christmas Markets, live music venues, restaurants, parks and more.  Nothing has taken us more then 30 minutes from door to door!

Kalvin Ter Metro Station in the 9th District

One the entrances to the Kálvin Tér Metro Station in the 9th District

3. Manners

In these first few days, we immediately took notice that the general population in Budapest is a LOT more polite than our typical experiences in and around the GTA (Greater Toronto Area).  Upon entering the veterinarian’s office in downtown Budapest, each and every person sitting waiting greeted us with a “Good Day”, and wished us the same on the way out. This also happens in smaller bars and restaurants. On our way to IKEA, a teenaged boy got up and out of the way for me on the subway which both nicely surprised me and made me feel suddenly (and sadly) old.

4. Sunday Closures

Our first ten days in Budapest have included one weekend and you should know that Budapest shuts down on a Sunday. Like Toronto did until the late 1980’s, Hungarians still take “a day of rest” fairly seriously.  Sure, you can find the tourists spots open, but you better be prepared with your groceries and the essential items by Saturday afternoon.  I have to admit, it is quite lovely having an day off from going to the mall to buy more crap we don’t need and having dedicated time for people to spend with their families. Hungarians value their own lives, and the quality of those lives, very, very highly.

The Egyetemi Templom - a baroque style catholic church

Egyetemi Templom – a baroque style Catholic Church located in the 5th District

5. A Notary is not always required

We’ve been signing a lot of legal paperwork over the past week.  In Canada, some of this would have required the services of a notary, but in Hungary they seem to simply gather more personal information.  For each important document we’ve signed we have added our birthdate, place of birth and mother’s maiden name.  Its interesting seeing how much this system is used, but I do suppose it is a unique identifier. I mean, we all know there could be another Anikó here – but not one with the same birthday AND mother!

6. Just enough Hungarian makes me dangerous

One last thing we’ve discovered is that I speak Hungarian much better than originally thought. In fact, I can speak my simple sentences so well that many have assumed I am fluent (instead of having a long way to go). Last night, after greeting the waiter and asking for a table in Hungarian, I was presented with the Hungarian only menu while Andrew was given an English one.  I was still going strong with my skills until it came to the soup of day.  I only understood… “blah, blah, blah, bacon”. Embassed I didn’t understand more, I simply agreed to have the soup.  In fact, I ordered one for myself and one for Andrew.

We still aren’t entirely sure what we ate at Input, but it was “nagyon finom” (very tasty)…