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Budapest Expat Tips

Tourist Alert: What Not to Wear in Budapest, Hungary

March 3, 2018
What not to wear in Budapest

Budapest is an amazing city. Everywhere you look you’ll find amazing architecture, museums, hotels, bars, nooks, and crannies. And while there are many cultural differences between North America and Hungary, the way people dress is one of them. So unless you want to be immediately identified as a tourist, here is a short list of what not to wear in Budapest, Hungary.

Tourist Alert

Please note that these are my personal observations after 3 months of living in Budapest.  I have absolutely done ALL of the things listed below (as I’m sure some of you have too). You (and I) may even continue to do so in the future. Guess what?  If that’s what you want, go ahead and be the best tourist you can be! But for those of you who want to blend in a little more with your European surroundings  – keep reading.

Dirty Shoes or Trainers

Since we take public transportation practically everyday, we get to see a lot of footwear. Hungarian’s shoes are practically always polished to perfection.  Even in wintertime, you would have to look hard to find salt stains on a fellow passenger’s boots. Laces are also neat and clean – with shoes/boots completely tied up.

Now I am not saying that all Canadians have dirty shoes (as I am sure not all Hungarians have clean ones).  However, both my husband and I noticed this almost immediately.  It prompted us to get to the store to make sure we had some good polish on hand. There is definitely a higher level of respect for an individual’s personal appearance.

Furthermore, wearing trainers/running shoes is definitely a sign that you must be a tourist.  You will discover most Europeans wear stylish but comfortable shoes or a higher-end sneaker look.  You’ll likely only find running shoes being worn during an actual athletic activity.

 mens shoes

A more likely shoe to be seen in winter is something like this comfortable, but stylish, men’s shoe.

Running shoes

While these bright coloured trainers may be perfect for the gym or track, wearing on the street of Budapest simply screams tourist.

Colourful Winter Coats

When the temperatures drop, I’ve always liked to beat the gloom with a bold coloured coat.  I have a turquoise coat, a bright pink down vest and my husband has a cobalt blue coat.  Unfortunately, these are not looks you find regularly on adults on the streets of Budapest. Most Hungarians above the age of 12 wear black or darker colours. Lucky for us, we own more than one coat.

Note that this doesn’t always stop us from wearing our coats of many colours, but we make a conscious choice to do so. Sometimes, and in certain places, its simply best to fit in and look “Hungarian”.  Why be a target for tour operators and pickpockets when you don’t have to be?

Check out our latest video on YouTube to see when we blend in and when we don’t bother…

Tourist with bright coat

While we have protected his identity, this man is immediately recognizable as a tourist in this bright blue coat.

Baseball Caps

As someone who has spent the last ten summers of my life on a boat, both my husband and I own more then one baseball cap (even if I did rarely wear one).  Baseball caps are often a complete necessity when sailing to keep the sun out of your eyes without losing your sunglasses. On the contrary, you will find few adult Hungarians wearing these on the streets of Budapest.

If you do see this style of cap, its most likely to be devoid of any slogan or sports logo. I’m not really sure why baseball hats get no love?  You do see lots other styles of hats – bucket hats, pork pie hats, straw hats, and my husband’s personal favourite, the Trilby. Ps. This does to apply to ladies as well.

Tourists in Baseball caps

Wearing this hat is not only a sign that your are a tourist but a Times Square billboard sized sign that you are a tourist.

Sweatsuits, Tracksuits and Yoga Pants

I love my yoga pants.  Who doesn’t love their yoga pants?  They can be be both flattering and practical when they fit right.  In the past, I never hesitated from wearing them to the mall, out for coffee or grocery shopping.  On the other hand, please know that I never wore them to work or to a dinner party. Rarely do you see these anywhere on the streets of Budapest.  Sweats? Track suits? Leisure wear? Nope.  You won’t find any of those either. Again, this applies to both women and men.  Sorry boys!  Leave those baggy track suits at home.

yoga pants

Defying all North American logic, these two women are wearing yoga pants to actually do yoga – not to meet at Starbucks for a latte.

Other Tourist Giveaways

Of course clothing is just one part of the tourist puzzle.  Carrying selfie sticks, wearing backpacks, multiple cameras, staring at large maps, paying in Euros instead of forints, are all huge “tourist alert” giveaways.  Perhaps the most obvious – and the hardest to avoid – is speaking in English.

Selfie Stick

Perhaps the most obvious of tourist devices – the selfie stick. Not only that – but many popular spots simply ban the use of these nowadays.

In short, no matter how you dress or what language you speak, please don’t hesitate to come and visit this extremely safe and beautiful city that I now call home. Hungarians are fabulous and will fill you to the brim with the best food, wine, weather and entertainment.

What do you think screams tourist?  Let me know in the comments below!

 

Expat Life, Personal Stories

Follow in my Grandfather’s Frightening Footsteps at the House of Terror

February 26, 2018
Grandpa

Yesterday, Sunday, February 25th, was the Memorial Day for the Victims of Communism. My husband is still learning about the older Hungarian relatives in my family – as am I. To mark this sombre occasion here in Budapest, we decided to follow in my Grandfather’s frightening footsteps at the House of Terror Museum in Budapest.

60 Andrássy Avenue

Hungary survived two terror regimes – Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.  By the early 2000’s, the time had come for Hungary to erect a fitting memorial to the victims.  As well as a memorial, the museum presents a picture of what life was like for Hungarians during those times.

House of Terror Museum Building

House of Terror Museum Building.  The facade that casts the shadow of terror onto the sidewalk below.

The House of Terror Museum opened on February 24th, 2002. The museum is located at 60 Andrássy Avenue.  It is the only one of its kind. It is a monument to the memory of those held captive, tortured and killed in this building. My grandfather, János Légrády, was one of them.

Janos Legrady

My grandfather, János Légrády, and grandmother with my father when he was just a toddler.

The House of Terror Museum

The museum starts on the second floor and finishes in the basement. Each level has a typical classic apartment block layout with a full size T-54 Russian tank in the courtyard. The three floors are full of black and white pictures of the Nazi and communist occupations’ victims. Many rooms have simple black walls with silver text, black and white television screens, dim lighting and bone-chilling music.

To get to the basement level, you take a slow moving elevator that brings you down to hell on earth. The elevator displays a video describing the torture.  This was my second visit to these dungeons – and I felt physically sick.  The different cells leave no doubt about the creativity of evil in humanity.

Basement Level

A view from inside a cell looking out in the basement level of the Terror House.

When you leave the museum, you see both the memorial Wall of Tears, as well as a wall that lists the perpetrators. And let me be clear, this includes everyone from the delivery boy to those that held the highest offices.

NOTE: A vast majority of the information written on the walls of the museum is in Hungarian only.  However, each room has printed sheets with detailed information available in English.  Many of the television screens do include English subtitles (some of it poorly translated). You can also get a guided tour or an audio headphones self-guided tour in a variety of languages.

Arrow Cross and AVH

The building was used by both the Arrow Cross Facist Party (Nazis) and the AVH (State Protection Authority). The Nazi occupation of 1944 was short but disastrous. Within two months, 437,402 Hungarian Jews were transported to death camps.

On August 27, 1944, Soviet Troops crossed the Hungarian border. And while the fascist regime lasted less than a year, the Hungarian Communist regime lasted for 40 years. The AVH were the communist secret police of Hungary very similar to the KGB. Furthermore, the AVH had a reputation for extreme brutality.  It was this under this authority that my grandfather was taken.

house-of-terror

Faces of the Victims on the walls at the House of Terror Museum in Budapest, Hungary.

János Légrády

In the mid-fifties my father came home from school to discover his father was missing.  After 3 days, they were able to figure out he had been taken to the AVH Headquarters.

My grandfather was allegedly held in a cell in the basement for 3 weeks. During this time he was routinely beaten until it was discovered that he was innocent of the charges against him. Upon his release, much of his hair had turned white.

My grandfather’s recovery from this ordeal took 9 months. While János was offered back his previous job, he took a new one instead.  My grandfather didn’t go back because he felt he had been betrayed.  He was one of the “lucky” ones.

My grandfather died here in Budapest in 1977.  When visiting from Canada, my family still regularly visits his grave.

Janos and Otto

My grandfather and my father during his only visit to Canada in 1969.

“As long as my finite mental and physical strength will allow me, I will fight. I will never be indifferent, weak-hearted or unconcerned. Should I find myself alone here – I still won’t give up.”  Imre Nagy (1896-1958)

Details

The House of Terror Museum is located at 60 Andrássy Avenue in the 6th District of Budapest.  It is open from Tuesday to Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. A full price ticket is 3000 HUF. There is a reduced rate of 1500 HUF for people aged between 6-25 or 62-70 (citizens of the EEA).

I highly recommend a visit to this museum – especially for expats that live in Budapest. It is vitally important to not forget this very recent history.

Expat Life

Left Alone in Budapest for a Week

January 20, 2018
Alone in Budapest

I am left alone in Budapest for a week. Okay, so not exactly a full week, but six days. Either way, this is the longest time I have been alone in a while. That may sound strange, but it is true. My husband and I spent nearly everyday of 2017 together as we prepared for our new life in Budapest. We spent the first six months packing up the house and then the last six months “moving”. However, now that we are finally settled in, I find myself alone.

Being alone

While being alone is not something I am currently used to – I have never been afraid of it.  I’m certainly not afraid to be alone in Budapest.  It’s by far the safest capital city I’ve ever been too. Before I met my husband (9 years ago), I had been single for a couple of years.  I often took vacations alone.  I went to Mexico on scuba diving vacations alone.  I explored Amsterdam, Barcelona and even the streets of Budapest – alone. But now it does seem strange.  Its funny how quickly you get used to someone being by your side and helping you get through daily life. But this week, I’m getting out of my comfort zone, and I’m going to try something new in this gorgeous city everyday.

VEGACITY

I am not a vegetarian nor a vegan, but I love veggie cuisine.  This 100% vegan restaurant is not far from where I live, so I though I would give it a try for lunch. You can find VEGACITY at 23-25 Múzeum boulevard in the 5th district near Kálvin Tér.  Their mission is to “make vegan quality food popular even among non-vegans”. Personally, I think they nailed it.  I had a very difficult time deciding what to eat from all the delicious looking choices.  They have weekly offers and you can find that info here.

I chose the Indian dish, and it was amazing.  The right amount of curry for flavour, but not too “hot” spicy. They did have hot sauces and other condiments to flavour if needed. I bought the “full portion” for 890 forints ($4.40 CDN or £2.53).  This could easily have fed two for a takeaway – especially if you served with rice.

Aside from being simply vegan, they also offer several sugar and gluten-free desserts. I definitely recommend you give it a try!

Vegacity Indian

My delicious tasting vegan curry dish from VEGACITY.

Shopping at Bijó Trade Store

Bijó Trade Store is a huge natural products store located at Róbert Károly krt. 96 in the 13th District. You can easily reach it by hopping on the 105 bus from Deák Ferenc Tér. Hopefully, if you do it in the rain like I did, you’ll remember to bring your umbrella – ugh.

This place is about the size of my local Whole Foods back in Toronto.  Its spreads itself over two floors. I must have spent an hour and a half in their shelves. It is filled with natural food, skincare, beauty products, vitamins and household products. On their website, they promise that all their products are “natural and chemical free”.

Since I have an obsession with all things skincare and beauty, I visited to see if I could make some new fabulous discoveries.  I bought a few things, I plan to test them out and have a separate review post up for you sometime soon.

To read more about our shopping adventures, read this.

Solitary Endeavours

I still have a few more days on my own.  Today, I plan to visit the Buddha Bar Hotel Spa.  And yes, this may be a little bit “cheaty”.  I mean, I usually go to the spa alone so this is hardly brave.  But I have never been to THIS spa before. Next week I am attending the 21st Budapest Burns Supper and I’m trying to make myself more presentable.

(from the Buddha Bar Hotel website)

Andrew and I are really looking forward to this event next weekend. If you haven’t heard of the Burns Supper organized by the Robert Burns International Foundation, you can read all about it on Expat Press Hungary Magazine: “Charity and Celebration at the 21st Budapest Burns Supper”

Where in the World?

England is famous for many things – fish and chips, Big Ben, double-decker buses, black cabs, The Beatles, and tea. This week it’s also famous for my husband – at least the part near Bristol.  Honey, if you’re reading this… I know it sounds like I’m having lots of fun alone – but I can’t wait to be reunited soon!

What are your favourite things to do in Budapest on your own?  What should I do/have done? Let me know in the comments below.

Oh, and if you like what your reading, please subscribe to get an email alert for each new post.  You can do that on the main page in the right hand column.

Köszönöm 😊

 

Budapest Expat Tips, Expat Life

Discovering Different places to Buy Harder to find Groceries in Budapest

January 17, 2018
Groceries in Budapest

My husband and I moved to Budapest seven weeks ago.  We live in the 5th district in the “Belvaros” area. Belváros means “inner city”or “downtown” in Hungarian. So while we have lots of little shops around, its not always easy to find exactly what we are craving or looking for. We set off to discover some different places to buy our harder to find groceries in Budapest.

Common Grocery Stores

There are many smaller grocery stores and specialty shops all over the city.  Sometimes you will find more than one on the same block.  But if you are used to shopping at Whole Foods or Loblaws like I was, these shops are incredibly tiny. Choice in these shops is usually quite limited and stock doesn’t seem to come very regularly. One week you can find the item you are looking for – but then you don’t see it again for another month.

Andrew was very excited to find his favourite cookies at our local SPAR when we first arrived.  However, once we bought up the few packages in stock, we never saw them again.

Some of the typical downtown grocery shops:

  • CBA
  • Tesco Expressz
  • SPAR
  • Prima
  • ABC
  • Aldi

Shopping near Kálvin Ter

We live close to the Danube, in the southern part of the 5th district close to Kálvin Ter. We wanted to find more ethnic type foods and some North American & British comfort foods. Our research complete, we decided we would visit the Asia Market, the Great Market Hall (“Nagyvásárcsarnok”) and the USA Candy Store. All 3 stores are no more then 15 minutes walking distance – important on a chilly January afternoon. There are also several metro, tram and bus options to get to this easy to reach spot downtown.

The Asia Market

Located right next door to the Great Market Hall is The Azsia Market . This Asian Market sells all things Asian with generous helping of Mexican and Indian food items. We bought our rice cooker from here along with some other kitchen items.  There is row after row of amazing foods, sauces, canned goods, baking goods, teas and more.

They have a massive spice, rice and pasta section made from a wide variety of plants, flours and grains. I would highly recommend this place for vegetarians, vegans or anyone who likes ethnic foods. You can visit their Facebook page to read about their latest offers.

Azsian Market

You can find the market at Vámház körút. 5, Budapest 1093. The operating hours are Monday through Friday 8:00 am to 6:30 pm, Saturday 8:00 am to 3 pm and its closed on Sunday.

Groceries purchased:

Black beans, baked beans, variety of curry spices, garlic, soya sauce, sweet and sour sauce, rice noodles, jasmine rice and herbal peach tea.

The Great Market Hall

The Great Market Hall, built in 1897, is the biggest and prettiest of all Budapest market halls.  Located beside the Liberty Bridge, the building is 10,000 square meters over 3 floors, covered by a steel structure. A distinctive architectural feature is the roof which was restored to have colourful tiling. And while being a tourist hotspot, it also serves as a functioning and practical place to buy your fresh groceries. You can also find other smaller market halls located in various locations in both Buda and Pest.

Great Market Hall

The interior of the Great Market Hall (still decorated from the Christmas holiday).

The stalls on the main floor sell fresh fruit, vegetables, nuts, meat, dairy, baked good and booze. Downstairs you’ll find the more pungent fish vendors and butchers, along with an Aldi supermarket. Upstairs you’ll find an incredible amount of souvenir items, Hungarian handicrafts, prepared food stalls and restaurants.

Andrew and I enjoying the relative quiet of the main floor Market Hall on a rainy afternoon.

The Market is closed on Sunday, opens at 6am on other days, and closes at 5pm Monday, 6pm Tue-Fri and 3pm Saturday.

Groceries purchased:

Mandarin oranges, bananas, lemons, avocado, onions, walnuts, eggs, Brie cheese, milk and rye bread.

USA Candy – London Gourmet

Our final stop was USA Candy – London Gourmet.  This store stocks not just American candies, but British sweets too. This small shop is just across the main road from the market and on our way home.  Here you can find lots of satisfaction for your sweet tooth – but also some familiar and comforting foods.  They sell tea, condiments, cereals, marmalades, and more.

Andrew headed straight to the Cadbury section as soon as we walked in…

You will find the USA Candy shop at Királyi Pál u. 13b, Budapest, 1053. The operating hours are Monday through Friday 10:00 am to 6:00 pm, Saturday 10:00 am to 1 pm and its closed on Sunday.

Groceries purchased:

Flake chocolate bars, KitKat mocha bar, M&M Dark Chocolate Mints, Tetley’s Tea and Vegemite (personally a yuck for me).

Additional Grocery Stores

I’m sure there are many more amazing places for groceries that I have yet to discover.  In all fairness, we’ve just explored within a very small area near our home.  However, I would be remiss not to once again mention the British Pantry – a home delivery grocer that Andrew and I also use. I also spoke about the service in my post about the Best Facebook Groups for Expats.

Is there somewhere fabulous that I missed?  Do you have a favourite place I should know about?  Is there an awesome market I should check out? Let me know in the comments below!

Expat Life

Get Sore Feet with Expats on Margaret Island in Budapest

January 9, 2018
Margaret Island Bird

Unlike the majority of our friends and family back home, we are happily having a very mild winter here in Budapest.  We’ve been so lucky to be able to move around the city so easily and get settled into new life abroad without freezing or struggling with the snow. It’s also allowed for us to simply explore and discover this gorgeous city.  Yes, this means sore feet – especially mine – but we are happy and very grateful.

Margaret Island

Margaret Island is a 2.5km long island in the middle of the Danube in Budapest.  The island spans the area between the Margaret Bridge (south) and the Árpád Bridge (north). The island was called Insula leporum before being named after Saint Margaret (1242–1270) in the 14th century. Margaret was the daughter of Béla IV of Hungary, and she lived in the Dominican convent on the island. Today, the island is directly managed by the city and is a recreation area with athletic buildings, gardens, parks, pools, cafes, a hotel, a small zoo, running trails and more.

An arial view of Margaret Island

An arial view of Margaret Island.

A January Day

Yesterday, it was 12 degrees so we decided it was perfect weather to head to Margaret Island to walk with the dog.  Since Lucy no longer has a backyard, we really wanted a chance to let her run free on the grass like she loves to do on Hanlan’s Point on the Toronto Islands.  Our new apartment is in the 5th District in Budapest, so we hopped on the number 2 tram to take us to Margaret Bridge.  We got off at the end of the line and walked across Margaret Bridge to Margaret Island from there.

 

Once we arrived, we simply wandered around the island and enjoyed what we accidentally found.  We found lovely buildings, cafes, trees, open green spaces, sculptures and even ancient ruins.

The Knights of St. John settled on the island in the 12th century. Among the present historical monuments of the island are the 13th century ruins of a Franciscan church and a Dominican church and convent, as well as a church from the 12th century. The park was officially turned into a public park in the early 1900s.

Running Activities for Expats

If you are a runner, there is a monthly event and free timed 5k run around the island.  Find about more about it on their Facebook page. As you can see by the photo below there is a dedicated path for runners (the red one).  There is also a path specifically for “walkers” and then also paths for bikes and motorized vehicles all around the island.

Dedicated traffic lanes on Margaret Island

Dedicated traffic lanes on Margaret Island

Andrew and Lucy enjoying the sun.

Andrew and Lucy enjoying the sun.

Until next time…

There is so much to see and do, but we only spent a couple of hours.  We hope this wonderful weather streak continues and we have many more winter walks on the island.

The day was so beautiful, we decided to walk all the way home from the island and took some great photos in the winter sun.

 

Expat Life, Personal Stories

Our Fun and Festive New Year’s Eve Celebration in Budapest

January 1, 2018
Baalbak New Years Eve

Andrew and I had our first fun and festive New Year’s Eve celebration in Budapest last night. We celebrated with two other couples at the Baalbek Lebanese Restaurant located inside the Buddha-Bar Hotel Klotild Palace. We ate an Arabic Style Gala dinner listening to live music and enjoyed the belly dancing show.

Our new friends kindly invited us to their gorgeous apartment near the Parliament for cocktails. After we spent some time drooling over their gorgeous apartment and Danube River view, we headed off to the Baalbek for dinner around 7pm.

Parliament Building

The Hungarian Parliament Building on New Year’s Eve.

Buddha Bar Hotel Entrance

Buddha Bar Hotel Entrance

Aniko Friends

New friends in Budapest. Such wonderful ladies!

Andrew enjoying the show

Andrew enjoying the show. It was a thrill to experience something out of the ordinary for New Year’s Eve.

The Klotild Palace

The Klotild Palace is built in a British neo-baroque, eclectic style in the 5th district of Budapest, at Ferenciek Square.  Princess Marie Clotilde, the wife of Archduke Joseph Karl had the palace built in the 1880s.  The building’s glass windows were made in the workshop of Miksa Róth, while the 48-meter-high towers are adorned with an enlarged replica of the archduke’s crown. It is the first building in Budapest to be fitted with an elevator. With various uses over the past century, the Buddha Bar Hotel was opened in 2012.

Buddha Bar Hotel

Klotild Palace near the Elizabeth Bridge in Budapest. Photo: Juhász Norbert

New Year’s Eve Dinner

Since it was my birthday celebration as well as New Year’s Eve, Andrew let me decide to where to go for dinner.  One of the reasons I picked Baalbek was because we had never experienced Lebanese food before.  It definitely wasn’t a typical New Year’s Eve dinner at the yacht club…

For our appetizers, we feasted on a gorgeous platter of hummus, moutabel (eggplant cream), beetroot, tabbouleh (parsley salad), kibbeh, grilled salty cheese and spicy lamb sausage. Not surprisingly, I ate every last bit of this offering, but my British husband skipped a few suspicious looking items.

Baalbek

Mezze

Incredible food at the Baalbek Lebanese Restaurant

Our second course was lentil Soup with sumac and scallop. Lentil soup is a tradition here in Hungary.  It is typically served on New Year’s Day and can be found at most restaurants. The traditional goes that if you eat lentils – a symbol of money coming your way for the coming year – abundance in all worldly goods will accompany you in the New Year. *fingers-crossed*

The main course was a choice of meat or fish and we both had beef tenderloin with potato gratin and green pepper sauce. It was followed by a coconut & rose water cake with raspberry sorbet.  I enjoyed the sorbet but strongly disliked the cake.  Luckily, Andrew loved it and ate mine too.

Coconut & Rose Water Cake with Raspberry Sorbet

Coconut & Rose Water Cake with Raspberry Sorbet

Happy New Year

Thanks to my husband, my family and my friends (old and new) for making 2017 a fabulous one! We are finally moved into our new apartment and our things will arrive from Canada in a couple of weeks. I am looking forward to more adventures in 2018.

What did you do for New Year’s Eve? Let me know in the comments below!

All the best from Budapest!

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.