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Hungary

Expat Life

A Quick Guide to Enjoying the Danube at The Bálna

March 13, 2018

The Bálna has been one of our favourite places to go for meal or drink since it was built in 2013. The Bálna or “Budapest Whale” is the huge glass and metal building on the Danube bank in the 9th district. It sits between the Szabadság (Liberty) Bridge and Petőfi Bridge. Here is my quick guide to enjoying the Danube at The Bálna.

The Bálna

When my sister and I first started visiting Budapest as adults, this stretch of the Danube was nothing more than some old, sketchy looking warehouses. We were always a little nervous walking around there after dark.  But at one time, these warehouses were essential to the city’s prosperity.  However, by the early 21st century, they fell into complete disrepair.

Construction of this modern structure began in 2009 but the 2011 opening had to be delayed due to legal issues until 2013. It was designed by a Dutch architect, Kas Oosterhuis. The historical brick building and the concrete structure typical is covered in a computer-designed metal-glass shell.  It is the shape of this shell that gives the building its name.

The Bálna as seen from the top of Gellert Hill.

The Bálna serves as a commercial, cultural and entertainment centre. Inside you will find galleries, restaurants, offices and shops. However, it was meant to be an architectural showpiece for Budapest just like the Eiffel Tower is in Paris.  Unfortunately, with the current city management, it never quite achieved the originally planned icon status it was designed for. The building is currently up for sale from the municipality.

Why We Love It

There are several restaurants that have seating both indoors and outdoors on the ground floor of the Bálna.  We have enjoyed the spectacular Danube view from them all.  I can’t think of a single time of the year where you can’t find a patio seat to enjoy the summer or winter sun. While this is definitely a more touristy destination, many of the restaurants have daily lunch specials during the week.

At the Esco Bar & Cafe, you can get a delicious pizza big enough for two people to share. This Peruvian bar serves more than 10 different pizzas with lovely thin crusts – just the way I like them.

Andrew and Lucy enjoying the sun at the Bálna Terasz

The Bálna Bistro & Terasz

Our particular favourite place for a drink is the Bálna Terasz. Last Sunday afternoon we walked over there with our dog to indulge in a sweet treat. The restaurant featured menu items that included Nutella. Who could resist on such a lovely day?

It is THE perfect place to relax at the end of the day and enjoy amazing sunsets.  Alternately, come on a weekend to simple enjoy the marvellous view of the Liberty Bridge and Gellert Hill. There is definitely something for everyone.

I have to admit, we did look at bit like tourists last weekend when we last visited.  If you don’t want to, read this.

Additional Information

Visiting by public transportation is easy. Simple take the Metro M4 to Fővám tér or Tram 2 to Zsil utca.

Parking at Bálna is available in a underground car park. The parking fee is 300 HUF/hour. The first hour is free on weekdays, the first two hours are free on weekends.

You will definitely find us there again sometime soon!

Expat Life

The Secrets to Having a Fabulous Brunch at the New TOPRUM in Budapest

March 5, 2018
Hotel Rum Brunch

Brunch. That amazing combination of breakfast and lunch that makes it perfectly acceptable to drink alcohol early on a Sunday. Budapest is full of many great places to indulge in this my most favourite of meals. However, my husband and I thought we would try a brand new rooftop brunch located the Hotel Rum. Here are our secrets to having a fabulous brunch at TOPRUM.

The Hotel Rum

The Hotel Rum is a beautiful boutique hotel located near the Central Market Hall in Budapest’s 5th District on Egyetem tér . It has 40 contemporary rooms located in a 19th century apartment block – all designed by Budapest based architects and interior designers. The building houses the hotel,  the URBAN TIGER restaurant and TOPRUM – the new rooftop sky bar.

TOPRUM was opened for the first time last weekend.  We attended the second ever rooftop brunch offered here. If you don’t want to look like a tourist while doing so, read my last post.

TOPRUM Secret One: Request a Table beside the Window

While there is a great view from all tables, if you want the ultimate view, request a table beside the window.  Due to the positioning of the restaurant, you have an 180 degree view of  the city.

There is a mix of both round and rectangular tables with comfortable padded chairs. We saw couples, and a group as large as 8, enjoying their meals. And while I’m sure children may be permitted at TOPRUM, we saw none.

TOPRUM Secret Two: Order the Shakshuka

Eating low-carb or gluten-free?  Then order the shakshuka.  Alternately, if you’re like me and just wanted something different from the usual brunch standards – order the the shakshuka.

What is shakshuka? Shakshuka is a dish of eggs poached in a sauce of tomatoes, peppers, and onions. This version included pieces of feta cheese for additional flavour and was served with a small fresh bun.  It was absolutely delicious!

Shakshuka as presented by TOPRUM with feta and fresh herbs for 2250 HUF.

The traditional Eggs Benedict with ham and arugula for 1990 HUF.

TOPRUM Secret Three: Enjoy the Live Music

Our reservation was for 1pm and we were lucky to enjoy the first set of a guitar and vocalist duo. The music was lovely and the perfect volume. The singing was loud enough to enjoy but soft enough to not have to yell at each other across the table.

TOPRUM Secret 4: Have Dessert

I’m not normally a dessert after brunch time of girl – especially not when mimosas are available – but I went for it.  Initially our waiter seemed perplexed that I didn’t know what “Floating Islands in Vanilla” were.  So in case you don’t know either – its a sweet egg white “dumpling” in melted vanilla ice-cream.  Yes please!

Both my husband and I ordered one of these simple but scrumptious desserts.

Floating Islands with Vanilla for 1100 HUF.

If you’re looking for a laid-back place for brunch with an incredible view and great food – look no further then TOPRUM. Maybe we’ll see you there next weekend?

Want to see more of our expat life in Budapest?  Watch our latest YouTube Video now!

More Information

For reservations please contact Demján Balázs +36 70 319 5742 between 8am-8pm.

TOPRUM hosts brunch on both Saturdays and Sunday and is open to the public. Brunch is served from 12:00 to 5:00pm with live music from 1:00 to 3:00pm.

TOPRUM is located at Királyi Pál Street 4, Budapest 1053

Note: This blog was not sponsored in any way.  All opinions are my own.  Brunch was paid for solely by my husband 🙂

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.