August 31, 2012 § 7 Comments
I can feel the nerves beginning to build up inside me; my mind is like a minefield, full of excitement and panicky thoughts. If I allow myself to stay on one of the panic mines for too long, I find myself whisked away into the stresses of the future. Luckily, I have refrained from visiting this state of mind for too long. Instead, I remind myself that today is today and the challenges that are to come are not yet present. There is no use in concerning oneself with future worries – especially when one has yet to experience the context of these worries.
Skjalg and I have been thinking about how we would like to spend our weekends once school starts. We have no idea what to expect – other than that we are in for one REALLY stressful chapter in our lives. One thing we’ve been told time and time again is that success depends on balance. Too many students entertain the extremes: either studying day and night and never taking a break or taking the semester lightly and pushing things off until the end. We brainstormed what our ideal “productive yet balanced” weekend would be:
- Light brunch at the Fit Cafe at our gym
- Study for a few hours at a café, library or at home
- Date night: whatever we want to do as long as it includes spending quality time with each other
- Slow, easy morning with time to blog, send emails, etc.
- Fresh food market for fresh veggies and meats
- Prep “easy access” food for the week
- Light cleaning of the apartment
- Study for a couple of hours at a café, library or at home
We are not expecting that every weekend will be exactly like this, but it helps to have an idea of what to strive for. Plus, if we are as tired as I expect we are going to be after 5 days of lectures and studying, we could use a “plan” to guide us through the weekend.
This weekend we have the Opening Ceremony, where we will be introduced to the faculty, listen to speeches and take our Freshman Oath. Next week includes registration and familiarizing ourselves with the campus. And finally, on Monday the 10th of September – we start medical school.
August 30, 2012 § Leave a comment
I arrived back home last night after an amazing 4-day girls trip to London. For me it was a little bit of a last “hoo-rah” before school starts. Our lives have been full of stress and planning for almost all of 2012: from finding out that we could start med school this year in February to completing the move just last week. We don’t have much down time now before classes start and once that happens, there is no turning back. It felt so refreshing to take some time to simply relax with good friends. I feel primed and ready to go!
Yesterday I received an e-mail from school saying that they are missing the document proving that I don’t have dyslexia. It’s frustrating to simply think about how I am going to do that now that I am in Budapest. My doctor is all the way in Norway and I wouldn’t even know where to begin finding one here…
Now we are heading out to find suits for the Opening Ceremony this Sunday. We will taking our Freshman oaths and listening to some speeches – so we need to look good!
August 21, 2012 § Leave a comment
The title means “I wish you a happy birthday!” in Hungarian – which is perfect, because it’s my birthday! It sounds something like – and you’ll have to excuse my horrible language teaching skills – BULL-dawg SUUE-la-tesh-na-pot KEE-vaah-gnoc. The stress of the word is placed on the first syllable rather than the accented letters (as it is in Spanish). To me, Hungarian sounds similar to Italian, sometimes to French, and with a little bit of Finnish and Russian mixed in. I find it to be a very beautiful language, a bit hard to hear and seemingly impossible to learn, but beautiful nonetheless.
Following birthday tradition in my family, Skjalg woke me this morning with a lit birthday cake, card and present. My mom started this tradition where the birthday person is always surprised first thing in the morning by all the occupants in the house – human and animal alike. When we were living together with my younger brother, Christian, Skjalg’s younger sister, Kaja and her two cats, our birthday morning surprises were very lively. It is such a wonderful way to start a birthday.
In my post yesterday, I wrote a little about the Fungarian class we booked. At around 10:30, we headed out to meet our “language professor” at Kamara Café – located across from the main Jewish Synagogue. The café was located in a really beautiful spot, which made the lesson just that much more enjoyable. Our teacher, Miklós, was very witty, informative and patient and taught us how to say basic phrases. I’m a little intimidated by the Hungarian language. It has 44 letters and the vowels are…plentiful:
We learned how to say hello and thank you as well as how to order various things at restaurants and in grocery stores. Skjalg and I were totally energized by our lesson. We started practicing the phrases we’d learned and read aloud signs we saw on the way home. For lunch we stopped in at The Hummus Bar, where I greeted the host with “jó napot!” (which means good morning/good afternoon). When it came time to order, I asked that the server bear with me as I tried it in Hungarian:
Kérek egy…. chicken breast hummus plate.
I didn’t manage the whole thing…but he was amused enough to smile. Practice makes perfect, right?
After lunch, we headed home to relax and hide from the heat. We settled in on the couch with our feet soaking in buckets of cold water (which is SAVING me these days) to watch a couple of episodes of the utterly fantastic Blood and Guts: A History of Surgery series by BBC Four.
We celebrated my birthday dinner at Comme Chez Soi Étterem (highly recommended on TripAdvisor). It was a bit pricey – especially when compared to other restaurants in less touristy parts of Budapest – but it was definitely worth it. The servers were extremely accommodating and friendly and lit up when I ordered my water in Hungarian. At the end of the meal, they surprised us by turning off the lights in the restaurant and bringing out a tiramisu lit up with candles. After that it was a shot of homemade limoncello, apricot infused liquor, and plum infused liquor. As we were leaving, the server wished me a happy birthday and gave us a small bag of chocolates filled with dark cherry liquor. We will definitely be heading back there when celebrating a special occasion!
Now I’m off to try to fall asleep in this heat….
August 20, 2012 § 5 Comments
Before we began packing for the move to Budapest, I spent some time reading Budapest travel tips on Trip Advisor. One of the top “things to do” was to take a “Fungarian” class. The concept of the class was to meet a language teacher at a café and spend an hour learning a few key Hungarian phrases and words and learning a little bit about Hungarian culture. Skjalg agreed that this sounded like fun and we booked a 2-hour class for my birthday. In our confirmation, Miklós (our Fungarian teacher) wrote:
Actually, if you could arrive in Budapest a day earlier you could enjoy grandiose fireworks on August 20 in the evening since it’s a national holiday.
Last night while eating dinner at a café, Skjalg looked up the details of the fireworks show. He stumbled across a site that listed several more exciting events happening that day. We decided that, in addition to attending the fireworks show, we would wake up early to watch the air and water show and then possibly visit the Street of Hungarian Flavors.
The person whom the day is named for was Hungary’s first king, Stephen (István in Hungarian) who was born in 969 and died in 1038. He laid the foundation of the state by converting the nomad and pagan Magyar people (Hungarians) to Roman Catholicism.
Up until the end of the 10th century, the seven different tribes that made up Hungary often attacked and robbed Western European countries. In 955 they suffered a major defeat and the leaders decided that it was time that they give up their raids and focus instead on settling down. Stephen was the first to realize that the only way this could be accomplished was by linking the people through a common faith – Roman Catholicism. In 1000 A.D. he became Hungary’s first king when he was given a crown by Pope Sylvester II. The Holy Crown is Hungary’s most precious treasure and can be viewed in the Budapest Parliament.
During his reign, King Stephen built churches all over the country and invited Catholic priests to lay the foundation for Catholicism. He replaced pagan rules with new, strict legislations and organized the country through administrative measures. Through his efforts, Hungary became a strong state and played a major role in aiding Western Europe during the Medieval Ages.
King Stephen was canonized on August 20th, 1038. As part of the canonization process, his remains were exhumed and his right hand was discovered to be as fresh as the day he was buried. The hand was detached and can be viewed to this day in St. Stephen’s Basilica in Budapest.
The main celebration event of St. Stephen’s day is the procession of the Holy Right Hand around the Basilica. In addition to this event, there is a blessing of the new bread, raising of the Hungarian Flag, air and water show over the Danube river, various concerts and street carnival, Street of Hungarian flavors (where you can taste traditional Hungarian food and drinks), contest for Hungary’s Birthday Cake 2012, and finally a fireworks show to close out the day.
This part is quite picture-heavy, so it may take some time loading. I tried to narrow it down to those that I thought best illustrated the day.
First time using the Subway in Budapest
The show was to start at 10:00, but we wanted to make sure that we got good spots, so we were out the door at about 9:15. It was to be my first time riding the subway, and I was a bit nervous. We had to stand in line for about 10 minutes to get a ticket and then passed through the guard supervised ticket checkpoint onto the escalator. I assumed that the guards were only there because it was a national holiday, but Skjalg told me that they are there all the time. It felt weird to have my ticket checked several times throughout the trip. In Norway, you are really only checked if there is a ticket control. I knew a guy that went three years without ever buying a ticket before he was fined during a control. There’s really no point to skirting the ticket fee in Budapest – a regular month pass costs 260,- ($44) and a student pass 130,- ($22) versus a regular for 620,- ($103) and student for 380,- ($66) in Norway.
A couple things hit me about the subway stations in Budapest:
- They are huge! Many have small shops and food venders.
- The platforms remind me a lot of the tube in London.
- They smell like fresh baked goods. All. The. Time. Skjalg said that there are small bakeries in every station.
- The escalators are very long and much faster than normal. I experienced an odd sense of vertigo my first couple times on them.
- It gets VERY windy when a subway runs through – ladies, hold on to those dresses!
All in all, my first experience with the subway was pretty good. The stations smell like fresh pastries, the platforms are clean, spacious and well ventilated, people are quick but courteous, and the escalators are fun once you get used to them. The actual subway cars look like relics from WWII and it really does feel like you are speeding through darkness in a tin can, but I found it kind of exciting. We’ll see if that changes…
Air and Water Show
After leaving the subway station, we were picked up by the masses heading towards the Danube and eventually dropped off at the end of Margaret Bridge. We were lucky enough to find an open spot along the railing.
The Street of Hungarian Flavors
August 19, 2012 § 2 Comments
Today wasn’t nearly as exciting as yesterday. We slept heavily last night – partially because of having not slept a decent nights sleep in several days and partially because our apartment has these AMAZING “black-out” blinds. I’m not sure if all buildings in Budapest have them or not, but all the apartments in our building do. They are quite heavy, wooden panels that are controlled by a rope contraption located beside the inner window pane. You can choose to have a few slots with light between each of the panels or lower the entire thing for complete darkness. When Skjalg lowered them last night, I couldn’t see anything. I’m not exaggerating either – it was pure darkness. That paired with some ear plugs and a soft bed and I was out for the night.
There was so much going on yesterday that I didn’t really have enough time to appreciate how excruciatingly warm it is here. I’m sorry, not warm, but boiling, scorching hot. We had plans to spend the day unpacking the whole apartment so that we could start the week fresh and prepared, but the heat in Budapest had other plans. We got so warm that it was almost impossible to do anything other than sit completely still. Our day never really got going, to say the least. We spent a lot of time talking, absorbing this new realtiy that we are in, and sweating.
For lunch I decided to keep it on the light and fresh side and made a chicken salad. I would have loved to have avoided using any kind of heat-producing appliance, but it would have been a boring salad without some protein. I searched the bag of lettuce to check if it had been pre-washed and stopped on an image of a running faucet crossed out with a big red X. I understood that this meant “don’t rinse under the faucet” but outside of that I was totally lost. Why can’t I run it under the water? Is the water poisonous? Should we not be drinking it? Why wouldn’t they want us to rinse the lettuce?? I couldn’t decipher any of the writing that accompanied the picture. The first part was in Hungarian, the second on German, and the third in… Czech, maybe? I went to Skjalg in the living room and asked if he knew what it meant. While not fluent in German, he knew enough to tell me that it was a warning to not rinse the salad because it would wash away natural vitamins and minerals. Easy enough…
After my run in with the lettuce bag, I finished the salad and we settled down to eat our first homemade meal in Budapest.
Tomorrow we will be celebrating Saint Stephen’s Day (celebrating the foundation of the Hungarian state 1000 years ago). In the morning there will be a water show at the Danube river, in the afternoon a stroll through the Street of Hungarian Flavors, and then a firework show over the palace to close out the day.
Now it’s back to sitting completely still so that the heat doesn’t get us…
August 18, 2012 § 5 Comments
After Skjalg spent some time showing me around the apartment, we decided to go out and explore a little bit of the neighborhood. Skjalg showed me around our neighborhood, pointing out the different shops and grocery stores. We took out money at an ATM (since most cash is the most common form of payment). It feels so weird to hold notes with such high numbers on them. It was difficult enough for me to get used to Norwegian money and this is a whole new level of change. (1 US dollar is equal to 6 Norwegian kroner, which is equal to about 230 Hungarian Forints.)
We started towards a neighborhood about 10 minutes away from our apartment, near the Jewish Quarter. One thing I can’t help but notice is how clean the streets are. I don’t think I have seen any trash on any of the sidewalks yet and there is very little chewing gum dissolved into the pavement. I could feel the age of the streets and buildings, but it didn’t feel dirty or old. Instead, it felt freshly-swept and well-preserved.
We settled in at a café close to the gym that Skjalg wants to join. Since he found an apartment so early in the week-long apartment hunting trip at the beginning of the month, he had plenty of time to try out the different gyms in the area. Our waitress was very friendly and spoke decent English. She helped us pick out a table that was close to an outlet so that I could charge my computer and offered to bring us two Americanos and some fresh squeezed orange juice. We don’t have internet at our apartment and won’t be able to get it until we get our residency cards. Monday is a national holiday and Tuesday is my birthday, so we won’t be able to start the application process for our cards until Wednesday. We’re expecting that we will be without internet for another month or so. In the meantime, I am writing my blog posts at home and posting them when we visit a café. The majority of cafés offer free wifi to guests.
After finishing breakfast at the café, we headed home to relax a bit before meeting the movers. The day before we left, Skjalg had asked me what I thought about hiring movers to help us move our stuff into our apartment. Moving out of our apartment in Oslo was no problem; we lived on the first floor and the truck was parked right in front of the apartment. Moving in, however, wasn’t going to be as easy. Skjalg got a quote from a company that offered 5 hours of moving help for 500,- ($85). I was a little conflicted at first – our move was already costing us a bit of money – but it ended up being the best decision of our whole trip. After all the packing, cleaning, driving, and horrible quality sleep we’ve had over the past couple of weeks, we were in no way fit to carry our stuff up 5 floors in 35°C (100°F). The movers were on time, friendly and effective. There were two of them: one older one who spoke a little english and a younger one who spoke almost no English at all. Skjalg stayed down with the truck, helping them move things into the courtyard, and I stayed in the apartment and started unpacking our things.
When I headed out to get cold waters for Skjalg and the movers, Skjalg informed me that the pink bottles were still water. I hadn’t even considered that I wouldn’t have been able to tell which was sparkling and which was flat – a good thing too, because the bottle label sure doesn’t help:
It felt so good to get everything into the apartment. It signified the end of a stressful and demanding process. The move was a success and it made me happy that all of our planning worked out in the end.
Once the movers had left, we delivered the truck and moseyed back home. Skjalg said that one of the best restaurants serving Hungarian dishes was right down the street from our apartment. We were looking at the menu when the owner popped his head out the door, pointed at his watch and said “30 minutes”. It was already 17:30, but Skjalg said that it seems that Hungarians tend to eat dinner later in the evening.
Since it was our first day in our new home, we decided to get a bottle of bubbles to celebrate the move and the beginning of this new chapter. Oh the joy of being able to buy alcohol on a Saturday – and at a supermarket no less! Norway is very strict about alcohol sales. Beer and cider are sold in grocery stores but cannot be purchased after 20:00 on a weekday and 18:00 on a Saturday. Any other alcohol must be purchased from a store called Vinmonopolet (translated: the wine monopoly). Vinmonopolet’s opening hours are pretty restricted, I think they close at 18:00 on weekdays and are open on Saturday from 09:00-15:00. They are also close on holidays and sometimes even the day before a holiday. The Norwegian government definitely wants you to plan ahead when it comes to alcohol. In all honestly, it wasn’t the biggest hassle…but I found it frustrating when we wanted a bottle of wine with dinner or to celebrate a special occasion.
I love the supermarkets here. Everything is so new and exciting and the selection is so much more varied than I am used to. I even got excited about the shopping baskets! There was a stack of traditional red shopping baskets at the entrance and next to it there was a line of these odd, grey, wheeled contraptions. They reminded me a lot of a small, shorter version of the trolleys you use at the airport to push your luggage around. I first placed the basket on the bottom “shelf” but then Skjalg saw an older woman who had it locked into the top somehow, so he changed it. It was so easy to move around and so compact… I probably looked like a crazy person testing it out.
Grocery shopping is not going to be easy, but it’s not going to be as challenging as I expected. There were a fair amount of imported products and many had pictures on the packaging. The price conversion is a little intimidating. I found myself standing in front of products for a lot longer than I should have:
“399. That seems like a lot. Is that a lot? That one is 579. Is that a big difference in price? 799. That is definitely too much…ahhhh! Just pick one!”
I had to stop looking at the prices and just grab what we needed. The greatest part was at the checkout station. It’s pretty well known that Norway is the most expensive country in the world for a lot of things – and food is definitely one of them. To help illustrate how expensive it is and why paying was so much fun, I’ll compare our grocery shopping experience with one in Norway. (We estimated the Norwegian prices – so they may vary a bit – and we’ve considered the cheapest bottle of sparking wine. The one we got here wasn’t.)
In US dollars, that’s $82 in Norway vs. $29 in Hungary. I would have included the Hungarian item prices if I could understand the receipt…that will just have to wait until I’ve been here a little longer. It’s almost the equivalent of buying the bottle of sparkling wine and getting everything else for free. It is going to feel SO good to go grocery shopping and not freak out about how much it cost. We’re not careless spenders when it comes to food, but it hasn’t stopped us from feeling guilty for spending money on the food we actually need.
Once back at home, we napped, nibbled on some hummus, and popped open the sparkling wine. At around 21:30, we headed back to the restaurant we had stopped by before. The restaurant wasn’t very busy; there were people sitting on the tables outside and it was about half full inside. We both decided to go for a full Hungarian experience and ordered roasted chicken paprika and beef stew, both served with homemade gnocchi. The food was amazing. The meat in both dishes was the most tender I have ever had. It is nice to have a nearby place to take people to when they come to visit. We weren’t so lucky with dessert… The first was a sort of fried square fruit pastry served with a cognac chocolate sauce. I’m not a big fan of liquor flavored desserts and this one was quite heavy on the liquor. The center fruit part and the chocolate sauce had very strong alcohol tastes. The second was an apple noodle dish with different spices and some mixed nut crumble. I wasn’t quite prepared for the varying textures and had never tasted anything like it before, so it was hard to appreciate the dish.
So ended our first day in Budapest. No complaints on this end!
August 18, 2012 § 2 Comments
I’ve written about our move from Oslo to Budapest in several different posts and thought it would be good to have a sort of summary post for those that are interested in the logistics.
Why did you drive down instead of taking a plane?
We spent a good few weeks discussing our different options. The apartment we were living in in Oslo came furnished, but we still had too much to just put it all on a plane. We decided that we would sell as much as we could and drive down with the rest. We didn’t have the option of leaving anything behind in Oslo and couldn’t see ourselves selling absolutely everything. I haven’t acquired too much in my three years since moving to Oslo (mostly just clothes, books, etc) but Skjalg had a good deal of valuable things. He ended up selling his snowboard and snowboarding gear, DVDs, printer, Playstation 3 with all his games and add-ons, school books, coffee machines, juicer, microwave and vacuum cleaner, and also gave away his rug, lamps, desk, bookshelves, folding chairs and toaster. The apartment in Budapest is also furnished, so we really only needed to take down personal things.
How we moved
A lot of hours were put into figuring this one out.
- X Hiring a company to move everything for us
- One company wanted 30.000,- ($5,000) plus cleaning costs and another wanted 750,- per hour ($125)
- X Shipping our stuff
- Public option was only available to companies and a private company wanted 40.000,- ($6,700)
- X Renting a truck in Norway
- Base price of 15.000,- ($2,500) and then more for extra kilometers and gas.
- X Buying a truck in Norway and selling it in Budapest
- Too much of a hassle on both ends, no guarantee that we would get our money back.
- X Renting a car with a trailer in Norway
- Most cars didn’t have hanger attachment, those that did were more expensive and didn’t include the actual hanger. When we found a hanger for a good price, we learned that we would have to pay an extra 25.000,- ($4,150) for driving the car out of Scandinavia.
- X Borrowing a car from a family member or friend
- None of our friends in Oslo owned a car and borrowing one from Skjalg’s family up in Bodø would have added 2-3 days of extra driving and about 5.000,- ($1,000) extra in gas.
- ✓ – Renting a car in Budapest and flying down to pick it up
Skjalg searched around online for different car rental companies in Budapest. He wasn’t having any luck so he tried varying the search (trying to find the magic phrase): truck rental, van rental, moving rental, etc. He then used the User’s Guide to Hungary to find the word for “car rental” in Hungarian, googled it, and used the google chrome browser to translate the sites he found in the results. He emailed several different companies and waited a few days before calling to follow up. Most of the companies answered after he had been calling for a while, though some didn’t speak any english and just told Skjalg “send mail” (to which they never replied to). He tried booking online but either found that it wasn’t available or that they didn’t have that type of car. He finally got a couple of price offers by mail and responded to the one with the best price. They emailed back and forth several times: discussing GPS navigation possibilities, highway stickers, insurance coverage, cost of extra mileage, etc. They then sent a final offer, which Skjalg accepted. He sent another mail a couple of days later asking if they could deliver the car to our apartment in Budapest (a service that they offered for free on their site). He received no reply to this mail so he sent yet another mail and then called them for three days before he finally got a hold of someone that worked there. This man told him that they had no such car in their company. At this point we only had two days to find a car. Skjalg began yet another search for car companies online. One of the ones he contacted was called “Best hotel car rentals” and told him that they couldn’t confirm anything beforehand and that he should just show up the next day to see if they had the truck available. He googled for a bit longer and found the company that we ended up renting from, “Rent a Car – Auto”. The owner was out driving but said he would check if he had the truck we needed available during that period. He called soon after and told Skjalg that he could move some things around so that we could rent a truck that would be able to handle the long drive. The price included all costs, even unlimited miles and he spoke perfect English – which was a relief. The truck rental was 3.750,- ($625) – a fraction of the other options. This was paid in cash (as is quite normal in Hungary) and credit card was used to pay a deposit of 6.000,- ($1,000).
The car we rented
Citroen Jumper (Most likely one of the late 1990’s models)
The car was comfortable but loud, and looked like it had been around the block a couple hundred times. It wasn’t brand new, but it got us from A to B and back again.
Skjalg and Kaja picked up the rental in Budapest on Monday morning and arrived in Oslo on Tuesday at around 23:00. We had Wednesday to pack the truck and finish cleaning. On Thursday we were to meet the landlord at 10:00 to turn in the apartment. He was running late, so we weren’t able to leave until noon.
I wasn’t the best at keeping track of our progress, but this is what I have scraped together from memory, text messages to friends and family, and from my service provider.
- Driving time: 12.5 hours
- Distance covered: 1050 km (652 miles)
12:00 – Left Oslo
13:30 – Entered Sweden
18:30 – Malmø, Sweden
20:30 – Entered Denmark
21:27 – Odensa, Denmark
24:00 – Hamburg, Germany
- Driving time: 13 hours
- Distance covered: 1098 km (682 miles)
11:00 – Left motel outside of Hamburg
17:21 – Entered Czech Republic
22:06 – Entered Slovakia
23:30 – Entered Hungary
- Driving time: 1 hours
- Distance covered: 89 km (55 miles)
8:30 – left hotel
10:00 – arrived in Budapest
All in all, we’re happy to have had the experience, but not looking to do a trip like this again any time soon 🙂