My Family’s First Visit to Budapest

January 28, 2013 § 5 Comments

I’ve had an amazing week with my family, even though the time flew by too quickly. My mom and I had a couple days together before the arrival of my Aunt Aida from England. Two days after her arrival, Christian joined us from Pécs. Poor Skjalg had 3 exams last week – all of which he passed! – so he wasn’t able to join us until Friday.

We spent our time catching up, drinking red wine and visiting amazing restaurants. It felt so foreign to me to have so much free time. I still have a week left of break before school starts again, but I will be filling the time with more productive tasks. Once the new semester starts next Monday, I can’t imagine there will be time for much else.

Here’s a little bit of what the past week looked like:

guest roomAll set-up and ready for my mom’s first night in Budapest

New York Cafe building Sunday morning breakfast at New York Café

new york cafeNew York Cafe 2New York Cafe 3The beautiful New York Café

my mama 2Dinner with my beautiful mama at La Cucina on Vaci utca

gerbaud mamaCoffee break at Café Gerbaud

mama tapasAmazing tapas dinner at Pata Negra at Kalvin ter

mom and aidaVisiting the Central Market

fruit veggie stall central market Meat case My mama

For Sale 2Lunch at For Sale – located across the street from the Central Market

Mama and Aida

Aida's Side saladThe portions at For Sale were beyond huge. We split 1 order of soup between the three of us and Aida ordered a main course. When it arrived, we were shocked to see the size of her “side” salad. Definitely a spot for sharing!

For Sale ceilingThere are thousands of notes from previous guests pinned to the walls and ceilings

our noteOur addition to the notes

For SaleSuch a cozy little spot

winter stopIt was a cold winter day, so we tried to spend as much time indoors as possible

Vaci utcaWe braved the cold and walked down Vaci utca, from the Central Market to Vörösmarty Square

palaceAfter a round of shopping on Vaci Utca, we walked along the Danube promenade, on our way to see the parliament building

palace and chain bridgeBuda Palace and the Chain Bridge

Basilica street viewWalking up to St. Stephen’s Basilica

Inside basilicaInside the basilica for the first time. It felt so wrong to take a picture with all the people praying in there, even though the guard said it was ok. This picture doesn’t do it justice.

S and CDropping Christian off at the train station before his trip back to Pécs


First Semester: Check!!

January 18, 2013 § 6 Comments

On Wednesday I had my last exam, in medical biophysics. I can’t recall a time that I have ever been so nervous and scared. For 3 nights before the exam, I was up until 3 or 4 a.m and then on the night before the exam, I only slept from 20:30-23:30. With so little quality sleep, so much Red Bull coursing through my system, and so much pressure riding on that last exam, I was feeling completely disconnected from my body. All I could think was that I never ever wanted to be in that position again and that the next time around, I would do it better.

I walked to school that morning, something I feel like I will do more of in the future. I did the same thing before my chemistry exam two weeks ago and it really cleared my head and calmed my nerves. I’ve been inspired to choose walking over public transportation after coming across an article describing journalist Paul Salopek’s new project Out of Eden – A Walk through Time. For the next 7 years, he will be retracing the steps our ancient ancestors traveled as they migrated across the world. I felt most inspired when watching a clip from an interview on the project’s home page, in which he explained his passion for this project:

The reason why I am doing this, the reason why I am excited by it, is that it is going to press the boundaries of communicating in a world where there is just too much information and not enough meaning. So I am going to swim upstream against the flow of information and try to slow people down, to have them absorb stories at a human pace – at about 3 miles an hour.

After watching that video, I began to consider the flow of information in my life. I am in a chapter that is characterized by an overwhelming amount of information and takes place in a country that challenges me every day, with every trip I make outside of my apartment. I am constantly running on max. It doesn’t help that I spend my days speeding between home, school and the library/café. I have acquired such tunnel vision that I can’t remember witnessing the seasons change. I remember summer, since that is when we moved here, and winter, since I am looking through the window at the snow, but nothing about fall. So it is understandable why his comment about “absorbing stories at a human pace” really struck a chord with me.

Anyway, back to the exam. We were called by groups into different rooms in the Basic Medical Science building. It seemed that it was done alphabetically because all the members of my group (the one I share all my semester classes with) were called into the same room. Those of us who were exempt from the written portion were asked to sit in the front row. The written exam was passed out to the other students and the tension in the front row began to increase exponentially. Martha, a friend and fellow group member, and I exchanged a couple glances during this time. We were both teetering on the edge of panic and were dreading what was ahead of us. Once the written exams were distributed, we were asked by the proctor to choose a yellow card with our lab topic and a pink card with our theory topics. Neither of us moved when he first asked. We just sat there staring at the cards, as if hoping that time would stop or even miraculously fast-forward so that we would find ourselves at the other end. I took a deep breath and reached forward to select my cards. “Right now you are determining whether you pass or fail,” I told myself. No pressure there, right?

When I reviewed my topics, I experienced a clash of relief and panic. They weren’t the topics that I really wanted, the ones I was really passionate about, but they were topics I could do. These are my topics and what I was expected to explain:


I felt (and honestly still feel) that my exam went horribly. I had used whatever energy I had to fill out 5 pages of notes after receiving my topics, that I wasn’t prepared for the extra questions she asked me. At one point she asked me what would happen if I were to disappear, and I just sat there staring at her before letting out a nervous laugh. (She had wanted me to relay the relation e=mcˆ2 to her.) When I was finished, she looked at my midterm scores (a 5 and a 4) and said, “Ok…you have, good midterm results, and good lab book, it is….a 3. But very weak, you must work harder.” I was so exhausted, embarrassed and just relieved that I just thanked her profusely and apologized (for what, I don’t really know…it’s a reflex).

The worst part of the exam is really that you have to do it in front of other students. We were sitting in a small classroom and I had my exam as other students were sitting there writing their notes for their topics. I don’t know why it makes me so nervous, they are in the same situation, but I can’t help getting that “stage-fright” feeling every time.

After leaving the room, I expected to feel a wash of relief at the realization that I was done, but it never came. Skjalg still has some exams and I really only know two other people who are done, so it doesn’t really feel real yet.

Yesterday was my first day of “freedom”. Skjalg had his anatomy exam and since I knew I would be a nervous wreck during that time, I met with Charlotte for coffee and a study planning session. It began to snow quite heavily and made for a really cozy ambiance in the window-walled café.

Mustard Smiley Faces

A victorious Skjalg joined us soon afterward. He stayed only for an espresso, eager to get home and get some rest. I came home later to a perfectly cleaned apartment (Skjalg, you are amazing 😉 ) and we headed out for trip to IKEA.

Tomorrow night my mom will be arriving from California and I can’t express just how happy and excited I am to see her. It’s been over a year since I last saw my family – the biggest downside of living abroad. With no more exams to burden me, I look forward to enjoying this quality time with my mama. A huge added bonus is the simultaneous visit of my amazing Aunt Aida from England! When I was younger my family all lived in the same area and I really took for granted the family dinners, birthdays and holidays. I feel so lucky to get a little of this family feeling in the midst of all this school chaos.

I love you, but it’s 3 a.m.

January 14, 2013 § 3 Comments

This is the response I got when trying to update Skjalg on the case of Aaron Schwartz’s suicide (founder of Reddit) and the hacker group Anonymous’ subsequent shut-down of the servers at MIT. I don’t normally spend the early hours of the morning searching for tales of tech tragedies online, but it popped up on my Facebook newsfeed – which I do check at various intervals throughout the day (unfortunately). Instead of playing games online, I’ve picked up a habit of helping to “map the retinal connectome” over at They are a lab over at MIT, so if you’ve tried checking out their site in the hours after this post was published, odds are the site is still down. Here’s a little info about the site from their Facebook page:


Eyewire is a game to map the 3D structure and connectivity of neurons from Seung Lab of Computational Neuroscience at MIT.


Inside the retina, tucked away at the back of the eye, lies an incredibly dense tangle of interconnected neurons. If we can map the many connections between these cells, we will be closer than ever to understanding how vision works. To achieve this, we need something more intelligent than even the most powerful supercomputer — you.

You can help discover things that machines can’t. Delve into the microscopic realm of the retina to glimpse the twists and turns of neurons hitherto unseen. You will be at the forefront of scientific exploration as you chart the entangled branches of those tree-like cells called neurons. Join us to explore the eye’s jungle

So, why are we up at 3 a.m.? Well, it’s finals season. I’ve been cramming for physics and Skjalg for anatomy. Yesterday at around 15:00 (and by yesterday I mean Saturday) I decided to start a log of my study time. In preparing for this exam I am pretty much just watching every video possible on yairmeiry’s youtube channel (see the Resources Galore page to the left). I was curious about how many actual minutes (with pausing, rewinding, note-taking, etc.) I use per actual minute of video. I love charts, lists, logs – anything to organize or assign a number value to something. Plus, after last week’s statistic exam, I’m a little bit more fluent in excel.
Click Image for Larger View

Click Image for Larger View

I noticed today that keeping the log actually made me actively more efficient. It kept me aware of and accountable for my time – and time for a med student is gold.

Ok, that’s it. Sorry for the nerdy post. That’s all I have to offer this far into exam season 😉

Snow’s here and we ain’t got no heat

January 10, 2013 § 2 Comments

Well, technically now we do. Our hot water heater went out on Tuesday night and a guy came to fix it yesterday morning. Everything was back to cozy when all of a sudden it went out again. It was too late for someone to come fix it, so he came back this morning. Apparently, the fuze has been blowing out once it reaches a maximum heat and he adjusted it so that it goes 2 degrees above the minimum. Yes, 2 degrees above the minimum. When the technician left he said that he hoped it would hold and that we should call if anything goes wrong again.

We’ve heard a lot of “horror” stories about how difficult it is dealing with apartment issues like this in Budapest, but we’ve been really lucky in our experiences so far. Everyone we’ve spoken to speaks a decent amount of English and are very polite and friendly. The best thing for us has been their response time. After our first call, we had a technician at our place within 1-2 hours and when we called this morning, he was here within the hour.

Hopefully we will be able to heat up this place with the heater set on such a low level. The snow is here and it seems like it might actually stay around this time. After living in Oslo for 3 years, it feels weird for there to be no snow yet.

In the meantime, we have been heating the apartment with tons of candles. It adds a little coziness to the study cave. In case you weren’t sick of the candle pictures, here’s some more! It’s pretty much all we look at all day…and this blog is documenting our experiences, so I guess it’s appropriate.

Candles 1 Candles 2 candles 3

Here’s a shot of the creepy, unfinished building across the way from us. In the 4/5 months that we have lived here, we haven’t seen any life over there. I can imagine that it will be quite beautiful when it is done, especially if they fill the courtyard with plants. Until then I will just continue to enjoy the post-apocalyptic feel I get gazing out the window on that side of the apartment.

creepy building snow


January 8, 2013 § Leave a comment

This past weekend we took a study break and went for a walk around Margit-sziget, or Margaret Island. It’s an island about 2.5 km (1.6 miles) long and located in the middle of the Danube river, which passes right through the middle of the city. We’ve heard a lot about it, it’s especially popular in the summer, but we have never actually been out there.


We didn’t expect to see anything more than a running track and maybe some outdoor pools, but there turned out to be a lot more to it. After about 20 minutes walking along the water, we climbed up to the running path and low and behold – a zoo! Not a huge one, but it had some deer, miniature horses and birds (white flamingos maybe?).

zoo deer zoo horses zoo birds

A little bit further down we came across these beautiful medieval ruins. I was curious about them and looked them up once I got home. The ruins are the remains of a 13th century Franciscan church and Dominican church and convent and a Premonstratensian church from the 12th century. The buildings were destroyed during the Ottoman wars in 16th century. There is something both eerie and beautiful about being in the presence of so much history. Nothing gives me a a greater awareness of the concept of time than that.


After passing through the ruins, we reached a little outdoor workout area. I snapped a couple shots of Skjalg testing out the machines.

skjalg park workout

The last surprise of the island was a small japanese garden with a thermal fish pond. It was a cold day and the heat from the pool created a thick mist over the pond.

duck mist

I only had my phone with me, so the shots aren’t the best quality. Now that I know how beautiful the island is, I will be sure to bring the camera along with my next time.

creepy statue
runningpath shadow sun

Biostatistics and Informatics: Check!

January 8, 2013 § 2 Comments

It’s a little over 11:00 p.m. in Budapest and I went to bed more than 3 hours ago. It wasn’t until I realized that I was keeping myself entertained by rhythmically grinding my teeth together that I admitted defeat and got out of bed.

Now 8:00 p.m. is nowhere near a normal bed time for me, but it is what should be expected after our first “all-nighter” of the year. I put the phrase in quotations because we only made it to 5:30 a.m. before we agreed to let ourselves sleep for a couple of hours. We got a late start yesterday and at about midnight, decided to hold our sleep hostage and use statistics problems as ransom. It worked surprisingly well and Skjalg and I continued to work our way through the exam material until the early hours of the morning when our progress slowed and Skjalg bargained for 5 minutes to “just rest my eyes”…

We definitely didn’t plan to cram for the entire night on the night before the exam, but things don’t really work out according to your plans here. We slept for about two hours, waking around 8:00 a.m., and used the rest of the morning before the exam doing some practice tests.

The tram wasn’t working as it normally does and the platform was beginning to fill up with more and more curious city-travelers. Normally the tram comes every 5 (if not 2 or 3) minutes, but today, it just wasn’t coming. When one finally did come, it didn’t even stop. It just inched by slowly, like a sulking child, and continued on down the line.

scumbag budapest tram

At that point, I was getting a little too stressed out to wait much longer. We weren’t too pressed for time, but we definitely didn’t need any public transportation stalls to prevent us from getting to the exam on time. I hesitated when Skjalg suggested that we get a cab. The number one piece of advice I’ve gotten from previous students is, hands-down, to not take a cab from the street – unless you want to be swindled. Always, always, always call first!

Regardless, we soon found ourselves inside a cab stealthily navigating its way to the university through the side streets of the city. The ride was surprisingly smooth, swindle-free, and the driver spoke a decent level of English – not bad for my first cab rid here.

This exam was – by far – the least stressful of the ones I’ve had so far. Biostatistics and Informatics is a single-semester class, so this was our final exam and not a semi-final. We were given an hour and a half to complete the following:

  • 2 tests – either 1-sample, 1-sample paired, 2-sample, Correlation, Wilcoxon, Mann-Whitney-U
  • 1 Chi-squared test
  • 1 evaluation of diagnostic tests – calculating sensitivity, specificity, diagnostic efficiency and prevalence
  • 20 multiple choice questions – about various tests, statistical parameters, probabilities, etc.

Afterwards we waited for a little over an hour for the exams to be graded and to get our index books back. I don’t think I’ve written anything about the index books yet…they are small black grade books that contain all the signatures and grades for our classes. At the beginning of each exam we deliver it to the examiners and then we receive it once our grades have been noted inside. Very, very old school.

The examiners finally emerged and began to call out names of different students. I got mine before Skjalg and immediately looked inside. It took a second to figure out which of the signatures it was (everything in our index book is in Hungarian) but then I found it: a 3. I was happy – of course – I mean, I’d passed! But there was a bit of uneasiness about it because I’d thought that I’d done a lot better. Skjalg also got a 3 and, when he confirmed that he felt the same way that I did, we decided to stay back and ask to see our exams. The exams are done in excel and graded by a computer program, so there is a possibility that it made a mistake (or four).

While we were waiting, one of the examiners asked us if we had failed and wanted to see what we had done wrong. When I answered that we had passed and just wanted to look at our exams he said, “but you have passed! Be happy and go home!”

My statistics professor was the one to go over our exams with us. He opened the test and we saw almost immediately that things didn’t look right. We spent about 10-15 minutes going through my calculations and finding my missing points. In the first test, the grading program had penalized me for not calculating a value that I wasn’t supposed to calculate for the test I chose and then awarded me more points in one part and less in another.

Exam point recreation

In the second test, I got full points for choosing the right test, but then 0 points for all my calculations! My professor was openly about his irritation with the program and mumbled frustrated comments under his breath. (I got the impression that he is against using a computer program to grade the exams.) In the end, we found that my exam was missing a total of 18 points, bringing my grade up from a 3 to a 4. Well worth the extra time going over it! And I wasn’t the only one – there were about 4 other people (including Skjalg) that were missing points on their exams.

It frustrates me to think of all the exams that were most likely graded incorrectly. There were only 5 of us that stayed back and checked our exams – out of 70 total – and all of us had something wrong with them. I’m not sure if there is anything I can do about it…other than recommending to others that they check their exams. My professor was clearly not a fan, so maybe a change is in the works already.

So now it is only physics and then I am done! After that I will have two/three days before my mama arrives (love you mama!!). I haven’t seen her in over a year and am looking SO forward to spending some quality time with her.

Alright, I’m off to try to sleep again. Wish me luck! 😉

Pictures from Skjalg’s 30th Birthday

January 6, 2013 § Leave a comment

On December 15th we celebrated Skjalg’s 30th along with a small group of friends at Sir Lancelot’s in Budapest. It is a medieval themed restaurant complete with a show and gigantic food platters. Here are some shots from that night! Click on the pictures for a larger version.

group1group 2S&B at Lancelotbirthday cardgiftbirthdayboyfoodplatter

bday beer boylancelot show

bday whiteboard


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