When in Budapest, look up – and watch your step

November 15, 2012 § 4 Comments

The biting cold has returned to Budapest. We had a solid week where it was crucial to don your winter best, but then it headed towards a more “balmy” cold. Skjalg and I are on our fourth day waking up at 5:00. Both of us have alarm apps on our phones that evaluate our sleep rhythm and wake us when we are at the peak of the REM cycle. This is supposed to help us feel as rested as possible when waking up, but it doesn’t always have that effect – especially when the snooze button is so conveniently located next to the dismiss button.

The sleep app for the my phone comes complete with a “CAPTCHA – Really Awake?” feature where I can choose between a number of tasks that must be completed in order to shut off the alarm. Monday was my first day using it and I didn’t choose well. For the alarm I chose ocean waves and seagulls and the sleeping sheep option for the CAPTCHA challenge. I woke in a panic that morning with the sound of birds squawking in my ear as I tried desperately to shut it off. Apparently, you are supposed to tap the awake sheep, but the screen changes every couple of seconds to keep it challenging (and to confuse the half-awake person furiously tapping the screen).  I’ve since changed it to peaceful music and a math problem.

Today is lecture day, but with our histology midterm awaiting us bright and early tomorrow morning, Skjalg and I have decided to stay in and study all day. We started off our morning with a visit to the gym. As hard as it is to get up early, I wouldn’t trade those extra hours of sleep for the feeling I have after a work out. It clears my head and reminds me that there is a whole world that exists outside of studying. Who knew?

I headed home a bit earlier than Skjalg. I’d forgotten my headphones, so I had to occupy my mind with something else, something like observing my surroundings. I looked up at one building and noticed that there were at least 40-50 holes marking the façade at the 3rd and 4th floor levels. I’ve been told by several people that there are many buildings still riddled with bullets from WWII and the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, but haven’t seen them myself. I pondered these markings, wondering first whether they were actually bullet holes and then why they would be mainly on the 3rd and 4th floors. The buildings in Budapest carry so much history and the architecture of some of the buildings is fascinating. The down side? There is dog poop everywhere (at least on the streets we walk on). There is one street especially where I always see at least two people walking little dogs and numerous piles of little dog poops – but I never catch them in the act! It’s a bit of a downer having to constantly navigate the poop minefield, but I guess it’s just a feature of city living. I remember being shocked at the dog poop situation in Nice, France. It was so bad there that they even had professional poop cleaners that drove around on motorcycles with a vacuum pump to suck up the poop piles. In areas where there are not a lot of parks, trees, or nature in general, I assume it’s normal – a dog’s gotta go right? But that doesn’t explain why people can’t just pick up after them. I feel bad for the shop owners who emerge each morning to scrub the sidewalks clean.

Anyways, enough of my tangent about poop, bullet holes and pretty buildings. It’s histology time!

IKEA Budapest

September 4, 2012 § Leave a comment

Today we made our very first IKEA run in Hungary. Our apartment came completely furnished – even down to silverware and scented candles – but we wanted some of our own things to give some of the rooms a little more of a personal touch. Our main purchase was two study lamps. If I have learned anything from the study marathons of the past, it is that good lighting is key to holding my concentration. We got two so that we can each have one if we are studying in the living room, or just have one in the living room and one in the guest room, which we are using as a study.

It felt good to be able to read product information again. Swedish is similar enough to Norwegian that I can read it well enough. I was reeled back into being “lost in translation” when the cashier began speaking to me in Hungarian. One thing I learned after my first move to a foreign country was that if I didn’t understand something, I should first consider the context of the question and then common questions within that context. Recalling on this experience, I said “cash” (as in, I am paying in cash). It turned out that she was asking me if I had a family card. My trick failed, but then again, I have never heard of the IKEA family card…

When I replied that I didn’t have a family card, the cashier began a discussion with the couple standing behind me in line. As they could have been saying anything, I just smiled and kept my eyes forward. When the cashier was done ringing up my things, the girl that she had been speaking to began to speak to me. She said:

The family card will save you lots of money. I can use mine for you this time, because it will save you money. You can get your own card on the internet.

I said thank you to both the cashier (for taking the time to ask the girl behind me to help me understand) and the girl (for using her card). When I looked at my receipt, I saw that I had saved about 2,500 HUF (64 NOK and $11). I was very happy when I considered all that I had just gotten for free. Skjalg and I had split into two lines: one for common purchases, which Skjalg took, and one for things that I wanted to get. Part of me regretted that it wasn’t his cartload that had gotten discounted, since it had much more than mine did. But, as they say, don’t look a gift horse in the mouth!

So, a tip to all of you students out there in Budapest: before you go to IKEA, get a family card! The card is free and their website lists all the items that are available for a discounted price during a given period. You can apply for the card here. If you are using the Google Chrome browser, it will translate the entire page to your language.

Happy shopping!

Useful Tips for Newcomers

September 3, 2012 § 1 Comment

School starts in a week and I am getting very restless. To keep my mind busy, I am spending a lot of time reading blogs from Norwegian students studying both veterinary/regular medicine in Budapest. I came across one blog post today where the author had written a long “insiders guide” to Budapest based on her experiences living here for three years. She had a number of good tips that I would like to repeat here, for anyone interested in reading the original post, click here (it is in Norwegian).

  • Cultural DifferencesHungarians are generally very friendly, open and polite. They may shut down when spoken to in English, but respond well enough if you are polite, friendly and don’t mind trying more than once to get their attention. Be patient and open-minded. Always say hello and goodbye when entering/leaving a shop, and always say thank you and you’re welcome.
    • Skjalg and I have gotten by on knowing how to say hello, thank you, and good-bye, and then using google translate when we can’t communicate what we are looking for. We were looking for peanut butter at the super market today and got help finding it when we translated it – mogyoróvaj. (It ended up that they didn’t have it, but at least we got help!)
  • CrimeKeep your doors locked. Rape is very rare in Budapest and when drinking, Hungarians tend to be more on the tame side than say, Norwegians. Try not to get caught up in the middle of a demonstration. Girls, watch your drinks!
  • TaxisNever, ever get in a taxi that is just waiting on the street, and do not allow yourselves to be tricked by the “taxi drivers” that approach you at the airport. The blog author recommends City Taxi: (+36 or 06) 12 11 11 11. She wrote that they speak english and arrive within 5 to 10 minutes.
  • Paying with your bank cardMost places accept card, but it takes a very long time for the purchase to be processed. It is normal to pay things in cash – including rent. Just make sure you get a contract when making large payments.
  • ShoppingLarge shopping centers are open 7 days a week. There is Mammut on the Buda side of the city and West End and Arena Plaza on the Pest side.  Vaci utca (pronounced vatsi utsa) is a great shopping street with shops like H&M, New Yorker, Zara, etc.
  • MoviesThere are movie theaters at both West End and Arena Plaza. At Arena Plaza there is a VIP-movie theater where, for 100,- ($17) – and the same price as a regular movie ticket in Norway – you get unlimited popcorn, nachos, beer, champagne and soda and sometimes they have a little tapas spread. The seats in the theaters are lounge-style, where you can put up your feet and relax completely.
  • Doctor/Hospital If you are sick, the author recommends going to FirstMed, a private American clinic that is located on the Buda side next to the Mammut center. They are very expensive, but the cost is covered as long as you have health insurance. Just remember to call your insurance provider before your visit and take your insurance papers/card with you when you go. The author warns against going to a public hospital, mainly because it is next to impossible to find a doctor that can speak English.
  • Grocery storesThere are hundreds of small shops scattered throughout the city, but there are also large super markets (Spar, Tesco, etc). If getting ground beef, be aware that they have meats that are up in 22% fat. It is best to get it ground fresh in the meat department – just point at the meat you want, say machine, and make a grinding motion with your arm. Lidl and Match carry German, and some Norwegian, products.
  • Drinking waterGet a water filter. They are inexpensive and will save you the numerous trips carrying bottled water home during the week. Tap water is safe to drink, but tastes a little funny and contains a good amount of chlorine and minerals.
    • We purchased a filter for only 100,- ($17). It took the weird taste away and works like a charm. 

Tips from a Hungarian in Oslo

August 10, 2012 § Leave a comment

The Hungarian woman who took over our bookcase was nice enough to send us an email with different tips for Budapest. She lived there for 6 years and promised that she could help us with any questions we should have. I’ve copied her e-mail here and translated the section that was written in Norwegian.

Hei!!!
1000 takk for alle!!! Det var såååå snill av deg!! Jeg er så grateful!!

Så her er en list av de beste alternative spots in Budapest. Jeg skrev for en venn 2 uker siden på engelsk. Har du svar om Budapest eller Ungarn? Jeg er hyggli å svar alle sprørsmalet. Budapest er superkult! 6 år av min levet jeg borde der, og jeg kan fortell at denne by er ful av fest, exhibisjoner, flashmobs, gatherings etc.

Hi!!!
A thousand thanks for everything!!! It was soooooo nice of you!! I am so grateful!!
So here is list of the best alternative spots in Budapest. I wrote this about two weeks ago for a friend. If you  have any questions about Budapest or Hungary, I would be happy to answer any questions. Budapest is super cool! I’ve spent 6 years of my life there, and I can say that it is a city full of parties, exhibitions, flash mobs, gatherings etc. 
————————————

If you wanna go out and discover the vivid nightlife of Budapest, houndreds of possibilities are waiting for you. Forget about fancy touristic restaurants and bars, casinos, popular discotecas. Budapesters never go those places.
If you are adventurous, try the so called ruined-pub stlye places (all of them are in the central):

Instant Bar (former squathouse): http://www.instant.co.hu/en
huge place (3 floors) designed in a unique way, usually parties in the basement. No enrance fee.

Pótkulcs: free entry live concerts and nice atmosphere close to Nyugati Pályaudvar. open after 5pm. http://www.potkulcs.hu/program.php

Doboz: this is the newest underground bar. I loved it: direction: klauzál utca 10

Szimpla kert – every tourist thinks they are discovering something nontouristy here, but actually there are alltime more foreigners here than in the fancy central bars… High prices and unfriendly bartenders. Still keeps it’s own ruinedpub style. I personally hate it, but tourists tend to like it a lot.
http://www.szimpla.hu/budapest/home?Itemid=22

Mélypont: the less touristic of all. It look inside like a hungarian livingroom from the 70’s. Location: 5 minutes on foot from Astoria metrostop. Address: Magyar utca 23. (doesn’t have homepage) open: after 5pm.

Csendes Bár: on the way to Mélypont from Astoria you can take a look at this artistic bar-place: Ferenczy István utca 5 (doesn’t have homepage)

Könyvtár pinceklub: also 2 minutes from Astoria u find this university-gathering bar with free entry concerts and garden-sit-out http://konyvtarklub.hu/programok.php

THere are a LOT more than these, to see them I found this website very good:
http://www.spottedbylocals.com/budapest/
list all the unique venues with detailed descriptions.

As most these places are quite close to each other (walking distance), you can easly visit more in one night. (actually i did pub-crawl for foreigners)

Food: Greens pub (google it for location and openingtime) they have hungarian soups served in Bread rolls, really cheap (2 euros), and really tasty!! Staff speaks english, have english menu also.

Gathering: CouchSurfing meetings are on every tuesday and wednesday, plus there are tons of homedinner parties, clubbing nights, whatevers. The local CS-ers are really active. If you dont have CouchSurfing account I really recommend to register one. Its free, and you are not required to host people, but you can visit all gatherings, which are a lot of fun!!

Have fun! And don’t forget telling me how was it 🙂

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