Monthly Archives: March 2018

Time to Vote (That Means You)

We need to talk.

After this last post today on garbage in Budapest, I have a few different ideas of what I’ll be writing about. In addition to keeping you abreast of my adventures here in Budapest, I wanted to devote some time to specific topics in math, politics, food, and travel. While I hope to write about all of these things, the semester is already taking its toll on my free time. Since my time is limited, I want to give you the opportunity to determine the topics that you read about! I’d love to hear from you (, or comment below) if there is anything in particular that you want to read about!

Here’s what I’ve got:

  • Hungarian language: This will be coming soon, in one or two parts. If I can’t escape the language requirement for OCS (not that I’d want to), then you will not escape from a Hungarian lesson of your own.
  • The Hungarian political situation: If you haven’t heard, Hungary’s current government is one of the most nationalist in Europe. And while most of Central Europe (because Hungary is in central Europe, not Eastern Europe, they are clear about this!) is more conservative than Western Europe, Hungary’s political trajectory has been particularly troubling. As detailed in this recent New York Times piece, Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orban, has systematically scaled back civil liberties and dismantled key checks and balances in Hungary’s constitution. I hope to cover my perspective on the autocratic shifts taking place in this country, and the reverberations they are sending across Europe.
  • My Weekend Trips: During my time here so far, I’ve traveled to four European capitals: Bratislava, Prague, Berlin, and Vienna. It’s been a whirlwind! I also have plans/dreams to visit Madrid, Copenhagen, Italy and Poland in the coming weeks and months. There’s so much to talk about, but I’d like to cover some highlights from these excursions. Let me know if this would be one of your top priorities!
  • Anatomy of a Problem: We’ll take on one of the problems from my Mathematical Problem-Solving Class and solve it together, using methods that I have learned. You’ll hopefully come to realize how interesting and exciting my coursework is—which it certainly is. The only risk for me is that you’ll also realize how simple it is too, compared to the intricate and multi-faceted problems that you are solving every day at school and work!
  • The Food Tour of Europe: From the best almond croissant I have ever tasted to the gyros that comprise (without exaggeration) 20-25% of my diet in Budapest, I have had a great experience with food in Europe. If food is what you would like to read about, I would definitely be up for writing about some of the best and most interesting culinary experiences I have had while traveling here.
  • Random Thoughts: As I travel around and study math, I sporadically have random thoughts about random things. European crosswalks, biking culture, how best to absorb the art at all of these famous art museums, the history of metro systems (Budpest’s was the first on the European continent), the piano virtuoso who moved in next door and—believe me—much much more. If you just want some intriguing but peripheral observations about Hungary and Europe, vote for this.
  • Math: I can always just talk about math to you too.

Well, there are some possible options. If you like the description of any of them, let me know! Although, now that I’ve written something about all of these, I’ll probably just go on to something else instead.

All the best,


Garbage Day!

Whew! It’s been a while, but I finally had a long weekend to stretch and get myself writing again!

~ ~ ~

I still don’t know how it began. On the morning of March 9, piles of stuff began to appear on the streets of District VIII in Budapest. As I went to class, I passed people hauling books and cardboard boxes out of my building and stacking them between parked cars on the curb. By midday when I came home for lunch, the small stacks had merged into large piles of trash, knickknacks, lamps and chairs. Then came the appliances, as well as tables and piles of wood and other building materials, so that by 7 o’clock the streets were, as one BSM student later put it, perfectly perpared for a performance of Les Misérables.

Trash on the streets (László Balkányi We Love Budapest)

There was a reason that my neighborhood was playing the part of nineteenth-century Parisian revolutionaries constructing barricades to stave off the French army, and that was lomtalanítás—or “get-rid-of-your-junk” day. Instead of providing any regular trash service for bulky items or large quantities of trash, the city guarantees on this day that any of the stuff left out on the curbs will be removed by the next morning. In essence, it is free garbage disposal, so all of my neighbors were ready with everything, big and small, that they deemed to be “trash.”

That night, I left my apartment and walked to a friend’s house. The scene on the streets was surreal. The local online publication We Love Budapest (an excellent resource, and where some of these photos came from) described the experience well. Watching lomtalanítás unfold, as they described, was “akin to setting out into a post-apocalyptic city where no apocalypse has occurred.”

It didn’t feel this way primarily because of the trash piles everywhere, but rather because of the people crawling over the piles and looting through the junk. It was not uncommon to turn a corner and have someone stop and turn towards you, wondering if you were coming towards their pile.

Most people walking down the street found something interesting to consider (some treasures below), but some others appeared to turn the day into a whole economic operation. Teams of people in trucks, and occasionally whole families, sorted through the household items for clothing, appliances and functional electronics that still had value. It was clear that these “professional” crews knew what they were looking for. I also tried to scavenge, with subpar results. I was mostly unsuccessful, but eventually found a wonderful wok on top of a washing machine (I later realized that it was actually not-so-wonderful, so I left it on top of a different pile).

Once I found out about lomtalanítás, I was surprised that I hadn’t heard about it before. There were certainly things that I could have contributed! There were no posters or announcements that I had seen. After doing some research online, I found out that the city actually tries to keep the exact date of lomtalanítás a secret until the day itself because of the competitive scavenging crews that commute from cities around Budapest to participate. And no, I still don’t know how everyone else knew…maybe Hungarians just know, you know?

The practice of lomtalanítás began during the communist era over thirty years ago, and residents look forward to this day every year. According to the same We Love Budapest article, politicians occasionally try to end the practice, but they always end up abandoning the idea because they run up against fierce opposition. Lomtalanítás is engrained in Budapest’s culture, and—I can attest—is one of the many things that makes the city unique.