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End of an Era, End of a Blog

I wrote this just as I was about to leave Hungary, but I wanted to wait to publish it until after my advice posts came out. Much love to you all!

~ ~ ~

I’ve been in Budapest a long time—four and a half months—and I am amazed at both how fast the time has gone and at how much I’ve done in this span of time. On one hand, it’s been a while, probably long enough for this car near my neighborhood to rack up these tickets:

On the other hand, it hasn’t been long at all. On my recent walks through the center city, several times I have turned a corner and find myself in a place that is so unfamiliar I have stopped dead in my tracks in surprise. I have to admit to myself that I still don’t know Budapest.

This semester has been full of adventures for me and my friends here. We’ve traveled to many countries, bonded over math, discovered new places in Budapest, and generally had a great time. The people that I’ve met are hilarious and inspiring in equal measure. If you’re reading this, thank you for this semester, and know that I will track you down in the future, and we will hang out. Just watch.

One of many beautiful sunsets I’ve seen, this one in Barcelona

I’m sad to say that the end of study abroad is here. And with it, the end of this blog. It’s been fun to write about my experiences here, and I hope that you enjoyed reading about them. I will miss writing to you.

If you want to hear some more updates about my life, I think that I want to send a couple longer email updates to my friends at Whitman and back in Minneapolis over the summer to keep them in the loop. If you want to be included in those, feel free to reply below or email me directly.

Oh my! My plane is taxiing and I must stow my computer. With love,

Nathaniel

 

 

 

 

Top Advice for Future BSM-ers

If you’re reading this post, most likely you are subscribed to this blog (thanks y’all!), are considering applying to the Budapest Semesters in Mathematics (BSM) program, or have already committed to a semester in Budapest! I’m Nathaniel, and I participated in BSM during the 2018 Spring Semester.

I’m glad that you want to read more about BSM—it is an excellent program. In this post, I want to give you some advice so that you can get the most out of the BSM experience and living in Budapest! It’s a lot of text without pictures, so get ready. Here’s what I suggest:

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The whole visa debacle. Unless something changes in the coming years, I would not worry too much about this. The information I was given was confusing, but this is what worked for me: if you are a U.S. citizen, (1) wait to get the visa until you’re in Hungary, (2) make sure Budapest is the first Schengen country that you go to and, (3) bring your letters from BSM with you. No one that I knew had any hassle whatsoever entering Hungary and applying for a visa.

Get a debit card without foreign transaction or ATM fees. There are a number of debit cards that have no annual fee and allow you to make transactions in Hungary without any fees (just Google “debit card no foreign transaction fee” and you’ll see a few). You should apply for this well in advance of traveling to Hungary so that it arrives in time for your flight. I enjoyed my Schwab debit card, and would recommend it to anyone planning to travel in Hungary or elsewhere.

The Language Course. I have definitive advice: do the intensive language course with Babilon Language School. First, it gives you a good enough understanding of Hungarian to order food from restaurants and in the marketplace. Unless you are in a homestay, this is most likely all that you’ll need to function on a daily basis. Second—and more importantly—this two week period is one of the best chances you’ll have to explore the city and make friends. Once classes start, it becomes more difficult to juggle activities in the city and homework. I enjoyed taking advantage of this low-commitment period of time to get to know Budapest. Also, my best friends in BSM were the members of my language class at Babilon. I don’t know how I would’ve met them all if not through this course.

Where to Live. BSM offers several accommodation options. You can choose either Buda or Pest, and an apartment, dorm, or homestay. My recommendation is to choose an apartment in Pest. These apartments are close to BSM, near a lot of great restaurants, bars, and cultural events, and are great places to hang out. I’m very glad that I chose this option. The cost of the apartment with utilities will likely be around $500/month.

If this is too expensive, the dorms are about half the price. I didn’t want to have a roommate and wanted my own kitchen in which to cook. However, if neither of these are important factors for you, the dorms may be a good fit.

I should also mention that the few people who were in homestays said that they enjoyed the experience and didn’t have any regrets. You may want to consider this alternative if you are passionate about having a cultural experience while abroad.

Travel. I have a few recommendations related to travel. First, I would recommend that you go on the trips that are offered through the Babilon language school (Szentendre and Eger). They may seem expensive, but you’ll be glad that you went. Second, when you can, use the MAV website if you plan to take a train from Hungary to avoid any middlemen websites. Third, the Regiojet bus service is the best. That’s what I have for you—enjoy the chance to travel!

Classes. BSM offers many classes. It will be hard to choose exactly the ones that you want to take. My advice related to selecting your classes is threefold:

  • Take advantage of the shopping period. There is a period of three weeks during which you do not yet have to enroll in specific classes. I would suggest that you visit as many classes as you can the first week. You’ll get a better sense of what you can choose from, and later you’ll be able to empathize with your friends as the moan about a particular professor’s teaching style.
  • Follow your gut instinct. You may have a plan for the classes that you want to take going into BSM. Definitely visit those classes, but be open to changes. Since each class is taught by a different professor and each professor has almost complete autonomy in choosing the curriculum, the class may or may not end up being what you expect. Which is why I also would suggest that you:
  • Go with the professors that you like. There may be a class that you visit on a fascinating topic that is taught by a bad professor. Don’t take this class. From my own experience and others on the program, the professor makes or breaks the class. So do yourself a favor and simply go with the professors that you like.

WeLoveBudapest. This website offers a great rundown of what is happening in the city. They regularly update a calendar of events happening in the city, and in the warmer months they even have a weekend update to let you know about all the festivals and gatherings happening across the city–from the Rosé Festival to the historic “Night of Coffeehouses” and from the Budapest Regatta to publicized events at dance clubs. There’s a lot to find on this site.

Fitness Goals. It is easy to forget to include fitness in your schedule, but I found that the days I exercised were the days my math skills were sharpest. There are a number of gyms around the city where you can get a membership, but my personal recommendation would be to start running. I was not a runner before I came to Budapest, but I found that it was a great way to see more of the city and that Budapest has great running opportunities (read more  about the best spots here). In addition, if you’re going to be in Budapest during the Spring semester, seriously consider signing up for the Budapest Half Marathon. It is the perfect goal to set over the course of the semester and can be a great bonding experience.

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That’s what I have for now. If you were a BSM-er and you have additional advice that I left out, please feel free to contact me. Good luck to those of you who are planning for studying abroad with BSM—you’re going to have a great time!

Nathaniel

Are You Right for BSM?

 

A view from Gellert Hill in Budapest, Hungary, before the sun appeared in the morning. A worthwhile hike.

Hello!

If you’re new to this site, I’m Nathaniel and this is the blog that I kept over the course of the 2018 spring semester in the Budapest Semesters in Mathematics (BSM) program. After spending four and a half months in Budapest taking BSM classes, I have a much better sense of who might be a good fit for the program and what one can do to be successful here. Now, I’m hoping that I can share this understanding with you.

In this post, I outline some of the reasons why you might want to choose BSM or decide against enrolling. If you have already decided on BSM and want some advice, I have also written a blog post where I lay out some of my recommendations for future participants.

So, without further ado, my list of the characteristics of successful and happy BSM participants. The most fulfilled BSM-ers are:

Interested in math. Clearly, this program is designed for students who want to do a lot of math. Most people end up taking around three math classes and one class in Hungarian language, Hungarian culture, philosophy of math, film or some other non-math course. BSM has an extensive course catalog during the spring and fall semesters, so if there is a specific math course that you want to take (Combinatorics, Commutative Algebra, Differential Geometry, etc.) chances are it is offered here.

More specifically, considering graduate school in math. As one BSM student put it: “BSM definitely helps you determine if graduate school is what you want to do.” It’s true. The environment at BSM is similar to early graduate school, and if you know that graduate school is right for you, then you can get a great experience here. On the other hand, if you are certain that you want take your studies in another direction, the BSM program could fatigue you. If you’re on the fence, BSM is a good way to figure it out.

That said, BSM isn’t only for people who want to do graduate school in math. If math is directly related to your field of choice, or if you just love studying math but aren’t looking to work in a mathematical field, BSM can still be a good fit. For instance, I am looking into careers in computer science, and a friend of mine here wants to pursue a higher degree in physics. We both love the program, because it will help us in the future and we really enjoy math.

Independent and flexible. BSM is a study abroad experience unlike any other. In particular, BSM does not have the same structure as DIS, SIT, CIEE, or any other large study abroad program. The orientation is a short affair, the administrators (there are three total, and two are also professors) make sure you get settled in your apartment, and then more or less let you loose on the city. If you have questions, the staff are more than willing to help, but there is little hand-holding as you figure out where to shop and study, how to navigate the city, and—oh, who knows—how to lock your front door (lift up on the latch, then turn the key to the left). This may seem nerve-racking, but the independence was, in my opinion, one of the best aspects of this program.

Not looking for cultural immersion. This is one of the key differences between BSM and some other study abroad programs. BSM is not designed to immerse participants in Hungarian culture or to facilitate interaction between students and Hungarians. There is an option to live in a homestay, but most people choose to live in apartments. Aside from interactions in stores and markets, most BSM-ers interact with other Americans. While this may be considered a drawback, I personally was able to appreciate the experience of living in a completely new place without deep cultural interactions.

Open to exploration. During my time in Europe, I did a lot of traveling, as did most of the people on my program. While the culture of the program changes from year to year, I got the sense that most BSM-ers want to explore other countries. There are several great places to visit nearby, and a number of budget airlines provide cheap flights across most of Europe. If you’re an adventurous type who is able to balance rigorous work with travel, then BSM might be right for you.

Do you think that you may be a good fit for BSM? Great! It is a fantastic program. Feel free to check out this post with some advice for future BSM students, or read about the rest of my experiences here on this blog. Also, feel free to email me at larsonnd@whitman.edu if you have other questions about this program. I’d be happy to help!

Szia!

Nathaniel

My friend Caroline and me in Barcelona with a BSM sign (the Barcelona transportation authority)

Where I Went

When I arrived in Budapest this semester, I was not thinking about travel. This trip was my first time in Europe, and so finding myself on the continent was so exciting that I didn’t immediately consider all the different places I could go once I was here. But fortunately, I met some wonderful people who organized trips and encouraged me to go beyond Budapest–and I got hooked:

I wanted to highlight each of these places I visited on the weekends, during holidays, and over Spring Break, just to give you an idea of what I’ve been up to when I’m not holed up in my apartment doing math or wandering the streets of Budapest.

So chronologically, we begin with…

Bratislava, Slovakia

My Itinerary: Day trip (Feb 3)

Bratislava’s cool bridge (photo by Alexis Delgado)

Overall Impression: Definitely one day is enough for this city. Sleepy at night, the city offers beautiful views from the Castle Hill and, if you want to pay for it, a trip up to the top of an epic cable-stay bridge.

My Best Photo:

A large empty fountain in the middle of the city.

Best Place to Eat: Only ate at one place, but it was nice. Green Buddha.

The Thai holy basil was great.

Also, they had the most intriguing bathroom…mood lighting?

Prague, Czech Republic

My Itinerary: Two-night weekend trip (Feb 16-18)

The frightening swans along the Danube.

Overall Impression: Great trip. I recommend the Orange Hostel, right on Wenceslas Square

My Best Photo:

Hidden Gem: Not necessarily hidden, but it’s the place to go: Lucerna. They play 80’s and 90’s dance music with their original music videos. Some of the best dancing I’ve had here in Europe.

Best Place to Eat: Chimney cake stands. You should try one while you’re here.

Thought this was good.

 

Berlin, Germany

My Itinerary: Two-night weekend trip (Feb 23-25)

Seth, Caroline, and me

Overall Impression: Wonderful trip. This was my fourth weekend in a row traveling, so I had the routine down pat. We saw sunset at the Reichstag—if you are going to Berlin, make sure to go online to request free tickets in advance—and saw some of the major monuments of the city. Also, Caroline and I went on a great run, and we all celebrated Seth’s birthday.

My Best Photo:

Certainly not a unique photo, but an interesting view of Berlin’s Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe (notice the lighter pools of light at corridor intersections)

Hidden Gem: The Spy Museum is not hidden (you’ll see advertisements for it everywhere), but it was a great museum. I was impressed with the setup and fascinated by all the stories of spies and espionage.

Best Place to Eat: Lon Men’s, from earlier post.

Me and the Berlin Wall.

 

Vienna, Austria

My Itinerary: Two-night weekend trip (Mar 2-4)

A train yard in Vienna.

Overall Impression: Similar to Budapest, with a better paint job. Travel tip: The Mozart house (where he composed when he was in the city) has a bathroom upstairs that you don’t have to pay for if you just walk in. Try to walk around the city.

My Best Photo:

I loved seeing these around the city. Alexis even got a picture of a couple hold hands next to one.

Hidden Gem: The coolest part of our trip was our reason for going. The band Alvvays performed at the Flex club on the Danube as part of the tour for their album Antisocialites. First, they’re an excellent band (check them out on Spotify). Second, the location was very interesting. I recommend trying to find a concert to go to if you’re in Europe. It’s always (alvvays?) fun to have a reason for travelling to a specific destination.

Best Place to Eat: Daily Imbiss, which I mentioned in an earlier blog post

 

Copenhagen, Denmark

My Itinerary: Spring Break. Four nights (Mar 23-26)

Cool bridges are everywhere in the city.

Overall Impression: A very cloudy but homey city. I stayed with Zaynab and her host family in the outskirts of the city, where it honestly looked like parts of the Midwest. We biked around the city, had great food, went to museums, and even attended Danish Zumba!

My Best Photo:

While biking 🙂

Hidden Gem: The David Collection. This private collection of Islamic art is impressive and excellently presented. Zaynab and I wandered around for hours with our high-tech informational tablets. I definitely recommend the room in which the curators display art related to each facet of the religion of Islam. Best part: the collection is free to visit.

Best Place to Eat: At one of the stands in the glass market. There you can try a asdfkjalsdf, a traditional Danish open-face sandwich.

In Free Christiania, the independent state within the city of Copenhagen.

 

Madrid, Spain

My Itinerary: Spring Break (continued). Three nights (Mar 26-29)

Lachlan at his palace, the Palacio Real

Overall Impression: Stepping off of the plane into a warm city was incredible after the longer-than-expected winter in Budapest and the consistently overcast weather in Copenhagen. Both Seth and I had a wonderful time staying with Tom, Christa, and Lachlan in their Airbnb, exploring the city and eating good food.

My Best Photo:

One of the Easter marches.

Hidden Gem: Since we were visiting the week before Easter, we were able to see several religious parades with elaborate floats carried on the backs of several dozen people.

Best Place to Eat: Celso y Manolo. Also, be sure to go to a vermouth bar!

The panorama got a little messed up at the end, but it gets the vibe.

 

Barcelona, Spain

My Itinerary: Spring Break (continued). Two nights (Mar 30-Apr 1)

El Born, which used to be an open-air market.

Overall Impression: This was the very end of my trip. I took the high-speed train (up to 200 mph) connecting Madrid to Barcelona, which was awesome. Once in the city, I met up with Caroline and we went to the Sagrada Familia, and several other famous Gaudi-designed buildings. We also ran on the beach and walked through the medieval parts of the city.

My Best Photo:

As a storm approached, I got both of these shots.

Hidden Gem: Hiking up the hill to the Montjuïc Castle at sunset was a great adventure. Got these pictures before and after the sunset.

Best Place to Eat: Tapas on the Carrer del Blai.

 

 

Kraków, Poland

My Itinerary: Four nights (Apr 28 – May 1)

Overall Impression: I went with Alexis, Caroline, and Kim, Caroline’s mom, to this very interesting city. We took a tour of the city (I recommend going on one of the free walking tours that are offered), visited the Auschwitz concentration camp complexes, and went underground to see the salt mines under the city.

My Best Photo:

One of the most intriguing street performers I’ve seen.

Hidden Gem: We were there during the Off Camera film festival. If you’re in the city when this is going on, I recommend that you check it out! You can see some fascinating film, like the horror film we saw: Beast. Also, I would recommend the Lost Soul’s Alley, if you’re up for a haunted house—and try the yellow level if you’re adventurous.

Best Place to Eat: The restaurant Curry House was a solid choice.

Révfülöp, Lake Balaton, Hungary

My Itinerary: One-night weekend trip (May 12-13)

On our way!

Overall Impression: Alexis and I decided to go on this final trip outside of Budapest two weeks before leaving (most of us are staying in the city during this final weekend here). We took a regional train and stayed on the beach most of the time, reading and swimming in the nice and shallow water.

My Best Photo:

Hidden Gem: It was clear from the food carts and water slide that this town is a popular destination during the summer. But visiting in mid-May, we had the perfect combination of nice weather and peaceful beaches. I got sunburned like never before, but I’ve learned my lesson.

Best Place to Eat: Gomba Étterem, the calzone was just what I wanted.

~ ~ ~

It was fun traveling around Europe, but I think that my favorite place is Budapest. Nowhere like home.

Nathaniel

Home-Cooked

Just a couple days ago while going to my bus after class, I passed a neatly-dressed older woman on the street. As I was walking towards her, she stopped suddenly. Then she stepped over to a windowsill on which a large slice of bread sat. She picked it up, turned it over in her hands, considered it thoroughly, and put it back down. I honestly thought she was going to eat it. Now, I won’t say that I have high standards—I don’t—but I personally have not extended the five-second rule to mysterious bread slices on Bethlen Gábor utca left out for an indeterminate amount of time. As we passed, I think I was watching her with a dumbfounded expression because I tripped on the sidewalk and she gave me a what’s-wrong-with-you? look.

While I am still confused by the whole situation, I definitely am glad that she made the choice that she did. Some things are better left to the pigeons.

I think that my parents will be happy to hear that my standards are still firmly above the bread-off-the-street level. In fact, I’m proud to report that we’ve had some great homemade meals this semester. I know that restaurant food generally gets the attention during study abroad, but I wanted to highlight the fun of cooking and eating for oneself in Budapest.

Shopping

Getting ingredients to cook here can be a lot of fun. There are grocery stores on nearly every block in central Pest, so it’s easy to find a small neighborhood Spar, Tesco, or Aldi to walk to. Even better, however, are the markets around the city. Vendors set up shop inside large wrought iron structures to sell everything from produce and bread to meat and spices. These were the places where I really had to practice my Hungarian–certainly no one spoke English!

Something to keep in mind: the key to food shopping in Hungary is to arrive early. The markets and grocery stores generally open at 6am, and most don’t replenish their stocks by the end of the day. While I could never wake up quite that early to get my bananas and cauliflower, it is good to remember that the early bird does indeed get the worm.

Shopping at the Rákoczi market

Potlucks

Our friend group has had several potlucks over the course of the semester. I think that our final one will actually be happening tomorrow–brunch, as it turns out! It’s been a great way to stay in regular contact with everyone from my language course at the beginning of the semester.

Featured here: Indian curry and chicken, rice, soup, and a peanut noodle salad.

Memorable Meals

In no particular order, some memorable foods I have made or people have made for me.

The largest single meal that I made–other than sesame chicken for a potluck–was an egg bake. Want to guess how many eggs?

26. 26 eggs. I definitely recommend egg bakes for high quantity food production.

One of Alex’s gourmet mushroom cheeseburgers.

 

Sometimes we make mistakes as we cook. What I thought was a wrapped package of ground beef turned out to be baloney. C’est la vie, it still made for good pasta.

 

And see? The next time I was able to identify the ground beef. Remember, study abroad is about challenge and growth!

 

The homemade alfredo pasta that I could never achieve, by master chef Sina

Homemade Japanese curry and panko chicken with miso soup by Andy and Vincent, also something that I could never make.

When we have no toaster, we sometimes also make mistakes while trying to make toast with an oven…

…and sometimes we make those mistakes more than once. Challenge and growth, people, challenge and growth!

 

Needless to say, this has been an exciting semester for food. I’m guessing that you’ve seen enough food reading these posts to make you hungry–I have–so let’s go have lunch, shall we?

This will be the last week of my blog, but I anticipate writing on a couple more topics. I am planning on writing two shorter posts intended to (1) help students considering BSM determine whether the program is right for them and to (2) give some recommendations to future BSM students on how to prepare for and be successful in the BSM program. This may be relevant to current readership, but is intended for underclass college students. But in addition, I’ll be writing a culminating post at the end of the week. Stay tuned, and thanks for reading!

Nathaniel

*drumroll* Best Desserts!

…and we continue our culinary tour with some of my most memorable desserts. For those of you who requested to read about some of my food experiences, I’ll try to throw in some food critic buzzwords to keep it interesting.

The Perníčkův Sen Gingerbread Store, Prague: Best Smell

The gingerbread was okay.

The Cakes of Magveto Café: Best Taste

The cakes at Magveto Café, our hangout and study spot in downtown Pest, are some of the best around. Among my favorites: a simple but wonderful apple cake, a traditional Hungarian poppyseed cake, carrot cake, and a caramel dark-chocolate tart. After finishing a particularly difficult math problem set, I often celebrate with a slice. So when I heard from one of my roommates that the cafe receives a cake delivery every morning, I was intrigued. Where could they come from? More importantly, how could I get my cake directly from the supplier?

I asked the proprietor of Magveto, Péter, what bakery supplied their baked goods. He told me, but my plans to cut out the middleman were foiled. Apparently his friend bakes them in her home every morning and brings them to the café herself.

Alas, I’ll just have to break in and take them from her.

A slice of Magveto carrot cake.

Bertels Kager Frederiksberg Cheesecake, Copenhagen: Best Texture

Some truly inspired cheesecake. I loved the mouth-feel.

Ah, and the plating is superb.

Dessert Tapas Barcelona: Most Exciting

I love tapas. These little, one-euro desserts were absolutely worth it. Why can’t we buy everything in one-euro bites?

Budapest Spring Market, Kings’ Marzipan: Most Decadent

Spring in Budapest is so different than the winter. In March, once the weather hesitantly crept above freezing, the city leapt into action. Early in the semester, we could do some research and find a few interesting cultural events happening around the city each week. Now, it’s impossible to keep track of all of them. In fact, as I write this post, I’m sitting at a café waiting for a concert at Café Frei celebrating the “Night of Coffeehouses” festival in Budapest. They just seem to want to celebrate everything with a festival!

The beginning of this transition to Festival Season in Budapest was marked by the opening of the Spring/Easter Market in downtown Pest. Featuring stalls with art, pottery, clothing, and food, it was quite the spectacle. By now, we’re used to it.

I decided to try a Whisky Truffle Marzipan from Kings’ Marzipan, and I think it was the most decadent food I’ve tasted since coming here.

 

Levendula Ice Cream: Most Innovative

For the first half of the semester, my roommates and I would often stop on the way home for a 300-forint rétés (Hungarian strudel). But once warmer weather came around and Levendula opened for the season, we immediately switched our biweekly investment for this excellent 300-forint ice cream.

The variety is fantastic. While it’s hard to choose, my favorite flavors are Strawberry-Ginger, Lemon-Mint, Toffee, and–at the very top of the list–Gorgonzola, which is now tied with Tumeric for my favorite ice cream flavor.

In the next installment, we get a little closer to home. In fact, we go home, to my apartment, for some of what I’ve cooked up while abroad.

Szia!

Nathaniel

And the Winner Is…

The beginning of study abroad can be disorienting. Upon my arrival in Budapest–a city unlike any other, on a continent I had never visited–there was so much to explore. There was a lot to do, but I definitely had a top priority. My first self-assigned task was to take several long walks around the city, looking at the apartment blocks and offices, and wandering around public buildings. Once I had a sense of how Budapest was built, I felt like I started to know the city’s culture better.

A couple months later, I was sitting outside BSM between classes with Alex and we were talking about how people get to know a culture. While we both had experienced many facets of the city, we noticed that each person we knew seemed to have a different first priority—a cultural point of entry. For some it’s music or dance. For others it can be literature or sports. For me, the point of entry was architecture. Alex knew immediately what it was for himself: food.

Eating food is a central part of a culture, and certainly one of the important ways in which I have gotten to know Budapest. So today, I plan on publishing several blog posts on food. And just because I think it makes it more exciting, it will be a competition: the top ten dishes I have eaten while abroad, the best desserts, and the most memorable homemade dishes, as well as some well-deserved honorable mentions. I suggest you eat something now, or prepare to be hungry!

Note: We are serious about delving into this topic. The photos will be centered around FOOD, not friends, fun, or other distractions. The following top ten list was based on a holistic evaluation of my culinary experience of the dish (i.e. I have no idea of how to rank food).

Without any further ado, let us begin…

THE TOP TEN

10. Kisharang Étkezde, Budapest

This restaurant, located near St. Steven’s Basilica and run by a Hungarian couple, is one of the few traditional Hungarian restaurants at which I have eaten. We’ve noticed during our time here that Hungarians don’t go out to eat Hungarian cuisine, only tourists do. When Budapestens want Hungarian, I suppose they cook it themselves!

I have had several meals here, but the best was the so-called “Salty Crepe.”

One of the only photos of a person–we’re serious about food here, remember?–but it was lovely to have Zaynab here for a weekend back in March!

A pork-stuffed crepe with cheese and paprika sauce, wonderful! Paired with a homemade raspberry soda with real raspberries.

9. Menyország Szíve, Budapest

Did you know that food that Americans would label “organic” is called “bio” in most of Europe? So organic milk will often be proudly labeled “bio-milk.”I discovered this “bio-store” and vegan restaurant just two days ago, but it was good enough to displace another contender on this list. A perfect balance of different tastes and textures–just what you hope from a hole-in-the-wall discovery!

Beans, a plantain side, this nut and eggplant thing–ugh, so good

8. Hummusbar, Budapest

This has been a regular stop for lunch and dinner in Budapest. Located in the seventh district, near the so-called Jewish Quarter, hummusbar is an easy, filling option. They also give you a small cup of tea as you order–very classy.

My favorite, the falafel plate. Just chickpeas, through and through.

7. Lon Men’s, Berlin

When I went to Berlin with Caroline, a fellow BSM-er, to visit Seth, a friend from back home, our first dinner was at Lon Men’s, a Taiwanese dim sum restaurant in the Charlottenburg neighborhood. It was quite good–I would recommend it if you’re in the area!

Seth, Caroline and myself having a jolly time

6. Bors Gastro Bar, Budapest

Located on trendy Kazinczy utca, Bors (pronounced ‘borsh’) is an unusual street food sandwich shop. Their tiny Star Wars-themed restaurant is always crammed with people looking to buy one of their creative sandwiches and a cup of soup.

The “French Lady” baguette, with beef, onions, and a raspberry compote is the best option, hands down.

 

5. Daily Imbiss, Vienna

After visiting Schöenbrunn Palace–the residence of Maria Theresa during her reign as Austro-Hungarian Empress–Alex, Sam and I decided to eat lunch at this small restaurant about a block away. Certainly it was the best snap decision of the trip. The chicken tikka masala was fantastic!

I wish I could go back and eat there once more…

4. City Gyros™, Budapest

When I said in a previous blog post that 25% of my diet consists of gyros, I may have been exaggerating, but there has hardly been a week when I haven’t eaten two or three of these things. City Gyro is located right on my route to school every day, and offers a gyros pita for 550 forint (the exchange rate is about 1 USD = 250 forint). Not a bad price for a dependably good meal. This place will remain near and dear to my heart.

The arugula is a lie, as is the price.

3. Carrer del Blai tapas, Barcelona

In Barcelona, Caroline and I went on an adventure to the famous Carrer del Blai, a street that comes alive at night with tapas joints and gelaterias. The system is slick: you don’t order your food, but rather select it yourself from trays at the bar. You save the toothpicks as you eat and when it comes time to pay, the waiter simply counts the number of plain (1 euro) and fancier (1.5-2 euro) toothpicks to determine your bill.

We decided to hop from one restaurant to the next, and had a great meal of fish, fried dough, various meats, and even eggrolls, all arranged neatly on little baguette slices. I love it when food can be an adventure!

 

2. Soul Food, Budapest: Best Meal

I wasn’t expecting Louisiana Creole to be on my top ten list of places to eat in Budapest, but I love this place. Soul Food offers a solid menu of jambalaya, gumbo, caribbean curry, and burgers and a fun atmosphere.

This is where I had my best meal experience while in Budapest. It was a day when many people had left to travel for the long weekend, and so I ventured to Soul Food in the drizzle. I remember I had to wait because the restaurant was packed, but it was one of those occasions where time didn’t really matter. I had an excellent meal, had fun with the strangers at my large communal table, and simply enjoyed myself. Definitely what a meal should be.

My seafood gumbo during the Best Meal night.

The Creole burger

1. Celso y Manolo, Madrid: Best Bite

I believe that my best bite so far while abroad was during my time in Madrid visiting Christa, Tom, and Lachlan (family friends from Minneapolis) with Seth. One night, Christa and Tom took us out to Celso y Manolo, a tapas-style restaurant near the Plaza de Cibeles. While all the food was fantastic–I remember the artichokes vividly–I believe it was the venison that took the cake. So good!

 

That’s my top ten! Thanks for reading through this. If you’re interested in food, I’m going to be posting two more quick posts about best desserts and best home-cooked meals. Honorable mentions below 🙂

One more week until I’m home–this is crazy.

Nathaniel

 

Honorable Mentions – Other Memorable Food

Also in Madrid, seafood tortillas!

My photo of Stella Artois® beer in Madrid, which I think is worthy of a commercial, or at least a magazine ad!

Papas bravas

Hanami Sushi Budapest

With Alex and Missy–her first time trying sushi!

Czech food I ate with Sam in Prague. Very heavy, eat at your own risk.

Green Buddha Thai in Bratislava, very good.

Mmm traditional Hungarian sausage.

The Mufasa beetroot and curry box from Pasta, a Budapest take-out restaurant specializing in innovative pastas

Excellent schnitzel in Vienna. This is a meal that definitely has certain food-group priorities.

Certainly one of the most memorable meals: Don Pepe’s Pizza. 55cm across–that is a 750 mL nalgene for comparison. It could not fit through the door.

 

Small Miracles

Yesterday marked twenty days until I fly back home. Yipes, that went fast!

It’s been a while, but I wanted to report on two miracles that happened three weeks ago today. First, I finished the Budapest Half Marathon along with several other students on my program. It was exhilarating to be running with thousands of other people and pushing myself to get in under two hours—which I did!

The second miracle on that day was my trip to the Rudas thermal baths. After the race, most of us were suffering from full-body soreness. For me, the primary issue was dealing with my knees, which I had pounded all morning. They were sore enough that locomotion was difficult, especially going down stairs, and they threatened to let me collapse to the ground if I used them for more than three steps at a time. But despite the soreness that we were all experiencing, the decision to go to the baths had already been made, so I hobbled there with Zaynab, who was visiting me, as well as classmates Caroline and Alexis.

I’m glad I did make it, because the experience of the baths was rejuvenating. We followed a bathing regimen posted on the wall, alternating between a numbing ice bath—outfitted with an ice-maker that spat out occasional chunks of ice to maintain the 10˚C temperature—and the 40˚C thermal pool. It worked wonders. Whether it was the intense temperature change, stretching in the water, the naturally occurring fluoride ions and calcium that the baths like to advertise, or simply my knees’ failure to register any further pain, I noticed that my joints gradually felt better. By the time I left, I was as good as new. In fact, I even hopped down a small flight of steps!

Thank goodness for small miracles.

The rooftop pool at Rudas bathhouse.

Since the half marathon, I have been focusing a lot on classes. We are nearing finals, and so some professors are pushing through some difficult material. Sorry that you haven’t heard much from me!

I will post more about my experiences soon. In the meantime, feel free to look at some of my homework and give me hints, read about how Hungary’s stance on immigration means that it can’t find workers it desperately needs, or watch a fun personalized half marathon video that includes clips of me running!

Szia,

Nathaniel

Running Along

Over the past couple months, I’ve been doing something that I never really did much before. While I still think of it as slow and monotonous, and much less efficient than biking and other modes of travel, I’ve decided to turn a new leaf and start running.

There are several reasons for my decision to take up an activity that in the past has only hurt my knees and given me cramps. Soon after arriving in Hungary, I discovered that running is the only practical and cheap alternative for staying fit in Budapest. A number of people in my study abroad program considered gym memberships at the beginning of the year, but I balked at the idea of paying a monthly fee for a gym that was far away and less equipped than Whitman’s free gym (on second thought, should I say “free” gym?).

So I decided against signing up for a membership. Then, as I was looking for something else to do, I discovered that Budapest is an excellent place for running! Once you get off the exhaust-filled streets, there are trails along the Danube, paths crisscrossing City Park, and even a rubberized track around the perimeter of Margaret Island near the city center. Soon after discovering these places, I began a regular running regimen. And now that I’ve joined a group of people in the reckless decision to sign up for a half marathon (coming up this Sunday, April 15—wish me luck!) I certainly can’t stop.

At the Opera House and on Margaret Island. 

If any of you come to Budapest, I would be happy to take you on a running tour of the city. But for those of you who won’t make it before May, here are some photos, a few of my favorite routes in the city (and in other European cities I’ve visited), and a few of the things that I’ve learned while running:

The Classic

My classic run is along the major thoroughfares (also known as ring-roads, in Hungarian korüt) to the Danube. From there I run north along the river to Margaret Island, go once around, and come back by another route. My favorite part is definitely the island, which is less developed and features a rubberized track.

One of my first runs in Budapest. Your can’t see the snow, but it’s there!

 

The classic run

The wonderful rubberized track

Margaret Island is one of the least developed places in the center city.

City Park

This large tract of land east of city center is not so much of a park as it is a city in itself. City Park contains lakes, trails, restaurants, exercise equipment, public buildings, monuments, museums, the largest thermal bath in the city, and the Budapest zoo, as well as an entire castle. It can be hard to find a long stretch of dirt path, but crisscrossing the paved roads of the park is an excellent way to get in some solid mileage.

A map of City Park. It’s huge.

People in a previous spring half marathon running past Vajdahunyad Castle in the park.

The Half Marathon – River Running

The route for this run has changed from previous years. Instead of passing by the famous landmarks of Budapest in the inner city, most of the run will follow the river (excellent views, but less thrilling overall). We will start and end on Margaret Island, and follow the river down further south than I have been on foot, so I’m excited!

Me, during some hill training in Budapest.

Other Cities: Berlin, Prague, and Vienna, Oh My!

In other European cities, I recommend locating the nearest palace, castle, or imperial gardens, and running there. Usually, one of those three will be within three miles (#europe). I’ve had a lot of fun exploring places as varied as the gardens of Schoenbrunn Palace and the train yards of Prague.

At the Charlottenburg Palace in Berlin with Caroline, my half marathon buddy and coach.

In the gardens of Schöenbrunn Palace, the residence of Maria Theresa…Does this headband look dorky on me?

The view from the hill above the palace.

I also would recommend running along whichever river runs through the city, sometime earlier in the day. There will be fewer tourists, better trails, and some excellent views. Just be careful of the swans in Prague. They are large and terrifying if provoked.

 

A train yard

The swans from afar. DO NOT APPROACH.

Podcasts are the best way to accompany a run. Top recommendation: Revisionist History Season 1.

We’re not running, but I thought it was cute. ft. Seth and Caroline in Berlin

At the end of the day…

After spending a good amount of time running, I’ve decided that it is not the worst activity ever. My knees hurt less now than they used to, and I can keep up a good pace over several miles. This past weekend when a group of students from BSM and AIT (a computer science program based in Budapest) met in City Park to play Ultimate, I noticed a significant change since the beginning of the semester. I could keep running as long as I wanted. My legs were fine, and my lungs were fine, and it felt great to push myself the whole time. I still have a long way to come in terms of my Ultimate skill—but one thing at a time, right?

I wish that everything in life were as simple as training for a long run. I know that if I set a proper schedule of long and short routes, punctuating my training with occasional fast runs, then I should gradually notice my stamina and strength improve. At any point in my regimen, I understand what I need to do next.

My experience studying abroad, however, has made it clear that not much works this way. In math and life, I try to plan ahead and work diligently, but I’ve come to realize that I cannot expect the same linear improvement I’ve noticed with my running. There are pitfalls and detours, and more often than not my mathematical proofs and personal projects progress in cycles rather than in efficient trajectories. And there’s never a finish line.

I think that right now, running is just the thing I need. During this week full of political uncertainty in Hungary and this semester of challenging coursework, I appreciate knowing that this Sunday—if I just continue to put one foot in front of the other—everything will turn out just fine.

Nothing like good food after a good run. Thank you Alexis!

The People Have Spoken?

It’s decided. I had wanted to write this blog post yesterday so that there would be some uncertainty in the outcome in the Hungarian national election, but unfortunately, it’s all too clear: Victor Orbán is still in power. And Hungary may have taken another step away from democracy.

Let me backtrack. Yesterday, April 8, was the Hungarian national parliamentary election. Starting in the early morning, Hungarian citizens in Hungary’s 106 electoral districts cast their votes for one of about ten parties. It was an exciting day, with people lining up for blocks at polling stations and news updates throughout the evening. The U.S. embassy even sent out warnings to avoid Kossuth Square in front of the Parliament Building last night because tensions between the supporters of various parties might be “high.”

Celebrations yesterday by Orbán supporters

The undisputed winner of the election was the Fidesz (fee-DES) party, a nationalist, right-wing organization whose leader, Victor Orbán, has been prime minister for ten years. I find Fidsez frightening for several reasons. First, the party is anti-migration, going to the extreme of building a razor-wire fence along its southern border in 2015 to keep refugees out of the country. Preventing immigrants from entering Hungary is a hallmark of the Fidesz political platform. In addition to enacting xenophobic policies, Orbán’s party has systematically taken control of news media and redrawn electoral districts to keep itself in power. In recent years, the group has moved even more aggressively to alter the Constitution of Hungary in order to control courts, allow for rampant corruption, and according to some critics, effectively dismantle Hungarian democracy.

“We do not want to be a multicolored country,” Orbán said during a speech in February.

I am worried for Hungary because I believe that Fidesz poses a real threat. As Princeton University professor Jan-Werner Müller predicted in a recent New York Times Od-Ed piece: “This election is probably the last before Hungary shifts from what is already a deeply damaged democracy to what political scientists would call a full-blown electoral autocracy.”

One of the posters funded by the government that have filled the streets in the weeks leading to the election.

Another poster, with Soros and the leaders of opposition parties cutting the fence to let in migrants.

I can only imagine it’s a scary time for liberals in Hungary. The only Hungarians I interact with regularly—my professors—are relatively reserved about politics, but it’s clear that most of them fall on the left of the political spectrum. From what they’ve said to us, I can sense that progressive Hungarians are frustrated, angry, and tired. We Americans have had Trump for over a year. They’ve had to fight against Orbán for nearly ten years. And the clock just restarted.

The maps of the electoral districts show how much of a landslide victory this was. And in case you’re wondering, the largest opposition party, Jobbik (in black), is even more extreme right than Fidesz. 

One of the critical pieces of information about this election is that turnout was very high. I haven’t found a percentage yet, but as of 3pm yesterday, 54% of Hungary’s voters had already cast a ballot. Government officials have celebrated the turnout as a triumph of democracy. Before yesterday, opposition leaders anticipated that high turnout would disadvantage Fidesz. In fact, the opposite proved true. Fidesz is projected to have another supermajority of 133 of the 199 seats in Parliament. In effect, Fidesz will be able to unilaterally change the Constitution (they received the same number of seats in 2014). This is the mandate that the people have given them, supposedly.

Fidesz has maintained popularity over time

If Orbán is so bad for democracy, I’ve wondered to myself, what happened? How could he and his party have won this election? Gerrymandering certainly played a part in the landslide victory, as well as divided opposition parties. Most of the districts in Budapest could have been won by opposition parties, according to one commentator, if they had not split the vote between them.

However, it can’t be avoided that most Hungarian votes want Fidesz in power. Polling shows that the party and their platform is popular. The majority of Hungarians want to build walls rather than bridges, and they appear to be willing to sacrifice freedoms to achieve the economic and physical security that Fidesz promises.

It’s hard for me to understand, but I’m trying.

More to come on this soon.

A sign of hope?