“Every house in Melbourne should have heated towel racks, like we have here in Europe. It means your bathroom is warm in winter and your towels dry properly. They are also super-useful for drying your sheets when you forget to hang them out earlier in the day… oops…
Also great for quickly drying jeans off or warming up your clothes if you are chilly.
I should work in sales for these things.”
“Four degrees and sunny outside. We are off the the zoo soon. I suspect this calls for wool leggings and bike shorts, a thermal and a beanie. I’m getting good at this “dressing for the cold” thing.”
“There are two handymen in our apartment. One is fixing a door hinge and the other is fixing the coat rack. They are the best dressed handymen I have ever come across.”
“I love this city.
Budapest is a beautiful place.
Imádom ezt a várost.
Budapest egy gyönyörű hely.”
“Power-cleaned the apartment in my PJs, the washing machine is spinning so fast it sounds like it might take off, the bathroom is clean, stuff is put away… Ice skating with my Aussie friend today then out for dinner. I actually feel like I am on holidays now!
I heart U Budapest. ”
Well, the universe’s message telling me to rest has come across loud and clear. I am losing my voice and have spent all day in my pajamas on the couch. This has enabled me to upload lots of photos to Flickr and write a huge email to people at home. An edited version of it is below.
This city is BEAUTIFUL. Of course, as you know, everything in Europe is gorgeously old compared to Australia, so the buildings themselves are a novelty. All different forms of architecture (I don’t know enough to name them) surrounding me. One of my brothers commented to my parents, “Steph just keeps posting pictures of buildings on Facebook. And snow.” Clearly he is not as impressed as I am!
We live very close to the river Danube, in the 5th district, on a main road. It’s a lovely neighbourhood, with everything you need within 100m – bakeries, coffee shop, the “One Euro Shop” (I love that they have them here too, like we have $2 shops!), a 24 hour milk bar that sells alcohol (everywhere sells alcohol!), pharmacies, McDonalds, restaurants and more shoe shops than any one neighbourhood needs.
It’s almost alarming HOW MANY shoe shops are here in Budapest. Shoe shops and accessory shops and shops dedicated only to tights/leggings/hosiery. As you can imagine, it is the perfect city for me! I will have to ship stuff home because already I have too much.
Within a day, I had to buy a big warm jacket because it was below zero during the day and it has snowed twice, both times for the whole day. Within a few days, my feet were suffering in my leather boots, so I invested in some waterproof boots with lambswool lining. They are AWESOMELY warm!! Both items were really cheap here – on sale – but the jacket was $25AUD (it’s down and feather filled, not very fashionable compared to some of the local women but it’s so warm, I don’t care) and the boots came to abut $60AUD.
Our apartment is huge… It’s in a big old building with about 65 apartments, I think it’s 5 storeys high. We look into the courtyard which at the moment is full of bricks as an apartment on level 4 has been gutted for renovation. Everything indoors is toasty warm here, so when we get home we have to peel off all the layers down to t-shirts, jeans and bare feet! We did a trip out to suburbia to Ikea to buy some things to make it homely, and it’s very comfortable. Bigger than any apartment I have ever lived in back home.
The snow is now starting to melt, as it is a “balmy” 3 or 4 degrees, even at night, and it even got to 8 degrees on Saturday with sunshine, which was lovely. You don’t realise how nice it is to have sun on your face til you haven’t seen it for a week. Imagine a whole winter here!
My Hungarian lessons have meant that I can read quite well and ask for a few things, and just have basic good manners, but I have been relying on B a lot to translate. People in shops often say things like “do you need a tax receipt?” or “do you have smaller change?” when I go to pay for something, and I have no clue what they are talking about. Now I just shrug and say “nem értem” (I don’t understand) and sometimes they ask in English… or sometimes they are rude about it and huff and puff. In the first week, this really upset me; now I don’t care! In truth, this has only happened a few times. Most of the time everyone is accommodating of my language skills (or lack thereof).
Other than a couple of rude people, Hungarians are generally nice. They don’t smile at you in the street (I smile at pretty much everyone and they look at me blankly) but apparently culturally, smiling at strangers is something they do not do. In most places, customer service has been excellent. When we got the internet connected and our phones set up with European SIM cards, the service was exceptional. They did everything easily and quickly and the technician arrived on time, set up the TV and internet and it was done. We couldn’t believe it – after, in the past, waiting all day for Telstra to turn up, or someone to come and switch your electricity on in a new place etc – we have had no such problems.
Speaking of TV, everything is in Hungarian except 2 channels – BBC World News and BBC Entertainment – both of which are repetitive – so I may investigate getting more channels just to have some familiarity. When there are Hungarian subtitles on English shows, it helps a bit with the language acquisition, but it goes too fast. I need TV in slow motion.
We tend to go out each day for about 4-5 hours and explore some part of the city. We always end up going further than planned, and catching a tram part of the way. We must be walking quite a few kilometres, because we have both lost weight! Strange, considering the amount of bread, lángos (fried bread dough – it’s amazing), butter etc we have been eating. We had our first restaurant meal last night – Italian – and ordered in a mix of English, Hungarian and Italian. It was exactly what I needed after picking at food for a few days when not feeling well. We have had Hungarian take away – chicken stuffed with vegies, potatoes with herbs – it came to about $7AUD each I think, and we were so full. It’s delicious comfort food.
Tomorrow we are meeting up with an Aussie girl from Brisbane named Sally, who teaches ESL here. I found her on an expat forum online when asking questions about general stuff before we arrived. We are all going to the Parliament Building for a tour and out for lunch. Much as I love B. and we are a great team together, I do crave the company of others and look forward to speaking English easily with another person! Hopefully we have something in common – teaching at least. She did say that there might be an opening for work at her language school, so we will talk about that tomorrow.
The history of the city is amazing. B is like a walking encyclopaedia – he knows so much. Every place, square, bridge, landmark is named after someone or something famous and historical and he knows about it!
We went to St Stephen’s Basilica yesterday – St Stephen (Szent István – that’s the name of our street too) was the first king of Hungary and was said to bring Christianity to the nation. The Pope canonised him and hence, St Stephen is everywhere. The basilica was beautiful – not being a religious person, I was there for the pretty paintings and architecture – hard to believe so much of the city was levelled after being bombed in the war and then rebuilt.
Public transport is awesome here – trams are the size of two or three Melbourne trams and generally they run every 2 minutes. The metro (underground) is super quick and trains come every 90 seconds. Bit of a change from Melbourne!
We have both had our share of feeling unwell during the past week – B was motion sick all the way here on the plane, I had an upset stomach, now a cold, and when I took cough mixture it had codeine in it so I was sick from that! If anything tests a relationship, it’s travel and illness. So far, all tests have passed!
Trying to rest up now as we are going to Vienna later this week and I hope to go ice skating at City Park sometime too, before the rink shuts. Next week we are planning on visiting B’s family in Nyíregyháza, which is about 2 hours away on the train. I am really excited about this, except that none of them speak English and my Hungarian is really not up to conversational level… we will have to do lots of charades or something!
We are very happy here. The adventure has really just begun.”
“The snow is melting in the city and we can hear water running outside the apartment. Patches of grass are beginning to show where there was at least 10cm of snow a week ago. The blue skies lifted my mood today and walking for a few hours has made me feel good. Budapest, you are a beautiful lady.
Also, hot wine (mulled wine) in a plastic cup from a street vendor on a hill covered in snow was quite romantical. Delicious and warming!”
“Blue skies today! Tourists everywhere, I got to speak English to some people, eat langos with nutella (cue hardening of the arteries), walked around the market hall, walked over the river to the Buda side, caught a tram, walked some more, caught another tram, shopped at the “One Euro Shop” (hahaha, $2 shop Euro style, love it).
Why can’t I find a damn sink plug in this city?!”
I’m tired and coming down with a cold, so instead of writing something articulate (I’m really uninspired to write, more inspired to take photos), I will create a list of where we have been with links to accurate information (ahem… Wikipedia)
- Where we live – the 5th District (V. kerület) on the Pest side of the river. (Say “Pesht”)
- Where we stayed when we arrived: The Continental Hotel Zara
- The bridge closest to where we live – Margit híd or Margaret Bridge – about 200m from our apartment. Halfway over the bridge, you can stop off at Margit Sziget (Margaret Island) which is all parkland, except for a hotel and some pools.
- Where we shopped quite a bit – Westend City Centre – a shopping mall with everything you need, including a huge store called Media Market, which is like JB Hifi, Harvey Norman, The Good Guys all in one. It is ENORMOUS.
- Heroes’ Square, or “Hősök tere” – I took a brief video here, which is on the blog. Beautiful place, but the day we went the wind was bitterly cold. Heroes’ Square is a World Heritage site.
- City Park, or “Városliget” – Right next to Heroes’ Square, this huge park contains World Heritage buildings and extensive parklands. Beautiful at the moment, covered in snow.
- Vajdahunyad Castle, or “Vajdahunyad-vár” – a castle in City Park with an ice skating rink in front of it. (In summer it’s a lake) The castle is partly a copy of one that is located in what is known now as Romania, though that area used to be part of Hungary. My interpretation is that the Hungarians got annoyed (rightly so!) that their castle had been claimed with their land as part of Romania, and so they thought, “bugger this, we can build a new one!”.
- Széchenyi Medicinal Bath (Széchenyi-gyógyfürdő) – we booked a private tub indoors for about $30AUD and had it for 90 minutes. A man in white shorts, Crocs, socks and a white shirt unlocked it for us and started to fill it. The water was so hot, I had to take a break and get out to cool off! I think it made a difference to how I was feeling (a bit off-colour). Architecture was amazing. Will definitely go back and bathe in the outdoor pools while it’s still cold outside – the steam coming off the pools outside, surrounded by snow, was stunning.
- Március 15. tér (March 15 Place) – March 15th is a national day in Hungary celebrating the start of the 1848 revolution. (Hungarians seem to love their revolutions) From here we saw Erzsébet híd (Elizabeth Bridge) and I fell over in the snow.”
As planned, I bought a down-filled jacket. It was $30AUD. It’s not the most attractive thing – a bit too shiny for my liking – but it’s SO WARM! The hood is perfect, no need for a hat. My boots are keeping my feet dry and warm so now I’m set!
Driving from the airport, I could not shut my mouth. It was agape and my eyes couldn’t keep up with the passing sights – snow, bare trees, old buildings, graffiti, more snow. Nothing looked familiar. The tiredness from jet lag had gone the moment I stepped out into the sub-zero temperatures. The cold takes your breath away physically, but the snow and foreign scenery takes it away metaphorically.
The driver, István, spoke to B in Hungarian the whole way into the city, after saying his English was not very good. Not understanding a word of it didn’t bother me at all – I was far too engrossed in staring out the window of the car with my mouth open.
A few times when cars were seemingly coming AT us on the road, I almost gasped, despite having been to Europe before and having even driven on the “other side” of the road in Switzerland 4 years ago.
The hotel is beautiful (The Continental Hotel Zara) – lovely service so far… the poor young guy struggling with our luggage and showing us how things work was lovely, his English was excellent. We decided we would not relax or even shower – it was only lunch time when we arrived – so we rugged up and went for a walk.
The city was eerily quiet; we realised after a while that it was Sunday afternoon. People were out walking, coupled up, rugged up, not smiling. The few shops that were open were stiflingly warm and staffed by lovely people with excellent English. B needed a scarf and stupidly we went into the first open shop we saw – a souvenir shop, tacky and cheap – and he paid a huge amount for a cheap synthetic scarf. It was not until we left that we realised our mistake. We walked into Marks and Spencer and found soft, good quality men’s scarves for less. B could not let go of this; he was so irritated by his mistake.
Walking to Erzsébet híd (Elizabeth Bridge) and the Danube river, we found a small square, covered in snow, and diverted from the path to crunch through it. I thought I would be clever and film my footsteps, and I slipped as I stepped up with snow-covered boots onto concrete. Mostly unhurt, I could not stop laughing, but the snow got my gloves damp and from then on, it was chilly fingers and aching legs – the jet lag was catching up with me.
The river has huge chunks of ice floating down it. They look like frosted glass in an enormous bath. There is snow all along the banks, throughout the city, on the rooftops, melting and dripping down onto the footpaths (or your head if you are unlucky) and then it re-freezes into ice.
The cold is not unbearable, but I felt, after about 90 minutes, that I needed to go home, or buy a new jacket.
The city centre is so different to the slightly intimidating outer-suburbia I saw coming in from the airport. The buildings are all beautiful and old – a huge range of architectural styles that I can’t name – and the city is one of statues and squares, big wide footpaths, decaying signs from years past, underpasses instead of pedestrian crossings, a jumble of Hungarian and English signage, coffee shops, bakeries, convenience stores. Seeing homeless people sitting in the cold, begging for money, made me feel wretched. Blankets piled up in doorways, a paper cup upheld, some with signs in Hungarian pleading their case. B’s advice was to keep moving.
We found a Hungarian tourist market, full of painted wooden eggs, embroidery, “traditional” Hungarian clothing (validity to be confirmed, apparently), felt items, dolls, wooden toys, winter scarves and hats, glassware, jewellery and other assorted things.
Suddenly starving, a burger place beckoned and B ordered for us in Hungarian. As soon as the girl asked if we wanted our fries small medium or large, he was stumped! They reverted to English and got the order complete. When a girl came over with a tray, we gratefully took it and tucked in, only to realise when looking at the receipt that it was, in fact, not our order!
After wandering and talking and laughing, suddenly when we left there, the cold hit me and I needed to be home as quickly as possible. It was bone-achingly cold and my jet lagged body was not willing to warm up.
That first shower, after flying, travelling, being around vomit, falling over in the snow and being so cold, was the thing that made me suddenly so deliriously tired that I had to sleep. 5.30pm came around and I was out to it.
Day 1 complete. Over and out.
Flight to Singapore from Melbourne:
- Lots of babies crying
- Heaps of legroom for me
- Cold in this spot
- B was motion sick for hours
- Watched 2 movies
Airlines just feed you all the time. (Keen observation there, lady)
B vomited as we disembarked the plane at Changi – for some reason I handed him my brand new scarf; he was holding a mouthful of spew, I figured I could wash it.
He threw up all over it and the floor and the window in the walkway from the plane airwalk to the arrivals terminal.
Snappy with one another about why I would bother washing vomit off a scarf, we abandoned it and went through security again in the same terminal/gate… Completely unnecessary. Some passengers were late boarding so we left late by about 45 mins.
Second leg – Singapore to London – approx 13 hours.
B held his spew in this time. Cabin crew provided gastrolyte and flat ginger ale with the promise of oxygen if he got worse. I wouldn’t have minded some oxygen.
Less crying children this time. We both managed to sleep for about half the flight. The longest stretch I could manage to sleep for was about an hour, before my arse hurt. Continuing the tradition of ruining clothing, I ripped my leggings a little whilst enthusiastically stretching my legs.
Heathrow – arrived 5.30am into -5 degrees Celsius. Completely wrecked. Changed into warmer clothes. Found wifi to email and update. Bought coffee, wandered through terminal 3. B got travel sickness pills.
To board the flight to Budapest we were taken by bus to the tarmac. Snow in clumps alongside the runways and snowflakes around the bus as we boarded the plane. Absolutely chilling weather but so refreshing after 20+ hours of air conditioning/ recycled air. I feel I have a permanently snotty nose when I fly. Also, eye drops were a great last-minute purchase in Melb.
British Airways flight to Budapest was full of teenage girls… School trip or something? Made me realise teenagers are the same everywhere.
A few Hungarians on the plane chatting away made me feel apprehensive about getting to Budapest and feeling lost and foreign.
B’s travel was sickness not as bad but drowsy from meds.
There is an off duty Qantas crew member who speaks fluent Hungarian on this flight drinking scotch and chair dancing to his iPod. I wonder what his plans are? It’s 10.30am local time by the way.
The further east we travel on the plane, the whiter the ground below us gets. At first the snow below looked like light concrete. Then I realised it was actually snow. We have flown over Dover, Calais, Frankfurt, Prague, Vienna and soon will land in Budapest.
A driver will be waiting with a sign with our names.
Awesome times eleventy frillion.
Four days til departure. Wow.
An update on proceedings…
My Hungarian lessons have now ceased officially, now I must practise. Thank you Anna Maria for being such a great tanár. (I’m sure you will read this at some stage!) Köszönöm xxx
I can read a short, basic paragraph and understand some of what I’m reading but I really need to practise a lot, because it’s not quite sinking in.
Our apartment in St Kilda East is empty and has been cleaned. I’m sitting in the car waiting for the carpet cleaners to arrive – they are an hour late – and it has forced me to relax a little.
Last week I spent four days driving across parts of country Victoria seeing my family, working out which clothes to take and getting my head together.
I had a huge weekend with a hen’s night for the gorgeous Lucy, where I met a girl whose parents and grandparents are Hungarian! On Sunday I met up with about 20 friends to enjoy drinks in the sun (and rain) at The Corner Hotel. A very sentimental notion – I worked at The Corner for a while when I was much younger, and I had my 21st birthday there too.
Everyone keeps asking how I’m feeling about going away… I keep replying, “I don’t know, it’s surreal at the moment.”
I don’t think it will be real until I get there. The fact that we are going is quite real, but the length of time away is not sinking in yet. (I’m getting nervous just thinking about it now.)
Only a few more things to do and then I can relax. If only the carpet cleaners would hurry up.
We hired a mini-skip-trailer thing, with the words “Trailer Trash” emblazoned across it and a rather sexy looking cartoonised woman alluringly glancing at whoever walks past. Sultry minx. It wasn’t cheap, but the amount of stress it saved us was incredible. Whilst I am the ultimate recycler and donator to charities, at this stage of the moving game, it was all too much. I am donating clothes to my sister and then to the charity shops, some towels to the shelter I support, Ingrid’s Haven, plus a portable cat enclosure that we’ve hardly used. Other than that, we have turfed out a huge (and environmentally unfriendly) amount of stuff.
Sometimes, you have to be ruthless. I had to shut off the part of my brain that said “you should donate that. You should recycle that. You should sell that on eBay. You should keep that” and instead, just throw things away. I am running out of time to listen to my environmental conscience.
On the upside, we have family who are storing our most treasured things for us. I have boxes and furniture at mum’s. I have a handful of things at my sister’s. B’s mum is storing all our large items and some boxes at her place.
It’s strange what you can’t throw away. I couldn’t part with my high school formal dress. It’s too small, too nineties, too ugly to ever wear again, but I can’t toss it out. I’m saving it for a dress-up box for my future child.
I couldn’t let go of my swimming club jacket. To earn that, you had to qualify for regional championships. To do that, you had to do a minimum number of swim meets in a year. For someone who hated competing at times, this was a big ask. But I wanted that jacket. Still on the swimming note, I threw out my kickboard and pullbouy, but the flippers stayed. They are in an old suitcase with my 5 most loved handbags (three of which are vintage Glo-Mesh), a good pair of goggles and a souvenir swim cap from a team triathlon.
A dress my mother made me 4 years ago and no longer fits is in storage. I love it too much to abandon, despite the zipper not doing up.
Boring things, like work clothes, of course will be stored for my return.
The boxes labelled “KEEPSAKES” have multiplied a little, I admit. The soft toy that my uncle gave me when I was born found himself in a vacuum Space Bag, so as to avoid any potential moths or bugs getting him whilst in storage. Photos, birthday cards, postcards from all over the world… Some things you cannot throw out.
The hardest part of this week will be taking my beloved cat Atticus to my sister’s house. There he will live for the duration of our time in Europe. Right now, he is sitting beside me on the couch, paws tucked neatly beneath him, ears twitching as a dog barks outside. I know he will be loved and well-cared for. But not having my furry companion with me all the time will be hard.
In 48 hours we will not live in our apartment. We will be staying with family and living out of our suitcases. Once that is complete, I think we can relax a little more… and visit Atticus in his new home.