A Very European Christmas

December 26, 2008 · Posted in hungary, personal · Comment 

Christmas in Europe is very different from Christmas in the States.

“Aren’t we forgetting the true meaning of Christmas? You know, the birth of Santa.” — Bart Simpson

In Hungary, Szent Mikulás brings some treats, mostly candy, but he does it on 5. December. It is the baby Jesus who brings the gifts and he does it on Christmas Eve and so everyone gets to open their presents a day earlier. How a baby brings a load of gifts to every household is a mystery to me and science, but that’s what we call the magic of Christmas, err, I mean miracle, since magic is the work of the devil and witches.

In the States, kids get dozens of toys and other expensive things. People are so pressured into getting the right gift, the perfect gift, and one that is expensive enough to make the other person happy. And then there’s the game of trying too hard to match the price of the gift you get from someone else. The most terrible thing is when someone gives you a gift and you didn’t get them anything because then you feel really bad. So in preparation, you always have to have a few extra bottles of wine or other generic gift that someone will be happy about. It’s a game of gift warfare, a gift arms race of the sort.

In Europe, kids only get a few gifts. You might get that new MP3 player you wanted, a novel you’ve been hoping to read, maybe a shirt or two your mother thinks would look good on you, a new game for your game console and some other really small things like candy. In the States, you might get an iPod, a $50 iTunes gift card, the new Harry Potter book (or whatever it is kids are reading these days) along with a $50 gift card to Barnes and Noble or Amazon, 5 shirts, 3 pairs of pants, a $100 dollar gift card to the Gap or clothing store of choice, a new game console (even though the other one is only a year old, last Christmas), 3 games for said new console, and a bunch of small things people like to call stocking stuffers.

It’s just interesting the emphasis placed on different things. I personally don’t celebrate Christmas, but I’m still stuck buying gifts for my friends, not because I’m forced to by a capitalistic driven society, but because there is joy in getting something for someone you care about. Combine that with the element of surprise and the priceless look on their face when you truly impress them with your thoughtfulness and you will have something in life that you can’t buy with a lot of presents.

This Christmas was spent with my friend’s family here in a Hungarian town located in Slovakia, and two years before that I spent Christmas with another good friend of mine and her family in Budapest. I’m thankful that I got to spend Christmas with these two different families especially since this holiday is reserved exclusively for family.

Europe Plans Finalized

September 28, 2008 · Posted in hungary, news, personal · 3 Comments 

So Gábor and I just bought our tickets to Budapest. We’re flying out of North Carolina on the 17th of December and will be returning to the States on the 19th of January. That’s roughly 32 days in Europe.

Combined with my trip to Cancun, which is 9 days, I’ll be out of the States for roughly 41 days. When I plan trips, I go all out, don’t I? We’ll be mostly spending time with friends and family that live there so that will help tremendously with costs of hotels/hostels.

The only thing I know for sure is that we’re going to Budapest, spending Christmas in Slovakia, and then spending 3 days in London before our flight back to the States. The stuff in between might range from a trip to Erdély (Transylvania), Cracow, Prague and maybe some other similar places. We might also go skiing in the Tatra mountains, which borders Poland and Slovakia. We have plenty of time to decide and plenty of time to do with what we decide.

In case any of you didn’t know, it’s not a very good idea to book so close to Christmas time. I knew, but there’s nothing we can do about that. Prices have jumped up tremendously. I’ve never actually travelled during the holidays like this, so here’s hoping everything goes as smoothly as possible.

Eastern European Tourism

September 14, 2008 · Posted in advice, hungary, photography · 1 Comment 

Eastern Europe get its charm and character from being behind the Iron Curtain for over 40 years. It was difficult for any person behind the Curtain to socialize with the Western World.

In Berlin where East met West in very intimate settings, both sides build up buildings along the Wall to show the other side they were doing just fine and dandy, and didn’t you wish you were on *this* side? The Soviet Union under this communist system was simply all about show.

Today, remnants can be seen of the Russian industry and it’s effects on the former satellite nations for the past 50 years. Only recently have nations, formerly under the rule of communist Russia, been able to prosper under a more realistic capitalist system. However, because western influence was limited, much of the original culture still remains and is an important part of these countries still today.

Reasons to Avoid Western Europe

The myths about Europeans hating Americans is over stated. Europeans don’t *hate* Americans. They just sometimes think what America is doing in the world is stupid. They realize that not all Americans are like the ones they see on U.S. television shows, but they do pass around funny YouTube clips and joke about how stupid Americans are. But it’s only what they see. You never hear about the quiet American who speaks fluent Spanish because they tend to blend in more. You always hear about the obnoxious American tourist in the restaurant, speaking loudly and complaining about how Europe is so far behind the times and if this restaurant was in the States, it’d go out of business in a week. They’re not hard to pick out and so their visibility makes up the perception Europeans have about Americans. Americans in Europe are like Sikhs in America, you can spot them from three blocks away. So Europeans don’t hate Americans, they are just easy to pick on.

In fact, it seems, until a few years ago, they all wanted to be like Americans. In Hungary, it was considered a wonderful date (don’t tell any of my girlfriends this) if you were to take your girl to the local McDonalds. It was a bit more expensive and it was also kind of exotic for Hungarians.

This mentality is more prominent in Western Europe as it’s had a lot longer to fester. One reason to avoid Western Europe is because it’s too westernized and doesn’t provide a large contrast with the States. If you’re looking for something different (and you might not be), Eastern Europe is your best bet and will still fit within your comfort zone.

Most Americans go to London, Paris, Rome and maybe Berlin. I highly recommend Berlin because there is a stark contrast between the East and the West that’s directly evident when you stand on a street where you can see both East Berlin and West Berlin. Those other places are super touristy and they are extremely indifferent to tourists since they get literally millions every year. It’s like the difference between going to a Wal-Mart and going to a mom and pop shop in your city’s downtown. The products and experiences are worlds apart. Unless of course you’re just looking for a cheap, hollow experience for the sake of telling your friends you went to Europe.

I’m all about embracing different cultures. It opens your eyes to so many new and different ideas; ideas you would otherwise never have gotten. It’s similar to an artist looking at other artists’ works. If he or she only looks at works done by artists in the same town, the ideas become stagnant and inbred. The greatest artists in history were influenced by foreign influences. This is why different cultures are so important to me.

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Christmas in Budapest – 2008 Edition

September 5, 2008 · Posted in hungary, news, personal · Comment 

I’m thinking about spending Christmas in Budapest again this year. Last time was in 2006, so while it hasn’t been that long, it’s been a while. I promised everyone I’d go back last summer, but I had just started a new job and I didn’t have the money to do it. So I promised to return this summer so I could to the Sziget festival, watch the Red Bull Air Races (highlights) and see the fireworks for one of Hungary’s holidays in August. However, I forgot about the fact that since my job involves toys, we’re totally swamped with projects for the holiday season all summer up until October. Christmas in July! and August! and September!

Christmas gives me a great opportunity to leave as we get a week off anyway and then I can use some paid time off (PTO) to extend that vacation. So I’m thinking of taking a week and a half off before and after that Christmas holiday and make my vacation 4 weeks long.

My roommate Gabe’s parents live just north of the Hungarian border in a small Hungarian town in Slovakia. It’s only a few hours train ride to Budapest. We might also stay over in Dublin on our way back to Hungary since he has friends there he wants to see and because I’ve never been to Dublin or Ireland for that matter. And yes, the Guinness factory will be on the list of places to visit. I hear it tastes better than in the U.S.

Also, my Russian friend Elena, who I went to school with at Corvinus might be in Prague in December, so I guess I *have* to go to Prague and see her. Oh darn, Prague. Last time I was there, I went with my friend Tristan and Izzi and had such an awesome time. Gabe hasn’t been in a while so he’s excited about coming with me.

I definitely want to spend a few days in Budapest and see my friend Kriszi and that gang, Tristan, my old advisor Krisztina and others who I haven’t seen since I left. I also want to pick up some Corvinus college t-shirts and maybe a sweatshirt. The thought never occurred to me to buy any university swag while I was there, probably because I was a poor college student who had just enough money to eat. Now I’m rich (even though I’m still paying off the tuition from Corvinus AND Virginia Tech). Read more

Recipe: Tejfölös Káposzta (Sour Cream Cabbage Soup)

July 17, 2008 · Posted in cooking, hungary, personal · 2 Comments 

 

Ingredients:
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2-3 kilo pork
2 kilo sour cabbage
3 onions
2 quarts sour cream
salt & pepper
1/2 cup Sweet Hungarian paprika

Optional:
Caraway Seeds
Bay leaves 

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