“Puszi! Puszi!” And Other Lessons in Hungarian

“Puszi! Puszi!” And Other Lessons in Hungarian

I finished my second Hungarian class just before the holidays. The finale was fun with a trip to Vörösmarty tér to put my fledgling magyar mumblings to use in the midst of the bustling Christmas market. Stumbling over double-letter letters (gy and ny ain’t easy) and creatively applying my limited vocabulary, my classmate and I successfully ordered a lángos and forralt bor, asked for prices and made small talk with patient, pleasant Hungarian vendors. With my head brimming with newly found knowledge and Hungarian wine, I wanted to share some of my favourite Hungarian language phrases.

This language is notoriously difficult to learn. Many people use this as an excuse not to, and in Budapest, you can generally get along fine without it. I can’t say I’ve reached the level of learning where I see this tremendous complication, though I can see it in the distance. For anyone considering learning it, go for it! For a beginner, don’t get scared off – basic Hungarian it’s no more complicated than any other language, and its full of verbal delights.

Heros Square
Heros Square: a monument to Hungarian history

The language has an interesting history, and the Magyars are fiercely proud of their difficult nyelv. This video provides the best summary of Hungarian I’ve heard yet, as well as a handy dose of Magyar history:

Yet, they are among the most generous, patient and encouraging people to language learners. Nearly every Hungarian has met my bumbling efforts with a kind smile, surprised eyes and a reply.  A friend recently told me that when foreigners learn Hungarian, it’s as though we’re stroking the soul of the country. If that’s not encouragement to learn, I don’t know what is.

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A Simple Traveler’s Guide to Berlin

A Simple Traveler’s Guide to Berlin

Berlin is undeniably cool. It’s a city exploding with culture and subculture after a century of divisive politics that changed the world. It’s modern yet gritty, full of change-makers and fun to explore. I spent a weekend there in October, my second time to the German capital.

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Each time I travel, I try to minimize my budget, my impact, and my stress so I can better enjoy myself. Traveling is amazing, but it’s not without its challenges. In my journey to live simply, I’m trying to travel simply as well. Here are my takes on traveling simply in Berlin, saving you money and adding to your time.

Traveling Simply: For the Budget

Halle-loumi!

The large Turkish population in Berlin brought with it a delicious food tradition. The city is filled with great spots to enjoy falafel and halloumi. In fact, if you do a quick search for ‘cheap eats in Berlin’ (an important pre-departure step for any trip), the lists are limited in German options and packed with tasty, budget-friendly Turkish ones. Search for the lists, or just keep an eye out for a Turkish restaurant with a line and join in.

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On Donald Trump, the Berlin Wall and Leonard Cohen

On Donald Trump, the Berlin Wall and Leonard Cohen

I almost couldn’t get out of bed. Derek was up, opened his laptop and said “Oh my god.” I knew from that statement that what I thought couldn’t be true when going to sleep,  just might be true now.

The wave of statements that Donald J. Trump had said over the election felt very, very heavy. The racist, ignorant, sexist things he said were now words from the mouth of the President of the United States of America. The flashbacks to the video clips, the tweets, the new stories. It all seemed so incredulous and absurd. And yet, on the morning of November 9th, 2016, it became not a farce, but a real part of the American discourse as Trump became President-elect.

Twilight on Election Eve
Twilight on Election Eve

As a woman, I felt a guttural fear for the rights of women. Trump was on video stating that he forces himself on women. Changing rape culture needs to come from shifting attitudes from both sexes. What lessons are we teaching the young men about respect and consent when the President-elect has a history of abuse?

A Not-So-Great Wall

As a citizen of North America, I felt a deep worry about the insular and xenophobic nature of Trump’s immigration and (often vague) foreign policies. The most famous and seemingly ridiculous statement was the infamous wall:

“I will build a great wall — and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me –and I’ll build them very inexpensively. I will build a great, great wall on our southern border, and I will make Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words.” – Donald Trump

When today’s politicians talk about a wall, it’s a physical representation of a societal break. I saw the wall built on the border between Budapest and Belgrade. I saw the wall carving out land between Israel and the West Bank. To me, it represents a failing of our modern society. Are we so crude to need a wall to resolve a problem? As humans with decency and compassion, can we not find a stronger, more elegant solution?

<center> The dividing line of the former Berlin Wall, now the East Side Gallery
The dividing line of the former Berlin Wall, now the East Side Gallery

A wall is not sustainable. It seems we are forgetting our history. With poetic timing, Trump was elected on the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

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Serenissima in Venice: Six Tips for Traveling Simply

Serenissima in Venice: Six Tips for Traveling Simply

Venice is a marvel. It holds the heavy weight of an empire, full of marble and fine art, on pillars imposed on a lagoon long ago in the time of Barbarians. The whole city seems to be floating, and in many ways, it is.

Water is essential and yet a dilemma for the city. Water allowed a faux-city of fishermen to evolve into an empire that connected East and West. Yet, the city floods annually, creating an on-going challenge to protect the impressive infrastructure from damage and decay. It is difficult to imagine how marble was shifted into place from neighbouring islands, piles and boats to act as waterproofing of palaces. It’s a wonder to see and even more fun to navigate. No cars or even bicycles can cross the city, so you have to enjoy on foot, which allows you to take in impressive architecture, explore quiet canals and bump into locals in tiny passageways.

 View from the Rialto Bridge, Venice
View from the Rialto Bridge

After four beautiful days in the Most Serene Republic, I came away with a feeling of awe. I encourage you to visit as it’s a top destination for good reason. As climate change causes sea level rise, Venice’s floating illusion may not last. Get there soon, and try a few tips and lessons from my trip.

Traveling Simply: For the Budget

Venice is known to be an expensive city. At first, I thought it was tourist-trap inflation, but after arriving, I realized the challenges and costs of living in a place that floods nearly a third of the year and where everything has to be carried by hand or trolley. With this in mind, the prices are fairer, but they are still high. I discovered that, with a little planning, you can still enjoy the city on a budget.

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News of A Coup in Theth

News of A Coup in Theth

I recently returned from a delightful week along the Adriatic. Over nine days, Derek and I explored coastal Montenegro and the Albanian Alps. It was beautiful, welcoming and we left every stop with a desire to stay longer. The trip was full of learnings, but there was one that was very particularly striking, and though personally embarrassing, worth sharing.

We hiked the stunning pass from Valbonë to Theth, and begrudgingly, we left the awe-inspiring Shala Valley. As we were bumping along the winding mountain road leading from Theth back to the lakeside city of Shkodër en route to Montenegro when the Australian, Amanda, asked what I thought about the coup in Turkey. Feeling both shocked and sheepish, I admitted I had no idea what she was talking about.

The Road Into Theth
Our drive looked like this one, but up the side of a mountain.

As we jostled around gravel corners, I gathered the news about the attempted coup and the growing fall-out and consequences from the better-informed Canadian, Finn, and Australian company in the 4×4 taxi. I was grateful to hear more about such a significant event, and was itching to get to an internet connection to read more. It’s not every day you hear the word ‘coup’ in the (second-hand) news.

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A Christmas Abroad in Prague

A Christmas Abroad in Prague

Prague Old Town Square Christmas TreeI never thought I’d say “I’m going to Prague for Christmas” but that’s what happened this year. Just a seven hour train ride from Keleti Pályaudvar to Hlavni Nadrazi and we arrived in the beautiful capital of the Czech Republic. This was the second time that I have been outside of Canada for December 25th. I am lucky as I most often spend Christmas in Cape Breton with my family or, in recent years, in cozy Manitoba with the Robinsons. Being abroad at a time when most people’s hearts are at home is strange, challenging but full of new opportunities.

Prague has been at the top of my ‘To Visit’ list for years. I’ve heard magical descriptions of the city’s impressive and well-kept architecture hugging the Vltava River, it’s inexpensive and delightful food and drink and rich cultural scene. Prague was as promised. In December, the city was vibrant with Christmas markets and the bustle of happy faces with mulled wine and chimney cakes. We explored and celebrated and discovered Christmas abroad. Here are some reflections on what made this expat holiday a happy one.

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Zurich Loves Its Water

Zurich Loves Its Water

I recently traveled to Zürich to visit with my aunt Anita traveling from Margaree via Malta for meetings. I had only visited Switzerland to catch a late night flight in Basel (and enjoyed Avatar in 3D with 3 sub-title languages!), so I was looking forward to exploring its largest city. We spent the weekend walking all over the city, enjoying the views of Lake Zürich, the Old Town and its many, many water fountains.

First Zurich Wate FountainZürich loves its water. The city is home to 1,248 public water fountains. You can’t walk a couple blocks in the Old Town without coming across an imaginatively sculpted waterspout. Though the fountains become simpler in form further from the city centre, they are just as handy.

The first water fountain was built during the early 15th century to supply trusted water after the Black Death created a (well-founded) mistrust of city wells. The water was brought to the city centre, the top of Rennweg, from a source four kilometres away by wooden pipe. An engineering feat of the time, and the first of many public plumbing projects to come.*

It is refreshing to see the importance and elegance of publicly available drinking water. We live in a generation that remembers thinking that buying water from a store seemed ridiculous to now seeing bottled water as an important part of our convenience diet. Plastic bottles are still popular in Zürich, but many residents choose to bring their own refillable ones instead. The water is said to be deliciously fresh and a treat to enjoy. I can attest that it did indeed taste like water.

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Nothing’s Simple in History

Nothing’s Simple in History

After watching the devastating news about the attacks in Paris on Friday night and later learning about the attacks in Beirut on Thursday, it was quite a solemn weekend in our household. It’s hard to understand how such cruelty can be played out amongst innocent people. To better understand, I turn to a wide range of media sources to grasp the factors that took us to this point in history. It’s never simple. It’s layers of historical shifts, political plays, media overlays weaved together. My combination of CBC, Al Jazeera (including a new favourite AJ+), Twitter, Wikipedia and other articles, infographics and commentary that pop into my news, searches and social media feeds never provide a perfectly clear picture, but it does deepen my understanding of the situation. It deepens my empathy to the victims and affected communities. It deepens my compassion for those fleeing fear and my support for those fighting for peace and justice on all sides.

Memento Park Entrance

With this dark veil over the weekend, it made for a very interesting time to visit Budapest’s Memento Park. The Park was developed as a holding place for the statues and plaques of the Communist era. When Hungary peacefully became a democratic country with parliamentary elections in 1990, there was much debate as to the fate of the statues. Though destruction was suggested, the Budapest city council resolved to create a themed statue park. The architect Ákos Eleőd described the park as such:

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Vienna Visits and Halting the Hangry

Vienna Visits and Halting the Hangry

Prague en route to ViennaOne of my true joys of Central European living is train travel. It’s efficient, economical and civilized. Plus, everything is so much closer here. Derek and I hopped on a train from Keleti Station and in less than three hours we were on the metro leaving Vienna’s Hauptbahnhof station.

We arrived for 28 hours in the Austrian capital to wine, dine and checkout architectural points of interest. Just like all the cool kids do. Obviously. In preparation for our trip, I was brought back to the travel tricks of pre-3G travel:  researching restaurants from home.

Yes, it’s simple and nothing new. I remember the days before cell phones and (gasp) before internet. I held my first cell phone when I was 22 and living in France. It was smaller than my credit card and could do much less. I note my familiarity with these quaint times to preface that I understand that my idea of researching restaurants from home is nothing novel; it’s how people have traveled for pleasure for most of recent tourism history.

However, with the convenience of 3G and TripAdvisor, I had lost the discipline to properly prepare my dining plans before departing. I would land in a new city or town, and rely heavily on online reviews and maps, supplemented with reception directions and extra-old fashioned street meandering for menus. I’ve had some great meals, some overpriced ones, and many meals an hour or two later than I would have liked. This method lends itself to deciding where to eat when you’ve already decided it’s time to eat. A situation that’s unpleasant for everyone: hangry (def: state of anger caused by lack of food).

But not this time. In Vienna, I planned. It was delicious.

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Always Read the Plaque

Always Read the Plaque

I love plaques. I always stop or make slight detours to read the interesting tidbits of information about the place through which I’m walking. I’ve always done it and though I don’t know where this habit started, it’s one I highly recommend. Reading a plaque is a simple way to better understand a place. The community has deemed this person or moment or location important enough to record in bronze.

Statue on the Danube

However, I have had some complaints about the meandering and sometimes time-consuming process required  to read these plaques.  I offer a rationale for Always Reading the Plaque. To support the relaxed and informative walk, I give to you my three arguments:

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