9 Reasons To Freeze Your Keister Off in Hungary

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I’m fully adjusted to life in the tropics. I’m used to days that are almost exactly half light and half dark year round, and annual temperatures that vary less than 10°C from the year’s low to its high. However, I just got back from Hungary, and was reminded of some of the redeeming features of the great, white, whitest-of-white north.

Fortunately, we were eased into the winter experience. When we arrived, it looked like this:

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By the end it looked more like this:

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So beyond visiting family, why travel into the arctic chill?


9.) Christmas markets: If you’re tired of this year’s mass-produced doodads and gizmos churned out of massive factories in China, you can see some new and interesting wares within these markets (though there’s no escaping mass-produced tsotchkes altogether.)  In Budapest’s markets, you can even find blacksmiths to custom make your metal needs.

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8.) Skating and winter sports / activities: In India one has three choices for viewing or participating in sports: cricket, soccer, or–did I mention–cricket. It was refreshing to see skiing, skating, etc. on TV and in practice.

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7.) Vivid sunsets: Something about the high latitude and proclivity for cloud cover made for brilliant colors, and you can’t miss the sunset because it happens at about 4 o’clock in the afternoon.

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6.) Street food: There are so many outstanding high-calorie food options too keep your internal furnace burning.

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5.) Color: There’s no place that outdoes India in the brilliant colors department, but villages like Szentendre are no strangers to vivid colors–though not necessarily ones that assault the eyes. Besides the warm yellow-orange that is ubiquitous throughout the region, there are a range of colors that one doesn’t see everyday and that I–as a straight man–have no idea of the names of.

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4.) Concerts: Music is big in Hungary, and there are bills for Christmas concerts all over the place. That said, we missed most of the Christmas music in favor of going to hear a popular Dixieland Jazz band and a New Years Concert that mostly rock-and-roll cover songs. Dixieland Jazz isn’t what one expects in Hungary,  but it’s nice to see American art forms other than Hollywood cinema and television programming that have a huge following abroad.

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3.) Finding your inner child: If you grew up in a wintery place–as I did–the cold, colors, and lights of the holiday season transport one back to the simple and energetic time of one’s youth.

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2.) Hot beverages: You develop a renewed appreciation for coffee, tea, mulled wine, and hot cocoa when it’s freezing.

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1.) Kürtőskalács: If you don’t know what this is, it’s worth the visit for it alone. It’s one of the best wintertime snacks anywhere in the world, and is hand’s down the best cylindrical food in existence.

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7 Things I Dig About Bangalore

1.) Mornings:

Bangalore (Bengaluru) isn’t an early riser, and that makes the mornings an idyllic time for those of us who are so inclined. The weather is cool; the pollution is tamped down by all that plant respiration, and the wailing horns are sparse. It’s the best time to take a walk. One can actually cross busy intersections with minimal delay and risk to life and limb. Cubbon Park is closed to vehicular traffic.

Words to live by

Words to live by

2.) Parks:

Bengaluru was once called the “Garden City.” While some refute this moniker in the face of the hyper-growth of this high-tech city, Cubbon Park, Lal Bagh Gardens, and numerous small parks offer aesthetically pleasing and relaxing oases.

Lal Bagh Botanical Gardens displays a large collection of Bonsai.

Lal Bagh Botanical Gardens displays a large collection of Bonsai.

3.) Restaurants: 

The city offers a wide range of options for both South Indian cuisine as well as more cosmopolitan fare. I’ve sampled many local restaurants as we’ve been getting settled. The most iconic place I’ve eaten at in Bangalore is the Lal Bagh Road location of the Mavalli Tiffin Rooms (MTR.) I had the lunch thali. (For those unfamiliar, a thali is India’s answer to China’s dim sum, or what foodies might call a “tasting menu”– which is to say small portions of a large assortment of foods. MTR offers an interesting dining experience. One sits down at a large table, quite probably with a group of strangers, while bustling stewards come around to ladle up the thali’s various component dishes. MTR’s food was delicious, but, more importantly, it’s hygienically prepared as well. The restaurant was built on the idea of strict food sanitation standards. I have anecdotal evidence to support this claim as I made my sole slip thus far by drinking water whose origin I didn’t know from a cup that was placed before me at this restaurant.  I was none the worse for the experience. I suspect MTR uses bottled water because there wasn’t any  flat taste that I associate with boiled water, but–whatever they did– they did something. While I have a fairly robust system by Western standards, I’m under no illusions that I’d do well drinking untreated tap water here. (Time Out Bengaluru did a little piece in its “The City by Numbers” segment in the current issue. They say that 59% of Bangalore’s tap water is not potable, and 8.4% of borewell water is contaminated by E. Coli. Incidentally 0% of borewell water is potable.)

The Lal Bagh Road store, which I understand is not the original location, but is  the oldest of the existing locations.

The Lal Bagh Road store, which is not the original location, but is the oldest of the existing locations.

While I have not yet tried any of the other locations, it should be noted that some of the newer restaurants appear to be more hip, trendy, and not so utilitarian. I saw the location below near Janata Bazaar. There is also a location blocks from where I live.

MTR Gandhi Nagar location.

MTR Gandhi Nagar location.

4.) Serenity Against All Odds:

Despite the frenetic pace of this town, there are still many who manage to find some clarity and piece of mind. Besides the yoga practitioners in Cubbon Park and the adherents of various indigenous religions at temples and shrines throughout the city, there are large meditation centers headed by famous gurus. The most well-known of these are Sri Ravi Shankar’s Art of Living centers.

Cubbon Park with the roads closed to vehicles.

Cubbon Park with the roads closed to vehicles.

5.) Climate:

We’ve seen some heavy rains in the evenings and overnight since we’ve been here. This is apparently out of the usual as the rainy season should be over. However, even with nighttime rains, the weather has been great. Bangalore is the San Diego of India in that the climate doesn’t tend toward the extremes witnessed in many other parts of the country. This may have influenced the British decision to build a military base here. It most certainly influenced the wave of retirees who came here afterward. And it likely factors in to the calculus of all those IT firms that have converged here in recent years.

The Glass House of Lal Bagh gardens, and a typical Bangalorean sky.

The Glass House of Lal Bagh gardens, and a typical Bangalorean sky.

6.) Stree Life: 

In Atlanta, as in most of urban America, one won’t see wildlife bigger than a squirrel or animals bigger than a dog –at least not outside of the zoo. So large domesticated animals in the city is a big change, as is being able to go to the nearby countryside and see the likes of elephants. I’ve been surprised how freaked out some city dwellers in America got by the likes of a fox or a tomcat. It’s good to see people can move about in the presence of large animals without feeling the need to eliminate them.

The well-known Indian street bovine.

The well-known Indian street bovine.

The lesser known Indian street goat.

The lesser known Indian street goat.

7.) Markets: 

I’ve been to the City (KR) Market, the Janata Bazaar, the Gandhi Bazaar, and everything from large, modern shopping malls to little neighborhood shops. Commerce thrives throughout the city in all its varied forms.

Near Janata Bazaar

Near Janata Bazaar