July 18

A stranger in a strange land…

Just over three weeks ago, I touched down in beautiful Budapest, Hungary. Thankfully, the flight over was uneventful, aside from the typical, extra hour and a half spent on the tarmac in Philadelphia.  I haven’t posted much since my arrival, as I have been trying to be present in all I see and do, additionally,  moving across the globe keeps one busy and can be exhausting! So this is more of a “catch up” post and I hope to update more frequently, going forward.

I arrived in the heat of the Hungarian summer. Hungary has a “continental” climate of very hot summers and very cold winters. I should expect a sharp drop in temperatures in November.  Who wants to visit for Thanksgiving?!!

Initially, I stayed in the Buda Castle district until I could move into my apartment in Pest. The Buda side (Budapest is divided by the Danube River, Buda and Pest, connected by bridges) was a great location to transition into my new Hungarian life, it is quieter than the bustling Pest side.  Buda charmed me with its rolling hills, cobble stone streets and sidewalks, grand historic buildings, monuments and quaint cafes.  The Castle district is closed to through traffic. Only cars belonging to residents, public transportation buses and taxis (there is NO UBER or Lyft here!) are allowed.  Buda Castle is where you can easily see the magnificent Parliament Building that is so iconic to Budapest.  The views from Fisherman’s Bastion are unparalleled and breathtakingly beautiful.  The President’s (appointed by Parliament) official residence is in Buda Castle and the Prime Minister (elected by the people) is currently building a government residence there…I can understand why.

After my first days in Budapest, I began my PULSE assignment with Bator Tabor (more on this inspiring organization and my work in my next post). Buda was lovely, but not exactly convenient to my work location- it took me an hour on two different buses and a metro ride to get there!  The public transport system here is excellent- easy and efficient, but it was still daunting for me the first few days and I am amazed at how quickly we can acclimate when necessary.  I then found myself as half tourist and half resident….I would arrive back to my hotel after a long day, cringing as I waded through the throngs of tourists crowding the Castle district – I was becoming a local!

As much as I was enjoying the perks of living in a hotel (breakfast and happy hour in the executive lounge!), I longed to settle into my apartment that I had only seen in photos. I wasn’t even sure that this apartment really existed, as I had to sign a lease and wire transfer money to secure it, in order satisfy the requirements to obtain a residence visa.  It did exist and I started over again, learning my new surroundings and public transportation.  Only now, I needed to navigate the grocery store and sort out all the little everyday things that we take for granted. The items in the grocery and drug stores have no less than five languages on every product…..but not English!  This is an ongoing episode for me…. I live on Andrassy Street – one of the busiest in all of Budapest.  Everything I need is outside my huge front door and it is a much shorter, more direct bus ride to Bator Tabor.

Budapest is FULL of history, culture, natural beauty, delicious food and wine. I’m getting concerned that I won’t have enough time to experience all its wonders! But, by far, the best aspect has been the people.  Hungarians are not known for their warmth and are often thought to be rather dour, but my experience has been quite the opposite.  I have been warmly welcomed and people are quick to help me with directions, my language barrier….and everything else!  This is due, in huge part, to the fact that I am working at Bator Tabor with some of the brightest, most caring individuals that I have had the pleasure of meeting…..and their collective English is SO good!  It motivates me to put an even greater effort into learning some basic Hungarian- basic is the most I can hope for because this language is so unique and difficult!  I took eight years of French, so I keep unconsciously (where is Omar?!?….inside PULSE joke) applying my French grammar and pronunciations to Hungarian…..let me just say, Hungarian and French probably have less in common than do English and Hungarian, so this is not helping!

Each day, I am feeling less and less like a stranger and more and more like a member of this vibrant community….for now, Budapest is my home…and it is a happy one.