Budapest, Hungary

I just came back from a wonderful long weekend trip to Budapest, Hungary. I love living in Europe, where so many of the neat and interesting places are just a quick plane trip away, rather than having to fly 12+ hours to go anywhere. In any case, Budapest has been on my bucket list for a while now, due to the beautiful buildings that I’ve seen in so many magazines. I was not disappointed! By far, the loveliest building is the Parliament buildings, with its Gothic style. It was just breath-taking! Next in sheer beauty has to be Saint Steven’s church, probably with the Mattias church right behind it. Also bunched up in that second-place position would be the Hungarian State Opera House, to which I was fortunate to be able to see two operas there.

Day 1, we flew in from Helsinki. We did have a direct flight to Budapest, but they were asking for volunteers to take a later flight, and since that one got us in only about two hours later, we volunteered. Basically, it made our flight free! We did have to connect through Riga, but that was pretty painless. Oh, while at the Helsinki airport, we saw some of the GoSleep pods that have been in the news. Every one of them was in use! Well, except for one which I snapped a picture of, and then a guy got in right after!

Link to flight in pictures

We got in, and we didn’t really have time for much but to check into our apartment, stroll around a bit, get groceries, then head back to fix dinner and get ready for the opera. We saw a modern adaptation of Strauss’ Ariadné Naxoszban, which was actually pretty good, once you get past the idea of it being held in a more modern setting. For this opera, we sat in the box, but in the cheap seats (really cheap, like 2€!), but still had a great view.

After the opera, we headed back to the apartment and collapsed to bed. The next morning was going to be pretty busy.

Link to Budapest, Day 1

For Day 2, we did a lot of walking! Of course, I managed to leave my Fitbit at home (duh!), but I still tracked my steps with my SHealth on my phone, so I didn’t lose them, per se. We started off at Szent István Bazilika, or Saint Stephen Basilica. Like most Catholic churches, it was beautiful and ornate. We paid the extra to take the elevator to the cupola, to get the panoramic view of the city. Well worth it! We also paid to see the treasury, where we were able to get a close-up view of a replica of the Holy Crown, which all the kings and empresses of Hungary have been crowned with. Glad to see that, because later, when we went to the Parliament where the actual crown is kept, you can’t see it very well. There is also housed here the Holy Relic of St. Stephen’s Right Hand (yes, the Holy Right Hand), and I got some gruesome pictures of it, too.

Same day, we also visited the Hungarian National Museum. You pay extra to take pictures, but it’s just a couple of euro, so not too bad. But that goes for cell phones, too. They give you a sticker to wear, and I had mine on the back of my phone, so one time I had a guy tell me “No pictures”, but then he saw the sticker and waved me to continue. They are pretty strict about it. And it goes without saying that when taking pictures of artifacts, you don’t use flash (although some folks did).

That night, I got to attend a second opera, a modern rendition of Wagner’s Das Rheingold, this time sitting in the floor section. Again, perfect view. If you’ve never seen an opera before, you should definitely take the opportunity to go in Budapest. There doesn’t seem to be a bad seat in the house, and even the cheaper seats have great views. Just beware the box seats — there isn’t a whole lot of leg room, and those really cheap seats are actually two seats, one behind the other, bolted to a step platform to sit above the others. Not exactly the most comfortable. But I was too engrossed in the opera to care much. And of course, the opera house is breathtaking, as well.

Link to Day 2 pictures. A lot of pictures.

Day 3, Sunday, we hopped around town, using the Hop On Hop Off bus. There are several of them, and we bought on the one with the giraffe, or the red buses. They all seemed pretty much alike, and the cool thing was is that the buses have WiFi available. Very nifty for keeping people back home jealous of all the sights you’re seeing. We went to Matthias Church, named after a king of Hungary. I thought it was a gorgeous piece of work, but since we were there on Sunday, it was closed to visitors, so I only saw the outside.

We also went to the Buda Castle this same day and walked through it. It’s no longer the official residence of the ruling monarch, since Hungary no longer has kings, but a President, instead. He lives in the slightly smaller building to the side of the castle property. We had a picnic in a park near the promontory, and just enjoyed the view of the Danube and the trees. It’s almost, but not quite, springtime.

We also went through the Budapest History Museum, which was pretty informative, as well. We took the bus up to the top of the Gellert Hill, where we saw the statue of Freedom that they have there.

For dinner, we met a colleague of Wellu’s, and his wife, and we went out to eat at a strudel place. Very traditional Hungarian food, and all of it delicious!

Link to Day 3 pictures

Link to Food pictures

On our last day, Monday, we took the HOHO bus to pick up the boat for the included tour on the Danube. It was misting/raining, so there weren’t a whole lot of people aboard. We took the boat and got off at Margaret Island, which is really amazing, and spent about an hour there, walking through the ruins and seeing the mini-zoo from the outside (it was closed). We caught the boat back to the dock, then rode around the rest of the afternoon, enjoying the sights.

Link to Danube River pictures

Link to Margaret Island pictures

After that, it was time to pick up our stuff at the rental agency, and we headed to the airport. Our flight was delayed about 30 minutes, but everything went smoothly. We got home…to rain, snow and slush. Ugh.

Due to space limitations on WordPress, Ive put links to the albums of pictures on my Flickr account. Just be forewarned…there are a lot of pictures. Some good, some bad, some so-so. Very few captions yet, but it is on my to-do list…one of these days. 🙂

Downtown Helsinki

Shiva made her directorialship debut. I fitted her with the GoPro camera on the harness and took her for a walk for a trial run. The film is long and a bit monotonous at times, but it’s not as bad as I thought it would be (or as good as I had hoped for). I’m still working with some software to learn how to pare it down so that I can post some canine perspective of Helsinki when we get out there ‘for reals’. 🙂

Afterwards, I made it a point to head downtown to see the Christmas windows in Stockmann’s. Stockmann’s is sort of like the Macy’s Fifth Avenue, with a Christmas window, Santa, lots of lights, and besides, it takes up practically a whole city block (and then something like five stories up and down).

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I got some pictures of the windows, and the little outdoor market there. There were probably about fifty little huts with craftspeople selling things made in Finland (mostly), as well as silver from Ireland (pretty!), roasted almonds (yum!, sweaters from Peru (llamas!), and more. Prices were a bit high, but to be expected from a holiday market, to be honest.

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I then headed over to the Senate Square to check out the Christmas market there. Here there were over a hundred little wooden huts with all manner of goods. The vast majority of these were Finnish items, and I was convinced to buy a few things, as well as mentally file some things away to come back and get next week. I tried several different sorts of gingerbread cookies, some Christmas bread (coming back next week for some to take to Oulu), and I even tried my first glöggi. While not something I would go out of my way for, it was good enough that I felt inclined to buy a bottle to share up at the cabin when we go to Lapland over Christmas. I did find these black truffle potato chips from Spain that were TDF, so I had to buy a bag of those, too. The cheese-filled 20141212_174254pastries are handmade, and delicious, and this is the place that has the Christmas bread that I am coming back for.

While I was there, I watched a young man working some metal in a small fire. It looked really interesting, and the display of finished items were certainly impressive! (scroll down to the bottom to see the video)

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There’s a huge Christmas tree in the square, as well as a carousel, which is free for the kids to ride. Even with the drizzle going on, there were still lots of people braving the wet weather to get out and shop, lending the place a festive air in spite of the gloom.

It was there I met Wellu and we wandered a bit, then headed out to eat, and then back home to walk Shiva (in the rain, of course). Walking to the bus stop through the Helsinki city streets was so magical!

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I managed to get our luminaire (from Ikea, of course), up in the window, and it looks rather homey from the street. Now, I just need to get some Christmas lights out on the balcony and the place will look festive enough. 🙂

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Quick note on the cold brew tea: Thanks everyone for the suggestions. I did a little reading up on cold brewing, since the main reason I was doing ‘cold brew’ was convenience. Plop 2 tea cold brew tea bags in a quart pitcher of water, put in the fridge, and approximately 15 minutes later, you had tea! And since I only drink iced tea, it tasted just like the stuff you get in the restaurant that has been hot-brewed. I didn’t realize that (it seems) any tea can be cold brewed, it’s just the method, not anything special with the tea. This opens up a world of possibilities for me! I had just assumed that the tea bags that I had been buying were labeled ‘cold brew’ because something special was done when processing the tea leaves. Those marketing geniuses…charging more for what is probably the same product, but just giving it a different name!

Day 12 Challenge: Are you looking forward to Christmas? Why or why not? I most definitely am! Several reasons…I will be spending Christmas Day itself with my husband’s family in Oulu, and that will be very nice and special. Most importantly, it means that my daughter is on her way, and she arrives on the 27th, and then we head to Lapland, for a very special Christmastime in the snow! I’ve missed her, and it will be so good to see her for a little over a week! The only downer is that I will be missing the rest of my family during this time.

Busy, busy day!

Today was one of those days that was really busy, but I didn’t get anything done, really. But I did ride a bunch of buses and run all over town, so you get to see pictures from my errands!

First off, the day started late, as I slept in rather late. I had napped yesterday–I swear, I laid down at 3pm for a nap…but with the cool air and it getting dark already…I slept until like 7pm. Which meant I was awake until…past 1am. So anyway, I slept in, meaning my day day didn’t get started until 10am already. The apartments had a notice that they were cleaning and waxing the floors today from noon until 1330, so could people please refrain from going in or out during that time. That meant only one thing to me–I needed to plan to go shopping during those hours so that I wouldn’t leave tracks on the newly polished floor!

I have been jonesing for a really good burger (Spoiler alert: haven’t found it yet), and there was a place in the Center called Stones that has a reindeer burger. Got there, but the burger alone is like 17€, and that doesn’t include a drink or anything on the side, plus it has onions in a sour cream sauce and all sorts of stuff I wouldn’t want on it, so at that price, I passed. There is a Hard RFB_IMG_1415878281922[1]ock Cafe right around the corner, so I figure some good ol’ American place would have a decent burger.

And I’d be wrong.

It was ‘okay’, but it was underseasoned and generally bleh. Not bad, but nothing I would cross the street for.

After that, we headed out to go pick up my Moomin duvets which arrived. They didn’t come to our local pick up place, but instead were shipped to Valentatalo, and that was a new bus for me. Once that was done, we did return back to our R-Kioski and picked up our new digibox. But the real star of the mail delivery service are the Moomin duvets! These will be on the bed by tomorrow!

Arrived!

Arrived!

Opening!

Opening!

Ta-da!

Ta-da!

I can’t wait to get these on the bed and take pictures. I am such a fool for this Moomin stuff! I love these little characters — possibly because I identify with the little round-shaped figures.

We went to the Arabia Design Center, to go check out the Finlayson, Fiskars and Ittala outlets. Even as outlets, these places are way out of sight in prices, even for 2nd grade items. Did get to see the Fiskars ‘museum’, which had a few cool displays, and some interesting history on the Fiskars scissors.

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These are frying pans.

Those are the iconic orange handled scissors hanging down in what is a sort of creepy dangerous chandelier. 🙂  I think if the zombie apocalypse hits, this is definitely one place to come get weapons…no one would think of a museum right away! Look at all those splitting axes; just perfect for splitting undead skulls.

I got this amazing Moomin find on Facebook, for just 10€. 20141112_140531The key to wind it up and play music is missing, so I am using it as a desk organizer where I can see it every day. 🙂

Is this not the cutest thing? I wish I could hear the music, but I’ll need to find a broken music box to steal the key from.so I can hear it at some point.

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In schooling news, I am struggling with the very basics. Why couldn’t Finnish be more like Spanish? I am still in toddler classes, learning colors, numbers, basic vocabulary, and I am having so much trouble making it stick.

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This blank board is like my mind. I just can’t seem to get it. The language just refuses to stick to my Teflon® brain. Although, in all fairness, every once in a while, I do manage to recognize or remember a word. I just wish I could do so in context.

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I have so many books, websites, phone apps a20141110_142920nd you’d think it would come easier.

However, I have to continue to believe that once I really get in to it, maybe it should be better.

I was studying my flash cards on my phone app, and managed to miss my bus stop this morning! I was cursing under my breath as I got out of my seat, and the girl next to me asked me what I was grumbling at and I told her I missed my stop. She laughed and said she missed hers, too.  At least I’m not the only one having to cross the street and take the bus back one stop!

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Speaking of bus stops, I managed to take a picture of this backpack at the bus stop this afternoon. These things are EVERYWHERE! Of course, I want one, so I can be like the rest of the cool kids, but in looking them up, I find out just how expensive these are… 70+€ for the basic backpack! I haven’t paid anywhere near that for any backpack that I’ve owned. I suppose I will have to get a closer look at them to see if maybe they are lined in gold or they carry themselves or maybe they are some sort of Bag of Holding so that they can carry everything!

If you’re feeling ambitious, you can look at the Fjallraven Kanken website to see if you find something you like. According to the website, these backpacks were originally designed for Swedish schoolchildren back in 1978. Of course, now I want one. Damn peer pressure.

I think I will end with just a few photographs that I took around town that shows the winter season descending upon us.

Berries against a winter sky

Berries against a winter sky at Helsinki University

Inside the Forums Mall

Inside the Forums Mall

The Stockmann's corner

The Stockmann’s corner in downtown Helsinki

More snow!

We got snow again, yesterday. The kind that comes down in big, fluffy puffs of white, and actually sticks around for a while. Not that anemic, dandruff-y looking stuff that I’ve seen a few times in the past in Southeast Louisiana! I have a few photos and videos to prove it, although sadly, it was all gone by this morning.

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As mentioned, it was pretty much all gone by this morning, leaving behind just wetness. But even though I was a bit nervous about going out in it, it wasn’t all that cold, considering. I actually just wore a sweatshirt and a windbreaker, and was fine.

I trudged out in the wet to go grocery shopping, where I decided to take a photo (surreptitiously, of course), of another oddity for me here: gambling in the grocery stores! Back home in the States, we have pretty strict gambling laws. Other than a few places (Las Vegas, Atlantic City, Indian reservations, some places on the Gulf Coast), we don’t have gambling, and even in those place20141107_141140[1]s, it’s pretty restricted, especially from the young’ns. Most places are 21+ just to enter, and other than Las Vegas, all are in their own buildings or closed off rooms. It’s apparently 18+ in Finland. And in this SMarket (as well as other places), folks have their grocery carts next to them, and are just spinning away. It’s just something odd for me to see.

Of course, it’s just a gamble for me to go into the grocery store and try to figure out what I am supposed to be buying! I went today to buy some meat, and must have texted a half-dozen pictures to Wellu at work, asking him to clarify what animal I was contemplating purchasing. Fortunately, I was able to get the appropriate counseling and purchase the correct beef. Naudan ulkopaisti. Although I really wanted to buy the naudan entrecôte for myself. 🙂

Spent some time yakking on Facebook with a new Brit friend of mine about the costs of goods from ‘back home’. There is a place here that carries them, but, bloody hell, the prices are enough to make you happy to just wait until you can get a trip back home. I do foresee that my kids will be traveling here with suitcases laden down with ‘back home’ goodies, and can return with ones filled with souvenirs. 🙂 An example is that a box of Jiffy cornbread mix, that we pay something like 29 cents for back home costs around 3,99€ here. That’s over $4 in comparable US dollars!

Just want to give a shout out to Anh Le and her blog “Hello Helsinki”. She’s doing a cool business idea, with a ‘coffee bike’! I wish I liked coffee so I could look for it, but for now, I’ll just do that service for the actual coffee drinkers who read here. Go find her and buy a cup of coffee from her bike!

Just 15 more days and I get to see my ShivaDiva! ❤

Tallinn, Estonia…and snow!

OMG…it is really snowing here! I mean, I knew it would, but I am still just amazed at it. And a bit scared.

But first, about Tallinn.

Yesterday (Wednesday), Wellu and I left for Tallinn aboard one of the Viking Line ships. Tallinn is an easy day trip from Helsinki, and a lot of Helsinki-ites (?) head there to buy alcohol. You’ll see them board with folding carts, empty suitcases and duffel bags, and return with cases of beer and cider, all loaded down (and many are simply loaded, too! 🙂 )

Tallinn is a very old city, and the place we were to visit is a walled older city within the city of Tallinn itself. The original Tallinn, if you will. The old town is actually listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The city was founded sometime in the 1200’s, so it’s pretty damn old.

You have to line up early in the terminal, because the seating is a bit limited on the ship, and you want to get a good seat for the approximately 2.5 hour ride there. We managed to snag a decent seat in the corner of the bar area, although the view out of the window wasn’t too great. And it was too cold to go outside and take pictures, so all you get to see is the interior!

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The ship had a trivia contest, although we didn’t enter (we should have!), but we played along and got most of the questions right. They post them up on some video monitors located around the bar area so you can see the questions. Which are all in Finnish and Swedish, of course.

I was feeling a bit nauseated when we got to the ship, so I went to the bar and ordered a Coke and some chips to settle my stomach. I tried to order my Coke (and glass of ice) in Finnish, but since she confirmed and spoke to me in English after that, I guess my Finnish was lacking. Darn it.

We just sat and read for bit, and then another couple came and sat with us. After a while, we struck up a conversation. She was Rose, from Beijing, China, who was visiting her friend, Harold, in Helsinki. It was her first time to Helsinki, and first time going to Tallinn. She plays keyboard and guitar in a band in China, and later, they are going to go visit their former keyboardist in Frankfurt.  We had a rather enjoyable conversation, and then split up to go stand in the herd to get off the ship.

Relaxing on the outward bound trip

Relaxing on the outward bound trip

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March of the Penguins

March of the Penguins

Once we got off the ship (and through the terminal), we walked the short distance to the entrance to the walled older city. We didn’t really have anything on our itinerary, just wanted to take a little day trip somewhere nice. I wanted to take the time to finally poke my head into all the little shops that I had to pass by before, and I wanted to go to the market, maybe find some Christmas gifts to take back.

Unfortunately, the market wasn’t going on, but I did get to do a lot of window shopping. Lots of linen, lace, wooden carvings, amber, and wool items. Go figure. 🙂 We popped in to a few of the more unusual shops, although I had to admit that some of their prices were very high. My personal quest was for a wooden butter knife and a bread basket. I have bought probably two dozen of the butter knives as souvenirs for friends, but I never kept one for myself! The bread basket is actually this thicker cloth that ties at the corners to lift the sides and keep the bread inside. I just like the look of them.

I have to pause here to say that I just went in the kitchen to refill my tea, and it is really snowing outside. Real snowflakes, coming down from the sky and sticking to the ground. It’s really winter! Okay, back to the blog…

In any case, found the butter knife (after several stops), a really nice birch and juniper utensil, that I am excited to have in the kitchen. Also, got Sam a dice bag handmade with an Estonian pattern. Not sure they mean it as a dice bag, but that’s what I´m calling it for Sam. Also bought these adorable wooden cat window hangers, that are decorated with amber pieces. All made in Estonia, by hand. Very cool looking!

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My favorite piece is probably what I got for Stasia, which is a hand-painted ceramic bowl with a cat in it. There is a series of these bowls, made by a local artist, Helina Tilk. I got Stasia the ‘Dandy Cat’ one, because I loved the look on this one’s face. I plan to get her the set, a few pieces at a time, if she likes this one. They are dishwasher and microwave safe, although hand washing is suggested, of course.

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We did a bit more wandering, mainly down side streets that we hadn’t traveled in our visits here before, admiring the architecture, and then stopping in at Drakon, for a ‘decent bowl of elk soup’ and some moose sausage to cut the chill. The soup was actually more than decent, and the sausage was VERY good. There are no utensils, we drank the soup out of the earthenware bowl, and ate the sausage with our fingers. The interior is low, dark, and with heavy wooden tables and stools. It is what I imagine a tavern would look like in the Middle Ages, and it was very much that feeling in there.

After that, we did a bit more walking, then headed back to the ship. We weren’t in a huge hurry to get seats this time, as we had reserved seating for the 6pm buffet. We did meet a very nice lady where we did sit, and while she couldn’t speak English, apparently Wellu and her got along famously, chatting for about a half hour until we were ready to go eat.

And let me tell you…this was a feast! Apparently, it was ‘wild game week’ or something, because they had some fabulous foods to choose from. There was a huge selection of fish, which is not my thing, but there was herring, salmon, caviar, shrimp, and more, all fixed up multiple ways. The salad selection was also pretty extensive, but again, not my thing, with beans and mushrooms, and green stuff. 🙂 All of this was locally sourced and fresh, and you could really tell.

Main course selections is really where the action was. There was roast boar, boar sausage, reindeer steak, reindeer mousse on rye, reindeer sausage, creamed potatoes, roast beef, and more. It was a veritable carnivore’s dream! I had just a taste of everything, and it was all very good! The dessert selections were really good, as well, and I did well on that table, too.

Carnivore platter. Reindeer, boar, beef, chanterelles, potatoes, and more. Yum!

Carnivore platter. Reindeer, boar, beef, chanterelles, potatoes, and more. Yum!

Dessert plate: blueberry mousse, macaroon, chocolate ice cream, brownie, and some other sort of mousse.

Dessert plate: blueberry mousse, macaroon, chocolate ice cream, brownie, and some other sort of mousse.

I left the dining hall feeling like all I wanted to do was curl up and hibernate for a while, and let my food digest. Alas, we were still about a half hour from Helsinki, so we sat in the lounge and listened to the live band, who were actually quite good. When we got in, it was dark, of course, and getting colder. We got home, and I just about crashed into bed. I slept for a good, long while.

I’ll make a post about the snow, separately, since this one turned out so long.

It was a damp day

Today started off with a drizzle, had some actual rain in the middle of the day (ironically when I was going to lunch), and then let off towards the evening, although the rain is supposed to continue throughout the week. I’ve started taking pictures each day, as the leaves are changing ever faster.Although, this picture is just one of the sunrise. You get the full spread of pictures on Tuesday. 🙂

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Last night, we went out to a very nice restaurant with some of Wellu’s collegues for a farewell dinner for the Hungarian researcher that had been visiting for the past few months. We had some fabulous food, and my dinner was especially good: I ordered the wild elk, with the garlic potatoes and creamed cep mushrooms. The meat was garnished with lingonberry sauce, and I devoured the whole thing!

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Earlier in the day, I made my trek to IKEA, which I had not visited in some time (at least a week!). I managed to get in the ‘card only’ line, but didn’t realize it, but fortunately, I had my new debit card with me! It works like a dream!

Today was relatively quiet. I met Wellu and the rest of the astronomy department at the Chinese food restaurant at the Arabia mall, and listened to Petra spin tall tales about Finland to the Italian researcher across the table. Then amazingly enough, I heard an ‘unaccented’ voice at the end of the table. Apparently there is a visiting (?) researcher here from Minnesota. He said he’s been here six weeks and picked up none of the language. Join the club!

Afterwards, I hung out at the mall for a bit, then headed home to do some organizing and cooking. I was going to make some Mexican stew, but we ended up with steak and fries, instead. Oh well, there is always tomorrow!

For record’s sake, I took the 73 to the Kumpulan Kampus stop, and then took the 70T back to the Meripikahtie stop. Tomorrow, I will take the 73 to the Sörnäinen stop, then get off and walk to Moniheli. Coming back, the walk is a bit more, as the return bus stop is not just right across the street, but a few blocks away, as well. But I’ll take the same bus (73) back home.