Automatic Updates from New Blog

Hey, everyone! I’ve got some great news–I’ve finally figured out a way to give you guys access automatically to all of the posts showing up on the new Bythepathlesstraveled blog!

I know that it’s a pain to head on over there for new posts. But now, fear not! This is how it works:

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So click on the cog and you’ll see the five most recent posts from the new bythepathlesstraveled blog. Woohoo! In the cog there’s also the option to subscribe, and you can also view the archives if you don’t feel like scrolling all the way down. The magnifying glass is a search bar too, so feel free to search for a post if you are looking for something specific. 

I’m trying to make things a lot easier for you guys if I can, so if you have any suggestions, PLEASE let me know.

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So basically, I’m going to attempt to shortlink to some of my major post categories. Once you’re at the first post, you can use the navigation arrows on the vertical red bar to the left of the page to keep reading through chronologically. (Don’t worry, the arrows will be there!) 😀

To check out my China Series, click here:

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To check out my Europe/Hungary Series, click here:

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To check out my Flagship Niagara Series, click here:

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To check out my Things You Thought You Knew Series, click here:

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To check out my Japan Series, click here:

Japan

Top 5 Unique Things to See in Budapest

I’m not talking about those places that you should see in Budapest — you know, the Parliament, the bridges, all of that. That’s easy enough for you to find out about. I’m talking about those places that you can walk right by without a second glance, those places well worth seeing yet that rarely make it on popular travel sites as the go-to destinations in Hungary’s largest city.

#5 — The Duck Pond at Vajdahunyad Vára

Vajdahunyad Castle is most likely a destination on your trip to Budapest, but there are a lot of hidden gems surrounding the castle that you’re unlikely to find while your focus is still on the castle itself.

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Because you can enter the castle through that bridge, many people neglect walking past the bridge and onto the docks. There’s a small, homey park with wooden paths spanning the waters of the lake around Vajdahunyad, so take some friends for a relaxing day at the water’s edge or feed the friendly ducks.

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#4 — The Lucky Horse on Várhegy

Várhegy, more commonly known to tourists as Castle Hill, is a great place for a new visitor to Budapest to experience a great view a city while knocking quite a few popular items like Matthias Church and Fisherman’s Bastion off of the sightseeing list. However, if you spend some time wandering the narrow side streets at the top of the hill, you’ll discover a statue, rain-worn and sun-bleached, of a horse and rider. At first is appears to be nothing special, as Budapest is especially fond of making statues for everything.

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However, young people from all over Budapest come up to this statue in the dark hours of night to crawl underneath it and place a hand on the horse’s testicles, which are gold. If you’d like some good luck for your stay in Budapest, stop by and pay the horse (or rather, his testicles…) a visit!

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#3 — The Lock Block between St. Istvan Cathedral and Deak Square

On your way to see the popular tourist attraction known as St. Stephen’s Basilica, take a break in the small park nearby and find the testament to all the young love blossoming in Budapest — a block of steel bars on which are fastened hundreds of locks inscribed with the names of two lovers who are committed to staying together forever. Together, they throw the key into the nearby Danube.

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A good place to propose or confess your love for the person you’re traveling with? Perhaps. Bring a lock of your own if you feel like it. You’d probably be a little more confident than some of the young soulmates in Budapest….

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#2 — The Tree of Life in the Great Synagogue

The Great Synagogue just a short walk from Astoria is surely an eye-catcher, but take a tour of the inside to get a glimpse of the giant steel tree known as the Tree of Life. Metal leaves inscribed with names commemorate the Jews taken from Hungary during the Holocaust. Walk underneath and get yourself lost in the glimmering steel branches, which were fashioned in vague resemblance of the Jewish candelabra.

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#1 — The Timewheel near Heroes’ Square (especially on New Year’s Eve!)

One of the world’s largest hourglasses, the Timewheel in Budapest clocks in (ha ha…) at more than 60 tons and runs constantly all year long.

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However, on New Year’s Eve, the sand runs out. The wheel is then rolled by human hands to restart, the crystals within beginning again with the new year.

Make sure you get someone to take your picture in front of it — this thing is bigger than it looks! [photo courtesy of trekearth, cattaro]

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Budapest is full of all kinds of unique and interesting things that didn’t make it onto this list, such as a water fountain in Egyetem Ter shaped like a book (with turning pages!), lion statues without tongues, and a wall of amateur paintings at Moricz Zsigmond, to name only a few. Part of the joys of travel is finding these hidden treasures yourself, so get out and explore!

Return to the States — Cow Tales

The morning began at…well, it never really began at all. Rather, the previous day continued. I was not allowed by my fellow Calvin students to get any sleep, so I was up until our shuttle arrived at 3:15 AM.

Can I blame my friends for being excited to return home after four long but enjoyable months? Of course not. However, I was expecting a little bit more quietude, as we’d had a large dinner at Menza and then many people went out afterwards.

Before I start on the log of what happened on the trip home, let me talk a little about the Menza meal. According to some research that I had done earlier on in the semester, Menza is one of the best places to eat in Budapest. Unfortunately, the prices aren’t really what a college student is looking to spend, so I figured I’d never go. I was greatly pleased when Professor Feenstra said that our final dinner in Budapest would be as a group at Menza.

Now, both Kelly and I had a look at Menza’s menu, and there are certainly a huge number of Hungarian dishes that would be a great way to see off Budapest. Feenstra posted in our group message board that she’d picked a set menu of “her favorites,” so this left Kelly and I wondering exactly what that meant. Somehow, we thought that her “favorites” would be much more Americanized than ours. We were hoping for langos soup with any of the many Hungarian main dishes and turogomboc for dessert. However, what we predicted was that Feenstra would stick with very American foods; we determined that she would choose the pumpkin soup (not as traditionally Hungarian, as it is lacking many spices), a hamburger, and the chocolate cake.

Well, we got two out of the three correct.

Needless to say, although we were very enthused by being treated to a meal for which we did not have to pay, we were very disappointed. Why would we spend our last meal in Hungary eating American food? We started with a pumpkin soup, then had some chicken and vegetables, and finished with the chocolate cake (which wasn’t anything special, to be honest).

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[Sorry for the cake being sideways. WordPress doesn’t want to upload it right.]

I also ordered a “cherry pie” hot drink which contained whole sour cherries, vanilla, cinnamon, and some cherry extracts. It was quite good!

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Anyway, we packed up and said goodbye to Budapest, my stomach just a little upset since I hadn’t slept for so long. The shuttle took us to the airport without problems, and I guided everyone through the airport as best I could – having used it so often by myself and having slept there numerous times, I was familiar with the “rhythm” of the place.

It wasn’t until our check-in gate opened that things started to turn sour – fast. A few members of our group started to go up and check the weight of their bags only to be told that they could only bring one carry-on. Every single person in our group had brought two, including me. That means that 18 people were each going to have to pay 75 euro a piece to check an additional bag.

Now, I’m torn in this situation. The website for KLM does say that you are allowed to have two bags, but it is very specific on what you can carry – a carry-on bag of certain dimensions and then an accessory, particularly a laptop or laptop bag. In all honesty, most of the people who had to pay to check a bag deserved to do so – their second carry-on was way too big, and they should have known that from reading the website. However, some people should have been able to make it through (and some people made it through who shouldn’t have), so the whole system was running unfairly at the moment.

When I saw what was happening, I was like, “Nope. Not me.” So I grabbed my laptop bag, slung it over my shoulder, and twirled it behind me before wheeling up my carry-on and checked bag. My checked bag was a snitch overweight (I had to take out two folders and move them to my carry-on, no problem), and she asked how many carry-ons I had, no doubt knowing that I was from this large group of students who were each trying to get two carry-ons through.

“I have a carry-on,” I said, lifting it up to her, “and I have a laptop bag.”

“Can I see it?” she said. I spun it around quickly, much in the manner of a small purse (no matter that it was packed with 10 kg of stuff). She had no problems with it.

It’s all attitude people, I swear. That and actually following the rules on the website – laptop bag. Not additional rolling carry-on. Not hiking backpack. Laptop bag.

Anyway, they also started kicking us out of line because we were supposed to be checking in on the automated machines. Unfortunately, they kept rejecting our tickets and shutting down the system. Finally, though, we got them to check us in at the desk.

Budapest to Amsterdam was 1 hour and 50 minutes of flying time, and it was no problem. Then, we headed through security again and boarded the daunting 9-hour flight from Amsterdam to Detroit.

The flight was long, and sleep was impossible with my headphones and the person in front of me reclining her chair back so that I didn’t have room to sleep on the table. At that point, I had been awake for more than 24 hours. As the flight waited at the gate for us to get off, we were all standing in a small cluster of seats talking until the line began to move. Some were worried about whether they would have things seized by Customs. John Michael pointed out that only things like meat, cheese, or other things that could bring new diseases or creatures into a place are the things that cause problems usually. Turning to Kelly, I said, “Oh no! I forgot to go get my cow out of the overhead bin! Do you think Customs will be okay with my cow?”

John Michael said, “Just put a blanket over him. No one will notice.”

“You have a cow?” Kelly said sarcastically.

“He’s my little brother. Don’t judge.”

It wasn’t the sarcastic comments that were funny, it was the five or six people who suddenly exclaimed either “You have a brother?” or “There’s a cow in the overhead bin?”

Seriously, people? It was a joke.

Anyway, Customs afterward was a breeze, and overall no major problems occurred. I couldn’t have asked for more.

Once we arrived in Grand Rapids, we gathered together for a group hug and some final words for each other. Some were crying, many were smiling, and we all went together into the main hall where a horde of expectant parents were waiting anxiously.

The reunions were nothing if not joyous.

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Only a hop, skip, and jump later, my super-awesome Hungary roommate Kelly was willing to drive me to Campus Safety to pick up my car keys and my apartment key for the night. After just a little difficulty getting into the room (locks, you know, are very complex machines which require years of arduous training to master), I finally settled down on a futon and frantically scanned my bags, believing for a few hours that my driver’s license had been stolen at the airport.

Thank goodness I’m just horrendous when it comes to looking for obvious things.

I also gave my good old Fordzilla a happy pat on the steering wheel, gently coasting her around the parking lot to warm her up after four months without me. Together, Fordzi and I went to McDonalds (where, in America, the fries only cost $.89). Dinner in my belly and 36 hours of sleeplessness weighing heavy on my mind, I finally gave up and curled up in a frigid room to sleep before the long drive back home.

The End of Budapest — Cracking the Code

As my time here in Budapest winds to a close, it’s so strange to think that this is the last post I will write from this semester abroad. This blog, as of December 17, contains 74 posts; 65 of them have been written during my numerous European adventures from August to December 2012.

It has been a wonderful semester, and there is a small bit of sadness alongside the happiness and anticipation of returning home. I have always known that I am an “abroad” type of person — I  take extreme joy in foreign cultures and especially foreign languages. This semester has been no walk in the park, full of challenges that tested (and, I believe, refined) my character like ore through a furnace. The peace and quiet of being home is something I’m greatly looking forward to, but I know that I also can’t deceive myself into thinking that things will go back to exactly the way they were.

One cannot truly experience the world without coming back changed. As G.K. Chesterton said, “The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.”

I think that many people assume that I named my blog, “bythepathlesstraveled,” after Robert Frost’s famous quote, “Two roads diverged in a wood and I – I took the one less traveled by.” Certainly that thought was an influence, but the real quote that I appreciate more, and the one off of which I base my attitude, is one from Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”

This semester has been full of those moments — moments when I follow the trail only to glance sideways and, taking note of a speck almost unnoticeable, say, “I wonder what’s over there….”

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I could certainly ramble on about what I’ve “learned” through this semester or how much of an “integrative traveler” I’ve become, in the words of Richard Slimbach. But, aside from the little blip above, that’s not really my style. 😉

Instead, I’m going to leave my final thoughts on the trip up to you. I traveled Budapest one last time, collecting specific pictures of specific places or things. It’s up to you to “crack the code” — find what these pictures have in common or what they’re trying to communicate. Good luck!

By the way, if someone from Calvin College cracks this code before New Year’s Day, which also happens to be my birthday, I swear I’ll buy you lunch at Johnny’s. 🙂

Ready set GO!

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A bus stop.

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The southern railway station.

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The tram stop closest to where I live.

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The stop of origin of the busiest tram line in Europe.

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The metro stop after which a famous brand of TuroRudi is named.

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The suburban railway station to Szentendre.

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The street on which I live.

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The popular thermal baths created by the Ottoman Turks.

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A board directing visitors in the direction of the departing tram.

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The golden Latin script on the Basilica of Saint Stephen.

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The bus that runs to the immigration office and the Tropicarium.

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Good luck! It’ll probably be a while before I post again, as I’m going to get some good ol’ R&R back home. December 19, 3:15AM — the day and time that will forever live in infamy as the day that I depart this great city for good.

Don’t be discouraged, though! I’ve got plenty of adventures abroad just waiting to happen in the next few months and years, including at least two trips to Japan! Stay tuned! And in the meantime, enjoy my January series of blogs, which will wind down my time in Europe with some travel tips for new travelers (and maybe some random stuff thrown in there too!). 😉

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Silent Vlog — Gerbeaud Haz Light Show

Another Monday, another silent vlog. This time, it’s is the annual (totally AWESOME) light show which plays on the facade of the Gerbeaud confectionery on the hour from 16:00-20:00 during December at the Christmas market.

That was a lot of prepositions.

Reflections on Yesterday’s Housing Post

Pretty much from the moment I published it, yesterday’s post about the housing situation in which I reproduced the emails that I have sent and received concerning my academic accommodations has been quite controversial. I’d like to take a moment to address this, because I know that many of my readers are a little unsettled by that post.

Firstly, please don’t misunderstand. I did not publish that in order to point fingers. That was not my intent or goal. I did not post about this issue in some kind of “justice march” or something in which I wave my rights around and say that I feel like I’ve been infringed upon. That is not the case — there was a complicated misunderstanding and misrepresentation of information, and it took the whole semester to fix. I did not write about all that just to say, “Oh my gosh, look at how unfair/difficult/whatever the Disabilities Office is!”

If that’s what you got out of that post, I’m very sorry. As I mentioned in the introduction to that long entry yesterday, I have received very valuable, very constant help from both the Disabilities Office and from Housing. My intent was not at all to try to show them as incompetent or uncaring, because that is certainly not the case.

Secondly, I do believe that honesty is the best policy. If I were a student (especially one with a disability) who may consider going abroad, I would certainly want to know that something like this happened, even though the likelihood of it occurring again is very small. I wanted to honestly represent what happened, because I know that there are Calvin students and faculty with connections to these offices who read this blog on a regular basis. If you are still hanging on to the fact that I did this as some kind of spiteful antic, you’re very wrong.

Third, I greatly dislike the word called “thirdly,” even if it is consistent at this point. 😉

So third, I will not take yesterday’s post down. I spent more than two months of my semester contemplating and reflecting on whether that post should be published. In the end, this is a blog that originated as a source for all the information on my semester abroad (the fact that it will be continued once I get back to campus is irrelevant). Without a doubt, any Calvin student here in Hungary with me can tell you that this issue with my eventual on-campus housing has been a topic that has framed my entire semester with its persistence and difficulty. It has been with me from before I got here until the final few weeks of my stay. In a blog created with the explicit intention of dealing with the specifics of my time abroad, how can such a huge, “framework issue” not be addressed? It has shaped me, whether in some small way or in a larger one.

So no, I will not remove that post.

These are my wholehearted opinions. To any I have offended with my honesty and the openness of yesterday’s post, I apologize. If you have greater concerns or problems with that post, please approach me directly and I would be happy to discuss it.

Thank you to my loyal readers for your opinions!