Adding Value is a collection of posts where I recommend books, movies, podcasts, or anything that has been adding value to my life lately, and hopefully will add value to yours too.
I first heard of Rob Bell from The Minimalists (whose documentary is featured in a previous Adding Value post). While at a local bookstore in Minneapolis this June, I saw a copy of his book How to Be Here. I recognized the title, as it had been given high accolades from The Minimalists. Rob Bell happened to have been at that bookstore recently while on a book tour, so the copy was signed.
Berlin was off to a crazy start before I even got there. The night before my flight to Berlin, I lost my wallet in a bar. My wallet had almost $100 worth of Hungarian cash in it, and all of my credit and debit cards. So, not only did I not have any cash, I also had no way of obtaining any cash or buying anything for that matter. Luckily, I hadn’t lost my key card to my dorm room in Budapest, my public transit pass, or my drivers license, so I went to bed and decided to face my problems in the morning. Thankfully, my flight wasn’t until the afternoon, so I spent the morning ordering new credit cards and asking my parents to wire me money to a Western Union until the cards came in the mail. Still stressed out, with 200 euros in my pocket borrowed from my generous roommate, I set off to the airport to meet my friend Mallory in Berlin.
This post is what I’m going to call my “final installment” of reflective posts from studying abroad. Saying Goodbye captured my feelings right after leaving Europe, Cultural Differences in Hungary provided a more lighthearted look back on the experience (which I think I really needed more than anyone), and now that I’ve had some time to sit back and reflect, I’ve come up with a few lessons I learned while abroad.
The semester came and went faster than I could have ever possibly imagined. It seems like not long ago I was arriving in Budapest, nervous and excited. But four months quickly passed and as cliché and corny as it sounds, I wouldn’t trade those months for anything. Whenever I saw Facebook posts from my friends returning from study abroad spouting how life-changing the experience was and how they will never forget it, I just passed them off as humble-brags and didn’t think much of it. But they were right. It opens your mind and pushes you out of comfort zones. It provides new firsts, new friends, and some life lessons along the way too.
One lesson I learned is that material things are completely unimportant. When your life can fit into a single suitcase and carry-on bag for four months, you re-wear the same clothes, wear through the same few pairs of shoes, and make-do with what you have. And did I ever feel deprived? Not once. It was almost nice to not have as many options to choose from when getting dressed in the morning!
When living in a new country, it’s probably best not to see only one city. Following the advice of my father to go somewhere in Hungary besides Budapest, a few friends and I took a day trip to Eger in early October.
I wasn’t going to blog about Eger at first, but then I thought, small towns deserve as much recognition as big cities! Why not tell you all about somewhere you’ve most likely never heard of? So here’s a short post about the cute little town of Eger, Hungary!
Eger can be reached by a two-hour train ride from Budapest. The best advice I can give about Eger is just to stroll around and take your time. It’s not a very big town, however it is quite charming. There are a few pretty churches, a nice main square, cute restaurants, a castle, and best of all, Szépasszonyvölgy, or more commonly known among tourists as the Valley of Beautiful Women.
Some people don’t like it, but there are so many good things about it. Airports are like shopping malls with better food and no taxes. Even though I almost never buy stuff, it’s nice to know it’s there. Everyone has a different story of where they’re going and why.
Plus, flying is such a cool concept as it is. You’re in this metal box flying through the air; way cooler than a bus or train. The views are spectacular and if you’re lucky you can get some free wine. (My definition of “lucky” is not riding a budget airline where they charge you for everything other than breathing.) The movies on long flights are better than the selection on Netflix. Also, on long flights you get food brought right to you every few hours so you never go hungry. It’s usually decent food. I just had the best cheese sandwich on KLM. I’m serious, the bread and cheese were really good quality.
But I think my favorite part about flying is that you have no agenda or expectations while you’re in the air. No Wi-Fi to check social media; no one can contact you. Life gets put on hold for a little bit. You have time to yourself to do whatever you want, like read or sleep or simply stare at the gorgeous sky of this gorgeous world we live in. If you are flying to your destination you are filled with gleeful excitement and anticipation. While you may be exhausted on the journey home, you know you have your familiar bed waiting for you.
I’m currently flying to Amsterdam as I type this into a note on my phone. I’m sipping white wine, the sun is warming the left side of my face and my left arm, and no one is in the middle seat next to me. Even though I was on a plane home from another trip only four short days ago, I’m happy to be on a plane again because I know a new adventure awaits me. But for now I’ve got some time to myself and I couldn’t be happier.
Vienna is my kind of city – palaces, fancy cafés, beautiful architecture, and an appreciation for coffee. Plus, Austrians like their desserts as much as I do. Excuse my language, but Vienna makes you feel like one classy-ass-motherfucker. Great vibes made for a great weekend.
On Friday morning, my friends Derek, Molly, and I hopped on the bus for a three hour ride from Budapest to Vienna. After flights and overnight buses for previous trips, a short bus ride was very welcome. We arrived around 10:30am and walked about 20 minutes to our hostel to drop off our bags and buy metro passes for the weekend. We each bought a “Vienna Card” because it was only a few more dollars than a metro pass and included the metro as well as other discounts to museums and restaurants around the city. Don’t buy this if you are a student. At every single place where the Vienna card gives a discount the student discount is either the same or better. It was only a few extra dollars though and we learned our lesson to research before we buy anything like that in the future.
From there we took the metro to the Naschmarkt, which is an outdoor market. It was raining but we still wandered around. We kept seeing a certain pastry at many of the stalls so each of us decided to try one. I can’t remember the name of it or seem to find on Google, but there were a few different fillings; poppy seed and walnut seemed to be the most traditional, but there was also sour cherry cheesecake, apple, and apricot. I tried the cherry and it was pretty good! We needed a little more nourishment than a pastry provided though so we found a restaurant for brunch. After some eggs and coffee, we started wandering the city.
We looked at the Secession, which is a beautiful art nouveau building. From there we saw the St. Charles church (Karlskirche), where we impulsively decided to buy a cheap ticket to go inside, which was totally worth it. The church is beautiful and there is a lift up to the dome where you are just a few feet from stunning frescoes and can get a great view of the city. One thing I love about Vienna is that you can literally just walk around and find something cool to see or do. You could spend the whole day walking without a plan and have a great day.
In three short days I will have been in Europe for exactly two months. It’s really nuts to think about – the time has certainly flown by! Coming up on this two-month mark, I decided it was an appropriate time to reflect a little on what I’ve learned so far. As you are probably wondering from the title of this, what do I mean by learning to sit still? Well, let me elaborate.
Before this, the longest trip I’ve ever been on was two weeks. A semester is certainly longer than that. On short trips I’m used to packing in as much as possible. I’m always thinking about the next thing to see or do. Even at DePaul I am constantly on the move. My calendar is packed with classes, clubs, internships, and social events.
In Budapest I actually have quite a bit of free-time. I hesitate to say in Europe, because I’m usually gone on the weekends visiting other countries where my “Go, go, go” motto falls back into play. But when I’m home in Budapest I get to sit and breathe. That’s right, home in Budapest; this city quickly felt like home after the first few weeks. However, it took me a while to learn how this whole free-time thing works. My initial mentality was, I’m in a new city! I must see, do, and try everything right now! Then it hit me: I have until late December to explore Budapest. It’s okay to take a nap. It’s okay to watch a movie.
Last Sunday night I arrived back at my dorm tired and exhausted, both physically and mentally. I definitely didn’t feel like a million bucks, but I had just gotten back from a weekend in Italy with views, people, food, and experiences worth more than a million bucks.
Thursday morning we awoke at 4:15 to make our 7:00 flight from Budapest to the Rome Fiumicino Airport. I traveled with my friends Molly, Margaret, and Solveiga, who all live on my floor and go to DePaul as well. After sleeping most of the hour and a half long flight, we landed in Rome at 8:30. The adventures began when we split a cab to Termini station; the cab driver weaved in and out of traffic quite dangerously (which I’ve come to expect of all European cab drivers at this point), tried to point out landmarks to us in very broken English and mostly Italian (which none of us speak), and literally exclaimed “Mama Mia!” several times. The cab ride ended at the Termini train station where we dropped off our carry-on bags so we wouldn’t have to bring them around all day. By this point it was 10:30 and we were starving, so we tracked down a paper map and set off to find some food.
After some mediocre sandwiches at the first food place we could find, we ventured towards the Colosseum. We took in the beauty and fascinating history of the Colosseum and the Forum, then walked to the Victor Emmanuel monument, which is very grand and regal. On the way to more monuments, we stopped for some gelato, which I proceeded to spill all over my hands and onto my white shirt… typical. However, the stop was not in vain because we found ruins that operate as a cat sanctuary, much to Molly’s delight. After petting some cats we walked to the Pantheon, which was probably my favorite monument just because it is such a marvelous building. On the way to the Trevi Fountain, Molly and I stumbled upon the Church of St. Ignatius; the ceiling fresco is definitely worth the visit if you are ever in Rome. From there we found our way to the Trevi Fountain, which was disappointingly under construction. The fountain is very beautiful, but the water effects weren’t operating. I still threw a coin into the small area they left for coin tossing because apparently doing so means you will return to Rome one day.
Last week I ran. No timer, no splits, no pace goal. I ran to run and for no other reason than it was what my body was craving. I took the tram to Margaret Island by myself because I’d been wanting to check out the 5km track there for a while. As I ran, I was surrounded by other runners, old couples walking hand in hand, groups of friends sitting beside the river, and dogs racing each other. Despite the bustling island, I felt very at peace. There is something to be said for running with no goals or expectations. Runners are often motivated by numbers and results, however I think that there is a time when it’s okay to step back and run for no other reason than the joy of running. Hop off the treadmill, leave the watch at home, and go explore. Make nature your playground. There is a dreary workout room in my dorm building, but why would I go there when I can breathe the fresh air and get outside?
The experience reminded me of something even more important though – it’s okay to be alone. Living down the hall from most of my friends and constantly being around other people has sometimes made me forget what it’s like to do something alone. I’ve gotten used to doing almost everything with other people. The run reminded me how good it feels to be alone sometimes. When I haven’t had time to think by myself, my head starts to spin with too many thoughts and sometimes I need to write them down. (Which explains this blog post.) I’ve found that I’m most inspired to write after being alone for a bit.
I consider myself to be a pretty extroverted person; I enjoy doing things with other people and I feed off the energy of others. Would I want to travel solo? Probably not. Some people love it, but of the trips I’ve gone on so far, I can’t imagine I would have quite as much fun alone. I’ve learned that balance is key. Sometimes you need that coffee with a friend to vent to and sometimes that coffee is better with headphones, some James Vincent McMorrow tunes, and a relaxing location by oneself. My mission this week is to find a little more of the latter. And coffee is almost always involved.
This week I had the pleasure of visiting the Hungarian immigration office. Imagine the DMV, but literally 100 times worse. Because my stay in Hungary is 15 days above the 90-day allowed length of stay for those traveling as tourists, I had to apply for a residence permit.
My friend and I followed the instructions of our program coordinator to get there before the office even opened. Armed with all our necessary documents and our passports, we set off for the office. One metro ride and one bus ride later, we arrived at 8:15. The office opens at 8:30, so we thought we were doing great on time and would be in and out in an hour. Boy, were we wrong.
There were probably 40 people ahead of us in line already. We met a nice lady from Canada who was in the same boat as me. Once the clock hit 8:30 the line started to move pretty quickly, which made us optimistic. Nah, turns out we were just in line to get a number. They assign numbers based on what your purpose is at the office. Those just picking up their permits, European Union citizens, and those already with Visas get first priority. Last priority: people like me – getting a residence permit, non-EU citizen, with no Visa.
I was given number 220. About 15 minutes after sitting in the waiting room, the TV screen indicated that number 200 was up. We soon figured out that those with numbers in the 200’s were all going through the same process as me. My friend Margaret had already gotten her Visa while she was in the US, so her number was 719 because she fell into a different category. As the 700’s steadily ticked by, progress in the 200’s was slim to none. Every 10 to 15 minutes the next 700 number would get called up. The 200’s increased about once an hour. At that rate, I’d be at the office for 20 hours.