Happy New Year! I’ve got a good feeling about you, 2011.

Happy New Year! I’ve got a good feeling about you, 2011.

New Year’s Eve in Budapest.

New Year’s Eve in Budapest.

Merry Christmas, everyone. Thanks for following my travels!
This picture is actually from Mikulas Nap, or Santa Claus Day in Hungary. On the evening of December 5, children polish their shoes and put them neatly on the window sill. That night, Mikulas (Santa) comes and delivers small gifts by putting them in the shoes.
For very lucky children, he even makes a personal appearance. That’s what you see my cousin Misi enjoying above. Mikulas tells you what you did well during the year, and where you can improve. Once you promise to do better by say, not talking so much in class, he gives you your presents. Usually you get one small toy and a lot of chocolate.
And if you were especially bad, he brings a virgács (or twig), painted gold or covered in aluminum foil, which is intended to symbolize that you deserve a few good smacks! The size indicates how naughty you were. (Mikulas always brought my dad the biggest virgács.)
Anyway, it took a while to get to the warm hug you see above. Misi was initially terrified of the oddly bearded man in his kitchen, and kept his distance. But before long, he was on the ground doing push-ups and sit-ups, showing off how strong he’d grown since last year.
And then, Santa’s job is done. He doesn’t make any more Christmas related appearances.  On Christmas Eve, it’s the Angels who bring you a tree (secretly; the room is blocked so the kids can’t see in) and all the Christmas presents. That night, when the Angels are done decorating and wrapping, they ring a bell letting the family know it’s ok to enter. The tree is then revealed fully decorated to everyone at once. It’s a magnificent surprise, and one of my best memories as a kid. (That and going to see movies during the day on Christmas Eve to get out of the Angels’ hair. Back to the Future will forever hold a magical place in my heart for this reason.)
Back to the tree. After some family carols and prayers, you eat dinner together and then open the presents! It’s usually a fairly late night. Christmas Day is spent visiting family and eating. No presents from Santa - he already came on the 6th.
So there you have it, Hungarian Christmas traditions, a la my family (meaning, with a Transylvanian twist). One of the hardest parts about long-term travel is that you tend to be away from family during the holidays. I hope they are having a wonderful time together back in California.

Merry Christmas, everyone. Thanks for following my travels!

This picture is actually from Mikulas Nap, or Santa Claus Day in Hungary. On the evening of December 5, children polish their shoes and put them neatly on the window sill. That night, Mikulas (Santa) comes and delivers small gifts by putting them in the shoes.

For very lucky children, he even makes a personal appearance. That’s what you see my cousin Misi enjoying above. Mikulas tells you what you did well during the year, and where you can improve. Once you promise to do better by say, not talking so much in class, he gives you your presents. Usually you get one small toy and a lot of chocolate.

And if you were especially bad, he brings a virgács (or twig), painted gold or covered in aluminum foil, which is intended to symbolize that you deserve a few good smacks! The size indicates how naughty you were. (Mikulas always brought my dad the biggest virgács.)

Anyway, it took a while to get to the warm hug you see above. Misi was initially terrified of the oddly bearded man in his kitchen, and kept his distance. But before long, he was on the ground doing push-ups and sit-ups, showing off how strong he’d grown since last year.

And then, Santa’s job is done. He doesn’t make any more Christmas related appearances.  On Christmas Eve, it’s the Angels who bring you a tree (secretly; the room is blocked so the kids can’t see in) and all the Christmas presents. That night, when the Angels are done decorating and wrapping, they ring a bell letting the family know it’s ok to enter. The tree is then revealed fully decorated to everyone at once. It’s a magnificent surprise, and one of my best memories as a kid. (That and going to see movies during the day on Christmas Eve to get out of the Angels’ hair. Back to the Future will forever hold a magical place in my heart for this reason.)

Back to the tree. After some family carols and prayers, you eat dinner together and then open the presents! It’s usually a fairly late night. Christmas Day is spent visiting family and eating. No presents from Santa - he already came on the 6th.

So there you have it, Hungarian Christmas traditions, a la my family (meaning, with a Transylvanian twist). One of the hardest parts about long-term travel is that you tend to be away from family during the holidays. I hope they are having a wonderful time together back in California.

More from the baths at Szechenyi. (It’s hard to concentrate while standing in a soaking wet bathing suit, with flip flops, in sub-zero weather.)

We’re heading to the Christmas Market inside Szimpla Kert today (open 1-7 pm), should have some unusual stuff to look at!

Do not miss spending several hours at the Szechenyi Baths in Budapest. It couldn’t be easier to get there - just take Metro 1 towards Mexikoi Ut, and get off at Széchenyi fürdő. You’ll see the large yellow buildings as soon as you pop above ground.
Budget at least 3 hours - it’s a huge complex full of a variety of saunas, steam rooms and beautiful indoor and outdoor baths to explore. Don’t forget flip-flops and water. And you’ll be even happier if you also take sandwiches, a robe and perhaps a can of beer. Also, don’t miss the super hot downstairs saunas, accessed only from outside, and make sure you cold plunge after!
Jeez, I am bossy.

Do not miss spending several hours at the Szechenyi Baths in Budapest. It couldn’t be easier to get there - just take Metro 1 towards Mexikoi Ut, and get off at Széchenyi fürdő. You’ll see the large yellow buildings as soon as you pop above ground.

Budget at least 3 hours - it’s a huge complex full of a variety of saunas, steam rooms and beautiful indoor and outdoor baths to explore. Don’t forget flip-flops and water. And you’ll be even happier if you also take sandwiches, a robe and perhaps a can of beer. Also, don’t miss the super hot downstairs saunas, accessed only from outside, and make sure you cold plunge after!

Jeez, I am bossy.

Christmas market petting zoo, Budapest.

Christmas market petting zoo, Budapest.

Just inside the entrance of the smaller Christmas market near Hősök tere  (Heroes’ Square) in Budapest, there’s a magical Mikulás-gyár (Santa’s  factory). Elves are working hard inside, when they’re not waving at the  dozens of families crowded about watching the action.
The main Christmas market is at Vörösmarty tér, close to the  river. It’s beautiful, and I should probably be posting pictures of that  first instead. But I’d pick one of the smaller markets around the city  if you enjoy being able to walk on a Sunday evening. The main one is so  crowded it’s hard to move without spilling your mulled wine.
And the market near Heroes’ Square not only has the “factory,”  but also the Angyalok Erdeje (Angel’s Forest). The “forest” is a glade  of colorfully illuminated artificial Christmas trees, each of which  represents a charity or organization. They have large tubes attached,  where you can drop a few coins.
I suppose since I’ve decided to  describe the place in this much detail, I might as well mention there’s  also an adorable petting zoo. And a stage where you can watch Hungarian  idols belt out tacky Christmas carols and jump around in loosely  choreographed revelry. And loads of shopping — Christmas trees, crafts,  T-shirts with cool Hungarian prints, jewelry, etc.
Finally, have I said anything about the multiple grilled sausage, roasted  chestnuts, hot mulled wine and palinka (strong Hungarian brandy) stalls yet? They’re swell too.

Just inside the entrance of the smaller Christmas market near Hősök tere (Heroes’ Square) in Budapest, there’s a magical Mikulás-gyár (Santa’s factory). Elves are working hard inside, when they’re not waving at the dozens of families crowded about watching the action.

The main Christmas market is at Vörösmarty tér, close to the river. It’s beautiful, and I should probably be posting pictures of that first instead. But I’d pick one of the smaller markets around the city if you enjoy being able to walk on a Sunday evening. The main one is so crowded it’s hard to move without spilling your mulled wine.

And the market near Heroes’ Square not only has the “factory,” but also the Angyalok Erdeje (Angel’s Forest). The “forest” is a glade of colorfully illuminated artificial Christmas trees, each of which represents a charity or organization. They have large tubes attached, where you can drop a few coins.

I suppose since I’ve decided to describe the place in this much detail, I might as well mention there’s also an adorable petting zoo. And a stage where you can watch Hungarian idols belt out tacky Christmas carols and jump around in loosely choreographed revelry. And loads of shopping — Christmas trees, crafts, T-shirts with cool Hungarian prints, jewelry, etc.

Finally, have I said anything about the multiple grilled sausage, roasted chestnuts, hot mulled wine and palinka (strong Hungarian brandy) stalls yet? They’re swell too.

We had a fantastic night out yesterday in Budapest. We started off at a small, somewhat divey bar near our apartment, where Hugo made friends with a man at the bar who introduced himself as “just your typical Hungarian drunk.” We watched him drop palinka (Hungarian brandy) shot after palinka shot into his increasingly light colored beer. Shortly thereafter, he fell flat on his face about five meters from us. The owner of the bar, a large thick man sitting on a stool in the corner keeping an eye on his young pretty bartenders, had assisted the drunk with the fall by giving him a swift push. The owner then helped him up and gave him some sort of stern talking to. The friendly drunk soon returned to our side, and solemnly apologized for his behavior. We decided that something strange was brewing, and quickly paid up and left.
After that bizarre skit, our next destination was completely fantastic. Don’t miss Szimpla Kert if you ever find yourself in Budapest. And I’m not just saying that because they were showing a great Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo slide show in one of the dozen or so rooms, including photos of Coyoacan, one of my favorite neighborhoods in Mexico City. Exploring the atmospheric, totally packed, and perfectly decorated building was just a lot of fun.
Our night ended memorably at our final stop, for spicy tacos next door at El Rapido. As we chatted happily with the girls running the counter about where to find tortillas and mezcal in Budapest, a couple people entered, chattering excitedly. Apparently, the Slovenian musicians who had headlined the Ljubljana festival at A38 (club on a boat in the Danube, another great nightspot), were on their way in. We were strongly encouraged by the girls to head downstairs to the bar and wait for them. I was soon shaking hands with a guy introducing himself, proudly, as John and smiling at me indulgently. Quite the rock star. Unfortunately, John, and his handlers, had neglected to exchange Euros for forints. So we spent our last 400 forints cash buying them Heineken. John gave us Euros in exchange, and the band quickly told us how rough they found Mexico City on their last tour through California and Mexico, before heading off to the corner booth.
Then we walked home!

We had a fantastic night out yesterday in Budapest. We started off at a small, somewhat divey bar near our apartment, where Hugo made friends with a man at the bar who introduced himself as “just your typical Hungarian drunk.” We watched him drop palinka (Hungarian brandy) shot after palinka shot into his increasingly light colored beer. Shortly thereafter, he fell flat on his face about five meters from us. The owner of the bar, a large thick man sitting on a stool in the corner keeping an eye on his young pretty bartenders, had assisted the drunk with the fall by giving him a swift push. The owner then helped him up and gave him some sort of stern talking to. The friendly drunk soon returned to our side, and solemnly apologized for his behavior. We decided that something strange was brewing, and quickly paid up and left.

After that bizarre skit, our next destination was completely fantastic. Don’t miss Szimpla Kert if you ever find yourself in Budapest. And I’m not just saying that because they were showing a great Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo slide show in one of the dozen or so rooms, including photos of Coyoacan, one of my favorite neighborhoods in Mexico City. Exploring the atmospheric, totally packed, and perfectly decorated building was just a lot of fun.

Our night ended memorably at our final stop, for spicy tacos next door at El Rapido. As we chatted happily with the girls running the counter about where to find tortillas and mezcal in Budapest, a couple people entered, chattering excitedly. Apparently, the Slovenian musicians who had headlined the Ljubljana festival at A38 (club on a boat in the Danube, another great nightspot), were on their way in. We were strongly encouraged by the girls to head downstairs to the bar and wait for them. I was soon shaking hands with a guy introducing himself, proudly, as John and smiling at me indulgently. Quite the rock star. Unfortunately, John, and his handlers, had neglected to exchange Euros for forints. So we spent our last 400 forints cash buying them Heineken. John gave us Euros in exchange, and the band quickly told us how rough they found Mexico City on their last tour through California and Mexico, before heading off to the corner booth.

Then we walked home!

Moszkva tér (Moscow Square), Budapest.

Moszkva tér (Moscow Square), Budapest.

Ice skating on top of the West End Mall, Nyugati Pa’lyaudvar, Budapest.

Ice skating on top of the West End Mall, Nyugati Pa’lyaudvar, Budapest.

Reflections of Budapest, from Margit Sziget (Margaret Island).

Reflections of Budapest, from Margit Sziget (Margaret Island).

Spicy paprika margarita at Nobu in Budapest. Even just since last year, I’ve noticed many more nice restaurants, bars and lounges have popped up in Budapest. 
EDIT: By the way, that little pepper garnish is real, and packed an insane punch. I thought I’d give it a shot and took a little bite, and my lips were burning for a good ten minutes. Threw the rest into the drink, gave it a stir, and it was delicious.

Spicy paprika margarita at Nobu in Budapest. Even just since last year, I’ve noticed many more nice restaurants, bars and lounges have popped up in Budapest. 

EDIT: By the way, that little pepper garnish is real, and packed an insane punch. I thought I’d give it a shot and took a little bite, and my lips were burning for a good ten minutes. Threw the rest into the drink, gave it a stir, and it was delicious.

Budapest. We’re off to have lunch with an old friend, who’s is now quite ill.
She has had an amazing life - last time I saw her, she told me about how she and her husband managed to get through the Hungary/Austria border in 1956, escaping during the Hungarian revolution. I hope to write out the story in more detail, but for now, I’ll just say it involved her as a very young woman, flirting with the Russian soldiers while her husband snuck past just barely out of their sight …

Budapest. We’re off to have lunch with an old friend, who’s is now quite ill.

She has had an amazing life - last time I saw her, she told me about how she and her husband managed to get through the Hungary/Austria border in 1956, escaping during the Hungarian revolution. I hope to write out the story in more detail, but for now, I’ll just say it involved her as a very young woman, flirting with the Russian soldiers while her husband snuck past just barely out of their sight …