Fellow Diary: Budapest Epoch

Nolan Theisen’s first blog post

Let me provide a brief background as to how I first ended up in Hungary and how it is that I have recently had an opportunity to return.

In 2003 when I was a junior at UC San Diego, there was no doubt in my mind that I was going to study abroad in Europe. In the United States, the third year of university is typically when students take the journey. I had been fortunate enough to travel through Western Europe a few times during high school with a small group of family and friends. This was hardcore “tour travel;” one maybe two nights in a city, get that money shot in front of the Trevi Fountain, then back on the bus at some ungodly hour for 7 hours to a new panoply of cathedrals, museums and monuments. An efficient way to see and learn about a number of cities in a short period of time, but not quite experience them. So the idea of returning to Europe to live independently without a rigid itinerary was greatly appealing – and the prospect of going to bars and buying beer at 20 just seemed right.

In the UC system, and UC San Diego in particular, the study abroad program is widely encouraged and popular amongst students. Most people I knew went to programs in the UK, Italy, Ireland or Spain but I had been to these places, and although my exposure was brief, they were touristy and not as appealing. I was thinking something east of Vienna, and it turned out that the UC program had a partnership with ELTE in Budapest. This was the only option in Eastern Europe, so it was an easy decision. Rather than deter me, my limited knowledge about Hungary and the region as a whole was the motivation to go and experience it.

I only spent one semester in Budapest – less than 4 months – and I travelled outside the country on a number of weekends with other exchange students because it was fun to hop on a train and be in another country in 3-4 hours. California was not thrilling in this way (Tijuana and Rosarito, while charming, are a bit different than a Krakow or Prague). So while I loved living in the city, between class and social events I was mostly spending time with other Americans (worse than that, other Californians) and did not really immerse myself locally. Trips to Lake Balaton, Transylvania, and Sopron were cultural excursions planned by the department for all 60 exchange students, engaging but guarded. I guess my point is that being back now, ten years older and on my own, is a much different experience.

Fast forward to 2009 when I came back for a fall internship in Vienna during grad school, which allowed me to spend a few weekends back in Budapest and reminded me how much I enjoyed it, and how comfortable I was – it still oddly felt like home in Europe. Despite inevitable changes (what happened to Cha Cha Cha’s and Kulti Plex!?) and the influx of tourism over the years, it retained its charm.

Now in 2013, after grad school, freelancing, travelling and opening a hookah lounge, I was offered an excellent professional opportunity to return to Budapest with the Hungary Initiatives Foundation (HIF). With the support of HIF, I recently began a 5-month fellowship in at the Regional Centre for Energy Policy Research (REKK), with an office full of wonderful people whom I am happy to consider colleagues and friends.

I live in Buda near Lake Feneketlen, which is a peaceful neighborhood conveniently located near a number of bus and tram lines. Hopping onto the yellow 49, I am at Kalvin ter in about ten minutes. Coincidentally the new Corvinus building that did not exist ten years ago, adjacent to the customs building, is just in front of the apartment on Lonyay utca where I lived ten years ago so I see my old bedroom window almost every day when I walk to Raday utca for lunch. Random. I pass through the central market just about every day en route to the office, ensuring that I am never without bananas, carrots, walnuts, avocado and other dietary necessities of mine. Very convenient. I have also discovered the Lipoti Pekseg bakery chain – they are everywhere – and the “fitness” croissant with its jam filling has made its way into the rotation. So that is my story: I grew up and California, eat carrots and whole grain croissants, and find Budapest to be a very charming place to live.

This is nothing more than a space in which I intend to share some of my observations and experiences living in Budapest, varying from the day-to-day to sight-seeing and excursions. I will try to provide sufficient context in each instance, along with my own insight and perspective. I hope it will be informative and revealing for whomever the reader might be, to strike a chord with Hungarians living abroad who can perhaps eat soup vicariously through me or for those marginally interested in learning about or living in Budapest. Even if no one reads this it is okay – I know that it will enrich my experience and motivate me to do more than sleep-in, work and go to the gym on weekends.

If you do happen to read it, please feel free to send me any questions/comments/suggestions about the posts or anything else related to Budapest (nolant7@yahoo.com).