International Parties


They look so calm here…

This past weekend made us 1-for-2 on attending international birthday parties. Two Sunday’s ago we were skunked on our car rental meaning no party for the children. Which was exceptionally awful considering we had rented helmets and purchased sleds for the kiddos. Though I should be saying sledging as that is how the Swiss refer to it. Of course, watching Hendrick rocket down a hill on a plastic disc – trying to crash into his friends no doubt – is not exactly what I would imagine as a stress-free afternoon so perhaps it was for the best.


We had better luck this past Sunday since we needed only ride the train 1 stop and walk to our destination in La Tour De Peilz. The birthday girl’s parents did a great job on the party site. Basically a room with some tables and a snugly closed door meant the pack of 4 year old asylum patients were completely contained and ready to bounce off the walls while the parents sipped wine and chatted.


It was a strange déjà vu moment for me. 16 odd years ago, I was spending a college semester in Budapest taking in the culture and, uh, studying. We had an apartment that was also basically a room with some tables and a pack of wild inmates. Only in this hazy memory, there were no parents present and the wine being consumed was by the bottle instead of by the Dixie cup. I don’t recall if it was a birthday party but we did play games and certainly bounced off the walls.

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For Part 1 of this tale, click here 

On the ground in Budapest with no idea where to go or how to speak the language, I have a shockingly distinct recollection of our first decision – find a bar. While wandering, we saw an ATM and realized money might come in handy too. On my PNC ATM today, I can choose at LEAST 10 different languages to display my options. This Hungarian version, back then, came only its native tongue. Kevin, displaying our vast collective intelligence, noted that the lower left hand option was $20 at home so that should work. Super. Off to the bar, cash in hand. Winning even. It wasn’t until a day or so later that we realized the tip we left was roughly $100 USD for 2 beers a piece. Winning indeed.

Here are my initial notes from our first few days –

  • “This first week was awesome”
  • “Everything is really cheap”
  • “The cars are really tiny”
  • “A beer only costs a dollar or two (290-420 Forints)”

A window into the mind of a genius.

That first week or so, we stayed at Hotel Griff Junior which I’m pretty sure was more of a hostel. Back then, Trip Advisor wasn’t on our radar but judging by today’s 11 different ratings of Terrible, my memory isn’t completely shot. In my notes, I see we shared a room with a “guy from South Korea who seems to think we’re nuts.” Fair assessment.

We also had our first experience of real, actual culture, something I can comfortably say most of us had not yet been a part of. One of the radical city castles was hosting an international wine tasting. Buy your tickets at the door and taste away! Given our newly discovered economic advantage, we may have gone a bit overboard on the ticket buys. I don’t recall how badly we stuck out in the crowd of wine connoisseurs but I do recall guzzling wine, by the bottle, at the end of the night; perched on the castle walls. We may have been speaking loudly at this point as well. Maybe.

By the end of the week, we had secured an apartment for a whopping $80 USD/month. Phinney, myself and 5 other UNH Rhodes Scholars were set to share a 3 bed, 1 “bath” arrangement. Bath is in quotes for the following reasons –

  1. The shower did not have a curtain.
  2. There was no shower head. Only a wand. Hanging from a limp hose. With no method for attaching it to the wall.
  3. The hot water was created by a tiny boiler mounted on the shower wall. Turn the hot knob. Watch the pilot light explode in fury. Scald the SH*T out of yourself for 5 seconds. Shiver in misery for 30 seconds. Try to rinse. Consider a repeat. And God help you should you clip the exposed pilot light with errant water.

A favorite memory of mine from this bathroom was the ever escalating game of “Throw Stuff At The Poor Slob In The Shower”. I believe it started with a snowball and ended with slices of bologna and squirts of mustard. More memories are being released as I type. Stay tuned for Part 3.

A Semester Abroad in Budapest: Part 1

I started this post about road trips because of the epic trips I’ve been fortunate to be a part both here in the States and abroad, including Budapest. But I quickly wrote 2 articles worth of content and realized the need to spread the love. Here we have Part 1 of oh, 13 or so just on Budapest.

This little project came about when I stumbled upon a photo album from my “studies” in Budapest during college. Though the album is only 13 years old, it’s pre-social media and insta-everything so the images are scans of real, actual printed images. #Weird. Another reason for writing this is my discovery of several notepages from this trip stuffed in the front. Finally, there’s the trove of photos that left me in stitches of laughter. Here goes.

How does one end up in Budapest? By studying abroad there in college. When the possibility of going overseas as a junior coed arose, the first available location was Australia. Done, thought I. Surf my face off, wrangle reptiles like Crocodile Dundee and drink lots of Fosters because that’s what Aussies do. Not so fast. Going to this remotest of locales meant effectively losing a semester’s worth of credit as I would be unable to take classes for my major — mechanical engineering. My parents, understandably, scoffed – loudly.

Turned out the only option for maintaining a graduation schedule was Budapest. My school maintained a partner program with a university there so if you were in engineering and wanted to go across the pond, Eastern Europe was it. I believe my initial reaction was like that of a balloon deflating. BUDAPEST? SOUNDS. TERRIBLE. I could not have been more wrong.

After speaking with some friends who were thinking about going, we got together after our flute lessons, poured some Merlot and discussed the merits of immersing ourselves in a new culture. Oh wait, nope, we got wasted and screamed about how AWESOME IT WOULD BE TO GET HAMMERED IN BUDAPEST!! I sometimes thank a god that social-media-photographic-proof of everything did not exist back then. In the Stone Ages. Or 2001.

I was fortunate to fly with my good friend, Kevin Phinney. Our respective parents issued a final declaration before boarding – “Do your best to avoid sticking out over there.” As we would learn upon arrival, flip flops and shorts are about as far from blending in as possible. Not learning a single word of the foreign language turned out to be a poor decision as well. Looking back through my notes, it’s bizarre seeing that we flew on September 3, 2001; right before everything changed.

On the voyage over, we learned that this international flight involved unlimited booze. So we abstained and read A Tale of Two Cities instead. Once on the ground in ‘Pest, I asked Phinney where we were going. He shrugged his shoulders and said “I thought you brought all that crap.” I did not. What I’m saying is that neither of us brought a scrap of paperwork, directions, information or otherwise details of what we were doing there or where we were going. Off to a great start. See you in Part 2.