48 Hours in Florence

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The tag line of the New York Times’ classic travel feature “36 Hours In . . .” is “what to do when you’ve 36 hours to get to know a city.” This is a similar feature, except this is about what I do when I have just 48 hours to revisit a city that I know and love. It may not be exactly NYT worthy*, but to me, this is a perfect way to spend two days in Florence.

THURSDAY

1. Wine Bar Lunch | 1 p.m.

Coquinarius has long been my favorite little lunch spot in Florence, discovered when studying abroad in Florence for the first time in 2000, not long after it first opened. Technically an enoteca, the menu has all of the meat and cheese plates and crostini that you would expect of a wine bar. It also has plenty of creative pasta dishes and piatti unici (single plate meals) that you won’t find at your typical Florentine restaurant.

2. Trendy Coffee | 3 p.m.

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When you step inside Ditta Artigianale you might think that you’ve somehow been transported through time and space to Brooklyn with the white subway tiled interior and chalk boards advertising cold brew coffee and french toast. (The full bar behind the La Marzocco is a hint you’re still in Italy.) Since I can get great espresso and cappuccino all over Florence, I decided to go with something a little different: Espresso Tonic. The Espresso Tonic is a newish fad among trendy coffee bars. I liked this Italian version with just a splash of tonic water more than other versions I’ve tried.

3. Classic Aperitivo | 7:15 p.m.

With a little time to kill before meeting my friend for dinner I decided to stop by Gilli for a little aperitivo. My aunt introduced me to this Florentine institution in Piazza della Repubblica on my very first trip to Italy in 1997. Whenever I am in Florence I always make it a point to have a prosecco at the bar. Perfect for people watching and perfect for getting a little snack to tide you over before dinner.

4. Cross Over to the Oltrarno | 8:00 p.m.

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I met my good friend Janú in Piazza della Repubblica and we took a walk over the Ponte Vecchio stopping briefly to listen the the street musicians on the bridge and soak up the lively atmosphere of a summer night in Florence. Then we continued on to Piazza Santo Spirito where I left my heart so many years ago. Although I have lived in various neighborhoods in Florence over the years, the Oltrarno will always be “my Florence.” Oltrarno can be translated as “the other side of the Arno.” Less touristy and more neighborhood-y, it has a local feel that you don’t get on the other side of the river. Janú and I grabbed two Aperol Spritz from a bar in the piazza and sat on the steps of Santo Spirito catching up, listening to the impromptu guitar playing of young locals, and people watching with his dog Lila by our side.

5. Dinner at an Old Favorite | 9:30 p.m.

Borgo Antico in Piazza Santo Spirito is a restaurant that I always come back to, and not only because I worked there one summer back in college. The food is delicious and the atmosphere is always lively, especially if you get a table in the piazza.

6. The Best Gelato in Town | 11:00 p.m.

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Everyone has their own personal favorite in Florence, but I still think the gelato at Gelateria dei Neri is the best in town. I recommend trying the riso (rice) flavor, a white gelato with chewy grains of rice throughout. I can never find it outside of Florence so I always make sure to get it while I’m in the city. I like to pair it with something decadent like chocolate or coffee.

FRIDAY

7. Get in a Good Workout | 8:30 a.m.

What’s that they say about good intentions? Well, I had the best of intentions when I planned on checking out a CrossFit Box while in Florence. I looked up a couple of options online and settled on CrossFit Iris because of the class schedule and location. What I didn’t do was call in advance to let them know I was coming. Unfortunately when I got there they were closed for holidays or something. Sad face.

8. Consolation Breakfast | 9:30 a.m.

Since my morning workout was a fail I thought I should at least go for a healthy breakfast. I grabbed a nice window seat at Ditta Artigianale and had a cold brew coffee and yogurt with fresh fruit and granola.

9. A Palace and the City | 11:45 a.m.

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I always like to try to do at least one new thing each time I visit Florence. All around the city I had been seeing advertisements for the exhibition Un Palazzo e La Città and I knew it was time for me to finally check out the Ferragamo MuseumThe museum is housed on the bottom level of the Palazzo Spini Feroni below the Salvatore Ferragamo flagship store.  Once inside the museum there is a small permanent exhibition about Ferragamo and his shoes, but the majority of the museum was dedicated to the history of the palace and its role in the history of the city of Florence. The temporary exhibition has everything from paintings, to historic documents, to a video installation documenting 24 hours in the life of the palazzo. The exhibition is on until April 3, 2016, but even if you can’t make it to Florence, you can still watch the video here.

10. Casual Lunch | 1:00 p.m.

It might seem like an unlikely place for lunch, but tucked inside the Feltrinelli bookstore in Piazza della Repubblica is a restaurant called RED (Read Eat Dream — I love that!). The food is delicious and I think the casual atmosphere makes for a great place for a solo lunch. Don’t be fooled however, even though you are eating in the middle of a book store, it’s still a proper restaurant. As I was waiting for my meal to arrive I heard one Italian customer ask if he should order at the counter and pay first. The waiter responded, “Chi paga prima mangia pesce marcio,” which is a proverb, I discovered, that means “Those who pay first eat rotten fish.”

11. Relax with a View | 2:00 p.m.

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There’s no better way to beat the afternoon heat in Florence than by heading to the Boboli Gardens to relax in the shade while admiring the view. I came prepared with a little blanket and a good book and stayed well over two hours. If you’re up for it you can wander the extensive grounds and even take a peek inside the newly reopened Kaffeehaus.

12. Art History Revisited | 4:45 p.m.

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Heading back towards the Ponte Vecchio from the Boboli Gardens I decided to pop into Santa Felicità to have a look at Pontormo’s Deposition (1525-28) which I hadn’t seen in ages. I must say I sometimes have a little nostalgia for my study abroad years in Florence, and I can clearly remember the rainy day my art history class crowded around the corner chapel to look at the painting that graced the cover of our Baroque and Mannerism text-book. I gladly paid the 1€ to light up the Capponi Chapel for a few minutes and then had a look around the rest of the church which has plenty of other artwork to admire.

13. Wine Break | 5:30 p.m.

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From the Ponte Vecchio it’s a nice walk along the Arno to the neighborhood of San Niccolò. This area has become a lot more crowded and trendy in recent years and there are plenty of bars, restaurants, and enotecas to choose from, but I’m still partial to Fuori Porta which, as the name implies, you’ll find just outside the gate to the old city walls. A glass of wine and a meat and cheese plate is the perfect thing to keep you going until dinner.

14. A View of Florence | 6:30 p.m.

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Most people trek all the way up to Piazzale Michelangelo to get a great view of Florence. In the evening you can get the same view with less trekking by climbing to the top of the Torre di San Niccolò. The price is around 3€ and a guided tour is included.

15. Eccolo qua! | 8:30 p.m.

For my final meal in Florence, my friend Lorenzo took me for dinner at Obicà Mozzarella Bar on Via de’ Tornabuoni. This was a new treat for me as it wasn’t around when I lived in Florence. While the restaurant itself is stunning and a worthy setting for a five-star restaurant, the menu is casual and based around the star ingredient: Mozzarella di Bufala di Campana.

SATURDAY

16. One Last Coffee | 9:00 a.m.

As is becoming a new tradition for my visits to Florence, I made a quick stop in Piazza della Repubblica to have breakfast with my friend Janù before heading to the station to catch my train. We had a cappuccino and cornetto at the historic Caffè Paszkowski before saying our goodbyes.

So long, Florence, until we meet again.


*I take it back, this is totally New York Times worthy.

Branching Out in Venice

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I think Venice is one of those cities that for most people is a once-in-a-lifetime sort of place. Unlike Paris or Florence, I never hear of someone falling in love with the city and returning over and over again. Venice has a very romantic, fantasy appeal to it, so that maybe once you’ve experienced it you don’t really need to go back anymore. Or maybe it’s the throngs of tourists in the summer that fill the streets and give it that theme park atmosphere that makes one visit enough. Been there, done that.

Luckily, for a variety of reasons, I have had the chance to go back to Venice again and again (at least 7 times?) and I am so glad that I have. It is time that is needed to really escape the crowds and get to know Venice.

It is mostly because of my friend Sophia, who has been working summers in Venice, that I have gotten to spend two extended trips in the city also known as La Serenissima. The last time I visited was on a week-long trip from Beirut. As I wrote in that blog post, I had no goal other than to eat, drink, and speak Italian. And I am happy to say that I accomplished that mission. This time, I had a little bit of a different goal (which was obviously in addition to eating, drinking, and speaking Italian). With another week to spend in Venice, I really wanted to try to get off the beaten path a bit to see some things that I had never seen in Venice before. (In fact that was kind of the entire goal for this summer in Italy. More posts to come!) I decided on Burano and Treviso as my areas of exploration to tackle.

Burano

I knew absolutely nothing about Burano. In fact, I didn’t even know it existed until a few months ago when a colleague of mine was mentioning this island near Venice and we all said, oh MURano? No, BURano. She showed us a couple of photos on her phone and I decided then and there to visit on my next trip.

Burano is about an hour-long Vaporetto ride from Venice. It’s the same line you would take to visit Murano, only quite a bit further. Not being a fan of Murano glass I had never even thought to visit that island either (which probably explains why I had never heard of Burano). Burano is exquisitely colorful and also quite touristy. Most people just make a day trip there from Venice and all the restaurants and shops exist capitalize on this. Still, it’s a beautiful island to take pictures of and the boat ride itself is enjoyable enough to warrant the trip.

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Treviso

Treviso is another city in the Veneto that I really didn’t know anything about. On my last trip to Venice (a weekend day-trip in May) I saw a regional train headed there and I Googled some images of the city on my phone to see what it was all about. It looked quite charming so I thought to add it to the itinerary for this summer. Unlike Burano, Treviso is not an island in the Venetian Lagoon, but on the mainland, about a 30-40 minute train ride from the city of Venice. Though it’s not an island, I did still find some lovely canals throughout the city.

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Venice

And for good measure, here are a few shots from Venice.

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As far as getting off the beaten path in Venice (and I hope Sophia won’t mind my giving away her secrets), here are two places I can recommend for eating and drinking:

Bacarando | Corte del’Orso

Tucked away just far enough from the main tourist artery to not be noticeable (yet still quite close to the Rialto Bridge), this is a great bar to make cicchetti and Spritz your evening meal. On their website you can find this location (as well as others) and a musical program.

Al Vecio Marangon | Ca’ Cento Pietre

A tiny osteria not far from the Accademia serving typical Venetian dishes. Order the cicchetti misti plate to share and sample the baccalá along with other regional specialties.

In terms of neighborhoods, I passed through the Campo dei Gesuiti one day on a long walk and was shocked to find not only no tourists, but shops selling everyday household items rather than tourist goods. The Chiesa dei Gesuiti there is also quite lovely. I highly recommend passing through this area to get a moment of peace from the summer crowds.

Throwback Thursday

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. . . to that time in March when I went to Istanbul for the weekend but never got around to editing my photos. Yeah, I’m a little behind in the photo department this year. I actually went on a weekend trip last month and deliberately left my camera at home because I didn’t want to have to deal with yet MORE pictures to edit.

And now in less than 36 hours I will be on a plane to start my summer holidays, so naturally my top priority (right along with packing) is to get caught up on some photos.

These are a few highlights from the long weekend in Istanbul. I actually went with about nine of my colleagues from the EAL department for a training at the NESA Conference. It was great that there was a lot of free time to explore Istanbul built into the conference and even better that I had already been once so I could just enjoy the city without feeling like I had to see all the sights.

One thing we did make time for was shopping! One of the benefits of a short trip is that you don’t have to worry about carrying your purchases around from city to city so you feel like you can buy EVERYTHING that you want. And we did. I had some encouragement from my super shopper friends, Heather and Jen. I came home with dried fruit, apple tea, a hamam towel, a queen sized blanket, a bowl, a framed tile, and undoubtably something else that I’m not thinking of at the moment. At one point I was even inspired to buy a carpet whereas normally I don’t even glance inside a carpet shop! I didn’t end up getting the carpet, but seeing the picture now makes me kind of wish that I had! Oh well, at least now when I go back I have an idea of the style that I like.

We stayed at a great place called Miel Suites  which is in an area near Taksim Square that I hadn’t explored before. It was a really cute neighborhood with lots of antiques shops and cafes.

Another new area I got to explore was the fish market near the Galata Bridge; I don’t think I knew about it my first time in the city. On our last day we had a fantastic lunch there with a great view of the city.

I would definitely say that Istanbul is still one of my favorite cities in the world.

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Hamish’s Big Day Out

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Ever since I fell in love with this sweet girl, I have wanted a French Bulldog of my own. I seriously looked into getting one when I moved here to Budapest, but unfortunately my lifestyle right now just doesn’t give me enough time to take care of a dog.

Lucky for me, my friends here in Budapest got their own sweet Frenchie and they let me take him out last Sunday. Hamish and I traipsed all over Budapest meeting up with friends (me) and making lots of new ones (Hamish).

Happy on this hot day.

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In front of Parliament with my friend Liliane from Beirut.

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Near the Basilica.

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Someone’s getting tired.

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Time for one last meet up at the park to play with Yoshi and Martyn.

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A day in my life here in Budapest. Friday, May 29th to be exact. I didn’t quite manage a photo an hour but this is a fairly representative sampling of my day. I woke up at 5:45, as usual, and remembered to snap my first picture 45 minutes later.

6:30 Looking in my closet to see what I should wear. Decided not to make the bed this morning.

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6:39 Putting my extra 10 minutes to use this morning to drink my coffee in the stream of sunlight coming through the window. Good use of time, I’d say.

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6:54 Walking to meet Lauren and Jess for my ride to school.

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7:03 Off we go.

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7:05 Always have to sneak a peak at that view!

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7:09 We decided on a little impromptu pit stop at Starbucks. It used to be our Monday morning tradition until construction around the bridge got crazy.

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7:47 At my desk. Time to check emails and maaaybe get some work done before the school day starts.

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10:52 Almost done with the first teaching period of the day. We were watching videos that the students chose from the website The Kid Should See This while I checked their video summaries on my computer to see how well they did.

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2:18 (Really I’m not always at my desk!) I taught another period, ate some lunch in the faculty dining room, and worked in some classrooms. Now back at my desk grading some student work.

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3:52 My ride home.

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5:22 I killed some time at the mall and then hopped on the train to get to CrossFit.

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5:27 On “our island”–Hajógyári sziget.

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5:46 Checking out the whiteboard. Fraaan. Oh boy, this is going to be a tough one!

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7:13 Heading back home. I love these longer days when it’s still light out when I leave the box.

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7:41 Took the train part way then jumped in a cab to make it on time to dinner with the girls. Taverna Dionysos overlooking the Danube on this gorgeous spring night.

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10:08 It been a long week and I am so ready for bed. Decided to cab it home. Erzsebet Bridge and Castle Hill lit up in the background.

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10:22 Three flights of stairs. I hate them with a passion.

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10:30 Eight minutes later and I am already in bed. Zonked!

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Fall Break in Italy

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I told myself that I wasn’t going to travel during the fall break this year, that I had just arrived in Budapest and I would spend some time really getting to know my new city.

But then, at the last-minute, I decided to go to Florence. It seems Italy’s magnetic pull on me is even stronger now that I’m in Europe, just an hour-long flight away.

I didn’t have much on the agenda other than visiting with Sophia and Lorenzo, drinking wine, eating good food, and having as much coffee as I could manage.

I spent my days wandering around Florence making sure everything was right where I left it (and for the most part it was) and visiting with friends around the city. The last day was a little jaunt to Siena where we spent the day exploring every nook and cranny of the Duomo.

It was lovely to be in a place that felt like home. Fingers crossed that next year I will triumphantly return with Italian passport in hand.

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Catching the last bit of light

A Tuesday evening photo walk on my way home from school.

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Where I am From

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Trying out something a little different here on the Present Perfect. Are you ready for some poetry??

I wrote this poem today as part of an eCourse I am doing called the Geography of Now. I was inspired to take this course because I love Monna McDiarmid’s blog, At Home Where You Are. I can’t say I remember the last time I wrote a poem, so here goes nothing.

Where I am From

I am from the cold-weather beaches
and salty, fresh air
of a small coastal town:
three room schoolhouse,
salt water taffy shack–
pink and white stripes,
volunteer fire department,
and sea lions barking at your lunch.

I am from the wide open spaces
of my college years:
heat like an oven,
sprawling chaos,
and long distances to travel,
the peaceful tranquility
of a night-time drive
under dancing stars.

I am my first experience
living abroad:
learning a language,
a culture,
a new way of being.
Where I had my first taste
of city life:
a ballet to make
Jane Jacobs proud.

I am from big city living,
where I finally learned where
I needed to be.
Where children play on stoops,
and everyone
anticipates the arrival, each year,
of the Mr. Softee truck.
Where we put up with dead of winter
just for the chance
to be a part of it all.

I am from the crumbling ruins
of a city by the sea,
but it’s not what you would think.
I am from the gritty, chaotic,
and unruly streets,
but also from snow-capped mountains,
wrought iron balconies, and
ancient Cedar trees.

I live in a city which I am only just
coming to know:
river views,
healing waters,
grand buildings lit up at night,
it’s foreign yet familiar,
like I’ve been here before.
Someday I will say
I am from here.

At Home in Budapest

I’ve been trying to balance my weekends between nesting at home in my apartment and getting out to explore my new city. I think I was fairly successful this weekend.

Here are a couple of snaps around town from the last two days. (Not a proper photo walk, but it’s something!)

Next weekend is the big wine festival, but this weekend was the Young Winemakers Association Festival. The weather was beautiful and the setting was just perfect in the plaza of the Basilica with lanterns strewn overhead.

Next weekend is the big wine festival, but this weekend was the Young Winemakers’ Association Festival. The weather was beautiful and the setting was just perfect in the plaza of the Basilica with lanterns strewn overhead.

Long morning drinking coffee at home and catching up on my blog reader made better only by my Chemex which hasn't seen the light of day in several months.

Long morning drinking coffee at home and catching up on my blog reader, made better only by my Chemex which hasn’t seen the light of day in several months.

Bar by night, farmers market by (Sun)day. A colleague of mine directed me to this fun little spot and it was well worth the excursion on a Sunday morning.

Bar by night, farmers market by (Sun)day. A colleague of mine directed me to this fun little spot and it was well worth the excursion on a Sunday morning.

Tacos in Budapest.

Tacos in Budapest

Seen in the Jewish Quarter. Unfortunately, Google translate is a mess when it comes to Hungarian and I couldn't make out what all the phrases on this mural were.

Seen in the Jewish Quarter. Unfortunately, Google translate is a mess when it comes to Hungarian and I couldn’t make out what all the phrases on this mural were.

A friend recommended that I try some gelato from Café Gerbaud, so when I spotted it on my walk Saturday I had to try it. I got a scoop of coffee and a scoop of cinnamon.

A friend recommended that I try some gelato from Café Gerbaud, so when I spotted it on my walk Saturday I had to try it. I got a scoop of coffee and a scoop of cinnamon.

Happy weekend!

Learning to Eat Again

Hummus at a local take out place near my apartmemt

Last summer I returned to the U.S. with a little bit of extra weight–and I don’t just mean excess baggage. A year of crafting (all the while drinking tea and eating baked goods!) and little to no exercise will do that to you. Within the first week back I had started CrossFit and then slowly started working towards healthy eating. Baked goods were the first to go. Then I started making healthy meals (many inspired by Skinnytase.com) and eventually ended up eating a more Paleo-style diet. I say Paleo-style since I never could get on board with the whole eating-like-our-primal-ancestors philosophy, but a lot of the concepts like eating real food with minimal to no preservatives or additives I am definitely on board with. In May I started the Whole Life Challenge and refined my diet to the point where I stopped adding milk and Splenda to my morning coffee, avoided things like olives and Peperoncini at the salad bar because they MIGHT have an artificial ingredient added, and passed on every single work potluck (conveniently hosted in the cubicle next to mine). And, I guess I’ll add that all of that did work. I went back to my pre-crafting pant size, maybe even a bit smaller.

But this isn’t a post about weight loss (or the dangers of all crafting and no exercise). This is a post about how hard it is to maintain your eating habits in a new country where you don’t speak the language.

At first it’s all fun and adventure, and you’re on vacation and you’ll eat anything!

My very first meal in Budapest! Grilled pork medallions and some kind of sour cream sauce with pumpkin seed oil (which apparently is a delicacy here).

But then at some stage you’re ready to settle into a routine and start cooking for yourself again. Which means you’re going to have to go to the grocery store.

And that’s where things get tricky.

I know, I know. Going to the grocery store while you are traveling is so much fun! You get to discover strange local products, see what the local are filling their carts with, pick up fun little goodies for a picnic lunch in the park. (Christine at Almost Fearless had a post about this exact thing today!) But when you are permanently living in a place, it’s a little bit of a different thing. This weird little grocery store is now my grocery store. The novelty wears off pretty quickly.

Reading labels is the first thing to go out the window. Not only can I not find fancy Whole Foods-type products with all organic and natural ingredients, but I couldn’t read the labels if I tried as they are all in Hungarian.

The first trip to the grocery store is a little overwhelming: trying to figure out what everything is, observing all the unique local products, trying to figure out where the baskets are (why aren’t they by the entrance??), and of course, on top of all that, what to cook for dinner in your new apartment with bare cabinets and an empty fridge.

I’m not sure my first trip to the grocery store actually yielded much in the way of a meal.
IMAG0198And then there’s the fun of trying to figure out the look-alikes at the store. Oh, good, here’s the butter! Wait, what if it’s margarine?? How can I tell the difference?
Here are a few interesting things I found at the grocery store this week:

Lots of packaged mystery meat

Lots of packaged pork and mystery meat in tubes

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Looks like cat food, but it is indeed human food

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Some interesting beige and brown offerings from the deli

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The most horrifying food I have ever seen in a deli case. I’m not sure I want to know what this is!

I would be remiss if I didn't point out a small portion of the sour cream selection at the store.
I would be remiss if I didn’t point out (a small portion of ) the sour cream selection at the store.
So my strategy for navigating this all is just to stick to what I know in the beginning and make those old standbys that are easy for me to cook–without taking into account “eating clean” or Paleo or any other healthy eating style. The first week before I actually got to cooking was a lot of cheese, salami, and Caprese salad (they sell the packaged, fresh mozzarella balls here just like in Italy!). And when I finally did get around to cooking . . . pasta, risotto, stir-fry.

A recent dinner at home

A recent dinner at home

This past weekend I went to the fancy import grocer and got a couple of fun items. I spent a lot, but it was nice shopping in a store with nice presentation and someone who bagged my groceries! It’s also comforting to know that you can get some of those things that you are really missing when you want them. (Hi, Frank’s Red Hot!) Interestingly enough, some of my purchases were not even American (tuna from Italy, Crème fraîche from England).
IMAG0269And so, learning to eat again . . . For now I’m just eating what’s convenient. As I settle into a routine here and learn my way around the grocery store I’ll start to get back to my old, healthier eating habits, instead of eating in (what I’ve been calling) “survival mode.”

I’ll probably even learn a few new tricks in the kitchen. Tonight I stopped at the store for chicken on the way home and picked up a small jar of paprika; not the dried spice, but a jar like tomato paste. I had imagined it to be like red pepper paste I had once bought back home, but it was much spicier and more textured. Without even tasting it, I stirred a few spoonfuls into my chicken and veggie stir fry and it was amazing. I’m not quite sure how many kinds of paprika there are or what the intended use of this jar of paprika paste is, but it was really good. Who knows, maybe when I leave Hungary it will be my new favorite thing that I’m buying in bulk on Amazon and shipping to my new teaching destination.

Linked to the My Global Life Link-Up at SmallPlanetStudio.com

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