Hello From Hungary!
Michael's a little bit crazy, how the two of us stay fit on the road, and Hungarian is not an easy language to learn.
Jó Reggelt Kívánok!
That means “Good morning!” in Hungarian.
For September and half of October, Brent and I are living in a vacation town named Keszthely, on the shores of Hungary’s beautiful Lake Balaton — about a hundred kilometers by train from Budapest.
Because I love photography — and am a little bonkers — I enjoy getting up each morning at 6 AM and going out to take pictures.
In Istanbul, that meant roaming around the city’s twisty streets taking pictures of stray cats, while in Sibiu, Romania, it was the houses with eyes.
Here in Keszthely, Lake Balaton has acted as my muse.
I love the stillness in the morning, the solitude, and especially watching the sun slowly rise up from the horizon. It’s like the day itself is waking up.
When we first arrived here in Keszthely, the mornings were warm enough I would hop on my bike and pedal down to the lake wearing a t-shirt and shorts.
But the morning temperature is already down to 6C/43F and dropping fast.
But you’ll be happy to know I’m daring those temperatures to give you pictures like this one:
To see even more of my photos, check out My Best of Lake Balaton.
HIIT it! HIIT it Hard!
People often ask Brent and I how we stay fit as nomads.
We used to get temporary gym memberships in the cities and towns where we live, but that obviously ended with the pandemic.
Fortunately, we have a pandemic-proof back-up plan, something we learned at our first digital nomad stop all the way back in Miami in early 2018.
It’s called HIIT, which stands for High Intensity Interval Training. Every other day, come rain or shine, we do HIIT — running, jumping rope, resistance bands, planking, pull-ups — in four ten-minute sets. You take a sixty second break in between each set.
All we need to do HIIT is some kind of open space and some very basic (and light-to-carry) equipment.
We prefer parks, but when push comes to shove, we’ve also worked out in parking lots and alleys — and gotten some very strange looks.
Our favorite workout location ever? For two months in Malta, we worked out on the battlements atop a five-hundred-year old fort with an absolutely stunning view of the nearby harbor.
In Europe, we love that many countries have outdoor public “gyms” with weight machines, like the one here in Keszthely, pictured below:
Brent swears he gets a better workout now — and the fresh air is very nice — but I’m dreaming of the day when I can return to a real gym.
Still — and this makes Brent very happy — we now save thousands of dollars a year on gym memberships.
Hungarian is Not an Easy Language to Learn!
Take a look at the picture below — with the name of a neighboring town — and try say that word three times in a row as fast as you can:
Hungarian really is a difficult language. We been living in Keszthely almost a month, and we’re still not entirely sure how to pronounce the name of the city in which we live!
The name on the sign above? A friend broke down “Balatonmáriafürdő” for us, and it isn’t as impossible as it seems. “Balaton” is easy because that’s the name of the lake. “Maria” is a woman’s name — the Virgin Mary. And “fürdő” means bath.
So when you know that, it’s pretty easy to say, “Balaton mária fürdő.”
Even so, Hungarian is still considered one of the hardest languages for other speakers to learn. A different friend told us most Hungarians aren’t used to non-Hungarians speaking their language. As a result, there’s really no concept of foreign “accents” in Hungarian.
Why is the language so hard for English-speakers to learn? In part, because there are thirty-five distinct cases (like accusative), word order is flexible, and there aren’t many common root words with English. It’s also apparently an “all or nothing” kind of language: to understand a lot of the meaning, you need to know all the grammar.
That being said, I have picked up a few words while living here — something I try to do in every new place we live.
I’ve learned no (“nincs”), yes (“igen”), please (“kerem”), and since I’m lactose intolerant, I’ve also learned to say “No cheese please,” which is “Kerem, ne sajt.”
But “sajt” is pronounced “shite.” So every time I tell a waiter “No cheese,” it almost sounds like I’m saying, “No shit.”
Which might make me giggle just a bit.
Nomading is a Glamorous Life! (Except When It’s Not…)
It’s easy to think that, as nomads, Brent and I lead lives of nothing but luxury and romance.
That’s sure that’s how Instagram makes it look.
And we’ve had our share of both luxury and romance. We spent most last year holed up in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Because tourism had crashed there, we got a really good deal on a nice villa that truly had a million dollar view.
But it wasn’t a perfect place. One of our showers was insanely temperamental, with two options: freezing cold or burn-your-skin-off. The roof leaked in heavy rains, and there were no stores or shops within walking distance.
Meanwhile, in Hungary, we’re subletting an apartment from a friend of a friend. It’s a great price, but it has its drawbacks — namely, the kitchen sink is broken.
So for six weeks, we’re washing all of our dishes in the bathtub.
And that’s okay. The location is good, and the price really is fantastic.
But full disclosure: the picture above is definitely part of what nomad life is really like.
At least for cheap nomads like us.
We’re Hungary for Chicken!
Sorry, I like bad puns.
When you think of great European cuisine, roast chicken probably isn’t at the top of your gastronomical list.
Yet some of the best food we’ve eaten throughout Europe has been roast chicken.
And we don’t mean from fancy restaurants, made with saffron and garnished with black truffle.
We mean places like this food truck here in Hungary, just down the road. For 2300 HUF ($8 USD) you get one delicious roast csirke — which is Hungarian for chicken.
That price is actually fairly expensive. In Bansko, Bulgaria, a similar roadside stand sold enormous roast chickens for about $4 USD.
Sure, you can buy roast chickens for $6 or $7 at almost any American grocery store.
But — apologies in advance for sounding so smug — they’re not nearly as good. And, well, those chickens are more likely to be factory-farmed, and pumped full of saline and antibiotics.
Which makes roast chickens here in Europe a great deal for everyone.
Except the chickens, of course.
Brent reads a lot. Here’s what he’s loved lately:
Remote work is the future of work, right? It’s a full-fledged revolution about to take over the whole world, right? And the pandemic hastened the oncoming revolution, because, for a time, almost everyone was working from home, RIGHT?
Wrong. At its absolute peak, during pandemic lockdowns, only about 35% of Americans ever worked remotely — and for much of the last year and a half, the number was about 20%. But the people who worked from home were mostly economic elites (like the two of us), and we elites tend to think of everyone else as being just like us and our friends.
In fact, we vastly over-estimate how prevalent the remote work revolution is.
Most blue collar jobs — that is, most jobs — still require going into a physical workplace, and they will for a very long time to come. That’s true in America, and it’s even more true everywhere else.
Brent thought this Atlantic article did a good job of imploding some of the myths we have about remote work, and it reminded us that we, like everyone, engage in a lot of confirmation bias.
Goodbye until our next hello!
Michael & Brent
Once again, lovely photos and great info. I see that you two spent quite a bit of time on Malta. Headed there mid-January. for just a week. Not the best time of year, I know, but after a long holiday housesit in Siena. Thoughts on what must be seen and done and should I make my base in Vallerta or plan to move around the island? Thanks!