Barrelled Thoughts #61 – New Year, Old Musings

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Kings of Convenience – my life’s musical staple ever since I was introduced to them in 2011 – accompanied me through the Eurasian Steppe as I blazed once more between Hungary and Croatia, following the same route I took a little more than eight months ago. In winter, vast fields once home to sunflowers are now adorned with pure white sheaths of snow, above which thick smog also flows.

We’ve chosen Zagreb as a sojourn, just four weeks long, before our long-anticipating return to the tiny island nation of Taiwan. Croatia’s capital boasts what has been called one of Europe’s most enjoyable Christmas markets, but it’s the country’s national park, Plitvice, that lingers in the back of one’s mind.

Having seen the best of what the 16 lakes has to offer earlier this year in spring, we expect a very different view this time around – and a very different challenge. Temperatures will drop to below freezing and we’ll be expected, one imagines, to traverse the winding glacial park on foot, through snow, and in the face of chilly winds.

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Barrelled Thoughts #60 – Pastures New

Saturday, August 13, 2016

It’s been more than a year since I last heard the hypnotic calls of a million cicadas in the summertime; in fact, besides the years I spent in Taiwan, I hadn’t heard them anywhere else—not in South Africa, not in Russia, not in Hungary—until I arrived in Athens.

Despite the collective hum created by these noisy insects, a summer without them would be inconceivable and indeed would spell disaster for any resident of the island first dubbed Formosa by the Portuguese in 1542.

Camouflaged against the dark hues of trunks and shaded by leaves on branches, cicadas are nothing short of iconic for us, conjuring memories of scorching Julys when pupils gathered in stuffy classrooms across the nation to sit for their university entrance exams. A little over six years ago I was no different, shuffling into a classroom with about 30 others and pretending like the 35° Celsius morning temperature didn’t faze me, when in reality it did.

In the dead silence of the classroom, we were accompanied by the loud mechanical buzz of ceiling fans and by the occasional turning of pages—another pupil racing through the test paper just to make you that little bit more anxious and force you to check the watch on your wrist, which is just about the only personal item you’re allowed to carry besides your minimal stationery. And then there were the cicadas, blaring their short-lived mating calls like they’d done, and will continue to do, for millennia.

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Croatia – Hrvatska

A gallery from my short stay in Croatia – greenery, vino, fresh produce, and the Adriatic Sea.

My thoughts about the country and its capital Zagreb can be found here.

Barrelled Thoughts #59 – Bye-Bye, Budapest

Thursday, April 14, 2016

I came to Budapest 10 months ago with few suppositions and even fewer ideas of what I was to expect from this mysterious, landlocked nation. If were honest with myself, I’d quickly admit that I wasn’t able to point out the former capital of Austria-Hungary on the map; if I could be any more truthful than that, I’d also say that, until June last year, I wasn’t able to tell Budapest and Bucharest apart.

When I leave this magical city a few days from now, I will have spent all four seasons in a country for the first time outside of South Africa and Taiwan. The only other time I have spent more than a handful of months in a country was between the years 2013 and 2014, while studied in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia, for about seven months.

It’s an interesting thought, to call somewhere “home” for a year, while my status is neither a student nor a local citizen. A “nomad”, or more precisely a “digital nomad”, is what they call themselves. Do I fall under this category? Probably. Someone who works online and lives in a foreign country—it is, apparently, that simple.

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Hungary – Magyarország

A seasonal gallery of my time in Hungary, spent in Budapest—surely one of the best kept secrets in Europe – Tokaji, Paprika, the Danube, coffee.

An ode to Budapest.

London: Matinée

Sunday, January 27, 2015 – Saturday, January 2, 2016

The word “matinee”, French by origin, today in English means a dramatical or musical performance in a theatre or cinema which takes place in the afternoon. It derives from the 19th century French word matinée, literally “morning”—a time of day when activities and events are held.

“Matinée” is also the name of a little cafe in Budapest from where I now write this brief journal about my foray into the London.

The establishment just a stone’s throw away from the famous Andrássy avenue is a tiny two-storey building with about six tables. Sitting on the corner of a side street next to a florist, Matinée is unimposing and secretive; walking into its wooden-framed glass door is crossing the threshold into European hipsterdom, a place filled with black jeans, beards, tattoos, a Japanese “lucky cat”, and, of course, good coffee.

You wouldn’t find this coffeehouse in your Lonely Planet guidebook to the Hungarian capital, but if ever there was a handbook of hipster hideouts in Budapest, Matinée would be top of the list, along with other places such as “Konyha” and “We Love Coffee”—both near Budapest’s Deák Ferenc ter.

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