A Flood of Toxic Red Sludge: The Hungarian Villages of Kolontár & Devecser 10 Years Later

Memorial in Devecser, Hungary (2020).

You may have seen the red trees of Hungary on one of those “these look fake, but are real!” image galleries; at least that’s how I first discovered the Ajka red flood that tore through the Hungarian countryside in 2010. The disaster received a ton of press due to the shockingly visible impact of the waste on the landscape–trees, buildings, cars, essentially everything in the path of the 1–2 m (3–7 ft) high wave was marked with a deep red line–but I was curious as to how these spaces looked ten years later when the impacts were largely absent from the public eye and the crimson streaks had faded.

Palíndromo Mészáros. 2010. “The Line”. Designboom. Available here.

After moving to Hungary in 2016, I began researching the areas affected by one of the worst environmental disasters in the history of the European Union. I realized that the severed MAL reservoir that caused the flood of toxic waste was possibly a mere 30 minutes from our new town and I wanted to find these spaces to understand more about the environmental injustices that impacted the communities here; ten people died, over a hundred injured, and even more were displaced in the small rural villages of Kolontár and Devecser.

Flashbacks to my days as a Geography undergrad student wandering around Charleston and the outlying areas recording field notes, as well as researching the origins of the food sourced by the College of Charleston for my graduate thesis–where I creeped on so.many.buildings over Google Maps / Street View trying to understand what took place inside.

Memorial in Kolontár, Hungary (2020)

This journey to see the village of Kolontár and the trees of Devecser was not a simple one; even after poring over maps in Google, outdated blogposts, and exhausting Street View, my friend and I eventually decided to literally drive around the villages and research the areas on foot to discover more of what took place here ten years ago.

BBC News. 2010. “Villagers Despair in Hungary’s Red Wasteland.” BBC News. Available here.

As always, remember that environmental disasters are not merely environmental; this toxic wave didn’t just occur in isolation — but was caused by human action. Magyar Alumínium Termelő és Kereskedelmi Zrt (MAL), the alumina company that owned the dam that breached into the nearby villages, owned 4% of the world’s alumina market at the time (and refused responsibility). The rural villages in the path of the sludge are poorer communities and at the time dependent on agriculture or employment at the plant to survive. While fined 472 million Euros in environmental damages, the impacts of the MAL industrial waste remain both in the landscape (levels of toxicity are still considered dangerous) and socially, as survivors of the red flood continue to struggle with the financial, mental, and emotional impacts of the disaster.

“’These people are billionaires, and they couldn’t care less about the rest of us,’ said Fuchs, who was the first to launch a lawsuit seeking damages. ‘Enough is enough. Innocent people die while they live happily ever after?!'”

Marton Dunai. 2011. “Hungary Villages Heal Slowly from Red Sludge Spill.” Reuters. Available here.

This environmental injustice is compounded by the anti-Roma sentiment in the country, particularly evident in Devecser, where one third of the village’s population is of Romani descent. A marginalized group in Europe–especially Eastern Europe–about 800,000 Romani people live in Hungary, a country with a population of 10 million. Historically discriminated against and frequently the target of hate crimes, Roma groups are disproportionally poorer, with less access to education and healthcare as their Hungarian neighbors.

“Devecser, then, serves as microcosm. It was like any other Hungarian town in Veszprem County before the great wave struck, a valley with deep agricultural traditions, in recent years wounded by crumbling job prospects. Locals also nursed antipathy for the Roma concentrated near the town center. That downtown is also home to what is known as a ‘black’ high school – meaning, ‘white’ Hungarians send their kids to school in larger cities nearby. Left behind, the Romanies are effectively segregated.”

Michael J. Jordan. 2011. “Roma in the Red Sludge.” The Mantle. Available here.

This post is divided into two parts:

  • I’ll start with an overview of the location, the disaster, the impact of the red sludge on the villages in its path, as well as updates since 2010.
  • The second half of the post is my own geographic fieldwork in the area ten years after the disaster (May 2020).

Where are we?

BBC News. 2010. “Hungary Battles to Stem Torrent of Toxic Sludge.” BBC News. Available here.

The small towns of Kolontár and Devecser are loctated in Veszprém County, Hungary. West of Budapest and north of the country’s largest lake–Lake Balaton–these villages are near the city of Ajka. The MAL Alumina Production and Trading Company is located just outside of Ajka, in between the city and roughly 10 km (6 miles) from Kolontár.

Train tracks running from Kolontár (2020)

The Flood: “Everything is gone, everything we had.”

On October 4th, 2010 at 12:25pm CEST, the northwest corner of the number 10 containment pond reservoir of the MAL alumina plant collapsed, resulting in the release of over a million cubic meters of toxic, highly corrosive sludge. The wave of highly alkaline red “mud”–the waste product of refining bauxite into alumina, a form of aluminum oxide–destroyed everything in its path, flooding the villages of Kolontár, Devecser, and Somlóvásárhely. The movement of the flood was so powerful that it physically transported cars and vans in the village of Devecser.

The red hue of the sludge is caused by Iron(III) oxide. 30 million tons of waste is estimated to be stored here in open air ponds–an outdated measure to secure waste for this type of facility.
Corner of the number 10 containment pond in 2010.
Alan Taylor. 2011. “A Flood of Red Sludge, One Year Later.” The Atlantic. Available here.
The number 10 containment pond today (via Google Maps–I was unable to take a picture or walk near this portion of the plant).

The sludge contains a combination “of solid impurities, heavy metals such as cadmium, cobalt and lead,
and the processing chemicals” (Toth, 144). A study by Greenpeace found levels of chromium, arsenic, and mercury in the waste, although the Hungarian government stated that the liquid was not poisonous for people or the environment. Much of the human injures caused by the breach included severe chemical burns from the high pH of the waste; more than 100 people were injured, ten died (cause of death estimated to be drowning), and the flood killed all large number of marine, plant, and wildlife surrounding the nearby Marcal and Torna rivers. At the time of the flood, Tibor Dodson, a spokesperson for the Hungarian Disaster Management Agency, stated: “The Marcal River is dead.”

A photo on display at the Kolontár Mud Disaster Memorial Site (Kolontári Iszapkatasztrófa Emlékhely).

The 1–2 m (3–7 ft) high wave dyed everything in its path–leaving a trail of red throughout the countryside and villages. Over 250 homes, 800 people, and over one thousand hectares of land were affected.

“Still in pain from the death a few years earlier of their son, who had been hit by a train, the Juhaszes saw their home destroyed, watched Dora suffer severe internal burns after ingesting toxic sludge, and had to endure another death in the family when Angyalka, who was barely a toddler, drowned in it.

‘Our family is cursed,’ Mrs. Jushasz said, tears streaking her cheeks. ‘Tragedy follows us everywhere.”

Dimiter Kenarov. 2011. “Recalculating ‘Normal’ in Hungarian Disaster Zone.” Pulitzer Center. Available here.

As the wave started to reach (and eventually met) the Danube, large amounts of gypsum and chemical fertilizers were added to the Marcal and Torna rivers in an attempt to contain the chemicals from reaching other countries; the hundreds of tons of plaster and acetic acid successfully lowered the acidity of the water. Unlike the Marcal, where all fish were killed after the sludge entered the stream, the levels were low enough to be considered safe when merging with the Danube. While contained-ish in rural western Hungary, concerns were raised about the effects of breathing in these chemicals as the sludge dried and turned to dust; this could potentially reach other locations by wind. MAL resumed operations just ten days after the flood and implemented the newer “dry” technology that creates a red dust from the waste–rather than storing the sludge in an open air reservoir–that is then released into the atmosphere, furthering the concerns over respiratory issues as these new containment holds were also uncovered.

The Aftermath: “I was twice reborn last year… it is impossible to forget. But go elsewhere? I’ve never lived anywhere else. Where else would I go?” 

The memorial in Kolontár.

One of the largest employers in the area, MAL took over the alumna plant in 1995; the facility was originally established in 1943 and the handover to MAL was part of a mass privatization effort by the Hungarian government in the 1990s following the dissolution of the Soviet Union. In an effort to maximize profit, the company continued to produce large amounts of sludge with little implementation of technological advances (although many existed in the field), had minimal efforts to reduce the amount of waste created by their operations, and did not comply with its own standards of disposal.

In 2003, MAL reached an agreement with the government to change the waste created by their operations to “non-hazardous” and therefore, under less strict regulation. Despite satellite images of the reservoir indicating movement each year, the fact that MAL was not required to include a safety barrier to control movement of the sludge, and readings on October 3rd showing warning signs of collapse, the company was not obligated to pay the victims of the breach; their liability insurance was not required to cover the spill of toxic waste from the plant into the nearby villages. An article published by the newspaper Nepszabadsag stated that at least twenty plant workers testified to police that they notified management of leaks but were told to keep quiet about the issue.

A photo on display at the Kolontár memorial. You can see the same area today (2020).
Kolontár in 2020. Once at the center of Kolontár, the Catholic church is now at the very edge of village as two entire streets were wiped out by the flood. A new plaque was added to the WWII memorial at the foot of the church in 2011 that reads: “Remembering the human and natural toll of negligence and greed. 4 October 2010.”

On September 16th. MAL was fined 135 billion Forint (389 million Euro), a fine four times the cost of the estimated cleanup of the area (115 million Euro). On October 12th, the Hungarian government passed a law through Parliament allowing the government to nationalize the company; they took over MAL the next day. Hungary’s state secretary for the environment, Zolton Illes, noted before the seizure that, “the Hungarian government will support all the activities of the company, will stand behind this company, to keep its 6,000 workplaces in that region, and also to keep this alumina processing activity”. Also on this date, the director of MAL–Zoltán Bakonyi–along with several other employees, were arrested and charged with “criminal negligence leading to a public catastrophe”.

Cleanup and construction from the flood cost the Hungarian government (and the country’s taxpayers) over $166 million (2011). 112 new houses were built across the three towns and many of the remaining 300 families displaced by the disaster chose to purchase used homes (125) or cash compensation (80). In total, over 53,000 truckloads of sludge was removed from the nearby fields between the villages.

“His mother, living just down the road, drowned in the flood. Her body was found days later in a fishing pond belonging to another of her sons, Jozsef.
Jozsef Fuchs’ Kolontár home was spared in the flood, but he lost much of his livelihood. The still-high toxicity of the pond water makes it unsuitable for fish farming and since the woods surrounding the pond were either destroyed by the sludge or cut down during the cleanup efforts, its attractiveness for weekend anglers has all but disappeared.
‘No one wants to come fishing here anymore,’ said Jozsef Fuchs, 58. ‘I have no use for the pond. It was beautiful, but now it could just as well be a desert… I was born in one of the houses that was demolished and my mother’s body was found at the end of my fishing pond,’ Fuchs said. ‘I want to stay here and I’m probably going to die here. But in the meantime, I still need to make a living.'”

The Associated Press. 2011. “Hungary Rebuilds Towns Destroyed by Toxic Waste.” Deseret News. Available here.

In 2013, a Hungarian court ordered MAL to liquidate. However, the company remains the owner of the storage facility near Ajka (although not as area of containment today as the waste has changed to the more technologically advanced drying method). In 2016, Bakonyi and fourteen other employees were acquitted of all charges. On December 13th, 2019, a higher court reversed the decision of the lower court, sentencing the former CEO to four years in prison, as well as the former technical director of the company to a three year sentence.

10 Years Later

For context: A map I created using a NASA image of the flood and listing the areas we saw.

Where to start? Devecser and the Search for the Red Trees

The red trees of Hungary today (2020).

Our search for the red trees of Hungary began in Devecser. As noted above, while the flood is commonly known as the Ajka red mud disaster, this designation is due to the location of the plant, an area right outside the city of Ajka. After researching the impact of the sludge on the nearby villages–and scouring old blog posts and Google Maps Street View–I guessed that most likely the trees we were searching for would be somewhere in Devecser, as much of Kolontár was completely destroyed by the flood. The trees from the pictures of the disaster were also in a heavily wooded area, which looking at a map of the path of the red sludge, was a type of landscape closer to Devecser’s.

A blogger noted that red trees were located near a playground. Searching through images uploaded to Google Maps, I saw that a red-ish tree was located in a large park near the castle in 2017. Armed with a starting point and potential location, my friend and I parked at the gas station at one side of the park and walked the entire length toward the town’s castle.

We thought we noticed some red in these tree trunks, but nothing like the photos from 2010. Were we in the right place? Devecser’s homes were also absent of the tell-tale sign of the sludge–the red marker along the walls of the houses.

After making our way through the park toward the entrance of the castle, we stumbled on a memorial shrouded by trees. If we weren’t here specifically searching for impacts of the red mud we could have missed the painting and its significance altogether.

An informational display is located on the other side–near the entrance to the castle–but again, we would have missed it without traveling to this large park for this specific purpose. The display noted that the tree trunks were cleaned by volunteers and college students and the topsoil in the area was also replaced. The park was completely redone in the summer of 2014; over 140,000 plants were planted, including 176 trees that replaced the “felled” ones.

The Esterházy Castle in Devecser
A late 2020 travel post shows that we were in fact, in the right part of the village. The Esterházy Park was highly damaged by the red sludge of 2010 (source).

Okay–Let’s Drive to Ajka!

The Magyar Alumínium Termelő és Kereskedelmi Zrt site today (2020).

Thankful for a fellow adventuring friend always down for a good investigational hunt, Heather and I then decided to drive up to the city of Ajka, less than 10 kilometers from Devecser. We guessed that the containment reservoir may still be intact, as we had discovered a number of structures still standing in Hungary even after disaster–we just wandered around the nearby Soviet Ghost Town of Szentkirályszabadja after all–and found what we thought may be MAL’s reservoir.

The road next to the number 10 containment reservoir (2020). This was as close as I could reach the site; the waste reservoir is 50-60 meters high (164 – 200 feet) and the flood reached Kolontár in five minutes.

We parked and I wandered closer–the height of this structure meant it HAD to be the number ten containment reservoir right? I snapped a few pictures but with signs everywhere stating “TILOS” (forbidden!) I didn’t push my luck. Workers were moving sediment and other materials so I also didn’t want to disturb them. This activity was also confirmed by visitors to the location in 2015.

Let’s Just See What We Find in Kolontár:

We then turned around in Ajka and drove back toward Devecser. As we passed the enormous structure again, we guessed that this had to be the MAL reservoir–geographically it made sense–but without signage we couldn’t be 100% sure. Like the park, this area underwent a massive overhaul of environmental mitigation.

Without a real plan in Kolontár, we chose to just drive around the small village. I knew that two streets were destroyed by the sludge, so we kept our eyes out for new houses that may have been built to replace them. Maybe this is it? we kept asking each other. We saw a church peeking through the treetops and Heather decided to drive in that direction.

Kolontári Iszapkatasztrófa Emlékhely

From the road we saw the memorial to the Ajka red sludge disaster. Located diagonally from the church, this memorial sits next to the train tracks and is entirely alone in its surroundings. This house was completely destroyed by red sludge and is now a memorial to the lives destroyed by the flood.

Remnants of the distinctive line we had been searching for all day.
The interior of the house includes a gallery but also many aspects of the home remain exactly how it was on October 4th, 2010.
A photo gallery of the street during the time of the flood.

We walked toward the train tracks, across the Torna and over a bridge.

Zsolt Pados gave his life trying to rescue people from the other side of the creekbank. His body was found five hundred meters from the bridge. An older woman and two young children (ages 1 and 3) were also killed here.
I edited this map to show just how drastically this landscape has changed. You can see the location of the bridge we crossed and what this space looks like now compared to 2010, particularly the area next to the church and the train tracks.
View from the tracks toward Ajka. For reference, the church and memorial are to the right.
(source)

We quietly left Kolontár, still in awe that we stumbled upon this memorial, a preserved lunchtime snapshot of October 4th in the Hungarian countryside.

Recovery & Future Concerns:

While Devecser has made commitments and sustainable energy progress, many survivors of the red sludge note that they have yet to receive settlements and many of the newer houses have a number of construction issues. The disaster caused a drop in home values and many cannot afford to move elsewhere. The main sources of income for this area have disintegrated along with the flood; the MAL facility is now closed and a ban on selling produce here was implemented. The population of both villages has dropped and many residents state they still suffer from the effects of the disaster both physically and mentally. The Hungarian government has instructed survivors to use the courts for retribution and many have pursued that route.

“’Healing is so complex,’ Tili said. ‘Those who lost loved ones will never forget. But those who did not have mostly got past the memories by now. We have had a psychotherapist on the scene for a year. Lots of people have visited her.'”

Dunai, Marton. 2011. “Hungary Villages Heal Slowly from Red Sludge Spill.” Reuters. Available here.

Now that the visible aspects of the disaster have faded, how will the injustices suffered by the survivors be mended? Previously available jobs are now non-existent. Lower property values and less population overall make owning a business difficult. The increasingly growing sentiment against the historically marginalized Roma communities further compounds the injustices faced by the survivors of the Ajka red sludge. The amount of anti-Roma rhetoric has only increased since the 2010 disaster. In 2012, nearly 1,000 white supremacists marched through the small village, throwing rocks into the homes of Romani residents, and shouting: “You are going to die here”. After a number of Roma families re-located to Devecser after the flood, a dispute between families ignited the march. The same mayor who promised sustainable energy also stated that “what happened to some [of the Roma population during the Ajka red flood] was in their best interest”.

“Anyone calling it ‘golden sludge,’ I’d be happy to change places with them,’ Horvath [his wife, Eva, was hospitalized with burns across 70 percent of her body] says. ‘Let them stand in it three-four hours and experience the same pain. We’ll have scars the rest of our lives. People already see our brown skin; now they’ll see spots and think we have an exotic disease, too.'”

Michael J. Jordan. 2011. “Roma in the Red Sludge.” The Mantle. Available here.

Although Covid-19 hit the country hard (at one time in 2021 Hungary had the highest death rate in the world) with lower access to healthcare, greater likelihood to live in communal spaces (often without running water) and distrust toward the Hungarian government due to their anti-Roma sentiments in the past, Romani populations were ravaged by the virus: “Just about every family got it. …People you see riding their bikes one week are in hospital the next and you order flowers for their funerals the third.

In addition to localized concerns, many fear that the Ajka red sludge is just one of a ticking time-bomb of future problems in Eastern Europe; many warn that without proper waste disposal (and the funds to do so) there could easily be a number of events similar to the Ajka alumna disaster in the future. The WWF estimates the number of potential sites could be in the hundreds:

“Experts identify inadequate enforcement of inadequate regulations as a key issue in a string of spills in the area, of which two most serious were the Hungary mud disaster and an earlier cyanide spill from a tailings dam in Romania. ‘Our society expects that the facilities still in use are being exploited correctly and safety procedures are being observed. In reality this is not the case’, said Daniel Popov, a toxics expert from the CEE Bankwatch Network in Bulgaria.”

World Widlife Fund. 2011. “Little action apparent on toxic tailings six months after Hungary red mud disaster.” WWF Online. Available here.

“I believe the only positive development of the spill is to draw attention to the importance of such environmental ‘time-bombs’ hidden in the backyard of former communist countries.   It is crucial that better environmental inspection standards are implemented by authorities to prevent similar disasters in the future.” — Dr. Szabolcs Lengyel

Currently:
Reading: Denmark Vesey: The Buried History of America’s Largest Slave Rebellion and the Man Who Led It (David Roberston)
Watching: Loki (Disney+)
Listening: Un(re)solved (Frontline PBS)

Works Cited:
The Associated Press. 2011. “Hungary Rebuilds Towns Destroyed by Toxic Waste.” Deseret News. Available here.
BBC News. 2020. “Hungary Battles to Stem Torrent of Toxic Sludge.” BBC News. Available here.
Cain, Phil. 2012. “Hungary Nationalists Whip Up Anti-Roma Feelings.” BBC News. Available here.
ClientEarth Communications. 2020. “Two Recent Judgements in Hungary Clarify the Environmental Liability Regime.” ClientEarth. Available here.
Dunai, Marton. 2011. “Hungary Villages Heal Slowly from Red Sludge Spill.” Reuters. Available here.
Environmental Justice Atlas. 2014. “Red Mud Disaster Kolontár-Devecser, Hungary.” Environmental Justice Atlas. Available here.
Jordan, Michael K. 2011. “Roma in the Red Sludge.” The Mantle. Available here.
Kátai-Urbán, Lajos and Zoltán Cséplı. 2010. “Disaster in the Ajka Red Sludge Reservoir.” The Sixth Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on the Transboundary Effects of Industrial Accidents: The Hague, Available here.
Lengyei, Szabolcs. 2010. “Hungarian Red Sludge Spill — Three Weeks Later.” The Freshwater Blog. Available here.
Moseman, Andrew. 2010. “Hungary’s Toxic Spill Reaches the Danube, but River May Escape Harm.” Discover. Available here.
Reuters. 2010. “Red Sludge Company to Resume Production.” Radio France Internationale. Available here.
Reuters. 2021. “‘Falling Like Flies’: Hungary’s Roma Community Plead for Covid-19 Help.” VOA News. Available here.
Rosenthal, Elisabeth. 2010. “Hungary’s Red Sludge Spill: The Media and the Eco-Disaster.” Yale Environment 360 (Yale School of Environment). Available here.
Taylor, Allen. 2011. “A Flood of Red Sludge, One Year Later.” The Atlantic. Available here.
Thorpe, Nick. 2010. “Toxic Sludge Carpets Homes in Hungary.” BBC News. Available here.
Toth, Janos I. 2013. “Key Actors of the Red Sludge Disaster in Hungary.” in Confronting Ecological and Economic Collapse. Routledge: 2013. Available here.
Turi, David, Jozsef Pusztai, and Istvan Nyari. 2013. “Causes and Cir Causes and Circumstances of Red Mud Reservoir Failure In 2010 at MAL Zrt Factory Site in Ajka, Hungary.” International Conference on Case Histories in Geotechnical Engineering (2013). Available here.
World Wide Fund for Nature. 2011. “Little Action Apparent on Toxic Tailings Six Months after Hungary Red Mud Disaster.” World Wide Fund for Nature. Available here.

A gallery of photos can be seen here and here.

2019 Year in Review: Favorite Coffee Shops, Snacks, and Restaurants

THE 2019-in-review post you’ve been waiting to read is HERE.

Last year I had some of the best food of my life and couldn’t just limit this list to strictly brunch as I did in 2018. If we’re being honest, I couldn’t choose between a couple of my favorites, so I made an obnoxiously long list so I could include allthethings. Classic Spilis.

I’ll review my favorite coffee shops, brunch stops, the clutch snacks of 2019, favorite dinners, and best desserts. Because it’s me, I also included two lists of my favorite cuisines too: Indian restaurants and nachos. Because let’s be honest, is it REALLY an Ashlynbestoffoodlist without them?

The answer, dear reader, is no.

Here we go!

Favorite Coffee Spots:

I’m an extremely boring coffee drinker (cowboy coffee–Americano, black). While I’m no-frills on my coffee, I love spending time in unique shops when traveling to a new place. Here are a couple of my favorite spots from 2019.

Brașov, Romania:

Habitat Concept Room 
Brașov, Romania
We stopped at Habitat for the morning before our trip to Bran Castle.

Gdańsk, Poland.:

Café Józef K.
Gdańsk, Poland
Absolutely loved this shop! I visited during one of our last mornings in Gdańsk and enjoyed this view. The interior is super unique.
Drukarnia Cafe
Gdańsk, Poland
Drukarnia takes their coffee seriously. It’s hard not to be super impressed with their attention to beans and brews.

Paris, France:

Soul Kitchen
Paris, France
The incline up to Soul Kitchen is completely worth the hike for a coffee or breakfast at this little shop in Montmarte.
Restaurant La Recyclerie
Paris, France
A former train station, this cafe offers coffee, lunch, and dinner in an enormous, reclaimed space. Their menu changes daily (based on availability in their urban farm) and they also host workshops on repairs and community activism.
Coffee here is only one euro! They also serve unique cocktails later in the day.
Americano with a view.

Kraków, Poland:

Massolit Books & Cafe
Kraków, Poland
I spent a few hours in this cozy cafe sipping cold brew and perusing their used books. Their coffee is great and they offer hundreds of English titles at affordable prices.

Tromsø, Norway:

Smørtorget
Tromsø, Norway
This. Cinnamon. Roll. Though. I wandered into Smørtorget and immediately decided I had to try one of their freshly baked goods. This roll was perfect for coffee-dipping. The space is gorgeous and cozy, especially during the Norwegian winter.

Örebro, Sweden:

Gamla
Örebro, Sweden
I had to go with my first authentic Fika in Sweden! This vegan treat was a perfect way to start my first day in Örebro.

Best Brunch of 2019:

Budapest, Hungary:

Murok Cafe
Budapest, Hungary
I know, I know, this isn’t a food photo, but Murok is so adorable that I had to include this picture over the bagels and hummus we shared on a chilly November morning. We stopped by Murok so I could shop at the Conscious Design Market, which featured a number of local designers selling sustainable products. To top it off, Murok also allows dogs, so I happily nibbled on a bagel while looking at artisan goods AND pet puppies. The ultimate win, win, win.
Szimply
Budapest, Hungary
A solo trip to Budapest meant extra time wandering the city and visiting a couple of places on my (ever-growing) list. I’d been hoping to visit Szimply for a while–they offer a continuously changing menu with a ton of veg options–and happily had an amazing (and super affordable) meal. This avocado toast was out.of.control and I literally gasped when they brought it out to me. Those colors! That egg!

Stuttgart, Germany:

Kleinigkeit
Stuttgart, Germany
This adorable brunch started off one of my best days of 2019. Kleinigkeit is small and their staff is super friendly; we had our poached eggs with a beautiful view. I can’t recommend this spot enough!

London, England:

Caravan Exmouth Market
London, England
Our last breakfast in London was one of the best brunches of the year. Caravan has a huge veg and dietary-restrictions-friendly menu, along with an extensive coffee selection. I ordered the jalapeno cornbread (!!) with chipotle mayo and avo. I’m still dreaming about this absolutely perfect brunch dish.

Warsaw, Poland:

Shabby Chic Coffee & Wine
Warsaw, Poland
What’s better than brunch? TWO in one day! We visited Warsaw this spring with two of favorite people–Heather and Chris–and had wayyyy too much fun eating pierogi and wandering the city. One morning, Heather and I left early to grab coffee at Shabby Chic and ended up ordering this amazing open-faced sandwich to share. Homemade bread+blue cheese+pears+walnuts+honey is THE combination.
Restauracja Zapiecek
Warsaw, Poland
Full from our secret sandwich, Heather and I brought the coffee back to our apartment, ready to head back out for brunch with the guys. We stopped at Zapiecek for pierogi (acceptable at any time of the day) and ate our dumplings outside in the sun.

Paris, France:

Treize au Jardin
Paris, France
To say I planned our trip to Paris around the World Cup match and brunch at Treize au Jardin is not an exaggeration. Southern bunch?! ALL DAY?!
After ten years in the south, I MISS brunch. And I mean the brunch food that sticks to you all day. I ordered the tomato pie, one of my favorite dishes of all time, and it was delicious. I would rank it third overall best tomato pie of my life–a huge accomplishment–only after my wonderful friend Heather’s version and Babs Ambrose’s pie. It was OUT OF CONTROL GOOD.
Biscuits and pimento cheese–does life get any better than this?

Favorite Snacks:

Somewhere Outside Chernobyl, Ukraine:

Spicy Mustard & Cheese Sandwich
Somewhere Outside Chernobyl, Ukraine
As I’ve mentioned before, I am 100% a brown-bag lunch person. Thankfully we all packed sandwiches on our day trip from Kyiv to Chernobyl, and damn those snacks were clutch. This mustard was unexpectedly spicy but really good (I also LOVE horseradish and to say it was horseradish-forward is an understatement).
If you’re planning on visiting the site of a Soviet nuclear meltdown, pack sandwiches. I can’t stress that enough.

Glasgow, Scotland:

Truffle Fries & Macaroni and Cheese
Chinaski’s
Glasgow, Scotland
Is there a better combination than mac & cheese and french fries? This pre-dinner snack was perfect after a looooong day exploring the city. This literary-themed speakeasy also had amazing cocktails–all you need in the world.

Bran Castle, Romania:

Turkish Coffee & Cheese Roll
Bran Castle
Bran, Romania
Another amazing combination of drink+snacks was the Turkish coffee we ordered before entering Bran Castle and my cheese bread I engulfed after the tour. I LOVE Turkish coffee and the guy making these was hilarious and kind. He even allowed me to ask him multiple questions about the process and snap a few pictures of his work.
This freshly baked cheesy bread was amazing and the perfect end to our Bran Castle visit.

Tromsø, Norway:

Vegan Hot Dog
Raketten Bar & Pølse
Tromsø, Norway
Known as the home of the best hot dogs in the world (according to guests) and the tiniest bar in the universe (according to aliens), Raketten is a small, one-person hot dog making operation in the center of Tromsø. I ordered the vegan version, complete with spicy homemade mustard, fried onions, and a freshly baked ciabatta bun. Whoever thought to put a hot dog in ciabatta?! The kicker here is that I don’t even really like hot dogs and yet this was so good, it was one of my favorite snacks of the year.

Budapest, Hungary:

Tócsni
Vörösmarty Square Market
Budapest, Hungary
One of the absolute must-have snacks in Hungary (or honestly in Europe) is known by a number of names, depending on the region. Tócsni is basically the potato pancake version of lángos, a deep fried dough (similar to an American elephant ear) covered in garlic, sour cream, cheese, and peppers. I prefer Tócsni, especially from the Budapest Christmas Market. Totally worth the food hangover.

Favorite Indian Food Spots:

Indian is one of our favorite cuisines. I’m still trying to work on my skills at home, but there is nothing like authentic meals when we travel. Thankfully, I found a couple of great locations last year:

Fairfield, California:

Amar Indian Cuisine
Fairfield, California
My brother-in-law, niece, and I took a trip to Amar so I could stock up on Indian spices before returning to Hungary. We stopped in the store, grabbed a couple of things (including a huge container of ghee–score!) and at check-out the owner recommended having lunch at their restaurant next door.
I’m so glad we did! This was Caroline’s first Indian meal and girl can put down the naan like her aunt. The restaurant was great and had soooo many options available for lunch.

Gdańsk, Poland:

Zaika Truck
Gdańsk, Poland
We grabbed lunch at Zaika while we were walking St. Dominic’s Fair. We ordered the curry and loved it.

London, England:

Indian Kati Rolls
Camden Market, London, England
My apologies for the blurry photo but I only snapped one picture before eating this amazing wrap. We stopped at Camden Market on Saturday afternoon and the entire place was absolutely packed with people. Thankfully I was able to find the Indian Kati stand and this wrap was incredible. Masala paneer in a naan wrap is all you need in the world.

Kraków, Poland:

Bhajan Cafe
Kraków, Poland
My lunch at Bhajan was the perfect way to end an amazing day in Kraków. I traveled to the city solo and spent the morning wandering the parks and visiting a couple of bookshops. The entire menu is veg friendly and the staff were kind enough to not judge me eating a meal meant for two people entirely on my own. Sooo good.

Budapest, Hungary:

Rajkot Palace
Budapest, Hungary
I actually had my favorite Indian meal on New Years Eve. Rajkot Palace was amazing; this Palak paneer was on point and Chris’s chicken vindaloo had him sweating from the spiciness.

Best Dinners:

Glasgow, Scotland:

Hillhead Bookclub
Glasgow, Scotland
There is something to be said for just honestly good sandwiches. We spent our last night in Glasgow enjoying Hillhead Bookclub’s unique menu and options. This veg reuben included seitan pastrami on dark rye bread.

Cluj-Napoca Romania:

Casa Dacilor Brancusi
Cluj-Napoca, Romania
Our last night in Romania we ate an amazing traditional meal at Casa Dacilor Brancusi. Of course everything I ordered was potato-based (always, ha) and this dinner was the perfect end to a fun road-trip through Romania.
This is the Salată Orientală.
I also ordered Cartofi franțuzești, which is a French style Romanian dish of potatoes, eggs, and cheese. My amazing friend Monica (whose hometown is Cluj!) always made this dish for me in Hungary and it was so special to order this with her in Romania.
The star of the show were these Papanaşi, Romanian doughnuts. I still dream about them.

Kraków, Poland:

Marchewka z Groszkiem
Kraków, Poland
I absolutely love this restaurant. I ordered my favorite pierogi–Ruskie–with a side of the blue cheese sauce (out of this world).
As well as strawberry and mascarpone dumplings for dessert. The owners were kind enough to let us order a couple dozen to take home with us.

Tromsø, Norway:

Bardus Bar
Tromsø, Norway
We absolutely loved this tiny restaurant in Tromsø. I ordered the mushroom and barley risotto and it was soooo good.
Plus you can’t help but love a dinner with a view of the city’s library! ❤ ❤

Kyiv, Ukraine:

O’Panas
Kyiv, Ukraine
I can’t say enough about O’Panas. Their menu is incredible–full of traditional Ukrainian food and wine–and the atmosphere is fun and comfortable. A place I can order a deruny, mushroom soup, and varenyky?! Easily my favorite dinner of 2019.
View from our table.

Best Dessert:

Suisun City, California:

It’s It Ice Cream
Suisun City, California
One of the best parts of visiting my sister in northern California is sharing an It’s It ice cream sandwich with the coolest girl in the world, my niece Caroline. Our favorite is strawberry and according to Caroline, ice cream sandwiches are appropriate for any time of the day. Best way to live life.

Pannonhalma, Hungary:

Viator
Pannonhalma, Hungary
After a long walk around the Pannonhalma grounds (in perfect weather, such a beautiful day) we stopped for a late lunch at nearby Viator. This dessert was amazing.

Szigliget, Hungary:

Villa Kabala
Szigliget, Hungary
An absolutely terrible picture, I know, but one of my favorite desserts of last year was enjoyed overlooking Lake Balaon on a date with a good friend. We ordered four (!) courses and left happy. This restaurant is an absolute gem.

Mezőlak, Hungary:

Garden & Ice Cream Shop
Mezőlak, Hungary
Only open during the summer months, this adorable shop in Mezőlak offers the best ice cream around. We spent a couple of perfect afternoons enjoying ice cream and wandering the small village.

Mindszentkálla, Hungary:

Kő fagyi?
Mindszentkálla, Hungary
Located near Balaton in the sleepy village of Mindszentkálla, Kő Fagyi? is a quaint ice cream shop with absolutely amazing flavors. The owners were previously a dress designer and software developer who sold gave up their careers in Budapest to make ice cream. I was encouraged to try a scoop of mango–which is usually my least favorite flavor–and within seconds I knew this cone would be the best I’d have all year.

Favorite Nachos:

Nachos are my all-time favorite food. While finding a decent order in Europe is tricky (so much disappointment) I managed to find a couple of awesome options this year.

Örebro, Sweden:

Mocca Deli
Örebro, Sweden
An unexpected treat in Sweden, these nachos were topped with all the best veggies.

London, England:

Maria Sabina @ Southbank Centre Winter Market
Jubilee Gardens, London, England
I know nachos don’t scream “winter food” but I couldn’t pass up the chance to order my favorite food at the winter market in London. This guac was amazing.

Tromsø, Norway:

O’Learys
Tromsø, Norway
Here’s the thing: Oumph! brand meat substitutes are the absolute best. High in protein, low in carbs and fat, the Swedish brand is my favorite. It’s always such a treat to find a restaurant that carries Oumph! and this was the first time I’ve had them as nachos (all the hearts for eyes emjois).
So amazing, I ordered them twice.

Vacaville, California:

Freebird’s World Burrito
Vacaville, California
Sorry Europe, but nachos in America are just so good. I ordered Freebird’s when I visited my sister in California last spring. My only complaint is that these nachos used Beyond Meat, (which is great!), but that they were more expensive than the steak option. Boo.
Still awesome, even at the premium price.

Sign in Cluj-Napoca, Romania

Cheers to good food in 2020! 🥂🥂

2019 Year in Review: AllThe[Travel]Things

2019 was a busy travel year for me! I was lucky enough to visit amazing new places and return to a couple of my favorite cities. As potentially my last full year abroad, I wanted to make the most of my time in Europe and I definitely accomplished that goal this year.

I tried to be as present in the moment as I could; mindfulness has always been a struggle for me–I’m always on to the next thing–but I am getting better at taking time to enjoy just being here.

My super fun murder mystery birthday party! LOOK AT THAT CARROT CAKE CHEESECAKE.

In Classic Ashlyn style, I wanted my travel post to include all my favorites: new and old places, landscapes wandered, and the best libraries I visited in 2019. I also had AMAZING experiences including traveling in Warsaw during the 75th anniversary of the Uprising, petting reindeer above the Arctic Circle, and attending a World Cup match in Paris.

Here’s a (mostly photo) overview of AllTheThings2019: travel, libraries, sports, experiences, and of course, dogs.

AllThe[NewPlace]Things:

Bran Castle, Romania:

Brașov, Romania:

Chernobyl, Ukraine:

Cluj-Napoca, Romania:

Esztergom, Hungary:

Gdańsk, Poland:

Glasgow, Scotland:

Kyiv, Ukraine:

Mindszentkálla, Hungary:

Örebro, Sweden:

Pannonhalma, Hungary:

Paris, France:

Peleș Castle, Romania:

Pripyat, Ukraine:

Stockholm, Sweden:

Stuttgart, Germany:

Tromsø, Norway:

Versailles, France:

Warsaw, Poland:

AllThe[ReturnTrip]Things:

Bratislava, Slovakia:

Hungarian Countryside:

Somló Mountain during poppy season.

Kraków, Poland:

London, England:

AllThe[Scenery]Things:

Cluj-Napoca, Romania:

Hoia-Baciu Forest

Fertorákos, Hungary:

Fertőrákosi Steinbruch (Quarry)

Gdańsk, Poland:

Westerplatte

Kraków, Poland:

Ojcow National Park

Örebro, Sweden:

Oset and Rynningeviken Nature Preserve

Stockholm, Sweden:

Rosendals Trädgård

Stuttgart, Germany:

Schlossgarten

Tromsø, Norway:

Lake Prestvannet
Folkeparken

Vallejo, California:

Blue Rock Springs Park

Warsaw, Poland:

Palace on the Isle (Pałac Łazienkowski) in Royal Baths Park

AllThe[Library]Things:

London, England:

The British Library ❤ ❤

Örebro, Sweden:

Pannonhalma, Hungary:

Archabbey Library

Stuttgart, Germany:

Tromsø, Norway:

Warsaw, Poland:

Warsaw University Library ❤ ❤
One of my favorite places in the world. Books + Rooftop garden!

AllThe[Fun]Things:

Budapest, Hungary:

Budapest Beer Week
New Years!
Buda Castle Wine Festival

Gdańsk, Poland:

St. Dominic’s Fair (held every year for the last 756 years!)
Pierogi-making class

Tromsø, Norway:

Meeting new friends at a Sami reindeer camp ❤ ❤
Hiking frozen lakes above the Arctic Circle

Versailles, France:

Wandering through the Queen’s Hamlet

Warsaw, Poland:

In Warsaw for the 75th anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising.

AllThe[Sports]Things:

Győr, Hungary:

First ever Junior World Championships!
Team Russia
Team Hungary
Team USA

Paris, France:

THE WORLD CUP I’M STILL NOT OVER THIS

Stuttgart, Germany:

Stuttgart World Cup!
Aliya Mustafina, Russia
Simone Biles, USA

Warsaw, Poland:

⚽⚽⚽

AllThe[Dog]Things ♥:

Porkchop in Budapest
Arya Tonks judging your life choices

🤍🤍🤍🤍

I’m so thankful for everything I had the opportunity to see and do last year.

Egészségedre to making 2020 all you hope it to be!

Currently:
Listening Moon: The Original Soundtrack (Clint Mansell)

Heights & Ice Cream: Esztergom, Hungary

View of the Esztergom Basilica and Castle from the Danube.

This spring a couple of friends and I traveled to the Hungarian city of Esztergom. Known for its history and beautiful architecture, we had a fun afternoon exploring the old buildings and enjoying delicious food.

From left to right: Casey, Heather, me (and ice cream ha), and Kristin. Casey and Kristin moved back to the states a little after this trip so I’m thankful to have the opportunity to spend the day with them in this beautiful place.

Esztergom is known for its Basilica, which is both the largest church and tallest building in Hungary; this last piece of information was unbeknownst to me when I enthusiastically agreed to a mid-week adventure.

Here’s the thing: my fear of heights has caused me to bail many a staircase in Europe.

Me, realizing that we are in fact climbing this thing.

While there were a couple of tricky, anxiety-inducing moments, I not only climbed the Basilica, but even completed the outdoor walkway around the dome–a huge accomplishment for me! It helps to have supportive friends encouraging you to work through your fears.

That being said, I literally never want to be that high, walking around a huge dome on a narrow, outdoor path, absolutely ever again.

Backpack club!
📷: Casey

Esztergom is a lovely city with beautiful views of the Danube. We only visited for a couple of hours–plenty of time to walk through the Basilica, castle ruins, and grab lunch– but you could definitely spend the whole day exploring this city, one of the oldest in Hungary.

Where are we?

Settlements in the area have been dated back to the end of the Ice Age (!!!), about 20,000 years ago. In 901, the Magyars conquered the Pannonian Basin and the (mostly Slavic) people who lived there. The ruling prince of the Hungarians then named Esztergom his chosen home. Esztergom Castle was built and became the only royal palace in Hungary until the Mongol siege of the city in 1241. During this time, Esztergom was the center for the Hungarian state and religion. Over time the ruling of this area changed hands, although the city remained an important place for commerce and Catholicism.

The Sites:

Basilica of Esztergom:

The Basilica is the largest church in Hungary; its dome reaches the height of 118 meters, making it the tallest building in the country.
Construction on the Basilica started in 1822 and was completed in 1869.
Hungary’s first cathedral was founded at this spot by King Stephen I, who was also crowned here around the year 1000.
View from the Danube. See that little walkway around the tallest dome? I can’t believe I completed that entire route! Believe me, the handrail is not in the most put-your-mind-at-ease-that-you-won’t-fall-off condition.
Me, mentally preparing to climb these open stairs before the dome. YIKES. We climbed a total of 360 steps to reach the top.
📷: Casey

Castle Hill:

Built on the remains of a Roman Castrum, Esztergom Castle was commissioned by Geza I of Hungary and finished in the 1070s.
View from Esztergom Castle.
Whole portions of the Castle were destroyed during the Turkish Wars.

Bakócz Chapel:

The Bakócz Chapel (built in 1507) was only partially destroyed by the Turks. It is one of the most significant Renaissance buildings in Hungary.

Basilica Entrance:

Entrance to the Basilica

Mária Valéria Bridge & Víziváros:

Víziváros (Watertown) was built on the banks of the Kis and Nagy Duna (Small and Great Danube) and includes a number of historical sites including the Christian Museum and Balassa Bálint Museum.
The Mária Valéria Bridge connects the Hungarian city of Esztergom and the Slovakian city of Štúrovo across the River Danube. Named for Archduchess Mária Valéria of Austria, the bridge originally opened in 1895 but was destroyed both in 1919 and 1944.
The bridge was not rebuilt until 2001 due to issues between the Hungarian and Czechoslovakian governments. The European Union covered half of the costs through a 10 million Euro grant as a way to assist countries preparing to join the EU.
📷 : Heather
On the bridge!
📷 : Heather and Kristin
View of the Esztergom Basilica and Castle from the Mária Valéria bridge.

Restaurants:

Esztergomi Prímási Pincerendszer:

Prímás Pince is a gorgeous restaurant and wine cellar near the Basilica. We were able to order lunch without a reservation and the menu had options for vegetarians and meat-eaters. We shared the strawberry dessert and it was delicious.

Easy Living:

I completely forgot to take pictures of our ice cream, but Easy Living is a great little shop right on the Danube and next to a beautiful park. Our ice cream server took pity on our sorry Hungarian pronunciations.
📷 : Heather

This was a lovely trip to see more of Hungary and I’m so glad we had a chance to visit before Kristin and Casey moved back the US.

View from Esztergom Castle
Backpack crew ❤
📷 : Heather

Read more about Casey’s amazing travel adventures here. Kristin’s beautiful photography portfolio can be seen on her site.
Stay tuned for the Heather and Ashlyn podcast coming soon 😉

Currently:


Reading: Shut Up You’re Pretty (Tea Mutonji)
Watching: Unbelievable (Netflix)
Listening: Buried Truths Season 2 (WABE Atlanta)

How is it already January? Anyone else feel like the winter Olympics were last month (probably just me)?

November and December have been absolutely crazy months for us. We were in six different countries (seven if you count a week in the UK during mid-October) including about a month away from home. I’m REALLY far behind on updating everyone on the amazing places we’ve been this year, along with the continuous atrociousness that is USA Gymnastics, Michigan State University, and the USOC (spoiler alert: it’s even worse if that’s possible, but I’m sure you already guessed that). 

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Because we’re in a new year and I love making lists, this post will include 2018’s #allthethings : life things, my favorite things, traveling things, food things. You know, my usual rambling.

Here’s the Thing: Sometimes Life is Good and Bad.

Like most things, 2018 was both wonderful and terrible. This year I was forced to really start to put a lot of my own experiences in perspective; a combination of the #metoo movement, Nassar victim impact statements, and constant discussion of abuse made avoiding my own history inescapable. I learned that I need to start taking my emotional and mental health more seriously rather than continue my usual tactic of ignore, ignore, ignore.

I learned that I’m not alone.

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Bratislava, Slovakia: One of the best memories of this year is streaming the Larry Nassar sentencing from my phone with a friend in a Slovakian speakeasy. A pretty perfect representation of my 2018.

This year I laughed until my stomach hurt, sat at the edge of the world, and ate an obscene amount of sweets with my coffee. I was able to see my family, my friends, and experience new places with the people I love. I had carrot cake cheesecake for my birthday, walked Prague with two of my favorite boys (Ike and Chris), won a fantasy football true crime league, and hosted more get-togethers than I can count.

Looking back, my heart is both broken and full. I’m so incredibly thankful for everything I have and accomplished this year.

There is pressure during the new year to make a fresh start. In a lot of ways a new beginning sounds great, but in a lot ways it doesn’t.  I’m in a sort of weird in-between limbo right now. And you know what? That’s fucking okay. I am striving to just be content with where I’m at rather than put pressure on myself to move too quickly (one of my intentions for 2019).

Saying Goodbye:

Ike in 2016.

Before I start my lists, I want to take a moment to speak on one the hardest months of my life. In January Ike was diagnosed with terminal cancer and given weeks to live. We were completely devastated. At only eight years old and in great health, the diagnosis came as a complete shock.

My little bandit.

Ike came from a longggggg line of Boston Terriers; we adopted his grandad Skittles when I was in middle school. He (and Porkchop) have always been such a constant in my life that letting him go was one of the absolute most difficult things I’ve ever had to do.

Thankfully the diagnosis proved to be incorrect in that the masses on his liver and pancreas weren’t in fact cancer. That news however, was coupled with the fact that the small mass in his chest (right between his lungs and heart) could prove to be fatal.

Best of brothers.

After two months of chemotherapy, I had high hopes that he could recover. Ike was a tough and stubborn dog; his abdominal masses were shrinking and he was doing great. When he started having issues breathing I hoped it might just be due to the change in the weather. Unfortunately, it wasn’t. The mass in his chest was growing. And there was nothing we could do to stop it.

Look at these babies! Ike was constantly judging everyone.

The vet told me this was a difficult way to pass away… and we would know when the end was here. We didn’t want our best boy to suffer. Even now, I can’t even talk about that day and the morning I had to make that decision, never knowing if it was right. I’m just so incredibly thankful to Chris, my friends here in Papa and far away, my family, and of course,  Porkchop and Arya.

Ike and his new sister Arya in 2017. She actually found the skin issue on the back of his neck (you can see it here in the picture too) that led to us beginning the tests.

I still expect him to grumpily come inside out of the rain or itch his face on the covers every morning. Chris still looks for him when he comes back from traveling for work. Arya and Porkchop were both really confused at first, but I think are doing better. PC really misses his little brother. We all miss this little guy.

Ike’s favorite pastime: sunning himself. On his last day with us he had all the sun.

I don’t really know how to end this except to say how heartbroken I still am. Some days are easier. Other days are really hard. If you’re reading this and are working through something difficult that happened to you this year, just know that you’re not alone. And its 100% okay to feel sad or guilty or angry or a combination of any and all the emotions. 

Best Places of 2018:

This year we saw incredible new places and had the opportunity to visit old favorites.

The Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland

Places we visited in 2018:

  • Belfast (and the coast), Northern Ireland
  • Berlin, Germany
  • Budapest, Hungary
  • Bratislava, Slovakia
  • Charleston, USA
  • Cleveland, USA
  • Dresden, Germany
  • Dublin, Ireland
  • Kethely, Hungary
  • Edinburgh, Scotland
  • Lisbon, Portugal
  • Peniche, Portugal
  • Prague, Czech Republic
  • San Francisco, USA
  • Seville, Spain
  • Vienna, Austria
  • Zagreb, Croatia

I’m extremely thankful to have the chance to visit a couple of our favorite spots with friends and family who made the leap over the ocean to spend time with us in Europe.

Fisherman’s Bastion, Budapest

Choosing my absolute favorite places is virtually impossible. Taking into account a number of factors, here are my picks for 2018 (in no particular order):

Coast of Northern Ireland
Christmas in Zagreb
Seville, Spain
Edinburgh, Scotland

Honorable mentions go to Budapest because of so many reasons, but specifically the Budapest Beer Week that was absolutely awesome.

Favorite Concerts of 2018:

This year was THE year of shows for us. We saw a ton of our usual musicians (Pokey LaFarge) and a couple of new ones (FINALLY Flight of the Conchords went on tour). Here’s a list of everyone we saw live in 2018:

  • A Perfect Circle
  • Flight of the Conchords
  • Franz Ferdinand
  • Pokey LaFarge and the South City Three
  • They Might be Giants
  • Jack White

My favorite shows of 2018:

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Middle school Ashlyn was absolutely ecstatic to see Franz Ferdinand. They were great–full of energy and fun–and sold out a huge space. 100% recommend. (Prague, Czech Republic)
Flight of the Conchords at Capitol Theatre
Finally saw Flight of the Conchords in real life. (Dublin, Ireland)
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Of course Jack White is at the top of the list. He was amazing (as always) and just as incredible as when we first saw him play in 2005. (Edinburgh, Scotland)

Special shout-out to Jane Goodall, who spoke in Budapest this year. Technically not a band, but it was truly a dream come true to see her in real life.

Favorite Books of 2018:

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via Cutiosities on Etsy

This year I surpassed my goal and read 41 books! 2018 was definitely a year of nerding out both in fiction and non-fiction. I joined a couple of book clubs (one here in Papa that connects readers from all over the world, Now Read This! A NYT/NPR collaboration, and of course Emma Watson’s Our Shared Shelf). My favorites are definitely influenced by a lot of the personal struggles I had this year. Here are my top books published in 2018:

#8. Things We Haven’t Said: Sexual Violence Survivors Speak Out (Erin E. Moulton): An anthology of stories of sexual assault, Things We Haven’t Said is a powerful book on why survivors struggle with speaking out on their experiences through providing an outlet to victims who typically don’t have one.

#7. Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny (Kate Manne): A professor of philosophy at Cornell University, Manne states that misogyny is “a social and political phenomenon with psychological, structural, and institutional manifestations” that enforce gender roles that continue to influence society today. Detailing the impact of these ideas both culturally and institutionally, Manne’s book provides context on why we expect (and allow, and in some ways, forgive) actions of one group of people over another. 

#6. Heart Berries: A Memoir (Terese Marie Mailhot): Mailhot’s memoir is raw and at times difficult to read. A Native author, this beautifully written book details her life in crisis: poverty, overcoming multiple disorders, losing custody of her child, growing up with an absent mother, and life on the Seabrid Island First Nation Indian reservation in British Columbia. 

#5. A Perilous Path: Talking Race, Inequality, and the Law (Sherrilyn Ifill, Loretta Lynch, Bryan Stevenson, and Anthony C. Thompson): This slim book (128 tiny pages) is a discussion on race in America by the leading civil rights leaders in the field. Their conversation on inequality and changing culture and institutions was one of my favorites this year.

#4. Where the Crawdads Sing (Delia Owens): Owens’ first novel, Where the Crawdads Sing is a gorgeously written story of a girl growing up alone in the marshes of North Carolina. I adored not only the descriptions (it reminded me so much of Charleston) but also Kya’s story of persevering on her own and in her own way.  

#3. Educated (Tara Westover): I finished Tara Westover’s memoir in two absolutely brutal days. Educated tells the remarkable story of Westover’s life from being born (sometime, her actual date of birth is unknown) to survivalist parents.  Their mistrust of medicine and education meant that she had very little experience of the outside world. Her desire and determination to leave home for education (eventually a PhD and at the disapproval of her family) is one of the most incredible (and impressive) stories I’ve read all year.

#2. One Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression is Destroying our Democracy (Carol Anderson): Anderson discusses the implications of the 2016 election–the first in fifty years to be held without the complete protections of the Voting Rights Act–and how voter suppression systematically blocks the ability of many Americans to submit their ballots. Her work details the impact of Jim Crow and voter requirement laws implemented after the abolishment of slavery, the systematic disenfranchisement of black voters leading up to the Civil Rights Act, and the continuous suppression through various laws and redistricting today. 

#1. I’ll be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer (Michelle McNamara): My favorite book of 2018 is McNamara’s account of her obsession to help catch one the of the most horrifying rapists and murderers in United States history, the Golden State Killer (a name she coined). I’ll be Gone in the Dark is so well-written that you feel her passion and dedication to find the man who assaulted more than fifty woman and killed ten people on each page. The chilling final chapter–McNamara is speaking directly to GTK–and her prediction of how he might be caught is eerily similar to way it actually happened in reality, although she passed away unexpectedly before he was arrested.

There are also a ton of great books I read this year that were published before 2018 including Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward, Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann, Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram W. Kendi and The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. 

Favorite Brunches of 2018:

It’s no surprise that brunch is my absolute favorite meal. Here are my favorites from 2018:

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#8. Blueorange (Vienna, Austria): This everything bagel from Blueorange was one of the best breakfast sandwiches I had in 2018 (a big accomplishment considering Chris is the king of making them). Brie, honey, walnuts, and greens… what else do you need in life?
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#7. Munchy Food Truck (Zagreb, Croatia): Who says it isn’t appropriate to order a homemade waffle covered in Nutella and bananas at 10am? If you dip it in coffee, it counts as breakfast.
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#6. Holy City Brewing (Charleston, SC): It’s no secret that HCB has my favorite brunch in Charleston. My last minute visit meant I had only one Sunday for brunch and this crunchwrap was absolutely the best decision I made all summer.
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#5. Urban House (Bratislava, Slovakia): The best Bloody Mary of 2018! Look at this amazing spread. My favorite dish is their vegetarian English breakfast–the greens are the tastiest part of the meal.
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#4. Maggie May’s (Belfast, Northern Ireland): Maggie May’s has the absolute best diner food. A small, cash-only restaurant in Belfast, their menu is extensive and the food is so genuinely good.
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#3. La Jeronima (Seville, Spain): This croissant was stuffed with roasted eggplant and honey marinated tofu (I can feel the collective “ugh” from meat-eaters reading this and the “ooooh!” from my veg friends haha). This tiny cafe in Seville had such a unique menu that I wish we were able to have breakfast there every day.
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#2. Copenhagen Coffee Lab & Bakery (Lisbon, Portugal): So here’s the thing–I love a solid avocado toast and this was hands-down the best I had all year. Heather and I chose this PLUS sweets with no regrets. Not pictured is the hot ham breakfast sandwich that Chris ordered that smelled so good, Karl had to get one for himself (second breakfast for the win).
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#1. 3FE (Dublin, Ireland): Look at this scotch egg! These hash browns! In addition to their amazing menu 3FE also hosts coffee tastings and training for those interested in learning more about roasting their own blend. This tiny cafe earns my favorite brunch of 2018.

Favorite Podcasts of 2018:

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I love podcasts. Sometimes I don’t turn on our TV for what feels like weeks because (nerd alert) I’ve discovered a new show and binged all the episodes in a few days. Similar to my book choices, my favorite podcasts are heavily influenced by a lot of my personal struggles and growth this year. Here are my favorite podcasts published in 2018:

#8. Believed (National Public Radio): The goal of Believed is to answer the question so many people have asked: How did Larry Nassar get away with decades of abuse to hundreds of girls and women? Their interviews with survivors and parents can be an extremely difficult listen, but necessary if we want to learn how to change the system that allowed for this abuse to occur for so long. 

#7. Keep It! (Crooked Media): Keep It! is my weekly guilty pleasure podcast. Hosted by Ira Madison III, Kara Brown, and Louis Virtel, they hilariously discuss the intersection of pop culture and politics. Kara also has my favorite frustrated statement of 2018: “people just need to read!”

#6. Uncivil (Gimlit Media): The only reason Uncivil isn’t number one on my list is because  most of their episodes were published in 2017 and therefore didn’t qualify as a “2018” show. Discovered late this year, this was one of my binges of 2018. Each episode “ransacks America’s past” and tells an untold story related to the Civil War.

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#5. My Favorite Murder (Exactly Right): My favorite true crime podcast, MFM is hosted by Karen Kilgarariff and Georgia Hardstark. Each week they share stories of murder, cults, and hometown stories from listeners. Not only discussing true crime, Karen and Georgia are also super open about their own struggles with mental health, finding time for self-care, and sparked a million taglines including the famous “stay sexy and don’t get murdered”, “you’re in a cult, call your dad”, and my personal favorite: “can’t you see from my really thick black eyeliner that I’m no one’s mother?”

#4. R U Talkin’ REM: Re: ME? (Earwolf): As stated by Scott Aukerman, it truly is the year of R U Talkin’ REM Re: Me. Hosted by the superfan Adam Scott Aukerman (Adam Scott [Parks & Rec] and Aukerman [the hugely underrated Comedy Bang Bang!]), this podcast discusses the impact of R.E.M.’s music album by album. Their banter is hilarious and each episode is filled with smaller episodes (“Is this an episode of ‘I Love Films?'”) that Chris and I always played during our hours on the road this year. 

#3. GymCastic: The Gymnastics Podcast (Gymcastic): Definitely a niche podcast for fans of the sport, Gymcastic makes the top of my list not only because of their analysis of the sport (and mostly hilarious takes on competition, scoring, and love for the athletes) but their unrelenting dedication to discussing the Larry Nassar abuse that finally began to garner mainstream media coverage this year. Each week hosts Jessica and Spencer held MSU, USA Gymnastics, and the USOC accountable and provided an outlet to athletes and survivors. Their coverage of not just the abuse, but of the cover-up and mismanagement makes Gymcastic one of the my favorites this year. 

#2. Serial Season Three: The Cleveland Court System (This American Life): Rather than focus on one particular story (unlike seasons one and two) season three instead tells the “extraordinary stories of ordinary stories” taking place at a courthouse in Cleveland. These  largely untold narratives of people working through the complicated (and convoluted) justice system was one of the most frustrating and heartbreaking podcasts I listened to in 2018. 

#1. Scene on Radio Season Three: Men (The Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University): I loved season two (“Seeing White” featuring Dr. Chenjerai Kumanyika, host of Uncivil) so I was really looking forward to season three of Duke University’s podcast. With the goal of discussing “How did we get sexism, patriarchy, misogyny in the first place? How can we get better at seeing it, and what can we do about it?” hosts Jown Biewen and Celeste Headlee tackle a topic each week and provide feedback on how we can combat these systems. The episode “Himpathy” was the most difficult and impactful for me; it featured input from Kate Manne on not only why survivors of abuse feel sympathy for their abusers, but also how society does as well. 

Extra love to Pardon My Take and Fantasy Football Focus, which I binged throughout the entire NFL season. 

Favorite TV Shows of 2018:

This year I hardly watched any new shows (too much reading and podcasting I suppose) so my list is embarrassingly small. But here are the shows you absolutely need to watch:

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#5. Ballers Season Four: If you know me, you’re not surprised by this choice. Listen, I love the Rock. I love Rob Cordray. I love football. Is this a ridiculous show? Yes. Do I love it? Yes. Does the plot matter? Nah, not really.
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#4. Better Call Saul Season Four: One of my favorite shows continues to get better with this newest season. Bob Odenkirk and Jonathan Banks are still absolutely amazing as Saul and Mike. The return of Gus Fring (one of the best characters of Breaking Bad) makes this season binge-worthy for sure. The season finale nearly gave me a heart attack.
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#3. End of the F***ing World: Technically the show premiered in the UK in 2017, but it wasn’t picked up and added to Netflix until 2018, so it counts for me. I loved this show. Jessica Barden and Alex Lawther are superb as Alyssa and James. Their relationship is endearing, odd, and their adventure to find her birth father completely drew you into the show; the final episode was amazingly filmed. I’m so glad it was picked up for a second season.
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#2. Game of Thrones Season Seven: Finally, this year I got into GOT. I always begrudgingly sort of paid attention to the show over the years but never committed (why is everyone so dirty?) until this year. Maybe call it the revenge of Arya Stark or the undeniable affection I have for Tormund, but I’m 100% in moving forward. Better late than never.
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#1. Sharp Objects: Yep, Sharp Objects beats Game of Thrones for me. The combination of Amy Adams, Patricia Clarkson, and Eliza Scanlen gives me LIFE. Incredibly creepy and at times jarring, Sharp Objects was my favorite show of 2018. Closer was my favorite episode that also creeped me out the most.

Here’s to 2019!

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Currently Reading: My Sister, the Serial Killer (Oyinkan Braithwaite)

Currently Watching: Ozark Season 1 (Netflix)Ashlyn (2)

 

 

 

Budapest Part Deux

A part 2 of my favorite spots in Budapest/an excuse to research Hot Shots Part Deux gifs.

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One of my favorite movies as a kid.

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I can’t promise there isn’t more later.

Places:

Cake & Beer

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Via Facebook

A relatively new pub (they opened in November 2016) the name says it all. Cake & beer (and also card games). The beer was great–we tried the Ubik Eklektik Herbál IPA, Budapest–and it was really great, one of the best beers I’ve had since we moved. They also have sandwiches and coffee for the morning visitors too. We didn’t get a chance to try the coffee, but it sounded great. We also played a solid two hours of Uno and Rummy while enjoying our beers.

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Cat playing cards!

Blue Bird Cafe

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Via Facebook

Such great breakfast and lunch we had to go twice (in one weekend). Blue Bird is a cafe by day and insane karaoke by night. The cutest restaurant with amazing food, house roasted coffee, and homemade cheesecake, Blue Bird is my new favorite spot.

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I’m dying of cuteness.

I ordered the vegetarian eggs Benedict both days and Chris had Philly cheesesteak and pulled pork bagel.

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And I also ordered cheesecake….

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Via Facebook. I ordered blueberry.

Fat Mama’s

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We had Christmas lunch at Fat Mama’s and it was delicious. Chris ordered a BBQ burger (shredded beef neck) and I ordered the veg burger because we were both craving fries.

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But I really want to visit again to try this adorable/amazing breakfast menu:

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Azteca Tex Mex:

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We stopped by Azteca because it was close to our Airbnb and we were craving burritos. Really extensive menu, fast service, solid food! Plus they deliver.

Manufaktor

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An adorable shop near Blue Bird, they hand make and sell art prints, toys, puppets, and cards around the theatre theme. The art studio is home to work of Garami Richard and Ötvös; you can also buy their work online via their Etsy shop.

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Via Facebook

Budapest State Opera House:

This January we went to see Pushkin’s Evgeny Onegin performed by the Hungarian ballet at the Budapest Opera House. It was a beautiful building and great performances.

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Incapable of taking “nice” pictures.

Random Sites:

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Ashlyn inspired outdoor seating if I ever saw it.

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Calling my name.

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Old Man Status 😦

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Ashlyn (2)

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A Tourist in my New City.

Last week I went on a walking tour of my new home, Pápa. The experience was great because I not only learned a ton about the city, but was also able to meet a lot of awesome people too! One of my favorite things about my new community is getting to know people from different backgrounds and nationalities who now live here too.

I’ll start this off with a little bit of background on the area and then specifically the awesome places I was able to visit.

Where Are We?

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In this case, not the red-dot. That’s the capital. We’re in Veszprém County. The green area on the left almost the color of my bathroom in Charleston. One of the best parts of Pápa is that it sits at the foothills of the Bakony Mountains. After ten years in the flat Lowcountry, its nice to see some elevation!

Pápa and Hungary are old AF

First mentioned in 1061 (literally close to 1000 years ago), Pápa was named after a Bavarian knight who became the head of the first royal manor in Veszprém County. He earned this title after helping King Stephen I (the first King of Hungary, who also established the country) fight off his relative Koppány to keep the crown.

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King Stephen I looking dashing

During the Middle Ages Pápa was an important center for Protestantism; it was also an area for Jewish settlements as well. Hungary’s location between Europe and Russia has caused the country years of loss and hardship, particularly during the two world wars. The Hungarians first sided with the Germans during WWI and then again during most of WWII. As a country, Hungary tried to switch over to join Allied forces toward the end of the war, causing the Germans to invade after previous years of Soviet fighting. The population of the Jewish community in Pápa suffered greatly as a result, first by the Soviets and then the Germans.

I’m totally a nerd for Soviet history, particularly its effect on nationalism on occupied countries. I think I’ll have to do a separate post on all of the years between WWI-1989 because its super interesting and has a had a ton of impact on culture and society within Hungary, but I’ll spare you that for now.

After WWII, the Soviets occupied the country until its dissolution in 1989.

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The Hoff is really the symbol of the fall of the Soviet Union.

In 1999 Hungary joined NATO and in 2004, the EU. In 2007, the Pápa Air Base was selected by NATO as the Main Operating Base for the Heavy Airlift Wing, which is how Chris and I ended up here.

Pápa looks a lot like it did in the late 1700’s because it was given protective status during that time. The city has a couple of really beautiful and historic landmarks that I was able to visit and learn more about during my walking tour. Let’s get to them!

The Sights

The Great Church

img_1844Located in the center of town, the Great Church was built around 1776 and survived numerous hardships including Soviet occupation, lightening strikes, and my personal favorite: when a couple of schoolchildren attempted to burn it down at the turn of the 20th century.

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Our tour was led by the most amazing retired Hungarian Art History teacher in red suspenders of all time. One of the best parts of this tour was the fact that we got to listen to everything in Hungarian, then translated to English by our awesome translator.

The church is also the home to this guy. Definitely one of the oddest moments of my life: walking into a room and casually being introduced to a long-gone Roman martyr.

img_1846Our Hungarian host noted that it was a good thing the Soviets didn’t find him or else they would have stolen all of his jewels.

You can climb to the top of the church, which I attempted before saying fuck it at the last set of stairs. My fear of heights is only reinforced by 3 sets of wooden open-back steps that open up to the multiple floors you just climbed via a teeny-tiny stone spiral stairwell. Sorry I don’t have pictures of the city from the top of the church, but you get the idea.

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Here’s me, safely on the ground.

Pápa Water Tower

Our second stop on the tour was the city’s water tower, which honestly I was most excited to see up close. Being the sustainability nerd I am, I’m really interested in seeing how the groundwater is used and cleaned for all 30,000 inhabitants of the area.

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Again, here I am safely with my feet firmly planted in soil.

Alas, I again had to sit this climb out due to the height and stairs. I can’t concentrate on water filtering processes while having a panic attack.

Blue Dye Museum

Pápa is home to the only blue dye museum in Central Europe. Again, our tour was led by our wonderful translator who actually worked for a couple of years at the museum before becoming a translator on base.

The Blue Dye Factory was built in 1784 on the banks of the Tapolca River. The German Kluge family operated the factory until it was taken over by the communists in the 1950s. Since then its been turned into a beautiful museum.

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Blurry, but I’m working with a crappy iphone.

I’m going to quote the blue dying process (and its importance) from the website here:

In the second half of the 18th century, countries west of Hungary suffered from an overabundance of skilled laborers in the textile and dyeing industry. For this reason, individuals and entire families migrated to Hungary, thereby increasing the numbers of masters in the textile profession. Thus the ancestors of the Kluge family came to Hungary from Sorau in Saxony (Zary, Poland) bringing the new technology of textile printing with them, which was the reserve style cold indigo vat dyeing. Up until the middle of the 19th century, this kind of textile dyeing was called “Schön- und Schwarzfärber”. This also means that while the “Schönfärber” was doing “Beauty-dyeing”, cloth and linen dyeing, the “Schwarzfärber” was usually practising black dyeing.

The Eastern indigo reserve style was also appearing in the above mentioned areas at the beginning of the 18th century featuring the dyeing material, the indigo, which was providing the blue colour. Printing paste was applied to the printing which was protecting the basic white colour of the textile from turning blue. After several dips in the dye vats (küpa) and then after aeration due to the oxidation the reduced indigo began graduating the cotton and the linen clothes into blue. After dyeing the printing paste was taken off by a bath of hydrochloride-vitriolic acid and the basic white colour appeared. This blue and white colour was typical of the Eastern porcelains; therefore this new technology was called “Porcellandruck” by the dyers with the phrase “drucken auf Porcellan Art”.

So freaking gorgeous.

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Anyone else think the middle pattern on the left could be the inspiration for the killer star guys in the Metropolis level of Sonic the Hedgehog 2?

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You know what I’m talking about. The star guy on the top right about to take out Sonic and Tails.

Personal Updates: We officially moved into our house last week!

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Travel.

Whoa. I have woken up the past few days still a little shocked that we made it to Hungary all alive and in one piece. Where to start?

South Carolina – Ohio: 11.5 drive turns into a 15 hour drive. I think both Chris and I got out of the cars and collapsed in the driveway.  But I’m really glad we got to say goodbye to family.

Ohio – Maryland: Super easy 5 hour drive. Dropped the car off to be shipped (an ordeal); we finally realized that we are officially nomads that have no transportation or address.

Maryland – Austria: Probably the source of the majority of my anxiety, there was a lot stress going into that plane ride. What happens if they decide Porkchop can’t ride in the cabin with us? How will these dogs react to being on a plane? Oh shit, I forgot I’m traveling in a plane! In classic Ashlyn style, all that worry was really for nothing. Check-in was a breeze. Both dogs were approved for the cabin and all of our bags weighed around or under the 50 pounds each limit. We went through security just fine and actually got to board the plane first because of PC and Ike. Austrian gave us the bulkhead seats (much to the chagrin of the people who originally booked them, sorry not sorry). The crew was in love with the boys. Rather than putting Ike up in the overhead they let Chris put sit in the back and hold him on landing. PC was great too; he got a little antsy a couple of hours in, but literally couldn’t give a damn about the flight or the fact that he was on an airplane at all. All of the crew members came up to say goodbye to them before we got off the plane. So cute! I can’t say enough positive things about Austrian Airlines. At customs the lady just looked at our passports and sent us on our way.

After everything we went through to make sure the flight was okay with the dogs and the paperwork was completed correctly, I seriously could not have asked for a better flight, crew, or traveling day. For all the stress that went into everything, it was amazing to just actually realize hey, this is happening, we’re on our way.

Austria – Hungary: The drive from Vienna to Papa was about an hour and a half. Austria looks a lot like Germany, which makes sense. Crossing over the border, we immediately started passing a TON of sunflower fields. Seriously, so many on either side of the road! The country is pretty and (as expected) has a definite older world feeling about it.

Its day 4 and I’m still getting used to the idea that we actually are here and living in this place. Right now we’re still in a hotel and learning a ton about the city. Extra special thank you to the family and friends who helped make our travel possible! At this point I think I could write an entire guide to traveling overseas with pets and through the military. It’s a great feeling of relief to know this part is over and the new adventure can start.

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