Hungary: Budapest

Let’s be honest: I was really bad at blogging while in Hungary. My expectations were that I would have a leisurely moment with strong internet each day when I could sit down and recap the day’s events. The reality was running around Budapest like madwomen to see as much as we good in two days, dinners with new friends, lots of rich conversations at every turn, and not a lot of breathing time in between all of that.

So, instead, I’ll offer you some recaps and photos in retrospect. I’m also incredibly excited to get to revisit the experiences and photos. Today, let’s talk about Budapest. We (sister Sarah, aunt Alice and I) landed in Budapest on Thursday and were blown away by the hospitality of friends Sarah made on her previous mission trip to Prague. Ed met us at the airport and delivered us to our hotel, helping us navigate the bus system (it wasn’t complicated, but it definitely made it more pleasant for our travel-weary minds).

We checked in very quickly to our amazing hotel, the Mecure Corona on Kalvin Ter (ter = square, so Kalvin Square), freshened up and were off and running in the city.

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View of the Danube River from the top of Gellert Hill

Budapest is amazingly walkable, and everything we wanted to see was actually very close together. Ed pointed us in the right direction to help get us oriented, and then he left us to our own devices. We started by crossing the Green Bridge to the Buda side of the river and climbing Gellert Hill, which was steep but well worth the panoramic views of the city. From there, we could actually see almost every landmark we hoped to hit, and it was the perfect way to get our bearings and stretch after the long plane rides.

The sun was setting as we crossed the Green Bridge again to go back to Pest, and we spent the early evening wandering around Vaci Utca, a popular tourist shopping street. We all found some goodies to take home, including some paprika, which Hungary is known for. Before this trip, I had zero appreciation for the stuff, but after a week of paprika on everything, I’m way more interested in it. The street is your typical tourist shopping hub for the most part, but I loved that there were restaurants woven right into the lines of shops. Also, if you look hard enough, you’ll find some more local shops nestled in with some more unique souvenirs.

Dinner Thursday night was at Mindy and Ed’s apartment, literally a block from our hotel, with Pam, another SHARE conference staff member. Both Mindy and Pam are on staff with SHARE, although Pam lives in the States. This was my first real taste of the hospitality and kindness I was going to experience all week from people attending and helping with the SHARE conference.

We were all exhausted after the travel and exploring of the day, so bedtime came earlier than conversation would have preferred, but Friday was going to be a big day.

## Friday ##

After an amazing breakfast at the hotel – Europe seems to do continental breakfast at a

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Great Synagogue

higher level of quality than U.S. hotels – we started the day with a nice walk to the Great Synagogue, where we joined a tour. We got to learn about the history of the synagogue, which is the second largest in the world, from original plans and intentions through modern time. The history of it during World War II was fascinating and tragic, and there is a courtyard on the property that is actually a mass grave of 3,000 victims from the war. We could have easily spent much longer going through the museum, but we moved on so that we could see more city landmarks.

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Sarah and Alice in front of St. Stephen’s Basilica

We walked past St. Stephen’s Basilica, which would be a top priority to go inside if I get back to Budapest, but time crunch kept us walking across the river to Matyas Church, which was originally built in 1015, but then rebuilt in the 1300s. It was absolutely stunning, and I especially loved the similar but different designs on each column and each area of the church. Alice had been talking about trying to find a roof tile to take home that spoke to the red tile roofs prevalent around the city, and they actually were selling them at the church gift shop!

From there, we walked back across the river to Pest and walked past the Shoes on the Danube, a memorial to the 20,000 Jews shot on the banks of the river after being forced to remove their shoes. Their bodies fell into the river and were washed away. Visiting Budapest certainly made me more interested in World War II history, something I find any time I travel – visiting somewhere in person makes it so much more real.

We grabbed a very quick lunch, then on to Parliament, where we met Ed, Mindy and Pam for a tour of the building. The building is incredibly stunning, both inside and out, and there’s a lot of attention to detail in each door handle, every inch of handrails. The only place in Parliment that we couldn’t take photos was in the room that contained the crown jewels, which included the crown with the crooked cross on top. They don’t know how it got damaged, but it’s now become a symbol of Hungary and can be seen in the Hungarian coat of arms.

After so much walking already, it was a relief to hop on the metro and ride to Heroes’ Square for dinner at Gundel, which Alice had heard about from a client who had visited Hungary. The restaurant was beautiful, and we got to just relax so completely with amazing 5-star service, delicious food, and live music.

## Saturday ##

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Gellert Baths foyer

Saturday morning dawned cold and bright, but with only the morning to explore, we were out the door fast and heading to the Gellert Baths for a well-deserved soak in the thermal waters. It was quite an experience, and I truly enjoyed every minute of it. Each of the hot baths has a temperature listed with a recommended time to spend. We spent 20 minutes in one, and then 5 minutes in an even hotter bath, and by the time we were done, my legs and shoulders were completely relaxed after two intense days of walking.

From the Gellert, we went to the Great Market, a three-level indoor market right by the Danube River and Green Bridge. While much of it certainly catered to tourists, there was also fresh meat, fruit and vegetables, and a lot of Hungarian-specific products like all the paprika you could want.

We did a little shopping, then back to Ed and Mindy’s apartment to meet up with Mindy and Pam to head to Siofok.

##

Two days in Budapest was not nearly enough, but it was an amazing experience to do the whirlwind version of the city tour. I would go back in a heartbeat, and I can’t wait to potentially have that opportunity sometime in the future!

Things that really helped:

  • Having a city map. My Top 10 Budapest (DK Eyewitness Travel) book was a great resource of information about the things we were seeing and a map of the city.
  • It’s so walkable. We took the metro to Heroes’ Square, but other than that, take good walking shoes and weather-appropriate clothing, and you can get anywhere you want. The bonus to walking is you really see the city piece by piece and can see all the little details like street signs and manhole covers in all different designs.
  • Hungarian is optional in Budapest. We didn’t have any trouble getting around with basically no Hungarian, and everyone we asked for directions was more than happy to help. It seems like a city that welcomes tourists.
  • Our hotel was really close to a lot of things. We didn’t really know if we would like where our hotel was – it was hard to comprehend scale on the Google map when we booked it – but Kalvin Square was really perfect for what we wanted to do. In five minutes, we could walk to multiple high-priority destinations, and 30 minutes would take you most of the places we wanted to see.
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Hungary 2019: Impact

As clean clothes dwindle, I can’t believe more than half of this trip has sped by.

I’ve connected with at least seven families this week, about 10% of the families attending the SHARE conference, which is a strange amount of work compared to my normal life. Normally, seven would be ridiculously small, but here, each conversation is unique and nuanced. Sometimes I have a lot to contribute, while other times I look around wishing I had a “real expert” to answer questions.

My work this week focuses around helping families who have questions about their children attending college in the U.S. This should be simple, but it’s not. Some families have questions about the finances specifically (Did we do enough? What else can our child do to get financial assistance?) and others don’t know where to start (How has college changed since I attended? Where do we even begin to process this huge transition?). Complicating factors, many children are moving around the world to start college while their families continue to serve overseas.

How do you start to offer peace and hope to these families? They give so much of themselves to their work; will the tiny amount I give this week really make a difference?

Thinking about it in percentages – 10% of the families here wanted to talk to me so far! – gives me evidence that I am making a difference. And a few of those will take the information I give them and pass it along to other families in the field.

Each morning, I get up, shower, get ready, and head downstairs to a gloriously vast breakfast. This morning: French toast with Nutella, fresh fruit, sausage, eggs with cheese, yogurt with musil, hot chocolate and apple juice. A little bit of each means a lovely sampling.

After breakfast, I sit near the main conference room entrance and work on emails, greet people I know and always try to meet at least one new person. You never know who might have met someone else who has questions!

After the children and teens have gone to their programs, worship and devotional time starts. The music (actually from a church in Midland, Texas!) is phenomenal and uplifting, and the pastor who leads the devotional each day is inspiring in how he speaks to the group and asks us to think and do the hard work during this week of rest. (Today, what is the set up of failure? As he worked through those signs with a biblical framework, I felt like I could have been sitting in a top-level leadership conference or in my home church. I took notes like I was in class, sent photos of quotes as Snapchats to some of my coworkers and can’t wait to go again tomorrow!)

Now, back in the hotel lobby, I send emails to anyone who has requested information (today, to a mother working through some big decisions as her oldest son starts high school). The main speaker session is in full swing, but this quiet time for me has become invaluable to collect my thoughts and hydrate.

There is one break out workshop before lunch each day, followed by a wide array lunch buffet in the hotel. This is a time to meet with families and network over food. After lunch, two workshop sessions, then free time and dinner on our own before an early (ie: normal for me) bedtime to get up and do it all again in the morning.

The connections I see building here and the work accomplished in just this week is mind blowing. These families need these resources – testing, evaluations, consultations, nurturing, love, connection, ideas, brainstorming, commiseration… from practical to-do list items to the rest and recuperation associated with time away from your office – no matter what that “office” looks like – is what the SHARE conference is about.

Thank you for reading and joining me for this journey. Knowing that so many people are cheering me on from the States gives me energy. More to follow as the week continues!

Hungary 2019: Intentionality

After such good promises to blog every day, I’ve severely fallen off the wagon for this first part of the trip. But, given a little bit of down time today, the first day of the SHARE conference, I wanted to at least acknowledge to the world that I’m here and not completely ignoring that promise.

{Before continuing to read, if you’re like me, pull up a Google map of Hungary and definitely search for all the things I mention! I’m such a visual learning, I wish I could include little maps of everything!}

I’m writing this from a lovely hotel in Siofok, which is a resort town on Lake Balaton, a huge freshwater lake and very popular location during the summer. In the winter and early spring, it’s a very quiet town. There are a few restaurants and shops open this time of year, but mostly it feels like we’ve taken over the town with people from around thw world.

On Saturday, we took the train from Budapest to Siofok and spent Saturday afternoon and yesterday (Sunday) getting settled as volunteers at the conference, finding our way around the hotel, and drinking a lot of coffee. Some of you might not know, but after years of drinking coffee almost every day, I gave it up right before Christmas cold turkey. Apparently, I’m doing my best to drink 2 months worth of coffee in the 10 days I’m in Europe!

From Thursday until mid-day on Saturday, Sarah, Alice and I did the whirlwind version of Budapest, walking many miles each day and getting to as many of the sites as we possibly could in a short 48 hours.

There’s so much to share from those two wonderful days, but the attention to detail in the old buildings and the blend of old and modern are what stuck out to me most in the city. The people we met were so kind and gracious with helping us find our way around. The city is incredibly easy to navigate and walkable – we only took the Metro to one restaurant near Heroes’ Square, which was too far to walk from our hotel at Kalvin Square. I’ll likely go back and write more about those two days, but during this coffee break, I wanted to just pop in and say a quick hi from the other side of the world.

This morning during devotional time, there was a strong message of resting and replenishing. This week, even though I’m busy with taking photos, answering parent questions and trying to bring positivity to those who give deeply every day, I’m also making a point to take time each day for my own reflection and rejuvenation. We can’t give from empty cups. That is a lesson I’ve learned over and over, especially in the last year or so.

As you start your day, wherever you are and whatever time of day you’re reading, take a moment right now to take a couple deep breaths and bring awareness to this moment. How are you? Where is your energy? What are you thinking about? Now… what do you wish you were thinking about and focusing on? What can you do in the next five minutes to bring a little more intentionality and focus to your day?

 

Hungary: Single Digit Countdown

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Just four more sunsets before we leave!

In four days, Sarah, our aunt Alice, and I will fly to Budapest for 10 days of travel, fun, learning and exploring.

This weekend, the trip feels very imminent. The trip is almost completely funded by the generosity of people in our tribe who believe in what we’re doing, and that blows me away. It also confirms so much of what I wrote in my last blog about the trip.

Last weekend, I stopped by the airport to pick up a friend, and driving up to the terminal hit me like a load of bricks. On Wednesday, I’ll be dragging a suitcase up to the check in counter, presenting my passport and boarding a plane. Suddenly, I felt anxious to get the last details sorted in preparation to leave for a week and a half.

This weekend, I’m spending a lot of time organizing life, finalizing resources to share with families in need of information on college, and getting details sorted out about the exact when and where of how things will come together.

While this particular post feels scattered and haphazard, it’s an accurate representation of what’s happening in my head. It flips between making a grocery list for the next few days and then wondering if I packed my dog enough food. I’m diligently staying caught up on my full-time job each day to ensure a peaceful departure and simultaneously making a long list of things I need to deal with when I return from the trip.

And at the core, I trust that everything will come together at the eleventh hour.

Escape To The Mountains

img_5213_editedLast weekend, I took my first hike of 2019. On a whim, I decided to take advantage of a moderately warm day and drive out for a day trip with my dog, Flynn. I needed some time in nature, some quiet and solitude, some space with my own thoughts. I needed to move my body in a challenging way and see what emotions came up. I needed a break from the normal places I go and see.

Davis Mountains State Park is one of my favorite places to get outside in West Texas. It’s close enough to make it a day trip, the staff is always amazingly friendly, and the trails are great for beginner to intermediate hiking level.

For this particular day, I decided to take on the challenge of hiking to highest point of the park. In total, it was about 8.6 miles, including a decent elevation gain and some great views.

Sure, driving for a total of 6 hours to hike for 4 doesn’t make a lot of sense to everyone, img_5250_editedbut here’s what I know:

  • Getting on the trail centers me for the week ahead.
  • Being in nature decreases stress, keeps me grounded, and reminds me of the good things about living in such a remote area of the country.
  • Hiking keeps me healthy, and it motivates me to stay healthy during the week so I can hike again next weekend.
  • Flynn loves being on trail, and a tired dog is a happy dog. He spends so much of his life waiting for me to come home from work… we should do more things that are fun for both of us.
  • Supporting our public lands through our dollars and footsteps ensures they will still be here 10 or 20 or 50 or 500 years from now.

So I’ll keep hitting the trail every chance I get for as long as my body allows me.

Countdown To Hungary

img_5187One month from today, I’ll get on a plane and fly farther away than I have ever traveled to help families I’ve never met and explore a country where I know about three words. Although not much has happened in the way of preparation lately, the trip seems quite imminent this week. I chalk it up to work finally slowing down enough that I can breathe and think about anything other than the new semester starting, but suddenly, it feels like I’ll be leaving any day.

There is so much more to do to prepare, but as I reflect on where I am right now, a few things stick out.

Lesson 1: It takes a village.

While at the SHARE conference, I’ll be meeting one-on-one with parents who have questions or concerns about the college experience in the U.S., so this week I started a Google Doc with a bunch of resources, steps and considerations I suspect might come up in those conversations. While it was fun to explore different resources and find some things that I hadn’t known about before, it was even more fulfilling to connect with colleagues around campus and get their input for what I should share with these families.

While there’s a lot about going to college that I could easily spout off, there’s also a lot I don’t know. The admissions process is like a mysterious second cousin to my advising world. I know where students should go, but how does that process actually work, especially for students with potentially unique high school experiences? Go to the government website to fill out FAFSA… but what resources can I hand to students so that the process is more clear? There is too much knowledge to be stored in one head. It takes a lot of us to keep this boat afloat.

Lesson 2: We are not meant to do this alone.

I can, and prefer to, do a lot of things in my life alone. An extreme introvert, I crave my quiet time, and I need space for reflection and solitude.

But humans are not meant to do things in solitude. Community and the connections it brings are what keeps people moving forward, personally and collectively. That’s why this is a conference, a gathering from all reaches of the globe. That’s why we gather on the weekends to nurture our spiritual health. Community is why we gather.

Lesson 3: You are perfect for who you need to be today; you are completely inadequate for who you need to be a year from now.

The other night, I was talking with a dear friend, and this interview with Ed Mylett came to mind in so many ways in our conversation. Please, take the time to watch it. We are all perfect exactly how we are for who we need to be today. But we all need to find a better version of ourselves for who we need to be a year from now.

I’m perfect for who I need to be in this moment, but I’m completely inadequate for who I need to be a month from now when I get on that plane. There’s work to be done.

Lesson 4: Dressing professionally in cold weather is beyond my proximal development.

Sounds silly, but it’s so true. I’ve lived in temperate climates for my entire professional career. Even in Virginia, where snow was plentiful, it melted quickly and rarely stayed below freezing for a whole day. Now I’m facing more than a week of temperatures probably not above 32 degrees, and I have very little reference for what one should wear in such a climate. Pre-packing this weekend will show if the boots and pants I recently bought will provide enough options to make it through the trip.


If you’ve been to Hungary and have any advice, I’d love to hear it!

Ways Stay in Touch:

  1. Blogging here leading up to and during the conference.
  2. Instagram @meganunedited (beware the ridiculous number of dog photos I post)
  3. Email me at megan_brincks@hotmail.com for information on how to help sponsor me and my sister’s trip.

2018 Recap: Top Books

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You can’t go wrong with any book in this photo.

One of my goals for 2018 was to read one fiction and one non-fiction book each month. I set this goal because I love to read, but 2017 found me watching a lot more Netflix instead of picking up a book. So my list of books to read kept getting longer while I got more bored with mindless TV. The books I counted toward this project were new to me – I didn’t count books I had read before.

Thanks to Goodreads, I have an easily accessible list of everything I read this year, so I thought it would be fun to share some of my favorites… and maybe not-so-favorites.

Fiction

  • A Man Called Ove: I struggle to find fiction that I love, so this was an amazing early read for the year and set the bar high. The story revolves around a man who has given up on life, but a cat and some really annoying neighbors start to engage him back in the real world. It’s an absolute masterpiece in story telling with a perfect backstory reveal and great balance of funny and serious.
  • The Night Circus: How had I not read this book before? An amazing fantasy, you can see everything that happens in the book as you read.
  • No-No Boy: Set after the conclusion of World War II, this book follows a young Japanese-American man who refused to fight for the United States in the war. Not light, but an important book about identity in America. As relevant today as it was then.
  • Artemis: From the author of The Martian, Artemis is a must read! I read the whole thing in a weekend, and I loved the characters, most of which live on the moon, and the realistic feeling of logistics throughout the book. This is not Harry Potter and the Moon Adventure. No magic, just a lot of science.
  • Learning to Fall: For my horse friends, this one needs to be on your list. I struggle so much with equestrian-related fiction, but this one captured me and kept me for the whole book, wasn’t too corny, and had some actual twists and turns that were pleasantly unexpected.

Non-Fiction

  • A Stranger in the Woods: A journalist tells the story of a man who lived alone in the woods of Maine for 27 years. Even in the winter. It is fascinating, and the perfect read if you’ve ever thought about giving freedom to your introvert soul and running away to the wilderness. Fascinating, well told, heartbreaking, funny… all the elements.
  • At Home in the World: Memoir of a woman who traveled the world with her family, including two small children for about a year. Really well told, lots of travel envy, and a great audio book listen.
  • How to Be Here: This was one of the first books I read in 2018, and, frankly, I need to read it again! My take away: read it. Then read it again.
  • Worth It: Money is not scary. How the stories we tell ourselves about money, especially as women, stop us from flourishing financially and how to take steps in the right direction.
  • High Performance Habits: If I have to recommend you read one and only one book from this list, this might be it. This book sat on my shelf for months after I bought, I think because I intuitively knew it was going to be a lot of hard work and also change my life, and I was afraid of being told some hard truths. Yes, yes, and yes. However, if you need a kick in the butt to level up your life, this book will tell you exactly how to do it. The author is honest that these changes are not easy, but there were so many moments through the whole book that had me staring wide-eyed at the page wondering if he had been spying on my brain while I sleep. If you want a taste of Brendon Burchard, I also recommend his podcast, The Brendon Show, which includes the book in audio format for season 4. However… buy the book so you can take notes in it! Trust me, it’s one you’ll want to refer back to.
  • Off Balance: Worthy of this list. I listened to this book on audio, and I’m interested in reading it again as a hard copy to maybe make notes as I read. Summary: work-life balance is a lie; aim for work-life satisfaction.

Skip ‘Em

I’m really happy to say that there weren’t too many books that I genuinely disliked. I’m not referencing the “it was fine” books I read because so much comes down to preference, style, and just what you’re in the mood for on that day. But there were two books I read that I genuinely would not recommend to anyone. #sorrynotsorry

  • Eligible: Maybe if you’re a die hard Jane Austen fan, you’ll enjoy this retelling of Pride and Prejudice. I found it very long and tedious. The person who gave it to me is no longer allowed to give me books that she was “just okay” with.
  • The Girl on the Train: I know, blasphemy! There were aspects to this book I really enjoyed, but there wasn’t a single character I actually liked. They were all kinda shitty in their own ways.

As always, the opinions shared here are mine. Take them or leave them.

What’s on your reading list for 2019? Are there any books you’ve read recently that you just couldn’t put down? I’d love to hear from you! Comment below, or find me on Instagram @meganunedited