Search This Blog

Thursday, December 30, 2010

The days seem to be blending together.

8:52 pm CET

I think I've watched more movies in these past two weeks than a normal person would watch in half a year. It gets a bit boring, yes, but I find I'm so very tired lately... maybe it's all the travel or the relative lack of sleep; I just wish I had the motivation and energy to go out. It would certainly help if it weren't so damn cold outside, too.

Tomorrow should be interesting, though. We'll just have to see how crazy it gets!

Sidenote: I've been on a Harry Potter binge recently, and I don't think I could be more excited for Deathly Hallows, pt II. But screw Harry fighting Voldemort; I can't wait to see Molly Weasley beat the shit out of Bellatrix Lestrange. It's going to be one of the most epic and satisfying moments in good-versus-evil history. One for the books. Seriously. So excited.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

I amar prestar aen...

5:42 pm CET

Why, yes; I am having an extended Lord of the Rings marathon today! Nearly twelve hours of pure fantasy goodness. Two down and one to go... nothing to beat it!

This has been my whole day and I have no regrets. None whatsoever. It is so very wonderful spending a day immersed in brilliant films. Definitely better than trying to brave today's snow and bitter cold, that's for sure.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Boldog karácsonyt!

3:05 pm CET

Yesterday Matt, a Hungarian guy we don't know, and I--apparently being the only people in the Collegium without places to be for Christmas--were moved to another dorm down the street so our dorm's staff could go home for the holiday. I packed up enough for a few days and bought some food to last, as well, and then we walked the short distance to our home for the weekend.

It's a nice place, but more like a hotel than a dorm, if you ask me. The rooms are big enough for one person, but there are three beds in the room. I can't imagine how cramped it would be if three people had to live in here... that would be terrible. We're on the fifth floor and the view is amazing! I can see my own dorm and everything beyond it and, if I go to the other side of the building, I can see across the river into Pest. It's pretty cool; I know I wouldn't mind waking up to that every day.

So yesterday all I did was watch movies and play games and it's looking about the same for today. It's all rainy outside and my desire for chinese food is not great enough to make me go out and find some, so I guess I'll just enjoy some more movies and pretend that I fulfilled my Jewish Christmas obligation.

Anyway, Merry Christmas to everyone who is celebrating. Hopefully your weather isn't as grey as it is here. But maybe that's even more of an excuse to eat, drink, and be merry? Meh. Maybe, haha.

Monday, December 20, 2010

"There's nothing half so pleasant as coming home again."

9:37 pm Central European Time (CET)

I am so happy to be back in Budapest. Travelling for nearly two weeks straight has taken its toll, and I am more than relieved that I now have time to sleep all day and be blissfully idle.

Yesterday, my last day in Athens, I mostly sat around and got some rest. I knew I wouldn't be sleeping during the night, since I had another early flight the next morning, so I opted to snooze during the day. I did, however, go out for an hour or two to take a walk. I went to the Olympic Stadium from the first contemporary Olympic Games in 1896, which was pretty cool. It's a fully restored ancient stadium made entirely of white marble; it was once used for the Panathenaic games to honour Athena way back when. From the stadium I walked across the street and through the National Gardens (parts of which were kind of sketchy, to be honest) till I ended up at the Zappeion, a convention center-like building in the center of the park. There was a Christmas fair being held on its grounds, and I walked around a bit more before heading back toward the hostel. I bought some food for later and went straight to sleep; I was more exhausted than I thought I was, I guess.

Once I woke up, I tried to pass the several remaining hours before my flight by watching movies. Two movies later and I still had a long ways to go, so I gave up, checked out, and got a cab to the airport. I didn't sleep there, either, but at least I didn't have to worry anymore about being on time. The flights themselves were fine; I just hate all the waiting and waiting and waiting that one is forced to endure in airports. But now I'm here again and I couldn't be happier. The sky was clear and there were icy patches on the Danube; it couldn't have been a better welcome home!

Now that I'm back, all I've done is sleep and mess around online. Tomorrow is looking to be the exact same and, frankly, I wouldn't have it any other way. I need a break from moving about all the time, that's for sure.

And a sidenote: if I hear another smooth jazz rendition of Sleigh Ride ever again, I might have to kill someone. Just something to keep in mind for the future.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The best laid schemes of mice and men go oft awry.

8:35 pm EET

Well, Cape Sounion plans ended up not working out after all. It would have been really cool to see the Temple of Poseidon against the epic backdrop of the Sea, but I guess that'll just have to wait for another time. It gives me an excuse to come back someday (not that I need one, of course).

I slept in late and enjoyed staying in bed for most of the morning. I rushed out to the meeting place for the last two tours I've been on this week, but after half an hour and still no bus, I let my impatience take over and I decided to wander around the neighbourhood. I bought a t-shirt (it says "THIS IS SPARTA" on it and I have no shame whatsoever) and went to a nice little restaurant for lunch. I ordered some delicious Greek specialties--stuffed grape leaves (incredible) and some lamb meatballs (exceptional). I may just go back tomorrow for my last meal in Greece... goodness knows the food alone is worth it.

Following lunch and a cup of coffee, I bought some fresh spinach and cheese pie to reheat for dinner and then returned to the hostel for the day. Turns out one of the new girls in my room is from K's Rome program! Small world, eh? It's funny how we all end up in the same places. Like remember the wannabe archaeologist old guy I mentioned earlier from the Mycenae trip? Well I saw him in Delphi and on the Acropolis (wearing the same ridiculous getup). Small world, indeed.

Tomorrow I'll walk to the Panathenaic Stadium, the fully restored ancient stadium where the first modern Olympic Games were held in 1896. After that... I'll probably just go to a café and laze around before coming back and relaxing in the hostel. I think I'm ready to be back in my bed in Budapest... it's been a long two weeks and I'm definitely looking forward to being in a city I know again. I've missed it!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Ascending the Acropolis.

8:53 pm EET

Yesterday was fairly uneventful. I walked to the Olympieion (the Temple of Zeus) across the major street near the hostel and wandered around there a bit, but quickly the chill and my cold got to me and I decided to go back and rest. I bought some medicine at a pharmacy and got some snacks for later, and then I returned to the hostel where I slept for the rest of the day.

Today I woke feeling a lot better. I slept in a bit (which was wonderful) and left around ten. I walked the few minutes to the base of the Acropolis and started my climb upward. I took my time, deciding to take it slow and steady, paying attention to the other ruins that line the road to the peak, such as the Odeon of Herodes, the Stoa of Eumenes, and the Theatre of Dionysus, rather than just making a straight shot to the top. I'm glad I did, too, because otherwise I would have missed some beautiful relics. The theatre was like the other two I saw in Epidaurus and Delphi, albeit somewhat more affected by time. The Odeon (another theatre), however, was mostly restored and looked ready for a performance. As mixed as my feelings are about restoration using modern materials, I think that the Odeon really does look lovely. Hopefully the restoration of the Parthenon will meet a similar fate, and it won't look like a patchwork of ancient and newly-cut stones fused together.

When I made it to the top of the Acropolis, I was met with a wonderfully mind-blowing sight. The entrance to the temple complex, the Propylaea, is enormous and beautiful. Beside it is a small temple dedicated to Nike, the goddess of victory, who always accompanied Athena. Both the Propylaea and the Temple of Athena Nike are being restored, but neither are quite finished yet. Anyway, after gaping at the Propylaea for a significant amount of time, I continued on toward the Parthenon. As a lover of mythology (and Athena being my favourite of the Greek pantheon), I felt I owed this towering place a certain reverence greater than the respect I already possess toward the structures of ancient Greece. Though I knew how much the temple has suffered since its construction more than two thousand years ago, I was immensely saddened by the its state; after countless raids and careless attacks, it is lacking much of its former glory. The glorious statue of Athena that once graced the inner sanctuary is long gone, and the decorations from the east and west pediments have also been almost completely destroyed. Compared to some of the other temples I've seen, though, the Parthenon is in good shape for its age. Its original beauty is easily reconstructed in one's mind, and, all things considered, some of that beauty and a different kind of otherworldly splendor exists still in its ever so slightly asymmetrical pillars.

Once I had sufficiently geeked out on the Acropolis, I made my way down to the Agora. I had hoped to find the Tower of the Winds in the Roman Forum within the Agora, but I couldn't locate it... maybe I'll go back tomorrow or Sunday to look for it. I walked a little through the site and exited on the other side into a very busy avenue filled with shops, street vendors, and restaurants. I walked all the way back around to the Plaka neighbourhood near my hostel and grabbed some lunch before heading over to the New Acropolis Museum. I was completely blown away; the museum is built on top of an archaeological site and the floors are glass so you can see through to the ancient buildings below, which scientists are excavating from time to time. The Museum is amazing! Within its walls are several artifacts recovered from the Acropolis temples; there are friezes and statues and bits and pieces from bronze shields and spears and sculptures. There are massive statues of dieties and mortals alike, and part of the The Porch of the Caryatids, all of which are absolutely gorgeous. The most impressive piece they have (I think, at least) is the relief known as the Pensive or Mourning Athena. It depicts Athena at what seems to be a gravestone, leaning on her spear and looking thoughtful and tired. I have seen it several times in books, but seeing it in person was incredible; it is one of the most well-known pieces of ancient Greek art, as it is one of the first to use emotion as its main focus, rather than an action. Seeing it made me exceptionally happy, and it was an even better find because I had forgotten that it was housed here in the New Acropolis Museum.

When I had finished the rounds in the Museum, I bought some more food for later and returned to the hostel where I have been hanging around since, chatting with a bunch of people who are also staying here. I've made friends (sort of) with a young psychologist from Uruguay, a crazy (but very entertaining) grad student from Buffalo, a Mexican student on holiday, an Australian taking a year off, and a kind of crude guy from London. They're all rather strange, and it's definitely interesting talking to them and sharing experiences.

Tomorrow I'm supposed to be going on a tour to the Temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounion, so hopefully it works out and the weather will be nice (or, at least, nicer than the cold and cloudy the last couple days have been). It's starting to feel like Budapest here!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Delphi (Δελφοί), old and new.

9:38 pm EET

Today was yet one more long day on the road. I took another day tour (with the same company), but to Delphi this time. The two state representatives (Kenny and Jay) from yesterday were on this tour, too, so it was good to see some familiar faces.

We drove for a couple hours before stopping at a café in a small town near Thebes (so many Oedipus jokes; holy crap) where I got some coffee and a couple pieces of baklava for later. We continued onward in the rain, hoping that it would clear before we got to Delphi. The rain stopped, but then the fog rolled in; driving through the mountains toward Mount Parnassus (I was thoroughly excited; so much mythology surrounds the mountain!!) was absolutely terrifying--I could barely see the road in front of the bus!

When we finally arrived, we got our tickets for the museum and archaeological site and went off to explore. The location itself high in the mountains was beautiful enough, but coupling that with the aura of history that permeates the site was almost overwhelming. The remnants of the Treasury of the Athenians, the Temple of Apollo, and the amphitheatre were gorgeous, and it was incredible to think that everyone from common, everyday pilgrims to the most powerful of kings came to this very place to consult the Oracle (or, "virgin tripping on ethylene and bay leaves babbling complete and utter nonsense").

After hanging around the ruins for a while, we moved on to the Delphi museum. All of the statues and relics discovered at the site are kept at the museum. The stuff they had was amazing! Most of what the tour guide was describing I already knew, but actually seeing the sculptures and friezes that I'd only before seen in books was an awesome experience.

From the museum we drove into the modern mountain town of Delphi for lunch at a hotel for skiers visiting Mount Parnassus. It seemed as though no one else was there; the only people in the dining room was our tour group. Lunch was good; pretty much the same as what we had on the tour yesterday. I sat with Kenny and Jay and we had a nice time chatting over lunch. Once we'd finished, we drove to the tiny town of Arachova in the mountains to do a little shopping. I bought a rather inexpensive woven bag with the Parthenon on it (I needed a small bag, haha); the shop owner said that it was locally made, so I'm happy.

Driving back wasn't so bad. It didn't take nearly as long as the trip yesterday, but that's because most of the traffic was gone or managed. I've had dinner and eaten my baklava (so delicious!!) and now I'm just hanging out in the hostel's kitchen/social room watching a movie. I still feel awful, but not as bad as yesterday or this afternoon. I certainly hope I'll feel better tomorrow... at least I get to sleep in for the first time in days. I don't really have a plan for tomorrow, but I'm thinking the Temple of Zeus (it's right across the street) and taking a walk around Syntagma Square. But plans can change, of course. If it rains again, maybe I'll just spend a day inside recuperating! There's nothing wrong with taking a day off to sleep all day... right?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Epidaurus, Mycenae, and Nafplion.

8:41 EET
I barely slept last night and, now that I’ve gotten very little sleep this week, I have a terrible cold. I can’t stop sniffing and I can’t really breathe. I feel like shit, which is awful in and of itself, regardless of the fact that I’m on vacation.
Despite my miserable cold, I still had a lot of fun today. I went on a day tour to Epidaurus and Mycenae, with a quick stop in Nafplion. It was so awesome! Once we escaped the traffic of the city, we drove past the sea and tall mountains; it was all gorgeous. Our first stop, however, was at the Corinth Canal. It was incredible! The tour guide (Joy, I think her name was) told us that it was built by the same company that built the Suez Canal over a hundred years ago, and that they used the original Roman construction plans from Nero's construction workers. How cool is that?
After seeing the canal and grabbing a quick breakfast, we kept driving till we reached Epidaurus. It’s a pretty big excavation site on a mountainside that was a temple complex dedicated to the god of medicine, Asclepius. They’re still restoring the baths and the hospital (aka a hallucinogen-inducing basement), but the amphitheatre has been nearly completely preserved. It was so amazing; we tested the acoustics and they were amazing, too. It’s a wonder that they were able to harness such amplification technology just through architecture alone. Sitting at the very top row one could hear everything! On the way through the ruins, I chatted with some of the other tour-goers: I mostly spoke with a father-mother-daughter trio from Atlanta and two state representatives (older Kenny from Missouri and younger Jay from Ohio). There was also an old guy dressed up in what seemed (to me) to be stereotypical excavation attire (cargo vest and Indy-like hat included)... I think he was a wannabe archaeologist; he kept taking notes and he had an "Ancient Greeks for Dummies" book. It was pretty entertaining.
From Epidaurus we continued to Mycenae and went to the crumbling fortress and palace on the hill. I started geeking out as soon as I saw the Lion Gate; it was just as incredible as I thought it would be. It was definitely cool to imagine what it would have been like in its glory days, though, and the location is absolutely beautiful. I was just fascinated by the fact that (assuming they were real), King Agamemnon and his wife Clytemnestra walked in the same steps. I was thoroughly taken by the history of the place, to say the least.
We left Mycenae and drove a little down the hill to another site, the tomb of Atreus, Agamemnon’s father. It was simultaneously creepy and mind-bogglingly interesting; the light only entered the tomb through a rectangular door and a small triangle above it, so the rest of the structure was cast in shadows. After hanging around the tomb for a little while, we left and went a short ways to a really nice hotel (that seemed strangely in the middle of nowhere) for a delicious Greek lunch. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten spanakopita (spinach pie) that tasty before…
By this time it was around 4:00 and thus time to return to Athens. We made one last stop in Nafplion to grab some photos of the three fortresses (one of which was on an island in the sea!) near the harbour. We quickly took pictures and then hopped back on the bus for the hour and half ride back to the city. The traffic was once again a nightmare, but I finally made it back to the hostel. Before going in, though, I walked around a street in the Plaka, an old neighbourhood filled with shops and tiny cafés at the base of the Acropolis. I got my first glimpse of the Parthenon, and it was breathtakingly beautiful all lit up in the night.
Delphi tomorrow! SO EXCITED.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Welcome to Αθήνα!

8:00 pm Eastern European Time (EET)

Today was certainly a whirlwind of insanity, to say the very least. Being up for more than twenty-four hours is not my definition of fun, and it never fails to turn me into a bundle of nerves and negative emotions.

The entire night was spent with SarahJean in the airport watching movies and hanging around. When it came time to check in for my flight, I was grilled by this Israeli security guy. It was going fine until he asked me how long I'd been in Israel. He seemed shocked when I said five days; so shocked, in fact, that he had to call another security guy over to interrogate me about my apparent lack of clothing. Because packing light and not particularly caring to check the weather forecast raises a gigantic red flag. At least, it does to these guys. And, to make matters worse, as the second security guy is flinging inane questions at me, I'm shifting my weight because I'm 1.) pissed off, 2.) impatient, and 3.) absolutely terrified. He stops in the middle of his question and says "are you nervous? Why are you nervous?" Why the hell do you think?!

Following that security disaster, check-in was a complete and total joke. It took 45 minutes; nearly every single person in line before me had a million bags to check in, and I was lucky to make it to the gate in time. Even before I could get to the gate, I had to go through security twice more. I mean, I understand that Israeli security is always on high alert, but this felt like a bit much.

The flight itself from Tel Aviv to Rome was awful, too, with one exception. There were crying children, kvetching jerks who had an issue with everything and everyone, and three people standing in the middle of the aisle to pray for the plane's safety. It seemed that the flight attendants were at their wits' ends dealing with everyone, and I, already exhausted and irritated, was feeling their pain. The woman seated next to me, however, was the only redeeming factor of this flight. She is one of the most interesting people I've ever had the honour of speaking with, and I am rather sad that we never exchanged names. She's a Finnish lady who has been living in France for most of her life. She worked for the French consolate in New York City for six years and has travelled the world with her husband numerous times over. She has spent a month every summer for the last nine years in Budapest and we exchanged adventures and tips. She told me of her trips to South America and Africa and all around Europe, and I recounted my comparatively short list of places. She and her husband were on their way back to Nice where they have an apartment. I really hope that when I'm her age, I'll have the time and money to enjoy a life of globetrotting. That would be so amazing.

Anyway, the flight got in late and I missed my connection to Athens. After freaking out sufficiently from lack of sleep and nerves, I calmed down, got a new ticket, and wandered the airport before I could board the plane. This flight was a breeze; fairly short and thankfully quiet. However, upon landing in Athens, I discovered that--surprise!--the Greek public transportation workers are all on strike. For practically the entire week. The cab fare from the airport to my hostel alone was 60 euros; luckily I've already paid for my three day tours and the hostel is close to nearly all the awesome stuff I want to see while I'm here, so I won't need another cab until I go back to the airport early next Monday morning.

For the most part, I had an awful day. Stressful, emotionally taxing, and altogether not too great. Now that I'm here and mostly settled, though, I'm feeling a lot better and I'm ready to face this new city and explore to my heart's content. The classics nerd in me is going to be in paradise!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Thunder and lightning and sandstorms, oh my!

10:50 pm IST

Let me say first how ecstatic I am that this dear blog of mine has not been deleted. For a moment I was terrified that all my months of writing would have been for naught, but we're back and I couldn't be happier! So, let me heave a thankful sigh of relief, stretch out my fingers, and I shall recount to you my interesting (albeit short) adventures in the Holy Land.

The day after I arrived, Chloe, SarahJean, and I hopped on a bus and went to the Dead Sea. The weather was lovely; not too hot, but not too cold. It felt like a late spring day, and I kept getting weirded out every time I remembered that it is December. The bus ride wasn't too long, and the desert mountain landscape that flashed by us was beautiful. The Sea came out of nowhere; there were mounds of rock and sand and all of a sudden they disappeared and this magnificent vista of the Sea and Jordan across the water came into view. Once at the beach, we floated around in the (strangely slimy) water and took some token "floating with the newspaper" photos, and I'd say we had a largely successful afternoon. We returned to Be'er Sheva and I relaxed in Rachel's room, and we prepared for her program's trip to Tzfat on which I tagged along.

The trip left the next morning and we drove far up north to the mountains. Watching the desert give way to forests was a little strange, but also reassuring in a way. When we got close to Tzfat, we stopped at Mt. Meron to hike around the peak. Our guide, Baruch, was from Huntington Woods before moving to Israel; how crazy is that? Anyway, the mountain was very pretty; lots of trees and clear views into the valleys below. After the hike, we continued upwards toward Tzfat, where we checked into the hotel (which was quite nice) and got ready for Shabbat. We baked challah (mine was rather poorly braided) and then went to services at a small shul in the Old Town. It was nothing like I've ever experienced before; the service consisted of loud, joyful, lively song with bouts of muttering prayer interspersed throughout. The singing was powerful and moving, but I found that I resented them tremendously for it. I wanted to be part of the mob of men on the main floor but, as a woman in an orthodox place, I had to be upstairs. I felt thoroughly left out, and, though I knew what to expect, I had not expected how much it would hurt. The meal following services was splendid, and after dinner and a quick chat with some Chasidim, I went up to the room to sleep.

The next day was rainy, windy, and very cold. Rachel and I, instead of joining the two-hour walking tour, made the wise decision to stay in the hotel and rest. I am so glad we did, too, because the rain and wind only got worse as the morning crawled on. We went to a short lecture on Kaballah and dreams, and after that we relaxed some more, had some snacks, went to Havdallah, and got back on the bus to return to Be'er Sheva. When we got back, Rachel and I did some laundry and sat around talking and giggling and having some good, old fashioned fun.

Today we woke and did not feel like doing much of anything. We were far too sleepy to function properly, so we ended up sleeping till around noon. Then we spent the day in her room hanging out before she took me to the bus station (during a sandstorm), where I got a bus to Jerusalem to meet up with Chloe and SarahJean. SarahJean and I soon afterward got on a bus to the airport in Tel Aviv where we are now waiting for our flights early tomorrow morning. There is a huge thunderstorm (and it was hailing at one point), and I am hoping that the flights won't get delayed at all... the time I have between connecting flights in Rome is short enough as it is; I can't afford any lost time.

So, though my time in Israel was short, it was pretty fun. Being with Rachel was fantastic and I was so glad I had the chance to be with a great friend. I am so excited for Greece tomorrow; hopefully the weather will be better there than it has been here!!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Hineni - Here I am.

12:34 am Israel Standard Time (IST)

I am exhausted. Waking up at four is never fun, but having to endure several hours of travel afterward is just painful. Getting to Ferihegy was no problem, neither was flying to Rome. The flight from Rome to Tel Aviv was interesting, though, to say the least. The guy next to me was high as a kite, having just flown in from Amsterdam, and was en route to Israel because, apparently, he was to attend a huge pot harvesting festival. He wasted no time in telling me of his European weed-related exploits before derailing and talking about Canucks hockey (he was a Canadian fellow). Finally he fell asleep and I tried to do the same, but I didn't get much rest.

Once through security (which wasn't so bad, surprisingly enough) I met Chloe and her friend SarahJean (who, surprisingly enough, is also studying in Budapest) and we took a train into Be'er Sheva. It has the feel of a suburb rather than a city. Or a small city like Kalamazoo. I think that's why I'm not so weirded out yet that I'm in Israel; it just doesn't feel like I thought it would. At least, not yet.

Dr. Haus is here doing some K stuff (I think), so he took Rachel, Chloe, and I out for dinner. It was nice!! We went to this place called Gecko and had some really good food and entertaining conversation. But now... now I am just ready for bed. It has been a very, very long day.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

I've gotta jump on the wind's back and away I'll go!

4:14 pm CET

Practically everybody is gone now. Julianne left for home this morning, and I'm fairly certain that Ada and I are the only BSCS people still here in the dorm. It's sort of a weird feeling...

On a happier note: I'm going to Israel tomorrow!!!! I am more excited than a neuron during action potential (sorry; horrid joke, I know). And after Israel, I'm off to Athens for a whole week! It's so terribly thrilling, but I am a teensy bit nervous, too. I always get so anxious in airports; what if I can't find my gate? What if security takes too long? What if I miss my flight? Too many problematic scenarios go through my head at once and I just get a little overwhelmed. Since my flight is at 7:25, I have to get up super-early once again to make sure I have enough time for transportation and whatnot. Arriving too early I can deal with; I just really, really don't want to be late.

For some bizarre reason, I have to backtrack to Italy before I can continue east to Israel. I've got a two-hour layover in Rome and I hop on another plane to Tel Aviv, so maybe I'll buy a t-shirt in the airport and pretend that I went to Italy. I've heard the airport is massive and I'm a little nervous about finding my way there, too. I'm sure I'll be fine, though. Just gotta be time-conscious, right?

Regardless of what happens in the airports, I am beyond hyped for this nearly two-week long trip to a couple of the most historical places on Earth. I'm not sure when I'll be able to update, but I will do my best. For now... viszontlátásra Hungary, and helloooooooo Mediterranean!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

All good things must come to an end and parting is such sweet sorrow.

11:44 am CET

After three days without internet, I am happy to say that we are back up and running again! It's only slightly pathetic how annoyed and anxious I became without it... but really, when one's sole method of communication is through a computer, being disconnected can cause some problems (not the least of which being intense, incurable boredom).

Anyway, our last week of real classes, and therefore the BSCS program, has ended. The class was nothing special; very much the same as the some of the others (meaning I was sleepy and not paying close attention). On Thursday we shook up the routine a little by having a Secret Santa gift exchange; I had gotten a couple Transformers toys for Matt, and Dan got me a question coin in Hungarian. Following Thursday's class, Jane, Julianne, Yoana and I took the six from school in the hope of going to Moszkva tér for lunch, but the transportation pass-checky-people were out and accosted us. The lady, for some unknown reason, kept asserting that Yoana's pass was invalid and was trying to make her pay, so Yoana got off the tram. I got separated from the other three in the hustle, but we met up again at Trombitás for mulled wine and a tasty lunch. After eating, we walked around in search of a hands-on science museum called (in English) the "Palace of Miracles" (Csodák Palotája in Hungarian). When we finally found it, though, we couldn't get in because they were about to close. We went home and attempted to study for the exam the next day, but due to a serious lack of internet, very little studying actually occurred.

Following the exam on Friday morning, Jane, Yoana, Catherine, Ada, and I went back to Millenáris Park near Moszkva tér and again found the Palace of Miracles, but this time it was open. We had such a blast running around playing with the exhibits; it definitely took me back to when I went to the Detroit Science Center as a kid. A lot of the exhibits were related to optical illusions and tasks we studied in class, actually. It would have made an awesome field trip! After we'd had our fill of entertainment at the museum, we went to the other end of the park to a small, kinda funky café for some mulled wine ('tis the season, right?). Then we went down the street to the City Pub for lunch. It was great to spend a last day with friends; most of them will be gone by this time tomorrow, and I'm going to miss them terribly...

Last night was the official "end of BSCS" dinner with the program coordinators. A few of the professors were there, too, along with Niki and Zoli and some others. All of us participants were there (save for Carrie, Catherine, Dion, and Tristan) and, though these wouldn't be our last goodbyes, they certainly felt like it. We got some good free food and certificates for completing the program, and we even got tupperware to take the leftovers home with us! It was a nice evening and, though we weren't eager to miss out on our last night together, we were all quite tired, so we went back to the dorm to chill instead of staying out to party.

Catherine left yesterday, Jane left this morning, Yoana leaves later this afternoon, and Julianne leaves early next week. Half of our BSCS contingent will soon be gone, and even then, many K students will be in and out of Budapest till we all go home in February. I doubt the quasi-cohesion of the group before will last now that it's only Kalamazoo students; we'll see one another, to be sure, but I don't think there will be any group dinners or drinking excursions or explorations. Hopefully we won't entirely drift, but I fear that's where we're headed. But who knows... maybe we'll crave one another's company.

But here's to you, BSCS friends. The last three months have been wonderful, and I hope we see one another again someday. Have safe and happy travels, and don't be strangers!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

I want a little Ewok friend...

11:04 pm CET

As far as school days go, today wasn't so bad. Class was boring, but I found out this afternoon that I aced the paper that had been a thorn in my side for a good month and a half. Some good news never hurts, right?
Following what seemed like an eternity in class, I walked from the uni across Petőfi híd and into Pest. I went north along the river to the Market Hall where I met up with Jacob for a little afternoon outing. We went to Vörösmarty tér for the Christmas market, since he hadn't gone yet (I wanted to go back anyway, and I think I'll be going a third time when I have cash again). We walked around for a couple hours, looking at all the stuff for sale, listening to the bands playing, and eating a lot of really good food. We bought some lángos to start (delicious) and after a little while, we went to one of the stalls so we could buy some actual food for an early dinner. I had some kind of "impressive meat," which turned out to be duck (I just called it impressive because it looked amazing) with roasted potatoes and onions. It was absolutely delectable, but--then again--most Hungarian food is. After walking around some more (and after a mug of mulled wine), we got a chimney cake with citrus glaze to go and left the market, taking the metro to Oktogon.

While we were waiting for the six at the Oktogon tram stop, minding our own business and munching away at our chimney cake, this woman came up out of nowhere, grabbed a piece out of my hand, said "thank you" and walked away. It was so bizarre... and she ended up on the same tram as us, asking everybody aboard for something or other. I have no idea what happened, but it was certainly very strange, indeed.

Once back in Móricz Zsigmond körtér, I hustled up the hill to the dorm to escape the cold and snuggled up as soon as I entered the room. I only just finished watching the Return of the Jedi (I've been meaning to watch some Star Wars for a while), and now I'm starting to get ready for bed. So, though not very eventful, I had a nice day. This week is sure to be busy and emotional, with it being our last week as a whole group, since only we K students have to stay for January research projects. Half of our BSCS ranks will be gone by the weekend, and I am kind of dreading losing my new friends. Hopefully we can make this week last...

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Rachael and Carrie go to Salzburg.

11:20 pm CET

The train ride to Salzburg was relatively uneventful. We ended up having to switch trains in Vienna unexpectedly, but otherwise nothing happened. The scenery was absolutely gorgeous, though, and I spent most of the trip gazing out the window at the snow-covered landscape.

We arrived in Salzburg a little bit later than we had originally planned; we thought it'd be noon, but the train didn't get in till one. We wandered for about half an hour looking for the hotel (the map wasn't all that helpful, since the hotel was a bit further north of where the map ended) and when we found it, we left our stuff in the room, bought a 24-hour city pass, and set out to explore while there was still sunlight. We took a bus across the river and got off, doubling back a little bit on a pedestrian bridge so we could get a good view of everything. From the bridge, we went back to the side of the river we were just on and walked through the Old Town, checking out the Christmas markets we passed, which were more of less the same as the one we had visited in Budapest on Friday. We got some lunch and continued walking, and decided to put our city passes to good use and go to some museums. We started at Mozart Geburtshaus, the Baroque townhouse in which Mozart was born, that has been converted into a museum of his life and works. My favourite part was the section of miniature set replicas from the operas he's written; they were so gorgeous and detailed!

Most of the museums close at five, so we went through Mozart's house as quickly as we could. When we finished, we walked back to Domplatz (Cathedral Square) and went to the Salzburg Museum. We got through the basement floor of Angelika Kauffmann paintings and were almost finished with the another floor of a bunch of stuff that didn't really have a coherent theme (other than that it was all from Salzburg) when we were kicked out for closing. After that, we crossed the street toward the main Christmas market in Domplatz where we got this dessert-y thing of chopped up fruitcake with sweet sauce in a bowl. It was quite good, and a nice respite from the bitter evening cold. The chill did us in soon enough, though, and--after having gotten lost on the city's cluttered bus system and stopped at a café for some warm drinks--we returned to the hotel.

The next day we got  up kind of early to get ready to leave and go to Mirabellplatz, where we were to meet the tour bus for the four-hour Sound of Music tour we had booked. After picking up the tickets, we still had some time before the tour started, so we found a small organic café for breakfast. Following our quick meal, we got on the bus (with only a little bit of shame; it was covered in bad art of Sound of Music scenes). The tour guide--of course--was this bubbly British woman who had every single bad pun at her disposal and was not afraid of using them. She sang and joked the entire four hours and I couldn't decide if it was hialrious or a little embarrassing. Despite the awkward sing-alongs she tried to instigate and the horrid, horrid puns, the tour was pretty good. We went first to Schloss Leopoldskron, the site where they filmed the scenes in the movie that take place on the back terrace of the von Trapp villa. It sits on the banks of a man-made lake, but the view of the mountains reflecting in the water was absolutely beautiful. From there we went to Hellbrunn Palace, where the gazebo from the movie was moved because people kept breaking into it while it was on the grounds of Schloss Leopoldskron. On the way there we passed both the Nonnberg Abbey--where the real Maria von Trapp was a nun--and Schloss Frohnburg (now part of the Salzburger Universität Mozarteum), which served as the site for all the outdoor shots of the von Trapp villa in the film.

Once we had seen the gazebo and received an appropriate anecdote from tourguide Trudy, we all clambered back onto the bus and drove out of Salzburg and into the mountainous lake district. The views were breathtaking; the mountains plunged directly into the lakes, the villages were quaint and peaceful, and with the snow everything looked like an eternal Christmas card. The bus passed three lakes (and Red Bull headquarters) before stopping by the small town of Mondsee, which lies on the shores of a lake with the same name (it means "Moon Lake"). There we saw the church in which Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer got married in the movie (the real Maria and Georg got hitched somewhere else) and got some apple streudel from a nearby café. Carrie and I walked along the lake before heading back to the bus, and--once everyone had returned from the break in town--we left Mondsee and drove back to Salzburg, where the tour ended at the last stop, the Mirabell Gardens. The gardens were used for pretty much the entirety of the filming of Do-Re-Mi, so we walked around and saw most of the major parts of the landscape. Though the grounds were still lovely in the snow, this is one of those places that would have been far more beautiful if the flowers had been in full bloom.

With the tour finished and not much time before we had to be back at the train station, we decided just to go to the mall beside the station to pick up some food for the journey. The mall is closed on Sundays, however, so we went to a café nextdoor and got some salads and pastries and drinks. We still had plenty of time, so we hung out on a bench on the platform to wait for the train.

Six hours later and we come home to find that Budapest, covered in snow not even two days earlier, is now being rained on and turned into a slushy mess. It's a headache to walk in, and it makes the already killer of a hill up to the dorm even worse. Hopefully it won't be like this all winter...

Saturday, November 27, 2010

I think the universe is trying to make sure that I never see HP7. Jerk.

12:24 am CET

After a long day of exam-taking, we were all rather excited to finally be going to see Harry Potter. Long story short, however, the tickets we thought we had reserved turned out to be nonexistent. Something got horribly lost in translation yesterday when Carrie and I were trying to buy tickets, so we ended up not having any at all. A little deflated, but nonetheless determined to have a decent evening, we went across the city to Vörösmarty tér for a Christmas-y outdoor market that is set up for the weekends leading up to the holiday.

The festival was lovely; there was a ton of delicious-looking (and delicious-smelling!) food, a huge decorated Christmas tree, and shops selling various things from soap to candles to clothing to wine. I got some mulled wine and got to keep the mug commemorating the event. There was so much stuff and the atmosphere was charged with winter cheer; I definitely want to go back another weekend to buy some souvenirs and to try some of that amazing food, haha.

After walking around for a while, we went to a hummus restaurant to get some dinner. It was tasty, but I'm fairly certain I'll be in for a treat when I get to Israel in two weeks (AHHH, SO EXCITED!!). Anyway, when we were done eating, Yoana, Julianne, Catherine and I split from the rest of the group and returned to the dorm. Yoana and I just finished watching The Little Mermaid and now I'm packing for Salzburg, since I have to get up in four hours in order to catch my train at six. Ugggh, I hate having to wake up this early...

On a happier note, tonight marks the first snow in Budapest! It's so pretty; it has only been going for about an hour and a half and there is already a fine layer of pretty white snow all over the street and trees. Salzburg is in for some snow, too... I'll bet it's going to be beautiful! And freezing. But mostly beautiful.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Turkey Day in Hungary.

11:31 pm CET

First of all, happy Thanksgiving to you, my dear readers! If I thought I missed home before, it's nothing compared to what I'm feeling today. I miss waking up early to watch the Macy's and Detroit parades; I miss lazing around all day waiting for the big meal; I miss being surrounded by family, even if we always end up driving one another nuts; and I really miss pumpkin pie (Hungarians think it's weird). Though this Thanksgiving ended up being entertaining and well worth the several hours of work, I still miss being at home for the holiday; it's just not the same!

So this week has been... kind of terrible, to be honest. The course is crazy difficult (so much math; it makes me want to just put my head on the desk and cry) and incredibly boring (I must have played over a hundred games of solitaire on my laptop while zoning out in class, not to mention drawing an entire page of panels for "The Philosophizer," a superhero comic for Jane). That said, I haven't paid even the slightest bit of attention to anything the professor has said in the past four days. Hopefully this take-home exam won't be too bad, and the few notes I have will be somewhat suffiicient in at least helping me understand the questions...

On Tuesday we had our last Hungarian Culture class. It was about music, and the guest professor they brought in to present the lecture was this old guy (he must have been in his eighties) who was a conductor and composer for an orchestra here in Budapest for thirty-something years. He was pretty much insane; he sang and danced around and laughed at nothing and was basically losing his mind as we watched. He was adorable and very enthusiastic, and he gave an energetic and hilarious lecture, for which all of us were extremely grateful.

Today was a little chaotic. After completely spacing out in class (again), Carrie and I went to Keleti train station to buy our tickets for Salzburg (oh yeah, in case I haven't mentioned it yet [I don't think I have...], Carrie and I are going to Salzburg, Austria this weekend! Yay!). We had a little mix-up with the dates (because we were exhausted and thus braindead), but we figured it out after making complete idiots of ourselves to the lady working at the ticket counter. Once we had our correct tickets, we walked from the station to the Aréna Plaza so we could buy tickets for those of us going to see Harry Potter tomorrow (FINALLY). The mall is huge and full of really great stores and stuff, and we managed to get lost trying to find the movie theatre. Turns out it was right in front of us the entire time (how we missed it, we'll never know; it is massive), so we went upstairs and got in line. The guy who was helping us didn't speak much English, so trying to procure tickets was a pain and a half. If everything worked out correctly, we have twelve seats reserved for tomorrow night's showing in English with Hungarian subtitles. We're planning on going much earlier than necessary to make sure it's all in order, so that way, if it's not, we'll have time to fix it. After that mind-boggling language barrier adventure, Carrie and I decided to alleviate the brain pain and get some delicious Häagen-Dazs ice cream that had been beckoning to us since we passed the shop on our way to the movie theatre. A very good decision, if I do say so m'self. A very good decision, indeed.

All in all, I didn't do much this week, though. Lots of sleeping, reading, and movie-watching, but that's mostly because halfway through the week, all of us lost our internet. Apparently we needed to register our computers, so now that that has been done, the excrutiating idleness of not having a connection is finally gone. Now I'm just idle, but with internet access.

The preparation for dinner and the feast itself tonight were lots of fun, and I'm glad we had the chance to get together (mostly; a few of us were absent). We're going to have leftovers for a month, and I probably won't have to eat again for that long a time, either. For now, however, there will be no more thinking about food or school or anything; I think that tryptophan is starting to kick in...

Friday, November 19, 2010

Coffee smells like freshly ground heaven.

10:37 pm CET

Today was a pretty decent day, despite it being Final Exam Friday. Yoana, Ada, and I were a little late for the test, but a struggle and a half later and I was done out of there, and ready to put it out of mind.

After we had all finished, Jane, Julianne, Yoana, Ada, and I took the six to Király utca (King Street) looking to get some coffee at the new Starbucks on the corner. It, however, is sadly still not open, so we went in search of another place to get a cup of joe. We found this cozy little café/pâtisserie-type place, so we all huddled around a small table with our coffee (absolutely outstanding) and cakes (also delicious)--by this time, Carrie had joined us, too--and discussed everything from theatre to kidnappings (I have no idea how we got there, either). It was great to just sit back and relax over a shot of espresso and some tasty pastries; definitely something we should all do more often.

When we had finished with our drinks, we relocated to a Mexican restaurant across the street for lunch. Following more crazy conversation and some good, but not really authentic mex later, the six of us decided to meet Tristan at the House of Terror, a museum dedicated to creeping the shit out of and upsetting all those who go by keeping the building's horrifying history alive. The four-story edifice was the headquarters of both the equally cruel Hungarian Nazis (the Arrow Cross Party) and the communist secret police (the State Protection Authority). Filled to the brim with propaganda posters and films, uniforms of the offiicers, memorials to the victims, and a giant military tank, there was certainly no lack of upsetting, thought-provoking content. I walked through solemnly, quietly, and relatively quickly, my heart heavy and chest tight. The experience was in no way exciting or fun; but it was a necessary plunge into a history that this country wants to be forgotten, but never lost.

Feeling in great need of something uplifting, we walked a short ways down and across the street to a slighly cramped english bookstore. The shelves were stuffed with volumes old and new, some used to the point of a cascade of pages upon opening, some still with a creaseless spine. I was tempted to purchase a few things (most notably a giant paperback of The Complete Works of Lewis Carroll), but decided against it, since I already have more than enough books with me here, and another two or three would just add weight to the already over-the-limit bags I will have to take home in February.

After several hours out, I headed home and have been here since, hanging around and watching random youtube videos (thanks Stumble). With Prague last weekend and Salzburg coming up next, I need this weekend to recuperate and prepare for the crazy week ahead; I'm certainly going to need every bit of energy I can muster.

Just as a sidenote: to all those who have already seen Harry Potter because their countries have a good film distribution standing, I hate you. I hate you so much... it-it the fee- it flame, flames, flames... on the side of my face... breathing breathle-, heaving breaths... heaving breaths...

Monday, November 15, 2010

Rachael and Jacob go to the City of Spires.

9:20 pm CET

This weekend did not fail to live up to expectations: it was chock full of beauty and history, and we enjoyed every single moment of it.

Jacob and I got to the station fairly early and thus boarded the train with plenty of time to spare. In spite of our efforts to be on time, the train was delayed for 45 minutes, so we just ended up sitting there trying not to go stir crazy. Being the loud Americans we are (pfft, right), we attracted some attention from down the hall. A guy (whose name we never caught) from Manchester was a few compartments down and he went in search of the English-speakers (as he'd said), obviously finding us. We chatted for a while, he telling us how he had been travelling with his school buddy around Europe and was now headed to Prague, and that "Bratislaver is bloody mental" and that we absolutely needed to go sometime ("one euro vodka shots!" he reasoned, quite excitedly).

By the time our new English friend had gone back to his compartment, the train had finally started moving. The route was such that we passed both Visegrád and Esztergom, so we got to see the castle on the hill and the Basilica, respectively. The train chugged along a little too slowly for our tastes, but after a painful seven hours, we arrived in Prague and were confronted with yet another language we did not even remotely understand. Due to this (at least, we'll pretend it's due to this...) we got on the tram going in the direction opposite of that which we needed to get to our hostel, the Czech Inn. We figured out the problem fairly quickly, so we got off, switched directions, and made it without trouble (unless you consider the evening's light rain trouble). After checking in at the Czech Inn (this joke was cracked so many times; it's awful, I know), we went straight up to the room (it was this gorgeous loft apartment shared with two girls who had the upstairs bedroom) and crashed for the night, after having quickly mapped out a game plan for the next day.

We woke fairly early on Saturday and were quickly out the door and ready to explore. We took the metro near the Saint Ludmila church in Náměstí Míru to the Muzeum stop, which lets out right in front of the Czech National Museum at the top part of Wenceslas Square. We walked from the top part to the bottom part (it's really more of a boulevard than a sqaure), and from there we followed our map to the Powder Gate and the Municipal House. The Gate serves as one of the several entrances into the Old Town, so we made our way through the labrynthine streets to the Old Town Square. Emerging from the narrow streets and into this huge, open square really blew our minds. Everything was so beautiful and there were people everywhere (there was an autumn festival being held in the center). We saw everything: the Týn Cathedral, and St. Nicholas Church, several beautiful buildings and statues, and--of course--the famous medieval Astronomical Clock. A huge group was gathered by the clock, since it was almost noon, so we found a spot in the crowd and waited. It was pretty cool; the figures on the clock all moved and the bell was pulled by a little skeleton. A trumpeter in the tower also sounded a few blasts to indicate the hour, and almost immediately after he had finished, the crowd dispersed. We kept moving, too, and went to the Vltava River and crossed over to the other side via the Charles Bridge. The Bridge is absolutely gorgeous and is lined with countless statues, and the views from it are stellar. On the way across, we saw a small jazz band, so we stopped for a few minutes to listen; they were really good!

Anyway, the part of Prague on the other side of the river, much like Budapest, actually, is very hilly and steep. We stopped for lunch at this place underground that was made to look like a cave and the walls were covered with fantasy paintings. It was kind of weird, but the food was good. After our quick lunch, we continued up the hill and past several foreign embassies, slowly heading higher and higher toward the Prague Castle. After a good climb, we made it up and joined two ladies (Jacob and I think they might have been Welsh) for a tour around the castle complex. The place is huge! There are more than a few palaces on the grounds and we saw some churches, most notably the massive St. Vitus Cathedral. Our guide spouted off factoids all along the way (how true they were, though, we don't know), but I was more engrossed in taking photos than listening to his comments.

When we split from the guide and the maybe-Welsh ladies at the end of the tour, we got to see the changing of the castle guards. It was awesome, and one of the guys smiled, which was funny, since they're probably not supposed to do so. We took in the view from the top and, after sufficient oohs and ahs, we walked down the Old Castle Steps to the bottom of the hill, where we took a much-needed break in a small park. Once rested, we went onward, crossing another bridge back to the east side, where we saw the Rudolfinum, the home of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra. We didn't go inside, but the exterior is stunning.

We explored part of the Jewish Quarter, but since it was Shabbat, everything was closed. We went back to Old Town Square and retraced our steps from there, and returned to Wenceslas square for some coffee. After that, we went back to the hostel for a nap, only to leave again a couple hours later for the best dinner of life. We went to this traditional Czech restaurant not far from the hostel, and it was one of the best decisions we made the whole trip. The food was drop-dead amazing, and the atmosphere was cozy and inviting. Following dinner, we again returned to the hostel--stomachs near to bursting--and turned in for the night.

Yesterday was a lot less closely-packed than Saturday was. We checked out early and went across the river to find Mozart's house. Because I suck at map-reading, apparently, we took the most roundabout route imaginable; we went all the way up this gigantic hill and it turned out to be completely unnecessary. The icing on the cake of it all was that the house ended up being closed for renovations, so even after close to an hour of searching, it didn't even matter. Shrugging it off, we took a tram to the base of Petřín Hill so we could take the funicular up to see the observatory and the Petřín Lookout Tower, but our plans were foiled once again when we realised that the funicular doesn't run on Sundays. There was no way that we were going to climb all the way up to the top of the hill, so we stayed closer to the bottom and relaxed for a while in one of its many parks.

We left the park on the hill and went back toward the river to find the Lennon Wall, a long wall that has been painted and repainted with graffiti of John Lennon-related stuff and Beatles lyrics since the late 1980s. Jacob and I added a quote or two of our own in blue sharpie, and went on to find a café for lunch. After eating, we went back up to the Charles Bridge and saw another jazz band (a different, slightly larger one) and a few other performers. We meandered around the Old Town and we saw this cute widdle Yorkie puppy that was so adorable that if we had stared at it for any longer than we did, we might have died from its sheer cuteness. The fact that it had bounded out of a shop to catch its owner so fast that it nearly tripped over itself in its excitement definitely added to the cute factor, that's for sure.

Since our night train wasn't going to leave until 11:11 that evening, we still had far too much time to kill. We got some delicious ice cream (tiramisu and chocolate; yum!!) and hopped from one coffee shop to another, spending a couple hours in each, and going in and out of stores around Wenceslas Square. Once the time had finally arrived to go back to the train station, we were exhausted and ready to go home. How I ever thought I was going to sleep comfortably on ten hour long train ride, I have no idea. I ended up on the floor of our compartment at one point, and I must have looked like a mess to anyone who opened the compartment door. At some other point in the journey (I think it was right before crossing into Slovakia, so around two in the morning), a couple policemen came in and asked for our passports. It was kind of scary and I was really out of it... maybe they were looking for someone? Whatever the issue was, it obviously wasn't with us, so they didn't stay too long. Some guy joined us in our compartment, so I couldn't attempt to sleep on the floor anymore, which meant I didn't sleep at all (though even after he left, sleeping on the floor just did not cut it). The train split sometime during the night, with our part attaching to another bound for Budapest. Many restless hours later, the sun rose over the Hungarian countryside, and it was definitely one of the more beautiful vistas I've ever seen. There was mist in the mountains and the light was such that it gave the dew-covered landscape a slight golden glow. We had missed the Basilica in Esztergom, but the castle perched atop the hill in Visegrád looked strangely ethereal with all the mist and morning sunlight. It was the perfect way to end this trip, even if I was beyond exhausted and physically aching.

The train arrived at Keleti around fifteen minutes past the projected time, so I had to rush from the station to the university in order to make it for class. I still got there half an hour late, but I hadn't missed much, thankfully. I feel as though I should have just skipped class, however; I kept nodding off and I don't think I my dead state of mind was very conducive to learning...

So all in all, this weekend was fantastic. Prague is one of the most historical and awe-inspiringly beautiful cities I have ever had the privilege of visiting, even if only for two short days. I understand that words can't do the city's amazing quality justice, but just believe me when I say this:

You gotta Czech check it out for yourself.

Friday, November 12, 2010


11:35 am CET

I got an A on my exam! WOOHOO!!

Now that it's over, I can finally relax and begin packing for Prague. The train leaves in two hours and I am so psyched. I'm not bringing my laptop with me, so be prepared for an obscenely long entry once I return either Sunday evening or Monday.

This might just be the best weekend trip ever. Heck yes.

Monday, November 8, 2010


12:24 am CET

So... this week was a little weird. We had Monday off from school for All Saints' Day, which messed up my whole perception of the week, seeing as how our classes are short enough as it is. Having just returned from Nice and Vienna threw me off, as well; I just don't think I was ready to jump back into actually-thinking-mode after a good ten days of rest and relaxation...

Following a week of barely paying attention and a painful exam, around came the weekend again. It was mostly spent hanging in the dorm, but I managed to get out a time or two. Jacob and I met for dinner on Friday and then went back to my room to watch Finding Nemo (I love that movie so damn much, haha). Saturday I didn't do a thing except watch the Return of the King with the roomies, and today I didn't do much either, save for an outing to the cinema to see Despicable Me in 3D (it just came out here a few days ago and I never saw it over the summer) with Yoana, Catherine, Julianne, and Ada. IT WAS ADORABLE. I enjoyed every moment; obnoxious (and kind of cute...) unicorn song and all. And we got a 5L box of popcorn! That's a whole lot of popcorn, lemme tell you. So. Much. Popcorn.

The new class starts tomorrow (as usual) and I'm hoping that I won't space out too much. Though that's probably a fool's hope. Yeah... definitely a fool's hope.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Rachael and Jacob go to Vienna.

11:22 pm CET

Happy Halloween to everyone back home!!

Yesterday was quite relaxing; I slept till one (it was wonderful) and after getting up, I met up with Jacob at a STARBUCKS (I almost cried out of sheer joy). We caught up over coffee and after that we bought some groceries, went back to my room, and watched Labyrinth (awful) and Clue (awesome). We then decided that we wanted to go to Vienna the next day, so we planned to meet one another at Keleti pályaudvar at 6:30am, so we would have enough time in the city.

Of course, I had forgotten that DST ended early this morning, so when I meant to wake up at 5:45 to get ready, I actually woke up at 4:45 because of the time change. It took me a few moments to realise it and, by that time, I was already mostly awake (although still obscenely tired). I tried to go back to bed for an hour with no such luck, so I finished getting my things together instead. At 6:00am I headed for Keleti pu and met Jacob, where we bought tickets to Wien (Vienna) and hopped on our train.

Three hours of farmland and several wind turbines later, we arrived in Vienna. We got a 24-hour public trans pass and took the metro to the Volkstheater, and continued on foot to Maria-Theresien-Platz. From there we walked to Heldenplatz (Heroes' Square), which is right in front of Hofburg Palace, the President's residence and the former winter palace of the Habsburg dynasty. I was completely taken aback by the grandeur of the place; I could never imagine living somewhere so huge!

After the palace, we walked around, saw some churches, had lunch, and made our way on the metro to Schönbrunn Palace, the former summer palace of the Habsburg monarchy. Again, it was enormous, and its grounds extended even farther than Hofburg's because of the massive gardens and landscaping. Jacob and I walked around the gardens, enjoying the chilly autumn stroll and the leaf-covered ground. We saw a bunch of fountains and obelisks and we ran around in a hedge maze. When we had finished with the gardens, we took the metro back to the center of the city to see the Rathaus (City Hall), the University of Vienna, and the Parliament building (all three were very big, very imposing, and very beautiful). We then searched for somewhere to get something to eat before we had to return to the train station. We both got some Vienna-style hotdogs (which were very, very good) and made our way to the station, where we got some snacks and drinks for the journey home.

We got back on time, but I am still thoroughly exhausted. Lack of sleep combined with a week of travel has left me worn out, so I am more than happy that we have still have one more day off from school. I will probably spend it in bed, asleep or reading. I would not be opposed to a day spent lazing about; I would not be opposed to that at all...

Friday, October 29, 2010

Well, I'm back.

8:04 pm CET

Today was rather uneventful, as it was mostly spent in airports and on planes. I got to the Nice airport far too early--I thought security was going to be worse than it was--and ended up sitting around waiting for three hours before they even posted a gate on the departures board. On the bus to the plane, I was beside a group of those Americans who give other Americans a bad name; all they did was complain about everything and act as though the world belonged to them. I wanted so badly to tell them to shut up, but I managed to hold my tongue.

The flight to Munich wasn't bad. The best part was that half of the flight was spent crossing the snow-covered Alps. I had never seen real mountains before, so for me, it was a breathtakingly beautiful sight to behold. I saw villages and towns in the valleys; rivers that flowed from the peaks and into the basins, supplying fresh water to the people nearby; lush pine forests that were dotted here and there with the bright reds and yellows of autumn. It was absolutely gorgeous, and I was incredibly happy to have had the chance to see it.

When we landed in Munich, I practically had to run to my next gate in order to make it in time for boarding. I arrived with fifteen minutes to spare, and once on the plane, I slept through the short 55-minute flight to Budapest. After landing I went outside and caught the 200E bus, taking that to the Kőbanya-Kispest metro station, where I hopped on the blue line to Ferenc körút, and continued from there to the dorm via the oh-so-familiar six tram. I have no idea what I'm going to do this weekend, but making plans can wait; it's time to kick back and relax.

With November just around the corner, I recently came to the realisation that I have lived in Budapest for two months already. Two months ago, I left Ferihegy International Airport excited, nervous, and exceptionally lost. Today, I left through those same doors and I was no longer a stranger in a strange land...

I was home.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Nice la Belle, vous me manquerez.

11:31 pm CET

The past two days have been really great; the weather wasn't too hot or too cold and the sun was shining bright. Yesterday I did some more exploring. I had hoped to go to Monaco so I could visit the Monte Carlo casino, Port d'Hercule, the Prince's Palace, and the Musée Océanographique de Monaco, but--due to the strikes--none of the trains were running. I was a little disappointed, but I quickly got over it and started making new plans. I had remembered to bring my book with me, so I set off for the beach, where I found a comfortable place to read. After quite a few chapters, I decided to appease my growling stomach and find a place to eat. I chose a beach café so I could still hear the sea, and I had my first authentic croque-monsieur. It's basically a glorified ham and cheese sandwich (very kosher, I know), but they are soooo goooood. The sauce is perhaps a tiny bit too rich for my tastes, but it was delicious nonetheless.

After lunch and some more reading, I made my way up castle hill to walk around the ruins of the medieval château. Most of the hill has been converted into a park, so there were several locals and families up there along with the tourists. I slowly meandered through the whole site, going up the tower and back down again, taking in the panoramic vistas and smell of the sea. I had planned to stay up there till sunset, but the park closed at six, so everyone got kicked out. I practically ran down the hill so I wouldn't miss the sunset (I got very lost trying to find my way through the Old Town), and I eventually made it out and back to the Promenade des Anglais just in time to watch the sun sink below the horizon. I had some tasty seafood for dinner, and then I returned contentedly to my hotel.

Today was just as relaxed as yesterday, thought not as warm. I slept in and chilled in my room till two; I didn't want to go out until I had printed my boarding passes for tomorrow, and I couldn't access them until 2:00pm. Once I had them, though, I left and found a restaurant near Place Masséna at which to eat lunch. I ordered completely in French and it made me very proud of myself, haha. Following my meal, I went back to Vieux Nice (the Old Town) so I could find the pirate-themed candy shop that I had discovered the other day. My first try I went in a gigantic circle, but on the second try I successfully retraced my steps and found it again. I bought some candy (they had gummy octopi! YAY!!!) and walked back to the Promenade des Anglais, where I sat near the sundial viewing platform and picked up my reading where I had left off yesterday. I read till sunset and then walked back to the place where I had eaten lunch (I had been torn between two dishes, so for dinner I had the one I didn't eat earlier) and ordered some lamb stew over penne à la niçoise. I was so happy that I went back because it may or may not have been the best meal I've ever had. Ever. Delicious doesn't even start to cover how good it was. And the proverbial icing on top of my dinner's cake was some tiramisu for dessert... I think it goes without saying that this was the perfect last meal of my Nice vacation.

Following my beyond-excellent dinner, I returned, stuffed and happy, to my hotel. On the way, I encountered a clown making balloon animals, a street performer playing Debussy on a piano, and a group of at least twenty people all dressed up in costumes, many of which were hilariously politically incorrect (there was a Robin Hood, five Laurences of Arabia [at least, I think that's what they were supposed to be], four cavemen, a Native American chief, a disco dancer [complete with afro wig], two hippies, two Jedi, and six woodland fairies). When I made it back and was safely in my room, I made a cup of nice, warm tea and I am now settled comfortably in bed, enjoying some much-needed rest after the past few days of exploration and discovery. Tomorrow I get up early, check out, and grab a cab to the airport...

It's been wonderful, Nice. Maybe we'll see each other again someday, but, for now, I bid thee a fond farewell. Au revoir!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Igen! I mean... oui.

10:14 pm CET

I've found that sometimes it's incredibly difficult to think straight when English, Spanish, French, and Hungarian are all swirling around in my head...

Anyway, before I write about today, I'm going to write about yesterday:

Yesterday kind of sucked. I feel bad saying it, because I feel like I'm obligated to enjoy myself since I'm fortunate enough to be in Nice, but... yesterday kinda sucked. I left the hotel around ten and walked down the main street, L'avenue Jean-Médecin. There are lots of shops and restaurants and banks and pretty much anything you could ever need. It ends right where Place Masséna begins; it's this huge open square of black and white tiles, fountains, and palm trees. At this point, it had started to rain a little, but I had my umbrella, so I was ok. I continued walking through a small park and made it to the beachside pedestrian walkway, the Promenade des Anglais. The view is lovely, and even in the rain the city maintains its beauty. However, by then it was pouring and--despite having my enormous umbrella--I got completely soaked from head to toe. I was terribly uncomfortable and feeling a little sad at being all alone, and since the winds had picked up and kept blowing my umbrella away, I decided to give up for the day and go back to warm up and get dry (I had been out a few hours; it wasn't too short of an outing). When I got back, I was a wet, cold, lonely, miserable mess, and I ended up sleeping and reading for the rest of the day.

So with yesterday in mind, I was kind of worried about today. But the sun was out in full force, and that alone was enough to make me feel better. I walked back down L'avenue Jean-Médecin and across Place Masséna, where I took a side road to the main court building, Palais de Justice. From there I made my way to Cours Saleya, where there is a huge outdoor market. It mostly consists of stalls selling a wide array of flowers, but there were also plenty of stalls selling everything from fresh fish, fruits, and vegetables to spices to artwork to colourful bars of soap. I didn't buy anything, but it was more than interesting to have a look. The west end of the market opens to the Promenade des Anglais, so I walked along it again, very much loving the view in the clear sky and sunlight. I went down to the rocky beach and sat down, watching people swim and the few sailboats that passed by.

After around twenty minutes of relaxing to the sound of the waves crashing against the shore, I got up and climbed the stairs back to the Promenade, which I took all the way around the bend and to the Port. There were so many boats! And some of the yachts moored in the harbour were enormous. A lot of the big ones were from London, and it made me wonder how the trip from there to Nice is. I kept walking and turned back east, looking for the Old Town. I'm not sure if I found it, but I got to Place Garibaldi, which may or may not be in the same area. By then I was starving, so I went in search of a restaurant. Instead I found myself in this system of extremely narrow, Diagon Alley-like pedestrian streets, all interconnected and lined with various shops and cafés. Despite my piqued interest, I didn't buy anything here, either; nor did I stop to eat. I passed a pirate-themed candy shop, though, that I absolutely must find again, or I'll be rather sad.

I finally discovered an exit from the labyrinth of alleys, and it turned out that I was right back where I had started my day: at the Palais de Justice. Since I had my bearings again, I walked back to Place Masséna and found a restaurant for lunch. I had some delicious chicken and duck stir fry and a little teensy coffee after. The waiter was really nice (and kinda cute...), and he spoke English. I gained a bit of confidence, even though I was speaking more "Frenglish" than actual French. I've got the essentials down, though, and that's all that really matters, I guess.

Full and happy, I left the restaurant and made my way back to the hotel, where I relaxed for the remainder of the day. Around 8:00, I left again and walked a little ways down the street and had dinner at this American-style diner (I was craving a burger, ok?! Besides, the burger was an Indian curry burger [which is quite the hilarious contradiction, seeing as how most Indians don't eat beef] and was thus unique and delicious. So there). The waitress was incredibly nice (I'm not sure where this whole "the French are assholes" mentality comes from... maybe the Niçois are just a friendly group of people?) and she also spoke English, but I used as much French as I could, anyway.

Now I'm hanging out in my hotel room gearing down for the night. Tomorrow I'm hoping to catch a train to Monaco... we'll see how that goes!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Bonjour, Nice. Comment ça va?

10:47 pm CET

Well, today was certainly an experience. I woke up at 5:30am to do some last-minute things and I was out the door by 6:15 (a bit later than I had originally planned, so--of course--I was freaking out the whole time thinking I was going to be late). In my preoccupied haste, I (again, of course) forgot my breakfast in my room, and by the time I remembered it, I was already halfway down the hill. To make my already heightened anxiety worse, I had to spend precious minutes waiting for the tram. I got off at Ferenc körút, transferred to the blue line metro, and when I got to the end of that, I went to find the bus that would take me to the airport. I missed the first bus because I had forgotten that the schedule is different on Sundays, so I had to wait about ten minutes for the next one. By this time, I was an internal mess, even though I knew it would be fine.

When I got to the airport, I blew through security (the security guy who liked to play the "Guess the Nationality of the People Whose Stuff I'm Scanning" game was highly amusing) and found the gate with ease. I still had about half an hour till boarding, so I heaved a sigh of relief and rested my anxious brain. When it came time for boarding, everyone on the flight took a bus on the tarmac to the plane. It was more or less a clusterfuck from there to get on, and I boarded before not one, not two, but no fewer than five Chasidim. And guess who got to sit next to the oldest one? Yuuuuup.

When we landed in Dusseldorf, all I could think of was that line from the Springtime for Hitler song from The Producers: "I was born in Dusseldorf and that is why the call me Rolf." It made me smile while I walked through the airport searching for my gate, which wasn't too difficult. It's more like a mall than an airport, though; so many shops! When I found my gate, I was a little nervous because there was nobody there. I figured that all the desk attendants were taking a lunch break or something. All at the same time. And people kept showing up and asking me if this was the gate for Nice (all of this was happening in German, but I nodded anyway since I understood the gist of what they were saying, which prompted more German and an embarrassed "sorry?" from me when I couldn't keep up the façade). Eventually, the lady working the desk showed up and confirmed that it was, in fact, the gate for Nice. We boarded soon after and, surprisingly, there was practically no one on the plane. I had a whole row to myself, and it certainly felt nice to stretch out my legs. The guy in the row in front of me looked and sounded like a German Michael Caine à la Miss Congeniality. It made me laugh all the way to Nice...

We arrived in good time (it was around 3:00, just as I had expected) and I soon got a cab. I chickened out on speaking French, but the driver spoke good english, so it was ok. He was very friendly and told me several places to go and things to do. He, apparently, has a cousin in Grand Rapids, which was an interesting connection to have. We chatted about the States for a while and I told him about Budapest, and after a while of talking and staring with wide eyes out the window, I made it to my hotel. As soon as I had checked in, I practically collapsed in bed and passed out for several hours. Since waking up, I have planned my day for tomorrow and fiddled with the TV a bit, but other than that, the rest of the day has been for recuperating. Tomorrow will be filled with walking and exploring, and it should be awesome.

Assuming it doesn't rain too hard, that is.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

'Cause I'm leaving on a jet plane...

11:02 pm CET

Today is a national holiday here. It's the anniversary of the 1956 revolution against the Soviet communists, and though I didn't go downtown to see if anything was happening, all the buses and trams had little Hungarian flags on them in commemoration of the event. That said, Ada and I just barely avoided a crisis. The printer in the dorm doesn't seem to work, but I needed my boarding passes and she needed some bus pass for her trip to Rome, so we went on a desperate search adventure to find a copy store. But here's the catch: because of the holiday that we had (up till that moment) forgotten about, nearly everything was closed. We tried several copy shops and none of them were open, so we called Niki and asked her if she knew of any places to go. Once again, she came to our rescue (seriously, there's no way she's not a superhero in disguise) and told us of a place not far from Blaha Lujza tér. Fifteen minutes on the tram later, we got to Blaha and walked around looking for the place and when we found it (colour us surprised and relieved) it was open. Documents in hand, we returned home, got some lunch at the gyros place, and went back up to the room. Ada finished her packing for Rome and left. I'm the only one in my suite now since Yoana left a few days ago and Jane left yesterday. The peace and quiet are nice, but it gets kind of lonely after a few hours...

I won't be here alone for too much longer, though. I'm waking up at the crack of dawn to take practically every form of public transportation in order to make it over to the airport. Wanna know why? Yeah (you, my fine readers, already know, but humour me, please)?


I am incredibly excited. My flight leaves at nine and arrives in Dusseldorf around eleven, then I leave from there around one and land in Nice at three-ish. That is, assuming there aren't any problems with the French riots and whatnot. I'm fairly certain that it'll be fine; I'm not worried at all. I don't think I've been this excited in a while (probably not since first coming to Budapest); I have no idea what's in store for me, and that just adds to the excitement, I think. I'm going to explore a new city and maybe--if the weather's nice--spend a day lounging on a rocky Mediterranean beach...

All I know for sure is that my bags are packed and I'm ready to go. It's time to get this show on the road!

Friday, October 22, 2010

TGIF. For real.

So this week was a little strange. And more than a little shitty. The new class (brain imaging) was basically an ode to fMRI, and was thus not up my alley at all. In fact, it was so far removed from my alley that it was probably in a different city. Lame colloquialisms aside, I was not very happy or confident this week.

I got a good cry from watching both Up and the Return of the King, which were greatly needed. I've been feeling really overwhelmed lately, and it was truly wonderful to be able to let it out while watching favourite movies. It was definitely a more constructive way of having a slight breakdown than it could have been, that's for sure.

So now that I'm feeling mostly better and my stupid exam is done, I still have a lot of loose ends to tie up. I have papers to procure, finances to arrange, a ton of laundry to do...

But then it's off to Nice on Sunday where I get to spend five days in a French Riviera paradise. All I can say is thank goodness. Thank. Freakin'. Goodness.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Everything is beautiful at the ballet.

11:28 am CET

This weekend was fairly good, though I didn't do all that much. Yesterday became my day to catch up on all the sleep I've missed in the past month. I woke up at 1:30 and basically sat in bed all day, which (come on now, let's be honest) was amazing. That evening, though, was a lot fo fun; Niki's English boyfriend--Chris from Liverpool--is visiting for the week, so the two of them joined us for a Bulgarian dinner cooked by Yoana (and Jane. Jane helped, too). After a lovely dinner (with plenty of beyond entertaining conversation), we all went off separately to do whatever we all had planned (I watched Whose Line clips on YouTube, haha).

Today wasn't very eventful, either; at least, not until later. I slept in again and stayed in bed all afternoon stretching and reading. At six Yoana, Ada, Jane, Catherine, Julianne, and I met Jacob at the Opera House for the ballet. We saw Romeo and Juliet--I'd never seen an ballet before, so I was really excited. As the title of this post implies (from A Chorus Line), everything was indeed beautiful at the ballet. Though the story seemed to stray a little from the Bard's tragedy (there was a strange, mischievous green fairy that kept appearing, and it made me wonder if someone had been drinking a little too much absinthe...), it was more or less the same and very easy to follow. The dancers were fabulous; the woman playing Juliet was incredibly graceful and her Romeo was a good match. From where I was sitting, unfortunately, I couldn't see all that much. I had a great view of the pit, though, so I ended up watching the orchestra and the conductor a lot.

Following the ballet, Jacob and I walked from the Opera House to Astoria looking for somewhere to grab a bite to eat. We got a quick dinner and then split up to go home, and now, despite my weekend of sleep, I am exhausted. I certainly hope this week won't tire me out as completely as the past one did; I'm going to need every bit of energy I can muster for when I go to Nice next Sunday. YAY!!!!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Stories across the sky.

12:35 am CET

So my cognitive psychology professor (well, technically she's a PhD student, but she's got a bazillion degrees already, so it doesn't really matter), Rosie, is kind of one of the most awesome teachers ever. Not only because she's crazy smart and engaging, but because she makes countless Harry Potter references while lecturing. Like today during her explanation of the Prisoner's Dilemma in game theory she used Bellatrix Lestrange and Lucius Malfoy stealing a wand from Ollivander's and getting caught by Aurors as an example. I think (for once) I'm going to have a fabulous week... it's so exciting.

After class I spent the rest of the afternoon reading articles and sleeping. Getting in some rest was wonderful, and I wish we could have the time every day, instead of having to stay at the uni for another three hours for Hungarian language or culture. Sometimes it's just too much for one day; we get really tired and just need a nap. At least, I do, haha.

At eight o'clock we all  met at the six tram stop in Móricz so we could take Niki out for two-day-late birthday drinks. We found a pub (after having checked two others for space for seventeen people with no luck; third time's the charm?) and basically took over its basement. I had my first-ever tequila sunrise (delicious) and then a few of us took shots of pálinka (not as strong as Niki's father's moonshine stuff). When we all had our fill of alcohol (I was fine, just FYI), we walked to the university for some stargazing. Since Gabor has a master's in astronomy, he has connections in the ELTE department, so he got us permission to go up to the school's observatory on the roof of the main building. They had set up a smaller telescope, and through it we were able to see Jupiter and three of its moons, which was awesome. If you looked hard enough, you could almost see the gases in its atmosphere swirling...

When the scientists who were working at the observatory finished with the larger telescope, they moved it for us so we could see the remains of a star 2000 light years away (I think) that had exploded a long time ago (in a galaxy far, far away). It looked like a blurry grey ring, but it was cool nonetheless.

What I found really striking was how gorgeous the city looked from the observatory (and how it looks at night in general). Even though there was a giant ball-thing blocking the view upriver, the parts that we could see were bright and shining and beautiful; the Buda hills in the distance were especially lovely.

As the night went on, the air became far more biting, but, even though I was shivering in my gloves and winter hat, Gabor said it best: "The universe is worth a bit of suffering."

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Just another Budapest weekend.

6:00 pm CET

Today was another boring day spent locked in a battle of wits with my temperamental internet and, having won, reading an almost obscenely long introduction for our new course tomorrow.

Yesterday, however, was fantastic up until the most depressing football game of my life. But I won't dwell on that; I'd rather not relive the considerable pain.

Yesterday I woke fairly early (as usual) and, since I couldn't fall back asleep (as usual), I sat around listening to music. Around noon I left, took the 49 to Astoria, transferred to the red line metro, and took it all the way to its end to meet Jacob in his neck of the proverbial woods. We took the trolleybus looking for someplace to eat, and eventually gave up and returned to the square near the metro station so we could go to the mall. It turned out that there was a fashion show going on there, so bad American pop mixes were blaring and trying to get anywhere in that section of the mall was practically impossible. We walked around for a long while (two hours, maybe?) before finally settling on a restaurant (it was more of a dessert bar, but we didn't quite care by that point). As tempted as I was to get some amazing-looking ice cream, I chose a mixed fruit palacsinta (basically a Hungarian crêpe), instead.

We left the mall and took the red line all the way to Deák Ferenc tér, where we transferred to the yellow line and took it nearly to its end to Hősök tere. From there we walked across the square to Szépművészeti Múzeum--the Musuem of Fine Arts--and bought tickets for the permanent collection. We explored most of the ground and first floors, though there were a few rooms blocked off to us because our tickets did not include the special exhibits (Botero and something else that I can't remember). My favourite part was probably their awesome, albeit small, Egyptian collection; there were several sarcophagi and statuettes and papyrus fragments and the like. I think one of their prized artifacts is this magic wand-thing made from a hippo tusk, so that was pretty cool to see.

The museum closed about an hour after we had entered, so we didn't get to see everything there. We left around five minutes before closing time and sat around on the comfortable chairs and couches the museum has set up on its front terrace, looking out across Hősök tere to Műcsarnok, the Hall of Art on the opposite side of the square. From there we hopped back on the metro and went to the Oktogon, where we got on a six tram, expecting to cross the Margaret Bridge so we could go to the same delicious restraurant in Moszkva tér that we had eaten at when Rachel visited. The construction on Margit híd, however, has reached the point where they won't allow vehicles to cross, so we found another place near the bridge to have dinner.

Following the meal (which didn't disappoint), we got on the six tram again and went back to the Oktogon, and from there we walked in search of an ice cream shop. We eventually found one near the Budapesti Operettszínház (the Budapest Operetta and Musical Theatre), where I noticed that they have a production of Rebecca: the Musical. It struck me as a little strange that a musical was made of this particular story, and I am intrigued and more than a little wary... but perhaps I'll go anyway, even though I won't understand a word.

Jacob and I split at the Blaha Lujza tram stop, where he transferred to the metro and I continued on toward Móricz Zsigmond körtér and home. It turned out that the girl sitting across the aisle from me was a participant in the Budapest Semester in Mathematics last year and she knows some people in BSCS this year, so we talked for the rest of the ride until we had to part ways in Móricz. Small world, eh?

This weekend wasn't particularly restful... but, then again, I don't really know of a time when I've ever been completely well-rested. It goes without saying, though, that weekends should be a bit longer. If only so I can have more time to sleep!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Philosophy should die.

8:14 pm CET

My brain hurts. And I feel incredibly stupid.

... I need a vacation.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

There's no such thing as too much wine.

9:20 pm CET

This weekend we BSCS folk went on a trip to Eger, a wine-producing town to the northeast of Budapest. We woke up practically at dawn on Saturday so we could catch the train at Keleti pályaudvar (the East Station). On our first train, Tristan, Annabeth, Carrie, and I made the mistake of choosing a compartment with the window open. It turned out that it was stuck and couldn't be closed, so it got ridiculously cold. We all tried to close it to no avail, and the Hungarian guy who was also in our compartment attempted to kick the window shut, but that didn't work, either. To pass the time, and since the train had compartments and it therefore reminded us of the Hogwarts Express, we decided to start assigning Harry Potter characters to everyone we saw. It was quite entertaining, to say the least. Especially Skater Harry. He was probably the best one.

We swapped trains in this tiny village and took a much newer train to Eger. Once there, we walked from the station into the town center and looked around a bit (we climbed a Turkish minaret left over from the Ottoman occupation of the area) and then dropped off our stuff at the house we rented on top of this huge hill overlooking the town. From there we went to the medieval castle that also sits atop the hill. There was a big archery tournament being held at the castle, and people from all over Hungary were in attendance. Some of the archers were wearing costumes from different ages in Hungarian history, and it was extremely interesting to see all the get-ups people had on (there was a guy who had an entire fox pelt that he was using as a cover for his quiver. It was a bit disturbing, actually). We wandered around the castle for a couple hours, checking out the dungeons and an art gallery that is on site. A few others and I walked up to the outer battlements to see the view, and we passed a little boy (he couldn't have been older than four years) who was playing with a wooden toy sword. He was swinging it in my direction (with sound effects that perplexingly resembled a blaster from Star Wars), so I pretended to die. I clutched my chest and slumped over on the stairs, making some overly-dramatic heaving noises before going still for a few moments. He seemed to get a lot of enjoyment out of that, and his giddy smile certainly made my day a bit brighter.

After leaving the castle, we went downhill into town and found a place to eat. Following lunch, we went to the Basilica and got a guided tour of the giant maze of wine storage tunnels that runs beneath the town. It was cool, but all I could imagine while making the countless number of turns was getting lost in this dank underground labyrinth of tunnels and not being able to find my way out. Needless to say, I don't think I'll be doing that again.

When we returned to the sunlit world above, we walked back down the street to the Basilica, where we saw two weddings and some local bands playing on the stairs leading up to the church. A mayoral candidate was having a meet-and-greet-type thing where people were giving out free wine and cookies, and the bands were part of his program. By this point we were kind of tired and we opted to go to directly to Szépasszonyvölgy (literally, "The Valley of the Fair Lady"), a valley at the southern edge of Eger where some of the wine is made and there are several wine cellers all next to one another. We started at one cellar and made our way to four more (I think...) over the course of the evening. To keep this short, let's just say that there was a lot of wine, some weird bread, and a couple creepy older guys who tried to kiss people and intrude on our conversations. Since we started drinking so early, most of us were pretty far gone by 10:00 pm, so a few of us called a cab and went back to our accomodations to sleep and recover (I was fine, but others were far from it).

The next morning we woke fairly early to catch another train to the even smaller town of Szilvásvárad. There we walked to the Bükk National Park so we could see the mountains, forest, and theVeil Waterfall (Fátyol-vízesés). The falls were stunning and the fresh air in the woods was a welcome change from the past month surrounded by metal and stone. The scenery out there is absolutely gorgeous, and I'm immensely glad that I really got to appreciate how truly beautiful this country is.

After spending the day wandering around the entrance to the park, we went back to the train station so we could return to Eger, where we got on another train to go home to Budapest. The trip was a ton of fun, although now I am glad to be able to relax before the new class starts tomorrow morning. Our professor for the next week is our friend, Gabor; he's been coming on our excursions with us and he hangs out with us sometimes, too. It's going to be interesting to see how the dynamics will change now that he has to go from drinking buddy to teacher. I'm sure it'll be fun, though, even if that means another week of philosophy for me.