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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

J'ai besoin de pratiquer mon français maintenant...

10:52 pm CET

My day was boring as hell. I doodled all through class and then skipped Hungarian because I wasn't feeling very well. This whole lack of sleep thing needs to figure itself out; I'm really starting to feel its effects and it is definitely no picnic.

On the bright side, this afternoon I booked round-trip plane tickets and five nights in a good hotel in Nice, France for my October break. I'd been tossing vacation ideas back and forth for a while, but this seemed like the best one, when all was said and done. According to the description of the hotel, it's in the town center and a fifteen-minute walk away from the beach. I certainly hope that's true, because the plan is to spend a lot of time relaxing on the shores of the Mediterranean. Also, apparently there are trains in Nice that can get one to Cannes, Marseille, and Monte Carlo, Monaco in about twenty minutes flat. I'll try to make a day trip to one (or two) of those cities during my time there. Preferably to Monte Carlo, but that's because I sort of want to fangirl over every square inch of ground that Grace Kelly stepped on... maybe.

Anyway, my day has basically been spent imagining la Côte d'Azur and trying in my mind to convert the chilly autumn breeze here into a salty sea one, but of course, without much luck. Because, believe me, if I have to endure another month of philosophy, I'm gonna do it with the French Riviera occupying the space into which I will inevitably be staring. I have no doubts about that.

Monday, September 27, 2010

My new professor is insane.

10:04 pm CET

We began our new class today and found within minutes that our professor is, for lack of a better term, batshit nuts. I can't remember the name, but I swear that he reminds me of a character from Looney Toons. He's got these wild eyes and manner of speaking that just screams mad scientist; not that it's a bad thing, of course. At least I'll never get bored.

When class ended I met Rachel in Móricz and we went up to the Collegium. Jacob showed up soon after and we hung out for a while. Chloe Page, who is here from her study abroad program in Israel visiting her father, came over and hung out with us, too, for a couple hours. When we took Chloe down to the square, Jacob, Rachel, and I had dinner at the viking gyros place down the hill and then got ice cream at the pâtisserie next door.

Rachel and I split up from Jacob and we walked back up to my room, where we've been watching random youtube videos ever since. We'll get to bed eventually, though; we have to wake up super-early so I can get her to the airport on time for her flight back to Israel. Hopefully the tour guide hat I've been wearing these past few days won't fail me now... getting lost out there would really suck.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Rachael, Jacob, and Rachel go to the Zoo, or: how we learned to herd wayward animals.

11:12 pm CET

Just realised that today marks one month since arriving in Budapest. Crazy how times flies, eh?

Anyway, I managed to sort of sleep in this morning before having to leave for lunch with my mom's friend's brother and his five-year-old daughter. He teaches at another university in the city, so he wanted to meet to see if there was anything I needed. The meal was fantastic (though isn't it always when someone else is paying?) and I had a good time chatting with the two of them (the little girl was absolutely adorable).

After lunch I took the 47 to Deák Ferenc tér where I was to meet Jacob and Rachel again so we could go to the Budapest Zoo & Botanical Garden in City Park. Of course it had to rain today, though, so when we got there, many of the animals were somewhere inside where we couldn't see them. We saw all the typical zoo animals: tigers, bears, elephants, zebras, snakes, etc. And of course we saw the red pandas (I kind of had a cute-induced seizure) and some gorillas (there was a really cute baby one, but then we saw its mother eating poop and immediately decided it was time to leave that part of the exhibit). In one of the bird houses, this big blue bird with red eyes had flown over the glass divider and onto the path, so we decided to try to herd it back into its proper exhibit in the room next door. Rachel and I held the doors open while Jacob slowly followed it, trying to keep it moving toward us. It got flustered, though, and flew over Jacob's head (he freaked out; it was hilarious) and landed on the glass divider, so we gave up and continued on our way.

Following our encounter with the bird, we took a break and went to the other side of the zoo. We watched some seals doing tricks with their trainers and walked around some more. On our way out we passed the petting zoo, which was filled with goats. Apparently the zoo is short staffed or something, because there was nobody around running the exhibit. And with no one running the petting zoo to make sure everything was done properly, someone left the gate open. And because someone left the gate open, of course a baby goat escaped and ran across the path to eat the seemingly delicious-looking leaves on the ground. It was at this point that we got there. We looked desperately for a zoo worker and, upon finding no one, I took it upon myself to retrieve the goat and put it back in its pen. This took around fifteen minutes of me standing like a complete moron holding out leaves to the goat in numerous attempts to coax it closer to me (the "here, goatie goat!!!" every five seconds probably didn't help all that much). When it finally got close enough, I grabbed it as carefully as I could, carried it across the path, and gently dropped it back over the fence into its enclosure, where it pranced off as if nothing had ever happened.

Once we were certain that the goat wouldn't escape again, we continued on the path toward the entrance (and saw what looked like a three-headed camel...) and left. We walked to the metro station across from Hősök tere and took it to the Oktogon, where we found a TGI Friday's for dinner (I know, I know, but give me some credit: I've resisted the American food for a whole month). After dinner, we went back to my dorm to watch another movie (Galaxy Quest this time).

Tomorrow is back to the ol' grind with the start of our philosophy of language course. This philosophy class should be better than my introduction to it during my first week... I hope.

Rachael, Jacob, and Rachel go to Buda Castle.

12:35 am CET

Today was incredibly fun. It was Rachel's birthday, so I put on my fearless leader/tour guide hat and basically arranged an itinerary for the day. We met in Deák Ferenc tér around one and made our way to Szent István Bazilika (making this three visits for Jacob, two for me, and the first [obviously] for Rachel). On the way, since none of us had eaten lunch, we stopped at a small chinese restaurant. Once finished, we continued on to the basilica and went inside to look around. We weren't permitted to go into the main sanctuary of the church, however, because a wedding was being held. We watched the bride and groom walk down the aisle and head outside before following them and continuing onward toward the river.

We walked to the Danube and crossed the Chain Bridge, walking to the base of Castle Hill so we could take the little lift thingy that takes passengers up and down the slope. While waiting in line, we saw yet another bride and groom, though this time they were coming down the hill path after a photo shoot at the castle. The view from the top is gorgeous, so we took a quick break to absorb it all. After sufficient soaking in of the scenery, we walked around the southern part of the hill and checked out the several souvenir stands (I bought a flute from this old Hungarian guy; he seemed pretty cool). We went into the castle, but opted to look around the gardens outside instead of paying to meander indoors. Following our brief encounter with the restored Budai Vár, we walked to the center of the hill to see the Mátyás Templom (Matthias Church). Again, we decided to simply look rather than buy tickets to go inside, and we took a break for some coffee and soda.

When we finished, we walked just beyond the church to the Halászbástya (the Fisherman's Bastion), which is a series of stone towers built along the original medieval fortifications of the city on the hill. The terraces and towers provide a beautiful view, so we spent some time wandering. We bought some ice cream (I got raspberry-vanilla) and began our descent to Moszkva tér, where we were to have dinner at this traditional Hungarian restaurant Batsell had mentioned while he was here. On the way down the hill, we passed another church and yet another wedding. Everyone in Budapest was getting married today, it seems.

Once down that monster of a hill, we walked the short distance from its base to the restaurant. I can't remember its name (something with a trombone), but we found it without trouble. We walked in, sat down, and ordered dinner. The mountain of food we each received was almost unbearably good, though I'm fairly certain that none of us finished all that we had ordered because there was so much. After dinner, we took the six back to Móricz, bought some wine and chocolate from a 24-hour ABC (a tiny convenience store; they're all over the place), and went to my dorm room to watch a movie.

After the business of today, I'll need a good rest for tomorrow. We're going to the Zoo! Yay!!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Crazy days lead to crazy nights.

1:21 am CET

Today was another long day. I got up early to cram for the cognitive ethology final and just made it to the university in time for the last minute review session. The exam didn't feel too bad; I definitely felt better coming out of this one than I have the past two.

After the exam I went to the Grand Market Hall again to get a closer look. I had a delicious sausage for lunch, and I bought a lovely blue pashmina scarf for myself (it's actually the only thing I've purchased so far that isn't liquor, food, or living essentials). On my way out I got a warm sour cherry-apple strudel which was, of course, absolutely divine. Once outside I hopped on the 49 tram to Deák Ferenc tér, and from there I took the yellow metro line to Hősök tere (Heroes' Square). There I walked around and took plenty of pictures, and I crossed the road and took a nice, soothing walk through City Park.

Following four hours of walking the streets of Budapest, I returned home to relax. I was far from relaxed, however, when I realised that my computer wouldn't turn on. Thinking there might be some problem with the electricity, I went to plug in my surge protector. Ironically enough, the protector caused the fuse to blow, so the electricity in my half of the room went out. Ada and I went down to the porter to ask what we should do, and since he doesn't speak much English, he directed us to his computer where we communicated using Google Translate (which was really funny, actually). He gave us the key to the electrical box and told us to "find a boy." Instead of being offended, we found the first Hungarian guy we could to help us. He found a ladder and flipped the switch, and all was well. At this point, Rachel Cohan showed up with Jacob. Their unexpected arrival certainly made me feel a whole lot better about my day. We went back to my room and sat for an hour or so and just talked; it was so wonderful having the three of us together again, and it made me miss home a little bit.

When they left, I (somehow) fixed my computer by taking out the battery, and got ready for the pub crawl that Niki and Zoli were taking us on. Ada and I left the dorm late, so we were subsequently late getting to the designated meeting point. It was alright, though: half the group was late, and during the entire tram ride to Oktogon (a big octogonal intersection where we decided to meet), there was an extremely drunk man singing to himself and whoever would listen. It goes without saying that it was, indeed, a hysterical trip.

Upon the entire group assembling, we went to the first pub. Jacob and Rachel met us there, too, so it was a lot of fun. We ended up going to... four pubs, I believe, before I broke off from the group for the night. We had a great time, although no one had such a wild time that they ended up actually crawling... hahaha.

Tomorrow I am putting on my "fearless leader" hat and taking Rachel (and Jacob) around the city for her birthday. I have some good stuff planned, and I am super excited. It's gonna be such a blast!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

L'amour est un oiseau rebelle.

11:24 pm CET

Class was the same as always (long and boring), and by the time it ended I was more than ready for a nap. I bought some groceries and walked up to the dorm, where (instead of studying) I rested for a few hours.

Not too much later Ada, Yoana, and I had to start getting ready for the opera. We got all dressed up and at five we were out the door. It didn't take too long to get there--the trams and metro move fairly quickly--and we ended up having plenty of time. The opera house is absolutely gorgeous, so we looked around the ground floor for a few minutes. After that, we trekked all the way up to the highest balcony to find our seats. We could see everything save for the far part of stage right, so it wasn't at all bad. I had forgotten to read the synopsis of Carmen, and my French is nowhere near good enough to understand all of the lyrics, so I tried my best and mostly relied on body language and context when I needed to figure out what was going on. I knew enough about the opera to catch on and follow without trouble, but it definitely would have been nice to know everything that was said. Surprisingly enough, I didn't find the Hungarian subtitles (surtitles? They are above the stage, after all...) the least bit distracting. Probably because I could only understand a few words here and there (like "and" and "love." There were lots of ands and loves).

The woman playing Carmen had a lovely voice; it was very strong and smooth and very much reminded me of Renée Fleming. I also really liked the woman who was playing Micaëla; her soprano was soft and clear, and her aria toward the end was heartrending. The men were good, too, but none of them really stood out for me. Except for one of the guys playing one of the smugglers, though only because he had a gigantic teddy bear that my roomies and I decided had to be filled with marijuana for him to schlep it around everywhere he went.

Once it was over, we hopped on the metro and then a tram to return home. The newer trams (either a six or a four) have this pre-recorded woman's voice that announces the next stops in Hungarian and English, and when the tram approaches Móricz Zsigmond körtér--the final station--the voice says in this terribly final tone "goodbye." It always sounds as though if we take one step off of the tram after she says it, we're all going to die; that's how ultimate it feels. What's hilarious, however, is that tonight on the tram, I saw that the Hungarians find it as funny and apocalyptic as we do: three 20-something Hungarian guys were talking to each other and they said the "goodbye" at the same time the voice did, and then one of them made a gesture to indicate an explosion, sound effects included.

Good to know we're not the only ones who find the tram recording a little morbidly amusing.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

There is totally a statue that looks like Gandalf at St. Stephen's Basilica.

11:11 pm CET

Boring day in school, blah blah blah. After class I exchanged some Euro for Hungarian forints, waited half an hour for a 41 tram, and went off along the Buda side of the Danube.

Instead of getting off at the Chain Bridge stop as I had originally planned, I went to the end of the line a few stops further upriver (I was going to go back to Castle Hill for a photo spree, but since the tram took forever to arrive, I didn't have much time left before I had to meet Jacob for dinner). I walked around for a while, watching the sunset pass over Parliament till I had to hop on another tram so I could meet Jacob at the Astoria stop in Pest.

Once we found one another, we went to Deák Ferenc tér to begin looking for the Shakespeare-themed restaurant I had read about in my guidebook. We found the street easily enough but, try as we might, we could not find the restaurant. Perhaps it disappeared, or maybe it never existed; who knows. Either way, we didn't discover its whereabouts, which, of course, was rather sad. After being accosted by a creepy guy who attempted to get us into some restaurant he said he works for, we decided upon the BoB--Bacardi Original Bar--and sat outside, enjoying the beautiful weather and the just as beautiful view of the Szent István Bazilika (St. Stephen's Basilica). We had a fantastic dinner and afterwards found a tiny ice cream shop where they made the scoops look like a flower. It was a lovely evening, that goes without saying.

Jacob went underground to catch the metro and I stayed above to grab my tram home. I noticed as I walked to the stop (and while in the tram en route to Móricz) that there were people on bicycles everywhere. I don't know if there was some huge cyclists' convention or what, but something must have been going on. I saw hundreds of people on bikes all heading toward Deák Ferenc tér, and there were several cops out and about directing traffic and patrolling in general. It was a pretty bizarre sight, that's for sure.

Tomorrow will be another exciting day; rather, the evening will be exciting. Ada, Yoana, and I are going to the State Opera to see Carmen!! I've been looking forward to this for weeks. It is going to be such a great show... and I will finally be getting my live performance fix. Thank goodness.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Have you ever seen the grass so green or a bluer sky?

10:17 pm CET

The sun finally decided to come out from behind those ever-persistent clouds today! The distinct smell of autumn was in the crisp air this morning as I walked to the tram, and I was more than elated to see a clear blue sky.

That said, we also had a fresh start with a new class today: cognitive ethology. That basically means we'll be studying the cognitive abilities of animals. Our professor is from our university (ELTE) and his english is good (more understandable than Érdi's, that's for sure). He seems a little scatterbrained, but the class looks promising nonetheless.

After making it through ethology lecture, we studied frantically for our first language test (it had been postponed twice already, so there was no chance of it happening again). It was alright; there were definitely things we all completely forgot, but I think--for the K students, at least--our history of bullshitting came in extremely handy.

Instead of exploring today, I decided to take the afternoon to recover from a rather restless night. I bought some fresh bread and went up to the Collegium, where, once in my room, I almost immediately collapsed in bed for a nap. Later in the evening, the fourteen of us (fifteen with Niki) went to the dorm's basement for a meet-and-greet thing with the students of the English-American Studies Workshop. I got the impression that they were thoroughly amused by us; they seemed to find our jokes funny, anyway (at least, I hope they knew we were joking... otherwise we definitely just perpetuated the obnoxious American stereotype a whole lot).

The weather is supposed to be nice and sunny for the rest of the week, so I plan to take full advantage of it. I still have several rocks left unturned in this city... it's time to do some serious exploring, methinks.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

It's definitely food coma time.

8:25 pm CET

After last night's festivities wore me out, I figured I'd be tired enough to sleep until mid-morning.

No such luck.

I woke up at 8:00, as usual, and--since I couldn't get back to sleep--decided to lie in bed and read. At 10:00 I went downstairs to the ground floor to meet the rest of the group for our day of Hungarian cooking. Niki, her friend Heni (I have no idea if I spelled that correctly), and our soon-to-be professor, Gabor, had arrived and were giving us tasks around the kitchen. Over the five hours of preparation and cooking, I peeled, chopped, and mashed potatoes, arranged ingredients, and carved an enormous slab of beef. I don't think "enormous" even begins to describe how huge this chunk of meat was. Regardless, I put my mad cutting skills to good use and finished what needed to be done.

We made several home-style Hungarian foods: we had paprikás krumpli (a stew-like dish with potatoes, onions, eggs, sausage, paprika, and a healthy layer of sour cream), a couple different types of sausage, and pörkölt (a beef stew that is similar to gulyásleves, served over pasta). We also had lots of bread, wine, and cheese being passed around the table, along with two water bottles filled with pálinka. Let me just tell you now: pálinka is deadly. Very, very deadly. It's this brandy made from peaches, plums, and pears, and it has an alcohol content of 53% by volume. Pálinka, according to Gabor, is very popular in the countryside, and he said that members of the older generations take a swig of it every morning to help get them started for the day. This particular pálinka was made by Niki's father (which is illegal, so I jokingly called it moonshine) and, though I cannot rightfully judge since this was my first exposure to the drink, I don't think it gets much stronger than that. It burns all the way down and the warmth spreads across the chest. I've never had anything like it; if winters are as bad as I've heard they are, I suppose I can understand why it's so popular. After dinner, part of the group made crêpes for dessert, some filled with cottage cheese, some with nutella or cocao, and others with homemade jams that Niki's mother had made. They, too, were delicious beyond compare, and merely added to our already gigantic food babies.

The entire day was spent together in the kitchen and dining room, and I'm fairly certain that we all had a great time. The food was fantastic, and we're pretty sure that tonight's meal was one of the best we'll be having during our stay here. Since our Hungarian friends cooked traditional food for us, we promised that we would cook a traditional American Thanksgiving dinner for them.

I guess the pressure's on.

Friday, September 17, 2010

I don't think I can forgive all this rain.

11:27 pm CET

The exam this morning was not at all what any of us expected; some stuff was repetetive, some of it we swear we'd never seen before. All is well, though, and the exam is now all but completely forgotten. After the test, I had a quick conversation with a Hungarian student I met near the elevators. We chatted about where we're from and why I came here, and what we're studying at ELTE (Eötvös Loránd Tudományegyetem). She said the weather will just get worse from here: the rain will barely begin to disappear during the rest of autumn, and winter's going to be cold, snowy, and brutal. We K students probably won't have that big a problem with it, though; we do get the lake effect, after all.

I returned to the dorm in the pouring rain and slept for a few hours. For lunch, I temporarily deviated from the salami and cheese and made a lox and schmear sandwich (had to get my Jew on for Yom Kippur, yeah?) on the roll I had found that most closely resembled a bagel (Budapest really needs to get on the bagel train; their baked goods are fantastic, but they have no idea what they're missing out on).

I didn't know what time Kol Nidre services began at the Dohány Street Synagogue, so I decided to go around six and hope for the best. Once there, I met an older American woman (Betty from Madison, WI) and we stuck together. She is on a trip searching for her roots, she said; her parents had come from a smaller town further east of the city that, after several border reorganisations, is now part of Ukraine. We were early enough that we could procure good seats and, though it seemed many of the women were going up to the second and third floors to separate themselves from the men of the congregation, the two of us stayed on the main floor of the sanctuary. There were newsletters for the synagogue in each row, and an old woman came up to us asking in Hungarian if she could have some. We responded that we didn't understand Magyar and that we were Americans, and she asked if we spoke Yiddish. How crazy is that? It boggled my mind that the older generations around here still communicate in Yiddish. We tried our best and (mostly Betty) managed to hold a short conversation with the woman. It was really cool!

The service started fairly late, and people were actually coming and going all throughout the evening, which was a little strange. Also, people were talking throughout the entire thing; there was rarely a moment of silence even while the rabbi was talking or the choir was singing. The man sitting behind us--he spoke decent english--told us that services are a social event first and a religious event second, and that the constant drone of conversation is pretty much normal.

After a few hours of barely following the service (they don't have uniform prayer books), Betty and I left with a large majority of the congretation. We parted ways, each wishing the other a goodnight and good year, and hoping that we find in Budapest what we came for.

Instead of wandering around for a while, I decided to go straight back home. When I walked into the Collegium, I was met with around thirty young men, all of whom were wearing dress pants and black waistcoats (we found out later that they were a choir--we heard them singing from the third floor--but it was still kind of weird walking in and seeing them all there). Once comfortably upstairs and in my PJs, the whole group got together in the boys' room for an evening of drinking games. Following a hilarious game of King's Cup, all of us were thoroughly intoxicated and ready for bed. Tomorrow we have a wonderful day planned; Niki is going to teach us how to cook a few super-authentic, traditional Hungarian dishes, and I am more than excited.

There is no way I am missing out on our cooking venture tomorrow... so much for fasting, eh?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

I need to learn how to cook, stat.

7:35 pm CET

Despite this blog's title, it seems I'm not yet hungry enough to be adventurous in the kitchen (I know; I groaned as I wrote it. Bad puns, bad!).

It's merely that I have all these irrational fears about far-fetched cooking scenarios and they love to play out vividly in my mind; I'm going to blow up the oven or set fire to the stove or singe my eyebrows or burn my dinner so severely that the pungent stink sets off the sprinklers in the entire building and I get ostracised and sent to the dank, dark Collegium basement never to be heard from again.

... Ok, that last part was for melodramatic flourish, but for realsies: I'm just really afraid that I'll mess up. And if there's one thing that I absolutely hate doing, it's messing up. Not that I think perfection is plausible--far from it--I simply like keeping my shortcomings to a minimum. From everyone else's perspective, anyway.

My plans to actually cook thwarted once more, it looks as though I'm having a salami and cheese sandwich for dinner again. At least I'm pro at making those, right?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Say what now?

5:30 pm CET

I think I got carded while buying a bottle of wine this afternoon. The cashier was speaking rapid Hungarian (obviously) and I didn't understand a word of it (obviously), so I started stammering in english and effortlessly put on my best "deer in headlights-I have no idea what you're saying to me" face (I've had a lot of practice lately). He got the idea and said "ID please," at which point I handed him my international student identification card and he, after looking at it strangely for a few moments, finally scanned the wine through and sent me on my merry way.

This language barrier is becoming increasingly frustrating. Even with the new words and phrases, it just isn't enough sometimes to really understand what's going on. I propose that someone come up with an instantaneous way of learning Magyar. Or, at the very least, a universal translator à la Star Trek. That would be super convenient. Super, super convenient.

Monday, September 13, 2010

This has been the wildest Monday night I've ever had.

11:22 pm CET

I thought today was going to be boring beyond belief; class with Érdi all morning, Hungarian test afterwards, groceries, sleep--the usual.

Damn, was I wrong.

Following class early this afternoon, we found out that Dr. Batsell (the head of the psychology department at K) is here for a few days. He was my professor last year and he's fantastic; very smart and very funny. He was giving a short lecture on the benefits of a liberal arts education to some of the Eötvös Loránd University faculty, and we BSCS (Budapest Semester in Cognitive Science) students decided to take advantage of the chance and get our language class cancelled (therefore postponing our test till Wednesday).

After the lecture, Dion, Dan, Patrick, Ada, Carrie, Tristan, Yoana, and I met Dr. Batsell (he said we could call him Bob, but I thought it felt really weird calling him by his first name) at the cognitive science office so he could ask our opinion of the program thus far and take us out for drinks. From the University, we took a tram into Pest, trying to find the bar we went to with our professors on our second night here. Instead we found a café that had the same name, but we were in no mood for coffee. We decided to keep walking, and we ended up on this street with a bunch of restaurants, so we chose one, sat outside, and ordered some drinks. I got a raspberry piña colada, followed by some incredibly sweet semi-alcoholic raspberry lemonade. Both were quite good, but perhaps a bit sweet for my tastes. Ada and Yoana got this cocktail called a "Screaming Orgasm," so more than our fair share of naughty jokes arose from that.

Our conversation weaved in and out between talking shop and telling alcohol induced hilarious stories, so we were all in good moods by the time the sun set. We got rather hungry after a while, but we didn't want to stay at the not-so-cheap restaurant at which we were drinking. We had to escort Dr. Batsell back to his hotel, anyway, so we decided to go to this little pizza parlour near the place he was staying. We took a tram back to Buda, and from there walked up this huge hill to the Castle District (it's gorgeous, by the way. I most definitely will go back to take some photos) where his hotel was.

The pizza place was nice (although a bit on the expensive side; it actually might have been more economical if we had just stayed at the restaurant we had been at previously) and the restaurant next door had a few men playing folk music, so there was an atmosphere about the area that made us all feel comfortable. After some good food, good wine, and lots of good conversation, we bade Dr. Batsell a fond farewell. The seven of us (Yoana had left long before we returned to Buda) made the long descent down Castle Hill, trying to find our way along the pitch black path. The views from the Hill were magnificent; the buildings and bridges were lit up and glowing against the dark of night, and I wished so badly that I had my camera at that moment to capture it all. It made me realise how few times I have actually seen the city at night; the city's grandeur takes on an entirely different form at night, and I found it particularly mesmerising.

Once we somehow managed to make our way down the barely lit path, we waited for a tram to take us back along the river to Móricz Zsigmond körtér. When we finally got back to the room, we were exhausted, but happy. Now for a much-needed rest... I hope.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Hey there, Mr. Blue!

10:33 pm CET

Once again, there was no sleeping in for me. I woke up relatively early and sat around till I felt like leaving for the day. I had another rendezvous with Jacob (in Pest this time) for lunch, and we met up at the Astoria station around noon. After wandering for quite a while looking for somewhere to eat, we settled on this pizza place, aptly named "Pizza King." It took us a good twenty minutes to figure out how the restaurant worked, so we ended up wandering upstairs to the seating area and ordering there.

After lunch we took advantage of the sunshine (I feared it would disappear at any second) and walked around the city, just taking in everything and not really paying attention to where we went. We walked into the Museum of Applied Arts, but didn't actually explore it. Right when you walk in, if you look straight up, there is this beautiful stained glass skylight. I could have stood there for hours craning my neck staring at it, but we had to move on.

We wandered for a bit more before going our separate ways at the Liberty Bridge tram stop. I decided to continue exploring, so I set off on foot across the bridge and took a tram to the Elisabeth Bridge to the north. From there I wandered north still toward the Chain Bridge, Buda Castle, and Parliament, where I found the explanation for why all the trams in that area were not running. The finals for an international triathalon were being held, so I joined the noisy crowd to watch the women running.

There were people from every corner of the world cheering on their racers; I saw (and heard) fans from Chile and Spain, France and Germany, Sweden and Brazil, Ireland and Australia and Canada and Japan and several other nations. People were lining the roads waving flags in support of their countries, and I was more than a little shocked when I noticed that the only Americans I saw were those who were somehow attached to the event. I wanted so badly to have my giant American flag so I could wave it for our athletes so they could know that they had support. Instead, I cheered for each one as she passed, feeling really proud to be from the United States for the first time since arriving. Sometimes you feel like you need to hide it, but today I just wanted the entire world to know.

I crossed the Chain Bridge from Buda into Pest, keeping an eye on the runners as I went. Once on the other side, I walked on the Danube Promenade close to the river back south toward the Liberty Bridge. There are a bunch of nice restaurants, wine bars, and cafés there; not to mention the Gresham Palace (now a glorious Four Seasons hotel that I have yet to check out), the Vigadó Concert Hall, and several bronze statues. There were many buildings and sites that I missed, so I will definitely have to visit another time.

When I finally returned to the dorm, I felt like my feet were going to fall off from all that walking. A good rest is what I need now before our new class starts up tomorrow morning, and I am hoping beyond hope that it's better than philosophy. At this point, though, I have a feeling that anything would be better than philosophy. Even underwater basket weaving.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Will the sun ever shine again?

10: 48 pm CET

I actually slept well for the first time last night since getting here. That bottle of wine may have had something to do with it, but finally having a good night's sleep made me realise how little I've been getting. It's no wonder I've been spacing out so much.

I tried to sleep in, but I ended up waking up at eight, anyway. Since I couldn't fall back asleep, I went between reading a new book and sitting around staring at the ceiling. My roommates were asleep for pretty much the whole day, so I tried to stay quiet. Later Catherine, Jane, and I went to the Great Market Hall across the river in Pest. It's the largest indoor market in the city; there were numerous stalls selling everything from sausages to beer steins, not to mention tons and tons of paprika. It felt sort of touristy, but there were several locals there, as well.

Once finished, we walked across the Liberty Bridge (Szabadság híd), took the 47 tram back to Móricz Zsigmond körtér, and went our separate ways. When I reached my dorm, I tried to sleep some more. People kept coming in and out of our room, though, so there was more entertaining conversation than sleeping going on.

I wish I had a television with NBC right now so I could be watching the Michigan v Notre Dame game. None of the online streaming sites I found were working, so I don't get to see any of it... oh, well. I'll just have to cheer the Maize and Blue on from here and pretend to be there in spirit.

Someone has been setting off fireworks sporadically all evening, but we can't really see them; it's still too foggy to see much of anything in the distance because of this constant rain. The weather reports say it's supposed to be sunny tomorrow... let's just hope that Hungarian meteorologists are more reliable than American ones. A long shot, I know.

Friday, September 10, 2010

An entire bottle of Tokaji white wine probably was not the best idea.

10:20 pm CET

It's been raining for the past three days. I really hope the sun comes back soon so I can explore more. The colder it gets, the more reluctant I'll be to go out; about that I'm fairly certain.

So, despite our professor's warnings that Niki, our dear friend and Hungarian go-to girl, would be wrong about at what time the exam was, it turned out that she was correct after all. The exam was not at 9:00 in the morning as our prof said it would be, but rather at noon. That gave us some extra time to study; but even with more time, I was still not very confident going into the test. Hopefully I didn't do too badly...

Over the past week I've found that philosophy just is not my thing. It only makes me angry and frustrated. Thank goodness that this class is over now, though; I don't think I would have been able to make it another week. Cognitive neuroscience is up next--I am feeling far more positive about that course than the one we just finished.

After class, the Carleton girls (Catherine, Jane, and Julianne), Ada, Yoana, and I went out for a celebratory lunch at a different gyros place further down the street from the one we usually go to. It was tasty and the company was fantastic; I felt a whole lot better after lunch than I did immediately following the exam. When we finished, we split up. Ada and I went to the grocery store (is it normal that I go this often? Maybe it's because I don't buy everything at once...) and stocked up on a few things, and then we returned to the dorm to sleep and relax.

Tonight, everyone (with the exceptions of the two Vassar students--Annabeth and Jonathan--and Dan from Reed) got together to make some curry chicken (and veggies for our three vegetarians) for dinner. It was a huge party in the kitchen; we had music blaring (I rocked out to My Sharona, for those who understand the significance), drinks were being passed around, and a good time was had by all. This evening was, quite literally, the epitome of "eat, drink, and be merry." I had so much fun, and it was great to see (mostly) everyone together outside of class.

Tonight I'm staying in, but tomorrow will most likely be a crazy evening. Now that this class is over, it is definitely time to party. Budapest won't know what hit it.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Towelie said it best: "I have no idea what's going on."

7:48 pm CET

So I woke up, went to school, sat through class, yada yada yada. Tomorrow is our final and I am kind of freaking out; I feel like no amount of studying will make this nonsense comprehensible.

I took the wrong tram from school and had to walk a couple extra blocks to get back home. After that, I collapsed in bed and ended up sleeping for four hours. It was wonderful, though I probably should have been studying instead...

I woke up to find we had no internet. After complaining about it for a while and using it as an excuse not to do any studying, Yoana went to find the resident tech-person-guy to magically make the internet return. He did it in a manner of minutes, and we were more than relieved (and still not studying).

To procrastinate further, Ada, Yoana, and I ordered tickets for a roomies' night out at the Opera. We're going to see Carmen on Thursday the 23rd; tickets were incredibly cheap and our seats are relatively good, so it's sure to be an awesome time. I've never seen Carmen before, either, so I am really excited to finally have it under my "classic operas" belt.

Now I'm still not studying, trying not to think about tomorrow morning, and failing miserably at that task. This is not going to be pretty.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Hi ho, hi ho, to synagogue we go...

9:35 pm CET

First of all, Happy Rosh Hashanah to the Tribe! I hope everyone back home is having a healthy and sweet first day of year 5771.

Today was fairly uneventful. I woke up after my alarm, ran to the tram, made it to school around five minutes late, practically fell asleep on my notes; same old, same old. Tomorrow is pretty much going to be a giant studying session for the final on Friday... hopefully we'll be able to grasp it in time. Language class following philosophy, however, was a lot of fun and very informative. Our first test is on Monday and, though I will have to study, I feel a lot better about that material than that which will be on my philosophy exam.

We got out of class a teensy bit early and I went straight to the grocery store (yes, again). I decided not to go to Rosh Hashanah services this evening because I needed some time for myself and for catching up with class readings. Because I chose not to head out to the synagogue, I bought some apples and honey (see, I had an actual purpose this time!), instead. When I got back to the room, I watched the film version of Brigadoon (very cheesy, but isn't that how '50s movies are supposed to be?) and read some of the chapters for tomorrow's philosophy class. I made a salami and cheese sandwich szendvics (I practically live on them) for dinner, and proceeded to check on my cup of gummy bears in the fridge that had been soaking in Tokaji white wine for 20 hours. Let's just say they were delicious, and that we definitely plan to make more. But maybe with rum. Yes, definitely with rum...

About an hour ago, I cut up the apples and made a honey dish out of the bottom of a plastic cup, and then arranged everything to look (somewhat) presentable. I felt like it would be nice to spread the sweetness, so I brought the plate to the rooms of the other participants and offered some apples and honey to them. It went over rather well, I think, even though I was left with a lot of food. More for my roommates and me, I suppose, haha.

It's a little lonely being the only Jew here on Rosh Hashanah, but it definitely won't be like this for Yom Kippur. The plan is to actually go to services for Kol Nidre and truly experience the Hungarian Jewish Community. It's sure to be an amazing adventure; I have no doubts about that.

!שנה טובה

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Hungarian Room.

9:24 pm CET

Our second day of class was a lot less troublesome than the first; concepts were a bit easier to understand and I didn't get nearly as lost as I did yesterday. There are two more class days till the final, though, which is definitely scary.

After philosophy I ordered a sandwich in Hungarian (so exciting!! I didn't mess up!!!!) in the cafeteria, and took a short nap before our first Hungarian Culture class began. The professor is this older Hungarian guy. His english isn't that good, but he was wearing a brightly-coloured ascot, so that wins him a few points, at least. Two other K students and I had to leave class immediately after introducing ourselves because we had an appointment at the immigration office for which we couldn't be late. Luckily we didn't miss all that much, according to the others.

Getting the residence permit was relatively quick and painless, so I am now officially allowed to live in this country! Huzzah!! The immigration officers were friendly and they spoke really good english, so we didn't have to wait forever trying to understand one another. On the way back to the dorm it began to rain and I had forgotten my umbrella, so I made a makeshift headcover from my scarf (I think some people may have been staring at me). The bus ride home was great; the three of us had a great conversation with our student coordinator, Niki (we don't actually know what her title is, but she does pretty much everything for us; she's kind of like our Hungarian older sister), and she said that my Hungarian accent is pretty good. I was really proud of myself, haha. When we got back to Móricz Zsigmond körtér, I went to the Spar (pronounced Shparr) and bought even more groceries (I feel like I get some every single day, but hey, if it's that cheap, why not keep the fridge stocked up?) and walked back to the dorm.

One of my roommates got the single room she was originally assigned, so one of the other program participants--Yoana from Bulgaria--moved in with Ada and me. She just finished moving in and we've already broken out the booze in celebration. I can tell this is going to be a fantastic rooming situation; we're going to have such a blast!

All the rest of the Eötvös Loránd Tudományegyetem students have arrived, which means that our once quiet Collegium is now filled with people. It's a change we'll get used to easily enough, but tonight there are huge groups of them outside shouting and cheering. About what, we're not sure, but it certainly makes for interesting background noise.

Hopefully they won't be going all night, though, 'cause we have another 9-5 day tomorrow... now let's see if y'all can shake Dolly out of your heads. Good luck!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Oh, hey there coffee addiction. Nice to see you again.

7:54 pm CET

Since I have a few days to cover in this post, I'll begin with today and then leap backward to Saturday and Sunday.

Today we had our first real class: an Introduction to the Philosophy of Cognitive Science course taught by a professor from the University of Sussex. I was really excited to be taught by an English guy, but it turns out he's an American expat, so he still sounds Midwestern for the most part. I have a feeling that this class is going to be fairly difficult for me. Hopefully it won't become too overwhelming, though. The class began at 9:00 and went straight to 1:30. Following that, we had an hour-long lunch break before returning to the room for our Hungarian language class, which went till 5:00-ish. This schedule is going to take a lot of adjustment on our parts; I know for sure that I'll be needing a lot of caffeine to stay alert for that long in the same spot.

This weekend, on the other hand, was absolutely amazing. We began our excursion on Saturday morning by heading to the small town of Szentendre, on the Danube to the north of Budapest. We went to this living museum (kind of like Greenfield Village; they had recreations of villages in different regions of Hungary) called Skanzen. We walked around a few of the villages before making it to the one where the wine festival was being held. We gave that village a thorough look, as well, playing some traditional harvest season games, listening to a story or two, and purchasing some local fare (mostly in the form of pastries; they're everywhere, I tell you!). We borrowed some wine glasses and each bought a different type of wine (200 HUF [about $0.90 USD] per glass) and shared with one another so we could taste them all. We tried some more local food (this pizza-like thing with onions, bacon, sour cream, and cheese) and attempted to learn how to dance with a bottle on our heads. The seventeen of us (fourteen students plus our three Hungarian friends/coordinators/tour guides/not quite sure what their titles are) began a game of assassins. I am never very good at that game, but I stayed on my guard, anyway.

We took Skanzen's train back to the main building and, from there, left to go to downtown Szentendre for lunch and some exploring. It's a cute little town on the banks of the Danube with restaurants, tiny souvenir shops, and plenty of tourists. I mostly walked around on my own, checking out some stores, but staying close to the river and people watching. There were several different people there: Hungarian teenagers, local fishermen, vacationers from all over, and even a newly married couple still in their finest, posing near the river for some post-wedding photos. It was fascinating to see the wide spectrum of people who had made their way to the small--yet lively--city.

From there we drove to Esztergom, another small town further north that is on the Slovakian border. One of the largest cathedrals in Europe is in this town and we explored every nook and cranny of it. The basilica is beautiful and quite old; though the current building is somewhat new (it was finished in 1869), there has been a church there for nearly a thousand years, and all the Hungarian kings were crowned in that very spot. Since the cathedral is on a hill, it's possible to see across the Danube and across the border. We figured we had enough time to spare, and proceeded to cross the bridge into Slovakia. Let me rephrase that: We walked across a river and into another country. It was a surreal experience; there were no customs officers, no inane questions, nothing. About 100 feet from the end of the bridge was a bar, so (of course) we went in and bought some Slovak beer. It was actually really good; much better than Hungarian beer (they admitted it, too, haha). We had our share of beer and returned to the Hungarian side of the river, continuing on our journey to the town of Visegrád. Our Hungarian leaders made us a delicious authentic home-cooked dinner and we played a lot of icebreakers to get the group better acquainted. We got cabins at a campsite on a huge hill and spent the night there. When we awoke in the morning, I got out in our game of assassins, we packed up, had a breakfast of vegetables, salami, bread, and cheese, and went on an unexpected hike up a mountain to where the medieval citadel rests.

After a long (and slightly brutal) hike, we made it to the citadel. It was lovely--filled with a sense of history and purpose--and the views of the Danube Bend from the top were marvelous. After looking around for a couple hours, we hiked back down the mountain and into the actual town of Visegrád, where we ate lunch (I had gulyásleves; it was beyond delicious) and walked to the early-Renaissance summer palace of King Matthias Corvinus. Looking at the crumbling remains of the királyi palota ("royal palace" in Hungarian), I could feel its former majesty in the stones, fountains, and gardens. It was obvious that in its time, it was a beautiful and powerful place. Following our exploration of the palace, we grabbed some ice cream and walked to the docks where were to board the boat back to Budapest. Upon returning, we walked back to the dorm, thoroughly exhausted, and crashed gratefully on our beds.

I am still recuperating from the weekend, and I'm not sure how this first class is going to treat me. I certainly hope that I will understand it soon, seeing as how I don't have that much time before the course is over (Friday is the final; crazy, I know). I think I'm just going to need a good night's sleep, some old fashioned hard work, and a lot of caffeine. A whole lot of caffeine, indeed...

Friday, September 3, 2010

Let's play the "don't get deported" game!

10:42 pm CET

This morning we took a tram, two buses, and the subway to the far-flung Immigration Office to get our residency permits. After waiting an hour for my turn, I was told by our program coordinator that because I have a visa, I actually have to go to a different office. So now two fellow K students and I are going to this other place on Monday to get our permits. Hopefully it won't take an eternity or be all too nervewracking; I just want it to be over already. I guess I've never really known what it feels like to be a foreigner before (Canada barely counts). It is amazing here, but in this instance at least, it definitely sucks being a stranger in a strange land.

After returning home empty-handed, I bought some more groceries and walked up to my room. I was more exhausted than I had thought, and ended up sleeping for a few hours. I've been resting in the room all day long, and I am grateful for the time to myself. I certainly needed a chance to catch up, and today did just the thing.

Pretty much all evening I've been listening to a classical radio station I recently discovered: Klasszik Radio 92.1 FM Budapest. Its Friday night repetoire is a little strange, though; never before have I heard Holst back-to-back with Be Our Guest, or Bach followed by America from West Side Story. Not that I mind, of course; it eclectic nature is just noteworthy in my book.

In other news, tomorrow morning we leave for our trip to the towns of Szentendre and Visegrád. In Szentendre we're set to join the wine-tasting festival and see an old cathedral, and in Visegrád we're going to visit a castle and spend the night in some cabins. On Sunday we'll pack up and return to Budapest by boat on the Danube. It's sure to be an amazing experience, and the tentative plan is to take so many photos that facebook will explode when I try to upload them all.

For now, however, I have to finish putting stuff in my backpack for tomorrow. I'll kick back with my bizarre awesome radio station of choice and my half-empty bottle of Heineken (I know, more beer. I'm not becoming an alcoholic, I promise), and just recover from a busy week while preparing for the weekend of a lifetime ahead. Cheers!

Emlékezzünk -- Remember.

11:52 pm CET

Today was another long, rewarding day. I woke up early and bought a tasty pastry for breakfast, just before catching the number six tram to the university. We had our language class again and learned some more useful stuff, like how to say where you're from and what language you speak. We'll be starting numbers on Monday, which will be incredibly helpful. That way we won't have to keep asking for our room keys with our fingers.

After class I jumped on the number four tram into Pest with the Carleton girls. We walked around a bit, but then I split from the three of them so I could go find the Dohány Street Synagogue. I walked a while on my own, feeling strangely confident, and bought some lunch on the way. I found Dohány Street without much trouble, and when I turned onto it I was met suddenly with the synagogue. I'm not joking when I say it exploded into view; I had not been expecting it to be right on the corner, so I had kept my head down, paying attention to where I was going rather than to the scenes before me. I glanced up and there it was, and it was just as gorgeous as I had imagined it would be. It looks almost like a mosque; its arabesque towers and arches mixing seamlessly with spanish colour and flavour. But that slight peculiarity only adds to its mystique, I think, and I stood (quite awkwardly) across the street just marvelling at this work of art for several minutes before actually making my way toward it.

I wandered around the outside first, checking with the man working at the aptly-named "JewInform" booth what time Rosh Hashanah services begin on Wednesday evening (7:00). I passed the guard at the front gate and continued through the metal detector, which really brought home the threat some jewish communities still face in many places around the world. The man running the detector spoke good english, and he seemed either amused or surprised when I told him I was American. He checked my backpack with my assistance and let me through without any issue. Joining a tour was a little on the expensive side, so I decided to walk around the synagogue myself. An outdoor corridor runs between the chained off cemetery and the western wall of the main building, and I took it to the courtyard that makes up the back of the synagogue. There was a yahrzeit wall covered in the names of people who have passed, tiny stones placed in any open space. A wall of stained glass rose from the center of the courtyard and adjacent to it was a steel sculpture of a weeping willow. Called the Tree of Life, it rests on a huge block of red granite, and each steel leaf is engraved with the name of someone who died when the Holocaust made its way into Hungary. At its base is a small granite plaque with a single word: emlékezzünk. It means "remember," and I am fairly certain that this is an experience I will not soon forget.

After taking in the solemn beauty of the sculpture, I returned to the front of the building and entered the main sanctuary. If I thought my mind couldn't have been blown more, I was certainly wrong. The inside was just as sublime as the outside, and I felt a rush of adrenaline when I remembered that I'd be participating in the New Year in that very room in less than a week's time. There were stained glass windows everywhere, and they cast their colourful shadows onto the rest of the sanctuary. I let my eyes wander from the breathtaking ark and eternal flame to the ceiling, where the afternoon sun streamed through stained glass skylights, filling the room with a soft, golden glow. The Budapest Jewish Summer Festival is currently taking place, so a klezmer band was practising on the bima. I listened to them play for around half an hour as I fiddled with my miniature tripod. On my way out I couldn't resist taking a look at the little souvenir shop near the entrance, and--being the utter jewelry freak that I am--I purchased a lovely silver and turquoise chamsa to put on my necklace. As I walk, it clinks merrily against the black pearl I always wear, and the sound makes me a little happier with every step. I am so excited that I went today, and even more excited that I will be going back for High Holidays. I felt this sense of immediate connection, and nothing meant more than being told I was welcome there.

After leaving the synagogue I walked a bit more till I found the number 47 tram that I could take back home. Once in the dorm, I took the rest of the day for relaxing. Tomorrow morning we have to go to the immigration office to procure our residency permits. This means waking up early and enduring an hour and a half commute just to get there; who knows how long the actual process will take for all thirteen of us Americans.

All I know is that it will not be a fun experience. Not. At. All.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Ráhel: 1, Magyar: 0. Haha, just kidding.

11:12 pm CET

This morning the other students and I took a tram to the university on our own. We were all groggy and awkward; making small talk occasionally, but mostly listening to the radio on our phones (I found a lovely classical station that surprisingly played part of the Lord of the Rings soundtrack later in the morning--I got really excited). When we arrived at the university, we got lost trying to find the room (of course it would happen on the first day), and--once found--waited outside the locked door for our teacher to show up. As aformentioned in the last post, today was my first real encounter with the Hungarian language. It was... interesting, to say the very least. I can't speak for my fellow BSCS members, but I have the feeling that this is going to be a long and taxing journey. Once we perfect the pronunciations of the forty-four letters in the Magyar (pronounced MAW-jyawr) alphabet, our teacher Teréz (Teri) said that it's really quite phonetic. I suppose that's legitimate, but it's sure as hell going to take a while to get used to the fact that the same letters we've spent our entire lives with now represent different sounds.

So after our lesson (Teri was difficult to gauge; I'm not sure if she thought we did well or if we did downright awfully), our group of fourteen--which I may start to refer to as the G-14, just for shits and giggles--split up to do our own exploring. The three Carleton College girls, Yoana from Bulgaria, my roomie, and I crossed the Petőfi híd, one of the many bridges that span the Danube, connecting Buda to Pest. Aside from our little bar adventure the other night, I had never been to the Pest side of the city before. It is without a doubt one of the most breathtakingly beautiful places I have ever seen. The architecture is astounding, and one could easily (and happily) become lost in the labyrinth of narrow cobblestone streets. We walked for four hours straight, stopping only for lunch at a tiny and secluded pizza parlour. We passed several shops and continued through a small gated park, after which we found that we had gone in an enormous circle. We found a street crammed with tourists, expensive souvenir stores, and even more expensive cafés. I had the surreal feeling then, surrounded by people on vacation, that I was no longer one of them. The fact that I live here now certainly started to set in at that moment; sure, I can't pronounce half the words I see on buildings or streetsigns, I don't know the public transport routes yet, and I can barely walk down the street without being immediately pegged as a foreigner. But I live here. For the next five months... I live here.

After walking around Pest for a while longer, we crossed the Erzsébet híd (Elisabeth Bridge) back to Buda, took a tram home, and rested for the remainder of the day. I had thought it was going to rain again today, so I failed to bring my camera to class with me, thinking I would return to the dorm and sleep. That said, I still have no pictures to share, but I hope to change that tomorrow. After class, I plan to cross the bridge again and walk around Pest some more, snapping an obscene amount of photos as I go. There is so much to see and do, and I am incredibly excited for it all.

Assuming I'm not braindead after tomorrow's language lecture, that is.