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...