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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.