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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

I want a little Ewok friend...

11:04 pm CET

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

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

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

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Rachael and Carrie go to Salzburg.

11:20 pm CET

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 27, 2010

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

12:24 am CET

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Turkey Day in Hungary.

11:31 pm CET

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 19, 2010

Coffee smells like freshly ground heaven.

10:37 pm CET

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 15, 2010

Rachael and Jacob go to the City of Spires.

9:20 pm CET

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You gotta Czech check it out for yourself.

Friday, November 12, 2010


11:35 am CET

I got an A on my exam! WOOHOO!!

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

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

Monday, November 8, 2010


12:24 am CET

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

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

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