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Monday, January 31, 2011

"Wolverine would definitely be the Queen's favourite from X-Men..."

11:28 pm GMT

Goodness, today was exhausting. I slept in a bit (which was wonderful), and at around 10:30 I hauled my arse (since I'm in England now... har har) out of bed to go exploring. I have a map, but I decided I wasn't going to use it unless I really got lost or if I was trying to find a specific place.

So I left the hostel and walked to the Westminster Bridge. It didn't take too long, and as soon as Parliament and Big Ben came into sight across the river, I broke out into this giddy smile that probably made me look like a complete idiot. There was really no reason to be that happy... but I guess finally seeing something so familiar has that effect, eh? I walked along the South Bank of the Thames toward the London Eye, but decided against going on it at that time and maybe saving it for later. I crossed the Golden Jubilee Bridge to the North Bank where most of central London is. I walked back toward the Westminster Bridge, now on the other side, and walked around Parliament once I got there. Big Ben chimed (bellowed? Rang? Boomed? "Chimed" seems far too... dainty a word to describe its noise) noon as I passed, and my stupid giddy smile came back with a vengeance. I walked from one end of the Houses of Parliament to the other, and then crossed the street to go to Westminster Abbey. I didn't go inside, but I saw everything on the outside; it's absolutely gorgeous and without a doubt some of the best Gothic architecture I've seen. From there I meandered the streets till I (somehow) ended up at Buckingham Palace. The flag was up, so that means the Queen was home--not that I would have seen her, anyway. They only do a changing of the guard every other day during the wintertime, so I'm going to have to go back tomorrow morning to see it.

I bought a sandwich for lunch and headed into The Green Park, where I found the Canada Memorial for the soldiers who died during both World Wars. After wandering around this park, I crossed the street into St. James Park so I could find a bench and read. I finished a few chapters, fed a huge swan and some geese the leftover bread from my lunch, and continued out of the park toward The Horse Guards' Building and Admiralty Arch. I went through the Arch and walked to Trafalgar Square, where I bought a t-shirt (yay!) and was floored by the fact that public washrooms are FREE. That definitely won England some points in my book.

So after taking some pictures and wandering around the square (there was a giant sculpture in front of the National Gallery of a ship in a bottle! SO COOL!), I continued along Pall Mall and Regent Street till I got to Piccadilly Circus. I walked around even more, stumbled upon China Town (which was completely lined with hundreds of lanterns for the upcoming New Year), and ended up at a Starbucks, at which I got a peppermint mocha (soooooo good) and sat down to pass some time reading. Once I'd killed enough time, I went to this little Indian place for dinner. It was so incredibly delicious; I knew Indian food was good in London, but damn! This was fantastic! After dinner I went back to Piccadilly Circus to find the Criterion Theatre where I was to see the stage adaptation of Hitchcock's The 39 Steps. It was really good! Extremely campy (the fourth wall was destroyed several times, lots of so-bad-they're-hilarious jokes in reference to other Hitchcock films, etc.), but not in a bad way. After the show, I got on the tube (which makes me feel really claustrophobic for some reason) and went back to the hostel.

Tomorrow is my last day here and I am going to make the best of it. I have a huge day planned... hopefully I'll have time to get everything in!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

"This is a Piccadilly Line service to Cockfosters." Oh dear.

9:51 pm Greenwich Mean Time (GMT)

Last night we said goodbye to Dion and Patrick with the first program dinner since everyone else went home in early December. We were all there (save Tristan, who had already left on a trip), including Niki, Heni, and Zoli. It was really great seeing them again after such a long absence. Hopefully we'll get to see them once more before the last five of us leave next Saturday!

And now... I'm in London! It certainly took long enough.

I frantically tried to pull everything and myself together this morning after a sleepless night. I left on time, but there's something going on at the Kőbánya-Kispest metro station, so a slightly different route was necessary. Once I got to the airport, I quickly went through security (but had to get a patdown for some inexplicable reason) and sat at my gate. The flight to Amsterdam was good; I kept falling asleep and waking up again a few minutes later. The sandwiches they gave us were really good... I'm having a rough time deciding if I like KLM's or Lufthansa's better, haha.

I raced through the Amsterdam airport to get to my gate for London, but it was closed when I got there. I hung around for a while and when it opened, we had to go through a mini security checkpoint. The lady at the x-ray machine couldn't figure out what was in my bag, so the other lady went rifling through it till they realised that what they didn't recognise was a bar of chocolate. They had a good chortle over it, then sent me on my merry way. The people sitting next to me on the flight were from New Zealand. I've never met Kiwis before! They were really nice and fun to talk to; I think the guy was a little tipsy, though... one too many in-flight beers, methinks.

When we landed in London, I had forgotten that I'd have to go through customs and border control. IT TOOK FOREVER. I got through a few chapters in my book, though, so I guess that's an upside to waiting in a line for an hour and a half. Once through, I got some money (I cried a bit on the inside about the exchange rate) and bought a tube ticket. I didn't get lost! Wahoo!! I made it to the hostel (The Walrus Waterloo) easily enough, and now I'm hanging around in my room of 15 other people, trying to stay awake after a very long day.

I've got to finish some paper-writing tomorrow, but hopefully I will be out and about by the afternoon. I definitely need to rest now, though; I don't think I truly recovered from Poland. Or Greece, for that matter...

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Auschwitz-Birkenau and our last hours in Krakow.

12:35 pm CET

Carrie and I returned to Budapest this morning and, thankfully, the train was on time. The night on the train was not restful, however; our compartment was completely full and, as such, there was a lot of noise. We shared our compartment with four random Polish men, so... that was more than a little awkward. Maybe I'll end up sleeping all day. I'm certainly tired enough.

Yesterday was a very long and taxing day. We started off fairly early with breakfast in the hostel before checking out and wandering around. At 9:45 we met the tour bus that was to take us (and a bunch of Italians, some French Canadians, and several other English-speakers) to the small town of Oświęcim. It is difficult to understand why people still live around there--I don't think I could, knowing what happened. On the bus ride there, we watched a film with images filmed during the liberation by the Red Army in 1945. It turned out that we went the day before the 66th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz (the anniversary being today, January 27th), so that added even more purpose to our visit. When we arrived, the dread that had already settled in my gut became a bit more pronounced. We waited for our tour guide and were given headphones and receivers to better hear the guide among the throng of other tours at the site.

We started through the "Arbeit macht frei (work makes one free)" gate, which was surreal seeing with my own eyes after years of seeing it in photos and films. What was strangest was that Auschwitz I, the first part of the camp that was built on a Polish army base, seemed terrifyingly benign, even with the barbed wire fences and watchtowers. It was not until we went inside the buildings that things began to feel more sinister, and the more we saw, the more we broke through the place's façade. In one room was a massive case filled with human hair, and I could only take a quick glance before having to look away for fear of nausea. The worst ones were the cases in which shoes and suitcases were piled to the ceiling; some of the names on the suitcases hit far too close to home and just seemed to twist the dread even more.

We saw a reconstructed wall where prisoners were shot or hanged, and there were several people leaving candles and flowers at its base. There was also a very old man--a survivor, we thought--carrying a Ukrainian flag over his shoulder. It began to snow swiftly and silently, and it was a wonder to me that such beauty could fall over such a horrible place. We made our way through the snow across the camp to the only remaining gas chamber and crematorium. I hesitated briefly before going in, taking a deep breath and trying to keep the tears at bay that had been threatening to fall since walking through the front gate. There was an eternal flame lit on the floor that was surrounded by flowers, and it made me feel only the slightest bit better having living, breathing people surrounding me in this place of death. We walked through the small space quickly and quietly, and I mostly kept my eyes on the ground. Once out, we walked back to the front of the site and clambered back on the bus to drive the short distance to Auschwitz II-Birkenau, where we would end the day's tour.

Walking beneath the infamous watchtower was again a strange feeling; it was all so quiet and the land was blanketed in crunching white snow. The brick barracks to the left seemed to stretch on forever, and on the right, all that remained of the wooden barracks were two red brick chimneys where each building had stood. A few wooden barracks had been reconstructed with original materials, and we went into one and all I could think of were the photos I had seen in school for years. We left the building and walked beside the stretch of train tracks that led to the platform where people were sorted, separated, and led to their deaths. There was a single boxcar on the tracks and it looked dilapidated and almost forlorn, as if crumbling under the weight of the sorrows of those it once carried.

We made our way to the very end of the platform where the blown up remnants of the two crematoria are. This attempt to cover their atrocities only proved that the Nazis had something to hide, and I felt myself lifted slightly at the sight of the destruction of these horrific buildings. A large black monument also sits at the end of the tracks to honour the people who died there. There are several plaques lining the base of the monument in all the major languages of Europe, Yiddish, and Hebrew. They all say "Forever let this place be a cry of despair and a warning to humanity, where the Nazis murdered about one and a half million men, women, and children mainly Jews from various countries of Europe. Auschwitz-Birkenau 1940-1945." I am not a religious person at all. But standing there at this monument... I wanted to do something that would have been meaningful to those who perished. I had brought with me a smooth white pebble that I had taken from the beach in Nice three months ago, and I placed it on the Hebrew plaque. Against the black metal of the plaque, my white stone stood out with the shine and freedom of the Sea that bore it, and as I whispered the Mourner's Kaddish to the lightly drifting snow, I finally allowed my tears to fall.

The bus ride back to Krakow was not eventful. Everyone was either asleep or talking in hushed tones to their companions. I listened to some music to help me feel better, though I still felt sick for a few hours after returning. When the bus stopped at the meeting place in Plac Jana Matejki, Carrie and I went to a café for a quick cappuccino break. From there we walked through the Old Town (it truly is beautiful) to the river to see the statue of the dragon, the protector of the city. It was an abstract-looking dragon, but it breathed fire, which was really cool (except my timing was horrible and every time I wanted to take a picture of the fire, I missed it because I wasn't ready). I gave up trying to photograph the fire-breathing, and we walked to the Jewish Quarter. It was already quite dark, so we couldn't see all that much. We walked by the old cemetary and we saw a synagogue and some neat-looking restaurants, but continued onward, eventually crossing the river to look for Schindler's factory. We sort of found it, but there were no lights and and it was all locked up (super creepy), so we just looked at it from a train platform above.

The rest of the night we spent walking around, getting pastries, eating dinner at this little Italian place in the Old Town, and hanging out at a Starbucks in the mall next to the train station. We made it to our platform just minutes before the train arrived, and we were soon trying to sleep en route back to Budapest. As I said before, the night was by no means restful, and I hope that I will have enough time to recuperate before I hop on a plane for London on Saturday. But now I definitely do need to rest; I am physically and emotionally drained. Despite my heavy heart, I know that my unforgettable experience in Poland was good for me, and for that, at least, I am glad.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Rachael and Carrie spend an enternity on a train.

8:24 pm CET

So our eleven-hour train ride from Budapest to Krakow somehow ended up taking a not in any way infuriating twenty. The train first broke down about half an hour after leaving. Outside our compartment window we saw this huge flash and then the train screeched to a complete stop. We sat in the middle of "bumfuck nowhere" (as Carrie kept saying) for at least an hour or two as electrical trucks showed up one by one to try to fix the problem. We passed the time with games and stories, but we soon gave up waiting for the train, at which point, of course, we started moving again. By the time we reached the second major stop in Slovakia it was midnight and, once again, the train must have broken down because we remained stationary for the rest of the night. To make things worse, upon waking at six (since that was when we were supposed to be arriving in Krakow) we found that we were still in the same goddamn place. We were not too happy, to say the least.

Fast forward to nine stop-and-go hours later and that was when we finally arrived in Krakow. Luckily the hostel is right across the square from the train station, so it didn't take too long to find. We checked in, got some complementary tea and a quick overview of the city, and went to our room to put our bags away and get ready for a couple hours out on the town. We'd missed all the daylight, unfortunately, so we braved the chill and inky darkness to explore. I wish I could have seen everything in the sunlight, but it was lovely at night, too. We walked through most of the Old Town, which sort of reminded me of a less-cramped Prague. There were several churches and shops and restaurants, and a market and a clock tower. When the hour struck six, a trumpet player sounded some notes from the top of the tower, and his song was echoed from the steeples of two nearby churches. It was really awesome! Almost as though they were talking to one another.

We walked around for a bit more, wandering till we got hungry enough to return to the hostel for dinner (we'd only each eaten some oranges and a bowl of cornflakes all day).The reception staff had cooked a traditional Polish meal for the guests, and who are we to turn down free food? We met a whole bunch of people: a guy from Spain, two from Brazil, one from Finland, an older guy from Melbourne, Australia, Phil from England, and his friend Trisha from Ireland (whose accent is awesome, by the way; I wish I had a cool accent...). We all chatted over our food and exchanged quick background stories and future plans; they are definitely the nicest bunch of people I've met on my travels so far. I doubt we'll see much of them again since we're leaving tomorrow, but I am glad to have had the chance to talk; that's what hostels are all about, right?

Carrie and I booked a half-day tour to Auschwitz for tomorrow morning and afternoon. I'm feeling something akin to dread; I want to go, but I am more than a little scared...

Monday, January 24, 2011


3:35 pm CET

Yesterday Jacob and I went to see The Social Network at Mammut (big mall; very confusing). It was pretty good; I think it lived up to the hype I've heard. Though I can't be sure if it's Oscar-worthy without having seen the other films from the year.

Last night Carrie and I spontaneously decided to go to Poland. We leave tonight on a train that arrives in Krakow early tomorrow morning. I certainly hope I can sleep this time; I always have such trouble trying to sleep on trains. And buses. And airplanes...

The plan is to take a day to explore the city a bit and see what we can. And we want to go to Auschwitz, which is really the main reason for going. I've been feeling lately that it's something I need to do while I'm here. I am especially happy and relieved not to be going alone, as that probably would have ended poorly. Hell, it may still end poorly. But I will have support and a friend, and that will be enough.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Only fourteen short days till departure...

3:06 pm CET

First of all, I go home exactly two weeks from today. It's exciting, but I am terribly saddened by the prospect of leaving this wonderful city...

Anyway, nothing interesting has been happening lately, so if I seem to have fallen off the face of the Earth, that's probably why.

The other day, after my nearly two hour-long meeting with my project advisor, Jacob and I went out for dinner at the Market Hall. We met and went upstairs and browsed the food stalls for a short while before deciding on one. I got some tasty (and spicy!) sausages, and afterward we went downstairs and found some pastries to bring home for dessert.

We headed back to my place, but before going up, I bought some groceries. Once in my room, we made tea and watched Alice in Wonderland, followed by several youtube videos. It was nice to spend a quiet evening with a friend after all the stress of the week.

Yesterday I didn't do much, but Carrie, Matt, Patty, and I made cookies later in the evening. They came out kinda weird; a bit too sugary and a bit too dense. They weren't bad, though... just strange.

Today I had a short interview with my advisor, but other than that, I've done nothing so far other than watch Magic School Bus episodes online. I don't know why, but I had an urge to watch one the other day, and I've been watching ever since. It's so nostalgic! I certainly wish Ms. Frizzle could have been my teacher, hahaha.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Smell this tea and dream of what could be.

10:01 pm CET

A thick blanket of fog covered most of the city today. The river was barely visible from Petőfi híd; beyond that only the very top of Gellért Hill could be seen rising above the cloud and if I squinted I could see the Liberty and Elisabeth bridges in the distance. The sunlight was absolutely beautiful against the mist, and I wish I had brought my camera so I could capture this lovely golden morning.

I arrived at Király utca a little early, but Jacob was there early, as well. We went into Starbucks and I got a vanilla latte and a cinnamon bun for breakfast, and then we relocated to a table upstairs by the window. We sat there chatting for around two hours, enjoying one another's company. At least thirty police cars drove by during that time, lights on and sirens blaring, toward what, we did not know. Apparently there have been several protests lately regarding the government's new media censorship laws (which I can completely understand; such legislation is unacceptable, especially from the current EU president nation). Once we'd finished our drinks, we decided to go looking for whatever these cops were going toward, but we didn't see anything even after a few stops on the tram. We went to a grocery store so we could pick up a few things, and then we parted ways.

Upon arriving back at the dorm, I took a quick nap, finished my Zelda game, and started a new one. I've got another meeting with my project advisor tomorrow morning, so I prepared a few things to talk about, but--aside from that--I didn't do much work today. I have two and a half more weeks to work... I think I can get it done in that time. It shouldn't be too difficult. I hope.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Carry moonbeams home in a jar...

1:23 am CET

These past few days have been fairly similar to one another: very little sleep followed by several failed attempts at getting some research done. I really need to focus... easier said than done, of course.

Today Jacob and I went to the mall a few hours early (by mistake) and ended up hanging around before getting dinner and seeing the Green Hornet. It was alright; nothing special. Good action sequences, poor writing, and little to no character development. At least it was entertaining?

When I got back to the dorm, I stayed a while outside to look at the stars. It's a beautifully clear night and, though most of the stars are veiled by the city lights, Orion and Canis Major (and a waxing moon) are visible and bright. I stargazed until it got too cold to remain outside, and now I'm back to doing nothing. Hopefully I can pull myself together and get something done; goodness knows I need to. Just gotta get this done... uggh.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Beside the not-quite-Blue Danube.

9:03 pm CET

Yesterday was a long day. We slept in a bit and got a later start than Tuesday. We bought some pastries for breakfast from a small shop across the square. The lady working there was really nice and I wish I actually understood and could speak this language so I could interact with the kind people I meet... it's definitely frustrating having to smile and nod most of the time.

After buying another day pass for M, we took the 19 along the river to the funicular that goes up to Castle Hill. On the way we ran into a Chasidic French couple with their little baby. They asked me to take some photos by the river for them, so (of course) I did. Then M and I took the funicular (after some ticket confusion) up the hill and absorbed the view. We wandered around for a while before going to Matthias Church, which I had not been inside of before. They have really cleaned it up since I was last there; the outside looks absolutely stunning. The interior is just as beautiful as the exterior, if not more so. There are frescoes all over the walls and the stained glass is lovely. It would have been a lot brighter had the sun been out, though.

From the Church we went to the nearby Fisherman's Bastion, which we walked on top of, since they were not charging admission this time. The view is spectacular and the structure itself is just gorgeous. We were quite hungry once we had finished with the Bastion, so we went to Fekete Holló (Black Raven) restaurant for some lunch (I had this ridiculously rich spinach gnocchi with chicken and cheesy sauce stuff... it was to die for). Following lunch, we made our way down the hill and crossed the Chain Bridge into Pest. We took the 2 tram to Parliament, but it looked closed and there were tons of cops, so someone important might have been there at the time. We walked along the Danube Promenade back south till we got to Erzsébet híd, which we crossed back into Buda. We took a quick stop at the Sisi statue at the base of the bridge before hopping on the 18 back to Móricz Zsigmond körtér and my dorm.

We basically just hung out and watched Disney movies for the rest of the night. Jacob came over for a little while when we were watching The Lion King, which was nice. After that, though, Jacob left and M and I were tired, so we went to bed. The airport shuttle came to pick up M around four in the morning, so we said our goodbyes and then I went back to sleep. I've spent the rest of the day sitting around trying to relax... but I have got a bit too much on my mind, I think. I need a good night's rest so I can get some actual work done tomorrow, that's for sure. The faster I can finish this project, the more time I'll have for myself.

But now, some tea. Nothing like a mug of nice, steaming hot tea to warm the cockles of your heart...

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Rachael and M do a lot of touristy stuff.

11:35 pm CET

Yesterday morning was a little strange. I awoke not even two minutes before some maintenance people came in to fix our third bed. I was still in my pajamas and curled up in bed, and I barely had time to put on my glasses before they were examining the damn thing. Of course they decided to come back the next day (which they may or may not have done; it's still broken), so it was all in vain.

I attempted to get some research done, but I soon got exceptionally bored and ended up watching a movie and playing games. At four I left to go pick up Marianne from Keleti train station and I brought her back to the dorm. We went out to dinner at TGI Friday's (yeah, yeah...) and then turned in for the night.

Today, however, was jam-packed with stuff. I dropped M off at St. Stephen's basilica first, since I had a project meeting with my advisor at CEU. After my relatively short meeting, I joined up with M again and we went to the Dohány Street Synagogue. I placed a pebble on the weeping willow monument, since I didn't do it last time I was there.

Our next stop was the Market Hall, where M browsed (and kind of haggled) and I tried to come up with gift ideas for later. We bought lunch (super delicious) and walked around a little more. From the Hall we continued across the street to Váci utca for some more shopping. We grabbed some coffee and hot chocolate to warm up, and then we walked to Vörösmarty tér (which was depressingly empty now that all the Christmas stalls are gone). We got on the yellow line metro toward Hősök tere, where we went to Musuem of Fine Arts. After going through practically the entire museum, we met Jacob at the finally finished Starbucks on Király utca. Once we'd spent sufficient time relaxing, we took the tram to MOM Park mall to see Tangled. It was fantastic! I am so happy that I finally got to see it. After the movie, we all went to Trombitás, which was--of coruse--as delectable as ever. There were a couple guys at the bar who kept staring at us, and it kind of creeped me out a bit. After the meal, they came up to us and it turned out that they were from Chicago and were just happy to hear other English-speakers. They seemed really nice and I'm glad we got to have a little chat. I hope they have safe travels from here, whoever they are!

Now we're back in the dorm and I am not exactly looking forward to another sleepless night on that terrible, downward-sloping bed (since I offered mine to M). I slept on it for three months and now I can't figure out how I did it. Tomorrow is another busy, busy day, though; I certainly hope that I can get some rest. I'm going to need it.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

One step forward, two steps back.

11:32 pm CET

I made eggs over easy for lunch today! I COOKED! ALONE!! I'M NOT A LOST CAUSE AFTER ALL!!!!

... Yeah. So after that minor victory, my day faced a few setbacks. Mostly in the form of "you have a lot of research to compile for this dumb project and you still haven't the faintest idea of what you're supposed to be doing." An explanation from the BSCS powers that be would certainly help. Immensely.

And that's about all I've done today: conquer a couple eggs and a stove, worry needlessly, and--you guessed it!--watch movies. Hopefully I will get this project confusion cleared up soon; it will certainly be an enormous relief when the whole thing's finished. I just wish it would complete itself, haha. If only it were that easy, right?

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Adventure is out there!

11:24 pm CET

In exactly one month, I will be back in the States. It's an odd feeling, really... it's not that I'm tired of being here, but I am absolutely ready to go home. I'm ready to see my friends and my family and share stories and photos, and I am definitely ready to spend some wonderful quality time getting reacquainted with my own bed and shower, haha. Before my trip to London and my final few days in Budapest, however, I have a huge research project to do. Let's just say that I am not looking forward to it. Not at all...

Anyway, yesterday was business as usual, but at least I wasn't alone. Jacob came over and we watched a couple movies and lots of YouTube videos (this is the best one by far: It had gotten quite late and, since Jacob is Mr. Lazy and he didn't want to go all the way back to his apartment in the middle of the night, he crashed on the extra bed in my room.

Today we watched yet another movie (Up. It still makes me cry) and read aloud from the awfulness that is "My Immortal" just for shits and giggles (it was as painful to read this time around as it was last year... it's such a terrible crime against the English language). Later in the evening we went to Magyar Optikai Művek (MOM) Park mall not far from my dorm to see Voyage of the Dawn Treader in 3D (and in English! Woohoo!). It was alright; the first Narnia is still the best of the existing three. I nearly had a hysterical laughing fit at the end, though, when Aslan basically said outright that he's Jesus. It was really quite hilarious.

After the movie, we got dinner at a pizza place across from the cinema in the mall. It was nice to get out and do stuff for once; staying here every day in a feeble attempt to save money has gotten a bit boring. Maybe I'll grab some coffee soon and hang out in the shop with a book. Or maybe go to a museum. Or maybe get tickets for the musical that I've been meaning to see. Meh, I'll have to plan everything out and see what I can do. This one month will certainly go by a lot more quickly than I think it will. I suppose I should be living it to its fullest potential, rather than sitting around on my bum watching movies all day. That's probably what I'll be doing once I get home!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

We'll take a cup o' kindness yet for auld lang syne.

2:20 am CET

Boldog Új Évet, everyone! Happy New Year! It has certainly been a crazy year, hasn't it? Spent in several different countries from as close as Canada to as far away as Israel. I have gotten a taste of the world, and for that I could never be more thankful. Another year gone by is something strange to think about, though; so much has happened, but it doesn't feel like it has been another whole year. It feels as though I got here yesterday, nervous and without a clue as to how to get by. I've learned so much this year, not just from school, but from life; I think this year, being away, I've really learned first and foremost how to live.

I spent the first half of my day watching YouTube videos and sleeping, so very much the same as what I have been doing these past couple weeks. I met Jacob and his family around 5:00 and we went to dinner at this nice traditional place off of Kálvin tér. I had a lovely time and the food was great; I was definitely happy to be with other people for dinner rather than the normal evening alone. From there we took the 47 to Szabadság híd, where we got off to walk down Váci utca, the major tourist shopping street. I finally found a big Hungarian flag!! I was so excited when I saw it. I bought it (obviously) and I've already started to think about where to put it once I get home in February.

We walked a bit more and stopped for some chimney cakes (chocolate and cinnamon) before continuing onward to Vörösmarty tér. From there we took the metro back to Blaha Lujza tér and their hotel. We hung out there for a while, and then Jacob and I left for the Oktogon to join the growing festivities. On the way, I bought a vuvuzela-type horn that had a small Hungarian flag attached to it ('cause you know, if you can't beat the noise of the obnoxious drunken crowd, join 'em!). In Oktogon they had a screen set up on the side of a building where they were playing a countdown of the best twenty Hungarian and international songs of 2010 (though why a Justin Bieber song was #4 I will never understand. They actually didn't get to the #1 song because midnight struck just after song #2 ended. It was really quite hilarious). Since there weren't too many people yet, we walked to Hősök tere to see if anything was happening there, but--surprisingly--nobody was there except for some people setting off fireworks in the middle of the square.

We took the metro back to the Oktogon (it had gotten quite chilly by then) and took our previous spots by the screen. The intersection had started to fill up and there were hundreds of people crowding every nook and cranny of the Oktogon. People were blowing horns and shooting off fireworks and singing and dancing; it was certainly a loud, energetic party. I amost got hit by a rogue firework, but we were able to evade it when it went into the snow. When it came close to midnight, everyone starting pulling out their bottles of chamapgne (or, in the case of the trashed trio next to us, they brought out another bottle) and, though there was no discernable countdown, when a guy with a microphone started speaking, everyone began cheering, so we took that as a sign to blow our horns and cheer, too. We stuck around for a short while, but we soon moved toward the tram station so we could catch one back to our respective living spaces. On the tram home I met this really nice Hungarian guy who had somehow figured out that I was an English-speaker and started a conversation with me. He was interested in American politics and culture, so we talked for a good 15 minutes before he had to get off at his stop. He was really sweet and kind, and he said that my accent was very nice. That's definitely something I have never heard before (and probably never will hear again). When he left, a small group of drunk people got on, and one of the guys kept asking me in Hungarian to blow my horn so he could dance to it. His friend, luckily, spoke some English and she explained what he was talking about when she saw my smile-and-nod-deer-in-headlights expression. They got off soon after, and I got off when we arrived at my very own Móricz Zsigmond körtér.

Now I'm in my room, trying to warm up a bit and listening to different arrangements of "Auld Lang Syne" on YouTube. I don't know what it is about that song, but it always makes me cry. Or maybe it's just because the one I'm currently listening to has about a thousand people in Edinburgh singing together and holding hands.

... I'm such a sap. Anyway, to you all again, my dear readers: Happy New Year!! May it be prosperous, healthy, and full of light and joy. Be well!