Friday, November 7, 2008

Slovakia, Turkey, and Serbia... Oh My

I'm in a good mood so I'm not going to say anything bad about Turkey. I'm also not going to gush on about it either.

Istanbul was a neat place to be as a Westerner. It's architecture and character are so far removed from what I am used to, it was definitely worth the trip. I do enjoy being placed in situations that are completely unfamiliar to me (it's why I chose Budapest after all) but it was a surreal experience being a white American female with blond hair and blue eyes. With no exaggeration, every person I went past stared at me. The only blonds I saw were bottle blond-Turkish women and they were rare.

Mosques were everywhere, and yes I did hear the prayer 5 times every day. I went into a few of them, the Blue Mosque included, and as a female I had to wear a headscarf before I could enter. The architecture was astounding. The patterns on the walls was so intricate I just sat there staring until my companions wanted to leave.

While we were there it rained the hardest it has ever rained in Istanbul, according to our host. There were rivers flowing in the streets. On the second day we were there we went back to Taksim to see Haji Sofia. I didn't want to go inside because it cost about $15 so Zoey, Arpad and I went to a coffee shop. We chatted and Zoey got Turkish coffee. We had never had it before so we didn't know that there are grounds in the bottom of the cup. Arpad told us that it's an old wives tale to eat the grounds and it makes you feel better if your sick. I tried them and they were pretty fine.. not bad taste-wise either.

Then we were on to Belgrade. Our train from Istanbul was supposed to take 22 hours, it took 34. There are supposed to be two trains from Sofia, Bulgaria to Belgrade, Serbia. No, no they combine both trains so instead of leaving at noon we left at 10pm. They wouldn't let us off the train either so we spent 10 hours in a train depot in Bulgaria. We got a great view of an abandoned building, some tenements, and what looked like a nuclear power plant.

This is one of the first impressions of Belgrade. The building used to be a military headquarters and was subsequently bombed by NATO. Beograd is so cool. I loved this city but it made me miss Budapest. I'm happy to be home now. It's weird that I consider Budapest home but it is and it was certainly a relief to come into the train station at Keleti and my walk home at 5am. It's started to get foggy in the city. When I wake up in the morning and the fog is so thick that I can't see the city from my city I get a little sad because it makes me realize how little time I have left.

Traveling also made me realize how little I know my own city so I have dedicated this weekend to being a tourist in a city that I have lived in for over 2 months now.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Aegean

Today is the start of my Fall Break so I thought I would leave an entry since I will be away from my computer for the next 10 days. Tomorrow morning I leave for Bratislava where I'll spend the day. At 11pm I have a flight to Istanbul. There we'll spend a few days and I haven't decided where I'm going after that. Paprika (her name is Erika but I call her Paprika because that's on the cover of our Hungarian textbook that she helped write) gave me a list of things to do while in Turkey. She also told me that from one of the small towns on the coast, it's only a short boat ride to one of the Grecian Islands. So I might just go to Lesvos rather then head over to Belgrade. I enjoy a good adventure so I'm excited for what I'll do.

Now I'm off to go buy my train ticket to Bratislava.


Sunday, October 19, 2008

Oh Crap, I Forgot I'm Here to Study

Budapest is a crazy city. Every time I think I have its character figured out, it does something to surprise me.

When I first got here, my routine was well a routine. I got up, did some things, then saw some other things, then went out at night to consume some liquids. The next day, the same routine but in different places. But I would always have some time during the week to recoup and reflect on what I had done. Of course that didn't last. School had to happen. I'm "studying abroad" so of course I have to continually remind myself that I actually have school. I've been here a month and a half now and it still hasn't hit me and I have midterms next week. Although I do really enjoy studying for my law class, which primarily addresses human rights in the framework of international law.

The character that I first ascribed to this wonderful city was that of pessimism, I was wrong. I then thought it was a reflective attitude, always looking back at its empire -- I was wrong. Now I have no idea. On Friday I took a walk through Margaret Island, it was breathtakingly beautiful. Then I spent some time on Castle Hill. These two areas are so different from what I perceive as the city proper I kept thinking I was someplace else. The Island is essentially a giant park.. much like Central Park in NYC where once you're in it, you think you're in an oasis because you can't see the city. In Castle Hill, you get to see the Palace that was built to display all the wealth of the Hungarian side of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. And display its wealth it does:

Before taking the time to explore on Friday, I was getting antsy. I felt like I hadn't really seen the city where I have lived for over a month and that something was wrong. All I knew was a few areas of Pest and that's not enough for me. One of my greatest fears of leaving Hungary is not having taken advantage of seeing everything that I can see while I'm here. But right now is a weird time for me. I have two midterms and a paper due on Wednesday so I can't really go exploring until after they're done. But Thursday is the start of Fall Break here so I'm going to Bratislava that day, then on to Istanbul, then Sofia, then Belgrade, and back home on November 2nd. So I guess I'll just have to live with the fear until then. But I'll leave you with a few pictures of what I've been up to these past few weeks. Stories will hopefully follow.

For a make up law class, our teacher took us on a field trip to the President's Office; i.e. the White House of Hungary. This is a picture I took while out on the balcony. The tall man in the middle is my favorite teacher in the program.

This is a castle in Transylvania. We climbed this side of the mountain. It was a beautiful view.

On the way back down the mountain we met a guy who let us ride in the back of his cart all the way back to town. My legs were definitely asleep by the time we got out. Because there was such little space in that cart I sat right next to our guide, Zoli. At first his legs were on both sides of me so he made a joke saying that it would be considered sexual harassment if we were in the States. I told him I didn't care because how else are we gonna sit. He then just balanced himself on the side of the cart which was quite a feat because the cart was not stable. After we were dropped off we saw a bunch of cows just walking through the village. Apparently they go off by themselves in the morning and come home at night and walk right into their respective homes. It was really cool to watch.
In Transylvania there is a town were the Roma have built up settlements to what they believed look like wealth. They tried to replicate what they saw the upper class have. Unfortunately the rest of the people in the town hate how they look and want to demolish them. Most of them are empty as well which is kind of weird. They are also unfinished.

As you can see, I don't have much time left to dedicate to updating this blog... especially since I don't have internet in my 19th century apartment.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Don't Read This Crap Entry

Unfortunately I don't have pictures today because I'm not on my own personal computer. But I do have stories! Wait. No. Those are what I make on the weekends. Maybe I have random pieces of information or points of interest. Yeah. I like that... Tales of Interest. Sajnos, I don't have anything that is coherent. OOOOOO! But I did for the first time insert a Hungarian word into my English without thinking about it. Hoooooray! I feel like I need to put down a story now that all I have done is ramble..

So while I buy more time to think of a story how about some vocabulary?

Sajnos (pronounced shy-no-sh) = unfortunately

That's about enough for the day. It's hard to think of words that don't have accents and it's a pain to copy and paste the individual letters from Wikipedia (I'm using an American keyboard).

On to my tales of interest.
On Tuesday Claire (super cool roommate) and I were on a quest. Our quest was to find a posta to buy revenue stamps. We first tried the posta directely across the street from us. Turns out, all you can do at that place is pick up packages. They mimed for us to go to Keleti Train Station. We walked the 3 blocks there and couldn't find it. So I went to the lower level and found a place that sells kávé for 95 forint. 95 forint! Might I remind you that the exchange right is 1:170. So that's $.56 for an espresso. Then yesterday I found a place 2 blocks away from my apartment that sells it for 90 forint and it's slightly better quality $.53 for an espresso. My day was greatly improved.

This was a crap entry. I should just delete it. But I already wrote it all so deal with it. I'll never write another entry when I don't have anything to say or any pictures to post

I think I'll go walk around a castle (vár) now.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Some Say it's the Journey and Not the Destination, But They've Never Spent the Night in a Croatian Border Patrol Station

For the weekend we decided we wanted to get out of the city and travel. We settled on the beaches of Croatia because we knew we wouldn't want to go there when it got cold. Also, when the tourist season is over, the country pretty much shuts down. First, let me just remind you that Croatia is the only country bordering Hungary that is not in the EU. Meaning, that they are pretty strict about their borders.

We chose to be adventurous for this trip. It's out first time 'traveling' so we bought train tickets that would force us to sleep overnight in the Zagreb train station. Our train left Budapest at 5pm. Chelsea and Danielle left their apartment at 4:15 putting us in the ticket line at 4:30. One lady took fooooreeeevvveeerrr so we finally got our tickets at 4:49. We then asked the ticket checker what train was ours, she said platform 12.. which is on the other side of the stations. We ran. We got on the train at 4:53. That same lady then finds us on the train to tell us that it's actually platform 6... on the other side of the station. We ran faster. We finally get onto the right train at 4:58. We made it. It would have been better had we missed it.

That's Chelsea above, look at how happy she is. We're passing Lake Balaton and it's beautiful. When we sat down on the train we were sitting next to another guy. She kept asking us if we should tell him that there's another seat open just right behind us so that he doesn't have to be crowded by a bunch of soon to be drunk American girls. Then I look over at what he's reading and look up at Chelsea. She mouths "Is that in English?" Yes. So she asks him "Where are you studying?" He answers in a delicious Irish accent that he's getting his post-doc in Nationalism at CEU. Figures that the one person we sit next to speaks English.

We finally reach the border of Hungary and they do their passport checking, etc. Chelsea and I give them ours. Then Danielle, oh sweet Danielle hands them a copy of her passport. At this point, our Irishman turns to us and says that Croatia is the one place where you need an actual passport since it's not in the EU, we should try Slovenia. Thanks Buddy for telling us that now. The Border Patrol then takes our Passports and kicks us off the train. We spent the night in the room pictured below.

It wasn't a total loss. We have a great story now about how we were stupid Americans once who thought a copy would pass. During the night, while I slept, Chelsea and Danielle came up with a great epic poem about our adventures which is where the title of this blog is excerpted from. Chelsea also got a kiss from a ridiculously drunk homeless man.

Before I took my nap in the waiting room we had all decided that we would not accept defeat and return to Budapest. But then we realized that we had to go back through the city because that's where all the trains went. The Border Patrol was also going to call us a cab so we could return to the city until we absolutely refused to take a cab for a distance of 4 hours and promised to take the morning train. The plan was to either refuel at my apartment or just get another ticket to Vienna (3 hours from Budapest) or Bratislava (2.5 hours). When I woke up Chelsea accepted defeat. The new plan was to sleep for eleventy thousand hours and get really drunk to forget all our troubles. The plan worked well. We ended up going to a club in Mammut Mall and went to bed after 4am, it was a good time.

This is our 5:13 morning train back to Budapest. I asked the girls to show me how they felt.