Howdy. I'm sorry for not updating my blog this past week. I've learned that people are actually reading this, so now there's a fire under my rear to get me to post, which is nice since it got even colder this past week. A lot has happened and I'd like to share it with you, day by day. You can see all the pictures from these first two weeks in Budapest by clicking here. You can also view my entire collection of pictures from the trip by clicking on the permanent link on the right hand side of the webpage. Feel free to comment on the pictures as well as the blog posts. I'll try to write descriptions for each of the pictures, but this will be hard since I'm putting them both on Photobucket and on Facebook. But now, here goes the long post, so get ready.
Thursday, January 21
Thursday was the second day of the language course and my roommate Mike's 21st birthday. During a lunch break a few friends and I went on a hunt for a Hungarian birthday card. There are several bookstores (konyvesbolt) near the language school so headed to those first. After Brittany, who was part of our cohort, managed to communicate "birthday card" to the bookstore employee in French (it was only our second day learning Hungarian; we had just learned how to pronounce the words, not understand what they meant), the employee said that they didn't have any cards and that we should check the Kaiser Supermarket down the street. We went to Kaiser's and found a card that was themed with the Pixar movie Cars. We figured it was a birthday card since it was right below other cards with numbers on them, such as 30!, 40!, 50!. Our Hungarian teacher, Erika, confirmed for us that it was a birthday card. So I then managed to get most of the BSM'ers to sign the card for someone that they had barely met.
Later that day, about a dozen of us walked over to Brittany and Bridget's place to have birthday cake. They baked a delicious strawberry cake and covered it in candles. They weren't able to find easily-distinguishable icing mix at the grocery store, however, so they used Nutella instead. For those that haven't tried Nutella, its a chocolate spread with the consistency of peanut butter. You can get it in America, but its very hard to find peanut butter over here, but that's another story. Anyway, so the cake was great and Mike had a great birthday with people he had just met the day before.
We decided that we should go out to eat at a restaurant that night instead of going to a bar again. We would save his birthday drinks for the next day when it wasn't a school night; we are still math majors. Mike didn't care what kind of place we went to, as long as it wasn't Hungarian or Indian or otherwise ethnic food. We consulted Budapest guides and online searches for reasonably priced non-Hungarian restaurants in the city. Plagued by indecision, which I am finding at least for these first few days is a common disease among BSM'ers, we discovered a listing for a Tex-Mex restaurant called The Iguana located in downtown Pest, right next to the Parliament building and a metro stop. Perfect.
I was excited to see American vehicle license plates lining the walls and a large marianet hanging in the corner of the ceiling. The decor was spot on. The food was good, too. They had chicken fajitas, quesadillas, enchiladas... the works. What this place did not have was spicy salsa (they said it was spicy; it wasn't) or tres leches desert cake. It didn't matter because everyone had a good time and Mike had a great birthday.
Friday, January 22
After three days of Hungarian language school we were all exhausted. Good thing it was Mike's "official 21st birthday drinking night", so it gave everyone a great excuse to go back to Katapult bar. The bar was especially packed. It's already very tiny and a lot of floor space is taken up by tables and chairs, which you don't see much in Austin on Sixth Street. They have a small upstairs, which is just an open lofted balcony-type area with a few tables and couches. BSM'ers kept pouring into the bar and soon we had the entire upstairs to ourselves. I was able to meet nearly everyone in the program and they are all cool people. I hope the second batch of kids to show up after the language school is just as awesome.
...Let me digress a bit here while I talk about one quick thing that I have learned about life in Hungary: anywhere indoors is liable to be hotboxed with tobacco or other smoke at any time of the day. I expected it in bars at night, but I had to get used to the second-hand smoke in small coffeehouses in the morning before school. There is this one place that is only large enough for seven people to sit inside, and six out of those seven are smoking a cigarette. Besides health concerns, I'm conscious of wearing particular clothes that I know will inevitably smell after fifteen minutes inside one of these places. If you want to try to wear clothes that don't smell, you need to rotate the ones that you have. Washing them overnight isn't an option since we don't have dryers and my winter coat takes longer than one day to dry out. Anyway, let me get back to the story...
So after we had taken over the upstairs of Katapult for an hour, we decided to get a change of scenery and go to another nearby bar called Mumus (pronounced: Moo-moosh). Mumus was much bigger. The ground floor was full of tables, all of which were occupied. Upstairs was pretty funky. It probably used to be a large family apartment and was converted into a bar. Each room was decorated differently. It reminded me of the 21st Co-op back in Austin, except that this place was even more wacky. There seemed to be an endless amount of rooms and that each time you thought you had reached the end of the bar, you saw a small door in the corner that opened up into another whole set of rooms filled with people hanging out on old couches. We chatted and drank for an hour in a dimly lit blue room featuring a paper stalagtite and stalagmite; one came up from the floor in a kiddie pool filled with some sort of liquid and pointed up to nearly touch the other one hanging from the ceiling. A single tiny light bulb illuminated most of the room in the middle of the two faux rock formations. Around 1 a.m., people started to fill the small dance floor in front of the upstairs bar. A few of us danced to a handful of songs, the highlight of which was a peppy Hungarian song played with an accordion. It reminded me of Gogol Bordello. The chorus went something like "Magyar! ... Americai! ... Magyar!... Americai!" Those were the only words we knew, but it was really fun to dance to. A dozen locals put their arms on each other's shoulders and danced in a circle, singing the chorus. I knew it would only be a matter of time before I headed back to that place for a Friday night.
Saturday, January 23
The night before, Mike and I had the idea of throwing a party for all the BSM'ers at our place the next day, Saturday. We announced it at Mumus and I posted the information on the communal Facebook page the next day when I woke up, which was considerably later than I intended to. Surprise. After lazily starting my day in the late afternoon, I found myself having to scramble to go buy a Metro pass, buy palinka, buy cups, ping pong balls, beer, and clean my room before people started to show up at 9:30 p.m. I took the red metro line to the Keleti train station where the big Plaza Arena Mall was located. Inside was the Super Tesco, the equivalent to our Wall-Mart. I managed to get what I needed and get back to the apartment with 30 minutes to spare.
Of course, as soon as I walk in the door eight friends decide to show up early. Whatever, roll with the punches. After moving chairs, couches, tables and computers every which way, I take a deep breath and our apartment is suddenly filled with 25 people having an awesome time. I take great pride in being able to throw a good party, no matter the circumstances. That pride comes from my days as a pledge in AEPi, when it was our job to entertain 300 people every three weeks. First Budapest apartment party of the semester: SUCCESS. New best friends made: +25. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.
Sunday, January 24th
..... to be continued
Sunday, January 31st
I'm now almost caught up with my blog. Yesterday, I was determined to check out the semi-frozen Danube River along with Hero's Square. I knew a group of people were heading to a museum next to Hero's Square later that day, so I figured that I'd join them after checking out the river and Varolisget Park, which abuts the large monument of Hero's Square. I took the metro to Erzsebet Bridge and walked to the middle of it. It was about 15 degrees Fahrenheit outside. I wore my ski jacket and leggings under my jeans, but you can only do so much. I needed at least two more scarfs on (I had none) and one more pair of gloves on (I had one pair). Of course, the wind on the bridge made the cold even more biting. I took some great pictures of the icy water and the Chain Bridge and Palace up the river. I asked a nearby woman who was also taking pictures to take one of me since I was alone. She spoke good English and took this picture.
Now for the interesting part. She asked me where I was from. I said Texas. Then she said that she thought that the Texas climate and the Budapest climate were similar and asked me if that was true. After rubbing my hands together to regain feeling and brushing snow away from my face I said, "Not exactly." So we talked for a bit more. She wore a furry hooded jacket with a thick scarf and thick gloves and repeatedly asked me if I was cold. I was freezing, but I told her I was okay, that is as long as I could get off the bridge in the next two minutes. I told her I would be living in Budapest until June studying math. Her son was studying to be an English teacher here. Then she said that he could relate to international study since he had previously lived in Jerusalem learning languages for six months. Hmmm, I thought. I told her my brother had lived in Jerusalem studying for three months after high school. I wondered if she knew Eran who I had Shabbat dinner with on Friday night, but I didn't ask. Then we shook hands and walked to the opposite sides of the bridge.