Chain Bridge, Budapest

Thursday, May 27, 2010

I Sing of Arms and of the Man

I just got back from Prague this morning at 7 a.m. and I'm in the middle of packing for the rest of my European odyssey. The BSM farewell party is this afternoon at 3pm, two and half hours from now, and my train to Kiev leaves Budapest at 6:45pm. Needless to say, I'm in the middle of doing twenty things at once. I'll update yall as I go along, but the posts will probably be sporadic and brief and might not have pictures. In fact, I really won't stay still until I return to San Antonio on June 18. Expect a concluding essay with a deluge of pictures. 

BSM has been a great experience for me. I took my last final for combinatorics two days ago and just found out that I got an A in the class. Hooray! I find out the rest of my grades today at the farewell party. The rest of my time in Europe is looking great. I'll be travelling all over. Here is my itinerary: Kiev, Ukraine to Dniperpetrovsk, Ukraine to Riga, Lativa to Kaunas, Lithuania to Vilnius, Lithuania to Dublin, Ireland to London, England to Zurich, Switzerland and back to Budapest, Hungary before I fly back home to Texas.

I can't wait to get on the road again.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Two Down, One to Go

I took my algebra and MPS finals back to back this past Friday. I had studied all week for them and I'm glad they are over and done with. I enjoyed both classes, but they both had their difficulties. Algebra is a course that every math major must take and is the foundation for much of high-level mathematics. I took it last Fall at UT, but dropped it halfway before the midterm because I couldn't follow the professor during lectures and the textbook wasn't a big help neither. My professor here was the exact opposite, writing detailed proofs on the blackboard and going through many examples. We covered a lot of material and at times it was hard to keep up at his pace, but at least he was thorough. I just hope I don't have to take it again next semester. Its the only class I took this semester that I needed for my degree back home.  

MPS is a whole 'nother story. The problems we had to solve weren't what I was used to at all and I didn't know what to do most of the time. Every now and then I would get one right without any help, but it was tough. It didn't help that half the problems we were solving were contest problems given to Hungarian high school students in the 1930's. The MPS professor is a teacher at Hungary's Fazekas high school, which  offers college-level math classes. The material in my MPS class was just as tough as anything I've taken at UT. I'm going to keep my Hungarian Problem Book, partly as a memento, partly to show it off to anyone who's interested.

And now, my days in the Budapest Semester in Mathematics are numbered. My last final, combinatorics, is at 8am on Tuesday morning. Later that day I'm starting a three and half week journey of European adventure. I'm catching an afternoon train to Prague to go see the Franz Kafka museum and the old town that everyone has been talking about. I'm taking a night bus back to Budapest on Wednesday night and arriving Thursday morning just in time for the BSM farewell party to get my transcript and say goodbye to all of the great friends that I've made here. Later that day I'm taking an overnight train to Kiev, Ukraine and then onto Dneperpetrovsk, Ukraine to see a distant relative, Nataliya Nechukhayeva, and her family. My travel plan after that takes me to Latvia, Lithuania, Ireland, England, Switzerland, and back into Budapest to get few last licks before I jet back to San Antonio on June 18. I'm also meeting up with my mom in London, who is flying in to sightsee Europe alongside me.

Sounds epic? I know. The best part is that I hope to travel with only a backpack. I'm not known for travelling light, so this is going to be a real challenge. But that isn't anything compared to what this guy did: Here is a recent article in the New York Times about a guy who walked from Vienna to Budapest along the Danube River. Maybe I'll do that the next time I'm in Central Europe.

Now I have to study. It's 2 days until I'm done with school, 26 days until I return to Texas. Start the countdown. 

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Return

(Yaawwwnnnn....) Oh, hello. Good morning. Jo reggelt kivanok. It's so nice to see you again. I feel like we haven't spoken in ages. I'm on the home stretch for my semester with BSM and the finish line is in sight. The coursework has become harder and the weather has become nicer, which has lead to some inconsistent study habits to say the least. I've also been travelling a lot. Last time I checked in with y'all I was about to head to Krakow, Poland. I made it there and back with a detour at Auschwitz. I can write a whole essay just on that trip alone, but I'll jot down some thoughts now and save the exposition for later. Two weekends after that I rented a car with eight other people and drove to Croatia, stopping at the beautiful Plitvice Lakes and ancient Split on the Adriatic Coast. In between these trips out of town, I explored Budapest some more as well. On May 1 a May Day carnival was held in Varosliget (City Park). Last week I finally visited the famous Dohany Synagogue in Budapest. Two days later my roommate Andy and I rented bicycles and went statue hunting around Budapest to collect pictures for my Hungarian class project.

I've uploaded nearly 1000 pictures to my online Picasa album as evidence of these escapades. You can always view my entire photo library from time in Europe by clicking on the permanent link on the top right hand corner of this web page, or for convenience you can also click right here. Here are a few of the highlights from the past month:

Thousands of Polish law enforcement officers line the streets of Krakow in preparation for the funeral of a civic leader killed in the tragic plane crash two weeks prior.

At the loading dock inside Birkenau, where 1.1 million Jews and Poles were killed. 400,000 Hungarian Jews died at Auschwitz during the Holocaust, the most Jews from any single country killed there. Most people were unloaded from the trains where I am standing.

Getting a picture with the conductors of the train right before we left from Krakow to Budapest.

Karl Marx greeting people near the literature tables for the local communist party on May Day in Varosliget

 One of the many waterfalls of crystal clear water at the Plitvice Lakes, Croatia

A view of Diocletian's Palace in the historic old town of Split, Croatia. We had just finished swimming in the Adriatic Sea, pictured in the background.

Inside the Dohany Synagogue in Budapest. It is the second largest synagogue in the world and the largest in Europe. As you can see, it has three tiers of seating.

Hanging out with Attila Joszef, the most famous Hungarian 20th Century poet. This statue is directly south of the national parliament on the Danube in Budapest. 

Already reminiscing, my trip to Krakow almost didn't happen. I had been taking my time finishing my homework and nearly flaked out on my buddy Dan to go visit Krakow and Auschwitz. I asked my roommates in passing if they wanted to go also, and they immediately jumped on the adventure. Their enthusiasm and Dan's encouragement got me back on the wagon and onto the train headed for Krakow. 

The four of us were in a 6-person couchette. There were two other people with us, filling up the tiny sleeper compartment. One was an American girl, a student at Smith College who was studying abroad learning computer science in Paris. She was on her spring break and was traveling across Central Europe. The other guy was a Hungarian in his late 20's, traveling in a triangle from Krakow to Ukraine and back to Hungary. He was a transport engineer working for BKV, the Budapest public transit company. He told me that the 4,6 tram line that runs around the big k├Ârut, the tram that I take at least once a day, has the highest traffic of any tram line in the world, and it even has more traffic than Budapest's Metro line 1, which is the second oldest in the world. 

This was my second time to Krakow and Auschwitz. (For reference, the Auschwitz death camps are located in the Polish town of Osweichem, which is an hour's bus ride east of Krakow.) My first trip was with the March of the Living back in April 2006, four years ago to the month. On this trip I saw many of the same sights. We strolled through Kazimierz, the medieval Jewish quarter of Krakow, and visited Auschwitz. By chance, the four of us walked the 3 kilometers from Auschwitz I to the larger Auschwitz II - Birkenau. I had made the same journey four years ago on Holocaust Remembrance Day with ten thousand other Jewish high schoolers from around the world. This time it was just the four of us. For me visiting Poland for the second time was much different from the first, particularly since I had been living in Central Europe for four months before this recent trip. The most lasting thought I had from the first trip was that I could never live in Poland, ever, and I couldn't imagine anyone wanting to live there. I had thought that living in Poland must be like living in a graveyard. Unclean and unholy. Many of my friends on the March of the Living felt the same way. 

Now that I have lived in Budapest, Krakow seemed really cool. I really liked the medieval architecture and the hip vibe that the city had. It was similar to Budapest, but much older and less urban. As I we drank coffee in an outdoor cafe in a small park on a beautiful sunny afternoon, I remembered my aversion to Poland from four years ago. I felt very hypocritical. Hungary experienced nearly as much death and destruction as Poland, and Budapest was nearly flattened during the war. In fact, Hungary was notorious for allowing the fascist Arrow Cross party to deport Jews to their deaths at an alarming rate, quicker than the Germans were doing in other countries. The exhibit at the Auschwitz Museum dedicated to the destruction of Hungarian Jewry was titled "A People Betrayed." The city of Budapest itself is covered with Holocaust memorials, remembering the victims of the Arrow Cross. Does that same gut reflex I had four years ago in Poland apply to my time in Budapest today? Not really. What does that mean? I don't know.

Okay. Must go to sleep. Will try to update more on the Krakow trip, as well as Croatia, and statue hunting in Budapest, and my inevitable trip to the Dohany Synagogue. Wish me luck on finals.