Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Mt Kekes

After our pretty calm day by the lake, Mary and I decided to try our feet at hiking in Hungary. I thought we were just going for a hike in some of the small hills, but we ended up climbing to Hungary's highest peak - a grand height of 3000 feet. Here's a view from the top.

Well to get to this peak, we got an 8 am train out of Budapest, then an eight minute connection for a half hour ride to Gyongyos. From there we got a 7 km narrow gauge train which in effect is a tourist train to this town called Matrafured. This was a really cool little town that served as a getaway resort town for Hungarians. Here we had some delicious hot chocolate and then headed for the trail. The book said that the hike was 10 km each way so we thought we were in for quite a day. Turns out it was 10 km round trip, and a pretty easy 10 km at that. Still the journey was quite scenic and included a castle, some beautiful pine forests, and a Soviet Missile silo - no joke.

Ok well we don't know for sure, but that's what we think we found. We were strolling along the path when we came up on this patch of densely planted pine trees - we knew they were planted because all the other trees were not pine trees. And hidden inside the trees were two silo structures with a huge barbed wire fence around it. Not to be hindered, we found a hole in the fence and went inside to investigate. Finding a rusted ladder attached to the silos, we climb up the 40 or so feet to the top and see what we can find. On top there happens to be an unlocked manhole cover. Just as I was about to descend into the silo, Mary thought it might be a bad idea and told me not to. Inside the silo was some liquid that wasn't water. Not sure what it was, we kind of decided to abandon deeper explorations. We haven't started glowing yet, so I think we're safe. Here's a picture of the silo.

After this brief detour, we headed to the top of a little range of hills and we get to the parking lot and I turn to Mary, "I think I've been here before." So it took three hours of hiking for me to realize I had already been on top of this mountain already last semester. It was nice to see it again especially after climbing it ourselves. We had some soup and more hot chocolate on top of Hungary and then headed down. On the way down we stayed away from the missile silo and made it back to Matrafured safely. The tourist train wasn't leaving for an hour so we decided to just walk the tracks halfway back to where we had read about some wine cellars. After four kilometers we were freezing and stuck in the middle of nowhere. The wine cellars were of course closed and we had to wait in a field for the train to stop for us. Luckily it did and we made it back to Matrafured ok. Then half hour wait there, half hour train, another half hour wait, then hour train to Budapest. Exhausting but rewarding day. It seemed pretty normal to me until we sat down with one of my roomates to explain what we did and he kind of gave us an odd look.

Oh I can't forget - Hungarians love their ferrets. Everywhere we go we see ferrets. Sometimes in the park on the island we see ferret conventions with like 20 representatives. This comes to mind because on the train to our hike we saw a couple with two ferrets in a cage. I think they cared more about the ferrets than each other. It's crazy.

Keszthely and Sumeg

Ok, so this is my friend Szabi. Or his full name Szabolcs Zavodszky. Yes he is Hungarian. Last Friday Szabi invited Mary, Laura, and I to go down to this town on the lake where his grandpa and aunt live. Szabi grew up in Pittsburgh but speaks fluent Hungarian and is now studying here in Budapest. Anyway, this small city that is next to Lake Balaton is supposed to be a great place to visit. It has a huge palace which we visited and some great beaches.

Szabi and I took our baseball gloves for the trip and we got to play catch - something I have not done since I left the US. Mary, Laura and I decided to have a picnic by the lake and tr avoid getting bitten by the swans. Szabi went to hang out with the fam and told us he was fasting for Lent. After about an hour Szabi shows up with an entire pizza and french fries for himself - guess the hunger got to him.

We spent a fair amount of time playing with swans and hanging out in Keszthely and then headed on to this other town Sumeg for yes once again another castle. Szabi called it quits after Keszthely. I've seen so many but they never seem to disapoint. This one had killer attack dogs:

We knew about the dogs but Mary and I decided to try and climb into the castle anyway. Probably the exact reason why they have dogs. I managed to scale a small wall and ended up on top of the outer wall. I was there for about a minute when the dogs caught wind of what we were up to. Meanwhile Laura was left on the other side of the castle and heard the dogs move thinking, "Oh god what did Dan do now."

Being the good person I am, I climbed (read: ran like mad) to get off the wall and away from the dogs. We didn't get inside but the castle still had a really cool view.

Transportation of course proved difficult - I never ride easy. On our way to Sumeg we had to catch a bus. We were waiting, waiting, waiting and then everyone but Szabi decides to go to the bathroom. Szabi calls but of course we miss that bus. Then another bus comes and the sign says its going to Sumeg. We try to get on but the bus driver does a very good job of drawing a map on the steering wheel and explaining that the bus doesn't go very directly but a bus in five minutes will do so. Then about 15 minutes later, a bus comes to take us away. Sumeg happens to be in an impossible location far from Budapest - meaning we have no idea how to get home. We get there and realize our options are pretty limited. We stumble on the tourist office and the lady writes down the correct train times for us.

Well after the castle we get on the trian. We have one short connection and then we have an entire car of the train to ourselves. So I'm on the phone with Liz, when the conductor comes to check tickets. Turns out I need a seat reservation that I didnt' think I had. So she makes a big production and makes me pay $5 for the reservation and all this. Then i go tell Mary and Laura that they will have to pay too. Mary hands the lady her ticket and receipt which turns out to have the seat reservation. So I find my seat reservation and hand it over and the conductor was not happy. She yells at me in hungarian something to the affect of "you are making a lot of work for me" I put on my best smile and she was generally joking with us by the end of the train. We made it back to Budapest safely and of course ended the day with gyros.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Day of Castles

Imagine what you were doing at 5 am yesterday morning. I was crazy enough to be getting on a train . It turned out to be an awesome day, but it made for an early start. Destination: three castles in Northern Hungary (well later I found out one was in Slovakia).

Eric and I headed out of Keleti Railroud Station at 5 am and had a two hour train ride to Salgotarjan - which I could almost pronounce by the end of the day - something like shawl-got-tar-yan. First we had to stop in this town called Sixty, aptly named because it was exactly sixty kilometers from Budapest. We had six minutes to make our connection, so for about twenty minutes in my head i was practicing how to say: Where is the train going to Salgotarjan. Eric and I hopped off and on to a random train. We asked the first lady we saw, and she's like no and tells us the correct platform. So we sprint to our train, jump on and collapse into our seats. After about five minutes the man we had been sitting next to on our last train calmly walks onto the train. We felt like idiots.

The rest of the train ride was pretty calm and we arrived in Communist utopia on schedule. By communist utopia I mean a town of mines, tall ugly buildings, and lots of public transportation. This town was ugly. I would put up a picture, but I didn't even take any it was so bad.

So its 7 am and we're looking for a castle. I convince Eric that this hill next to the train station has a castle on it. He's kind of reticent, but agrees to the climb. Instead we end up doing the stations of the cross and end with three crosses on the top of the hill. I suppose its fitting for this time of year. Remeber its about 8 am and there is absolutely no one around. Eric kept thinking we were going to get attacked by the makers of the Blair Witch Project, but the only man we saw is no longer living...

Mad I can't find the castle, I start trapsing through a field of prickly bushes. Eric gets tired of this and takes the lead. After we return to the main road and hike out of town a few kilometers we come to this hill with a couple of rocks on top of it. It happens to be next to a bus station with some people waiting. Not to be thwarted, we ask where the castle is. Here's the conversation.

Me: Hol van a var (Where is the castle)
Old lady: Ez (That's it - pointing to the hill with rocks)
Me and Eric: Look at her with contempt
Old lady: Ez, Ez, Ez
Me and Eric: Koszonom szepen (Thank you very much)

We were stunned, but when we climbed up on to the so-called castle, we found it had its merits. After a short tour here, we went back for a tour of the communist uptopia. After about ten minutes we were through, but had to wait over an hour for a bus to the next castle. This is when Eric confesses he has never had a McDonalds breakfast. So I treat him to his first one ever, and I must say it was good but definitely not up to American standards.

Well after waiting twenty minutes for the bus, i really had to pee. I go into this little cafe, and then of course the bus comes. Eric calls me but the bus driver is anxious to leave. This guy was pretty nice and sees Eric scrambling so he waits as I run, like i'm in a movie, out of the restaurant and on to the bus. We tell the guy where we want to go. We have no idea where to get off and we can see the caslte on a hill really far away. Thinking we could hike to it from whereever, we just wait. About half way through the ride, the driver gets up, walks to the back of the bus and asks us if we're going to the castle. We say yes and he's like, ok, and goes back to driving. This was really nice cuz now we had confidence we would know where to get off. Once we saw this first castle, it made the whole trip worth it. It was awesome. One small problem, it was in Slovakia.
We walked the little way up to the castle and we were thinking about how to get in. The book said we had to hike to Slovakia and then hike 3 km up a hill to get in. I wasn't about to do that. Instead we found this sign that said the castle was open to anyone of the EU or of Switzerland. Well I said screw that and walked in anyway. If we got caught, we would just pretend to be Irish and Eric could show them his passport. So after last week's unhappy defeat, I had finally triumphed over Slovakia. I took a walk through the ungaureded, open gate like Sean Connery walking off Alcatraz in The Rock. Take that. We toured around the castle and had a grand time. Eric bet me 1000 euro to jump out on this rotten beam about 3 stories above a dungeon, but I felt bad taking his money so I agreed not to do it.

From here we didn't know how to get to the other castle. We figured we'd just get on the first bus that came and see where it took us. We got to a random town, and found another bus to the other castle, but this involved lots of waiting. Finally the other bus came after someone test driving a Corolla just about ran us over. We made it to the other castle which wasn't as cool but the views were absolutely stunning. We could see for miles around. We saw the ugliness of our communist utopia city, we saw the little village and the other castle, and we even saw all of Slovakia and the mountains that border with Poland. I cannot even describe how cool the view was.

After a while at this castle enjoying the views, we again got another bus back to communist utopia. We had about 50 minutes before our train so Eric deamnded some pizza. The pizza was pretty bad but at least it filled us up and cost about $2.50 for a large.
Our next destination was a Buddhist Monastery that was consecrated by the Dalai Lama in 1992. Ok so that sounds really cool, and I bet its really fun to visit - I'll have to wait to find out. Eric fell asleep on the train and I'm an idiot. We weren't sure about the stop, but got off anyway. We asked this incredibly drunk man if we were in the right place, he said no, it was a different city. So we're like SHIT! and hop on the train as the doors shut. About five minutes later at the next stop we realize it was the right stop, but now it was too late. Getting another train and bus and train and what not would have left us stranded. Instead we decided to end our long and exhausting day. Again we made the six minute connection but this time we looked like pros. The use of Hungarian though is proving mightily useful in such situations.

Then for the last train we enjoyed the music of some girl's ipod whose eardrums no longer work. All in all a very good day of seeing castles. Hopefully I'll be up for seeing some towns or palaces later on.

Algerian Cuisine

With the dawn of this new semester, I've taken on a couple of new responsibilities. Two nights a week I tutor a seven year old boy in the ways of English. As you can imagine this usually amounts to little more than me talking to myself and hoping that he slowly pick up the language. There is usually lots of card playing and me just generally wrestling with the kid. I'm not sure if its working, but the parents generally enjoy my company and they keep paying me so I think I will continue.

In a few weeks, I'm going to start tutoring a high school student. It sounds like this kid is a lot smarter than I. He is studying at a German high school, speaks English, and is currently touring around Canada. I'll let you know how that goes.

Also, my new internship at the Defense College has proved more interesting than first thought. The Algerian guy I met the first time, was the only one that showed up at the second meeting. We had a verry long chat about Iraq, Afghanistan, Algeria, and even Budapest. Its remarkable some of the vocabularly he knows but some of the words that he doesn't.

Well this Algerian guy offered to take me out to dinner on Friday, so I agreed. We went to this famous Turkish restaurant that is known all over Budapest. It just happens to be next to one of the apartments for our program and we happen to frequent it every other day. I showed up at the agreed to time and half hoped that my man, Abdallah , wouldn't show. He did in fact show and I had the most delicious, and filling dinner in quite some time. He spent over $20 on the two of us which is a small fortune for this restaurant. Bread, lamb. chicken, beef, tea, and soup was all included in this feast. Trouble is Abdallah wanted to hang out all night, which got a little quiet towards the end but it was still pretty good. Now my mind is working on ways to get to Alegeria. After looking at the State Department's Travel Advisory (i.e. Americans are not allowed to travel outside the city without an escort) I was slightly deterred, but the gears are still working on how to organize a trip to Algiers. We'll see. Hopefully this friendship will brood some more free meals and some interesting info on Algeria. I'll let you know.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Tent Camp New Place

This is the name of the Hungarian city where we tried to sneak into Slovakia. Ok so it wasn't quite that dramatic, but that is verbatim the translation of the name of the city: Sátoraljaújhely. First though, the main destination of our journey was the town of Sarospatak (Muddy Creek).

This is where a really famous Hungarian prince led numerous wars of rebellion against the Habsburg Empire - translation - huge castle. The castle in fact was really cool, and you can see some of the pictures in the links. Sadly, the castle did enjoy a lovely view of a very muddy river. It was more brown than anything else. Who builds a caslte with that kind of view?

Well we got to the castle at about 10:30 and it seemed that we were the only ones there. After we hopped over some fences and just missed falling in the mud laden creek, we got inside and asked to see the tower. After a short 30 minute tour in Hungarian with like 50 people that came out of nowhere, we saw the tower. I guess I should explain who we is. Elaine and I were the only ones brave enought to catch the 6 am train. It was a nice sleepy ride without interruption.

The tower on top of the castle was really sweet and had a fine view of the mud and the shanties

around the walls. Here's Elaine enjoying the view.

Constantly during the tour Elaine was trying to get us kicked out of the castle. Sneaking up hidden stairways and touching 300 year old decorations - much to the dismay of the guide.

Well we finally got down and wanted to see the "sub rosa" room which is apparently where the term in secret comes from. A bunch of over zealous guys signed a piece of paper to conspire against the Habsburgs. The Habsburgs laughed and hanged them all. At least they are rememebered for their use of latin. To visit this room though we had to dawn the most bizarre shoe covers.

We saw the room and we decided to get lunch in town. We went into a very nice, cheap restaurant. In the midst of trying to order from the menu, some amazing looking food walked past our table. The waiter noticed our eyes and we simply said yes. Turns out we judged well. When Elaine got dessert they even brought her a sparkler in her ice cream. I was thinking this was just to tease us foreigners, but it was funny nonetheless.

After this we caught a train to our new found favorite city: Tent Camp New Place. Here there wasn't much to see. We got off the train and saw this beautiful looking church. Huge tower and nice decorations and everything else. The inside was a dump. It looked like what Tom Hanks moved into in "Money Pit" and now the cellar was being used to store wine. I wonder what God had to say about that.

So it was Saturday afternoon and absolutely everything in this town was closed. Store after store had closed signs and there was absolutly nothing to do. We did stop at the supermarket though and stuffed ourselves with chocolate.

So being on the Slovak border as it was, we tried to walk in. Bad idea. In broken Slovak, Hungarian, and English they communicated to us that Elaine was jo (good) to go because she had an Irish passport which is in the EU. My stupid American passport however was nem jo ( not good) and we had to walk 4 km down the road to get in. I thought about just making a run for it, but I probably would have got shot. There wasn't anything really to see on the Slovak side, but we just wanted to get stamps.

This is the second time i have been refused entry into Slovakia. The first time was with our entire group, and I forgot my passport in Budapest. They wouldn't let me get in with a copy, so I think the country as a whole hates me. Maybe next time I try to go to Bratislava they will let me in.

The train ride back was pretty uneventful except for like the 20 over aged hikers that smelled like ass. I have no idea what the stench was, but we had to move. The rest of the way smelled of the chocolate we had left over.

I rounded out my weekend with some fine Irish cuisine. A different Irish lad had used my freezer when his broke down and as a reward he left 5 Irish steaks for us. So I boiled up some potatoes and friend myself a wonderful steak with onions. I felt almost like I was in teh motherland. My roomate Szabi keeps telling me he is going to deep fat fry one of the steaks. There is no way I'm letting him ruin such a good piece of meat. There might be some bloodshed.

Well that's about all I have to report. Hopefully this week provides some interesting Budapest moments. More pictures and additions to come.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Day of Contrasts

This morning I was supposed to get up at 6 am and head off to far Eastern Hungary to see a really big castle. Well it was downpouring at 6 am, and I was tired so that has been pushed back until tomorrow. Instead, today I was lazy, got a train at 1:00 and went up this town called Vac on the Danube. In this town I was routinely struck by various ironies. Let's start with the first one.

I decided after walking around, I would get some gulyas, before I left town. My book recommended this wine-cellar type restaurant underneath the town square. So I find it, go inside and order gulyas. They tell me they are out of gulyas. I think they just didn't want me to order somehting so cheap, so I got this Italian pasta instead. Not having gulyas in Hungary is like not having Big Macs at MacDonalds. Ordering was an accomplishment in itself considering the entrie menu was in Hungarian. It helps that we learned the word for pasta yesterday. Anyway, I'm eating away in 15th century wine-cellar when they start to play Michael Jackson. Not be outdone, this is followed with a song by Queen and then 50 cent to round it out. How bizarre, I'm undergound a town square in the middle of Hungary listening to Micahel Jackson.

The next thing that struck me was the communist outskirts of the town. I had walked around for a couple of hours and had only seen small one family houses on old narrow strees. I was walking down one road and suddenly I popped out on a major avenue next to 50 huge communist buidlings. It was such a stark contrast from the rest of the day. I've tried to capture it in the pictures.

Also, I was walking on this bike path next to the Danube, and this huge stretch of green grass loomed in front of me. Turns out this very nice, scenic view of the river is also enjoyed by a number of prisoners incarcerated at the local prison. What a rough punnishment.

A few other highlights of the day were trekking 10 km (it was more like 2) to see the so-called Charles Bridge of Vac. Charles Bridge is this really famous bridge in Prague over a huge river with a lot of statues. I didn't think it would match the original, but I never envisioned such disapointment. The bridge was a little two lane causeway over a crick with 6 tiny statues covered in burlap. What a lackluster detour I had just forced upon myself. This detour did bring me into the communist part of the city though, so I guess it was alright.

The other thing I noticed during the day, is that my Hungarian is really improving. I convinced the people at the restaurant I was Hungarian, I argued with a lady about what day of the week it was (I think she was a little crazy) and I got a guy to help me buy my ticket in Hungarian. This is really motivating for my self esteem.

That was my day to Vac which was pretty simple, but still pretty interesting. Tomorrow I should have more to report after two 4 hr train rides, a talkative Irish girl and one of Hungary's most famous castles and colleges. I'll let you know.

Other interesting developments in my life include an internship at Hungary's National Defense College. Officers from all over Eastern Europe, Central Asia, and even Africa come to this school to learn English. Before I knew what hit me, I was having a drink with a 55 yr old female lawyer in Albania's defense ministry, a 25 yr old lieutenant in Sebria's infantry, and a 45 yr old captain working for Algeria's defense ministry. After the meeting, the guy from Algeria had me write down my number. I'm hoping he will pass me state secrets and jump start my CIA career, but I don't think that will happen. Even if it already had, I couldn't tell you.

Well if you have time, check out my friend Eric's blog. He has tried to initiate a war of the I's (Ireland vs Iowa), but sadly he lacks the ammo to compete. Iowa is just too much fun to even stoop to level of Ireland. We have snow, lakes, and caucuses. Ireland has....beer.

Saturday, February 3, 2007

Newbies Travel Experience

So today we decided to get up at the crack of dawn to see some cities around Hungary. Me, Eric, as well as the new CIEE lads: Laura, Jeff, Elizabeth, Sarah, and Mary went to Tata and Gyor.

Tata is this small town about an hour northwest of Budapest. Check out the pictures in the links. Our train left at 6:45 because we were hoping to avoid the train strike that was due to start at 8 am. We got to Tata in the bright morning light at 7:45 and moved on to the stunning castle. The castle used to be a hunting residence for the Kings in the middle ages. Now it stands over a lake that welcomes swimmers in the summer. We were enjoying a nice view of the lake when a deer attacked us. Ok so it didn't so much attack us as swim in the water in front of us. Still it was quite a surprise.

Then we toured around the town a bit, and found a little cafe for hot chocolate. We ordered foro csokolade (hot chocolate) but ended up having cold chocolate and not paying for it (she somehow undercharged us).

After Tata we headed to Gyor. We had lots of good humor along the way. For instance, Eric was quite struck by the fact that I was tutoring a Hungarian boy. The fact that I would "tackle" him or "wrestle" with him really got Eric going.

Also interesting was the dirty talk Eric had on the train with Mary and Elizabeth. The rest of us were going on about some boring topic, but they had moved on to inappropriate sexual topics. I was surprised how quickly Eric was able to corrupt these gentle young Americans. Damn Irish humor.

We made it to Gyor and asked the tourist office where to get some food. We found a really good restaurant a little off the beaten path and ate lunch for a good two hours.

Gyor is a really sweet old town. Napoleon even thought so and stayed for a night in 1809 before trying to kick the crap out of Russia. It's also a German town that still publishes a German newspaper. Here's Eric taking a picture of Napoleon's House.We also saw this cathedral where supposedly a mural of Mary bursted out crying with blood for tears. Eric was excited because this had been brought from Ireland by an Irish saint. This didn't happen for us.

We finished off our tour in Gyor and caught an unveventful train home. This was probably my easiest time I've had with transportation. It sounds so boring. Maybe the whole language thing is coming around.

One odd thing about the whole day was the contrast between wealth and poverty. On the train we would pass these shanty towns that were just walls with garbage spread all around. This one town Tatabanya had been conquered by communism and was so ugly. But then Tata just down the road was beautiful and thrived on tourism. It was kind of a sad contrast.

So on the whole the trip wasn't that eventful, but it was actually really enjoyable. Good company, good sights, rabid deer - all in a day's work.

While on the train, I was toying with some ideas for the blog. I decided this is how I think the candidates compare for 2008 regardless if they said they are running for prez or not. Hope this provides some good debates.

1) Mark Warner (D) - former governor of Virginia, unfortunately not running
2) Barack Obama (D) - if it were Osama he would definitely get elected in Afghanistan
3) Rudy Guliani (R) - Charismatic enough to pull in the right wingers and the moderates - some questions about his personal life and political past
4) Bill Richardson (D) - Latino, Democratic governor with huge foreign policy experience
5) Mike Huckabee (R) - Former Governor who can win the base - maybe the moderates
6) Hillary Clinton (D) - Republicans hate her, but Dems and Indpendents might be convinced by the vestiges of the best political spin machine ever - led by her husband
7) John McCain (R) - Might poll strong at first, but has alienated the base too much
9) John Edwards (D) - Has a lot of name recognition going for him, but what has he really done
8) Mitt Romney (R) - Good credentials as governor of Mass, but his Mormon faith will alienate too many supporters
9) Evan Bayh (D) - Impeccable candidate from a red state, but he's not running and lacks charisma
10) Chirs Dodd (D) - good candidate and good record as senator from Conn, but not enough name recognition to fight off the top figures
11) Sam Brownback (R) - might win a primary or two, but way too conservative for the country right now
12) Joe Biden (D) - Democratic senator from Delaware - talks way too much
13) Al Gore (D) - boring
35) Tom Vilsack (D) - effectively he's running for VP so he can deliver the purple midwest
987) Dennis Kucinich (D) - what an idiot

The Dems do highlight the top of the list but with Iraq looking the way it is and the recent sweep in congress, I'd say the Democrats have the upper hand. We'll see how this list looks in a year and half.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

January Thoughts

It has been quite some time since I have updated my quasi reality show of a life. Take this for a plot, put 15 random American college students in a dormitory in Budapest who have never met each other. Give them a week to fight over aparments - then make them live together. This pretty much explains the last two weeks.

I've been ruminating about various things to post on here, as I am an amateur at this, but here's a few things I think might be interesting: (a) Irish slang (b) how I look like a Hungarian (c) the absurdity of American education and (d) the best and worst 10 of Budapest.

Since I've been studying here a whole year, I've come to know a couple of Irish students pretty well. Eric and Elaine are both pretty Irish and pretty funny. Here's just a couple of my favorite sayings:

I slagged the shit out of her - aka made fun of her
That's bollox - That sucks
Your man - used when telling a story instead of That guy/girl. Eric really confused me telling a story about when he was caddying for "my man" at some Irish golf course.
Mollycoddle - similar to babying someone (Eric's opinion of how our director takes care of us)
Fair Play - Well done
take the piss out of someone - yell at someone
shite - used for just about any purpose
give out to someone - yell at them
Deadly - Brilliant (one of Eric's favorites)

That's all for now - I'll see if I can come up with some more later.

My Hungarian look alike skills seemed to be working well today.

Eric and I were eating some delicious carrot cake on this bench at Astoria when these three American girls pretended to take a picture of a billboard next to us. Eric realized we were going to be in the picture so we did our best to make obnoxious faces in the background. The girl taking the picture gave up any notion of sneaking a picture of some cool Hungarian dudes and just took it straight on. I think this is a good sign that I've finally assimilated.

Twice more during the day I was asked for directions in Hungarian. I was tempted to point down dark alleys and nod my head adamantly, but instead I just said Nem tudom (I don't know) and the American in me was elicted.

This is a real conversation from my Economics of the EU class. The class is made up of about 10 Americans, and 20 Europeans from all over the continent.

Professor: Who was the first to propose the idea of a United States of Europe
Me: Churchill
Professor: Ah yes, Winston Churchill (walks to the back of the room and looks at an American girl) Who was Winston Churchill, do you remember who he was?
Girl from Alabama: (thinking...) ummm... I've heard of him, but I'm not sure what he did.
Class: whispered laughter

At this point I was devastated, but then us Yanks were saved when a girl (your one as the Irish would say) listed off the members of the EU without hesitation

I left Iowa 5 and half months ago, and I think I'm finally ready to detail exaclty what are the 10 worst and best things about being in another hemisphere.

Top 10 Things I miss

10) American Mt. Dew
9) Middlebury cafeteria food
8) Living in a house
7) People who fix things and speak English
6) Smoke free bars/restaurants
5) American Customer Service
4) Rural America
3) Sports on TV - English TV for that matter
2) Space
1) Peanut Butter

Top 10 I don't miss

10) Wealth
9) OC fans
8) Materialistic Society
7) Homogenous Culture
6) Ambition - Competition
5) 21 age limits
4) Rural America's lacking enterainment scene
3) Time limited Dining
2) Inadequate Public Transportation
1) Hurried Society

Just for an added bonus here's my episode trying to get tickets to Princeton University's Symphony in Budapest.

Me: Do you have any tickets?
Ticket office: Nope
Me: Our professor told us she reserved tickets for us
Lady: I don't have any tickets
Me: Is there anywhere I could find some?
Lady: Maybe try talking to the porters

Instead of that, I try to walk brazenly into the concert hall
Porters: KABOURALDJFJAK;SJ - Shouting in Hungarian
Me: Ummm, our professor told us she would have tickets, can i go talk to her?
Porter: Come with me, I'll take you to the organist
Me: (Extremely confused look)
Organist?: Are you from the embassy
Me: (Correct answer: yes) No, our professor reserved us seats
Organist: How many do you need? 1,2
Me: 6
Organist: Here's six tickets

We end up in the 4th row listening to an awesome performance

Dan 1
Mean world: 0

Ok well I'll try to write more later, write me back if you have anything interesting to say.