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Day 4

Eliza’s alarm roused me at 5:30am, and I hastily shut it off, hoping everyone was still in dreamland.  I began dressing, tiptoeing about the room, and gathering my camera bag into my arms.  Having successfully crept from the room, I walked downstairs, nodded to the sleepy receptionist and emerged onto the streets of Prague under a deep blue sky.  What crazy idea was it that caused me to clop down the streets like a solitary horse wandering from home?  I wanted to photograph the sunrise in Prague, and by my calculations, the Charles Bridge was my best bet.  That meant I had to wake up at 5:30 to give myself enough time to reach the bridge before sunrise.  We were leaving this day, and it was my only chance for these photographs.

After completing my photo shoot, I went back to the hostel with stiff fingers from the morning chill, but with a proud smile on my face.  At the hostel I flopped down to snag a few more hours of sleep.  We left Prague at 11:17am, slept for most of the train ride, and woke at 6:30pm in Budapest.

The trip to Prague was incredible, and I am hoping I’ll have the chance to see this city again.  If you would like to read from the beginning of our Prague journey, please click here.  Or go to my “Trips” category.

March 18, 2012
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Day 1 (4am-Noonish)

Train Traveling Tales

We really did not want to wake up at 4am, but by 4:30, at least one of us was awake.  For some crazy reason, BreAnna, Eliza and I decided the perfect train to catch was departing from Keleti Palyaudvar at 5:30am.  Let me backtrack for a minute and answer the basic question of, “Why Prague?”  Personally, I wanted to go back to Prague because my memories of the few days I’d spent there in high school were limited to a bridge, a marionette shop, a cafe, a boat ride, and a clock tower.  I remembered a beautiful city swollen with summer tourists, and bursting with dancing puppet legs.  I knew my trip money would be spent on Prague.  Luckily, BreAnna was also interested in visiting.  Then, the week before our trip, I invited Eliza on a whim, and she bought her train ticket two days later.

We three adventurers set our trip to extend over a 4-day weekend thanks to the Hungarian National Day which falls on March 15.  This year, the 15th was a Thursday, so school was canceled for Thursday and Friday.  When BreAnna and I wandered into Keleti Pályaudvar two weeks ahead of our desired departure date, we quickly located the international ticket section and waited for our number to be called.  (I didn’t think to invite Eliza until the following week).  Normally, the online route would have been simpler, but trying to purchase tickets online resulted in webpages in Hungarian, confusion over ticket prices, and difficulty in signing up.  Therefore, we chose to purchase them in person.  As I began listing the train times that we wanted, the woman behind the plastic wall said our tickets would allow us to board any train.  We thought this sounded marvelous.  She also suggested purchasing a transportation pass for Prague that would last the first 3 days we were in the city.  Since we were unsure where we would be traveling, we decided to pay the extra 10 euros.  We booked the hostel online, and by March 15 we were packed and ready.

At least our suitcases were ready, but at 4:30am, waiting for the 4/6 tram to arrive, we felt like falling asleep on the concrete.  The only thing keeping us upright was the excitement that had been building all week and was now keeping our knee joints and spines from collapsing.  After catching the tram and then a bus to Keleti, BreAnna and I met Eliza in the train station and found our train.  It was about 5:10am and the train was scheduled to depart at 5:30, so we boarded the train and found empty seats.  About 10 minutes later we learned why the “boarding any train,” wasn’t the best choice because that meant we had no assigned seats.  A family with reserved seats received the added bonus of evicting me and my friends from those particular seats.  They were actually very polite about it, but we stood around feeling foolish as the train car began filling up.  Soon it was clear that the seats in this train car were completely full, so we began working our way through multiple train cars.  This is an extremely complicated process as the doors between cars stay open for 10 seconds and then close whether or not you’re out of the way.  There were also issues of passing people loading their luggage and awkwardly smiling at others who also lacked seat reservations.  We were still drifting along when the train released its brakes and began to move away from the station.

Eventually, we located empty seats and plopped down for the beginning of a 7 hour train ride.  I was very excited and didn’t want to sleep.  Even though the Pennsylvanian town in which I live developed thanks to the train yard, I never had the chance to ride on a train.  So my first train ride in my life was this trip from Budapest to Prague, a fact that I had been discussing with friends and family ever since I bought the ticket.  After an hour, I was still ridding on my hype and was attempting to snap photographs of the unique houses rushing past.  Most of the photos are blurred because of the speed of the train and have glaring streaks of light thanks to the inside train lights reflecting on the windows.  Watching the sunrise was spectacular, particularly since I usually see sunsets.  My normal waking times are apt to prevent glimpses of early morning colors.  This sunrise consisted of an orange dome hovering behind blue mountain ridges and surrounded by a salmon-pink sky.

As we passed through a city, 4 skyscrapers rose above 3-4 story buildings, embracing the orange sunrise in their windows.  I took out my papers to study for midterms, however I couldn’t focus and put them away after 10 minutes.  Then I decided to relax and drift away into my dreams.  Around 9:00am, the train made one of its numerous stops and a young couple found us in their seats.  BreAnna and Eliza decided to locate new seats and allowed me to continue relaxing in the one remaining seat.  Several stops later, I found myself standing in the aisle.  I had noticed that a lot of people without seat reservations were sitting in the sections between cars, where the stairs and doors were located.  After a few more stops I began debating whether awkwardly joining the group would allow me the chance to sit down.  I then noticed an elderly woman rising to her feet and preparing to depart the train.  Her now vacant seat was located next to the window, and the other three seats, plus the four across the aisle were occupied by extremely boisterous guys drinking beer.

I headed over and asked if I could take the empty seat, and the guys immediately said, “yes.”  I settled into the seat, stared out the window and watched out of the corner of my eye as the group of guys passed around a bottle of vodka.  Judging by the cluttered trashcan under the window, it wasn’t their first drink of the morning.  At first, the guys asked a couple of questions and I mostly stared out the window as they chattered to each other.  About 10 minutes later, I suddenly became the center of attention.  Luckily, the guy who sat next to me spoke English fairly well, and questions directed at me were sent through him.  The group of guys were Slovakian, and only 2 or 3 of the group understood a majority of what I was saying.  Everything else was translated for the guys who understood some or very little English.  One guy sitting across from me was limited to naming American movie stars, movies, band names, and quotes in English. Most of what he said was accompanied by hand gestures, such as pointing to his arm muscle for “I’ll be back,” and “Govenator.”  Our conversations consisted of him saying words and me repeating them as a confirmation that I recognized the names.  We really made quite a comedy team, particularly as we compared bands we knew of, accompanied by doubtful head bobs and furious nods.

The guys talked to me about the Slovakian government and a bit about Slovakia.  They told me they were taught only a little English in school, and I was impressed by what they did know considering I know zero Slovakian.  Throughout our conversations they regularly offered me a drink from the bottle they were passing around.  Since I generally dislike the taste of alcohol, can’t stand hard alcohol, and was pretty sure the bottle held vodka, I politely refused.  “It’s European,” they told me, and I understand that drinking together is a sign of friendship, but I really hate strong alcohol.  Finally, they offered me a can Slovakian beer, “the best beer,” which they opened in front of me.  I figured since the top was clean and I hadn’t tried beer in a while that I would take a sip.  Beer is still disgusting.  So, they asked me what I drank, “soda?” No, I really don’t like soda, instead I drink juice, milk, and at about this point they tried to convince me that beer was milk.  They then opened a different can of Slovakian beer, half of them claiming it was a better beer.  I sipped it, and when asked which was better, I threw my judging platform out the window.  As far as I’m concerned, beer, Slovakian or otherwise, is not milk and tastes terrible.

After the assault on my taste buds, I calmly chomped on a bread roll to eradicate the beer taste from my mouth.  The rest of the train ride involved a great deal of laughter and some confusing issues involving translation.  The guys were impressed that I took martial arts, and one of the guys across the aisle expressed his respect for my dedication.  On the other hand, when one of the guys said something rude in Slovakian (left untranslated), others in the group said I should hit him for it.  I tried to say something clever along the lines of “not hitting defenseless people,” but I’m not sure the concept got across and I gave up.

When the train arrived in Prague, I found BreAnna and Eliza asleep in their seats.  If I hadn’t been worried about us missing our stop, I would have taken a photo.  We stepped off the train in Prague and I had my photo taken with the guys.  I’m still working on composing the other parts of this trip, but for your amusement, here’s me with the 7 Slovakian guys:

March 15, 2012

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A little bit about me:

I grew up vegetarian, which is rather unusual for an American. I think I’ve met only one other person in my life who’s diet was vegetarian from birth.  Now, I have met a barrel-full of people who are vegetarian, but a significant portion of them made the decision to become vegetarian around middle to high school.  My younger sisters were also raised vegetarian, so we had the opposite option of eating meat.  Our parents made the decision to change to a vegetarian diet before I was born (and I’m the eldest).  Both Mama and Papa grew up eating meat regularly, and I believe the main reason for the switch was for health reasons.

In the past few years, I’ve determined that I’m vegetarian by default; I have no strong feelings about eating meat, I just don’t eat meat because it’s not in my diet.  Throughout my life, I continuously run into people who can’t seem to wrap their heads around vegetarianism (Note: Not a religion).  I’ve had to explain my diet in a number of ways to classmates, roommates, friends, co-workers.  Vegetarianism does not include fish (that would be a pescetarian), does include milk, eggs, and other dairy products (so not a vegan), and most certainly doesn’t include meat.  You’d be shocked how many people have to confirm with me that I don’t eat meat.

Other clarifications I’ve had to make include:

  • This is my diet, I’m Not ON a diet.
  • I CAN in fact survive without eating meat: beans, peanut butter, eggs, sprouts, spinach, etc, contain protein.
  • I WILL get sick if I eat too much meat, it’s not a myth, my body can’t break down the abundance of protein that exists in meat.
  • On the flip side, I can taste a little bit of meat if I choose, and in the past, I have tried meat.
  • And yes, I’m vegetarian, NO, I don’t like Tofu!  But, I will consume it under a few circumstances (Nothing to eat. It’s in the meal I’m served. I’m starving).

Now, admittedly, most people are just curious, and I’ve met a few with a fair amount of knowledge about vegetarianism.  However, since arriving in Budapest, I have had to (once again) repeat the above notes to several people.  Why?

Being Vegetarian in Hungary

People I meet in Budapest are truly blown off-kilter when I tell them I’m vegetarian.  I keep running into that swinging question, “You’re VEGETARIAN? And you came to Hungary?” accompanied by a one-eyebrow launch to the ceiling.  It seems that meat is a highly valued component in Hungarian meals.  I can’t imagine what I’m doing visiting a meat-loving city after coming from a country that practically lives off of Hamburgers, Hot Dogs, and Pepperoni Pizza.  I live in Pennsylvania; kids take off school on the first day of hunting season.  I go to school in Maryland, crab cakes anyone? Sea food? Lobster?  I thought Americans were stereotyped for always eating at McDonald’s?

Furthermore, the amount of stunned faces I turn up is disproportionate to the availability of vegetarian food here in Budapest.  Now, I say “here in Budapest,” because it has been made clear to me that the further you venture into the countryside, you will find increasingly fewer non-meat options.  Since I’m cooking for myself, I have plenty of opportunity to make my own vegetable, fruit, cheese, bread, noodle combinations, which are available at regular grocery stores and fresh food markets.  However, BreAnna and I are looking for a few opportunities to eat out, although we both have restrictions due to tight budgets.

So far, Vegetarian meals that I’ve consumed in Budapest include:

1 – A buffet-style meal that we had in the first week.  We headed across the city on a metro line at night, and popped up in an area defined by the train tracks, sketchy shadows, a brick wall, and the metro station from which we were emerging.  A few feet along the walk-way, and we came to a street corner that housed our destination, and a few other dark buildings.  The first floor of the restaurant held a coat check and a wall stuffed (no pun intended) with antlers.  It seemed reminiscent of a scene in The Illusionist (2006), where Chief Inspector Walter Uhl strides down the hallway of Crown Prince Leopold’s palace.  Antlers, like branches of a winter forest, loom above Chief Inspector Uhl.  Deer heads and frozen birds ghost through the lifeless forest.  Admittedly, the restaurant wasn’t spooky, and luckily, we didn’t end up eating under the antlers.  We wound our way upstairs and sat at a long stretch of tables.  The main attraction for the restaurant was the selection of meat which they would grill in front of you, according to your request.  Luckily for me, the buffet had plenty of other options.  I found a noodle dish, which I thought, at first, was a rice dish because the noodles were chopped so finely.  It had a lovely light spicing, probably with paprika (it was distinctly coated in red).  Even though goulash (meat based) was the main soup option, there was a delicious vegetable soup settled in the next pot over.  While vegetable soup isn’t my first pick, Hungarians know how to make soup.  It wasn’t overly salty, and none of the vegetables were mushy or too firm, and the spicing added an amazing touch.  And, of course there was fruit, vegetables, bread, etc.

I'm sad when there's no Strawberry Juice

2 – A delicious rice dish acquired from the cafe at McDaniel College Budapest.  The cafe is located in the basement, but is a nice place to relax, and they give large portions for good prices.  This plate of rice had broccoli, carrots and peas and was very tasty.  For a drink, I had strawberry juice – deliciousness!

Carrots and Peas and Corn, Oh My!

3 – A second food item acquired from the McDaniel cafe, and while it’s not unique to the cafe, it’s toppings are unique to Hungary.  This is the third time I’ve had a Hungarian version of “vegetarian pizza,” and it’s quite literally called vegetarian, not vegetable pizza.  In America, I’ve had vegetable pizzas with onion, pepper, mushroom, black olives, tomato, and broccoli.  In Hungary, the vegetarian pizzas have the basic tomato sauce and cheese, but the normal toppings are corn, peas, and carrots.  Corn Peas and Carrots?  It’s what you stir in a soup, throw on rice, or eat as a side.  This particular version also had beans, adding to the “goes in a soup” assessment.  I have never before eaten a pizza with corn, peas, carrots, or beans.  It tastes fine, even though it has a very lumpy appearance.

 Final Comments:

Being vegetarian in Budapest isn’t any more impossible than in any American city.  (We’ll see how it goes when I get to small towns, but I can live on bread + water for a few days).  This weekend, my group is traveling to Pécs, where our Saturday dinner is payed for, and I’ll reveal the contents of that meal next week.  Finally, BreAnna and I are stirring up plans for another Sunday night dinner, and hopefully we won’t be so tired from the Pécs trip that we can’t cook.

Jan-May, 2012

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Thank You

Sunlight in Budapest; in 6 hours it will shimmy through the windows of everyone I love.

I honestly don’t know how to express my appreciation better than a simple, “Thank you.” I’ve been in Budapest for 2 ½ weeks, and I’m here because of my family and friends. Even while I’m here, lots of people from home have been keeping in touch with me. Whenever skype announces “(person) is online,” it doesn’t take long before (person) is sending me a “hey! What’s up?” message. I finally found time to create this dedication blog post to say, “Thank You Everybody!”

Special Thank You’s

Mama – I know you’re having a difficult time while I’m gone, but I’ll be back in May. I love skyping with you on weekends, and I’m sad because this weekend I probably won’t be available to skype. You’re the sunshine that hammers through whatever droopy mess I have hanging over me.

Papa – Thank you for sending me a giant box full of kitchen supplies! BreAnna and I are thrilled. Before I left, our discussions helped me to continuously look forward to my trip, even when I had misgivings. I love you very much, even when you bust my ass for grammar mistakes.

Tia – Girl, it’s been wonderful chatting with you when you’re online. Continue to touch base with me, I really appreciate it. The note you sent me made me laugh, particularly over your ramblings.

Cyci – The letters you wrote are uplifting and keep me from getting too homesick. While I was reading I noticed that you sound a lot like Mama, comforting, encouraging, and supportive. I’m stashing the letters in the stand beside my bed so I can read them at night when I feel lonely.

Anthony – Hang in there! You’ve been keeping up with my issues, even though your life has been chaotic. Whenever I need to vent frustration, you’ve been the perfect listener. The best thing you can do for me is to keep pressing through all the shit that’s been hounding you. I love you so much, and appreciate your dedication to skyping with me.

Angel – I want to say I love you very much. You’re a special puppy dog, I know this is tough on you and I think of you a lot. You’re always such a good girl, and I promise I’m coming back home. Keep your pillow close, baby.

Meg – I couldn’t ask for a better friend. You helped me while I was bawling about packing, leaving, and wondering what-the-hell-am-I-doing? Long before I bustled into the airport, you were handing me tissues and promising to stay in touch. You’ve kept your word, thank you.

Maria, Ana, Colin, Lisa, Sierra, Tina, Rebecka – You ladies have been wonderful. Oh, wait! Sorry Colin, I keep forgetting you’re male….. common mistake. I’m kidding, and yes, I’m well aware you can handle shit just as well as any guy (Although step it up b/c Ana is still more manly). But besides the dig at Colin, I’m thankful to have friends I can count on when I’m falling apart or just need to hang out.

Grandpa, GrandDeb, Grandmom, Gramps, Aunt Pat, Uncle Don – Your well-wishes are greatly appreciated. Thank you for keeping up with my blog and thinking of me.

DMC 402 – I didn’t forget you crazy creepers. I’m well aware of your stalker activities upon my facebook wall, and lets not even discuss the Spamming. I hope you’re all behaving; I won’t be happy if I have to grow wings and return to straighten you guys out. Wing sprouting is not a comfortable process, and you’ve all seen me cranky (not a pretty sight). Thanks everybody for keeping my head screwed on straight last semester, I’ve been realizing that it’s a pretty valuable item to have in a foreign country. Love you all!

I’d also like to personally thank everyone who has supported my plans to study abroad and has been encouraging me. Finally, hank you to everyone reading my blog, you’re comments and visits encourage me to continue posting.

Jan-May, 2012

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