Thursday, April 30, 2009

Kids are cute, and yay!

Today my children were labelling pictures of faces with numbers that corresponded to words in English. 1, for example, was nose, and they all wrote a 1 on the face's nose. So forth. I was checking Máté's paper, and all was in order.

"But where is number 7, Máté? Where is cheek?"

Máté scoffed at me, and pointed to his paper. Sure enough, at the bottom of his page was a number 7, and drawn next to it? A chicken.

I laughed, face down on the table, until my eyes watered and my sides hurt. Like a good sport, Máté laughed along with me.

And now, I'm off to Istanbul for what is possibly going to be the best, and the most insane, weekend ever. Three days off work, three nights in Istanbul... yes, I'm flying home Monday morning before work! My hostel, though, looks at this, which I think will make it all worth it. :)

Monday, April 27, 2009

Athens, the general musings post

What impressed upon me most about Athens was the smell of flowers. Everywhere I went, some different flower was blooming and drowning out the scent of the five million people that live there running about their lives. The streets smelled of orange blossoms, and small curved petals would fall constantly in our hair, like plastic snow flakes, and passersby would casually pluck an orange and start peeling it as they rushed by in suits, balancing it precariously against their briefcase. The temple of Olympian Zeus was surrounded by a field full of clover and tiny white chamomile flowers. Each step would crush the leaves, and the fragrance of tea with honey would drift up. We laid down in the flowers and watched bumblebees drift lazily from one bloom to the next, blacklit to outline by the blazing afternoon sun. Bright red poppies dotted all the other flower fields, like beautiful exotic interlopers. Small children weaved daisy and dandelion head pieces in every square, next to the immigrants hawking their wares.

chamomile flowers, as seen from below

Beyond the flowers, it was also nice to be back among the Mediterraneans. People laughed, chatted, and smiled. Speaking no Greek, even in the suburbs or outskirts of the city where nobody spoke English, I had positive interactions with anyone. A grocery store clerk shook his head and winked at us as we purchased beverages for the evening. A little old lady patted our backpacks and commented to her friend, laughing kindly. A waiter surreptiously shook his head at our order, and suggested we try something else, which was absolutely delicious. Strangers would recommend sights to us when they saw us holding a map, and tour guides would smile, "But your English is so good! Where are you from?" When we replied that we were American, they would gasp, then smile and ask how long we had lived abroad. Bars served us endless bar snacks. Men made vaguely innappropriate comments about us as we strolled past, and old folks marvelled at my very curly blonde hair. To interact with these warm people was such a joy.

Old men play chess and backgammon in the park.

Athens was full of little delights and surprises, as well. Wandering a park near the center, we were surprised to come across a small zoo full of birds and "petting-zoo" animals, such as goats and rabbits. In this way I managed to see an Easter bunny on Easter, snoozing in the sun. In the business center, we came across a tiny church, no bigger than a utility shed, from the 17th century. We found a shop that specialized in turbans, not the religious kind, but the kind dramatic old ladies wear. We bought gyros and paid for them by placing the money in a tray by the door and scooping out our own change.

A peacock strutting for the ladies in the little zoo in the park.

Also, Athens is a really, really big city. It's surprisingly well organized for that, but we spent more than a few minutes sitting on a bus stop, waiting for a bus to decide to show up. Everywhere, it was somewhat... I don't know, I want to say unsettling but that isn't it. It was just jarring to be pacing a quiet ruin in the middle of the city, and hear an ambulance's siren. Or to be standing on a hill, surrounded by grass and soft silence, and see the highrises in the outskirts stretching up as far as we could see into the surrounding hills. The Athens airport is halfway across the peninsula from Athens, over an hour away by bus, and it was full city all the way. It was just strange, the contrast between the two, and also to see just so many people after little, flung-out Budapest.

sprawl near the new Olympic stadium

On a much less serious note, should you ever find yourself in Athens, absolutely do not look at your guide book and go, "Oh, there is a changing of the guard at Parliament every hour. Well, seen one, seen them all, I'll give it a miss." Because it is ridiculous, and hysterical, and bizarre. This single thing may have been the impetus behind the Ministry of Silly Walks skit by Monty Python. They swing their feet and arms high in front and in back, in unison, in extreme slow motion. The whole thing takes several minutes. Oh, and they have giant poof-balls on their shoes. It is amazing.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Adventures in Hungarian Medicine

Well, it has finally happened. Today I went to the doctor's office, or "the clinic" as they refer to it. Over a week after stepping hard on a pointy rock in Athens, I was still in quite severe pain. I can walk ok, as long as I don't put any weight on my left heel. I was tempted to just see if it would get better, but since the swelling was also getting worse after a day of running around yesterday, I decided to bite the bullet and go.

I had two free lessons, so I figured that was plenty of time to go and make an appointment for tomorrow. I arrived, waited in line, and said "My foot hurts," to the triage nurse, holding up my quick sketch of a foot coming down on a pointy rock. "What was that?" she snapped back at me. "I'm sorry my Hungarian is so bad," I offered. "My foot hurts."

She sighed, and started banging things into a computer, shooting me rapid-fire questions. I managed ok, but became more and more frazzled at the speed of her Hungarian. Finally there was one I didn't know. "Could you say it again, please?" I stammered. She sighed, banged down the keyboard, and asked the woman next to her, who translated. Super. I knew then that I was in for a rough time. Finally I got a number, and was told to go to the first floor.

I arrived, and looked up at the automatic number caller (the kind they have at deli counters in the States). Nine. I looked down at the slip of paper in my hand. 43.

Worriedly, I called Bálint and asked if he could handle 2B by himself in two hours.

I then missed my number, because they somehow read my name as "Michelle Larent" off my passport. Waiting again, a nurse walked up and scolded me. I started to cry. Apparently I was sitting in the wrong chair. I moved one seat to the left and she was satisfied and left.

Finally I got into the doctor's office. I took off my shoe to show him where it hurt, and the doctor and nurse simultaneously grabbed my heel and squeezed it. "Does this hurt?" "Ye-Yes!"

I was given a piece of paper and sent for an Xray. Hungarian, of course, is the only language that doesn't call this an Xray. Thirty minutes and one more nurse scolding me later, I was led into the Xray room, where the nurse grabbed my poor foot, twisted it around, and threw a napkin-sized lead blanket at me to cover... one ovary? Xrays over, more waiting. And more waiting.

The final diagnosis: I have bruised my heel bone. The suggested treatment? Ice it (my freezer doesn't really do ice), wrap it up, and try not to walk on it or climb stairs. As I grimaced at this, the doctor smiled. "Your flat doesn't have an elevator, does it?" "No, no it doesn't... Where do I go to pay?"

The doctor smiled and gave me heel one more questioning squeeze. "This is Hungary. It is free."

I stumbled out, four hours after I went in to make an appointment, clutching a sheet of directions I couldn't read and a card suggesting a certain analgesic gel, and gimped over to the bus stop. And called my parents for a verbal hug.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Athens, the museum post

The National Archaeology Museum is very, very impressive. The first floor is filled with marvels, from giant statues from every era of ancient Greece to jewelery and relics found in graves. The top floor is filled entirely with vases, which is impressive in and of itself, though I must admit that Lyla and I, exhausted from three hours on the ground floor and hungry for lunch, did basically walk briskly through the vase section. And... photos!

Yummy! Note that the lion on the left is a cast, the original is in England.

An amazingly lifelike bronze of Zeus, or maybe Poseidon. The detail was impossibly intricate, including veins and individual strands of hair.

The minotaur says, "Yo."

A slave boy riding a horse, rendered in both bronze and creepy.

Aphrodite rebukes Pan, with the help of her sandal and tiny Eros.

Apparently students used to commission these for their teachers when they died. That's right... face and junk, protruding from a collumn extolling the teacher's virtues. That's not messed up. Not at all.

Ancient Greek Moose!!!
Golden octopi

Lyla and I, exhausted and hungry after four hours of museum-ing, take a dramatic photo upon exiting. Please note my gorgeous new necklace, made of ceramic, purchased from the craftsman on Hydra. :)

Athens, the archeaology post

So, yeah. Being in Athens, we had to see a lot of archaelogy. Poor us, right? Unfortunately, my camera's battery died for the day on the acropolis, but we managed to find some new batteries by mid afternoon and Lyla took lots of photos while mine was dead. So, yay. Anyways... picture time.
The Theatre of Dionysis, the second location for democratic voting, and the first place built specifically for such a purpose. You can sit on the old marble benches.
Another large theater near the Acropolis, still in use today!
Hey, look... it's me in front of the Parthenon.
Hadrian's Gate: carved on the side facing "Greek" Athens, "This is Athens, the ancient city of Theseus." Carved on the side facing newer, "Roman" Athens, "This is Athens, the city of Hadrian and not of Theseus." Yes, Hadrian was a typically modest Roman Emperor!
The Temple of Olympian Zeus, which was left, somehow, in the middle of a very peaceful field in downtown Athens, as it was originally intended. There, it smells of chamomile.
A modern-ish church, viewed over the Kerameikos ruins.
The Kerameikos ruins hold the former "sacred way" which led into Athens for religious ceremonies, as well as many cemeteries. Thousands of years ago, this was it, flanked by a large river that is now only a trickle.
This is Filippopoulos Hill, where democracy actually started. It overlooks the Acropolis. I had a strange feeling in my chest while walking over the marbled earth and old ruins of benches and pavilions.
Me, Lyla, and the Parthenon.

The Roman Agora, or marketplace

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Greece, the Food Post, in which the photos will mostly speak for themselves

Crab wontons, which made me so happy, and noodles with sweet chili and shrimp.
Chicken teriyaki

Greek salad and Greek beer and Greek ouzo
Fresh fish, simply dressed with olive oil and lemon juice, with greens.
caramel cream and ice cream

Greek coffee, which is wicked thick and gross.

M&Ms, my Easter chocolate, consumed at the Temple of Olympian Zeus.

Stefano food: tsatziki, Greek gratin, several pasta dishes, salad, and kebabs.

beautiful pastries in the window of a beautiful pastry shop
a baba, chilling in rum syrup
baklava, dripping with syrup

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Hydra Island

The main town of Hydra Island, as seen from our boat.

So, my six days in Greece equaled out to an amazing trip! I'm going to break it into a few blog posts, hopefully by topic. So... first, we arrived on Thursday evening, took the bus into town, found our accomodation, and wandered around the neighborhood for awhile. I took the following picture, across what we later found out was the historical ruins of Kerameikos, a former cemetery and part of the sacred way. Anyway, beautiful! Then we headed off to bed, a big day ahead of us.
The Acropolis above the Kerameikos ruins

The next day it was up at 0630, getting dressed quickly, and then off to Pireaus, the port of Budapest. There we hopped onto a flying island and headed to Hydra Island, a brief 1'40" away. The flying dolphin was such an experience: they lift off the water, so the trip is very fast and smooth. Just after 0930, we arrived to the sun cresting Hydra's largest hill. The rest I'll tell with pictures...

The Flying Dolphin, lifted above the water.

In Hydra there are no cars. Instead, locals and tourists alike use donkeys to carry themselves and their belongings. While waiting for clients the donkeys stand together in the port, chewing cactus.

In Athens the oranges were blooming, the smell of their flowers overpowering the smell of city and following us everywhere. On Hydra, some trees had already yielded fruit. These are some lemons on a tree in a public square a little bit off the coast.

Hydra was absolutely covered in "communal" cats. They seemed to be stray, and it also seemed that everyone put out food and little kitty shelters for them. Here, one enjoys his prime spot under a tree in the sun, only slightly bemused by the Americans taking his photo.

A sunny street on the walk up the hill.

This bench was covered with wet paint. There was no signage. My purple purse now has a rather interesting blueish splotchy pattern on it, which is actually kind of cool. It was less cool on Lyla's jeans, and she told the bench how she felt about it. A minute after this photo was taken, an old man tried to sit on the bench and we stopped him with the international language of "Nenenenenene! Ne!"

A dolphin mosaic in one of the squares.

The water was insanely blue, and made a great contrast to the green hills.

Relaxing a little bit after climbing the hill.

Greece was covered in flowers, especially these beautiful red poppies.

Ah yes, the self portrait.

A very friendly donkey in someone's yard. We fed him clover.

At the top of the city's hill is a cemetery, dotted with small graves, each bearing a glass-enclosed dedication to the deceased with photos and personal effects. I felt it would be rather disrespectful to photograph it (despite the fact that there was also a horse grazing in the cemetery), and instead chose this angle of the town from just inside the cemetery gates.