Thursday, August 27, 2009

He's sort of blondeish, you know, in the face.

The new CETPers are in Budapest and I've spent a fair amount of time visiting them, chatting and trying to show them a bit of Budapest as they've battled through jet lag and culture shock. And it's made me quite reflective.

Tomorrow is my 23rd birthday. Tomorrow also happens to be the one-year anniversary of my first time in Krudy, my first meeting (which was traumatizing!), meeting all my colleagues for the first time. And that, to me, is INSANE. Because Krudy... that place has just sort of become my world. I love it there: my work, the people, my students, the school yard, the general insanity of it all. And one year ago tomorrow, I was so stressed and overwhelmed and unhappy that I sat on a tram on the way home and just cried.

Just over a year ago I was arriving here in Hungary and I was shocked. It was beautiful, but so dirty. The people never smiled, but they gave me free food for being American. I was yelled at by strangers about many things, and given directions hundreds of times. My colleagues told me nothing about what was going on, but ran photocopies of useful handouts and left them anonymously on my desk. It was weird and it was new and it was exciting.

And here's the thing. It still is. I still laugh at crazy language or cultural quirks. I still get lost and frustrated with language barrier issues. The river at night, or parliament on the way to work, still catches the breath in my lungs. I still marvel at architecture while tutting at the graffiti covering it.

I have a full plan of the important days in the school year written into my calendar, which I demanded of poor Balint. I wrote third grade's entire year's curriculum, and it was accepted without question or amendment. I've sat through every staff meeting and mostly understood what was going on. A lot has changed. My words have changed. I have changed. My goals and plans and dreams have changed.

I sleep like the dead and I smile constantly. I walk damned near everywhere. I laugh all the time. I can't believe it's been a year at Krudy. I can't believe it's been over a year in Hungary. It feels like yesterday, and it feels like a lifetime, and it feels comfortable and safe and good. Thank God I forced myself off that tram and into this insane adventure.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Bencelita, because she hasn't appeared in awhile

So my precious baby became quite fat, but none the less lovely, over the summer. She settled right into the new flat without any problems, and has been as charming as usual over the past few days. Yesterday was her name day, which she got to celebrate with a piece of salami... very exciting for her given her current state of "on a diet." She also chose to dress up to celebrate her national holiday on St. Stephen's day.

And now... I'm actually getting to do lesson planning. Like, the curriculum for the whole year. So I'm gonna head back to that.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Real life, yet not

So I've now been back in Budapest for 11 days. And I've been settling back into life, but of course it is not real life. It's a funny, in between sort of life, where my days are full of nothing yet fly by.

I've been visited by beautiful people that I am lucky to know, and I have slept. We've made our flat into a new home. I've held the rat, and marveled at how lucky I am that she remembers me, that little animals can warm our lives in such a way. I've watched speedy planes buzz low through an obstacle course over the Duna.

On the 20th was my one year anniversary with Hungary. We went up to Gellert hill to watch the fireworks, and they were spectacular. And I thought about my year, and I cried. I couldn't have asked for anything more amazing. I couldn't have asked to grow more, to know myself better. I never dreamed that I would have found a job that I wake up and smile about getting to go to. And I won't even start on the people I've met, because I'll just cry again. So yes, I stood there on top of the hill and watched blurry fireworks explode over the citadel and the castle, and I was so impossibly thankful.

I hope to hold onto that feeling for a long time to come. I hope I can remember it when life is bristly with me, or when I am bristly with life. When I am lonely, or scared. I hope I can close my eyes and see the fireworks go blurry behind them.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Romania, not Transylvania

After arriving in Suceava, in northern Romania, Lyla and I half-heartedly wandered the town. There was a lovely little open-air museum, an old citadel, and several lovely painted monasteries. Unfortunately, we were just plain tuckered out and wound up spending our Friday evening in the hostel lobby, sharing a bottle of wine and chatting with the amazing proprietess.

The next day we slept in and then caught a seven-hour train to Bucharest, at which point I finally allowed myself to read my book... and finished it!

Arriving in Bucharest we were greeted by some lovely locals that we knew through friends, who took us out to various evening-friendly locales. So we wound up happily dancing and laughing until five in the morning, meeting more incredibly friendly Romanians at every turn. At one point we even danced to songs from the Jungle Book. Europe can be weird, but I have to say that I do love it.

The next day we wandered the city, taking in what little remains of the old town, seeing the square where their revolution started, and visiting the absolutely charming Museum on the Romanian Peasant, full of folk art and even including a few buildings inside!

Having met a tour guide from the Romanian Parliamentary Palace, we had to visit. So Monday we headed there. What a huge building! It's the second biggest in the world, second only to the Pentagon, and absolutely dripping with ornamentation, cristal chandeliers, and gold. It faces a giant avenue lined with fountains. And while the whole thing was beautiful, the extent of it, and the fact that it was built in the 1980s... Ceausescu was a crazy dude.

I loved my time in Bucharest. I was a little apprehensive to go, but it was a beautiful (if perhaps starkly huge) city full of interesting museums, cafes, and shops. Most of all, everyone I met there was so kind, friendly, and open. We had several interesting conversations about history, and I learned that most Romanians will not travel to Hungary because they fear ill treatment due to the whole Transylvania thing. At the same time, most Hungarians will not travel to Romania (outside of Transylvania) for the same reason! And this was just nonsensical to me. It honestly made me very sad.

The next day it was off to Brasov, taking yet another minibus, but this time through lush green mountains. We arrived to the pretty little town, ate a lovely lunch, and took a cable car up the mountain to see the view. Then it was time to visit a few more painted churches, sit in a cafe slowly sipping lemonade, and catch our last night train back to Budapest.

Southern Ukraine

So, as much as I loved Kiev, it turned out to be a really big hassle to get out of there as well! The Ukraine just kept wanting to keep me where I was, it seemed.

A very classy overnight train ride, where Lyla and I enjoyed our own sleeper cabin for 11 dollars each, brought us to the small town of Kamyanets-Podilski early in the morning. After a bit of fussing about finding the bus station, buying tickets for that afternoon, and dropping our bags at left luggage we wandered into the center of town. The old town is essentially an island, surrounded by a gorge. It was beautiful. Lush, green, hazy.

After eating a breakfast that, surprisingly, contained a plate of bulghar, we wandered the city. A few small churches greeted us, including my personal favorite statues of the trip, two saints literally dancing outside a chapel. Then we crossed a bridge, where we were met with the amazing view of an old, fourteenth century castle. We wandered that, climbing rickety ladders up into centuries-old towers.

Lunch was pizza, which we successfully ordered with ham due to my oinking at the poor waitress.

That afternoon we caught a mini-bus (like a large minivan) to the border town of Chernivtsi, which was surprisingly beautiful and which I was sad to only have one night in. The next morning it was up at five to get back to the bus station and catch a second minibus out of the Ukraine and into Romania, a 90 km trip that managed to take only 4 hours!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009


Kiev is big, and I'm almost out of time at this internet cafe, so this will be short.

It is full of brightly colored Orthodox churches, dripping with gold and icons, onion domes shining gold or silver against the sky.

Mummified monks are sealed in glass cases below the ground, and babushkas kneel and kiss the cases, and pray, gnarled hands holding dripping beeswax candles.

Giant shiny buildings rise from enormous boulevards.

Parks full of unabashadly communist monuments are everywhere.

In a bus across the Ukraine

Spotted from the window: a cow tethered in the field outside a block of flats. An old lady driving a donkey pulling a giant load of hay. Men playing chess by the side of the road. Goats wandering in the streets. Packs of dogs. Fields of flowers and crops. A bright red sunset and wind-swept plains.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

L'viv, Ukraine

So our trip to Ukraine started with scowling border guards snatching our passports from our hands at 5 in the morning, then disappearing with them for about a half hour.  They were eventually returned, however, and our three-hour border crossing soon came to an end.

Upon arriving in L'viv, I was struck by a horrible stomach bug.  So I spent most of Friday laying, wandering slowly, and then laying some more.

L'viv is also, apparently, the town that you can never leave.  The trains out today?  All sold out.  The night bus?  Also sold out.  So in a few hours we will take a bus that leaves at noon and takes nine hours to arrive to Kiev.  Whoo.

As for L'viv itself, it's a beautiful little town, full of funny art-deco and art-nouveau buildings.  And tons of churches.  Yesterday, being a Saturday in August, the town was entirely taken over by weddings.  We saw, seriously, dozens and dozens of bridal parties.  For lunch we ate cheese and then chocolate fondue.  And then did some more wandering, through parks and up cobbled streets.

Krakow, the rest

So on our second day in Krakow we woke up early and headed out to Auschwitz and Birkenau.  And it was large, and impactful, and sad.  Though I must admit that it was not so sad as I expected.  Perhaps it was the beautiful sunny day, the swarms of shouting tourists, or perhaps I'm just desensitized from living in central Europe where so many horrible things have happened.  Anyway.  For me, the most impactful thing was the sheer size of Birkenau.  The barbed wire stretched out almost as far as I could see on either side.  It's huge.  

Our last day in Krakow was spent wandering the city.  It's lovely.  The main market square is huge, and there is a castle and a cathedral atop a hill, guarded by a dragon.  I have to say, though, and at the risk of flogging... Krakow was not my favorite town in Poland.  It was beautiful!  Just... not my favorite.

After that it was to the bus station for an overnight trip to L'viv, Ukraine.