Central Europe, Summer 2011, Part 1

May 19, 2011

Prologue

In four days I will be flying to Hungary.

In four days I will be further away from home than I ever imagined. This thought is all at once thrilling and terrifying. I think about going to Central Europe and it’s like the few torturous moments before losing my virginity- my mind is ricochetting between the pure excitement of this long awaited adventure and the panic of having absolutely no idea what to do. Am I capable of reverse cow girl? How do I say hello in Hungarian? Condom?! It’s overwhelming to say the least.

Unfortunately, this blog is in no shape or form meant to be about my sex life. I actually started it with the intention of documenting my summer- three weeks in Central Europe, three weeks in Kenya- and some of my more unique life experiences had in Prescott, Tucson, and where ever the universe takes me. Needless to say, my last few days in Prescott haven’t given me much writing material. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have anything to say…

Let me give you some background on this journey I’m about to embark upon. Three weeks spent in Hungary, Serbia, and a couple days in Slovakia. Twenty students. A sort of study-travel experience. We will be doing everything from living with Hungarian/Serbian families, to attending an opera, to partying in the streets of Budapest. After about a year of hearing about this trip from previous travelers, I feel like I know almost everything about it. I know it is supposed to be incredible. I know it is supposed to foster lifelong friendships. I know it is supposed to change my life. Yet, despite all of the stories and countless emails, I have never felt so unprepared for anything in my entire life. Losing my virginity? At least I knew where babies came from. But this? This is mind-blowing.

Finding myself confronted with such a heightened level of spontaneity is probably what terrifies me the most. I am a woman of plans and preparation, and let me tell you, if something fails to go according to my plans I go from sweet to sour in about two seconds. However, I truly believe spontaneity is the best thing that could happen to me this summer. It’s been too long since my routine was broken, too long since I took a risk. This summer, I’m gonna grow some balls and be just a little crazy for once. Cause you know, I could use some more crazy in my life. I could use a bit more reverse cow girl.

After all, who couldn’t?

Smiles and all the best,

Savannah

25 May 2011  

Budapest 

It is 11:53 pm and I am exhausted. I just returned from what I feel was my first authentic experience of the trip- a boat cruise on the Danube, dinner, and drinks with Hungarian students. The event was organized so that we could meet and mingle with the students who will be hosting us this Friday night. They are all friendly, fun, intelligent people with their own quirks and interests. Conversation came easy amongst us and we found commonalities quickly…with one exception. One of the Hungarian students stood out from the rest. She approached me shyly, dressed in bulky camo cargo shorts and a brown military t-shirt. Her head was shaved and she wore a third reich ring on her ring finger.  After we had exchanged a few words I realized I was speaking to member of the Nazi Socialist Party. She was nonchalant about her beliefs, telling me about her love for Nazi Germany, her third reich collection, as if I shared her sentiments. After a moment she looked around uncomfortably and said, “you are such a diverse group.” Up until she made this statement, I had hardly been aware of the fact that we truly are, diverse. I’d say we have the whole color spectrum covered. But that had never mattered to me; I just saw nineteen incredible individuals. Suddenly, I realized all at once why she had chosen to talk to me for so long and why she was hesitant when I suggested we meet some of the other students. Just as she identified Jonah as Black, or Nikil as Indian, she saw me as Aryan. asldkjflajf;uadfjjfj!!! What? Me? Aryan? That doesn’t sit well in my psyche at all… 

This would be the first of several encounters I/we had with racism. Such experiences would prove to be some of the most eye-opening. I learned quickly that I was in a very different world, far from the United States of America. I know racism exists here at home, but I’ve never seen it expressed so openly.  Because of instances like this, I realized what it truly means to be “privileged,” or as a fellow scholar, Ben Lang, put it “to not have to worry.” 

27 May 2011

Budapest 

We are currently at a lecture about the European Union and the Danube, and as embarrassing as it is, I am so tired that I have resorted to journaling to stay awake. This way, it looks like I am diligently taking notes. 

Last night, one of the Hungarian students, Anna, took us out to get a taste of Budapest’s nightlife. She took us to an open air club on the island that had several bars and two dance floors, one playing pop music, the other rock. Immediately, I noticed that the Hungarians are awkward. No offense to my Hungarian friends, but really, many of you are. When they dance, they just kind of bounce around at the shoulders and shuffle their feet back and forth. I felt like I was back at the Christmas dance in 6th grade. We Americans were the life of the party. After a few drinks, we all formed a circle and started really dancing, which attracted a lot of attention from, well, all the wrong people. One tubby, sheepish Hungarian boy tried to latch onto my hips and I had to shake him off a few times. Then, out of nowhere, he grabbed me by the shoulder, whipped me around, and tried to give me a big whopping kiss! Ew! Don’t worry, I didn’t let him. 

For lunch today, Rae Anne, Laura, Tina, Julie, Lauren and I went to the great market. We scoured the market for fresh fruit, bread, cheese, and smoked bacon and ended up with quite the feast. The strawberries and cherries Julie and I bought were lush and juicy. The bacon was a pale pink and smoked to perfection. The bread was fresh and smelled of a bakery. I felt so European eating our simple, homegrown meal! It was delicious, to say the least. 

Once we had finished eating, we had to decide what to do with our leftovers. Earlier, we had noticed an elderly homeless man begging on the platform of the tram station, crouched on his knees in front of a small tin. Lauren suggested we give him our remaining bread since we weren’t going to find the time to eat it. She was nervous to approach him on her own, so I volunteered to accompany her. So, the two of us crossed the street and walked onto the platform. We stood in front of him for a moment to get his attention, then Lauren carefully placed the food at his side. The old man looked from us to the food, perplexed, then nodded to acknowledge his thanks. 

Homelessness would become a sort of underlying interest for several of us in the group, particularly Carter, Rae Anne, Leah, and Angela. Through various connections, they were able to interview the directors of homeless shelters in a few of the cities we visited, including Bratislava and Pécs. I accompanied them on one of their excursions. Homelessness is an interesting issue in Central Europe because prior to the fall of communism, it didn’t technically even exist. It was mandatory that everyone had a job. Now, with communism out of the picture, thousands of men and women have been left without jobs, and therefore, without homes. 

Lauren and I returned to the others and we all began our walk back. I was so happy to have found the great market, eaten a wonderful lunch, and done a good deed that I became distracted. In my joyous frolicking I collided with one of those god damn fucking metal poles that the Europeans insist upon putting in the middle of the sidewalks. It got me. Right in the crotch. I cussed for a good five minutes and cradled my poor vagina. Infertility? Definitely.

Our delicious market lunch!

29 May 2011 

Slovakia

Today has been, by far, my favorite day. Just moments ago, we crossed the Slovakian border, heading towards Bratislava. Before making our way north, we spent the entire day strolling along the Danube, learning about its history and characteristics. Everything is green- vibrant green- and teeming with life. The river is incredible, from racing rapids to tranquil streams. Getting out in nature provided exactly the rejuvenation I needed. 

I can’t believe I left so much out of this paragraph. First of all, this was not entirely the beautiful, “rejuvenating” experience that I made it out to be. Yes, it was gorgeous, peaceful, and very appreciated, but there were a few things to complain about. For instance, our guide insisted upon stopping every single frickin’ time we saw a god damn snail. It didn’t matter if the snail looked almost identical to the last snail we met- each snail was special. Good lord. Next, we drove to a certain part of the river with the specific intention of seeing beavers. This place is supposed to be crawling with them! Beavers in the water! Beavers in the trees! Beavers everywhere! Well, I didn’t see a single one. No beavers. None. What a let down.

For lunch, we ate outside under a ramada with our guide’s family. They made a big pot of red, steaming goulash and sat it in a divot on the ground. A balding, possibly toothless, old man (maybe grandpa?) ladled the goulash onto our plates. The meal worked magic on my taste buds, and after trudging along the river in the heat and humidity, it was a godsend. As a surprise, a few of the family’s friends joined us to play traditional folk songs. They tried to teach us Hungarian dances, which in a group of clumsy American students was quite the spectacle. Stomping my feet and spinning in circles with all of my Flinn brothers and sisters was exhilarating! Not to mention exhausting. My calves nearly fell off. By the end of the afternoon, I was glowing. 

Sifting through stones on the banks of the Danube

Dancing after goulash


1 June 2011

Budapest 

Here I am, back in Budapest. I’m so glad to be back in this city. It is greener, friendlier, and more alive than Bratislava. I didn’t really feel safe there. Granted, I didn’t spend a lot of time in Bratislava, but there was something about the decaying buildings, the grey façades, and the lack of green that unsettled me. Not that I didn’t enjoy my time there- quite the contrary! One night, Rae Anne, Lauren, Angela, Carter and I went out with four Slovakian students. They took us to a smoky club with unhappy bartenders. We drank girly cocktails under the neon lights and danced together on the empty dance floor. I had a lot of fun, and I didn’t have to worry about anything because Carter came along to be our body guard. With him around, I couldn’t have felt safer. 

I’m currently listening to a riveting lecture on Spa Tourism in Hungary. I can hardly keep my eyes open….

To elaborate, we attended a lecture at the Szechenyi Baths in Budapest. The lecture was torturous, but afterwards, we got to spend several hours swimming, bathing, and pruning in the therapeutic pools. There are 12 (?) different baths, all of which are different temperatures and sizes.

Last night was my first laid back evening. Angela and I went out to dinner at a Turkish cafeteria we discovered at Oktogon (that’s the name of the metro stop). The highlight of the meal was the berry soup! Yes! Berry Soup! It was cold and creamy, like melted vanilla ice cream with blackberries, blueberries, and strawberries. Sooo good! I’m gonna have to find a recipe when I get home. After dinner, the two of us met up with Ryan and two Hungarian students, Anna and Anna, who took us to a tea house off Andrassy Street. Sitting on the floor in our bare feet, we drank tea and smoked raspberry hookah while Ryan did magic tricks.

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1 Comment

Filed under Prose, Travel

One response to “Central Europe, Summer 2011, Part 1

  1. Pingback: All will be as it should. « Ryan Lane

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