The End Begins – Days 81~90?

So I’ve got one week of classes left. It’s gotten to be crunch time over here, which is understandable – I’ve hardly had any assessments to do the entire time I’ve been here. But I think it’ll be really doable. In real analysis, my much maligned oral final is a reality, due to take place this upcoming Thursday morning, but I feel more at peace with it. We had a review session this week and I think I finally get measure theory, which is a big step. On a run today, I retraced some proofs in my head, which I’m pretty sure is a good sign that I’m learning.

The run. The run was necessary – I’m still shaking off the sickness I had a few weeks ago and my body’s giving me some weird aches and chills. In my mind these get played up to catastrophic proportions, so to get away from stewing in my own anxiety I took a late run from my house to the New York Cafe, one of the ritziest places in Budapest (I grabbed a double cheeseburger meal from McDonalds for dinner as a reward). It did me good and let me focus a bit. Now I’ve just spent the past few hours browsing the internet, playing a bit of Dragon Age, relaxing. Waiting.

It does feel like that’ll be the watchword of the next thirteen days – waiting. The cold and work and class preclude any real adventures I might have in Budapest, and so I’ve just gotta work and wait and let it run its course I suppose. There is one last big event – my flight home leaves from Rome, so I’ll get to be in that eternal city for 24 hours. But until then it’ll be a lot of chilling.

I wrote last time about a pervasive sense of homesickness I’ve felt. That still applies, doubtless, but immediately after writing it, I wasn’t so sure. I thought, “Oh, I was just having a bad moment. I’m not really that down about it.” Now I’m a bit surer. There’s hardly anything holding me to this place – I haven’t really made any connections save for my talks with my professors. I’d like to blame a not so well run program for the lack of socialization into the university we had, but it’s probably not all on them. Studying abroad was just tougher than I’d imagined it to be. I am a bit afraid of the culture shock I’ll face returning to the states – I tried to picture myself back at home and really couldn’t – but I’m sure it’ll wear off quickly enough. Just to be back in Maryland with my friends and family will make me very happy. And I’ll get to have Chipotle, which is inestimably appealing right now.

Beginning the Countdown – Days 72-80

I’ve just finished reading my good friend Denes’ recent post about his time in Jordan, and I feel spurred to react. Today, I spent four hours in a history of political thought special doubleheader all about the Enlightenment – what was it, where was it, who was it. From that, I’ve gotten that Diderot’s republique des lettres teaches us to read and respond, to fill our minds with the thoughts of others and think something new from that mélange.

Denes handles a topic that’s been heavy on my end for a few weeks now: loneliness. I also think he gets at the distinction very directly – the past two years of my life at Penn were supersaturated with interaction. There is scarcely a free second one has alone on campus. Even while showering, I was usually talking to someone in my fraternity house. And I’ve learned that I love this feeling. There is nothing better than getting home to a full house of my best friends or walking to class and stopping to chat with a dozen people on the way. It is a thriving life, a real culture of sociability (also an important thing in the Enlightenment as it turns out). But if we consider my more recent past, I’ve spent something like eight months comparatively alone. In Chicago, while I had a great group of people to hang out with, like Ben and Livvy and Danny and Ajay, most of my time was spent solitarily – an hour on the way to work, eight hours there, mostly just on my computer, another hour back, a few hours alone before Danny and Ajay got home. I also had Anusha and my family to talk to whenever, but they were usually away. More of the same in Budapest – Daniel and Michael and Anthony and the program group are around, but intermittently. The meat of my days – the walking, the eating, the waiting between classes – it’s done pretty much solo.

Now Denes arrives at the conclusion that this is an okay thing, mostly ambivalent on it. I, however, cannot wait to get back to Penn. It’s been a long time, but I can’t wait to be back in the thick of things. I secretly knew this would happen, though. End of last semester at Penn, I wasn’t too enchanted with the place anymore. Something about it had just made me disillusioned. I knew taking time away from it would make me come back all the more in love with it, and I was right. I didn’t know I’d learn something profound about myself – I dislike being alone – in the process. I’d always thought I could do the whole striking out on my own thing and be happy. My dad did, after all – he went to Ghana all alone for like three years! But I can’t, and that’s not a bad thing. It only teaches me to value the relationships I do have and have built and to make the most of my last years at Penn.

Now back to the order of the week – I went to Dublin this weekend. Since I was a young lad of ca. 15, I’ve had this great love for Dublin, mostly seen through the writings of James Joyce, who I grew to really admire around that age (sitting in on a class about Ulysses is what made me come to Penn). I’d always seen it as this incredibly cosmopolitan thinker’s city. It was, sort of. On this trip’s travel times (flight, buses, etc.) I read most of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and found it stuffed with religion. Ireland was like that too. In the book, this was to its detriment, but there was a sense of a pious humility to Dublin. Its buildings are rather smaller and its streets a little cozier. Its river, the Liffey, was accordingly narrow. Cabs were plentiful and cheap and the Guinness was creamy and poured from every faucet, while our AirBNB, a suburban home owned by the loveliest older couple, was like a model of homemaking. Cabbies used idioms like “save his soul,” and one guy we met at Temple Bar made a note of pointing out his clerical ancestry – mom was a Protestant, Dad a Catholic.

It was this cozy sizing that made the place so enchanting. The Liffey’s bridges were sturdy and easily walkable, while the numerous pubs beckoned a quick drink and warm place. St. Stephen’s Green, the main park, was some kind of model of a perfect park and reminded me a lot of Munich’s Englischer Garten. Daniel fell in love with the place too – he claims to have had a Guinness every time we sat down.

On Friday, my only full day there, we forwent Dublin and took a trip to the countryside. On the Atlantic coast, Ireland ends at these massive cliffs, the Cliffs of Moher, and a trip over to that western part of the country took a full day. Our bus driver, Gavin, was a talkative, energetic man who made the tour pretty lively and only made us say things or clap a few times, to his benefit. We stopped at really stunning sights – an abandoned medieval abbey, a coastal village or two, one set of cliffs abutting the Burren (a range of rocky hills), and a castle. It was completely worth the full day, and we were drained afterwards.

For the rest of my time here, I’m done traveling. I’ll spend the next few weeks studying and reading and doing more of the same. With my realizing that I’d rather be home, I’m gonna try to not be down about it. I’ll make the most of what I get to do, but there is also the reality that winter has started to set in and things in Budapest aren’t very fun cold. Maybe this is just a bout of homesickness that could’ve been gotten over, but I think prolonged times abroad aren’t for me. I definitely won’t have bad memories of my time abroad – it’s still been incredible and eye-opening and the greatest thrill – but I think I’ll have one greater gift from it: an appreciation for the happiness of being home.

Sleeping on Trains – Days 65-71

The rest of last week finished itself quickly enough, and I finally made it to the weekend and my trip out of Budapest. On Saturday morning I hopped on a train to Vienna, excited to see Keleti station once again. It had been a few weeks since Istanbul, my last visit, and I was getting antsy.

I slept on the ride peacefully enough until I was poked awake by someone demanding my passport. I came to and saw four Hungarian policemen strapped up glaring me down while the train stood at a station. I freaked out and handed it over, then they gave it back and left. They didn’t speak to anyone else – I’m not sure what the deal was, but it shook me for a bit.

However after that the rest of the ride was peaceful and scenic – the usual Great Hungarian Plain trip. I got off at about 1, happy to be in German speaking lands once again. I feel so much more empowered, although I’ve just seen an article that says 90% of Austrians can carry a conversation in English. I asked a ticket agent for directions to my hostel and strolled out of the Westbahnhof onto the Mariahilfer Straße to get there. Immediately, I was frozen. I’d been warned that Vienna was cold, but it hit me full in the face. I got used to it pretty quick, but it was a real relief to return to the comparatively sunny Budapest.

After checking my stuff away, I walked over to the Schönbrunn Palace, one of Vienna’s two great imperial residences. I latched onto a phrase my map said about Vienna: in German, it described the city as “kalt, alt, teuer, langweilig” (cold, old, expensive and boring). While I enjoyed my time there, those words are definitely true. If one came to Vienna at say age 50, it’d probably be a blast. But outside from the principal sights, it’s not got a lot going on.

Maria Theresa's hilltop...architectural thing

Maria Theresa’s hilltop…architectural thing

In the Schönbrunn gardens, I happened to run into a group of Penn girls who were friends with Anthony, and whom I had hung out with when they visited Budapest. We joined up and sightsaw for the rest of the day, going to Schloss Belvedere, the home of Prince Eugene, and to the Christmas Market, which had opened up that night in front of the Rathaus. Later we grabbed a really Viennese dinner and split off again.

Sunday I checked out of the hostel after a poor sleep (I didn’t feel up to actually making the bed, and when I got home after dinner everyone in my room was asleep) and made my way to the city center. I stopped for breakfast in this nice looking place and got to do one of my favorite things about being in Germania – frühstücken. German breakfasts are awesome things, but I flubbed this one a bit. I got tea and a meat and cheese platter, and then poured the tea leaves wrong and didn’t know how to eat the hard-boiled egg. My waiter was a cool guy though, and answered my weird questions without a hint of condescension (or maybe I just couldn’t pick up on it in German). Again, I sightsaw, but my interest for the city waned pretty quickly. I ended my day reading my Murakami novel in a coffeeshop, which I felt to be sufficiently Viennese. I hopped on an afternoon train and made my way back into Hungary.

Christmas market

Christmas market

Joey Stiglitz Comes to Town – Day 64

Leaving the house today, I was at about 80%. I wasn’t wobbly or losing my footing, but I was definitely still fatigued from last week’s sickness. Hopefully it goes away soon.

I have missed Latin for the past week now, which does not bode well. Yes, it’s only an audited class, but I liked the professor a lot and Latin has actually been something I’ve wanted to learn for forever, so I feeling like I’m doing a few people a disservice here. I think they may have had a midterm today, but when I tried to go see my prof at office hours, I learned he too was sick and was bailing on the office. I floated through class, talking and discussing, feeling, again, mostly 80% (today’s topics: the Habsburgs in Hungary and Bohemia, natural disasters and the 1348 Carinthian earthquake). The real treat for today was a big lecture CEU was hosting, a keynote to some panel they had had about democracy: Joseph Stiglitz, who’s a big name economist and general public intellectual was coming to our little corner of Pest. The lecture was given in a classically-Budapest beautiful old theater or something like that, and it was pretty interesting: Ben, whose enthusiasm for Stiglitz’ book on inequality this summer turned me onto the dude’s existence, asked how much he came across as a socialist (answer: a lot). He talked about problems in the US, mostly, and I vibed with them – lack of access to knowledge, restricted higher education, corporate greed vs. the public welfare, etc. It was also cool how well prepared I was to hear a Nobel laureate speak just from taking intro to microecon in my freshman year – he loved tossing out concepts like public good, production possibility frontier, comparative advantage (such are the fruits of a liberal education, dear readers). When he finished, the hall cleared and everyone reentered CEU for the reception. Goblets of okay wine and juices filled the room and people jostled around looking for one of the luminaries who had sat in the first four rows. Gyorgy Soros was there and I saw him leaving the auditorium, but I gave up the rat race and went home pretty quickly.

Some more interesting tidbits from the weekend:

  • Once at Most, a waiter tried Hungarian on me, then defaulted to German for clarification on my order. It was surprising and really cool to operate like that, being able to use German where other languages couldn’t help me
  • Parks and Rec is great and I am so glad I had the time to get into it this weekend. Ron and the Tiger Woods thing? Unreal
  • There were more demonstrations this weekend. The recent ones against the internet tax, which made world news (my mom called me asking about them), were really cool, and I even got to walk in one of them. I have no clue what they were mad about this time though

In bed, Days 56-63?

I have eaten most of my meals the last few days at one restaurant: it’s called Most and it’s a block and a half from my house. The food is good and portions big and price inexpensive, so it’s not a bad choice. But I’ve also come down with some kind of infection making it pretty tough to go anywhere else.

It started on Monday, I suppose. Josh arrived in Budapest early that morning, and we tried to meet up, but I had a lot of class and we missed each other. I had to run a remote operation to get him successfully inside my house but it worked and we met up afterwards. We met under the lit-up Basilica and walked along Kiraly Street, which is probably one of the coolest in Budapest and ate at some place called Pasta Bar. On the way home, I stopped at a pizza place I’d passed before and grabbed a slice of Nutella pizza. Unfortunately, I dropped it on the ground just a few steps later. I still dream of going back and getting another. As we got home, so too did Michael and Daniel, and with them a bunch of Penn people. We introduced everyone to the glory of Instant, then turned in.

It was Tuesday when I first started to feel poorly. I trudged over to math that morning with little strength, then met Josh (and Robert, who had recently arrived) at Most. We walked around the city from Deak to Parliament and then to the Central Market, and they really enjoyed it. I was just getting more and more fatigued, though. We all turned in for a nap when we got back, but I felt a little worse, I could tell. I slunk over to Hungarian and got back into bed for the rest of the night. Wednesday I again shuffled to CEU for Byzantine history, but then visited the doctor. The doctor’s office in CEU is an alcove on the ground floor of the main building: it takes a couple of turns through corridors and courtyards to find it, but eventually I did and sat down, waiting for my turn. The doctor let me in, a short, white-haired old guy with a lot of dandruff on his black polo. I told him my symptoms and he rattled off a few others which I confirmed I had and then he put me on the bed. Daniel had warned me that the guy would be a bit handsy, and he was right – he pivoted his whole mass around me doing his tests. A meaty hand grasped my right and shoved it into a fist while his other wrapped around my wrist for the pulse. He bear-hugged me and stuck his hand around my neck to check my lymph nodes. Then he shoved me off and told me to sit.

“It’s a common viral infection going on right now,” he said. He told me to come back Friday and just rest until then. Instead of listening to him, I and Daniel met everyone else at the Heroes’ Square, where we had lunch and laughed about my hypochondriac fears (I thought I was going rabid for a while). We then went into the Museum of Fine Arts’ much-hyped Rembrandt exhibition, which was actually totally worth the wait. It opened with a great history of the Dutch Republic through the wars of independence from Spain, and then their prosperity and the art they created before Rembrandt. The master himself followed, and it ended with a long look at Dutch Baroque landscapes, my favorite style of art (everyone got treated to something I wrote in art history 101: the clouds are so big because God). When we got home though, it was straight to bed. Thursday fell into the same pattern, though I went with Robert and Josh to the Szechenyi baths, which, in hindsight, was not the most responsible citizen thing for me to have done. We were all exhausted on coming home and passed out. I went to breakfast Friday morning with them and after began my long weekend hibernation.

I barely left the house starting Friday at 11. I think I went to see the doctor later, revealed to him some more symptoms that had popped up, then got told they were just anxiety (even today I am accruing more symptoms to anxiety). It was a hard weekend to go through. Jorge put it best, saying there’s nothing to make you more homesick than being in a vulnerable position somewhere unfamiliar. I was for sure vulnerable. I was anxious and tired and hungry, and didn’t really know what to do – it made me not really enjoy being here anymore. I hope to reverse that feeling asap, but it’s endured the weekend and into Monday. I passed my time through playing a copy of Zelda: Majora’s Mask I downloaded and watching the second and third season of Parks and Rec, which got me through to Sunday night. Then, I felt better, but still was not very happy to leave the house and be in Budapest. It felt more foreign, alien than it ever had before. I couldn’t really tell you what I was doing there. I think what I need is a week to get back into things, and my trip this weekend will only help reinstill my passion for all things European.

In a Fog – Days 49-55

I have no more pretenses about what I will wear when I leave my house: it will be my pea coat, more likely than not with a thick middle layer, a sweater or cardigan, on as well. With the successful establishment of the cold in Budapest, there has also come a nightly fog. It is more welcome than the cold, and it scatters the lights from the old buildings and streetlamp across the dark clouded sky. The buildings and boulevards are made a bit more formless, and it’s started to feel like I’m walking into a mirage some nights.

Excepting his brief jaunt to Ljubljana, these past two weeks have been filled with me and Jorge bumming around. I’d go to class, then we’d sightsee and later go out on the town. Given that it was Halloweek this week, we were never bored. I introduced him to the Pest’s famous spots and we ate and my favorite places. We also went to Szechenyi, which has become in my mind the only bath experience one should have in Budapest. I finally tried the whirlpool, of which the people I went with the first time had extolled the virtues, and found it just as fun as everyone said. I gotta go more often.

Wednesday night I finally met my next-door neighbors as well. Jorge and I were doing nothing at home when we started to hear loud talking from outside my door. I open it up and a party had spilled out of my neighbors’ apartment onto the walkway which leads to the stairs. We hurry and join it and have a great time – it turns out they’re all students abroad too, studying at the larger university in Budapest, Corvinus. There were Germans and French and Czechs and Brazilians, and the place was packed. We stayed with them for a while, but then went to find some of Jorge’s fellow Lyonnaises at Szimpla. I later that week hung out with just the neighbors, who are a set of four girls at Corvinus for a semester.

It’s been otherwise a pretty unremarkable week. I just kind of went to class and then walked around the city. It’s felt a bit strange coming off the long trip to Istanbul, but that makes sense I suppose. I’ve already got a good bit of excitement this week: there’s a big Rembrandt exhibition that just opened up at the National Museum of Fine Arts, which I’ve actually been dying to see. Other than that, a large Penn contingent is visiting this week, so it’ll likely be a lot of the same fun that went into being a host this week. My next travels won’t be until the week after.

Hungary for some Turkey and Other Adventures – Days 40-48

I wore my winter coat today in Budapest. In my Turkish absence, the weather went bad; it rained and froze in the space of five days.

Before Turkey, I went last Sunday to Pécs, in the south in Hungary. I was supposed to go with CEU’s hiking group, who left from Keleti (train station across the city from me [that’s exaggeration, it’s not very far really]) at something like 7am. I tried valiantly to get up and make it, but I naturally woke up at about 9. I doubted as to whether I should go anyway, then resolved to, and made it to Keleti about 9:45, which is when a train left. The inefficiency of the regional rails in the country stretched the 100 mile journey into three hours, during which I slept. When I woke up, I was alone in a small city in the middle of the Great Hungarian Plain, with neither map nor data nor cash.

This was distressing, but I decided to be brave and use the 5 sentences I know in Hungarian to find my way to the city center, where I hoped to meet with the hiking club. I wormed my way through a conversation about ATM locations, then found a bus map. I hopped on one, which seemed to go to a large area in the middle, and it turned out to be right. I found my group in the Zsolnay Museum, dedicated to a famous turn-of-the-century manufactory of porcelain, and spent the rest of the day with them. Pécs was a pretty place, but couldn’t actually hold my attention for long. I would’ve preferred exploring alone, but that’s not the hiking club’s fault.

The short workweek quickly evaporated into a Wednesday morning flight out of Liszt Ferenc. I landed in Istanbul at about 5, then struggled with getting a visa for what must’ve been an hour. The machine wouldn’t work, I didn’t have cash, a Gabonese woman came and talked to me in French asking for help, I didn’t know why I needed a visa – it was tough. Still, I persevered and found Jorge in the terminal’s exit. His flight had only landed recently, but Denes had actually been in Europe for the first time all semester since the morning (he studies in Jordan). We hopped on a shuttle down to Taksim Square to find him. At night, the view was dark, but on the way back I’d be treated to Istanbul’s dominating characteristic: its size. More on this later, but when we got to Taksim, we wandered for another hour or so before finally finding Denes. We saw Gezi Park, site of the recent (maybe a year or two ago) demonstrations and saw how it turned into Istiklal street down the hill. We finally found him and grabbed dinner, then walked down the Istiklal to our apartment. The street was choked with people, even on a Wednesday night. Times Square is about as dense as it, but is also only a fraction of its length. We got off the artery at the Galatasaray, and turned down a few side streets and under a bridge to arrive at our AirBNB. To be honest, it was in a rough neighborhood, but we got over it and went out later to a nice bar, where we chatted with some French girls and listened to a jazz band.

Thursday was full of promise, but began too late – we only left the apartment at 1:30. From there, we left our half of the European peninsula and arrived in old Constantinople. We lunched on the bank of the Golden Horn, then walked up to the area of the Great Palace. I’ve spent two or three weeks in my Byzantine class learning all about the palace and life there, so I was pumped. But we got a bit lost, and only on accident made our way to the Topkapi by way of Gülhane, the old palace gardens.

Peace in Topkapi

Peace in Topkapi

After we took our picture in sultan garb, we lounged our way through the Sultan’s halls and buildings. We stumbled upon a small mosque perched at the edge of a cliff looking southwest, to the widening Sea of Marmara and its attendant islands. The carpet was lush and red, traced with gold. A security guard dozed in the corner and let us alone, and so we occupied another corner and lay down in the peaceful temple.

By the time we got out of the palace, it was dusk. We walked down where the Byzantines held their palace complex, which is a route taking one from Topkapi to the Hagia Sophia, and ending at around Sultanahmet mosque. We bought a surprise for Il Palazzo along the way, then walked further down the hill to the seaside. On the rocks, we chatted until night and left only when the spray from the waves hit Denes. We finally retired to Galatasaray before heading back out into another Istiklal night.

Friday we made it around the sights in old Constantinople. The Hagia Sophia was awe inspiring, especially the surviving frescos from the Byzantine period. I could trace out enough of the Greek inscription on the mosaic of Constantine IX Monomachos to confirm what the  modern English sign below the mosaic said, but felt übercool in doing so. I had half a mind to lift a piece off the cracking marble floor, for a souvenir, but then thought better of it.

Inside the Hagia Sophia, a Byzantine fresco

Inside the Hagia Sophia, a Byzantine fresco

The Blue Mosque was similarly impressive. A sign near the exit intrigued us: Do you want to understand Islam? We did, and followed its arrow to an office on the east wall, where we found an imam. He sat us down and gave us dates and water, then answered our questions about Islam (my own: what’s the hierarchy of Islamic officials? his answer was a little muddled, but from what I got, it’s v decentralized these days). It was a unique experience, and I’m glad we did it, actually.

That night, out and about on Istiklal, the Galatasaray district suffered a power outage. We were in some bar called Rasputin at that point, and the entire street’s lights just shut down. The people, however, didn’t stop, and it became a really exciting time, with people talking and ordering and dancing to candlelight (there was a somehow still music going). I tried to play with a stray dog, who barked me away, then we went home in a pouring rain.

Outside the Dolmabahce palace

Outside the Dolmabahce palace

Saturday we visited an old palace on the banks of the Bosporus, then decided to take a ferry out to the islands we’d seen from the Topkapi, the Prince’s Islands. The trip went sour, however, when we realized that what should’ve been an hour cruise had turned into a 2.5 hour one. We also had no clue what the boat would do once we passed the last small island – I don’t think it was ever supposed to go back, really. We remained adrift and lost for about an hour before we figured to hop off and grab another boat back. In our confusion, we yelled place names at a longshoreman for a few minutes before he confirmed we could return to the mainland by this boat, and so we hopped on. We got back off, happy, on the Asian side of the city, marking mine and Jorge’s first visit to Asia. We then found a restaurant with a TV and watched El Clasico, then took a shuttle back to the Galatasaray district. It was on this ride home that the size of the city really revealed itself. From leaving the European peninsula and ferrying three hours, we had never once seen a break in the city on the coast. It stretched and stretched. When the cab drove up to the top of a hill to take the main bridge across the river, we could see the whole thing spread before us, and it seemed unending. It must have been dozens and dozens of miles long in every direction. It was stunning to see.

Denes left later that night, and Jorge and I stayed in. We watched some stand-up comedy and chilled to great bossa nova music, then went to bed, waking up early for a breakfast we’d been recommended. We left for the airport and I took a sleepy flight home, then lounged the whole rest of the day.

Notes from Underground – Days 38 & 39

Six hours of class with a presentation in the middle made Thursday a difficult one. When I got to history of political thought, my notes sprawled across the table I sat at and I started talking for forever about Johannes Althusius and theories of a Christian state in post-Peace of Augsburg Germany.

Before me, these presentations were pretty barebones. Someone would talk about the readings and bring up the things they thought were relevant. I, I think, managed to do that for the first article, which was a history of the political thought of the period. But when I had to talk about the primary stuff, I just thought everything was relevant. I realized I’d been speaking for too long when someone across the room caught my eyes and gave me a withering look of why are you doing this stop. My professor was beaming the whole time though.

After a solid Magyar class, I got home and had my first real rest for the whole week. Eventually I got called to get up and leave the house, but ended up having fun and making some friends in the apparently rowdy IR department.

On Friday, Anthony had booked a caving tour for us. We took a long bus ride into Buda and waited for a while at a little shack off a rarely-used road. Our guide met us maybe a half-hour later and got us into our suits and helmets. Anthony said that he thought the suits were just for fun, and that was about the same idea I’d had, but we were incredibly (and fortunately) wrong. This little caving expedition he’d found on some tourist website ended up being an grueling physical challenge. We wormed our way through 18 miles (maybe?) of honest-to-God cave, caves where the only way between rooms were tunnels and holes. Our guide was a Hungarian half-man half-snake, who would scamper away as soon as we’d had a moment to break. I made him laugh on one really dangerous narrow cliff thing, when he told me to just sit and slide down (I said my butt is too big in Hungarian: A seggem nagyon nagy).

We reemerged into the night, then spent a while in the cabin we’d waited for our guide at after getting out of the suits. A jazz band jammed and we refreshed with some Dreher, then went home and feasted at Indigo, an Indian place near my place.

Showing What I Know – Days 35, 36 & 37

The rest of Monday was taken up with the impending presentation in my environmental history class. Sunday’s preparations left me well-equipped, and after suffering through an hour’s worth of my professor talking about how to identify small rodent remains, I got up to talk about barbarians.

One girl, as soon as I stopped talking, said that I had spoken too quickly. My professor chided me for referring to “the fall of the Roman Empire,” and the TA had to expand on one of the sources I used, showing how it wasn’t quite what I’d thought. But I parried some of my professor’s remarks and showed how I had thought about those issues, and we had a good debate about the historical thinkers I had used. When I left, other people in the class even went out of their way to tell me they’d liked the whole thing.

I went home briefly to watch an episode of Top Boy before dinner. I discovered the show, which people call The Wire set in East London, thanks to a couple of Instas Drake posted. It’s actually great, and I’m pumped to watch the second season this weekend (I love the way some of those British shows work – miniseries, so all content, no fluff). I met Daniel and Michael at a place near school, where we continued the debriefing of each of our recent weeks, since we’d all been a bit scattered with travel (and I with Anusha too). I went home and watched more of the show then headed to bed, waking up in time the next day for real analysis (2 for 2 so far this week – tomorrow morning hopefully makes 3).

Real analysis finally gave me a grown-up answer to a question that’s haunted me since my first math class at Penn, 116 – what does it take for a function to be integrable? (the short answer is the same – its upper and lower integrals have to match, but I got a cool and longer answer this lecture, based on great stuff like measure theory and countable simplicity)

I continued Sunday’s productive streak and read a lot on Tuesday after class in the library. I stayed until Hungarian, wherein I became a master of the language (I can now say I don’t speak Hungarian), then went to the library with Daniel til dinner. We actually struck up a new friendship en route to the library – the thing about CEU is that you can’t have backpacks in the library, so you have to leave your bag at the cloakroom downstairs and carry your books and laptop to the library in hand. It’s a minor annoyance, but it also lets interact with this great older Hungarian woman, who has become the only person I talk to in the language. I’ve had, I think, two exchanges with her, where I’ve been able to ask things like what’s up and hello. She chided us when we used the late night greeting at 9pm and told us to only use it after midnight.

I woke up later Wednesday and went to Byzantine history, barely making it through a lecture on the imperial processions to Hagia Sophia. We’ve been on this sort of topic for 2 weeks now, and it just ruins me. Other things about palace culture have been alright, like the layout and architecture of it all – I’m excited to see Istanbul next week, even if it’s all destroyed, just so I can point at some Turkish buildings and say, hey there was the Chrysotriklinos – but the processions and rank stuff is pretty slow. I went to a nearby cafe for a few hours and read for my presentation in history of political thought tomorrow, also managing to complete my first ever Latin homework in the same sitting. You might remember my previous attempt at presenting in history of political thought, but I think tomorrow it’ll actually go through – I’ve got the right readings anyway.

Quiet Weekend at Home – Days 32, 33 & 34

Anusha and I only went out briefly on Friday. We stopped by the Central Market Hall, which was decidedly less exciting the second time through, and got a messy Nutella and banana langos. I gave up trying to eat it after a few minutes. We briefly diverted ourselves in trying to find a place to get a mani/pedi, but abandoned the cause after spending 15 dollars at a mall kiosk for her to get clear nail polish applied to her hands.

The rest of the day we spent at home sitting and watching TV (in her case) and playing some games (in mine). We have a word for this – couching – and it’s one of the things we both miss most because of my being abroad. So it was nice to do for an afternoon.

Saturday we were more driven, and went out for brunch before proceeding to Heroes’ Square and the City Park, which were just as nice as they had been the first time I went. Apparently Budapest’s own Oktoberfest fell on this weekend, but as we entered the festival grounds, there were few people around. We went back home for a few hours, then crossed the river to try out the Gellert baths.

The experience at Szechenyi a few weeks prior had been one of my best in Pest, so I had similarly high hopes for Buda’s baths. They fell short. The complex was not as pretty, nor were the pools as expansive or numerous, the floors were dirtier, and it was more expensive. I really thought we’d wasted our time until we found a tucked-away hall with two additional thermal baths, which was actually pretty nice, but still not as good as Szechenyi. After, we had dinner and went out to a bar in Deak Ferenc Square called Akvarium. It is not, unfortunately, a bar that doubles as a place for the housing of fish, but is a recessed area of the park leading to an underground club. Tables and chairs sit on the steps going down, and we had a quick drink outside there. We took one of those rickshaw-bicycle things home, after the guy offered a price of 1000 forint to my house, and then rested briefly until she had to leave early Sunday morning.

Sunday I resolved to work on my presentation. After a late start, I headed to CEU’s library and began cranking. It actually went incredibly well and I ended up finishing the thing in a few hours – the presentation will be later today. After a lot of anxiety over what exactly would fit the topic of environmental history in the fall of the Roman Empire, I decided to write about how climate change affected the barbarian migrations and how Roman authors responded to the crossing of one of their holy borders, the Danube river (thus also bringing it close to home, they’ll love that). I’ve got high hopes and am additionally excited that I was able to work so well on it. It’s been a while – six months, just about – since I had to do any real writing or research, and it was cool to get back into that mode.

After I finished around 7, I went to Costa Coffee and treated myself to a carrot cake and some coffee and read Luther and Calvin for today’s history of political thought meeting. Costa was bumping when I got there, people spilling out of its doors and filling its tables, for whatever reason. One child, who looked a lot like me when I was a toddler-kid, ran around literally screaming for like 20 mins, but no one seemed to mind. The loudness and excitement didn’t distract me too much, luckily.

This morning I achieved one last quiet victory – I was on time to Latin.