In no way does today feel like a Thursday. On Monday we had class bonding which was mostly fine. It was a good night though because a couple of girls in the class organized a group outing to a local Chinese restaurant to celebrate mid autumn day festival (?). According to google, this is the day when the Chinese celebrate the end of the harvest. I found the timing strange as I am sure Granor is still harvesting away for several more months. Cue nostalgia and produce envy. Fortunately a friend of mine knows where the “biomarket” aka organic farmers market is. The dinner was fun anyway and I hope we make more outings to celebrate peoples cultures, because we have so many (28 different countries are represented by the masters program, I think it kicks up to like 31 or 32 with the PhD students.
On Tuesday we had a departmental “team building” trip to Lake Balaton, the largest lake in Hungary. Based on my experience in two undergrad orientations as well as numerous years of summer camp, I was a bit skeptical that team building even in a beautiful setting wouldn’t be so much fun. For the most part I was wrong. We left Budapest at about 8:30am on Tuesday. I managed to sleep most of the way on the bus and woke up to a scenery of rolling hills speckled with white washed country houses and vineyards. The Hungarians consider this area “the mountains”, but after spending so much time in Appalachia, this seems like a joke. The general layout of their “mountains” consists of a small “forest” perched at the top surrounded by vineyards with small white cellars and grazing pastures toward the bottom. Then of course there was Lake Balaton which was beautiful and seen from most everywhere. It seems quite large from the beach, but by comparison (and how could I not after spending all summer there) it is only 1/10th the size of Lake Michigan.
We stayed at an “Agro Hotel” where I roomed with my friend Erin. We were split into groups to complete a get to know you exercise where we discussed our professional expertise and interests before coming up with a project to introduce these topics and our ability to collaborate. I found it monotonous and struggled to engage, but it accomplished its task encouraging us to get to know each other and discuss the diversity of our backgrounds and experience with various different topics. Fortunately this was only one small portion of the program (random, but I find myself inclined to use British spellings because that is what is predominant here). After a couple of hours of project work we had a big hungarian lunch. I signed up for the vegetarian option (because I don’t like being forced to eat meat) so I had some soup with mushrooms, a pasta with veggies and light cream sauce and a cherry strudel type thing. Then they announced a change in the program because the Hungarian minister of the environment was in the area and apparently wanted to hang out, so we worked for a couple of more hours before heading out to the beach. We swam out a ways in the murky water because the weather was perfect (apparently abnormally warm for Hungary in September) and then had a beer because we had some time to kill. Then we went to a nearby restaurant for a wine tasting. According to the Minister on the Environment, Hungary produces very high quality wines, but the low volume makes them less popular abroad. The area we were in was formed by volcanic activity, so rich soil makes sense.
We tried three different wines, a Riesling that was quite dry, a sweeter white, and a sweet Cab Sauv. They were all pretty decent, but none of them spectacular. Afterward, they had scheduled the presentation of our afternoon’s work, which was kind of difficult to sit through after drinking three glasses of wine each. Then we had dinner at the hotel which wasn’t super exciting except that once again we had three types of wine that I liked better, as well as a toast with the local spirit (I can’t recall its name but it tasted a bit like vodka). Erin also ordered us beers because she missed the memo about the wine tasting. After dinner and a few rounds of bowling (yep, our hotel had bowling) I was quite tired and went to bed early. On the bright side I was in much better shape than many of my colleagues when we left at 8:30am to tour and hike.
I will skip most of the details of the tour as it was long and frankly, a little boring. The weather was beautiful as was the scenery, but geology is not my area of interest and was the focus of the tour. Consequently we got to see some cool rocks, including one parks “rock collection”, which I could not help but find hilarious every time the guide mentioned it, because I pictured a collection of small colorful things instead of large historic rocks.
The day also provided some beautiful views, and lunch at a cool spot. The Hungarians are people after my own heart, as by “lunch” I actually mean a delicious cream based soup and a GIANT dessert. I didn’t take any pictures, but it was the size of a large serving of lasagna. Then we found time for a quick dip in the lake again before returning home.