Monthly Archives: September 2011

Balaton

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.

Lake Balaton

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.

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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.


Ups and Downs

I don’t think I have ever been as anxious, as I was about this trip.  After enjoying an amazing summer on the farm, and relaxing (ish) at home for a few weeks, I was terrified for the next step.  The entire first morning of orientation, I felt like I might throw up.  Nor could I blame  myself, moving to a foreign country where you don’t know anyone, don’t have a place to live, and don’t speak the language would make most people nervous, and as a planner, who generally likes to have everything in order it was making me a little sick.  A couple days later, I am feeling much more in the swing of things, but still a little nervous, which I probably will be at least until I find a permanent place to stay.

(no, I did not take this picture)

My first few days in Budapest were anything but particularly adventurous.  Although I love to travel and wanted to see my new city, I didn’t feel very rushed.  I was incredibly jetlagged and well, I have 9 months to see everything here.  I had a relatively quiet weekend that consisted of a few nice outdoor meals and several long walks around my new neighborhood.  Monday morning I was a bit of a wreck.  Strangely the night before (and ever night since), I had been able to go to bed at a reasonable hour, but then woken up in the middle of the night unable to fall back asleep for several hours.  I was also so freaking nervous.  First days of new programs seem so incredibly important.  I always feel like if you don’t make friends, you won’t ever.  I am pretty sure that isn’t true, but I was still pretty intimidated.

It turned out to be  mostly great.  I was concerned to find that most other people had apartments already and that according to the school I couldn’t buy a phone until I had a residence permit (which takes at least 3 weeks).  Other than that I learned a lot about my program and talked to some really great people.  My class is very diverse with the requisite number of Europeans (as it is an EU program), but also a couple of africans, one girls from Singapore, an Australian, four other Americans, and a Central American lawyer.  We had our first Environmental Science meeting and a mixer in the evening.  Afterwards I went to get drinks with a handful of people.  The two Hungarian guys showed us to a bar in a park where we drank beer outside.  This is something that the Hungarians seem to love.  Most restaurants have patio seating, and some even seem to be mostly patio.  The only meal I ate inside was at the schools Cafeteria.

Yesterday we took care of more practical matters.  In our orientation meetings I applied for a bank account and a hungarian student card, and got the information to apply for a residence permit.  It seems that the hungarian government loves paperwork.  After our meetings I walked to a local shopping center with Gitta, the Icelandic girl who is going to be my roommate.  We got our passport photos taken and bought cell phones (without a residency permit I might add).  Then we came back to campus to call about some apartments, because even though I had contacted a rental agency, they are taking a while.  We ran into a lady posting and went to look at a three bedroom near campus.  It was a very good location and a very studenty apartment (read, not as nice or new) but it was a very good price.  We decided against it because two of the bedrooms were kind of divided by a wall, but with out doors so they weren’t very private, so now we are still on the hunt.

Today I need to move out of my hostel because it is getting “chemical sanitary treatment” which is very reassuring…..potentially because it has a bug problem as I noticed my third night staying here. But fortunately another one of my classmates, another American girl named Erin, offered to let me crash at her apartment until we find one.

So I guess the short recap, is that Budapest is very beautiful and easy to get around.  Everyone seems to speak English, even though I still feel guilty that they have to.  The only problem we had with this was at the mall, where we grabbed a slice of pizza and a soda.  The women at the kiosk could not for the life of them figure out what I was asking for, which is strange, because I am pretty sure “Fanta” is the same in every language.  Everyone in my program is really nice, and it seems it is going to be a great year.