I slept in for a while today, packed, and went to school. After we got out, I went to Richie's house to have a farewell meal with Lycea. Then we all went to the train station. Some of the Hungarians broke down crying, which I thought was a bit silly. After all, we've only known the Italians for about two weeks.
The trip to Budapest was rather uneventful. An old woman sat with us for a while. She had a box full of chicks, which the Italians all liked. We got to the hotel just fine, and they offered to put Nadia and me up, too, which was great for us. Then they wanted to go to a disco, but the metros closed before we could get there, so we walked from Batthyany Square (just across the river from the Parliament) to the Saint Stephen Basilica. We ran into a man playing the violin on one side of the Lanchid ("Chain Bridge"). He spoke Italian and played some Italian songs. At the basilica, they got tired, so we went to a cafe nearby, and then called taxis to go home.
Today was wonderful! I woke up at 7, got ready, ate, and was gone by 8. I tried to buy tickets to Vienna for myself and Nadia (we're leaving for about 3 weeks right after school is out), but I needed to present passports for both of us, which I didn't have. I also needed to get information on ships going from Greece to Turkey, but that didn't work out, either. So I ended up just wandering all day. I ended up at the Basilica, which is my favorite place in Bp. I had a wonderful sense of calm all day - everything, even going "home," seemed all right somehow.
Eventually I got back to the hotel, and met everyone at 2 - they really seemed to like Bp. A lot of them were into the Hard Rock Cafe Budapest shirts, which is great because there is no such place. Nadia and I saw them off at the train station. It was a little sad, really.
Nadia had to go back home, and just barely caught her train. There is always one train that nobody can ever figure out. Then I went to the Opera, to see Eugene Onegin. It was beautiful, and I understood everything.
Once again back to the wonderully cheap and atmospheric Citadella Hotel. It was late, so the bus isn't running, and I had to take a taxi. I love the taxi drivers here - they're all so great to talk to. Tonight we talked about why I like Hungarians better than Americans.
There is a big disco going on outside my room, so I can't get to sleep. I need to wake up by 7.30, though, to catch the train back home. Aaargh.
I missed the train at 9, so I walked around for a while. It was really nice. It rained most of the morning, but let up about 10.30, so I was able to watch the men playing chess in front of Keleti (the railroad station I go to to go home).
Today was vaguely annoying. Darago stopped me in the hall this morning and said, "Oh by the way, you're going to Austria this Friday." I was really relatively annyoed by that at first. It was rude of him to spring in on me so quickly, we're not even going to Vienna, and anyway, I'd rather stay home with my friends for the weekend. But I guess I'll take advantage of it, and be happy with it.
Today began rather frustratingly. I went to school late, and as I was walking, Darago drove up and said I needed to pack formal clothes and my blazer. Lucky thing I hadn't had enough money to send it home yesterday. So I caught the 10 o'clock to Bp. There I met Spanyi and some other important Rotary person, and went with them by car to a small Austrian village with a long name. Things were strange at first, because no other exchange students were there, so I had no idea what was going on. The Hungarians just said, "OK, you'll meet a guy from Miskolc at such-and-such a place on Sunday, and he'll take you as far as he goes. Good luck." Typical. Thankfully, within 15 minutes, the Austrian inbounds got there. I mixed and mingled for a while. There are 52 of them here, and most of them are pretty decent people. We couldn't really go out after dinner, because the hotel locked its doors at 10.30.
This morning we went to a castle - it was very beautiful, and completely intact. I was jealous. But the tour was only in German, so I got pretty much nothing out of that. We got back for lunch about 2, but they seemed to be perpetually out of food, so we didn't get much. Then we went to the meeting part of it. Each country (rather, the inbounds from their respective countries) went up on stage, and one person from each group talked about the country, and then each person was introduced. At first the Austrians didn't want to let me speak - I was insulted - but the Hungarian guys talked to them and settled it. So I talked in Hungarian and English - I did the Hungarians proud. I ran into one of the cool Hungarian rebounds - Krisz. She was really surprised at my Hungarian.
At seven, we went to dinner. Outside, there was an Austrian band all decked out in the traditional costume playing. They also blessed a car. "A car?" thought I. "Don't they have better things to bless than a car?" Oh, well. For dinner, I got stuck at an all-adult table. It actually turned out to be pretty cool. One of the women had lived in Italy for three years - she'd kept a lot of the mannerisms. Anyway, they ended up buying me two glasses of wine, which I enjoyed greatly. Unfortunately, not only did the service take forever, the portions were minute. Because of the service, we weren't done until midnight. I spent the rst of the night being a complete loser playing some RPG for 4 hours. I must have no dignity at all. But it was amusing.
I had to wake up at 7.45 to eat breakfast at 8.30. It was a little hurried, because I had to meet my ride home at 10.
The ride home actually turned out to be very nice. The man was quiet, but his wife and I talked for a long time. We had lunch in a neat spot just outside of Szekesfehervar. As we were eating, 5 military helicopters buzzed overhead. They told me there was a military base nearby. About 5.20, we got to Miskolc. I bought my train ticket, then went to see a movie at six. I caught "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon." It was subtitled in Hungarian, with the original Chinese being spoken. The Chinese was beautiful, and I was able to understand most of the subbing, though it went just a touch fast at times.
Today was cool. Darago called us to the office to sign the infamous "Travel Request Form," but this was only a formality. Actually, it turns out he was doing us a big favor, because 5 other kids are getting sent home for travelling without Rotary's permission. Then I helped type out the forms I need to officially graduate from high school.
After school, I helped Nadia pack some stuff and carry it to the post office. It took a while, and I just barely had time to buy another small backpack for the trip.
About six, I met Mate, and we went to his house for dinner. His parents were very nice, and dinner was great. After dinner, we played ping-pong (a Hungarian favorite, along with cards and chess). It was a lot of fun, because neither of us are terribly good. He also has a hyper little dog that would go after the ball, even when it was in play. When we got bored with that, he, his sister (who, ironically enough, is in Nadia's class), and I went to the new bar/coffee house and played some pool. Then we walked down to the train station and back, and called it a night.
Today was cool - I love school when my friends don't actually have to learn anything, as it has been for the last few days here. I made the extra effort and went to my first hour. I love my Biology teacher - she has never once noticed if I am in class or not. So today, again not noticing I was there, started talking about someone she knew that was terribly ugly, and finally said it was an American. Only when everybody started laughing did she realise that I was there. Cool.
We had the last few hours free, so Peti and I and some of the other guys went to play video games. We spent a few hours there. Then I bought train tickets to Bp. for Friday. After that I sent faxes to the hostels we'll be staying at.
Today was at once wonderful and really sad. When I got to school, everybody came into the room and the class gave me a going-away gift. It was stuffed koala ("Koala?"). I named it Petofi. Then the guys gave me the new Tankcsapda CD, which was really nice. Anyway, we hung out at school for the day. There were no classes, so the TV was on, but I really just talked with the guys and took pictures of people.
After school, Nadia and I went over to Mariann's - one of the last times we'll be able to do that. Then, at 4.30, we had to go visit one of the Rotary members at his workplace. It was an "EU Information Office." Strangely, after a quick tour of the building, the left us to his assistant. We watched a video about the region, and that was pretty much it. His assistant (or secretary, or whatever she was, exactly) was very kind, and talked with us for a little while. The whole thing took about an hour.
Then at six - without time to run home or anything - I met my friends again and we went to play pool. Or, I was going to. I had to run (in the pouring rain) to Olga's to take care of something. It looked really funny - me running through the rain in sandals, carrying a stuffed koala in my backpack! But it only took a second, and then I ran back to the cafe. It was great! We were there until 11, and then went walking again. The rain had stopped, but with all the splashing, my legs were soaked up to the calves. But it didn't matter at all, because all of my closest friends were there.
I got home late. My host father came out and without even saying "hello," asked me angrily where I'd been. I tried to explain to him how important it was for me now to be with my friends, but in vain. He doesn't make the slightest effort to understand how I feel.
Today has been long. I almost missed the train. But we got to Bp. without incident, and waited around for long time. There wasn't much to do, so we basically sat in the train station for hours.
The train to Vienna was also pretty uneventful. Then things got a bit frustrating. We got to Westbanhoff (Station) and tried, logically, to buy tickets to Florence. The dork wouldn't sell them to us; we had to go to the station we leave from in order to do that. So we tried to change money, but the line took forever. We did meet a cool Hungarian guy who has been living in Paris for the last sixt years, though. Eventually, I just took some money out of the ATM. Buying metro tickets was also really difficult - we couldn't figure the machine out. Luckily, an Austrian guy helped us. Anyway, we eventually got to Sudbanhoff and procured our tickets. We crashed in the first food place we saw to wait for our train to Florence at 7.30.
The train ride was a bit rough, though. A poor family had taken our seats, so we sat in the aisle for a few hours. I didn't actually have a problem with this, but it was kind of rotten not having seats, much less a bed. After some hours, though, one of the conductors took pity on Nadia, and gave her a seat. So she sat for a while, and then later we traded seats. Which worked out, I guess.
We got to Florence early in the morning, and went to a McDonald's to get something to eat. Then we went to the hostel. What a headache. First of all, it was a long bus ride away, or at least it seemed so with all our luggage. Then they had a driveway that must have taken 15 minutes to walk up. Then we had to register - it was done on a first-come first-serve basis. At first there was no room for either of us, then Nadia could get a spot, but I couldn't, then finally there was room for both of us. I think she was nice to me because I went out of my way to be really nice to her - she was in a nasty mood. So we have rooms for three nights, guaranteed. The problem spot is the fourth night. We'll just have to hope, I guess.
So finally we were ready to go into the city. We walked for most of the day. It was beautiful! We saw a lot, because Nadia had lived there for a long time - the Ponte Vecchio, Il Duomo, and of course all the beautiful squares. You can't go anywhere in this city without seeing something beautiful, it seems. And there are churches all over. And of course, being the center of the Renaissance, the palaces are amazing as well.
Today we caught a bus to Fiezoli. It was really beautiful. It us up in the hills, above Florence, but only about 20 minutes from the city. It was nice to see a quaint little city after the spendour of Florence. We were going to walk back down to Florence, but we started going down the wrong side of the hill! We got back eventually, and spent the rest of the day in Florence.
Today I went to Lucca to see an old friend of mine from the States - Kelly Connoley and her family. Which was interesting, because it meant I had to figure out the Italian railway myself. This is only problematic because the cities are not well marked. So I ended up communicating - mostly via a strange form of sign-language - with some Italian kids sitting nearby. They helped me out a bunch.
It was cool to see Kelly again. Lucca is very unique because it is a walled city. It was really strange having to enter the city at one of the gates! Anyway, we walked around the town for a while, and then went to Pisa. I hadn't realized that there is a lot more to that city than the Tower.
Then we went to another seaside village for dinner. We all had pizza, because none of the real restaurants were open yet. But I preferred that, really.
However, the night was mildly miserable. There was "no room in the inn," so we were force to take tents. Which would have been acceptable, except it was rainy and somewhat cold the entire night.
We got to Ancona today. Some of the Italian girls met us there and helped us get tickets for the ship. I dropped my stuff off at one of their houses and had dinner with them - fantastic again, of course.
We met again at night and went to a bar/disco. It was actually in a Catholic church in the city, and the students did the barkeeping for service. It was pretty cool, actually. Then we went to a disco on the beach in Senigalia. Nadia and I didn't feel like dancing much, so we walked along the beach for a while, and then came back. We didn't get home 'till 2.30 or so.
We met Nadia and the girl she was staying with, and walked along the beach some today. Ate one point, we sat down and had a drink. The guy in charge of the stand was very intelligent - he had a house in Brazil and spoke fluent Potuguese, so he talked to Nadia for a while. But then he started to talk to me - he spoke pretty decent English, too, especially for an Italian. He started asking me what foreign languages I speak. I told him Hungarian and English, and he got mad at me: "How can you speak so few languages?" I tried to tell him how incompetent Americans are when it comes to learning foreign languages, but he'd have none of it. I felt a bit insulted, and quite inadequate. After all, if small shopkeeper speaks 3 languages, I should definitely be fluent in more than I am.
Anyway, by 3 we were in Ancona again to check in for the boat. We did so, and had a bunch of extra time, so we walked around. They have the best ice cream in the world there. The boat left at 5, and it is really nice. We have our own cabin. The ship is also very stable - no rocking at all - which is very nice.
We got to Greece late morning, and had to take a bus to Athens. The first order of business was to get tickets to Istanbul. Unbelievably, there are no ships connecting the two cities, so we had to get plane tickets, which is OK, I guess. Then we went to our hostel. It was wonderful! We have a very spacious room all to ourselves, our own bathroom, and a balcony, all for 5 USD a night!
We walked around, trying to get our bearings on the city. We got to the base of Acropolis, and bought tickets to the Russian Philharmonic Orchestra, who'll be in town tomorrow night.
We also decided we should buy a bilingual dictionary. Being us, we went for the cheapest one possible. It turned out to be something from about the 1920's, judging by what the prases they had. To the waiter: "Now let us see what you can bring me." Yup. So now we can talk like arrogant aristocrats. Yeah!
Well, we wandered all over the city again today. Athens is beautiful, but very hard to walk around in, because its so hot. By one, we were dying, so we went back to to hotel (officially a hostel, but so much better) to rest until 5. Then we went back out for a while.
Then we went to the concert. It was absolutely amazing. The concert was held in one of the amphitheaters in the Acropolis complex. The orchestra, obviously, was great. They even played a Hungarian song - this was actually the best one they played, we thought.
Well today we saw most of the sights. I really love this city - it has a very unique atmosphere to it.
Well, today we caught our plane to Istanbul. We almost didn't go, because the airport workers were going to go on strike, but at the last minute they settled. So we were able to go. However, we couldn't figure out which bus to take at first. That was almost bad, too. But we did get to the airport, and everything was OK.
When we got there, I was informed that I would have to pay on the spot for a visa. Darn it, I'm an American, for goodness sake. "We're not supposed to have to do these kinds of things," thought I. But of course I paid anyway.
We're staying with Peri's family. Its really kind of funny in a way - things have come full circle for me. Peri isn't in the country - she's studying at Georgetown at the moment - so her sister Merve came to pick us up. She was also in the States for a while, and so speaks very good English. Her mother is also really nice.
Today we picked up a friend of Merve's - Sera - and went to a palace. The two girls stayed outside while we had a guided tour. It was really magnificent, but then, that's the Ottoman Empire. We had lunch on the banks of the Bosporus, and then drove around some.
We went to see some of the more famous places today. We visited the Blue Mosque and the Hagian Sophia, mostly. Then we went to a little place and smoked Turkish water pipes. These things are great, because the water takes out all the chemicals, so the smoking isn't really bad for you.
Today we went to "the Islands" in the middle of the Bosporus with Mrs. Kaleagasi. It was really nice. We took a carriage ride around the island we were on, and then ate lunch at a restored villa.
Tonight we met Sera and her boyfriend and went to a very cool music pub.
Today, pretty much all we did was go to a mall. It was OK, but I'm not much of a mall person. I guess I'm kind of disappointed at having done so little. There is so much we could have seen here, but didn't.
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