Fisherman's Bastion at night Budapest Hungary

Back to class

I returned from another great travel week on Sunday, and once again, I had barely enough time to rest before the work rained down on me. On top of keeping up blogs for two classes and getting all my homework done, I had to deal with class scheduling woes in the wee hours this morning while attempting to wash my clothes in broken machines. I’ve also just accepted a position as a student blogger at the U of O and I’m now dealing with very unfun employment paperwork, made doubly unfun by the fact that I don’t have access to a lot of financial information I need while abroad. I think this week, with all its stresses, is a preview to the stresses I’ll be experiencing when I go back to Oregon for my next school term. I’d better get used to it.

I can barely remember as far back as the day we left for the second travel week–Nov. 8–but I’ll try to recall as much as I can.

Dohány Street Synagogue Budapest Hungary

Our first stop was Budapest, which proved to be a lot like I pictured it to be: a slightly more Eastern version of Prague. In fact, it was even geographically similar: a river, the Danube, ran through the center and on one side, on a hill, was a castle and the old town (Buda) and on the other side was the sleeker, newer town (Pest) with a Jewish quarter. The difference in the Jewish quarter: there were more small synagogues scattered over the district in Prague, and here, the focal point is one synagogue in particular, which happens to be the largest one in Europe. We inadvertently signed up for a tour, but were glad we did when we learned the Gestapo set up a communication station right in the pews of the synagogue, as if in an effort to crush the spirit of the Jews as much as possible. Monuments like these are just impressive, gilded empty shells unless one knows the incredible and terrible history behind them.

We wandered around the streets of Pest for a little while before we crossed the Danube via the Chain Bridge to get to Old Town. We took a tram up the hill to the castle, which reminded me of riding up the Shadowbrook tram after an atmospheric dinner, and we were slightly disappointed upon arrival: the castle wasn’t really set up to display rooms as they were in royalty’s heyday. Instead, each segment of the castle was a different modern art museum or renovated concert hall or something else that involved completely gutting all the rooms to give the building another purpose. We thought it was odd, but we saw some beautiful streets ahead of us, so we walked away from the castle to explore the rest of the old town.

Fisherman's Bastion at night Budapest Hungary Pest at night Budapest Hungary
After grabbing a coffee around 4, it was already getting dark by the time we ran into St. Matthias Church, classic gothic but for its Eastern tile-patterned roof. Even more impressive was the nearby Fisherman’s Bastion, a balustrade that somewhat resembled a sandcastle and began to light up just as we arrived. Not only was the structure magnificent in the evening glow, but so was the view of Pest from up high on the bastion, especially as other structures–the bridge, parliament, huge hotels along the water’s edge–began to light up too.

I’ll talk more about my other visits during the travel week–Vienna, Prague and a spontaneous day trip to Bratislava–when I’m back in control of the work situation. Before then, you can read the update to my class blog on one particular morning in Prague.

Prague revisited

By 4:30 p.m., all I could see from the train window was black. Staring out the window on the way to Prague had been my last source of entertainment; my iPod was already out of battery and I’d finished the one book I took with me on the travel week. Now all I could do was pull out a map of Europe and stare listlessly.

Perhaps that’s how, after about 20 minutes of staring, my eyes focused on Dresden, Germany.

I’d begun to think about my traveling companions, two girls who wanted nothing but to shop at American department stores and read at Starbucks during our entire three-day stay in Vienna. Would they do the same thing in Prague? Even if they changed this time around and showed enthusiasm for seeing the sights, I knew I wouldn’t be too thrilled to tag along. I had already visited every important Prague monument three years ago with a touring singing group. I wanted something new. I wanted something German.

I already had it all decided when the train screeched to our stop: I would take a day trip to Dresden, a two-hour train ride away, on Saturday to ease the monotony and my frustration. I didn’t know what Dresden had to offer, and my German still wasn’t up to scratch, but what the hell.

I was even happier about my secret pact when, as we came up from the underground near our hostel, I felt the dry, penetrating cold of the night air. Dresden must be warmer than this, I thought, though I had nothing to back up this theory.

The air had the same biting chill in the morning; there seemed to be little difference between day and night here in terms of temperature. We wound our way through tiny alleyways toward the Old Town Square, shivering and shoving our hands deep within our pockets, and I again commended myself on my brilliant plan of escape.

And then, just like that, there was the square. I didn’t even recognize it at first, thinking it was just another busy square that happened to house a few beautiful buildings, but then I saw the main monuments: the Church of Our Lady of Týn, the astronomical clock, the many restaurants with yellow-clothed wicker tables spilling out onto the cobblestones. The cloudless azure of the sky seemed almost to reflect upon the apartment buildings and to illuminate each color: pea soup turned to lime popsicle, marzipan turned to pale lemon and glass windows looked like pools of water.

prague01

My hands fell out of my coat pockets and my eyes were so wide they reached an aperture I’d never before accomplished. I was not cold anymore. I was in Prague, my intrigue renewed, and I wasn’t going anywhere.