Entry 10 – March 21, 2010

Well, it appears it has been quite some time since I have updated this blog, so I will try to rewind the clock a bit and cover what has happened over the past few weeks. Here goes.

February 15, 2010

This weekend was a bit of a relaxing weekend. Saturday was spent relaxing at home and then going to see the movie Avatar (in 3D AND English) with a few other international students. The movie was really well done and I quite enjoyed it. Sunday consisted of relaxing as well (the movie the prior went until after midnight, so we felt justified in sleeping in). Later in the day I made a carrot cake and everyone who tried it seemed as though they truly enjoyed it.

The next week consisted of a lot of school stuff during the day. Basically we just did the usual waking up somewhat early to get to school to work on our project and then jaunting off to language or culture courses every Monday and Wednesday.

On Monday we finally got our forms filled out so that we could apply to get internet installed in our flats. It would only be a short time before we could stop “borrowing” internet from the neighbours. As I was walking around that day, I happened to catch a glimpse of a Maserati GrandTourino, which was kind of neat. For dinner we went to a Star Kebab. We had been to a few kebab places already (they are everywhere) but this one is HUGE and conveniently right near our flat. In the evening, Matt and I watched Tron and played around with some Linux stuff and then went to bed.

Tuesday fit into our working-on-the-project-by-day routine and in the evening, all the Canadians got together at Cam and Andy’s place for a bit of a Starcraft LAN party. Starcraft isn’t exactly my kind of game, but I did alright for someone who had never played before.

Wednesday was another work day, broken up a bit by our language course in the afternoon. After work Matt and I went to the mall near school and I bought a router so that we would have wireless in our place once we got our internet installed. I promptly set about hacking the router as soon as I got home and installing a custom firmware on it so that it would do things most routers don’t come close to doing. That kind of this is always exciting as you never know if you might brick your shiny new hardware.

On Thursday, there wasn’t much of significance that occurred, but we did get stopped by the tram inspector on our way to school. This time we had our valid passes on us, so we were in the clear.

February 19, 2010

On Friday, we stayed home from work in favour of packing for a little weekend vacation. We wrote a quick progress report in the morning, packed our bags, then went off to the train station to jaunt on over to Bratislava. We bought tickets at the train station at near our flat (the international ticket booth smelled heavily like a swimming pool for some reason), but the train was to leave from the main Budapest train station, which we knew ahead of time. The tickets were very open ended. We could use them any time and could use them for our return as long as we came back within 30 days. We got some gyros and hopped on the tram to get to the other train station where we waited around a bit for the others to arrive. Somehow over 20 of us international students decided to all go to Bratislava that weekend in a number of smaller groups. Originally there were about 10 of us in the group we were joining, but then 4 of us split off as we felt we would be more compatible travellers in than we would be in the larger group.

The train ride was kind of fun. We got one of those 6 person room things to ourselves, so it was nice and cozy. For some reason the train was going quite slowly for most of the trip, so it might not have been the fastest way to get there, but it was at least relatively inexpensive. We got there in about 2.5 hours at which point we set off to find a hostel.

The two American girls we were travelling with had found a few places online before we left, so the 10 of us started hiking on the direction we thought the place would be. We did get slightly lost, but found the Hostel before too long. The hostel was pretty full that weekend (like I said, tons of us internationals had come to town) but they did have enough room for us. We ended up in a big 16 person dorm style room, but 4 of us got a little side room in that dorm, so it was a little more comfortable.

After dropping our stuff off at the Hostel, we went to the “Slovakian Pub” for dinner. We had read a little about Slovakian cuisine on the train ride over and had in fact read about this little restaurant. We had received discount coupons from the hostel to boot, so it was really a no brainer. We ordered a plate of gnocchi with a special sheep cheese sauce topped with chunks of bacon, their national dish, as an appetizer and then ordered various other things off the menu for our own meals. The gnocchi was really good.

We had eaten supper quite late, so we went back to the hostel to get a good night’s rest before our early morning of sightseeing. There were lockable drawers under the bunk beds which was really handy for locking up our wallets and cameras and such. Downside: I left the key in my pants pocket when I locked everything up for the night, even after telling myself in my head a few times to be sure I don’t accidentally lock the keys in. Luckily there was just enough of a gap in the side of the drawer that I was able to fumble around with the incarcerated jeans until I was able to retrieve the keys.

The night was very warm, despite having the windows wide open. There was lots of wind and so the windows and curtains were blowing around quite a bit during the night, waking me up a few times. Despite all of these hardships, I actually got quite a good night’s rest by morning. We woke up around 8am in order to fit in a full day of sightseeing. Unfortunately it was raining for most of the day, but it was still a lot of fun.

For breakfast, the person manning the front desk of the hostel recommended a cute little modern styled café which we again got a discount card for. They had a buffet that was quite thorough and cost less than €4, so it was pretty well received.

For the rest of the day, we followed a walking tour outlined in one of the American’s tour guides. It took us through the old part of down town. The whole area had been somewhat recently restored to its original condition, so it was a really neat place to visit. Around noon we stopped off to pick up one more fellow student at the train station, after which we went for lunch at another restaurant recommended in the tour guide. They served some of Slovakia’s famed wild bore, which was ordered by one person and then sampled by us all. I’m not much of a pork fan, but this stuff was pretty good. All of our meals were pretty fancy, but none came out to more than €10. Slovakia is a pretty cheap place to go to.

After lunch we finished the walking tour and went to find some souvenirs. A couple of the girls had a good idea of collecting pins from everywhere they visit. They are cheap, small, and a nice simple reminder of the places visited. I purchased a small Bratislava pin which is now residing on my backpack awaiting company from any other places I visit. Perhaps at the end of my time in Hungary I might get a Hungarian/Budapest flag on which I could attach all of my collected pins to commemorate this whole trip. We finished off our sightseeing by walking up to the big castle located on top of the biggest hill in town. Unfortunately, the castle was undergoing repairs so we weren’t allowed inside.

Around 4 or 5 in the afternoon, we realized that we had really done everything we really wanted to do in Bratislava, so we decided to check out of the hostel early. We would have had to switch rooms anyway if we were going to stay, so this just simplified things there (plus saved us from having to buy a few more meals). We had prepaid for the whole weekend at the hostel, but they were nice enough to refund us for the night we didn’t stay.

So, we collected our things, saw a few other things in the broader part of the city where people actually live and work, looking for perhaps a few different souvenir type shops and then ended up at the train station. Since our tickets were open ended, we were able to get on whenever we wanted, as long as we made sure we got on the right train. On the ride back home, we got into another 6 seater room which felt much more comfortable than our first, which we were happy about. We settled in and proceeded to eat a bunch of the truffles we had purchased in town. They were all quite delicious, though a little messy.

About half way into our ride back home, the ticket inspector came around and informed us that we were sitting in first class while our tickets were for second class, so we had to pack up and trek on down to the second class section. We still found a 6 person room, but it was definitely less roomy than the previous one. Oh well.

Below is a gallery of a bunch of photos from the trip. This blog entry continues after the photos.

February 21, 2010

Since we had caught a late train from Bratislava, we slept in on Sunday and spent most of our day inside. We did go grocery shopping though and for the first time we could recall it was really sunny outside and all the snow was gone. The few patches of grass there are near the train station were even green! Spring was on its way.

Monday was back to the “regular grind” with working on the project and our various classes. After school I was able to have a Skype date with my girlfriend which was nice as we were still somewhat lacking in internet at our flat so communication had been infrequent at best. For supper, we made spaghetti and chicken breasts breaded in crushed up corn flakes which turned out pretty well.

Tuesday was another working day, but in the evening there was the “International Party” organized by ESN. All of the international students were to dress in the colours of their country’s flag and bring a national dish. Since Canada is very multicultural, it is somewhat tough to pin down a true ethnic dish. We ended up going with poutine, which was fairly well received. Most people didn’t know what gravy was, but they still enjoyed it. Cam and Andy decided they would bring pirogi pizza, which was also really good. The food brought by all the other international students was all fantastic. I was so extremely full that night, but it was all super delicious. Matt pointed out afterwards that if there was any night where we might get food poisoning, that would be the one, but we all came out of it unscathed.

Here are some International Party pictures, followed by more blog post.

On Wednesday, there were some important people visiting our department at university. Our prof was running around madly organizing the lab in order to make a good impression and he really wanted us to be there when everyone came so that he could prove that international students were there and doing work. We decided to skip our language class in order to accommodate him. I think that those people were just there to collect various information on the program which might then later be used to distribute funding.

These important people came a little bit later than we were expecting them. I needed to get home a little early that day so that I could bake a carrot cake. Matt and I were invited to the home of the Americans we had travelled with for dinner and I didn’t want to show up empty handed. The cake ended up making us about 30 minutes late and then, when we finally got to their street, we got a little bit lost as the numbers on one side of the street didn’t properly correlate with the numbers on the opposite side (building 11 was across from building 30 or something) so we ended up getting there even later. Despite the lateness, we still had a great time at dinner. The girls had made the gnocchi/cheese dish from Bratislava and then we all exchanged photos.

Since we had skipped language class on Wednesday, we went to the Thursday lecture to catch up. That day, a new professor was being introduced. She was crazy. Her English wasn’t nearly as good as the prof we were used to and she was much more demanding of the students. This turned out to be a very bad combination as she would think she had explained herself to someone and they would have no idea what she wanted of them. She was also pretty condescending. The first couple of minutes of this was frightening, but then the next half hour or so was actually kind of amusing and, if nothing else, helped make the normally long class feel a little shorter. This did grow tiresome, however, so we were all glad to get out of there. I don’t think we will be going to the Thursday class again if we can help it.

On Friday and Saturday, nothing too eventful happened (at least nothing significant enough for me to have made notes on it), so I’m assuming we just went to work on Friday and then relaxed the rest of those two days. Actually, I think on Saturday Matt and I just walked down the main street to look at some different shops. We found some very intricate graffiti as well as a smart car whose owner still had trouble parallel parking. I think that Friday was also the day we invented our “Hungarian style” poutine: fries with corn and bacon, covered with cheese and gravy. It is really good and we’ve had it a few times since.

February 28, 2010

This weekend almost resulted in a totally uneventful collection of days, but then we caught wind that a number of students were going to the contemporary arts museum. We quickly decided we might as well join up with them. It was in a part of town we hadn’t been to yet, so that was exciting enough as it was. When we got there, we met up with some other students and went to pay our admission, but somehow got in free. It was either due to our student status, our age being under 26, or a miscommunication about us being from the EU. Either way, I wasn’t complaining. The featured artist of the exhibit had a few interesting pieces, but I think for the most part it was just a little too out there or just a little too depressing. The artist, for anyone interested, was Glenn Brown, and there are about a bajillion ads up for this exhibit.

After checking out Glenn Brown’s work, we went to check out the other exhibits on display. One was what we think was the museum’s permanent art display. A lot of the pieces were pretty interesting. On the first floor (in case I haven’t mentioned this before, their floor numbers start at 0, so this was the floor above the ground floor) there was a video exhibit. As a bit of a film guy, I was pretty interested, but unfortunately most of these clips had too strong of a political bend to them or were just not my taste. There was, however, one display that was quite interesting. There were four screens setup that all displayed similar footage, but they were either from different angles or from different parts of the timeline. The way that things were woven together was really quite interesting. I didn’t sit through any of the other displays, but this one I watched almost two times through.

Here are a few pictures from that day. More blog after the pics.

On Monday, we were back to work. Nothing too exciting happened during the day or our classes, but progress on our project is starting to come along nicely. On our way to our culture course we saw a couple of interesting vehicles. One was a weird scooter thing, and the other was a classic Citroën CX. The CX is a bizarre car. It’s rear window is concave, for one thing, but crazier than that is the driver controls. The turn indicators are weird switches on the dashboard (and they don’t self cancel), the stereo is between the front seats and is oriented weird, the brakes are basically and on/off switch, everything is just strange. For dinner, we had some left over frozen burgers that weren’t all that great, so we chopped them up and topped a few plates of nachos with them. It worked out pretty well.

On Tuesday in the evening, ESN set up a caving event. They said it would be about 3 hours and it was starting at 4, so we decided to wait until after to eat supper. Turns out that, despite the actual caving lasting 3 hours, the commute there and back was over an hour each way, so we were mighty hungry by the time we got back.

Anyway, caving. It was a LOT of fun. As some people are aware, I enjoy climbing around in tight places (there are numerous pieces of photographic evidence of this floating around, such as when I fit myself into the already full trunk of a friend’s car during a road trip and when I climbed into a cupboard of a desk during some downtime while working on the film set of “Among Thieves”). I had a blast with all the climbing, crawling, everything. There was one spot that was so tight, you had to lay on your right side, stick your right arm up, and turn your head to the right in order for your helmet to fit through. There was also an optional section that was pretty tough. In fact, at first I couldn’t even see any indication of a path way at all. I ended up giving it a go, though, and it wasn’t quite as difficult as it looked, but only a small fraction of my group made the attempt, and not even all of them were able to make it through. There are a number of spots in the caves that resemble various things, such as faces, animals, theatres, etc., so a lot of the different rooms were named after those. As we were making out way out of the caves again, I don’t think anyone recognized any of the places we had previously been, even with these visual reminders. I can’t imagine how crazy it must be for people mapping out these caves for the first time.

All through our caving trip, there was one guy in our group that kept putting up a bit stink about how hard this all was and how he was not enjoying it, but he was hilarious. Even though he was super slow, I’m pretty sure everyone had a good time, including him. He kept saying he wanted to open a restaurant in the caves, so there is no way it was that bad for him. There was one spot where the guide told us we had to climb over a short gap, but that the gap was about 60 meters down and she suggested we didn’t look. This freaked this very vocal fellow out quite a bit. After he crossed, we all pointed out to him that the gap was probably no more deep than about a foot. It was pretty funny.

Wednesday and Thursday were days of work during the day and relaxing in the evening. Nothing major to report on there. Friday was almost the same, but our professor invited us to a game of soccer that a number of people from the department were having. I’m not much of an athlete myself, but it was pretty fun.

Saturday was Sunny’s birthday, so Cam and Andy wanted to show him a good time. Those three went out early in the day to shop for some supplies for a party in the evening and Matt and I joined up a few hours later. We went out for dinner with a few people, then went back to Cam and Andy’s to play some cards. Shortly thereafter, people started showing up for Sunny’s birthday party. People were mostly just hanging around talking and drinking. They had setup a beer pong table though. Having never played, I was a bit curious, so I gave it a shot. For anyone worried about me playing drinking games: the cups were filled with water, so there was no drinking mandated by participating. I only played a few rounds, but it was pretty fun.

Matt’s back had not been in great shape and the soccer game the night before wasn’t really helping, so we decided to take off shortly after everyone else had arrived. They were all planning on going to the “Sparty” later anyway, a big party in one of the main thermal spas here in the city, so we didn’t really miss much. The sparty sounded like it could be interesting, but to me sounded a bit pricey and like it had great potential to just be disgusting. I got home and ended up staying up pretty late. Around 2 in the morning, I heard Cam and Sunny coming in. First, it seemed Sunny was home early for his big birthday party, and second, I had no idea why Cam was there. As it turns out, Cam wanted some of my baking soda, which he couldn’t find. He was also there to escort Sunny home as Sunny’s slippery sandals had caused him to slip on the stairs at the spa and split his eyebrow open. Cam had taken him to the hospital and after a bit of bandaging up, sent him home. That probably wasn’t how Sunny wanted his birthday to end up, but at least it was a story for him.

March 7, 2010

Matt’s back was feeling kind of rough on this Sunday, and Sunny was needing a lot of rest, so i was on my own for doing things that day. ESN arranged a visit to the “House of Terror”, a museum for the two terror regimes that Hungary had been subjected to; the Nazis and the Communists. The museum was pretty interesting, but it was mostly in Hungarian, so I didn’t quite get as much out of it as I had hoped. Everyone was supposed to go to an old bar that supposedly hasn’t changed since the Communist era, but I kind of got separated from the group so I missed that part and just went home. Afterwards, some of the other students were saying that it wasn’t that great anyway, so it was probably for the best.

House of Terror pics (and then more blog):

On Monday, Matt didn’t feel like going to work and sitting in the awful office chairs there, so we decided to work from home. We were actually quite productive. We went to school for our classes in the afternoon and then just relaxed in the evening.

Tuesday was another work-from-home day. Matt had received a note in the mail the previous day saying something about missing the delivery of a package, so he had set out first thing in the morning to pick up this parcel. While he was out, they came by to redeliver the package. The delivery guy was asking for Matt and his passport number (they use passports here like they use driver’s permits in Manitoba). Luckily, I thought, Matt’s passport number was in our flat contract, so I shared that with the delivery guy. He copied it down and then asked me to sign the slip. Great, I’m thinking, he just wanted SOMEONE’s info, not specifically Matt’s. He didn’t speak English, so rather than try to explain, I just forged a signature and took the package. I called Matt to let him know the package might not be at the post office, but he kept going just to make sure there wasn’t another one. After getting a lot of run around, he was told that he could pick it up after 2pm, so it was probably the same package that I signed for.

In the evening, Sunny and I went to get some groceries and on the way to the store, we saw a guy with a very cute looking puppy. Unfortunately, the guy “walking” it was not a nice guy, to put it kindly. He was yanking on the dog’s leash and, as were were walking away and looking back, we saw him give to dog a pretty sharp kick to the side. I was NOT impressed.

On Wednesday, Sunny was craving some Indian food, so we hunted down an Indian restaurant and had a quite delicious meal. While we were there, an Indian girl came in with her mother and she spoke quite loudly with a little bit of an American accent. I don’t recall much of their conversion, but I do recall her trying to explain to her mother why the Amazon Kindle is like an invisibility cloak, which I found highly amusing.

On Thursday, Julia, one of the Americans, invited us over again for dinner and to plan some travel for the weekend. After eating some burritos and nachos, we decided to do a day trip to the second largest Hungarian city, Debrecen, pop. 200 000.

On Friday we decided to have Cam over to join us in having some stir fry. Andy had taken off for a week long vacation, but Cam was staying in town, so we thought he might want to join up with us. After supper, he hung out for a bit and then in the evening Matt and I had our final law lecture at U of M over Skype. I think I fell asleep at one point, and the audio quality was quite poor, but I think we got what we needed out of it.

After a short night, we woke up early to get on the train to Debrecen. We had bought our tickets the day before on our way home from work and they were just a little bit more expensive than we thought we had calculated on Thursday. We eventually thought it was because we had forgotten to claim the student discount, but the discount should have been 50%, not the 10% we ended up paying extra. We decided not to dwell on it and just enjoyed our train ride. Getting on the train, we walked all the way up and down the train trying to find a booth thing that was empty, but every single one was at least partially occupied. When we got back to the head of the train, we found two neighbouring booths that were only partially full, so we split our group into two and took our seats. The men that were already in our booth didn’t seem super thrilled about us being there, but they were fairly nice. Only one spoke English, and only barely. A few minutes into the ride, he asked us if it was alright if they smoked in the booth. We didn’t really want them too, but we had taken over their booth, so we said that as long as they opened the window, it was alright. Just then, the ticket inspector came by. After reading our tickets, he said something to the Hungarian guys and they looked like they had been inconvenienced in some way. After the inspector left, they walked into the hallway and smoked out there. I think what happened is that when we bought our tickets, the lady had said something about no-smoking, so I guess we had bought no-smoking tickets and so the ticket inspector told those guys not to smoke in there.

Once we got to Debrecen, we walked up the main street a pretty significant ways, searching for some food. On the way, there was an older man walking behind us who somehow tripped and landed on his face. He was bleeding a bit, but there were some people there who spoke Hungarian who were helping him out. We figured we were of no use, so we moved on. Eventually we found a pizza place which was mentioned in one of the guide books we had, so we stepped in there. The food was quite good. We then proceeded to wander around town a bit and found a museum. We went in and at first it seemed like it wasn’t all that interesting, but it just kept going and going and going. Overall I would have to say it was a pretty good find. After the museum, we went for some cake and just spent some time sitting down and resting. We decided to take another look at our tickets to see why there was the price difference. We eventually figured out that our tickets were one way tickets and so our price was close to their two way tickets, which made the 50% discount make sense. The excess fee was for a seat reservation, perhaps the no-smoking seating. Because of this we went back to the train station to get ready to head home and to sort out our tickets. I didn’t want to just buy a new ticket, so I tried to argue my case with the ticket lady, but her English was quite poor, so I ended up just buying the new ticket, but after a few minor miscommunication of accidentally ordering a round trip ticket and not including a student discount, we had our new tickets and reservations. By this time, we were late for the train, so we ran as fast as we could to catch it. Luckily, the train was also late, so we had plenty of time. When we got on the train, it was all open seating, no booths, so we just sat down where there was space. When the ticket inspector came by, the others with us did not have reservations. Apparently for this train a reservation ticket is required as it was a special train. They were then forced to buy their reservation tickets on the train which cost almost double what Matt and I had paid for ours at the ticket booth. They still ended up paying less than we did over all, though. Moral of the story: only buy one way tickets and always show student ID.

Here are some pictures from the trip, followed by more journaling.

We got back in town around 8 and Sunny had a friend from home who was doing the Romanian version of this program visiting. Sunny had told Matt to do a Jamaican accent when they met, which he did and kept up for a few minutes, which was pretty funny.

Sunday we were originally going to do more travel, but everyone was feeling pretty tired, so we decided to just stick in town. The four of us in our flat (Matt, Sunny, his friend, and I) decided to check out Gellért Hill, the big hill in the centre of town. It was a bit of a hike up to the top, but it great views and was one of the only places in the city with actual green space. It was kind of disappointing when we got to the top and found a road and a ton of souvenir shops.

(Gellért Hill photos, then more blog)

On the tram ride home, the transit inspector person came by again and, just before getting on the tram, Sunny’s friend said he didn’t think he would use a ticket. As luck would have it, this was the first inspector we had encountered who spoke good English. She told him he had to pay the fine for not having a valid ticket. I couldn’t hear everything she was saying, but I guess she told him to get off the tram, so we all got off. All of a sudden, Sunny and his friend make a break for it and the inspector chased after them. We continued on our way home. When we got back, Sunny came in about 30 seconds later, but his friend didn’t get there for another 15 minutes or so. The rest of us had hopped on other trams or metros or buses, but he had walked the rest of the way home. It was an interesting occurrence, anyway.

March 15, 2010

Monday was a day off of school due to a national holiday. There were also some political issues going on, so it was recommended to us to stay home for the day. Some students did go out, but they didn’t see anything going on. I ended up spending a good portion of the day writing this post.

Tuesday morning Cam, Andy, Sunny, and his friend went to Romania for the week, so it was just Matt and I at work. For dinner I tossed a bunch of cut up sausage, potato, onion, and peppers into a pan, mixed in some olive oil, paprika, and salt and pepper, and baked it. It was super delicious. After that, we went to see Alice in Wonderland (in 3D and English) with Tuomas, one of the Finns.

On Wednesday, we slept in after a late night and then went to work. Nothing too exciting happened, but we are making progress.

On Thursday, we decided to work a short day so that we could study for our law test that we would have the next evening. We also got our first internet bill and a guy came to check our water meter, so I guess we will be paying our rent soon.

On Friday we decided to work from home, but basically just ended up studying all day. We were originally supposed to write our exam at the same time as everyone in Winnipeg, but none of the profs here wanted to stay that late to supervise, so we were allowed to start early as long as we didn’t leave until everyone in Winnipeg started. We were given 2 hour to write, and were basically done in 10 minutes. I sat there staring at the page for another hour just to be safe, but then just went to read a magazine for the remainder of our time.

Saturday brought about Sunny’s return and he told us about his trip. There was a random guy at the airport that offered to drive them to the place they were staying and to give them a bit of a tour of the town. They got in his car and ended up spending the next couple days with him. Supposedly everyone in those small Romanian towns is super friendly, but I think that I would still be a little nervous about getting in a random stranger’s car in a foreign country.

In the evening, Andy was having a bit of a birthday party at their place, so we went there and got a chance to socialize with a bunch of the international students.

Today I was finally able to download some recorded services from my church and then spent the majority of the day getting pictures together for this post. I didn’t end up with too much to write for each picture, but hopefully there is enough info there. Feel free to comment and I will try to respond with more info.

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