semesterferien adventures part II: lángos and the danube’s pearl!
Second week into the semester and now I have exciting things like class and homework (I realize that sounds a little sarcastic in print, but believe me, my enthusiasm is nerdtastically genuine!) and LC buddies visiting and a steadily warming climate to talk about, but I promise I’ll get there. For now, pretend it’s about a month ago, the sun has finally come out and I’ve just returned in a cloud of linguistic confusion from beautiful, complicated Hungary with pictures to share and stories to tell:
I’ve been putting off writing about my trip to Hungary because I’ve felt like I won’t be able to express my thoughts and experiences with the depth and complexity they deserve. This has been the first trip so far that’s been about more than mere exploration, and as such my expectations and my experience were significantly different. For those of you who don’t know, I spent my junior year of high school in the little Hungarian town of Gyula, living with a truly wonderful host family and muddling my way through a gorgeous, complicated language that finally made some sense to me by the time I left.
This trip was the first time in almost four years that I’d been back to the place that had left its mark on not only who I am, but how I perceive the world around me. Throughout those four years I’ve tried to keep up the language and hold ties with the country and the history I was grateful to take part in during that year abroad, but it is very true that it changed me. What was funny-strange this time was seeing how much I’ve changed since I was last there.
I’ve spent a lot of time since I came back missing not only the place and my Hungarian family, but also the person that I was while I was there. Not that that person was radically different from who I am now, but a year of speaking a different language, operating in a different set of expectations and being invited by the sheer nature of the experience to reflect on those differences means that I used language and related to the people around me in a different way. The AFS motto is “Not better, not worse, just different.” And I’m pretty sure “different” is going to be the most overused word this post.
As usual, I’m getting ahead of myself. Before the introspection came Budapest, the Pearl of the Danube itself!!!
My traveling partner this time around was the lovely Nora, who’s keeping a hilarious if sporadic blog of her year here. After the very kind teachers at the Finnougristic Languages Department at our university here in Munich gave us travel brochures and maps and recommendations, we planned out our exploration of the city! Even just revisiting places that had faded in my memory was so wonderful. Favorite stops of mine were the light-filled Great Market Hall (Nagyvásárcsarnok), discovering the beautiful roof of the National Archives (Országos Levéltár), the proud splendor of Heroes’ Square (Hősök Tere), enjoying the Szechényi baths, an afternoon spent reading in the sun on Margitsziget (the island-park in the middle of the Danube), an organ concert inside the St. István Bazilika and eating all of the excellent, excellent, excellent Hungarian food to be found.
I can’t believe I’ve gotten this far in my post without talking about food yet. At the drop of anything, hat-shaped or otherwise, I will wax rhapsodic about the joys of Hungarian cuisine. It’s amazing. It’s hearty food not for anyone looking for fat-free or vegetarian (it sounds like a silly joke, but one time I asked my host family what we were having for dinner and they literally said “Meat!”) and is absolutely delicious. Goulash (gulyás) is, of course, the recognizable staple, but there are so many other wonderful things like pickled cabbage stuffed with meat, every sausage ever made in Hungary, smoked homemade cheeses, stews and soups of all imaginable sorts, little biscuity things called pogácsa, pastries and bread and EVERYTHING! And LÁNGOS!!! (Watch me title my post about something and then almost entirely forget to talk about it). Nora and I took the advantage of a relatively well-priced lángos stand near our apartment and ate so much fried garlic-and-cheese goodness!!
It was amazing and weird and wonderful to be back. As cool as Budapest was, though, it’s an international city; I didn’t really feel like I was in Hungary proper until the next leg of our Hungarian exploration. That was also the most exciting part of this trip, when my family and I drove down to my host town and my American and my Hungarian family met for the first time. But that’s a story for another time.
(As always, click on the pictures for a larger view and rest assured, more pictures coming soon!)