Sunday, January 1, 2012


Directly after school after a lesson on Australian vs. American slang, Todd the Australian dropped me off at the train station and I set off for Vienna. Todd is also in my German class at the local University and is married to an Austrian women, whom he met in England. The fell in love and spent the last 10 years living in Australia. They now have two little sons ages 4 and 16 months and Todd is a retired police officer now focusing on learning German and finding work in Austria. Since, the 5th and 4th classes are focusing on a unit of Australia and I know nothing about Australia, I invited him to come to school with me. Several other teachers wanted a real, live Australian in their classrooms, so after much debate, schedule coordination and a battle with the director, Todd began visiting our school.

And now back to the trip...
I journeyed cross green fields, through mountain passes, along tracks that brought us past castles and old town walls, rushing rivers and quiet lakes. At one small town a 20-something-man and a boy boarded the train. The man clearly spoke English with a Northern English accent, while the young boy spoke broken English with a heavy Austrian accent. The boy sat on the seats in front of young man. He would pop up and then suddenly ask a question in his broken English. As the young man answered his questions, I realized he was probably a member of our teaching program, just in a different province of Austria.

In the black of night, so 5:30pm, we reached Vienna and I began to make my way across Vienna toward Walter's place, An U-Bahn and a Strassenbahn away, I arrived a bit bedraggled after getting a bit lost and only 15 minutes to spare before the start of the opera, Walter sent me out to hop on the tram, which I caught just as it arrived. Sprinting down the sidewalk, I just managed to hop inside. A few stops later at Waehringerstrasse, I power-walked to the Volksoper, shoving hat and gloves inside my coat pockets, and gave up my coat to the coat-check as demanded by the ticket-man. I slid into a spot along the wall and braced myself against the rail, enjoying the music of Carmen and letting it wash over me. A good 3 hours of standing later, imet up with Elisabeth and Walter at Cafe Mozart, around the corner from Cafe Sacher, where we devoured various delicious treats. After much talking back at Walter's, we all finally settled in to bed at 4am.

At 6am, Elisabeth and I were up and by 6:20am, out the door, heading for our bus to Budapest. We arrived at Praterstern, tram number 5's end of the line and we walked down Nordbahnstrasse, discovering a small sign for Orange Ways, the super cheap bus to Budapest from Vienna. After 30 minutes of waiting in the cold pre-dawn light, the bus arrived with the non-English and non-German speaking bus driver, who checked us in, drawing rectangles in the air to ask us for an ID. At last on the warm bus, we promptly went back to sleep for the remainder of the 3 hour journey to Budapest. We arrived to a cold and snowy world on some random street, but we hopped on the metro system and after staring at the coin-only ticket machine, we were able to buy 24hr. Tickets from the woman at the counter with the Hungarian money Walter had given us. Burly guards in official looking vests checked our tickets and soon we were barreling deep into the earth on the fast moving escalator towards the metro. A few, short stops later, after feeling out of place for not wearing sleek, black leather boots, we arrived in the middle of Pest. Budapest is made of up of two towns separated by a river: Buda and Pest.

Wandering around, we hit up a cafe, which halso had waffles, all for the low price of 200 HUF, less than 1 Euro! We enjoyed one of the Christmas markets and walked over Elisabeth bridge towards Buda and eventually ended up on the Fisherman's Bastion near the famous Mathias Church.

one of the Christmas markets

giant Christmas tree

The Fisherman's Bastion is so named because of the fish market that used to take place down below the stone walls, so this section of the defending wall was indeed guarded by stalwart fishermen. The 7 towers of this white, stone wall represent the 7 Magyar tribes, which used to roam the land that today is Hungary. We stared across the river at the dense fog and could just make out the dome of the impressive, castle-like Parliament building. Sadly, my camera was deep-frozen, along with the rest of me, at this point in time, so I don't have pictures of this part of Budapest. Elisabeth is still holding them captive on her camera card.

pretty building

the architecture

We waltzed through an array of reporters awaiting someone or something famous and meandered our way back to Pest on the metro, admired the Parliament building and after a long, cold trek around town, finally met our CS host and followed her home. We chatted about places to visit in the US. Anita, our host, had already visited San Francisco and was hungry to see more. After that, we well into a dead sleep.

I awoke to the sound of Elisabeth munching Knabbermix at 7am and we soon found ourselves sipping tea with Anita before she escorted us back to the train, which we rode to the tram. After a stop at market hall, the famous indoor market, we headed back to main town Pest.

spices and sausage for sale

the grand indoor market of market hall...

We managed to score tickets for the Parliament, after much confusion on our part. You have to wait in this long line in the cold, send in one person from your party with passports/ID etc., wait for them to emerge, and then get in a second line to await the appropriate tour time. We accomplished all of this in record time, winning the last 2 tickets on the German tour and with Elisabeth receiving a free ticket due to her magical EU-passport. Dual citizenship, no fair! At last we entered the building, just as I could barely feel my fingers, and we carefully walked through a series of metal detectors.

This inside is something akin to a palace with golden hued everything, lavist paintings, tall cielings and the crown jewels on display.

the audience hall in parliament, where the debates take place

Outside the Parliament audience hall, golden cigar holders adorne the windows. Each one is numbered according to a particular seat, so that representatives could leave their cigar burning and return during breaks. If the meeting was long and successful, then it was worth a cigar, which the Hungarians still have a saying for in their speech today.

Me and statue of Imre Nagy, hero of the 1956 Uprising and lifelong supporter of communism, on a bridge. Nagy became Hungary's prime minister in 1953, but was demoted after Stalin's death. He then became the leader of the new communist movement, calling for a move away from Soviet communism. After his death in the Tiananamen Square style retaliation for his organized Uprising, he was buried face down in an unmarked grave and his name was taboo.With the end of the communist era he quickly became known as a martyr and local hero.

Positioned nearby in Freedom Square, outside the US embassy is this recently installed statue of Ronald Reagan, who many Hungarians hold dear for his efforts to end communism. Interestingly, this statue was just installed in June of 2011 along with the renaming of a street in his honor in Prague and a mass held in his honor in Poland...all coinciding with 100 years of Reagan's birth.

We wandered along the windy, foggy Danube River and through more markets before heading back to the Cafe where it all began the day before, enjoying a few more sweets, hitting up the Match Point grocery store, and heading off the meet our bus back to Vienna. This time, our bus was bright orange and we had a driver, as well as a ticket-collector, both of whom spoke English, German, and Hungarian, or at least enough to check us in without hand signals.

Once back in Vienna, we high-tailed it to the Staatsoper and picked up standing room seats for La Boheme. We tried to sneak in to some seats after the lights went out, but an usher came by and kicked us out in favor of the real seat owners, who had arriveda bit later. We enjoyed the music from the back without being able to see. Luckily, in the 2nd half, a few people left and we moved to a rail, which was great to lean on, not to mention afforded us the ability to see. After the performance, we worked our way back to Walter's, where Lora and Christine had arrived. Walter and Lora and a crowd of boys soon headed out on the town, while Christine, Elisabeth and I headed to bed—by 2am, we finally got there.

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