Guten Morgen, Wien!

I had no idea where that path would lead; I just knew that I wanted to walk it wild and wide-eyed, daring to dream” -Don George

I decided to spend my free weekend in Vienna with a mix of people from my group and the first group. I had heard so many wonderful things about Vienna but hadn’t had time to stop by in my previous trips to Europe so I was excited for this getaway. While we wanted to sightsee, we also wanted to relax after such a long week, so with a half baked agenda we set into the city center. 

Our only collective “must do” was to buy lunch at the outdoor market and picnic in a park. The market was huge and buzzing with primarily tourists. Vendors reached out from behind their displays of fresh and exotic fruits, home style cooking, and odds and ends. The whole market was overwhelming at first with its array of choices, but eventually we settled for a variety of falafel, hummus, cheese and pita, with baskets of berries and dried fruits to go around. We carried our spoils off to a park and reveled in the Viennese sunshine. 

 

[When in Vienna, definitely try a fruit for the first time that’s not native to the area at all]

 
When I had arrived in Budapest, my mom’s only advice was, “keep walking” with an appropriate running-man emoji attached. My mom’s MO is to just start walking and eventually you’ll find something interesting. Luckily, I seemed to be traveling with likeminded people. On our way to one site, we would stop at a few random places then keep repeating the process. We saw sites like the top of the cathedral, the opera house, the Mozart museum* but we also saw things like a random record shop, back alleys and cafes, the graffiti lined walls of the Duna that you can’t really see from street level, a fake beach on the Duna where we obviously stopped for a drink. While it’s nice to go, go, go, it can be just as nice to amble about and absorb everything you come in contact with. 

  
*I put an asterisk there because I do want to talk about the Mozart museum. Classical music runs deep in my family–we all grew up playing the piano, listening to classical music, and some of us went on to be very accomplished musicians, so the Mozart museum was an obvious must-see. To my surprise, it was a lot of, “well there are no records of what mozarts dog looked like, so here’s a sketch of a dog in a book that existed during his time” and “we don’t know what Mozart’s chairs looked like, but this was the most popular chair at the time so it probably looked like this.” In other words, I don’t recommend it…

Of course, no trip to Vienna is complete without a heaping serving of schnitzel, provided to us by the famed Figlmüller restaurant. Fun fact: one person did manage to finish his entire plate of schnitzel, which was about the size of a small child. Vienna is great. 

Because of some last minute bookings, part of our group had to stay in a separate hotel, so after settling into our respective homes for the evening, we decided to meet in the middle for a Viennese drink. Seeing as none of us had ever been to Vienna, we picked a spot on the map and met there. We ended up in an eerily quiet part of town, where the Biergarten we’d picked had closed, and the neighboring two bars were filled with a handful of senior citizens enjoying a drink amongst themselves, eyeing us non-locals as we walked in.  Though we didn’t stay, it was neat seeing this little slice of Saturday nightlife in off-the-beaten-path Vienna. 

In the morning, we trekked to the Schönbrunn  palace. Half of my group left, and I lost the other half, so I ended up wandering about on my own, which was kind of nice as it was the first time I’d been by myself. I haven’t been to Versailles, but this palace is stunning. They’re all different, but they’re also kind of the same in terms of their opulence. I’m always aware of the excess of these palaces, but it never ceases to blow my mind when I’m there in person. The palace also has a great lookout point at the top of a hill that’s surrounded by some nice forest paths, where I sat and took it all in. There’s a lot to see on the grounds, which I highly recommend despite the big crowds. 

[Great job, Viennese forest! 10/10 would do again]

 
Trying to find your friends without a cellphone in one of the most crowded tourist destinations is like a terrifying game of Where’s Waldo, or you know, every day life until a few years ago. Once I found my friends though, there was more food, more walking, and then back to Budapest to gear up for another week of activities. 

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Easy as Egy, Kettő, Három 

“Yesterday I wrote in my journal: What will Stockholm be like? What will I discover in Copenhagen? Who will I meet in St. Petersburg? What wonders await? An innocent abroad” 

-Don George, An Innocent Abroad

I’ve been reading “An Innocent Abroad,” which I feel is extremely appropriate as I travel about and make discoveries. It’s a series of short stories from a wide array of accomplished authors that center around the titular theme. I’ve highlighted half of the book because so many of the passages are applicable to my past and present travels. This blog post’s featured quote mirrors all of my initial excitement and trepidation about this journey. Though I’ve seen some of Hungary already, I’m seeing it this time from a completely new perspective: Will the long days be grueling? Will the information be difficult to swallow? Will I even make friends? What if I don’t find the connection I came here to look for? But what if I do?

 I travel often enough that these feelings should be a nonissue, but the truth is is that no matter how many times my travels have gone well, there’s always a voice in the back of my head playing devil’s advocate. All of it disappears though when I step off the plane and take a breath of a new country’s air. There is no greater feeling than that initial second when you’ve made it and you know that infinite adventures, good and bad, await you on the other side of those airplane doors. No matter how much older and (hopefully) wiser I get, no matter how many times I’ve tread these paths before, it always feels new and different and makes me feel like an innocent abroad. 

Here’s the first three days of my trip. It’s a lot of info but I’ve broken it down by day so you can read at your leisure. 

Egy

Budapest welcomed us with sweltering heat. Sticky, exhausted, disheveled, we began our trip by doing the most Hungarian thing we could have done: eat. From there we took a boat tour on the Duna where the weather took a turn for the worse. One minute we’re enjoying a bit of sun on the water and the next minute it’s raining so hard we might as well have been in the water.

   
In our sundresses and shorts, we bolted from the boat to a nearby hotel where we sought refuge until we sorted ourselves out enough to once again eat.

We dragged ourselves into the hip restaurant, Mazel Tov, a Mediterranean inspired restaurant in the Jewish quarter, where we discovered what eating meant in Hungary. The food was abundant and this meal set the precedent for how all of our meals would go. And afterwards was the greatest gift of all: bed. 

I calculated it: by the time I went to bed, I’d been up for 36 hours. Though we were all nodding off trying our best not to be the people that fall asleep in public, I was quite pleased with my efforts as I’m not sure I’ve been able to stay awake that long since my college days. Really the only good thing about having been up that long is that I not only slept through the night, but slept at appropriate hours so I was pretty much cured of my jet lag immediately. 

Kettö

Apparently my dorm doubles as a sauna because when I woke up after 12 glorious hours of sleep, it was about 9000 degrees. Not even an exaggeration. 9000 literal degrees of sweat, tears, and melting flesh. Ok, ok, maybe just the sweat and tears are the literal part. In any case, it was hotter and more humid than my delicate princess self has ever had to experience and I was not pleased about it. If this was only the first day of Budapest, I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to make it for two whole weeks. 

Our first activity of the day, aside from the essential breakfast and cappuccino, was a scavenger hunt that took us all over Pest. Fun fact: Budapest is divided by the Danube (or Duna) making one side Buda and the other Pest. Also, S in Hungarian is pronounced SH, so really Budapest should be pronounced Budapesht. Anyway, we were asked to do several things like order typical pastries from the market and take pictures of us eating them, find a poem in a subway and translate it, take a selfie at the top of St. Stephen’s basilica, see who is guarding the entrance at the opera house–bonus points for writing down who built it, count how many chandeliers are upstairs in the former Paris department store, etc. When my team, Winner Winner, finished early, we gave ourselves our own bonus of a drink in the cafe at the top of the Paris department store. 

 

[Team Winner Winner]

  

[Victory drinks]

 

The idea to kick off our trip with a scavenger hunt was brilliant because it gave us a chance to get to know each other while scrambling about to read maps and to learn fun facts about Budapest. It also felt so much more fun and productive than being lectured by a tour guide as things were pointed out and also gave us a better sense of the city as we took the subway the wrong way or had to ask a local to help us translate a poem. Final fun fact of the hunt: team Winner Winner won because…duh. 

  
Our hunt concluded at this food truck court, where we had langos, a fried dough with a variety of toppings, like a weird Hungarian pizza, and a fresh fruit popsicle. 

  
From there we took a trip on the eye of Budapest, which was mostly fun because an unnamed person in our car was terrified of heights.  

   

[The sign was great–I couldnt help it]

  

[This is not the first MJ homage I’d seen here…]

 
After that we took a tour of the Hospital in the Rock. The Hospital in the Rock was a hospital built into the underground caverns that are beneath the Buda Castle and spans several miles. They were primarily used during WWII but also served as a nuclear bunker after the war. The museum is very well put together, though a tad creepy with all of its wax figures. They feature a lot of original equipment, including a machine that had its 15 minutes of fame in the movie Evita (omg~*~*~*~), and makes you feel like you’ve walked through a time machine. Our tour guide was also very knowledgeable and kept us entertained for the two hour tour that barely felt like one because even though we’re all adults, we apparently also have the attention span of a bunch of five year olds. As five year olds, we got to wear costumes for the duration of the tour, wrap each other in gauze (where we found out who definitely didn’t have a future in medicine), cover someone in camouflage face paint, and lift each other in stretchers. From a historical perspective it’s fascinating feeling like you’re back in time but from a personal one, it’s a little eerie seeing pictures of the Hungary so many of our families left. It also makes me so grateful that my reality isn’t filled with air raids, curfews, and constant threats on my home and life. However, it’s all part of the learning experience though and why we’re here. 

 

[A view from the top]

 
We were released to the surface level and got to run around the Buda castle area for a bit, then went to dinner at Deryne. Dinner was amazing. Usually on trips like this, the food is quick and mediocre at best, but they are really trying to get us to connect with our Hungarian love of food by taking us to nice places. I had duck, I had wine, I had great company. We even celebrated a birthday! This might have been my favorite meal of the whole trip mostly because it was not only so delicious but it was the first real meal we had together where we weren’t dying of exhaustion and were finally able to have a fun “family” dinner. 

 

[Happy birthday, Andras!]

  

[The cute menu that awaited our arrival]

 

Három 

I like to call this the “let’s get down to business” day as it’s the first day we had to embark on scholarly endeavors and actually look presentable. Also, it fits into the running Mulan theme of this trip because all I keep hearing in the back of my head is the “You’ll bring honor to us all” song where Mulan is clearly not bringing honor and neither am I. 

The first item on the agenda was meeting the state secretary for diaspora relations, Arpad Janos Potapi. This was also the first day we were followed by the press, which was something I needed getting used to. I dealt with it by hiding behind the tall people, which to me is (thankfully) everyone on this trip. Mr. Potapi gave a speech about why what we’re doing in Hungary is important, and finished off by commending us for being so attentive as at our age he would have hated standing there listening to his speech. Afterwards we got to go through the “We, Hungarians” exhibit where we learned about Hungarians who have played an important part in world development, tried on costumes, walked through history, played with a Rubik’s cube (because Rubik was Hungarian, obviously). 

   
  I of course brought more honor to my family by gladly participating in all of their interactive exhibits, because again, I am five years old. The most important part of this excursion was the reception filled with pogacsa, which is basically a cheesy puff pastry and my favorite thing in Hungary, maybe even the world. Honestly, I wish I could tell you more about this morning but the only thing I cared about was the tray of pogacsa that waited for me at the finish line. 
The next non-food related item on the agenda was a visit to the Kesztyügyár community center. The community center was built as a place to encourage local youths, who are primarily from Roma backgrounds, who come from impoverished homes or are falling behind in school, in order to help them achieve their full potential. I grew up hearing bits and pieces about the Roma community but didn’t really understand the full extent of their struggles as a minority community. The guy who runs the school told a story about a little Roma girl he worked with when he first started who was extremely intelligent and capable but wasn’t working to her full potential. When he asked her why, she responded, “what’s the point? Let’s say I do work hard all my life, then if I even get into university, I’m not awarded the same opportunities because I am Roma.” 

The treatment of minority communities is a common theme in most countries, it’s something we see a lot in the U.S. as well, and something that I wish there were more being done about, especially when it comes to education. I’m fortunate I was awarded all the opportunities and that the importance of education was ingrained in me at a young age, but the same can’t be said for everyone. Having a good education can open so many doors and is the best armor you can have in life. Though this is just one small step, it’s a step in the right direction and I hope to see more of these types programs not just here, but in the U.S. as well. I know that the Roma community tends to be a sensitive subject here so I’m grateful it was included in our program as it’s important for us to learn about all facets, good and bad, of Hungarian history and culture. It was also great that post discussion we got to interact with the kids and see it all firsthand. 

 

[I watched this girl fully hide under that red thing then pop up randomly. Easily the funniest part of the day]

 
Fun fact of the day: I had my first full Hungarian conversation with a little girl who followed me around for a bit. 

Little girl: do you speak Hungarian? 

Me: no. Do you speak English? 

Little girl: no.

*proceeds to run away* 

I’m still pretty pleased with myself. 
After a serious day of learning, it was time to wind down at the famous Szechenyi Baths. What word can I even use to describe the magic that is over a dozen swimming pools of varying temperatures where I could swim to my heart’s content? Well I guess I just did describe it….magical. This is a tourist hot spot, sure, but there’s a damn good reason for it. The complex is huge with three large connecting pools in the middle, then labyrinth of rooms filled with more pools, jacuzzis, and saunas inside. We hopped from pool to pool trying them all before settling outside and swimming until we transformed into sun kissed raisins. 

 

[Walking through Heroes Square]

 
Second best dinner? Our dinner was at Kertem with an incredible view on a small lake. There was bread with garlic butter and a pitcher of lemonade on the table waiting for us. If that had been our entire meal I would have been very happy. Have I mentioned the lemonades are amazing here? They’re lemonades with a mini fruit salad mixed in and there are always about half a dozen flavors offered wherever we go. I can’t get over how good all of our food has been.

 

[ARE YOU KIDDING ME WITH THIS VIEW???????]

 
Today was also the first day we mixed with the people from group 1. While it was cool to have a bunch of new people to meet with, it was a little overwhelming as we had barely started to get to know our own group before throwing another 20 people to the mix. They were all really nice though and I was excited to have new friends to adventure with for the following week. 
And with all that, our first week ended and we were pushed out of the nest into a free European weekend. 

Nem Sleep Til Brooklyn 

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime” –Mark Twain 

I will start off by saying how sorry I am for my lack of posts. I get daily reminders of how much I am slacking (thanks, dad) but I haven’t had any time to properly collect my thoughts on everything, let alone be able to present said thoughts in an articulate manner. As I get time, I’ll post chunks of information so you’ll know what I’ve been up to and hopefully by the time I move on to my next city, I’ll have caught up writing about my Budapest adventures. Photos on the other hand will probably not appear for an extremely long time because that’s a very complicated manner. 

Traveling is hard sometimes because I’m very partial to my requisite 12 hours of sleep. The crazy thing though is that I’ve actually gotten my 12 hours so far…over the course of an entire week. However, I did go into this trip knowing I wouldn’t sleep for 6 weeks, but I kept saying it with the assumption it would be more a hyperbolic statement and less a literal one. I’m rallying though. I promise. Every time I want to take a nap or sleep in a little bit, I remind myself that I can’t take this trip for granted, nor can I mess up my sleep pattern as is often the case with naps. Though I am traveling for a while, my time in each place is so limited and I want to be able to absorb as much as I can. After all, can’t I just sleep when I’m dead anyway? I can’t nor want to miss a single thing and surprisingly my body has agreed to this terrible arrangement I sprung on it. 

My schedule is packed and for this I am actually grateful because I don’t feel like I’m wasting as much time. The trip has been incredible so far. Not only have I had a blast getting to know people from all over, but I’ve been on adventures that left me speechless, while also being intellectually stimulated by panels on current Hungarian affairs, trips to bio farms and Roma schools, things that I never thought I’d find interesting. I find myself sitting frantically writing pages of questions and notes because my neurons are firing at an impressive rate and walking out with a much better understanding of the Hungarian culture, which is exactly why I travel in the first place–to understand as best I can what it’s like to live in that country and absorb its culture.

In other news, there are sunflower fields at every turn, our schedule is always centered around food, and beer and wine are cheaper than water. I guess being Hungarian is more ingrained in my DNA than I previously could have imagined. 
Also literally not sleeping until 

And So The Journey Begins

I’m currently sitting in the airport waiting to take off for Budapest to embark on what has been repeatedly said is not a sightseeing excursion but a cultural immersion. Even the 24 hours in NY, which I’ve seen plenty of before, was like seeing NY through new eyes because we saw Hungarian New York, not just tourist New York. That being said, it’s especially important to me that it be a cultural immersion because I feel like I’ve been this amalgamation of half cultures my whole life; I’ve never felt Hungarian enough, Salvadorian enough, and because I was raised to have culture, I’m ironically not American enough. I’ve floated by from group to group but without any sort of anchor, one runs the risk of floating out to sea into oblivion. Everyone says roots are so important and I’m finally beginning to understand that feeling. 
   
I spent so much of my life being Hispanic; my dad grew up in South America, my mom is Latin American, we spoke Spanish, I grew up near Mexico etc, Spanish has been ingrained in me and now I want to devote the same to my Hungarian half. So many of my friends are a combination of ten different things but none of them seem to know anything about those cultures that made them or have any sort of connection to said cultures. In a way, I feel sorry for them because the weird combination of cultures I grew up with gave me such a unique perspective and made my childhood so colorful. I couldn’t imagine not having the traditions, languages, foods that shaped me. I never want to be the girl without a past and a heritage and I hope that my children aren’t like that either. With this trip, I hope to sow the seeds of what will be a lifelong love affair with both of my cultures that I’ll be able to pass on to future generations. 
  
As a child, Hungarian was on the periphery of my life. I never grew up speaking it, but I grew up hearing it and knowing a few factoids about Hungary. My cousins all grew up very Hungarian and now that I’m older, it feels like in a way I’ve missed out on something that is actually a huge part of who I am. However, I’m grateful that I was exposed to what I was exposed to and that I was made aware of how much a part of me it is. I hear Hungarian, and though I can’t understand it, it’s oddly comforting and it’s familiar in the same way Spanish has always been. 

  
My family has been traced back over 500 years in Hungary, where we came from before that is unknown, but we’ve been there long enough that we’re Hungarian through and through. Hungary has such a rich and long history too that it’s so cool to know that I come from that. Regardless of how long my family was there, the Hungarian identity was so important to those that came before me, those who loved me most; they fought for it, they endured so much that I will (hopefully) never have to endure, they were heartbroken for the rest of their lives when they had to leave, and though it’s sad it means everything to me. My family name also precedes me on this trip as a lot of the organizers had worked with my family in Hungary or just know of them. It’s a little nerve wracking because I have a lot to live up to, but at the same time it makes me proud that I can call myself a part of a family of greats. Though most of those greats will not see me undertake this adventure, I know that if they were still here they would have been so proud and the “would have” is more than good enough for me.

  
All that being said, this isn’t a jingoistic endeavor by any means and I think it’s a very important distinction to make; I just want to be more aware of my history, where I come from and I want to do it all justice. My only hope is that I really do.