Sunday, February 13, 2011

First week in Tübingen and Budapest

I've been in Tübingen for a little more than a week now, after spending a month in London taking a class on how to teach English as a foreign language. The class was great and London was fantastic, particularly because I got to hang out with three of my best friends from Tufts who are studying there. I took trips to Dublin (where I got to touch an 800-year-old mummy), Bath and Stonehenge, and Stockholm. It was really weird hearing English everywhere after four months in Greece, but it was probably good to have a break between foreign languages, since I have now forgotten enough Greek that it doesn't interfere with German. I've forgotten a lot of German too after nine months without speaking it, but it's starting to come back. My five housemates are all German, so I speak it with them, and they're good about speaking slowly and being patient. One in particular, Tabea, keeps inviting me to hang out with her and her friends, who are possibly the only Germans louder than us Americans. My other housemates are pretty quiet and I don't see them a lot, but they're all really nice. One of the best things about Germans is that they will always tell you how amazing your German is, even when you're making mistakes and you're guessing at half of the vocabulary.

I've been hanging out with some of the Tufts kids too, who have been having exams the past couple weeks. On Thursday I went to Budapest with Aaron and Ben. We did "blind booking" where you pay a flat fee and pick a set of destinations and the date you want to go, and you are randomly assigned flights. We're definitely going to do that again, because we booked the night before and got really cheap flights.

So on Thursday we had lunch at Ben's place, then took the bus to Stuttgart, where the closest airport is. We got to Budapest in the afternoon, found our hostel, and hit the town. First we ended up in a restaurant in the shopping district that looked a little sketchy at first, but turned out to be really nice and had a live Gipsy band. There were only two other tables with people, so the band was asking where we all were from. The couple from Guatemala shot us down when we said we were from America. We left and made our way over to the Danube, which separates Buda from Pest. It's really pretty at night, and we tried to go to one of the boat-cafes on the river, but no luck.

We kept wandering and came to a bar that was advertising cheap drinks and karaoke. The first clue should have been that it was called Alter Ego and there were the male and female signs  coming out of the "o". The second clue should have been the waitress who looked like a dude. It all came together when a rather flamboyant Hungarian man started the karaoke and we noticed two guys making out at the table behind us. The karaoke was pretty good - naturally someone sang Dancing Queen, but there was a lot of American music too. We sang "I'll make a man out of you" from Mulan, and got a lot of applause for it. Here's Ben and Aaron singing some R Kelly (unfortunately not the song "Trapped in the Closet" - that would have been too perfect).

The next morning we went to the Castle District and found one of the famous baths. It was gorgeous on the inside, and there were tons of pools. The only drawback to places like this are that they tend to attract a lot of people you wouldn't like to see in bathing suits. We were in the huge outdoor pool, and some French guy in a white speedo gets in and goes "Ooh la la!" There were also saunas that smelled like mint and employees who asked us if we wanted massages. If only these places existed in the US!

We went to St Stephen's Basilica by subway, which like the rest of Budapest's public transportation, looked like it had not changed since the Iron Curtain fell. But the Basilica was breathtaking. We also tried to go to the Synagogue, but it was already closed, so we spent some time walking around the building and then hit up the bazaar. We crossed the Danube over to Buda and looked at the famous bath there, and the library which looked like another castle.

Our hostel had a kitchen, so we cooked our own dinner and spent some time playing cards before going out again. At one point some gypsies tried to get in the hostel, but the employee shooed them away. We had no idea how they had gotten in, because there were three doors to go through that needed a special key, and even we had enough trouble getting in.

There's an intersection near our hostel called the Oktogon because of the layout of the buildings, and we'd heard of a bar there called the Rocktogon. Naturally, that was our first stop. A couple of Hungarian guys came and sat at our table, and we talked to them for a little in a mix of English and German. Surprisingly, a lot of people in Budapest spoke German but not English, but that works for us too. There was a dance floor that at first started out playing Hungarian metal, but transitioned into angsty music that we used to listen to in junior high, like Linkin Park and System of a Down. It was the best thing ever, and we easily spent an hour dancing to the music of our teenage years.

Since our flight was at noon the next day, we decided to stay out all night and go to the bath in Buda in the morning. We went to a couple more bars, but nothing could top the Rocktogon. I had the brilliant idea that we would be able to see the sunrise from across the river where we had ventured earlier, so we went back to the hostel to grab a bathing suit and some snacks, and made our way over to Buda. It was raining a little and the sun wasn't going to rise before 6 am when the bath opened, so we just got to the bath a little early and hung out there for a while. There was a surprising number of people there already, but they were all really old.  This bath was a little smaller than the other, but we had a pool to ourselves. There were also separate areas for men and women, so we checked those out. I ended up a little bit scarred for life because there were some really old and really fat women going commando. One of them tried to talk to me in the sauna, but I don't speak Hungarian, thank God. Around 8 am we were all too tired to do anything more but sit and stare silently at each other in the pool, so we went back to the hostel for an hour before leaving for the airport and coming back to Tübingen. This was definitely one of the best weekends I've had yet. I'm only in Tübingen for a couple more days before I go to Duisburg to visit my exchange students from high school, and then Madrid and Prague for the next two weekends. Then I actually have to start class, but if the semester is going to be like the last week and a half has been, it's going to be amazing!