February 20, 2015

#41 - Vinadio, Budapest, Vienna, Ivrea

Dear Dubrovnik,

Events come in waves here for certain! I have gone a while without doing all that much in addition to classes, and then it seems that everything is happening at once!

Last night we made whoopie pies and pancakes after dinner which is always especially fun as we don't have common measurements. Both were well received though we used all the sugar and forgot about that until coffee this morning!

Last week I headed out at 6:30AM for a nordic ski trip in Vinadio with a few classes from different schools I work at. However, the classes were mainly students I don't work with often, or ones that I haven't ever met. In addition, none of the teacher/chaperones could speak english well enough to give me any idea of what was going on at any point of the day. I do understand italian much better now, but the ski coaches who were there to help instruct did not want to accept my request of slowing their speech, so I was often pointed at with some blur of a demand and I was like 'no lo so' - I have no idea what you just said. 
Early morning arrived before the sun!
Finally came around about 2:00PM
Old School 
Beautiful little mountain village
Their prized ice tower 
Train side houses 
4:00PM sunset 
Down the mountain!

The Sant'Anna water factory - supplies all of the water drink!
In addition, it was quite difficult to spend the day going at a snails pace as I was so fortunate to be in the Alps, nordic skiing for a change, on a gorgeous, sunny day and yet I maybe went 3km in the six hours we skied. It was quite frustrating with the language barrier, and inability to actually move faster than a crawl due to the pack nature of the ski trip. It would be worth a trip back if only to ski beyond the welcome arena.

After that long day I got home at about 9:00PM for a quick night sleep and a strange Friday due to a different set of schools going skiing. I was lucky to get to my final school for the day (Saliceto) to find the students excited about something that they couldn't express. Turns out they'd made me some traditional Italian treats in preparation for the Carnival Holiday and brought them to school for me! Except the school was being inspected for structural flaws etc the same day (and food from home is forbidden) so they hid all the snacks in the desks and cabinets until the crew left. A big sigh of relief was heard when the took out tray after tray of Bugie - (which reminds me of a thin friend dough,) and many other pastries. Both classes told me about various Carnival events and festivities and before I knew it, I was heading back to Cortemilia to head for the airport!

A few hours later after some normal packing delays we were heading to the airport with not a minute to spare! I arrived with an hour to my gate but got there with plenty of time. I found the other girls I was traveling with (fellow TA's like myself,) and we got ready to fly out! We landed just before mid-night in Budapest, and got a shuttle to our hostel door for only 7 euro, which was really reasonable. Our hostel was nothing spectacular but it was on the 6th floor of beautiful penthouse with a central courtyard. We had a secure bedroom etc, and a neat kitchen/hangout area. We also got a bracelet that looked like a watch, without hands, that we were to wear during our whole stay. (We found during our stay the Budapest has a thing for the stupid watch/bracelets!) We didn't spend much time there though as we were constantly on the move! 

We got a quick map tour with all the must-see places and moved into our room, and Ben was already there waiting for us! We all got to be at about 2:30 - 3:00AM and woke at about 6:30 - 7:00AM due to the sun, so not much sleep!

Ben, Elise (a fellow TA who I hit it off with in Turin at orientation - she and I planned to travel to various places together) and I headed off for the market that morning which was a beautiful, inexpensive stop on our whirl wind tour.  
Felt pretty cool

The currency exchange was 257 fortin to 1 usd - so as you can imagine we felt pretty rich! In the market we kept having to do the math to figure out the cost equivalent of what we were buying. We got some strudels which were about a euro, or a little over a dollar and they were fantastic. We looked at many mini chess boards which were a whopping 1,500 fortin - or a bit over 5 dollars. They were beautiful and hand carved and painted with matching figures. I decided to get a couple little clay cups, a small box and a stunning hand-carved jewelry box. 

We walked back towards the city center and saw many, many buildings, bridges and statues while we searched for our lunch suggestions. The first was closed, but the second, called W35 is a trendy place owned by a few 5 star chefs who were fed up (no pun intended) with the atmosphere of 5 stars cooking, so the opened a couple places where the make affordable, amazing food. We got burgers to see how they compared to home and they were amazing, they had some unique potato rounds on the side which were also great. 

So glad I got to see this fella! 
Ben, Elise and I. 
The grande marketplace 
Some beautiful examples of the architecture

And the street art!
After we happened upon a jewish-quarter (I'd seen one like it only in Rome) and it was closed off except for tiny peep holes which showed various scenes of life during the invasion during the Holocaust era. All of the jewish citizens (70,000) were crammed into basically a block of real estate, forced to call it home. Within six weeks, more than 10,000 were killed, and over 600,000 hungarian jews in total. According to the Jewish custom, the living sanctify the memory of those who have already passed away through prayer and good deeds performed in their merit. It was difficult to drop the subject after walking away, but it reminded us all how lucky we were to be able to travel so freely and see so many sights. 

We stopped back to the hostel to grab our swim suites and headed off the oldest district of baths the Szechenyi Baths located just beyond Heroes Square. After going through tunnels of changing rooms, and learning how to open and lock our lockers with yet another ridiculous watch bracelet we headed out to the pools. They were very beautiful and warm. We spend a few hours there, looking for the indoor pools (only to find that they were too small for comfort,) spinning around in the whirl pool, and standing among the dozens of huge bubblers. The hardest part was leaving... because it's February after all, and wow - that was a cool evening. 
Heroes Square 
The largest rink in the region!
The Vajdahunyad Castle - looks a bit un-finished!  
The rink at night!
One of the baths - difficult to get pictures as we didn't bring cameras in!
We then headed back to change for a night out! We got dress in what little fancy clothes we brought, and went looking for a highly recommended Mexican restaurant only to find a place that we thought was right called Cactus something, and it instead was a really nice cave restaurant, and we again, had amazing food ordering the forbidden 'appetizer' or quesadillas. I say forbidden as you don't oder things before your meal, and we did. 

We then went looking for a disco to dance, and couldn't quite find one so we stopped in at a small bar. We order the local beer, Turborg which was astoundingly cheap. It rang in at 90 fortin a glass, or just about 33 cents US. We then ordered some fancy drinks and were trying to learn how to say thank you which was basically a bunch of letters that somehow were understood. Hungarian, is not slavic, romantic, germanic or anything else. So, it doesn't sound like, look like, or mean anything else. 

We left and walked into the building next door which ended up being a pretty extensive night club with many floors/ dance rooms. We had to check our coats here and get another stupid fake watch, but it was nice to hear familiar songs and smile listening to the locals trying to speak english. At about 3:00AM we got back to our hostel and went to sleep for another early morning. 

We three walked to the Buda side across the river and had breakfast at Ruszwurm which is a famous little cafe/ pastry place. Everything was soo delicious, rich and inexpensive. 

Walking to Buda

View back to the Pest side 

The Fisherman's Bastion
We headed back across the river to gather our things and train to Vienna. However, tims started to get crunched as we waited to check out, and it ended with us fast-walking/running to the train station which was about twenty minutes away. Upon arriving, our train was on the tracks departing and the station guards said for us to go buy tickets in the office - and there was a line with tickets there so we just got on the train knowing that we'd pay extra as we waited. But we had made it, so we were happy. Elise and I kept expecting the person to walk by, and he eventually did, but he only asked where our tickets were and we said we needed to buy them and he shook his head and walked off. The stop before getting off, a different man approached us, and only charged us 15 euro, when our ticket should have been 30 total as he must have assumed we'd just gotten on. We were thrilled!

We arrived at Ben's place and took real showers, and got ready for dinner and skating! As usual, we had an amazing dinner in a very only restaurant located four stories under ground formerly serving as a part of the monastery where they stored the massive wine barrels. We then headed off to go skating at this amazing rink that had paths through the woods to skate on as well as a couple big rinks. Right before leaving I took a spectacular fall on the ice which really rounded out the various pains I had from the miles of walked we'd done.
Some breakdancer/skaters

A store I should basically belong in 
Then beautiful, unfinished cathedral 
Dinner in the monastery basement!
Ben explaining that is the only naked statue in this sculpture
and the butt is directly facing the window of the apartment
where the loosing sculptor who bid for the job lived. 
His apartment was straight ahead 
Checking out the Hofburg Palace at night

It is said that the great goddess Athena has her back
to the parliament as she can't even handle the shit that
goes on inside that place.
We had a good night sleep and got up for another day of touring and food. We walked through a small market near Ben's and went for breakfast at a beautiful cafe near the rink where we skated. Then we got a tour of Ben's school which was located in a Palace, got lunch (traditional sausages and pasta/potato meal) got our things and said bye to Ben!
The Secessionist Building

Ben showing is his school/palace
A statue that is infamous. It was built by the Russians when they
invaded and they declared if the Austrians were to ever take it down
it would be a declaration of war upon Russia.

The Italic bar haha
He had class so Elise and I did some touring of the city, got come snacks for our ride back, and did a little shopping before we headed to the train station. We got there about an hour and half before the train that the ticket office had told us about, but couldn't see it on the time chart. We went to ask in the office where the train was and he it was departing in ten minutes. So, once again Elise and I booked it to the platform and got on just in time to make the next leg of our trip. 

During this ride we had some really amazing conversations about the coincidences that lead us to certain events, and how at times it does feel like someone is looking out for us (me), whether that be my Nana, or any other family members who are keeping a watchful eye making sure that I am doing well, and reminding me of my good fortunes. Then we had the most crazy conversation about the film 'I Am' which I knew from my mother, and had watched to share pieces with my students, and Elise, too had seen it because the person who produced/created the movie was her professor at Pepperdime where she went to school! Apparently for his class of 400, he would bring pizza to each class, and bought every student a mountain bike, or cruiser because what a better gift than mobility, health and fun?! 

She then helped me plan my train ride for the following day as I'd never trained alone! We arrived to Budapest around 9:00PM and found out there was no shuttle to the airport as they had to be booked 18 hours in advanced...? So we went back to the hostel we'd stayed at, and asked if they could call a cab for us. A special shout-out to Fables who helped us through that crazy process! We then got to the airport and split a light dinner before the cafe closed. The other five girls joined us shortly and we all hunkered down for a sleep-less night until our 4:00AM gate opening. Our flight involved five ticket checks which got annoying, as you'd stow it away for safe-keeping just in time to hunt madly for it. We got moved around the airport many times and concluded that they were staging social experiments by closing off certain areas but leaving them open enough for a person to enter just to see if they would. They always did. We got back to Milan around 8:00AM, and Elise and headed to Gallarote train station (a short bus ride away) to get our trains home. 

I had three trains switches and some were only a couple minutes but I made it all the way to Ivrea where my family would meet me that evening. Ivrea is famous for their annual orange fight where carts of men and women ride through the city and get pelted with oranges/while pelting the people hitting them. It's quite entertaining. I was obviously a foreigner as I had a suitcase so I bought a red had to fit in. But, I did get a middle aged couple standing next to me who started to talk about me and I turned to the and said "Io capire" (I understand you) and then when the just stared blankly I opened my eyes wide and said what? and walked away slowly. Perhaps a silly gesture - but I was running on many nights of no sleep. 
All the city folk dressed up! 
The parade begins! 

The Orange fights 
Here you can see the carriage, and fighters quite well. 
Oranges, and confetti - EVERYWHERE. 
It reminded me of Mostar, except for the Alps in the distance!

The parade was beautiful and it was very nice to see all of the town members 0 - 99 dressed to support their favorite team. I grabbed a pizza before leaving only to be among a group of awful American college students studying in Torino who were swearing and being discussing in a small restaurant. One of the girls processed to wash her hair in the employees bathroom. I ordered in italian and pretended to not speak english. I then came to realize that my tiny italian phone had died after being fully charged which made contact with my family quite hard. So, I bought a couple things in a cafe to use their wall outlet guilt free, and found my family shortly after.

All in all, an amazing few days traveling all over the place! It's taken a while to get my sleep back but I think I'm almost recovered.

Ciao for now!