Friday, January 29, 2010

Professor's Note

To all of the family and friends who have followed our journey,

By the time you read this, you may already have met your son or daughter at the airport or seen your friends back on campus. It is six a.m. Budapest time and the students are just waking up along the corridor of our guest house. Most of us will leave for the airport in about an hour to travel back to Minneapolis or other destinations.

I wanted to take a minute to thank the students for their terrific work in class, with the program and on the blog. You all did a fantastic job bringing our friends and family along with us on this adventure. I also want to thank you all one more time for a memorable month. I enjoyed the chance to get to know all of you, play cards well past by usual bedtime, do some math, share the Garrett tradition of "pol"ing and explore Hungary.

Safe travels to the group and all of you going off on more European adventures. See you on the Hill!


Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Gellert Baths and Futsall

This afternoon we took a class trip to the Gellert Baths. Most of us went to the Szechenyi Baths a few weeks ago. Gellert is simply another location of a bath...Szechenyi and Gellert are basically two separate swimming pools in Budapest, except that they have really warm water. Gellert had different pools for guys and girls, and I will spare you the gory details, but let's just say some guys showed more skin and butt-crack than we were ever hoping to see in Budapest.

Tonight some of us also attended a futsall game. Futsall is basically professional indoor soccer, played on a hard court smaller than a normal soccer field, and there are no boards on the sidelines. Since the field is smaller, teams play only 4 on 4 plus a goalie on each side. It's very fast-paced and exciting to watch. Hungary is hosting the European Championships, so we saw a quarterfinal game between Serbia and Portugal. I decided to cheer for Serbia, but they got smoked 5-1. It was great to experience something close to real European soccer.

We got 3rd-row seats a midfield for only $13! There some teenage Hungarian soccer dudes sitting directly in front of us. I couldn't help but notice that almost all of them had mullets! So, if you are a teenager and want to be like cool European teens, get yourself a mullet. Or, if you are not a teen and also want to be cool, get yourself a mullet as well. I have included a video recapping a lot of our experience at the futsall game, including our favorite part: the Euro-trash-hip-hop male dance team.

The Budapest final countdown continues (cue classic song by "Europe"). We only have three more nights here. I feel as though it is nearing time to leave. We have been stuck in this weird middle place between being tourists and being citizens of the city. We're neither, but a little bit of both. It's hard to live like a tourist for a whole month, but I also haven't felt the need to get very settled in because it's such a short trip. Don't get me wrong; I have had a wonderful time here and will never forget the experience. But you know when you feel it's time for something to be done? Others in the class may disagree, but I think it's time to be done in Budapest soon.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Our Last Week in Budapest

Updates from FREE Weekend:  Everyone got back safely and in one piece: the Vienna group returned on three different trains, although all were more or less a hundred Euros poorer; the boys survived in the Czech Republic; both of the international flights, from Amsterdam and Berlin, arrived without delay; and Tina returned from London with Cari whom we were all excited to meet.  Although the trips were a great change of pace from our everyday experience, we all felt ready to return to a "normal" life back in Budapest.    The best parts about our normal life here are the familiar surroundings, the quasi-familiar sounding language, and the Forint that is much more forgiving than the Euro.  We will have a rude and unfortunate awakening when we have to use our own US dollars that we know for certain isn't ours.  The Forint somewhat resembles Monopoly play money that we can use in real life but have no real concept of its actual value.  Conversion rates are enlightening to a certain degree, but I haven't fully grasped the worth of the currency.  
Similar to the change in currency is the change of culture throughout Europe. Whenever we crossed the border to another country we had to learn new cultural norms. This is very hard, especially after we barely know the culture of Budapest. Luckily, some things do stay the same, such as the public transportation systems. It was nice to know how to find our way around another country. Most things don't stay the sam
e. The language is one very obvious difference, along with currency. Trying to sift through your wallet of US dollars, Euros, and Forints for the correct currency is always difficult. Then of course when you are trying to pay people back with whatever currency that you may have is interesting when trying to remember the conversion rates. 
As we travel, we appreciate the familiarity of not only what the US has to offer when we return, but the aspects of Hungary that we have adopted as the norm and give us comfort.  For example, breakfast will seem incomplete without orange drink, hard boiled eggs, and the assortment of meat.  
Many of us will have suitcases filled with Jó Reggelt and Milka bars that have replaced the comfort foods we usually resort to in the US.  Even though we are leaving soon, there are the little things about Budapest that we aren't ready to give up just yet.  

Sunday, January 24, 2010

A Serene Day in Sentendre

Some of the students who stayed in Hungary continued their set of daytrips on Saturday by catching a train to Szentendre. Szentendre (meaning Saint Andrew in Hungarian) is a town of 23,500 people about 10 miles north of Budapest. This small town is known for its museums, galleries, artists and small shops spread throughout the streets.

Szentendre is a beautiful town built along side the Danube. Despite the cold weather, we decided to take a walk down the bank of the Danube. With the addition of the snow on the ground, this scenic tour was quite stunning. At some places, there were streams running into the Danube that were small enough to feature some frozen wonders.

This trip was definitely worth more than the 530 forinths (less than $3) we each payed to go. It's definitely a good daytrip for those staying in Budapest. Also, who can resist a town whose baseball club is known as the Szentendre Sleepwalkers!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

A Profile of the Beautiful City of Pécs

On friday morning, a group of three of us left on a 9:45 train to Pécs (pronounced "Pay-tch"). Pécs is the fifth largest city of Hungary, located about 130 miles south of Budapest. Pécs was selected to be one of 2010's European Capitals of Culture, along side of Essen (Germany) and Istanbul (Turkey). This honorable designation allows European cities to showcase their cultural significance on an international level. Since Pécs was a class day-trip for last year's interim in Budapest program, a few of us had already been to Pécs and were excited to see the changes being made for this new year.

Once we got off the train and trekked to the center of the city, we immediately began to notice a lot of construction. It seems that a lot of the changes and renovations being put into place for the year as a European Capital of Culture are still going on. Large monuments were taped off and guarded while renovations were made. We could only imagine how beautiful the city is going to look in the snow-free spring and summer.

Despite the associated cold, we welcomed the huge flakes of snow that really set the mood as we hiked up some of the hills to get great views of the city. While Pécs is a fairly large city (about 150,000 people), it had a smaller town feel and appearance.

Where in the World is...

While nobody knows where Carmen Sandiago is, we thought you would be interested in hearing where all of the Number Theory students (and professor) were going for the free weekend.

The largest group of students (a whopping 9 of them) is taking the weekend to Vienna (Austria), a historically popular choice for the Budapest interim's free weekend. Several students are making the 7 hour ride to Prague (Czech Republic) while a handful are staying in Hungary, making day trips to cities and towns such as Pecs, Szentendre and Tokaj. A few daring people are flying to larger and farther away cities such as Amsterdam, Berlin and London.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Curious Characters

After three weeks in Hungary, I can comfortably say that I've met a number of animated individuals. Whether or not this has anything to do with Hungarian culture itself is up for grabs, but the cultural differences almost have to contribute.
Exhibit A: for a couple of days in a row this week, a few of us ate lunch at a restaurant called Kadar. Supposedly it serves non-kosher, "traditional" Jewish-Hungarian cuisine, whatever that means. Whatever, it's delicious. Anyway, the menu changes from day to day, the prices are very reasonable, and the man and woman running the eatery are extrememly likable. The man we refer to as "The Doctor" because he wears a large white shirt every day and has a physicianly disposition and low voice. Plus he knows now to come over to our table and translate the menu when we walk in, almost like he's going over charts with illiterate patients. Now, both days we were somehow swindled into buying dessert! The first day the woman simply brought the succulent apple-meringue pastry to the table and, at that point, who's going to say no? The second day The Doctor saw that I'd finished my soup and began describing something delicious with his less-than-perfect English. I thought he was asking me how my meal had been and describing how they made the mushroom soup, so I nodded enthusiastically so that he knew I'd enjoyed my meal. Well, of course, 2 minutes later I had a plate of goodies in front of me again, which the boys along graciously lapped up. To wrap it all up, The Doctor helped me with my coat as we were leaving and said "Szia tomorrow!" I wasn't sure if he was saying "Szia", which is good-bye in Hungarian, or attempting an American "see ya", but either way it was very endearing. Unfortunately, we haven't returned for a third visit yet.
Exhibit B: Today we heard a lecture on a topic we could actually follow: Number Theory! Csaba Szabo was as crazy as his name looks! He gave what I considered to be the most engaging lecture thus far, excitedly slamming the sliding-chalk boards back and forth as he sketched illegible proofs out for us :) Being in the front row was a bit intimidating, as class participation was expected, but worth it. It's hard not to hold back giggles with a guy who asks us to find differences between numbers like "7 to the huge" and "29 to the lot".. The discussion pinnacled with a consideration of "how many trees you can see in the middle of the woods", assuming of course the trees are only located at every integer location like "all NORMAL forests". Turns out you can only see the trees that have coordinates that are relatively prime! Exciting, huh? And the probability that if you choose 2 numbers they're relatively prime? 6/pi squared. It still boggles my mind that we can assign finite numbers to ideas like that. Sorry, non-math followers! Point and case: Hungarians+Chalkboards=Inspiration.
As you can see from this elegant illustration (:

On another note, one of my favorite hobbies these past few weeks has undoubtedly been people- watching. Our commute across town every morning and afternoon carries us through some very energetic, busy crowds--presumably Hungarians on their routine commute to and from work or school. Over the weeks, my top three observations are: Hungarian commuters are polite, affectionate, and very, very stylish.

Polite: Even now that the strikes are over, public trams and subway stations are often very full, with people constantly sitting, standing, exiting, entering, stumbling from jerky stops (or maybe that's just us tourists) on the packed cars. Despite it all, and even with the language barriers, I've noticed that the elderly and handicap are always given a seat, that "excuse me" or "sorry" are frequently muttered, and that both passengers and drivers (usually) wait patiently for everyone to exit and enter the vehicles at each stop. And, in the unthinkable occasion when an Ole finds him or herself a bit turned around and unsure which direction he or she wants to go on a tram, it is plausible that a random Hungarian man or two who speak not a drop of English would patiently spend a solid five minutes pointing and gesturing until the student finally figured out where he or she was. Not that that has ever happened.

Affectionate: French kissing isn't only in France!

Very, Very Stylish: If you are a woman between the ages of 15 and 30 and you are every wondering what you could wear to fit in in Budapest, I guarantee a pair of dark-washed skinny jeans, tall black boots, and a black pea-coat with a cashmere scarf would do the trick! A few of us girls grabbed a quick lunch today then spent the rest of our hour shopping for what else but skinny jeans and boots. Tina warned us before we left that blacks, browns, and greys would be the most common colors on the streets, and she was right about that!

But enough stereotyping. To wrap it up, we are all anxiously looking forward to this weekend! After a week full of math, Tina has graciously given us tomorrow and Saturday off, so we are free to travel the world (okay... Central Europe). We are going in several directions... a group of about nine of us are catching the train to Vienna in the morning, while another group is headed to Prague, and a few daring individuals are catching flights to other exotic destinations. We are all hoping to find decent youth hostels for a reasonable price. The Euro isn't quite as friendly toward an American tourist as the Hungarian Forint, so we're all bracing ourselves for a pricey weekend! I have no doubt it will be well worth it, though... considering we've managed to entertain ourselves in Budapest for three weeks, I'm sure a weekend anywhere will be an absolute blast.