Tuesday, October 25, 2011

I’ve admittedly been a lazy blogger of late; something about writing into the black hole of the internet loses its luster when you’ve got graded assignments to do all the time.  But a sufficient number of you have complained to convince me that people at least sort of read my ramblings, so I’ll attempt to get back into it (with a couple of backdated entries).

Anyway.  Sometime in early October, I visited Esztergom, a small city of about 30,000 right on the Slovak border, and home of the biggest church in Hungary.  It served as the capital of Hungary from the 900s to the 1200s, evidenced by the fort near the Basilica. 

Esztergom’s proximity to Slovakia should have dawned on me, but didn’t.  We sat at the Danube near the river in a nice, relaxing park area, but the thought to walk across the bridge and be in another country just did not compute.  If you ever need evidence that the Schengen Zone is working, that such a national border can be so unassuming, I guess that’s your first argument right there.

Statue down by the river

The Esztergom Basilica is not only the biggest in Hungary, but it also serves as the head of the Hungarian Catholic Church.  Given its prominence on a cliff overlooking the Danube (and OK, given its immense size), it’s readily visible from most everywhere in the city.  Nothing like an easy point of reference to avoid getting disoriented.

The center of town is well kept as well, and though it doesn’t have the obvious age of Eger, it equally doesn’t have the rampant tourism of Szentendre.  As such, I rather preferred Esztergom to both of those other day trip forays from Budapest.  Despite having such an obvious draw, there’s a feeling that people actually do live their daily lives in Esztergom.  All of this in spite of no obvious economic draw besides that one single basilica, looming over head.  

That said, the legacies of communism can be found everywhere, even in smaller cities like Esztergom.  While our train got us back to Budapest easily and cheaply, well, let's just say the train station has not received any post-Soviet stimulus funds.

The lapsing of the train station into slow, transportation obsolescence aside, I found Esztergom to be rather nice - and the lack of English speaking forced me into my first (and to date, only) successful all Hungarian interaction with a passerby.

Thursday, October 13, 2011


So, week four of classes is winding down – a third of the way through these shorter, twelve week semesters (which essentially function as a weird hybrid between a trimester and quarter system on some level but are still referred to as semesters, so something is lost in translation to someone somewhere).  As such midterms begin middle of next week and run through the end of week six, leading into a five day weekend for a Hungarian national holiday that will be a sorely needed break.

Courses here appear to be a mix of styles: some are conventionally American graduate-style seminars, some feel like relatively typical lecture courses, and then most are to a certain degree peculiar to me – I’ll assume those fall under some guise of conventional European.  Unsurprisingly, I’m getting the most value out of those classes that are actually taught like American classes.  Given that CEU is a self-styled American university, one might expect a stronger American graduate style seminar system, but its lack is presumably related to fact that most professors here are continentally educated.

The peculiar courses to me are those that amount to 100 minute loosely plotted, streams of consciousness.  I avoided the ones that were obviously so, but had to drop a course that otherwise interested me because the lecture style was too opaque to result in actually productive learning.  Several professors appear to ascribe to this style, leading me to believe it isn’t any one individual’s idiosyncrasy.  It’s essential to determine who teaches in this fashion ahead of time, though, because if you find yourself in a scheduling situation where you’re trapped you’ve committed yourself to a semester of not having any idea of what’s going on – and that’s before you account to any differences in accent adding to the degree of difficulty.

My language course instruction is also a bit different than I’m used to; it’s completely conversational with no set textbook or readings.  Since I don’t learn terribly well aurally (and I’m up a level beyond where I ought be), it’s proving challenging, but I’m hoping that ultimately I can adapt to learning differently and keep up with the coursework.

In other not strongly related things, but things about the dorm:

1.     I’m still using my airplane blanket from Delta as my only blanket.  (I have a comforter/duvet thing, but it is not in use at the moment because…)
2.     This building has Twin South style heating, an applicable reference that only a few of you will get.  Let’s just say it involved essentially living in a sauna to the extent we wore swimsuits in the lobby in January.  I have the heat in my room turned completely off and the ambient heating from the building makes it too hot to function in my room.  My windows have been perpetually open until they made the switch far too early into the season.  Hopefully once it’s colder outside the heat loss to outside (and the reduction in solar gain) will allow me to close the windows once again.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011


I figure I better get around to the other half of Budapest before I get any further along.  So, Pest: the flatter, more urban center.  Or at least the part that would be more recognizable as a sizable city on its own.  An isolated Buda would feel like a historical relic, largely, whereas Pest could function fairly independently.

I of course - like most of Budapest's non-wealthy, non-geriatric population - live in Pest, though far outside the fashionable areas.  Those fashionable areas are concentrated relatively near the river, roughly coinciding with the distance between those bridges outlined in the Buda entry.

The hub of these is Deák Ferenc Tér, the main (and only until Metro Line 4 is completed at some unknown theoretical date in the future) transfer point for the Budapest Metro.  It feels much different than many similarly emphasized squares do in other European cities; this likely stems from the fact that a significant portion of the area is taken up by a skate park and combination indoor/outdoor nightclub space.  (As well as a fairly creepy shrine to Michael Jackson that has on at least one occasion had an impersonator moonwalking near.)  Needless to say, it's a bit less formal.

 Deák's fountain, its one nod to typical European center square aesthetics.

And its Michael Jackson tree, one of its five least typical aesthetic contributions.

From Deák, the various (fun) areas of Pest are all easily accessible.  Andrássy út is the most exclusive of these, a wide, tree-lined boulevard in the manner of Las Ramblas or the Champs-Élysées.  It prominently features old houses from the turn of the century, many of which now house embassies.  Beneath it runs Metro line 1, the oldest in continental Europe, which I will surely ramble extensively about when I talk about Budapest's transportation network.

 The Opera House, along Andrássy.

Andrássy ends in Heroes Square, which in turn leads to the city park, a large expanse with replica castles, baths, and a circus in addition to those more predictable park amenities.

To the west is the Hungarian Parliament, likely the most recognizable building in the city.  On our last trip, we repeatedly joked that the Hungarian financial crisis (as of 2009, the current Eurozone crisis of course has much more wide-reaching origins) was likely caused by the building's upkeep.

Right near school is the major cathedral in the city, St. Stephen's.  I could probably think of something more substantial to say about it, but I see it 5-10 times a day, so let's face it, I'm pretty jaded by now.

Beyond these, there are still several architecturally well-preserved major squares spread around the area.  These, however, are much more local spaces than tourist spaces and bear the marks of frequent use as such.  Also, it turns out I don't have any good pictures of them.  Oops.