“In the end, what you do isn’t going to be nearly as interesting or important as who you do it with.”John Green
As I have said before and will undoubtedly say again, the most incredible part of my time abroad has not been the traveling or the destinations, but the people with whom I have shared these experiences. One of my favorite things we have done the past few weeks is join together in the evenings to eat foods from each of our homes. Gloria prepared a typical meal of northern Italy, Polenta. Domi made a dinner from Slovakia. Yaren served Mercimek köftesi from Turkey.
And finally, last week I took my turn. After my presentation at Nation4Nation, everyone wanted to try the savory version of fry bread, so that’s what I prepared. I invited 10 people to eat with me, so I spent the better part a day preparing food for everyone. During the afternoon I made the dough, some regular and some vegan, and I sliced vegetables. In the evening we gathered in the kitchen and I had my little worker bees roll and stretch the dough into the correct size while I fried them.
We wanted to eat them fresh so as they came out of the pan we immediately ate them. They were a huge hit and we kept eating and eating. We were in the kitchen cooking for several hours and consumed nearly all the dough I had made, which was enough for 30-40 tacos. It was a wonderful evening full of laughter and food and I am so happy I was able to share it with such amazing people.
This week’s main event was a trip to Budapest with Gloria and Yaren. We also met two of Gloria’s friends there and spent the weekend exploring the beautiful city. Budapest is full of beautiful and spectacular buildings. The highlights of which included St. Stephen’s Basilica, Parliament, and the Buda Castle. We were able to enter the Basilica and climb a bunch of stairs into the dome, where we then went outside and had a wonderful view of the city.
We appreciated Parliament from the outside, where there were protests and events happening in the square. The castle was the highlight for me, and we visited it twice because of how amazing it was. The first night we climbed up to it and had a perfect night view of the city. We were able to overlook the Danube River and the city lights. The second day we visited at sunset when the sky was a beautiful pink and purple.
We visited Margaret Island, which is a small island park in the Danube. It was a great place to relax for part of the afternoon (and for me to take a power nap).
We also climbed Gellert Hill to Liberty Statue, which is a memorial for those who gave their lives fighting for Hungary’s independence. The hill also offered a nice view of Budapest.
The highlight of our time in Budapest was surely the boat ride on the Danube we took. It departed at 10 pm and lasted for two hours. During that time we sat on top of the boat where we had a great 360o view. We also got champagne upon entering the boat and were able to go back and get more. We rode under the famous bridges and along the banks of beautiful and historic buildings. Part way through our tour, a large storm rolled in. The water got rough and we were hit with a lot of wind. We eventually were told we had to leave the top of the boat because a bunch of cabbages1 left their champagne glasses sitting on the deck, which became a safety hazard in the wind because glasses were flying around and shattering everywhere. I was not pleased by the idiocy that forced me to leave my perfect spot.
We were able to find places on the next level down that had a decent view, but not as good as on the top. We still sat outside while it rained, and just made sure we were under the little roof, so no glass would fall atop our heads. Overall, it was a beautiful and fun experience and I shared it with amazing friends.
1. Cabbage (n.) – my family’s favorite word for people who do stupid/annoying/thoughtless actions
Hansel and Gretel (2019 Edition)
Once upon a time there were two girls named Yaren and Becca. They were students living in Ostrava. One day they were riding the train from Prague back to their homes and they met a small and sweet old lady named Jana. She spoke only broken English but conversed through pictures and body language the entire train ride. She lived only 45 minutes from Ostrava in a small village called Třinec. She invited the young girls to visit her at her home.
Months later Becca contacted Jana and made plans to visit the forest near Třinec. Jana enthusiastically agreed to showing the girls around the woods near her home. So Yaren and Becca set off early in the morning on the train. Jana was waiting for them at the train station and immediately ran to them and gave them hugs. They boarded a bus together and went further into the wilderness.
They then began climbing the mountains. Jana would stop and show the young girls different plants that are edible, and they would all have a taste. The three of them climbed up and up. Jana showed no sign of tiring, despite her age and small stature. Becca kept dropping pins on google maps so as to know where the trail was for future reference. The forest was a beautiful lush green. The view was spectacular.
They kept climbing until they reached a cabin on top of the mountain. After just a short break to look at the view, they continued hiking along the ridgeline. Two hours later they came to another cabin, where they followed Jana inside. The young, trusting girls then sat with Jana and had some food.
They then went back down the mountain by a different route, and several more hours passed before they reached another small village. They then took a bus and a train to first go back to Třinec. At Třinec, Jana left the train and they all said their goodbyes. The girls made their way safely home to Ostrava.
Jana is an amazing woman and we are so lucky to have met her. She was incredibly cheerful and full of life. She taught us about the forest and the surrounding area. She clearly loves being outside and doing many different activities. She has been teaching herself English the past few years and loved the opportunity to converse with us in English. I will never forget the small lady we met on the train who took us on an amazing adventure through the woods.
One other interesting adventure this week was a tour we took one night into the underground of Ostrava. There are old bomb shelters used during World War II, and a local took us into them and showed us around. They were both very interesting and very creepy. It was a fun and strange experience.
I am now preparing for the end of my time here. I already said goodbye to Domi, who left us last week. Tomorrow I say goodbye to Tanja and Keisha. On Sunday I say goodbye to almost everyone else, as I will be departing for three weeks in Italy, Spain, France, and the UK. By the time I return to Ostrava, most of my friends will be gone. I have no words to express how much I will miss the people I have met here. I am so grateful for the relationships I have formed and know that each of these people changed my life. I will keep in contact with them over the years and hopefully our paths will cross again.