Friday, March 31, 2006

10 Day Stories

What's been going on in Due Santi you ask? (And furthermore, where is your intrepid Rome corespondent and what has she been doing?)
Well, after our return from Greece, we had a week of class, in which time we had a five page paper due for Lit Trad. At the end of the week, the student body literally scattered to the four winds and we went on our 10-day break. We came back from 10-day, turned in two journals for Lit Trad (1 page each, they've both been incorperated into the body of this post) and a five page paper on Aquinas for Theology. At the end of a week and a half, we boarded the buses agian for the North Italy trip (2 nights in Florence, 1 night in Vinice, and 2 nights in Assisi). We got back from that on Monday afternoon, and I'm currently taking a break from writing a 4-5 page paper for Philosophy answering the question "What does it mean to be human?" It doesn't help that tomorow the Doppleganger and I are taking off for Salzburg, to return sometime on Monday.

So yeah, the last post was just an April Fool's joke (I'm told I got a good reaction out of Mom at least) I did mean to post this before leaving for North Italy, but that just wasn't in the cards.

For now, I'm going to post my 10-day stories since I've been working on this draft for a while now and I want to be able to show something for it. I probably won't finish writing about Greece (there's just no time left in the semester), but I promise I'll put the pictures up sometime next week, along with more pictures of 10-Day. Easter's got priority for the next story slot, and after that North Italy, plus anything else that comes up. I promise more and better stories when I get back to the States and have a little time to decompress.

Anyway, on with the show...

So my 10-Day travel companions were Anna (there's only one Anna present for the trip, so the Doppleganger gets her name back) and Andrew. 10-day technically began at the end of classes on Thursday, but our flight to Budapest didn't leave until 6:40 on Friday evening, so we stayed on campus one more night. All students had to be off campus by 10 am Friday, so at 9:59 the three of us, hit the road, massive bagage in hand, or more acurately, on back.

Since we had several hours to kill, we first went to Termini, and stood in line for 20 minutes so we could put our stuff in the baggage deposit before going on our merry way. A breakfast so late that it had morphed into lunch was aquired at a bar/cafeteria near the Spanish Steps, and was consumed on said tourist trap. We avoided eye contact with the people hawking cheap toys, and avoided being accosted by them. Then on to the American Express office to transmute travlers checks into gold cash, our original purpose for approaching the Steps in the first place.

Then we went back to Termini, collected our luggage, and took the bus to Chiampino. We sat around the departures area for a while, then as soon as it was posible to do so, got our boarding passes and checked our monstrus bags. We went through security, played hury up an wait for a while longer, then flew to Budapest.

We found the bus we needed to take into the city, but couldn't find a place to buy tickets, so we hopped on the back and hoped no one would check tickets. We won our little game of roulett with the Budapest Trasnportation Authority, and arrived at the southern end of one of their subway lines (it's such a cute litle system, there are only 3 lines) and began a search for tickets. naturally, the ticket office was closed, so rather than playing charades with a real human being, we got to play 20 questions with a machine. We were joined in our games by a pair of Canadian backpackers who were just as confuesd as we were. The machines did speak English, which helped a bit in what came next. naturally, the ticket machines didn't accept bills at all, and the exchange at the airport left us all 10 Florents short of enough change to buy a ticket. We appealed to the mercy of the lady behind the counter selling train tickets, who, while unable to just sell us metro tickets, did give us all change for our smallest bills, if reluctantly. so, we went back to the machine and descovered that it did not want to accept coins. There's a little blocker thing that only moves aside when its actually time to pay for tickets (to prevent people from sticking things other than money in hte slot) that decided it wasn't going to move aside. So all five of us -- the two Canadian guys, Anna, Andrew, and myself, all wearing big backpacks -- trooped back outside the station to the only other machine we've seen. The 1st Canadian is avle to secure a ticket, and then that machine stops working as well, joining the station wide consperacy against people who speak English as their native language. After poking the touch screen repeatedly, in both the English and Hungarian versions of the instructions, we concede defeat and go back inside, where the 1st machine decides that it's working now. Once we finally all have tickets, we go down to the platform to wait for the metro. There's only half a dozen or so other people who get on when we do, on account of the time and being at the end of the line. Sonce none of us can really read the subway map, our stops are located by counting the stations as we go through them. The Canadians get off two stops before we so, and we wish them well, thinkign that's the last we would see of them. We exit the metro and encounter the first of many ticket checks. We passed, and all said silent prayers that we had fooled with the machines instead of just walking on. Our hostel was easy enough to locate, although true to form, we didn't exit through the door the directions told us to use, even so, we were able to find the hostel with a minimum of fuss.

We checked in, left out stuff and went out to eat. Andrew began his quest for goulash, of which we found plenty throughout our trip, but none spicy enough to satisfy him. We returned to the hostel, plotted the next day's activities, and crashed.

Saturday, we got on the road an hour later than we'ed planned (we realized belatedly that we had forgoten to pack a morning person to wake us up) and crossed the Danube to the Buda side of town. We exited the metro at what the map advertized as a major stop and started looking for a tram to take us further south. Finding nothing identifiable as a tram schedaul or a ticket booth for trams, we asked the people behind the counter at the trainstation portion of the building. Through a combination of broken English, pointing at the map, and interpritive dance, we were led to understand that we wanted tram 18 and we could get tickets in the metro. So we wnet back down two flights of stairs to the metro ticket office, got the tickets we needed and went back abouve ground to the tram. We managed to get on the correct tran, heading in the correct direction, and even got off at the correct stop. We walked down one street, and then up another, which brought us to St. Imre. The original crop of monks who founded UD came fromBudapest, now the monestary itself i s way outside of town, so we couldn't go there, but this was within easy reach. Unfortunatly, in what became a theam fot the trop the church was closed for no apparent reason (top three theories: it was raining; it was Saturday; they knew we were coming and shut the doors to spite us). So we went back the way we had come, and decided that since we were on that end of town, we would go see the cave church. In the '20s, a group of monks (not Cistercians) went to Lourdes, then came back to Budapest and built a mock-up of it. Unfortunatly for us, it was closed for Reconstruction, to the point that it wasn't even worth taking pictures of the outside. We did however sanp up this statue of St. Stephen, and take advantage of the great view of the Elizabeth Bridge. We got back on the tram and took it up towards the castle. We got off thinking 'OK, it's lunch time, we're near the biggest tourist attraction in town, there must be food here.' We were mistaken, a search of the neighborhood reveled one vegitarian place, and two up-scale places. We gave in and went to the one the guidebook recomended. Then we went to the castle, sort of. See we were coming from the south, and there's all sorts of deciptive pathways leading up-hill towards the castle, but absolutly no sinage. It turns out that the only way to get into the castle and palace (and thus to the museums inside them) is to approach from the north, so we lost a goof hour or more going all the way around, but we got a couple of nice shots along the way. We finally made it in, and chose to go to the history museum first, which is located in and on the oldest part of the castle. The sinage was all in Hungarian, so unable to really apreciate anyting on the ground floor, we went down a level to see what remained of the castle Going down the stairs was sort of like walking into the Twilight Zone.

When we got our tickets, we were handed a map , which had the places of intrerest marked, but what the map failed to tell us, was that this "basement" consisted of more then one level, so as we went around the floor, we had to go up and down numerous stairways which had been placed over the centuries with no apparent rhyme or reason. Areas that this map (and the map of the whole museum, which was three stories plus the basement, was squeezed onto one side of an 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper, with the quality that you would expect from something a 6th grader made all by himself) said were just hallways were full of pictures and wax models of things acompanied by (presumably) explanitory Hungarian text, and areas identified as important places to see (such as the promisingly named Gothic Hall) were just being used as storage for extra chairs. The Gothic hall contained two doors, one through which we entered, and another which was shut and had a really obvious alarm wired to it. We left the way we came, searching for a room on the map which was shaped like a star. We never found it, but we did find the other side of the locked door in the Gothic Hall. An increasingly small series of rooms with household artifacts (such as a large stove) on display ended in a room with a locked wooden door with a really obvious trap alarm on it, which unless we were wildly mistaken was the otherside of the locked door we'ed seen earlier. There was a display of helmets on the wall to our right as we entered, and to our left was a set of stairs leading up about half a floor. At the top of the stairs, where a door leading to the star-shaped room should have been was a large sheat of styrofoam bolted to the wall. It was at this point that the crazyness of the place finaly got to us, and Andrew and I fell to giggling so hard that we had to sit down on the steps.

After that, we found our way out of the Museum, vowed to return one day and slay the minotaur, and moved next door to the Art Museum. The Museum was going to close at six, which gave us a little less than two hours in there, but when we left our stuff at the (manditory) coat-check, we were told that the check closed 15 minutes before the museum did, so if we wanted our stuff back, we would have to be there by 5:45. We agreed to their terms, three months in Italy having innoculated us to anger at such arbitary changes. We wander through the 18th and 19th century art galleries, and are starting to feel pretty tired when we realize that there are still three more floors to this building that we haven't even though about yet. Constrained by time and our hurting feet, we decided to swing through one more arm of the museum, so we look at a display of late-medieval winged alters which was well worth the trouble. After spending the past several hours completly insensable to what we were being shown, it was nice to see something we could understand. This was actually a pretty nice museum, and the signs were all repeated in English, so we knew what we were looking at. Sort of. Maybe. It didn't help that we could read a sign saying that the six foot long by five foot tall oil on canvas we were looking at was "The Reinternment of Louis IV" when we didn't know why he was being dug up in the first place, or why the people doing the digging were all well armed members of the noble class. We returned to the lobby at 5:30 thinking that we would buy a few postcards of works we had enjoyed, just in time to see the gift shop being closed up, so we collected our stuff and went back outside, souvanier-less.

We took a few picture of the Chain Bridge from our vantige up on the hill, and then continued north. We discovered that this part of town -- on the hill and near the castle, but not a part of it -- was where all the cheap resturaunts and touristy shops had gone to hide. We snaped (blury) pictures of the Mathaias Church, or more acurately, of its roof, in the fading light, and descovered that the church was closed, and had been since 4:30. We took a few pictures of Fisherman's Bastion, because it was pretty, than admitted that we would never get a good picture of any of it at night, and walked back to the metro. We took the subway back to the area of our hostel, had a nice dinner and then called it a night.

The next morning, we got ourselves up in time to go around the corner to the 10:30 mass at St. Stephen's Cathedral. We took seats in the very last pew on the epistle side about ten minutes before mass began, giving us plenty of time to examine our surroundings and to decide that we would just leave our coats on because a practical way to heat an open interior space of this size. The Cathedral is newer than most things in Rome (the guide book tells me that it was built from 1851 to 1905), but no less grand. Words are unfortunately failing me at this moment, and I’m afraid that the only way to really understand what the building is like would be to go there, looking at pictures is a distant second.

The choir there – some sort of fancy-shmancy ‘ooh we’re the cathedral’s choir, we’re better than you group’ – turned out to be well worth their pay. Halfway through the opening line of the processional hymn Anna and I turned to each other wide eyed and told one another that we would get a CD of their music if we could find one (we did, it’s amazing stuff). Now remember, that we don’t actually speak Hungarian, so following the order of the service, which we did not have memorized as it turns out, was a bit of an adventure. Some things were obvious: everyone is standing and just made the itchy sign of the cross, so this must be the Gospel; the priest in the funniest looking hat has been droning on for a while now and no body is stopping him, this must be the sermon; everyone is standing and reciting something long at once, so this must be the Nicene Creed; a bell just rung and everyone just charged forward, so this must be Communion, everyone who wants the sacrament, get in line. Other things the Choir helped on, because they were singing in Latin so we were able to recognize this is the Sanctus, this is the Angus Dei, etc and follow the service in that way. But there was one point, where there were two priests chanting back and forth at each other (sort of like they were playing dueling cantors), and part of the congregation stood while the rest knelt, that all three of us completely lost the order of service. By process of elimination we were later able to figure out that it must have been during the prayers of the people (although not being able to understand what was said, and the congregation not taking an active part in them sort of misses the point I feel) but at the time we were quite confused.

Actually, Latin did turn out to be quite useful for us, as our 10 day rapidly turned into a church-hopping tour of Eastern Europe, because the churches are nearly always open (except aparently, in Budapest) and everything else we saw was either being restored, or closed early, or both. Now Andrew knows a little Polish, but it’s conversational Polish, so his vocabulary is pretty well limited to food, the weather, and everyone’s health, and none of us know Hungarian or Czech, which is where the Latin came in handy. All the churches we went to were built well before Vatican II, so all the signs on the important things were in Latin (with hasty little paper signs in the local language hanging nearby), which enabled us to piece together what we were looking at. So in a twisted little backwards way, we arrived at the reason that the Roman church used Latin in the first place – so that everyone, no matter where they were from could understand what was going on in the Church.

After Mass, we went to the street which was advertised as being the main shopping area of Budapest. We cought lunch at the Spring Craft Festival, which was being held in the square just off the metro station, and spent the afternoon moseying down the street. Budapest, as it turns out, is home to more bookstores per square mile than any other city in the known world, and this street had more than one hawking wares printed in all languages known to man. Our wallets did not come through unscathed. We grabbed dinner at a gyros stand (which were all over Budapest, a relic of Hungry's Turkish occupation) and were stopped at an ATM, about to go down into the Metro, when who should we see but our Canadian friends. We stopped to chat for a while, and then continued on our seperate ways.

Our way took us to the State Opera House, where for the cost of $1.63 (or 400 Florents) we saw the opera Jenufa. Jenufa is a Czech opera, and the translation projected above the stage was naturally in Hungarian, so we really arn't sure what the plot was. Anna and I thought we had a pretty good grasp of it at intermission, but then the second act happened and it turned out that the guy we thought was Jenufa's father was really the love interest and her father was the guy we thought was the rival's father. We still don't know who the old lady was or what happened to the child at the end. I suspect that Google could tell me what it is I saw, but the curiosity isn't killing me. Besides, I didn't understand anything else I saw in Budapest, why should that be any different?

We cought a taxi to the airport for 3,000 Florents total, which comes out to about $10 US each, for a ride all the way across town, which was a deal. We ended up spending the night in the aiport for the following reason. Our flight to Warsaw left at 6:40 on Monday morning. We could have spent one more night in the hostel, but in the end it just wasn't worth it, since we needed to be at the airport no later than 5:40 to check-in, which meant that to allow ourselves enough time to get there using public transportation, we would have had to be going out the door by 4 am. In the end we decided that four, maybe five, hours of sleep was not worth paying for an extra night when we could get just as much sleep for free at the airport.

We set a watch, a one person stayed up with the luggage while the other two slept, and we were some of the first people in line when it came time to get our bording passes on Monday morning. We cought a quick nap on the hour-long flight to Warsaw, and that lasted us most of the day.

Richard and Yolna (I'm not even going to try the Polish spellings of their names), friends of Andrew's grandmother, met us at the airport and took us back to their house. We were scarcely in the front door before Yolna said “Maybe you are hungry?” I suspect that in the Slavic languages, the sentence construction ‘maybe you [fill in the blank]’ is used more or less the way English speakers use ‘would you like to [fill in the blank]’, because we encountered the same phenomenon in Prague as well. Knowing what they were trying to say wasn’t much help though, because when a petit Polish grandmother tells you ‘maybe you are hungry’ what she is really saying is ‘we have ways of making you eat, now are you going to do this the easy way or the hard way?’

We decided to do things the easy way and conceded that we were hungry, so we were ushered to the dining room and breakfast was placed before us. It consisted of three kinds of meat, one cheese, two kinds of bread, and a relish tray. We were pretty content, and then Richard opened the liqueur cabinet and offered us our choice of three kinds of vodka, two kinds of beer, gin, or whiskey: all this before ten in the morning. We declined, and after a little negotiation with Andrew’s broken Polish and the broken English of Marta (Richard and Yolna’s daughter in law) we were able to get orange juice instead.

Then we launched upon a whirl-wind tour of Old Town Warsaw, and it's churches. See, Marta appoligized to us, because all the museums in Warsaw are closed on Mondays, but, she suggested "maybe we could see a church". We assured her that we liked visiting churches, so we saw churches. Good Lord, we saw churches. Poland is 98% Roman Catholic, and they are especially fond of John Paul II, because he's a local boy. Warsaw has Catholic churches next door to Catholic churches. It has the church where people came to pray when JP II died last year. It has the Chruch where Richard and Yolna were married. And if that weren't enough, there is random religous art all over the sides of buildings.

To be fair, Warsaw also has a beutiful Old Town square, Medival fortifications, and the presidential palace, but mostly we looked at churches. We got back to the house in time for a late lunch. Once again, we were shepherded into the dining room where we were offered five meats, two cheeses, two breads, a relish tray, some things filled with ground meat which Marta called croquets which were meant to be eaten along with a red borsch soup, mash potatoes, dumplings, and two cakes. The bottles of alcohol had not been moved from where they had been placed on the table at breakfast, but we were also offered a choice of orange juice, cherry juice, and mineral water. Who would have thought that Poland would have really good cherry juice? I sure wouldn’t have, before this trip.

It was then about 4 o'clock and Richard loaded the three of us back into the car and drove for three hours to a little town about 20 kilometers from the Russian border in order to visit two of Andrew’s great aunts. We arrived at the first great aunt’s house at about seven, and we were promptly led to the dining room and told to eat. Now none of Andrew’s relatives knew much English, but the one word they all knew was ‘eat’ (which sounds like ‘it’ when the speaker has a Polish accent) so we ate: three types of meat, one type of bread, one type of cheese, and a choice of sweets for dessert. After a couple of hours in which Anna and I didn’t do much other than smile politely, because neither of us spoke Polish, we left and went to the second great aunt’s house. Great aunt number two lives two doors down from her sister, and when we walked in the door we were told ‘eat’ and shown the dining room, where we were fed three types of meat, one type of bread, one type of cheese, and a choice of sweets for desserts. By the time we left, even Richard was making jokes about how much we had been fed.

We got back to Warsaw at about 1, and were able to deflect Yolna's offers of more food by going straight to bed. We dragged ourselfs up early Tuesday morning for a quick bit to eat, and then the three of us Americans, Richard, and Marta all loaded back into the car and we headed south for Cracow and Czestochowa. We were still sitting in the drive way, working on making the turn out on the main road when Marta pulled out a plastic bag -- aparently from sub-space, since the car was a Toyota Camrey and we were filling all five seats -- full of sandwitches, handed it to Andrew, and told us all to eat.

In the two hours it took us to go from Warsaw to Czestochowa I ate four sandwitches. Czestochowa is the Polish Mecca, and the chief thing people go there to see is the Black Madonna, an icon supposidly written by St. Luke the Evangalist. (Google any three-word combination of the words 'Black', 'Madonna', 'Poland' and 'Czestochowa' and you'll turn up more information than you ever wanted to know.) So we saw the church, it's in a small chapel, made up off four gothic-vaults put together to form a little basilica, the back doors are always open, connecting it to another basilica of equal size which holds the overflow crowd from the first room, all of this in turn is only a side chapel for a much larger cathedral. The Madonna hangs above the alter in her shrine, and the walls of the room are compleatly covered in crutches left be pilgrams who have come to the site and been healed. If you look closely in the picture, you can see little silver medals which show parts of the body (mostly hearts, but also a fair numver of arms and legs), also tokens of thanksgiving from people who have been healed here. Next to the icon hangs the belt that JP II was wearing in 1981 when he survived the assassination attempt, you can see the blood-stains on it. Like all good religous sites, there is so much gold and silver in the room that it is impossible to take a decent picture, with or without the flash.

Outside, there is, amongst other things, a large ultra-modern viewing stand set up for the purposes of holding papal masses. When JP II came here last, he filled the square in front of the church, and on into the street beyond.

From here on out you get the cliff notes version:
After Czestochowa we went to Cracow. The next day Anna, Andrew and I trained down to Prauge, during which ride we had adventures in a station apperantly connected to the Twilight Zone, and also with the Czech Boarder Patrol (why does it take nine guys to check the passports in each compartment?). Prauge was also nice, Anna and Andrew were there two nights, the next morning they hopped a plane back to Rome. The purpose of this little trip was so that he might propose to her at the Trevi Fountin (I've got pictures of the ring, although a quick servay of my photos does not reveal any of them together, odd).
Nick and Treco joined me in Prauge the afternoon A&A left, and we spent one more evening in the city, coming to terms with our camera's inability to take good night pictures and buying swag. The next morning, we hopped the 9:15 train to Nurnberg, because we had rail passes, so why not? We discovered that German is nearly incomprehinsable to Americans when the speaker has a strong Czech acent (although the conducter had no difficulty understanding Nick and I). Upon arrival in Nurnberg, we procured tickets back to Rome, stashed our luggage in a station locker (cheap and secure), then spent the afternoon buming around the Alt Stadt. If you know the right stand to go to, you can find a Drei in Weckle (three of the local sausages in a bun) for a Euro. Turn right at the Human Rights Monument (it you're coming from the Bahnhoff) and follow your nose, and the crowd.
A train that evening brought us to Muenchen, where we waited for about half an hour in the train station before boarding a night train leading back to Rome.
On Sunday, we ate in Termini when we arrived, bumed arround the station until it was time to go back to campus (they wouldn't let anyone in before noon), and then went home. We wern't the first ones in the gate, but it was a near thing.

That's my 10 day story, more pictures to come soon, I promise.

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