Tales from abroad: Europe

Rachel is all smiles in front of the entrance to the Budapest Parliament building. (credit: Rachel Anne Bradley) Rachel is all smiles in front of the entrance to the Budapest Parliament building. (credit: Rachel Anne Bradley) Rachel posing in front of the Parliament building in  Budapest, Hungary. (credit: Rachel Anne Bradley) Rachel posing in front of the Parliament building in Budapest, Hungary. (credit: Rachel Anne Bradley)

The following is an account of one student’s adventure through Europe over winter break.

Dec. 29 (Budapest, Hungary):

Overnight trains are very difficult to enjoy without a sleeper. Border patrol at 5 a.m., the extreme heat of the Romanian trains, and the lack of leg room can get on a person’s nerves. My friend Jae and I got to the station at around 10 a.m. Budapest time. Our smartest decision at the train stations was to buy a 24-hour transport pass; all day we hopped on and off the metro and tram lines only caring about our next destination. It was also a nice feeling having the local currency on hand. We took the metro, which had only three lines, and the tram to our hostel. In some locations, like at Heroes’ Square, you go down approximately 15 stairs and there is the metro platform! It was very accessible — if only London’s metro was similarly convenient. The Budapest Opera House was splendid inside — adorned with gold everywhere. I think that was my first time in an opera house, and it was everything I had come to imagine. I kept placing the characters from Jane Austen’s Persuasion, Anne and Frederick, in the audience or Edmond Dantès in one of the boxes using the opera as a social opportunity. My favorite part of the opera house tour was the historical connection. The opera house was built in the Austro-Hungarian empire, and the ruling family based in Vienna demanded a less-grand opera house be built in Budapest so as not to compete with Vienna’s own city theater. The tour guide said that the Budapest Opera House was more beautiful but smaller. Jae and I joked among ourselves that we would have to go to Vienna to compare — and we actually did.

New Year’s Eve (Vienna, Austria):

The New Year’s celebration in Vienna was so active and exciting. We started our Old Town tour at St. Stephen’s Basilica, the most prominent building in the area. As a unique tradition for New Year’s in Vienna, every vendor sold items related to pigs: miniatures, statues, pins, and hats. There were 11 stages spread out over the old town for entertainment, and people, mostly older couples, celebrated by dancing near the stage front — congo lines were spontaneously being formed. Pig hat aficionados gathered for pictures and laughs, mothers boogied with their children, and young folk felt the rhythms of new-age music DJs. Something I found unexpected was the overwhelming number of American songs being played, for example Train’s “Stand By Me.” I liked the freedom of breaking into dance, walking with a beat, acting easy and blending in with others who were full of only joy on that festive night. I was struggling to learn new German words — I had asked a few times how to say “happy new year,” but I still can’t remember how. Walking through the streets of the Old Town was beautiful. The path of celebrations was denoted by lights and banners above the pavement. Fireworks were set off everywhere and I couldn’t avoid thinking of home during this night. I was frustrated that I didn’t know the words to “Auld Lang Syne,” but my friend Stanley and I decided to whistle along all night.

Jan. 2 (Vienna, Austria):

One positive thing about traveling is that one learns how one interacts with various people. In museums, do you walk behind other viewers or quickly in front of them? Do you let someone in front of you in the queue or feel like you’ve “earned” that spot? Do you welcome unexpected conversations with a band of peaceful protesters against destroying a park? Do you have the patience to withstand hours of, in my mind, unnecessary photography? I hear traveling is a way to becoming more aware of yourself, and that notion of exploring the world is a Western mindset.

Jan. 3 (Salzburg, Austria):

Sliding down snow banks on the only sled I had — my back — lightened my spirits. The untainted snow in Salzburg tasted like carrots somehow, a sweet tinge to the snow that clung to fences and leaves.

Jan. 7 (Ceský Krumlov, Czech Republic):

Early rise, prepare a to-go breakfast, say goodbye to my friend Ping, and run to catch our bus to Ceský Krumlov. Jae walked fast and got us to the station on time. After a three-hour bus journey, we made our way to the Old Town and had a traditional Chinese lunch. We watched the town Christmas tree get taken down, de-limbed, and chopped up. This was quite funny to watch as tourists in a quaint town. We relaxed here because we had a lot of time before sunset and not much to see since we had missed a few tours already. Walking around the town was exciting. Cobblestones and little alleyways, monastery gardens, and brightly painted houses filled Ceský Krumlov. Red roofs and snow were everywhere. There was a castle up on a hill that was surrounded by a bear moat. (The bears were indoors today). The castle was decorated, not with actual stonework or sculptures, but with painted imitations. The walls were painted with images of stone, detailing, shadows, frescoes, and exterior siding. From afar the effect was believable, but from up close it was simply hilarious. The painters even changed the direction of the shadows on the “stones” for actual lamp positions. We walked through the castle and out the other side, arriving at a large field. My friend Stanley said that it reminded him of China, but to me it was the Pennsylvanian countryside — small field, trees, and small rounds. The days passed like this: “Oh that street looks exciting and new — do we know where it goes?” “No, does it matter?” “No.” “Okay, let’s go!” “Oh, wait. Let me take a photo first.”

There is nothing like touring Europe.