Finding My Inner Buda

I have randomly always wanted to go to Budapest, and on November 23rd that dream came true! Feeling adventurous, I went completely by myself, not knowing a single soul there. I checked into my hostel in the afternoon, and the hostel that I had chosen for my first night was interesting to say the least. It was this super hippie/Buddhist hostel in a residential neighborhood pretty far away from the center of the city. All of the walls and décor were very colorful, sunny, and filled with Buddhist motifs and Om symbols. There was incense burning and an Australian dude wearing orange drawstring pants working at the front desk. It was actually very relaxing but, in the end, not a great place to meet other young people who want to go out at night.

Anyhow, I set out that afternoon to go explore the city, making my way to the Pest side of Budapest (the west side of Budapest is called “Buda,” whereas the east side across the river is called “Pest”). Buda is generally prettier, with more hills and monuments, and Pest is more interesting and bustling. I immediately found Budapest to be very beautiful; it definitely has a grittier, more Eastern European feel to it than other places I have been to, yet is interspersed with gorgeous buildings in Gothic architecture. The first place that I went to was this shopping district that, disappointingly, ended up being very touristic. However, once I got out of there, I found a tiny café at which to eat; it was so small and cozy, and I had delicious Hungarian soup and mulled wine. Afterward, I went for a long walk along the river and eventually settled at a lovely park next to a giant church.

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I was originally going to Couch Surf with this girl named Laura during my stay in Budapest, but for various reasons it didn’t end up working out. However, she still invited me to go out that night with her and her friends. Thus, after realizing how boss I am at figuring out public transportation systems, I eventually met up with her at her apartment. She had other Hungarian friends with her as well as an American girl who was staying with one of the Hungarian girls. The American one turned out to be from Seattle. I then learned that she just graduated from UW! I THEN learned that she lived in the same apartment complex as me!!! It was SO FUCKING BIZARRE! How did I meet someone who lived meters away from me in this random Hungarian girl’s apartment!? Like, what the fuck!?

Anyway, we went to a fancy marketing party for this company that Laura works for. It was so fun! We were able to dress up, and then they had a fashion show at the party. Afterward, they had a band playing and a DJ in another room. It was really cool, and I danced a ton of course =). Laura and her friends were so sweet and definitely showed me a good time on my first night in the city.

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(Me, Lynn, the Seattlite, and Dorka, Laura’s friend)

The following day, I decided to move to a hostel that ended up being the best hostel in the whole world. It was called Carpe Noctem (seize the night) and was right in the center of the city. The staff, as well as the guests, were extremely friendly and fun, which created a really warm and familial environment. It was pretty small and felt more like we were just hanging out in someone’s really cool flat as opposed to being in a hostel. The staff also arrange for everyone to go out together every single night.

I spent the rest of the afternoon and evening walking and sightseeing, which included going to this castle in a park, Budapest’s largest cathedral, and the glorious Parliament building. It was so beautiful, in particular with the changing fall colors as a backdrop.

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That night, I went out with everyone from my hostel. We first went to their sister hostel’s bar to have a jager train! It was wild. They have a million jager shots on top of whatever you mix with it to create a jager bomb, and they knock one over to create a domino of shots falling into glasses.

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We then went to a bar for an open mic night. I met a some people who had been studying in Germany and hung out with them for most of the night. I also signed up to perform, and I somewhat drunkenly read a poem of mine… in French. It was my first time ever having written a poem in French!

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(At the open mic night with the students I met)

I decided to spend my next day a bit more leisurely, seeing as I got home quite late the night before. It was definitely relaxing. That night, as my flight was extremely early for the next morning, I chose to stay in and watch a movie and eat pizza with some people from the hostel. It was actually really fun and a chill way to end my time in Budapest. My traveling soul was rejuvenated =).

Edin Burrow

After leisurely sleeping in, Rachel and I hit up the Camden Market in the few hours that we had before our train to Edinburgh would be leaving. It was like the Venice Beach of London! It was massive and confusing like a maze, yet filled with a ton of cool jewelry, cute clothes, and other random shit, with really crazy storefronts.

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Finally, we had to depart London to go to Edinburgh. The journey lasted several hours, making it so that we arrived in the night-time. I met some of Rachel’s friends once we got there, and we all had a chill night eating pizza together.

The following day, while Rachel was in class, I set out to explore the city! I absolutely loved Edinburgh. It’s so cute, rainy, old, and… Scottish. I felt inspired to curl up in a café and read, which I did for a couple hours. Afterward, I stumbled upon a castle (you know, just casually). It was up on a hill and so gorgeous, with a panoramic view of the city (who knew that Edinburgh was near a body of water?) and its green hills. I took pictures with my disposable camera because I had misplaced my camera charger and thus decided to kick it old-school; all of the photos that I do have of the U.K. were stolen from Rachel ;). Then, descending the hill upon which the castle stood, I found a lovely park full of leaves changing colors and a giant monument paying tribute to the dude for whom Scotland was named… I think. I subsequently walked a ton and did some shopping- in particular at this adorable, tiny boutique full of girly gifts.

Once it got dark outside, I returned to Rachel’s flat, where we got ready to go out to a jazz bar! Several of Rachel’s friends met us at there, and for most of us it was our first time being at a jazz bar. At first, there was a 15-piece band playing, and the small club was filled to the brim with people who were at least 40 years older than us. We were thus awkwardly standing in a corner with each other for a l’il while. However, once that band was done playing, most of the old people left and we were able to grab a table. A small, more “hip” band then came on, and they were so good! So what do Rachel and I always do anytime there is music playing somewhere? Start a dance party, of course! We thus went to the center of the room and started dancing, just the two of us, which led to a huge group of people all dancing together. It was a ton of fun.

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^Us with the sax guy! (the one with the mustache 😀 )

The next day, I didn’t do anything the entire day, until Rachel, me, and her friends all went out to a reggaeton bar for the night. It was Tuesday night and subsequently wasn’t very poppin’. However, we still wanted to go out (yet were all broke), so we ended up going to the only other free nightclub. It was kind of a strange place; one floor was playing 80s music, and the other was playing hardcore rock music. We were perplexed, yet once the hardcore floor started playing a Foo Fighters song that we all liked, we decided to stay just to hear it. However, they then started playing all of this throwback rock/pop music from the early 2000s such as one might have heard at a middle school dance. Embracing our guilty pleasures, we decided to stay and ended up dancing crazily for the next couple of hours to “Stacey’s Mom,” “What’s My Age Again?”, “Hey Now You’re an Allstar,” and other classics.

Then the next morning at the butt-crack of dawn, I had to fly back to Paris. It was there that I learned the hard way to NEVER FLY ON RYANAIR. DON’T BE FOOLED BY THEIR CHEAP FLIGHTS, THEY WILL CHARGE YOU EXORBITANT PRICES FOR THINGS YOU DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT, LIKE PRINTING YOUR FUCKING BOARDING PASS AT THE AIRPORT AND HAVING A CARRY-ON PLUS A PURSE.

That is all.

Tea, Scones, and McNuggets

One of my BFFs from high school, Rachel, is currently studying abroad in Edinburgh, so of course I had to pay her a visit while I was in Europe! However, we both had never been to London before, so for the first leg of my UK trip we decided to explore London together.

We met up on the morning of November 9 and went to the office of Rob, a close friend of Rachel’s mom; he and his family so kindly agreed let us stay with them. After dropping off our luggage, he sent us off to go explore. I loved London immediately! Though it was a large, bustling city, I still found it to be very charming, what with every building looking historical (I feel like that’s the only way I know how to describe European cities), cute shops, double decker buses, red telephone booths, etc. One weird thing for me was that it felt strange to be speaking in English all of the time. I kept wanting to say “excusez-moi” and “merci” when weaving around crowds at the tube! However, I am definitely a fan of the British accent.

We stopped at a pub to eat fish and chips, and then walked around a huge shopping district. Afterward, Rachel and I went to see the Parliament building and Big Ben. They were actually very ornate and beautiful! Furthermore, the London Eye ferris wheel was in the background, making for a very iconic area.

  

Exhausted from walking so much, Rachel and I then stopped into a little café to relax over some fabulous tea and catch up on each other’s lives.

That night, we went to Rob’s beautiful home in a more quaint, residential neighborhood of London. We met his awesome wife, Sue, and their 16-year-old son Jake. They invited several of their South African friends over (Rob and Rachel’s mom are both from South Africa and became friends there), and we all had Shabbat dinner together! It was so lovely because we ate a giant feast that lasted for hours with such a lively group of people. Being in that warm environment and being taken cared of was definitely a welcome break from roughing it in hostels whilst traveling =).

The following day, Rachel and I met up with a British friend of hers, Matt, at the Royal Academy of Arts. We walked through a really cool bronze exhibition together. Afterward, to add to the classiness, we ate at McDonald’s for lunch. Actually, we bought food at McDonald’s and ate it on the street next to an establishment called “Table Dancing.” Matt was then our tour guide for the rest of the day, taking us to Old London. We went to a ginormous cathedral, and then crossed a bridge over the Thames in order to see the replica Globe Theater. The sun was setting right when we were at the bridge, creating a gorgeous orange sky.

 

We then went to the top of the Tate Museum on the other side of the bridge, which is a modern art museum in this very industrial, 1960s style building. The building itself was quite ugly, but on their top floor is a place at which one can have afternoon tea and scones- with glass walls and a panoramic view of the city!

Then (we did a lot of stuff that day!) Matt took Rachel and I to this Christmas market thing, at which we watched a comedian/magician guy swallow a balloon and make fun of Americans. A whole balloon! In that area, we ended up going to a Canadian bar, which was an interesting experience. One of the guys who was at dinner the previous night, Steven, met up with us there. Eventually, Matt had to leave to take a train back to his hometown, and Steven, Rachel, and I subsequently went clubbing.

We danced our booties off until the wee hours! Once we left the club, we were very hungry and went to… McDonald’s. It was mine and Rachel’s second time eating McDonald’s that day. This time, when eating it on the street, we didn’t even bother to stand- we just sat on the sidewalk. Clearly we like to eat in style.

Then, we rode a double-decker bus home!

L’amour/La Haine

Allow me to be frank, please.

The U.S. is constantly fed an extremely exoticized, romanticized version of Paris via the media and means to lure tourists. I do not know when or why this started, but I, in addition, was victim to its spell until actually living here. I think that most of us, when pondering Paris, imagine the most beautiful, romantic, fashionable, artistic, perfect city on Earth. Disparate things, such as the movie Moulin Rouge or the Long Beach restaurant La Crêperie, are more pleasurable experiences because one can virtually transport oneself to the City of Lights. I even, at one point in my life, had my bedroom decorated in a “Paris” theme, with Eiffel Tower motifs and all. Why Paris? Why not any other city?

It was quite disturbing when I came to the realization that Paris is not the Promised Land. In fact, there have been so many times when, within the course of the same day, I hate Paris and then love it a few hours later.

First of all, though this might sound like the pettiest complaint of all, it’s so. cold. here. And cloudy. How many times do I have to re-learn the same lesson, that I really hate living in a place that is cold and cloudy every single day? It’s not like I lived in Seattle for two years or anything… it’s just that, being cold makes me physically uncomfortable. Walking around outside, I find myself tensing up my whole body to fight it off, with limited success. I don’t like having to layer and wear giant coats all of the time; I feel like I can be so much more creative with my outfits when I don’t have to have actual practical concerns about the weather. Furthermore, not seeing the sun for weeks at a time really does put a damper on my mood. The few times that it has been sunny here, I felt, in myself, lighter as well; the sunshine makes me appreciate the small things in life a lot more.

Additionally, not to generalize an entire population of people or anything, but Parisians actually are rude. In Istanbul, for example, if I ever looked lost, someone would come up to me and spend twenty minutes with me looking up directions on their phone or actually walking me to wherever I needed to go. In Paris, that does not exist, and a Parisian might even seem annoyed upon being asked for directions. Furthermore, I have encountered numerous times being at bars or clubs in which everyone there seemed as if they only came with their friends and without a desire to meet new people; I typically have to be the one to make the effort in socializing with new people.

And it’s noisy and crowded here, and too concrete, and I hate being squeezed like a sardine in the metro, and blah blah blah…

However, whilst walking around with my giant coat and tense muscles, I’ll take a look around and stumble upon a historical monument or a beautiful, world-famous museum. How am I so lucky to live in the city that contains Notre Dame, Sacré Coeur, the Louvre, the Musée d’Orsay, the Eiffel Tower? I feel like I live in an art history textbook, and for that I am so appreciative.

Then I’ll meander down an extremely narrow, cobblestoned street, filled with cute cafés and boulangeries; they reside at the bottom of cream-colored, historical-looking buildings with black railings and flower boxes on the balconies. I will think to myself, “Shit, this city is beautiful!”

Finally, in the night, I will go to a club filled to the brim with snooty hipsters. However, I will dance my booty off until the wee hours of the morning to the best electronic music that I’ve ever heard, and I will realized that only in Paris could this happen. (Might I add that it seems so normal to me that I would be allowed into a club. I’m twenty years old! I’m an adult!)

I can feel like I am being bratty during my moments in which I don’t like living in Paris. For example, when I was taking the train from Southern France to Paris, I actually thought to myself, “Man, too bad I have to go back to Paris now!” Like, what a terrible problem to have! However, as much as I try to be as appreciative as possible, I think viewing this city with honest eyes instead of idealized eyes is also an important endeavor. It has definitely been an interesting process to live a more quotidien life here as opposed to being on vacation; studying abroad in Paris is vastly different than what I experienced as a tourist here last year. And for that, my return back to the United States will definitely be bizarre, if not bittersweet.

How My Fashion Crisis Was a Metaphor for Being a Foreigner

If it were solely up to me, I would dress like this everyday:

However, this picture was taken on Halloween, and I wouldn’t dare wear all of these pieces at the same time in Paris. Why? Everyone here wears one of three colors: black, grey, or tan. Sometimes navy blue when they’re feeling adventurous. Don’t get me wrong, Parisians are an incredibly stylish bunch. Both men and women always look very chic yet effortless- like, “Oh, this old thing that I just threw on this morning?” However, it’s as if everyone wants to match the sky, and the autumn sky here is hovered by a constant mass of grey clouds. In that sense, Parisian fashion is not particularly concerned with individual style; there is no such thing as choosing between being punk, boho, girly, preppy, minimalist, just straight up weird, etc. There is one look that both women and men share without fail, and it tends to be: a nice peacoat, a cashmere scarf, slim fit pants or, for women, a skirt with black tights, and tan, leather boots. While this look is very stylish, there is one problem: it’s not me.

At all.

I like to match the sky on a sunny day, not a cloudy day. I like to match gardens, the ocean water in Hawaii, Bordeaux wine, Jamaican flags, Indian saris! I like vibrant prints, white eyelet, dramatic earrings, head scarves, large and unique rings that I’ve received as gifts over the years, long skirts! I like clothes that express life, love, happiness, femininity, sensuality. I want to brighten the world and express my spirit through my outfits.

But how do I do that in Paris when I so desperately want to fit in?

I live in a city that generally dislikes the country from which I come; as so many loud, obnoxious, Republican, entitled American tourists who don’t speak a word of another language besides English have filled Parisian tour buses over the years, I don’t want to be viewed in that same light. I want people to mistake me for a Parisian as opposed to being “That American.” In fact, I am flattered when, from my accent whilst speaking in French with someone, he or she asks if I am British- because, thank God, he or she does not think that I’m American!

In that regard, to what extent must I abandon my identity in order to assimilate into French culture? I would like to think that I am not loud or obnoxious, I generally do not feel entitled as a traveler, I am not a Republican, and I do speak French. However, must I go as far as to dress exactly like the general French public as well?

One night, while getting ready to go to an open mic night at a café, this inner conflict reached its climax, and I had a Fashion Crisis. It took me nearly two hours of changing my clothes to realize that, ultimately, I really wanted to wear this bright turquoise tunic of mine with orange and cork wedges. I knew that it was not a Parisian look at all, but my inner self was feeling turquoise and orange and had to express itself as such. Trying on neutral colored clothes with neutral colored boots just felt wrong; I felt off; I didn’t feel like myself. At that moment, I realized that being true to myself was more important than trying to entirely blend into another culture- for there is a difference between respecting another culture and denying one’s own identity.

Therefore, I wore the turquoise tunic with the orange and cork wedges. I added black tights and a black leather jacket because it was cold outside, and I also threw on a pile of bangles that I have collected from various friends, places in the world, and Forever 21. My life felt right again.

A Little Motivation

On our following day in Berlin, Alyssa and I decided to simply explore the city as opposed to doing historical things. My sister had recently traveled to Berlin and recommended a funky neighborhood for us to check out (I don’t know what it was called, though). It turned out to be really cool! It was a more industrial area, as opposed to the sleekness we had seen elsewhere. There was a ton of huge and intricate street art, as well as cafés and, surprisingly, international restaurants.

We eventually settled on a restaurant that had actual German food and ended up sitting there for hours just talking and enjoying our liters of fruity beer, giant pork chops, fries, and two salads (I don’t know how that happened). Then, we walked around some more until we found a grocery store from which we could buy… more beer. And we did, and our two beers were, altogether, 1 Euro. However, an hour later and only 1/16 done with mine, I officially decided that I don’t like beer and threw it away.

In the meantime, Alyssa and I had found this really beautiful, massive park. All of the leaves were changing colors, and the sun was already going down in the gloomy sky by this point, creating a really eery, Halloween-esque feel. We went to a memorial for Soviet soldiers from World War II and then sat by a lovely pond for awhile.

 (The memorial)

Once it was sufficiently dark outside, Alyssa and I hung out in a café for another hour or two, thoroughly discussing our musical tastes over cappuccinos like our inner Seattle hipster selves. Finally, we then went to a little schnitzel restaurant before heading back to our hostel for the night. Again, we didn’t end up going clubbing…

The next day was our final day in Berlin. We had picked a random neighborhood on our map and decided that we found find breakfast there. It turned out to be a really modern area with lots of shopping, an erotic museum, and a zoo. After leisurely eating our food at an outdoor restaurant, we found another really gorgeous park! Again, all of the leaves were shades of orange and yellow, and it was so fun and rejuvenating to frolic around in nature.

Afterward, to turn to a far more serious note, we went to a Holocaust museum where once stood the Gestapo headquarters. There was an extensive history of the rise of the Nazi Party, and that’s as far as I made it through the museum before I wanted to leave. It was so upsetting, and reading all of the history and seeing the photographs really personally affected me. Maybe it had just been awhile since I had read something related to the Holocaust, or maybe the fact that I was right there in Berlin made it all the more real. Regardless, I was so upset reading about not only how hateful the Nazi leaders were, but how enthusiastically so many German people supported them at that time. Thus, Alyssa and I decided not to go through the rest of the museum.

We went to the waffle café to comfort ourselves.

However, I became really depressed then. Before even coming to Berlin, I had, for some reason, been particularly feeling the weight of the world’s problems on my shoulders. I think then with witnessing the police’s racism on the train ride over, to learning about Cold War agression and how it affected the lives of so many people who were in no way related to the core issue, to finally going to a Holocaust museum all added up and completely overwhelmed me. There were some eerily relevant quotes at the museum, including one from a high-ranking Nazi official saying that they don’t need to follow actual written laws because their authority is the reality that they have to deal with. Though the effects of this mentality were on a completely different scale during the Holocaust, it is this same mentality that drives a lot of people in power today to take advantage of that power and to persuade the general public that it is necessary. What came to mind for me was the Patriot Act, and how, although it completely contradicts the Bill of Rights, our political leaders convinced us that it was necessary in order to combat terrorism- that we willingly went along with this plan to give up our rights out of fear. From there, I just started spiraling into this dark thought process of viewing the world as a shitty place full of problems that I can’t solve…

Finally, Alyssa helped to talk me out of it, and I reminded myself that the Nazis lost in the end!! And that the Cold War ended!! And that, though it is physically impossible for me alone to solve the world’s problems, if I put forth the effort that I can, and if everyone on this Earth puts forth whatever effort that they can, then together we can make a difference!

And on that note, I ask you to find out what cause stirs your soul and then do something about it! The problems of the world won’t change if we just sit back and watch them happen.

And that is my motivational rant =).

In the Motherland

I had never been particularly interested in traveling to Germany; even though my mom’s dad was of German descent, she withheld this information from me for most of my life, so I never felt in touch with my German-ness. Regardless, having been offered a ridiculously cheap train ticket to Berlin a couple weeks ago, I had to take advantage of it! Thus, rather spontaneously, my friend with whom I am studying abroad, Alyssa, and I hopped on an overnight train on November 3rd. However, only a few hours into our ride, we witnessed a very intense and very racist occurrence; we were sharing our compartment with two other Middle Eastern looking guys, and at around 1:00 AM two policemen stormed into our compartment. They demanded to see the passports of the two guys and kept asking if they were from Afghanistan, but they said that they were Syrian. Anyhow, they didn’t have their passports with them, so the police officers escorted them out. However, they didn’t ask for mine or Alyssa’s passports. We had even started to reach into our bags because the situation was so uncomfortable, but they simply told the two of us to have a good night and then left! What was perhaps worse was that Alyssa and I were able to stretch out then and sleep more comfortably, all because the guys had been kicked out.

Anyhow, I awoke to the sun rising over the German countryside, and then we arrived in Berlin a little while after that. After checking into our hostel, Alyssa and I started wandering around the city. I was immediately struck by how different Berlin is from every other place in Europe that I’ve seen; it’s super modern, clean, and spread out with wide streets, whereas everywhere else that I have been to has felt very old and historical. It was really cool, and just had a neat vibe to it. We walked by the Brandenburg Gate (we just thought that it was a cool monument but didn’t actually know what it was at the time), a really pretty and massive cathedral, and the television tower (or, as we called it, the “German Space Needle”).

 (The Cathedral)

Then, after having some brunch, we went to the Berlin Wall monument and Checkpoint Charlie! Having been jipped of a good history education in high school, I knew the basics of what went down in the Cold War but still felt like I had a lot to learn. At this monument, they had this entire comprehensive history of the Cold War from 1945-1991, which included how events such as the Vietnam War and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan were intricately related to Soviet/Western tensions. It was fascinating! As for Checkpoint Charlie, it is where the border once was between East Berlin and the American Sector. In fact, they still have a sign there that says, “You are now entering the American Sector,” with a picture of a U.S. soldier on one side and a Communist soldier on the other. There were also a bunch of slabs of the remains of the wall that now have really cool artwork on them. One particularly moving part were several slabs in a row that each were painted with current dictators of the world with the phrase “More Walls to Tear Down” on each one. Feeling politically overwhelmed, Alyssa and I decided to get “Canadian waffles” at a nearby waffle café to comfort ourselves.

Later, while walking around the city, we found this little carnival thing. It had various places to buy food and beer, some small rides, and… SNOW TUBING! Thus after having our obligatory German beer (and me remembering that I don’t like beer), I experienced my first exhilarating snow tubing ride! It was so strange because, at the end of our ride, there were people dressed up as monsters at the bottom who had these creepy tails (with which they whipped me…).

 (A fireplace at the carnival)

I realized that day how glad I was to have gone to Berlin. I was pleasantly surprised at how much I loved the modern, progressive vibe of the city; as for all of the historical stuff, it was so interesting to learn about it from a German perspective, and not an American perspective, and also quite impressive that they were so honest about everything. However, it was quite an exhausting day, so Alyssa and I decided not to partake in Berlin’s infamous clubs that night.