Thursday, January 8, 2009

A Budapestiful Christmas and New Years!

Yay! Budapest!
Make sure you read my post below! I posted the one below minutes before this one! These all take loads of time to do! Plus you just gotta read my life chronologically yo!

So off Katie, Grant and I go to Budapest! Yup! Just the 3 of us. We were hoping for more, but due to some unfortunate and uncontrollable circumstances, others could no longer make it. Budapest was super lovely though, it reminded me of a bigger Prague only dirtier. The beautiful, beautiful architectured buildings are creamed with dirt and graffiti. It was pretty sad to see. Also, it was FREEZING! With no snow, any sort of cold just sucks! It made it really hard to want to go anywhere! Not only that, but everything was pretty much shut down the whole time! Everything was closed on the 24th (our arrival date) and the 25th for Christmas day, and the majority of things were closed down on the 26th. So that limited us quite a bit! Also, things shut down early on New Years Eve, like 2pm early, if they were even open at all, and closed the next day –actually we heard most would be closed until the 5th of January! Mainly, people celebrate the holidays with their families in their houses –so it made the town pretty desolate for most of the time. After coming from a busy, crowded, and noisy Istanbul, it felt like the world had ended and we were the only ones left! I was also hoping to make some friends at the hostel to hang out with and leave Katie and Greg on their own, but there wasn’t really anybody until New Years. So that was a bit of a bummer. But the hostel staff was super duper cool and the hostel was awesome! So I managed to talk with them lots! Actually, one of them, Scott, is also a DJ from LA. He literally mapped out one of our nights (Katie and Greg’s place was across the street from the main hostel that I stayed in)! It was such an awesome night! Greg was going crazy white-boy dancing/jumping/flailing about! It was both hilarious and embarrassing! Lol! At one point he came up to Katie and I and was like “Out of the whole year of 2008 this is the best night! The whole year!” Haha!

After getting settled in to our hostels, we walked around looking for open things. We took a gorgeous night walk along the Danube River to Vaci St, the main shopping street, where we were told we should be able to find some sort of restaurant open. Sure enough we did! It was a cozy pub filled with tourists! Naturally, I ordered sausage! And we all got NON-Efes beers! Mmmmm! What a rare delight for us over here!
Christmas day was more walking and wishing for things to be open. I really wanted to go to a Christmas Market while they were still open (most shut for good by Christmas day) and while we were in a Christian country. So we went to the biggest one, only most of it was closed! But! The food places were open, and ooooweeee that was worth it! They had huge, huge sausages, lots of giant and super tasty potatoes, and both white and red mulled wines to warm you up –you can openly drink anywhere there! Oh so good! Afterwards, we walked around the Jewish quarter. On our way back we stumbled upon an Irish bar around the corner from our hostel. Unfortunately it was also closed, but we did manage to go back several times there after! That night we exchanged presents at Katie and Greg’s as we watched super cheesy MTV music videos from the early 90s! Anyways, I called it a night pretty early, wanting to let them have a Christmas night together –so I went back to the hostel as they went out to eat.
The next day we walked over to Margaret Island. It has some
historical ruins on it and was super pretty just to see lots of greenery and trees, which Istanbul so lacks! We walked the whole of the island and decided that we needed to defrost in a bad way. So we decided to take our chances at the Irish bar. It was open and great! Caught some football (soccer) games and enjoyed cider!!! Yay!!! Cider!! So exciting!
The next day we went to the Gellert Bath House. Budapest is known for its natural baths, and I decided it was necessary to go to one! Plus I slept really badly the night before and wound up with a kink in my neck! I got a massage as well, it was only 20 mins long, but well worth every penny and every second! Oh baby! It was good! Otherwise, I’m going to say I like the Turkish baths better. The Budapest ones were just that, baths. The Turkish have some baths, but it’s mainly steam room style as you wait your turned to be scrubbed down and massaged –I guess I just like the massage part of it! Plus, in the Hungarian baths, you have to stare at saggy old women all day that no one should ever have to see nakie. Whether you’re looking or not, there’s no avoiding it! Yuk!

Then we went back to the same Christmas market and it was opened! So awesome! Lots of tiny little wooden shacks with random arts and crafts for sale along side some amazing food places! Of course we had to chow down on some more sausage!

We even got in a long ass line for this special Christmas treat! It’s this dough wrapped around this round metal thing and slowly turned over the fire. Then you get your choice of cinnamon, sugar, chocolate or pecan toppings. I got a cinnamon one! Mmmm, kinda tasted like the mini donuts on Pier 39, only without the poof in it. Yum! That night we went to Szimpla (this underground, grungy looking, crazily cheap bar) and Corvin (enclosed rooftop club) that Scott had suggested us to go; whereupon Greg had the best night of his 08 ever!
The next day I let Katie and Ginger do their own thing. I took my time getting ready and talked to one of the girls that worked there for a while –actually she owns the place. So that was nice. I then just went over to the nearby mall as I only had a few hours until I had to meet Katie and Greg at the Irish bar. After a few drinks there we hit up a Japanese food place for dinner! Also very exciting –again deprived of any sort of Asian here even though we live on the Asian side! Weird! I think that night we called it an early one and I went back and talked to 2 girls I met. They had all of this boy drama going on and just had to tell me all of it every chance they got! It was pretty funny and I’m not sure why they were so interested in telling me! Haha! They were amusing!
Next, we went to Statue Park. They took all of these giant communist statues that were once placed all over the city to this park on Pest side, located far away and up a mountain, after the war. That was by far the coldest day ever, and I wasn’t so thrilled to do an outdoor thing! Hah! But I sucked it up and it was cool to see the enormous statues! There was frost everywhere but no snow, though it did make it gorgeous!

That whole day Katie and I were planning on going for Mexican food! We even had a count down going all day long! We were even more excited because we decided to go to this Mexican place Scott suggested to me. He told me that a Californian guy owns this place! Yay! Authentic! If you can find Mexican in Istanbul you’re going to get yogurt instead of sour cream, need I say more?! But we wound up at the Irish bar for get your body warm drinks before hand and never left! We ended up hanging out with the band that plays there and hangs out there on a regular basis. They were just hanging out at the bar, drinking and talking when they started singing and one was playing the guitar (one guy is Irish and the other is Hungarian that knows English). They weren’t performing, just singing for fun. They even played some Dave Matthews! Katie even mentioned how she likes Jon’s voice over Dave Matthews to Grey Street! I tell you, they’re good! Anyways, they came over and talked and sang some more, their other friends filtered out not too long after as it was a work night. So we really only hung out with 2 of them in the end. It was a lot of fun! Plus we got 2 shots of nasty Polinka, the special and strong Hungarian alcohol. Oy-vay! Nasty! But it turned out quite nice after the cheap shots of it we got on New Years….
Another day I left Katie and Grant to be together and did my own thing. I would have done it many more times, but they needed my money. Greg managed to get a replacement credit card in time, but it only let him take out so much money –good ol’ banks, tell them your out of country and you still can’t get anything out, and Katie had nada, so I couldn’t leave them. Anyways, my day solo I went to the Ethnography Museum, St. Stephen’s Cathedral, the Opera House, and walked up to Castle Hill to meet Greg and Katie at the Hungarian House of Wines.

Which major bummer: it was closed!! So we had a warm mulled wine at some place and made our way down Castle Hill, wound up at some hole in the wall pub –had a ridiculously cheap glass of tasty wine and literally ran to the Chinese place! We were doing sprints we would have to do when we were all on sports teams in high school! Haha! Hey! It was cold out! We literally feasted family style at the Chinese place! There was way too much food for the 3 of us to eat, but we polished it off like champs! Hey! We’re deprived in Istanbul! The Chinese food was great, not the usual -but all in all, amazing!

A few days prior, Scott also told me about his New Years Eve plans and invited us along! So I was super stoked to have others around that we knew for the holiday! Plus going to a place a dj knows, you know it’s gotta be good! Right?! It was electronic music and was super! Only everyone there was like 15! Lol! Scott has only been in Budapest for 5 months (before that Prague) and has never made it to Traffo, the place we were at. He had heard great things about it –even the hostel staff mentioned how great it is, but once we got there, all of us were like oh crap! It’s a kiddy club! But the music was soo good! Plus we already paid to get in and we didn’t know where else to go and actually make it into before midnight! So we decided to stay! Plus they had free Polinka shots ready to go at the door! At one point Greg came down (dance in basement, enter at ground floor), and said he saw older people waiting in line to come in! So after a few minutes, Scott, Evan and I decided to go check out upstairs to see if other dance rooms were filled with older people. Sure enough, empty, but we managed to quickly grab more Polinka shots on our way down! We proceeded to do this a few more times! Also, some chick knocked over 4 of our beers –which I don’t think she really did, but she felt so bad and went and bought all of us another round! So that was sweet! The countdown was in Hungarian, of course, but I didn’t know the numbers, so it didn’t feel like a countdown, or maybe I was just to drunk to know it… However, we did get a free glass of champagne at midnight!
Anyways, stumbled back with really only enough time for a catnap before it was time to leave and catch the plane. By morning, the ground had a good dusting of snow on it, and it was absolutely gorgeous –plus no longer cold! It was a perfect ending, minus the bad hangover!
Unfortunately, we didn’t get to go to Parliament.

I almost went on my day alone, but knew Katie and Ginger would want to do it so I waited it out. The day we were going to go was closed due to the New Years holiday. I also didn’t make it to some other places I would have enjoyed, primarily because it was all freaking closed! But I did really enjoy the things I did see, and have more waiting for me to go back to…in the summer months…someday! The hostel was one of the best ones I’ve ever stayed at and it was super homey, which helped make the holiday. Plus, the morning we had to leave to catch our plane, we were eating our free breakfast at the hostel and this new Japanese guy was sitting next to me. When Katie came, she brought me two leftover packages of ketchup from McD’s from one drunken nights as a joke (Turkish ketchup is not ketchup). This guy immediately pickups up my ketchup without asking or hesitation and opens it up and spreads it on his buttered bread!!! Lol! Katie and I looked at each other in utter shock, dumbfoundment and had to hold our laughing in, I think I teared. We couldn’t tell him since he was chowing down, nodding his head with satisfaction! Plus he even went for seconds!! So he must have enjoyed it! Lol! Yuk! There’s a hungover treat for anyone to see! Yum! Haha! I really do wonder if that next morning he asked the staff for some more of that red spread and wound up confused with!
Upon return, Katie and I showered and watched movies. Mike brought back a giant chocolate cake for Katie’s bday and we sung to her with a match as our candle! Katie finally got 1 of 4 big boxes her family sent her, in it lots of American grub that makes anybody’s mouths water. We enjoyed chips and salsa and then bed!
Getting back to work is always draining, but it’s fun to see my classes.

The Rest of Bayram up till Budapest

I gotta few holidays to catch you up on, so much happened in the month of December and all I did was blink my eyes!

So we’ll get you finished off with the Kurban Bayram (a sacrificial holiday), which had started when I last wrote:
This holiday can be very controversial and most students don’t even like talking about it. I think of it as a horrible yet good holiday. They sacrifice animals and give the most of the meat to the poor, or mainly, those that have less than them. They buy an animal, whether a cow or a goat or lamb, slit it’s throat, let it slowly die, skin it, chop it up, plastic bag it, and give it away…but out in the open for anybody to see -done by the masses (masses of animal load, not masses of people hacking). I believe there’s supposed to be this ceremony for it done with your family, but now they pretty much just hire a guy to do it for them. A few of us were going to go to our friend’s to watch the sacrifice, but fortunately enough, their grandpa had decided not to do it this year. I say fortunately enough, because I saw WAY, WAY, WAY to many slaughterings on the actual day they sacrifice. Michael, Podre and I went to the Greek quarter, Fener, on that Monday to walk around, check it out, and hit up some historical sites. Welp! That’s not so innocent as it sounds! This area of Fener is super poor. People seriously hold their houses up with anything they could find:

Since they don’t really have a home, they don’t really have a yard to sacrifice.
Firstly, we stumbled on a big group of guys literally hacking away at cows, axe and all, in a yard next to Constantine Lips Mosque. Mike and I were super excited, as we thought the slaughter day had already passed and we didn’t see any (I initially just wanted to see one, I have a strong stomach and have seen some nasty and inhumane things before, so one shouldn’t be a problem…plus it’s for the poor). So at first, it was really interesting to see what they do. Which again, the sanitary laws are extremely lacking in this country. So after sneaking several pics in (if you dare to see any of these pics from my day’s event, please email me, otherwise I don’t want to make you a vegetarian with out you being ready for it!). We didn’t see any sort of ceremony, just large sheets of plastic covering the pavement and one area where they seriously axe the cow to pieces, and another area where they lay the meat in piles. Then an area where the hide is laying before they roll it up, bag it, and toss it –no Indian about them, they throw out whatever’s not edible. So after being stunned and awed and felt we were watching –hiding in bushes, we take off to our next destination. As we are touring about, catching some great churches turned mosques with Christian mosaics fighting to stay on walls, we get deeper and deeper into poverty. Kids rule this area and all somehow seem to know a fair bit of English. They light up and yell hello! at us. The whole day tiny kids were staring in awe and talking to us! They were so cute, except for when they whipped out their fake guns and started shooting at each other! Seriously, all of these boys had a fake gun! One of them was dressed like the Godfather (he was walking with his family and they were all dressed up for something). As we are about to pass him, he reaches into his chest pocket, whips out a real-looking gun, and pretends to shoot someone across the street. I still can’t believe myself. This kid did it like he was from the movies or something –he even had that slow stroll of a walk with all this confidence, all was needed was that background music! Watch out Brad Pitt! I can’t understand why they’re allowed to do this!!!! Anyways, so we had decided to get lost on our way to each place. Instead of taking the main road, we would just stumble our way there through the crazy streets. As we are walking along, saying hello to all of little Istanbul, we would randomly catch a glimpse of more slaughterings. They had to take over car repair garages and what not, as they were the only ones with a big open area. This pretty much means it was street side due to the lack of walls. There were many instances where blood had filled the streets just like a slow moving river reaching towards the drain. Sirin, a Turkish-English teacher, told Mike that just a few years ago the streets were filled with blood, slaughterings everywhere, and the smell was unbearable. We thought this was just an over exaggeration, but after what we saw, we learned very quickly that she was only telling the truth -not even giving full detail! There was a point where Mike tried to walk around a puddle of blood on the sidewalk and didn’t even notice he was only walking in it! Another time I halted in my steps and Mike bumped into me as I jammed on the brakes before I splashed into a big stream of blood. No exaggeration!
We stopped for lunch at this dirt-cheap place, and these kids came in to eat. One of them even came up to us like he was 50 years old to shake each of our hands (I think all of the kids in Fener are in some sort of mafia). So cute though –not the mafia part but how old this young kid acted! Anyways, after we ate our thin-crusted lamb pizza-like-food, Lamacun, and saw a goat shoved into a closed restaurant across the street, we took off to our next destination. Only 2 doors down, I saw the worst thing in my life. It was enough to make the strongest of stomachs puke and was the prime reason I became a vegetarian for over a week. So if you have a weak stomach, which I don’t, don’t read this next part:

There were several cows being cut by a big group of men. One of them had its neck cut open; we must have missed the slit of the throat by 2 minutes. The worst part was this young cow was facing us, so we had a clear shot of its blood gushing out of its neck. Pieces of it coming were out as we had a good look into its neck. Only now, and I strongly urge you not to read this part, it wasn’t dead. It laid there still, but every few seconds, it would try to move, struggling to stay alive. It proceeded to do this, for what seemed like a lifetime. What made it super eerie was these animals don’t make any noise, they just seem sad, knowing they are about to die. So this cow struggling for its life didn’t even make the slightest peep of pain. There was this other cow, dead, right behind it and these guys were kinda struggling, trying to cut its leg off. These people just seemed like it was a natural, every day thing to do. -That was another amazing thing. They didn’t even really change their clothes! There was this one guy nicely dressed whom we talked to for directions. As he was directing us, actually he ended up walking us half way there (I tell you these streets are crazy!), I noticed that he had drops of blood on his shirt! Actually, that was a warm up! We saw these two little girls at one point, probably aged 5 and 7, they were so excited to see us and they started staring and talking to us. One of girl’s finger tops were all stained red and she was sucking on them. No joke! For the rest of the day, we were trying to figure out if it was really blood or not…
On our way back to the ferry, we walked by this dumpster, piled high to the brim of bloody bags with, no not a cherry on top, but 2 cow hooves attached to its ankles. In an open bag next to it were cow guts. The gut looked like it was ready to explode the gasiousest of farts. So needless to say, Mike and I, and Podre for that matter, got our sacrifice-seeing share. Just the very first one would have sufficed for a lifetime!

The rest of the night I was really disturbed and trying to figure out if I could put a piece of meat in my mouth again. Now you might be thinking this happens all of the time in actual slaughtering houses to the very meat we buy and eat everyday. But after witnessing such an inhumane way to sacrifice these poor animals, with the eerie silence and the sheer amount of massacres I saw that day, I think my questioning is allowed! Even just questioning it is being nice! I think the only reason I can, which I have to keep reminding myself, is we saw a family of gypsies all carrying sacks of meat over their shoulders they received as donation from some passer-by. That was really nice to see the end result in that way. I only wish I saw more that one family being donated to to help ease the disgust…
On a lighter note, we did get taken in by this mosque’s caretaker and shown one of the rooms he has locked off. Apparently 2 big emporers were buried there which they have marked off with caution tape, no engravings or headstones. We were also shown tiny remains of a mosaic that was done in the Byzantine times. Apparently there are a lot of secret things buried through out various mosques and you either have to ask the caretaker, hoping he’ll take you in, or be at the right place at the right time to get grabbed in to be shown! Pretty crazy!
All killings a side, my holiday was pretty relaxing. It’s nice just being a tourist here! We even got to go out on the weekend, which are our busiest days, so we’ve never got to experience this wild nightlife we always hear people raging about! We hit up Taksim, the big clubbing area, both Friday and Saturday night! A bigger group of us went out on Friday and we went pretty much all night! It was loads of fun! We wound up at this cafĂ© turned club and danced the night away! Actually, I should say laser sworded the night away! They had glow sticks all over the ground and I immediately pick it up and started laser swording people! Others followed suit, even the 2 Turkish people I befriend (one of them jumped into our group picture and when I looked at it I thought it was hilarious! So I ran and hugged her laughing as I would have done the samething!)!

For the whole night I made sure my friends kept sword fighting, poking at them if they stopped to real dance! Unfortunately, on the way back to catch a dolmus (or mini bus that’s really just a giant van), Katie and Grant decided that they needed another beer and disappeared before we knew they were gone. Somewhere along the way, the 2 of them were pick-pocketed. Losing both their money, credit cards and ID. Katie also got her residency permit stolen. Luckily they weren’t hurt, they just somehow didn’t feel or were aware that anything of the sort was being done to them. The biggest blow was Budapest being a little over a week away and me being the only one with money. Luckily Katie was able to get her residency permit expedited, so she had no problems leaving or entering the country. A part from that, we all had a great night and Katie and Grant even came out the next night! No one got their things stolen, but Katie did manage to lose her phone at the beginning of the night! Can you say bad weekend for Katie?! Though the phone thing was inevitable for her: something always happens to her phone right around New Years!
The rest of the week was pretty quiet as it got super cold and was pretty rainy. We spent most days in and recovering from the night before. I did manage to hang out with Chloe one day and we grabbed some “Mexican” food (boy is that hard to find) and went to a really weird art museum –which has become our tradition. We always wind up at really strange museums and walking out not to long after going what the heck did we just see?! Always good fun! I also got some more sightseeing in, most importantly, the Blue Mosque!!

I’ve been meaning to get there for quite some time, but I wanted to wait for the tourist season to die down and go on a day I had loads of time to really appreciate it. That day I also went to the Mosaic Museum and some arts and crafts building thing, both were a major let down. Yet I did see the Basilica Cistern, which is by far one of the best pieces of history I’ve seen out of all of my worldly travels! Something about just felt so real.

Oh! And another day Katie and I walked around a whole different area of Sultanhamet, which was super gorgeous and it felt way European! That was great! We kept trying to look for cafes at the top of hotels for good views and we almost got sucked into getting a Turkish bath! We somehow slipped out and wound up at some other place with this super gorgeous view of the Blue Mosque and Aya Sofia. Saweet!

The whole week off came and went way too fast as most holidays do. Within a few days I got a call from one of my favorite people in the world’s friend saying he was in town. Lauren goes to Yale and has a friend that decided to up and travel over this way. She gave him my contact info and sure enough, he did! He was staying on the Euro side, but after talking with him and finding out how he was already annoyed of being haggled after 2 just days here and how he just loved to hear English, we thought we better bring back to our side where he can have beers with our English speaking friends! He got wasted that night and crashed on our couch –thanks to Raki! Though most people got wasted that night….Jeff (also known as Suzy) taped any and everything to Mike’s bedroom walls and ceiling when we got back from the bar! Lol! We’ve been slowly taking things down as we need it: say a shoe for example, the toilet bowl scrubber, ladle…! Lol! Zahir stayed a few more nights at our place and then went off to Cappadoccia –which I almost went with on my days off, but since I had to supply the money for the upcoming and Budapest trip, I decided it was best for my bank account not to go. All in all, it was really neat to meet one of Lauren’s good friends from Yale (can’t wait for you to visit Laur!)!

Anyways, that Wednesday me, Jeff, Mike, Ginger (also known as Grant, er Greg) and the other Katie went to see the Whirling Dirvishes. That was super disappointing and I struggled to stay awake, and Greg won’t admit it, but he fell asleep. Now don’t get me wrong, I love their way of worshipping God, but for someone watching: snooze fest! They make it appear on pictures that they whirl super fast, but they do it pretty slowly and the songs last a lifetime! Ouch! I think we were overcharged but I must say it was pretty cool to at least witness it. Plus I learned a little bit about it before going, and it’s quite interesting.
That weekend one of my classes going to end and my students wanted to have a party. They came in with this giant gourmet cake, with lit candles that they made me blow out; some chips, and soda! Now most students just want to leave after the exam but they wanted to stay and say bye to me! They were really upset when they found out I couldn’t be their level 3 teacher! Though it might be a good thing, because on this cake they stuck a card in it that reads, “We love you Katie! Don’t forget we!” lol! CRINGE!! Haha! They also kept telling me not to forget them and wouldn’t believe me when I told them that I wouldn’t!

That Sunday, my friends Jim and Owen invited us over for an “Egg Nog Soiree”. Another thing I miss about Christmas here is no Egg Nog. So the boys conjured some up alcohol and all! Mike and I rushed over after class with Jim –whereby Owen greeted us with a giant bowl of it! We also convinced our Turkish-English teacher friends, Sirin and Yelize to come and try some! The next day Yelize wanted more! Jim’s gf, Basak, was also there. We were supposed to have Timtams (amazing Aussie cookies. Jim is an Aussie and this boy doesn’t shut up about them. His parents only send him one package at a time and he has to continually hide them from Basak cuz she’ll eat them all on him!). Basak remembered that we still didn’t have our Timtam day so she busted them out! I don’t think one can say enough about them! Soo soo sooo tasty!! Must have more!!