County Wicklow, Ireland

Monday, May 30, 2011

I woke up at 3:30am to get to the Dublin airport. RyanAir tried charging me $115 for my bag being 4 kilos over their ridiculously low checked-baggage weight. All the other budget airlines have a 20 kilo limit and RyanAir's is 15 kilo. I crammed things in my carry-on, thus saving 80 euro, and treated myself to a $10 breakfast from Starbucks (aka caramel macchiato and a muffin).

Yesterday we took a day trip to Glendalough, a glacial valley in County Wicklow. God's country for sure.

Irish countryside
Reactions:

London Calling

Sunday, May 29, 2011

We arrived Tuesday evening in London and settled in at our hostel, located above a British pub in Waterloo called the Steam Engine. We grabbed some authentic fish & chips and planned for a whirlwind tour of London.

On Wednesday we had perfect weather for a Fat Tyre bike tour of London - warm and sunny, rather atypical ☺ Thursday we were treated to a full day of London rainfall and gloomy skies. If only I had a Burberry trench coat from Harrod’s...

The bike tour was an awesome way to see London. We biked all over the city, mainly through the royal parks, stopping at all the major sights. Since London is so huge, biking was a much more efficient way to see the city than walking or taking the underground tube. Thursday we took the tube everywhere and it seemed like we spent half the day underground. London’s tube is amazing – it has around 13 lines, compared to Rome’s 3 lines. I was reminded that my biking skills are subpar, but I managed to stay upright and on the left side of the road. Even when you walk, you walk on the left and pass on the right! All the crosswalks have reminders painted on the pavement to look to the correct side of the street for oncoming traffic.

Ironically, Barack Obama was in London the same time we were. We rode past Buckingham Palace on our bike tour as Barack’s motorcade was heading to meet the Queen. I saw him through the window of the limo. I wish I had been able to get a picture, but biking and snapping photos don’t mix. Right before Obama drove past a lady behind me (not part of our group) got hit by a car. Scary! I read in the London Evening Standard that the US hasn’t payed the traffic congestion charges associated with the presidential motorcade. Obama’s limo has been nicknamed “The Beast” in European papers – haha. It was fascinating reading about the Obama’s and American politics from the British perspective.

This was my first time being in an English-speaking country since January 30. It was so strange being able to understand all the conversations around me, to be able to read all the advertisements on the tube, and be able to glance at a newspaper and read the headlines!!

Wednesday

  • Buckingham Palace
  • Parliament & Big Ben
  • Westminster Abbey
  • Kensington Palace
  • Trafalgar Square
  • Hyde Park
  • St. James Park
  • Kensington Park
  • National Gallery (many of the major museums are free!)
  • Picnic dinner along the River Thames
  • Watched the London Bridge open up to let a cruise ship through


Thursday

  • Abbey Road
  • Changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace
  • British Museum (contains the Rosetta Stone)
  • Saw Much Ado About Nothing at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre
  • Sung evening prayer at Westminster Abbey
  • Saw a robbery and ensuing chase
  • Platform 9 ¾ at King’s Cross Station from Harry Potter


We were up Friday morning at 4:40am to catch a taxi to Gatwick for our flight to Dublin. We've been in Dublin for the past three days and are leaving tomorrow at 3:30am to catch an early flight to Rome. Julie left dublin yesterday for Athens, so now it's just me and Alicia. From Rome we are taking a train directly to Sorrento on the Amalfi Coast of Italy! I can't wait to see the sun, it's been overcast and cool in Ireland.



Big Ben
Buckingham Palace 

On the tube
Changing of the guard
Reactions:

U.K.

Friday, May 27, 2011

London was fabulous! We left this morning at 4:40 am for our flight to Dublin. Two more days in Dublin and then off to Italy. Remaining Ireland agenda: Book of Kells, Guinness Storehouse tour, St. Patrick's Cathedral, & day trip to Glendalough, a valley in the countryside.

Alicia finally got her luggage this morning, thank goodness! Blog about London is in the works :) Sneak preview - we saw President Obama.

London calling!
Bike tour of London
London Bridge
Reactions:

Off to a rough start...

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Eurotrip 2011 is starting out a little rocky. Alicia and Julie both had several flight complications - multiple delays, missed flights, and rebooked flights. They were due to arrive in Budapest around 11am yesterday on the same flight but they ended up being re-routed all over the place and both landed by 6pm. While my friends made it to Hungary, their luggage did not. Julie's bag was delivered early this morning but Alicia's is still MIA. We did a bit of sightseeing along the Danube to relax and then finished our last minute flight/hostel booking.

Alive and well in Budapest!
We cut Munich out because when I went to buy our train tickets yesterday I wasn't allowed to print the tickets, they had to be mailed to me. Bah!! Yet another logistical fail that would have been okay if I had planned this trip more than a week in advance.  We could have chanced it and tried purchasing tickets on the spot in Rome, but we decided that was too risky. We extended our stay in Rome and found a cheap flight back to Budapest. This way we'll have a day in Budapest to relax and sightsee before my parents come and we'll save $400 on night trains.

If you missed the news the past few days the world didn't end on May 21 but a volcano in Iceland erupted, spewing volcanic ash into the air and disrupting flights. Our flight to London boards in 30 minutes so it looks like we will be okay, but hundreds of flights have been cancelled in the UK/Scandinavia. Hopefully we will be able to fly to Dublin at the end of the week :\

Please pray that the start of our adventure isn't indicative of how the rest of the trip will go...we are rather worried about how everything will turn out. St. Christopher, patron of travelers, ora pro nobis!
Reactions:

Where in the world is Liz?

Friday, May 20, 2011

It's been a crazy week, but I am officially DONE with classes and exams at Corvinus University! My last final was this morning and I was up late last night alternately studying and booking flights for my upcoming Eurotrip. I pretty much violated every rule of when not to book a flight...or six. I booked our flights (three for me and three for Alicia) five days before departure, on a Thursday night after prices had already spiked, and most of our flights are on weekends. Well done, miss world traveler. My bank account is having a heart attack, c'est la vie! And so much for RyanAir have cheap flights! My flight to Rome was 50 euros, but by the time all the extra fees and taxes were added in it doubled the final price. 6 euros for web check-in? I call shenanigans! In all fairness, I haven't had time before now to figure things out.  Alicia was busy taking finals at IU and then left to scuba dive in the Dominican Republic, and as of late I've been tied up with projects, exams, and soaking up what's left of my time in Hungary. I still have to figure out how we are getting from Rome to Munich and Munich back to Budapest. Any travel agents out there who would like to volunteer their services?! I also need to book all our hostels and have a general itinerary prepared for each city so we can maximize our time.

So here's where I'll be for the next few weeks...

May 21: Tihany Village & Lake Balaton, Hungary
May 22: Esztergom, Hungary
May 24-26: London, England
May 27-29: Dublin, Ireland
May 30-31: Rome, Italy
June 1-2: Amalfi Coast, Italy (Pompeii, Positano, Sorrento, Naples)
June 3-4: Munich, Germany
June 6-8: Krakow, Poland
June 9-10: Budapest, Hungary
June 11: USA!!

Ciao for now...say a prayer for safe travels! :)
Reactions:

Cz-Cz-Czech it out

Monday, May 16, 2011

I made a circuit through Central/Eastern Europe April 29-May 6. Seven days was the longest I have traveled consecutively and I was exhausted by the time I got home. I traveled with my friend Salima, another Hoosier on exchange. We spent three days in the Czech Republic, two days in Hungary, and two days in Austria.

Our first stop was Praha (Prague) in the Czech Republic, formerly part of Czechoslovakia but is now two separate countries - Czech Republic and Slovakia. I had heard positively glowing reviews about Prague, but honestly I wasn't enchanted like I was expecting and neither was Salima. Maybe it's because at this point all of Europe is beginning to blend together. If you've seen one old bridge, church, tower, monument, you have pretty much seen them all. In addition, Prague looks and feels like Budapest and Vienna. Scenic bridge across the Danube river? Been there. Done that. Multiple times. Nevertheless, Prague was charming and the weather was lovely. Salima flew in from Seville and I took a bus from Budapest. A bunch of TOTALLY sketchy Hungarians were on the bus and I was getting seriously creeped out. I am pretty sure the girls were prostitutes and the guys were their pimps or something. I was so happy to get off that bus after six hours.

Salima arrived a few hours after me so I went back to the bus station to meet her. As I was approaching the bus station two Czech policemen started yelling. It became apparent they were trying to get my attention and were not yelling "HELLO! HELLO!" in an effort of Czech hospitality. Long story short - I either jaywalked or wasn't supposed to be in that area of the bus lot because they demanded to see my passport. As I handed over my obviously American passport, one asked if I spoke Czech. No. Deutsch? No. English? Duh. Anyway, I was pretty scared since no one else was around, the policemen were holding onto my passport, and I was late to meet Salima. After a few minutes they found a Czech person to yell at and let me go. Whew. I made sure to check for police before jaywalking the rest of my stay in Prague.

We went on one of Sandeman's free walking tours (high recommended, they are all over Europe in major cities) and explored more of the city on our own. Some of the highlights of Prague:
    • Old Town Square
    • Charles Bridge
    • Astronomical Clock
    • Prague Castle
    • St. Vitus Cathedral
    • Old Jewish Quarter
    • Spanish Synagogue/Museum
    • Church of Our Lady before Tyn
    • Powder Tower
    • Toy Museum with Barbie exhibit!!
    • Lennon Wall
    • Infant of Prague statue & church



Infant Jesus of Prague 
On Sunday (May 1 - Divine Mercy Sunday and JPII's beatification) we went to Mass at Our Lady of Victorious, where the shrine with the original Infant Jesus of Prague statue is. May 1 is also the Feast of the Infant Jesus so it was a three in one (trinity!) celebration. The church was packed for English Mass and at the end each person received a rose to give to the infant Jesus. Salima is Ismaili, a branch of Shia Islam, so we spent much of the trip discussing similarities, differences, and histories of our respective religions. It was refreshing to have a conversation with a peer about religion, spirituality, and morals - topics that are generally taboo for college students. We also immersed ourselves in Prague's Jewish history by touring four different Jewish synagogues, museums, and a Jewish cemetery. Something like 77,000 Czech Jews disappeared during World War II.

My favorite part of Prague was easily the Lennon Wall and the Toy Museum. Since the 1980's this wall has been covered with John Lennon/Beatles inspired graffiti. This expression of free speech angered the communist regime, so they would frequently whitewash the wall. By the following day the wall would again be covered with murals, poems, and inscriptions. The toy museum had all kinds of neat antique toys, but the best part was the Barbie exhibit. I was a huge Barbie fan as a kid. Three-story pink mansion, camping R.V., beauty salon, pink convertible...you name it, I had it! As I got a bit older my mom began buying collectible Barbie ornaments at Christmas and I've been collecting them ever since. The highlight of the entire Barbie exhibit was spotting an Indiana University cheerleader Barbie in one of the display cases!! Salima and I squealed like little girls when we saw it, haha. Not to mention I totally own that Barbie doll, it sits on top of my tv in Bloomington. Noticeably absent was a Purdue Barbie...sorry Boilermaker fans, yet another indicator of your inferiority, even on a global scale ;)

Praha from Charles Bridge
Catholic statues lining Charles Bridge 
Lennon Wall
Kelley School does Praha
Praha vineyard - loving life!

View from Prague Castle
St. Vitus 
Jewish Cemetery - layers upon layers of graves
Spanish Synagogue 
Toy Museum - super psyched!
Box o altar boys!
DO YOU SEE IU BARBIE?! :D Lower left corner
Old Town Square
Praha...czech!
Astronomical Clock
Easter Festival 
Pilsner beer was invented here
Art Nouveau buildings - love it 

As usual, you can view all of my Prague pictures here and here. Peace!
Reactions:

Coming soon to Hungary...

Saturday, May 14, 2011

The rest of the Dubya family!!! My parents and not-so-little brother are arriving in Budapest on June 5th after Joe graduates from high school. We leave for Krakow, Poland, soon thereafter and then we'll come back to Budapest for a few days before returning to the USA. Mark your calendars - I'll be back June 11th! If I had a really obnoxious American flag shirt I would totally wear it to the airport. I might even kiss the ground John Paul II style when I land in Chicago. Being abroad has really made me appreciate/love the US and the privileges and opportunities I am afforded as an American. I even appreciate and miss little 'ole Indiana. At first I was kind of embarrassed to tell other people I was from the states because of all negative stereotypes about Americans. Even with the Americans I was kind of hesitant to say I was from small town Indiana because they are all from Chicago, Boston, or Los Angeles. Anyway, I'm over my silly insecurities and am proud to rep Kokomo, Indiana, and the US. Plus now I can throw in that I lived in Budapest for four and a half months ;)

Joe's senior prom was last night. The kid is a stud so this was his fourth prom since sophomore year and the first one I haven't been at to make sure he was looking his snazziest and give my big sister approval :(

Mr. & Mrs. Dubya with their 2nd favorite child ;)
Short rant: like most of Europe, the windows in Hungary don't have screens. Air conditioning is also not common in private flats so you just always have the windows open. As a result, I have bugs flying all over my computer screen, flocking to the light. GAH. I wonder if the bugs will go away if I start yelling baszd meg at them?

Can you tell I don't want to study? Two posts in one day! Oh and I was able to skype with Alexa for a few hours last night before she returns to the convent. It's been a good weekend.
Reactions:

Buda Hills Adventure!

I fell even more in love with Hungary today. The longer I am here the more I see past the rough edges and faded cityscape. This afternoon I went on an adventure to the lookout tower on Janos Hill - the highest point in Budapest. From Janos Hill you can see all of the city, suburbs, and the Slovakian mountains. I went with an American friend, her Hungarian program coordinator, and a Dutch classmate. I haven't spent much time in Buda (I live in Pest) so I was excited to see what life is like on the other side of the proverbial fence. The grass is always greener on the other side and Buda is literally greener, haha. The only reason I've really been "deep" into Buda is to go the Hungarian Immigration office. The retreat I went on during Lent was also in Buda. Buda is more residential, with green hills, and less urban grit and traffic. The Buda Hills are generally where wealthier Hungarians, celebrities, expats, and ambassadors live. When Angelia Jolie & Brad Pitt were living in Budapest last fall they rented a mansion in the Buda Hills. Right now Keanu Reeves is living in Budapest, but he doesn't quite have the Brangelina star appeal.

Getting to Janos Hill was rather complicated. I had to take two metro lines to get to Moszkva Ter (which is soon being renamed. Hungary is dumb and is renaming a bunch of the squares/bridges and even the airport. It really freaked me out the last time I went to the airport and the bus said it was going to Liszt Ferenc airport instead of Ferihegy airport. One square was renamed after Elvis, but I digress). Once I got to Moszkva Ter I met the rest of the group and we took a tram to the base of the Buda Hills and switched a cogwheel train that took us up in the hills. Once we were in the hills we switched to the Children's Railway, a scenic railway which is run by children aged 10-14. The kids run the traffic and commercial services and adults drive and maintain the train and supervise the kids. It was so cute - the kids even wore uniforms with the MAV (Hungarian railway) badge. The train had a birthday carriage decked out with balloons for parties. The railway was built by Pioneers (Hungarian scouts under Communism, still exists today but without the Communist influence) in 1948-1950. The train stops at popular recreation destinations along the way. Almost everyone on the train were kids or parents, but I think my friends and I were just as excited, if not more, than the kids :D We sat in the back in an open carriage and enjoyed the fresh air.



Team America takes on Buda
Through the forest...
Punching tickets - serious biz!
:)


Ready for takeoff!
We got off the train after 20 or 30 mins (at the stops in between parents would run off the train with their toddlers to let them pee in the woods, hilarious) at Janos Hill to climb Erzsébet kilátó, the Elizabeth lookout tower. The lookout is named after the Habsburg Empress Elizabeth of Austria/Queen of Hungary, affectionately known as "Sisi." Elizabeth loved Budapest and acted as an advocate for the Hungarian people to her husband. This lookout tower was her favorite place in Budapest so it was renamed after her. The tower is 529 m/1735 ft high. Just getting to the lookout was quite a workout. I swear we were walking almost straight up into the air. We stopped for the necessary Magnum ice cream bars and continued to the top of the tower.

Lookout tower
Suburbs
Buda - click to enlarge any of the photos!
Parliament / Pest
Budapest
Ripped flag...typical Hungary
Adding to the excitement we took a chair lift down the hill instead of walking down! At the bottom of the hill was a campground, I think one of the only ones in Budapest. I asked C's Hungarian program coordinator if people have RV's or campers and she said they probably camped in tents. At the entrance of the campground was a bride having wedding photos taken while she ate langos. LOL. You know you are Hungarian when...! Langos is a traditional Hungarian food. It's deep fried flat bread usually topped with sour cream and cheese. When I was leaving the metro station at Ferenc Korut I saw one of the new pro-life ads that I blogged about earlier! Some Hungarians saw me taking a picture and gave me an odd look. So far I haven't done any studying this weekend so tomorrow I am buckling down (or so I'm telling myself) to start studying. Now that the end of the semester is nearing I realize how little time I have left and how many things in Budapest I've yet to see and do. All I want to do is explore and spend time with my friends before we leave Hungary and scatter across the world!


Descending the Buda Hills
Only in Hungary...inside the tram was a guy making langos
Old trams marking the campground entrance 
"I understand if you are not ready for me, but
rather give me up for adoption and LET ME LIVE!"


Reactions: