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COLUMN: Waking up with a cup of coffee in Budapest


Travel columnist Lauren Fazekas walks the streets of Budapest, Hungary, every day while exploring or rushing to class. She said she is still figuring out how to balance her life as a busy student with exploring a city she loves. Lauren Fazekas Buy Photos

I cringed slightly as I watched the polka-dotted mug of instant coffee turn circles in the kitchen microwave.

The trained barista within me sadly shook her head as I waited the extra minute for my morning cup to heat up.

My glass jar full of brown java granules had disappeared, possibly subjected to the dormitory kitchen rules of “finders keepers.”

Eventually, I’ll have to buy a single-cup, aluminum “kotyogós kávéfőző,” or coffee maker, to get my favorite part of the day started.

Mornings — I love mornings. Nothing has been established yet. The day can still be a surprise.

Whatever sort of expectations, feelings or moods I choose to accept in the first few hours of the morning generally set the tone for the rest of the day.

And the days have been busy. It's been one month since I started studying in Budapest, and the fast-paced bustle of life in a city is something I've never experience before. The novelty of seeing so many different faced bundles up in the snow-covered brick streets still has yet to wear off.

Four days a week, I’m a student in a classroom, waking up and frantically searching for my room key, metro-pass and breakfast. Then I hike down six flights of stairs because, while I’m not religious, I gave up the elevator in solidarity for a friend observing Lent. I arrive a few minutes early to my 8 a.m. Hungarian Literature class, shaking slightly from the caffeine. 

I've spent moments at a grungy basement concert in a ship docked on the Danube. I've sifted through article after article on Hungary’s Prime Minister, Viktor Orbán, for an editing and translating internship in the center of Budapest. I’ve been unquestionably busy.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about how to best balance being a student and a foreigner trying to keep my perspective fresh and engaged. So what could be better than a class full of foreigners?

Every Tuesday and Thursday, I make a half-hour commute across the river by tram and bus to get to my Hungarian language classes at the Balassi Institute, an institution that focuses on supporting the worldwide community on Hungarian education.

I sit in a small yellow room with seven other students who have about the same level of language learning as I do.

So far, I’m the only American, and my classmates come from places as far as Japan and as close as Turkey.

It’s a small comfort to know I’m not the only one walking around Budapest, stumbling through bits of conversation about shopping etiquette, travel destinations and what to order at a restaurant.

Gus, an Australian in my class, told me he’s lived in the city for a year. He is trying to open up a coffee-roasting shop and finally decided he should take some classes to learn the language.

Maybe once I finally buy my tiny coffee-maker, I’ll tell him I have some barista experience if he ever needs any help. In the meantime, I hope to just look, listen and observe so as not to pass by opportunities that are there right when I wake up.

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