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COLUMN: Facing a whirlwind of new experiences in Budapest


Széchenyi Chain Bridge, Budapest. Lauren Fazekas Buy Photos

I arrived at Földes Ferenc dormitory late Monday afternoon. The dormitory building is located two blocks from the Danube River, on a street filled with cafes advertising "Kávé," or coffee, and pubs selling "Unicum," a Hungarian herbal liqueur. "Spar," a neighborhood grocery store, is also stationed nearby.

With 50 pounds of luggage and six flights of stairs smiling at me, I was thankful to see an elevator at the end of the hallway, barely big enough for myself and the suitcase.

While finding my new room, I was greeted by three large windows looking out at the distant Gellért Hill, the raised arms of the Liberty Statue welcoming me to my new surroundings.

The sun had started to go down, opening up the sky to a hazy purple-blue sunset, a vast new picture for my freshly traveled eyes.

Over the past four days, what was once just learning in classroom and from textbooks has transformed into a new reality in which I'm hearing and seeing Hungarian everywhere I go.

Between 7 a.m. university orientations, fast-paced “getting to know you” conversations and confusing money exchanges — FYI: 1,100 Hungarian forints are only about four U.S. dollars — I’ve been able to practice bits of conversation here and there as well.

The second night out in the city, a new friend and I worked our way around the underground Metro and tram system, searching for a restaurant called Ez Az Bistró, which travel writer Rick Steves recommended in his book "Budapest."

We took the wrong tram twice but eventually made it to Ez Az and enjoyed an unhurried meal of delicious chicken paprikash and weiner schnitzel with mashed potatoes.

Afterward, we took an exploratory walk around the city, doing some nighttime sightseeing of some of Budapest’s most historic sites, including St. Stephen’s Basilica, a Roman Catholic church named in honor of Stephen, Hungary’s first king.

Signs lining a street in Budapest. Lauren Fazekas Buy Photos

Later that night, after leaving an energetic night club, I was mildly proud of myself for holding an entire conversation in Hungarian with a patient taxi driver.

He wasn’t able to speak any English, so we chatted away for a little bit until I was dropped off at my dorm.

It was an exhilarating feeling to communicate, however imperfect it was, and still be understood.

I’m finding out that even if I don’t know exactly how to proceed after the conversation deviates from more basic topics, a lot of the Hungarians here appreciate the effort.

Plus, it’s fun to make people smile because of my attempts at speaking Hungarian.

After this week, classes begin, and I’m going to try and find myself a conversation partner. If I’m lucky, I'll find a knowledgeable tour guide, too.

The city, as I see it now, is still so new and unexplored, and I’m looking forward to going more in depth as the semester rolls on.

I won’t lie; this past week has been a whirlwind of surreal emotions and radically changing experiences, and I hope that as the rhythm of life here in Budapest starts to become more even, I’ll be able to understand how it works and find my groove.

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