What is Hungarian? Or, How Vienna Became Even Homier

Isaac Alter
June 9, 2014

Hello again! It’s a beautiful day in Vienna, and I have the day off since it’s a national holiday; I figured I’d take a moment to capture some thoughts about the past weekend.

And oh, what a weekend it was.  I spent Friday and Saturday in Budapest with about 10 friends, which was a truly spectacular adventure.  My first encounter with the city was slightly mortifying though.  We arrived in the train station and decided to stop at the mall next door to pick up bathing suits for those of us that didn’t have them (for our trip to the famous baths, which was rejuvenating and marvelous) and to grab a quick bite.  We entered into the food court and were instantly taken aback at how little we understood; Hungarian is not an easy language to understand at all. Feeling overwhelmed, I stopped at the “Wok ‘n’ Go” and pointed at the dish I wanted. As we arrived at our hostel and then headed to the baths, I started to feel less anxious, but throughout our excursion to Budapest, I felt myself longing for my “home” in Vienna, where I speak at least a little bit of the language and am more comfortable with the culture of the city. It took leaving Vienna for someplace completely different for me to realize how truly at home I feel in Vienna.

However, the trip also showed me how quickly I can get used to a city when I need to.  By the end of our first day, I was comfortable getting around on the Metro (which, interestingly, has 4 lines – one that is 2 weeks old, and one that is the oldest in Europe) and knew how to get home to our hostel, called Hostel Goodmo, which was impressively comfortable and cheap.  On our second day, I and 3 pals spent 7 hours walking through Budapest and seeing the main tourist sights, from St. Mathias Church and Buda Castle on Castle Hill to the Chain Bridge (the first bridge to connect Buda and Pest, on opposite sides of the Danube from each other) to the second largest synagogue in the world to Heroes’ Square–a monument honoring important WWII figures–and even more things in between.  Despite the almost stifling heat, it was thoroughly enjoyable to get to know the city, and we all felt proud of ourselves for seeing so much of it in just one day.  It really does make a difference to walk through a city; sure, it would have been faster to take the metro from place to place, but you come across unexpected things and get a better sense of the city by walking.  At one point, we had no idea where we were, but knew that downhill was towards the river, so we zigzagged down until we found it, and we ended up on some really lovely side streets.  One cool moment for me was that I had one earphone in listening to The Light in the Piazza, a Broadway musical about a mother and daughter touring Florence, as we entered the famous Castle Hill area; among other things, the musical deals with ideas such as the alike-ness of people no matter where you go, and I couldn’t help but feel that it was particularly fitting to listen to it as I experienced this beautiful and completely foreign place. Thomas, Adam, Jon, and me with a view of the Danube from the Chain Bridge. Me posing with the facade of Buda Castle at the top of Castle Hill. From the Fisherman's Lookout on Castle Hill, you can get an uninhibited view of all of Budapest. A photo of the famous Chain Bridge from when we walked across it at night. The famous cathedral located near the entrance to Castle Hill. The second largest synagogue in the entire world; not too shabby.

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Isaac Alter

<p><span style="color: rgb(29, 29, 29); font-family: Arial, Verdana, sans-serif; font-size: 12px; line-height: normal; background-color: rgb(237, 237, 237);">My name is Isaac Alter, and I&#39;m a rising junior at Harvard College, studying stem cell biology with a double minor in art history and music. Outside the classroom, I work both as an admissions tour guide and as a research associate in a stem cell lab, I am a music director for the Harvard-Radcliffe Dramatic Club, and I am a flutist and board member for the River Charles Ensemble, a conductorless chamber orchestra. I&#39;m beyond thrilled to be taking a journey to Vienna this summer, to pursue and explore music--one of my great passions--in what has been the center of classical music for centuries. In my free time, I love taking spontaneous trips to New York, cooking, and exploring nooks and crannies of Harvard&#39;s vast campus. My career plans at this point are wildly up in the air, but I hope that my experience with music this summer will help me on that front.</span></p>

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