Archive for the ‘Market’ Category

Cooking the Thai Way

Tuesday, May 3rd, 2011

We woke up early the next day, went downstairs for another phenomenal hotel breakfast buffet experience and then loaded into vans to drive twenty minutes outside the city to the Chiang Mai Thai Cookery School. Riding with us from the hotel were three of the cooking school instructors and before we reached the school we stopped off at a food market so they could walk us through the market to teach us about the foods we would be using to cook with.

Market

Cooking school instructor talking about tofu. The yellow is soft tofu and the black is coagulated pig blood mixed with gelatin. Yum.

Coconut grinder. Dried coconut is virtually unheard of in Thailand- its always fresh.

Chicken doesn't get any more free range than this

Monk bank!

After wandering around the market and learning about Asian vegetables for about a half an hour we piled back into the vans and drove to the Chiang Mai Thai Cookery School. The school was established in 1993 and was the first cookery school to open in Chiang Mai. It is owned and run by Sompon Nabnian and his English wife, Elizabeth. With over ten years of experience in teaching thousands of people from all over the world it is the leading cookery school in Chiang Mai. Sompson has written a best- selling cook book called “A Passion for Thai Cooking” and has made guest appearances on travel and food programs around the world including The National Geographic Channel and the BBC. In 2001 he made his own series for UK television called “Thai Way” which has since been shown around the world.

Cookery school

Once we arrived at the school we found partners, put on aprons and were led into a small classroom where one of the instructors walked us through how to make our first dish, thai hot and sour prawn soup. Once we had seen it demonstrated we picked up our ingredients and were sent back to our individual cooking stations to try our hand at it.

cutting up some veggies

making soup

Thai Hot and Sour Prawn Soup

(serves 4)

Ingredients:

2 cups prawns- washed, peeled and deveined, keep the peelings

3 cups water or chicken stock

6 cloves of garlic- crushed

6 shallots- sliced

2 stalks of lemon grass, slice into 1 in pieces

10 thin slices of ginza, skin removed

2 cups straw mushrooms cut in half

2 tomatoes- each cut into 8 pieces

20 small green chillies- cut in 1/2 legnthwise

3 tbs fish sauce

5 kaffir lime leaves- torn into pieces discarding the stems

2 tbs lime juice

1/2 cup coriander- chopped

Directions: Put the heads and peelings of the prawns in a pan with the water and bring it to a boil. Remove the prawn peelings from the pan and bring the stock back to a boil. Add the garlic, shallots, lemongrass and ginza and bring to a boil. Then add the mushrooms and tomatoes and bring them to a boil. Add the chillies and fish sauce followe by the kaffir lime leaves. Cook gently for two minutes and then add the prawns and cook for another one minute. Turn off the heat and stir in the lime juice. Serve garnished with the coriander.

Hot and sour prawn soup minus the prawns

Linsday and I worked together on this, and since we are both vegetarians we did not use prawns in our soup, but it turned out pretty good despite. We were given time to eat our soup and then we all filed back into the classroom to learn how to make the next dish, green curry with chicken, only the version I made was vegetarian.

Green Curry with Chicken

(serves 4)

Ingredients

1 1/2 cups chicken breast, thinly sliced

1 cup thick coconut milk- keep 2 tbs to use as a garnish

1 cup thin coconut milk

4 tablespoons green curry paste

3 big eggplants cut into 1/2 in pieces

1/2 cup small eggplants

2 tbs palm sugar-optional

2 tbs fish sauce

2 kaffir lim leaves- torn into pieces discarding the stems

1 cup sweet basil leaves

1 big green chili- sliced

1 big red chili- sliced

Directions: Put the thick coconut milk into a wok and fry for 3-5 minutes, stirring continuously, until the coconut oil begins to separate out. Then add the green curry paste and fry for 1-2 minutes. Once the paste is cooked add the thin coconut milk and when it is boiling add the big and small egg plants. Simmer for about four minutes until the egg plants are slightly soft. Then add the palm sugar along with the edge of the wok so that it melts and add the fish sauce, kaffir lime leaves and half of the basil leaves. Turn off the heat and serve garnished with the big green chillies, the big red chillies, and  the remaining thick coconut milk .

Green Curry

Lindsay and I with our green curry sans chicken

This dish was very spicy, we made much smaller portions than the recipe lists since we were only cooking for two people, and we were given seven chilies to include in our soup, but cautioned that including all seven would result in a VERY spicy soup. We put in two and my mouth was still on fire. A bunch of the boys got into idiotic macho chili eating contests, but nobody could handle more than four chilies in their soup. They were crazy hot. We were allowed a few minutes to sample our curry, but then covered it and set it aside while we prepared the final two dishes. The next dish we made was a steamed banana cake, because it required fifteen minutes to cook.

Steamed Banana Cake

(serves 6)

10 small bananas (or 5 large bananas)- mashed

1 cup rice flour

1/4 cup tapioca flour

1 1/2 cup sugar

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 cup thick coconut milk

3 cups grated coconut

Directions: Put the bananas into a large bowl along with the rice flour, tapioca flour, sugar, salt, coconut milk, and 3/4 of the grated coconut. Mix well until all the ingredients are throughly combined. Put the mixture into a steaming ot baking tin (8″ x 8″) and sprinkle the rest of the grated coconut on the top. Steam for 30 minutes in the oven at 360 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 minutes. Once it is cooked turn the cake out of the tin and serve hot or cold.

Banana cake

Instead of cooking large banana cakes we made tiny individual ones in banana leaf bowls. While these steamed we got to work on our final dish, Pad Thai.

Pad Thai

(serves 2)

10 oz fresh rice noodles (or dried noodles soaked in water for 10-15 minutes)

3 tbs oil

1 tbs garlic- chopped

1 tbs dried shrimps

1 cup tofu- chopped into small pieces

6 tbs chicken stock or water

2 eggs- beaten

3 tbs roasted peanuts- chopped

1/4 cup chives- cut into 1 in pieces

1 cup bean sprouts

2 limes cut into wedges

Fresh Vegetables (bean sprouts, cabbage, and chives)

Sauce

3 tbs sugar

3 tbs fish sauce

1 tbs soy sauce

2 tbs tamarind juice

Directions: Put the oil into a wok and fry the garlic, dried shrimps, and tofu until the garlic turns golden brown and then add the rice noodles. Keep stirring over a high heat. Then add the chicken stock and stir-fry until the noodles are soft. Then turn down the head and add the sauce ingredients and stir well to combine. Add the eggs and stir-fry until the eggs are cooked and well combined with the noodles. Add the peanuts and chives. Stir-fry to combine and then add the bean sprouts and stir together. Turn off the heat and serve garnished with the lime wedges and fresh vegetables.

Pad Thai

Our veg pad thai

Once we had finished this dish we took out banana cake out of the steam pot and sat down to a feast.

the spread

Chowing down on the fruits of our labors

After feasting on the fruits of our cooking school labors we were given cookbooks containing recipes for all the dishes we made and a bunch more we didn’t. We then said our goodbyes and headed back to the hotel for some downtime before going out for the evening.

Christmas in Salzburg

Friday, December 4th, 2009

Last Saturday Rachelle, Maya, Kirsten, Rachel and I woke up early to spend the day making Christmas cookies. We lugged our baking ingredients and cookie cutters to Frau Shoettke’s apartment and spent the rest of the day crowded into her tiny kitchen improvising recipes and taking hot trays out of the oven with tea towels instead of hot pads. Apparently Frau Shoettke doesn’t believe in them. Hot pads, that is. She did, however, have a set of American measuring cups so we managed to mix most of our four types of cookies (plus fudge!) rather well. Our biggest debacle came when we realized we had forgotten that sugar cookie dough needs to chill before it gets rolled, and we had somewhat stupidly saved the sugar cookies for last. When we finally attempted to roll it, the dough stuck to the table and refused to allow us to pick up any cut out cookies we managed to create. So into the freezer it went. Eventually, after adding an alarming amount of flour and learning to roll the smallest amount of dough at a time we got all of our cookies made, hedgehog shaped ones and all. More importantly, they all tasted quite good. Later Saturday night we went to a “Latin Party” hosted by another university here in Salzburg, and the girls attempted to teach me some semblance of actual Latin dancing. Not sure that worked out so well.

Sunday was busy yet again as we had planned to get out to the stadium to see a football game at least once while we’re here, and Salzburg was playing Vienna on Sunday, a rivalry worth seeing. We met our friends at the bus stop about two hours before the start of the game in the hopes that we could get there and get tickets before they sold out. We weren’t quite anticipating what happened next. At a bus stop outside of town, in front of a random fire station, the bus driver turns off the bus looks at the five of us strangely for staying in our seats and says “Ende.” The bus was done. According to our map and all other available information that bus went all the way to the stadium. Just not for us, apparently. At a lose as to what to do, we got off of the stopped bus and tried to assess our situation. We were in rural Salzburg and an unknown distance from our destination. I had carried my road map with me every day for the entire semester until I gave it to my parents the weekend before and forgot to get it back, so of course we had no actual map when we needed it. Turns out Kirsten is directionally skilled even when it comes to bus maps, and she managed to lead us on a scavenger hunt of sorts from bus stop to bus stop until we found the stadium on foot. Never a dull moment.

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When we got to the stadium we got in line for tickets and managed to get five for the fan/student section. This meant we got cheap tickets, but we had to sit with the crazies. Or stand, because the only time we got to sit was during halftime. But before we even found our seats we had to get into the stadium which involved going through security. We got in line and were soon thereafter informed that we were in fact in the mens’ line. Oops. So we got in line again. After we’d all gotten through the correct line they told us we couldn’t get into the building through that door because our seats were on the other side of the stadium. Cue walking back around, through a third security line, and then finally into the stadium and into the fan section.
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We cheered on the Red Bulls for the next ninety minutes or so, clapping and yelling German gibberish like the crazed people around us. The section had its own drum to beat out the chants, and two men who led the crowd in cheering. We picked up some of the words/meanings of the chants, but for the most part it was just fun being around all of that enthusiasm. The Vienna fans were across the field from us, but they had their fair share of flags and choreographed chants as well. They even had flares. As to why they took Rachelle’s water bottle away at security but let the fans in with flares I haven’t a clue, but it made for quite the scene. The game ended in a 0-0 tie, but perhaps it’s better no one scored a goal. Regardless of which team it had been, I think I would have feared a bit for my life.

Monday and Tuesday were homework days. I still have epic amounts of papers to write, so the spare moments I have are mostly spent pretending to work on them. Wednesday morning AIFS treated us to chestnuts, gingerbread, and punch at the Christmas markets so that was fun. We watched lots of adorable Austrian school kids walk through the market on outings with their teachers. At one point a teacher bought one cotton candy for the whole class to share and then held it high and the air while tearing off small pieces to feed to the kids. It was like watching little birds. Adorable. Later on Wednesday, for one of our last Womanly Wednesday’s of the semester, a few of us got together to eat cake for dinner and watch movies. I’m fairly certain there’s a direct correlation between eating cake for dinner and craving vegetables for days afterwards, but no regrets in the nutrition department.

Thursday morning we had our departure meeting which really brought home that we’re leaving in less than two weeks now. We got information about our return flights and filled out program evaluation forms. Paperwork shouldn’t make anyone sad, but I almost burst into tears just thinking about how hard it’s going to be to say goodbye to Salzburg itself and all of the people I’ve met. Good thing it’s a long drive to the Munich airport because I’m going to need all of that time to achieve anything resembling dry eyes I’m sure. Trying not to think about it. I have papers to write this extra long holiday weekend so that’s at least distracting me. Happy that it snowed a bit this morning, enough to stick for a while but only until it started raining. Hoping to catch the Krampus tomorrow night. What are Krampus you ask? That, my friends, is for another blog post.

Salzburg Gets Visitors

Friday, November 27th, 2009

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The family came to town last weekend! I picked them up at the Salzburg train station around 1 on Saturday with bus tickets and chocolate bars in hand, and they somehow managed to remain enthusiastic about seeing Salzburg despite the jet lag and the crowded train ride from Munich. Kebaps for lunch revived them a bit and then we trekked down the road to my dorm so that they could see the bad spring break hotel that I’ve been living in for two months and meet Rachelle. We took them into the Cathedral and walked past Mozart’s house. Then we all wandered around the recently opened Christmas markets for a little while before sleepiness got the best of the family, and I had to send them off to their hotel to recover from jet lag. Sunday we wanted to go out into the mountains but then realized we’d missed the only bus of the day out to the hiking trails by about a half an hour. Oh darn. We settled instead for climbing up the fortress hill here in town and looking down over Salzburg from up there. We ate lunch at a beer hall on the hill, and then I let the three of them go into the fortress on their own so that I could get some homework done. That night we took the bus out to Hellbrunn Palace to see one of Salzburg’s other Christmas markets (and because I’d been told that there would be live reindeer at this one) and oohed and ahhed at the twinkly lights and the decorated trees. There was lots of good stuff to be purchased, but alas no reindeer to be seen. Disappointment.

On our way back to their hotel that night we got stuck in epic traffic as 20th Century Fox had so considerately blocked off some of the major roads in Salzburg to film their silly movie. Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz came to town to film Knight and Day, which apparently involves people jumping off of roofs and having car chases down narrow streets. Oh, and a helicopter of some sort. And, as if the traffic weren’t bad enough, now we’re all going to need to go see the darn thing when it comes out in July just because we’re going to want to see Salzburg make her cameo appearance. And someone in our group got Tom Cruise to sign his forehead.

Monday we wandered around Salzburg some more, giving my sister plenty of time to accumulate lots of strange stuff at the Christmas markets. Late in the afternoon they tagged along with me and Rachelle to our weekly grocery shopping excursion and proceeded to buy lots of random Austrian goodies. My sister then ordered a hamburger at dinner that night. Fail.

On Tuesday, their final day in the city, we shopped some more (the Christmas markets are endless mazes) and ate lunch at a little out of the way cafe in order to escape the rain. Kirsten, Rachel, and Rachelle joined us in hiking up the Kapuziner Berg that morning, a feat that we had yet to accomplish in Salzburg and which involved quite a lot of steps. But the views were quite awesome.
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I had to run away to take a test for our Austrian Culture class, but we said our goodbyes later that night over pizza at a little restaurant near their hotel. They left on a 6:45 train to Munich the next morning. Their trip went so fast, but I’m glad they all could come so that they’re not relying on pictures alone to imagine we’re I’ve been living all fall. It’s a city worth seeing, and one I’m going to have a very hard time saying goodbye to when I leave in less than three weeks.

That’s right, less than three weeks. I still have so much to see and do and papers to write and things to buy and foods to try. But somehow it will all get done. I think. I had fried dough and sauerkraut for dinner at the Christmas market on Wednesday (Austria will clog your arteries) before we went ice skating one more time on, and this time more of the girls came with us so that we had quite a group. My friend Kenza bonded with an adorable Austrian little girl who then kept following us around and holding her hand. Too much cuteness. We had a lot of fun, and I somehow managed not to fall even once.

Thursday was Thanksgiving, though it was hard to notice over here. Some kids were pretty upset about not being home for the holiday, but it was interesting to try and take the Austrian point of view and see it as any other Thursday in November. Some of us went to the weekly farmers’ market in the morning and marveled at the endless amounts of cheese and breads and meat. I have determined I’m going to need to live in a city with markets. They make life much more fun. That night, after an afternoon session of paper writing, we did get some semblance of holidayness when we all got dressed up to go to dinner. It wasn’t turkey and mashed potatoes, but it was a good meal at the oldest restaurant in central Europe, as well as performances of various numbers from Mozart’s operas. The restaurant was beautiful, and it was nice to be there as one big group to help ward off the homesickness some people were feeling.

Dinner didn’t wind down until about 11 at night, and yet 21 out of the 36 of us were up and ready to drive to Innsbruck at 6:30 this morning. We drove down through the Alps in the dark, arriving in the still sleepy town of Rattenberg while the frost still clung to the grass and the sun wasn’t high enough to melt the fog off of the mountains.
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In typical Andreas style, we hiked our way up a hill to see a fortress that it turns out we couldn’t get into anyway. But the views were good, and the hike kept us from freezing in the early morning mountains so no one complained too loudly. After our stop over we got to Innsbruck about a half our later. Two time home of the Winter Olympics, Innsbruck is much further into the mountains than Salzburg, and the peaks looked almost fake in all of their snow capped hugeness. We stopped for strudel at a little bakery (sour cherry and cinnamon-yum!) before going on a tour of the city with Andreas. The Christmas markets are all set up in Innsbruck as well, so the whole city smelled like Austrian Christmas- sauerkraut, chestnuts, and cinnamon.
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Innsbruck is rather like Salzburg in that many of its streets are winding and narrow, and the buildings themselves old and smashed together at strange angles. But Innsbruck has giants built into their streets and a Fairy Tale passage featuring statues of dozens of different fairy tales. We had fun trying to decipher the stories we knew from the German titles. After the tour we had just enough time to catch lunch and do some souvenir shopping before it was back on the bus and off to the town of Hall, a little outside of Innsbruck. Hall was another typical Austrian town, complete with Christmas decorations and church spires. Had Andreas had his way we would have made multiple stops after Hall, but we all insisted that sheer exhaustion was putting a damper on the touring, and so we all piled back on the bus for the last leg of our last AIFS excursion of the semester. We had a Sound of Music singalong before curling up as best we could in our seats and falling asleep on the 2.5 hour drive back to Salzburg.

Tonight we’re tired, there’s a party of Spanish speakers going on outside our door, and I’m wishing I had maybe done some homework instead of mess with blog entries and photo updates. But what’s done is done. Tomorrow we’re getting together with the girls at Frau Shoettke’s to ring in the Christmas season by improvising Christmas cookies as best we can with the measuring utensils and ingredients we could muster up. Should be fun, and hopefully the results will be edible. Sunday is a ‘real football’ face-off between Salzburg and Vienna, so we’re going to try and be there to cheer on our Red Bulls. So much to see and do, so little time! For better or worse, we’re on the home stretch.

To Bohemia and Back

Friday, November 20th, 2009

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Rachelle is being studious and working on her research paper at the moment, but my brain couldn’t handle any more refugee law. Blog writing is far more attractive then doing homework late on a Friday night anyway. Last Friday at this time though we were in Prague. We were up before the sun (we’ve done that far too many times this semester) that morning and on a bus to the Czech Republic by 6:45. We drove through the old border control station not too far outside of Vienna and then finally arrived in Prague around 1 in the afternoon. We had a city tour to orient ourselves after checking into our hotel (where Rachelle and I discovered, to our amusement, that we had the handicapped room), and it was only a matter of minutes into the tour that we all fell in love with Prague. It’s a city full of many different architectural styles (City of a Thousand Spires) with a history that hits you over the head while you’re walking around. We all crossed the Charles Bridge and rubbed a certain statue, a gesture we were told guarantees that we will make it back to Prague one day. There was a market going on in the Old Town Square that we wandered through before heading back to the hotel room and watching American TV dubbed in German while getting ready for dinner. We don’t have much access to TV here in Salzburg, so it was pretty funny to see actors we recognized speaking with what were obviously not their own voices. Dinner was provided for us at, oddly enough, a place called Al Capone Restaurant. We had schnitzel. Austrian food in an Italian-American restaurant in Prague. It really is a small world. We went out after dinner and some of my friends decided to embrace Czech culture by embracing absinthe. Wise decision? Probably not. But there are some interesting pictures of them all attempting to light sugar on fire before drinking it.

The next morning some of us girls met up with a friend of Kirsten’s who was studying in Prague for the semester. She and a friend took it upon themselves to show us the ins and outs of the city, and they played the role of tour guides rather well. We were up early enough to witness Prague covered in a mist so thick that from the middle of the bridge you couldn’t see either shore. The girls took us up the many flights of stairs to Prague Castle (because what is a trip without climbing a mountain I ask you?) which is more of cathedral within a walled compound then a castle, but cool nonetheless. Had the fog not been determined to obstruct the seeing of anything more than two feet in front of you, the views from the hill would have been gorgeous. The castle gardens weren’t open and the cathedral was holding mass so we couldn’t get inside either of them, but all the more reason to make it back to Prague. We walked around more of the city, eventually coming to Lennon’s Wall, a section of wall graffitied over and over again with Beatle’s lyrics, peace signs, and names. It started as a means to convey anti-communist sentiments but has sense evolved into a general expression of peace, love, and all that jazz. Kind of cool to see the things people had scribbled on it. Not too far from the wall was a fence where couples wrote their names on a lock before clamping it to the fence and tossing the key into the river beneath. A bit melodramatic for my taste, but it makes for a cool collection of locks. After yet more exploring we came to the vegetarian restaurant that the girls had made reservations at for lunch. It’s become one of their favorite places to eat in the city, and after lunch it was easy to see why. We were excited to find cheddar cheese on the menu (Gouda’s great and all, but Austria doesn’t know what it’s missing with it’s lack of cheddar) and discovered a new taste for hot apple juice. The girls studying in Prague are also AIFS students, so it was fun to compare and contrast our experiences with the same program but in different cities. It seems a lot of us who ended up in Salzburg had at some point considered studying in Prague, but, as much as I loved it, Salzburg is so much of a home now that it’s hard to imagine spending the semester anywhere else. We said goodbye to our tour guides shortly after lunch, leaving us with time on our hands and not much of a plan. We settled for pretending to do homework while actually watching further strange German television. We ate dinner that night at the market in the square, where we ordered something we had at first thought to be some sort of snazzy Czech pizza but which turned out to be deep-fried dough with ketchup, garlic, and cheese. Interesting, and, we all agreed, really not very good. But we ate it anyway. We people watched in the square for a while, and soaked in the city a bit.
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It was an early night though because it was an early start yet again on Sunday. We traded the big city environment of Prague for the small, medieval Czech town of Český Krumlov about 30 km from the Austrian border. The entire town has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, quite the feat considering that twenty years ago it was falling apart under communism. It was a cute town, “crooked” as our tour guide called it, full of colorful old houses and narrow streets.
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We ate lunch at a tiny little sandwich shop and then spent the rest of our Czech currency on an odd Czech dessert that consists of rings of fried dough coated in sugar and cinnamon. Yum. Though of course, in true Czech style, the line took forever, and we then had to run to catch the bus. It was worth it.

We got back into Salzburg around dinner time. The rest of our week passed fairly uneventfully. The homework is piling up, so many of us have spent quite a bit of time holed up in our rooms attempting to finish assignments. In our Austrian Culture class on Tuesday our teacher invited a man who had grown up in California but who moved to Salzburg as an adult 27 years ago to come in to talk to us about the differences between Austria and the US. He rambled a bit, and he of course hasn’t lived in the States for a time longer than we’ve all been alive, but his perspective was interesting. I was especially amused when he, the native English speaker, had to stop a few times and ask our professor, the native German speaker, what the English word for certain things was. Just goes to show if you don’t use a language you lose it.

Wednesday and Thursday the excitement built in Salzburg over the imminent arrival of Cameron Diaz and Tom Cruise who are filming a movie here over the next few days. One girl in our group has reported a Cameron Diaz sighting, but they’ve fenced off most of the movie set so hers may be the first and last. We went ice skating at the newly set up outdoor ice rink in the old town Wednesday night, and though our feet were sore by the end of the evening, Rachel, Rachelle, and I had a lot of fun. And the Christmas markets started here this week as well, so we’ve all been slowly getting into the holiday spirit, though the oddly warm weather isn’t helping too much. We have four different markets, each with a slightly different flair to them, and I’m sure we’ll be spending quite a bit of time Christmas shopping and pasty eating at all four of them. Some of us put on our dirndls today to go wander the markets, only to find ourselves the unintentional stars of the place. We had a number of Austrians comment on our outfits, and a number of Americans ask us what we were wearing and why. A bit more hard to swallow was the angry Austrian man who yelled at us for daring to wear flip flops, sneakers, and sandals with our dresses. We didn’t bring our whole closets with us, so our shoe choices are rather limited, but that shook us up a bit, and our enthusiasm for wearing our dresses and taking fun Salzburg pictures dwindled (we did, however, have people taking pictures of us. Tourists are weird.)

My parents and sister are coming tomorrow (in fact, I believe their plane is probably in the air by now), which is crazy because it feels like it was just yesterday that they finally committed to coming to visit. I’m meeting them at the Salzburg train station in the afternoon, and it will be fun to show them all the places I’ve explored over the past two months. Now if only all of my homework was done…

Through the Iron Curtain

Wednesday, October 28th, 2009

Last week was pretty slow by the normally chock full Salzburg standards. I had two tests so we spent quite a bit of time studying. The vice mayor of Salzburg came into our Austrian Culture class one night, and listening to what he had to say about the challenges of governing a city like Salzburg was pretty interesting. Then Salzburg had its annual jazz festival so some of us ventured out into the city to listen to some music. Granted, jazz by Salzburg’s definition is not quite what most Americans would call jazz, but it was fun. Wednesday night we found ourselves listening to some sort of gypsy band that sang in Spanish. Thursday night we jumped around from venue to venue and ended up exploring some parts of Salzburg that we’d never walked through before. It was good to have a fairly relaxing week though because it meant we had sufficient energy to embark on our latest weekend adventure, this time to Budapest.

Our train to Hungary left the Salzburg train station at 4:30 in the morning. After some consideration Rachelle and I, as well as our friends Mike and Phil who came with us, determined that it made the most sense to just stay awake through Thursday night and then sleep on the train for most of the morning. So Thursday afternoon I called to reserve a taxi for 3:30 AM and hung up a few minutes later only semi-confident that the woman at the taxi company had understood what I was telling her. When we were all standing in front of our dorm, freezing, at 3:30 and there was no taxi I wasn’t entirely surprised. I was however, a little nervous we were going to miss our train. After a few minutes of being creeped out by a strange car driving down our street backwards, discovering that it was in fact the newspaper delivery man and not a serial killer, and fretting about our lack of a ride, we walked towards the main road in hopes of finding a random taxi. We had just gotten around the corner from the dorm when we saw just such a taxi coming towards us. Much jumping up and down ensued. The taxi put his turn signal on as though he saw us, but then he turned down the street we had just come from. Assuming he was simply turning around, this did not concern us greatly at first. When we realized he wasn’t coming back for us we realized he probably had been our original taxi all along and was now waiting outside of our dorm. Rachelle proceeded to run down the street to fetch him. Just after she’s turned the corner Mike and Phil and I witness a bus pull out of the bus depot a block from our building. It’s 3:45 in the morning. You’re lucky to ever catch a bus past midnight here in Salzburg. And not only was this bus randomly leaving the depot in the middle of the night, it had Main Train Station as its destination. The three of us just about died. We have since declared it a Phantom Bus. Maybe it never existed.

Eventually Rachelle came back with our taxi and we made it to the station with plenty of time to spare. When we got on the train though we suddenly realized we had no idea where to sit. Our tickets had an assigned compartment, but all of the train’s other passengers had just come from Switzerland in the middle of the night and understandably were all sprawled across the seats sound asleep. We clunk up and down the train a bit before finally asking someone where we ought to be. Of course it’s four cars behind our current position, so we traipse all the way back. Upon finding our correct compartment we discover two women fast asleep. Awkward. We have to wake them up. They speak Hungarian. Eventually we all get seated and attempt to sleep for the seven hour trip.

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We got to Budapest groggy and hungry and quickly discovered we had no idea what was going on. We came out of the train station into a chaotic construction scene and had only a vague plan that involved getting to the metro. Where the metro was we hadn’t a clue. Fortunately someone pointed us in the right direction of the underground, and we lugged our luggage down the long escalator only to be reminded that we had no Hungarian currency, and we couldn’t buy metro tickets in Euros. Cue trekking back up the escalator and venturing out into the surrounding streets in search of an ATM. This was no easy feat. When we did find one we had no idea how much money we needed, as the Hungarian forint was so inflated at one point that a meal might cost 1000 forint. Really strange to see an ATM spit out a bill with 10,000 written on it. Money in hand we guessed our way through the metro and to our hostel. The hostel was in the middle of yet another construction site, and a crowd of rowdy people carrying flags seemed to be standing directly in front of our building. Confused, tired, and growing increasingly annoyed at our inability to read Hungarian, we fought through the crowd and to the hostel door. Now the the outside of this building was possibly one of the sketchiest buildings in the history of ever. We had already become nervously aware of the general rundown appearance of parts of the city, and so it was with a great deal of trepidation that we hiked up the several flights of stairs we had to take to the hostel itself. Much to our delight, the hostel turned out to be a perfectly lovely little hotel, with free cookies and a lot of other travelers willing to share their various travel stories.

We ate lunch that first day at a Hungarian restaurant not far from our hostel. The rest of the day we spent napping and wandering around, getting our feel for the city and the things we wanted to see and do. It was also a Hungarian national holiday, celebrating the anniversary of their 1956 Revolution. We saw a huge parade of people carrying Hungarian flags and lots of the buildings in the city were decked out in red, white, and green. Though the revolution was ultimately unsuccessful, Hungarians are still very proud that theirs was one of the first attempts to overthrow communism in the Eastern Bloc. Saturday we woke up and set out along Vaci Street, one of Budapest’s main tourist drags, until we got to the Central Market Hall. The first floor of the huge building is mostly food stands with vegetables and fruits spilling out everywhere. Upstairs is filled with souvenir stalls and people trying to sell stacking dolls, lacy tablecloths, and beer steins. We wandered through the maze of aisles, bought some neat pastries (real whipped cream!), and then left to see more of the city.

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Exploring seemed to involve climbing a lot of hills. Budapest is actually two cities, Buda and Pest, divided by the Danube River, and the Pest side is relatively flat, but the Buda side has several large hills. We climbed up endless amounts of stairs, and from there we could look out over a lot of the city. We saw the former palace, which is now a museum, and Fisherman’s Bastion, which is some sort of former fort overlooking the river. To me it just looked like a sandcastle. The guys went into a military history museum, but Rachelle and I sat outside rather than stare at a bunch of old war stuff. That night I had one of my favorite foods for dinner- cabbage and noodles! Yum.

Sunday we planned to venture to Memento Park. After consulting numerous guidebooks it seemed that this park would be a cool place to see a piece of history because, basically, after communism ended in Hungary, Budapest put all of its old communist statues in one park rather than destroy them. We caught a tourist bus from one of the main metro stations and quickly realized how ridiculous the whole thing was going to be. Communist march music blared over the bus’s speaker system. We drove about 20 minutes outside of town and got off the bus at a dusty patch of ground in a semi-residential area. The guide informed us that we had an hour and half to see all of the “sites” of Memento Park. Picture if you will half a dusty football field with two dozen or so large, angry looking statues spread around, and none of the figures have any explanations or labels concerning their history or former location. Imagine our joy at discovering we could see all of them in fifteen minutes. Granted, the statues were kind of cool in a we’re-definitely-in-Eastern-Europe sort of way. But even after admiring them thoroughly we had tons of time left to kill, and so we spent it watching old Hungarian spy training videos in a dark little room on the edge of the park. Pretty interesting to discover their government’s undercover agents in the 1970s were fairly incompetent. (And one of the men was a Horvath!)
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After being completely dumbfounded by the oddness that was Memento Park we took the bus back into the city and then attempted to get lunch. Of course it was Sunday so not much was open. What we did come across was a cheap Chinese place on a little side street. Questioning our choice in eating establishment we walked in and proceeded to point and order whatever it was that looked vaguely familiar. The woman at the counter spoke more English than we’d anticipated so communication wasn’t as tricky as anticipated. The real treat came when she put our food on the plates and then stuck them in the microwave. Reheated Chinese food. Oh boy. But it wasn’t too bad, and no one died of horrific food poisoning so chalk it up to an entertaining cultural experience. After we ate lunch we wanted to take a tour of Budapest’s awesome Parliament building. Of course we missed the last English language tour of the day by about a half an hour. Instead we went to Margaret Island in the middle of the Danube and marveled at what is supposedly a resort area in the summer but basically looked like a bunch of overgrown tennis courts and lots of shuttered bars and hotels. But the fall leaves were pretty. Later that day we hung out with the Australians and other Americans staying in our hostel and went out to dinner with a French guy who was there as well.

Our last day we had just about run out of things to do and see but we soldiered on. We had yet to see Andrassay Street, a high end shopping district with some of the city’s historical sites, so we walked up that. There were so many Western stores that it was hard to imagine what the city must have been like under communism twenty years ago. We trudged through the misty rain and made it to Hero’s Square at the end of the street. The square is a monument to the 1956 Revolution and is flanked by a few museums and whatnot. We wandered through the square and into City Park which has its own castle, zoo, and circus. We saw the castle, but mostly we just walked around and enjoyed the fall leaves (Rachelle, our resident California girl, especially). After still more walking we ended up back at the Central Market Hall to spend the rest of our Hungarian forint on some pastries. Our train left at 6 Monday night, and we were lucky enough to get a six person compartment to ourselves so we could stretch out. The train lurched its way across the two countries, getting in to Salzburg at 1 AM, a half hour later than it was supposed to be. Luckily, our 8:30 class on Tuesday had been canceled so we unpacked, collapsed, and slept for quite some time. All in all, it was a great trip to someplace that we picked kind of spontaneously. Everyone was really friendly, and it was unlike any other place I’ve been so I’m super happy we went. Today we just bought more-expensive-than-necessary tickets to Florence, Italy for next weekend so more travels to come. For the next week and a half though I’m going to be doing a lot of homework. And we’re all excited for Halloween, Salzburg style.