I saw civilization this weekend. It's still there and seems to be doing just fine without me. The ironic part is that the city I went to, Budapest, used to be one of the more exotic places I'd ever been. Now it feels like the exact opposite.
During my train ride on Friday, I looked out the window and watched the flat nothingess disappear. It was traded for hills, trees, and signs of civilization (buildings and people instead of fields and, well, nothing). Before this, I hadn't realized how remote Békéscsaba felt.
I've been down here for roughly a month, and I had forgotten what it's like to speak English at a store or restarant. It felt pretty cool in Budapest though, because a waitress would talk to me in English and I'd suddenly think I could understand Hungarian! Then I would face the truth, I still don't understand Hungarian, but she does speak English. Waitress 1, Alex 0.
When I arrived in the city, I was most excited to see hills. You know those tools that have water with a bubble in it to measure if something's flat? Well Békéscsaba could be used as a testing area for those because there isn't even a slight incline.
I hopped on the metro and headed over to Buda (the side of the river with all the hills). I got off in Moscow Square, a place renamed by the Russians. Those northern people may enjoy changing the name of every city, road, town, and building about every two years, but the Hungarians are more consistent. Moscow Square used to be called something different, but out of a desire to know the names of things in their city, the Hungarians let it remain when the Russians left.
Moscow Square was full of people. Commuters going home from work, beggars, shady looking people, residents of the area, and a wide variety of others. More notable though, were the capitalist beacons. Ten steps out of the metro station I had already seen signs for McDonalds, Burger King, KFC, and a big mall. Unable to resist the irony (and my empty stomach), I went and ate at KFC. For all I know, the name was translated into Hungarian and is called Kentucky Fried Csirke. Stranger things have happened.
There I sat with my coca-cola and 11 secret herbs and spices. I had a comfortable seat at a little counter pressed against the front window. I ate slowly so I could savor the view (and taste) of a communist named squared surrounded by the material joys of capitalism.
People stared at me. I would also stare at a man laughing to himself in KFC.
The rest of the weekend was great. I stayed at an awesome hostel with the most helpful owner I've ever met. At check-in, I couldn't fill in my registration form because he wouldn't stop talking. When he found out where I live and teach, he decided it's too boring and promised (multiple times) to find me a job in Budapest when my contract finishes. To make sure I agreed with the beauty of the city, he drove another guest and I around for a nighttime tour in his car. If you go to Budapest, stay at HomePlus Hostel.
That was the highlight, but there were a lot of other awesome parts. Great coffee and tasty cakes. Bookstores with more than 10 books in English. Beer in bars without my students watching me. Walking more than one block without someone recognizing me and saying hello. Watching a bunch of suckers run through the freezing rain of the Budapest Marathon. A two day period with no cats (I think Békéscsaba means "city of cats"). Rich people, poor people, trendy people and ugly people.
As I waited for the train to depart the city and take me home, I sat and daydreamed about museums and menus in English. Then I looked over and saw Jaq, another CETP English teacher, walk by. It's a small world and the ride home was filled with conversation, not just dark views out the window.
Budapest may be a city in Hungary, but it certainly isn't Hungary. If you want to see what life is really like here, struggle onto a train and witness the differences for yourself.
I was relieved to find, however, that Budapest grocery stores sell chicken feet.