Picture of the skyline of Graz

This is a copy of my study abroad blog, moved here as a backup. The original post can be viewed here.


July 21, 2015

Alas readers, it is true, my time in Europe has finally ended. As of writing this, I’ve been back in the States for a little under a week two weeks exactly three weeks, trying my best not to wake up at 4 in the morning (boy have I put off writing this). However, for those of you who are sad to see this ending, don’t be sad quite yet, as I still have one last trip to write about! That’s right, before I returned to the US, I went on one last short vacation to a few cities before making my way back home. So sit back, and relish in my final tale.

The end of June/beginning of July was filled with preparations for leaving and finishing up my classes. I didn’t have nearly as many exams as I typically do in the US, only one written exams and two orals. I did have to spend several afternoons visiting various offices around Graz, making sure that I was taking all the proper steps in leaving Austria. Changing countries is quite the hassle! Finally however, my final day in Graz finally arrived, and I crammed 5 months of stuff into my single suitcase and got ready to spend a few days on the road. The people in charge of housing were forcing all of the exchange students to leave by the 3rd of July, but my flight didn’t leave until the 7th, so I had about 4 whole days to find a place to stay in Europe, so I might as well spend it in some new countries!

The housing people came and checked me out by about 8:30 AM, so I sat and killed time in my ex-apartment with my ex-flatmates until it was time for my train to depart. I said my goodbyes and made it to the train station, and hopped aboard the first of three trains that would take me to Budapest, Hungary. In typical fashion, my trip to Budapest was not without excitement and trouble. The first of the trains was very pleasant and stress-free. From what I was able to gather, the train I was on is primarily a commuter train to take people from various train stops across Graz and the surrounding towns. I honestly didn’t really know this system existed, as it runs between parts of town I never needed to travel between. I also figured out that if you continue to ride this train out of Graz and all the way to it’s final stop, it takes out into the middle of nowhere, just within the Hungarian border. For those of you who haven’t been into rural Hungary, and I’m going to assume that’s most of you, picture it like this: Have you ever been to Kansas? It’s just like that. It was flat, covered in farmland, and people were sitting on their porches watching the people get off the train. I got off at the station and made my way to the only other train and got on. This train was not nearly as nice as the train I’d taken out of Austria. Picture in your mind the sort of trains associated with a former communist nation, and you’ve got the right idea. The trains I was used to had nice automatic doors, A/C so there was no need to have opening windows, and interiors that weren’t beige-colored. The Hungarian train did not have these things. Wanna dangle out the window? You can in Hungary! In any case, I rode this second train to its final stop as well, where I made my final connection which would take me to Budapest. This is where the trouble began.

This train was much more typical than the other train I was on, and I settled into what would be my final train ride in Europe (I would be taking a bus from Budapest back to Vienna). Everything was going well, I was listening to me tunes and planning out what I would need to do once I got into the city, when the ticket attendant came by. Not a problem, this was my third train of the day after all, so I handed her my ticket. She looks at it, looks back at me, pauses with a troubled look on her face for a few moments, then asks me in broken English ‘No, your ticket’. Well, this is a bit of a problem, as the thing she’s holding is the only ticket I’ve got, so I tell her that that is in fact my ticket, and she begins to look rather annoyed. Just as I’m beginning to wonder how I’m going to walk to Budapest in 100º weather, a woman from a few seats ahead comes back and offers to translate Hungarian into English for me. She speaks with the attendant for a few minutes, then tells me that in Hungary, you not only have to have a ticket for the train, but should also have a seat reservation as well, and that who ever sold me the ticket should have told me that. I reply that I bought the ticket online, and this didn’t come up in the other two trains I’d taken today. I offer to pay for this mysterious ticket, anything to not get thrown off the train into European Nebraska. The attendant is still annoyed, but says that this would be acceptable. However, I’m not in the clear yet, as Hungary doesn’t accept the Euro, and I haven’t had a chance to get any Hungarian currency from an ATM. Eventually, we come to an agreement where this nice Hungarian woman would pay my ticket in Hungarian Forints, and I would pay her the equivalent amount in Euros. With me so far? Good, because here’s where even I get confused as to what happened. The attendant goes off to check the rest of the tickets, though I was assured she’d be back to rectify the situation. There’s another problem as well, apparently while on route, the company that runs the train will switch partway through our journey, so a SECOND ticket attendant will come along, and we’ll have to go through this whole process a second time. Or so I thought. In the end, the original ticket attendant didn’t come back to check on me (fine by me, didn’t like her anyway). When the new ticket attendant arrived, she took my original ticket, looked at me, and stamped it without any issue. So, I didn’t end up needing to pay for a second ticket, and I swore to never ride another European train again.

Finally, several paragraphs later, I arrived in Budapest. By this point, it was about 6 PM, so I made my way over to the hostel and checked myself in. The hostel seemed like a nice place, and was located across the first floor of this secluded courtyard area, which was pretty neat. Before turning in for the evening, I decided to wander the streets for a bit, and to find some dinner. I ate at a knock-off Chipotle for dinner, found a really cool courtyard next to one of the train stations, and went to what may be the biggest mall I’ve ever seen in my life. Not horribly touristy, but there would be plenty of time for that tomorrow. I met someone in the room next to mine, a Belgian student named Tom, and we chatted for a bit before I went to bed.

The next day, for those of you keeping track, was the 4th of July! Sadly, I was in Hungary, so there wasn’t much of the typical American hoopla about. Since this was going to be my only full day in Budapest, I decided to try and see as many of the big landmarks as I could, so I went to go and join a free walking tour in the morning. If you’re in Europe with only a day to see the city, walking tours are really the way to go, I probably went on over a dozen of them during my stay. Anyway, the tour was to meet in front of St. Stephen’s Cathedral, the large church a few blocks away from where I was staying, so I went over there in the morning, and arrived a bit early for the tour. Since the cathedral is near to the Danube River, I decided to walk over and see the riverside view for myself. Just as the river emerged into view, I heard the sound of a low flying plane flying overhead. Thinking nothing of it, I walked over to one of the bridges and began taking photographs, when a stunt plane flew under the bridge and down the length of the river. Turns out, that today was the air racing world championship! This was one of the test flights, as the pilot flew down the river, went around some large buoys with a flourish, and flew back up into the sky. I watched a few practice runs like this before I had to head back towards the cathedral for the tour, but I planned on returning for the main event.

My tour guide was a young Hungarian woman who taught us a few words of Hungarian (which I forgot) before we began the walking tour. Unfortunately, due to the air show, the main pedestrian bridge to the other side of the river (the “Buda” side) was closed, so the walking tour would have to be altered to focus only on the Pest half of the city. We covered quite a bit of ground, she showed us one of the original metro stations, the entrance to a nuclear fallout shelter, and a ferris wheel, among other things. More notably, she took us to a memorial which commemorated the Hungarian victims of the Nazi occupation during the last year of WWII. She did tell us that this memorial was very controversial, as Hungary was a member of the Axis during most of the war, and it was only after they switched sides to the Allies in 1944 that the Nazis occupied them. She said that to pretend that they had no participation with the Nazis was a lie. In any case, there was also a memorial to the Soviet soldiers who liberated Hungary, a statue of Ronald Reagan, and a motion sensor fountain, which turned off whenever someone walked nearby. The kids love it. The final stop on my walking tour was to the Parliament building of Hungary, which is an absolute monster of a building, but very pretty.

By the time the tour was over, it was time for the air show to begin! Plus, we ended right next to the river! I walked over to the edge of the Danube, where hundreds of people were lined up to see the start to the air show. I quickly grabbed some lunch from some food stands, and waited for it to begin. Some helicopters came and did some arial acrobatics, followed by fighter jets and large cargo planes. Finally, the stunt planes themselves began their runs. Now, I’m not quite sure what I expected with this. The first 5 or 6 runs were really cool to watch, but after that… They really just do the same thing every time. They fly down the river, under the bridge, through the buoys, do a loop, and come back the way they came. Rinse, repeat. After a while of this, I became bored and decided to give up on the air show and return to being a regular tourist. I’d been told by other exchange students that the hot springs were the place to go in Budapest, so I looked up where the best hot springs in the city were, and made my way there.

The hot springs are really cool. It’s not a mud pit type hot spring, instead it’s a series of large swimming pools. There are fountains arcing water into the pools, and one of them even has a circular area in the center, with jets aligned around the edge so that it creates a circular current you can ride in. It was a good time, especially since the weather was over 100ºF that day. I stayed at the pools until the sun was beginning to go down, then I made my way back to find some dinner and settle in for the night.

The main plan for the next day was to get myself from Budapest to Vienna, this time by bus instead of train. I got up fairly early to check out of my hostel, and rode the metro clear outside of town to the international bus station. While this bus station was better than most, it still wasn’t something to boast about. I was on a mission to spend all of my Hungarian loose change, so I had a lovely breakfast of croissants and smoothies. Eventually, my European bus arrived, and I made my way back into Austria. I decided to stay at the same hostel that I’d stayed in my previous visit to Vienna, but this time I somehow scored an even nicer room. While this room had 7 people staying in it rather than 4, it was on the top floor and was incredibly spacious. Against one of the windows was a ladder leading outside to a metal walkway that ran along the roof. I decided to check out the view, so I climbed up onto the walkway and looked out at the city. Before I could get any pictures, however, one of the cleaning staff noticed me on the roof, and I got quite the yelling. Turns out that was the fire escape, and visitors weren’t allowed up there. It’s their fault for putting such an inviting ladder!

In any case, I lounged around the lobby of the hostel, and then hung out in my room for a little bit, meeting my fellow roommates. As per usual, there were people from all over the place, Mexico, Finland, Australia, etc. I hit it off with a girl from Ireland, who invited me along with her Irish friends out to dinner (I clearly have a way with words, apparently). So, the two of us went out and met up with two more Irish girls, where we proceeded to ride the metro across town to a cheap, traditional Austrian restaurant they had been recommended. It’s a weird twist of fate, where after five months I’ve suddenly become the German speaking expert of the group, despite speaking appalling German. In any case, dinner was nice (I had the goulash) and afterwords we went back to our hostel to hang out in the lobby for a bit before splitting up to go to bed.

The next day, the Irish roommate (Ava) had plans to leave in the early afternoon, but decided to go on one of the walking tours around Vienna, and I decided to come along. We hung out and chatted in the lobby while we waited for the tour to begin, then we joined the tour guide to see the sights of Vienna! Many of which I’d already seen. We did stop by some new sights, however, such as the infamous art institution that rejected Hitler (awkward), some theaters where Mozart lived and worked at, as well as a hotel that caters to prize racing horses. Just before the end of the tour, however, Ava had to suddenly run off to catch a train to Prague, so that was the last I saw of her. Following the tour, I decided to wander around one of the major shopping districts, as this was my last full day in Europe and I’d bought little to no souvenirs at this point. I didn’t find anything too exciting, although I did get a gift for my mom, as well as a large Austrian flag which I plan on displaying in my bedroom :). It was getting late at this point, so I went back to the hostel, repacked my bags for the 4th time to prepare them for the flight, and then just hung around the hostel until it was time to sleep.

And at long last, it was here, my final day in Europe. I got up early to check out, then rode a metro line for a long while to the edges of the city, where the airport was located. I must say, after spending months going to dirty and beat up bus and train stations, the clean, pristine airport was quite the change. It didn’t take me too long to go through Austrian security, and soon enough, I was on a plane back home. It was about a 10 hour flight, and I ended up watching 4 movies, including the Avengers twice. I had a layover in Chicago, where I had to go through customs and security once again. If you’ve ever been on an international flight, you know that they give you these forms to fill out while your flying to hand into the officials at the checkpoints, but I’ve never had anyone ask for them. Every time, I get there, form in hand, and instead I have to use some kiosk rather than the form. I donno why they bother. In any case, Chicago security was much less pleasant than Vienna, but I made it onto my flight in the end, and an hour later, I was back in Lincoln.

So, I guess that’s it! That’s all I have to share. I do have some short videos that I’ve taken at random points during my travels, that I might make a special section for, but I haven’t looked into the best way to share videos on here, so that’s a maybe. Other than that, I’m back in Nebraska now, with about a month left before I begin my final year at college. I definitely dragged my feet writing this one, but it’s out and over with finally. If I find myself on another cool adventure, like to the moon or something, I might write more posts, but the ‘Austin in Austria’ segment is definitely finished. So, for the last time, thank you for reading!

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