Monday, March 27, 2006

Country Hopping!

Hey all you Americans,

This is my first time writing to you guys as a 20-year-old. Yep, I'm no longer a teenager! In addition to closing out my second decade on this planet, I can also add visits to Barcelona, Spain and Linz, Austria to my life's list of accomplishments. I am sorry to all of you who I miss dearly, but it will be difficult to leave Europe.

Stephanie has now seen the 8th World Wonder, in the city of Budapest. She came to pay homage to the greatest city in Central Europe with a group of about 96 students from the lesser county of Austria. I met up with her once she arrived, and got to meet all of her foreign friends. Once they finished their tours of The City and visited Hungary's restoring baths, we got to check out some of Budapest's night life. We headed to the pubs for some Hungarian Unicum liquer, then off to the Diskos!

Hungary, after many border changes, has become a land-locked country. So we headed to Barcelona, Spain to enjoy the refreshing Mediterranean breeze. In Barcelona, Steph and I met up with Ryan McMahon (known simply as 'Nebraska' to many of you) and Stephanie's friend Stella who is from Zaragosa, Spain. We spent the first day seeing all the unique sights of Barcelona, such as the mall attached to our hotel. It did have some really good crepes. The next day, we headed out to do some of the more touristy things. We saw Las Ramblas, the main drag of Barcelona. It was filled with outrageous street performers, struggling artists, and a grande helping of Paella! I'm pretty sure I gained 10 pounds in the week we spent in Spain. Following the rice and seafood skillet that was Paella, we downed a little bit of homebrewed Sangria (a Spanish wine and fruit coctail), some Tapas (assorted appetizers) including Patatas Bravas (amazing fried potatoes with special sauces on top) and Callos (look that one only if you are really curious and aren't reading this over dinner), and more Crepes. Besides the food, Barcelona's Harbor, Placa de Colon (Christopher Columbus), Picasso Museum, and Gaudi Park were very fun sights to see.

For those of you who, like me, could not place Barcelona on a map of Spain, it is very important to know that it is on the Northeastern / Mediterranean corner nearest France. This resulted in two important parts of our trip: mild temperatures and the Catalan language. We did get to see the beach, but the 60 degree Fahrenheit weather made it a little too cold for swimming. As for the language, Barcelona officially speaks Catalan, a Spanish dialect that also has some similarities to French. Not to worry, however. If your Spanish skills are good enough, the locals will, although reluctantly, speak to you.

Following Spain, I took a one week hiatus in Hungary. It was great to eat soup and buy lunch at the cafeteria for about $0.60. Spain is on the Euro, and is rather expensive, while Hungary still clings to its Forint for 2 more years. Thanks to Stephanie, I was, however, hooked on the Crepes that we ate every day in Spain. Mmmmmm, sweet goodness. So I made some back here in Hungary, where they are called Palacsinta (Puh-luh-cheen-tuh). The Romanians (my Dad) call them Clatite (Cluh-tee-tay).

So you may be wondering what is so important about those darn Crepes. I'm getting to it. On Thursday, I hopped on a bus then later a train towards Linz, Austria. After more than 6 months of hearing about it, I finally got to visit Stephanie in her home away from the Bluegrass. Quaint might be the best word I can find to describe Linz. Everything looks as if it is straight from my Mom's porcelain Christmas village collection. The city is nestled between some hills in Northern Austria. It is home to Austria's largest church and Europe's steepest mountain railway. Although our schedule didn't allow for those this time around, I had a great time in Linz.

The first night there, I got to hang out with Steph and her international friends in the Raab Heim (which must mean Ginormous DormHotel in Deutsch). The next day, we went on a hike to a nearby lake and played some football (European style - no hands). Then we went out for Linz's best pizza. Even Stephanie's Italian friends approved. This brings us to Saturday, the reason for my visit. March 25 was two anniversaries in one for me. The most lenghty marked 20 years since I was born. Mom and Dad, I owe you one, it has been one exciting life so far. Although it was my first birthday away from you, it was also the first birthday where I was sung to in 4 different languages! The second occasion for celebration was the one year that I have been dating the most amazing woman on the planet: Stephanie Craig. What is crazy is that we get to see each other more now that we are both in Europe! For the first time in 20 years, I can truly say that I am in love. That day, we woke up, walked the streets of Linz, sat down for some Wienersnitzel and Sauerkraut, and searched for a new Speedo so I could look more European at the beach. I chickened out of that one, for now. Then we went back to Stephanie's dorm and made Crepes with the French and Italians, who know what they are doing when it comes to crepes. Once we could eat no more, we headed out for some dancing at "Cheeese" and "RememBar". It was one great birthday present.

So now I am back in Hungary. I spent last night with the Hungarian Transportation Engineering students who live in my dorm. They had a competition where they shut down one of Budapest's six bridges over the Danube at midnight and raced student-built pedal-carts on the tram rails. It was a pretty sweet night, hanging out with 2 Ádáms, 3 Zsolts, a John Deere replica complete with smokestack, and about 1000 other competitive engineers.

Sorry for the length of this e-mail, just had to get out the feelings I have for Europe and its people (ok, the food too). This trip has made me more proud of the country I came from, but even more proud of the land from which my ancestors hailed.


Nick the Hun

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