Each summer the Flinn Scholars Program takes an entire class of Scholars to Budapest, Hungary, and neighboring Romania for a three-week seminar on the emerging democracies of Eastern Europe. Here’s a day-by-day account.
Sachi Patel (’09)
Jam sessions complete with dancing, bracelet-making lessons from Dawn, story time about Hungarian history, and intermittant naps–all of this happened just on the bus ride from the hotel to our next stop, Hunedora Castle. One of the things I have most enjoyed about this trip is the other Scholars, since their diversity of talents and intelligence ensure that there is never a dull moment, even on a three-hour bus ride! It’s safe to say that by the time we arrived at the castle, it had already felt like an entire day had gone by.
Once we reached the castle, our first priority was lunch, since Flinn and food are essentially interchangeable! Lunch consisted of sandwiches, chips, chocolate, and tons of fruit which excited us all since simple fruit (especially grapes!) has been a scarce commodity during this trip. After lunch, we played a game of soccer that turned into a game of keep-away. Despite miserably losing, I still had fun (since the mere act of playing a game on a castle wall can make you feel like a winner).
The actual tour of Hunedora Castle then ensued. Often I tend to fall into the illusion that the past could never live up to the world that we have created in the 20th century. The castle tour completely dispelled this illusion. Seeing the stolid and creative architecture of the castle that had been built in 1440 made me realize how brilliant the people who made it must have been to have created something so massive without modern tools.
Though the building was made without modern tools I could already see the effects of modern civilization on the building. The gift store was full of Hannah Montana perephanelia and other items that had no real relationship to the actual castle. The extent to which the castle had been modernized made me sad, since I suddenly became aware of how fragile the past is. If the modern century is already leaking into historical monuments, what will be this castle’s fate in another hundred years?
Another short bus ride and we reached the hotel we were staying at for the night–Hotel Translyvania–which was located in Alba Iulia. The tour of Alba Iulia was probably one of my favorite parts of the day. This tour was full of visiting old Roman sites that had guards in dramatic costumes who guarded everything, including the grass. Every time one of us absentmindedly stepped on the grass or gravel, a whistle was blown at our entire group! One of the guards let us take pictures with him. When Hugh asked the guard to make the peace sign with him in a picture the guard, looking confused, pulled out his sword instead and let Hugh hold it during the picture; the ‘peace’ picture turned into a ‘war’ picture in less than a second!
During the tour we also saw a short exposition that highlighted the effects of car pollution on ancient limestone statues. For one of the first times I saw the tangible effects of our civilization on more ancient civilizations. The intricate statues had become dull and wore-out to the extent that it was not even clear what they had been in the first place. Statues and other things made out of limestone that had stood for hundreds of years had been ruined in half a century by us.
While the effects of us on beautiful buildings frightened me, another thing about the city frightened me as well. Alba Iulia had quite a few stray dogs that wandered around the city, and, since dogs top my list of fears, I was forced to put on a brave face and refrain myself from yelping every time I saw another dog.
After the tour we were given free time to eat dinner. I ate dinner at an Italian restaurant with some other Flinns. At the restaurant our verbal skills were put to a test as the waitress knew little, if any, English. Despite this, we managed to get the food we desired. Our day ended, as most days do, with a short gelato trip! Due to how common gelato shops in Hungary and Romania have been, many of us have become ice-cream addicts in the past few weeks! After the gelato fix we headed back to the hotel where we hung out and talked for a couple of hours before sleep got the best of us. The day, full of eye-opening events, fun moments, and gelato, had finally ended.