Monday, September 04, 2006

a laundry novice

I learned how to do all my own laundry two and a half years ago, and have been doing it on my own ever since.  The washing machine here, however, has me stumped.  I’m glad to know that I’m not the only one - everyone in our group is struggling.  I did laundry for the first time today, though, and now I understand why everyone complains that the washing machines are the trickiest part of being here.  First of all, there aren’t really any instructions.  I think that if there were, I could pull out my Hungarian/English dictionary and figure it out. 

However, there are only pictures, and these pictures don’t make any sense to me.  They’re not the traditional “cold water,” “tumble dry low” figures on my shirt tags.  There’s a picture of an iron at one of the settings.  How does that correspond to anything one would use a washing machine for?  I typically iron my clothes AFTER washing (and drying) them.  Maybe it’s the permanent press setting.  I don’t know.  Today I washed a load of laundry for two and a half hours because I wasn’t aware that I was setting it to run for that long.  I thought I put it in for 25 minutes.  Oops.  Besides that, some of the clothes come out of the machine with blueish-gray spots on them.  Not all the clothes in one load, and not even clothes that are similar, but just one or two things.  Also, there is nowhere to put fabric softener.  So, just put it in the dryer, right?  Wrong.  There is no such thing as a dryer here.  They simply do not exist.  So we have all our clothes, underwear included, hanging on drying racks around our apartment.  Good thing no one in our group is easily embarrassed, because they’d have to get over it pretty quickly. 
Cooking is another adventure.  In order to use the oven one has to first turn on the gas, and then light the oven.  I haven’t figured out just how to do this yet.  Maybe I’ll let someone else figure it out first and then have them teach me.  Life is exciting enough without trying to light a gas oven. 
To get our excitement quota for the weekend, our group went up to a little touristy town called Szentendre on Saturday.

We took a half hour train ride there, and then spent the day poking around shops and eating in little cafes and taking lots of pictures of the architecture.  I spent the day apart from the group with Julia, and she was doing a photo collage of windows, so we stopped a lot.  The collage turned out really well, and there were a lot of adorable little homes once we left the tourist area of town.  We went up into the hills where it was more residential.  We found a little cafe that seemed less touristy than many, and we tried their goulash soup, which was delicious.  I’m looking forward to when the weather turns cold and hot soup will hit the spot.  It was tasty on a warm, sunny day, but it will be fantastic when the wind is cold and sleet is pelting down and I’m warmly ensconced in a little cafe.  It almost makes me wish for winter.  But anyway, when we were finished in Szentendre, we took a boat back down the Danube to Budapest.  Then it was home to make supper and plan a daytrip to the largest lake in Europe for the next day. 
  Lake Balaton
Unfortunately, we didn’t realize that we wanted to take the 7:13 a.m. train until it was almost midnight, and being on the train at 7:13 meant leaving the dorm at 6:30.  Ouch.  So after not nearly enough sleep, fourteen of us took the train through the Hungarian countryside to Lake Balaton.  Now, it might sound romantic to take the sunrise train through the countryside, but in fact, the landscape reminded me strongly of my home state - Iowa.  There were cornfields all along the tracks, and the trees were even the same kinds as Iowa has.  It felt a bit nostalgic, but I had kind of hoped for something a little more, um, European, I guess.  The lake could have been in the US, too.  Except for this - you had to pay to use the beach, and once you were in, there was no leaving.  So, since we had paid the equivalent of $2.50 to take the three-hour trainride there, I wasn’t going to pay the equivalent of $5 to use the beach.  The grass was just as good a place to take a nap, which was all that I wanted to do.  So I did, and it was lovely. 
What wasn’t so lovely was what happened at the end of our time there.  I was reading “Wuthering Heights” and Julia was beside me, napping on my towel when a man in his 30s came up to us and asked me a question in Hungarian.  Since I didn’t understand him and was a little creeped out by the fact that this strange man was talking to two seemingly alone girls, I just raised my book and continued reading.  It is not customary here to even smile at someone when you sit next to them on the bus, I did not think it was normal to start a conversation with strangers in the park.  He walked on, and another 30-something man walked by and joined the first man at the edge of the grassy area, and they stood together, watching us.  This went on for about ten minutes, and then they walked by again, saying something that sounded like the Hungarian word for cat - “cica.”  I was thinking of getting up and moving when a third man approached us and asked if we spoke English.  Julia was awake by now, and answered that we did.  He said he had a flower for us, and then asked if we’d do him a favor.  We didn’t respond, so he said he had some bread, and wanted to feed the ducks, and would we please help him.  Warning bells were going off left and right, so we said no, thank you, we were with a group, and were probably leaving very soon.  He assured us that it wouldn’t take very long, but we refused, and eventually he left.  The whole time he was talking to us the other men were watching.  Later Elizabeth told us that the third man had been talking to the first two men before he came over to us.  After we repeatedly refused the third man’s bird-feeding offer, all three men disappeared.  So Julia and I packed up our towel and books and moved to where a couple other people from our group were.  We hadn’t been far from them, but felt safer being right with them.  I’m not sure exactly what the men were trying to do, but I’m pretty sure feeding the ducks was low on their priority list.
Anyway, before leaving on the 5:50 train, Julia, Nate, Annaliese and I went to a little pub-like eatery, where I ordered the cheapest thing on the menu - a hot dog for $1.50.  It was the hugest hot dog I’ve ever seen, and it wasn’t on a regular hot dog bun either, but a HUGE baguette.  There was Hungarian ketchup and mustard on it, too.  Hungarian ketchup is very runny, and sweeter than American.  The mustard is more of a paste here, and it’s very dijon-y, but I like it, which is interesting, since I don’t like American mustard of any sort.  Just an interesting observation

Posted by Emily MacLeod on 09/04 at 01:55 PM
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