Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Vienna 2

A few notable things about Vienna:

1. It´s been honkin´ cold since we´ve been here...definitely the coldest we´ve been this whole month. Crazy brisk winds.

2. When the bus stops, get your butt on it! Throw ´bows if you have to. After the bus taking off before Lan actually stepped on it in Lithuania, we were used to rude drivers...HOWEVER, when homeboy shut the doors on Lan and Jackie right behind me, I bout flipped. They just banged on the door, and he let them on. Good for him he didn´t drive off. lol. You know I woulda given him an earful of English he didn´t wanna hear.

3. Everything shuts down about 6...all the shops. Capitalism has not made its way over here yet. Unless it´s a pub, tea or coffee house, or some souvenir shops, it´s closed about dark. Craziness. Where´s a homie supposed to find some fruit?

4. The people are very diverse here...all colors and sizes. It´s kinda nice, but it makes it hard to get a feel for what Austrian culture might look like.

5. Everybody´s about some Mozart here...they claim him. They even sell these amazing special chocolates named after him. The chocolate is combined with hazelnut cream and marzipan, which is like a super-condensed sugar (kinda tastes like amaretto flavoring, I really like it).

6. The Hapsburg dynasty is way more interesting than I ever thought it could be. We´ve now toured Schonbrunn Palace as well as the Hofburg, the summer and winter homes of the family, and they lived large to say the least. It´s just crazy the elaborate detail that went into everything from architecture to plates. Interesting people.

There will be much more observations about Europeans in general to come once I´ve arrived at home and had time for consolidation of all my new experiences. We leave for Budapest by train tomorrow afternoon, then one night at good ole Hotel Ibis, then headed to TN! I can´t wait. Not that I haven´t enjoyed my time here, but I just miss home. Thank you all so much for reading, replying, texting, emailing, and commenting.

Nat- I can´t wait to see pics of the Kleenex box.

Will- thanks for the proofreading, I´m gonna blame the humongous hurry I´m always in to bang these posts out since I´m usually paying for the time.

Lecia- my most faithful person-who-misses-me-and-lets-me-know-it, I have gotten your texts and have been so excited to receive them. I haven´t texted back because it costs me 0.50 per outgoing text. I love you, and I can´t wait to see you this weekend! Tell Dad I love him!

Mom and Lee, I miss you guys, you have to see Prague someday, and can we have spaghetti Friday night when I get home?

Everyone, Happy Halloween! Austrians just started celebrating it three years ago, so not much trick-or-treating going on. Oh well, trust me, it hasn´t stopped us from eating candy. lol.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Vienna 1

This blog´s gonna be hard to pull off since the keyboard I´m working with ain´t English...or angol as they say in Hungarian.

Backtracking a little, last Friday night, Lan and I were just taking it easy, chilling in Budapest, taking in all the sights we hadn´t seen. Since the beginning, Lan has wanted to get her hair cut while she was here. Every time we passed a salon, she would say, "Oh, we´ll do it later. No big deal." Well, the more we saw places, the more I wanted to get mine cut too. She went so far as to get a picture out of a magazine in order to make it easier for the stylist to understand, just in case there was a language barrier.

So as we´re strolling leisurely down Raday Street, a famous little nook with bombin´ restaurants and cute little shops, we drop in on a salon. We have no idea whether you have to make an appointment, so we just sit around until someone approaches us. Surprise...they knew we were American and the girl who spoke English finally came over to ask if she could help us. Lan was nervous about getting up to bat without the pic, so I volunteered to go ahead. And the woman totally understood. She had great English, and I had no problem trusting her. And it turned out okay. All the nasty, dead ends I was tired of seeing are now gone and my hair´s a little shorter. Lan has an appointment with the lady next week.

Saturday night Lan´s friend Jackie arrived at our hotel, and she was so excited to see her best friend. It was so neat that the two of us have gotten to spend time in Europe with our best friends our last two weekends. We all got settled in and packed for Vienna, which we arrived in today.

But not before drama...we had purchased a pack of subway tickets and were on our way to the train station via the metro. We had to change lines, and Lan had read that one ticket was good for 30 minutes even if there´s a transfer. So we didn´t think much of it. When we get off at the train station, there are "controllers" there checking tickets. It´s not like in the US where there´s a physical barrier to get to the metro. They just let you go and fine you if they catch you. Luck of the draw, I guess you could say. So we´re coming up the escalator, hand a guy our tickets, and he pulls us aside. The guy pretends he´s speaking English as he explains that these are no good for the transfer, and sure enough, it´s written on the back of the ticket. Great. I tried to explain to him that we thought they WERE good for transfer, and I´m pretty sure he either didn´t understand what I was saying or didn´t care. I´m probably gonna go with the latter. So homeboy fined us each about 12 dollars. I was livid. And we´re not even convinced he didn´t keep it. Ugh. But we finally got on our train.

Where I had to sit by a European that either doesn´t own deodorant or doesn´t find it necessary to shower every day. It kills me. I will never understand. I cannot believe that people enjoy that smell or don´t notice it. No way that´s possible.

But we made it to Vienna. As usual in a new city (just like in Prague), we have a hard time making it to our lodging. We had directions from the place from an email, and I tried my best to follow them as I knew how. And basically we´re about 8 miles and 30 minutes away from all that is Vienna. BUT we are on top of this hill beside a castle of a hotel with a beautiful view of the city. This is Lan´s and my second hostel experience, and it´s worked out okay. Our main requirements were no mixed quarters, shower and toilet en suite, and decent price. We got all that here.

We´ve done limited traipsing around the city center. This place is beautiful. St. Stephen´s Cathedral stopped us dead in our tracks. It´s amazing at night; we can´t wait to see it tomorrow. More to come...

Saturday, October 28, 2006

"Being hard-headed doesn't mean being hard-hearted"

Wise words of Lan's as we were talking over sushi tonight. We took the day slowly, getting up when we wanted, went to the mall to catch a movie, then ate sushi at a place near the cinema. Oh yeah, I didn't mention that yesterday, we wore out Buda by checking out St. Mathias church, Fisherman's Bastion, the Buda Castle, and the Labyrinth underneath the castle. We did some mad souvenir shopping as well. Got a lot done.

So back to today. I was reading this morning in Ephesians 3, and I was really convicted about how Paul spoke with such conviction, faith, and humility, and with such purpose. Lan and I have had many great opportunities to discuss my faith, the Bible, and the doctrine by which I believe. So after reading this morning, I was really convicted that she hasn't seen what it's all about since she's seen me be impatient, unforgiving, easily frustrated, and judgmental. I knew there would be a time later on for me to discuss this so I waited. Sushi seemed like the right atmosphere. I started by asking her if she knew other people closely who were professing Christians. When she didn't come up with any immediate examples, I kinda felt bad. If I was it, I knew it wasn't good. As I started explaining myself, I started tearing up! In the middle of the mall where were eating! This made her uncomfortable, but we suffered through it. I was glad to get it off my heart about there's so much to this Christian life when it's done right and that my life's not the best example to look at. She was surprised that it went that deep and that I was so hard on myself. This coming after last night, where I had a horrible night, being frustrated at every turn, and ready to snap...long story, not worth launching into. Long story short, we had a great talk about my faith story, my call to missions, and other general life truths. I know it was ordained. Thanks for all who are praying for me.
Last Leg

I'm on mine...of this trip, anyway.

I'm convinced that Lecia, my loving and faithful stepmom, is the only person that reads these updates based on response. I think maybe Donna and Leela, and Casey...maybe that's it. It's funny how "out of sight, out of mind" really applies more than you would think. My friend Nat and I always talk/complain/laugh about how we're the friends that keep in touch with our friends and if we stopped calling, we would have no friendships left. This trip has kinda nailed that home. lol. I don't know why it surprised me, but being here is not that far when it comes to the internet. I've checked email, myspace, and blogs almost every day by some means or another. And even texted on my cell. That's all. Just wanted to share observations.


Szeged was gorgeous...a beautiful credit to Hungary. The city has around 160,000 people and many of them are university students from around the world. It seems like many of the universities in Hungary have students from all over...mainly Iran, Germany, and even some from the US. We were greeted at the train station by Leela, a pharmacist who had traveled to Memphis and is currently expecting her second child in February. She was gracious to show us the city center...a cute little courtyard lined with shops, banks, and confectionaries...a favorite of mine and Lan's. She showed us Dom Square, this huge, open courtyard with a catchedral at one end and the other three sides are lined with classrooms. Great pictures to come. She then took us outside the city to her mother's pharmacy, where we were given a tour and a chance to set down with refreshments. Her mother was extremely hospitable and mentioned that she enjoyed our presentation at Siofok. They even asked for a copy of the file! We had another good discussion about the current state of pharmacy and healthcare in the country and the government. Leela's mother seemed interested in the clinical aspect being added in order for private pharmacists in Hungary to secure their niche with the patient. The problem is that the government wants to "liberalize" over-the-counter products and allow them to be offered in places like Walmart or gas stations. They are currently only available from a pharmacist. It's safer this way and allows the pharmacist to play a role in the process. If people just go around guessing without knowing the potential effects (interactions with disease states or current medications), the costs may actually be greater on the later end (such as emergency room bills). It's what the pharmacists in Hungary are working hard against currently.

Our hotel was super-nice, the Novotel in Szeged. It was walking distance from the city center and the university. The following day we toured the university and sat in on a lecture being given in English on Rheumatology. It was a great review for Lan and me, and we were able to talk with the students who were from Iran and Egypt. We had actually seen two of them at the amazing dessert shop we stopped in the day before. They were really interested in the role pharmacists get to play in healthcare here in the US. Many of the students here wish their education was less chemistry-based and more clinically-based. We are very fortunate.

We then toured a pediatric hospital with a clinical pharmacy named George. He took us to the NICU, and I almost lost my breath when I saw a premie that was about the size of my palm hooked up to about a million tubes. I don't know if I could do that job...taking care of such a small, fragile existence. I guess we'll see next month...I'm doing pediatrics at Vandy.

George was super-nice, and he ended up inviting us to this "ball" for the first year med and pharmacy students. lol. Lan and I were all wierded out because all these kids (about 18 or so) were decked the heck out in gowns and suits. And there we were in pants and sweaters...hilarious. I tried to at least dress up my makeup, but you know, there's only so much you can do. But we had fun. George, much like everyone else we meet, was surprised and disappointed when he found out he was hosting the only two girls in pharmacy school that didn't drink. Evidently our predecessors from last year set the bar high. lol. After him having a few, he dragged me out on the dance floor and I pretended to know some swing moves as we twisted and shouted to a couple of songs. I didn't wait too long to rescue Lan standing there alone with my purse (Lan refuses to dance...always).

One of the bouncers was some award-winning cage/street fighter that spent some time in Sacramento or San Francisco, one of those places. I tried to get my pic taken with him, but he refused...I think because he was working. He was nice, though. After talking to George about various things, we realize that we'd seen the kid before! During our karaoke escapade at the Kongress in Siofok, he had been on stage with us, singing over Lan's shoulder during our rendition of Red, Red, Wine! How crazy is that? We always say that the pharmacy world is small, but we had no idea it went worldwide!

The next day was laid-back, and we were able to enjoy a last day of walking around, eating a nice lunch with Leela on the River Tisza, and then heading for the train station.

Yesterday we booked our train tickets and a hostel for Vienna. Lan's best friend Jackie arrives here in about an hour, and we're all going together tomorrow to return to Budapest on Wednesday. I'm excited about Vienna, but I'm more excited to see my fam next weekend! I'm sad that I won't be watching Huntingdon play in the playoffs, but maybe next year we'll have a team.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Bombs over Baghdad?

Or Budapest? Just kidding...nothing that severe. Lan and I said bye to Casey when he took us to the bus station. I was sad not to get to say goodbye to all the people we met from LCC, but time did not allow. And I even teared up when the bus was rolling out! lol. Lan and I had such a good time. I was glad she got to meet Casey. And I was way excited to get to see Casey and his life there.

We had no problems getting into Vilnius, finding the right bus, and making it to the airport. We had no problems getting back to Budapest at all. On our drive into the city, we saw a sea of flashing lights down one of the roads and realized that's where all these cops racing past us were ending up.

Yesterday was a national holiday marking the 50th anniversary of the revolution Hungarians effected from the Communistic occupation of the Soviets. Laypeople faught long and hard to get them out of their city and won for almost two weeks before the army came back hard and resolutely. The Hungarians are a very passionate and patriotic people. They wanted to celebrate their heroes that gave their lives 50 years ago. However, if you know anything about the current political climate here, you know that the prime minister has been caught on tape admitting that he and his party lied about the economy to get re-elected. People are still furious, but there's no Constitutional allowance that can force him out of office. Parliament's all his party people, the Socialists, so they're not getting him out either. He knows the people hate him, so in order to protect himself, he police-barricaded the formal ceremony commemorating the holiday from the public. Only he and the other international offices who came to visit were allowed at the ceremony. So the protesters got mad...threw things, yelled things, set up their own barricades. And the police threw tear gas and shot people with rubber bullets.

Lan and I returned around 6:30 p.m. or so. We saw the reports on BBC and figured we could just head to the outskirts to shop and eat and stuff. So we get on the subway...and the stop we chose to get off was shut down. We were confused, but we just decided the next stop would work. Well, evidently the party wasn't over. We walk up the steps to see all these people just standing around with Hungarian flags. There are people of all ages and none of them seem extreme, so we just kinda warily walk towards the street. Then we hear, "BANG, BANG, BANG!" And Lan even said she heard some women screaming, so we immediately grabbed hands and RAN down the steps back to the subway. Being from Huntingdon, TN, I knew what guns sounded like, and that was them. It may have been only rubber bullets, but we weren't staying around to find out. So we headed on down to the next stop and had no problems. The stop that was shut down was evidently the middle of the crossfire, and reports said the conflict went on late into the night. Thankfully, our hotel is not super-central, so we were not in any danger. But what an experience! We almost wanted to take pictures, but I valued my life too much to be conspicuous.

So that's the closest near-death experience we've had since we've been here. And it was only rubber bullets. lol. Today we caught a train to Szeged, a beautiful little city in southern Hungary. The last pharmacy school is here, and we get to tour it tomorrow. But Szeged is beautiful! It's one of the neatest, cutest towns I've seen in Hungary. The government has put money back into reconstruction and the city just makes you happy seeing all the beautiful colors and architecture. The university is beautiful as well. We only walked into one of the main courtyards, but looking around, I could so live somewhere like this. You can walk anywhere and the city center has everything you could possibly need. The little square being sprinkled with little cafes and dessert shops. We walked in one today, and I thought just looking around would give me diabetes.

More news on Szeged to come. Thanks for reading!

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Loving some Lithuania

I'm not sure where I left off, but the important part is that Friday Lan and I left Budapest on a plane, stopped in Prague, then headed to Vilnius, where Casey met us at the airport. I met a nice guy on the plane who gave us a little LT history before we actually arrived, and he taught me how to greet properly, "Labas". We were the last ones to get through customs and were slightly slowed when the man asked me if I had health insurance. I looked at him like, "why the heck do you need to know, what is supposed to happen to me?" lol. But thankfully I had gotten an ISIC (international student card) before I left, which includes travel health insurance. Lan happened to carry her card, so we were set. Then homeboy wants to know why we're visiting. I figured the "nunya" that I wanted to throw at him might not be appropriate. So after telling him that I was here to visit a friend and that Lan was here to visit MY friend, we made it through.

Casey and I both tried to hide from each other as the distance between us shortened, but I saw him and he saw me, and I bout ran over the lady in front of me so I could give him a hug. He actually greeted us both with a rose, which he informed us was a typical Lithuanian custom. We got a taxi and headed to the hostel Casey had reserved for the night. We had a blast catching up, cutting up, and then letting Casey and Lan get to know each other and share laughs about me. lol. I'm used to it. I think I actually helped them with material.

The next day we checked out Vilnius before we headed to Klaipeda on a bus. Vilnius was neat and much different than the capitol of Hungary. Casey, of course, gave us cultural stats, historical facts, and the best tour available before we had to book it to the station. We all slept most of the trip and finally arrived at our destination around 4:30 in the afternoon. It was a short trip to Casey's flat from the bus station. His apartment is very cool. I was impressed to see how modern his place looks. Once we got our stuff settled, we headed to meet some peeps. Our first stop was the dorms. I was so pumped about meeting Vlad, one of Casey's students. After hearing so much about the kid and how cool he was, I felt like I knew him already...which was actually the phenomenon with most of the people I got to put faces with here. Vlad and Nan, a girl student from Thailand, were both cool and exactly as I had expected. We didn't stay long, but just ran through to say hi.

After that, we headed to the Soks' (pronounced Soaks) apartment to go to dinner together. Pisey (pronounced Pee-say, he's Cambodian) and Rebecca had just returned from the LCC spiritual life retreat. Once again, it was like meeting acquaintances that I already knew. lol. They said the same. We all headed to eat supper at this Mediterranean restaurant, Sinbado Oaze, where they had hookahs, the big bong-looking lamp-type things with a rope that you smoked flavored water through. lol. Very strange. We didn't take part but watched in amusement. I had hummus for the first time and was pleasantly surprised that I liked it. There was quite a communication breakdown between the waitress and our table because not only did we never receive the extra pitas we requested, but they never even brought Pisey's food! When we asked her about it, she asked if we were sure we hadn't received it...like we had it hiding under the table or something...right. But the food was the bomb despite the annoyance of the intermittent belly-dancer. lol. Fun times in the LT.

We headed back to their apt. to watch movies, share stories, and drink "Mint Juleps", this bombin' green chocolate shake that Casey named that Rebecca makes. It was a good night, then we headed home.

Casey's flat is freezing because the city hasn't decided to turn on everyone's heat yet, so Lan and I were both bundled under our own blanket on Casey's bed while he slept on his couch. And I must say, Casey's definitely given some of the Hungarian men a run for their money on the chivalry category this weekend. What a great host.

For the first time in a month, I got to go to church today! We went with Casey to his church where they speak Lithuanian but provide translation for those who speak English or Russian. I got to meet so many of his coworkers and friends here. We met the Soks again for lunch and then headed to the Curonian Spit, where the Baltic Sea touches Lithuania. With Klaipeda being the only port in Lithuania, there were a million cranes along the water. We rode the ferry across praying not to get bombed by gull-dung and then walked to the side of the sea. The harbor's on one side, the sea's on the other.

The beach was beautiful. Cold, but so peaceful. I loved it.

This afternoon we headed to a couple's home name the Hoelterhoffs. I loved Kim. She's from Chicago and so full of personality. They have three beautiful children, and I got to have the youngest one sleep on me for at least the majority of my time there. Pics to come. There were many of the ex-pats there, all of us preparing food and getting ready to watch LOST. It was so much fun. These people are great. I can definitely sense a community there.

We left that house with Andrew Stave, husband of Kim, Casey's boss. They also have a beautiful child, Yieva, which translates Eve in English. We talked to them forever about healthcare, pharmacy, cultural differences, and accents. lol. Kim said mine was thick and funny...which cracked me up when thinking of my family and how much worse theirs is than mine. But the Soks and the Staves are both from Oregon, so they can't say "bag" or "beg" any different, but other than that, I guess we're the oddballs. lol.

I'm so glad I got to see Casey's life here. I can see where I or most of our friends could learn to love it here. Except for the Soviet influence and the occasional skinhead, Klaipeda's cute and cozy. It's also been great to see Casey and catch up. I'm sad to leave tomorrow, but I'm getting ready to wrap things up. I miss my fam, and I feel like there's so much work with residency research and CV preparation that I need to get on top of when I get back. But I still plan on soaking up all I can for the rest of my trip. Only about 10 days left. I know there are still adventures to come.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Prague 2 until now

The symphony was nice, but the concert hall was nicer. It was the Rudolfinum if you want to look it up online. We did a little more shopping...there is always time for shopping. And actually, at the concert, there were two couples behind us with strong northern accents. We asked them where they were from, and sure enough, NY was their home! lol. They guessed I was from the south only because I used "y'all", but they said I didn't sound very Southern. Sometimes I take that as a compliment. lol. But I'm ALWAYS proud of my southern heritage...actually more now than ever.

The next morning we just prepared to head back to Budapest by train. We, once again, were wayyyy close to the smoking section of the train and tried to preserve our lives by covering our mouth to breathe. One kid got on and rolled his own. I thought my lungs were on fire. I've never been so affected by second-hand nastiness in my life. But great story.

We arrived in Budapest around 7 pm, and Dr. Samu was waiting to take us to our home-away-from-home, Hotel Ibis. We ate at this amazing Chinese restaurant called Buda cafe. lol. It almost changed my life. I'm telling you, the food here is amazing. Even though we're walking all over, there has definitely been no weight loss to date. lol. I don't foresee any in the near future. The next morning we went to G Management office, where Dr. Samu works, to plan our travel to Lithuania. After much debate and emailing, we settled on a ticket to see Casey tomorrow! It was a little more expensive than we were hoping for, but for me, it's definitely worth it to see a homie in HIS home.

After we nailed down travel plans, we decided to head across the Danube and see Buda, since so far we've only explored Pest. Buda has the hills, so we worked pretty hard on Tuesday. We only saw the Citadella and the pretty buildings at night. We made sure to stay over there until it got dark so we could walk across the bridge at night to see Parliament and the Castle lit up so pretty. OH! And once again, the food, we ate at a restaurant that has the Guiness World Record for the largest menu. lol. It's crazy! I took a pic, so you can see it later.

The next morning, wayyyyy early, we headed out on a train to Pesc, the city with the newest pharmacy school. It's a very neat city, and we were greeted at the train station and shown around by Timur, one of the Hungarian pharmacists who visited Memphis this year! Lan and I enjoyed the city, but we were very tired...fell asleep in the car. I love the architecture here. In Pecs, there is a mix of old world and Turkish features. The town is one of the larger ones in Hungary. It also boasts Europe's oldest pharmacy, which we visited to see the museum there.

We met Gabor Takacs, a pharmacist/researcher, at the university and he has been our main host. He took us out with a group of his friends and fellow colleagues, and Lan and I learned a ton more about the situation of healthcare in this country. There is a vast chasm between what the people want and what the government wants here. The doctors struggle to make enough money for survival. The pharmacists aren't in a much better position. Clinical pharmacy is almost unheard of. For many, pharmacy is a family business and the pharmacies are owned and passed down through family members. The hospitals are near-broke because healthcare is socialized, which means everyone has the same insurance and it's government-regulated. So they decide how much they'll pay for a certain med or procedure, then that's it. The patient can't pay, so the medical groups bear the burden. It provides absolutely no foundation for progress. It's very sad. Our peers and colleagues see it for the truth, and they're caught in a tough place since there's no way around the Socialist "dictators" in power. The minister of health is absurd, and the pharmacists and doctors are involved in protests regularly to show their disgust for the present circumstances. "Democracy" is only a theory here. It makes me angry but thankful.

We've met many nice people here as well, Gabor's girlfriend Edit, his friend Ferenc, Chubby, Attila, and more. We leave this afternoon to return to Budapest. Then we head to Lithuania tomorrow!

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Prague 1

Lan and I had a heck of a time trying to get here on the train. We started a very sleep-deprived day when our train left Budapest at 6:50 a.m. We found our seats and realized that we had a whole cabin to ourselves and were able to sleep for the first 3 hours. Then we kept stopping and more and more people got on. When people joined our cabin, all of a sudden it was full. THEN after frequent interruptions from different country and train officials stamping passports and checking tickets, one man told me and Lan to leave the cabin and give our seats to an older couple. This was the most inconvenient thing that could have possibly happened. We had paid to have a seat reserved, so I was perplexed as to why they needed mine. There were people just sitting and standing in the aisle, so when Lan and I were trying to get out, we had the older couple in our way because they had decided to come on ahead into the cabin, then all the people in the aisle to get by. All this with bags coming from all sides. Impossible. We finally got settled in the next car and made the rest of the trip ok.

We got a hotel room, a subway pass, and headed out. We were trying to figure out how to buy a ticket for the tram, so I asked the man next to me if he spoke English. Homeboy was from Ohio, and his dad lives in Kingsport! CRAZY how small this world is. After getting on and off the tram, we got lost trying to find our hotel. This wouldn't have been as big of a problem if Lan and weren't carrying about 50 lbs. each. Our shoulders are still killing. We took it easy once we found it and just headed to the Old Town Square, which is beautiful.

Saturday, we headed to the Lesser Town, checked out St. Nicholas's Cathedral and walked up in the tower. St. Nick's has got to be one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen. It literally brought me to tears, but it wasn't the beauty itself. I sat before the main altar, noticing the incredible ornate-ness of the designs and thought about how much time and effort went into its constructions versus how much time and effort we or they put into our walk with Christ. I have to think the chasm between the two is large. Very sad. I spoke with Lan about the competing themes within churches. Is God glorified by majestic architecture, design, dress, and music? Or does it distract us from Him? Did the Purists have it right? Should we focus on NOTHING external and simply dwell on Him in our minds and hearts? I'm torn.

We then traveled to Petrin Hill, which houses a large replica of the Eiffel Tower from which you can get an incredible view of the city. So we did. By the way, I took about 4 rolls of pictures yesterday from every possible angle. I just kept thinking of how proud my father would be of me. I am so my father's daughter. On our way down, we took a not-so-beaten path and walked down an almost vertical hill. Adventures...

We always take time to souvenir shop when we see something interesting, and we've heard all kinds of people speaking variations of English here. Many, many tourists.

Today, we got up to get to the Prague Castle and St. Vitus's Cathedral. It was awesome. And of course, we took the tower up at the Cathedral, which was 287 stairs! Let me just tell you that Lan and are honkin' kickin it. We walked up the tower at St. Nick's, the Eiffel Tower, and now the 287 steps at St. Vitus's. I'm not sure my legs are going to fit into my jeans anymore. lol. We're at least power kickers now. lol.

One more day to see it all here. We're going to a symphony/dance performance tonight, and we're way excited. Talk to you back in Budapest.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Forgot one thing...

We also ate pizza and hung out with another of the dean's residents Rudolfo while we were in Debrecen. I realized I had mistakenly left him out of my account. He's actually an M.D. who loves research. Very cool group of people.

Thursday, October 12, 2006


This week's journey led us to the second largest city in Hungary, a city which also boasts a university attended by over 20,000 students. Our reason for visiting is that one of the four pharmacy schools in Hungary is part of this university. The city has about 200,000 citizens compared to the 2 million of Budapest. We traveled there by train, and after about a 2.5 hour ride, we were greeted at the train station by Aniko, one of the pharmacy students we met at Siofok, and her friend Brigitte. They took us to Tessco, their equivalent of Walmart to purchase breakfast foods. It was neat. They have many shops outside of the actual store part.

We were to meet Gabor, our main host, at the "hostel" for international students. Gabor was one of our new friends from Siofok. We really enjoyed spending time with him there and were eagerly anticipating visiting him in Debrecen. He has a unique history: born in Hungary, ended up working for a nobel prize winner in hormone receptor research at Tulane University for 15 years before the scientist moved his lab to Miami, where Gabor followed. Now Gabor has been working part-time at Debrecen University AND in Miami, doing research and teaching.

The international "dorms" were very nice. We each had our own room with a tv, microwave, and little fridge! We even got to do laundry in the basement for free. This was a treat you would have to be us to truly appreciate.

We were hosted by various students and residents during our stay. The first night we went to dinner with Gabor, Miklos (another friend we met in Siofok who is a scientist in biopharmaceutics/pharmacokinetics/pharmacodynamics, we were basically surrounded by really smart people), and Gabor's two residents Melinda and Marian. We tried authentic Hungarian goulash, which was to me a bit like a beef stew with carrots and potatoes and of course, paprika, which is a staple among Hungarians. We enjoyed great conversation about our futures, the profession, boys in the US and in Hungary, and many other fun topics.

In the dorms we met a nice guy named Max from Germany who's in med school there. We hunted him down when we noticed him on the way to the laundry room so he would teach us how to use the machines. We also met a girl who's room abutted mine originally from Iran but had moved from San Diego to start med school. Many of the students were from other countries: Iran, Israel, Sweden, US, Germany, etc.

The next day we met the dean of the pharmacy school and two of his residents, Bela and Gergő. It took us two days to be able to almost-correctly pronounce the latter's name. They showed us around by taking us down-town to the main square. We visited an old church where Calvin preached. The story was very neat, and the interior of the church was stark white, representing the initiation of the purist movement. Definitely things that interested me. We climbed a tower in the church that overlooked the city. It was beautiful and tiring. We also visited a museum that housed three huge, marvelous paintings about Christ. Munkácsy is the guy's name. The paintings were each the size of a large wall and just breath-taking. You could sit for hours and ponder the depth of each portrayal: one of Christ before Pilate, one of Christ before the people, and then one of Him on the cross.

That night we had pizza and were surprised to find that Hungarians like ketchup on theirs. lol. We then drive all over Debrecen to find someplace doing karaoke to no avail. After a fun night of jokes and laughs, we headed home.

We did our presentation again for the students there, and I think it went well. I'm not sure how interesting it was to them, but they were at least attentive. We got to see our friend Peter, one of our hosts at Siofok, again and he of course, took us for dessert. lol.

Our last night was one of fun and friends. We went to a small pub and talked and laughed until it was time to venture to the disco. lol. It was a very new experience for me. The club was on campus, so there were students everywhere. The place was huge. And of course, bumping with some techno true European style. They did play one bombin' Puffy song that I had to break it out to, but other than that, not much dancing. We didn't stay long because were exhausted and had much to do before we left today.

We said our goodbyes today, and Lan and I were genuinely sad to leave all the new friends we had made. We had good talks and laughs and of course, food. We all exchanged emails, so I hope we can keep in touch.

Lan and I are headed for Prague tomorrow. The flight options to Lithuania were out of our range for this weekend. I think we are going to try for next weekend. Please pray that we make it there. I really want to visit Casey. We'll see.

Not to make little of it, but I wanted to say that God has answered prayer while I've been here. I was able to have some neat conversations that really challenged me in my walk, which I had been desperate for since I haven't been able to attend church while I'm here. So thank all of you that prayed for me as well.

Thanks for reading. I miss all my friends and fam back in the US of A. Peace.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Gyogyszereszek Jubileumi Kongresszusa

The fifteenth annual Hungarian Pharmacy Congressional conference started on Thursday. And we were driven in from Budapest just in time. We were greeted by and have been since hosted by a young pharmacist named Peter. He knows English incredibly well and has gone to great lengths to show us a good time. It started with him driving us around in his bombin' BMW that actually showed TV shows on the screen when it can pick up a signal. We took a ferry across Lake Balaton (the second largest lake in Europe) to a church way up on a hill (pictures to come later). Peter took us to two different places to make sure we had some adequate desserts, which Lan and I had no problem with. Later Thursday night, we met back at the conference center to greet Dr. L.B. Brown, one of our professors who has a long-standing relationship with the pharmacy association as well as with the Hungarian minister of health. We went along with a few other invited guests to a boat tour for dinner. We met two other professors from Debrecen, another pharmacy school in the country. We all sat together during dinner and the live entertainment, which included an older gentleman singing rock music. So much fun.

Friday was our big day. We got up in time to take in the exhibition, which is a lot of vendors selling their wares to the pharmacists who visit...much like TPA or APhA on a little bit smaller scale. Then we had lunch at the VIP table in the dining room. And let me add that we haven't been allowed to pour our own drink, open our own door, or pay for anything since we've been here. The Hungarian men are amazing at chivalry. But be careful with your dispensation of smiles. Sidebar: on our drive to Siofok from Budapest, I met eyes with a gentleman beside us at a stoplight probably of 45 years of age, and you know the story-he smiled, I smiled back, and then much to my surprise, homie's hanging his business card out the window. I about died! lol. I turned away and made Lan confirm that it was actually happening. Stopped in traffic is evidently no obstacle to love.

Okay, so back to the boatride, if you can imagine having your professors, bosses, whoever, around you, asking you questions about your future plans, hobbies, interests, what have you. Picture this on top of them drilling me and Lan as to why we don't drink and already planning our demise. lol. Evidently we were quite a let-down in this area from the students of the past. lol. Hungarians don't play when it comes to drinking. They all do...and they do it well. We still get it offered every meal, every day, never fails.

Ok, back to Friday...we are following a pharmacist from Germany and preceeding L. B., which is extremely intimidating. We remembered to speak slowly so that the interpreter could catch what we were saying. I think it went well. Everyone was very complimentary, no big bobbles or flops. I felt great about it.

Then we decided to walk back to our hotel instead of getting a driver. We needed exercise and there hadn't been that many turns. After getting directions and promising Peter we wouldn't, we got lost. We walked around for an hour and a half before giving up, returning to the conference, and then getting a ride back to our hotel. Hilarious.

Friday night was the BEST!!! After dinner, there was entertainment of an old rocker and a group of dancers. We walked in late, took our VIP seats, and enjoyed the show. At one point, the man stuck the mic in my face to sing, only to realize I didn't speak the language. Then he made fun of me the rest of the show. Typical. After that show, we went upstairs to enjoy the singing of Hungary's Megastar winner, much like our American Idol. She was awesome. She even sang some Aretha. THEN the fun really started. Hungarians love to dance...so we did. L.B. didn't hesitate, and I didn't either. Lan, however, refused to join us on the floor. We danced up a sweat until the karaoke started. L.B. kicked it off with some Elvis. SOOOOO much fun. Then I went to check out his English collection, and sure enough, there it was...my FUGEES. So without hesitation, the dj let me go next and I sang Killing Me Softly with all my heart and with about 10 people singing behind me. L. B. was impressed with my ghetto-ness and of course, asked where I grew up. lol. Typical. Lan and I left around 12-something and got ragged by all of our elders who ended up closing the place around 3:30. These people are fun.

Today we did the tourist-y trek to a fortress and watched a medieval re-enactment with horses, swords, and colorful flags. The men would compete and win a flower, and I had no idea what they were doing with it when a guy on a horse dipped down and handed it to me. I was extremely embarassed. I was handed one more, then Lan, and another girl with us received one as well.

Tonight was another big dinner party, chance to dance, pressured to drink, questions about our future, and so much catering to us. It's been an amazing experience. Lan and I still can't believe how hospitable everyone is. Now we're tired. We head back to Budapest tomorrow.

Thanks for reading. Sorry it's so long. Too much fun to try to sum up.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Budapest 2

Some notable cultural occurrences...
  • Everybody smokes. It's everywhere. It's crazy. Everybody's lighting up...except on the subway. Then I would have to die.
  • Too much PDA...wayyyy outta control. I've seen enough people kissing each other for a lifetime. I don't mind that it happens. I just don't need to see it or have it happen inches from me.
  • You have to pay for ketchup at Burger King.
  • Americans are truly ethnocentric and uneducated.

My point with the last statement is that the pharmacy students must master two foreign languages before they graduate. At almost every place we've been, the people that work there can speak English or at least the words that are relevant to their trade, and the signs are usually translated at the bottom. We don't work to learn even one other language...partly because we haven't had to. Secondly, because we haven't tried or seen the need.

My last exciting news: we're headed to Palanga, Lithuania next weekend to visit Casey! I'm so pumped. I can't wait to see LCC. Our friends at the pharmacy association/travel agency are going to help us plan travel. SOOOOOO excited.

And one more thing, we found out about two days before we left that we were expected to make a presentation about pharmacy in the US. I just figured it was something we could get together once we arrived. We found out later that we will be speaking at a national pharmacy meeting in front of 50 people. Today we are told by another university official that it will probably be more like 400 people. Nice. We've been slaving away at a powerpoint presentation, and we plan to give it on Friday. We're on the program! Also on the program is one of our professors from UT, Dr. L.B. Brown. It'll be neat to see him here. Plus, he's a great speaker and incredibly professional. We leave for that meeting tomorrow and will return on Sunday. Please pray for us to speak slowly enough for the interpreter to translate efficiently.

I've loved the comments. Please drop one if you have time. It's hard not getting to talk real-time with anyone. I miss yáll!

Monday, October 02, 2006

Budapest 1

Lan and I spent all of yesterday walking around town and found a mall that blew our minds. The place was beastly. I immediately thought of Leela and Donna, my girls in pharmacy school, and Jada and Payten, and how much they would all love the place. And the prices are reasonable. We asked around for the internet for days before someone actually pointed us to the place.

The language is impossible. I've never heard anything like it. It's not Latin-based, so good luck on trying to draw similarities.

Our preceptor's great. Antal Samu works for the private pharmacist association as well as a travel agency. It's really cool how nice and accomodating these people have been to us.

Our hotel's nice. There's not many specific differences I can think of to note right now. The outlets, of course, but I came equipped with an adapter and a converter. We used the metro for the first time yesterday and were suprised to find that it wasn't free. It's not like the US where there's an actual barrier to get on it. Needless to say, we laughed when we realized we had been ignorantly cheating the system.

And if you want water here, you have to ask for water with "no gas". All of it's sparkling. It's something to help digestion or something.

We'll be traveling to different parts of Hungary, and I'm excited to see more of the actual historic culture. Budapest seems like such a hodgepodge. We see all types and all nationalities everywhere. It's very cool, though.

And don't worry about jet lag. I stayed up once I got here, and then slept 12 hours last night. lol. It's 3:22 p.m. here now. I think we're 7 hours ahead.

I miss you all!