Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Grand Benjypest Hotel / AirBnBenjy -- Pt. 4

Guest 11

After a week essentially hibernating in my apartment after so much social stimulation, I welcomed my big sister Rena to Budapest early last week! Rena has been living in Asia and working in international schools, first in South Korea and now in Vietnam. She was pretty unhappy coming to a cold place, but she was able to find a passable winter coat at her home in Hanoi that an old roommate had left. Ready or not, our adventure together began.

We spent a quick few days together in Budapest, during which it was too cold to do a grand walking tour like what the rest of the family got, but we did enjoy a great visit to the Dohany Street Synagogue. We even helped out an Israeli visitor who began speaking to us in Hebrew after noticing my kippah, and the ticket vendor raved about our Hebrew. You can imagine how happy this made our parents. Guess all of those years of Jewish education pay off eventually...

In order to avoid too much time in the cold, Rena and I ventured off together to Italy! Neither of us had been before, but we were driven by our motivation to relive the Lizzie McGuire (for real, we sang the soundtrack throughout the whole trip). Rena and I have slightly different travel mindsets, but the trip could not have been greater.
Rena's class pet, Jerry, joined the adventure as well
We first flew to Rome, and quickly began our mission to eat as much pizza as possible. We spent the first day trying to see as many sites as possible, venturing from the Colosseum, to Titus' Arch, to the Forum, to the Great Synagogue and Jewish Museum, to the Pantheon, to the Trevi Fountain (to make sure we had the complete Lizzie McGuire experience) and onward to other sites as well. The city is gorgeous, like a giant museum shrouded with layers of history on every block. The weather was also gorgeous, and it was just a magnificent brother and sister day together.

Gelato because Italy
My favorite pizza of Rome was our last meal there. Cherry tomatoes, eggplant, and ricotta cheese. YUM.
The next day, we headed off to Vatican City. I pretty quickly embarrassed myself and revealed my outsider status by asking about the line for St. Stephen's Basilica (which is in Budapest), confusing it for St. Peter's Basilica, probably the most famous church in the world. Sorry guys, just a Jewish tourist trying not to bother anyone, don't mind me. The Vatican Museums totally wowed me. The Catholic Church is a fascinating institution and the Pope is an equally fascinating position. The collection of items reflects a legacy of power, a deep appreciation of culture, and obviously a deep interest in theology. Witnessing the Sistine Chapel was an incredible opportunity. I wish I knew more about art, history, and Catholic theology to really appreciate the creation (pun intended, I guess), but its pretty incredible to stand below such a historic and magnificent work of art.

We journeyed by train through Italy and arrived at Venice in time for Shabbat. We found our way to the Jewish Ghetto, which is actually the oldest of its kind in the world. We joined the Chabad community for Kabbalat Shabbat, which was very nice. As it turns out, there is a Yeshiva in Venice and there was a reunion for the first class of bachurim, so there was a whole crowd of hilarious and nice guys in town. After davening, we all went outside into the main plaza of the ghetto, with candles lit behind us honoring a monument to Venice's victims of the Shoah that were lit in honor of that week's International Holocaust Remembrance Day. The men got into a semi circle and put their arms around each other and sang Shalom Aleichem and Eshet Chayil. We started singing other sings and even a call-response chant and one guy started doing summersaults. It was really quite the scene. One guy stood on a chair and said how absolutely incredible it was for us all to be gathered in Venice under kipat ha-shamayim (the open sky) celebrating Shabbat together. My thoughts exactly.

During Shabbat dinner, Rena and I enjoyed that between the two of us, we have plenty of small talk content. First, we explained that we were not a couple. Then we said we're siblings from Chicago. Then, we explained our divergent paths around the world. We had this conversation a few times, in English and Hebrew, and it was quite fun for us.

The rest of our stay in Venice really was just about exploring and relaxing. We walked, we ate, we rested, and we walked some more. The city is unlike any other. It's this beautiful city out in the middle of nowhere it seems, but so much history and culture is packed into its many streets and canals.

We boarded the first bus out of Venice on Monday morning (something like 4:30 AM) and headed to the airport. We connected through Rome and arrived in Vienna, where we planned to spend the day with Gerda, the 'relative' whom I mentioned in the blog post about when my mom, dad, and other sister visited. Rena had visited Gerda a few years ago when she traveled to Vienna after spending time in Israel, and they both looked forward to their reunion. Rena and I took an Uber straight to Gerda's from the airport at about 1:00 PM, and we stayed in her home until we left to catch our train at about 8:15 PM. We ate Gerda's delicious food and enjoyed her magnificent company. Rena and Gerda had a great time catching up, and I was so happy I could visit Gerda again so soon.

Once back in Budapest, we were met with cold and wet weather, so Rena didn't feel a huge urgency to go out and explore Budapest so much. We made sure to spend a great few hours at the thermal baths, but otherwise we kind of hung out and I caught up on some work.

Rena's visit was so energizing for both of us. When we said goodbye to each other last May when we were both home, we had no idea when and where we would meet next. Rena was a huge reason I decided to do this fellowship abroad this year, and her advice and support has been crucial to my comfort and success throughout the year. To meet up, show her my life here, and spend a week and a half together was something I will cherish forever.

I hugged Rena goodbye and buckled up for my final week in Budapest before heading out for a full month!

Here are the unique Forester family reunions we enjoyed that week:

No comments:

Post a Comment