Budapest by day was wonderful. My friends and I walked around the city, stopping to eat at a Hungarian pastry shop, seeing an exhibit of photos from the 1956 Hungarian Uprising, and visiting many historical buildings, such as the Hungarian Parliament. In the evening, we went to the Gellert Baths (a must for anyone visiting Budapest), and soaked ourselves in the hot, cleansing water until we were pruney. We then went into a stream room that was so hot it stung my lungs to breathe in (I empathize with Chinese steamed dumplings a lot more now.) When we could take no more, we bolted and flung our pink bodies into a pool of ice-cold water. Talk about a rush!

Seriously, if you’re ever in Budapest, you have to visit one of its Turkish baths.

The following day, my enclave boarded our trusty bus, and began traveling to Belgrade, Serbia. During the bus ride, I wondered: what will it be like? How will we be treated? How will I feel to be in a country that was guilty of ethnic cleansing just a few short years ago? As a child growing up in Europe, I remember the times my mother chased me away from the TV or tore the newspaper away from me so I wouldn’t see or read about the Serb atrocities committed during the wars in Bosnia and Kosovo. Even more vividly, I remember the times my mother wasn’t around, and I watched the news, and read the horror stories that appeared day after day.

At the Hungarian-Serbian border, border guards took everyone’s passports and checked them over several times while we waited with our faces pressed against the bus windows.

A few minutes later, everything was fine, and we were on our way again. The next several hours were spent driving across desolate, open countryside dotted, here and there, with decrepit little farms. The sky was bright, but gray. I spent most of the ride absorbed in my own thoughts. Something in the air had changed the moment we left the EU’s fluttering blue flag and comfy certainties behind. This was still Europe, but we had entered another world altogether.

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