Snoel Abroad

Sara is abroad again and this time it is in Hungary! I am here in Hungary (in the small town of Gyöngyös) teaching English at a primary school through CETP- the Central European Teaching Program- Follow along with my crazy adventures in teaching and traveling. Szia!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

the weeks before Christmas...

I've been terrible lately about updating this thing, but that isn't to say that nothing exciting has happened. Since Thanksgiving I've made 2 trips to Budapest, 1 to Nyrígyháza and Debrecen, a school field tip to the theater in Eger and I even had a weekend here in Gyöngyös, with a visitor.

The first weekend of December I went to Budapest for the weekend and had a fabulous time enjoying the Christmas markets with Sarah- we shopped for gifts among the stalls set up in the square and drank hot wine. Later we met up with another of our American teacher friends, Andrew, as well as Sari Blum!- a friend and neighbor from back in Denver who has been studying in Rome- The four of us, along with another of Sari's friends, hit the town for dinner and then we showed our visitors the Budapest nightlife- we had a blast.

The next weekend I headed up to Nyrígyháza- a larger city on the far north eastern border, almost to Ukraine- where there are quite a a few American teachers from our program including Ian who hosted me for the weekend and showed me the sites of Nyrígyháza including yet another Christmas market in the main square as well as a few parades of his admiring high school students. We later met up with Andrew in Debrecen where we spent a nice afternoon/ evening. Debrecen is the second largest city in Hungary and has a very nice main square and large church that, at this time of year, is decorated with lights, filled with stalls selling Christmas trinkets, cookies and animal pelts- apparently a very big seller at Christmas markets all over the country. There was also a large Christmas tree and, of course, the Peruvian-Native-American-Musicians.
What? yes, everywhere you go, if there is a main square, a Christmas market, a train station or a large gathering of people, they will be there- this phenomenon is not limited to Hungary as I witnessed the same group or "franchise" (there are far too many of them for there to be just one- they're like mall Santas) on the streets of Berlin almost three years ago. They are a group of three or four men in full Native American dress, complete with full feather head-dresses that dance and sing "Native American Music" with wind pipes and drums- the Europeans flock around and buy their CDs- which are always prominently displayed on a table alongside their sound equipment. they call themselves Peruvian, dress like they are from the American West and sound like something I've never heard before- but certainly not like anything I've ever associated with Native American Music- but will now always associate with Eastern European Christmas.

Last weekend I decided to take a break from traveling and stay at home in Gyöngyös. Emily, another teacher who is living in Szolnok, came for a visit on Friday night and we did everything there is to do in Gyöngyös- walked around the main square and saw the lights, got pizza, saw a movie at the new cinema (something with Ashton Kutcher swimming- I think they just cut and pasted the scripts from White Squall, Top Gun, Water World and Titanic- "I'll never let go!") but it was in English so who cares. Next we hit the nightlife which involves a little bar owned by my seventh grade student's family- yes, it is a small town. A fantastic and relaxing weekend.

My attempt to stay home last weekend worked- but backfired only slightly in that I have left town twice already during the week! On Monday I took the afternoon bus to Budapest to buy train tickets for the upcoming Christmas/ New Years adventure in Slovenia- say it with me Ian and Becky- our new rallying cry to get through the last crazy weeks of class- SLOVENIA!!! Anyway...I figured I'd make the trip worth my time and met up with Andrew for dinner before heading back home.

Last night- Wednesday, I had another trip out of town- this time to Eger on a bus full of students to the theater to see the musical Oliver. There were 2 bus loads full of kids- only a handful of which were actually my students- and I wondered how effective I would be as a chaperone, keeping the kids quiet and well behaved on the bus and in the theater when most didn't know me and broken Hungarian is less then intimidating coming from an authority figure. But in the end the students were great and I even had a rush of my 6b girls fighting to sit next to me and my 8th grade girls introducing me to their dates- lots of fun. The performance itself was also a lot of fun, plenty of singing and dancing and great set pieces made it almost irrelevant that I couldn't understand a word being said- I did however catch "kerek sepen meg" "please, sir, I want some more".

Classes are over for the day and after a few Christmas games and a concert I'll be finished, then it's off to Slovenia on Saturday- more on that later.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Adventures in grocery shopping...

Grocery shopping in Hungary is an ordeal with all it's own rules (many of which apply to shopping anywhere.)
First, as you enter you MUST have a cart or a basket- even if you are entering the tiny one room shop on the corner where there is barely enough room to walk and all you are grabbing is a carton of milk- you MUST have a basket! This applies to almost all stores in Hungary, including bookstores- a one room bookstore where you are running in to grab one book- you MUST put it in a basket. Failing to do this will, at the least, draw stares and glares from the people who work in the stores and your fellow shoppers, will probably result in numerous people chasing you around the store shoving a basket in your hand and will occasionally result in the security and or manager pulling you aside and insisting that you please take a basket!
This is of course if a basket is available, in my Spar (where I do most of my grocery shopping) baskets seem to be available only between the hours of 2:17pm and 3:58pm on the second Tuesday following a full moon. If this is the case then you must get a shopping cart- even if you need only one or two items. This is not as simple as it sounds because you must put a coin into the carts to release them from their lock- and it must be EXACTLY the right coin, in the case of my Spar it must be a 20ft coin. So, if you arrive to get a carton of milk and there are no baskets and you have no 20ft coin then you can't get in. Now don't be thinking that you can go in and get change from the cashier because there is only one way out of a Hungarian grocery store and that is buying something, so you could go in, get the glares for your lack of basket, stand in the line (which I will get to later) and ask for change- which they may or may not give you- and then get out and get your cart- but I find it's easier to just always keep a 20ft coin on me.
So now you are in! you have your cart/ basket and you have come across the produce section- the next hurdle. You can not simply buy an apple in Hungary, you must pick out your produce, bag it and then take it to the electronic scale, weigh it, punch in the correct code for your purchase (this requires knowing the Hungarian name of your fruit and weather or not it is the Hungarian or Californian variety of Paprika) at this point the machine will print you a sticker with your price- failure to do this correctly will send you out of the line while you are paying.
So now you've made it into the store, managed to bag and label your produce accordingly and find the rest of your items (including the eggs which took a while because the were on the shelves with the canned goods, not the fridge section...hmmm...just pretend that didn't happen- oh and go for the milk that IS not the kind that is on the warm shelf next to the coffee)
Now it is time to get in line, there will ALWAYS be at least 4 if not more check-out counters/ registers in each store but there will NEVER be more than one open- despite the ten people in line or the five employees chatting while they dust the shelves. So you will wait.
After waiting in line your turn finally arrives and now it is time to jump it in to high gear! get your items on the belt, and back off and into your basket or cart immediately because there will be no pauses before the next customers stuff starts getting tossed on to yours. Throw your stuff up, quick figure out the money (on a side note NOBODY here will appreciate correct change- if the total is 760 and you give them 1060 they will look at you like you're an idiot, and hand back the 60 you gave them along with the 240 in change- clearly you are not helping them out) now that that is taken care of you must quick grab all of your items and move out- to one of the tables/bagging areas out of the way. They will certainly not be bagging for you, you won't even get a bag. Either you bring your own or you must ask for one at the exact precise moment that they have finished ringing up your items but before they have totaled everything (you get charged for the bag) failure to ask at this exact moment will result in incredible eye rolls the likes of which have been seen only in my 8Th grade class.
So the moral here? plan ahead! there is no quick run to the store as a last minute thought on the way home from work, you must plan ahead so that you have your bags and your 20ft note ready.
So here's to that, I'm off to the Spar- today I may attempt the meat counter- between my basic Hungarian and limited understanding of the metric system I may end up with something to cook for dinner or I may end up with half a pig- we just never know.

p.s. sorry the posts have become a bit more sporadic lately- I was writing at home and then bringing the document to school (where the Internet is) on my USB jump drive but I broke it :-/ so now it's all about typing at school.

Friday, December 01, 2006


I think I have managed to recover from the madness (good madness) that was Thanksgiving enough to write about it- it has been a week now. The celebration started on Wednesday evening with Becky and I making the trek up to Lisa's apartment (a relative mansion by CETP teacher's standards- not only does she have more than one room she has 3 AND a kitchen that more than one person can stand in at a time!- hence our seemingly random choice of the small town of Tszavasvári to hold the feast.) Becky and I arrived the night before the other guests in what was meant to be an attempt at organization but mostly just ended up with the three of us eating one of Lisa's coveted boxes of Mac and Cheese and all of the chocolate chip cookies I had made (we had some help with that from Lisa's neighbor Gabor.) We did however, manage to do a turkey-test-run, partly because we had two turkeys and wouldn't be able to cook them both on Thursday and partly because none of us had ever cooked a turkey before and wanted to give it a try first in case we totally ruined it- at least we could learn from our mistakes and have a second go. Luckily the turkey turned out lovely and not only didn't make anyone sick but people actually enjoyed it which was nice. Cooking the turkey took a bit of creativity and inventiveness on our part- we didn't have a roasting pan or any kind of rack, or a turkey baster, or string to tie the legs together....we worked with what we had. In the end we put the turkey in a big soup pot sitting on top of an overturned bowl (so that the juice would drip down instead of the bird just sitting in it and getting soggy on one half and dried out on the top), the only string we could find was blue so the drippings and, gravy made from the drippings, had a bit of a blue tint but tasted fine. Basting was a bit of an ordeal but Becky and I are now pros at what as been dubbed "the Sara method" of Becky holding the bird up out of the pot while yelling at me to hurry because it is heavy and hot, while I pour the juice from the pot into a bowl, Becky buts the bird back in and I pour the juice over the top- ta-dah! basted! we did what we could and it tasted good.

Thursday morning at around 10, with Becky, Lisa and I just waking up and getting ready for the day, we welcomed the first guests- Susan, Judy and Ian. From this point on people and food and wine started pouring in and in the end there was tons of food- traditional Thanksgiving dishes like stuffing, mashed potatoes, and saurkraut (traditional for me and Becky anyway), some Hungarian adaptations of traditional dishes- a lovely squash and pistachio dish and some Hungarian dishes- paprikash krumpli, füszelek and heaps of other wonderful things. We peaked at about 25 people! Hungarian and American, but there was plenty of good food, good wine and conversations in the bizarre mix of Hungarian, English, German and even Spanish that is becoming all too normal in my head.

Most of the guests left Thursday evening (but not before apple pie, chocolate cake and mulled wine!) but there was quite a number of us (mostly Americans) who stayed the night. We ditched the insane mess in Lisa's kitchen and headed for the bar to further celebrate the evening before stumbling back to find a spot to sleep in either Lisa's or Gabor's apartments.

The next morning we started the day with a lovely breakfast of leftover pie, chocolate cake and champagne before heading out to Tokaj- a small town famous for it's wine and wine cellars. We crammed into a dark, damp and moldy cellar and enjoyed a lovely series of Tokaj wines (famous for their sweetness and the unique flavor that is a result of the mold on the walls of the cellars.

Back to Lisa's where we indulged in the best part of Thanksgiving- leftovers.

It was a lovely weekend full of all the things that make Thanksgiving great- friends, food, wine and leftovers. (if only there had been a football game it really would have been perfect.)

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Thanksgiving in Gyöngyös

Well the actual Thanksgiving festivities will be taking place in Tiszavasvári this year but today I had a bit of a preview when I taught my students about the holiday. We talked about what Americans do on Thanksgiving- eat, see their family and friends, watch football and eat more. We talked about the different foods that we eat and had a very brief discussion about why we have Thanksgiving (complete with Sara's blackboard art of Pilgrims and Indians fighting and then not fighting and then sharing food) The highlight of the lesson was having my students take part in the activity that every American school child has done for Thanksgiving for years and years- we traced our hands on paper and made turkeys! All went very well and we were even able to learn and practise a new word "share" as in "the Indians share their food with the Pilgrims, you must share the scissors and glue sticks with your classmates." I did not, however, manage to convince them that pumpkin pie is good (I think the problem lies in years of being told that a pie is just like a cake) nor did I manage to quite get across what exactly cranberries or cranberry sauce are. I did, however, successfully convince them all that a holiday where you get two days off of school to eat and watch football is a fantastic idea.

Thursday, November 16, 2006


new pictures have been added to the Transylvania post. (me dressed up!)

Monday, November 13, 2006

the story of the travelling pants- a 12 week epic

This story began 12 weeks ago back on August 20th when I was home in Denver packing and getting ready to come to Hungary. It has finally come full circle, with plenty of hic-ups along the way. As I was packing (not exactly in the most orderly, organized or sane state I must admit) I couldn't find a pair of pants that I wanted to bring- my light brown corduroys to be specific. I finally decided that they must have gotten up and walked away- no one believed me until the events of the following weeks showed that this may in fact have happened. My lovely parents decided that they would keep their eyes out and if they found them they would send them. Eventually they turned up (in my room the whole time apparently- I still think they must have walked away and only later decided to reappear.) So my parents stuck them in a box to send and called me up to ask if there was anything else that I needed as long as they were sending a box. About two weeks later I got a slip in my mailbox and made my first trek to the post office to retrieve my box with the lost pants. I was so excited to get all of the other goodies in the package- DVDs and my down comforter- that for the first few days I didn't even realise that the pants weren't even in the box! I called my Dad to see what was up and he was stumped- where had they walked off to this time? As it turned out my dad had left them at the postal center when he was packing and sending the box- luckily the guy who owned the place knows him and had held onto them until my dad came back looking for them. They would have to go in the next box. So a few weeks later my mom was busy packing up my Christmas package and got out the pants so that they could finally be sent. However, upon returning home from the post office, after having packed up and sent the Christmas box, what did she see still sitting in our house in Denver? the pants! Like the cat that kept coming back, the pants were refusing to go to Hungary! So my mom grabbed them up- determined to be finished with the traveling pants epic and sent them off in a faster box. So here it is, November 13th and I am sitting in my school in Gyöngyös, Hungary and I am indeed wearing The Pants. Mom, Dad, we won, they made it and the epic is over! (who wants to take bets as to whether or not I manage to get them home in one try?)

Friday, November 10, 2006

Transylvania! watch out- this one is LONG but I've tempted you all with pics!

The last week of October in Hungary is fall break for the schools- a week off for students and teachers that gives everyone something to look forward to and help them trudge their way through the first quarter of the school year. And for us native-speaking teachers (as they refer to us English teachers that sit in the Teacher’s Room between classes making sad attempts at small talk with our colleagues in broken Hungarian) fall break is a chance for us to get together speak English, share our stories from our classrooms and adventures in the town market and see some of the country and surrounding region that we now call home.

So on October 26th twelve of us met at 6am in Budapest to embark on a tour of Transylvania- the north east region of Romania that was once a part of Hungary before World War I and the Treaty of Trianon. Transylvania is also the birthplace and one time home of Vlad Tepish, a.k.a. Vlad the Impaler, a.k.a. Dracula- what a place to spend Halloween! We were led by Hajni- the director of our program and everyone’s Hungarian mother, Andras- an old friend of Hajni’s who is such an incredibly vast resource of knowledge on everything from the history of art and architecture to the history- both modern and ancient- of Hungary, Romania and all of Eastern and Central Europe as well as the history of linguistics and probably anything else one could think to ask of him, all we could do was try to absorb as much as possible of what he was telling us- Andras also served as our translator and comic relief. We were also accompanied by Maria- our Romanian-Hungarian translator and Laszlo- our bus driver and more comic relief.

Day 1 was spent mostly on the bus but in early afternoon we made our first stop in the town of Oradea where we saw the remnants of what was once a bustling and rich city which is still hinted at by the amazing architecture and richly decorated theaters, restaurants and churches.

That evening we rolled into the small village of Kalotaszentkiraly where we would spend the night in the homes of villagers. We were welcomed with smiles and Palinka- something that was about to become quite routine for us.

Palinka is the national liquor of Hungarians and Romanians and especially famous in Transylvania, it is like a brandy made from fruit- traditionally plum, but sometimes pear as well- some villages also add cumin or honey to their traditional Palinka. While you can buy it in shops in Hungary, only the homemade stuff is considered to be the “real thing” and it is wicked stuff- but we would soon learn that- even with many “no thank you”s, just to be polite you always ended up with at least 2 shots a night and we were often offered as many as 8. Before having dinner we were shown around a traditional village house that has been kept in the traditional style for visitors to see. One of our hosts- a sweet little old women then showed us a few items of traditional clothes from the region and asked if someone would like to try them on and act as the model so that we could see what a traditional Transylvanian girl dressed like. Before I knew it I was volunteered for what I initially thought was a skirt and an apron but in the end became an over skirt with three padded underskirts, an apron, a spring jacket and kerchief, followed by a very heavy winter jacket and a crown. Mike- one of the guys from our group- was dressed in the man’s formal shepherd jacket and hat (he got off easy). It was a lot of fun but we were both quite surprised to when we found out that the clothes we were wearing were not modern day reproductions but the women’s great-grandparent’s actual clothes from the late 1800’s! I was very pleased to hear that AFTER I had already taken them off and couldn’t panic too much.

Day 2: We had an early start and after a wonderful breakfast of homemade bread, homemade vegetable spreads, homegrown tea blends and some questionable meat products we headed to Banfihunyard to see a 15th Century church with a ceiling covered in incredible and detailed wood panels like nothing I’ve ever seen before- most of which showed pagan symbols related to astrology.

Later that day we visited the city of Cluj- one of the largest in Transylvania and then went on to Tordai Hasadek- the Tordai canyon- where we had a gorgeous hike on a very narrow path squished between a rushing river and the side of the canyon. The entire region of Transylvania was in full fall color while we were there which made everything we saw even more incredible- all of those people who are rushing to New England or Northern Wisconsin to see the fall color are on the wrong continent!
That night we stayed in Torocko- another small village which sits at the foot of a huge cliff and has recently been named a UNESCO world heritage sight. In Torocko- as in most of the villages where we stayed- most of the people are farmers and have cows and goats that go out to pasture every morning and come home every evening. This made for an incredible sight as all of the cows generally no where they live and simply wander through the village back home!

Day 3: Sighisoara! This was the highlight of Day 3- and for many the highlight of the entire trip- Sighisoara is where it is believed that Dracula- or the man who inspired Dracula- was born. It may have only been October 28 but that was close enough to Halloween for us to feel the Dracula spirit. In addition to that it is also an beautiful old city built on the side of a hill which truly feels like the Transylvania of the Dracula stories. Our third night we stayed in another small village- Zetelaka.

Day 4: There were plenty of short stops on day 4, at a dam, a spring where we all filled our bottles with natural mineral water (which tasted like rotten eggs), we saw a 15th century castle and the clapping square- a stark relic of the communist soviet regime in the city of Csikszereda and the Csiksomlyo church which holds a statue of the Madonna from the 13th century that brings hoards of pilgrims to the town every year.
The highlight of day 4- and the highlight of the trip for me- was crossing the Carpathian mountains- the leaves were brilliant shades of yellows, gold and reds scattered among evergreens and there was a light dusting of snow on top of the highest peaks. I’m sure the others would have enjoyed the crossing as much as I did except that I was blessed with some odd immunity to the incredible motion-sickness that hit everyone else.

That night we were treated to an evening of traditional music, dancing and food in a small village nestled in the Carpathians and home to the Chango-Hungarians. Unfortunately we couldn’t stay the night as their guest rooms were not heated at it was freezing, but we had heaps of fun eating their regional specialties of homemade cheese, a corn meal mush very similar to grits or polenta and steak cooked over a big fire outside. We watched some traditional dances and even got to join in.

Day 5: We began our fifth day with a visit to yet another gorgeous canyon in the Carpathian mountains- this one was much bigger than the first and rather then a path winding it’s way through between the steep rock walls there was a road, we opted to walk the length instead of driving so that we could enjoy the sights and get a quick adrenaline rush from trying to dodge the giant trucks that came screaming down the winding canyon. We emerged from the canyon to visit Killer Lake named because it was formed after a landslide leaving an entire forest submerged underwater with only the tops of the trees poking out above the surface. Due to the high mineral content of the water and the cold temperatures of the mountains the forest was petrified so anyone who attempts to swim in the lake will likely be killed be the hidden petrified forest- there are however a few rowboats that people rent and use to tour around the labyrinth of trees.
After a quick stop at yet another 15th Century castle we stopped at the village of Korond, famous for it’s pottery that is covered with traditional Transylvanian designs of flowers and birds- any attempts to avoiding shopping were futile.
More than any other part of Transylvania we saw, or anyplace in Hungary, this part- in the Carpathian Mountains- has made me the most homesick as the mountains, cliffs and vast forests of evergreens sprinkled with aspen and birch groves look so much like Colorado and the colors of the leaves, the rivers and lakes all remind me of Northern Wisconsin- A deadly combination for me and homesickness! (still a better alternative than the buss-sickness and Palinka-sickness that hit the rest of the group!)

We spent our last night in a hotel in the town of Teleki and had a wonderful sendoff complete with guy on an electric keyboard who played all through dinner (although I don’t know if ‘play’ is the right word considering he may have never touched a key but instead seemed to just play the pre-programmed songs that came with his keyboard) hilarious none the less and made even more so when, during a brief pause, Becky screamed out “More Stevie Wonder!” At this point we all lost the laughter that we had desperately been trying to hold back throughout the entire night. Laughter from the Palinka that- of course- was forced upon us as soon as we stepped off the bus, before we even got into the hotel, we were laughing at the sad DJ/key board player in his silk shirt, we were laughing at the fact that all of this was happening in a hotel lobby in Western Romania, we were laughing at the entire evening and how ridiculous and almost surreal it all seemed. But poor Becky was sure we were laughing at her music choice and continued to defend the musical genius of Stevie Wonder and “I just called to say I love you” which only made us laugh even harder. Eventually we were calmed down and silenced by the shock and awe- and the continual surreal feeling of the night- as 7 Gypsy/Roma teenagers came into the hotel and began to dance. It was incredible, they did a kind of super fast though slapping, jumping and kicking dance that can only be described as River Dance on acid. Quite a way to end the trip.

Day 6: Our last day was mostly spent driving- we left our hotel at 8am and arrived back in Budapest at 10pm stopping only once. Our one stop was to see an incredible stained glass windows at the Palace of Culture in Targu Mures that, in 1913, took first place at a show in Paris. The windows are incredibly detailed and beautiful and depict well known folk legends from the area.

Our only other stop (other then the many gas station quick stops for food and bathrooms- there are no drive-thrus along the roads in Romania, only gas stations which became our lunch spots throughout the trip- yuck) was the border which rather than being the quick 20 minutes as it had been on the way over took 2 hours- apparently because our passports have work visas in them making the whole process much more complicated- because it is Hungarian and therefore there must be heaps of paperwork and bureaucracy- in the end we were allowed to pass- and no, the delay was not because of my shady passport (will not entirely although the border guard did take a little extra time looking at it and interrogating me about why the hell it didn’t look like everyone else’s- but in the end it was all good)

The day after our trip was November 1st- All Saints Day- when all Hungarians go the cemetery to leave flowers, wreaths and candles and otherwise tend the graves of their loved ones. It also means that EVERYTHING is closed- so Sarah Kirkland (another teacher) and I went to the oldest and largest cemetery in Budapest to observe the Hungarians doing there thing- a cold and rainy day added to the atmosphere but in the end drove our cold and damp selves back to our warm, comfortable flats.

All in all a fantastic trip.

Monday, November 06, 2006

getting chilly

Was it really just two posts ago that I was proclaiming the arrival and beauty of fall in Hungary? The days that were pleasantly chilly leading to a change in my limited Hungarian small talk- I learned how to say "it's cold" hideg van. The leaves changing to gorgeous yellows, gold and oranges accross the Matra hills, apples everywhere!

Yes, that was just two posts ago. But what a difference a week vacation away will do! I returned to Hungary from my fall break (an incredible tour of Transylvania which I will tell you all about soon) to find that WINTER had come to Gyöngyös! The pleasantly chilly weather is now just cold! My fellow teachers who smiled when I mention that it is cold- in Hungarian- now laugh at my excuse for a winter coat. (Ilí- the head of English at my school, my contact teacher and my adopted Hungarian mother- dragged me to the store demanding I invest in something more substantial.) The leaves are still pretty, and there are still more apples than I could ever imagine but now they are all covered with a light dusting of snow. Winter is here- and I'm cold!

Wednesday, October 25, 2006


This past weekend I headed south to visit Becky in her pretty little town of Szarvas. After my my late arrival (due to the fact that it was over 4 hours by bus!) we enjoyed a fabulous diner of homemade pizzas and salad and a nice bottle of Egri Bikavar wine and caught up on the last month of stories and adventures in Hungary- a great time and well worth the travel time!

The next morning we got up and caught a morning bus to the town of Gyula- a great little town that looks almost out of place in Hungary due to heavy German influence- that sits just 6km from Hungary's southern border with Romania. Becky had taken a weekend trip here the past weekend and was excited to get back to what she calls her "new weekend retreat." We started with the famous sucresa- pastry shop- that is one of the oldest in Hungary and serves an incredible assortment of coffee, cakes and chocolates in a gorgeous, old world parlour complete with chandeliers.

After our breakfast (of cakes and chocolates- maybe the Hungarians are on to something with the dessert as a meal thing...) he walked over to Gyula Castle- the crown jewel of the city. The Castle is the only remaining brick castle in Central Europe and has been recently restored with a museum inside depicting life in Hungary in the Middle Ages including discussion of the many battles fought here against the Turks and Austrians and both of their subsequent control of the region.

Sadly, all of the hostels in town were booked up for the night so the two of us took the bus back to Szarvas and prepared for a very early wake-up on Sunday morning. The early wake-up was to catch the first bus back to Gyula so that we could be back at the castle by early morning for the baths. The baths in Hungary are quite an experience- There are generally multiple pools of varying degrees of water from rather cold to nearly boiling and Hungarians- usually the oldest, fatest and hairiest of the country- sit and soak for hours moving from pool to pool. The entire process of getting into the baths is an experience in itself that, when you finally make it through, you really do need the relaxation of a few hours soaking in hot mineral water!

There are various rules and processes that no one tells you that you need to do but they sure as hell tell you when you aren't doing them!

First you buy your ticket and are than separated into the male and female locker rooms where you are meant to take a massive square hanger into a booth and change into your suit and put all of your things on the hanger. Then you must find an open locker and put your things in it and than ask the attendant to lock it for you. Seems easy enough. Except- you get yelled at if you try to get a locker before changing, yelled at if you put your stuff in the wrong locker- they won't tell you which to use, you just have to know somehow which she wants you to take. You also must shower before entering the pools- this was easy enough to figure out- we got that much- which is why it was particularly unnerving to have 3 or 4 old women in small bathing suits yelling shower at us in English, Hungarian and German (I'm sure there was some Russian as well or maybe she was just telling me something else in Hungarian- I never know) But we made it in and it was excellent! (You'll have to ask Becky about the added aggravation of having to rent a bathing suit- especially when you you are a six foot tall female!)

That afternoon, on our way back to our own cities, Becky and I stopped off in Bekescsaba for the national Sausage Festival (because when you happen to be in the same town as Hungary's largest Sausage Festival how can you NOT go?!) It was a mad house! I don't think I have seen crowds like that in Hungary before now- thousands of people jamming the streets buying crafts and candy and fair food and, of course, wine and SAUSAGE! SO MUCH SAUSAGE! apparently the thing to do there is to buy a 5 foot long sausage and carry it around the festival and then home with you on the bus. Quite an experience- and yes, I did eat some sausage, and yes, it was quite tasty. A great weekend and nice tease for the coming fall break (1 week off) I'm taking an extra 2 days and leaving later this afternoon for Budapest where 12 other CETP teachers and I will be heading to Transylvania (the western part of Romania that was once Hungary) for what should be a fantastic week! I'm very excited!

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Adventures in the school lunchroom...1

The jelly doughnuts for lunch was one thing, but the second strange lunch in a week calls for a blog entry devoted entirely to the school-lunch experience.

So what could we be served that would stand with jelly doughnuts as the odd and unexpected lunch of the week? What could match the jelly doughnuts in carbs, fat and lack of nutritional value?
Pasta. Thick pasta topped with cold shredded cheese and sour cream. Not a dollop of sour cream for garnish, I'm talkin' like half a cup of sour cream. The cheap/lazy man's Alfredo sauce maybe? only cold and not mixed? Who knows but it followed a cream of potato soup with ham (the ham being the only thing on the tray that wasn't white).

Now, let me back up and explain the entire process of lunch here at Arány János Primary School. First, we get a menu every week with the days of the week and two main course choices for each day and then we choose which one we want (this is always one week ahead). The other English teachers help me but most of the menu doesn't translate and comes down to "meat with sauce and rice or a different meat with sauce and noodles" so I don't usually know what is coming even if I could remember back to what I read when we are served it a week later.

Next comes the part of actually going to get lunch. Lunch is served from 11:30 to 1:30 and I think the students are somehow staggered into this schedule but it is somewhat unclear, people seem to go when they want. You grab your tray (usually wet) your fork, knife and spoon (always wet) and a piece of bread (which you hope doesn't soak up all of the tray water before you get your plate.) Next you get to the little window. LITTLE window. They have the kitchen built low so that the window and the eye-level of the servers is the same as the students' (who are 8-13 years old) which means that I have to crouch down to see into it and hand the lady my ticket, hold my breath, and wait to see what comes out.

There is usually a long line of students waiting for lunch and teachers are supposed to, expected to, cut to the front. I still feel weird about this but after getting yelled at by everyone when I waited behind even 3 students in line instead of going to the front I have learned just to push my way in and grab a tray or go when I know that there aren't many students so there won't be a line I have to jump. Teachers also have special rules when it comes to getting your food. The servers always line up the bowls of soup and plates of meat-sauce-starch on the counter in the window and you take one. Except for teachers. Teachers must wait for a fresh, fuller bowl to be poured and a fresh larger plate to be made. At first I tried taking the kids portions (which with both courses could still feed two people) but no, not ok- I must be served my bigger "teacher's portion" even if I never finish it.

I like the lunchroom though, It is a great place to see how the students interact with each other, what the classroom dynamics are that don't show themselves in class. For example who knew that Anikő from 7b and Marcí from 7a were a couple? apparently this month they are. And quiet Diana from 8a is actually joined at the hip with the won't-shut-her-mouth Ms. Popular Petra in 8b.

All for now, it's lunchtime...soup perhaps? and meat? with sauce and mushy rice? or maybe chocolate cake? You never know.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

fall is here

Fall is here in Gyöngyös! The weather is starting to get chilly (still nothing compared to a Michigan or even a Colorado winter) but cold enough that the school maintenance man came and turned on my heat yesterday- it is very nice and cozy in there now!

Another sign of fall, the leaves are changing all over the town and along the hills- beautiful! On Friday Péter, my fellow teacher's son who I am helping with his English, took me up into the hills above Gyöngyös. He showed me some of the small hiking trails around Matrafured (the first of many small villages on the way into the Matra hills) We walked up to an old tower and had a stunning view of the surrounding hills, the changing colors of the trees and the vineyards bellow. We also walked along the stream and he showed me where he and his friends like to go and hang out among the big rocks where you can look out over Gyöngyös and up at Kékes, Hungary's highest point. We saw some picnic grounds where people were gathered to cook giant couldrons of goulash over campfires and I tried to explain why, in America, we put rediculous and seemingly obvious warnings on everything. For example: why McDonalds' coffee cups now say 'Warning, contents may be hot' and why children's superhero costumes come with a disclaimer that 'this cape does not enable the wearer to fly.'
Back in town we stopped by Péter's house to drop off the car and his mother (one of the geography and PE teachers at my school) insisted that we stay and chat for a bit and have some Palinka- the traditional Hungarian plum brandy- wicked stuff, especially when homemade and from Transylvania as this stuff was! I guess it is just a taste of what I will have when I go there myself next week.
All in all a good afternoon and evening of hills and hikes as well as stumbled conversation in English, German and Hungarian.

On Sunday morning I got up early to meet one of my students, Vera, and her mother at the school where they picked me up and took me to the nearby village of Gyöngyöspata where Vera, and many of my students, live. I had breakfast with Vera and her family- two older brothers and one older sister- all who speak English fairly well and one brother who, thanks to two years spent in London, is fluent. After breakfast we walked around the village and they took me to the small village church which was built in the 15th century and, though it has had some fire damage over the years, is a beautiful Gothic church with many frescoes on the interior walls which were revealed after a restoration only about 20 years ago.
We also walked up the hills, around the vineyards and past some small wine cellars. As we were walking past one cellar (basically a small door in the side of the hill) an old man walked by. It turned out that he owned the cellar and opened it up for us, we crawled down a steep ladder into a small, damp space inside the hill lined on each side with big barrels. 'point to one' he said, so I did and he took the stopper out of the top, stuck in a tube and poured out a glass of the wine for each of us to try- it was great. Next we went back up to the main level of the cellar where he showed us how he turns a big crank in another larger barrel to press the grapes and we tasted this as well- fresh pressed juice before fermentation- most in Hungarian- good but too sweet for me to even finish the glass!
Back at Vera's house we had a big lunch of stuffed peppers and dessert of apple pie (from an American recipe that the last American teacher gave them and apples from their trees) excellent! If Vera wasn't already one of the best in her class I would have to give her major bonus points for the pie!

Friday, October 13, 2006

random occurrences on a Thursday

1) I have lunch everyday at the school canteen. I was beggining to get quite used to what to expect: soup- usually a chicken-like broth with a few vegitables and sometimes meat and sometimes some noodles or potatoes and then a main dish consisting of unknown meat + unknown sauce + startch (rice, potatoes or pasta- usually all cooked to the same muchy consistancy) every so often this main meal is a stew, a thick bean or lentil soup- this does not, however, mean that there is not still the first soup so we have soup followed by soup.
Yesterday however I was thrown a curveball. We had the usual soup with potatoes and then, the main meal was jelly doughnuts. yes, jelly doughnuts. I don't get it either. When I mentioned how odd I found it to have jelly doughnuts as a maian meal, for lunch done the less, the other teachers were equally surprised to hear that we eat doughnuts only for breakfast and never as a main course. So there you go- doughnuts as a cultural difference.

2) The teachers at my school have all been wondeful and very nice. Yesterday (the random Thursday) one invited me to her house after belly dancing for a beer and to give me some covers for the armchairs in my apartment- very nice of her. It is so nice of her that how do I say no? I don't, and now I know what it would be like if instead of furniture I had albino Wookies to sit on, they are...lovely.

3) But none of this mattered because as I sat on my albino Wookie armchairs and tried to digest my lunch of jelly doughnuts I smiled in a state of happiness that can be brought on by only one thing. World news in English! Yes, after much work from Jonny (my contact teacher's husband) and alot of random button-pushing, I now have CNN in my apartment, and BBC. Apparently it was there all along but in a strange between-channels world that we had to find and then manually program into the TV.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Taylor's questions: Round two.....(because she's always got 'em)

first of all I would like to amend on of my answers to the previous round of questions. What do I do after class? My last answer made things seem much more boring then they actually are and this week I managed to have something scheduled for every single day of the week after school! On Monday there was a teachers' meeting. OK, so still not getting to exciting and eventful but it was something, mostly I just sat there and listened to them all talk and argue for 2 hours while I did my best to piece things together from the words I could catch (which mostly consists of numbers so, as you can imagine, I didn't get much information) but the other English teachers translated later on for me- a bunch of administrative bullshit- that may have been her exact words. At this meeting we also graded class 5. Yes, we, as a group graded them. I'm pretty sure that it was only their behavior grade but we (the teachers who have that class) all sat in a circle and read off the students' names and then two number "Kovács, Máté 4, 5" and then everyone either agrees or says "no, 4, 4" and it continues like this- very unscientific- just shouting and agreeing on the kids grade. Occasionally, because this is class 5's first year at this school) they call out the name "Dér, Cintía...does anybody know who she is?" and everybody laughs.
On Tuesday there was an English speaking and pronunciation competition at the school that I helped judge. The students (just a select few from each class) had to read- or preferably memorize- a short story or part of a story in English and then we judged their pronunciation, fluency and presentation. The winners will go on to a larger competition later this month at one of the high schools in town. I think I heard a shortened version of the story "Stone Soup" about 25 times that afternoon!
On Wednesday, yesterday, Ilí, my contact teacher and the head of the English Department at my school invited me to her house. She lives on the far south east end of down in a big beautiful house with a nice big yard. We had dinner and drank some kind of Slovakian brandy and talked and had a wonderful time.
Today- Thursday- I have Belly dancing and then it will be Friday (the 13th! which was the basis of most of my lessons this week- superstitions and things that are good luck and bad luck in the US and in Hungary) and then the weekend!

So, on to Taylor's questions...
1. So far, in your descriptions, people, although they don't speak a lot of English, seem nice. How are you recieved as an American? Any anti-American sentiment?
I was just discussing this with Peter, a son of one of the teachers here (my age), who I am helping with his English. In all of the countries I have traveled I have noticed some level of anti-American sentiment. In some countries it is higher then in others. France for example- in Paris I always had much better luck with broken German then with English. But so far, here in Hungary, my experiences have been very positive. Peter and I were discussing how some people are better able to separate a country's politics from a country's people and this separation is what is key in the acceptance of Americans abroad- you can hate American politics and still like American people. Hungarians, he said, are better at this separation at this moment in time because of the bad political situation they are in (daily protests at the Parliament building demanding that the Prime Minister leave his position), because of this they are more aware of the separation between a country's leaders and politics and the people and can more readily see Americans as people separate from the politics, policies and leadership of their country.

2. What do people think about the deal with the prime minister? Do people talk a lot about politics, or is it something they don't address in public that much?
For this I will say see question 1. But more importantly, see that in question one I have only referred to Peter's views in the conversations I have had with him. This is because people, at least the teachers at my school, do not talk much about it. I can tell that it is in their thoughts daily and that some are angry with the Prime Minister (most of the people) and others with the protesters. But it is in one line mentions to each other and rarely long in depth discussions. Clearly the people are angry and hear this all of the time "the situation in Hungary is very serious" and that they are worried about their membership in the EU but still, it is not talked about in public and I have been told, flat out, that I am not to bring up the situation with the Prime Minister or anything relating to politics in the classroom, as far as the students are to be concerned, everything is fine and nothing is happening.- whether or not that is actually true- or if a few actually have strong opinons on the subject I don't get to know.

3. The year I went to France was the first official year that French kids took part in trick-or-treating. Part of the globalization of Halloween. Do they have Halloween in Hungary? If so, is it just a commercial, Americanized version of it?
This will probably better answered in the next week or so as we get closer to Halloween and I do a lesson on American Halloween traditions. However, so far, I know that there is at least something because I have seen a few Halloween like decorations (pumpkins and such) in some store windows. But Trick-or-Treating...I doubt it.
4. Can you drink tap water?
Yes. And I do so often. In the teachers' room I keep a mug in my drawer that I refill from the sink through out the day. I don't get as many strage stares when I do this as I did when I was in Germany but there certainly isn't anyone else doing it! More because they don't drink much (still) water here in general then because there is anything wrong with it.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

the little things...

some times it is the little things that make my day here...

1) Everyday on my walk to (and from) school I walk by a house with a dog. This dog may be the fattest Dalmatian I have ever seen! Maybe he is mixed with a lab or something but either way this guy literally looks like a barrel with legs. For those of you at the museum I have named him Walter- after Walter the Farting Dog- because, though he doesn't seem to have a farting problem that I know of, he looks just like the dog in the book and the accompanying toy- very round with legs sticking straight out to the sides, his tongue always hanging out and his eyes slightly wonky- but with spots. Anyway... everyday he is sitting in the same heap on his front step, happily watching the people go by and I was beginning to think that he was too fat to even move. Until yesterday. Yesterday I actually saw Walter out walking with his little old lady owner, much more of a waddle then walk, and his owner equally rotund. Seeing him move put a smile on my face for the rest of the afternoon. I think that if I ever see him run- if it is in fact physically possible- I don't know how I'll contain myself!

2) Today in class I thoroughly confused one of my students. I don't think I have ever seen a child make a face of more panic and confusion- poor little Martin! But it wasn't his fault, Martin happens to look EXACTLY like my friend Wayne. I noticed this the first day and can hardly look at him without thinking about it. Today I finally slipped and called him Wayne. Not a big deal, generally, to be called the wrong name- I mix these kids up all the time. The utter confusion came because, to Martin, who is learning English, and quite good, and who was expecting a question- such as Who? What? Where? When? or Why?- Wayne sounds just like a new question word that he didn't know. "Wayne? I don't know... The ferry leaves at 10:15 and goes to Dover.....?"

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Taylor's questions

a few weeks ago Taylor sent me a whole list of questions (the kind only Tay would think to ask) and after I sent answered them all and sent them back she suggested that I post it all here- so here they are:

what do you think of the town of Gyongyos itself?
I like it. It is small- small by our standards (30,000) big here. But small in that there isn't really heaps to do but there is a nice main square/ street where people are always hanging around- walking, sitting on the benches, kids are riding their biks. It's big enough to have a TESCO (the British version of super Target) which is conveniant. The location is nice too- only an hour from Budapest (although I have yet to actually take advantage of that!) but it is also right at the base of the Matra hills which contain Kékes- Hungary's highest point. There are lots of very small villages/ resorts up the hills that are very accesible from town so I have the advantage of being close to these nice things but in the large city which is also nice.
Do you have particular stores you like?
Stores..not so much- I havn't really shopped that much, Kelly (the Brit) and I went shopping a bit last weekend but there isn't anything particularly remarkable. Most of my shopping experience is in food shopping. There is a Spar- a nice- larger (but still small) supermarket near me that I go to about once a week for the majority of things but other then that I try to buy things at the small shops that are near (across the street and around the corner) from my apartment. there is also a small fruit and vegitable market near my house- I try to go there as often as I can but the hours are mostly in the mornings when I am at school and I also tend to get a little nervous here because unlike other store where I can just pick what I want, hand it to the check-out girl and then pay the ammount on the screen, in the market I have to ask for what I want, and how much I want, and then understand when they tell me how much it costs- but I'm getting better and it is good practise.

parts of town you like to walk a bit more slowly through?
around my apartement building (the area is called the "80's" because there are 80 apartments in one area) there are alot of small apartemnt buildings scattered among parks with big trees, there are alot of benches everywhere and a few little parts with playgrounds- I like to walk through here alot and enjoy the trees and the kids playing, and people walking their dogs. I also like to walk down the main square- it is a pedestrian street made of cobblestones and lined with shops and restaurants and big old buildings, fountains and churches.

Have you found a favorite coffeehouse?
A coffeehouse- no. Coffeehouses are not big here but there are ice cream/ cake shops everywhere and there is one along the main square that my British friends and I like to go to- sit outside on the main square and watch the people. The people there are very nice and one girl speaks very good English and the others like to help us and we always get into laughing fits trying to explain flavors- using what they know in English (like apple pie) plus what we know in Hungarian (strawberry) and when that doesn't work we taste it and try to figure it out (like Chestnut and Cinnaminn.)
My St Marks however is my balcony. I have a very small balcony, big enough for maybe two people. I have a chair out there and a potted plant and two shelves that I hung on the side- just big enough for my book or a notebook and a cup of coffee or tea or a glass of wine. I can sit here and look at the big oak and chestnut trees and into the apartment accross the way where there is a young couple with a daughter who is about 3. I can see them playing and hanging up their laundry. The window faces south so I can't get a sunrise or sunset but i have a great view of the Big Dipper if I go out at just the right time.

You say a lot of days, you're out of class by noon. What do you do the rest of the time?
I stay at school a while longer usually- I use the internet- it's the only place where I have a connection. I also eat lunch here at school- I get it for free and it is the main meal of the day so it is quite substantial- soup plus a hot main course- meat and rice or pasta- something like this. It isn't great but it is something and free. So I don't go home right away- but when I do I walk around for a while- run errands- everything takes more time to get done here. When I do get home I have lesson planning to do and sometimes papers to grade. I watch TV and read (though I'm running out if English books!) I do laundry and clean and cook- all take longer then you would expect. But mostly I fill the time because I go to bed early- I try to stay up to watch the 9:00 movie (the cartoon network turns into TCM and plays old movies in English) but I usually don't stay up that late- sometimes I go out with the Brits as well- for drinks or dinner or ice cream.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Belly Dancing

Another plus to being abroad and in a situation where you know no one and you have loads of free time is that you are suddenly open to everything and not the least bit picky.

A few weeks ago some of the teachers at my school asked if I'd like to take a belly dancing class with them. Had I been at home in the states I probably would have said no but here, where I have nothing to do and know very few people I figure- why not, this is not the time to be picky about activities and invitations! So I agreed.

Yesterday was our first class. The class was organized by one of the other English teachers at my school, it is her friend that teaches. I also brought along Kelly- The Brit. There were about 5 other teachers from my school there and about 4 other women I didn't know, the teachers ranged from the young (relatively) English teacher to the 40 something secretary who showed up in a full tweed suit (she changed out of it). It was a lot of fun!

We started with some good stretching and warm up exercises that were a lot like yoga and then moved on to 3 basic moves to music that mostly involved hip isolation- So here's to not being picky!

Thursday, October 05, 2006

living and cooking alone

In the past weeks I've been discovering the perks and the problems of living alone. One of them is cooking. Lately I have been trying to cook more- a perk of cooking only for yourself is that you can try new things and then mess them up and no one will have to suffer through eating it but you. Another perk is the leftovers- there are always leftovers which means that I never have to cook everyday plus I only ever cook and eat what I want- no compromises.

I have also discovered some problems. Onions. I like onions, I like cooking with onions but I can't cut an onion without my eyes having an attack and dumping gallons and gallons of water onto my face and whatever I'm cooking. In the past I have always had somebody else cut my onions for me- but here I'm forced to do it myself. This usually means that it takes a half hour because I have to stick my face out the window for air every 2 seconds or I risk slicing off my fingers because I'm trying to chop while blind from burning, watering eyes.

I'll keep you posted on the advantages and disadvantages to living alone and slicing off your fingers and bleeding all over your apartment.

Monday, October 02, 2006


This past weekend Kelly, Jim (the Brits) and I decided we wanted to go out dancing. This was after going to a party at Kelly's school Friday afternoon which we had expected to include music and dancing but was actually more like a field day with each of the classes competing in various activities against each other- bobbing for apples, relay races balancing ping-pong balls on paddles, shaving-cream balloon tosses, tonuge-twister challenges and many more. It was a lot of fun and nice to see all of the students (high school students even) participate and enjoy all of the games.
Unfortunately, there was no dancing. We did, however, find out that there is in fact a disco in Gyöngyös! Club Desparados Disco on the far east side of town so later that night we set out in search of Desparados. This turned out to be quite an adventure. Attila (yes we have been hanging around with an actual Hungarian- good for us) had told us, 'oh, just go down this street, take the second right and then the first left and then go straight and you will be there' Sounds simple enough. What he actually meant was 'walk down this road for about 25 minutes until you go over the railroad tracks, over the highway, past the cemetery, and then curve around to your left, take a quick hidden right and walk for another 25 minutes and then go through what looks like (and in the daylight is) a used car dealership, and THEN you will be there!'- thanks Attila. But we found it. Mostly by following the strobing search lights and sound of the music, but we found it none the less. So in we walked, Desperado's Disco, complete with potted cactus in the corners. There were disco balls and lights, a DJ in a booth who was rocking out and two bartenders. And that was it. The DJ, two bartenders and us. Apparently Hungarians can't find the place either. But eventually the place filled up a bit and we had a great time. I even managed to call us a taxi at the end of the night and direct him home in Hungarian. Although the successful directions had more to do with my ever improving skills in charades and as a mime then my Hungarian but it worked.

Thursday, September 28, 2006


So finally I have figured out how to post pictures on here!! So scroll through and see what I've added. They are in the posts- Gyöngyös, Trains and Caves and Eger.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

funny Euro-washing machine: take 2

Last night I turned all my white socks blue. I guess that little guy is doing more then I thought!

Zokni szeretnék venni! (I'd like to buy some socks!)

Monday, September 25, 2006

a weekend at home

It is Monday and I have no stories of weekend trips to share. This weekend I stayed at home in Gyöngyös. But that isn't to say I have no stories!!

Friday night I had some much needed relaxation time (I even managed to stay up late enough to watch the old movies that come on every night- in English- and made popcorn and drank tea while I watched some thrilled called Coma with Michael Douglas when he was about 20!)

But that was the end of the relaxation! On Saturday afternoon I finally met up with the British couple who are also teaching English in my town. I had been expecting (through various rumors) a 60 year old Married British couple who I could drink tea with but that was probably it. But no! Jim and Kelly blew away the rumors by being 23 and so much fun! We hung around and chatted Saturday afternoon in the main square watching the end of a local wedding and then headed for the circus- because if the circus is in town why not go!

Quite a little tent- less then 10 people on the whole staff, they had a guy who threw knives at a 14 year old girl in leotard, a man who looked about 80 doing handstands on top of chairs balancing on beer bottles, a couple who did trapeze- quite impressive considering there was not only no net but not even a mat for them to fall on- just the hard ground and a bunch of kids throwing popcorn at their parents- luckily they didn't fall. The one animal act was a pair of miniature horses who rode around in circles and then, amazingly enough- changed direction! and ran around in circles the other way!!! Luckily the circus was free and we brought our own snacks so it was even cheaper and then we went to the bar after- all in all a fabulous Saturday night in Gyöngyös.<br>
Sunday (after a treacherous morning spent trying to buy yeast to make bread- but that's a story in itself) I went to Jim and Kelly's apartment for a big lunch of roast pork- that they desperately needed to cook and eat after having accidentally bought half a pig at the market the day before when the pointed at it in conversation- the meat market is like an art auction- no sudden movements or you might buy something without meaning to!) anyway...we had our lunch, walked around the town and finished of the day with ice cream, wine and a pathetic attempt to pick walnuts from a tree taller then all of us.

Friday, September 22, 2006


You may have noticed that I've stuck a link up in the top left corner of the screen. this is the link to the CETP (Central European Teaching Program) blog, in other words, it is the blog of (and for) all of the other American (and Brit and Canadian) teachers here. There you can also find links to some of the other people's personal blogs so when I haven't posted anything you can just go read someone else's and pretend that I'm not lazy :-)

Wednesday, September 20, 2006


Last weekend, all around Hungary, it was prime harvest season- especially for grapes- this meant of course- festivals! These are also generally the last of the festivals for the year so, along with the appeal of them being wine festivals, a few of us decided we couldn't miss out and just must get to Eger and check it out!
Eger is a gorgeous city about an hour east of me. It is the capital of my county (Heves) and a definate must for anyone who comes for a visit. It is a beautiful city with cobbelstone streets, churches and a castle. It is also home to the famous Bull's Blood wine. Just outside the city center of Eger, in a valley surrounded by rolling hills covered in vineyards, was the prime destination for our trip, and where we spent our Saturday afternoon (which soon became evening and late night...) Here, in the Valley of the Beautiful Women- as it is called- all of the vinyards and winemakers of the area have their wine cellars. The cellars are dug into the hills and you walk along the roads and visit the little doors, all with numbers and few with names, they generally have tables set up outside in addition to the tables inside where it is dark and cool and wet. There are musicians who roam the cellars playing traditional music and locals and tourists alike wonder the road having a glass or two at each- which is easy to do at about $1 a glass or less the $4 for a liter if you find one you that you really like.
So Nicole, Becky and I wondered the cellars (acconpanied by Kat and Liz who stayed only the day) and even met some guys from Belgium who boosted our confidence by allowing us to teach them the few Hungarian words we knew which seemed great next to the 0 that they had. All in all a great time and I hope to go back again for a longer stay (we were there for only one night.)

Because it was grape harvest season everywhere there was also a small festival in little Gyöngyös. And because Gyöngyös is only an hour from Eger and Nicole and Becky live about 5-6 hours further south they came up to Gyöngyös Friday night and we were able to taste the wine, enjoy the music and talk to some people in my own town before heading to Eger the next morning- Great for me to have some fun in my own town! The festival was still going on when I came home on Sunday afternoon and I got to see a wonderful parade with folk dancing from different groups of kids from all the schools in the area- including some of my own students! very cute.

This weekend I am looking forward to not traveling but staying at home for the weekend to get some rest and finally meet the other 2 teachers from my program here in Gyöngyös. (originally there were 2 others who I met at orientation but they left in the first week and were replaced by a British couple)

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Hungary in the News

just in case you all thought I had moved somewhere boring....

Hungary is all over the news all of a suden- riots in Budapest demanding the resignation of the Prime Minister -->

and where was the Hungarian ambassador to the US during all of this?
in the US...on the Colbert Report
...informing Stephan Colbert that he won the Hungarian bridge naming contest.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Peanut Butter!!

After searching for peanut butter in every store I was about ready to post a desperate message for someone to please please send me some!
BUT, today, I found it!!! After a tip from one of the second year teachers I stopped looking in the aisle with the jams and jellies and nutella and ventured into the "imported foods" aisle and there it was, in the American section, along with blueberry muffin mix, pancake mix and maple syrup. :-)

Monday, September 11, 2006

trains and caves

This weekend was fantastic. Friday I left right after class and ran to the train station to catch my train to the tiny village of Hernádnémti where one of the other American teachers, Laura (who is here for her 2nd year) lives. I arrived around 4 and just in time to head over to the soccer field where every Monday, Wednesday and Friday anyone can show up for a girls soccer practise/game. So we hung out there running around and doing cartwheels with a few of Laura's 8th grade students until it was determined that the girl with the keys to the house where the ball and nets were wasn't coming that day so no soccer and everyone went home...ok, whatever.

So back to Laura's apartment where we met up with 2 more American teachers- Jenna (another 2nd year) and Becky (a first timer like me) from other cities. We hung out and cooked an awesome Hungarian dinner, played games and spoke in English about the weird things Hungarians do (like insisting that you use a cart in the grocery store even if you are only buying one thing) and all of the things that they laugh at us for (such as making noises for EVERYTHING, i.e. when we make a check mark on the black board.)

The next morning we caught numerous trains and buses to the small town of Aggtelek, high in the hills and right on the Slovakian border. At Aggtelek is an amazing and enormous cave system- the Baradla-Domica caves. The total system is 25km (about 15.5 miles) long, 7km of which stretch into Slovakia. We went on the short tour of the cave which was an hour walk through the largest halls (we missed the long tours that include boat rides along the river Styx that also runs through the caves.) We did, however, get to see the concert hall which is a cavern so big and with such naturally perfect acoustics that they have a stage and chairs set up and they hold concerts there! they did a short concert for us as a demonstration and it was incredible.

I have some great pictures (the stalagtites and drip columns were unbelievable) but I'm still working out how to get them up here- my pictures are all on my laptop but I only have internet access from public computers which don't seem to have USB ports...I'll work on it.

Another week of classes ahead (getting easier everyday) and then another fun weekend to look forward to- Wine Festival in Eger...

Friday, September 08, 2006


Today is Friday. I have (almost) compleated my first week of classes- I have one more class of 7th graders and then I have to run and catch my train (a series of trains actually) to the little village of Hernádnémeti for what I hope to be a great weekend relaxing with a couple of other American teachers! But back to school. The week has been a bit of a blur really, I have 4 grades: 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th and there are 3 groups of each grade (except the 6th grade where there are only 2) and I see them each twice a week except the 5th graders who I only see once and one group of 7th graders that I have 3 times- confused yet? me too. But in the end it works out that I have 11 classes and that my schedule is different every day of the week. (I have my fingers crossed that next week it will stay the same but considering that the room numbers can change AFTER the bell rings means that I can expect just about anything).

Each class is 45 minutes long with 10 minute breaks between each (except for between 2nd and 3rd and 3rd and 4th when the break is 15 minutes- huh? yeah...) there are only 6 periods a day so school is out at 1:30 and I only have the last class once a week so I usually get out by 11:40 which is very nice.

Teachers don't have their own classrooms, we just move around- always lots of confusion about who is where and whether or not the teachers and students are on the same page with where the class is. Anyway, because teachers don't have their own room and therefore they don't have there own desk the teacher's room is the place to be. Everyone has an assigned seat at a long table with a drawer- your desk and there are computers with internet in there as well (in here actually, I hang out online durring my off periods) In here the teachers pile their crap so that we just have to bring one class worth of crap with us rather than hauling everything around all the time which is nice. Everyone is always very busy grading or planning or something- I don't know...I've found that the 10 minute break is too short to get much work done but too long to just grab your stuff so I generally look through my books like I'm working hard on a lesson...yeah I pretend ALOT in this room...probably has alot to do with the fact that most everyone here has at least 20 years on me.

I do like the teacher's room though. It means forced interaction. The teachers are all very nice and they always say hello and bring me fruit. (everyone seems to have a mother or a father-in-law with a fruit tree and extra pears) I even had 3 different invitations to go to the mountains or the lake this weekend with various teachers and their families- but I'm off to see Laura and Becky in Hernádnémeti! where we will speak English and discuss very important things such as, how many snotty 8th graders do you want to throw chalk at?

Monday, September 04, 2006

things to do...

Gyöngyös has a fabulous museum! I am told. All about the Matra hills region and a reconstructed skeleton of a whooly mammoth and an aquarium! and it's in an old mansion in a park- but it's closed for renovation untill next summer.

Gyöngyös has a multiplex movie theater and you can go watch movies in English instead of going all the way to Budapest! It will open in January.

Gyöngyös has a disco with 3 floors of music and dancing and durring the day it is an internet cafe! yeah...that closed...but you can go to the library.


when I heard that I would have a washing machine in my apartment I was ecstatic! To think of the trips to the laundremat I could avoid let alone the torture of having to find a laundremat here before my clothes all smelled bad enough that they would ask if I could teach French lessons! Little did I know what adventures awaited me with my very own washing machine...

First of all, my washing machine (read washing machine NOT washer and dryer- Europe doesn't really do dryers) anyway, it lives on my bathroom floor and is about the size of 2 microwaves ontop of eachother (although the capacity is barely that of one microwave) and once you get it plugged in- at the top of the opposite wall accross the door- and the water hooked up- under the sink at the other wall- my already tiny bathroom becomes quite the jungle gym. The first day I asked Ilí how to work it and she said she didn't know but she would tell me later. ok.... then on Saturday when she came by I asked again and she said that one of the legs was broken and it wobbled and somebody was meant to fix it but they didn't- oh well I don't care my one bag of clothes is getting nasty. So together we figured it out- her Hungarian and my mechanical guess work. Then I had to buy detergent. Maybe an easier task had it not been Sunday which meant that everything was closed except the TESCO (SuperTarget) a short walk from my house. A god send in most situations- I know what stuff is, I can find everything and I don't have to ask for what I want. In this case it meant an entire aisle of detergents to pick from. shit. so I went for the one with some German on it- however, aparently my ability to say my name is sara, how are you? I live in the last apartment and thanks for the flowers to the little old ladies in my building had given me false confidence in my German abilities that did not transfer to laundry detergent instructions- oh well I'll just pour some in and hope my clothes get clean while avoiding the cartoonish image of soap suds pouring out my windows and doors.

Back in my apartment I "filled" up my load with 2 pairs of jeans and 2 t-shirts poured in some soap and hoped for the best. It started doing it's thing and turning and turning and I waited and waited and WAITED. It was over an hour and it didn't seem to be done so I took a walk thinking funny little Euro-washer takes it's sweet time! and then I came home and opened it up to check...

I found 2 pars of jeans and 2 t-shirts perfectly dry. Either I had the best washer/dryer combo ever or something had gone wrong. And it had. I never hooked up the water. Awesome. Take 2 went fine, didn' take long at all and I even managed to assemble the drying rack and hang my things up and now I have 2 pairs of Jeans and 2 t-shirts that are extremely stiff but also dry and CLEAN!


So here I am, finally, in my little town of Gyöngyös in northeast Hungary. I actualy arrived in Hungary- in Budapest- on the 24th of August and spent the next week at orientation. Orientation was a blast, there were about 30 other teachers (I don't know the exact number because everyone drifted in at different times) anyway...most were in there mid-late 20s (I was deffinatly on the low end) and many are older- retiries and emptynesters- all are fantastic and four are from Colorado! There were also two of the 12 or so second year teachers who came back for orientation to help us all out. We spent our days in classes on Hungarian culture and language as well as teaching tips. The rest of our time we spent enjoying Budapest and going out at night practising our Hungarian at the bars.

Then came the 30th...

That morning our contact teachers came to pick us up and take us to our new homes. We spent the morning loitering in the lobby with our luggage watching each person that walked through the doors and guessing and hoping "does she look like a teacher?" "oh god I hope that one isn't mine!" and "Please let that one be here for me!" In the end Ilí came for me and she is great, the head of the English departement at my school, very helpful and funny- she has two sons my age who both live in other cities and I think she is glad to have someone to be a mother to again. She drove me the hour to Gyöngyös and chatted the whole way. She took me grocery shopping because "you should never walk into a house with an empty kitchen!" and then showed me my apartment.

My apartment is fine- very basic- a small kitchen and bathroom and one large room with a sitting area, TV, cabinets and my bed as well as a spare bed (so come visit!) that is serving as a couch. The decor is...seventies. Seventies in that it looks like it came right from the decade and was put there by someone who is in their seventies. This is truely an apartment furnished from grandma's basement. But I'm adding things slowly- potted plants and pictures. And I have a little balcony which is very nice because my building (one of maybe 20 small 4 story buildings) is scattered in a park area with little paths and benches and big old oak trees. The buildings are all painted different bright colors (to tell them apart I guess) mine is a terra cotta and the one I look at is bright green. Fun Fact: When the Peace Corps was in Hungary my job and apartment was a post, my fridge has a big sticker on it that says donated by the US government, so take that Peace Corps!

Ilí also took me to the school where she showed me my assigned seat and drawer in the teacher's lounge- I guess you need one since no one has their own classroom. I teach grades 5, 6, 7 and 8 and have 11 classes total- hopefully middle school kids arn't the same the world over...

On Saturday Ilí and her husband took me up to the hills/ mountains. They are very close and also very short but nice. Everything here is extremely green and as soon as you leave the town there are grapes and sunflowers and fruit trees everywhere. We went to the top of Kékes- the tallest "mountain" in Hungary (just over 1000 meters) there's a little ski and sledding slope there in the winter and hiking trails in the summer. Fun Fact: From the top of the highest point in Hungary to my apartment, by car, is only 25 minutes! That's all for now...

Tuesday, August 22, 2006


so here I am in London! after two long flights and very little sleep. I got in this morning around noon and have been wondering the city in a zombie like daze ever since in an attempt to stay up all day and go to bed at night so that I can get set on this time zone I am very tired! but I made it to the Tate Museum of Modern Art which was very cool- although the surrealist rooms seemed even more surreal in my current state. I get the whole day tomorrow and then off to Budapest!

Friday, August 18, 2006

getting ready to go.....

hello everyone! So as most of you know I'm leaving for Hungary on Monday where I'll be teaching English at an elementary school in the small town of Gyongyos. On my past trips I've sent out monstrous group e-mails that clogged in boxes and stressed people out so I've decided that this time I'll go the Brit Chase route and post a blog- and here it is (for those still wanting to e-mail my address is Right now I don't have much to tell- I'm still in Denver and am further procrastinating the inevitable packing but soon I'll have fun things to say about my quick trip to London, week long orientation in Budapest and eventual move in to Gyongyos. Till then........