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!

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!