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.)