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!

Sunday, November 04, 2007

A long time coming

I know it's been a while, too long. Plenty has happened since my last entry and all will be explained on my new blog:

Saturday, June 16, 2007


Szolnok. Last weekend I took one last train trip South East across the Great Hungarian Plain to Szolnok to visit Emily. In the past few weeks everything has been “the last,” there have been a lot of goodbyes. In Szolnok it was my last train trip, the last time I got stuck in the rain on a Sunday night at a train station not quite home (this time it was Hatvan.) The last time I would sit in a room drinking Soproni beer, eating Fornetti in the middle of a conversation going on in five different languages. The last time I would enjoy a paper plate stacked high with grilled meats, sausages and other Hungarian delights smothered with spicy mustard, the last time I would sleep in a dog pile of too many CETPers trying to spend the weekend in someone’s tiny apartment. It was my last time to sit under a bridge with my friends dangling our feet in one of Hungary’s dirtiest rivers and not caring because it was so hot outside. But the biggest and saddest last of them all was the weekend itself- the last of many spontaneous weekends with my new friends in a random Hungarian city. This weekend I had to say goodbye to Emily, who I have faith will always be there in her apartment in Szolnok when I need another dose of Magyarorszag and come back to visit. To Caley and Arlo- attached at the hip and always a good time- they renewed all of our attitudes when they arrived second semester and I’m sure that Caley will continue his antics with the newbies who will arrive in September. I did, however, get to hold off on my goodbye to Bridget since she is coming to Gyöngyös for a last chance look at the Northern Uplands. It was a great way to end things.

However, as has been the pattern lately, I have found a way to put off a few more lasts and goodbyes and will see a few more people for (yet another) last hoorah in Budapest this weekend.

Almost the end.


The last few weeks at school have been anything but routine. The combination of hot weather, burned out students (and teachers), and construction that seems to intrude more and more on the physical space and noise level of the building (the last week I had construction workers on scaffolding outside my classroom windows- shirtless and sweaty which was far more than my hormonal 13 and 14 year old girls could handle!) has meant that we haven’t done much in the way of regular lessons in a while. There was a week where on any given day half the school was away on a trip, and an afternoon where I (and the other English teachers) took 95 students to the movies for a special screening of The Queen. The Monday after I returned from Balaton was “Teacher’s Day” and I was showered with gifts, chocolates and flowers from my students followed by a faculty appreciation banquet where we ate, drank, ate some more and drank some more. A few students read poems, played the flute and sang us a song before thanking us for all our work and giving us each a single rose- very sweet. After this there were speeches from the headmistress and a special goodbye to 4 retiring teachers and 1 more who was leaving- me. I was told that the headmistress’s speech was very nice (but I couldn’t understand it myself) but they gave more gifts and flowers and there was a champagne toast- all so nice.
This week, however, the final week, was the most odd. On Tuesday it was the teachers’ chance for a field trip and 40 of us loaded onto a bus at 8 am. This being Hungary the first order of business as we pulled away from the school at 8am was to serve martini’s in plastic cups- it’s never too early in Hungary. Unfortunately do to bad traffic we arrived at our destination 4 hours later (instead of the expected 2.5) but it was a fun trip and everyone chatted and listened to music and laughed and, of course, ate an uncountable amount of sandwiches wrapped in napkins and pulled from bottomless bags. Our destination was Komoron, a small town on the North Western border of Hungary, just across the river from Slovakia. Here we toured an old fort built after the 1848 revolution and later used by the Soviets as a prison and artillery storage. The fort is built mostly underground and the few above ground buildings are covered with earth and wild grasses that allow it to blend in with it’s surroundings. We wandered the extensive tunnel system and even got a bit lost! But Szabo Bea and Satzi (with the help of an old railroad track and ancient rail cart) found our way out. Next we drove to the small town of Tata, famous for hosting the European kayak and canoeing championships.
We had an ice cream (or two) and jumped back on the bus- martinis in hand- to head back to Gyöngyös. Unfortunately about 45 minutes away from home the buses fancy computer automated air-conditioning broke down and the heat came on full blast- this combined with a long day of walking around in the sweltering heat meant everyone was soon feeling ill and we had to stop the bus every 10 minutes so that we could all get out- cool down (or throw up) and then get back on. The heat must have gotten to the ladies heads because pretty soon they were laughing and pouring their water bottles down their dresses and then all broke out into song- an old Socialist era song they all knew from school because they said the situation reminded them of the days of Socialist Hungary.
Wednesday was another special day. There was a school wide scavenger hunt that was spread over the entire town. At each stop the students had to answer questions or perform special tasks such as counting park benches, measuring the mustache of the statues in a square or answer a quiz about their teachers. My job for the day was to help and walk around with class 7a (my favourites, but shhh don’t tell the others!) I had a great time chatting with the kids and walking ALL over town.
Norbi, Marci, Réka, Mark and Soma
Thursday and Friday were mostly spent with the 7th and 8th graders preparing and practicing for the big graduation ceremony on Saturday and the 5th and 6th graders scattered across various parks in town playing games so I mostly had the two days off to sign final papers, complete my naplos (the daily registers for each class where I must enter the lesson number and topic and sign it daily- I will be having nightmares about the Naplos for years!!)
Thursday night was a final goodbye and celebratory banquet for the graduating 8th graders at a local restaurant. The kids were all dressed up in suits and cocktail dresses and gave speeches and sang songs. They thanked us for our work and presented us each with a signed copy of their class picture. Then they moved aside the tables and the place became a disco. The kids soon dragged me in and I ended the night rocking out to “Eye of the Tiger” with my 8th graders. It was a fantastic way to end a year that has been- where class 8 is concerned- a rough one. Tomorrow morning (Saturday) I will go to their Ballagas- the traditional Hungarian graduation ceremony which, as I’ve heard, is an experience to look forward to.

Wrapping up a few loose ends.

1) My funny Euro washing machine. We have settled on a “live and let live” relationship. I don’t throw it out the window (even when I really want to) and it only dyes entire loads of laundry baby blue and clogs all my drains occasionally.

2) Walter the fat Dalmatian who chills on the step outside my school is actually female and named Magdi and she a sweetheart who prefers the term “rotund” and blames the excess weight on numerous litters and her owner’s refusal to take her to Pilates.

3) Grocery shopping. I now always (well, almost always) have a 20, 50 and 100 ft coin on me at all times so I can get a buggy and be allowed into the grocery store where I am now a super star at weighing and printing out labels for more produce, ordering things at the meat counter and even remembering to bring my own bags. Which mostly means that I will probably freak out when some stranger starts bagging my groceries for me when I get home.

4) School lunch. In January I started to get food vouchers and that was the end of the wet noodles topped with sour cream and cheese.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Wine and the Lake

Today is Wednesday, June 6th and I fly home to the US two weeks from today. My time here as flown by but has also crawled along very slowly, I’m sure my last weeks will be the same. I’ve been busy the last few weeks trying to squeeze in all of the things that I had been wanting to do since I’ve come here as well as trying to see and say goodbye to all my friends around the country. The last week of May was a three day weekend and (as always) this meant various festivals around Hungary. I had a tough decision to make- the wine festival in Tokaj or the beer festival in Beke. In the end we (Eve and I) decided to go to Tokaj assuming that it must be a good because every hostel, hotel and guesthouse in the area was fully booked! Lucky for us Ian in Nyiregyhaza is only about 40 minutes away. So after a Saturday night out in Nyiregyhaza, Ian, Eve, Ray and I spent a fantastic day in Tokaj. Tokaj is one of the many famous wine towns and is famous for it’s white wines, especially a super sweet dessert wine with a unique flavor thanks to the special mold found on the walls of the Tokaj cellars. As with all festivals in Hungary, the main square and street of the town was lined with booths representing each of the local cellars as well as fair food and other various things for sale (if you ever need a giant gulyas cauldron and tripod this is the place.) We bought our tasting glasses, had our first glass were just finishing up our heaping plates of fresh grilled chicken, paprikas krumpli and grilled veggies when a storm rolled it (the same storm that seems to hit this region every afternoon) Luckily we (and all the other festival goers) were able to wait out the storm under an overhang and take turns running out for a fresh glass of Tokaj wine, with just a hint of Tokaj rain. The next morning Eve and I decided to spend a few more hours at the festival before heading home and this time were invited in to one of the wine booths when the storm hit where were chatted, sipped wine and nibbled pogacsa with the wine makers. Unfortunately Eve and I had a bit too much fun and lost track of the time which meant we caught the last train back to Budapest just in time to miss our last buses and trains home- oops! However, after some wondering and searching we were able to find a hostel for the night so we could be up at dawn to catch the 5 a.m. buses home giving us enough time to quickly change our clothes and run straight to class! A small price to pay for the luxury of getting to put off saying our final goodbyes for another few hours.
The next weekend, the first of June, was the big goodbye weekend. 23 of us spent the weekend at Balatonfured- one of the many small lakeside towns along the shores of lake Balaton- the Hungarian sea. The 23 was made up mostly of the other CETP teachers but also included 2 Hungarians (Noemi- the honorary CETPer and Attila), John and Kelsey- Harpswell’s recently graduated cousin, Adam- my contribution- a friend from high school at the beginning of his own Euro trip, and Jeremy- a teacher from last year back for the summer. We had a fantastic weekend hanging out on the beach, swimming, and playing ultimate Frisbee. A wonderful way to say goodbye to a fantastic group of people in an amazing setting.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Thursday, Thursday, Thursday!

I'm nearing the end...15 days left...I owe posts on the Tokaj weekend and Balaton weekend...they'll show up soon.

In the meantime- I'll be in Budapest for one last afternoon/evening, dinner/ drink. Call me if you'll be around (yes, the phone has been revived!!)

Thursday, May 24, 2007

too hot to write my own blog post.

It's hot here, and humid, not my scene. This last week has had a high of 30° C all week (that's 86°F!) I think it's only going to get hotter-luckily we're off to the Lake in a week- that should help. Til then- I'm too hot to write my own blog post so here is Brieggy's:

"Air conditioning. If I could create levels of heaven, like Dante's circles of Hell, Air conditioning would be right up there. It has been too hot to teach, and too hot to think lately....
The kids are getting squirelly and restless. It is difficult to teach them...or even to keep them in line. One of my girls put it simply "It is too hot and the end of the year, and I have no patience for the English"My response "The English?" but what I was really thinking was - me too"

Thursday, May 17, 2007

why I love my department head

just a moment to extol the virtues of Ilí, the head of English at my school and my contact teacher here in Hungary.

Ilí is great for many reasons, she may be the best contact teacher in Hungary, but today she especially rocks because:

1) She invited me to her house to teach me how to make Gulyas soup
2) She let me use the Internet at her house
and 3) while I was online she just brought me a little tray with a glass of wine and pogacsa!

so props to you Ilí!!

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

music, monasteries, and hiking in the rain.

This is a bit out of order but oh well...

The last weekend in April we had a 4 day weekend thanks to the May 1st holiday falling on a Tuesday. That weekend was also a HUGE and incredible music and visual arts festival in Győr called MediaWave. Győr also happens to be where Eve, another CETPer lives. As I'm coming to the end of my time here I've been trying to make a point to get to all of the places and do all of the things that have been on my list since arriving in Hungary. Seeing Győr and Eve was one of them so the festival and extra days off were the perfect time.

I arrived in Győr early Saturday afternoon and Eve and I jumped into the festival atmosphere right away (after a beer and some cake at one of the many beautiful outdoor cafes!) We spent the next 3 days and nights enjoying the people, music atmosphere of the festival. It was fantastic and we heard everything from 3 person jazz quartets (apparently very popular in Hungary) to a fusion of hip-hop and traditional Gypsy music from a Czech group. The participants came from all over the world and there was even a healthy number of Canadians. So Eve, Mary Carmen (a British CETPer) and Marin (a friend of Eve's from home- and yes, that makes THREE Coloradans in Győr- pretty crazy) listened to music, drank wine and danced all day and all night for the entire weekend- it was fantastic!
(at Pannonhalma)

On Monday we took a break from the festival and took a drive outside of Győr (thanks to Eve's friend Jozsi!) to Pannonhalma an amazingly beautiful Franciscan monastery perched on the top of a hill. The monastery in the largest and oldest in Hungary and was luckily enough to survive unscathed from WWII and Communism. We toured the grounds and public areas including a gorgeous old library and the original church which is said to house the thrown of King Saint Stephen. We had hoped to enjoy a wine tasting at the monastery's own vineyard but sadly we were there only one day before the start of their season! We did, however, find another local cellar near by where we sampled some great wines in a dark and dank cellar (one of my favourite Hungarian activities.) It was a great weekend!

(the two red heads from Colorado in Hungary)

The next weekend Eve came to Gyöngyös to see what life was like in a Hungarian town less then bustling with arts and culture :-) Our plan was to hike around the Matra hills and see Kékes- Hungary's highest peak which is just a few minutes from Gyöngyös. Unfortunately the weather was less then great. On Sunday we decided to go anyway and had a great day hiking in the forests in the mist and were only bothered by a few rain drops which kept us cool in what is otherwise a very hot and humid walk.
(I blend into the Matra!)

Friday, May 11, 2007

4 things in my bag

The four things in my bag that make me realize I’ve been in Hungary for almost 10 months:

1) Mineral water (Asvanyviz)- on purpose! After months of desperately trying to avoid being served sparkling water instead of still, going to the length of learning how (and remembering) to ask for it specifically and even figuring out the color coded system of each brand in the country (usually pink but you have to watch out for Theodora because while it isn’t sparkling it still tastes like mineral water- the worst kind) I have even been known to mime bubbly versus flat water to get my point. And yet, it seems that Europe has won. I like the blue-capped, bubbly, funny tasting water!

2) A sandwich wrapped in tinfoil. This is one of the quiet phenomenons of Hungary that is best witnessed in schools, both in the classrooms and in the teachers’ room. It seems that everyone in Hungary has an endless supply of homemade sandwiches stashed away in their bag that they snack on throughout the day- during breaks between classes and occasionally during English class. These sandwiches are usually wrapped in tinfoil or paper napkins and you can always guarantee that at least four teachers will be munching a sandwich at any given moment in the teachers’ room. Most of the sandwiches are heavy on the butter and processed meat- I haven’t become that much of a convert, I stick to cheese, mustard and turkey. They used to think I was crazy because I never ate at school (most days I’m only there for about 4 hours!) now I diligently pack my sandwich and wrap it in foil and now they just think I’m weird for only ever having one. With the Hungarians’ love of sandwiches and taking them with them I’m surprised that neither peanut butter nor Ziploc bags have caught on.

3) All-purpose cleaner. The key thing here is that I bought this cleaner from a traveling cleaner salesman that spent the day in the teachers’ room lining up his products. This occurrence of random sales people who bring all sorts of products to sell to the teachers between classes happens often enough to clearly be a ‘thing’ here but seldom enough to still surprise me every time. I haven’t seen the same product twice but the offerings range from cleaning supplies to books to bad art and ugly shoes. I always stop and stare as they unload their boxes of goods and display them around the room- on top of graded tests, old homework and the lost-and-found box. Today, however, I was mostly just pleased that I didn’t have to stop at the store on my way home!

4) An old plastic shopping bag. Just in case I want to stop and buy anything, anywhere- you have to pay extra for plastic bags everywhere!

And the one thing that ISN’T in my bag that lets me know that I still haven’t been here all that long:

Red hair dye. Hungarian-Red to be specific. A shade that is hard to describe- dark maroon, almost purple that changes from fiery-red to deep purple depending on the light- truly unnatural and also by far the most popular (and possibly the only) hair color in Hungary. I picked up a box today and looked it over, considered it for only a split second before shaking myself back to reality and promptly putting it back on the shelf.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

beter late then never

I left off here as I was heading into a four day weekend thanks to the national holiday on March 15th. Since then I have had a busy few weeks. Let me explain, no there is no time, let me sum up (yes, I did teach The Princess Bride in my 7th grade classes which resulted in my seeing the entire film 4 times- not counting pre time- any lines I couldn’t quote before I certainly know now)

The long weekend of Mach 15th I traveled across Hungary’s eastern border to Romania (for the second time since I have been here) with Ian and Lisa. We visited the cities of Oradea (which I had previously visited on my trip to Transylvania in October) and Timisoara. Our plan included ending our trip in Arad, however, after arriving the city and taking the LONGEST tram ride ever around the city in search of the city center we decided we’d seen enough and we were better off cutting our losses and heading back to Hungary a day early. Arad and the tram ride felt a bit like a Disney land tourist train ride through “The Eastern European Adventure- complete with post Soviet bloc apartment complexes, dusty roads and paint-sniffing kids”- I recommend Timisoara and Oradea for anyone looking for a Romanian get-away. I could use up an entire blog page (yes, I know that blogs have no actual dimensions or pages…what would you call that never ending screen space? I think my students would call it cruel and unusual punishment judging from their tortured whines and pleas when the must write 1 WHOLE page- for a homework assignment) Anyway…back on track here…I could write a lot about the “unique” adventures that came with traveling Romania with Ian and Lisa but I’ll leave you with only one (for a more detailed and “Lisa”-esqe take on the events you can read her blog on MySpace)
This adventure came at the end of our trip and technically was in Hungary and not Romania. After deciding to bail on Arad and head back across the border we discovered that there were no more trains that day back to Budapest, there was however, a train across the border to Bekescsaba, so we took it figuring that at least we’d be back in Hungary, we knew where Bekescsaba was and I had even been there before (the Sausage festival with Becky back in the fall.) We could hope for connections home once arriving in Bekescsaba and if there weren’t any we would…well we’d figure something out. Of course, there were no connections that day (to be fair it was evening by then) so we would have to stay in Bekescsaba for the night and take the morning trains home. Lisa thought we should spend the night walking the town and hanging around the train station “it will be fun you guys!....we can entertain each other…it’s only 10 hours!” But Ian and I immediately vetoed that plan- it won’t be fun, we insisted, and the early morning hours in a cold train station move slower than the tram in Arad- why did we know this? See my write up of Christmas break in Slovenia for a reminder of Ian’s and my LONG night in Ljubljana.
Luckily the woman at the ticket counter went above and beyond to help us out, she called around and found a hostel for us and when we asked for walking directions there one of her colleagues offered us a ride! Excellent, everything was going our way. We pulled up at the hostel…somehow the name Sport Hotel didn’t give us a hint to what was coming. I was surprised when I recognized where we were, at the stadium where I had been for the Sausage festival. The hotel was actually IN the stadium. On two levels, where one would normally see souvenir shops, box seats, refreshment stands and maybe even a restaurant, they had hotel rooms. This was all fine, if not odd, the “hall” outside our door actually looked out over the main floor of the stadium. What made the experience truly memorable was that there was a rock concert going on in the stadium that night. We were literally sleeping inside a Hungarian hard rock concert (that was not particularly good.) The area surrounding the stadium/ hotel was filled with limos, food stands and intimidating security guards who blocked the back doors and kept the screaming fans out while letting Ian, Lisa and I pass through with a flash of our room key. It was loud and the entire room shook but only till about 1am and it was certainly more comfortable than the train station.

The next weekend was also out of the ordinary for me. That Thursday my friend Jenni from Denver (who has been living in Ireland) flew in for a long weekend. After spending a few “thrilling” days in my town of Gyongyos Jenni and I spent the weekend in Budapest being proper tourists and doing all the touristy must-sees and must-dos in Budapest. A perfect trial run for what has been and string of visitors.

The next weekend I had a much needed break from traveling and enjoyed a quiet weekend at home. Then came the big trip, the big break and the big visit. We were given four days off (a long Easter weekend) for Spring break and I took another three because my parents came to visit! We had quite a European travel spree- a few days in Budapest where we barely made it through the House of Terror audio guide tour (I feel like I should be able to get transfer credits for listening to that much lecturing!) We also walked all over the city and nearly had to drag my mother kicking and screaming out of the baths- her new favorite place. Next we took a train to Vienna where we were bombarded by the staggering amount of museums, palaces, parks and, of course, cake shops (I think the afternoon cake and coffee break will be the hardest routine for my mom to break when she gets home!) Being in Vienna we had to go to the Opera and being Americans in Austria we, of course, couldn’t pass up The Sound of Music. It was heaps of fun and my mom even restrained herself from singing (most of the time.) The weather was unbelievably gorgeous the entire trip and there was something for all of us. My dad fell in love with the Natural History Museum and visited twice and my mom got to see the Lipenzer stallions rehearse; and I got to enjoy eating in restaurants as opposed to grocery store picnics on the curb and sleep in a hotel room instead of enduring the hostel dorm rooms where there is, inevitably, always someone who snores like their fighting dragons in their dreams….wait…oh well, I got to eat cake J Next we headed back to Hungary and to one of my favorite towns here, Eger. We visited the castle and had a nice relaxing day in the old cobblestone streets and squares. In the evening we met up with my friend Lee from England (who is going home this weekend- we’ll miss you Lee!) The four of us visited the Valley of the Beautiful Women where we made our way through the little cellars sampling the famous Egri Bikavar wines. The next day we finally made our way to Gyongyos where my parents got to see, first-hand, the places of so many of my stories (my dad even did some laundry the infamous funny-little-Euro-washer). The weather has, again, been fabulous (somewhere in the middle of all my busy weeks and backed up blog entries spring arrived in Hungary- the flowers are blooming, the sun is out and the cafes are reopening their outdoor terraces!) So, along with Kelly and Jim (the Brits) we took the narrow gauge railway a few miles into the Matra hills where we hiked in the forests, climbed the lookout tower and my mom finally got her roasted chicken and beer on a picnic table in a park. It was a wonderful visit!

No rest for me yet however! My next visitor came rolling in the next weekend. My friend Joe (another one from Denver) and his friends Frank and Morgan- all of whom are traveling Europe after a few months spent working in London- flew through Budapest. Fortunately they were all a bit museum and churched out so I was saved from having to do the entire tourist run of Budapest for the 3rd time in as many weeks. We walked around the city, up to Castle Hill and around the Market and even took in an Opera! We took advantage of a great deal at the unbelieving beautiful state Opera house and got obstructed view tickets for about $2! We could see the opera house itself wonderfully (and for about ¼ the price of the tourist visit) and could hear the music just as well as the people in the expensive seats.

After a fantastic but exhausting few weeks I was finally back home; only to discover that I had had some sort of allergic reaction and was covered with red blistery bumps (I’ll spare you the details but shingles and chicken pox both crossed my mind!) the point being that Monday I didn’t go to school but instead to the doctor who, without even getting out of his chair, took a look at my arm, gave me an anti-allergen prescription and told me to stay at home for the entire week. I’m getting the idea that any visit to the doctor here results in a week off of work- but hey, I’m not complaining! I went in to school on Wednesday to help judge a county-wide English competition hosted by my school and despite my saying that I felt fine and could work the next day I was told to go ahead and get some rest and take off the rest of the week- sweet deal considering we’re coming up on another four day weekend. So I’m off to Gyor to see Eve, my fellow red head and Coloradan and I’m sure I’ll have more stories after that!

p.s. I officially have a plane ticket home and will be back on June 20th!

p.p.s I’ve added a link to my friend Eric’s blog- he’s just setting off on a year long trip through Mexico and Central and South America and always has interesting and entertaining things to say.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007


today is April 18th. I haven't posted in over a month- sorry!

my excuses:
1) I've actually been very busy and have had no time (unless I want to cut short my daily nap or watch CNN repeat the same news 1 less time)

2) I had visitors. Jenni came over from Ireland for a weekend and my parents came from Denver for 10 days over my spring break. (what this really means is that so much has happened that I don't know where to start, especially if you include a long weekend in Romania with Ian and Lisa that ended with us staying a night in Bekescsaba IN a rock concert!)

3) the school construction is getting worse and worse. Now I not only have my classes moved every few days (sometimes I am told, other times I have to walk around the school opening every door to find my missing students) this also means that we had to temporarily move the teachers room to a small classroom- half the size- it's very crowded. And now I only get to jump on the Internet if there is no class in computer lab (of course the times when the room is free AND I am free is a rarity.)

4) The sun is out! the weather is beautiful, the ice cream shops all over town are open again and the outdoor terraces on the cafes in town are back!

stories of the last few weeks are coming, I promise, soon...

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

March 15th

Tomorrow is a national holiday in Hungary. A remembrance of the 1848 freedom fight against the Hapsburgs and the Austrian empire.

(from Wikipedia) The 1848 Revolution (1848 - 1849)
Main article: Revolutions of 1848 in Hungary
The revolution started on March 15, 1848, with bloodless events in Pest and Buda (mass demonstrations forcing the imperial governor to accept all demands) followed by various insurrections throughout the kingdom, which enabled Hungarian reformists to declare Hungary's autonomy within the Habsburg Empire, under the governor Lajos Kossuth and the first Prime minister Lajos Batthyány. During the subsequent civil war, the Magyars, and with them foreign revolutionaries that came to fight after their own revolutions were crushed, had to fight against the Austrian Army, but also against the Serbs, Croats, Slovaks, Romanians and Transylvanian Germans living on the territory of the Kingdom of Hungary, who had their own ethnic-national movements, and were unwilling to accept a Hungarian dominance.
Faced with revolution at home in Vienna too, Austria first accepted Hungary's autonomy. However, after the Austrian revolution was beaten down, and Franz Joseph replaced his mentally retarded uncle Ferdinand I as Emperor, Austria again refused to accept Hungarian autonomy, and a civil war followed. Initially, the Hungarian forces (Honvédség) defeated Austrian armies. Because of the success of revolutional resistance, Franz Joseph had to ask for help from "The Gendarme of Europe", Czar Nicholas I, and Russian armies invaded Hungary, causing antagonism between the Hungarians and the Russians. Julius Freiherr von Haynau, the leader of the Austrian army who then became governor of Hungary for a few months of retribution, ordered the execution of 13 leaders of the Hungarian army (only a minority of which spoke Hungarian) in Arad and the Prime minister Batthyány in Pest. Lajos Kossuth went into exile.

It also means I get a 4 day weekend- woo hoo! I'm off to Romania for a few days (in attempt to avoid Budapest where riots are expected.)

Also, I've uploaded some pictures of Bratislava on that post.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

more surprises

Today is Women's Day. I hadn't heard of this before but apparently it isn't just Hungarian but International Women's Day. The desks in the teacher's room are piled high with flowers and chocolate (and chocolates made to look like flowers). My students keep giving me gifts and wishing me a Happy Women's Day. It's pretty cool. So Happy Women's Day to all of You!!

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Ich Bin Eine Berliner!

The goings on at my school never cease to surprise me. Today I judged a pronunciation and reading competition- not at all abnormal- I've been asked to do a few before- at various levels: school, city and county. This one was different- why? it was in German?!
"Sara, your German is that good?" you are all probably asking...the, not at all, but despite my insistence and despite the fact that the German teachers know this (because every time they speak to me in German I understand but must answer back in a broken disaster peppered with Hungarian) Nevertheless, I judged and even stayed after to discuss the winners and sign all of the certificates (apparently my signature is on them because I was the "special guest judge") How did I do with the judging? well I figured that if I could understand them then their pronunciation must be pretty good and if I couldn't then they were probably saying something wrong (I crossed my fingers that there weren't any students whose language ability surpassed my own!) In the end my scores were about the same as the other judges so I guess it all worked out.

On another note...all of the German classes have only 4-8 students each and they all seem great and well behaved- Can I trade?!?!

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

school pictures

This week may turn out to be one of the longest I've had all year (at least at school) partly because it will end on Saturday (see "things currently pissing me off") but also because yesterday, Monday, we had to stay till 6pm (I usually finish at 12:30) for meetings- yuck. First there was a faculty meeting/ training which I was exempt from- woo hoo! except that I had a 90 minute private lesson anyway so I was still here, then we had the "behavior grade vote" a process I'm still getting used to but am able to participate in more and more each time it occurs. Basically all of the teachers get together and go through each of the students (yesterday it was class 5) and together decide on one over all grade for that students behavior and one for their general "diligent work" I can handle this pretty well as it mostly consists of students names and shouting out numbers- which I understand- this meeting was slightly less boring than past ones as I am starting to understand a few more words so I was able to understand, and appreciate, the side comments such as " you think we could tie him to his chair?"
Following this meeting we had to stay for one more hour for parent-teacher meetings. The last time this happened I did speak to a few parents (through a translator) but this time I had no visitors (apparently the novelty of "lets go see the American" has worn off) but I was assigned to the computer lab so I got to spend my waiting time on-line (not replying to the many e-mails that need replies but instead trying to translate the upcoming movie schedule- time well spent.)

It was seeming for a moment that all of the little quirks that amused me before were starting to become routine and semi-normal for me, and then, this morning, it was time for a faculty picture. We all gathered in the library (after the bell had rung for first lesson of course, we never waste our own breaks- only class time) everyone was milling about and I assumed we would line up for the photo- but no! this photo was to be a fake set up! so we all sat at the tables, some with blank white sheets of paper and pens pretending to write, some with random open books pretending to read (including me which was especially funny since it was a big Hungarian text book) and one teacher was even standing next to a blank white board pretending to write- with a piece of chalk! ...I did all I could to stifle my giggles.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007


Bratislava- the capital of Slovakia- is conveniently located on the Danube between Budapest and Vienna, only a 3 hour train ride from Budapest. I hadn’t heard much in the way of praise for Bratislava no one telling me it was a “must see” but I also hadn’t heard anything especially negative either- generally I just hadn’t heard much at all about this Eastern European capital. So when another CETP teacher, Sarah, asked if I wanted to take a quick weekend trip there I figured why not. So Saturday morning we left for Bratislava with literally no expectations other than seeing something new.

I’ve come to believe that a huge amount of a person’s experience, whether it be traveling, seeing a movie or anything at all, comes from expectations. If your expectations are unreasonably high than it doesn’t matter how fantastic a city or a trip or a movie is, it won’t live up to that unreasonable expectation and you will be disappointed. On the other hand if you go into an experience with little, no, or at least reasonable expectations you will more likely enjoy yourself and appreciate the experience for what it is. Thus, by spontaneously deciding to go to Bratislava for 24 hours, not having any expectations about what would happen I was more than pleasantly surprised and delighted by the city- we had a fantastic time! To be fair, I might have had the same reaction even with huge expectations about the city, but I doubt it.

Sarah and I had read up a bit on Bratislava before going, basically we knew that there was a small old town center, a “castle” which while an impressive landmark is actually a 1953 reconstruction- the Soviets had a knack for what we have dubbed “over-restoration” when the historical landmarks and sights are restored so extensively that they become more modern than historical- sometimes, like this castle, they are complete reconstructions, not simple restorations. Basically we knew that there were few cities which could be seen in 24 hours and also had an idea that Bratislava would probably not fill much more than that allotted time- perfect. Our expectations were that we would have an enjoyable time walking old town and maybe see a castle.

What we actually found in Bratislava is hard to describe. It is a lovely town. The old town is full of funky old buildings and meandering cobblestone streets. It is small enough to be manageable and feels- unlike many other small touristy-European cities- like people actually live and work there. The other word that came to Sarah and I to describe the feeling and look of Bratislava is completely unexpected—whimsy. This is not a strange out of place whimsy, it does not feel like the city is putting on an act for the tourists (especially since there were probably 20 tourists in the whole city) it feels like there is a genuine sense of artful whimsy that is there for and by the actual citizens of Bratislava and that we, as tourists, are welcome to stumble upon it. The most outright example of this is a series of statues scattered about the old town. In the Main Square is “the nosy admiral” who is peers over your shoulder as you sit on a bench;

a few streets down, peeking out from behind a corner with a long telephoto lens is the “paparazzo” and the most famous of the statues is Cumil “the peeper” who grins at passersby from a man hole.

There is also a popular and fantastic Slovak artist, Fero Lipták, who appears to be loved by everyone in town. His funky and slightly absurd cartoonish art is found on walls and signs all over town and his posters, calendars as well as felt re-creations of his characters are in more than a few shops.

The other word to describe the city would be random, in a bizarre way. From the whimsical art and statues stuck among historic and crumbling buildings to the castle which had a one room exhibition on coins another on Chinese clothing and a collection of photos from someone’s road trip across America in a 1985 Dodge Caravan with wood paneled sides stuck in a back hallway by the bathrooms. The Castle did offer a fantastic view of the city. From the castle walls you could look out at the Danube river and see the juxtaposition of historic old town on one side of the river and the seemingly endless rows of sullen communist apartment blocks on the other joined but the New Bridge, a horrific eye-sore of communist architecture- a suspension bridge topped with a giant observation deck that looks just like the Starship Enterprise.

Our last random and bizarre Bratislava moment came when we decided to have true a Slovak meal for lunch before heading back to Budapest (knowing that traditional Slovak food probably didn’t differ all that much from the Hungarian food we ate everyday) but the less-than adventurous food was irrelevant once we entered the insanity that was the restaurant. Again, no way to truly describe the restaurant but random and all inclusive. The main dining room was downstairs in what I’m guessing was once a wine cellar- the norm for most restaurants in Hungary, Slovakia and Poland. What made this one different was what they choose to do with the décor. The walls and ceilings were painted haphazardly in pastels in random places as if there were 5 painters in the room each with their own paint color and a limited supply of paint- each painted a good portion of their own area until they ran out of paint and than stopped. There was an attempt at delineation of a few of these sections with Celtic designs meant to look like stone carvings but were actually Styrofoam sprayed with fake concrete faux paint. The tables and chairs looked normal enough except that the tables had gingham table cloths and the chairs had random bits of animal skins stapled on. The rest of the look can only be explained as: everything. There was a little of everything thrown in here, like a Slovak folk festival/ 1980’s budget prom/ grandma’s basement/ every garage sale ever and to top it all off, Christmas music. Wow. Definitely one of those you-have-to-see-it-to-understand situations. But they served up big portions of Sauerkraut and it was certainly the least boring dining experience I’ve ever had (and that includes Casa Bonita.)

In the end: everything in Bratislava was an unexpected but welcome surprise and I had a fantastic time.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Things currently pissing me off

1. Today I found out that while March 15th is a national holiday that we get off and, being a Thursday, we also get Friday off to make it a lovely 4 day weekend- turns out nothing is that easy- we have to make up that day of work (Friday) and we have to make it up by having school on a Saturday. The Saturday before. March 10, my birthday. Yes, I have to work on a Saturday that is also my birthday.

2. 8a

I did indeed have a wonderful weekend in Bratislava but the write up deserves much more time and will come later. Now I'm just irritated.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

heroin in 7a

Today my 7a class might think I'm a little crazier than usual. I broke down laughing in the middle of lesson because I stopped and listened to myself for a moment. The chapter we are on right now is teaching rules and laws along with indirect/ reported speech by way of talking about the strict laws in Singapore and a random episode in which the main characters of the book (a group of 1985 young adults who are running a travel agency) get caught at customs smuggling heroin. This led to today's lesson of me standing in front of a class repeating over and over "He said they had found heroin in the our van" do you not laugh at the ridiculousness of that?


All this past week (and even the end of last week) the talk around my teachers room was all about the Strike. I’ve picked up on the level of importance of things depending on if and how many people try to explain them to me and this one was explained over and over- plus the word strike in Hungarian is strike, so I knew it was being talked about all the time even if I didn’t know why. The plan was that we- the teachers- were going to strike on Wednesday. Sweet, I first thought, I get a day off. Not so much. Striking meant that we still had to come to school (actually we had to come a half hour early) and then we just weren’t going to teach the first two lessons of the day- just sit in the theacher’s room and ’not teach.’ So I put off my lesson planning for Wednesday morning when I knew I would have nothing to do and internet on the one computer would be a fight against the rest of the staff. Then came Tuesday afternoon. „Oh, Sara, by the way, we aren’t striking anymore” ok...I’ll say it again for the 100th time, the key to life here is to just go with the flow. I must say though, I’m a bit bummed, I was looking forward to getting to experience a teacher’s strike in Hungary- even if it just meant gossiping in the teacher’s room.

School party in Hernad and swimming in the caves.

This past weekend I took a train (a relatively short trip of 2 hours) to the tiny village of Hernadnemeti. Many would ask, and in fact most of my students and colleagues did ask, why are you going there? What is in the tiny one street town of Hernadnemeti? Well Laura is in Hernad! So Eve, Ben and I made the trek to the village of Hernadnemeti for what is always an interesting time.
On Friday night Laura and I waited around for Eve and Ben’s late train and I got into my first Hungarian car accident. No, I wasn’t driving, in fact I wasn’t even in a car and yet I managed to rear end a mini van! Laura’s friend Janos had given us a ride back from the train station and after we got out he took off driving (pretty fast I must say!) but with my bag still in the back. I started running after him to get his attention but he realised the bag was in the back (but not that I was!) and slammed on his breaks and I smashed into the back of the car. A full on, cartoonish splat- ouch! A bit bruised but laughing the whole time.
What better way to sooth an aching body and be oh-so-Hungarian than to go to one of the many thermal baths that are found all over the country? I’ve visited the famous Turkish style baths in Budapest and the castle baths in Gyula and this time the 4 of us traveled to the northern part of the country among the Bukk hills for the cave baths. This is a complex of baths and pools that run through a cave system. It has been very modernized, the pools are all concrete and tile and roofed in and there are families and kids with inflatable wings running all over so it looses a bit of character but still a pretty cool experience floating through the water under the natural caves.
That night, after a rushed trip back to Laura’s from the cave baths, we went to a party at Laura’s school. This past week there have been parties at most of the schools for what they call Farsang- like carnival. Generally what happens is that each class of students choreographs and performs to a piece of pop music for the school and parents and after this the school turns into a mini Disco for the kids to rock out. Laura’s school in Hernadnemeti had an extra addition to this party, the school-leavers dance. Because her village is small the 8th grade students will have to go to another town next year for high school (usually one where they will board during the week) this means that their departure is extra special. The eighth grade girls all wore amazing white dresses with full skirts (I think they actually were wedding dresses) and the boys wore tuxedos with white bow ties and they did an impressive ballroom dance routine. After this the school did indeed turn into a party with band and the kids all dancing. Meanwhile the teacher’s lounge turned into it’s own party that we went to. There were plenty of snacks and cake and Champagne and wine and the ever present Hungarian Palinka- a wicked shot that Hungarians drink at any and all special occasions and are more than excited to press on their guests. So we partied with the teachers and danced with the kids and when the party closed down at 1am we made our way over to the next village (home of the Borsodi brewery- one of the most common Hungarian beers) for a drink with one of Laura’s co-teachers before eventually making it back across to Laura’s.
The weekend ended as they all do, with a long Sunday of train travel (but not too long this time thanks to the destination finally being somewhat near to me.)
Next up...a quickie to Bratislava- why? Why not!

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Missed connections, sardine sleeping arrangements and lost borders.

This past weekend I got back to my usual routine of weekends spent traveling and visiting other American teachers in various towns throughout Hungary. This weekend started out like the rest with a quick sprint to the train station to catch the earliest Friday afternoon train after school and ended with a long Sunday spent exhausted and hungover at train stations as I made the trek home- there was plenty of excitement in between however.

This week’s destination was a three town cluster due south of me near the Romanian border (watch out, that was foreshadowing!) these three towns, Szarvas, Gyula and Mezoberény are the new homes of three of the newest CETPers; Caley, Bridget and Arlo respectively.

On Friday I headed for Szarvas, which, though not all that far from me, turns out to be one of the most difficult towns to get to from Gyöngyös and involved me changing trains 5 times as I zig-zaged across the Great Hungarian Plain. Changing trains 5 times undoubtedly means that you will miss one of those connections- which I did. Normally missing a train late at night in a one road town called Újiszasz would mean trouble, but luckily for me Újiszasz is also home to John and Donna- two wonderful CETPers who took me in for a nice chat so I didn’t have to wait the hour and half in the less than inviting train station. Eventually I did make it to Szarvas and there I was greeted by Arlo, Emily, Caley, Laura, Ben and Eve. We spoke in English and had a few beers and at some point found ourselves as the evening entertainment for a local bar in Szarvas when they started playing ABBA on karaoke. Luckily we had plenty of fun dancing and singing so didn’t mind too much when it was time for bed and all 7 of us had to find a spot in Caley’s tiny single room apartment- just line them up on the floor like sardines!

The next morning we got up (relatively) early and ran to catch our bus to Gyula where we met up with Bridget. Bridget wasn’t our only reason for heading to Gyula however. That weekend Gyula and it’s famous castle were hosting the Hungarian Renaissance Festival! This festival was a lot like other festivals in Hungary, lots of tents selling beer and sausage and a stage where people play music and dance. This festival, however, was different in that people were also running around in full suits of armour! There were also fencing and whip demonstrations which some of us took part it (yes, in Hungary after they give you beer they give you a giant sword and tell you to hit your friends with it!) All in all a great festival- the highlight being a group of guys wearing tall brown furry hats with horns coming out the sides (á la the Flintstones) when we commented on how cool they were the men stopped to chat and it turned out one was even from my town! This only got more bizarre when they starting shouting-proudly- in English „We Republicans- we love Pat Buchanan!” so with a reluctant wave to the republicans int he Flintsone hats we moved on from the festival.

This is about when we realized that Gyula actually sits right on the Hungarian-Romanian border, in fact, we could probably walk there! These seemed like such a fantastic idea that Emily, Caley, Arlo and I took a look at the map (apparently not a great look!) and headed off to Romania! An hour or so later, after walking along the side of the highway through muddy fields and seeing no sign of anything, especially a border crossing, we gave up and found a bus back to Gyula only to have another look at the map which proved that, oops! We had actually taken the completely wrong road and walked in completely the wrong direction taking us halfway to Sarkad! So much for that (you wouldn’t think that it would be so difficult to find a national border on foot, and yet I seem to have failed at this twice now in the past few months! The other being the ordeal of crossing back into Slovenia from Italy.) Oh well, the plan for this weekend includes a possible trip to Aggtelek from Laura’s which sits on the Slovakian border- maybe we can give that one a go.

After we had re-grouped in Gyula (without a Romanian passport stamp for Caley) we started on our way to town number 3- Mezobereny, Arlo’s place. After arriving at the train station and finding a bar right out front we decided we should stop for a drink and a dance- all ignoring Arlo’s plea that we had a WAYS to go and we would never make it if we stopped at every bar- but we did eventually make it- after getting lost, taking the long way around and even getting pizza. Back at Arlo’s we again piled in to the tiny flat- sardine style (just be sure to get agreement from the other 4 people in bed if you want to turn over!) The next morning we all headed back to our own towns- exhausted and bruised from sword fights but pleased with another adventurous weekend.

For a more fantastical version of these events and other adventures of the CEPTERS check out Laura’s blog!

Monday, February 05, 2007

Two Steps Forward, One Step students

Two Steps Forward, One Step students.

More than a few people have been asking me about my day to day life in class with my students. What do I teach them? What are they like? What do I do with my 45 minutes twice a week with these kids?

Well, as this past week has been such a roller coaster with my students (more so than usual even) I decided that it was a good time to talk about my classroom life. I teach 11 groups of kids- usually twice a week; three groups of 5th graders (who I teach only once a week), 2 groups of 6th graders, three groups of 7th graders (one of which I have 3 times a week) and 3 groups of 8th graders. All of these kids are in “specialized” English which means that they have English 5 days a week—as opposed to the standard 3—the extra two lessons a week that make them “specialized” are the lessons they have with me and the rest of the week is with one of the four other Hungarian English teachers.

I am “lucky” by CETP standards (my friends call it lucky, I maintain that it can be a bit of a pain) because I have a curriculum and corresponding textbooks. For each grade level I have a prescribed plan for what topic, page numbers, and exercises I am supposed to do each day. This means—theoretically—that even though the students have two teachers teaching them the same class from the same book we will maintain a flow. The idea being that on Tuesday I can plan to teach lesson 95 which will cover page 42 exercises 4-6 with the assumption that the other teacher has spent Monday going over exercises 1-3. However, more often than my sanity can take, I go into class on Tuesday and the students either have no idea what I’m talking about because haven’t looked at page 42 before and certainly haven’t done the first 3 exercises or they have already finished the exercises and entire lesson that I had planned to do with them that day (I’m starting to dread the words “but Sara this is finished, we did it with Erike-neni yesterday” this of course is only ever revealed after I have spent the first 10 minutes of class introducing the topic.) So yes, maybe I am “lucky” to get a bit of a curriculum, but usually it just ends up pissing me off. I’ve learned to be flexible with this however, and now I know that I just have to be sure to prepare 3 lessons ahead and always start the class by asking if they did the previous days task and go from there.

Anyway, back to the students and my week, a week is a bit much, let’s just look at Friday. I began Friday with my 5th graders- an adorable group of kids, I love my 5th graders, they are small and sweet and always sit in their seats and when I ask “how are you?” at the start of each lesson they respond in a chorus of “I’m fine thanks, and you?” leftover training from a past teacher that I’m trying to break a bit but reluctantly since it is such a relief from the blank and indifferent stares I get from the older students. The 5th graders don’t understand very much so I usually grasp at anything I can get and go with it as long as we’re having some degree of English conversation. This week I started by asking each of the students what they were planning for the weekend and after one student said she was going to the zoo I asked what her favorite animal to see at the zoo was (she likes the penguins), not knowing the word for penguin in English she described it and I wrote penguin on the chalk board and drew and (laughable) penguin cartoon next to the word. The next thing I knew I was drawing every zoo animal these kids could come up with on the board, I had a bit of trouble with the walrus- Akos always throws me curveballs. So the lesson went with the flow of what the kids wanted to talk about and in the end that’s really all I’m supposed to be doing is practicing conversation with them. Eventually I had them each draw a picture of their favorite animal and then write a story about the animal- which was, in fact, the original lesson plan, to practice story writing so it all works out in the end.
Next I had class 8. Class 8 is my nightmare. I actually don’t mind 8b, there are some very nice kids, a few troublemakers but generally a great group of kids. 8a however, is a different story. I have two groups of 8a- all of my classes are actually just half a regular class, 15 instead of 30. Even only having 15 8a students at a time is still the worst part of my day. In Hungary the students have to apply for secondary schools which means that a second semester 8th grader is no different then a second semester senior in high school- serious senioritis- they are the oldest in school and too cool for everything and have already applied for secondary school so nothing they do this semester affects what school they get in to. In this class I usually spend a large amount of my time trying to get the kids to get out their books, open their books, find a pencil, take their headphones out (those little iPod buds are my new nemesis) or put away their cell phones. It has come to the point where when the students are mocking me, doing impressions of me, they just point, look pissed of and say “put it away!” These are just the routine behavioral problems with 8a, there is the star of 8a, Csaba, who has done a lot to improving my Hungarian when it comes to obscenities and when he really wants to prove how cool he is he takes out his boot polish, throws his big Soviet army boots up on his desk and polishes them! Csaba has, of course, a sidekick, Istvan who last week jumped out the window with the excuse that Petra (the class flirt) had thrown his pen outside. So this is 8a. Proof that 14 year olds are 14 year olds no matter what language they speak. What made this week special however was that one of the other English teachers was out sick so all week I had both groups of 8a, all 30 of them at once, everyday! The climax came on Friday when their form master (home room teacher) had to come in and sit in the back of the room with her grade book so that they would behave. A plus because they did actually sit still and do their work but a negative for me because I now have confirmation on what I had speculated all along but have been in denial about- the students really are just hat bad for me- it’s not them it is, in fact, me.
But the nightmare of 8a was quickly wiped away when I entered my class 7. I have 3 groups of seventh graders and they are all fantastic! They’re enthusiastic and like to participate and they’re smart and understand that some days we have to do boring book work and learn grammar rules but that if we get through them we get to learn Beatles’ songs and play games. Class 7 fights for turns to tell me about their weekend, about their swim meet or how they won the table tennis tournament or how they’re now ranked 5th in the nation in Snooker- for adults- at age 12! Class 7 got major props for Friday’s lesson which involved reading a long and complicated text about the family history of Mary Queen of Scots and the royal lineage involving her and Henry VIII all in order to practice non-defining relative clauses such as “James V, who was Mary’s father, died when Mary was only one week old.” Not only did class 7 do the assignment without complaining but the understood it and managed to complete the family tree that explains why Lady Jane Grey was briefly Queen- these kids are clever! (well the family tree was mostly Zsofia and Zsu Zsi- give credit where credit is due!)
This week 7b even asked if I would stay after school with them because they wanted to practice their dance routine (for some upcoming school event) and needed a teacher to supervise them in the classroom after school hours. The fact that they asked me might just mean that they know I am one of the only ones who doesn’t have to go home and cook dinner for my kids but I prefer to see it as them considering me a teacher- no different from the other teachers at the school, with equal authority and responsibility (but cool enough to help them learn the words to Thriller). On top of this Vera, one of my best students from 7a invited me to go bowling with her and a few friends and her visiting cousin who wanted to practice his English.

8a: one step back
Bowling with 7a: one step forward
Helping 7b with Thriller dance: one step forward
(I’m still coming out ahead)

Friday, February 02, 2007

half way

I haven't been writing much lately, I know. I think it's because I haven't been having that many crazy adventures- I few trips to Budapest (not so exciting now that I know the bus schedule, and how to get almost everywhere in the city by Metro and bus from where my bus drops me) I meet the same people when I go- other CETPers and the occasional ex-Pat who they have met. We go to the same places- Andrew's favourite restaurant where I can get a GREEN salad with goat cheese and sun-dried tomatoes (going to Budapest is like a little trip home to the US) and then we go to Szimpla and drink beer or hot wine and I over-hear more English then I have heard in weeks. There isn't anything wrong with this routine- I enjoy it, it's just not as exciting to write about as walking for hours because you can't find the Italy-Slovenia border.
School is also falling into a routine, I no longer have to ask where room 14 is (although I do sometimes find myself opening the door to a class only to find there is another teacher teaching a different class in there- but that has much more to do with the spontaneous room changes that occur so seamlessly that every student knows it happened and yet no one manages to tell me.) I know all of my student's names now (although I still mix up Ádam and Erik at least twice a lesson.) Generally I have found myself to be falling into everything quite comfortably lately.

One of the reasons I started thinking about this- reflecting a bit if you will- has to do with my most recent trip to Budapest. The first semester is over and the second is beginning and while that mostly means that I have new room assignments and a wicked long Thursday, it also means that the CETP teachers that were only signed on for a semester have left. My good friend Becky (star of so many blog entries including the adventures of Slovenia) took her last torturous 3 hour bus ride to Budapest and flew home to Baltimore. This also means that a whole new crop of fresh American teachers flew in so Ian, Eve, Laura and Emily and I did the friendly thing and went to the city to meet them (actually we just wanted to scope out the new blood!) I was going to write about the new teachers but there is no way I can compete with Laura's excellent story so you'll just have to head to her blog for that one.

Mostly the departure of the first semester teachers and the arrival of the newbies gave me a chance to step back and look at where I was in my time line of Hungary- right smack in the middle. I listened to Becky reminisce about her time here and how she will miss her students (even if they can be little monsters) and I got to talk to the newbies, fresh and excited and eager to know how to say "thank you" in Hungarian and jump into teaching. I needed this. It reminded me how excited I was when I first got here and how even the little things- doing laundry, going grocery shopping and eating lunch were adventures and not just the routine chores that I tend to think of them as now. The teachers who left also helped me to realize that no matter how much I want to scream at and throw text books at my monster students, when I have to leave, I'll miss them- even Csaba (well that's wishful thinking...but maybe.)

So I may not be having a traveling adventure this weekend but I do have some dishes to do which has it's own "Hungarian quirks" (I have to run the bathtub to get hot water to come out of the kitchen sink.)

Friday, January 26, 2007


woo hoo! The Hungarians (or at least my lazy yet cunning 6th graders) insist that we must have a party and celebrate the 100th lesson instead of doing work. Therefore, I insist that I must celebrate the my 1,000th hit!

(that and it's been a week since I posted and, other then getting my phone back, I really don't have much to say...maybe next week.)

Friday, January 19, 2007

Name Days

Name days are a big deal in Hungary. Every calender you see in Hungary has at least one and sometimes 2 or 3 names written on each day. Name days are celebrated like birthdays, there are presents and parties and wishes of "boldog neve napot!" (happy name day!)Most Americans don't have name days because their names are not common in Hungary- Hungarians don't have this problem because parents are required to name their children a name from The Official List of names. The List is added to each year to keep with trends (but slowly) but as names are added to the list they are given a day as well. Today is apparently my name day- who knew?

I didn't but was surprised to find out when I was greeted this morning by one of the school secretaries. She came up to me, giggling nervously, with one of the other English teachers whispering in her ear the English words "Happy Name Day!" I was then engulfed in kisses and good wishes.

Unfortunatly the rest of the day was not so pleasing as I had to stay at school about4 hours later then usual for staff meetings because today is the last day of the first semester and we had to finalize and turn in grades as well as have the notorious "group grade vote" a process that still baffles me but as I can now recognize my students' names and the numbers 1-5 I can actively take part in the process and give my input so that the jack-ass kids get their deserved low mark even if they are angels for other teachers.

6 (give or take...) degrees of separation in Hungary

Last weekend, after enjoying the company of Laura and Emily at Laura's flat in Szolnok, I lost my cell phone. It has, however, been found. Emily best described the crazy recovery of my phone in her blog (which I stole)

Kicsi a világ (it's a small world.... after all)

És ha kisci a világ, akkor micsoda kisfalu Szolnok.

As Sara was leaving Sunday morning, I asked casually if she had anything: wallet, keys, cell phone? No, cell phone was missing. She and Laura and I tore my flat apart looking for it, to no avail. Eventually we gave up and she hopped on a train without it.

Fast forward 6 hours, I’m in a cafe when my contact teacher calls me (I really need to stop answering “Unknown” numbers, it always gets me in trouble) and demands that I return to the restaurant to pick up “the Gyöngyös girl”’s phone (that's me) . She was very vague about how she had heard that the restaurant was in possession of Sara’s phone, so I had to wait until Monday to piece together the details of a truly bizarre sequence of coincidences:

The waitress found the phone and called the numbers in the phone book. After getting hold of several English-speakers, she dialed the first Hungarian name she found. Which happened to be Péter, a loose acquaintance Sara hadn’t talked to for weeks (actualy it's been almost 2 months!) . Péter called his mother, who teaches at Sara’s school in Gyöngyös (still with me? Here comes the leap). Mother/teacher (I don’t have her name) (it's Zsu Zsa) called Edit, (actually Zsu Zsa called Emöke who called Ilí who is my contact teacher who called Edit) who is an English teacher at my (Emily's) school in Szolnok but who used to teach in Gyöngyös (Ilí correctly assumed that if my phone was in Szolnok, I must have been in Szolnok and therefore there MUST be a Native English speaker teacher in Szolnok- which there is- Emily) . Edit called Kati, my contact teacher, who called me as I already mentioned, and I hastened to the restaurant to liberate the troublesome phone, dragging Petra along in case I needed help.

The funny thing is, Sara, Laura and I walked past the restaurant on our way to the train station, and had we thought it’d been there could easily have asked for it. (however, while tearing apart Emily's flat that morning all 3 of us were SURE that I had been on the phone the night before while we were walking home, after leaving the restaurant.) Instead, it took 7 (more!) people to get the phone from Sara to me... and god only knows how many it’ll take to get it back to her.

So anyone who called or texted me anytime since last Saturday night (Jan. 13) and spoke to not me but a Hungarian waiter or Emily or couldn't get through at all, now you know why.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007


I will warn you all now- this one is long. Blame it on being sick in bed for a week or my tendency to procrastinate all things- writing a personal statement and completing grad school apps being high on that list right now, followed closely by cleaning my apartment. But I sat down at my laptop to write about my trip and the next thing I knew I had 7 pages- sorry- I broke it up into sections to try and make it a bit more accesable- hope you enjoy!


So I’m finally getting around to writing about my fantastic Slovenian adventure over winter break (probably the only reason I’m managing to get around to writing is that I SHOULD be writing my Personal Statement for my graduate school applications now but I tend to be most productive when procrastinating- I even did laundry today- so that’s worth something- I don’t suppose I could just turn in my Blog address instead of a Personal Statement…probably not.) Anyway, back to SLOVENIA!

On Saturday, December 23rd I jumped a bus to Budapest- in high spirits because I had not just walked (with my backpack) the 20 minutes to the bus station but rather managed to pick up the bus practically right out my front door having recently discovered that the mysterious toronyhaz bus stop that the bus schedule is always talking about is not in some far off unknown location, but, in fact, in front of my apartment building! (let’s resist counting the months it took me to figure that one out.) On to Budapest where I met Becky and Ian at the train station and jumped aboard our 8.5 our direct train to Ljubljana, Slovenia!

Leaving Hungary- and Hungry!

8.5 hours- luckily we hadn’t seen each other for a while and therefore had enough to talk about to fill the time, unfortunately, none of us had been on top of things enough to think to bring snacks or food of any kind. We’d just have to hold out till Ljubljana, I guess…not acceptable for Becky, she was getting hungry and panicky and her talk of food was getting my stomach going as well, something had to be done: bring on the first adventure of the trip. Having gotten less then helpful responses from the few passengers and the conductor we asked about future stops and how long we would be stopped I decided that I would just have to make a run for it- and quick before we crossed the border and my Hungarian Forint would be useless to us, Finally, we stopped at a station where a newsstand was visible from the tracks, I jumped out, weaving my way through the crowd (it’s possible that I took out an old Hungarian lady) I ran up the length of the train to the track crossing, then back down the other side to the glowing RELAY! Sign, I nearly knocked over the only other customer in the small newsstand who was perusing the newspapers as if there was not a ravenous and spastic American trying to get to the counter. I grabbed what I saw- one of everything, but I couldn’t see any beverages- we’d just have to distract Becky with the ham and cheese flavored crackers and steal the last half bottle of water she had in her purse- I threw everything on the counter and the women began slowly picking up each item…looking it over as if she’d never seen it before…tapping her fingers on her head as she thought about the price (either because she couldn’t remember or was trying to decide how much to overcharge the obviously frantic American in front of her)…eventually she rang it up, I paid and then I ran. Just as I exited the shop I heard a train whistle-NO! I’m going to be stranded in no-name-Western-Hungarian-border-town!- so I ran like hell, a conductor yelled at me to stop as I jumped across the track and then saw another train pull out. So it wasn’t my train that whistled or that was leaving but it could be at any second! So I ran down the platform, jumped onto the train and moved between the cars- adrenaline racing- to our compartment where Ian and Becky were eagerly waiting. They smiled and laughed with relief that I had made it. I emptied out my stash and we kept ourselves happy the rest of the way to Ljubljana with a packet of salt sticks (like a stale pretzel), a package of crackers, a bag of peanuts, a Twix, a Kit Kat and a Snickers- which I immediately claimed as my own- a small price to pay for my snack run.

When you give an artist a prison…

We arrived in Ljubljana just before 10pm and were relieved to find a pizzeria open late near the train station so we could enjoy a real meal and a beer. That night, and for the next 3 nights, we stayed in the übber-hip Hostel Celica. Given the highest rating in every guide book and hostel website we could find and recently named, by Lonely Planet, The World’s Hippest Hostel, Celica is a former prison turned hostel/ art gallery/ party venue/ bar/ restaurant. As part of the prison’s remodeling the cells were each designed by a different well-known Slovenian artist in their own style. The rest of the hostel is super slick and does indeed feel like you are living in a super hip art gallery. It feels a bit uncomfortable at first because you tend to feel out of place, no matter who you are, among the modern art pieces, Moroccan-style lounge with floor pillows and hookahs and the bathrooms that always glow blue. It appears that the only people that would feel at home in this environment are out clubbing in New York City or eating at the new hot spot in LA or wherever, they’re certainly not staying at a hostel in Ljubljana, Slovenia. So what makes Celica worth it? As soon as you look around and realize that everyone else there seems just as out of place and un-cool as you, including the helpful and down to earth staff, you can appreciate the fact that they have one of the best included breakfasts of any hostel I’ve been to, are by far the cleanest, have free internet, an onsite bar (because everyone else is closed on Christmas) and some of the art is kind of funky (if you can get passed the sap smeared cotton textile work hung across the windows.)

Walking Ljubljana

We stayed in Ljubljana for 3 nights and 2 and a half days. Unfortunately the days we were there were Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and the morning of the 26th which happens to be Slovenian Independence Day. This means that while the city was covered in beautiful lights, there were people all over the streets and Christmas markets set up along the river selling hot wine and sausages- everything else was closed- including, and most importantly the museums. So we walked the city. We walked down to the river and saw the famous dragon bridge, up to the castle (during the day and at night), along the river and through the streets, around Tivoli park, through the old neighborhoods and the new areas and the remains of the Roman wall, I do believe that I walked every street and every bridge in Ljubljana at least twice and most much more then that.
On Christmas morning we did manage to find an open exhibit, with the help of an Austrian guy staying at Celica. The exhibit was fantastic and I’m glad we found it. It was an annual photography exhibit called World Press Photo that showcases some of the best and most poignant images from the World Press for the year, there were some excellent pieces and even a grouping about Soldiers in Iraq that was done by a photographer from the Rocky Mountain News where the photos were originally published.
I liked Ljubljana, it is a very nice and accessible city, beautiful and with (theoretically) a lot to offer. I’d love to go back sometime and check out the museums, it looked like they had some interesting ones, especially the Museum of Contemporary Slovenian History. Next time, however, I won’t even need a map- I definitely know the streets of Ljubljana.

Sometimes things just don’t work out….

On Tuesday the 26th the three of us took a train to the town of Postojana with hope of seeing the famous and extensive cave system there. Unfortunately, after a long haul from the train station (Postojana: you have been given negative points for your poor signage!) We arrived at what may be Slovenia’s largest tourist trap. We walked across the extensive parking lot and passed rows of souvenir shops closed for the season only to discover that the entrance fee to the cave was a staggering 15 Euros!! (over $20) and, because it was the week after Christmas and there would be a Christmas concert inside one of the largest caves (a bonus for our timing we thought) there would be an additional 7 Euro charge. No Thank You! No big deal, this was only a stop over, on to our real destination for the day- PIRAN and the Adriatic Sea! In 4 hours…yup, our bus and train timing would have worked out perfectly if we had actually gone in the cave, instead, we made ourselves at home at the tiny, and closed, Postojana bus station- yee haw- at least this time we could pass the time with something to eat, we settled ourselves into a café and chatted over coffee, tea, pizza and pancakes until our bus finally arrived.

The Adriatic Coast

We soon arrived in Piran, a picturesque little town on a peninsula of Slovenia’s tiny coast. Being in Piran truly feels like being in Italy, Venice specifically, there are only two streets wide enough for a car and the rest are narrow and winding through old building brightly painted and squished together, all fighting for a space on the tine peninsula. There are small towns like Piran all along the coast line and shuttle busses running between them so the next morning, after a walk along sea wall and a long cup of coffee we grabbed a bus to Strunjan because the guidebook had mentioned that it was an area known for making salt which excited Ian who had just read a book about salt (apparently much more interesting then the name suggests) Strunjan, however, was not, turns out that when the book refers to a peninsula as “remarkably unspoiled” it’s just a nice way of saying “there ain’t shit there but salt!” it was beautiful and unspoiled coastline with a gorgeous cliff, it was also, however, lunchtime and the one restaurant (or business of any kind anywhere to be seen) was closed- you’d think that after the train fiasco we would have learned to pack snacks! But we kept walking along the rocky coast, Ian and I stopping to poke at jelly fish and pick up rocks and shells just enough to drive Becky crazy. Unfortunately for Ian and Becky they were victims of my “let’s just see what’s around this point…let’s just see what’s past this bay…”
and soon we realized that walking to the next town, Izola, might be faster than turning back and waiting for the bus by the salt (and a lot for fun if you ask me, Ian may disagree, he really liked the salt.) So we walked, and walked along the rocky coast for about three hours until, Ian’s and my pockets full of cracks, shells and sea glass, we glimpsed Izola. “Just around this next point” I said for the hundredth time, Becky looked at me like she would smack me if I uttered those words again or if Ian and I stopped to poke around in the dirt again, the large red rocks were starting to look like hunks of meat to her, but we made it and over a salad and pizza at the first pizzeria we spotted we agreed that it was, actually, a fantastic day and beautiful walk. The next day Ian and I explored a bit more around the winding streets of Piran and after much searching for what seemed like a well guarded town secret we found the path up to the top of the hill that looked over the town. We climbed the remains of an old town wall and had an incredible view of Piran, it’s neighboring peninsulas and towns and even the cliffs of Strunjan that we had walked around the day before.

Italy- why not?

Next we caught the next bus to Trieste, Italy- just across the border, and on the same coast, we planned to spend a night there, because it was Italy, and that close, so how could we not? After arriving in Trieste, a much bigger city then any of us had expected (clearly we were not in Slovenia anymore!) we struggled to find the right bus stop to catch the right bus to our hostel (apparently not exactly centrally located…) after walking circles around the square where we thought the bus stop was we watched the number 36 fly by, no stop. So we did the logical thing and followed it- figuring we’d catch it at the next stop. No go. We wondered the streets looking at each bus stop desperately trying to find the stupid number 36 when an Italian guy stopped us and asked in perfect English if we needed help and then told us how to get to our bus stop. Back to the square where we started, only this time a bit down the street and behind the train station (obviously!) we found our bus stop and promptly got on going the wrong direction only to have the bus stop two stops later, so we waited 10 minutes and it turned around and we were finally on our way. Next we had to figure out which stop to get off at…while the three of us argued about where to get off or how to best figure out where to get off a lovely elderly man asked us where we were going and was soon our advocate, he jumped out of his seat and bracing himself against the bars, heady to push the stop button at any moment he peered out the front window “it’s coming! No, not this one…the next one is you!!!! Ok this is yours!” He was fantastic, made more so by his urgency that was only slightly out of place on the nearly empty bus on the nearly empty road where there was at least 5 minutes between each stop. That’s two points for friendly Italians and a big negative for poor signage! We were there, at our hostel, right on the water in an incredible old building, just down the road from the gorgeous Miramare Castle of the Mexican King Maxamillian. Then we walked up to the check-in desk and were greeted by the less then friendly face ‘hostel-lady’ she informed us (well Ian and Becky, I could barely even see over the counter making everything that much more condescending) that the building would be locked at midnight and that the last bus came back out to the hostel at 9pm- so it would be an early night. We were also sent to separate rooms, in the female wing and the male wing and told that breakfast would be served at 7:30. So here was our night in the convent. We decided to take an evening walk down to the castle, at least we could do that before 12, but the grounds were, of course, locked, so back to the hostel where we chatted with the one other guest, an Australian girl who had spent all afternoon alone in the giant, isolated hostel with the unfriendly ‘hostel-lady’. The next morning we woke up early to claim our breakfast only to find a sign posting strict rules on breakfast: 1 bread roll, 1 serving of jam or butter, 1 cup of milk or coffee. Quite a change from the all you can eat spreads of Muesli, yogurt, bread, meat, cheese, coffee, juice and fruit we had at all the other hostels…we had 2 cups of coffee anyway. And then got out of there- we didn’t have a choice, the building also closed between the hours of 10am and 3pm so off to the castle we went, luggage on our backs. The castle was gorgeous, as were the surrounding grounds. We also visited the museum inside which was very interesting and then headed back into town to catch a train to the border and then on to Bled.

Crossing the Border…for hours…

From Trieste we knew that we couldn’t get a bus or train that would cross the border but would have to take a train to Gorica on the Italian side of the border and then take a short bus over the border into Nova Gorica on the Slovenian side where we could catch another train on to Bled. This seemed easy enough and all was going smoothly, we caught our train, asked at the train station about the bus and were soon on the Nova Gorica bus traveling through the nice little city of Gorica- too bad we wouldn’t be able to see more of this nice border town- we thought as we happily rode our bus to the border. When we stopped at border control a customs agent got on and glanced over everyone’s papers, saw our American passports and promptly kicked us off, “only European Union Nationals can cross here, you must walk down this road take a left and walk 2 km to the other crossing.” So walking we went, the directions seemed far too easy and the border agent’s English far too shaky but we didn’t have much of a choice. When the road forked much sooner then 2km with no border in sight we decided it was time for lunch. After we ate we started asking people on the streets and were directed all over the little town of Gorica until a lovely women offered to not only give us directions but to walk with us until the crossing was in sight- as opposed to the many “that way and then left” directions we had been receiving. Italy came through on being full of incredible people, unfortunately it seems that they are so helpful that they want to help even if they don’t know the way, at least in Gorica. After crossing the border by walking in the road behind the cars up to the passport control window, apparently they don’t get a lot of foot traffic in Gorica, we found ourselves once again in Slovenia, but where was unclear, our only clue was a sign pointing down the highway to Nova Gorica, 4km. Eventually we found a local bus that took is in to the city and dropped us off in the general vicinity of the train station, another walk with vague “over there then left and then right and then down the road, but turn right before you cross the border!” no worries there, we had enough trouble crossing the border the first time, I’m sure we won’t do it by mistake. Luckily these directions worked out and we were, at last, at the train station. Just across the street from the train station, in plain sight, was the border crossing, the one where we had been over an hour before, where we got kicked off the bus- I think it took a lot of restraint on all of our parts not to throw a rock across the border at the agent standing idly by. Once Ian and I had bought our tickets for Bled, Becky decided that the border crossing was one adventure too many and that the “we’ll just see what’s past this point”-figure-it-out-as-we-go travel plan wasn’t working for her so she bought a ticket for Ljubljana and Ian and I headed up into the Julian Alps.

Lake Bled…I’ll put money on Slovenia’s first Starbucks showing up in Bled

As our train wound around the mountain passes of the Julian Alps we finally saw snow. It was Friday, December 29th and after three major snowstorms hot Denver, closing schools, roads and the airport, I saw my first snow of the season. We arrived at the Bled train station after dark (which here means it was probably just after 5pm) and soon realized that we were on the exact opposite side of the lake from everything. But there was a nice path around the lake and we had had a few hours of rest on the train since our border hike so we headed to the other side. Bled refers both to the name of the lake and the settlements around it, specifically the most built up part where we were. Bled is popular for it’s lake, as well as a small island on the lake (the only true island in the country) where there has been a Christian church since the early 9th Century and evidence of a pagan temple since at least a century before.
There is always an impressive fortified castle clinging to a cliff towering over the lake and the entire area is surrounded by the snowy peaks of the Julian Alps, including some of the highest of the range.
The area is truly spectacular and postcard picture perfect. We soon found a nice hostel, the oldest in Slovenia, just under the castle, and had a fantastic, big, filling and cheap meal at the hostel restaurant and headed out to see the town. Once we entered the town center we were bombarded with luxury hotels, restaurants, casinos, and expensive designer ski gear (luckily the lack of snow was probably keeping most of the Austrian ski bunnies out) we found a small coffee shop/ bar that had internet access. I sat down to wait for Ian and glanced around, a group of girls in Ugg boots, a sticker demanding and end to the genocide in Darfur, soy milk on the menu…clearly we were not in Hungary anymore, we had stumbled upon Slovenia’s Boulder!! But in a bad, over priced way. We crawled back towards our hostel and found a small bar that seemed to be populated with locals, we were rewarded with bartender who didn’t even speak English- a first in Slovenia. We enjoyed our beers and an ice hockey game on the TV before heading back to the hostel.
The next morning we took a hike up to the castle and had a fantastic view of the mountains and I finally got to show Ian the Texan what a REAL mountain looks like.

On the streets…again

We decided to take a train back to Ljubljana on the 30th, hoping that we would have a better chance of getting a place to stay in the capital rather than waiting till New Year’s Eve when the city would surely be booked. Unfortunately, everything was booked the 30th as well and our train wasn’t leaving till 7:40 am the next day so it was back to walking the streets of Ljubljana, the same streets we had walked to death the week before, and yet again, everything would be closed. But we knew our way around, managed to dump our luggage in a locker and took off to wonder the post-Christmas/ pre-New Years celebration of music and hot wine in plastic cups in the streets. We did get our tickets changed to the 2am train to cut some wait time off that end and found a movie theater showing A Prairie Home Companion in English to cut off some time on the near end of the wait. For the time in between we walked the streets and felt strangely safe. The idea soon occurred to us that maybe it didn’t seem like anyone was going to rob us because we looked like hell, had no luggage, were wearing cheap no-brand clothes from Hungary and were wondering the streets NOT looking lost- we probably looked like a) we weren’t worth robbing or b) we were going to rob them! Quite a strategy to avoid trouble while traveling. We did eventually make it on the train and thanks to exhaustion and the early time, it didn’t matter that we had no food, we slept all the way to Budapest.

New Year’s Eve in Gyongyos

Still half asleep Ian and I arrived in Budapest and finally felt like we were home- it’s an odd feeling when you come back to a foreign country and feel the relief of coming home, this was emphasized by the fact that on the way to get the bus to Gyongyos, we not only seamlessly and effortlessly bought Metro tickets, got on the right line, got off at the bus station and found the right bus without once stopping to look at a map or question where we were going, but even stopped and helped some tourists in the Metro along the way. The two of us caught the bus to Gyongyos and had a quiet and chill New Year’s Eve with Hungarian wine and beer and Transylvanian Palinka in my apartment.