SEE-ya HA-lo!

We’re nearing the end of our last day in Hungary.   A shuttle is scheduled to pick us up at 3:00 am tomorrow and take us to the airport in Budapest (a 2-3 hour drive) for an 8:00 am flight.   But it’s been snowing all day and I’m beginning to wonder how that’s going to work — the snow is beautiful, but it’s really slippery outside.    Here are two shots of the main square from a few minutes ago:

Szechenyi Square, Pecs. They put the Christmas tree up about a week ago.

The street leading down away from the main square. There's been a little craft fair set up at the end of this street where they sell a very nice, hot mould wine. My brother Michael and my sister-in-law Kathleen can attest to the quality of the mould wine in Pecs (they visited here over Thanksgiving).

James has described our feelings pretty accurately:  we’re REALLY excited about going home, I mean REALLY excited.  But we’re not looking forward to leaving Pecs.  We’ve had a really wonderful time here and we’re going to miss some people very much.  We’re excited about a recent development concerning Kristof, the son of our friends Renata and Zoltan (they will be missed VERY much).  Kristof  just found out that he has been awarded a scholarship to study at Beloit College in Wisconsin this upcoming semester.  He’s a junior at Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest where he studies “pure math” (the best kind, don’t you think?).  We’re hoping to get him down to Evansville for a visit.  It will be his first trip to the US.  Be nice to him!

I recently checked the counter on my camera and I’ve taken over 10,000 photos since we’ve been here.  To put that in perspective, I’ve had this camera (Nikon D70) for about 10 years.  In the previous 9-1/2 years I’d taken just under 10,000 photos.   In addition to this blog, I’ve been working on a couple of photo projects, the main one being something I’m calling “Trunk Show” about a market here in Pecs where people sell puppies out of the trunks of their cars.  I’m hoping to publish these as part of a photo essay, maybe in the travel section of a newspaper or magazine- I’ll let you know if that happens.   Here are a few photos from that project:

Lady with the pit bull.

A trunk full of Vizslas.


I’m also working on a collection of photos featuring the ladies who sell kraut (pickled cabbage) at the market.   I spent part of a morning taking pictures (with their permission) last weekend.  I took my laptop to the market this morning and showed them some of the shots – they were highly amused. Here’s a photo from that project:

Aunt Manci.

So I guess that’s it.  I’m not exactly sure how one ends a blog.  It’s been valuable for me to write all this down — it’s certainly helped me remember things and it’s forced me to try to understand this place a bit better than I otherwise would have.

Thanks for following.  I’ll see some of you very soon, others in the near future.

As they say in Hungary (as a form of good-bye), “Szia.  Hallo!”

Posted in Life in Pécs, travel | 5 Comments

Viszontlátásra, Mr. Chips

A big surprise at the end of class on my last day.

I considered skipping this post because, well, I knew it would get a little sappy, but I figure that if you’ve stayed with me this long, you can handle a little sap.

Yesterday was my last day of teaching at the Apáczai Nevelési központ 1. Általános Iskola (“A.N.K.” for short) in Pécs.  I’ve been teaching English to 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th graders two days a week this past semester and it’s been, without a doubt, the most challenging and the most rewarding aspect of my time here in Hungary.  I’m not sure how much I taught them about speaking English, but we did connect, I think, pretty deeply and I know I’ll keep these kids with me for the rest of my life.

With about ten minutes left in my last class (a small but very energetic group of 8th graders, including my own son, James), there was a knock on the door and one of my 5th graders stuck her head in.  EVERY student I taught this semester, maybe a hundred kids, filed into the room and sat down. It may have been the first time they did anything quietly.   Fortunately I had put my camera into my backpack that morning, so I gave the camera to James and asked him to take some photos.  I wanted to remember this.  It turns out that James knew ahead of time that the kids were planning something — kudos to James for keeping a secret.

One of the 8th graders, Mira, spoke on behalf of the students (in perfect English), thanking me for teaching them, and then she gave me a present from the students.

The students gave me a photo album, with photos and a note from each class.

Here are a few pages from the book – click on the image to see a larger version:

The 4th graders drew icons from Pecs at the bottom of their note - from L-R: the TV tower, the Cathedral and the Mosque Church.

Note that the 6C class enjoyed seeing the "OK Go!" video. Also note that I did NOT spend the semester showing them videos! We were listening to bits of music on my laptop to identify the various instruments in English. I saw that I had that fantastic, silly OK Go! "treadmill" video in my iTunes library and thought that every kid, Hungarian or otherwise, should see it -- so yes, we did watch ONE music video. Make that two - we watched the Thriller video on Halloween.

In case you’ve never see it, here’s a link to the OK Go! video.

Then I said a few encouraging words, trying VERY hard not to get choked up – I’m pathetic in these situations.  I almost didn’t make it through my own wedding.

I'm probably saying something like, "Think Big!" "Use your brains!" "You can do ANYTHING!"

Some of the kids gave me presents, including two beautiful table cloths (one each from a pair of Vietnamese/Hungarian sisters).  A few kids wrote little notes with pictures.

Emma is in 5th grade.

Julia, a shy, quiet 4th grader, gave me a Sport bar. Note the PERFECT handwriting. Most Hungarian children have flawless handwriting skills.

At the end, I rocked them with my excellent, though severely limited, Hungarian: "Köszönöm szépen" and "Viszontlátásra." ("Thank you very much" and "Good-bye").

Afterwards, the teachers took James and me up to a classroom for a little tea and dessert, courtesy of a young teacher, Alexandra Besenszi.  Take a look at this thing below – it’s home-made!   And the teachers all said they could make it as well.  “It’s compulsory for Hungarian girls from 1st grade,” one said.

This has a name in Hungarian. We'd recognize it as a delicious "fruit tart."

This thing deserves two photos - check out the shiny glaze. Bananas... mandarin oranges... plums... YUM!

Many kids gave me their email addresses and I’m already FaceBook friends with several of them, so I’m hoping that we will stay in touch.  It would be great to see them in the U.S. someday.

Last thought – if you’re not a teacher, and you’re ever lucky enough to be asked to teach kids, say yes.

Posted in ANK School, Life in Pécs, travel | 4 Comments

Last Weekend in Budapest

The Budapest version of the Champs-Elysées. This is Andrássy út on a snowy December evening -- photo by James.

Last weekend we took the train up to Budapest for our last weekend in the big city.  On Thursday evening Margaret spoke to Ryan James’ Creativity Group while James and I went to a special exhibit at the Budapest Museum of Fine Arts. We went on a after-hours tour of the museum that included a “hands-on” experience with two pieces from the museum’s Egyiptom collection.   At a small rubber-coated table, we put on latex gloves and we were handed, very carefully, an eye-shaped amulet and small figurine from 250 B.C.  Easily the oldest man-made things I’ve ever held in my hands.  The moment was very nerve-wracking, though, as just the week before, James broke two plates and bowl while doing the dishes in our little kitchen.  I wish I had taken photographs in the museum, but I would have had to go back down to the entrance and buy a photography ticket, and I was too lazy to do it.  I have this funny feeling here that if I don’t photograph it, it didn’t happen.  We also saw the hilarious Fernando Botero exhibit – he paints these giant, comic canvasses of extremely thick people.   In one of the artist’s notes, he says something about his “passionate interest in volume.”  Very funny.

Fernando Botero - "The Thief"

On Friday we spent the day with our fellow Fulbrighters and their families on a tour of the Hungarian Parliament building and the Hungarian Ethnographic Museum. It was a sloppy, cold day, but we managed to see a few of the sites outside before going into Parliament.  Here are some pix:

James at the 1956 Revolution Memorial outside of the Hungarian Parliament building. James is writing a research paper on the 1956 Revolution for his English class back in the U.S. You can't see it, but there's an "eternal flame" on the top/back side of the monument.

The Hungarian Revolution of 1956 was a “failed” revolution that began with a student uprising on Oct. 23rd.   The Soviets sent a large force into Budapest and other parts of the country and crushed the uprising fairly quickly.  The husband of a friend of ours says that he remembers a Soviet tank firing mortars into his neighbor’s house – he was about a year old at the time.  It’s one of his first memories.  In all, something like 2,500 Hungarians and 700 Soviet troops were killed, and 200,000 Hungarians fled as refugees.  A teacher at the school where I’ve been teaching explained to me that the Hungarians asked for and expected help from the Americans, but it never arrived.

Protesters who gathered in this square in front of Parliament during the 1956 Revolution where shot at from inside the building behind James.

For some context, the Hungarian Freedom Fighter was Time Magazine's Man of the Year in 1957.

The tour of Parliament was interesting – our group had its own little security detail to make sure we didn’t have any stragglers who might get lost and end up sitting in on a meeting of the Finance Ministers or something.  Here are a few shots from inside:

They sure know how to do a ceiling around here.

The changing of the guards who guard the Holy Crown of Hungary.

The Holy Crown of Hungary (aka “The Crown of St. Stephen”) has a fascinating story – for something like 30 years it was kept at Fort Knox. Yes, OUR Fort Knox – the one in Kentucky.  It was given back to the Hungarian people (not the government) during the Carter administration.  You can read more about it here.

The Holy Crown of Hungary.

For a little visual refresher course, this is a shot of the Parliament building I took back in September.

For a visual refresher, this is a shot of the Parliament building I took back in September, under much nicer conditions.

Later in the afternoon we had a tour of the Ethnographic Museum, which, honestly, didn’t spin my wheels so much — lots of costumes and dioramas and furniture and such.  And NO photos allowed.

On Saturday morning, Margaret met with the son of former chief Rabbi of Pecs.  James and I went to the chilling Terror Haza at 60 Andrássy út.  This is the building that housed the ruthless secret police of both the Nazi’s during the German occupation in WWII and the Communists immediately thereafter.  The exterior is stunning.

The word "TERROR" is reverse-stenciled on the roof. I think the idea is that in the right sunlight, the shadows spell out the word across the top windows.

In the sun, the word Terror is projected onto the building.

The exterior of the Terror House - images of people who where murdered by the fascist/Nazi Arrow Cross or the Soviet AVH.

Inside the central area of the Terror House museum. You can't see it from here, but there's oil dripping out from the bottom of the tank and running down into the basement. Surely it's to symbolize the filth and corruption of those organizations that operated inside this building.

The Terror House would be on my “must see” list for anyone spending more than a few days in Budapest. It’s a deeply disturbing and enlightening look at the depravity of the political forces that kept Hungarians in the dark and living in fear for over 40 years.

And now here’s a photo to cleanse the palate a bit.  I didn’t get the name of the shop, but the display featured some VERY nice-looking open-faced sandwiches.

A sandwiches lover's dream...

Yesterday was my last day of teaching at the A.N.K.  They gave me a terrific send-off.  I’ll post about that tomorrow.  We’ve got 5 days left in Hungary.

Oh, yes.  And Happy Birthday to our son, James.  He turned 14 today!  Going out for a duck dinner.

Posted in Budapest, travel | 4 Comments

Uranium, Wine and Paprikas Krumpli

A monument to miners in Uranvaros - the man has a pneumatic chisel on his shoulder and a miner's helmet in his hand.

With our time here in Hungary quickly growing short (do things “grow short???”), we’ve been busy the past week or so with lots of day trips with friends and a long weekend in Budapest for our final Fulbright sponsored activities.  In this post I’ll include photos from the Villány wine region and a day at the home of Andy Rouse, one of Margaret’s colleagues at the University of Pecs, who lives in a small village outside of town.  The trip to Budapest needs it’s own post – too much to include here.

But first a bit about the photos above and below.   I took them a few weeks ago while on a walk around a part of Pecs called Uranvaros (“Uranium City”).  This is the community where the Uranium miners lived with their families in apartment blocks during the Soviet era (1950-80’s).   I can’t find any information on the monument, but the inscription reads:  “Ore Mining.”  It’s pretty awesome.

I'm usually not one to turn color photos into "arty" black and whites, but I couldn't help myself with this one of a street in Uranvaros. Sorry.

Last Friday our friends Renata and Zoltan took us to the Villány wine region about 15 miles southeast of Pecs.  People in this region have been making wine since before the Roman times.  After the 150 year Turkish occupation, the area was re-settled by Serbs and then Germans who brought their viticultural chops with them. We sampled some really nice red wines – a Rose, a Cabernet Sauvingon and a Portugeser.

Wine Cellars in Villanykovesd. The streets are lined with these small white buildings.

The back of each wine cellar extends under these raised berms with a ventilation pipe sticking up out of the ground. I don't remember the exact temperature in the cellars, but apparently it's perfect for wine and it's constant year round.

Margaret in the wine cellar in Villany.

The little place where we stopped to try the wines served this amazing appetizer - it's bread, slathered with goose fat, red onions, salt and paprika. It was hard to stop eating them.

A special note about goose fat:  it’s good for you!  So says the Goose Fat Information Service.

That same weekend we spent the day with Andy Rouse and his wife and son at their home in a small village near Pecs.  Andy, an Englishman, first came to Pecs as a university student in the 1970’s – he’s lived here ever since (you can go to his band’s website here:  Simply English).  Andy picked us up and drove us through a few villages, including Zengővárkony where Margaret had the opportunity to do one of her favorite things:  buy table cloths.

Margaret in her element - choosing the perfect hand-crafted table cloth. That's our friend, Andy Rouse, on the right.

And here's the woman who makes the table cloths.

And here's the loom she uses to make the table cloths.

The Egg Museum was right behind the table cloth shop.

Hungarians (mostly women, I think), are quite adept at decorating eggs. This place had thousands of eggs on display.

After the Egg Museum, Andy took us to his home in Martonfa where we had a palinka and some local wine down in their very own wine cellar.

James heading down into the wine cellar. The dog, a puli, waited for me.

Andy sest up outside to make one of my new favorite dishes: Paprikas Krumpli (potatoes). The puli stands guard.

Paprikas Krumpli: You start with a very cool metal pot that hangs over a fire, then you add the onion and bacon fat to the oil...

After the potatoes and smoked sausage, you add a little paprika. Or a lot of paprika.

If you've done it right, you end up with this beautiful, bright-red burbling pot of paprika potato and smoked sausage goodness.

Next post will feature images from our snowy weekend in Budapest.  We’ve got ten more days in Hungary — we’re getting ready to bring this wonderful trip (and this blog) in for a landing.

Posted in Food, Life in Pécs, travel | Leave a comment

“A Night of Southern Moods” – Jambalaya and Gregory Peck with the American Corner

Péter, the chef at Trafik reviews the ingredients that will go into our jambalaya.

Margaret and I wanted to host a “Southern” style party for our friends, colleagues and students at the American Corner here in Pecs, but when we started to get into the details of making jambalaya for 30 in our small, sparsely-equipped kitchen, the wise women who run the A.C. office (Zsuzsanna and Réka) came up with the idea of having a restaurant make the jambalaya with my recipe (and maybe a little guidance).  And although the large meeting room at the A.C. is indeed large, it made more sense to have the event at the restaurant, especially because we wanted to screen “To Kill a Mockingbird” and the restaurant is a converted movie theater.  So that’s how “A Night of Southern Moods” – an event sponsored by the American Corner Pecs and hosted by me and Margaret came to be.  It was on this past Tuesday evening at Trafik, a very hip restaurant/bar in Pecs.

James took all these photos.  You can see photos taken by the American Corner staff on their Facebook page here.

Margaret makes a few comments after the screening of "To Kill a Mockingbird." It's the 50th Anniversary of the book's publication in the U.S.

That's me discussing the recipe for jambalaya with Péter, the chef at Trafik.

There were a few minor issues with the jambalaya recipe.  Smoked sausage in Hungary is more like what we would call a hard salami in the U.S., and  their celery is a different animal altogether as you can see from the photo below. The restaurant was unable to find cayenne pepper, but Péter ground up some fiery Italian peppers that tasted a lot like cayenne.  It was fun cooking with a pro (though Péter did all the actual cooking)- I felt like I was on a cooking show.

This is Hungarian celery - you don't use the stalks - you chop up the white ball. It's got a much stronger, more bitter flavor.

Our friends seem to enjoy the jambalaya at Trafik.

This is James's friend from school who came to try the jambalaya and check-out the movie. He's a great kid - in my 8th grade English and Drama classes.

This is another friend of James's from school. She's also in two of the classes I teach. Her father is British, so she's fluent in English - a very bright kid.

Students pose with Gregory Peck.

Péter and Szilvi from Trafik join me for a photo. They did a great job with the jambalaya (and they were very gracious to allow me into their kitchen for an evening).

In all I think we had 50 or so guests at the event and from what I could tell, they enjoyed themselves.    Thank you to Zsuzsanna, Réka and Eszter at the American Corner for handling all the logistics, and thank you to Péter and the staff at Trafik for making the jambalaya and providing us with a great venue.

Posted in American Corner Pecs, Food, Life in Pécs | 5 Comments