Honoring Adolph Engel-Janosi

The plaque honoring Adolf Engel Janosi that was recently installed on a beautiful pink building on Rakoczi Utca in Pecs.

I’ve written here before about Margaret’s great-great-great grandfather, Adolph Engel-Janosi (you can read that post here).  A few weeks ago, Margaret’s cousin Peter (his father was Margaret’s grandfather’s cousin), as well as several others who share a common ancestry from Adolph, came to Pecs to participate in a ceremony to install a plaque on one of the buildings that Adolph built in the 1800’s.   The general idea behind the event was that Adolph played a significant role in the economic and cultural development of Pecs, and that his contributions should be remembered and honored.   The mayor of Pecs opened the ceremony with a longish speech about how Adolph’s life should be viewed as a model of how individuals can work hard to improve themselves in difficult times (such as Hungary’s current economic trouble).

Here are some photos from the event, including the installation, which took place the day before.

This is the building that was once a home owned by Adolf (or one of his sons, I think). I took this shot right before the installers arrived to put up the plaque. Note the Burger Queen.

This angle gives you a better idea of the street -- it's one of the busiest sections of one of the busiest streets in Pecs. The building (which is in the center of this photo) currently houses a tax office.

The installers at work - a father, two sons and a friend. The plaque weighs nearly 200 kg (440 pounds). There was some doubt that they would be able get it up onto the wall.

The boys were easily distracted.

Finished. The ceremony was scheduled for the following afternoon.

Margaret with Monica (Peter's wife) who came from New York and Ilona, a retired school teacher from Budapest.

Speeches were made, in Hungarian, except, of course, for Margaret, who read her mother’s words, then her own, in English.  Our dear friend, Renata, was kind enough to translate Margaret’s speech into Hungarian.   Renata is tired of me thanking her and her husband, Zoltan, for helping us, but, really, we’d be lost without her. :)       (That was an emoticon for Renata)

Zsolt Pava, the Mayor of Pecs, gives the opening address. I spoke to him for few a minutes before the ceremony - he's seems to be a very nice man who understood the importance of this day.

Peter makes his speech.

Anna Stein makes her speech.

Renata translates Margaret's speech into beautiful Hungarian. The audience is more responsive to this version.

The mayor pauses to reflect after placing a wreath beneath plaque.

After the ceremony on the street, we all came back to our apartment and drank Pesci champagne with good cheese and bread.  It was a very, very good day. I pass by the plaque nearly every day — the wreath is still hanging there, even though it would be easy for some bored kid to reach up and tear it down.  It’s nice.

Posted in Life in Pécs, Margaret's Ancestry | 3 Comments

Vienna / Mauthausen

After returning to Pecs from Istanbul and Athens, we looked at the calendar and realized that we were running out of weekends to make the short trips we had planned (we head back to Evansville in 5 weeks).   So we decided to take the train to Vienna for a long weekend that included a day trip to the Mauthausen Concentration Camp.  It was, as you might imagine, a weekend loaded with some wildly conflicting energies:

Day 1 – Vienna — “Holy moly, what a beautiful city!  What amazing museums!  Can you believe this Sachertorte?!  So delicious!

Day 2 – Mauthausen Concentration Camp — “Oh my God…. What a soul-shattering experience… What great depths of depraved cruelty human beings can reach.  I just want to cry…

Day 3 – Vienna again – “Wow, a Michaelangelo exhibit!   Look at these beautiful Klimts!”

I took a bunch of photos, but it’s taken me a while to sit down and go through them, partially because we’ve been really busy with stuff that I’ll post about in the next few days, but mostly I wasn’t looking forward to seeing Mauthausen again so soon.

Here are a few photos, in chronological order:

We’ve traveled to and from the main train station in Budapest 8 or 10 times now and I’ve really grown to like it.  Though the place is pretty beat up, it’s got that great European train-travel feel to it — lots of natural light in the daytime.

Our "RailJet" train in Keleti Station, Budapest. The RailJet is a sleek, modern train - gets you to Vienna in about 2.5 hours.

Our first stop on Friday morning in Vienna was the Museum of Natural History – an amazing place — they might have the largest, and easiest to view, collection of rocks and gems and such in the world.  There are at least 4 giant room just like this one:

An old room full of rocks and minerals. You could easily spend a day looking at this stuff.

The displays feel very old school - like a jewelry case.

And dinosaur bones.

Not as big as the Museum of Natural History in NYC, but still pretty cool.

Next we took a quick walk across the park to the Kunsthistorisches – the big art museum in Vienna – it’s HUGE.

The Kunsthistorisches Museum is a short walk across the park.

Baroque? Yeah, maybe... a little. If you look carefully. It's certainly not overdone, I don't think.

And they allow photography in the museum, which I appreciate.  We saw a room full of busts similar to the one below in Athens – I like how they light the pieces to make them look like they’re floating in the air.

Floating heads.

More floating heads -- this woman seemed to enjoy this painting by Dirck Dircksz van Santvoort in an exhibit of Dutch artists called "The Golden Age."

This gentleman was getting in some practice.

After flying through the Kunsthistorisches, we hoofed it over to the center of the Ringstrasse to see St. Stephen’s Cathedral which was undergoing a thorough and much-needed cleaning.  Here’s a shot of one of the towers – the top has been cleaned.  They hadn’t started on the bottom yet.

It's interesting to think that we seldom see this old architecture the way it looked when it was built. It's usually covered in soot.

St. Stephens is a fine example of a romanesque cathedral. And if you're lucky, you might be able to catch a football game on the flatscreen.

Though the cathedral was mostly full of tourists, there were a few faithful lighting candles.

After gazing at art and contemplating the nature of our souls, we sat down to a well-deserved Sachertorte and latte in the Sacher Cafe.  We were feeling very Viennese at this point.

You don't want to eat more than one of these a day. Two at the most.

And that ended our first day in Vienna.

On a cloudless Saturday morning we took the 2 hour train to Mauthausen.  In March of 1944, towards the end of WWII, officials in Pecs, by order of the Nazis,turned over some 3,500 Jews to be deported, mainly to Auschwitz, though many ended up in Mauthausen (including one of Margaret’s great, great uncles) where most were executed, worked to death, starved, beaten or otherwise murdered.  There is little left of the Jewish community in Pecs, or the rest of Hungary, for that matter.  A Fulbrighter friend of ours who lives with his family in a town called Barcs a bit south of here wrote an interesting blog entry called “What Happened to the Jews.” You might want to take a look.

Here are some pix from the trip to Mauthausen – note, I’m trying not to be too gruesome here, but there are a few unpleasant shots:

The train station - we misjudged the distance from the station to the Concentration Camp, so the guy who mans the station called us a taxi.

This is the main court yard right when you enter through the gates. Eerily quiet, but you could easily imagine what took place here.

This is what it looked like some 70 years earlier as inmates await disinfection in the courtyard - July, 1941. Upon arrival, they would be stripped of their clothing, any personal items and, of course, their identities. And humanity.

The camp is a museum/memorial and they have a very good audio walking tour — except for a few areas that were being renovated, you’re pretty much free to roam about the entire camp.

This appears to be an incinerator, though I'm not entirely sure. It was in a little room just off the shower room - this opens to the other side of the wall. There were several incinerators in the camp.

This is the other side of the incinerator in previous photo.

This is part of the plumbing/piping connected to the thing that looks like an incinerator. Not sure what it is.

A large yard is surrounded with these cement posts with barbed wire.

There’s a large field in the camp full of memorials put up by various countries and groups.

This is the Czechoslovakia memorial.

This memorial was created by the government of Slovenia.

We spent about 4 hours at the camp, then called the taxi and headed back to the train station.  Driving away in a very nice Mercedes taxi cab, you wonder how people live with this place in their psyche every day – I mean the people (taxi drivers) who live and work in the town of Mauthausen.  They must be able to block it out.

The town of Mauthausen sits on the banks of the Danube - it's a beautiful place. We had some time to wait for the train, so I took some pix.

I’ve put up a web gallery with more Mauthausen photos – you can see it here if you care to look.

On Sunday we slowed down a bit, taking a long early morning walk along the Ringstrasse (the road and tram line that circles the inner part of Vienna).

There's a small dog park near the tram line that rings the city. The dogs seem more interested in their masters' cigarettes than anything else.

One of the things I noticed about Vienna is that they're not afraid to put up something cool and modern next to the old buildings.

Margaret at the entrance to the University of Vienna where her grandfather taught European history.

The Parliament in Vienna.

James jumping off a ledge at the Parliament.

We went into the Albertina Musuem (where you can’t take photos of the Michaelangelo drawings or the Picasso paintings) and then the Belvedere (also where you can’t take photos of the Klimts or the Schieles).  But you can take a photo out the window when no one is looking.

This is a view to the gardens from a second floor window in the Belvedere.

The Belveder has an amazing Klimt exhibit in their permanent collection.

Margaret and James in the gardens around the Belvedere.

Though Vienna is definitely one of the most serious and, I don’t know, formal, cities I’ve ever been to, you don’t have to eat Sachertorte and wienerschnitzel at every meal.

When you're sad and hungry, what could beat a quick bite at Happy Noodles?

Took this shot of the train bridge crossing the Danube in Mauthausen.

We took the train back to Budapest, then Pecs early Monday morning, which was the first day of Autumn Break at the ANK School.  It was also the week that included the plaque installation and ceremony in Pecs honoring Margaret’s great-great-great grandfather, Adolf Engel Janosi, whom I wrote about a few posts back.  More on that event later.

That’s it for now.  Gotta get ready to teach!

Posted in travel | 38 Comments


We ended our fall break travel spree to Istanbul and Athens with 3 days on the island of Aegina, which is a 90 minute ferry ride from Athens (about 20 miles) in the Saronic Gulf.  After the ferry dropped us off, we lugged our backpacks around looking for the “Liberty One” hotel until a woman shook her head and said, “Bus.”  I thought I booked a hotel in Aegina Town, the largest town on the island, but it turned out that the Liberty One hotel in “Agina Marina” was on the other side of the island, a 30 minute bus ride from where the ferry dropped us off.   It was sort of an “oh, &%$!#!!” moment, but it turned out just fine.   As you can see from these pix, it’s a beautiful (though a little run-down) tourist town:

This is a Agina Marina - took this shot while we were leaving.

This is a shot of Agina Marina from near the Temple of Aphaia which you'll see later in this post. The whole town is essentially that cluster of little hotels.

This is the view from our room at the Liberty One hotel. We liked to think of the hotel as a campsite, which should give you an idea of what the room was like. The owners were very nice, though - "Costa" was a dead-ringer for Kurt Vonnegut.

Margaret and James wade into the beautiful Aegean. Not bad for late October...

This is the low season on the Greek Islands, and the place was pretty much shuttered and desolate except for a few restaurants and shops selling left-over sunscreen, which was fine with us after the somewhat manic pace of Istanbul and Athens.   Before going to the island, we consulted with a person we know who lives in Athens about which island to visit and her response was essentially, “not sure why you’d go to the islands now – it will just be the locals.”  To which I wanted to respond, “Exactly.”

The town was pretty much deserted, but a few of the restaurants were open. And that means we were happy!

Funny moment with the waiter at this restaurant: I asked what was “fresh” on the menu (meaning fish) and he said “small fish” and “calamari.”  I said yes to both, then he came back a few minutes later and asked if we wanted fresh calamari, to which we said, “yes.”  Then he explained that the calamari was “about this long” (he held his fingers about 12 inches apart) and gave us the per kg. price (which means nothing to me).  I asked him how much the calamari would cost and he said, “About 25 euros.”  That’s about $35!   We passed.  Then I thought, “does he have a knife — maybe he could CUT the calamari to a reasonable size????”  I had the sense that the hotel and restaurant staff in Agina Marina were worn out and didn’t REALLY want to be open, which I understood and did not hold against them.

Another funny (I think) bit of information.  This from the guidebooks:  history on the island dates back as far as 2000 B.C. – it was once a center of trade in the Aegean, even rivaling the state of Athens as a navel power.  Basically, the place rocked.  Now?  It supplies Greece with pistachios.  Pistachios!  Oh, how the mighty fall!   That said, the pistachio trees are quite lovely.

This is what pistachios look like on the tree -- not sure if these are ripe or not - the harvest happened a few weeks earlier. They must have missed these.

Aegina also produces a great quantity of olives.

Olives. The harvest on Aegina takes place in November.

I had never tasted a ripe olive from a tree, so I plucked one from here and took a bite. It’s very bitter and gives off a juice not unlike a cherry.  Strange.

Not sure what I expected, but the olive was bitter and very juicy, with a bright red/purple juice.

Beyond simply hanging around the seashore and shooting pool in the hotel lobby, the highlights of the trip were probably the very, very cool Temple of Aphaia (500 BC).  Click on the link to read more.  It sits on one of the tallest elevations on the island.   It was about a 45 minute hike up into the mountains from the hotel.  From the top you can see both sides of the island.  Here are some pix:

Temple of Aphaia - 500 BC.

James and the Temple of Aphaia.

Columns - I know it's totally cliche to say this, but there's really something amazing about being so close to (and able to touch) something that humans built some 2500 years ago. You just shake your head and think, "how?"

Margaret looking fabulous at the Temple of Aphaia!

At the Temple of Aphaia with the blue, blue Aegean behind us. Maybe my favorite photo from the trip - thanks James!

Looking for the Temple of Aphaia. Margaret was feeling STRONG!

The other highlight was probably the day James and I took the bus to Aegina Town and rented a scooter for the afternoon. We scootered up and down the coast, fully  helmeted for extra safety.  When we’d find a relatively straight, traffic-free section, I’d get off and let James ride alone for a bit — great fun and incredible vistas.

James rides a scooter on Aegina. Great fun. We rode for 5-6 miles up and down the coastline.

We left Aegina on Sunday morning – took the ferry to Athens, the metro from Piraeus to the Athens airport, flew to Budapest, took a cab to the train station, and took the train from Budapest to Pecs (then walked 8 blocks to our apartment).

The ferry ride back to Athens was VERY windy.

Arriving at the Piraeus harbor in Athens on Sunday morning.

Total travel time from Agina Marina to Pecs, Hungary:  12 hours.  Number of travel modes:  6 (including feet).   James was in school the next day.  Margaret and didn’t have to teach until Tuesday.

Taking the train to Vienna tomorrow afternoon (Thursday).  Will visit the Mauthausen Concentration Camp.  More later.

Posted in travel | 3 Comments

Athens in 3 Days or Less

The family at the Acropolis.

As I mentioned in a previous post, we arrived in Athens, Greece on an exceedingly rainy Monday afternoon, so I didn’t take too many pictures – we were mostly trying to find the hotel and stay dry.   But we did eat, so, of course, I’ve got a shot of that!  Kebop!

What else is there to say - skewered lamb, onion, tomato, Tzatziki... "Kebop!"

When it stopped raining, we noticed that our hotel really was at the foot of the Acropolis.   SURPRISE!  — The hotel website wasn’t exaggerating.  I took this photo about 100 feet from the front door of our hotel.  And yes, that’s the Acropolis up there…

It was a strange feeling to look up and see one of the most important pieces of ancient history in the WORLD right above you. Never did get used to it.

And while we’re on the subject (the subject being “I can’t believe the Acropolis is RIGHT THERE!”), here’s a shot of the Acropolis taken at dawn from the terrace where they served breakfast at the hotel.  The Greeks have done a bang-up job of lighting.

Seriously - this is what we saw eating breakfast (on the morning we had to leave the hotel at 7:00 am). It's so perfect that it almost looks like a model.

Most of what we saw in Athens has been photographed a billion times, so before I bore you with my Acropolis shots (Look!  The Parthenon!), here’s a shot that I cannot explain, other than that I took it while out walking on the first night in Athens.   It doesn’t look like a magician’s prop or a Halloween decoration, and I waited 10 minutes or so to see if someone was going to do something with it, but no one came.  So it’s a coffin sitting in the hallway of an open entrance next to a cafe.  Your guess is a good (or maybe better than) mine.   A reader of Greek might be able to tell us more from what’s written on the sign.

A coffin. In a hallway. I shot this right through the open door.

Okay, here are a few ACROPOLIS SHOTS (just a few, I promise).  Fortunately, the weather was fantastic for the rest of our stay in Athens:

Theatre of Dionysus. The seating has been restored (obviously) - the rest is the real deal. Originally built around 500 BC, then Nero renovated it.

Wide shot of the Parthenon - renovations are ongoing.

View of Athens from the Acropolis.

View to the Aegean from atop the Acropolis.

I'm pretty sure this is the Temple of Athena Nike.

More Parthenon.

After spending a few hours up on the Acropolis, we walked over to the Acropolis Museum, which is a great story because as they starting to build it, they discovered yet another Archaic to Early Christian Athens settlement right beneath where they were building.  So, instead of stopping the project, they went ahead and built the museum OVER the site, allowing the archeologists to do their work, which they were doing the day we went.

Entrance to the Acropolis Museum - there's an ongoing excavation right underneath the museum.

Another shot of the archeologists at work under the entrance to the museum.

The next day we visited the National Archeological Museum.  But while walking there from the hotel, something cool happened:  we passed the big meat market.  If you’ve been following this blog, you know I can’t pass up a good local market.   Margaret waited outside.   Here are some pix (my vegetarians friends might want to skip these):

The entrance to the Athens Meat Market.


More meat.

The entire building smelled of freshly butchered meat, which isn't really an appetizing smell if you ask me, but there were several restaurants right INSIDE the market.

A couple of customers.

The National Archeological Museum was really pretty amazing – the place is huge and you’ll see more busts here than at a  ____________ (fill in the blank for a good “bust” joke of your choice).  I took a few shots of things that interested me the most. Here they are:

A roomful of marble busts. James asked a good question: "What happens if there's an earthquake?" I imagine they'd all tip over. And break.

The Arm of Zeus. It's about 6 feet long. Huge. 2nd Century BC.

Gold diadem with leaf-shapes pieces at the top. 16th cent. BC !!!

Didn't see the description on this one, but clearly it was found an early 5th Century merry-go-round.

Later we took the metro to the main Athens port called Pireaus to check out the ferry situation for the next day’s ferry ride to the island of Aegina.

Love the Athens Metro. The Greeks are very quiet metro riders.

Here's a shot from the pedestrian bridge crossing from the Metro Station to the docks at Pireaus.

I’m writing/posting this on Aegina Island – about  an 8o minute ferry ride from Athens.  It’s quite nice here.  Leaving to return to Hungary in the morning.  More on our Greek island adventure later.

Posted in Food, travel | Leave a comment

Istanbul Day 4 – Featuring the Aya Sofya, the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts, Lunch on the Sea of Marmara, Skyping and a final Turkish Dinner at Urfali Haci Usta.

Quick post here…  Pix from our last day in Istanbul – We started with the Aya Sofya, which is considered Istanbul’s most famous monument and an excellent example of Byzantine Architecture.  It was completed in 527 AD and was the greatest church in Christendom until the Conquest in 1453 when it was converted into a mosque, which is what it was until 1935 when Ataturk apparently said, “Hey, quit fighting over it!” and  named it a museum.  It’s still a museum.   Here are some photos:

These giant doors were only opened for the King (not sure which king) - they're huge. You're going to freak when you see the room they opened into...

The space inside the dome is enormous - you stare up at it and think, "How on earth did they build something this big and airy in 532 A.D.?" Easy, hire the leading engineer and mathematicians as your architects.

Here's a shot of the dome.

Here's a detail shot of the ceiling - it's 185 feet from the floor.

Here’s a link to the Wikipedia entry on the Aya Sofya (Hagia Sophia) – it’s fascinating – I encourage you to take a look.  After Aya Sofya, we went into the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts where there was a beautiful exhibition celebrating the 1400th anniversary of the Qur’an.  Here’s a photo of one from around 400 A.D.:

There were easily 20-25 Qur' an's in the exhibit - just beautiful.

After the museum we went down to the Sea of Marmara for a late lunch at one of the restaurants connected to the big fish market.

This woman was fishing with her children. It's the same place I watched the men fish two nights before. I guess it's okay for women to fish earlier in the day??? Or she was an adventurous woman?

Sardines? Anchovies? No idea - but I saw them everywhere.

More fresh fish - I wonder which one we'll have with our lunch???

We've chosen our restaurant - great view...

We started with the fish soup. Mmmmm... brothy, with vegetables and nice chunks of fish.

And the grilled "tonne" which I think is tuna, but it was hard to tell. It was GOOD!

The meal was excellent, but I was intrigued by what was going on back outside at the fish market where men were grilling fish fillets and making quick sandwiches.  So…  I had to get one.

Sizzles on the griddle...

A little salt...

And this was delicious - another quick and easy item that would be a hit at the Fall Festival (if there was some fresh fish around).

We met back at the Apricot Hotel to meet with Lynn and Hakan and Skype and with Margaret’s parents.  Lots of fun.

James, Hakan, Lynn and Margaret have a lively Skype session with Margaret's mom and dad. It's a great way to stay connected.

And later that night (our last night in Istanbul), Lynn took us to a traditional Turkish restaurant called Urfali Haci Usta.  Here are some pix – it was AMAZING!

Enough food?

The most unusual part of the meal was the yogurt drink called “Ayran” you see in the copper cups.  It’s ice-cold and foamy and tangy and meant, I think, to cool off your palate after a hot bite.

The Ayrans arrive.

Then dessert — another novelty for me.  This is a crispy, honey-sweet pastry with cheese inside and crushed pistachios on top.  It may have been called a Kunefe.

I think this is called a Kunefe - it's wonderful.

That’s it for Istanbul – we left on Monday and headed to Athens.  Athens pix to come soon…

Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments