Monthly Archives: May 2008

Felsorakos – Sister Church

Unitarian Church

What a dream it was visiting the Unitarian Church in Felsorakos, Romania (Transylvania). Nothing like the hardships Julie & Jerry Jose had to put up with. It was like an art house European film EXCEPT for the part that was strictly American slapstick. Dennis decided he should locate our train car BEFORE Leigh & I climbed on. These trains don’t wait long and while we were following him the train started to roll. Leigh & I were trying to hop on as the train began to roll and somehow there were people & luggage stuck in the door with Leigh nearly being left behind or falling under the wheel (very scary!). I think someone stopped the train and we were able to get on board safely.

We took an overnight train from Budapest to Brasov,Romania with a 3 bunk sleeper. Sleeper bunkI was stuck on top but there was a sort of safety belt to hold me up there. We arrived at about 11:30am and the Jozsef took us directly to Felsorakos where his wife Reka was preparing our lunch which always starts with a shot of palinka (clear brandy). We next went to the annual fair in Barot where we saw the sights & had a beer. While sitting in the pub we watched a long line of teenage boys arm wrestle a  sport organized by the current mayor one of the four mayoral candidates running for election this Sunday.

One highlight of the festival was meeting the high school principal who gave us a school tour and celebrated our arrival by having a palinka toast and awarding us three of us honorary hall passes. Dennis noted this is the first time he had ever been invited in for a drink in the principals office. He was really fun guy but we couldn’t figure out why he was in the school on a Saturday wearing a 3 piece suit. We drove home and eat a light supper again and of course start our meal with another palinka toast. (None of us refused.)

Sunday was also incredible. We began with church at 11am which was a special service celebrating the 60 year olds of the village. Of course the service was all in Hungarian but I can tell you Jozsef is a fantastic speaker & there wasn’t a dry eye amongst the elders and even the younger men started to tear-up. We noted that some of the parishioners attending were newbies or at least novices because they didn’t have any more idea than we did regarding the protocol. At 2pm we attended a sumptuous 60 & over luncheon. They danced, they sang & you could really get a sense of the different personalities without knowing a word of the language. We cut out after a couple of hours & met a family & their 5 year-old twins for a barbecue in the most beautiful verdant setting you’ve ever seen. Just when they got their tee-pee style fire really going & we were wondering how we could eat barbacue as we had just finished our lunch not more than 2 hours before it clouded over & the rain began to really pour.

We packed up but the night wasn’t over yet. When the rain stopped we went back to Barot. The town days were ending with a Hungarian singer who Leigh aptly called “the Cher of the Hungarian people.” She is a well known singer who is over sixty but still putting on a fantastic show. Since arm wrestling is a young man’s game the current mayor gave a speech reminding everyone he was responsible for bringing the celebrity & don’t forget to vote next Sunday. I’m just guessing here but I think someone told me that was a lose translation. There were fantastic fireworks that were really more remarkable than anything I’ve seen in Riverfront park. The custom seems to be shoot them all off in about 15 minutes instead of spacing the rockets out for an hour which really makes a much better show. I’m exhausted from my trip back to Budapest.  Monday morning we took a hike around town and in the hills above.  We took lots of pictures of the gypsy kids and new construction in the village.  Jozsef delivered us back to Brasov in the middle of the day.  I’m afraid we may have made him late for his afternoon high school classes.  I hope we left enough money to cover all that gas.

Brasov was really a beautiful city but that will have to be another entry.

Slide show


Leigh and Dennis Arrive

St. Stephen\'s Bascilica  Leigh and Dennis arrived about seven hours later than I expected but they made it.  I am way more “jet lagged” than when I myself arrived.  First it was trying to dose but waking to every car going by until almost 1am (Wed.) then 2 days of finishing my final classes at the university and somehow waking up during my new roomates 2am restlessness.  I’m suddenly way more exhausted than I have been all year.

Dennis spent 2 days mostly on a self-guided tour.  I took them both to the Castle District Wednesday and today Friday to St .Istivan Bascilica , Hero Square and the zoo.  Leigh had her choice Wed. and Thursday of going with me to the university or with Dennis back to the Castle area.  She choose the university and attended 3 classes.  It was great to have a teaching assistant but a little discouraging. One class involved evaluating students final speeches and we were both taking notes.  When we were done she remembered the speeches better than I did.  She theorized it was because I was concentrating on hearing mispronunciations and grammar problems while she was listening more wholistically to the presentations as a speech.  Nice of her to cut me that break.  Three students gave a presentation on Hungarian wine so she is now quite knowledgeable for someone who has yet to taste or show any interest in tasting Hungarian wine. 

Meanwhile Dennis is still talking about his self-tour yesterday.  On his way back from the Budapest Castle he ran into some traffic problems and ended up abandoning the tram and walking home.  It turned out the problem was that while doing some construction the crew  unearthed an unexploded WWII bomb.  Everyone here is used to this problem but making his way home in a still strange city was an adventure for Dennis.  There is that odd thing that since you don’t speak Hungarian, while some other people have likely heard what the problem is from the radio or calls from friends, you have no clue as to why building are being evacuated and yellow tape is appearing.  

We are off tomorrow to Vienna returning Tuesday.  I did my homework.  This entry is preceded by summary of two library visits.  We all have a special tour at the Corvin (National) Library Thursday. 


Tale of Two Libraries

Waiting for booksEuropean Library Definitions:

Closed stacks – A place to keep one copy of every book and back copies of print periodical. Now a days your electronic number lights up when your order is in.

Reading Room – A place you can read the books checked out to you from the closed stacks. Also provides a large table, a reading light that no one uses and wireless for your laptop. Many tables now have plugs too.
Library Cards– Most Hungarian/?European libraries are open only to card carrying members. For research libraries this means paying a small fee and possibly furnishing a letter of recommendation or description of your research an explanation of why you need access to the collection.

Building & Library Guards – Almost always a burly guy who checks your library card before you can go UP to any library. Exception is the university library does not require a card but the coat check lady keeps an eye on the entrance AND the theft detection alarm.

Budapest University of Technology & Economics (founded 1782)

Library Homepage After much struggle I found this

14,000 students enrolled

Open 9-8 Mon.-Friday

Periodicals back issues kept for 150 years

Books over a 1 million most in closed stacks

Catalog System: ??something different  ALT200 Dictionaries KOZL503 Bicycles, Motorcycles etc.

Periodicals subscribed to: nearly all

Security: Coat and bag check optional but the lady in charge is going to check YOU out

Databases – A gazillion

Open stacks for technology in the basement and 3 reading rooms

Food, drink and smoking prohibited

WC facilities limited

No library instruction program. Hey they are technical students they should be able to figure it out

Central European University (founded 1992) Central European University

3000 card carrying members


Open 7 days a week when university is in session

150,000 volumes and rapidly growing about 8000 per year

Collect only in curriculum areas, offer a small fiction collection, specializes Human Rights & International Law

Catalog: Dewey Decimal for most books; Law Uses LC numbers

Microfilm & fiche/ AV collection (videos/dvds)

Periodicals databases and e-books – Lots

Food, drink and smoking prohibited but there is an espresso cart with snacks just out the door

They called them “Reading Rooms” but it all looked like a library to me

Security: Two burly guards want to see your library card as you enter the U. Student worker checks you in if you are actually able to find the library. (It’s a round building, I got lost.)

Databases: Only half a gazillion

Coat and bag check mandatory

Two required instruction sessions: Library orientation/ databases

Esztergom with Itsa and Kati

View from the top Last Saturday we had a great trip down the Duna(Danube) to Esztergom. I was the guest of Itsa Matte and Kati Dobos. Itsa planned, organized and insisted on treating me to everything including a slice dobos torte before they put me on the bus for home. Kati got me to all the right places as Itsa is having some foot problems and isn’t comfortable walking. Both of them have been exchange teachers in Spokane and their English is excellent. Itsa could entertain you all day with funny incidents where she misunderstood some aspect of U.S. culture.

Esztergom was the first capital of Hungary and the place where St. Istvan (Stephen I) was crowned. I believe we briefly viewed his hand in the relic room. The main attraction is the 19th century basilica. When we arrived it was filled with tourist and the bishop was conducting mass.

Kati figured out that she and I could climb to the top of the dome while the mass was finishing. There is a narrow granite one-way spiraling stairs straight-up to the dome. A couple of other people had the same idea and it was a continuous line of people all the way up. At one point when the line stopped at a particularly stuffy spot, I thought I was going to have my first panic attack some combination of claustrophobia & agoraphobia. We were stuck in a small high place jammed up with a bunch of people and no air. Luckily the line began moving and the next time we were stuck we were in front of a vent which wasn’t bad at all.

We had a funny thing happen when Kati and I were in the Treasury. Kati said it was announced in the 90’s that if the Treasury at Esztergom were sold it would pay the entire Hungarian national debt. Kati was really enthused to examine all these valuables. Much of the collection is ecclesiastical robes and Kati is quite knowledgeable about the fine embroidery techniques. There are also lots of priestly paraphernalia embellished with jewels & gold filigree. Kati and I were bantering in English of course when the Hungarian guard/guide heard us and sensing Kati’s enthusiasm, he began to try to explain everything to us in his broken English. Sometimes he would have to pause and use his finger to write a number on his hand because he didn’t know how to say the number in English. At some point Kati whispered-“I’m just going to just keep speaking English.” We felt a little guilty; this poor guard followed us through the rather large exhibit struggling to explain everything to us in English which meant he didn’t have a lot of time for the Hungarian visitors. It was a great tour for us though. Kati justified his struggle by explaining it is her mission as a teacher to encourage Hungarians to use English.

One last historical note on Esztergom it is the final resting place of Cardinal Jozsef Mindszenty who was arrested by the communists and lived in the U.S. embassy for 15 years before fleeing to Austria in 1971. Kati says he is still considered a controversial figure and apparently they are also arguing over the Wikipedia article.

Slide show

Barrack still a peach

Hungary for ObamaBest phone bank calling I can remember.  I was questioning my own sanity as I pulled out the directions in the rain and the dark to find my way through those narrow little streets to join the Hungary for Obama group Monday night to call Hoosiers in my home state.  At first I thought it was a crazy idea to tell them we were calling from Budapest, but it proved to be a great strategy.  As soon as they recognize that you are “selling” a candidate they are going to hang-up as quick as they possibly can.  This is when I say: I’m a former Hoosier calling you tonight from Budapest, Hungary.  Being Hoosiers they are curious and want to know what the heck you are doing in Budapest.  This breaks the ice and sometimes you can even have quite a nice conversation about why you think it is important to spend your time in Budapest calling for Obama. 

Of course the most in-depth conversation I had was with a woman who almost convinced me to switch to Hillary.  She had been in the front row at the Jefferson/Jackson dinner the night before and the speeches and actions of rude Obama supporters caused her to switch to Hillary. Neither of us could persuade the other but it was a nice conversation. 

I know this picture looks a little blurry and I really only had half of a beer.  

Thanks Bureacracy!!

Hungarian Bureacracy has its good side.  The last weekend in April I had to head to Zagreb, Croatia in order to get my passport stamped.  It seems Croatia is the closest country NOT a member of the European Union.   Apparently, the permit from the convenient housing authority is impossible to get.  I was informed that there is a long tradition of foreign English language teachers leaving the country to get their passport stamped.  Before Hungary joined the EU you could take a quick trip to Vienna (3 hours) but now we are required to leave the EU and come back.  I’m a little confused about this custom because 90 days does not seem too long for a European vacation.  Anyway I followed directions.  I went down to the railroad station with a piece of paper Budapest à Zagreb  and Zagrebà Budapest and along with dates & time.  She seemed a little puzzled at first but somehow got it & I was issued a ticket for the next day. 



My compartment mate on the way to Zagreb was a Bosnian student working for her Master’s degree in translation at the University in Zagreb.  She was delighted to have someone to talk to and she told me everything I needed to know about Zagreb.  If she hadn’t been late for her three Saturday classes she would have shown me the town. 



It is a wonderful old historic city, apparently untouched by WWII or the recent civil wars.  I stayed in the only $$ medium priced hotel  recommended by Rick Steves, their aren’t any cheap hotels so my decision was easy. 


Too make it even easier, I completely forgot to check  the exchange rate before I left so when I was faced with the cash machine and the hotel price sheet I had no idea what I was spending.  I highly recommend this strategy for a relaxing vacation. 

The seven hour train ride back with no food or water available on the train could be a little horrendous.  My food supply thoughtlessly included salty pretzels but I survived. 

 Slide show of Zagreb

Food Frustration

 I always eat lunch at the university restaurant and then if I want some meat I just have a sausage or salami with a vegetable for dinner. They are Hungarian specialties, flavorful, easy and they even specialize in the Mangalitsa, a “good cholesterol” pig. The second day of my four day weekend I decided I just could NOT eat another sausage for dinner. I got the idea of buying a piece or two of what looks like pre-cooked fried chicken. I’ve seen it in my closest grocery store. Wanting to avoid the long rush hour lines I rehearsed the word for chicken and then headed over to the Match grocery store at 6pm. The store was closed at 6pm on a Friday night. What is wrong with these people they must care more about their employees than their profit margin.  I headed to the discount grocery store which is nearly always open. I knew they didn’t have ready to go food but I have to eat something. I was forced to purchase frozen chicken nuggets. My small box of chicken nuggets cost about $6.00. I should have thought of going across the block to Burger King & checking out their deals.
My box of chicken nuggets has directions for cooking in EIGHT different languages and NONE of them are English. Also I am quite sure none of them involve a microwave or an oven. I’m going with guessing the German directions and frying them in “Pflanzenfett or Butterschmalz.”