Sunday, December 28, 2008

Paris - Dec 28

A total WOW day. I really enjoyed the Notre Dame in the daylight today; more than on Christmas. The sun was hitting the windows just right and the light was incredible. We walked around outside as well and got the full beneift of the architecture. But the first real WOW moment came when we walked into Saint Chappele which is floor to ceiling stained glass windows, We walked up the stairs and into the chapel and it took my breath away. This was built to house Jesus' crown of thorns.

My second WOW moment came when we walked into the gallery with some of Monet's water lily paintings. I had no idea they were so huge. Beautiful. Much more moving than looking at the Mona Lisa! Went on to the D'Orsay Museum and saw van Goghs, more Monets, Manets, and on and on. Great day.

Spell check isn't working and this is a difficult keyboard, so hope this is readable.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Paris - Saturday Dec 27 - COLD

We started out at the Louvre today and even though we were very selective and only saw a bit of two wings, it still took us around three hours. Sunny and cold outside, so we were glad to be inside. Also saw Napoleans Tomb and went up in the Eiffel Tour. It was a two hour wait to get up there, and by the time we made it we were so cold, we really couldn't stay long at all. Beautiful view though. Tomorrow we will slow down a bit and make sure we stay warm.

Haven't really gotten into the food aspect yet, although I have had a baguette sandwhich and quiche. Hope the next few days to hit a few cafes and talk Tara into a dinner out! Bribing her really doesn't work, so will have to find something else!

Although we've been in Vienna and Munich, you can really see the difference in style here. Lots of fur (which we saw in Vienna and Munich too), but somehow it is more stylish here. Even the kids winter coats are styled and cute.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Paris December 26 - * updated Jan 1

Clear cold day with wind. Versailles was beautiful and cold. Walked and walked. We didn't get up early as planned, as our room is next to two dorm rooms, and they were very loud last night. (We were supposed to be in a dorm room as well, but somehow ended up in a room by ourselves!) Then, others were very loud this morning. AND, I didn't close the window tight last night and it came open and was banging. I woke up because the room was so cold, but thought all the noise was from the dorm room! When I finally work up enough to realize it was the window, it was pretty darn cold. Anyway, we ended up sleeping in and didn't get to Versailles until 11am. It was still plenty of time to see all we wanted to see -- if it had been summer I know that we wouldn't have made it through everything. Amazing how busy everything is now (same as when we were in Prague) and I just can't imagine these places in the summer!

*The rooms in the palace at Versailles reminded me much of the rooms in other palaces I have been in: every last detail of the room very opulent - from the wallpaper and lighting to the furniture and floor covering. However, there was one huge difference. For some reason, there is an installation of Jeff Koonz artwork throughout the palace. There was an explanation, but nothing could justify his garish sculputures placed in the middle of these classic rooms. For those unfamiliar with this artist's work, here is what Wikepedia has about this particular art show:

"Considered as his first retrospective in France, the 2008 exhibition of seventeen Koons sculptures at the Chateau de Versailles also marked the first ambitious display of a contemporary American artist organized by the chateau. The New York Times reported that “several dozen people demonstrated outside the palace gates” in a protest arranged by a little-known, right-wing group dedicated to French artistic purity."

We stopped at the Eiffel Tower on our way back, but decided not to go up because it was soooo cold and windy. Will do that over the next few days. We took a local bus to see different neighborhoods - which we did in slow-motion as we hit traffic time. So many distinct neighborhoods with their own stores, cafes, veterinarians(!), etc.

Ok, a bit more about this hostel. It is on the Montmarte hill; we enter at the upper street level, and the hostel goes down at least three floors, running along the hill. Out of all the hostels I have stayed in this is the most questionable in terms of cleanliness, but at least we have our own room. We had a hard time finding a place for the seven nights within our price range. We are paying 25 eu per night each, and it includes breakfast. This is kind of at the high end for us. (I am appalled at how the Hungarian forint has fallen: let's just say my salary wouldn't even start to pay rent at home). We also have free internet, but the keyboard I am using right now is the only one that is an American keyboard. One is the same as we have in Hungary, and the others are French -- so the keys are all different, making it very difficult to type much. I am in the small lobby right now, with people waiting all over the place to use this. The desk clerk is new - he was being trained when we checked in - and just a bit ago, the front door of the hotel somehow locked and people couldn't get in! He was having a heck of a time trying to get it unlocked, and more and more people were waiting outside. He finally went downstairs to do something, and one of the guys in the lobby got up and used a credit card and opened the door! Why he didn't help before, I don't know....

Must go and plan the day tomorrow and take some aleve to ease these sore muscles....

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas Day Paris - updated January 1

Notre Dame on Christmas Eve.

We hung our Christmas tree decorations above our beds last night and pulled our miniture crackers for a little toy and had German gingerbread for a treat.

Today we walked around the Mountmarte area and saw the places many famous artists lived while getting their start as artists. Saw the Moulin Rouge: I tried to watch the movie before we came; but I couldn't stand it, but it is one of Tara's favorite movies.

One of the travel podcasts I listened to about Paris warned of looking up too much and not looking down enough to avoid the dog poop on the sidewalk. Was glad to have had the warning, as Parisians definately do not clean up after their dogs.

Basically a laid back day == will do laundry this evening:

MERRY CHRISTMAS or on this keyboard ?erry Christ,qs1

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas

Just got back from Notre Dame -- went to the 10pm mass. Very full, great choir: Sang Gloria in Notre Dame!!!

Cold and crisp out: french keyboqrd is ,qking this too hqrd to zrite: Love to qll:

Sunday, December 21, 2008


Only one word for Salzburg:  WET.  We arrived here this morning and went to the Market.  Loved it.  But, couldn't stay out long because it was so wet.  Global warming for sure.  Saw a few people in traditional wool Austrian coats/hats/capes, but everyone needed umbrellas.  Found an Irish pub again!  (Thanks Kyle!)   Cheap irish coffee, beer and pizza.  Backpacker's budget!    Back to the hostel by 3 and into bed for a nap while our clothes dripped.  

One of our roommates is a girl from Renton who has been in Spain for a semester.  Good listening to her stories....

Hopefully less rain in Munich, but word is it's raining there too.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Saturday, December 20, Vienna

I ended up leaving Kisvarda at 9:45am on Firday, skipping all of my classes with the approval of the assistant Headmaster. Due to the strike and the slowdown on the trains, this looked like it might be the only train out of Kisvarda on Friday. We had a 8:10pm train reserved from Budapest to Vienna, so really wanted to make it. Had to get of in Szolnok and stand around and wait for a train to be announced to Bduapest. We were there maybe a half hour and in that time, only two trains came and went. Our train took us to a suburb of Budapest where we had to switch to a city bus to a metro exchange where we caught the metro to the train station! Pouring rain and dark. Our train from Budapest was not going but there was a bus going in half an hour, so we took off at 6:00pm from Bduapest and got into Vienna around 10pm. Easily found our Hostel and room and hunkered in for the night.

Today, still rainy and very windy. We were out and exploring before 9am. Went to the Albertina Museum of Art --- Klee's, Picaso's, Monet's, etc, etc. Off to the first of 3 or 4 Christmas markets. Stopped and had lunch in an Irish Pub (it was available and we were hungry), and then off to the remaining markets. Had a great time looking at all the booths, toys, trinkets, decorations, and food in the pouring pouring rain!

We leave early tomorrow for Salzburg for the day. We will overnight and leave on Monday morning for Munich.

Oh, when we walked into the hostel in Vienna, in the lobby was one of the other CETP teachers that went on the Transylvania trip with us! Scott will be in Munich, at the same hostel, as us on Monday night! Nice to see him. He is traveling a bit and then is heading home....he decided to just stay for one semester.

Also, today we were leaving our hostel and I saw a sign with an arrow that said "Einbahn" and I kind of made note, in case I needed some landmark to find our way back. (Tara does all the map reading and I am pretty much just following her lead, but every once in a while I think I'd better have some idea where I am!) So, whatever the "Einbahn" was, I now knew it was close to our hostel. A little further down the road, I saw another sign for the "Eihnbahn", pointing in the same direction. Later in the day, when we were in a completely different part of the city I see a sign again for the "Einbahn" with an arrow. It struck me as funny so I looked around, and there was ANOTHER one of these signs pointing in a different direction......oh, I am slow. Einbahn must mean, one way street!!! Now you know why Tara does all the map reading!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

More holiday celebrations...

Wow, busy week and I am loving it.

Last night was a wonderful performance by many students of the music school. Extremely talented kids. They take learning an instrument, or singing, as seriously as they take their studies. I was confused about who we were visiting. One of Mike's colleagues, Zeta, at the other high school has twin boys who played their instruments in the performance. We then went to their house in Ajak (ayak) for dinner. WHEREVER you go, you are always given a glass of palinka first! I have learned: if you empty the glass, they will refill it, so you must leave a little in the bottom unless you are up for a wild night!!! Zeta's husband is a Doctor in Ajak and they have a daughter in college in Budapest. It was a very pleasant evening just visiting.

This morning I got to talk to all my bookclub friends - it's great to be able to keep in touch this way. Only problem is they are going to Tenakee without me for a bookclub! Hmm, I think I will choose the next book and have the gathering here!

I made it through my scheduled six classes, and luckily did not have any extras. Edit called the train station for me, and they told her to call back tomorrow. Each day there are some trains that run, but they don't know until that day. So, fingers crossed, there will be some train out of here tomorrow. All the teachers are helping me, and Istvan has been asking his students if their parents will by driving to Budapest in the next day or two. One way or another, it is going to work!

I was quite happy to hear that Molly has made it to Anchorage and then will be in Juneau for Christmas. Just a big relief to me.

Tonight was a charity performance at the theatre across the street. It was organized by the 12C class and it turned out very nice. I was given a free ticket by the "form teacher" for the class, but still made a donation when I left. As soon as I was at my door, David came running out of the dorm, asking me to come to a party. I have not had the dorm classes all week, and have missed dinner the last three nights too. So I went over and took some of the peanut butter with me and the kids all tried it. The snack du jour was dinosaur cheese puffs, skewered by pretzel sticks and hot dog and bun shaped and flavored cheese puffs!!! Are these kind of snacks coming out at home too? We had good rap music and a strobe light going --- I felt pretty cool!

Going to pack, get my notes in order for classes, and be ready to leave on the train whenever there is one! Classes are short and there is no 5, 6 or 7th period as there is another performance and then a special lunch...don't know now if I will get to participate or not.....just depends on the trains....

Will try to post during my trip.....

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Busy Holidays no matter where you are...

Yesterday, Tuesday was quite a busy day for me, although I was only scheduled for two classes. First, I had an extra class because a teacher was out. Then, at 2pm there was a Christmas concert in the chapel put on my the students from the music school here in Kisvarda. Immediately following that, I met Mike, the other CETP teacher for coffee and a visit. I met two of his students and had fun visiting with them as they practiced their English - both were quite good. He invited me to join him tonight, for a concert at the music school in which one of his students will participate, and then we are invited by the student's mother, Zeta, to their house for dinner! So, he walked me down to the music school to make sure I knew where it is, so I can find my way there on my own. We stopped at the store, and I bought a bottle of wine to take with me to Marianne and Tibor's house, where I was going for dinner. (She is one of the English teachers here at St. Laszlo.)

We had a great dinner. Their teenage daughter, and her 22 year old boyfriend were there. The boyfriend, Zsolt, had many questions for me and we enjoyed visiting. Also, they received a call from a friend who was stuck in Kisvarda for a few hours due to the train strike, so Tibor, went and got him, and he joined us for dinner as well. He is a professor at one of the Universities in Debrecen, and knew Marianne and Tibor in the Ukraine. We had Ukrainian vodka, home made palinka from cherries and another fruit, champagne and the Tokaj wine I brought! Oh yea, we had cavier for an appetizer, a delicious chicken dish with mashed potatoes and salad, and tiramisu for dessert. I was there quite late, visiting with them.

Today in the teacher's room I served the two sockeye smoked salmon fillets that I brought with me and told the teachers thank you for helping me with everything. It disappeared very quickly and everyone loved it.

I'm off now to the teacher's English class to hear them present on what they have learned, and then off to the concert and I said, busy time of year, no matter where you are....

Oh, and I had two extra classes today -- I really hate that!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Great day

Am going to try to post more often with my daily activities and thoughts and discoveries....we'll see! (Yea, just like I am going to exercise every day.)

I made it out the door this morning to walk -- that's three days in a row. Am thinking of how much walking we did in Prague and how much lies before me with Austria and Paris, so thought I'd best keep it up. I should have gone earlier, or taken a different route though, cause on my way back, the streets were BUSY with kids and parents and others heading to school and work. Two kids stopped me and asked if I had been running - yea, right - and then one of the students in 9E said she saw me from the bus. Tomorrow, a bit earlier.

There are two owls in the trees in the courtyard between my building and the school canteen! They have been there the last few weeks, and I got a photo today! Kind of cool!

Had three classes today and only one was affected (e or a?) by the railroad strike, with 4 students absent. Kind of funny - no teachers even mentioned it to me. It wouldn't cross Edit's mind, Istvan was preoccupied, and actually when talking to Marianna about students and work, she did mention one kid was out because of the strike. Two of the classes had homework assignments to turn in, and neither of them did it. Had them work on writing and then speaking in class, and then marked them down one mark for not having done it as homework. Haven't really gotten any guidance on marking down students, but seems reasonable. In the 9E beginners, some of the kids have still been out of control. I had to talk to them sternly at the end of class - - kind of funny trying to do it in simple, single words, as these kids are in their first year -- 4th month - of learning English. This is the last chance - next I will go to their homeroom teacher. Still had a good class though - I really like this age group.

One day I will tell you about the Naplo", the teacher's grade book. I think I am finally figuring it out, but will wait to explain until I know I have it figured out...what a pain.

I signed up to go to My Fair Lady in Nyiregyhaza with the other teachers via bus after school on January 12. Should be fun!

Oh, one of the teachers told me that I should hurry down to the office and place my order for sausages -- they would be a good thing for me to take on my trip! Apparently, the teachers are combining an order to get a discount! I didn't run anywhere.....

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Where does the time go?

Sunday evening, one more week until Christmas break - and yes, for this school it is Christmas break, not the pc Holiday break. There are advent wreaths in every classroom, often lit by the students between the classes. The trees in the courtyard by the St. Lazslo statue have lights on them. There was a Christmas vigil held in the Chapel on Thursday night with the Hostel kids (and I attended the first part with the singing). The students are asking to sing Christmas songs in every class (I know, they just want to get out of school work), and they know a number of songs in English.

Yesterday morning I went into Nyiregyhaza and met Tara who came in from Mariapoc and we discussed our Christmas trip - and many other things! We are both quite excited to see the Christmas Markets in Austria and Munich before we head to Paris. However, today we were notified there is a train workers strike -- mostly just in the Eastern part of Hungary - where we are. Now this afternoon I got word that the strike might spread across the whole country and could very well last through the week! We are supposed to leave from our towns on Friday afternoon to catch our international train from Budapest at 8:30pm. At this point, I can't worry about it, and will just continue planning and getting ready! Apparently many of the airport workers in Budapest are on strike also. Should be interesting to see how this plays out so close to Christmas.

I've meant to talk about the sausages! A few weeks ago I was instructed to be in the teacher's room between certain classes, as a representative from one of the meat packaging plants would be at the school with samples of sausages for us to try. Well, it was the day I was leaving for Prague and didn't make it in there, but Edit brought me a plate full of different sausages just before I left. There was one that was black with rice in it that I tried and didn't care for at all. There was another that was pretty good, but awfully greasy. Don't remember much about the others. I took off on my trip, and didn't think about it again.

Well this past week one morning I went into the canteen for breakfast and the students had a single sausage on their plates, no bread (!) and nothing else and this was breakfast. I slowly backed away and made my own breakfast. Then, two nights later, dinner was mashed potatoes and sausages: the two kinds I just described. I ate the one, but the black one I just couldn't handle. I looked around at the student's plates and saw they were all eating the black one and leaving the other on their plates.

Then, on Thursday, there was a "name day" (more on that below) celebration in the teacher's room for all the teacher's with name days in December. I helped set out the plates, napkins, etc., and there were pastries and cakes. After the next class one of the teachers instructed me to go back over to teacher's room because the good stuff was now there: puddings, sausages, bread and pickles! So off I went, and lo and behold, there are the same sausages again! Obviously, the sales rep had been successful not only selling the sausages for use in the cafeteria, but also for the teachers! There was no pudding though.

Those of you in the know, realize that the black sausage is also called blood pudding, or black pudding and is a sausage made with blood, grains and other ground up meat parts. And that was the "pudding" the teacher mentioned. I'm glad I didn't know what it was before I tried it, and legitimately didn't care for the taste, and not just because of the name and what it is made from.

I'm just waiting to see when they will be served next!

Name days are the Saint's day that someone is named after. Some names actually have two saints days! This day is celebrated by the holder of the names in the same manner we celebrate birthdays. They don't celebrate, or recognize birthdays at the same level we do, instead it is on their Name Day that they get recognition, good wishes and gifts.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Szent Miklos Day and Christmas

St. Nicholas Day on December 6, is celebrated here with visits from St. Nicholas -- a Santa figure. He brings gifts of toys to young children and gifts of candy, fruit and other goodies to everyone. Kids at school exchanged gift bags with each other and teachers gave students chocolate Santa Clauses - like our chocolate Easter bunnies - on Friday December 5. Since I was not quite myself still (from the night outside the train station), I forgot to take pictures! And, since no one told me, I didn't have chocolate for the kids -- although most of the exchanging was done in their homeroom classes of which I don't have one.

One teacher kept coming into the the teacher's room with wine gift bags --- he had 4 of the bags lined up! Then he came in with empty hands and I asked him what the problem was --- didn't he have another bag of wine to bring in?

In the teacher's room, we were all gifted with a very nice box of chocolate truffles. Earlier this week, one of the English teachers came and got me and took me to the office, where we both received gift certificates for 6900 forints (around $30) which can be redeemed at most of the grocery stores.

On Christmas, the families will exchange gifts again, this time from the baby Jesus. Santa does not play into the picture on Christmas....he's done and gone at this point!

I asked the kids about their gift giving/receiving today. They celebrate their name day, their birthday, St. Miklos Day and Christmas with gift giving. The also give gifts on Valentines Day and women get gifts on Woman's day and men get gifts on Easter from the women. Lot's of opportunities to make a sale for the enterprising!

The trip home: Prague to Kisva'rda

Well, our flight was late leaving Prague, which meant instead of having just a little over an hour to catch our train, we had less than a half hour. I should have known the trip wouldn't be smooth when we got on the plane, and the ticket agent had given me the middle seat, even though I asked for an aisle. I got kind of pissy and told Tara that I don't sit in middle seats, all pompous like now that I look back. As soon as I could catch the flight attendant's attention, I asked if I could move to one of the 10 empty rows behind us, and thankfully, she said yes.

I had carefully planned the trip --- I had a plan A, but no plan B --- so, guess I didn't really plan it carefully! I didn't have a schedule of other trains - just the times and transfers for my train under plan A. Although I had a ticket for the train, I didn't have a seat reservation that was also required. I was hoping I could get that at the station at the airport. Tara didn't have a return ticket for the train, as she was getting paid while we were traveling and needed to wait until she got paid to buy the ticket. We came into Terminal A, but the train stops at Terminal B. And, there is no actual station there! No place to buy tickets. At least Tara knew this in advance.... so, as I was waiting for my bag, Tara was on the phone to another one of the CETP teachers, asking her to check the train schedule for other possibilities. At this point we realized pretty much our only option was to bust butt and take a cab to the next station closer into Budapest where we could get the seat reservation and the ticket, and hopefully make the train. 4000 forints and a made dash up stairs and through an overpass, we are in front of the ticket office, and the cashier tells us the train has already left - we didn't make it in time.

Tara is on the phone again, trying to figure out the next train when the reality is becoming clearer and clearer to us: there is no next train all the way to Nyiregyhaza, let alone on past it to Kisvarda, where Tara was going to spend the night with me, and then catch the bus to her village in the morning. We both had classes to teach in the morning, with mine being at 7:45am. So, a lot of broken Hungarian, English, talking into the cell phone, arguing with the ticket clerk, etc., it is decided that we will take the train as far was we can get that night, sleep for a few hours in the station and then take the first train from there in the morning - gettin me into Kisvarda at 7:20am. It was already 7pm, and the train now wouldn't leave until around 9pm and we would get into the station around 1am and our departure was around 5am.

The station we were going to was Puspokladany and yes, it was open at night, 'cause Briggi (the CETP teacher who Tara was talking to on the phone) got kicked off the train and had to spend the night there last time she was here. As we waited for the train, it struck me that I might have misunderstood this about Briggi staying there before. So I asked Tara if she meant Briggi had to overnight there last time she came from Budapest recently, or did she mean when Briggi was in Hungary two years ago! Well, it was 2 years ago, and yes, my suspicions were right on. We arrived at the train station, and all lights were out; except those on in the WC building right next to the train station which is where I desperately needed to go anyway. So, we headed directly to the WC for me to use the toilet, and low and behold, someone (a man) had already staked claim to the bathroom floor for the night! He moved enough to make room for me to get in the door and into the stall (although the stall door wouldn't close)!

The sign on the station said it was closed until 3am. We looked at each other and realized there wasn't much we could do. There were a number of trains stopped for the night, and there were workers around cleaning the trains. There was one other passenger who stayed on our train until he was kicked off by the cleaners, and then he reentered one car after another, right after/before the cleaners. He obviously had experience at this, and we probably should have followed his example. It was around freezing and we had our clothes piled on and we spent two hours walking and pacing on the platform to keep warm. As soon as the doors opened, we were inside, and I staked out a bench. Tara sat and watched a movie on her ipod, unable to sleep.

I reached the train station in Kisvarda at 7:20. There were no cabs, so I tried to call one, unsuccessfully in my broken Hungarian. I had just approached a young gal in the station to ask if she could ask for the cab on my cell phone for me, when one arrived. I made it to my flat at 7:30, ripped off my dirty clothes, changed into clean clothes, and ran out the door with my book bag to my class that started at 7:45!!! I couldn't believe I made it.

Prague Day 4

Thought I'd best keep this in order. We started the day on Tuesday early in Prague with a list of all the places we wanted to see, and a mapped out route, thanks to Tara. We needed to be at the airport by 3:30 and we figured it would be about 45 minutes to get there. So off we went to see the sights on our list: the inside of both St. Nicholas churches, the Lady before Tyn church, to walk past the "dancing building" also known as the Fred and Ginger building because of it's unique architecture, and past the national theatre. This walk entailed crossing the river, going up a hill and then following the river for about a mile before we crossed back and headed back to the old town square. As we walked, we past the oddest group of sculptures of babies!
Also along the river was the John Lennon wall:
The walk was beautiful, with the sun breaking through the winter clouds for a few minutes. We hit one area where there were Art Neavou style buildings, one after another. Took a lot of pictures of balconies, while we discussed which flat we wanted to live in.

We headed to the airport earlier than we needed to, but didn't mind as I would just rather not have the hassles of running late. However, we didn't really need to worry about running late at this point. See the next entry about our trip home!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Prague - Day Three

What happened to day two? Didn't get to a computer, so will come back to that day later.

Today we got out of the hostel around 9:30 and made our way to the Jewish Ghetto. We toured three different synagogues: the Spanish Synagogue, the Old-New Synagogue and another that I don't have the name of it front of me right now. The Jewish quarter in Prague was not destroyed by the Nazi's as Hitler planned to make the area into a museum of an extinct race! The people from the ghetto, all 188,000+ were sent to Terezine and then most of them onto death camps. Terezine was a "model" Jewish Quarter where many Jews were housed and was used by Hitler to show the red cross and others that the Jews were not being sent to their deaths. In the one synagogue, the walls are covered with the names of all the Jewish citizens who were moved out of the ghetto. In the upstairs is art work from the children who lived in Terezine. Quite moving and difficult place to view. Upon exiting this Synagogue, we went through the Jewish Cemetery. It was in use for 2-300 years and the grave stones are literally on top of each other. The graves are 12 deep. The Spanish Synagogue is patterned after the Alhambra in Spain and is absolutely gorgeous. The old-new synagogue was a typical synagogue from the time when it was built. I will verify my facts when I get back to Kisvarda and will update this at that time.

From there we crossed the river and went back to the castle, as the tickets were good for two days and we were unable to see everything the first day. This time we approached from a different side and walked through a very nice park and came in a side entrance. We arrived just in time to see the changing of the guard - it's an hourly event and not of the same scales as at Buckingham Palace - at this side entrance and were the only ones there to view it! At the castle today we went through the Abby which holds an art collection, the royal residence which is mainly bare, and the Basilica behind St Vitus' church.

We walked back into the old town square area, through it into another square and hunted down dinner. Using one of the guide books we found the restaurant we were looking for on the 5th floor of a department store! Good Czech cafeteria food: fried cheese with potatoes, served with tarter sauce!!!! This was listed as one of the traditional foods and they just happened to have it on the menu today. It was great to take a break off of our feet after walking for hours. No public transit for us!

One of the best things about Prague is that every time you turn a corner, another steeple or tour or art nuveau building comes into sight and takes your breath away. The day was not as cod as yesterday, but still overcast for most of the day. The views from castle hill were typical of pictures of winter in Prague that I have seen, although there is no snow.

Tonight we watched a marionette show! It was Don Giovanni in Italian, so although we could not understand the words, there was a storyline synopsis that allowed us to follow. The working of the marionette puppets was incredible to see. There was a team of 6-8 puppeteers who were quite skillful.

Now off to bed, so we can get up early to cram in the last few things before we head to the airport around 2:00.

(Day two: 9am - 4pm at Castle, back to hostel for rest and grocery store dinner, back out to blues club and through the closed Christmas market at midnight.)

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Prague Day one

Arrived last night around 9:30 in Prague, taxi to hostel, in bed by 11. Still have my cold which was aggrevated by having to sit int he smokinug car on the train to Budapest. Slept in this morning and got moving around 9am. Found a coffee house then off to the Mucha Museum - beautiful interesting art. Back to the hostel for long underwear and another layer, as it is quite cold. Did a walking tour for 2 hours through the main areas - good to see to know what to go spend more time looking out. Tara got here around 5:30 and off to the Old Town square to see the lighting of the Christmas tree. Didn't make it in time and the small street we were in became packed with people pushing and shoving, trying to get out of the square and those of us trying to get in. Met a lady from Chicago - Ruth - who we pushed and shoved with! She wanted to know about the Mayor's marathon in Anchorage, but I encouraged her to check out the one in Juneau. We made it into the square and around the booths with mulled wine, food and gifts. There was a show on a stage next to the Christmas tree, but we moved on and walked through to Charles Bridge. Now to plan our day for tomorrow.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving to All!

Since I celebrated early with the other teachers, today will be a day like every other: I am scheduled for 6 classes, but there is a change to the schedule - imagine that! There will be a play performance today and tomorrow about Mother Theresa's life. Not sure if I will attend or not, as it can get pretty long when you can't understand a word being spoken!

CETP arranged for today and tomorrow off for all the teachers, however, I asked for Monday and Tuesday off instead. I will leave Kisvarda on Friday night, train to Budapest, and then fly to Prague, Czech Republic for 4 days. Tara from Mariapocs will join me on Saturday evening. Am looking forward to this trip, as Prague is a place that has long intrigued me.

Enjoy your turkey day and all the fixin's and family.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Tuesday - my "easy day"

Hmmm, easy it will not be. I have a terrible cold and thought my contact teacher was going to call me last night to go see a Dr - the husband of one of the teachers. You must see a Dr. to miss a day of school. No worries - only two classes today - NOT!

Two teachers are out today and I am scheduled to have 7 classes. Will be utter misery.

Woke up to snow....and yes, it is actually accumulating! They are calling for about 5 inches today...well, they gave it in centimeters....

Hmm, maybe school will be canceled?! Probably just wishful thinking on my part.... yep, the charachters are out shoveling the sidewalk.....

Early Thanksgiving

Last Friday immediately after school, I was off to Szolnok and Ujszasz for an early Thanksgiving dinner with other CETP teachers. First we shopped at an amazing store - almost the size of the Juneau Costco - for all of our Thanksgiving fare. We settled on 6 turkey legs and one turkey breast! I found peanut butter (yea!) and took a pic of the gallon plus jugs of wine - they don't mess around with boxes!

After a nice dinner out, off to Ujszasz, a 14 minute ride on the train, where Jamie lives. I think this town is around 6000 people -- we were warned by a fellow train rider, that this was a "f*cking dangerous town" and not to let the gypsies hear us speak in English as they would come rob the flat! There have been English teachers in this community for years, so don't know why anyone would be surprised to find out she lives there!

We had a great dinner and a lot of fun cooking, conducting quality control on the food and wine, and gorging ourselves on traditional fare. Had soo much food and a lot of fun. Jamie found Christmas decorations in her flat, so those were added to the table and around the room to make it more festive.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Ribbon Pinning Celebration

Yesterday was the big event. At 3pm, all the 12th graders and the teachers met at the Catholic Church for mass and the pinning of the ribbons on the teachers. First there was mass, then the blessing of the ribbons and then the students took the ribbons and a lily to each of the teachers and pinned the ribbons on their lapel. The young man who did mine is one of my better students, so that was really nice.

From there, we went to the theatre. (The school, the town theatre, and the church, are all located on the town square - Floria'n Te'r - a few steps from each other.) All of the students came on stage by class, and their form (homeroom) teacher pinned the ribbon on each student and the students presented the teacher with a bouquet of flowers.

After a short break, came the class waltz. Only a few students can participate in this, and the teachers must select the students. This is a very difficult situation, trying to be fair when there just isn't enough space for all. Often, it is the students who have been the leaders in activities throughout the four years of school who are selected. As you can see, this is very formal with the young men in tuxes with tails and the young ladies in matching beautiful white dresses. It was quite the sight to see.

After this beautiful waltz, each of the 4 classes presented their show. The pictures will all be posted separately on my photo page instead of here in the blog.
After the show, all the students, their families, and the teachers all went back to the school. The teachers' room and 4 of the classrooms were transformed into buffet tables with a huge variety of food prepared by the families. The cafeteria was transformed into a dining hall for the students and their form teachers and they had a formal meal served to them. Then, the waltz once more, this time in the gym, and a dance for the students followed. All the girls were in prom style dresses and some of the boys remained in their tuxes while others had changed back to their every day attire. The party in the teachers' room went on until at least midnight and when I went to bed, I could still hear the music coming from the gym.
It was a fantastic afternoon/evening and I enjoyed myself tremendously. I laughed and joked with the other teachers through broken English and Hungarian and I'm not sure any of us really knew what the other was saying. I met a teacher's wife who is an English teacher at an elementary school and their 16 year old daughter. Both of them just wanted to talk and talk to me in English. I met an elderly gentleman who is a retired teacher from here and the school priest, Father Lazslo. (Lazslo is a VERY common name: I have 5 Lazslo's in one of my classes!) Both spoke English and we were able to chat. I engaged in girl-talk with one of the other English teachers and talked politics and social issues with another of the English teachers - we just don't get much time to visit throughout the school day. Both of these teachers have invited me to their homes for Sunday lunch; I will probably go next Sunday to Istvan Suba's and then not sure when I will go to Marianne's, but in the next few weeks. Both will sure to be very nice and fun.

The last two weeks...

One thing is guaranteed in Hungary and especially in this school: plans are to be broken!

For the last two weeks, the 12th graders have been preparing for a big event which celebrates their last year in school. This event, (which I didn't write down the name) has three components: religious, formal, and class performances. Each of the four 12 grade groups prepare a half hour program including skits and dances. Everything at the school has been focused on preparing for this. The grounds keepers have been super-busy (the rose bushes were finally cut back), costumes and formal clothing have been prepared, decorations for the gymnasium and the cafeteria and the stage have been prepared, and as the last two weeks progressed, hair has been cut and colored and fingernails polished!

During my class period, one of the groups repeatedly practiced their program. Each of the other classes would have students missing. One day, I only had 4 students out of 18 in the class! Needless to say, I haven't been on schedule with the syllabus! Other teachers have said they haven't seen their 12 grade groups in two weeks!

On Friday, the classes were shorter and then the last two cancelled. The whole school went across the street to the theatre and we got to view the shows. Fantastic! these kids can dance! All four were different, but a lot of fun. It was especially fun to see the one class that had used my class time to practice, do their dances in full costume.

On top of the excitement regarding the 12th grade event, one of the English teachers had surgery and has been off of work since last Tuesday and will be out until the end of the month. Then, on Wednesday of this past week, another of the English teachers got sick and was out Wed - Fri. When a teacher is out ill, they do not call in a subsititute. Instead, the other teachers pick up the slack!

This resulted in my Tuesday going from 2 classes, to 6 classes, with one of them doubled up with two groups in it! Then on Wednesday, the same thing, from 3 classes to 6, except I had two periods with double the students! Uncontrollable let alone un-teachable! Thursday I already had a full schedule of 6 classes, but they were still able to use me to substitute by doubling up again! When you have around 3o students from absolute beginner to advanced, there is not much you can do! I did find a few board games on line and had them work in pairs to do the games - all ESL of course.

After returning from the fall break, I decided to take more of my evening meals in the Cafeteria to save money - especially since I haven't gotten paid yet. Well, the first week back, the food really sucked! Two fried eggs on a bowl of creamed peas does not a dinner make for me. I found this quite frustrating, sending me to the store shopping at the last minute. Then last week, on Tuesday I go to dinner at 6:30 and ---- the cafeteria is dark and no one is around! I found out the next day that the students went to some performance at the theatre, so had to have dinner early before the ya think someone would have told me?

The week before last, I met with Mike, the other CETP teacher here in Kisvarda one day after school and talked about everything under the sun. Sure is nice to have another American right here to talk to once in awhile.

Also one day I was in the teacher's room at the end of the day, and there was a man waiting for me in the hallway. His name is Zsolt and he and his wife have a language school here in Kisvarda. They teach mainly English, but have someone who also teaches a few German classes. They have a 2 1/2 year old daughter and he asked if I would be interesting meeting with him, his wife and their daughter for 2 hours twice a week, plus on Sundays from 9am - 1 or 2pm for drives around the countryside, all the while with them practicing their English and encouraging their daughter to speak English in this time. I am so full with my obligation to the school and other things that I want to do, that I just don't have time, and don't want to take on any private students. And certainly not every Sunday, which would cut into my availability to go anywhere over the weekend or accept an invitation to lunch!

My hostel (dorm) classes have also increased. I must teach 3 per week instead of 2. I have now divided them into advanced, beginners, and then combined and we will play word games in the combined class.

This Tuesday right after my last class (on my nightmare day), Edit took me into Nyiregyhaza and I got my work visa. I am now legal until June 15! One day soon, I should now get paid - I hope!

So, busy times! And I am loving it!

School Lessons

Where, oh where, does the time go? It gets eaten up by my researching ideas and creating lesson plans! I have 4 different class levels: 9 - 12 (Freshmen - Seniors) and then within each, I have at least 2 levels of ability. Luckily, the teachers for these different class levels are in agreement as to what they want me to teach, with a couple of exceptions. So, for a week, I need lessons on 4-6 topics at different skill levels. I spend hours and hours on the prep, and then in 45 minutes, bam !, it's over and I am busy analyzing and critiquing what worked, what didn't, how well I met their ability level, etc., and then I start adjusting the lesson for the next classes. I have nineteen 45 minute lessons each week: just over 14 hours, and then three 1 hour lessons for a total of less than 20 hours of teaching time. But my prep time is at least 20 hours per week - more like a minimum of 30.

There is so much information available about teaching English in addition to lesson plans, worksheets and activities on a bazillion topics, it is hard not to get lost in reading it all. For those of you who have worked with me, you know how I read and read and take in so much info, and then at the last minutes have to pull together whatever the task was I initially started with! I am really enjoying learning so much ... it's almost as if I am in school myself.

This last two weeks one of the subjects was asking for and giving directions. I introduced the phrases and used "gap-fill" worksheets and maps to become familiar with the phrases. Then in the 2nd session on the topic, we either went outside or moved desks in the classroom and created little "towns" and students had to ask and follow directions from each other. When I have run into the students outside of class, I ask them for directions to things and most are doing ok with it!

Another subject was shopping - large superstores vs. small shops. This is a subject the 12 graders must speak on to pass their English test at the end of the year. We've done role plays with students trying to convince each other to shop at one store or another and then for the two most advanced classes, I had then discuss the impact on the economy of large superstores and small shops, based on a dialogue presented from a language workbook.

All of this make the students sound pretty advanced when I read what I have written. They aren't. One of the biggest barriers is that a lot of Hungarian is spoken in the class. It is impossible to stop it, and at the higher class levels it is the worst in that it is institutionalized. Some of the kids have made it to grade 12 with learning very, very little English. What has happened is that as they did not pick it up as quickly as the other students, another student will translate for them. It has now gotten to be the way of the class: I say something, maybe 1/2 the class will understand. The other half of the class doesn't even try to understand - they wait for another student to translate it for them. Or, I speak directly to a student and they don't know what I said, so they turn to the top student and ask for translation, instead of saying they don't understand. For a student who wants to try to understand, they will say the don't understand or will ask a question, and we can try different words, pantomime, etc., to understand each other. But these other students don't even try, they just wait for instructions in Hungarian.

I have one 12th grade class that there is no way that any of the students will pass the English exam. They just don't know anything. I have asked what to do about it, and basically, about all I can do is help them memorize a few sentences on each of the topics they will need to speak about. But this won't even be enough to pass the exam. They will still get their HS diploma, but not a diploma that shows they are eligible for entry into college or university. Bottom line is that none of those kids will even try to go on to University anyway, so they aren't too concerned about the test.

Anyway, I just keep trying. I had feedback from the Headmaster this week that he hears good things from the students about my classes. I'm glad, because I put so much work into them! I hope it gets easier as the year goes on, but I have a feeling that as I learn more, I will only learn that there is so much more to learn!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


As we move into evening here, America is lining up at the polls. Yesterday and today I have been asked by a number of teachers who I wanted for president: all are awaiting the election results.
One teacher told me that Barack Obama's name means "peach" in Hungarian. Peach Brandy, or Pa'linka is the national drink here. Apparently some town here is sending or sent peaches and pa'linka to him.... Searched for this on google, and instead found another CETP teacher's blog telling the same story.... felt like such a lurker.
When I went into Nyregyhaza a few weeks ago for my work visa (which still isn't here), the headmaster wanted to know if the American people would accept a "black man" as president.
The Budapest Sun - an English Language newspaper - says if Hungarians were to vote, they would elect Obama.
Will be interesting in the morning here to hear all of the comments and speculations about our future president.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Travels and more travels

Last week in Transylvania with the other CETP teachers and Hajni (pronounced Hoyni) was absolutely awesome and beautiful. We did home stays instead of hotels (except for one night) and were filled with Hungarian food and history of the area as there are still towns/villages there where Hungarian is their primary language. I will write more on this later when I return home.

I am traveling with another teacher, Lisa, in Slovenia. We took the train Monday from Budapest to Ljubljana, stayed in a youth hostel which is a converted prison, and then up first thing to take the bus to the far northwest corner of the country for some hiking. We stayed in Kranjska Gora in a hostel (only 2 other people there!) and it started a torrential downpour! Spent the afternoon and evening in our room playing cards and drinking wine! Found out in the morning that the Italian border was just 5 km away, and the road lead to the town of Tarviso, where Giulia, our exchange student, is from! Too bad I don't have her number - but will definitely get it now!

Still raining in the morning, we gave up on any outdoor activity, packed up and headed for Bled. Someone had told us it was not worth seeing - too touristy. So glad we did not listen! Again, since it is the off season, not many people, and absolutely gorgeous with fall colors (and rain). A lot of history here - the castle dates to 1012 or so! Wonderful views from the castle and a small, but nice museum. Again, a cheap youth hostel, and I am now awake early as is typical for me. The hostel was mostly empty and we got a two bed room which included breakfast for an unbeatable price. Its still raining, so will move on today, but not sure where yet. We have to go back through Ljubjana at some point, so will see the sights there then. We will probably head to Zagreb, Croatia from Ljubjana before heading back to Hungary and home by Saturday night.

Working very hard on traveling as cheaply as possible - Lisa is a good teacher. I took out 150. Euro on arriving in Ljubljana and still have 35. left after 3 nights, transportation costs and all but one meal (I cheated last night, and used my credit card for a meal in a restaurant with salad, pizza and wine.) Breakfast is included this morning in the cost of the hostel, and we already have our food for the day: left over pizza and fruit, etc. from the store. So, although will go over the 150 eu, will still have been a good trip at a reasonable cost.

Will post more when I return home, just wanted to get some of this documented.

update 10/31: Up again early, so have time on the computer.
Upon going back into the room to pack in Bled, discovered that our wet clothes that we had hung on the radiator, were wetter than before! The radiator as well as the window, had leaked! So, lots of plastic bags of wet clothes were shoved into our packs before heading out.

We took a bus back to Ljubjana, thinking there would be indoor activities in the city out of the rain. The rain actually let up a bit and we were able to tour the castle and get great views of the city. The Ljubljana river runs throughout the old town area of the city with multiple bridges over it. We took many pictures of the "dragon bridge" and then went to St Nicholas church where the exterior doors are beautiful bronze reliefs that were created for the Pope's visit in 1996 (I think that was the year.)

There was a huge open air market with produce, flowers and some odds and ends. Hope to go back through that today to pick up some fruit for the next few days.

At the hostel after the castle visit, we met a swiss/brit guy who has been traveling for a few months. We got a recommendation for a restaurant (yes, 2 nights in a row) with traditional Slovene food and had a great dinner. I had sausage and sauerkraut with a local wine (I know, beer would go better, but I don't really like beer), Lisa had Slovene goulash - no potatoes or carrots like in Hungary, and Borris had a vegetarian dish -- they both had the local beer.

Today is raining again so will try to go to the national gallery, however, today is a holiday, so it may not be open. The train is at 2:30 to Zagred, Croatia where we will stay tonight. Just really want to break the long trip back to Kisvarda into smaller segments.....actually writing this, I may change it all together, as I won't really get much time in Zagreb. More later.

update 11/2: Back in Kisvarda.
Well, when I realized it was a holiday on the 31st and also the 1st, I started looking for trains back on Friday. No such luck. So went and walked around in Ljubljana in areas we hadn't been before and visited with other folks in the hostel. Even the outdoor market was closed - the only thing open were the flower stalls and people were mobbing those for flowers for graves.

We then headed for Zagreb on the 2pm train as originally planned. Got into Zagreb after dark and found a hostel 2 blocks from the train station. Got beds in a 6 bed dorm, but we were the only ones in the dorm! We walked to the main square and to one of the three churches listed and then walked a main pedestrian area lined with cafes, with everyone watching the pedestrians going by!

As I was using the computer in Ljubljana, I saw an article about two journalists being killed by a car bomb on the 26th of October in Zagreb, and the article pointed out that there has been ongoing tension between two organized crime groups, with a tit-for-a-tat going on..... Well, as I was walking in Zagreb that night, I just kept thinking of that and of the Balkans war and every man I saw I wondered if he was of age to have been involved in the war and how it was to re-assimilate. Needless to say, this kind of put me on edge. We saw a tv news van with reporters preparing for an interview with someone outside of a stately looking building. Upon getting home yesterday, I saw three people have been arrested for the murders and bombing and that there are still two that are being sought. Have to wonder if the TV news crew were interviewing someone about that.

When we crossed over the border by train from Serbia to Hungary, our train was searched. One guy went down the length of the train car, opening every ceiling panel and looking in. I don't know if this is standard practice, or was due to heightened security due to the two fugitives.

Anyway, back safe and sound in Kisvarda. The train ride through Hungary was a different route up to Budapest than I have traveled before, and I got to see Lake Balaton, the largest lake in Hungary. From Budapest, the train swung a bit north, and went through Miscolc and Tokaj where I had visited last summer.

Just figured out that I spent around $280 for this trip. A lot of train time and limited sites due to the rain, but not bad for a 6 day trip. So, on to planning the next trip..... oh and doing lesson plans for the next few weeks!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Off to Transylvania

I head out to Transylvania tomorrow morning. I catch a train at 6am to Debrecen Hungary where I will join the CETP group of teachers for a six day bus tour in Transylvania. I am looking forward to exploring this area - the tour books make it sound beautiful. There are wild boars and bears in this area, and you apparently can find both on the restaurant menus! We will stay 4 of the nights with Hungarian families (although this is Romania, Hungarians are the largest single minority in Romania - as this part of Romania was part of Hungary until the treaty settlements following WWI). One night will be in a hotel.

I went on Sunday to purchase my train ticket. I studied in my Hungarian phrasebook and figured out what I needed to say. So I wrote it down and showed it to the ticket clerk! It was the same clerk who helped me when I went last week to go to Nyiregyhaza. The English teachers thought that was a real kick - Istvan said he had to go with the teacher last year to the train station everytime the teacher wanted to go anywhere.

I will have sporadic access to email, but please keep the messages coming and I will try to respond when I return. The tour is over on the 26th, however I am thinking I will stay for longer as we will have another full week of the break from school.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Laundry Days

I have posted photos with captions on my photo page about laundry days. Yes, that is plural. I missed two steps however. The first step is to determine if something truly needs washing! If there is nothing spilled on it and it does not smell, then it is not "dirty" and can be saved from the treacherous machine until after one of the above occurs.

And the final step is to iron every piece of clothing before wearing. Follow the link, or copy and paste the following into your browser:

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Go'lyas updated Nov 2

This is what the 9th graders are called - go'yla - stork. This week is similar to an initiation week for them, but in good fun. The students' faces were marked in red and black marker with big letter G's to show they are a golya. On Tuesday they also had bibs, rattles and pacifiers. On Wednesday no one's faces were painted as they were dressed in their uniforms and suits and had class pictures taken. Tomorrow after school there is something happening on the play field with the golyas. A couple of the 12 graders asked if I would be one of the judges for this - it may be a skit. So tomorrow at 2:30 I'll find out what is going on!
Update 11/2: Well, it was raining so the event took place in the gym. There were 4 judges, including myself and the competitions were between the 5 different 9th grade classes. I only have students from one of the 5 groups, so I was a bit heavy on the points for that group!! The event was mc'd by two 12 graders and other 12th graders assisted in carrying out the competitions. One was to have one 9th grader pour yogurt into another 9th grader's mouth: with the one doing the pouring being blindfolded! Another was to eat an apple on a string and another still was for a student with honey smeared on their face to blow flour out of a tub so they could find the little hidden toy and pick it out of the flour with their mouth! It was a lot of fun to watch and the kids really got into it. The pictures are posted. Follow the link on the upper right of this page.


Yesterday's last class was horrible. The kids ignored me when I came into the room, wouldn't sit down, kept talking and then started asking if they could leave. Didn't want to be there..."can I go have a cigarette?" I had worked very hard on the lesson, and Istvan Suba had reviewed it and and made suggestions for alterations it to make sure it was at their level. I stumbled through constantly telling them to be quiet, asking for input, etc. So after class when we went to lunch, Istvan asked me how it went and I told him -- well, these are his homeroom kids. So he was angry and when he saw them today, he was going to kick some @ss. He said a lot of this was not my fault, rather the fault of the prior Angolul Lektor, as he did not even try to teach the kids, but just let them sit and visit or let them out early!!! What a situation to follow!

So, I was determined that I would be in control today, as I know how it is with teenagers....if they see a weak spot, they go in for the kill! I had six classes today, and they all went great! I started each one by letting the students know that I am required to give them marks (grades) and that I would be doing that. I think they just thought today, but boy, did it work! They dug right into the lessons and participated and presented very well! Don't know if word had already gotten out about the other class, or if my telling them they would be graded was enough, but whatever it was - success!

Last night, the dorm teacher informed me through David that since I am a full-time teacher, I must teach two classes at the dorm during the week! Well, I was already thinking this would be fun, but I was a bit put-out by being informed this way. A full-time teacher is assigned to 22 classes and I have only 19 right now. Don't know if they will come up with something else or not for the last class! So, I will now do small classes on Monday and Wednesday nights at 6:30 for the kids in the dorms. Think I will just keep it as a very informal opportunity to chat, as the kids really need to learn to say things that they aren't spoonfed from the books.

This seems to be typical communication. On Monday there was a concert - opera - performed for the school during one of the class periods. The whole school attended. I did not know until the students were lining up to go! (I didn't have a class that period, so it didn't really effect me.) On Wednesday, I didn't have a first period class, but didn't know this until I went into the teacher's room and when I said I was heading to my class, one of the other teachers said, "Oh, there is no 9th grade class first period today." Don't know if the communication is poor because I can't understand the chatter in the teacher's room, or if only a few people know things anyway! Actually, this was something I read about in another teacher's blog -- so it isn't just this school.

I must now search the internet for Rihanna and My Chemical Romance so I know what the music is that the kids are listening to and I can chat them up!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Whew - busy days!

One of the English teachers will be out all week as her daughter is ill. Don't know what is wrong that she will be out all week, but the rest of us must take her classes. So, yesterday, I had one extra class, and today, I had three extra classes, for a total of 5 classes today -- of which 3 I was not prepared for! But, I did kind of know that I would have extra classes, so I went in early to see the substitute list - and sure enough, there I was for the three classes.

So, I ended up with one of the 9E classes three times today. This is the advanced class and they are very well behaved. I gave them a break the last class period, and had them do a crossword puzzle (that I ran home and made during one of the breaks) and then showed them a DVD on Alaska. (Did you know that they make "DVD Postcards"? I found them when all the tour shops were having their end of the year sale.) They learned a number of English words - humpback whale, etc.

One other class I substituted in was the 12B "advanced" group - ha! I had this group on Friday and gave them homework - but of course it wasn't due until this coming Friday, so..... After a failed attempt at trying to teach them a few idioms about travel, I moved on and told them to use the time to do their homework assignment, which was to write 1/2 a page on why I should go somewhere on Holiday. Well, one girl refused to write! I reminded her that this would be on the exam for passing the English exam and receiving her cert, but she just kind of shrugged. So, I called two students up individually, and had them read theirs to me and we discussed them. Then I called her up, and she had nothing. So I told her that I was giving her a 1 (F) for the class period and her eyes just about bugged out. The headmaster and all of the teachers have told me repeatedly that I must be strict with the students! Hope that helps keep her in line in the future and doesn't just cause a struggle with us for the rest of the year..... We'll see.....

After classes yesterday, Edit took me to the bank to wire the money for my trip to Transylvania with the other teachers. After waiting their for 15 minutes the teller told us we should just go to the bank and directly deposit the funds, since the bank was just down the street! So we did. All transactions you do around here, it seems you need your passport. Everyone carries their passport with them as their primary piece of id!

Then today after school, the Headmaster, his wife, Edit and I went into Nyiregyhaza to the immigration office to apply for my work visa. I already have my work permit, my tax card, my bank account and now this was the last thing. Again, this took quite awhile with multiple forms that Edit had to fill out for me. She now knows my mother's maiden name, my date of birth and place of birth by heart! The headmaster's wife did other business while we were doing ours, and then we met up with her and walked to a large mall at the end of the plaza. Edit and I went into the electronics store and I got a printer/scanner/copier - YEA! This will be SOOOO nice to have right in my flat and not have to go running back and forth to the teachers room.

It was a bright and sunny day today and the roses on the campus were all opened wide and looked beautiful. On the drive into Nyiregyhaza, there were people picking apples in the orchards and some of the other fields being worked. I saw a horse-drawn wagon in one of the fields full of produce. The sun was setting on the drive back with a golden glow on everything. And, I did not sit at a desk all day writing a report or re-working someone elses work. So, the day was fantastic! And now, I must prepare for the classes I have tomorrow, so at least I know what I am doing in my scheduled classes!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Saturday Travels

So, I figured I had to get over my uneasiness today and go figure out how to ride the train! Okay, so I knew how to ride the train, but reading the schedule and buying the ticket were making me nervous and the anxiety was growing!

There are two train stations here, but as I wrote earlier, only the one that is the farthest away from me sells tickets on the weekends. I spent about a 1/2 an hour before I left the apartment, reading over the travel sections in some of my travel books and wrote out key words in my notepad. The walk to the station was beautiful this morning with not a cloud in the sky. The ticket seller did not speak English, as I suspected the case would be. I asked for a roundtrip ticket to Nyiregyhaza (jegy Nyiregyhaza oda-vissza) and then showed it to her in writing. She showed me on her computer screen how much it wa, and then started signing that I only had a few minutes until the train arrived. And then before we finished, the train came! So I grabbed my change, threw it loose into my bag and ran for the train. I made it. It was a local train, 2nd class only, and I found an area to myself.

The countryside was beautiful. I tried to get a picture of a farm wagon being pulled by a horse along a road, but missed it. Some of the fields are plowed under and others still had dead sunflowers and corn stalks standing. The apple trees were loaded with apples still. The small personal gardens in the back of homes also had quite a bit of produce in them.

It was a 45 minute ride to Nyiregyhaza, the nearest larger city (around 120,000). There was a huge Saturday market in the town right before Nyiregyhaza - would have been very interesting to see, but there wasn't a stop nearby.

When I got to Nyiregyhaza, I chickened out, and did not go explore the city!!!! I was concerned about getting back during daylight, as they did not announce any of the stops on the train on the way there, and I didn't want to screw up and miss my stop in the dark. Also, I couldn't figure out if all the trains went every day or just on weekdays. The Ma'v (train company) website has been down for about three days, so I couldn't look on line and take my time figuring it all out in advance.

(On Tuesday of this week, the headmaster and Edit will take me to the immigration office in Nyiregyhaza to get my work visa. This will be the last step of becoming an official teacher. No, there might be one more step, and that will be gettin my insurance card! So, anyway, I will see the town a bit then, and gain more confidence. I like traveling alone, but it can also be sooo uncertain.)

Of course, I made it back hours before dark. I stopped at a store I hadn't been to yet, the Lidle, on my way back to the apartment to do some shopping. This store did have a different variety of things, including clothes, then the other stores I have been in, but still no peanut butter. (I really don't expect to find any, but thought I would look anyway!)

I later went to the Tesco and picked up a few other things. Except for the first store I went to, all of the others are about a mile from the apartment, so I have to limit what I buy at what time to what fits into my bag, which really isn't a big deal, cause I really don't need that much. Many of the products at Tesco have English on their labels which sure helps take the guessing out of it. The store that is a block away from me was already closed when I got back this afternoon from Nyiregyhaza, as they all close early on Saturday. Got to remember that so I don't have to carry the heavy items so far.

I also found an all-in-one, printer, scanner, copier at the Tesco for around $85.00, so think I will get it. It will surely make my class prep easier as I will be able to do it in my own time, instead of having to put the documents on my thumbdrive and take that into the teacher's room to use the printer. Problem was that it was on the top shelf and I didn't see anyone around to help me. Think I will ask one of the teachers for a ride next week and their assistance in getting someone to get it down for me!

A successful week

This weeek I taught my classes on my own, following the recommended syllabi provided by the teachers. I was able to do introductions with all of them by showing a slide show of my family. Comments ranged from thinking Derek must be older than 21, calling Mom a "White Angel" when they saw the pic of the whole family at Dad's 80th BD, to asking if Patrick was a "sumo" wrestler when I said he was a fighter! And, the picture of Fran always elicited ohs and awes, but it wasn't about Fran, but the beautiful blue iceberg in the picture!

As I showed the pictures, for the lower levels, I went through all the family connections - aunt, cousin, niece, nephew, etc. I then had the kids answer questions about themselves: how old are you, do you have any brothers or sisters, where do you live (many from neighboring villages), what are your interests, etc. This is the topic for two grade levels, so it really meshed well with introducing myself. At the end of two different lessons, I had kids say, "Good lesson"! Didn't think kids said things like that about school! Couldn't believe it!

In some of the classes, I also showed the pics of Juneau (thanks Alan!) and led into their topic for next time - holidays/vacations. I have a lot more Juneau and Alaska material that I will use all year where ever I can.

The kids are really fun. For the most part, they are inquisitive and eager to learn. There are a few in each class who seem disinterested, but the majority are engaged. They all say Hi between classes and approach me to try to have a conversation. These are very limited for most, as only a few are really conversant.

One of the other teachers offered to switch class times with me on Tuesday's, so now I will have my two classes first thing in the morning and be done at 10:20am instead of having one class at 9:35 and the other not until 1:30. I need that time to help prep for the big days of Thursdays and Fridays with 6 and 5 classes respectively.

Each day after school this week, I helped Ildiko translate multiple web pages for her brother's business. He has a mini-cab transport company in London and serves Hungarians exclusively. Now he wants to branch out and he asked Ildiko to translate his website into English. What a chore! She was doing literal translations and it made no sense. We ended up taking it a section at a time, with her reading it in Hungarian, telling me the main ideas, and my trying to write something. Think I will be a bit more careful when I agree to do something for someone again! We spent at least four hours doing this, and there is about an hour's worth of work left. Her daughter was sick on Friday and she wasn't here, so we weren't able to finish.

On Thursday, I also helped edit two essays for students who were entering the essays into a competition on how the Bible has effected their lives. Istvan caught me between every class (10 minute breaks between each of the 6 classes I had) and we would do a paragraph at a time. Then in the evening I worked with the other student, David, the one who took me shopping my second day. He offered to bring me apples from home when he comes back on Monday in repayment. I spent about another 1/2 hour at the dorm when we were done, talking with the dorm "teacher". Not sure if she is really a teacher or not, but she lives there during the week, and assists the students with their homework. She is learning English as her daughter and her boyfriend are in Vancouver Canada and she will be visiting them, so she wants to know some English. We exchanged pronunciation tips!

Monday, October 6, 2008

The other English teacher

On Thursday after school I met Mike, another English teacher with CETP here in Kisvarda. This is his third year teaching, and his second here in Kisvarda. His wife also teaches and they have an apartment in Nyigyhaza. He stays at the school here in Kisvarda during the week, and goes home to Nyigyhaza on the weekends. It was great meeting with him. He really helped me out a lot, orienting me to some of the Hungarian ways, the town and teaching. Earlier in the week, three kids took me shopping at the grocery store Edit had pointed out to me when she gave me a tour of the town. I thought that is where I was meeting Mike, but as it turned out, there are two of these stores and he was waiting for me at the other. Not only are there two of the Coop (pronounced cope) stores, there are also two of the ABC stores, and about three others, plus the Tesco on the outskirts of town! So, the town is much larger than I thought it was and was shown.

He walked me to the train station – the small one – as there are two – and explained how it all works. Ticket office is only open M-F, normal working hours, so I will need to get tickets in advance. Also, they don’t take credit/debit cards at this station, so will need to have cash. He also gave me directions on how to walk to Tesco on side streets, as the main highway does not have sidewalks and he thought it quite dangerous. If I had thought to ask him about an internet café, I might have been able to find one this weekend.

Oh, and stores are only open in the mornings on Saturday, and not at all on Sunday. Except Tesco which is open every day. He took me through his school which is much like a prep school, with kids coming from all over the region. His school is much larger than mine and there are more kids staying in the dorm (a couple of hundred) than in the dorms here (30 girls and 7 boys). I walked him through my school in exchange.

He was just plain invaluable to meet with, as he was able to identify some of the nuisances of their culture and how to deal with them.

Sunday, October 5

I am typing this in MS word on Sunday morning, and will have to post it to my blog later. In the middle of the night Friday/Saturday, we had a huge electrical storm that woke me and made the power go out momentarily. I think this caused the schools network to go down, as I have been unable to access the internet since. This is very irritating, as I had plans to do quite a bit on the internet this weekend, including talking to my kids and probably my parents via Skype and some class prep. Also, on Friday night I went to download a movie from itunes and the agreement said you had to be in the US to download the movie. So I went to Zune, selected a movie, paid, and then again, it wouldn’t download as I had to be in the US! Pissed me off.
I made a list of all the things I could do – and some I needed to do – over the weekend that did not involve the internet, and I was quite busy yesterday.
On Friday Edit and the school maintenance manager took me to the store and we bought pans, a mirror for the bathroom (yea), hangers, etc. So, I spent the day yesterday washing the dishes and putting them away, finally getting my clothes sorted, hung and folded and continuing with the laundry.
When I first meet the maintenance manager, he just stuck his head in the room where we were and greeted us. He was quite friendly and warm and Edit smiled and laughed. When I asked Edit who he was, she said he was the school character and laughed. So, I decided he must be an older priest or someone who just hung around for some reason that everyone liked.
It’s all in the pronunciation: char-ac-ter vs. care-ta-ker ! He’s the Caretaker! He was very helpful at the store, picking up different things, such as the soup ladle, and asking if I needed it. We chatted (single English, Hungarian and German words) on the walk and he seems like a very nice, fatherly type. He had the maintenance guys come in and hang the mirror and then noticed I had my bin in the bathroom with all my toiletries on it, and he indicated that he will have a shelf built to put in that space. Nice!
I also did more shopping yesterday. I went back to the paper store, this time with a sample of what I was looking for (I couldn’t find it on Friday), and the sales clerk helped me. I asked for 15 and got 50 plastic sleeves to put papers in to put into notebooks. In very broken English/Hungarian, she asked if I was an English teacher (Angolul Lektar) and at what school (eskola). She also asked if I was from the US or UK and when I told her US and Alaska, we had to get the map to show her Alaska. She then told me she has been to, or will be going to Washington DC in 2 somethings! This is the way the communication goes!
The paper size here is different than ours. It is called A4 and is a bit narrower and a bit longer. The three-ring binders aren’t. They are two ring. I will use two of them to organize my class lists and plans. I have 17 different groups of kids – I hope in a month to be able to remember who is who – or at least the ability of the class when I walk into it!
I also went to the fruit and vegetable stand yesterday. This was my second time in there, and the woman greeted me and asked how I was. I think this is the limit to many people’s English speaking abilities. I answered, asked how she was and when I paid, and said Kusanum (Thank you), she corrected my pronunciation and added “saipan” which means very much.
Both of these encounters encouraged me to come back to the apartment and study Hungarian. I made a list of all the words I recognized but don’t necessarily know how to pronounce and then worked on pronunciation with my language cd’s. Very interesting alphabet. For example, the letter y by itself does not exist. The combinations ny and ty are recognized as letters. Once in awhile, you will see a y in a family name without the n or t, but this is the only place.
I also decided to get in a walk by going to the castle and then on to the Tesco, a Fred Meyer type store about a mile from here. The castle was on the way and as I approached, I could hear a lot of yelling and cheering. There was a soccer game going on. I don’t think there is much left of the castle, but there was a building to the left of the field, but I didn’t really see a way to it from where I was. There were a few light rain drops, so I figured I had better head to the store before it really started coming down.
I had fun walking up and down every aisle in the store, looking at the products. I didn’t find any peanut butter, but there was nutella which I was not inclined to buy. I did buy more hangers for my clothes organizing project and a few food items. When I left the store, it was absolutely pouring rain so I had to walk very quickly with the umbrella in one hand and the bag in the other. It poured rain for the remainder of the afternoon/evening, so I was glad I had plenty to do inside.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Mailing Address & Phone

Ok, here is my snail mail address:

Margie Germain
4600 Magyarország Kisvárda
Flórián Tér 3

You MUST include the ' above the letters where listed, as without them, the word is entirely different.

They start with the zip, country, town and then street and number. So, the 4600 is the postal code.

You will have to fill out a customs decloration and dispatch note form at the post office. (ps form 2976-A) Be general in your description of items, ie, personal clothing, personal books, or "gift". Estimate low on value, as this amount is used to determine if there is a customs tax or not. (It is not used for replacement value.)

My cell phone number is 30-266-1362
From the US, I THINK you dial 01(to dial international from the US) -36 (Country code for Hungary) - 30 (T-mobile code) - 266-1362

I can also be reached through Skype when I am online (my mornings are best) at margie.germain

The bathroom

Ok, the bathroom. First there is no mirror. Not just in the bathroom, but anywhere in the apartment. I have requested one be put in the bathroom above the sink. I did that two days ago, so guess I'd better ask again! (When I get to the teacher's room, I first go to the mirror to see how my hair turned out!)

The bathtub presents a problem for me. The bathtub is narrower than those in the US and the length of the tub is against the wall, with the facets along this long side also. From the facet is a hand-held shower head on a 2 foot hose. There is no shower curtain around the tub and no way for me to put one up. Ok, are you starting to get the picture?

If I stand, the shower head doesn't not reach above my head, and anyway, would get water everywhere (more on this later). If I sit, I'm sardined-in, and still get water on the floor. So, I have developed a half-sit/half-squat stance that is a challenge, but is working. Another incentive to lose weight - although I don't think it is possible to lose enough in a school y ear to fit into the tub!

Ok, the water on the floor. In the bathroom is a mop and bucket. It's express purpose is to mop up the water from the splashes from the shower! I saw this last time I was here and had it confirmed by Lu who had just returned from here.

My approach to the bathroom is to have an extra towel on the floor, wash my hair only once a week, and to lose weight by next week so I can sit in the tub! lol

Oh, I almost forget the most exciting thing about the bathroom! When squating in the tub or using the toilet in the morning, I can hear the Greek Catholic mass and singing coming from the chapel on the other side of my bathroom wall! (Means they must be able to hear me too!)

The school day

This week has turned out to be a great week for me in terms of getting started with my classes. Since I wasn't here on Monday and had to miss most of Wednesday for the paperwork, I have not been assigned to take on my classes by myself yet. Instead, I have shadowed the teachers in their classes when I have been available and have met the students.

I will work with four English teachers: Edit, Istva'n, Do'ra and Marianne. All are very nice and eager to help me. Edit is my liaison, Istva'n is the lead teacher for the languages, Do'ra was the liaison to the English teacher 3 years ago and is now married to him, and Marianne is a tall gal from the Ukraine who really pushes her students.

We have grade levels 9-12 and within each grade level, there are groups A through E, with the A students being the least studious and the E students being the more driven. This is a technical/professional school focusing on IT, marketing and economics. The marketing and econ students take more language classes than the IT students. Each of my classes is just a portion of the group within the grade level, so for instance, I have 12E two times, but each time it is just half of the whole group in order to keep the class sizes down. Most of the classes are between 12-17 students, although one of my classes has 23.

The 12 graders must take a school leaving exam, and I will be assisting in conducting the oral portion. So the whole year is focused on working with the students to build their vocabulary and ability to discuss and reason within certain topic areas. These include taking a vacation, asking directions, discussing the environment, going to the Dr., renting a flat, looking for a job, etc.

Some of the lower grades will also take an exam to receive a certificate, but this is their choice - however they will still have to pass the school leaving exam their last year. So, these same topics are introduced and practiced at the lower levels as well, just not in as much detail. I could see a distinct difference in the younger learners than in the more experienced ones.

I will have one group of absolute beginners twice a week. They already know the alphabet and some vocab and some basics such as my name is...., how old are you.... etc. With this group, I will follow the topics of their main language teacher more closely. My role in all of this is to do the conversation pieces. The main teachers intro the topics, and I then work them over trying to get the students to speak!

I start on my own with my classes on Monday. I feel very lucky to have had this intro time as from what I can tell, many of us "teachers" are just thrown into it.

The students for the most part are polite and seem eager to learn, although within each group you can certainly see the weaker students. I have seen students with piercings, spiky hair, heavy makeup, etc., but for the most part the general student population is very clean cut. Today was the first day that I had a student with a piercing on her lip, and I have had over 100 students so far.

The school day starts at 7:45am and consists of 45 minute lessons, with a 10 minute break between each one. Teachers do not necessarily a class each period. Lunch is at 1:05 to 1:30, then the last (7th) period of the day is from 1:30 to 2:15. I only have 2 first period classes and 2 second period classes, so I don't have to start too early. My week gets more intense later in the week. On Monday I have 3 classes, with the first not until the 3rd period and the last before lunch, Tuesday, 2 classes, Wednesday 3 classes, Thursday 6 classes and Friday 5 classes, with the last class being 6th period with 23 boys in the 11b group (not much drive). So that is 19 class periods, but there are two groups which I have twice.

The classes are in one of two buildings connected by a nice courtyard with the cafeteria and the building my apartment is in. The classroom size is rather small but we have white boards to use instead of chalkboards which is great. I don't see much technology available in the classrooms - less than in Hodmezovasrhely, but they do have a language lab that the students use for self-directed learning about once per week.

Think that is it on that topic!