Tuesday, May 26, 2009

You can take the girl out of Alaska....

but you just can't take Alaska out of the girl! I smell like campfire and I love it!

Tonight I finally got to have a fire with the students from the dorm with the goodies I brought back at Easter time. First lesson was what a marshmellow is and how it tastes. Second lesson was to try the graham cracker. No need to try the chocolate - they are quite experienced with that!

Then on to the fire being just right,

how to cook the marshmellow and what to do if it catches fire: DO NOT swing it around to put out the fire!

All went well and they loved the s'mores, including the teacher. The only thing missing was the beach and the sunset over the Chilkats!

A'gi, 9E A'ginene, Dorm Teacher

Monday, May 25, 2009

Budapest and Tata

Had an absolutely fantastic weekend. Since my last class was cancelled for exams on Friday, I was able to catch a train at 10:40 (had to run to catch it) and get into Budapest around 3pm. I met up with Jamie, CETP teacher in Ujszasz and we headed out for the great Market Hall at the end of Vaci Utca, a pedestrian boulevard near the Danube. We enjoyed walking through looking at all the food products on the ground floor and the souvenirs on the second floor. Jamie bought a beautiful necklace --- I might go back next weekend to get one myself.

We ended up walking for hours through Budapest, looking at sites and enjoying the city. We had dinner at a Thai restaurant and later went to a Mexican restaurant for margaritas. Our hostel was in a good location for getting around and was clean and nice. Unfortunately, there was a loud obnoxious guy in the room next to us who decided that 4:30am was a good time to chat with his roomies - argh. Glad I always carry earplugs and an eyeshade.

In the morning we grabbed a quick sandwich from the food laid out at the hostel and caught the train to Tata (I had to run again, this time not as far) to visit CETP teacher, Carla. Tata is a small town about an hour by train NW of Budapest. There were re-enactments of battles between the Hungarians and the Turks and a medieval type fair going on. The Hungarians were retaking the castle that they lost to the Turks 150 years prior. We spent the day walking around, watching the different battles, taking pictures, trying the beer and wine, checking out the different booths, taking a guided tour in Hungarian through another of Eszterhazi's palaces and going an a boat ride on the lake. What an absolutely fun, relaxed day in the sun. We went to dinner at the Pirate Restaurant and then headed to a club to people watch. We had a lot of laughs, a chance to talk about our students and jobs, and our future plans. I've reduced a day packed with fun to one short paragraph! I will post my pics later, and will add links to Carla's and Jamie's blogs which I am sure will be much more detailed!

Antsy kids

This past week at school was really slow. With five fewer classes due to the 12 graders being gone, my schedule now has many holes throughout the day. The upper classes who remain aren't interested in learning new material in my classes; they either want to study for a test in another subject or they want to go outside in the sun/shade. Last week I ended up letting a couple of the classes study for exams later in the day and also went outside with at least five of my classes. I try to have something prepared that they can do while we sit outside together, or if it is a small enough class, I sit and talk with small groups, getting them to use their English. In two classes I had them do scavenger hunts that worked in one class and was a failure in the other!

The students all have progress exams for their grade levels. The kids in the dorm are drinking coffee to stay awake so they can study for hours. As I walk through the courtyard, students are on benches with heads bent over notebooks, reading intently. Or, writing on a piece of paper in tiny handwriting. They are creating cheat sheets, or puskas (literally translated as gun, but slang for cheat sheet) for use during the tests. I don't know how much the other teachers see of this, or if the students actually use them, or if they are ever caught. (I'm going to do some "investigating" this week.) I had two of my classes canceled as the students had these exams over more than one class period.

Exams will continue this week but I am not sure for how much longer. There are only three weeks and one Monday of school left in the year! I'm sure there will be more exams scheduled during my class times, special activities, and less student interest as we get through these weeks.

Train vs. Plane travel

For years I have traveled by plane; it's what you have to do when you live in Juneau with no roads to drive out of town on. This winter I have traveled via train from Kisvarda to many points throughout Hungary and Europe. The differences in being a passenger on these two types of transportation has really struck me lately.

Basically, when you travel by train, you get on and go! No hassle with a security line, boarding all at once and by rows and seats, pre-boarding for families, elderly, etc. You've got a ticket, you get on the train and if you have a seat reservation, you find the seat, if not, you find any seat that seems to work for you. When it is time for the train to depart, you usually hear a faint whistle from the platform and the train leaves. No boarding announcements, no one telling you to sit down and store your things (duh!), no safety briefing, no seat belts, no taxiing onto the runway and waiting forever. The train just goes and you are on the way. If you are hungry, you dig into your bags for your pre-packed sandwich and drinks (sometimes even beer) -- there is no waiting for someone to come along and pour you a drink and hand you a bag of nuts. Most of the time, upon arrival at your destination, there is no announcement: the train starts to slow down, you get up while the train is still moving, gather your stuff and head for the door. When the train stops, you jump off into the cluster of people waiting to get on, and the train takes off again after a 3-5 minute stop. I definitely prefer the train!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Budapest & Sopron

On Friday, May 15, I left right after school and headed for Budapest where I met Penny & Peggy - two CETP teachers for dinner. I had found a very cheap hostel near the Keleti train station, where I needed to leave from in the morning to Sopron. As it turned out, the restaurant we were meeting at was a straight shot down the street by bus also.

As I entered the hostel, I had a sinking feeling: the area outside was pretty grungy, two drunks walked by as I was entering, and the entry way smelled of urine and there was pesticide powder all along the edges of the walls up the first flight of stairs! Yikes! So, I thought I would still check it out, but could easily leave and find someplace else -- I would just have to pay more. But when I got up the 2 flights of stairs, the place was actually quite nice and cute - and clean - the biggy for me. The guy working was real nice and said I might be the only one there that night, and he showed me around. He also gave me instructions to get to the restaurant. BUT, most importantly, he glued my train ticket back together for me! I ripped it in half along with the seat reservation ticket I had just used, thinking it was trash. Then it hit me that it was also my return ticket! (You would think after 10 months of traveling on the Hungarian trains, I would remember.) Anyway, he worked real hard on it with a glue stick and an extra piece of paper, and when I returned from Budapest to Kisvarda there was no problem.

Sopron is the farthest west city in Hungary and is a few hours train ride from Budapest. The countryside was beautiful, once we got past the industrial development on the outskirts of Budapest. The draw of Sopron is the Inner City, which was originally occupied by the Romans, and then many others since then. Parts of the old Roman wall remain today. Most of the buildings in the Inner City are very old, and the Inner City is a World Heritage site. Sopron was heavily damaged during WWII, but fortunately, not the Inner City area!

I splurged on a pension here, and it turned out to be worse than the cheap hostel. I swear, the ants are following me! There were ants in the bathroom and I had to get them to spray because there were so many --- I would have preferred changing rooms, but there were none others available. I even called around, but no luck.

While there I also visited Ferdo where the Esterhazy Estate is and Nagycenk where the Szechenyi Mansion is. I have pics of both of these posted.

I traveled alone again, and kind of wished I was with someone while looking around Sopron, as there were a number of wine cellars and I just didn't feel comfortable sampling by myself. Actually, I didn't really have a problem with going into the places by myself, but as a single traveler I didn't think I should let down my guard by drinking!

The train ride back was long and miserable. First, from Sopron to Budapest, I was on a Gyor, a fast local train, but it was totally packed -- people had to stand! And it was HOT. I had my bag on my lap, and when I moved it, my pants were wet with sweat! I had a quick stopover in Budapest, and then a much better train ride the rest of the way back, but I didn't get to Kisvarda and my flat until around 11pm!

Sunday and the week of May 11-15

Saturday's adventures with Judit's family was followed by another adventure with them on Sunday. We drove to Debrecen (1 1/2 hours) to go to a street market/fair. There were two sections - one was crammed full of people selling clothes. The clothes were piled on tarps and there would be 100's of the same item all with the store tags still on them. Besides clothes, there were tables with household goods, carpets and various electronics. Most of these people were Roma (Gypsy), or from Romania. One woman was dressed in traditional clothes of the Sze'kely Hungarians from the Transylvania area where we visited in the fall. This was a pretty rough section - everyone walking and shopping were holding onto their purses quite tightly to their front.

From there it moved into a more organized fair with booths. But even these were selling new clothing. There was one street though with handcrafts, and then throughout there were they typical booths or jewelry, nick-knacks, and fair things. We were there for hours and then headed back to Nyiregyhaza to a Medieval theme restaurant for a traditionally HUGE Hungarian dinner.

The school week was pretty different. This was the first full week with out the 12 grade kids. So my schedule is sparse: 3 days with only 2 classes, 1 day of 3 classes and 1 day of 5 classes. Of course, I still have the 3 classes for the dorm students in the evenings. The weather has been pretty good, and the kids are having a hard time focusing and are asking to go outside quite often during class.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Lunch turned into an all day affair!

This morning I was picked up by Laszlo and Judit, husband and daughter of Judit the maths teacher and form teacher for 12D. Judit invited me long ago to lunch at her house, but it never worked out until now. I had a fabulous time and was with them all day - not just for lunch, but for dinner too! And now they will pick me up again tomorrow morning and I will go to Debrecen with them to a fair -- where there should be plenty of handcrafts for sale!

Judit the daughter (age 14) was very excited about my coming to their house. She was bubbling over when they came to get me. She has studied English for 5 years now and is also a private student of Suba Istvan, so her English is quite good. I spent the first few hours visiting with her while Mom Judit cooked our lunch! (She didn't want help, I asked just like my mom taught me to.) We talked about everything that these kids learn to talk about in English in school - free time activities, favorite subjects, holidays, etc. But it didn't seem like a lesson at all and I really enjoyed talking with her. She reads alot, which is not something I have come across here much, and enjoys listening to music, chatting on the internet, etc. Pretty typical otherwise. She is also quite the artist and she showed me some of her work.

For lunch we had fried chicken, fish, french fries and rice with corn. Oh, and of course a starter of soup with potatoes, peas and carrots. Laszlo and I started our lunch with a shot of Palinka! I couldn't get out of it -- it is a very traditional welcome to guests.

After lunch we went to Grandma's house (Judit's mom) to pick up net-heads. You know, the kind we use for misquitos at home, but here we were getting them because we were going to visit Grandpa's beehives! Grandma is a crafter and she had a number of pieced quilt covers and macrame around the house that she showed me.

We then drove to the forest and walked between the forest and the field to
the beehives and Grandpa. Grandpa opened one hive and showed the two sides: one where the bees live and the other where they make the honey. Ok, probably simplified, but that's the jest of it. He searched until he found the queen bee on the first side and then pulled out the screens on the second side to show the honey that is already being made in there. He was a bit concerned as the wind has been picking up and the weather not the best for the bees to be out doing their pollinating and bringing back the nector.

Judit in her net-head.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Food and Money

Yesterday evening after I returned to the school, a group of girls stopped by to see if I wanted to go get ice cream with them. But I had not bathed yet and was in dirty clothes, so I asked them if they would get a gyros for me from the shop next to the ice cream shop. I'd seen them getting these before, but had not had one here yet. As I had no food in the flat, this turned out to be a great option for dinner.

A few hours later, another knock at the door, this time two other girls, with a full plate of stuffed cabbage! Seemed that there was dinner in the canteen after all, and they thought I would like to have some as the other girls had told them I didn't have any food in the flat! (It's all in the fridge still.)

Today, I entered the main building and the accounting secretary saw me and motioned for me to follow her to the office. She had me sign on a piece of paper and then handed me 14,000 forints - about $65.00. Since she doesn't speak English, I couldn't ask her what it was for, but I saw that all the other teachers got it to. I later asked one of the teachers and she said it was for supplies. Sounds good to me, as I have definitely spent that and more on students and supplies.

THEN, I walked into the teacher's room, and there was pizza and cake for a name day celebration! Seems when I am out of food in the flat, I don't have to worry.

This afternoon I went to the stores and spent some of the money on strawberries, melons and fresh veggies...YUM.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Krakow - People I met

When you travel alone it seems that you are more likely to talk longer and do things with other travelers. But it's not just the other travelers that you meet that makes the trip - it's also the hostel workers, the ticket seller, the waitress/waiter, etc. Here is a little something about some of the people I met on my trip to Krakow. Such variety.

On the overnight train to Krakow I shared a couchette for six with 3 other people. Two were young gals, just finishing law internships - one at the Haag and the other in Geneva. They were traveling for a few weeks then heading back to Berkley. One of them has another year of school to go and the other will graduate. It was fun talking to them and hearing all of their discoveries in Europe and also that what they thought they would do with their law degrees when they started their studies, and what they think they will do now. Also in our car was a guy in his early 30's or so from Belgium who is teaching math and another subject in French at a bilingual school in Hungary. We of course compared notes about Hungarians and the schools. When he first came into the car I thought he was Hungarian because he opened his duffel bag and I saw the prerequisite beer that most Hungarians travel with!

The first night in the hostel, there was a gal from Indiana who is studying this semester in Budapest. Mary and I ended up talking for hours about her travels and mine, about Budapest, and life in general. I really enjoyed talking to her and was quite amazed by all the travel she has managed to do through University programs for the past year and a half. Just talking to her, you could see how it has completely overtaken her classroom work in providing her an education!

On one of the walking tours I took, there was a man from New Zealand, probably a bit older than I, who is teaching science at an American School in the Ukraine. He taught in Kazakhstan the year before and will teach another year in Ukraine before finding a non-Russian speaking country to teach in next. He pretty much flies out of Bucharest on any cheap flight he can find to see Europe.

When I checked into the hostel, two other people checked in at the same time: Ian from Manchester England, and Jxxx from Taiwan. I ended up going out to the jazz club with Ian and touring the castle grounds with J. We also checked in with each other every evening to see how the other's days were and what was going on.

On Sunday night I went to a jazz club with Ian to see a jazz pianist who bills himself as a Polish Ray Charles. He's over 80 and has had both legs amputated due to an infection or something. Anyway, at the table next to us was first a professional looking older guy. He kept talking to me in British English and wasn't real pleased with this guy's singing. Pretty soon, he invited another guy who was at a table by himself to join him. Before long, Ian and I had moved to that table also. Both men were Polish. The first man had lived in London for 30 years and had recently moved back to Krakow. When the traditional/patriotic songs were played and sung, he kept talking about how good it was to be back "home" and how it just felt right. He said he didn't realize how much he had missed Poland and Krakow until he returned. The other man was originally from Warsaw but had lived in Krakow for about 20 years. He had been a maths teacher, but now works as a computer programmer for Tescos. He lamented all night about how wrong it was that he was not able to do what he was born to do - teach maths -- but had to work as a programmer to make a living. (Yes, we were in a bar and he was coming close to crying in his beer.) Both men were great to us, as they translated the meaning of a number of songs, including a raunchy one about two lovers, and they kept buying us vodka! But it really added to the night to have people tell us what was going on!

Last night in the hostel, many guests were sitting around the table eating the free dinner. One was a German gal who told me she went to school in Pecs last year and started going on and on about what terrible students the Hungarians are! Actually, what she described was pretty typical, but I thought (guess I didn't think much) that it ended at high school, and that by the time the students made it to University, they were engaged and cared about what they were learning. Her big beef was that the students never studied, didn't really care about how they did and would cheat on tests and papers, would not speak up in class when asked a question by the teacher, and were pissed at her for doing the work and answering questions in class!

There was another guy waiting in the common room of the hostel for his evening train also. He was from Australia and has been working in Aberdeen Scotland as a helicopter mechanic. I had a hard time understanding him at times, as his accent was influenced by both places. He was funny talking about not being able to understand the Scots and the different colloquialisms they use. For example, when greeting someone, they say something like, "Everything all right?" and the response is "All right". But with the accent, the words are clipped and hard to understand. He said if you used another greeting, they wouldn't know how to respond!

When I bought my reserved seat ticket today for the train from Budapest to Kisvarda, the ticket agent told me there was no cost for the seat today! Didn't really get why, but I asked him about the potential strike and he said that yes it is on for 18 hours on Friday, May 8. But then he asked me where I was from and he just about came through the window when I told him Alaska, but that I was teaching in Kisvarda. He is from Zahony, a town not far from here (I have students who live there) and he went to Canada and Alaska two years ago to visit and loved it. He talked about the beautiful scenery and the nicest people.

There were more, so many more, people that I talked with and enjoyed meeting. There was only one obnoxious guy in the hostel and he was easily avoided.

Krakow - Ethnographic Museum

Ok, so on the afternoon of my last day in Krakow, I went to the Ethnographic Museum. Just wish I had been able to go there first before my feet were done in from the other museums and the walking. I loved it.

On the first floor were replicas of rural homes from the late 1800's - early 1900's with painting on the walls and ceilings and a lot of painted wooden furniture.

I could have spent a few more hours on the second floor. On display were folk costumes from all over the country's different regions with beautiful lace, embroidery, fabrics and do-dads. Then, each room featured a different aspect of rural life, one on hunting and gathering, one on the preparation of the food they hunted and gathered, another on the making of textiles and wools, another on musical instruments, then a series of rooms on celebrations, i.e., Christmas, Easter, etc. I just find seeing how people lived, worked and entertained themselves in past times to be so interesting. I was allowed to take pictures without flash and of course I took too many! They are posted here:

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Krakow - Days three and four

Needless to say, Day three of my trip -- the day after "testing" vodka with the locals -- I was up a bit late and slow moving. I hooked up with a gal from Taiwan who also arrived at the same time as I did on Saturday and we took off for the castle. Wawel Castle grounds are free and there is also a cathedral, a dragon's cave, and a number of museums. Unfortunately, we were not able to get tickets into the museums as they were sold out for the day, but we did walk the grounds and walk through the Dragon's den. There is another legend, this one about a Dragon who usually ate sheep, but once a year, needed to eat a virgin. The towns people would randomly turn over a young girl each year to the dragon. One year, the Kings daughter was selected. The King offered any young man who could save his daughter, half of the Kingdom and of course, his daughter's hand in marriage. One poor young man tricked the dragon into eating a "sheep", although it was really a sheep skin stuffed with sulphur. The dragon got so thirsty that it started drinking water. It drank and drank and drank the water until he finally exploded! And that was the end of the terror of the dragon! But, his cave still exists under the hill where the castle is, and we walked through it!

For a very late lunch, we found a "Milk Bar". These are cheap cafeterias left over from the communist days -- we had beet root soup, chicken breast with mashed potatoes, a plate of 3 salads (including a cabbage one of course) and a fruit juice drink for 14.50 zlotys - or $4.43!

After lunch I headed for the Ethnographic Museum to see all the folk art, etc. Unfortunately, my guide book was wrong and it was closed! So, I wandered around the area (the old Jewish quarter) and visited the market as well. After I got back to the hostel I took a nap and hung out in the common room for awhile with a number of folks who had been here for a few days and new ones coming in. I ended up heading out to dinner with two of the guys, but they were looking for traditional Polish food (which is very similar to the Hungarian food and the food I had for lunch), so I took off and went to an Italian restaurant - YUM! I had minestrone soup and fetuchini with asparagus and prosciutto -- so nice to have something different than the cafeteria at school.

Today, Tuesday, I was up early and was at the castle at 9:00am for a tour of the state rooms and the royal apartments at the Castle. Glad I did this as it was different than many of the other castle tours in that they did not try to re-create the rooms exactly as they were, rather showed off tapestries, paintings, wooden chests, tables, chairs, etc., that were used over the years.

From the castle, I headed to the Ethnographic museum. FANTASTIC. More about these later, as my fingers are getting tired of typing!

Krakow - Days one and two

I have time before my night train back to Budapest, so thought I'd catch up here a little bit. I arrived in Krakow on the night train from Budapest on Saturday morning at 6:30am. I decided to start with a walking tour - well two of them actually: one of the old town and the other of the Jewish District called Kameriez. Unfortunately, the guide, although nice, struggled with her English and remembering her talk. It was very uncomfortable for all as we waited for her to find her words or as we listened to someone else tell us the history she was trying to relate. The fortunate part of the tours is that I got my bearings in both areas and was easily able to move through them to where I wanted to go over the next few days. On Saturday night I was beat from not sleeping soundly on the train ride and walking all over. I partook of the hostel traditional Polish Dinner (included in the price) and talked with one of my roommates for sometime. She is a young gal studying in Budapest this semester and has been traveling like made for the last year and a half. She was quite inspiring!

Sunday was Constitution Day, and also a holiday. So, figuring most things would be closed, I chose to go to Auschwitz-Birkenau in the morning and to the Salt Mines in the afternoon. I had the option of taking public transport and booking guides at the locations when I got there, or taking a "tour" which would get me there faster, in more comfort, and ensure I didn't have to wait an hour for a guide once I arrived. I opted to spend the additional money for the ease. Also, since I am traveling alone and know my own ability to get lost and not follow instructions, I figured it was best to go with a group. There was another gal from the hostel on both trips as well.

The trip to Auschwitz-Birkenau was quite sobering. Although I had been to Dachu outside of Munich when I visited Molly, this was just as great of an emotional experience. Seeing rooms full of suitcases & baskets, shoes, hairbrushes & combs, and human hair along with the photos of the people who arrived in the early days of the camp made it very real. Over 2000 people a DAY were killed in Birkenau for a number of years. We went through the crematorium in Auschwitz and it was hard not to cry. When we got to Birkenau (3 km fro Auschwitz) I chose not to go into the buildings where the women and children "lived". It was just too much.

We returned into Krakow and I found a little place that served pirogi - Polish dumplings. I had those and a salad for lunch and then stumbled upon Szczepanski Square and Street, so of course I have a number of photos for Sue! I also had enough time to go into the Museum that has Leonardo Di Vinci's "Woman with an Ermine" painting. Hmm, just didn't do anything for me.

I got back to the pick up point for the Salt Mine tour just in time. This bus ride was shorter and the guide on the bus was actually our guide through the mine also. I have heard people at the hostel grumbling about that tour as they didn't like it, but I certainly did. It was incredible to be in a mine that is still operating and has been for over 700 years! I had wanted to see the Salt Mine in Romania when we went in the fall, but we were unable to, so this was good. There is a legend about a Transylvanian/Hungarian Princess who lost her wedding ring in the salt mine in Romania and years later was found in this salt mine! There are a number of small chapels inside and a huge church as well. The chandeliers have salt crystals hanging from them. I'll post pictures when I get back. There are also a number of statues carved from the salt as well. A few years ago a number of people I know were reading "Salt: A world history" and I just couldn't imagine how boring it must have been. Now, I want to read it!

The day was capped with a fantastic time in a jazz club. Ian, a guy from Manchester England who checked in at the same time as I did went with me to this club that I had found on line. When I asked Adam at the hostel about it, he was thrilled to see the listing for a guy who calls himself "The Polish Ray Charles" and highly recommended we hear him. It didn't take long for him to start in on the Polish Patriotic songs as it was Constitution Day. There were two Polish men sitting at the table next to us -- and we ended up sitting with them -- as they were translating some of the songs (and buying us vodka!) There were a couple of other people who sang with him, and then a couple of times people in the club got up and danced and sang along as well. We had a great time but unfortunately, I did not bring my camera. Ian got photos and did a short movie as well, so I am hoping he will send them on to me like he said he would.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Krakow by night train

Took the train mid day from Kisvarda to Budapest, hung out for a few hours and then took the night train to Krakow. I got a bed in a 6 person couchette....thankgoodness there were only 4 of us in there! Arrived at 6:30, found the hostel without too much trouble and now making arrangements to get out and do two walking tours to get my bearings....I'd rather get taken around the first time than flounder for hours by myself only to find out I missed the highlights!

(I will fill in the blanks of the past few very busy weeks when I get back next Wednesday.)