Keith and I are picking up to move to Pécs, Hungary for one year. He has never been to Europe and the furthest east I've been is Switzerland.... Our Hungarian language skills are...well, we know some phrases. Come follow us on our adventure!!

Thursday, March 31, 2011


One of the classes at Babits Mihály Gyakorló Gimnázium (where Keith teaches) puts on a Tea House every so often.  The students invite a staff member in to speak on a topic of his/her choosing.  They transform a classroom into a cute cafe--there are delicious treats like fruit teas, chocolate muffins & brownies for sale.  Keith was asked to speak at the Tea House event in March.  

It was a really neat event--Keith played "Blackbird" by the Beatles, showed photos, and talked about our experiences in Hungary.  He transitioned into the problems with the idea of culture and seeing the world in black & white, with an "us" and a "them."  He then ended with singing "Cryin' Shame" by Jack Johnson

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Prague Spring

St Wenceslas Square looking down from the National Museum
So for the 3rd part of our tour that impacted me....seeing the sites of Prague Spring--particularly the place where the two young men lit themselves on fire to call attention to the suppression of the Czech people under Communist rule.

The Prague Spring was a period of political liberalization in Czechoslovakia during the era of its domination by the Soviet Union after WWII. It began on 5 January 1968, when reformist Slovak Alexander Dubcek came to power, and was ended on 21 August when the Soviet Union invaded the country to halt the reforms. 
National Museum
Jan Palach and Jan Zajíc burned themselves in protest of the demoralization of the Czechoslovakian people due to the Soviet occupation.  The events took place just to the left of the entrance to the National Museum in St. Wenceslas Square.  Jan Palach's name became known world wide and his funeral turned into a large protest against the occupation.  One month later on February 25, 1969, another university student Jan Zajíc, burned himself to death in the same place.  Out of fear of a similar protest, the Soviet Union did not allow Zajíc to be mentioned at all.  He was burried in his home town of Jihlava, where that April Evzen Plocek also took his life in protest against the demoralization of the occupation.

After the Velvet Revolution a bronze cross and a small mound was placed where the men burned themselves.

Lennon's Wall

As mentioned in the previous post, there were three parts of the tour that stuck with me.  The first being the Old Jewish Quarters and the second being Lennon's Wall.  (as in John LENNON not Vladimir Lenin)
The wall got its name due to graffiti from Beatles inspired lyrics as a form of dissent in the 1980s.  Since then the tradition of tagging messages of peace and love continue.  In 1988, the wall was a source of irritation for the communist regime of Gustav Husak. Young Czechs would write grievances on the wall and in a report of the time this led to a clash between hundreds of students and security police on the nearby Charles Bridge . The movement these students followed was described ironically as "Lennonism" \ and Czech authorities described these people variously as alcoholics, mentally deranged, sociopathic, and agents of Western capitalism.

Our tour guide and her husband would meet here for dates whilst in college, long before they were married.

 The wall is always being transformed with new tags and messages of peace, love and hope.

Jewish Quarter Prague

Keith and I partook in a wonderful walking tour of Prague Sunday afternoon.  Three parts of the tour had powerful effects on me.  The first being the old Jewish Quarter. 

The earliest records of Jews living in Prague are from 956 C.E.  The Jewish Quarter's history began in the 13th century when all the Jewish people of Prague were ordered to vacate their homes and settle in one area of the city.  Over the centuries more and more people were crowded into the area, as Jews were banned from living anywhere else.  To leave the Quarters, the people were forced to wear yellow hats to indicate to the greater public that they were Jewish.

Starý židovský hřbitov (Old Jewish Cemetery)
The cemetery was founded in 1478, and it is Europe's oldest surviving Jewish cemetery.  As centuries past, people had to be buried on top of each other due of the lack of space. There are about 12 layer and over 12,000 gravestones.  As they added new layers, they would bring the intact tombstones to the surface.  It looks like a yard of large bricks packed together.  About 100,000 people are thought to have been buried here.
One of my favorite pictures we have from this part of the tour are the two clocks next to each other--the Hebrew Clock and the Roman Clock.
I don't know why this never occurred to me before, but the Hebrew clock moves what I see as "counter clockwise" since they read right to left. 

A lot of the original buildings were torn down to improve the sanitation of the quarters.  On the sidewalks where people used to live, regardless if their house is still there or not, are memorial plaques so we may never forget the Holocaust.
Seeing this image still causes me to tear up.  It's incredibly powerful to walk the the Jewish Quarters--to listen to the history that occurred there. 

It is here where I can easily fall into my conflict of "culture"...anytime an "us" is created, a "them" is automatically created.  In November, 2001, George W. Bush said, "You're either with us or against us in the fight against terror." (to read the news story HERE)  I feel that this black and white mentality is the source of all world problems.  The Nazis considered themselves a "Christian" group--set out to purify the world.  Feelings of hatred and superiority stem from these labels and us versus them mentalities.  How do we end this? 

But more on this later... 

Czech Cuisine

Keith and I didn't really eat any Czech food....mostly because we found THREE places that served tofu (two of these restaurants were strictly vegetarian places).  I hadn't eaten tofu since August...I was more than over joyed.

Saturday night, post viewing the Astronomical Clock, Keith pointed out a Hard Rock Cafe.  I'm not usually a fan of chain restaurants, but I immediately said, "OMG, VEGGIE BURGERS," and ran over to check the menu.  Keith wasn't even sure what happened until he caught up with me.  (I was jumping up and down in excitement at this point.)

Obviously we ate there...spending way too much money (US standard prices) and eating mouth watering goodness fake meat.

THEN we discovered not one BUT TWO completely vegetarian restaurants...which we ate at the following two evenings.  Smoked tofu, hummus, tabuli, fake chicken, and more.   On Sunday night we dined at Maitrea.  Here is my smoked tofu atop my salad...which was amazing. 

Monday night we went to Lehká Hlava.  The food was equally as delicious, but the service was pretty awful.  

Prague's Astronomical Clock

Prague's Astronomical Clock, known as the Orloj, was our first post-hotel stop.   Every hour on the hour between 9:00 and 21:00, a small show is performed.  It is difficult to see in the dimming sunlight, but there is a skeleton ringing a bell on the right hand side and the apostles passing by the two windows above the clock.  Keith also got video of the hordes of people who gathered to watch the event. 

The mechanical clock and astronomical dial date back to 1410.

The astronomical dial is a form of mechanical astrolabe, a device used in medieval astronomy.
The astronomical dial has a background that represents the standing Earth and sky, and surrounding it operate four main moving components: the zodiacal ring, an outer rotating ring, an icon representing the Sun, and an icon representing the Moon.

For more information on this part of the clock, click HERE

Around 1490 the calendar dial was added to the facade and decorated with gothic sculptures. 
Astronomical face above the calendar face of the clock

Calendar Face of the Clock
The very outside of the clock goes through the Christian name days.  At the "12" there is an arrow pointing to the saint whose name day is celebrated that day.  The second circle in with the large 12 circles indicated what people should be doing in the fields at the indicated time (when under the "12").  The 3rd circle of circles indicate the zodiac signs.  

In the 17th century moving statues were added, and figures of the Apostles were added after major repair in 1865-1866. (these can be seen in the video clip)
The Orloj suffered heavy damage on May 7 & 8, 1945, during the Prague Uprising , when Germans directed open fire to the south-west side of the Old Town Square in an effort to silence the provocative broadcasting initiated by the National Committee on May 5. The hall and nearby buildings burned along with the wooden sculptures on the Orloj and the calendar dial face. The machinery was repaired, the wooden Apostles restored, and the Orloj started working again in 1948, but only after significant effort.

According to local legend the city will suffer if the clock is neglected and its good operation is placed in jeopardy.
Prague celebrated the clock's 600th anniversary on October 9, 2010 with a wicked awesome light show.  Click HERE to Czech it out

Celebrating Revolutionary Day Holiday Weekend

Revolutionary Day (March 15) fell on a Tuesday this year....so employers allowed employees to have the Monday off too under the condition that they work the following Saturday. 

Keith and I didn't realize this until about March 7th or 8th.  Thrilled at having a long weekend, we made plans to go to Prague.  By car, Prague is only 7 hours from Pécs.  It is a 13 hour train excursion from Point A to Point B, however. 

Keith and I both worked Friday morning.  My fellow teachers and I celebrated the amazingly beautiful weather by taking the munchkins to a park near our school (and even closer to the train station...which worked out really well for me). 

The kids were thrilled to go to the park...in my opinion it was WAY too warm for winter coats and hats, but I've been told Hungarians can pick out English speakers by how they dress as if it is warmer than it actually is...

I met Keith at the train station at 11:10 with a bag of sandwiches and other goodies and we departed for Budapest at 11:14.  We arrived at Budapest's Déli train station around 2pm and took the metro to Budapest's Keleti train station for a 3:30 train to Prague. 

Somewhere in this travel we got in contact with Keith's friend Andrej and decided to spend Friday night in Bratislava.  Per usual, we had an AMAZING time with absolutely fabulous people.  I feel so refreshed and inspired after hanging out with Nina and Andrej. 

I wish I had photos of the restaurant we dined at in Bratislava...super chic, great food and apparently there were a bunch of Slovak celebs there. 

Saturday 'morning-ish' we took the train on to Prague.  This being our 3rd train in 12 hours, Keith and I were a little less than enthused to spend another 4 hours seated with screaming babies surrounding us. 

We made it our hotel, Antik Hotel--a super cute boutique hotel in the Old City around 5pm. 

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Revolutionary Day, Magyarorsag

March 15th is one of Hungary's most important holidays.  It commemorates the mass demonstrations in Pest and Buda which enabled the Hungarian reformists to push the their list of 12 demands on March 15, 1848.  The Hungarians successfully dethroned the House of the Habsburgs.

The Habsburg Rulers  manipulated the Croatian, Serbian and Romanian peasants, led by priests and officers firmly loyal to the Habsburgs, and induced them to rebel against the Hungarian government. The Hungarians were supported by the vast majority of the Slovak, German and Rusyn nationalities and by all the Jews of the kingdom, as well as by a large number of Polish, Austrian and Italian volunteers.

In July 1849 the Hungarian Parliament proclaimed and enacted the first laws of ethnic and minority rights in the world.

I'm going to end the story here...just for now...because it gets a little bleak to say the least.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Busójárás Mohács

The Busójárás (meaning "Busó-walking") is an annual celebration of the Croats living in the town of Mohács, Hungary held at the end of the carnival season ("Farsang" as it is known in Hungary), ending the day before Ash Wednesday. The celebration features Busós (people wearing traditional masks) and includes folk music, masquerading, parades and dancing.  

Busójárás lasts six days, usually during February. It starts on a Thursday, followed by the Kisfarsang (Little Farsang) carnival on Friday, with the biggest celebration, Farsang vasárnap (Farsang Sunday) on the seventh Sunday before Easter; the celebration then ends with Farsangtemetés (Burial of Farsang) on the following Tuesday. (wikipedia)
Mohács is about 50 min by bus from Pécs...although I had a fever several days before and was still on antibiotics, Keith and I felt we NEEDED to partake in Busójárás.  There are two different stories around the tradition--one is chasing off the Turks when they invaded Mohács during the spread of the Ottoman Empire and the other involves chasing off winter. 

We haven't purchased many Hungarian souvenirs...we have Keith's winter hat (which all of our Hungarian friends say, "Oh, my grandfather has a hat like that...") so we thought a Busó mask would be a great addition to commemorate our trip. 
Pictured above is Keith and his new mask.  The artist who made it grew up in Mohács and signed the back with a blue pen...making it even more meaningful to us.  Keith vows to chase away winter every year from here on out. :)

Nový Most Bratislava

The original plan was to leave for Bratislava Wednesday, February 2nd, stay with Keith's friend Andrej, drive to Prague on Saturday morning and then fly back to Budapest on Sunday evening...train home to Pécs.

Everything that could have possibly gone wrong pre-departure happened: our flight was canceled, the train tickets were confusing and worst of all...I started having severe back spasms on Tuesday.  Eszti spent Wednesday morning with me at the hospital getting poked, prodded and x rayed.  Being not even 6 months post injury, I was told such things happen...and will happen (also I wore high heels a few days before, which was a terrible idea...)

We ended up canceling Prague.  Since we already had the days off, we spent afternoon and evening we spent in Budapest at an amazing hotel.  Thanks to a hotels.com sort of website, we got an $800 room for about $150.  The bathroom floors were heated.

Also, we could use the toilet whilst talking on the landline whilst watching someone take a shower.  (we did not take advantage of such opportunities) In the evening we met up with the always lovely Emily and her boyfriend Isti.  Long story short, Isti (who is from Transylvania) was a camp counselor at a camp in Moodus, CT (Keith's hometown with a population of 10) back in the summer of 1999 (the year Keith graduated high school....and the same summer his friend from Bratislava was studying in Moodus)  SMALL FREAKING WORLD.

Friday morning we left for Bratislava...or shall I say, Pozsony (the city's name when it was still part of Hungary) to spend some time with Keith's friend Andrej.  The two met during Keith's senior year of high school when Andrej was a foreign exchange student in Moodus, CT.  The gents have remained friends and have seen each other many times since Andrej returned to Bratislava. 

Due to my pre-travel reading, I became obsessed with what travelers had deemed as the "ugly bridge." The bridge is named "Nový Most" which means "New Bridge" in Slovak.  It's actually a really cool bridge and architecturally innovative...until learning that they demolished 1/3 of the old town to install it.  It is completely out of context in terms of location.

The Nový Most  is the 32nd tallest building in the world and the shortest member of the World's Federation of Greatest Towers.  It is an asymmetrical cable-stay bridge with a main span length of 303 meters. Its steel construction is suspended from steel cables, connected on the Petržalka side to two pillars. The total length of the bridge is 430.8 meters, with a width of 21 meters, and it weighs 7537 tonnes. 
I had the opportunity and honor of getting to know Andrej's girlfriend, the incredibly gifted, Nina.  She is a freelance graphic artist.  Above is some of her freelance work featured in Bratislava.

Andrej's mom, Marta, hosted us for lunch on Saturday...which was surprise and a wonderful treat.  She was such a sweetheart and practiced her English with us.  She reminded me a lot of Keith's mom, Jan--easily excited and overwhelmed and always smiling and full of energy.

The best part of the trip is I felt like I was at home in the sense of Robert Frost's quote, "Home is where, when you go there, they have to take you in."  Since living in Europe, I've never felt so welcomed...and welcomed as family.  The energy of Andrej and his family is incredible and contagious.  I came home to Pécs feeling refreshed.
Keith and Andrej getting the band back together (they had a band in high school)