Thursday, November 28, 2013

Turkey Unfriended


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The Earnings of a Pro


We watched the movie 42 last night. It is the story of Jackie Robinson, the first African American to be signed in the major leagues. What was startling is that I now earn the exact same money each month that Jackie earned in 1946. 

Regardless, it was an exceptional movie. I wished I had shown it in my Race and Ethnicity class.
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Happy Thanksgiving to All US Americans


This is for all US Americans regardless of where you live, Happy Thanksgiving. Our other American friends, the Canadians celebrated their Thanksgiving holiday in October.

If you need any last minute assistance, perhaps this will guide you along the way.

I will be preparing the pumpkin and apple desserts today for our holiday gathering tomorrow. 

Here are a few history lessons regarding the holiday.

How FDR changed Thanksgiving. 
Thanksgiving from the History Channel.

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Monday, November 25, 2013

Pardon My Turkey


There is an American Thanksgiving tradition that each year, the president in office pardons a turkey. One lucky turkey gets a chance to live another year or at least until someone’s other meal. Although in this picture, it is difficult to decide if the turkey is getting pardoned or last rites. In Hungary, it seems many turkeys are getting a pass for us American ex-pats who want to celebrate the holiday in a traditional way. 

Finding turkey parts is easy. It just takes a walk into just about any supermarket or butcher shop. You can find turkey legs, wings and breasts. The latter are usually skinned already. Whole turkeys are as rare as hen’s teeth. Each year it becomes a treasure hunt to find a whole turkey, rather than an assorted assembly kit. This year was no different. 

It seemed logical that if asked, a butcher shop would be able to order a whole turkey before some axe happy assailant chopped it to bits, so with this thought in mind, I went from butcher to butcher. Just for assurance, I had our friend Gabor write it in Hungarian so there would not be any misunderstanding. Each shop, I handed over my paper with the question on it. Each attempt had the same result. NEM, nem, nem! NO, no, no! The looks that accompanied this phrasing was enough to make me feel like I wanted something exotic like zebra steaks or something. Yeesh!

The next logical step was to ask the Budapest Ex-Pat Facebook groups for suggestions. Thank goodness for Canadians. They have their Thanksgiving in October, so they have paved the way already. Three extremely reasonable suggestions were made along with the usual ones that should have been deleted by the moderator. One of the online shopping venues that we use on occasion had turkeys for 2,900 Huf a kg which translates to $6.50 a pound. Now I want a whole turkey as much as the next traditionalist, but I am not willing to pay $6.50 a pound for it. 

Other ideas were to order the ready-made dinners from Marriott or Intercontinental Hotels. We did that one year, spent over $150 for a meal supposed to feed six and were sorely disappointed. Ron managed to find a butcher who has some sense of sensibility about the situation and promised to order the bird. Now, we are moving the celebration from this Thursday to this Friday. Most of our six dinner guests have to work on Thursday and Friday, so they would not be able to arrive until later Thursday and have to leave earlier. 

In preparation, yesterday I experiment by making Gluten Free and Vegan Chai Spiced Pumpkin Bars since one of our guests is gluten intolerant. This was a real challenge. Not only are whole turkeys a rarity here, but pie pans are totally unheard of. I went to twelve different stores that sold housewares and kitchen goods, but not one had anything close. Flan pans are not pie pans. To make sure there was no miscommunication, I had pictures of various pie pans on my phone so show. Nada! Then there was the expedition trying to find coconut milk (easy), coconut syrup (extremely difficult), coconut flour (medium difficulty), and then a long list of spices that I was not sure of the Hungarian name for and was too rushed to Google translate them. Eventually, I found myself at the Asian Market next to the Great Market where I found all that I needed and a nice man who spoke English too. The coconut syrup is artificial, but after going to 8 health food stores including 6 of them that sold paleo diet products, I gave up and went artificial. 

Guests are each contributing other goodies to make the meal like a traditional celebration. I am planning a crustless apple pie too. Gratefully, I now have a closet full of just about any spice I could need. I am all set to go. 
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Ghent and Bruges Photos Online


The Ghent, Belgium pictures are online. Click here to be redirected.

The Bruges, Belgium pictures are online. Click here to be redirected.

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Friday, November 22, 2013

Keep Your Gentse Neus Out of My Business


We attempted Varosi Limousine service again, and they were waiting at 3:45 am outside our door. After having our passports checked and our luggage tagged as large carry-ons for Wizz, we had 20 minutes to spend in the Diners Club lounge. We actually had to wait for it to open since we were in the airport lobby by 4:30 and they don’t open until 5 am.

The problem with taking budget airlines in most cities is the secondary airports you fly into. Going to Brussels, you land in Brussels South Charleroi airport. The man at the information desk in the lobby directed us to the bus area where we would get combination tickets for the bus and also for the train tickets we needed to get to Ghent. One stop shopping, perfect! What he omitted was that there was no live person there to sell the tickets, so we had to navigate a machine in order to purchase them. Though it could be set to English, the directions were still not quite comprehensive to assure us we were doing it correctly. All those waiting behind us pleaded the innocent “I am a tourist too” mantra leaving the blind to lead the blind. Our ticket from the airport all the way to Ghent was €20.20 each. I

It was very foggy and cold out. We had to wait close to a half hour for the bus. A twenty-five minute bus ride brought us to the Brussels Midi train station. We boarded our train, but had to get off at Brussels Zud where we caught another train for Ghent. The timing was near perfect with little waiting time, but just enough time to make connections. I kept waiting for some conductor to have hysterics over our having the incorrect ticket, but all went smoothly and without a glitch.

Once in Ghent, the trams are near the station, so the number 1 tram took us within 4 blocks of our hotel. There was still a layer of fog when we arrived; the sun had given up on peeking through. We were there before noon, but bless them; they allowed us to access our room. This is the Ghent River Hotel, which is excellently located.

Amsterdam has always been one of my favorite cities in the world. The architecture is a majorly contributing factor. Ghent immediately captured my heart for the same reason. We walked around looking for tourism office as it had moved, so we had the incorrect directions. We happened upon the Belfry; it is a 95 meter high tower built in 1380, and asked directions from the ticket sales person. While there we purchased the Ghent 48 Hour Tourism Card for €25 each. It includes free admission to most museums, all public transit, and a canal boat ride. Still, it didn’t seem we could follow the new directions given to the tourism office at least until we realized that the statue of Neptune we were hunting for was not a land statue, but one perched up high on a building. With that mystery solved, we were successful. 

They had an interesting interactive table with Internet capability, so while Ron was getting his questions answered, I played on the table reading about the culture, foods, and sights to see. Waterzooi is a classic stew of Flanders. Traditionally, it is made from fish, but chicken waterzooi is now just as popular. This was something we wanted to taste as well as cuberdon, also known as neuzeke, tsoepke or Gentse neus because of its resemblance to a nose. They are sweets that are sold everywhere with prices ranging from €3 for a bag of 7 to €29 for specialty shapes. The story is that a chemist realized people would not take a certain liquid medication due to the horrid flavor. He created this candy with strawberry, cherry and raspberry flavor to
mask the medicines. Shaping the concoction into cone-like candies made it more appealing. Today, the medicine has been removed, but a harder outer lends itself to a soft inside with gooey flavored jelly. 

Ron asked for recommendations for both the waterzooi and for waffles. Belgium waffles are world famous. We were provided with the names Etablissement Max for the waffles and Chez Leontine for the stew.

Ghent is the perfect location to have a Belgium waffle, so why not a place within Ghent, which is famous for their waffles? The oversized sign over the doors only shows MAX. Inside it reminded me of the quaint tea parlors that one sees in movies, but often nostalgically replicated in various cities. 

If your experience has always been eating waffles that are crispy and crunchy, avoid this establishment. Our waffles were lighter than air, lightly browned and melted in our mouths delicious. I had mine with only butter, but Ron had his with strawberries and whipped cream. The strawberries were out of season, so they needed the whipped cream as a sweetener. The service was excellent and the atmosphere was delightful. Yes, it was on the expensive side, but it was worth the treat. For the 2 of us the waffles we chose with an espresso drink came to over €21

As we were finishing up, a woman and two small girls around 10 years old were seated next to us. From the looks on the girls’ faces, this was a major treat for them to be here. They each had a waffle with two scoops of ice cream and other frills. They were so exuberant; I couldn’t help but think that this memory would stay with them forever as a highlight of their young lives. I also couldn’t help thinking what a fortune this was going to cost the lady who was treating them and wondered what career she had. The cost will be a memory she will never forget either. 

We initiated our Ghent Card at St. Bavo’s Cathedral, not that there is a charge for entering this church, but this is where the famous The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb is housed. This requires an admission of €4. The church itself has many wonderful art pieces, but the Mystic Lamb is the treasure of all treasures. Painted in 1432 by Hubert and Jan van Eyck, this tremendously large Triptych is world famous. Once you enter the sealed room, you do have that sense of awe unlike any other piece of art you will ever see. For €1 more, they provide a headset with audio guides. Why they don’t charge €5 to get in and give you the guide is not intuitive to me.

Next stop was Castle of the Counts where seemingly endless circular stairs lead you into the sky and the next solar system. Well that is what it feels like as you climb these claustrophobic staircases. Walking around the top did have impressive views of the city, but other than to say I have done it, I would not relish the thought of doing it again. Philip of Alsace had the castle built in 1180, which is really impressive that it is so well formed still today. Admission would have been €8 each without our card.

Dinner reservations were made at Chez Leontine as recommended by the tourism office as being famous for their waterzooi. The inside was interesting and really charming in an old fashioned way. Parts of the walls were exposed brick with plaster in other areas, but the walls were covered with old fashioned cooking utensils. The service was good, but the serving sizes left something to hunger for.

Basically, waterzooi may be called a ‘stew’, but in reality it is simply a bowl of soup. Ron’s version was chicken priced at €21.95. Accompanying it was a sole roll. Yes, a single roll. We had to ask for a second for my entree.

I had thought I ordered smarter with the pork 'stew'. It turned out to be 6 small chunks of pork in brown gravy. The pork meat lacked any flavor, but the sauce was tasty, albeit on the salty side. My dinner was something like €22. With beers, our total bill swelled to €55. Shopping around later looking at menus, this was about average. We did not get ripped by the tourism office referral. Yet, when you pay this much for a soup or ‘stew’ you expect significant quality and quantity.

Fortunately, Belgium has over 300 beer breweries, so we were able to console ourselves.
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Thursday, November 21, 2013

How Far Will That Psycho Go?


Today’s plan was to start out with the farthest out museum and work our way into the center again. My choice was the Dr. Guislain Museum of Psychiatry. Once we were there, the grounds and buildings looked like something out of, well, Psycho or American Horror Story. Beautiful architecture with lovely gardens was veiled in a smattering of creepiness. Our plans were foiled when we discovered that the museum doesn’t open until 1 pm. This is one of the faults of the Ghent Card; they don’t list the hours of the museums.

We headed back to town to look for MIAT The Museum of Industrial Archeology and Textiles. Sounds like of geeky, but I really wanted to see the textile portion. As it turned out, it was visually spectacular; but they failed miserably in only having cards within each room as descriptions. There was no rhyme or reason for what was on the card to identify what it was describing. A small picture would have been a great aid. Starting on the 5th floor, there tremendously large looms and other devices from the cotton gin, spinning wheels, and other wooden machines from the early days of textile production. This was my favorite part of the museum, but I fantasized of learning how they were invented and seeing some of them in action. 

One of the sites in the book was Mad Meg. Funny that we had passed this a dozen times already and each time I thought it was a pipe to be put in the ground as there was construction going on nearby. It turns out it is a cast iron cannon weighing 12,500 kg. It never was used for the function it was made: a cannon; yet the blood red coloring is ominous. 

The major problem I have with these city cards is you never seem to get your fill of museums due to the opening and closing hours. We didn’t find one that opened before 10 am. By the time you spend a couple of hours there, you are trying to cram in some more before the day is done and they close.

We did manage to stuff in the Design Museum, which was alternatively referred to as the Design Center. My expectations were to be amazed at the different types of graphic design as well as functional products. I was wrong, at least partially. Salons were filled with furniture from the 18th and 19th century. Another wing has 20th century. Even if it were not what I expected, it was a visual delight and we were there until the guard kicked us out. She kept walking by with the time left. “We close in 15 minutes.” “We close in 10 minutes.” “We are closing in 5 minutes.” After one warning, I wanted to exhibit my watch and share with her that I could tell time.  

A boat ride was part of our card, so we rushed over to the dock. We were able to catch the last ride of the afternoon. It is not has breathtaking as a canal boat ride in Amsterdam, but it was still lovely and free. It would have cost us €6 each without the card. 

Ghent is gorgeous at night. They make it a point to keep numerous buildings, monuments, statues, and the bridges brightly lit to create a magnificent nightscape.

For dinner, we found this place, Panda Vegetarian Restaurant, just by chance as we were walking around and saw the sign. It is a downstairs venue, so deciding to give it a shot, we went in. Neither of us is vegetarian, but we often try vegetarian restaurants just for a change of routine.

From the sign outside, prices seemed reasonable. The restaurant was serene, not at all filled, so the quiet permeated the atmosphere. Selections were limited, but we each made a different choice. The dinner was substantial and tasty, but nothing worthy of raving about. It certainly did not make us wish we were staying longer in Ghent just to return here for a second meal. We asked for tap water, but were told that no restaurant in Ghent served tap water. True or false, I don't know. This could be a way of padding the bill. I know in Budapest, many restaurants use the same line.

If I were vegetarian, I would check out other options before settling here. That said I have to say the young waitress had perfect English and was delightfully hospitable. The kitchen staff needs the work.

Back out in the night air, it felt like beer tasting time once again. 
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Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Bruised in Bruges


Note this trip is posted from end to beginning.

We planned to take the train from Ghent to Bruges for a day trip, getting into Bruges by 11:30 am. Ghent was cold and foggy in the morning, so the thought of a warm train was pleasant. The ride is short, under an hour.

Logic would have the tourism office at the train station, but instead it was almost in the center of the city. Assured it was only a 5 minute walk, it took closer to twenty as there were few signs pointing which way to go.

When we finally discovered the office, Ron asked enough questions to fill 4 full days of touring, though we were only spending the day here. We had dinner reservations at Pampas Rodizio in Ghent at 8pm.

Walking into the center of the city exuded a historic feel as well as an architect’s fantasy land. Each building has incredible structures that stimulate the senses. Some have 1768 or other earlier dates proudly stamped into the front wall to all to see. Once at the center square, it was apparent they are getting ready for Christmas. Temporary wooden booths were lined up around the square, but still boarded closed. However, in the center of these future sales outlets were children’s amusements: tiny bumper cars, fishing for plastic fish, and the ubiquitous arcade with games of chance giving optimistic souls the chance to win a chintzy prize costing a fraction of what they spent to win it. On the far side of the square partially obstructing the view of the fine building the Historium lives in is an ice rink surrounded by fake trees that are all decked out with fake snow. This has not opened yet either.

We had heard the Historium was worthy of a visit. From the information provided we learned this. “Historium is an experience attraction. You will step through lifelike sets in which film, music and special effects combine to create a magical experience. In this way you will live out an engrossing love story played out in the golden age of Bruges. It is more than seeing and hearing. You can smell and feel how life was in those times. Thanks to the audio guide, you will experience everything in your own language.

The story that you experience in Historium takes you back to the 15th century, or 1435 to be precise. You will witness the day when Jacob met the love of his life...The young Jacob works for Jan Van Eyck, the famous painter, and in the early morning has to pick up model Anna and parakeet Frederico from the Bruges quays. But not everything goes as planned...”

Though the info we read ahead of time, said it was a 30 minute experience, when we arrived, they said it would take an hour. We bought a combination ticket for this and the Groeninge Museum for €15 each.

One can start the tour at 5 minute intervals, so we decided to get something to drink before starting out and chose one café amongst the dozen surrounding the center square. Too cold for outdoors even with heatilators, we asked for an indoor table. Our mistake, it made it more difficult to run out once we glanced at the menu. A cappuccino and a pot of tea were the same price - €6 each. We both had pots of tea since they were larger than any coffee offering, but I fumed at the thought of a €6 teabag. We were bruised in the wallet for certain.

The tea aside, the Historium was an excellent source of entertainment and education. It is incredible what they can do with computer technology today. We actually felt like we were part of history with real actors, though they were all film or life-sized puppets. It was time and money well-spent, but we still had the Groeningemuseum yet.

As we walked to the museum, there were dozens of people flocking the canal. The children were the clue; they were waving flags with Kris Kringle on them. When I asked someone to be sure, she confirmed my thoughts adding he would arrive by boat down the canal.

I never knew much about Flemish art and honestly, I don’t remember much of what I read, but the Groeninge Museum is a treasure trove not to be missed. We spent more than 2 ½ hours there. Though I was familiar with Jan Van Eyck, this was a great experience to learn more.

Bruges like Ghent has strange hours for store openings. When we arrived, 90% of the stores were still closed by noon. By 4pm, 90% of them were open for business. Belgium is known for its chocolate and by golly; the chocolate shops were in abundance. Some blocks had 4 shops side by side, competing for business. We bought a funnel cone of French fries, what everyone in Belgium and The Netherlands eats for street food.

By 5pm, we were heading back to the train station. We had dinner reservations in Ghent at Pampas Rodizio. Judging from the crowds each day we walked by, when we were refused a table as walk-ins last night, I was really anticipating our dinner. This is an all-you-can-eat place, but unlike many such venues, there is no buffet table or heating trays to choose from. Here, the waiters appear at your table with food on long skewers. You have the choice of accepting or refusing the offering. The first two rooms were filled to capacity, so we were seated in the third room with a few medium sized groups.

The appetizers and family style salad as first offerings were both delicious with fresh vegetables with some salmon and herring on the appetizer. Ron was allowed these morsels. After this, the waiters were slow to arrive at our table or had often emptied their skewer before reaching us. We saw shrimp pass us by twice, but it was not until we specifically asked for it an hour into our meal that we were able to get any. The prime rib ranged from too rare to too well done, but the ham was excellent. I had never had grilled pineapple before and the grilled mushrooms were excellent.

That said, with our single beer each, we paid within a few euros of what we paid at Chez Leontine on Friday night, but here we had substantially more food.
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Tuesday, November 19, 2013

This Won't Cut the Mustard


It seems au courant these days for television shows and movies to start out with the current time, but then peel the layers back to tell or show what happened earlier. I am going to do that with our Belgium experience.
Monday, November 18th we enjoyed our last luxurious breakfast at the hotel, but the best thing on the buffet was missing. There was no Roquefort cheese amongst the other selections. This quickly became my favorite food item after getting up in the morning. I survived, but breakfast wasn’t as much of a treat as the last two days.

Today we were to check out by 11:30am, so we left our luggage in the luggage waiting room. Our flight was for 6:20pm, so we had time to do a last walk of Ghent. The plan was to take a tram around 12:30pm to the train station. Our train to Brussels Midi would leave at 1:05pm and we would need to transfer to another train to Brussels Charleroi Sud scheduled for 2:07pm. This only gave us a window of 6 minutes to change tracks or miss the connecting train. Once at Brussels Charleroi Sud, we had to catch a bus to the airport. We anticipated our final arrival there to be by 3:34pm and do a check-in for our flight.

The key to this story is that we were flying WizzAir. This airline now charges for carry-on luggage larger than a clutch purse that suffers from anorexia. For a fee, you can pay to take a larger carry-on with you. We did this, so each of us could have one carry-on. The cost of the airfare was discounted since I have a Wizz membership card. Another hidden rule is that you must print out your own boarding pass or be dunned at the check-in counter. Wizz does make this easier by allowing passengers to print out all documents up to 2 weeks before the flight. I had all the paperwork. The only reason to even approach the check-in desk was to show our passports. Had we been EU citizens, we could have bypassed this entirely.

Now we were on our way to security. As we were standing in line, there was a display of things that could or could not be taken on board. In the top section, the sign showed “OK”, but the bottom display had “No, OK”. I laughed, pointed it out to Ron and moved forward. By the time we reached the trays to load with our things, I had my coat off, my computer out, and my carry-on suitcase all in separate trays. I felt like a travel warrior prepared for action. I walked through the screening frame and set off the alarm. They did their general body search and found nothing of interest.

I went to retrieve my things from the conveyor belt, but a different guard asked if the suitcase was mine. I said yes, so he asked if he could open it. “Sure!” I responded with confidence. What the inspector immediately seized were the jars of mustard and a jar of Advocat that I had bought for gifts and for myself. He held each one and said “No, no, no! You cannot take any of these. They are liquids. Being a mustard lover, I had bought the largest jars of two of the mustards I had tasted. I wanted to return today for a third variety, but the store was closed. 

Mustard to me is the best condiment ever conceived by man. Advocat is a Belgium or Flanders specialty. It is a thick yellow pudding type substance that they put on toast, ice cream, or as one saleswoman said, she eats it out of the jar. Of course, with 9% alcohol, who wouldn’t be tempted? It has an eggnog flavor; I thought jars of it would make ideal gifts. 

Now they are gifted to the security of the Brussels Charleroi Security Authority. I can’t cry over spilled milk, because they would not allow me to bring that through either.

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Thursday, November 14, 2013

Sweet, Sweet LIfe


I found this video somewhere and it is was so visually and emotionally engaging, I had to share it.

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GHENTlemen, Start Packing


Alternative titles for this post could have been:
GHENTlemen, Start Your Engines

God Rest Ye Merry GHENTlemen

We Lucky GHENTlemen

GHENTlemen on the Go

Our trip to Ghent or Gent as it is spelled both ways, all started with a private student mentioning he went to Krakow for the weekend. He and friends drove, so they could come and go as they pleased. We driver’s license-less people have to rely in public transportation.

Nevertheless, he got me to thinking of how long it has been since were in Krakow. I wanted to go. I don’t teach Thursdays or Mondays, so it would be a perfect long weekend. When I came home, I checked all the airlines. Budget fares were few and far between, but only left on Wednesday mornings and returned Sunday nights. Wednesday would not work with my teaching.

Orangeways Bus was next; it is a budget bus company. They had trips leaving on Fridays and returning on Mondays. Perfect! After discussing it with Ron and checking the calendar, we decided on the weekend that would work best. After all, we leave for Central American on December 15th, so there are not too many choices. When I went to book it with Orangeways, it was gone. The Friday travel option did not exist and neither did the return I had hoped for. All the other available dates did not work as well.

Another private student suggested I try Volan Buses. Different company – same story. Frustrated now, but still wanting to travel somewhere, I tried Drungli. This is a website where you put in your dates and it tells you where the cheap airfares are heading. Belgium was the cheapest on the list. At first I thought, “Been there, done that” and almost dismissed it. Then I remembered Ron mentioning numerous times he would love to see Ghent and Bruges. I booked it with WizzAir, which after adding in two large carry-on pieces of luggage; we spent under $100 for both of us roundtrip. Though we will fly into Brussels, we will immediately go to Ghent. We may or may not take a day trip to Bruges. Reports are it is very touristy these days.

Off we go, we leave this Friday on a 6:10 am flight (Ugh!) and return the following Monday at a reasonable 6:15 pm flight.

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Sunday, November 10, 2013

Crying Wolf


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Making the UnBEARable BEARable


After reading about the Medveotthon or Bear House over a year ago, we have wanted to visit. We had intended to make the trek this summer with our friend Dan, but either he was out of the country, was busy or we had B and B guests and could not take off. Time flies and eventually you have to make a decision to do what you want without putting it off any longer. Friday, we decided that Sunday was the day regardless.

Dan could not make it, but our friend Kat came along. Now according to the original article pointing the existence of this attraction in some English print media, it directed potential visitors to take a train to Versegyház and then walk from there. The blurb stated it was about 2 km from the station, not a bad walk. It is about 1 mile.

We met up with Kat at Nyugati station at 9:45 am, bought our tickets and ran for the train that was to leave shortly after 10 am. We rode for about 50 minutes before reaching our destination. Once there, we had a choice of 3 directions to head off in, but none were marked with bear signs, bear tracks or even claw markings. Ron is completely uninhibited about asking directions, whether he has full comprehension with the response or not, had us walking in the direction suggested by some gentleman at the station. What we heard coming from his mouth that all three of us comprehended was: 4 km (2 miles) to the park. Not deterred at the mileage, we walked, asked directions, followed vague signs, and walked some more. As we travailed over what seemed like a 6 mile hike, we passed a tremendously friendly shaggy haired dog that wanted to adopt us as toys, a Hungarian grey cow farm, and finally a horse ranch with a riding school. We finally arrived at the parking lot for the Bear Home.

The entrance fee was 500 Ft for Kat and 400 Ft for Ron and me, the senior rate. The woman must have misunderstood my rate, so I received a discount. Our brochure was in English so we were advised there were bears, wolves, reindeer, raccoons, what they call probascidean bears, and ostrich. What is a probascidean bear? Kat discovered it is called a coatimundi in English. I have seen them in zoos before.

We learned this bear home was created in November 1998, the first in Central Europe to house bears. Two years later, wolves were added to the 5.5 hectares of developed land. Ten years later, the raccoons made this their home too. How they came to choose this variety of wildlife is not answered in the brochure.

Within the bear enclaves are 12 narrow, but deep caves for them to hibernate. There are plenty of trees for them to climb and get shade during hot weather as well as a lake for them to bath, drink, or cool off. Visitors can purchase honey and are provided with long wooden sticks with which to feed the bears.

Wolves are divided into sections covering 120 square meters. We were not sure why they were divided, because it was apparent there were different breeds of wolves mixed within sections. Wolves in the largest section also have an artificial lake and they have a wooded area to roam and exercise.

All of us agreed, the bears looked ultra-huggable, but those long claws were overdue for a manicure. Regardless, you cannot help but finding them to be nature’s magnificent creations.

You can see the rest of my photos here.

Visit the bears, wolves and others which can be adopted too, but not taken home.

H-2112 Versegyház
Patak u. 39
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Friday, November 08, 2013

Quit Before You Become Dr. Snore


I am advising a BA thesis student. His topic concerns teachers’ motivation and its impact on student learning. He sent me this story he found particularly enlightening. It came from the book Teaching Well and Liking it: Motivating Faculty to Teach Effectively. This is the story as the student sent it to me.

Dr. Ralph Connors and Dr. Carol Raynor have been colleagues for eleven years. They have adjoining offices in the modern science center of Eastern State University. Both teach introductory physics to undergraduates. They have much in common, but they are entirely different teachers. Among the undergraduates, Dr. Connors is known as “Dr. Snores.” As he lectures, Ralph has the curious habit of looking down at his weathered boots while constantly counting and recounting his pocket change. Occasionally his right hand emerges from the side of the podium to add emphasis to what is being said or to flip pages. But only his hand is animated. His speech is soft and slow. There is little life in what he says or in the way he says it. All the fraternities have copies of his notes, copies of copies that date from 1984. But he is popular with them because “Snores only gives two multiple-guess tests, and if you’ve got his notes, you can skate his class.”

Dr. Raynor has a different reputation on campus. Students call her Dr. Rap because in the spring of 1990 she invited to class a local group to rap about Ohm’s law. Midway through their performance she suddenly turned off the lights and told her two hundred students to join in: “The louder you sing, the brighter the lights will become.” Sing they did, much louder than she ever expected. The lights swiftly rose to glaring intensity and then flickered and began to fail. After their applause she said, “Now let’s talk about the role that resistance can play when circuits get overloaded.”

Dr. Raynor no longer needs the rap group; it has become a tradition for students to rap on their own on the day that Ohm’s law is scheduled. She constantly works on her teaching. She enjoys physics and shares her enthusiasm with students. When asked by a campus reporter about the best class she ever taught, she replied “Teaching is a work in progress; I’ve been pleased with some of my classes, but I have yet to teach my best class.””

It is uncertain whether this was a coincidence or the universe speaking to me. At the same time, a Fulbright professor who will come to Budapest in the spring had e-mailed me. We have been exchanging e-mails for some time, but in this particular one she asked me when I thought I would know it was time to quit teaching. She had just experienced a less than pleasant exchange with a schedule full of meetings to follow that day. It made me think seriously about the question.
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Monday, November 04, 2013

Reality Checkpoint Ahead


A former Fulbright scholar to Budapest, who is now a university instructor, sent this article around.
Opinion: Adjunct professors are the new working poor. Shortly thereafter,  she or someone else shared an article titled Death of an adjunct from the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. Both grabbed my attention since I taught as an adjunct in a California college for 15 years. Many times, I not only taught in the two full semesters, but in the summer semester as well when the full-time instructors chose not to do it. Often, I taught three classes a semester, the same load as a full-time instructor who had benefits. Apparently the article on the death of the one instructor has hit a national cord in academia.

These articles have been sitting on my desktop for some time now. I read them and then reread them and read them yet again. With each rereading the message doesn’t get any easier to accept. I wanted to share them, but first I needed to process why I was motivated for doing so and how much I wanted to reveal.

The dictionary defines adjunct as: “a thing added to something else as a supplementary rather than an essential part”
Though I haven’t had difficulty putting the pieces together, my feelings were further denigrated by an article in The Budapest Times titled Teacher pay rises not ideal but important first step. The article reads “Teachers with a university degree, combined with three years of work experience to date, will see their salaries rise from HUF 135,975 to HUF 203,330, whereas those with qualifications obtained from teacher colleges will receive an increase from HUF 126,270 to HUF 185,573.”

The numbers immediately struck me. Teachers with a university degree and three years are getting 135,975 Huf a month now? This is so very close to what I earn that I couldn't afford an excellent dinner with the difference in our salaries. Yes, they have to be in the classroom five days a week, but I think any university instructor would argue we work just as diligently and reading and correcting papers is significantly more difficult. I have a doctorate degree, but as I am continually told, my position only requires a master’s degree. That still did not lessen the pain of the slap. It was another wake up call. It made me consider my future more seriously than I have in the past. More to come.

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Sunday, November 03, 2013

Andorra and Toulouse Photos


Toulouse Photos are here:

Andorra Photos are here:

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Andorra After Thoughts


Sometimes, a writer just doesn’t want to write. For the last week plus my fingers have had some allergic reaction to the keyboard. There has been an aversion to having to write out more than a phrase here and there. This has not allowed me to skip over the things that I had to do. I have papers to read for four classes, necessitating my having to write. This is not fun writing.

What happened was a bit different. When we were in Andorra, I was so completely relaxed, enjoying every minute of each hour. There was no planning ahead. There was nothing to think about except to be in the moment. It was an idyllic feeling. When we left the US in 2001 for our ‘year abroad’, I had forced myself to stay in the moment. Ron does this very well, inspiring me to do the same. For me it was a struggle, but I managed. We never planned anything any farther ahead than the next hour. Andorra allowed me to do this once again. Hence, our days were full; there was no time to write. I was in the moment every moment, but those cumulative moments added up to being very tired by late night.

Andorra was shortchanged in my writing. I will backtrack a bit to say it is a glorious little country. Population figures for 2013 were 85,293 people. This is divided into seven provinces, which caused a problem for the parliament. When we took our free tour of the old parliament, we were shown a wooden chest that had seven locks on it. Our guide explained that each province has a key for their lock. For centuries, there were only six provinces, but due to a population explosion, they had to create the seventh province. This made it imperative that all locks be removed and replaced to accommodate the newest member.

This tiny country has a strange form of government, which I will only briefly mention. It is jointly protected and governed by the French and the Spanish (Bishop of Barcelona), yet they have their own parliament. Andorra's first written constitution was drafted in 1991; approved by referendum 14 March 1993; effective 28 April 1993 according to the CIA website. Andorra has no military. They use the Euro, but do not have their own coins.

It takes one hour in good weather, no snow, to travel from one end to the other end of the country. We took a bus from La Vella to the shrine of Our Lady of Meritxell about 40 minutes away and close to the French border. It cost us €1.70 each for a one way ticket. When the bus left us off in the middle of nowhere with only the highway and a traffic circle in sight, we thought for sure he misunderstood us. He pointed to a partially hidden road that wound up a mountain. Sure enough we discovered the sign to the Our Lady of Meritxell shrine. This is supposedly where Mary appeared to some child. Apparently, this child was part mountain goat, because I cannot think of why she would be up this mountain otherwise. After two mile hike at a 50 degree gradient over winding roads, we made it to the shrine. It was closed from 1pm to 3pm. It was now 1:20pm.

On the same hill was a hotel – closed, a grocery store – closed, and a souvenir shop that served coffee, which was open. The sky looked ominous and the shrine was ultra-modern so we decided not to stay and returned to the highway. We had to wait on the roadside for a bus and flag it down. It turned around the traffic circle and picked us up after a 20 minute wait.

Besides the mountain views, the clear crisp weather was just cool, not cold. We were able to get by with thin jackets without getting a chill. In the country, there are no indoor museums, but one art gallery, which had a phenomenal exhibit spread over three floors. Their one museum is the Andorra Geological Museum. We kept following the signs and checking the map, but could not find it. Then it dawned on us that it was an outdoor museum and we were walking right by it. Various boulders were placed along a path with markers.

Andorra surpasses just about any place we have been for their outdoor artwork. Every couple of blocks, you will discover a public stature ranging from a Salvador Dalí creation of a melting clock to a young woman sitting at her work station creating lace. In addition to the artwork, there are a tremendous number of children’s play areas with interesting and non-conventional play equipment.

For shoppers, Andorra is a paradise. They brag about having over 4,000 shops and no taxes at all. You can shop duty free to your heart’s content. With this in mind, we looked for wedding rings, checking every jewelry store we could uncover, but nothing reached out to us.

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