Friday, June 30, 2006

The Burglar Alarm


At 5:00 am, an alarm broke my sleep. At first it was only a 10 second screech that broke the silence every ten minutes. I thought it was our downstairs neighbor who has an alarm system exactly like ours. Our battery was dead on our alarm, so pulling a pillow over my head, I rolled over and tried to fall asleep again. I still had three hours before having to get breakfast for guests that morning.
As the sandman was returning, the doorbell rang in one long continuous annoying shrill. Gathering my wits, I draped my robe around and went to the door. It was the next-door neighbor immediately yelling at me in Hungarian like I was comprehending each and every word he was spouting at me. It did not take a great deal of intuition to realize that he was complaining about the alarm, but I pointed downstairs and said the neighbor. “Nem, nem, nem” was the response and he pointed to our alarm box outside making the blood drain from my smug face down to my toes. I had no idea what to do. The alarm was here when we moved in and we had never done anything with it as far as maintenance.
As we were standing on the balcony jabbering bilingually and not comprehending monolingually, the rest of the neighbors on the floor gathered around. As if this gave others permission, the others from various other floors started coming out of their doors like the living dead or the sleepy dead. I had a sense of how Dr. Frankenstein felt when the town’s people come for the monster. The only thing this group was lacking were pitchforks and torches, most likely the latter due to the sun having risen an hour prior.
What to do; what to do; what to do? I know, call my Hungarian adopted nephew, but would he answer the phone at 5:30 in the morning? Being a good guy, he did. I explained the situation and then put him on the phone with the unruly mob to translate that I had no idea what to do with the alarm. With his mom, he found a repairperson, but in the meanwhile, the crowd decided to destroy our alarm box. At first, I had the idea to get a chair and start cutting wires, but my only tool to do this was a scissors. Images of turning into a firework display as I am flung over the balcony ran through my mind, but with this group growing thicker by the minute, I was suicide was a likely alternative. As I started in, my neighbor stopped me, but I could see the reluctance in his eyes at not having a good show. I think he was more concerned about sparks causing his bathrobe to catch fire more than my longevity. With everyone glaring at me like I had done this purposefully to destroy their dream states, another buttinsky came with wire cutters, pantomimed for a ladder, and got up and cut the wires. Relief lasted for five minutes when it started yet again. The collective ahhhhhh when it started again was disparaging. Back on the ladder, he took the box cover off and then snipped all of the wires in sight until there was silence.

At 6:45, the nephew called to say they found someone who would be here at 2:00 pm to fix the alarm. Hallelujah! 2:00 turned to 3:00 turned to 4:00 turned to 5:30 when the technician arrived following the nephew, his friend and the technicians girlfriend. As it turned out, all of this happened because the backup battery died and we did not replace it. However, with all of the damage done by the helpful co-habitants of the building, it took him longer to fix than it would normally. 10,000 Huf later, it was repaired and in working order once again.

How I was wishing Ron were home to deal with this, he is much more controlled in these situations than I am.

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Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Continuing the Museum Tours


I announced to students that today would start with the Postal Museum at Andrássy út 3, Metro: M1 Bajcsy-Zsilinksky út, Open: 10am-6pm Apr 1-Oct 31, 10am-4pm Nov 1-Mar 31 (closed Mondays).

When arriving at this address, one has to press a buzzer to be admitted into the building. The building is worth a visit aside from the museum. The museum itself is situated in a decorative first floor apartment formerly belonging to the wealthy Andreas Saxlehner. The museum focuses on the history of the Hungarian postal service and telephones, but there are no stamps here. Included among the exhibits is a mock 19th-century post office and vintage mail vehicle. The building itself is the highlight of a visit here.

On Sunday the admission is free, other times, it is 200 Huf. Well worth the admission for the apartment alone, this is incredibly decorated in the original style. The courtyard has the best view from the balcony on the opposite side of the museum looking back. I have had many pleasant surprises in museums; some I expected to spend less than 30 minutes in and found myself leaving an hour or more later. This one was no exception. About ten minutes into my lurking around, one of my students showed up. She and I continued to browse the rooms and discuss the items on display. Everything was translated into English on laminated cards in each room. This was a shocker considering the size and cost of admission.

My student and I spent a lot of time with all of the exhibits and this brought about a funny situation. She asked one of the attendants a question that I had asked her. The attendant was proud to answer all questions and then later
said to my student, “Where is your father from?” My student explained that I was not her father, but that I was an American. The assistant was duly impressed with the time and care I spent looking at everything and taking many photos. Sadly, during the entire time we were there, we were the only two visitors to a ratio of five employees. I highly recommend this museum, but if you are interested in stamps, there is yet another museum that specializes in them.

The two of us went to Café Eklectica for a coffee and a chat. It was enjoyable to spend time one on one with a student and get to know her better.

For the next stop, we were to go to the Ernst Museum where another student was waiting for us. The museum was closed since they were redoing the current exhibit, so we decided to continue on to the Hopp Museum of Eastern Asiatic Arts. It is in the VI district at Andrássy út 103, Metro: M1 Bajza utca. Open: 10-4pm Jan 1-Mar 13 (closed Mon), 10am-6pm Mar 14-Dec 31 (closed Mon.). Admission is 400 Huf and a photo ticket was 500 Huf. I wisely decided to wait to see the exhibit before purchasing a ticket and was glad of the decision.

This museum is the collection of works from India and the far east accumulated by Hungarian businessman Ferenc Hopp. By the time of his death in 1919, he had amassed a huge collection. According to the literature, the collection consisted of ancient Buddhist art dating back to the 9/10th centuries and is displayed alongside Japanese, Indian and Tibetan-Nepalese pieces.

From what I saw, at the time of our visit, most everything was Japanese. There was a vast collection of inkboxes, which we did not understand what they were for; the explanation in Hungarian was not clear and there is little in English. Although there were other pieces, almost everything was from Japan, which did not interest me in the least, but the students were fascinated.

The place was blazing hot due
to the weather and signs explained that it was not air conditioned on purpose to keep the humidity at a certain level for the items on display. My sympathy went out to the workers. The museum consists of three rooms, but there is one woman sitting downstairs selling tickets and three attendants upstairs monitoring visitors. On this particular day and time, we were the only visitors. I would only recommend this museum to those who have a fervent love of Asiatic pieces, unless the collection rotates. Even at that, I would be hard-pressed to return.

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Friday, June 23, 2006

A Few Hundred Demonstrate


The next day's news in the Budapest Business Journal.

“A few hundred demonstrators gathered in Szabadság tér in front of the US Embassy yesterday afternoon to protest against the visit and policy of US President George W. Bush. Environmental groups Védegylet and Greenpeace were present, along with others such as the anti-globalisation group Attac at the gathering organised by Civilians for Peace.

Philosopher and communist-era dissident Miklós Tamás Gáspár gave the opening speech, asking on what basis Bush speaks out against foreign occupation in regard to 1956, when the US itself is an occupying force elsewhere. He denounced war and murder and spoke up for hope. Earlier, Amnesty International demonstrators in yellow overalls like those worn by inmates of Guantánamo prison were removed from Adam Clark tér before the US President's convoy drove by. “

Photo is my own.

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Thursday, June 22, 2006

Bush is Here


George W. arrived in Budapest today. The preparation has been unreal and the cost to the American taxpayer is astronomical. They had to fly over his special bulletproof cars and there were dozens of costly preparations for his less than 24-hour trip. This morning starting at 7:00 am, the sound of helicopters flying overhead has been non-stop.

He is giving a short speech and then returning home. The occasion is the 50-year
anniversary of the 1956 Revolution against the Russians here in Hungary. His cousin is the current Ambassador, but he is retiring this summer to be replaced with one of George’s former girlfriends from university days. The cousin replaced Laura’s Bush’s best friend who could not give a rip about Hungary. This is not a respected country for diplomacy when they use it for nepotism. There was a rally protesting his visit at 4:00 outside the US Embassy.

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Wednesday, June 21, 2006

A Day With Students


One of the students who I advised for her thesis wanted to meet with me for a coffee. We arranged to meet at one of my favorite cafés at 11:00. We chatted about a dozen different topics and then she presented me with gifts as a ‘Thank you’ for my advisor role. I was so touched. She used one of her sister’s photos of a sunflower and transferred it onto a t-shirt. Sunflowers are one of my favorite flowers, but she had no idea until today. She also made me a picture hanger and had my travel photos that I had shared with students printed and placed. I will put this in the kitchen as a constant reminder. She is also part of a small orchestra, so my gift included 2 CDs of their music. I had attended one of their Christmas concerts a couple of years ago and was enthralled even not being a music lover.

We continued talking until the second student came along who also wanted to meet with me. I had a CD to share with her, so she was coming to pick it up. The first student left a half hour after the second student’s arrival. Then I received an SMS from a third student who also wanted to meet with me. After arranging the third meeting, I said good-bye to number 2 and moved on to student number 3. We finally parted at 6:00 pm. A seven hour day with students, tiring, but fulfilling to know they want to spend time with me. One of the joys of teaching!

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Tuesday, June 20, 2006

The Fine Arts and Agricultural Museums


I sent a note out to all of the American Studies students that I would be visiting all of the museums in Budapest during the summer. This was an open invitation for any of them to join me if they wished and we would settle somewhere for a coffee and chat when we were finished. As I plan my visits, I post the time and date and then wait to see if anyone joins me.

The first excursion to be posted was the Fine Arts Museum with the possibility of the Agricultural Museum to follow, energy pending. The Fine Arts Museum has a free one-hour tour in English at 11:00 am daily, after paying the admission of 1,500 Huf. A well-trained group of volunteers organizes it; many are ex-pat wives whose husbands are working here. I arrived at 10:30, sitting on the steps waiting to see if I were to go it alone or if I would have company. At 10:45, two of my students arrived, which was a thrill for me. Although they are both university students and one is an Art History major in addition to American Studies, they were not afforded a discount for entry. That is a pity!!

The tour consisted of about 20 people, mostly Americans from what I could overhear. There were two tour guides, one from Florida, and the other from Alaska. Today, we were to explore the Dutch Master’s gallery. Before starting in the gallery, we learned some history of the building. It was built for the Millennium celebration 100 years ago, so this is an important anniversary year. It houses the National collection of non-Hungarian art with exhibits dating back to the Egyptian era. It is considered one of the most impressive galleries in Central Europe as its home to works by famed artists such as El Greco, Goya, Rembrandt and Rubens. The foundation of the collection was part of the Esterházy family’s private holdings, once one of the most influential aristocratic families in the country. We have had guests who are museum curators in other countries who had explained just how impressive and important this collection is to the art world. I had no idea.

The group went from select painting to select painting as we learned some history of Dutch painters from the 17th century. The pictures were chosen by the docents conducting the tour and we found out later that with different docents, we may have viewed other paintings or a different gallery altogether. The explanations were detailed, but first the docents made us think by asking provocative questions about each painting. They fully involved the participants, which added to the experience. My students were enthralled, adding to my enjoyment of the whole experience, each of us learning new perspectives of looking at a painting and what details to look for.

There is a special exhibit of Titian at the museum at this time and one of my students had a special interest in the painting Portrait of the man with blue-green eyes from the Palazzo Pitti in Florence. The museum had the exhibit in his Italian name Tizian and I had no clue who he was. It was not until I saw Titian that I recognized the artist. He is one of the key figures in the history of Western art, considered to have been the greatest 16th-century Venetian painter. We went to see this masterpiece and then some others on display in the same area.

I had thought we would break for a coffee, then if the students wanted to join me, we would continue on to the Agricultural Museum. One of them had to catch a train, so we parted ways and I walked to the park. I spotted a dog in the little lake and went to investigate. A young man was standing on shore and throwing a thick stick for his dog to retrieve from the water. The dog was obviously finding this great fun. When he brought the stick back to shore, if it were not immediately tossed again, he would start barking impatiently. As this scene played out, I snapped pictures of the happenings. The young man asked if I would e-mail him copies of the pictures and gave me his address. I learned that the dog’s name is Mazsda in Hungarian and Raisin in English. Mazsda allowed me to toss the stick for him a couple of times, so I was able to get my doggie fix for the day.

After a coffee in the park, I ventured over toward the Agricultural Museum. To be honest, this would have been the last museum on my list to see. The only part I had ever seen of it other than the outside was the one exhibit viewable from the souvenir shop attached. It did not look impressive or interesting. I had feelings of dread going in it, but if I were to commit to all museums, I was not going to change my own rules, but I could procrastinate them.

Across from the museum is a small chapel. This was the first time I had seen it open so I was curious. It was a lovely little church and after paying 100 Huf to the woman in charge of the wrought iron gate, I was allowed in. An order of priests are stationed here and it is still in use. From the English sign in the lobby, it is St. Gellért’s chapel where two popes have celebrated mass for different occasions. Behind the altar was a lovely mosaic type art piece that grabs the eye immediately. I was alone in the chapel at the time of my visit and spent a restful 30 minutes reflecting on the surroundings. When I came out, the gate guardian motioned that I was now allowed to go up to the choir loft as part of my admission.

Upstairs, there is not much to see other than a small non-descript organ and a few folding chairs. I had hoped that the higher view would be a better angle to photograph the art behind the altar, but it was partially obstructed by a beam and light poles from the ceiling. Upstairs in not worth the climb, but the rest was refreshing.

Outside the Agricultural Museum, there is a huge statue of a Karolyi Sandor. I found that he is responsible for modernizing Hungarian agricultural and taught the methods, hence the pile of books next to him.

Procrastination aside, I went into the museum. It was a pleasant surprise that it was free unless you wanted to take photos. A photo ticket was 500 Huf, but having an air of prejudice of what I would see, I did not bother to purchase one. I have to admit, I fell victim to jumping to conclusions. The museum was wonderful. This is the information discovered from their brochure. This is the biggest museum of agriculture in Europe. It is in the Castle of Vajdahunyad on Széchenyi Island. The architect was Ignác Alpár who combined many different styles utilizing parts of historic buildings in Hungary’s history. It was originally built for the Millennium as an exhibition hall and became the museum in 1897.

On the main floor are 12 permanent collections. This is where I encountered the term archeozoology, which I had never heard before. It is the zoological information gathered through the discovery of old animal bones. The building is 5200 square meters with marble floors and staircases, carved crystal chandeliers, stained glass windows, magnificently painted walls, and truly fascinating exhibits. For a museum that I had expected would hold my attention for 10 minutes, kept me captivated for 2 ½ hours.

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Sunday, June 18, 2006

Fishermans Bastion and St. Matthias Church


As I was wandering from the video store to return some DVDs, it dawned on me that I rarely do some of the touristy things without having friends in tow. Therefore, it is rare that I get to spend the time at any one place that really fulfills me since I am on someone else’s time schedule. This prompted me to stroll to the castle district.

Initially, it seemed I would traipse all over the area and perhaps visit the museum there as I sat on the number 16 bus from Deák. When reaching the top, St. Matthias Church called out to me and that became my destination. First walking all around Fisherman’s Bastion, exploring parts that I had never been before, it occurred to me there were areas where I had never dragged guests due to time constraints. This was my opportunity to reward myself with as much time as I wanted. There was no reason to rush home, no one waiting there for me, no obligations.

Built in the combined styles of neo-Gothic and neo-Romanesque in 1895, Fisherman's Bastion is a walled terrace built on the Buda side of the Danube on Castle hill. It is behind the St. Matthias Church. It has seven towers that look like castle turrets of fairytales, which represent the seven Magyar tribes that settled in the Carpathian Basin in 896. It earned its name from the guild of fishermen responsible for defending this portion of the city in the Middle Ages. For a fee, you can climb the stairs to view the city from the top, which is said to have a spectacular view. I chose not to spend the money, believing the view from the Citadella was equal or superior to this one.

There are many stairs and walking paths around the area. The view from the free area is just as impressive, though it has been
partially invaded by a restaurant, thus causing obstacles of tables and chairs to climb over to see all views or the purchase of a coffee to have a seat. I was told that the viewing area is free in the evening, which could afford magnificent views when the sun is setting.

Placed in front of the Bastion is a bronze statue of King St. Stephen I, the first king of a unified Hungary, mounted on a horse. It was erected in 1906. The pedestal was made by Alajos Stróbl, a famous Hungarian sculptor at the turn of the century, known for his realistic modeling. The statue is done in Neo-Romanesque style, with experiences illustrating the King's life.

The day was hot and humid, but I refused to allow myself to be gouged 500 Huf for a small bottle water that was four times the price off of the hill. There are water fountains around to quench one’s thirst. The area was filled with tourist groups and commentaries were provided in many languages enriching various nationalities with the history of their surroundings. The group that fascinated me the most was the group of Japanese since they each held an umbrella to protect themselves from the sun. I ambled around, then sat in the shade, and observed people, debating on the righteousness of having to spend 600 Huf to enter St. Matthias Church.

Coming to the realization that this was Sunday and still a small outlay for spending time in a magnificent church that I had only been in once before, I left frugality behind and handed over my cash. Before entering, I found some history of the church written in English. The church is officially called Church of Our Lady. Its popular name is attributed to the greatest Hungarian King Matthias Corvinus ("Matthias the Just") who ordered the construction of its original southern tower. The church was the site for several royal coronations including that of Charles IV in 1916. He was the last of the Hapsburg Kings. It was also where King Mátyás' two wedding were held and King Bela and his queen are entombed there in a chapel. During the Turkish occupation, many of the religious treasures were sent elsewhere and in 1541, the church served as a mosque.

What many people miss is the Ecclesiastical Art museum, which is upstairs starting with a medieval crypt, but leading up to the St. Stephen Chapel. There one will find a gallery containing a number of sacred relics and medieval stone carvings. I especially enjoy the history and the replicas of the Hungarian royal crown and coronation jewels. This was a relaxing duality combination time of being quietly reflective and being a tourist.

By this time, I had spent about four hours meandering this part of castle hill and it had already approached 4:00 pm. It was too late to peruse the castle area, so that part will be saved for another time.

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Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Readying Ron


We took the train to Vienna yesterday with Ron’s luggage. He has an unholy early flight tomorrow morning from here to go to the States. There are some disturbing things about sending Ron off alone. In the 12 ½ years we have been together, this is the longest we will have been apart. He will be gone for three weeks. All I had to pack was my toothbrush, toothpaste, and a good book. Since it was cold in Budapest, I had my coat with me thinking Vienna would be similar or colder.

The more worrisome thought is that Ron is a leaver. He carries a black shoulder bag that he refuses to keep close to his body when he is not walking. When we stop for a coffee off comes the bag and it gets set on a chair. The chair does not have to be in close proximity to him either. His ability to trust that no one will grab and run is beyond human comprehension. Other’s horror stories have not affected him in the least, so his habit continues. In our time together, I could probably recall a list of 300+ times when he left something behind: his bag, his hat, his cigarettes. His guardian angel is overworked and on the ball, keeping his goods safely protected until he has that “Aha!” moment of remembering something familiar is missing and he returns to find it untouched. As much as I trust his guardian angel, even angels may find it a valuable lesson to make you learn the hard way, so I fear for his passport and now his Residency Card.

Having been to Vienna a zillion times, this was not a particular treat, but a second homecoming of sorts. Ron wanted to visit the Belvedere Palace grounds again, so we did. We wandered aimlessly and went to one of our favorite restaurants for dinner. I am not sure we ever remembered the name of it, but we refer to it as the Purple restaurant since the building is a soothing lavender color.

We stayed the night at Hotel Pension Wild, which turned out to be an excellent choice. The beds were sumptuous, though Ron had much less time in bed than I. His taxi was due at 4:30 am to take him to the airport. I woke, dressed and set him off in the taxi only to return to bed until 8:00 am. After a shower, I went for breakfast and then back to the room to read until 10:00. Check out was 11:00, but I decided to take some tram rides to pass the time. I had checked on return trains to Budapest when we arrived, but had not written them down. I had a memory of a 1:38 train, but was not positive I was correct about it.

The weather was warm approaching hot and my usual nasal condition was acting up again. My nose was running like Niagara Falls and thoughts of investing in tissue stocks seemed like a good venture. After finding a quaint little café with outdoor seating, I ordered a coffee and sat immersed in reading my book.

At 12:30, it seemed like a good time to wander in the direction of the train station since having taken trams around, I was no longer sure of where I was or how far the train station would be. Dragging a coat in toasty weather was getting cumbersome and dissuaded me from further explorations, though my transport pass was included in my train ticket.

I found the train station like a homing pigeon, so there was more than enough time. After finding a seat, I tried being engaged in my book yet again; however, I was having difficulty reading/concentrating being worried about Ron’s travails. He had more flight and airport changes than most flight attendants do in a month of work. I could see his bag sitting lonely in some airport while he was in a panic wondering where he had deposited it last. He also mentioned that since he had an E-ticket, he was assured that he did not have to reconfirm the flights. I had hoped this proved true and had visions of him pleading to get on the plane or to be stuck mid-route with no seat assignment.

As much traveling as I have done alone, the thoughts of the difficulty in traveling single with stuff in your hands still bother me. Going to the bathroom is a chore, buying a cup of coffee, and so on when you are lugging all of the luggage and have no one to watch it for you.

As I was having these reveries, I happened to look up at the train board with the schedule only to spot BUDAPEST and the track number. The train was earlier than scheduled, but the thought that I had missed one when reading the schedule occurred to me, I ran out to catch it. The sign in the window had Budapest on it. What luck!!! A minute after I jumped on and found a seat with two women, the train left the station. I was praising my good fortune of getting an earlier train, getting home earlier than expected. Within seconds, the little inner voice was questioning my luck. On the empty seat across from me was the trip route and schedule often found on European trains. I looked at it and my heart dropped. I was on the train FROM Budapest on its way to Dortmund, Germany. I did everything in my spiritual power to have the train stop at the first station before the conductor came for tickets. The thought of financial fines shouted at me by an irate conductor made me break out in a cold sweat. I hid most of my Euros so I could plead poverty if caught. On the way to Vienna, the conductor did not approach our compartment for our tickets until an hour into the trip. My hope was that it would be the same this time. The first stop was St. Polten, forty-five minutes outside of Vienna.

Using every affirmation I could think of, my spiritual powers are not honed. The conductor arrived for our tickets 15 minutes before the first stop. Sheepishly, forcing an embarrassed blush, I explained my circumstance. With a sympathetic chuckle, he told me to get off at St. Polten. Where was this saint when I needed him? At St. Polten, I immediately went to the ticket office. The next train was 2:50 back to Vienna and then the train to Budapest was 10 minutes later. This was a narrow escape since if I missed it, there was only one more train that evening.

I bought a one-way ticket for 9 Euros and explored the town. It is a lovely little place and the entire downtown area of what looks to be about 10 blocks by 10 blocks are all pedestrian walkways. I returned to the station with 10 minutes to spare. On one schedule board the train said Budapest, but on the other it said Vienna West. I hopped on and hoped for the best. Once I arrived in Vienna again, I had to change tracks, but made my train back not getting home until after 7:00 pm. The positive was that I had a full compartment all to myself the entire trip and finished my book as we pulled into Keleti station.

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Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Photo Fiasco


I took over two hundred pictures and downloaded them to the computer. I separated Dresden, Leipzig, and Berlin into three different folders to do a batch rename. I used a program I have used hundreds of times in the past and started with the Berlin pictures. Tragedy struck. They all disappeared. It still is not clear to me how or why it happened, but they were all deleted somewhere. I did a desktop search, a deleted folder search, an attempt at undoing the previous commands, but nothing worked. I downloaded three different photo recovery programs and searched both the computer and the memory card from the camera, but they were not to be found. There was one lone survivor of over 78 photos of Berlin. Strangely and coincidentally, the only photo to survive was one of the Holocaust Memorial.

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Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Back to Berlin


We left Dresden this morning to return to Berlin. As you may have inferred from my writing, this trip did not enthrall me like trips of the past. I think there are two reasons for this. Ron is leaving for the States for three weeks shortly after we return home. This is a gray cloud hovering overhead and the other is that he planned too much in too short a time. We have spent a lot of time on trains coming and going.

Berlin is an exciting city, though my best memories are from before the wall came down. There was a tension and excitement of being there and feeling the danger that increased the senses. However, we have been many times since then, because it is full of wonder. This trip, the city was in the last minute stages of preparation for the World Cup. We stayed at a self-catering apartment called Colorfield. When one sees the apartment, it is appropriately named. The colors are charmingly mixed and the bedroom had a huge sumptuous bed.

As we wandered the city, evidence of Football Mania could not go unnoticed. In front of the Brandenburg Gate, there was a giant soccer ball. All of the souvenir shops had soccer memorabilia obliterating the usual Berlin tokens. If one were not a soccer fan, there was no hope in getting a keepsake void of sports.

As pathetic as it may be, there are things American that I long for the longer I am out of the States. A good bagel and a donut are two of them. Berlin has a Dunk’in Donuts and I had to stop. They offer a delicious bagel sandwich that was more than a treat; it was ecstasy for the deprived taste buds. Ron made fun of my need until he saw the sandwich sitting in front of me and then indulged himself.

The one sight that is worth mentioning is the Holocaust Memorial. The last time we were here, it was still in construction. When I first saw the completed creation, I thought it was a waste of space, money, and an insult to the ideals it was meant to honor. A grand square block is filled with rectangular, dark depression moon gray solid blocks of varying heights. They are set in rows that have paths through both horizontally and vertically. The paths are undulating, so as you walk you are rising and descending amongst these massive columns. I set off walking, while Ron took off in another direction. I was ready to continue to criticize this monumental failure as I walked, but something transformed me as I did. With each step of disappearing behind extremely high columns and reappearing with the shorter ones, I gained a sense of walking, wakeful meditation. I felt a peace surround me. Each column then represented a person from the Holocaust each telling their own story as I walked by their life path, sharing with me their tale of sorrow. In some aisles, I was all alone while in others I could see another at a distance, many columns away. I felt a connection with these strangers as we listened to what secrets were being shared. While deep in thought, I heard the sounds of a child running and laughing. My first reaction was to criticize the parents for letting a child play in this honorable space. A moment later, my thinking transposed those thoughts to the sounds of laughter of children who innocently lost their lives for unconscionable reasons through no fault of their own. The child’s hullabaloo then became a song of praise and homage for those young ones who never reached their full potential. I was deeply moved.

We have an early flight tomorrow and return to Budapest by 11:00 am.

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Monday, June 05, 2006

Back to Dresden


This is a short trip, so we do not have a lot of time for Dresden. We return to Berlin this evening. It is still icy chilly and we need gloves for comfort. Ron insists on making the most of the time, so we walk all over the city and take public transport when necessary.

In spite of the bombing in WWII, there are still many highlights in this city. The Baroque Frauenkirche or Church of Our Lady is one of them. It is a Protestant sandstone church built in the 18th century, but was leveled during the war. A 12 year reconstruction project was undertaken at the cost of $160 million to bring it back to its original appearance. This was completed in October 2005. Architects and historians were able to piece together the original bricks that were still useable using archives and photos to put them in their original places. The church looks spotted as a result. The dark fire burned bricks stand out from the new replacement bricks surrounding them, giving the church a sense of resurrection or a phoenix rising from the ashes. Of the original stones, 8,425 were salvaged to be part of the reconstruction.

In the same area is a long wall with a 100-meter long porcelain mosaic called Fürstenzug. It is the ‘Procession of the Dukes’ displaying the rulers of Saxony. Nearby is the Semperoper opera house. It was built by Gottfried Semper, thus its name, in the mid-19th century. It is said to be one of Germany's finest examples of neo-renaissance architecture. Fire destroyed it in 1869 and again in 1945. The current building is an exact replica of the original.

The river Elbe runs through the city and divides it in two. We walked over the bridge a few times and enjoyed the views from both sides.

One of the most amazing sights for us was the Zwinger. This amazing complex was
commissioned by Augustus II (the Strong), the elector of Saxony and king of Poland due to his passion for collecting paintings, sculpture, antiquities, but especially porcelain. His collection included 14,500 pieces of porcelain from China and Japan. He established the porcelain factory at Meissen in 1710. Augustus admitted his passion for porcelain was his maladie de porcelaine (porcelain sickness).

Augustus began to build the Zwinger in 1711. It resembles a palace and can easily be mistaken for one. The architect Matthaus Daniel Poppelmann designed it. The Zwinger was destroyed during World War II and partly reconstructed in 1952 and 1963. Now it is fully reconstructed and restored, displaying the famous porcelain collection.

This evening, we take the train back to Berlin.

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Sunday, June 04, 2006

Leipzig For the Day


Rene is quite the host. The breakfast was incredible with large assortments of rolls, jellies, cheeses, meats, and yogurts. After a filling breakfast, we left for the train station to go to Leipzig for the day. The ride is about 1:15.

Leipzig had the largest Hauptbahnhof in Europe until Berlin usurped it. This seems to be the trade fair capital of Germany and an important city for such throughout Europe dating back centuries. What we did not know was that Leipzig was having a Goth festival. As we were walking and admiring the beautiful architecture, there were many other sights to see walking along side of us.

For music lovers, which I do not count amongst the many, Leipzig is where Johann Sebastian Bach lived for a good part of his life and was the Kantor in the Thomaskirche. He is buried in the choir with the Bach archives across the street. Felix Mendelssohn headed the Gewandhaus Orchestra and founded the first conservatory in Germany. Richard Wagner was born here, receiving his musical training here. This city also boasts Germany’s first stock exchange.

The tourist office is always Ron’s first stop when we reach any destination and this time was no different. While he was drilling the attendant with questions inside, I was speaking with the unfortunate one who pulled the outside duty. I asked her if it was always this cold in early June. She said that she and her colleague were discussing this this morning. The reports are that due to global warming, the polar caps are melting causing a cold front to come through Europe, making this a very unusual summer. Her teeth were chattering as she related this information.

We spent the day here before taking the train back to Dresden. I could have spent more time here. The architecture is amazing and the city is lovely. The Goth distractions were both welcomed and annoying. Annoying since I wanted to snap as many pictures of them as I did the city itself, but time was limited. However, they were entertaining.

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Saturday, June 03, 2006

Germany - Dresden


For some reason I have yet to discover, I have been resistant to writing about our trip to Germany a couple of weeks ago. I am not certain why, but it could have been the weather that had a grave affect on my mood. We took budget airline EasyJet to Berlin. Though the budget airlines have been a boon to air travel, the cost has more than doubled over the last year purportedly due to gas prices.
We arrived at Schoenefeld airport in a timely manner. The metro to the city is conveniently located a couple of blocks away under a protective covering for inclement weather. Within a half hour, we were in the heart of Berlin, but our travel had not ended there.

We immediately went to the new Berlin Hauptbahnhof, now the largest train station in Europe boasting five levels of tracks, shops, restaurants, and services. It was built on land that was once bisected by the Berlin Wall, making it a symbolic gesture of uniting the city. We took a train from here to Dresden using a ticket booked online and printed out with a barcode.

Arriving in evening into Dresden, we walked to the B and B we booked. It was about three blocks from the station. However, Ron wrote down the wrong name for the buzzer and the name he had was not on any bell. He started pressing buzzers one by one to ask if they knew of a B and B in the building. By the fourth attempt, our host came to greet us at the door.

We stayed with Rene Müller at Mary-Wigman-Str. 19, Dresden ( Looking at the e-mail, I can see why Ron was looking for a Rene Glaser on the doorbells. Rene has a very nice comfortable room, but we just dropped our things and went to walk the city in the twilight.

Being Saturday evening, there was not much open other than restaurants and bars, but it was lovely seeing the city at this time of day. The streets were crowded with tourists and residents strolling and chatting in various languages. What struck us the most was that it was COLD. We both had liners under our coats, but we could have used gloves and scarves too. The outdoor restaurants all had their heatalators on to keep the hungry crowds warm enough to sit through a meal.

Dresden was once called the “Florence on the Elbe” being one of Europe’s architectural and artistic highlights. However, much of it was bombed during WWII and much of the city was not much more than a rubble heap. On February 13, 1945, 800 British aircraft showered the city with 2,600 tons of bombs. The Americans followed the next morning with 300 Flying Fortress bombers. It is estimated that 25,000 people were killed, while 13 square miles of the historic city center were destroyed. With temperatures rising to 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit, the burning city was visible to pilots from 100 miles away. Dresden was a central hub for the Nazi’s and the city remained loyal to them, hence its destruction.

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Friday, June 02, 2006

Comments from the Peanut Gallery


Someone sent me a caring note to what I guess was the last blog entry. I repost the pleasant and the not so, without bias.

1. You REALLY need some serious help.

2. Get some strong meds.
3. Lay off the coffee
4. Get a life.
5. GROW UP FOR G0&%$@M SAKE!!!

For the flip side, this came is at the same time.

You make the most frustrating events sound almost funny but at least entertaining. I keep reading as if it is a mystery...can't wait to find the finish...which is also entertaining in a commisserating way....would all probably happen in the states as well as in Hungary, only you'd understand all the under the breath epitaths. Margie

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Thursday, June 01, 2006

Jeers and Cheers!!


When you live here, ‘expect the unexpected’ is not an advertising theme or the motto for Disneyland. It is a way of life. I woke at three in the morning with a panic attack. Who has panic attacks in their sleep? The simple answer is ex-pats. For the more complicated answer consult your local therapist. I must have been dreaming about our appointment with Immigration. That is Scary Movie 6, 7, and 8.

We get a student lined up to go to Immigration with us, not to assist there, but to aid us with our ID cards, which have to be attained at the district office. However, the Immigration attorney from our well financially fed helping agency was meeting us. I wanted the attorney to tell the student what we needed and how we needed to do it. We pay this agency 880 Euros each for guiding us through the maze of the Residency Permits, but they fall short with the last final touch, our ID cards. Perhaps if they rounded up to 900 Euros, they could throw that in.

Let’s take a detour here. The AGENCY sent Ron an e-mail yesterday. They made him pay for renewing his Work Permit (250 Euros) and Annual Visa (320 Euros) since they would expire before the Residency Permit was issued. These were good for exactly two weeks now that the Residency Permit is approved. They also charged me 250 Euros for two years running and then told me that they made a mistake. It turns out that since I only work at the university, I have no need for a Work Permit and should not have applied for one. We had a discussion about professional responsibility and the reasons for a refund, but that matter had been swept under the table. Needless to say that when Ron received the e-mail yesterday stating that now that he had a Residency Permit approved, he no longer needed the Work Permit, I was enraged, but not for the obvious reasons. What set me off was that they were ‘offering’ to rescind the Work Permit for 120 Euros. Can you believe the gall? When we absolutely do not need them any longer, I will send out reviews to anyone and everyone who may potentially use them.

Back on track, we show up at the Immigration office at 11:45 for our noon appointment. The attorney who is supposed to meet us is not there yet, nor by noon, nor by 12:10. At 12:15, he arrives, goes up to the window of the one and only worker who issues Residency Permits. The student with us shares that he heard the word ‘postponement’ but did not hear the rest. My nerves start tingling, my blood pressure rises, and my mind wants to be on vacation in any other country but here or the US. The lawyer turns to us and says “It seems you had an appointment for yesterday, but changed it.” This is true, I tell him. I had to administer thesis defense exams at the university, but our agency worker was notified in plenty of time and rescheduled the appointment. The attorney continues “When she made the new appointment on the Internet, she made an appointment for turning in the paperwork for a new Residency Permit application, not for picking up approved ones. Therefore, they could not pull our permits from the files. Our original appointment was yesterday; shouldn’t they be hanging around someone’s desk somewhere? I have to give the lawyer credit, he cajoled the worker in a sweet manner to try to push for today, even if later in the day, but without success. We have an appointment for 8:30 am tomorrow. I was going to insert a picture here, but it would have been of me strangling a Hungarian Immigration officer or agency worker, so it was thought best not to have that type of evidence floating around. Jeers all around!!!

On the bright side, I was to go to the Fulbright office tomorrow to review applications for Hungarians wanting to go to the States. Since the day may be in chaos, I went today instead. It took me about three hours to read, reread and evaluate the applications and write reviews. When I was finished, they told me that they had forgotten to mention that they pay an honorarium for doing the reviews. I earned 16,000 Huf for my three hours of labor, though I thought I was doing it for free. That comes to $80.00 at today’s exchange. Cheers for this one!

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