Be Sure to Visit Hungary!

We were an odd lot of people to be the first team into Hungary, ranging in age from an admitted 79 years to early 20’s people. One volunteer couple who owned a winery in California looked forward to learning about famous Hungarian wines. What Sally Swartz and I knew about wine was that we enjoyed drinking it, but we were assigned to a high school.

What a delight the students were. Eager, smiling, welcoming, with enough mischief to make them fun…..but they were also smart, Hungary - 2003 008well-behaved, and open to learning, unlike my then-current clutch of U.S. high school students. One morning the Hungarian students came into my classroom, all excited. (In this small European country, everyone knew “stuff” in the news, far exceeding typical U.S. interests, unfortunately.) What had excited them today? The election of a governor in a state in the U.S……yes, in California and it was Arnold Schwarzenegger—who they instantly claimed was of Hungarian descent. Now, what U.S. student would know where Hungary is located, much less who the leader of that country was? I was learning more than I was teaching.

Hungary - 2003 003The teachers took us on weekend day trips, visiting small towns with big histories—walking through cemeteries with centuries-old dates of burial, the fallen in some long-forgotten war; visiting fabled churches with soaring vaulted ceilings and walls showcasing Hungarian artistic talent; strolling past statues, some funny, some respectful of people in Hungary’s past. That past included a cruel Nazi invasion before the U.S. was involved in WWII, but we felt the anger and sorrow shown by our Hungarian friends as they told stories of unbelievable German brutality, particularly as it focused on the large Jewish population of the country.

Hungary - 2003 005But we had time to visit the markets, filled with food and other items that we didn’tHungary - 2003 004 even recognize. We walked the streets, admiring all those statues that showed the talent of Hungarian artists. And, we happily ate the plethora of food—especially the mashed potatoes one young lady ladled onto my plate. And, Irish or not, I couldn’t possibly eat all those potatoes.

If you haven’t been to Hungary—put it on your visitor list. Food, festivals, friends….and then to top it with a visit to Budapest, the two-pronged city divided by a lovely river.Hungary - 2003 006

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Hungarian Goulash

Hungary - 2003 007There’s a country that few Americans visit, but a student of history and culture should include it.  That country is Hungary, a small nation which warring armies of many countries crossed and nearly destroyed on their way to somewhere else.  It’s a European history book in one small, amazing nation.

Sally Schwartz from Las Vegas and I were privileged to spend several weeks in Hungary a few years ago as part of a Global Volunteer opening effort to “help” a school in a small town, the name of which I still can’t pronounce.  We were the first team into this country from GV, and it was a privilege to “open” it to future teams.

Sally and I were assigned to a high school—warned we were not there to “tell themHungarian classroom how to run their school”…..but it took a bit of tongue-biting for me to keep my mouth shut, even concerning such simple things as the layout of the classrooms and stairs.  But all that faded in our appreciation of the welcome mat that the teachers laid out before us.  They invited us to their parties; took us on “field trips” to famous sites; and nodded agreement when I raised an eyebrow at some aspect of the school’s operation.

But it’s Hungary itself that is worth a visit.  It’s that history book already mentioned. Hungary - 2003 001 The Crusaders passed through Hungary on their way to the Holy Land; centuries later Adolph Hitler made Hungary the #1 country in his aim of European conquest.  Today, the country is peppered with amazing statues, building structures, and markets that entice and intrigue a visitor.  I’ll be writing more about Hungary and what it offers to the world.  Such a small country; such a wealth of beauty, art, and friendship.