Archive for the ‘Tim’s Corner’ Category


Kriszti and I just came back from a four-day visit to Rome, Italy.

From Rome 2011

(Click on any of the photos to view full size or see the whole album at the bottom of this post).

One of the amazing things about Europe for me is how close things are…we left Szolnok on Wednesday afternoon (we chose to fly Wizz Air which has incredibly low-priced flights, but a very strange schedule), taking the train to Budapest’s Liszt Ferenc (Franz Liszt) airport. Our flight left Budapest at eight-something and arrived in Rome at a quarter to ten. The flight was roughly the same length of time as the train trip.
One of the difficult things for me to get used to on many European flights is that they don’t assign seats, so everyone queues up an hour in advance of the flight, then there’s a rush for seats and confusion ensues (including a fair amount of pushing and shoving, jostling and so forth). We paid a little extra for “priority boarding” which, essentially, meant we were able to cut to the front of the line…anyway enough said about that.
We arrived to Rome city center around midnight (after waiting on the shuttle bus for an hour in the airport parking lot) so we ended up taking a taxi to our accommodations–a sort of B&B called “Residenza Maxima” the pictures you see on their Web site are of the room we stayed in, but they tend to make it look just a little better than it actually was). It was located a bit far from the center, but roughly half-way between the center and the “Centro Congressi” a conference center deep in the suburbs where the TESOL Italy conference (http://tesolitaly.org) was being held.
We found the apartments, woke up the manager and got our keys and fell into bed, exhausted. Early the next morning we were up early and out about for our first forray into the city.

From Rome 2011

It took us a while to get oriented (find the right tram into the city, buy tickets, etc.) but we were soon at the Piazza Venezia with our mouths hanging open because everywhere you looked there were jaw-droppingly beautiful monuments to look at.

From Rome 2011
From Rome 2011

Kriszti and I both love taking pictures and we adopt a machine-gun approach to photography–we were each snapping pictures like mad. Between us we took over seven hundred pictures in our first two days–I love digital! Can you imagine how much that would have cost in the days of film?

From Rome 2011

We walked until our feet couldn’t hold us up anymore, then we headed back to our neighborhood where we dropped into a small market to buy some groceries. The guy at the deli counter was singing and whistling while he cut prosciutto and cheeses and served customers. And though he only had a little English and we (meaning Kriszti) only a little Italian, he helped us put together an amazing meal for only a few Euros, all the while laughing and joking with us. We already had some pasta in our basket, and he packaged up a small container of fresh pesto, several slices of prosciutto, a chunk of cheese (to die for), and olives (also to die for); in addition we bought a bottle of white wine, a jar of antipasti, some cookies and sweets and sundries. we took all this home to the apartment and Kriszti cooked the pasta while I set up a Skype call with the kids.
The next day I went off to the conference and Kriszti did sight-seeing, then hooked up with a local Nia teacher and eventually ended up teaching Nia classes in Rome! (it’s up to her to write about her experiences, nudge, nudge). We met up in the evening and had a magical night visiting some beautiful places such as the Trevi Fountain

From Rome 2011

, Piazza Navona and the Pantheon

From Rome 2011

On Saturday I attended the conference and gave my presentation in the afternoon. My presentation was scheduled for 3:15 and at 3:10 I was standing in front of an empty room. I was starting to worry that everyone had gone home early, or, worse yet, they simply hadn’t found my presentation abstract interesting, but it turned out that the plenary speaker had gone long, and people were late getting the next sessions. Within a few minutes the room filled up and I proceeded to give my presentation, “Leveraging Internet tools and resources for creating CLIL classroom materials…” I won’t bore you with the details, but I was very happy to say that it was well received; several people came up afterwards to congratulate me and say how much they enjoyed the presentation.
After the conference, I met back up with Kriszti and we spent another evening running around Rome until our legs nearly fell off.

From Rome 2011

Sunday we slept a little later and then went to the Porta Portese Flea Market in Trastevere…this was a huge market with what seemed like a million people crowding into narrow lanes between stalls selling just about everything you could imagine. We had fun buying T-shirts, fridge magnets, and other kitschy tourist stuff for about a third of the price it cost in the city center. Unfortunately, Kristi had arranged to teach another class and we were stuck in the middle of this huge mob. We had a slightly stressful fifteen-minute rush along a surprisingly long lane packed with shoppers. Eventually we made our way out and then hopped on busses and metros to get here to where she was going. At this point we split up: she went to teach her class and I went back to the apartments to check out and collect our bags. We met back up in the city, then stashed out bag at the Termini station. We spent our last few hours in Rome doing more walking (blisters!) and a little gift shopping.
More planes, trains and walking and we were back in Szolnok. The last little bit of spice to our adventure was that the handle to our pullman wouldn’t come out and I had to pull it from the train station in Szolnok to our apartment (normally about a ten minute walk) at 2:30 am. Kriszti said the wheels sounded like a tractor in the early morning silence, but the bag was too heavy to carry having been stuffed with our dirty cloths and all the gifts we had purchased.

Rome 2011

Now we are home relaxing in our pajamas and recovering…I think after a day or two of rest I’ll be ready to go on another adventure.

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We had our “szüret” (grape harvest) and wine making over the last week or so. We picked 185 Kg (about 400 lbs) from Tata’s garden–it’s amazing how many grapes can be packed into a moderate sized garden. After picking the grapes, we ran them through a grinder to separate the fruit from the skins and stems. After that the stems and other debris were removed and the “must” was placed in large containers for fermentation. Due to good weather, the first stage of the fermentation was over relatively quickly (about 5 days). After this the “lé” was filtered out and the skins were run through a press. All together we calculated roughly 120 liters of wine.
You can see highlights of the process in the following video montage:

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Thursday last week we decided to borrow the family Fiat and drive down to the Istrian peninsula in Croatia. It is about a nine-hour drive with stops along the way, so we decided to leave early in the morning (4:30 AM-ish). We were through Budapest before 6 and in Croatia by 9. I was doing the driving, and when we stopped for gas just over the border (after about five hours driving), I was definitely needing some coffee (in Croatian it is called “kava”).
The problem was I didn’t have any Croatian money (Kuna). I paid for gas by card and didn’t want to use it again just for coffee.
Back in the car I told the family my dilemma, and it wasn’t much later we were driving down the road singing:

No Kuna, no kava
What a wonderful phrase
No Kuna, no kava
Ain’t no passing craze
It’s a caffeine free philosophy
No Kuna, no kava…

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Yesterday we took a day-trip to Vác to visit Kriszti’s Aunt and Uncle, Margit and Pali. We got up early and dropped Tiny off with Mama and Tata, then took the train to Budapest where we changed to the “Zonázó” a light rail train that zipped us quickly, quietly and cleanly (all novel experiences for those used to the Hungarian railways of yesteryear) up to Vác in 25 minutes.

From Vác

Uncle Pali (Pali Bácsi) picked us up at the train station and took us home for a quick breakfast. I have been visiting this family for nearly 20 years, so I wasn’t surprised when he persuaded me to start the morning off with a small glass of pálinka (Hungarian fruit brandy–this was törkörly, or grappa). I don’t drink that much and never in the morning, so it wasn’t a surprise that after lunch I would end up snoozing on a lawn chair in the garden. I could have said no, but…well, you know, “when in Rome.”
After visiting for a while, Pali, who is a retired history teacher, took us into town for a tour. We have seen a lot of this before, but it is always entertaining and informative to go with Pali. We visited the “Maria Kapu” which is a large arch commemorating the visit of Maria Tereza in 1764. We walked along the Danube river then went to the main square which, to our surprise, was the location of the “Lecsó Fesztivál”. Lecsó is a traditional Hungarian peasant dish–a kind of stew made from bacon, paprika (peppers) and tomatoes. We took lots of pictures and videos, but unfortunately, they don’t have technology yet for capturing the wonderful smell that filled the Baroque Square.
The best part of the trip, however, was seeing the family. Both of Kriszti’s cousins and most of their children all stopped by to say hello. It was a nice reunion which, of course, included a lot more food. All of this can be seen in the video slideshow here. The music to the slide show, “Raindrops” was composed and created by our very own maestro, Andy VanSlyke.

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The heat is hovering around a 100 today and there’s not much else to do but lounge in front of the “ventilator” (electric fan) and read and blog.

We had a nice lunch today with Kriszti’s mom and dad: Mama and Tata to us. As often happens, just prior to eating, Tata comes around with an “aperitiv”…in this case Hungarian megy palinka (cherry brandy) which is followed during lunch with a glass or two of his homemade wine, “Tigred”–they live on Tigris Utca (tiger street) and he only makes red wine, thus: tig-red.

Lunch today consisted of two courses. It’s too hot for soup, so the first course was gazpacho with eight varieties of tomato picked fresh from Tata’s garden and garnished with diced cucumber,  paprika (red and green peppers), and homemade croûtons. The second course was rantott (breaded and deep fried) chicken, cauliflower and mushrooms served with rice and homemade “kovaszos” pickles.

From August 2011

Over lunch the subject came up of Tata’s childhood and he told us a story of when he was a child and the newly triumphant communists “kitelepitett” (which, roughly translated, means transplanted) undesirables from the city out into the small villages far from the capital. His family lived in just such a village, Tiszabő, where they were “kisgazdak”–not gentry, but “small landholders.” At that time he remembers that three families were transplanted into their small village home. One into the house itself, another into their enclosed porch and yet another into the sheep stalls. As Tata remembers it, this occurred around 1950 and the families were to stay there with them until around 1955 when the government began to loosen it strict controls somewhat, probably in the wake of growing unrest that eventually led to the 1956 “ellenforradalom” or “counter-revolution.”

“One thing they [the communists] didn’t consider,” he told us, “was the cultural impact this would have on the village. Imagine the effect all these well-educated, cultured people had.” The head of one family was a prominent officer from the army, others were engineers, university professors and musicians. He told us of a clear memory he has of a professor from the music academy who was transplanted as a cowherd. Each morning he would lead his charges out to pasture with his Stradivarius violin. “At the gate he would stop and tip his wide-brimmed hat saying ‘Szervusz Rozsika!’ to the cows as they passed by.” I love stories like this that show that even in such hard times, people can keep their sense of humor.

We laughed and enjoyed each other’s company, and managed to beat the heat staying mostly behind the foot-thick walls of Mama and Tata’s house.  In the afternoon we helped prepare “szilvas gomboc” (plum dumplings), which are large dumplings made from potatoes and flour, each with a whole plum in the center. This became our dinner served with a plum sauce and sugared cinnamon to sprinkle over the top.

From August 2011

I’m not sure where we will find the strength to make it home this evening after such a trying day.

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This blog is chronicling the adventures of the VanSlyke family as we spend our sabbatical in Hungary and other parts of Europe from August through December, 2011.

We are:

  • Tim VanSlyke (A.K.A “Apa”)
  • Kriszti VanSlyke (A.K.A “Anya”)
  • András VanSlyke, age 15, (A.K.A. “Andy”)
  • Noémi VanSlyke, age 13, (A.K.A. “Mo,” A.K.A. “MoMo”)
  • Tiny VanSlyke, age 8, (A.K.A. “Mitter Man,” “Mr. Mitter” “Tinusz Minuzs Maximusz”)

We will all be blogging along the way, though Tiny may not have as much to say as the rest of us.

Our departure is planned for one week from today. We’ve arranged people to watch the house, Tiny has had his shots and is getting accustomed to his doggy carrier, our bags are half-packed and all we can talk about are all the things we plan to do in Europe for the next five months.

A few of our tentative plans include:

  • Spending as much quality time as possible with Kriszti’s family
  • Getting around and seeing as much of Hungary as possible
  • A trip to Vienna and Salzburg
  • A trip to Cinque Tere in Italy (Bologna, Florence and Pisa as well!)
  • A trip to the Istrian Penninsula in Croatia (Rovinj, Pula, etc)
  • Switzerland, Bulgaria, Greece ???
  • Attending the IATEFL Conference in Budapest, Hungary in October
  • Presenting at the TESOL Italy conference in Rome in November
  • Renting an apartment in Budapest for the month of November
  • Spending the holidays in Szolnok with Kriszti’s family
  • Many, many other adventures we haven’t imagined yet!

Along the way we will learn a lot. This is “Road schooling” for the kids, so look for posts about geography, language, culture, cuisine, customs, history, art, architecture and whatever else strikes our fancy.

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