My very first passport, issued to my twin sister, Dale, and me, in 1958, is stamped in red with the warning, “This passport is not valid for travel to Hungary.” (The passport was also not valid to travel to countries that did not have diplomatic relations with the United States, including Albania, Bulgaria and “those portions of China, Korea, and Viet-Nam under Communist control.”)
I often use this passport when I present a lesson on primary sources in history to my students. When I ask the classes why my passport has this warning, very few students have the correct answer.
Two years earlier in 1956, a revolution broke out in Hungary against the Soviet-controlled government. In October that year, the Hungarian army joined the protesters who marched through Budapest waving Hungarian flags with the Communist hammer-and-sickle emblem cut out. Leading the uprising, Imre Nagy formed a new government, promised free elections and demanded the removal of Soviet troops. Determined to keep Hungary as a satellite, the Soviet Union sent tanks and infantry units into the country. The Hungarian Revolution ended badly with the deaths of 25,000 Hungarians, the execution of Nagy and the flight of 250,000 to the West.
Fifty years after the Hungarian Revolution, I was able to travel to Hungary, thanks to an EF New Year’s Teacher Convention Tour for group leaders held December 27, 2006-Jaunary 1, 2007. I could not help but think about that warning stamped on my first passport.
If you’re an EF Group Leader and have never attended a Teacher Convention Tour, then please make plans to travel on one in the near future. You have the luxury of travel without students and the chance to share your tour ideas with EF staff and other EF group leaders. You will not have to worry about wake-up calls, other than your own, or bed checks. The group leader conventions are your reward for working hard on your student tours.Hungary went through some incredible changes during the past half-century. The Budapest itinerary was filled with many sightseeing tours and free-time opportunities get to know this historic city. My husband and I had a fabulous time with the EF staff members and the many group leaders and their spouses who were part of the Budapest convention.
Budapest is definitely one of my favorite cities. My husband looked forward to the opportunity to enjoy its many thermal baths. He did not have any qualms about joining the ranks of the Speedo-wearing Hungarian men and went to three different baths during the convention. (He packed his Speedo and a bathing cap to be ready to take in the “waters.”) One morning when the group leaders had a workshop, he took the husband of one of the group leaders and their three sons, to one of the baths, and believe it or not, a good time was had by all. The massages completed a unique and relaxing experience in Budapest for all of them.
Another unique experience in Budapest is the fine dining. One evening during the convention, my husband and I found ourselves near the Hungarian National Museum, and we saw the Muzeum Café and Restaurant, an establishment that dates back to 1885. Even though we did not have any reservations, we walked into the elegant and plush restaurant to see if we could get a table. The restaurant even had a cloakroom attendant and a musician playing a grand piano. I had my doubts about being able to eat there, but my husband was very nicely dressed in an elegant three-piece wool suit (at left) he purchased in Edinburgh. The maître d’—who was probably impressed by my husband’s suit and perhaps the potential of a hefty tip—ushered us to a great table in the restaurant. After we had an amazing traditional Hungarian dinner, I apologized to my husband for giving him grief about packing that other suit, his Speedo.
I was able to return to Budapest in spring 2009 on a student tour. My packing list for that tour did not include a Speedo for the guys, and even though we did not visit the thermal baths, we still had an amazing time in Budapest. One favorite place for students is the Great Market Hall, the largest indoor market in Budapest and the best place for students to sample local foods and do some souvenir shopping. If your students want to get some shopping out of their system, then this place is “it.” Parents might enjoy receiving paprika as a gift, but remind students to buy it in sealed containers so that it can get through Customs. Students will get a kick out of seeing “real food,” and they can do some people-watching for free. The produce is as colorful as the people, who are so friendly.
Students not only love to shop, but they also love to take photographs. The Fisherman’s Bastion (above) is where you can get a beautiful panoramic view of the city. With seven towers or turrets representing the Magyar tribes that settled in Hungary, the Fisherman’s Bastion can be the backdrop for many memorable photographs (at right).
I would also recommend an excursion to the Danube Bend region that includes a stop in Szentendre, a town that supports an artists’ colony. We took a boat to get to Szentendre last spring. It’s fun to wander the streets in this town, looking at the well-preserved houses and the decorated shop windows. There are many museums and art galleries, but for the sheer “kitsch” factor, go to the Marzipan Museum, a candy and ice cream store that has the most impressive displays made out of marzipan, including the Hungarian Parliament building and a life-sized Michael Jackson.
There is a folk art shop (below) in Szentendre run by the Kovacs family since 1878 that specializes in blue-dyed products, including fabric, tablecloths, aprons, clothing and a variety of accessories. I purchased some fabric for my daughter, who is a quilter. The best souvenirs are the ones you can actually use when you return home.
I was cooking dinner recently and using paprika I purchased in Hungary. As I was watching the evening news on the television in my kitchen, my heart broke over the story of the ecological disaster in Hungary due to the toxic spill from an aluminum plant in the town of Kolotar. All that industrial red sludge is the stuff of nightmares. Our country has been through the similar nightmare of the Gulf oil spill. Several villages have already been buried by the red sludge. I am going to keep Hungary in my thoughts and prayers as it now tries to prevent a second toxic spill from occurring. I am worried about the impact of the toxic spill on tourism in Hungary, and I hope it won’t keep visitors away.
I remember the euphoria that swept through Hungary when the reformers in that country dissolved the Communist Party in 1989 and when the voters put a non-Communist government in power in 1990. I hope that euphoria returns, and I hope many of you will have an opportunity to travel to Hungary one day with your students.