Each summer the Flinn Scholars Program takes an entire class of Scholars to Budapest, Hungary, and neighboring Slovakia and Serbia for a three-week seminar on the emerging democracies of Eastern Europe. Here’s a day-by-day account.
Quentin Gunn (’10)
Today was exhausting to say the least. Our schedule listed the activity as a visit to look at the environmental issues occurring on the Danube River in the northern part of Hungary. I thought this would mean some more lectures on the Danube strategy, because of our past activities involving the European Union. However, when we reached the first destination of our day I realized we were in for something completely different.
We arrived at a nature-preserve house that had many different displays about the ecology of the Danube River, all in Hungarian of course, and our guide, Gabor, and his translator, Ester. This was the first lecture we have had that required a translator and was the most difficult for me to follow as a result. However, he was still able to give us a good overview of the history of the region, starting with the origin myth, which included dragons, rangers, magic crystals and faeries. Our group also had a fun time playing with the different displays and puzzles in the house.
After that we went on the first of a series of hikes. This hike was designed to examine the natural flora and fauna of the river area. I found the general atmosphere of the area to be similar to the San Pedro riparian area in Cochise County.
Then came the most exciting part of the day–lunch, thought it was mostly because of a special surprise… music! The area we were eating lunch at was an outdoor picnic area with an open kitchen located in some fields. Our guide and translator’s family ran the kitchen and made us goulash, the best I have had so far on the trip, and spaghetti for the vegetarians. The musicians were some of Ester’s family and friend and were an unscheduled part of our trip. When we were done eating, we had the opportunity to learn some traditional Hungarian circle dances, which were fun to try. I’m sure many of the pictures and videos from our impromptu dance lesson will show up on Facebook soon enough.
Eventually the music finished and we left for our next few hikes of the afternoon. We visited many of the dams and floodgates built along this section of the Danube in the 90s. I had never seen floodgates before, and found them to be quite massive. We also got to go look for beavers along the river. They had been reintroduced in the last few years and had seen a surge in their population. Sadly, we were unable to spot any of these elusive creatures during our hike, though not for lack of trying.
A quick thought on the village we were in before I move on to the next stage in our journey. I found Szigetkoz, Hungary to be quaint and a nice change from Budapest. Most of the houses were painted nice bright colors and we saw many of the citizens walking or riding bikes to enjoy the day. I also liked what I assumed to be their church and the statue of St. Stephen I saw while driving out of the town. Unfortunately we weren’t able to explore the area very much, though there seemed to be several wonderful shops and restaurants around.
Next, after thanking our guide and translator, we had an uneventful drive to Bratislava, Slovakia. We arrived at the Patio Hostel and got our quick introduction to the city from a Fulbright scholar, Anna, who was teaching English in the country. Armed with a set of words and phrases in Slovak, we were sent out to find dinner on our own. The group I went out with consisted of Rae Ann, Angela, C.T. and Savannah. Our first stop was one of the castles in the city, where a security guard allowed us to look around the area. I am not sure of the name of the place at the moment, but I’m sure I’ll find it out tomorrow. After looking around and taking pictures, we left to wander around the downtown district. The whole area was fairly deserted, but we eventually settled on an outdoors restaurant because we were all hungry. The food was good, even the drink I order without any knowledge of what it consisted of, and we all had fun sharing stories from the last year.
I’ll just close out my blog entry with a shout out to Kata, our IIE leader, for putting on an amazing set of programs so far and our driver for his skill in getting us to our destinations safely.