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Archive for January, 2009

Home Again

As all of you must know by now, we are all home.  Our flight even got in one hour early to JFK (the flight attendant next to me said, “remember that the next time your Delta flight is late.”).  All of our treasures also arrived home safely.  We are starting to work our way through all the chocolate from seven different countries.  And trying to work my way through jet lag and the backlog of work, too.  One thing that is not yet complete is this blog. Our students will be submitting some thoughts for inclusion over the next few days so I anticipate posting through the middle of next week.  Watch this space…and thanks for following along from home as we learned about the European Union and had a great adventure.

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On the Road Again

The day started with a short class followed by a visit to the synagogue…the second biggest in the world and one with a long history including the devastation of World War II. We had an excellent English language guide. With that visit, the class work for this course officially ended. Students had the rest of the afternoon and evening to shop for last minute gifts, pack and say goodbye to our European Union adventure. We will all be out of the hotel by 9:30 local time tomorrow morning for the flight home. By tomorrow night we hope to be reunited with friends and family and sleep in familiar surroundings. I suspect we will dream about the places we’ve been and the wonderful people we’ve met…not to mention the chocolate and pastries we’ve eaten.

While this is the last planned post from Europe we will have some wrap up postings next week.

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Mozart, coffee and pastry. There you have it.  Vienna in three nouns. But Vienna is also home to many international organizations including the United Nations.  We had an excellent briefing at The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and a great tour of the UN.

At the OSCE

At the OSCE

Few people know about the OSCE so that was enlightening as well as giving students insight into the possibilities of a Foreign Service career.

"Chairperson" Scott at the OSCE

"Chairperson" Scott at the OSCE

After our tour, most spent about one hour wandering around Vienna but six of the women decided to stay overnight in Vienna with me.

Landesberg's Angels

Landesberg's Angels

We checked into a small, European-style hotel I know that is very close to the center of Old Vienna…just steps from St. Stephen’s Cathedral.  There are only four rooms on each floor in this narrow hotel.  The lift has enough room for four…but only if all hold their breath.

There is no inner-door on the lift.  Pretty typical but different from what most of us usually see.  We spent the early evening wandering the streets of old Vienna and then headed to dinner together.  Dinner was at a typical Viennese restaurant in the old city and we spent a leisurely three hours talking, laughing and lingering over dinner… the way Europeans dine.

We capped the night at a local coffee shop.   The next morning, the ladies rented a horse and buggy for a ride around the old city.  After a chocolate and pastry shop it was time to head back to Budapest and a night at the opera.

The opera was Carmen.  But not the classic Carmen.  This was “Carmen on Central European Time.”   The opera was about half as long as what Bizet originally wrote.  It was staged in contemporary street clothes with no sets.  It was in Hungarian.

Not the original but a fascinating production that seemed to be a bit of post-soviet allegory as well as the opera with familiar music.  The performance was in a beautiful theatre with great acoustics and we were sitting in the eighth row, center.  After that wonderful production it was on to a dinner with everyone had a great local restaurant where students dined on pheasant, duck, chicken and other beautifully prepared dishes.  It was also where we got to celebrate Dr. Morgan’s birthday.  Students bought her flowers and other gifts (I believe there may have been some chocolate involved) and a card in German–we assume it was wishing her well.   It was great to mark the ending of our trip over a two hour meal filled with laughter and celebration.

dinner in Vienna

Helping Dr. Morgan blow out her birthday candle

Helping Dr. Morgan blow out her birthday candle

Later today….it is a visit to the synagouge and pack for the trip home tomorrow.

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Today was a day for students to explore on their own.  Many went to the market or other shopping areas, mostly looking for presents for others.  This may be the last “shop-op” for many of us.  Some went to the art museum and others went to the spa (believe it or not that is very much a cultural experience here).  We will be leaving Budapest and our study of the European Union in just a few days.  Before we go we have one more country to visit.  We will be up very early tomorrow morning to catch the first train to Vienna to visit the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the United Nations.  Some of us will stay in Vienna overnight.  Others will opt to return to Budapest on Friday.  Saturday we will all see Carmen here in Budapest.

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A Rainy Night in…

Budapest.  Yes, rain.  For the first time on our study abroad we have been confronted with rain instead of snow…and temperatures in the low 40s instead of well below freezing.  It is also dark when we get up…even at a reasonable hour…and dark again by about 4:30 in the afternoon.  All in all, typical for this part of the world during this time of year. But it isn’t only the weather that has changed during our long trek across Europe.

Students watch the Inauguration

Students watch the Inauguration

For two-thirds of our trip, we talked about the elected leader of our country, George W. Bush. At  6 pm local time yesterday, that all changed for us as it did for all of you. Our students watched it all from the dormitories of Central European University hosted by a Russian Master’s Student, Marina, who spent one year as an exchange student at Elon.  Even our students who did not vote for President Obama and may not support him still admitted that it was a moving moment and an important time in the life of our country.  It was a moment that was more acutely savored from the distance of 6,000 miles and in the company of international students.

Today we had more politics…of the European kind.  The day started with a visit to the Hungarian Parliament, one of the most ornate and beautiful buildings in Europe.  Lots of gold leaf, huge staircases, incredible woodwork.  It is the fairytale palatial Hapsburg era central European showplace building.

inside the Hungarian Parliament

inside the Hungarian Parliament

Thanks to Dr. Morgan, our tour was conducted by two men who had decades of experience at the Parliament who got us into places tourists don’t usually get including sitting in the seats of Parliamentarians rather than just looking at those seats from the gallery. Our day concluded with briefings at the Foreign Ministry as they look forward to Hungary taking the EU Presidency in 2011.

In Parliament

In Parliament

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On Top of Old Buda

Beautiful Budapest

Budapest is very special to me.  It is where my wife and I honeymooned a few years after Hungary became free of Soviet domination. There were a few good restaurants around at that time, many good coffee shops, and a Dairy Queen.  No one spoke English and few menus were translated into English.  Today, there are great restaurants everywhere with English speaking waitresses (most also speak another two or three languages) and English menus, there are still good coffee and pastry shops (some in business for the last hundred or so years) and more McDonalds, Burger Kings and Pizza Huts than any one city could possibly need.  Exported American culture–super-sized.  But this is still the special city we feel in love with all those years ago.  It reminds me of how lucky I am. It is still has great old world charm.  It is still someplace everyone should  visit.

In front of a replica castle in Budapest

In front of a replica castle in Budapest

Our visit today included a walk around the city, exploring the market, and a special  bus tour arranged just for our group.  We saw all the important sites such as St. Mathis church in old Buda , the public spa, the castle built 100 years ago as a replica of Dracula’s castle, the beautiful views of the city at night from atop the old fort on the tallest hill in Buda.  But we all saw some of the other sites that are special and  remind me of my good friend Tommy who grew up in Los Angeles.  We are the same age and friends since college.  But while I was a toddler in the suburbs,  parked in front of the television watching Sky King and Leave it to Beaver, Tommy and his family were fleeing the 1956 revolution in Hungary.  We have seen the pockmarks on the university walls from the bullets fired at student protesters and we are staying in the hotel where much of the student revolt was planned.  We’ve seen where troops looked down on unarmed protesters and opened fire.  And I think of Tommy and how lucky he was to get out and get the chance to grow up in LA.   And how many people could not leave and suffered all those years.  Budapest is a very special place to me.

Tomorrow: Barak Obama’s Inauguration from a European perspective

Bridge linking Buda and Pest (from Buda side)

Bridge linking Buda and Pest (from Buda side)

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We are in Budapest!

Arrived safe and sound…all is well.  The plane was delayed by 90 minutes but there were no problems with the flight, all the luggage arrived and everyone is safely tucked in and looking forward to our first full day in Budapest tomorrow.

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