Mary Ellen Haupert
Trying to recall all the unique experiences of Budapest and our arrival in Novi Sad will be almost impossible given that my foggy, jet-lagged brain has been undergoing some major sensory overload for the past 48 hours. So, disclaimer accomplished, here goes…
My first induction into the Hungarian language was a taxi driver who tried to convince us to pay him 24 Euros for a trip from the airport to our hotel (10 minute drive). Since I couldn’t understand a word of what he was saying, I noticed instead his smoke breath and his spew of spit (that I wiped off my face during the pressuring). I’m sure that I needed a bath after the plane ride, but not that kind of bath. We ended up opting for the MINIBUS, which cost a reasonable $7.00.
I chose the Hotel Atlantic because reviews claimed it was clean and close to the train station. The reviewers didn’t say anything about the depressed nature of the neighborhood and the mile walk to anything resembling civilization, which thankfully didn’t end up being a problem. Arriving at the Atlantic, I did get a smile from the young man (with studs in his eyebrows and lip) working at the desk by asking him to teach me how to say “thank you” and “goodbye” in Hungarian. I’ve decided that THANK YOU should be everyone’s first word.
Budapest is one of three cities that the 19th-century Habsburg dynasty spruced and endowed. While Vienna and Prague seem to be the Habsburgs’ survivor children, Budapest (even without the same resources) has retained plenty of its own charm. The subway system is the second oldest of its kind (London being the first), with tiled walls and carved woodwork at some of the stops near the city center. (I decided to pay for ride just to say that I had done it, and was surprised at the LACK of graffiti on the walls. I thought it was mandatory in subways?) The streetcars are clean and efficient, and the BUILDINGS…. While the Hapsburg-era buildings are ornate and detailed—striking, even though many of them have broken windows—what caught my eye were the Secessionist buildings that were the “thing” when Budapest shared the role of the Austro-Hungarian Empire with Vienna (more about this at: http://www.bohemianink.net/?p=191). The architects who defined this new style were reacting against other fads throughout Europe—creating just another they could call their own. They didn’t shy from color (especially on roof tiles), which pops architectural details that Mike Mader would know about.
Even though I was jet-lagged, the city, the language, the baths, and St. Stephen’s at night lifted my adventurous soul last night! (BATH SIDEBAR: Yes, I paid $4.00 to swim in the Szechnyi Baths—which is supposed to be THE Hungarian bathing experience. I didn’t have a towel and brought my stretched out old blue suit and thought I’d be cool sitting with the natives in their gargantuan hot tub…until. Well, the bubbles stopped and a swirling current started that took all the natives and me on a ride around and around and around the center of our giant hot tub. Unfortunately, my stretched out suit couldn’t handle the ride and I had all I could do to keep my private self under wraps…not a good thing in company with young Hungarian males. I threw the suit away after my bathing experience.)
Up at the crack of dawn, I was determined to capture the city when it was waking and getting ready to roar. I walked three miles to the Danube and crossed the beautiful Vamhaz Korut bridge while dodging biker after biker on their way to work. The scenery was gorgeous and the citadel impressive, but I was most impressed by the bike paths and pedestrian walkways, as well as the number of folks who walk, bike, or use public transportation in Budapest! Yes, I know that the price of gas probably drives their choices, but that didn’t really matter. This morning, Mary Ellen from La Crosse walked along the Danube while a bunch of people from Budapest pedaled themselves to work. I really liked that.
The train trip from Budapest to Novi Sad started with some stress. We probably should have scoped the distance from the hotel to the train station, but estimated the walk via map and more knee-jerk than reason. Sparing the details, we landed in our seats with 10 minutes to spare before leaving Keleti P. When I booked the train tickets, I was dumb enough to think that 6 hours of scenic countryside was in store. Instead, we traveled through flat fields of sunflowers and corn that resembled our Plains states. I couldn’t help but think of Hungary and Serbia as mere margins between Vienna and other slick cities like Athens and Istanbul. I wanted to think of Serbia as having more personality than a chunk of land, but keenly felt its old east-block residue when we stopped at Novi Sad:
We stopped in a city (after miles of farmland).
There was [one small sign] marking destination at the train stop (which we missed enroute).
The conductor didn’t say where we were (like they do in Germany and Scotland).
It had been six hours (signaling that our time was up).
I asked the young girl in our cab if this was NOVI SAD.
She replied, “Yes, and you should hurry to get off the train” in perfect English.
So, how long does it take to shake an east-block way of being? They seem like sweet people, but the second generation of WWII still hasn’t figured out that they might welcome outsiders better with signs at the stops, etc! It was all very curious, understated, and thought-provoking. I’m guessing a piece of this puzzle is that they are more Russian than any western flavor. (Serbian is written in both Latin and Cyrillic forms, so I am constantly at the mercy of the map—which primarily uses the Latin script.) Their blend of both East and West is worn as resilience and courageous, maybe even stubborn. I was appalled to read about the Novi Sad Massacre—a massive killing by Hungarians (Axis) in 1942 of 3,000 to 4,000 citizens of the city (a quarter of whom were Jews). I took a picture of the sculpture (on the Danube) commemorating the victims.
Bear with me. Once you get past the train station, the city is a hidden gem. It reminds me of Bamberg, Germany (where my daughter spent most of 2011) with its cafes, churches, museums, and scenic attractions. Our hotel concierge tells me that the city hosts many religious flavors, with Roman Catholic and Serbian Orthodox the most common. Just today I slipped into a Serbian Orthodox service, a Roman Catholic mass, and discovered two 14h-century Greek icons. When I got back to our hotel, I relayed the events to Marijana (our concierge) and was lucky enough to get a tip for my next adventure.
Evidently, there are 12-15 monasteries on Fruška Gora mountain, which I’ll be able to get to via bike rental tomorrow afternoon. I AM SO EXCITED ABOUT THIS! I’ll practice for my allotted 2 hours in the morning, sit in on some sessions, practice with Tim @ 12:00NN, and then TAKE OFF!
Today is more normal than yesterday, if waking up in Serbia is what would be considered normal for me. Jetlag caught up with me, and my intention to wake early and practice by 8:00am was bungled by the absence of an alarm. Even so, I managed to clean up, eat, and get to the practice room by 8:30am. Teaching studios in the Isidor Bajic (Bah-yich) Music School are being used for practice and performing participants can sign up for up to two hours per day. I worked on three different pianos this morning—one Petrov and two Bluthner instruments, each with LIGHT actions and bright tone. There is no air conditioning in the building, so the windows are opened to the street. When I walked over this morning, I could hear practicing from a block away. I could also smell cigarettes while practicing and could have easily eaves-dropped on the café customers below my window if I knew the language.
When Tim and I finished our rehearsal at 1:00pm, I walked to the bicycle rentals behind the music school and paid $6.00 for a full day rental. My heart was set on finding monasteries after my chat with Marijana, for which I felt confident that signs would lead me on a pedal-pushing, spiritual pilgrimage of sorts. Soon after I crossed the bridge to the “mountain” side of the Danube, the chain fell off the bike and it took me 15 minutes or so to get the greasy thing back on. Without wipes (remember, I pack light), I looked for a fountain, a puddle, a TAOLET, anything to get the grime off, but didn’t see anything in the vicinity. So, I hopped back on the bike, greasy hands and all, in search of monastery signs. After a few miles of dodging cars and looking for water, I decided that Marijana was smoking something close to her name and turned around.
There WAS a sign for a fortress, so that’s what I would have to do. I sneaked into a public-looking building at the foot of a hill, found a bathroom, and de-greased. Parking my bike, I walked up a path that led first to a complex where Serb parents and their kids were milling around. I could hear several brass instruments from the open windows—including a lick from a Mozart horn concerto. Interesting, but not where I wanted to be. Intending to walk back toward my bike, I chanced another path that wound its way up to the fortress. WIKI tells me that the Petrovaradin Fortress has an extensive underground passage system and has been inhabited and/or used for defense since 15,000 B.C. Fascinating find, but I was still curious about those monasteries!
On the hunt for a place to wash my hands, I remembered a young man sitting behind a desk in the public-looking building and decided that he might know something about the monasteries. His English was almost perfect as he politely told me that the monasteries were out of reach for a bike and that I would do better taking the path that ran along the Danube. So much for that.
The Serbs have done a beautiful job with a 10km stretch of path that includes a bike lane, pedestrian path, AND running path! They didn’t spare expense on the materials—paving the bike lane, bricking the pedestrian path, and surfacing the running lane with whatever that rust material for tracks is called? Bathers were out in droves this afternoon, making me wonder if the city stops working mid-afternoon so that people can have some rec time before going back to work (or not).
The bike path gave me an insider’s view to life in Serbia. Apartments are the norm here…or rather, run-down apartment buildings dot the cityscape without the same slum cloud that similar buildings in the US might have. Even though the housing units look sketchy, there were plenty of outdoor rec spaces that were in full use by the locals—weight lifting, soccer, swimming, barbeque/picnic, playgrounds, tennis, etc. From a spectator’s perspective, they seem like very social people. (The full cafes in the evening are another indicator of this.)
After returning my bike, I gobbled a scoop of chocolate gelato and walked over to The Name of Mary Church for some quiet time. Unable to get past the locked door, I made my way to the Serbian Orthodox church on the other side of the plaza. People were queuing up to reverence the icons before a service and I had the strange feeling that my presence (and not knowing anything about their worship) was ir-reverential. A nice nap capped the afternoon and made for a worthy prelude to the concerts that I’ll attend at the music school this evening.
Just returned from the evening concerts and am ready to call it a night! The first performer was a graduate from the Isidor Bajic Music School and played VERY WELL! He dedicated his encore (Rachmaninov Prelude in D Major) to his girlfriend, whose birthday was [the day of the concert]. The audience of locals cleared out before the Australian couple played their concert of duo and duet music. Too bad. They were excellent.
The only practice time that I had signed out for today was at 8:00am, so after an evening with open windows to boisterous party-ers in the street below, I was CRAWLING out of bed this morning and doubted I would make my start time. (Those of you who know me well, know this would be a mild hindrance…one easily remedied with a splash of cold water in the face and breakfast—not forgetting the strong coffee in the café.)
The walk to Isidor Bajic Music School is about 7 minutes from the HOTEL VELIKI. I have had the pleasure of passing cafes and churches at a time when the most important work is cleaning the streets and opening shops for the day’s business. This particular morning, the church bells of THE NAME OF MARY CATHOLIC CHURCH were ringing, prompting a peak into the church. They were singing the opening hymn for a liturgy celebrating the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, so I took the opportunity to pray with the locals! Even though I couldn’t understand a word, I found the priest engaging. He was an older guy—about 60 and barely 5’5’’ tall—and could barely reach the tabernacle, but his voice was commanding-stretching the homily at least 15 minutes and beyond. It was a pity that the assembly didn’t sing (without even the feeble-ist attempt) and that the choir of senior citizens in the loft sounded like crows. Of course, I loved it. Mass was in Serbian!! So INCREDIBLY COOL!!!
The music school is only minutes from the church, so, practice abandoned, I had plenty of time to get ready for the presentation. The conference team hired an IT person AND videographer for all sessions—making set up simple and worry free. The main hall décor could be compared to what you’d expect from a large European estate--decorative capitals and moldings, curtained windows, and upholstered chairs. Three grands occupy the stage—a Steinway and Sons B, Kawai 7’, with a question mark on the third? My creativity, meaning, and purpose spiel was well-received by the small, but diverse audience—an Israeli, some Australians and Americans, and one Russians. It’s nice to think that I only have one more gig before I can hang this dog and pony show up!
Instead of being preoccupied with my own stuff, today’s effort was getting the gist of other’s playing and teaching. Sophia Gilmson from U of Texas-Austin was purposefully funny in the “promotion” of her DVD on the Bach Goldberg Variations. She’s Russian, but has taught in the states for a number of years and is engaging on the level of COMICAL. (Her CD cover has her poised sexy-style between a harpsichord and piano. Too funny.) Her Bach was predicatably slurpy and overly dramatic, but she demonstrated the transfer hurdles from harpsichord to piano really well. I have enjoyed talking to her because she is outwardly so very eager and enthusiastic.
The Australians are the friendliest crowd here. They are private piano teachers, university professors, and professional pianists. One woman told me that her total travel time was over 30 hours!!! YIKES! (When I’m with them, I can’t help but recall how much Denny and Ellie Dorman enjoyed living in Australia, mainly because the people were so friendly!) These folks go to all the sessions and have constructive, positive things to add…a great addition to the conference. Two stand out: Teresa Lavers is a solid player and as goofy as I am and Lachlan Redd is one of the BEST-YET-DOWN-TO-EARTH pianists I have ever met. I leaped to my feet after he performed Schumann’s CARNAVAL (this evening) and he told me that I “didn’t have to do that” when I congratulated him back stage.
Jane Luther Smith from University of South Carolina-Sumter must work out 6 hours a day in order to pull off the super short dress she wore for her performance of Schumann’s DAVIDSBUNDLERTANZE. (Sorry. She has to be at least 60, and sixty-year-olds really shouldn’t be showing that much leg in concert!) Add leg to lots of make up, dyed hair, and a brand new husband, and the bio showing off her “recipient of the Chatanooga Cotton Ball Fellowship” makes sense. (I’m being a bit of a brat, but the “southern belle” persona gags me.)
Dotan Nitzberg, an Isreali pianist who seems determined to meet everyone at the conference. He looks and acts like Greg Manhart (for those of you who know Greg)—sincere, but carrying some mental baggage. It’s too bad that I missed his session:
“Teaching Piano to People with Asperger’s More Effectively.”
Tomorrow I kiss Serbia goodbye! NOVI SAD is enviably rich in so many ways and my superficial brush with their life-style has rendered some long-overdue espect for their character. Maja # 2 (yes, another desk employee at HOTEL VELIKI named Maja, who speaks perfect English) was telling Tim and I about all the different dialects that are spoken in Serbia. She said that the language is similar enough to Bosnian and Slovenian that Serbians can understand/be understood, but that Russian and Hungarian are different enough to be unintelligible. She told us about a small town near her hometown (Belo Blato) that boasts 17 dialects, three or four faith practices [?] and only one church building in Bela Blato. Her passionate and articulate explanation inspired me to want to visit!
Why did I wait to turn on the air conditioning until last night? I slept soundly in a cool room with windows and shades closing off the noise from the street below and didn’t wake up until 9:00am this morning!!! Cleaning up, I made my way to the music school for one last practice session before eating breakfast and checking out of the hotel.
There are curious aspects of their culture—their food and lifestyle—that I don’t want to forget. For instance, I have a hunch that children start sucking on cigarettes the moment they are weaned. Everyone smokes and drinks as if it is the most natural thing to do. They are buff and fit looking, but insist on smelling up the air they breathe. It’s everywhere. The food, however, is cheap and delicious. Tim bought a piece of pizza (that was as big as a small 9” back home) for about $1.30 and a multi-course dinner at a fine restaurant won’t cost any more than $10.00. Pizza, pasta, etc. can be found alongside local wonders. For example, this morning’s buffet contained a curious-looking salad that warranted a closer look. Fat-laced, sliced sausages and pickles with a mustard sauce would have sent me running the other direction if Mike tried to serve it at home, but hey, I was in Serbia and decided to give it a try. Surprising myself by going back for seconds, I imagined Carolyn and Brandon considering a bite, as well? Savory.
Not everything I tried could be considered winner quality. After I practiced this morning, I picked up a delicious-looking piece of bread that I was going to save for the train ride back to Budapest. Well, after adjusting my butt to the train seat, I pulled it out and, low and behold, there was a wiener tucked inside what was supposed to be my yummy piece of bread. Without any food or water for the six hour train trip, I had to be satisfied with this over-grown pig-in-a-blanket. Kind of yucky—something Mike and Matt would have enjoyed.
I am currently drenched in sweat and feel like a pig. I moved into Tim’s car when his family cleared out…mainly because the two women in my car talked and talked and talked. They had the window open, which made it even more unbearable. Tim’s car isn’t much cooler. I anticipate losing 5 pounds in this traveling sauna and think it’s time to put this heat-generating computer away until later. (LATER: The train car seemed to get warmer and warmer and finally a conductor came by and moved all the passengers to an air conditioned car! I couldn’t help but imagine train travel at a time when people where crammed into cars like cattle and there was no such thing as air conditioning—so I really shouldn’t be complaining!)
We had a Hungarian-style meal (Paprika Chicken with Potatoes and Sour Cream) this evening at an outdoor restaurant near the Danube and just got back to the hotel. Tomorrow I fly to Barcelona and Tim takes at train to Prague.
My breakfast at the Atlantic Hotel was shared with some half-drunk young men who had just spent the night on the town. They wanted me to come and sit with them, but I politely declined while continuing to spar with the drunkest of them. When I told them that they were too squirrelly to trust, one of them decided to call me “squirrel” for the rest of breakfast. It also didn’t help that the vegetables they served this morning were a week old and believe me, I paid for every fateful bite—rivaling the king of gas (and you know who you are).
Everything seemed LONG this morning…the LONG bus ride to the airport, the LONG wait to board the plane in Budapest, and the LONG flight from Budapest to Paris. I was feeling like I wanted to be home with my family and friends and wasn’t looking forward to Barcelona or ANOTHER conference (what WAS I thinking?). Then a miraculous thing happened when I got off the plane. The first lounge we walked through had an upright, FIRE-ENGINE RED (I kid you not), piano with a sign invited people to play. So, I managed to work in an hour of practice before walking 2 miles to my Barcelona gate. I took pictures of the piano as it sat against dark purple walls—thinking I might get an interesting image for the Farrenc CD cover? It’s a happy coincidence when you think about it: Louise’s husband, Aristide FARRENC was probably Hungarian (pronounced far-rents) but made his home with Louise in Paris. So, I have conveniently found meaning in my trip from Hungary to Paris and am happy to say that the red piano put some spring back in my step!
What started as a sprinkle, tuned torrential by the time I hopped on the bus, but breaking the handle of my suitcase changed that little skip back into a limp. I was tired and didn’t know where I was going and the combination of bad weather and a useless suitcase made for a very mean Mary Ellen. When I finally reached what I thought was the hostel (correct address with a very small sign), I rang the bell and was let into a foyer with an enclosed, stone staircase surrounded by an ANCIENT CAST IRON LIFT. The hostel occupies two floors of the building and is tastefully decorated with brocade pillows and bedspread, a carved mahogany wardrobe and desk (with marble top), shower, and sink. Even the headboard on the bed has carving and inlay---all for about $55.00/night (no breakfast/shared toilet). My guardian angel deserves a raise for this little taste of heaven.
And that’s not all. The neighborhood is so much better than the L’Espanya district where I stayed in 2009. The architecture is resplendent with carving and cast-iron balconies—what Budapest could be (if they had the money). I modified my walk in the rain to a subway destination check--figuring out the route I’m going to take to the conference hotel tomorrow morning. Sight-seeing wasn’t on the agenda, but I did manage to have some quiet time in a neighborhood Catholic Church and visited a tapas bar where the locals were watching the SPAIN-ITALY soccer game. There were fire crackers this evening, so I’m assuming that Spain didn’t give up their lead?
The combination of sunny skies and positive emails regarding Fr. James’ commencement Sunday helped attune my head and heart to the EDULEARN experience. Good news helped free me from the ongoing distraction and frustration of the sinking of NEWMAN. It looks like we are now on a much better course, so the temptation to jump ship is gone. I’m GRATEFUL today.
Even though the Hostel Girona is in the upscale Eixample district, getting through the maze of tunnels to the train for L3—Maria Cristina added a 15-minute walk to a15-minute train ride. (Maybe I’m getting old, but it’s worth it to feel safe and comfortable, not to mention being more conducive to learning.) I’m visiting this conference again because it is SO WELL RUN. The Hotel Princess Sofia is classy and spacious with a facility that can accommodate plenary sessions (500+) and breakout sessions with rooms decked out with tables for 50-100, upholstered chairs, placemats, water, pen/paper, and even complimentary candy.
Aaron Doering (http://chasingseals.com/), the keynote speaker for today’s plenary has charisma, good looks, brains, and an infectious spirit of adventure. He is the university student’s dream teacher and has been wildly successful with his ADVENTURE LEARNING PROGRAMS. Starting his career teaching K-12, he is currently endowed chair in Education and Technology, has earned beaucoup bucks in grants, has several publications (both articles and books), and is an Institute of Environment fellow. A relatively young man, it is doubly impressive to see how he’s used his multi-faceted position at U of M to launch one of the most innovative teaching initiatives I have ever seen. His wild success at linking field experience with classrooms worldwide is almost Disney-esque. The obvious reservation in calling this “active learning” is that HE is the one who is actively engaged, while student world-wide are reaping the benefit of his travels via computer screen. Even with that unavoidable obstacle, his presentation was freshly imaginative. [I couldn’t resist the opportunity to introduce myself, hand over my card, and congratulate him on an exceedingly fine presentation (all the while thinking that he would be GREAT for a Viterbo inservice)! It almost made me wish that I was studying sustainability at the U of M!!!]
Creativity and assessment have caught hold of academics worldwide, but there are international nuances that have been really thought provoking. For example, a young-ish woman from Turkey described her challenges teaching creative writing to her 20-year old students. Because their educational system is so highly controlled, students were actually afraid to try something different! Her culture and learning environment brought a fresh focus to her perspective, changing the way she taught to meet the same outcome. Several of these global teachers are committed to CREATIVITY, but encounter different culturally-embedded obstacles. They are committed to understanding their students’ needs and working with them (and their often limited resources) toward accomplished outcomes.
The technology sessions seemed slanted, so I was relieved to hear an excellent presenter from Australia do his best to remind people that it’s only a tool. (There are some here who actually think that online learning is more effective than classroom teaching, mainly because it appeals to a technology-savvy generation). This presenter gave plenty of clever examples of why teaching/learning works best on a multi-sensory level.
We had a gourmet “dinner” from 1:45-3:00pm, giving us the opportunity to mix with other folks. I had such a nice time talking with Anieska (from Poland) and Lisa (from Australia) that we decided to meet this evening for tapas! (More on that later…) I still hadn’t seen the Sagrada Familia, so ducked out early for an afternoon on my own.
Mike Mader will be jealous when he hears that I only had to stand in line for 5 minutes before getting a ticket. He can now say, “I told you so,” because the basilica is so beyond the imagination in scope, color, design, materials, and theological communication. I did my best to pay attention to my walking tour, but would get distracted/surprised/transfixed by the PERFECT balance of light, natural shapes, and carvings that contributed to the overwhelming mystery of the place. At one point, my eye travelled up the back of the sanctuary, and there below a clear oculus were scale-like decorations forming a triangle that seemed to point through the window. I had to squint to read the words on some of the tiles, “Santo, santo, santo.” With a completion of 2026/28, I might just see it finished before I die?
Those of you who know me, KNOW that I’m no a shopper! Well, on my walk back from the Sagrada Familia, I was tempted by several 50-80% off signs and after losing my black swimsuit in Arizona, have been keeping an eye out for something cute and reasonably-priced. Having NEVER stepped into a lingerie shop in my life (I kid you not), I felt brave stepping in to have a better look at a couple of their suits. It was a family-owned shop with some nice clothing (in addition to all the underwear) and people were sitting around socializing—a very homey, friendly atmosphere. One of the women led me to a changing room so that I could try on the AWFUL, cadaverous-looking suits. BUT, before I could get my clothes back on, the woman opened up the curtain and asked in broken ENGLISH, “if I like-a one?” I wanted to say, “No, that’s why I’m naked AND don’t you knock in Spain?” Instead, I answered politely (while standing there naked), “No they didn’t work for me. I look too skinny.” None of this bizarre interaction seem to phase her as she turned to her cronies (in the chairs) and said something in Spanish, adding “too skinny” (probably so that I would know she was talking about me!). I couldn’t get out of there fast enough!
Meeting Lisa and Anieska for tapas was a great way to end the day. We walked down La Ramblas to the sea and ate at a restaurant overlooking the harbor. The moon was full over the water and the conversation stimulating. Please don’t miss it. I love the idea of seeing it 7 hours before all of you!!!
Well, I’m chairing a session tomorrow morning, as well as giving a presentation, so need to hit the lights.
I woke early so that I would arrive in plenty of time to set up for today’s sessions. In addition to presenting at the morning session, I was assigned as a chair in the BATLLO room from 8:30-10:00am. I would have been a much better fit in the concurrent session across the hall, but I’m guessing that they needed willing participants (whose English was better than average) to act as facilitators. My job was to introduce each speaker, keep time, facilitate discussion, and close each presentation on a positive note. When I first read the titles I thought I was going to snore through the morning, but there were some very nice surprises!!
The EDULEARN team seams particularly committed to providing an environment for interaction on the broadest spectrum—global and interdisciplinary. They achieve this through their impeccable hospitality—coffee breaks, gourmet mid-afternoon dinners, cocktails with hors d’oeuvres, candy and water in each of the conference rooms, etc. The rooms were well equipped with speakers and IT support and there was an assistant assigned to each room for trouble-shooting purposes. They didn’t seem to miss a detail!!
Dinner this afternoon was particularly enjoyable! Even though I didn’t get a chance to see Agnieska, I managed a place at a table with Lisa and a particularly interesting young man from Canada, Kyle Stooshnov. The three of us continued our seriously interesting conversation until 3:30pm, continuing it with a walk to Pedralbes Monastery and the Royal Palace gardens, both in the vicinity of the conference hotel. The monastery church wasn’t open during our first round, so we whiled away time in the gardens until the scheduled Mass at 6:30pm. The priest apparently didn’t get the memo, because the three of us, along with some Spanish stragglers and a handful of old nuns (one at the organ), sat there for a good half hour before finally giving up.
After our walk/talk, Lisa went back to her hotel, while Kyle and I decided to make an appearance at the closing conference cocktail. More music, drinks, and great food gave people the chance to mix and talk one last time before fanning out across the globe. I had an interesting chat with some Kenyans who developed an educational T.V. series with scripts they developed with area teachers. They were giggly and delightful.
I had an excellent day and really tried to make the best of what I had left of my big jaunt. Montserrat is still there. The work on the inside of the church has moved to work on the piazza outside the church. There are also still throngs of people (from all over the world) who are as transfixed as I am with this monastery COMPLEX built on a rocky cliff. The first thing I did was cash in on my free lunch before my hike and gobbled down some cooked vegetables and some shitty looking white bean dish. The hike was an invigorating climb up to what felt like the top of the world. I got a little lost on the way back down, so the whole trek was over 4 hours. I was hot, stinky, but very satisfied!
I purchased a cheese sandwich for later and made my way for the aero-car/train. There was a darling family from Texas who was traveling through Europe for a slated 2 and 1/2 months! He just retired from the Air Force, so they thought the coincidence of putting all their belongings in storage made this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity more feasible. Aside from two of them landing in a hospital, they sounded like they were having a great time! Fun.
This evening was my last chance to see some of the sights that I wanted to catch before leaving, so I grabbed my cheese sandwich and made my way in the direction of the cathedral. Situating myself on a park bench near a fountain in Catalunya square, I pulled out my cheese sandwich and discovered that I had purchased a mashed potato sandwich instead. Yuck. (It reminded me of the way the Serbs slother ketchup all over their pizzas!) I gave it four bites and tossed the sick thing in the garbage. When a sweet old man wondered about squeezing between me and his sweet old wife on the park bench, I thought it best to continue on to the cathedral. There was a violinist playing Vivaldi's spring concerto on the steps (with a recorded orchestra part) and people were tossing a few EUROS into his case. Unfortunately, no one seemed interested in buying the CDs he was selling for 10 EUROS.