Tag Archives: travelling

July 2018 update

I’m a bit ashamed that I haven’t sent any updates since last December but as you’ll see I’ve been pretty busy in the past half-year.

Beginning with Lendava in Slovenia. Back in August I was due to give a plenary to language teachers at the Slovenian-Hungarian bilingual secondary school, but I had to cancel it because I’d stepped into a pothole. When I asked my wife if I should see a doctor, she said I needn’t worry, she’d had a similar injury two years earlier. ‘Walk cautiously, you’ll be okay in a couple of weeks.’ Two weeks passed by and it only got worse, so I had my foot x-rayed. It turned out that it was broken, but the doctor said it was too late to put it in cast because the bones had already begun to knit. Hearing what had happened to me, my hosts kindly postponed my presentation till November. By that time, lo and behold, I was more or less fit.

The trip to Lendava was a rare and welcome occasion, because I was asked to give my dinosaur talk in my mother tongue, which even those colleagues whose Hungarian was broken  (oh no, ‘broken’ again!) seemed to enjoy. By the way, Lendava is a lovely town, a few kilometres from the Hungarian border, the only place in Slovenia with a sizeable Hungarian population.

Not long before Christmas I flew to Murcia for a Cambridge Assessment conference. Actually I landed in Alicante on the Eastern coast of Spain. From there I took a taxi to Murcia, some 80 kilometres inside the peninsula. As we dashed past Elche, I reminisced about my visit there the year before: ‘Oh, those beautiful palm trees!’ The municipality of Murcia is said to be the orchard of Spain, nay, the orchard of Europe, which I guess is a bit of an exaggeration. But it’s certainly true that even in the middle of December the weather was gorgeous, especially compared to the freezing cold in Hungary.

This was shortest conference I’d ever been to: starting at 10 a.m., finishing at 1.30 p.m. Three plenaries in a row with long coffee breaks in between. Thus I had the opportunity to take long walks in the city centre, enjoying the hustle and bustle of the weekend. I was most impressed by the 14th century Cathedral of Murcia, which is a beautiful blend of Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque architectural styles.

Christmas, New Year, January, February, March – diligently tapping away on my computer to finish my… (oops, wait!). At the end of March, I drove to Berehovo (Beregszász in Hungarian), my second trip to Ukraine in four years. Just like Lendava, this town is just a few kilometres from the Hungarian border, but in the opposite direction. The stop at the border took nearly two hours – better be on the lookout for smugglers…

It was a three-language conference: English, Ukranian and Hungarian, and each speaker could present in their preferred language. I chose to give my lecture on the native/nonnative issue in English. The venue of the conference was the Ferenc Rákóczi II Transcarpathian Hungarian College of Higher Education, a vast building, which had recently been restored. It’s indeed the gem of the small town. As I was listening to the talks delivered in Ukranian, I was pleased to discover how much I could still understand through my half-forgotten Russian.

A month later, my wife Vali and I hopped on the plane to Tbilisi via Istanbul. We were invited by the International Black Sea University to their annual IRCEELT conference (in case you couldn’t guess the full form, here it is: International Research Conference on Education, Language and Literature). My gregarious host, Nikoloz, who said he’d already heard me speak in the year 2000, had kept asking me for an increase in the number of my presentations before I went (‘Tell me if you’d rather not do it, Peter!’), but he luckily stopped at three.

It’s incredible how much Tbilisi had changed during those less than twenty years: the drab Stalinist feel was gone, being replaced by a vibrant city. And the food they served at the gala dinner was the most delicious one I’d ever eaten. Don’t ask me what dishes the tables were packed with – I wouldn’t know. Wait, I remember khachapuri, probably because it sounds so funny. Wikipedia explains that ‘khachapuri (Georgian: ხაჭაპური) is a traditional Georgian dish of cheese-filled bread. The bread is leavened and allowed to rise, and is shaped in various ways, usually with cheese in the middle and a crust which is ripped off and used to dip in the cheese. The filling contains cheese (fresh or aged, most commonly sulguni), eggs and other ingredients.’ Yam, yam.

Tbilisi dinner table

And here’s a montage of Tbilisi.

On our return trip we had merely one hour’s layover time in Istanbul. Throughout the flight I kept whimpering to Vali that we wouldn’t be able to catch our flight back to Budapest. ‘Trust Turkish Airlines,’ she said. ‘They won’t leave us in the lurch.’ When I saw the never-ending queue snaking between the bars to get through the security check at Atatürk Airport, I ran to a security man begging him to let us use the queue reserved for business passengers or we’d miss our flight. ‘Business passengers only,’ he said. ‘Please, sir…’ ‘Business passengers only,’ he repeated adamantly. ‘I told you we’d be late,’ I hissed to Vali as we were meekly lining up. ‘Why the f**k do I still travel? Why don’t I sit on my ass at home?’

When we finally got through security, we ran towards the designated gate pulling our rolls-on behind us. Happy ending? No! By the time we arrived at the gate, it was already closed. In dismay, I dumped myself on the nearest bench and said to Vali, ‘Your turn. Do it.’ She ran off looking for a service desk. A good half an hour later, she returned gasping, ‘Why didn’t you answer the phone?’ ‘I forgot to turn it on again,’ I said. Then she explained that we’d have to go back to the arrival hall because they insisted that only after I presented myself at the desk would they issue my ticket. Once this done, we elbowed our way through the security again, and as we were waiting in the departure hall for the next plane due to take off five hours later, I hummed to myself the well-known promo song: ‘We are Turkish Airlines! We are globally yours!’

And here’s my final travel in the spring. The only unaccomplished one. And the story goes like this. I’m a new dog owner. Well, actually it’s my son who is the master, but I’m the one whose job it is to walk her. As I was sitting next to Mirek, a Polish colleague, at the dinner table in Istanbul back in 2017, I happened to show off with my recent acquisition.

‘What breed?’ he asked.

‘A Hungarian pointer.’

‘Are you kidding me? I’ve got a Hungarian pointer too. It’s called vizsla in Hungarian, isn’t?’

‘Exactly. Boy or girl?’

‘Boy,’ Mirek said. ‘And yours?’

‘Zserbó is a three-month-old girl.’

‘Kevin is a couple of months older then.’

And so the conversation went on for another half an hour about our dogs. A far more stimulating topic than talking about English language teaching, wouldn’t you agree?


A few days after I arrived home, Mirek sent me a message to invite me to their conference for their 2018 spring conference. Then a day before I was due to leave for Konin, I was walking Zserbó, as is my wont every day. Then she began to play with a huge hairy dog, chasing each other like mad. The next moment I found myself on the ground after the huge monster ran into me from behind. Since I was in the middle of nowhere, I had to limp home unaided. By the time I arrived, my left foot was twice as big as before. My wife said that this time I must go and see the doctor because my foot is sure to be broken. ‘It isn’t broken,’ said the doctor, ‘you just pulled a muscle, but it might take a good two weeks for it to heal.’ Well, it took a good four weeks in fact, and I was virtually confined to bed. That’s why I had to cancel the Konin conference. Should I get another invitation from Mirek, I’ll insist on taking  Zserbó with me. By that time she’ll be old enough to delight me with a few lovely puppies fathered by Kevin.

And here’s the punchline! For a year and a half, I’d been working on my book under the title ‘I’ve run away from home’. Its subtitle is ‘How does an English language teacher get into 100 countries?’ I’m pleased to say that it’s hot off the press now. If you’d like to read it, start learning Hungarian, because I wrote it in my mother tongue. An easy read, ideal for the summer holiday. Unputdownable (ha, ha, ha).

Világgá mentem

20 July 2017 update

Do you remember why I stopped short in my previous update? Bingo! Because I

got wind of the publication of the third edition of ‘The Non-native Teacher’ and I

was so excited that I wasn’t able to continue my account. Now it’s only fair to go

back to 2016 and finish off the year with my participation at the TESOL France


To be in Paris is a gift from God. I’ve been there quite a few times but I’m always

stunned by the beauty of the town. As is my wont, I curtailed my presence at the

conference site by half a day just to be able to take a long walk in the 13 th district

where the conference was held, and beyond as far as the Notre-Dame. Many

thanks to my ex-student Csilla Járay-Benn, who invited me to the conference in

her function as Vice President of TESOL France. (Since then she has become

President.) My opening plenary ran under the title ‘The Ventriloquist – I’m a

(Relatively) Happy Teacher’ and this is what a kind colleague presented me with

after my talk:

It was a pleasure to listen to Diane Larsen-Freeman’s excellent plenary on the

role fractals play in language learning. If you don’t know what this means (I

didn’t), do watch a keynote lecture of hers on the same topic, available here:

http://www.tesol.org/attend-and- learn/international-

convention/convention2014/featured-speakers/diane- larsen-freeman- keynote-


The third plenarist was Harry Kuchah Kuchah, who is not only an outstanding

speaker but also one of the funniest people I’ve ever met. In addition, he

moderated a panel discussion on how ELT in Africa is doing. A real eye-opener.

2016 done and dusted – over to 2017!

The 40 th TESOL Spain convention was held in Elche. Well, Elche is certainly not

one of the highlights of Spain but the hotel we were staying at was gorgeous.

Here’s Hotel Huerto Del Cura:

It was in the shade of palm trees beside a little pond that Susan Holden and I

checked the final proofs of ‘The Non-native Teacher’ before it went to print.

Speaking of palm trees, I was told that there are more palm trees than

inhabitants in Elche. I didn’t take a roll call.

Although I spent only two days in Elche it may well have been the most compact

conference I’d ever attended. In addition to my devilish plenary (‘Elfies at Large –

Beware!’), I ran a workshop, participated in a forum and played a small part in a

funny sketch written and starred by my old friend Luke Prodromou. As always, it

was a pleasure to listen to Michael Swan’s opening plenary on the Goldilocks

Principle in language teaching. A couple of weeks later Michael sent me a

complimentary copy of the fourth edition of his ‘Practical English Usage’. Run to

buy it – an absolute must!

Next came Topolšica, the traditional venue of IATEFL Slovenia, but it was the

first time for me to be there. Surrounded by mountains it’s an ideal place to relax.

And whenever we had an hour to carve out of the conference programme, we did

relax in the sunshine. Isn’t life wonderful?

In Topolšica I gave two plenaries: a version of the Non-native Teacher and a talk

on why I wasn’t able to keep discipline when I took on a group of teenagers at

the beginning of this century in the school where I’d started my teaching career.

However, for me the epitome of the programme was Lyn Steyne’s plenary

entitled ‘What teachers make’, a talk full of humour and substance accompanied

by smartly selected quotes and cartoons. My favourite slide is this one:

I’m yet to meet someone who knows where Horgen is. Now you will. Horgen is a

small town along the south bank of the Lake of Zurich. The Annual Cambridge

English Spring Seminar, to which I was invited, took place in the Seminarhotel

Bocken. Oh, this should be one of those drab conference centres in the middle of

nowhere, I thought to myself. Now look at this photo and judge for yourself.

It was Lori Kaithan, the CEO of Swiss Exams (an offshoot of Cambridge Exams),

who extended the invitation saying how much she’d enjoyed my ventriloquist act

many years before. ‘Could you do the same, Peter?’ she asked. ‘My colleagues

would love it.’ I said yes, relieved that I wouldn’t have to come up with a new

talk. A few weeks later I received a thorough description of what they’d expect

me to do. Two plenaries on how to teach the reading skills and the writing skills,

respectively. And this is how they should be built up: one, two, three, four, five. I

was devastated but there was no way to go back on my promise. To cut a long

story short, it took me three months and a massive amount of work to prepare

my two plenaries. I learnt it the Swiss way. The conference ran like clockwork,

yet in a very friendly atmosphere.

Now I’ll take a break but will be back soon.

September 2016 update

Where did we stop in my July update? Oh yes, last spring.

March. When I told my friends I was planning to go to Iraq to run an inservice course, they said I was a complete idiot. “Why risk your life? Have you thought of your family?” So I turned to my wife with begging eyes: “Hm?” And she said: “Go!” Oh no, not because she wanted to get rid of me once and for all, but because she knew Iraq would be one more country for me to tick off: “Been to.”

The venue of the course was Erbil, the capital city of Iraqi Kurdistan. On arrival I had to pass several check-points to leave the airport, but no big hassle. Accommodation in a student hostel, shoes off in the corridor, pristine conditions. The group of primary teachers, all men, was the most rambunctious one I’d ever met. In and out of the classroom in the middle of the class, flying paper planes, eating, drinking, shouting, singing – you name it. However, when on the last day I was saying farewell to them, their gratitude came from the heart.


Erbil was a very pleasant surprise. No traces of war, a beautiful citadel with a lovely bazaar. One evening I was invited by a Jordanian-Hungarian couple with three daughters, with whom I’d made friends when we lived in Damascus. Since then, they’ve moved to live and work in Erbil, a much safer place. They took me out to a genuine Syrian restaurant where I had the pleasure of having mezze, the typical starter from the Levant, consisting of a dozen small dishes substantial enough not to ask for a main course. And a hubble-bubble after so many years of craving for it. (My wife won’t let me smoke one.)


Speaking of safety, one morning as I opened an online newspaper in the hostel, I read about the explosion at Brussels Airport. Now which is more dangerous to visit: Erbil or Brussels? No safe haven these days.

Next on my spring schedule was the pretty town of Graz. I love driving, so 400 kilometres can’t be an obstacle. I picked up the Andrews family in Budapest: Mark, Magdi and their son, Ronan, who is not only a charming boy, but a very well-behaved one as well. Or was it the chips that kept him so quiet and contented throughout the journey? Meanwhile, his dad entertained us by singing silly songs from my old book Linda and the Greenies. Mark may well be the last person who still remembers those songs – I was touched by his kindness.

The conference itself was not only intimate but a bit sad too after I’d learnt that it was to be the last TEA (Teachers of English in Austria) event. When I asked why, the organisers said that teachers were losing interest in live (and costly) conferences what with so many other opportunities available such as webinars. If you want my opinion, nothing can substitute for face-to-face encounters. But I’m a dinosaur, which happened to be the title of my plenary lecture too. Oh, before I forget, Lindsay Clanfield’s “Why teachers should love lists” was one of the funniest plenaries I’d attended for a long time.

The following week I flew to Birmingham to participate in the 50th IATEFL conference. Not quite, because I was present only at the pre-conference event hosted jointly by the Global Issues Special Interest Group and the Creativity Group. A series of TED-like talks with a maximum duration of 15 minutes was followed by reflection time and an open space for the participants to exchange views. As one of the speakers, I put forward the idea of the Youth Networking Scheme to prevent or overcome prejudices through channels of ICT. YNS would aim to encourage school-aged learners of English to contact peers from faraway countries and collaboratively seek answers to problems of mutual interest. I’m aware that this scheme is idealistic and cumbersome to realise, but it’s so nice to have a dream, isn’t it?

Upon arrival at Birmingham International I took a taxi. If it hadn’t been Sunday, the 45-minute ride would have taken three times that much. It cost me £37 (oh boy!). I learnt at the conference that there were trains between the city centre and the airport every ten minutes for £3.60. How do you think I found my way back to the airport two days later? Bingo! By the way, were you to consider a visit to Birmingham, better wait another couple of years, because the whole town is “closed for renovation” at present.

Recently I’ve had the good fortune to turn up in Spain several times. In quick succession: Madrid, Barcelona, Salamanca, Alcalá, Seville. Now, Valencia is just as beautiful. My impression is that there is no such thing in Spain as a not-so-beautiful place. The hotel I stayed at was just a few minutes’ walk from the City of Arts and Sciences. Still in the process of enlargement, this futuristic cultural and architectural complex is one of the “12 Treasures of Spain”. The EICE conference dinner was served in the Oceanographic Aquarium, the largest of its kind in Europe. All around the dinner tables, the huge acquariums (acquaria) were full of fish swimming anti-clockwise at rocket speed. After half an hour the world was spinning around in my head. Stop, fish, or I’ll throw up!


As usual, I skipped the conference for half a day to see the Old City of Valencia. I asked the receptionist how far it was. “About half an hour’s walk in the river,” he explained. “You mean along the river?” asked the English teacher. “Yes, sir, or in the river,” the receptionist insisted. “It should be fun to walk in a river,” I chuckled to myself. And, lo and behold, a few minutes later I was walking in the river. In explanation, after the terrible flood of 1957 the Turia was deflected, and the old course was turned into a green area called the “Garden of the Turia”. A relaxing three kilometre walk leading to the Old City, full of cyclists, joggers, footballers and children. Happy faces all around.

To the attention of language teachers, the language spoken by the citizens of Valencia is Valencian, which is a dialect of Catalan. Or if you prefer, Catalan is a dialect of Valencian. But of course everybody speaks Spanish as well. Except me. I don’t speak Spanish, Catalan or Valencian, which is pretty embarrassing, especially in the conference breaks when both presenters and participants happily chat away in Spanish and I’m just standing by speechless.

Kosovo was one of the few countries in Europe which I hadn’t visited before. I’d begged Grenville Yeo, the director of SOL, to get me invited to the Ketnet conference. Two kind ladies from the conference committee collected me at Prishtina Airport, drove along Bulevard Clinton, then turned left into Bulevard Bush (senior or junior, I wondered). They dropped me at the Hotel Ambassador (very stylish for a former ambassador to stay there). After dumping my stuff in the room, I asked the receptionist how far the city centre was. She said, just walk down the street across as far as Bulevard Maria Theresa and there you are. Why name their high street after the Habsburg monarch, I asked myself. Arriving there I read the street sign: “Mother Teresa.” But of course, she was Albanian by birth. Just like military leader Skanderbeg from the 15th century and Ibrahim Rugova from the 21st, who became the first president of the newly independent state of Kosovo. While adults were sitting in open-air cafes, hundreds of schoolchildren were lining up at one end of the bulevard, all of them wearing yellow t-shirts. It was Olympic Day and they were participating in a race. Ready, steady, go!

I don’t know why, but I take a liking to conferences held in our region. Is it my Central-Eastern European self calling? Be that as it may, the one in Prishtina was the loveliest audience you could ask for, young and even younger participants full of oomph and optimism. Interestingly, the most fascinating presentations had to do less with ELT than with Albanian folklore. I particularly liked the report on “sworn virgins”. These women take a vow of chastity, wear male clothing and live like men. A custom dying out, for better or for worse.

Spring was over, summer began with an inservice training course run by SOL (“Sharing One Language”). The venue was Barnstaple in North Devon, my co-trainers were Mark Andrews and Uwe Pohl, the participants came from Central and Eastern Europe. Mark was absolutely phenomenal: an ELT specialist cum tour guide. Performed with a huge amount of expertise and enthusiasm, his double-act was assisted by Uwe, who would stop Mark whenever he got a bit carried away.

Mark Andrews
Mark in action

What was my role in this spiel? Well, as patron of SOL I was there mostly as an understudy or extra.

Peter Medgyes, Uwe Pohl, Mark Andrews
With Uwe Pohl (center) and Mark Andrews (right)

The course took place a couple of weeks after Brexit, so it was only obvious to ask our host families (“if it’s not too personal”) about their choice. It turned out that almost all of them had voted for Brexit. When asked why, they referred to the incompetence of European leaders and their fear of immigrants. What immigrants? All I could see in the streets of Barnstaple were white faces – and white legs sticking out from under the pop-up shelters on the beach. Isn’t it paradoxical that every large city, populated with a vast array of colours, religions and languages, voted for “stay”, whereas small towns with zero foreigners chose “leave”? Could you explain why? However, what I mustn’t leave unmentioned is North Devon itself. It is undoubtedly the most beautiful part of England. See for yourself!

That’s all about my conferences. Now let me count how many countries I’ve been to so far. With Kosovo, it comes to 94. Which European states are still missing? San Marino, Monaco, Malta and Armenia. (Is Armenia a European country?) The first two are easy to cover in one drive. So my family hopped into the car and we drove straight to San Marino. (OK, we stopped en route at Venice for a day or two.) The enclaved microstate of the “Most Serene Republic of San Marino”, says Wikipedia, “claims to be the oldest surviving sovereign state and constitutional republic in the world.” However, a Hungarian online paper recently claimed that San Marino is also the most boring place in the world. Rubbish! It’s stunningly beautiful! We drove halfway up Monte Titano and then took the aerial tramway to the top. We’d have stayed longer to enjoy the fantastic view if we hadn’t left our jumpers in the hotel. Who would have thought that while it was 35 degrees down in Ravenna, it would be 15 degrees up on the mountain – with gale force wind?

In my humble opinion, the title of the most boring place should rather go to the Principality of Monaco, the second smallest state in the world (after the Vatican). Why boring? Well, there’re two types of people there: the super-rich and the tourists gawking with cameras ready to take snapshots of a wide variety of Ferraris, Bentleys, Jags and old-timers. Or selfies in front of the cars. My wife said that Monaco is like a safari, but maybe I’m being malicious simply because I’m green with envy…

Yesterday it was like summer, today the weather has turned nasty. Autumn is hitting us with rain and cold. I’d better get prepared for the trips awaiting me come October. Stirling, Kaposvár, Minsk, Paris, says my calendar.

July 2016 update

Shame on me that I’ve kept silent for so long! My lame excuse is that I’ve been busier than ever in the past half year. But now, in the midst of the heatwave in Budapest, let me give an account of at least one of my recent trips.

Who hasn’t dreamt of visiting Nepal? Anyone? Well, I’m no exception. So when I was invited to the NELTA conference last autumn, I didn’t hesitate for a second to say yes, yes, yes! I was aware of the devastating earthquake the year before, but seeing is believing. Many of the wonderful sights of Kathmandu had been seriously damaged, but not all of them, thank God – as I witnessed during my sightseeing trip. It was an eye-opener to see how harmoniously Hindu and Buddhist temples live together, as do the people of the two major religions in Nepal.

Now here’s a quiz. Let me show you entrance tickets to two World Heritage Sites. Your task is to tell which one is Hindu and which is Buddhist.

1. Pashupatinath: 518 temples and monuments are huddled together. Hindu or Buddhist?


2. Bhaktapur: the ancient capital city of Nepal until about six hundred years ago. Hindu or Buddhist?


The corrrect answer is: 1. Hindu – 2. Buddhist. Well done! smiley Never mind! sad-face

Then there’s Swayambhunath, built on top of a hill. This is probably the only smog-less place in the Kathmandu Valley. It is also known as the Monkey Temple – and indeed there are friendly monkeys hopping around all over the place. Here, I couldn’t resist the temptation to buy this wonderful singing bowl at half the price the shopkeeper asked for.


Now, what you have to do with the bowl is to place it on your flat palm and circle its rim with the stick. Soon enough, the bowl begins to vibrate and produces a beautiful sound, which is said to help you meditate and relax. At home I tried the trick many a time – to no avail. My son, however, managed to get it going at first try. And then he said, “Dad, you’re hopeless.”

Click the ‘Play’ button below to listen to the sound of the singing bowl:


What do you associate Nepal with? Mount Everest, of course, the top of the world at 8848 metres. Upon arrival I looked at several brochures advertising a one-hour flight around the Himalayas for about 90 dollars. So I asked the receptionist:

“Which airline company would you recommend for me to see Mount Everest?”
“To see the what, sir?”
“Mount Everest… Chomolungma.”
“Oh, you mean Sagarmāthā. In our language it’s Sagarmāthā, you know.”

Now I know. Yet I decided not to go. A visitor commented that the sky was so overclouded up there that he couldn’t see a thing from the window. I’m no fool to pay 90 dollars to see nothing but clouds. (This reminded me of a trip to Switzerland where the landlady took me on a day trip by car. With the mountains shrouded in fog, I joked that Switzerland was just like Hungary: flatland.) But now I regret I didn’t go. Never again will I have the chance to see Sagarmāthā, or at least the clouds around the peak.

Oops, I nearly forgot about the conference! To sum it up, it was great. Just like anywhere else in the world, English teachers are wonderful. Aren’t we lucky to live in such a close-knit family?

If you don’t believe me that I attended the NELTA conference, here’s the evidence:


I’d love to continue to talk about the other conferences I attended (Graz, Birmingham, Valencia, Kosovo) and inservice training courses I ran (Erbil, Barnstaple), but I have to go back to work on the third edition of… (I won’t tell you now). I’ll be back soon, inshallah.

Family, sports and trips abroad


I have two daughters from my first marriage: Réka (b. 1971) and Kata (b. 1975). Following their father’s footsteps, both of them are English teachers. To make matters worse (oops, better), my wife is an English teacher too. What a family!

balint-peter-valiI also have a son, Bálint (b. 2001). He doesn’t plan to be a teacher – but my daughters didn’t either when they were his age. He is a computer buff. While he is helping me with my IT problems, he mutters under his breath: „Dad, you’re hopeless.” I’m sad to say, he’s right – I’m not even a computer immigrant.

Continue reading Family, sports and trips abroad