Susanne’s Transylvania Travel Blog

Follen Partner Church Trip to Transylvania 2017

(Above, from left: Sarah, Barbara, Megan, Akos, Jozsef, Sandor, Susanne, and Bela)

Day One: Arrival in Afsofelsoszentmihaly

After three flights across the Atlantic (overnight) and much of Europe, Sarah, Barbara, Megan and I arrive at Cluj-Napoca Airport feeling a little dazed and confused – and just praying that our luggage has made the trip with us. Needless to say, after clearing passport control, we are much relieved to see our four bags on the luggage carousel.

Just outside the sliding doors, we are greeted by a whole delegation: Joszef, the minister of our Partner Church, and Bela, the lay president, plus John and Csilla Dale, the married couple who run the Partner Church Council’s Travel Service here. After warm greetings (handshakes and kisses on both cheeks) we climb into two cars for the 40-minute journey to our home village, Alsofelsoszentmihaly.

Transylvania is a large region of current-day Romania, which used to belong to Hungary. As such, it’s home to a large Hungarian-speaking minority, many of whom (but not most) are Unitarians. So “our” people are a double minority – both religious and ethnic – in a land that is working hard both to retain its identity and catch up with the post-Communist world economy. For the families in our church, this means upholding ancient traditions while educating their children in many languages and supporting them to follow their goals in distant cities. It’s a tension between old and new.

Around us as we drive are rolling green hills dotted with sheep and farm equipment. Weaving in and out of towns and villages, I struggle to describe the architecture. Homes are generally smaller, behind gates that line sidewalks, often opening to newly-flowering gardens and tidy porches. Some homes are in the older, East European style with curving tiled roofs. Others are new and more modular. There are no lawns or driveways; vilages are tightly packed together.

Once we arrive at our church, another small crowd is waiting to meet us, mostly older people who don’t speak English but smile and shake hands and kiss cheeks. They are happy to welcome us. We go into the parish hall, where a spread is laid on a long table: cakes in small squares, popcorn, coffee, tea, and even some shot glasses and liquor bottles.

Joszef, in a jacket and tie, gives us a formal welcome speech, translated by Csilla Dale. He describes our ten-day itinerary. Then we eat and talk with the 10 or so folks who have come to welcome us. It’s a familiar church Coffee Hour scene, with a little stumbling over language. Of the 20 or so gathered, about 4 are totally bilingual and we are grateful to them.

After that, I go home with Jozsef and his wife Csilla (there are two women with that name), to the stately minister’s house next to the church. As befitting his station, the house is bigger, with high ceilings and lovely oak floors. Out front, a garden is sprouting red tulips, lily-of-the-valley, and tiny purple-blue flowers too.

For a half hour or so, I speak with Jozsef and Csilla via their son Artur, 17, who reminds me of my own 17-year-old son back in Lexington. Artur has long hair and kind eyes and works hard to make himself understood in English. When he stumbles, his mother helps him. Though her English comes mostly from TV and films, it is surprisingly good. She is the quiet strength binding the family.

I sleep well.

Do you want to hear “our” church bells ring out? Here’s the church yard and the minister’s house.


Day Two: Torocko and a fabulous party

Poor Joszef has to wake me up – I’ve overslept! It’s 9:30 and our group is leaving at 10 for a day trip adventure. I apologize, mumble about jet lag, gather my things and head to the bathroom.

At 10, we are in 2 cars for a half-hour’s drive to Torocko (pronounced Tor-rots-ko), a mountain village where miners grew wealthy in the 19th century and built beautiful matching white houses in a traditional style. Today it’s a magnet for tourists and city-dwellers from Kolosvar and Hungary, looking for fresh air, gorgeous views, and traditional handicrafts.

First we visit a 300-year-old mill for grinding grains. The woman who runs it looks about as old. She tells us the wheel still works, but there’s too many houses on the river now, so there’s not enough water to turn the wheels. Some men in our group show their strength by turning the wheel by hand.

Then we tour a local 5-room museum with displays of local mining tools, painted furniture, embroidery, and elaborate traditional costumes.

The highlight for me is the Torocko Unitarian church, second only to the one in Kolosvar for its size and grandeur. Our guide explains all the details in perfect English. The wealthy mining families hired a Parisian designer to craft the golden pulpit and the ornate organ housing. The town is still 96% Unitarian, he says with pride. We can barely imagine living in such a place, although Lexington is also pretty cool.

Since the sun comes up over jagged mountains to the East, it seems to rise twice, once on the left of the range, then it hides again, then it rises to the right. Thus Torocko’s “Double Rise” music festival each summer.

Next Joszef takes us to the loveliest local restaurant that serves gourmet Hungarian food. The décor is impeccable and fascinating, and the food was rich and delicious. After lunch we visit a neighboring village, where another gorgeous resort features a tower you can climb for a marvelous 360-degree view. Breathtaking.

After we return home and have a rest, it’s time for something serious – a meeting with the church board about our partner church relationship. We gather, about 30 of us, in the parish hall. With the help of Timea, our intrepid translator, we discuss the particulars of our exchanges, how they have changed over the years, what we’d like to build in the future. After the business is settled, the kids join us.

Over the years, Follenites have sponsored village children to continue their studies in Hungarian when the local schools started to offer only Romanian. These days “our” kids start to travel by bus in middle school, to learn in Hungarian in nearby Turda. In high school, they live away in Kolosvar. Home for Easter, they come to the meeting to receive letters from their Follen sponsors. We take photos and videos of the kids, so that Follenites can get to know them better.

Then the tables are laid with food – with children and parents, there’s a good 50 people there, and everyone has brought a tray. Some are actual works of art – pinwheels of paté, deviled eggs, swirls of ham, gelatin hearts. Hospitality perfection.

Even better, once the food is cleared, someone brings out a traditional Hungarian stringed instrument (something like a dulcimer), and a man begins to play. Soon all the men in the room join in, in a great burst of tenor and baritone, and a folk song fills the air. Two or three more songs follow, until a mother goads her teenagers into singing a duet, which is beautiful. And then they show us a folk dance, too. These kids can dance! I’ll show you the videos when I get back.

Next I sit down next to a woman about my age, hoping to make a few hand gestures of hello. (Someone had told me that usually the older folks don’t speak English.) But this woman speaks SEVEN languages! Turns out we both have young sons (11 and 12) who love nothing but video games. And we worry about them. Motherhood is the same the world over. We exchange email addresses.

Time to get some rest. Tomorrow is Easter Sunday!

A song they sang for us:

Day Three: Easter Sunday, visiting the sick, and a trip to Meszko

After a wonderful breakfast with Jozsef and Csilla, Jozsef called me to watch him prepare the bread for today’s communion service. It was an enormous homemade loaf, almost like a basketball, yet perfectly baked. He sliced it evenly, then cut into 1cm cubes, which he laid into special silver trays and covered with lace. A woman elder from church came by to observe. I tried to say “How are you?” in Hungarian, but I may have offended her — I used the familiar instead of the formal address.

Then Jozsef printed out his sermon, which he had already had translated into English, so that we four could follow along with the service. So thoughtful!

At 11, we walked next door to the church. All the men, dressed in their finest, were lined up out front, down both sides of entry path. The women passed through and entered first, to be seated to one side, according to Hungarian tradition. The men sat facing us, with the high pulpit in the middle.

Jozsef prayed earnestly, in a deep, rich voice, and he preached about how we should all be prepared to follow Jesus and do good in this world, because it will not only make us happier, it will transform our lives and our families. (It wasn’t exactly like an American Unitarian sermon, but it was just about the most liberal Christian one I’ve ever heard.)

Then he called the men forward to receive the bread and the wine. After they sat, the young men came. Then the women. Then the young women. Then we presented our gifts from our congregation, to a warm reception. After closing the ceremony, we lined up outside, along the path, and every member of the perhaps 90 in attendance greeted us, shaking hands and kissing both cheeks, and wishing us Isten Allja (“God Bless You”).

After an hour’s rest, Jozsef invited me to come along while he visited home-bound members, to bring them communion. I was touched by the full ceremony he performed in their homes. In his fine traditional suit, he’d don his clergy robe, take out the church’s silver tray and cup and pour the wine. Standing, he’d pray, read the bible, and offer communion. Then he’d sit and talk with families, exchanging news and pleasantries. Though I couldn’t understand the particulars, it was plain that he brought isolated, suffering people compassion, connection, and the love of God. Tears flowed. i was grateful to be able to say Thank You and God Bless You.

We rested for an hour and then went to see the nearby village of Meszko, where the minister, Robi Balint, speaks wonderful English (after studying in the US for a year). He told inspiring stories about Ferenc Balazc, the church’s minister in the 1930s, another world traveler and linguist who, in just 5 short years, reinvigorated Transylvania Unitarian community, renovated his church, and painted its gorgeous traditional ceiling himself!

Here’s a video so you can see the whole interior of the extraordinary Meszko church:


Back at home, Csilla (a true “hostess with the mostest”) showed me one of her techniques for dying Easter eggs. You take a raw egg, lay a leaf or tiny flower over it, wrap it tightly with a section of cut-up pantyhose, then boil it in red-onion-skin water for 15 minutes. When you pull it out and unwrap, the leaf has left a detailed design against a deep red (now cooked) egg. Beautiful, natural, edible.




Day Four: Turda Gorge and Easter Monday traditions

Another action-packed and fascinating day in Transylvania. This morning, after (another) delicious breakfast by Csilla, we got in three cars and headed to nearby Torda Gorge. There, over thousands of years, the river has sliced through the mountains, so there’s a gorgeous riverside walk — bright green fairy woods next to a babbling brook — bordered by STEEP mountain walls at least 100 feet tall. 200? So tall, I can’t say!

The path crosses the river three times, via wooden footbridges that are progressively more precarious. The last one bears a sign that says “Damaged. Dangerous!” in four languages. Of course we went over anyway. Everyone else was doing it — so why not? Once I actually got on the bridge, about halfway across, I regretted that decision. The boards were stuck slanted, at about 45 degrees sloping downward, so any stumble would have sent me 20 feet down into the rocks and water. But it was too late! Take a deep breath and keep going!

A special guest on today’s outing: Michelle, a Canadian who is here researching social issues within modern-day Transylvanian Untarianism, specifically support (or lack thereof) for same-sex marriage. We have a lively discussion as we walk.

Next it’s back to the village, where one local woman is hosting all 10 of us for a traditional lunch of Paprika Pork over Homemade Pasta. Being a vegetarian, I just savor the smell. I wish I could take a photo of that aroma!

Then — cakes! The Hungarian cakes are not to be believed. Each one is maybe 6 or 8 layers, with 2 or 3 different flavors of creme fillings between the layers and frosting on top. They are cut in slices, which are served on a plate with 3 or 4 or 6 different varieties at a time. I must admit, when I first saw them at the welcome party, I assumed they were store-bought — because they were so PERFECT looking. I realize now that that thought was an insult to Hungarian bakers everywhere. No, they bake all these layers at home, fill them, then lay a weight on the top, so they come out with beautifully even, elegant layers. Hungarians are perfectionists.

After lunch, it’s time to visit village homes for Easter Monday. Our group of 10 went to at least 5 houses. (Maybe more — we were drinking wine at each one, so I lost count.) This is my favorite activity, because we get to sit and chat, hear their wonderful stories, and also to see how people live everyday life — largely self-sustaining, with productive gardens and backyard livestock.

At one house, we see a traditional Hungarian heating stove, where a wood fire heats up a whole wall of decorative ceramic tiles. The one in the photo heats the room behind as well. There’s lovely painted furniture, too, and treasured family photos. And more Easter eggs. And more cakes!

Akos, a young man of the village who’s been driving us around and translating for us, runs home to change his clothes. This morning, he’s wearing a sweatshirt to hike the Gorge, this afternoon he returns in a three-piece suit and tie — It’s sprinkling time!

Among Hungarian Unitarians, it’s the tradition on Easter Monday for all men and boys to visit every house in the village, sprinkling perfume on all the women and girls. Everyone is dressed well. After they spray, boys are given Easter eggs and maybe some coins. Men get a drink. (See the cute video below.) Everyone has a visit and a chat.

At the Domokos family home over cakes and drinks, the elders recalled life under Communism, when stores sold only one kind of perfume — in a plastic tube! Someone’s brother got a tube that didn’t even have a hole — he had to pretend to spray that year. Then they told stories of food-rationing and widespread hunger, mandatory and back-breaking work on the non-mechanized co-operative farms, and compulsory school assemblies where they had to sing songs praising Ceaușescu.

Then some men and boys came in, and they sprayed us so much we had to go outside for some air!

These days many families are proudly self-sufficient. This time of year, gardens are just starting to sprout and fruit trees are in flower. Some families keep their own mini orchards and greenhouses, to prolong the growing season. Most keep chickens, and some, even in small yards with stables adjacent to the house (see photo at right), keep pigs and cows, too. All of them have skills — wine-making, bread-baking, tree-grafting, canning, pickling, slaughtering, curing — that have been lost to most Americans for generations.

Their hospitality, warmth, and openness charms me. Each person tries to make a human connection with us as Unitarians and as partners. They honor us as individuals by sharing their pride in their land, culture and traditions.

It couldn’t be more different from a pre-packaged cruise or a week in a hotel.

A boy recites a poem for a girl, then sprays her with perfume:

Day Five: Alba Julia (Tomb of history’s only Unitarian king) and Sibiu (medieval capital of the German Saxons in Transylvania)

For the next three days, we four Follenites will be traveling around Transylvania accompanied by four women from our Partner Church and John and Csilla Dale, leaders of the UUPCC’s Travel Service. At 9am, the ten of us board a minibus in Afsofelsoszentmihaly, bound for Alba Julia, the ancient capital of Transylvania’s royal family.

On the 1.5 hour ride there, Csilla retells key stories from Transylvania’s troubled and twisted history. In 1568, amid Europe’s bloody wars of the Reformation, King Sigismund was the first king anywhere to declare religious toleration — to allow his subjects to chose a religion based on their own beliefs — and he encoded it in law. Shortly thereafter, the king was converted to Unitarian Christianity by the fiery preaching of Francis David, a former priest who kept evolving and encouraged it in others. Just a few years later, Sigismund died and the country reverted to Catholicism — but his earlier edict of toleration saved the remaining Unitarians from persecution!

At Alba Julia’s 1005-year-old church (once Sigismund’s royal chruch, now Catholic), King Sigismund heard Francis David preach. He and his mother are entombed in these sarcophagi.

In 1920, just 60 years after Romania became a country, its newly-planted royal family built an elaborate Orthodox church right next to this one, the traditional church home of the earlier Transylvania royal family. The Romanians were coronated there, to underscore their claim to the disputed territory of Transylvania. (I’m reminded that the English royal family pulled a similar stunt in the 13th century to steal the title “Prince of Wales” from the native Welsh.)

Next, on to Sibiu, a beautiful medieval city, once the capital of the thousands of Saxon Germans who settled here for 900 years. it’s very like a medieval German town, and local lords left behind palaces that became museums of art and history. And the churches — don’t get me started on the churches!

The art museum (just the collection of one noble family) features two Rubenses, a Van Eyck, and two Brueghels — one of which, “Massacre of the Innocents,” blew me away. Plus a whole wing of Romanian art. The history museum was also pretty good. My only complaint is they don’t let you take photos, even without a flash, and guards follow you from room to room — or do I just look like someone who shoplifts artwork?

They don’t even sell the postcards, so I don’t have anything to show for those trips, and it bothers me. However I was overjoyed to discover, in the impressive medieval Lutheran church, an exhibition space in the back featuring the work of a modern Romanian artist called Eugen Tautu. (And you can take photos inside churches!)

Tautu’s something like a Seurat, but his images are composed of bright triangles of color. From ten feet away, it’s a landscape or a portrait. Up close, it’s a gorgeous geometric mosaic. LOVE!

In the evening we enjoy both a choir concert and a good meal. Over dinner, via our excellent translator Csilla, we get to ask our four friends from Afsofelsoszentmihaly more about their lives, their jobs, their kids. The group bonds over grandchildren. Turns out Hungarian has a single word for “my grandchildren’s other grandmother.” Which would be quite handy in English, no? Shall we invent that?

Day Six: Two more UNESCO World Heritage sites — Biertan and Sighisoara

Yesterday, I was head-over-hells for Sibiu. Today, that’s over. Sighisoara is now my 100% True Love Forever. You’ll see.

On the minibus from Sibiu, we pass through a Gypsy village — our guide John insists that’s how they self-identify here — that looks uninhabited (left). There are five or six grand houses under construction but no people. John says that’s typical. Commonly for Gypsies, a lifelong dream is to build a house big enough for all the family — but not to live in it. John says most Gypsies can be found living in tiny shacks to the back of the lot, all their lives.

In the 12th century the King of Hungary invited thousands of German Saxons to come and settle in Transylvania, to help defend Hungary from waves of invaders from Asia and the East. They stayed for 800 years, until the 1950s. Across the region, they built beautiful Saxon towns, now multi-colored.

The towns center on fortified churches (built within sets of walls, with towers and vaults and food storage), able to withstand hordes. And they did. A fine example stands at Biertan, a bishop’s seat for 500 years. Up many flights of stairs (right), it features a 14th-century carved stone pulpit and a jaw-dropping altar piece (left), comprised of 28 panels that are painted and accented with gold (8 more visible only when folded). The guide says that before the Reformation, this was a Catholic church centered on Mary, and there was a figure of Mary in the altarpiece center.

To the left of the altar is the door to the treasury room, which housed the most valuable assets (including, when under seige, village women and children). The room even has an oven for bread-baking and a stone fountain/sink. But the door (right)! Built in the 1500s, it won an engineering prize at the World’s Fair in 1900. Just one turn of the key locked 19 different iron bars into place.

An hour later, we are in Segesvar (left) or Sighisoara. It’s a grand German town like Sibiu, full of brightly colored buildings, but this one is less angular and geometrically perfect. It’s hilly and varied and more higgledy piggledy. And a little frayed around the edges. it seems less wealthy, full of regular people leading regular lives in a medieval setting.

For defense, the town is built on the three levels: valley, hillside, highest hillside or citadel. Rising from the middle level a the center of it all is the 13th century clock tower with its 15-century clock. With 3-foot-tall figures that actually move and chime with the time. Inside the tower, which, yes, I climbed, you can watch the old clock mechanism with a swinging pedulum. Views from the tower (right) are extraordinary. I can hardly believe it’s real.

Then there’s the silly stuff. In a gorgeous square facing the clock tower on the town’s middle level is the house of Vlad Dracul, father of the man who inspired the stories that inspired some Hollywood-ified fictions about Transylvania. Dracula, the son (also known as Vlad the Impaler), was, let’s face it, a pretty bad guy, but he wasn’t a vampire, for gosh sakes. By the way, he was born in Sighisoara, in the yellow house at right (left).

What blog post would be complete without the mention of food? A beautiful dinner tonight featuring the perfect ethnic blend for Transylvania — it’s the signature Hungarian dish Pork Paprikash over polenta, which is the national dish of Romania. If peace begins in the home, then perhaps sound International relations begin on our plates.

Day Seven: Rare books, Art Deco heaven, and proud Unitarian history

I’ll admit it, it was painful to leave Sighisoara, but what choice did I have?

Just an hour back on the road in the comfy minibus, and we were in Marosvarsarhely (Hungarian place name) / Targu Mures (Romanian place name). Both mean “marketplace on this river,” but your choice of which to use is loaded.

First stop is the Teleki Library (left). Around 1760, a Transylvanian Hungarian nobleman started collecting books, to expand his education. He aimed to create a up-to-date scientific library, but then he couldn’t stop collecting. He added in philosophy, literature, codex Bibles, rare books and documents, and even PhD theses. When he died there were 40,000 books. Today there are over 200,000. We saw a Codex Bible from the 14th century, a banned Voltaire, and an 1819 engraved copy of the Declaration of Independence.

After lunch — a tiramisu served in a Mason jar! — it’s a quick stop at the first Unitarian Church in Marosvarsarhely/Targu Mures (right), where, not coincidentally, our guide Csilla’s father was minister for 28 years. Up until 2008, this was the largest Unitarian church in the world, with a membership of two to three thousand. It got so large that it split into two. (Now the second Unitarian church is less than a mile away.) The current minister came out to share our hands.

After that, it’s on to the Cultural Palace of Marosvarsarhely/Targu Mures. In the 1920s, the town’s influential minister set out to beautify the town, in the new Art Deco style. His centerpiece was the Cultural Palace, which contains a symphony hall, a smaller concert venue, and several gallery spaces. The decoration is absolutely extraordinary — each enormous room, the grand staircases and hallways, are covered in fine hand-painted details. And there’s several sets of Art Deco stained glass windows that defy description. You can’t photograph the most amazing ones, so I bought a book — in Hungarian — just to have the photos.

Check out this video of the lobby of the Cultural Palace. (That’s Csilla speaking, it’s a shame she got cut off.)

Here’s a quick view of the symphony hall there:

From there it was on to Turda. We saw the church (now Catholic) where the Diet of Turda happened in 1568. Tomorrow, in Kolosvar, we get the full story about Francis David, and we’ll see Unitarian headquarters. Much to look forward to!

Day Eight: Kolosvar (Unitarian HQ) and back to Afsofelsoszentmihaly

We started the day with a tour of Unitarian headquarters, including the big Kolosvar church and Unitarian high school. The bishop is sick, but his second-in-command, Rev. Pap Marie generously gave us a tour and addressed questions. We were also joined by a young assistant minister named Julia, who showed us around the school and the enormous main church.

Headquarters is very impressive. The Consistory Room (where the board meets) has an oak table for 20, oil portraits of former church leaders, ceremonial banners, and coats of arms from Unitarian noble families. Next door, in the chapel, there’s space for 200 or so, under a tall pulpit. Of the high school’s 800 students, 100 live there, on the top two floors, including the three children of our partner minister, Jozsef. The high school is excellent, Julia tells us, one of the best in the country. Judging by the English (and general brightness) of Jozsef’s children, I must agree.

Next door is the great church, built in the 1790s. Home church of the Bishop (elected head of the Hungarian Unitarians), it was built on a grand scale — but a little too quickly. There are some serious questions about its foundation, so supports have been built both outside and in.

Here’s our other tour guide, John, inside First Unitarian:


In a front room of the church is the famous stone on which, according to legend, David Ferenc /Francis David preached in 1568 — and he was so convincing, that the whole city converted to Unitarianism then and there.

Fittingly, our next stop is the oldest and grandest church in town, which was, from 1568, given over to Francis David, to become a Unitarian Church. (We held it until 1719, when invading armies re-Catholicised it. Unitarians went underground for about 80 years then, before a reform allowed them to build and they quickly erected First Unitarian, which you saw above.)

Hungarians treasure St. Michaels as more than a Unitarian historical site. Now the largest Hungarian Catholic church in town, it foms the center of the Hungarian national holiday and it’s a symbol of ethnic pride.

After St Michaels we learn more about recent tensions between Hungarians and Romanians here. My brain can’t hold any more complex ideas — and thankfully it’s time for lunch. John and Csilla have arranged for us to have Kolosvar Kapusta, the local specialty, which is a meat-stuffed cabbage with potatoes. Dessert is a noodle kugel.

After lunch, we board the minibus again for the short trip back to our partner village, Afsofelsoszentmihaly. We have a chat with our hosts and a rest. Then we gather in the Community Center for another lovely meal. Afterward, a few more of our scholarship students and their mothers join us. For an hour or so, with the help of some young bilingual people in the village, we converse about jobs, health care, and the kids’ aspirations. One young woman is on her way to a wedding, so she’s done her hair in a stunning up-do. We are fervent in our admiration. Upon further discussion, we find out that this young woman has competed in Karate across Europe and is studying computer programming in Kolosvar. What a talented and well-rounded person. Her mother is proud.

Sunset tonight over our partner church:

Day Nine: Turda Salt Mine and goulash good-bye

After breakfast we packed into two cars and headed to the nearby famous salt mines at Turda. Over the course of about 100 years, local miners using horsepower du 26 stories worth of salt out of the ground here. Today there are lights everywhere and a glass elevator, but then it was utter darkness — tunnels and pits and stairs filled with smoke from lamps.

We walked down the first 13 sets of stairs to the main floor of a gigantic cavern — there’s a ferris wheel here now, plus ping-pong tables, pool tables, even a mini concert hall. People come for the clean, allergen-free air and they want to stay all day, so entertainment is provided. There’s even wi-fi!

Back in the day, the salt was dug out by hand, then hoisted up by teams of horses spinning a giant wheel called the extraction device (in photo at right). It’s said that in the utter darkness, horses went blind within two weeks.

Another 13 flights down, and we are at the very bottom, at the salt lake. You can rent a boat here for a quick paddle. But most just marvel at the 26 stories of marbled walls rising above.

Here’s a video that tries to caputre the enormity of the cavern:

In the evening, after a rest, we gather back at the church for a goodbye dinner. The men have built a fire outside, over which they hand a cauldron and start the goulash. This is a fine Hungarian tradition. You start with onions and spices, then someone brings pork, someone else brings bacon, then potatoes — maybe 50? — all peeled and diced. Then more spices, salt, a big bunch of dried basil. And it cooks for about two hours, while everyone watches and drinks palinka (brandy). There’s gossip and jokes and laughter and maybe some church business in there too. Everyone takes a turn tasting the goulash and pronouncing their opinions — more salt, where is the chili paste? ten more minutes for the potatoes to cook through.

Finally it is done and we gather around tables in the church hall to eat and to exchange our Thank Yous. It’s been a wonderful adventure, and I’ve learned so much about what it means to be a Unitarian, a Hungarian, a person. This kind of deep hospitality cannot be thanked adequately; it can only be repaid in person, and I hope someday to have to have that pleasure.