The October Fulbright sightseeing trip starts today, to Sopron and a few other places on the Austrian border.

The first thing we saw was a Benedictine Abbey, with a tour by one of the monks. I don’t think I was supposed to nod in agreement when he told about how Emperor Jozsef II said the monks had no societal benefits and expelled them. (They were later let back under the condition that they do something useful: teaching.) Notable sights included graffiti on the church walls,

(That’s “x was here” in Latin), dates written with Gothic numbers, which are basically Arabic except that the character for 4 is half of the character for 8,

the oldest known sentence in Hungarian, defining the boundaries of land given, serfs and all, to the church,

and, in the library, a globe,

which they got only a century or two after the church admitted that the world wasn’t flat—who says infallible religious authorities never change their minds about matters of basic fact?


Then we saw one of the estates of the Széchenyi family, which was so rich that a donation of one year of its income started and endowed the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, and after one of whose members, István, about half the things in Hungary are named, since he’s a national hero. The family name is pronounced Szécsényi, so the spelling’s more irregular than most of Hungarian. Unlike most irregular spellings, though, this one was apparently formed by changing the spelling but not the pronunciation, not the other way around—István changed the spelling from Szécsenyi because he was an Anglophile (even to the point of loving our spelling system—love is blind), and a few generations before that they stopped writing the second accent; the name was originally in fact spelled Szécsényi, after the town of Szécsény.

The captions were in Hungarian and German only, which made for a nice mental workout for me—I learned bits of each by translating from the other.

Finally, before nightfall, we went to the place where the first breach in the Iron Curtain was made, at a “Pan-European picnic” from which a few thousand people (mostly East Germans) fled un-shot-at. (My birthday was apparently important in the planning of that picnic. :)) The border itself is marked by cubic stones, like the one on the ground here: