A Moveable Feast: Easter in Croatia with the Hungarians and the New Orleanians

Sometimes you are asked to do something you had not planned on doing.  Maybe even thought of doing. Or dreamed of doing. That is what happened to Mike and I when we were asked by a good friend to host a foreign exchange student.

Dorka and I at the Roman amphitheater in Pula.

Our children were grown and living on their own. Our youngest, Marina, was planning a wedding, and the house was very quiet. Almost too quiet. Still, would we have thought to bring a teenage girl into our home to relive another year of high school and all the responsibilities that go along with that?

We went back and forth about it.  It was almost like the decision-making process you have when you are thinking of having a baby.  Is this the right time? Can we provide everything she needs? Do we have the time and energy to give her the attention she deserves?


Mike and I with Dorka at the beach in Premantura during her Easter visit with us and her family.

Fast forward three years later and we are sitting in Croatia with that fearless, spunky young Hungarian woman that we are so glad we welcomed into our lives and her very lovely family sharing a bountiful Easter meal. Living here in Croatia has allowed us to not only meet her family but spend a unforgettable holiday that we will always cherish.

The Leitner family together with part of the Gelpi family met in Croatia for a lovely Easter weekend.

Meeting the Leitner family was such a pleasure for us as we had only met them through Skype when Dorka was living with us in Louisiana.  We felt an immediate bond with them as only those who have shared the trials and tribulations of raising teenagers can.

Béla and Zsuzsa, Dorka’s parents, and Dorka and her little sister Luca, brought with them a Hungarian bounty of foods including Tokaji wine, paprika, a huge slab of smoked bacon, ham, cheese and sausage and the infamous pálinka that Dorka had warned me about. The food was incredibly delicious.fullsizeoutput_44f6 And for those of you who have never had the pleasure of trying palinka, it’s a very strong fruit Brandy that the Hungarians drink for celebrations that was invented in the Middle Ages.  It’s very potent and was an immediate icebreaker. In the picture below, you can see it in the cool corked bottle.  It’s half empty. This was the morning after we met the Leitners.


“If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.” — Ernest Hemingway

Béla gave a heartwarming toast after they arrived and we chugged our glasses of palinka and wiped the tears from our eyes. Was it the toast or the palinka?  We may never know. What I do know is that sometimes you need to take a step out of your comfort zone and do something that you have not planned on doing.  It may be a lot of work. It may be uncomfortable and difficult at times.

For example, a few days after Dorka arrived we had a serious family emergency, and she had to live through it with us and adjust to what we were going through.  It could have made things very difficult for our relationship with her, but it only strengthened it and brought us closer.  Throughout her time living with us, there were many moments of joy, laughter and silliness. And many Taco Tuesdays as Dorka became a true Mexican food fan with my daughter Sarah and son-in-law Jonathan. But there was also heartache and pain with the death of my father-in-law and the illness of my father. I think we all grew as a result of the situation.

Dorka became part of our family and will always be a part of it. And now that we have met her parents and her sister, they, too, have become a part of our family.  We hope to see them again before we leave for the USA.  So I have nothing but gratitude for that friend who asked us to become a host family. (Really, thank you, Ron Davis!)


This picture above taken in Rovinj summarizes the incredible year we spent with Dorka: sunny but with life’s storms to overcome in the distance; like the water, clear and deep, like the limestone, hard but beautiful beyond belief.

By the way, for all you New Orleanians, don’t think I didn’t introduce our favorite Hungarian family to the food we all know and love in New Orleans! When they arrived, I made gumbo and jambalaya which everyone loved. I took a picture of the preparations but forgot about the finished product.

And we had to have a Taco Tuesday with the Leitner family, even though we did it on Easter Sunday.  We shared a wonderful Mexican  meal complete with guacamole, tacos and burritos with Dorka, Luca, Béla, Zsuzsa and Carolyn and James. Good times. May you all be so fortunate to enjoy such a moveable feast with old friends and new!

Carolyn and I with Béla and Zsusa at the seaside in Premantura. Yes, that’s Dorka photobombing us in the distance. 



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