Travels With Myself

A Personalized Periodic Update, just for my family and friends, of the Ongoing Adventures of Your Favorite World Traveler

Name:
Location: Budapest, Hungary

After nearly 30 years in the financial industry in the US (mostly California and New Mexico), I decided it was time for my second life. I sold my house, sold my car, sold all my furniture, took a TEFL course and moved to Budapest to teach Business English to the business people of Hungary. Amazing mid-life change! I taught for about eight years, then pretty much retired. Now I travel extensively, and have been to more than 65 countries. I have had six books published, mostly about my travels - see my author's page on amazon.com. I have made friends from all over the world. Becoming an expat is the best move I ever made and I plan to continue my travels indefinitely. Come join me on this blog and enjoy the places I've been and the people I've met, past, present and hopefully in the future.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Life is STILL Good!

After returning from St. Petersburg I took a rest for about a month. Caught up on my reading, bought a few new books, made sure my one remaining English class was still going (it was) and caught a local English-language production of Equus, which I’d never seen, at one of our basement playhouses.
Friday, May 24, we gathered at the Caledonia Pub for the annual Eurovision Song Contest, always a fun time. There are usually about 25 or 30 finalist from many of the nations of Europe. The singers and dancers chosen to represent their country put on a wide variety of singing and dancing acts, most of which have to be seen to be believed. This year’s contest was held in Belgrade, winner of the 2007 contest. Caledonia pub put on a Guess the Winners contest and my Ukrainian friend Tania joined me for the evening. The singers were all quite good; after all, two of the previous Eurovision Song Contest winners were Abba and Celine Dion, although most of the winners fade into international obscurity soon after their triumph. Anyway, I voted my personal likes, but Tania voted politically, and picked Russia as the winner. And guess what? Of course, Russia won going away. It was a fun evening, and Tania’s choice won her the use of a free rental car for a weekend. Not bad.
The following weekend was good, with a visit to yet another Bread and Circuses presentation by the government of Hungary, a two-day-long Gallop, with horsemen in short races around Heroes Square. Unfortunately for the horsemen, who were wearing heavy wool uniforms, armor, and other weighty, hot clothing, the temperature was in the low 90s, and they looked like they were none too happy in their costumes.
The next weekend it was off to the countryside town of Etyek for a weekend of wine-tasting, music, dancing and general carousing. A good time. About 15 people showed up at the winery, and we tried all of the Winery’s offerings during the evening. Someone finally poured me into a car around midnight, and shoved me out next to the guesthouse where I was staying. Much appreciated.
Morning was hell with the lights on. I caught a ride back to town with one of the other revelers and managed to make it as far as my sofa, where I collapsed for the remainder of the day and night. Let’s see, what else in June? Two birthday parties, one at Iguana and Stuart’s party on June 20, a knock -down, drag-out, karaoke, buffet dinner, all-night fest at the Caledonia Pub. We sang and drank and danced and ate and cavorted until the wee hours, and I missed another Saturday. Damn.
I was scheduled to go to Tripoli in July, but still had some problems getting the required documents so I had to postpone my Tripoli visit until who knows when. But then it was off to Prague for another hotel job. This time I had to do two hotels in the same trip. Yep, I stayed at one hotel for four days, checked out, walked around the corner and caught a taxi for the other hotel, where I stayed for two more days.
Spent a nice week in Prague and did some fun things this time around. One night when I went to a performance of Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni – done with marionettes! The show was one of those not-to-be-missed tourist attractions, with the marionettes doing their thing to the opera, including lots of humorous jumping around and bashing each other. Anyone going to Prague shouldn’t miss it.
I attended a Spanish guitar concert, had lunches and dinners at outdoor cafes and restaurants, hit a couple of good pubs for Happy Hours, and watched a semi-final match of the European Soccer Championships. Also had dinner with another old friend, Ioanna Olariu from Romania, now Chief Financial Officer of the Prague Marriott, at Kogo, an upscale Italian restaurant near the Powder Gate.
In keeping with my usual penchant for stumbling onto fun and interesting places if I just keep wandering around, I happened on Fat Boy’s Bar just in time to catch the Australia-France rugby match on Saturday. Australia crushed France, always a good thing to watch. Got back to Budapest the evening of Sunday, June 29, did my reports over the next couple of days, taught a class, and got ready for my trip to Berlin. I landed back in Germany (my first visit since February 1970) mid-morning of Thursday, July 10. I had booked a flat for my stay this time, which was right around the corner from the Nordbahnhof S-Bahn station, so I was within easy, quick reach of pretty much everywhere in central Berlin. Three stops from my flat I emerged on Unter Den Linden. Alright!
My first visit to a new city is often more easily accomplished doing one of those op on/Hop off city tours, so I did just that. We saw the Reichstag, the famous Kurfurstendamm shopping street, the Berlin Dom cathedral, the Bebelplatz, site of Hitler’s first book-burning party, and much more. We crossed the river Spree several times and, after having read about this famous river that cuts through the heart of Berlin, I must say when I first saw it I was surprised it was so…….dinky.
After a quick snack of Berlin’s famous currywurst, I set out the S-Bahn to Potsdammer Platz and headed out at a brisk trot. I walked down the street that was formerly the home of the Gestapo; the street still bears a remnant of the Berlin Wall. All along the street was an exhibit called The Topography of Terror, outlining the Nazi murder of Jews and other undesirables during their not-short-enough reign.
I stopped by the former Checkpoint Charlie, then found the Oscar Wilde Pub. Aaaah, home again. The Guinness was just right and, along with a snack, put me in the mood for an early evening, especially since I’d been up since 4 AM to catch my plane. Tomorrow would be another day.
I was up early the next morning and took the S-Bahn to Alexander Platz (square). The S-Bahn usually travels above-ground, as compared to the U-Bahn which goes underground. The S-Bahn carriages were mostly new and pretty and modern, and, of course, subject to that vaunted German efficiency. Inside the cars, each station was announced on a scroll-board, along with the following two stations. Of course, sometimes efficiency can be taken too far. When the S-Bahns stopped at a station and the doors opened, the scroll-board on the cars also sprouted an arrow pointing to which doors were already open, so all good Germans would know which door to use to exit the car. It was a clear case of efficiency giving way to anal retentive.
So, I walked went to the Pergamon Museum which has a permanent exhibit of Babylon: Myths and Truths. The exhibit included the amazing Ishtar Gate and whole bunches of stuff dealing with ancient Babylon. Great audio tour which covered such famous people of the Babylonian Empire as Hammurabi, Nebuchadnezzar and Gilgamesh. Cook exhibit.
I walked back over to Unter Den Linden and strolled over to the site of Hitler’s Bunker, now completely gone. A plaque advises the touristically-inclined what was originally there. I also did the Holocaust Memorial and the Holocaust Museum underneath the Memorial, which was just like Yad Vashem in Israel, and just as depressing and sobering. No one spoke while going through the exhibits. And one didn’t feel particularly warm and fuzzy toward the Germans one encountered after leaving the exhibit.
Then I needed sustenance, so I went American and downed a couple of Dunkin Donuts and a Slushy. Comfort food. Later that evening I checked out two of the advertised pub crawls, but they were pretty sleazy so I passed on both and, since it was Friday night, thought I’d see what the Oscar Wilde Pub’s karaoke night held in store.
The festivities began around 10 PM. The crowd was small at first – a few regulars and an Irish stag party – but people kept on coming in and the pace picked up around midnight. The Stag in the Stag Party was forced by his friends (and with friends like those, who needed enemies?) to dress like Borat, with the wild Borat wig and the strange monokini that covered one’s groin (almost) then stretched up to one’s neck. Will try and include a picture in this Blog. There were lots of good singers there, and I waited until the crowd got going and the beer was flowing, and hit’em with Great Balls of Fire. Well, they loved it! Old time rock and roll gets’em every time. After Minnie the Moocher, I had lovely women wanting me to sing with them, I had Irishmen buying me pints of Guinness and I had passers-by stopping in to bop a little. I finished off with Johnny Be Goode, and was the hit of the evening. Of course, any new blood is always appreciated, and I even got a leaning ovation from the stag party boys. Another successful night in the pub.
Saturday was a bust! Went down to the Kurfurstendamm (Ku’Damm) for some shopping and couldn’t find anything I wanted. I’ve been looking for a plain navy blue blazer for the past six months, and have had no luck anywhere. This time I found a men’s store that actually had 2,376 navy blue blazers of all shapes and sizes and button types (I know, because I counted each and every one), and not one was my size. Incredible! Screw it, I had a late lunch and went back to the flat and crashed. Later that night I went in search of the Speakeasy Berlin and found it, but it was closed. Not a good day.
Sunday was Big Tour day. I showed up at Starbuck’s near the Brandenburg Gate by 11 AM and signed up for the tour to Sachsenhausen Concentration/Work Camp. We finally got to the town where the camp is around 1:50. Our guide then gathered us all together and told us we had a 10-minute walk to the Camp site. Turned out it was more like 20 minutes, and she neglected to tell us it would be an Olympic event. I kept falling farther and farther behind, until I had to shuffle my stubby little legs faster and faster just to keep up. Must have lost about 2 kilos on that march.
Anyway, got to the camp and it was as grim and foreboding as you might imagine. Our guide, a young Irish lass, was well-informed and informative, and led us through all the critical areas of the camp: main gate, barracks, prison, extermination area (complete with ovens) and infirmary. Suffice it to say the tour was depressing and difficult, but one which everyone should do. We can but hope that period was the last we shall ever see of such atrocities. Never again.
My last day in Berlin started inauspiciously. Madame Tussaud’s has opened a new exhibit, right near the Brandenburg Gate, so I thought I’d catch it and see if it was as good as the one in London (the exhibit, not the Gate). I’d seen signs and ads for the exhibit all over town, but all of the people displayed on the signs were all people I’d not only never seen but never heard of. Okay, maybe George Clooney, but that was it! Anyway, got there around 9:15 AM for a 10:00 opening, but there was already a line forming, so I stood in line – something I rarely ever do these days, as not much is really worth it – until the doors opened. I shuffled in with the rest of the crowd and checked out the price list above the reception desk. 18.50 euro for a ticket! That’s like 27 US dollars! No way was I paying 18.50 euro to see a bunch of wax figures I didn’t even know anyway. I was unpopular with the incoming crowd as I bulldozed my way out the door. What a ripoff!
And that was Berlin. A good five days. I even got to use some of my long-unused German, learned in the wilds of the Ruhr district lo those many years ago. The Berliners almost understood me, as it turned out I had picked up Low German where I lived instead of the High German spoken in the more cultured areas of the country. But they sure understood how many Euros everything cost!
August will bring two more trips and I will update everyone when they’re over, then I plan on taking a break for awhile. We shall see. Until then, hope you all are well, safe and happy. Life is still good on this end.