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.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Off to the Land of Silk and Money


Suddenly it was time for my second visit to America since arriving in Budapest in 1999. I had visited my daughter and her family in Los Angeles on my way around the world in 2007, so it seemed like it was time again to make the pilgrimage. Of course, I had to get up at 4:00 AM Budapest time to catch the initial leg of my flight, but hey, why not?
So, an early-morning taxi to the airport, a quick hop to Paris, then the loooong 11-and-a-half hour flight to Los Angeles on a wide-bodied – and nearly full – new Air France airplane. .
I ran the gauntlet of passport control and several more entrance obstacles of officialdom and emerged into the dim fluorescent lighting of LAX Terminal Two and there, straining at the ropes, were Morgan and Samantha and Nicholas, waiting for Dad and Grandpa. It was good to see them all again, and the kids had, of course, grown considerably since I had last seen them, as kids are wont to do. Samantha just turned 7 on March 18, two days after her mother turned 40! Yikes! 40! She’s now older than I am! And Nicholas will be six on July 14, Bastille Day.
Everyone looked great. We got to their house in the foothills of the San Bernardino Mountains, a good hour’s drive east of Los Angeles, and I settled in to fight off my jet lag. Their house has been repainted since I was last there, but the big news was that the two seven-foot pythons were no longer in residence, so I wouldn’t have to lie awake nights wondering when I’d see a sinuous pointed head slither up the side of the bed and look at me with eyes that always seemed to say, “Sssssay, you look tasssssty.”
Of course, there are now three turtles in residence, and we’re talking big friggin’ turtles. The biggest of the three weighs over 100 pounds (50 kilos), but they all manage to keep the backyard grass nicely clipped down to the nub. Of course, picking up baseball-sized turtle droppings can’t be a whole lot of fun.
Anyway, I distributed the usual quota of gifts and unpacked and caught up with everyone on immediate concerns and questions. The kids, being older now, both seem more comfortable with having a Grandpa they rarely see, but whom they took to quickly this time around. They climbed on me and took me to see their rooms and generally seemed OK with my company. Better than the last visit, when they didn’t know me at all and were rather reticent in my presence.
It was a good visit with the family. I ate a lot of good old Amurican comfort food, like sausage and eggs, real bagels with whipped cream cheese, frozen has brown potatoes, cinnamon rolls, lots of meat, pizza, sushi, hot pastrami sandwiches, Chinese food, barbecued ribs, real American pancakes with butter and maple syrup, corned beef hash, carne asada burritos, green chile stew, etc. Too much sometimes, but oh, so good.

I fought off the effects of jet lag and hung out with Tony and Morgan and the kids. My first week Morgan was still in school and Tony had lots of things to keep him busy, even though he was temporarily off work with carpal tunnel syndrome. I rested and got some LA sun ad read a couple of new books and generally just kicked back and enjoyed life. One day Morgan dragged me out of bed waaaay too early, made me shower and shave (again!), shoved a bagel and cream cheese in my mouth and hauled me off to her school to confront her classes again – five classes during the day. She did this to me last time I visited, as she’s always telling her kids about my life as a traveler, expat, author, TEFL teacher, etc., and volunteers me to talk to them about this alternative way of life when I’m in town. Oh, well, maybe I inspired one or two young students to get out of their barrio and find out there’s a bigger, wider, more interesting world out there.
Then for the long Memorial Day weekend it was off to Lake Mead, Nevada, just 20 miles south of Las Vegas. It took around three hours to get there; we picked up the boat and found our lakeside hotel, hitting the sack early
It was my first time on Morgan and Tony’s boat, a 21-foot cruiser, complete with galley, bathroom, sleeping area and a powerful single screw engine. Breakfast burritos at the Marina, then we got the boat in the water around 10 AM and headed for Hoover Dam, then on to a place called Sandy Beach, which was crowded with other boats, it being the only beachy area the kids knew of in the lake. Lunch was green chile burgers – mmmm. We all played the day away and got back to the hotel in time for the seafood buffet.
On Saturday Morgan’s half brother and his girlfriend got to town, and we took off again on the boat for another day of relaxing on the lake and beach. Sunday was too windy to get out so instead we drove into Las Vegas and tried to walk The Strip, but even there it was too windy and cold (15 degrees Celsius). We walked a few of the casinos, including Caesar’s Palace, then had lunch at Bahama Breeze. After a nap I managed a Nathan’s hot dog late that evening.
Monday was another beautiful day, and we took the boat to a new area of beach on the lake, where we stayed all day. Green chile cheeseburgers again for lunch, and the day was nice and restful; I got a lot of sun and came back with great tan. Back in LA the next day, I got some shopping done at a nearby outdoor mall. I bought some pants and books, saw the movie Hangover 2 (boring and not as good as the first one), and had a good lunch at the Food Hall. It was tough to choose between Panda Express (Chinese), Great Khan’s (Mongolian barbecue) and a corn dog, but I finally decided on the Chinese and it was worth it.
The following week Morgan was finally out of school, so she and I did a father-daughter bonding day. We drove to Irvine to see Atlas Shrugged, Part One, after which we decided to stay for another feature. Both were good movies and we only paid for the first one, as my upright daughter sneaked us into the second movie without anyone seeing us. And I thought she’d turned straight.
Two days left of my visit, and Morgan and I took Samantha and Nicholas and two of their friends to Soak City, an aqua park next to Knott’s Berry Farm in Orange County. It was a tiring day, but fun, and we all sped down the water slides just like the kids. On my final day in LA, Morgan and Tony threw a BBQ party for friends and family, and too much food was eaten once again.
Friday Morgan and the kids took me to LAX around 2 PM, where I wended my way through the TSA barriers and hung out until my flight left for Paris and then Budapest. I arrived home around 9 PM on Saturday.
So – what’s the US like these days? Well, of course, I only really saw a small part of it: Boulder City, Nevada, the Las Vegas strip and a couple of casinos, Alta Loma (California) malls and movie theaters and supermarkets, LAX. And it was ….. strange. First thing one notices is the huge number of really fat people. Gross. And the emphasis on food, food and more food. Fast food, snack food, everything bad for you. No wonder the average weight of the people I saw was probably over 200 lbs. From teens to old folks. Not a good sign. Manners are still pretty good, no problems there. But the main odd thing was the feeling of normality while the country is in such terrible trouble in so many ways. People just going about their business, driving on the freeways, shopping, seeming to live their normal lives even though the country is on the brink of disaster. High unemployment, disastrous inflation, lying and corrupt politicians, a war economy that doesn’t seem to want to ever quit, bankrupt businesses and the federal government. One just doesn’t get the same feeling being out and about as one does when reading all the pundits and doom-sayers and others who write their columns for the ‘sheeple.’ Strange.
Prices are generally fairly high for everything, especially food when eating out. Movies for seniors are anywhere from $6 to $10, Five Guys Burgers around $5, etc. Tony and I had two hamburgers and two cheeseburgers, plus three regular fries and something called animal fries, plus one medium and one large drink at In and Out Burger for around $19, which certainly seemed high to me.
Clothing prices aren’t too bad. I got a pair of jeans for $25 and Dockers for $22, which is probably better than Budapest. All in all, I guess it was reasonable for one person.
I returned home to Budapest summer weather, hot and humid. The following Friday we did our summer closing night party at the Britannia Club. I made my jello shots – red with vodka, green with rum and orange sans alcohol for the kiddies and teetotalers. They were a hit, as most Hungarians had never even heard of such things much less tasted them. We also had Pimm’s No. 1 shandies, for the more straight-laced among the group (of whom, I should mention, there aren’t many). I also had some visitors for a few days, people I hadn’t seen in 35 years, so I showed them around and joined them for dinner each day. They saw most of what Budapest has to offer the weary traveler and came away impressed with our Central European city.
The summer social season was in full swing by then. First it was a great BBQ party in the Buda hills, complete with bruschetta, lasagna and porcetta, a pig’s stomach filled with minced meats and spices and left in an old-style Hungarian earthen oven for several hours. Mmmmm. After food and beer, the few hard-core partiers left polished off a bottle of limoncello and bottle of vodka, by which time we were all in pretty good shape. There was only one minor casualty, who fell down the short flight of stone steps, but no blood was seen and we all got home more or less in good order.
The following weekend was a 70th birthday party for another friend. And after that, I rested once again. Stay tuned to this site --- more to come.