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.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Peking Around

COMPLAINT NOTE: THIS CRUMMY BLOG SITE WILL NOT LET ME FORMAT PARAGRAPHS, INDENTATIONS, ETC., BUT RATHER PUBLISHES MY DEATHLESS - AND PROPERLY PUNCTUATED - PROSE AS ONE CONTINUOUS STRING OF WORDS AND SENTENCES. I APOLOGIZE TO MY READERS FOR THE UTTER INCOMPETENCE OF THIS TERRIBLE BLOGSITE; IF I COULD FIND ANOTHER ONE I WOULD USE IT. I REALLY DO WRITE MY BLOGS IN A PROPER FORMAT -- IT'S JUST THE BLOGGER.COM PEOPLE WHO ARE THE CULPRITS. SORRY FOR THE INCONVENIENCE. After my return from Rhodes I rested for a week or two, then visited a former student in Eastern Hungary. My description of that trip is on the previous Blog, so check it out. Then I decided to look around for a winter trip, so I checked out Vacation Packages on several travel websites. The best one was Expedia, which I’ve used quite often for my travel adventures. They had a special deal in October 2012: round-trip flight and hotel for seven nights in Beijing, China, just under $1,500 US! What a deal!! I couldn’t resist, so I started making my plans. Looked up visa requirements for China on the Internet, printed and completed the forms and took everything down to the Chinese Embassy in Budapest. They sucked up all my forms almost before I was ready to hand them in, took my passport and told me to come back the following Monday to pick up my visa. I could pay then, around $150 US. And people think China is a Communist country! As usual, I began compiling a list of Chinese words and phrases I could memorize and use while in Beijing, so as not to look or sound like a total tourist. The Internet is wonderful for such things as this, and I found a good site that gave me all the words and phrases I could possibly want or use or need during my short week in Beijing. Numbers (“yi – one,” “wo – five,” “shuh – ten”), useful phrases such as Hi (“Ni hao”), I don’t understand (“woting budong”), do you speak English (“nǐ huìbúhuì shuo”), Where is the toilet? (“cèsuǒ zàinail”) and, somewhat surprisingly, the sentence, “My hovercraft is full of eels.” (Wǒ de qìdiànchuán chōngmǎn le shànyú – thought I was kidding, didn’t you?). Not sure I’ll need this last one very often, but one never knows, do one? So, I was ready to go, just a little packing and I’d be on my way. In the meantime, buddy Stuart and I put on one of our infamous Pub Quizzes for our social networking group, The Club, on September 28 in our usual venue, The Clubhouse, which is actually the rear rooms at our favorite sports bar. Great evening, lots of fun, So -- places I never thought I would ever visit: Red Square, Moscow; The Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg; Petra, Jordan; The Taj Mahal, Agra, India; and now….. The Great Wall. Forbidden City. Tian’anmen Square. Molly Malone’s Irish Bar. Kung Pao Chicken and Mu Shu Pork restaurants. Tsing Tao beer bars. Yep, I finally made it to China. Beijing. How cool is my life? Took off from Budapest on the morning of October 4 on LOT Airlines to Warsaw, then a non-stop to Beijing, arriving at 6:30 the following morning, Friday, October 5. The Beijing Airport is a wonder of modern technology and efficiency, and, after easily clearing passport control, I merely followed the well-marked signs, in Chinese and English (I used the English), to the taxi area and caught a taxi to my hotel. It was about 30 minutes or so to the middle of the city, as my hotel was located next to The Forbidden City, about as perfect a location as one could want. The taxi only cost me around 10 euro; not bad. The Reception staff was friendly, smiling and welcoming, and they all spoke English, which was a decided plus, as Trip Advisor comments indicated that was not necessarily the case. Don’t know who those other tourists dealt with, but it certainly wasn’t my group. I was at the Days Inn Forbidden City Beijing, a three-star place, which was, as always, adequate for my needs. I wasn’t in my room long enough for any minor discrepancies to be noticed, so the hotel was satisfactory. OK, there was some minor mould on the shower grout and some construction going on nearby (never bothered me at all), but they were such minor things it is almost pointless to mention them. Plus, the room’s amenities included disposable razors, towel wipes and condoms – a truly cosmopolitan establishment. Anyway, I unpacked, took a quick shower, brushed my teeth and set out for my first sight of Beijing. My first jaunt was, obviously, to The Forbidden City outer gate. I’d be back there the following day on my tour of the city, so I didn’t go in this time. Besides, it was the end of China’s National Week, which began on the previous Monday, October 1, when around 18 million people flooded Tian’anmen Square (or so I was told later). The remnants of the crowds were still in evidence, so I merely got acclimated to the area. It was nearly lunchtime by then, so I walked up Nanheyan Street (next to my hotel) to the Jade Garden hotel, turned right and followed my nose down the road to Molly Malone’s Irish Bar in the Legendale Hotel. A light lunch of spring rolls and a Guinness (which was only fair, but it did cost around $11.50!) assuaged my hunger for the moment. I bought my obligatory polo shirt and walked over to the Wangfujing Street shopping district. It was, as advertised, very commercial, with lots of high-end stores along its length, but next to it was the Wangfujing Market, full of all sorts of wonderful tourist crap and exotic foods, such as crispy fried scorpions, silk worm chrysalis and some sort of beetles. And you are correct in your assumptions – I didn’t try any of them. It was like being in a big modern city where the signs were in Chinese. Huge, wide streets, glass and steel buildings, all the brand-name stores one finds everywhere, plus the ubiquitous McDonald’s. They even have a Fatburger tucked away somewhere, although I never did find it. I felt like I was in a Jackie Chan movie. I did almost succumb to the inevitable and buy an “I (heart) BJ” t-shirt for Morgan, but thought better of it for the moment; I’d have time later. Along the way I had my first encounters with the Chinese “art students,” usually young females who chat you up (“Where you from? Your first visit to China?”) and then try to get you to accompany them to a bar or tea house for refreshments. If you go, you are then presented with an astronomical bill, like $200 US; refusal to pay brings out the 300-pound Chinese Tong enforcers to help you to an ATM. Just like Budapest’s Konzum Lanyok (Consumer Girls). I was ready for the attacks and usually spoke to these young hustlers in Hungarian, which baffled them and finally chased them off. I knew my limited Hungarian would do some good someday! After a short nap and shower, I repaired across the street to a rooftop bar overlooking Beijing and had a beer with my spectacular view. I walked along the Jiangomen Street main drag for awhile, stopping in to see if the Raffles Hotel had a Long Bar like in Singapore. No such luck. As it was getting along toward dinnertime, I found a little family-run hole-in-the-wall restaurant up the street from my hotel, and decided it looked good enough to try. Luckily, a middle-aged Chinese gentleman and his wife were just leaving, and he gave me some suggestions in English for dinner. The hostess didn’t speak any English, but she had a picture menu on which I could point out what I wanted; descriptions were in Chinese and English, which I found to be common in the Beijing restaurants. I made my selection and also ordered a Tsing Tao beer. While sipping my beer and watching the other diners, I noticed a young couple getting ready to leave. While the young man gathered up their stuff, the young woman walked over to my table and said to me, in near-accentless English, “We wanted to say we hope you have a nice visit in China.” Well, I was floored. I smiled at her and thanked her profusely before she and her friend left. If there is a better way to begin a vacation in a foreign land, I have yet to find it. I scarfed down my dim sum dumplings, finished my beer and headed off to bed, quite happy with my first day in Beijing. Saturday was my big Beijing Tour day, so I was up at 6:30 and waiting for my tour group pickup at 8 AM. I had found out shortly after my arrival on Friday that it was best to take care of one’s major toilet needs before leaving the hotel, unless one wants to experience the joys of the ever-popular Chinese Squatting Toilet. I recommend against this rather noxious activity. Anyway, my group was on time, eleven other tourists and our guide, Allie. Our first stop was The Forbidden City, which was just a short walk from my hotel, so the entire group hiked on over. The crowds were a lot less that day, and we got our tickets and entered the walled city. I won’t bore you with the details, but we spent around three hours going through the various courtyards and buildings. Everything was paved in stone, so the going was somewhat tough, and there was no shade on that hot fall day, but we all managed to make it through that part of the tour without fainting or falling over. The group was mostly middle-aged British and Indian couples and our small van whisked us around the city to our different destinations. It was a fairly comprehensive tour of the major sights in town, and our next stop was the Temple of Heaven, the Emperor’s private Buddhist prayer spot. Before lunch we were taken to a Traditional Chinese Medicine “hospital,” where we were given a brief talk on the wonders of Chinese herbal medicine. Then a troop of doctors and nurses marched in to each of the 20 or so tables and proceeded to give us advice on which Chinese herbs we should take to enhance our health. My personal recommendations came to around $1,000 worth of herbs. I passed; I’ll remain my standard unhealthy self. After a five-minute massage, I rejoined the group and we were off for lunch, which was just as well as we were all quite hungry by that time. Lunch was good, a lazy susan turntable with rice, meats, veggies, etc., at which everyone grabbed and speared like college freshmen at the mess hall. I still have the fork wounds on the back of my hand (damn tourists can’t even use chopsticks). Anyway, lunch satisfied us all and it was back in the van for a longer journey to the Summer Palace, situated on a hill overlooking a large manmade lake in the northwest area of Beijing. We opted for the boat trip across the lake as opposed to a mile-long hike (one-way!) and I was back at my hotel around 5:30 PM. A busy but enjoyable day. I had dinner at my family restaurant (chicken and veggies with a beer, 36 Yuan, or $6), then took the Beijing Metro a short three stops and, after a longer walk through nighttime Beijing, found Maggie’s, a bar highly touted by Trip Advisor, as a nice place for expats to gather and to meet interesting young Chinese, Russian and Mongolian women. Well, it was an upscale pickup bar, all dark reds and blacks, nice dance floor, good band, and waitresses galore who would join you and chat as long as you kept buying them drinks. Their drinks were only 80 Yuan (around 10 euro), so I did buy one for one young lady who kept me company until she finished her drink, then slithered off to find a more willing – and liquid – customer. I left early, but had to stop outside for one of Maggie’s famous hot dogs at their outdoor stand, and it was as good as advertised. A taxi back to the hotel and I was in bed a touch after midnight. Sunday was an open day until my evening tour. As I left my hotel looking for breakfast, it suddenly dawned on me that I was in China and I could have real Chinese food. I had breakfast at a Chinese dumpling place around the corner, and the dumplings were scrump-diddly-umptious. In the states I knew them as Char Sha Bao (Cantonese as opposed to Mandarin, which was the standard language of Beijing). The standard serving was three; I had six, along with some tea, and it only cost me 30 Yuan or around $5. Such a deal. I wanted to check out the Plastered T-Shirt Shop I had seen advertised, so took a taxi to the mouth of the street on which it was located. I paid the taxi and looked askance at the “street.” It was actually an alley, with high metal fences on each side. Hmmm, doesn’t look promising, but okay, what the heck, I’m here, may as well try it out. I walked down the first part of the alleyway, jogged right then left, and emerged onto Nanluogo Xiang, one of Beijing’s premier funky little shopping streets. It was a hutong, or a longish old-style street that hadn’t been renovated, but was filled with shops and snack stands and public toilets (free) and other places to buy all kinds of cool tourist and artsy-fartsy bohemian stuff. It was Beijing’s answer to a souk or bazaar. My kind of place. I walked and browsed and bought cool stuff for a couple of hours, and no hassles from the merchants, which was nice, as I was to find out that at other tourist sights the stall owners were merciless, grabbing and cajoling and bargaining until you just wanted to yell at them to leave you alone. Nanluogo Xiang really is a nice place and I highly recommend it to anyone who visits Beijing. Some of the snack stands had things like crispy-fried scorpions on a stick, or silk worm chrysalis or other interesting delicacies. A little too delicate for me, but I did have some churros come late morning. I taxied back to the Wangfujing shopping street – much more commercial – and had a wonderful lunch of Kung Pao Chicken, rice and beer for around $7 US. After a short nap and shower, I was picked up around 4 PM for my Sunday night tour. Since we were a touch early for the restaurant, my guide Lisa took me to a tea showroom (I guess it was called that) where I had a demonstration of the different types of Chinese tea. Of course, after the demo, my demonstratrix accompanied me around the showroom and tried to get me to buy all sorts of tea and accessories. Another damn hustle. I did buy some tea, as the ones I had were good, and just hope I can find some of them in Budapest. Then it was off to the Peking Duck restaurant for dinner of – you guessed it – Peking Duck. Another wonderful meal. Peking Duck is eaten like Mu Shu Port, i.e., the duck is served sliced into small strips, which are placed on a small pancake (like a crepe). Plum sauce is brushed on the crepe and some sliced veggies are added; then the crepe is rolled up like a tortilla and eaten the same way. Yummy. My guide Lisa kept cramming food into my mouth and making me more and more little pancakes, until I was so stuffed I could barely move. It was good but uncomfortable at the end, and I squirmed and rustled all evening as I sat through a really amazing Chinese acrobatics show. I would have enjoyed the show more if I hadn’t been quite so full of food. I got back to the hotel around 9:30 PM and wasn’t yet ready to turn in, so I had a taxi driver try to find a place called Paddy O’Shea's, with directions given me by a bar waitress at Molly Malone’s. We had no luck, and I went back to the hotel and hit the sack. It was the end of my first three days in Beijing, and they were among the best three days I’ve ever had anywhere. I should have known it couldn’t last. Monday was The Day from Hell, when the cracks in the friendly Beijing façade began to show. I got up early as I was told that the viewing of dead Chairman Mao Tse Tung began at 8 AM, and I knew there would be a line so I didn’t want to have to wait too long to see him. Got to Tian’anmen Square around 7:30 and there were no lines. Hmmm. Walked around back and found out that since it was Monday the tomb was closed! And I was told it was open Monday through Friday; turns out it’s open Tuesday through Sunday. Well, hell, a fine start. I should have known then; I should have just gone back to the hotel and jumped back in bed and pulled the covers up over my head and stayed there. No such luck. I grabbed a taxi back to my favorite souk, Nanluogo Xiang, to do some more shopping, and that was okay. Back to Wangfujing Street and the banks there to change some more money. Chinese banks may possibly be the most inefficient operations I have ever seen anywhere, with literally mounds of paperwork to get anything done. With banks such as these, and squatting toilets, China is not ready to take over the world, believe me. After visiting four banks to get money changed, and being told at each one that it would be at least an hour’s wait, I finally found one where the wait was only 15 minutes. I had to show my passport (just to change money, you understand!) and sign three pieces of paper and watch as the teller shuffled more paper around. I finally got my lousy 100 euro changed into Yuan. I had gone to the bank because the change machine at my hotel charged me 20 Yuan to change my money automatically; that’s around $3.50. So having spent the best part of 90 minutes trying to change money, I saved $3.50. Not a good deal. It was then 11 AM and I wasn’t ready for lunch yet, so I thought I’d get a little snack while walking through the Wangfujing market, which has lots of food stalls with fruits, crispy critters (fried beetles and scorpions, etc) and fried pancakes filled (very lightly) with some unknown substance. Those looked like a good bet, small and well-cooked, so I asked for one of them (which was actually two pancakes, one on top of the other). The cook scraped up two pieces (actually four small pancakes, or crepes, if you will) and handed them to me and said, “one twenty.” I thought he meant one twenty-yuan note, so I gave him that. He looked at it and said again, “one twenty.” He apparently meant one hundred and twenty Yuan, the equivalent of around $20 US. Are you out of your friggin’ mind? $20 for four tiny pancakes? I tried to give them back and get my money back, and he and another stall employee started yelling and arguing and refused to give my money back or take back their food insisting I pay them what they demanded. Well, it got uglier from there. I finally gave them another 20 Yuan note and left, hurling epithets all the way. Filthy little cheats and thieves, think all foreigners are gullible idiots and will pay anything demanded of them. I know foreigners are routinely charged more than locals, but five times what the item is worth? I found this again and again during my attempts to buy a few souvenirs and gifts, and was astounded at the Chinese stall owners attempts to screw the foreign tourists. Asking the price for a small toy for my grandkids, which would sell for about $4 in any US store, I was told it cost 285 Yuan. Got that? Divide by 6 for US prices: nearly $48! I was seriously tempted to punch out that smug little salesgirl. Beijing visitors beware – if you pay more than one-fifth of the asking price you are getting the shaft. You have been warned. I hoped a nap would calm me down, so repaired to the hotel for a short one. When I ordered dinner that night at my family restaurant, asking for spicy beef, and was told they didn’t have it (!), I was offered non-spicy beef with veggies. I sighed and asked for Kung Pao chicken and was brought….non-spicy beef with veggies. After that I really did go back to the hotel and pull the covers over my head. Tuesday was my Great Wall tour. My driver and guide arrived at 8 AM and we were off. It was about a 90-minute drive to the Mutianyu section of the Wall, and I relaxed and let Cathy tell me about the Wall and countryside as we traveled. When we arrived, I was told the admission fee for the Wall was not included in my tour price and I would have to pay the 120 Yuan myself – along with the cable car charge of another $10 or so. Hmmm – more on this in a moment. So we took the cable car up to the Great Wall on top of the mountain ridge. The Wall runs along the top of the mountain ridges for many miles in each direction. We walked about a quarter mile to the north and back, going up and down and in and out. Most of this section is still the original brick and stone, which was still standing after several hundred years. Interesting walk. It was windy and cool up there, but not too many tourists. There is a section of wall in one of the guard towers where tourists leave their names; yep, look for mine if you go. So, what can I say about the Great Wall? Well, it’s…..Great! I mean, the length and engineering are amazing, but, when all is said and done, the wall itself is really just….a wall. Worth seeing, however, and to say you’ve done it. But, you know, you’ve seen one section of the Great Wall, you’ve pretty much seen them all. Back down again, we had a small snack then took off back to Beijing. We made a short stop at the Olympic Village to check out the stadium, called the Bird’s Nest (look it up on the Internet and you’ll see why) and I was then dropped off at my hotel mid-afternoon. A nice tour, very professional and well-organized, but let’s do a comparison of my two tour agencies: (1) Great Wall Tour – pickup at hotel, drive to and from Great Wall, walk the wall, no lunch, two extra tickets not included in fee. Charge for Tour: $200 US. (2) Beijing Tour, Peking Duck Dinner and Chinese Acrobatic Show – driver and van with a group tour, Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven, Summer Palace (including admission fees for all), lunch, Chinese medicine showroom, Tea and Pearl showrooms, Peking Duck dinner, acrobatics show, all fees included, no extras. Charge for Tours: $124 US. I will let you decide which is the better deal. I’ve already made my decision. Anyway, after another nap (I took a lot of them to counter my jet lag, still bothering me) and a short walk around the area, I found a Hot Pot restaurant up the street and decided to try this specialty of the house. The deal is, you choose a bunch of meats and veggies, which are brought to your table raw. Then you get a pot containing a soup base of your choice (I chose hot and spicy), which is then brought to a boil with a flame underneath the pot. You then put your meats and veggies into the pot to cook for about a minute or so, dip them into the sauces provided, and eat with pleasure. The food is still dripping with water and sauces and therefore tends to make some really lovely and interesting patterns when dripped onto your shirt during the course of conveying the food from the plate to your mouth. I wound up looking like one of those modern paint-splattered canvases that look like something your kid would accidentally make in kindergarten yet sells for thousands of dolalrs. But, as messy as it was, it was also a wonderful taste treat, so no worries and no regrets. I didn’t need that Armani shirt anyway. We need to take a short break here to talk about the wonderful Chinese food. There are more than 60,000 restaurants in Beijing, but I only had time to try a small handful of them. As always, one of my favorite travel pastimes is trying to decipher the menus prepared usually by local English students whose grasp of this foreign language is somewhat less than colloquial. As a result, many of the dishes presented for diners are very strange or indecipherable, like the following: Pineapple Moneycattle (Hmmm, I shook my head in wonder) Wandering Felichang (not a friggin’ clue!) Three Fresh Crust (I recognize the words but not the intent) Chilli Itself Can Chicken (I’m glad it can, but what does that mean for a meal?) Sweat and Sour Spareribs (Could have been taken from a Hungarian menu) The Palace Quick Aflesh (Lost!) Pig Hands with Chilli (Didn’t know pigs had hands, but maybe in China…) And at last, something I recognize: the Big Yellow Fish (I’ll have that!) Anyway, after an early breakfast of Niu Ge dumplings again on Wednesday, it was off on a short hike over to Tian’anmen Square one more time to visit Mousie Dung’s tomb. This time there was a line of people, not too long, inside the barriers, and I joined them around 7:15 AM. The doors opened at 8, and we all shuffled forward. The crowd was almost all Chinese, waving little red flags and wearing caps with a red star on the front. We had to go through two metal detectors, a passport check and a hard stare by some large guards before reaching the front of the mausoleum. No cameras or bags of any sort were allowed, so I had left mine at the hotel. Some viewers bought flowers to put on the site. We shuffled forward some more, always moving, no stops allowed, and finally got inside the mausoleum (would that be “Mao-soleum?”) and there he was, absolute dictator of China for 30-plus years, white and waxy and still dead. IMHO, I thought Lenin looked a lot better. Still no stopping, we had about 30-45 seconds of face time with the deceased and then out the rear door and finished. At least it was free. I tried to get a taxi to the park behind the Forbidden City, but they kept refusing to take me. I couldn’t figure out why at first, then realized it must have been too short a trip, inside their 10-Yuan minimum fare. Nice treatment for tourists. Really makes you want to tell all your friends about your wonderful experiences in Beijing. So I walked to the park, Screw ‘em. It was a nice jaunt and they can keep their cruddy little 10-Yuan fares. I still had a nice time, and even walked back to the shopping area afterwards. Back at the hotel, I got ready for my one big night out in Beijing. At first I wanted to see if there were any karaoke bars in town. I found out there are quite a few, but they are not like others in Europe. Chinese karaoke bars contain small rooms which are rented by groups of friends or family, who then sing to each other. No public singing like we’re used to here in Budapest. So, pass on that. I don’t have any friends or family in Beijing anyway. On to the real bars! I had read about the Sanlitun Bar Street and nearby Vic’s, supposedly one of the best bars in town, and was ready to try them both. Showered and shaved, I hailed a taxi (Vic’s was firmly outside the 10-Yuan zone) and was off. The taxi dropped me at Vic’s around 7 PM, but since it didn’t open until 8:30 I had to seek my entertainment elsewhere. Okay, so a short walk over to Sanlitun Bar Street to see what it was like. Well, it was like every other sleazy, scummy, low-class, overpriced crungy bar street anywhere in the world. I kept getting offers to go to a “Lady-bar” as I walked down the street, careful not to touch anything. I had a beer at one place and was so disgusted with the tawdriness of the whole street I packed up and left. I walked back toward Vic’s and found The Den, a nice bar-restaurant, where I had some dinner and a beer or two. Good place to eat and drink and I should have stayed there. But no, around 9:30 I wandered over to Vic’s to see what all the hullaballoo was about. Turned out it was about 20 decibels too high for my tired old ears. Vic’s is a higher-priced, chrome and leather, upscale Sanlitun Bar Street, with techno-disco music so loud the beer in my glass actually rippled on the bass. One beer was enough and I escaped before I went deaf. Even the Russian and Mongolian women didn’t show up while I was there, and it was Ladies’ Night, so I guess that tells you all you need to know about Vic’s. I was pretty well beat by Thursday, so took it easy the entire day, as I would have to be at the airport by 4 o’clock the following morning. I walked around some more, bought a few last souvenirs and gifts, had some last great local food (sizzling beef, rice and beer - $7) and generally lazed away the day in the parks. I had ordered a hotel car for 3 AM Friday and was up and waiting for it at the appointed time. When it failed to show up, the Receptionist was efficient enough to run out into the street and get me a taxi for the airport, which was nice of him, since I’d already paid the hotel around $35 for the damn ride. But I got to the empty Beijing Airport, Terminal 3, around 3:30 AM, checked in and cleared all the bureaucratic nonsense and was at my gate waiting for my plane well in advance of takeoff time. We got in the air around 7 AM local time for our ten-hour flight to Zurich, where I quickly transferred to my Budapest flight and was back in Hungary by 2:30 PM local time, about 16-17 hours actual travel time. Swiss International Airlines has beautiful new modern planes and good food, but the narrowest seats since I flew Virgin Airlines to LA. I managed to sleep a good part of the trip, however, so, other than a numb butt, it wasn’t too bad. And that is my Beijing trip. Interesting place to visit. In general the people were very friendly and helpful and welcoming, smiling a lot and seemingly happy with their life. I did note the traffic is truly terrible, maybe worse than LA! But the streets are clean and neat, virtually no graffiti and people seem considerate and respectful of others. Nice to find that wherever I go. And now I’ll be home for awhile. I have to pay off my last couple of trips and save up for my next one. Be assured you will be the first to know when I find out what’s next. Until then – Happy trails to you all.