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.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Easter Weekend 2006

Our plane left Budapest one hour late, but Easter weekend 2006 was finally under way. Mark Wills, US Embassy (Budapest) employee and travel companion, and I arrived in Brussels around 10:30 PM Thursday, April 13. Mark’s friend Steve and his girlfriend Francoise met us at the airport and drove us past the site of the Waterloo monument to Steve’s flat in southeast Brussels. We were hungry and thirsty after our flight, so the guys went to a nearby Brasserie for beer and food. Steve, a long-time Brussels resident (and NATO advisor), told us that visitors to Belgium had to try five things: Belgian beer, mussels, Belgian chocolate, Belgian fries (like French fries, only Belgianized) and, of course, Belgian waffles. We started that night by sampling three local beers: Chimay and Maredsous (made by Trappist monks) and Rodenbach. A good start to the weekend.

Friday morning Steve and Francoise set us a great breakfast table of meats, Belgian cheeses (actually better than the fries), pastries, juice, etc. They then took us to downtown Brussels and walked us all over the place, past EU Headquarters, various churches and mosques and several parks. Spring was still just a rumor there, so the trees and grass weren’t quite in full growth yet, but the tour was still interesting. Stopped for a bite at the Old England Store, formerly a men’s department store, now a musical instrument museum with restaurant on the top floor. Then we got down to serious Belgian business: chocolate! Stopped at Wittamer’s for hot chocolate and various desserts, then walked next door to Marcolini’s for some truly world-class chocolate. Marcolini’s was voted third-best chocolate in the world in 2005.

We did a short pub crawl, starting with A La Mort Subite (Sudden Death) and the 17%-alcohol beer with the same name; Falstaff; and finally Cafe Vincent for dinner -- mussels and fries. Must have been 50 mussels in my order, and they were great. The fries were exactly like French fries, but I oohh-ed and aahh-ed anyway. Good stuff. We strolled around Brussels’ town square, which is truly an impressive sight, with old buildings and ambiance and restaurants and buskers and flowers. Called it a fairly early night as we had to be up early the next morning to catch the train to Paris. (Ed Note: the only one of the five Belgian requirements we missed was the waffles)

Took the 200-mph bullet train to the Gare du Nord station in Paris in just 1 hour and 25 minutes. The countryside was a blur. Metro-ed to the French Military Officer’s Institute, which was our hotel, arranged by Mark (he’s a US Air Force Major). Great old building, nice rooms. We stashed our stuff and took off to explore Paris. Mark has been to Paris several times over his eight years in Europe, but I hadn’t been to Paris since a cold, snowy weekend in 1969. On my last visit, the people were rude and discourteous and the weather was bad. Anyway, we walked over to Montmartre and then hiked and funicular-ed up to Sacre Coeur church. Great views of Paris.

We cruised the artist’s area for awhile, then stopped for lunch at a cozy restaurant. Aaaahh, French food: escargot, Paté, steak, fries, veggies, wine, etc. Walked that off with a stroll around Pigalle, past the Moulin Rouge and near several Irish pubs. Had to stop for a Beamish, which was a nice interlude. Then crossed to the Left Bank and found Le Procope restaurant and bar in the Latin Quarter, where Ben Franklin and Tom Jefferson used to meet with their French counterparts (and, in Ben’s case at least, to chase the local women).

Walked around Notre Dame and the quarter, which was a lot more fun and lively than I remembered it. Bright and busy and full of tourists and locals alike. We sat at a sidewalk cafe for a beer and watch the people walk by, then found a fondue place for frog legs, more escargot and, natch, fondue. Great. Caught the metro back to Pigalle and did some karaoke at Epoque, but we were a little bushed, so headed back to the hotel around 1 AM. (Mark had just flown in from the states on Thursday morning, had a seven-hour layover in Budapest, and then left with me again that evening, so he was understandably a touch jet-lagged).

Awoke Sunday fat and bloated from all the beer and wine and food. Waddled outside and caught the metro to the catacombs, which were, naturally, closed for Easter. Bummer. Anyway, went back to L’Eglise du Dome, which is next to Les Invalides, and saw Napoleon’s Tomb. Really excellent - and huge! Mark crashed for awhile and I decided to do the Bateaux Mouche riverboat tour of the Seine, which was nice and fun. Walked from Pont Neuf around the Louvre, through the Tuileries, across Place de Concorde, down the Champs Elysees, and back to the hotel, about a couple of miles.

We decided on an American dinner Sunday, so hit the Hard Rock Cafe for a giant hamburger and fries - couldn’t tell if they were French, Belgian or American, but the burger was definitely from home. We don’t get meat like that in Budapest. Back to the Latin Quarter for a cool underground jazz club - Le Caveau de la Huchette - then home again fairly early, as we had to get up at 6 AM Monday to catch our plane home.

So, all in all, another good trip. Made some new friends, had (waaaay too much) good food, drank some good beer, and saw some sights I hadn’t seen. May have to go back to Brussels and Paris when I have more time, as both places definitely needed more exploring than we had time for. Hope everyone’s Easter was as much fun as mine! Look for next Blog update after St Petersburg in June. Happy springtime!!

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