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 21, 2006

Back in the USSR!

Well, sort of. I guess it’s the Russian Federation now, but that just doesn’t fit the song, does it? Anyway, my latest excursion was to St. Petersburg, Russia, Jewel of the North. And it is, too. Another great trip, if you discount the fact that my hotel didn’t exist, which I found out when I arrived at 1 AM and went looking for it. But all turned out for the best, so no worries, Mate!

Anyway, onward and upward. Got picked up at Pulkovo airport by Aleksander, who tried to find my hotel on Vasilevsky Island. All we found was a half-finished building. No one around to ask, no one answering their phone, no hotel. Aleksander drove me to another hotel where his son Stas was the night manager. Stas found me a room at a third hotel for one night, the remainder of my week’s lodging to be sorted out in the morning. Stas’s friend Rostik, college-student son of my travel agent’s good friend (got that?), picked me up late the next morning. He informed me that no hotel rooms in my price range were available that week, so I could stay at his apartment and he’d move in with his girlfriend while I was in town.

Hmmmm. Well, okay, I guess. The first sight of his building brought back all of my misgivings and more, as it looked like a bombed-out World War II husk, with crumbling outside walls and stairwells that were a troglodyte’s dream. Luckily, his flat was new and beautiful, and I was snug for the week. Never did have to pay anything for it, either, which was the silver lining part.

St. Petersburg is a beautiful city, planned in the Italianate style. Lovely old-style European buildings, bridges, and streets, canals everywhere (it is the Venice of the North, after all), friendly people, wonderful food and exciting nightlife. I did almost everything I wanted to do there: The Hermitage (amazing); Russian Museum; Natural History Museum (which included a pair of 40,000-year-old baby mammoths!); the Church of Spilled Blood (Really! The only Moscow-style church in St.Petersburg, like St. Basil’s on Red Square); Kazan Cathedral; Gostiny Dvor (monster shopping center); dodging the crowds on Nevsky Prospekt; Peter and Paul Fortress; Kunstkamera; the Cruiser Aurora; and, of course, a cruise on the Neva River and adjacent canals. Lots of culture and history, even thought the city was only founded by Peter the Great in 1703!

And, of course, the nightlife. Was out every night at such places as: The Shamrock Irish pub (live music); Tinkoff’s microbrewery; Dickens’; Magrib night club; James Cook Pub; Telegraph pub (Hey! I like pubs!!); and, of course, Tribunal. This last is a sort of combination pub, restaurant, night club and karaoke bar. A pint of Guinness was $11.45, just under Matt’s astonishing $12.25 in Kazakhstan. I tried to break your record, Matt, but fell just short. Anyway, I did do some karaoke, assisted by a local Russian beauty who was a much better singer than I am. Watched the girls dancing on the bar and, with my Guinness and vodka shots and pub grub, managed a $200 bar bill. So There, Matt!

Highlights included, as always, reading the menus which the locals try desperately to put into English. Dishes at various restaurants included: “Freed calamaros”; Grestl in Tyrol sauce; chicken offals flambe (mmmm!); an Erotic Dessert for Bold Women; and Grenkiy fried bread sprinkled with rough-chopped garlic. Wow! Great bar snack. Also offered were meat patties with mush potato, and a “salad bar for one person with unlimited approach.” I also noted fried chips with sousage & cheese. I wanted to sit at a ringside table at Tribunal, the better to watch the dancers on the bar, but there was a suspicious sign on the table that said: “Dear Guests - The booking of this table is to be charged.” I guess that meant Reserved, but am still not certain.

So, yet another successful, fun, albeit expensive, trip. Russia is not cheap, but is definitely worth the time and money. Actually, it was so good I’m looking to go back again someday. Especially if I can find another free accommodation.

The following weekend - I never rest! - motored down to Kecskemet, a nearby town, for a local rugby tournament. Since I am on the governing committee of the Budapest Rugby Watching and Beer Drionking Society, all beer and food for the afternoon was free. Good games, too, including a league championship match between Kecskemet and Esztergom. A friend and I stayed the night, partying the hours away until early morning, caught a few hours sleep, then entrained for Budapest. I think I need a weekend off just to recover from my fun. Ah, hell, I can recover when I'm dead!!

Y'all take care, have a good summer - temperature here in Budapest is now around 85 sweltering, breezeless degrees - and watch this space for ongoing updates. Bye for now.

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