Travels With Myself

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

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. Since then I have traveled extensively, and have been to nearly 75 countries. I have had six books published, mostly about my travels - see my author's page on I have made friends 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 in the past and present and hopefully will meet in the future.

Friday, February 23, 2007

The Land Down Under...

..... the Land of Wonder. At last, I get to vacation in a (more or less) English-speaking country. Of course, people do drive on the wrong side of the road, and their cars' steering wheels are on the opposite side of the car from the US, but what the hell, the Aussies are friendly and fun and happy. My first taste of The Land of Oz was as good as I had anticipated: an Aussie Burger at The Fortune of War pub, advertising itself as Sydney’s Oldest Pub.

After Morgan and Nicholas and I wandered around the Santa Monica Pier in Los Angeles before my flight on Feb 17, and had a last lunch (BTW: our waitress was from Budapest!), I settled in for the long, 12-hour flight to Auckland, where I changed planes for Sydney. Since for me it was just an overnight flight (although, since I crossed the International Dateline for the first time, I actually lost a day of my life, and arrived on Monday morning, Feb 19), I slept most of the way and and I was never subject to jet lag.

Julie Easy, an old friend from Budapest, picked me up at the airport and got me to her and Dom's flat in Kirribilli, which is across the water from the Harbor bridge everyone has seen on TV. In fact, their street runs into the Prime Minister's residence on Admiralty Point. After stashing my bags at her place and changing into shorts (Sydney was HOT! About 82 dgerees F - 28 degrees C), I took the ferry back from Kirribilli into Circular Quay (pronounced "Key" by the Sydneysiders). As I alighted near The Rocks, I heard my lunch calling me, and tucked into that Aussie burger - complete with meat, cheese, bacon, beetroot and other assorted stuff. Mmmmmm. I then decided to catch the hop-on/hop-off tour bus as the easiest way to get quickly acquainted with the city, so I did just that. A nice afternoon, cruising in an open-topped bus all over the city. Saw George Street, the Opera House (natch) and other sights of interest. That evening when Dom got home from work, we all went out for drinks and Thai food. Yummy.

Three of my five mornings in Sydney were quiet and peaceful, but two included sounds that woke me from my beauty sleep with a major fanfare. Tuesday morning the Queen Mary II cruised into Sydney Harbor, replete with helicopters and fire horns and all sorts of noisemakers – at 5 o’clock in the morning. Bleah! Then Friday morning I was awakened by flights of screeching, swooping wild cockatoos looking for food on a nearby tree. And how many times can you say that?! Anyway, I still had some time left on my Bus Tour, so I did portions of it again, seeing Harry’s Café de Wheels (where I had the specialty of the house for this landmark lunchstand: Aussie meat pie with a giant scoop of mushy peas on top!) and doing a quick cruise through Darling Harbor, including a slow walk through the Chinese Garden of Tranquility. (Yes, Virginia, it was quite tranquil).

I decided a jet-boat tour of Sydney harbor was also in the cards, so I ventured forth on one of the 2,000-horsepower boats, which bobbed and weaved and powered all over the harbor, even doing some 360-degree turns that left the passengers just a touch wetter than they had been previously. Did Cadman’s cottage and Tuesday evening everyone in Sydney gathered on the harbor banks and bridges to watch the QE II come into port. An auspicious day.

Next day was chill-out day, so I took another ferry to Manly Beach (gotta love that name). Had a nice leisurely breakfast on the Strand and a lie on the quiet beach, took several dips in the Tasman Sea, and had a good lunch at a seaside café (Asian sampler, sticky date pudding with butterscotch sauce and ice cream). Dom was tired that evening, so Julie and I went pub-crawling in The Rocks, Sydney’s answer to Temple Bar in Dublin. Good fun. We hit the Fortune of War, the Observer Hotel, the Hero of Waterloo and the Mercantile hotel. Music at a couple of the venues, and fairly cheap Guinness. At one place, the piano player wasn't great, so one of the customers started improvising with his own songs - he was much better than the offered entertainment.

Thursday was a stroll through the Botanical Gardens, and an attempt to view Captain Bligh’s diary at the public library. I saw a copy, but it just wasn’t the same, although I did find a page where he wrote, "Must remember to whip a few more crewmen today, as they seem to be having too good a time on this cruise." I made up for my disappointment by having lunch at Doyle’s famous seafood restaurant on Circular Quay, in the shadow of the QEII. Oysters, lobster and giant prawns. Double Yummy.

That evening the former Budapest contingent gathered at the Lowenbrau pub and restaurant in The Rocks: Jason Hoppner and his wife Eva; Mike Pollak and his partner Amanda; Gary Samuels, who was in town from Adelaide on business; and Julie and Dom. Plus Yours Truly. It was a good meeting of the clan, and we did all the “remember when” and “what’s s/he doing now?”

My last full day in Sydney I took it fairly easy, having lunch at Fisherman’s Wharf with Mike Pollak and then doing the Outback show nearby, complete with didgeridoo player. Mike surprised me by offering to drive me to Wollongong the next day, which was a much-appreciated gesture, since Julie would have had to get up with me at 8 AM and drive me to Central Station where I would have had to take two trains to get to Wollongong. That evening Dom took me to The Oaks, a huge bar and restaurant, where we joined Jason and Eva and more of their friends. Julie came by later, and I had cook-it-yourself kangaroo steak for dinner. Wonderful. Then we proceeded to drink way too much and ended up at – where else? – a karaoke bar a short walk away. I wowed the crowd with Great Balls of Fire.

Then it was off to Wollongong to visit Bruce Anderson and Anna. Mike drove me down the coast, through Bondi Beach (pronounced "Bond-eye") and a few other interesting scenes of this part of Australia. Bruce and Anna were glad to see me, and even their three cute-as-a-bug daughters gathered round "Gary Bacsi" and showed me all their books and toys. It was an early evening in, complete with one of Bruce's famous soups for dinner. The next day it was cloudy, so an early swim was out, but we did ramble around the harbor, watching pelicans and walking the sea wall. An afternoon beer at the Five Islands Brewing Company, then another soup from Bruce and it was time for bed, as I had an early flight the next morning. A really nice interlude; Bruce and Anna have chosen one of the prettiest places I've ever seen in which to live and raise kids.

We got to the Illawarra airport the next morning at 7 AM. Naturally, it was out in the middle of nowhere, a small, one-room flight shack, with nobody around to welcome us. Bruce left me after awhile, and about 7:30 the passengers started pouring in. I flew to Melbourne on an old twin-turbo-prop airplane, with about 35 other flyers. A great time; these old planes still have about them the spirit of adventure that flying used to be. Marietta, Andrew Barak's Mom, picked me up at the airport and we drove to her home in Kew, Melbourne. Another pleasant surprise, this house was built in the 1920s and has all the character of homes from that bygone era. Naturally, I was eager to see the city, so I dumped my stuff and headed out, with specific instructions as to routes to be walked, trams to be taken and methods of getting around. No worries, Mate.

Did the free City Bus which covered the downtown Central Business District (referred to as the CBD by Aussies in all of their cities). A nice tour. Melbourne is yet another clean, pretty, happy Australian city. Three in a row for me now. Amazing. Can it last through my final two stops? We shall see. Had a wonderful Yum-Cha lunch (sort of like Chinese tapas) at the Post-Mao Cafe in Melbourne's minuscule Chinatown. Great food - strong and spicy and sharp, the way Hunan food is supposed to be. Walked around some more, had a Guinness at Bridie O'Reilly's, and finally settled on the Elephant and Wheelbarrow pub/restaurant for a giant Aussie burger and local beer for dinner. Aaaahhhh, good on'ya, Mate!

Next day it was more of the same, just more detail in the CBD. Did Queen Victoria's Market, a large flea market near the city center. Also checked out Melbourne's Docklands, another new development in the area. Lots of new cutting-edge art around the city, combined with funky old buildings. A really nice contrast which shouldn't work, but somehow does. Lunch at one of the fast-food curry places in the Market, more city touring on the City Line free tram (love those freebies in Melbourne!), saw Captain Cook's cottage (bought and dismantled and flown in from England in the 1930s), and generally just strolled leisurely around the city, soaking up the atmosphere.

My last day in Melbourne I decided to try St Kilda's beach, as the weather was sunny and hot again. Nice place, weather was warm and balmy. Had another big Aussie breakfast at Rococco, walked the pier, laid on the beach awhile, got a nice tan to cover my base, and had a good lunch at a place advertising "the best hamburgers in the world." It was good, but not THAT good! I did manage to find the Krispy Kreme donut shop on the way back, which was a nice treat. That evening, the Baraks and I went to their favorite Hungarian restaurant for some good down-home cooking: The Paprika Hussar. Which, if you know Hungarian, makes no sense whatsoever.

So, it was March, and I scurried off to Adelaide on yet another Qantas flight. At the Melbourne airport, I was flagged down by a young lady from Sri Lanka who was hawking Citibank credit cards and, having no takers, was bored and just wanted to talk to someone. The someone was me! Nice girl, named Ganga, after the river Ganges in India. She promised to keep in touch, and, of course, I'll believe it when I see it. But it was a nice interlude.

Anyway, it seems Adelaide is 1/2 hour behind Melbourne - not sure why this is, but mine not to question why. Gary Samuels picked me up at the airport and we went back to the Samuels' huge flat on East Terrace Road. The Central Business District of Adelaide is surrounded by four streets: North Terrace, West Terrace, South Terrace and East Terrace. And surrounding these streets is a green belt and park, all the way around the CBD. Nice. Gary and Patricia decided to stay in that evening, and Gary put another steak on the bar-b for us. OK, it wasn't shrimp, but it was a good cut of meat. We drank too much (beer, wine, Baileys) and I finally passed out.

Next morning I headed off into the wilds of Adelaide, walking about 15 minutes to Victoria Square, the center of the city. It seems there was a major motor race in town while I was there - the Capsil 500, a race between the Aussie Ford factory cars and the GM V-8 racers. So the town was crowded with race fans. I strolled into downtown, walked the Central Market and shopping mall districts, and met Gary for lunch at The Oyster Bar on East Terrace. Great oysters! I had a dozen, but divided into four different types: Caviar, salmon, Thai and Chile. Yum!! And washed down with some Cooper's Dark Ale. Heaven.

(Ed. Note: As I traveled through Australia and read the many interesting advertisements and signs, I noticed a peculiarity in the style of grammar of the Aussies: they don't seem to understand the use of possessives or believe in apostrophes. I consistently saw signs saying things like: "Its about time;" "Lower your banks credit card charges;" "Its a dogs life," "pizza's and nacho's," etc. Guess the famous Aussie casualness also extends to English grammar. A touch disheartening to see, but I didn't allow their poor punctuation to lessen my enjoyment of their country. )

As if lunch weren't enough, we also had some outstanding Japanese food that evening, then walked over to a nearby hotel advertising live music: R&B, folk, rock. The band was pretty good, and the crowd was typically that sort of crowd one sees in small-town hotel bars, i.e., middle-age, sweaty, usually half in the bag, wrinkly, no rhythm whatsoever when they attempted to dance to the band. Actually, sort of reminded me of the crowd in the mountain bars near Albuquerque!

Anyway, back to Adelaide. It was the weekend and Gary and Patricia treated me to way too much fun. Saturday we went wine tasting down the peninsula in South Australia (SA). Hit the Bleasdale, Tapestry and Wirra Wirra wineries. Great stuff, interesting wines, I even bought a bottle of white for dinner. We cruised the 1850-style town of Strathalbyn, where we stopped for a snack and to walk the main street. The trees next to the downtown were full of wild, screeching cockatoos, hundreds of them. We then stopped at the Goolwa beach for a quick dip in the southern ocean, but the wind defeated us; then we hit Port Elliott for lunch. We ended up in Glenelg on the bay for a wonderful seafood dinner of calamari, oysters, and giant prawns. I'm supposed to LOSE weight when I travel! This Aussie food is just too damn good.

Sunday we got up late and drove to the Cleland Animal Sancutary in the mountains near Adelaide. We spent the day there, and I got to: (1) hold a koala bear; (2) hand-feed large and small kangaroos, wallabies (the animals, not the rugby players), and rotoroos, sort of like larger kangaroo rats. Pictures of me doing these things are available upon request. I also saw my first live Tasmanian Devil - a small, black, ugly (sorry, Taz!) furry rodent-type creature, about as big as a duck-billed platypus, but, instead of a duck-bill, he was equipped with a mouth way too big for his tiny face. We watched the dingos eat their midday meal ("The dingos didn't eat my baby!"). Had an emu peck at the kangaroo food in my hand, and chased some grey geese around the park. A really fun day.

Monday it was off to Perth, in Western Australia. Arrived in town around 4:30 PM, when the temperature was 39 degrees Celsius - about 102 Fahrenheit, for my American friends and family. Damn that's hot! But it's a dry heat, so not as bad as Sydney. Decided to stay as cool as possible for the next two days. My stay in Perth did not start off auspiciously. My friends here were called out of town on a conference, so I was reduced to staying in a hotel downtown, which was OK. But it seemed for awhile there were just too many negative things about the city as I wandered around: roads closed so you couldn't get anywhere from where you were; more trash around the streets than I had seen previously; the enervating heat, for which I dressed down as far as possible - shorts, sandals and tank top; bars that didn't take into account the awful heat, and wouldn't serve people dressed in "thongs and singlets," (i.e., sandals and tank tops - Even the ultra-sophisticated pubs in Sydney weren't that unfriendly!). And several other minor annoyances. After a fish and chips dinner at The Brass Monkey, I got to bed early that night.

Next day, took a cruise on the Swan river to Fremantle, right on the Indian Ocean coast of Western Australia. Took a dip in same ocean, had lunch at Benny's and walked around the small town. Heat was again terrible, but the humidity was around 19%, so not unbearable. Found a great little riverside bar when I got back to Perth, The Lucky Shag (have your British friends explain it to you), and sat for some time, drinking my beer and munching my calamari and watching the world go by. I tipped well at this place, as a sign on the tip jar said, "People who tip are good shaggers!" Found an R&B club that night in North Perth, and listened to some OK groups for a couple of hours. Not a bad night in Perth. The city was getting marginally better.

My last day in Australia was spent just ambling haphazardly around the city, seeing the few sights I had missed, which weren't many. I was ready to get on with the remainder of my trip. So, on March 8, I was up at 5 AM and got to the airport for my flight to Singapore.

A few Random Thoughts about my Australia run: Never once did I hear anyone say "Fair Dinkum." No one spontaneously broke into a chorus of "Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport." I did see the Southern Cross and, naturally, failed to spot the North Star. I understood most of the people most of the time. Everyone was smiling and friendly. Prices were high. It was my first time south of the Equator. The weather was incredible, hot and sunny almost the entire trip. The food was amazing, and I probably gained several kilos.

So, Blogsite Readers, the adventure continues. Next Newsletter will be from somewhere in Asia. Stay tuned, and don't miss it. BTW - in case anyone doesn't know it, my email address is: See y'all soon!


Tuesday, February 13, 2007

FIRST STOP: Los Angeles

My two weeks in LA were an unqualified success. The standard rule for family visits is: relatives and dead fish all go off after three days. Morgan and Tony kept me pretty well occupied, and, of course, the grandkids filled in the rest of the time. Samantha (2 years, 11 months) and Nicholas (18 months) are definitely a handful. I'd forgotten what kids are like at that age, it's been so long. Everything I laid down within their reach was moved, fondled, bitten, chewed, rotated, stepped on or lost for short periods. Actually, I never did find my sunglasses.

But they are cuties. Lively and fun and with boundless energy. Samantha's a blond, as is Nicholas, and they asked endless questions and seemed to enjoy spending time with their "Nagypapa" (Grandpa in Hungarian). Pictures available upon request. The rest of the trip was also fun. I went through my stored clothes and household goods, and Tony and I took a truckload to Goodwill. All my beautiful designer clothes had shrunk while in storage. Bummer. Gotta write Armani and Versace and Joseph Aboud about that. Ate way too much good food: California Mexican, jambalaya, pastrami, sushi, corned beef, pizza, Krispy Kreme donuts, lots of seafood. The weather was great most of the time: when I arrived temps were in the 80s (American; 30 degrees Celsiuis for the rest of the world), and the weather stayed mostly bright and sunny for the rest of the time. I worked on my base tan before leaving for Australia.

I generally hung around Alta Loma with the family, which is actually about an hour's drive from LA. I did do a weekend in Long Beach with an old friend, scoping out the Queen Mary and The Pike tourist area, which was also fun. Morgan and I even got in a day of father-daughter bonding; it's been too long between bonds for us, so that was also good.

After seeing Morgan and Tony, and meeting the grandkids, however, the highlight of my LA visit was a trip to Morgan's school, spending the day with her classes. She'd been telling her students about me and my adventures, and even reading them parts of my first book, so they almost demanded I appear before them. They were great, high school sophomores, juniors and seniors, many of whom wanted to be teachers themselves. They asked tons of questions and seemed really interested in what life was like as an English teacher overseas. I got things like, "What music do the kids listen to?" "What sort of clothes do they wear?" "Do they have pancakes in Hungary?" (We call them palacsinta, and they're like crepes). "Do Hungarian girls shave under their arms?" (Fortunately Morgan was busy when I answered this girl's question with, "Hungarian girls shave everywhere!" I think the young ladies in the class were deliciously scandalized).

I also got in one of my best one-liners. My talks included an introduction to the Hungarian language. Being high-schoolers, I thought they'd like some of the more interesting language, so I told them what the Hungarian word is for cheek-kisses (Puszi, for those of you who don't know). "Give me some puszi!" They loved it, of course, snickering and pointing at each other and rolling the word around.

Anyway, after I had finished my impromptu presentation, one of the kids, a young black guy, came up to shake my hand and thank me for my talk. We did the handshake Olympics, and he said, "Here's the way we connect with each other here." He then proceeded to duck his head almost into my right shoulder, the kids' sign of thanks and respect. I liked that. I told him, "Cool, Bud, but you still can't have any puszi."

Well, the class fell apart. One girl laughed so hard she had tears in her eyes. Ashton was stunned, and for probably the first time in his young life had no comeback. He left the class promising me one, but nothing yet. Hah! I still got it!

At any rate, the trip was fun and happy and enjoyable. First time back to the states in 7 and 1/2 years. I didn't see any of the signs I thought I'd see related to fear of terrorism from abroad, and all seemed to be normal. Maybe under the surface, but nothing I could see. So, from LA it's on to Australia and all of my former Budapest mates. Check the next Posting for details of the next phase of my trip. Until then, your intrepid World Traveler bids you adios.