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.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

And The Rain Never Stops!

So - what is it really like in Dublin? WET! Lots of rain. From mid-June through July, the damn rain just never stopped! It rained every day at some point, usually more than once. Heavy, light, drizzles, downpours, all types and colors and smells and shapes of rain. I've already gone through three umbrellas, what with the wind turning them inside out and the rain slashing through the skimpy material they use here and having to open and close them every five minutes. Plus it's COLD here. Down around 12-13 at night (55 for my American friends and family). I didn't think I would find winter here in July.

Also, it seems half of Poland has moved to Ireland in the past few years. In addition to American English, I hear mostly Polish on the streets, and even some signs and newspapers in Polish grace the avenues. Coupled with the influx of tourists and foreign English students, Dublin City in the rare old times seems to have been submerged under the strange new times. But it's still fun and happy and bustling. The Buskers are out in force; even saw a woman on one street corner playing the harp.

During my travels I noticed that Ireland also seems to have lost touch with its interest in apostrophes, possibly due to those pesky Australian immigrants. Signs all over the country read, "A typical childs bedroom," and "Its time to consider a new bank," and "Every dog has it's day." The English language still takes a beating, even in the homeland of so many famous and well-known literary figures. Sad to see.

Anyway, July was a good month. I continued to get more and better acquainted with Dublin and its surrounds. I took regular walks along the Liffey River in town, listening to the sounds of seagulls as I walked along the Quays - pronounced "keys." I finally found the shopping street where the locals go: just walk north on O'Connell Street and turn left at the spire. Lots of good deals and sales, and even picked up a couple of real Irish linen shirts. Of course, it's a real challenge dodging and weaving through the throngs of European teenagers crowding everyone else off the sidewalks and out of the shops in Dublin. Estimates run as high as 50,000 teens, mostly from Spain and Italy, in Ireland attending local English language schools for the summer. Nice enough kids, but way too many of them on the streets.

One weekend I DART-ed out to Malahide Castle, just north of Dublin, for the afternoon. It's a beautiful, rather small castle nestled in a lovely park of green grass and trees and winding hiking paths and playgrounds. Definitely worth the visit. Also continued my quest for the Perfect Pub. Finally found The Bleeding Horse Pub, which was apparently frequented by Captain Bligh of Bounty fame. Not recently, of course. This pub is now second on my list of all-time great pub names. Still in First Place is The Slurping Toad in London. Also, The Stag's Head pub in downtown Dublin is a cool old place, complete with stained glass windows, dark wood and a stag's head (what else?) over the bar. And a really competent bartender who pours one of the best pints of Guinness in town.

Caught Arthur Miller's famous play The Crucible at the Abbey Theater, and it was amazing. One Saturday evening I went out looking for traditional Irish music. You'd think it would be everywhere, but I tried two pubs that night, both of which were supposed to have Trad, and neither of which did. Bummer. My friend Francis, still in his arm and leg casts, and his buds got me wasted one Friday. I lost count of the pints of Guinness I had, maybe 7 or 8. I staggered away from Thomas Read's pub in Smithfield Square (north of the Liffey) and hailed a taxi. It pulled over and as I reached for the door handle I -- slipped? tripped? dizzied out? -- not sure, but next thing I knew I was on the ground. I popped up immediately - well, okay, maybe a slow pullup using that slippery door handle to help - to find the driver laughing his head off. Damn Dubliners. Guess he's seen it all before. How embarrassing.

Teaching continues to be challenging and fun. After a good start with only five students, my classes began to fluctuate between five and fifteen kids, depending on how many new students showed up and tested for the Advanced Senior group (teens, ages 16 - 19, whose English is pretty good already). I had 15 students for two days, then lost all my Polish students to shrink the class to five lovely Italian teenage girls plus a Spanish guy. He seemed to be enjoying his class, when it got even better and I got six more Italian girls and one guy. Beginning in July I was only teaching morning classes, as I also opted not to continue my afternoon classes with Paola, my sweet young Italian law student. Nice as she was, the full day of teaching was just too much. After all, this IS my vacation!

The other teachers are also a really nice mixed bag. Lots of younger teachers, some just out of university, some still in and supplementing their income with summer work. We gather in the teacher's Lounge at St. Andrews' University out in Booterstown, a short DART ride from Dublin, every morning to relax and discuss our classes and have some breakfast. They usually bring yoghurt or fruit or cereal. They're all so damn healthy. I, of course, bring either my Danish or a bacon-and-egg sandwich. I'm way past worrying about healthy eating. And even if I weren't, the daily Guinnesses would certainly counteract any healthy food I might put into my rapidly decaying body. (Although, detractors take note: as of the middle of July I was able to tighten my belt two full notches! How about that?!)

With my afternoons free, I hoped I would be able to get out and see more of Dublin and nearby areas. I did catch the Da Vinci Exhibit at the Chester Beatty Library in Dublin Castle, consisting of his Leicester Codex. It was free, which was nice, as the exhibit was just OK. The Codex, in Leonardo's own hand, and written on flimsy paper, was pressed between glass sheets, but, since it was written in Latin, was unreadable to the majority of attendees.

Saturday, July 14, was my grandson Nicholas's birthday. Happy Birthday, Nicholas. All of France also celebrated with him, although I think it may have been for a different reason. But maybe not... Anyway, I had a pint of Guinness for him. Other interesting updates: Matt B. has secured his next appointment, to the US Embassy in Montenegro, which means I will be moving in with him permanently as soon as he gets settled. Sunshine!! Mark is back home in Chicago, starting to look for work and hoping for a traveling job around Europe. Morgan and kids doing well. Very little input from anyone else, however!! Let's go, people -- start writing. I need news!

And Then --- The Rain Finally Stopped!!

Yep, the weekend I chose to go to Cork, it was sunny and nice - at least for the morning! Took a 2 and 3/4 hour train ride from Dublin, got to Cork around 11 AM. Cool little town, consisting mostly of retail stores, restaurants and pubs. So, if you have the urge to shop, eat or drink, Cork is the place for you. Strolled the city center, took the Hop on - Hop Off bus tour, although not much to see, shopped some, ate some, drank some and came back to Dublin that night. Next day it was off for Dun Laoghaire for the morning. And there's a free beer in it for anyone of you Americans who can correctly pronounce the second name of this city without looking it up or asking anyone. It'll surprise you. One Sunday evening my landlord Joe invited his extremely attractive friend Laura over for dinner and we managed to polish off 3-4 bottles of good Australian wine. Made it to class the next morning, but was moving very slowly.

Also caught several movies and plays during the month, including Moliere, Harry Potter (Hey, I like the movies!) and Noel Coward's Private Lives. Joe even got some free tickets to Riverdance from one of his clients, so I was finally able to see the real thing live. Great show. Sort of like traditional Irish music on steroids. Much better than the televised versions, as are most things live.

One Friday evening, Joe had a gathering at his office for his clients (he runs an IT company specializing in small businesses). Along with some munchies, he also had a keg of Guinness, complete with all the apparatus necessary for pouring a perfect pint. The clients came early, then thinned out by the time I arrived, around 7:30, after which a whole bunch of Joe's friends showed up and we proceeded to party and drink Guinness and socialize until the wee hours. I met several new people that night, including Jenny, Joe's sister, and Helena, a lovely young Irish colleen, who kept trying (unsuccessfully) to refuse more wine being offered to her insistently by Michael, a young Irishman, who continued to leak testosterone all over Helena's shoes throughout the evening. I finally took off around 1:30. A good night for all. I was unable to drag myself out of bed the next morning to catch my planned train to Belfast, and had to wait until the following weekend to make the trip.

But that Sunday I did catch the DART down the southern coast to a small town named Dalkey. The rain persisted, but I had a nice walk around the town, including the coastal and harbor areas. As I approached the harbor area, what did I spy from afar but a local man diligently polishing every nook and chrome cranny on his beautifully restored 1956 Chevrolet Bel Air. Haven't seen one of those in awhile, and this one was really a classic and in outstanding, showroom condition. Then did a really great tour of the Goat Castle, named for the Cheevers family who were the previous owners. Cheevers is derived from the French Chevres, which means "goat." I was expecting a standard stroll through the castle, you know, pay 5 euro and wander around by myself, looking into niches and out of windows. But NO! In each area of the tour, we had a guide, dressed in period costume, who explained various aspects of life in medieval times in such a castle. Also got a short course in the origin of various English expressions, such as:

1. While the lords and ladies were served their meals on round pewter plates, the bowmen, soldiers and clerks were fed on square wooden plates; thus the expressions, "It's good to have one square meal a day."

2. Crossbows fired their bolts into the air at the enemy, and when said bolts came arcing down unexpectedly onto the enemy position, it was a "bolt from the blue."

3. The pointy end of a crossbow bolt is called a quarrel; attempting to steal an enemy's bolt was called "picking a quarrel."

4. And, of course, since the English longbowmen used the first two fingers of their right hand to pull their bowstring when firing at the enemy, if they were captured the enemy cut those fingers off. So at the start of each battle, the English would thrust up those same fingers at the enemy, just to show them their fingers were still there and were still capable of firing their longbows. Thus the source of the English double-finger upward thrust, still used to this day.

Cool, hah? A really good tour, well done, and well worth the minimal price. Afterwards, the rain still pissing down, it was a perfect day for a hot lunch by a warm fire. No fire, but found a place in Dalkey called The Club, bar and carvery. A really nice old pub, lots of dark wood, decorated in Victorian and Tudor and other mixed architectural styles, including stained glass windows, indoor balconies, wooden columns and a nice little carvery tucked into the rear, offering a full roast beef lunch (including potatoes, veggies, horseradish, stuffing, and other goodies) for a very reasonable price. I tucked in and had a pint of Smithwicks to round off lunch. One of the better afternoons.

Gotta tell you'all, however, Dublin is FRIGGIN' EXPENSIVE! About two-to-four times Budapest prices in too many areas. Guinness is usually only just a touch higher, around 1200 forints, compared to 950 in BP. But tram and bus tickets are outrageous. I ride the bus and take the DART usually twice a day, which runs me about 25 euro a week, which equals about $33, or 6,600 forint per week. I can get a monthly pass in Budapest for all public transportation for around 7,000 forints. And the things they charge for here are very strange. One day I ordered a bagel sandwich in a chain eatery. The price was 4.25 euro. The clerk asked me if I wanted my bagel toasted, so I said sure. Turned out the toasting of a bagel was .70 euro extra, or just under $1.00 US!!!! Talk about ripoffs! So I haven't been going out as much as would like, due to the high prices. I still tried to catch the free music in the pubs in the afternoons, nursing a Coke or one beer through the performance. Tough place to live.

Then another Saturday I took the two-hour train ride to Belfast for a nice day trip. Did the Hop on-Hop off bus tour of the city, which was interesting. I've read so much about Irish history and especially about the Troubles and the specific areas in which they centered, that I had to see for myself what it was like. Well, I was surprised to find something other than what I expected. I thought the Protestant/Loyalist stronghold of the Shankill Road would be clean and pretty and...British, and that the Catholic Falls Road area would be run down and desolate and burned out. Turned out the reality was just the opposite!

The Shankill area (which, BTW, is just an AK-47 shot from the Falls Road area) is full of loud, lower-class people, just waiting, it seemed, for the fuse to burn down to the bomb and set off another explosion. Union Jacks everywhere, and the wall murals were truly frightening. You could feel the tension and almost palpable, seething anger just under the surface - and not so far, at that. The Falls Road, on the other hand, was clean and pretty and didn't seem at all threatening. Interesting. I even had lunch at a local Falls Road pub, The Fort, where the servers were friendly and the food was cheap and tasty.

While in Belfast, I also saw some of the sights in the city center, like the Crown Pub, an old Victorian pub with lots of snugs and interesting decor. Unfortunately, it was being renovated, so was not at its best. Belfast has lots to recommend it, and I'd like to go back for a longer visit. Will see what can be arranged.

So, that's July. August promises to be even more fun and exciting, if that's even possible. I continue to meet more and more fun, interesting people here and to take shameless advantage of their hospitality but joing them for parties, pub crawls, dinners, etc. Still have a lot of places to visit before I leave, including the Newgrange/Boyne Valley area, the Giant's Causeway and possibly even Belfast again. Might get to do Kilkenny, but the Dingle Peninsula seems to be in doubt. Ah, well, just have to come back again. Anyway, everyone take care, be good and stay well. I'm thinking of all of you in between pints of Guinness and Shepherd's Pie. Until the next posting.........