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, August 03, 2007

Summer's End

So, my last month in Dublin finally wound to a close. It was filled with new experiences, rain, new pubs, rain, new friends, rain, old friends, more rain, great students in my classes and, last but certainly not least, more damn rain! And cold. Damn, it was cold here. Some nights down in the high 40s (9 degrees Centigrade, for my non-American friends). To paraphrase Mark Twain, "The coldest winter I ever spent was one summer in.....Dublin!"

One Sunday I took a bus tour of Newgrange, one of the most famous - and most ancient - of the neolithic Irish passage tombs. Naturally, the day dawned (sort of) dark and cloudy and rainy and windy - an inauspicious start to the tour. Our first stop was the Hill of Tara, home of the Irish kings. I did the church tour and audio-visual presentation nearby, then hiked over hill and dale to the actual "peak" of Tara hill and coronation spot of ancient Irish kings. Our guide assured us that on a clear day we could see 23 of Ireland's 32 counties. Unfortunately, on this day, all we could see was a bunch of wet sheep and some nearby trees - and lots of rain. Our group stood there in the pouring rain and listened to our tour guide tell us pretty much the same things we had heard and seen in the audio-visual presentation just a few minutes earlier. Of course, this time we got to be lashed by the blowing rain. Umbrellas kept our head and shoulders dry, but everyone's pants were soaked through by the time we finished. And, of course, we had to dodge the sheep dip to and from the site. Interesting.

Next stop was the Boyne Valley, site of a famous battle lo those many years ago. Finally, the tomb at Newgrange. This passage tomb (i.e., a tomb which goes into the side of a hill which is reached via a long rock-sided passageway) is estimated to be well over 5,000 years old, older than the first Egyptian pyramid. Cool. The rain let up for awhile, and we were able to go in the tomb. The entrance and passage to get to the inner tomb were interesting, having been constructed by moving giant rocks into place. The tomb was also filled with ancient carvings and more modern graffiti from the people who discovered the tomb 200 years ago. Good stuff. Unfortunately, the tomb didn't really possess a "WOW Factor." In other words, it was really interesting, and the corbelled rock construction of the tomb was pretty damned sophisticated for stone-age people, but there just wasn't any real impact. It was, when you get right down to it, merely a man-built cave in the side of a hill. Too bad, as it is the oldest known tomb in the world.

Modern sculptors also did their thing in Dublin Castle this summer, when they carved a series of sand sculptures of various Irish writers and other personalities. It wasn't quite the same as Black's Beach in San Diego, but not too bad either. Dublin set another new record this summer, for consecutive rainy days: 59 at last count. Floods and damaged crops and bedraggled people all over the country. BTW - the cost of Guinness in Dublin is all over the place, from 3.80 euro at Nancy Hands pub to 5.30 euro at Oliver St. John Gogarty in Temple Bar. That's about a $2.00 difference in real money. Early on I switched to Smithwick's, which is also pretty good beer, and not nearly as pricey.

Forgot to mention in last Newsletter - when I visited Belfast it was near the end of the marching season, which is a pretty scary time in that benighted city. The Protestant groups, many of them paramilitary, take up their flags and drums and march all over the city, ostensibly just to show their English patriotism, but, it appeared, more likely just looking for a fight with errant Catholics. The incessant pounding of the drums, along with the stone-faced marchers, was enough to set anyone's teeth on edge. I gave everyone a wide berth.

My classes also fluctuated pretty wildly during August. I was down to two students as of August 3, then got an influx of nine more the following week and ended my teaching career at DSE with the full complement of 15 students. I also did one week of afternoon classes again, just to help out the school and to come home with a little extra money.

One Friday night on my wanders I finally found what is probably the only karaoke pub in Dublin, a place called Harry B's, on Nassau Street, just down from Grafton Street. For such a musical country, with so many wonderful singers, I was rather surprised to find none of them came to Harry B's to practice. The singers were generally pretty bad, but the ambience was fun and lively. I was also told karaoke had had its day here, but by one hour before closing the karaoke guys had maxed out and weren't accepting any more requests. Obviously, there is still a call for this type of entertainment in Dublin.

All during the time I was in Dublin I continued to eat well - when I could afford it! Lots of different restaurants and tastes and cuisines, including: Cajun and Creole at Tante Zoe's in Temple Bar; a great Spanish tapas all-you-can-eat brunch at the Morgan hotel, same location; wonderful Moroccan food at Bahia; Some good Chinese food at the Imperial restaurant on Wicklow Street; Japanese at Yamamori; incredible pizza at Botticelli's; Middle Eastern at Zaytoon; and traditional Irish and English food at various other venues around the city. And, of course, the low-cholesterol Irish breakfast: two sausages, egg, bacon, mushrooms, beans, tomatoes, black and white puddings, toast. Mmmmm. Lots of food. But American breakfast eaters BEWARE! In Ireland, hash browns on a menu does NOT mean hash brown potatoes; it means black pudding, which is sort of like fried blood sausage. Fooled me, too, the first time I ordered it. I thought I was getting a REAL American breakfast, but Noooo. And the foreign-born waitress had a really fun time trying to explain the difference to me. An interesting breakfast.

Also, Joe's parents, Romy and David, invited me over for another wonderful dinner at their place in August. They were leaving on a Danube River cruise the next week, but wanted to have a gathering before they left. Joe was there, of course, plus his sister Jenny and her friend Elspeth. We had Connemara lamb, so tender you could cut it with a spoon. Fresh young potatoes, green beans, peas, gravy and a cheese-covered and baked cauliflower casserole. Dessert was strawberries and whipped cream, plus meringue shaped into golf-ball-sized irregular balls and - baked? Not sure, but they were light crusty on the outside and melt-in-your-mouth tender on the inside. Yummy.

Some of you may have noticed in past Newsletters and Blogs that I often talk about the interesting and varied foods and dishes I experience in my travels. That's because to me trying different and exotic foods is one of the best parts of traveling to other countries and cultures. I make a conscious effort to stay far away from American tourists who are only interested in McDonald's or Burger King or KFC wherever they go. I always try the local cuisine, even, sometimes, to the point of getting somewhat queasy or downright ill from undercooked food or from food that's been handled by people who forgot to wash their hands before preparing my dinner. But hey, that's what traveling is all about. Even the illnesses, which, thankfully, have been rare. Gotta eat what the locals eat. And it's almost always worth it.

One of my favorite things to do in Dublin was something I never would have expected or anticipated: I got to watch English-language TV! Yep, all those great programs I've missed for the past eight years on the History Channel and the Discovery Channel and the Biography Channel, and all those great old movies on the MGM and TCM channels. I haven't missed American television very much, but I do really enjoy the "educational" programs. So, while in Dublin, on many of those rainy, windy, cold, nasty days, I was able to stay in after class and watch some great programs about ancient Rome, Troy, biblical and Egyptian times, the Crusades, ancient Britain, the troubles in Ireland, plus biographies of some of the great old film stars, like Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, Alan Ladd and many others. Plus, as an extra added bonus, many, many old movies that I either haven't seen before (amazing as that may sound), or haven't seen in too many years, including: Gaily, Gaily; Mark of Zorro; Shane; and The Prisoner of Zenda. I even saw Phaedra, one of the all-time classics of the early 1960s, and never remade; Melina Mercouri, Tony Perkins, Raf Vallone - outstanding. I know I won't get the same chance when I return to Budapest, since I only get CNN and BBC in English, so I took advantage of this glut of wonderful programs while I had the chance.

Spent a few Friday nights at the pubs with new-found friends. Even caught the Ireland-Scotland "friendly" rugby match at Farrington's one rainy Saturday afternoon. And yet another Small World story: walking down by the Liffey one evning in Dublin I ran into Maurice and Linda from Budapest, two teachers I worked with at Corporate Communications. Amazing. Actually, he's Irish and she's Hungarian. They're married, but Linda still lives in Budapest and visits when she can. Good to see them both. I also had drinks and dinner one night with my last one-to-one student from Czech Republic, which was fun. He was alone in Dublin, with no one from the school to help him find his way around or to entertain him, so it was even more fun showing him some of the fun places I had found.

One sunny day - the ONLY sunny day - in August, I decided to take the Liffey River cruise through Dublin. An hour on an open boat, a nice river cruise up the Liffey and down to the docks, a nice way to spend a sunny afternoon - or so I thought. Turned out the boat was completely enclosed, making it hot and stuffy even when the sun didn't shine. The boat backed down stream from O'Connell Street to the Docklands area, turned around, motored another 1/3 kilometer, and returned to its dock, and all for the annoying price of 12 euro. The Dublin ripoffs continue.

Also joined Joe and his sister Jenny one evening for drinks at The Stag's Head pub (best pub Guinness in Dublin) and later for dinner at a French restaurant, L'Guelleton, which included escargot, some nice red wine, and Toulouse sausages with pommes frites and salad. A Park cognac topped it all off. And only cost me around $95 US! Apparently a good deal for downtown Dublin. But definitely worth it - the company was great and Jenny even invited us over to her home for dinner the following Thursday. ...

And it was grand! Joe and Jenny were there, of course, plus Jenny's roommie Elspeth and her parents, Alastair and May, octogenarians who will probably outlive us all. The food was wonderful, home-cooked pork with veggies and sauce, potatoes, and profiteroles for dessert, along with a nice wee dram of single-malt. Really enjoyed talking to Alastair and May, as they've lived through a lot of history and are just as mentally active and outgoing and young as ever. They invited me to stay with them in Manchester if I'm ever up that way, and I hope I will be one of these days.

The Dublin School of English held its Farewell to Teachers party on Friday, August 24, at a place called Sin in Temple Bar. It coincided with our last day of teaching for the summer intensive sessions. Only about 10 teachers gathered for the free beer and munchies. A nice gesture on the school's part, and a fun time was had by all.

And, of course, I just HAD to go see how my friend Tracy is doing after her move to Glasgow. Got to Glasgow-Prestwick airport Saturday, August 24, around 12:30 - only half an hour late. Entrained to Paisley Gilmour, changed to Greenock, and when I pulled into the station there was Tracy, waiting patiently for me. I dumped my backpack at her place (a mere 10-minute walk from the station), and we were off to explore the wonders of Greenock, Scotland. First thing was to have lunch at a local pub, then a nice long stroll on the seaside promenade. Met some 10-year-old girls in a local convenience store who modeled their homemade t-shirts for me and asked me if I liked them! Nice to be in a place where young people can feel free to talk to strangers. A short nap was in order, then a nice dinner at Cafe Balfe. The pubs were sort of dead, even on a Saturday night in this small Scottish seaside town, so we packed it in early after meeting a friend of Tracy's at the Argyll & Sutherland pub for one drink.

Sunday morning I was awakened by the screeching of seagulls, which wasn't nearly as bad as the screeching of cockatoos in Sydney. Then it was off to Glasgow on the 9:30 train, took about 45 minutes. We found the Hop on/Hop off bus tour and took it around the city. First Hop Off was the Barras, a local flea market, which I had been told was good fun. I was told wrong. It was sort of a poor, down-at-the-heels, small, not-much-of-a flea market. We Hopped back On the tour, and saw the rest of Glasgow, which was interesting. Managed lunch at Rogano's seafood restaurant - oysters, mussels, fries, aioli, wine, sticky pudding dessert. Yum. We spent the remainder of the afternoon walking around Glasgow, which is really sort of a nice old city, with heavy brick and stone buildings, but fun to see. Had a beer at Skotia, one of five pubs billed as Oldest Pub in Glasgow.

And for my final day trip back in Ireland, I did a train/bus tour of Northern Ireland's Antrim Coast area, which included the Giant's Causeway and the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. Entrained to Belfast, where we picked up our bus tour. Drove along the sunlit coast of northern Ireland to the famous Rope Bridge, Northern Ireland's second most popular tourist attraction. And yes, after walking about a kilometer to get to it, I did actually cross the bridge. Scary, what with the wind blowing and the kids running up behind me and jumping up and down. Little buggers. I tried to swipe one of them off the bridge, but missed and dropped the remains of my breakfast bagel instead.

Lunch next in the little town of Bushmill's, famous for - you guessed it - Bushmill's whiskey. Good tour of the distillery after a lunch of steak and Guinness pie, washed down with another Guinness. Had to buy a bottle of Bushmill's Distillery's 12-year-old single-malt whiskey, which is sold ONLY at the distillery. Even had the bottle personalized. Come to Budapest and you can have a nip with me - and it is smooooth.

Finally, on to the Giant's Causeway, the story of which I won't bore you - Google it. But a really interesting geological formation, and Northern Ireland's most popular tourist attraction. It was all downhill after that, so bussed back to Belfast and trained home. Got back around 11 PM, and crashed.

I spent the next few days finishing up any shopping I still had to do and just generally relaxing and taking it easy. Of course, there was the standard Friday evening Happy Hour gathering at Brogan's with my new-found Irish drinking buddies: Joe, Simon, Alan, Ken, Richard, Francis and, I'm sure, others whose names I seem to have forgotten. Sorry, guys, you know who you are and it's been a slice. Hope to see each of you in Budapest one of these days. The Guinness flowed and the talk was fun and wide-ranging. I think we may have settled some of the world's problems, but, of course, we couldn't remember the solutions the next day. Probably just as well.

Francis finally fulfilled a long-standing promise and he and his wife Angela had me over for dinner with some friends of theirs. It was my last Saturday in town, and Fran whipped up a lovely lamb shoulder cooked in olive paste, which was scrumptious. And the complementary French wine was just the right touch. My Budapest friends Mike and his wife Ida were in town Sunday evening, September 2, so we celebrated our reunion with a beer at The Stag's Head. A final Monday evening Happy Hour at Brogan's and Tuesday it was back to Budapest. Arrived home around 7 PM, ditched the bag and headed out for dinner with Stuart, Anita, Alan, old bud Matt (in town from Kazakhstan) and several others. A good first night back. Of course, after suffering through 100-degree heat this year, it is now winter in Budapest - rainy, windy and cold (in the 50s!). Missed summer this year completely!!

A few observations about my summer in Dublin:

No one said "Faith and Begorrah" to me during my entire visit. Ireland is still forty shades of green. I thought I saw a leprechaun one evening after a visit to the pubs in Temple Bar, but maybe it was just a small person who was green-tinged from the drink. Or maybe I was green-tinged form the drink. I did, however, find out what a "Baby Guinness" is: a shot glass 4/5 filled with Tia Maria, then topped off with Bailey's. Looks just like a tiny shot of Guinness. Yummy.

My search for best T-shirt captions and Pub Names continues. Noticed one great new T-shirt: "665 - Neighbor of the Beast." No really great pub names yet, but thought up a few names I'd like to see: The King's Arms and Phalanges; The Dangling Phallus; The Weeping Bush; The Scrabbling Crab.

And - lest you think I forgot - Gary's Best of Dublin:

Best Pub Guinness - Stag's Head, Central Dublin

Best Hamburger - Rick's (Dame Street)

Best Pizza - Botticelli's (Temple Bar)

Worst (Most Disappointing) Pub: The Auld Dubliner (Temple Bar)

Best Value for Money - Dublinia Exhibit

Best-Looking Women - sorry, Ireland, it's the Polish girls who have emigrated to Dublin.

And so we bid adieu to yet another successful summer. The teaching was fun and challenging, the weather sucked, the people were grand, the Guinness was always wonderful, the food was amazing, the prices were outrageous, and the sights and sounds and aromas were fantastic. Hope I can do it again one of these days. And for my next performance? Well, I'm sort of thinking about southern Spain, say Granada or Seville. or maybe Malta. We shall see. But for the nonce, I'm back home again in Budapest, gearing up for the world cup rugby tournament and loking forward to karaoke nights back at The Stage pub. Hope everyone's summer was as much fun as mine. Y'all take care, and watch this space for more adventures.