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.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

New Job and Sunshine

Even with all my travels, it’s always good to be home again. Since I celebrated the Eighth Anniversary of my arrival in Budapest on September 28, I guess Budapest is home for me these days. Anyway, it took me almost no time at all to get back in the swing again. Within the first week back from my summer in Dublin I picked up with my buds at The Stage and Caledonia, and I was also just in time for the start of the 2007 World Cup Rugby Tournament at Champs sports bar. Champs always has good craic and we always meet some people we rarely see when they come out for the matches.

I also picked up my two remaining English classes, and it looks like I’ll be teaching them both through next spring, or for as long as I’m here this tour. My other bud Zoli has a new job and will have to decide if he has the time to pick up his classes again.

The Viking Club met my second night back, and I was able to reconnect with bunches of my friends there. The World Cup Rugby Tournament started my first Friday back, September 7, with France vs. Argentina. Wonder of wonders, Argentina won! A shocking upset and defeat for France. Of course, to rugby (and soccer) fans in Europe, France is like the Dallas Cowboys to US football fans. The team everyone loves to see get beat. The next day it was England vs. USA, and, of course, we lost.

One of my Aussie friends, Linda Cusak, was in town from London the next weekend with friends of hers, and we hooked up at the Iguana Bar’s 10th anniversary street party. Always a rowdy night. I also met up with one of my Serbian friends, Sofija, who’s looking quite good these days. We had a Comedy Club performance one Friday evening, and it wasn’t too bad. The small club venue was packed, as we haven’t had this type of performance previously, and the comedians, from various countries, were generally OK. Hope we have another one sometime soon. And speaking of performances, Stuart and I once again had a Pub Quiz at the British Embassy’s rapidly-deteriorating Britannia Club on November 16. It appears the few remaining Brits at the embassy don’t really want anyone else in their club anymore, which is a real shame, as it used to be such a fun place. Ah, well, all good things…..

The Budapest Rugby Watching and Beer Drinking Funatics have been having a great World Cup Rugby tournament this year. We celebrated the world cup by presenting the Hungarian Rugby Union with a check for 1 million HUF (about $5,000 US), which we raised from various ventures connected with rugby during 2007. The world cup matches have been generally great, with several upsets in the quarter-finals. England, France and Argentina all won, then England upset France in the semi-finals, but Argentina couldn’t overcome South Africa. BUT – the Argies once again showed their mettle by annihilating France in the third-place match, 34-10. Not a good tournament for the French. So the final match on October 20 is England vs. South Africa, who shut out England in their only other match this world cup, 36-0.

And the BIG NEWS – a new venture for Your Intrepid Adventurer. Can't say too much about it right now, but will include more here when the time is right. Suffice it to say I will be traveling all over the place: Europe, Russia, Africa, etc. Cool, hah? And I get paid for this!

So, looks like English teaching is pretty much by the wayside, unless my remaining students want to have their classes piecemeal when I'm in town. My contact lady confirmed details and prices with me and will come to Budapest to train me in what to look for in hotel operations. Not sure of timing, but probably soon. PLUS - as a bonus - she told me that when I do the evaluations I can often stay an extra day or two – at the hotel’s expense! - to see the sights. Alright! The chain has 20 hotels, and I would probably have to do each one once a year, which is just fine with my schedule. The salary is not great, but, hey, travel expenses and a free room in a five-star hotel sort of compensate one for the lack of a large salary.

My landlord and roomie Andrew still couldn’t find work in London after sticking it out for more than five months, so he’s back in Budapest and I’m once again relegated to the small bedroom. No biggie.

After viewing the prohibitive airfares to Montenegro to visit buddy with Matt, who is now there with the American Embassy, I decided my long weekend would be better served with a trip to Barcelona. Getting a good price on the airfare was something of a hassle, but I finally found a good travel agent, as the Internet fares were prohibitive. Then I searched for a hotel on the Net, and selected ------ are you ready for this? ------- The Hotel California! Yep, what better place, I figured? Sent in my request, but the next day was notified that there were no rooms for my time period. Probably just as well as it turned out, since I Googled the Hotel California in Barcelona and found out it is a ----- are you ready for this? ----- Gay-friendly hotel. Not that there’s anything wrong with that! But, hey, I’ll stick with the straight world.

Of course, after I made all my Barcelona arrangements, I re-checked something called Montenegro Airlines and found their prices were much better than other airlines. Of course, it all depends upon the state of the hamster that spins the wheel that works the propellers on the plane. Anyway, we shall see what happens with that visit.

I’ve also started planning my next potential teaching assignment or a place to live for a few months. I’m considering Seville or Granada, Spain, or possibly Malta. Depends on how my other plans come together. I’ve also pretty much finished editing my next book, which I will complete at the end of the year and hope to have available on the Internet by next spring.

So, while sitting quietly in my flat and surfing the local TV channels on the evening of October 22, 2007, I come across live coverage of the riots now going on around Budapest. Yep, it’s almost October 23rd again, anniversary date of the failed 1956 uprising against the Russians. Last year the populace attempted to demonstrate quietly and decorously against the current government, but the local professional hooligans took over and caused a “major” riot in town, including burning cars and overturning the local police’s water cannon. This year’s start of the “celebrations” isn’t much better. Molotov cocktails were thrown by the hooligans and tear gas was used by the police. The cops used admirable restraint and only arrested one demonstrator, but the holiday is young and we shall see what happens tomorrow. (Ed Note: the demonstrations petered out pretty quickly and no more of material content was heard from the participants. Guess the tear gas discouraged them).

Anyway, back to my planned Montenegro visit. I visited the Montenegro Airlines office to see what was up. When I originally decided to go to Barcelona, it was on the strength of an advertised airfare of 19,900 forints, about $100 US. Of course, the travel agencies here have adopted the annoying and disconcerting practice of advertising ONLY the airfares, exclusive of taxes, fuel, and whatever other charges the highway-robber airlines have tracked onto their fares these days. So, what originally started out as a good $100 deal quickly morphed into a $300 not-so-great deal.

Naturally, the Montenegro advertised airfare of 47,500 forints ($250 US) became more than $350 US with the add-ons – more than my flight to Barcelona!! So, Matt, too bad, had to bag the Montenegro trip for the time being. Maybe in the spring.

I needed to see if there was still some sun left in the world so I did a long five-day weekend in Barcelona. It was a great fun place, and the sun was shining and warm and the food was great and the ambience was vibrant. My hotel was near the Statue of Christopher Columbus. I immediately did the Hop On/Hop Off bus tour, which took about four hours, but I saw all the major sights, including the Barcelona Football Club’s stadium. I arrived back at my starting place and headed up La Rambla, THE main pedestrian promenade in Barcelona. Tree-lined, busker-filled and stuffed to the rafters, gills and rooftops with souvenir shops and stands, restaurants, tapas bars and all manner, shapes and sizes of walkers and gawkers, it’s a wonderfully Spanish place to be.

I had some Spanish tapas and beer for lunch, but found out these tiny plates of munchies cost anywhere from 5 euros up to 14. Damn, Barcelona was going to be expensive. I wandered and rambled, which, of course, is what one is supposed to do on La Rambla. Checked out the Erotica Museum (it wasn’t very) had a bad Guinness at a small Irish pub, but since it was overpriced at 5.50 euro things evened out. I caught Flamenco show at the Cordobes Club and hit the sack around midnight.

The next morning I had a wonderful large breakfast on the Plaza Real: eggs, bacon, toast, tea, tomatoes and mushrooms (loaded with garlic) and juice. It was a nice start to the day. Until I got the bill: 18 euros! That’s over $25 US. From now on, it’s the patisseries for me.

I took a 90-minute sea cruise along Barcelona’s coastline and then, metro-ed over to check out Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia, a church that’s been under construction for over 100 years. The design has to be seen to be believed. Check it out on the Internet. Found my way back to La Rambla and a nice seafood paella lunch. After a long stroll I ended up at my hostel for a well-deserved nap. Back on the streets around seven, I had a great burger, then repaired to the Jamboree Jazz Club on Plaza Real for some late night jazz.

After a bagel and cream cheese Friday morning, I toured some of the Roman ruins underneath the Catedral. Visited the Chocolate Museum and walked around the Arc de Triomphe (yes, they have one in Spain too), then back to Flaherty’s Irish pub, and a very tasty chili lunch. Flaherty also does a full Irish breakfast for only 7.90 euros, which is great!

At 1 AM I decided to try the Bagdad Club live sex show. It was hardly worth the steep admission price, but I figured I had top see one of these shows at least once in my life. And once was enough. Lots of really pretty young girls, and the onstage acts left nothing to the imagination. But I gotta tell you, the entire show was sexual but not sexy, explicit but not erotic. Strange.

The entire weekend was restful more than exciting. Saturday I walked around a bit, then headed for the harbor area, where I enjoy lots of Spanish sunshine at a seaside restaurant. In the evening it was Flaherty’s again for an evening of Guinness and football and tapas.

In this still Catholic country, I soon found out everything was closed on Sunday. I had another wonderful breakfast at Flaherty, then metro-ed to Diagonal and found Las Pedreras, another of Gaudi’s architectural. I strolled down the Passeig de Gracias, one of Barcelona’s main thoroughfares, lined with all the designer stores – which were, of course, closed, as it was Sunday. I sat in the sun for a few hours at an outdoor cafe at the southern end of La Rambla. In the evening, I did the Wax Museum, an activity which was downplayed by the tourist rags, but which I really enjoyed. Had a wonderful and tender Argentinean steak at Gauchos restaurant and called it another early night. One can only ramble up and down La Rambla so many times.

All in all, it was a good weekend and a good introduction to Barcelona, a city I’ll have to revisit someday.