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.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

And The Beat (Still!) Goes On.....

The time between trips wasn't as lazy as usual. Stuart’s first ex-fiancé’s 19-year-old blonde sister Gretta was in town for a visit. During dinner one night at Iguana, she told us a beer in most Norwegian bars is now 10 euro, or about $15.00 US! No wonder everyone drinks at home up there.
Then, Matt cruised through town on a five-hour layover one Sunday night, and the usual suspects turned out to have a beer with him at Caledonia. Included was Anita Laszlo, my former Hungarian teacher and long-time friend. She’s still living in Germany and teaching English for Audi, but possible moves are in the wind for the future.
A few Tri-Nations rugby matches on Saturdays, dinner at Indigo Indian restaurant, and a farewell party for Kirstin Sekimoto, our German friend who’s moving back to Japan with her husband. The party was at an outdoor bar and restaurant on Margaret Island, in the middle of the Danube.
Much of the rest of the time before I left for Malta I spent trying to figure out how to work my new digital camera that I had bought in Berlin, as noted in the previous Blog. This little computer has more damn knobs and controls and settings than a 747, but I’ll persevere and see if I can figure out how to actually take a picture with the damn thing. I’ll get it eventually, so watch for wonderfully clear pictures coming your way on emails and in my Blog.
So, Malta. Easy trip, and I was looking forward to my stay. Murphy was looking down on me and laughing his head off.
I picked up my suitcase at Baggage Claim and found that Lufthansa had, for my second consecutive trip with them, destroyed my suitcase. Incredible. I’ve been flying for more than 50 years, and these two trips are the worst I have ever experienced as far as baggage handling goes. Damn. So I hefted my wheel-less bag out to the Arrivals area, where I was to be picked up by a taxi arranged by the hotel. No one with my name on a board was anywhere in sight. Well, hell, the day just went from bad to worse (with, little did I realize, the worst still to come).
So I found another taxi and headed for the hotel. The temperature was 32 in the shade (that’s about 90 degrees Fahrenheit). Got checked in about 3:45 (check-in time is 2:00 PM, as usual in most hotels) and was told my room wasn’t ready yet. All I wanted was a shower and a cold beer. I hung around for 15 minutes or so and was finally advised I could get in my room.
The first checklist item I have to complete when I get in my room is a general inspection, which includes just basic areas such as maintenance, cleanliness, etc. Well, the room was a pigsty. Trash on the floors, bathroom not cleaned, stains on the furniture – and this is a five-star hotel, remember. I lurched down to the Reception Desk and requested the Duty Manager attend me. When he did, I told him what had happened to me that day and that I was very upset with his hotel and I expected it to be fixed rapido. He gave me a great big phony smile and assured me all would be taken care of.
I strolled around and found a place that sold really good Guinness. Back at the hotel somewhat later, I was assured the room was spotless. Great. When I went back to the room and into the bathroom, I noticed a toothbrush on the floor – and it wasn’t mine! The hotel was an inspector’s nightmare – I filled up two notebooks with my findings. Not an auspicious week for the hotel chain. And this was their flagship operation, in Malta where the corporate headquarters are.
I did avail myself of the hotel’s free shuttle and went into the capital city of Valletta. Once there, I strolled around, caught the views from the Upper Baraka Gardens, did the Malta Experience video show, and walked around Fort St. Elmo and Fort St Angelo. Toured St John’s Co-Cathedral, with its huge Caraveggio painting, and taxied out to the Hypogeum, which is a really cool thing to see. It’s a tomb carved out of granite about 5,600 years ago, long before the pyramids were built or people invented the wheel or even iron tools. Super site – check it out on the Internet.
I spent a lot of afternoons in the hotel’s pool, as the heat was truly astonishing. I did a cruise one day of the two primary harbors, but even that didn’t produce any breezes. The Sliema waterfront was fun for shopping, but I was mightily disappointed in Paceville, which is the area near where I stayed. I walked over there a couple of nights looking for a good jazz club or bar or restaurant, but the area was full of herds of twenty-somethings. Rowdy and drunk and obnoxious and annoying – probably just like I was at that age. Anyway, not a fun place for an old codger like me.
Malta has two hotels of my chain, so after four days I checked out of one hotel and taxied to the corporation’s second hotel in the area and checked in. This one was better, more of a restful, relaxing therapeutic place, quiet, calm, surrounded by trees and with a great Health spa. Aaaahhh, better. I managed to spend a lot of my time in and around their pool, soaking up the calming breezes and sucking down some good Cisk, a surprisingly good Maltese beer.
While at this hotel I also caught a bus to the nearby towns of Rabat and Mdina and strolled their walled streets and enjoyed their unrelieved baking sunshine and spots of cool tranquility. I did the catacombs of St. Paul and an interesting Roman villa and even bought a Maltese falcon.
So, back in Budapest for ten days before I headed to Paris. Had to type up my checklists and get my findings in order and prepare my two reports. I attended a birthday party for one of my Finnish friends on a Danube boat, which was fun and reminded me of one reason why I still remain here; the view of Budapest from a nighttime river cruise has to be seen to be believed. I also did a day-long canoe trip on the Danube with a small group of enthusiasts. We must have paddled 247 miles upstream – at least that’s what my poor muscles felt like when I managed to limp home.
SO – how much fun was Paris this time around? Well, I don’t know, ‘cause I missed my plane. Two days before I was supposed to leave, I came home late at night and in the midst of preparing myself a small midnight snack, I reached into the fridge for the mayo and that’s when the first chest pains hit.
It was a low-medium myocardial infarction that wasn't much fun while it was hapening. Come to think of it, it wasn't even fun after the event. So I called up a local all-night clinic and they arranged an ambulance visit. I just had time to grab my glasses and phone, and away we went.
Naturally, the ambulance driver, Andras “Wild Man” Molnar, managed to find every single pothole in Budapest’s many-potholed streets, so a normally smooth, restful trip turned into a Demolition Derby, Hungarian style. Of course, we did get to the Cardiac Institute in record time. Minus the right front wheel.
From there on, however, it was professional all the way. Got to the hospital at around 6 AM Saturday, August 23. I was hauled up to the ICU, and then wheeled to the OR for an angioplasty. That’s where they go into your femoral artery and up into your heart with a little tool and then clean out the crap which has accumulated in one’s badly-occluded heart valves. I was awake the entire time, didn’t feel a thing. Took about an hour or so.
So, I got to spend five days in a Hungarian hospital. The ICU was the high point of my stay, very professional and kind. They took great care of me. Kept my water glass filled, gave me daily sponge baths, and brought me something to put in my mouth and stomach. This was the only negative aspect of the ICU treatment, as what they gave me at mealtimes could not, in all actuality, be classed as food. Worse than any hospital I have ever seen anywhere, anywhen.
Several friends showed up during my incarceration with water, books, fruit and even some toiletries. My friend Tania thoughtfully included a murder mystery about a doctor doing away with his patients in a large hospital; good choice, Tania.
You Americans may think some of these offerings a touch strange, but, let me tell you, when you go into a hospital in Hungary, anything you want or need you better take with you, ‘cause the hospital ain’t supplyin’ it.
Meals, when brought, were not accompanied by any eating utensils. Soup – no spoon. Bread and margarine – no knife for spreading. Water – bring your own. Glass to drink from – bring your own (really!). Toothpaste and brush, comb, shampoo, soap, pajamas or gowns, anything – bring it yourself or go without.
Anyway, I mostly slept and read, as there was no TV, no radio, nothing at all to do in the room, and we couldn’t leave unless it was in a wheelchair for tests. Monday night I finally, after three days, was allowed to take a shower (those bed baths just don’t cut it) and brush my teeth. Bliss!
So, out of the hospital now and back to real life. Pretty much still resting up for the time being. Now have to finish my latest book and do another hotel visit. Not sure how this little episode will change my lifestyle, but I do know some weight loss is in order.
Guess that’s all for this Blog/Newsletter. Hope everyone else had a good summer without any cardiac episodes. This sounds like a good time to end for now, so I will. Y’all take care, watch this space for more to come.