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.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Fall Party Season

So I rested and took it easy and walked a lot and ate really boring food, but at least not too much of it, so that evened out okay. I spent some time shuffling back and forth between the hospital and my flat trying to settle my hospital bill. Finally got that taken care of, and decided to see what the horizon looked like. During this time, I got a call from friend Richard Rifkin, who was interested in setting up a new social networking group that would meet monthly. It would be aimed mostly at expats and others who speak English as a common language, and would be a chance for people to get together and schmooze – network for business, if desired, do some social networking (for which read “chatting up”) and generally just get together and see old friends and make new friends, and maybe even get more out of the evening. We really haven’t had this type of specialized English-speaking gatherings for awhile, if ever.
Anyway, we met and discussed the details of such a monthly event, and started putting it together. Richard had found a venue, one of those new multi-purpose entertainment spots, with several individual areas for different needs, including a sports bar, dance club and “Schmooze” club. There were areas for food (light snacks or meals) and even areas where people could sit and talk away from the music and noise of other rooms. Very nice, and right near the center of town at Deák Tér. After Richard and friends put together a flyer, I emailed it to bunches of my friends and even set up an Event on Facebook, which also got sent to a whole lot of people I know here in Budapest. I can’t wait to see how it works out.
The Britannia Club finally opened again the first Friday of September, and it seems the present Ambassador, after some input from the Associate Members (only 14 or so of us left), has decided to allow the Club to begin expanding to try and regain some of its former glory. We can now bring in guests again and we were assured the Club would try and plan some special events in the future. We shall see.
Before my minor heart attack, I had signed up for a one-day outing on the Nostalgia train. A group of 15 of us met at Nyugati train station early on Saturday morning, September 6, and boarded an old-time train for the two-hour run to Kismaros, a small town up the Danube. I thought the train would be mostly couples and would be somewhat formal. Boy, was I wrong! It was full of families with little kids, many of whom were running up and down the train and between the cars. Even in the bar car. And the locals had all brought their own food, which they happily chewed and munched and drank in their separate compartments as the train rolled northwards. Anyway, the train itself was an old coal-burner, and actually made the huff-puff --- chuff-chuff sounds when it started up. An engine plaque indicated the engine was made in 1955. The train had an old-time whistle along with an accompanying carriage décor of green, red and gold velvet.
We got off at Kismaros and spent an hour or so waiting for our next train, a small diesel, which took us up into the hills to a place called Kiralyret, or King’s Meadow. There we disembarked for a several-hour layover and barbecue and fun and games in the hills. One look at the barbecue was enough to disabuse most of us of that particular activity. The food to be barbecued was a Hungarian specialty: skewers of alternating chunks of pork fat and onions. Mmmm, yummy. And so good for a recovering heart attack patient. A smaller group of us left the healthy Hungarians to their feast and found a nearby restaurant and had a normal lunch before starting back.
Once back in town, I scooted over to Stuart’s for an end-of-summer party, at which I had my allowed glass of red wine, then headed home for a well-deserved rest. I don’t feel bad these days, but I do get tired more easily than before. But at least I’m eating better – salads, no fats or red meat, no beer or booze (damn!), and getting some more exercise, so I hope my clean-out will last me awhile. Also made it to the September Comedy Club, which was better than some, not as good as others. The comedians are up and down. This time we had a German comedian who lives in England, and he was actually pretty good.
Richard and I continued to plan the Eur-Club gathering (“Eur-Club is Your Club”), and I even had an unexpected visitor from the West come in on a Friday for lunch: Mark Wills, former US Air Force Major and Budapest Man-About-Town, cruised through on his way to check out a possible future employment opportunity. Good to see him.
Also started the publication process for my next book, Travels with Myself, which I hope to have out early this winter. This one will be a collection of all of my Newsletters and Blogs sent to friends since I left Los Angeles in 1985. In addition, the book will include special extras and surprises, like song lyrics I’ve written over the years, articles I’ve had published in Budapest newspapers, interviews, etc. Now people who’ve inadvertently thrown away their copies of my Newsletters will have the chance to have them gathered all in one lovely volume, which they can read over and over and thus relive all those heady days when they trudged to their mailboxes only to have their day unexpectedly lightened by the receipt of a Lukatch Newsletter. Oh, Joy!
I had another hotel Mystery Shopper visit, this time at one of the hotels here in Budapest, out near Acquincum, the old Roman settlement. Just a short weekend visit, but enough to get me out of the house. The hotel has a nice spa, of which I took advantage, and I had a restful stay.
I went back to see my heart doctor late September and he told me all was okay. Gave me some prescriptions for more expensive meds, but they keep me alive, so what the hell. Actually, if I were to get Hungarian insurance coverage for reduced med prices, it would cost me 69,000 forints per month (at that time, more than $450 US), as compared to about 20,000 forints for the meds. Hmmm, let’s see, which should it be? Ah, the former auditor knows – let’s go with the lesser of the two costs. Even I can figure that one out.
And our Eur-Club gathering on September 26th was a huge success! We met at the newly-opened Passage Club on Kiraly utca, just off Deák Tér. We had well over 100 attendees from many countries. Lots of my Hungarian friends and former students showed up, plus the usual suspects from my time in Budapest, plus several newbies, whom it is always good to meet. Everyone had a good time schmoozing and meeting new people and seeing old friends. I renewed my acquaintanceship with several of my former Hungarian students, which was lots of fun. Hope to see them again in the near future. Richard has several monthly theme meetings planned for the months ahead, so hope they all come off and we keep getting more and more new folks to attend.
Saturday, September 27, was Troy Weeks’ wedding at the Basilica, followed by a reception in the castle. Jonathon Wilde was in from England, as well as John and Margaret Young from the UK. Good to see old friends again. And, of course, Troy and Anna beamed the entire evening. Lots of fun (albeit long-winded) speeches followed the buffet dinner in the castle, then Hungarian dancers and what was probably a night-long party. I say that because I had to leave too early, due mostly to the new meds I have to take, which pretty much wipe me out early in the evening. Damn, could I have reached my Fun Apex? Am hoping to recover to the point where I can continue to be THE party guy in Budapest. Guess we’ll have to wait and see.
Another monthly meeting of the Curry Club on September 30, at a Nepalese restaurant this time. There were several new attendees, including some new Americans in town, one of whom is from Georgia – the state, not the country. Old home week. On that same night I celebrated (quietly and without fanfare) the nine-year anniversary of my arrival in Budapest. There was no special celebration, as the Curry Club included one member who was celebrating his 65th birthday that day; I was overshadowed.
Dinners and lunches with friends took up some of the days. Then I was expecting two old friends in for the weekend of October 10. Monica Edgerton and her son Seton were due in on Thursday, October 9. I hadn’t seen Monica for too many years. She’s one of my old World Savings and Loan buds (or budettes), with whom I’ve kept in touch over the years. She’s been an extensive world traveler for many years, along with her husband Reggie. Two days before she was due in town from Vienna, I got an email from her saying she had lost her train tickets and wasn’t sure if she could replace them. Further emails resulted in the fact that she couldn’t. Bummer. Three hours away and can’t get over for a visit. Ah, well, at least Seton made it to town. He stayed in Budapest for several days and I got to show him around and guide him to all the best places of ill-repute.

Another old friend, Tim Langrish, former Budapest resident, was also due in for a surprise visit that weekend. At 5 PM on Friday, he called from London and said he, too, wouldn’t be able to make it, due to a flight screw-up. Well, hell, two people canceling visits for the same weekend. Not good.
October’s comedy night was held on the 14th. After many inconsistent comedy nights in the past, we finally got one that was a winner. Miklos Galla, a Hungarian comedian (!), whom I had seen several years ago, was the intro act, and he was as funny as ever; I just wish he could have been on longer. The headliner was a “San Francisco gay comedian” who lives in London. His act was generally San Francisco gay funny, but often quite a bit over the top. However, the Hungarian men in the audience rolled with laughter; I actually saw one guy fall out of his chair. Hmmm. The Comedy Club chose a new venue this time, the Cotton Club, which is normally a nice restaurant and jazz club, and the site turned out okay.
The British Ambassador turned out to be as good as his word, and kicked off the renovation of the Britannia Club with an International Beer Night on October 17th. We’re apparently allowed to bring in guests again, and everyone who attended enjoyed the evening. The Club is down to only 14 Associate Members (i.e., non-embassy members), but a new reasonable membership drive is on to attract more interesting local people and to bring the Club back to its former glory. This was a good start. The Night’s activities had 350 registered guests; I think we had maybe 200 show up, possibly a few more. It was a fun evening for the first part: good food from various restaurants around town – Indian, strudel, etc – and then a magic show, which is always a kick. There were massages and cheap beer, always appreciated. Finally, the drawing for raffle prizes, in which I once again failed to even come close to winning anything, then Stuart and Lydia (a new addition to the Budapest expat community) and I took off for the Caledonia pub, where we whiled away the hours until early morning.
The next night was a music evening at Repetasarok cellar bar and club, with several competing styles – R&B, rockabilly, etc. I checked it out and stayed for awhile, but left early. Must be getting old. Then Sunday night (whew!) there was another new expat gathering at Caledonia, which I’d never heard about. I thought it might be fun to continue meeting new people, so I headed over to the pub around 7-ish. Several of the group had just finished a paintball match, and a few of them even still had strange colors on various parts of their body. Turned out to be a small group of rather scruffy-looking guys, so I passed on that particular event.
Our next Curry Club was on the 23rd, at the Rickshaw restaurant in the Corinthia hotel, one of my favorite places. Great food and the service was excellent, as always. Of course, October 23rd is another Hungarian holiday, and the police were in from all over the country to quell any possible disturbances. Streets were blocked off and it wasn’t always possible to get where one wanted to go. I finally made it to the hotel, after several detours, so all was right with the world.
The other good news is that the US dollar is up again against the Hungarian forint. So much so, in fact, that if I could have paid my hospital bill just two months later, I would have saved more than $4,000. Damn – just my luck. Ah, well…..
Lunch with more old teaching friends in town for awhile, Steve and Bea, and a final Eur-Club Halloween Party meeting with Richard to be sure all was well on that front. Then the actual party on October 30. We decided to do our party a day early, so as not to conflict with the many other Halloween parties in town on the 31st. Along about 8:30 only a few people had shown up and Richard was beginning to sweat off his zombie make-up. But a little after 9 PM, the crowd started flocking in, and we ended up with probably 60-70 people, many in costume. Not a bad turnout. Richard announced prizes for Best Costume (male and female) and the DJ kicked in with lots of old-time rock and roll music. I even danced once!
And so ends October. Another good month. Still a few parties to go before the end of the year. Matt Bresler is due back in town, along with Mike Chew from Aberdeen. Thanksgiving coming up, and hope some other American expat takes pity on my turkey-less state and invites me over for a traditional repast. And, of course, the American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) is holding its second Election Night party on November 4. I was unaware of this event until the registration had closed but, shifty expat that I am, I was able to wangle an invitation. Looking forward to the corn dog booth again. So, everyone be good and stay well and let’s hope the good old US of A doesn’t turn into an Obama-nation. Think good thoughts and maybe we’ll come out of this election okay. Until next time.