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.

Monday, January 05, 2009

And Another Year Gone!

November started with another round of parties and festivities. After recovering from the Eur-Club Halloween party on October 30, I hit a couple of “real” Halloween parties the next night. None were as good as ours, but one never knows. Tuesday Noember 4 was time for the Corinthia hotel to host the American Chamber of Commerce’s quadri-ennial US Presidential Election Night party. I was there in 2004, and the crowd was lively and happening. I really wanted the corn dog booth back again this year, but sad to say it wasn’t.
I was up and about that evening again for a great time at the Alcatraz supper club and the Hot Jazz Band. I got to introduce Lydia, newly re-arrived from the UK, to the joys and delights of our favorite Dixieland and swing band. Readers of past Newsletters and Blogs will recall the band usually plays at Fat Mo’s restaurant on Sunday nights. I stopped by Fat Mo’s in September to check the schedule and was told they weren’t having live music for awhile. Hah? Got news for you, guys, it’s the live music that brings in the customers, locals and tourists alike, not the overpriced food (good though it is) nor the complete lack of ambience after the remodeling. Hungarian “businesspeople” – not a clue.
Old bud Matt Bresler cruised into town one weekend to attend the Marine Corps Ball with a bunch of us, but our bunch just didn’t have the $100 each, plus tux rental, to go, so we all settled for evenings at The Stage, brunches at the hotels and some more rugby at Champs. We had our monthly Curry Club at Shalimar, our old favorite Indian restaurant. My follow-up doctor appointment on November 27 resulted in a completely green board. I can now drink and carouse again, and even do some more strenuous exercises if I so choose.
Thanksgiving was a bust this year; not a single American expat tendered me an invitation, so no turkey. Of course, also no American football games, no Wizard of Oz and no It’s a Wonderful Life. So the holiday wasn’t all bad. There were actually a few fairly decent movies out this month, so I spent the next weekend catching up on them.
December 6 was the Eur-Club Xmas party. We did a gift exchange this time, which was well-attended. The parties are still at the Passage Club, but the building in which the club is located, which includes flats, offices, restaurants, etc., apparently was very poorly made and is cracking and peeling and has, in fact, been judged unsafe. The Spanish construction firm that built it went bankrupt and has disappeared. Hmmm. Well, the party was good again, and well over 100 people showed up, many with gifts! The Gift Exchange was only partly successful; we wanted people to choose a gift and then seek out the giver (whose name was on the gift) and thank them, thus ensuring people met someone new. Unfortunately, as is the Hungarian way, most people just took a gift and left.
On December 13, I had a lovely dinner with four sweet young women at Shalimar again (I had picked my friend Zoe’s business card at the Eur-Club drawing the previous week, and she won the dinner and was kind enough to invite me along). Later that same night we had our annual Sagittarian Birthday Party at the Stage. Only a few of the local Sagittarians showed up this year, however, our worst turnout ever in the seven years we’ve been holding this party. The three of us who were there were very disappointed. However, one of my friends more than made up for the low turnout by giving me a gift she had bought on her last trip to the states and was saving for the right person: a box of Oreos! Omigod! I know when I open them they’ll last about an hour, so I’m saving them for a special occasion. Even better than the cans of corned beef hash I usually request of stateside visitors.
Thursday, December 18, was another annual red-letter day in the history of the world: my birthday. I refuse to tell anyone how old I am now, but so far I’m still kicking and hope to make it to another birthday next year. Friday December 19, was our first Boys’ Night Out in waaaay too long. We did an Indian food dinner, but the night was rainy and cold, so after too much fun at dinner I merely ambled on home. Saturday December 20 was my friend Stuart’s company party at the Caledonia, which I managed to crash after the food had been cleared away. I know most of the staff, so we sang the night away again. I just have too much fun here in Budapest. Then Sunday, December 21, was a private party at the Stage for all of us regulars. As usual, I intended to go for a couple of drinks and get away early. Once again, my best laid plans went aft aglay. The party was great. It was small, just many of the people who regularly frequent the Stage over the years. Stage management even gave all of us our own discount cards – we now get 10% off all drinks! Eat your heart out, Mark and Matt!!
Christmas was better than Thanksgiving. A new British friend invited me to dinner at her father’s place,which was really nice and cozy. I was also invited for Boxing Day dinner at my friend Jeremy’s
BTW – my 5th book has been finalized and should be available on by the end of January and on in February. My 6th book is in publication and should be available for purchase on Authorhouse by the end of February. I’ll let everyone know when the big event occurs. I actually thought these two latest books would be the end of my writing career, but since then I have started two more books; three if you count another short one I have almost finished. Damn, when do I quit?
So – New Year’s in Athens, Greece. Much better than Athens, Georgia. Lots more drunk students and smokers. I decided five days in Athens was mandatory to escape the below-freezing temps in Budapest, so I hied myself off for a good time, my first in Athens since 1993. And it had hardly changed at all. Even The Pub Love was still there, one of the more disreputable joints I stumbled into one night back in the day. I avoided it this time, but just barely.
My hotel was off Omonia Square, about a 15-minute walk (or two-minute metro ride) from the Syntagma, Athens’ main square. I booked the hotel on the Lufthansa web site, after getting my ticket. I know, I swore no more Lufthansa, after they destroyed my bags twice, but I carried my suitcase on this time, so I figured I was safe. Besides, they had the best airfares: advertised at $200 US, with taxes etc., the final price was nearer $500!
Anyway, I figured how bad could the hotel be? I got air miles and it was recommended by Lufthansa, after all. It was advertised as a four-star hotel. Hmmm, well, it looked nice from the outside, and the hallways had been recently remodeled. The rooms were rather, ah, basic, but acceptable. Not four-star, of course, more like a three-star wanna-be. Nice view of an air shaft. Room key card didn’t work. And there was a sign above the toilet that said, “Please do not throw paper in the toilette.” Hah? No paper at all? Yep, no paper at all. Rather gross when completing one’s business, but there you have it; apparently, the toilets of Athens can not handle paper in the pipes. Eeeww, yucchhy.
I did a one-day bus tour of Delphi (pronounced Del-fee by the Greeks), which was not even close to being worth the 96 euro they charged. Three hours each way, one hour at Delphi and 35 minutes at the museum. A one hour lunch, and that was it. I was underwhelmed. Of course, getting to stand at the spot which had harbored the Oracle at Delphi was cool. When no one was looking, I ducked into the inner sanctum and whispered my question for the new year: “Will I find love and success and happiness?” And I could have sworn I heard a sibilant response murmur: “Beware of a woman named Joyce.” Well, okay, somewhat less than germane, but one takes what one can get from the Oracle.
I had a little more time this visit to check things out, so I spent an evening at the James Joyce Pub in the Monastiraki section of Athens; had some Guinness Beef Pie and a couple of Guinnesses – aaaahhhhh, home! I was surprised at the 5.50 euro charge for a Guinness, however – definitely Temple Bar/Dublin prices. I did a lot of walking and even picked up a few souvenirs for the family. The self-imposed walking tours were fun, and I got to see some interesting sights. Saw a young man snorting coke outside a darkened restaurant (my neighborhood was not the best in town), and watched the locals get fleeced at the old shell game being run outside the flea market. They still fall for it, don’t they?

I spent a few hours at a Rembetika club, listening to the local music, which was a gas. Diners often got up and did some impromptu dances; a woman passed out red and white roses so the other diners could throw flowers at the dancers and musicians. One rather inebriated Greek paid the woman for plates of flowers to be dumped on the young, very attractive female tambourinist/singer. I threw a flower at El Greco after his dance, and he bought me a beer. Cool.
The food was also good. I ate a lot of street food, gyros and soft drinks, which were the cheapest stuff around., restaurants were not cheap, so I tried to avoid the most expensive of the genre. I had some saganaki (flaming Greek cheese; apparently, the flames had been applied before I got it), calamari and other local specialties. The Athenian beer, Mythos, is pretty good, too.
The street markets and flea market are great places to wander. I even bought a couple of ties - wait till you see them. My friends here are tired of seeing my same old Hungarian Rugby Union tie, which I wear to every occasion, so I’ll wow them with these.
New Year’s Eve was…..interesting. The locals celebrate at home, and then erupt onto the streets at 12:02 AM for a night of revelry. There were great fireworks over the Acropolis and there was dancing in the streets. Noise-makers abounded, as did certain controlled substances which shall not be mentioned here. I stopped to watch a strolling band, and a happy bouzouki player jumped up and kissed me – thank goodness it was on the cheek!
So, yet another fun trip. New Year’s weekend saw the temperatures in Athens in the mid-60s, so needless to say I was somewhat shocked when I emerged from the Budapest airport into the 23-degree weather. Brrrr. Home again. And that’s it for another year, sports fans. Hope everyone’s 2008 holiday season was fun and safe and happy and Santa Clause was good to all you boys and girls. Until next time, Happy New Year and may 2009 bring you everything you want.