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, July 31, 2009

I Find Black Mountain

Ok, I was back in Budapest after my month in Spain and I was ready to relax for awhile. The weather was great for the first five days, then the rain hit and didn’t let up until early July - bummer. I did my share of parties, gatherings, events, happy hours, farewell dos, new dad wettings, Danube dinner cruises, sporting events (rugby and some soccer), generally just taking it easy. I did get a call from a former student who wanted short-term classes, as she was moving to the UK in September, so I now have two classes a week for the time being; what the heck, it pays the rent.
I caught a summer cold in late June, which I nursed for 5-6 days. In the meantime, I was getting ready for my Montenegro trip. My living room will be painted while I’m away, but I have to box up all my stuff to get the flat ready for the painters. No prob. Things were humming along nicely.
One day, while perusing Funzine, one of our expat magazines, I noticed an event at the Holocaust memorial center here to be held in late June. Things would be happening in the House of Acceptance (!?), including Tales of Patience, Choose a Family and Learn Their History, and several concerts. They all appeared to be very dignified and educational experiences concerning things that happened during the Holocaust. And then, at the end of the article, the following paragraph appeared (this is no joke, Gang, rather the absolute height of Tackiness):
“You’ll also be able to exchange books and ideas in The History Corner, or glance into the Mirror of Tolerance (a billboard welcoming tolerant and useful ideas, questions and opinions). Themed food and drink will be on offer, too, and at the Bar of Acceptance, you’ll be able to grab a Tolerance Sandwich, a Dilemma coffee, Coexistence cocktails, and a piece of Empathy cake…all three areas will be running continuously in the inner courtyard.”
Any further comment I might have on this paragraph would be superfluous.

And finally it was time to get on the big silver bird again and go winging off to exotic places. This time I headed out to Montenegro on a hot Sunday in mid-July, flying on one of Malev Airlines’ nice little two-engine prop-driven planes. (Free beer to any American who can tell me where Montenegro is without looking it up)
Former Budapest buddy Matt Bresler, who is also the present US Embassy Office Manager in Podgorica, Montenegro, met me at the airport with Big Red, his Jeep CJ, which survived the Kazakhstan winter and is now happy and smiling in sunny Montenegro. The side doors were off and on the way back to his flat Matt gave me the short tour of the city – and it was short, as Podgorica is a fairly small town. It does have an eight-square-block downtown area which is crammed full of restaurants, shops, pubs, etc, and is a nice place for a stroll.
It was still early when I arrived, so we dropped my bag at his flat and went off to see the Roman ruins at Duklija, which was interesting but somewhat anti-climactic, as there aren’t many ruins actually there. Then we headed up into the nearby mountains to check out the views from the Ostrog Monastery, built into the side of a cliff waaay up high. The views from the many switchbacks on the mountainside were worth the drive up. There were a lot of visitors waiting to be healed when we arrived at the monastery, so we skirted the long line and went through the main area to the balconies, where the best views are.
We came back into town and, as it was now around 7 PM, we had dinner at a downtown restaurant Matt likes – Carine. As is my usual routine when anywhere near the sea, I had as much fresh seafood as I could stuff into my face; this time it was the shopska salad and grilled calamari – wonderful. The local beer, Nikisicik (sorry about the spelling, Matt) served as a nice refresher. Another plus during dinner: every night several of the downtown streets in Podgorica are blocked off to vehicular traffic and the locals (and tourists, I guess) wander around, checking each other out, looking for friends, stopping for a drink here or a cigarette there. We lounged in our restaurant table near the street and watched the crowds. Lots of pretty young women out for a stroll, so the scenery was lovely to look at. We ourselves took a short stroll around the area, then headed home around 10 PM. Matt’s apartment is US-Embassy-supplied very nice – three bedrooms, beautifully finished with wood trim everywhere, real showers, and air conditioning, which was desperately needed, as the temperatures outside hovered in the mid-90s all the time I was there.
The first few days of the week Matt had to work, so I was generally left to my own devices during the days. Matt works at the US Embassy, which is located less than 200 meters from his flat and, like a true American, he drives to work. I took a 20-minute stroll into town from Matt’s flat, walking along the riverside and just generally inhaling the peacefulness of Podgorica. It’s located in a valley ringed with mountains, so the heat is somewhat oppressive, but cool breezes near the river help even things out. I had breakfast at Carine – a tasty omelet with which I ordered a glass of orange juice, but got a glass of orange pulp. Then I checked out the rest of the town. Looked for some postcards to send, but there weren’t any! Finally found a small selection of 5-6 at the post office itself. Guess Podgorica isn’t high on the tourist destination list. We had dinner that night at Leonardo, where I succumbed to more seafood.
Tuesday I checked out Podgorica’s first and only shopping center/Mall, and it was nice. Had a late breakfast there and caught the new Harry Potter flick in air-conditioned peace.
On Wednesday I found a nice restaurant near Matt’s place and had a great truffle omelet. Then Matt took off work early and we drove to Kotor along the coast, about an hour or so away. Had lunch in a small roadside café near Cetinje, which consisted of Nijesti ham and cheese. I must have confused the waiter, as our food and a few Cokes came to 30 euro! A lot for lunch. Anyway, we drove through the mountains and came out on top of a high – very high – cliff face overlooking the bay in which Kotor is situated. The road down the mountainside – and it was literally on the side of the mountain – had 30 switchbacks which, for those of you who have ever driven mountain roads know, is a lot of switchbacks.
We finally got down and strolled around the small walled old town of Kotor, sucking down Cokes wherever we could. Another hot day. We drove around the bay and found the ferry crossing to the southern part of the bay, then drove down the coast past Tivat, through the pretty little town of Budva and on to a lookout near Matt’s seaside flat, from which one can see the entire Sveti Stefan Bay. We were due to return the following day, so we didn’t linger this time. Headed down the coast again to Petrovac, then climbed back into the mountains on the back road to Podgorica, stopping on the way for some fresh corn, which was a good dinner.
On Thursday afternoon we drove back to Matt’s place on the coast again, this time along a different mountain route. Not quite as many switchbacks this time, but the views (and lack of guard rails) were just as amazing. Matt’s flat is just off the coast highway a few kilometers south of Budva and his balcony overlooks the entire bay north, which includes Budva and the island hotel of Sveti Stefan. Look it up on the Net for detailed photos. A really cool place, although not in use at the present time.
Matt’s landlady Zoritsa welcomed me to Montenegro with a glass of Slivovitz (homemade raki – deadly stuff), then we drove into Budva for a stroll and to check things out. Had a Guinness at the English Pub, then Matt left for home, leaving me to my own devices for the evening. I quickly found the Irish pub – which was out of Guinness, a mortal sin in Ireland – and settled in with some of the local Irish lads for some beer and craic. Got a good recommendation for a restaurant, and walked down the boardwalk, along “Yacht Row,” to find Porto, where I once again satisfied my seafood cravings with mussel-stuffed mushrooms and seafood skewers. Mmmm.
I was pretty wiped out by that time, so taxied back to the flat (a 15-euro ride, which should have been 10) and watched the nightlights on the bay from Matt’s balcony for awhile. I could get used to that kind of living.
On Friday I was up early. I walked down the steps and winding streets from Matt’s place to Sveti Stefan, stopping along the way to pick up a meat pie from a small shop. I satisfied my yearning to see SS up close, and then started the trudge back up the hill. Luckily a taxi happened by when I was halfway up, so I flagged him down and went to the beach at the Maestral Resort and Casino, a mere 5 euros away. I lolled away the morning on the small rocky beach and waited for Matt to show up for lunch. He arrived around 2 PM, and we ate more seafood at Languste, next to my little beach. Good food, terribly slow service, but my veal soup and seafood salad were nice.
Matt caught some sun for an hour or two, then we went back to the flat, showered, napped and headed back into Budva for an evening on the town. We settled in at Caspar’s bar in Old Town and watched the local and tourist talent walk by as we consumed a bottle of vodka. I heard mostly Russian among the tourists, as Montenegro is one of the few places where Russians can still visit without a visa, so they flock there in droves. We finally succumbed to the night around 2 AM and taxied back to the flat (only 10 euro this time) and talked away the rest of the night on the balcony. Good living.
Next morning we were up at the crack of ten, moving slowly. We decided to just pack up and head back to Podgorica, so we took it easy on the drive back. We stopped at the nice Konak restaurant on the way for a light lunch, then cruised the town of Cetinje, former capital of the country, finally arriving back in Podgorica in the late afternoon. We were both rather tired, so whiled away the evening watching American television shows, which, of course, I had never seen. Lots of series have come and gone since I’ve been away from the states. I did enjoy the series Arrested Development, and we watched the first two season’ worth of episodes.
Finally, it was time to leave. Another short prop-driven flight back to Budapest, and I arrived home to a freshly-painted flat around 6 PM. All of the boxes I’d packed up were in my bedroom, so I had to unpack them and put everything away before I could find my bed. Managed to get it mostly finished by 9 PM, after which I could rest. It was another fun trip, and I thank Matt for putting up with me for a week and for showing me much of Montenegro and for driving all over the place. Another good friendship made in Hungary.
It was a busy week after my return. A good Happy Hour Monday at our local Italian restaurant, where I saw old friends and made several new ones, including some possible English students. I don’t teach much anymore, but once in awhile – especially if the students are lovely young Hungarian women. A nice change from my Hungarian businessmen. Then it was another Internations gathering on Tuesday and a birthday party for a Finnish friend on Wednesday at our new cocktail bar. Thursday it was back to the Britannia Club, and on Friday I rested.
So, Gang, all for now. Summer is still in full swing, and the temps here have moderated to the mid-70s. Will begin checking possibilities for next trip(s) shortly, and will let you all know what I decide. Until then, everyone have a good summer and stay well.