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, September 17, 2009

Last Trip of Summer

Budapest was sweltering in the midst of a fierce heat wave during the remainder of July and early August, so I compensated by spending as much time as possible at a nearby water park. It’s only a ten-minute walk from my flat and I can usually spend the morning and most of the afternoon there, soaking up the sun and lounging in the cool waters. I also caught some of the Tri-Nations rugby matches in air-conditioned Champs’ Sports Bar, which helped keep my body temperature down.
Farewell parties, birthday parties, social gatherings continued to take up my time, which is always a good way to spend the summer evenings in Budapest. I even got to tend bar at the Britannia Club a couple of times, which is fun and a nice way to pay the British Embassy back for having to put up with us Colonials as members. Caught a good exhibit of the photographs of Robert Capa (actually born in Hungary as Endre Friedman) and generally slipped through August with barely a ripple.
Although I had thought I might like to visit friends in Scotland in August or September, I checked out a couple of other places too. I still want to see Izmir, Turkey, along with nearby Pamukkale and the fascinating geographical formations there. I looked up the airfare and found it was nearly $800 US - a touch too much for such a short trip. Maybe another time. As I perused my map of Europe, however, I realized I still hadn’t spent enough time in the northern areas, so I closed my eyes and threw my dart and it landed right in the middle of Copenhagen, Denmark. So that’s where I decided to go in mid-September. Just a short five-day trip, but enough to assuage my travel bug before my big trip in the winter.
One option for the winter was Capetown, South Africa, which will remain on my list, but instead I heard from former Budapest resident Sandra Minkel, who works for USAID and is now stationed in Katmandu, Nepal, and who kindly offered to let me stay at her place if I wanted to visit, which I most definitely do. So – will finalize trip details in September and head out for the wilds of Asia around mid-November, staying a month and returning in time for my birthday and Xmas. Gonna be another great year-end.
August ground slowly into September. I tried to stay cool by sitting in dark bars and watching the Ashes cricket tournament between England and Australia. I think I now understand about half of the game, but damn it’s slow. The Ashes consists of three five-day matches. I managed to catch about two hours of the third match. That was all I could take. But I while watching the match in the Caledonia Scottish pub I did try a new (for me, anyway) soft drink from Scotland called Irn Bru, the taste of which is good, but hard to describe. Try it, you’ll see.
Also finally managed to move one notch closer to the 21st century by getting free movies on my PC. So now I can watch some new and old flicks when TV doesn’t offer me any good fare. Not bad.
We had another Internations gathering at the end of August, along with our weekly Italian Happy Hours, our monthly Viking Club meeting and various and sundry unexpected visitors from places far and near. Always fun to see everyone – people just cannot seem to stay away from Budapest. It really does grab you.
Of course, the local councils don’t always see it that way. One of their more inane decrees lately was to pass a law that all bars, restaurants, pubs, and other businesses in the Sixth District (the heart of Budapest’s nightlife) must be closed by 10 PM. If enforced, such a law would effectively kill Budapest’s nightlife to the extent that the city would probably never recover. And all because a few old farts don’t like the late-night noise where they live. Tough bananas – they’ll all be dead soon anyway, so who cares? The bar and restaurant owners are, naturally, contesting this idiocy, and I’ll update you on the latest results as they happen. Meanwhile, it was off to Copenhagen for me.


Every time I get upset about the ongoing price increases in Budapest – and they are legion – all I have to do is take a trip to another large European city, stop in at a local pub and buy a beer. Those beers always cost two-to-three times as much as in Hungary, so I do my sightseeing and rush home to my sane-cost-of-living landlocked city in the middle of Central Europe. My trip to Copenhagen was no exception. A local premium beer was $12 US! Scandalous! And the food was just as bad – in fact, almost all of my money went for food and drink. So many things were so overpriced: a standard paperback book was $20 US. Nice city, but too rich for my poor wallet.
Anyway, I arrived at Copenhagen’s ultra-modern airport on Friday afternoon, September 11, caught the train into the Central Station, walked two blocks and checked into my hotel - also just two blocks from Tivoli - got some local updates at the Tourist Information office and headed out for the Stroget, the world’s longest pedestrian shopping street (so advertised in Denmark, anyway). And it is a long street, filled with shops and restaurants and pubs and fast food places and buskers and fountains and all sorts of wonderful sights and sounds. Reminded me somewhat of Grafton Street in Dublin, only about three times as long.
I did my acclimatization stroll, then found The Irish Rover pub, where I had my first - and one of only a very few - $12 beers. Jacobsen brown ale, put out by Carlsberg. Good stuff, but the price was only for a 0.4 L draft. Another ripoff. As the sun had passed the yardarm, I called my Internations contact to see if we could meet up.
See, the main reason I joined the Internations international social networking group was to meet people when I travel. When I know I’ll be visiting a particular place, I post a message on the Internations World Forum bulletin board and ask if any local Internations members would like to meet for a drink and help me get orientated to their city. I’ve only tried this twice so far: in Seville I connected with someone, but our schedules didn’t match and we never met up. However, Copenhagen was a different story.


Internations’ Copenhagen Ambassador (local group leader) is Suzanne Sommer. She was kind enough to answer me when I posted my arrival on the Internations’ bulletin board. She gave me her phone number and I called her from the pub. Well, she entered the pub as if it were her own personal stage, and immediately brightened up the room. The energy picked up from there and the evening proceeded apace. She was accompanied by a friend, Neils, and we all had a leisurely dinner at the nearby Sultan’s Palace, after which a tour of local Copenhagen was in order. We grabbed a taxi (complete with portable bike rack for the many locals who ride their bicycles around town) to an outdoor gathering somewhere in Copenhagen. There was live music (hard rock by a group from Jutland, but at least I didn’t have to jump up and down) and an outdoor showing of the International Air Guitar Championships. Who would have ever thought there would be awards for people who only pretend to play the guitar? An amazing and interesting comment on today’s cultural wasteland.
Anyway, we hooked up with more friends and headed over to the flat of yet another Danish woman friend of Suzanne’s. Tina is a tall striking blonde who welcomed me into her home with open arms and Irish whiskey. What a great evening. Even in my previous travels, it wasn’t often I actually got to meet local people and get invited into their homes, so this was a real treat. I sipped my whiskey (and said a reluctant “No” to the spliffs being passed around). All I had really expected from Suzanne was a drink or two and some general information on things to do and places to go, and then I presumed she’d leave me on my own. Surprise! She is so much better than that and she started my visit to Copenhagen with a super night. I finally had to call a taxi around 1 AM, as I had no idea where I was. A ten-minute taxi ride cost $21. No more taxis for me!
My hotel room in the Cab Inn was reminiscent of an economy stateroom on a cruise ship, or perhaps a Pullman berth. It was small and narrow and combined the shower with the toilet area, but it was really all I needed, as I only spent the necessary time there to change clothes and sleep. Of course, this teeny haven in the middle of Copenhagen still ran $100 a night.
Saturday morning was another Tri-Nations rugby match, so I headed for The Irish Rover to catch the opening kickoff at 9:30 AM. A big Irish breakfast ($20) helped wake me up. Afterwards, I signed up for the Hop On/Hop Off tour bus, which was actually a pretty good deal. All three routes for only $30. I did the city tours, saw the Little Mermaid (hey, she was cute, and not as little as I had been led to believe), Amalienborg Palace and the changing of the guard, Nyhavn canal, and all the other major sights on this round. I decided to save the remaining two tours for Sunday, so I lazed away the afternoon, walking and eating falafels and looking for the places I still wanted to visit. Had a small, fair local beers at Bloomsday Bar and Charlie’s Bar, then took it easy for dinner.
Sunday was another tour day. Did the Carlsberg Brewery in the morning, which was fun, then bussed over to Christiania in the afternoon. Christiania was opened up on one of the islands in the Copenhagen area by hippies in 1971, who then declared it an independent state and moved in all their friends. It’s pretty shabby, but the local residents like it because they can do anything they want there, including smoking lots of dope, which is illegal in Denmark. In fact, there are signs in the “downtown” area of Christiania indicating no photography is permitted there. I was initially surprised at the restriction, until I saw half the local residents smoking dope; obviously, they don’t want their pictures taken doing that. I got my first contact high since a Rolling Stones concert in 1994 in Pittsburgh.
I had a pita there, and craved some sweets, so thought I might get one of the blocks of chocolate I saw the locals selling on their tables. On closer inspection, the chocolate was actually blocks of hashish. The last time I smoked hashish I could feel my brain sliding back and forth in my head, so figured it wasn’t a good idea to try it again. Instead, I opted for a nice steak at the Hard Rock Café, next to Tivoli. $60, but my brain didn’t slide nearly as much – just my wallet.
My final two days I mailed my mandatory postcards, did a river walk and took lots more photos. I also did a harbor/canal cruise, but could easily have passed, as it wasn’t all that great. I did, however, come across something I hadn’t seen in many, many years – a pissoir, situated next to a canal. Shades of Paris, France. I also did Tivoli, which was interesting. Disneyland need have no fears of being outclassed. Tivoli is a nice, small amusement park: several rides, but mostly restaurants and souvenir shops. Basic adult entrance was $17, but with all rides it was $60! Spend that money, people! The weather was fair, low 60s, but the wind chill made it much colder, so it was good I’d brought a light jacket. I left early and had another nice dinner at Rosie McGee’s, just across the street. Great old-fashioned pub and restaurant, lots of dark wood and statues and red velvet chair coverings and stained-glass windows. Cool place. A hamburger and beer was $40.
A visit to the Rosenberg Palace was also in order, after which I had a nice last-day lunch at one of the famous open-faced sandwich places. This delicacy is Copenhagen’s entry into the international culinary experience, and it was quite good. It’s called a “smorrebrod,” (put slashes through the two Os). A final snack at Rosie McGee’s and I was ready for a more normal pricing structure. Got home Wednesday, September 16, and it was good to see my little flat in Budapest.
So, that’s it for now, all you regular readers. Got some parties and gatherings coming up, as usual, and will begin planning for my next trip: Katmandu! Y’all hang in there, watch this space for more updates on my wonderful life in Budapest. Take care and write soon.