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, May 06, 2010

Corsican Adventure

And so I returned from Nepal, tanned, rested and ready. I got up early to see Sandra off to her work and to say goodbye and thank her again for her generosity in letting me stay at her place for a whole month. We did our hugs and waves, and she was off to work. She called a few minutes later to ask me to have her driver return and pick her up, as she needed to go to the doctor. It seems her long trip from the states, and staying in her airplane seat the entire time, sleeping and not moving, had left her with a pain in her leg that had become worrisome.
To make a long story shorter, she had a blood clot in her leg and came home to rest for awhile. Macha finally ran me to the airport. I checked in and then ran the gauntlet of security and x-ray machines to the “Lounge Area,” a large, Spartan hall where one could do anything except lounge. The security checks were many and varied. I was x-rayed and passported and screened and scanned and finally my carry-on bag was literally turned upside down and its contents dumped out onto a table and thoroughly scrutinized before I was allowed to get anywhere near the emplaning ramp.
I sat in the Lounge Area for a couple of hours and then got to pass through one final security check, this time a pat-down, before getting on the bus for the plane. As I was walking from the terminal to the bus, I happened to look up at the nearby horizon and what do you think? Yep, the skies had cleared and the Himalayas were bright and beautiful in all their glory. I got to see the peaks for about 20 seconds on the day I left Nepal.
My plane this time was one of Qatar Airline’s newest, with several innovations. Each seatback contained a PC screen with selections of movies, TV shows, games, etc., all controlled via touch-screen technology. Cool. And the overhead bulkhead space with its ‘fasten seat-belt’ light and ‘no smoking’ light also now had a ‘no mobile phone’ light. Excellent.
I checked the TV shows on my PC and found some US shows I’d vaguely heard about, but obviously never seen: 30 Rock and The Big Bang Theory. Not a huge choice in TV shows. Oh, well, why not, how bad could they be? As it turned out, even worse than I’d imagined – and I have a great imagination. 30 Rock was one of the most insipid, gratuitously stupid shows I have ever seen. American TV seems to have hit a new low in inanity and pointless offerings. The acting was execrable, the plot was silly and the characters were buttock-clenchingly annoying. The Big Bang Theory was marginally better than 30 Rock, but that’s like saying being forced to drink your own piss is marginally better than being forced to eat your own shit.
Those two programs have cured me forever of watching US television sitcoms. Never again. I searched the movies and found, to my immense surprise, Young Frankenstein. I happily whiled away a couple of hours satisfying myself that comedic genius still exists in the world of cinema, then napped the rest of the time.
My 7 hour and 40 minute Qatar flight left on time and I vowed to sleep as much as I could before getting to Gatwick, but only managed a few hours overall.
We finally boarded our plane and got underway only one hour late. Good old Malev Airlines and the Hungarian cavalier attitude toward punctuality.
My buddy Mike Apted was waiting for me,and 20 minutes later I opened the door to my little flat for the first time in a month. It was warm and cozy, which was even better, as the outside temperature was hovering near freezing. There had been snow all over the ground at the airport. It was winter here! I’d left Nepalese daytime temperatures in the high sixties to come back to this. Weather shock!
Yes, it was December 18 again, which means yet another birthday for yours truly. The holiday season was full as always. I did the rounds of parties and dinners and wine tastings and generally had a quiet New Year’s Eve.
After the first of the year I happened upon a flat for rent in my old Kalvin Ter neighborhood, 40 square meters, small but nice, with a view of Gellert Hill; the total outlay was around the same as my present flat, so I figured why not. In short, I took it.
More socializing followed during the next few months, along with my gradual move to my new flat. I managed to catch the new Sherlock Holmes flick – not bad, depicts he and the good Dr. Watson as 30-something supermen, fighting and brawling and having a great old time of it. Not sure if that’s what Mr. Conan Doyle was thinking of when he first began his scribblings about these characters, but guess it’s the modern version. Of course, having grown up on the old 1930’s B&W movies featuring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce as the Dynamic Duo of their day, guess I’m still sort of biased in thinking of them as a more intellectual team of crime solvers.
Attended a Pub Quiz at a local pub (how appropros) and also, after a hiatus of several months, reconnected with my young Hungarian lady friend, which is always a nice reunion. Turns out she was in jail in Vienna, Austria (hanging out with the wrong friends), and was deported from Austria and told not to come back for ten years. Can I pick ‘em or what?
But mostly during the middle of January I was occupied with moving flats and sorting out finances resulting therefrom. February continued the social whirl with the three Burnas Suppers, Curry Club and reugby.
And by the way, it’s now official: this is the WORST winter since I moved here in 1999. Budapest has had more than three feet of snow dumped on it, and there’s probably more to come. It just keeps on snowing, and lots of businesses and stores have closed as people can’t get to work. If I lived outside of the city, I’d be basically stranded. At least I’m back in my old neighborhood and can walk to the stores and pubs – if they’re open, of course..
March and April, just more of the same. Judged a couple of speech contests, and attended the St. Dyvdd’s celebration at the Corinthia hotel. Of course, the only connections with Wales I have ever had were a t-shirt I had long ago with the inscription Save the Wales; and, of course, I once knew a guy who welshed on a bet. That’s it.
I attended an international Indian traditional dance performance and found a great little English-style pub near Deák Tér – The Public Pub. It has two levels, no tvs, no kitchen (a couple of bar snacks only), and Guinness at 690 forints a pint! That’s about $3.50 a pint, undoubtedly the best prices in town – hope they last awhile. It’s a great place for conversations with no distractions.
I also picked up another English class, so now have two, which fills up my Tuesday afternoons and early evening and, not incidentally, pays my rent. I evencaught a couple of museum exhibits.
A nice surprise was a Friday evening phone call from Matt Bresler, former Budapest resident, who was back in town for the weekend. He joined several of us at the For Sale pub later that night. The big surprise was that Matt has hair! We met a few more times over the weekend and got caught up on all the news.
My past expertise was also called into play when I was asked to do an audit of the books of the Britannia Club, which revealed some very interesting procedures on their part. A few more busy nights and then it was time to head off once again. Luckily, the Icelandic volcano’s ash was pretty much dissipated by the time I was to leave, so I got off okay. Had to fly to Charles de Gaulle aiport in Paris, then bus over to Orly for the final leg of my flight to Bastia in Corsica.
Naturally, to make my connection I had to allow plenty of layover time between CDG and Orly, so I took the early flight – up at 4 AM, to CDG by 9:30 AM or so, bus to Orly (at 19 euro!) and six hours later off to Corsica from Orly. Yucchh. But it all went OK, and I bussed in from the Bastia airport (another 9 euro) and walked to my hotel, which was the only one in Bastia facing the sea.
I arrived around 6 PM, dumped my stuff in the hotel and went in search of a beer. The Irish Pub, O’Connor’s, was just around the corner from the hotel; when I got there I asked the young woman having a cig in the open door if the pub was open. “No.” What? Well, when does it open? “At 9 PM” Well, hell, that won’t do me any good. So I wandered around the streets, using my internet map, until I literally stumbled on the Vieux Port (Old Port), a small marina just a few minutes away.
The first place I saw that looked inviting was a small café, Le Mediterranee. I asked the young girl working there for one of the local beers – Pietra – and sat down at a table facing the port – marine – parking lot – small boats. The port was U-shaped and ringed with restaurants. Great place to have a beer and people watch. Turned out the Pietra was really good; of course, a large beer was 6 euro - $8 US – around 1600 forints. Jeez!
I finally found a restaurant on the water named Café Meme – and had a great meal of moules marinieres (steamed mussels) and another beer. Yummy.
Friday morning I walked the town, including St. Nicholas Square, the Vieux Port again and the hilly hike to the Jardin Romieu and the Citadel. Bastia is a quiet town, only around 45,000 inhabitants. I had a nice lunch of Vietnam curry, rice and a Pietra – for 17eu 50! – Then took my afternoon stroll and wound up back at Le Med for a beer and sandwich.
Saturday I got up early and caught the train to Ajaccio. It was a three-and-a-half hour trip over the mountains in a two-carriage electric train. Cool. Hooked up with another American traveler on the train, a lawyer from Texas, Robert, and we whiled away the time talking about things. We arrived in Ajaccio – in the southwest corner of the island – and I walked over to the tourist office for some info on Napoleon’s house; of course the tourist office was closed until 2:30. Anyway, by asking directions and checking the street signs, I finally found Napoleon’s house and it was….closed! Scheisse! Or Merde, as the case may be.
Well, I also found one of those Little Trains that take you all over to see the local sights, so figured I could do that then still have time to tour Napoleon’s house before heading back at 4:45 PM. So, I took the train ride - 10 euro! – and we stopped at a huge monument to Napoleon and then headed out the coast road for several miles, finally to stop at our destination – a nougat stand.
Well, the damn ripoff trip took nearly two hours and when we got back I didn’t have time to tour Napoleon’s house, so just walked back to the train station and rode in silence back to Bastia. Not one of my better day trips.
I walked around the town that evening and realized that for a Saturday night, this place was really dead. Nothing happening at all. Where was everyone? Where were all the young people singing and dancing and drinking and having fun? I guess they went someplace unknown to me, ‘cause I couldn’t find them. I was back at the hotel by 10 o’clock.
It rained off and on all day Sunday, but at least there was a flea market in the main square to check out. Now, everyone who knows me knows that I am genetically incapable of passing a flea market, bazaar or souk without buying something. Can’t do it. And this place had something for everyone. It was chock full of lots of junque - oops, pardon me, “priceless family heirlooms” – and I wandered happily for a couple of hours. I passed by the Bugs Bunny mug, the old 45 records and the Titanic cookie tin, but I finally picked up a couple of Louis Armstrong CDs, a nice casual belt, some new sunglasses and a Corsica tank top. I was happy.
After a lunch of giant cheeseburger and fries on the square, I realized that everything was closed on Sunday. Bummer. I finally headed back to Chez Meme for a dinner of fried calamari, shrimp in whiskey and crème caramel (a flan by any other name..) and a limoncello. 46 euro, but very good. My waitress, the same one I had had the previous visit, was so happy to see me she gave me the farewell kiss on both cheeks. Wow. There may not have been much ambience to Bastia, but the people were sure friendly.
Monday and Tuesday were boring, with nothing left to do. I ate and walked and had a last beer at Le Med with Viktoria.
And that was it for my Corsican adventure. A reverse trip home the next day (bus to the Bastia airport – 9 euro – flight to Orly, bus to CDG – 19 euro – and a seven hour layover until my flight home. All in all, it cost me 56 euro just to change airports and get from the airport into town – about $75 US. Friggin’ expensive transfers. I arrived in Budapest around 11 Pm and was home by 11:30 or so.
So, that’s it for now, Faithful readers. Bunches of social gatherings and events coming up, and I hope the sun stays out for awhile – gotta work on my tan. Next trip is mid-June to Rome – haven’t been there in 42 years. Hope it still has all the fun stuff I remember. Until then, take care and watch this space for more adventures from your favorite intrepid traveler.