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, January 15, 2011


I have this mental picture of what all of my devoted Blog readers do after work each day. They come home, loosen their tie (or big bow), pour themselves a glass of wine and flop down in their big recliner chair. As they take their first slug of wine they all think, “I wonder how Gary fills in his time in between trips?” That’s right, isn’t it? I thought so. Well, wonder no longer. This Blog is devoted to filling you all in on how I spend my time in Budapest these days when I’m not traveling.
During 2010 I made four trips between early May and mid-September. They were: Corsica, Rome, southern Turkey and Helsinki, in that order. All of the wonderful details of these trips are covered in other blog entries, so check them out when you get bored. But in between trips I stayed in and around Budapest and filled my time with all of the continuing exciting things to do here. Here is just a sampling of what I’m up to when I’m not traveling.
I got back from Nepal mid-December 2009, and didn’t travel again until May 2010. My time was filled with holidays – usually boring here, as they are dedicated mostly to family time. Lots of reading, a few movies, some concerts, pub crawls and visits, maybe a touch of karaoke, Burns suppers (you can read about those in other blogs), expat gatherings and other various forms of entertainment.
During this time I was also able to move back to my old neighborhood at Kalvin Ter, which was a major plus in my life here. Even the great rent deal I had in my previous place couldn’t substitute for the ambience of my favorite place in Budapest. After all, I did live here for seven years previously. It was so nice to be back. I’d been gone for about three years and my first week back, as I was walking down the street, my former postman recognized me and waved and said, “Szia, Gary, hogy van?” (Hi Gary, how are you?)
Damn, it was good to be home again, especially since the entire neighborhood has been refurbished by the city, with wide marble sidewalks and squares, more outdoor restaurant seating and a better pedestrian atmosphere. And best of all, I missed all the construction with its attendant noise and dust and dirt; if I’d have stayed in my old flat, I couldn’t have opened my windows for three years!
When I arrived home from Bastia (Corsica), Budapest was enjoying a spot of good weather, which quickly turned to crap, complete with rain and clouds and wind and cold and nastiness and yucchiness. I caught a few movies, did a wine tasting on the Danube at a new restaurant/wine cellar and even caught up with old buds like Jonathon Wilde, who was in town for a visit with his young lady friend Charlotte. We decided to induct Charlotte into The Stage Pub’s ambience, and she managed to distinguish herself by drinking even more than local stalwart Akos and then acting as backup singer for me and Erika. We have pictures.
And other Budapestians continued to slink back in for visits, like Mike Chew and his wife Vanessa. There was a Comedy Club and a couple of English classes and not much else, so generally I just took it easy and relaxed.
I did some admin things, like finally transferring all of my song lyrics to my new PC for posterity. I was still working slowly on my new books, and even managed to finish one of the short ones. I also continued to write reviews for a local expat internet publication, and by October I had submitted nearly 50 articles, only a few of which had been declined due to competition or favoritism or some other such nonsense. You can read these articles by pulling up and doing a search for my name in the Search space.
There was one Curry Club with friends at Salaam Bombay. Had a couple of dinners with my doctor at a new Italian place in Buda, which was great! The month of May saw yet another Eurovision contest; unfortunately, most of the performances were rather bland this year, except for one outrageous act which had the participants suddenly sprout butterfly wings; but generally disappointing, after so many fun years of outlandish acts.
There was one more Viking Club meeting before the summer closure and several good Friday gatherings at the Public Pub after the British Embassy Pub closed for the summer. I managed a couple of car trips to nearby Esztergom with friends, then drinks and munchies with several more old friends.
During this time my friend Edit had gone to work for a local Health Center and asked me to write an article on the treatment offered. She arranged a Check Up for me and the Gyalog treatment, which was a sort of advanced Reflexology procedure, actually resulted in a temporary cure for some recurring problems. In addition, it also managed to offer a short-term appetite suppression. It was great, and my article reflected the wonders of this new treatment. I only hope I can go back and get a follow-up. (Ed. Note: I did, in August, but the results weren’t as good as the first time, so I passed on any further treatments)
I decided a beach holiday was also in order for the summer, so I booked my flight and room in Side (pronounced ‘See-day’), on the Turkish Riviera, about 65 kilometers south of Antalya. Shortly after, it was finally time to go to Rome, my first visit back since 1968. Again, details can be found for both trips in other blogs.
I returned from Rome, lightly tanned, rested and full of pasta. After an abortive three-hour-late flight, I rested and took it easy for the rest of June and July. Heard a good Blues band at the Jazz Garden with friends. Had drinks and dinner with a wide variety of other friends, did some test review English classes with another friend, and managed to catch several of the World Cup football matches. Most of them were entertaining, but rather spoiled by the unsportsmanlike conduct of the South African fans who kept blowing their nonstop vuvuzuela horns, annoying players and fans alike. Too bad.
During the early summer the Budapest weather was inconsistent: it was cold one day, and in the high 80s the next. As already mentioned I managed to complete one of my short stories, Danube Dawn, only around 20,000 words. I’m still working on the other stories for yet another book, to be entitled Three for the Road. Or maybe Four, if I get creative.
We had a short but very hot spell of humid weather, with temps in the 90s and humidity in the 80-percent range. Not a breath of air stirred all day or night; brutal. I spent most of those days at a local swimming pool, immersed in the water; I managed to get a nice tan and to stay somewhat cool. My flat was a hothouse, and I had my fan on pretty much all the time I was in residence, which was as little as possible. I mostly sought out air-conditioned stores, movies, etc., to escape the miserable heat.
We continued to gather at the Public Pub on Fridays, which is air-conditioned; Surprise! The summer’s movies were generally crap, so I couldn’t even escape the heat that way. But as always happens, the weather finally broke and the nights were cool again. After I announced my upcoming trip to Side on Facebook, I got a response that one of my Hungarian friends would be there working as a tour guide (probably for Hungarian groups), so I contacted her to put me on one of their tours to Pamukkale, Turkey – the place where they have the calcium pools.
I also found a “new” bookstore in Budapest I hadn’t known of previously; lots of new and used books, and I bought several on my first visit. The clerk told me their entire inventory was online, so I could browse their stock and order what I wanted and either pick up my books or have them delivered to me! Geez. That’s almost 20th century service! What is Hungary coming to?
Even in the summer there are lots of things to do in hot Budapest. I always check our local English-language publications, hard-copy and Internet, to see what’s going on. Of course, there’s always the Hot Jazz band at Fat Mo’s on alternate Sunday evenings. Music concerts – hey, even Jerry Lee Lewis was in town! One expat magazine advertised the upcoming Jewish Summer Festival again. I attended a klezmer concert a few years back and it was so terribly boring and repetitive I left shortly after arriving. However, this year promises to be somewhat different. One of the ads touted someone called Matisyahu: the King of Hasidic Reggae. Now there’s a concert not to be missed. Also, I noted an ad in one of our local magazines for a Fish Pedicure, with a picture of tiny little fish nibbling on your feet. How can I resist?
So I whiled away the time until my next trip to Finland, for the wedding of two friends, Martin Porter (English) and Vilja Larme (Finnish). Nothing spectacular happened as I was whiling, however, but the Britannia Club re-opened on September 3, which was a nice change from the Public Pub. The welcome-back crowd was a good one, with lots of guests invited. The Club also got a new make-over as far as paint and paneling, and new furniture is expected any decade now (they don’t always put a rush order on things over there). All in all, it was a nice, lazy August.
My Finland trip is also covered on a previous blog, so check it out. And by the way, Finland was the 40th country I’ve visited in my life; not bad, hah? Back in town in mid-September, I managed a concert at a local church of classical music’s greatest hits; for the one-hour show the cost was about $33; a touch high, but a good concert.
As I was contemplating my next trips, and trying to decide whether to attend my high school class’s 50th reunion in May 2011 or my daughter’s 40th birthday party in March, I was surprised after a visit to my dentist for a cleaning when he told me I was in bad shape and needed at least three implants – NOW! While the resulting cost for much of the procedure was reasonable, the cost of the titanium implant hardware itself was around 80% of the entire expense, which then became rather outrageous. But not, of course, anywhere near as outrageous as it would be in the US.
Well, I hemmed and hawed and researched the procedure on the Internet and finally said, “Okay, let’s do it.” Luckily, my dentist let me stretch the cost out over several months. The procedure was as painless as he could make it; pulled three teeth on Monday, did the implants on Tuesday and put in the temporary bridges on Wednesday. Bing, bam, boom. Of course, I’m on soft foods until we get the permanent crowns in sometime in January (another friggin’ expense!), but I guess it had to be done.
The remainder of the autumn months were taken up with the standard entertainments, including holding a pub quiz at the British Embassy, seeing a couple of English-language plays, attending a baby shower for my Hungarian/Danish friends, and reading a lot. While always searching for new experiences (museum exhibits, new plays and music groups, etc), I ran across an ad in one of the local magazines for a ‘chocolate massage.’ It touted the health benefits of a salty and concentrated massage while covered with a cocoa butter moisturizer. Apparently, the theobromine in the cocoa fuels the fat-burning process and helps prevent aging. You get your entire body covered with chocolate and there’s even supposed to be an antioxidant chemical which helps stop skin cell damage and turns your skin baby-soft. We shall see. At worst maybe I can get the masseuse to lick it all off when the massage ends.
Being a bachelor in Budapest also has other advantages, including being invited to dinner by married and other single friends. During the Interludes this year, I had a great gourmet dinner with several English and Hungarian friends, with appropriate wines and main courses and some truly excellent cheeses at the close of festivities. Also, even though no American friends invited me for Thanksgiving this year, another English couple did get me out of the flat for a belated holiday feast, complete with turkey rolls, tons of veggies and potatoes, champagne, palinka, wines, limoncello, and more tummy-stuffing goodies. I always waddle away from the table after these meals, but they’re always worth it. Of course, I don’t have to eat again for at least a week. Yummy.
In the autumn, the old Janis Pub (theme pub named after Janis Joplin) re-opened across the street from my flat, complete with much more welcoming new managers and bartenders, so I started hanging out there for Guinness, karaoke and a general good ambience. Nice to have a local such a short crawl from home. One night in late November as I left the pub around 3 AM, I was surprised to find it was snowing! Damn! Too early in the year, a wet, heavy snow, but to be endured until a warm snap returns us to our usual late-autumn weather.
Rugby watching came to the fore in November, and we gathered at Champs Sports Pub for the Saturday afternoon events, always a fun time with the boys. Still a lot of evening entertainment to go, however, including: a couple of wine tastings, a couple of lunches and dinners at friends’ places, a really great musical evening with the Russian Jukebox trio (who sing a capella but also imitate various musical instruments! Have to be seen to be believed), some relaxing easy listening music nights, the first ever US Embassy’s Town Hall meeting with our ambassador, and, of course, too many nights at the Janis Pub drinking and singing and even dancing (that one was on my birthday night, when the pub had a great rock n’roll band playing all the oldies).
We had another good turnout for the annual Xmas champagne brunch again this year at the Marriott, where we all ate and drank too much. Was the season to be jolly and pig out. And for New Year’s Eve? Well, most clubs and pubs and restaurants and hotels offer wonderful package deals of drinks, food and music for just a small fee: one month’s salary plus your first-born child. We decided to pass on that this year and found our new favorite place, Janis Pub, was having their New Year’s bash for free, so several of us gathered there and rang in the new year with happy gusto. A good time was had by all.
January continued cold and nasty and we continued to frequent the warm and welcoming pubs for our evening entertainment. There were more of our regular gatherings now that most everyone had returned from the holidays, so I attended meetings of the Viking Club, Internations and even a wine class sponsored by a local wine company and overseen by one of my former students, so I got in free. Gotta love this town.
I continued to meet new and interesting people at the various mixers, including a lovely American tennis player from Idaho and a hotel worker from Uzbekistan. Another birthday slipped quietly past me, which was fine with me. Did some cocktail nights at the Britannia Club and local cocktail bars, and ran into some Irish contestants from the Hungarian Strongman Contest at the For Sale Pub; fortunately, none of them wanted to pick me up, which would probably have strained even their gigantic muscles.
And so another year passed. Lots of ups, a few downs, some good but not nearly enough travels and no further work done on the five books I have in progress. If you see my Muse hanging out anywhere, please send her back to me. So, all for this year. Let’s hope 2011 brings with it more adventures and travels. Lurking just over the horizon, as mentioned above, are my 50th (Gasp!) high school reunion and my daughter’s 40th (Double Gasp!!) birthday, just to remind me I’m not getting any younger. Will have to see about new travels, as it seems I’ve now visited pretty much all of the places in the world I really wanted to see. Now what?
Anyway, Happy New Year to all and to all a good night.