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.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013


Ireland in the Hot, Hot, Hot Summer of 2013

I figured I’d be getting away from Budapest’s fierce heat wave by heading for Dublin in July, only to find that Dublin was experiencing its worst (or best, if you’re a Dubliner) bout of summer sunshine in more than half a decade. I’d packed my rain jacket and long pants and hiking shoes, only to find I didn’t need any of them. But that’s OK, I’m not complaining. I loved every hot, sunny minute of it.
This was meant to be a Take-It-Easy trip. My landlords, Bog bless them, had kindly volunteered to let me stay in their 19th century Victorian terrace house in Rathmines, a Dublin suburb, for the three weeks during July when they would be in Austria and Hungary. Well, how could I possibly turn down their offer? In a word, I couldn’t. So it was off to Dublin for R&R, Guinness, local pubs and old friends. Always great to return to Ireland.
It was an easy bus ride from the Dublin airport to Rathmines, and the bus stopped just around the corner from Leinster Road. I only had about a 100-meter walk to my accommodation for the next three weeks. It’s a really beautiful restored three-story house, with a formal entry hall, a columned front doorway, old wooden floors, a brick façade and a cozy rear yard, full of trees and shrubs and even a newly-built tree house for the newest granddaughter. What a great place to stay.
My first full day in Dublin, Wednesday, July 3, I reacquainted myself with the center of the city. Rathmines is only about a 30-minute walk into Dublin center, but I usually took the buses into town; much easier, although not always as fast as walking, since the Dublin bus drivers tend to be rather slow and careful in their routes. Plus, they stop at nearly every bus stop and are caught by almost all the red lights, so getting into town often took around 25 minutes, not a lot better than walking.
Anyway, I walked around for a while, seeing if anything had changed around Trinity College, St. Stephen’s Green, Merrion Square, Dame Street, Grafton Street, Temple Bar and the Liffey River. After stocking up on groceries in Rathmines, I had a light dinner and headed out for nearby Rosie O’Grady’s pub for a Guinness and some local socializing. Turned out the locals there weren’t the most social crowd of Irish people I’d ever met, so it was an early first night for me.
The weather continued sunny and hot, amazing the locals. I journeyed to the main bus station and bought my ticket to visit Derry the following week, so I was all set for that. Some shopping and more strolling brought me to the early evening, when I was to meet one of my old Dublin friends, Francis, at Frank Ryan’s pub in Smithfield. Ryan’s was as boisterous and fun as I remembered from my last visit six years ago. They had a blues band that kept the energy level up, and the Guinness went down just right. I managed to pour myself into a taxi around midnight, and all was right with the world.
Friday was another relaxing day, with a short evening visit to Brogan’s pub on Dame Street. The owner, Ben, actually remembered me, even after being away for six years; I was impressed with his publican skills and stayed for another Guinness or two.
Saturday was rugby day. I met Francis and his son and a friend at Slattery’s on Capel Street to watch the British and Irish Lions massacre Australia’s national team. After the match I walked back to Meeting House Square in Temple Bar for the weekly food market of exotic dishes from around the world. Bought some habanero chiles to take home and scarfed down some oysters and Guinness for lunch. Mmmm. I had some unexpected time to kill waiting for the horde of Pro-Life marchers to finish their parade so the buses could resume their routes, but finally caught a bus back to the suburbs.
After a late breakfast and early lunch on Sunday, I headed for the Stag’s Head pub to check out the much-vaunted comedy show that night around 8 PM. It was a free show, with what I supposed were amateur local comedians. The show was held downstairs in a small meeting area, which was stiflingly hot and not air conditioned or even equipped with two or three fans, which would have alleviated some of the sweat-soaked discomfort. I made it through the first half of the show, through three comedians, two of whom were fair and the third of which was what I have come to recognize as a standard British or Irish comedy act, i.e., some mildly humorous attempts and jokes followed, when all else has failed, by crass and tasteless scatological references.
Obscenity, profanity and hard-core sexual language seem to have inundated comedy in the British Isles to the extent that one rarely hears anything else, and certainly rarely hears any comedians who are actually funny. I left after the first half. The Comedy Crunch management was not amused at my Trip Advisor review; too bad, I was unable to see what other attendees raved about, based on the show I attended.
Monday I had lunch with another old bud, Will, who is now at another local language school. His school was one of the many local language schools overcrowded with foreign students. I’d forgotten what summer in Dublin was like when 100,000 foreign teenagers come to town enrolled in the English language courses. It’s always fun wending one’s way through herds and hordes of Spanish and Italian and Polish and Russian teens wandering around town when classes are over.
Tuesday it was up early and take the bus over to the Central Bus Station to connect with my ride to Derry. It was an easy 3.5-hour trip with one brief stop. We arrived at the Derry bus station, right on the River Foyle, around 2 PM. I had printed out my trusty Google map so I was ready to go looking for my hotel. As it turned out, it was only about 200 meters away, a short walk along the river then turn left on a side street and Bang – Travelodge. Checked in quickly and efficiently and found my room.
The primary reason people stay in chain hotels is for the uniformity. We always know what we’re going to get. Every Hilton or Marriott or Travelodge in the world will have, we know, the same stuff: pleasant room, reasonable prices, bad pictures on the walls, clean bathrooms, mini bar, air conditioning in the hotter climes, room safes, good security. Well, almost all Travelodges have these things. But not, of course, the one in which I stayed in Derry.
The bathroom floor was wet from a leak in the heated towel rack; no ugly pictures on the walls – in fact, no wall decorations at all – just blank walls; no room safe, in which to store valuables while out carousing around town; no mini-bar with its selection of cold drinks for the hot, weary traveler; and, most important and disappointing, no frigging air conditioning during the hottest week of the year, with the temperature outside at 85 degrees. I was not amused. But I was hot and sweaty.
Okay, time to suck it up and make the best of it. Took a quick cold shower and changed into shorts. Did my best to secrete my passport (I thought I’d need it crossing the border from the Irish Republic into Northern Ireland, part of the UK, but turned out there wasn’t even a border post anywhere to be seen) and credit cards and other important documents I would usually have kept in the room safe. I made a quick stop at the Reception Desk to let the young woman know, in my best straight face, that my room air conditioner didn’t work. With an equally straight face, she informed me that none of their rooms had air conditioning, as it was often only hot for 10 days or so each year and it wasn’t really needed.
Except, of course, when I stayed there. Apparently, a sense of humor is not one of the Derry residents’ strong points.
So, out and about in Derry. Derry is now, according to Trip Advisor, the fourth-most-visited city in the world. Yep, that’s the entire world. I couldn’t wait to see why. My map showed everything I needed to see and know about the area. It looked like a long walk around town, but it was a really large-scale map and it turned out Derry is a really tiny place and the main part of town, complete with intact old castle walls, can easily be circumnavigated in about 45 minutes. A really nice little town, despite the Troubles in the 1970s, which the residents are still trying to get past.
Anyway, I walked to Waterloo Street to check out the pubs – first things first, naturally. I stopped at Pedar O’Donnell’s to inquire of the nightly pub crawl I had seen advertised on the internet, and the young bartender informed me he had never heard of such a thing. Even a couple of locals sitting at the bar had never heard of such a thing. Was I in the Twilight Zone? Hmm, better check back later to see what’s what.
I continued my get-acquainted journey around town, into the Old Town and Castle area, through the gates set into the walls. After stopping for a much-needed beer, I found the start of the Derry Walking Tour, this one conducted by Martin McCrossen, a local man in his 60s (?) who took our group around the Walls, pointing out historic places, especially the Bogside area with its wall murals commemorating Bloody Sunday back in 1971. Actually, there are still parts of the city with high fences, separating the factions and letting people know that the violence they are trying so hard to eradicate still lies just below the surface. A shame, as it’s a nice little town.
Another shower was in order, after which a short tour of more of the town’s pubs and a bite to eat. The accents of Northern Irish people are quite different from those in the south, and are rather difficult to understand. I constantly found myself saying, “Pardon?” or “Sorry” or looking blankly at the person speaking to me with a total lack of understanding of what s/he was trying to say. It got a little better if they spoke slowly, but when they speeded up I was lost. Fortunately, the word “Guinness” is easily understood by all parties, so at least I was never without sustenance.
Wednesday, my only full day in town, I started early. I walked over to the Bogside area, the better to see it close-up. It was a long way on my map, but only about an eight-minute walk from my hotel. Lots of interesting wall murals on the buildings in a quiet, peaceful setting of row houses and apartment blocks. You’d never know what had happened there if you weren’t familiar with the history.
A nice Full Irish Breakfast set me up for the day: two eggs, beans, mushrooms, sausages, bacon, black and white pudding, toast and tea. No need to eat again until dinner. I spent the rest of the day just walking around and getting the feel of the place. There’s the Peace Bridge, which people from all over come to walk across and, they hope, continue the peace that has settled on the area. The River Foyle is beautiful and big; one of the bridges across it is a quarter-mile long. The weather was still beautiful, hot and sunny, although this day there was a cooling breeze, so it was somewhat better than the previous day.
I did some strolling and some shopping and some more close-up sightseeing. After yet another shower, I managed a light dinner and then an evening of traditional Irish music at a local pub. Always there’s music in Ireland, everywhere, all the time. Great place to relax and enjoy yourself, which I did, to my immense satisfaction. I did make a short pilgrimage to Pedar O’Donnell’s before turning in for the night; I gave the young bartender with whom I had talked earlier a brochure advertising the pub crawl that started nightly at Pedar O’Donnell’s. He looked at it like it was a snake about to bite him, shook his head back and forth and exclaimed, in a truly shocked voice, “Sorry, Mate, I still don’t know of any such thing.” But, after all, Derry is the fourth most popular tourist destination in the world.
Another monster breakfast the next morning after which I decided that since Derry was so tiny, and since I had seen pretty much all there was to see, even though I hadn’t walked across the Peace Bridge, I could catch the early bus back to Dublin without missing anything exciting. So at 10:30 it was off again on the cross-country bus. I noticed as I boarded that there were at least three experienced supervisory drivers sitting behind the obviously inexperienced woman driver behind the wheel. Oh, good, a Trainee. I have never had much luck with Trainees, and only hoped this time would prove the exception; with so many long-term bus drivers in attendance, I felt safe enough to sit back and enjoy the trip. Murphy was smiling in the last row in the bus.
The first half of the trip was uneventful and as we drove through Monaghan town to the same brief rest stop we had visited on the trip up, I was rested and ready for a stretch. The driver turned into the parking lot and cut her turn a touch too close – BANG! She had run into the short retaining wall, crushing in the side of the bus. Ooops. She had killed the bus and, not incidentally, her chances of ever becoming a full-time bus driver.
The other supervisory drivers milled around for a while, then finally had us unload our gear and switch to another bus (with a new driver!) to continue our journey. We arrived in Dublin only an hour later than our scheduled arrival time, with thankfully no more incidents.
So, the next day was Friday, July, 12, and I would be in Dublin until the following Saturday, July 20. That week would generally be one of rest and relaxation, maybe a movie or two, a few visits to the pubs, some English-language television (don’t get that in Budapest), a little more shopping for things I can’t get at home, some reading, and a general, all-around take-it-easy week. No hurries, no worries. And that was pretty much what it was, with a couple of notable exceptions.
I did the Jeanie Johnston tall ship tour on the Liffey. This ship was a reproduction of the one which had transported more than 2,000 Irish immigrants to the United States after the famine in 1845. It was noted mainly for the fact that no one had ever died on it during any of its voyages, a singular accomplishment. Or an amazing stroke of luck, as you will.
Sunday, July 14, is my grandson Nicholas’s birthday. It also happens to be Bastille Day, a holiday celebrated by French people all over the world, with Dublin no exception. To start the evening’s festivities, I met Francis and several more old friends at Chez Max’s terrace restaurant on Dame Street for some wine and music and Gallic shrugs and hugs. It was the first time I had been able to connect with Joe, with whom I had stayed when I spent the summer of 2007 teaching for Fran’s language school, and his sister Jenny and their friend Elisabeth. Good to see them all and the evening would get even better as it progressed.
We moved the party to Chez Max’s bigger place on Baggott Street. There was an outdoor terrace in the rear, filled with Irish and French and one lone American. I was the only one who didn’t know the words to La Marseillaise, but I faked it by mouthing the word “Orange” over and over again, so it looked like I was singing along with the group. There was lots of beer and dancing and getting hugged by beautiful Irish women, so I was happy. Check out my Facebook pics for a few of the better scenes of debauchery.
The following night, Monday, Fran had promised me I could join him and his friends for one of the infamous Irish pub lock-ins back at Ryan’s. I showed up there around 10 PM and it was Good to Go! The deal is, Irish pubs have to stop serving and collecting money at 11:30 every night and have to close up and get rid of everyone lest they continue to have a good time and forget to show up for work the next day. To get around this unfair and arcane government edict, what some bars do is, just before 11:30 PM, collect enough money from each person for 3-4 (or more) beers, so there is never any more payment for drinks after 11:30. Then the doors are locked (figuratively speaking, of course), and the remaining patrons can drink and, incidentally, smoke, to their hearts’ content, or at least until the bartender has enough and finally throws everyone out, which he did to us around 2 AM.
Well, it was great. We played darts (I beat Fran twice, then got my butt kicked by Collum, the local champion). We played Killer Pool, where everyone chips in 2 euro and then each person gets a turn to sink a ball; three misses and you’re out, and last person standing gets the pot. Needless to say, I wasn’t even in the running during the two games we played.
With the rules relaxed, the Irish rebel spirit tends to surface and those who still do so decided it was OK to smoke in the bar. Kind of nice to be back in a smoke-filled room again, very nostalgic; real bars should always include a haze of cigarette smoke as an accompaniment to the drinking and socializing. Of course, I wouldn’t make a habit of it, but it was fun for one night.
One day in that last week I decided to do some final shopping. Bused over to the Guinness Storehouse and still couldn’t get in to their souvenir store to buy stuff without first buying a ticket to take the brewery tour. I’d done the tour in years past, so didn’t need to do it again, but there was no way they were going to just let me buy souvenirs without screwing me out of more money just to get in. Am still very disappointed with Arthur.
That same day I was really in the mood for Chinese food and had looked up the local restaurants on the internet before coming to town. I ambled over to the Imperial restaurant on Wicklow street, only to find a big “Closed Until Further Notice” sign in their window. Sigh. Why is it always me? I finally found the New Millennium Chinese restaurant at the top of Grafton street and settled in for some Szechuan chicken and rice. Well, it was undoubtedly, unequivocally the WORST Chinese food I have ever had anywhere. The Szechuan chicken was covered with a thick tomato-based sauce and the peppers that liven it up were – are you ready for this? – jalapeno peppers! It was surreal. I almost threw the dish back at the chef, but I was hungry and forced myself to down it all. But never go there if in Dublin – you’ll be as sorry as I was.
Fortunately, later in the week I happened on the Golden World Chinese restaurant on George’s Street, and it was great, so I had my Chinese food fix after all.
And then it was Friday, my last full day in Dublin. I cleaned up the house, packed up my stuff (barely making the Ryan Air weight limit for checked bags) and headed into town for an early dinner. I decided on one last Guinness at The Stag’s Head pub in the center of town, always a great venue on a Friday evening after work. Of course, Murphy was snickering in the background again. I got my Guinness and joined the other patrons outside where four or five bars form a T intersection of three streets. The joint was jumping, the craic was flowing and there was even a live band at one of the pubs.
I decided a final photo was also in order, so I asked a lovely young Irish woman to oblige me, which she did. We got to talking, her date (it was their first date) came back with more drinks, and I ended up talking with them all evening, until they finally left around 10 PM – when, by the way, it was still light out. Susan was a real doll, fun, great Irish lilt, happy and definitely feeling no pain. She’s on my Facebook Hall of Fame, being quite affectionate; I would have been more so in response, but it was her date taking the photo, so I thought maybe I should restrain myself. But it was hard. I did give her my card and entreat her to come visit me, but, of course, that only happens in the movies.
And that’s basically it for my three weeks in Ireland. Another good trip and, thanks to my landlords, one during which I didn’t have to spend money on accommodation, thus allowing me to visit the pubs more often and even buy a Trinity College sweatshirt. After my return to Budapest I didn’t get to settle down for several days, due to more visitors in town, but finally I had a chance to write this Blog Update so everyone can follow my continuing adventures.
Next trip? Who knows? I’d like to do a short trip in August, since I’ll have to be in Budapest during September and the first half of October to get my residence permit renewed. Of course, August is when everyone else in Europe goes on vacation – shop owners, merchants, pub managers, restaurant people – everyone, so too many places are closed then and not worth visiting. But hope springs eternal and we shall see. I’m still doing research on my family tree and may be able to visit one or more of the European cities/towns where my ancestors lived to look for more evidence of my predecessors. I’ll let you all know. Until then, have a great summer and watch this space for more exciting adventures of Yours Truly.