Travels With Myself

A Personalized Periodic Update, just for my family and friends, of the Ongoing Adventures of Your Favorite World Traveler

Name:
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. Now I travel extensively, and have been to more than 65 countries. I have had six books published, mostly about my travels - see my author's page on amazon.com. I have made friends from 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, past, present and hopefully in the future.

Friday, January 24, 2014

VAMOS A LA PLAYA!

Playa de las Americas, that is. On the Canary Island of Tenerife, in the Atlantic Ocean, west of Morocco.
Isn’t this a wonderful age we live in? We can get instantaneous news as events unfold halfway around the world; we can talk to a friend on another continent using a small electronic instrument that fits in the palm of our hand; we can even end a sentence with a preposition and no one notices. And we can jump on an airplane and fly off from winter to summer in just a few hours. Which, of course, is what I did.
Winter, as usual, descended upon Budapest and I, as usual, did my standard initial hibernation routine to minimize its impact. I didn’t even come out when I reached my Biblical three-score-and-ten years in December, figuring it was best to continue to lay low. However, finally, on January 6, 2014, after a rather quiet interim since my last trip, I set out for the sunny climes of the Canary Islands, specifically Tenerife, more specifically Playa de las Americas, home of sun, sand and surf.
I left Budapest at 7 PM on Monday, January 6, and arrived in Tenerife around 2 PM Tuesday, January 7, after an overnight layover in Berlin. I had thought I could hang out in the Berlin airport until my flight left at 9:30 the following morning, but it was not to be. The airport actually closed for the night, so I had to find myself a hotel room nearby. Caught a local bus and got my room, slept a few hours and returned to the airport around 6 AM; and all for just 50 euros.
Anyway, the weather was warm and inviting when I got to Tenerife. No passport control, so I just waited calmly for my bag to pop out of the baggage control chute….and waited…and waited….and waited. A Swedish flight had arrived at the same time as mine, so their bags came off first and shoved ours out of the way. Finally, our bags began to arrive… and I waited….and waited. No bag yet. Suddenly, out of the blue, the airport’s staff made a bone-chilling announcement: around 400 kilograms of baggage had apparently been left in Berlin by our airline, so if our bag didn’t come down the chute at some point, we were to inform the airport office and they’d process our claim.
Oh, Joy. I had only the clothes I was wearing. I sweated and worried and started to get ready for the long wait involved in any bureaucracy processing anything, when someone announced that more bags were coming down the chute. I scurried over and, lo and behold, there came Borderline, my faithful suitcase. The Travel Gods were smiling on me again. I grabbed my case and headed outside into the 75-degree heat (23 Celsius). Found the local green Titsa bus and rode it into the center of Playa de Las Americas (hereinafter referred to as LA). After a nice eight-minute stroll, I was at my hotel.
I was booked into the Sol Tenerife, just on the edge of the LA section of Arona in the far southwestern tip of Tenerife. Two 11-story towers, separated from the beach by a privacy wall and fence, with an access gate for hotel guests. Two swimming pools. Immaculately-landscaped grounds, a spacious lobby and a Reception and Check-in area manned by only two hotel staff; and they ran their cute little Tenerifian butts off trying to get the arriving crowds checked in. I hadn’t seen such hard workers in any hotel in years, especially in Spain, where pretty much everything moves at a much slower pace. I would shortly learn, however, that everything in Tenerife was geared to the tourist and, consequently, everything was set up to process all activities with a maximum of speed and a minimum of waiting time.
I found my fourth-floor room and unpacked quickly, as always. Every room in this hotel had a sea view and a balcony with which to enjoy that view and the sunsets and sunrises. Another plus for the Sol Tenerife. The hotel also served a buffet breakfast that must have processed nearly one thousand people every morning, and they did it with style and panache, speed and efficiency. Food counters were replenished promptly and vacated tables were cleaned and reset so quickly it was doubtful anyone had to wait more than a minute or so to find a vacant table. Major kudos to the staff at this hotel. They did this incredibly fast and efficient work in a happy, smiling manner, always ready with an “Ola!” and a smile. The Sol Tenerife gets the Lukatch Seal of Approval. (NB: I do have one negative item to report – the Sol Tenerife hotel charges for the use of the in-room safe, rather a tacky thing to do in a four-star hotel. My charge was 16 euros for 11 nights.)
And so, showered and changed into shorts, sandals and a polo shirt, it was out into the early evening heat of Playa de Las Americas. This playground for everyone is bordered by Los Cristianos on the south and Adeje to the north. It is a city for tourists, filled with everything any tourist of any age could want. Shops include Versace and Armani down to the tackiest tourist walk-ins. Restaurants range from five-star to fish n’ chip stands, with international foods for every taste. Hotels, B&Bs and apartments for rent go from luxury to standard beach facilities. Entertainment goes from extravaganza shows down to karaoke at the local pubs, and watering holes from dimly-lighted piano bars to stag-party venues. Theme parks for the kiddies, island tours and cruises for the adults, scuba diving, parasailing, submarine rides, jet ski rentals, you name and they have it. It may just be the ultimate tourist destination.
And the Tenerifians do it up right. Tourism is their only industry, so all of the locals invest their best efforts in ensuring the tourists continue to flood in to the islands. Wait staff, cleaners, shopkeepers, bartenders, every service industry person you meet is smiling and happy and eager to help and to welcome you to their wonderful island getaway and to ensure you have the best time ever.
My hotel was a ten-minute walk from the major tourist areas of this part of the island, along a busy main street with wide sidewalks lined with restaurants, bars, shops and other temptations to entice the tourists. Or, one could get to the same places along an Oceanside strolling path, which, it seemed, most people did, including Yours Truly on my initial exploration of the area. With the sun shining brightly and the warm ocean breezes ruffling my hair, I was ready to experience the restful and relaxing enjoyment of Playa de Las Americas for the next 12 days.
I had a pint of John Smith at a sidewalk bar and, after searching in vain for one of the most-touted paella places in the area, I settled for a nice mixed paella plate at one of the many establishments offering them. Mmmm, seafood and meat paella, washed down with an Alhambra beer; a good way to start the evening. Naturally, I was accosted during my meal by the wandering vendors, selling sunglasses and fake Rolexes, but, seasoned traveler that I am, I was able to shake them off easily and quickly and to enjoy my meal despite the frequent interruptions.
After dinner I continued my orientation stroll, getting acquainted with the general area, stopping now and then to have a beer at yet another of the ubiquitous sidewalk and Oceanside bars and restaurants. I even sat through one set of Roy Orbison’s music presented by Gerry Attrick, “The Wrinkly Rocker,” on the oceanside strolling path; what more could I ask for? But since I was still somewhat groggy from my 19-hour trip, I headed back to my hotel for some much-needed sleep. Tomorrow would be another day (obviously).
I spent my first full day in Tenerife after breakfast hanging out by the hotel swimming pool, just sitting in the sun and relaxing and soaking up all that wonderful sunshine and heat. I needed it after my initial introduction to yet another Hungarian winter. But I was restless and needed some exercise, so once again I took a long walk to check out the area in daylight. Lunchtime found me back on the “Boardwalk” again, and I decided it was time for some tapas. The meals in Tenerife are not all that cheap; the base price for a dish is anywhere from 8-10 euro, and with drinks, starter, bread, dessert, etc., I rarely got away for less than 25 euro for dinner and 15 euro for lunch. But the food was so tasty and plentiful, it was worth every euro-cent.
Back to the pool for a rest and the beginning of my base suntan, a short nap, shower and shave and out on the town in the early evening. This time I walked all the way down to the ritzier part of LA for some Szechuan Chicken and a Tsing-Tao beer at the Oriental Garden. I also wanted to check out the “amazing” Dancing Waters fountain show at a nearby outdoor shopping mall that evening.
I guess most tourist spots these days have some sort of sound and light show or Dancing Fountains. The one in LA is performed every night to various types of music, spurting its jets of water in the air and having the fountains swaying to different-colored lights and music. I watched for about 15 minutes and wandered off. Not bad, but the ones in Dubai were much better.
The night’s entertainment doesn’t usually begin until 11 PM or so anywhere in town, so I joined the early drinkers at a couple of quiet, almost deserted places until I happened upon the Brewer’s Droop, somewhat hidden on a side street. Brewer’s Droop is one of those rowdy, energetic bars where you just know you’ll find a stag party of drunken Brits. This night the revelry had started early, with several large groups of tourists ready to have the karaoke spotlight shine on them before the show. And yes, folks, I did favor the crowd with “Great Balls of Fire;” I sort of have to by now. Around 11 PM, as advertised, The Blues Brothers appeared for an hour-long show of songs, patter, comedy and audience participation. A great start to my visit. One interesting note at the Brewer’s Droop: amid all of the singing and loud music, I noticed what had to be the bar’s black and white cat snuggled up on one of the benches along the wall, sleeping and oblivious to all that noise. Must be a tough cat.
I had read the weather reports before leaving Budapest and knew that rain was expected on Thursday, so I was resigned to it. Only problem: since LA is dedicated to having everything outdoors, there are no indoor venues for those occasional rainy days, like museums or even movie theaters. Not even an indoor swimming pool or spa. I did get a massage at the hotel, but otherwise just read one of the books I had bought on my Kindle. Oh, yes, I also registered for a following-day trip to several interesting places on the island. The tour was to include a visit to the highest point in Tenerife, Mt. Teide, and then on to other various points of interest, with a stop in Garachico for lunch (which I thought was included but it turned out it wasn’t). Anyway, the rain finally broke Thursday evening, and I was able to have a beer at the Gaelic Corner and then a pizza at El Americano next to my hotel.
Friday, January 10, I was up at 6:30 AM (Yucchh!) in order to have breakfast and then walk to my pickup point near the hotel. The bus picked me up on time, around 8:15 AM, near my hotel and we took off on the first leg of our adventure. After we got out of town and on the coast road (make careful note of this timing!), our guide informed us that, due to the previous day’s rain, the roads at the top of Mt. Teide had iced over and were closed to tourist buses, so we would not be going to the top of the mountain. Did you get that? AFTER we were already on our way, and had no chance to reschedule our tour to see the natural wonder that was, after all, the PRIMARY PURPOSE of this tour, we were told we wouldn’t be seeing it. Talked about upset! Since there was nothing I could do at the time, I waited until I returned home to blast those idiots on Trip Advisor. I hope they go out of business next week.
Anyway, after fuming for a while, we all settled down to make what we could of the remainder of the trip, which, I must admit, was actually pretty good.
We got to the lava fields at the base of Mt. Teide, which were still snow-covered, then over to the small town of Icod, which boasted a really incredible Dragon Tree (supposedly 1,000 years old) and possibly the best rum I have ever tasted, both the honey-flavored and banana-flavored. I bought what I could carry. In addition, I even found some of the local Dragon’s Blood liqueur, which beat the stuff I had in New Orleans years ago by a country mile. Great stuff.
Down to Garachico at the Oceanside and a nice steak lunch. We had some time afterwards to walk around this little town, which was nicely picturesque, built, as it was, on the lava beds following an eruption of Mt. Teide some years back. Then it was up and up and up the sides of various mountains to Masca, an old Spanish village perched in the clouds, about 1,000 meters above sea level. The mountain road switchbacks were steep and narrow and basically terrifying; several people had to switch from window to inside seats, and at least one woman had her eyes closed so tightly I thought she might actually harm herself. But we made it out and over and down to the natural cliffs of Los Gigantes and finally back to the hotel around 6:30 PM. Whew!
I opted for a typical English dinner that night of fish and chips at a small chip shop on the strand next to The Bell English bar. Veddy British, don’t ya know? I caught a Johnny Cash clone at one of the nearby restaurants, and then headed out to see what the night held in store for me.
I wandered into Shenanigans around 10 PM or so after having noted it in my Internet search of things to do in Tenerife. Shenanigans’ is another high-energy bar and club, frequented mostly by Brits and featuring the “world-famous” Looney Tunes duo, two British musicians and comedians. More music, comedy and sing-alongs, which the crowd is heavily into and which we enjoyed and applauded all the way. I actually came back to this place a couple of times, the ambience was so good. The high spot that first night, for me, anyway, was the Looney Tunes rendition of one of their very own compositions, “The Germans Got The Sunbeds – Every Fookin’ One!”).
For those of my readers who have ever been to a hotel or resort with a swimming pool and which is popular with German tourists, you’ll understand this song. The crafty German tourists sneak out of their hotel rooms before daylight and drape their beach towels over the sunbeds/lounges by the pool, so as to reserve them for themselves when they finally come to the pool later in the morning; they want to be certain they have their very own lounge already waiting for them and not have to mix it up with the hoi polloi. Naturally, the well-traveled crowd responded enthusiastically; they’d obviously all been there. (NB: As a typical example of the exemplary service to be found all over Tenerife, the second time I returned to Shenanigans the bartender remembered my drink and set one down in front of me even before I ordered. Now that’s service!).
The song was clever and funny, and then the guys spoiled it by playing the Nazi Card, with raised-arm salutes, two-finger moustache, etc. The crowd loved it, but, of course, there wasn’t a German within shouting distance of the place. When the boys asked for requests, I toyed with the idea of asking for “Deutschland uber Alles,” but my well-developed sense of self-preservation kicked in nicely and I remained mute. And alive.
Saturday was a beach and pool day, soaking up the sun and relaxing. After my daily afternoon nap and shower, I found a nice little Indian food place, the Clay Oven, and had some of the best vindaloo ever, certainly beating out any of the Budapest Indian restaurants by a mile. I told the owner, “If I’m sweating, the food is hot enough.” And I was and it was. After dinner was a return to Shenanigans. This time they featured a Rod Stewart clone later in the evening, which was fun. These entertainers really do work hard for the tourists and I hope they are well-rewarded.
Sunday was another day to take advantage of the sunshine, and I did. Dinner was tapas at a nearby restaurant: garlic shrimp, albondigas and fried squid, yummy.
The Catamaran cruise I had booked for Monday came off well. It was a nice break in my usual lounging-around-the-pool days. The bus picked me up around 9:30 AM and drove all of us cruisers down to a nearby port where we boarded the F13 Catamaran, a big sucker with nets and heads and even a mini-bar. The day was just warming up and getting sunny and we all looked forward to our three-hour cruise. Our first stop took us to an area where the local pilot whales live year-round and we were able to catch a pod of these whales resting under the surface of the water, with just their fins showing. Cool. We cruised for a while, taking it easy, quaffing down the free drinks offered by the crew and soaking up the sun and ambience. We anchored for a short time near the coastline and those who wanted to do so could take a swim. Silly me, I decided to brave the waters and dove off the rear of the cat. A short dip in the testical-shriveling waters of the Atlantic Ocean was all I could take and I scrambled back on deck to a beer and a towel. Then it was back to port, just a nice relaxing cruise.
After yet another afternoon spent lolling around the pool, I cleaned up and walked across the street for my dinner and cabaret show evening at VIVO night club. I’d met one of the owners the previous night and he’d told me about this show so, for 25 euro, I thought, what the hell, and took a chance. All I knew was that it was a musical show of some sort, complete with dinner. Why not, what else did I have to do?
Well, it was fantastic. I got to the venue around 7PM for a complimentary glass of champagne, had my photo taken with the show’s two stars, Bitter and Twisted (really! Two large British guys in outrageous drag!) and we were seated for dinner by 7:30. I was with two English women at a table by ourselves, somewhat far in the back of the theater area, but it was a small enough venue that we could all see and enjoy the show easily. Dinner was three courses: soup or salad, chicken with veggies and potatoes and dessert. Drinks were not included in my price, although for another 10 euro I could have had an all-I-could-drink evening. I wasn’t in the mood for that, and as it turned out I only had a couple of beers during the night.
Then the show started. Bitter and Twisted put on a musical review that must be seen to be believed. The performance I saw was “Decades”, a musical romp from the 1950s through ‘90s. It was absolutely hilarious; I laughed so much and so hard it took three days for my facial muscles to get back to normal. The two guys (?) appeared in a myriad of the most jaw-dropping costumes – I wondered where they got them? – and lip-synched to the songs we all loved in the last half of the 20th century. For anyone who reads this and goes to Tenerife, it’s a show not to be missed.
Tuesday started out innocently enough, but would end in disaster. I took my by-now standard morning stroll around the area, checking out Monkey Beach and other parts of LA I hadn’t seen before. Sunning, lunchtime pizza, more sunning and I was ready for dinner. I’d done my homework on Trip Advisor and found what seemed to be the two best restaurants for paella in LA: La Gomera II and El Cedro. Since El Cedro was just down the street from my hotel, it was there I was headed for my second and, I hoped, best paella of my visit.
The evening was balmy, the service was fast and efficient. My seafood paella arrived within a reasonable time and was dished out to me at my table. Mmmm. As I worked my way through it, it seemed to me that the flavors were somewhat flat and not really what I expected; I guess anticipation does often exceed the actual event. Anyway, by the time I finished it I felt uncomfortably full. I paid and left and my walk back to the hotel was also difficult, as it felt as if I were the most bloated person on the planet. I actually felt like I had a huge inflated air bag sticking out in front of me.
Back at the hotel, I loosened all of my clothing and took it easy, reading for a while and then drifting off to sleep. I was awakened a short time later by stomach rumblings. Uh oh, I recognized those rumblings; the last time I’d had them was in India. Yep, FOOD POISONING! Bad shellfish, or something. Up all night, dinner coming back out of the appropriate orifices in stomach-clenching explosions. Not a good night.
Wednesday was a wash-out. Spent the day in bed, sleeping and recovering. Had some bland pasta that evening just to put something light in my poor overworked stomach, but otherwise it was just liquids to get rehydrated.
Thursday dawned bright and better. At least I’d caught up on my sleep and rested my stomach, so I was ready once again to face the world. Back to the hotel poolside and a day in the sun, reading and resting. Another light dinner, but no partying tonight. My stomach still wouldn’t take it.
Friday was my last full day in LA and I spent it slowly getting my strength back, walking around, doing some last-minute shopping, and finally just relaxing in the sun, nursing myself back to almost health. One last light dinner – how I missed all the great food I had come here for! – and it was back to pack and get ready to leave.
My plane didn’t leave until 7 PM on Saturday, so I had quite a lot of the day to kill. Breakfast, pack last-minute items, check-out by noon, hang around the pool for another few hours, catch the local bus to the airport and check-in for my flight around 5 PM. Once again, it was a 4.5-hour flight, to Cologne this time, arriving at 1 AM on Sunday, January 19. My connecting flight to Berlin didn’t leave until 9 AM, but at least the Cologne airport was open so I could catch some uncomfortable rest in the waiting area. Another flight to Berlin, another six-hour layover, and back home to Budapest around 6 PM on Sunday. I was beat, but, other than the food-poisoning episode, considered it another successful trip. What can I say: you pays your money and you takes your chances.
No major trip plans until late April, but one never knows, do one?

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