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, June 10, 2015

"Veni, Vidi, Vali"

With apologies to my long-ago high school Latin teacher, Miss Williams, probably now gone to that great Coliseum in the sky; the title above is as close as I can come to “I Came, I Saw, I Left.”

My grandkids are finally old enough to be left with friends and family for a while, so my daughter Morgan and her husband Tony decided to take a real vacation this year. Tony’s ancestry is Italian, so they planned a whirlwind trip of northern Italy, touching base at Milan, Venice, Florence and Rome. I’ll always jump at the chance to visit Rome, so I decided to enhance the final weekend of their trip and meet them there. They arrived in Rome midday on Thursday, June 4, and I booked my flight to arrive Friday June 5 around noon. Their plans were then to leave for home early morning on Sunday, June 7, taking the train back to Milan to catch their flight to LA, while I’d stay over one more day and return to Budapest on Monday, June 8.

Which is actually a good thing, as my old friends and neighbors from New Mexico, Dean and Yvette Stoor, along with their son Evan, arrive in Budapest on Tuesday, June 9, for three full days. Whew! Evan will be in Central Europe performing with his university’s choir, and afterwards the family will do some touring in Czech Republic and Germany and wind up here before returning home. I haven’t seen them since I left New Mexico in 1999, so it will be a great reunion. I’ve already planned an excursion through many of the local pubs and will even give Evan a chance to do some karaoke late one night.

Anyway, Rome! Even a fast weekend in Rome gives me a chance to eat and drink all of that great Italian food and wine and beer and limoncello, so how could I pass it up? I answer my own question: I can’t. The first part of M&T’s trip included brief stays in Milan (to see The Last Supper, the Duomo and the Vittorio Emmanuelle Shopping Center), another brief stay in Venice, rent a car and drive to Florence for an afternoon (too brief, but at least they saw it), another drive into the Tuscan countryside and an overnight in Sienna, and a final battle with the drivers in Rome itself. Whew, fast but good.

My 90-minute flight from Budapest deposited me at Fiumicino Airport near Rome, where I caught the train into the Roma Termini train station and walked the ten minutes to the Hotel Texas, where Morgan and Tony had also booked. They were out running around town, so I took my standard orientation stroll (not needed so much this time, but it’s always a pleasure to walk almost anywhere in Rome). I had a nice seafood salad at Suggestum Café on the Via Veneto for lunch; good food, but absolutely swimming in olive oil. I was back at the hotel to meet the kids at 5 PM; it turned out they were waiting for me at a nearby café, George Byron’s, with cocktails and munchies. Great way to start the weekend.

Digression: The Hotel Texas is located on the third floor of an older building around the corner from the Piazza Republica. Not a lot of rooms, nice clean shiny marble hallway, minimal reception area and very basic rooms. Clean but small and lacking most amenities, including pictures on the walls, TV, minibar, air conditioning, telephone, shampoo and dresser. My room had a small bed, nightstand, small table and chair and a fan, but the carpet looked new. The bathroom is tiny tiny, with toilet and bidet and a curtained-off shower area almost large enough for me to turn around in, but also looked brand new. So, yes, it is a small place and very basic, but for the price and location it was certainly adequate. What raised it to a much higher rating is the staff, who were some of the most welcoming, friendly, chatty, helpful people I have met anywhere. I recommend the Hotel Texas for singles on a budget.

Anyway, after a couple of cocktails at Byron’s, we headed out for the place I wanted to take Morgan and Tony for dinner, a 20-minute walk which ended at the top of the Spanish Steps. They were both surprised and thrilled, as they hadn’t done that landmark yet. We drank and ate at Il Palazzetto wine bar, where I had dined when I was last in Rome in 2010. Still a great place overlooking the Spanish Steps.

As the evening cooled off and the sun went down, we walked a ways to a place I had found on the internet, the Talent Club, which was supposed to have karaoke. It may have, but since it was closed we never found out. Damn! And I really wanted Morgan to sing Summer Nights with me. Ah, well, next time.

M&T had booked their Vatican and Sistine Chapel Tours for Saturday morning, starting at 9 AM and 11:30 AM respectively. We took the metro to the Vatican area and had a nice breakfast nearby: three orders of scrambled eggs with bacon, toast, two large coffees for them and an OJ for me. 72 euro. Welcome to Roma Expensivo.
Anyway, while Morgan and Tony did their tours, I wandered around the general area, had a snack or two, checked out the nearby Castel Sant’Angelo on the Tiber River and generally just soaked up the atmosphere of Rome. When they finished their tours, we taxied over to the Piazza dei Cavalieri di Malta, site of a medieval palazzo once occupied by the Knights Templar, about whom Morgan has always had a fixation.
It was way past lunchtime, so I took them to the Piazza Navona, another wonderful large plaza where one can dine and people-watch. We had drinks and an amazing meal at the Caffe Nettuno, a seafood place where we could watch the tourists being hustled by the local souvenir sellers. And there were a lot of them. In fact, they followed us around Rome, always pushing us to buy their junk jewelry, selfie sticks, and other tourist crap. Of course, Morgan did succumb and picked up a flattened round wooden device which, when the handle was raised, popped up three small bowls for holding candy, nuts, etc. It’s a nice piece and she bargained for it like a Bedouin trader.

More leisurely strolling to the Pantheon for more drinks, then a walk back to the Piazza Barberini, past the Trevi Fountain renovation (no water this time!), checking out the sights and sounds, and ending up on the Via Veneto again at the Suggestum Café for a light dinner of pizza and drinks. Since M&T had to leave early the following morning, we decided to call it a night. I managed to drag myself out of bed around 6:30 AM to see them off; it was a short visit, but since I see them so rarely it’s always nice to be able to hang out with them.

Sunday was rather anticlimactic. M&T had some unused tour bus tickets, so I took the buses around Rome and mingled with the other tourists. By 11:30 AM the buses were packed to the rafters, standing room only and, as the outside temp was hovering around 90 degrees Fahrenheit, you can imagine what it was like inside, not to mention on the uncovered upper level of the bus. I didn’t last too long. I made it back to the Piazza Navona for another fantastic lunch at Café Nettuno. The waiters remembered me and even recommended some dishes; I chose the salami and cheese plate appetizer, which was to die for. Washed down with a couple of Peroni beers, it was just the right snack for a hot summer afternoon in Rome.

I hid from the afternoon heat until around 6 Pm, then wandered down to the George Byron café. Since it was still hot, it seemed the perfect time for a frozen pina colada, and, by Bog, it did hit the spot! I even had two of them, along with appetizers of Bresaola Rucola and parmigiana (dried salt beef with cheese, lemon, etc). If you’re ever in the neighborhood, this minuscule little café is on the corner of Via Firenze and Via Nazionale, in case anyone is interested. The main course was scallops with roasted potatoes and a nice white wine. Dessert – and I just HAD to have some – was Trufo Piano (truffles on vanilla ice cream) and a nicely chilled limoncello. Ever wonder why there are no thin older Italians?

Monday was a traveling day. Up early, train back to the airport and the 90-minute flight to Budapest. I knew the weekend would live long in my memory when the Air Host announced the Captain Pilot’s name: Attila Lukacs (pronounced like my name). Can’t ask for a better omen.

So, happy readers, another weekend under the bridge. Great time, great food, wonderful to see the kids and always amazing to be in Rome. And in just a couple of weeks it’s off to Sardinia for a beach holiday. Watch this space for more blog and pics soon thereafter. Until then, Happy Summer Solstice to all and to all a Good Night!