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, August 01, 2018

The Jewel of The Med Keeps Calling me Back

WOW! My fourth visit to Sardinia. I must really love this place. Actually --- I do! I thought about my summer beach holiday and decided I really couldn’t do any better than Alghero, Sardinia, Italy. So, what the heck. I messaged my friend Alessia at the Hotel Riviera, just one block off the Lido beach area in Alghero, asking about best time to visit. We agreed on the end of July, their high season and, even though it is usually more expensive than other times, she was kind enough to offer me a lovely 25% discount off the standard room price (including breakfast). It was an offer I couldn’t refuse.

So all I had to do was book a flight through Expedia, as usual. When I searched the flights, the one that appeared best (despite a 6:30 AM flight leaving Alghero) was a whopping $1000 US! Damn! Ah, well, I figured it must be Alitalia’s high season also, so I bit the bullet and signed up. Hey – it’s only money, after all.


I sweated through the July heat in Budapest until my flight the late morning of Thursday, July 19, 2018. I checked in at Budapest airport and requested an aisle seat, as usual. My boarding pass said Seat 2C. Hmmm, 2C? That’s in the Business or First Class section of the plane. I checked my boarding pass again and, sure enough, it said “Business Class.” I never book Business Class – too expensive and not needed on these short flights anyway. How did that happen? Damn! Well, guess I was stuck with it now, so might as well make the most of it. Maybe it would be fun after all, like the time I flew First Class when on an audit for my former financial employer.

So I settled in to a nice, wide comfy seat and the plane took off and when we reached our cruising altitude, the stewardess appeared and drew the curtains between Business Class and the Hoi Polloi in the rear. You know all those stories you’ve heard about what goes on in Business Class when the curtains are drawn? It’s so much better than that. However, as soon as the curtains closed, the co-pilot appeared and swore us all to secrecy as to what was going to happen for the next 90 minutes or so of our flight. We were not to divulge anything we saw or felt or smelled or handled or heard or tasted under penalty of never being able to fly Business Class again. The airline had our personal info from our ticket booking and could find us anytime they wanted. We were agog at this occurrence, as we never anticipated anything like it. This was so incredibly COOL.

And so, dear disappointed reader, sorry, but I can’t tell you about anything that went on during that flight. I can, however, tell you it’s a good thing I had a change of clothes in my carry-on bag. Whew! I can’t wait to save up for another Business Class booking.

I changed planes in Rome and got to Alghero around 6:30 PM and caught a taxi to the hotel. Alessia was off until Saturday, but she had left instructions with the other Receptionist, Giusy, to take care of me, and so it was another easy check-in. I’m not sure what I was expecting exactly, but I knew the hotel was in a beach area so thought it would probably have a beach feel to it.

I didn’t take too much time to inspect my room – not that there was much anyway. Very narrow and basic, but it did have a nice balcony overlooking a construction site and, farther away, the sea. I turned on the aircon full blast, unpacked quickly, changed into shorts and light shirt and went out to see if anything had changed on the Lido Beach area since my last visit in 2016.
I checked out nearby restaurant/bar Santa Cruz, to see if Tommaso was working that night, but he was off until the next day. So I strolled down the beach to Maracaibo tiny beach bar for a couple of long, cold drinks to start my visit off right. On the way back to the hotel, I stopped in at Bohan, a local Japanese pizza place. Interesting mix. A couple of Sardinian Ichnusa beers went down well along with some sushi and tempura. Then I inspected my hotel.

The Hotel Riviera is an older building, needing some refurbishment on the outside but obviously recently remodeled on the inside. Shining tile floors, new paint on the walls, upgraded bathroom fixtures, including a shower module that stuck out from one wall almost to the other wall, making it rather difficult to get by to the small toilet and bidet area behind it; my paunch barely made it and I knew if I ate too much I was in danger of not making it at all.

It’s a three-star place with a nice pool, indoor and outdoor bars (never used while I was there; must have been a somewhat boring clientele). Even with my discount it was pricey, but the main draw for the hotel was obviously proximity to the beach. There were lots of pizza places nearby, along with beach sunbed and umbrella rentals. But the room had all I needed so no worries there: TV, single bed, wardrobe, desk, chair, suitcase stand, good aircon, wall safe and balcony. I was satisfied. The breakfast buffet was overseen by Alessia’s husband Antonio, another old bud from their former hotel.

My first full day, Friday, July 20, I headed down to breakfast to see what was up. And there, fixing made-to-order eggs for early diners, was my old bud Antonio, Alessia’s husband and another of the crew I’d met several years ago. He greeted me with cheek kisses and I felt I was home again. I made my way into town to take care of a couple of admin things, including getting a weekly bus pass so I wouldn’t have to walk to and from the city every day; I knew my nights would be somewhat alcohol-fueled and I didn’t want to face those long walks back to the hotel. I ran into Gianni on the way, owner of Dietro il Carcere, another restaurant I’d frequented in the past, and he was also happy to welcome me back. It was like old home week. I made dinner reservations for the following day, eager to be back.

I decided an afternoon at the hotel’s pool was in order, just to get me into the Sardinian lifestyle of slow time, so back I went and spent the rest of the day lounging and dipping in the pool to counteract the terrific heat of the day – around 90F (35C) most of the time I was there. Of course, there was usually a nice cool onshore breeze to help counteract the heat, and my room’s aircon took care of the rest.
Late afternoon I walked the short two blocks to the Santa Cruz restaurant to see if my other old bud Tommaso was working that night, which he was, but I hardly recognized him. He’d dropped 20 kilos and shaved his head and grown a scruffy beard and I was amazed to see him, but he recognized me right off, even after three years, and was happy to greet me and to welcome me back. I had a drink with him and then bused into town to have another long drink at the Café Gilbert Ferret in the center of town and then wandered up to find dinner along the Bastioni Marco Polo, the old fort rampart overlooking the Med.

It was just as energetic and romantic as I remembered, and I was able to get a table easily, as it was too early for most Sardinian diners (7 PM). I nice carpaccio salad with fried aubergine and white wine hit the spot. And, of course, a finishing touch of seadas. Afterwards, I strolled the city, which was awash in tourists, mostly mainland Italians who took their summer vacation here. There was very little breeze that night, and the heat was sweltering. I caught the last Beach Bus home around 10:30 with a humungous crowd and dripped my way to my air-conditioned room.
My pool day was so nice I decided to stretch it to the beach, only one short block away from the hotel. It was a Saturday, which meant there would be locals and tourists flocking to the sand and surf. I managed to procure an umbrella and sunbed and spent the rest of the day being lazy. I dipped in and out of the Med, cooling off as needed. I was amazed to see so many waders up to their thighs in the cooling waters while talking on or playing with their damn cell phones. How sad.

I had a strange Megadog for lunch, but without mustard, which the server at the small beach food stand had apparently never heard of; he offered me either ketchup or mayo. Yucchh. I finally got to hook up with Alessia back at the hotel and also signed up for one of the local island tours on Tuesday, to see sights I’d missed in my earlier visits.
After my air-cooled nap, it was off to town again, first to stop at the Café Hopera for a tall cool drink or two, plus an early appetizer of prosciutto ham and melon. Yum. I also found a new store in town, Cannabis Square, that looked quite interesting. I almost bought some things there to bring home, but passed just in case. And it's a good thing I did, as there was a sniffer dog at the Budapest airport! Then it was off to Gianni’s wonderful little sidewalk/street restaurant, in the shadow of the former Alghero prison, for a soul-satisfying dinner of seafood fregulas. I smiled all the way through it and on into my after-dinner drink of mirto. It really did feel like I was home again.

Sunday was another pool day. I told you this was a beach holiday and I’d be spending a lot of time either at the pool or the beach. It was just so nice relaxing in the Mediterranean sunshine and going for swims and dips in the sea or the pool. Nothing to do, no deadlines to meet (not that I have that many nowadays anyway), no place to be at a certain time – just doing whatever I want whenever I want. Cool.
So that evening I walked down to Ramblas restaurant, just across from Maracaibo on the beach. It looked like a nice place and every restaurant I’d tried in Alghero served such wonderful food, why not? A couple of Ichnusa beers and a nice El Diablo pizza (black olives, tomato, salami, mozzarella, spicy oil and chili sauce) hit the spot. It was a really tasty pizza and I enjoyed every bit of it going down. Unfortunately, I didn’t enjoy it quite so much coming back up later that night. I was up and down with a bad stomach most of the night. I have no idea what could have caused this episode of food poisoning, but there it was. Nasty. I gave the chambermaid 20 euros to clean my bathroom; not a pretty sight.

When I told my friends about my episode at Ramblas, they all made ‘that face’ and shook their head and muttered, “aahh, Ramblas,” in that way people do when you’ve done something bad. Well, how was I supposed to know? Anyway, before choosing another place for dinner, I always checked in with them to see if there was something I should know. Fortunately, no more bad stomach nights this trip.

Monday was, as you might imagine, a bust. Although I quit barfing in the late morning, I was weak and tired all day, so spent it in bed, catching up on my sleep and letting my poor battered body rest up. Besides, I wanted to be up and about the next day for my tour. Feeling much more chipper the next morning, I was up and ready to go before breakfast. I had a very light meal. Camomile tea, some great stomach powder that Alessia had on hand for just such occasions, dry toast, cheese (to help bind) and I walked over to the pickup point a couple of blocks away. The bus was on time, 8:30, and we were away, around 25 hardy souls looking to discover some of Sardinia’s secrets that would entertain and enthrall us.
First off was a one-hour drive down the coast to the tiny city of Bosa, supposed to be a favorite tourist destination. We should have known what the tour would be like when we made our only stop on the way down, on the cliffs overlooking ….. the sea!. Which was shrouded in mist farther out, so, really, not a major sea view after all. Really wasn’t even worth the leg-stretch.

We had been allotted a three-hour stay in Bosa, which was about two-and-a-half hours too long. Really, nothing to see there. Even the castle ruins high on a hill were closed. The one Old Town cobblestone street was touristy and rather blah, but I did manage a nice spaghetti carbonara lunch at a terrace restaurant. I mainly found some shady spots on the main square and relaxed my ravaged stomach.

On the road again at 1 PM, we drove a roundabout and back-road route to Nuraghe, one of the sites of ancient, prehistoric Sardinia. At least this was interesting. The site we saw was out in the middle of nowhere. It had one remaining stone tower (of the original four), surrounded by what was left of the outer walls, which we could walk into and climb the inside steps to the top.
This site is the main type of ancient megalithic edifice found in Sardinia, developed between 1900 and 730 BCE. It’s the symbol of Sardinia and its distinctive culture, the Nuragic civilization. More than 7000 nuraghes have been found, out of a possible 10,000.

No one really knows what the function of the nuraghes was, as no written records were left by the builders. They could have been rulers' residences, military strongholds, meeting halls, religious temples, ordinary dwellings, massage parlors, houses of negotiable virtue, shoe stores or a combination of any of these things. They might have been something between a "status symbol" and a "passive defense" building, i.e., a deterrent for possible enemies.

Nuraghes could also have been the "national" symbol of the Nuragic peoples. Nuraghes may have just connoted wealth or power, or they may have been an indication that a site had its owners. In short, as noted above, no one really knows what they were for. But the one we entered was definitely worth seeing.

After our inspection of the old tower, we panted over to our air-conditioned bus and turned our vents on “High.” Then it was off to the tiny mountaintop town of Monteleone (“Lion’s Mountain”). The road up to the top is so steep we had to go through a series of five serious switchbacks, of which our driver made only three without having to back up. Once there, we visited a unique enterprise, where women made costume ‘jewelry’ out of unleavened bread. Really fascinating designs for necklaces, tiaras, pins and brooches, earrings, etc.
There are always only three women involved in each part of the process – no one known why, but it apparently has always been so. Maybe because in ancient times the number ‘3’ had sacred connotations? Again, no one knows. But it was an interesting stop to visit a place and an activity not found elsewhere. I love that sort of stuff. We also got a tasty biscuit (we’d call it a cookie) and a shot of mirto, always a pleasure.

It had been a long day and we wended our way back to Alghero, arriving around 6 PM. My stomach seemed to be recovering and, on the advice of Alessia, I decided to settle it even more with some red meat. Yum. So it was dinner at Santa Cruz on the beach, where Tommaso is one of the bartenders. He made me a couple of lovely cocktails and his kitchen prepared a beautiful steak, just right, along with some steak fries and a dessert of seadas.

In case I haven’t raved about this amazing dish before, seada is a Sardinian dessert prepared by deep-frying a large semolina dumpling with a filling of soured Pecorino cheese and lemon peel in olive oil or lard; it is then served covered with honey (which is how I take mine) or sugar. Just to be sure my stomach was working properly, I took another pack of Alessia’s powder before bed.

Wednesday morning was a half-shopping day in town, then back to the hotel’s pool and a lazy afternoon in the sun and water. I tried a couple of local (i.e., easy walking distance) restaurants for dinner, but either they were restaurants with a full bar that didn’t serve cocktails or a bar that served cocktails but no full dinners. Hmmm, strange. Tommaso’s place advertised itself as a bar/restaurant, so I guess that’s why it served both.

Anyway, I wound up at Les Arenes for a nice little steak and veggies, with some of the house red wine (not great) and, of course, my seadas. The place was packed, literally, full of families and couples and groups and one single old man. The veggies I ordered turned out to be slices of grilled aubergine, not a mix as I had hoped for. Apparently Les Arenes is so popular because of its one-meter pizza, as most of the groups and families seemed to order it (or its sister dish, the one-half-meter pizza). Probably 1/3 of a meter wide, it came on a long board so the entire family or group or whatever could dig in from all sides at the same time. Even after my unfortunate bout with the pizza at Ramblas, I wished I was in a large group so I could have had some of that loooong pizza. Maybe next time.

Thursday, another light breakfast and a nice day at the beach with the crowds of mainland Italian tourists and their families. Great weather, hot sand, skimpy bikinis, a few monokinis, way too many Speedos and the cool Mediterranean Sea just a few steps away. I could grow to like this lifestyle. I caught the 6 Pm Beach Bus to town and made my reservations for Saturday’s dinner at Mirador along the Bastioni Marco Polo. My dinner reservation that night at Gianni’s place wasn’t till 8 PM, so I stopped off at the Café Latino overlooking the harbor for a couple of cocktails, accompanied by some munchies: pizza bites, fried tortillas and cheese puffs. NB: my rum punch here was 9.5 euro; in the center of town it was 6 euro. Hmmm.

The place filled up quickly and, as I was at a table for four, I invited a middle-aged couple looking for seats to join me. Gabriele and his wife were from Rome and he was with Johnson and Johnson, and we had a nice chat while they sucked down their cocktails. He even offered to pay for mine, an unexpected pleasure. Such a great, friendly place. Why don’t I live here? (NB: If I had the money, I would!)

Then it was another fantabulous dinner at Gianni’s place; can’t get enough of that great Sardinian food. This time it was the grilled steak entrecote with potatoes rosemario, as I was still a touch leery of the seafood. A walk home along the Lido rounded out the day nicely.

Friday – yep, another pool day. Love that Med sunshine and lazing around by the pool, dipping into the cool water as needed and getting more tan by the day. But in the evening it was back to town for a cocktail or two at Café Ferret and then it was Friday Night in Alghero, which this week meant the Birralguer: Craft Beer Festival! We got five 0.2L tasting cups for 12 euro, which seemed a bargain. There were also food stalls, and I finally succumbed to a “Giant Wurstel,” which turned out to be a regular hot dog on a bun with French fries piled on top. OK, so that’s a dish that takes some getting used to. But at least this time they had mustard!
My first two beer tastings were OK, a pils and a lager, but the third, an amber beer, had me use up the remainder of my tasting tickets. Good stuff. I shared a table with a young Italian couple and their kid and their dog Bongo, who kept sniffing around my wurstel. The rock band started up and actually made my bun vibrate (the one on the hot dog). When the singer, a guy with dreadlocks down to his ankles, came on, it was time for me to take my leave. You know what they say: ‘If the music’s too loud, you’re too old.’ Sigh.

I wended my way down the Lido through the tourist and local crowds, searching for a late-night sweet anything: seadas, chocolate éclair, anything. Nothing to be had, the food stands were working overtime and the crowds were insatiable. Well, Hell! I finally gave up and collapsed into bed in my lovely air-conditioned room, switched on the TV and found Animal House showing in English. Made my night.

Saturday, July 28 – yep, you guessed it – Pool Day! Nuff said. Took the bus that evening into town for dinner at Mirador overlooking the Med and that amazing Alghero sunset. I had to stop at the Catalunya Hotel’s Skybar first for a frozen daiquiri as I gazed out over the city and its harbor for one last time until my hoped-for next visit. I got to the restaurant around 8 PM, while the sun was still above the horizon and its heat was waning. I started off with an Aperol spritz along with my first course of stuffed ravioli.
The waiters along the Bastioni Marco Polo were the only people I ever saw hustling in Alghero, as most people moved with the slowness of Sardinian time, as if they were walking underwater. Those waiters moved! For my second course, I chose the Irish Picanha steak with ‘mushed potato’ and salad. I suppose it was bound to happen someday, but I sure never expected it to happen at such a popular and renowned restaurant: a bad meal. The meat was tough and stringy and chewy, the potatoes were cold and the ‘salad’ was just some greens and small sliced tomatoes along the side of the plate. Not impressive. The ravioli was Ok, but nothing to write home about.

Did someone alert the chefs that this dish was for the older foreign gentleman eating alone, so they could fob off an inferior cut of meat on him and he wouldn’t notice or complain? If so, wait till they read my upcoming Trip Advisor review. What a shame, how the mighty have fallen. I was so disappointed; Mirador is off my list. (Well, at least the seadas and mirto were good).

Sunday, July 29, my last day in Alghero – just had to spend it at the beach. A couple of regulars recognized me by this time and waved at me as I found my spot in the sand and staked out my area for the day. I really will miss the island ambiance and friendliness of these people, as I always do when I have to leave here. The sun burned me to a nice brown color and the sea seemed especially refreshing each time I dipped into it. Nothing like this in Budapest.
On my way to dinner that evening I talked Alessia and Antonio into some photos, so you can all see what great people they are. Unfortunately, the pool guy, Gianni, must have been sucking down too many mirtos, as every picture came out a touch blurry. Ah, well, you get the idea. Dinner was once again at Santa Cruz with Tommaso. It was early, as I had to get to bed early for my 3 AM wake-up call the next morning. I chose the lamb chops with potatoes; very nice. And, of course, some limoncello and my Last Seadas; boy, will I miss those!
And that was it – again! I said my farewells to Tommasso and Antonio and Alessia, receiving my cheek kisses from all three (should I tell them what those kisses are called in Hungarian?). I got my 3:00 AM wake-up call the following morning, trudged out to the taxi and got to the airport around 4 AM. Checked in at 5 AM for my 6:45 flight, no worries. My Business Class ticket still held up on the second leg from Rome to Budapest, and this time I knew enough to bring some extra olive oil and a bunch of handi-wipes.

Will I go back next year? I guess only time will tell. I did decide that as much as I love it in Alghero, I doubt if I could live there. I’d be bored stiff within a month and inside six months, with all that great food, I’d probably explode. But for a vacation? Just the right thing. Bye for now, see you all soon.