Tuesday, December 25, 2001

It Is Beginning to Feel Like Christmas

It Is Beginning To Feel Like Christmas

Christmas Eve is the big event here in Hungary, the day that is celebrated with fun and festivities. Since we are not anticipating any friends calling on us, nor invitations to any Christmas parties, it is another day for us. In years past, we did not have a grand social calendar outside of our own Christmas parties, so this was not a major adjustment. Our big event this year is going out for dinner tonight. We booked a table at the Inter-Continental restaurant for their Christmas Eve buffet. I saw it advertised in the Budapest Sun and thought it would be nice to have a really nice meal. Ron went to “investigate” and this is the menu as they presented it.

I am allergic to most fish and I despise the taste of most of the others. Generally, anything that spent its life underwater is not going to be martyred for my dinner plate. Ron, on the other hand will eat anything that swims, walks, flies, crawls, or hops. He is still working on the slithering things, but that will probably come eventually too. At the first glance of the menu, it looked like an overeaters prayer, especially one with returned taste buds. It was the second look that the choices narrowed quite a bit. With the idea that this was Christmas, it was easy to settle for what I could and would eat and allow Ron the opportunity of the full banquet.

Goose liver pate with cranberry sauce

Stuffed eggs with caviar

Breaded marinated carp fillets

Smoked salmon and swordfish with creamed Japanese horseradish sauce

Gallia ham with melon and blueberry sauce

Caesar Salad

Hungarian fish soup

Ujhazy chicken soup

Steamed shrimp with chili sauces and wild rice

Breaded filet of carp with chive scented potato salad

Catfish stew “Dorozsma” style

Sesame seed scented chicken bits with barbeque sauce

Veal stew with gnocchi

Whole turkey on carving board

Roasted pork bits “Brasso” style prepared in wok

Parisian garnish (Assorted grilled and streamed vegetables, buttered Brussels spouts, spinach pudding, potato croquettes, etc.)

Salad bar with two kinds of dressings

Fresh fruits

Christmas pudding

Chestnut variations

Cheese plate

Homemade bread and rolls with butter

Cost 6,000 Forints per person

When people ask why we have not been to the Scandinavian countries yet, the reason is that I am afraid of starvation. They are heavily dependent on fish for their diet.

Our reservations were for 8:30 pm. We left our apartment at 7:00. Since the subways were not running, we had to walk. It is not a long walk, about twenty minutes, but it was cold, about twenty degrees Fahrenheit. The plan was to go to the bar first and have a beer before going on to the restaurant for dinner. We stopped at another hotel lobby halfway there ostensibly to see their Christmas decorations, but in reality to feel the effectiveness of their heating system. As soon as you entered the lobby, there was a huge real Christmas tree beautifully decorated, but what drew our attention was over to one side, there was a Gingerbread House about the size of a large child’s playhouse, with fake snow surrounding it. The house was decorated with frosting and candies just like in the storybook version of Hansel and Gretel. As in the story, there were two children in the yard approaching the house with sparkles in their eyes from the sight of the candy and gingerbread. However, standing guard over the house was a nasty looking strega as the Italians call her, an old crone. We did not ask questions from anyone, since we did not want to be asked questions in return. Questions like, “Can I help you? Are you a registered quest?”

It was only minutes more to the Inter-Continental Hotel bar, where we were assured warmth and a wonderful view since the hotel sits on the Danube River. As we sipped our drinks, we talked about Christmases past and the memories that we have created through our travels. Our first Christmas, we did not leave on our vacation until days after Christmas and celebrated the holiday in our home in Modesto, but then took off for France, Italy and Greece. The second year was more exotic. We maximized my frequent flyer miles and went to Japan, China, Thailand, and Singapore. Christmas, New Years, and my birthday were all celebrated in Thailand. Our third year was Ron’s homesick year, so we stayed domestic and went to Iowa, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Florida. We spent Christmas in New Jersey with my family and it was yet another reminder why I moved 3,000 miles away. It was the last time my mother and I spoke to each other, but we ended the vacation with a full week in Disney World, where I celebrated my birthday and had the freedom of being a child once again. Year four, we decided to learn Spanish, so we went to Costa Rica to a Language School. We stayed with a family, but there too, the main celebration is on the Eve. So on Christmas day, Ron and I and four other students went white water rafting. It was only after we were finished that we were told that it is one of the rivers that the Olympic teams uses for practicing, being rated advanced. That was also the day that my contact was cemented in my eye from river water and I had to have the school take me to an ophthalmologist to have it removed. Enjoying the taste of the Latin culture, we followed that up the next year by going to Peru and Chile. One of my life long dreams had been to go to Machu Pichu. Christmas Eve was spent in the only hotel in Machu Pichu and cost so much that we could not afford to eat dinner in the restaurant that night. We had hiked Machu Pichu earlier that day, so we ate snacks in our room, watched the clouds dancing on the mountains in the moonlight, and watched “Christmas Celebrations Around the World” on CNN International. Needing a Europe fix, in 1998, we traveled to Germany, Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic. That was our first Christmas in Hungary. At the pension, we stayed at the, the owner told Ron he should have a tree in our room if he wanted one and gave him decorations to cover it with. He then had us and the other guest for a traditional Hungarian dinner on Christmas Eve, since the restaurants would be closed. The following year, we took our first cruise. We chose a small ship that would only accommodate one hundred and fifty people and the course was that which followed Darwin’s route through the Beagle Channel and visiting the southern most settlement in the world. We started in Ushuaia, Argentina, but after the cruise flew to Buenas Aries and then on to Chile. Last year, we were on our second cruise, but this time in Egypt floating down the Nile. That was another life long dream come true. After spending two weeks in Egypt, we flew to Turkey for another two weeks. The joke of the years is that after our first trip to Europe, as we were traveling home, Ron dreamily shared “That was so wonderful. We will have to do another trip someday.” Since he had his eyes closed at the time, he could not see the reaction on my face at the word ‘someday’. Little did he know what life with me was going to involve. We were fortunate too that between Christmas, we were able to fit in many domestic mini-vacations besides.

Here we are again, back in Budapest. At 8:30 pm, we moved from the bar to the restaurant. Our table was perfectly placed directly in front of the castle on the hill on the Buda side of the city. It was lit up like a fairytale palace and was a stunning and romantic panorama to be eating by. Surprisingly, the restaurant was not as busy as I had expected it would be. We ate in total leisure one course at a time, returning for an additional bite when we chose. Each time we returned to our table our used plates had been removed. There were plenty of choices that appealed to me and I felt no need to feel deprived by not eating fish, having had equal choices. And I had my first Christmas pudding cake. It was sinfully rich, devilishly heavy, and heavenly delicious.

The walk home was cold, cold, cold, but the air was so crisp and there was a light dusting of snow falling without much enthusiasm. The Christmas lights were lit all through our path back to the apartment. It was some enchanted evening for sure.

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