Thursday, August 31, 2006

Three Birds With One Stone


Ron and I went to Obuda today. I missed seeing the Varga Imre Museum when I was there due to lack of small bills for the admission. The small museums could not change my 5,000 Huf note that I had on me at the time. This was our first stop.

As we entered this unassuming building pawning itself off as a museum, a gracious woman attendant walked us to the cashier’s desk and then spewed off Hungarian. Ron said in Hungarian that we spoke English. She then said “Free” and waved us on. Puzzled by this, the sign on the wall shows the tickets are 500 Huf, but we took advantage of our good luck.

Imre Varga became an artist by accident. He was a graduate of the Military Academy with a degree is aeronautics. He served in WW II, where he met the sculpture artist Pál Pátyai. Due to this accidental meeting, he applied to the College of Fine Arts, launching his career. His sculptures range from the size of coins to greater than life. His work is mostly done in metals and exhibited in public places in natural environments. The work is exquisitely executed with various metals, some flat, but bent areas while others parts are hammered to create designs.

The museum has an extraordinary collection of his work, considering he has other works decorating many parts of the world. I was told he is one of the most important current artists in Hungary and now I have a great appreciation as to why. Strangely, the only reading available was in Hungarian, but the titles of each piece were in Hungarian and German or Hungarian and French.

The second stop was not as impressive. It was the Kassák Museum. Located on the first floor of an old palace, when we entered we were received, not greeted by a dour faced woman who looked upon us as intruders. After she regretfully accepted our 150 Huf each for entry, we toured the large room we had entered. Most of the paintings and sculptures displayed in this room were reminiscent of American Folk Art, being very crude and rustic in style. There was nothing to read to explain the works. Being that I appreciate American primitive art, I did have a sense of appreciation for some of the pieces. The second room, however, was more modern art leaning toward Pop or Op art styles, which leave me cold.

To the right of the major room one first enters is the reason for the museum’s existence. It is the collection of Lajos Kassák's own works. We were given a laminated sheet to do a self-tour, but the explanation of the importance of having a museum was absent. Kassák it seems was a rebel who started an avant-garde journal, but had to flee the country. He recreated his journal in Austria and later returned to Hungary. He was a writer and painter, but with the absence of meaningfully explanations, the displays were just a collection of old journals sitting behind glass shelters. Even after researching this author/artist, I could not find much in English to sweeten my impression of the museum.

As we left, we thanked Ms. Sourpus with syrupy sweet smiles, but we might as well have been the last Russians leaving the country for the response we received in return.

The final straw, oops, I mean the final museum visit of the day was the Óbudai Museum. It is diagonal to the Kassák Museum. The sign outside shows the hours as 10 – 6 Tuesday through Friday and 10 – 2 on Saturday. Today was Thursday and it was only 2 pm. There is a buzzer to ring to enter, but after doing so, we realized the door was already open.

Standing behind a desk stood a startled looking woman and a man appeared from somewhere on the left with a suspicious look on his face. If the desk were not covered with brochures and the walls with seemingly exhibits, I would have run out to check if we were in the museum or if we had broken and entered someone’s home. The woman asked us in Hungarian what we wanted. I responded with “museum”. She immediately became flustered and dug threw her desk drawer looking for tickets. For some reason, we needed two each, though we were the only visitors. Since they had nothing in English, the man volunteered to be our guide. With his 20 words of English and our 40 words of Hungarian, we managed.

To state a theme for this museum would limit its scope. The general theme was Óbuda and all that represented in the past. In one area, old Roman ruins are visible, yet next to them are old pieces of ceramic dishes that date to the 1800s. If hodge-podge were a theme, this would be it. He took us into a room and said it was a German family’s bedroom. The next room was a German family’s kitchen. Along the long corridor we walked down to enter these rooms, there were assorted artifacts of naval pieces, coins, and other assorted things. There were also more rooms to visit, but our guide suddenly said “Finished” and motioned for us to leave.

We had the sense that they were planning to play hooky today and we disrupted the escape. He saw us to the door. By this time, we were on sensory overload, so we were grateful, but we still wanted to see what was behind door number 3. Perhaps another time!

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Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Dental Surprised


There is nothing I hate more than dental surprises. I made an appointment to get my teeth cleaned and three days prior, I was flossing and broke an old root canal. As three dentists in two different countries have told me, I missed the good teeth gene somewhere.

As I sit in the waiting room of my dentist, anticipating what he is going to say, I think of the worst-case scenario. Well my worst case and his differed sharply. Not only did he have to redo the whole root canal, he has to do a crown too. The cost of the root canal… $32.00. The cost of a crown… $110.00. This is WITHOUT dental insurance since it does not exist here. I love Hungary for this reason. Dentistry is widely acclaimed throughout Europe, which the Austrians and Germans have known for a number of years. Now the Brits have caught on too. People from all over Europe now come here for dental holidays. There are even travel agents who specialize in making flight, hotel, and dental appointments for travelers. Hungarian dentists are amongst the best with dental implants.

I also love my dentist. He is kind, gentle, and look like a young version of Robert Redford.

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Saturday, August 26, 2006

Budapest Parade


Kate, a new Fulbrighter this year, our returning friends Walker and Bill, plus Ron and I joined forces to see the Budapest Parade today. This is modeled on the Love Parade in Berlin, but seems like a far cry from it. Last year, Ron and I went alone. The techno music was so loud, the vibrations alone could move you two feet back from where you where standing. This year, the theme was to include Mardi Gras and Roller Blades, so we attempted to give it another try.

The parade was to start at 2:00, but nothing in Hungary starts on time. We arrived at Liszt Ferenc ter at 2:30 to be surprised that the beginnings of the parade had passed us by already. We patiently stood waiting for over an hour watching the crowd and the um, parade if it can be termed that. In the hour of expectation, three huge flatbed trucks did roll down the street covered with humungous stereo speakers blasting noise, what some may call music. Now I cannot attribute this to age, as Kate is twenty years my junior and a professional dancer/choreographer and she was just as flabbergasted as the rest of us. The snail’s pace of the ‘floats’ was more tiring than exciting. We worked our way through the mobs heading toward Deak, but the upcoming parts of the celebration were just as colorless and eardrum shattering as what we had observed, so we by-passed it all for a coffee at Vista Café. When will this city learn what a parade is all about?

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Friday, August 25, 2006

Good-bye and Good Luck!


This seems to be our week for saying good-byes, one sadly anticipated and the other unexpectedly soon. On Monday, we took our adopted nephew out for a good-bye dinner. He was leaving today for Trinity College in Hartford, CT. Balazs earned a full scholarship provided by the Kellner Foundation who will be paying not only his room, board, and tuition, but also a monthly stipend, a new Dell laptop computer, and a travel stipend as well.

As exciting as this was for him and we were thrilled he would get this opportunity, we were also psychologically devastated at the thought of his being gone for a year. He had been our rock in dealing with all thing Hungarian that we have not been about to circumvent on our own. He has shared dinners with us at our home as well as in restaurants; he attends classical music events with Ron, because I will not. He is closer to us than my own nephews have been. He calls for advice, stops over just to chat, and there is a close bond that I have not had with any of my relatives in over thirty years.

Trying to put on a brave face, we took him to one of our favorite restaurants in the city, Troffea. Troffea is an all-you-can-eat restaurant with class. You are able to select your beverage from sodas, mineral waters, beer, wine, or champagne. The selections of food range from a choice of five soups, to dozens of salads, five prepared entrees, a refrigerated case with marinated meats that they will grill on the spot for you, a dozen vegetables, and as many desserts. We generally reserve this restaurant for special occasions since it is easy to go overboard, but this was as special an evening as they get.

Balazs was to leave Friday morning. We all knew it would not be appropriate to have all of us bawling at the airport as he waved good-bye, so we thought Monday night was our chance. Alas, he teaches through our business, so he had to return on Thursday night to give us his time sheet, so once last chance.

On Thursday night, we received a call from Angela, the former Fulbrighter who was here doing research and studying Hungarian. Due to a family emergency, she had to leave for home days sooner than planned. She was leaving on Saturday. Now we had to prepare an abrupt good-bye with someone we had spent quality time.

Balazs spent a few hours with us on Thursday night, all of us postponing the inevitable. There were no tears. We all refused to own up to our emotions. Truth be told, he is planning on returning to Hungary for Christmas and spring break. I have told him as strongly as I would my own, this is a mistake. He should be making friends and spending the holidays traveling and soaking up the US culture. I told him that I hope that what would be ultimately best for him is what would be.

We were going to go for one last dinner with Angela tonight, but our other favorite restaurant Paprika was hopping and without a reservation, it would have been a long wait. We returned to Troffea once again. Now I have to recite ‘diet’ 1,000 times before I can eat again.

Angela, sorry you had to leave so suddenly, but thanks for the good times we shared while you were here.

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Wednesday, August 23, 2006

A Shocking Day in the Neighborhood


If you have read any prior posts recently, you will know that I attempted to visit the Museum of Electrotechnics last week only to find it closed except for Wednesdays. I ambled over there again today, since it is not far from home. The guard, who tried to converse with me last week, spotted me, surprised that I returned and punched in the code for me to enter. He bla-bla-bla’ed me in Hungarian, but the gist of what I understood was I was to go up the staircase. When I reached the second floor, there were three doors on that landing, none of them open and no sign of a museum. I went to the third floor in search of a display, but found more doors, all locked. Back down to the second floor, I heard voices. I opened the only unlocked door where some electrical items were displayed. Not being an engineer, I thought this was a waste of time and was ready to scoot out just to check it off my list. Been there, done that, scratch it off. Some electrical force drew me back to the third floor where I was just about to approach a door as it opened out to me. There was a woman standing there looking as startled as I felt, but I managed to utter “Hol van museum?” I thought she was going to take me by the hand, but she led me downstairs, through some doors, and to an older gentleman who was giving a tour in Hungarian. He offered to start again with me when he was finished with this trio. With me as a single guest, he asked me how much time I had as a tour could take up to 2 hours. Whoa! Let’s squeeze it to forty-five minutes and you will still have my attention; after that I will be visiting never, never land. Ten minutes into his lecture, another visitor enters the room. The new entry does not notice me, but the guide asks if he speaks English. I jump in with the answer that he speaks it perfectly. He was one of my students from 2 years ago and his English is flawless. So we go through the various inventions of electricity with the beginnings of unipolar generators to direct current on to Bláthy’s alternating current consumption meter (1889) that is still used today. I also learned that three engineers, Károly Zipemowsky, Mkisa Déri, and Titusz Bláthy invented the transformer, enabling the transmission of AC current over long distances. This in turn led to the extensive application of electric power. There were other things that I would need study guides to remember. From here, we move to from one room to another room with other inventions, things electrical, and pictures of the Hungarians who invented them. The inventor of the hologram was a Hungarian who happened upon it accidently while working on a physics problem. Although the presentation kept my interest, I retained the information for the same time as a Chinese dinner. Science has never been my strongest area, but when I left, I had greater appreciation for Hungarian scientists. I asked why the Tour Inform website has this museum listed as being open 6 days a week, when in fact they are only open on Wednesday. He explained that their website is three years out of date. My forty-five minute request went closer to an hour plus, but I was engrossed and did not notice time passing by. This is an excellent museum to bring children to and a must see for any science teachers. From here, I wanted to finish off the museums on Castle Hill, so this meant getting to the Telephone Museum, the last one in that district. This was another museum Ron and I had attempted to visit, but arrived too late. Note that on weekends, the entrance is on the opposite block, not the address given. Weekdays, you enter through large doors into an archway, then into a courtyard. The museum is on the left side. There is a bell to ring for entry, so I did…and waited, and waited, and waited so more. I did not want to make three attempts the charm, so I waited about five minutes before ringing the bell again, thinking the staff was in a huddle gossiping in a corner of the place and did not bother with the first ring. After a few minutes of the second buzzer alert, the door was flung open by a short grey haired lady with a scowl to kill. If she were wearing a habit, she would have reminded me of the nuns that taught catechism and threw us over desks when we got out of hand. Feeling like a bad five year-old, I greeted her and waited to be invited inside. At the same time, I could not help but wonder if I dragged her off the toilet or woke her from a nap on the desk. Either way, she was a force to be reckoned with, but she locked the door behind me, so I had to tread easy or else. This was her domain and she held the key to my escape. I handed her my 1,000 Huf bill for the 200 Huf admission fee, forcing her to scrape up the change for me. This did not make my unhappy camper want to break out in song. Looking around, it was just the two of us. I spent considerable time looking over the old phones, the switchboards, and other displays which all had an English translation. I was in awe. Many decades ago, when I lived in Florida, I was hired as one of their first male operators and the prospect was thrilling. Being the first of anything is another check-off list I maintained. Sadly, it never came to fruition as the training date was postponed many times; I could not afford to continue living there and had to move back north. However, I did work as a switchboard operator for the railroad for a stint, so I could relate to some of the displays. As I perused the displays within 5 feet of the desk, I was fine. Once I moved farther away, my charmer was at my side like a small dog who was not sure if she was going to bite my ankle or not. It made me insecure about making any sudden moves, so I made visible signs that I was reading each display, while ever so cautiously moving to the next one. She must have eventually, been enveloped by the charm oozing from my aura or she has multiple personality disorder. Her mood shifted without warning and she started pointing things out to me in English, like we were the best of buds. After the large room you enter into, there are two other rooms. Each one had something of interest, even the huge connecting relays. It had never occurred to me that voice has to be changed into an electrical current and then recomposed on the other end. By the end of my personal tour, I felt like giving her a csokolom (kiss your hand), but fearful of another personality change, I settled for a sincere “Thank you” and was grateful when she unlocked the door.

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Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Museum for Vexillology


If this banner stumps you, then flaunt your new gained knowledge when you unfurl your body, hoist yourself out of your chair, and strike out for the dictionary. All of the words in italics are clues to the type of museum, though in a different context. They are all words used in association with…FLAGS.

Yes, I ventured to the Flag Museum. This is the first of its kind I had ever heard of, but here it is in Budapest. Though the address states it is at Jószsef körút 68, the only thing I could find at that address was a bar offering a lesbian sex show. I knew immediately this was wrong since I have such skill with deductive reasoning. I checked the address again and again, but this was the correct number and street. I walked up and down the street, and then crossed over to number 70 on the other side. Nope, not there either, but as I turned to come back, I happened to notice a banner of flags draped across the street on Nap utca. Sure as shoot’in, the entrance was there.

Walking down the five steps, I noticed the sole person I was to see sitting at a desk eating sunflower seeds while screaming at some poor soul on her mobile. Her desk looked like the bottom of a parrot’s cage, but she did have the courtesy to hang up the phone when I strolled up to her with money in hand. She looked a bit astonished to see someone enter her domain. The admission is 400 Huf. There was nothing listed for a photo ticket, but I did not bring my camera having a hunch it was not going to be needed.

The museum is the collection of Lászlo Balogh, obviously a vexillogist, a flag collector. If there were a sign stating how many flags were on display, I would not know noticed since nothing is in English other than the facts in the previous sentence. At first glance, I though the museum consisted of one large room only. When the bird-chow woman turned on the lights, there was a room overwhelmed with the colors of thousands of rainbows creating the pride of the countries of the world. They are divided in sections according to the globe. The first section is the Oceanic area, then South and North America, and so on.

Each flag has some information pertaining to the country it represents, though in Hungarian. My first and lasting impression of the layout was one of a junior high school geography project on amphetamines. Not only are countries represented with their flag, but parts of the country are as well. On a large map of the USA, there is a small representation of each State flag in the respective State. The same goes for the districts or counties in Germany, Spain, Argentina, and others.

Balogh must have written to an official in each country to receive a flag. There was a letter from the secretary of the King of Albania stating they do not keep flags on hand, but directed him to where he could purchase one. The letter written in English also hoped that he would enjoy the photo of the Royal family.

Whether or not a museum appeals to me, I try to be respectful of it when visiting. I spend what I thought was a respectful amount of time looking over the flags, but the attendant was back on her mobile ignoring me completely. This was fine with me; I don’t crave the attention. When I thought I had done my job and turned to leave, I realized there was now a second room lit and another display to gander at. This other room was devoted to the flags of Hungary, the cities of Hungary, the wine regions of Hungary, and anyone or any group that had a flag or banner to display.

Although I am not enamored with flags per se, I did find this interesting for the mere fact that someone has such a hobby. For an hour’s entertainment, it is an interesting place to spend an hour. I could have spent more time there if I could have read the little signs that were glued to the colorful construction paper by each flag to gain some insight, but alas for 400 Huf, you cannot have it all.

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Budapest storm 5 dead Updated Story


Budapest storm: 5 dead, 500 injured


08. 22, 2006. Tuesday 08:32
As many as five people died so far and more than 500 were injured when a storm hit Budapest during a fireworks show last night to mark a national holiday. Two were killed by a falling tree, said Pál Győrfi, a spokesman for the ambulance service. Fifteen people were in a serious condition and four had life-threatening injuries, Health Minister Lajos Molnár said at a press conference in Budapest yesterday. The storm, with winds of 120 kilometers an hour (75 miles), touched down minutes after as many as 1.5 million people gathered along the Danube River to watch the 9 p.m. firework display for the St. Stephen's Day holiday. Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány and Budapest Mayor Gábor Demszky called for an inquiry into whether organizers should have canceled the event earlier in the day. „I don't really remember what happened,” said László Somlói, 41, in his bed at Sándor Péterffy Hospital in Budapest after a tree landed on him. „If I had known what kind of weather was on the way, I would never have gone out.” An elderly woman died in unknown circumstances, while a fourth person was found after being falling into the Danube. One more person is still missing after boats on the Danube collided during the storm and five people fell into the water, said Tibor Dobson, a spokesman for the disaster authority.

On the official website ( of the meteorology institute, we all can follow the radar pictures of the storm. Watching the pictures, it is hard to understand which part of them was not understandable, or how could these pictures mean else but a heavy storm. One thing was for sure, this storm was coming with a very great strength, and the alarm did not arrive to the right decision-makers in time. For those experts who have seen some storms coming from the Balaton direction, it should not have been a question whether it was hitting the city or not. Some forecasts have promissed heavy storm, and a significant change in the weather conditions a day ahead, some were saying the storm would hit the capitol around 9 p.m. But who believes the weatherman anyway?

More than 200 firefighters were called to help handle damage from the storm last night, Dobson said. The ambulance service took more than 100 people to hospitals, said Győrfi. Most of the injuries were caused by people being hit by falling trees, branches, broken windows and debris, he said. About 134 people arrived at the Sándor Péterffy hospital overnight, and 24 had to stay for treatment. Ambulance and firefighters made a great job in helping people after the storm. Some office buildings and hotels opened their door for people running from the streets.

Damage to Budapest's public transport infrastructure is estimated at several tens of millions of forint, public transport company BKV Zrt said yesterday. Trolley bus lines were still down in the city of 2 million and routes closed. The storm caused as much as Ft 500 million ($2.3 million) of damage to homes insured by Aegon Magyarorszag Zrt in Budapest and adjacent Pest County, the company estimated in a statement. Aegon has a 40% share of Hungary's home insurance market.

Questions remain over whether the organizer of the fireworks, Hungarian event management company Nexus Reklámügynökség Kft, prepared the show in line with regulations, György Szilvásy, head of the Prime Minister's Office, said in a press conference yesterday. Nexus continued the show after it received an alert from the Hungarian police about the storm during the fireworks, Szilvasy said. The weather service also sent a „red alert” to the disaster authority at 7:39 p.m., which the authority read only four hours later, Szilvasy said.”It was not the fireworks that caused the problems but the weather,” Szilvasy said. „The investigation should reveal whether the alert was sent in time and why the disaster authority didn't do more.” The government's investigation is expected to be completed tomorrow, Szilvásy said.

St. Stephen's Day is marked by a parade through Budapest streets where the preserved right hand of the patron saint of Hungary is on display. The country, founded in 1000, resumed celebrating the national holiday in 1990. (BBJ, Bloomberg)

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Sunday, August 20, 2006

Caste Crafts


This weekend in line with St. Stephan's Day, there is a major craft fair in the Castle District. We went once and I enjoyed seeing the various crafts from the different regions of the country. This was back in the days when we were still struggling with whether or not we would stay for a year or not, so we did not fulfill my favorite hobby: shop. Now with our permanent residency, our own apartment, shopping is no longer a questionable sport. With two other Americans, we headed up the hill with mobs and gobs of others. This was a first time outing to this part of Castle Hill for our fellow adventurers, so we meandered around looking at various booths before we entered the inner-sanctum. To get closer to the palace and to the “Best of Hungarian Craft Artists”, you first need to cough up 1,200 Huf for a ticket. This annoys me since you get nothing for this fee other than the ability to spend more money on food or crafts.

After an hour of plundering through the crowd, we stopped for a snack and a drink. The day was hot and we needed hydration. After two more hours of strolling through the area on both sides of the palace and then down the winding road leading to the bus stop, we all concluded that with few exceptions, there were not exceptional crafts to be found here. Many of the items could be had at any of the craft fairs held through the year, including the Christmas Market where a fee for entry is not required. We left empty handed and a little lighter in the wallets, but still the fresh air and the views added to the pleasure of the day.

We were invited to our friends’ place to watch the fireworks, but we declined. It was fortunate that we had since the storm knocked all of our planters off the windowsills making the balcony a compost area. If we had not been home to close the living room windows, we would have been flooded. The metal screens pulled down did not block the rain from soaking the glass of the closed windows.

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Friday, August 18, 2006

Museum of Transportation


After a number of false starts I finally made it to the Museum of Transportation today. I must have passed this museum a dozen times, but never noticed it. I took the metro to the furdo stop and walked. If I had just taken the 74 bus from around the corner from my home, I would have gotten off at the stop right across the street from the entrance.

As you get close, the museum is obvious with the real, but out of service steam locomotive outside. There is also a plane and models of bridges. The fee to get in is only 400 Huf, but there are no photo tickets. If I read the sign correctly, one can use their mobile phone camera, but no cameras. Bags need to be checked, so unless your camera is small, unlike mine, there is no chance of sneaking it in.

The museum is a grand fully modern design with obvious thought put into the display space. The locomotives, railroad cars, and tramcars that were formerly functional are pleasantly spaced for room to view and walk around them. There are multiple model railroad displays throughout the first floor. They are timed to be operational for 15 minutes an hour. The entire first floor is devoted to rail transport.

Being a son of a long time railroad worker and being a rail worker myself for a couple of years, I was transported back in time to the days I accompanied my father to work. I remember riding one of the last steam locomotives as a young child and was able to ride in the engine since my dad knew the engineer.

The second floor was devoted to maritime history. The walls were covered with shipping news dating back to the Egyptians.

There are other galleries off to the right and left of the main galleries, but were roped off for some unknown reason. I could have spent much more time here; however, it was blistering hot inside. Virtually nothing was in English, making this a visual experience, but not learning one.

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Thursday, August 17, 2006

Back on the Museum Track


Today, I attempted to visit the Museum of Electricity. According to the Budapest Tour Inform website, it is open every day, but Monday. When I arrived today at 1:00, a day the website stated it was open until 6:00 pm, it was locked. The guard across the way told me it would not be open again until Wednesday. I am not certain if that is the only day it is open, but I will try it again then.

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Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Can't Dance, Don't Ask Me


A small group of us gathered to attend a Hungarian Folkdance show. It was instigated by a lovely young woman, Kate who is here to teach modern dance through the Fulbright Scholarship Program. We met at the bus and went up to Castle Hill where the venue was being held. The show must have been a sell out and we were fortunate enough to be first in line to get the best seats of the open seating. After an hour and a half of lavish costumes, we were all worn out from the expediture of exercise the dancers displayed. We burned calories vicariously. Many of the dances were male dominated with the women dancers on the side lines, moving to a lesser degree and adding window dressing to the performance. For this reason, the feminists amongst us did not care for the show. I enjoy dance of most varieties, so I had an enjoyable time. We all begged off when they offered dance lessons at the end of the show. After using that much energy, how could we possibly? We did need to replace some energy; therefore, we all made a beeline for the 24 hour Hungarian crepe restaurant to get sweetened up with dessert crepes, a great topper to the end of the evening.

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Sunday, August 13, 2006

Budapest Zoo


It is almost shameful to say that we have been here almost five years, but have not visited the Zoological Gardens. We remedied this situation today. Some American friends are renting an apartment here in Budapest for a couple of months, so we took them along. The zoo is located in City Park, just past Heroes Square and to the left. It is one of the oldest zoos in the world, having been completed in 1866. Some of the original buildings are still intact including the welcoming elephant sculptures on either side of the entrance. After visiting so many museums in the city where I was the only visitor or definitely part of a minority, it was jubilant to see the zoo was packed with families. As a botanical garden, one could not ask for better. The grounds are thick enough with trees, shrubs, and flowers to delight any gardener or anyone dazzled by plants. There is a separate greenhouse with an aquarium that we did not venture into. We were not aware that it required an additional ticket when we purchased our entrance at 1,2oo Huf. Strangely, we were entranced with the greenery and was wondering where they were hiding the animals. We did see a monkey cage, though not much else until we walked further toward the back. The animals all seem to be well cared for and seem to be in twos. We found two elephants, two giraffes, two rhinos, and the same number of hippos. The rhinos were especially exciting; I had never been so close to one of these glorious creatures. It was possible to reach in and touch the sleeping giant and a small child took advantage of this, but pounding the poor rhinos side. The only response was an ear twitch. My attention gravitated to the hippos who were hamming it up for the crowd. One stood at the gate with his mouth open while people throw in food bought at the concession for this purpose. After being sufficiently satisfied that it was possible to chew without missing a morsel, he or she did so, and then opened wide for the next revelers to share the goods. The giraffe was enjoying licking the food right out of the hands of the children who were squealing with delight. Its tongue was incredible long and knowing its natural purpose is to get leaves from tall trees, made the knowledge click. I did have some concerns about the small spaces the animals had to live in. The elephant house, though beautiful in design, looked dreadfully small when the two elephants wandered in to play with the food provided. If they grew another two feet in height, they would have to stoop to get in the door. Each room was barely spacious enough for one elephant to lie down in, but fortunately, there were two rooms that they could access. We never did find the great apes, but the polar bears in their new housing were delightful to see. They did not give us the chance to see them underwater in the viewing area. They chose to stay on top and pace back and forth. I do not think this is a good sign in animal psychology. Our energy waned long before we covered the park. None of us had a good night’s sleep the night before, so we were all dragging. I would definitely return and see more, visit the hippos and rhinos again, and be a financial support for the zoo itself.

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Friday, August 11, 2006

Homeward Bound


At 6:30 am, the shuttle arrived to bring us back to the airport. Once again, we had to go through Passport Control. We were almost on a first name basis with these people. We had time before our flight, so we went to the Diners Club lounge, only to find that it is open 24 hours. In a pinch, we could have stayed there. Very thing went smoothly from this point on and we arrived back in Budapest a half hour ahead of the scheduled arrival time. Though we were sad to leave Edinburgh, we were glad to be home. As the week progressed, we agreed we would do this again next year with a longer time. We will plan two weeks instead of one, take in more Fringe events, and the Military Tattoo. Other free things that one can do here besides those I have mentioned are: In Old Town: The Brass Rubbing Centre Princes Street Gardens – we walked through it to see the pipers Tron Kirk The Writer’s Museum – we went there the last time In New Town: Scottish National Portrait Gallery Rest of the city: Ocean Terminal St. Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art Tour the Parliament To conclude whether or not the Edinburgh Pass was worth the money, I have to say that for us this time, it was. We did see exhibits that we would have felt too frugal to spend the money on and therefore missing out on them. The Mueck, Elsheimer, and Beyond the Palace Walls are three examples of things we would not have had the opportunity to be enriched by. Aye, we love the city!

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Thursday, August 10, 2006

Leaving wth Terrorist Threats


All seemed well as we traveled through our last view of Edinburgh as we rode the Airlink bus to the airport. We were leaving our hearts here, in this city that combines history and with magical festivity. It was not until we approached the final road leading to the airport check in area that the driver announced “Due to high security alerts, passengers are not allowed any carry on baggage. Please proceed to check-in immediately.” Panic spread through us immediately; we had a $2,000 laptop computer, two cameras worth over $1,500 and a new china teapot, we had purchased. Surely, these would be allowed as hand luggage. As soon as we entered the terminal, we were handed a paper. The only things allowed as ‘carry-on’ were glasses without the case, contact lenses, but no solution, a wallet, but not a purse, and travel documents: ticket, boarding pass, and passport. There were no exceptions. All of the allowable had to be put in a clear plastic bag that was provided. We could not understand what was happening, but soon found that the London police had arrested part of a terrorist cell that had plans to blow up airplanes within the UK, but going to the US. Due to this all UK airports were under high security alert. In the airport, we had to transfer the computer from the backpack to the carry-on suitcase, wrap the cameras in clothes and place them in the padded backpack and secure the teapot within clothing in the other carry-on suitcase. All of the worries for their not finding our names in the computer as we had been warned coming to Edinburgh via Prague were now superseded with new frets to occupy our minds. Worried about the heath of our equipment, I asked who would be responsible if something happened to our electronics and was informed we could make a claim at the end. We were offered to have our luggage checked through to Budapest, but due to the fragile nature, we were advised to pick it up in Prague where we could yet again have it all as carry-on. There were no alerts in Prague. We were giving “Fragile” stickers and sent to a special desk to load our goods. With our coats and little baggies of carry-on fare, we headed to security for surveillance. If a person had a bottle of water or a child with a bag of candy was in line, they were warned to finish it or turn it in for destruction by security. The limitations were severe. I took all of my cigarettes out of the box and placed them in my coat pocket or I would have risked losing them too. After going through the scrutiny of the first security check, we then went through the metal detectors, shoeless and in some cases sockless too. After this, each person was personally frisked as an added measure. Proceeding to our gate, we sat next to a Lufthansa flight boarding gate that was due to leave at 1:15 for Frankfurt, but they were still trying to locate all of their travelers at 3:00 pm. The delays spread throughout Europe. We boarded a half hour late on our Czech Airlines flight to Prague, where we had 1 ½ hours to make our connections. Arriving in Prague, we had to go to the Czech Airlines re-ticketing counter to have boarding passes issued for the rest of our journey: Prague to Budapest, just as on the way here. I explained to the woman at the desk that our luggage was going to be here in Prague. She offered to reroute them to Budapest, but we declined after asking who would be responsible if our computer and cameras were to get damaged or never showed up. She shrugged her shoulders and could not give me a definitive answer. She snappishly stated we could go get our baggage to have as a carry-on, but there were no guarantees we would make the flight. I asked if they would rebook us for the next flight if we did miss it without a fee. She agreed that would be possible, but there were no more flights on any airline to Budapest until tomorrow morning. I said we would have to take the risk since the equipment was worth over $3,000. She was unimpressed. To get out, we had to go through Passport Control and have our passports stamped. The line was long and our nerves were getting frayed. When we found the luggage carousel for our flight, the light went on and the warning buzzer sounded. The conveyor started into action. Nothing appeared. After two minutes, everything came to a halt and we had to wait. A few minutes later, the whole scenario started once more. The only item to pop through the rubber gates from the chute was a small clear plastic bag with a luggage sticker around it almost as large as the bag itself. Another conveyor belt work stoppage did not produce anything else. However, three times a charm and after the warning lights, beeps, and purring of the conveyor, luggage started to magically appear. Ours was close to the end of the line. Grabbing out things, we ran through Customs, asking the guard how to get the Terminal B-2. He looked at us quizzically and said that it was back beyond security and Passport Control. We hurriedly explained we needed to pick up our luggage and continue on. He told us to leave the area and turn left. We were half way there when Ron thought we were going to the wrong terminal, so we turned and went back. After five minutes of running with the luggage, we stopped to ask, but we were correct the first time. Turning around turning up our speed, we went through Passport Control once again, and then ran past all of the A gates to finally arrive at the gate B-2. It had closed. We missed it by 3 minutes. We banged on the clear glass door, but no responded. Leaving Ron there, I ran back to the re-ticketing desk, fifty feet away and asked if there were a chance to get on. The same woman, who gave me ultimatums before, smugly stated the airline has left and through it “I told you this would happen.” Not being in the mood to be treated like a five year old, I snapped back that I had explained the value of our equipment and since the airline was not taking responsibility, I had to take matters in my own hand. I asked her to now re-ticket us. She again had the satisfaction of saying that now that we missed the flight, we would have to leave the secure area, go to the main lobby to the Malev counter and have them re-ticket us. She added that they could not be responsible for a hotel since it was our decision not to continue on with the connecting flight. With tickets and luggage, we traipsed back through Passport Control, through Customs, and went looking for the Malev Counter. It was hidden in the far back corner and as I approached my heart sank as the lights were off. It seemed reasonable to see if there were a sign directing passengers, but as I reached the window, I noticed a woman sitting there in the near darkness. After going through the whole story once again, she agreed we would be reissued tickets for the first flight in the morning at 8:50 am. She had to call a supervisor for some reason and when this other woman appeared, she said they would make out vouchers to put us up in a hotel. Then she made a call. With the phone in her hand, she glared at me and said “My colleague said you could have made the flight, but you refused. She gave you your options.” I growled back that her colleague also told me if we chose to get our luggage, we could still be re-ticketed without penalty for the next flight. I was not asking for a hotel voucher, since I assumed that would be our expense, but less expensive than replacing our equipment. Minutes went by while the supervisor conferred with the woman on the phone. They gave us new tickets, told us what time we needed to be at the airport and then another lecture. This set me off to say that I know the EU Passenger Rights. I have a copy of them with me. By law, the re-ticketing desk, this desk, and all gates are supposed to have copies on display for consumers. At this, she held up her hand as if to shield herself from me and gruffly uttered, “Okay, okay!” Then said if we waited a minute more, she would give us a hotel voucher and transport to the hotel. I guess knowing your rights has advantages. She walked us out to the shuttle area for the hotel and told us the shuttle would be there at 8:00 pm. As we waited, we started talking to a guy from Philadelphia who was also being accommodated due to a missed flight to London. He had a paper voucher for the hotel and paper tickets for the shuttle. We had nothing. Ron went back to the Malev desk to see why we had nothing documenting their promises, but when he arrived the lights were out for good and no one was at home. He had to go to the Czech Airlines desk where he was told it was Malev’s problem, not theirs. When he insisted, they made a call, only to turn to him and give him the same lecture about how it was our fault for missing the connection. He returned empty handed. We missed the 8:00 shuttle while he was gone, but the next one was due at 9:00. The same driver returned to gather the growing crowd of disgruntled passengers. They all had paper; we had nothing. The driver did not speak a word of English, so I pantomimed that the airline made a call and said it was okay. He bought it and gave us the ride. I was waiting for the hotel to give us the run-around too. We let everyone with paper vouchers ahead of us. Then I said to the desk clerk that Malev sent us and said they arranged it. He looked at me and said are you Mr. James and Mr. Schmitz? Bingo!! We were given our room. They also had dinner waiting for us in the dining room. Either anxiety or the lumpy beds kept me awake most of the night, but it was sure better than the airport seats.

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Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Our Last Day


Sadly, all good things must end and this vacation is coming to a close. This is our last day here and we have one great regret; we did not plan to stay longer. Edinburgh is a magically delicious city under any circumstances, but with the Fringe Festival happening, it is superlative. Now we have to fit in all of the things we have yet to do. Shopping is one of them; we need to stock up on books in English. Living in Hungary, our choices are limited. First things first though. We wanted to visit the National Galleries. There are galleries spread around the city; they are not all in one location, but there is a free shuttle bus to take visitors back and forth. Our first visit was Devil in the Detail: The Paintings of Adam Elsheimer (1578-1610). The 5 pound admission was covered with the Pass. We were now saving 5 pounds 25 by using the Pass. Upon entrance to the display, we were handed a small plastic magnifying glass with which to view the paintings. Elsheimer painted in miniature and without the magnification, his genius would go unnoticed. It is out of the realm of one’s imagination how anyone could paint so exquisitely, in such incredible detail, yet so tiny. He was considered a genius in his time and was an influence for the painters to follow, Rubens and Rembrandt. Born in Frankfurt, he lived and worked most of his life in Rome. He fell into obscurity and this is the first public showing of his work since 1966. Read more about his life and work here. Across the courtyard, we experienced artistic culture shock going from miniature to oversized art. The Ron Mueck show was astoundingly real. Mueck creates lifelike sculpture that is beyond life size or in miniature detail. His ‘Gossiping Women’ are incredibly lifelike with the expectation that they will ask “What are you staring at?” at any minute. The photos are from as photography was not allowed in the exhibit. We could not help but walk around the sculptures again and again in awe of the details of the skin. The elbows were wrinkled; the cellulite in thighs was visible. It was a mind-blowing experience to witness such detailed realistic sculptures of human beings. For more photos, visit . The Pass covered admission. We were now to the good for 10 pounds 25. By taking the free shuttle bus, we were able to visit the Dean Gallery on Belford Road to see Van Gogh & Britain: Pioneer Collectors. Although, not being a Van Gogh fan, this was interesting in the fact that it was a collection amassed by Brits. This was the first solo Van Gogh show in Scotland for over 50 years. The crux of the show is that these are works owned by British collector over the years, many having been donated to museums since, but others still privately owned. Other than working through the park to see the pipers play or to do some last minute shopping, our day was winding down until we had to arrive at 5:00 pm for our Mummenschanz show. This show is indiscernible. Two Swiss men and an Italian-American created this show. They wanted to create theater that transcended languages; therefore, the entire show is without word. The best way to understand it is to visit their website at . We were held in a state of enchantment while they performed some contortionist movements, while not recognizing that it was a person doing them. The show lasted an hour, so we had time to stroll before doing our last walking tour from the Cadies and Witchery Tours. This one being The Murder and Mystery Tour. Again, the Pass, our last Pass event for this trip, covered this tour. The cost of 7 pounds 50 brought our total savings to 17 pounds 85 by buying the Pass. This tour had a different guide, Adam Lyal (deceased) and ‘guest ghosts’ than the Ghosts and Gore Tour from last night. Some of the territory covered was the same, yet there were differences as well. The guide, the ghosts, and the information were again exceptional. The tour lasted 1 hour and 15 minutes as did the other one. We did not realize there were similarities between the two when we booked them both, but since they were part of the Pass, it did not matter. However, after having done them both, it would not be unreasonable to do both of them even if we were to pay the fees. Each was fun entertainment, with some knowledge thrown into it. The cost was not much more than going to a movie, but held greater entertainment value. A souvenir book was provided, but since it was the same as the one we had, we declined it this go-around. One can only assume that this company saves a fortune on health insurance and other employee benefits by hiring ‘deceased’ staff. Highly recommended! or

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Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Dynamic Earth and Royal Culture


Foregoing our usual caffeine run, Ron insisted that we visit Dynamic Earth: the mother of all great adventures. This had really peaked his interest and we saw it each morning as we headed to our coffee junction. The very modern building stands out from the base of Arthur's Seat, the closest thing to a mountain in the city. The building is in competition with the very unusual design of the Parliament, but holds its own being so close to the traditional architecture of Holyrood Palace.

Entrance was part of the Pass, so we saved a hefty 8 pounds 95. What we had not realized until it was too late, was this exhibit should have come with a warning label, “Those over 16 years old need to be accompanied by a child.”

As you enter, you will find yourself in a large room with various scientific displays that are specifically aimed at young inquiring minds. You are then led by a guide into the next room to ‘start your adventure’. When the door opens, you are entering a huge elevator that ‘takes you through time’. Once you have embarked on this time travel, you are held hostage in the exhibit until you have transgressed each successive exhibit. We scuttled our way through each room that we were free of a guide, until we reached a place where we were dependent on the guide to open the next discovery room to us to make our great escape. We left our initial group thousands of years behind us and caught up with a group of Japanese tourists who were light years ahead of the rest. At one point, I felt like I was living the movie Logan’s Run. Living is learning and I blame Ron for this learning experience, though it did reduce our pass balance to 13 pounds 25.

From here, we bee lined it to to The Elephant House for our morning lattes. It was fun to be where JK Rowling rocked her baby in the carriage as she jotted notes and names for her first Harry Potter novel. It is a popular place with locals outnumbering tourists if the accents overheard were gave any clues at all. The place was hopping, but we were able to get a table in the back room with the view of the castle in the distance.

Two museums always get my attention in Edinburgh are the Royal Museum and the Museum of Scotland. These museums are both free and are actually connected to each other. You can go from one to the other from inside. The Royal Museum is housed in fabulous Victorian building. The collections are diverse, but span the arts, sciences, and industry.

In sharp contrast, the Museum of Scotland is an extremely modern building in architectural style. It is truly an ethnographic museum, which tells the story of the Scots: the people and the culture. I love these two museums and visiting here without seeing them again would leave me feeling empty.

Since the museums were free, there was no need for our Edinburgh Pass or so we thought. However, the Royal Museum had an exhibition called “Beyond the Palace Walls” Islamic Art from the State Hermitage Museum. The entry was 6 pounds and the Pass gained us entry. Honestly, this is not an exhibit I would have paid to see, by the name. We have been to Islamic countries, giving me the impression I had seen enough. I was overwhelmed with the beauty of the exhibits, but photos were not allowed. We probably spent close to two hours in this part of the museum alone. We spent most of the afternoon in these two museums. With the entrance to the exhibit covered on the Pass, this brought the balance down to 7 pounds 25.

Having a coupon for a two for one dinner provided by our free Haggis Walking tour, at Belushi’s restaurant, we stopped there for our day’s nourishment. The next event was the Cadies and Witchery Tours – Ghosts and Gore Walking Tour at 7:00 pm.

Our guide, Alexander Clapperton (deceased) was the former Director of the Edinburgh Cemetery when he was alive in the 1840s. This hour and a half tour was entertaining, education, and just plain fun. As we roamed parts of the city, we met other ‘deceased’ inhabitants of the city who shared their stories as well. This tour is highly recommended for the wit and cleverness of the tour guide and his assistant ghoul. They may be deceased, but they are effervescent with enthusiasm when showing the city. A secondary reward was the book souvenir presented to each of us, Adam Lyal’s Witchery Tales: The darker side of Edinburgh. The fee of 7 pounds 50 was included in the Pass, but it would have been worth shelling out the money for had it not. This further credits our Pass now starting the savings of 25 pence. For further information visit their site at or e-mail them at .

Dealing with the dead and their lively energy, brought our tired bodies back to life too. We walked around the Royal Mile for some time, and then wandered over to the Hard Rock Cafe. We visit the HRC in every city we go to that has one just to buy a pin as a souvenir. Nearby is the Oxbow Bar. We had to stop there for a beer too. Ron is an Ian Rankin fan, a mystery writer from Edinburgh. His character, Rebus, hangs out in the Oxbow Bar, but we found that Rankin does as well.

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Monday, August 07, 2006

Putting the Pass into Action


Today, we initiate the Edinburgh Pass. As we use it, I am going to deduct the entrance fees that we saved by using it to see if it was worth the money. I realize there are things we will use it for that we normally would not pay an entrance fee for and these things will be noted also.

To start the Pass, you just need to sign the back and use it for the first time. There are three days of transportation included, but they are not Pass dependent. In the folder with the pass are three cards with the months of the year, days of the week, and various years. In order to use a transport pass for a particular day, you just scrape off the coating on a particular day, similar to instant lottery tickets. You show this to the bus driver each time you get on a bus. There are no trams or subways in the city, so this is a limited option.

Pass cost 45 pounds - minus transport for three days at 6.90= 38.10 balance.

By-passing our regular coffee fix, we first went to the Queen's Gallery, by Holyrood Palace, the official residence of the Queen when in Scotland. The admission to the gallery was 5 pounds. The current exhibition was Canaletto in Venice, featuring the work of Giovanni Antonio Canal (1697-1768). King George III purchased the collection in 1762. Over seventy drawings of Venice were on display along with some paintings. We had never heard of this artist prior, but the drawings were minutely detailed with cross-hatching and small singular lines. However, being that the whole collection was of Venice and only Venice, it did get tedious after the first room. No photos allowed.

Everything in this gallery is from the Royal Collection and changes. 38 pounds 10 – 5.00 for entrance fees = 33.10 balance.

Although the work of this artist woke us for the day, the next stop was our java hut, where we sat outside in the brisk air and sunny morning gearing up for the rest of the day.

Also in the Pass is entrance to Unfolding Pictures: Fans from the Royal Collection. When we asked about it, we were told the card did not include entrance to the Palace, so we were under the impression this gallery must be in the Palace itself. We did not see it.

The Scotch Whiskey Heritage Center, located at 354 Castlehill on the Royal Mile, is another place we would not normally pay to visit. Although, with the Pass, entry was free, so we forced ourselves to make the stop here. Note that the pass is only valid here until 12:30 pm. We arrived at 11:30 am. Entrance is 8 pounds 95. After a brief guided instruction of how to sniff the bouquet and sip scotch like a connoisseur, we were each given a dram of scotch in specially designed scotch glasses to demonstrate our learning. The glasses were a souvenir gift and a box for carrying it was included. It was impressive that the glass did not have any advertising on it.

From here we were led to a room to watch a short movie on the history of scotch and then on a ride through the events of scotch history. The tour lasted about 1 ½. This is not something I would otherwise seek to do, but admittedly, it was very interesting and worth the time spent. Savings on the ticket was 8 pounds 95. This now brings our Pass balance to 29 pounds 15.

Being up this far on the castle hill, we walked to castle to take pictures, but the Military Tattoo has started, so the courtyard is filled with bleachers. This event is sold out in February for the August shows. Tickets go on sale December 1st. We had no clue as to what this was, but those who were in the know were so excited about it, it was infectious. We made our way the Tattoo gift shop to find out more. This the 57th Edinburgh Tattoo celebrates the Army in Scotland and features the largest gathering of Pipes & Drums demonstrations in the courtyard of Edinburgh Castle. Over 37 countries are represented and visitors number over 217,000 visitors with 35% of them being foreign visitors.

With this event going on, the queue for the castle was more than a Royal Mile long, so we did not pursue this. We had been there in 2001 and it was not part of the Pass. The views are breathtaking from the cliffs.

Camera Obscura is part of the Pass and we went just out of curiosity. It is very close to the castle and saved us 6 pounds 95 on the Pass. The major attraction is on the rooftop, in a room where there is the Camera Obscura, the star attraction. Long before video cams, a Scottish female optician designed this obscura. Using multiple mirrors, and a wok shaped mirrored bowl, the guide can twist and turn the mirrors to show current movement of people and cars on the streets of Edinburgh. The guide gives a presentation of the history of the city and while he or she is talking, people are ‘magically’ picked up off of the bowl and placed back down again. The show is short and the rest of the center is filled with optical illusions obviously delighting children of all ages. There was no elevator visible, so reaching the rooftop would be impossible if mobility challenged. The stairwell up the five flights is narrow. The running Pass balance is now 29 pounds 15 – 6 pounds 95 = 22 pounds 20 to go.

Ready for some grub, we ventured over to the Comedy Room off of the Royal Mile where they had 2 for 1 lunch specials after 3:00 pm. We each had chicken curry and a beer for a mere 8 pounds, not part of the Pass.

Naptime was the logical follow-up at this point, so we went back to the B and B with our transport cards. I did some writing and checking e-mails while Ron took a nap before the evening’s adventures. We were fortunate to have WiFi access in the B and B, so this saved us from going to Internet cafés.

After Ron’s snooze, we had to rush off to the next Fringe event, TapEire, an Irish tap dance event. When Ron first mentioned this, I thought he had said it was Irish dancers, so I had Lord of the Dance in my mind. I could have not have gotten this more misconstrued. There was only one dancer on a plain stage. He wore a black shirt and pants, so there were no visuals other than a camera focusing on his tapping feet on a monitor above his head. The man can tap, although my analogy is tap is to dance as rap is to singing. His musicians were two men who played spoons, sticks, and a wok type pan. A further insult for the evening less than enjoyable, we were cramped in the balcony since we arrived too late for lower seats.

At the university, we had noticed that Mummenschanz 3X11 was performing as a Fringe event. I had remembered this troupe from my days on the East coast. They had played in NYC for a number of years, but I never did get to see them, but had always been curious. We were able to get tickets for our last night here, Wednesday.

On our way to our last Fringe piece for the evening, we walked by the statue for Grayfriar Bobby. This legendary, yet real dog lived the last of his days by his master’s grave, after the master died. There are many children’s books written about this little dog and he is mentioned in the Edinburgh Museum.

The Sperm Monologues was our last play of the evening. The premise is that a series of men, who were sperm donors, were able to video tape a message to their offspring for the child to view when he or she turned 18 years old. Some of the messages were hysterically funny, some sad, and some profound. There were only three actors who changed costumes, but their performances made you believe they were different men entirely. It was an enriching experience.

On the way home, we walked past Elephant Café where Harry Potter was born!

So after our first day, we had a balance of 22 pounds 20 left to use on the EP to recoup our investment of 45 pounds.

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Sunday, August 06, 2006

Let the Fringe Begin


The Fringe Festival is the world's largest arts festival. This being its 60th year, it now boasts 28,014 performances of 1,867 shows in 261 different venues dotted all over the city with a total of 16,990 performers. To see every show back to back, it is estimated that it would take 5 years, 11 months, and 16 days. There are 750 talent scouts, promoters, and producers registered for the event.

Again, we were clueless about the Fringe Festival, when we booked our airline tickets. It was only by accident when Ron was searching for things to do that he came upon it. Going to their website, did we discover what we had to look forward to benefit from. For the first two days of the festival, there are a number of shows selling tickets 2 for the price of 1. We bought tickets for five events for a total of $90.00 for both of us. Today were the first of our events.

As has become our routine, we had a quick breakfast that the B and B, but then raced to our coffee place for a cup of Joe, before moving on to the 11:00 am first presentation. We knew the event was a series of modern dances. What we did not know was that we were to enjoy was a series of eleven modern dance routines exquisitely performed by individuals, couples, and small groups. A different choreographer created each. The pleasant surprise was the one dancer who was in her senior years and danced in ‘comfortable’ shoes. By 12:30, we were visually, mentally, and emotionally high from the allure and charm. This was the 33rd International Choreographers’ Showcase. Their website is .

The second venue was at 1:00 pm, so we were a bit late to get to it. When booking the tickets, we had no idea how far it would be to get from one venue to another. Our second treat was an African dance and musical performance titled Thatha. This was held at the ‘Cow Barn’ on part of the University of Edinburgh campus. There were few seats left when we arrived and we were lucky to find two together. The music and movement continued to rocket our spirits even higher than they had already. This was a major hit of the 2005 festival and there was no doubt as to why. The dancers are from Zambia.

Walking across the campus, there are dozens upon dozens of people handing out cards, flyers, and even postcards advertising other forms of entertainment they want you to attend. I was politely taking anything handed to me as I had done on the Royal Mile for two days now. A young woman approached us and said she had free tickets for play for that afternoon. Would we take two of them? Ron was in the middle of saying we had a full agenda, but when I heard the title of the play, I stopped him.

As it turned out, it was in the middle of the afternoon, when we had nothing planned. The play “The Irish Curse, A Comedy about Men with Small Penises” was absolutely hysterical. The ‘support group’ took place in Brooklyn. It was a fantastic freebie.

With time on our hands until the next performance, we walked the streets and by great luck found Elephant and Bagels café. One of the things I miss most about living here is the lack of bagels. The variety of choices had me drooling like Pavlov’s dogs. Deciding on just one was torture, but I did it. This turned out to be the sister shop of The Elephant House, the café where JK Rowling sipped her coffee, tended to her daughter, and scribbled notes for the first Harry Potter book.

Our last performance for this evening was the Cesar Twins. Again, we knew nothing about them, but this review in the Scottish paper tells it all.

Caesar Twins And Friends 'To believe that there is one creature of such physical perfection in the world is difficult. To find Poland has produced two pushes back the very bounds of possibility. They are awesomely, breathstoppingly skilled, and have what seems to be superhuman strength. Were you to see their balances and lifts on a screen you would assume they were a special effect, and what they do in a goldfish bowl will leave you entirely unsatisfied with your guppies. Do whatever it takes to get a front row seat.' The Scotsman

Identical twins, Pablo and Pierre (really Polish sounding names) were beyond incredible. They were like two bodies with one mind, synching movements with perfection. If I could only do the same with my own two hands, I could play the piano. These men star in a book and calendars. The promotional notices at the festival were their command performance for HRH Elizabeth II. They are a must see if ever there is one.

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