Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Life Has Been a Bit Hectic


Life has been a bit hectic lately with our B and B guests. May has been exceptionally busy with guests leaving from and going into the same room on the same day. I am not complaining since all of them have been outstanding human beings that have enriched our lives in some way regardless of how long or short their visit has been. This is one joy of running a B and B. The other side of the coin is that I have not had time for things that I wanted to do, like write, label my photos, visit museums, and so on.

The other interruption thus far is the administration of State exams. This is the equivalent to the Masters Thesis defense in the States. This would not be such a problem if it were organized, but I have learned that is not a concept here. I was told to arrive at 9:00 sharp. At 9:15, I was the only faculty member ready to start. We started at 9:30. One faculty member read and graded a thesis, but refused to be the examiner since she was not an authority on American culture, so it was deferred to me, who had not read the thesis. There were only two exams today, but on the 14th of June, there are eight. Ugh!

As I left the campus, I had to stop at the Fulbright office to drop off a package for an American professor that was leaving something for them. A half hour later, I get a call from them asking me if I would consider being a reviewer for the Hungarians who have applied to go the States. I said I would; however, we are leaving on Saturday for Germany. They need them done by next Thursday, the day we return. Being soft, I offered to go in on Friday and read as many as I could then. On my way to a different bus than I usually take, I passed by this building, which has intrigued me. It is the home of an old, dead Hungarian painter that has been neglected for too long. It is a shame and a waste.

Before going home, I stopped at the used English book store to pick up some books that
arrived and had to go by Keleti train station. I love the building and had my camera with me.

Tomorrow is the day we go to Immigration for what should be the last time, getting our five year Residency. I have a student lined up to go with us to the local office to get our photo I.D. card giving us almost all of the rights of a Hungarian citizen.

We will be going to Dresden and Berlin, so you can read about them here.

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Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The Underground Transportation Museum - 3 Stars


This is the second in my museum series, if one could call the Citadella a museum. The Underground Transportation Museum is located in the Deák Metro station, appropriately enough since it only houses the history of the metro (subway) lines in Budapest. I have passed this place thousands of times in the last five years, have been curious about it, but never bothered to go in. There is another transportation museum in Budapest, which is outdoors.

The ticket office directly outside should not be confused as the ticket office for the museum. This is the ticket office for the metro. The museum ticket office is immediately inside, not that it much matters since it looks just like a metro ticket office and the tickets are identical. Entrance for adults is 185 Huf, less than $1.00. Your receipt for entry is an individual ticket for riding the public transport in the city. There is no difference whatsoever. It is not certain if you have regular metro tickets if you could use this in lieu of buying one, but it would make sense. The ticket seller validated the ticket just like one would when going on a bus or tram.
It is basically is the history of the subway (metro) system in Budapest. It is impressive when you find explanations and other information in English in any foreign museum. Though we were not expecting this here, it was a pleasant surprise to discover everything had been translated. After reading all of the information available, goggling at the old subway cars that were on display from different eras, we had only needed one hour for a thorough tour. I ward it three hearts out of four. It is concise, educational, informative, and there was English. Transportation is not in my top ten categories of favorites, but this was well worth an hour and you cannot haggle over the cost of admission. I give it three stars!

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Saturday, May 27, 2006

A Note to Paul Roberts


I am happy to see you returned to continue reading. You see, there are some disadvantages to living here. You cannot use PayPal to the fullest extent, there are only two TV channels in English (CNN International and BBC news), the peanut butter is awful, and will not send used books here. : (

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Friday, May 26, 2006

Saying Good-bye Yet Again


We met with Beth and Bob to say our last good-bye for the fourth time. This was the final, final though as they leave on the shuttle at 7:30 am tomorrow for the airport. Beth was a Fulbright Scholar here for one semester. She is a nursing professor in Nebraska. Bob, her husband, is a microbiologist. They are two fantastic people that we had the pleasure of sharing life experiences with over the semester. We will miss them and truly hope our paths cross again...but not in the States, here in Europe.

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Thursday, May 25, 2006

The Citadella


Ron and I wanted to see the photo exhibit at the Citadella, which Patricia and Don had talked about. It is a temporary exhibit called “Children of War”. Though they thought the photography was amazing, they felt horror at the subject matter.

We took two buses to get there and then had to hike up the rest of the hill; only tour buses are allowed at the very top. It was a clear sunny day, making the fresh air jaunt more enjoyable then the time we went in the heat of August. There was a queue of tour buses waiting to park, alerting us that there would be plenty of tourists. The views of the city are
breathtaking from up there, making it a popular place to visit.

One can walk around quite freely and go to the lower vantage point under the statue of the lady with leaf in her hands, but to go higher and into the exhibit will cost you a bit of cash. According to the brochure given to us after shelling out 1,200 Huf each, we had these things in store for our viewing pleasure:

  • An exhibit of military history with the artillery used by the Soviet army during their siege on Budapest
  • A photo exhibit of Budapest from 1850-1945
  • Waxworks and “Siege of Budapest, 1944” photo exhibit in the air-raid shelter from WWII
  • Photo exhibit in the Hotel Citadella
  • Memorial park showing the life of St. Gellért
  • Exhibit of local history of Mount Gellért
It sounded exciting and enough to fill a half a day, which was a bit worrisome since we had guests coming to our B and B. We did not have that much time. The reality is a bit different.

Our first stop was the photo exhibit. It was in-depth, the photography was amazing and there were explanations in English. Since 1940, there have been 129 wars in the world and over 300 million children have died as a result. The photos covered numerous countries from five continents, not always grouped together. Many had some short explanation. The photos were hung on both sides of the walls in a hallway in the hotel that went in a circular fashion ending where one begins. Since I did not realize this, rather than bounce from side to side, I was going to view one side of the hall and then the
opposite on my return to the entrance. When we found ourselves in the lobby yet again, Ron was too overwhelmed to join me for the other side. It was emotionally draining, so feeling I had seen enough, we just left for the next exhibit.

Walking toward the statue from the hotel and on the left was the local history exhibit of
the Mount Gellért. Four store like display windows protect the exhibit from viewers sticky fingers. What is displayed is mostly geological information, nothing visually stimulating other than a few facts about the Celts and Romans who once occupied the area.
Next, we entered the bunker. This being the shelter and the wax museum, there were separate rooms to view from a hall only with wax representations of the ‘life’ during the war. If you are hawk or a historian, you could stay busy there for an hour or more. It took us fifteen minutes to walk through and take some photos.

The “Memorial park” is a small rounded out area, which I suppose could semantically be called a park with the few flowers and shrubs in the overgrown planted area in the center. Again the history of St. Gellért is told in placards with pictures behind store front windows. Reading the explanations about the two folklore tales of his life, one being in the 1000s and the other placing him in the 1500s, there is not much to be impressed with.

If one were motivated, you could take a stairway down by the base of the statue for yet more store windows with still more displays that look as enthusiastically enticing as the rest. We decided to forsake this opportunity for more exercise. By now, Ron was getting anxious about being home in time for our guests; he took off for home and I continued on, merrily snapping pictures. The statue at the top looks just as impressive from the free viewing area, 15 feet below where I was standing, but shoot, I had paid to get in. I was going to get my money’s worth. The cityscapes were giving me chills of excitement. It was incredibly beautiful to see the whole city from here.

As I was leaving the area, I realized that what was meant by the Budapest 1850-1945 photo exhibit was in the free area. There are large billboard type photos with inserts showing various sights of the city in different years within the range stated. Was it worth the 1,200 Huf for the museums? Well, the photo exhibit was worth the 5 Euro charge, but this is a temporary exhibit. I would not pay it again unless there was another exceptional exhibit in the hotel. The view can be seen for free not that much farther down to make a difference.

Taking the back way down, I walked the trail to the Rudas thermals and took the bus to the Gellért Hotel for a picture. From there, I hopped on the 49 tram to the Great Market to wander around a bit. Realizing how often I recommend to guests that they get a langos in the market, I thought I had better do some quality assurance testing.

For the uninitiated, a langos is the Hungarian version of fried dough, but with a difference. My favorite is with shredded cheese, ham, and garlic juice. When you go up the escalator to the second floor, there is a restaurant. By-pass this and follow the food stands along the one wall. At the end of the row of food stands is the only one that sells langos. The market being a tourist attraction, the langos stand has gone commercial with ‘Mexican’, ‘Italian’ and other nationality type langos toppings, but to be assured of a cultural experience, get the type that I get or one with sour cream and shredded cheese. They are delicious, but do not plan on eating again for four hours; they are filling.
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Wednesday, May 24, 2006

The Last of the Whine


The Last of the Whine

One of the California wine growers has or had the slogan “No wine before its time”. One nice thing about ex-pat living is that you are not infiltrated with advertising slogans to the point of mental numbness. But, I digress from the point of this note. If you have read past posts, you will know I have WHINED heartily about the Visa process here, the aggravation, the expense, and so on. This is the last of the whine. We found out last night that our 5 year Residency Permits were approved and we can pick them up on May 31st. So as of now, there should be no more whining about this topic.

With this we are fully legal Hungarian residents for a period of 5 years without jumping through any further hoops, diving through any barrels, not having to play nice with Immigration officers or shell out to overpriced agencies. We will have the same rights as Hungarians do, but since we don’t speak the language, we probably will not know all of them. Up until now, we have been legal with one year renewable Visas, but we had to have Work Permits in addition. Good-bye Work Permits.

At the end of the 5 years, we have two options. We can renew the Permit for another 5 years with a simple one page application or we can apply for Hungarian citizenship. The second option is not feasible for us since we would have to take an exam in Hungarian (ain’t going to happen folks), plus we would have to relinquish our U.S. citizenship and Social Security. I still have fantasies that there will be Social Security when I am retirement age. If not, I better get more serious about my writing and start to pump out something publishable.

For those of you who are not familiar with Hungarian, there are 44 letters in the alphabet. It is part of the Finno-Ugric, which comprises Finnish, Estonian, and Hungarian; however, Hungarian is off on a branch of its own. It is one of the languages which is agglutinative, which means word meanings are modified by adding different and multiple endings or suffixes to the words, rather than using prefixes. It is not easy to learn and not easy for native speakers to understand when foreigners try speaking it.

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Hello Paul Roberts


Hello Paul Roberts,

This comment came through: “Wonderful story, you might look at using PayPal to transfer the money to the school bank account.” Thanks Paul! For a wild moment after reading your comment, I had a long ‘DUH!!’ moment and was ready to give myself a swift kick for not thinking about this. BUT, before I did something self-abusive, my memory loss was reverted. I have a PayPal account; however, gosh darn them, they will not send money to Hungary. Hungary is not in the Euro zone yet and I guess PayPal does not want to muddle around with Forints.

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Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Tossing Money to the Wind


A Hungarian benefactor living in the US gave our department at the university a check for $2,000. An American check here is worthless. You cannot cash it for less than $60.00 in fees and it takes up to six months. The faculty on the other hand was all salivating at the prospect of spending it. The list included a projector for PowerPoint presentations, an all-in-one fax/copier/scanner, and the list went on. This demanded a faculty meeting to decide how to spend this worthless piece of paper and how to cash it.

While sitting in the meeting fairly disinterested since none of my suggestions were receiving any attention, when it came around to how to cash the check, I felt six pairs of eyes burning into my face. Well here is an idea, we will give it to Ryan and he can deposit it in his US bank account in CA and then give us the money. Oh, boy! Did I NOT like that idea. But, I had them mail the check certified to a friend in CA who deposited into my account. Then the next issue was how to get it back. The options were to take it out in $400.00 increments, my daily ATM allowance from the bank with a $5.00 charge for each plus their ‘we can screw you’ currency conversion charge of 10%. Option two was more fiscally sound. I could shop for what they wanted, pay by credit card and then pay off my credit card immediately with the money in the account. They wisely chose option two for ¾ of the money.

However, the patron gave them yet another check for another $2,000. My nightmare all over again, but this time they wanted it in cash. Yikes! It seemed like a brainstorm to get a cash advance from the ATM on a credit card. I took out the max equivalent of $1,000.00 and shoved it into a pocket in my wallet. I would do this in two installments; after all, they were dependent on my generosity to get the cash either way. They would just have to wait for the cash sequel.

So I have this thick wad of Hungarian forint bills stuffed in my wallet and I am heading to the metro. This was one of those days when the ticket inspectors were checking tickets before you could attempt to get on the escalator to the trains. They mob up there like defensive guards at a sporting event. Traffic is slowed to a snail’s pace and everyone is suddenly in a hurry even if they were not five minutes before. Not being concerned, having my annual pass, I open my wallet to display it as I go gliding by onto the moving stairway. I am bumped in the back by the next anxious passenger throwing me forward as I am trying to put my wallet back in my backpack. That does not happen, though. The wallet goes flying into the air, gravity and airflow of the escalator tunnel pulling it open and forint bills go flying through the air like confetti at a wedding. A thousand dollars of forints are traveling faster than I am and in all directions. People going down are angry and disappointed that those on their way up have the catcher’s advantage and the best escape. I immediately visualize wrestling Hungarians to the ground or getting a second job to recoup this money.

When I finally reach the lower level, my reverie comes to an end, I loosen the tight grip on my wallet and put it snuggly into my backpack thinking of what could have been.

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Monday, May 22, 2006

Boldolg Szűlettesnapot


We celebrated a guest’s birthday on Sunday. It was a grand occasion for us to have a guest here for their birthday. This is the first time in our 2 year B and B history. His picture is not here to protect his identity. : )

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Saturday, May 20, 2006

School is OUT! But the losses continue


School is OUT! But the losses continue

The semester is over. Yahoo!! Yesterday when I entered the grades into the computer system, marked my last day for this semester. My only summer obligation is to be on the committee for Masters Thesis defenses on June 14th. Other than this, I am free until September.

I am publicly stating my goals for the summer to try to keep me accountable for accomplishing them. I don’t make New Year’s Resolutions, because we are usually on vacation at that time, so who in their right mind wants to resolve anything while having fun?

Here are some of my goals:

  • Move our second website to a new provider (boring)
  • Rewrite my children’s ABC book (exhilarating)
  • Rewrite my book on our travels since leaving CA (demanding)
  • Re-title all of my photos that have 200099392.jpg on them to make them more identifiable (mind numbing)
  • Visit every museum in Budapest and write a summary of it, whether or not it is appealing to me (challenging)
  • Read two novels a week (easy to do)
  • Blog, blog, blog (loving)
  • Prepare three new classes for the fall (invigorating)

Summer is so anticipatory in April, but when it actually rolls around, I miss my students. One class has been with me for four semesters; it is emotional saying good-bye to them. They become part of my extended family, having spent hours with many of them outside of the classroom as within. Many contact me over the summer months to meet for a coffee or beer; contact with them will not be totally absent. I always want to do the group hug thing, but Hungarians are not huggers. Darn them!

Yesterday, John and Mike left for the States. John was the former Fulbright Scholar who returned for a Hospice Conference. He has made inroads with the Ministry of Health by showing them money saving options for in-patient care. His partner Mike is a pleasure to share time with. We will miss them both.

In another ten days, Beth the Nursing Professor and her husband Bob will be returning to the States also. They have been exceptional company and mentally stimulating.

Our adopted nephew will be leaving in August for a year in the States. As happy as we are for him, he is closer to us than my own nephews. It will be a major void in our life not having him around. He is such a high-quality human being; he deserves the honor and scholarship he received. I will be at a loss without his assistance at the university next year. He has been indispensable with the new students, getting them oriented to university life.

In August, we will have to start our cycle all over again with meeting new Fulbright Scholars and creating a social network all over again. And life goes on.

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Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Thank you, Eleanor


I've have enjoyed your comments and travelogue tremendously. I know that I've seen you either on Travelzine or WWtraveler. I've been to Budapest twice. Once was in 1967 and the other time was 2003. I hope to return again and will certainly try to stay with you. I feel that I missed most of Budapest, after reading your Blog.

The first time we had a government guide, so saw what she wanted us to see. The second time I was so exhausted after 4 weeks in Europe that I only saw a bit. Next time it will be my primary destination and I hope to see much more. Keep writing the wonderful things you write.

Eleanor Donohue

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Tuesday, May 16, 2006

All good things


All good things…

I first inclination is to say that Patricia and Don are like family; however, each person has their own emotional connotation of family. Even for me it is contradictory, since their being who they are was more nurturing than my immediate family has been in a decade. We are feeling the loss and anticipated it hours before we awoke early this morning for our last good-byes. We tried stretching last night to greater extremes to ignore that shadow of gloom that was going to accompany the tugging pangs of separation. Yet, morning came too soon at 5:00 am.

It is astonishing to me that we met these people by accident, nevertheless, within a
week’s space at their place and a week at ours there is such a strong bonding friendship that will last over the moments in time we have shared. It was only by serendipity that Ron bought a copy of a 2001 travel guide for our 2006 trip to South Africa and found their apartment for rent in it. How the universe spins the webs of connections to bring people into our lives.

Saying good-by is not my strong point. All of my emotions rise to the surface exposing my vulnerable side to whoever is present at the time. Perhaps if I were a sufficient wordsmith, my display of sentiment would not supersede the turmoil that stirs within.

Tonight we will have to have strawberries and halva, a ritual initiated, established, shared, braced, and entrenched in our hearts all over a week’s duration with two exceptional people that we will dearly miss…until next time.

We love you two!!

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Monday, May 15, 2006

My Kingdom for a Village and a Pig


For the entire week, Don had insisted he needed to see a village. Regardless of his explanations, we could not understand why. We did everything imaginable to talk him out of it. After all, who comes to Budapest for a mere week to venture out to the country to see peasants and pigs? He persisted in wanting to see peasants and pigs, not to say that there is a relationship, but this is assuredly a pork eating culture.

It seems that the notions Americans have about this part of the world, other non-Europeans share in these ideas too. Those who have few experiences with the culture believe that there are farms for miles and civilization is somehow on a different page of the country's book. Sometimes it is true, but they are surprised when they have to travel three hours to find the experience they have in mind. Hungary does have many small cities, but they are cities. I thought I had him convinced to use a photo from the Ethnographic Museum by doctoring it up, but alas, my powers of persuasion are not as great with anyone that is not dependent on getting their university grade from me. He finally found a village called Holloko. The next question was how to get there.

Last night, while Ron and Patricia were at the opera, I had a student translate the bus schedules. This village did not have a train station, not a good sign. Don roused himself at 5:00 am to leave on the 7:00 am bus, but since Patricia was concerned; we gave him Ron’s mobile to use. We were more concerned about his returning; the buses are not regular or often. Don was off for the day for what should have been a two hour bus ride to one town, a switch of buses in Szecseny, and then his final destination of Holloko. At 9:00, I received an SMS stating that they were in the worst traffic jam and he was still in Budapest. I refrained from writing “I told you so” but I was able to think it with satisfaction. A couple of hours later, the next SMS or SOS (?) came through “Among peasants at Szecseny, but no pigs yet.”

As we wondered why he would leave this beautiful city that he found so enchanting looking for pigs, we found tremendous humor in it nevertheless. Patricia maximized her free time by going with Ron to the bookstore to buy books by Hungarian authors translated into English, some souvenirs for her children, and some grocery shopping for their trip home tomorrow. Yes, they are returning home tomorrow. Our lives will be torn apart and we will have empty nest and separation issues to drive us into therapy, but if I think about it now, I will not be able to type through the tears. I am gasping air in chunky gulps just thinking about it.

When guests go shopping, we always encourage a “Show and Tell”. Show us what you bought and tell us who is it for or where you will place it sort of thing. With Don and Patricia it is more relevant since we have been to their home, so the mind pictures are vividly realistic.
Ron, Patricia and I went to the opening of the New York Hotel for tea. Now this is a story in itself, but the New York Hotel has had a sign proclaiming “OPENING SOON” in on the front of it since we arrived here in December 2001 and who knows how much longer before that. Well it finally opened this week and we were like children wanting to visit the candy store. It is magnificent and worth the wait, especially since it just around the corner from us. The experience was lovely sitting in this elegant dining room having tea and coffees, but the one piece missing was not having Don with us. This would have made it complete, but he was off looking for pigs and peasants. We absorbed the swank atmosphere without him, thinking we would drag him back here when he ventured back. This was starting to have elements of the prodigal son theme. The waiter, who brought our check, said that he recognized Patricia from her novels and would be honored to provide her tea on the house. We were so overwhelmed with this; we authorless companions did not mind paying for our coffees, which were not complimentary. Alas, being with a recognized authoress in such ambiance is enough satisfaction.

When we returned home after going off in three different directions doing errands, Patricia did her magic and whipped up a luscious lunch to share. After lunch naps were in order, but when I awoke, the prodigal friend had returned. After spending eight hours on a bus going to a village that no tourist will ever venture to, he had stories to tell. This is what makes his friendship so endearing; his stories are fantastic and being a professional photographer, they are supplemented with visual aids as well.

Don never found the pigs, but did find cows, peasants, and fields of canola. With all of his travels, he had one hour to spend in the little village of Holloko to shoot photos before returning on the only bus that would have allowed him to return in time to share dinner with the other four guests we have invited to meet our loved South African family.

Ron is planning a buffet dinner with Patricia’s assistance. John, a former Fulbrighter who has returned to Hungary, will be here with his partner Mike. Beth a current Fulbrighter will come over with her husband Bob. We will have a full house. This is a good thing and for this we give thanks.

Post note:
John and Mike brought bottles of wine to share. Beth and Bob had bottles of wine in hand as well as a Bird of Paradise. Patricia and Don gave us a magnificently beautiful gloxinia. As a joke, Patricia, Ron, and I gave Don a marzipan pig. Dinner was wonderful, the sharing, caring and connections were amazing. Everyone had something in common with someone else, making it a great web of inter-connectedness. The whole group of us went to the New York Hotel to ogle. What a tremendous group of people we know and only because we moved here.

Here are some books by our esteemed authors, each and every one recommended reading. I would say this even if we did not love them. The books are incredibly good. Don is an editor/author/photographer for Getaway magazine focusing on Africa with an international section as well.

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Sunday, May 14, 2006

Healing Waters


Patricia was charmed by Ron’s invitation to join him at mass at St. Stephan’s cathedral, so off they went for the 10:30 mass. As soon as they were out of the front door, Ron remembered he left his keys on the counter and Patricia left her transportation pass in the room. Ron wanted either Don or I to run these things down, but both Don and I were still in our robes. Ron had to make the return trip.
They did an abbreviated mass, since the three of them were going to go to Széchenyi thermals for an afternoon of water fun. The Széchenyi Thermal Bath is o­ne of the largest spa complexes in Europe. It's also the first thermal bath of Pest. Chances are if you have seen photos of men playing chess on floating chess boards, it was this thermal. It is mixed men and women and bathing suits are mandatory. During the warm months, there are separate roof top areas for nude sunbathing. This thermal has a graduated pay system. You will pay 2,000 Huf for a locker or 2,300 Huf for a change room. If you leave within 2 hours, you will receive 800 Huf refund. Leaving between 2 and 3 hours, the refund is 500 Huf. If you really are enjoying your stay and leave after 3 to 4 hours, you will have 200 Huf refunded. After 4 hours, you do not receive a refund. To see photos of it, go to our website at and then the Thermals link.
After a late morning tea, the three water sprites made their way to the medicinal waters. I decided to lag behind, do some writing and finish up end of the semester school work. I was still at the computer when they blew in the door, Patricia especially beaming like she swallowed the sun. With a Cheshire cat grin, she exclaimed “Ron’s timing was perfect. If we had done the baths at the beginning of the week, I would have said forget history, forget culture. I just want to go to the baths every day.” Asking if they enjoyed it would have been redundant. Don and Patricia each had a massage, so they looked like two little puddles of South African butter, so thoroughly relaxed.
The four of us combined foods for a Sunday feast of cold roasted chicken, olives, salad, fresh fruit, and halva. Patricia had bought a loaf of challah bread and we broke it together and ate. We stuffed ourselves with sharing both conversation and friendship. The food was nourishing and delicious, but only poor seconds to the sharing experience.
After the dishes were done, Don and I were heading in different directions for a nap, but Ron found a soul mate for his love of opera. He and Patricia went to the other opera house to see “The Magic Flute”.
As Don and I emerged from our respective cocoons, we had a non-stop conversation traveling through a dozen threads of topics. We were planning Ron and my next vacation to Africa when the music buffs wandered back in at 10:30. The opera received accolades from our two aria fans. We sat around for our evening tea, strawberries, and halva continuing our nightly ritual and then said good-night.
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Saturday, May 13, 2006



This is not my idea on how to start a day, but our delightful guests chose to go to the House of Terror Museum the first thing this morning. Perhaps it is best to confront these issues early, by allowing the balance of the day’s events to cleanse one’s soul yet again.

This lovely Neo-Renaissance mansion that was built in 1880 was the home to two tragic organizations. The Arrow Cross, which was the Hungarian ultra-conservative party, occupied it from 1940, using it as their headquarters and prison. The Soviets continued the horrors here after their invasion and continued to use it for communist political police activities and prison. The basement contained a torture chamber. "The Public Foundation for the Research of Central and East European History and Society" purchased the building with the intention of creating a museum to remind people of the shocking events in these two eras of Hungarian history. That was in December 2000.

Since this time, there have been various demonstrations protesting the museum and its roof ledge sign, which
has House of Terror in cut out letters overhanging the street. Many residents do not believe the events that took place here should be memorialized for the public and tourists to witness. Most of the protestors are family members of victims of those tortured here. Patricia is still questioning how beauty managed to survive and reemerge after all the dreadfulness that has taken place here. Don lamented upon leaving was that this left no hope for the morality of the human race. “People are capable of great barbarity; however, the lawns, parks, and people holding hands are contradictions that are too great to comprehend.”

To renew the feelings of humanness, they went to City Park to find the Saturday flea market, but did not succeed. The green space, the people enjoying each other and their surroundings were enough. From here, they went to meet Ron at Liszt Ferenc ter where he directed them to another of our favorite eateries,
Falafel at Paulay Ede u. 53. This vegetarian salad bar has a fixed price for a small or large bowl where you serve yourself from the salad bar. Don and Patricia bought theirs to go, so when I met up with them, we took our goodies to the green space at Liszt Ferenc ter in a quasi-picnic. When I walked around taking pictures, there was a little boy who insisted I take his picture, so I did. His grandpa said he loved modeling for the camera.

Fortunately for us, there was a district fair today, so on our way to the tram, we side-tracked there. There were booths selling crafts and food, while on stage, there was entertainment. The highlight was the young dancers performing folk dances. Patricia found some whimsical shirts for their children too.

With the tram out of service (until May 19th in one direction), we started in the direction of the tram bus replacement to Nygati train station, but first we stopped for tea at my favorite cafés, Bog’Art. Bog'art Café is at Terez korut 9. What I love about it is it being a combination café with an artists’ collective. One is always charmed by the selections of art as they embrace you while sipping your drink. There are more art pieces both upstairs and down, so be sure to see it all. No food is served, but the atmosphere is delightful. Patricia said this was her favorite of all cafés we had visited.

Making our way to Nygati, we took the 26 bus to the island. In the middle ages, cloisters were built what was then called ‘Rabbits' Island’. The name was later changed in honor of St. Margaret. Margaret was a daughter of King Béla IV. She joined a nunnery on the island of which there are still ruins left in evidence. To reach the island you can take the Árpád Bridge from the north or Margaret Bridge from the south, each connecting Margaret Island with the city. The island is 2.5 km (1.4 miles) long, 500 meters (550 yards) wide, spreading out over 225 acres. In the early 19th century, royal families living in Buda transformed this island into a tremendous garden. Unlike other islands in large cities, this island has never been built over, but remains a great park in the city. Due to its healing springs, it housed a health resort that was built at the beginning of the 20th century.

All four of us were spiritually renewed by the greenery, the flowers, but most of all by the people enjoying their freedom. People all over the park were playing, sunbathing, reading, relaxing, and just being. Patricia, Ron and I chatted while sitting on the grass, while Don wandered taking fascinating photos of the people around us. We continued on for a beer at the hotel restaurant and then started back to the bus to come home. Don could not comprehend how at one time this island was victimized by war with tank tracks, yet now it was lush with harmonious happenings. The contradictions again are difficult to sort out.

As we were walking to the bus, we were approached by six maidens in t-shirts, five of which were marked with the word “Sale” and one with the word “Sold”. The lovely young woman who was claiming herself sold explained that this was her ‘Hen’ party and she had to sell parsley for blessing in her book. Minutes later, Ron realized why we had been singled out. One of her entourage was a former student of his from the university. So the bride-to-be gave us a small handmade book and asked each of us to write a blessing in it for her marriage to Péter, her intended. The delightful little book was cleverly decorated on each page with pictures and cartoons of matrimony and parenting. We each gave her our ‘blessing’ and received a small bouquet of parley as a thank you. The nuptial will take place next Saturday, so we will have to remember her. Dori and Péter, may you have a long and healthy life together.

The addendum to this is the obvious admiration that Ron’s former student had for him. She was so proud to tell him about her post-graduate position with the botany department of the Budapest Zoo. She gave him her professional business card and asked that he call her when visiting. From her demeanor, it was apparent that she held him in high esteem as her instructor, appreciating his warmth and caring.

On our way home, we detoured to one of our favorite restaurants for dinner, Szeraj Turkish Restaurant at the corner of Szent Istvan korut and Honved u. is a buffet style, inexpensive taste treat. We were lucky to snatch an outside table where we could chatter about the day and watch the world go by at the same time. Don made an interesting observation that this city is like a pack of cards that were taken apart and then put back together again just as they were with the city being rebuilt paving stone by paving stone, put back in its place.

Don wanted to experience a garden pub. Ron had hunted down an address for one on Kiraly. Some garden pubs are created by squatters. They find an empty courtyard of an used building and open a pub until they are evicted. The addresses change, but the tradition continues. The one we ventured to was not outdoors, but well off of the street down an alley. There were dozens of young people, drinking, talking, playing ping pong and other table games. The rules of the house are that you can sing or perform with the mike for 15 minutes at a time. We stayed long enough for Don to photograph the surroundings and then when home for our nightly ritual of halva and strawberries.

Patricia signed our guest book a couple of days before leaving us. She drew a little picture and placed it inside as well. Her entry:

Very dear Ron and Ryan,

I love our evening ritual (after the day of exploring Budapest) of eating fresh strawberries with halva and drinking tea.
(There is a picture here of three mugs, one tea cup and a plate with berries and halva.)

How will we return to normal working lives after these glorious days of Spring in Budapest?

Thank you for your warmth and care; for sharing your wonderful home; for taking us to the ballet, opera, holy mass, the island, Falafel feast, promenade, Govinda, Parliament, reading rooms, etc…

Thank you for your excellent friendship, which we treasure.

Best love, Patricia

The question in our minds, Ron and I, is how will we return to our normal lives after such a celebrated week that we have shared with such magnificent people?The lines in the picture are due to my scanner.

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Friday, May 12, 2006

Off We Go


Off We Go…

Don and Patricia flew into Vienna and will fly out of there also. Since Don is doing an article on traveling out of South Africa for 10,000 Rand per person, he was challenged to find the least expensive airline tickets possible. The best deal he could find was with Qatar Airlines from Cape Town to Vienna. They then took the airport bus from Vienna to Budapest and the subway from the bus station to our flat.

With this in mind, they made their first stop of the morning to the travel agency to purchase their bus tickets back to the Vienna Airport. About an hour later, I received a call from the travel agency stating they had forgotten to stamp the tickets with their agency stamp. Rubber stamps here are big business. Nothing is official if it does not have a stamp on it. They would need to return to have the tickets stamped.

Since they did not know this information about the stamps our lovely guests attempted to take the tour for the Parliament. Attempted is the key word, since they tried to get tickets for the 10:00 English tour, but the lines were so long, they could not. Instead, they headed across the street to the Ethnographic Museum.

This museum was started when it officially broke away from the National Museum in 1947. It finally found a permanent home in 1973 in what was the Palace of Justice building. The permanent exhibition "Folk Culture of the Hungarians" displays the everyday life and festivals of peasantry life of Hungarians within thirteen rooms. The collection ranges from objects collected from the end of the 18th century to World War II.

Above all, Don was taken with the angst the bourgeoisie must have endured to climb socially upward from their conditions. He was particularly amused yet sympathetic to a photo on exhibit of a peasant wedding with the bride in her white dress, but yet wearing mud covered boots. Both he and Patricia were quite taken with the history of the country. Taking photos is acceptable and Don said he was not required to buy a photo ticket to do so.

We had arranged to meet for lunch, believing they would be finishing the Parliament tour, but we did find them nonetheless. Since they both are quasi-vegetarians, we took them to Govinda. This vegetarian restaurant is run by the Hare Krishna, who are well respected here. They do much for the homeless, so they are well supported. The food is great and inexpensive. Patricia and Don were overwhelmed with the quality and quantity of the servings so we received accolades for our choice of restaurant. Govinda is located at Belgrad rakpart 18, one stop on tram 2 from the Parliament. They accept cash only.

Our happy foursome then wandered over to Szabó Ervin Library. Why would any tourist want to see a library one may ask? If you do not have inside information, this may be a
jewel that would easily pass-by without a visit. This is no ordinary library. It was once the Wenckheim Palace, a private residential palace, built by Count Frigyes Wenckheim (1842 – 1912). Arthur Meining, the architect from Saxony, built this 13,000 square meter building and is considered a masterpiece of Hungarian Neo-Baroque architecture. The building was turned into a library in 1931. Aside from the browsing area, there are 15 reading rooms, many with fireplaces and lush cushioned chairs, an Internet room, a playful children’s library with two huge dragons, 160 computers, seating for 1,000 readers, and a café. Various areas of it such as the ballroom are rented out for private functions.

I chose to wait in the sunshine while Ron toured them around. To enter, you must get a free ‘Reader’s Card’ and you need a picture ID to get this. A passport is preferred, but a driver’s license will do most of the time. When Patricia came out our famous authoress was bowled over. She lovingly shared that the library rooms enchanted her with the mixture of glass, mirrors, gilt, drapery, carving, and books. “It was wonderful to see every seat filled with a young person immersed in a book. Reflecting on the fact that library budgets in South Africa have been slashed, I wonder if it will ever reach such a point as this…Poor Africa!"

Patricia wanting to purchase some ethnic music, we wandered around the corner to a shop situated in an udvar (garden) where there is also a lovely restaurant where we could stop for tea. We spent a relaxing hour in engaging conversation and then Ron took Patricia CD shopping while Don and I continued solving the world’s problems.

Ron offered to take their tickets back to the travel agency and I was going to escort them back to the Parliament to try to get the 6:00 pm tour, the last of the day. I love this tour and have done it six times, so I really did not want them to miss it. I prepped them that the first thing on the tour was a matchstick replica of the building that a Hungarian family created and donated.

At the parliament, I left them for home and sent them on their way. When the tour guide asked the group if anyone could guess the materials of the replica, Don piped up with the correct answer squelching the bluster from the guide. Don thought it was a touch of irony that the building was inspired
by the British, but it was the British who bombed them. Both Patricia and Don were impressed with King St. Stephan’s crown on display and found the crooked cross on top a bit curious. Don is never without his tripod and ultra deluxe professional camera, so was able to capture some magnificent shots.

The Hungarian Parliament is the largest Parliament in Europe, a testament to the fact that Hungary was an administrative center for the Austrian-Hungarian monarchy, the greatest power in Europe at one time. The architect Imre Steindl designed the building which was initially planned for the celebration of the millennium of 1896, but was not finished until 1902, the year of Steindl’s death. His inspiration was partly from the Palace of Westminster. Its white neo-gothic turrets and arches stretch for over 250 meters along the Danube embankment, making it an impressive sight from both sides of the river. The building has 691 rooms, tremendous halls and over 12.5 miles of corridors. The central dome is 96-meters, the exact height of Szent István Basilica. The saying is that this was intentional so that church and state were of equal proportions. Photograph and video are permitted and the inside is as rich as the exterior. The Parliament was once two houses: the House of Lords and the House of Commons. Don observed that the former House of Lords had blue carpeting and the House of Commons was red.

Note that the official times on the Parliament website do not list this tour, but it is on the sign at the Parliament.
Tour times are listed as:
English: 10 a.m., 12 a.m. and 2 p.m.
German: weekday 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., Sunday 11 a.m.

French: 2 p.m. Russian: weekdays 3 p.m., Sunday 11 a.m.
Hebrew: 10.30 a.m. and 1.30 p.m.
weekdays 11.30 a.m. and 4 p.m., Sunday 11.30 a.m.
Spanish: weekdays 11.30 a.m. and 4 p.m., Sunday 11.30 a.m.

Japanese and other languages are available, but are not listed on the web site.

Tickets are: Adults 2.070 HUF and Children 1.035 HUF, but it is free for citizens of European Union countries if you have your passport with you.

After their tour, our two explorers walked the Danube. They came across the memorial of shoes along the river bank commemorating the Jews who were lined up on the banks and shot by the Nazis at the end of WWII when it was evident they had no time to continue transporting them to the camps. Sadly, there has been some vandalism and some of the shoes have been removed. Though the artist has vowed to replace them, it has not happened yet, but there are still enough there to impress the horrors of war on our social justice minded guests. Patricia is continually reminded of her Jewish heritage and the grievous events associated with Jewish history.

In later hours of the evening, they found their way to the docks to take a night cruise on the Danube. The hour long cruise was on the Duna Yacht and the cost was 1,700 Huf each. They were enchanted with the lighting in the castle district with Castle Hill romantically displayed on the one side of the river and with Parliament on the other.

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