Sunday, May 22, 2005

NIN at the Tabernacle

Damon and I went to see NIN last night at the Tabernacle. The show got me thinking about how my musical tastes reflect what's going on in my life.

NIN was OK, it reminded me a lot of what I was like when I was listening to NIN regularly in the mid-90's — angst ridden and trying to figure out where I fit in the world. From NIN my tastes evolved toward the Grateful Dead and Phish, I started listening to a lot of Americana and Bluegrass when Steph and I started dating. My musical tastes, like my personality, has evolved over the years into something much more mellow and happier. Trust me, this is a good thing.

Just a random thought on a slightly hung-over post concert morning.

Friday, May 20, 2005


I'm feeling very uninspired today. I am working on a few projects for work, including a presentation on Regular Expressions at ACFUG on June 1, 2005.

I've also been lagging on posting the remaining days of our travelogue. I had no idea each post would consume 1 - 2 hours of my at night . I'm halfway through writing and editing pictures from one of the most interesting days of our trip, perhaps it will be posted later tonight.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Still working on the travelogue...

This is taking so much longer than I had planned... keep checking back as I add in the missing days and pictures.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Eastern European Travelogue... coming soon

I'm getting the blog set up again after many years of no postings and many changes in life. Right now I am working through organizing and editing almost 1000 pictures from Eastern Europe. The posts are going to be dated with the real date of our vacation, so they will appear out of order.

The only thing online so far is this post at BoingBoing. We would have never seen the posters in that link if we didn't get off the bus one stop too early in Oswięcim...

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Budapest — Final Day in Europe

Happpy Anniversary to us!!!

Woke up too early this morning, again. We had a beautiful, peaceful breakfast on the patio of the B&B. The morning sun was very warm, it felt nice to eat out in the open air. Another traditional Hungarian breakfast with bread, slices sausages and meats, cheeses and local jams. The food in this town can be so simple, yet surprisingly flavorful.

We headed out for a guided tour of the Parliament building which we have heard such wonderful things about. We arrived a wee bit late — we didn't realize how long the ticket line would be — so we managed to join a 10:15 tour in English. The building is more breathtaking inside than it is from the exterior, however, we had a very hard time understanding the tour guide. A small group of French speakers thought it would be appropriate to join an English tour and then translate and generally talk over the tour guide that the rest of us paid a significant sum to hear. Why are you taking a tour in a language you don't understand when tours are offered in numerous languages, including French, on a regular basis?! Argh!

The Crown of St.
Stephen, Ceremonial Sword
Orb and 10th c.
Persian-made Sceptre
After the tour we walked around the area surrounding Parliament and found a cute little cafe where we stopped for a cold drink — its getting VERY hot today — and some sandwiches that we took to go. We attempted to visit the Ethnography Museum, however, the museum would force us to "check" our bags. The bag check was not orderly or secure, people just dropped their stuff on random racks and hooks in an unsecured area of the museum. Anyone could walk in and pick up random bags! I wasn't about to leave my camera in such an area. Instead, we walked back across the street to a park next to the Parliament building where we sat in the shade and ate our lunch. While we ate, a very large — 30+ people? — of Indian tourists came into the park armed with cameras and video cameras. They proceeded to get totally silly taking pictures and video of each other running around the park, posing on the large statues, etc. Totally hilarious people watching. Sometimes the best parts of a day come our of sheer coincidence, this was one of them.

The Lower House
of Parliament
We headed back to the B&B to cool down and relax for a short while before heading up to Castle Hill again to find the Castle Hill Labyrinth. It was a cool experience, both temperature wise and visually, to walk through the maze of caves beneath Castle Hill. It was the least interesting of our underground adventures over the past two weeks, but some incredibly dark corners did lend themselves to some interesting possibilities... ;-)

The Tree of Life
Holocaust Memorial

We then walked back to the train and headed into Pest. We explored the Jewish section of town and found some monuments to people murdered during the Holocaust. Unfortunately, the gates were not open so we couldn't get an up close look at the Tree of Life. Every leaf is engraved with the name of a local who didn't survive the Holocaust. Steph wanted to try a Jewish restaurant for our anniversary dinner. While very Jewish, the pork and shellfish on the menu was decidedly not Kosher (not that we cared). After an early dinner we headed back to Buda where we picked up a few beers at the grocery store and brought them back to the B&B to drink while we packed up our bags and got ready to say "Goodbye!" to our vacation and Eastern Europe.

The alarm is set for 4:30 A.M. (yuck!) so we can meet our 5 A.M. taxi for a ride to the airport and a 7 A.M. flight to Paris. From Paris we're headed to Cincinatti and then finally home to Atlanta and what we expect to be a very mad cat! I'm hoping that she didn't destroy any plants or leave any messes for us. We'll know in about 36 hours...

Monday, May 02, 2005

Budapest Day Two

The Great Market Hall
Good morning Budapest! Had a great night's sleep and woke up to a very nice breakfast. Judit even remembered that Steph doesn't eat red meat, so she picked up various poultry sausages in addition to the usual Hungarian meats! Very yummy stuff.
We spent some time talked to the proprietors of the B&B, they were great to talk to and had lots of good information for us. Where to go, what to buy and how much to pay for it!

Mmmm, Porky Goodness!
The Great Market Hall
We walked down to the Danube and took a bus down the river and across to Pest to the Great Market Hall. The building home to the best indoor market, there were numerous butchers, bakers and grocers with some beautiful products. We walked around and picked up some pastries, two types of honey and of course some paprika! This paprika was actually in a paste form, instead of dried and powdered, we had it at a restaurant last night and I liked it a lot! We also tried some Hungarian wine, Aszu Tokay, which is a sweet dessert wine. They are ranked from 3 to 6 puttanyos (grape baskets?) to rank their sweetness. We tried the least sweet, 3 puttanyos, it was pretty good.

Vegetable Stand
The Great Market Hall
We then walked up Vachi Ul., a pedestrian market street lined with some very nice shops selling everything from pottery to cloth, antiques to clothes and lots of touristy schwag. (That's the technical term for it.) On the way we picked up a few pieces of pottery and then dropped into a small wine cellar for a tasting of Tokay wines. The cellar was really cool, they had a great selection of Hungarian wines and very knowledgeable staff who let us taste a traditional and modern version of Aszu Tokay. We purchased the more traditional version which we're looking forward to sharing with friends when we get back home.

The Great Market Hall

Back to the Metro, we rode out to the Szechenyi Baths. What a great experience! We tried a number of different pools, from cool to hot, indoor and out, and two saunas. After twelve days of travel, it was good to finally sit back, relax and feel our tight muscles loosen up. The baths have a very social atmosphere — its clear that the locals are regulars with a very set routine. Addtionally, people at the baths are not concerned about what they look like, one doesn't go to the baths to see and be seen. While I appreciated the fact that nobody had body image issues, there were some bodies in bikinis and Speedos that I had a problem with!

Near the B&B
After the baths, we headed to a local restaurant owned by the Gundel group that came highly recommended in the guide books and by the proprietors of our B&B. The name, in English, is The Owl's Nest. The restaurant sits on the edge of the Budapest zoo, which is very close to Szechenyi Baths. The entire staff, from dishwasher to executive chef is all women! They certainly knew how to take care of their guests, we had a fabulous lunch. I tried a chilled sour cherry soup, a Hungarian specialty that was the highlight of my culinary experiences so far! If we ever get back to Budapest, we'll definitely try the other Gundel restaurants if we're in the mood for an over the top dining experience.

Back on the Metro, we headed into the heart of Pest to visit the Hungarian Opera House. The tour was fun, the building absolutely beautiful — no pictures inside, unfortunately — but the tour was overpriced at nearly $13/person for 45 minutes! The temperature was climbing to the mid-eighties outside, so we decided to head back to Buda and the B&B for a cold beer and then a mid-day nap until later in the afternoon when its a bit cooler. We headed down toward the river to check out a local pancake shop for dinner. How stressful! The place is extremely busy, you wait in line and check out the posted menu — in Hungarian, of course — before getting up to the counter to order. Thankfully they spoke some English at the counter and had an English menu, so we quickly made our decisions an ordered. The pancakes are actually crepes, filled with savory or sweet fillings. We had expected all savory fillings with a small amount of sweet filled pancakes for dessert, what we ordered was the exact opposite! It was very good, my immediate thought was this could replace late-night Waffle House runs after spending the night drinking at the bar. Hmmm, possible business opportunity? We then sat down at a cafe next to the river to have a drink and do some people watching while the sun set, causing Parliament to glimmer in its last rays of the day.

The Fisherman's Bastion
After night fell, we walked along the Danube toward the Chain Bridge and took pictures of the city at night. We then took the Funicular up to the top of Castle Hill, walked around Fisherman's Bastion and then back down to out B&B. What an absolutely gorgeous, magical city. (I guess I should mention that the base of the Fisherman's Bastion is only 100 meters from the front door of our B&B... Duh!

Tomorrow is our final day in Budapest and our second anniversary. We've had an amazing experience through four countries over the past 12 days or so, but the travel is beginning to wear on us both. We're anxious to get back to our animals and our "normal" lives.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Eger to Budapest

Another early morning today, I was not happy to roll out of bed. Last night's bands kept me up way too late and I didn't sleep well. Steph passed out in a heartbeat for the first time on the entire trip last night leaving me to ponder life and the meaning of the universe all by myself.

The Danube River
We ate breakfast at the Hotel Senator Haz and headed to the train station to catch the first morning train to Budapest. While waiting for the train I made a new friend. He was a crazy, rotten-toothed drunk — its 10 A.M. and he's clearly been drinking for a while — who came and sat down with us and chatted us up in broken English. I politely excused us, our train was in the station so I figured I could get on the train and leave my "friend" behind. No sooner did we sit down than he showed up again! Augh! Now he's offering me some of his beer and trying to sit with us on the train. We moved seats, making it clear we weren't interested, and began to strike up a conversation with a father and daughter from Sweden. Before the train left the station my new found friend decided to exit the car. I was quite thankful to see him go! We spent the entire trip discussing everything from politics to food to travel with the Swedes, they were incredibly nice and gave us some ideas of things to do and see in Budapest.

The Calvinist Church
We arrived in Budapest around noon, which meant we had a few hours to kill until we had to meet our hosts at the Bellevue Bed & Breakfast. We had our bags with us, so anything that involved limited walking was a good option until we checked in. So, after buying a 3 day train pass we headed across the river to Buda to find some lunch. Budapest is divided into Buda, the hilly side of the river, and Pest, the flat, metropolitan side, we had arranged for a B&B in Buda right down the block from the Fisherman's Bastion. Once we reached Buda we found a cafe where we could have lunch. Suddenly the prices for food and drink began to approach western European prices! Clearly the place is a bit of a tourist trap, it sits across the river from Parliament, though its views are not as nice as other locations. Our waiter was a pushy little man, he kept suggesting the most expensive items on the menu rather than listening to our requests for something a little smaller for lunch. The food was good, so we didn't feel too bad that we spent over $20 for lunch.

The Fisherman's Bastion
After lunch — I had a nice beer buzz working now, Dreher Bak (Bock) is a good Hungarian beer — we walked along the Danube river toward the Szechenyi chain bridge. Along the way we snapped a lot of pictures of the river, the bridge, Parliament and the Calvinist Church with its beautiful tile roof. It was definitely hotter in Budapest than it had been in the past 10 days, so we took the opportunity to cool off in the shade of the park surrounding the Calvinist Church and did some people watching. As the time to meet our hosts neared we began walking toward our B&B. Actually, to be correct we hiked our butts uphill to our B&B. I knew it was located on Castle Hill, but for some reason I didn't think that we would have to walk up three blocks of stairs to reach the street where it was located! Oi vey! This is going to be a pain in the neck!

Parliament (viewed
from The Fisherman's
The Bellevue B&B is in a beautfiul wooded neighborhood, the front door is 100 meters from the base of the Fisheman's Bastion which you can walk up to access the top of Castle Hill. We checked in and receied an upgraded room! Woohoo! The owner of the B&B, Judit, liked one of my email signatures so much that she commented on it numerous times, perhaps it was the reason for the upgrade. Sometimes it helps to be outspoken about one's political views, I guess. The room is nice and spacious, with a small bathroom and stand-up shower. There is a large balcony which looks out over the street and the woods heading up the hill toward the base of the Hilton Hotel. Thankfully, you can't see the hotel because of the thick stand of trees. This was a great find — thanks, Google! — and will be the perfect place to celebrate our second anniversary and end our adventure.

The Fisherman's Bastion
After settling in, we walked around Castle Hill and entered through the Vienna Gate on the north side of Castle Hill. We wandered around, up and down small streets and eventually found the Fisherman's Bastion. The Fisherman's Bastion was built in the early 20th century and overlooks the Danube and Pest, the views are absolutely stunning! We spent quite a bit of time on Castle Hill from the various lookout points where we took lots of pictures of Pest before finding the Funicular Railway — yes, another Amazing Race reference — and taking a ride back down. The Funicular runs down to almost the base of the Szechenyi Chain bridge. There was a major festival on the bridge today celebrating one year of membership in the European Union, so the bridge was closed to cars and became a pedestrian mall for the day. We walked over to Pest and sat down in Roosevelt Park to do some further people watching and locate a place to get some dinner. Eventually we found a local place that was highly recommended by the Lonely Planet Budapest book. The prices are half of what we paid for lunch earlier in the day, too bad the food wasn't half as good. Steph tried a local specialty, fisherman's stew, and it was horrible, the flavors were off and it was way too fishy. Yuck.

The Fisherman's Bastion
Back on the metro, we headed under the river and walked back to our B&B. Tomorrow is going to be a long day, we have a lot to see and do so we're going to get a good night's sleep.

View from the
Fisherman's Bastion

Flowers on Castle

Szechenyi Chain Bridge

Szechenyi Chain Bridge