*** Saturday, 15 Feb 2002 ***
I set out to do my chores when a woman in the next apartment opened her
door and asked me if I knew the landlord of my apartment. I said that
I didn't and asked her why she wanted to talk to the my landlord and she
said that she needed to have some paper signed. I said that I would talk
to the company that I rented from and she gave me her card. It said "Ticmeanu
Mihaela Florina" but I bet her name is "Mihaela Ticmeanu"
because Romanians have a bad habit of listing their last name first (but
not always!) and not using a comma after the last name to hint at how
to interpret the name. When you add in the fact that many first names
are also last names, this can be very confusing.
I brought Susan's pants to the tailor's shop and my tailor was out but
there was another there and he agreed to fix the zipper; I was to come
back at Noon.
I wandered around the Lipscan district (one of the oldest parts of the
city that still remains) taking pictures. Eventually I went to La Fourmi
in Unirii and picked up baby oil, shampoo, and bacon. I couldn't find
any dental floss.
I was back at the tailor's place a bit early but the zipper had been fixed
for 40,000 lei (about $1.30).
Waked to Il Calcio in the Amze looking for the pepperoni pizza Paul said
they had. They had a long list of pizzas but no pepperoni so I settled
for fettuccini carbonara which turned out to be the best I have had in
On my way home I stopped into Flamingo Computer and got the video plugs
I wanted. I thought I would be able to watch my DVDs on the larger TV
screen but I had forgotten the differences in European video standards
(PAL) and American (NTSC). So it was a no-go.
Napkins are now double-ply everywhere and some restaurants, such as Il
Calcio, have full-sized paper napkins. Only a few, such as Casa Orange,
have cloth napkins.
Have you ever noticed that in the movie "Aunty Mame" (I just
got the DVD) the young Patrick Dennis makes a martini for Dwight Babcock
and as he mixes it he says, "Stirred, not shaken -- bruises the gin."
James Bond has it the opposite way and for the same reason. Now who is
right? Enquiring minds want to know.
*** Sunday, 16 Feb 2003 ***
I went to the McDs in the University underground to get a plain double
cheeseburger with bacon and discovered that I had left my wallet in my
apartment. So back I went to my building and as I was entering I turned
to see who was behind me. It was a middle aged man carrying groceries
so I held the door for him and he smiled in acknowledgement. I walked
up two stories to my floor and as I was opening my door the man I had
let in stepped out of the elevator and entered the apartment directly
across from mine. We nodded at each other and I got my wallet and headed
My neighbor was in the hall and extended his hand which I shook. "My
name is Iliescu, like the president." "My name is Joe Kelley"
I said, "What is your first name?" "Nicolae. I am a lawyer
working with foreign firms." We shook hands again and I headed to
MacDs to eat. I was gone about 20 minutes including a brief stop in the
convenience store across the street for some beer. My doctor always tells
me to drink lots of liquids and I always try to obey him.
*** Thursday, 20 Feb 2003 ***
I leave for Budapest!
This morning I realized that joints on a toe on my left foot were inflamed.
Not an auspicious beginning for a tromping trek to Budapest.
My room in Budapest was like
an exhibit in a museum. Only the lumpiness of the mattress made
me believe it was real.
Bucharest's airport was no problem, the flight was about 75 minutes and
Budapest's airport seemed very laid back. The minivan was a 35 minute
trip to town. I checked into a large room with large, antique furniture.
Went for a walk and liked what I saw. The Danube however was disappointment:
both sides were hemmed in with highways and there was no wide, continuous
pedestrian way along the edge. There were some pedestrian ways but they
were not wide and roads cut them off from the city.
If you judge economic success by international chains, than Budapest is
clearly better off than Bucharest because there are so many more McDonalds
and Burger Kings. But maybe a different definition is needed.
*** Friday, 21 Feb 2003 ***
The room where I was staying was huge with a lot of antique furniture
and the owner was very helpful about what to worry about (not much) and
where I could go, etc. The Old-World charm of a lumpy mattress cannot
be expressed in just a few words.
Along Vaci Utca, I saw a restaurant with the name of "Fatal"
- what do they serve? Hemlock as a digestif?
Budapest's old city has many marble plaques attached to buildings. Fortunately
they are thoughtfully written only in Magyar so as not to burden the tourist
with too many facts.
Is kissing on a fast-moving escalator dangerous
to your health?
The Budapest Metro has fast escalators -- the fastest I have ever been
on -- and deep subways with speedy trains. As I exited (with my three
day unlimited pass in my wallet) I noticed many ticket checkers (apparently
issuing many fines). The train system has no turn-styles so you just walk
onto the speeding escalator, board a train and exist on a fast escalator
and hope there are no ticket checkers -- if you are a cheater.
It's not just the escalators that move fast here, the people seem to move
more quickly than in Bucharest. The sense of a fast pace is palpable.
The trolley system has the same payment system as Bucharest. You pre-purchase
tickets and use a device on the trolley to punch holes in a ride ticket.
Many countries use the same system, including Romania.
Compared to Bucharest, Budapest has had the advantage of history. As a
dual capital of an empire, it had access to great wealth which implied
fancier building and more of them; so the old city is extremely charming
and visually impressive.
There was a recent major snowfall but all the sidewalks were cleared.
Bucharest could learn from this.
Budapest has a fancy pedestrian-only street (Vaci Utca) with all the trendiest
shops (Benetton, Marks & Spencer, Estee Lauder, etc.) It is very impressive
even if you are smart enough to avoid buying there.
Magyar, the language of Hungary, is one of the few non-Indo-European languages
in Europe (the other two are Finnish and Basque). That means that knowing
other European languages is no help at all with Magyar. Still, context
conveys a lot of meaning. When you see "Kerjuk sziveskedjen becsukni!!!"
on a door that leads from a heated interior to freezing exterior space,
you can guess that it means "Please close the door." How do
I know it says "Please"? Because everyone here is very polite.
The Parliament building from
the other side of the Danube.
The parliament building is quite amazing, well beyond it hugeness. It
looks like a French chateau mating with an Italian Renaissance cathedral.
Time did not allow me to tour it but I will do so on a future trip.
Budapest has a whole population of stone citizens. It is amazing how many
statures adorn public buildings. They include famous people along with
the usual collection of gods and goddesses. What would politics here be
like if they could vote?
The public baths are famous -- so the guide book told me -- so I went
to the Gellert baths, with 200 year-old fountains. The entrance was on
the side of Gellert Hotel.
On entering the men's section you are given a front-only loin cloth and
you find a locker room, change, await attendant who locks your possession
into a closet, and then go into baths area, a large barrel-vaulted room
with a pool on either side with different temperatures (36 C and 38 C)
of mineral water. Delightfully there is no chlorine stench. Further back
are showers, a steam room (45-50 C) and a small pool of very COLD water.
*** Saturday, 22 Feb 2002 ***
I walked to the Kalvin metro entrance and had a breakfast of two superb
croissants. Budapest's metro is the oldest in the world, older than even
London's or Boston's.
The tale of my toe, or the trials and tribulations of feathering my toe,
continues. Limping around a new city is not easy but I have had a lot
of practice so I go on.
In Budapest many facades need repair and many more need a coat of paint
-- like Bucharest -- but many have been restored. Perhaps because Budapest
was the co-capital of an empire, its center was built up earlier than
Bucharest's and is thus more fully nineteenth century. The Communist housing
here is probably further from the tourist's eye.
I took a trolley and bus trip to the Austrian-constructed Citadel on the
top a a hill in Buda and back. At first I didn't know where to get off
the bus so I went on a complete transit. Only on the second pass did I
figure out where to exit. In the end it was a bit of a bust except for
the views of the city and the Danube.
Next I wanted to got to the old city but I didn't know where to get off
the trolley but I doubled back and walked across the Chain Bridge and
up the hill into the old fortress where I limped around for over an hour
It was off season, but I finally found an open restaurant. It was one
of those elegant types that served every piece of meat swaddled with broccoli,
asparagus or spinach. They had left a luncheon menu outside that had spaghetti
carbonara on it but when I was seated, the waiter (piss elegant in black
pants, black vest, black tie, white shirt and a black attitude) brought
me only the fancy menu with Goulash of Boar with Brussels Sprouts and
high prices. I asked for the spaghetti carbonara to evident, if unspoken,
disapproval. I felt I could see his mind evaluating his tip.
Clearly I was in the clutches of a tourist trap pretending to offer quality
while substituting attitude. I had seen a Hilton down the street and it
should have given me a hint. Expensive trash for the gullible traveler
seems to be the bill-of-fare for the old city.
There was live music -- Tea for Two, Dein Ist Mein Ganzes Hertz, and other
classics found only on CDs not available in any store. You've heard it
all before: I get misty just holding your hand, All of me, etc.
To complete it all, I got the "I forgot to add the second beer"
scam. So I paid more in cash than the cash register receipt said. When
will I learn to respond that "my accountant is a prick and I have
to have a correct machine generated invoice so go back and correct your
error"? On the other hand I was vaguely amused that the owners were
being ripped off, just as I was.
My left foot continued to bother me. Now I had added two blisters to the
medley of pain. The timing of the flare up couldn't have been worse. If
I were in Bucharest I wouldn't have done five percent of the walking but
I couldn't pass up Budapest just because I limped and hurt.
I caught the bus to Moskva Ter (Square) but wasn't sure where to go next.
I ended up taking the number 6 tram that crossed the Danube and two stops
later I connected to the M3 that had a stop at Kelvin Ter near where I
The idea of no more walking was a pleasant thought.