Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Bled, Slovenia

We drove from Budapest to Bled over the weekend. We went with another family, which was a Great Way to travel. The kids played in the pool and we got to hang out with other adults.  Bled is a beautiful town. We stayed on the "quiet side"of the lake, in Hotel Triglav. It was a great place and the view from the hotel restaurant was wonderful. Pretty much the view from everywhere was wonderful.

We didn't really have a window in our room, but a skylight. So, this was the view from our room if you stood on a chair. Which of course, I did. The island is behind the pine tree.
Our hotel was the yellow one with the red roof.

We brought ripstiks and scooters for the kids and we walked around the lake and hiked up to the castle for another amazing view of the area.

The we rented rowboats and rowed out to the island in the center where they have a very beautiful church at the top of the small island. It's Wedding Central. We were there for an hour and saw three weddings. People get rowed out to the island in the pletna boats, walk up the steep steps and get married, then get rowed across the lake to receptions at one of the hotels. Not too shabby.
Here's a pletna boat. Later in the day the sun came out and it was beautiful. Even more beautiful.

Here's the "Big Boys' Boat" We beat them back to the docks by the way.
More pics-

Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Ugly Duckling?

This picture reminds me of those pictures in the Oprah magazine, where you're supposed to quietly let the peace of the image seep into your soul and quiet your mind.  Maybe there're still there; I haven't seen an Oprah magazine in a year.

And really, I think signets are as cute as ducklings any day.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Returning to work- or- A Very Rude Awakening

I guess I should say that the "Rude" part is because my trip this week was to Paris. And, true to stereotypes, the French were rude, rude, rude. Well, let me qualify that. The Air France and CDG airport employees were rude. I was only in the city for a day, actually not even 24 hours. I was there for a meeting at the CNG the Centre National de Génotypage, a meeting that didn't end up happening. I found out last night as I was strolling down the Champs-Elysées (that sounds cool though, doesn't it?) It was too late to leave last night, and so I thought I'd leave this morning. I'm not using a travel agent, and so I thought I could come to the airport early, pay any change fee for the ticket, and head home. Wrong.
First, I couldn't get a boarding pass printed. What printed was a Coupon d'assistance. They should have called it a Coupon de l'obstruction. Because that's what I got. Air France said they couldn't help me, even though it was their flight (in partnership with Malev Airlines.) Malev said they couldn't help me and sent me back to Air France. Air France said I had to leave the terminal to find the Malev ticketing counter. The women back at the Malev baggage drop said there was no Malev ticketing counter. I actually had a ticket for a flight, and yet, no one would even give me a boardng pass for that flight. Why not? They told me I was too early. Clearly… I should have slept later, and gone sightseeing in the city.

Once I got a boarding pass, I could go through security and spend the next 6 hours cruising the duty free shop and reading a Wall Street Journal I found on one of the chairs. I put on a little Gucci perfume "Guilty" and bought some chocolate. Gretchen tells me that a smile has the effect of 16 bars of chocolate. There are very few smiles to be found here at the CDG airport, and so I was required to buy my endorphins.

Then, suddenly a soldier was standing next to me, complete with combat fatigues, black boots, black beret and automatic weapon. He said "Parlez-vous français?" and I said "Nem", because that's the language in my brain closest to my tongue right now. He looked a little embarrassed, and we started Charades. He motioned to my belongings, made motions of picking them up and then shooing me away. I said, « I have to leave ? » He said « Oui, Madame. » Then a woman came over to say they were evacuating the area because of a suspicious package. Then I noticed 5 or 6 heavily armed soldiers, talking to other people in the area. So, we all packed up and scurried away like rats heading for higher ground. This was a step-wise process ; they decided that they needed more space between us and the package, and so we got moved a couple of times. Then, they got the « All Clear » sign and everyone went back to life in the airport. One more hour and my life in exile in the Paris airport is over. I hope the plane is on time.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Cookie- a bad word in Hungarian and a Very Bad Cat

This is Cookie. 

We think Cookie is our form of karmic payback from some transgression in a past life.  He's been really really REALLY expensive, ever since we got him "for free" at the Animal Shelter. We learned that "Kuki" is a bad word in Hungarian. We learned it the hard way, when people asked us what the names of our cats were. When we got to "Cookie, we got one of two reactions. A snicker and a downcast look, or a kind of "I feel sorry for you, because you're oblivious to what's going on" look.  We asked a friend what Kuki meant, and were told delicately that it was "slang". Yep. Copy that. Slang for what? A man's "private parts". Google translate says ambiguously:

If I didn't already know which "peter" they were talking about, I'd be confused....

BUT- back to my main point, which is what a trial Cookie has been since we got him.  When we took him home from the shelter he would only eat one kind of special cat food. We thought we'd wait him out. Nope. He got thinner and thinner and thinner and we gave in and fed him the special kitten food. The vet said we should feed him regular cat food.  Why, we bothered, I can't figure out. Eventually we found one that he would eat. Evo 95% chicken and turkey cat food. And so, we bought it by the case either from Amazon or from the vet. He's not a cheap date.

Here's an early picture of Cookie.  He was an indoor cat, but got to go out on the back porch. This picture was taken after he fell from the back porch, chasing a bird, or a bug or just stupidly falling off the railing that he liked to walk on. No one knows for sure. We just found him on the ground outside, with a badly broken leg. We put him back together, and he spent many many weeks in this cage, with this external frame bolted to his leg to let the pieces of the bone grow back together. Then he spent many weeks after the external brace was removed back in the cage to make sure he didn't jump on this newly healed leg. Cost? I A LOT. We put it on the credit card. We are stupid people.

When we were moving to Hungary we thought about leaving the cats with someone. This was a good thought, but really, who wants three cats? Lots of people like the other two cats. No one wants Cookie. He's weird, as witnessed in the "Murdered in our Beds" entry on the blog. He's a nutcase. He's "Francis" from Stripes. Added to his obvious mental health issues, he only eats the before-mentioned special food. We tried LOTS of Hungarian cat food. Lots. No dice. He'll happily eat tuna. I don't want to buy tuna for my cats.  I tried chicken hearts and gizzards, which are cheap here. He's not interested in chicken parts. Just chicken. I'm not interested in cooking chicken for a cat. I'm not interested in the cat anymore, truth be told. But, I am a soft hearted person, and so I do not listen to my brother, who softly chants into the telephone "put the cat outside...... put the cat outside...." 

Recently, some friends came to visit and we asked them to bring 4 cases of the special cat food ordered from Amazon. We said we'd pay for the "extra bag fee" because $50 is less than what we usually pay to ship the stuff. So, they schlepped over 4 cases of the cans, nervous that they'd be pulled out by customs for importing catfood into Hungary, or something like that. (not beyond possible, based on my littering incident). And now, you know what??? After all this-- ordering, shipping, packing and lugging it, he's not interested. Not interested at all. Seriously. Won't eat it.... After a whole year of imposing on relatives, waiting for the boxes to clear customs and be delivered and feeding him tuna while we waited for the boxes to arrive, he likes dry food.  Really.... Dry food. Bought right here in town. 

Someone, somewhere is having a good laugh.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

On Liars and Cheats

Still mad about this. For a while we've known that we were going home at the end of the school year. The day after it was "official" a man from school, the elementary school principal's husband, I'll call him Brady, because it rhymes with his real name, which is Gr_dy. Brady came up to my husband and asked what we were doing about our house, because they wanted it. They REALLY wanted it. They had been to our house for dinner one night and raved about the house and how great it was. And he was apologetic and self deprecating and said that sometimes people can be "vultures" about things like this, but that they didn't want to miss out on this great house.

And so, we thought that part of our disengaging from Budapest was settled and it felt like at least one thing would work out well. The crux of this is that we again are living with our own stupidity. We signed a 2 year lease. And, after the "littering" incident, who KNOWS what the hell they'll do to me for breaking a lease.  

So, when April rolled around and teachers were in town to look at houses, we didn't show ours. People asked and we told that that Bindy (wink wink- not her real name) and Brady were taking it. And every time, Every Time, I saw Brady, he'd smile at me and say in his folksy Texas accent "You can't give that house away. We Want that house. Don't show that house to anyone else." and so on.

Until now, at the proverbial eleventh hour. Now they told us they don't want it. In an email, which also included an admonishment that I should have been more proactive about asking the landlord about his desire to re-rent the house. (except that we didn't need to do that because, oh yeah-- we had FOUND someone to take the house. You..... You loser.) And her helpful email included a list of the things we should do to rent the house right away: listing it on the board at school, making sure new incoming teachers know about it, etc.  Except, oh yeah-- people have already FOUND housing, and we missed that window because your smiling, look-you-in-the-eye-and-lie-right-at-you husband kept telling me that he wanted the house.

Never once did she say "I'm sorry. I changed my mind. I should have told you." Her email was this weird 7th grade, no caps "sorry how things worked out with the house" AS IF she had nothing to do with it. That's something you would say to someone who's house got foreclosed on, or swept away in a flood. And you'd still use punctuation and capitals wouldn't you? I know I would. Because I'm not in junior high anymore.

She's a liar and a user. I could go on and on and on- even more than I already am. But I won't. She's in the blog. I release this anger into the universe and I will eat whatever deposit we don't get back and I will move the hell on with my little life and I will hope I don't get pulled off the plane on the tarmac at the airport. And I will secretly hope the Universe kicks her once or twice in the coming year, because, right now, I'm not above wanting her to feel bad.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

My Life of Crime

I got a notice that I had to sign for something at the Posta. Usually that means a box from Kathy or Ted, and I'm excited. But no one told me that they were sending anything. When I got there, it was an official document. Which I, of course, cannot read. It was 2 pages long, with the official seal of the town, and an amount (10,000 HUF) set off, all by itself. I was pretty sure this was a fine.  Then a little further on, another, higher amount (30,000 HUF), also set off by itself.  Not looking good.  Google Translate said "illegal dumping" and that found me guilty "by way of letters" 

Okaaaaaaay.... well; now I knew what it was. But I also know that it's not true. I was recycling my papers at the town hall and someone came out to tell me "Nem, Nem, Nem!" and then something beyond my "Survival Hungarian" vocabulary. Another women came out to tell me that these recycling bins were only for the town hall. The town used to have a very big recycling center that closed earlier this year. Then right after that, these bins appeared right in front of the town hall.  I usually bring my recycling to some other bins near the shopping center, because the town hall is not all that convenient for me. Until one day when the trucks were picking up the recycling and so I couldn't go to my usual places.  And I remembered the town hall. 

I apologized to the women at the town hall, and asked where the town recycling was now that the other place had closed. She didn't say, "You'd better climb into the bin and get your stuff out of there, or you'll get in trouble." I didn't ask if I should climb into the bin- why would I? Well, now I see clearly that I should have asked that question.

So, I brought the letter to my Hungarian teacher who read it, muttering, "Oh this is not good. This is not good." Then she told me I should get a lawyer. That if I didn't pay the fine, it would escalate, but not just to the higher amount of money, but that I could be required to do 5 days of community service (probably picking up trash along the roadside in an orange jumpsuit) or - ready? - Spend 3 days in jail.  Yep. Three days in JAIL.... My teacher offered to write up my side of the story so I could present it. I did it, and she translated it. One mother at school helpfully pointed out that my Hungarian would probably improve enormously in just those three days; kind of an immersion program.   There was another joke about not bringing my passport with me when I went to the town hall, as it might be taken away. And some additional jokes about my flight from the country, being pulled out of line at the airport and the possibility that I should take a train to Vienna and leave Europe from there... All very funny, initially.  Then I was talking to some of the teachers, who told to me to bring it to "Laszlo" the fixer at school.  Kent took both documents to him this week and he said, flat out-- "Pay the fine."  He said that indeed I MIGHT be pulled out of line at the airport and not permitted to leave the country. He said that even though I was right, it would not be good to try and fight it, because the charges might not be resolved by the time we wanted to leave the country. And here I thought we were kidding when we were laughing about it over coffee....

In the end, we decided to bow to the will of the State and pay the stupid fine. It really frosts me, because I have recycled every paper, plastic bottle, milk container, can and bottle since we’ve been here. I was trying to do the right thing. And for what? One woman said, “Just do what I do; throw it all out in the bin.”

Monday, May 16, 2011

Barlangfürdő Miskolc and Lillafüredi Pisztrángtelep

Okay-- I don't expect you to know this one, and I couldn't write it by myself. Had to cut and paste from the internet. What a fun weekend we had! This place was Seriously Cool.

A cave bath in a big park. Thermal waters in the cave.  Here are the pics.

We went with another family - they're Hungarian and knew about this place because the husband is from the area. 

Zsolt also knew about this cool fish farm, in a town called Lillafüred.  We took a train from the town up the hill. It was an old narrow gauge railway. The ticket checker walked along the outside of the train and suddenly appeared next to you, to check your ticket, or sell you a ticket. 

We walked down the hill to this house and farm. There are lots of picnic tables, and you can get fish and french fries, pickles, and beer.  It was a trip! 

There was one guy, scooping up the fish with a net, and dumping them into a barrel. Then he would pick up each fish, decide if it was big enough, and either throw it back to grow some more, or club it with a metal rod, and throw it into another bucket. 

Then, the guy in the grey shirt would carry the fish to the cleaning stand, where they'd be gutted and washed, and then to the fryolator. 

This way to the WC.
This way to the food. 
Fish and Fries, Pickles and Beer.  A ride on a train and a swim in the cave. Doesn't get much better than this!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Favorite Budapest Views

Imre Nagy in the park near the Parliament.

The statue of Anonymous in the Varosliget- city park. 
St. Istvan and the Szabadsag Bridge.  Jack's favorite bridge in town. 
The Erzebet Bridge.
The Gellert Hotel and Gellért Fürdő,  

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Epic Fail

Well, Just when I think I'm doing really well with my Hungarian classes, I go out into the world and fall flat on my face while trying to do something as basic as shop at a "Big Box Store"-

This was the problem today. One of the problems really. I got in line at the cashier, and she held it up and said something unintelligible to me. It could have been "E két, ​​egy ma már tudjuk, akkor kap egy másikat, mert ez ingyenes"  ("This is two-for-one today; you should go get another one because it's free." Or she could have been saying, "Ez a dolog okoz rákot, olvastam a hírekben. Ez mind pedig emlékeztetett holnap."  ("This stuff causes cancer; I read it in the news. It's all being recalled tomorrow.") I just don't know.... I never will. 

I trotted out my usual "Sajnálom, én nem beszélek jól magyarul." (I'm sorry, I don't speak Hungarian well.") Usually, if someones speaks a little English they will confess at this point, feeling sorry that I'm such a total illiterate, and repeat what they said in English. Not today. She repeated her warning, (or her offer), and pointed vaguely down the aisle toward customer service, where I might either pick up my free goods, or return it for a full refund. She looked expectantly at me for some sign of comprehension, and then -- she gave up. 

I smiled like the simpleton I am, bagged my cancer causing, two-for-one stain remover, and left.  I don't know why I feel like such a loser over this one particular thing. There are literally hundreds of things that have happened to me just like this. This one just felt-- bigger. Maybe because she really, Really wanted me to understand. Maybe because I thought I just might be able to. It's just humbling I guess. 

The Zookeeper's Wife

I admit it, when I heard that the book group was reading this book called The Zookeeper's Wife, I immediately thought of the book Goodnight Gorilla. I think it's a function of having read this book about 675,000 times. And I love this book. This is a wonderful book. It's just not the book they were talking about reading in book group. 

Not the tired zoo keeper's wife, putting all the animals back to bed after her husband has failed to notice them following him home. So I asked what it was about- a war story. A World War II story.  I didn't really want to read it. I think I've always shied away from the Holocaust and the WWII stories. But now that I'm here in Hungary, I feel like it makes it more real in many ways. And it makes me more interested in learning about what happened. It's the story about Jan and Antonina Zabinski, the people who ran the Warsaw Zoo. It's taken from Antonia's journals and details the way in which the Polish resistance fought the Germans and how they helped Jews escape from the ghetto and deportation to the death camps. 

It's an amazing story. I had heard more about the French Resistance, but the stories here about the way in which the Polish resistance was organized and how they operated were amazing. It's a fascinating read, with some cool images of the family badger and other exotic creatures, and some wonderful stories about the people they saved. 

Dohany Street Great Synagogue

We visited the Great Synagogue today. We listened to the story of the Hungarian Jews sent to death camps in 1944. It's amazing to be here where the things I've read about have actually happened. Here are some images I took while I was there.
Inside the synagogue.

Outside the synagogue there is a courtyard that was used as a cemetery when the ghetto was closed off and the people could not bury their family members in an outside cemetery. There are the remains of over 3000 people in the courtyard. 
The guide told the story of how the sacred Torah were saved by 2 Catholic priests who took them out into the countryside and hid them for years while the war was going on.  She said that no one knows the names of the priests, but that the texts are some of the oldest in existence and are priceless. 

Out in the gardens there is this memorial stained glass representing the Holocaust.  Behind it is a statue or sculpture of a Weeping Willow with the names of people killed in the death camps. 

There were over 500,000 Jews removed from Hungary and killed by the Nazis. 
There is also a memorial wall where people can remember the dead.

A memorial to Raoul Wallenberg and the others who protected the Jews from deportation to the death camps by setting up sovereign houses within Budapest to shelter people.