Tuesday, October 28, 2008


I am playing with Kathy's phone to see if I can blog with photos.

--looks like it worked

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Quick Escape to Winthrop, WA

Last Tuesday we cruised over to Winthrop, WA for a quick escape. We had to cross over the Cascades, which are already showing serious signs of winter.

In the summer months it is quick hop from Bellingham, but remarkably different. First the climate is more like North Park in Colorado than the normal green, wet climate we have here. The town itself is a bit hokey, having completely Disneyfied their exterior to look like an old West town. But the town is not really why you come here. Basically we are here for miles and miles of hiking and biking.
For this trip we picked up a nice little cabin on the river at the River's Edge Resort. It comes complete with a private hot tub, kitchen and two bedrooms. It was pretty nice to be able to sit outside under stars and stare at the river. I think I probably spent most of our quick trip in the hot tub.
From 2008_10_21 - Winthrop WA

For dinner we walked downtown (about a block!), to the Arrowleaf Bistro. We had dinner here last year and the food did not disappoint again. I practically devoured their salad. I think I am still craving vegetables after being in Eastern Europe last month!


More Photos

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Easyjet ... Not!

Our trip from Dresden to Budapest had been via train, a relatively painless and easy trip. The trip back was via a budget Euro airline called EasyJet. I can't really say there was anything particularly easy about the airline except the booking process. Basically, it works a bit like Southwest where you boarding time is based on what time you get to the airport or if you pay 30 Euro to board early or if you check in via internet. The internet was out and for 30 Euro I'll sit in the middle for an hour. This is complicated by the fact that there are almost no local agents at the Hungary airport and they also end up shuttling you to the airplane. We ended up getting there early enough to get one of the first boardings. Quickly we entered the gate and managed to get a seat. Slowly people started crowding the terminal. The crush for the gate started about an forty minutes before the flight was supposed to leave. We joined the crush and got to stand for an hour ... About as long as the flight itself. In the end we boarded the first bus and had no problem getting a seat. In retrospect, joining the crush was pointless. We just joined into the heard mentality. The flight itself was easy. We flew into an airport just south of Berlin (Schofled - sp?). Dave and Lisa had there car there and we had a quick drive back to Dresden. Total travel time about 7 hours. Only a couple of hours shorter than if we did the train.
Back in Dresden, Dave and I grabbed the bikes and went for another tour around the town. A great way to see a city. On the way we had a couple of "flat tires" and had to stop and fix them. Dinner that night was at a local tapas place. At the obligatory watering hole I ordered a small beer. A "kinder bier", I say. They give me strange looks because a normal beer is about a half a liter. They serve it up though. I am done with the beer at this point and the waitress, ask if a want another. No she says, not even a kinder bier. I suggest that is even to big, so as a joke she brings out a thimbleful of beer. Silly.

Budapest - Sunday

Yeah, the sun is back out again and we can do outdoorsey things. From our windows we can see people running the Budapest marathon. The lead runners are just hauling. The main plan for the day is to head up the furnicular to the castle. The castle is the most imposing feature on the Buda side of the river. There are museums, ruins, and the famous Mathius church. The whole hill top and most of Budapest was completely destroyed by the Russians at the end of WWII. The Germans held the castle for 100 days before they surrendered. Interestingly, the Russians rebuilt the destroyed hill but would not rebuild the cathedral in Dresden. They used that cathedral as an example of how horrible the Americans were. Propaganda is a funny thing.
As you stroll the area, you can see some of the original foundations that were incorporated into the imaginative restoration. The foundations are riddled with bullet holes and scares from shrapnel. Very sobering under the pretty facade. The most impressive site is the restored Mathius church. The interior was decorated for the millennium celebration and depicts the history of Hungary. Watch for the Raven with the cold ring. He shows up everywhere. All in all we stayed several hours on the hill and ended up having a nice stroll back down to town. Originally, I had planned on visiting monument park, but the logistics required about an hour and half to get there and back. In stead we headed back into town and checked out the National Museum. The main gallery we looked at had a collection of Hungarian clothing, coins, dishes, machine guns and general trappings from the early 20th century. That evening dinner consisted of a tapas crawl. The first stop was outside at a cafe overlooking the Danube. Lisa ended up getting this Hungarian pancake that tasted remarkably like a burito. The next stop was one of the boats docked on the river for an overpriced beer and more snacks. The final was an Italian place that was in our guidebooks that served up tasty, tasty Italian fare. Getting back to the hotel was a bit of a cluster as we just kept on missing our bus connections by a couple of minutes. We, of course, ended our trip at the Belgium pub.

Phrase of the day (for Rick): kosonom I pronounced roughly "kersernerm" - means hello.


Budapest - Saturday

We awoke to a grey rainy sky, the street and sidewalks glistened with a dull sheen amongst the gloom. Luckily for us we live in the gloom capitol of the US and were not about to be put of by a little drizzle. After eating a breakfast consisting of eggs cooked in lard (did you know that Hungarians eat 1 lb of lard a week?). Interestingly enough it was tasty. First on the tourist list was a visit to the great market. This only required a quick subway trip to the south end of Vatica Utca. The market is a huge late 19th century brick and glass building filled with dozens of stalls selling cheeses, meats, vegetables, and sweets. Just imagine the local farmers market on steroids. The upstairs consisted of food stalls selling interesting creations as well as tons of knick knack sellers. My favorite item had to be the gutted baby pig wearing sunglasses. The next stop was going to be the national Museum, a quick metro stop to the big city park, right next to the spas. When we got to the metro transfer station, the M1 line, it was closed for some reason. When we went street side to take a bus, we noticed that the Andrassy Utca was completely closed too, in fact there were police everywhere. Hmm, not a good sign when you are in the former Eastern block. Our friends from Dresden said it looked like it might be because of a demonstration. I thought it might be because they were closing down the street for the Budapest marathon that was the next day. In any case, we high tailed it out of there to find an alternative route to the Museum. A couple of blocks north we were able to exit the police blockade and were able to pick up a bus that went right to the museum. The museum was just off heroes plaza, and when we got there the scene was even more chaotic. The entire area was garrisoned off with tons of police in full riot gear and squads of K9s everywhere. WTF? The museum was blocked off, but I noticed people passing through a bit of a checkpoint. Being a student of third world checkpoints I wasted no time going up and seeing if we could get to the museum. No problem, we walked up to heroes square which was strangely deserted except for about a thousand cops, and entered the museum. The best thing about the museum was the building itself. It was built for their millennium celebration and was pretty grand indeed. The inner rooms where they displayed their paintings were painted in serious colors. After looking at painting for a couple of hours we headed back out. Holy crap, there are even more police and they are all sporting riot gear. In fact, none of the people that were milling about are around. Time to beat a hasty retreat. We head out of the plaza and actually have a bit of a time getting out. The plaza is ringed wall to wall with the policia and we are finally able to break our way free and find a bus out of the may em. Over the course of the next couple of days we realize that a big protest was planned. In fact, they had a huge riot on September 20th, complete with tear gas from a similar protest. It was the biggest civil disturbance since the iron curtain fell. Turns out a lot of people don't like their leader on account of him lying about the economy before he got re-elected. The protesters are calling for his resignation. Anyway, the government was expecting a big repeat of the events two weekends ago, hence the crack down. You just got to love it. Never a dull moment. The bus that we picked us tooks us within a block of our hotel. Since the weather was still on the cool side, we headed back to the hotel to mellow out from our ordeal.
For dinner, we wanted to go back to the Franz Liszt square area, but it was smack dab in the middle of the riot area. We had the hotel call and the riot was all cleared up. No problem. In fact when we took the metro back out there about an hour and a half after we were there before, there was not a sign that anything had happened. Friggin' weird.
The place we went to was called Karma and was hip and trendy. Afterward we sat in the plaza under the heat lamps and people watched. Kathy wanted to check out an Iirish pub that was close by, so we set off in the streets in search of this pub. Did I mention that it was dark? Did I mention that it was slightly raining? Somehow, after following the accurate, but not so good instructions from the previous place we found it. Of course the band had stopped playing and it was a smoke pit. Quickly we KO'd the place and decided to head back to our standby Belgium place.
Since all of the public transportation had closed down and most cabs are crooked, we decided to hoof it. This took a bit of time, but we were still able to make it the pub next to the hotel for one too many drinks. Note to readers: if someone offers you a Belgium beer called Kwak, just say no. It is extremely tasty, is served in a yard glass (think high class beer bong) and will eventually make you quack like a duck. Events after that are hazy, but the hotel was next store, so all was mostly good.


Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Budapest - Thursday to Friday

We arrived in Budapest around 3 PM, back at the west train station. The next trick was to find the Metro. It turns out that they are rebuilding the metro station at this train station and the entrance was hidden outside around the corner. In general, the Metro stations are not well marked anyway. It can sometimes be challenging finding them. The new metros were tunneled recently and are deep under the city. Long steep escalators take you down a couple of hundred feet underground. For the most part the metros are clean and easy to use. They all connect in one spot in the city so transfers are usually easy. From the train station it was an easy ride underneath the river and a short walk to our hotel. The hotel that Kathy picked out was right on the Danube, just below the big castle on the Buda side. All of the rooms had great views of Pest, the Parliament building, and the river.
First order of Business was coffee and food. This consisted of a little Coffee house near the Metro station.
We then hoped on the Metro and headed down Vacta Utca. The is the very touristy heart of Budapest. It is lined with over priced eateries and all manner of stores selling to the tourist. It is a very long street. From there we headed over to the river and watched the boats zip about. That night for dinner, we ate at a little French restaurant near the hotel followed by a beer at the Belgium pub next to the hotel.
We wake to a nice warmish sunny day.
The hotel had a pretty good Breakfast, so we loaded up our packs and headed out towards Budapest's version of central park. Along the way we wandered around Andressy Utca to check out the opera house and all of the art nueveau buildings along the way. At the end of this long boulevard stands heroes square. A huge outdoor plaza serving as the entrance to the park. It is surrounded by huge romanesqe/nueveau buildings and has a dozen huge statues of the Heroes of Hungary. Holy smokes. The space just blows the mind away. Kathy and I head to the Gelarty baths for another needed soak. The Gelarty baths are more for the locals, while the fancy ones by the river are more touristy. This bath had a greater variety of soaking options than the one in Eger. The entry procedure was truly confusing even with the instructions in the guidebook. I guess they have changed a bit since it was published last year. From a menu of a dozen different choices you pick what treatments you want. The treatments are typical European spa items: hot pools, massages, nasal douches (uhh, yuck), that type of thing. After you pay, they give you a plastic card with a bar code on it. You walk through a door and hand the card to an attendant. He then gives you a hanger with a bag attached to it (don't loose it). Next, he scans the card and shoves you through a turn style. You turn the corner and there are a row of wooden doors on the left side of the long narrow corridor. Each door has a little red or green symbol about knee high next to it. Someone tells us that the symbols tell you if the baths are empty. But don't forget to knock, because they might not be empty. When you enter the changing room, you have to flip a lever on the bench. This locks the doors and changes the symbol from red to green. When you are done changing, you flip the lever, and exit out a door opposite to the door you came in. In the next room, there are stacks of lockers. You put your stuff in a locker, insert the plastic key card in the door, remove the little key from the front of the door and away we go. Oops, except we needed to rent a towel. The towel lady was around the corner in yet another room. For about $4 they rent you the smallest towel in the world. Oh, and don't forget the towel deposit (requires me to go back to my locker for more cash). Now that we have the micro towel, I have to go back to the locker again to store the towel receipt. If I was going to do this again, I would head down the hall past the changing rooms and snag a towel or better yet buy a towel from one of the vendors in the park. Now it is time for some serious soaking. There are several pools of different temperatures ranging from a bone chilling 20 degrees to a sizzling 40 with some of the pools outside and some inside. The outside pools have a variety of jets and bubbles that you can use. The sun was out, we were relaxing and life was good. In one corner of the pool there were a bunch of old Hungarian guys playing chess. They hang out there all day, eating, drinking a little beer and playing chess. The final hurdle when you leave is your refund. If you stay less than three hours you get some money back. When you exit an attendant takes your bar code card swipes it. You then walk through a turn style and a change machine dumps some coins in a bucket. Whew. A lot of work for some relaxation.
Our friends from Dresden flew down for the weekend and had just arrived when we got out of the pool. We decided to meet at a little cafe for a late lunch. It was a nice balmy day in a quiet little plaza in a cafe that would have been at home in the 1900s. Since the weather was so nice we decided to do a boat trip on the Danube. We were able to sit outside in the sun on the upper deck. The commentary consisted of an explanation about how many rooms each of the fancy hotels on the river had. Okay, we did not spring for the better tour. But that boat did not have outdoor seating. Pretty funny really. As an added bonus there was a large group of Germans doing the stereotypical German thing which consisted of drinking. They made fun of our stereotypical photo taking behavior. Again, pretty funny. Towards the end of the tour, the audio got out of sync with the sites around us. Always nice to be on the water.
For dinner, we went to the very trendy Linze square, where we were able to eat outside and do some serious people watching. Of course we had to finish the evening at the local Irish pub.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Leaving Budapest

Currently we are standing with the rest of the sheep waiting to board Easyjet. The train is much more civilized. Stuff, hot, and my feet hurt.
The full Budapest will be posted later.

Thursday, October 02, 2008


We are definitely in budapest. First impression, not as Disney as Prague. But still not like as much on the edge like when my friends visited in 91.

Eger, Hungary

Tuesday - Sept 30th - my bday.
Our train arrived in Bedpost on time at 7am. The ride was uneventful, but bouncy. It was better than the last night train that we took in Italy years ago (but not as good as Amtrak - kathy). The local ticket counter was only a couple of steps from the platform and we quickly purchased a ticket to Eger. The train was supposed to leave at 9am. Bummer. We did not really feel like hanging around the train station for two hours. As we were walking towards the ATM, we noticed a train that was leaving for Eger at 7:05. Well it was 7:15 and that train looked like it was running late, so we took a chance and hoped aboard. Now it turns out there is basically a train an hour to Eger, but some require a transfer. We weren't sure if we needed to transfer or not. Both trains went through the same transfer point. After looking up the schedule on the web, I decided that this train probably went through. Worst case was we went a stop to far and had to turn around. Kathy wandered the train a bit and found a student sporting an Ipod and confirmed our thoughts. The train ride across the Hungarian plains reminds me a bit like Kansas after a good week of Tornados. The train stations that we passed were mostly dilapidated abandoned hulks. Obviously built 30 or more years ago to the highest communist standards of the time. Some train stops were literally in the middle of corn fields. The crops looked nice though, with fields of corn and sunflowers that went on for miles. At our potential transfer stop, the train turned to the north and started heading up into the hills. The foothills reminded me a bit like some of the rolling hills on the eastern part of Kansas, but larger and drier. We arrived at Eger about 9:30 to a gorgeous fall day. We decided to walk the short distance to our hotel. It was nice to stretch after being on the train. We walked through a really nice park following a small creek to the center of town and our hotel. After walking around the town a bit, we had lunch at our hotel. The goulash was really tasty. It was nice to be back in a country that actually used spices in their cooking. As it was a beautiful day, we hiked up to the castle and strolled around the grounds. From the top you get a great view of the surrounding country side. Dinner was at a small pub off the square. I ended up having veal with parpadella while kathy had some of the local beef that Hungarians are famous for. Afterwards we found a student pub and had a quick beer. The steps in this town roll up pretty early and we were in by 10:30.

This was a total relaxation day. We slept late and then wandered over to the local thermal baths. These consist of a sulfery hot spring pool as well as a larger pool for general hanging. Each of the pools has a variety of jets, fountains, bubbles and even a small river to mess around in. It took a bit to negotiate the high and low tech entrance procedures. Soon we were bubbling away with the rest of the locals. Hot pool, cool pool, river, jets ... Basically you just move around the pools to whatever water feature is active . A lot of people just hanging about. After a bit more hanging about town we decided to head to the "Valley of Beautiful Woman." This valley is about a 30 minute hike outside of town or you can take the taxi or the tourist train/tram. We opted for the train (really an old car with a train facade and pulling three open aired cars). Okay, no body told me that this dude drove like a maniac. Imagine Mr Toad's wild ride and you will get the idea. We did pass many of the sites at a breakneck speed and almost got t-boned by a car only once. Somehow we managed to make it up the valley with most of our bones intact after renaming the train "The Terror Train.". The valley consists of 50 or so caves carved directly into the rock walls of the canyon. Some of the caves contain winestubes, others are just storage for casks. In the midst of this there was a bevy of activity around the fall harvest. Tractors hauling grapes to be crushed, crushing, pressing ... Pretty interesting. Of course you can try the different wines and if you like them you can buy a bottle or a glass. This area makes a really nice sparkling wine and a blend called "Bulls Blood.". The later is a Bordeoux style blend with a couple of extra grapes thrown in that I had never heard of. Amazingly good. First decent red wine that we have had on this trip. Some of the caves had locals filling up plastic jugs of wine to take home, while others were a bit more touristy offering complete meals for tourbus loads of Germans. We picked a couple of good divey cellers to check out. At one of them we met an young American couple, Chad and Ashley, that had been traveling for the last couple of months or so all over Eastern Europe. They were getting ready to head off to teach English for a year in China. They said they hadn't really talked to anyone but each other for the last month. So we hung out together and tasted the local wine. For diner we went to a really nice place that just had outstanding food. I had this foie gras in a Tokay wine reduction that was amazing. I also had a small glass of Tokaj to go with it. Imagine Sauterne the color of Gold. My main entre was duck with a paprika cream sauce and for desert we had a big plate of chocolate deserts. One looked like and tasted like melted chocolate ice cream. I guess you can sell these American tourists anything. Again we headed in early to avoid the sidewalks as they rolled up.

In the morning we went to the local market. It was a multi-storied building with stalls of people selling everything imaginable. Pig's head? yep. Live carp? You betcha. They had the mushroom section and the cheese section and the flowers section and of course the pig butcher and the cow butcher. Upstairs they had a food court with a dizzying array of items. Sausages, fried bread, fried trout, and god knows what else.
Now we are back on the train to Budapest. This time I am sure it is the direct train.