Sunday, January 23, 2011

Greetings from Budapest - Day One

It's as beautiful here as I was expecting - after Prague, Krakow and Belgrade, I've come to expect all large Eastern European cities to be charming and picturesque, and Budapest, from what little I've seen, has not disappointed. I've seen very little, actually -- just whatever was visible from the drive in from the airport, and then a few blocks around my hotel, which is just one block from the waterfront. But from what I've seen, I've really liked. I hope to start taking lots of photos Wednesday. Through Tuesday, I'll be working during the days.

I've been to Hungary before, in September 2008 - Stefan and I were in Eger, Hungary, where we greatly enjoyed the wine "caves" (and the wine) of the Szépasszony völgy (cut and paste that Hungarian phrase into Flickr to see photos of the area by others -- we didn't take any, unfortunately), and to the endless Hortobágyi Neuzeti Park, a sea of grasslands, where we stumbled upon the Hortobágy Bird Clinic. I've seen more of Hungary than my colleagues have! It's a country I already loved and have been thrilled to return to.

I realized as I was flying that I've never flown into Amsterdam airport. I found it... a bit stinky. Also, I got both the naked body scan AND felt up - plus, my scan was posted for ALL to see. You get patted down immediately after walking out of the scanner in Amsterdam, and I guess it was because I was wearing jeans that I did not get felt up as much as the woman in front of me who was wearing much looser clothing (only my husband and gynecologist are permitted to touch me that close to my crotch). I didn't realize until after being reprimanded for having two bags of liquids instead of one (at least they didn't take one away) and looking back towards the scanner that the naked scan photos are shown right on the outside of the scanner -- there you are, naked, for anyone walking by to see or looking back to see. Thanks, Netherlands! Will it be posted to the Internet next?

Both flights had LOTS of empty seats, so on both flights, the seat next to me was empty, which makes flying more than tolerable.

I got to my hotel here in Budapest at 5 p.m. yesterday, which was 8 a.m. my time - I'd gone 24 hours with just three hours sleep (for some reason, I just could not sleep on the planes). I pushed myself hard to stay up as long as possible, because I knew it was the only way to maybe get on local time in one night. I finally crashed at 8 p.m. Other than waking up two or three times, I got about 12 hours sleep. Even so, during meetings today, I've had to really concentrate on what everyone is saying. I'm OLD. It's 6 p.m. now and I just want to sleeeeeeeep. But I'm determined to stay awake again, maybe even to go out for a beer.

My hotel, the Starlight Suites, is very nice -- exactly what I'd expect on a consulting trip being paid for by the US government. It's in Pest, one block from the river. Buda is across the river. Before I went to bed last night, there was a knock on my door: it was the receptionist, bringing me a pear to welcome me. I like welcoming pears. It made for a great supper.

My day today was spent mostly in a coffee shop on some sort of massive, important plaza that I can't find the name of (it's the one crowned by the magnificent Szent István Bazilika), talking about the issues faced by the education centers we're here to assist and how we can help. The coffee shop is called the California Coffee Shop, and it is definitely the very hip place to be. The highlight of the day was when a guy came in with his two dogs, one a very large retriever mix and the other an oh-so-sweet beagle who loved me to pieces. I sooooooo love being able to take dogs into restaurants in Europe!!

Everyone here is oh-so-fashionable. It reminds me of Belgrade in that regard. This is not a place to go grunge.

No photos yet -- I don't really get to be a tourist until Wednesday. Until then, it's work work work. I've written about what I'm doing over on my professional blog, if you want to read more. I won't be uploading photos until I'm back in the USA - sorry.

And I am LOVING being able to watch CNN International! To know what's happening in the world, and to see how the world views events in America - it's just so enlightening, and so sad that Americans don't know any of this, since the vast majority of Americans have no access to this TV station.

For some reason, I kept saying I was going to Bulgaria -- probably because it's my favorite Eastern European country. Wishful thinking. So I've had a running joke with Stefan about "loving it here in Bulgaria!" Typical American -- I also still confuse Sweden and Switzerland...

My dog is from Hungary...

Off to supper -- and beer!

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