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This is Charles de Gaule airport – it’s huge! Thank goodness I checked in my humongus red suitcase (with gifts for friends here), because carrying it on the plane would have been difficult.
Tuesday, 18 September
Over the Atlantic, just as dinner was served Penny & Jamie gave me a birthday card (it was 12:05am Paris time). After dinner watched “The Exotic Marigold Hotel” (really relative for me) and tried to sleep. Normally that’s not a problem, but my bionic titanium “pin” made it difficult.
The Air France gate agent in New York had insisted that I request a wheelchair upon arrival in Paris (P & J concurred), and I am glad that I did because it was a long way from arrival to Terminal D Gate 53 (where my Paris to Budapest flight would begin). The crutch had already moved us to the front of several lines and early boarding. Aéroports de Paris provided two chair aides (Christelle and Hussein) who were extraordinarily kind and helpful. Christelle even arranged for my red bag to be sent straight to Budapest (avoiding customs in Paris), and took the three of us past everyone to get passports stamped (well that’s not really done any more).
I said “good-bye” to P & J until arriving at the villa they’ve rented in Uzès, France in October. They’ll be in Paris with Lorene & Doug Frazer until September 25. Hussein took me to Gate 53, and found me a seat for my 5+ hour wait for the flight to Budapest. Fortunately within 50ft. was a Brioche Dorée (snack bar). So I had my first café au lait and even a banana (always health conscious). The WC was next door so I could finally brush my teeth and refill my water bottle. I’d almost lost it to security twice, having to empty it both times – when will I learn not to fill it? I sat ‘way at the back so I could read, put my head down (couldn’t nap though), use the airport’s free 15-minute wifi to email home, then read a couple of the titles I’d downloaded from the Richmond Public Library ebook selection.
The flight to Budapest was smooth (under two hours – although we left late), and again there was a wheelchair aide waiting for me (and another lady). He maneuvered both our chairs at the same time – amazing, and took us to get our checked bags (my behemoth red bag). I waited while he took her through customs and out, then he did the same for me (nothing to declare of course), delivering me to the waiting area where I saw Doug’s smiling face! Awesome! After a bus + a couple of train rides we arrived in Vác and there was Lea with welcoming flowers (so European … I love it)! Doug took the red behemoth to their house and Lea and I went to mine. It’s a guest house (bed and breakfast) called Tabán Pánzio and I really like it. Pictures to follow, along with its address information in case you’re ever in the neighborhood.
Walked back to their house (Karen had arrived … what a sight or sore eyes) for a delicious dinner. I met Pascal the cat – which was wonderful since I’m really missing mine. Karen excused herself to do homework (you go girl!) and I left for bed (Lea walked me back, as Doug was teaching an English lesson).
I was checking my emails and FB … then woke up. I didn’t even realize that I’d dropped off, so it must be bedtime! Bonne nuit!
Here are scenes of the Vác town center – I can’t wait to explore!
Wednesday, 19 September
It’s about 9:30am and I’m sitting at he eastern end of the Vác town square drinking a dark chocolate bar … well that’s how it tastes: thick, dark and rich! No wonder they serve it accompanied by a glass of water. If this were Spain I’d be dunking churros into it and they could stand upright. Umm-m!
My first breakfast at Vác Tabán (firstname.lastname@example.org) at 8:00am was outstanding. Irene prepared scrambled eggs, a tomato right from their garden, thin-sliced sausage (sort of like pepperoni), sliced cheese (like a very mild Swiss), good whole-grain bread, a piece of almost cake-bread (slightly sweet like I remember Jean-Jacques bakery’s stolen only softer). Of course there was butter and two kinds of “marmalade” (apricot and raspberry), and juice and coffee. I had to ask for milk (pantomiming/sounding milking a cow) … and Jules returned with a pitcher of milk and sounded “bah-baaaah”, so I’m thinking it was sheep milk. Tasted the same to me, because after finishing the coffee I drank some by itself (not wasting anything I was served!).
Also in the garden breakfast room was Andy Norra, a young man from Reinfeld, Germany. His breakfast had sausages (that’s what I’ll get tomorrow) – which looked almost like light tan hot dogs. He is here to get his EU driver’s license, saying that it was much less expensive that in Germany (even with the airfare).
After breakfast I took a stroll around the town square and found an open-air market behind the church. There was clothing, kitchen ware, a meat stall (my nose led me to the bacon/ham perfuming the air) of course fruits and vegetables probably grown right in this area (I didn’t notice shipping crates), and flowers everywhere. My limitations are not knowing any Hungarian and not knowing the exchange rate for the Forint (Hungary’s currency) – which saved me from buying anything. I tried English, French, Spanish, and a little Italian and some 6th grade German to no avail … except here in the Chococafe. Right now the small carillon in front of me is tinkling the hour followed by a short “song” – charming is the word that comes to mind. It fits the locale with its lovely architecture, flower beds, and even the lady sweeping the square (with a broom – not a loud blower) and picking errand weeds from the pavement. It’s a school/work day and I really can’t tell if I’m seeing locals or tourists (unless it’s by shopping bags, baby carriages and dogs on leashes vs. cameras, backpacks, ice creams and walking in line).
I’m thinking about trying to walk to Lea & Karen’s school (2k from here), or continue exploring the areas around the square. I may even attempt the hill down to the Duna River. Last night my street (Dombray út) reminded me of three places: 1) a street in Tegucigalpa, Honduras and one in Toledo, Spain – one car wide, no parking, narrow sidewalks, double-wide portals (for carriages / cars) to enter the houses for parking; and 2) a street in Paris, France – with cobblestones and a steep descent (to the river – like back down Montmartre’s hill).
Doug returned home at about 11:30, and I met him and we chatted while he ate lunch. Then he went back to the school for the deaf (and later to baseball practice) and I continued my Vác tour (Heidi would be proud). I walked all around my neighborhood – up hill and down, even to the Duna River (yes, that’s the Danube). Today’s temperature was about 65º and sunny with no humidity, but Doug says that the Hungarians think it is humid (come to Richmond!).
I took a break just before dinner then we all went to a Hungarian Italian restaurant. Pork chops with mushrooms, onions & peppers was a delicious choice!
It started raining on the way back “home” … so tomorrow might see me uploading some of my pictures. There’s a chocolate festival in Budapest this weekend … imagine that!
|Really delicious chocolate|
|View from my window west to the Danube|
|Looking left (south) from my room|
Thursday, 20 September
It showered all night and was cool and cloudy this morning (15*C) … so I decided that this would be a good time to see if I could remember how to download/save all the pictures I’d been taking. Marnie and David at CapitalMac did a good teaching job, and I was able to put some of the shots onto a Väc photo page.
Breakfast was so filling that I skipped lunch altogether. Irene prepared something I’d never seen but plan to copy. Two eggs with slices of mild ham, or Canadian. Bacon, underneath, topped/surrounded/embedded in grated cheese (not real strong) until the cheese melted and the whole thing was flipped onto the plate. Sounds “interesting” but really good. Two tomatoes, bread, that cake/bread, butter and jams, and coffee.
Before I knew it, it was 2:00 and Lea called to say that she’d be leaving school soon. I got a lesson in using my debit card at an ATM for some Forints (29,000 = $135 give or take).
She, Karen and I strolled to a friend’s home to have “tea”, but it was more like a “tea party” with so many goodies that I didn’t want any dinner either! Grace was so welcoming, as was another friend, Shannon, and her two delightful little girls. After a couple of minutes I felt like an old friend (old as in long-term, not aged). No, I won’t go through the menu this time.
Afterwards we went back to meet Doug – he’d worked most of the day pouring cement and raking the rock-strewn baseball infield. I spent a couple of hours bonding with Pascal before heading home and getting another “here’s how to use a cell phone” lesson from Lea. For some reason my computer savvy just doesn’t translate to phones.
Before bed I found CNN in English and was able to catch up on the news (instead of online). There’s a guest across the hall … I’ll see who tomorrow.
Lea, Karen , Shannon et al on the way home.
It was a lovely afternoon!
Friday, 21 September
Oh joy! Last night there were other guests in the rooms across the hall … and this morning at the breakfast table, as I arrived, they all said “BONJOUR” (at last a language I could finally understand!!) … well my conversation button got turned on for the first time, as we chatted all through the meal! They are from Nantes, France and are on a walking tour. I was so excited that I forgot to take a photo of breakfast (which was a fried egg, toast & jam, long sausages (reminiscent of “Vienna sausages”), a tomato, and that lovely yellow cake/bread. I did get their email addresses, and remembered to get a photo … catching them just as they were leaving. Of course I didn’t think about using the built-in iPad camera! They had asked Jules for directions to the train station, but didn’t speak Hungarian (I could relate to that) … but, since I had been there just three days before, I could tell them exactly how to get there (using “giving directions” vocabulary from Discovering French Nouveau 1. Okay students … what you learned last year really works!).
Am seeing lots of student groups and was told that there are school day field trips all the time.
I met Lea and Doug and went to the grocery store … my selections were canned sardines, patés (pork and goose varieties), and crackers. Of course two cheeses (yes, they need refrigeration, but I couldn’t resist!). I was thinking late night “picnic” sometime in the future. Then across the street to a bakery for fresh bread, and through the outdoor market to a bookstore (where I bought postcards for the children of a former student who are starting a postcard collection – according to Facebook).
Lunch at Messina Étterem (where we had dinner the other night). Just me, Lea had to go home to prepare for youth group tonight, and Doug was teaching a class before going to baseball practice. I chose pizza (no, that’s not my normal preference, but Lea recommended it). Great choice! Cracker-thin crust that crunched and would be good all alone. Smelled faintly like wood smoke (ie. a real oven). It had tomato sauce, mozzarella, Parma ham and wild mushrooms (and garlic paste spread on the crust first). The thing was about 12″ across, and I thought I could take the left-overs to Doug for later … good plan, poor execution! If I were a “sweets” (not “savory”) person, I’d have had a ice cream, but opted instead for a cup of “American” coffee. More like expresso with sugar and milk (heated) on the side. The bill came to 1970HUF (Hungarian Forints) = divide by 200 = $10.00 (sort of?) including the tip. Nap time?
Next on the agenda (like I had one) was a visit to the Piarist church, the cathedral and the Bishop’s palace and to try to locate the “thermal baths” that I saw in an online guide and assumed they were remnants of an ancient Roman facility. If there were any I couldn’t find them or perhaps I didn’t read the brochure correctly, but I did find the “beach” = the city’s swimming pools. When I was in Hungary in 2003, I found the ruins of a Roman settlement / market / forum that unfortunately was closed (it was after November 1). But I did see that unmistakable stone + brick construction in a wall as I Iooked down into it.
The Vác tourist office gave me a really useful town map with each site numbered on the drawing of the building. The website http://www.planetware.com/map/vac-map-h-h42.htm was also helpful.
Supper was at Lea & Doug’s and Doug was the chef, making delicious mushroom burgers and fresh corn on the cob. Ummm-mm. We had some of today’s cheese purchase afterwards. I left before the youth group meeting, deciding that stretching out on my bed would be a good idea after all the walking I did today. My surgeon had told me to “walk – walk – walk” … if he only knew!
So I did some laundry, checked the news – saw the Space Shuttle landing in California (did I say I’d found CNN in English?), answered some mail, watched a PBS show online, and finished this post.
What a great day!
What a treat … speaking French at breakfast!
Easy to spot these kids on tour.
Saturday, 22 September
Every day gets better!
Cheesy eggs & ham again this morning, and guests from Sweden with whom I could speak in English. Lea was off today (no school on Saturday), so we went to the market and then across town (to the south) to see “Doug’s” baseball field. There were about eleven kids and three adults tossing, hitting, running, and generally having a wonderful time from 10:00 to noon. Doug was coaching an adult baseball team until they withdrew from their league play … then the idea of starting a youth team to complete in Hungarian little league was born. Now there’s a field, a backstop, bases, and hopefully soon some place for spectators to sit, and a practice area that isn’t rock strewn!
We strolled toward home along the river bike- and pedestrian-paths. This morning began cool, about 60*, but warmed up nicely into a sunny afternoon in the 70*s. Finally Lea and I had lots of time to sit on a park bench by the river and just talk … delightful!
Next stop … pastries and coffee (Europe here we are!), just to tide us over ’till dinner at 4pm in a favorite spot overlooking the river. Lea bought fresh milk at the market (in order to make yogurt for Monday), then we went back to their apartment. Cat-bonding time, and about an hour to check mail and relax.
Remember my mentioning that carillon with the little bells? Well at 4:00, on the way to the restaurant, I stood in the gazebo directly under it to listen to the chimes and to the sweet song that followed … like surround-sound. Then, before we left the square, we noticed a bride entering the church – beautiful!
This was really an up-scale restaurant with tables on the terrace, in a charming garden, and inside too. They were set up for another wedding party, so the whole evening was a celebration. The meal was superb from appetizers, soups, and entrees, to desserts and coffee! At about 8:30 when the waitress slid my credit card into a portable reader, the button to okay the transaction was labeled “Helyes”. Of course I mispronounced it (it should have been “hey-yesh”, I’ll let you think about how I said it, but it also indicated my agreement of the charge) … and that caused giggles for the rest of the evening! Some memories are just priceless.
We chuckled most of the way back to my place, decided how I’d get to church in the morning, and said “good-night”.
Sunday, 23 September
A “light” breakfast: four slices of toast, two slices of cake/bread, cheese, ham and pepperoni, a tomato and a yellow pepper, butter, jam, coffee, milk … and something like a home-made pimiento cheese with minced onions. Ummmm! No, I didn’t finish all of it, but did wrap a portion of the cake/bread to take to Lea for identification.
I had found a hair dryer in the bathroom (had not noticed it before), so didn’t have to “air dry” this time.
Met Doug and Tibi at the “flag arch” to be driven to church – no way I could have walked there, but Karen and Lea did. Their church is in what looks like a house in a lovely hill section of Vác, east of the railroad and the old section of town (where my guest house is located).
The service was in Hungarian of course, but Adri did a simultaneous translation for me … what an inspiring sermon (based on Ephesians 4).
One of Lea’s friends identified my “cake /bread” as “kalacs” (sounds like “kolatch”) and it is a Hungarian sweet bread that’s braided and similar to a French brioche. It can have cinnamon or chocolate swirls inside, or raisins like mine did.
Took a taxi home to Doug’s and waited for Lea and Karen to arrive for a light lunch … for me crackers and the “Swiss” and “blue” cheeses from the grocery store. Then relaxed in the living room (journaling) while Karen napped, Doug napped, Pascal napped (in a pool of sunlight by my feet), and Lea organized photos online and caught up on emails. What a terrific vacation this is!
At about 5:30 we left for Shannon’s home for dinner, and to enjoy her two little girls. She had made chili … and it tasted just like my mother’s spaghetti sauce! I had two helpings, and it was so good I wanted to lick the bowl! Eliza played with Lea’s camera and my iPad, then cards with Doug, while Claire laughed and babbled until her bedtime. I really felt welcomed and at home (as I did at Grace’s tea party).
Back to my place by 9:00 to see if my carry-on bag would fit into the big red one … so I’d only have one case from now on. Oh boy, it did.
Monday, 24 September
Sausages, yogurt, tomato, toast + butter, jam, “pimiento” cheese, and two homemade condiments: a fiery “salsa”, and a horseradish sauce.
Met Lea between her private lesson and the start of her day at school and had a cappuccino at another pastry shop. We didn’t order a sweet, but the lady gave us a plate of treats anyway!. Doug joined us and had an outrageous three-layered pastry (chaqu’un a son gout). We discussed asking Jules for some sort of itemized bill that I can settle before leaving on Thursday, because I’ll need to go to the bank to withdraw enough Forints.
Coffees are the fuel for traveling, and also allow opportunities for sitting, because after leaving Doug at the school for the deaf, I had an espresso at the coffee shop on the corner of Marcius 15 square (what I know as the main square). Unfortunately this one didn’t have wifi. It’s so nice that you can sit for hours without someone hovering over you either asking what else you want or indicating that it’s time to move on. So I enjoyed reading a downloaded novel on the square until Doug strolled by, and we had a chance for a nice long chat.
I’d thought about spending midday with Lea and Doug, but instead tried the awning covered restaurant in the center of the square. A quick glance at the posted menu looked like all pizzas – wrong! I had pesto grilled prawns with a mesclun salad, plus a bottle of sparkling water. Delicious!=
Later in the afternoon I trekked back to the baseball field with Lea to see Karen and her friends at the first softball team practice. Since this was a “school / work night” we had dinner at home. It was so good just to “chill” and relax! Karen then went to her room to do homework, Doug began an English lesson, Lea walked to Shannon’s, and I returned to my place.
I’m going to spend tomorrow at Lea’s school in her English classes, so explained to Irene and Jules that I’d need a light and earlier breakfast so I can leave at 7:30 when Karen gets here. We planned to take a taxi, but Jules shook his head and was adamant that he would take us himself! I am so blessed to have met these people!
Tuesday, 25 September
Weather = windy, rainy, chilly (where did that come from?). Woke up at 5:00 (excited about going to school?) – answered mail and added some photos to yesterday’s journal. Quick breakfast of coffee, a banana, and yogurt, before Karen arrived and Jules drove us to Boronkay School. The ride only lasted about five minutes, but would have seemed an eternity walking!
They say that old teachers never die … they just lose their class. Well Lea’s classes didn’t seem to care, and welcomed me heartily! Her schedule was quite different from in the USA: if it’s 9:45 Monday it must be math. Her first two classes (in different rooms) were English, and USA history/culture studies (or something like that). She divided the class into work groups – one being to chat with me, asking questions that she gave them five minutes to prepare. I did this four times. And the classes each lasted about 45 minutes.
After the 4th group we visited the “cantine”, like a snack bar, where I bought a grilled chicken sandwich and coffee. There is no lunch period during the school day, so kids grab, or bring, snacks during the 10 minutes between classes.
For some reason I was pooped, so after the bus ride to my place to ask Jules for another ride on Wednesday, it was really good to reach the top of those three flights of stairs to Lea’s place. She did some school work, Doug arrived at 4:00, Karen at 5:00. There was homework and naps, and cat cuddles – relaxing is good!
Dinner was Doug’s wonderful pork, mush rooms, peppers, carrots, onions and corn stir fry … I did the vegetable julienne prep work. After dinner we had a cheese plate and fruit and finished the wine from yesterday. Then Doug’s student arrived for an English lesson, and Lea put away the kitchen.
Doug walked me home where I did some wash then fell asleep reading. Woke up, turned off all the electronics, and the lights, and remember rolling over.
Wednesday, 26 September
Earlier breakfast than usual … Jules had to take Irene to the doctor in Budapest to check on her swollen wrist, and I had to be at the bus stop by 8:14am to go to Boronkay school for the day. Great timing, just as I thought I was getting close (my seat faced the back of the bus, so I really couldn’t see where I was), I noticed the young people gathering up their packs – so I said to one “Boronkay?” (how could I go wrong with a one word question?) … he smiled and nodded, and I got off just in time to see Lea smiling at me!
First class – English, and again the kids took a few minutes to make questions for me (“collaborative / cooperative” works here too). They were very interested in what I liked about Hungary and Väc, the differences between our two countries and my hometown and Väc, what I’d done so far during my stay. The question that caught me short was “When are you leaving Väc?” … I said “Thursday”, then corrected myself “tomorrow” … what a jolt that was, my visit here is just about over!
The French class was very interesting. “Madame” welcomed me in excellent French, she also teaches German and speaks Magyar (Hungarian). Students prepared a few questions in French, and I visited each of the three tables more or less chatting and answering. I think maybe I was supposed to conduct or continue the lesson they had done for the day, or perhaps our wires got crossed, because after the 10-minute break the teacher began discussing the reading, and I listened. Then she had students “interview” each other, and I could join in. It was such fun!
Lea’s next class was to sub for another teacher, so I went to the cantine to sit and write (blog, emails, and even postcards), and eat one of the cans of pâté with a cup of coffee. Her last English class was from 13:40-14:15. We exited after that and we’re able to catch the very next bus. I stopped at the book store for a “thank you” card and gift for my hosts … their home was the perfect place to stay!
Lasagna was waiting for us … had been slow cooking all day and the apartment smelled so good! More resting time … it had been a long, but enjoyable day. After dinner Doug gave an English class, helped me write my “thank you” cards in Hungarian, and in the picture book I bought for my hosts, then walked me home to pack.
I actually leave tomorrow! I am not ready … packing isn’t the problem, leaving is!
Thursday, 27 September
I guess when you’ve lived over half of your life ruled by a schedule and the sound of bells, you can eat lunch, use the toilet, and talk with colleagues – all within the 26 minutes you’re given for lunch. Well, really only 22 minutes because you have to take your class to the lunch room, and pick them up afterwards. So this morning I was all packed with my suitcase, shoulder bag, crutch, and two small plastic shopping bags (with items for Lea and Isabella), lined up at the door by 9:15! Breakfast was at 8:00, and I multi-tasked (don’t all teachers do this?) eating, writing thank-you notes, and inscribing a small Vác photo book for Gyula and Irén Alt (Jules and Irene) – my hosts. Last night Doug and his student had translated what I wanted to say, so all I had to do was copy it correctly, then add a little more in English. Then Jules handed me the “guest book” where everyone writes something. I drew a crude map of the USA highlighting Virginia and Richmond, plus a cartoon (of course) of me with my trusty crutch.
I was back in my room by 8:45 and ready to go in 30 minutes – even taking pictures of the room (which was such a perfect place). By the way, the contact for this guest house is:
2600 Vác Tabán
The proprietors are Guyla and Irén Alt (Jules and Irene)
My room was upstairs on the right – with a balcony, and a bathroom/toilet “en suite” (to use that phrase from HGTV).
With the whole day before me – I thought I’d be a tourist one more time. Walked to the Eszterházy coffee house facing the Duna (Danube) and had a coffee plus a jelly-roll pastry called “pishkotah tahcash” – my pronunciation – I won’t try to spell it in Hungarian! A customer inside helped me order (so I didn’t have to “point and smile”). She then sat outside near me and we struck up a conversation (yes, I talk to everyone) after I said “thank you”. It turned out she is a teacher of English at the elementary school, and knows Lea (from Boronkay school)!
The ferry arrived from the island across the way, and unloaded a huge group (30+) of cyclists (all in bright orange vests). Some cycled up the hill to the Marcius square, and others started walking it. I heard some English, so…. well, you know. Some of the group broke off to have a drink here, and they are from Australia, on a boat-bike cruise along the Danube. That sounds like fun, once I’ve lost this crutch! They said they stayed on the boat at night (like a hotel) and biked during the day as much or little as they wanted. I took a picture, got an email – life is good!
Next stop, the outdoor market for some fresh flowers for Lea (a purple, spikey plant) and three different yummy-looking pastries. I could easily get used to this kind of “retirement” living.
Went back to the apartment to write a bit, eat some cheese and get a dose of Pascal napping beside me before returning to my place to meet Lea after school, and go catch the train to Budapest. Doug arrived in time to go to the Barlang for lunch (the place in the middle of the square where I’d had shrimp). This time I only had a bowl of soup, as I’d sort of filled up on cheese. We met Lea and Karen at my place, Doug carried my suitcase down then headed to practice, and the three of us walked to the station, getting there in plenty of time to catch the 3:28 train.
Lea and I reached Budapest an hour later, and took the metro to the hotel. I was thinking about using a taxi until the fare of $25.00 was quoted! My friend Isabella was waiting in the Mercure’s lobby, and soon Jo Anne joined us – she’d checked in earlier. I went up to drop off my suitcase, and we four walked only about a block to Isabella’s gorgeous condo. She had made a delicious pumpkin soup (butternut squash), and a bread pudding … just enough and perfect.
Lea left for the metro and train to Väc at about 8:00, and we strolled back to the hotel so that Jo Anne could buy a ticket for a bus tour of Budapest. That done, we went outside to a cafe (the hotel is on a pedestrian street lined with eateries) for a nightcap. For me, an expresso, of course. Said good night to Isabella and went upstairs to unpack, write this and go to bed.