Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Paris, Part 2 - With Margy

About halfway through my time in Paris I was joined by my friend Margy from Cape Cod. It was her first time in Paris and it was great fun to see the city through fresh eyes. We hit some of the popular sites, exploring Montmartre and the Sacre-Coeur Basilica, the Louvre and d'Orsay Museums. But mostly we did more of what I had been doing all along, just wandering around, soaking up the atmosphere. A little shopping, a lot of time watching the world go by while we relaxed over wonderful food and wine in cozy little sidewalk cafes.

The aroma of these sausages on the grill was almost irresistible.
Unfortunately, we had just eaten and, in spite of our intentions, we never did pass back by the sausage sellers. I still dream of how good they would have tasted.
But, of course, good food abounds in Paris and we certainly did not go hungry. In addition to the typically French duck confit, escargots, croissants and French onion soup, but we also enjoyed great Italian, Indian and other cuisines as well.

Not only wonderful food but wonderful sights and surprises are around every corner in Paris. It is truly a feast for the eyes as well as for the palate. It was here that I began to regret leaving my real camera behind. I just didn't feel that the camera phone did justice to the surroundings.

This wedding party photo shoot was one of those delightful surprises. Use your imagination. Pretend that I was working with a real camera. Isn't it lovely?

The French have a reputation for rudeness that I think is entirely undeserved except when it comes to taxi drivers. Three times in my life I have had a taxi driver refuse my business while I was being perfectly polite and absolutely sober. And every one of those experiences was in Paris. Once I was with my two young daughters 20 years ago, once I was with Mike 10 years ago and then again on this trip with Margy. We had just enjoyed a delicious dinner in the Latin Quarter. Because it was dark and cold and we were tired, we decided to treat ourselves to a taxi ride back to the hotel. The driver at the head of the queue at the taxi stand wouldn't even roll down his window to ask where we wanted to go. He very emphatically waved us away and went back to whatever he was doing on his cell phone. So we walked and how lucky we felt to be walking as we watched the full moon rise over Notre Dame and then 20 minutes later we saw the twinkling lights the Eiffel Tower. If we had taken a taxi instead of walking we would have missed it all.Two days later we happened to walk past that same taxi stand and saw the same driver at the front of the queue waving away another potential customer. Curious.

And then, just before leaving Paris, the true purpose of this adventure - champagne in France on my 66th birthday. A happy evening spent with my old friend Margy and my new friend Arianna. I couldn't have asked for a better way to celebrate!

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

And Then to Paris

From Budapest I flew to Paris for two and a half weeks. I hadn't intended such a long stay but, as they say, life is what happens while you are busy making plans. I flew to Paris on very short notice and without any hotel reservations. There wasn't much available at any price and I was on a strict budget so I ended up on the outskirts of the city in an area that was somewhat seedy, but very exotic and fascinating. It was truly a multi-cultural experience being in Paris, the city of art & architecture, glamour & haute couture, but in a neighborhood that was primarily Middle Eastern. I walked around for hours every day exploring shops and markets and small cafes. My hotel was down a narrow side street that was dark and deserted at night so I limited my explorations to the daylight hours. I never felt threatened but it wasn't the best of neighborhoods and I wasn't going to push my luck.

After a few days, through a friend in Seattle, I was introduced via Facebook to Ariana. It would be impossible to describe Ariana in one blog post. She is a young American woman, living in Paris, who is a multi-cultural experience in herself. She lived part of her life in Mexico and speaks fluent Spanish, is currently living in Paris and speaks fluent French, while she works on her dissertation in Brazilian history and speaks fluent Portuguese. I'm pretty sure that she has a good grasp of Italian as well. She has packed so much life into 30 years that it's impossible to keep it all straight and I apologize, Ariana, if I've got part of your history wrong. Her energy and enthusiasm are infectious and I thoroughly enjoyed every minute with her whether on a tour of her neighborhood or sitting in her apartment sharing conversation and a bottle of wine.

When I met Ariana she was planning to go away for a few days and offered me the use of her apartment. She said I would have the experience of living in a typical Parisian apartment, but, just as there is nothing typical or average about Ariana, there is certainly nothing typical or average about her apartment.
It is filled with bright colors, souvenirs of her travels, fascinating books and lots of art, most painted by Ariana herself. In spite of all the bright imagery and creative energy, I found staying in her apartment to be peaceful and relaxing and a very special gift. Thank you, Ariana, for so warmly welcoming me to Paris.

From Ariana's apartment I began to explore the heart of Paris. The timing was perfect to meet up with childhood friends from Shelton, WA. Charlie and his wife, Mary, had been living in Paris for the past year. His sister, Julie, was visiting with her husband, Brandt. It was great to catch up with them and to share a walking tour of the city led by Charlie who knows Paris so well. I was introduced to an area of Paris that I hadn't seen before and enjoyed so much that I returned to it several times on my own.
I also spent many happy hours wandering along the River Seine and wherever else my feet and mood led me.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Eating In Hungary

You may have realized from my previous post that I really enjoy visiting Hungary and that one of the reasons is for the food. On my last evening in Budapest I went out in search of dinner. In the spirit of adventure and also believing that the meal would be delicious wherever I ended up, I planned to stop at the first restaurant that looked like it was well populated with locals. Not understanding a word of Hungarian, a language that bears no relationship at all to any other language I know, I thought that I would just point at the menu and be pleasantly surprised by whatever I was served. I found a warm and welcoming restaurant with just one table open, happily a small table in the corner where a woman eating alone in a foreign country could feel comfortable. When I looked at the menu I was at first a little disappointed to see that it was printed in Hungarian and English. There went the sense of adventure! But how glad I was for that English translation when I saw that most of the offerings were for various combinations of animal guts; intestines stuffed with chopped kidney, scrambled brains topped with sweetbreads, scrambled sweetbreads served on a bed of sauteed intestines... Yes, I did eat there. Thanks to the English translation I was able to order a lovely chicken dish. With no guts.
It is generally a good rule when traveling to avoid the restaurants that cater especially to tourists and seek out the places where the natives eat. The food will often be better and the prices lower. Be aware, however, that most European cultures eat their evening meal later than we are accustomed to. If you plan to find a good dinner restaurant based on the crowd inside at 5 or even 6 in the evening, you are probably going to find a restaurant that is filled with American tourists. In my experience, the locals don't venture out much before 7:30 and in many cases the good restaurants don't even open until after 7, sometimes as late as 9.

Major cities offer familiar options. I avoid fast food even when I am in the States, but especially so in Europe where there are so many more interesting options. Once, though, on my first solo trip, I was feeling timid and confused and vulnerable in the Latin Quarter of Milan, Italy. Everything was so different. So foreign. But I was hungry. I went through the familiar Golden Arches and ordered the Big Mac.
Big Surprise. The 2 all beef patties might have been beef (or perhaps not); the special sauce was Mexican style salsa; there was no lettuce; the cheese was mozzarella; pickles - no; onions - yes, sauteed and lots of them; and, the sesame seed bun was, in fact, rosemary foccacia bread.

Best rule of travel: always expected the unexpected and when it comes, embrace it.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

This Way to Langos

In the past 25 years I have been fortunate to travel to Europe several times and 3 of those times I've gone to Hungary. As much as I want to explore new places and see new things, Hungary keeps pulling me back. Several years ago I was working in the restaurant of the Sheraton Four Points Hotel in Eastham on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Most of the kitchen and dining room staff were college students from Eastern European countries and several were from Hungary. I still remember that summer, more than a dozen years ago, as one of the best working experiences of my life. Those Hungarian "kids" were so much fun while still managing to be the most hard working and reliable group of people I have even had the pleasure of working with. I remember them all very fondly.
left to right, Botond, Miklos, Reka and Emese

Fortunately I have been able to maintain a close relationship with one of them, even traveling to Hungary over one long weekend a few years ago to attend his wedding.

My dear friend, Miki, and his lovely wife, Reka, as well as their parents, welcome me into their homes like visiting royalty and make me feel very much like extended family. On this most recent trip, last September, I had the joyous experience of meeting the two newest members of the family, their daughter, Emese, and their son, Botond. They are the most delightful little people and I had so much fun with them! They didn't seem to have any trouble accepting me as part of their family, sharing toys and chatting away like old friends although neither the children nor I ever understood a single word the other was speaking.

Miki and Reka devoted an entire week to showing me the towns and countryside around their home about 2 hours south of Budapest. I am so fortunate to have these friends who could not only show me the tourist sites, but also explain the history, offer insight into current events and share what is the day to day life of the people.

If not for my friends, I probably would never have visited Hungary in the first place, but now that I've been there I would keep going back for the food. One of my favorites is Langos, a fried bread sold throughout Hungary from street-side stands and markets. It is usually offered with a variety of toppings but it seems most traditionally eaten with sour cream, cheese and fresh garlic.

Another favorite is Hungarian salami. Don't bother trying the stuff labeled "Hungarian" in supermarkets in the States. I promise you, it is NOT the same thing!

Hungarian wine is excellent, as well, and I was lucky to have a personal tour of the basement winery of a friend of Miki's. Sadly, Hungarian wines aren't widely distributed in the United States and, judging by what I have tried, the best of the Hungarian wines are consumed in Hungary by the Hungarians. For example, the winery that I visited bottles and sells only by special order to local restaurants and those individuals who are fortunate enough to know of him.

Miki's and Reka's families also welcomed me into their homes for delicious home cooked meals of traditional Hungarian foods. Both Moms are excellent cooks and I was very well fed.

Thank you to my very dear friends for your warm hospitality. I miss you all and can't wait until I see you again. And special thanks with much love to this precious little tiger for all the fun we had together.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Catching Up On 6+ Months

Outside a flower shop in Budapest
It has been a very long time since I was here and I've covered a lot of ground since then. I hardly know where to start. We sailed up the west coast of Baja as far as Ensenada before flying home to Seattle in mid-July. In August we drove south from Seattle, leaving the car in San Diego while we went back to Mexico to get the boat. We sailed north for a day and s/v La Volante Frances Jane was back in the USA for the first time in almost 3 years. 
I love San Diego but I didn't stay long. Mike had several major boat projects planned so I decided to stay out of his way with a 7 week trip to Europe. It was designed as a budget trip out of necessity as well as the curiosity to explore just how affordable European travel can be. It started with "free" flights on airline mileage points and the budget aspect was highlighted with 3 nights at $15 per night in a Budapest hostel where I slept in a 6 bed, mixed sex dorm with one bathroom. As it turned out, I was the only woman in the room and I spent my nights with a middle aged man from Spain who spoke no English, a college student from Turkey, a Kurdish man from Syria who wanted to marry me and come to America and a German man who had no luggage, not even a toothbrush, and spoke not a word to any of us for 3 days. Ah well, I was looking for a different experience and I certainly found it there.
After my return from Europe we drove to Seattle for the holidays. It was a very special and unique time as all of our daughters were there for Christmas; the first time since Mike and I met 10 years ago that we have all been in the same place at the same time.
On December 26th we drove south, and moved the boat back to Ensenada, Mexico where we will stay for the next 2 months.
I didn't take my camera to Europe but still got a few good photos with my phone. I will share just a few of them with a quick review of the trip over the next couple of days and then we will all be caught up with what I've been up to. Thanks to all who have asked. I'm always surprised but very pleased when people request more of my blog. There are so many interesting ways you can choose to spend your time. I really appreciate it when you choose to spend some of that time here with me.