Sunday, April 25, 2010

Thinking Old

Once, planning a vacation was part of the fun. Reading background material, planning the route, reserving flights, car rentals, lodging ... Now, you prefer an organized tour to sit back be served.

Once, your bruises healed in a day or two. Now, you go to physiotherapy, you have pain every time the weather changes and after many months you are wondering if your body will ever get back to its previous state.

Once, your body was that functioning thing you didn't worry about. Now, you devote time to maintenance and you can still feel pain in multiple places at once.

Once, it was easy to get rid of a few kilos, even though you ate unhealthy food. Now, it seems mission impossible, even though you only eat whole-wheat, whole-grain rice and brown sugar.

Once, you told friends what happens in your life. Now, you tell them what happens in your children's life.

Once, you wanted to visit distant, exotic islands. Now, you sadly acknowledge that your world of interests is shrinking.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Budapest in the Spring

Budapest in the spring is mostly cold. The city itself is a mixture of  Art Nouveau buildings, baths, stocking shops, excellent food, fine china and great shows.

We rented a studio apartment for a week (price is about the same as a 4-star hotel) and had a rich program every day: landmark visiting in the mornings and shows in the evenings. Public transportation is good, especially trams and metro. The buses are more run down. Prices, in general, are still lower than Western Europe (inevitable with a conversion rate of HUF 260 = 1 Euro), but much higher than, say, 5 years ago.

All the beautiful buildings were built around 1900, but not all of them are maintained properly. The combination of tarnished buildings and glitzy neon signs make a weird sight. The most famous bath, the Széchenyi, is an architectural masterpiece, but lacks some modern comfort. There are not enough signs inside (if you don't know the place, expect to get lost), no water way from the inside out and the entrance system is overly complicated (you need a special wristwatch, a card and a key to operate it) - no wonder they have workers there to explain how all this works together. The showers are scarce, with no privacy or space for your stuff and there is no comfy place for those important finishing touches before the exit. Haven't seen a kiosk or restaurant inside, either. 

The food is one of the major features in Budapest. You can lunch starting at around HUF 800, indulge yourself in one of the fine cafés or restaurants, or buy food in the market hall. Some must-order dishes are gulyásleves (goulash soup), halászlé (fish soup), paprikás or pörkölt (meat stew with lots of paprika), túrós csusza (pasta baked with cottage cheese and bacon), galuska or gombóc (filled dumplings), gesztenypüré (sweet chestnut puree with whipped cream), and Somlói galuska (sponge cake dumplings with chocolate sauce, rum and whipped cream). Of course, there are many, many others. Also worth trying are Pick salami, kolbász (sausage), hurka (fresh sausage), tepertős pogácsa (round puffed pastry with bacon), birsalma sajt (quince jelly) - for a start. Don't forget to stock up on paprika and pálinka (brandy). Hungarian cuisine includes an endless list of dishes and sweets. On our daily way to the closest tram station, we passed an excellent confectionery, where Peter had cake every time we passed by. I had some too - the scales in my bathroom still remind me the sweet sins.

Budapest has about 100 theaters and concert halls. We watched diverse shows, from grand operetta productions to fringe. There is an endless variety of just about every performing art form.

Shopping experience depends on your budget. Souvenirs abound all over the city, from cheap touristy items to Zsolnay or Herendi porcelain. I bought a small Kósa Klára pottery piece in a gallery in Szentendre.

A week in Budapest is a great battery recharger, there is a lot to see and experience.

Some of the pictures we took can be seen here.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Dishwasher Woes

You know those annoying people who wash their dishes before inserting them into their dishwasher? Or those who don't put pots and pans into it? Heaven forbid the poor dishwasher should work too hard...

I had on old Siemens that needed too many repairs lately, so we declared it defunct. Eli, the technician, came this morning and took it away for spare parts. Because we liked it, we bought a new Siemens dishwasher. The inside of the new one has more features, but it's less user-friendly. For example, the additional shelf for knives does not open completely so it's inconvenient to push a piece under it, in the corner.

The machine came with a booklet that shows, among other things, how to load it. Unless you are German, you will find it hard to believe they actually tell you where to put each piece, depending on the type of food that was in it. Also, the cutlery basket has a lid with individual holes for each piece and a picture shows where to place spoons, forks, teaspoons, each one in its dedicated place. Knives have their own individual rails in the top rack. I can imagine the clever Siemens engineers applying all that calculus to determine the perfect angle for each piece to get the optimal exposure to water and detergent and the right space between the pieces based on their shape and hight for best results. With all due respect, I hereby solemnly declare I have absolutely no intention of loading my dishwasher according to your instructions. Why? Because my ID expires before I place every teaspoon in its own little hole. 

In your effort to give us the best results, you forgot that machines should make our lives easier and not the other way around.

Saturday, April 17, 2010


Do you realize that right, in English, means the opposite of both left and wrong? Same in Hungarian. The name of their neo-Nazi party, Jobbik, is not only an acronym of Jobboldali Ifjúsági Közösség ("Right-wing Youth Community"), but a word on its own, meaning "the better one". In the recent elections, Jobbik gained entry into parliament for the first time after winning 16.71% of votes. Hungarian Jews say the atmosphere, narrative, colors, uniforms, marching and antisemitic incidents are like pre-WWII. They didn't believe then anything bad will happen to them and they don't believe now. 
According to their spokesman, getting on the first plane to Israel doesn't solve the problem, but they expect Israel to help. Although I'm sure Israel will help as much as it can, but preventing any single antisemitic manifestation is a somewhat unrealistic expectation. IMHO, the solution is getting on that plane. 'So you think that being nuked by Ahmadinejad in Tel Aviv is better than being attacked by a Hungarian neo-Nazi in Budapest?' asks my friend A.
Short answer: yes.
Long answer: The reason I chose to be an Israeli taxpaying citizen rather than a wealthier American or Canadian one is to maintain this country for Jews who wish to come. Don't wait to be shot into the Danube.