Budapest – Széchenyi Baths

From the time I landed in Budapest until the time my ship was set to sail, I had around five hours to explore Budapest. That’s not much time! The minute I deposited my luggage onboard the ship, I took off.

The first and most important thing I wanted to do in Budapest was to visit a thermal bath. There are hundreds in the area because Budapest sits on top of tons of thermal springs. In fact, “taking the waters” has been part of Hungarian daily life since the Roman times. They are supposed to be medicinal and soothing. In fact, according to Rick Steves (my go-to European guru) said that baths are part of the healthcare system, as doctors regularly prescribe treatments that include massage, soaking in baths of various heat and mineral compositions, and swimming laps. For these patients, a visit to the bath is subsidized.

With indoor and outdoor pools, saunas, massages and other services, I thought this sounded great! Before I left Texas, I bought a ticket to Széchenyi Baths, one of the most popular and convenient spas in the middle of Budapest.

I planned ahead and used a hop-on-hop-off bus tour to get me as close as possible to Széchenyi Baths. I got off the bus at Heros’ Square and walked about five minutes or so through City Park to get there. The building is hard to miss as it’s massive, grandiose and yellow.

Photos from City Park:

           

The Széchenyi ticket I bought online (Thanks, Dawn!) included the use of a cabin to change and store my stuff, which was super useful. I also bought a towel in advance, because I heard the towel rental line could be long and take up a lot of time, something I was short on. It looks a few minutes to figure out how to use the cabin with the electronically chipped band they provided, but once I did, it was easy. Then I hit the water. It felt WONDERFUL! I avoided some of the hotter indoor pools because I’d been sweating from the heat, but the outdoor pools were a pleasantly warm temp. It felt wonderful! There were Hungarians and tourists everywhere, super crowded, but it was entertaining to people-watch and check out all the different bathing suit styles. Speedos were definitely popular no matter what shape or size the wearer was.

                 

    

I spent about an hour at Széchenyi. It was wonderful, and I highly recommend it if you’ve ever in Budapest!

Budapest – I Made It

This morning, I landed in Budapest. Or was it last night? With the seven-hour time difference and the fact that I didn’t sleep on the plane at all overnight, I honestly have no idea. I DO know that I’m in Budapest, Hungary and it’s been a helluva day.

It should be noted that the plane from Toronto to Budapest did not have a single screen, movie or onboard entertainment …and had NO Wi-Fi. I actually gasped out loud when the flight attendant said, “No Wi-fi.” I was scared to ask how old this plane was …

Also, did you know I discovered a possible black market book ring in the Toronto Airport?

Anyway back to Budapest …

The airport was crowded and hot. I went to an ATM in baggage claim because Rick Steves advised me (in all his guidebooks and TV shows) to get local currency here. But I did something wrong because I almost cashed out hundreds of US dollars worth of Hungarian forints, so I quickly canceled the transaction and walked away from the ATM hoping no one noticed I failed to complete a transaction.

Once I had my luggage, I exited customs and entered the arrivals hall of the airport where tons of people were holding up signs and looking for new arrivals. I saw a well-dressed, professional-looking Hungarian holding up a laminated sign that said, “Avalon Waterways.” I made eye contact and smiled, worked my way through the crowd over to him. He knew my name and the boat name, so I let him take my bag and followed him outside. And as I did, a sinking feeling grew in the pit of my stomach. I JUST FOLLOWED  A STRANGE MAN TO HIS CAR IN A FOREIGN COUNTRY WHERE I KNOW NOONE AND I HAVE NO IDEA WHO HE IS. But, he knew my name … and the boat name. This seemed legit? However, the car was not a shuttle or branded. It was a pretty snazzy Mercedes. I asked lots of questions, and it turns out Avalon contracts out with a local transportation company to pick up passengers from the airport and the train station to get them to the docks. Whew.

Spoiler alert, I made it to the ship. If I was a wealthy heiress or in a Liam Neeson movie, this could have had a much different ending.

Things I learned from my driver:

  • He was born and raised in Budapest but could speak 5 languages.  When asked which was the hardest, he admitted German was out of Bulgarian, Russian, German, English and Hungarian.
  • His dad was from Bulgaria.
  • He taught me how to say “Thank you” in Hungarian. It’s “Köszönöm.”  Although, in my notes, I had it written as “Gusanum.” That’s what it sounded like to me.

Once I made it to my ship, I deposited my bags in a holding area and then took off to explore Budapest because I only had a few hours to do so because we had to set sail. So, I hit the ground running.

To be continued …

 

Uncovering Crime in Canada

I might have uncovered a Canadian black market book ring. I’m basically Sherlock Holmes now. Or Hercule Poirot.

One of my favorite authors has a new book coming out in August, and I just found it for sale in the Toronto airport! Three months earlier than the U.S. release.

I have no idea what’s going on here, whether it’s a bizarre publishing world quirk or a black market up here but I’m not looking a book gift horse (or is it gift book horse?) in the mouth. I bought it, yo.

What I Learned from Chaperoning a High School Band Trip

I always swore I’d never chaperone an overnight school trip. The idea of spending days and nights herding teenagers didn’t sound like my idea of a fun time. Somehow, though, I found myself doing exactly that, and I came out of it a changed woman. Last weekend, I spent three days and two nights chaperoning a high school band trip over my birthday, and it was an eye-opening experience. Here’s what I learned:

Bus Drivers: Bus drivers are not created equal. Neither are the actual buses. Thank the dear lord I ended up on one with a calm and competent driver who exhibited no road rage while also providing wifi and plugs at every seat. I also learned, no one uses the onboard bathroom unless it’s an absolute emergency.

Room Keys: Teenagers manage to lock themselves out of their rooms, despite all four occupants of the room each having their own key. And this wasn’t just one room … I saw this happen with multiple rooms. My own son may or may not have been one of them.

Food: Teenagers are hungry ALL THE TIME. It doesn’t matter how often they eat, they somehow end up starving at midnight during room checks. And these kids are resourceful. I saw them ordering pizza for delivery, black-market room service deals and even some Favr deliveries.

Room Checks: I was in charge of five girls’ rooms, and every night we had room checks. After relaying rules and itineraries for the next day in each room, I often left the rooms wondering if the teenagers actually heard what we said. Their blank stares leave you guessing. But it’s an excellent opportunity to mess with them. I may or may not have told one room of girls that we needed a few bits of their hair to run drug tests.

Tape: Tape can work better than a lock. Every night, after room checks, we had to tape the kids’ doors shut. Once that’s done, they are not allowed to leave their rooms until morning when we untape them. If the tape is found undone, they get in big trouble, possibly sent home. It’s surprisingly effective, despite sounding a bit archaic. I can confidently admit that before this weekend, I have never said, “Okay, we’re taping you in tonight, sleep well.”

Band Directors: They are amazing. They are patient and great with the kids, and they must love what they do (most of the time) to do this full time. I have mad respect for all they do to keep these students safe while enriching their lives with musical instruction, occasional tough love and important life lessons.

Timeliness: Being on time is super important with a big group. For the most part, these kids were pretty timely about making it to where they were supposed to meet at the right time. However, I learned that the same was not always true of the chaperones. I may or may not have been five minutes late to a meeting point and was then roasted by an entire bus full of teenagers. One of my favorite moments of the whole trip.

I also learned that even after reminding teenagers to put on sunscreen at the waterpark, I found myself slightly crispy, and even after roasting kids for losing room keys, I may or may not have ended up leaving my own debit card at a restaurant in San Antonio. I didn’t discover this missing until I was back home, hundreds of miles away. 

Despite my initial reluctance, I ended up having a blast on this trip. I operated on less sleep than I would have liked, but I laughed constantly and had so much fun with the kids and the chaperones. I had great conversations with students I’d never met before. I bonded more with the awesome parents who devoted their weekend to looking after everyone’s kids, and I made some wonderful memories. I’m so thankful for this experience and the adults who spend so much time with my son and others. These are good people.

So, that was my first ever overnight band chaperoning trip. The verdict? I’d do it again in a heartbeat. 

 

The Other Side of 40

Ten years ago, I had a mommy blog where I posted silly stories about my wonderful boys, held zaney contests and explored life. It was fun! The writing and creativity helped me preserve precious memories, forge new friendships and get through a tough time in my marriage.

Now, after a divorce, several moves, a new career and mostly grown sons, I’ve decided to start a new blog with a different purpose. I turned 40 last year and embraced middle age with a decision to try more and experience new things. I got a tattoo and extra ear piercings, smoked pot for the first time ever and renewed my short story-publishing goals. Now, another birthday looms, and with 41, I’m about to embark on my first ever solo trip to Europe and start this blog.

I’m not a big deal. I’m just your average, middle-aged woman on my own journey that I figured others might find interesting or amusing. But mainly I do this for myself, to chronicle this moment in my life and discover what’s on the other side of turning 40.