Talk Nerd to Me

There were various ways technology influenced or assisted me on this trip. Last night, I had the pleasure of dining with a friend’s mother and sister, both natives of Budapest. Although I had met them in the past when they visited Maryland, the language barrier meant we had only waves, smiles and greetings spoken through my friend translating very brief conversations. However, Mom was instrumental in selecting my bedtime and breakfast, the Butterfly Home B&B. I wanted to take her to dinner in thanks. I came prepared with my iPhone and iPad.

My iPhone was invaluable for last night at dinner. I do not speak Hungarian, and still can’t pronounce, ejgeszsegedre! Bring on The iPhone app “translate” to the rescue. Mom would write down what she wanted to say in Hungarian and I would type in and translate to English. If I needed to say something I would type it and translate. It had a few hiccups but worked for the most part. At the same time, I was Facebook chatting with my Hungarian friend, and she could also chat with her Mom and sister too. The iPad let me show off some pictures from my trip. It was a lovely evening and I think everyone had a good time. I know I did.

My family is not going be surprised at the next statement, but I connected with other people talking about technology! Talk nerd to me anytime! I had a few conversations with various people about iPhone vs Android (about 50/50 in France, many more iPhones in other partsof Europe. Mac vs PC, same arguments as always…and what programming languages people are using for software development. The nerds can always find a common topic to converse no matter what their first language is!

As I sit at my gate in Budapest and look around, I see more electronic devices than books. People are on their smart phones or tablets, I’ve seen very few laptops on this trip and surprisingly, no netbooks. There were many places that had free wifi, like this airport and my hotels/apartments. It was not always reliable, but good enough to keep up communications at home.

I wish my prepaid SIM card had worked out. I’m hoping I didn’t overdo the data charges for AT&T. There were times it was invaluable, I used the GPS locator on my phone, on both night trains, and sometimes to get my bearings in a new city or to get directions. This was important when traveling alone.

My one mistake was to leave my adapter in my checked bags in Prague when I took the night trip to Cesky Krumlov. My battery was nearly out when I arrived again in Prague, and this was an issue since there were so many train problems. All worked out in the end, but thinking i was going to be off-line due to no power made me the most nervous!

I think the Internet has made the world a much smaller place. With the exception of Budapest, I booked everything sight unseen based on reviews of various websites, such as Venere, Airbnb, Kayak, Trip Advisor and Rick Steve’s Website. I noticed that through out my travels, each store front or advertisement showed either a web address or Facebook page. It’s nice to know that I can revisit a little gift shop with the click of a button.

Gone are the day of pen pals. I’ve made new Facebook friends along the way. Now my newsfeed will come in even more languages! It’s wonderful that I can continue to stay in touch with these new friends and know that our paths may once again cross, somewhere in the world.

Technology allowed me to stay in touch with family and friends back home. I texted, facebook’ed and Face Timed all along the road, allowing me to be not lonely at all. Last solo trip I had my journal, this time I had my blog. I spent a dinner in Bruges sharing conversation and pictures with friends/family while I ate solo but was located in the town square. That’s the really cool!

Each morning I was greeted by a night owl friend. Her late nights corresponded with my early mornings. Each day we would chat online as I got ready for the day and often as I ate breakfast. Her witty conversations were a perfect way to start the day. It was a great way to debrief from my daily tours, but it also led me to the discovery of stickers in Facebook’s chat feature. Lot’s of laughs using that feature! I feel like she was a travel companion in way. I hope we can travel together in person at some point. I think we would have a lot of fun.

So, this trip really did combine two things I really love, technology and travel. Lucky me!

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What Do You Mean You Want Me to Get Naked in Front of You?

Now that I have your attention lets get to the nuts and bolts.

I went to the Gellert Spa today in Budapest. This city is known for its thermal spas and I definitely wanted to check them out. The Gellert is attached to the Gellert Hotel and is just across the Danube on the Buda side. I could taken the tram or walked from my hotel. I chose to tram there and walk home across the river.

I booked this before I left the states using Visa points but the spa day and a massage were quite reasonable. The locals like to use the other spa, so I will probably check it out before I leave. It was very hot today and surprisingly using the outdoor spa was quite refreshing. I hung out more in the thermal pools then the actual cool pools. The had a wave pool that made waves on the hour. Video of the wave pool I took

Because I had a voucher, I had a mini tour using the map and a quick explanation of everything in english which was good because even when I got inside it was a bit confusing. It didn’t help that he handed me a map in Spanish. I was given a plastic bracelet that gave me entrance to my cabin. ( more like a very small changing room to keep valuables and clothes) . Just arriving here today I still don’t have the new conversion from Dollars to Forints down. The 7200 they wanted for the towel and mandatory swim cap roughly converts to 32 dollars! After I looked at my wallet and realized I had very little money left. I hoped this was just a towel rental plus deposit. If not, I’d have to recommend definitely bringing your own towel, like most people. The other way I felt ripped off was the need to buy a swim cap. I did so grudgingly, but noticed many people did not use them.

Besides the Help desk lady who was not so helpful I found the rest of my spa experience nice. I learned where you had to sit in the thermal pool to get in line for the “free” water massage. Better known as the pipe that fills the pool but feels like a strong head and neck massage if you let it run iver your shoulders. In one pool, I learned to slide over because when they stopped filling the pool, bubbles were turned on but only in a certain part of the pool At one point I went from head and shoulder massage to lower back massage, ahhhh.

I realized that I am able to figure things out even with a language barrier if I sit back and observe first.

Beer was cheap, food not so good and no need to buy the bottled water they sell for more than beer because there was a refill bottled water station down by the information desk.

It was a hot day–near 98 degrees. I found the thermal pools quite refreshing!

My massage was scheduled for 3pm the English guide asked me to come 20 minutes early to get situated but when I arrived at 2:40 the told me come back at 3!

Marie met me at the front desk where I had to swipe my bracelet to show my reservation.

On a side note, they had similar bracelets at Blue Lagoon in Iceland. I liked that your credit card was tied to your bracelet so no need to carry cash or credit card around with you all day and as I recall, you could settle your bill by paying cash OR credit card when you left the Blue Lagoon. Best system ever. Unfortunately, at the Gellert the bracelet only let you in, opened and closed the door to your cabin and let them know who your reservation was with for the massage. This was strictly a cash only place.

Back to the main point of this post! She gathered a fresh sheet and chatted about her new shirt with other workers. At least that’s what it appeared like they were talking about.

We went into the massage room where she prepared the massage table. I don’t remember the particular conversation we had but I did ask her if I needed to get undressed and she said, “Yes.”
Her body language showed she wasn’t going anywhere.

“So you want me to get naked in front of you?”, I thought. I stood and looked at her and she at me. Not even offering me a bathrobe or towel..I guess they knew I was running short on cash anyway!!

I’m thinking to myself, “Hey, even my OB-Gyn leaves the room for me to get undressed.” So, having given birth to two children and realizing there is no longer a thing called modesty when your mother-in-law has seen your naked backside in the throes of back labor, I tried to elegantly peel off my wet bathing suit which is tough enough to do when I’m alone let alone when i have a stranger I just met staring at me. Okay, she could have been looking the other way, but I couldn’t tell because I was stuck with a wet bathing suit tangled over my head. I struggled a bit but finally got it off and looked for a hook or something to hang it on. No luck, I flung it across the lonely chair and muttered something about the difficulty of getting off a wet bathing suit. I finally peeled my bottoms off and jumped up on the table facing up, stark naked. Finally she covered me with the very thin small sheet. Just remember, no one will ever know this happened. It’s just between you and me.

I’ve had all types if massages in many different spas, but this was the first in which my actual derrière was massaged. Totally worth stripping for! There were muscles with knots I was unaware of that she was able to loosen! I know TMI. A friend recently posted on FB that it takes 200 muscles to walk. I think she massage a good 190 of them. But really overall the entire massage worth the loss of modesty.

A thirty minute was less than $20!

Of course, the comedy continued when I had to put back on my wet bathing suit on a now oily body. Luckily she helped me pull down the back of my top when I struggled with it. But then again, we were old friends by that time!

I had been warned that there were separate thermal pools for men and women and that there would be various states of undress in the women’s spa.
A sign said that starting in January 2013, all thermal spas were coed.

If you go make sure you bring a swim suit, towel –which you can rent for about $6 when your deposit is returned, an optional swim cap, and you have to have flip flops or swim socks. On a day like today, sun block was necessary but I did not see for sale.

There were indoor and outdoor thermal pools. There was a wave pool that activated on the hour and an indoor cool pool where it appeared to be where you had to wear a swim cap.

Go early. It got crowded. When I left around 5pm there were people waiting outside because the spa was filled to capacity.

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Czech it out

Cesky Krumlov was in every guide book as a must see. I simply had to Czech it out! Unfortunately, I did not read the guidebooks carefully enough and booked a train coming and going out of Prague. Apparently, the way to go is to book a shuttle.

It took me five hours to make it from Prague to Cesky Krumlov via Ceske Budejovice. What should have been a 15 minute layover turned into 1.5 hours. Not much to Czech out in that train station. It had a very Cold War feeling to it,a stark and utilitarian. The train from there to CK was a local train so we stopped every 10-15 minutes. It is clearly summer and you could see locals biking, playing in the rivers, BBQing and sun bathing. Beautiful view through Bohemia — just a rather slow trip. I finally arrived at the train station around 7.

As I arrived a hot air balloon floated by, perhaps I had landed in Oz?

I’m very thankful that I placed my backpack in storage luggage back in Prague because the .7 mile walk from the train station was very steep, cobblestones windy road into town.

As I finally found my way down the hill I saw the gate to the town. It was like walking through a time warp. I imagined horse and cart and weary traveler passing through the gate.

Luckily, my hotel was just steps beyond the gate. After checking in and unpacking me small Ikea bag I had packed with a days clothes and personal effects, I realized I had forgotten to pack a cord for either my iPad or iPhone. I was really going back in time! Since both were at 50% power I was going to have to live with my old world wits.

I wandered my way to the Castle grounds. They were very serious about their security at this castle. They had European bears in the moat!

I realized they build the castles on the highest point around which meant I wold be climbing once again. The path was steep, but worth every step. Each new level revealed and amazing view of Cesky Krumlov. The sun was just setting and I didn’t realize it until I got I e top, but SAturday nights in the summer is a music festival. I sat at the top to catch my breath and energy and listened to the sweet sounds of Jazz fill the night air. It made the climb to the top worth every precious step.

As I descended down the hill, I was able to take some amazing pictures of the views below. Families and young couples holding hands were enjoying the castle grounds. That has been the first time on the entire trip that I really wished I was traveling with someone. I made my way into town where there were street performers and crowds cheering them on. Many shops were open and I wandered around for a bit. I didn’t have much cash on me, so I settled for a panini and brought it back to the room to eat it.

I was able to sleep soundly knowing I was in this fantasy land.

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Public Transportation

As a metropolitan DC area resident, I have commuted by and used the Metro system for 20 plus years. During that time I have seen a marked decrease in the quality of service and an increase of delays and closures and continued broken escalators and elevators. Metro used to be the go-to way to commute downtown.

Not only is the commute extremely expensive, they now are going to a Smart card system that should be less expensive and yet they have figure out a way to nickel and dime you to death. Let’s not get started with the highway robbery of the cost to park in a Metro commuter lot.

I’ve had to ride on several transportation systems while here in Europe and I’m just wondering, why can’t metro seem to get it right?

In Paris, it is a zoned system so you only need your ticket to get into the metro. DC could certainly do something similar. No rush hour fares. One low price no matter where you go in the zone. Paris metro is easy to navigate and there seems to be a metro stop convenient to anywhere you want to go. Even from the airport it’s easy to catch a train and then switch to metro.

Although I only rode public transportation once in Amsterdam it too seemed affordable and convenient especially the tram system.

In Prague. Use both the metro and the tram system. Both use the same validation system –like Berlin. You can buy a ticket that is good for 60 minutes, 1 or 3 days good for the metro, tram or funicular. You validate the first time you use, and unless you are asked by an inspector for your ticket you never have to show it. Not once did I see an inspector while we were in Prague. There are steep fines for riding the metro/tram without a validated ticket. It inexpensive and extremely convenient.

The trams/metro trains in all the cities were quick and came every few minutes. The prague system has several colored lines like DC with centralized transfer stations. It too. Has deep stations with working escalators. I’m not sure where we have gone wrong–but I am saddened that the system is in the shape it is currently in. Although can eat in any of these systems, they were for the most part clean (maybe not all trains in Paris) and even the non-air conditioned cars were bearable in the summer heat.

Perhaps there are some lessons to be learned.

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Pretty Praha

I Loved Prague. Besides being absolutely beautiful and friendly, it was the experience that put me most in touch with the locals so far.

As I was greeted by the friendly landlady, who had a cold beer and map and guide book ready to review. She shared some out of the way local gems and even walked me to the local Czech restaurant with hidden back terrace. These tips made me feel more like a local than a tourist, and made me fall in love with Prague that much more!

The first day I wanted the city and tried to get my bearings. I did not venture on the tram system until the next day, but found it extremely efficient and saved my poor feet from all the walking on cobblestone. Believe me Prague is worthy walk, but my feet were sore. Each time I thought I couldn’t take another step, something picture worthy was around the corner.

Most Czech’s dealing with the public speak English, and if they didn’t they always tried to help with hand gestures and pointing to the map or guide book. Everyone was so helpful.

The second day a new guest arrived to stay in the the second bedroom of the apartment. That ended up being a blessing in disguise. The male MBA student from Indonesia was stopping in Prague on his way to Copenhagen where he is finishing up his degree and graduating nex week. He’s been commuting between Jakarta and Copenhagen for two years.
He had met a Czech friend on one of the flights last year and was meeting up with her for dinner. He invited me to tag along.

That was one of the highlight meals of my trip. We ate at the Imperial Cafe in the Imperial Hotel. Not only was the setting breathtaking, the food was delicious too. The chef is the Czech version of Gordon Ramsey and has his own reality show.

The company really was made the evening. It was fun exchanging travel stories amongst the three of us. I learned that we share much more in common than we have with differences whether you be from North America, Europe, or Asia.

My new flat mate became my travel companion over the next two days. We attempted to catch a bus to Karlovy Navaro but there was not an open bus in time for us to enjoy the day. We explored Little Town, New town, Petrin Tower, Old Town and walked through the Jewish Quarters. His Czech friend had bought a guide book and highlighted and noted things to do. We stopped in the Tourist Information booth and got the recommendation of a great little cafe for lunch. We really were able to avoid the tourist stuff and explore the city like a Czech. Whether it be the sound and sound exhibit that had Czech children explore the science of these senses or the erector set building exhibit at the bottom of Petrin Tower we were with the locals. The one gem was the ice cream we had at the top of the Prince Hotel, where you could look down from me roof top terrace on to the hordes of people and tour groups. I had learned all about the tower the first day I explored when I stood behind an English tour and listened to the guide. I was able to share the info with my travel companion way above the crowds in an near empty care with a birds eye view of Old Town. Pure Prague Magic!

This morning we headed out to the Saturday farmer’s market. We had been warned not to eat breakfast before we went, and with good reason. We ate our way through the market. Firsts had a coffee, then a pastry while my travel companion had fish. I had a few bite of his dish and it was delicious. Next was sampling of the various items for sale. It was like a magical smorgasbord of fresh foods. The market smelled delicious and there were mostly locals. You heard a mattering of English, but it really felt like we were having a local experience. We finished up the market with the most refreshing drink. They make a base out of fruits, in my case lemons, lines and mint. Tey then add ice–a refreshing change in Europe!–and water with or without gas (carbonation). It was so light and refreshing I want to try and make it at home. The key is to let the base sit for a while.

We headed back to the apartment in time to meet the new guests who would be staying in my room and for the owner to take me by car to the train station. We were early so we were able to get a soda and go to the park and watch her 4 year old son play and we got to chat. What a lovely way to end my stay in Prague. She insisted that I text her when I get to Cesky Krumlov to make sure I am safe. She also wants me to text her on Monday am to let her know I arrived in Budapest safely.

She comes to NYC once a year so we will try and meet up when she comes to the states. So wonderful. She offered to take me to the Czech countryside if I return to Prague in the future. Start a lovely lady.

Tie experience has helped me restore faith in my fellow humans. We are all citizens of the world. Open yourself up to new friendships and adventures and you can expand your world, but at the same time realize it is a Small World after all..

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Things I’m Thankful for on This Trip

There are things I’m particularly thankful for on this trip so far:

  1. My iPhone. It has interactive maps with location finder Is like having my own gps. Invaluable, especially on the train because I had a sense of where I was on the trip and how much longer it was going to take.
  2. the ability to text – I’ve had to text home when there was no Internet. I’ve been able to contact my hostess in Prague about the three hour delay.
  3. the openness of strangers-all I have encountered have been kind and really work with me and shared their stories.
  4. the scenery — just beautiful
  5. Social media that allowed me continuous contact with friends and family –this had made traveling solo not lonely at all.
  6. my Kindle –it proved invaluable on the night train to keep in touch, but made me look like I had been drinking. What I thought was the backspace button was the return button so what I thought I had erased turned out to be a long message that looked like a drunken sailor had typed it.
  7. the lesson if patience with myself and the things in which I cannot change. I do not have control over the trains, other people, when the bill will arrive or the weather. For this lesson I am grateful!
  8. that I am getting graduate credit for taking pictures I will use this year in my classroom! Kill two birds with one stone. It gives me purpose for my photos and I’ll use them and ensure others see them too!
  9. the amount of English people speak. I have no sense for Dutch or Czech
  10. the kindness of those who rented me their apartments, or worked the front desk at the hotels I stayed at. They made traveling alone a breeze.
  11. my family for being so supportive of my travel bug. I miss them terribly and wish they were sharing in this experience. Maybe next time!

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Why Italian Diction is so Important

As I mentioned in an earlier posting, last summer was my “Theatre” summer. I saw a live performance at least once a week all summer long. I’ve seen a lot of street performers while in Europe, but tonight I decide to shell out some cash to see a paid performance. There were three different performances to choose from: Musical Theater, Opera/Classical or The Four Seasons. I opted for the performance with show tunes.

The flyer said there would be three soloist, a sax player and a piano player. A variety of songs were to performed from Cats, Phantom of the Opera, Porgy and Bess, Rhapsody in Blues, Les Mis, Westside Story, Hair, Hello Dolly, and My Fair Lady.

The setting was beautiful. Inside an old monastery, the ceilings were vaulted, their were harps and a harpsichord on stage and lit by candelabras. The atmosphere was right for a wonderful concert.

The young soprano and pianist took to the small elevated stage. The audience politely welcomed them with applause. The pianist began to play a tune from My Fair Lady. The acoustics were amazing. The vocalist began to sing the song. Her voice was clear and strong. However, it only took a few words to realize she did not speak English. The song lost its feeling because the stress of the syllables were all wrong. She sang the English with Czech pronunciations. Her voice was pleasant enough, but the diction was distracting. The song that was particularly noticeable was Hello Dolly. Her pronunciation sounded like Yellow Dilly. I was able to keep my composure and not giggle. But it did sound giggle worthy.

I realize I’m in the Czech Republic and that I should not have expected a native speaker. I didn’t. What it made me realize was that my daughter needs to continue to work on her Italian diction if she wants to continue singing Italian Art Songs. No one wants to sing, Yellow Dilly.

The show was enjoyable enough. The young man playing saxophone was quite talented. I’m not sure what happened to the other two soloists because it was the one soprano. She did perform, “On My Own” all in Czech. It was an enjoyable performance and I’m glad I went. If you see Dilly, make sure to say, “Yellow.”

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