We are in Budapest this week at the beginning of a long planned trip across central Europe. I’m not sure what I was expecting in Budapest but it is much more than I had ever imagined. While things have been going slightly wrong since we left home with a few problems already forcing some changes in the weeks ahead we will just have to adapt.
With over 35,000 restaurants in over 100 countries, there are times when we travel McDonald’s can seem like a touch of home. While we prefer to eat local, sometimes familiarity, price and convenience win out. While the restaurant’s menu and appearance has a tendency to change based on the country there are always some common choices.
In Budapest, Hungary, one particular McDonald’s has actually become a destination itself. Located in the Western Railway Station (Nyugati Pályaudvar) that was designed by August de Serres and built by the Eiffel Company of Paris. The construction took three years and the iron structure was cast in Paris. Nyugati Pályaudvar was opened in 1877, 12 years before the Eiffel Company built the famous tower in Paris. Almost 150 years later the station has managed to retained its original style.
Over the years much of the iron structure has been replaced. On the right side of the terminal is the what has been called the most beautiful McDonalds in the world. This is one of the oldest fast food establishments behind the Iron Curtain, dating back to the Soviet occupation of Hungary. This McDonalds occupies a large multi-story space with ornate an colonial ceiling in the railway station complex and is a favorite with locals and tourists alike.
We visited around six on a Friday and the restaurant was packed. The lines moved quickly with attendants moving thru the lines taking orders on hand-held pads that printed out an order ticket. Our order priced out a little less than we would have paid back home and featured the usual fare. Placed on a balcony on the second floor was a Mac Cafe furnished with overstuffed sofas and chairs and staffed just to make coffee based drinks.
While we are not sure this is the most beautiful McDonalds in the world it is for sure the most beautiful we’ve ever visited.
As part of a recent cruise we spent two days in Bermuda and struck out early to see all we could. The first day we made it by ferry to Hamilton, where we spent the morning, took a bus out to St. George for lunch and a ferry back to the dockyards. One of our goals was a visit to the village of Somerset and with an hour and a half to sunset we decided to check off Somerset and the Somerset drawbridge. The bridge was described in a guide as the world’s smallest drawbridge with an opening of only 18 inches (actually it was less than 12 inches) and seemed to make it an interesting goal.
Not sure what to expect and with our bus day-pass in hand we climbed aboard the next bus toward Hamilton and asked the driver if he could let us off at Somerset bridge. I have to mention that everywhere we went in Bermuda everyone was very friendly and extremely helpful (another story about that later). The bus stops along the way are either stone and mortar shelters or are only marked by a six foot pole in the color of the route. Bermuda’s roads are very narrow and they are often cut thru notches in the coral and limestone rock with barely room for traffic going in both directions.
Our driver pointed out the bus stop poles and let us off just before the famous bridge. Once off the bus we weren’t sure we hadn’t made a mistake. Standing on the side of the road there wasn’t anything to see in either direction except the narrow road and bushes grown to the edge of the road. Looking in the supposed direction of the bridge the road cut thru a rock formation with no pedestrian path at all. Without much of a choice we march off toward the rock cut. The good news was that the speed limit sign approaching the cut was 15 Km. The bad news was that nobody paid any attention to it as cars just roared by. We commented to each other about if it was better to get hit from behind and not see it coming or to be facing the oncoming assault as we walked the narrow road?
Needless to say we made it to the bridge and I’m not sure what I expected but that surely wasn’t it. The bridge is again a narrow two-lane stone bridge over a channel thru the island. The center is a wooden structure with a section in the middle less than eighteen inches wide on hinges. It is obviously intended for the mast of a sailboat to thread that gap and there are a number of signs with the phone number to call to open the drawbridge. I could be wrong, but I doubt the drawbridge is opened often. It also probably requires a good sailor to keep from gouging his mast. Later locals said that the gap is almost never opened any more except for publicity.
We took some pictures and trekked back along the road to the bus stop, living to sightsee another day and getting back in time for sunset in the dockyards.
Last summer we spent a couple of weeks checking off items on our bucket list in the National Parks of Utah. We rented a car in Salt Lake City, toured the parks and dropped off the car in Los Vegas.
After leaving Capital Reef National Park one afternoon we were headed for our next hotel in the town of Panguitch near Bryce Canyon National Park to the southwest. We came out of Capital Reef on Route 24 and soon hit an intersection with Route 12. At the intersection Rt. 24 headed to the north, which is the way we had been told to go but Rt. 12 went south. Just looking at the map it seemed like 12 was a much shorter route to take.
At this point I need to confess that the older I get the more nervous I am about heights. Already on this trip I had driven a couple of roads that had given me reason to pause. I’m not sure where this fear of heights has come from but when I was much younger I was fearless. lately I find it hard to believe that decades ago that young man that hung one handed off high catwalks and jumped out of helicopters was actually me. At this point I am much more nervous than my wife.
Anyway at that junction we made a snap decision and headed south on Utah Route 12. Some distance along this two lane road, near Boulder Mountain we came across the Anasazi State Park and archaeological site. This was a lucky find and well worth the stop. It was built around the excavation of an ancient Anasazi village and included a nice museum.
Back on the road we headed southwest again and soon came up on one of the scariest bit of road I can remember. Its called the Hogsback (or Hog Back) and it’s a narrow two lane road with, at times, barley any shoulder on either side. It rides along a ridge for about four miles with often sheer drops of over a hundred feet on one side or the other and sometimes both sides at once. Few guard rails and almost no room to pull off. The speed limit was between 25 and 35 mph and with my fear kicking in that seemed way too fast.
The good news was there was almost no traffic and the one car ahead of us seemed really terrified. He crept along at 15 to 20 mph and that was just fine with me. Not only did I feel safer but he gave me an excuse when eventually another car caught up to us.
Watch this YouTube video of a drive along the Hogsback.
A few years ago while on an early season Alaska cruise our ship stopped at Icy Straight Point. For a number of reasons we had decided to take it easy that day. The ship was anchored out and we had gone ashore early in the morning and took a nice hike thru the forest. We were back on the ship well before noon and had gone out on our balcony to read.
Some of our friends had taken the opportunity to go on excursions in the port and whale watching seemed to be the choice of the day. Of the whale watching options one was a kayak trip and as we sat on our balcony we could see the kayaks move along the shore and head out toward open water.
A little over thirty minutes into our reading we were startled by a load noise coming directly below us. It was a large Humpback whale that had crossed under the ship and was blowing as it surfaced directly below our stateroom.
We had been whale watching before and had seen whales off of Hawaii, Vancouver Island and in Alaska. On one cruse up the Inner Passage we had a pod of Orcas pace the ship for over a half hour. With them I never got a picture because we never knew where they would surface next and before you could react – they were gone.
This time at Icy Straight Point our Humpback stayed near us for twenty minutes, circling and diving and putting on a real show. Most of our fellow passengers were off exploring and it didn’t seem this whale was drawing much attention at all.
That evening talking to our shipmates it seemed that the whale watch tours were mostly a dud. The kayakers had seen whales but none had come anywhere near the group and one whale watching boat had not seen any whales at all.
My wife has a sequined top that she has worn while traveling a few times. I don’t believe there is anything seriously metallic in the sequins and it has made its way thru a number of metal detectors but recently all hell seemed to break out over this top.
While we have never paid for pre-clearance we usually get pre-cleared on our boarding passes (not really sure why). Last October while passing thru the TSA Pre check my wife was directed to go thru the scanner. Feet on the marks, hands above your head and wait, something has gone wrong. It seemed the agent scanned her several times and now she is pulled aside for a thorough search. What went wrong? She was wearing that top!
After a little research we have discovered that TSA screening devices have a lot of issues with some types of women’s clothes. That splash of gold print on a T-Shirt can contain enough metal to set off the metal detector. The same with attached beads. Sequins can literally blind a scanner. Since often these things are part of the fabric, passing a wand over you cannot determine if it is the top you’re wearing or something concealed under it. Time for the pat-down.
A comment Submitted by Cindy M found on the TSA blog from Jan 2018 – When the scanners were introduced I believed they were an improvement. Now however, I see that the machines don’t spot real problems. Instead they seem to be confused by a variety of normal things such as sequins, metal, or other sorts of embellishments on clothing.
Why is it I\we have to dress for the TSA?! Actually you don’t but you can expect to be delayed and/or inconvenienced. Especially if you ignore some simple tips that help TSA do their job efficiently. They do post a lot of information online that can help avoid these sort of issues. Unfortunately as of now sequins aren’t one of those tips.
In 1622 Havana Cuba was the capital of the Spanish Empire in the New World. Treasures of gems, gold and silver poured into Havana from South America, Mexico and the other islands. From there large fleets sailed back to Spain heavily loaded with this treasure. Late that summer a fleet was assembled to sail out of Havana. One of the largest and most heavily armed was the Nuestra Señora de Atocha (Our lady of Atocha) designated to be a rear guard for the fleet. Intending to sail up south of the Keys and head east into the Gulf Stream, shortly after leaving Cuba the fleet was split up and pushed off course by the leading edge of a major hurricane. It pushed the rear of the fleet north toward the Gulf of Mexico and there the Atocha and its sister the Santa Margarita were broken on a reef somewhere west of Key West.
In mid June of 1985 we were spending a weekend with friends in Key West and on Mallory Square a man named Mel Fisher had set up a card table and was selling shares in Treasure Salvors to support his search for the Atocha. I think he may have changed the selling price based on how much people were interested and that afternoon it was $80 a share. One couple on walking away the woman commented she wasn’t giving money to a middle aged man so he could go scuba diving. My friend and I, both being divers were interested but in the end couldn’t see betting that much money on a gamble. After all Mel had been looking for a number of years without finding the wreck.
Less than a month later Mel and his crew found part of the sunken remains of the Nuestra Señora de Atocha just 35 miles southwest of Key West in 55 feet of water. Immediately stories began circulating that each share was now worth $10,000 or more (I believe that estimate ended up being way low). Talk about missing the boat…
THESE ARE ACTUAL COMPLAINTS RECEIVED BY “THOMAS COOK VACATIONS” FROM DISSATISFIED CUSTOMERS
“On my holiday to Goa in India, I was disgusted to find that almost every restaurant served curry. I don’t like spicy food.”
“They should not allow topless sunbathing on the beach. It was very distracting for my husband who just wanted to relax.”
“We went on holiday to Spain and had a problem with the taxi drivers as they were all Spanish.”
“We booked an excursion to a water park but no-one told us we had to bring our own swimsuits and towels. We ass/u/me/d it would be included in the price.”
“The beach was too sandy. We had to clean everything when we returned to our room.”
“We found the sand was not like the sand in the brochure. Your brochure shows the sand as white but it was more yellow.”
“It’s lazy of the local shopkeepers to siesta in the afternoons. I often needed to buy things during ‘siesta’ time — this should be banned.”
“No-one told us there would be fish in the water. The children were scared.”
“Although the brochure said that there was a fully equipped kitchen, there was no egg-slicer in the drawers.”
“I think it should be explained in the brochure that the local convenience store does not sell proper biscuits like custard creams or ginger nuts.”
“The roads were uneven and bumpy, so we could not read the local guide book during the bus ride to the resort. Because of this, we were unaware of many things that would have made our holiday more fun”
“It took us nine hours to fly home from Jamaica to England. It took the Americans only three hours to get home. This seems unfair.”
“I compared the size of our one-bedroom suite to our friends’ three-bedroom and ours was significantly smaller.”
“The brochure stated: ‘No hairdressers at the resort.’ We’re trainee hairdressers and we think they knew and made us wait longer for service.”
“When we were in Spain, there were too many Spanish people there. The receptionist spoke Spanish, the food was Spanish. No one told us that there would be so many foreigners.”
“We had to line up outside to catch the boat and there was no air-conditioning.”
“It is your duty as a tour operator to advise us of noisy or unruly guests before we travel.”
“I was bitten by a mosquito. The brochure did not mention mosquitoes.”