The glamorous life of an expat babe living in Europe grinds quickly to a halt right about the time she enters the delivery room and pops out expat baby. Weekends of European opera, jetsetting to Paris, and shopping in Milan morph into sleep-deprived years where makeup is optional, laundry is plentiful, and diapers are bountiful.
We expat former-babes formed a committee to study this problem, and came to the unanimous conclusion that the secret to our husband’s sanity during the toddler years revolved around frequent “business trips”. These trips, cleverly presented as something that is a necessary burden for the poor working bloke, are really brilliant covers for a desperately-needed break from parenthood.
And so, we planned our very own Business Trip. For our very own company, ” Desperate Housewives, Inc.” (or, I suppose, Desperate Housewives GmbH… considering we are in Germany).
At our first board meeting, we discussed the economics of the Trip, which led us to one of Europe’s best winter bargains : Budapest. If you have a really heavy coat and great snow boots, you can have one heck of a cheap, 5-star winter jaunt to Budapest.
And so, myself and fellow board members Sally, Lisa, Andrea, Heather, Elizabeth (all pictured below), & Michelle (our photographer) booked a frigid February weekend in Budapest, cancelled all our husbands’ plans for said weekend, threw some warm woolen garb in a suitcase, and gathered ourselves together at Hamburg airport:
What happens when you get 7 American woman together, sans kids, on a 90 minute flight with nothing but champagne & shopping in mind? You get a Hungarian guy at the end of the flight that stands up, turns around with a big goofy grin, and says ” you lovely ladies, you deed not to stop talking thee ENTIRE FLIGHT! Eet was so nice, I listen to you ladies thee whole time!”
Ah yes, Mr Hungarian Guy, you ain’t seen nothing yet…
Upon our arrival, we are greeted by this angel, sent from God himself, who clearly had been warned what he was in store for:
After checking into our glorious, city-and-River-Danube-view rooms at the Hilton on Castle Hill, we realized all that yapping had built up our appetites, and we adjourned for lunch to chic “21”:
Not the easiest menu to decipher, but you can snicker at the English translation…
This is what Elizabeth ate.. is that goulash?
As part of the “cultural and historic enrichment” segment of the trip, we bundled up and headed out to see Buda – specifically, the Castle Hill and environs. [note: Buda & Pest, respectively, border each side of the Danube… collectively they make “Budapest”]
But first, always keeping an eye out for danger!
The scenic Fisherman’s Bastion:
A mysterious door…
Do we know where we are? Do we care?
Beautiful church roof handiwork:
Our celebratory, Hungarian-wine-soaked Friday night dinner at Apetito is discreetly void of photos, saving this one which will provide explanation enough:
Our 2 male waiters, mildly proficient in English, struggled with the burden of 7 very ebbullient, American women clearly having the time of their lives. I believe we somehow managed to short them 20eur on the bill, and they very nearly had to tackle us on the way out. (Needless to say, they were thrilled when we made an encore appearance on Sunday.)
Saturday morning, we awoke to this gorgeous, sunny view from our hotel rooms:
In a fairly remarkable coincidence, Saturday morning we found ourselves shoulder-to-shoulder at the hotel breakfast buffet with a very well-known opera singer – Jose Cura – also a friend of mine. Jose joined our female throng without much reluctance, and regaled us with news of the annual Hungarian State Opera Ball which he was headlining that very evening. Much to our incredible good luck, he managed to garner us entrance to the dress rehearsal (may I say, after 12 years of operagoing, I have never been to a dress rehearsal.. this was a thrill!), and within a few hours we found ourself comfortably settled in red-velveted, gold-gilded box seats, overlooking the fully-costumed participants. This was a treat beyond our wildest imaginations…
And here we gather..
This is a truly gorgeous opera house..
We love our red velvet box seats:
Since Michele was our key photographer, this is a rare photo of her!
Jose Cura conducts, sings, and shares his mike:
The house is especially dolled up for the big night:
The full effect:
The beautiful young dancers practice their waltz steps:
The soprano in full costume, in a duet with Jose:
After a mind-boggling morning, a spot of zen at Pest’s very own Karma Cafe was just the thing:
A jaunty stroll down the fancy Andrassy Avenue in Budapest brought us some fine new additions to our wardrobe:
And, clearly we did something after this… surely something informative and architectural… but it’s all blurry until we stumbled across the best coffee-and-cake house in all of Budapest – “Ruszwurm” – name notwithstanding:
Sally carefully studies her many choices (eating for 2, as you can see..):
This picture had to be taken very quickly, as forks were a-movin’:
Fully stoked with a weeklong-allotment of sugar, the girls dig an old Trabby out from under the snow (a “Trabby” is one of the old East-German cars, which everyone drove until the Berlin wall came down):
But, as we all know, it was now champagne-o-clock back at the Hilton Castle Hill lobby, and Heather & I are not ones to shun such an important tradition:
I think the other, more culturally-advanced members of our Board were doing this:
Our Saturday dinner location was intended to provide us the rich, historical Hungarian experience – cuisine, music, the entire package. What we got was a quaint tourist-trappy restaurant… with a calculator-challenged proprietor (note, the calculation errors were not in our favor), all serenaded by Hungarian folk music played by, granted, very talented men who all looked either like Mafia members or some sort of registered offenders. But, the food was good, we looked good, and no one was complaining. (not sure what happened to my photos here..)
Back to the hotel for a final Board Meeting in the lobby, recapping the successes of our trip.. tossing out ideas for the next..
Come Sunday morning we ladies had one more trip up our sleeves: an outing to the famous thermal baths of Budapest. We selected the historical Szechenyi baths, with stunning architecture and a feeling of stepping about 150 years back in time. It was a somewhat bewildering experience for a foreigner to navigate the process between entering the front door and actually accessing the pool, but we prevailed and had one heck of a grand time as a result (later, votes were cast, and we all agreed we’d return to Budapest just to spend more time at the baths..).
Men playing chess in the pool:
And finally, alas, the sands of time had run their course, and Desperate Housewives must return to their regularly-scheduled lives. We were whisked back to the airport by a cheerful, totally-non-English-speaking driver… when asked if he would take our picture, he misunderstood and – with no small amount of pleasure – immediately jumped into our photo while Michelle snapped away:
And for now, with the heartfelt toast ” Egg Shakers” still fresh in our mind (that’s sort of a bad transliteration of the Hungarian version of “Cheers!”), we consider our First Official Business Trip of Desperate Housewives GmbH a clear success, and look forward to future, even more thrilling trips – next time joined by Member Kara , who had to sit this one out with a broken foot…