Desperate Housewives in Budapest

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:

1 Fri airport first photo.jpg

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:

1 Fri airport 2.jpg

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”:

1 Fri restaurant.jpg

Not the easiest menu to decipher, but you can snicker at the English translation…
1 Fri rest menu.jpg

This is what Elizabeth ate.. is that goulash?
1 Fri rest 2.jpg

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!
1 Fri tour.jpg

The scenic Fisherman’s Bastion:
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A mysterious door…
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Do we know where we are? Do we care?
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Beautiful church roof handiwork:
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Our celebratory, Hungarian-wine-soaked Friday night dinner at Apetito is discreetly void of photos, saving this one which will provide explanation enough:
1 Fri dinner.jpg

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:
2 Sat AM city.jpg

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…

2 Sat opera.jpg

And here we gather..
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This is a truly gorgeous opera house..
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We love our red velvet box seats:
2 Sat opera 4.jpg

Since Michele was our key photographer, this is a rare photo of her!
2 Sat opera 5.jpg

Jose Cura conducts, sings, and shares his mike:
Jose mike.jpg

The house is especially dolled up for the big night:
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The full effect:
2 Sat opera 7.jpg

The beautiful young dancers practice their waltz steps:
2 Sat opera 8.jpg

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The soprano in full costume, in a duet with Jose:
2 Sat opera 10.jpg

After a mind-boggling morning, a spot of zen at Pest’s very own Karma Cafe was just the thing:
2 Sat lunch.jpg

A jaunty stroll down the fancy Andrassy Avenue in Budapest brought us some fine new additions to our wardrobe:
2 Sat lunch 2.jpg

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:
2 Sat cake 1.jpg

Sally carefully studies her many choices (eating for 2, as you can see..):
2 Sat cake 2.jpg

This picture had to be taken very quickly, as forks were a-movin’:
2 Sat cake 3.jpg

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):
2 Sat tour 2.jpg

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:
2 Sat champ 2.jpg

I think the other, more culturally-advanced members of our Board were doing this:
Sat PM 1.jpg

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..
3 Sat PM.jpg

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..).
3 Sun bath.jpg

Men playing chess in the pool:
3 Sun bath 2.jpg

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:
3 Sun airport.jpg.

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…

Posted in GENERAL | 5 Comments

Winter Escape to Dubai

After less than 6 weeks on the ground (and most of those weeks filled with Christmas fun), I admittedly felt a bit guilty about embarking on yet another vacation.

But, life’s too short to be guilty.

And so, it was nearly midnight on my – ahem – 29th birthday (Jan 7th) when our very pleasant, 6-hour flight began descending into Dubai, offering a spectacular view of the newly-opened Burj Khalifa – the tallest building in the world. And, a short while later, Sophie carried on her very special Dubai arrival tradition by providing mommy with another spectacularly fragrant diaper immediately upon our arrival in the baggage claim area. (Thanks, sweetie. It’s nice to have special traditions.)

We had fled Germany just in time to avoid headlines like ” Europe Buried Under 14,000 Feet of Snow”, and “All European Flights Cancelled For The Rest Of The Winter “… all read from the comfort of our poolside loungechair in sunny Dubai. I lazily wondered to myself, ” maybe we’ll never get back. Maybe we’ll just have to stay here and go shopping every day, in each of Dubai’s 150 malls, forever”. It didn’t help matters that Sophie suddenly started calling our Dubai apartment-hotel “our other home. Sophie’s other home. Mommy’s other home. Daddy’s other home.”

Truly, there is something about Dubai that I find very special. Yes, yes, the overexuberant development and atricious labor rights leave something very great to be desired…. and yes, Soenke always says it’s a “city built on money”. But, it’s also an international crossroads, a place where nearly every person you meet is from somewhere different than you… sharing usually only a common language (English) and a desire to carve out a better life for themselves and their family. It’s fascinating. It’s like being dropped into a big global experiment. I will observe with interest Dubai’s future… and my observations will surely entail more trips to gather data.

But yes, eventually, we DID get back to Europe.. we’re still snowed in, and we won’t be seeing the likes of 75F anytime soon!

Happily, i have this great photologue to keep me warm:

———-

Our visit to the Jumeirah Beach Hotel:

Dubai-JBH hotel.JPG

Lunch at the Waterfront Cafe, overlooking the Burj Al Arab:
Dubai-Waterfront.JPG

A particularly nice shot of the Burj:
Dubai-Burj al Arab.JPG

Sophie likes the local wildlife:
Dubai-JBH Camel.JPG

———–
An Evening At The Dubai Mall

Before meeting the gang at the Mall, I indulged myself at the luxe Cleopatra’s Spa, over at Wafi Center:
Dubai-Cleopatra Spa.JPG

While I enjoyed my hot stone massage, the rest of the group took in the Dubai Aquarium:
Dubai-Aquarium.JPG

I love browsing side by side with Emirati families…
Dubai-Dubai Mall browsing.JPG

Quite a Christmas tree!
Dubai Mall Xmastree.JPG

I got cash here… great signage!
Dubai-Bank of Abu Dhabi.JPG

Scenes from the Rainforest Cafe:
Dubai-Rainforest 3.JPG

Dubai-Rainforest 1.JPG

Dubai-Rainforest 4.JPG

Dubai-Rainforest 2.JPG

A first glimpse of the tallest building in the world:
Burj Khalifa.JPG

Sophie loves her daddy:
Dubai-Sophie kisses Daddy.JPG

———-
Photos from our visit to the World’s Tallest Building, the Burj Khalifa:

In the elevator, lots of anticipation…
Tower-elevator.JPG

View straight down from the observation deck:
Tower-view straight down.JPG

View of the manmade islands, collectively designed to be a map of the world:
Tower-view of World islands.JPG

Happy family at the top:
Tower-us.JPG

Sophie admires the view:
Tower-Sophie window.JPG

The Einfeldts like being up high:
Tower - Oma Opa.JPG

World’s worst job (window cleaner at the top of this tower!):
Tower-window cleaner.JPG

———–
This and that

A sunset roundabout in the Umm Al-Quwainn emirate (or maybe that was Ajman…) – we drove about an hour out to a great kids’ waterpark, and passed through a few emirates en-route.
Roundabout sunset.JPG

Back at the Mall of the Emirates, Sophie quickly found the bounce house!
Mall of E-bounce house.JPG

——
A Visit to Historic Dubai Creek:

I organized a creek cruise with this nice man and his boat:
Dubai-Abra ride boat.JPG

The family loved it!
Dubai-Abra Ride 1.JPG

Great views from our creek ride:
Dubai-Abra ride creek view.JPG

No traditional Arab dinner is complete without a french-fry-eating fish:
Dubai-Creek dinner.JPG

I looked for this handle-cover in the souks, with no luck:
Dubai-tea handle cozy.JPG

Sophie finds some entertainment in the souk..
Dubai-souk.JPG

We locate a cooking pot suited for a Very Big Family. Thought it would make a smashing early Christmas gift for my brother (5 kids) , but not sure how to get it in our luggage:
Dubai-souk 1.JPG

————-
Date Night

One night we had a hot date together. We took ourselves to the Bahri Bar at the Mina A Salaam, and enjoyed some mezze with a great view over the Burj:
Bahri Bar view.JPG

——

Roadtrip to Abu Dhabi!
Enjoyed some sunshine at the beach, right in the middle of town!
Abu Dhabi beach skyscrapers.JPG

Abu Dhabi me.JPG

Abu Dhabi beach 3.JPG

As a final closing photo, I liked the contrast of the old Arab boat (at the Heritage Village) with the modern Abu Dhabi skyline beyond:
Abu Dhabi old boat.JPG

Posted in EUROPE 2005 | 4 Comments