Budapest and Bratislava – Summer 2018

June 4. I arrived in Budapest the day of my dental appointment with Dr. Windisch, an implant specialist whom I’d found several years earlier when I was in Greece and needed emergency dental work. I’d found him on Trip Advisor, and took a chance that he was as good as claimed. It turned out that he specializes in periodontal and implant surgical treatments, is active in scientific research, and is a professor at the Clinic of Periodontology, at Semmelweis University, Budapest. He is also the leader of the Hungarian Association of Periodontology and a member of the Executive Committee of Hungarian Association of Implantology. To top it all off, he’s kind. It had been a year since I’d last been here for dental work and I had a lot more to do. Due to an autoimmune condition, I had dental resorption and had lost a number of teeth. This was my third or fourth visit to his clinic, and I felt that the cost of the implants made the trip worthwhile. I paid approximately $2,000 for all the work involved with one implant, while in the SF Bay Area, it was $8,000 or so at the time. While researching best countries for implant surgery, I discovered that many Europeans go to Eastern Europe, Turkey, or Egypt. I had a bias against countries like Serbia or Albania and was leery of inadequate care. It’s part of the risk you take with dental or medical tourism.

Of course, the cost of the trip (flight, car rental, accommodations) had to be factored into the total cost. My way of justifying the trip was to travel on a shoestring for as long as possible, and renting out my room at home to supplement expenses. My main expense was car rental and gasoline/petrol. I used my car as a kind of tent on wheels, and though it wasn’t very comfortable to sleep in, I made do. I got used to sleeping across the back seats with my legs sticking up into the front seats at a 90 degree angle. Occasionally I would tent camp, which gave my body a welcome break from the fateful L. Each time I’ve come to Budapest for dental work I landed in France and leased a car from Citroen EuroPass. I saved money on the rental by picking up the car in France, and it gave me the excuse to explore Western Europe, which I had heretofore avoided due to cost.

The last time I’d come I had unknowingly booked a room on AirBnB in the most dangerous district on the Pest side. I remembered looking out the window to see if the car was still there in the morning. I liked Tim who was German and his girlfriend who was Turkish. She was particularly kind and I remembered paying Tim for a fan because it was so hot that I couldn’t sleep. This year I decided to stay in a quaint AirBnB on the Buda side of the Danube. I arrived at the basement apartment after 9 pm, having purchased a bluetooth keyboard to use with my phone to replace my stolen computer. I still smoldered thinking about the loss of so much that mattered to me. Not only my computer, but all my cables, warm down jacket, money, credit cards, backpack, warm hat, chocolate! Because I was on a budget, it especially hurt. And they couldn’t use the computer because they couldn’t unlock it. It affected my blog as I wrote little for the remainder of trip since using the keyboard was slow and awkward.

June 5. This was my first full day in Budapest after a 3 day drive from Spain, and I was wiped out. I slept in till the afternoon, and around 7pm jumped on the bus to Normafa Park. The park was named for a beech tree planted by King Matthias Corvinus in the 15th century which fell in 1927 and was commemorated in a poem by Gábor Devecseri. I discovered this park the first time I came to Budapest and have been in love with it ever since. When it is hot and sticky in Budapest, the park is pleasant, and provides a panoramic view of villages, farms, and wild lands in another world. I love walking among the deciduous trees, mostly beech, and climbing Erzsébet-kilátó (Elizabeth Lookout), built in 1911, named after Empress Elisabeth who visited the tower in 1882. There was an ice cream hand truck at the bottom, and I bought a popsicle on the way out.  

June 6. I hopped on the light rail headed to Szentendre. Locals had told me to visit Szentendre on account of its quaintness and authenticity. On the way we passed stone ruins, which I didn’t find out till I got home that it was actually the ancient city of Aquincum. It didn’t look like much, so I didn’t stop to explore. I missed an amphitheater and museum set around an excavated bath house showing life at the time. Damn! I would have loved to explore that and had days in Budapest waiting for dental work. I wished I’d known.

Once in Szentendre, I walked through the old town to the Skanzen Village Museum, an open-air museum of Carpathian folk architecture featuring examples of Hungarian village life in North Hungarian Village, Upland Market Town, Upper-Tisza, Great Plains, Southern Transdanubia, Bakony, Balaton Uplands, Western Transdanubia, and Kisalföld. It was inspired by the Swedish idea of the Skansen and founded in 1967 after years of preparation by ethnographers. Opened as the “Village Museum Department” of the Budapest Ethnographic Museum, in 1972 it became independent. Unfortunately I was distracted by security breaches and fraud alerts as a result of my stolen MacBook Pro.

On the walk back to the light rail I discovered Czóbel Park, named after the painter Béla Czóbel who had an apple orchard on the site. It featured authentic Japanese garden complete with a pagoda that had been donated from Japan. Beginning in the 1930s, Szentendre became home to a school of modern painters who sought to combine the traditions of Nagybánya with constructive art. Lajos Vajda was one of its founders. These artists drew their motifs from the traditions of the inhabitants in the spirit of surrealism and non-figurative art. Imre Ámos also contributed to the introduction of surrealism in Szentendre, and his admirers called him the Hungarian Chagall. Many other artists were connected to Szentendre and its surroundings, including Piroska Szántó , Endre Bálint, and János Tornyai.

I got home after 9pm. Andrew and his father, my AirBnB hosts, were incredibly kind. After my surgery, they offered to go to the drug store to remedy my swollen face. They had built the flat in their house themselves, and were charging a pittance. I felt lucky to be in such a quiet neighborhood on the Pest side of the river.

June 7. I had another dental appointment this morning. In Eastern Europe they call this type of appointment “control”. A few days after surgery they check to make sure the healing is going well. Unbeknownst to them, I took Arnica Montana to speed my recovery, and they were impressed by how well things looked. After two particularly brutal surgeries, I’d had tremendous swelling for days after and finally got on an antibiotics regime. Looking back, it wasn’t easy doing surgery here. It was brutally hot and muggy beginning in early June, and stayed that way well into September. I decided to head to Normafa and took a short walk. It started raining and I ducked into a century old ski chalet and ordered goulash. Hearty fare for a cold stormy day. I enjoyed the posters and regalia on the walls that harkened back to the early and mid 20th century. They painted a picture of a simpler time where a hike up the mountain and soup made the day.

I had to leave today but didn’t want to as I liked my cosy flat and the kind father and son team that lived here. Reluctantly, I loaded the car and waved goodbye. I found a nice park by the river with lots of trees and enjoyed watching locals and their kids hanging out and playing. It was nice to see people so relaxed as I usually saw them rushing around or crowded on the public buses. I left Budapest at 8pm and arrived 2 hours later in Bratislava. I had made friends with Zuzana and Martin in Orava last summer when I was staying with Monika’s family on a vacation at Martin’s brother’s AirBnB. We went out to a pub and I met Martin, whom I liked very much. He in turn introduced me to Zuzana, his partner, who had a flaxen spritely toddler in tow. They had invited me to stay with them in Bratislava and I gratefully accepted. She also had invited me to stay in an AirBnB she owned in the old town, which is where I was headed for the night. I got the keys from Simona, a friend of Zuzana who had a kiosk across from the apartment complex.

June 8. I woke with a start. The apartment windows faced south and already the hot morning sun were roasting me. I jumped out of bed and hastily departed the flat, which was not air conditioned and probably 90 degrees already. Down the street, I spied an outdoor market set up in an old parking lot. I did what I always do on hot days: bought watermelon. The vendor and I had a great laugh and I enjoyed him greatly, though all I could manage was “dobré ráno”. I took my loot back to the flat and ate a big fistful before heading out to Čunovo. I wanted to see the Danubian Meulensteen Art Museum, located on the banks of the Danube near Čunovo.

It was a very hot day and Čunovo is a bend in the Danube where the locals go to cool off in the summer. There are lovely ponds with sandy beaches and people walk around till they find their own private inlet. I didn’t have a suit so surreptitiously jumped in without any clothes. I walked along the many paths that wound near the Danube. Zuzana had told me about this place and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I hung out till dark, then headed back to the old town to meet Monika’s oldest daughter Beata, who is from Kosice and speaks Swedish fluently. I like her a lot, and wanted to meet her new beau Anton, a co-worker. We walked along the river to the castle, then headed back to the old town where the strains of Hungarian music could be heard. It turned out to be a Hungarian music festival. It rained hard that night, and I went to sleep to the sound of water on the roof.

June 9. It is amazing to me that Bratislava is only two hours from Budapest and one hour from Vienna. It must have been the center of the European universe. In actuality, it practically was. Budapest and Vienna were referred to as two of the “three jewels”, with Prague making up the third. I wanted to explore Vienna and drove on the motorway, thinking that the flat grassy plain that lay between the two cities seemed the least Austrian part of Austria. I arrived at noon and found a place to park on one of the outer ring roads, then headed toward the center. I spent the day roaming the streets of the old town, walking into the open churches (Sunday!), explored the section of town where Freud had his practice, and ended up in the evening outside the opera house watching a ballet production which was projected onto house exterior. The projected images reminded me of a time in Strasbourg when I literally happened upon an evening show of projection on the side of the main cathedral.

I enjoyed sitting on the pavement listening to the chit chat after the performance. But I was tired, so I got up and headed for where I thought I’d parked the car. Every ring road looked like the previous one. I panicked, then remembered that I’d taken a photo of the store I’d parked in front of (my phone wasn’t smart). I stopped at a kiosk, borrowed a pen, and with a woman’s helped identified where my car was parked and got directions just before my phone died. I both love and dread the uncertainty and tribulation of travel. It makes me appreciate when things work out, as they did now, when I finally found the car. I headed back to Bratislava and had an hour long walk in the 90 degree night before heading to the Carlton Radisson Blu to catch up on my blog. After my laptop was stolen, I would look for computers to use, and nice hotels usually had one available. Never mind that I wasn’t staying there. As they say, necessity is the mother of invention.

June 10. I met Beata at Bar Zuz and listened as she talked about her life growing up and the responsibilities inherent in being the oldest in her family. I had visited their idyllic little village outside of Kosice, and together we had explored many parts of Slovakia. I had especially liked our trip to Orava. I went back to Vienna and spent the next 8 hours walking around, and punctuated the end with dinner at the Golden Dragon, a cool old place that claimed to be the first Chinese restaurant in Austria. On the way back to the car I watched Rigoletto one of the many public commons in Vienna. I wish all towns had such pedestrian friendly features.

June 11. I was terrified about upcoming dental surgery, an extraction and implant, and called a long-time friend Tom Dorcey, who was always incredibly reassuring. He has been like a support animal to me in the face of the travails and challenges of life. Throughout my travels, I would call him for reassurance when nothing around me was familiar. Getting dental surgery away from the comforts of home caused me tremendous anxiety. I wondered whether facing my fears in this way might lessen anxiety of all kinds in the future. Or increase them?


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