Tag Archives: tips

Vacation! Part 1: Budapest

30 Oct

IMG_4529

After nearly a year-long hiatus, I’m back with a post because we’re on vacation and this is the closest thing I have to a journal. Let’s pick up where we left off, shall we?

Long story short: Alan and I arrived in Budapest last Sunday morning, the first of three stops (Vienna and Prague being the other two). Here are travel tips for people coming to Budapest for the first time:

  1. Don’t sweat the language. The people here are friendly and (generally) speak great English. You can be a lazy American and they will still be nice to you. Repeat after me: We are so lucky.
  2. Public transit is clean, easy to use, and intuitive – assuming you generally know how to take a bus or train in any US city.
  3. It might not be the prettiest European city you’ve visited, but that’s because it had the shit kicked out of it in WWII – and then had to suffer under Soviet design aesthetics for nearly 50 years. You can’t fault it for looking a bit battered and bruised.
  4. The local currency will spend like Monopoly money to you:
    • In part, because it has a weird name: It’s listed places as HUF which made me think alternately of HuffPo and The Hoff. We ended up referring to it either Hufflepuffs or FlibbertyJibbits, depending on our mood.
    • And because it comes in crazy denominations. Hot tip: When you go to withdraw cash from an ATM, do NOT select “100” unless you want 100,000 HUFs, which is about $400.
    • Good news: it’s possible to find a solid meal with drinks or dessert for two people for 5500 HUFs – or about $22 – though good dinners are more in the 10000 HUF (or $40) range. Still a great deal, especially for delicious food.
  5. Speaking of food: you’re going to have to seek out vegetables – otherwise, it’s possible to pass your time eating nothing but meat and carbs. We actually (pathetically?) hit an Irish pub one night because I was craving salad and couldn’t find it on any traditional Hungarian menus.
  6. FYI: Soviet rule may have ended in the late 80s, but there is still be a bit of tension between the Hungarians and the Russians. We awkwardly witnessed a pissing match between a restauranteur and a group of Russian tourists that she didn’t want to seat.
  7. Don’t ask me about the baths. Since Budapest is perched on top of thermal springs, it’s famous for its public baths. It’s apparently the #1 thing to do when you visit. Unfortunately I can’t share a recommendation with you. We checked out two different bathhouses (even going so far as to take swimsuits, flipflops and towels) but ended up passing on both because it was too complicated for my vacation-oriented decision-making system. As it turns out, you can’t just show up, buy a ticket and get wet. Here are all the decisions you need to be prepared to make if you go:
    • Locker or cabin – where do you want to change? (I’m still not clear why this matters, but locals made it seem like  a cabin was the only reasonable choice a human would make.)
    • Thermal baths or pools – sometimes this matters and sometimes it doesn’t, and sometimes the decision is made for you because only women could use the thermal baths at one place we looked at, while only men could use them in another place – and between specific hours. I thought Europe was supposed to be progressive – can’t it just be all gender identities at all times?
    • Morning ticket or full day – depends on how long you think you might stay and what time you arrive.
    • Massage. Don’t get me started here. Not only are there multiple kinds of massages (aroma, pressure, stone, royal, etc.), there are also different durations (20/50/70 min), and options for how many people are in the room – which I assume (hope!) is for couples massages and not some sort of group massage.
  8. Be sure to check out at least one ruin pub, a concept unique to Budapest. These started in the early aughts, when recent college grads wanted a bar where they could hang out all night. They purchased a dilapidated building in the Jewish District, turned it into a pub for their friends, and just decorated it with thrift store finds. The concept caught on, and there are now hundreds of these around Budapest. We loved the original (Szimpla – check out their photos to get a sense of it), where we counted more than eight distinct bars. We decided it would be an amazing place to host a scavenger hunt because of all the random stuff on the walls.

That’s all from Budapest. On to Vienna next…

 

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Chicken Three Ways

25 Mar
A threesome of chickens.

A threesome of chickens.

Wait. Before you think I’m dramatically changing the focus on this blog and have a sexual interest in poultry, let me explain…

Tonight I’m giving thanks for having some culinary skills. I think my life would be infinitely less rich if I didn’t know how to cook. I may not have won Top Chef (yet!), but I do know my way around a kitchen. I routinely surprise myself with the meals I can construct on the fly with random ingredients in my fridge.

The meal that prompted my most recent pat on the back was this: A chicken roasted from scratch (thank you, 40×40!) served with the most amazing roasted asparagus… then plucked and used to construct… white bean and sausage cassoulet… and garlic penne with chicken and asparagus. A week of meals, all created in less than an hour (if you ignore the hands-off cooking time).

Friends who are intimidated by the kitchen often ask how I learned. Here’s my answer: I had a good role model. My mom didn’t teach me to cook – or instruct me on specific recipes – but she has modeled a few things for me:

  1. Be curious. She often flips through cookbooks or magazines and earmarks pages for things she wants to try. She doesn’t always make them, but they add to her knowledge base.
  2. Don’t be intimidated. Cooking isn’t exactly a mystery when you’re driving off a recipe. Someone else is giving you explicit instructions – so as long as you can read and follow directions, you can basically cook anything. This might explain why – after being impressed by Chicken Divan at a “Brunch with Bach” (the gold standard for our community’s quarterly cultural events) – my Mom found a recipe and tried her hand at it. It rocked.
  3. Improvise. I don’t think I can open any of my mom’s cookbooks without finding recipes that include her handwritten notes of modifications she’s made – either based on what she had on hand, or the family’s preferences. I think her experimental notes would earn an approving nod from scientists.
  4. Take risks. I can’t remember the specific risks my mom took, but I DO remember the occasional meal hurled straight into our compost bucket – which tells me she was pushing her limit. It also makes me realize I’m doing something right when I spend four hours trying to create crunchy spiced nuts and then end up having to write-off an $8 bag of walnuts because it’s all stuck to my wooden spoon.
  5. Pay attention. You’ll start to realize what works well together – and develop your own library of what to combine when you need to add a pinch of something to get the flavor just right. This makes you confident and nimble – and able to create your own recipes.
  6. Love food. If you enjoy eating, cooking isn’t a chore – it’s an adventure.

So that’s my gratitude for the day – knowing how to cook, and having had a great role model to inspire me. Thanks, Mom!

Now if you’re interested in the most amazing asparagus ever, comment and I’ll share it. Warning: It involves a wee bit copious amounts of bacon butter.

Image Source: http://www.quickmeme.com/meme/35dv15

Trend-setter. That’s one word for me.

17 Feb

What’s the word for athletic pants where there’s essentially a pantyliner sewn into the crotch so you can wear them without underwear? You know what I’m talking about, right?

Well, whoever invented those should be shot.

I was half-way through yoga yesterday, doubled-over in a forward fold, when I noticed that the seams on my pants looked odd. “Hmmm…” I wondered, “Did I put my pants on inside-out?”

Normally that’s not cause for alarm because I have three pairs of reversible yoga pants. Unfortunately, it turns out this was a different pair, which I confirmed with a quick reach to feel for a tag. I had not only one but two large tags flapping on my butt, announcing “M” for anyone who wanted to check my size.

I sighed and continued my vinyasa, thinking, “Meh – not a big deal.”

It was about ten minutes later, when our instructor told us to put our feet on the outer edge of the mat, then slowly lower into a yogic squat, that I saw the problem. I was in the front row, facing a mirror, and there – winking back at me – was a bright white triangle of cloth between my legs. I quickly lowered my hands from prayer position so I looked more like a catcher to block the cotton blaze from view.

Of course, I also started quietly snickering, finding the situation awkward but also hilarious. It only got worse when the instructor asked us to sit on our mats, extend our feet in the air in front of us, grab the bottom of each foot and open into a seated “V.”

This is what we were supposed to look like:

Image Source: http://www.betterhealthliving.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/boat-pose-yoga.jpg

Which Alan says is comical regardless of your pants.

At this point, I just muttered a, “Oh hell no…” and flopped back on my mat, silently laughing as I watched everyone else go spread-eagle.

While convulsing, I decided that before I wear those pants again, I am going to take a Sharpie and either draw a big smiley face or write “Namaste” in the center of that real estate. That way, I figure at least it would look like I’d deliberately worn them reversed if it happens again – right?

Actually, I think that’s such a great idea that I’m encouraging everyone to go to their drawers and search out any pants with a while cotton liner, and draw a smiley face on them. Because you never know. And trust me – there will be a day when you thank me. Even if it’s just when you crack yourself up every time you tug your pants down to go to the bathroom.

Image Source: http://jezebel.com/5799608/are-you-wearing-pants-this-chart-will-help-you-answer-that-question

Hey Girl: That’s Not Pretty

30 Apr

Image Source: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y4yDNWlvK6s

If you’re friends with me on Facebook, then I apologize in advance: You’ve already had to weather this rant. And yet, it is worth repeating. To make it somewhat more bearable, I’ll try to channel Ryan Gosling. Indulge me.

Hey Girl,

I see you there with your super-firm thighs. Thighs that say “thank you” for attending pilates throughout the week. Thighs that could make Gallagher cry because they can split watermelons like a cashew in a nutcracker.

Those thighs? They got my attention.

But not just because they’re attractive. No.

Girl, I know you’re asking those thighs to do double-duty. That in addition to looking fine stacked up on a pair of Manolo Blahniks, they’re punching the clock doing overtime. Know how I know?

Because of that fine spray of pee all over the toilet seat in your office building’s communal bathroom. That’s right.

I can picture you there, standing like crane ready for construction, feeling the burn as you unburden yourself. 

And Girl, you must be exhausted from that effort. I mean, it is WORK to perch there like a hovercraft.  So no wonder you can’t find the strength to grab a tissue and clean that toilet seat off. Honestly, how could you?

I can’t fault you for that. But Girl, think of all the other ladies whose thighs aren’t as strong, who must sit on that toilet seat to relieve themselves. They end up sitting in a puddle of your pee. And I don’t know if you’ve seen these women, but their reaction to that isn’t one of loving kindness. No, Girl: It’s fury.

They make water cooler jokes about how they’re going to stalk you and hug you and pee on your legs. And these women? They’re a bit off-balance, so I’m concerned they might try. They’ve even gone so far as to use the office printer to make a note to hang in the bathroom, though they got distracted by a box of Girl Scout cookies before locating the tape to hang it. I’m telling you, they’re one step away from psychotic. I’m concerned for you.

But I don’t want to weaken your resolve or your thighs. I’m not proposing something dramatic, like expecting you to – God forbid – wipe the toilet seat after yourself. No, Girl. You’re too precious for that.

I have a better plan: Girl, we gotta work on your aim.

Kisses,

Ryan

West Virginia: Maybe not the best place for a massage.

2 Jan
Image Source: everydayfunnyfunny.com

How’s the pressure?

I used to believe that massages and fried food were similar: There was no such thing as a bad one. I now know differently, thanks to the “spa” at Berkeley Springs State Park.

If you’re not familiar with Berkeley Springs, West Virginia, here’s what you need to know: 1) It is to West Virginia what Austin is to Texas and Ann Arbor is to Michigan: a random little island of liberalness in an otherwise gun-loving region; 2) It’s named for its natural springs, which are believed to have healing properties and maintain a constant 74˚ temperature; 3) Alan and I follow in the steps of George Washington, coming here regularly (in our case – for New Year’s) to chill and recharge batteries.

This year, we decided to check out the spa at the state park. We booked ourselves a soak in a Jacuzzi tub filled with natural spring water, followed by an hour-long massage. Sounds good, right?

Until you realize: whoever designed this experience has likely never actually visited a real spa. Here’s how I know…

First, when I was ushered to the women’s area, there were a half dozen employees (all women) standing around. One led me into a space with lockers and handed me a sheet. “Everything off, then wrap yourself in this.” I did as I was told, then stepped out. Another woman led me to a Jacuzzi tub that was already filled with water.  We stood side-by-side, looking at it. “Hand me your sheet,” she commanded.

What I'll wear for my next massage.

What I’ll wear for my next massage.

I did. Then I proceeded to climb in the tub with her watching. Can’t remember the last time a woman has seen me in a bathtub, but I’m thinking it was probably when I was still of an age when I might poop in it. (When I told this to Alan, he raised his eyebrows, as if to say, “And that’s no longer a possibility?”)

So I floated in the tub for 15 minutes, wondering if Alan was having a parallel experience on the men’s side of the house… imagining I’d soon hear some explosive language if a man commanded him to strip then watched as he slipped into the tub.

When my bath was done, another woman came in, bringing a towel. I climbed out of the tub, thinking, “Hmm. Half of West Virginia will have seen my tits by the time this is done. Good thing I’m not modest.” She led me to a room for my massage, then pulled my towel off me and told me to lie down.

The table was covered with a sheet and blanket. As she turned to hang my towel, I peeled the sheet back and quickly got under it. Turning back around, she said, “What have you done? You’re supposed to be on TOP of the sheet. Here – let’s get that fixed.”

So I rolled to my side, thinking she could simply tug and straighten the sheet.  Alas – she couldn’t. The next thing I knew, I was squatting on the end of the massage table, buck naked, while she straightened out the sheet.  I’m pretty sure other women only ever assume that position when they’re trying to birth a baby.

When we finally got everything squared away and I was on the table, face up, covered by a loose sheet, the massage commenced. Or – rather – something akin to hyper, superficial rubbing began. I would be willing to bet my next paycheck that this woman was not a licensed masseuse.

In hindsight, I should’ve done more than scratch my head when I noticed that the website referred to them as “massagers” instead of masseurs.

OK, it could've been worse.

OK, it could’ve been worse.

Her idea of a massage was to take her hands and quickly cover as much territory as possible, not actually exerting any pressure. Initially I thought, “This is an interesting way to warm-up.” But then, as she moved from one arm to the other, and then my shoulders and neck, I realized: this was no warm-up – this was the massage.

I knew she was massaging in earnest based on the amount of oil she used. A regular masseuse will put a small amount on her palms and rub them together to pre-heat the oil. Not this lady. The oil was in a container similar to a ketchup bottle, and she drizzled it directly on my body as if she were preparing a hot dog. I felt a bit like a turkey getting basted.

I tried to think of ways to salvage the massage. My best idea was to ask what style massage she practiced (knowing damn well it wasn’t a recognized style) then saying, “Does anyone here know deep tissue? I have a sports injury I need worked?” Of course, by this time I was feeling sorry for her, so I couldn’t bring myself to actually execute this plan.

Also? I’m pretty sure she normally only gets booked for 30 minute treatments, because she did every part of my body TWICE. Alan aptly summarized it by saying, “So she did two laps?” Exactly.

When it came time to settle up, I faced the awkward decision of the tip.  I considered taking a page from Bazooka Joe and leaving a written slip of paper that said, “Tip: Find a new vocation.” But I couldn’t bring myself to be that mean.

I can only hope that she’ll use the money I left her to go to a real spa and get a massage so she knows how it’s done.