Ahhh, the Budapest baths…

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I love to experience something in a place that you can’t experience anywhere else. Or anywhere else that you know of.

In Hungary, it is the Szechenyi Baths in Budapest. A vast wonderland of pools ranging in temperatures from freezing cold to luxuriously warm, with a host of saunas and steam rooms.

The baths are set in a palatial trio of ornate and architecturally stunning buildings, dating from the 1800’s. Basically, you feel like you are with Louis XIV. When Gracie noticed all the ceiling paintings and high archways with cherubim, she said, “Looks like Louis has been here.”

When I say baths, I mean really big pools. Like swimming pool-sized pools, especially the pools outside.

Who is at the baths? Everyone. I heard German, French, Italian, Hungarian, Ukrainian, Russian and other languages I couldn’t figure out. And mostly adults, I saw only a couple of kids among the hundreds of grown-ups.

The largest people group: old Hungarian men. In speedos. Lounging. Floating. Playing chess in the water. Steaming in steam rooms. Me and the boys.

It is a bit alarming at first to step into a small sauna, take a look around through the puffs of ever-puffing steam, and realize it’s you and a bunch of old men. Sweating. But when in Rome…

Special health benefits accrue from particular pools, saunas or steam rooms. I loved the eucalyptus steam room. And couldn’t figure out the health benefit of the infrared sauna with changing colors – blue, then green, then blue. There’s the sulfur pool, which is supposed to do something for you, although I have no idea what it is. My kids said, “it kinda smells.”

No worries, because outside there is a big pool that is nice and warm, and in the middle it has a giant whirlpool. Think “lazy river” at Wild Waves, but without the inner tubes and a lot warmer.

Once, at the last minute, I tried to get out of going round and round in the whirlpool. I made a dash for the exit area and thought I could make it. No, I smashed into the low wall and had to go around another time.

Honestly, I could use an annual pass to this place. I was so relaxed I thought I might drown in the pools. Except whatever is in the pools makes you a little buoyant. And cures your “arthritis, overproduction of gastric acid, and disturbances of metabolism.”

Best part? Huge water features that spurt out hard streams of water. You can stand in front of a stream and get a nice massage — head, neck, upper shoulders.

What to wear? The smallest bathing suit you have. The general rule is the bigger you are, the smaller your bathing suit. I felt completely overdressed in a tankini top and skirt bottoms. Clearly I had too much of my body covered up. I looked like a medical patient compared to everyone else.

When it was time to go, Curtis said, “Why?” It’s the kind of place that you think, oh, an hour here will be fine. And after 2 hours you think, do I ever want to leave?

So when you come to Budapest, pack your speedo, and leave plenty of time to visit the Szechenyi baths.

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My adaptable children

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I love my kids. They are so adventurous!

If you ever think, "Oh I could never take a long trip with my kids. They just couldn't do it." Then you are kidding yourself. The kids do better than the grown-ups, by far.

The natural inquisitiveness of a child is infectious. Sure, they can grow tired of too many museums. Quickly. But other times they will surprise you, and want to go back to a museum a second time. Like the Louvre in Paris. When your teenager scolds you for rushing them through a museum, you know you’ve crossed a threshold.

Don’t get me wrong, their natural tendencies still exist. Zack is still a homebody and would just as soon hunker down at my friends’ house in Budapest as go to school for a day in Hungary. But, when he went to school for the day, he instantly made friends.

When he saw some of those friends again at the English-speaking church on Sunday, he was yucking it up with them. Making them laugh, and arguing about, what else, football.

Gracie is effortless in her traveling ability. She puts me to shame. She likes to visit the sites, and be out and about in the culture. Which is pretty much how she operates when she’s at home. Out and about, taking everything in. And effortlessly making friends.

When she saw her “school” friends at church, she hugged them to greet them. Her facebook friend count has increased considerably with her new Hungarian friends. Although she can’t read their posts — they are all in Hungarian!

When we decided to join our friend Bill for a day of outreach to high school students, my kids begged us not to go. It was going to be so boring.

When we arrived, we spoke to English classes, and broke into small groups for “English practice.” There my kids were, right in the mix of it. Listening, talking, laughing, getting more facebook friends.

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It makes a mother’s heart grow ten-fold to see her kids so…adaptable. And so enjoyable. I always have two prayers that run through the back of my mind in a continual stream. Lord, let me enjoy my kids. And Lord, let others enjoy my kids.

To see that prayer being answered before my very eyes is beautiful.

Underwear update

Success! The new underwear is in place, and has remained in place. No small feat given the miles and miles of walking we’ve covered – without shifting in “that area.” And excellent breathability as I chose nylon over cotton and my oh my the comfort! The quick-drying action!

Zack is experiencing an interesting effect. When he wears his sweatpants, and has his backpack on and buckled around the waist, it pulls his pants down. It’s possible he could actually “moon” someone in every country. But alas, this won’t actually happen because lucky for Zack, I did find underwear for him just before we left so he is not going commando for 5 months after all. So really, instead of mooning he will just bring the Rainier Valley saggin’ fashion to the European continent and beyond.

Curtis has packed 84 pair of underwear. He feels each one is important. I may begin tossing pairs out as we walk on the tarmac when we board flights. I’ve seen signs that say “no photos”, but nothing that says “no underwear throwing.”

And if I’m wrong, does it matter? If I get yelled at in a foreign language I don’t understand, does it count? I say no, it does not. So don’t be surprised if I cut Curtis’ underwear supply in half when we board the plane to Krakow, Poland this Tuesday.

Paris 2

OUR TINY PARIS APARTMENT
We are staying in an apartment about as big as my kitchen at home. Our apartment is 50 meters square – about 150 square ft.

Somehow, this seems normal. We feel like we are in luxurious digs with all this space. My kitchen at home suddenly seems outrageously excessive.

By Paris standards, our apartment is big. It even has a separate bedroom, so we are really living. The shower is right in our bedroom, separated only by a shower curtain. The toilet is in a separate closet all together. Literally a closet. This is why the French are small people. Because they can’t be any bigger and still fit in the bathroom.

The kids sleep on the foldout couch. It is surrounded by backpacks that have exploded.

Because, no surprise here, I have overpacked the entire family for this adventure.

OVERPACKED
It could be a metaphor for my life. Overpacked. Why is my life, and now my backpack, full of so much stuff?

When you have to pack up your house and pare down your possessions in a week’s time, it becomes crystal clear how much…crap…you have. And how much of it you don’t need.

I’m supposed to be the seasoned traveler, right? But in the end I was rendered useless in decision making when it came to packing.

We each have one biggish backpack, and one daypack. Lots of people wonder how we can possibly live on so little for 5 months. I find myself dreaming of ways to ditch half of it along our route. I “accidentally” left a toiletries bag in Paris. A special gift for Francois – whose apartment we rented while he was on his honeymoon.

Actually without toiletries and a first aid kit, our bags would be 50% lighter. But I can’t bring myself to ditch the malaria meds or anti-diarrheals just to lighten the load. So to speak.

When we are out sightseeing, we just take a daypack or two. Shouldn’t weigh much, right? Wrong. We are packing 2 litres of water with us. And apples – the heaviest fruit on the planet. Or maybe it just feels that way when you’ve been walking around for 6 hours with a bushel of fruit.

Nevertheless, I spend the day obsessively counting items.

1, 2 3, 4
or 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 total items – that was the count for today.
* 2 cameras
* 2 backpacks
* 1 money belt

This count varies, and forces my brain to work harder than necessary on some days. Today the count was 5, but the count tomorrow may be 3. Which means I have to remember on the 3 day that it is 3, and not 5. The count gives me a heart attack approximately every 9 minutes, which is about how often I count our items.

I count them in the museum. I count them on the bus. I count them on the Metro – which is the underground in Paris. In Seattle, the Metro is the bus. So when we get lost, and I ask directions to the next art museum, if they say “Metro,” I inevitably point us towards the wrong transportation source. Curtis loves this.

GETTING LOST
We are perfecting the art of getting lost. The other night Curtis schlepped us out to Sacre Coeur chapel, because it’s “right near our apartment!” (remember: walking us into the ground). Forty-five minutes later we found ourselves atop the steep hillclimb with glorious Sacre Coeur as the sun was setting. Breathtaking. The quaintest little shops and cafes as the backdrop, and gelato stands that lured us in. Mango, lemon, strawberry – yum!

Now it’s time to go back home which is no problem. Curtis is absolutely sure of the way. So sure that he’s refused to bring a map on this outing. Except it’s dark, and we miss a turn, and now we’re on the verge of some seedy district looking at a street map with “rob me, we’re tourists!” written all over us. Nice.

A very nice young Frenchman befriends us and gets us pointed in the right direction. So it only took us 90 minutes to get home from a place it took us 45 minutes to reach.

We can use this ratio to predict any outing we take. Works like a charm every time.

Paris 1

WALKING PARIS
The City of Lights. I however refer to it as the city of being walked into the ground by my husband.

Curtis is nearly 6’2″. I’m just over 5’3″. Can you picture the difference in stride?

I tried to keep up, but really, who can? In fact one day I thought I should run to catch up since he was already across the street and the light was about to change. And that was when I tripped and fell in the street right in front of a car that came to an abrupt stop. All I could think was, well, if I’m going to get run over while traveling, Paris is probably the place to do it since I can go to the hospital for free. And also, if I rip my pants I am so up a creek, since I have a limited wardrobe. And there’s no way I will fit into a French pair of pants. Which reminds me…

ALL THE PEOPLE IN PARIS ARE BEAUTIFUL
It’s true. I don’t know how the women do it — shoes that are so trendy and have SUCH high heels. I would be dead in shoes like that, from another fall into the street, presumably. I wouldn’t even need to be running.

Really, I wanted to look cool in Paris. I had visions of effortless fashion sense suddenly coming upon me, and gliding through the streets of Paris with others unaware of my American roots.

Because I would not be wearing a money belt around my neck. Or using a backpack for the day. Or wearing Nikes while in Paris. I thought these things because my mind was clouded by jetlag. And impressionism, similar to all those impressionist art museums I visited. While wearing all the above mentioned articles.

Which reminds me of something my children said on Day 4 in Paris….

NO MORE ART MUSEUMS!
This was my children’s plea. They had seen The Louvre (twice for the Egyptian wing, once for Mona Lisa), L’Orangerie (Monet), Museum d’ Orsay (Van Gogh, Renoir, Picasso, Rodin, Monet, Manet, etc), The Decorative Arts (twice), Versailles (all day) and they were done. Completely.

What we weren’t done with was bread. And cheese. And salami.

We ate it every morning and every afternoon. Religiously. We actually kind of perfected it as an art form, similar to the art museums we visited.

I wonder if it’s actually possible to become tired of French bread. We bought a minimum of 2 or 3 baguettes per day. And inevitably someone would start eating it before we even got it back home. Those baguettes are addictive. So now you’ll understand why I look like a loaf of french bread the next time you see me.

Which reminds me of French eating…..

THE FRENCH CAFE
Truly there is nothing better in life than a French cafe in the afternoon. The French really have it down, leisurely passing the time at a little, round table cuddled around several other small, round tables filled with Parisians drinking coffee, drinking wine, eating the most beautiful pastries, and smoking. Apparently my former employer The American Lung Association has not made its footprint here.

Our friend Deb gave us a tip about Cafe du Marche on Rue Cler, in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower. We tracked it down, and used it as an excuse to celebrate Gracie’s 13th birthday (which was July 25th, but who needs to celebrate in a timely manner anyhow?)

It’s safe to say it’s a birthday meal Gracie will never forget. She ordered the Truffle Cream Sauce with Rigatoni pasta. It was u-n-b-e-l-i-e-v-a-b-l-e. So mouth-watering good that there are no words this side of heaven to describe it.

I had the duck confit (fried duck). Delectable! It tastes like a juicy, baked chicken with more full flavor. And it came with these oven baked/fried potato jojos that were out of this world. I know they were good because Zack kept trying to steal them off my plate, even though he had a whole plate of french fries.

And a cheeseburger. That boy, he was so happy to get his cheeseburger. Much to his surprise, the cheese was a humongous dallop of nacho cheese sauce. Not as spicy, but definitely the same bright orange, gelatinous texture. It didn’t stop him from wolfing it down. And using almost an entire bottle of ketchup to do it. You can take the boy out of America, but you can’t take America out of the boy.

Of course I had a glass of white wine at the cafe, it seems so risque to be drinking wine for lunch! And we polished off the meal with creme brulee for dessert. If there is such a thing as using more than 100% cream to make something, this was it. Gracie sang the creme brulee song from High School Musical just to cement the experience for us all.

There’s also amazingly good eats at a falafel joint in The Marais area of Paris. If you are not traveling with Curtis, you should take the bus or underground there. Otherwise, you will walk for 45 minutes for something that is just “5 or 6 blocks away” according to Curtis. (Remember the “walking you into the ground” thing?)

It’s worth the walk for what is reportedly the BEST falafel sandwich in Europe. True dat. Falafel is a traditional middle eastern food, ground chick pea balls deep fried and so delicious, then stuffed into a pita with all sorts of yummy veggies and a special sauce (more special than Burger King’s, mind you).

Gracie and I had the falafel, Zack and Curtis had the gyros. So big and messy we could barely finish. Served with a little pitcher of water, a lifeline for us American tourists.

What to do after a big meal like that? Walk forever to find a bus whose route has been changed and since you don’t speak or read French, you can’t figure out where the re-route is.

Then finally get home and have, what else? Bread and cheese and salami.

Underwear

Let’s face it, underwear is a big deal.  You cannot underestimate the power of a good pair of underwear, skivvies, or any name you want to call them by.

Which is why I thought that it was important to get some good ones.  You know, for the kids, for me.  And that is also why I am two days away from leaving, and the perfect underwear has somehow eluded me.

First let’s discuss Zack.  Basic enough, right?  Boxer briefs, nice and comfy all around (so I’ve been told — it’s not like I wear men’s boxer briefs, well, at least, not right at this moment).

But then I was undone by….yes, Labor Day Sale back-to-school-shopping.  Except I didn’t go on Labor Day.  I went the day after Labor Day.  And apparently the penalty for not celebrating laborers on Labor Day by spending lots of money, is that you cannot find the underwear you need.  Because they have all been purchased the day before by other people who are not going on a trip around the world.

I tried valiantly to find those boxers, but to no avail.  Not at Penney’s, Sears, Target.  And so at this very moment, Zack will have to go without underwear for 5 months.  Poor kid.   He’ll be just like my Uncle John who hasn’t worn underwear since the 60’s. (true)

Now, while I was looking for Zack’s underwear at the mall, I was also test driving my new Lands’ End black capri workout pants.  The kind that don’t lose their shape after you’ve worn them for 47 days straight.  I also was test driving my new Nike Free shoes with special inserts in them.  Actually, I had one kind of insert in the left shoe, and another in the right shoe.  So it was like a double-test — to save time which is so very important in these last days.  (And by last days I mean, last days before the trip, not last days before Jesus comes.  Because I’m pretty sure he’ll have the perfect kind of underwear and won’t be at the mall).

But little did I know, that the underwear I chose that day, and in fact the underwear I choose every day, would be test driving ME!  That’s right.  Because when you decide to go on a trip around the world, apparently the underwear that has faithfully served you day in and day out suddently revolts.  It’s up, and then it’s down, and sometimes it’s side to side.  There’s no telling what is going to happen with that pair of underwear, and now I need new ones.  Perhaps a completely new brand that doesn’t come in a 6-pack at Target.

This is where the paralysis sits in.  Who has time to shop for an entirely new kind of underwear at the last minute?  Choosing underwear is like an exact science that takes weeks to perfect.  And I have 48 hours.

I’m going back out tomorrow.  Without my Lands End capris, and without my Nikes.  Just me and the mall mano o mano — in the quest for the perfect pair of underwear.