Monday, June 4, 2012

Chalet Shenanigans - Chapter 15

Wherein We Meet Attila the Hun

It is that time of year again when Mr. Big makes his annual jaunt to Israel.  You will remember, (or, if you are a newbie, you need to go read the blog post from a year ago) that I did not fall in love with Tel Aviv as I was hoping I would when I agreed to accompany him last year, which is the understatement of the century.  It was, actually, the first and only time that I have requested to be flown home THAT VERY MORNING instead of staying for my allotted long weekend.  I have a chill just remembering the atrocity that was Tel Aviv.

The reason he goes to Israel (and other cities in the Middle East which don’t like to be spoken in the same sentence with Israel) this time of year is because everybody in the Western world is on vacation.  Here, in Europe, this weekend is called PentecĂ´te, or, Whit Sunday.  Which simply means Three Day Weekend in English.  In the US, it is Memorial Day.  Which, again, means Three Day Weekend.  Anyway, you will remember last year at this time, in the Tel Aviv Airport, Mr. Big was explaining to me why he had two separate passports, not unlike Jason Bourne.

This year, he got caught.  We had arranged to meet in Frankfurt.  I was flying from Switzerland.  He was flying from Tel Aviv.  We were going to meet in Frankfurt, (which I think must be the biggest airport in continental Europe) and fly onto Budapest, Hungary for a long weekend because it is on my Bucket List.  Poor Mr. Big got off the plane from Tel Aviv looking like a war-torn refugee.

Me:  What in God’s name is wrong with you?  You look like you’ve just gone six rounds with Mike Tyson.

Poor, dear Mr. Big:  They caught me in the Tel Aviv airport.

Me:  What do you mean they caught you?  They caught you smuggling human body parts?  They caught you spying on Israeli business practices?  They caught you soliciting a Jewish hooker?  What?

Big:  They caught me with two passports.

Me:  Oh My God.  What happens now?  Are you going to be dismembered and mailed to me in small packages?

Apparently, he was interrogated in the Tel Aviv airport by Mossad agents as to why he had two passports, (TO CIRCUMVENT EXACTLY THIS SITUATION, YOU IDIOTS!) and they scrutinized every single, solitary trip he has made in the past two years, (which was like, um, over a hundred).  They went through his wallet and scrutinized every single, solitary business card he was carrying, (which, unfortunately, included a number of Arab sheiks’ cards), and they concluded that A)  he was a legit American business guy who did business-type things all over Europe, the Middle East and Africa, and that B)  he was not out to massacre Zion.

Well, that’s a relief.

We had a 50 minute layover in Frankfurt wherein I made Mr. Big drink two beers and rubbed his head which always calms him down.  (I’m sorry the Mossad is after you, honey, here, let me rub your head a little).  Whatever.  It worked and on we went to Budapest.

Y’all are chuckling, but this is my Corporate Wife life.  Massage head.  Go to Budapest.

I had been told that Budapest, Hungary was like Prague, Czech Republic.  Wrong.  Wrong. Wrong.  Prague is achingly historic and tremendously picture-worthy in a Jeez-Can-You-Believe-This-Is Real sort of way.  Budapest, on the other hand, is a vibrant, modern city of 3 million people with ancient buildings, merely old buildings and brand new buildings all thrown into the mix.  It was a veritable metropolis compared to Prague or anything in Switzerland, for that matter.

On the way there, while Mr. Big was still recovering from his Customs experience, I was mentally reviewing everything (very little) that I actually knew about Hungary.  I knew Zsa Zsa Gabor was born there.  I knew they invented paprika, which I knew was just ground-up dried peppers, and I knew that the national soup was goulash.  That’s it.  That was the extent of my knowledge about an entire country, which is 2x more than I know about the Maldives and 3x more than I know about Chad, so there you go.

Ah, Budapest.  Here’s the funny thing.  It is a city divided.  Literally.  On one side of the river, you have Buda.  On the other side of the river, you have Pest.  Not kidding.  I wish I lived there, in Pest.  I just like saying it.  The dividing river between the two is the Danube.  The historical part is in Pest, up a hill (take the funicular, don’t try to walk) and the more modern part is in Buda, got it?

We slept on the Buda side at the Kempinski Hotel Cornivus and it was very, very modern and nice and just steps away from the main shopping street and the Hard Rock CafĂ© which was hopping because Bruce Willis was in town shooting another Die Hard movie.  What are we up to now, Die Hard 15 or so?  Anyway, the Buda side was all abuzz because of this movie being filmed.  They had streets blocked off and certain buildings that they were shooting in were closed altogether and it was just bedlam.

To escape the madness of Buda, we hiked over the Danube to Pest.  (I love saying Pest, can you tell?)  As we were crossing the bridge, I was amazed to see the size of the cruise ships that go up and down the Danube.  Now, I was well aware that people take cruises up and down the Danube, but somehow I had been picturing small boats that looked like barges.  No, no, these were legit cruise ships.  They had swimming pools and huge sun decks, etc.  Me, I’m not grown up enough yet to graduate to cruising, but someday, like when I reach the stage where I have one of those flip-top plastic pill containers with the days of the week printed on them, it might be fun.

While in Pest, ha!, we found a hotel where I wish we’d stayed.  It was beyond cute.  Mr. Big says he tried to book there but it was full.  I am sure that he was lying and he was just trying to avoid having me walk on up into the lobby to switch hotels right then and there, (which I have been known to do).  I let it go.  See how nice I am, sometimes?  But for the rest of you, if you like ambiance and charm, stay in Pest, ha!, at the St. George Hotel

Also, up in Pest, ha!, you’ve got your requisite palace, your requisite cathedral and you’ve got the President’s pad.  Out in front of his house/office, you’ve got your requisite Honor Guard, in this case, Hungarian soldiers.  Just about the time we arrived in front of the building, they had a Changing of the Guard, which held Mr. Big’s interest for about 30 nanoseconds and then he was ready to leave.

Whoa, there, Big Guy!  Don’t you see what they are doing?  They are goose stepping!  Mr. Big, who hasn’t read a book since 1981 when his English 101 professor made him read To Kill A Mockingbird, could not have cared less.  Me, I was fascinated!  Not having grown up behind the iron curtain, I have only read in books about how the Nazi soldiers marched.  I didn’t think anybody did it anymore, but, obviously, I was wrong.  Just for the record, the Honor Guard outside the President’s digs in Budapest are still doing it.  I hope I don’t get them into trouble.  I tried to get a picture just when their legs were at the apex of the swing but I couldn’t get my durned timing right.

Before you leave Pest, ha!, you must eat kurtoscalacs.  Yeah.  I know.  I can’t say it either.  But it is the most magnificent pastry on the planet.  Basically, it is a pastry originating in Transylvania, (who doesn’t love that?), where they wrap dough around a ceramic cylinder, bake it in an oven right there in their little booth and then roll it in cinnamon and sugar.  It is delicious.  Find one at an outdoor kiosk somewhere and then just sit on a park bench and bask in its delectableness.

We spent more time on the Buda side the next day because that is where the Antiques District is located.  As all of you know, I love saying “Antiques District” more than I love saying “Pest”.  For those of you going to visit, find your way to a street named Falk Miksa.  I’m not going to say too much about it because a lot of my friends who are dealers read this blog and they will go and buy all the good shit before I can get back there with a truck.


It was during our search for antiques and other goodies that we stumbled upon Attila.  The Hun.  Yes.  We walked into one gallery because it had laaarge paintings.  I have a design weakness for buying one giant painting and making a whole room work around it.  It’s just how I roll.  Anyway, the dude in the shop saw us looking at one of his paintings and we started to chat.  Well, we chatted in English and he chatted in something that was sort of close to English.  Let’s call it Hunglish.

He could tell that we were interested in one of his paintings and that we thought it was priced right, (read Eastern European bargain that we all dream about but rarely obtain).  The problem we have, Attila, is that the thing is the size of a king size bed.  That sucker is not going to fit in the overhead.

No problem, says Attila.  I have a guy.  (My favorite people on the planet “have a guy”.  I want to be the kind of person who “has a guy”).  Attila’s guy, will, for 170 euros, build a box for the painting and drive it to our doorstep in Switzerland.  OK, people.  170 euros is the equivalent of a nice dinner.  It is the equivalent of a pair of shoes.  It is NOT the equivalent of making a four day round trip through 6 or 7 countries.

I guess our eyes were popping out of our head, because Attila quickly explained that “He is Serb, my guy”.  Well, that explains everything.  Obviously.

At this point, it was up to Mr. Big to seal the deal because that is what Mr. Big does, he seals deals.  This was the actual moment when Attilla gave Mr. Big his business card with his name on it and it was Attila.  I was swooning.  Swooning!  No, sir, your name is not actually Attila?  Yes, yes it was.

Of course, while my beloved was busy exchanging cards and email info, etc., I was thinking, “Oh my God, my blog people are never going to believe this in a million years!.  Attila.  The Hun.  With a Guy, who is Serb, who is, someday soon, going to show up at my house in Lausanne with a painting the size of king bed.  I will take his picture, just for y’all.

You just can’t make this stuff up, folks.