A Perfect Evening – in Budapest!

What would constitute a  perfect evening for you?” the question asks.  I’ve heard a plethora of answers to this question, ranging from quiet evenings at home with a good
book to an exciting evening on the town.  My answer has always been the
same over the years – to leave mid-afternoon with from my home in Santa Rosa
California and to drive to a spot on the coast called McClure’s Beach with
someone I would care very much about.  Once there, I’d spend the better part of  an hour scouring the vast stretch of beach bordered on one side of course by the
sparkling blue Pacific ocean and on the other by cliffs that look right out
of a science fiction novel about Mars.  Having gathered enough wood, I
would build a small fire and begin a barbecue consisting of various
delicacies such as kebabs and followed by a dessert of strawberries and
wine.  As the sun would set over the ocean, and the beach would become
deserted, I would gradually add wood to the fire so as to make it a roaring
inferno that would keep us warm until the morning light if we so desired.
Then, to the sound of some pleasant music, we’d hold each other all night, all the while listening to the waves pounding the shoreline ever so close by.

Now, being on the other side of the world and so far away from the California shoreline I love so much, if you were to simply add two words to the end of that question, those
being “in Budapest”, my answer could only be one – an evening at
Restaurant Karpatia,  located at Ferenciek tere 7-8, with a beautiful woman followed by a midnight stroll on the bank of the Danube.  And if you care to continue reading,
that is exactly what I will share with you in this journal entry, “A perfect
evening in Budapest Hungary.”

Leading up to today,
there had been several exchanges of emails between Balázs
Váradi-Szabó and me.  He is in charge of marketing for perhaps one of
the more famous and perhaps finest restaurant in Budapest –
Restaurant Karpatia.
“Mr. Hall, of course we would love to have you once again be our guest at
Restaurant Karpatia!”
was his reply to my earlier email informing him that I was once again in
town and would like to inquire of exchanging a listing on my web site’s “I
Suggest” page for a nice meal.  This would be my second visit in as
many years, and if only half as nice as last year’s meal, it would be quite
an evening I thought.  Unfortunately I had not had the opportunity to
meet him personally last year and I hoped that this year that would not be
the case.  I arranged to meet him at 2 o’clock at the restaurant,
between the lunch and dinner rushes, so I could shoot some panoramas for
him.  I have found that the nicer the people are to me that I deal
with, the more I will go out of my way to please them.  I had told Balázs
(ba-loz (as in lozenger)) that in addition to reciprocating with continuous
exposure on my site, I would like to come and give him some nice panoramas
for his marketing purposes, free of charge of course. 

The day began with the usual breakfast at Cafe Raday Etkezde
of a four egg omelet with three eggs being whites only and juice and coffee.
I needed to find a place to shine my shoes I told the gal there who speaks
English.  And to my delight, just a few doors down was such a place.
My date for the evening had indicated that she would wear a very nice – and
sexy – dress and I felt somewhat obligated to look nice as well, both for
her benefit as well as the mere fact of the venue where we would be eating
this evening.  I then did some other chores which included picking up a
letter from the director of the Fine Arts Museum near my home and checking
my emails at my office, known to the locals as the public library.  It
was near 1:30 when I finally began the short journey to the restaurant to
meet Balázs.  As I sat on the Blue Line
metro, I wondered if he would like the Van Morrison CD I would give him.
As mentioned, I had never met him though we had emailed quite extensively.
To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect but for some silly reason I
envisioned an older Hungarian man, large in stature with perhaps a balding
head but plenty of hair in both his nostrils and ears.  Much to my
surprise, when I was introduced to him, he was a very young and handsome
man, very well dressed and spoke English perfectly. 

Often times when I have such a meeting, I am the type who will plan every
detail or at least attempt to.  As I had earlier sat on the metro, I
kept planning over and over in my head.  “Ok, first I will give him the
Van cd and tell him how many people I have shared it with only to receive an
email back saying how much they had enjoyed it.  Then, I will show him
the panoramas I have already taken to show him my abilities and alleviate
any doubts he may have as to my ability to “produce”.  After that, I’d
whip out my portfolio to show him my previous works in case he’d want to use
my services for a web site.  Finally, I’d show him some food photos
from the various places I have visited, name dropping all the while. ”
Fortunately, I was able to do all of this things as we were not interrupted.
Before I knew it, there we were in private dining room which was adjoined by
a fantastic sitting room with furnishings dating back to the 19th century
when the restaurant was built.  If only these walls could talk as I set
up my equipment.  Perhaps there had been conversations within these
very walls about such things as the invention of the airplane, luxurious
ships that could now sail the world offering comfort all the while, and yes
of course, about the various wars that have affected this country over the

was quite pleased that Balázs
stayed with me during the whole shoot.  It gave me an opportunity to
get to know him much better than I had hoped.  It was obvious why he
held the position which he does of marketing director.  He seemed sharp
as a tack if you will.  Perhaps the best advice I have gotten in all of
my visits came from his lips that afternoon.  In the time I have been
here, I have been very curious about life under a communist government and
will often find myself asking people one question after another about it or
1956 in particular.  He told me that although people may speak matter
of factly about these subjects, I would be hard pressed to have someone give
me an opinion one way or another about them.  “It has not been such a
long time since those days Tom, and I might suggest you refrain from such
discussions with just anyone” he said to me.  His words were those of
wisdom I thought and will heed them as I continue my presence in this once
Soviet satellite country. 

Anyway, the photos came out perfect I must say, and I think Balázs
would agree.  What a feather in my cap I thought as I watched one image
merge into the other to complete the panoramic digital image.  I told
Balázs how often times I was frustrated at my
inability to access such venues as the baths and museums in Budapest.
Much to my delight, he told me his mother works for the Budapest Tourist
office AND he knows the two girls in charge of PR and marketing for the
same.  “You’ve got to be kidding I kept telling myself.  You just
got to be kidding….”  What a fortunate relationship I was developing.
We finished shooting at 4:30 which hopefully was enough time to get back for
my shoes and then to my flat to iron an outfit for the night.  How
would I look with my neatly pressed shirt and khaki pants and a pair of
sandals or sneakers I thought.  (the latter called “trainers” in
England)  I wouldn’t come find this out as I arrived at the shoe shop
just as the older lady was locking up.  “Aaaaah!” I let out as she
smiled at me and motioned me in.  “Köszönöm, Köszönöm ” I kept saying
over and over – thank you, thank you.  She charged me HUF 800 Forints,
but I gave her 1,000 and was on my way. 

There is not much to say about the rest of my preparation except to say that
there I was ironing away all the while watching the evening news on CNN.
I chose to wear a nice short sleeved white shirt with my brown khakis.
What would she be wearing I kept thinking.  Other than telling me that
it would be a red dress, I knew little else.  Would she remember my
telling her that when I go out with a woman, an outfit which might ever so
slightly reveal some lace lingerie underneath is a HUGE turn on.
Perhaps, but her mere beauty alone would be enough of a turn on for me I

jumped on either the #4 or #6 tram and was on her doorstep, flowers in hand,
at 7:00 sharp.  I buzzed her flat, #89 on the panel, and within a
minute I was standing inside the building entry was just marveling at her
beauty as she stood on the staircase waiting for me.  Her dress was not
only stunning, but extremely classy and tasteful as well.  “What a
woman!” I thought.  We chatted only long enough for me to share with
her the fruits of my labor from the afternoon so she could see just where
we’d be having dinner this evening.  I couldn’t tell whether the smile
upon her countenance was inspired by the thought of the evening ahead or by
my presence or both, but just as it has every time I have seen it since we
met nearly two weeks ago, it melted my heart.

Much to the stares of the locals on the tram, we began our short trip to the

Restaurant Karpatia.
We of course jumped on the same tram which brought me to her home and then
to the underground where we’d catch the Blue Line for one short stop to the Ferenciek tere.
(tere meaning square I think)  She could only laugh as the others in
the underground could as well as I sang Van Morrisons “Brown Eyed Girl” to
her as it played on my headset.  “Dance with me” I said, twirling her
around.  You are a crazy man she said in her ever so cute accented
English.  The train arrived and within a matter of minutes we were at
the front door of the
Restaurant Karpatia.
The same gentleman who greeted me last year was standing there.  Seeing
my camera and all of it’s wires and gadgets, he quickly remembered me.
He was so kind to offer to take our picture, and I of course returned the
favor and took his as well.  He was as kind as he was handsome.
Without hesitation, he showed us to our table, near the back of the terrace
and away from the rush of the staff waiting on the other diners that
evening.  “Tom”, she said ever so softly, “we should begin with a
Hungarian drink called Pálinka.”
Oh yes, Balázs had earlier in the day asked me
if on the English version of the menu he could reference this as a Schapps.
After tasting it, I said no, as Schapps has more of a bite to it
Balázs, I told him.  And so the evening
began in earnest.  One delectable dish after another arrived, all
accompanied by the marvelous wine my date had chosen from one of Hungary’s
world famous wine regions.  For a starter, I chose large tiger prawns
which were as messy as they were delicious.  She chose a more simple
starter of tomatoes and mozzarella.  I then had some soup before our
entrees arrived, mine being deer with a potato side dish and vegetables,
hers being a nice chicken dish with a rice dish.  “Tom, look at the
little shrimp in my rice” she commented and I laughed.  The staff
waiting on us couldn’t of been more professional and kind.  I kept
teasing my date and our waiter that although they may think I was a silly
American who couldn’t understand a word they were saying, I was certain
the translated equivalent might of been something like this:  “Oh no,
he is not my boyfriend, just some crazy American I met on a train.  You
are very, very cute.  I will give you my mobile number and after he
takes me home, I will meet you on the Danube by the chain bridge.  He
thinks we are talking about the menu that silly, silly man…” 

The evening went on and on, all the while the restaurant’s gypsie musicians
playing one song after another, often times right at our table.  At one
point, I asked my date to please translate the following to the fiddler who
had so kindly given me a CD of their music last year.  “Please tell him
that last year he gave me his music on a cd.  And that many, many times
I have sat under the stars, often in my garden, smoking a cigar while
listening to his music.  And tell him that often times, his music has
caused tears to come to my eyes and that his music would be seemingly
calling me to return to this city on the Danube, as if it were calling me
home.”  I am not sure if it was translated as I wished, but he gave me
a humble “Köszönöm”
and through her, inquired as to my favorite piece.  Oh that was easy I
told her to tell him, “If I were a rich man”.  And within seconds, the
four of them began to play the same.  It was as beautiful as the lady
whom sat across from me I thought.  Just beautiful. 

Unlike most evening out, this one ended void of any check or bill.
I tipped our waiter HUF 3,000 Forint even though I was sure he had been
collaborating behind my back with my date to meet up at the Danbue later
that evening  (I’m only joking)  and we were off.  I wanted
the night to end with a glass of champagne followed by kisses at her flat.
As we sat on the metro, she asked me if we could walk along the Danube and
to my delight I said but of course.  We had champagne and then strolled
to the Danube, only minutes away from Raday ut.

It was during that stroll I thought, that the rest of the world could just
fade away for all I cared.  She was all I needed, or wanted for that
matter.  Pointing to the heavens above, I asked her if she could make
out the constellation Ursa Major, aka the big dipper.  She recognized
it.  I told her that in America when we unfortunately had slavery, the
colored people were taught this constellation and that using it’s bottom two
most stars, one could find the North Star Polaris and thus the direction
north and freedom.  I think she was impressed.  We strolled
further along and I occasionally would find my hand slip inside the opening
in her dress on her back and ever so slowly, caressing her soft skin.
“I love when you touch me” she would say over and over.  And I love to
touch you would be my reply.  Little could she know that I wanted to
tear that dress off that had been teasing me all night and to make love to
her right there, for all the heavens to see.

When the lights on the Castle and bridges went out, we decided to begin our
walk home.   Neither of us wanted this “perfect evening” to end.
The walk was a long one to the tram line which would take us to her flat.
It gave us an opportunity to talk about many things and in doing so, I came
to appreciate and respect her more and more.  What  a Lady I

The night ended at her flat where it began, with a pleasant kiss goodnight. And with this, I will end this story of a perfect evening in Budapest. In doing so
though, I invite you to return next week for the description of a perfect
four-day weekend along the shore of another body of water in Hungary, that
being the largest fresh-water lake in Europe known as Lake Balaton.
And yes, with the same lovely lady…

PS.  In reference to a “Perfect Evening – in Budapest” for yourself,
finding the Danube and the
Restaurant Karpatia
will be quite simple for you, but as for the lovely lady in the ever sexy
red dress, you will have to find your own, for she is mine and only mine!

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For those who might be wondering…

Perhaps it is as hard to understand as it is to explain why I have not been so diligent in keeping up my journal since my last entry weeks ago, but I will try. My life has been so hectic that I just can’t believe it, let alone keep up. My girlfriend often needs to remind me which day of the week it is as they seem blend into one another these days. Shit, I even forgot my mother’s birthday on the 12th, something I don’t think I have ever done. So many things continue to change, but to briefly update you on some of them, the biggest of which was the panorama job for the Corinthia Group. It turned out they are owned in great part by the Libya government, so the owners/representatives decided it best not to retain my services for the job. Oh well, such is life I figure. It turns out the US has a boycott on the group, but hopefully that will one day change. But if anything good did come out of the situation, I learned an incredible new technology and am very grateful to them for that. I also have some nice panoramas to use in my portfolio as well.

On a personal note, I am scheduled to return to California on the 19th of Sept. and will stay there for 3 to 4 weeks, then my girlfriend will fly from Hungary, God and the State Dept. willing, and we will holiday for 3 weeks before returning together for a winter in Budapest. Brrrr. We’ll see how I like it… When time permits, I must tell you about a young Hungarian I met named Bela who is sharp as a tack and with whom I have developed a wonderful business and personal relationship! x

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Those Imaginery Balloons

As a teenager, it always seemed that my father would be ever so quick to tell whichever girl I might bring home to be careful not to “pinch Tommy’s imaginary balloons”. When the girls would ask the obvious question of him, “What imaginary balloons?” his reply would always be that every man has an imaginary balloon under each of this arms, and each time when pinched, a little air would escape thus lowering each arm towards the man’s side. At the time, neither the girl nor I had any clue as to what in the world he was talking about. But, as my life has progressed, I have come to not only understand what he was implying, but I have learned to appreciate and value the words of wisdom he spoke so many years ago. He was talking of course about a man’s confidence level. And to this day, when I am fortunate to have the opportunity to talk with my father half a world away in Cleveland Ohio, he always precedes his “I love you” goodbye with the question – “how’s your confidence level? ” My answer is always “pretty damn good dad, pretty damn good…

The relevance of this story closely correlates with the experience I have been having the past two weeks here in Budapest Hungary. I had been extremely excited having been given the opportunity to do some 360 degree digital panoramas for the Corinthia Group’s 5-Star hotel – The Grand Royal Hotel here in Budapest. Considered by many, and disputed by few to be the nicest hotel in this magnificent city on the Danube, it would be perhaps the opportunity of my lifetime. I had been given a few days to prepare some panoramas of the various venues in the hotel and post them on the internet for the leaders in Malta of this chain of elegant hotels to review and accept or decline my services. Upon their review, they were pleased with my efforts, but asked me if I could provide them with a panorama similar to one which they had been shown by another company which unlike mine, provides a viewer to not only view a panorama in a complete horizontal 360 degree view, but that of a vertical one as well. They sent me a link to this particular technique and to be quite honest, I was baffled at how it was done. But rather than giving up hope of being able to match it, I became intent on not only discovering how it was done, but to learn how to master the technology – and master it I have!

Now after a day which began on a sour note, having been robbed overnight and spending three hours in the police station waiting for an interpreter to arrive to fill out a police report for www.safeware.com, my insurance company back in America this morning, here I sit in the atrium of the Grand Royal feeling as if I own the place. There is an empty glass of Johnnie Walker Red on the table next to the chilled glass with one sip of the Hungarian peach flavored drink known as Palinká in it. A cigar is smoldering in the ashtray awaiting my lips to finish it while Van Morrison’s “Sense of Wonder” is playing on the laptop of which I am now typing this journal entry. Yes, even knowing that my loving girlfriend is several hundred miles away in Italy on a planned one-week vacation with her girlfriends and not home waiting for me to crawl into bed with her to feel her warm skin next to mine is not enough to dampen my feeling of accomplishment on this warm July Budapest evening. Yes, of course having her this evening would be the icing on the cake so to speak, but I’m certain my arms will hold her once again, God willing, and so I will savor this moment none the less. (to view the panorama, place your mouse in the image area and while holding down the mouse button, move your cursor left and right, up and down…)

Figuring out how the targeted panorama technique was done was not the hard part of accomplishing this challenge, rather learning the software and the intricate photography process involved to shoot such a target as the lobby with an open atrium of several floors capped off with a skylight which has intrinsic metal designs throwing shadows every which way. The first thing I did when I began the challenge of doing this panoramic technique was to email James Riggs of www.panoguide.com and inquire of him how it was done. His reply was quick that it was accomplished with a software product called Easypano. Having located the web site of the same, I downloaded a trial version of a product which will cost $500 dollars when I purchase it. Anyway, to make a long story short, I began learning the software which requires as few as one and no more than three images to complete a panorama. One the images are shot using a fish-eye lens the software then takes each image and makes a sphere of each if you will. Then, using adjustments such as yaw, pitch, and roll one is required to manipulate the spheres – in part only in one’s own mind – until perfection is achieved. Well, maybe not perfection, as I discovered my acumen (I like to throw little words like that in for the sake of my girlfriend who is challenged by such words as she is only learning English) of Adobe Photoshop has helped me out considerably both prior and after the image stitching process. The hardest panorama for me to do was the before mentioned lobby. I decided to accomplish the panorama with three shots, each one being 120 degrees. For the three views, I needed three separate exposures I decided, one optimized for the bottom most level of the lobby, and one for the several floors above and one just for the skylight. Once completed, I opened each view’s three images in Photoshop and stacked them on top of one another if you will, carefully selecting and erasing various portions of each image to reveal a part of the image above or below it. Probably more technical than you need to know I’m sure, though some of you might find this of interest – such as my friend Frank back in Santa Rosa California who if reading this is perhaps in his city planner’s office at this very moment. So, make a long story short, or perhaps I should say to keep a looooong story from getting longer, the job is complete and upon finishing this journal, it will be down the street I go to the internet café I have found where I will email it off to Malta where a decision will be made as to if I will be doing more panoramas for them, both here as well as around the world perhaps. It will be a great excuse to pick up the latest and greatest Nikon digital camera as mine is beat to hell having survived four trips to Europe.
Now with all that being said, here I sit the following afternoon in the same spot I was last night attempting to complete this journal entry with just some closing thoughts. Life is good. Real good. I feel as if I belong here in Budapest and with the exception of not being able to experience the wonderful season the SF Giants are having back home or perhaps what use to be my routine Sunday drive to the coast, there is very little if anything I miss about Northern California. Don’t get me wrong, Northern California is one the the nicest spots on earth and Budapest is perhaps not, but I am ideally situated for the things that have become passions for me, Europe and photography. It is so nice to know that places like Croatia and Poland, Vienna and Munich are only short train rides away should I choose to go there. Budapest is a nice place, but I am pretty sure I would not want to live the rest of my life here. Hungary perhaps, but not Budapest. Between the element of crime that exist here as well as just the general cleanliness, or lack thereof I should say, there are many other places in this wonderful country I would rather live. But, seeing as my girlfriend has a wonderful job here working as lawyer, I can certainly tolerate things for awhile. In saying for awhile, the implication is certainly not inclusive of her though. She is an absolute gem and I can’t not imagine her not being a part of my life. I wish I could find the words to express how happy I am with her in my life, but I realize I just simply can not. Perhaps the word that sums up my feelings with her is a quite simple one – comfortable. She has so many of the qualities and characteristics I have been looking for in a partner. First of all, she is smart. Quite smart. I’ve always said when I meet a girl who can beat me in chess, I will marry her. She hasn’t quite beat me yet, at least not without my coaching and assistance, but I am pretty damn sure she will. Now if she if were here and not on holiday in Italy, she’d be pimping me to make sure I tell you who has had the upper hand in both darts and squash, to which I would be forced to confess she has, but I am working on that. Anyway, I cherish the time I spend with her and am looking forward to bringing her to America in the fall for three weeks. Surprisingly, I have a fear that unlike myself, once she sees America in all it greatness, she may want to stay while I will probably want to return to Europe. I’m really hoping that she will achieve her goal of becoming a lawyer for the European Union when Hungary becomes a member of the same next year and together we will move to Belgium or some other country in Europe. We’ll just have to see which hand of cards life deals the both of us over the next year to so, but for now it is Budapest and I am content with that, to say the least.

On some other notes, I had a great day today. I woke up rather early for a Sunday and caught the #4 tram to Blaha Ter. where I picked up the red line of the metro which took me to Kossuth Ter. where I began a day of sightseeing if you will. I am in the process of putting together a virtual tour CD which I will sell in Budapest, not too mention the ability to customize it for any other Hungarian city for that matter. On it I will put such items of interest as various attractions, museums, parks, zoos, restaurants and other similar items. I have met a guy in the printing and design business who will design a label and jacket for the CD and I’ll have a go at it. I’m also counting on traveling to do some panoramic images for the Corinthia group and as I have mentioned before, have my eye on the hotels in Malta and St. Petersburg. One of the nicest things this morning was discovering that the famous chain bridge, with large lion statues on each end was closed this morning and all day for that matter to traffic, allowing pedestrians the ability to walk upon it shopping at little booths all the while. I had chills walking the same bridge this morning, as I will occasionally have at various places and times in this country of my ancestry. I have a premonition that I am going to have at least one son here, if not at least one daughter as well, and perhaps the thing that gave me the chill this morning was the thought that such a son would be named “Thomas Ernest Hall”. The “Ernest” after my father of course, the greatest man I have ever met, or will probably ever meet for that matter. It is my hope that he will be able to come over and visit me while I am here in Hungary, if not even with his brother and my uncle, Steve. Oh yes, and one more thing before I wrap this up, if you have been reading this journal over the years, do you remember Max? Max from Lake Wolfgangsee just outside of Salzburg? Well, he emailed me yesterday about some business and if things play out well, my girlfriend and I will be visiting him sometime in August or September…

PS. Dad, should you ever have the chance to read this journal entry, please know that I love you and all is well over here in Hungary. The confidence level is quite high as the imaginary balloons under my arms have become so inflated that my knuckles often scrape the ceiling I’m afraid. Seeing as people often tell me, or think at least, that I am full of hot air, I am considering using some of the same in those imaginary balloons and letting them out for hot air balloon rides over the Danube to generate a little extra income… Please come and visit, you’ll love it here!

PSS. Being always the diplomat of course, Mom – you’re the greatest woman I ever met, or will ever meet for that matter. I love you too. Oh, and I’m sure you would be pleased to know I made the 12 o’clock mass today… 😉

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“I hear music in your photos…”

It has been almost a month now since I first walked past the front door of the hotel. Each time until two weeks ago, I had always found myself wondering what it was like inside and if I’d be able to take a panorama of the lobby perhaps, if only for my portfolio. I have come to assume that most of the nicer hotels have already retained the services of someone like myself, but on this assumption I would be dead *%$)#*$. ( I have trouble with that five letter word which begins with “w”) One day two weeks ago, I decided that I would try my luck and see if I could “sneek” a panorama if you will. I walked into the lobby with my camera bag and tripod discreetly tucked under my arm and only my small digital camera in hand. “Excuse me, could I please take a photo of the lobby” I asked the young girl at the reception desk. Perhaps not knowing if I was a guest or local, she probably saw now harm in such a request. Little did she know that in 5 minutes I’d have my flash and tripod attached to the same camera and I’d be standing in the center of the stunning lobby with a carpeted staircase leading up to probably the nicest ballroom in all of Hungary. Directly overhead where windows which were allowing the sunlight to enter the same lobby in which I stood.

I surprisingly found myself being so nervous that my hands were shaking as I attempted to take each of the 14 pictures that would comprise the panorama. Nervous only in that I wanted this panorama so badly that I was afraid I would be asked to stop what I was doing as soon as someone from the staff spotted me. I was able to finish the panorama and the excitement of doing so lead me to open my laptop to see if it had turned out or if I’d need to re-shoot it. I hoped not. As I began the process of stitching the images together in my computer, two well dressed men sitting in the lobby nearby asked what I was doing. I told them that I was taking a panoramic image and when they asked if it was my job, I replied that it was only my hobby. For to say it was my job, if they were connected with the hotel, might of led to my being asked to leave the hotel, so “hobby” seemed harmless enough. Anyway, after being told that they were Hungarian realtors, I decided to share the panorama process with them in hopes that they may be interested in having some panoramas done for them.

It was when I was finished sharing the process with them and was beginning to shut down my computer that they asked me if I could stay for a moment or two. Upon asking why, I was told they’d be meeting with the CFO of the hotel and perhaps he would be interested in seeing them. Acting as if time was of the essence, I told them that perhaps I could stay for a bit longer. Within moments, two very distinguished men approached the three of us and there I stood, with sandals, shorts, and a t-shirt, surrounded by four men of varying ages, all dressed in suits. Needless to say, the men were two very important men in this very elegant hotel. One of the two men from the hotel, whose name I would learn to be Stephen Kerkow, requested of me that I shoot the ballroom upstairs as well as a suite so he could show his superiors. Once again, acting as if time was of the essence, I told him I had about half an hour and would see what I could do. Well, that is the beginning of this story you might say, for here I sit in the café of the same hotel two weeks later having shot more images/panoramas than I could have ever imagined. Ironically, many of the staff has only come to see what the suites upstairs look like through the images of the same they see on my laptop.

It was two days after that initial shoot that I was doing some panoramas for a nice folk-art store on Vaci Utca. when upon checking my email on the office computer, there was a request from Mr. Kerkow to call him at the Grand Hotel Royal. The man in charge of the web site was visiting from Malta Italy and was interested in meeting me and discussing my process of taking panoramas. Needless to say, I told him I’d be there within the hour and within the hour I was. I had to call my girlfriend and tell her that I would not be able to meet her and her cousin at noon at the station where her cousin was to drive us to Kecskemet where we would spend the weekend. I told her I’d catch a train later that day and we could meet that evening. Perhaps realizing the opportunity that was presenting itself, she told me it would not be a problem. Her grandmother had passed away the previous week and she needed to go to her hometown of Kesckemet for the funeral that weekend.

Shortly after arriving at the Grand Royal Hotel, I was greeted by a Mr. Frankie Spiteri and his associate Vanessa Coleiro who is the manager of marketing for Corinthia Hotels International. Frankie I would come to understand is in charge of the company’s web services and thus the reason for meeting him. They were both from Malta Italy and were only in Budapest for a very short time. Needless to say, as quickly as my world seems to be spinning these days, our conversation turned very technical. It was very refreshing for me to talk to someone about such things as aperture and speed settings, adjustments of hues and saturations, and image manipulations but for Vanessa, it was all Greek to her and she excused herself leaving Frankie and I alone. Our discussion transitioned from that of photography to that of web design and programming. Next thing I knew, we were in front of a computer and Frankie was giving me a tour of the company web site and I was interjecting an occasional comment or suggestion. I really couldn’t believe what I was seeing in front of me. This Corinthia Group was big, REALLY BIG! At one point, our conversation turned to that of my travels and I decided to show him my Europe web site. Within the gallery, I took him to some shots a past sailing trip on the North Sea with my friends Auke and Teatske Ann of Holland. He seemed so excited at seeing my photos as not only is he and avid sailor, but he had visited many of the same places I was showing him and it was bringing back many memories for him he said. I should mention that Frankie is a man in close proximity to my age of 39. Anyway, we wrapped up our meeting with an understanding that I would take some panoramas of the hotel of the next few days and post them on the internet for him to present to his superiors in Malta. If things went well he said, I could possibly be visiting him in Malta for a “shoot” there!

Well, for the sake of time, here I sit two weeks later in the hotel’s café and I am being considered by Corinthia Hotels International for a position to do panoramas for many of their 5-Star hotels all over Europe. I must admit I have my eye on two in particular, those being Malta and St. Petersburg Russia. I have taken a plethora of panoramas for their review and have posted them on the internet for those who care to see them, you may do so at www.tmhdesign.com/corinthia One little fly-in-the-ointment is that Frankie is familiar with a technology for panoramas which allows complete vertical and horizontal scrolling, unlike mine which has limited vertical viewing. I told him I would attempt to figure out how it was done and see if I could produce the same for him. (on the panorama page, check out the atrium and ballroom to see my first attempts) Over the past few days, I have been in touch with James Riggs of www.panoguide.comas well as the creators of the panorama software he put me in touch with. I’m confident that having been given one more week before a final decision, I will master this technology/process.

In closing this journal entry, it is my desire to share just a few other tidbits with you regarding my life here in Budapest. Often times, events in my life seem to be happening faster than the world is spinning. (that’s about 1,000 mph by the way….) I have settled in here and to be very honest, it has come to feel like home for me. Having met my girlfriend has made all the difference in the world to me. I could not have scripted meeting a better woman than she. I could write volumes about her, and perhaps one day I will, but for now I will limit her exposure within my journal. I choose to do so perhaps out of respect for her privacy, but also so as not to make her appear as “just another entry” in this long list of stories about my travels. As I told her last night when we were falling asleep, she has become my world and my home in not necessarily the San Francisco Bay area, nor Cleveland or Budapest for that matter, but by her side…

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All of them Mr. Hall…

And so concludes my travels in Italy. I sat here at my dinner table at the Hotel Madonna for several moments contemplating just how to begin this journal entry. After doing so, I couldn’t help but to think that this is most likely my last night in Italy, at least on this trip. I say most likely only because I may come back from Austria on Sunday to literally jump off a cliff in the Italian Dolomites with my friend, the Italian wood carver Ruben. But more about that in a bit.

The drive to Bolzano from Merano was quite direct and rather short with the exception of a short traffic jam getting out of Merano. Once on the road though, I arrived within a half an hour. Mr. Castelforte had told me to take an exit that began with an App…. something or another and so when I saw Appiano, I figured that was it. I guess it was a neighboring city and had more direct route to Bolzano’s city center. Within minutes I was in the heart of Bolzano. I found it to be a fairly good sized city, perhaps a bit larger than Merano but smaller than Verano. I found a city lot to park in and then stopped at a really nice hotel to find out where I was and where the museum was that I wanted to visit. As I walked through the streets of Bolzano, in the rain mind you, I immediately knew it was a place I could spend a day or two, as it was beautiful. I found the museum with no problem, and with it a line around the block. How often does one have a chance to see a 5,000 year old man I thought as I walked the que of umbrellas. Sure, I had seen him on the Discovery channel back home several times, but this was different – it was real life! So I waited, and waited, and waited, and waited. One saving grace was a nice couple who were in line with their kids who I engaged in a conversation. He is optometrist from Berlin I discovered and we talked about a variety of topics. I found it amusing he was wearing a Yankee’s hat of all things. Once inside the museum, I decided not to try the “I’m with the press routine” as it was only 8 euros to go inside, and two very well spent Euros for the audio guide. I must of spent two hours in the museum and I was not disappointed. The actual “ice-man” who was discovered in the nearby mountain ranges was found by a German couple on holiday. They reported seeing a corpse. Anyway, you get in a line to see him. He is in a space-age looking container of some sort and is quite interesting to look at. Then, as you walk the museum, they have all types of artifacts from the various periods of evolution. I left the museum feeling well satisfied.

It was getting late in the day and I thought it best to begin my journey to this small village called Castelrotto. I had some pasta and then hit the road. I had been told anywhere from twenty minutes to half an hour to get there. The road was quite winding and certainly not for amateurs as the Italian are no the most careful drivers – at all! As I approached the village, I found myself continually debating my sleeping arrangements for the night. “You can sleep on the couch” an email from Elke, the wood carvers wife, that I had received some months ago read. My mind keep going back and forth, back and forth. Maybe I’d stay in a campground I thought. No, maybe Elke and Ruben are really looking forward to a stranger on their couch. Oh, I just didn’t know. Then it hit me. I’d go to the Cavalino D’Oro hotel and see if they had a room available. They had provided me with a complimentary room last year, but when I emailed them this year I was not as well received. “We will give you a dinner” the first email read, but then as I sat in the village gas station reading through the correspondence on my laptop, I read a later mail from Stefan, the owner, which read if I show up and their is a room, they will host me. Now my intuition told me if I showed up and either Stefan and or his wife were there, regardless of if they had a room or not, the answer would of been no. I’m sure they’d take a gamble on a “paying” customer showing up rather than give it to me for free. So, my strategy was to walk in and hope neither were there. Then, I’d just act like a “tourist” and inquire about a room. So, in I walked and there was a girl at the desk. I smiled and said (the girl at the next table just leaned over to her partner and practically laid in his lap. Moments like this are when I regret being alone…) do you have any rooms available for the night. “Oh yes Sir, we have only one left and it is a beautiful double room!” I smiled (inside) and said, “Great, my name is Thomas Hall… and you know the rest of the story…” I told her the room was to be complimentary and she looked puzzled, but said she’d check with the owner later. Within minutes, I was in the most beautiful of rooms with a spectacular view out my window. I felt an amount of guilt I must say, but the email had said what it said. “Show up and ask. If one is available, then it is yours…” Well, that is what I did so why feel guilty. I felt a lot better when I went back downstairs to be happily greeted my the Susanne, the lovely owner. Surely she must of been told about my presence so everything must be fine. Now with my accommodations out of the way, I could focus on the business at hand – dinner with the wood-carver and his wife!

When I was in this lovely village last year, I stumbled upon a small shop called Ladina. ( visit the store ) Inside, I saw some of the most beautiful hand-carved works of art. And as beautiful as anything sitting upon the shelf, was a lady who greeted me with a wonderful smile. I told her I wanted to do a panorama inside the shop and if it was ok. She wasn’t sure, but called her husband to find out. I had also showed her a panorama on my laptop, to which she was quite impressed. Anyway, to make a long story short, her husband arrived and we visited for a couple of hours and at the end, I gave them the images and they told me I could have anything in the store! Anything in the store? You had to be kidding I thought to myself. Some of the items were very, very pricy. I then decided the most appropriate item was that of a very small crucifix with a corpus of Christ on it. Surely my efforts were worth this one small item, one I would treasure for ever. (it is still on my wall of course) Elke had felt so bad, because she wanted to have me for dinner that night but had nothing prepared. Maybe next year I said, and she replied, yes, definitely next year. Well, “next year” was here and now I thought as I entered the store. (if you want to see the store, go to my panoramas (trip two) and scroll down and you will see the link) Ruben’s father recognized me right away, and then Ruben. He was so happy to see me and got on the phone right away, to call Elke in the house not even a five minute walk away. It felt good to see someone so excited to see me I thought. Not since Amanda in Scotland had I felt so welcome… It was only five in the evening and we said I’d be back at 7, when Ruben would close the shop. Elke speaks much better English than Ruben, so when I asked what was for dinner, he shrugged. I said as clearly as I could – “I can’t (won’t) eat fish”. He looked puzzled and I was worried maybe he thought I would love to eat fish. Oh God, please not fish I prayed… Anyway, I came back at 7 sharp and I brought some flowers to bring to Elke. I had offered wine but I had gotten the impression they might be “holy-rollers” and don’t drink at all. (I was wro*&^#*$!) When we arrived at his house, his little boy came running out to greet us. He of course only spoke German, but I told Ruben to give him the flowers to take in to “mommy”. The little boy was so happy to oblige. Once inside, I found quite a simple home, which was actually an apartment with two sleeping rooms, on living room, a kitchen and a bathroom. It was quite small and cozy I thought. Anyway, the initial uncomfortable ness wore off quickly and before I knew it, we were laughing the night away with some bootleg cognac their friend had mad for them. Boy was it strong. So much so, it burned my nostrils as I took each sip. So on went the night, and I must tell you it couldn’t of been any better. And if I may, as I know Elke and Ruben will be reading this – “Thank the two of you so much for welcoming me into your home, and your continued friendship. I look forward to many more future visits in the years to come.” Oh, I should not forget to tell you that Ruben’s “hobby” is para-sailing off the nearby mountain ranges. He showed me some great pictures and has invited me to return for a tandem ride. What a kick it must be, though a tad bit scary as well. We will see if I return on Sunday to do this or not…

Not much more to say about the night except that fell asleep to some loud drunks outside in the village and woke up to some little boys playing with their cars in the streets below. Once I got showered and went downstairs, I handed the girl my key and she asked if I wanted to settle my bill? I look puzzled and said – “Don’t you know who I am!” Ah, c’mon folks, you know I wouldn’t say such a thing! Let me try again, I looked puzzled and said it was supposed to be free. I then booted up my laptop and showed her the emails. The same ones she also found on her computer. Yes, she said, it looks like you are right. How much was it I asked, fearing an astronomical amount. $55 Euros she said, and I went whew. I told her to tell Stefan where I would be tonight, in the same village, and call me if he wanted to discuss payment. I haven’t heard from him. 😉 So, to finish this journal entry, the rest of the day was spent doing some work on my dental web site and taking some panoramas of the village. I had stopped at the office of Tourism and the director “hired” me to walk the village, take some panoramas, and then come back in the morning as he would buy them from me for $50 each. Oh yes I thought, more income! So there you go, I will finish this journal entry in telling you how much I enjoyed Italy, and also how much I am looking forward to my final leg of Austria, Hungary, and Prague before going back to Scotland to see Amanda. Sorry I didn’t write more about Castelrotto, but it is a magical and beautiful place and definitely a must see.

PS. Oh, Elke served cheese, melon, and a variety of bread and meat – it was great!

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And just like that…

Well, perhaps only in comparison to the life I left
behind in California has it not been the same. Settling in I thought to
myself, that is what it has felt like these past three weeks that she has
been in my life and I have been in Budapest. Just as I had my routines back
in California, I was developing the same here in my new home.

This morning
began just as the past several have, waking up beside and before her in the
early morning light of her flat on Erzsebet krt. just down from the 5-Star
Cornithia Hotel (www.corinthiahotels.com) I had been requested to
photograph only yesterday by the Director of Finance, Mr. Stephen J. Kerkow.
And just as I have done the past several mornings, I laid there just
watching her sleep and finding myself feeling so grateful that she has
become a part of my life. I wanted to wake her with a kiss but realizing
she would be deprived of an hour’s sleep or more, I opted to just watch her
slumber peacefully. Yesterday morning I had teased her that while she
sleeps at night I often whisper “sweet nothings” into her ear that I dare
not whisper to her while she is awake as we only recently met and to do so
might make her wonder how my heart could have such emotions in three short
weeks. But maybe the same emotions are bubbling over in her heart as they
are in mine and she would love to hear them. But maybe not…

It was near 8 am when the tram stopped at Moskav ter.
where I would transfer to the #18 tram which would take me to my destination
of Krisztina ter. just down from the health club known as ATSA. (www.atsa.hu)

ATSA had given me a two-month membership for some panoramas. Perhaps one of
the nicer clubs in Budapest, I have attempted to begin a new morning routine
of going there each day to keep myself in shape. As I walked into the café
upstairs from the gym, the lovely girl Kyra greeted me with a wry smile and
upon hearing my request for “the usual”, she kindly replied “cappuccino?”
“Yes, a cappuccino”, reciprocating with a smile of my own. The gym is not
too busy in the morning and affords one the ability to workout on the
machines of choice. I must look funny to the others in the morning with my
bandana head gear I often think to myself as the same is not the fashion in
Budapest. I did 30 minutes on the stair-master before showering and heading
off into the Budapest morning for the rest of my day’s task.

First on the agenda was to find a Copy General store
where I could print copies of some of the homepages I have developed over
the past few years. The husband of a friend of mine who owns a restaurant
requested I give him some for his business to show clients. He owns a
computer networking company and it would be ideal for him to be able to
refer some clients for me to develop web sites for. It only took about half
an hour for me to transfer some files to a cd for printing and I was out the
door. During the process, the man doing the printing made a comment on my
work and it turned out he is a designer by night and after showing me a
homepage he had designed, I knew I had found what I was both looking for and
very much in need of in my new home of Budapest. Other than being able to
“draw flies in the summer” (as my father would often say), I have not an
artistic bone in my body. He would be able to design the necessary files
for me to then “cut-up” and convert to web sites for clients. Hopefully he
won’t mind not having his name on the finished projects much as previous
designers I have employed have.

I left the copy center only to enter the nearby market
looking for some ginger and a bite to eat only to then meet a very nice
elderly man who patiently waited behind me as the clerk left to weigh the
banana I had forgotten to weigh myself. “I’m sorry to make you wait” I told
him. “No problem, I am retired and have nothing but time”. The meeting
with him was very beneficial as he was able to explain to me what I have not
been able to do so for so many people who have asked me since I arrived why
my “Hungarian” father does not speak Hungarian. He told me when Hungarians
immigrated to America after the wars, the main objective was to have the
children blend in and become Americanized so as not to get teased by other
children. Often times he told me, children would get angry at parents who
attempted to communicate in Hungarian, or who even talked with an accent. I
am not sure if that is the case with my father, but none the less it would
provide me with an interesting and perhaps logical answer next time I am

The next item on the agenda for the day was a meeting
with my friend Kriszta at the tea house on Raday utca. I had requested she
meet me so I could discuss hiring her for some work I need done. I have
decided to duplicate a very lucrative business model which a client of mine
in the states has implemented over past year. He had me develop five copies
of three identical templates which could be used by any dentist, each one
being a different color scheme. Once completed, he contacted dentist
offering them a very nicely designed web site for a fraction of what it
would have otherwise cost them to have developed by a design firm. At a
price of approximately $1,200 dollars, he has sold hundreds of them. I
wanted to ask Kriszta if she would translate them to Hungarian for me, which
I will then market to dentist in Hungary with the assistance a nice guy I
met on the tram one night named Bela who is an economics major in the local

Our meeting lasted only an hour or so, and after her
replying that she hadn’t the time to accompany me down Raday uctca. to
inquire from the various businesses if they’d like a panorama for 10,000
Forint each, I decided to do so myself. The first stop was the Red Coach
Inn Restaurant (www.vpk.webzona.hu)
which I have thought each time I have walked past it in the three weeks I
have been in Budapest was the nicest on the café lined street. With an
unlit cigar in my mouth, I casually opened my laptop only to then show an
employee a panorama of another restaurant on the same street. His words
spoken in Hungarian, but it was easy to see he was impressed. He
motioned with a finger for me to wait one moment and left only to return
with another man who introduced himself as the manager who spoke English. I
told him I simply wanted to shoot a panorama if only for my own portfolio.
Knowing no one likes to be sold, I chose to use this approach as I knew once
he saw the completed panorama he’d want it. I was right and I walked out
with two cards in my pocket, each one worth 5,000 Forints in meals (about 3
nice dinners I’d say) and 10,000 in cash. Right away I knew I’d be dining
there this evening with my girlfriend who would come home thinking she’d be
making me a simple Hungarian dish of Sajtos Teszta only to find herself
dining in the same restaurant we walked past last night on an after supper
stroll of which we had both commented on how beautiful it was. I think it
will make her very happy to eat there tonight.

So, with all that being said thus ends another day in
Budapest, and what has become my – new and wonderful – life.

PS. This past weekend we had the chance to visit the
lovely city of Szeged where her longtime friends Anita and her husband Krisztian and little boy Kristof live. After spending two wonderful nights
with equally wonderful and loving people, we then went to Keskemet to visit
her parents whom I would meet for the first time. It was a fantastic
weekend which allowed the two of us to get to know one another even better
than we have in the past three weeks. The visit with her parents was
challenging only in that as we arrived in Keskemet, my girlfriend received a
call that her ailing grandma had passed away. It was early on Sunday
morning so I told her that she should go alone to comfort her mother whose
mother it was that had passed and I would arrive for the mid-day meal of
Chicken Paprikas and other Hungarian dishes upon which we would feast. I
spent the morning taking some of the best panoramas I have shot in some time
of the various spots around the square only then to be picked up by my
girlfriend at noon to be taken to her home for our visit with her parents.
Considering the passing of my girlfriend’s grandmother that morning, her
parents were ever so kind and perhaps attempted to put on their best faces.
Not speaking a word of English, my girlfriend carefully translated our
entire conversation. I had teased her that I would say all sorts of silly
things that she would not be able to translate to them, but in light of the
before mentioned situation, I thought it best not to do so. I was right.
After lunch, her father and I played a great game of chess (which I perhaps
appropriately lost) after which I then shared with them some photos I have
taken of their daughter which they loved as well as some of my travel
pictures. I was so pleasantly surprised to see how lovely their home is –
carefully and tastefully decorated. I had brought them two photos of their
daughter to display on their desks at work as well as some flowers I had
spontaneously purchased at the market for her mom in consideration of the
passing of her mother that morning. I think they really appreciated both.

PSS – Oh and her parents loved
me I would be told on the train back to Budapest that night. “You’re the
first man I have brought home that my father has liked….” she said to me.

and another thing, if you’ve made it this far, you’ve definitely got to see

Babies Everywhere!

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Happy Birthday America!

I had the opportunity to visit a couple of different villages on or near the
lake, those being Heviz and also Tihany.  The latter had a stunning
cathedral which provided me with the opportunity to take some great shots. 

In consideration of America’s birthday, I must
say that I wish I could instantly blink myself to 204 St. just off Lakeshore
Blvd. in Euclid Ohio just outside of Cleveland for the annual July 4th
celebration.  Complete with hamburgers and hot dogs, swimming and
fishing in Lake Erie, playing baseball and Frisbee in the field, and of
course watching all the cuties in the parade whose parents have dressed them
up in the parade which goes up and down the three or four streets which make
up the beach club.  Afterwards, all will go up to Memorial Park for a
brilliant fireworks show which will be accompanied by all types of oooohs
and aaaaahs!  Yes, I wish I could blink myself home for just an instant
if you will, but knowing that I can’t, I will be more than satisfied for an
evening train ride to Szged and then one on Sunday morning to Keskemet to
meet my girlfriend’s parents.  I am very excited to once again be able
to spend the weekend with her, as I often find myself missing her during the
week when work separates us.  So, without further ado, here are your
photos Bob.  I am very happy to hear you are able to log in now and
then, and for heavens sake, get your ass over here for a visit – a visit you
will never forget and always cherish… 

"I love you guys…" 

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Life in Budapest

There is a saying I once
read that goes like this – “With age comes experience and with experience
comes knowledge. Knowledge brings with it wisdom which in itself brings
power.” Now you be wondering why I would begin this journal entry with such
a saying as that, but if you bare with me, I will perhaps be able to explain
the reason sufficiently. I had just stepped off either the #4 or #6 tram,
having traveled from a friend’s home not too far from mine, and as I walked
toward my home just off of Raday Ut. in Budapest, the saying began to
resurface from my memory. What was the exact order I kept asking myself? Was
it experience and then knowledge, or the other way around? It took me
several storefronts before I put it all in order,
age-experience-knowledge-wisdom-and finally power. And would all of that
enable me to communicate to anyone reading my journal the correlation
between it and my love for Budapest, and yes, Hungary? It didn’t matter I
thought, as long as it made sense to me. For you see, all day I had
continually found myself pondering the thought of a permanent move here, far
away from my adopted home of Northern California as well as my birthplace of
Cleveland, with most of my family in the latter. As for the family I
thought, that wouldn’t matter as being as removed from them as California
is, would the distance of Budapest make much of a difference in this day and
age of technology which enables instant communication? But to return to the
saying I mentioned, I felt it pertinent in that although I may not have
reached a level of power in my life (nor do I necessarily want to), I am
confident I have achieved a certain level of wisdom though. Anyone who knows
me, at least who knows me well, would say that I am a wise man. (Some might
have some other descriptive adjectives, but we won’t get into those…) Then
being a wise man I asked myself over and over, why in the world would I be
even considering a permanent move to this landlocked county, so different
from California with its stunning coast, rolling hills with vineyards often
adorning them, and of course the magnificent redwoods which I so often
enjoyed both driving past and walking amongst.

For the average individual to arrive in Budapest, often times their
impression may be that the city is a dirty one. Perhaps more than most large
cities I have visited in Europe, there is a little bit more graffiti on the
walls, more homeless people milling about the underground and various venues
around the city, and the buildings which are often in conditions of
disrepair are also in desperate need of paint. And there are the areas of
Budapest I have been told not to go to in the evening, as that is where a
lot of gypsies live and to do so would be unsafe. But, having a certain
amount of knowledge about the history of Budapest, and Hungary for that
matter, I am able to overlook many of these things because I realize that
much of what I see has been out of the control of the Hungarian people I
have so come to love in the time I have spent here. The other day I had the
opportunity to visit a museum which has only been open a year or two called
the “Terra Haza” which is a building not too far from my home. Its exact
address is Andrassy Ut. 60. The building has been completely remodeled and
upon the top of the building, almost like that of an awning, a black piece
of metal protrudes out nearly 8 feet with huge letters cut out of it
spelling the word Terror. As the sun passes in the sky, you can see the word
both on the side of the building and the sidewalk below as the sunlight
passes only through the letters. As I walked through the exhibits, the tears
upon my face flowed much as the water in the Danube does, quickly and
endlessly. The museum educates (and reminds) people of the absolute terror
that was imposed upon the Hungarians for most of the 20th century by the
ruthless Communists. “I was forced to stand naked upon a bed of nails for
hours during my interrogation, all the while electrical coils were
positioned on either side to keep me from leaning. I collapsed from the
pain….” That is only one of many things I read or heard that so challenged
me as I walked from display to display. And to tie this in with my
predilection of Budapest and Hungary, I find myself being more understanding
and accepting of what I see visually in the city and coming to have a great
appreciation of the people here. I still see the worn down buildings adorned
with graffiti, and the homeless begging for food or money, but I am able to
look far beyond all of that and understand that much of what I see was
simply beyond the control of the country for so, so long. And it is obvious
that now that the future is in the hands of the people themselves, the city
will rebuild and turn itself around.

So, I guess that it is “wise” not to place the value of this place on its
physical appearance only, but rather on what lies beneath all which I see.
Much like one should do when it comes to choosing a partner. Please let me
emphasize that by no means is the entire city or country run down and
unattractive though, because it is not. There are things here that will take
ones breath away, such as walking at night upon the chain bridge spanning
the Danube with the lights of it and the castle above on the hill reflecting
in the water. In fact, I could go on and on telling you about such places
here. The Parliament building, the cathedrals, the castles, the statues, all
are just spectacular and to miss seeing and experiencing this place should
be a crime. But rather than going on telling you about all of these things,
I will end this entry by sharing the events of this day with you.

For some unknown reason, I frequently wake up very early; regardless of the
time I went to bed the night before. Today it was a quarter past 5. I sat in
the early morning light listening to the birds outside my window as I began
to work on a couple of projects with CNN on the tele in the background. One
project was the design of a web site for a health club in Buda which my
friend Angela introduced me to. I had refrained from joining when I
discovered it was quite pricey in hopes that I would be able to barter for a
membership. (a wise man you say… 😉 ) Having emailed the club twice, I had
been invited to come and do some panoramas in exchange for a summer
membership and today was the day we had agreed upon. But, knowing how bad
their web site was, I thought why not two birds with one stone. I began
developing a homepage I would show the director which I hoped would entice
him to hire me. The early morning passed quickly and below on the street I
soon heard the usual people going to work and the trash being picked up. I
walked downstairs and across the street to a small restaurant that had been
introduced to me by a nice guy named Anras who I met on my first day here.
“This is where many people eat” he told me as the prices are very low and
the food is very good.
The name of the restaurant is Raday Etkezde and it owned and operated
by a woman who is of course Hungarian but speaks English perfectly. She was
an au pair in NJ some time ago. As she stands at the register deciding for
me what I will have for breakfast or lunch, three women work very hard in
the kitchen serving up one meal after the other. I say deciding for me as
when I first went in there, I realized to try to ask each day what was what
on the menu, I asked her to kindly each day surprise me with a different
item. My walking in the door is usually greeted with an exchange between her
and the ladies in the back as to what should be the day’s dish. Don’t forget
the soup I usually tell her and with a smile, she will say I didn’t. Today
for breakfast, it would be my usual though, an OJ, a four-egg omelet with
only one yolk and the rest of the whites, and a piece of bread and
cappuccino. Today though, the owner had yet to arrive so I began to talk to
a guy waiting to order. I asked him if he could help me out. Four eggs I
told him to tell the older women behind the counter. And then holding up 3
fingers, I pointed to a white plate followed by one finger and pointing to a
yellow decanter on the counter. He understood as did the older women. It
turned out that the guy is a webmaster like me. We shared our breakfast
together and discussed cooperating on some projects. I have some great ideas
I told him and perhaps we could work together. He called his partner who
spoke fluent English and we set up a meeting for the next week, as I told
him I was just booked this week. When I left, I went over to the market to
buy some things. Upon doing so, I realized that all of the beautiful women I
had written about the previous day, are the same ones who grow up and old
and clog the check out lines in the supermarket, all the while giving big
guys like me and occasional dirty look or smile for that matter. \
When I finished there, I left and went over to the museum of fine arts I had
shot the other day. I had a meeting with the director, a lovely lady I would
come to learn, to show here my panoramas. She was so pleasant but told me
they didn’t have the money. Not wanting to walk away empty handed, or to
give away the farm for that matter, I said I will tell you what. I will give
you one panorama and in exchange, you give me a letter of recommendation on
your letterhead which I can use elsewhere. (there you go again, saying “wise
man that Tom Hall…”) She was happy to oblige and told me to come back

When I left the museum, it was off to my office for a short stop (aka the
library) and then off to the club on the other side of the Danube for a 2
o’clock appointment. On my way to the latter, I made the wise decision to
stop at the tourist office. Planning a trip to Lake Balaton this weekend, I
thought I’d see if they had a resource with hotels and their email addresses
in that region. Pay dirt I thought as the man behind the counter handed me a
free book which lists every hotel in Hungary! My God, how my mind raced as I
walked out the door. I’ll make a killing here I kept telling myself. I also
got a list of restaurants! I walked past an upscale round and tall building
called which is home to a chain store here called the Cigar Tower. Why not I
thought as I walked in opening my laptop in the process? I had shot a cigar
store in Haarlem and figuring I’d show them and they might also like one.
They loved it and told me they would call their corporate office and get
back to me. On I went to my appt. with the club. Catch the number 105 bus
Andras my friend at the library, I mean my office, told me earlier in the
day. I had no problems finding the stop for the same and soon found myself
at the stop waiting. It was here that I would meet my second computer person
today. We began to talk and quickly the bus arrived. “I will show you the
gym as it is my stop also” he told me. On the bus, I pointed to a couple
passionately embraced and kissing as if there were no tomorrow. I laughed
and told him I can not believe how often I see such a thing in Hungary.
Everywhere people are kissing I told him. “Is that bad” and “Don’t you see
that in the states” he asked. “No, no, it is not bad. As a matter of fact I
was doing that very thing on tram just last night with a beautiful Hungarian
woman” I told him (there you go again…) and no, they don’t kiss in the
states in public like that. It is great I proclaimed, as love is in the air
– seemingly everywhere. He laughed, as did I.

I arrived at the gym and instead of taking panoramas, I spent two hours
talking with the director about what I came to learn would be his “new” web
site. Damn I thought, I had spent the early morning for nothing. But perhaps
I could pull a rabbit out of a hat. He was all ears as I critiqued his new
site’s layout. The graphics are fantastic I told him, but both structurally
and functionally, it is not very good at all. Without boring you with
details, he said when they are finished; he will hire me to incorporate the
necessary changes such as programming the aerobic schedule into the site.
When finished, he said “you live such an interesting life” having just
watched a slideshow of my travels to the sound of Van Morrison playing in
the background. Yes, I know I told him, but more than all the beautiful
places I see and the great food I eat, it is meeting the people that I love
the most, people like yourself I told him. We wrapped things up and I
decided to sit upstairs in the café while I waited for my squash opponent to
arrive. She came right on time and we changed and began to play squash.
Similar to racquet ball, I thought it would not be a problem to beat her. A
continuous smile was on her face as she racked up point after point, and
beating me one game after the other, during the hour we played. Angela was
in the gym taking aerobics, so I thought maybe I could salvage some
self-esteem by beating her. I excused myself and headed for the aerobic
area, all the while warranting the stares of the members as I was the only
one with a hanker-chief wrapped upon my head. Holding my racquet up to the
glass, Angela smiled and nodded that she would leave her class to come and
play me. She did, and she won also dammit. At one point while playing her, I
had to stop and pinch myself. Was all of this for real I kept asking? I mean
here I was on the other side of the world having so quickly developed and
adapted to a whole new life. How could I find myself to leave as scheduled
in August I wondered? I am not going to I told myself, this is home. Perhaps
my thoughts will change, but I don’t think so as I integrate myself more and
more into this wonderful place with its wonderful people. We’ll see.

The night ended with a lovely candlelight dinner followed by dancing in the
dark to some wonderful Van Morrison music…

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It has got to be the water…

all across Budapest as one walks, men are constantly turning their necks around to watch one pretty girl walk by after another.

All that being said though, I really am settling into this place I am now calling home. Each morning I walk the neighborhood and my face is becoming familiar to the residents and shop keepers here. I had a great weekend which I am not really sure how to even begin sharing it with you, or even if I can or should for that matter. Perhaps some things are better left unsaid, or written for that matter.

Today I must of spent at least two hours shooting the various levels of my office, commonly referred to by the residents of Budapest as the public library. I had a blast and the panoramas came out great. I noticed a young Hungarian boy watching intently as I shot the childrens section so I “hired” him to help me. He just loved the process, and to make it more interesting for him, I incorporated him into the panoramas. To shoot these, I take up to 14 images which the computer then stitches into one. I would have him stand or sit at various spots in a room and when the image was complete, he would magically have 4 or 5 identical brothers. He loved it. I will put them on a cd for him to enjoy at home I had translated by a librarian who spoke English.

Ok, well I better run as time is running out on the day and I have so much to do. It even amazes me that I can travel around to the other side of the world and in one week become so busy that I find myself at days end wondering where all the hours of the day disappeared to. I am going to spend the rest of the night searching for and emailing hotels in the region of Lake Balaton – Europe’s largest lake – to inquire if I can exchange some nice accomodations for the weekend that is going to be here before I know it! Maybe I will try to throw in a restaurant or two as well. Take care…

PS, Dad, won’t you please come and visit me. You can spend your days in the ancient Turkish bath down the street from my home and play chess in the water with the other “old” men. Also, I have met several wonderful women her, all of whom each time you see them, give you a nice kiss on each cheek as is the custom here. I love ya.

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Like candy from a baby…

I really don’t know even where to begin this journal entry. It has been just one week into my stay in Budapest and there are so many things I could write about. I could of course tell you about this wonderful street upon which the tea house in which I sit is located called Raday Ut. Or perhaps my early morning walks along the Danube and through the street of this city I am quickly falling in love with. I have experienced so much that even though the week has seemingly flown by, it seems as if it has been packed with so very, very much. More than I could of expected or hoped for.

I guess you could say that I have quickly adapted to life here. I am not sure if it is Budapest itself, or just perhaps that this is the first time that I have lived in a big city, but I love it. Yes, there are some things that I may wish to overlook such as the poverty that I see in the streets occasionally, (especially in the underground) where the peasants from the countryside come to sell their wares, but that would be impossible as they are everywhere. Some sell flowers which often are wilted in the summer sun, while yet others sell such things as batteries or clothes or anything else they can to make a living. Its obvious as I walk by them that they have a hard life and that really challenges me, especially my faith. Tonight when I was walking out of the metro station down from my flat, I found myself talking to God, much as I have since I was a small boy back in Euclid Ohio and saying to Him – “God, you fucked up. Why would you put us in such a seemingly fruitless situation on this earth in which some people suffer as much as that which I so often see?” As soon as the thought came into my mind, so did the thought that I was committing blasphemy or something like that which would cause me to be damned in hell for eternity. But I didn’t care, He had best have a good explanation when I have to opportunity to meet him face to face. How could I even think such a thing and what in the world would my mother who goes to church daily think when she reads this? I could only hope that once I pass from this world it will all be explained to me in a way that it will make sense. There certainly hasn’t been what I would consider a suitable explanation though countless souls have attempted over the years.

Anyway, enough of that topic, lets get back to that of some lighter subjects, like life in general in Budapest. I really love my flat, as well as where it is situated very close to just about anything one could want. I’m tired of watching CNN and the BBC, but am grateful that at least I have TV to watch. I have pretty much become desensitized to the continual coverage of the doom and gloom in the world in such places as the middle east. I still haven’t figured out how to use my vintage washing machine, but Angela has promised to show me how to figure it out when time permits. It has the weirdest system you could imagine. Speaking of Angela, she really is a charming, charming lady. I had perhaps one of the more enjoyable evenings of my trip the other night with her in a small cafe near our building. I’m not quite sure how it came about, but there we sat until very late sipping our wine from some region in Hungary. It was a visit that was filled with so much laughter that I didn’t want the night to end, but it did. I’m still getting used to the way they greet and say goodbye over here, a kiss on each cheek if you know someone well. Trouble is, I often find myself wondering if I know someone well enough to kiss them as such, so I often wait for them to initiate it. I guess I could say I at least know a few people from whom I can expect such a greeting from. My landlady, Gabrielle, always get a kiss on the cheeks from me, which I am pretty sure she appreciates. I’d put a picture up of her, but as of yet she will not allow me to take one as she does not look decent. Seems to indicate this as she throws her arms up and laughs when I suggest a photo. I met Angela’s grandmother tonight who is charming as well. I had to laugh as when I met her, I told Angela to tell her that now I knew where she gets her beauty from. Of course I meant that Angela got her beauty from her granny, but somehow Angela thought I was referring to the fact that she goes to the gym is why she is beautiful.(we had gone to the gym together the other night) I quickly caught on to how she interpreted my comment, and corrected her in my implication that it was from her grandmother, and not the gym that her beauty was derived.

On a another note, I have only been here a week and I have already set up an office, albeit in the completely remodeled and modern main public library just a few blocks from my flat. 😉 Oh, c’mon, I didn’t set up an office there, but one would think so with as much time as I spend there. It is a beautiful place. Today I was able to somehow get permission to photograph the facility next week. I told them my intent was for my personal web site, but I am confident that once they see the panoramas, they will definitely want to buy them. I figure the shoot should be worth one moths rent, or HUF 73,500 forints. They have a cafe in the bottom floor and then several floors above, each with a different purpose. Most of my time is spent on either the 2nd floor where you pay HUF 400 forint for one hour of internet, or the 5th floor where you can use the internet for free but must sign up. Just like in the military years ago when I learned to make friends with such key people as the cooks, mail-clerk and the armory attendant who passed our weapons after countless hours of cleaning, I have made an effort to “charm” – as Amanda back in Scotland would say – the timekeeper of the internet.

The opportunities to make an income here seem endless. Unlike back in California, the competition for my trade of web design and programming seems almost non-existent. People marvel at the panoramas I am able to complete for them in front of their very own eyes and in only a matter of minutes. The other night I was having dinner in a cafe called Cafe Soul just down from my flat. I had my laptop opened up and I asked to see the manager. He watched as a panorama shot earlier in the day was quickly assembled. He didn’t speak English at all, and to be honest, I could not tell if he was impressed or not. I gave him my email address thinking my effort was fruitless. That was until the next day when I got an email from a guy who designed their web site. They wanted two panoramas, one outside, and one inside. I replied that it would be HUF 10,000 forint for each one but I would take the payment in the equivalent of meals, as the restaurant is very nice and dinner for two can run as little as HUF 5,000 forint. (doing the math, that means 3 or 4 very nice dinners of goulash and paprikas!) I ended up shooting the panoramas last night and they came out excellent. When time permits, I will walk Raday Ut. and go into each restaurant, perhaps making similar arrangements with each one. I figure I can perhaps eat like a king while I am here.

Speaking of income, it is my intent that over the course of the next couple weeks, that I will spend some time taking various panoramas of the city and when finished, I will go to the main tourism office and perhaps “strike a deal”. I can’t imagine they’d say no. I took a vertical shot of a museum/cathedral near my flat yesterday morning which is stunning! I am often asked how I can support myself while I am traveling, and my reply is always that I take my work with me. Right now I am almost finished with a web site project for a doctor whose specialty is penis enlargement. No joke! The project has provided for quite a few laughs, especially with Angela and Kriszta with whom I have shared some of the before and after pictures with. Just as a side note, you never would imagine the shapes and sizes of some of the before and after pictures, and no, similar to the deal with the restaurants, I won’t be doing an exchange of services as the previously mentioned good Lord took care of me in that department. 😉

In closing this entry, perhaps I should share one of the more troubling aspects of my stay here so far – my plans on staying or leaving. That thought continually runs through my mind each day. There are some things I definitely miss about the states, but as of yet, nothing that is “pulling” me back so to speak. I keep telling people that if I were to find a good woman and an equally good job, I would stay here indefinitely. All my possessions are safely stored away back in California and only cost a mere $35 dollars per month to keep there. As for a job, I have already stated the opportunities are endless for an entrepreneur like myself. Regarding the woman, that would only be a matter of time I am sure. I have not even been here a week and I have had a few different dates, all with wonderful ladies. Without tipping my hat, my heart is quickly growing very fond of one of them though. We will just have to see what develops.

Well, with all of that being said, perhaps I should end this entry and get on with the new day which has just arrived. (it is Friday morning and I am continuing this entry from last night) If you have made it this far and enjoy reading this entries, I would love a note from you telling me so. I had intended to stop my writing when I got to Budapest, but an email from a friend back home telling me how much she enjoyed my journal has motivated me to continue on, if only for now… Take care.

PS – Having a few minutes before the library, aka my office, opens, I thought I’d share with you the following as I sit in this small cafe. I have been most fortunate to have found a lovely little restaurant called Ráday Étkezde near my flat which is only open for breakfast (I discovered today) and lunch. The nice thing about this place is you can have a great meal for a very low price. Today I had an omelet, two pieces of bread, orange juice, and a cappuccino for HUF 600 forint, or about 3 dollars. Afterward, I decided to walk the other part of my neighborhood while I waited for the 10:00 opening of the library. In doing so, I would like you to know that even though four years ago when I first arrived here, being petrified I would be thrown in jail for some strange reason or mugged on the metro, I feel 100% safe here on the streets of Budapest. I am sure there are some areas I should not venture into, but for the most part, this is a very, very safe city…

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