On a hot and stuffy summers day we drive from the largest lake in Europe to the beautiful capital city of Budapest. During this short hour and a half journey we enjoy the fluffy clouds that are threatening a storm from the comfort of our air conditioned car. Having just purchased a new kite we also keep a lookout for an open space to give her a test run, but it proves quite difficult picking a spot from the motorway. Many farm fields open before us and we discuss the possibility of running through these fields destroying crops to get our kite airborne. Having decided that this is totally worth it we pull over and begin laying out our string only to have a police officer stop and tell us that stopping on the motorway is illegal and so is trespassing on someones property. Who knew?
Carrying on to Budapest in a sour mood we are surprised at the level of traffic going into the city. It is a Saturday morning and usually at this time during summer the inbound lanes are clear and the outbound bumper to bumper as the city empties its people to the lake and villages. Not today. Both lanes of travel are packed. Loving suspense I wonder what is going on in the city and look forward to finding some posters or coming across whatever it is but this being the age of smart phones I can only enjoy my suspense for a minute before I am told that the Red Bull Air Races are in town. Damn you technology.
This is an amazing coincidence. I have been to the Budapest air races before and loved it. I know they are run right in front of Parliament over the Duna river and our hotel is on Margaret Island which is right at the end of the race course. I couldn’t have planned our visit better if I had actually researched it. After working our way through the traffic and checking into the hotel we grab a bottle of wine and head for the races.
Walking across the beautiful park that is Margaret Island we arrive at Margaret Bridge and are greeted with the awesome sound of pure horsepower. Now this is an amazing rebuke to the “safety first” culture of today as these air races take place in the middle of a city, in front of an incredibly beautiful building, meters off the water and meters from bridges full of people and traffic. There is even a flight under one of the bridges and a low speed pass by a WizzAir A321. It is all very exciting and a breath of fresh air, except for the fumes.
Do not worry about getting your moneys worth, as the city puts this show on for free. Grab a drink, find some shade, and enjoy your childhood dream zoom right across your face(If tearing through the center of a city at ground level in an agile and powerful plane was not your childhood dream then we have serious issues to discuss, but we will leave that for later).
After watching for a while and polishing off our wine we move on to the other offerings of this incredible city, all the while enjoying the sound of pure adrenaline fading into the distance.
Americans are not able to drink at the level of fellow British colonies. Fact. An effect of its strict twenty one year old drinking age and fear of giving a child even a drop of alcohol. I am a product of this poor situation. My first drinking experience was in high school where I passed-out at a party because I did not understand the effects of what I was drinking and the time it took to go through my system. In the years since I have realized the severe drawbacks of complete abstinence until hitting the drinking age. American students that go to Mexico for Summer break, where the drinking age is eighteen, or their first year of University have many problems with alcohol. I once worked in Cancun during Spring Break as a Paramedic and it was unbelievable. The amount of eighteen year old students with alcohol poisoning was astronomical. Not to mention those passed out in the streets or of the number of sexual assaults.
Now I compare my drinking experience with that of my wife. She is a Hungarian and like most Europeans is raised on, and with a respect, for alcohol. She could have drinks as a child with her parents for birthdays, celebrations, and such. She got to see how alcohol effected her body under the supervision of her parents. So when she got of age and went to clubs she knew her limits. She has never passed out or gotten obnoxiously drunk. I see no ill effects from her being given drinks as a child and youth. Granted that different people are affected differently. Some will become alcoholics and some Europeans still get pissed and pass out. But starting drinking young does not make you an alcoholic, and Europeans do not get pissed on the same level as Americans. I do remember seeing lots of billboards and advertisements in New Zealand asking citizens not to drink so much, but I wonder if it was really that bad. From personal experience they seemed to have fewer problems than Americans with booze, but granted that I did not meet every Kiwi and I do not know every American. I can only go by what I have experienced.
Then there is tolerance. Being an American makes it difficult to go out with citizens of other countries as American beer barely qualifies as carbonated water(Water with gas). When I moved to New Zealand I had an impossible time going out to the pub. There was no way I could drink at the rate they do. For some reason it was quite embarrassing. Then when I moved to Poland I got my hair set on fire in a pub(story to come), as I had to contend with vodka instead of beer. And finally it all came to a head in Hungary when I met my arch-nemesis Palinka. Just drinking with my in-laws and I blacked out for the only time in my life. After living in Hungary for a few years I can now drink anyone I know in the USA under the table. It is even possible to keep up with my Irish friend. It took some time but I am now drinking at a Hungarian level. I’m so proud.
People of the world, especially parents, please realize that your children will drink. Take the time and teach them the effects of alcohol at home under your supervision so it does not take them by surprise in a strange and sometimes dangerous location. It is truly the best way. And America for your part lower your damn drinking age to join the rest of the world and don’t be so prude and strict about giving a child a taste.
That fine and mysterious Muslim month of Ramadan is upon us. I very rarely claim to be an expert on anything, and Muslim holidays are no exception. I have not read any books about this special month but have discussed it with the Arabs that I work with and seen it for myself.
For this turn of the moon, as the Muslim calendar is based on the moon, the followers of Allah must fast while the sun is showing. This means no eating, drinking, smoking, or pretty much anything else you can think of. Expats and Non-Muslims have to hide to eat, drink, and smoke. Most work sites and compounds put up a “Non-Muslim Break Area” sign for rooms where these things are allowed which appears to be well tolerated. Getting caught in the open doing any of these things is severely offensive and not recommended. Not in your car, hospital, or anywhere in the open. Shops and restaurants are closed all day and the streets look like a ghost town while there is daylight. Very few cars on the road, all shops shuttered, trash blowing through empty streets like some Arab Western. They claim the purpose of this is to show every person the suffering of those that are doing without, so they can better understand the difficulties of the needy and be appreciative of what they have.
This all sounds very nice and I approve, but there have been some doubts raised in my mind the past few days as we have have gotten into this holiday. The night brings out a different and crazy animal. Roads become clogged, which is a good thing, as any open tarmac will have youths in Toyota pick-ups, Landcruiser’s, Hyundai’s and Kia’s drifting. Sometimes missing your car by a hair and sometimes losing control and spinning around to flood your face with their headlights before laughing and carrying on. Restaurants and shops change their hours to be open at night. Locals feast as soon as the sun disappears under the horizon and go to cafes to smoke and converse. Companies change their work hours for observers from a normal four hours to perhaps two hours so they can sleep during the day.
Now it is true that my worries may be unfounded or incorrect but this sounds a bit like just changing everything 12 hours and becoming nocturnal. Sleeping during the day and doing all manner of normal human activity at night does not make a fast or sacrifice. Especially when the the air is like an oven during the day. Night is the only bearable time to be outside. I leave it for the reader to decide.
Kabsa is the national dish of Saudi Arabia and a main meal of many Arabs. It consists of rice with many spices and a topping of meat. Goat, camel, and chicken are popular choices. While I enjoyed it my first time I quickly tired of it. Eating the same dish for every dinner as is their custom is not enjoyable to me as I tire of doing anything repetitively.
Westerners might have difficulty with Kabsa even before eating it. It is served on a giant saucer on the floor, and diners must sit around the edge of this plate. Those with bad knees will have difficulty. Once everyone is seated the dining can begin but do not waste your time looking for a fork. This meal is eaten by hand, and be sure to only use your right hand, for hygiene reasons. While extremely difficult at first the locals will take the time to properly show you how to roll the rice into a ball with your fingers so you can get it to your mouth without making a mess. Now that we have gotten to the point of getting the food into your mouth let us discuss what you are eating.
On the top of this giant bed of rice is most likely a goat. Those that are squeamish will have trouble as the head is probably there as well. Being used to only hot dogs and other processed meat you try your hardest to avoid touching the head but the locals will have none of it. Considering it the best meat they will tear pieces of the head and hand it to you. Putting on a brave face and fake smile as you look at the goats eyeball staring your way, you choke it down with extra rice and take a big gulp of soda. Have no fear if goat is not your meat of choice as you might luck out and get camel, which truly isn’t a bad meat.
The presentation of this meal for special occasions is spectacular. For weddings, holidays, and other such gatherings multiple giant saucers are placed around and hundreds of people, perhaps eight per platter sit down to eat. Each platter holding more rice and meat than fifty people could eat there are always massive amounts of leftovers. I believed this to be waste until a friend told me that the leftovers are given to poor people. I have not verified this but I like to believe it.
These photos are from the internet and not my own.
I had very few positive experiences in Russia but one of them I got to enjoy long after leaving the border. Her name was Anastasia and we met on a moonlit shore…no wait, that was a movie I once saw. This Anastasia worked at the front desk of the hotel where I was a guest in St.Petersburg. There were no fireworks, no love at first sight, none of that standard movie garbage. I found her attractive and so one night I just sat with her and we talked for hours. The next day I left for Moscow with her phone number.
We talked maybe once a week and enjoyed each other conversations. After a couple of months I asked her to meet me. She agreed but there were issues. She being Russian and me American meant that we neededvisas to visit each others countries. Luckily this didn’t matter as I was living in Poland at the time. But then a bigger issue popped up. She was afraid of flying. So me being the nice guy that I am offered to meet her in Helsinki, since it is only a bus ride from St.Petersburg. So there we met, on Valentines Day. I remember nothing of the city except for the unbelieveable cold. Nothing in my life has ever come close to that feeling. Not even standing in a freezer. So we spent all our time in the hotel. It was a wonderful few days.
We decided to meet again a few weeks later but in a warmer location. Barcelona was chosen. How she got over her fear of flying I will never know. Again it was a wonderful few days. Barcelona is a beautiful city in Winter and I was with a beautiful girl. My life was complete. It was but an illusion though and disappeared after a few days.
Life continued on for a few months until she decided to come to Poland to see me. She rode the train for an ungodly amount of time and we spent a few days together in Warsaw and Torun. These would be our final few days together. We would continue talking for years but our beliefs were too different to make a relationship work.
Not a storybook romance, though our meeting was a lot more interesting than most modern stories of internet romance. I got to see two cities that I might not have seen otherwise, though it doesn’t really count for much as my attention was somewhere else. Overall it was an enjoyable experience that taught me a lot about love and how the cultures and circumstances we are raised in affect our beliefs. I find roses, chocolates, champagne, and saying I love you so boring and Hollywood but she loved such things. C’est la vie
At 17 I enlisted in the Marine Corps. My attraction was the uniform and front line service. I have never been one to put up with a support role. I need to be hands on with everything. Continuing this theme is that if I was going to kill it needed it to be hand to hand. I believe that to take a life you need to watch the light fade from the others eye, otherwise it is just rude and weak. So I have no respect for pilots. What they do is like a video game.
Then I was told about Pararescue with the Air Force. It was my dream job. Getting to help people in extreme danger behind enemy lines. So I switched my enlistment to the Air Force and trained physically for two years before actually going in(Pararescue is extremely difficult to get into). My recruiter told me that I needed to pick 3 other jobs in case I didn’t make it into Pararescue. I thought there was no way I wouldn’t make it so I told him to pick for me because I didn’t care.
Fast forward a ways and I have failed out of Pararescue School(Too weak of a swimmer. Damn you water!) Now I find out that my job is as aircrew on a spy plane. Sounds cool to you but I was pissed. I had just lost my dream job and what’s worse is that I’m in a super support role! I did not take this well but my dual personality kicks in again. I play the part of perfect military man(Perfect uniforms, taking care of my fellows, no drinking, no issues off duty), but on duty I make my hated of the job well known. I say how weak and lazy the Air Force is and how all they do is watch TV and get paid too much. This leads me to constantly being confined to quarters, being assigned cleaning duty, etc.
A little side story here. I was once confined to quarters for a month so I had my friends buy a couch and bring it to me so we could all hang outside of my room. We lived in three-story dorms with rooms only big enough for a bed and desk. During one of my special “surprise” inspections I was told by my First Sergeant(see below) that I couldn’t have a couch on the walkway outside my dorm room. I’m sure he meant for me to get rid of it since it appeared too large to get into the rooms, but that isn’t what I decided to do. With the help of my friends we got the couch into my room. It took up all the floor area and the front door only opened enough to let my skinny butt in. The next inspection was hilarious to me as I watched them try to get into my room.
One day my First Sergeant (who was a dick that I loved pissing off) called me into his office for the normal talk after I had left a letter on my desk where I had turned the Pararescue creed into an insult of the Air Force(It was quite good and I still have a copy in my discipline file in case anyone is interested). After the usual Blah Blah Blah he asks me what my problem is. I tell him that I want a transfer to the Marine Corp because the Air Force is too lazy and lacks discipline. He responds with, “Consider yourself demoted to E-1 and taken off flying status. How is that for discipline?” Without hesitation I respond, “That is punishment, not discipline,” and walk out.
Location: Washington D.C.
Time: See title
I was about three weeks into the Washington D.C. Fire academy as a new hire firefighter. Two of my fellow recruits decided to join me for a night out at a wonderful Irish pub. Now let us get some facts straight. Guys go out to pubs, bars and clubs for two reasons. To get drunk and pick up chicks(or guys if that is your thing). Girls on the other hand go out to network, be seen and flirted with, or just hang out.
So the three of us go out. My name is David, and then there is Mark and Joe. Mark and I have no problem talking to girls, but Joe is shy. So we decide to work as a team and help Joe pick up a girl tonight. No problem. We spend the first hour or so chatting about work and drinking some nice beers. None of of that watery garbage. I’ve always been high class. Newcastle at minimum. Once the pub has filled up we start looking around. Joe points out the object of his attraction and I move in for the kill. I’ve always hated small talk and prefer off the wall conversations but the majority of the public disagrees with me so I stick to the usual script. After five minutes we have a good but boring conversation going and I direct her over to where my friends are sitting and we join them. So now the four of us are having a little chat. Slowly Mark and I direct our attention away from the conversation and Joe and his mark begin a nice one on one.
Fast forward a few hours. Joe is still carrying on very well while Mark and I are getting quite worse for wear. The pub is now a slow motion blur in my mind. Our lady friend excuses herself for a moment and Joe leans over the table to tell us she will be going home with him. “Excellent” we both say before going back to our glasses.
Our lady friend returns and a little conversation starts up. I’m not sure what it is about mostly because somebody appears to have unkindly put cotton balls in my ears, but no matter. I concentrate to the best of my ability and realize she is talking to me(after she lightly slapped me on the cheek). I catch the words “Do you like guacamole?” For some reason this set me off. I reply clear as a bell “Hell no I don’t like guacamole”, reach over the table, and slap her in the face. She quickly stands up, spilling her beer into her purse, and walks straight out the door. Joe starts cracking up. He says “You know what, I should be pissed at you right now, but that might have been the funniest thing I have ever seen.”
But I was not to escape that night events so easily. The next day at the academy saw crawled across my locker in huge letters the words “Hell no I don’t like guacamole.”