Sunday, March 17, 2024

Budapest to Birch Bay

It's been awhile since we last posted from the Hungarian State Opera House in Budapest.

The remainder of our short trip (five nights in Budapest) was uneventful. For most of our stay we were plagued by jet lag symptoms such as waking up at 2:00 AM and being unable to get back to sleep for several hours. We’re hoping it resulted from a too easy trip over, an overnight flight in business class giving us a few hours of sleep, a leisurely overnight stay at the Heathrow Hilton, and a relatively short flight the following day from London to Budapest.

We’re already thinking about our upcoming trip to Europe with an active 11-year-old grandson, and hoping we can keep up with him.  

On our final night in Budapest we walked a couple of blocks to an Italian restaurant owned by the celebrity chef Jamie Oliver. It was, well, okay. 

Our stroll back to the Hilton gave us one last chance to admire the sights of Castle Hill, now illuminated.

To be frank, we were a little disappointed in our food experiences in Budapest. The fact we chose an Italian restaurant on our final night there is indicative of that. Everything was fine, but there were no special flavors that jumped out at us and tickled our taste buds.

Kathy actually prepared Chicken Paprikash the other night when daughter Karen and son-in-law Chuck visited us, and it was far superior to anything we tasted in Budapest, even though Kathy didn’t consider it one of her best efforts. 

To make a perfectly ridiculous generalization, we do prefer the cuisines of Western Europe to those we’ve experienced in Eastern Europe, but that only motivates us to explore Eastern Europe more and to search out great meals. 

We offer a quick note on our airport transfers. Brian had booked return trips during a Christmas sale at Sun Transfers, a large outfit that serves Budapest as well as many other places. Our drivers were friendly, showed up on time, and got us to our destinations, but the trips themselves were a little too exciting for our tastes, especially the return trip to the airport. 

Our driver tried to avoid the busy main roads and took us on some bumpy side streets that included some rather rundown sections of the city and a light industrial area. By the time we arrived at the airport, Kathy in particular was feeling quite carsick. The streets were busy but the airport itself was quiet and we zipped through a friendly security line in record time and spent some time in a small and crowded contract lounge before boarding our first flight.

We even got to watch our A319 arrive.

The return flights on British Airways mirrored our outbound flights, Budapest to London Heathrow to Vancouver (BUD-LHR-YVR). We experienced again the agonizing lack of legroom that seems to characterize BA intra-European flights. 

Having the blocked middle seat in European-style business class helps a little, but not much.

We landed and departed for our onward flight to YVR from the same Terminal 3. It still took us the better part of an hour but it gave us time to visit the Cathay Pacific First Class Lounge (one of the perks of our OneWorld Emerald status) and enjoy Dim Sum and other delights.

To continue our cranky little tirade about seating, the low-backed chairs in the CX lounge lean back too far for our tastes.

We actually sneaked down the hall to the business lounge for the opportunity to sit in real chairs before boarding our flight to YVR. Could it be our own bodies that are the problem? Nah…

Once aboard our BA A350, Kathy fell asleep almost immediately and skipped dinner. That’s generally not a great loss on BA. Brian did eat dinner, and could assure Kathy she wouldn’t have enjoyed the so-called Beef Tartare appetizer all that much.

Brian accidentally triggered a parental control guard on his entertainment system, and a flight attendant had to visit some master control system in the front galley to deactivate it.

Brian slept through the pre-arrival meal, and, despite a delayed departure we landed at YVR in good time. The airport was quiet and we were able to access a virtually empty NEXUS line to process our arrival on a machine and present the printout to a bored immigration official.

The favorable weather we’d experienced on this trip continued to prevail at YVR on a clear evening without a hint of rain. A Park’N Fly shuttle arrived before long and took us back to the lot, where our car awaited us. Incidentally, the cost for a week plus a couple of hours of valet parking was almost exactly US $100 all in, a relative bargain compared, say, to Seattle Airport parking. 

It was a relatively quiet 45-minute evening drive from the airport back to our house, with no delay at the US border. Almost before we knew it, we were home and in bed by around 10:00 PM local time.

Between catching up on sleep, dealing with miscellaneous tasks, and readying ourselves for our next trip, we’ve managed to keep occupied during our brief stay at home. Kathy in particular has spent some serious time at the computer, reviewing not only our itineraries but those of relatives and friends who’ve asked for her help. A couple of examples…

First, Deutsche Bahn, the national railway company of Germany, canceled a previously booked train trip with grandson Jace from Frankfurt to Salzburg via Mannheim, cordially inviting us to drop by a Frankfurt train station to pick up a refund for our original seat reservation after Kathy booked a reservation for an earlier train. We just might try that when we’re in the Frankfurt Airport.

Kathy eventually managed to sort that one out, and we’ll hopefully still arrive in Salzburg early enough to check in at our hotel before attending a dinner performance of some of Mozart’s greatest hits.

We hadn’t booked a hotel in Seattle for our late-May arrival from Australia. We were thinking of flying straight through from Brisbane to San Francisco to Seattle to Bellingham in one fell swoop, but our recent sleepless-in-Budapest experience motivates us to break up the trip with a 12-hour overnight stay at the SEA Doubletree.

Kathy also noticed that the add-on cost of the flight to Bellingham has dropped by $40 and rebooked it. That will average down the cost of that Seattle hotel stay. 

Kathy checked a Birch Bay Village neighbor’s Alaska account yesterday and noticed that a $150 flight credit is expiring soon. She got in touch and offered help in booking a flight before that deadline.

We can’t emphasize enough that money can be saved by continuing to check transportation and accommodation costs right up to the time of departure. We do enjoy an elite privilege of being able to rebook our Alaska flights if the price drops and having the refund credited to our account and used to purchase future flights. Others may not have that option, but can still take advantage of hotel rates that are reduced between the time of booking and arrival. It’s sometimes possible to save money simply by changing the reservation to a non-refundable rate.

A week after we fly back from Europe with Jace the two of us are off to Lima, Peru for a week. This trip resulted from a flight credit when we canceled our planned trip to Ecuador due to civil unrest. We’ve been to Lima twice, and are looking forward to returning and sampling more ceviche in this quite wonderful food city. 

Three weeks after we return from Lima, we’re off to Australia for one more Oz Fest, this one in Cairns. After all that, we intend to be stay-at-homes in Birch Bay for much of the summer.  For now, keeping a close eye on those three upcoming trips, along with several trips of friends and relatives, keeps us busy. 

And not to forget work in the yard as Spring arrives in Birch Bay.


Daz said...

This is timely as I've just booked a river cruise that starts in Budapest and have not been to Hungary (nor any of the other countries on the cruise).

Have you guys not considered melatonin to help with the jet lag? You can buy a year's supply (even for the amount you both travel!) at Costco for under $20 and it works wonders in getting you to sleep and keeping you sufficiently drowsy that you don't have the dreaded 1am wake-up when flying to Europe.

Kathy and Brian said...

Thanks very much for the reminder. We did try Melatonin years ago and it didn't seem to do much for us. We even tried tart Montmorency cherries, which apparently contain Melatonin and were touted as a "natural" jet lag cure back in the early 2000s. In fact, we were carrying a bag of them from Costco when we encountered vigilant Australian border agricultural inspectors who wanted to make sure they were not cranberries. They didn't do a lot of good and for the most part we haven't experienced significant problems. The reality is that we experience jet lag even when we stay home so we're fairly philosophical about it, but this rather leisurely itinerary presented a challenge. Maybe we need to pack some Melatonin for our upcoming trip, or else try to convince our grandson that all Europeans take a daily two-hour nap after lunch! Enjoy your cruise. That is one of the most civilized ways to tour Europe.