Thursday, August 30, 2007

A Stormy Start

Our view during the storm
So we sorted ourselves out, unpacked and settled into our room for the five nights that we would be there. After the Red Bull Air Race was done and dusted, and the crowds were starting to disperse, we were ready to head out to check out the surrounding area.

That was until the sun and blue skies were blotted out by a huge dark cloud that appeared suddenly out of nowhere. Just as suddenly, almost as we were about to walk out the door, a huge wind blew up and it started to absolutely lash down with rain.
Fireworks!On the same day last year, just after 9pm, a huge storm had blown in and a number of people had been killed by flying debris so we retreated to the safety of our room and looked out on the riverside at people running for cover. It was now a full blown storm with thunder and lightning.

I wondered how such a freak storm could occur twice in two years on the exact same date and worried that the evening's festivities would be ruined. I watched the news on Hungarian TV and tried hard to decipher what they were saying in rapido Hungarian.

About an hour later the storm passed and just as it was starting to get dark, the skies cleared and unbelievably it dried out and the evening carried on as if nothing had happened. Large crowds started to gather just before 9pm and we headed down to a decent vantage point, almost in front of our hotel.
The view post-storm
The firework display was beautiful and lasted just over 20 minutes. Some were launched from the bridge in front of us, the rest from bridges North and South respectively of where we stood.

By the time it was finished, we were a bit peckish but struggled to find somewhere to eat as most decent looking places seemed to be shut. This was the disadvantage of not having had a chance to get our bearings earlier. In the end we managed to get a table in the hotel restaurant, which turned out to be a good idea as the goulash soup that we ordered turned out to be just what we needed!

Nagyon Finom! (Very Tasty!)

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Off to the country of the Magyars

So after the chilled week in Rome and the mad, impulsive spontaneity that was our dash to Dubai for a ring, we were now set for the second of the (as originally planned) week long holidays in Europe.

Budapest, in Hungary, the country of my parents, was the destination and to be frank, I was a bit nervous as to how my Hungarian would hold up and if we would be able to meet up with any of my family out there.

What with all the rushing around from holiday to holiday, I didn't get a chance to ring my relatives in Hungary up until the week before we were due to go.

Essentially there are two groups of people that I generally visit whenever I've gone in the past (the last time having been two years ago now:

Those in Ujszasz
I go to this small town, 84km South East of Budapest, where my mum grew up, to visit my uncle, Gabi (short for Gabor) and his family (including my God-son Gabriel), my grandma and our old neighbours, Pista (Steve) and Veronka (Veronica) who used to be one of my mum's best friends in school.

Those in Ozd
I go to this town in the hills near the border with Slovakia and close to a beautiful national park, to visit my Godmother (also one of my mum's best friends) and her husband (both now in their 70s) . It's much more peaceful up in the hills but alas there are a lot less things to do too.

So I ring my uncle's number and I get a message (strangely in English) telling me that that is no longer a recognised number. I'm bemused...I try his mobile number. That also fails. "What?!"

So, brilliant. I'm coming to Hungary and I now have no way of sorting out a meeting with them!

I look up the train details on how to get to the town. It's only a 75 minute journey, so decide that regardless of whether or not I can get hold of them, we'll go along and see if they're in. If not, it'd be a nice trip to the countryside anyway...

Next I ring my Godmother. It connects. Hoorah! I talk to her and it turns out they will be home if I get a chance to come. The problem is that afterwards, I look up how I can get there and it turns out that it's a four hour journey by train, followed by a one hour car/bus journey. I seriously start to doubt that we'll get a chance to meet up with them as it would use up two days of our five day trip with one day already set aside for the much easier to get to Ujszasz.

I groan inwardly as I know my Godmother won't be very happy that I didn't come to see her. I've yet to call her up to apologise as I fear that I lack the language skills to explain myself fully.

Anyway, the journey to Budapest from Gatwick goes smoothly enough. It's early in the morning and we get a mini-cab to Victoria and then get the Gatwick Express out to the airport.

Confusion sets in for a while as "Malev", the Hungarian airline, isn't on the board listing which zone to go to for checking in. We have to go further into the airport to find a set of screens listing individual flights and check in zones. Quirkily, the zones go something like A-F and then skip to Z, which is the one that I need for my flight.

The plane was comfortable, (more so than 'Emirates' which I am starting to think is rather over-rated) the journey less than two hours and incredibly, for the first time in a month, our luggage comes out quickly.

Out impressive looking hotel atriumI have to rely on my Hungarian language skills a lot sooner than I thought I would as it turns out that the driver of the cab I've arranged to take us to our hotel, the Sofitel, doesn't really speak English.

The other half looks on impressed as I gab on in Hungarian and sort out our return journey too and I feel relieved that I've managed to deal with the situation without too much hassle.

It's hot, 30+, and sunny outside and there's not a lot of traffic, August 20th being a national holiday in Hungary for St Stephen's Day, and we only really slow down a bit as we approach the hotel overlooking the Danube when there are some crowds for the Red Bull Air Race that is taking place a bit later.

Unfortunately we then had to wait an hour for our room to be made ready but are given complimentary drinks vouchers. The hotel's atrium looks very impressive and we marvel at the model of an old plane suspended from the ceiling.

Eventually, post-drinks we make it to our room and it's very good too. We look out the large windows and see a beautiful view of the Danube and the chain bridge across it.

An hour later and the Red Bull planes start to whizz by, We watch from our window whilst we relax after the journey. They'll also be a big fireworks display at 9pm tonight.

It's a great start to the holiday and I can't believe how well things have worked out for us over the past weeks...

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

In between...

KT LiveIn between Dubai and Budapest, I won a pair of tickets to see KT Tunstall live in a small, intimate gig in Covent Garden after which I discovered a very good (and apparently the oldest in London) chippie across the road.

Monday, August 27, 2007

The quest for The Ring

We had an excellent week in Rome and the plan was that a fortnight later we would be off to Budapest for yet another week so that I could introduce the other half to the country of my parents.

But, as things are wont to do, plans changed a few days after we had got back. As I mentioned before, I hadn't bought a proper engagement ring as not even the other half had any idea of what type of ring she'd like (when I'd surreptitiously raised the point in the past) so we'd thought that the weekend before we headed back off on holiday we'd go down do Hatton Garden ("the centre of London’s jewellery trade since way back in the mists of medieval time" according to their website) and see if we could find a ring there.

But then someone at work mentioned that buying a ring in Dubai, even with the cost of flying out and staying there would still work out saving us a lot more over Hatton Garden's prices. I did a bit of research on the interwub and sure enough a lot of others seemed to be saying the same thing.

So on the Thursday, we did a crazy thing, booked a flight and hotel out there and come Friday night we were flying out on a madcap scheme to get a ring without having the foggiest about the place that we were going to! In fact it was only thanks to a last minute purchase of a Lonely Planet city guide to Dubai at the airport that we even managed to find our way around at all!

Unfortunately the flight out was delayed by an hour thanks to a passenger who'd checked their luggage in but hadn't turned up for the flight (thanks a lot!) and then our luggage took a long time to arrive at the other end too. So rather than turning up at 3 in the morning, we didn't make it to the hotel until almost 5am.

We then got checked into a room only for me to walk in and find someone sound asleep in the bed, snoring away! I switched off the lights and walked out. In so far as I knew, they hadn't woken up. The receptionist apologised profusely and upgraded us to a larger room on the executive floor (which meant that we had to swipe a card through a reader on the lift to get it to stop there, which was pretty cool.)

Dubai was nice too. Very westernised but bloody hot! It averaged over 40 degrees every day and was 45 on our last day there (Monday.) At night it hovered around about 35 degrees.

SkiDubaiSo, with the help of our trusty guide book, we worked our way around the shopping malls (including one with a 450m ski slope inside) and gold and diamond centres in our hunt for a ring. To cut a long story, slightly shorter, we found one, or rather, got one custom built, on our second day out there.

Due to the fact that we were flying off the next day, the jewellery store manager drove us off to their workshop, ironically right next door to the gold and diamond centre that we had visited the night before, where we sat down in a nice air conditioned room with six Indians who each specialised in a part of the manufacture of our ring. One made the ring itself, another shaped and sized it, another fixed the mounting and measured for the size of the diamonds, another fitted the diamonds and a final one polished the ring. (The sixth guy didn't seem to get involved with our ring.) At each stage we were shown the progress of the ring and looked on approvingly.

The final product was then given to us to take outside and look at in natural sunlight. It sparkled so brightly that I have to admit, it took my breath away. It was beautiful, it was perfect and came in well under the budget that I'd set myself!
The ring
I got the certificates of authentication for each of the diamonds (the ring has three, one central and two smaller on the sides) and we left to enjoy the rest of our quick trip in the knowledge that the mission was well and truly accomplished.

To cap off the success story, I got the ring independently valued, just before we went to Budapest and it was valued at easily more than the value that we paid for it plus the price of the trip and boarding.

Cor Blimey!

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Roman Holiday

Well, carrying on with the busy, busy, busy theme, Rome was so cool. We spent the first few days strolling around the main sites. The ancient Pantheon (lit only from a large hole in the centre of its dome) was a stones throw away from our hotel (in fact we could see it out of our window) and starting from there we worked our way around all the points of the compass.

Each night we would eat in a different restaurant (we only had two duff/tourist/rip-off meals) and paused from Italian food on Wednesday when we went to the Hard Rock Cafe where, even though we had to wait over two hours for a table, we actually had a good time and a nice tasty burger each too, and a long stroll back to our hotel afterwards to walk it all off. This is when we discovered that Rome in Summer at half-one in the morning is still a buzzing, vibrant city.

Of all the sights to be seen, Saint Peter's was my favourite. It literally takes your breath away. The sheer scale of it has to be seen to be believed. We visited early one evening and there was no queue whatsoever. In fact most everywhere we went in Rome had nothing bad queue-wise.

Florence, on the other hand, was queue central! We queued for an hour to go up to the top of the dome in it's Basilica and though the three-hundred plus steps were a bit knackering for some, the view was certainly worth it. The other half also enjoyed window shopping down some of Florence's swankier haute couture streets. It amazes me how she knows so much about fashion labels that most people have never heard of.

We finished our visit to Florence off with a visit to the Galleria dell'Accademia to see Michelangelo's "David" which was absolutely awesome (though no photos were allowed) and for which there were no queues at almost six in the evening as most tourist groups had headed off by then before we caught our train back to Rome.

We spent Friday afternoon in Pincio Park, overlooking Rome, having fun riding around in a two person pedalo (which is when I discovered that the other half is an awful backseat driver) and then did an afternoon trip on the Saturday out to Tivoli to see Hadrian's Villa, which wasn't really all that impressive, though being out in the open on a day when the sun was scorching didn't help, and the Villa d'Este which has impressive gardens with beautiful cool fountains and waterfalls a-plenty.

By the end of the trip neither of us wanted to leave but we finished off having a nice meal on the same table where I had proposed. A perfect end to a perfect holiday.

Little did we know at the time that just a week later, we would both be in Dubai!

But then, that's another story...

Thursday, August 16, 2007

The Proposal

Well, boy has it been a packed few weeks for me!

Rome was brilliant. I'd even go so far as to say it was the best holiday that I've ever had.
Okay, so perhaps that view is tinted by the fact that I got engaged on the first night that I was out there but even without that, Rome is such a beautiful and interesting city to explore.

It's the first time that I've actually managed to work myself through a guidebook so thoroughly too. In the space of the eight days that we were there, we managed to cover every part of Rome, in some way or another, and also even managed to hop on a train up to Florence for the day.

The first night, of course was special. I splashed out on a nice meal for the two of us on the rooftop terrace of our hotel. It was slightly pre-tourist season (which kicked off in earnest in August) so the restaurant was not that full and we had turned up past the time that most would have had their dinner.

It was a warm night with a full moon and we were sat at a table overlooking the terrace and a splendid view of Rome was to be had with various church domes and statues lit up on the horizon.

I felt relaxed. I still wasn't sure if tonight was the night that I was going to "go for it" but I had a ring in my pocket, just-in-case! A pianist played in the background and the meal was exquisite. We laughed at the fact that the menu that I had been given had prices on whilst the other half's didn't.

They gave us some complementary sparkling white wine to start off with and then small spoons of pre-course munchies to clear our palettes between courses. We ordered a lovely bottle of rose wine which perfectly complimented our food and then as the meal proceeded and we talked about the future and how happy we were the sound of "Fly me to the moon" wafted across to us.

#Fill my life with song
And let me sing forevermore
You are all I hope for
All I worship and adore
In other words please be true
In other words I love you#

The moment was so perfect, that I couldn't have scripted it better myself.

I held her hand and said, "How would you like to make it a more permanent thing? I love you...Will you marry me?"

I remember her looking momentarily stunned. Her eyes grew as wide as saucers and her jaw dropped but after a few seconds it suddenly dawned on her what was happening and what I had asked and the word that I had been waiting for expectantly passed from her lips in a whisper "Yes."

We hugged and kissed and suddenly the world was a better place to be in.

I hadn't actually bought her a ring (since at that moment in time, even she didn't know what type of ring she would like) so instead I gave her my mum's engagement ring as a kind of place-holder. Whilst it was probably slightly large, she loved it and for one night only it fit her finger well. Her ring finger got thinner a day later and she couldn't wear it for fear of it slipping off but for that one night, it was perfect!

After the meal, we walked out of the hotel and strolled around the nearby streets, which bustle with people all night through, but now as an engaged couple who were happy and so in love...

(ps: Pictures are now up on More words to come...

Thursday, August 09, 2007


Not having even got around to properly blogging about Rome as yet, including the proposal and acceptance of marriage on the first night on a rooftop terrace overlooking the city with a full moon and a pianist singing Sinatra's "Fly Me To The Moon" in the background, I now find myself doing what is quite possibly the maddest, most impulsive thing in my life.

Today, the fiancee and I booked a flight for tomorrow to Dubai for a long weekend so that we can get her a good deal on a ring! How wacky is that?!

We had planned a quiet weekend going to Hatton Garden to find a nice ring but then we heard how you could get things so much cheaper in Dubai, even taking the flight and hotel costs into account, that we just went a bit crazy and booked a last minute deal for a VERY good price.

We are flying with Emirates and staying in a five star hotel for three nights and a friend of mine's sister works at Heathrow so has put us on the list for the executive lounge to boot!

My head has yet to stop spinning!!!!!