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May 27, 2002
Mission Accomplished: Back to the grind

By Alex Dominguez
from the if you want a job done right dept.

BUDAPEST, Hungary (JNS) _ Back in the seat of the Hungarian empire following a four-hour hydrofoil glide down the Danube (about $60), we find Craig Wolfson (Fiufarkas?) is also staying at the opulent and eccentric Kalmar.

Wolfson, of Ukranian descent, is the Baron of Juneau, he says. The Russians, however, spelled the name Jew-No, and sold the Alaskan territory to the U.S. shortly after convincing his family to move there by giving them the barony.

I am unsure if he is a shadow government plant, but he is pleasant and has a list of sightseeing tips from a Hungarian woman he knows. So, we join him for a few outings _ again to the Gellert baths, the ancient Roman ruins, and a touristy park where statues of Soviet heroes are now displayed.

Shadow government or not, it’s too late _ the drop has already been prearranged in Poszony. On our way back from the statue park, the count bids farewell to Fiufarkas, stops in a non-descript kitchen wares store and picks up the Czech-made ``Porkert’’ meatgrinder _

``With this, households across the United States will be weaned from the hegemony of the ground beef industry! Slowly, they will realize the truth of our way,’’ the Count declares.

``Ghandi had his spinning wheel,’’ G-Monez notes.

Posted by Alex at 08:54 AM
Mission Improbable: Learning Slovak

By Alex Dominguez on Monday May 27, @07:27AM
from the Here is your mission, in 5 seconds this bacon will be eaten dept.
ON THE TRAIN TO POSZONY, Slovakia (JNS) _ Buying train tickets is not nearly as tough today. I even ask what track the train leaves from _ ``Mi vagony?’’
We take the first compartment and a police officer in a dirty blue jump suit joins us.

He has a reddish, tanned, pockmarked face, a light-brown goatee and is armed with a small pistol in a leather holster hanging from a thick leather belt _ both well worn and well oiled.

We know he is a police officer because across the back of his blue jacket are the words ``Fegyvres Byztonsagi orseg.’’

``Kabina rorseg?’’ I ask the officer, worried that we were in his compartment.

``Nem,’’ he says with a ``Don’t worry about it’’ expression.

``Just a storm trooper on his way to work,’’ I tell G-Monez, prompting a dirty look. The police obviously are still looking for the bank robbers, or their accomplices, and are unaware of our plans to ally and strengthen the two empires.

We sit quietly for a while, the officer makes a cell phone call, says goodbye to us and gets off at the border. Four other officials then check our passports, and we can pick out words like ``hologram’’ and ``U-S-A’’ as they look at the passports. One asks in English if we have any contraband, we say no, and after about 15 minutes (perc) we’re on our way again.

We almost get off at the wrong stop approaching Bratislava, but stay on and then do get off at the wrong stop _ Mesto Novo, the ``new city.’’ Willing to be robbed to get into town, we approach a cab driver and say ``centrum’’ and then ``forint.’’ The driver says he won’t take forints or dollars. I say ``bankmat’’ and he agrees, driving us to an ATM where I exchange forints for krona and pay him about $3. After I ask how to get to the Danube River, he takes us to the Hotel Danube for another 75 cents. We then have the most phenomenal lunch after checking in, and I know the alliance will work.

We eat at the Korzo, across from the Hotel Danube, where I have a jar of caviar with butter and toast (250 krona or $5), and some of the best roasted pork ribs and potatoes I have ever had or made. Gibran, meanwhile, has venison kebab over a subtle hibiscus sauce _ delicious.

The ribs, roasted until the outside was caramelized, were served on a wood board with two fresh banana pepper rings _ one filled with mild horseradish and the other filled with mild mustard. Pickles, pickled peppers and tomatoes complete the garnish. The potatoes are in chunks about half the size of an egg, roasted in the fat that came off the ribs and are flecked with caraway.

The whole meal, including coffee and two large beers, is less than $20.

Dinner at the Camel Pub on the Venturska Ulica is interesting as well. The small place caters mainly to locals and its menu is not translated. We point at items, and wait to see what comes out.

I have a breaded piece of liver (leber) with fries, kraut, beets and hot peppers (70 krona, $1.25). Gibran does better, ordering Diabolska zmes, placka and TO (also 70 krona). I grunted ``Schwein?’’ at the waiter. Thinking it might be hot sausage. It’s actually turns out to be a rustic crepe filled with pork chunks stewed in a spicy, goulashy sauce. Both are washed down with big, cold pilsener beers that cost 25 krona.

Sated yet again, it’s off to the Internet café again to chat with the lovely women there who speak a little English, and meet my handler.

Posted by Alex at 07:27 AM
May 19, 2002
Egy jegy a Vienna-Bacs-Wien, koesenem

By Alex Dominguez
from the on the road again dept.
VIENNA, Austria (JNS) _ We awake in fear of having to interact with others again without a guide.
But we know we must push on because we fear we are bugging the living, fucking shit out of Andor.

The gracious man that he is, Andor has not given any indication of this, but we can only surmise that he must be getting tired of telling us how to say everything and what everything means.

So, we head to the train station for a day-trip to the city we call Vienna, the Hungarians call Bacs, and the Austrians call Wien _ simple enough.

As we wait on the platform, six conductors with pistols arrive on the platform and we ponder the limits of our annoyance. On the train, the six, wearing Györ armpatches, stamp our passports, as do another group in fatigues, also armed with pistols and a laptop _ which had the name “Richter’’ on it as they pass by. They must be from Austria, we think, because their arm patches say “Bundes.’’

This is the second time in two days we have dealt with the authorities. We were stopped on Saturday for a broken headlight while driving to Lake Balaton. Andor suspected they were searching for a group of bank robbers who killed six near Budapest the week before while stealing less than $20,000, a small sum even by Hungarian standards for such a ghastly crime.

Vienna was refreshingly modern, despite its wealth of history. We took the requisite walking tour of the most impressive sights _ St. Stephen’s Cathedral, the Spanish riding school, etc., and stopped in number of small cafes and stands, relieved that most people spoke English.

The most interest food experience was the outdoor bakery stand where all types of pastries and savory items were on sale. I had a wiener schnitzel sandwich _ breaded veal on a roll _ after contemplating whether to get the prosciutto or liver spread.

Aside from that, Bacs-Wien-Vienna seemed like a big city that lacked any of the kookiness we had come to appreciate in Hungary. So, we headed back, planning to go to Bratislavia in neighboring Slovakia (oh joy, another language) on Monday to take a hydrofoil to Budapest on Tuesday.

Posted by Alex at 11:06 AM
New uses for old Trabants

By Alex Dominguez
from the when in rome dept.

TIHANY, Hungary (JNS) _ As we plan our trip to Lake Balaton over another round of früccs, Andor discusses various modes of transportation he has seen in Hungary.

An old gypsy man he knew once cut a Trabant (a small Soviet-era East German car) in half after the motor died and used a mule to cart the back half around.

Andor said he hasn´t seen the gypsy in a while.

''Maybe the mule died,'' he said.

We decide to take his car to to the lake.

So, Saturday morning we got up earlier than we wanted to and headed to Tihany, a beautiful little lakeside town with traditional homes with whitewashed walls and thatched roofs that have been turned into restaurants and giftshops.

We ate at the Gulyasudvar _ the goulash courtyard _ under an open-air structure with a wood-roof. I had pork csarda, named for a type of informal, home-style restaurant. Two slices of tenderloin under a mountain of onions, peppers, mushrooms and tomatoes sauteed into a paprika-laden stew.

Andor had a goose leg that appeared to have been stewed for a long time and then broiled until brown, extremely tender and delicious. G-Monez had a disappointing steak in mushroom sauce.

As we dined, Andor noted that during Hungary's empire days, ''you could travel to four seas without a passport'' _ the Caspian, the Agean, the Black Sea and the Adriatic.

Lake Balaton is almost an inland sea, long and thin and surrounded by dozens of towns. After eating, we drove down to the lakeside, dipped our feet in the water _ still too cold _ and sat on the grass, watching the sailboats go by on the on the powder-blue water.

On the way home we again passed the castle we stopped at that morning. I asked if it had ever been visited by St. George, remembering a number of towns in the area have the word for dragon _ Sarkany _ in their name.

At home again in Györ, we had a quick dinner of blood sausage, bread and Czech Budweiser beer before heading out on the club circuit, where El Conde was pleased to see Spanish music is extremely popular.

''We are distant cousins, we love the same things _ wine, horses, gypsy music,'' El Conde noted.

Posted by Alex at 10:30 AM
May 16, 2002
Another Spritzer please

By Alex Dominguez
from the en vino veritas dept.
GYÖR, Hungary (JNS) _ The cheapest and best thing to drink here is white wine and seltzer, called fröcs in some places, which means 'splash.' That's because when it's in the 80s (F) beer is too heavy, although that didn't stop me from getting a boiled pigs shank with a nice helping of sauerkrat for lunch in nearby Sopron (Cho-prahn).

Two glasses of the spritzer thingy, adolescent yet effervescent, cost 160 forints (65 cents) at Matroz, a small bar near the river in Györ, where we stood outside and watched people walk by, much cheaper people watching than in Budapest. It's made with a variety of wines such as rizling(riesling), and kekfranks(blue french), and they're all fresh and tasty.

We started drinking them after we rolled out of Budapest on Tuesday at noon on a creaky Soviet -era train (1,000 forints, four dollars) and watched the pastures roll by for two hours, sitting next two smelly old men and commenting on town names such as Tatabanya, where all the big breasted women around here must come from.

In Györ, about halfway to Vienna where four rivers meet, we met Andor 'Paul' Farkas, an expatriate American and the grandson of a former Hungarian diplomat, who now works providing solutions, mostly computer based, for various governmental agencies. About 15 million people speak Hungarian worldwide, about 10 million in Hungary and 5 million in neighboring countries and elsewhere, not surprising for a country that is less than half its former size because of post World War I treaties, he tells us.

"Obviously a plot by the shadow government against a strongly Catholic country," El Conde notes.

On Wednesday, it was off to lunch at the Vaskakas, or the Iron Rooster , an impressive cellar with vaulted brick ceiling and marble floors in the basement of a portion of the wall that used to surround the old city. Even though the place looks too expensive to enter, the daily special is 380 forints ($1.50). We each had vegetable soup out of a large tureen placed in the middle of the table before having one of the three daily choices. Andor and Gibran had beef purkot, a type of country stew, and I, sated on pork for once, had pureed spinach over boiled potatoes with a fried egg on top, and a glass of local white wine made from Italian riesling grapes (virginal but not shy).

Then it was off for more beer and wine, and an attempt at conversation with the Hungarian supermodels _ obviously planted as employee spies at our hotel by Neighborhood Secret Agent Dack McSwain to thwart our plans to rebuild the Hungarian Empire. The two women, despite their looks, seemed happy to serve us beers in the afternoon and omelettes for breakfast, and to help us learn their language, even taking care to place a fresh cucumber garnish and a light sprinkling of paprika on my eggs each morning.

El Conde notes some words are very similar to Spanish, proba, for example, is like prueba, and both mean to try, or test, something. Cukor, sugar, sounds like azucar, also sugar, in Spanish. And the word for train car, kolcsi, is pronounced just like the Spanish word for car, coche, also coach.

But all is not play for the International Playboys. Andor thinks the Soviets might finally be of use to Hungary because of their efforts in Cuba, where many broken down Hungarian-made buses might provide an opportunity for spare parts sales.

The count, meanwhile, thinks Hungary's baths, including some smaller spas in Györ have enormous marketing potential, but must be packaged slightly differently. Treatments at the Hotel Gellert _ such as the tub bath with sudatorium, 4000 forint; carbon acid bath, 1,500 forints; impulse current therapy or interference therapy, both 700 forints; four cells galvanic bath, 500; salt chamber block, 2,500; and gingival shower, 5,000 _ all sound pleasant enough, but might be confusing to some.

Posted by Alex at 07:29 AM
May 13, 2002
Breathe, My Pasty Friend, Breathe!

By El Conde
from the boris and natasha dept.
BUDAPEST (JNS) _ Looking at what appeared to be a 2-foot by 2-foot apron with three strings coming from it, I thought ''I am not putting this on.''
''G-Money, '' I yelled to Gibran in the next changing booth at the hot baths, ''I'm going to ask theguy how to do this.''

I walked up to the attendant at the Hotel Gellert with a perplexed look on my face, and he said ''Shorts,.... OK."

"Koesenem," - ''Thank you" _ I said and we walked down to the termal furdõ, or hot baths, where men of all shapes and sizes walked around with the aprons on and their butts exposed.

First, we into the 36-degree (celsius) pool, and quickly switched over to the 38-degree water, checking on the tiled walls and arched ceilings, and skylights. Looking at the burly, all male attendants I said to Gibran ''I am not getting a massage here," thinking the conversation would sound something like the Rocky and Bullwinkle Show.

"Breathe,my pasty friend, breathe in the healthy vapors," I imagined Boris would say as he broke every bone in my body, and then told my family at the hospital. "He is so weak, I hardly touched him."

After switching back and forth between the hot pool, which a tile sign said had 10 percent of something in the water, and cold showers and an even colder third pool, we decided to check out the swimming pool, called something like the Uszsoda furdõ, which we were told was another 500 forints each. The pool was spectacular with huge stone columns on each side and an arched roof with a skylight that rolls opens on sunny days.

After a lap or two, I went into another heated pool just behind the large pool, where a number of Italians were also enjoying the waters. After about an hour, Gibran and Idecided we should leave before we become so relaxed we fall asleep and drown.

So, we dressed and went back to our apartment, to rest from the long day.

We started the day with an excellent breakfast spread in a comfortable wood-paneled salon in the bed-and-breakfast. Bread, yogurt, a mild blue cheese, fresh tomatoes, orange juice and a chilled cherry soup.

After commenting on the size of the dining room, and the house in general, one of our breakfast companions, Reni, said the house had been owned by a single family at one time.

''A century ago. Once the communists took over it was divided into apartments," she said.

A friend of hers recently bought a 90-square meter apartment nearby for 100,000 dollars, she said.

''Expensive,"I said.

''Yes, a little. Because it is soquiet and so close to the city center," she said.

Fortified by breakfast, we headed off toconquer the Citadella again, this time touring the inside, where we viewed the Soviet-era anti-aircraft artillery. We also learned about Kelt Kor, the age of the Celts, who were the first to settle the hilltop (which was called something like Oppidium at the time. They were followed by the Romans, but the strongest impression was made bz Szent Istvan, Saint Stephen, who converted the country to Christianity, and Saint Gellert, the son of wealthy Venetians, who dedicated his life to God after he fell ill, or something like that. Gellert taught Stephen's son, and the rest is history.

After leaving "a citadella," we walked across the next bridge, Erzebet Hid, Elizabeth's bridge, bought a bottle of wine _ a bottle of Villanyi chardonnay, slightly tart and avuncular, not at all villainous like its name implies _ and headed to the market to buy items for lunch at our apartment before an afternoon swim.

At the market, on the Pest side of the Szabadsag hid (across from the Hotel Gellert), I discovered you can get very far by saying szaz (pronounced sahz) and gram _ 100 grams _and pointing at various cheeses and sausages. We choose a fresh feta flaked with parsley (2 dollars for a half pound), and some paprika sausages similar to Spanish chorizo (a dollar).

The biggest problem was finding bread _ I had to trout out "hol van a kenyer" _ "where is(going?) the bread."

We were pointed to the bread and on the way passed the lady who sells pickled items, and bought 100 grams of sweet gherkins, a red pepper stuffed with slightly sweet sauerkrat and what appeared to be the pickled hearts of onions.

Posted by Alex at 12:03 PM
The Moveable Feast

from the Ministry of Home and Away Games dept.
We are following, with great interest, the up to the minute reports, detailing your exploits as you travel across the Old World eating and bathing.
We are following, with great interest, the up to the minute reports, detailing your exploits as you travel across the Old World eating and bathing. Please, do not forget to include any and all information concerning the fair skinned lasses that have been sent to meet the traveling party. The Empire is in a state of eager expectation with the Count so far off. Many of us have our ears and eyes constantly on alert for new news of your travels. Families all over the empire have already begun trying to replicate the pork over peppers recipe as described only yesterday! Travel peacefully and without apprehension, for all is safe and well in the kingdom (although parking this weekend was worse then ever - Sir Karl was seen napping on the hood of his car at midnight, while awaiting a stable for his steed). I've talked to the mailman about any overflowing postage. J. Schwartz, New York

Posted by Alex at 08:26 AM
May 12, 2002
European Playboys, paparazzi descend on Budapest

By Alejandro Antonio Dominguez y Rios
from the live like a noble dept .
BUDAPEST, Hungary (JNS) _ The paparazzi quickly heard the Count and Algerian chess champion Gibran Hadj-Chikh were headed to this cosmopolitan central European hideaway.

After learning at the Kalmar Bed and Breakfast ($60, next to the stylish Hotel Gellert) that Gibran had not yet checked in, and knowing the media would be on his tail, El Conde stashed his bag in the spacious two bedroom apartment, admired the stone tiled bathroom and complete kitchen with range, dishwasher, an in-cabinet refrigerator, and the massive carved armoir in the living room. He then decided to leave the paparazzi in his wake, and hike to the top of the nearby Citadella, where he viewed the city, the Danube and its bridges in the fading late afternoon sunlight from the ancient hilltop castle.

After chatting amiably in Spanish with the pleasant woman in the giftshop, he purchased a Hungarian cookbook and a Russian soldier's wool winter hat ($25) and hiked down to meet Gibran before the media made it to the top. After showering, the two strolled into town and ate at the Pertu Restaurant Bar, on the touristy Vaci Ulca strip and watched the lovely Hungarian women stroll by.

The meal, 5,000 forint, or $20 each, was pleasant _ goose liver pate with raspberries and mulberries with toast, noodle soup and broiled pork tenderloin on top of a red pepper sauce. The pate was served with a peach liquor slightly stronger than wine and the pork was served with white wine. Espresso and ice cream followed, and El Conde had a Cuban cigar afterward.

After attempting to order in Hungarian, the waiter mercifully said he also spoke Spanish, explaining that Budapest draws a fair number of Italians and Spaniards.

Budapest is reminiscent of some Spanish cities, pleasing El Conde, and the language has some similarity to Gallego, his native dialect. The word for son, Fiu, sounds exactly the same in Gallego, as does the word for door, porta.

After a post-prandial stroll, the European playboys decided to sightsee some more on Monday and partake in the spectacular hot baths at the Hotel Gellert before leaving for Gyor on Tuesday to visit with local dignitary Andor `Paul' Farkas.

Posted by Alex at 01:35 PM