All posts by Catherine

Slow march of progress

The first day we toured around Budapest, before we met up with our friends, was the day after we had toured Auschwitz. We were walking through the Imre Nagy memorial park (a freedom fighter from the 1956 anti-Communist Hungarian uprising). And there were a few punky-looking guys horsing around. I didn’t think much of this until one jumped in front of me, did a Nazi salute and said ZIG HEIL! I was horrified; these weren’t run-of-the-mill punks, but full-on neo-nazi/fascists. Unfortunately, they weren’t the last ones we would see in Budapest.

We got a notice at our hotel saying that the pride parade was the following day. YAY! We both like a party, so what luck to stumble upon that during our trip.

Catherine at ‘Budapest pride’. Notice the busload of riot police in SWAT gear in the background
Catherine at ‘Budapest pride’. Notice the busload of riot police in SWAT gear in the background

Except that the next sentence said they anticipated a counter-rally of intolerant folks, and the police would be called in to keep the peace. They recommended that we go across the river to see more distant sites that day, and stay out of the area to ‘avoid the commotion’ (read: violence.) We did go over to the other side of the river to see the castle and came back at the end of the parade. The police were packing up, and any evidence of parade or levity were gone.

What we did find was a lingering, vibrating current of anger and violence that was very unsettling. We were looking for a place to eat and kept hearing shouting and occasionally seeing pairs or small groups of young men running around. Some of these guys seemed to be hunting – there isn’t really another way to describe it. Very predatory, scanning faces and people and looking for someone to fight with. We were all glad they skimmed over us… although it makes me really mad that this level of intolerance and intimidation is changing limiting people’s freedom and expression. The obvious intent of this kind of bullying is to control people’s behaviour. That is terrorism, and that made me angry at the neo-nazis and sad for everyone else that gets intimidated by them (also a little shameful that I didn’t give them a piece of my mind, although common sense thankfully dictated a more conservative approach – blog activism!) I am glad the government sent in the police and the military to protect the paraders, but a bit bummed that the only way to open the skinhead’s mind seems to be with a baton.


Budapest is a mash up of two cities on either side of the Danube: Buda and Pest. We stayed at le Meridian, which was very grand, with crystal chandeliers and uniformed bellboys. We had a nice room on the top floor, marble and brocade.

Our bon vivant gang of travelers at the great market

Budapest was where we had planned to meet up with some of our teammates who had done their separate touring around Europe. We toured Budapest together for a day and shared stories over dinner. We felt very worldly. Erica and Chris had been in Italy; Inna and Erin had been in Munich and Salzburg.

There was no shortage of sweeping skylines, enormous buildings and grand architecture. My favourite was the neo-gothic-melange parlament buildings (yes, that’s how they spell it). Most buildings were bombed to bits so most of what we saw was actually a modern re-build (at at least a re-furbish).

The Parlament buildings in Budapest
The Parlament buildings in Budapest
St Istvan’s Cathedral. Given that 80% of the Hungarians I know are named Istvan, I was very happy to see this church.
St Istvan’s Cathedral. Given that 80% of the Hungarians I know are named Istvan, I was very happy to see this church.
View of the chain bridge and Pest from the Buda-side castle
View of the chain bridge and Pest from the Buda-side castle

Every day in Budapest started the same – we went to a local pastry shop. English service was very limited, but folks were friendly and willing to accommodate our pointing and lack of familiarity with the complicated point-queue-pay-requeue-point-receive system.  Once you get your treat, you eat at a stand-up bar and (if you are late for work) run to catch the bus or metro outside.

Graham with two treats
Graham with two treats

The midnight train to everywhere

“Praha-Budapest-Wein” read the light up sign over our sleeper car. We took the night train from Krakow, leaving at 22:15 and traveling through Poland, Czech Republic, Slovak Republic, and into Hungary. Graham bought the tickets while I was still recuperating, and after returning from Auschwitz, we were sleepy and ready to be rocked to sleep. Graham was ready to be rocked to sleep, I was feeling much better after being sick and I was ready for some James Bond action sequences where I run around between cars and on top of the train and Ninja kick a bad dude off the roof of the train right before we go into a tunnel and then slip into a window to drink a martini.

Sleeper car compartments have 2 or 3 or 4 beds in them. If you/your group buys all the beds in a compartment, you can fill them however you like. If you are a single traveler, you go into a male or female car. Graham bought 2 tickets, which we found out when we arrived at the train were in the male car. The conductor had enough English to relate that my ticket was a ‘man ticket’. I locked him in the eye and nodded, then shrugged. I wasn’t sure if he would let me on or not. Eventually he shrugged too and Graham and I got on. Graham was feeling a little contrite and hoping aloud that we would have the 3-person car to ourselves. We had heard a lot about people getting their valuables stolen while they slept on night trains, and didn’t want to share our car with a creepster. It turns out we did have a companion, and elderly fellow who was a night train veteran. Happily, He carried 1 small backpack to our 3 suitcases and 2 backpacks, so it was not too cramped. He showed us how to use the sink and was very nice. He didn’t seem to mind a woman on the car.

Catherine in the sleeper car bunk (tight fit!)
Catherine in the sleeper car bunk (tight fit!)

The ride itself was pretty good. We stopped a few times in the night to drop cars and pick cars up – we ended up in Budapest about 30 minutes late, then we pulled our bags onto the metro (we are getting good at navigating the crowds and escalators with our bags) and went to our hotel. More on Budapest in our next post!

Graham (sans luggage) on the vertigo-inducing escalator to the Subway.  This line was built in the Communist era and doubles as a bomb shelter.  Now that’s efficient!
Graham (sans luggage) on the vertigo-inducing escalator to the Subway. This line was built in the Communist era and doubles as a bomb shelter. Now that’s efficient!

Bump in the road

The new number one on my list of ‘bad places to throw up’: trains.

I have done a lot of traveling and mercifully have never had motion sickness or food poisoning on the road. My luck ran out yesterday somewhere around the Czech-Poland border. I am generally pretty fastidious about food safety (thanks Food and Nutrition 110!) and am not sure if it was yogurt or cheese or bread or what. Luckily I got a healing msn chat from nurse-sister Elizabeth to get advice and Graham has been really great (up to and including holding my hair back). I am looking forward to seeing a bit of Krakow – as much as I like the great hotel room we got, I am eager to get out and about.

I am feeling pretty lucky that I stayed healthy until all the races were over. I am glad the sickness seems to be drawing to a close and looking forward to visiting Auschwitz with Graham.

Plan A… and Plan B

Those who have eaten with me will know a few things about me. I am a vegetarian, and although I don’t consider myself a picky eater, I do like to eat healthy and I like to eat familiar foods before racing. The local pay-in-advance menu for athletes here in Prague included chicken liver dumplings, borscht, pork noodle with sauerkraut, and a few other regional specialties. Needless to say, I was keen to make my own food.

I have self-catered on most trips (paddling and pleasure traveling) and I have a few tricks up my sleeve. Graham and our team mates Erica and Leah were also keen to ‘eat in’ with us, so Erica packed a rice cooker from Canada, Graham packed a transformer from Canada so that it would work in Europe, I brought spices and other ingredients from home, and we went shopping the first day we got here.

After a late start due to some transportation difficulties en route to the grocery store, we were well on our way to Thai coconut rice with veggies. We ate this in Australia at World Championships 2 years ago and it was very popular.  Except that this time, the rice wouldn’t boil. I guess our transformer wasn’t stepping up/stepping down the way it was supposed to , so the rice stayed at 60 degrees Celsius for about 30min… until Graham suggested we use the pass-through converter.  We knew this was a bit of a gamble because the heating element in the Canadian rice cooker was designed for 110V not 220V… but we were hungry and had already waited a long time.  This rice boiled in about 4 minutes and then started to smoke a bit.  We opened the windows, then emptied the coconut rice and then tried to fry up some veggies – but the rice cooker would not turn on again.   It was thoroughly dead after one use, to our lasting disappointment.

The next afternoon we went to the store and bought a hot plate (with 220V-accomodating Euro-plug) and pot.  Last night we had rice and bean burritos, a meal some will remember from when I cooked it at the 5-star resort where Bridget had her wedding.  It was very successful, without any smoke or fire, so we are looking forward to having more meals on our mini-kitchen.

Leah took a picture of me cooking in our ill-fated rice cooker and also with the hot plate, so I’ll post them once we can wrangle them from her.

Final Countdown

It turns out that we had a little more than 20% of our stuff left in the apartment – lots of last minute items that we didn’t gnat to go without for 2 weeks when we did the ‘big move’. I have borrowed a scale from Graham’s parents (we have never owned one), so now we can pack our suitcases to maximize the amount of stuff going to Sweden!

We got our Team uniforms yesterday for World Championships. Everything seems pretty nice except for the shorts. The ‘board short’ style has a super-large waists and cramped bum space… not a very athletic cut, more of a couch potato vibe. The Women’s lycra shorts are super-short booty shorts like you might see at Bikram’s yoga. Happily, I got the men’s lycra shorts which are quite comfy with a nice Canada logo. I’ll upload some pictures in CZ (once I unpack the camera.)

We are planning to cook most of our own meals in Prague so we are eating familiar foods (it is also a lot cheaper!) I am not keen on the typical local diet of sausage and potatoes. Our friend Erica is bringing a rice cooker and I am bringing some spices etc. so we will have rice and bean burritos, couscous and curried chickpeas, lentils, and Thai coconut rice with Tofu (provided they have tofu there!) We’ll be sure to post on how that goes.

Packing for the trip

We have packed up 80% of our stuff and brought it to Graham’s parent’s place. We are lucky they are storing it in their basement as that is a lot cheaper than a storage locker. I think their basement will also end up being our room when we come back to visit at Christmas.

Now we have to pack the rest – and some harder decisions about what to bring and what to leave. Warm winter clothes are at the top of the list as Stockholm regularly gets temperatures of -15 in the winter. I am bringing my XC boots but not my skis – it costs so much to ship stuff that I am better off getting new skis. We are leaving our snowshoes too, but will likely pick them up when we come to visit at Christmas.

As excited as we are to get to Sweden, we are not going straight there. First we are going to the Czech Republic for the Dragonboat World Championships. Graham and I are racing on the mixed team and Graham is on the men’s team too. Below is a picture of our Team in Whistler last month.

Whistler race

After we are done racing we will visit Poland, Hungary, and Austria. It will be an adventure to drag all our luggage on those trains – but it should be fun.

Pictures and stories to come – stay tuned!