In spite of the blogs posted during the last few weeks, I haven’t written anything in a month. By mid December I had scheduled some posts in advance. Then, I settled in to enjoy family time, holidays and travel. Writing has been relegated to the back burner for a while – not so much deliberately. I simply can not write without time and space and focus. Other bloggers dash off witty travel essays while on the road, an awe inspiring talent I do not share. Seamless integration of travel and writing remains an elusive goal.
So let’s catch up.
Our three grown children and daughter in law converged on Budapest from Charlottesville, Philadelphia and Boulder. By December 21st, all six of us settled into our 850 square foot apartment for a week; barely adequate time to explore Budapest, decorate a tree, cook a feast and watch Ryan sing and dance to “All I Want for Christmas is You”. We browsed at the Christmas markets, relaxed in thermal spas and dashed up to Bratislava for a day trip. Simply put, we had a blast.
Mike was charged with bringing the Christmas Eve ham from the United States. Ham has been our traditional Christmas eve dinner for thirty five years. In fairness to Mike, subterfuge has never been his strength – and I realized this. He was a poor choice for meat smuggler. “Thank goodness I didn’t bring a ham, mom. There are signs up in customs specifically forbidding ham.” It’s just as well. Mike would have tearfully turned himself in to customs and spent a lonely Christmas in a Hungarian meat smugglers prison.
Besides, this enabled a culinary adventure at Budapest’s main market hall – a tourist and shoppers mecca. Pat led the tribe two days before Christmas with a mission: “Pick up whatever meat everyone will agree to eat.” Birds dangled from ceiling hooks with their heads intact to enable the differentiation of goose from duck from turkey from chicken. Beef (our traditional Christmas dinner) is less common, though pork – including head, ears, feet and all organs – is plentiful. They selected pork tenderloin for Christmas eve and two chickens for Christmas day. The butcher laughed as they mimicked removing the chicken heads, yanking them off with his hands and flinging them into a garbage pail. At home, I shook the carcasses over the sink to empty out the feet and other organs which I could not bring myself to touch. (seriously, what do you do with the chicken feet?).
The weekend after Christmas everyone returned home as Taylor and I left on a girls trip to Istanbul, Jordan and Jerusalem. We raced around for 10 days collecting ticket stubs for my scrap book and perspectives and blog topics. The trip was simultaneously fascinating, frustrating, intriguing and exhausting. We felt surprisingly (deceptively?) safe and comfortable even when we ventured to the ancient city of Umm Qais, a Greek turned Roman turned Ottoman settlement in far northern Jordan near the Israeli and Syrian borders.
The Jordanians proved welcoming and hospitable people with a penchant for drinking and sharing tea. Roadside shacks covered in flashing neon lights resembling the tackiest of Christmas displays lined the streets and highways – purveyors of tea and coffee in a surreal and nomadic version of Starbucks. Just outside the airport en route to our hotel, our taxi driver flew off the highway barely touching the brakes, rolled down the passenger window to bark out an order, ignored our protests that we didn’t need tea and handed back two piping hot and full cups. As he careened back into traffic, Taylor and I smiled and sipped our tea and realized Jordan would be unlike anyplace we have traveled. We were not disappointed.
Now, I am back in Budapest and work. Taylor is home in Boulder. Pat returned from a ski trip to Austria yesterday. Life is normal again. Yet, perhaps this year, more than any prior new year, I’m restless. The time is approaching when we will move on. A plan is emerging in my mind which I will begin writing about over the next months. Life has never held more promise, excitement, anxiety and uncertainty than right now. I am itching to get started on our next adventure.
This weekend I will write and read and make a big pot of chicken soup. It will be nice to put my feet up for a while and enjoy the simple peacefulness of home.