Back on American soil, with Europe in the rear view mirror, here are a few closing thoughts about my trip.
First, Prague was a revelation. I put it in the same class with San Francisco and Florence; smaller cities with as much (if not more) charm and elegance than the megaloplises to which they're often compared. You can get by quite easily speaking only English, and the food and entertainment are excellent.
Something I found very cool is the striking juxtaposition of all these old, medieval sructures and 16th century buildings being outfitted with the latest high tech gadgetry.
If I were in a position to invest in Prague -- as by starting a business there -- I definitely would. I think it has a very bright future now that its a NATO member. The people are clever and eager to embrace western ideas and culture. They also have a tradition of artistry and craftmanship, and are very organized. I even like the punctuation symbols, though I have no idea what they mean; but they look cool. I'm sure we'll be hearing a lot about the Czech Republic in years to come.
Second, Budapest is much larger than I anticipated, and definitely an imperial city. However, because its so big, with so many magnificent buildings and structures -- many, if not most of which have fallen into various states of disrepair -- it may take years for it to return to its former glory (Prague will definitely get there first).
As noted before, the perfect analogy is of a once great neighborhood taken over by people who simply can't afford the upkeep; its not enough to live in a big house if you can't afford to keep it beautiful.
To its credit, it still has a grand vision, and you can see and feel it in the buildings that are under renovation and the products of recent renovation -- the Four Seasons being a prime, indeed outstandind, example. They have many upscale restaurants and cafes, even on dingy streets. Overall, however, the place just has a heavy, dreary feel about. Nothing a quick jaunt to Vass won't cure, at least tempoarily.
And you can always pair that with a side trip and lunchtime coctial at the Tabledancer.
Believe it or not, Budapest calls itself the porn capital of the world. I kid you not. A newsstory in the local paper the day I arrived -- the same day I read about their Parliament having made it legal for 14 year olds to appear in porn films -- featured an interview with the contry's most successful, a 42 year-old who proudly declared Budapest the center of global porn. Who knew?
Finally, Amsterdam. What can I say? It definitely has its fans, and a great history of art, commerce and libertarianism. Just doesn't work for me. Period.
In my ranking of the places I've traveled, Amsterdam is probably on a level with Venice and London (neither of which did anything for me), all of which I rank below Vancouver, Montreal and Miami but above Cleveland and Philly.
My favorite places are (in estimable descending order): Paris, Florence, New York, San Francisco, Rome, Prague, Buenos Aires, Rio, Chicago, Jamaica, Puerto Vallarta, Cancun, D.C., Vancouver, Montreal, Miami, London, Venice, Ixtapa, Amsterdam, Philly and Cleveland. (I've not yet been to Lima or Santiago, but they're on my short list, alongf with Vietnam and Thailand).
My favorite place to live, however, shall always be LA! Safe travels!