Tuesday, August 19, 2014

TripAdvisor Readers Appreciate My Reviews


Initially, I started writing reviews on TripAdvisor under the BudaBaB account name some time ago. Thinking it may bring readers back to our own reviews on TripAdvisor, it was just a gamble. However, it seems to have worked as we have been getting an increasing number of guests who claim they read about us on TripAdvisor. I have yet to have someone say, “I read one of your reviews and then followed it to BudaBaB.” Perhaps, I am not asking the correct questions.

Regardless, I received these two notes from TA about my reviews.

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Monday, August 18, 2014

Holding Out for Markus!


Spending so much time at the computer has not only ruined my exercise routine, but it has destroyed a series of chairs besides. Because my computer cabinet has restricted leg room, I find it difficult to find a suitable chair that provides both a comfortable support zone as well as ample height adjustments. Then I discovered Markus.

Markus is the alter ego name for an Ikea chair. Each visit to Ikea, I would give Marcus a spin literally to assess his wheel functions. This would be followed by the up and down motions to see if his hydraulics were quick-fire responsive. Finally, stretching backward, led me to feel secure that Marcus could handle a big man.

What kept Marcus and I apart was his cost~ 44,000 Huf. Yes, he came with a 10 year guarantee, but still, that is mucho dinero. However, while we were in Spain, I received the Ikea newsletter for the Ikea Family members. Low and behold, there was Marcus featured on the very first section of the first page. He was marked down to 34,000 Huf. What a deal to save 10,000 Huf! It was almost enough to make me say a pray the sale would last until we returned to Budapest. 

Tuesday after we returned, I made a special trip to Ikea. There was Marcus sitting on the floor with an oversize AKCIO tag on his shoulder pad. Scribbling down his number to retrieve him later, I continued to shop for smaller items.

Thanks to the Ikea Family card, there was indeed the 10,000 reduction. Without the card, it would not have been sale priced. However, it took two boxes to fit it all together, so there was no way for me to cart it home alone on the metro. Knowing well where to the service department was located; I pushed the trolley with Marcus to the desk. There was no way I could assembly him myself with the hydraulics, so some assembly was definitely required.

Delivery charge: 8,690 Huf

Assembly charge: 14,100 Huf

My 10,000 Huf savings evaporated into thin Swedish air.

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How to Piss Off and Still Enjoy Budapest


Two somewhat related news bits arrived in my mail this weekend. There has been a strong urge to share.

One has excellently polished photos of Budapest. They are polished to the point of being surrealist in some instances. After 12 years, I have not seen some of these shots as glamorous as portrayed. Take a look at them here.

The other item caught my eye since the title mentions pissing off Hungarians. The universe knows we have been doing that for over 12 years now, mostly unintentionally. Initially, I thought they were picking on Hungarians for which there would be 10 million responses complaining about how maligned they are. To read the "How to Guide" click here. However, it seems this is a series, where evidently, people are easily piss-off-able all over the planet. Good grief, if we could only stop getting pissed off; this would be a better world.

Enough said! I just realized that strong urge was really the need for the bathroom and get pissed off!

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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Two Chips for Sobriety


I do enjoy beer, especially craft beers. Recently, I have also learned to enjoy wine. However, when we were on vacation in Spain this last week, I was enjoying both beer and wine too much. Although the beer was good, it was not exceptional; it seemed the only brand available in most places was Cruzcampo Cerveza Pilsen. Regardless, beer beggars cannot be choosers.

Kat found a lovely white wine that we all came to appreciate by the bottles, plural to the higher power.

Knowing what this was doing to my sugar levels, I did get lots of walking in. We cranked out over 70 miles on my pedometer from the morning we left Budapest to the evening of our return. Still, this combined with my lack of the usual two liters of
daily water intake, made me swell like the Michelin tire logo. This is not to say that I am petite by any means at other times, but there were additional rolls, not approved of by any bakers association.

Starting Monday night upon our return, I decided it was time to be alcohol free for the week to regain some healthy state of being. Following the tradition of AA, I decided to reward myself accordingly. Therefore, I have earned my first two daily Chips.

Now, one may contest that this is one Chip and one Dale, but really, they are cut from the same cloth. Let’s toast to this agreement!

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Monday, August 11, 2014

The Photos Have Been Developed


The photos have been developed. Well not really! Aren't we so lucky these days that we do not have to wait for our photos to be developed? There is something to be said for instant gratification. One drawback of digital photos is that they look differently on different computers. Some shots that look totally spectacular on my desktop computer seem to lose something in the translation when viewed on the laptop or even the other desktop. I know it is all in the video card, but I want everyone to see the photos as I see them at their best.

Here is a reiteration of the trip. First, I joined Homeexchange.com. During my 14-day trial period, I received four offers for places in Europe. Cádiz was the most appealing due to transportation costs getting there and then doing short trips once there. Admittedly, I thought this was going to be a beach resort, which I would find boring as all get-out, but Ron was enthused and when we asked our friend Kat to join us, she was absolutely psyched. After the trial period, we continued getting offers for exchanges, but everyone seemed to want August; we had already committed.

We arrived late on July 31 flying from Budapest to Brussels to Seville. Once there, thanks to our exchange partner, for €6 each we bought Tarjeta Dorada cards. Anyone over 60 receives discounts on the trains.  On Mondays thru Thursdays, the discount is 40%. On Fridays thru Sundays, it is 25%. We did not arrive until late, so our first night was dinner out. After this, we shopped and Kat gleefully cooked dinner every night.
Cádiz is incredible! We, meaning me the non-sun worshipper, loved it heart and soul. There are incredible things to do and see; we did not even touch the surface. The city is completely tourist friendly with four walking tours painted on the streets and sidewalks in differing colors for self-guiding. The two sun bunnies did get their fill also.

We left Cádiz on August 9 to spend one partial day in Madrid. Kat paid €76.20 for her train ticket, while ours were €57.15 each. Leaving for Madrid on the 9am train got us into the city by 1pm. We checked into Hostal Oporto. The location could not be better.

Ron is like a human GPS. He can either briefly look at a map or if he has been somewhere, he remembers how to return to places. We did a lot of walking again.

Finally, we completed the day by having beer and mini sandwiches at Cerveceria 100 Montaditos at Calle Mayor 22, but to complete Kat’s brief Madrid experience we also stopped at Chocolatería San Ginés famous for their hot chocolate and churros since 1894.

Sunday morning, we had an easy walk to the airport bus, where for €5; we were whisked directly to our terminal. Coming home we flew TAP the Portugal airline, so we went from MAD to LIS to BUD. Unfortunately, the layover at LIS was 4 hours, but TAP screwed us by being an hour delayed without any notice. We were home by 8pm with a B and B guest waiting for us at the café around the corner.

Cádiz - Arrived July 31st and left August 9th

Day trip - Puerto de Santa Maria August 3rd

Day trip - Seville or Sevilla August 5th

Day trip - Jerez de la Frontera August 7
Went here for the horse show, but photos were not allowed.

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Thursday, August 07, 2014

No Horsing Around Here - Only Serious Horse Play


 Thursday was our big day to travel to Jerez. Jerez has become known for two primary things: sherry production and Fundacion Real Escuela Andaluza del Arte Ecusetre. We had tickets for the only show of the day at 12 noon. We could choose between €21 or €27 seats. We chose the cheaper and it turned out to be fortuitous.

Again, due to scheduling, the bus was the best option for getting to Jerez. The trip cost €3.20 each for a one-way, pay the driver if you please, there are no tickets sold at the counter. The ride is a short 40 minutes.
A note about the school first and why we wanted to go…

In plain English the title is The Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art Foundation. They breed and train pure Spanish breeds of horses. The show is considered one of the best equestrian ballet shows in the world.
As it turned out, this was the highlight of the day. Our seats were in Section 3 row 5 seats 59, 61, and 63. Directly in front of us was the stairwell, giving us excellent foot freedom to stretch. There were only our 3 seats in our section, providing privacy. Though we were at the end of the ring, we did not miss a thing as most of the action either started or ended by us, but everything at least paraded around.

No one could have described to me in credible terms what these horses could accomplish. I have never seen horses skip, dance the way they did, or jump in the air from all 4 legs at once. The show was 1 ½ hours with a ten minute break. Well worth the time and money to get there. The only downer was there were no pictures or video allowed. They were strict about it too.

We had thought to go sherry tasting afterward, but it was hot and siesta time. Everything closed up until our bus was scheduled at 6pm. I will give just a brief tutorial on sherry, since I did not know anything about sherry.

Sherry is a protected name like Champagne, Port, and Roquefort. Products from out of their designated areas are not legally allowed to use the name on the products. Sherry is from a triangular region in Andalusia including Jerez de la Frontera, Sanlúcar de Barrameda, and El Puerto de Santa María. Produced mainly from the Palomino grape, a white variety, it can have a couple of other grape varieties added for an increase in color or alcohol content. During aging, the wine develops a layer of flor, similar to yeast.

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Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Seville or Sevilla


Yesterday, Ron and I went to Seville. Kat was supposed to join us, but changed her mind in the morning. I have been budgeting €100 for the 2 of us each day. So far, it has been sufficient, therefore, it did not occur to me that the bus would take a real bite from the wallet.

We did get Tarjeta Durado tickets, which gives a discount for those over 60. For Seville, the savings would have been negligible considering the train is a higher cost to begin with as opposed to the bus. The bus also had more flexible scheduling.

Shelling out €44.50 for both of our bus tickets, I quickly started to calculate where the rest of the money might part ways during the day. It was too late to return to the apartment to get more cash. Although our ticket had revuelto on it, our seats were assigned. If this were only a one-way ticket, we were screwed.
The ride to Seville was only 1 hour and 40 minutes. As soon as we arrived, we asked if our ticket included a return. It did, but we needed to commit to a return time and get seat assignments for our choice. We were issued new tickets without a fee.

Both of us were in dire need of a bathroom once we had left the station, so we stopped on the edge of the Prado de Sebastián for a coffee and the use of the facilities. Cha-ching, goes the wallet, but only €3 so not too bad.

As we approached the Plaza de Espaῆa, I noticed the architecture was covered with porcelain tile and embellishments. As we walked to the front, we were blow away by the incredible beauty of the place. Covering the territory of about four city blocks, this humungous building was covered with painted tiles, painted plaques representing each city in Spain, each situated in their own alcove with short tiles walls on either side. In the courtyard was a man-made lake large enough for rented row boats to sail around. There were three bridges over the lake and in the center of all of this, horse drawn carriages traversed around with overjoyed tourists. We spent about two hours here just going from one tile selection to another.

Much of our time here in Sevilla was spent walking around, just gawking at the lovely sites. Ron wanted to go into the Catedral y Giralda Museo Catedrallico. This is the cathedral of the region. From the outside it looks like it can compete with any fabulous church. Inside, I cannot tell you. They wanted €8 entry fee, which I refused to pay for two reasons. 1) I hate paying to see a church that has more gold than some small nations and 2) We were on a tight budget.

There was a caveat though. That day and that day only, there was one chapel open to the public that generally is closed except for exalted occasions. I saw the line and joined it not really knowing what it was for, but if it led me to a cashier’s booth, I could always turn around and leave. It led to this special chapel. I could hear chanting before getting an inside view of the chapel. I could tell the singing included petitions to Mary for this, that, and the other followed by hear our prayer. Inhabitants on Pluto could have heard their prayers; they were so loud. Then the chapel came into view. People were walking up to a porcelain statue of Mary. She was overdressed for the heat and her headdress was larger than her body. Had she been alive, she would have needed a neck brace to not cripple her spine and buttresses on both sides to keep her head straight. Then I noticed what was happening. As each person walked by they kissed her hand where immediately thereafter, a volunteer woman wiped the hand clean with a dry cloth. It did not strike me as very sanitary and I didn’t hear any chant that went “Blessed Virgin, keep me safe from disease after I kiss you hand, because only God knows what germs that last person has left. Hear my prayer!”

No! No! No! I did not do any hand kissing. What I wanted to do was a Mary makeover. She obviously didn’t have any gay men getting her ready for this event. We walked behind the hand kissers and left the chapel. Ron continued on to the church where he begged and pleaded for the concession rate for seniors, which at ½ price was still €4 leaking from our waning budget. I waited across the way.

By now it was mid-afternoon, so hunger hit us. We shopped around for a cheap restaurant, but in this area, it is like trying to find a pregnancy test in church. Settling on one place we reasoned that a regular portion of a dish at €9, which we could share, would be more food than two tapas at €3 each. Our choice, though a good one, was still not worthy of the cost. A smallish bowl arrived with creamed spinach, walnuts and pine nuts served with a basket of bread. This and two small beers set us back another €13.

The real wallet test was going to the Real Alcázares, the oldest royal palace in Europe that is still used. Originating from the XI century, it expanded over the years. Because every culture that conquered the Iberian Peninsula used this as their capital’s kingdom, the architecture reflects the changes in styles. Many parts of the outside reminded me of buildings in Morocco. The kicker was that they charge €9.50 entry fee. Ron was able to pull off his “I am so old, look at me” routine at the cathedral and it worked, but here not so much. They wanted real ID, which we did not think of bringing. We were there and our train was not leaving until 7pm, so we had to suck it up and pay the €19 for the two of us. In the end, I guess it was worth it, but it really hurt to part with that money. 

We did do a great deal of walking around the city. It is lovely and we could easily have spent more time here. Actually, Ron wanted to spend an overnighter here, but I made him realize that the purpose of a home exchange is not to spend money on accommodations.

Before we left, we had another drink and little snack, bringing us down to €7. When we returned to Cadiz, this was just enough to buy some dinner things at the supermarket across the street from the apartment. Food here is very cheap!

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Monday, August 04, 2014

El Puerto de Santa Maria


Sunday was a lazy day to explore, which is what we did. Following Chris Columbus’s lead, we traveled to El Puerto de Santa Maria, where he launched his 2nd trip to the New World. Unlike Chris, we went by catamaran at a cost of €2.10 each for the 40-minute ride. We sailed across the Bay of Cádiz for a surprisingly long time considering the town is only 6 miles north each of Cádiz.

For the most part, the locals must have had the same sleepy attitude; it was closer to a ghost town than the vibrant tourist spot it is given credit for being. Only those of us leaving the catamaran breathed life into the surrounding areas.

It seemed at first like this was a case of mistaken identity where we had identified this as a place that needed visiting and were wrong. However, after a bit of discovery, we came across a small castle like structure, which was quite admirable. Later the cathedral in the main square was incredibly impressive, albeit it needs major repair. For a hoot and a holler, there were storks nesting on the top in chimneys and other suitable indentations. 

We uncovered the information informing us that Chris Columbus met his pilot, Juan de la Cosa, here. Juan drew the first world map that included the coastline of the New World. Not bad for the year 1500, there is a replica of this map in porcelain tile on a monument.

The streets were for the most part empty of people and traffic. Finding a small café open at the main square, we stopped for a bite. I had chicharrón, one of my favorite foreign foods. Thankfully, my cholesterol report was normal, so I felt safe indulging. These chunks of pork meat with an equal amount of fat were charbroiled and scrumptious. It was here that we tested sherry, as this is purportedly the sherry capital of the world. None of us had great familiarity with sherry before this, but what we sampled was light, refreshing, and worthy of trying. I doubt it will become my drink of choice any time soon.

Wandering into the depths of the town, we encountered a bullring that would compete handily with any coliseum in the world. The tremendous size gave witness to the lust for the sport of bull fighting. Appreciatively, we were between performances, which allowed us to escape the area without manufacturing protest signs declaring cruelty to animals while risking a jail sentence.  

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Saturday, August 02, 2014

Beautiful Cádiz


We traveled on Brussels Air from Budapest to Brussels to Seville July 31st. Our three-hour plus waiting in Brussels was smoothed over by access to the Diners Club lounge. We offered Kat guest membership, but she said she would be fine going it alone out with the masses. Guilt did gnaw at me for a short time, but I got over it once I relaxed with a Belgium beer on tap. The flights were uneventful, but the seating was spacious; more so on the first leg than the second, but still comfortable.

Once we landed, the bus to the train station was efficient. I think it cost us 4 Euros each. It was super crowded, so we stood the entire ride, missed our stop and found ourselves at the end of the line without realizing it. As it turned out, we were not alone, so there were more than the three of us taking the ride back. The driver just shook his head, but did not require more money.

Once at Seville, we had to wait forever for train tickets. There was only one person selling them and the line was extensive. The overhead sign said there was a labor strike going on. We caught the train 3 minutes after getting our tickets; perfect timing. Once in Cádiz, we found our home away from home by walking. It took us about 20 minutes, but we were all too cheap to spring for a taxi. Teresa, our exchange partner had a friend, Esperanza, waiting for us. She had her grown daughter with her to explain everything. They were sweet.

Teresa had left me a USB Wi-Fi connection. I could not get the damn thing to work at all. It connected, but would not show the connection window to add the password. We went to the store that Teresa told me about if there were a problem, but Francisco, the person I was to ask for, was not there. The woman I spoke with wanted me to bring the computer in. We were going to do that in the evening, but then I tried using a different USB port and it worked fine. Now, my mouse doesn't work, because it only works in one port. Oh well.

Our first night we went to Quilla restaurant, thanks to Esperanza. We were too late to grocery shop, so this was our splurge. Great food, wonderful views of the ocean. This morning we shopped across the street and cooked breakfast here.

Cádiz is nothing like I expected, not that I did any research ahead of time. I leave that to Ron. What I was expecting was fabulous beaches with clean sand, gloriously blue water, and tons of people having fun, but not much more. Well, let me tell you, it is all that and more. There is SO much more, it is rather shocking. There are four historic walking tours marked on the sidewalk color-coded. Each stop on each tour has a well-illustrated sign in Spanish and English. We have yet to do a full walking tour, because we have been busy exploring on our own. We keep saying we will get to it, but we are really staying busy.

No, we have not been spending hours at the beach, though it is tempting. They are free and glorious, but in reality we only went down from 6 to 8pm one evening; we have yet to return. There is so much to do and see. Due to living in an apartment through our home exchange, we have been shopping and cooking dinner each night. An extensive grocery store across the street makes is ultra-convenient. The food prices are incredibly low. We bought a kilo (2.2 lbs.) of delicious tomatoes for 89 Euro cents.

At lunchtime, we are generally too far from home to run back to fix a meal, so we snack out. Ron and I have kept well below our budget of 100 Euros a day for the two of us for all expenses. The apartment we exchanged with is in a perfect location. The beach is just three blocks in one direction and everything else we could need is only a few blocks or more in the other direction.

My only complaint is there is no Internet access in the apartment. I have yet to see an Internet café in the city. With the USB Internet connector the service is limited and it will only work in one of my two USB ports. With the limitations of Internet, I most likely will not write much while we are away. Ignore the mistakes if any, I will not have time to make corrections or even to blush over them.

Love the city!!! We are ready to buy property here. : ) 

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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

It IS a Wonderful Life


For more than two decades, I have watched the movie It’s A Wonderful Life with Jimmy Stewart, usually right around Thanksgiving time. It is a sentimental movie, but the underlying theme is more than pertinent as a memory refresher for love and friendship. With each viewing, I fantasize about the movie ending similarly occurring in my life. Of course, tears stream down my eyes with each viewing. My romanticized thoughts don’t necessarily have people pouring money on a table to get me out of financial trouble, but pouring an abundance of appreciation.

Last night was my magical moment. One of my former students, Balázs Varga, invited us to try a new restaurant in City Park. Knowing that we were leaving Thursday for Spain, dining out was not high on the priority list. However, we had recruited him to do the ‘meet and greet’ with the Spanish ladies involved in our home exchange. Obligation prevented me from negating the offer.  We in turn extended the invite to some friends, one of which was also a former student, Szilvia Zörgő and our American friend Kat McFadden.

If I were still writing for Frommer’s, the restaurant would never get a nod for inclusion, but it was passable for a breezy light-hearted night with good people. It was rather surprising when the check came so soon after eating, not a typical Hungarian trait. One of our merry-makers, Szilvia suggested we return to the old ELTE campus at Ajtósi Dürer sor to see how the building had been converted into a pub. Strangely, her reasoning for visiting the campus never raised any red flags in my mind.  Coincidentally, I had met up with a student from my 2nd year of teaching; he initially wanted to meet in the garden area of the same campus. It was only a thunderstorm that thwarted that plan. I had not been back to the campus since we moved from there six years ago.

On the way to the campus, our friend Kat did an Oscar winning performance of needing a bathroom, which took us across City Park in the opposite direction of the campus. Later it was discovered this was a purposeful time waster for others to arrive where they needed to be. After finding a small dive with questionable bathroom sanitation, we stayed for another beer in payment for the use of the facilities. My desire to return to the campus was dwindling by the second. I wanted to please Szilvia, but Kat expressed such an intense interest in seeing where I once taught, refusing was not an option. Why didn’t it strike me as strange that Kat has been here over a year, but never cared before?

By this time, we were so far away, we waited for the bus. Much to Ron’s protests, but at my insistence we got off at the wrong stop, causing us to walk one additional bus stop. As we approached the building, Sylvia Finali another former student was standing outside texting on her phone. It was astounding to run into her, but she invited us in to join her gathering.

I was so overcome with the transformation of what once was the cafeteria and coffee shop it took more than some minutes to realize there was an extraordinarily large group of people in the direction we were headed, yet there was no smaller group for Sylvia to include us.  As we moved in closer, Aaron Hunter came into view. He was my first teaching partner at ELTE and I missed him dearly ever since he left. He stood up as did everyone else around him; each person started clapping. Talk about clueless! It still had not dawned on me what was happening. All the mystery books I read, I should be ashamed.

Aaron and Sylvia Finali devised this good-bye party in my honor. Secretly sending invitations through Facebook, they cast the net wide. Students from my first teaching year, 2002 were mingling with students as recent as 2014. They later apologized saying they found out too late that due to a Facebook glitch a number of people invited never actually received the invitation.
Needless to say, my sentimental nature took over and I started tearing up, not a shock to many of these dear people. Aaron gave a short speech extolling my teaching qualities that positively influenced his own teaching. Sylvia added to this from the students’ perspective. Then it was hug time. Being hug deficient, the evening replenished some of the lack. It was incredible.

Then there was the cake! Enormous, extraordinary, and finally delicious, each layer was a different flavor with the top one being sugar-free.
As I spoke with small groups, I had to eradicate traces of the rumor that we are moving back to the U.S. as well as other strings of untruths roaming around. This provided lively conversation hearing what others had heard and deconstructing it. In addition there was the opportunity to catch up with what they are doing in their lives.

So many students had wonderful anecdotes of things that I said or taught them that they have never forgotten. Best of all, there was an overwhelming sense that what I provided was supporting their self-worth and ability to succeed. It was exceptionally fulfilling to hear their stories of how their lives have been shaped since we last met. There was so much pride in all of their accomplishments. My favorite mantra “Think outside the box” was chanted too.

More than once, when a student thanked me for teaching them how to write, sharing how it has advanced their career, I had to add a quip of my own. There is a former student who reads my blog posts and then sends me the list of corrections for the mistakes I made. Some of this gang thought this was hilarious while others were appreciative that the table has turned, but they too still found the humor in it.

In retrospect, it boggles my mind how many people were in on this planning to get me to the venue, including Ron, yet I was oblivious. There was a definite Jimmy Stewart sensation or like Sally Fields is often misquoted from her Oscar speech “You like me! You really like me!”

As a last note, I have NEVER had a surprise party before in my life. What an amazing feeling. My heartfelt thanks to Aaron Hunter, Sylvia Finali, and all those who made this a lifetime achievement award evening.

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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

I Sense Debt Looming Around


Remember the movie The Sixth Sense (1999) when the kid’s classic line was “I see dead people”? When we were in Belize, on the way to the bank machine, a local was wearing a t-shirt that said “I See Debt People”. This struck me as so funny, I asked permission to take a photo.

In today’s news, neither the slogan nor the reality is very funny. A news article states that 1/3 of the American people are in debt delinquency. They don’t just owe money, but they owe so much that the account has been closed and sent to collection. I used to be a credit collection agent for Sears, Roebuck after graduating college. This is nasty stuff. 

It is incomprehensible to me how one-third of the US could be in this situation. Just to drive the point home, 77 million Americans each have debt in collection that averages to $5,200. Wowser! is an understatement!

More than 40% of the population of thirteen states — Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, Nevada, New Mexico and West Virginia plus Washington, D.C. has debt in collection. We have friends in each of the italicized names. 

These statistics don't include the poor or the working poor who do not qualify for a credit file.

Those Americans who have a credit history, but are not in collection, average a total debt balance close to $54,000; much of this is attributed to a mortgage.

Hmm…this certainly explains why so many say they cannot afford to travel. My heart breaks for them, but hey, we are leaving for Cádiz, Spain on Thursday morning. 

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Monday, July 28, 2014

No Flying Pigs - No Flying Horses Either


Even if this URL includes flypgs, don’t mistake it for flying pigs. When pigs can fly, not one of them is going to get you from BUD to SAW. However, if you click here, you will find that Pegasus Airlines, a Turkish low cost carrier is now flying between Istanbul’s Sabiha Gökçen Airport (SAW) and Budapest (BUD).

In spite of the airline name Pegasus, the mythological flying horse, is conspicuously absent from their advertising. If you want to check out their website, click here.

Pegasus will be flying the BUD - SAW route 4 times a week, competing with Wizz Air’s daily trips. Alternatively, kind of, Turkish Airlines wins the competition; it flies BUD to IST (Istanbul Atatürk) 3 times daily.

Turkish Delight anyone? For me, I prefer good old NJ salt water taffy!

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Saturday, July 26, 2014

Corporations Move Out of the US - Goodbye Tax Base


As many political pundits say “What the American people need to know…” This is followed by whatever they believe the American people need to know or what they want the American people to believe. Today I read a news article in USA Today about Walgreens. I for one did not realize that Walgreens is the largest pharmaceutical chain the United States. The article explains that the Walgreens chain started in Dixon, Illinois. The company which now has 8,500 stores across the United States is making a decision about whether it should save billions of tax dollars by using a tax loophole called an inversion.

According to this article, the inversion loophole allows any company conducting its primary business in the United States to bypass major taxes by merging with or buying into another company located in a country with a lower tax base. Walgreens may be buying controlling stock in Alliance Boots, commonly known throughout the UK as Boots UK, a pharmacy and more. Even I have shopped there when in England, but had no idea that this was a Swiss owned company. Additionally, it seems strange to me that the Swiss would have a lower tax rate than the United States.

The article discusses the fact that people in Dixon, Illinois are more than upset about this potential move, but this addresses a larger issue. With so much political discussion about “Made in America”, bringing jobs home to the United States, and creating jobs, the unruly power of corporations allows them to manipulate all of these concepts by moving out of the United States further depleting the tax base.

Why isn’t somebody petitioning Congress to close this loophole? According to the article this year alone multiple companies are planning their moves for the same reason. All this, while Americans who live abroad are being monitored and harassed over every bank account that they hold in a foreign country, while these corporations are getting away with billions of dollars.

The story is here.

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Friday, July 25, 2014

Been Busy~


Lest anyone think that I have not been busy, thus ignoring my blogging regularly, it is untrue. Many of the things other than writing have been consuming my time. In addition to that, there hasn’t been much to inspire me to set the keyboard to type or even to put my headset on to speak to Dragon Naturally Speaking. The things that have been happening in my life have had questionable qualities as to whether they were worth writing about or not.

One day, as I was sitting at the kitchen table reading a book, someone rang the doorbell downstairs. When I answered it, all I heard was Hungarian. When I said I do not speak Hungarian, there was no English prompting me to open the door.

About five minutes later, our apartment door doorbell rang. Two men were standing there. They had ID tags hanging around their neck, but holding them up for inspection while saying something in Hungarian. For all I knew, they were Jehovah’s Witnesses; Mormons were ruled out due to their clothes. After saying I do not speak Hungarian yet again, I was ready to dismiss them and walk away. No, I did not want a super deal on Internet service, nor did I want to put a new roof on our apartment. Leave me alone!

Then one of them spoke in halting English. He told me that they were from the district office and were here to investigate our bed and breakfast. Any official in this country or anywhere I don’t speak the language, intimidates me. They spent over an hour asking questions, looking over our business corporation papers; all the time they were extremely pleasant. The end result was that even if our company has court ordered permission to rent out rooms, we never received direct permission from the district. The entire hour I sweat through this non-hostile investigation, while Ron was napping in the next room. I insisted he find a translator to accompany him to the district to get this cleared up on the following Monday. All through the weekend I mulled over and worried about the consequences; though the gentlemen here were extremely kind and considerate could we expect the same from their colleagues?

Prior to and continuing during this same week, I was in the middle of a battle with the university. The Dutch Department hired a new lector was to start in September. Due to the poor wages that lectors receive, the university tries to supplement it by providing housing. Their list of available housing list was depleted; no offerings were to be had. Instead the university housing department decided to offer him 50,000 forints to pay towards rent. It was their expectation that this was all he would have to pay for rent. However this is totally unrealistic in today’s real estate market.

The secretary in my department believed that since I had quit, my apartment would be available. She did not realize that we owned it with intentions to stay, while continuing to live in this apartment. I corrected her mistake, but also informed her of our other apartment. Then after conferring with the head of the Dutch Department, they gave the information to Arnold their new hire.

The Feri Place apartment more than appealed to Arnold. Our place easily rents for 85,000 forints. We have had multiple offers each time it becomes available as a long term rental. Looking through the advertisements on Facebook we can probably even get more. However, we have stayed with 85,000 forints for the last two years. The tenant has to pay their own utilities and the building fees, but we pay the water bill as well as the Wi-Fi.

Arnold realized this was an excellent deal, even more so after seeing the apartment. He saw the video on our website, but when we took him there to see it in person, he was ecstatic. He said he couldn’t wait to tell his friends. After showing them the video on our website, they said we probably only videotaped the good parts ignoring the bad. He couldn’t wait to tell them that there were only good parts. He wanted to move immediately, but of course that was not possible. He will move in on August 19.

The head of the housing department didn’t think it was ethical that I should collect rent for another lector when the university had been contributing to my rent in the past. I turned it over to the head of the Dutch Department to fight the battle, stating that I had given up; it was out of my hands. It finally worked out with all the papers signed. Arnold has signed his lease so we are good to go.

The deciding factor was when the Dutch Department called around to various apartments finding no one wanted to rent to the university. There were a couple of exceptions, but the apartments were so horrid that the head of the Dutch Department would not allow any of their employees to live in them.

Arnold will pay 35,000 forints plus utilities with common costs. The university will pay 50,000 forints. He recently sent me an email stating he was informed his contract can be extended six times bringing him to the year 2020; he continued to say this could be good news for our rental.

While all this was happening my doctor decides I need to go for my annual bloodwork and urine test. I had labored over this point for a couple of weeks when I finally decided to go July 1st. What I didn’t realize was that all medical facilities are closed on July 1st.  It’s Semmelweis day, apparently making this is a medical holiday. I had strategically planned for this day in particular, because it was Ron’s birthday. With my bloodwork out of the way I could celebrate worry-free when we had his beer party at the beer pub.

To prepare, I had abstained from all alcohol the entire weekend, I was religiously adherent to a diabetic diet, and even threw in 30 minutes of exercise each day. I was all set for bloodwork, but the best laid plans of mice and men went down the drain. It took me another two weeks to recapture the motivation to recreate the pre-bloodwork routine. Once the bloodwork was out of the way, it then took me another week plus before I went to the doctor for the results. It was a great relief when he said my tests came back like a normal healthy human being. There was no other discussion or anything else that needed a follow-up; he seemed to be perfectly happy with the results. We celebrated with beer that night.

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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Wizz Air Up for Grabs?


For some inexplicable reason, every time I write about Wizz Airlines, I feel a need to use the urinal shortly thereafter. Well, I may cut this short to do just that, because Wizz is in the news more than once this week.

First and most horrifying is that KLM-Air France is bidding to take over Wizz Air, which seems that eventually it will no longer be a budget airline. That said, there are so many add-ons to the fees now, it almost is not a budget airline any longer. Air France has HOP, a budget subsidiary. I wonder if they will be combined.

Wizz cropped up in the news again with an announcement that it will start a Budapest - Kutaisi route with twice weekly service. If you are scratching your head wondering where Kutaisi is, it is in Georgia, the country. 

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Monday, July 14, 2014

Aussie Aussomeness


Yesterday, I arrived home to get an inquiry about accommodating a couple from Australia. Having hosted numerous Aussie and Kiwi guests in the past, this was not earthshaking news. What Susan Packer added to her note was quite awesome. She read about us in the Travel section of the local newspaper. This is what she included:

“The article was a full page feature in the weekend Travel section of The Sydney Morning Herald and Melbourne's Age newspapers, so it's about the biggest travel-related coverage that you can get in Australia!”

Needless to say, it brought tears to my eyes that we are continuing to receive far flung coverage. We have had fabulous reviews written about us in the largest travel magazine in Africa, based in South Africa years ago. Now our coverage has spread to another continent.

This is the quote from the article “Buda B&B (budabab.com; $65 for two, $21 supplement for one-night stays) spruiks itself as "The Best in Pest"; the owners have an incredible knowledge of the city.”

The online article from the Melbourne's Age newspapers is here. You can read all of their other recommendations.

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Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Not Free for You


I just read a short article about Italy changing its museums pricing policy. As of July 1, 2015 free admission to museums will be restricted only to students under 18 and teachers (no age restrictions offered). Those who fall within the ages 18-25 will be receive discounted admission, but there are no details what the discount will be.

Those over 65, both Italian and foreigners will no longer receive free admission after July 1, 2015, with the exception of the first Sunday of each month. It seems the Minister responsible read the data that showed discounted or free admissions were applicable to more than a third of the population, both local and foreign. Big bucks, er… euros being lost there.

I had to chuckle at this news. A few years back, Ron and I were at Pompeii. When I went to buy tickets, there was a sign offering free admission to teachers. When I asked for my discount, I was asked for a teacher ID. I had two with me; one ID was the STA International Teacher ID Card, the other was my ID card from my university.

The ticket seller took my International Teacher ID Card and threw it back at me saying it was not acceptable. Being nonplussed, I handed over my university ID card. He looked at it and said “The discount is only for EU countries.” Suppressing laughter mixed with anger, I shouted through the PlexiglasHungary IS in the EU as of 2004!” In his lackadaisical Italian manner of not giving a damn, he then countered with “Well then it is only for elementary school teachers.” That ended the argument, but I did secure a discount on Ron’s admission.

End note: As an instructor both in CA and here in Hungary, I have never once received any discount using my STA International Teacher ID Card. It was wasted money! 

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Cash & Card: Dealing With Money While Traveling by Susie Staff


I am happy to say that today's post has been contributed by a guest travel writer. Susie Staff asked if I would consider a piece she has written, so here it is.

Susie Staff contributed:
Some people have travelled the world, from country to country, by cruise or airplane or train; others are only just taking their first steps out of their own country, uncertain of everything on this first time in a foreign land. However, it doesn’t matter if you’re a world adventurer or travelling for the first time - everyone always worries about dealing with money in a new country. Once upon a time the best or only option was traveller’s cheques, along with all their associated costs, frustrations, and the hassle of spending time on your holiday trying to find a place to cash them (or, god forbid, losing them). International banking, debit cards, and credit cards have taken the place of traveller’s cheques in most places, but there are still reasons for travellers to worry about whether or not they’ll be able to access their funds. Some credit cards are rarely accepted in some countries or cities, cash is king in some places but not others, and there’s always the spectre of thieves to keep travellers holding tight to their wallets. Luckily, by taking a few simple steps, it’s easy to ensure you’re never short on funds while you live your dream vacation.

Navigating Exchange Rates
The first choice you have to make when it comes to travel money is deciding whether to take advantage of a low pre-trip exchange rate, or rolling the dice and choosing to take the exchange rates as they come in return for the convenience of being able to take money out only when necessary on your trip. Even the experts can be caught off guard by the confusing fluctuations of exchange rates, which can vary wildly based on small and seemingly insignificant details. However, no matter which decision you make on whether to take out money before or during your trip, you can still make sure you get the best deal for your exchange. At home, your bank may have the best deal for withdrawals in foreign tender, although larger amounts are unwieldy to travel with and may require your bank to order in your money ahead of time. Once at your destination, your choices are primarily banks or specialised exchange centres - each has its own negatives and positives, so make sure to do your research (either online or in person).

Official and in-house exchange rates should be clearly posted, in addition to any going fees. If your bank has a branch in the region you may be able to get a better deal there, but it depends on the branch’s relationship to your home bank. As a rule, avoid cash points unless necessary - these can have steep fees, either as a rule or due to your own bank’s fees - and airport foreign exchange booths, which often have skewed exchange rates and very high fees.

Credit Or Cash
It is vital to always carry enough cash on you to get safely back to your hotel if your cards are lost or stolen (preferably in a place other than where you keep your cards!). Beyond that, how much cash you need to carry on you is dependent on your destination and what you plan to do. Even in large cities many places have minimum spends for the use of credit cards, or may not accept cards at all; likewise, public transit, where available, used to depend on cash. (This has changed with the slow move towards transit cards like London’s Oyster Card.)

When it comes to credit cards, Visa and Mastercard are the most widely accepted, followed by American Express, Diners Club, and similar cards. If your card is one of these, be sure to bring another method of payment along. Furthermore, make sure ahead of time that your PIN and card are acceptable at your destination. Chipped cards are quickly becoming the standard, and four-digit PINs are the most commonly accepted varieties, but check to ensure that you’ll be able to use your card before you plan to depend on it. As always, use common sense with both cash and cards - look for modified credit and debit machines and refuse to use them, do what you can to reduce your attractiveness to thieves, cover your card while using your PIN, and don’t carry large amounts of cash on your person. With these tips, you’ll be saving plenty, and you don’t want to donate it to a thief.

Thank you Susie!

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Sunday, July 06, 2014

An Almost Tearful Goodbye


Two years ago short of a month, Jamie and Bill Hoversen arrived in Budapest. After doing a meet and greet with dozens of Fulbrighters over the past 12 years, when I went to their aid getting these things out of the taxi, I went into full stomach wrenching laughing spasms. When we left the US with the intent on traveling for a year, we had one suitcase each and one backpack between us. When I was able to catch my breath, they both took my guffaws in stride.

With all of their things sitting in the bedroom of their new temporary home, Feri Place, we gave them a walking tour of the neighborhood. As many times as we have toured people around, it still is exciting to share this gorgeous city with someone for their first time. It feels like it was last week.

In the beginning of their great adventure, Jamie was a Fulbrighter on a student grant, which included her teaching some classes at ELTE in my journalism program, but she also worked part-time for the Fulbright office counseling students. Bill found a teaching job with a local high school. 

At the end of Jamie's Fulbright grant, they decided to stay another year. Bill's school was thrilled to have him stay on. Jamie found work with an educational component through the Aquincum Museum and continued part-time at the Fulbright office. We were delighted to have the apartment filled for another year.

Being the adventurers that they are, they covered a tremendous amount of territory during their time. They are fearless travelers, not having extensive bus rides impede their discovering destinations where cheap airfares don't exist. Just getting a tiny review of their wanderings, it is clear they should write a budget manual for those that follow them. We have been envious more than once, but for an extended period on a bus, I would need to be shot with a tranquilizer gun. If not for that, we could replicate their journeying.

Today, we went to pick up the keys to the apartment. As true explorers, they are not leaving Europe just yet, but returning to Riga and then busing to a national park outside the city. July 16th they will be reacquainted with US life for a short time before heading off to China to teach.

They have been great tenants and though we did not see much of them, we will miss knowing they are around. "Parting is such sweet sorrow that I shall say goodnight till it be morrow." Though there will be no morrow for us with them, we wish them the best. They have been inspirational.

After a couple of summer guests visit Feri Place, our new tenant Arnold from The Netherlands will be moving in around August 20th. He will be teaching full-time in the Dutch department at ELTE. We are looking forward to welcoming him and giving him the extended neighborhood tour.

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