Saturday, April 28, 2007

My Big Break!


Hello. I'm writing from Frommer's travel guides. I'm the editor of our Frommer's Budapest & the Best of Hungary guide. Our web producer pointed me to some of your posts on the message boards, and I see you've written some handy posts and keep a blog about Budapest. Thanks for your thorough contributions. I thought I'd touch base and see if you've written anything else on Budapest. Have you published any articles or reviews? I'm actually looking for a new author for the next edition of the Budapest guide right now, so you're welcome to send clips and a resume if you'd like to apply (email is best). I'm considering a few other writers for the book, and I'm hoping to make a decision within the next week or so. Please free to send materials, and let me know if you have any questions... Best, Steve ------------------------------------ Stephen Bassman Frommer's Travel Guides

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Friday, April 27, 2007

The New Therapist


I went to a new therapist today. After 7 weeks of the chiropractor and not getting any relief, I had to do something different. I found a massage therapist that trained in Switzerland, contacted him and told him my problems. He said he thought he could help. I went for my first appointment yesterday. This was not the relaxing type of massage, nor was it the Thai type, but somewhere in between. He listened to my complaints and really spent time checking my back and leg. He did more of a physical therapy than a massage, but when I left, I was walking better than I had been. He charges 3,500 Huf an hour and it was worth it. I made an appointment for next week and will continue to see if the problem resolves. He did tell me some of the same things that the chiropractor and the Alexander therapist told me. I need to swim, but the back stroke only, to strengthen and lengthen my spine. I will have to check out some pools and stop being a slug.

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Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The New Campus


The campus of the university where I teach has moved while we were gone, or at least that is what we were told. I went in today with a suitcase on wheels to bring books, desk items and other things that I had stored at home during the move. My office and classroom is on the 4th floor and thankfully, there are elevators. With my leg, I would never make it to the top floor more than once.

The building is such a stretch from what we had and I timed it. It takes me 12 minutes to walk there from home. Here are some old campus pictures and some of the new classrooms and office.

One of the things that h
as made me chuckle is when the students say they are going to miss the park in front of the old building. They loved the green area, but the flowers were being over taken by weeds. It was not like it was well maintained or that they contributed any labor to making it look lovelier.

The old classroom had walls that would fall apart if you trying attaching anything to them. When I used Blue-Stick and took something down, part of the wall
came with it. The new classroom has a virgin blackboard. I cannot wait to write on it and actually see what I writing. The old wall sucked up the chalk like a dry sponge soaks up water. All of the furniture is new , though I only counted 19 chairs and one of my classes has 25 students. Opps! First come first seated, I guess.

Then there is the office. At the old campus, I shared with the other native speaker. Now I will continue to share with him and a Hungarian instructor. However, the old office was small and cramped with furniture. We had to take turns changing our mind, due to space limitations. The new office is incredible large and we each have our own desk. Once I have my space decorated, it will feel like a home away from home. This is a place I am excited to come to, do not mind spending extra time at, and there is plenty of room to meet with students.

Classes will start next week for the last of the construction to finish and I am anticipating the students' reactions.

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Monday, April 09, 2007

Last Day


We leave today for home, but our flight is not until 8:00 pm, so we have a full day. Chris and Mark wanted to shop, so Ron and I took off to discover areas we had not been to before or rediscover forgotten haunts.

We did discover a wonderful used English bookstore owned by an ex-pat U.S. American who has lived in Amsterdam for over twenty years. The Book Exchange is located at Kloveniersburgwal 58 1012CX Amsterdam, tel. 020-6266-266 and they are open on Sundays too. Do not attempt to say the street name three times fast or your tongue will be in traction. Having already splurged on seven new titles, I did not allow myself to browse for too long, but I did have a nice conversation with the owner while Ron looked for a
specific title by a Polish author. It was not to be had.

We came across this church we had not been in before. The
inside was decorated, no over decorated, like we have not seen before. It looked like the artist was a multiple personality and each personality had their own opportunity to add something. There was a mass going on at the time we entered, so I had to covertly take the picture, distorting the quality and the full sense of differing styles.

After some more walking, we settled at a cafe for a coffee, not realizing that it was one of "THOSE" cafes. The list of available products to smoke was quadruple the types of coffee they had to offer. We just had the coffee and sat outside along the canal while people watching.

This was the first vacation that we have taken with another couple. I have to say that it really enhanced our trip; we had a great time sharing sights and stories. We would definitely do it again with Chris and Mark.

By 6:00, we left the hotel, took the tram to the train, the train to the plane, and the plane back to Budapest. It was a glorious time away, albeit chilly at times, I do love The Netherlands. Ron teases me that I do not revisiting places I have been since there are so many new places to explore, yet I return there repeatedly. This is my 12th time.

I kiss the country good-bye until the next time.

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Sunday, April 08, 2007



Lest I forget, we are staying at The Golden Bear Hotel, conveniently located on the 2 and 5 tram line and within easy walking distance to so many places. Breakfast is provided and with this being Easter, we were given boiled eggs along with our usual fare. The Easter bunny has as much territory to cover as Santa Claus.

Chris and Mark followed us at breakfast, Ron went to church. None of us had plans since we assumed most things would be closed, but we were surprised at how many stores and museums were open.

The boys decided to try the Anne Frank House once again and I waited for Ron to
return before we would meet up with them there. Again, the line was as long as a freight train and they decided not to stand in line waiting. We wandered the little streets in and out window shopping, then plunking down at an outdoor cafe. The sun was shining, but the cool breeze coming off of the canal did chill the bones after an hour.

Being a totally lazy day, we opted for a canal ride. Neither Mark or Chris had done this before, this being Mark's first time in the city. When we arrived at the dock, the next tour was leaving in 20 minutes, so we staked our seats. This was fortunate as the boat filled to capacity. This was my umpteenth time doing this type of tour and I could have provided the narration myself. I did notice things missing from the spiel like the world's most narrow house. After an hour, we were back on the dock and ready for some french fries that the Dutch are so famous for; mine has to have sate sauce.

This evening, we went to the Hard Rock Cafe for dinner. Mark had never been to a Hard Rock and I was delighted to remedy this fault in his social past. Ron and I visit the Hard Rock in every city we happen to be in where there is one and buy a pin to commemorate our trip; it is quite a collection.

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Saturday, April 07, 2007

Den Hague


Ron and I were taking the train to Den Hague for the day. At 11:00, we were meeting Germine, a Dutch doctor who we had met on our trip to Africa this last January. She is a sweet and kind person and was thrilled to be able to see us again. The feelings were mutual. We met at a restaurant of her suggestion, though we found out that she had never eaten there before. She had only been in Den Hague for six months doing her residency at the local hospital. Ron and I were immediately drawn to the Dutch pancake, so we both ordered the same thing. We were in for a treat and a surprise when it arrived. There must have been 1/2 pound of bacon on this thin, delectable crepe like pancake. The syrup was also different from our expectations and I immediately put it on our shopping list to bring back to Hungary.

We lazed our way through this brunch talking and refreshing our memories of our Africa trip, the plans for Easter Sunday tomorrow and how Germine will celebrate with her family, and our plans for the rest of our vacation. By 1:00, our friends Audrey, Mike, and their son Oskar arrived for our planned get-toget
her for the rest of the afternoon. The Debjie family were the consummate tour guides taking us to the beach town close to Den Hague, where strolled the boardwalk, reminding me of my childhood at the New Jersey shore. Oskar was enjoying the fresh air and then the inflated oversized mats and castles that they have for children to romp and jump on. The charge was three Euros for 30 minutes and the attendant, an older woman was not the most gracious. She writes the time the child enters on their hand and must have a stop watch to keep track of them. At exactly 30 minutes, she was interrupting Oskar's jubilant bouncing and corralling him to leave the area or shell over another three coins.

The weather was perfect, so settled ourselves at an outdoor cafe, where the three
Debjies had Dutch pancakes similar to our tasty morsels earlier that morning. Ron and I were still on full, so we only had coffee.

When we were leaving, we walked through the lobby of a hotel that was once a historic building. Audrey, who has been studying Dutch was able to translate the plague on
the wall, but the memory of what she shared has long since slipped from my memory.

Having lived in The Netherlands for going on six years now, Audrey has learned quite
a bit of Dutch, and the culture in which she lives. As we rode the trams around the city, we explored neighborhoods with wonderful architecture that I had never discovered on my own during previous trips. We were so fortunate to have 'locals' to show us around.

On the way back to their apartment, we stopped at a grocery store; I had to buy some pancake syrup and Dutch licorice, which is so different from American. I especially like the salty type.

Back at their apartment, we had tea and typical Dutch cookies and pastry, which definitely tickled my sweet tooth with greater furor than the Hungarian varieties. We then took our leave and they walked us to the tram that would deposit is at the train station. It was a wonderful afternoon shared with warm and kind people. They are the ones who introduced us to the game Apples to Apples, which has become Ron's Friday night social staple game of choice. I don't hold a grudge against them for it, though.

When we returned to Amsterdam, we tried contacting Chris and Mark, but could not connect, so Ron and I went to dinner alone. They were going to go to Rotterdam for the day to visit some of Chris's old hang-outs. He spend a semester of college studying there and had many memories. Ron and I walked the streets some to enjoy the people and then went to bed early to read.

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Friday, April 06, 2007

Exhaustion Hits


I was so exhausted from yesterday and not getting much sleep the night before that, I slept great. I had the side by the wall and that helped too. Ron was up by 8:30 and Mark called the room at 9:00. Chris, Mark, and Ron met for breakfast, but I continued to doze. Mark and Chris were going to the Anne Frank House. Chris did not want to go, so the original plan was for he and I to hang out together. He did decide to join them, so I stayed behind for a really lazy morning.

The breakfast room was filled when I made it down, so I had to wait for a table. There were some obnoxious Germans with nose piercings and raucous laughter who seemed to stay forever.

The guys never made it through the Anne Frank House, the line was wrapped around the corner and they decided not to wait. We went strolling and came across the outdoor book and picture mart. Browsing a bit, Mark found a couple of treasures and then we ventured around the city.
We shopped, browsed, and just had a lazy day looking at sights and peeking in churches. I scored with a Waterstone book store. They have an on-going buy 2, get 3 sale. Although the books are slightly higher than what I would pay in the States, there were some authors that I cannot usually find: Josten Gaardner is one and I found two of his books I did not have before. I also discovered Christopher Hope's book My Mother's Lover's and bought it on chance. He is a South African writer. Alexander McCall Smith had a new book out on his series that takes place in Botswana and I scooped that one up too.

This evening, we went to the Van Gogh Museum. They are open late on Friday nights and have live entertainment. The interesting part is they project pictures of the paintings on the ceiling and have live cameras toward the floor below. It looks like people walking all over the painted ceiling. I am not a Van Gogh fan and I have been here before with Ron. Ron pours over each painting and reads everything. I speed read, look at the painting and move on. Chris and Mark beat both of us and were in the lobby listening to the music when we finished up. They do not allow photography even with a special ticket, though I am not sure there would be much there that I would take pictures of if I were allowed.

The pain in my leg is making it difficult to sit on the bed with the computer on my lap, so these posts are not as up-to-date or detailed as I would like.

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Thursday, April 05, 2007

A Long Day in Bloom


We were all up and ready for breakfast by 8:30 am. The plan was to leave for Leiden by 9:30. We arrived at the train station at our schedule time, but with trains leaving every 15 minutes, we decided to have a coffee first. A round trip ticket to Leiden was 7 Euros each.

The train to Leiden is the same train that goes to the airport and to Den Hague. Within 35 minutes, we were in line for our combo tickets for the bus ride and entrance to Kuekenhof. Tickets were 18 Euros each. With tickets in hand, we e
xplored this lovely and quaint city, walking the streets and looking in shops. We spotted an Oil and Vinegar store and all of us had to make a stop there. Ron and I had come across our first Oil and Vinegar store in Lisbon, Mark and Chris had their first experience with one in Chicago. It is a cooks paradise and we sampled some of their goodies.

We decided to get snacks to bring to the park and picnic there. Finding a supermarket
was easy with the directions we were given from the lady at Oil and Vinegar, so we did our shopping. We found rolls and cheeses we do not normally see in Hungary giving all of us a sense of euphoria.

With our snacks in hand, we went to catch our bus for the gardens. The 54 bus was packed with standing only capacity, but we were first in line to secure seats. We arrived at the grounds by 1:30 and walked slowly enjoying the varieties of the flower beds, the magnificent and unusual colors of some flowers, and the displays of statues. After two hours, we stopped at the outdoor restaurant for beers and snacked on our picnic lunch. We had yet to go to the major exhibition hall, which I knew would completely delight all of my crew. Chris had been here 12 years prior, but the grounds had grown considerably in that time. The first hall we went into was all orchids of hundreds of varieties. They were stunningly beautiful, some magically so in their incredibly different shapes and or colors.

As we approached the main hall, we discussed how much time we would need here. The others thought thirty minutes, but I pushed for an hour and they agreed. When
we walked in and they saw the enormity of the displays with the variety of flowers, they realized why I prodded for more time. We all went in different directions with a common meeting point. I was as happy as a pig in mud, snapping pictures of flowers I most likely snapped pictures of last year, but still eager for more. Then twenty-five minutes into my shutter fever, my batteries died. I had two brand new packs of Panasonic Heavy Duty batteries, so I was not distraught. When I changed the batteries in my camera and it did not work at all, I did become anxious. I then tried the second set of batteries and they did not work either. Then I became despondent. Give me a camera and keep me busy for hours. Take away my batteries and I am instantly listless. I had no other back-up batteries, having left my rechargeable ones at home, depending on two brand new packs of batteries.

By the time, we had met up again as a group, we decided that we should head back to the station. It was now 5:45 pm. However, we had only covered half of the park. There was still another section that we had not even touched. We knew if we waited longer, the park closing at 7:30 pm, we would have to scramble for the bus back to the station.

Back in Amsterdam, we agreed to a long rest and to meet at 9:30 pm for a late dinner. We walked to the Hard Rock cafe to show Mark. He had never been to one, but does enjoy music. It was fun to share this experience with him. We then found a restaurant with an all-you-can-eat rib special and went there for dinner. Ron and I had the ribs and they were great. Having a beer in the gay bar on our street was the evening closer, so we went to the Spyker. It was more crowded than I remember it being for a long time, making it hot and stuffy with our coats on.

We headed to our hotel within the same block and agreed to a lazier wake-up and tour day tomorrow.

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Wednesday, April 04, 2007



We woke at 3:00 am, called the taxi at 4:00 and was at the airport by 4:30 am for our 6:30 flight to Amsterdam. Chris and Mark who were traveling with us had just pulled up in another taxi. Check-in, which is supposedly 2 hours before a flight, had not opened yet. After we did check in, go through security, and passport control, we sat for a coffee to wait for the flight. We flew SkyEurope and arrived twenty minutes earlier than scheduled. After getting the luggage, we bought our train tickets to the Central Station and we were off. The trains leave every 15 minutes. At Central Station after a 25 minute train ride, we walked over to the transport office to buy our 96 hour transport tickets. Now we were good to go and off we went to the Golden Bear Hotel. Our room was ready, but Chris and Mark's was not. They put their things in our room and we took off to see the city. With this being my 11th trip here, the most recent being one year ago, I was the guide. Our first stop was automat that served French fries with peanut sauce. In the same area, there is a life sized 24 piece statue of the "Night Watch" done by two Russian artists. From here, we just wandered down the streets and did some window shopping. On our way back, we stopped for a beer and a Dutch gin. It was getting chilly, but the sun was pleasant enough to sit outside while enjoying our drinks to people watch. After getting hydrated, satiated, and motivated, we continued our walk down to the pedestrian mall and did some more window shopping, but at Waterstone books, I went in to shock up on English language books that I knew I would not find in Hungary. There were some new books by my favorite authors: Alexander McCall Smith, Margaret George, and Josten Gaardner. I bought them all, getting three for the price of two. Though they were expensive in Euros, I still paid less than if buying them new in the States. It was well after 2:00 pm by now when Mark and Chris's room would be ready, so the vote was to go back and rest. We met again at 5:30 in the lobby and took another walk before heading to the all you can eat Chinese restaurant for dinner. By 10:00, we were all dead tired, so decided on an early night for a full day tomorrow. Our room was disappointingly small. Having been to this hotel last year, I had a large room with a wonderfully comfortable bed; it was disconcerting to get a smaller room now that there were the two of us, when I had more luxury when I was here alone. The bed was so small for the two of us; I barely slept the entire night.

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Tuesday, April 03, 2007

The Wall


Strangely, I ran into the complaining neighbor from downstairs who has not bothered us since they ripped open our bathroom wall to fix the pipe. Well it was not so strange to run into her, but I did ask her if she heard anything about when they would come to do the repairs of the things they destroyed. She assured me it would not be until after Easter Monday, a holiday in Hungary. About 4:00 pm, the doorbell rings. The people from the building management are there to look at the hole. Pantomime is not getting us anywhere, so I call Balazs to translate. They want to know if they can do the repairs now. There is a glitch though. The tile that is in there now is no longer being made, so unless we have some hidden spares, they cannot match it. Well, we don't. They wanted to know if we wanted the whole bathroom re-tiled or just the hole. The entire project would be our expense; the hole was on the house. Just the hole, thanks. I suggested plain white tiles since it was low to the floor and to the side, in a not too noticeable place. They said they would be back in 90 minutes and do the work. Okay, but hey guys, we have a 6:30 am flight tomorrow to Amsterdam and have to get up at 3:00 am. They returned after 2 1/2 hours and started working. We did not get to bed until 10:00 pm, a couple of hours later than we had planned, but the work was done and it looks great. They did an excellent job of it.

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Monday, April 02, 2007

Timing is Everything


After getting 10-15 page essays from my group of 25 students, I resent them out to different students to be the 'editor' of that paper. They had a week to edit it, then sent it back to the original writer and to me. The student then had one week to do a final revision of the essay and send it back to me for a final grade. My Inbox was splitting its sides with the now 50 essays in both edited and final draft form waiting to be graded, though with the mess on moving the campus, I fell behind in my work. Yesterday, i started the process and just as I opened the first one, there was a message for me from MS Office 2007 Beta. It had expired and needed to be uninstalled. Okay, fine! I loved the program and plan on purchasing the full version, but for now, I needed to grade papers. I went to uninstall it with Add/Remove programs. This attempt gave me a "Sorry, no can do" message. It would not uninstall. I tried through the Program Files and it was a no go there too. I could not access my real copy of Office 2003 either until 2007 was uninstalled. Essays glaring at me and I cannot open them...what to do, what to do? I burned them on a DVD R/W disc and graded them on my laptop. At the same time, I put the call out for some computer help. My TA Balazs came to the rescue with a friend of his who does computer work for a living. He spent three hours trying to fix the problem or at least fix my corrupted Windows Installer program. Trying to download the program again only resulted in the message that the version I had was newer than the one I had downloaded from Microsoft. The final conclusion was that I would have to reformat the computer. This is not a task I enjoy and will hold off until the semester is over. There are too many necessary programs to reinstall, making it too time consuming otherwise. This computer man also clearly recognized that my fan sounded like a lawnmower. He offered to replace it and it is so quiet now, I need to see the lights on the front to make sure it is still on. We are leaving for Amsterdam on Wednesday and I am determined to have all of the grading completed before I leave.

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