Thursday, January 31, 2008

7 Degrees of Separation


I went to my therapist today, continuing my back therapy, though I have not had problems. Now it is more preventative than healing. I offered to correct the English on his web site when he asked me about my book. I went to the Frommer's site to show him and clicked on their bookstore. Low and behold, my book was listed. I had no idea. It is slated for April 21st release.

We then started chatting about his clients. He mentioned he had three American clients while I was on vacation, so I asked how they found him. He said Craig's List. I only heard the name, but knew nothing more about it.

When I came home, I Googleed it and found they have a Hungary page. I immediately signed up to post an ad for our B and B. After submitting the post, I was looking at their list of categories spotting one called "Writers". When I clicked on it there was one ad. An online magazine was looking for a travel writer to write an article on Budapest. After looking over their site, I decided to send my C.V. and the samples they asked for. Within minutes, I received a response saying I was exactly what they were looking for and they asked if I wanted the job.

They only need 2,000 words and it is an update of their article from a couple of years ago. I could write this in hours, not months like the book took. It is easy money. I accepted and they are sending me a contract.

Maybe those silly e-mails that threaten you to send it on to 10 friends and make a wish are not so silly after all. Being superstitious about not sending them, I have been guilty of clogging friends' e-mail boxes with them all the time saying I want to be a travel writer.

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Tuesday, January 29, 2008



We watched the movie Steam - The Turkish Hammam for the second time last night. It is an Italian movie sub-titled in English. The next morning, we booked tickets to Istanbul for spring break. The last time we were there was in 2000, so we are due to return.

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Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Old Old Me and the New Old Me


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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Another Resolution


Tomorrow, we have a cleaning service starting. This was also on the NY Resolution list. When I am teaching, I have no motivation to clean, but do it as needed with Ron doing the bulk of it. However, since he is retired it only made sense that he should enjoy his retirement as fully as possible. We have not had a cleaning person since our Polish friend Artur left here for Germany. Artur was a white tornado and cleaned better than any person I know other than my grandmother. At the time, we did not need nor want a cleaning person, but Artur could not find a job not having residency, so it was a mercy offering on our part. Actually, we really had no choice. He came over one day on a social call and started cleaning to show us how well he could do. Feeling too uncomfortable to stop him, privy to his financial situation, we bit the bullet and let him go on. However, we were quickly spoiled by his scrupulous hunt for dust bunnies and when he decided to leave the country we mourned the loss of a friend as well as a cleaning person.

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Monday, January 21, 2008

The New Year's Resolutions


One of my New Year resolutions was to get a new refrigerator. We went out today and looked at them and bought a much larger one than the one we have. For six years now, we have been getting by with a refrigerator that is not much larger than the types you buy for a dorm room. They deliver on Thursday and although it is only 50 centimeters wide, it is 178 centimeters tall. It has a wine rack and the freezer has drawers. It will be so exciting to have a freezer, but since frozen food is not common here, I am not certain what we will fill it with, but we will find something. One resolution to check off of the list. The second resolution happens on Thursday also. On the way back from the appliance store, I stopped at my hairdresser and booked an appointment to have my hair colored. After being au natural for three years, I have come to grips with not looking at this old face in the mirror any longer. The reason I quit coloring my hair in the past was the efforts it took to color my mustache and beard too. Now they are both gone and I won't fuss with it myself, but have it professionally done. More resolutions coming up.

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Thursday, January 17, 2008

Our Travel Log - Updated January 16, 2008


Our Travel Log – Updated January 16, 2008








12/98 (Vienna), 1/02 (Innsbruck), 4/03 (Vienna), 9/04 (Vienna), 1/04(Vienna), 7/05 (Vienna), 7/06 (Vienna) 12/06 (Vienna), 10/07 (Linz)












1/2008 Phnom Penh, Siem Reap


Costa Rica




1/98, 1/2000






6/02 Rijeka, Opatica, Zadar


Czech Republic

12/98 (Prague), 10/07 (Cesky Krumlov)









9/01 (London), 9/01 (Manchester), 11/01 (Bath), 11/01 (Harwich)









12/93 (Paris), 7/11 (?? and Paris), 12/05 (Paris)



12/98 (Berlin), 1/99 (Berlin), 12/01 (Cologne), 7/03 (Cologne), 12/03 (Cologne), 8/14 (Berlin), 1/05 (Cologne), 6/06 (Berlin, Dresden, Leipzig)



12/93 (Athens), 10/05 (Athens and Thessaloniki)



12/98, 12/07/01






12/93 (Rome), 12/93 (Florence), 1/02 (Venice), 7/04 (Milan, Brecia, and

Lake Como), 8/05 (Rome and Tivoli), 6/07 (Rome and Tivoli with Earl)












12/07 Kuala Lumpur, Melaka












12/98 (Krakow), 2/04 (Krakow)









10/01 (Edinburgh, Glasgow), 8/06 Edinburgh), 8/07 (Edinburgh, Rosslyn)






3/02 (M and R), 11/02 (Bratislava), 3/03 (Kosice), 1/04 (Bratislava), 6/05 (Komárom),



5/03 Madrid and Barcelona


South Africa

12/05 (Cape Town), 1/06 (Pretoria), 1/07 South Africa



8/04 (Stockholm), 3/05 (Malmo)



7/04 Zurich


The Netherlands

11/01 (Amsterdam), 7/03 (Maastricht) 4/07 (Amsterdam, Leiden, Den Hague











Viet Nam

1/2008 Chau Doc, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Ha Noi, Ha Long Bay










United States:



1 1/03



11/94, 7/99, 9/01






12/95, 8/02






10/97, 8/2000





New Jersey

12/95, 3/2000, 9/01, 8/02, 1/03


New Mexico



New York

12/95, 8/02 Visa






12/95, 9/01










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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

A Month Later, the Adventure Ends


It is just past midnight, but we are up, brushed our teeth yet again, dressed and ready to meet the taxi. As soon as the elevator doors open on the ground floor, the third desk clerk we have seen today announces our taxi is here and waiting. Once again we confirm that it is a set rate for 90 Ringgits for the ride and are assured it is settled. The driver’s command of English is as impressive as ours is of Malay, so the ride is quiet.

Being an international flight, we need to arrive two hours early to check in. The driver pulls up to the airport departure curb within forty-five minutes, giving me pause to think of the fifteen minutes I could have spent sleeping or writing or anything but sitting in an airport. The fare, we are told, is 130 Ringgits. When we dare to suggest the rate was 90 Ringgits guaranteed, the driver’s command of the English language was well enough to say there is a nighttime surcharge. We paid it and moved on, grateful for the fact we still had enough Ringgits for a coffee inside.

The airport boasts signs that it was rated the WORLD’S BEST AIRPORT FOR 2005 AND 2006. Makes you wonder what happened to them last year. It was like entering a ghost town in the Wild West, the lights were on, but no one was at home being the first impression. When we looked at the monitor, there was not check-in gate listed for our flight. However, I saw a very long line and went to investigate it and then joined the queue only then asking what the line was for. Ron had a smart mouth remark about my finding a line and having to join it needlessly. Well, it turned out that this line reaching three blocks in length was the line to check in for our flight. Good grief, we were here slightly more than two hours early. What did these people do, camp out here as if they were starting the sale of concert tickets?

I had concerns about this many people fitting on a plane regardless of the size, but then realized that every man in Arabic dress with a turban had his whole tribe here to see him off. They took so many pictures of each other, you would think it was a wedding or they were witnessing the second coming.

We stood immobile for twenty minutes. Not having binoculars, we could not see what was happening at the beginning of the line. Word finally reached us via carrier pigeon that the computer system was down and they could not process anyone, hence the wait. The computer system is down in the WORLD’S BEST AIRPORT FOR 2005 AND 2006? Now we know why they were skipped over for 2007. Now I wondered whether I should have concerns about the airport or Qatar Airlines. Placing the blame on the airport was less fearful than thinking an airline could not keep its computer system functional. Please let the control towers computer be working that is all I ask at this unreasonable hour. It took another fifteen minutes before the line started to creep along like a caterpillar on tranquillizers.

By the time we checked in, we had reached the time of boarding for our flight. The only satisfaction was that there was still a whole village of people behind us waiting to check in also, giving a one last chance for a cigarette. When we left for the gate, there was still a lengthy snake of luggage carts nose to tail with anxious travelers hoping the plane would wait for them. At the gate, we boarded the plane immediately. Having a 2-4-2 configuration, we were lucky to have the two seats on the right side of the plane. Again, each seat has its own monitor featuring over 50 international movies in English or sub-titled, 150 TV episodes, games, and so on. Miracles do happen, in spite of lines, we left the gate only five minutes late. The first leg of the journey would be seven hours and forty minutes to Doha, Qatar. The first meal was breakfast with a menu of choices. Observing the flight attendants was interesting. They rarely spoke to each other even when serving food together. Likewise, they rarely spoke to the passengers unless absolutely necessary. When they came around with the hot towels, for instance, they never asked if you would like one, they just handed it to you with their little tongs. Either you took it or you didn’t. When they collected them, they did not utter a sound, but put the container in front of you to dispose of the towel wordlessly. Is this an efficiency scheme, I wonder? Avoid unnecessary speech to get the job done?

After one movie, The Nanny Diaries, a cute flick, I was out for the count. Another interesting observation for me was that people stayed in their seats the entire flight. There was no roaming, stretching, or other activity. Perhaps it was the hour, but it was an anomaly from any other flight I have been on.

When we landed in Doha, although we were still in a secured area, we had to go through security again having ourselves as well as carry-on luggage x-rayed. Our next flight was already boarding, regardless of the fact that it was not due to leave for another forty-five minutes. When we reached the gate, we had the show our boarding tickets and passports yet again, before going through yet another security check point. Then once again, we had to show our passports and boarding tickets. Talk about compulsive behaviors. This plane had a 3-4-3 configuration, but was half empty. Still, there were three of us in our section, which sent Ron hunting for a better territory as soon as the seatbelt sign was off. This time around the flight was four hours and thirty-five minutes and shared monitors with no choice of movies. I watched the first movie, but missed the title. I will have to search for a movie with Jimmy Smits and Lyn Redgrave to see what it is. Found it, The Jane Austen Book Club. I thought I had slept after this, but when I opened my eyes again, Ratatouille was playing, so I watched this yet again. All in all, we would without hesitation fly Qatar Airlines again. Their being frequent flyer partners with United increases the appeal too. The flight landed in Vienna on time without incident.

Austrian Passport Control and Customs has to be the most relaxed in the European Union. The Passport Control officer barely looked at my passport before stamping it and telling me to have a good day. There was no one at Customs just as in the past, so we sailed through quickly and efficiently.

We bought tickets on the CAT train to the city center for nine Euros each, a hefty amount, but were in the center in sixteen minutes. From here we had to take the U3 subway seven stops to the Western train station to board our train to Budapest. We had bought round trip Budapest>Vienna>Budapest tickets, but we were uncertain about needing a seat reservation. Ron went to inquire and was assured we did not for an EC train, though an IC, we would have. After getting some snacks we boarded the train for the last leg of our journey; all was well….for the first twenty minutes and then the conductor arrived.

After taking an extraordinary long time looking over our tickets, he finally started ranting in German. When he realized he could have had a German shepherd understand more of what he was saying than we could, he switched to English. It seems our tickets expired in 2007. After having full faith in the ticket seller at Keleti train station that she understood we were returning in 2008, we never did do a double take at the tickets. Tickets to Vienna include three days of public transport in Vienna, so we erroneously believed that the three day span written on our tickets was the public transport piece, not the train ticket itself. We were faced with two options: pay for the seats or get off at the next station, still paying the full price, but having to wait four hours for the next train. With some sense of impending doom, I had held back Euros for our trip home, perhaps some intuitive thoughts prevailed. Our tickets cost us 30.80 Euros ($49.13), an outrageous amount considering a round trip ticket is only 29 Euros. Normally, I would have been irate at this unnecessary expenditure, but my philosophy this whole trip has been that we deserve it and we have the money for the first time in our advanced years, so what the hell.

Something was different on this train trip. When we had left, the Austrian and Hungarian Passport Control had made their way through and stamped our passports. Now, the Hungarian patrolled through the car, but never stopped. I had read that Hungary was joining the Schengren Treaty where the borders were coming down for EU members who qualified, but I seem to recall it was not going into effect until much later in 2008. What will these former controllers have to control in the future; will they become jobless?

As is usual, the Hungarian train conductor makes his rounds after leaving the first Hungarian stop. For some reason, they came as a gang of three. Did they get advance notice of our defunct ticket? With flourish and a quick twist of the wrist, I produced the ticket almost freshly printed by the Austrian conductor. His Hungarian counterpart looks at it and hands it to his band of not so merry men and they start squawking like chickens that sense danger in the henhouse. Then he informs us that our ticket is only to the Austrian border. What the hell, we spent 30.80 Euros just to get to the Hungarian border? Trying to explain our situation was an exercise in futility, even after showing our original ticket with only one punch mark showing we went to Vienna, but had not used it to return. A half of unused ticket was wasted because of that three day writing on it. Again, we had the same two options as before. However, this time, I did not have Hungarian forints in reserve, not thinking we would need them until arriving home again. Tickets to get us back to Budapest would be another 9,896 forints ($56.90). By some miracle, Ron happened to have a 10,000 forint bill in his wallet and we handed it over to the three musketeers. Our return trip home cost us $106.03 more than it should have when a normal round trip fare is only $42.47. Is this karmic retribution for not tipping the cab driver at the Kuala Lumpur airport?

When we arrived at the Keleti station, I wanted to kiss the ground and would have except for fear of diseases. Now I had someone buy me an annual transportation pass, but little good it was doing me now sitting at home waiting for me. I had to hunt down a transport ticket for the bus.

We were home a half an hour finally getting here at 5:30 pm local time, but five hours earlier in Kuala Lumpur and dead tired even if getting long naps during twelve hours and fifteen minutes of flying. Downloading e-mails and Microsoft updates that were missed over the last month, all of a sudden the electricity in the whole apartment goes out. Let me think, who else did we skip a tip on for this to happen. With a candle in hand, Ron climbed the ladder to check the circuit breaker. He flipped a switch, but nothing happened. I do remember paying the electric bill the day we left, so what gives. Aha, there is yet another switch next to the electric meter. I flipped it before flipping out completely and viola we were illuminated once again.

Pushing myself to stay up, I made it to 10:30 pm. Ron crashed at 8:30. Now the adventure is just a collection of memories stored for future reflections.

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Back to the Beginning


Our room here at the Comfort Inn is slightly smaller than what we had the first time here, but the beds are just as comfortable. One thing I look for at hotels is how clean the mattress is. The sheets may be clean, but if the mattress or pillows are old, soiled, or downright groady, it gives me the heebie geebies. With one exception, the roach hotel, all of the places we have stayed pass the deep down cleanliness test with impressive colors. Hence this is why they are added to Our Picks on our web site . We only refer to the best.

Toward the end of vacation, I go into what Ron calls ‘reentry’ mode, where I stop thinking about the present and concentrate on the things that need doing once we return home. Pushing these thoughts back, we forced ourselves to visit Starbucks to use their WiFi. There is this compulsive need to pay our credit cards hours after we have used them so the rich do not get richer on our interest charges. Plus there is satisfaction in reaching the stage of life where one can say they are truly debt-free. Needless to say, with the e-mails and other utilitarian tasks, we were at the café for over two hours, and then had to return the computer to our room.

There is one Hindu temple we had read about after our first time here, which from pictures looked well worth seeking out. Ron thought he knew where it was having seen it from the monorail in the past, so this was our destination today. Tickets for the monorail are point to point, whereas the point we were headed cost 1.20 Ringgits, less than 50 cents and much cheaper than a Disneyland ride. We disembarked where Mr. Map thought the temple was, but he was in grave danger of losing his designated title; we arrived at a Chinese Taoist temple instead of a Hindu one. The temple looked like it had lost its congregation long ago, being in an unkempt state of affairs, but interestingly, there was a flourishing traditional Chinese medical clinic operating inside and to the right of the main altar. They must deal with foreigners often enough to warrant a translation of the information into English.

Close, but no cigar for the temple we wanted to see, so we walked a few blocks and found an area where there were dozens of stores that sold wholesale jewelry. Block after block, shops were specializing in the glitz and gaudy items to accessorize, a cross-dressers dreamland. As we wandered, other shops started to appear as we reached a neighborhood downtown area, though still in Kuala Lumpur. Then peaking over the tops of other buildings, we spotted the temple we were searching for and magnificent it was.

Although I firmly hold to being agnostic bordering on atheist, there are places where I feel such serenity, there is no denying for me that it has to relate to some past life experience. This only happens when I enter Buddhist or Hindu temples strangely enough. Weirdly, when my photos in Buddhist temples are usually on the blurred side regardless of how artistically I control my camera, yet in Hindu temples, the photos seem to be crisp and clean. Finding this temple was worth the effort. Statues everywhere inspire a regal solemnity over my soul that I rarely find elsewhere worming a desire within to sit around and take lessons from whoever is willing to share their wisdom with me. Ganesh is always my favorite with his elephant head and my love of elephants. I walked around the massive complex taking it all in and wanting to share it with everyone through my photos, but halfway through my batteries died. End of the pictures; I had not recharged the back-up set thinking there were not be a need. My mind holds all of the untaken pictures, but how to share them will be a mystery.

Ron loves taking us off of the beaten track not answering direct questions. When we left the temple for parts unknown to me and asked where we were heading next, he only committed to the light rail train. Buying a day ticket for 7.50 Ringgits seemed ominous to me, our hours were ticking away and we had to leave this evening. We got off of the train at a section in the city where the old wooden houses are built on stilts. Walking in search of a drink, we found we were in a local neighborhood with the usual impromptu looking restaurants patronized by locals, yet only one was open. Ron was searching for a beer, which gave me internal giggles. We were in the land of Islam with head covered women working around us and alcohol being against the teachings of Islam as strictly as Mormonism. There would not be a beer to be found, but he fought on with his ethnocentricity assured that they would indulge tourists. However, after a few blocks, it was a certainty, we were in areas where tourists never tread and the locals were staring at us with smiles and word balloons lingering over their heads saying “These tourists took a wrong turn.”

Admitting defeat, we moved on and in search of a beer. We returned to the central bus station and then to our old ‘hood’ where we started this whole adventure a month prior. It did not seem as overwhelmingly crowded and busy as it had originally. We have been inoculated with the crowd and confusion vaccine. From a street vendor, I purchased some durian already to eat. Durian is one of the smelliest fruits imaginable and not pleasantly fragrant. Some areas restrict their growing it due to the stench. However, some brave soul in some millennia decided to venture past the aroma and cut through to the innards where four avocado shaped pieces of light yellow fruit are waiting to be evacuated. Unlike its smell, the fruit is mind in flavor, slightly juicy, but carries some of its smell into the taste. I tried it, but I could live without it.

Still not finding a beer, we went back to our hotel neighborhood where we knew for certain alcohol was not restricted and found beer before going to the laundry to collect our clean clothes. One of the best things about these countries is the inexpensive laundry services all over. We have never had to suffer with dirty clothes, having it laundered along the way. Now we would be returning home with the only dirty clothing being those that we traveled in.

Our flight to Doha, Qatar is at the unthinkable time of 3:30 am. According to the front desk clerk, we need to leave the hotel at 11:30 via taxi to get there in time. Not liking that answer, we are waiting for a change of shift and will ask again when the new clerk comes on duty. We prepare by taking a nap, though my naps are never longer than one hour, so I am up earlier than Ron to write in semi-darkness with the monitor for illumination.

Our last dinner here and we are going to do it up. We returned to a restaurant in the neighborhood where they have pork ribs in a lemon sauce. The sauce is so delectable if they bottled it, they could be rich. The ribs are almost a misnomer being chunks of pork almost absent of bone. I ordered a medium portion of chicken curry, small was not an option for some reason. To complement this, I also order a small portion of the lemon ribs, warning Ron that I am guarding my plates like a starving dog. If he wants any of this, he had better order his own. The medium portion of the curry was enough to feed a family of four; the ribs could have fed a small tribe in Botswana. I did my best, but since I did not have the time to send the leftovers via Fedex to the poor starving children in China, I had to admit defeat after giving it a glutton’s go at it.

Returning to the hotel, the change of shift desk clerk said we could leave for the airport at 12:30 am, an answer we liked so much better. We went to repack for the final time after showering and tried to nap yet again. Sleeping on my stomach was like trying to sleep while stretched over a beer barrel, it wasn’t going to happen.

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Year of the Rat


We will be entering the Chinese New Year just days after we leave. It starts on January 18th. It is the Year of the Rat.

The Rat () was welcomed in ancient times as a protector and bringer of material prosperity. It is an animal associated with aggression, wealth, charm, and order, yet also associated with death, war, the occult, pestilence, and atrocities. In the Chinese Zodiac, the Year of the Rat is associated with the earthly branch symbol

Persons born within these date ranges can be said to have been born in the "year of the Rat," while also bearing the following elemental sign:

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