Saturday, March 29, 2008

Being a Teacher


Sometimes being really available to your students means putting your own life on hold. In most ways, I really never missed having children of my own. I have had students for over 20+ years of teaching. It is like the best part of being a grandparent. You can teach them things, spoil them in some ways, enjoy having them around, and then send them home again. In other ways, it is like being the parent I never wanted to be at all. Nag, nag, nag. This semester, I had three students who asked me to be their thesis adviser for their Masters degree theses. Each of the students were people I enjoyed having in class, respected, and knew I would enjoy working with. However, what I did not realize was that I would have to chase after them to do the work in order for me to enjoy working with them. One of them had put off her thesis for a year. She finished all of her class work and this was the only thing holding her back from graduating. The deadline for turning in the thesis was yesterday. Although I require them to meet with me weekly and e-mail me what they have written as they write it, it was an exercise in nagging. One student who still had not written a sentence, just her title, went skiing for a week before spring break and then I was gone for spring break. Although their thesis only has to be forty pages, the department requires that they use twenty-five books and four journal articles. This translates to a whole lot of books on American topics that they cannot find in libraries in Hungary and wind up having to order from the States. Then regardless of how wonderful the book sounded online, if it is a total wash, they still have to find at least one sentence to quote from it in order to include it into their Works Cited page. Then there is the MLA issue. The thesis has to be according to MLA guidelines. Until this teaching position, I have only used APA for all of my years of education. That was a real learning curve for me, but I have just about every authoritative MLA cheat sheet available on the Internet either bookmarked or printed and laminated for easy reference. For each advisee, I have made a CD with all of these sources, two other theses that I have advised in the past, each of which received an 'A' as a guide for formatting, every resource for thesis writing I could find, and other goodies to make all of our lives easier. It seems easier is to call or e-mail Dr. James and ask "How do I cite a quote from the bible?" or if the author of this book is citing another author who was quoting from his second cousin one removed who was reading the notes to him from his college philosophy class, can I count this as more than one citation?" Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, I was swamped with reading and three hysterical students who yet again realized that procrastination is not a good thing, but only for a limited time. One asked if she could call me at 6:00 am on Friday in case she had any last minute questions before taking her work to be bound. Sure, I don't do much at 6:00 am anyway. The other ridiculous thing is that they have to have the work bound BEFORE they defend it. The readers/graders are allowed to mark up the bound copy. This to me is horrendous and a waste of money. All three of them wrote really nice things about my assistance in their acknowledgments section. "Thank you for being there for me, even when I was not there for myself. Sorry, I am the cause of your starting Xanax." Things in they vein are memories that I will treasure the rest of my life. Now it is over for this semester, but I still had papers to read from all of the other classes and students to nag who just don't have their calendars synced with reality. In the fall, I have six advisees. They all told me they wanted to get the major portion of it done over the summer. This translates into a title page and a presumed table of contents. What was I thinking.

Pin It Now!

Monday, March 24, 2008

Homeward Bound


Good bye park, good bye Blue Mosque.
Home again, home again, not so lickety-split. We were up at 5:00 am to get ready for the shuttle and thankful that the alarm worked since the wake up call never came. They did call to say the shuttle was there and waiting, though 15 minutes earlier than planned. We were the sole riders for the 30 minute ride, which they had told us to plan an hour for. Sleep deprivation could have been reduced.

When we arrived at the airport, the driver pointed to a line of traffic, grunted and went down a different road. He drove up the parking ramp and around and around climbing the levels of parking, with us scratching our heads. He finally pointed to a doorway that was direct access from the ramp to the entrance of the airport, thus cutting through the line of traffic if he had come the other way. Quite clever, we thought after we had realized what he was up to.

Absolutely immediately upon entering the airport, you have to go through security. All luggage and your person must be scrutinized before you can even check in at the airline counter. Once through this, we looked for our flight's ticket counter to get our boarding passes, but it only went as late as 8:30; our flight was 9:15. There are no restaurants or any diversions until after Passport Control.

We waited for over an hour for our flight to be posted, but then I realized all Turkish Airline flights were being ticketed at G/H sections. Our flight was Lufthansa, but operated by Turkish Air. We walked over there and sure enough, they were doing open check in for all flights. For some reason they could not give us our connecting flight boarding passes for Lufthansa, though Lufthansa could coming. They were able to send our baggage through to Budapest. Passport Control was relatively easy and then the long walk to the gate. That is one big airport.

As you approach the gate, you have to go through security yet again. They asked me to turn on my laptop this time. Then they check your passport against your boarding card and stamp it one more time. I have to give kudos to Turkish Air. All of their seats are leather, we had plenty of legroom, and the meal was substantial as well as tasty. We left 15 minutes late, but arrived in Munich on time, which was not a good thing arriving at 11:00 am with a 3:10 pm connecting flight.

Munich airport is also huge, but there were few shops in the area we were in, so not wanting to leave a secured area and reenter, we sat it out. Lufthansa also gets high marks for having racks of reading material at the gates: International Herald Tribune, USA Today, and the Financial Times all English publications. Also impressive is their self-service coffee and tea kiosks which are free. Great service!

Munich has gone the way of other airports with their strict no smoking policies. Those renegades such as myself are destined to stand in a square Plexiglas well ventilated fishbowl to indulge our bad habits. My empathy for aquarium creatures and zoo animals has increased tremendously. This was the only such den of iniquity in the entire wing of gates, so I did get some exercise doing a fast walk back from our gate area for one last hit before descending to the gate itself.

One hour was productively spent on the computer writing, but the battery was about to give out. I only get an hour on this laptop and thought ahead to reserve some power for another go at having to turn it on again. Although we were in a secured area, past security and Passport Control, we had to go through yet a second security to get to our gate. The gate was on the lower level and when they called the flight, we boarded a bus. I found it interesting that the overhead announcement repeatedly stated that due to increased security measures for those going to the US, please go to your gate immediately. I cannot imagine the security being any stricter than what we passed through already.

Not being a full plane, we had the middle seat free. The 'lunch' service was exactly the same at the one we had going, only this time, no choices. It was salami or salami. So much for Muslim food restrictions; we were now out of their zone of influence. Flying time was 55 minutes, a full 15 less than going. Must have been a good tail wind that propelled us.

Having gone by the shuttle to the airport, we had our return tickets already and were called within 5 minutes. Alone in the van we thought we would get home in a hurry, it stopped at the old airport and filled every seat with tourists, so we were third to be dropped off.

All in all, it is fun to go, but for me a joy most of the time to return to familiar surroundings and comforts of home.

Pin It Now!

Sunday, March 23, 2008



Well the Easter Bunny did not bring the sunshine, but the temperature was not as cool as our first days here. It made for a fairly pleasant Easter morning as we retraced our routes from yesterday’s trial run to get Ron to church on time. Hmmm….the English mass was at 10:00, but he elected to go to the 11:00 Italian mass so we did not have to ‘rush’ as much. Translation = get up too early.

We gave ourselves 1 ½ hours to make the journey, thinking it being Sunday, the public transport would be less often and that was true. Yet, we arrived at the church gate by 11:00 regardless of Sunday schedules. Ron had his book and I mine, but our reading rooms were to be entirely different. He went to church and I went to the Shrine of Holy Caffeine, Starbucks directly across the street.

Warm enough to sit outside, I set my eyes on the table I wanted and left my book there to reserve it. When I went in to order, it was shrouded in darkness, yet caffeine worshippers were at the Holy Grail partaking in liquid communion. They had a power outage and were only serving brewed coffee not espresso drinks. Let there be light and electric to get the espresso maker steaming hot once again. Estimates for the next witnessing experience were in five minutes. I could wait that long and went out to read my book in the meantime. When I noticed the interior had indeed been illuminated, I joined the line of faithful to confess I wanted a Vente latte, a far cry from my usual. Just after the person in front of me raised her pleas and before any action could be taken to fulfill them, the lights went out again, but only for a moment.

With prayers answered and a physical manifestation of it in hand, I went to my seat to read until my appointed time to meet Ron by the Pope John XXIII statue in the church courtyard. Those will little faith, turned Judas on Starbucks the moment the lights flickered raising doubts on whether or not they would be able to produce the rewards they promised and ran to Gloria Jeans.

When Ron was finished with his Catholic duty, we walked the Taksim again since we had nothing better to do. Interestingly, a number of places were closed, presumably because it was Sunday, not because of a Christian holiday. Either way, I was curious since in the Asian countries where there are more Muslims than Christians, Sunday is just another work day for the stores.

Walking down the street, we spotted a sign for the Galata Tower. Worth checking out since we had not seen it before, we headed down the hill where we found a man squeezing oranges and pomegranates for fresh juice. Never having had pomegranate juice before, a taste test was in order. I had expected it to be bitter. All of my early experiences with the novelty of eating pomegranate seeds lead me to believe that after the sweetness, there is a bitter aftertaste. The juice, however, was sweet with an ever so slight bitter undertone, a ruby rich color, and a perfect bouquet.

The tower was finally before us and yes it looked like a tower sitting surrounded by a small park and lot of shops trying to sell souvenirs or food. There was no explanation of what the tower was, why it was built, or who decided they needed a tower here in this hilly inland area and not by the sea. For 10 T Lira, you could ride the elevator to the top, for what reason that was not clear either other than the obvious view of the water. For five Euros, I will imagine the water from on high that I have seen many times from ground level. Inside by the cashier, there was still little to entice us to part with our money to be taken for a ride.

Having walked down the hill by now, we no longer needed to take the funicular and we were at a tram stop closer to our hotel. To reach the tram stop, we had to go underground to cross the street, similarly to Budapest. Also similarly to Budapest are the number of stores and shops underground making this a productive place to pass through. However, very unlike Budapest, this underground had gun stores. Open area gun stores with dozens and dozens of models of hand guns attached to the back wall with more models in a glass case as the only separation between the back of the counter potential customers. Boxes of bullets were off to the side also for sale. Scary! What was more skin tingling, mind blowing, horrifying was that as we walked through the underground, I counted seven of these gun stores. I cannot imagine how many more there may have been in areas where we did not walk. Two gun stores were only separated by a toy store between them, competition and irony in one small area.

We went back to our hotel to make shuttle reservation for getting back to the airport. Their sign shows a shuttle service with fixed times at a cost of 16 Euros for both of us. We have seen the same signs at other hotels and hostels for 4 Euros or 6 Euros per person; perhaps it is the location. The desk clerk offered us their own shuttle service for 35 T Lira for both of us with the incentive we could leave when we wanted since it was only us.

As we walked along, I remembered an old television commercial I remember from childhood. The screen showed prunes and the voice said “Are three enough; are six too many?” The ad was for a children’s laxative, so the bottom line was to use the product and take the guesswork out of the mix. That slogan “Are three enough; are six too many?” had made its way into Pop culture for a number of years after this ad long faded from the tube. However, this is what I wonder about travel sometimes regarding days in one place: Are three enough; are six too many? At one point, I chastised myself for not realizing I was going to cancel my Tuesday class and we could have come here on Tuesday and not wait until Wednesday. Now I am so glad I didn’t. We really have reached our limit of entertainment and distractions. As we were discussing, most of the museums are Islamic related and difficult to reach. The public transport is not that great; no, truthfully, it is really poor for such a large city. You really need to rely on buses to get off of the beaten paths or trust taxis, but we have had our experiences with taxi drivers who claim it is a higher rate to cross to the ‘other side’ meaning either the European or Asian side depending on which you start out with. They will also drive all around saying “I am not as familiar with this side of the city as (fill in the blank).

For dinner, we returned to the restaurant we went to the night before last. The host remembered us and where we sat. It was enjoyable, though Ron’s stomach was bothering him, we cleaned our plates. After a walk around, we went to the dessert place we like the best, the independent bakery and had tea and a dessert there.

The rest of the evening was spent watching Schindler’s List; we have to get up at 5:00 am for the 6:15 shuttle. With the fifteen minute commercial breaks, I gave up on the movie by 11:00 pm and waited to hear the last chanting from the mosque for this trip to lull me off to sleep.

Pin It Now!

Saturday, March 22, 2008

In Search of a Church


Praise the coming of the Easter bunny, today was the first day without rain in the morning. It was actually warmer today to the point of almost not needing to layer up. It is unbelievable that the tulips, hyacinths, and crocus are up and making the gardens beautiful beds of color. We sat in the park across the street to people watch, enjoy the sunshine, and take in the hard work they put into the landscaping.

Since tomorrow is Easter, Ron had to find a Catholic church and the hours of services. We headed to Taksim, the part of the city on the Asian side. It was a multi-transport trip. All transport lines use the same tokens, each costing 1.30 T Lira. First, we had to take the tram to the end of the line, which is by the sea. The funicular entrance is not too far from there, but this is a funicular of a different breed. It is more like a small subway car, going underground up the major hill, leaving the crowd at the top of the Taksim district, the only stop. There were some great tile pictures in the stations. Some were whimsical fish, others were of mosques.

Strangely, there are three Starbucks and two Gloria Jeans down one long street interwoven with clothing stores, candy stores, bakeries like the one above iwth desserts dripping in honey, and restaurants. This is commercial central with international stores, not the usual Turkish ones. We walked the entire length where at the end; we found the place where we had seen the Whirling Dervishes eight years ago. There are not performing until the end of April due to the building being remodeled. This group performed for donations and out of spiritual desire to share their message. The other group charges 40 T Lira for their performance. Also along this street is a tiny cable car that runs up and down with only one stop, the end of the line in each direction. We have never ridden it since we enjoy walking the street to check out all of the stores, that and the fact that it fills immediately.

We wandered across the street to the park where there used to be tea stands the entire length of the park, but now there are only a couple and lots of construction going on. It was here that we spent New Year’s Eve in 2000. It was nice to reminisce. There was a shop that only sold halva and it was the best I had ever had. We brought back six pounds with us. We searched up and down the street, but it does not exist any longer. The candy stores only have the packaged kind, which is definitely not as good. I had my taste buds all ready for some too.

We returned to the hotel by 5:00. Ron rested and I was able to get online, but the WiFi connection is slow, so photos will have to wait until we return. I was able to download e-mail into Mail Washer, our spam filtering program, but Outlook refused to actually download them. It shows them downloading, but nothing appears. This computer has given me issues since it was new.

Walking up our street for more than a mile, we came across Roman ruins built by the last Emperor of the Roman Empire. It always impresses me the scope of power that they had. Actually, we were looking for dining options, but did not find anything in that direction. We finally decided to return to the area by the backpacker’s hostels where we ate the night before last, but were talked into the restaurant next door. I do not like kebab, but never seem to remember it from trip to trip where that is part of the cuisine. Tonight, I tried pistachio chicken kebab, but it was dry, the lettuce had no dressing, and the mashed potatoes were cold.

Ron was getting the chills; strangely, it is the warmest night since we have been here. With the café in our hotel closed, we stopped at Coffee Me, which I found is the correct name tonight. It turns out what I thought was ‘N is a coffee bean logo.

Pin It Now!

Friday, March 21, 2008

A Couple of Slugs?


You may be tempted to call us slugs, but honestly, the chanting from the various mosques woke Ron more than once last night, followed by the people next door coming in late, and finally by the cleaning people at 6:00 am. By some miracle I slept through most of it or just rolled over and went back to sleep, a definite role reversal. My slumber produced some strange dreams including people I have not seen for years in bizarre situations, making me wonder why when I awoke.

We still were at breakfast by 9:00 and out the door to Topkapi by 9:45. We beat the rush of tour buses, but not those individuals who had the same idea we did. The line was long again, but moving quicker than yesterday; we had our tickets in fifteen minutes. Tickets are 10 Turkish Lira, a bargain. They have security to go through just like the airports, but being organized made this a quick process also. The palace was the focal point for the Sultans of the Ottoman Empire from the 15th through the 19th centuries. Made up of three courtyards, each with its own collection of buildings, this is where sultans ruled and their concubines lived. Many of the buildings do not display any of the original artifacts, but are display rooms for other things. One room had jewels another robes and clothes of the sultans, and so on. Many rooms photos are not allowed, though the pictogram showing no cameras is small, the guard keeps busy chasing after people in each room who attempt to bring a camera close to their face. I was able to get one robe, before finding out I was a rule breaker. We spent three and a half hours here and did not go into the Harem building. They charge another ten Lira extra, which would have been fine, but the line was over a block in length and it was COLD again today. It was not worth the time or suffering to wait for tickets.

Fighting the cold winds and having to use umbrellas for most of the morning, the dampness dampened our spirits making us succumb to our need for a nap. On the way back to the hotel, we tried getting into the Blue Mosque again, but they were in prayer at 1:00 so the tourist line was quite long waiting for them to finish and let the infidels in to gawk. Too cold to wait, we thought we would try a third time some other time, the third is the charm.

We had no intention of napping for over two hours, but we did. A hot hamam steamed up our imaginations, but the one associated with our hotel requires you to get the full package of a bath, massage, and steam for 47 T Lira. Ron had a massage on our last trip and could not walk right for a couple of days afterward. After they scrubbed him, he was a few shades pinker too, working down to his subcutaneous skin layers. The desk said for just a steam, we would have to go to the one down the street. They have self-serve, semi-serve which is a wash, and full service is a wash and massage. We opted for the first one for 29 T Lira each. When you think about it 14.50 Euros is a lot of money for an hour of sweating and tossing water over yourself. There is no limit on how long you stay, but after all, how long can you sweat and splash yourself before it gets tiring. I much prefer the Hungarian ones where you submerge in water. I like being in water.

The hamam was loaded with Spanish men who looked like deer in the headlights. They came in with fear in their eyes and did not know what to do. They came into the little room I was in and sat down by the fountains. I was dumping water over myself, while they were flicking water onto their chest and legs like twinkies at the poolside fearing getting wet. When they were called for their scrubbing, I thought they were going to faint from panic. As entertaining as it was watching them, we opted to leave. There was barely room on the large circular marble to stretch out; there were so many being washed and others filling the middle space.

Filled with heat, the outdoors did not feel as cold as before, so we walked back to the bazaar thinking we would get dinner there. The bazaar has over 3,000 shops in it making it easy to get lost. 2,000 of those shop owners or employees are trying to sweet talk, trick, cajole, or lie to get you into their shop. Ron observed that not as many have asked us to have tea with them. It must not have worked well, so they dropped the practice. We guessed that why they were having tea with people who were not going to buy a thing, real customers may have been passing by un-harassed. When we found the food booths, it was ten to seven and the bazaar closes at seven. We were out of luck.

Trying to decide where to eat, there was one restaurant that has caught our attention by having all of the dishes in the window. Similar to the Turkish buffet in Budapest, you point at what you want and then a waiter takes you to the table. It was mobbed, because their prices are good and so it the food we found out. I had chicken in a pancake, which was more like a burrito, stuffed tomatoes, bulgur wheat, and stuffed eggplant with a beer. Ron had an equal number of selections, but the bill was only 47 T Lira.

After that feast, I felt like a bear packing it on for the winter’s hibernation and this cold does not dismiss that thought easily. We had to walk to get the digestive juices churning. Of course this means passing by other restaurants and carpet shops where you are told they have the best, the choicest, the most desirable (fill in the blank). There are so many Spanish speaking tourists here that all of the shops and restaurants have fluent Spanish speakers. Their Spanish is better than their English. You cannot walk five feet without hearing Spanish being spoken. This must be an easy travel destination for them.

I did stop at a ceramics store and picked up some cute little hand painted bowls for people to put their teabags in. They were only 3 T Lira each and the guy at the store was so non-pushy, I had to call him in to collect the money. He was busy speaking Japanese to some other tourists.

On the way back, Ron had to stop for his dessert, but I just could not indulge. I feel like I am giving the Pilsbury Dough Boy some hefty competition. We stopped at various cafés that advertise free WiFi to ask about it, but most said it was not working. We have only seen three WiFi signs in cafés and only one Internet place, unlike Budapest where they are everywhere. When we came back to the hotel, I asked if they by chance had WiFi and indeed they do, but only in the lobby.

I went to get the laptop while Ron went up to the rooftop café to order our nightly tea. I wanted to set up the WiFi connection while there was someone there who could help with the password. Ron came down and asked why the rooftop café was closed. The guy who ran it quit last night, so it is closed indefinitely. Well that was disappointing, but being only 9:45, we had to go out and get our tea. We went to Coffee’Me before they closed at 11:00. We found that the music we are hearing all day is coming from a souvenir store directly below our hotel. We wanted to check to see what their hours are so we knew when the music would end. But the mosque chanter does have a great voice, so he can continue to wake us.

Pin It Now!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

We Hear You Calling


I thought the call to prayers in the Muslim religion only happened six times a day, but there was music and chanting coming from the mosque through the night and early morning. I cannot say it was disturbing; it did wake me, but it was rather soothing, and I fell back to sleep again. Sleeping in is a rarity for me, even when I can, I can’t. This morning, I slept until 9:00 am, a miracle. It was cloudy out, but the sun was trying to peak through.

Breakfast was a nice buffet of cheeses, bread, cucumber, tomato, and olives. Enjoying the view, we ate leisurely and planned the day by not making plans. We did decide to find the area we stayed at the last time we were here. As we were heading in that direction, we stopped in the Sultan’s tomb. One sultan built it for his father, and then many others were moved there. Another form of the old boy’s club. None of their wives or harems were mentioned nor if they were buried together or as a group. Actually, I went back to our last bed and breakfast like a homing pigeon impressing Ron who thought it was in the opposite direction once I found the street.

From here we walked to Topkapi Palace. After entering the courtyard, which is free, the entrance was mobbed with the remnants of dozens of tour buses. Many obviously did not have the admission included in their tour as they were lined up at the concession stand waiting to purchase them, then following their respective guide. It was too overwhelming for us, so we plan to come back on off hours to miss the tour herds. This is the one place Ron went to the last time that I passed up. Now I don’t want to miss it again.

The funniest thing as we were walking down the hill to the side of the palace, the sounds of cats fighting filled the air. As we continued down the hill, there was a small crowd gathered staring at something. When we were closer, there were two cats staring at each other hissing up a storm. Neither had their back arched, nor were they particularly in any anger posture, but the bickering continued. Our watching and others approaching had no effect on their recriminations toward each other. They actually would quickly glance at the crowd every few minutes to see if we were still enjoying their show, before continuing on. They stayed with Act 1 for almost fifteen minutes until some spoiler tossed them some treats which immediately signaled break time.

There is no shortage of mosques here, so we duck into each one respectively as we pass. The exception was the Blue Mosque. It was closed to tourists when we passed due to pray time. I am not sure what the allure is for us to visit them, they are all large rooms with little decoration on the walls. The differences are the windows, the carpeting, and the designs on the ceiling. All of the women’s areas are closed off with lattice sheeting. If nothing else, it is something to do. What we don’t understand is why people are washing their feet outside before entering, in this cold. Yes, I know you have to do that before praying, but you would think there is inside place for inclement weather.

There are the same types of carpet guys who just want to show you something to get you into the store. We have told a number of lies and truths, but they are not deterred. There are not as many as last time, so that is less annoying. I have come to tell them that the last time we were here, we saw carpets and carpet stores, this time we came to see the sights. Some get it while others don’t.

We went to the Sultanhamet Mosque, not impressive inside. The property is huge, but the mosque is not. The signage talks about the beautiful stained glass, we could not see any. It spoke of this and that, but this and that was not in view either. It was rather disappointing.

We spent sufficient time in the bazaar getting lost, getting found by every desperate merchant, and then purposefully getting lost again. We only stayed longer because it was pouring rain by this time and we did not bring our umbrellas. Our bad! Or my bad x 2. Which is correct? When we left tired of being prey, it was still pouring, but we walked back toward the hotel, but stopped at Coffee’n Me. We passed Starbucks by, we stopped there yesterday. Istanbul has Starbucks, Bucharest has Hard Rock Café, what the hell is wrong with Budapest, who has neither.

A nap was in order after so many hours in the cold and wet. Besides by now it was after 5:00 pm. What is a vacation if you cannot indulge your whims? Just after falling asleep, the music started from the mosque. With so many of them, I don’t think there are many places insulated from the call to prayers. After the initial shock, it is appealing.

With umbrellas in hand, we went searching for a dinner place. We thought the old neighborhood may have some interesting places. There are a number of hostels in that area. Every restaurant had someone out in the cold and wet to tell us that was the best dining establishment in the city. I wonder how many of these guys get pneumonia. Some we thanked for the information, some we ignored, and others we pretended we did not speak English. When we hit a dead end, we turned around and tried to remember our immediate past. This is the one we ignored, this one we did not speak English, and so on. We made our decision based on the most crowded. The fella sitting outside, swearing he was not related to the owner or a paid public announcement, told us he eats there 2-3 times a week because it is so affordable. We risked it, but it was non-smoking, one demerit. The food was good; the service attentive, the price was ½ what we paid the night before. The guy was correct and was not lying.

My socks are soaked. Crocs with the holes around the edges are great walking shoes, but not great for the rain. On the way back to the hotel, this guy tricked us into his carpet store. He was a block away and we were nice, not thinking he was out on the prowl. As we walked, Ron said “Tell him I am not well.” The way I got out of there was by saying my socks were soaked due to my shoes and had to go get them off. This led into a ten minute discussion about my shoes, my choice of shoes, the weather, and once again into carpets. Finally, I said I had parquet floors and do not cover their beauty with carpets. With that I was released.

Wet feet did not stop us from going to the bakery again for desserts and then to the rooftop café for tea to eat them. Perhaps we will make it to the hamam tomorrow, but earlier in the day. They are open until midnight, but by 9 pm, it just does not sound like a bright idea to go get soaked and steam, then dry off to walk ten yards to the hotel.

Pin It Now!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Hungary to Turkey


This title almost makes me sound like a foodie. Hungry, turkey, and I could add chilly to the list. It actually snowed in Budapest for about an hour yesterday. It was also nippy at 5:30 am when we got up to get ready to leave; the shuttle was coming for us at 6:30. Going to the airport used to be a rush of excitement, but now it is a drag. Drag you butts there only to wait for two hours before any real action happens. I think this two hour advance check-in was really prompted by the concessions’ lobby. What else do you have to do for those extra two hours, but sit in the restaurant or shop at Duty Free?

We flew Lufthansa from Budapest to Munich, an hour and ten minutes. They had a ‘meal’ service, if this joke could pass for a meal. They served a sandwich or actually a roll with either a slice of cheese or chicken. There was just enough inside to change its classification from a roll to a sandwich, but just barely. Drinks were doled out after the ‘meal’ service was over. For all the skill it took for them to serve the sandwich, you would think the drinks would have come faster, but there were only two flight attendants on the flight. That seemed strange for a full flight.

When we arrived, I had not realized how large Munich airport is. We had a long and healthy walk to our connecting flight and only thirty minutes to do it in. They had our luggage checked through, so we would have heard our names over the loudspeaker if they were thinking of leaving without us. Boarding started thirty minutes late; we cannot condemn German efficiency since it was a Turkish Air flight.

The next flight was over two hours, though I am not really sure how long; I kept falling asleep. Ron was five rows behind me. We did not realize it until we were on the plane that our seats were not together. The guy next to me was chattering with his girlfriend two rows back, so they really shuffled seating. Yes, I could have moved, but I had a window seat and she was in the center, not as conducive to sleeping.

After arriving, we jumped into line for Passport Control. Every flight entering Turkey must come at the same time. The lines were horrendously long and there were a number of agents open. We finally were standing in front of the agent with Euros in hand. He flipped through my passport and then asked if I had a Visa. I said no and was ready to hand him my cash, but the Visa desk is off to the left. We had to go get our Visa and then do this routine all over again.

We went to the baggage carousel where the Munich flight was listed. We waited forty-five minutes for our baggage, but it never showed. I went to ask an attendant if this was all of the baggage from Munich, but he asked me which flight. I said Turkish Air, but then found out the Turkish Air baggage comes out on the other side of the airport. When we found the right carousel, our luggage had still not appeared. We waited another twenty minutes before we entered the main lobby and looked for our names amongst the four dozen waiting drivers. We found ours, but he still had to wait for two other people. We lost an hour crossing time zones, lost another waiting for our suitcases, which by the way were carry on size, but were forced to check them, and then another hour waiting for the driver and the bus. The guy with the sign was only the sign holder. The shuttle was stuck in traffic. We also were stuck in traffic leaving the airport, so we did not get to the hotel until about 6 pm. Our first day in Istanbul was shot. The consolation was that we have been here before, so we had our bearings immediately


We are pleased that the Hotel Petrol is perfectly located. Our room has a magnificent view of the Blue Mosque, but I believe any room here would, there are only 18 in the hotel. In five minutes we can be at either the Blue Mosque or Hagia Sophia. The tram station is outside our door. If you go out the hotel and within spitting distance, there is the entrance to a hamam. Did I mention it is cold here? No, my fingers were too cold to type it. It is colder here tha

n in Budapest, yet it is further south. It started to rain too and if it were three degrees colder, it would have been snow. It is COLD!!! We roamed a bit, went to the ATM, Turkey now has the NEW Lira, which translates to the cutting off of a number of zeros. It also means higher prices. Our hotel is 49 Euros a night with a Purple Roofs discount, but the restaurants are considerably higher than they have been in the past making them closer to western European rates. Add to the mix, the exchange rate for the Euro is not all that wonderful either, going for 1.90 Lira to the Euro.

After wandering and reminiscing, we decided on a restaurant. Each dining option has a good looking man outside trying to convince you their establishment is the best choice. We were going to decide by holding a beauty contest, but one restaurant called out to us, though the barker was no where near close to being a runner up in our pageant. As soon as we were seated, we remembered we had eaten here eight years ago. Funny how certain things stick in your mind, but what we also remembered was what a cheap meal it was then, but now that is just a memory.

Ron asked the hotel clerk if there were any places in the city which we should avoid. His unspoken meaning was that there were some riots here just a few weeks ago. The young man responded with “After midnight everywhere except this square, this is sacred ground”. I can oly hope that the corrupt and thieving atheists in the city respect that sentiment as a good will gesture. On the top floor of the hotel, there is a café where breakfast is served in the morning, but it is open until midnight. We went up there for a late night tea to go along with the pastries we bought on the street at a sweet shop. The view of the Blue Mosque lit at night is stupendous. My camera does not do night shots, not even with a tripod. The only thing I hate about it. Well indoors is not great either even at 800 ASA, but I am not about to cart a tripod along everywhere either.

Though we were being serenaded by someone at the mosque, we hit the hay by 10 pm. We were serenaded again at 11:00 and then midnight.

Pin It Now!

Saturday, March 15, 2008

We're Gonna Have a Revolution


No, I am not having a nostalgic moment with the Beetle's hit. Today is the anniversary of the 1848 Revolution when the Hungarians attempted to throw off the Hapsburgs control putting an end to the Austrio-Hungarian Empire. The Hapsburgs liberated the Hungarians from Turkish rule in 1686 after the Turks had been here for 150 years. Though liberation was spelled with a small 'l' as Hungary did not become a free nation, but went from one set of hands to the other. The Austro-Hungarian Empire was established. With revolution in the air all over Europe, the Hungarians were no exception. They were inspired by the writers and intellectuals of the time: Sándor Petőfi, a poet was one. He wrote the nation's song and the 12 point demands of the Hungarian people. This is something children must still memorize in school today. Crowds gathered in front of the National Museum, where you can find a statue of Petőfi gracing the courtyard. Although they made some progress in their wishes, the Austrians later turned on them and executed the leaders of the protests. Today, the fight continues, but no longer against the Austrians, but their own current government. There are many who do not like the state of affairs of the administation and protests, at times violent, break out through out the city on national holidays. The US Embassy sent out a warning of six places in the city that should be avoided due to the expectations of protesting and potential violence. Near us, Blaha Lujza square is a major meeting point at these times. Looking from our living room window, we could see a herd of police, but what looked like the general public milling around as normal. Here is hoping for peace.

Pin It Now!

Get Your Handbag OFF of My Table


It is rare that I post something that was forwarded to me in an e-mail; however, every rule has an exception. I thought this was important enough to pass on. Even if this is exaggerated, there is still enough truth to heed, just by using common sense. After reading this, I also thought about how many times I had my laptop computer with me and set it on the floor in unhealthy places like airport bathrooms and then set it onto a table to remove the computer and cord. It is not just women that need to pay better attention. HANDBAGS...
Have you ever noticed women who sit their handbags on public toilet floors, then go directly to their dining tables and set it on the table?
It happens a lot! It's not always the 'restaurant food' that causes stomach distress. Sometimes "what you don't know will hurt you"!
Read on... Mom got so upset when guests came in the door and plopped their handbags down on the counter where she was cooking or setting up food. She always said that handbags are really dirty, because of where they have been. It's something just about every woman carries with them. While we may know what's inside our handbags, do you have any idea what's on the outside? Women carry handbags everywhere; from the office to public toilets to the floor of the car. Most women won't be caught without their handbags, but did you ever stop to think about where your handbag goes during the day. "I drive a school bus, so my handbag has been on the floor of the bus a lot," says one woman. "On the floor of my car, and in toilets." "I put my handbag in grocery shopping carts and on the floor of the toilet," says another woman "and of course in my home which should be clean." We decided to find out if handbags harbor a lot of bacteria. We learned how to test them at Nelson Laboratories in Salt Lake, and then we set out to test the average woman's handbag. Most women told us they didn't stop to think about what was on the bottom of their handbag. Most said at home they usually set their handbags on top of kitchen tables and counters where food is prepared. Most of the ladies we talked to told us they wouldn't be surprised if their handbags were at least a little bit dirty. It turns out handbags are so surprisingly dirty, even the microbiologist who tested them was shocked. Microbiologist Amy Karen of Nelson Labs says nearly all of the handbags tested were not only high in bacteria, but high in harmful kinds of bacteria. Pseudomonas can cause eye infections, staphylococcus aurous can cause serious skin infections, and salmonella and e-coli found on the handbags could make people very sick. In one sampling, four of five handbags tested positive for salmonella, and that's not the worst of it. "There is fecal contamination on the handbags" says Amy. Leather or vinyl handbags tended to be cleaner than cloth handbags, and lifestyle seemed to play a role. People with kids tended to have dirtier handbags than those without, with one exception.
The handbag of one single woman who frequented nightclubs had one of the worst contaminations of all. "Some type of feces, or possibly vomit"says Amy.
So the moral of this story is that your handbag won't kill you, but it does have the potential to make you very sick if you keep it on places where you eat. Use hooks to hang your handbag at home and in toilets, and don't put it on your desk, a restaurant table, or on your kitchen countertop.
Experts say you should think of your handbag the same way you would a pair of shoes. "If you think about putting a pair of shoes onto your countertops, that's the same thing you're doing when you put your handbag on the countertops" - Your handbag has gone where individuals before you have sneezed, coughed, spat, urinated, emptied bowels, etc! Do you really want to bring that home with you?
The microbiologists at Nelson also said cleaning a handbag will help. Wash cloth handbags and use leather cleaner to clean the bottom of leather handbags.

Pin It Now!

Friday, March 14, 2008



March 13, 2008

US Dollar Achieves New Level of Sucktitude With Forint


The Almighty Dollar? Not so mighty these days. Hell, not even remotely so, with just about every currency taunting it like the freckled redhead who can't throw a ball properly. Checking out the dollar to forint exchange rate yesterday, we were shocked to discover that $1 = Ft 167. The last time the exchange rate was this low a Democratic US president was in office with with a Democratic congress, only half of the former Yugoslavia had seceded, and Ace of Base were topping worldwide charts. But in a different form of comparison, a beer in a Budapest pub will run you $3 and a pack of smokes nearly $3.50 these days. Back then when the exchange rate was the same, a beer in a pub cost you a buck at most, and smokers could hotbox a basement bar on the cheap, as they were practically giving away the damn things for free.

Pin It Now!

P.S. Turkey


Of course, I will blog on Turkey. Have laptop will lug along the dusty roads and byways, we go, hoping for WiFi connections along the way. The last time we were there, there was only one Internet place, but that was eight years ago. Hopefully, it has changed. I will also have student theses to read too. They are due the 27th, but my darlings are the last minute types.

Pin It Now!

Something New


My "B" man went with me to interpret while I went video recorder shopping yesterday. I have never had a hand held video camera, but Ron bought one before we went to Egypt in 1999. Not being digital and a bit clunky in size, he lost interest in using it. I have a specific purpose in mind-- MARKETING!! The sole intent in buying it is to make 1-5 minute video 'tips' of and around Budapest. Then I will edit them with the fact that I am not only a writer for Frommer's soon to be three books, but also other travel publications. There just may be a mention also that we run a bed and breakfast too. I found a site that will upload the video to dozens of video sites at one time, so I will not have to do each one individually. So many ideas, so little time or is it energy? I don't have the time or energy to make a decision which it is now.

Pin It Now!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Feeling a Bit Guilty


I feel a bit of guilt when I don't get here to write something, but perhaps it is just my Italian gene pool kicking me in the butt. However, I have good reasons, I am writing for money elsewhere. Keep an eye on this site: My article should be replacing this one in another two weeks. I am also working for the same publication writing a Business Traveler's guide to Budapest. They have not had one before this, so it is from scratch. The link will be posted when it is up. I also received the files for Frommer's Eastern Europe guides, so I have that to work on also, though it is not due until July. My compulsive type A personality will need to have it completed long before and then just do last minute revisions on any sudden changes. Word was that there was a fire in the Red metro yesterday, actually, hearsay from a student. When I was walking to school, there was a herd of police cars on the street and some major heavy duty equipment. I am not sure if they had to go down from above, since it was between stops. Scary stuff and I will have to keep my eyes peeled for any news about it. Today is my last teaching day before spring break. It should have been Tuesday, but I only have six students in the class and three of them are doing teacher training, so it was convenient to just cancel it. Wednesday, we leave for Istanbul and a hotel with a hammam on the ground floor. Yahoo!!! As I go, so does the laptop, so if I am able, I will post from there.

Pin It Now!

Friday, March 07, 2008

Has It Been That Long?


It is difficult to believe I have not been here since February 20th, but where have I been? When I was a child, people would tell me as well as others that as you age, time will start to speed by. On those lazy summer afternoons when no friends were around, it was difficult to comprehend. I could easily repeat these words of wisdom to those younger than I, but they would not believe it any more than I did. What has kept me busy is school. With the laptop, I am spending many more hours in my office than I have in the past; it allows me to be productive with less distractions. Though I do find that students seem to find me there more often now, just happening to be passing by and wondering if I am there, but these are pleasant breaks. During these times, it has not always been school work that has captured my attention. I was hired to write a travel article "72 Hours in Budapest", which I did at the office. I had to do it in Track Changes mode so the editor could see what was changed from the last edition to my work. Almost the entire article was carved to shreds and rewritten, making the document red, blue, and with a white background look very patriotic. Only minor spots of black remained, which were the original words. I e-mailed it to myself to polish it off over the weekend, save it to my desktop, and then mail it off. However, I did not realize my settings in Word were different and when I started typing the colors were not the same. Changing the settings in my Word at home, did not seem to make a difference. I would up redoing the whole thing yet again, then mailed it off. The next day, the editor responded, loving the article, and had no changes for me to make. She offered me another piece; this new one is "The Business Traveler to Budapest". Sometimes I feel like the oracle of knowledge. Other instructors have asked me how to convert their VHS tapes to DVD, where to find other movies they use for class in English other than ordering online, how to do this or that. Students have dozens of questions about things in general and asking for advice that is not school related. Potential guests write asking about Budapest advice, strangers who have no intention of staying with us ask similar questions. Ryan knows, Dr. James would know have become the mantra for an increasing number of people. It is wonderful to be recognized, but I need some time for me and have not had any for a long time. Today, our kitchen computer started with the BLUE screen, the horror of all computer owners. Each time I used the keyboard, the BLUE screen would come up and shut it down. It took all day to uninstall, reinstall, use system restore, and lots of Googling to figure out the problem, but it is still unresolved. I had to revert back to the corded laptop, but the optical mouse still works fine. The problem with the other keyboard is that it is a Hungarian one. Everything is mixed up from what I am used to using. That is all for today, I am off for my Primal Scream therapy.

Pin It Now!