Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Virezma wrote


Virezma wrote in "Once our Internet didn't work for days after we had switched to faster service, 15 Mbps I think. The guy arrived and it turned out that where we live the maximum capacity is 10, so they had to change us back to 5 Mbps." on Sometimes You Feel Like a Nut

Thankfully, I know the highest speed is available here. I have had it for over a year now. It just gets temperamental at times.

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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Sometimes You Feel Like a Nut


Sometimes you feel like a nut (click here when you are done reading), other times you just feel like a stupid moronic idiot. Is that redundant hyperbole? Here is the scoop, Sunday, the Internet slowed to a crawl. It was so slow, I was wishing for a 56K dial up to speed it up. Remembering what the cable company has told me in the past, I followed the steps.

  1. Unplug the cord going to the cable box, wait 10 minutes
  2. Unplug the cord going into the electric outlet, wait 10 minutes.
  3. Reboot the computer. 
  4. Done
  5. Done 
  6. Done
Great, now the lights on the cable box are lit up at all. It died. Its little lights were flickering so faintly in nonsensical patterns. Maybe it was Morse code for SOS. I used to know Morse code back in my Cub and Boy Scout days, but that was too many decades ago to retrieve the information from. I should have paid it more attention. I should have realized something was wrong. Now is not the time to should all over myself. It is too late for should haves. 

It was new just July 2010. What is the lifespan of a cable box? Did we use it to death? Are we cable box murders? Will there be a special place in Hell for people like us? Maybe a room filled with the latest forms of technology, but there are no wall outlets and all of the batteries are dead. The nightmares started immediately, even as I was on the phone calling the cable company, the early symptoms of withdrawal were apparent. My mouse finger started twitching uncontrollably like it was clicking on Internet links that weren't there. Suddenly, I had thoughts of 57 different things I had to check on the Internet, before the slap of reality hit me hard once again. No Internet for you. 

Amazingly, the cable people answered within minutes and on a Sunday too. The person spoke excellent English. She ran me through the list of things, but I told her she was speaking to a veteran. I had done it all twice or more, but there is no life left. She ran diagnostics from her end. She could not detect any life either. She was sending out a technician. On Monday. Only between 1:30 and 4:30 pm. I was so grateful, I was almost close to tears. What the hell were we supposed to do until then? 

I can't share the time spent until the technician arrived. It is too painful a memory to rehash in my own mind, let alone on a public forum. When the doorbell rang at 1:40 pm on Monday, you would have thought I caught Santa Claus in the act; I was beyond ecstatic. He walked in full of confidence, but without any English. Sheepishly, I led him to the scene of the dead cable box and then left the room. I couldn't watch. 

Fifteen minutes I ventured back into the living room to see what progress had been made. He was like a Hawaiian surfing dude, covering the Internet like he was riding a big gun and sailing through the barrel of those waves. When I walked in, he calmly picked up the cable box, which I had thought he must have replaced. After flipping it over, he pointed to something and said...

Switch, on - off! If the earth would only open up and swallow us at times like these...

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Monday, August 29, 2011

Let's Have a Beer Cheer


I was just about to write about the First Annual Beer Festival held in the Castle district over four days, but our Internet went out for the last 36 hours. They totally discounted the festival in May as being the first, but whatever. I had attending this fest on my calendar as soon as the announcement came out in English. The wine fest can pass me by. I prefer beer. The problem was the weather. 

While we were breaking all kinds of heat records, it was too damn hot to walk two blocks to the metro and then get onto a crowded bus to climb Castle Hill. I climbed up Castle Hill once. Definitely a once in my lifetime experience. Exercise is best left to the young and fit. But we finally dragged our butts out on Saturday evening. Low and behold, it was actually cool up there. If we had only known. 

Just like the wine festival, they charge to get in. Unlike the wine festival it was 1,750 Huf per person just for starters. All we got for our money was a stupid paper wristband, in red. Red is not my color, but fortunately it is only paper, so it won't last long. We also received a folded green paper. It was a secret. When you open it, it entitles you to one free beer at the designated booth. Just my luck, what do I get? Soproni, a typical Hungarian run of the mill beer. Wow, but wait! This is not your, average Soproni, is is their special edition. Well, then, how lucky am I? Ron's was an edelweiss, which he was happy with, but then again that is Ron. He is easy to please. 

Here was another catch. Before you could get your beer, you had to get a beer mug for 600 Huf, redeemable on exit if you saved your receipt. The money just kept on flowing. However with mugs in hand, we separated to get our respective "free" beers. For some reason there was a long line for the edelweiss, but for the Soproni, there was no one other than me. Given the choice of caramel or cherry, I chose caramel. The only thing that should have cherry flavor are cherries picked off of the tree. I cannot stand anything cherry flavored, but am also not keen on cherry pastries either. 

Surprisingly, this festival covered a lot of the grounds behind the art museum.and into the courtyard where the Budapest Museum is located. Sadly though, most of the beer booths were run of the mill and not the microbreweries we expected.  I mean, come on, did I pay 1,750 for Soproni and Heineken? Yes, they were there too. I would say that food booths outnumbered the beer and not having had dinner, we indulged. Indulging is the right word too. For what we paid for piece of ham, a sausage, and two orders of French Fries, we could have had a sit down dinner in a nice restaurant.

We did get to speak to a nice couple from Munich, he was German and his wife was American. Highlighting the night for me was the view. I can never get enough of the view from the castle area or Fisherman's Bastion during the day, but at night it is all magical. And the clear cool evening just added to the pleasure.

So for my second and final act, I had a pumpkin beer. Yes, pumpkin. I won't eat cherry things, but I will eat just about anything with pumpkin. Though it only had a slight pumpkin taste, it was enjoyable nevertheless. This was only a two beer night because I am a lightweight drinker first of all, but secondly, each one was an additional 400 to 800 a mug.
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Sunday, August 28, 2011

Irene Is Causing Us Problems


Weather seems to be our new nemesis this season. If it isn't one thing like the heat, it is another thing like storms. Now, we are getting cancellations from people who cannot leave the US due to their flights being cancelled by the airlines. Where are all of you Europeans who don't need to worry about hurricanes. Come to Budapest!!

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Saturday, August 27, 2011

Weather We Stay or Go


No, I am not having a confusion moment between weather or whether. This last week we had a couple booked for four nights. Somehow, because of the names and the spelling of the names, I was expecting two men, but it was a husband and wife. Not very important to the story, I don't think, just an aside.

They arrived while I was out, but Ron had shown them our superior hospitality to guests. When  made it back, they cooed on and on about how much they loved the place, how it was better than the pictures, how wonderful Ron was to them already, and so on. She, though, started complaining about the heat. Yes, it was one of those days where the mercury ran, not crawled up toward the 96 degree mark. I shared the lack of air conditioning in Europe along with a story of a handmade soap company that had a kiosk in the mall until one summer, all the product melted. We all laughed. FYI, this couple live in a high end desert city in CA. They probably only spend the time from the house to the store out of air conditioning. 

Having made their plans, they took off. Three hours later, they returned to announce they were leaving us to go to a hotel with air conditioning. She could not handle the hit. He was fine. Yes, they conceded they would be paying more than double what we ask for, but she needs air conditioning to survive. She suggested she may not go out at all while here if the heat continued to beat on her like it had. Quite honestly, she looked like someone beat her with the ugly stick, then dragged her behind a horse though an old west town. I too get sick in extreme heat, so I could sympathize, but really I was mourning the lack of income during a poor year. 

Twice I asked if they checked for anything left here, but was assured they had everything they needed. The husband was so apologetic, didn't offer to make up our lost income. They spent a month in Italy before taking a cruise here, so they are not paupers. Later that evening there was an e-mail. She forgot her night gown, laundry detergent, and toothbrush. I had discovered the first two items, but not the toothbrush. They wanted to fetch them the following day. I told them one of us would wait around taking turns as we both had things that needed doing

They did not show until 8pm entering with stories about how glorious their day was and what amazing luck they had. They rode for free on the transport as they look over 70 years old. Personally, I would have paid just to prove differently. On and on they went about how they received this and that for nothing or got away with things. My inclination was to tell them how please I was that someone found luck since we seemed to be hitting the unlucky jackpot with guests. No matter how old I get, people's behavior will always amaze me. 

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Thursday, August 25, 2011

Hello Sunshine


All this and no air conditioning.

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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

sLOVEnia Photos are Published


If you would like to view the Slovenia photos, they are all in one album in my photo blog at Ryan and Ron Do the World.

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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

I Left My Book in Ljubljana


We are traveling home again. If you want to read more, go to post "Leaving on Railjet Train" on August 18th, 2011 and read from the bottom up so you have our trip in reverse. 

Seriously, the 9 hours did seem to go by rather painlessly, but the temperature was higher today than coming. I was able to finish 300+ pages of a Lisa Gardner novel and take naps to pass the time. 

"I Left My Book in Ljubljana" will be a new song title to compete with I Left My Heart in San Francisco We got home and I discovered that I had forgotten the small bag with the Jostein Gaarder book that attracted me into the bookstore. Also in the bag was a little wall plague with the Ljubljana dragon on it. I hate when I do that; generally I am so compulsive about checking and double checking the room. 

I will flog myself with wet noodles.
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Monday, August 22, 2011

Bled - Not Past Tense of Bleed


Today’s adventure was to bus our butts to Bled to see the castle there, like seeing 2 castles was not enough. What else do you do in sLOVEnia than visit castles and caves? First order of business was to beat off the Italians in the breakfast room to grab a table. My goodness, one would think it was the last supper or breakfast the way they crowded in there, but it was reminiscent of my grandmother’s nature to be an early riser. By 5:30 am, half of her day was over.

Honestly, we could wait for breakfast, because the book store did not open until 9am anyway. I was not leaving town until I had that new Gaarner book in my hot and sweaty hands. Of course once I made it into the store, I had to browse the entire English section to make sure no other treasures were left un-salvaged from the throws of being piled in stacks without receiving appropriate attention and a potentially new home. Ron found a book too for our friend Laszlo, who is part Slovene on his mother’s side, so this is a gift from his mother country. On the way out, I noticed stuffed animals all over a few shelves. Some were owls, which were weighted to act as bookends. There were also dogs, cats, but the piece de resistance was this little bull, which was absolutely adorable. When I picked him up, he had the heft of a heifer, but as I set him back into his spot, the saleswoman, a twenty-something, beauty said, “That yuk is a doorstop. That is why it is so heavy.” With a quizzical look, I ask “Yuk?” Again she states with a smile, “A yuk!” Now the light goes on in my head, a yak; she is mispronouncing a for uh. Should I play English teacher? No, there is a bus to catch, so I leave the yuk-yak behind, but know I am going to regret this all day. I was not deprived of stuffed animals when I was a child; at times it is downright embarrassing, but I love them still. They make me smile; they make my heart lighter when I am feeling blue. There are over fifty teddy bears imprisoned in New Jersey in a storage unit just waiting for rescue operations to proceed. 

The bus is sitting there waiting patiently for us to board. Had we missed it, there would have been another in an hour, but why wait? The trip is about 1 ½ hours and cost 6.30 each way per person. For the air conditioning alone, it was worth the cost. We were in and out of heavy traffic, causing us to be delayed extending the trip to 2 ½ hours. Some of the scenery along the way was a delightful distraction, but little cat naps took precedent. Those church bells from hell rang every 15 minutes for unreasonable lengths of time that were not in sync with any timepiece that I could tell.

Once in Bled, we stopped at a restaurant across from the bus station. I am not sure what there is to the city, because we barely ventured from where we were left off. Restaurant prices, at least across the street from the station are much higher than in L-city. However, the bowl of garlic soup that I chose was a delectable bargain for 3.90 Euros. Ron had fries, but one thing I have been neglectful in reporting is the wasp problem. It seems all over the country, they have been invaded by a highly unusual number of wasps this summer. Everyone has been complaining about them as well as their aggressive nature. Our guide Palona shared that she was sitting in her yard with her dog. She was stung twice and the dog once, all without provoking the yellow creatures into battle. Others have shared similar stories. No matter what you are eating, the wasps appear from nowhere and hover over the meal. The ladies who have flower kiosks almost need to wear beekeeper outfits, they are so overloaded with flying beezz.

So the reason we were in Bled was to see the castle. I saw the castle from the ground, it seemed pointless to traverse the football length path and then climb up the 399 steps, to reach the ticket office of the castle. Taxi!! At the base is St. Martin’s Church, which had the largest chandelier that I have ever seen in a church. There are pictures in the photo blog. My first impression was that this church was decorated by a gay man. The murals were different, but I could not decide in what way. What did attract my notice were the organ pipes. The organ was gorgeous. If I were religious, I would have prayed to find an escalator or elevator outside to get to the castle. No such luck.

There was a footpath past private homes leading to the castle, so I thought it would have been impossible for a taxi to get up there regardless, so I started the walk. With the first 100 steps, I proclaimed “I am not doing this. I am NOT climbing all the way up this &*$% mountain to see another #$(* castle. By step 101, we had reached the first stairs, a series of 9, with a wide platform, before you make a sharp right turn to access the next set of stairs where there are maybe fifteen before the next platform and so on and so forth. As you can guess, but step 101, I was so out of breath, I could no longer protest anything, but this is when my stubborn Italian nature kicks in dueling with my lazy self. One side is saying “Relax at the restaurant and wait for Ron to come down. Look at his photos and you can say been there, done that.”  The stubborn side is saying “Just do this one set of steps. Don’t be a quitter. Your mother always called you a quitter, do you want to make her right after all?” 

By the time, I reached the ticket office, when I turned around; there to the left was a parking lot. A taxi could very well have made it up here. *^%$&%$! Oh, but that is not the end of the climb. To actually get to the castle, there are more steps, more inclines of cobbled paths. When you are seeking out a respirator, there is not much interest in history. The rooms were uh, rooms. There were fake people in some doing what presumably people of different eras would be doing, but what was the most magnificent was the view of the lake. Even more breathtaking was this little island on the lake where someone had built a church. It made for a photo opportunity for sure. Having spent so much time getting up this damn hill, we spent a goodly amount of time roaming around looking at the view. However, in the back of my mind, I had thoughts of the yuk-yak in the bookstore and knowing he needed me to adopt him. Just in case we didn’t make it back before they closed, I found an adorable owl hand puppet in the castle gift shop, so I bought him as a consolation prize just in case.

Now, one would think that the walk down would be so much easier than going up, but reality begs to differ. Traipsing on a steep declining cobble stoned path takes some agility and concentration not to slip and go tumbling down, doing a Jack and Jill goes down the hill impression. Calf muscles strain to maintain. Hmmm, calf reminds me of the yak. I really want that yak. We make it down without incident and return to the bus station with a thirty minute wait. A taxi driver offers to take us if he can get 7 total to fill his van, the cost only 7 Euros and a forty-five minute trip since there are no stops along the way. There are only 4 of us interested, no other takers.

As soon as we returned, we double checked our train tickets for tomorrow’s return home. The cheap fare is good on the Citadella train. We leave L-city at 8:50 am and arrive home by 6 pm. Track 7, all set. We headed for the outdoor market to get food for the train ride, but we are too late, all but one stand is already vacated and this one is 85% packed up. They still had fresh figs, which we don’t see in Budapest, so we bought some of those and some grapes. We also tried the milk machine and bought 2 dl of raw milk for 20 euro cents. It was cold and delicious.

Dropping the food off at the hotel, the bookstore was still open and the yuk was waiting patiently for me to come back to grab him from that shelf of despair. The young woman who was here this morning was no longer around. I had told the current clerks of my needing to return. They shared that the morning woman had been to Tibet and when she returned, found the yak for the store. Really, he could pass for Ferdinand the bull, but I guess if you were in Tibet, he would be a yak. Each time they said yuk, we would say yak. They would say, yes, yuk. They could not hear the differences. He is meant to be a doorstop, but is too cute to sit on the floor. He will have to find a place of honor.

There is something about vacationing brings out decadence. We would never think of ordering cocktails at home, but where we ate last night had a 2 for 1 offer on cocktails, so we headed over there for drinks. I ordered a Manhattan and Ron ordered a classic martini. We each received 2 of our orders immediately. My Manhattan was in a cocktail glass used for non-iced drinks, but was filled with crushed ice. Ron’s martini had a sugar coated rim, like you would salt a margarita. Ron’s drink tasted closer to what it was supposed to be than mine did, but really they were disappointing. We are still not sure we have had real cosmopolitans yet.

Ron had asked the saleswomen at the bookstore for a dinner recommendation off the beaten path. We followed up and went there for dinner. As we were walking, there was an American behind us speaking to his walking mate. He was telling the other person that he is a contractor with the US Defense Department for the 4th largest defense contractor they have. As he is continuing to brag, I am thinking if that were my job, I certain would not be sharing the information without caution on the streets. What he was saying about his organization was not about to bring in world peace and only continues to make the US look like a world hungry dictator want to be. At this restaurant, they don’t have menus; the offerings change daily and the wait staff provides the menu. Hence, you don’t know what you are paying until the bill, unless you do ask. We both had beef, Ron’s was with blueberries, mine was with a cream sauce. The beef was chewy, but the portions amble. Had the beef been tender, the portions would have been minimal. We sat outside due to the heat and it was indeed off of the beaten track. When the bill came, we were a bit overwhelmed. It came to close to 50 Euros, double last night’s dinner.

On the way back, we stopped to listen to music on the bridges, walked past where HAIR was being performed, so we could hear the music in ENGLISH, but the voices were not great. One last dessert and coffee and we were ready to go back to pack. And no church bells tonight.Enhanced by Zemanta

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DisINNfranchised, DisINNabled, DisINNherited


Today we were to check out of cozy cell built for two prisoners, to move onward to the real world without bars on the windows. The only real reason we were here to begin with is that the B and B we booked only had 2 nights open, forcing us to split our time between two sLOVEnian spots. But what also happened was this.

You know how you tell someone you are going somewhere and they just happen to know someone who lives there that you should meet? Well, that is what happened to me and then us. I know this woman Agnes from the Budapest Creativity Group, who I met with to do some coaching. She knew someone here in the city who she thought we should hook up with. I was hoping my grunting an acceptance with an almost inconsequential nod of the head would have made her forget the offer by the time she reached home. Well, she didn’t and within 2 days, had the two of us e-mailing each other with plans to meet. I hate knowing I am now feeling obligated to meet some stranger on my holiday, but now not only are we meeting with Melita, we are bringing her her birthday present from Agnes.

The usual scenario ensued. Melita wanted to meet on the day we arrived, until she found out our arrival was not until 9:30 pm if the train was on time, but that was not counting time to find the hostel and check in either. Then she wanted to meet the next day, which would have worked out well, but her time was 2 pm, which really cut into our day depending on what we chose to do. The next day, we had the entire day tour, so that let out Saturday. We finally agreed on coffee at 10 am today meeting at the hostel and going from there. We stowed the luggage in the luggage room and waited for Melita. She was truly delightful and certainly very chipper. She offered to drive us to the next inn where we were to be for our last two nights. Super! We each only have a carry-on suitcase and I have backpack for computer, camera equipment, chargers, etc, but still it was a great help. She has a BMW convertible and is divorced. Times are not to shabby here. She did tell us that our hostel as well as the alternative community behind it, keeping us up every night, was all once a military complex with the hostel being the prison; we knew that. What we did not know was that the alternative community has been in existence for the last twenty years. There are a number of artists who have studios there as well as the pubs that only open at 10pm and stay open until 6am.

We wander to our new home, ring the bell, and wait. There are reasonable waits and unreasonable waits when you have reservations; this was the un kind. We were finally told to come up, so we carted our things up to the second floor (American, first floor European) to be greeted by a very attractive woman in her bathrobe. It is never a good sign when greeted with “Hi, come in. We have a problem.” Well, it seems there was no room at the inn. Our potential hostess could not remember my ever writing, however, she had the requirement when booking that you write to reconfirm every three days, 4 hours, 43 minutes, since she cannot take credit cards for deposits. I sent so many e-mails, we could be having an affair by now, yet being forgettable, she forgot me. There was no room at the inn, but she asked if we could return in an hour and she would resolve the situation. We had coffee with Melita and wondered where we would stay in a city that was sold out.

Upon returning, we were told that our hostess-not-to-be had a mother who became suddenly ill, causing hostess to tend to her for two weeks in another city. When hostess returned, she was mentally scattered or discombobulated and starting messing up the calendar. Having done this once or twice myself, I certainly understand how it can happen. She offered two solutions. We could have her room and she would sleep at her daughters or she had called a local hotel that happened to have 1 room open for our 2 nights. The hotel charges 77 Euros a night, she charges 60 Euros a night, but she offered to pay the difference since it was her fault. She too is a university instructor, teaches private art lessons, and runs the B and B. She insisted we go look at the hotel to make sure the room was acceptable, otherwise we would have her room. Since we never had a room to compare, the hotel room is clean, has a fan, two skylights and no alternative community behind it. It was fine. We said our good-byes to Melita before coming to the hotel, so we were on our own for schlepping the stuff. No biggie.

Settled into the hotel, we went to Tivoli Gardens, but on the way, we discovered this fabulous house, needing to photograph it, but we were stopped. It is now the US Embassy and not only is there a guard within the grounds, but one lurks across the street in the shade. They gave us a postcard instead. We checked out a Serbian church, the Modern Museum of Art, and then the gardens itself. There are so many stairs it continually makes me sorry for those who are wheelchair bound. The gardens are humungous and green. Luscious greens everywhere that there are no flower beds, with fountains people can go into to cool off and they are. The last days have been 89-93 degrees with no break in sight. On the way back, a guy came up asking for a coin. We refused and he retorted with “Sorry, but you see this is my job, to ask for money. It is the only work I have so I have to do it efficiently.”

Suffering from the heat, we returned to the hotel for a rest. I wrote, Ron read. Afterward, we  ventured over to a pub where they had a 2 for 1 special on a number of cocktails. Neither of us had had a Cosmopolitan before and martinis were not on the list; we each had 2. I am certaint there wasn’t an ounce of liquor in the drinks. Generally I am a lightweight drinker so 2 drinks would hit me between the eyes, but I didn’t feel a thing. For dinner we went to Cobbler’s Bridge dining at a restaurant on one side of the bridge. A young couple sang and played music on the bridge drawing quite a crowd, but we had great seats enjoying the serenade while eating.

Tomorrow we will go to Bled, necessitating a trip to the tourism office. Ron generally has a quota to fill for how many times he needs to visit the tourism offices when we travel. He asks dozens of questions, they give him dozens of answers and brochures for all his supposed needs. As soon as we leave the office, he drops the brochures somewhere because he doesn’t want to carry all of that stuff. On our way out, we met Dennis. Dennis is a university student studying journalism who is doing some research studies for the tourism office. Dennis had great English, but still had those annoying errors. I asked if he had had any native speakers teaching him. His only native instructors were people who came for a few months at a time in high school. He did share with us that all of his university textbooks were in English since the Slovenian market is so small, they couldn’t afford the translations. He also told us all movies and television shows are in the native language. He had to start learning English from 6th grade and it is mandatory throughout the country, but some start with 1st grade. By the time they finish high school, they have to speak English, Italian, and German. Slovenia borders Austria and Italy and both are extremely important to their tourism economy.

Just two doors down from this hotel is a bookstore that has English books. I could not believe that had a new book by Jostein Gaarder, the Norwegian author that must have just come out. I have a list of all of his books, with those that I don’t have marked. This title was not on either list. Tomorrow Bled, but first a shopping trip to the bookstore. Tonight, there is no loud music, no one shouting, no one howling at the moon, nobody screaming in any language, just a quiet hotel room next to a Catholic church that rings its bells every quarter of an hour without any rhyme or reason as to how many times it tolls. They go on forever.
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Saturday, August 20, 2011

Castle, Cave, Stallion, Shore = A Full Day


We booked the tour to the Postojnska jama or Castle with optional trips to a cave and most importantly, Piran the seaside town. Leaving at 8:30 am and returning at 7 pm, the fee of 45 Euros was a bargain rate, but making it even better, it is limited to 4 people. Our guide was Palona, a 30 something woman who shared her age along with a number of other facts of her life. She was charming, but she lost the English prepositions too, making us scramble to looking to see if they were under the seats in the van or have flown out the window. The tour of the cave was optional as was a wine and ham tasting. Apparently, they make prosciutto like the Italians do, so this is the ham you test taste. Ron initially did not want to do the cave tour, but the pictures I saw had this little train-like contraption that you rode through making it Disneyesque. Who can resist Disney? I knew we were in on this one.

After picking up two Dutch guys from another hotel, we were off. sLOVEnia only has 2 million people of which 300,000 live in the capital city. It always amazed me that a country can run on so few people without dependency on larger nations like Luxembourg or Monaco has to do. Besides, 80% of the country is covered in forests, making it every shade of green.

Lovely drive, drive, drive disrupting my attempt to nap, nap, nap was Palona’s commentary on what we were passing, history of the country, and to our surprise praises for Tito as a ruler. She is the second one who had good things to say about him. It must be our Americanism that taught us he was a cruel dictator. Even the Dutch guys learned positive things about his leadership including the fact that Stalin tried having him assassinated ten times, never succeeding even with the 10th.  

Our first stop was the Postojnska jama, a castle with a history dating back to the 12th century, cut out of the mountain making it quite unique looking. The history is too extensive to retell here. One of the last kings to hold up here was a nasty guy, so when the people revolted, they posted themselves outside waiting for the king to make his get-away. There was no back entrance due to the mountain. The king was smart enough to have a tunnel dug underground to receive food and supplies, unbeknownst to those holding their ground in wait. The wait stretched to a year and the king never materialized. Finally with a bribe, they were able to make a plan with one of the servants. When the king went to the toilet, a room outside and across a hidden balcony, the servant would raise a flag over the building. When the flag went up, the protesters stormed, catching the king with his clothes around his ankles. Is this where we “get caught without pants down”?

Another more humble bathroom story continues. I had to use one. They charged me 1 euro to use the urinal. I thought perhaps I misheard. I need to pee, I said, not take a shower, not wash my clothes, and I don’t even require any paper products. How lovely for me, hand over 1 euro. For this, I received a lovely multicolored ticket filled with writing as a receipt for my contribution. I am sure it cost nearly a euro for the printing of the ticket and the salary for the woman who had to chide me.

They had so many combinations of tickets here; it could take ten minutes to figure out what you wanted. We bought ours for 8 Euros each and it seemed to do all we needed, but it did not include a complimentary trip to the WC if needed. We were able to explore all the rooms of the castle, again many were laid out in antique furniture or replicas to give a feel for the place. I imagine the stone kept it cool in summer, but the winters must have been cumbersome to heat such a place.

We stopped at a grocery store for water and snacks. Palona said once she had guests buy at the snack bar at the caves and it was so overpriced, she swore she would have guests grocery shop first if they wanted to. It was then a little ride to the cave, passing greenery and ‘whineyard’ or ‘wineyards’ or what we would call vineyards along the way. Apparently, they are famous for an iron rich grape that is used for the red wine, making it high in iron content so parents give thimblefuls to the children for their health. Ron asked what varieties of grapes are used, but the response was that red grapes make the red wine and white grapes make the white wine. As definitive as it was going to get, I am afraid.

Once at the caves, our group set out. We were to meet Palona in 2 hours. There was no cute little train, no Disneyesque feel, and certainly no elfin types with pick axes and shovels mining for gold. The only thing this could mean is the unthinkable. This was a cave where you have to walk, climb, grunt, and groan. My first thought was to chuck the 11 euro entrance fee and leave while the getting was good. I didn’t even have sneakers on, but Crocs sandals. Oh, my stars, 400 stairs, quick smelling salts; I am getting the vapors. The walk to the cave entrance was like walking to an execution, it gave you a sufficient amount of time to consider your immediate future. Mine was not looking particularly pleasant. Once at the entrance, they divided the group into 2 groups: the Slovenes and English speakers together, while the French, Italian, and German were in the second. There were over 100 in our group alone and groups start out every hour. Imagine how many a day comes through here. My imagination was warded off by the evil thoughts of 400 stairs.

Skocjan Caves Park was initiated into the UNESCO natural and cultural heritage listings in 1986 and later in 2004, the Ramsar list of Wetlands of International Importance. It consists of numerous caves, natural bridges, sinkholes, created by the Reka River. The river flows 50 km on the surface and then sinks into the karst underground coming to the surface again at Timavo Springs near the Gulf of Trieste.

Concerns about slipping and sliding with the Crocs were misguided. The paths were created with rough hewn concrete, so walking was not too bad. What was more energetic than I like to retell is the walk itself going up stairs, down stairs and when not climbing stairs, walking on inclines from 10 to 890 degrees. Hell, it felt like 890 degrees, even if that is a little exaggeration. Each time we went down farther, my heart sunk a little more. What goes down must come up again and I knew there was no escalator. By the time we reached the bottom, we were at 567 km, miles or light years under the earth’s surface. I cannot remember what she said, but I remember her saying if we went down any farther we could have authentic Thai food for dinner. Why people want to be in caves is beyond me. They are only shades of brown. I thought there would at least be some interesting colors to entertain the senses, but brown in numerous shades: tan, beige, cream, muddy, caramel, chocolate, latte, and just plain uninteresting dark brown.

It was too dark to see my watch, but time was not passing as fast as it does when I am having fun; I could just tell. Each time we came to a staircase, I thought my heart would beat out of my chest and that was just thinking about having to climb it. Once I started, I was sure the ole ticker would just explode, which on the bright side would either mean: A.) No more stairs ever or B.) Getting a ride out on a stretcher. Alas, I had to do it the hard way and get out on my own steam. When we finally reached the end and you really could see light at the end of the tunnel, it was the first thing I could hear the tour guide say clearly. If you go to the left, you will have to climb stairs all the way to the top. If you go to the right there is an elevator. Let me say, one guide for a group this size is useless. She could not be heard by half the group regardless of the language. The only time she yelled was when she caught someone taking photos, which was not allowed. No, not me. I behaved only because all of my concentration was focused on not slipping, keeping count of the stairs we already climbed, so I had a running tally of how many were left, and dreaming about little Disney-like trains.

Finally, it was time to head for the elevator. There was that unspoken message first. In order to get to the elevator, you first need to trek a mile on 45 degree inclines that are on a path that look like a series of ZZZ lying top to bottom, so this path in essence switches back and forth. I though this was someone’s nasty rotten joke. Why isn’t there an escalator to the lift or a lift to the lift, better yet? Once we reached the top of the inclines, we have to climb two flights of stairs to get to the elevator door. They couldn’t build the lift down two more flights of stairs? Once the elevator doors opened at the top, the cheerful operator announces, that there were 67 more stairs to climb to reach the parking lot. What kind of hell is this? This rates right alongside of camping and hiking, both activities better left to the Germans and Swiss respectively.

A fun stop was the breeding farm for the famous Lipizzaner stallions. They are bred and originate from Lipica, sLOVEnia. Archduke Charles established a private imperial stud farm with Spanish stock here in 1580 at Lipica, or various other spellings. The horses were bred with other breeds to produce what we now know as the Lipizzaners. They are a particular breed that has a higher resistance to other horse diseases, but some fool recently tried to poison them and three were severely ill. Now there is a keeper in the field with them at all times that keeps them away from fence where they could once socialize with visitors. They are supposedly extremely social animals. As youngsters, they are grey or even close to black, but as they age, their hair loses all pigment and they turn pure white. Their skin remains grey their entire life.

Finally, we arrived in Piran, sLOVEnia, a seaside resort that was teaming with locals, other sLOVEnians, and Italians. We actually had to go into Italy a brief time to get here, but thanks to the Schengen Agreement, there was no border control. Piran is a cute little, little city that sits right on the Adriatic Sea. What they call beaches, we would call human piers. They have extra wide concrete slabs like sidewalks along the water where people spread towels or bring chairs. Dipping my feet into the unimaginatively cold water to cool off, felt great for a few minutes, but even the 90 degree sun could not keep me standing there with my feet freezing.This town reminds me of  towns where I was born. Their only reason for existence is as a summer resort, otherwise they have nothing to offer. Having once been owned by the Venetians, the Italian influence it apparent in the narrow streets, the clothes hanging out on the line, the fish offerings on restaurant menus with Italian names. It is certainly lovely, but come October, it will be a ghost town once again until the following May. 

We decided to eat at the hostel for their all-you-can eat Pad Thai dinner for 4.90 euros. As tasty as it was, we were closer to authentic Pad Thai in the cave than this was. By 10:30, we decided to check out this alternative colony that was keeping us up until all hours of the night. We received quite a comical show, but that is another story.

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Reader Paul Writes


Paul Roberts wrote: 
I think the translation is correct, you just don't know enough about nose sucking. on Do You Need Your Nose Sucked?
Thanks Paul! What I want to know about nose sucking can fit into a newborn's sinus cavity when they are in need of a good reaming, but then again, I don't have kids. For the terminally curious, you can get your fill with the above link.
On a similar note??? We have friends who use Neti pots all the time and are sick 10 times more than we are.

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Prison Beds


The hostel where we are staying was a building constructed by Austro-Hungarian soldiers in 1882 and used as a military prison until 1991. A group of artists, architects, and scientists from the Culture and Art Association decided to transform the building. More than eighty Slovenian and international artists participated in the Celica project, which started in 1993. First they had to prevent the building from being destroyed by sprawling their bodies in front of it to save it from the wrecking ball. In 1996, the building was named a historic landmark and is now protected. 

The project was a work in progress. Each prison cell was turned into an art piece independent of the others. It has been open to the public since 2003. They offer free tours at 2 pm every day. I suggest if you book here, try to get a room from 101 to 110. They are on the quieter side of the building. Inside the hostel is pleasantly quiet, but if you need a window for air, the artist colony next door is extra rowdy.
We would highly recommend it for cleanliness, service, and overall appearance. Being that we are both tall, the beds are a bit short for us, but otherwise it is quite nice. We would definitely return if we were to come back here.

Hostel Celica
Metelkova 8
1000 Ljubljana

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Friday, August 19, 2011



Can anyone explain to me why supposedly grown men need to make Wooooo-wooooo-whooppie at 4am? Well, rather they started much earlier, but continued until 4am and some even later. Other than having a contest for bird imitations, it is beyond my scope of imagination. Yet, there were what seemed to be hundreds outside last night making these and other such noises from next behind our place.

We wandered down for breakfast still with eyelids sealed from lack of sleep, even a shower could not dissolve the sleep glue. Breakfast here is nice, with lunch meats, cereals, and a coffee machine that makes a variety of choices. Lovely! I hit the double espresso button multiple times. Beyond eating, we had plans to do the free walking tour, but with time to spare we went to investigate the source of our nocturnal dismay. 

You will see the 'compound' in the photos, but it looked like a ghost town taken over by wayward sculptors and artists who have very active graffiti friends. I have never seen anything like it, but it heralded as the best alternative place in the country. At night, ten different pubs open offering different brands of music.

We walked on our own waiting for the free walking tour to begin. It was supposed to be 2 hours, but went close to 3. There is something about Slovenians speaking English. They drop the prepositions. The guide said for example "I explain you what we are seeing here." There were multiple prepositions that were missing in the 3 hours. Now before someone excuses them by saying well in their language... I just need to say that when I studied French and later Spanish, if I used that excuse, the teacher reminded me I was learning a foreign language and needed to learn the rules of the language, not depend on my own. The group was large, so at times it was difficult to hear, but she still did a good job. It really bugged me at the paltry tips people gave at the end when that is what they work for.

By 4pm, it was nap time to try to rescue some of the rest that escaped us last night. Although it was quiet, it was hot. When we dragged ourselves up after 2 hours, we ventured to the castle here in the city called (duh) Ljubljanski grad, the Ljubljana Castle. Entrance for the castle itself is 9 Euros, but the lookout above is an additional 5. We were warned against it by our tour guide. There are two choices: walk up or take the funicular. The distance up is about 2 times that of Budapest Castle, so you darn well know we took the funicular and at 3 Euros round trip, it is a bargain compared to Budapest. The ride lasts quite a bit longer too. We were allowed to venture all throughout to see the different rooms, some reappointed with dummies to recreate a scene. At least I hope that guy hanging in the torture chamber was just a dummy, a fake one at that.

Our hostel offers all you can eat dinners for 4.90 Euros. Tonight was Bar-B-Que, translating in my mind to dripping with a sauce. Their interpretation was meat grilled on a grill, sans sauce. They had pork steaks and two different types of pork sausages. I had no complaints since pork it my favorite, but we did wonder about those with religious restrictions.

After dinner was over, they had live music. Ron found that the group came from 6 different countries as far as Scotland. They played violins,  french horn, guitars, and an accordian. They had an hour to practice playing together and then brought it all together. They were magnificent playing everything from some classical pieces to some hillbilly rock.  

Photos will be in the photo blog once we get home.

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Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Other L Word


The train ride was painless, not at all what I had anticipated. I don’t do well in confined spaces for very long, if I know I cannot escape from them. I had not even considered the lack of air conditioning, but of course the weather did not disappoint. It was in the 80s. Some train person had the foresight to open every window on the train. The cross breeze made it acceptable. We were in a cabin for six, but only one thirtyish-year-old man asked to join us. No one bothered to look at our tickets for the first two hours; by that time we were in Veszprém. An hour later, the man left us and we had six seats to ourselves.

We had cleaned out the fridge, taking food that would spoil with us for our meals. Loaded down with four sandwiches, extra cheese cut into thick chunks, two beers (they do spoil when unattended), a large bottle of water, three tangerines, and assorted other goodies, we looked like a catering service. What the conductor happened to walk by again, he looked in, said something like “Oh, you are Hungarian. Good appetite”, in Hungarian of course. 

During the trip, I finished the novel that I started when the train pulled out of Deli station: The Dressmaker, by Elizabeth Birkelund Oberbeck. I only brought one other book with me; I am thinking I should save that for the trip home otherwise I will chew on my foot out of boredom. There were plenty of catnaps in between reading, so it wasn’t all recreation. Sleeping on a train takes stamina holding your head in place. It’s not easy.

We arrived fifteen minutes late, in the other L word, again better than expectations. There were innumerable stops for ten to twenty minutes, but no passport control to hold us up.  We had no idea where to go to find our hostel once we arrived. We only had 2 ½ months to prepare for this, but that is a map thing. Everyone knows I don’t do maps, but Ron is Mr. Map. He fell by the wayside on this one. We walked 2 blocks in the wrong direction, before we asked for directions.

Once we were turned around, our hostel was a breeze to find. I have to say even in the dark, this city has more graffiti than Budapest ever thought possible and that is a real stretch. The hostel is a converted prison. Our room is an old cell, needless to say, there is only one window that opens on high, with bars on it, preventing any cross ventilation and is HOT. The temperature when we arrived was still in the mid-80s. More about the hostel later. It is time for a b and b = beer and bed.

For those not in the know, The L Word was a television show on cable TV.

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Frommer Readers


Dear Ryan,

   My wife and I are getting much good use of the 8th edition of your Frommer's on Budapest, which we brought on our our two month sabbatical from the US.  Normally, I wouldn't write the author of a guidebook, but we saw in the book that you live full time in Budapest and we thought we would share our good laugh with you. In walking down Andrassy Street looking for a place to exercise in-doors, we had been led to believe there was a fitness club at 68 Andrassy street. As we walked there we discovered the fitness club was since out of business, but the EcoCafe next door looked good. We went in that day in the first week of our being here and have gone back at least three times. It has freshly baked organic bread and kifli, sandwiches and good coffee.

   Next door to the Eco as you probably know is the Lukacs Cukraszda.  As we walked by it after breakfast, all my wife could remember was that it was noted in your guidebook. Well, being curious and on vacation I stepped inside to see if I could take a look at the menu.  To the right of the door seemed to be a board with writing that looked like a menu, so I headed that way before being abruptly stopped by one of the waiters.  It was literally two minutes to 9:00 and it turns out that the Lukacs does not open until nine AM.  So, as I'm a potential customer two minutes before opening, I was surprised and miffed that the response of the employees was to insist that I leave.  

   When we got back to our apartment, we looked at the Frommer's just to check what you might have said about Lukacs.  Of course, we howled when we read your insights about the manager's attitude.  You had hit it right on the head.  We definitely wouldn't go back there. 
   Further you had noted some concern about Gerloczy Kavehaz.  We stopped there today for lunch because it is around the corner from our favorite cheese shop.  We can easily report a very good experience. Great service at lunch, willingness to explain the menu in Hungarian and English and very nice quiche with fresh salad.
   Thanks for all the hard work it takes to see, review and write these places.  We all benefit. Jack and Agnes Dover

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Leaving on Railjet Train


We are leaving in an hour for Ljubljana, Slovenia by train. It will be a grueling 9 1/2 hours of travel for 3 days of tourism before boarding the train to return. Needless to say, there are no budget airlines and the train tickets were only 39 Euros a piece, so with a few good books packed, we are off.

I will have my trusty netbook with me to capture the day at the end of each and of course my camera. If there is WiFi, I will share as soon as possible.

If you don't understand the title of this post, click here.

TTFN all!

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Made in America Second Take


Here is another view of "Made in America", the good old price fixing. No, this is not all-American and surely you could find the same in other countries, but does dissuade buyers to buy without comparative shopping whenever possible. 

"The industry is abuzz this week over a class-action lawsuit filed against Apple and six of the big publishing houses alleging ebook price fixing. Amazon is mentioned several times in the press release, which states, "The complaint claims that the five publishing houses forced Amazon to abandon its discount pricing and adhere to a new agency model, in which publishers set prices.'" To read the rest and my source, go here. 

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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Reader Comments on Nose Sucking


A Reader responded:
"This is great! Having lived in Budapest for four years, I know only too well how easy these kinds of translation errors can be made and the resulting humor! Enjoy your time in Budapest, it's a great city!" on Do You Need Your Nose Sucked?

Perhaps she has missed the fact that I have lived here almost ten years. :  ) 

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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Do You Need Your Nose Sucked?


If you don't know the saying "truth is stranger than fiction" you must have at least thought something along those lines at some point. Anyway, I belong to a recycling group here that originated in Tuscon, Arizona and spread throughout the world. There are now 4,969 groups with 8,648,943 members. 

The basic premise is that if you have something you want to rid yourself of, you post it to your recycle Yahoo group with WHO NEEDS in the subject line. People who want it, e-mail you for it, giving you the option of who gets it. Likewise, if you need something, you post NEED  and then the item you need. Years ago I discovered Freecycle and wanted to start an English group here in Budapest, but since there was a group here already, I had to get permission from the current group leader. He refused permission, but offered a compromise. All posts to the Hungary group would be bi-lingual Hungarian and English. That worked for me. Over the years, I have been a major contributor of getting rid of things from furniture to old computer supplies. The only time there was something offered that I felt in need of was a pile of books for school. I was the only taker. 

Not that you have the premise, this post came through my group today in the e-mail. I am only giving the English translation of the original Hungarian post. Dear Hungarians, please don't spoil the humor here by getting rational. 

The message:

"We would like to get a vacuum cleaner. Mainly because the only way we can suck our baby's nose is to use the vacuum (with a special adapter).This is why it is very important to get one.


(translated by moderator, Betty )

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Sunday, August 14, 2011

Made in America


This friend of ours sent out this news piece about a US special on television called "Made in America" with Diane Sawyer. The premise of the e-mail was that Sawyer, a famous television journalist went to different peoples' homes and had removed everything that was not made in America. My guess is that America was ethnocentrically defined as the USA, not Canada or Mexico, or any country in the other Americas, like Central or South. 

Once all was identified as being from some other non-USA origin, the houses were empty. One house had a piece of ceramic, that ubiquitous hand print in clay that children make in school for Mother's Day. Although there was some discussion about whether to get rid of it or not, because the child was from Vietnam and had been adopted. Technically, the hand print was not of American origin.

The end result and conclusion was that if Americans, US, not other OTHER Americans, would only spend a paltry $65 more a person per year, we or rather they could buy "Made in the USA" for all of their purchases. What was left unsaid was that many people would have 1/45 of the things they now have to dust and vacuum, since in reality not all things they want are "Made in America" in the size, shape, color, style, or let's face it, quality we have come to expect from the Koreans and Japanese. 

There were two things that came to mind with this whole expose'. 
1. Are all of the raw materials for all of these "Made in America" products grown, produced, or created in the USA before the final product is created? If you want to see what the USA has to offer, you can visit here to see the items state by state.
2. If so many people want to create jobs and are so concerned with the American economy, why is Walmart and Sam's Club thriving and pushing out small privately owned business that pay fair wages and care for their employees?

If you are concerned about the American economy and jobs be proactive to change the corporation laws. However, we know they have politicians in their pockets, so those changes will never happen. 

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Thursday, August 11, 2011

Slug Time


Okay, I have been feeling like a slug, not getting much of anything done. I attribute it t the days of August, where I have worked on so many projects from the time school is out that by now, I am running out of gas. What has kept me busy is reading new books for classes for fall. After ordering a number of new books for classes, I have to read them to see if they are as good as they were portrayed. A couple are, but they would be so far over the comprehension level of my students, they cannot be used. One was sufficient, interesting and will be used for my Race and Ethnicity I class. Darn they are going to have a lot to read. 

As a reward for my slovenliness, we went to Szimpla Kert with Fulbrighter Jeff Frawley to test drive a new beer made with honey. It is not pasteurized, so from keg to keg it will be a bit different. Ron and I had stopped at a taco stand on the way. As good as the quick dinner was, I was almost too full to drink a large beer. All I had was one burrito. When the two others wanted round 2 of beer, I had to pass. Next time I will not eat first. It will be worth it for this beer, delicious. Anyone want to join us for a brew, give a yell. I am open to repeat visits.

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Monday, August 08, 2011

All in One


In this age of technology, we can access more information in one day as opposed to what was possible in a year's time just a generation ago. Teaching university, I enjoy staying abreast of what is happening in technology and other areas, so I subscribe to different newsletters. However, I found one site that may rescue me from all of that. It is called Mashtop. Mashtop is an aggregation of other sites and stories, giving me a taste of what is available. If it is something that tickles my interest, I can read more. This is a great time saver, not having to page through long newsletters sifting out information. Because it has more than just technology, just about anyone will find something of interest. Check out Mashtop here.

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Saturday, August 06, 2011

British Countdown


Through our meanderings yesterday, we happened to pass by the British Embassy. These signs were blazing on either side of the entrance. I took these with my phone specifically for our friend Jennifer Norcross who will be attending the main event.Sorry, Jennifer, I cannot make my version do the countdown.

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Art Nouveau Museum


After saying good-bye to our Polish Canadian guest Anne, we ventured to the Art Nouveau Museum. It is a private museum, which had some strange differences. Some of the exhibits were for sale. When Ron mentioned this to one of the workers upstairs, she said "Sometimes the lights need to work, sometimes the gas." When Ron questioned whether the sale items were to pay operating costs, she affirmed this.

One thing I learned is that I don't like Art Nouveau inside anywhere near as I do outside. I love the architecture, but could do without the decor and design of furniture. When I asked for a brochure, I was told they didn't have any more than the one in the window. The cashier gave me their "new" website, saying the other one was no longer any good. When I looked at the site she gave me, it was for the Budapest underGuides tours for Art Nouveau. With misinformation like this, it is no wonder they need to sell the displays to cover the bills.

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