Friday, June 28, 2013

Websites by Nigel


My friend Nigel Hancock, who was a tremendous help and guide with my own websites, has set up business developing websites in general.

If you need a website or just want to have your current website updated with a fresh new look, here are some of the sites he has created. His rates are more than competitive; they are a bargain for the work he puts into them. You can reach him here. Each name below is a hyperlink. Click on it to see the site.


BudaBaB B&B
Inn on the Moor
Lake District Walking Holidays
Villa Casasonana
Lyndale Guesthouse
Highgate Hotel
North Berwick Vacation Apartment

Can We Dance - Shoe Shopping
Lenora Winery -  Wine Shopping 
Simply Pout - Women's Fashion Shopping
Tbox Media Centre - Technology Shopping

Professional Services

Go Fast Forward - Management Training Company
Kostrinsky Solutions - Professional Fund Raising
Tenacity Targeted Marketing - Marketing Services
Hotel and Leisure Solutions - Marketing Services
ANITP - Association of Nigerian IT Professionals
TLB Technology - Home and Business Computer Tech Support
The Family Practice - Family Dentistry
Baker Legal Company - Solicitors 

Personal Needs
Personal Wedding 
Fancy A Hand - Concierge Services
GRG Storage - Self Storage Solutions
Gronroos Dry Cleaners - Dry Cleaning
Renovation of a Life - Life Coaching and Mental Health Therapy

Visit With Me - Interactive Advertising site
GRG Packaging - Packing Materials

GRG Offices - Office Rental Space
GRG Courier - Courier Services
New Forest Equestrian Association - Horseback Riding

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Thursday, June 27, 2013

Firenze Card


I have not been able to keep up with this the way I normally would. Though I was able to get connected to the Internet in Florence, there was blocks and restrictions that I did not want to try to hack my way through. Therefore, it all fell by the wayside until getting home. That is always a mistake, so here is a condensed version of the rest of Florence.

We decided on buying the Firenze Card. I am always suspicious about the savings on these cards, but looking at the cost of this one made my eyebrows peak. They are 50 Euros each and there is only a 72 hour option. Basically, we would only have about 50 hours to use it since we have a mid-afternoon flight. Looking at the cost of entry for various places, it seemed like a good deal, but better yet, there are different entry points for card holders promising a shorter line.

Strangely enough, now that I am writing this, when I looked at their website, it shows it is now 72 Euros for 72 hours. It jumped 22 Euros since we were there on the 25th.

We did it and this is the breakdown of some, but not all of our entry fees.
Bargello – 12 Euros
Opera del Duomo – Museum of the Duomo     10 Euros
Giotto Campanile Tower - 412 stairs to the top 10 Euros I climbed to the top
Bapttistero de San Giovanni – Baptistery 5 Euros
Cappelle Medicee – Medici Chapel 9 Euros
Palazzo de Medicee – See through chairs and chapel with frescoes 7 Euros
Galleria dell AccademiaDavid 11Euros
Uffici too long a line on Tuesday, but went back on Wednesday and got right in.

The Jewish Synagogue and Museum were out of the way. By the time we got there, they had closed. We were going to try to get back there, but never made it during their limited hours.

During our walkabout, we discovered a craft beer place where ten beers are on tap. They were celebrating their 1 year anniversary, so we joined them for a brew. As I was sitting there, I spotted Eric walking down the street. He was meeting some friends for dinner, so could not stay for a beer.

I had spotted a pair of sneakers I wanted to try out. My current pair was wearing out. We had seen the store in our travels, but could not remember where. I had the sense it was close to the beer bar, so we retraced steps. It turned out to be blocks away, but worthy of the hunt. I bought the sneakers.

Nearby was Trattoria de Carmone with outdoor seating, but it was packed. We had a table inside all to ourselves. This one was rated on TripAdvisor.

If you go, I recommend this B and B with great praise:
Casa di Annusca  Via dei Serragli 126 
50124 Florence 
+39-338-314-1076 (Fabio)
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Monday, June 24, 2013

Chow Tuscany


Our plan was to skip out today and return to Florence. However, our plan had significant holes in it. There supposedly was a bus about a ½ mile from the villa, but there was no marking to identify a stop. Getting the bus depended on previous experience or dumb luck. Since it only came through once every few hours, these were not odds I was in favor of considering.

However, first things first, I wanted coffee. Andrea thought ahead, because at 10am when people would be roaming the grounds, even if sleepily, pastries were delivered. The kitchen table was filled with different pies, cakes, croissants, and other sweet delights. What they did not deliver was coffee. The villa owner lent us a coffee pot, so others came to the rescue. We all sat around outside eating, drinking, and chatting until the Sandman disappeared from our memories for at least today.

Gradually, people started disappearing. Some were leaving for other cities before returning home. Others were going for a drive in their rental car. We were still weighing our options for the great escape. For those who were staying longer, there was a wine tour planned for Tuesday, but now that the masses were parting ways, I was chomping to get back to Florence. Eric, a co-worker of Andrea’s had already committed to taking a couple into Florence to the train station. There was no room in the car for us too. However, he graciously offered to return for us later in the day. We had told our B and B host we would return before 5:30pm when he had to leave for his restaurant. If we hadn’t, he would have had to drive back into the city to let us in.

Once breakfast was over, I was antsy and wanted to move. I could not get on the Internet no matter what I did. The Wi-Fi would not work for me; the villa owner gave me a cable to connect to the wall outlet, but it refused to work too. I did not want to spend the entire day looking over pictures on a netbook mini-screen. There was also the fear of truly not knowing how to turn my phone off from roaming and winding up with a considerable roaming charge like I have done in the past.

Eric returned by 3pm and was ready to drive us to Florence. I was sorrowful about the seemingly wasted day which could have been spent seeing the museums of Florence. Once back in the city and rechecked into Fabio’s, we wanted to take Eric for dinner as a thank you, but he wasn’t certain about the others’ dinner plans, so decided he had better wait to see what the others back at the villa had planned. Instead, we went for a beer and an appetizer before he returned to the Tuscan villa.

Once we said good-bye to Eric, it was too late for any museum admissions; all we could do is window tour and window shop. That is not entirely true as so many shops stay open into the evening hours. We were able to go into some stores to browse. The only thing we decided on buying was a sheet of Florentine paper to put into frames for the two guest rooms. 

For dinner, we went to the place Fabio had suggested; it was near the B and B. It is called I’Raddi. The food was reasonably priced and tasty. I would have reviewed it on TripAdvisor, but I could not find it listed. There was not enough motivation to suggest it as a new listing, so they lose out.

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Sunday, June 23, 2013

A Tuscon Wedding


People started moving about early in the morning, but not one person was showing his or her face to the outside world. When I finished showering, Ron had disappeared, so I wandered down the trail to the other buildings to see if he happened to be there. No sign of him. The only person around was one of Andrea’s friends. Although I intruded on her peaceful morning, she was gracious enough to offer me a cup of freshly brewed coffee. We had a pleasant chat about life in general before I thanked her and moved on.

Back at our building, I ran into Ron. He had taken a walk with the parents of the bride. They had not found a coffee sharing person yet, so he and I decided to walk the mile to the mini restaurant down the road. It turned out to be a mini-mini restaurant, which we were fortunate enough to have found open. Those who ventured there later found it closed. It was Sunday after all.

Wedding events were not scheduled until 5pm, so the 37 guests were free to lounge around the pool or elsewhere to occupy their own whims in whatever way they wanted. As the day progressed, the caterers arrived immediately bustling away in the kitchen of our apartment. They had every surface covered with either ingredients or utensils. Three cooks did not seem to spoil the soup; they worked like a well-seasoned cast iron frying pan. Not a single voice was raised during the preparation.

Under the shade of trees and a gazebo, long tables were set up for the bountiful food that would follow. In the meantime, there were dozens of chairs set up on the lawn for the ceremony. It resembled church seating. Creating an aisle between the chairs was a long white runner for the bride to walk down. It was sprinkled with yellow and white flower petals. To the left of the guest chairs, was a small platform where a violinist would perform prior to and during the ceremony. When the florist arrived to deliver their goods, sunflowers adorned the celebration area and filled vases elsewhere for a lovely flow of energy.

On each of the chairs was a small brown bag sealed with a sticker that proclaimed “Andrea and Marc’s Wedding – June 23, 2013”. Underneath each bag was a program giving the guests tips on having fun, what would happen during the ceremony, and what to do with what is in the bag after the ceremony is over. What the bags contained were multiple handfuls of candy confetti the likes of which is used for decorating cakes. This was to be tossed in lieu of rice or paper confetti. As promised in the wedding program, the ceremony was short, sweet and romantic.

There was a two hour ‘free-period’ after the ceremony and before dinner was served. During this time, the church seating transformed into restaurant seating with tables and chairs to seat 8 at each were waiting for the hungry guests. Typical of an Italian dinner, the meal was multiple courses. Rather than list it all, there is a picture of the menu below. Forgetting my diabetic issues, I ate everything and drank wine like tomorrow would never materialize. There is never a guarantee of a tomorrow, so I couldn’t risk letting these delectable pass me by, could I?

A band started playing where the violinist once was, there was now a dance floor. The transformations to accommodate each next phase of celebrations were swift and seamless. We shared a table with the same group from Andrea’s work who invited us for dinner last night. Again, the company was significantly enjoyable; laughter was generously stimulated and shared by all. In one section of the lawn, the married couple had set up a “Photo Booth”. There was a camera on a tripod set up, but before you ventured into a pose, you needed to adorn yourself. This was all thought of ahead of time. There were Viking hats, Roman warrior breastplates, shields, oversized glasses, funny hats, and assorted other “extricate your inner child” paraphernalia. The band played long after we went to bed at 1am.

Truly, this is within my top three best weddings I have ever attended.

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Saturday, June 22, 2013

Under the Florence Sun Going to Tuscany


Today we are starting the family hook-ups in preparation for the Tuscan wedding that is to follow this weekend. Ron’s grand-niece Elise and her boyfriend John arrived this morning after spending a couple of nights in Venice. Ron’s plan was to do some touring around seeing sights from the outside and the free ones from the inside. There isn’t much free here. Even some of the popular churches charge admission.

We took them to the Duomo, but Elise was refused admittance. She was wearing shorts and a sleeveless top. I could not believe the hypocrisy and sexism in this as men who were dressed in the same manner were allowed entry. Regardless, I waited with her on the steps in the shade. Elise is truly extroverted making her an enjoyable companion even if she was barred from the church.

Conversely, we did get into Basilica de Santo Spirito for free, where there is a wooden crucifix carved by Michaelangelo. Somehow, we did not see any guards collecting a fee nor did we notice any signs. It was not until later that we realized there was a fee for admittance to his specific chapel within the church.

For lunch, we returned to the same piazza where we had dinner Thursday night, but a different choice in restaurants. This one Osteria del Santo Spirito, was a much better choice, even if it sounds like they only serve first holy communion. Italian restaurants can be extremely confusing with their portion control. Menus offer primo and secundo choices, where the primo is generally either a pasta or risotto dish. Often times, having ordered this as my single entrée, it had turned out that the portion couldn’t fill a demitasse cup. Yet, the price could fill my piggy bank. A cost of 8-15 Euros should provide something more than a tablespoonful of food. With this in mind, the three men ordered the full portions, as opposed to the half portions.

Ron had gnocchi swimming in cheese sauce; my rigatoni macaroni were covered with a tomato sauce sprinkled with dry Ricotta cheese. John dared to try a pasta dish that is served with gelled fish row. As the hot pasta melts the row, it provides a fishy sauce. Elise was the smart one with some forethought ordering a small portion of the same rigatoni I had. John’s dish was too adventurous for my taste and honestly, I don’t think he was overwhelmed with joy at his choice either. He mentioned more than once that it was an ‘acquired taste’. He seemed to be waiting for his taste buds to start acquiring a flavor appreciation, but he took a considerable sized portion as a to-go package. I doubt it ever ventured further than the refrigerator to the trash once we were at the villa.

We still had time to kill before the prearranged taxi drove us to the villa in Tuscany where we would settle for two nights. Trying to walk off our dinner, fatigue took over with the younger ones long before it did their elders. A coffee stop was in order to while away the remaining hour or so.

At promptly 5pm as scheduled the taxi/van was there to transport us. The ride was a paltry 30 minutes, but the cost was a significant 70 Euros, which we shared with Elise and John. No wonder the Italian economy is in shambles.

Without any real expectations of what a Tuscan villa would be like outside of vivid imaginations, we were pleasantly surprised. The hills in the distance and the fields surrounding the villa itself are covered with olive trees and grape vineyards. It was as delicious as any imagination could perceive it to be.
We were greeted by the bride, Andrea. She is the older sister to Elise and another of Ron’s grand-nieces. He being one of 7 children, there are lots more grand-nieces and grand-nephews running around. Andrea and Mark had a quick civil wedding back in Colorado for the grandmothers on both sides of the family who could not get to Italy. We were shown to our room which was one bedroom of a two bedroom apartment, which included two full bathrooms, a living room, a dining room that could seat 20 and a full sized eat in kitchen. Andrea’s parents were given the second bedroom. The second floor included additional apartments where she placed fellow workers who came for the celebration. Just 30 steps out the back door were one of the swimming pools.

Down a trail weaving through olive trees were two more buildings, each with full apartments and a humungous shared kitchen. This is where all of their friends were staying. All totaled there were 37 people who arrived for this wedding. The actual ceremony is scheduled for tomorrow, but the festivities continue. Andrea and Mark booked and paid for the entire stay at the villa and for those who chose, it was available through Tuesday. On Tuesday, there was a wine tour scheduled for anyone who cared to stay and imbibe.

Tonight, however, was the night to party. Female friends had arranged a hen party for Andrea while Mark’s buddies planned a stag party. A whole lot single person celebrations were planned a little too after the fact, but a bus came to pick them up at 6pm. Off they went back to Florence to kick up their heels. Ron and I had stayed behind and wandered the surrounding land. We were not quite certain if we would eat dinner or not since we had no idea what the plan was and had not done any shopping.

As we walked back to our assigned building, a crew from Andrea’s workplace was busy cooking up a dinner. As soon as they spotted us, they invited us to share with them. Seven of us had a communal meal of spaghetti and steak. The food was tasty, but the companionship was spectacular. I had not laughed so hard in years. They are not only a fabulous group of medical professional people, but they are dynamic human beings. We stayed up until close to midnight having a grand time.

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Friday, June 21, 2013

Don't Give Me Any Flax About How We Ended Our Day


What do you mean you hate museums?
Friday was spent walking around the city. We had decided that we would not visit any museums or anything that charged an admission because when we return, we will buy the Florence Card. We left the B and B by 9:30am and did not return until 11:30pm.
There were a couple of outdoor displays that filled small segments in our day. One piazza had a presentation on the uses of flax. This was particularly intriguing to me as flax seed is supposedly one of the food items that are a glucose inhibitor. What I didn’t realize are the many other uses for the plant itself. Besides being used for making linen, it is used in surfboards, rope, stuffing for chairs, and a few dozen other things that I had no idea about.

The other exhibit we found was and in retrospect still is a little confusing. It had something to do with motorcycles, but it was rather vague and strange. There was a motorcycle which looked like it was entirely decoupaged with newspapers while retaining all of the details of the bike. However, later when I inspected closer, it felt like it was sculpted from Styrofoam and not actually a motorcycle at all. Just as peculiar, there were bean bag chairs also covered in newsprint, both black and white and in color. In one section of this exhibit, there was a barber shaving a man with an old fashioned straight edge razor. On the opposite side, there were books all pertaining to motorcycles for sale alongside leather racing jackets. Adjoining this exhibit was a carousel, adding to the perplexity of the situation.

We ended our day by having dinner at the Hard Rock Café. Okay, no flack here. We collect Hard Rock pins from every city we travel to where there is a Hard Rock. There is something about these restaurants that transform me into a music lover, which I am not normally. There always seems to be some nostalgic souvenirs hanging on a wall that transport me back to a time when music played a significant role in a memory.  Honestly, dinner here was a vast improvement over last night’s, but that could be because I indulged by having ribs and pulled pork. Heavenly! We bought our pins on the way out too. 

The weather was spectacularly sunny, but not overly hot.
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Thursday, June 20, 2013

Giving the Finger


I have been lagging behind in writing. Some brilliant ideas come with consequences. When we travel, I always have a battery recharger with me for my camera batteries. My particular camera requires rather particular batteries, which are not only hefty in weight, but in cost as well. The charger for them is duly expensive. After years of traveling, the charger had gotten knocked around my suitcase causing the protruding electric prongs to become wobbly and finally ineffective. Rather than be inserted into an outlet, they would rather retreat like man parts when entering freezing water.

Brainstorming, I thought it would be prudent to get some Styrofoam to cover the prongs, hence making them stable in the suitcase. After hunting down people who knew what Styrofoam was, I finally found some. When testing it out, it became apparent that little bits of white chemical balls were going to start sloughing off decorating everything else in the luggage. The next option was to try foam rubber. Finding a place that sold this was more of a challenge. I had suggestions, but before I could set out, someone mentioned a sponge. Eureka! This was the solution. Off I went to buy a sponge. Then to hold it on and in place, I bought 2 hair scrunchies. This keeps the prongs safe and the batteries in place while inside the suitcase.

Well all reasonable creations come a little blood, sweat, and tears. The sweat was hunting down the potential supplies from store to store in high heat. The blood and tears came later. While trying to cut into the cellulose sponge, the screwdriver that I thought would be sufficient was not. The next item was a knife. It slashed through the sponge quickly and easily, but unfortunately, my finger was in the way. It was a deep wound, bringing on the blood and tears. It actually bled for over 3 hours if I did not keep pressure on it. There was no way we could get a bandage tight enough to stop the bleeding, so it needed hand holding. For once, one hand knew what the other hand was doing.

Need I say how difficult it is to type with a left forefinger that looks like the end of a baton? The f-g-r-t-v and 5 keys were now vacationing due to my lack of dexterity. Adding to this is the knowledge that the negative Internet connection was not going to improve my cyber communication skills in any way. Strangely, I could surf the Internet, albeit at a snail’s pace, but I could not access our own website nor could I send e-mail from our own account So particularly strange.

In order to divert my attention away from my Internet issues, I had to content myself with our first afternoon into the evening walk in Florence. Poor me! We spent it wandering aimlessly as we looked at some of the ancient historic sites. This was my fourth time here and my second time with Ron. Our last visit was in 1993, so it was undeniably exciting to have a reason to return. Only two nights were allotted for this portion of the trip, and then we venture off to Tuscany for two nights, and then return here for three more nights.

We ventured to the Pitti Palace, the Duomo, Ponte Vecchio, the outdoor museum of statues by the old city hall, and various churches that were open. This is undeniably a city where nightlife rules; throngs of people are milling around the piazzas and walking the narrow streets. Most streets are so slight in width that the sidewalk on each side of the centered one car lane only allows for single-file walking. There is no shortage of people in the plazas where restaurants circle the perimeter, generally a church sits on one side corner like a matriarch overseeing her clan, and a fountain adorns the center of the square complementing the scene as viewed in foreign movies.

People are eating late into the night. At 11pm, patrons are still arriving, looking for menus, and tipping back drinks. The restaurants are full of reserved tables still, at this late hour. Regardless of the mobs of people busily involved in social activity, the sound level was moderately static allowing residents in the apartments above to enjoy their television without having to blast the volume. There was a steady buzz so unlike the voluminous raucous sounds bringing to mind hooligans at a football match, which is what we hear outside our own windows.

Sticker shock hit us like a professional baseball pitcher’s fastball. Regardless of our diligence in hunting high and low, we could not find a budget eatery. We finally settled for a place in the piazza where we had been twice. It was only by sheer fortune that we were able to get a table, it was that busy and we had been refused by another restaurant that could not accommodate us. We chose Ricchi Pizzeria, where I had a pizza, Ron had risotto and each of us had a beer. The bill came to €54, which certainly churned my stomach more so than the pizza did.  If my pizza were delectable, I would not have been so upset, but it was essentially tasteless. I could have done better with cardboard, tomato juice, and skim milk cheese.

By 11:30, we finally wandered back to our B and B Casa di Annusca at Via dei Serragli 126- (+39-338-314-1076 This is a fabulously rich accommodation with artwork in every nook and granny. Even the interior doors are graced with murals.

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Greetings from Florence


We are in the ancient city of the Medicis and of course Michaelangelo's most spectacular creations. However, right before leaving, I sliced a chunk out of my left pointer finger. Three hours of non-stop bleeding should have been a clue that stitches were needed, but the day before our journey, I had State Exams all day. No time to figure out where to go for a nee dle and thread. Since then, the abundant bandage that is not occupying my finger tip, makes it near impossible to type on a netbook keyboard.

The wifi where we are staying does not reach our room, so not only is the Internet a problem, but using Viber on my phone is also. 

Before leaving, I had an overdue maintenance done on my camera. They updated the software on it. I never tested it before leaving. Now, each time I take a picture, it takes 3-5 at once. In spite of turning off multiple exposures, it has not solved the problem. 

Suffice it to say, regardless we are having a great time. Saturday, we'll leave for Tuscany for the wedding, our reason for being here. Ciao!
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Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Baku Anyone?


Wizz Air is starting a new flight between Budapest and Baku. If you are wondering, Baku is in Azerbaijan. To celebrate the postal systems of both countries have created joint project postage stamps with the handicrafts of both countries.

I was tempted to book tickets on the inaugural flights, but they arrive in Baku at 4am. It would be rough checking into a hotel at that hour without booking the night before. Maybe later!

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Tuesday, June 18, 2013

No Tasty Italian Zestiness for Prudes or Prunes


If I were a believer, I would say Oh My God!, but I am not, so I am left without a recognizable expression until I create one that becomes catchy enough to spread virally. In the meantime, let’s address the issue at hand. One Million Moms are at it again. They are protesting Kraft Foods do this company’s audacity to use the “Zesty Guy” as a spokesperson.

They claim they cannot have Kraft food products in their refrigerator as it may taint the other food items within, which may cause a s*xual revolution. Oh yeah, they use * in place of certain letters because their spam filters are so tightly wrapped, they will not allow words such as s-e-x through without a condom and STD clearance first. They are so affected with Victorian beliefs, they only use limp lettuce leaves for their salad since anything firm would be arousing. Sorry, no cucumbers, please.

I want Verizon to check the smartphone records from these One Million Moms and report any secret sauce they are slipping into their shopping cart. Maybe someone should remind them that all supermarkets have video surveillance. Big Siblings are watching you, so don’t get Krafty or you will be outed with some Italian guy undressing before your lustful eyes as you are being monitored with a drool-ometer. They will only monitor your mouth, because chances are your nether parts are as dry as a wishbone that has set out in the summer sun for days.

Their organ-ization put out this release “Christians will not be able to buy Kraft dressings or any of their products until they clean up their advertising. The consumers they are attempting to attract — women and mothers — are the very ones they are driving away. Who will want Kraft products in their fridge or pantry if this vulgarity is what they represent?”

Coincidentally or ironically, these issues just add fuel to the fire. Over One Million Gay or Bisexual Men live in the US. Some would buy the product just to support the humor of the commercial, even if it sits at the back of the pantry. Then there are the supportive others, gay women included here who can take a decent joke when it interrupts the latest episode of Scandal or Mad Men.

Anderson Davis, the actor/model in the commercials is not the hottest looking man I have ever seen, but his career has certainly skyrocketed, because of it. So, One Million Moms, turn off the daytime TV shows, because I see he has appeared on LIVE with Kelly and Michael and most likely more than I am aware of at the moment. Being Italian and at times a krafty person, I find this to be very prejudicial to my heritage and personality traits in general.

Is it One Million Moms or One Million Mini Minds?

If you need to see more to make up your own mind (Ha, Ha, Ha!!) click on over to the YouTube channel to see the four current ads. More are in development.

If you REALLY want to blow some one out of the water, show them this video! They will never eat chicken the same way again.
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Sunday, June 16, 2013

Do You Want Soy Sauce With That?


I just finished reading A Year Without "Made in China": One Family's True Life Adventure in the Global Economy by Sara Bongiorni, gifted to me by Eva Miszoglad. This book has been on my wish list since it first came out in 2008. It has been worth the wait.

If you are not familiar with the book, reread the title. If you still need some guidance to understand what the book is about, click here

Bongiorni has used her and her family’s expedition into the world without Chinese goods, not only an enormous fun read, but an eye-opening one as well. Mind you, she did create some loopholes for the year, but there were few lapses in judgement when followed by Sara's immediate family. Relatives and friends were another story and dimension entirely.

The book made me laugh out loud more times than those in public appreciated; at the gym, one apparently should not be laughing while walking at 5.4 kmh and those who patronize Starbucks were startled or amused when I would guffaw out loud. The writer is gifted and having read some reviews of the book both before and after my own reading it, there are points to be made that are pertinent.

As much as I was amused and educated, I was also alarmed. It produced nostalgic memories of the materialistic nature of many whom I know while also invoking my own childhood Christmas reflections . My mother always made sure my brother and I had an equal number of gifts. Any outside who did not know better would have thought we were Siamese twins the way she went on about it. 

We each always had at least one large gift, but generally more. Our major gift was generously supplemented with a roomful of smaller ones. Even as adults she would exclaim “Now you received this gift which is twice as much as your brother’s gift, so he gets two large gifts. But they are still equal in value.” Often she made us feel as if we were sitting there with an abacus calculating our worthiness in wrapped surprises. Later on while still in my youth, one of my presents was an early version calculator so I could do just what she suspected of me. It was a clunky manual one, so it held up the gift opening process, so I could compute sums.

It seems to me that when I was living in the US, I was heavily involved in the gift giving and getting frenzy. It has slacked off considerably since coming to Hungary. Yet, I have to say that for many years before leaving CA, I cut back on trying to buy my way into certain relatives’ lives. I would order gifts and have them sent directly after trying to pinpoint interests at any given moment. 

Ron spent days in line at various stores one year to get a full collection of Power Rangers in all colors. After they were mailed off, we never heard a word about their being received. Later it was a telescope for star watching because that was what was happening in cub scouts at the time. The list was extensive, but when there was never any acknowledgement, the universe snapped closed my wallet while opening my eyes regarding future extravaganzas. End of that story!

Just last week my Hungarian private student shared with me  that his sister has been invited to an American (bride)/Hungarian (groom) wedding. She is friends with the bride so wanted to follow American customs. She asked her older brother to grill me on the doings. I laughed heartily as I explained the bridal shower gift and then the wedding gift, gift registries, et cetera and so on. Then I sent him a couple of links to bridal registries. The next time we met, he admitted he was overwhelmed with the overindulgence associated with many (not all) nuptials.

That is nothing. There are registries for all occasions now. Full disclosure: I have an Wish List, but the practical purpose is that it keeps as a reminder what books I have read about that I would like to read. If someone buys me something from it, generally it is because they feel a need to repay me for a list of good deeds.

So as I was reading Bongiorni, I am fantasizing about China taking over production of the world’s goods due to cheap labor. Factories worldwide shutdown as they send their raw material to China for assembly or manufacturing. We all become complacent about cheap goods, disposable since they so cheap, but then China makes a turnabout and raises their labor costs. They now have the world of greedy commerce and consumers on their knees and the landfills on overflow.

If you don't believe China is taking over, click on to this site that claims over 10,000 items in every category to satisfy your needs. Then look at the stats from US - China import/exports here.

The book is a definite read!
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Friday, June 14, 2013

A Chocolate Coated Trophy of Thanks Goes to...


There are times in teaching when the emotional moments are overwhelming. Mercifully, some of those are for positive reasons. Last night was one of them, wiping out some of the less pleasant ones of the recent past.

One of my top MA students, Eva Miszoglad, who I also advised for her thesis, set up a coffee date with me. As she approached our rendezvous spot, she was laden with a bag hanging from one arm while carrying a large baking sheet with both hands. She had mentioned that she needed a day’s advance notice before meeting as her distinctive surprise needed to be completed, but was time sensitive.

As the Pillsbury Doughboy said “Nothing Says Lovin' Like Something From the Oven!” This was especially true in this case. Eva made this with special flour for diabetics; it contains no sugar. As much as I wanted to dive in right then and there, I used control to bring it home to show Ron and our guests. 

In addition to the brownies, she gave me three books that she found on a Wish List I had set up for visitors. Now I have Sally Vickers Mr. Golightly’s Holiday, Donna Leon’s Doctored Evidence, and A Year Without "Made in China": One Family's True Life Adventure in the Global Economy by Sara Bongiorni. All three have been on my Wish List for ages, so I am so excited to have them now. Sally Vicker’s Miss Garnet’s Angel spurred us on to visit Venice the 2nd time to follow the trail in her novel. Donna Leon’s mysteries all take place there too. I have forgotten 10 other of her books. The China book had aroused my curiosity when I first heard about it. This was an exceptional surprise to add to all the other fabulous surprises students have given me over the years. I call all of these gifts, my trophies.

If you were wondering all that is left is T-H-A-N, but maybe not after dinner tonight.

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No Visa for Hungary?


American Express tells us not to leave home without out, but in Hungary, it is essentially a wallet stuffer. Other than higher class hotel and some expensive restaurants, the likelihood of getting to whip it out is close to nil. The only use for a Diners Club card without the MasterCard logo is for admission to the Diners Club lounge at the airport. Diners Club outside of the US is only a Diners Club card.

As the financial road narrows, it is causing more obstacles still. VISA is feeling Hungary troubles. According to, VISA is struggling along.  They claim that “Visa Europe has been constantly losing ground in Hungary every year; the number of Visa cards in circulation dropped by more than one million over the past three years. The company has found itself in an exceptionally difficult position on the Hungarian card market due to an agreement sealed with the European Commission earlier.”

The article does not make it clear how Hungary is different from the rest of the EU in regard to these regulations. However, the interview is with Mark Antipof, Managing Director Growth & Emerging Markets at Visa Europe. Mr. Antipof was asked if VISA could reasonably leave the Hungarian market? To this he responded

“We are unable to compete effectively and are losing market share as a result of factors which are not related to our performance, neither over which we have control. We thoroughly explained the issues we face in this regard to the ministry and related authorities, including the implications if nothing changed regarding Visa Europe's position.

In practice, the Hungarian banking card market is becoming monopolistic. We believe if the situation remains as it is, the lack of competition will be harmful for all parties in the banking card sector: banks, merchants and consumers. Competition on level-playing field is beneficial for the players and will also help the introduction of various payment innovations, such as contactless, e-commerce and mobile payment.”

My gosh, if you visit Hungary without a MasterCard, what will you do? Traveler’s checks are no longer used here. How will tourists survive? They actually have to figure out the zeros on Hungarian bills and use forints as a last resort. It figures, as of June 1st, Visa stopped charging the international exchange fees for purchases made in currencies other than the US dollar.

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Sunday, June 09, 2013

More Flood Photos


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Saturday, June 08, 2013

Budapest Flooding


When I went to the gym yesterday, I took these with my phone. More to come as the waters rise. It is supposed to crest either Monday or Tuesday. The last two photos are of the International Book Festival that is taking place just two blocks from the river. 

Metro 2 is not stopping at Batthyány tér due to the flooding. Tram 2 is not completing its route, partially due to flooding, but also because of construction at the parliament building.

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Friday, June 07, 2013

Take a Wizz...Flight


People, who are not familiar, always laugh when they first hear that they should take Wizz somewhere. It almost sounds like a chamber pot activity best not discussed in polite company. Those who are in the know realize that Wizz is taking control of the sky for the budget jet set crowd. They are now spreading their Budapest based wings further afield with a new destination: Istanbul, Turkey.

According to “Wizz Air operates a fleet of 44 A320 Airbus aircraft from 16 bases on over 270 routes with 92 destinations to 33 countries. The airline expects to carry more than 13.5 million passengers this year, up from over 11 million in 2012.”

It has always fascinated me how an airline could serve so many cities with so few planes.

This is the starting schedule.

In addition, Wizz is now flying to Baku. Where is Baku? It is the capital of Azerbaijan.
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Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Air France Wants You to Hop


Hop on a flight. That is what Air France is promoting these days with their latest service called Hop! Responding to the budget airlines that have been kicking them in the rear rudder, leaving them behind in streaming fumes of jet fuel, they are fighting back.

Hop! Is billed as a low cost flying alternative with primary destinations scattered throughout France. What a surprise that is, right? Well from Budapest, one can fly to a number of Francophile destinations, many of which may not have been on one’s radar in the past.

Offering three levels of service, there is something for everyone’s budget. Choose from Basic, Basic Plus, or Maxi Flex. The Basic for example is 55€ each segment, but only includes 1 piece of hand baggage of not more than 12kg or 55cmx35cmx25cm. Yes ladies, your purse counts as this one piece.

If you need that extra luggage, it will need to be under 23kg, checked in, and it will run you 15€ per trip if you remembered to order it on the Internet. Otherwise, it will be 30€ per trip at the airport. Notice that per trip means each flight, not round-trip. By-pass the added charge by springing for the Basic Plus or Maxi Flex where 1 piece is free or 2 pieces are included in the Maxi amount.

Do you want to earn miles with the Air France Flying Blue program? You sure can for just an extra 5€, which will add 250 miles to your account. Do you want fries with that? Those are extra too.
The real surprise here is that Budapest has a significantly varied 19 choices within France as opposed to Vienna where there are only four within France and none anywhere else. From Budapest, you can go to Naples. WOW!!

The idea is that this will be a feeder for other global Air France routes. The English link is here.

•    Biarritz
•    Bordeaux
•    Brest
•    Caen
•    Clermont Ferrand
•    La Rochelle
•    Lille
•    Limoges
•    Lorient
•    Lyon
•    Marseille
•    Metz - Nancy
•    Montpellier
•    Mulhouse-Basel
•    Nantes
•    Nice
•    Poitiers
•    Rennes
•    Strasbourg

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