Thursday, October 24, 2013

Three Hours of Bladder Control


Our hotel breakfast was a self-service assortment high in sugar and carbs, so it was not great for me, but I found a few things to keep hunger at bay knowing I would need to get some walking in later to work off carb overload.

Our bus was scheduled for 10:30am, but we were unclear where we would catch it once at the bus station. No one looked at the company name with great familiarity. We decided to be earlier than necessary to double check when there. It was indeed the space 15 where we had been told, but it turned out not to be a bus, but a shuttle van that seated 19 people. Thankfully, there were only five of us at the first stop, and only one joined us at the airport. Sadly, I knew this shuttle was not bathroom equipped. With a diabetic bladder, this could mean trouble.

We are a Hungarian magnet no matter where we travel. One of the people waiting for the shuttle was a Romanian (father) – Hungarian (mother), who wanted to be friendly. He kept eyeing my backpack sitting on the cement while we were waiting, so I was suspicious. His monologue clued us in that he has been all over Europe, supposedly looking for a job, but never seems to last in one place for more than a couple of days. He had been in Crete, Toulouse, and next stop Andorra.

Inner city driving and then highways permeated our first hour of the ride allowing me to read my book without any feeling of regret. I was hoping for colorful trees to remind us it was October and autumn was surrounding us, but the trees around the Toulouse area skipped over the colorful step or they just browned fast.

During the 2nd hour of the ride, I sprawled out across the five seats in the back and slept for an hour. As luck would have it, the width was just enough for to be fully stretched without scrunching my body.

When I awoke at the third hour, we were rewarded with spots of color. Though some trees were stubbornly holding on to their green leaves, there were smatterings of golden spots. It looked like a green leopard skin with golden spots. Andorra is not in the Schengen zone, but we passed through passport control and customs with only a head nod from the guard, but without having to come for a full stop.

It seemed that for the last hour, there was a babbling brook on one side of our van or the other for miles. Brook had much to babble about.

The shuttle took us right to the hotel door. Our hotel is located in Escaldes-Engordany, but the capital is in la Vella. I figured we would be taking a public bus back and forth since the four historic sites are located in the capital. Being a small country, how long could the bus ride take?

Our hotel room is humongous. There is enough floor space to hold a party with 16 guests and still have room left over. The bathroom is just as large, giving the whole a luxurious feel to it.

Andorra is located in the east Pyrenees between France and Spain, making Toulouse and Barcelona the entry points for public transport. The country is independent, but still depends on both countries to defend it in war.

We ventured into Església de Sant Esteve, a church that dates back to the 11th century, but with modernizing the only thing left of the original was the Romanesque apse. Two things made the church particularly interesting. There is a stylized statue of the Madonna and child, which were unique. It is such an interesting art piece; I could see having a statue of it in my home, even if I don’t believe in its representation. The city is full of art on the streets. We ran into a bronze sculpture 'La noblesse du temps' by Salvador Dalí. Translated to 'The Nobility of Time' this sculpture portrays a soft watch on a tree. Placed at Pont de la Rotonda, the Old Parliament building, it is there for all to admire.

An amazing pyramid-shaped skyscraper stands out from the crown of other buildings. Inside is the Caldea thermal spa and wellness resort, which is advertised as the largest in Europe at 6,000 square meters. We are thinking of going, but we will see how our time goes.

Stopping at the tourism office, we found that the city/country tour bus is only on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. We missed out. You can go across country is you use the public bus system and a one way will be less than 2 Euros.

We have been on the hunt for rings to see if we can find something exceptional here. Andorra is tax-free, so everything you buy here is free from VAT. That said this is a paradise for those shopping for technology items. There are dozens of stores selling phones, computers, laptops, pads, and so on. In addition, cigarettes are dirt-cheap and presumably so are liquors. We are not buying any of it.

Just about every restaurant has a ‘fixed menu’ for €10.90. If you look at the a la carte menus this is a real bargain, otherwise it is not. We had a list of budget places to eat, but budget is questionable. We have discovered a small pub called 1978 Café, but they only have sweets and sandwiches, no meals. They are very inexpensive though.

Later for dinner, we wandered into La Taverna Andorra only because the decorations were set for Halloween. The food was good. I had a hamburger with foie gras, something far from my norm. It was different and tasty. Our waiter, it turned out is from Portugal.

We really had a fuller day than reported here, but the double-edged sword of blogging while traveling is having enough time to fit everything into a day. Regrettably or not, I brought my school laptop this trip to test out how it would be to carry. The sound quality is so much better than the netbook; this was a test run for which one to take in December. Trading off was the fact that this does not have a card reader for me to upload any photos. Hence, I cannot include any of my own here. They will have to come later.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Pin It Now!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

When Your Plans Are Toulouse, You Need to Plan More


“Life is a journey, not a destination.” Emerson got it right when he verbalized this sentiment. We left on a 6:50 am flight from Budapest heading to Munich and then connecting to Toulouse. Enjoying the Diners Club lounge helped a great deal. We did not have coffee or breakfast at home, so we were able to indulge in both free, once at the airport.

Lufthansa is ever efficient. We left on time and arrived to the minute in Munich. Too bad, because we had a 3+ hour layover, so being late would have killed some time. We had the directions to the Diners Club lounge here too, but both lounges happen to be in Terminal 1, while we were in Terminal 2 the Schengen terminal. In order to indulge in relaxation, free food, drink, and easy access to the Internet all free, we had to emigrate from the secured zone we were in after landing.
Leaving the airport was no big deal. Walking to Terminal 1 was like walking the length of five professional football fields and then coming face to face with Passport Control. Since he could not find my latest exit stamp, he asked how long I have been in Europe. Twelve years did not bring a smile to his face. Meanwhile, Ron is sailing through with a different officer, no questions asked. I had to produce my Hungarian residency card. Thankfully, I thought to bring it and then he let me pass with a new stamp in my passport. 

It was the same thing in reverse when we arrived at Terminal 1. Why are you here? This flight is from Terminal 2. We have over 3 hours before the flight so we are going to the lounge. My passport was getting anemic without many stamps recently; this was making up for it. Following Passport Control was security. I hate security. Undo the laptop, take off my shoes, no belt, nothing in my pockets, and follow the drill for the umpteenth time. They too wanted to see my boarding pass, but hesitated letting me through seeing that my flight was not leaving from that terminal. It caused some discussion, but my explanation satiated their need to know or be controlling.

The lounge was worth the effort once we arrived. Humungous, beautifully decorated, and well equipped with Internet WiFi, I was a happy camper. Did I forget the food and drink? There was a large enough spread we could have lunch, drink ourselves silly, but still it kept getting replenished. The variety of booze was fraternity-like in its scope; no bottle was denied admission. Regardless of the temptations, I actually read and graded some papers.

Leaving the lounge was somewhat easier, because we were not paying attention the first time. We could have taken the shuttle between terminals, which would have negated the need for security. We did have to do the Passport Control thing, but the sole officer was on the phone, so when he heard we were just lounging around in the other terminal, he was relieved to just stamp our books and let us pass.

The flight from Munich to Toulouse only required a small jet, which should have been our clue when we saw our seats were in the sixth row. Ron had to check his carry-on suitcase plane side. I had checked mine in Budapest. An hour and 32 minutes later, we were in the Toulouse airport. Tourism information sent us to the bus desk to buy our tickets to get to the hotel. No one could tell us where the hotel was, but we were told to go to the end of the line, the train station.

Once there, we found an Ibis Hotel, which is what I had booked. How fortunate! Opps, it was not our Ibis. We were in the Ibis Budget, down the street about five blocks. It was not a bad walk; close to the train station, but more importantly, even closer to the bus station where we will catch our bus to Andorra tomorrow. With the word ‘budget’ ringing in my head, I expected the worst. It was lovely and for €35, it was a bargain. The staff was very friendly; the room was well proportioned, incredibly clean and more than serviceable for a one-night stay. Had we really enjoyed the city, I would have not minded staying there even longer. Breakfast was an additional €5.95 each, but seemed like it did not make it worth having to hunt down a place. We did have a bus to catch in the morning.

We still had a few hours of daylight left to explore, so we did. There was no preparation for Toulouse. The objective for this trip was to get to Andorra. As we came into the city on the bus, I had noticed down one street an impressive church. It turned out to be Basilique Saint-Sernin. Although we could hear organ music and choir singing, none of the doors would let any of we curious people inside for a peek.

Leaving there, we walked around looking for a dining spot. On what was identified on the map as a main road through the city, there were surprisingly few restaurants available to choose from. There were however, a buffet of pubs lining both sides, but nary a one served food-food. Their extent of offerings was limited to peanuts or chips. What was or really should not have been alarming was the number of gyro restaurants around. Are the gyro places taking over the world?

We settled for a small Asian place that served noodle boxes. I had heard of these restaurants before, but was never in one. I think there is now one in Budapest. I am not clear whether this is a chain or someone else’s ingenuity. You start with a choice of noodles or rice; you then add a topping from meat choices or tofu, and finally a sauce. They cook it up for you then serve it in a paper ‘to go carton’ associated with Chinese restaurants. It was filling, tasty, and enough that we should not have ordered a side salad, but we had.

Walking back to the hotel did not inspire us with underestimating the glories and hidden excitement of this city. Perhaps on our return through before returning to Budapest.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Pin It Now!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Teaching Perks


Sometimes, there are perks to being a teacher that go beyond the salary or benefits offered by the institution. This is a note I received from a former student who I gave some help and advice to when he sought me out. Names have been omitted for privacy.

Dear Dr James,

I feel a bit ashamed for not having written to you since you helped me with your recommendation but I wanted to wait some time before I give you some feedback on what it's like being on the other side of the world.

As you know I have applied to the Screenwriting MA program of Georgia State University and was accepted which made me really happy but also anxious about what life would be like. I was working in the corporate sector for 1.5 years after graduating from ELTE and I was worried what it would be like to return to school. I remember reading your blog and your bad experience with the "new generation", the Bologna process students. My friend G.H. who was actually in one of your classes told me about how, um, different the attitude and abilities of current students are.

So I took care of the paperwork, and flew for the first time over to the US. What a different experience. My first few days were great, then a number of bad things happened but I eventually survived. Money is, unfortunately, a new factor. As my first degrees were practically almost free in Hungary, facing the financial toll caused a bit of an emotional crisis but my parents' emotional support helped me through.

My first semester was actually pretty bad: my classes were mostly theory based, and the "old school" style of most ELTE professors did teach me to hate theory. I also had a job at international admissions (as international students can't have jobs outside campus) but that also was pretty frustrating.

It's all different now. I have two production classes, one on acting/directing and one on screenwriting plus I have a job at the school's studio so life has definitely gotten better. I'm producing my own web-based sitcom and that also has its challenges but at least I'm doing something worthwhile. Also, as part of a school project I'm working on a gay-themed series with a group of fellow students. Unfortunately, the group suffers from the same flaws as what you experienced, a lack of enthusiasm and work ethic, but all in all, I think I'm headed towards something good.

How about you? How's ELTE and Hungary treating you?

Again, I'd like to thank you for the help you've given not only with the recommendation letter but also with helping me create my CV - I'm still using the same document, updating in once there's something new to add!

Enhanced by Zemanta

Pin It Now!

The Little Great Get-Away


On Wednesday, which happens to be a national holiday in Hungary, we will be leaving to visit our 59th country. First we will fly to Toulouse, France where we will spend one night before taking a long bus ride to Andorra. Andorra is number 6 of the 10 smallest countries in Europe. It is 468 km2. It is located in the eastern Pyrenees, bordered by Spain and France. This will be a quick and short get-away during my fall break from the university. 

Andorra is accessible via Barcelona, Spain or Toulouse, France. There are no airports or trains within the country. It is co-governed by France's Prime Minister and the Bishop of Barcelona, but they have their own council in addition.

This will be our 5th country visited on the list of 10.
1. Vatican City (0.44 km2) ranked # 1 Really a ‘sovereign city-state’
2. San Marino (61 km2) ranked # 3
3. Malta (316 km2) ranked # 5
4. Luxembourg (2,586 km2) ranked # 7
5. Andorra (468 km2) ranked # 6

Still to go are:
Monaco (1.95 km2) ranked # 2
Liechtenstein (62 km2) ranked # 4
Cyprus (9,251 km2) ranked # 8

Kosovo (10,887 km2) ranked # 9
Montenegro (13,812 km2) ranked # 10

Enhanced by Zemanta

Pin It Now!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

No Cents for Hungary


People have been asking me for years when Hungary will join the Euro Zone and are flummoxed by the fact they have not yet. Of course, these are all tourists who are asking, because they are still cautious about handing over a 5,000 forint bill and barely getting any change back. All of those zeros can be alarming. I remember when Italy had lira. There were so many zeros on some of the bills; they had to add an addendum to it.

Well the Budapest Times had an enlightening article concerning Hungary and the Euro. It has never been an issue of desire, but a need to meet all of the required Maastricht criteria, the treaty that sets the rules for the Euro. "Orbán admitted that the country will not be able to meet the criteria of a 3% debt threshold
until the next decade. This is a requirement that must be maintained for 2 years to be eligible for joining the Euro zone.

Tourists you need to bring your calculators or print out a currency cheat sheet here.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Pin It Now!

The Saddest, but the 2nd Best


There are a couple of things I have been sitting on due to lack of time to share. As it often happens, when I hold on to one thing, something associated however weakly, comes to my attention to form a bridge between the two.

This is quoted from Hungary Around the Clock

Hungary Scores Low On Happiness
“Hungary ranks 110th, behind Iraq, Serbia, Bosnia-Hercegovina, Bangladesh and Laos in the listings of countries put together in the UN’s latest World Happiness Report. The happiest peoples are the Danes, Norwegians and the Swiss.

The prevalence of corruption and absence of generosity are particularly disappointing in Hungary. Hungary also scored poorly in perceptions of freedom to make life choices.”

Today, I read that Condé Nast Traveler announced its 26th annual Reader Choice Awards.
Again quoting from the source

World's best cities
The "Top 25 Cities in the World" list had refreshingly surprising additions and rankings -- Paris came in at a lowly 22 while Bruges and Cape Town tied for 11th place.

Budapest and Florence tied for second, while the very top spot was seized by the colonial city of San Miguel de Allende in central Mexico, which took the crown from last year's favorite of Charleston, South Carolina (which was tied for fifth this year). Italy snapped up five of the top 25 cities, while Spain managed to take three.

Top cities in the world
1. San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
2.= Budapest, Hungary
2.= Florence, Italy
4. Salzburg, Austria
5.= Charleston, South Carolina, United States
5.= San Sebastián, Spain
7. Vienna, Austria
8. Rome
9. Siena, Italy
10. Québec City
11.= Cape Town, South Africa
11.= Bruges, Belgium
13. Vancouver, Canada
14. Kyoto, Japan
15.= Prague, Czech Republic
15.= Kraków, Poland
17.= Victoria, Canada
17.= Sydney
17.= Santa Fe, New Mexico, United States
20.= Seville, Spain
20.= Beirut, Lebanon
22.= Paris
22.= Melbourne, Australia
24.= Venice, Italy
24.= Barcelona, Spain

Enhanced by Zemanta

Pin It Now!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

One Ring-a-ding, Two Ring-a-ding


Most of you are probably too young to catch the reference in the title. It is a skit that Lily Tomlin used to perform acting as an old time telephone operator. Aside from the pun with the title, considering Ms. Tomlin is a lesbian, it makes it extra special to connect with her for this news flash.

We received the first draft of the design for our wedding rings. Being they were colorized in the picture, it was difficult to imagine what they will look like in gold. None of this coloring will appear in the final rings.

I asked the jeweler if she could take out the coloring so we could get a better idea of the final product. She did do this. With the black and white, it is a little easier to imagine them in gold.

These rings have been on hold for 20 years. I am so excited to finally get them made, even if I have to sell a kidney to afford them. Some things just cannot be skimped on. Let's face it, there was a huge savings not needing an engagement ring.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Pin It Now!

Saturday, October 12, 2013

The Falcon Has Fallen


Since I had written a number of times about Sólyom Airways, which was trumpeted as the NEW IMPROVED national Hungarian airline, even if it were owned by Saudis, Árpád Farkas sent me a news piece that addresses its demise. Is anyone genuinely surprised? Well, you shouldn’t be.

Investors backed out, and those who chipped into the kitty are left with a defunct airline. The kitty gobbled up the falcon. The losers are unquestionably the 73 employees who were probably hoping to stay off of the unemployment lines long enough to fly for free with their airline perks. Now they have had their wings clipped as well.

The CEO had to be hospitalized as he was giving a radio speech while discussing the news that the Oman backer backed right out of the deal. The co-CEO resigned a couple of days before. Did he see the writing on the wall or did someone have to perform skywriting for a more dramatic effect?

Enhanced by Zemanta

Pin It Now!

Foxy Turns Heads


In a past post I had mentioned my fear of culture shock when seeing a video called "What does the fox say?"

One reader wrote to tell me not to worry about US culture shock since the group was Norwegian. Pretty funny!

My friend Mike sent this to me today. The picture is linked to the article, but just in case it is here too.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Pin It Now!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Modern Travel Blogger


It will be interesting to see how I compare to this. I have not read it over yet.

If you want to see the original, it is here.

Pin It Now!

The Music Hit a Sour Note


One likes to believe we are living in enlightened times. Just as I try to convey in my Race and Ethnicity classes when students claim racism is dead, to which I say naturally you do, you are white! Well here is another example with a twist. It is difficult to believe anyone would pass up earning money just because the clients are gay. Well, let me tell you…

We have been trying to find musicians for our reception. Doing it from afar with a 7 hour time difference and cultures apart, has been a hassle. I happened upon a site called Gig Salad, which is apparently a consolidator for entertainers. What I am about to share has nothing to do directly with Gig Salad, but one of the bands they contract with. In fact, initially, I could not register with Gig Salad since their form only includes the US and Canada. After a polite little note about our living situation as well as our needs, they opened the site to Hungary and allowed me to create an account. I was pleased and thus far I continue to be pleased with their service.

I contacted one of bands listed. Their repertoire matched our desires in musical range; there was a little something to please all generations attending. My note was short and to the point.

“Will you work with a male-male couple? Before I explain further, we should get that out of the way.”

Within a day, I received a response. It was not one I wanted to read; nevertheless, it was extremely polite and nonjudgmental. There is no point in naming the band. I am not out for revenge; I appreciate his forthrightness.

Hey Ryan,
Thanks for the inquiry and for asking about working with a same-sex marriage. I really appreciate the respect in asking about that.

I would like to be completely honest in my answer, because you deserve it. So here's my respectful and honest attempt at answering your question -

With our beliefs and backgrounds, we would be uncomfortable doing it so I would prefer to turn it down. I don't want that statement to come across personally; I truly wish the best for you and yours. With whatever level or lack of comfort, I'm afraid our services might not meet our own expectations for you and I wouldn't want your day to be affected by us. There are many wedding vendors that are excited to work with same-sex couples who I believe would provide better service because of it.

If you are looking for photography in particular I may be able to make recommendations if you would like.

Hope you understand! Wish nothing but the best for you!

Thank you,

And the Band Will Play On with another group, hopefully. This is paraphrasing the title of the famous book from 1988 And the Band Played On by Randy Shilts.
Later it became a movie, but this is drifting from the point.

Pin It Now!

Saturday, October 05, 2013

What Does the Fox Say?


This morning I found there was some problem with my computer speakers when I was trying to watch a video on brain training exercises. I had Skyped my friend Daphnee last night, so I knew they worked then. Going to YouTube, I randomly clicked on a video, but no sound. Adjusting the sound with the microphone did nothing. After running a system, check I tried again and clicked on a random YouTube video, the one below.

I have never heard of Ylvis, though to be honest I am not sure who the heck Miley Cyrus is and what is twerking. I keep meaning to Google it, but it has not hit my top ten list of things that need doing. After watching this video, it occurred to me that come April, when I finally return to the US after a leave of absence for over ten years, culture shock may just paralyze me. The last time I wandered on US soil was January 2013, though we were in the Miami airport after that for a plane transfer. We never left the security zone.

What is in store for me?
Enhanced by Zemanta

Pin It Now!

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Real Money, Virtual Wallet


At some point in the past, I had mentioned Mint as a tool I use to keep track of our bills and expenses. I was asked if I would post this infographic. Since I like Mint and find it helpful and free, I agreed to post this. It comes from Master of Finance.Org.

Real Money, Virtual Wallets
Image source:

Pin It Now!

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Second Groom Lost in Transit


Today, Embassy Suites sent us the link for the direct booking site for those of you who will be attending our nuptials come April. You can book your room directly at a discounted rate. If you choose to stay elsewhere, I have gathered suggestions from relatives who have live in Des Moines and put their suggestions on the Wishing Well site here. Look for the link for 'Other Hotel Options'.

With the excitement of receiving this next step in planning our event, I realized something was wrong.

What is wrong with this picture? I wrote our Embassy Suites event planner, Jessica. Let’s hope she can do something about it. In the meanwhile, those who want to be early birds are welcome to use the links. The site will be functional regardless of the picture. Click here to book a room or get more information.

In the meanwhile, I spent an hour on the phone with a wedding planner last night. I thought I could do it all myself, but the minute details are beyond my reach, being so far away.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Pin It Now!

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Fame Flits Fast


Fame comes in strange places and at strange times. Andy Warhol said "In the future everybody will be world famous for fifteen minutes." I get my fame in 15 second increments, so I guess this is a good thing; it feels as if those fifteen minutes will last longer. Way back when, I signed up with looking for find someone who can assist in marketing my three websites. I was extremely explicit in my needs. The deal is that you put the person up in your home with a place to sleep in exchange for their work. Generally, they are supposed to work 3-4 hours a day. Beneath the layer of getting free labor is that the worker gets time to explore the city. Kind of a backpacker’s step up from couch surfing; they get to experience the culture besides.

Though I have had dozens of responses, few actually met the criteria I had set. A number of the state they would love to learn marketing or can help me create a website. Not close to my needs. Yet, when I did get someone who seemed to be spot on, we arranged to meet for a coffee. This is where the fame part comes in.

I was sitting in the café having arrived thirty minutes early so I could relax and read. A young man came in and had an animated chat with the woman behind the counter. He then turned to me and asked in Hungarian something incomprehensible…to me anyway. He then repeated it in English and asked if I would allow my photo taken for an article. I am photographed here.

An old US television commercial had the slogan “When you are #2, you have to try harder.” Well, if you get bored looking, I am in number 10. I have to try hardest. Even the blurred teddies and the pretty coffee drink rated higher on the list.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Pin It Now!