Saturday, May 31, 2014

Cádiz, Spain Here We Come


We are doing our first home exchange with a woman from Cádiz, Spain. The exchange will be from July 31st to August 10th. 

Ron is thrilled, because of the proximity to other places. Seville is only an hour by train. We are taking our friend Kat with us. We will fly home from Madrid, so we will spend the last night there.

Other day trip ideas are here.
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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Are You Joking? Redeeming Reward Miles Cost a Fortune!


Ron and I were planning on going to Quito, Ecuador for three months starting in December, but then Ron decided that he would rather spend winter in a cold environment for a change. Each year we have been spending winters in the southern hemisphere to avoid being Popsicles; it’s time for a change and married life includes compromise.

Now we are planning to leave mid-January, returning mid-April. I have been miserly collected frequent flyer miles from multiple airlines, but Delta has the most saved. There are close to 200,000 miles in my Delta American Express account with another 189,000 in a general American Express account. Still there is a stash in my Diners Club account, but I have not checked to see if they are partners with Delta. Rarely do I transfer miles until I am certain to cash them in. Knowing these tallies would be beyond sufficient, I ventured over to the Delta website to view possible frequent flyer flights.

First I examined the flights from Budapest to Quito for various dates. It would have cost 300,000 miles, which seemed excessive, but I have the miles to cover it. What you don’t realize when you think about using miles is the hidden fees of taxes and other made-up fees the airlines use to collect revenue. These can be exorbitant. Taxes and fees for this particular flight cost 244,000 Hungarian forints in addition to the 300,000 miles. At the exchange rate du jour, this ran to $1,100. No flight options were available from Budapest to Guayaquil, but did look at other alternatives.

Delta’s flight pattern is through Atlanta, one of their hubs. Trying another alternative, I explored flights from Budapest to Atlanta. Using frequent flyer miles it would’ve cost us 185,000 miles, but again the fees were excessively shown as 292,400 Hungarian forints. The exchange this time came to $1,317, more than going straight through and not getting us close to South America. Closer, yes, but still not close. So where is the benefit in frequent flyer miles?

In June, Delta is changing their frequent flyer program. They will no longer award miles based on mileage, but it will be based on the amount of money spent for the ticket. Remembering the good old days when flying from the US to Europe only cost 30,000 miles, it is now exactly that, a memory.

Where exactly are the 'rewards' here? It seems they give with one hand while carving out your heart and wallet with the other. All the while, they want you to be grateful.

It seems we will have to bite the bullet paying for our tickets, collecting more frequent flyer miles, and possibly using them in the future for some emergency need. Alternatively, we may use them for a stay at a nice hotel; generally this is not our modus operandi. However when we do go to Ecuador this time, we intend to rent an apartment rather than staying in a hotel, a B & B or a hostel.

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Monday, May 26, 2014

Press @3f)^)$#oa@#4*! For English


We have a returning Fulbright professor who arrived today, Scott Hoffman. He needed a train ticket, so I offered to buy it for him; I would be close to the downtown train office. As I said to him, the chances of getting an English speaker there are far greater than at one of the stations. We have never had a problem with getting our needs met. Famous last words...

Before taking a number, I sat in one of the chairs. Just to err on the side of caution, I hand printed all of the information on my little pad.
 May 27 Budapest > Keszthely 10:20 am
June 9 Keszthely > Budapest 12:05 pm
1st class, 1 person

Then I went to take my number. I had three choices.
1. Trains outside of Hungary
2. Trains within Hungary
3. Train information

I had never tried option 2 before today, but have always been impressed with the service for option 1 and 3.

My number was called immediately; the office was near empty other than staff. I presented my pad with the instructions on it. The woman looked at the pad, looked at me like I had handed her a ransom note, then the pad received another glance before she yelled for another woman. An older clerk came over, read my carefully scribed notes. My 2nd grade teacher would have been so very proud of my penmanship. She then mouthed something in my direction. It could have been a mime performance; I could not hear a peep from her. Announcing my hearing loss, she reached over to turn on the microphone. Satisfied I was not going deaf after all, I concentrated on her questions. 

What day did I want the ticket for? What day did I want to return? How many people? What class? (Well one higher than what is here for sure.)

Finally, I received the ticket with the instructions that this was an open ticket for 14 days, good for any train. EEEsshhhh...
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Of Course! Now These Show Up...


I had written a student a reference letter, so today I went over to the university to give it to her. It could not be easily e-mailed due to the signature requirement. 

What I noticed was the fairly new school bookstore located in the lobby of our building, they vanquished the book collection to now display this new ELTE logo'ed merchandise. Where were all of these items for the last 12 years? 

I am tempted to buy one just for the memories. The faculty should be provided this one for free. I want like this with "No more!" on under it.

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I Have My Budapest Eye On You



This will be a short lived post. From what the young woman told me, this Ferris Wheel will only be in Erzsébet tér until September 24, 2014. However, she admitted her English was not too good, which I concurred with mentally. She said her dates may be incorrect.

Adult: 2,400 Huf
Child under 140 cm: 1,600 Huf
Family of 2 adults and 2 children under 140 cm: 6,600 Huf
Family of 2 adults and 2 children under 140 cm: 1,200 Huf
The VIP Cabine (sic): 30,000 Huf for 4 people for 30 minutes

Is it me or is there something wrong with this pricing system? Look at the 2 arrows in the picture. 
Maybe the second one is when the parents and the children are under 140 cm?

Funny, you Google map Erzsébet tér street view, there is the Ferris wheel.

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Sunday, May 25, 2014

A Peninsula Escape


Back in the days when I moved Philadelphia it was a dream come true. I absolutely loved urban living. Being born and raised in a touristy beach city on the New Jersey coast, the only excitement happened during the summer season. After Labor Day, it was back to the Dead Zone. After living in Philadelphia for a couple of years, I would literally get the shakes if I had to go to suburbia. This was a good way for people to punish me; if they forced me to leave the city, it was like a temporary prison sentence. Before I would go, I had to plan my escape route. If they drove me out of the city, there had to be a public transportation option to return.

Living in Budapest, I still adore urban surroundings. Having matured over the years, however, tree-lined streets, parks strewn with flowers, dancing fountains of water are all a mini-vacation from cement and asphalt. Budapest has the best of all worlds. Day after day you can walk the same streets, but there are still pieces of architectural detail yet to be discovered on buildings you may think you have exhausted. Adding to the mix, many parks and grassy areas are the beacons of respite throughout the city.

Back a couple of weeks ago when I was still in school, one of my students asked me what my plans were for the weekend. At the time my plans included organizing grades, but in turn I asked her about her plans. I had hoped to hear she was going to work on her term project that had already been past due by three weeks. My fantasy ended when she told me she and her friend were planning to go to a strand (beach), one which I had never heard of before. She said she thought it was called Vak Vajú Beach, but then later amended that saying it was incorrect. Rather than hunt for a name, she gave me directions to this little peninsula of Budapest. I was intrigued, but we never did get there.

Today Ron and I decided to explore this unknown territory that has escaped their attention for 12 years. One can take either the four or six tram to the Petőfi híd stop. From there if you do not want to walk, take the number 153 bus to the end of the line which is only two stops. From there it is a very short walk - less than a quarter of a mile.

What we found was an oasis of which we had never anticipated. After passing by luscious gardens in front of the Water Police building, to the right is what appears to be stadium seating for water events. Follow the well placed and maintained walking path with trees skirting the Danube giving some glimpse of the river. On the other side of this peninsula there are multiple restaurants winding along another walking bridge.

Actually our timing was rather poor choosing today. We had checked the weather report this morning for guests. With a forecast offering a 50% chance of thunderstorms today, when we arrived, the chance increased to 100%. Ron has always loved walking in the rain, so I didn’t want to rain on his parade by turning back. We continued walking through the sprinkles as they transformed to light showers wary of the raging thunder in the distance, which sounded like a freight train filled with a cargo-load of loose bricks traveling on loose tracks at high speed. Lightning was keeping a low profile, so we continued to walk to the end.

On our return, we decided to stop for coffee, while waiting out the rain. It stopped before our waitress arrived.

I was really overcome with the maintenance care taken. These gardens are lushly exhibiting blossoms and blooms through a wide range of color. These pictures will whet your appetite for a little green getaway.

One of the many restaurants

I love the V formation with the sidewalks fading.

Beautiful plants

Lovely garden areas

The stadium seating

The walkway bridge on one side.

Stairs to the water, but for what purpose?
According to Google maps, this is called Kopaszi gát.

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Thursday, May 22, 2014



Okay, it may not be Hollywood or even Bollywood, but for the last three days our street has been partially closed off to parking. On one side of our utca, huge vans lined the street. They were for film crews who were filming a movie, but no one seems to know much about it. Rumors are that it is a documentary. We can rest assured, it will not be in English. We can also be confident that though Jude Law was filming a flick in this glorious city, he was nowhere to be found on Akácfa utca. He has trolled the streets in the recent past, causing quite a stir as Classicalite reported, but alas, there were no LawLess sightings in our daily routines. Apparently, Mr. Law was not so law-abiding with his drunken behavior. Well so many Brits come here for the cheap beer and the beautiful women, he is just being typical.

Jude Law is reportedly shooting Melissa McCarthy's latest comedy flick Spy in Budapest with 50 Cent and Jason Stratham among others, but that clearly isn't all the womanizer is up to in Hungary.

How nifty is this? Our street has a Wikipedia entry. The irony is that I despise Wikipedia for most things that involve intellect. Enhanced by Zemanta

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Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Being a Good Guy Takes Great Effort


Warning: This is a long post.
Sometimes trying to be nice can be awfully time-consuming and mentally exhausting. About six years ago I had bought a television set for my classroom, since there were no other pieces of AV equipment in the school, this at least gave me the ability to show movie clips to my classes. These being American culture and language practice classes, this was often a valuable supplement. Students even learned to hook their computers to it to show PowerPoint presentations

However when we moved into the new building, it was no longer necessary to have a television. I changed over to using a projector with my laptop computer. Of course I bought the laptop as well as the projector myself so that my students would have full access to it; we needn’t worry about sharing it with other faculty.

The television has been sitting in my office for these last few years and really wanted to get rid of it with my leaving the university. My first thought was to give the television to an orphanage, so I had a private student contact an orphanage to ask if they would be able to take it. He said that they would like it, but wouldn’t be able to retrieve it. We do not have a car and without a license cannot borrow one. My student offered, but his car was in for repairs. Time went by and nothing happened; I didn’t raise the issue again.

Next, I asked our massage therapist who uses one of our rooms quite frequently, if he could contact the orphanage and see if they would be able to come get the television. The administrator at whichever orphanage he contacted, wanted the TV, but wasn’t particularly keen on having to pick it up. This once again left me in the black hole of television adoption; a homeless TV was sitting alone in my office with others who wanted it, but no one wanting to make the effort to come get it.

Now that we’re at the end of the semester, my days at the university are numbered. Desperation was setting in wanting to get rid of the TV as soon as possible. A woman on Facebook, a member of a number of Budapest groups, has written a number of times collecting clothes for an orphanage. I sent her a note to ask if she could possibly either pick up the TV to deliver it or find someone who could. She wrote back within an hour and said she would be in touch with someone who would contact me. The next day I received a call from a gentleman who works for the Irish Hungarian Chamber of Commerce. He asked about the television, but then told me he would contact the director of the orphanage in Göd, only to have him contact me directly to arrange a pick-up. Why he didn’t do this initially, without calling me first, I am not sure.

The director did call me and arranged to pick up the television on Tuesday morning. He asked if he could come for it at 8 AM. I wasn’t thrilled with the early hour, but I agreed anyway as the last option to get rid of the thing. I told him where to meet me - in front of the building where my office is and I sent him an SMS with the instructions.

Monday evening I had a headache I couldn’t get rid of. Taking multiple aspirins didn’t relieve the pain; my head was still pounding. Hoping sleep would finally evict it, I went to bed. I woke up at 5 o’clock in the morning with my head throbbing. I couldn’t get back to sleep, so what did I do, but read. Not the best option when you have a headache. Half an hour later I decided to try to take a little nap in the recliner in the living room. I set my phone for 7:15 AM giving me enough time to jump in the shower before walking over to school. I quickly fell asleep and was in a deep sleep when the phone started shouting at me. I hit the phone turning off the noise it was making, jumped out of the chair, and into the shower post haste. As I was getting out of the shower I heard the alarm on my phone. I couldn’t understand why; I thought I had turned off the alarm already. 

When I looked at the phone there was a missed call. I ignored it, continued to get dressed, and was about to walk out the door when the phone rang again. It was the director of the orphanage asking me if we can postpone meeting until 2 o’clock in the afternoon, because his daughter was sick; he needed to stay home with her. I agreed gratefully and wandered back to bed to continue my nap.

At 2 o’clock, the director called me again to say that he was almost at the university and will look for parking space on the side street I recommended. It was not possible for him to park on the main street, because of the bus lane with absolutely no parking. I told him that after he parked I would wait for him in front of the large green doors described in detail over the phone. As I was standing there waiting, I realized I had forgotten my keys to my office. I knew that by now all of the cleaning staff would have left for the day, so it would be difficult to find anyone to let me in. 

I called Ron and asked him to please please bring me my keys, which he did. However, in the meantime, the director called stating he was still hunting for a parking space. I told him to hold on while I brought my phone to the guard in the back of the building. I would have him ask the guard if it was possible to drive onto the property making it easier to transport the TV to his car. I did this and the guard spoke to him at great length, all the while pointing at places the wild yonder, but looking sympathetic to the issue at hand, but then hung up. In a quandary not knowing what decision had been made, again I had to call the director to finalize the plan. While he was speaking to the guard, he had actually found a parking space on the side street. I thought since he parked the car he was going to come and meet me in order to assist with the move, but I was wrong.

Ron and I went to my office where the TV has been sitting on a wheeled cabinet. We rolled the cabinet down the hallway to the elevator, through the building and attempted to get it out the back door. There was a lintel in the doorway. In an effort to get the cabinet over this hurdle, I yanked on the handle of one of the drawers. Of course, being cheap furniture, the hand broke in two. As a last ditch effort, we lifted both the cabinet, heavy on its own accord, with the TV and over the threshold like an overweight bride.

Fortunately there is a ramp near this door; it was easy going until we reached the ground. From there we had to roll it across the campus. This took a good 15 minutes to push the cabinet with the TV sliding one way and the other across the campus to the exit near the director’s parked car. When we were finally closing in on the exit, a delivery truck unloading boxes was blocking out access to the last section of the sidewalk that connected to the public access sidewalk on the other side of the gate. Again, we had to lift the cart and the TV up and over before we could continue to roll it to freedom. Abusing the cabinet caused one of the wheel covers to fall off.  Grabbing it with the intention of replacing it later, I shoved it in my pocket.

With the TV finally at the rendezvous point; we couldn’t see the director anywhere. He said he had a silver car, but there were multiple silver cars on the street with yet more driving down the street. For the umpteenth time, I called him. He was sitting in his car, which was five cars away from where we were standing. He found us, but wanted us to wheel the TV down to his car. I told him I didn’t think the cabinet could take much more exploitation with the weight of the TV. I suggested that he pull his car back up to where we were, but since this was a one-way street he would have to be back it up four car lengths in order to reach us. He was hesitant to do this, but I told him I would stand in the road to stop traffic. Fortunately at that moment, there was very little traffic, so it was not life threatening; however one woman stubbornly decided that she needed to drive around me. My standing in the road with two arms outstretched signaling to stop, apparently did not mean much. Is the signal different in Hungarian? He was finally able to get back to where we were so we were able to successfully put the television in the backseat. I gave him the owner’s manual, the remote control, wished him luck and said goodbye.

Ron and I had to push the cart back up to my office where it was put back in place. Before going home, I looked through some of my cabinets getting some other trinkets that needed to be taken home, when I discovered the remote control for the television. Pausing to think about what it was that I had given the director, it was the remote control for my projector. I decided I would call him later and let him know.

After returning home, I became preoccupied with other things. Later that afternoon when I was heading to a private student for a lesson, I started texting the director while walking down the street. My phone has an automatic fill-in for known words, so it was very easy to text “Hi, I realized later that I gave you the wrong remote control. I also have a bag of Legos that I wanted to give you and I forgot about them. If you know of anyone near my area I will be happy to bring them the remote and the Legos.” And I signed it with what I thought was Ryan. It wasn’t until I pressed the send button that I realized that my phone had typed in Susan. I was embarrassed and mortified, so I sent another text stating this is Ryan not Susan, my phone misnamed me. I never did hear back from him. He may have decided he doesn’t need the remote or the Legos. Sometimes it just takes a great deal of effort to be a good guy.

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TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence 2014


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Monday, May 19, 2014

Keep Calm I Am Done


Tomorrow will be a week since my last day of school. I went in on Wednesday to do final grades and of course there were some students who came in to take last-minute make-up quizzes. Normally when school is over, what I delve into with a ferocious attack is the preparation for the next semester. It always felt satisfying to have things entirely finished keeping any agenda from hanging over my head, giving me the opportunity to start the new semester with a clear head and not the stress of procrastination. It feels a strange this time; there are laborious resources researching details, no syllabus writing, no schedule planning after having to hunt down the academic calendar in addition to all the other tidbits that ate away the minutes of my ‘free’ time.

What I am doing instead, is training my Nuance Dragon Naturally Speaking speech recognition software. I had used this program many years ago, and it was okay, but not anything near what I had hoped it would be. After many years, with many upgrades, after getting a promotion with a deep discount, I decided to try it again. The 30 day guarantee was the deciding factor. It is extremely impressive this time around; they have fixed many of the bugs in the system from the past. I’m writing this entire blog post only by speaking. This is great since I really need to type, plus it keeps my hands-free for doing other things like reaching for my coffee cup.

Without school to prepare for, one of my projects is to review and update the BudaBab Review blog site. There are 165 blocks or posts of information, which each and every one needed updating to some degree. Put them in chronological order, but within groupings such as tours, shopping, medical needs, etc. made the most sense. However, in order to do that I have had to change all of the dates and times. Thinking it would be easier to do each post with 15 minute increments in between; I realized it allows me to have gaps add any new posts at a later time without disturbing the order. Although this seemed like a great idea when I started, after spending two whole days working on it, I am still not finished. On the bright side, in the process there are new sites that I have found to include, many revolving around travel. I will be sharing some of those sites here in the next couple of days.

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Sunday, May 11, 2014

Happy Mother's Day


For all you mothers* out there, I wish you a Happy Mother's Day. I am well aware that this may confuse some Europeans or other nationalities as their day to celebrate this auspicious occasion falls during various other times within the calendar year.

Depending on how you read this, the word mothers could have significantly differing suggestions. Please apply the one that refers to your situation. Personally, I lost my mother years ago. She has not been found since.
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Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Curriculum Vitae for Dr. Ryan James


Click on any page for readability or to receive a copy in PDF format, please contact me at

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Monday, May 05, 2014

Home Exchange


This morning, I signed up for This is listed as one of the oldest and best home exchange sites on the net. Starting with a 14-day free trial, we intend to keep it going. Some of our friends have had amazingly positive results and not one negative one.

The funny thing is, 2 hours after I completed the copious pages of the profile, I received an e-mail from another member. He is from the Canary Islands and loves Budapest. He and his 3 friends are in their 50s and 60s. His place looked gorgeous. They wanted an exchange for mid-June to mid-July. Unfortantely, I have university obligations as well as B and B guests during that time. 

 This does bode well for the future. The next step is to register with house-sitting sites.

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Sunday, May 04, 2014

Travel Junkie - An Addiction Not to Be Resolved


As most people know, I am a travel junkie. Not that I am always on the go, I would like to be, but in the meantime, I read everything travel related. Through the years, I have learned to filter what I subscribe as pertinent information, leaving the fluff pieces behind.

Yesterday, Ron came across a New York Times article that held merit, so he forwarded it on. It is titled Crunching the Numbers to Find the Best Airfare and you can find it here

The crux of the article explains what many have suspected; there are a number of outdated ideas on which day of the week is best to buy airline tickets. Airlines change their rates hundreds of times a week, depending on the competition and capacity load.

This is where the article really strikes gold. The author, Seth Kugel, points the reader to a new online service called Hopper Research. Start on their research page, but continue on to the Tools page. 

Just playing with a trip from Budapest, Hungary to Quito, Ecuador I was able to retrieve this information.
Market summary report for Budapest (BUD) to Quito (UIO)

The cheapest flights from Budapest to Quito are selling for about $1777 round trip. The cheapest round trip flights we've seen for any dates in the next six months were priced from about $1753-1753 (with stops) .

Last week's weighted average round-trip ticket price from Budapest to Quito dropped by -0.1% to $1777.07 as compared to $1778.47 the prior month.

The average demand rose 1.6% to 1 flight searches per day compared to 1 daily searches during the previous four weeks.

Flight route map for Budapest (BUD) to Quito (UIO)

Ferihegy airport (BUD) near Budapest, Hungary is 6587 miles from Mariscal Sucre Intl airport (UIO) near Quito, Ecuador, as calculated by great circle distance. Typical flights with stops take about 18h00m.

Budapest to Quito is the 123824th most popular route overall, with Quito the 201th most popular destination from Budapest. Budapest is ranked 188th of all origins arriving in Quito.
Current market popularity and price:

The calendar summarizes the trips that other travellers are currently planning. It shows the best prices we’ve seen to put you in Quito on any given day (not necessarily departing on that date), as well as the dates that are most popular with other travellers. The cheapest dates are more darkly shaded, and heavily circled days are when more people from Budapest are planning to be in Quito, averaged across all of the flights we’ve analyzed. (Days where we have no data are shown in white.) To give a true picture of the relative popularity of future dates, we adjust the data to account for the fact that people tend to book their flights nearer to departure.

Tons more information is waiting for your exploration through the various pages of this site, more than I can summarize. You will be amazed at the valuable information they are able to collect to save you money.
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Thursday, May 01, 2014

Good Things


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Not a Baker's Dozen


How appropriate! Today is Labor Day in Europe.

If you are not familiar with the term 'baker's dozen' it means 13 as opposed to 12. If you want to get sidetracked learning more about the term, click here after you finish reading this post.

On Thursday April 24, 2014 I submitted my letter of resignation to the powers that be at Eötvös Loránd University, Department of American Studies. My contract expires on August 31, 2014, but after that time, I will not be returning to the university. I have been teaching at the university for the last 12 years; hence, one year short of a baker’s dozen. No matter how you slice it, I just could not put in another year.

At the moment, I have no concrete plans; however, this does not mean I will be loafing around. I do have some half-baked ideas that need further time to rise before they get popped in the oven. Regardless, we will knead the dough, so until I find other work, we will have to crimp corners. 

I will be looking for new opportunities to toss around. Maybe I will whip something up that will mix well with my old and new ambitions and interests. When things get to a full boil again, I won't have to worry about things that may grate on my nerves. I want to be able to blend our zest for travel while folding in adventure.

If you have any ideas, batter up, score some points, and dash them off to me. 

What I intend to do:

  • Seek out more freelance writing opportunities
  • Provide freelance editing services
  • Increase my coaching practice
  • Explore online teaching opportunities
  • Study the possibility of a research business
  • Look at housesitting opportunities
  • Investigate home exchanges
  • Basically, anything that can be pursued without having to be tied to one location long-term
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