Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Slow Cooker That Time Forgot


For a few years now, I have been missing my slow cooker that is sitting in storage in NJ. Not that it would be useful here; a convertor would be needed and then it would be iffy if it would work at all. Checking every store numerous times, I had never found one.

Then Geoff Riddle, the visiting beau of Kat McFadden who is stationed here for her work, found a source for me online. I ordered it as soon as we returned from Spain. It was through a web shop, so it took a week to actually arrive. This last Thursday I picked it up, late in the afternoon, at the pick-pont as the e-mailed stated. I was excited to try out my new toy Friday to make our dinner. I had already collected some great slow-cooker recipes.

Thursday evening, the electric went out. We checked the main switch, but it was on. The circuit breakers were all on. Strangely, my computer, the cable box and one floor lamp were the only things in the apartment that were working. After shutting down the computer, Ron switched off all the breakers, only to turn them on again after 10 minutes. Lights once again!

Mid-evening, half way through a movie, the TV went out. That was our big clue the electric went off again. Sure enough it did, but again not the computer or lamp. This time, some of the breakers were down, but only three. Resetting them got us through the night.

Friday, we called three electricians; two of them could not come until Monday. They were out of the city or working other jobs elsewhere. Our last shot was to try our local handymen, one Brit and one Hungarian. E-mailing the Brit first, he responded that he was in England, but to call Attila. Attila was on vacation with his family, but gave us another name and number to call.

We called Laci, who managed to make it here at 7pm on Friday night, a miracle in itself. Within 20 minutes he found the problem and fixed it, telling us to call him if we continued to have problems, but he doubted we would. He complimented the electrician who put in the breaker box, stating he did excellent work. That was 3-4 years ago. Some wires loosened over time causing our current problem.

By this time, we had a full weekend planned, so we could not invite Kat and Dan over for the inaugural dinner. Tonight is the night. I am making Pulled Chicken Parmigianino sandwiches.

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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

TripAdvisor Readers Appreciate My Reviews


Initially, I started writing reviews on TripAdvisor under the BudaBaB account name some time ago. Thinking it may bring readers back to our own reviews on TripAdvisor, it was just a gamble. However, it seems to have worked as we have been getting an increasing number of guests who claim they read about us on TripAdvisor. I have yet to have someone say, “I read one of your reviews and then followed it to BudaBaB.” Perhaps, I am not asking the correct questions.

Regardless, I received these two notes from TA about my reviews.

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Monday, August 18, 2014

Holding Out for Markus!


Spending so much time at the computer has not only ruined my exercise routine, but it has destroyed a series of chairs besides. Because my computer cabinet has restricted leg room, I find it difficult to find a suitable chair that provides both a comfortable support zone as well as ample height adjustments. Then I discovered Markus.

Markus is the alter ego name for an Ikea chair. Each visit to Ikea, I would give Marcus a spin literally to assess his wheel functions. This would be followed by the up and down motions to see if his hydraulics were quick-fire responsive. Finally, stretching backward, led me to feel secure that Marcus could handle a big man.

What kept Marcus and I apart was his cost~ 44,000 Huf. Yes, he came with a 10 year guarantee, but still, that is mucho dinero. However, while we were in Spain, I received the Ikea newsletter for the Ikea Family members. Low and behold, there was Marcus featured on the very first section of the first page. He was marked down to 34,000 Huf. What a deal to save 10,000 Huf! It was almost enough to make me say a pray the sale would last until we returned to Budapest. 

Tuesday after we returned, I made a special trip to Ikea. There was Marcus sitting on the floor with an oversize AKCIO tag on his shoulder pad. Scribbling down his number to retrieve him later, I continued to shop for smaller items.

Thanks to the Ikea Family card, there was indeed the 10,000 reduction. Without the card, it would not have been sale priced. However, it took two boxes to fit it all together, so there was no way for me to cart it home alone on the metro. Knowing well where to the service department was located; I pushed the trolley with Marcus to the desk. There was no way I could assembly him myself with the hydraulics, so some assembly was definitely required.

Delivery charge: 8,690 Huf

Assembly charge: 14,100 Huf

My 10,000 Huf savings evaporated into thin Swedish air.

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How to Piss Off and Still Enjoy Budapest


Two somewhat related news bits arrived in my mail this weekend. There has been a strong urge to share.

One has excellently polished photos of Budapest. They are polished to the point of being surrealist in some instances. After 12 years, I have not seen some of these shots as glamorous as portrayed. Take a look at them here.

The other item caught my eye since the title mentions pissing off Hungarians. The universe knows we have been doing that for over 12 years now, mostly unintentionally. Initially, I thought they were picking on Hungarians for which there would be 10 million responses complaining about how maligned they are. To read the "How to Guide" click here. However, it seems this is a series, where evidently, people are easily piss-off-able all over the planet. Good grief, if we could only stop getting pissed off; this would be a better world.

Enough said! I just realized that strong urge was really the need for the bathroom and get pissed off!

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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Two Chips for Sobriety


I do enjoy beer, especially craft beers. Recently, I have also learned to enjoy wine. However, when we were on vacation in Spain this last week, I was enjoying both beer and wine too much. Although the beer was good, it was not exceptional; it seemed the only brand available in most places was Cruzcampo Cerveza Pilsen. Regardless, beer beggars cannot be choosers.

Kat found a lovely white wine that we all came to appreciate by the bottles, plural to the higher power.

Knowing what this was doing to my sugar levels, I did get lots of walking in. We cranked out over 70 miles on my pedometer from the morning we left Budapest to the evening of our return. Still, this combined with my lack of the usual two liters of
daily water intake, made me swell like the Michelin tire logo. This is not to say that I am petite by any means at other times, but there were additional rolls, not approved of by any bakers association.

Starting Monday night upon our return, I decided it was time to be alcohol free for the week to regain some healthy state of being. Following the tradition of AA, I decided to reward myself accordingly. Therefore, I have earned my first two daily Chips.

Now, one may contest that this is one Chip and one Dale, but really, they are cut from the same cloth. Let’s toast to this agreement!

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Monday, August 11, 2014

The Photos Have Been Developed


The photos have been developed. Well not really! Aren't we so lucky these days that we do not have to wait for our photos to be developed? There is something to be said for instant gratification. One drawback of digital photos is that they look differently on different computers. Some shots that look totally spectacular on my desktop computer seem to lose something in the translation when viewed on the laptop or even the other desktop. I know it is all in the video card, but I want everyone to see the photos as I see them at their best.

Here is a reiteration of the trip. First, I joined Homeexchange.com. During my 14-day trial period, I received four offers for places in Europe. Cádiz was the most appealing due to transportation costs getting there and then doing short trips once there. Admittedly, I thought this was going to be a beach resort, which I would find boring as all get-out, but Ron was enthused and when we asked our friend Kat to join us, she was absolutely psyched. After the trial period, we continued getting offers for exchanges, but everyone seemed to want August; we had already committed.

We arrived late on July 31 flying from Budapest to Brussels to Seville. Once there, thanks to our exchange partner, for €6 each we bought Tarjeta Dorada cards. Anyone over 60 receives discounts on the trains.  On Mondays thru Thursdays, the discount is 40%. On Fridays thru Sundays, it is 25%. We did not arrive until late, so our first night was dinner out. After this, we shopped and Kat gleefully cooked dinner every night.
Cádiz is incredible! We, meaning me the non-sun worshipper, loved it heart and soul. There are incredible things to do and see; we did not even touch the surface. The city is completely tourist friendly with four walking tours painted on the streets and sidewalks in differing colors for self-guiding. The two sun bunnies did get their fill also.

We left Cádiz on August 9 to spend one partial day in Madrid. Kat paid €76.20 for her train ticket, while ours were €57.15 each. Leaving for Madrid on the 9am train got us into the city by 1pm. We checked into Hostal Oporto. The location could not be better.

Ron is like a human GPS. He can either briefly look at a map or if he has been somewhere, he remembers how to return to places. We did a lot of walking again.

Finally, we completed the day by having beer and mini sandwiches at Cerveceria 100 Montaditos at Calle Mayor 22, but to complete Kat’s brief Madrid experience we also stopped at Chocolatería San Ginés famous for their hot chocolate and churros since 1894.

Sunday morning, we had an easy walk to the airport bus, where for €5; we were whisked directly to our terminal. Coming home we flew TAP the Portugal airline, so we went from MAD to LIS to BUD. Unfortunately, the layover at LIS was 4 hours, but TAP screwed us by being an hour delayed without any notice. We were home by 8pm with a B and B guest waiting for us at the café around the corner.

Cádiz - Arrived July 31st and left August 9th

Day trip - Puerto de Santa Maria August 3rd

Day trip - Seville or Sevilla August 5th

Day trip - Jerez de la Frontera August 7
Went here for the horse show, but photos were not allowed.

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Thursday, August 07, 2014

No Horsing Around Here - Only Serious Horse Play


 Thursday was our big day to travel to Jerez. Jerez has become known for two primary things: sherry production and Fundacion Real Escuela Andaluza del Arte Ecusetre. We had tickets for the only show of the day at 12 noon. We could choose between €21 or €27 seats. We chose the cheaper and it turned out to be fortuitous.

Again, due to scheduling, the bus was the best option for getting to Jerez. The trip cost €3.20 each for a one-way, pay the driver if you please, there are no tickets sold at the counter. The ride is a short 40 minutes.
A note about the school first and why we wanted to go…

In plain English the title is The Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art Foundation. They breed and train pure Spanish breeds of horses. The show is considered one of the best equestrian ballet shows in the world.
As it turned out, this was the highlight of the day. Our seats were in Section 3 row 5 seats 59, 61, and 63. Directly in front of us was the stairwell, giving us excellent foot freedom to stretch. There were only our 3 seats in our section, providing privacy. Though we were at the end of the ring, we did not miss a thing as most of the action either started or ended by us, but everything at least paraded around.

No one could have described to me in credible terms what these horses could accomplish. I have never seen horses skip, dance the way they did, or jump in the air from all 4 legs at once. The show was 1 ½ hours with a ten minute break. Well worth the time and money to get there. The only downer was there were no pictures or video allowed. They were strict about it too.

We had thought to go sherry tasting afterward, but it was hot and siesta time. Everything closed up until our bus was scheduled at 6pm. I will give just a brief tutorial on sherry, since I did not know anything about sherry.

Sherry is a protected name like Champagne, Port, and Roquefort. Products from out of their designated areas are not legally allowed to use the name on the products. Sherry is from a triangular region in Andalusia including Jerez de la Frontera, Sanlúcar de Barrameda, and El Puerto de Santa María. Produced mainly from the Palomino grape, a white variety, it can have a couple of other grape varieties added for an increase in color or alcohol content. During aging, the wine develops a layer of flor, similar to yeast.

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Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Seville or Sevilla


Yesterday, Ron and I went to Seville. Kat was supposed to join us, but changed her mind in the morning. I have been budgeting €100 for the 2 of us each day. So far, it has been sufficient, therefore, it did not occur to me that the bus would take a real bite from the wallet.

We did get Tarjeta Durado tickets, which gives a discount for those over 60. For Seville, the savings would have been negligible considering the train is a higher cost to begin with as opposed to the bus. The bus also had more flexible scheduling.

Shelling out €44.50 for both of our bus tickets, I quickly started to calculate where the rest of the money might part ways during the day. It was too late to return to the apartment to get more cash. Although our ticket had revuelto on it, our seats were assigned. If this were only a one-way ticket, we were screwed.
The ride to Seville was only 1 hour and 40 minutes. As soon as we arrived, we asked if our ticket included a return. It did, but we needed to commit to a return time and get seat assignments for our choice. We were issued new tickets without a fee.

Both of us were in dire need of a bathroom once we had left the station, so we stopped on the edge of the Prado de Sebastián for a coffee and the use of the facilities. Cha-ching, goes the wallet, but only €3 so not too bad.

As we approached the Plaza de Espaῆa, I noticed the architecture was covered with porcelain tile and embellishments. As we walked to the front, we were blow away by the incredible beauty of the place. Covering the territory of about four city blocks, this humungous building was covered with painted tiles, painted plaques representing each city in Spain, each situated in their own alcove with short tiles walls on either side. In the courtyard was a man-made lake large enough for rented row boats to sail around. There were three bridges over the lake and in the center of all of this, horse drawn carriages traversed around with overjoyed tourists. We spent about two hours here just going from one tile selection to another.

Much of our time here in Sevilla was spent walking around, just gawking at the lovely sites. Ron wanted to go into the Catedral y Giralda Museo Catedrallico. This is the cathedral of the region. From the outside it looks like it can compete with any fabulous church. Inside, I cannot tell you. They wanted €8 entry fee, which I refused to pay for two reasons. 1) I hate paying to see a church that has more gold than some small nations and 2) We were on a tight budget.

There was a caveat though. That day and that day only, there was one chapel open to the public that generally is closed except for exalted occasions. I saw the line and joined it not really knowing what it was for, but if it led me to a cashier’s booth, I could always turn around and leave. It led to this special chapel. I could hear chanting before getting an inside view of the chapel. I could tell the singing included petitions to Mary for this, that, and the other followed by hear our prayer. Inhabitants on Pluto could have heard their prayers; they were so loud. Then the chapel came into view. People were walking up to a porcelain statue of Mary. She was overdressed for the heat and her headdress was larger than her body. Had she been alive, she would have needed a neck brace to not cripple her spine and buttresses on both sides to keep her head straight. Then I noticed what was happening. As each person walked by they kissed her hand where immediately thereafter, a volunteer woman wiped the hand clean with a dry cloth. It did not strike me as very sanitary and I didn’t hear any chant that went “Blessed Virgin, keep me safe from disease after I kiss you hand, because only God knows what germs that last person has left. Hear my prayer!”

No! No! No! I did not do any hand kissing. What I wanted to do was a Mary makeover. She obviously didn’t have any gay men getting her ready for this event. We walked behind the hand kissers and left the chapel. Ron continued on to the church where he begged and pleaded for the concession rate for seniors, which at ½ price was still €4 leaking from our waning budget. I waited across the way.

By now it was mid-afternoon, so hunger hit us. We shopped around for a cheap restaurant, but in this area, it is like trying to find a pregnancy test in church. Settling on one place we reasoned that a regular portion of a dish at €9, which we could share, would be more food than two tapas at €3 each. Our choice, though a good one, was still not worthy of the cost. A smallish bowl arrived with creamed spinach, walnuts and pine nuts served with a basket of bread. This and two small beers set us back another €13.

The real wallet test was going to the Real Alcázares, the oldest royal palace in Europe that is still used. Originating from the XI century, it expanded over the years. Because every culture that conquered the Iberian Peninsula used this as their capital’s kingdom, the architecture reflects the changes in styles. Many parts of the outside reminded me of buildings in Morocco. The kicker was that they charge €9.50 entry fee. Ron was able to pull off his “I am so old, look at me” routine at the cathedral and it worked, but here not so much. They wanted real ID, which we did not think of bringing. We were there and our train was not leaving until 7pm, so we had to suck it up and pay the €19 for the two of us. In the end, I guess it was worth it, but it really hurt to part with that money. 

We did do a great deal of walking around the city. It is lovely and we could easily have spent more time here. Actually, Ron wanted to spend an overnighter here, but I made him realize that the purpose of a home exchange is not to spend money on accommodations.

Before we left, we had another drink and little snack, bringing us down to €7. When we returned to Cadiz, this was just enough to buy some dinner things at the supermarket across the street from the apartment. Food here is very cheap!

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Monday, August 04, 2014

El Puerto de Santa Maria


Sunday was a lazy day to explore, which is what we did. Following Chris Columbus’s lead, we traveled to El Puerto de Santa Maria, where he launched his 2nd trip to the New World. Unlike Chris, we went by catamaran at a cost of €2.10 each for the 40-minute ride. We sailed across the Bay of Cádiz for a surprisingly long time considering the town is only 6 miles north each of Cádiz.

For the most part, the locals must have had the same sleepy attitude; it was closer to a ghost town than the vibrant tourist spot it is given credit for being. Only those of us leaving the catamaran breathed life into the surrounding areas.

It seemed at first like this was a case of mistaken identity where we had identified this as a place that needed visiting and were wrong. However, after a bit of discovery, we came across a small castle like structure, which was quite admirable. Later the cathedral in the main square was incredibly impressive, albeit it needs major repair. For a hoot and a holler, there were storks nesting on the top in chimneys and other suitable indentations. 

We uncovered the information informing us that Chris Columbus met his pilot, Juan de la Cosa, here. Juan drew the first world map that included the coastline of the New World. Not bad for the year 1500, there is a replica of this map in porcelain tile on a monument.

The streets were for the most part empty of people and traffic. Finding a small café open at the main square, we stopped for a bite. I had chicharrón, one of my favorite foreign foods. Thankfully, my cholesterol report was normal, so I felt safe indulging. These chunks of pork meat with an equal amount of fat were charbroiled and scrumptious. It was here that we tested sherry, as this is purportedly the sherry capital of the world. None of us had great familiarity with sherry before this, but what we sampled was light, refreshing, and worthy of trying. I doubt it will become my drink of choice any time soon.

Wandering into the depths of the town, we encountered a bullring that would compete handily with any coliseum in the world. The tremendous size gave witness to the lust for the sport of bull fighting. Appreciatively, we were between performances, which allowed us to escape the area without manufacturing protest signs declaring cruelty to animals while risking a jail sentence.  

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Saturday, August 02, 2014

Beautiful Cádiz


We traveled on Brussels Air from Budapest to Brussels to Seville July 31st. Our three-hour plus waiting in Brussels was smoothed over by access to the Diners Club lounge. We offered Kat guest membership, but she said she would be fine going it alone out with the masses. Guilt did gnaw at me for a short time, but I got over it once I relaxed with a Belgium beer on tap. The flights were uneventful, but the seating was spacious; more so on the first leg than the second, but still comfortable.

Once we landed, the bus to the train station was efficient. I think it cost us 4 Euros each. It was super crowded, so we stood the entire ride, missed our stop and found ourselves at the end of the line without realizing it. As it turned out, we were not alone, so there were more than the three of us taking the ride back. The driver just shook his head, but did not require more money.

Once at Seville, we had to wait forever for train tickets. There was only one person selling them and the line was extensive. The overhead sign said there was a labor strike going on. We caught the train 3 minutes after getting our tickets; perfect timing. Once in Cádiz, we found our home away from home by walking. It took us about 20 minutes, but we were all too cheap to spring for a taxi. Teresa, our exchange partner had a friend, Esperanza, waiting for us. She had her grown daughter with her to explain everything. They were sweet.

Teresa had left me a USB Wi-Fi connection. I could not get the damn thing to work at all. It connected, but would not show the connection window to add the password. We went to the store that Teresa told me about if there were a problem, but Francisco, the person I was to ask for, was not there. The woman I spoke with wanted me to bring the computer in. We were going to do that in the evening, but then I tried using a different USB port and it worked fine. Now, my mouse doesn't work, because it only works in one port. Oh well.

Our first night we went to Quilla restaurant, thanks to Esperanza. We were too late to grocery shop, so this was our splurge. Great food, wonderful views of the ocean. This morning we shopped across the street and cooked breakfast here.

Cádiz is nothing like I expected, not that I did any research ahead of time. I leave that to Ron. What I was expecting was fabulous beaches with clean sand, gloriously blue water, and tons of people having fun, but not much more. Well, let me tell you, it is all that and more. There is SO much more, it is rather shocking. There are four historic walking tours marked on the sidewalk color-coded. Each stop on each tour has a well-illustrated sign in Spanish and English. We have yet to do a full walking tour, because we have been busy exploring on our own. We keep saying we will get to it, but we are really staying busy.

No, we have not been spending hours at the beach, though it is tempting. They are free and glorious, but in reality we only went down from 6 to 8pm one evening; we have yet to return. There is so much to do and see. Due to living in an apartment through our home exchange, we have been shopping and cooking dinner each night. An extensive grocery store across the street makes is ultra-convenient. The food prices are incredibly low. We bought a kilo (2.2 lbs.) of delicious tomatoes for 89 Euro cents.

At lunchtime, we are generally too far from home to run back to fix a meal, so we snack out. Ron and I have kept well below our budget of 100 Euros a day for the two of us for all expenses. The apartment we exchanged with is in a perfect location. The beach is just three blocks in one direction and everything else we could need is only a few blocks or more in the other direction.

My only complaint is there is no Internet access in the apartment. I have yet to see an Internet café in the city. With the USB Internet connector the service is limited and it will only work in one of my two USB ports. With the limitations of Internet, I most likely will not write much while we are away. Ignore the mistakes if any, I will not have time to make corrections or even to blush over them.

Love the city!!! We are ready to buy property here. : ) 

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