Friday, September 30, 2011

Just Like Riding a Bike


We have this saying in English "It's like riding a bike." That is the abbreviated version, whereas the full version is "It's like riding a bike; it all comes back to you as soon as you begin."

That is all well and good as philosophy goes, but what if you are indeed trying to ride a bike again? Last evening, I got this wild hare to go bike riding on Margit-sziget, Margit Island, or Margaret Island, take your pick. It is all the same to me. Perhaps the wild hare idea came about because the island was originally called Rabbit Island due to an infestation of the fluffy-tailed creatures.

Now the idea for bike riding was definitely a wild idea for me for multiple reasons. I have this severe allergy to anything closely resembling exercise. Plus, I have not been on a bike let alone bike riding in, oh let me guess, forty years, perhaps more. If he were dead, I would swear I was channeling the spirit of Lance Armstrong. Instead, it must have been a temporary psychosis.

There is only one place on the island where they rent regular bikes. All of the other rentals are the bike carriages where you sit side by side and either two or four of you pedal. Shouldn't they be called quadcycles? 

Once we found the bikes, I looked mine over like a stranger wary of a vicious stray dog, leery of what dangers may lie ahead. Just to be safe, I chose a women's bike. There was no sense in taking extra risks with that added bar they add to a man's bike. Once I straddled the thing, I wished everyone in the area would suddenly have their attention averted to something happening in the Danube. I didn't want anyone to see that the expression "It's like riding a bike; it all comes back to you as soon as you begin." is a misnomer, a falsehood, a fairytale, or an urban legend. I was secretly wishing for a helmet, shin guards, butt pad, or one of those outfits they wear when they train attack dogs: full body insulation.

For the first twenty minutes, there were some close calls. A metal post and a tree jumped right in front of me and I could barely steer clear. Braking suddenly became the action du jour, which just about sent me over the handlebars once. Steering seemed to be a problem. I think my bike had power steering rather than the old fashioned kind. One slight move and wham it over-corrected in one direction or another. After the first half hour, I had some confidence. I do hope those two old ladies understood my Hungarian when I apologized for knocking them over, but they should have been on the grass, not the sidewalk putting themselves in harms way, after all. 

When our hour rental was over, I was charged. I could do this again and not wait forty plus years.
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Thursday, September 29, 2011

Going Metro


There is an expression in US English called "Going Postal" when people go into a rage due to workplace stress. Since I don't speak Hungarian, I am going to develop the "Going Metro" phrase. This will be when one falls into a full rage, beating those who are standing in the doorway of public transport vehicles. 

When people say "You have lived here THAT many years and you still don't speak Hungarian?" Well, in my defense, if I did, I would have been arrested by now. First I would scream at these inconsiderate morons who insist on standing in the doorway as soon as they get on. If they were the last ones on, I could accept it if there were no more room. However, they shove their way ahead of everyone else and then stand guard like a Swiss soldier at the Vatican: stone-like and immoveable. If they were getting off at the next stop, I could also give them so leeway in their lack of manners, but no. They are still there 2, 3, 4 stops later, obstructing the entrance and exit for all of those who presumably have the same right to enter the vehicle.

If I did speak Hungarian, I would rip them a new one, breaking the record that a Hungarian linguist stated as fact; Hungarians can curse for an hour and never repeat the same word twice. Of course, this would lead to fist to cuffs wrestling them to the ground, which would be unfortunate since there is generally barely the room to stand in these modes of transport. Due to lack of the target language, I may have to resort to my mother tongue to tell these mothers what is what. 

I could not get far enough away from this trio. They were not speaking to each other, so my impression was that they were three ill-mannered egocentric individuals who chose to join the block the door union. It is difficult to tell from my angle, but the man was literally in the middle of the door.

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For the Birds


The Hare Krishna feed the homeless at Blaha Lujza square. It is my guess that the scraps they leave behind have attracted the bird population.

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Saturday, September 24, 2011

Flea Market Shopping


A couple of times a year, each district has a grand trash day allowing resident to toss all of their large items out on the curb for a special trash pick-up.

For many, this is an opportunity to engage in extreme sports. One year, I barely made it out of our front door, before being pounced on by men and women alike who ravaged my arms of the burden I carried. It was only fortunate that I was kicking trash to the curb and not heading off with goodies for some friend; I would have had to enter battle mode. Although these vultures cleaned my carcass within seconds, not one relived me of any of my emotional baggage that I have been carting around for decades. Each of the carrion seemed to have a surplus of their own. 

Yesterday was the semi-annual 'kick it to the curb' day, so the piles were tremendous. The whooping and hollering outside the window would have made one thing there was a festival occurring on the street. In a sense there was.
I like to dub these days "Flea Market Shopping". I have actually seen people bring their own folding chair to sit near and protect their own pile of junk until the their recovery team arrives to haul it away. You can see fights break out when territories are not observed properly.  It is live theater and street performances combined.

In some areas, the sidewalk has been obliterated with the rummaging of the crowds. This makes it particularly dangerous for pedestrians who not only have to weave through the detritus, but also have their hands up in the air in a surrender motion, signally that you are only trying to make your way through and not trying to stake a claim.

Least anyone thinks this is for the rough and rugged only, I ask you "Do you know where your grandma was yesterday?" If you see what she has her eye on, it just may give you some ideas of what she REALLY wants for Christmas this year.

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Virezma Responds


Virezma has left a new comment on your post "No Awards for Freedom of Speech":

I guess he was given the award by the previous government, now in opposition. Usually everyone gives it to their comrades, so to speak. This American Népszava published several critical articles on the current policy of the Hungarian government and was discussed (attacked) extensively. I think it's ironic (but understandable, given the conditions) that only those dare to express their opinion who live abroad.

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A Park By Any Other Name


When I was typing the post about the park, in the back of my mind, there was a niggling sensation that something was wrong, but I could not put my finger on it. That little voice was trying to tell me that I knew better, but I just was not listening. Thanks to Anna, it came to light. I renamed the park by accident.

Dear Ryan, just wanted to let you know that the name of the place you walked through on your way to ELTE is not Király park but Károlyi kert / Károlyi Gardens.

WE love that place too, though outgrew its playgrounds with Bence and Eszter already... so we do not go there as often as we used to. We're exploring/discovering (?) new places like the playground by Feneketlen tó that is also in a huge public park that's worth visiting for old and young. Another link is here

Hope you don't mind me giving such long comment.

Best wishes,

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Thursday, September 22, 2011

No Awards for Freedom of Speech


It seems there is no free speech in a democracy without a price tag attached. Hungarian author Akos Kertesz, who was awarded an “honor” by the city of Budapest in 2002, is being threatened to have it stripped from him for speaking out in an American Hungarian newspaper. Even the President of Hungary is looking into having honors revoked from those who say nasty things about their Magyar fellows. The charge to charge the man with libel was led by a leader of the Fidesz-Christian Democratic party. There is something hypocritical both of those terms “Christian” and “Democratic” as played out in this progression of events.

What Kertesz penned was “Hungarians are genetically subservient … They do not feel the slightest remorse for the gravest of historical crimes, they shift their responsibility to others and always put the blame on others … They are unable or unwilling to learn … they envy and, if possible, kill those who succeed in life through work, learning and innovation.”

Kertesz’s made a couple of mistakes here. 

First of all, he must have forgotten that Hungarians have long memories. Dare I say the T word?  

The second mistake he made was submitting his thoughts to an American Hungarian newspaper, the American Nepszava. Had he had his wits about him, he would have published in in an English newspaper. After all, the 2010 Eurostat report shows that 74.8% of Hungarians are monolingual, making Hungary the most monolingual country in the European Union. He would only have had a 25.2% chance of anyone being able to read it. Must have been a slip in critical thinking.

Some Americans learned our lessons during the Bush years. If you want to speak out, stay out of the country while you do it. 

Akos Kertesz should not to be confused with Imre Kertesz, the author of Fateless.

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Park Your Butt and Relax


I was on my way to meet student to discuss his course schedule. It was not a school day for me, so I suggested we meet at Cafe Alibi. I try to rotate where I meet with students outside of the university for a couple of reasons. For some students, I expose them to places they have never been to and did not know they existed. For me, I enjoy the change in scenery plus it gives me a chance to get back to places I may not have been to for some time.

On the way, I walked through Kiraly Park, which I love. It is one of the most beautifully maintained in the city for a small neighborhood rest stop. 

When I reached the restaurant corner, I would not have recognized it if I hadn't known there had been construction going on in the area. They made a nice area, beautiful. This is right next to ELTE's law school. I love the washed out look to the first picture below. It reminds me of the old-fashioned postcards.

I just never stop loving this city.

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Call a Doctor, My Burger is Killing Me


Ron and I went to try out a new restaurant that recently opened, called 
I thought it was a dumb name for a burger place, but until they hire me as a consultant, I am keeping my opinion to myself.

It was much smaller than expected; the whole establishment could fit in a good sized ambulance. The waitress or rather our nurse for the evening came to take our orders. She was missing the nurse's cap, but had the outfit down pat. Yes, here in Hungary, nurses are allowed to wear open toed shoes. Amazes me still.

The menu other that the monthly special, looked like a vampire child wiped the excess blood from their last meal to hand paint the offerings listed on the wall inside and on paper menus at the table. Options were limited to burgers and hot dogs, but given the name of the establishment, it should not be a shocker. We are not talking gourmet here.

Our nurse tried pushing us to order the heart attack special that rounded out to over 2,000 Huf a piece, but we did not need a liter of beer each. We went for the more subtle hamburger and fries with a large glass of beer.

When the burgers arrived, they were so large, she practically needed a gurney and paramedics to do the transfer. The rolls were the size of a regulation US football and just about the same texture. One roll could feed a flock of Roman pigeons for 2 days of non-stop feasting. The fries were boring, skinny things that really looked anemic next to the burger.

Now, I have been told more than once that I have a big mouth, but not even I could wrap my lips around this big boy. The top half of the bun had to go, effectively eliminating a kilo of food. Regrettably, it also exposed the meat to closer inspection; not a smart move on my part. Eventually, I was able to tackle this brown Frisbee like gastronomic mystery meat with the green fringe hanging off of it, presumably lettuce. 

By the time we were finished with our 'meal', we were ready for CPR. I don't think it will be long before this dining establishment is on the hospice list.

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Sunday, September 18, 2011

Ode to Guests Past On


Okay, sometimes we get so attached to our guests, I cannot help but continue to lovingly harass them after they have left us. If you remember my writing about Becky and Vickie, the two that I generously published their restaurant review for, the saga continues post planing and de-planing in that strange alternate existence in the US called Texas.

I had to send them this note:
We miss you so much we had to tear Grill King apart looking for you, but they swore you were not hiding under a gyro or secretly splitting your next pita bread under the counter. They shared their fears that now that you are gone, they just may have to file for bankruptcy. Your frequenting their counter multiple times daily, was the only thing keeping them going. Alternatively, they are saddened by the fact that you really did only turn on your charming ways for their thinly sliced meat. They really didn't think you were that shallow that the way they stuffed your pocket bread was what was making your drool all over their glass counter. Their gyros may be gyrating out of the neighborhood unless you return to support them or do some marketing on their behalf. Perhaps TripAdvisor has a companion GyroAdvisor for you to post a recommendation.

Vickie, we know you really hated to leave here, but having to unchain you from the furniture not only caused us metal rope burn, but it also dented the furniture. There is just going to have to be a clause in our contracts when guest show an overenthusiastic affection for us and the city. 

Did you intend to leave us a whole outfit as a remembrance? We took a picture to refresh your memory in case it were not intentional, but I seem to think it was what you planned to change into once you skipped out on Becky once you were at the airport. Since you did not return, we are thinking of getting a blonde mannequin to dress up in these clothes. She will be called Manne-Vickie. Since you made better friends with our neighbor Zsuzsanna in 10 days then we have in 10 years, we will put a recorded voice in Manne-Vickie's back, so the two of you can say incomprehensible things to each other.  She did so seem to enjoy that guessing game.

We'll set Manne-Vickie on the balcony so she can speak to Zsuzsanna across the courtyard. Once every 3 hours, we will shove a cigarette in Manne-Vickie’s mouth, move her into a sitting position and set her on the bucket, just like you did. We wouldn't want Zsuzsanna to suffer any more culture shock. Of course, when Zsuzsanna doesn't understand your English and you her Hungarian, there will not be an opportunity to draw pictures any longer. We may have to equip Manne-Vickie with a scratch and sniff book to point, so Zsuzsanna doesn't fret over providing a monologue. Come to think of it, it hasn't seemed to disturb her when speaking to the other neighbors. 

Remember, we are going to ship Zsuzsanna to you in Texas, so her manic moods are tempered with the Gulf of Mexico cool breezes that reach your home. Manne-Vickie can get her prepared  for her Texas gala setting the stage for all of the excitement the two of you will lavish on her. Be sure to tell her how much better her life can be there. With that in mind, we will only get Zsuzsanna a one way ticket. 

In the meantime, at least once a day, we will take her down to Grill King to visit with the guys. She won't be able to hold a gyro to you two, but she can keep them company while they pack up to move the business to the bankruptcy court.

With fond memories,
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Friday, September 16, 2011

Orange You Glad I Am Celebrating a Hungarian?


Google Doodles are country based much of the time, so may of you may not even get to enjoy this one. Orange you glad I am here to share it? (Yes, linguists, that was a play on words).

Today’s Google Doodle celebrates the 118th birthday of Hungarian scientist and Nobel prize winner Albert Szent-Györgyi, who is credited with discovering vitamin C. 

The colorful doodle abounds in oranges and strawberries both of which are abundantly rich in Vitamin C. However Szent-Györgyi was known to have used paprika in his experiments, which led to the discovery of Vitamin C. Szent-Györgyi received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1937 “for his discoveries in connection with the biological combustion process with special reference to vitamin C and the catalysis of fumaric acid”. 

To learn more about Google Doodle history visit here.

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"It is an ironic habit of human beings to run faster when we have lost our way."
Rollo May

It is ironic that the last post was about the Hungarian airline that may be grounded due to exorbitant fines imposed by the EU. They were caught with their wings in the government coffers. Okay, drum roll please while the irony comes flying out at you. 

Malév announced they will begin commence with 5 flights, one on each weekday from Budapest to Tripoli the capital of Libya as of October 23rd. Now there is a real tourist hotspot. I am sure that route will be in high demand. A half empty plane going and a full load returning. Malév will be the first European airline to resume flights into the Libyan capital. But there is even more irony, get ready for it. The Tripoli airport has not reopened to commercial air traffic. It is expected to reopen within 2 months. I guess Malév did not check their Libyan calendar.

Before you run faster to your nearest travel agent for that Malév ticket, read the post right before this one a second time or pick up a copy of a Rollo May book to slow you down.

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See Me Fly Before I Have Fallen From the Sky


Here is a riddle for you. What is silver and blue with a red, green, and white stripe that is currently flying, but may not be for much longer? Give up? Here is a hint.

Yes, the Hungarian national airline may be permanently grounded in the near future. As it turns out, the European Union is imposing fines on the national airline for selling its soul to the 'wrong' investors just to keep the airline afloat. 

Apparently, the government from which the airline calls home, is the wrong investor. The EU is fining Malév for receiving state support totaling Ft 100 billion (€355 million) to keep it afloat. Well, technically it should be keeping it airborne, but with the losses Malév have stacked up, losses of Ft 25 billion last year and expected to end this year in the red with Ft 8-10 billion, it is drowning in debt. Afloat is the better choice of words in this instance. 

The real shame of it all is that each and every time we have flown Malév, we have been pleased with the service. I have never heard a non-Hungarian ever complain about the airline. Not that I have heard Hungarians complain, but since they are still telling me how awful the Budapest public transportation system is, they cannot be trusted to judge any form of people movers. 

Believe me, we have heard enough airline complaints to fill an encyclopedia. The largest entry would be under Air France. Now there is a dismal excuse for a national airline. Malév, there are a few of us rooting for you!
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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Texas Samplers


We had two ladies from Texas stay with us for eight days and then they left for Papa, Hungary for 3 nights. They are returning to us today. Due to their extended length of stay, we have become comfortable enough to joke around. One of the targets for humor is the fact that they have not eaten anywhere other than the Turkish fast food restaurant downstairs. For their return today, I created a little welcoming brochure.

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Saturday, September 10, 2011

Virezma Provides a Good Tip


An excellent tip from a reader:

Virezma has left a new comment on your post "Sure I Like Sör, but I am Bored by Bor":

Next time you should come to District 22 if you want to have a nice wine festival. There's no admission fee, the glass costs 500 forints, but you can drink from plastic cups as well. And there's a parade on Saturday morning, in which the district's wind band marches, including me. Free concerts in the evening.
Good thing to be there even if you don't like bor. First weekend of September every year.

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Friday, September 09, 2011

Sure I Like Sör, but I am Bored by Bor


I smell a rat or racket occurring on Castle Hill. First there was the Beer Festival, but sör, you knew that already. You may remember my reporting that they charged 1,950 Huf admission and all you received in return was a lousy glass of beer and the privilege to buy more once you rented a mug for 600 Huf.

Currently, the hill is entertaining the 20th annual wine festival happening now. Let me bor you with few details that guests have reported. The admission was 2,500, but at least they received a wine glass for it, but no tickets toward wine like in times past. Each ticket cost 100 Huf with wine samples ranging from 400-900 Huf, so shell over 4-9 tickets. Get this, they went to buy food, but could only pay for it with wine tickets. When they did not have enough, the vendor was willing to take cash for the balance. After four tastes, they returned to whine about the wine, but the one they liked best was from Wien.

So is the Castle the new “Let’s have a festival, charge admission, and get rich!” scheme in the works? After you have sör-ly been bor’ed, the next fest to sweetly separate you and your cash will melt in your mouth. September 16th to 18th will be the Sweet Days chocolate and sweets festival, where you will only need to pay 1,900 Huf to enter the grounds where you will be delighted to learn that in the future, they are planning an expansion, so this entry fee is truly a bargain. Once they get this kick started they can sweetly with chocolate coating increase the prices. In the meantime, the promo offers such events as “guided chocolate tasting tours with expert. (Chocolate Ambassadors)”. Can you taste test the ambassador after the tour, I wonder?

While you are waiting for dessert, try the "The Szolnok International Goulash Competition”, but hurry, it starts today, September 9th and finishes on Sunday, the 11th. After your fill of goulash, move on to Makó for the International Onion Festival held September 10 to 12. All that running around will burn up those calories, so you can indulge with sweet days the following weekend.

I cannot wait for the Castle hill to be void of festivals and just let me drink in the sweet and sumptuous views.

Mini-Hungarian translations
Sör - beer
Bor  -wine
Note: I took the liberty of using bor instead of bore intentionally.

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Thursday, September 08, 2011

Sorry I Missed You


I missed it. I had hoped to see it happen, but I lost track of time. It has only been the last couple of years that I have used Google Analytics for this blog.  Last week, I happened to notice that I was close to the 50,000 page view mark. I turned off it counting my own views. I missed seeing it close to rolling over to the 50,000. Now I guess I will have to wait for the 60,000.

Thank you to all who read my rants. The top countries who are currently following me are:

What is wrong with you Canadians? I have always said good things about you! Let’s get a move on it.
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I Know What You Did Last Week


Need to know how to spend an entirely unproductive week? Well, it all starts with PayPal. First open an account and try to put their buttons in your website. Talk about the world’s worst customer service. While trying to search for resolutions to my problem, I thought I had, but what I did find was a website called PayPal Sucks. Not wanting to give in to the negative vibe, I held my breath in hopes of seeing light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. 

Well, I am here to tell you PayPal is not what it is cracked up to be. They advertise that they are the solution for small merchants to accept credit cards, but they don’t tell the whole story.  We have had guests who have wanted to pay their fees by credit card, the very reason we take credit cards through PP is that we are too small for the bank to even sniff us let alone show any real interest. Getting deposits works fine. No problemo. Yet when they are sitting in front on our computer and want to cash in the rest of the chips, PP shouts “Hey what the hell do you think I am going to do with that credit card? Eat my plastic, fool! I ain’t taking none of your magnetic stripes.” 

After months of frustration with “Customer Service” I call PP again this Monday. The high school drop out that I am speaking with keeps repeating the same mantra. 

“There must be something wrong with the credit card used.” 
So I reiterate slowly one more time, like English is her fourth language and she has hearing problems besides. 

“We have had at least ten different people used sixteen different credit cards cumulatively and not one of them worked with PayPal.” 

To this she responded “You should have your guests contact their bank to see what is wrong with their cards.”

By this time, I had lost it and started shouting loudly enough to persuade Ron to unplug his earphones, tell Rachel Maddow there was an emergency in the living room, and come running to see if I were stabbing the computer monitor while trying to get at this woman I was Skype calling. 

In a deep breath baritone, I let loose with “If you had the critical thinking skills of a kindergartener with dyslexia, you would realize that it is statistically impossible for ten people with sixteen cards to all have problems with their bank at the same time unless the address for all of them is Riker’s Island.”

She informed me that I would need to contact Technical Support, BUT the only way to do so is to use their website, which has a secret URL, but first you have to travel down the Internet highway until you come to the yellow brick road and get further instructions from some kids called Hansel and Gretel.   

Finally, I get the tech support form to fill out. There are questions there I have no idea how to answer like in what country did the moon set last, while the sun was in a full eclipse in 2004? With a hope and a prayer, I sent the form through cyberspace. 

Nathan responded to any query, but with more questions. Of course, you could write a manual about your problem with their servicers, but they still “need more information to resolve your issue.”

I like the name Nathan, so I wrote him back. Nathan wrote me back and said he tested my buttons on the site and they are working fine. Then Nathan  joined that dark space with the comment “There must be something wrong with the credit card used.”  Damn Nathan, we were getting on so well and you had to screw it up. Again, I told him what I told Customer Non-Support, but I had to type it screaming since I could not get Nathan on the phone. They don’t give out those numbers. Nathan said they could only provide tech support to the UK customers, so was really doing me a favor by trying to help out. He gave me another number to call and a suggestion. 

With Nathan’s idea that the IP address for the computer is somehow triggering a fraud alert on PP, he suggested guests use a different computer. With my handy-dandy netbook, I ventured down to the café downstairs where WiFi is there for the taking. The code is london21 if you happen to be around. While my coffee was being prepared, I log onto our site and try to pay the balance on a non-existent reservation. DENIED!!! Nathan, if you read this, you own me the cost of my coffee.  

I called this Nathan-divined number, which was in Ireland. I needed a translator. My Skype call cost me 5 Euros, because I kept saying “Excuse me?” “Could you repeat that slower?” “Do you have anyone there who is accent free?” He was just as bad. I have to spell BudaBaB four times before he understood. British Council really has their work cut out for them in Ireland, trying to teach them English. By the time my Skypc credit ran out, Cearnaigh tells me that I have to call Business support, because he only handles the UK and Ireland

Well you can be assured that Nathan heard about this. If I could get my hands on Nathan I would squeeze my ill-fated Skype Euros out of his hide. Cearnaigh did give me a number for PayPal Hungary. As I dialed that number, I was certain I was going to need a translator to hold my microphone, while I was slicing on my wrists. OMG, the guy spoke English like I do, accent free. He made sympathetic noises why I went through the litany of complaints and attempts at resolutions.  When I stopped to wipe the tears from my eyes and take a drink so I would not dehydrate from all of the tears I have shed, he said I think I know what the problem is. 

Obviously, I had finally come across a philosophy major; this man was a thinker. Then he gave me the bad news. PayPal is country specific. You can use credit cards within your own country only. Once you leave your country, you cannot use your credit card on a PayPal site for security reasons. 

He provides an example, for instance, an Egyptian is home in Cairo watching some really hot porn on his illegally wired cable box and decides to buy the DVD from England. He is able to use his credit card on the PayPal site because he is in Cairo where his credit card was issued. But then, he is on a business trip to London and wants to get the sequel to his purchase. He enters his credit card number now from his London hotel room, but the card is now denied. This is because Egypt is a Muslim country and port is against their religion and there they have to worry about potential camel abuse, therefore, PayPal has to block the credit card.

I know people that have had easier times recouping from rabies than I am was having getting answers. This is all it took to make me happy. Someone who could confirm the fact that PayPal has limitation and is not an end-all for small merchants and in essence it really does suck. 

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Monday, September 05, 2011

It Takes a Village


It may take a village to raise a child, but it takes a psychic seance to raise the spirits of current airline wisdom. You would think that after traveling to 53 countries and having had over 2 dozen frequent flier trips, and all the rest, I would be able to get the bargain airfare when I needed it for myself. You know the saying, "With my luck when my ship comes in I will be at the airport."? Most likely that is because they are still trying to negotiate a decent fare. The rules used to be fairly simple and easy to manipulate, but not so any longer. 

Using the old knowledge, during June I started hunting down airfares from Budapest to Guatemala or Belize for our annual winter holiday. They were starting at $1,300 each round trip. Certainly no bargain, so I thought perhaps I was shopping too early, so they had no incentive to offer bargains just yet. I tried looking on Tuesday nights, the other pearl of wisdom I have polished over the years. Tuesdays are the days that a number of airlines change their fares, so bargains are to be had. No luck. 

When it started creeping onto September, we decided it was time to make the commitment or really cry over spilled milk. Back at it, the great airline budget ticket safari began. When you start seriously searching for air tickets, you learn the shorthand. Budapest is BUD, the international airline code. G Guatemala is GUA, Belize is BZE. First there are the starter kits of airline ticket buying: One starts with Expedia and Orbitz, just to get the lay of the land. Then you move on to Travelocity, Kayak, Skyscanner, but still without any fabulous differences it is time to get your hands dirty, by digging deeper. Still more dirt to uncover and rocks to look under. FareCompare and Travel Zoo are the next sites that are checked. Some sites are getting worse results than others, but none are getting any cheaper. After giving Booking Buddy a shot, it seems my Buddy has turned traitor; it is not giving me any bargains at all. I hear about so try that and navigate the Hungarian, but numbers are number and these fares were not adding up to a good deal. 

TripAdvisor, One Time Tickets, Cheapo Tickets only caused more confusion than any assistance in the matter. What is really a false promise is when you see these gloriously low prices on tickets only to realize they are quoting in British pounds, not dollars. What I hate is when you find a great fare, but then realize immediately there are no taxes or services fees included, so when you pull out the calculator, you really are looking at needing lottery winnings for the price of the ticket. Those bait and switch tactics are illegal in the US, but some countries they can still get away with it. For good measure, I try Momondo and then Bravofly, but I am still not getting off of the runway. AirNinja is next followed by Smartertraveller and the latter not only searches, but offers another dozen sites to do the same search all over again. BUD to either GUA or BZE is not producing any good results, so then I try the same things with VIE instead of BUD, but still to GUA and BZE. There is no issue in going to Vienna the night before and flying out the next day if we can get a good fare. Nada! Nincs, Nichts!! 

It looks like KLM has some great flights from Amsterdam, so I then try to the whole circuit again with just AMS to GUA or AMS to BZE. We can always get a cheap Wizz Air flight to AMS. Strangely enough, the flights were MORE expensive from AMS than BUD. Perhaps BUD is a better BUDdy than AMS is after all. Add to this whole mix is the fact that I have not been back to the US of A since 2003. A number of these flights go to the US first and then on to Central America. I really didn’t want to break my record of time out of the US, so finding flights that didn’t stop there was like finding hen’s teeth in a hay bale. It just was not going to happen. Darn it all. 

Speaking too soon, we did find a flight that went from MAD to PTY. We could get to MAD, but the pity was that we didn’t want to go to PTY first. PTY was not on this year’s list of places to visit. That however did stimulate the thoughts of being in MAD first, seeing the Christmasy things and then flying from there to GUA. This started the whole process all over again. After finally being reassured that we found the absolute best airfares we could find, we then searched the sites of the airlines we would be using: American. Looking at their site, there were no better fares, so then I checked the sites of all of the other reasonable airlines in the OneWorld Alliance to see if any of their partners had better fares, though it would be code sharing anyway.

The end result is we are now the proud owners of 2 sets of tickets: set one is from BUD to MAD, which is interesting. It only take a few hours to get MAD. We spend 3 nights in MAD and then continue on from there to GUA. After a month, we leave BZE to return to MAD for one night and then back to our BUD. Are you curious where we found the best deal after all of this? Drum roll please…..Expedia! Surprise, surprise, but this has not always been true in the past, so I will go through the same thing all over again in the future.

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Every so often in my computerized journeys, I come across some little tool that I try out and find really helpful. I like sharing it with others. This last week, I came across Symbaloo, a visual bookmarking system for Firefox, Chrome, Internet Explorer, and I think Safari too. I have used a variety of these types o programs in the past, but what generally happened was they were computer dependent. I would get one all set up on one computer, but then have to recreate the entire thing on other computers. The other negative issue was that each time Firefox updated, it rendered the program inoperable until they upgraded for the compatibility.

With Symbaloo, it is created in the cloud. I only had to create it once to make it available on all computers and in all browsers. Better yet, I could create my personal set of links; I have travel one, another for school, and so on. One click and I can move from one set to the next. This saves me from hunting through my bookmarks and I no longer have a bunch of bookmarks across the top of my screen taking up valuable screen space. Here are shots of two of my Symbaloo tiles. There are many for teachers already created by other teachers, which is great since you can share your webmix with others.

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Sunday, September 04, 2011

If It Isn't One Apartment, Its Another


I have been looking at apartments. Not for me and no, I have not kicked Ron out either. We have a new Fulbright person staying here who is on a student grant. He tried doing the apartment hunt long distance, but without success, so he waited until here to continue it. 

Since he is not familiar with the city or the ways of apartment shopping, I have gone along with him. The other reason is that I am curious what apartments are costing these days as compared to what you are getting for the money. So far, I have not been impressed. They either was a full one year lease, where Fulbrights on 'year' scholarships are only here for 9 months, or alternatively they want to charge exorbitant fees generated by week to week fees.

We have looked at a few already, but ran into the weekend, where even if the apartment is vacant, the landlord cannot be bothered to show it until the following Monday. There are more apartments to see today, but Ron will take his turn today and go looking.
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