Monday, May 28, 2012

Two X Two X 2 X 2


The twos have it. We had a couple here from California who booked 2 weeks with us. I was sure that as the time got closer, they would cancel out; they booked us in September 2011. They didn't cancel, but honestly I wondered how I would manage with the same guests for that long a period of time. Adding to the mix, they will be celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary come September, giving you a clue as to their ages. 

They spent the day out, returning around 3 pm and hung out for a few hours. Then they went out again for dinner, returning a couple of hours later. This was all fine and good, just what you should be able to do at an accommodation, but these two were chatty. When they were here, they wanted to chat. Within the first 24 hours, I wasn't sure if I would need to check into a hotel or not. As it turned out, they were delightful, funny, and interesting people. Errol loved watching television shows with us in the evenings and Bonnie was content curling up on our new chair with a book in hand. 

By the time they left, we felt like we would going to be exchanging Christmas presents. You know those family members that overstay their welcome and you wish they would turn into strangers for the future and forget your address? These two started as strangers and morphed into friends. 

On their heels, we had a woman from the US who arrived on Friday afternoon and was leaving Sunday afternoon. She wanted  a list of things to do in her 2 day stay. I have to admit, although she was in by 7pm the first night and 9 pm the second night, she did cram a bunch in.

In the other room, we had a couple arrive Saturday late afternoon and leave today, on Monday. They didn't fit as much in, but they did see enough for their satisfaction.

Today, we have another couple arriving at 7pm and they will only be here for 2 nights. It will be interesting to see how they maximize their time. 

Just last week, I read an article about Americans and their compulsive need to not take long vacations. Well, first of all, many only get 2 weeks a year, but the article said that people who had accumulated time still feared taking time off. The general excuse is that they don't want to face the pile of work waiting for them when they return. What various studies have shown is that people are really fearful of being replaceable. They also examine the amount of time it takes to readjust your thinking. Generally, it takes 3 days to fully enter into vacation mode. Toward the end of the vacation, there is what Ron used to tell me I do is a "reentry mode" when you start thinking of all of the work waiting for you. If you slice those two periods of time off of a 2 week vacation, you are left with 1 week and 1 day if you are lucky. 

The Europeans know the real importance of vacations being a stimulant for a better workforce.

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Someone is Watchting Me


No, it is not a case of paranoia. I received this e-mail this morning. The video he is speaking of is the one in YouTube about the different types of transit passes to purchase. Glad to see someone is making use of them.
Hello Dr. James,
Thanks! I moved to Budapest a few weeks ago from Texas. Not knowing the language and having been warned about being badly over-charged in taxis I've spent far too much time in my hotel room. I saw your video on the different types of transit passes this morning and am happy to say I'll spend a wonderful day trekking about the city. Thanks much!
Ross A. K.

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Friday, May 25, 2012

Your Gift is in the Mail


It is always an unexpected, but deeply appreciated surprise when a guest will actually pay attention to my Wishlist and bring us something listed. The people who I would really like to clue in are those who don't stay with us, but pummel me with questions. I am not saying that I mind, because I really don't. Yet, when you send an author thirty plus e-mails asking detailed questions about your upcoming trip and have found the information worthwhile, a cheap paperback book would be a lovely way to say "Thank you for going out of your way to make my way so pleasant."

Today, in the mail, there was a package. It was not on my wishlist only because we had no clue it even existed. It is the book below. No, I didn't forget to rotate the photo. The cover is just like this. There are three things that makes this gift extraordinarily special.

1. We had no idea we were getting it.

2. The author was a guest in 2009 while on his honeymoon.

3. The apartment mentioned in the book "on Akacfa utca" is based on our place.

Seth, if you are reading this, know how extremely appreciative we are of this.  As soon as I finish my current reading material, I will jump into this one. Thank you so very much!

Our apartment was in another guest's novel The Master's Ruse by Patricia Schonstein.

Apparently, our apartment is impressive.
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Budapest Travel News


I have mentioned before, the terminal 1 of the Liszt Ferenc International Airport will be closed at the end of this month. All budget airlines will be moved to terminal 2. Terminal 1 used to be referred to as "the old airport", "the smaller airport", or "the budget airline airport". Now is will be called the airport that closed. 

As domino effects go, Malév's bankruptcy has started the fall. Malév left a debt of 4.2 billion Huf that it owes the airport. That is some chunk of change regardless of the currency. Add to the mix that tourism is down still with projections that there will be 1 million less passengers coming through the airport this year as opposed to the 8.9 million last year.

What has not been addressed with this news story is what impact the other airlines have on tourism with their ever increasing fees and unreasonable demands. This in itself could have some impact on air travel globally.

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Thursday, May 24, 2012

Greece the Squeaky Wheel


English: Various Euro bills.
English: Various Euro bills. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
This is not the best time to go to Greece, I would think. There have been some riots breaking out here and there, but with their stand in the Euro Zone so tenuous, it seems there will not be any bargains to be found. The UK travel advisory site is offering warnings. You can see them here.

When reading the news about travel to Greece at this time, there is the positive and negative view of it all.

There are some bargains to be had.
There may be a better exchange rate for some currencies against the Euro (if they can hold on to it).
Less crowds

If they lose the Euro, there will be chaos with prices.
Hotels had delayed openings due to fewer tourists over a 3 year period.
Stores have cut hours.
There are strikes happening suddenly.
Transportation strikes and cuts
Higher crime rate

It will be interesting to see how it all plays out.
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Monday, May 21, 2012

A Reader Writes...


I cannot give credit to the writer. It was sent in anonymously, but thanks for writing.

Good info about being an expat in Hungary. I'd add that one should consider getting an international health cover when going to live or work abroad. It is unlike any other type of medical insurance out there. In my experience, it's important to really understand what your insurance provider covers and what the additional costs are. on ExPat and Potential ExPat Alert

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Saturday, May 19, 2012

Budapest Peddlers


When we were in Milan recently, I admired the fact that they had bicycle stations around the city where you could rent a bike and return it to another bike station in a different part of the city. This certainly cuts down on car traffic while taking away some of the risk of having your bike stolen. 

For years, I have seen this in major cities and wondered why they didn't have something similar in Budapest. Well, they soon will. Starting in 2013, there will be 58 bike stations on the Pest side of the river and 15 on the Buda side. Grand total, there will be 1,000 bikes. Stations are to be placed 300-500 meters apart for an easy pick-up and drop-off. The first five minutes will be free. One station will be on Margaret Island. It will be interesting to see how this all plays out the innumerable bike rental shops around the city. If they had a SPOKESperson, we could ask how they intend to 'pedal' their services in the future.

They better get in gear to figure out their future.

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"Good Day to Die Hard" or Stay Out of Pest


The latest Bruce Willis movie "Good Day to Die Hard" is filming in Budapest, so this traffic warning has been issued. Presumably it is updated according to their filming schedule, but I just caught it today. I copied it verbatim from the BKV site. Fun! 

"Do not stop in the downtown sections signposted in the Petofi Sandor street, Ferenciek Square, the famous pedestrian street, the Elizabeth Bridge underground parking lot, the street and the Danube MARCH 15th field . 5 minutes from dawn restrict the Elizabeth Bridge, the Kossuth Lajos utca and the nun JOHN EXCHANGE street traffic at 6 pm. The BUDA Buses - Ferenciek spaces - stop of 100 feet further back, the Town Hall Street transferred. also stopping ban in the Stollár BELA, the brand and the BIG Ignac Street , and Sunday from 6 am to VIII., NEMETH street and Horvath Mihaly Square at 8 pm."

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Thursday, May 17, 2012

I Moo - Do you Moo? Moo Who?


The place for business cards is MOO
If you want business cards with a difference, look at this company.

This is one business card we have done by them. I also have travel writer cards with a variety of my own Budapest photos on them. Then there is a set of Life Coaching cards with positive sayings on each. The possibilities are endless and they are on a heavy stock paper for sturdiness.

What most people tell me is that the card is too beautiful to ever get rid of, which is exactly what you want to hear about your business card.


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Semester Endings


Yesterday was the last day of my semester. Other than going in on Monday to sign grade books, and then two different Wednesdays to administer thesis defenses, I am free to do what I want until September. That is the luxury of being a university instructor. Of course after having to be responsible for ten classes this semester, this is a welcomed break. 

As the Coordinator of the Journalism and Writing Program, one that I created, I have been overwhelmed with the creativity that students exhibit. Each year, students seem to raise the bar one peg higher than the class before them. Although, they are not always performing to my expectations in all of their classes, the Creative Writing and the Blogging/Website classes are two where they shine. 

I want to share some of their blogs and websites that they created this semester. You have to remember, these students take an extraordinary number of classes, where fifteen a semester is just part of the norm. Some take more and some are enrolled in two universities at the same time. These are in the order that they sent them to me. There were other students as well, but they did not get their projects in by the deadline.

Istvan Szimhar:
Blog: Black and White Hungary
Website: Istvan’s bin

Marina Kompar:
Blog: Budapest with a Pinch of Music
Website: Vege Budapest

Gergő Holdosi:
Blog: The Healthy You
Website: Delicious Hungary

Emil Chalhoub:
Blog: Budapest Street Photography
Website: Emil Chalhoub  Photography & Journalism

Daniel Layko:
Blog: Musical Recreation
Website: Hungarian Breweries

Faisal Abu Ghaben:
Blog: The Faith Portal
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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

That Is the Spirit or Not So Much


Airlines want to screw us every which way they can, are now acting like spoiled children besides. This just in from the newsletter. Spirit Airlines is suing the Department of Transportation for not allowing them to lie in ads for bargain fares. Here is the story.

"The discount carrier has advertised fares as low as $9 for some flights, while taking in over $100 million last year in ancillary fees. Spirit says it is now suing the federal government for violating its freedom of speech by forcing disclosure of taxes and fees in its advertising."

Corporations gone wild!!
If people could only put their wallet where their mouth is, it would show companies like this to take a flying leap without passengers or clients. They only continue because we continue to allow them to abuse us and the legal system.

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Saturday, May 12, 2012

Number 2 Wins


Two is greater than one. When you are number two you have to try harder. Two has double the power of one. One is the loneliest number you'll ever know. Just ask Three Dog Night or click here for a diversion.

What the heck is this post about, you may be asking? Well, it is official. As of May 29th, the airport formerly known as Ferihegy 1, currently known as Ferenc Liszt Terminal 1 will be called "Closed" or "Zarva".  From May 30th onward, all budget airlines that were once flying out of terminal 1 will now be moved to terminal 2A and 2B depending on whether or not the flight is within the Schengen zone or not.

The pity of it is that they spent a great deal of money remodeling terminal 1 and it is quite a lovely little terminal. The railroad tracks go by it from Nyugati train station. Now those wanting to take the train from the city will need to get off and continue by bus to terminal 2. Ah, Malév, what a domino effect you have created.
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Sunday, May 06, 2012

Bergamo, Italy


Today is our last day in Italy, but with a departure set for 8:30 pm, there is no reason not to seize the day, Carpe Diem and all that good stuff. Before someone tries to correct me, I do know that carpe literally means "to pluck". I did my home work. With that said, we are off to Bergamo for the day. We checked out of the hotel, but left our things there for safe keeping. 

The train to Bergamo only cost 5.15 Euros one way for each of us. We were easily able to purchase the tickets at the self-serve machine. Travel time is less than an hour. 

Bergamo is divided into two 'cities', the lower city at the foot of the hill is called Cittá Bassa, the modern part of the city. When you get off of the train and walk out, your immediate reaction is "Why am I here?". It takes a couple of blocks for it to sink in as to why. However, from the train station, you can catch the number 1A bus to the funicular. The bus ticket/funicular combo is 1.20 Euros. The funicular takes you up the hill to Cittá Alta, the ancient village surrounded by the old Venetian walls. The funicular was built in 1887 to save the upper city from the isolated lower city. This isolation put the upper city into economic crisis.The two cities became one.

There are two funicular tracks with the right track being 240 meters, while the left track is 234 meters. The gradient is 52% and each car can take 50 passengers at a time. 

Being Sunday, having been to a number of churches and attractions, we took this at a slower pace. There are a number of shops to browse in the windows, but closed on Sunday or only open later in the day. There is a cake that is a specialty here, displayed in all bakery and food shops. It is made from polenta. The larger versions were expensive, so we waited to get a small sample size on our way back to town.

We walked the city, went into the obligatory church, traipsed the local neighborhoods getting well off the tourist tract, found a seminary that was gated (probably to prevent escape). Finally, stomach groans demanded we return to the center for a meal. Outdoor seating seemed to be the logical choice. We found a table at a busy restaurant. The service was horrendous as one waiter had to deal with dozens of potential diners. More pictures are here.

By the time we were able to give our drink order, the wind started to kick up. When a table under an umbrella vacated, I moved us there. Moments later, the rain started with forceful winds that blew the humongous umbrella around like a dried leaf. We made a run for the inside. Yet another meal was had that was tasty, but would not win any culinary awards. 

On the way to the funicular, we were going to buy the polenta orsi di Bergamo, but all of the stores selling the mini-size were closed for the afternoon, not reopening until long after we departed. We were forced into buying a larger size if we were to try it at all. 

From the funicular, we walked back to the station with time to spare, had a drink at the station restaurant, making this a leisurely return. Once back in Milan, we went for our carry-on luggage, walked back to the train station, and hopped on the airport bus. 

Returning, Wizz weighed our carry-on pieces, but did not make us put them in their metal sizing template. Going, the did make us fit them into the metal template to size them, but did not weigh them. Interestingly, though this was a secondary airport, they had an airline lounge and they accepted Diners Club memberships. We were able to hang out there until our flight, which was delayed by forty-five minutes, making the lounge all the more appreciated. 

We really packed a lot into our four days.
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Saturday, May 05, 2012

Stresa, Italy


This is another train ticket we purchased online before leaving home when leaving on an 8:30 am train  sounded as good as an 8:30 pm train did for the return. Just as the weather reports predicted clear skies with fine temperatures, we anticipated our bodies would be in fine shape for extensive exercise in touring around like fanatics. Everyone got it wrong.

I had not packed a jacket for the trip. With limited luggage, I didn't want to carry something else, plus I didn't have a light jacket to begin with. Covered with a sweatshirt over a polo shirt, we left the hotel where they assured us the weather would be kind. The umbrellas stayed behind.

For this trip, we had to go to Milan's Garibaldi station to pick up the train for our 1 1/4 hour trip to Stresa (Narrow Passage). From the Stresa train station, one would hardly guess that the town sits on the second largest lake in Italy, Lake Maggiore. The lake is shared with Switzerland, but the majority is on the Italian side. The first recorded history of this town dates back to 998 AD. It was a short hike downhill from the station to the center of the town, where we would find the ferry boats to go island hopping.

It didn't take long to realize that a sweatshirt was not going to be enough, but jacket shopping in a tourist town is not a feat to take lightly. After asking in many stores, we finally landed on a store. They had a "sale" where I picked up a Patagonia brand jacket for 50 Euros reduced from 120 Euros. Now all I needed was an umbrella. I found one for 5 Euros, the best bargain around.

At the ferry dock's tourism office, we were informed that we would not be able to visit more than one island out of the eleven islands in the lake, during our one day stay. There was too much to do on each. One island is only a botanical garden. From Ron's research, we chose Isola Bella. In 1630 Carlo Borromeo III initiated the changes to the island, by hiring an architect to design a castle-type building where the palace is currently erected. The island was named after his wife, Isabella D’Adda, becomding known as Isola Isabella, which was later shortened to Isola Bella. Vitaliano Borromeo VI and cardinal Giberto III Borromeo, Carlo's sons really  transformed Isola Bella. They envisioned and planned the palace and gardens. Their vision was that Isola Bella should appear to be a ship sailing across the lake.

The ferry boat cost about 12 Euro each for the round trip ride. Once on the island, you are free to roam the shops and grounds, but to enter the palace complex and gardens, there is a hefty entrance fee. There are no concessions for seniors or with my Press Pass, so I reluctantly handed over 26 Euros. Hindsight being 20/20, this was the best 13 Euros I have spent for any admission. There are many palaces and castles that are really extravagant and most are over the top in their decor. Some of the rooms here fit that category as well, but most were still attractive. What really took our breath away was the grotto, for which no specific purpose was explained. Millions of pieces of coral and seashells were used to cover wall after wall in successive rooms.

The creme de la creme was the garden. This alone turned out to be worthy of the admission cost. It seemed to go on forever, each section providing another delightful sensory stimulant.

After leaving here, we returned on the ferry, but still had time to kill before the restaurant we had chosen would reopen at 6:30 pm. Shopping was the only thing left to do, but even that was not an enthusiastic adventure. I had already bought a jacket, which I could carry onto the plane, but what else could fit into our carry-on luggage that would keep us within the 10kg weight limit. We managed to find something. One store had some whimsical clocks, so we bought one for the Feri flat. More photos can be seen here.

As we were walking around pushing the clock to reach 6:30, the storm that had been threatening all day, finally arrived. The rain was torrential, but the wind was worse. It took all of 3 minutes for it  not only to blow my umbrella inside out, but to bend the shaft enough so that the umbrella would never again close. The umbrella would have been better off as a rental for a Euro an hour.

We dined in a local restaurant that opened their doors to us 12 minutes ahead of schedule due to the deluge of rain. By 6:20, we were seated with menus in hand. The food was good, but not memorable for longer than a few hours. I did try dessert, a local specialty called Lady of the Lake, a multilayered cake with a sweet coating over the top. Once I cut through the coating, it was a plain yellow cake with jam between layers; again nothing worth spending more typing energy on.

Running between the raindrops, we made it back to the station with three-quarters of an hour to spare before the train was due, getting us back by 10:00 pm.

Tomorrow is Bergamo and then to the airport.

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