Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween


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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Geography Lessons


Here is a tip if you teach geography. Use an airline's route map to locate countries and cities. For the advanced students, I recommend Air Baltic's route map.

First have the student find Aleppo for example. Quick, what country is it in? Time is up! Syria. Then have them choose the next city from the drop down list. The route map not only shows routing via Air Baltic, but the number of miles as well. Of course, if it is not a direct flight, the miles will be extended, but it can still be a fun game to learn countries and cities. The map is located here.

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Sunday, October 21, 2012

Budapest's Jewish Revival


Today, I received a lovely e-mail from a reader of my book. She had this to say about the book "I am reading your Guide to Budapest and the Best of Hungary (8th Edition), and it is very good!  I like your writing style and your comments about various restaurants and places to visit."

Are you reading this Google?

For her own reasons, she asked to remain anonymous, so shall it be. However, she was kind enough to share this video with me. If she hadn't I most likely would never have come across it. Now that I know about it, I will share it with anyone who will listen. The majority of the places and events in the video are within minutes of us and our B and B. Our street was the edge of the old Jewish ghetto and if you venture to the Jewish Museum, you will see on the map that our street was literally divided down the center. Our side was the Jewish side.

While I have people's attention, I want to suggest a book that I found heart wrenching, but incredible nonetheless.  It is
Nine Suitcases: A Memoir by Zsolt Bela.

Enjoy the video and thank you reader for sharing it.

Budapest's Jewish Revival from Harry Wall on Vimeo.

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Wage a War on Wages


This comes directly from the source. When tourists see people out and about and claim the cost of things is either "more expensive than I expected" or "really a bargain", they just don't 'get it. I try to explain that either way, it is most likely expensive for citizens. This will prove the point.

October 17th, 2012
Government, unions, employers begin talks on minimum wage

Talks started on increasing next year’s minimum wage between the government, employers and unions on Tuesday, the economy ministry told MTI.
The ministry said it would disclose details once an agreement is reached.

According to MTI’s information, the government put forward a proposal for a 4.3 percent increase of the minimum wage and the minimum wage for skilled workers, in line with its 4.3 percent inflation projection for 2013 with the possibility of a higher increase left on the table as well.

The minimum wages are currently 93,000 forints (EUR 334 = US Dollars 434.96 or 269.21 British Pounds) and 108,000 forints per month, respectively.

The Federation of Hungarian Entrepreneurs and Employers’ (VOSZ) position was that it should be considered whether these wages should be increased at all. VOSZ secretary general Ferenc David called it risky to plan a wage increase in an economy that is expected to stagnate or even deteriorate next year.

He said that VOSZ is under great pressure to support an increase, but can only agree with a rate of next year’s inflation or below.

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Holiday Weekend


It is a holiday weekend, so what better way to celebrate than the Hungarian way? Have a demonstration. Commemorating the 1956 revolution, this is a national holiday in the country. Here is a list of the places the US Embassy suggests we avoid. Hence, stay home, shutter the windows, and wait it out.

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Thursday, October 18, 2012

Hungry for Halloween


I love Halloween. I have missed it desperately since leaving the US. It is one of my favorite holidays. Although I never liked dressing up in costume, the best part was getting ready for kids to come Trick or Treating at my door. There was never a year that I was not prepared with enough candy to keep a gaggle of dentists busy for the following year.

I adore pumpkins, whole or cut into Jack O' Lanterns. Decades ago, when I was teaching elementary school, my classroom was filled with Halloween décor. That is back in the days when you could share the spirit of fun without someone wanting to sue you. I had a relatively large pumpkin on my desk, but refused to bring a knife to it. I cut out and taped a Jack O’ Lantern face on it. By Thanksgiving, it still was solid enough to recycle into a fat turkey. At Christmas, it transformed into a bulletin board of decorations all taped on to preserve the integrity of the surface. We were not in school for New Years, but by February it was an orange plaything for children’s Valentines and St. Patrick was not to be left out in March. It turned green with shamrocks and other things Irish. Finally, Easter came arrived, so it was finally carved out to hold the Easter eggs the class dyed for our art project. Shortly after Easter, the pumpkin died without a resurrection.

Hungary doesn’t celebrate Halloween, so for years now, there has been something missing that filled that inner child’s need for nourishment. One year, I found a pumpkin like I was used to. The Hungarian word for pumpkin usually produces some type of squash. Generally, we call them acorn, winter, or a number of varieties, but not pumpkin.

Finally, the last few years, there have been Halloween costume parties, but I never attend. I am hopelessly waiting for Trick or Treaters at home. They never show up!

It has become easier finding pumpkins year by year. Many of the florists are now selling them too as well as decorative squash. If I found colorful Indian corn, I would really be in heaven.

What I have come across are some Ha
lloween costumes for children in 2nd hand stores. Today, I found some Halloween treats for adults.

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Thr Romney Tax Plan


Many authorities, such as economists in particular, have been vetting Romney's tax plan. What just about everyone is claiming is that he has just not provided sufficient information for anyone to determine if it is viable or not.

After much pressure, this full disclosure has been announced and presented for all to view. You will not need any economic background to fully understand the Romney-Ryan economic plan for the US economy. 

Don't be fooled by the picture above, you can view the tax plan here. I can personally guarantee you, it will only take the amount of time it does to sneeze.
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And in This Corner Is the Middle Weight Champion


We joined the Democrats Abroad group to watch the vice presidential debates last week and last night the second of the presidential debates. We missed the first debate when we were in Salzburg, but had heard it was so disappointing, I am glad it passed us by.

One thing that is apparent is that the moderator’s job is a tough task. Just by coincidence, I Googled it and this article appeared in the Washington Post Mission Impossible: Moderating a presidential debate. One would think that two grown men who have the world watching would show some respect not only for each other, but for the moderator. The rules are explicitly set forth ahead of time, they are reviewed in brief before they start, but still it turns into a pissing contest.

Admittedly, I lean Democrat, but only because there is no healthy alternative. That said I could not believe how downright rude Mitt Romney was in the debate. Candy Crowley needed to be an S and M Madame to whip him back into his place. He went overtime repeatedly, refused to pay attention to her continual requests to return to his seat, and continued answers to previous questions when asked to move on. Okay, Obama was not a saint and I am not excusing him either, but in comparison, he was more of a gentleman with leadership qualities.

I could not help but wonder how these debates could be monitored better as it is a continual issue with all debates, especially political. I arrived at two possible solutions, but as experience teaches us, start with the less threatening and work your way up from there.

Problem 1: We all were privy to the digital timer giving each speaker 2 minutes at which time it is green. When they get the 5 second warning, it turns red. Finally, it blackens out when the time is over and the candidate is expected to control themselves and shut the hell up. If they don’t, the moderator’s role is to try to get them to do so.

Solution 1: When the candidate’s time is over, turn off their microphone. It is simple and an excellent behavior modification tool.

Solution 2: This one is more drastic. Back in the early days of television, there was a show called the 64,000 Dollar Question. At a certain point, the contestant was placed in an isolation booth on stage to ponder the answer. During this time, the booth was blackened out and kept soundproof. This would be perfect for debates. Both sit in an individual booth. While one candidate is speaking, the other is sitting in the dark in their booth, listening, but not being able to use a microphone until their booth is lit up. When their time is over, the booth darkens yet again.

Hey, if they cannot act like sophisticated men, while not treat them with the tools necessary to control their behavior?

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Monday, October 15, 2012

Nothing New Here, Just Brushing Up the Old


Ron and I were on our way somewhere when we came across what looked like an old-fashioned tram. I was excited to see such a historic beauty and went to look closer. The operator was pleased in my interest and called me closer.

His hand motions led me to believe he was inviting me to climb in, though it was apparent once on the side that this was not an old-fashioned tram, but a track cleaner. In the front was a huge brush, which the gentleman demonstrated.

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Saturday, October 13, 2012

Műcsarnok x 2


Ron missed the exhibit "What is Hungarian?" at the Műcsarnok Hall. Our new acquaintance Dan had not been either. I returned with them today, so I took some photos of the displays that really appealed to me using my phone.

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Friday, October 12, 2012

Fine: Pay It


Magyar: Budapest, VII. Akácfa utca 15-21 BKV s...
Magyar: Budapest, VII. Akácfa utca 15-21 BKV székház. Épült Wälder Gyula tervei alapján 1925-26-ban (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you have been unlucky enough to get caught without a transportation ticket and need to pay your fine, you will no longer be able to do it on Akácfa just down the street from BudaBaB

The BKV “Customer Service” department is moving from their Akácfa location to the main office.

Address: Rumbach Sebestyén u. 19-21. 

New phone number: 258-4636


Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday: 8am to 5pm
Wednesday: 8am to 6pm
Saturday-Sunday: closed

This goes into effect October 15, 2012, but strangely enough (not for Hungary), they are still lining up on our street with cash in hand.

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Inter The Elite Circle Nation


Many years ago, I joined a number of ex-pat groups online thinking it may be a good way to meet others. As things go when you are an ex-pat, many activities of daily living take much longer than expected, causing one to have less time than expected for exploring these ex-pat meeting points. However, when I gave it serious thought, what turned me off was that many of these different groups held get-togethers in bars and almost always on the Buda side. 

The majority of respondents who committed to attending were youngish professionals whose profiles led one to believe these events were more like 5 minute dating sessions. I am sorry; if I cannot get at least a 30 minute commitment, count me out. I have yet to attend any social event from any of the four or five groups that continue to store my log in details and are filling my in-box with “We miss you!” notices. How can you miss something you never had?

About a month ago, I received a “personalized” e-mail from one of the ‘managers’ of InterNations suggesting that there was a shortage of social, but focused groups in Budapest. Perhaps I would consider creating one. This sparked my interest, so I read the offer multiple times, but soon realized that one had to be an Albatross member in good standing in order to initiate such a group. After receiving the same request a second time, I wrote back stating I was not an Albatross member, since I had no intention of paying annual dues for a service that up to now has not suggested it could offer me any advantages.

Why albatross, I never figured out. What does a seabird with a large wingspan have to do with anything related to ex-pats? I am still oblivious regarding the point on this moniker.

Though it may have sounded harsh, it was honest. The manager wrote back within an hour. An ex-pat with too much time on his hands it seems. He offered that any group leader automatically becomes an Albatross member as a reward for the arduous task of organizing a herd of others interested in the common theme. With that, I offered to create a Writers Group. It was accepted and duly advertised by the InterNations newsletter. Now all I had to do was wait for those eager Budapest writers to find me.

Two weeks went by before my first request for information arrived in my message box. “Ryan, I attended some of the Budapest Creativity Group meetings you organized. I am so pleased to see something like a writers group is finally getting off of the ground. Keep me posted.” There was no mention of wanting to join, only wanting more information, which is automatically posted on the group wall, if one cared to join. How many individual letters would I have to send out before people fell off of the fence?

In the meantime, some ambiguous person at InterNations sent me reminders to post to the group wall so others would be enticed into joining my group. Being obedient to a certain limit, I did just this. Another week went by when this message arrived: “Just out of curiosity, how many members are in the group?”

This is where the fine print enlarges into something noticeable and readable. I answered the questions with the honest fact that we had a writers group, but the majority of the members have returned to their homelands, hence we have not been very functional. The hope is to resuscitate the group by breathing new life into it with new members.

Within a day, I received a letter from yet another manager stating that it is his distinct impression that I have already been a member of a writers group in Budapest, but that it has not been associated with InterNations. If this is so, it is against the terms of service that I had agreed to with creating the group. InterNations’ groups are only open to Albatross members, those who have paid their membership fees. Well, I really despise elitist organizations, especially those that pretend to be altruistic on the surface only to do the bait and switch. My response was that I had never read the TOS as the group was created by private e-mails between one of the managers and me. However, if this was an issue, he was welcome to disband the group. There was hardly any interested to care about its survival anyway.

Within the hour, there was a general notice sent to all Budapest members that the Writers Group had been disbanded due to one of the following reasons and there were six listed. My albatross wings were clipped, but this bird of a feather will find another flock to be with together.

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Thursday, October 11, 2012

Salzburg Photos


The Salzburg photos are now in the Ryan and Ron Do the World blog. Come visit us there and share our memories.

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Sunday, October 07, 2012

So long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, Good Night


Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Cover of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
It is almost time for this fairy tale to end. We will leave today on the 4:01pm train back to Budapest. Last night, Ron had thought about a Mozart concert for 20 Euros, but knowing he would go alone, he nixed the idea. The compromise was going to mass this morning where there would be music. I intended to sit on the steps with a book I wanted to finish, but the weather turned nasty. I finally had to sit in one of the back side pews to read. However, before this, we went looking for a breakfast spot. It would have been easier finding someone who had never heard of The Sound of Music. Every eatery we came across was closed until we had almost given up the search. 

We finally came across a bakery we had passed a number of times before, but dismissed as the sign only advertised strudels. Desperation made us investigate. They were more than just tasty pastry, but every table was reserved. 

The pallor in our skin tone must have made the waiter feel for us; he offered us a table that was being held for 11am. We had 1 1/2 hours to order, eat, and get out. We could work with this. Twenty-seven Euros later, we wiped the crumbs of Ron's strudel and my open faced sandwich of ham and cheese, plus one latte and one cappuccino off of our lips. Since I am a multi-tasker, while wiping my lips I was also blowing goodbye kisses to the 30 Euros we had saved with the Salzburg Card.

Ron's religious fix was just 20 pages short of me finishing my book. I wanted him to go say a rosary or something so I could toss the thing, but he wanted to go to the Modern Art Museum. Entrance fee was 8 Euros. Actually, there are more than one, but the closest one we found due to the now pouring rain, (umbrellas nicely packed in the suitcase at the hotel) had a photo exhibit of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company. It was engaging and took us up to the time we needed to buy our boat tickets for the river cruise included in our card to save us another 13 Euro.

Now this is where it got tricky. The 'cruise' was at 2pm and lasted for 40 minutes. We still had to return to the hotel for our bags, walk the 10 minutes to the train station, and stop at SPAR grocery store for train food, and get to our train by 4pm. It sounded doable. 

The river naturally runs low, so the cruise boats are especially constructed of aluminum and do not penetrate the water more than 38 centimeters, regardless of how many overweight tourists are on it. We took off and again the German commentary went on forever. The English was shorter than Reader's Digest. I really could care less as the rain was so heavy at this point, you could barely see out the window. I finished my book intending to leave it on the boat. We were 20 minutes out and still have not reached the point of dropping off Tour Group 2 at Hellbrunn Palace. Ron and I are both clock watchers at this point. 

Finally, we dump them, turn the boat around and head back. We see the port in sight. Then the captain announces that since the boat is docked in winter time, they have taught it a trick for other times. Crap, what now? He presses a button setting the boat to go in circles or what he called the boat dancing. It is what we called nerve wracking. Forty minutes went by, forty-five minutes, and we see trains passing by our eyes as the conductor is waving good bye to us. 

Finally, we got off the boat, waited for a bus, but ended at the train station. The bus that is closest to the hotel did not stop at our stop on Sundays. Ron went for the luggage, I went to SPAR. We made our train, but it is packed as it started in Munich. Until Linz, we sat separately, but then we were able to move across from each other. Finally by Vienna, we could sit and eat our train food together. 

In conclusion, with the Salzburg Card, we went to many venues we most likely would not have otherwise due to the expense. In the long run, we filled our 72 hours at a leisurely pace, had a great time and saved a bucket of money. 

To Salzburg, I say,

So long, farewell
Auf Wiedersehen, adieu
Adieu, adieu
To you and you and you

So long, farewell
Auf Weidersehen, goodbye
I leave and heave
A sigh and say goodbye

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Saturday, October 06, 2012

Into the Clouds


What made my heart sing was the cable car ride we took to the peak of the Untersberg Mountain. This is one of the largest in the area and extends into Germany, creating a natural border. The cable car travels at 7 miles per hour from the base station at 456 meters above sea level to the top station at 1,776 meters, making an altitude difference of 1,320 meters. The ride on a two cable system lasts for 9 minutes, but the viewing is spectacular from the cable car and once you arrive at the peak. There was some religious ceremony going on at the next to highest peak, with the highest there was a huge cross. Neither attraction prompted me to venture beyond the hiking that I did do over loose rocks, steep inclines and no guard rails along the way. If Julie Andrews or Jesus were appearing at the top peak, it would not have motivated me further.

Spending over an hour here, we were first in line for the cable car down, which was luck as we shared it with many of the people involved in the celebratory mass. This was clearly evident in their soldier costumes that spanned many centuries. We never did find out what it was. Normally, the cable car ride would be 21 Euros per person. You are stuck with a round trip, as you cannot get down without the cable car unless you are a mountain goat.

The bus that leaves the cable car also stops at Hellbrunn Palace with their 'world famous' trick fountain. Shortly after ascending to the throne in 1612, Salzburg's Prince Archbishop Markus Sittikus von Hohenems didn't waste any time spending the monies collected from the serfs and tradesmen under him. This palace served as a country residence, a place to entertain guests, but not to accommodate them. The prince loved Italian art and culture, so had this elegant entertainment center fashioned on that style. Admission 9.50 Euros.

Hellbrunn Mountain has many water outlets in it, thus making the main theme for Hellbrunn Palace one of water. It is famous for its "trick fountains". Having heard too much about them beforehand, they were disappointing in reality. Perhaps this was because they are only available by tour which is bilingual. The German narration goes on and on, people laugh, and there is more narration still. The English version when translated is a couple of sentences long with no instilled humor. The main attraction was the Wasserspiele, an impressively oversized Baroque village where hundreds of human figures completed a days routine around the village all powered by water.

We toured the gardens or so we thought. They were rather extensive, but what we did not realize is that it does go on for acres more behind a line of trees with a pathway in the center. Rather than walk more miles around flowers, we put our energy into touring the interior. Lavish! Expensive! It may have been more impressive if you were not a minimum wage earner that had high taxes to support the lifestyle of the rich and famous. 

As tempting as the zoo was, being just one bus stop back to town and free with the card, the number of people jockeying for room on the bus dissuaded us from that idea, besides it was late in the afternoon anyway. There would not have been much time to taunt the animals. We decided that tourist watching in the Dom square would be just as much fun. Ron had forgotten his camera yesterday, so we did a rerun of the cemetery for his photo ops. Everyone was still resting in peace or pieces as the case may be. 

Having performed our great feat of using our feet, by 6pm we needed a hotel break for an hour. Although we have utilized the buses fairly well, we have still racked up the miles walking up and down the river and around town. From our hotel to the center of Old Town is about 1 1/2 miles by river route. The exercise is exhilarating. Before we put our feet up, we went to the corner restaurant to check it out as a dinner possibility. As quaint as could be, we decided this was a contender for our dinner money. Just to be certain, we spent the time it took to drink a beer to get a feel of the atmosphere.

After a respite, we walked back to the Old Town to see what happens on a Saturday night. Not much of anything happens, actually; most of the stores close up by noon or 1 pm just like much of Europe. There were a few stores still open, those that prey on tourists and pray those tourists will spend some cash. Even a number of the restaurants were closed, so that solidified the decision to eat at the local place, Steirische Weinstuben. Rather than the traditional veal, I had pork Wienerschnitzel. It was the best I have ever had. The lady who runs the restaurant along with her aunt was lovely, bouncy, and full of energy. They came to say good-bye, thanked us for coming and wished us a pleasant stay.

One thing that impressed me about the Salzburg people is everyone seemed to speak English. Normally, this would not surprise me in a touristy setting like restaurants or shops, but we asked strangers on the street for directions or for assistance in reading the bus schedule. Their English was flawless. Kudos to you!

Our Salzburg Card tally now is at 30.50 Euros in our favor.
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Friday, October 05, 2012

Maria, Where Art Thou?


Cover of "The Sound of Music (Two-Disc 40...
Cover via Amazon
I alluded to The Sound of Music in the post title yesterday, but never addressed it. This 1965 American movie made Salzburg more famous than it could ever have dreamed possible. What is curious is that once you are in the city, there are disclaimers about the authenticity of the movie as opposed to the facts as written in Maria Von Trapp's memoir. There are dozens of Sound of Music tours, but almost similar to the Lord of the Rings tours in New Zealand, I don't need to pay someone to point to a mountain while saying that is where Julie Andrews sang the opening song.

We stopped at the Mozarteum thinking it was a museum, but it turned out it was a university. Shortly, thereafter, we did find the Mozart Residence where the entrance was 10 Euros each, but free with the card. I am not a classical music fan; I could have, would have shunned the place had not Ron wanted to go. It was simply interesting to me, nothing more.

This led to our taking the funicular to the Hohensalzburg Fortress. It was built in 1077 by Archbishop Gebhard, but enlarged by the clergy/princes who succeeded him. It is a fully-preserved fortress and the largest in central Europe. It has never been conquered by enemy troops. The panoramic views are spectacular. The photos will be in my photo blog in a few days.

The Marionette Museum is also located in the fortress as well as a exhibit of the history in photos and a sculpture of soldiers fighting a war. Loving marionettes, I enjoyed the museum, though it was much smaller than expected and all were related to operas. That said, the Marionette Theater was closed until November, so we could not catch any shows. I would have gone to an opera of marionettes even when I religiously avoid human performances. The combined ticket for the funicular, fortress, and museums was 11 Euros p/p. So far, we were able to deduct 21 Euros from our 40 Euro investment. Spending plenty of time here, not rushing at all, we continued onward.

On the funicular ride down at the base is Stiegl Brewery where our Salzburg Card promised a beer tasting. After climbing the hill to reach it and then a thousand stairs to get to the business area, we found that the actual brewery is in another location. After all of that exertion, we had to stay for a beer at least. I included a pretzel, which came hot from the oven. The food being served all around us looked delicious, but there was no time to stop for a meal.

We decided to go to the Residence. A Baroque structure, it was the home for the Prince Archbishops of Salzburg until the city was incorporated into the country of Austria. The building was originally erected in 1120, but major additions were created in the 15th and 16th centuries by other Archbishops. Contrary to our Salzburg Card brochure, the gallery closed at 2pm, not 5pm like it was shown. We were able to visit the museum there which featured a special exhibit on death. Varied pieces of sculpture mixed with paintings and other media, exemplified death in its many manifestations throughout history. On the other side was the permanent collection. The entrance was 9 Euros each.

With a time savings from not being able to visit the Residence rooms, we ventured to the Salzburg  Museum instead, since it is on the same square. The entrance would have been 7 Euros had we not had the card. Not fully understanding, we found one full floor filled with displays of religious art found in the city throughout the centuries. I had assumed this was all there was to the museum, but as closing time approached, we found this was a special exhibit with the main exhibit one floor below. However, by that time, they where shooing us out of the place, wanting to go home to their own dinner. We were on sensory overload anyway.

On our first full day, we would have spent 37 Euros each had we not had the Salzburg Card. However, this does not include the cost of bus rides. We had taken at least six of them by this point, which most likely put us over the top for the 40 Euro investment. Granted, I am not sure I would have been willing to part with those amounts of money at each stop, but knowing the card gained us access, it was a no brainer.

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