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Sunday
Mar312013

The Istanbul Flight Incident

The view from the roof (breakfast room) of our hotel was worth it. (Click image to see lareger size)My father and I went to Istanbul, and we learned some valuable lessons.  One was very noteworthy because it led to one of my most serious near death encounters.  It turns out that when Turkish people fly planes they… well… hold on.  Let me give you some background information first.

Keep in mind that all this is based off of the inhabitants of Istanbul.  It (probably) doesn’t represent all Turkish people.  But, when they walk, they tend to walk directly towards where they want to go.  It doesn’t matter if there are people, animal, cars, or anything else in their way.  If they believe that it physically can move, they expect it to.

Also, they ride motorcycles the same way they walk.  They climb on and load it with any cargo they need.  Then, they fire it up and aim in their desired direction.  Buses, trams, and even trees seem to be expected to move.

I loved these colorful lamps in all the bazaars. (Click image to see larger size)Cars really only have one difference:  a horn.  They drive where they want, when they want.  If anything blocks them, they can always honk for a while.  They seem to know they’ve now come to a higher point in the food chain with this vehicle, and they love it.

Buses are just giant tools of destruction.  We rode on a sightseeing bus that stopped periodically throughout the city, and one of these points was in the middle of a big pedestrian square.  By definition, no moving vehicles should be allowed here, so walkers let down their guard.  We sat in the front seat on the top level of a double-decker bus and watched an old man with a cane almost go underneath our tires.  He wasn’t saved because the bus stopped for him – the old man just realized it was there two seconds before his life was over.

Boat captains employ the same strategy as everyone else.  There are a ton of ferry boats, and my dad and I watched them in their chaos from a bridge our first night there.  They would just pull away from the dock and gun it in the correct direction.  It was like they were aiming for each other.  “They would lose their license in New York for doing that,” he said to me.

It was difficult to tell where the water ended and the land began. (Click image to see larger)Finally, back to the airplane incident.  If you haven’t figured it out, they seem to fly the same way they do everything else.  We had a nice approach flying low over the city, and I was loving looking out the window and getting a visual map of the city I was about to explore.

Suddenly, the plane started floundering side to side.  I would have a good view of the ground, and then a great one of the sky.  Then it started doing it from front to back – the nose was pointing up, and then the tail.  Finally, the pilot pointed the nose towards the sky and the engines roared to full power.

The plane shot up into the sky like a fighter jet (I didn’t even know that was possible for passenger planes), and it was only seconds before we were out over the sea since the airport was near the coast.  The engines were still roaring, the plane was still flopping in all directions, and we were bumping through the air as if we were about to fall at any second.

The guys on the boats (right) would make grilled fish sandwhiche and toss them over to the salesmen on the land. (Click image to see larger)Eventually it leveled out and went back to a semi-normal state.  While we started to turn around, the pilot gave a speech in Turkish before giving one in English.  The explanation wasn’t very helpful.  It was something along the lines of:  “We are going back to land now.  We have to land on runway 23 and not on runway 32.”

We safely managed to land (after another great view of the city), but I spent the whole time wondering who it was that mixed up 23 and 32 – our pilot, another pilot, or the air traffic controller.  But, after spending some time in the city, I realized it’s just what they do.  Probably both pilots saw the runway they wanted and decided to just go for it.

Other than that, the food was tasty on the fight.

 These creative cats think they're safe behind that grate. (Click image to see larger size)

Hungarian word of the day:

Törökország

This word means „Turkey” (the country), and it’s kind of pronounced „Ter - ook (rhymes with hook) – or – sag.”  The two Os at the beginning with the dots over them are pronounced the same, so just do your best.  But, it’s probably safer to go somewhere else, so you can always just learn the name of another country.

Friday
Feb012013

Economics Of Flying To Turkey (Not A Flying Turkey)

If there’s one thing I’ve learned this winter, it’s that airplane tickets work in mysterious ways.

A bridge that links Europe with Asia. If that doesn't inspire you to travel, nothing will... (click image to see larger)I’ve wanted to visit Istanbul ever since I moved to Hungary, but I’ve never had the chance.  The plane ticket prices never seemed to change much, and they were always just out of my price range.  Taking a train would be ideal, but it was just too long for the breaks that I had.  So, I would unsuccessfully try to go there on every vacation I had.

Finally, I found a way.  My dad was able to come visit, and we were determined to get there.  We knew it could work if we put our heads together and figured something out.

We found a few options that involved just planes, just trains, or both.  They went something like this:

I love trains. Unfortunately, this is about as close as I got to a Turkish rail adventure. (click image to see larger)Round trip train journey.  It would take nearly two days when going direct, and the routes were difficult to find out about.  Plus, some helpful internet article said the tracks are being rebuilt between Turkey and Bulgaria, so there would probably be some mysterious buses thrown in.

Verdict:  Too long and not enough information.  No.

Round trip flight.  This wouldn’t include any train trips, but would allow for another small train trip somewhere else.  The only problem was that it was pretty expensive.  Enough that it didn’t seem worth it.

Verdict:  Too much money, not enough adventure.  No.

Boats may be the best way to travel. Where else can you hang off the back while looking at a flag (not on an airplane). (click image to see larger)One way flight, train the other direction.  This seemed logical.  We wanted to ride trains, but they were too long, and we didn’t want to fly (plus, it was too expensive).  The strange part here is that a one way flight was more expensive than a round trip.  Significantly.

Verdict:  Higher price for less flight time isn’t worth it.  No.

Half a round trip ticket, train the other direction.  It seems logical that you can buy a round trip ticket and just use half.  After all, what if you just miss a flight?  Or love a place and never go home?  Or get sent to prison?  There are loads of reasons people don’t use the second half.  But, it seems that an airline can technically add on a charge for that (if they so desire), and it’s not difficult to do in the age of credit cards.  If you’re a lawyer, please get back to me on this issue.

Verdict:  Not worth it because no one likes extra charges.  No.

Swimming is a form of transport. And, the Istanbul authorities find it necessary to make sure that (Turkish speaking) people understand this fountain isn't a swimming pool. (click image to see larger)Fly to Istanbul, then fly somewhere else.  A three way trip that starts in Budapest, goes to Istanbul, and eventually ends in Belgrade is cheapest (less than either a one way or a round trip).  It doesn’t make any logical sense, but it is a fact.  Strange.

Verdict:  That’s too weird to pass up.  Yes.

So that’s what we did.  We flew from Budapest to Istanbul, and then we relaxed a few days.  When it was time to move on (and believe me, it was time), we hopped on a flight to Belgrade, Serbia.  It was unexpected, but my ticket stub from Istanbul to Belgrade has become one of my prized possessions.  That’s a flight that I never, ever thought I would take.

So goes the world of flying.  This is one of the reasons I like trains.

Not really a form of transportation, but I'd be pretty impressed if you travelled a long distance in an Istanbul street sweeper. (click image to see larger) 

Hungarian word of the day:

Repülőjegy

It’s pronounced „Reh-pool-uuh-yah-dj,” and it means „airplane ticket.”  However, it’s a direct translation, so I’m not sure if it’s what people actually say.  If it isn’t, it will make for a good laugh for Hungarians.

Wednesday
Jan232013

No, I Wouldn’t Like Cold Wine

Sounds delicious, but what could it be? (Click image to see larger)One of the best things about Europe is the Christmas markets.  They are beautiful, and they have lots of stands selling delicious foods and cool gifts.  You can wander around for hours just taking in the season.

Oh, but it’s freezing, so it’s kind of miserable.  Really miserable, actually.

For this reason, they drink hot mulled wine (or “forralt bor” in Hungarian).  IMPORTANT:  Before you run off to the microwave and toss a bottle in it, read the rest of this.  It isn’t simply wine that’s served at a warmer temperature, it also has a bunch of spices added into it.

There aren’t many better ways to beat the cold.  You have a hot cup warming your hands while you walk, and every now and then you take a sip of hot liquid that warms through your body.  The spices have a sharpness to them that makes you really feel the flavor.

If you make it at home, it goes something like this. (Click image to see larger)Now, the markets (and many pubs) sell it by the mug.  They either ladle it out of a big cauldron, or they have some sort of carafe with a valve that helps it keep it’s temperature.  These fancy mechanisms intimidated me to the point that I never tried making it at home.  But, this Christmas I decided I wanted to take this little part of Europe home with me.

A quick internet search helped me find a Budapest travel site that gave a recipe (see it here).  Basically, it contains wine (obviously), cinnamon, cloves, ginger, orange peels, and brandy (unless you’re a little kid, in which case, just drink hot chocolate).  This recipe was too heavy on one of the spices (the ginger, I think, but I can’t remember), but it was still delicious.

If you’ve never had this, I highly recommend boiling some up at home (if I can do it, you can do it).  Or, if you’re too lazy to gather the ingredients, just head to a European market or pub in the winter.  Start in Budapest, because I’m biased.

The signs get more and more creative. This one is endorsed by some sort of Alpine Simpsons character. (Click image to see larger)Hungarian word of the day:

Forralt Bor

It’s pronounced “four-ahh-lt bore,” and it is the name of this delicious drink I’ve been talking about.  I just wanted you to know the correct way to pronounce it.

Sunday
Jan202013

Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree

NOTE:  I wrote this in December before I went home for Christmas.  But, I forgot to post it.  Better late than never, right?

The Christmas market in front of St. Stephen's Basilica in Budapest. (Click image to see larger)I’ve figured out how to get a giant, beautiful Christmas tree for free, and you don’t have to do anything.  Does that sound too good to be true?  It’s not.  I’ll tell you how, but first, let me explain my traditional method of getting a tree.

Growing up in Colorado, there wasn’t a lack of nature.  If we were bored in the afternoon, we could, at a moment’s notice, head off for a hike in some of the most beautiful mountains on the planet.  Therefore, it’s not surprising that we went to these same mountains for a Christmas tree.

One of the first weekends of December, we would throw a saw, some ropes, blankets, shovels, sleds, and other masculine items in the car, and take off for the forest.  We weren’t the only people with this idea, so it would be rather crowded.  Plus, the Forest Service would sell permits and regulate where you could cut trees, so really we were helping the natural environment (I guess I should add environmentalist to my resume).

The downside is that mountains are at a high elevation and difficult to get around in.  The “perfect” tree was never on the side of the road.  Instead, it was at the bottom of a valley or the top of a cliff.  Cutting it down was the easy part; getting it to the car was the hard part.  Sometimes we would get it part way and realize we weren’t so attached to the bottom few feet (and shortly after, the tree was no longer attached to that part either).

When real trees aren't good enough, get something artsy like this. (Click image to see larger)We would tie the tree to the roof, and start the drive home.  The narrow, winding mountain passes would require us to stop and readjust the tree before we got home (they never look as good after tumbling off the roof onto a highway – and the damage tends to be more severe than “just put that part in the corner”).

Then, we would get home and realize that although the living room ceiling spans two floors of the house, it’s still slightly smaller than the sky in the great outdoors.  Off goes another few feet.  Thousands of pine needles fall on the floor, the dogs eagerly inspect the tree (the boys plot how to mark their territory without getting yelled at), and we bandage our cuts and drink something warm to help heat return to our bodies.

That was what a Christmas tree meant.

After I moved away from home, I noticed my parents weren’t so attached to this tradition.  They put a little less effort into the process, and they bought one at a Christmas tree lot down the street.  The price was much more, but the difficulty was much less.

Last night, I was talking to them on Skype, and they pointed the computer at the tree so I could watch them decorate it.  That was convenient because I didn’t have to make excuses of why I don’t actually like hanging ornaments (it hurts, those needles are sharp).

The Opera Christmas Tree (in other words, my own personal tree that other people keep looking at). (Click image to see larger.)But, I have learned a valuable lesson about life.  I’ve figured out a way to get a giant, beautiful Christmas tree that you can view from your warm home.  You even get to sip your warm beverage while someone else sets it up for you.  You don’t have to water it, or clean up needles.

How?

Move across the street from a famous landmark.  The Opera House in Budapest gets a tree all to itself.  It’s tall, beautiful, and decorated.  All I have to do is glance out my window, and there it sits.  No assembly required.

There are only two negative aspects to this strategy:

  1.  Other people constantly take pictures of MY Christmas tree.  Oh well, I suppose I can share.
  2. They set it up in the middle of the night, and they make an incredible amount of noise doing it.  But, that’s still less exhausting than having to carry it down a mountain.

In other words, Merry Christmas.  I know it’s a little late, but give me a break, I had exams and trans-Atlantic travel to deal with.

 A Budapest ornament on my Christmas tree at home. My influence is spreading. (Click image to see larger)

Hungarian word of the day:

Karácsonyfa

This is pronounced „Kaw-rach-oh-nyu-faw,” and it means Christmas Tree (probably).

Wednesday
Dec052012

The Snow Boat

Today, it finally happened.  Some nice snow fell on my head.  And even though I didn’t actually throw a snowball yet, I did watch my friend throw one (poorly).

The only picture I got to prove that there was snow - next time I'll try for something more exciting. (click to see larger)My afternoon class is about management, so we had been out in the hallway doing a quirky activity.  When we returned to the classroom, someone started squeaking as they got to the window.  I assumed there was a mouse in the room, but that was wrong.  There was snow falling outside.  Apparently squeaking can express two things:  fear of a mouse, and excitement about snow.

Good to know, I am learning things in school.

But, that view was worth all the studying I’m doing.  The classroom is on the European 3rd floor (4th in America – much more impressive sounding), and the building is right on the Danube.  So, the view is of the prettiest bridge in Budapest, and there is a fancy hotel next to a grand hill right across the river.  It was wise of them to have the desks face away from the window, or lectures would be quite hard to follow.

It was pretty exciting to see the little white flakes falling in the river, and it was a big surprise.  Earlier I had a break, so I wanted to go gaze longingly out the window with my cup of coffee, but the only thing out there was thick fog.

Watching a river boat cruising along through the snow, I really got to thinking about how awesome of an adventure that would be.  I’ve wanted to navigate up the rivers of Europe and see old cities and castles from the deck of a fun little boat, but maybe it would be better to see from the inside while sipping a mug of something warm.  If anyone has a boat that you want to lend me, I’ll be happy to send you some postcards.

 Snow, cold weather, Christmas lights - it's that time of the year... (click to see larger)

Hungarian word of the day:

Hajó

This word is pronounced „Haw-yo,” and it means boat or ship.  Instead of riding one in the summer when it’s hot and I’ll get sunburned, I’ll brave the winter snow and ice in my hajó, just as soon as I can figure out how.  Suggestions are welcome.

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