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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:


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.


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.


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.


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:


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


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:


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.


Hungarian Winter: Foreign Bloodsuckers And Lack Of Productivity

This story is scary, much like this poster! (click image to see larger)Again, it’s that time of the year.  I came home from school, took a nap, woke up a little after 4 p.m., and switched on the lights.  It was dark out.

Living in a (kind of) northern country whose border is the edge of the time zone is a little cursed.  I know, I know, I complain about it every year. But, I think that’s my right for willingly putting up with it.

Plus, I like the darkness.  You don’t need sunscreen.  You don’t need sunglasses. You get to see pretty buildings (people light those up).  You don’t have to look at ugly buildings (people don’t bother to light those).

On a serious note, though, there are two big problems.  The first is lack of productivity.  The second is vampires (no, I’m not kidding – keep reading if you think I am).

Let’s start with productivity (and save the exciting part for the end)  I need to learn some tricks for still feeling motivation when it’s dark out – do you know any?  My natural clock tries to tell me that darkness means it’s nearly bedtime.  In other words, relax, read a book, watch some TV, and then go to sleep.  Maybe not the greatest idea at 5:15 in the evening.  Homework doesn’t do itself…

Dusk in the city. This is why Budapest is great (even at night). (click image to see larger)Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get to the vampire part.  I just read an article that a town in Serbia is panicked because of a vampire.  Apparently he lived in an old mill, but it recently collapsed, so he’s now homeless.  This led the mayor to issue a warning for all the villagers to put garlic in their windows and doors, and hang crosses in their windows.  No, I’m not joking, read the article here.  Even I can’t make up a story like that.

I’m just concerned that the vampire will read this blog and fall in love with Budapest.  After all, it isn’t far from him, and it seems to be vampire friendly because they filmed the Underworld movies here.  It’s fairly unlikely that he’ll move to a Mediterranean island.  Someone better warn the guards on the Serbian border to keep their eyes open (at night).

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to the store to buy some garlic.

 I may have to hide out in the famous Matthias Church of Budapest! (click image to see larger)

Hungarian word of the day:


This word is pronounced “Esh-teh,” and it means “evening.”  The evenings get earlier and earlier, my productivity drops, and my new vampire friend is on his way here.

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