Saturday, December 08, 2012

Budapest Airport crisis

I was trying to fly to Budapest from London yesterday and, after queuing for 3 hours, my Ryanair flight was cancelled. We were never told what happened but apparently the control tower "caught fire", as a local taxi drivers explained to us later. In the official news this went down as a "technical failure" which, for some reason, was barely mentioned in the news. Yet tens of thousands of people were stranded, not being able to fly in or out of Budapest.

I was trying to fly with Ryanair myself and in the end we were simply told to rebook our flights. Everybody rushed back, trying to get back to the check-in area as soon as possible to have a better chance of getting on the next flight. I ran as hard as I could myself and managed to get to the counter among the first. The lady at the counter was largely uncooperative, close to actually being rude. She told me that she could put me on a flight the following day afternoon. This was not good for me as I was to take a transcontinental flight that afternoon and had to be in Budapest before that. So her next suggestion was to try to get a refund, and go to Gatwick airport and fly with British Airways. Needless to say, that would not have worked because Budapest Airport was not accepting any flights at the time, which she probably knew quite well herself. Her point was to get rid of me, even if that meant that I would end up losing hundreds of pounds by wasting precious time.

So it was my idea to rebook myself onto a flight to Bratislava, which she did for me with marked indifference. The flight only had one place left and I immediately took it. I went away to have a sandwich and a drink and when after about an hour came back, I saw that the majority of the people from the original Budapest flight were still in line, trying to rebook themselves. Ryanair did their best to make this as difficult as possible.

My flight to Bratislava landed at 10pm and by that time the fastest way to get to Budapest apart from a 150 pound cab ride was to catch the 3:30am bus from the main bus station. Unfortunately, by the time I arrived at the station, it was already closed so I had to wander around in the freezing cold. Fortunately, I found some bar and then a Subway sandwich place which kept me warm until 3am. Then I caught the bus (for 8 euros!), getting to Budapest around 6 am. So in total my journey from London to Budapest took me almost 24 hours.

And now, a few hours later, I am at the airport again, waiting for my Lufthansa flight.

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Sunday, November 04, 2012

James Bond in Hungarian

The appearance of the new James Bond movie Skyfall reminded me of the previous one, also with Daniel Craig. It was called Quantum of Solace, a somewhat cryptic title in reference to Ian Fleming's short story by the same title. Now what is interesting is that the Hungarian title of the movie was Quantum csendje (The Silence of Quantum), which does not seem to be making sense. Although the organization of the bad guys in the movie is called Quantum, I am not sure what the Hungarian translation means at all. This is a high budget movie and this is also reflected in the Hungarian dubbing, including the translation of the script, so one is inclined not to think that the translator simply did not get the meaning of the original. Therefore this remains an enigma -- maybe someone else can enlighten me as to what happened here.

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Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Grand Canyon vs. Rám Canyon

The other day we were at a part at my wife's family where the Grand Canyon came up in conversation. My wife's uncle had been in the US about twenty years ago but somehow did not have a chance to visit the Grand Canyon, and he told us how much he regretted this. After all, this is one of the great wonders of Nature. We all agreed that it was a shame that he did not have a chance to see it.

At this point a younger Hungarian brother-in-law interjected that the Rám Szakadék (Rám Canyon) was just as beautiful, maybe even more so. The what? The Rám Szakadék, it really is a spectacular sight. He, of course, has never been to America so it was hard to take his claim at face value. Plus, I have never heard of this Hungarian "Grand Canyon" that equals the real one in Arizona.

So I looked it up. As there is no convenient Wikipedia page about it, it took me a while to find where it actually is. It turned out to be in the Danube Bend, not far from Esztergom. Photographs on the net looked truly beautiful so there is nothing wrong about its aesthetic appeal. But the whole canyon is only 1.2 km in length, that is, less than a mile. In contrast with this, the Grand Canyon is 277 miles long, twice the size of Hungary from north to south. And part of its stunning beauty comes from that size.

I do not, of course, mean to belittle the Rám Szakadék, which may very well be a worldclass attraction. I think we will explore it when spring comes so we can make a reliable comparison. Until then, maybe someone else cares to cast a vote?

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Saturday, August 27, 2011

Getting to the airport by public transport

Earlier this week I was catching a flight and, since I had no luggage at all, decided to try the cheapest way of getting to the airport, that is, by metro and bus. As far as I remembered, you had to take the blue metro line to the Kőbánya-Kispest terminal and then get on an ordinary city bus all the way to the airport. Although this was the hottest day of the week and I did not want to get a heat stroke, I figured that public transport would be air-conditioned. I guess this was only partially true.

Once on the blue line, I noticed that although the terminal really was Kőbánya-Kispest, for the month of August, because of construction works, the line only went until the Határ út station. Just when I was about to panic, I noticed the sign that there was a bus from the Határ út station to the airport.

Once at Határ út, finding the bus stop was easy. But the bus did not come for about 25 minutes and during this time we stood surrounded by overheated concrete and asphalt. Some older guys really looked like they were going to collapse. I did not understand, for example, the middle-aged French group with large suitcases. Why not take a cab? If they split the price, it might even be cheaper than going this way. Well, you get what you pay for -- they were beginning to look quite unwell but then the bus finally came. From there on, fortunately everything went well, it took about 20 minutes to get to Terminal 1, and another 7-8 to Terminal 2.

All in all, it took me over an hour to get the airport, which is not that bad at all. If not for the heat, it would have been perfectly OK. In the future, I am still taking a cab if I have luggage but with a small backpack public transport seems a feasible solution.

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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Vampire security guard with a tattoo

At the airport security check, as I was emptying my pockets, taking off my belt and shoes, struggling to put everything on the conveyor, I was directed by a young Hungarian lady. I noticed a highly promiscuous tatoo on her forefoot -- it was very elegant and fresh, must have been done fairly recently. None of those faded countours you see at times. It looked like Arabic to me so I asked her about it. Ehm, excuse me, that thing on your foot... Ah, that's a tattoo, said she proudly. Is that some sort of script? She nodded and I asked if it was in Arabic. She said yes so I immediately asked what it meant. She explained that it was from the movie Blade. Yes, but what does it say? She did not answer that but repeated that it was from Blade, the movie about the vampires. I am one of them, she added with a smile.

Wow, that's quite a confession...

So when I got inside the terminal, I got online and searched for the Arabic design from Blade but all I could find was tribal tattoos of Wesley Snipes (see picture). Maybe someone else can help me out here.

But once on the subject, I noticed in the past week that a lot of young Hungarians had tattoos now. Of course, I spent a lot of time by the water and this is when you notice that people have tattoos. But still, the tattoo industry must have undergone an explosion in the past year. There is a lot of women with large, elaborate artwork on their back.

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Sunday, August 21, 2011

The first week in Budapest

So it has been over a week since coming back to Budapest. What happened during this week, how was it? Let's try to summarize it.

The weather has been great, I missed all the sunshine and even the heat. After all, summer is summer. It is supposed to be hot. So I enjoy every minute of it.

But there are, of course, other things to life than sunshine. One of them is food. On the second day of our arrival, we went to our favorite Chinese restaurant in Telepy utca (9th district). There was a new waiter and he was the only staff we saw in the entire restaurant. It took a while to get him over to our table, even though it was lunchtime. Sensing a potential problem, I asked how long it would take to get our food. Oh, 10 minutes, 15 tops. Cool, let's order then. Well, the first dish came after 40 minutes and it was something we did not order. When I complained, he rushed over with the menu to show me that this was exactly what I ordered. Needless to say, he was wrong, as there was also a picture of the dish. Then he came back and said that it was the cook's fault. In any case, we got served after about 50 minutes. Luckily, the food was good as usual. But in the meantime, I got a parking ticket just outside the restaurant. Apparently, parking on this street is not free anymore. Too bad to find out like this. To be honest, with this new development (even if that day's experience would have been perfect) the restaurant immediately lost some of its appeal to us. You would not have to pay at night but with the baby we do not go out at night anymore.

But we've also done some fun things. Like driving down to Bogács, which is a village with a relatively famous bath house. It was a lot of fun and we stayed there for a couple of days. We also went to another "strand", as they say in Hungarian, in the town of Százhalombatta. This is a small ugly town about 25 km away from Budapest but its baths are very nice. Then, we also went down to Velence but decided not to swim in the lake as it looked muddy and quite dirty. So instead, we drove around the area, stopping at small villages. This was nice, too.

The fireworks were also fun, even if we could not go to see them because our daughter went to sleep just about that time. But we live near the Castle Hill so we could see some of it from our window. And because it was so close, sometimes it felt like we were shelled by artillery fire. It was an experience.

Well, that was the first week.

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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Back to Hungary

OK, I have been away from Hungary for 6 months in places people would consider better but tonight I am going back again. I am keeping my eyes open to have things written about. While being away, I met a few Hungarians in different parts of the world and they seems quite happy to be where we met. In other words, there are not many good news coming out of the country, it has not become a nicer and more comfortable environment to live in. But we'll see, maybe there are good things you don't find elsewhere.

For one thing, I am looking forward to having lunch for 3 euros, that's a kind of deal you don't get in other parts of Europe. Yes, in Asia but then you have to get there, don't you? So this is certainly going to be a positive experience.

Then sometimes, if the weather is nice, people can be very friendly. Even total strangers, they can just be affectionate towards you. This of course also goes the other way and when traffic is bad, everyone becomes nasty and mean.

And the weather. Apparently, it has not been that good but I keep my fingers crossed so that I get some of those amazing days without a single cloud in the sky.

Oh, and we will go down to Lake Balaton for a long weekend. The idea is to swim and enjoy ourselves, that is, if they let us.

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Monday, June 27, 2011

Malfunctions of Hungarian online auctions

The Hungarian equivalent of eBay is, a site that has become extremely popular in the past couple of years. Before that, we thought that Hungarians were not that interested in online auctions and that is why eBay would not gain much presence here. But Vatera provided us wrong and has grown into a major portal. A more recent addition to this is Teszvesz which now seems to be owned by whoever owns Vatera.

Essentially, Vatera works as any other auction site: you list your item, people bid on it, then one of them wins and you ship the item to him by mail. Because online payments are still largely impossible in Hungary, people either pay on receipt (COD) or make a bank transfer before shipping. Of course, this is quite tedious and there are lots of potential problems. As a result, from the point of view of an occasional buyer like me, some sellers appear downright aggressive, trying to force you to pay before you even had a chance to check your email. You may get phone calls or just a series of mildly threatening emails when you check your email the next morning. Or even have a threat posted right there on the listing page before you bid. Needless to say, this turns me off completely and I just don't bid.

Then there are the problems with the postal system. First, they are ridiculously expensive. Indeed, it is hard to understand why it is sometimes more expensive to mail a book from one district of Budapest to the other than from Seattle to Houston. Why? And if you are the seller, you can be certain that you will have to wait in line at the post office for a long-long time before you can ship your item. But there are also problems with delivery. Since the postal system has somewhat of a reputation for losing non-registered packages, people prefer to register their mail. But then the postman has to deliver it in your hand and get your signature. This he often fails to do and instead drops a notice in your mailbox, saying that you were out when he came. This happens even if you don't leave your house at all because your home sick or just work from home. But now you will have to take the notice, go to the post office and stand in line with other losers like yourself. All this takes a lot of time and effort and often you have to go back at another time for whatever reason. You can train your local postman to actually do his job and hand your mail to you by a series of tips. But this is really paying twice for an already overpriced service, isn't it?

But let's get back to the auction site Vatera. It has one feature that is different from eBay. You have to make a mandatory review of the transaction, whether you want it or not. You may think that as a buyer your only obligation is paying for your purchase but no, you are actually forced to build their site by writing your review. If you do not, they will keep spamming you with email requests and eventually deny access to your account. So after a while you just sit down and get over with it. Yes, they win but then you think twice before making another purchase on their site. Who likes to be harassed?

And finally, in the past couple of weeks they may have done some "update" because the site simply freezes Internet Explorer. I am using IE8 so it is not the oldest version but Vatera consistently crashes all three of my machines. If I can remember this problem before clicking on a link in my inbox, I launch Firefox and the site works fine but I prefer to have a choice of using whatever I am generally using to surfe the Net and not have to keep switch browsers because their level of technical expertise is not up to their commercial ambitions.

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Monday, May 16, 2011

Budapest Airport - Unattended luggage

I was walking through the duty free shop at the airport when a woman blocked my way and explained that I had to go around and exit through another way. The reason for this was that security found an unattended luggage. All of a sudden the center of the terminal ground floor was secured and there were policemen and some other guys dressed like firefighters everywhere. Passengers trying to make their way to their gate were told to go the long way around. A group of young girls with "Hong Kong China" written across the back of their sport suits became engrossed in taking photos of the incident, which reminded me that I also had a camera in my bag.

I ate my lunch as the events unfolded but nothing really happened. Apparently the unattended luggage was harmless.

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The new face of Budapest Airport

I have not flown from Budapest Terminal 2 for some months and this was the first time that I passed through there in quite a while. I checked in at 2A which did not show any change. The three clocks on the board were showing three different times, none of them right. This is actually not a minor problem because some people, like myself, do not carry a watch and rely entirely on public clocks. In this case, for a moment I was foolled by one of them as I frantically tried to understand why I was missing the plane. A few months ago I passed through Moscow Sheremetievo Airport and there all the clocks in the terminal were showing 12 o'clock midnight. But at least you could see that they were not working. Here in Budapest, you realized this first by not understanding what was going on, then by noticing that the three of them were completely out of sync.

Going through security was as usual, except that a young security guard decided that I was hiding something and took his time trying to find that something in the folds of my clothes and inside my shoes. I had plenty of time so that was no concern, but repeated frisking from different angles was still unpleasant.

Inside the terminal was completely different. Brand new, like another airport somewhere not here. Just like in terminals in London or Frankfurt, now there was a shiny new luxury car on display, presumably to be won by the never-to-come-around lucky guy. Then there were a number of restaurants on the upper floor, some of them serving decent food.

To show that the change has come fast and not everything might be in place yet, some of the electric sockets into which I plugged my laptop did not have electricity. Others were still unfinished, with wires sticking out of them.

At a tiny casino in the duty free shop some Serbian teenage athlets in sports uniform were playing roulette. Now considering that they were only about 15, this might not be the perfect crowd to exploit for a licenced gambling establishment.

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