Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The Honey Pot Gets Ugly. Bait Confounds Travel Pro- How to Avoid Scams in Budapest

I'm in excellent mood, practically skipping down VĂ¡ci Street, the prime touristic area featuring Western style prices in this otherwise inexpensive city. I'm waiting on a couple friends who are still working on Pacific Coast America time, and thus have problems rousing themselves. Still, even for them, they're taking forever. As I gaze down at my phone wondering if I missed a text, I hear a feminine voice angled in my direction.

I look up, one girl blond, looks haggard and worn, her posture is slightly hunched over. The other is prettier, dark-haired, likely half-Asian. She's showing a bit of cleavage.
"I don't speak Hungarian," I respond.
The blond girl motions to her unlit cigarette and asks in English for a light. "Don't smoke," I reply.
They then engage me in an English conversation, telling me they're hairdressers from Croatia here for a convention. They ask me if I know of a good bar, I'm surprised by the question, but tell them I don't.

this is bait?  
I look down at my phone hoping for a text message from my amigos, there is none. They say they're going to go get a drink, and ask if I want to join. I consider for a moment, I probably have at least 20 minutes to spare I've met so many people in a similar manner, most of whom I've initiated the conversation, some who approached me, so I know what's it like to just want some company in a new city.
Unsurprisingly there is a bar nearby.
"Is this okay?" they ask.
I shrug my shoulders. We walk down a set of stairs to a nearly empty bar. It's dark, but honestly, it looks nice, and although the emptiness of it raises a flag for me, it's still very early in the evening.
We sit at a circular table. They ask me if I want a traditional Hungarian drink, "Okay, sure."  I'm easy going enough. They utter something in Hungarian to the male waiter who immediately brings shots of reddish-brown liquer and three tiny bottles of champagne.
It crosses my mind how quickly the drinks arrived. Something feels off. I look to grab a menu to check on prices, but they are stacked across the room. I look at the girls, and frankly, one of them is just flat out ugly. Why would a bar use a girl that ugly to scam people? It just doesn't make sense. No, this has gotta be okay.
They down their drinks quickly, and order another round.
"Where did you guys say you were from?"
"Southern Hungary," comes the reply.
"I thought you said you were from Croatia?"
"No no, very near the Croatian border," comes the reply.
Red lights continue to go off. I like at the cleavage from the prettier girl, it distracts me. They want to order a third round, I'm feeling the affects of the alcohol already, I'm a lightweight as I don't drink often.
"I'm done," I state, "I know my limit."
The bill arrives instantaneously, and naturally, is placed in front of the guy. I open it and rub my eyes. I do the math again, yup, they want $220!
Literally it hits me the moment I see the bill. I start laughing, almost uncontrollably, for about a minute straight, before the following words emerge out of my mouth. "I just got scammed."
"It's not funny!" admonishes the Asian-looking one, as the other pulls the equivalent of $40 from her purse, and with a mystified look throws it on the table. It throws me off their scent for a second, again the question comes into my mind how they could use such a terrible looking girl to get any guy in here. I was being NICE to begin with accepting their invite for Christ's sake.
I call the waiter over.
"The bill is way too high. You're overcharging."
"The bill is right," he retorts.
"There is no way you can charge $40 a drink. No way."
"I can sell you a cigarette for 1 million dollars," if I want, yells the waiter.
"Not if you give it to me, have me smoke it, and then tell me the price!" I retort.
"It's all right there in the menu," he states, "Look."
I'm sure it is. The question now is how do I get out of here for the cheapest amount possible. It's not worth getting bruised up. I take out 20,000 Forinth out of my pocket, the largest denomination they have in Hungary, the equivalent of $73.
That's all I have, I tell the waiter.
"You have ATM card."
"That's all I have," I say flatly. My initial amusement over the situation is quickly wearing off.
He yells something in Hungarian at me, I'm fairly certain it wasn't very nice. It gets me to stand. The girls implore me to pull out more to ease the situation.
"That's all I have," I repeat my fib again.
He goes over to the bar and makes a phone call. I sit there glaring at the girls. 90% sure they are in on it, but not 100%. They sense this and go to the bathroom. I wait outside for them, wanting to see how they behave.
In retrospect, it was mistake. My goal should have been merely to leave.
They emerge from the bathroom and start walking towards the exit. We walk silently out.
"I guess you go back to your hotel," one suggests.
"I guess I will," I dryly answer.
Two steps later, the ugly one seethes, "How do you only bring 20,000 forinth on a night out."
For a second I'm stunned by the question and I answer it literally. "That's a lot here for Budapest." Moments later it dawns me, it's not 90% they were in on it, it's 1 million percent. Her anger stemmed from her smaller than expected commission for her efforts. They're a few steps away from me.
"How much of a commission did you take?!" I snarl.
"None!" the semi-attractive one lies back to me.
And there I stand, practically motionless, the rare feeling of anger coursing through me. I got freaking scammed, and was partially oblivious, cause WHO WOULD TRY TO RUN A BAR SCAM WITH AN UGLY GIRL AS THE BAIT??!!!
Granted, the other girl, physically, was bearable, but come on.

me and my so-called friends in Budapest I was waiting for
it's their fault this whole thing happened
So, there you have it, scammed is scammed. For someone who has prided himself on spotting them before they take place, and avoided many, it was a big let down for the ego.

Sadly I was considering spending longer in Budapest, and spending a lot more in town than $73. Instead, I leave 30 hours later, meaning the law abiding citizens of this beautiful city who stood to gain economically from my continued stay, paid the ultimate price for the dishonest denizens looking to make a quick buck.

So, a tip for travelers reading: How to Avoid the Budapest scam-

1. Always ask to look at the menu, the prices before you order.
2. Specifically in Budapest, if there are stairs down leading to the bar, beware.
3. If you see an ATM in the place as well, just get on out of there.
4. If you sense anything amiss, don't be afraid to be "rude."
5. Don't underestimate the potential of the uggos. It's like a change-up in baseball, meant to throw you off your rhythm.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Naples- Birthplace of Pornography and Pizza

main square of Naples
Southern Italy- The City of Naples

On the narrow, busy Medieval streets of Naples, motorbikes and scooters frequently pass pedestrians with mere inches of clearance. Citizens are expected to walk in a straight line at all times or risk being smashed. Believe me, if you foolishly decide to suddenly veer more than 5 degrees in any direction, your most likely outcome is having an irate Italian motorist yelling at the foot of your hospital bed about the dent in his vehicle.
It's shocking at first, but something you'll have to quickly get used to or be neurologically damaged for life.

Video: a taste and feel of Naples, Italy

Naples Claims to Fame
Pizza- invented in Naples! Really it just amounts to bragging rights and acts as a touristic draw ("The birthplace of pizza, I've gotta have a slice there!")
And in fairness, the pizza is better here than I had elsewhere in Italy- Pizzeria Gino Sobrillo being the most famous and designated by the locals as "primo." A 40 minute line snakes around it all hours of the day.
A second item for which the Southern Italian city is famous- Neapolitan ice cream. The genius who arranged strawberry, chocolate, and vanilla in the same carton holding the same iconic status in Italian society as Ferrari, Lamborghini, and Mussolini.

Video: hustle and bustle n the streets of Naples

The following images were shot in the must see of Naples- the Museum of Archaeology taken from the city of Pompeii. Don't worry, we'll get to ancient Italian porn in a moment ...
beautiful fresco from ancient Pompeii
beautiful fresco from ancient Pompeii
It has been theorized that Pompeii was once built on the coast and was a fishing town, as evidenced below by the fresco depicting all the fish one could catch off the Italian Coast. Today the ruins lie over 2km from the sea. The thought is the eruption of Mount Vesuvius created a greater area of land as the volcanic sediment dried. 
all the fish you could catch off the coast in the times of Pompeii
all the fish you could catch off the coast in the times of Pompeii

a rare portrait from Pompeii-

what people actually looked like around the time of Christ

And, perhaps most famously, Naples, or rather her ancient sister city of Pompeii are also credited with the invention of pornography!
if you think these are ancient candles, guess again

Shocked? You're not the only one. Pompeii's treasure trove of pornography, (more classically known in scientific circles as a "porn stash") brought great shame to the Catholic Church as the current Pope was running on the slogan. "Make Italy great again," and discovering the lecherous ways and thoughts of the ancients didn't really align with the idea that, if only we could model the principles of the "wise men" of yesteryear, all the problems of modern society would be solved. 
Sound familiar? Trust me, Trump is not the only politician in the world attempting to gain favor with such regressive ideas. Be wary of people who pine for the past. The world, despite its problems, has never been a better place for humans to live. 

Especially problematic was the statue of the Roman God Pan having sex with a goat. It was a big let down for Pope Trump and decimating to his campaign. (which it turns out he ultimately won ... )
the Greek God Pan having sex with a goat

At first thoughts were to destroy the evidence, but the church found their plans thwarted by the Indiana Jones and Pervert Lobbies, so a compromise was reached to allow access to the porn stash art collection only to the cognoscenti, the most erudite of society known to be of the "highest moral character," or whomever was willing to pay enough to see such titillating images. 
When they saw the money flowing into church coffers someone suggested putting them on the Internet, but after several days of research, they realized the Internet had not yet been invented. 
Nevertheless, I am fulfilling the dreams of these ancient pornographers, making such images available on the interweb for the first time ever.  
what I notice most prominently are the cheering, amazing
posture of the figurines. 

everyone appreciates boobs
everyone appreciates boobs

taken from a brothel
original Viagra ad
original Viagra ad

Pompeii brothel point to the position you want
likely taken from a Pompeii brothel
point to the position you want

Naples- the birthplace of porn. Hope you enjoyed :) 

Friday, August 26, 2016

La Dolce Vita Along the Amalfi Coast of Italy

Gazing out onto the rich blue waters of the Mediterranean below, the boats floating on her calm surface, the pastel colors of the houses built into the sides of the cliffs which spring up nearly vertically from the ocean, I stop for several minutes in great appreciation of the beauty around me.
Positano and the vibrant blue waters below

pastel colored houses going straight uphill
The steep coastal mountains prevent any large population centers from forming and make traversing the area by land a slow and difficult ordeal. A single windy road snakes its way
through Italy's Gold Coast and at multiple points is simply too narrow for large vehicles to pass one another, each lane having to patiently wait its turn, as one looks out their window at the 500 foot drop below.

Tourism fills the coffers here, and the Amalfi Coast's mild climate, topography, and limited space makes any marketing of the destination extraneous.
Beaches are few and far between (literally) and all of them very rocky. Still, the small areas available are absolutely packed during the summer.

a restaurant in Positano- note the lemonsFood here is farm fresh, with most of the vegetables and fruits served from no more than a few kilometers away. The local specialty is a lemon liquor called "limoncello." It's often sold in bottles imitating Italy's boot-like shape in the world atlas.
Prices here are far more expensive than the rest of Italy as most of the consumption is touristic, coupled with the fact that commerce in the area takes more resources.
one way to get goods through the narrow + steep streets is still mules
with narrow + steep streets mules are still used to transport goods
Within each population center rests at least one ancient church, containing paintings and frescos still on the walls from almost a millenia ago. The church was what society at that time plowed its limited resources into so it's not surprising that these are the structures which have survived.
video: interior of Amalfi's 13th century church

But juxtaposed to the natural beauty and ancient relics which act as magnets for the metal coins of tourists, it's easy to spotlight a root of Italy's economic problems. In Salerno consumed by thirst and hunger after a hike, I walked down the the city's main street at 2 PM on a Thursday; all the businesses were boarded up- siesta time.
the geletaria, the caffe, and another business all shut-down during the early afternoon on a weekday
I don't blame Italy for wanting to lead a good life full of sleep and drink- it's human nature. But honestly, the expectation of the countries of Southern Europe (Spain, Italy, Greece) to subsequently be bailed out by their better to do, more industrious Northern cousins is hypocritical and I completely understand the pushback from Germany and the Netherlands. The flip-side of human nature and why socialism on a mass scale simply is nearly impossible to make work.
Video: gorgeous views along a trail of the Amalfi Coast

Video: a tiny town above the cliffs of on the Amalfi Coast

Nevertheless, the Amalfi Coast is well worth visiting and one of Europe's most beautiful destinations. Just make sure to carry your own water during siesta time.

Video: in Italy, we have water, but we don't waste it- unlike Los Angeles

Video: Thirsty in Amalfi vs. Flint Michigan

sunset in Sorrento
sunset in Sorrento

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Beauty all Along the Amalfi Coast of Italy

"Die on the Amalfi Coast and your soul need not travel to reach heaven." -- Bishop Nokrabi Thailandino of Ravello, 1536

The most well known towns on Italy's Gold Coast are Positano, Amalfi, Ravello, and Salerno, which, along with small villages and farming communities dotting the steep hills which seem to spring vertically from the sparkling blue waters of the Mediterranean, comprise the Amalfi Coast.
The topography and sheer verticality of the cliffs allow for only small communities, and only Salerno at the end of the coastal range could possibly be considered a city, with it's shipping port and larger population.

Below you'll find photos and a couple videos of the beautiful area for your visual enjoyment. 

approaching Positano from afar
a restaurant in Positano- note the lemons
a restaurant in Positano- note the lemons. vegetables + fruits very fresh and local
one way to get goods through the narrow + steep streets is still mules
one way to get goods through the narrow + steep streets is still mules

apartments in Positano
the street down to the beach in Positano
the street down to the beach in Positano
church has beachfront property in Positano
crowded beach (albeit rocky) area in the summer

Amalfi- from the sea
Video: Thirsty in Amalfi vs. Flint Michigan (fun)
All towns have an ancient church, built back in the Middle Ages with art adorning their walls from the same period. It's easy to transported back in time when entering one of these structures. 
St Andrew's church in Amalfi
St. Andrew's of Amalfi- worshippers gaze at their technological God
chapel of Amalfi church
Salerno, the city coast line
Salerno, the city coast line
the boardwalk near the ocean in Salerno
lab drinks from a fountain
a yellow labby on his hind legs drinking from the fountain! Gosh I'm a sucker for labs!
the port of Salerno
Salerno coast beaches are very small
castle atop the hill of Salerno
the port of Salerno from higher up the hill
the ancient Salerno church from a higher elevation
the beach club of Salerno- the Amalfi Coast's beaches are all Rocky!

The Surrounding Countryside

on the hike from Amalfi to Positano

agriculture steps in the side of the cliff - almost Incan
agriculture steps in the side of the cliff - almost Incan
the windy road below

hiking around Amalfi
the coastline 


Ravello interestingly sits atop a mountain, and has a fabulous view of the surrounding area. The town is famous for it's intricately decorated ceramics, which are not featured here as the stores requested we not take photos of their work. 
flowers in Ravello
high above the water in Ravello
sitting on the edge high above the water in Ravello

Video: cliffs with holes + view of the coast from up high in Ravello
From the Boat- the better way to travel the Coast
a small town at water's edge
around Salerno
bon voyage to the Amalfi Coast