Category: Squiffy’s Journal

Making Videos for a Living

Posted by – March 10, 2013

I thought I’d just post a quick update to my “journal”. More than a year ago now, I started making YouTube videos about computer programming to try to sell 1-to-1 Skype lessons. Then about six months ago, someone told me that I can sell video tutorials on Udemy.com. I started doing that, and was very quickly making around $3000 a month.

Now my life consists in doing whatever I feel like doing, and making some videos for, on average, about an hour a day.

I’m much happier than I’ve ever been before. The things I struggle with now are, the lack of company during the day, since I no longer work anywhere but home (let me emphasise that I’m not complaining about not going into the office though — I love the freedom), and motivating myself to make videos. That’s the downside, and it’s a very small downside to what I consider to be a pretty sweet lifestyle. I could now be very wealthy if I worked harder on making money, but that’s always been both my strength and my failing; that I’m not motivated much by money.

The upside, apart from the money and being able to work anywhere at any time, and having to work very little, is that I’ve realised that you can make a living doing almost anything on the Internet if you know how to go about it. So I’m currently creating all kinds of other projects that I anticipate will make me good money in two years, or at least those projects that I persist with hopefully will.

My new projects are things that I really want to do rather than stuff that I believe will particularly rake in the cash. As far as I can see, and I don’t like to jinx it by speaking out of turn, but my programming videos will bring me a living wage far into the future, especially if I keep doing a bit of work on them. Right now I can save a bit of money every month, and in general I make more money every month than the last month. It’s a great situation. But a great situation can always be greater, and the thing I’m working on changing now is developing more interesting areas to work in, and I’m thinking about how to eventually work more with other people.

I’ve written a bunch of posts now about making money on the Internet, so I won’t cover it again here.

I’m grateful now that I was in this situation for a while where I had to understand the Internet in order to pay my rent! It was very stressful for about a year, but now I can see a golden future for myself — if I can only keep myself motivated and deal with the fact that I spend my working days largely alone. There are pros and cons in everything, but I do not regret a single thing and I’m so happy that things have worked out. Wild horses won’t get me back into the office now. I’m right at the start of living the dream as far as I can see!

Success

Posted by – December 7, 2011

I’ve become a bit lax about posting to this site. What’s even worse is, when I look at the front page, it’s become entirely about my random endeavours in Budapest, instead of being about more generally applicable things. Anyway, I want to post an update about what I’ve been doing just for the moment, then maybe I can get back to writing whatever crazy articles spring to mind.

A little while ago I posted something about an “experimental travel site” that I was working on. I’ve sort of already lost interest in that idea, and I’m thinking of using the site to sell software from . But, my mysterious friend “LP” did mention that indeed her friend is apparently able to set up travel sites and to already make something like 1000 euros a month from them after only a couple of months. But he works all day on them and is an expert on SEO. I’m still learning about SEO, and if I knew the trick to this I’d share it with you, but I don’t. Pretty amazing though — it really seems to contradict what we all hear, that it takes two years to make a blog successful.

As for myself, now finally I’m making a living by teaching software development online using Skype and other free software (my site is Cave of Programming). It happened quite quickly for me; my first student was through Guru.com and came to me via pure luck. Someone advertised on there for someone to teach them Java, and I applied. That gave me confidence that there is a demand for this kind of thing, and I put my photo on my other site together with some more balanced, less over-the-top advertising information. Clients began to appear at the rate of about one every two or three weeks.

I also teach private English lessons here in Budapest. I advertised through the local newspapers and ended up with four or five clients. If you speak English you could definitely make a living like that, but I’ve decided to concentrate on teaching software online, since for me this pays more and is easier.

I definitely think that non-English speakers could teach their own language online via Skype too, especially if you speak at least some English (which you do, or you wouldn’t be reading this page). Set up an Internet site and regularly post little articles to it. Bookmark your own articles on social bookmarking sites, using titles with keywords that people are searching for (although this maybe isn’t as important as making sure your articles are useful), and consider making YouTube videos too. I make YouTube videos using Flashback Express (free) to capture my desktop. It’s really good, and every day or two someone subscribes to my YouTube channel. I take payments using PayPal, which charges a hefty percentage, but only of the money that you actually make — there are no upfront payments. It’s really, really easy to use; just log into their site and click. You can find more information about SEO (the art of writing pages that will get hits in Google) elsewhere on this website.

Basically, if you can think of something that some people are interested in learning and that you can teach, you can probably find people who want to learn it through the Internet. You just need to be patient, and do a little something every day to promote your website. Don’t give up the day job till you’ve got clients, at least not unless you have savings. OR, disregard my advice completely, quit your job, pay your rent with your credit card and try to get clients like crazy. You might succeed, but don’t blame me if you don’t :)

Budapest is quite a good place to live if you’re doing this kind of thing, since it’s cheap (for people from Western Europe or USA — although I don’t know how permits and visas work for US residents) and you can get a good Internet connection here. But of course anywhere with cheap rent and a good Internet connection works. If you’ve got your own house, even better! Right now it’s chilly in Budapest and everyone’s complaining about the cold. Except me — I love it. I seem to be permanently adjusted to English weather, so I feel right at home now.

Often Skype has a few problems while I’m teaching people, but we just work through it together and no-one minds too much.

The next step for me is to work on my language software, while continuing to take on more clients for programming training. I actually finished some language-learning software, but I am pretty unhappy with it — it’s very unexciting and tends not to install properly. What I’ve learnt from this is, if you’re writing software, think about how it will install before you even start, and use any helpful libraries or frameworks that you possibly can. Try to find a framework that does most of the work for you.

Talking of language software, recently I’ve been meeting people in Budapest from language-exchange sites to practice Hungarian. One guy G. happened to have taken English lessons with a man who wrote some of the Hungarian-learning books I’ve got. G. told me that this man was looking for people to write software for him, and for native English speakers to record stuff for his software. I arranged to meet this man, who turned out to be a grey-haired Russian. I couldn’t help him with his software since he write for Macs, which I don’t, but I recorded some text for him. He got me to sit in a little makeshift recording studio while I read out text for his latest software project. For this I asked for, and got, 4000 forint for an hour. For me it was an interesting experience, although I sensed he was skittish about my Derbyshire accent. But it was interesting to meet someone who had built a business around mainly teaching English.

This might be my last “journal” or Budapest-related post for a while. Since I started writing this journal, I’ve gone from desperately hoping that I could make a living away from offices, to actually doing it and (fingers crossed) succeeding. I’ve leveraged my software skills, but I could equally well have concentrated on teaching English. I think that making a living for yourself is not as hard as it can seem, provided you are patient and you take the trouble to promote your services or product. It used to seem like a black art to me, and for year after year I felt that office slavery was inevitable, when all along if I had just picked one sensible idea and stuck at it for a while and had not been afraid to promote myself, probably I could have avoided many years of frustration!

The best thing about working for myself is that I get to work with a diverse assortment of interesting and likeable people, and I often get really nice comments on my blogs — or people tell me they’re really grateful for my help. The worst thing is that sometimes I worry that my clients will all disappear and no new ones will come in. But that looks less and less likely with each passing month, as I acquire new clients. All in all, I can’t recommend this kind of life highly enough. I finally feel like I’m in control of my destiny. I get out of bed when I’ve had enough sleep; I stroll around when I feel like it, and no-one tells me what to do. Bliss.

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Experimental Travel Site

Posted by – November 9, 2011

This is just a quick post to announce my new blog, Fascinating Journeys.

It uses cheap hosting from AccuWebHosting (as does this site), along with the free WordPress content manager, and a paid-for premium theme called Lifestyle, which is part of the Genesis Framework.

My plan for this blog is to write about travel-related themes, to make money from advertising on the blog (this is its entire purpose really) and initially to try to pick up visitors by targeting “long tail” key phrases in Google.

I’ve noticed that my most popular posts on my blogs so far are often ones targeting key phrases that only get as little as 7000 global searches monthly. For these key phrases I can easily get onto the first or second results page in Google and pick up 100 hits a month. So these are the phrases I’ll use in my titles; also I’ll be looking for key phrases with high Cost Per Click (CPC).

More Teaching English in Budapest

Posted by – October 19, 2011

 

1. England, and Why I Never Write Anymore

It’s been about fifty years since I last posted anything to this site. That’s mainly because I started to think my whole project here was ultimately a fathomless abyss of impossibility and was thinking of running back to England (see photograph) with my tail between my legs. However, as you can see, a quick visit to England confirmed what I thought I vaguely remembered from my childhood, viz. that the country consists mainly of sheep and ducks, with nearly constant rainfall, thus rendering the place uninhabitable.

2. How to Teach English in Budapest

Following this I decided to become homeless in Budapest rather than face working in an office again. The temperature in summer here is ideal for sleeping on park benches, and in winter I’m told one can sleep in the subways. It was at this point that I had something of a breakthrough. Someone actually replied to one of the adverts I had placed in a newspaper advertising my services as an English teacher.

I’m not actually an English teacher and have no qualifications in teaching English, but I do speak the language having lived in England till the age of 33, so I thought I ought to be able to manage to teach it. In fact it has turned out that some people specifically look for people who aren’t teachers to teach English to them or their children. Bad memories of school, maybe.

If you want to teach English in Budapest, I recommend putting adverts in the district newspapers (try to get a Hungarian to help you if possible). It will help if you also know a few Hungarian words when you go into the newspaper offices to place the ads — things like “advert”, “address” and “name” are useful. Districts II and XXII are particularly wealthy, but I also got a response from an ad. I placed in the district I newspaper.

September and January are apparently the best time to place ads. In summer, don’t bother — no-one wants to learn anything in summer. It’s too hot.

I also found someone to teach computer programming to via Skype and Team Viewer by combing guru.com daily. Teaching programming via Skype is more lucrative than teaching English, so I’m thinking of advertising my services via Google too — although you can pay 2 dollars a click for keywords like “online Java tutor”, so it’s a bit like going down the casino.

Now I’ve acquired, in total, in a very short space of time, five students, who so far are stumping up cash on a regular basis, bless them! Together they cover my rent (since I’ve just rented a flat for 70,000 forints in downtown Pest); a few more and I can also afford to buy food and clothes, which will be nice. My new landlady believes in reincarnation and has filled my flat full of Hare Krisna iconography, which is also nice.

So the sum total of my experience so far suggests that if you want to teach English privately in Budapest, come here in September (or better August so you have time to settle in) and put ads in the district newspapers.

You can try students too — you’ll get lots of enquiries if you put up flyers at the universities, but students are usually strapped for cash and so far I haven’t ever actually hooked any of them. If I wasn’t also simultaneously studying and trying to finish software to sell (no doubt I’ll post more on that later since I intend to sell it on this site), I’d consider offering a radically-discounted student package. But meanwhile I’m content to search for relatively wealthy Hungarians who don’t mind paying for someone who comes from the place that invented English.

3. Why I Started this Blog in the First Place, Notes on Weird Subcultures and the Hard Sell

I don’t want to jinx myself by speaking too soon, but it looks like I’m well on the way to fulfilling the original promise of this blog (find a way to change your life radically that anyone — or at least lots of people — could make use of), even though at one point I had almost given up on the idea completely.

Of course I’m aware that not everyone speaks English and so not everyone could teach English. How would, for instance, a French person get on trying to live by teaching French in, say, Latvia? This is a very interesting question, and I’m not sure what the answer is at the moment. Or more to the point, a Latvian living in France? Is there demand for tutors of the Latvian language in France?

I’m also vaguely wondering what else can be taught via newspaper ads. It struck me yesterday morning that I could learn astrology and teach that. Or give readings. I don’t believe in astrology, but I don’t see that as a problem. Funnily enough, yesterday evening, by sheer coincidence, I was teaching an English lesson in a shopping centre (shopping centres are surprisingly good places for holding lessons) when what appeared to be an astrologer with a client sat down at the table next to us. The client had even been looking our way before the apparent teacher showed up, perhaps wondering if one of us was the astrologer she was meeting or not. Fascinating. It’s like there’s a whole subculture of people teaching weird things and offering peculiar services.

That’s enough for the moment — needless to say, if you’re looking for English or computer programming lessons either online or in Budapest, be sure to get in touch. After some dithering I’ve figured out that I can now offer you lessons in the following things: English, Java, C#, Perl and C++ (the last four are programming languages). I suppose I could stretch to maths and physics too at a pinch. Or if you want someone to show you around Budapest (in exchange for hard currency of course), I sort of vaguely know the place (this isn’t sarcasm — I really do only vaguely know the place) …..

PS. A friend of mine has a blog reviewing concerts; check it out if you speak Italian: FOTOVIAGGIANDO.

Teaching English II

Posted by – July 18, 2011

Eger - A Very Hot Day

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything on Fascinating Experiments. I’ve decided to try to separate out my journal from general articles about Budapest a bit. So although I want to write about some other towns in Hungary when I get round to it, in this post I’m just going to talk about my latest idea for making money in Budapest.

It’s been two and a half months since I arrived here. A while ago I stuck up notices advertising English lessons for 3000 huf (about 11 euros) per hour. 11 euros isn’t a lot, but I thought I could live on it if I could find an absolute shed load of students. I nearly signed up for a CELTA (teaching English as a foreign language course) before concluding that most actual jobs involved teaching children (perhaps this isn’t actually true, I don’t know!) which I’d rather not do. Teaching English to a classful of children who aren’t interested in English? No thanks :)

Since then I’ve talked to some people about teaching English in Budapest in general. I have the impression that it’s actually quite easy to get students to teach English to, but you have to go about it the right way. Demand seems to be high. Native English speakers charge as much as 5000 to 8000 huf per 90 minute lesson by the sounds of it, which together with the high demand could easily translate into a very liveable wage.

The best place to advertise is …. well, but hang on, if I tell you, maybe you’ll advertise there and out-compete me! :)

OK, so I’ll fill in this bit of information after I’ve got some students! Recently I advertised in a block of flats and already I’ve had one enquiry and three contact detail strips have been torn off in only a couple of days. I didn’t put a price on the advert (I think it’s best not to), and the advert was in English.

So this whole teaching English idea seems very promising, and I hope to report more on it in the future, when I’ve got some experience of actually doing it. Hopefully I can also report on where and how to find cheap flats in a few months, since I need to move off the main road in Buda and find somewhere cheaper myself.

If you want to move to Budapest and teach English, you’ll definitely need some savings though!

I’m also applying to take a year-long MA at the Eötvös Loránd (ELTE) university here. I figure that if I could make a living teaching English, I could go on to do a Ph.D. at the university. If this plan works out, I’ll really have fulfilled this blog’s original promise of figuring out a way that a person can practically step into a new lifestyle …. OK, with the help of some savings. You can study an MA at the university for 750 euros per semester (1500 per year). Courses are in English, strangely. I believe you can find somewhere to live in Budapest for as little as 200 euros per month, but more on that later ….

As far as making money online goes, another idea behind this blog, I actually stuck an ad on my other website advertising computer programming lessons via Skype. I got a couple of enquiries but no-one has signed up for lessons yet. One enquiry was about lessons in C#, which I hadn’t used. But because of this enquiry I started looking at it (you can download it free from Microsoft); it’s actually very easy to learn (although OK, I’m an experienced programmer) and comes with tutorials “built in”. So I’ve been developing a simple language-learning game using C#, alongside a language-learning game I’m creating using Flash. The Flash game is making slow progress, but the C# one actually already looks half-complete. Well, this is partly because my Flash game has an ambitious design behind it, whereas the C# game is just something I’m slinging together very quickly with the idea of selling one of those cheap language-learning programmes online that you can find on various other websites. So if you’re interested in learning programming and selling software, I’d say C# is the way to go ….

Teaching English in Budapest

Posted by – June 22, 2011

This is a ‘journal’ post that’s actually on topic, for once.

When I first came to Budapest, after two years of working, studying and stressing, I felt totally exhausted. The weather was a shock to the system, as was suddenly cutting down my ridiculous coffee habit. But now I’m perking up a bit, and I’ve been exploring ways to make money. I have another website where I posted a bunch of articles on computer programming before leaving Holland. Recently I updated it to put an advert for online computer programming lessons on the front page.

At first I was going to charge 25 UK pounds per lesson. I splashed out on a very expensive (208 UK pounds!) one-day advert in the London Evening Standard and Metro, two free newspapers with a massive circulation. But from my ad I only got one response, and I haven’t heard back from that guy. To be honest it was a relief. I don’t know why, but the whole idea sort of felt wrong. But now I’ve dropped the price to 15 UK pounds or 17 euros per hour, and I feel a lot better about it. Maybe somehow it bothered me that I was charging 25 pounds per lesson when I’d never actually taught a lesson online before. Or maybe I just feel more positive today, I don’t know.

It’s interesting to compare the readership of that site with this site. I started this site several months before my other site. This site has no SEO on it; my other site strictly provides useful information, built around key phrases that people are searching for. This site now gets 40-50 visitors a day, but most of them are automated spam robots to judge by the endless spammy comments. My other site now gets often 100 visitors a day, and very little spam. Hopefully some of them will eventually sign up to my online computer programming lessons.

Fly Posting for Beginners

My other idea on how to make money here is to teach English lessons. I think this is something I’d really enjoy, since I have lots of ideas about how to teach English, some of them derived from my experience of attending a language school in Italy where only Italian was spoken, and some of them deriving from my interest in technology. Also it’s nicer to teach in person than online, I think. I’ve been practising on my local Hungarian friend, and her English is coming along nicely ….

Initially I was put off by the fact that the going rate of English lessons in Hungary seems to be a maximum of 3000 forint per hour, or about 11 euros. I couldn’t see how I could pay the rent on so little. But now I think I was being too pessimistic. I’ve discovered that you can rent perfectly nice flats here for less than 200 euros per month; flats that probably don’t suffer from the horrendous traffic noise problem that mine suffers from. So I intend to move somewhere cheaper in a few months when my six-month lease expires.

I’ve been sellotaping adverts with tear-off contact details up around town; my goal is to stick up five a day. The free Inkscape program is perfect for creating this kind of thing. I feel a bit dodgy about this. I keep expecting a policeman to clap his hand on my shoulder and ask me what I think I’m doing, littering the lamp-posts in this manner. But then people tell me that “this is Hungary”, by which I understand that there are comparatively few rules here. I only stick adverts on lamp-posts and noticeboards that already have lots of other adverts stuck to them, and there’s no shortage of those. Walking around Buda or Pest, you’ll pass more than you can count. I’m aiming for quality rather than quantity, sticking up my five a day in the most conspicuous places I can find. My advert’s in English, but I think that’s OK; lots of people here speak some English but would like to speak a lot more, so they can more easily get a job, get a better job, or do business with English-speakers.

"You may walk on the grass"

Whether anything will come of my quasi-legal fly posting, or my discount online computer programming lessons, I don’t know. Watch this space!

The Forests of Budapest

Posted by – June 1, 2011

Budapest Forest

Forest near Budapest

It’s true that Budapest is full of traffic and traffic fumes, but on the other hand after only a short tram ride followed by a short walk, you can be totally alone in a beautiful forest.

Or at least I think you can — as for myself, I live in an apartment block with irregularly-spaced lights that switch on and off unpredictably and are operated by switches in obscure places; due to this, a couple of days ago I thought I’d finished walking down the staircase in the dark, but in fact I hadn’t. My ankle made an interesting crunching sound, and since then … well, if there are any one-legged hopping championships in Budapest, I’ll definitely enter them.

Before this happened I did have a chance to explore the more popular parts of the forests however. SvábhegyFrom the center of Budapest you can take a tram, metro or bus to Széll Kálmán tér (which used to be called Moskva tér — note the name, because you may still see it on signposts and you’ll get confused), and from there you can take the 59 or 61 tram to the cogwheel tram stop at Varosmajor, which will take you to János hegy or, two stops before, Svábhegy. The cogwheel tram is a tram that’s equipped to climb gradients, and you can travel on it with the ordinary tram tickets and passes that you’d use elsewhere in Budapest.

There’s actually also a “Children’s Railway” (good for adults too) that runs right through the forests, stopping at János hegy and other places. You have to pay separately for this, but it’s a very nice ride, and staffed by amiable Young Communists (OK, they used to be Young Communists, now they are some kind of boy scout ….).

These hills have a number of tourist facilities located on them, catering perhaps more to local “tourists” than foreigners. You can buy food up there — burgers, candy floss, that sort of thing. And this ….

Kürtös kalács

Kürtös kalács

… which is a sort of sweet thing, very tasty, made fresh in front of you and not as sticky as it looks.

On Jánoshegy itself there’s actually a big tower, filled with tourists (at least at the weekend) which you can go up for free.

Jánoshegy

Jánoshegy tower

This is a good vantage point from which to survey the sheer extent of the forest near Budapest. There’s lots of it. It’s fairly old forest too — not horrible scrubby forest of the kind you can find in New Hampshire USA, and not paper farm forest of the kind that mostly occurs in Scotland, but delicious 8-out-of-10 mature forest [Note, 23 July 2011: I was totally wrong about this. Most of it sadly is pretty scrubby. I'm working on figuring out where the best bits are!]. No doubt this forest is filled with interesting fungi when the weather turns cold in autumn, since the climate here is perfect for mushrooms.

I must mention something strange at this point; it’s strange but the birds sing a lot more loudly here than in the UK, Holland, Italy or the one part of the USA that I’ve visited. Are they trying to make themselves heard over the traffic? Budapest must have the loudest blackbirds in the world! The forests are of course full of twittering birds, as well as beautiful shiny green or gold beetles and quite sizeable little green lizards. There are also deer there, but I haven’t spotted any yet myself.

JánoshegyAs you can tell, the forests themselves are the main attraction for me up in the hills — there’s nothing quite like sitting quietly in a forest listening to the sound of leaves rustling and birds singing, in-between hunting for edible mushrooms if it’s autumn or late summer. Nevertheless, I must mention one other attraction of Jánoshegy that is really worth paying a few euros (well, forints) for. There’s actually a ski-lift-type-thing that takes you up and down Jánoshegy if you don’t want to walk. This contraption takes you through the tops of the trees, your feet dangling a dizzying distance from the ground, making you feel not unlike a strange sort of bird. I highly recommend it.

Internet Income: Guru.com

Continuing with this blog’s purported theme of making money while living in cheap (by UK/USA standards) but beautiful places, this week I’ve been creating a profile on Guru.com and bidding on bits of work. I’m still clueless about how this site really works; I don’t know how easy it is to get freelance work on here, how much money you can make, how easy it is to find good contacts through this site, or really anything else. Guru.com has lots of software work on it (which is what I’m mainly looking into), but there’s also web design work, article-writing work and so on. I’ll let you know how it goes. My plan is to start off by bidding on a few contracts, then intensify my efforts if nothing comes of my initial forays. Guru.com makes you pay if you want to bid on more than ten contracts a month, so I’m still deciding whether to stump up cash or not.

Hungarians: Chess-Playing Ping-Pong Jazz Enthusiasts, Every Single One of Them

One last note. I’ve been here a month now and I’m gradually getting to know a little bit about Hungarians. They regard themselves as horribly pessimistic, but I haven’t actually seen any signs of this myself — except that they all think Hungary is rubbish and Britain a paradise. If you were to take politics and economics out of the picture, I would frankly say that the truth was the other way around, going on what I’ve seen of Budapest (but OK Budapest is not Hungary). Of course, politics and economics are unfortunately highly important. I hope Hungary can get on track economically; I’m sure it can, once the current financial crisis dies down a bit.

Cogwheel Tram

Cogwheel Tram

Hungarians really seem like very nice people. They aren’t reserved like English people, or not to the same extent. An old woman took me by the arm and pulled me back from the edge of a tram track the other day; she thought I was standing dangerously close to the tram. People of both sexes spontaneously start talking to me (usually in Hungarian alas, which I am still struggling with!). And let me say that I am tall and serious-looking, which deters people from talking to me in England! It seems as though there is a lack of pretension in Hungarians that is very pleasant. They aren’t trying to impress you or intimidate you. When I first came to Budapest, I half expected to find it crawling with pick-pockets and prostitutes. So far I haven’t encountered either! London at night makes me nervous, but not Budapest. According to a survey I read recently, young people in Hungary are the least committed to large corporations of anyone in Europe. Hungarians, it seems, are far more likely to be jazz- or classical-music-loving artists or mathematics enthusiasts, enjoying ping-pong or chess, than to be squash-playing stooges for some big corporation. This is very refreshing.

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Budapest: The Big Market, Travel Cards, Cafes and Shopping

Posted by – May 27, 2011

Great Market Hall, Budapest

Market stall in the Great Market Hall, Budapest

Since my last post I’ve acquired a monthly travel card in Budapest, meaning I now have a new hobby of tram surfing.

Buying Travel Cards and Tickets in Budapest

If you come to Budapest for a few days, you can buy a Budapest travel card for one, two or three days. I think three days is about 25 euros. They are sold at the kiosks in the (underground) metro stations and at tourist information. If you don’t speak any Hungarian, probably best to buy from tourist information (or maybe you can get them in the airport somewhere), since otherwise you have to deal with Hungary’s most miserable citizens — the elderly women who work in the metro station kiosks. To be fair, it is probably a very tiring job, and badly paid. Hungarians do not smile superfluously.

You can also buy them from the machines in the metro, but dealing with those machines is almost worse than dealing with the old women — especially since some dodgy-looking geezer will probably try to sell you a dodgy-looking ticket for twice the price while you’re attempting to figure out the machine.

However, there is a secret that is jealously garded from tourists. For 9800 forint (about 36 euros), you can buy a bérlet (monthly travel pass) that lets you travel on trams, buses and the metro as much as you like for an entire month! Probably you want a havi bérlet felnőtt (monthly season ticket for adults). There are other sorts besides felnőtt (adult): diák (student), nyugdíjas (retired), etc. You must also say when you want it to start from, e.g. mától (from today).

Write down this stuff on a piece of paper and point to it! Try to look very serious at the same time.

You also need a little bit of paper called a bérletigazolvány for 250 forint — I don’t know what this is, but they will sell you one when you buy the monthly pass.

Oh, and I should mention you’ll need a passport photo to buy the monthly travel pass. But don’t worry, there are passport photo machines in most metro stations. Of course they ask you things in Hungarian, but as long as you are familiar with the machines in your own language, stay calm and you can work out how to get photos out of them.

Otherwise, you’re stuck with buying a “jegy” (ticket) from the newspaper kiosks in the metro stations and elsewhere. Each jegy is good for a single journey and costs 300 huf (forint, that is). You have to punch them in the machines on trams or buses, or at the entrances to metros. The machines often don’t work, meaning you either get a free trip or a 45-euro fine, depending on whether you meet with a member of the Kontroll (ticket inspectors) who disguise themselves cleverly as ordinary people. You can also buy a ten-ticket book of tickets (egy 10 darabos gyűjtőjegy). Don’t try to pronounce that without training though …. they won’t understand you, trust me.

Café Street and the Great Market Hall … and Repairing Your Computer in Budapest

Ráday utca

Ráday utca

Not long after I arrived here, my new laptop broke. Asus …. I won’t be buying one of these again! Turns out my Asus warranty from Holland is only valid in a bunch of random countries that I don’t live in. Fortunately these people fixed it for me, for a mere 12,000 huf. They all speak great English — in fact the technicians are from New Zealand and America.

Even if you don’t have an Asus laptop (lucky you), Ráday ut (street) is worth visiting. It’s full of cafés frequented by students and assorted others. You can find Ráday ut just down from Kálvin tér (square), where lots of trams stop. Visible from a street off to the right as you walk down Ráday ut is the ornate Great Market Hall — a huge place full of lots of stalls selling fruit and veg, meat, preserves, chocolates and so on.

Great Market Hall, Budapest

Great Market Hall, Budapest

General Shopping

One of the tricky things when you move to a new country is working out where to buy stuff. Even if you’re moving between two countries that are quite similar (and most big towns are quite similar these days!), it’s still a bit tricky.

Here in Budapest, there are big supermarkets like you find in the UK, Italy, Holland, USA and so on. The biggest ones are Spar, Kaiser’s (suspiciously similar to Spar — I don’t understand why they have different names!), and even Tesco, the British supermarket. Type Spar Budapest into Google Maps and you’ll easily find them.

There’s also an IKEA here, but that I have yet to experience ….

If you need a computer, a printer, paper or a fan (you probably will need a fan!), there’s an office supplies shop halfway up Király utca, a street that leads up from Deák Ferenc tér in Pest.

There are lots of health food shops in Budapest — search for “biobolt” in Google Maps to find them.

And here’s a tip that I didn’t include in the first draft of this page, due to my naivete …. Don’t buy fruit, or vegetables if possible, from supermarkets. The fruit and veg is MUCH better if you buy it from a market or a grocer’s. People often claim that this is true in England, but in Budapest it really, really is true. Buy vegetables from the otherwise-excellent Spar and, no offence Spar, but you might easily end up throwing half of them away. But round the corner from Spar you are likely to find a fruit shop selling the same stuff but of much better quality. You might even find an old woman from a village somewhere selling you excellent cherries at discount prices. If you see one of these old women, don’t write them off … stop and buy what they’re selling! It’s usually good, and cheap.

That’s all for the moment — it’s 33 degrees here and the heat of my laptop is making me turn into a puddle.

Oh dear, this blog has largely lost its original purpose and is now about Budapest. Maybe it’ll get back on track later.

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Budapest: Internet, Margaret Island, Tesco and Other Things

Posted by – May 9, 2011

It’s a week now since I moved to Budapest, and so far things have gone very well. I love it here! I’ve never liked anywhere so much in my life, in fact.

When I first arrived I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to get a good Internet connection here. But in fact I’ve already arranged a broadband connection that most of the time is faster than the connection I had in Cambridge or The Hague (it’s 5 Mbs and so far has only got slow on Saturday morning). When I arrived my landlady already had a USB mobile connection with T-Mobile that I was able to use. Lots of people here just use that, it seems. It costs around 25 euros per month, has a speed of about 2.5 Mbs and a 15 Gb limit per month.

Since I don’t want to be stuck with that limit, I went into the T-Mobile shop on Bajcsy-Zsilinszky Street. I had to queue a long time but it was worth it. The woman on the desk spoke some English, but she changed places with a guy who spoke more. I arranged a broadband Internet connection and bought a pay-as-you-go SIM. The Internet connection costs around 4300 forint per month, which isn’t bad. They told me someone would call me on my new mobile SIM within a week. I was worried I wouldn’t understand, and indeed the woman who phoned didn’t speak English. But fortunately the Hungarian lessons that I’ve already taken stood me in good stead, and I understood enough to know that an engineer was coming “tomorrow between 12 and 2″.

But actually every communication from T-Home so far has been followed by a text that I could translate at my leisure, so I needn’t have worried!

Tesco

Tesco Free Bus Times Budapest

Tesco Free Bus Timetable, Budapest

Tesco Free Bus Times Notice, Budapest

Tesco Free Bus Times Notice, Budapest

I’ve also been meeting up with someone from SharedTalk.com. Lots and lots of people contacted me on this site — lots of Hungarians really badly want to learn English. It’s great! Most of them don’t live in Budapest or don’t want to meet up, but I found someone who is in Budapest and did want to meet after we’d exchanged emails for a while, so now I have a very helpful and nice new friend …. Among other things she showed me the free bus to Tesco. I’m amazed that Tesco (“the supermarket that’s eating Britain”) is here, and selling nearly the exact same products that it does in Britain, including a book on “Vilmos and Kate” (William and Kate, the English royal couple).

Actually there are lots of Tescos here, as well as Spar which we also have in Britain. But in Britain Spar is usually a small shop that you go to because it’s close by, while here it’s pronounced “Shpar” and is a large supermarket. I bought some tomatoes from “Shpar” that were probably the tastiest I’ve ever had.

Fruit and veg here is really good in general (apart from the stuff they sell at Tesco, unfortunately!). Of course there are also lots of markets. There’s even a place where you can take mushrooms you’ve picked in the woods and get them identified.

Margaret Island

Another wonderful find for me was Margit (Margaret) Island. This is an island in the Danube that was constructed mostly artificially a long time ago to control the flow of the Danube. Now it’s a sort of huge garden, with old castle ruins, an enclosure with stork and deer, various athletic facilities and a rubberised running track all the way around the edge. So I’ve been running around this beautiful island — or halfway around anyway, which is all I can manage after two years of sitting at a desk!

In fact I’m going for a run shortly, maybe after another coffee.

I’ve decided to give myself maybe a month to settle in and relax, then I’m going to start looking for ways to make cash. I still have a few hurdles to get over, including getting a residence permit (which I managed to skip in both Italy and Holland, although doing so makes me a little uneasy so I’d like to get one here if possible) and buying a computer printer.

Meanwhile I’ve been composing a page for one of my other websites advertising computer programming lessons and working on learning Flash programming so that I can develop a language-learning game that runs on a web page.

Anyway, I see there is beautiful sunshine out there so enough blogging for today. Today my plan is to go for a run, learn some Hungarian and then tonight I’m playing table tennis with some Hungarians. If I had stayed in Holland, right now I would already be sitting at my desk in a stuffy office, watching my colleague opposite me frowning at some complicated network problem and hoping that the post-lunch sleepiness doesn’t hit me too hard today. I’m really determined to find a way to stay here if possible, without having any further association with offices!

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Buying Cheap Farms in Hungary, and Thoughts On Baggage

Posted by – May 1, 2011

Lake Balaton

Lake Balaton

Since I find myself in Eindhoven Airport with nothing to do, I feel it’s time for another addition to my journal.

Firstly, about baggage. There should be a law named after someone authoritative that the quantity of belongings you have to clear out of a house always exceed the capacity of your available baggage. I thought I’d be traveling with around 40Kg, which I can just about manage, but instead I find myself with two bags weighing 30Kg each, plus another bag of 10Kg, plus a laptop. Travel would be impossible via cowboys like Ryanair, but fortunately Wizzair lets you add more bags of up to 32Kg each for 15 euros per bag. Very reasonable! Hope I don’t try to check in and find they’ll only actually let me take a total of 32Kg! [Update: I had no problems -- the Wizzair limit is indeed per bag, not total. God bless them!!!]

Today I left my apartment in The Hague, and later this evening if things go smoothly I’ll be meeting my new Italian landlady in Buda. If things go badly, on the other hand, I’ll be dragging nearly my own weight in luggage around the streets of Buda late in the evening …

Fortunately for me, random people have been very helpful in assisting me in getting all these bags up and down various steps. Holland seems to be infested with steps today. Maybe next time I’ll explore other options more; I could have sent these bags to Hungary for 115 euros per bag; I could have flown multiple times I suppose, or I could have hired a car and driven there. But then I would have had to drive the car back.

A colleague (ex-colleague now – I left my job on Friday!) was telling me that a friend of his bought a dillapidated farmhouse in Hungary not long ago for 4000 euros. 4000 euros!! And that includes lots of land with trees. It’s incredible. As far as I know there is no council tax in Hungary, so once you’ve got your farmhouse, all you have to do is connect up the utilities and try to sort it out a bit. There are still farmhouses available for that kind of price. check here for example.

Totally amazing! You could buy a farm on your credit card … which I think I may well do, at least once I’ve learnt some more Hungarian so I can get local prices and not tourist Internet prices.

This is definitely going to be a future topic of research for this blog.

I’ve made some contacts in Hungary before going there, through SharedTalk.com, a site for finding people who speak the language you want to learn, so you can practice in exchange for helping them with your own language. Someone I’ve been chatting to through this site tells me that she thinks lots of English people in Budapest make a living teaching English there. Again, this is a future topic of research for this blog. Next week (or even this week) I’ll be looking for places I can put up cards advertising my services as a teacher of the English language.

I’ll also be attempting to teach computer programming online. I feel this could be potentially more lucrative than teaching English, but on the other hand teaching English fits a lot better with the original premiss of this blog, which was to look into ways that anyone can step into a new lifestyle, something different to the “normal” 9-5 office-job-type lifestyle that I have myself been sucked reluctantly into for the past 13 years or so.

Hopefully I’ll be posting again here soon, unless my new Internet connection doesn’t work, which is completely possible.

Right now I feel I’ve stumbled onto something that could potentially really work for almost anyone, or at least for very many people — for only a few thousand Euros you can buy a farmhouse in Hungary; then (as long as you can get it connected to the Internet) you can potentially teach your own language to people online.

Of course to be mad enough to actually try this, you’d have to really hate your job. Which I do. Although I feel bad saying that, since the colleagues I’ve just left behind were very nice people and my former boss seems to be in a bit of a spot due to lots of people leaving for various reasons. But come on, can it really be remotely natural to spend basically all day every day in a modern office building? I for one was much happier living in a tent, although it’s a little socially isolating.

Yesterday was Queen’s Day in the Netherlands, the biggest celebration in the Dutch calendar. On Friday night the streets were packed in The Hague, then yesterday I understand Amsterdam was very busy. Friday was also royal wedding day in the UK. My sister and mum have been telling me they watched TV partly to see where I went to university — yes, Prince William and I went to the same university, although he probably didn’t finish off his time there with a long stay in a tent on the cliffs. Or maybe he did. Yesterday evening people were selling things from stalls in The Hague (a Queen’s Day tradition), and a young studious-looking guitar player sat down outside my window and sang things like “New York, New York” and “What a Wonderful World”. A very nice send-off. Thanks, Netherlands!

And now it’s time to go and check in my many bags …

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