Podcast #155 — RJ Delays; Street Food in Poland and Hungary

Polish health food

Didn’t have any problems with the 787’s flying 4,800 miles to Krakow or back from Budapest, but the 560-mile regional jet flights between Chicago and Charlottesville, VA have been causing me no end of hassles. We talk about this, revisit our discussions about iPhone dual SIM capability and American Airlines’ MD-80 retirement. And then go deep on my very non-keto-friendly dive into Krakow and Budapest street food.  All this and more at the direct link to the podcast file or listening to it right here by clicking on the arrow below.

Here is the transcript of TravelCommons podcast #155:

  • Intro music — Warmth by Makkina
  • Coming to you today from the TravelCommons studio in Chicago on an off-travel week; taking a break this week after a couple of weeks of weather-induced hassles — that in spite of completely avoiding Hurricane Dorian. Instead, it’s been a steady stream of morning thunderstorms hitting ORD and jacking it up for the rest of the day. That and flying regional jets, which we’ve said before, are often…. problematic. In the last episode, I talked about having to shift my outbound evening flight from CHO to RIC because of morning thunderstorms at ORD. The last two weeks have been different variations on the theme. The Tuesday after Labor Day, I was on the bus to the L heading to ORD for an 8:30am flight (because the Uber and Lyft wait times were insane — God, I miss my old Mongolian ex-taxi driver) when I got a text that my American Eagle flight was cancelled. Still on the bus, I called American’s Platinum line. They told me what I already knew — no other American options until the end of the day. I told them that since I was coming home the next day (Weds), I needed to get to Charlottesville that morning. “What about the 9am United flight?” I asked her, “I’m already on my way to ORD.” “Let me call United to transfer the ticket,” she offered. I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised. Over the past few years, I’ve seen airlines more and more reluctant to lose \ revenue by moving you to another carrier, but there was none of that coming from this American agent. Our call kept going as I got off the bus and walked down the stairs into the subway stop, but she got everything squared away. Now that United flight ended up being delayed an hour, but it eventually got me to Charlottesville.
  • Last Friday morning in Charlottesville, I woke up, and scrolling thru Twitter, saw NWS Chicago — Nat’l Weather Service — tweeting about severe thunderstorms, so when I got the text from United at 9am delaying my 1pm flight 45 minutes, I wasn’t surprised. No big deal — I’ll just get a second beer at the Radar Bar. But then, as these things tend to do it, it didn’t stop there. An hour later, another text from United — the delay doubled to 90 minutes. But then at noon, another text — the delay is down to an hour — shortly followed by another text — it’s back up to 90 minutes. I pull up FlightAware; I’m not going to the airport until the inbound plane leaves the gate at ORD. Ten minutes later, I see it push back. OK, that should be the end of the delay cascade. I order an Uber and head to the airport. Halfway there, another text — now my flight isn’t leaving until 3:30pm, 2½ hours late. Immediately followed by a text with a 3:57 departure time. I get out of the car and head to the gate agent. What’s going on? Has the plane left ORD yet? Unlike the American agent, the United agent — or maybe she worked for Air Wisconsin, the United Express partner, is evasive — don’t know what’s going on; no other options; everything else is oversold, even in Richmond. I back out of line and call United’s Premiere desk. Yes, there’s availability out of Richmond and DC. Richmond’s a little closer and has a helluva lot less of a rush hour, so I move over to the 5:30pm flight (the United agent said “I think you’re making the right decision”), book a one-way rental, and head out to the parking lot. There’s a mist starting to settle in over the airport. This can’t be good. It’s an uneventful 90-minute drive to Richmond. I sit at the Sam Adams Brewhouse bar and have a beer, and then another. This flight leaves on time — it’s also a regional jet, but it’s been running up and down the East Coast, so today, it’s running on time — getting me into ORD at 6:50pm, about 5 hours after my original flight was supposed to land. I fire up the United app and look up the status of that flight — it still hasn’t left. It didn’t leave until 9pm and then only made it as far as Washington-Dulles — 95 miles up the road.
  • Bridge Music —   I Will Writhe by SackJo22 (c) copyright 2010 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial (3.0) license. http://dig.ccmixter.org/files/SackJo22/26739 Ft: Soundprank

Following Up

  • In contrast to my regional jet challenges, our trip at the end of August to Krakow and Budapest went much smoother. We flew LOT, the Polish airline, the whole way, including the last leg, BUD-ORD non-stop. I was kinda surprised by that leg — a Transatlantic leg that didn’t go through Poland — but there must be enough traffic on that route. A week before we left, American announced their own non-stop between ORD and BUD starting next year. Both airlines do/will use 787’s on the route. Perhaps it’s one of the “long, thin routes” that the 787 was designed to unlock. Anyways, all three flights on LOT — 787’s on the long legs, and a Dash-8 prop job on the hop from Krakow to Budapest — were reasonable. I thought the 787’s “morning wake-up” mode for breakfast — where the cabin lights fade up while the darkened windows lighten — was a pleasant change to usual “light on and PA announcement” approach. It was my first trip to Poland. Krakow Airport is nice — new, compact, with train station into the city. It was a good trip.
  • I talked in the last episode about trying out my iPhone XS’s dual SIM capability in Hungary and Poland. I did the pre-work before I left — working through a couple of chat sessions to move my US AT&T number to the internal eSIM so I use the physical SIM slot for my UK EE pre-paid SIM. En route — somewhere over the Faroe Islands I think — I went into Settings and made my UK line the main voice and data line, leaving my US line open for phone calls and texts. It seemed to work as designed — I replied to a couple of texts on my US line from my sister, but it looks like everything else went out over the UK line with the 3 GB for £10 plan. I’ll hold final judgement until I get this month’s bill from AT&T, but from what I could see on their website, it looks like it worked. It was a nice change to only have one phone and not to have to remember to check my other phone every night. The new version of the iPhone operating system — iOS 13 — is supposed to have some improvements for dual SIM, but I was happy with it as it stands — but check back with me after I get my AT&T bill.
  • And, of course, I extend that 3 GB by hitting the WiFi in coffee shops and hotels, which is where we circle back to one of my top travel security tips — use a VPN when on WiFi. I used to think that as long as I was hitting encrypted web sites I was OK — it used to be that you’d see HTTPS in the address bar apparently Google and Apple think that’s too much for us to process; they’ve replaced it with a picture of a lock; Firefox still shows the full address, though. But it seems that more and more security breaches are taking advantage of obscure misconfigurations that get around basic security. And with major hotel chains regularly coughing up millions of credit card numbers, it seems a bit unreasonable to expect the staff at a small coffee shop or local hotel to be up-to-date on their router patching. So I have VPN clients on my iPhone, my Android tablet, and my MacBook Air. I usually forget to turn them on if I’m doing a quick check of Twitter or Google Maps while in line somewhere, but if I’m doing any sort of browsing session on public WiFi these days, I’ll fire it up. 
  • Packing for this trip meant rummaging around for European plug adapters. Not voltage converters — I don’t use them because all the electronics can handle 110 and 240 volt — just the two blade-to-two round adapters. I’d rounded up my UK adapters for our June trip to Ireland and Scotland, but now I needed the European adapters — the two round plug ones.  I found the UK ones and a random South African one but I couldn’t find the European ones anywhere. Probably because I’d left them all behind in Brittany in March. So I got on Amazon (as one does when they need some random thing in a hurry) and ordered a box of 6. I only needed one, but given my history, 6 would keep me for a year or two. I ordered white adapters because that’s what popped up in Amazon. Which was OK in those hotels with black outlets, but not so great for white outlets. I took 2 and came home with 2, but only by sheer luck. At least twice, I was walking out of the room with my bag and only then noticed an adapter still plugged in, hiding in a recessed white outlet. I really need colored plug adapters. And not in tasteful colors; something gaudy, like a purple or pink or chartreuse. Maybe I’ll spray paint the ones I have before my next trip. 
  • Leonard — no last name — commented on the last episode with a link to a Dallas TV station’s coverage of the last American Airlines MD-80 flight; appropriately flying from DFW to ORD, a route and a plane that contributed heavily to my Advantage Gold status — when that was the highest level — back in 1985. There’ve been a lot of stories covering the retirement; people waxing nostalgic — though not too much since I haven’t heard of any big jump in Delta MD-80 bookings. They still fly almost 100 of them. I have seen a couple of quotes about not wanting to sit in the last rows because of the noise from the side-mounted engines. It’s true. Not even the Bose noise-cancelling headphones could handle all the engine and vibration noise. They were also bad seats because there were no windows; all you’d see would be the engine cowling and the window would make the noise even worse. And those times when I ended up in those seats — usually last-minute bookings between ORD and DFW — my mind would sometimes wander — if the engine next to my head blows up, will the shrapnel blow out or blow into the cabin. I never heard of such a catastrophic failure on an MD-80 — but that didn’t keep me from wondering. 
  • Standing in the TSA PreCheck queue, watching the single screener who was checking boarding passes and IDs have to ping-pong between the regular and PreCheck lines, I wondered what was keeping US airports from installing the automated boarding pass-checking gates that I’ve passed thru at mid-sized European airports like Budapest and Krakow and Edinburgh. I got it — they’re only checking for valid boarding passes; they’re not examining IDs — but there’s got to be something there that can improve TSA efficiency and the traveler experience. Watching this poor woman, my mind fast-forwarded to October next year when the TSA starts enforcing the Real ID requirement, the time wasted arguing with people who travel maybe once a year and so didn’t go thru the additional hassle of getting a Real ID-compliant driver’s license. Note to self – don’t book any travel in October 2020.
  • And if you have any travel stories, questions, comments, tips, rants – the voice of the traveler, send ’em along — text or audio comment to comments@travelcommons.com — you can send a Twitter message to mpeacock, post your thoughts on the TravelCommons’ Facebook page or our Instagram account at travelcommons — or you can post comments on the web site at TravelCommons.com.
  • Bridge Music — August (Reggae Rework) by el-B (c) copyright 2008 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial (3.0) license. http://dig.ccmixter.org/files/elB/16075 Ft: Calendargirl

Street Food in Poland and Hungary

  • Over-tourism is still a big topic in the tourism industry. Iceland seems to be cooling down after the Wow Air bankruptcy, but the photo from May of the queue to summit Mount Everest has become the new icon of the problem faced there and at places like Venice, Barcelona, and Machu Pichu. And it drives an interesting dichotomy — travelers chasing the iconic Instagram picture — sort of a virtual souvenir for this “pics or it didn’t happen” age — while at the same time craving “authenticity” — which is where, I think, the current glorification of street food is coming from. Wanting to experience something that you can only get in this place — and, of course, post a picture of it.
  • Parking the cynicism for a sec — if you’re queuing up (hopefully with some locals, not just tourists), doing the point-and-shoot ordering, and then eating it there on the street, it does create a very specific moment and memory. I vividly remember buying takoyaki, basically octopus croquettes, from a street vendor in Osaka; getting into the queue for a food stall in a Beijing hutong, the only non-Chinese guy, not knowing what for and getting this phenomenal crunchy scallion pancake; sending Andrew over to a vendor on a sidewalk in Hoi An, Vietnam for black sesame soup; folding up a slice of pizza in New York City in mid-bar crawl; and, as talked about a few episodes back, slurping oysters on the Cancale sea wall on the Brittany coast.
  • So while we weren’t on a street food hunt in Poland and Hungary, our willingness, actually desire to eat pretty much whatever we came across without any filters — no worries about keto or paleo or gluten-free diets — led us to some good street food — even though there were days I really felt the need to double down on the statins.
  • Probably the most memorable bit of street food came our first day in Krakow. We landed around 9am, took a taxi to the hotel, checked in, brushed our teeth, and walked up to the Old Square where I trawled through the vendor stalls. I came to a full stop at a small stand at the end of an aisle. An older couple had a huge pan over a wood fire. The pan had a metal divider down the middle; one half of the pan was frying onions; the other half, sliced kielbasa. I watched a couple people order and then stepped up. The man sliced a large, thick piece of bread off a round loaf, spread a thick smear of lard with cracklings, put down a layer of sliced kielbasa, finishing it off with fried onions. All for 13 złoty — or about 3 and a half bucks. I don’t know what left more of an impression — the size and heft of what he handed me or the staying power of the layer of pork fat it left on my lips. I’ll put a picture of it in the show notes.
  • We walked straight from there to a small square behind St Mary’s Basilica for the pierogi festival. There were 20-30 stands selling their selection of pierogis. Not sure if pierogis strictly qualify as a street food, but I queued up at the most popular ones and did point-&-shoot ordering through most of their selection. I skipped the sweet pierogis — the chocolate-banana and the blueberry ones just didn’t say “pierogi” to me — but I still ended up with 5-6 from each stand — from traditional onion and potato, to goose and duck and wild boar-filled ones. I tried to avoid pointing at one stand’s Mexican pierogi, but somehow it ended up on my plate. This was a pretty full-contact Day One. I needed a nap.
  • Chicago has a large Polish population — somewhere in the range of 1-1.5 million Polish immigrants their descendants in the metro area, which, depending on who you read, is the largest Polish metropolitan area outside of Poland. So we get our share of Polish food and I wanted to try a few things I recognized. The first thing we hunted down was a pączki — basically a Polish jelly doughnut. In Chicago, Pączki Day is Fat Tuesday and you see pączkis everywhere — the grocery stores, bakeries. Asking around, Gorące Pączki — “Hot Donuts” in English — was the consensus recommendation in the Old Town. We rolled up there a couple of times and came away, I gotta say, disappointed. Even Chicago grocery store pączkis are better.
  • That weekend, we were staying with friends in the hills/mountains a couple of hours southwest of Krakow, down near the Czech and Slovakian borders. On Sunday, we went to a karczma for lunch, which as near as I could tell is a roadside pub/restaurant. But this one, the specialty was potato pancakes made in a wood-burning oven. One guy, the owner, was running the oven — laying the pancake batter in the oven, shifting them around with a spatula, managing the fire, serving some pancakes flat while stuffing and folding others over like a potato pancake quesadilla. Watching this guy was like watching kitchen ballet. And the product — like no potato pancake I’d ever had. Definitely beat out Chicago on this one.
  • We got into Budapest on St Stephen’s Day, Hungary’s biggest national holiday commemorating the founding of the Hungarian state; kinda like their version of the US Independence Day. After checking into our hotel, we walked over to the Buda side of the Danube where there was a huge food festival. The longest line was for the national cake. Apparently, they do a special cake each St Stephen’s Day. It was a really long line, but they were handing out free pieces of cake, so it was understandable. We skipped it though and went for the next longest line, for freshly fried lángos. Every culture seems to have some version of fried dough street food, and lángos is Hungary’s, though lángos is savory, not sweet. It was a hot day, but here was a booth full of women, hand stretching balls of dough into disks and dropping them into deep pans of hot oil for people waiting 15 minutes in the hot sun for them. The fully-dressed lángos was brushed with garlic and then topped with sour cream and shredded cheese. Still waddling from the weekend in Krakow, I went for the lite version — just the garlic. 
  • A couple of days later, Irene and I took a 40-minute train ride up along the Danube to Szentendre, a bit of an artist colony town. We hadn’t been up there in, I dunno, 20 years so we thought we’d check it out again. And top on our list of things to revisit was a little lángos shack tucked away halfway up a little stairway that goes from the town square up to the Catholic church on top of a hill. The last time we were in Szentendre, we tripped across this place walking up to the church – just a couple of people frying up lángos. It took us a bit to find the staircase this time — it’s about a person-and-a-half wide archway next to a souvenir shop. The shack was still there, but it expanded, now with tables in a little courtyard, and it’s been found. We stood in a queue of tourists for 10-15 minutes watching 2 women crank out fried disks of dough. I cringed when I saw people putting ketchup on their lángos. We stayed pure with the garlic.
  • The last time Irene and I were in Hungary, in 2017, we complained about not being able to find good, basic Hungarian food outside of the tourist traps. We saw lots of burger bars and pizza joint, especially in the Jewish Quarter, the party district where all the ruin bars are. But now, things seem to have diversified. Not far from Szimpla Kert, Ground Zero of the ruin bar circuit, there’s a place called Gettó Gulyás selling, well, gulyás and other Hungarian basics like chicken paprikas. And even better, it looks like there’s a bit of a chain called Langosh that’s open in the party district til 2 in the morning. Fried bread and beer — not sure there’s any better definition of street food.

Closing

  • Closing music — Pictures of You by Evangeline
  • OK, that’s it, that’s the end of TravelCommons podcast #155
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