Markus' Travel and International Living Blog

Markus is an enthusiastic traveler, who lives in Houston, TX (USA) most of the time, but also spends some time in Saalfelden, near Salzburg (Austria). He is fascinated by travel and also by his experiences gathered by living in two different countries and continents.

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Saturday, July 29, 2006
120 Planes... (or: an interesting fact about ticket prices)

I.J. (our Director of Business Development) and I took a quick trip from Houston to Newark 2 days ago. Boy, what a trip it was, and boy, I learned a few things.

We flew to Newark at 6am (which went smooth) and we returned the same evening at 6:30 or so. At least that was the plan. The return flight was delayed. Not unusual, in itself, but it turned unusual soon. We boarded the plane 2 hours late, but the plane still didn't leave. After another 1 1/2 hours of just sitting at the gate, the captain comes on and says "Hello everyone! We appear to have a bit of a problem. There are more than 120 planes in queue for departure ahead of us. And none of them are even cleared for departure yet!" 120 planes ahead of us?!? Yikes! We weren't going anywhere fast. The problem was that it took another 2 hours before the first of those planes started leaving. Ugh! Not fun at all, but we got through it, arriving some 6 or 7 hours late in Houston. We actually spent more time in this plane than we would have on a flight from Europe to the US.

So that is my whiny story of the day. But there is also an interesting fact I learned on this trip: My trip was originally scheduled to return the same day, but I.J.'s ticket was for a return trip on Sunday. This made a huge difference. Thanks to the Saturday night stay, I.J.'s ticket was relatively inexpensive, while mine was more than twice as much, since I violated the "Saturday night rule".

I.J. later decided that he also wanted to come back on Thursday, and thus changed his ticket. The normal procedure for changing the ticket is that one has to pay the change fee ($100 it was I think), plus the difference between the price for the ticket on the original day, and the price of the ticket on the new day. But here is the kicker: The ticket price for Thursday was no different from the price on Sunday. The only reason my ticket was more expensive was because of the Saturday night rip-off, but had I gone there several days earlier and returned on that Thursday, the ticket would have been the same price as any other ticket from Newark to Houston. So as a result of all this, I.J. changed his ticket to come back on Thursday with me, and it was significantly cheaper than my ticket, even with the change fee!

So what do we learn from this? Looks to me that if you were somewhat flexible and could stay longer as a worst case scenario, one should always book a ticket with a Saturday night stay, and then call back and change it to whatever day you really want to travel. Sure, it could backfire, so it will depend on how flexible one is, but I will give this a try in the future...


Posted @ 1:29 PM by Egger, Markus ( -
Comments (39)

Tuesday, July 25, 2006
re The Electricity Bill(s) Arrived...
Check out - "an average European household consumes 4,667 kWh, whereas a household in the US consumes 11,209 kWh and in Japan 5,945kWh per year".

The article also gives advice on how to wean yourself off the grid; basically you have to replace your inefficient American appliances with European versions.  Could you bring some back on your next trip?

Posted @ 8:31 AM by Ferguson, Simon J ( -
Comments (11)

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Italy has won it all! If you are at least remotely interested in sports and/or do not live in the US, you already know that. So why am I telling you all this? Because we were there! No, not at the world cup finals in Berlin, but in Italy at the night of the game.

When Italy made it to the finals, it was clear to me that we had to go to Italy to watch the game. We were in Austria that day, so only a 2-3 hour drive away from Italy. So we decided to drive down to Bolzano and stay with friends. (The entire layout and design department of our magazine is in Italy, so we know a lot of people there...). The original idea was to watch the game at a public viewing area, but it turned out that for safety reasons, there were no public viewings in Bolzano. No big deal. We watched the game at a friend's house.

The actual viewing experience was a little funny. Since I do not speak Italian (certainly not enough to enjoy soccer commentary), we watched on a German channel over satellite. Most of the neighbors on the other hand watched on the Italian channel, which is over cable. Turns out the satellite has a 2-second delay. Not a big deal you might think, but when the entire neighborhood erupts and yells and you have not yet seen what happened, it is a little odd. Especially since the game came down to penalty kicks. We'd hear the people cheer and 2 seconds later we'd see the shot. Pretty odd, although in a funny way. For the penalty kicks we ended up switching to the Italian station.

Anyway: I am not going to recap the entire game here. It was a great experience to watch it in Italy. Lots of emotion during the game. However, what we really were there for was the celebrations after the game. Immediately after the game ended, we drove into town (with blowing horns of course!). And things got crazy quickly! The streets were about as full with people as they could have been. Fireworks were shot off, flags were waved, victory-songs were sung, people jumped up and down, and it went on and on forever. It is hard to describe what it was like. Ellen said she couldn't think of any word other than "unique" to describe it.

In any event: It was worth the trip! Here are some pictures:

At Victory Square in Bolzano:

At Walter Square:

Looks like war, but it is a party (and it was peaceful too):

And here we are, in the middle of it all:

Posted @ 11:56 AM by Egger, Markus ( -
Comments (11)

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Shel Israel blogs about an interesting travel site called Farecast. The basic idea behind Farecast is that it tries to predict whether ticket prices will rise or fall. Every traveler knows the dilemma: Ticket prices bounce up and down for no apparent reason. So often, when one doesn't find the rate one is looking for, it is a good idea to try again a few hours or days later. But sometimes of course, fares go up!

Farecast could be a pretty cool service if it works reasonably well. Right now it is still in beta and works with 2 starting cities only (Seattle and Boston).

Posted @ 7:19 AM by Egger, Markus ( -
Comments (10)

Monday, July 03, 2006
The Electricity Bill(s) Arrived...

I am sitting here working on various bills right now. As everyone, I do this fairly regularly. What is unusual is that I am working both on US and Austrian bills at the same time. And I happen to be paying the electricity bill right now.

The US bill is $460! Holy moly! Other people rent entire apartments for less than that. Sure, we are paying a lot for air conditioning in Houston, but 460 bucks?!? And we do not even have that large a house (comparatively speaking). Last year, the same month was $350 or so. Still too much I though, but things are now getting ridiculous!

So I started to compare the prices. In Houston, 1 kwh costs about 17 cents (U$). In Austria, 1kwh is 5 or 6 euro cents (depending on whether we fall into a higher category or not depending on usage). The interesting part is this: Last year, it was 10 euro cents. So things have gotten SIGNIFICANTLY CHEAPER in Austria in the last 12 months. Pretty amazing. I guess hydro-electricity has its advantages. I am still amazed that it is basically about half of what it was last year. In the US, it is a completely different story. Last year, we payed less than 13 cents a kwh.

So how can this be?!? How can energy prices drop in Austria and raise in the US? If the price of energy goes up worldwide as we are told, then how come the bills are getting less in Austria and higher in the US?!? It is the dependency on oil you say? Well, I already did a gas-prize comparison last October. Since then, the average price for a gallon of gas in the US has risen further to U$ 2.93 (another 20+ cents). In the same 9 months, gas prices have risen in Austria as well (much to the annoyance of Austrian's drivers), but only by about 2-3 cents a liter (according to the OeAMTC). And considering the history of prices my previous blog paints (Austrian prices increased only marginally), a further increase of another 2-3 cents is completely ridiculous by today's US standards. The increase in Austria exists, but it hardly even keeps up with inflation, while in the US, prices just explode. (Nevertheless, people complain in Austria just the same... if they only knew how bad it could be...)

Another interesting difference between my 2 electricity bills is the amount of energy we consume. In the US, we consumed 2,600 kwh in the last month. Sure, that includes air conditioning, but still! This is outrageous! The austrian bill shows a little chart that splits households into 3 different categories: small, medium, and large. Small is up to 1,500 kwh a year. Medium is 1,500 to 5,000, and large is 5000+. So a medium austrian household consumes about the same kwh a year, as we consume every month in Houston!!! I doubt that the air condition can account for all that. So what is the difference? More sophisticated and energy conscious appliances? Probably. Perhaps the fact that houses are built better and thus feature better insulation plays into it. But still, I can not believe it is that much of a difference! And it's not like we use things differently in the US. We have the same types of appliances and computers and other things that consume electricity in Austria as in the US (with the exception of the air condition). If anything, we pay more attention to our consumption in the US!

And while we are at it: How can there be this much of a difference to begin with?!? 17 cents vs. 5 cents?!? Even if you factor in the exchange rate (which - as I discussed in the gas-price comparison post - is not entirely appropriate for this sort of thing), then it is 17 cents vs. 7 cents or so. Forget about the increase in the US and the decrease in Austria. Why is the base off by so much? Give me a break! The supposedly so advanced US can not manage to produce power similarly efficiently as Europe? By a factor of 3? Yeah, right!

Perhaps I need to go back and revisit my research about solar energy. I really would not mind getting rid of the power company as much as possible. But as long as we are consuming this much energy, it is plain cost prohibitive. And I am not sure how to reduce consumption. Last year, I had the home checked to make sure it is insulated well. We try to pay attention to how much we spend. As a result, we managed to reduce kwh consumption by about 200 kwh a month. Not bad when you look at raw numbers, but percentage-wise, it is a drop in the bucket. And of course since Texas does not support homeowners who are interested in solar power, it probably is not realistic for us to switch over.

Anyway: Something is not right here! The numbers just do not work out. We are using too much, and we are paying too much for no reason. We are getting ripped off, people!


Posted @ 4:29 PM by Egger, Markus ( -
Comments (8)

Monday, July 03, 2006
A Few Days in Switzerland

We just got back from a short trip to Switzerland. It was mostly business (as usual), but the business-parts ended on a Friday, so we decided to stay a little extra and enjoy ourselves.

Most of our time we spent in Zurich. I always think Zurich is a mixed bag. I like it in a way, and hate it at the same time. It is kinda cool, but also very expensive. Too expensive for what it offers I always think. A nice dinner will almost always cost 100 Franks and more (sometimes a lot more, but that may just be my personal taste-problem <s>). And I am never quite sure how much I like the food there. I am not much for duck-liver and such, so I often end up eating non-swiss food when I am there. This time, Ellen, and (sometimes) Woody, and myself ended up with Thai, Mongolian, and Greek. Not bad, but expensive on every account. We only had swiss food for lunch a few days, because "you have to taste the local food while you are there".

Zurich always strikes me as a very gray town. It isn't really dirty, but it always seems dark. Kinda like forgotten by time in a way. On the other hand, it has a certain atmosphere of "money and wealth". It always makes you feel like it is somehow OK to pay too much. In a way, I find it to be very enjoyable for a few days. Kind of an odd combination.

Here's a picture of Zurich that seems to be pretty representative for how I always think of Zurich:


Of course, the country is very nice. Lake Zurich is beautiful. Saturday morning we took a ferry across the lake, and uncomplicated and very nice little thing to do. I would recommend it. We then moved on to Luzern, a very very nice little town. Especially the old town is very nice, with its bridges across the lake and river. We were lucky enough to be there the day of the "30th Old Town Festival". More than 60 different bands played throughout the old town, and lots of different foods and local delicacies were served. The setting is gorgeous. Here's a picture from Luzern:

This was one of those things that make you wonder whether you should stay an extra day, and it def. would have been worth it. Nevertheless, we decided to move on, since we had planned to go up Mount Pilatus. The Pilatus is a relatively high mountain near Luzern. It has a cable car that goes to the very top, so it is easy and quick to get to the summit (the gondola takes you pretty much to the very tip). It isn't super-high, but it is pretty impressive in its setting, and the view is spectacular. Here are some pictures Ellen took:


All in all, this was a very enjoyable trip. I liked it, and so did Ellen. Although she was a little disappointed to not see any "Swiss Chalets". Luckily, we have lots of those in Austria. I am convinced that a lot of the pictures from American school books that are supposedly showing Swizterland are actually showing Austria...


Posted @ 3:37 PM by Egger, Markus ( -
Comments (6)

Monday, July 03, 2006
Swimming Across the Zeller See

Last week Gerhard and I had some fun: We swam across the lake in Zell am See. Here's a picture of our route:

I am told it is "800m... maybe a little more" between the two sides. So maybe a little more than 1 mile back and forth. It took us a bit over an hour total (we took it pretty easy). We had the unfortunate luck that it was a very windy day, and especially on the way back, we had to swim against the current during rather choppy conditions. So add a few hundred meters for that.

It was fun. Not too exhausting, but def. a pretty good exercise. I was actually somewhat surprised how exhausted I was in the end, but it was not like mountain-biking.

This was fun! We might actually do it again this week if the weather cooperates.

And a word of warning: If you do this at home, get a boat to go along with you. We didn't have one, but both Gerhard and I are very comfortable swimmers. If you do this and drown, don't sue me! (Or don't have your relatives sue me).


Posted @ 2:57 PM by Egger, Markus ( -
Comments (30)








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