Sightseeing Archive

Thursday

22

October 2015

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COMMENTS

Budapest: Where To Go, What To See, What To Do

Written by , Posted in Travel

Mike and I have been home from our trip to Budapest and Kraków for a little over a month now and as I’ve been sorting through all my photos and rounding up our favorite spots, I find myself already dreaming about a return visit to each of these wonderful cities. We spent 5 nights in Budapest and 4 nights in Kraków and while we felt this was plenty of time to hit the big “to-dos”, we could have easily extended our stay in each cities and found plenty to keep us busy. From history to architecture to food and culture, these two cities offered everything we hoped for and then some.

The first question everyone has asked us, before and after our trip, was why Budapest and Kraków? The simple answer is word-of-mouth. Here and there we’ve had friends or fellow travelers mention Budapest and Kraków as two European cities that they really loved, so this year we decided to see for ourselves. Both cities were also incredibly inexpensive which was a definite plus!

Budapest, Ferris Wheel

We started our trip in Budapest, arriving on a Monday morning to a small studio apartment in District VII that we rented via Airbnb. The apartment itself was great – clean, modern, and comfortable – but the location of the apartment proved to be its best feature. District VII or Erzsébetváros (Elizabethtown) is, in my opinion, the best area to stay in Budapest, and our apartment was right in the middle of it all. There were a seemingly endless amount of unique and interesting shops, restaurants, cafés and bars right outside our front door. District VII is where you’ll find Budapest’s Jewish Quarter as well as many of the city’s famous Ruin Pubs – previously abandoned buildings turned bars and clubs. Our apartment was also steps away from Deák Ferenc tér, a major hub for public transit around the city – so when we wanted to venture out it couldn’t have been more convenient. We paid a ridiculously inexpensive price of $250 TOTAL for 5 nights and would have happily paid much more.

Budapest, Deák Ferenc square

Cooling off during Budapest’s 90 degree heat wave at Deák Ferenc tér

Budapest has everything you could ask for in a major European city – a river, a castle, beautiful churches, bridges, monuments, museums, an opera house, a central market hall, Michelin-starred restaurants, shopping…the list goes on. I’ll cover food & drink in a separate post because we did a LOT of eating and drinking, now it’s onto the main topic of this post…where to go, what to see, and what to do in Budapest.

Sightseeing

Trabant Tour with My Personal Budapest

When planning our trips, one of the very first things I do is look into tours of the city. On Bali and in Berlin we road bikes, in Prague we opted for Segways and a food & culture tour, and in Budapest we decided on a tour by Trabant. Some may consider the Trabant an inefficient relic from the days of the Eastern Bloc, but we loved this cute little car and our fantastic tour guide, Balázs!

Budapest, Trabant

I found My Personal Budapest via TripAdvisor and booked an entire day tour with Balázs Ackermann. Balázs owns several Trabants that he has updated and restored on his own and he also uses them for his acrobatic car stunts (we stayed on all 4 wheels during the tour)! He picked us up bright and early from our apartment and we were off to explore the city. After a morning hitting the highlights, we headed outside the city to Balázs’ home where we met his parents and enjoyed a delicious traditional Hungarian meal prepared by his mother. We then made our way back to the city where we ended our day with a “Hidden Gems” tour where we visited several spots off the beaten tourist path. We loved this tour and thought it was the perfect way to get a great overview of Budapest, thank you Balázs!

Budapest, Gellért Hill

View of the Danube from Gellért Hill

Danube Boat Ride & Wine Tasting with Taste Hungary

For our birthdays this year, my brother and his fiancée went the experiences over things route and planned a sunset wine tasting for Mike and me while we were in Budapest. Experiences over Things wins every time – this boat ride was so fantastic and was easily our most memorable experience in Budapest. We lucked out and there ended up being just one other couple on the tour with us, so the four of us had an incredibly intimate experience. Our guide was friendly and knowledgeable about Budapest and all the great Hungarian wines we were tasting. The sunset followed by the glowing lights along the banks of the Danube was completely unreal; as we sped along and our captains blared “Thunderstruck” over the tiny boat’s speakers, we knew this was something we would never forget.

Budapest, Daube Boat Cruise

Budapest, Sunset, Danube, Castle, Chain Bridge

+ Szechenyi Baths

The Széchenyi Thermal Baths are one of the largest thermal baths in Europe, with their water supplied by two thermal springs. The water is said to have medicinal properties due to its natural warmth and the abundance of minerals found in the water. There are many thermal spas in Budapest, but Szechenyi is the largest and most popular so that’s where we decided to go. It felt a little like we were hanging at public pool in Budapest, if public pools had a pricey entrance fee and were housed in a Baroque palace. It was a great place to spend an afternoon relaxing after walking around the city for days, although the stag party in attendance added a hint of Las Vegas party pool atmosphere.

Budapest, Széchenyi Baths

+ Heroes’ Square (Hősök tere)

Our first stop bright and early on our Trabant Tour, Heroes’ Square is one of the largest main squares in Budapest and where you’ll find the statues of various Hungarian leaders.

Budapest, Heroes' Square

+ St. Stephen’s Basilica

A beautiful Roman Catholic basilica, St. Stephen’s Basilica is where you’ll find the supposed right hand of Stephen, the first King of Hungary.

Budapest, St. Stephen's Basilica

+ House of Terror

The House of Terror is a museum that features exhibits relating to the Communist regimes that once controlled Budapest and Hungary as well as memorials dedicated to the regime’s victims. The exhibits were interesting but there was something missing that made it just an ok museum for us. There were English printed papers to read in each room, but we may have gotten more out of it if we understood Hungarian.

Budapest, House of Terror Museum

+ Shoes on the Danube

A touching memorial right in front of the Parliament building, Shoes on the Danube was created to honor the Jews that died in Budapest during WWII. Here Jews were lined up by Arrow Cross militiamen, ordered to take off their shoes and were shot at the edge of the water so their bodies would fall into the river.

Budapest, Shoes on the Danube

+ Hungarian Parliament Building

A striking building that you can’t miss, the Hungarian Parliament building is best viewed from the river below or across the banks on the Buda side from Fisherman’s Bastion. They offer guided tours if you’re interested in checking out the inside.

Budapest Parliament, Sunset

+ Chain Bridge

One of several suspension bridges that connects the Buda and Pest sides of the city, the Chain Bridge is easily Budapest’s most famous bridge, and the one closest to the castle.

Budapest, Chain Bridge, Buda Castle

+ Hungarian State Opera House

Despite the fact that the Hungarian State Opera House was just a few blocks away from our apartment, we didn’t end up making it there. They offer tours at 3pm and 4pm daily and the inside is supposed to be beautiful. A great option for a rainy afternoon.

+ Castle Hill: Buda Castle, Fisherman’s Bastion (Halaszbastya), Matthias Church

Just across the Chain Bridge you’ll find Castle Hill, home to Buda Castle, Fisherman’s Bastion (Halászbástya), and Matthias Church. They offer a funicular ride to the top, but we opted to avoid the lines and make our way up on foot. This is a great area to spend a day – great views, shops, and architecture. If you’re an early riser I strongly suggest taking in a sunrise from Fisherman’s Bastion.

Budapest, Fisherman's Bastion

Lion + Maven | Budapest

Budapest, Fisherman's Bastion

Budapest, Matthias Church, Colorful Tile

Gellért Hill, Liberty Statue

We took the easy way up Gellért Hill via Trabant and the views from the top were stunning. Here you’ll find the Liberty Statue, or, as our tour guide described it, a giant Hungarian bottle opener.

Budapest, Liberty Statue

 

Deák Ferenc tér

Deák Ferenc tér was just a few blocks from our apartment so we ended up here multiple times throughout our stay. The square is filled with young people and there are several restaurants and bars lining the perimeter. At night everyone had a drink (or bottle) in hand while they jammed out to the evening’s entertainment.

Budapest, Skateboarders

Budapest, Deák Ferenc square

Budapest, Deák Ferenc square

+ Imagine Budapest Tours

We didn’t take a tour with Imagine Budapest, but I stumbled upon their office while shopping one day and had to give them a mention. They specialize in various themed tours that sound really cool, definitely worth a look!

+ Just walk!

One of my favorite things to do in any city we visit is to walk around with no destination in mind. Budapest is an incredibly vibrant, lively city with something interesting waiting around every corner. I stumbled upon shops, buildings, and farmers’ markets that I never would have found in any guide book. I loved all the different architecture around the city – Budapest has everything from Art Nouveau to Gothic to Roman and more, with an interesting contrast of Communist-era buildings in between. Let yourself get lost for an afternoon and see what you find!

Budapest, Danube, Blue, Sunrise

Budapest, Pink, Architecture

Budapest, Communist Style Buildings

Green door, Budapest

Shopping

+ Central Market Hall

I love to shop and when I’m traveling I make it my goal to find unique, locally-made gifts and souvenirs to bring home. This has proved to be surprisingly difficult in other large European cities we’ve visited because every shop seems to have the exact same touristy things! This was not the case in Budapest and I was in heaven. The Central Market Hall is where I found nearly everything I brought home – true Hungarian paprika, ceramics, lacework, crystal, Christmas ornaments…the list goes on, and on, and on. The first floor of the market is like a farmers’ market, with meat and produce counters lining the walkways. The second floor is where you’ll find all the goods as well as a food counter to fuel up while you peruse. There is a basement as well but I didn’t get the chance to venture down there.

When it comes to the goods, no price is necessarily a set price, so come prepared with cash and be ready to bargain. It’s a bit overwhelming at first and not every stand has high-quality products, so my advice is to make a lap or two before buying anything then go back to pick out the things you really liked. The building itself is also very beautiful and makes for great photos!

Budapest, Central Market Hall

Budapest, Central Market Hall, Duck Liver, Foie Gras

Budapest, Central Market Hall

Budapest, Central Market Hall

Budapest, Central Market Hall

Budapest, Central Market Hall

Budapest, Central Market Hall

Budapest, Central Market Hall

Budapest, Central Market Hall

+ Rozsavolgyi Csokolade

The most beautiful chocolates you ever did see, their bars are sure to win over your family and loved ones back home, and make sure to grab a truffle or 5 for yourself.

+ Printa

Stylish and unique little gifts and souvenirs, with a cute little section of children’s goods as well.

Budapest shopping, Printa

+ Culinaris

If you’re doing any cooking on your own in Budapest, this is a great shop to check out for specialty ingredients. I went into it thinking it would be Hungarian focused, but it definitely is not. At Culinaris you’ll find high quality ingredients from around the world.

+Bortársaság

If you’re looking for wine, specifically good Hungarian wine, Bortársaság is where you’ll find it. We tried several different wines that we loved from Sauska winery and Bortársaság had a plentiful supply.

+ Arioso

A cute little shop and café on Király Street where I found some beautifully packaged candies and soaps made locally in Budapest.

+ Memories of Hungary

A bit on the touristy side, but Memories of Hungary did offer a few neat souvenirs to bring home.

 

That’s all for now! Stay tuned for Part 2 featuring everywhere we ate and drank in Budapest!

Friday

16

January 2015

0

COMMENTS

Out and About in Munich

Written by , Posted in Restaurants, Travel

After our crazy Saturday at Oktoberfest, we had two more days to get out and about in Munich. I’ll be totally honest, Munich was probably my least favorite city visited on our trip. We had several great meals and saw glimpses of a city I could potentially love, but when we left I just had an overall meh feeling towards the Bavarian capital. I’m going to chalk it up to not having as much time to wander and explore as I would’ve liked and a little too much construction happening around the city, so until I can return to make my final call, here’s a look at some of the highlights!

A wet and dreary Sunday morning complete with post-Oktoberfest hangovers led us to the BMW Museum. I’m not a car person, I don’t have any particular love for BMW, but I still found this museum to be pretty  cool. It was shiny and modern, they did a fantastic job with all the exhibits AND it was an easy train ride from the center of Munich. For dinner that night we headed to Zum Dürnbräu for some traditional German cuisine. We shared käsespätzle (German mac ‘n cheese, essentially), wiener schnitzel, and pork medallions and they were all delicious. The käsespätzle was my favorite and a common choice throughout our trip, but I think our first taste here in Munich ended up being the very best!

Lion + Maven | Munich

Lion + Maven | Munich

Lion + Maven | Munich

Lion + Maven | Munich

The following day Mike’s parents arrived so we met up with them for a day of sightseeing. We started our morning with a walk to Café Frischhut for a taste of their famous Schmalznudel for breakfast. Schmalznudel is a Munich institution; it’s a ring of fried dough with a very thin film in the middle where the hole would usually be in a donut. Fresh fried donuts are totally my thing so I was super excited for the schmalznudel, but unfortunately it fell a little flat for me – literally and figuratively. I had read that they were covered in sugar but when they arrived at the table they were completely bare – and not very flavorful at all. Taking a guess, I sprinkled some sugar over mine and that definitely helped, but for me the schmalznudel just didn’t live up to the hype. I learned after the fact that you are indeed supposed to add your own sugar, so who knows, maybe if I had been a bit more generous with my sprinkling I would’ve enjoyed it more.

After breakfast we discovered that we were right across the street from one of Munich’s largest markets, Viktualienmarkt. This was a very exciting find – there were tons of great stalls with fresh fruit, vegetables, meats, cheeses, and, my favorite – Christmas ornaments! I added several Germany mementos to our collection here.

Lion + Maven | Munich

Lion + Maven | Munich

From the Viktualienmarkt we walked to St. Peter’s Church and paid a small amount to climb the stairs to the top. It was a long, narrow climb, but the views from above were totally worth it. Overlooking Germany’s central square, Marienplatz, there were great views of the New Town Hall (Neus Rathaus) and a front seat to the chiming of the Glockenspiel. We caught the “show” from above and below at 11a and 12pm – the square gets completely packed but it’s a fun thing to see if you’re in the area around that time.

Lion + Maven | Munich

Lion + Maven | Munich

Lion + Maven | Munich

Lion + Maven | Munich

From St. Peter’s we walked to catch a ride on our favorite quick and dirty mode of sightseeing – the double decker bus. It started to drizzle and there seemed to be giant cranes everywhere so I didn’t get many great  pictures, but, as double decker bus tours usually do, our ride gave us a nice overview of the city.

Lion + Maven | Munich

Lion + Maven | Munich

Lion + Maven | Munich

Lion + Maven | Munich

Lion + Maven | Munich

After one loop on the bus we stopped of at Hofbräuhaus for a quick beer and then headed to Zwickl for our dinner reservation. I found Zwickl via TripAdvisor and it was definitely my favorite meal in Munich. We started with an order of their popular meatballs and a couple bowls of their warm and velvety soups of the day. For mains Mike went with the Wiener Schnitzel and I went with a vegetarian option of mushrooms in a creamy sauce with fried dumplings. Everything was delicious but Mike’s schnitzel was my favorite of the night. Oh how I miss all that German schnitzel!

Lion + Maven | Munich

Lion + Maven | Munich

Lion + Maven | Munich

Lion + Maven | Munich

Lion + Maven | Munich

Lion + Maven | Munich

The next day we packed up our suitcases once more to continue on to the next stop on our trip – Rothenburg. Stay tuned!

Tuesday

21

October 2014

2

COMMENTS

Sightseeing in Prague

Written by , Posted in Travel

After a quick 3 days in Berlin, it was time to pack up our things and catch a train to the next stop on our trip, Prague. Prague was the only city we visited outside of Germany and as soon as our taxi pulled onto the cobbled streets of Malá Strana, I was completely in love. Like we did in Berlin, we used Airbnb to book an apartment in Prague and the location was absolutely perfect. It was a HUGE apartment and we were on the 3rd floor; we were literally right across the street from the Charles Bridge and we could see the castle from our bathroom window! Prague’s famous bridge is always crowded during the day, but I made a point to wake up early while we were there to enjoy its beauty minus all the hustle and bustle. Trust me, the peacefulness at that time of day is totally worth the early wake-up call.

Prague, Charles Bridge

Prague, Charles Bridge

Prague Castle

Prague, Charles Bridge

Our train arrived in the early afternoon, so we only had 2 1/2 days to take in as much of Prague as possible. Like we did in Berlin, we decided to hit the ground running and start our visit with a guided tour to get acquainted with the city. Mike and I had never ridden on segways, and even though we’re always annoyed by the tourists on segways in Chicago, we decided to give the Prague on Segway tour a try. They were rated #1 on TripAdvisor and they only do private, 2-person tours. Because it was just Mike and me, our guide was able to customize the tour to our specifications. We told him we had just arrived and wanted a good overview of the city, and that’s exactly what we got!

We started our tour from the Prague on Segway office right across from the American Embassy in Malá Strana. From there we made a stop at St. Nicholas Church on our way up to the Prague Castle and gardens. It’s a bit of a steep climb up to the castle, but the beautiful views from the top are absolutely worth it. We cheated and let our Segways do all of the work, but I would definitely expend the energy for this viewpoint.

Prague, Mala Strana

Prague Mala Strana

Prague Castle

Prague Castle Gardens

From the gardens we rode through Letná Park, stopping at several other great viewpoints along the way. We made our way back down the hill and crossed the bridge to explore Old Town, or Staré Město. The architecture in Prague is insanely beautiful, as we rode through the streets of Old Town I wanted to stop and stare at every corner. The colors and the details in these old buildings could keep you busy for hours on end, I highly recommend taking some time to let yourself get lost in Prague’s web of small cobblestone streets and alleyways.

After grabbing our first of many glasses of unpasteurized Pilsner Urquell from Lokál, we made a stop in the Old Town Square. This square is one of the most popular in Prague; you’ll find the Prague Astronomical Clock and the Gothic Týn Church here, two big tourist favorites. We then rode through Old Town, checking out other buildings and famous landmarks like Wenceslas Square, before crossing back over the Vltava river to end our tour. If you’re in Prague for a short period of time and want to quickly get acquainted with the city, the Prague on Segway tours are a great way to do just that.

Prague, Architecture, Pink

Prague, Charles Bridge

Prague Old Town

Prague, Old Town Square

Prague, Old Town Square, Astronomical Clock

Prague, Wenceslas Square

Prague, Tram

Over the next couple of days we ate and drank our way around Prague (more on the eating and drinking to come!), revisiting several of the places where we had quickly stopped on our Segway tour. We also did our fair share of wandering and visiting other points of interest like the Old Jewish Cemetery. If you don’t want to shell out the cash for a guided tour and have time to spare, wandering around a new city is one of my favorite things to do – you’ll find places you wouldn’t have found otherwise and you get a more genuine feel of the city and its people. I feel in love with Prague over our short visit and hope to get back someday. If this European capital isn’t already on your bucket list, put it on there now!

Prague, Farmers Market

Prague, Old Jewish Cemetery

Prague, Flower Shop

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