Tourist 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!

Tuesday

24

February 2015

2

COMMENTS

Heidelberg

Written by , Posted in Restaurants, Travel

The second-to-last stop on our 3 1/2 week trip to Germany was in the beautiful university town of Heidelberg. We arrived mid-afternoon on a Sunday after our drive on the Schwarzwaldhochstraße. We were in Heidelberg for less than 24 hours, but we still had plenty of time to take in the highlights and were lucky to have some of the best weather of the entire trip.

After finding the nearest parking garage and hauling our luggage along the cobblestone streets, we arrived at Hotel Hackteufel to check-in. This hotel was in a great central location right in the heart of  the old town, just steps away from the very popular Alte Brücke (old bridge). We were very pleasantly surprised to find that we had a large, beautiful room (room 8) complete with a private terrace, mini Haribo bears on our pillows, and fantastic views of the castle.

Heidelberg, Germany, Hotel Hackteufel

Heidelberg, Germany, Hotel Hackteufel

Heidelberg, Germany, Hotel Hackteufel

Heidelberg, Germany, Hotel Hackteufel

After getting settled in we made our way to Schloss Heidelberg. There are a few ways to get up to the castle – a funicular and 2 different paths, one with steps and one a paved hill – we went with the paved hill up and took the steps on the way down. At the top we wandered around for a bit and checked out the German Apothecary Museum (a neat little place), but the view was what we were really there for.

Located alongside the River Neckar, this romantic little town really shines from above. Heidelberg escaped bombings in World War II so the beautiful buildings of the old town below have been around for quite some time. If you walk up the steps you can walk along the outside of the castle and take in these spectacular views without paying an admission fee for the palace (the way to go if you’re short on time).

Heidelberg
Heidelberg, Germany
Heidelberg, Germany
Heidelberg, Germany

Heidelberg, Germany

Heidelberg, Germany

Heidelberg, Germany

After enjoying the view from all angles, we made our way down from the castle and back to the Marktplatz to sit back and enjoy the beautiful day. It was a busy day in Heidelberg and the square and surrounding streets were filled with tables of others with the same idea. We would grab a drink and enjoy a bit of people watching at one place and then move on to grab a bite and more people watching at the next, eventually making our way to the old bridge. I think that people watching along sidewalks in Europe with a drink in hand might just be one of my very favorite ways to pass an afternoon.

Heidelberg, Germany

Heidelberg, Germany

Heidelberg, Germany

Heidelberg, Germany

Heidelberg, Germany

Heidelberg, Germany

Heidelberg, Germany

Heidelberg, Germany

Heidelberg, Germany

Heidelberg, Germany

Heidelberg, Germany

Heidelberg, Germany

For dinner that night we had a reservation at Schnitzelbank, a cozy little restaurant with great food and wine just about a 10 minute walk from our hotel. Although we did have a reservation in advance, the restaurant was small and had limited seating, so when we arrived we were seated at a table with two younger men that were studying abroad from South Korea and an older German couple from Frankfurt. It was a bit awkward at first, but eventually we all warmed up to each other and enjoyed our meals together.

Our server was very friendly and helpful, giving us some great recommendations of German wines and giving me a few tips on improving my German. Mike and I shared an order of the buttery, garlicky escargot before our mains of schnitzel and wurst arrived. My schnitzel topped with a creamy mushroom sauce was the BEST schnitzel I ate during our entire trip, and the side of käse spätzle made it that much better. Mike was very happy with his sausages, but I think my schnitzel was the winner that night.

Heidelberg, Germany

Heidelberg, Germany, Schnitzelbank

Heidelberg, Germany, Schnitzelbank

Heidelberg, Germany, Schnitzelbank

Heidelberg, Germany, Schnitzelbank

Our stay in Heidelburg was short but sweet, and it’s definitely a town that we’d love to return to someday. If you’re staying in or around Frankfurt, Heidelberg would make a perfect day-trip, but you could easily spend a few days here before getting bored!

Thursday

19

February 2015

1

COMMENTS

Road Trip Germany: Schwarzwaldhochstraße, The Black Forest High Road

Written by , Posted in Travel

We had a very short stay in the Black Forest before we were back on the road again and heading north to Heidelberg. The Schwarzwaldhochstraße (Black Forest High Road, B500) is stretch of road between Baden-Baden and Freudenstadt that rises up to the main ridge in the Black Forest and offers incredible panoramas of the region below.

From our hotel in Schönwald im Schwarzwald we made our way to Freudenstadt to pick up the Schwarzwaldhochstraße. We set out early and had another perfect day for a drive. As beautiful as our drive was from Bavaria, it didn’t hold a candle to driving through this part of the Black Forest. We were one of the very few cars driving through the countryside and it felt so nice to have this peaceful morning to ourselves. Blue skies, green hills, lush forests, and quaint farm houses around every corner…it was absolutely impossible to not be inspired by such simple and natural beauty.

Black Forest High Road

Black Forest High Road

Black Forest High Road

Black Forest High Road

After making our way to Freudenstadt we navigated through the town to find the high road. As we wound our way to the top I wanted to stop and catch the view from almost every vista point we passed – the best way to enjoy the Schwarzwaldhochstraße is to give yourself plenty of time. It isn’t a long road but there are plenty of spots to stop and take in the view – pack a lunch or a few snacks and make an afternoon of it.

One of the popular tourist stops along the road is at Lake Mummelsee, a bit of a tourist trap in my opinion, but plenty of parking, food, a gift shop, picnic tables, hiking trails, and of course – a lake. By the time we were leaving there just before 11am on a Sunday it was already swarming with people, I can’t imagine what it would look like by noon!

Black Forest High Road

Black Forest High Road

Black Forest High Road

Black Forest High Road

Black Forest High Road

Black Forest High Road, Lake Mummelsee

Black Forest High Road, Lake Mummelsee, Kirschwasser

Black Forest High Road, Lake Mummelsee

After our stop at Lake Mummelsee we enjoyed a bit more of the Schwarzwaldhochstraße before picking up the busier Autobahn to make our way to Heidelberg. Even if you don’t make it to the Schwarzwaldhochstraße, I definitely recommend renting a car and driving around the German countryside, it is an absolutely beautiful place to explore!

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