Vacation Archive

Thursday

22

October 2015

0

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!

Wednesday

25

June 2014

4

COMMENTS

Touring Pike Place Market with Savor Seattle Food Tours

Written by , Posted in Restaurants, Travel

On Sunday my family and I returned from a 7-day Alaskan cruise and now that the week is in full swing it’s back to reality and the daily grind. Luckily I have a ton of amazing things experiences to write about so it will take me back, if only for a little while. We started our vacation in Seattle and stayed at Hotel Max, right in the heart of downtown and walking distance to everything we wanted to see. We spent our first morning touring the famous Pike Place Market with Savor Seattle Food Tours. This was the absolute best way to tour the market; with the tour group we skipped all the long lines and were able to try all the delicious food the market has to offer. After snapping a few photos in the market we met our tour group at Unexpected Productions’ Market Theater where you’ll find the Gum Wall – kind of gross but kind of cool at the same time!

Pike Place Market, Public Market, Farmers Market

Pike Place Market Gum Wall

Gum Wall Pike Place Market

Along with all the great food, you also have a great guide that takes you on your tour of the market and gives a ton of interesting information and history on the market and all its vendors. (Shout out to our favorite tour guide, Harriette!) The first stop on our morning tour was Daily Dozen Donut Co where we sampled their warm, sugary little doughnuts – simple compared to all the fancy doughnuts out there today but in this case simple is definitely a very, very good thing! Next we checked out the views from the Pike Place Urban Market while sipping on some hot tea from MarketSpice. It was a bit of a rainy day in Seattle and the spiced tea hit the spot!

Pike Place Market Urban Garden

Pike Place Market Urban Garden

From here we moved on to Pike Place Fish Marketwhere we tried a few of their fantastic smoked salmon varieties and watched my brother as he successfully caught the flying fish! From there we sampled some delicious apples and cherries from Frank’s Quality Produce, then made our way to Pike Place Chowder for hands down some of the best chowders I’ve ever tasted! On the tour we tried the traditional New England Clam Chowder as well as their Seafood Bisque. Both were amazing but the seafood bisque stole the show for most of us! It was so tasty and filled with big chunks of fresh salmon, cod, shrimp, and crab – we went back for full-size bowls after the tour was over!

Pike Place Fish Catch

Pike Place Chowder

After warming up with the chowder we made our way back inside the market for the best chocolate-covered cherries you’ll ever eat from Chukar Cherries, then headed back out again for all sorts of cheesy goodness at Beecher’s Handmade Cheese. We also tried the most  delicious piroshkis from Piroshky Piroshky before stopping outside the “original” Starbucks to take in all the sights and sounds of the market.

Chukar Cherries

Beecher's Homemade Cheese

Beecher's Homemade Cheese, Mac n Cheese

Piroshky Piroshky

Piroshky Piroshky

Pike Place Market Starbucks

Pike Place Market

Finally (and sadly) we then made it to our last stop on the tour, Etta’s Seafood Restaurant, for a crab cake that was just a whole lot of fresh, tasty crab – the perfect ending to a morning of exciting sights, sounds, and of course tastes! If you’re visiting Seattle I highly recommend checking out Savor Seattle Food Tours, they have several other tours in addition to the market tour – a little something for everyone!

Etta's Seafood, Crab Cakes

Thursday

20

March 2014

2

COMMENTS

Travel Throwback: Amalfi Coast

Written by , Posted in Travel

Travel Throwback is a series of blog posts based on a 10-day Mediterranean cruise that I took with Mike, my mom, and my brother aboard the Celebrity Equinox back in August of 2011. Back then I wasn’t blogging about my travel but luckily I kept a journal and took a LOT of pictures and I can’t wait to share!

August 28, 2011

After a day at sea we were all well-rested and ready for our last stop on this amazing cruise – The Amalfi Coast. Since there is so much to see along this beautiful stretch of Italian coastline we decided to go with a tour that would take us to Capri, Sorrento, and Pompeii. Our cruise ship docked in Naples and we boarded a small boat that took us on a very choppy boat ride to beautiful island of Capri.

Capri, Amalfi Coast

Bright boats on Capri, Amalfi Coast

The brightly colored boats and buildings gave us our first glimpse at the beauty of Capri before we boarded the funicular train that took us up through the lemon gardens to Capri’s Piazzetta or “little square”. The views at the top were gorgeous and definitely worth a stop for a photo-op!

Capri, Amalfi Coast

From the Piazzetta we walked along the old cobblestone streets and made our way to the @Gardens of Augustus (Giardini di Augusto). Not only is the garden itself beautiful, but the views here were breathtaking. The steep cliffs and the blue sea below are simply stunning; like Santorini, it’s the kind of image you see in travel magazines but never imagine seeing for yourself in real life. We strolled through the garden and snapped tons of photos before making our way back to the Piazzetta, grabbing some freshly squeezed lemonade and stopping at famed perfumery Carthusia on the way.

Giardini Augusto Capri, Amalfi Coast

Giardini Augusto Capri, Amalfi Coast

Views of ocean from Capri, Amalfi Coast

Giant lemons on Capri, Amalfi Coast

Dried Flowers Carthusia Capri, Amalfi Coast

We would have loved to spend more time exploring Capri but we were on a tight schedule and needed to make our way to our next stop – Sorrento. Sorrento is another gorgeous town with bright buildings, lush greenery, and narrow streets and alleyways that you could get lost in. After enjoying a nice lunch with our tour group we had a short amount of time to explore. We stopped in to a few of the small shops and then found a popular gelataria where we indulged in a few of their interesting flavors before hopping on a bus and heading to Pompeii.

Sorrento, Amalfi Coast

Statue in Sorrento, Amalfi Coast

Gelato Flavors in Sorrento, Amalfi Coast

Street Vendor Sorrento

Our final stop of the day was at the ancient Roman city of Pompeii. The city was mostly destroyed and buried in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD and they are still working on the excavation of the city to this day. We first stopped at the famous cameo factory here before entering the ruins. At this point I was completely exhausted and was ready to call it a day, but I’m glad that I soldiered on. I would definitely recommend a tour guide at Pompeii as there is so much to see but no signs or descriptions of what you’re looking at. The number of artifacts they have been able to uncover here is very impressive, but some of them are a bit on the eerie side. For example, they created plaster casts in the empty spaces in the ash that once held human bodies so you can see the positions they were in when they died. Definitely creepy, but interesting nonetheless.

Cameo Factory Pompeii, Amalfi Coast

View of Mount Vesuvius from Pompeii, Amalfi Coast

Ruins at Pompeii, Amalfi Coast

Ancient Oven at Pompeii, Amalfi Coast

Pompeii Artifacts, Amalfi Coast

Body in Lava at Pompeii, Amalfi Coast

We had a long day on the Amalfi Coast but it was the perfect end to this once in a lifetime vacation. We made our way back to the ship and enjoyed one last dinner onboard, complete with plenty of buttery, garlic drenched escargot, as we sailed our way back to our Rome. This was definitely a very active vacation but it was a great way to see a ton of beautiful places in a short period of time. We were able to cross several items off our bucket lists while figuring out where we want to return to in the future-I’m looking at you Santorini! I hope you’ve enjoyed my travel throwback series, and if you ever have the chance to explore the Mediterranean it’s definitely a chance you don’t want to miss!

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