Follow me and my friends on our adventures outside.

European Vacation Part 1

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Buda And Pest, Two Sides Of The Danube.

Sloane and I just got back from another fantastic trip overseas to Europe.  Sloane had mentioned Prague when we were planning our trip last year, so we decided to try it out this time. My family has roots in Hungary, (see our delicious family tradition here), so I was excited that Budapest was so close to Prague and easily accessible. We researched a bunch of different options: flying in and out of both Prague and Budapest, renting cars, riding trains and flights from city to city.  Our plans began to take shape when we finally purchased plane tickets in late July.  We found it was cheaper to fly into Budapest and out of Prague, so that gave us a starting and end point. We planned the rest afterwards as we talked to folks who had already travelled to these areas.

Our journey began with a 6pm flight out of Baltimore on Sunday September 3rd that landed us in Frankfurt, Germany at 4am our time.  We did our best to sleep on the plane ride over, and then caught some much needed sleep in the airport during our 4 hour layover.  We arrived in Budapest at 1:30 on Monday the 4th, very much sleep deprived, but ready to start our trip.

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The adventure in Budapest started with Sloane's phone being left in a taxi, which thanks to our friendly driver we were able to recover quite quickly. We hurriedly took showers at our BnB, unpacked our belongings and were on our way to the Szechenyi thermal baths, where we had booked massages. I assumed this would be a relaxing way to start our journey - but it was a bit more stressful than anticipated with the tight timeline we were running on.  We made it with a few minutes to spare, were directed to our changing cabin and were able to get in the outdoor bath for just a couple minutes before our massages began.  Compared to our last thermal bath and massage experience in Iceland, this was much more affordable - although it was a bit less impressive. As we were heading out the door we ran into an old friend, who happened to be traveling in Budapest for work, and made some plans to meet up the following night.  Small world.  

Szechenyi thermal baths - very affordable massages.

We took a quick walk through City Park, one of the first public parks in the world, founded in the early 1800's.  I could've spent all evening here shooting the old castle and Heroe's Square, but we were both very hungry and I was politely urged by Sloane to continue our our walk towards dinner, which was about a mile away.  

The back side of Heroe's Square at dusk.

We had dinner at a cool little place we happened to walk by, and began our al-fresco dining experience in Europe the right way.  Our food was good, and the price was incredible, less than 30 bucks for us both to eat a 3 course meal with drinks. 

Dried chilis and twinkly lights on the exterior of Kantin - our first Hungarian dining experience.

Sloane in front of St. Stephen's Bassilica 

We finished our meal and made the quick walk back to our apartment to finally get some serious sleep. On Tuesday I was able to get myself out of bed relatively early if you consider the time difference of 6 hours, and persuaded Sloane to follow soon after. We were able to rally ourselves and get out the door by 1030. The apartment we rented came with the use of two bicycles, the main reason to me that it was so appealing. Budapest is an incredibly bike friendly city, and aside from three cab rides, it is the only form of transportation we used to get around.  

Hungarian Parliament - this sucker has over 600 rooms.  We went in zero of them.

Hungarian Parliament.

We rode around our neighborhood, down to the Danube and across a bridge to Margaret Island.  This island is a pretty large green space in the middle of the Danube with plenty of cool stuff: bars/restaraunts, gardens, bike and golf cart rentals, medieval monastery ruins, running and biking paths, thermal spas, a waterpark and a concert venue.  We did a circuit of the whole island, which is about 3.5 miles and stopped in one of the waterfront bars to have a quick drink to figure out what the next stop was.  I took zero pictures of the island, so Google it if you want to see it!  We decided to head over to the Buda side of the Danube next, there are hills here - big hills.  We found a place to lock up the bikes and ascended a lot of stairs to the top of Fisherman's Bastion in the Castle District, it looks like a fairy tale up there. 

Fisherman's Bastion.  The guy on the horse is St. Stephen, the same guy who's church you saw Sloane in front of on her bike.

Tourist photo.

Tourist photo.

Matthias Church in the Castle District. Incredible roofing job.

Fisherman's Bastion is one of those places with throngs of tourists, so we didn't stick around very long. We paid our tourist tax to walk on the top of the Bastion and go into some of the towers - which is cool, but so many people.  We had enough of the crowds and headed back down the hill, much quicker than we had gone up it.  We had an early dinner reservation, so we hopped back on our bicycles and crossed the Chain Bridge in rush hour traffic. Looking back we probably should have taken the pedestrian walkway, but we were in a hurry so we rode in traffic, over the Danube and back to our apartment. Our reservation that night was at Borkhonya, a Michelin star restaurant right in our neighborhood.  I didn't take the big camera out, since it was a fancy place, but I did document the meal with my iPhone, like a true tourist. We got a table outside, and were the first diners there, by the end of our meal the place was packed. We both enjoyed the tasting menu, paired with wine - which was amazing. The kitchen even allowed Sloane to substitute fish for the meat courses. iPhone photos in the gallery below. A vague description of the dishes, from left to right: delicious Duck liver, cold potato soup, branzino over beans, the best steak I have eaten in a long time, and desert, all kinds of delicious things here. 

After our intense, amazing meal, we walked over to one of the ruin pubs (Szimpla) to meet our friend who we had run into the previous day at the thermal baths.  Ruin pubs are a big deal here, they consist of a bunch of different bar areas in old buildings and courtyards in the city, they are very popular and this one was incredibly crowded. We found a small table in a corner to sit with our drinks, and ordered a hookah to enjoy with our friend. This was probably the latest we stayed out while we were in Europe, and it was only midnight.  

I was up early Wednesday morning to try and catch some sunrise shots.  I rode my bike hurriedly 2 miles to Heroe's Square, only to be disappointed that they don't keep the lights on all night.  However, there was no one there, so I set up the tripod and took a few shots while I considered where to go next.  

Heroe's Square at 630 AM.

I decided to cross the Danube and try to get a cool shot of the parliament building reflected in the river, which I had also tried the day before, but the skies were overcast and very boring.  So I packed it up, jumped on the bike and rode another 3 or so miles to the Buda side, found the right spot and set shop back up again.

Hungarian Parliament from across the Danube.

From here I rode up to the chain bridge, locked up my bike and just wandered around for a bit.

Parliament from the Chainbridge.

Chainbridge

Coat of arms below the Buda castle.

St Stephen's Basilica once again, this time with some flare.

St Stephen's Basilica once again, this time with some flare.

After a solid photo safari around town, I made my way home, but first I stopped and grabbed some serious pastries from a spot I walked by, it was the first time some one I interacted with actually didn't speak english, but we figured it out anyway. I got back and Sloane was still sleeping at 830, so I gently woke her up by banging on the window to our apartment, since I had left the keys with her.  She was pretty unhappy, until she saw the bag of pastries, and she was suddenly a bit more enthusiastic to see me. I ran back downstairs and up the street to the local coffee shop to get some juice and caffeine for her as well, she had a bit of a hangover. We both enjoyed our pastries sitting on our patio, then grabbed much needed showers and made a plan for our last day in Budapest.  We started off the day with a sun filled bike ride to our first destination - the Great Market Hall - the oldest and largest indoor market in Budapest.

Great market hall from the inside.  Food, people and souvenirs everywhere.

This place is an impressive collection of Hungarian things.  Sloane was on a mission to find us a pillow case or table runner and our nieces a perfect gift.  Mission accomplished after about an hour of us walking around.  After our first and only souvenir purchase in Europe, we decided to leave the people clogged market to eat lunch outside, and found a quick place right across the street.  Nothing to write about here, just some ok shawarma and falafel.  With our bellies full we once again got on the bicycles, rode across the Danube to Buda, locked the bikes up and hiked up some hills. On the way up Gellert Hill there is a church that is partially in a cave, I really thought it would be cool, so we paid the small fee to get in and listened to an audio tour as we walked around. It was a neat idea, but I think we may have wasted a little too much time staring at old stuff we had no idea about.  Halfway through the audio tour, we decided we had enough and made a hasty exit. We continued on our hike up the hills towards the citadella and the liberty statue.  It was hot, and we were out of water - thankfully there was an oasis at the top, with the most expensive bottled water ever. After a small fortune, we were hydrated and ready to join up with the rest of the tourists who had mostly arrived at the top via a road and bus.  

Sloane and the liberty statue, and the people.

Liberty Statue on top of Gellert Hill.

After about an hour of walking around amongst all the other tourists, we were ready to head back down to our bikes and figure out what to do next.  We decided to ride back across the Danube to Pest and get lost on our bicycles in the not so touristy spots in town.  We found a great spot on the water to grab a drink and then started our ride from there.  

Sloane cruising some of the less visited areas of Pest.

Budapest's sewer covers are well designed, something the US is missing.

Bullet holes and graffiti - a very different view of Budapest from the tourist areas.

Battle scars.

After wondering into some areas that seemed we might not want to be for too long, we pulled out google maps and found the way home. After a few wrong turns, our neighborhood welcomed us with open arms. We had decided to try out a restaurant just around the block for dinner. Our cab driver had told us about this place on our ride from the airport, and it was fantastic.  If you come to Budapest and want and awesome casual meal, try out Most, it has an awesome ruin pub courtyard, and delicious food of course.  Our last night in Budapest was a good one.  After our fantastic dinner, we strolled back to our apartment in a light rain.  Budapest had been good to us, but now it was time to pack up and get ready for Austria.

Dusk view from our balcony - St. Stephen's Basilica in the background.

Late night views looking up from our courtyard in Budapest.