More than three years. Almost 38 months. 1,146 days. That’s how long it was between our last visit to the U.S. and our recent one in March of 2023.
As the months and years rolled by, Steve and I were less and less interested in returning home. Aside from our daughters being there, we had little motivation to return.
Then we were invited to the wedding of a young lady we’ve known since she was born. And the wedding was in Key West, a place we had never visited. So we decided to go back to the U.S. (Jacksonville, Florida, specifically) for one month.
Here is what we did, what surprised us, what shocked us, and why we still plan to settle outside the U.S.
What We Did
We had several objectives for this trip: Stock up on clothes and supplies, see our doctors, and, most importantly, spend time with family and friends.
We did a lot of all three. So much so that we were often exhausted, and I ignored this blog and social media.
I won’t bore you with the shopping and medical details. The highlights were as follows:
A wedding on a catamaran in Key West – It was a pleasure to reconnect with family friends we have known for more than thirty years. The occasion was the wedding of one of the daughters in the family.
You could not ask for a more perfect setting for a wedding than a catamaran at sunset off Key West. We celebrated the newlyweds, Nicole and Erin, as they exchanged vows at sunset. Unfortunately, no green flash, but beautiful all the same.
Exploring the Keys – we stayed in Marathon but spent some time in Key West. We toured The Hemingway Home and Museum, got the requisite photo at Mile Marker 0, and enjoyed the floral beauty of the Key West Garden Club.
Seeing our older daughter’s new apartment – Stephanie and her friend Jeff moved into a brand new apartment in Jacksonville several months ago. Not only is their apartment lovely, but the complex is also chock full of great spaces. Between the pool, outdoor kitchen, zen garden, and game area, it is like a resort.
As a parent, there are few things that please you as much as seeing your grown children happy and successful.
Spending a weekend in Orlando with our younger daughter – We finally had a chance to see Laura’s apartment. It is small but oh so cute.
We also got to see the office where she works as a therapist. We met her boss, Dora, and the practice’s therapy dog, Hess.
Our weekend was filled with good food, an upscale art festival (where I mentally spent $10,000 in the first ten minutes), and a visit to the Orlando Museum of Art. The Museum of Art had an excellent exhibit on the Ukraine invasion.
To top off the weekend, we had a wonderful time at dinner with Laura’s friends, Tanya and Van.
Visiting my cousin and her husband in their beautiful home – My cousin, who is more like a sister since we grew up doing everything together, retired to Palm Coast with her husband.
We finally got to see their golf course home, which is beautifully decorated. I will have to hire her should Steve and I ever settle down.
Reconnecting with old friends – I enjoyed a margarita-filled dinner with my friend Cari. We have been friends for more than thirty years. We are not the kind of friends who communicate often, but no matter how long it’s been since we’ve seen each other, it’s like no time has passed.
Steve and I also had lunch with our former neighbors, Roger and Sherry. Again, it was like the last several years had not passed.
Unfortunately, we weren’t astute enough to get photos during either of these meals.
What Surprised Us (In a Good Way)
Steve and I keep up with the news, especially about the U.S. For the past several years, we’ve seen countless reports about political strife and frequent mass shootings. Because of all this negative news, we were braced for a hostile and aggressive environment.
While we didn’t fear being shot because, let’s face it, the chances of that are small, we expected hostility on the roads and anger in the general population.
We were happy to find the opposite. Everywhere we went, we were greeted with the same friendliness we’d been enjoying during our travels.
What Shocked Us
I must have looked quite the fool when Steve and I were in Publix, a popular Florida supermarket chain. Several times I called Steve over to look at the price of something. The worst was just over two ounces of Boar’s Head cooked bacon for almost $8.
We knew that the U.S. was experiencing high inflation, but until we were face to face with the prices, we really didn’t grasp it. Luckily, we only had to live with those prices for a month.
Frustration on Florida’s Highways
Okay, venting time.
Florida, especially Orlando, is a hot tourist destination. As such, you would think the state would make travel easy for visitors. Even having lived in Florida for thirty years, Steve and I found the highways and toll system in Florida absurd.
Florida’s toll system sucks
Sorry to be so blunt, but it does.
Our flight from Casablanca landed in Orlando around midnight. After getting our luggage and breezing through customs, it took two hours to get our rental car. When asked if we wanted a transponder for tolls, we said no, we would pay the tolls ourselves.
We had decided to spend our first night in a hotel in Orlando and drive to Jacksonville the next day. As we drove to our hotel, we came across an unmanned toll booth. Our choices were to proceed with an Easy Pass (which we didn’t have) or pay a fifty-cent toll by tossing coins in a basket (which we also didn’t have).
We then got a SunPass (this site will only work if you are connected to a U.S. location). The pass allows you to put funds on your account to cover tolls. We stuck it on our rental car’s windshield, and we were good to go.
Then it was time to return our rental car. We left our hotel for a short drive to the airport and encountered another unmanned toll booth. Again we had the choice of the EasyPass lane or paying the toll with coins.
We were unsure if EasyPass and SunPass were interchangeable (they are), so I had the pleasure of tossing six quarters into a basket and one on the ground. See, Florida highways can be fun.
We removed the EasyPass from our rental car when we returned it, only to find out a few days later that this was not enough. Because our pass was linked to the rental car’s license plate, we had the pleasure of paying for someone else’s tolls for four days until I discovered I needed to remove the license plate number from my SunPass account.
Enough with “This Lane Ends”
Google Maps made it easy to find our way around. However, it drove me crazy how often lanes ended or were marked exit only. It seemed like we were constantly changing lanes, first to the left, then to the right (or maybe just to the left again for fun), then back again. Given how busy the roads are, this constant lane changing adds to the stress of driving in an unfamiliar place.
Why We Still Don’t Want to Settle in the U.S.
Despite our pre-trip apprehension, Steve and I enjoyed our time in Florida. Even so, this trip reinforced our view that when we finally settle down, we prefer it not to be in the U.S.
In addition to the high cost of living, we experienced once again how car-dependent the U.S. is. Even visiting the sprawling St. John’s Town Center open-air mall involves driving from one section to another.
Steve and I have been enjoying a lower cost of living in general while out of the U.S. We also love living in walkable cities with great public transportation.
Until Next Time
I hope you enjoyed this look into our trip “home”. Now it’s time for me to get back to my blog so I can share more travel-related posts with you.
Happy traveling, Linda
Featured image by Derick McKinney on Unsplash.com (enhanced by author)
Are you thinking of visiting Morocco and wondering if you will have to forego a refreshing beer or relaxing glass of wine? You might be surprised to learn that alcohol is available in Morocco, although not as readily as in non-Muslim countries.
Steve and I spent two and a half months in Morocco in the winter of 2022-2023. During that time, I was able to find beer and wine. It wasn’t always easy, and it wasn’t always cheap.
Here’s the lowdown on drinking in Morocco.
All money is in U.S. dollars.
Is Drinking Legal in Morocco?
Yes. Drinking is legal in Morocco. Since Morocco is an Islamic country and the Quran forbids consuming alcohol, it plays a much smaller role in daily life than in non-Muslim countries. Even so, it is not illegal and can be found in bars, liquor stores, and some restaurants.
How Easy is it to Find Alcohol in Morocco?
Not so easy.
Most restaurants do not serve alcohol. They usually offer a wide variety of soft drinks, including delicious fruit juices and mocktails. Non-alcoholic beer is often available too.
If you want to check online before you visit a restaurant to see if they serve alcohol, you can try finding their menu online. Don’t be surprised if the restaurant you are interested in does not have a website. Many don’t. Sometimes the website is a FaceBook page.
You can also call and ask if they serve alcohol. Many people in food service speak English, but French and Arabic are the primary languages.
My best advice is to assume the restaurant doesn’t serve alcohol, particularly if it’s a traditional Moroccan restaurant. If it does, consider it a bonus.
We spent time in six Moroccan cities, and in each one, there were liquorstores. You can get beer, wine, and hard liquor in these stores, but in our experience, you cannot get non-alcoholic beer or wine. That is available in some supermarkets, including Carrefour.
Supermarket chains like Carrefour may sell alcohol in some locations but not in others. When they do, it is sold in a separate store connected to the supermarket.
Google is your friend when hunting down your favorite libations in Morocco. I’ve had good luck Googling “where can I buy alcohol in name of city.”
Except for drinks at the Barcelo Tanger bar, where we were the only customers, we had no first-hand experience with Moroccan bars. We didn’t notice any bars as we explored, but some hotels have them. Again, you can check their websites or call to see if they have a bar.
We have never seen alcohol for sale or served in a medina. Your best bet is to look outside the medina.
How Much Does Alcohol Cost in Morocco?
As expected, you will pay a premium for alcohol you purchase in a restaurant. I found the cost in restaurants that offer alcohol equivalent to the high end of what we have seen in our travels.
When buying beer at a supermarket, I paid $2.00 for 50 ml of Flag Special. Some liquor stores were in line with this, while others were a bit higher.
As expected, wine prices vary depending on quality. I found the wine prices in liquor stores to be reasonable.
Our Experiences by City
Here are my experiences buying alcohol in five Moroccan cities.
On our first night in Tangier, we went to the Barcelo Tanger hotel for drinks. I had one glass of wine and Steve had two 33ml non-alcoholic beers. We were shocked that the total was $23.
We ate dinner at the Barcelo Tanger hotel one night. My 50ml beer, with alcohol, was $10.
My go-to liquor store was a little hole in the wall on the waterfront. I do not have its address, but it is on Ave. Mohammed VI near the Marina Bay Hotel. They only accept cash.
Steve and I enjoyed a few meals at Anji Chinese Restaurant. It is at 156 Av. Youssef Ibn Tachfine. Their menu included alcohol, and it was more reasonably priced than at the Barcelo Tanger hotel.
During our few days in Chefchaouen, we discovered a great bar and restaurant, Bar Oum Rabie. It is just outside the medina at Bd Hassan 2.
Not only can you get drinks at relatively reasonable prices, but you will get free food, including a plate of fries, when you do. You can also order meals here.
I didn’t bother going to a liquor store since the ones I found online were too far away.
It was easier to find alcohol in Rabat. We stayed in Quartier Hassan and had three places to buy alcohol within a 10-minute walk.
My go-to place for beer in Rabat was at the Carrefour Market Hassan Rabat on Ave. Moulay Ismail. The street-level grocery store did not sell alcohol but had plenty of zero-alcohol beers and wines.
The alcohol was sold in the basement, which was named Cave. The size of Cave and its stock could rival many Western liquor stores.
There was a large liquor store called La Bonne Maison on Rue Henri Popp not far from Carrefour. Their selection was impressive, but they were slightly more expensive than Cave.
There was also a small store near these two on Rue Mahamed El Jazouli, but I didn’t shop there.
Steve and I enjoyed four nights in Marrakesh. Since we stayed in the medina and most of our sightseeing was there, I decided to stick to soft drinks. But serendipity intervened.
One day, we went to Jardin Majorelle, which is outside of the medina. While walking there, we noticed a large liquor store called Mini Marche Majorelle. It is at 7 Ave. Yacoub El Mansour. I bought a bottle of wine since I didn’t have a way to keep beer cold in our riad.
When Steve and I were planning our three-month Morocco trip, we decided against a long stay in Marrakesh. Much of what we read spoke of how overwhelming it can be. But we didn’t want to miss it, so we decided to spend four nights in this legendary city.
The articles we read were right; Marrakesh is intense.
Here are our experiences while visiting Marrakesh in January 2023, along with some helpful hints.
All money is in U.S. dollars.
Medina – the old part of a city. It is usually walled. Marrakesh’s medina is over 1,000 years old, and the streets are narrow. For that reason, cars cannot easily drive on them, although we did see a few cars carefully navigating the crowds. Here is more information about the Marrakesh medina.
Riad (or ryad) – a traditional Moroccan house or palace with an indoor garden and courtyard. Riads used to be homes for the well-to-do and are now used as guest houses. You can learn more about riads here.
Souk – an Arab market, marketplace, or bazaar. Souks can be inside or outside of the medina. Learn more about souks here.
We visited Marrakesh while staying in Rabat, the capital of Morocco. Trains run from the two Rabat train stations, Rabat Ville and Rabat Agdal, many times each day on a direct route that takes less than four hours.
A second-class ticket costs less than $20 per person as of this writing. This will get you a standard front-facing seat. We opted to go first-class since the ticket was just a few dollars more.
It is easy to order tickets online at the Moroccan Railway website. This is preferable to buying them at the station on the day of travel as the lines are often long. I caution you against using Rail Ninja. As we found out when we used them in Hungary, they add a significant upcharge.
The only downside of the trip, thanks to my sister, was that I couldn’t get the song “Marrakesh Express” by Crosby, Stills, and Nash out of my head. You can hear the song and read about how it came about here. Now you, too, can have it stuck in your head (the video may not be available in all locations).
Arriving in Marrakesh
The first thing I noticed as we approached Marrakesh was the color of the buildings. After an overdose of white buildings in Tangier and Rabat and the omnipresent blue in Chefchaouen, I found the warm terracotta of the Marrakesh buildings a welcome change.
The Marrakesh train station (Gare de Marrakech) is in the new part of the city, in a neighborhood called Gueliz. It is only about a ten-minute drive to the outskirts of the medina.
Because of the medina’s narrow roads, our taxi dropped us off near the entrance of the medina, and we had about a ten-minute walk to our riad.
Finding Our Riad
To get an authentic Marrakesh experience, we decided to stay in a riad. We booked a four-night stay at Riad Caesar, which like most riads, is in the medina.
Fortunately, Google maps worked its magic and led us the right way. But at first, we weren’t sure it was the right way. After weaving through crowds along narrow streets lined with shops, we found ourselves on a quiet, run-down street.
There weren’t any signs, and only a few doors had numbers, so we struggled to find our riad. To make matters worse, sewer work was being done, so the street smelled like, you guessed it, sewage.
Surely this couldn’t be where our riad was. But it was.
Into Another World
Once we entered the riad and the door closed on the unpleasantness, we found ourselves in a magical place. Because riads are built without exterior windows, there wasn’t any street noise, just a charming courtyard with the requisite water feature.
This was our second riad stay; the first was in Chefchaouen. In both cases, the rooms were comfortable and had adequate heat.
Because riads are small, you get personal attention. The smaller number of rooms also means that they can be individually decorated.
However, there were a few drawbacks. Neither riad had tea and coffee fixings in the rooms and breakfast wasn’t served until 8:30. And in both riads, the breakfast area was unheated. Being January, it was cold.
Like hotels, riads are available at all price levels. We found the prices similar to hotels.
Find out more about what staying in a riad is like here.
Souking It All In
Our first activity was to stroll the medina, particularly the souks. Steve loves wandering through markets, me, not so much. But how could I resist the chance to experience the Marrakesh souks? Although it may seem like one big souk, there are actually several in the medina as explained in this Marrakesh Souk Guide by Continent Hop.
This wasn’t our first time in a Moroccan souk, but it was the most intense. There is no such thing as window shopping in a souk. The moment you dare to look at a product, the vendor pops up at your side. He will not only try to sell you what you were looking at but start pulling things from his booth.
All I could think of as we wandered the souks was that the sellers should learn to read their customers. If I could check out the merchandise uninterrupted, I would be more likely to buy something. The way the sellers act causes me to walk through the souks avoiding all eye contact lest I be targeted.
Steve and I saw three gardens in Marrakesh: Jardin Majorelle, Anima Garden, and Le Jardin Secret. I loved Jardin Majorelle, liked Anima Garden, and wasn’t impressed with Le Jardin Secret.
Steve was disappointed because of the lack of flowers, but that was to be expected in late January. In addition, these gardens are full of plants that aren’t known for showy flowers, such as palms and cacti.
Judging by the crowds waiting to enter the garden, Jardin Majorelle appears to be one of the most popular attractions in Marrakech. I chose not to purchase online tickets because I expected it to be like most other gardens we’ve been to: not very crowded. Boy, was I wrong.
We were surprised to find a long line when we arrived. At first, our line moved at an acceptable pace, then it stopped. After a while, I went to the front to see why the line wasn’t moving.
A guard told me that they have to control the number of people who can enter at a given time, so we all had to wait until enough people exited the garden to go in.
We purchased online tickets for a few hours later, got lunch, and walked in at our scheduled time. If you go to Jardin Majorelle, you won’t have this problem. As of January 30, 2023, all tickets for the garden must be purchased online.
French artist Jacques Majorelle designed Jardin Majorelle when he and his wife lived on the property from the 1920s to the 1950s. The cubist villa was built in the 1930s.
When he and his wife divorced in the 1950s, he was forced to sell the property. It fell into disrepair over the next three decades. In the 1980s, Yves Saint-Laurent and his partner, Pierre Berge, purchased the property and restored it.
I loved walking along the paths where the green of the plants is punctuated with yellow, light blue, and dark blue accents, with a bit of red thrown in. The dark blue is known as Majorelle Blue, a color trademarked by Jacques Majorelle.
Unlike the first two gardens, Le Jardin Secret is in the medina. And it is not a secret. There was a huge sign in front of it, and it was busy.
Le Jardin Secret is on the grounds of a 400-year-old riad. The garden is divided into two parts, an exotic garden and a traditional Islamic garden.
There is an ornate gazebo, a tower, a restaurant, and an exhibition center. Perhaps the most interesting of all is that you can stay in Riad Jardin Secret. And for any artists reading this, they offer an artist residency.
In Marrakesh, we toured two palaces: the Bahia Palace and El Badi Palace.
Surprisingly, the Bahia Palace is less than 200 years old. It was built for Si Moussa, a former slave who rose through the ranks of the royal government. The palace is set on two acres in the medina and has 150 rooms.
The Arabic word “bahia” translates to brilliance or beauty. And this palace certainly lives up to its name. Here you can enjoy exquisite mosaics, paintings, and stuccos. The downside is that there isn’t any furniture in the rooms. Reconstructing the rooms as they were during the palace’s heyday would make the palace more interesting.
We visited the palace midday, and it was mobbed. If you want to go when it’s less crowded and are more ambitious than us, consider getting there when it opens at 8:00 am.
El Badi Palace
Unlike the Bahia Palace, El Badi Palace is a ruin. It was built for Sultan Ahmad Al-Mansur in the late 1500s. The name means “incomparable.” Judging by the video shown at the palace, it was indeed incomparable.
Unfortunately, in the years after Sultan Al-Mansur’s death in 1603, the palace was stripped of its valuable materials. Only the ruins you see today were left standing.
One Incredible Restaurant
Steve and I didn’t arrive at our riad until late afternoon, and we were famished. Our host recommended a restaurant in the main square, Jemaa el Fna. It served traditional Moroccan dishes, with many tangine and couscous options. Neither of us like these dishes very much, but we had to eat.
We hadn’t had many great meals during our first six weeks in Morocco. We chalked this one up to one more disappointing meal and accepted that we would have to endure so-so meals during our time in Marrakesh.
Then we found Mythe. We were walking through the medina on our way back to our riad when we noticed an attractive entrance to a restaurant along with a comprehensive menu. This alone was unique. The medina isn’t known for sophistication.
We tried Mythe the next day, and we loved it. The food was fresh, beautifully presented, and reasonably priced.
We ate our remaining meals there. Why risk another disappointment when we knew where to get food we enjoyed?
Other Places We Visited
Ben Youssef Madrasa
The Ben Youssef Madrasa is considered to be one of the most important historical buildings in Marrakesh. This college for Islamic instruction was built in the mid-sixteenth century and operated until 1960. The madrasa could accommodate up to 800 students at a time.
Tourists often come here to admire the architecture. In addition to the mosaics one would expect, the madrasa is beautifully decorated with intricately carved stucco and wood.
We didn’t see any written information in the madrasa. Like the Bahia Palace, I think it could benefit from including period furnishings.
House of Photography
On our last day in Marrakesh, Steve wanted to stroll the souks (again). I decided to check out the House of Photography instead.
The House of Photography is a small museum whose goal is to show the diversity of Morocco through photography, postcards, newspapers, and documentaries. I think they hit the mark.
Everything was explained well, and English was prevalent. I particularly enjoyed the film “Landscapes and Faces in the High Atlas” by Daniel Chicault. In this 1957 film, Chicault traveled through various mountain villages to learn how the people of the High Atlas Mountains lived.
How Crowded Is Marrakesh?
It’s pretty crowded, as you can see in this photo:
Our first taste of Marrakesh’s intensity was when our taxi dropped us off near the main square, Jemaa el Fna. We walked past a line of horse-drawn carriages and into the square. The word chaotic does not do it justice. Vendors were everywhere, all yelling to get the attention of the passersby. A few of the famed snake charmers played flutes. People walked in every direction, and motorcycles and motorbikes zoomed through the crowd as quickly as possible without killing anyone.
Dates: January 21, 2023 to January 25, 2023 Number of days: 4 Total cost for two people: $750 Cost per day for two people: $188
Admission fees included three gardens, two palaces, and two museums.
Final Thoughts and Tips
Locals may expect money for (often unsolicited) help – There are many Moroccans who will gladly help with minor issues, but some of them expect money for the simplest courtesies. Since you cannot tell who is being helpful and who is looking to profit, it is best not to accept unsolicited help unless you are willing to pay for it.
When Steve and I were looking for our riad, a young man asked what we were looking for. We told him the name of our riad. He walked down the alley a bit, returned, and told us it was a few doors down. Then he asked for money by walking alongside us while rubbing his fingers together.
We were hungry and tired, so we were in no mood to stop and start digging around for cash. Better luck next time, fella.
Some locals are persistent. We have learned that we have to be firm to the point of rudeness since a simple “no thank you” doesn’t work.
Be prepared to haggle in the souks – Never accept a vendor’s first offer. It will generally be higher than the item is worth, as the vendors expect you to haggle. Be prepared to walk away if you can’t reach an agreement, but don’t be surprised if the vendor runs after you.
There are a lot of beggars – This was true everywhere we went in Morocco. Sometimes they ask for money, but often they simply hold out their hand. These beggars can be of any age. We’ve seen many kids who reflexively hold out their hands for money as they pass us on the street.
We choose not to give to street beggars. We would rather give money to a respected charity.
Coughing and sneezing without covering the mouth is prevalent – Covering your mouth when you sneeze or cough is very uncommon in Morocco. It appears to be a cultural norm, although I couldn’t find any information about it. After going through the pandemic, we can’t understand why this practice continues.
Is it Marrakesh or Marrakech? – English speakers generally use the Marrakesh spelling, while Marrakech is the French way. The official languages in Morocco are Arabic and Berber, but French is also widely spoken. Most signs are in both Arabic and French.
There is another side to Marrakesh – Except for Jardin Majorelle and Anima Garden, everything we did was in the medina. There is a whole other side of Marrakesh we didn’t even touch on, the area called Gueliz (also spelled Guiliez).
Happy New Year! Is it just me, or did 2022 go by faster than a Parisian pickpocket can grab your wallet?
I hope last year has left you with wonderful memories and new friends. Steve and I have been fortunate on both fronts.
Sometimes when we are having a low-key day or two (or seven), I feel guilty that we aren’t doing enough or seeing enough. Then I look over our photos and decide we’re doing okay.
These are the memorable moments from our 5th year of full-time travel.
The year got off to a slow start. We were still living in Budapest long-term because of the pandemic. In the early months of the year, we only took side trips in Hungary because we didn’t want to deal with Covid restrictions in other countries.
We filled our days with exploring Budapest. The city is full of beautiful sights and cool things to do. It will always have a special place in my heart.
We also went to many comedy shows and made new friends at the Stay Sane Social Club’s quiz nights while we waited for Covid to complete its retreat and spring to make its appearance.
Our Final Visit to Aquaworld
During our two-plus years in Budapest, we enjoyed five visits to Aquaworld Budapest. We love this thermal bath, spa, and waterpark complex. A visit there means lazy days lounging in warm spring water, swirling around in the lazy river, and stuffing yourself silly.
It turns out that thermal baths are one of our favorite things, and Budapest is full of them. I wish every city were.
In March, we took a five-night trip to Szeged, Hungary’s third-largest city. One of the draws was the thermal baths at Sunshine Aquapolis Szeged, which are connected to the Hunguest Hotel Forrás, which is where we stayed.
The second draw was the Art Nouveau buildings. The city had a devastating flood in 1879 that wiped out most of its buildings. The rebuilding continued into the early part of the 20th century when the Art Nouveau style was popular.
It was colder than expected while we were there, which hampered our sightseeing, but we did tour the New Synagogue and the Votive Church, both of which are splendid. We also enjoyed art in the Reok Palace, an Art Nouveau building decorated with irises.
Several people suggested we visit Vienna since it is only two and a half hours by train from Budapest. In April, we finally did.
This was during the evacuation of Ukraine. Both the train terminal and the train were teeming with refugees. It was sobering to see people carrying everything they had, and it was tough to see the children.
We had combined our Vienna trip with a visit to Salzburg. However, it was so cold and rainy in Austria that we postponed the Salzburg leg. Because of the weather, we limited our sightseeing to museums, of which there are plenty. And they are phenomenal.
We saw art, history, and the Lipizzan Stallions at the Spanish Riding School. We visited a multi-story aquarium and had to leave a crypt tour in St. Stephen’s Cathedral because we didn’t have enough euro to pay. The tour guide was not amused.
I wasn’t excited about going to Vienna, as I wrongly assumed it would be like Budapest but larger. There are similarities because of the shared history of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. But as much as I love Budapest, I found Vienna grander, the museums a cut above, and the buildings in better condition.
When we arrived home, we had a message from the hotel where we stayed. They accused us of stealing a high-end makeup mirror worth $115. There were supposed to be two of these curved mirrors in the bathroom. Our bathroom only had one, and we didn’t give it a thought. Luckily, a forceful email put an end to that.
A Visit to Visegrad
In April, we visited Visegrad, Hungary, for the second time and finally had some good weather.
Visegrad is a small town only forty minutes from Budapest by train. Its main attraction is the Citadel, a 13th Century castle set on a hill overlooking the Danube. You can also tour the 14th-century Royal Palace, which has twenty rooms open to the public and a good-sized garden.
Since we love cemeteries, we enjoyed the Visegrad Cemetery. It is the best-kept cemetery I have seen.
We also enjoyed some fun on the summer bobsled and alpine coaster at Bobsled Visegrad.
We stayed at Hotel Visegrad. Despite some problems with our toilet, it was good. Our stay included half-board and dinner one night at the Renaissance Restaurant. The hotel also has decent pool and spa facilities.
May Visit to Prague
Since we were still in Budapest in May, we took the opportunity to visit Prague for ten nights. We split our stay between two hotels: one in District 1 and the other in District 3, and learned that staying in District 1 is the way to go. It is where most of the sights are and is very walkable.
We hit all the top tourist sights, including the Charles Bridge, Prague Castle, and Vysehrad Castle. However, one of the most memorable things we did was visit the KGB Museum. Our guide, a Soviet native, was the only employee, and we were the only customers. He delighted in telling gruesome stories, complete with thrashing and horror-film sound effects. He seemed to enjoy this a bit too much.
Another favorite was the Troja Chateau. This 17th-century chateau’s walls and ceilings are covered with ornate frescos. The grounds are pretty impressive, too.
Since we had wet and cold weather on our April trip to Vienna, we decided to give it another try in June. We combined this with stops in Salzburg, Lake Bled, and Ljubljana.
Fortunately, the weather was much better this time, so we saw Vienna beyond the museums. It is beautiful and easy to get around. It has been named the most livable city in several polls and is one of my favorite cities.
We spent a day at the 270-year-old Schonbrunn Zoo, the oldest zoo in the world that is still in operation. We also enjoyed the grounds of the Belvedere Palace with their beautiful statues and joined in the revelry of the Pride parade.
The Rollercoaster Restaurant in the Prater amusement park was a lot of fun, too. Your food is delivered on a rollercoaster (surprise, surprise), and a light show plays periodically.
Salzburg was as charming as you would expect. The highlight was a visit to the Schloss Hellbrunn. The 400-year-old Baroque villa is lovely, but the real attraction is on the grounds. They are full of water features and trick fountains that surprise guests as they wander through the gardens.
We also checked out the Mirabell Palace grounds. I wanted to see the Dwarf Garden. This garden contains seventeen marble statues of dwarfs in various poses. The statues are over 300 years old and were recently restored.
The rest of our short visit was spent wandering the picturesque streets and trying to pronounce the Austrian names.
You’ve undoubtedly seen photos of Lake Bled with the Assumption of Mary church standing on an island. It is as magical as the photos suggest.
From the minute we arrived in Bled, we were captivated. And we had a lot of time to be captivated because we caught the wrong bus and spent 45 minutes dragging our luggage around the lake to our hotel.
Besides enjoying the lake, there is some good hiking in the area. Unfortunately, our hiking plans fell through because of my upset tummy, but that just gives us a reason to return.
The last stop on this trip was the capital of Slovenia, Ljubljana. Of the four places we visited on this trip, this was my least favorite. The city center is pretty, and the dragon is the symbol of Ljubljana, which I think is pretty cool, but it didn’t seem like there were many things to do there. Perhaps we didn’t look hard enough.
Ljubljana had the most unusual public art I have ever seen. I just don’t get it.
One of the things I like best about traveling is learning about unusual places. In Ljubljana, Metelkova fit the bill. Metelkova is an autonomous culture zone populated by squatters since 1993. It is sometimes compared to Christiania in Copenhagen.
It isn’t very big, and we were a bit uneasy because we didn’t know what to expect, but no one bothered us. Metelkova is based on the principles of equality and acceptance. Because of this, it has been targeted by hate groups, including neo-nazis.
Read more about Metelkova in this article by Adventurous Miriam.
And for the really adventurous, how about an overnight stay at Hotel Celica? It is a former military prison in Metelkova that is now an art-filled hostel.
Walking the Dales Way in England
In July, we finally got to do the eight-day Dales Way walk we had initially planned for 2020. We walked the 81 miles and then some since we got lost frequently and had to retrace our steps.
When we weren’t busy dodging cattle and their leavings, we marveled at the beauty of the Yorkshire Dales.
We highly recommend this adventure. You do not have to be athletic, although there is some climbing over stiles and navigating rocky inclines. Read more about walking the Dales Way here.
We spent several days before and after the walk in Manchester, a city full of the friendliest people we’ve ever met.
A Month and a Half on the Turkish Riviera
This was our first time in Turkey. Before then, the only places I knew of in Turkey were Istanbul and Cappadocia. Discovering all the beach towns along the western and southern coasts of the country was a happy surprise.
In six weeks, we visited six coastal towns. Each one had a different vibe, but all were relaxing and beautiful.
We enjoyed the super touristy town of Marmaris, admired the amazing scenery in Dalyan, and had fantastic food in Fethiye, including pizza with filet mignon and hollandaise sauce.
We also mistook a nighttime party boat cruise for a romantic moonlight cruise and spent three hours willing the pounding music to stop.
We only saw six of the many, many towns on the Turkish Riviera. No matter which you choose, you can’t go wrong.
Learn more about the places we visited on the Turkish Riviera here.
Bucket List Destination: Cappadocia
Since we were in Turkey, we couldn’t miss the opportunity to visit Cappadocia. I’m sure you’ve seen plenty of photos of the dramatic rock formations and the sunrise hot air balloon rides.
Cappadocia is as intriguing as the photos suggest, and our balloon ride was incredible. I was surprised and pleased when Steve said he would do it since he avoids all thrill rides. As he will tell you, there was nothing scary about it.
Istanbul was our final stop in Turkey. The city is full of contrasts: beautiful buildings among slums, kind people who turn into maniacs on the road, and an efficient metro system but undependable bus service.
Visits to fascinating places like the Topkapi Palace, the Basilica Cistern, and the Dolmabahce Palace contrasted sharply with walking through rundown neighborhoods. Even our modern Airbnb rental looked out over a litter-filled dump.
The highlight, if you can call it that, was a fire in the building where we were staying. Fortunately, it was limited to the exterior, so no one was hurt or lost belongings.
Greece was a welcome change from Turkey. The first city we visited was Thessaloniki, the second-largest city in Greece.
Life was so much easier there. It is much less crowded than Istanbul, and English is more common, which we don’t expect, but do appreciate.
There aren’t loads of things to do in Thessaloniki. The Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki was very well done, with excellent English translations. The War Museum was also worthwhile. Strolling the seaside promenade and spotting random ruins throughout the city were also enjoyable.
The highlight of our time in Thessaloniki was a side trip to Meteora. This area rivals Cappadocia for stunning rock formations, which can be almost 600 meters or 2,000 feet high. Some of these rocks have centuries-old monasteries on top. You can tour the monasteries, and they are beautiful.
Then to Athens
After Thessaloniki, we headed to Athens. We stayed in the Plaka neighborhood, which is the best option for tourists as it is close to most of the sights. We walked by the Acropolis daily.
There was plenty to keep us busy. In addition to touring several ruins, we spent time in the Panathenaic Stadium, the only stadium in the world built entirely of marble. The stadium was originally built in the 2nd century and was excavated and renovated in the late 1800s. It is definitely worth a visit. Be sure to get the audio guide; it adds a lot to the experience.
Another cool sight is the Psyri neighborhood. It is full of antique shops and restaurants, including the over-the-top Little Kook.
Our First Time in Africa
The last city of 2022 was Tangier, Morocco. It is the first stop on a two-and-a-half-month stay in Morocco before we return to the U.S. for a short visit.
After the chaos of Istanbul and the busyness of Athens, Tangier is a welcome break. There aren’t a lot of sights or museums, but the medina and the promenade along the Straight of Gibraltar are must-sees.
Everything is easier here. Traffic is light and respectful of pedestrians. Shopping is convenient. The official languages are Arabic and Berber. French is also widespread, and Spanish and English are sometimes spoken.
What’s Planned for 2023?
It’s unusual for us to plan too far ahead, but we made an exception this time. We’ll be spending March in Jacksonville, Florida. While there, we can spend time with friends and family and attend a wedding in Key West.
Then it’s back to Athens for us, this time for two weeks with our daughters, Stephanie and Laura. We hope that Laura’s boyfriend Nick and his mom will join us.
After that? Time will tell.
Until Next Time
I hope you have enjoyed our walk down memory lane. Hopefully, some of them have tickled your travel bug. Steve and I would love to hear about your experiences in the places we visited.
We wish you health, happiness, and prosperity in 2023.
As the first step in writing this post, I thumbed through my photos of Istanbul. Steve and I sure saw a lot of beautiful things there. Despite that, it is our least favorite city. So what made us dislike Istanbul so much?
It all comes down to the extremes; beautiful neighborhoods surrounded by ghettos, decent public transportation but hard-to-find information, and a modern Airbnb in a building that caught fire.
In this post, I will share the good, the bad, and the startling things about visiting Istanbul.
All money is in U.S. dollars
A Little Background
During the summer and fall of 2022, Steve and I spent eleven weeks in Turkey. During the first six weeks, we visited six cities on the Mediterranean Coast, aka the Turkish Riviera, enjoying a side of Turkey we had no idea existed. Then we spent one week in Cappadocia. Hiking and a sunrise balloon ride were the highlights of that trip. We ended our Turkish tour with four weeks in Istanbul.
Istanbul is divided by the Bosphorus Straight. The western side is in Europe, while the eastern side is in Asia. Most of the tourist attractions are on the European side, and this impacts the lodging costs. Airbnbs on the Asian side were more modern and lower priced, so we decided to split our four weeks between the two continents.
The Topkapi Palace Museum
The Topkapi Palace is on the European side of Istanbul on the shore of the Bosphorus Straight where it meets the Sea of Marmara. It is a large complex with much to see.
The palace served as the administrative center of the Ottoman Empire and the home of Ottoman sultans from the 1450s until the 1850s. At that time, the newly built Dolmabahce Palace became the home of the sultans.
Don’t miss the harem. It was the quarters for the imperial family and its servants. The word harem means forbidden or private.
The Dolmabahce Palace is as impressive as the Topkapi Palace. It was built as a replacement for the Topkapi Palace, designed to match the luxury and style of European palaces.
The palace was completed in 1856. It was the home of six sultans until the founding of the Turkish Republic in 1923.
Like the Topkapi Palace, it is on the European side of the city on the Bosphorus Straight, but further north.
The Basilica Cistern
You might not think that touring a cistern would be entertaining. Still, the stately architecture of the Basilica Cistern, highlighted by changing colored lights and sculptures, makes for an enjoyable visit with great photo ops.
This cistern was built in the 6th century. It is the largest of several hundred built beneath the city to meet the water needs of the people.
The Kucuksu Palace
Like the Dolmabahce Palace, the Kucuksu Palace was built in the mid-1850s by Sultan Abdulmecit I for use as a hunting palace.
The palace is on the Asian side of the city and quite a bit further north. There are only nine rooms and no bedrooms. Guests would only visit for the day.
An audio-guided tour takes less than one hour. Once you have seen the palace and the small garden area, you can take a ferry across the straight using the IstanbulKart, and visit the Rumeli Fortress.
The 30-acre Rumeli Fortress sits along the Bosphorus Straight on the European side of Istanbul. Sultan Mehmed II built this imposing fortress before he conquered Constantinople (the name of Istanbul until 1930) in 1453.
Renovation work was going on when we visited, but the areas we could see made for a nice change from the opulence of the other sights.
Panorama 1453 Museum
The Panorama 1453 Museum illustrates the conquest of Constantinople by Sultan Mehmed II (Mehmed the Conqueror) in 1453. Despite the limited scope of the subject, this is an interesting museum.
First, you will find a series of photos that explain the events leading up to the conquest. Then you will enter the 38-meter-wide (124-foot) panoramic dome showing scenes of the city’s conquest.
Hagia Sofia and The Blue Mosque
Both of these famous mosques are in Sultanahmet. While we were visiting Istanbul, the Blue Mosque was undergoing renovations, so we could only see one small part. However, the Hagia Sofia was open.
The Hagia Sofia has a fascinating history. It was built in the 6th century as an Eastern Orthodox church. After the conquest of Constantinople in 1453, it was converted into a mosque. In 1935 it became a museum, and in 2020 it returned to being a working mosque.
You can visit the Hagia Sofia anytime during opening hours, but if you go during prayer hours, you will not be allowed in the prayer section. There are five prayer times each day, and the time changes. You can get the current information here.
The Blue Mosque is a baby compared to the Hagia Sofia. It wasn’t built until the 17th century.
Its official name is the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, but it is called the Blue Mosque because the inside is decorated with handpainted blue tiles.
The Balat Neighborhood
If you like exploring quirky neighborhoods, don’t miss Balat. Like much of the city, there are a lot of hills. However, they seemed even steeper here. If you’re up to walking on some severe inclines, this area is sure to delight you.
The People – Individually
Taxi drivers have a reputation for ripping off tourists. We were lucky to get an honest one.
We had spent the day exploring and found ourselves far from home at rush hour. We decided to take a bus home. When we arrived at the stop, it was mobbed.
There were hundreds of people waiting to get on the express buses that went from the European side to the Asian side. Each time a bus approached, our hope rose, only to have it dashed as the bus drove by, unable to carry any more passengers.
We decided that a taxi was a better option. At first, the driver didn’t want to drive us because of the distance and the time it would take. Luckily, he took pity on us, explained it would be a slow ride, and quoted us a fare of $20.
It was a slow ride indeed. He kept the meter running, and I watched as it climbed over the amount quoted to $48. I wasn’t nervous until it exceeded the amount of cash we were carrying.
Once we arrived home, I asked him to wait while I ran upstairs and got more cash. He said we only owed him the $20 he had quoted. We gave him the $45 we had. We could see the relief on his face.
Lesson learned: We had never needed more than a few dollars in cash, usually for a tip. That experience taught us to carry more cash.
Impromtu Crossing Guard
Another person who warmed our hearts was an older man sitting on a chair by a store. He saw us attempting to cross a busy street at a crosswalk. The cars weren’t stopping, so he got up, walked into the street, and held up his hand to stop traffic.
It worked. However, as I reached the other side of the road, I almost got hit by a driver who lacked patience. That sums up Istanbul perfectly.
Istanbul has an extensive subway system consisting of eight lines (six on the European side and two on the Asian side). There is also a tunnel called the Marmaray that connects the European and Asian lines.
To use the metro and other forms of public transportation, you need to buy an IstanbulKart and put some money on it. Then it’s just a matter of swiping it as you enter the vehicle or the terminal.
Here is a good article about public transportation in Istanbul.
Outside of the high cost of lodging in Sultanahmet, you get a lot for your money in Istanbul. We used public transportation extensively. Our average cost was $6 per day. We ate eighteen meals out with an average cost of $30 for the two of us. These included main dishes, drinks, and a tip.
You can see what four weeks in Istanbul cost below.
While we were in Istanbul, both Steve and I needed to refill a few prescriptions. I assumed this would require a trip to a doctor’s office, but one day Steve discovered that we could get all our medications without a prescription.
I bought three months’ worth of all five of my medications for less than $100. Without insurance, two of them would cost over $500 each for a one-month supply in the U.S.
Even though there are many remarkable things to see in Istanbul, several things detracted from our enjoyment.
Right from the start, Istanbul played tough.
Initially, we wanted to stay in the Sultanahmet area, near the main tourist attractions. We spent hours combing through Airbnb and Booking.com listings, but there weren’t any places in our price range where we would be willing to stay.
However, there was an apartment in a new building in the Beyoglu neighborhood that caught our eye. It was a little far from the tourist area, but we were willing to spend a little travel time to stay in an attractive, affordable place.
The apartment was everything we expected, at least inside. What the listing didn’t show was the garbage-filled lot outside our window and the trashy buildings across the way.
That was bad enough, but our building was in a row of about eight new high-rises. Everything else, in every direction, was slums. If we wanted to go anywhere, either by foot or to catch a bus, we had to walk through some terribly run-down neighborhoods.
Despite all the negatives of the area, we never felt unsafe, and nobody bothered us.
During the last two weeks of our trip, we stayed in the Kadikoy neighborhood on the Asian side of the city. It is filled with beautiful high-rise buildings and is more upscale than Beyoglu. Our view improved this time; we looked out at another high-rise under construction.
Lesson learned: We now use Google Street View to check the surrounding neighborhood of any accommodations we are considering.
Over 15 million people live in Istanbul. Add the tens of millions who visit each year, and you have massive overcrowding. Walking around the city was often a contact sport as people going in both directions refused to give an inch.
Here is information from World Population Review about the most heavily populated cities in the world.
Lesson learned: Crowded cities are not our thing. We will either avoid them or limit our stay in the future.
Congestion and aggression are two constants on Istanbul streets. There is also a confounding disregard for lane markers. Twice we had long taxi rides in which the drivers seldom stayed in their lanes.
There are a lot of motorcycles, which makes things even more chaotic. Motorcycle drivers in Istanbul ignore the fact that they are motor vehicles. It is common to see them run red lights, drive down crowded streets in the wrong direction, and drive on sidewalks.
While walking in the city, you often have to walk in the street because the sidewalks are impassable. Cars, restaurant tables and chairs, and any number of other things block them. Sometimes they may be so poorly constructed that the street is a safer option.
Istanbul has an extensive bus network, and Google Maps did a good job providing information. However, the buses seldom arrived when they were supposed to. They could be early or late. Basically, you stand at the stop and wait for your bus to show up.
Once on board, you will probably get to know your fellow travelers better than you would like. We were on one bus that was so crowded that a few people sat on other passengers’ laps, and up to ten people had to get off the bus to let other passengers off.
Lack of Information
The entire time we were in Turkey, we noticed that it was harder to find information online than expected. We found that bits of information were often lacking. This photo sums up how we felt about Turkish websites.
The crowds and the crazy traffic were bad enough, but during our last week in the city, we had a frightening experience. The building we were staying in caught on fire.
We were relaxing one evening when the fire alarms went off. We grabbed our passports, money belts, phones, and my purse and evacuated the building.
Once outside, we saw smoke billowing from the roof and upper part of the 24-story building. Soon after, we saw flames on the side our Airbnb was on. We feared we had lost everything but what we had carried out.
It took several hours to put out the fire. It had started in an air conditioning compressor and was confined to the outside of the building. Miraculously, there was no damage to the interior of the building.
Once we were allowed to return to our apartment, we were apprehensive about going to sleep in case the fire started again. But we were exhausted and slept well. We relied on the smoke detector we travel with to keep us safe, and it was quiet all night.
The next morning, we were awakened by someone knocking on our door. The fire had started up, and we had to evacuate a second time. This time we grabbed more things, including our laptops and medicines.
This wait was shorter, but our building was left without electricity and water, so our host offered to put us up in a hotel for a few nights.
The Worst Hotel Ever
The hotel’s exterior did not impress us. Steve said, “I hope the inside is better than the outside.” I said, “It probably is,” as we have seen many ugly exteriors that housed lovely apartments and hotel rooms.
We weren’t so optimistic when we opened the elevator door, and a bucket of filthy water was sitting there. There was also a small bag of garbage spilled on the floor in front of our room. We should have turned around and left right then.
A random search led us to the Buem Hotel, one of the best hotels we have stayed in. We enjoyed two days of luxury and fabulous food there.
A Bombing on Istiklal Street
Less than a month after we left Istanbul, a bomb exploded, killing six people and injuring 81 others. This occurred on Istiklal Street, a popular pedestrian shopping street.
The threat of terrorist attacks, which this is thought to be, may keep people away from certain cities or areas. Steve and I believe this should not make people afraid to explore this amazing world. As devastating as these attacks can be, the chances of being a victim of one are small.
A Few Other Thoughts
Would we recommend visiting Istanbul? Not really. However, there are many worthwhile things to see there. If we were to do it again (we won’t), we would visit for a week or less and stay in the Sultanahmet area, near many of the sights.
You may have noticed that the Grand Bazaar is missing from the lists above. That is because we found it to be neither good nor bad. Steve and I were both disappointed in it.
We expected a market-like atmosphere. What we saw was a lot of stores, many selling souvenirs. Since it is one of the most visited tourist attractions in the world, it was no surprise that it was wall-to-wall people.
What It Cost
Dates: Sept. 22, 2022 to Oct. 19, 2022 Number of nights: 27 Total cost for two people: $3,900 Cost per day for two people: $144
Our lodging included two nights at the Buem Hotel after the fire in our Airbnb. This hotel is beautiful, the staff is exceptional, and the food was the best we had in Istanbul. Two nights with breakfast and dinner was $183.
Transportation includes $146 for both of us to fly from Cappadocia.
Until Next Time
I hope you enjoyed reading about visiting Istanbul and all of the ups and downs we experienced. If you have been to Istanbul, Steve and I would love to hear what you thought about it. Just drop a comment below. And if you found this post helpful, please consider sharing it.
Happy traveling, Linda
Featured photo: a small restaurant in the Balat neighborhood
Are you planning on visiting Prague, the city of 100 spires? If so, this post is for you. Even if you are not planning to visit this beautiful Czech city, it may inspire you to add it to your bucket list.
There are two things every visitor to Prague does. One is to brave the crowds on the Charles Bridge while admiring the statues that line both sides.
So what should you do after you’ve seen these two staples of every Prague visitor’s itinerary? Here is a list of ten more interesting things to do in Prague.
A Little Background
Steve and I spent ten nights in May 2022 in Prague. For the first five nights, we stayed in District 1 at the Grand Majestic Hotel. We then moved to the Don Giovanni Hotel in District 3 because its elegant decor seduced me.
We had good stays in both hotels, but in hindsight, it would have been better to stay in District 1 the entire time. From the Grand Majestic Hotel, we could walk to most of the things we wanted to see, there were plenty of restaurants just a few minutes away, and the Palladium Mall was just around the corner.
The uniqueness of the Don Giovanni Hotel didn’t offset the time we had to spend on public transportation, and the area right around the hotel lacked supermarket and restaurant options. Lastly, the food at the Grand Majestic was better.
The Old Jewish Cemetery is the most chaotic-looking cemetery I have seen. The site is small and holds remains of the dead from 1439 – 1787.
Because of the lack of space, dirt was added on top of existing burial sites, and gravestones were added on the top layer to commemorate those buried in the lower layers. In some places, the graves are ten layers deep.
The original Maisel Synagogue was a Renaissance temple founded by the Mayor of the Prague Jewish Town, Mordecai Maisel. It was built in 1592 in what was then the Jewish ghetto, where it thrived for a century.
In 1689, it was severely damaged by fire and was rebuilt several times over the next two centuries.
The Neo-Gothic synagogue you see today is the result of a reconstruction that took place at the turn of the 20th century.
During World War II, the synagogue served as a warehouse for property confiscated from the synagogues and Jewish homes.
The synagogue has an extensive collection of religious and everyday items. One of the items we saw was the Golem of Prague. You can read about its significance in Jewish folklore here.
To visit the Maisel Synagogue, you must purchase a ticket for the Jewish Museum (as described above).
Now let’s move on to a more light-hearted subject, the Petrin Tower.
If the Petrin Tower reminds you of the Eiffel Tower, that’s because it was inspired by it. Like the Eiffel Tower, the Petrin Tower was built for a world exhibition. In this case, it was the Jubilee Exhibition of 1891.
At 63.5 meters (208 feet), the tower is about one-fifth the size of the Eiffel Tower. You can climb the 299 stairs to the top and take in the majesty of Prague.
This is a small museum showcasing items related to the Soviet Secret Service. You will either love this museum, hate it, or run screaming from it.
Steve and I visited this museum and were dumbfounded by the presentation. After a short film, our guide, a Soviet native, talked about several items in the museum. He seemed particularly delighted while demonstrating the weapons, complete with ghastly sound effects, thrashing, and grotesque facial expressions.
At one point, I noticed stairs leading to a basement. Right then, I decided I was out of there if our guide suggested we go downstairs. But alas, the entire tour was on the main floor, and Steve and I were relieved to have escaped unharmed. However, we fear our entry fee may be funding a serial killer.
The price of 16 euro seemed high for the size of the museum, but I guarantee, if you dare to enter, you will be entertained.
The Gallery of Steel Figures is one of those places you come across that has nothing to do with the place you are visiting but turns out to be pretty cool.
This gallery is full of sculptures made from scrap metal. To give you an idea of how intricate these are, a car sculpture can take up to 7,000 hours to complete. There is a wide variety of subject matter, from cars to cartoon characters, from animals to famous people. There is something for everyone.
Vrtba Garden is an Italian Style Baroque garden on the slope of Petrin Hill. It is small, but it packs a large punch.
Because of its location, the garden has several levels. The stairways are punctuated with statuary, adding to the elegance.
The garden is part of the Vrtbovsky Palace, the 18th-century home of Jan Josef, Earl of Vrtba. The garden took five years to establish, from 1715-1720.
Fast forward to the 1990s. The garden was in such disrepair that entry was forbidden. Luckily for us garden lovers, it was renovated from 1993-1998.
As you enter the garden, you will pass through Sala Terrena, an entrance hall linking the palace to the garden. The walls and ceiling of the Sala Terrena are covered with frescos, and it also has a few statues.
The garden is open from April to October and has a small admission charge.
The garden is at Karmelitska 25. It can be hard to find the entrance. Look for a small archway and signs that read “Vrtbovska Zahrada.”
Click here to read a helpful guide to the garden by Delve Into Europe.
Even though it is only three kilometers (about one and a half miles) from Prague Castle, Vysehrad Castle is a world apart. Here you can stroll through a park-like setting without dodging other tourists.
This riverside fortress is believed to have been built in the 10th century. In addition to walking along the fortress walls, you can see the Basilica of St. Peter and Paul, enjoy the park with its statues, or enjoy a drink or a meal. You can also tour the underground casements that aided troop movement in the 17th and 18th centuries.
If you enjoy exploring cemeteries as much as Steve and I do, don’t miss the Vysehrad Cemetery. Many Czechs from the arts, sciences, and politics are buried here, including the composer Antonin Dvorak.
Seeing a shiny, giant rotating head may not top your list of interesting things to do in Prague, but then again, you may find Franz Kafka’s Head as entertaining as we did.
The sculpture is 11 meters (36 feet) tall, weighs 45 tons, and has 42 rotating panels. You can see it rotating twice per hour from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.
But the question has to be asked; what does this sculpture represent? Perhaps it represents the tortured soul of an artist, the complexity of Kafka’s personality, or the impermanence of life. Is it specific to Kafka, or is it a representation of everyman? Since the artist isn’t telling, it is up to each of us to decide what it means.
If you still haven’t gotten your fill of cemeteries, check out Olsany Cemetery. The cemetery was established in 1680 to provide a final resting place for victims of the plague.
It is the largest cemetery in the city. It contains twelve sections, including the New Jewish Cemetery, the largest Jewish cemetery in the Czech Republic. There are Muslim and Orthodox sections, as well as a military section that includes the graves of British and Soviet soldiers.
Last but not least, don’t miss the Troja Chateau. Of all the memorable things Steve and I did in Prague, this was my favorite.
Even though this 17th-century chateau is outside the city center, it is well worth the trip. You can easily reach it by bus, and you will also be near the Prague Zoo and the Botanical Garden of Prague.
The chateau was built for the Sternberg family, members of the Czech aristocracy. Its Baroque design was inspired by French and Italian architecture and incorporated mythology into the building and the gardens.
The chateau has been owned by the Czech government since 1922.
The walls and ceilings in the chateau are covered with ornate frescos. There is so much to see that it is hard to know where to look first.
Leave time to explore the grounds and get some photos on the grand staircase.
What It Cost
Dates: May 14, 2022 to May 24, 2022 Number of nights: 10 Total cost for two people: $2,300 Cost per day for two people: $230
For three months in the summer and fall of 2022, Steve and I visited eight cities in Turkey. To my delight, each town was full of cats roaming the streets.
These are not bedraggled strays. These cats are well-fed and look healthy. They are cared for and loved by the residents because, as we discovered, Turkey is for cat lovers.
A Little Background
When Steve and I arrived in the town of Cesme, the first stop on our Turkey trip, we were surprised to see hundreds of cats and dogs roaming the streets and lying everywhere. It was common to see dogs sleeping in the streets. The cars patiently drove around them. The cats, being wiser, did not sleep in the streets.
Most of the dogs looked healthy and weren’t aggressive. The dogs mostly slept. They had little interest in people, although there were plenty of people who fed them and cleaned up after them. Compared to the cats, the dogs in Turkey seemed to be an afterthought.
We saw two types of cats, those who ran away when people came near and those who were friendly. The friendly ones get all the attention they want. We soon found out cats are beloved throughout Turkey.
As we continued around Turkey, we found the same situation in other cities, except the dogs did not sleep in the streets.
Here is a quote from the website for the movie Kedi (more on that below) that describes the cat situation in Istanbul (and, from my experience, the rest of Turkey):
“Claiming no owner, the cats of Istanbul live between two worlds, neither wild nor tame – and they bring joy and purpose to those people they choose to adopt.”
Here are photos of just a few of the cats that stole my heart.
The Cats of Turkey
This want-to-be model was hanging out in Cesme Harbor.
We ran across this mellow calico while exploring Cesme.
And yet another Cesme cat, this one enjoying an evening by the sea.
This one wasn’t sure how close to get to us, but she was still sweet.
This unique-looking cat was hanging out by a supermarket in Datca.
And this one was saving a table for her friends in the party town of Marmaris.
Also in Marmaris, this cat looks like he partied a little too hard.
And this one looks like he is doing just fine.
These two kittens were part of a family that lived at the hotel we stayed at in Dalyan.
This kitten was part of the same family. She was the most lovable.
It isn’t every day you see a motorcycle kitten. We saw her in Dalyan, too.
Steve snapped this cat’s photo while I explored rock tombs in Fethiye.
We spent a lot of time relaxing by the pool at our hotel in Fethiye. This cat was happy to hang with us.
There is nothing like walking out of a supermarket and seeing a cat looking like part of the merchandise.
If you visit the Riviera Restaurant in Antalya, you might meet this wide-eyed beauty.
And this sleepy kitty found a purrfect spot to rest at our hotel in Goreme.
I saw this cat every day when I walked past the Sheraton Hotel in Istanbul. Try as I might, I could not get her to come to me, but at least I got a photo of her gorgeous face.
Here is another Istanbul beauty. She is the resident cat at the Cher Hotel.
Apparently, chairs are for cats in Istanbul.
And so are bus stop benches.
Steve and I were amused by this kitten and her two siblings at the Rumeli Fortress in Istanbul. They followed Steve around because he had food.
Some cat lovers in Istanbul set up a shelter for cats along a footpath. Here are two of the cats enjoying the cat tree.
These cats are residents of the cat shelter. They were curious to see what was in the bag. It was baklava, and no, they didn’t get any.
I don’t know how this cat managed to get into H&M at the Akasya Mall in Istanbul, but he loved the fuzzy ear muffs.
We met this pensive cat in the quirky Istanbul neighborhood of Balat.
Why So Many Cats?
Cats have been revered in Turkey from the time of Ottoman rule (from 1300 to 1922) for two reasons.
The first reason was practical. Cats kept the population of mice and rats in check, which not only protected food but also kept books, which were rare and precious, safe from nibbling rodents.
The second reason was spiritual. In the Islamic religion, cats are admired for their cleanliness and hunting ability. The Ottomans were Muslim, and Islam remains the main religion in Turkey.
You can read more about why there are so many cats in Turkey in these two articles:
You can read about Jenny Sandiford’s experience with cats in Istanbul and see more cute kitty photos in her article “Cats of Istanbul.”
As you travel through Turkey, you can see several examples of how the residents care for and enjoy the cats.
If you look closely, you can see many places where food and shelter have been provided for the street cats. One group took this further when they set up a cat condo community along a footpath in Istanbul. There is plenty of food and water, and one day I saw a couple treating some of the condo kittens with medicine.
This cat shelter in Istanbul is extreme compared to most.
Occasionally, you will see someone dining outdoors with a cat nestled next to them or in their lap. This happened to me one day when a cat spent most of my meal curled up on my purse. As you would expect, some cats beg for food at the outdoor tables, but most are content to lie around.
Many people, including yours truly, take pleasure in talking to and petting the cats. I saw several instances of workers on their breaks enjoying a little feline fellowship.
Kedi is the Turkish word for cat. It is also the name of a 2016 documentary that showcased the daily lives of seven of Istanbul’s street cats. It was directed by Ceyda Torun and was listed as one of the top ten films of 2017 by Time Magazine.
Click here to learn more about the movie and see a trailer.
Thanks to Instagram, we all know about the enchanting Cappadocian landscape and the epic balloon rides. Like many places that are presented as ideal, there is more to the area than you see on the Internet. To help you plan your trip to this magical region, here are 18 things to know before visiting Cappadocia.
All costs are in U.S. dollars unless otherwise noted.
Steve and I spent six nights in Cappadocia in September 2022. We enjoyed our time there and had a great balloon experience because we researched the area and planned ahead.
We stayed in Goreme and did not have a car, which somewhat limited our travel around the area. Despite not having a car, we were able to do most of the items on our list.
If you choose to drive, you will find it easier to reach the outlying attractions. Be warned that driving in Goreme can be difficult due to poor road conditions, heavy traffic, and hilly, narrow roads.
What to Know
1. Cappadocia is a region, not a city
The region of Cappadocia is in the center of Turkey. Cappadocia includes the towns of Urgup and Avanos and the villages of Goreme and Uchisar.
Goreme is the most touristy of the towns and is best for travelers without cars.
Like 97% of Turkey, Cappadocia is in Asia.
2. Cappadocia is not close to anything
If you are traveling in Turkey, adding Cappadocia to your itinerary seems like a no-brainer. But be aware that it is not close to other cities that are popular with tourists.
This chart shows the shortest number of hours it takes to travel from four popular cities in Turkey to Goreme. Data is from Rome2Rio.com.
3. You will not fly into Goreme
If you choose to fly, you will fly to either Kayseri or Nevsehir. It takes one hour to drive from Kayseri to Goreme. The drive from Nevsehir to Goreme takes twenty minutes.
We were heading to Goreme from Antalya and did not want to spend eight hours on a bus, so we decided to fly. We wanted a direct flight. This meant flying to Kayseri.
The flight itself was fine. Unfortunately, our shuttle ride from the airport to Goreme was horrible. We had booked our transfer with Goreme Transfer through our hotel. Our driver was careless. If we had been near a town, I would have gotten off and found other transportation. Any company could have a bad driver, but I recommend avoiding this company.
When we headed back to the airport at the end of our trip, we used a shuttle service through Cappadocia Express. This was a better experience, but the shuttle didn’t leave as early as we would have liked since we like to be at the airport with plenty of time to spare.
Both of these transfers cost $10 per person. A private transfer for $80 was also an option.
4. Goreme is not a particularly pretty village
Goreme at dusk
Goreme is a study in contrasts. The town is built around the other-worldly beauty of the rock formations yet has a decidedly unattractive side.
Many of the streets were only partially paved, which caused a lot of dust. The dust was so bad that trucks drove around spraying water on the streets to keep the dust down.
How most of the streets in Goreme looked when we visited
We found out that the roads were in bad shape because the town was laying gas pipes underground. According to the woman who told us this, the work had been going on for two years, but she didn’t know when it would be finished.
5. Many of the attractions and activities are easy to reach from Goreme
The village of Goreme is small and walkable. However, you will need more than your feet to see many of the highlights. You can find taxis readily enough. There are also local buses, but finding information about them is not easy.
From Goreme, it is easy to visit several stunning valleys full of fairy chimneys: Love Valley – where you will see phallic rock formations. Monk’s Valley – also called Pasabag Valley, great for hiking Red Valley and Rose Valley – for ATV and horseback riding tours Pigeon Valley – a great place to take an easy hike (see #12) DerventValley – also called Imagination Valley because of the rock formations that resemble animal and human figures.
“The Camel” in Dervent Valley
You will also be close to the two open-air museums, the Zelve Open Air Museum and the Goreme Open Air Museum. See #14 to learn which one is worth your time.
A short taxi ride or a bus ride and walk can get you to Uchisar Castle. It is interesting, but in my opinion, not a must-see.
The balloon companies provide transportation to and from your hotel. If you stay far from Goreme, you might want to verify that they are willing to pick you up at your hotel.
Our ATV tour included hotel pick-up, but since the storefront was just a five-minute walk from our hotel, we decided to skip the pick-up. I assume the Jeep and horseback riding companies provide the same service, but of course, you should verify this.
Both underground cities are around a half-hour drive south of Goreme. It is recommended that you either drive there or visit with a tour as they are difficult to reach by public transportation.
Visiting the tunnels of these cities may be challenging for the taller among us and are probably not a good choice for the claustrophobic.
The Soganli Valley is a one-hour drive south of Goreme. Learn about visiting the Soganli Valley in this article from Cappadocia History.
The Ihlara Valley is a one-hour drive southwest of Goreme. It has been referred to as a green Grand Canyon. Learn more about the Ihlara Valley in the article from the Venere Travel Agency.
Also southwest of Goreme, not far from the Ihlara Valley, you will find the Selime Monastery. Here you can marvel at the largest religious building in Cappadocia and learn about its more than 1,000-year history. Here is more information about the Selime Monastery.
We chose to skip these attractions since we had plenty to do closer to Goreme.
7. You probably won’t want to drink the tap water
Goreme was the seventh city we visited during our three months in Turkey, and we were advised not to drink the tap water in each of them. Here is an overview of the tap water situation in Turkey by sipsafer.ca.
Bottled water is inexpensive, but the waste caused by all the people drinking bottled water is concerning.
8. You should book your balloon flight early, really early
If you have researched Cappadocia hot air balloon flights, you have probably seen advice to book your flight as early as possible. Heed this advice!
If you are worried about booking early and losing money should your plans change, check the FAQs for your chosen company. We flew with Voyager Balloons, and they allow cancellations without a fee up to one week ahead of the flight date.
We booked our flight two weeks ahead and couldn’t get our first or second choice. Our first choice was Royal Balloon, but they were fully booked for the entire duration of our trip. We then looked at Voyager Balloons. Our first choice here was the 60-minute flight. This was fully booked for our dates, so we chose the 75-minute flight. Our flight cost $270 per person, compared to $220 for the 60-minute flight.
9. You should schedule your balloon flight early in your trip
The second piece of advice is to book your flight early in your trip. Since the balloons can only fly when conditions are right, trips can be canceled up to flight time. By booking to fly early in your trip, should your balloon flight be canceled, you may have a chance to do it another day.
There was a honeymooning couple at our hotel who didn’t follow this advice. They booked their flight for the last day of their stay, and it was canceled.
10. Cappadocia balloon flights are safe and not scary at all
Steve and I loved our hot air balloon experience. Even for non-daredevils like us, there was nothing scary about it. We had two pilots, as one was still in training. We felt safe for the entire ride and were amazed at the pilots’ skills. When it was time to land, our pilot gently placed the balloon on a trailer bed the same size as the basket.
Steve and me with one of our pilots after our flight
Regardless of who you fly with, the industry is highly regulated. Here is information about hot-air balloon safety in Turkey from Turkey Travel Planner.
11. Information about the balloon flights is readily available
Sailing over Cappadocia’s jaw-dropping landscape is a bucket list item for many travelers. Between the time spent to get to Cappadocia, the price of the balloon flights, and the effort to get the flight you want, it surprised me that many flyers had no idea what to expect.
I mention this because of comments Steve and I heard from other flyers while having breakfast at the Voyager Balloon headquarters (the Voyager service includes hotel pick-up, drop-off, and breakfast).
One woman wanted to know if we would be sitting or standing in the balloon (standing).
Another woman wanted to know if there were restrooms on the balloon (there are not).
A third woman wondered if they would be serving cocktails (they do not).
I can’t imagine spending so much on an activity and not knowing what will occur, but maybe that’s just me.
12. Hiking in Pigeon Valley is easy and picturesque
There are a lot of places to hike near Goreme. Steve and I had gone to the Uchisar Castle and then walked to the Pigeon Valley Overlook. The overlook was teaming with tourists taking selfies. Only a few people were walking in the valley. We found a staircase to a lower level. From there, we were able to get to the valley floor.
We walked the trail back toward the castle. It was an easy walk on which we saw several caves and many fruit trees and bushes. Steve loved picking and eating the grapes.
Once we got closer to the castle, we headed back to our starting point.
We spent around two hours in the valley, with plenty of photo stops.
The start of our Pigeon Valley hike
Here is information about hiking Pigeon Valley (of course, you should double-check the information, as things may change).
13. Hiking in Love Valley is more challenging but equally amazing
Steve and I also hiked Love Valley, so called because of the many phallic-shaped rock formations.
Love Valley views
This hike goes from Goreme to Uchisar. We started from the Goreme end and enjoyed an easy walk for most of the trail. We found the Uchisar end of the trail a bit challenging with its steep inclines and parts of the trail laying on the edges of high rocks.
We each used a hiking pole, which helped a little, but the hard ground, which was often covered with gravel, made this hike more challenging than our Dales Way walk in England.
14. The Zelve Open Air Museum is worth your time; the Goreme Open Air Museum is not
There are two open-air museums in Cappadocia, the Zelve Open Air Museum and the Goreme Open Air Museum. The Zelve museum is in Avanos, a town next to Goreme and the Goreme museum is in Goreme.
The Zelve Open Air Museum is four times as large as Goreme’s. We visited it first and enjoyed exploring the homes and churches that had been carved into the rocks. Some of them date back to the 6th century. We highly recommend you spend a few hours there.
On our last day in Goreme, we decided to check out the Goreme Open Air Museum. It was a disappointment. Not only is it small, but there are several areas where repairs have been made in the past and need additional maintenance.
One of the rock formations in the Goreme Open Air Museum
Check out this article about the museum by kapadokyadayim.com. The article has several photos of the church frescos. Photos weren’t allowed in the churches when we visited.
In addition to being better kept and larger, the Zelve museum was also a better value at about $3.50 per person. The Goreme museum cost us over $8.00 per person.
15. You may want to rethink the ATV tour
ATV tours through the Red and Rose Valleys are popular. You can book this tour for about $30 per person.
Steve and I took a sunset tour. I was looking forward to it since it was my first time on an ATV. Steve had taken a private ATV tour in Jaco, Costa Rica, and loved it. Because this was a group tour, it was a much different experience.
If you decide to do this, know that you will be one of many people riding through the valleys. Our group had about sixteen ATVs that traveled in tandem, and our group was one of several.
The upside is that we got to see some lovely dusk views when we stopped to enjoy the scenery as the sun set.
Four photos from our ATV tour
This is one of those things I’m glad I did but wouldn’t do again. Several things took away from the enjoyment.
First, because we were in a large group, we had to stop frequently because of problems some riders in our group had or to let other groups pass.
Second, it was hard to enjoy the scenery while riding. It was everything I could do to keep up with the group, although the frequent stops gave me a chance to catch up.
And third, it was very dusty. A mask and sunglasses are a good idea. I took my sunglasses off near the end of the ride so I could see the trail at dusk, and regretted that move.
Two better options are hiking and horseback riding. Both allow you to enjoy the scenery and not be a pain in the butt to other people because of the dust and noise you are creating.
16. Dervish shows aren’t exciting or cheap
Perhaps you’ve heard the term “whirling dervish.” For many of us, this is used to describe frantic activity. But the whirling dervishes are real and are not frantic.
The dervishes follow a branch of Islam called Sufism. You can read about the beliefs of Sufism in this article by The Threshold Society.
The dervish ceremony, also called sema, symbolizes “… the rising of the human soul by releasing the ego to become enlightened, and thus to become united with God…” (from the article “Ancient Sufi Dance: Rumi’s Whirling Dervishes by Culture Trip).
Steve and I made arrangements through our hotel. The $40 per person fee included transportation to and from the show.
This is not an actual religious event but a show for tourists. Even so, it was solemn and, to my ignorant eye, appeared authentic. Since it isn’t a religious event, women do not have to cover their hair.
The show begins with music and prayer. Knowing nothing about Islam, this held little meaning for us. Then the dervishes come out and partake in a ritual of bowing and walking slowly in a circle for quite a while. After this, the whirling begins.
The show lasted about 45 minutes, during which photos were prohibited. There was a chance to take photos after the show.
The Dervishes are a-whirling
17. You may be asked to pay in cash or euro
During our travels along the Turkish coast, we used our Visa card for everything except tips, which we paid with lira. Then we arrived in Cappadocia.
Our hotel arranged the airport transfer and the Dervish show for us. In both cases, they would only accept cash and preferred euro. Since we were in Turkey, we had Turkish lira, not euro.
The manager did agree to accept the payment in lira, but that meant we had to go to an ATM to get more lira. This wouldn’t normally be a problem, but the cost of 100 euro converted to 1,850 lira. We had to pay a $9 fee to get 2,000 lira from the ATM.
The hotel lost our business for the ATV ride and the transfer back to the airport because of this policy.
18. ATMs in Cappadocia charge hefty fees.
The best one we found to use with our U.S. credit union was QNB bank. If you take the cash in lira and don’t choose the bank’s conversion, you will only pay $5.
Until Next Time
Even though Cappadocia isn’t perfect, it is a magical place and is well worth visiting.
As always, Steve and I love to hear from our readers. Drop us a comment below with your thoughts and experiences in Cappadocia.
When you think of visiting Turkey, you probably think of Istanbul or Cappadocia. But did you know that there are many seaside cities and towns that also make for great trips?
Steve and I spent six weeks in the summer of 2022 in six cities, one on the Aegean coast and five on the Mediterranean coast. We loved a few, liked a few, and disliked one, but each had something different to offer.
In this post, I will share our experiences in these six cities on the Turkish Riviera so you can decide which are best for your next trip.
All money is in U.S. dollars.
The Aegean Coast
There are several towns on the western coast of Turkey that make for wonderful seaside vacations. We visited Cesme for one week and Alacanti for a day. Other popular destinations include Kusadasi, Guzelcamli, and Bodrum.
Pronounced: CHESH meh Population: 20,000 Vibe: Small town
Cesme is a seaside resort town on the Cesme Peninsula. It is 54 miles (87 km) from Izmir, Turkey’s third-largest city.
The marina and the surrounding area are beautiful. The marina opened in 2010 and has room for hundreds of yachts. There are many shops and restaurants around it.
Don’t miss the Cesme Castle, a 16th-century Ottoman castle that overlooks the marina.
Scenes of Cesme Castle
Cesme Old Town is adjacent to the castle. It is not large, but it is charming with its strong Greek vibe.
There is a small beach and a beach club near the seafront. There are other beaches in the area, but I would not consider this a beach town.
Old Town, the marina, and Tekke Beach
One of the things you will notice right away is the large number of cats and dogs on the streets. Many of the cats are friendly. The dogs wish to be left alone but are not aggressive.
Not since we visited Paracas, Peru, have we seen so many free-range dogs. I cannot call them strays, as they appear well cared for. They are fed, and there is surprisingly little dog waste on the streets. They lie wherever they want, including in the street, and the residents respect their choices.
Just a 5-mile (8.8 km) drive away is the town of Alacati (Alaçatı in Turkish, pronounced ah LA cha tuh). Like Cesme, Alacati is not a beach town per se, but there are beaches to the north and south. The main part of town is in the center of the peninsula.
The two best things to do in Alacati are to wander the picturesque streets of Old Town or spend time at one of the spas.
Fun sights in Alacati
Steve and I had difficulty deciding whether to visit Cesme or Alacati. Cesme won because it is on the sea. Even after staying in Cesme and spending a few hours in Alacati, it would still be a tough choice.
The Mediterranean Coast
As you turn along the coast and start traveling along the southern edge of Turkey, you will be on the Mediterranean Sea. This area has been nicknamed The Turquoise Coast.
Here, you will find many towns offering diverse experiences. In addition to the towns we saw, popular vacation places include Oludeniz, Kas, Finike, Kemer, Belek, Side, and Alanya.
Pronounced: Rhymes with cha cha Population: 25,000 Vibe: Low-key resort town
The second town we visited was Datca (Datça in Turkish). It lies on a peninsula of the same name. The peninsula has the Aegean Sea to the north and the Mediterranean Sea to the south. Datca is on the Mediterranean.
Visiting Datca is all about the waterfront. The beach is not very wide and was always full of people. There were also many windsurfers. The marina is large and lovely, as are the waterfront restaurants near it. If you head along the beach away from the marina, you can find a short hiking trail with some great views, too.
Scenes from Datca’s waterfront
There is a long seaside promenade with some resort-style hotels and many reasonably priced hotels. I tend not to make hotel and restaurant recommendations because business quality can change over time, and people have different tastes, but sometimes a place is so good that I want to share it with you. That is the case with the hotel we stayed at in Datca. The Datca Beyaz Ev Otel. And yes, that is the correct spelling. The Turkish word for hotel is otel. You will see both options throughout Turkey.
Datca Beyaz Ev Otel is a small, family-run hotel with exceptional service. The rooms are spacious, the pool is perfect, and there are several places around the property in which to relax. My favorite place was the dining area, which is covered but open to the pool. Besides being a comfortable spot for the daily breakfast buffet, it is a great place to relax out of the sun and perhaps have a drink.
Like Cesme, Datca isn’t full of sights, and it isn’t a party town, but it is a good place to chill near the sea.
Pronounced: MAA muh ruhs Population: 28,000 Vibe: Party town
If you want to lie on the beach all day and party at night, Marmaris is the place for you. Its 6-mile long (10 km) beach curls around Marmaris bay and is surrounded by mountains.
The seafront promenade runs the length of the beach and is lined with one hi-rise after another and many restaurants. Much of the beach is commandeered by hotels or restaurants that fill them with sun loungers, umbrellas, and cabanas. You either pay to use them or use them for free, provided you buy food or drinks. There are a few public beaches without amenities.
In the evening, the beaches close, bright lights fill the seafront, and music pumps out of many restaurants. A little later in the evening, you can see shows at some restaurants, with drag shows appearing to be popular judging from the number of advertisements for them.
There are three marinas in Marmaris. One, the Albatros Marina, is chock full of charter boats with annoying touts trying to lure in customers. You can take different types of day trips or an evening cruise.
Don’t make the same mistake we did. We were tempted by a moonlight cruise around the bay. The vendor said it was “romantic.” It wasn’t.
Our ship was chock full of people, and music blared on two of the three decks. I can’t call it a cruise because the ship sailed into the bay and then dropped anchor for a few hours. During this time, guests could buy drinks. A light dinner was served towards the end of the evening.
Steve and I were on the middle deck. When the music got to be too much, we went to the lower deck, where it was quiet. At least it was until a few people there started dancing and someone turned up the music. There was no escape!
Perhaps we should have expected what we got on a ship called the Davy Jones. Next time we want a cruise, we will ask a lot of questions.
Besides taking cruises, you can stroll through the Grand Bazaar. It is a large covered area filled with stores selling souvenirs and clothing you could buy anywhere. I didn’t live up to our image of a bazaar.
We ate at two restaurants that we recommend. The first is Deniz Cafe & Restaurant. It is on the waterfront overlooking the Nestel Marina. You can enjoy flavorful food and excellent service while admiring some beautiful yachts.
On our first visit, Steve had fajitas (very Turkish, no?). He said they were fantastic, so I had them on our second visit, and yes, they were great. Steve had a lamb and tomato dish that he also enjoyed.
We didn’t find this other gem until the end of our stay. If we had found it earlier, we would have paid it several visits. The restaurant is part of the Yeshill Beach Hotel & Restaurant, and quite frankly, we chose it because we were hungry and it looked inviting.
After we ordered our food, our waiter brought a tableful of meses (Turkish appetizers). Steve and I told the waiter we hadn’t ordered them, and he replied that they were on the house. We were confused, as we had been to restaurants where appetizers were placed on the table. If you ate them, you had to pay for them. Even so, we enjoyed the tasty treats, figuring that the price of food in Turkey is low enough that even if we were charged, it would not be a big deal.
After the meses, we ate our main dishes and asked for the check. Instead, our waiter arrived with a large plate of fresh fruit. Again, we were unsure about what was going on, but we went with it. After that, two plates of dessert arrived, but we were too full to enjoy them. Then we were offered coffee or tea, which we also declined.
By this time, we had no idea what our bill would be and were blown away when all this food, along with fabulous service, only cost $21.
Since we are not lie-on-the-beach or party people, Marmaris isn’t a place we would revisit, but it was a nice change of pace from the quiet towns of Cesme and Datca.
Pronounced: Like it looks Population: 8,000 Vibe: Laid-back river town
Dalyan was an unexpected delight. It lies on the Dalyan River, 7 miles (12 km) inland from the Mediterranean Sea. Rocky hills and mountains run along the western side of the river, and the town lies to the east.
Dalyan has amazing views wherever you are.
We stayed north of town in a quiet area lined with riverfront hotels. Many of the hotels had waterfront restaurants that were open to the public. It was a short walk along a stone-paved path to get to town.
We spent much of our week there relaxing at our hotel pool but ventured into town to eat at some of the many waterfront restaurants.
The riverfront in town is chock full of boats offering tours to local attractions, including visits to the mud baths and Turtle Beach (also called Iztuzu Beach), a protected breeding ground for loggerhead sea turtles.
You can visit Turtle Beach by taking a public water taxi for the bargain price of $3.30 per person round trip. We thoroughly enjoyed both forty-minute rides as each turn revealed more stunning beauty.
Our visit to Dalyan was the first time we had seen rock tombs. These are tombs the Lycians ( 15-14th centuries BC to 546 BC) carved into rock. Here is a bit of information about the rock tombs. Unfortunately, you can not get up close to the tombs, but they are an impressive sight.
Dalyan rock tombs at dusk
There are a few other things to do in the Dalyan area, including visiting the Ancient City of Kaunos, taking a mud bath, hiking, and learning about loggerhead turtle conservation at the Kaptan June Sea Turtle Conservation Foundation.
Dalyan’s unexpected beauty made this one of our favorite stops on the Turkish coast.
Pronounced: FEH tee uh Population: 70,000 Vibe: Poor man’s beach town
Our next stop was the town of Fethiye. It was our least favorite of the six places we visited.
Calis Beach is the big tourist draw in Fethiye, although it didn’t impress us. The beach is long but not very wide. However, we did have some of the best food we’ve had since arriving in Turkey. We particularly liked the moussaka at Hotel Idee and the pizza with slices of filet mignon and bearnaise sauce at Bella Mamma’s. Steve and I thought the pizza sounded unappealing, but we trusted our waiter, who said it was great. He was right!
Calis Beach at sunset
We spent much of our time relaxing by our hotel pool, but one day we took a water taxi from Calis Beach to the Ece Marina. From there, we walked around Old Town, which was not very impressive. One exception was the Paspatur Market. This market was smaller but more authentic than the Grand Bazaar in Marmaris.
So many spices at the Paspatur Market
Like Dalyan, Fethiye has Lycian rock tombs, but here you can go inside one, the Tomb of Amyntas. There are about 200 steps up the cliff, but before you reach the tomb, you have to navigate some rocks and three high stairs. Once you’ve managed all that, you can step inside a plain, small space, which is anticlimatic compared to the tomb’s exterior.
The Fethiye rock tombs
Pronounced: Like it’s spelled Population: 1.3 million Vibe: Upscale (yet affordable) resort town
Hands down, this was our favorite stop on the Turquoise Coast. We stayed in the tourist area of Konyaalti, which has many hotels, resorts, and apartments overlooking Konyaalti Beach and the Mediterranean Sea.
By the sea, by the sea, by the beautiful sea
Steve and I knew this was a more upscale city when we arrived at the bus terminal. I didn’t get photos of it since we had to get to our Airbnb, but you can see it here. We also saw many gorgeous modern buildings in Konyaalti.
Modern buildings in Konyaalti
To get an idea of how big the city is, take a ride on the cable car (Tünektepe Teleferik Tesisleri). You will be treated to wonderful city, mountain, and sea views.
Antalya has the largest Old Town of the six places we visited. We didn’t spend as long as we would have liked there because it was a hot and particularly humid day. However, we did spot several hotels that would make for a lovely stay if you choose not to stay seaside.
Two sights in Old Town Antalya
Antalya is home to the Antalya Aquarium. Not only is it one of the largest aquariums in Europe, but it also has one of the longest aquarium tunnels. The tunnel is 429-foot (131 m) long.
Despite the size, the aquarium was a disappointment given the price of $40 per person. While it had some well-done displays, the photos and names of the sea life on the signs didn’t always correspond to what was in the tanks. In addition, the tunnel was full of interesting undersea objects but lacking in sea life. There were some sharks and rays, but far from the number of sea creatures one usually sees in a sea tunnel.
On the plus side, the descriptions of the environments that were represented were informative and presented in English as well as Turkish and Russian.
Transportation in Antalya was surprisingly easy. Buses are easy to find using Google Maps, and once on board, you pay with a bank card. Each ride cost us 45 cents.
Unfortunately, Uber is not available in Antalya, but the taxis are inexpensive. The meter is in the rearview mirror. If you don’t see it, remind the driver to turn it on. To make it even easier to get around, there are call buttons on major streets that allow you to call a taxi. Just push the button, and a taxi will come for you.
Turkey wasn’t even on our radar until the spring of 2022. We were getting ready to leave Budapest, our home for two years because of the pandemic. We had taken advantage of our location to visit Vienna, Salzburg, Prague, Lake Bled, and Ljubljana. We also had an eight-day walk in northern England in July. You can read all about that experience in “Walking the Dales Way: 81 Miles of Beauty and Charm.”
Between our side trips to the cities mentioned above and our Dales Way walk, we were spending a lot, so we wanted to pick an inexpensive place.
Because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, we wanted to avoid countries too close to Ukraine. And to complicate matters further, we wanted a country that isn’t in the Schengen Area since we are planning to spend three months in Greece in early 2023. As U.S. citizens, we can only spend 90 days out of every 180 days in the Schengen Area.
Nobody said travel planning was easy, but we worked through it and decided that Turkey filled the bill.
Getting to Cesme
Since our first stop was Cesme, we flew to Izmir, Turkey’s third largest city. We did not land until after midnight and spent the night at the TAV Airport Hotel Izmir. The hotel is in the airport, just a short walk from the baggage claim area.
Our room was spacious and modern, and a buffet breakfast was included. We used it to get some rest before heading to the coast, but I wish we had more time there to enjoy it.
Havas has a shuttle from Izmir Adnan Menderes Airport to Cesme many times every day. Here is information about that route. The bus stops in Alacati. It is best to pick up the bus at the domestic terminal, as it will not stop for pick up at the international terminal if it is full.
When riding this and other shuttle buses, you don’t buy tickets in advance. You simply get on the bus and pay the fare, which is surprisingly inexpensive.
Getting Around the Turkish Riviera
We used buses to move from city to city. All the buses we rode on were modern and comfortable, if not spacious. Using the buses was easy, even though there isn’t much information online. Locals are quick to answer any questions. Be aware that many people who work in the bus stations (otogar in Turkish) don’t speak English.
Our transfer from Cesme to Datca was the longest, with more than six hours of driving time. First, we took a shuttle bus from Cesme to the Izmir bus station. From there we took a long-distance bus to Datca.
The long-distance buses do not run as frequently as the shuttle buses and require you to have a ticket before you board the bus. Obilet.com is a good website for getting information about long-distance bus routes.
Steve and I were amazed when we arrived at the Izmir bus station. It was huge. There were over seventy buses lined up. Once we had tickets, we needed to find bay number 9. None of the bays we saw had numbers that low. I went searching for our bay while Steve watched the luggage. That’s when I discovered there was a second level of bays with another seventy or so buses.
The rest of our travel between cities was by intercity buses, which run frequently (every half hour or every hour). You just show up at the bus station, look on the windshields of the buses for the destination you want, get on board, and pay.
Drivers will stop for short restroom and smoke breaks on longer journeys. On the drive from Izmir to Datca, we had one twenty-minute break. The following three transfers were all a little over an hour long, so there weren’t any breaks. The drive from Fethiye to Antalya had a driving time of two and a half hours. That driver also stopped for a twenty-minute break, so be sure to factor that in on longer drives.
What Did Six Weeks Cost?
Cost in USD
Flight from Manchester to Izmir
Number of days
Cost per day
Until Next Time
I hope you have enjoyed learning about this lesser-known part of Turkey as much as Steve and I enjoyed discovering it. Drop a comment below and let us know your thoughts about the Turkish Riviera.
Do you love a challenge? Steve and I do, so when we first learned about the Dales Way, we were excited. It seemed like the perfect adventure for us. We planned our walk for June 2020, but the pandemic put our trip on hold for two years. In July 2022, Steve and I finally got to walk the Dales Way.
We spent ten days in northern England and walked on eight of them. We will never forget the beauty of the Yorkshire Dales and the challenge of doing our first long-distance walk.
Read more to discover what the Dales Way is all about, our experiences, and where to find practical information for your Dales Way walk.
Note – all money is in U.S. dollars unless otherwise noted.
About The Dales Way
What is The Dales Way?
The Dales Way is an 81-mile* (130 km) walk in the Yorkshire Dales and the Lake District of England. It runs north and south from Ilkley, West Yorkshire, to Bowness-On-Windermere, Cumbria. It is an easy to moderate walk that follows several waterways and takes you over the rolling hills of the dales. It passes through many farms (more on that later) and several villages and hamlets.
*The length of the walk varies depending on the source. I have seen everything from 78 miles to 83 miles. However, the signs at the beginning and end of the walk say 81 miles.
Facts about the Dales Way
Signs along the Dales Way
The first Dales Way walk was in 1969.
The Dales Way was created by the Ramblers Association, specifically the West Riding Ramblers led by Tom Wilcock and Colin Speakman. The Ramblers Association is a British charity that works to protect and expand the places people go walking. You can read more about the birth of the Dales Way here.
According to Colin Speakman in this 2019 article, about 4,000 people walk the Dales Way every year and spend an average of £1,000 ($1,200).
A fair part of the walk is on paved roads, particularly near towns and villages.
The path goes through two national parks, the Yorkshire Dales National Park and the Lake District National Park.
It is possible but challenging to complete the walk in four days. A more reasonable number of days is six to eight. We chose to do the walk in eight days, with a rest day after the fifth day.
England and Wales have a right to roam. This gives walkers the legal right to travel over mountains, moorland, heath, downland, and common land without having to stay on paths. Even so, some farmers post signs requesting walkers to remain on the trail or run a fence along the trail to keep walkers in one area.
Despite more than a century of effort, the right to roam didn’t become law until 2000. It then took five years after it became law before the practicalities were worked out and it was put into practice. Here is the history behind the right to roam.
The Romance and The Reality
Imagine doing nothing for days but walking through a serene landscape, then spending the evening at a country inn where you share a few pints with other walkers and enjoy some well-earned sustenance and slumber.
This is how I imagined our walk would be. And it was, to a point.
A few scenes from our Dales Way walk
It really is this beautiful, but there are a few things you should know.
You will see endless expanses of greenery and mile upon mile of stone wall. But much of your time will be spent looking down, first to avoid a turned ankle or worse on the uneven terrain and second to avoid the ever-present animal waste.
Because that is what none of the Dales Way walkers mention in their articles. There is sheep, cattle, and horse dung everywhere. Obviously, it is in the fields. It is also on the roads. If you are lucky like Steve, you will be congested and not smell it very much.
You will see enough sheep to last you a lifetime.
You will open and close far too many gates.
You will also climb many stiles. While we found them all doable, they weren’t always easy. Sometimes there was a large distance between steps or a very narrow opening.
Steve climbing one of many stiles
A Surprising Risk
Walking is a low-risk endeavor, but it is not risk free. If you develop a medical emergency on the trail, there may not be a way to summons help (cell service was spotty), and it may be a long time until help arrives.
However, the most surprising risk was one we didn’t learn about until we were on the trail. That is the danger of being killed by a cow.
Our first cow experience was early in our walk. We entered the grounds of one farm and started following the riverside path. We could see many cattle gathered along the river and on the path. We approached them slowly, and one cow started walking toward us. We turned and slowly walked away from her.
She headed back to the group, but the cows remained on the path, so we decided to take a detour. We walked towards the road, only to find the fence along the road was topped with barbed wire. We saw a gate without barbed wire on top, but it was locked. So we did the next best thing, we climbed over it.
This detour set us back a little, but we found out we had made a wise choice when we met some hikers who told us about the risk of being killed by a cow.
On average, cows kill five people in the U.K. every year. As you would expect, cows protecting their young are particularly dangerous. Farm workers are at the greatest risk, but walkers have been crushed or trampled by cows as well.
A more pricey option is to book your lodging directly and either carry all your gear or have what you don’t need on the trail moved from lodging to lodging by a service.
The easiest but most expensive way is to use a tour company to make arrangements for you.
Since this was our first long-distance walk, we used a tour company. There are several companies from which to choose. We chose Mickledore, a company that specializes in self-guided walking and cycling holidays in the U.K. We were happy with them.
Their services included arranging nightly lodging with breakfast, providing packed lunches, arranging daily transportation of our luggage, and providing maps, an itinerary, and a guidebook.
Sherpa Van is another popular service. They offer baggage transfers and accommodation bookings. We did not use them, so I cannot make a recommendation, but you can see their services and prices here.
If you use a tour company, you will still have to make plans for each night’s dinner. Mickledore advised us to make reservations in advance to be sure we had a place to eat each night.
Like Simon and Erin, we are not experienced hikers, yet something about this idea stuck with us. I think it was a combination of the uniqueness and the challenge, along with the assurance that it would be doable for two retirees in relatively good shape but far from athletic.
What We Loved
The peaceful, easy feeling – When all you have to do all day is place one foot in front of the other while soaking in the beautiful scenery, stress becomes a distant memory.
Meeting the best people – Whether they are fellow walkers, B&B staff, or random folks on the road, you will not find kinder, friendlier, more helpful people than the folks who live in northern England.
Seeing no chain hotels or restaurants – We did not see one Ramada or McDonald’s during our walk. Every place we stayed and every restaurant we ate at appeared to be a locally owned business.
Our first stay during our walk – the Riverside Hotel in Ilkley, England
The Shepherds Cottage Luxury B&B – Most of our accommodations were basic, 2 or 3-star rooms. They were more than adequate, but when we reached the town of Ribblehead and walked into our room at Shepherds Cottage Luxury B&B, we were blown away.
Our room at Shepherds Cottage. I doubt many shepherds had it this good.
Talking with Tony – Another great stay was at the Lakeland Hills B&B in Burneside. The lodging is in Tony’s house, so it was a different experience than at the previous B&Bs. The room and food were top-notch, but the best part was talking with Tony over breakfast.
What We Didn’t Love
The poop – Even so, we managed to keep it off our boots all but one day.
The trains – We spent a few days in Manchester before heading to Ilkley by train. Our train to Ilkley was canceled, and the replacement only went part way. Once we arrived at that stop, we had to grab a random worker at the small station to find out which train to take next. We did not see a ticket office.
On the way back to Manchester, the direct ride was changed to two trains after the journey had started.
The trains themselves were fine. Hopefully, England’s train travel issues will be straightened out soon.
The cost – It’s no secret that the U.K. is expensive.
The narrow roads – At least I didn’t like them. Far too often, we would walk on a road that was only wide enough for one car. When the road had vegetation or stone walls on both sides, there was very little room when cars passed. Even worse, the drivers seldom slowed down.
One of the narrow roads
Record heat – England was experiencing a record-breaking heatwave on our first day of walking. Luckily it was a short 6 miles (10 km). The temperature reached 100 degrees F (38 C) in the afternoon. Fortunately, the heatwave was short-lived, and the temperatures were normal for the rest of our walk.
Lost guidebook – Mickledore provided a fantastic guidebook complete with hand-drawn maps. We found it very helpful the first day, but not so much after that since we lost it on day one! Mickledore mailed a replacement, but no one was at our B&B to sign for it, so we never got it.
Getting lost, a lot – We missed quite a few signs, adding miles to our journey.
Our Strangest Experience – Screaming Maggie
We had a strange experience at one B&B. We arrived about 30 minutes before check-in. We didn’t see anyone around, so we sat on a stone wall (is there any other kind in Yorkshire?) to wait. A few minutes later, a man came by and called into the house, “Maggie, your guests are here.”
Maggie was recovering from surgery and let us know she did not like being disturbed. She complained that we were early. This was so different than the hospitality we previously found in Northern England.
But that wasn’t the weird part. The owner, Jim, came back shortly, and while we were settling into our room, we could hear Maggie haranguing Jim over his lack of concern for her. She was yelling, swearing, and slamming doors!
There were two more tirades that afternoon, including one while Jim was ironing towels as Maggie sat nearby and complained. After all this, we didn’t see or hear her anymore. We still wonder why the screaming stopped.
Beside that, our stay was satisfactory. Jim never mentioned these incidents and did all he could to be a good host.
What It Cost Us
This experience was a budget buster. The total cost was $4,200 and breaks down like this:
Cost in USD
Flight to Manchester
Trains and buses
Mickledore fee - rooms, breakfasts, lunches, map, book, intinerary for 8 walking days
Mickledore - two extra nights with breakfast
Lunches where not provided and drinks
A few notes about our costs:
Several weeks before our trip, we booked an EasyJet flight from Budapest to Manchester for just over $200 for both of us. Shortly after we booked it, the flight was canceled. The replacement flight with Ryanair was almost $600.
Since we travel full-time, I only include the transportation cost of getting somewhere in the cost of visiting that location. Therefore, I am including only the cost to fly to England here but not the cost to fly out.
Our train trip from Manchester to Ilkley cost $70. When we bought tickets to return to Manchester at the end of the walk, it was only $24. The price can vary greatly depending on what time you choose to ride. I have also heard that buying tickets well in advance will save you quite a bit of cash.
We chose to eat dinner at nice places. This cost could certainly be lower.
I did not include the cost of supplies since this varies greatly. Many people will already have most or all of the items they need for this walk.
What We Would Do Differently
Truly waterproof boots – Steve and I thought our boots were waterproof, but a few minutes of walking over wet fields proved otherwise. We both wore Columbia boots. I had mine for several years, had worn them in the snow with no problem, and gave them an extra coating of waterproofing before our hike. Even so, they leaked. Steve’s were new Columbia waterproof boots, and they leaked too.
We noticed that many walkers had the same problem. Since my boots are ready to be replaced, I will be looking at the waterproof ratings closely.
Skip packed lunches – we paid $160 to have a packed lunch each walking day. This generally included a sandwich, some cookies, other packaged snacks, and an apple. We had a good breakfast each morning and found that we did not eat much on the trail. If we book future walks through a service, we will forgo the lunches and pack a few snacks.
Study the maps more – Steve had studied the maps before our walk and spent a lot of time annotating the guidebook, but I believed that the signposts would be adequate. They weren’t. Much of the trail is well marked, but the section between the two national parks is not. It is also easy to miss a signpost.
Secure maps and guidebook – When you’re tired and hot like we were after our first day of walking, it is easy to lose things. One of our party, who shall remain nameless, didn’t realize they had dropped our guidebook until a few hours later. We returned to the site the next morning, but we didn’t find it.
Skip the rest day – We weren’t sure how our senior bodies would react to days and days of walking, so we planned a rest day in the middle of our hike. This turned out to be unnecessary since the walk was not strenuous. We stayed in the charming town of Dent and ironically ended up hiking up a hill after we were told there was a fantastic view from the top. We never got to the top because we weren’t wearing the proper footwear to walk on the stone-covered path.
Skipping the rest day would have saved us $200 on lodging and $85 on meals.
Why wouldn’t you go for a hike on your rest day?
Book the extra night at the end directly – We had decided to spend an extra night in Bowness-on-Windermere at the end of our walk. We booked that night through Mickledore for $200. Our room was on the top floor, so it was fun carrying our suitcases up four flights. It was cute but small and certainly not worth $200 per night.
Steve and I each had a pair of hiking poles but ended up only using one each. Many people walk the Dales Way without poles, but we found them helpful for navigating muddy and rocky inclines. We also used them to steady ourselves when climbing over stiles.
Steve with his hiking hat and pole
Rain gear, including a backpack cover, is necessary. After all, you can’t get emerald fields without rain. Luckily we only had light rain. Steve used a $6 poncho that kept him and his backpack dry, even if it did make him look like Quasimodo. I wore my Eddie Bauer rain jacket with hood and used a backpack cover, which also worked fine.
It is advisable to bring cash. We were able to pay for everything with a credit card, but if you run into a problem, you won’t find ATMs around every corner.
The same goes for supplies. Steve grabbed his poncho at Black’s in Manchester, but when we tried to find a shop along the Dales Way to replace our guidebook, the store had closed at 4 p.m. And since many of the villages along the Dales Way are tiny, there are a limited number of stores.
The Final Verdict
Despite the poop, the cows, and the countless stiles, Steve and I loved this experience and plan to do more long-distance walks. We basked in breathtaking beauty, met incredible people, and saw a lifestyle that defies the twenty-first century.
At the end of our walk
Hedgemeister had it easy.
Have you walked the Dales Way? If so, Steve and I would love to hear about your experiences. Drop us a message in the comments section below.
Are you thinking of visiting Budapest? Go for it. This Hungarian city in Central Europe is chock full of beauty and history.
Steve and I arrived in Budapest in March 2020 for a four-week stay. Because of the pandemic, we ended up staying for more than two years. During this time, we have explored every corner of the city and are happy to be able to share 75 things to know when visiting Budapest.
I know that 75 tips sound like a lot, but they are short and divided by category. I have highlighted the main tips and shared a few top tips.
Be sure to read to the end for a bonus tip. You can thank me later.
Layout of the City
1. The Danube River divides the city into two sides: Buda and Pest. The west side is Buda. The east side is Pest.
2. Buda is hilly. Pest is flat.
3. Pest is the touristy, party side. Buda is the quiet, stately side. As a tourist, you will probably stay in Pest.
4. The two sides weren’t connected until 1849, when the iconic Chain Bridge was built.
5. The Chain Bridge is currently closed for renovation. The work is expected to be completed in August 2023.
6. There are 23 districts in Budapest.
7. Street signs are plentiful. They usually have the district on the sign. This sign tells us that it is district 9. Utca means street.
8. During the first Covid lockdown, Steve and I often commented on how clean the streets and sidewalks were. We thought it was because there were so few people out. Once the lockdown ended, we were happy to see that the streets were still very clean. Street sweeping machines and people sweeping and washing the sidewalks are common sights.
9. Tourism in Budapest has grown steadily over the last decade. According to Statistica.com, the annual number of tourists doubled from 2.3 million in 2009 to 4.6 million in 2019.
10. Most stores, restaurants, and attractions will be closed during holidays. These are the holidays that are celebrated in Hungary:
New Year’s Day
Memorial Day of the 1848 Revolution
Date varies - a Friday in late March or early April
Date varies - a Sunday in late March or early April
Date varies - a Monday in late March or early April
Date varies - a Sunday in late May or early June
Date varies - a Monday in late May or early June
State Foundation Day
1956 Revolution Memorial Day
All Saint’s Day
2nd Day of Christmas
11. Easter weekend can be especially challenging since most stores and many restaurants are closed on Good Friday, Easter Sunday, and Easter Monday. As you would expect, the stores are especially crowded on the Thursday before the weekend and the Saturday in the middle.
12. Dates are written with the day, then the month, then the year. So Christmas Day, 2019, would be written 25/12/2019.
13. Names are written last name first. When they are translated into English, the first name is first. So I am Gerbec Linda in Hungarian.
14. When a woman got married, traditionally, she not only took her husband’s last name, but she also changed her first name to his with “ne” added to the end. So a woman marrying a man named Istvan would become Istvanne. Modern women generally keep their own first name and may keep their maiden name if they wish.
15. Hungary is in the European Union (EU) and the Schengen Area. Visitors from the U.S. can spend up to 90 days out of 180 in the Schengen area, so you could spend up to 90 days in Hungary without procuring a special visa, providing you do not visit any other Schengen area country for the subsequent 90 days. Citizens of all other countries should be sure they understand the visa rules for their country.
16. Even though Hungary is in the EU, it does not use Euro. The official currency of Hungary is the forint (HUF).
17. Some stores accept Euro and you might even see a sign telling you the exchange rate.
18. Paper bills start at 500 forints and go to 20,000 forints. Coins range from 5 forints to 200 forints.
19. It can be disconcerting when you first use forints because of the large numbers. In addition, commas are used where Americans use periods, and periods are used where we use commas. So a charge of 18.000,00 would equal about US$50.
20. As of this writing, 1 USD = 367 forints. 1 Euro = 394 forints
21. ATMs are readily available, but you may want to try a few to get the best one for you. As a holder of a U.S. bank account, I found the Sopron Bank ATM at Bajcsy-Zsilinszky útca 12 was the best deal.
22. A standard restaurant tip is 10-15%. However, a service charge is often added to the bill, so you should check before calculating your tip. If there is a service charge, it will usually vary from 10-12.5%. We often tip a little extra directly to the server, which should be handed to him, not left on the table.
23. Credit cards are widely accepted, but it is wise to carry some forints.
24. The value-added tax, which is similar to sales tax, is 27%. This is the highest in the world.
25. The official language of Hungary is Hungarian (Magyar).
26. The Hungarian alphabet has 44 letters, including 14 vowels.
27. Some letters have more than one character. Seven letters have two characters, and one has three characters.
28. Each letter only has one sound, so once you learn each letter’s pronunciation, you can easily pronounce words. Here is a fun video on how to pronounce the letters of the Hungarian alphabet.
29. The letter sounds may not be what you think. For example, the letter S has the sound SH in Hungarian. So Budapest becomes Budapesht, and the grocery chain Spar is pronounced Shpar.
30. Hungarian is one of the hardest languages to learn for native English speakers. This is because the syntax is different, and often words that are separate in English get added to the end of the subject word.
31. English is widely spoken in businesses that cater to tourists. It is not so widely spoken in other places. We have found that most younger Hungarians are fluent in English, but older people are not since they grew up during Soviet rule when learning Russian was compulsory.
32. English translations are prevalent on public transportation and in museums and other tourist attractions. The translations are better than many of those we have found in other countries.
33. Here are some words that can help you while you are in Hungary courtesy of MyEnglishTeacher.eu. We use Hello – Jó napot! [yo nah-pot], Thank you – Köszönöm [koh-soh-nohm], and You’re welcome – Szívesen [see-ve-shan] the most.
The Public Transportation System
34. Budapest is easy to get around. There is an extensive metro, tram, and bus system, and it is also a very walkable city.
35. We found the transportation system easy to use and very clean.
36. The transportation system is run by BKK. Here is their website.
37. The metro, tram, and bus systems within the city all use the same ticket. They are easy to buy at machines found at many stops. As of this writing, an individual ticket is 330 ft (less than US$1), but you can lower the cost to 300 ft per ticket by buying a group of ten.
38. A part of Metro Line 3 is currently under renovation and being replaced by buses. It is expected to be completed in March 2023.
39. There is a bus that runs between the airport and the city center (Deák Ferenc tér). It is easy to use and takes a special ticket. Here is more information on that bus.
40. Be sure to validate your ticket. Here is the BKK information on how to validate your ticket.
41. Top Tip
If you take nothing else away from this article, be sure to hold onto your ticket until you’re completely off the vehicle or out of the metro station. It is common for ticket checkers to screen passengers in the metro stations. The charge for traveling without a ticket is 8,000 ft. (about US$22) if you pay on the spot. It doubles if you can not pay immediately.
Three Cool Things About the Transportation System
42. Metro Line 1 was the first underground in mainland Europe and has been in constant operation since 1896. It consists of only 11 stops.
43. You can take a funicular up the hill to Buda Castle and the Castle District. The Budapest Castle Hill Funicular (Budavári Sikló) is a 150-year-old funicular railway that will take you from Adam Clark Square at the end of the Buda side of the Chain Bridge up to the Buda Castle and back down again. It requires a special ticket. Learn more about it here.
44. There is also a chairlift run by BKK. This takes you up to János Hill and back down. János Hill is the home of the Elizabeth Lookout tower. It also has hiking trails, and the Children’s Railway runs through it. Like the funicular, this requires a special ticket. Here is the chairlift information.
Other Ways to Get Around
45. There are currently three e-scooter companies operating in the city: Lime Bike, Bird, and Tier. We have only used Lime Bike, and it works great. It is all done via an app, and it is the best sharing app we have tried so far. The scooters are easy to find and in good condition. After my second e-scooter accident, I gave up riding them. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t enjoy them. You can read about that experience here.
Taxi’s and Ride Sharing
46. Uber is not allowed to operate in Hungary.
47. There are plenty of taxis, but it is often suggested that you should either hire one through a hotel or negotiate the price before you get in. They have been known to rip off tourists.
48. I have noticed a taxi service called Bolt on Google Maps but have not tried it.
49. The MOL Bubi Budapest bike-share system works well. You can find bikes all over the city. You will need to register on their app before you ride.
50. Most streets have crosswalks painted on them. If there is no traffic light, all you have to do is step off the curb, and traffic is required to stop. Still look both ways; bikes and scooters don’t always stop.
51. If there is a traffic light, obey the walk/don’t walk signs.
52. While it is common for traffic in many cities to stop if a pedestrian sets foot in a crosswalk, in Budapest, many cars stop even if you are still on the curb.
53. Cross bike lanes like you cross a street. Look both ways.
54. Top Tip
Be extra careful on the sidewalks. Scooters, bikes, and even motor scooters and motorcycles often ride on them. The worst part is that you seldom get a warning when one of the riders wants to pass you. It is best to walk like you drive; look over your shoulder before moving to the left or right.
55. If you are looking for a local SIM card, the three main providers are Telekom, Yettel (formerly Telenor), and Vodafone. We used Vodafone when we first got to Budapest, but their customer service was horrible: it was not uncommon to wait for an hour or more to talk to a clerk at the store. We switched to Telekom, which has been great.
56. The European emergency number is 112. The operators speak English, which I learned when I had to call after getting stuck in an elevator in Bulgaria.
Food (and Water)
57. The tap water in Hungary is safe to drink.
58. Langos are huge slabs of fried dough with toppings. Some of the most popular toppings are sour cream and cheese or Nutella.
59. As someone from the U.S. who grew up with goulash made from ground beef and macaroni, I was surprised to learn that Hungarian goulash is traditionally served as a soup. We have seen it served on a plate in a few places.
60. Paprika is popular in Hungary. You will see it everywhere. Chicken paprikash makes good use of it. Steve cooks this delectable version.
61. You will also see (and smell) chimney cakes. Chimney cakes are made with a sweet dough that is wrapped around a cylinder and baked. The dough can be coated with different things like cinnamon or walnuts, and they can be eaten empty or filled with any combination of ice cream, whipped cream, or Nutella.
62. Bags are not provided at grocery stores. You can either buy them at check out or bring your own.
63. Groceries will not be bagged either. Most grocery stores have an area where you should bag your groceries. Simply put them back in the cart or basket as they are rung up, and move to the counter to bag them.
64. Pharmacies are indicated by a green cross. In addition to prescription medicine, you buy over-the-counter medicine here, too.
65. Over-the-counter medicines (OTC) are sold in small quantities and are pricey compared to what you can buy in the U.S. As of this writing, 20 200mg Advil capsules cost over $7.00. It is best to bring any OTC medicines you may need.
66. Drug stores, such as Rossmann and DM, sell toiletries, household cleaners, and personal care items.
Unique Things to See and Do
67. Budapest has 123 thermal springs, some of which feed the city’s thermal baths. Here is information about six of the baths along with tips for your visit.
68. The most well-known bath complex in Budapest is the century-old Szechenyi Baths. A bright yellow neo-baroque building surrounds the outdoor pools.
69. Another iconic bath complex is the Gellert Baths. Along with the companion Gellert Hotel, the baths are closed for renovation.
70. For something more modern, consider Aquaworld. You can visit their waterpark for the day or stay in the attached hotel and enjoy both the waterpark and the hotel’s wellness center. As our six visits will attest, we love Aquaworld. You can read more about it here.
71. Top Tip
make sure that in addition to your swimsuit and towel, you bring flip flops, the kind made of a rubbery material, not street shoes.
72. Ruin bars were originally underground bars set up in abandoned or decaying buildings. The bars were decorated with cheap, free, or even discarded furniture and novelties, eclecticism in the extreme. You don’t need to be a partier to enjoy them, as they are now open for lunches and dinners. Read Nomadic Matt’s take on ruin bars here.
Kolodko Mini Statues
73. The mini statues are the work of a sculptor named Mihály Kolodko. Some of the statues were commissioned, but others were placed around the city Banksy style by Kolodko. Some are whimsical, some are historical, and some are social commentary. There are Kolodko statues in a few other cities, but Budapest has the most. Read more about them here.
A Few More Things
74. Hopefully, you will not need medical care while visiting Budapest, but if you do, I recommend FirstMed. The entire staff speaks English, and they provide excellent medical care.
75. If you need to print something, here are two good print shops: In District VII: Hi Res Digit(All) Wesselényi utca 16 https://www.digit-all.hu
For a fabulous breakfast, stop in at Cirkusz Cafe. They serve breakfast and brunch from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. everyday. Be warned, the lines can get long in the morning, so if you are interested in breakfast, it is best to get there early.
Steve and I took a five-night trip to Szeged, Hungary, in March. One of the reasons was to visit the thermal baths at Sunshine Aquapolis Szeged, which are connected to the Hunguest Hotel Forrás. We also wanted to see the Art Nouveau buildings that grace the city after it was rebuilt following a devastating flood in 1879.
Read on to learn more about the city and the best things to do in Szeged.
Szeged is 109 miles (176 km) southeast of Budapest near the borders of Serbia and Romania.
Szeged can be reached by train from Budapest in less than two and a half hours.
Szeged is the third-largest city in Hungary behind Budapest and Debrecen.
The Tizsa River divides the city into two parts, the western side, referred to as Szeged, and the eastern side, referred to as New Szeged.
It is easy to get around the city on foot or by public transportation.
Szeged is home to the University of Szeged, one of the most distinguished universities in Hungary.
Szeged is referred to as the city of sunshine.
English was spoken almost everywhere we went.
For an in-depth look at all things travel in Szeged, check out this site.
Szeged’s Unique History
Szeged has been inhabited since ancient times and was first mentioned in a royal charter from 1183. As you would expect, it saw many battles and many changes. But the event that makes this city unique could have wiped it out.
In 1879, most of the city was destroyed by a flood. Reconstruction during the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries has led to a city of relatively modern architecture.
What to Do in Szeged
1. Marvel at the Architecture
During the decades when the city was being rebuilt after the flood, the Art Nouveau style was popular, so Szeged has many lovely buildings in this style.
Since our first full day in the city was a Monday, and many attractions were closed, we did a walking tour. Despite the cold and a few snow flurries, we managed to see quite a few stunning buildings. Here are a few highlights:
The Bridge of Sighs was modeled after the one in Venice. It connects City Hall and the House of Labor.
Detail on the facade of the Beregi Palace
2. Visit the Votive Church
The Votive Church overlooks Dóm Square. This Roman Catholic cathedral is the fourth largest in Hungary. Construction began in 1913, but because of WWI, it wasn’t completed until 1930.
Before you enter the church, you will be captivated by its beauty and abundance of decoration. The exterior is sparkling clean, which you can’t say about all the architectural gems in Szeged.
Detail on the front of the Votive Church
More details on the exterior of the church
After you finish marveling at the exterior beauty, you can have a look around the inside of the cathedral.
After that, visit the tower and exhibition. The entrance to these is in front of the Church and underground. There is a small fee for each thing you choose to do.
We climbed the tower, but frankly, the city was not lovely from up high. Perhaps because of the time of year.
We spent quite a while in the exhibition hall. It is the most spacious exhibition hall we have seen, and everything is well marked in Hungarian and English. Whether or not you are religious, if you appreciate beautiful things, this is a worthwhile exhibit.
3. Tour the New Synagogue
Hands down, this was the best thing we saw in Szeged. The synagogue is breathtaking. If you visit, be sure to download the Jewish Heritage Szeged app. It is very well done.
Unlike the Votive Church, there aren’t separate activities in the synagogue. Most of the things to see are on the first floor, but there is so much beauty and so much history (thanks to the app) that a visit to the New Synagogue may end up being one of your favorite things to do in Szeged.
The interior of the New Synagogue
A trio of windows in the synagogue; you can learn about their meanings from the app
4. Get Your Art Fix at Reök Palace
Built in 1907, Reök Palace was originally an apartment building. Now it is the Regional Arts Center. The building is large, but the art center fills only part of it.
A corner view of Reök Palace
I was so excited to visit the center and see the exhibits showcased on their website, including an Art Nouveau exhibit and a Dali exhibit. Unfortunately, both of these exhibits had already closed, which was not obvious on their website.
The two exhibits we saw, Dante’s Universe and Digital Testimonials, were interesting enough, but I left disappointed. Hopefully, the art center will update its website and be clearer about the dates of exhibits.
Architectural details on the Reök Palace
5. Stroll Through the National Pantheon
Like the Votive Church, the National Pantheon is in Dóm Square. Sculptures of famous Hungarians fill three covered walkways.
One of the three sides of the Pantheon
If you are not from this part of the world (or a Hungarian history scholar), most of the names probably won’t mean much to you. The attraction here is the individuality of the memorials.
Some of the unique memorials in the Pantheon
6. Stop by the Mora Ferenc Museum
We didn’t visit this museum; the siren call of the baths was too strong.
The museum offers ethnography, natural history, and fine art exhibitions related to Szeged and the surrounding area. Be sure to check the website before you visit. As of this writing, several exhibits were closed for renovations.
The front of the Mora Ferenc Museum (photo by Szilas on Wikimedia Commons)
Where We Stayed
We spent five nights at the Hunguest Hotel Forrás. The hotel is on the east side of the River Tisza, but just a short walk or bus ride to the center of town on the west side.
We chose it because, as regular readers know, we love the thermal baths. The hotel is next door to the Sunshine Aquapolis Szeged, which you can access through an enclosed walkway.
Overall, we enjoyed our stay, which included half board. Both breakfast and dinner were buffets, and the food was pretty good. As we’ve found throughout Hungary, the hotel staff was cordial and helpful, although it did take three requests before Steve got the correct size robe.
The silent wellness area; yes, it is as relaxing as it looks
What It Cost
Dates: March 6, 2022 to March 11, 2022 Number of days: 5 Total cost for 2: $886 Cost per day for 2: $177
Our costs included a massage for $50.
Our transportation costs were $90, which was high because we bought our outbound train tickets online and paid way too much.
Is Szeged Worth Visiting?
I can’t imagine Szeged topping anyone’s list of must-see cities, but if you are in the area, it can be worth a quick look.
If you’ve been to Szeged, Steve and I would love to know what you thought of it and if you discovered any treasures I haven’t included here. Just head to the comment section below.
If you are lucky enough to visit Budapest, you will be treated to many architectural delights. And if you look at the buildings closely, you can discover unexpected and unique architectural ornaments.
Steve and I spent the two years of the pandemic in Budapest, so I have had a lot of time to explore the city. In this post, I share some of my favorite architectural ornaments.
The building at Régi posta utca 15 has four mythological reliefs. This one shows Leda, the Queen of Sparta, being seduced by Zeus in the form of a swan.
On the same building, you can see the gods Mercury and Bacchus, and the goddess and muse of dance and chorus, Terpsichore.
A trio of musical angels hang out on a 130-year-old building at Báthory utca 20.
I love this charming relief on the building at Dalszínház utca 9, and I want to know the story behind it.
Check out these endearing reliefs at Váci utca 66. The building originally belonged to the Serbian Orthodox Parish. The reliefs represent the four seasons and qualities such as joy and jealousy.
These are a few of the details on the Liszt Ferenc Academy of Music at Liszt Ferenc tér 8, a stunning art nouveau building. You can see more of it, inside and out, here.
As you can imagine, the Matthias Church at Szentháromság tér 2 is full of imagery. These two fellows caught our eye.
The hunting scene on one of the buildings on Szarvas tér added a little bit of color.
This relief at Vadász utca 38-40 takes you back to a more elegant time.
A walk down Fortuna ucta in the Castle District is a delightful change of pace. Here the buildings are simpler and painted in pastel colors. Visit this shepherd and his friend at Fortuna utca 25.
Here is one of the many detailed reliefs on the Shuttleworth House at Bajcsy-Zsilinszky utca 63. You can see more of the intricate facade here.
Say hello to these two sailors when you pass by Havas utca 1-3. Even though Hungary is landlocked, the country does have a navy. Hungary’s navy is river-based on the Danube River.
I was surprised to see these decorations on the building at the corner of Tompa utca and Ferenc körút. I believe the figure on the left in the middle relief is Mercury. If you know the story behind these reliefs, please share.
How can you not love this lion on the image-rich building at Jókai utca 42?
Can you ever have too many naked babies on your buildings? These cuties delight passersby at Váci utca 16.
How is this for a fancy facade? This is the Stein Palace at Andrássy utca 1.
Ten statues circle the building at Deák Ferenc utca 16. It is currently home to Ritz Carlton Budapest, but was originally the office of the Adriatic Insurance Company. The statues circling the building represent the different types of insurance the company offered.
Aren’t these balconies at Nádor utca 32 incredible?
I call this the Centerfold Building because the reclining man on top reminds me of the famous Burt Reynolds photo in Cosmo. You can see this sexy guy at Bajcsy-Zsilinszky út 21.
What a fun and fitting statue at the entrance to the Szechenyi Baths at Állatkerti krt. 12.
Other Cool Decorations
Two griffins on an intricately carved door, or is it a Gryffindor? Either way, you can admire it at Gyulai Pál utca 11.
If you have to have window grates, you might as well make them unique. These are on the Ministry of Education and Culture building at Szemere utca 12.
These angels watch over an apartment building at Váci utca 6.
Detailed frescoes on the apartment building at Rákóczi utca 7 are just two of the many decorations on this neo-Gothic gem with Moorish influences.
This door handle is the only indoor item in this post. It is in the Museum of Fine Arts at Dózsa György út 41.
Don’t forget to look down to see even more marvels. These three maintenance hole covers and the floor plaque (clockwise from upper left) are at Andrássy utca 22, Kristóf tér 2, the Árkád Mall, and Deák Ferenc utca 13.
These are only of few of the delightful decorations you can find when exploring Budapest. Steve and I would love to hear what you think of them. Have you seen any of them? Do you have favorites that are not in this post? Let us know in the comments section.
I hope you had a wonderful holiday season and are ready to start the new year. Like me, I’m sure you are hoping that 2022 will bring an end to the pandemic and a return to normal.
Despite an increase in Covid cases, our December was remarkable. That is because our daughters, Stephanie and Laura, visited us in Budapest for two weeks. We hadn’t seen them in almost two years!
Off to a Stressful Start
We all knew that traveling during the pandemic would be more stressful than usual. During the weeks leading up to the trip, we spent many hours reviewing plans. Despite our diligence, the journey from Orlando to Budapest was taxing.
The girls’ flight left Orlando Wednesday afternoon on December 1st. Both had had PCR tests, but by Wednesday morning, only Steph had her results. Rather than stress until the last minute, Laura had a rapid PCR test done. Of course, it came at a cost; $175.
Armed with the correct paperwork, Steph and Laura flew from Orlando to Atlanta and then to Paris. We knew the connection in Paris would be tight. What we didn’t expect was a double whammy. The plane arrived in Paris on time but had issues with disembarkation. Even so, there was hope. However, the flight from Paris to Budapest was moved up by twenty minutes at the last moment. The next flight was in the mid-afternoon, but it was full. They had to wait twelve hours for a flight to Budapest.
They checked into a lounge and were able to relax a bit. Then we started worrying about Steph’s PCR test. It would be more than 72 hours old when she arrived in Budapest. Laura was okay since she had done the rapid PCR test Wednesday morning.
Since a PCR test within 72 hours of arrival was one of the conditions for entering Budapest, she set out to get a rapid PCR test in the Charles De Gaulle airport. There were no rapid PCR tests to be found, so she had an antigen test done. At this point, we were not sure that an antigen test would be acceptable, but it was the best we had.
It was a miserable day for all of us. I am not an anxious person, but I spent the day with my stomach in knots worrying about whether Steph would be allowed to board the plane with the antigen test, and if so, would it be enough to allow her to enter Hungary?
Instead of greeting them at the airport around noon on December 2nd, we welcomed them just before midnight. I didn’t relax until I saw them come through the doors in arrival.
Just to keep things interesting, the U.S. tightened the rules for entry effective December 6th. All arrivals, regardless of vaccine status, will need a negative test within 24 hours. The good news is that it does not need to be a PCR test; an antigen test will do.
A Brief Rant
I understand that the pandemic has made everything harder, and of course, the airline industry has been greatly impacted. However, our experiences with Delta and their partner, Air France, left a bad taste in our mouths.
Delta scheduled the flights, including one with a layover of less than two hours in Paris. Their representative assured me that the layover time was more than adequate. And that may have been so if the arriving plane did not disembark late and the departing plane did not leave twenty minutes early.
According to Steph and Laura, the Air France gate attendant was unhelpful and uncaring. I imagine he is tired of the stress and constant rule changes caused by the pandemic, but his job is to help passengers.
Cold Weather and Warm Hugs
The daytime temperatures were in the low to mid-thirties with a bite in the air. We did as much sightseeing as we could handle in the cold and made up for it with a lot of family meals.
Steph and Laura stocking up on winter wear
Laura was hoping to see snow, but except for a light dusting which melted quickly, it was not to be.
Early morning snowfall
We watched our favorite holiday movie, Christmas Vacation. How does it manage to get funnier each time we watch it? We also enjoyed The Last Holiday with Queen Latifah. This is not a Christmas movie per se, but it does take place at Christmas time. Much of the action occurs at the Grandhotel Pupp, a functioning luxury hotel in Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic. The hotel’s over-the-top luxury isn’t as costly as you might think.
Even though we didn’t get to all the activities we had planned, we were able to share some of our favorite places with our girls.
We made several visits to two of the Christmas markets in the city, the one in Vörösmarty Square and the one in front of St. Stephen’s Basilica. Both were extremely crowded, especially around the food vendors. There were a lot of beautiful items for sale, but the prices seemed high.
A colorful booth at the market
The markets, as well as the baths, required proof of Covid vaccination. We had heard conflicting information on the acceptance of the CDC cards, so we were pleased that the CDC cards were accepted everywhere.
As our regular readers know, Steve and I love the baths and have visited them often, but this was our first time in cold weather. We went to the epic Szechenyi Baths. We all decided that we prefer the outdoor pools to the indoor ones. Of course, that meant hurrying between pools in 35 degrees F (2 degrees C) weather.
Steve and Steph in hot water
Fisherman’s Bastion, Buda Castle, and the Labyrinth
No trip to Budapest is complete without seeing the fanciful Fisherman’s Bastion. We bundled up against the cold to see it and Buda Castle. In between, we toured the Labyrinth, one of many tunnels beneath the city.
Lots of Good Food
Steve and I couldn’t wait to share some of our favorite restaurants with Steph and Laura. We went to Kiskakukk and Hungarian Hell’s Kitchen (also known as Nagy Fa-Tál Konyhája) for lunch and Spinoza for dinner. All feature traditional Hungarian fare.
We also got ourselves up early to enjoy breakfast a Circusz. This place is so popular if you are not there early, you will most likely be waiting in line. As always, the food was fantastic.
The dining highlight was the Advent brunch at Lang Bistro and Grill in the Hilton Hotel. The selection was huge, and each item was delectable. We had a view of the Danube River and the Hungarian Parliament.
Aquaworld (Of Course)
We had to share one of our favorite Hungarian places with Steph and Laura. We spent two nights at Aquaworld. I think they loved it as much as we do.
Museum of Sweets and Selfies
Perhaps the most fun we had was at the two Museum of Sweets and Selfies locations.
Just a few of our photos from the two Museum of Sweets and Selfies locations
Ervin Szabó Library
We split up one day. Steph and I went to the National Gallery (primarily Hungarian art) and the Cave Church. Steve and Laura climbed to the top of St. Stephen’s Basilica and went to the Ervin Szabó Library.
At the library, Steve and Laura expected to see elegant neo-baroque rooms filled with students. Instead, they found empty but still elegant rooms. The library is being used to film part of an Emma Stone movie, Poor Things. Even though it was closed, the guard let Steve and Laura look around.
A room in the library before the furniture was removed for filming
Budapest is a popular place for filming. It often stands in for other cities. When Steve and I watched the series Homeland, we were delighted to recognize several Budapest locations, including the New York Palace Hotel. In that case, the city was a stand-in for Moscow.
Despite the travel stresses and cold weather, we all agreed that the most important thing was spending time together. As always, we enjoyed chatting and laughing with each other.
A Christmas Surprise
Our landlord, Bé, and his partner Marcel set up Christmas decorations for us and brought wine and jam. We already knew Bé was a fantastic landlord, but this was above and beyond.
Riding Out the Winter
After a busy fall, it looks like Steve and I will be lying low (again) for the next few months. Perhaps we will take a few short spa vacations, but mostly we will be planning and praying for travel to open up in the spring.
We are still hoping to do the 10-day U.K. hike we had booked two years ago, and visit some countries close to Hungary like Austria and Slovenia.
Meanwhile, I am keeping busy working on this blog, studying Italian on Duolingo, and starting a Coursera course called Hacking Exercise for Health. I’m also looking forward to getting back to a gym. Wait, did I just write that? Who am I? Seriously, I have been pretty good about doing simple workouts at home, but I miss the treadmill and rowing machine.
Until Next Time
Steve and I wish you all a healthy, prosperous, and joy-filled 2022. Drop us a line or two in the comments section and tell us about your plans for 2022.
Hi there! I hope this finds you well as we enter the last month of 2021.
If you are a regular reader, you know that Steve and I enjoyed a summer full of activity, including visiting many baths and taking several side trips from our current home base in Budapest. Then November arrived.
Not only did November bring colder weather, but it also brought an uptick in Covid cases and the Omicron variant. So instead of exploring, we spent most of the month planning for our daughters’ December visit, celebrating Thanksgiving, and dealing with the unglamorous side of full-time travel.
But before I share those details, I want to introduce our new buddy, Hedgemeister.
Hi, I’m Hedgemeister
He is a stuffed hedgehog who will be accompanying us on future adventures. He is our third hedgehog buddy, and like the first two, he loves beer and has a sassy side.
A Scavenger Hunt and a Feast
This was our fourth Thanksgiving out of the U.S., but the first one we chose to celebrate. There are quite a few places to have Thanksgiving dinner in Budapest, but they are all in the evening. We prefer to have our dinner mid-day, so we decided to eat at home.
Not only did this mean a delectable feast, but it also meant we got to go on a scavenger hunt as we looked for turkey, cranberries, and gravy. None of these are popular in Hungary, so we had to pay top dollar, but it was worth it.
Steve ordered the turkey from a butcher at the Lehel Market. Not only did they forget to fill the order, causing him to wait a few hours, but we paid a ridiculous $3.50 per pound.
We found cranberries and gravy at Taste the World. As with all imported food, they came at a jaw-dropping cost: $5.00 per item.
A girl has to have her cranberries
At less than $2.00 per bottle, at least the wine was inexpensive
Two Vaccines Down, One to Go
We got our annual flu vaccines early in the month and our Covid booster a few weeks later.
The Hungarian government had a week-long vaccine campaign mainly providing boosters but offering first and second shots to the unvaccinated as well. It was so successful that they extended it for a second week. It was efficient, and we got to choose among five vaccines.
The last thing on our list is the tick vaccine. It protects against tick-borne encephalitis and requires three shots. There is no currently available vaccine to protect against Lyme disease.
All is Merry and Bright
After a low-key holiday season last year, it was great to see more Christmas decorations popping up around the city.
Dressed up Budapest
The Christmas markets opened mid-month, although you need proof of Covid vaccination to enter them. There are plenty of vendors selling Christmas items outside of the markets as well.
A Lot of Drugery
Every so often, a bunch of “stuff” needs attention. This month was full of those things:
We replaced our SIM card provider. We had been using Vodafone, which has been becoming less reliable by the day. And the staff at the stores is obviously frustrated. We said so long to them and switched to Telekom.
Both of us had eye exams at FirstMed, a great place for your medical needs. The exams went swimmingly. I then ordered my contact lens through Vision Express, and it took one month for them to arrive.
My iPad battery had to be replaced. That meant two whole days without it.
How I felt without my iPad
Planning continued for Stephanie and Laura’s trip. Steve and I can’t wait to see our girls. It’s been almost two years. As excited as we are, we all have felt the stress of planning an overseas trip during a pandemic. Our biggest concern is if the girls’ CDC documents will be accepted at venues restricting access to vaccinated people.
Yes, folks, this is the not-so-glamorous side of full-time travel. The daily tasks and frustrations may be less, but they still exist and are being done in a foreign country in a language you probably don’t understand.
And a Little Fun
We did manage to have some fun. I spent an afternoon at the Gellert Baths, we revisited the Hungarian National Museum (history), and we had several meals out, including all-you-can-eat chicken wings at Hoff House.
Hedgemeister’s first taste of chicken wings was a big success
Steve and Hedgemeister enjoying a new restaurant, Trattoria Cardinale
This Month’s Media
Even though travel is limited right now, you can enjoy learning about cool new places. One such place is Budapest’s Margaret Island. This tiny island in the Danube River is a delightful place to explore.
I’ve been reading The Return: A Novel by Victoria Hislop. It is the story of Spain’s civil war (1936-1939) which resulted in dictator Francisco Franco ruling the country for the next 36 years.
I did not know much about this war before reading this book, and it has inspired me to learn more. In true historical fiction fashion, it frames history in personal narratives and paints memorable pictures.
Deep divides between political ideologies fueled extreme violence. To make matters worse, the Catholic church’s supported Franco’s far-right coalition. I couldn’t help noticing the similarities between this story and the political climate in the U.S. right now.
I also recommend The Island, a novel by the same author about a leper colony on the Greek island of Crete during the first half of the 1900s and several mainland families’ connections to it.
Until Next Time
I wish each of you a wonderful December filled with joy, love, and good health.
When Steve and I arrived in Budapest, our driver suggested we visit Margaret Island. The way she described it did not make us want to head right over there. This view was reinforced the first time Steve and I visited the island.
We had been walking for close to an hour when we reached the southern entrance of the island. For several minutes we walked along a crowded sidewalk, thinking, “Is this it?” We were tired, so we turned around and went home. It turns out that you need to walk for four or five minutes before you are really in the park if you enter from the southern end.
We tried another day, and I am glad we did. Who knew one little island could hold so much?
I am excited to share many of the cool things to do on Margaret Island, starting from the southern end and working up to the northern tip.
A Brief Intro to the Island
Where is Margaret Island Located?
Margaret Island sits in the Danube River between Districts II and III on the Buda side of the city and District XIII on the Pest side. The long, narrow island covers an area of less than 1 square kilometer (less than half a square mile), but there is a lot packed into that space.
You can access the island from the Margaret Bridge on the southern end or from the Árpád Bridge on the northern end. Since most people will enter it from the south, which is closer to the city center, I will list the points of interest from south to north.
The points of interest on Margaret Island – the Margaret Bridge is on the far left
Why is it called Margaret Island?
The island owes its name to Saint Margaret. She was the daughter of King Béla IV, who ruled in the 13th century. King Béla was forced off his land in Buda by the Tatars. While in exile in Dalmatia, he promised his next child to God if he could get his kingdom back.
As luck would have it, he was able to return to Buda and rebuild his kingdom. His next child was a daughter named Margaret (Margit in Hungarian). He kept his promise and sent her to live with Dominican nuns when she was three or four years old. A few years later, King Béla had a Dominican convent built on what was then called Rabbit Island so Margaret could be closer to her parents. She moved to that convent when she was nine years old and lived there until her death at twenty-eight. Here is more information about Margaret’s interesting and tragic life.
The Main Attractions
The Centenary Monument (#18 in blue)
The Centenary Monument was erected in 1972 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the creation of Budapest by unifying the cities of Obuda, Buda, and Pest in 1873.
You can see the monument in the featured photo. This monument looks simple, but get up close and look inside. You will see reliefs of the main events in Hungarian history for those 100 years.
One small part of the inside of the Centenary Monument
Musical Fountain (#12 in red)
Just past the Centenary Monument, you will see a large fountain. There are hourly musical shows in the warm weather. Even when there is no music, this is a popular place to relax.
Here is the website for the fountain shows. It is in Hungarian, but it is easy to understand the schedule.
The Musical Fountain
Franciscan monastery ruins (#17 in blue)
As you head up the main road, you will come across the ruins of a 13th-century Franciscan church and monastery. There isn’t much left, but it is a great place for a few photos.
The front of the Franciscan monastery ruins
Palantinus Baths (#1 in light blue)
There are several baths in Budapest. What makes Palatinus different is that it is more of a swim park complete with slides. It is also less costly than the well-known Szechenyi or Gellert baths.
The clouds did not detract from the fun
Rose Garden (#9 in red)
Across the road from the Palatinus Baths is a large rose garden. It is a sight to behold when the roses are in bloom. But don’t despair; even if you visit when they aren’t in bloom, the island is full of vegetation.
Dominican Convent Ruins (#16 in blue)
Head toward the Pest side of the island and slightly left, and you will find the ruins of a 13th-century Dominican convent. Margaret spent most of her life here.
There is much more to see here than at the Franciscan monastery ruins.
Part of the convent ruins
Water Tower (#8 in red)
Just a little way ahead and toward the center of the island is the water tower. It was built over 100 years ago in the Art Nouveau style. If you’re feeling ambitious, you can climb its 152 steps to the top.
A word of warning: unless you are looking for some exercise, you should skip climbing the tower. There isn’t much to see when you reach the top. You get much better views of the city from Gellért Hill and Fishermans’ Bastion.
The water tower with an open-air theater at the bottom
Japanese Garden (#7 in red)
The island can be teeming with activity yet still be tranquil. One of the best places for tranquility is in the Margaret Island Japanese Garden. It is close to the northern end of the island.
The garden is small but holds several delights. Don’t miss the lily pond with the Little Mermaid of Budapest statue.
In the Japanese Garden
Other Things to See and Do
There is even more to see on this marvelous island. As above, the items are listed from south to north except the running track, which encircles the island.
Runners can enjoy the beauty of the island and views of the Buda and Pest shores while running around the island on a 3.2 mile (5.3 km) rubberized track. Learn more about this run here.
Mini Zoo (#10 in red)
This is truly a mini zoo, but the animals are sure to delight the little ones.
Premonstratensian Church (#14 in blue)
This Romanesque church originally dated back to the 12th century and was reconstructed in 1931.
Its bell is from the 15th century and had been lost. It was found buried in 1914 when a storm knocked down a tree. Monks most likely buried it during the Turkish invasion in the 16th century.
The Premonstratensian church
Musical Well (#6 in red)
Not to be confused with the musical fountain on the southern end. This well is a replica of the first musical well ever built.
The musical well on Margaret Island
Getting To and Around Margaret Island
It’s easy to get to the southern entrance on tram number 4 or 6. Both stop in the middle of the Margaret Bridge. You can also take bus number 26. It is the only public transportation that goes onto the island. These are just two of the many options. You can find the best route for you on Google Maps.
You can only drive onto the island from the north end, and only to go to the parking lots for the hotels, but there are several ways to explore it:
Walking – This is my favorite since the island isn’t that big.
Bikes – You can rent a bike on the island, although the hours are limited. Another option is to use MOL Bubi Budapest. This bike-share system works well. You can find bikes all over the city, and there are several places to return them on Margaret Island. You will need to register beforehand.
E-Scooters – Three companies have e-scooters available in Budapest, Lime Bike, Bird, and Tier. I have only used Lime Bike. Its app worked well, but I have sworn off e-scooters after having two accidents that were both my fault. You can read about them in “Beware the E-Scooters.”
If you want to try e-scooters, check out the various apps. There are restrictions on where you can leave them.
Fun and funky rentals – There are several vendors near the southern end of the island who rent bikes, scooters, and peddle cars. You can find them around the circle that contains the Centenary Monument.
Train – this cute train might be just the ticket if you are with young children.
The train is waiting for you at the Centenary Monument
As you can see, there is a lot of history and much to see and do on Margaret Island. There are also two hotels and a hostel on the island, as well as places to eat, playgrounds, workout stations, and public restrooms scattered about.
Until Next Time
I hope this post has inspired you to explore Margaret Island. Or perhaps it brought back memories of a past visit. Either way, Steve and I would love to hear your impressions of Margaret Island.
Can you believe it’s November already? This year is flying by. I can’t decide if that is a good thing or a bad thing.
Steve and I stayed busy in October, but this month all our activities were close to home. The most exciting thing that happened this month is that we began making arrangements for our daughters, Stephanie and Laura, to visit us in December. We are hoping the pandemic doesn’t mess up our plans.
The number of new cases is still low in Hungary but continues to increase. We are keeping a close eye on it. We’ve noticed more people wearing masks again.
Read on to see what we did, saw, and learned in October.
Dohány Street Synagogue
We started the month visiting a place that has been on our radar since we got to Budapest a year and a half ago. We toured the Dohány Street Synagogue. It had been closed to tours until recently. You can see part of the front of the synagogue in our featured photo.
This beautiful synagogue is the largest in Europe. The largest synagogue in the world is the Belz Great Synagogue in Jerusalem.
Here are a few facts about the Dohány Street Synagogue:
It was built in the Morrish Revival style.
It seats 3,000 people.
A smaller temple called Heroes Temple is used for winter services to avoid heating the large synagogue.
This is the only synagogue in the world with a cemetery on its grounds. There are over 2,000 Jews buried here. They are people who died in the ghetto during WWII and remained unburied when the ghetto was liberated.
There is a Hungarian Jewish Museum connected to the synagogue.
The synagogue is on Dohány Street, which translates to the unromantic Tobacco Street.
According to our tour guide, the synagogue is more ornate than most and has similarities to Catholic churches. This was done intentionally because the Jews who settled in Budapest wanted to assimilate. They wanted to show that they weren’t that different.
Inside the synagogue
There is a large statue of a weeping willow on the grounds. It is called the Emanuel Tree. The tree was installed in 1991 and paid for by the American actor Tony Curtis in memory of his Hungarian-born father, Emanuel Schwartz.
The tree is a memorial to Hungarian Jews killed during the Holocaust. Many of their names are engraved on the leaves.
The Emanuel Tree and engraved leaves
The synagogue grounds also contain several memorials to both Jews and non-Jews who helped save Jews during the Holocaust.
Budapest is teeming with beautiful buildings, but one of the most exquisite is difficult to appreciate from the street because other buildings closely surround it.
To get a good view of the Royal Postal Savings Bank Building, you need to go to the Hotel President, which is right across the street. Once there, you go to the roof-top restaurant Intermezzo to enjoy the building’s beauty and have a 360-degree view of Budapest.
This building is now the Hungarian State Treasury.
The Royal Postal Savings Bank Building
A Klezmer Show
We finally got to see the Klezmer show at the Spinoza Restaurant. The restaurant had been closed throughout the pandemic and just reopened.
Klezmer music is a tradition of the Ashkenazi Jews of Eastern and Central Europe. Even though we couldn’t understand the words, much of the music was instrumental, and most of it was lively. It was a great way to experience a little of the local culture.
A night of local culture
Steve got to spend several hours ogling cars, trains, and other wheeled contraptions at the Oldtimer Show held in the 10 acre Hungarian Railway History Park. I was in a Zoom meeting and missed it.
And other things with wheels
The Budapest Retro Interactive Museum
This is a new museum in the city that showcases life in Socialist Hungary. The displays are primarily from the 1970s and 1980s. There are a lot of hands-on exhibits and plenty of English translations. You can even use an old phone to hear jokes like this one:
Three men, a Brit, a Frenchman, and a Russian, are looking at a painting of Adam and Eve.
The Brit says, “look how reserved they are. They must be British.”
The Frenchman says, “Nonsense. They are beautiful. They must be French.”
The Russian finally chimes in. “They are Russian,” he says. “They have no clothes, no shelter, and only an apple to eat, yet they are told they are in paradise.”
Steve and I visited a similar museum in Varna, Bulgaria, a few years ago. The Retro Museum in Varna also showcases life under Socialism but is much larger and covers all the decades of Soviet control. Hopefully, the Budapest museum will do well and grow. Find out more on their website.
Photo of Leonid Brezhnev and Eric Honecker (East German politician)
Art Market Budapest
We also spent several hours contemplating contemporary art at an international art fair. It was held in The Whale (Bálna), a modern building with shops, restaurants, and convention space. I don’t know how Hungarians feel about this building, but I wouldn’t be surprised if not everyone appreciates its style.
The Whale on the Pest side of the Danube River
Inside The Whale
A Covid-inspired interpretation of The Girl With the Pearl Earring by Johannes Vermeer – this one by Naomi Devil
A vibrant painting by Omar Mendoza
Another Trip to Aquaworld
I apologize if you are getting sick of hearing about this place. This was our third three-night visit to Aquaworld, thanks to their “buy two nights, get one free” deal.
Since the swim season is over, it was a different experience than our first visit in July. There were fewer people, and some of the pools and saunas were closed because of the cool weather and decreased demand. But there was more than enough to keep us happy. We loved luxuriating in the warm pools while the air was 45 degrees F.
The view from our room, lovely any time of year
We also paid a visit to a third bath in the city. Rudas Baths aren’t as well-known as Szechenyi or Gellert Baths. However, Rudas Baths have the longest history. Its octagon-shaped Turkish bath dates back to 1550! Unfortunately, photos of the original pool aren’t allowed.
The baths have more modern features, too, including a roof-top pool overlooking the Danube River.
Rooftop bathing at Rudas Baths
One of several Zsolnay tile fountains in the baths
Loving City Living
Having spent six decades as a suburbanite, I’ve discovered that I love city living. Yes, it can be noisy and crowded, but that’s a small price to pay for the vast array of attractions at our disposal. I love that we don’t need a car and can walk to the grocery store in just a few minutes.
I also love that events occur constantly. One morning we went out for breakfast. As we headed home, we ran across an art display featuring animals. Here are two of them:
It isn’t every day you see a bull made out of beer cans
Or a shiny silver bear
Another day, we watched thousands of people fill the streets in our neighborhood to celebrate the Memorial Day of the 1956 Revolution. The president gave a speech, which we couldn’t understand, but we loved watching the crowds from our apartment.
As Steve says, “These are the best seats in the house.”
It is interesting to see how clean the residents keep the city. When the crowds cleared, the was almost no garbage on the streets. Soon afterward, street cleaning machines were doing their job. This is quite a contrast to the mess left behind in Buenos Aires after a day of protests.
No litter and streets being washed after political rally
This Month’s Media
In between our activities, I managed to publish three blog posts:
I also enjoyed another Dan Brown novel. Origin is the story of a scientist who discovers the answers to the questions “where did we come from” and “where are we going?” His discovery threatens the world’s religions.
Once again, Brown made locations come to life. He did a fantastic job describing the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao in Bilbao, Spain, and wrote a little about several Budapest locations, including the Dohány Street Synagogue.
The book also has Winston, a helpful AI creation with a personality. But my favorite part of the book was how the main character, Edmond Kirsch, logically examines religious beliefs. It discusses how throughout history, humans have invented gods to fill in the gaps in their understanding of the world.
The story also includes the Palmarian Catholic Church, a Catholic church that does not recognize any popes after Paul VI as Catholic and has its own “popes.” Some describe it as a cult.
Is this great literature? No. It is a thriller that teaches you and makes you think if you let it.
Until Next Time
Steve and I hope you had a great October. Drop us a comment to let us know what you’ve been up to or suggest some good TV viewing; we are desperate.
Are you planning a ski vacation this winter? Are you trying to get the most for your money? If so, you may be considering the Bulgarian ski resort of Bansko.
Steve and I chose Bansko for our January 2020 ski trip because of the low cost of accommodations and skiing and the fact that we wouldn’t need a car.
In this post, I will tell you what we loved about skiing in Bansko and what we didn’t. Even though our experience was negative, I must stress that we love visiting Bulgaria. In addition to Bansko, we’ve enjoyed visiting Sofia, Plovdiv, and the Black Sea Coast and have met wonderful people there.
Understanding the Bansko Resort
Ski-in, ski-out is not an option since there are no accommodations near the lifts. So before you can hit the slopes, you need to get up the mountain to the lifts. There are four ways to do this: by gondola, shuttle bus, driving yourself, or taxi. Most people take the 3.9-mile (6.3 km) gondola ride.
You have the option of getting off the Gondola in two places, but most people go to the second stop.
When you are ready to call it a day, you can return to town by gondola or vehicle, or you can ski back on Ski Road #1.
Bansko has 30 miles (48 km) of slopes and 14 lifts, including two 6-seat chairlifts. There are several places to eat throughout the resort.
Morning on the slopes
Learn more about skiing in Bansko on their website here or access the ski map.
All money is in U.S. Dollars.
What Is Good About Skiing In Bansko
You can walk practically anywhere
This charming town is compact, but if you need a vehicle, taxis are readily available.
You can’t beat the cost
Our daily lift ticket was $38. Ski rental, including a helmet, was $30 per day. We rented from Traventuria. The current cost for a lift pass, skis, poles, and boots for an adult is $123 for two days (their shortest package).
We each had an hour-long private lesson at about $70 each.
Lodging is also a bargain. We booked an Airbnb for three weeks for less than $900.
As you can see in the photo above, the gondolas are in great shape. The lifts were also in great shape, and the runs were well-groomed.
What Wasn’t Good About Skiing In Bansko
Unfortunately, there was a lot we didn’t know about skiing in Bansko. If we had known these things, we would have looked for another place to ski.
As a disclaimer, all my previous skiing had been on the East Coast of the U.S. on small mountains. It may be that what I found in Bansko is common in Europe. Either way, these are the things that made the experience less than ideal:
Getting on the gondola is a hassle
If you choose to take the gondola up the mountain, you will have a few challenges. You have to go up a long set of stairs to get to the loading area. Not easy to do in ski boots.
The line is orderly until you get to the top of the stairs and try to get into a gondola car. At this point, it becomes a contact sport.
Getting on the lifts is also a hassle
The rudeness continues at the entrances to the lifts. There are no lines, only surging crowds. To make matters worse, the entrances to the lifts are raised, so everyone is trying to move up and into a slot while being pushed and crowded.
As I was trying to get on one lift, I found that I couldn’t move one of my skis. It was so crowded that someone behind me had his ski over mine.
Safety isn’t a priority
I did not see any information on ski conditions. The only way to see the conditions is to go up the mountain. This led to a serious accident for Steve. We started down the Ski Road on what should have been an easy run. Suddenly I was speeding down an ice-covered slope. It took all my skiing skills to stay upright until I reached the bottom.
Steve was not so lucky. He fell on that ice and fractured his pelvis. You can read about his horrific hospital stay in our post “Hospitalized in Bulgaria.”
Several people stopped to help Steve and put up skis to warn other skiers. However, an instructor was skiing backward and ran into Steve. And he didn’t even apologize.
As Steve’s accident showed, there is no warning of dangerous conditions, and runs were kept open even when they had a lot of ice.
The slopes are overcrowded
I went skiing another day, and between the ice and the large number of inexperienced skiers, I felt unsafe and cut it short. Bansko is very popular with new skiers from Europe and the U.K. partly because of the low cost. That means the slopes get very crowded.
Getting a lift pass is inefficient
The last thing that was frustrating was how lift passes were handled. The company I rented from only sold passes for two or more consecutive days. SInce I was only planning to ski one day, I was told to buy one at the bottom of the gondola station.
The gondola starts running at 8:30 a.m. The ticket booth also opens at 8:30, so by the time the ticket booth opens, the line can get very long.
But that isn’t inefficient enough. A sign said they accept VISA, so I chose to pay that way. The clerk rang up my purchase, and I paid. Then she asked if I had cash for the deposit on the lift card. I did, but it was tucked away in my money belt under several layers of clothes. During this, the line to get on the gondola was growing longer. Why they don’t charge it all at once is beyond me.
My intention isn’t to hate on Bansko skiing but to give you information that can help you decide if this is a good choice for you.
Bansko is a charming town worth visiting any time of year, whether or not you choose to ski there.
A few scenes from Bansko
Steve has skied his last slope. I, however, intend to try again this winter. I will be considering the availability and quality of medical care near the resort.
We would love to hear about your experiences skiing Bansko and welcome any suggestions about ski resorts that don’t require you to have a car.
Stay safe and healthy, Linda
Our featured photo shows the ski mountain in Bansko.
One and a half years into this pandemic, and it’s still wreaking havoc with lives. Like everyone else, Steve and I can’t wait for our lives to return to normal. Still, we respect how dangerous Covid is and how it is overwhelming healthcare systems, so we will continue to be cautious as long as necessary.
Early in the month, Steve and I talked about how the number of Covid cases was low in Hungary, and maybe it was time to venture into nearby countries. We considered a trip to Vienna, Austria but discovered that their Covid numbers were higher than Hungary’s. So we now have a new travel rule: don’t go to places with higher rates of active Covid cases than the place you are. So we will limit our travel to Hungarian towns for now.
At the start of September, there were less than 200 new cases per day. By month-end, that number has tripled.
Gellert Spa and Bath
Our love affair with thermal baths continues.
Hotel Gellért has graced the bank of the Danube River in Budapest with its Art Nouveau elegance for over 100 years. It is on the Buda side of the city at the foot of the Liberty Bridge.
The hotel is connected to the Gellért Spa, a well-known Budapest attraction. You can visit the spa even if you aren’t a guest at the hotel. I had read some reviews that said that the baths need renovation. Despite those reviews, I wanted to visit it to see the décor, so Steve and I checked it out. I was not disappointed.
Yes, things could have been better. The fountains were empty, and the wave machine was not working. Mineral deposits hung from the statues in the thermal pools, and a few statues were missing. Even so, you can’t deny its glamour.
According to this article by CGTN, the spa was slated for renovation, but the loss of revenues because of the pandemic has put that in question.
The main outside attraction is the wave pool, which is currently being used as a swimming pool. It is surrounded by decorative tiles, statues, and plants and overlooked by a large terrace. Chaise lounges fill the multi-level patio. There is also a rather boring-looking thermal bath too, as well as a Finnish sauna and tub.
The GellértSpa wave pool and patio
The grandeur continues inside with a swimming pool and several thermal baths. A steam room, massages, beauty treatments, and medical spa services are available.
I loved the balcony with lounge chairs and a retractable roof overlooking the indoor pool. For someone who loves to read by a pool and does not want too much sun, this was perfect.
The indoor pool and balconies
Return to Aquaworld
Steve and I enjoyed our July visit to Aquaworld Resort Budapest so much we decided to make another three-night visit. Since school has resumed in Hungary, it was less crowded than last time.
Even though there were fewer people, there were a lot of families with small children. The complex is large enough that you can always find a quiet place, but the overtired kids made for some noisy meal times. Since it is a resort with a waterpark, that is to be expected.
We hung out in the pools and thermal baths until we were waterlogged, drying off only to eat and sleep. Breakfast and dinner were included, and the food was fabulous.
The indoor lap pool and hanging bridge at Aquaworld at closing time
On our first night, our waiter had a hard time understanding what we wanted to drink, partly because of the language and partly because he was hard of hearing. We finally got it sorted out. Thankfully we only had to place a drink order.
The next night, we chose a table in a different section. Low and behold, here comes the same waiter. This night, I felt like wine, so I asked for a glass of merlot. Our waiter said, “merlot isn’t good,” and suggested pinot noir. I agreed to give it a try.
The pinot noir wasn’t bad, but I preferred merlot, so when I was ready for a second glass, I asked for merlot.
The waiter said, “Pinot noir?”
I said, “No, merlot.”
He said, “Pinot noir,” and nodded his head.
I said, “No, merlot,” a little more forcefully.
He looked at me a said, “Merlot?”
I nodded my head in agreement. Phew, I was glad that was over.
When he returned with my wine, he put it down and proudly stated, “Pinot noir.”
I shook my head and said, “No, merlot.”
He went off to replace it.
I’ve never worked so hard to get what I wanted in a restaurant.
A Visit to Northeast Hungary
Steve and I talked about visiting some Hungarian towns east of Budapest for a while but never seemed to pull it all together. We finally got down to it and planned a trip to the towns of Eger and Lillafüred.
Our first stop was three nights in Eger. We explored a 13th-century castle, toured the Archbishop’s Palace and Cellars (caves that had been a wine cellar), and visited a Beatles museum.
We also headed over to nearby Egerszalók to see the Sodomb, a large limestone hill, and spend time in yet another bath.
A luxury hotel, the Beatles, a castle view, and a spa day
For more than a year, I have been intrigued by the Hotel Palota in Lillafüred.
Hotel Palota at night
The hotel is in a valley in the Bükk Mountains. There are several caves and many hiking trails to explore there.
Hotel Palota was built in 1930. From then until World War II, it was enjoyed by members of high society. During the war, it was occupied by German soldiers and also served as a hospital for Russian soldiers.
After the war, the hotel was again used as intended. For much of this time, it was managed by the National Council of Trade Unions. You needed a special voucher to stay at the hotel.
In 1993, the hotel was acquired by the Hunguest chain, which refurbished and modernized it. It is on the Register of Hungaricums as a valuable national treasure.
Views of the hotel
We toured two limestone caves near Hotel Palota. The first was Anna Cave. This cave has several plant fossils. The tour lasted about 40 minutes and was in Hungarian. Our guide got a lot of laughs while Steve and I stood there looking lost.
The second cave was the Szent István Cave. This tour was a little shorter and also in Hungarian. This guide did not get any laughs. Despite not understanding what was being said, Steve and I got some cool photos.
If you can only see one cave, I recommend Szent István. It has more interesting formations, which you can see in these photos:
Formations in Szent István cave
Miskolctapolca Cave Bath
The town of Miskolctapolca is one and a half hours from Lillafüred. Its claim to fame is the cave baths. In the Miskolctapolca Cave Bath, you can swim through caves in 86 degrees F (30 degrees C) spring water.
Into the cave
Inside the cave bath
Steve and I did not want to miss this, but we were a little disappointed. Because sound carries in the caves, and all the kids had to take advantage of that, it was noisy. Another issue was that the more secluded pools seemed to attract a lot of couples who thought because the lights were low, they had privacy. I’m not talking about teenagers who couldn’t keep their hands off each other. There were several middle-aged couples who were getting a little friendlier than is appropriate in public.
Despite this, I am glad we got to experience the cave bath.
This Month’s Media
Inferno is one of the most enjoyable books I have ever read. Not because of the plot, which is standard thriller, but because author Dan Brown does three things very well: 1. he brings places to life. A lot of this story takes place in Florence, Italy. His descriptions of that city’s sights make me anxious to see them. 2. he incorporates art, in this case, Dante’s epic poem, The Divine Comedy. 3. he ties in religious and social issues that make you think.
In Inferno, the primary social issue is overpopulation. How many people can the Earth support, and what happens when we grossly exceed that number? The mad scientist’s solution was one I would never have thought of.
It would be great if Dan Brown got all his facts straight, but despite these hiccups, I still enjoy everything his novels offer.
A few months ago Steve and I watched Unorthodox on Netflix and enjoyed it a lot. This month, I decided to check out the book on which it was based. In her book Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots author Deborah Feldman delves deep into the life of the Satmar Jews. She isn’t afraid to talk about the darker side of this secluded sect.
I enjoyed the book but was surprised when it ended without any details about how she left the Hasidic life or what she has done since. It was one of the few times I thought the show was better than the book.
Until Next Time
Steve and I would love to hear what you’ve been up to and if travel has made its way back into your life.
Featured photo – detail of a window in Hotel Palota
If you are looking for a fun getaway in Hungary, consider Eger. It is the largest town in the Eger wine region and only 84 miles (135 km) from Budapest. It can easily be reached by car or train.
A visit to Eger will reward you with beautiful views, Baroque architecture, and a valley dedicated to wine. You can also visit one of the five Beatles museums in the world!
Steve and I couldn’t wait to visit Eger. In addition to seeing new Hungarian sights, we were looking forward to spending a few nights in the Oval Suite at the Erla Villa hotel.
Our bathroom – can’t you feel the luxury?
In between oohing and aahing over the scrumptious décor and grounds of the hotel, we managed to see several Eger attractions. We hopped over to nearby Egerszalók to see the salt hill and the Saliris Resort.
Here is our take on the Eger and Egerszalók sights.
What We Did In Eger
Eger Castle is one of the most popular attractions in Eger. The castle dates back to the 13th century and is best known for the Siege of Eger (1552), during which the Hungarian defenders repelled a Turkish army that outnumbered them by more than 15 to 1.
Some of the castle walls with the city of Eger below
While there, you can visit several indoor exhibits, including one about the castle’s history. It covers several rooms, is well done, and includes English translations. When we visited, there was a temporary weapons exhibit that I enjoyed because there were several hands-on artifacts, and the explanations (in Hungarian and English) were concise and informative.
From left to right: 16th-century Hungarian field officer uniform, 16-17th-century fist shield made of tortoise shell, prayer book (no date), 19th-century Persian helmet
Ergi Road Beatles Museum
Who would expect to find a Beatles Museum in a small city in Hungary? The Egri Road Beatles Museum has a collection of over 2,500 items.
Just a few of the many items in the museum – who knew there were Beatles cuff links?
One of the coolest things was being led into a cave to see a short film about the Beatles’ early lives.
The totally cool cave with photos of musicians who inspired the Beatles
There is also a month-by-month history of the group from their discovery through their breakup. It is in Hungarian and English.
This museum is sure to bring back many memories for baby boomers, but any music fan is sure to get something out of it. You could say we loved it, yeah, yeah, yeah!
Archbishop’s Palace and Cellars
The palace has been the home of the Archbishop of Eger (Roman Catholic) since 1740. There is a museum of religious artifacts on two floors of the palace.
A sitting room display in the museum
Detail of the painting Memento mori by Lukács Huetter circa 1750
The cellars are caves used to store wine until the mid-1900s, when the fear of collapse led to many of them being lined with cement. That meant the temperature and humidity were no longer suitable for storing wine.
Eger is one of Hungary’s twenty-two wine regions. Every year there is a contest in which the Archbishop chooses the wine served during communion for the coming year.
You can tour the caves with a guide. David was our guide, and he did a great job. The tour includes a display of the wines chosen as the best of the year and a taste of the Archbishop’s favorite. Of course, I took a bottle home.
The hill was created by a buildup of limestone deposits from the 150 degrees F (65 degrees C) spring water. You can enjoy the mineral-rich waters at The Saliris Resort, either as an overnight guest or during a daytime visit.
The limestone terraces overlooking the Saliris Resort (or is it the other way around?)
The Saliris Spa has 17 pools. You can see the outdoor ones in the photo above. The inside pools are fun to explore since they are terraced and have several cave-like areas. The spa also has saunas and a steam room. There is a cute section for kids, too.
Just for fun – the sign for the Helli Borozo Winery and Guest House in Egerszalók
More Things to See in Eger
Since we only spent two full days in Eger, there are several things we did not see, so I think we need to go back. Here are some of the other Eger attractions:
This is the only surviving minaret of the ten built in Eger by the Ottomans during the 17th century. It is also the northernmost minaret in Europe.
You can climb the narrow spiral staircase to get a birds-eye view of Eger. We did not since I was dealing with a sore hip. If you don’t make it up the minaret, don’t despair. You can get great views of the city from Eger castle.
The minaret is 131 feet tall (40 meters) and has 98 steps.
The minaret, as seen from Eger Castle
The Valley of the Beautiful Women
This valley is home to dozens of wine cellars side by side. You can visit many of them to sample the local wine and have a traditional Hungarian meal. We did not make it there on this trip. Again, another reason to go back.
Kopcsik Marcipánia Bell Foundry House (Marzipan Museum)
This small museum showcases the creations of master confectioner Lajos Kopcsik. From the photos, it looks similar to the one we visited in Szentendre, Hungary. However, this one has an entire Baroque room made of marzipan!
Our visit to the Szamos Marcipán Múzeum in Szentendre showed us that you can make anything out of marzipan, even Michael Jackson
Since we didn’t visit the Eger museum, we don’t have any photos, but you can get an idea of what you can see there on their website.
The Cathedral Basilica of St. John the Apostle
If you love beautiful buildings as much as Steve and I do, you would want to swing by the Cathedral Basilica of St. John the Apostle in Eger. The basilica is currently undergoing renovation, but according to this article, you can still visit it. The work is expected to be completed in the fall of 2022.
Eger Thermal Bath
This being Hungary, no city would be complete without at least one thermal bath. In Eger, you have the Eger Thermal Bath.
The bath has 13 pools, 9 of which are open year-round.
As in all the Hungarian cities we’ve visited, there is no shortage of architecture waiting to be admired.
The dismal day did not detract from this building’s beauty (on Dobó István Square)
The Church of Anthony of Padua (Minorite Church) – a Franciscan church also on Dobó István Square
Where We Stayed – The Erla Villa Hotel
As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, Steve and I were excited to spend several nights in the most luxurious hotel room we’ve ever had. Up until now, we’ve always booked a basic room, unwilling to cough up more money for a fancy room when the chips were down. But I fell in love with the Oval Suite when I saw it on the Erla Villa website. Even better, three nights with half board (breakfast and dinner) was only a little over $600.
The room turned out to be as stunning as the photos, and the food was fantastic.
There were a few things that could have been better. For example, breakfast wasn’t served until 8 o’clock, and there wasn’t any place to get coffee before then. That is a mild form of torture for us early risers. When I finally got my coffee, it was superb.
Also, the shower curtain didn’t go all the way across the opening, so no matter how careful you were, the floor in front of the shower got flooded.
Despite a few little things that could be improved, I would recommend this hotel, not only for the ambiance but also for the food (and coffee).
Until Next Time
Have you been to Eger or Egerszalók? What did you think? What was your favorite sight?
Featured photo by Adonis Villanueva on Pixabay.com
Can you believe August is over? I don’t know about you, but for me, time is flying. Steve and I have done more this month than in any of the previous sixteen months we’ve been in Hungary.
We spent many hours luxuriating in the Budapest baths. We also revisited the zoo and explored three nearby towns. These are the highlights.
All money is in U.S. Dollars unless otherwise stated.
New Covid cases in Hungary have remained low all summer. Right now, there are less than 200 new cases per day. But that doesn’t mean we are out of the woods. The Hungarian government is prepared to take steps to protect people in the country if the Delta variant takes off here. Steve and I try to be positive, but we expect a fourth wave.
Splish Splash We’ve Been Lovin’ the Baths
The Palatinus Strand is like your neighborhood pool if your neighborhood pool had ten outdoor pools of varying temperatures, an indoor thermal bath, water slides, and a wave pool.
There are also two saunas and a steam room. You can get a massage for an additional fee. As of this writing, a 45-minute massage costs $22.
Palatinus Strand is popular with families, partly because it is more affordable than the well-known Szechenyi and Gellert Baths. It costs about $10 to visit Palatinus, compared to $18 to visit the Szechenyi or Gellert Baths.
A visit to the Szechenyi Baths doesn’t come cheap, but it is worth it. These baths are one of the largest spa complexes in Europe. You can see the century-old Neo-Baroque building in the featured photo above.
You can bask in the elegant setting while enjoying three outdoor or fifteen indoor pools. Water temperature ranges from 65 to 104 degrees F (18 to 40 degrees C). There are also three saunas and three steam rooms. Massages are available for an additional fee. As of this writing, a 45-minute massage costs $32.
Two of the indoor pools at the Szechenyi Baths
When you visit the baths there is none of that heavy chlorine smell I associate with swimming pools, especially indoor ones. I wondered why. I found the answer here.
For thermal pools the water comes from natural hot springs. It is filtered and the water is replaced every day. No chemicals are added to the thermal pools.
The other pools are treated with a minimum amount of chlorine and salt.
Three Side Trips
We’ve been taking advantage of the low number of Covid cases to see parts of Hungary outside of Budapest. In August, we visited three Western Hungarian towns. The first was the spa town of Hévíz, located 120 miles (193 km) southwest of Budapest.
People go to Hévíz to bathe in thermal Lake Heviz. Even though it is the largest thermal lake in the world suitable for swimming, it is not very big. The lake covers about 11 acres (4.4 hectares).
You can swim in the lake, but most people float on pool noodles
The lake is fed by mineral-rich water that has curative properties. It is recommended for people suffering from rheumatic diseases and locomotor disorders. The lake is around 95 degrees F (35 C) in the summer and 75 degrees F (24 C) in the winter. The water in the lake is replaced every 72 hours.
We stayed at Ensana Thermal Hévíz for two nights, where we enjoyed the three indoor and two outdoor pools. The water temperatures ranging from 82 to 100 degrees F (28 to 38 degrees C).
Veszprém is a small city 75 miles (120 km) southwest of Budapest. It is easy to reach by train or bus.
The main reason we visited Veszprém was to see the Herend Porcelain Museum in the nearby town of Herend. The visit included a factory tour, and after seeing the work that goes into their products, I understand why they are so costly. Each piece is hand-painted.
This piece costs more than $35,000.
There were plenty of English translations and QR codes. Tours are available in English. Ours was very well done.
Ödön, The Street Musician, Ernő, The Guard, and Leonora, The Girl and The Lion
The creator of these sculptures is Mikhail Kolodko. He has several in Ukraine and Hungary including about twenty in Budapest. You can see some of them in ”The Funky Side of Budapest.”
A few random photos of Veszprém
Next, we headed to Székesfehérvár, which is 40 miles (65 km) southwest of Budapest. Again we had a specific sight in mind. We wanted to visit Bory Castle. We loved it.
Bory Castle was the home of architect and sculptor Jenő Bory and his family. The one-acre lot only contained a wine vault and press house when Bory purchased it in 1912. From 1923 to 1959, he added to the castle, designing as he built. He did most of the work himself.
The castle is filled with paintings and sculptures, many created by Bory and some by his wife.
You can easily spend a few hours there discovering delightful touches and enjoying different perspectives. You can climb towers and visit areas with romantic names like the Elephant Garden and the Hundred Pillared Courtyard. Every time I see a place like this, I imagine what it would be like to grow up there.
Scenes from Bory Castle
We also spent some time in the Árpád Bath while in Székesfehérvár.
One of the lounging areas in the Árpád Baths
We didn’t enjoy this as much as the Budapest baths because all the pools except the cold plunge pool were the same temperature. And none were really hot.
The bath has several saunas and a steam bath. There is also a tepidarium, which is a room in which you sit or lay on warm ceramic tiles.
After the baths we headed to the Hetedhét Toy Museum. It is full of toys from the 18th and 19th centuries, with an emphasis on dolls and dollhouses.
Drawers under the displays pull out to reveal more dolly delights
The museum’s website doesn’t translate into English, but they provide translations on all the exhibits.
As you can imagine, Steve didn’t love this, but he was patient while I explored. I’m not a doll-lover, but I figured as long as I was there, I might as well enjoy it. Besides, it was cold and rainy outside.
A Cool Day At The Zoo
It has been a hot summer, but once in a while, we get a cool day. We took advantage of one early in the month to make our third visit to the Budapest Zoo and Botanical Garden. It is located in the city and is easy to get to. This zoo is not large at only 44 acres (18 hectares), but there is a lot to see. There are over 10,000 animals from over 1,000 species.
We enjoyed watching this cute prairie dog.
Each time we go to the zoo, we discover something new. On this visit, it was the bat cave.
I am also working on improving my site’s visibility. It isn’t easy to get traction for a blog on a saturated topic like travel. Add the fact the travel has been restricted because of the pandemic, and you can understand the challenge.
I am reading William Zinsser’s book On Writing Well. My first takeaway was simplify, simplify, simplify. Just like being a Toastmaster has made me critical of the speech patterns of public speakers, this book threatens to turn me off to many novels and blogs. I’ve already stopped reading some after a few pages because they had too much fluff.
One book I enjoyed was The Island by Victoria Hislop. It is a historical novel set on the Greek island of Crete. The story is about a young woman who travels to a small Cretan town to learn about her mother’s past. She learns about a leper colony on a small island off Crete called Spinalonga and her family’s connection to it.
Spinalonga served as a leper colony from 1903 to 1957. People with leprosy, including children, were sent to the island. They could not have in-person contact with their families. The people who were banished to the island developed a society with shops, entertainment, a school, and a government.
I first heard about Spinalonga and The Island in this post from My Path In The World.
Until Next Time
Wow, I get tired just reading about everything we did in August, and I didn’t even include our hikes. I hope you enjoyed August too. Steve and I would love to hear what you’ve been up to.
It’s been a long haul for all of us, and it isn’t over yet, but at least life has begun to return to normal. After almost eight months of lockdowns and slowdowns, we are living life again. I hope you are also returning to your pre-pandemic life. Here is what we’ve been doing this month.
We Keep Getting More Legal
Steve and I got vaccinated in June, and began July waiting for our immunity cards to arrive. We weren’t surprised when the immunity card restrictions were lifted before we received our cards.
Nonetheless, we now have them in case we need them in the future, and having them allowed us to get our EU Digital COVID Certificate. This certificate was the one government-related item that we got on the spot. No daily disappointment at the mailbox.
What We’ve Been Doing
The heatwaves of June followed us into July with many daily highs in the 90s F (30s C). The average high in July is 82 degrees F (28 C). We found two ways to beat the heat: museums and water parks.
Steve and I hit the local museums hard this month with visits to three history museums: the Hungarian National Museum (Magyar Nemzeti Múzeum), the Budapest History Museum (Budapesti Történeti Múzeum), and the Military History Museum (Hadtorteneti Muzeum).
The Hungarian National Museum follows the country’s history from prehistoric times to the present. We were impressed with the number of artifacts. The museum has several million pieces in its collection.
Be sure to take time to appreciate the buidling’s beauty, too.
The stairway in the Hungarian National Museum
The Budapest History Museum focuses on the history of Hungary’s capital city. The museum is much smaller that the Hungarian National Museum, but if you have time it is worth checking out. I particularly liked that there are hands-on activities for children placed throughout the 2nd floor exhibits.
The Budapest History Museum is also called the Castle Museum because it is in Buda Castle.
Soviet era street signs in the Budapest History Museum
We also paid a second visit to the Military History Museum. When we visited it last year I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it. This is a comprehensive look at Hungary’s military and wartime history.
One of the many rooms in the Military History Museum
All three museums do a great job of providing English translations.
As we spend time in museums, I think about how I appreciate history much more as an adult than I did growing up. Being able to experience the places where events happened makes it even more meaningful.
We Finally Toured Parliament
The Hungarian Parliament Building is one of the most well-known in Budapest, but until now we have only been able to enjoy the outside. Tours finally resumed, and we jumped at the opportunity. The tour lasts less than an hour, but you will see plenty in that time. After the tour, there are several exhibits to explore on your own. You can check out the parliament tour information here.
The Grand Stairway in the Hungarian Parliament Building
Thermal Water Fun
Hungary may be landlocked, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of water-based activities. Hungary has 1,300 thermal springs and hundreds of spas that take advantage of this natural phenomenon. You can learn more in the National Geographic article Hungary:the land of thermal spas.
We spent three nights at Aquaworld Resort Budapest on the outskirts of the city and loved it. You can read about it here.
A few of the bathing options at Aquaworld
We also spent a hot afternoon at Palatinus Strand, a thermal bath and swimming complex on nearby Margaret Island.
Two of the many pools at Palatinus Strand on a cloudy day
Now that we’ve discovered how much we enjoy the thermal baths, which can be used year-round, we plan to visit several more in Budapest and in other cities in Hungary.
4th of July Brunch at The Four Seasons
We continue to eat our way around Budapest. We paid our first visit to Kollazs Brasserie & Bar in the Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palace. For two and a half hours, we enjoyed a five-course brunch. Because of the pandemic, food was brought to the table. There was so much! By the time we got to dessert, we asked for only one serving of the five plates, not two.
A band kept the diners entertained. In addition to playing everything just a little too fast, the threw in a few Christmas songs, including Jingle Bells.
Just part of the first course of our brunch
Despite its name, Gresham Palace never housed royalty. This 100-year-old art nouveau building originally contained apartments and offices for the Gresham Life Assurance Company of Great Britain.
The front of the Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palace Budapest
Art nouveau beauty in the Four Seasons Hotel
Room prices start at around $500 per night, so we won’t be staying there, but we can still enjoy the surroundings at brunch.
Sunday Morning Bike Rides
One of the things I love most when traveling is getting out early before too many people are out. You can’t beat that feeling that you have the city (almost) all to yourself. I have been using the MOL Bubi Bikes and recommend them.
You can find Bubi Bike stands all over the city. The bikes are well-maintained, and the app works well. A monthly pass costs about US$ 1.70 and allows you to ride with no additional charges for up to 30 minutes at a time. If you want to keep riding, you just start a new ride. The cost is only 7 cents per minute if you go over 30 minutes. If you don’t want to pay for the subscription, you will be charged 7 cents per minute.
The wide road along the Danube on the Pest side is closed to traffic on the weekends. I find Sunday mornings ideal for a solo ride since Steve usually prefers to sleep in.
Sunday morning solitude on Margaret Island
An Unpleasant Surprise
A few days after the devastating floods in Germany and Belgium killed more than 200 people, flooding occured in most of Hungary. Fortunately it was not as drastic.
I was lying in bed on a Monday morning listening to the storm, thinking how nice it is that we are on a high floor and don’t have to worry about flooding.
Then I got out of bed and stepped in water. The rain from the roof was too much for the drainage system in our building to handle, and some came up through our kitchen sink.
After a few hours of cleanup and a meeting with our landlord, all was back to normal.
This Month’s Blog Posts
In addition to our Aquaworld post, we published“Medical Care on the Road: Challenges of Nomad Life.” This post shares information on medical travel insurance and evacuations insurance. I also discuss our personal experiences with medical care while traveling full-time. As a nomad, you can’t escape the hassles involved with staying healthy, but with a bit of planning and tenacity, your medical needs can be met.
This Month’s Media
Steve and I watched all six episodes of How to Become a Tyrant on Netflix in one sitting. Thank you for recommending it, Ramin Mahmoodi. The show is based on the book The Dictator’s Handbook: Why Bad Behavior is Almost Always Good Politics by Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and Alastair Smith. The series looks at six 20th Century dictators and the methods they used to gain power. Only one of the six, Kim Jong-un, is still in power. It runs about 3 hours total, and I highly recommend it.
We have been struggling to find more good things to watch, so Steve did some research and came up with a list of Netflix series we might enjoy. The trick is to use a VPN set to a U.S. city.
One of the shows we watched was Evil. A forensic psychologist, a seminarian, and a tech wizard investigate suspected supernatural incidents under the direction of the Catholic Church. Supernatural and sci-fi shows aren’t my thing, and some of the effects are a little hokey, but I enjoyed this show. Netflix only has the first season. Season two is on Paramount.
Another show I didn’t think I would enjoy but did is Unorthodox. It is the story of a young Hasidic Jew from the Satmar sect who leaves New York City for Berlin to flee her arranged marriage and oppressive life. The premiere season is currently on Netflix. It is only four episodes. Four more episodes are expected to be released next March. Don’t miss Making Unorthodox at the end of the first season. I was impressed with the attention to detail and authenticity.
The Satmar Jews originated in a small Hungarian town in the early 1900s. After WWII, they settled in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York. The Satmar sect is one of the largest Hasidic dynasties in the world.
The series was inspired by the autobiographical book Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots by Deborah Feldman. It is now at the top of my reading list.
I just finished the novel We Are All Good People Here by Susan Rebecca White. It is the story of two women who meet as college freshmen in the 1960s. It follows them and then their daughters through the next three decades as they face racism and antisemitism, and become involved in anti-war activities. The author does an excellent job of weaving historical facts into the story.
Another book I loved was This is How it Always Is: A Novel by Laurie Frankel. It is the story of the Walsh Family. They have five sons, the youngest named Claude. At the age of three, Claude announced he wanted to be a girl when he grew up. He also wanted to be a cat. As he grew, the desire to be a cat went the way of childish dreams. The desire to be a girl remained. The novel takes us on the family’s journey as they struggle to support Claude while protecting him from the reactions of society.
The best part is that while this is a novel, Frankel knows the subject well. In the author’s note, she shares with us: “It’s true that my child used to be a little boy and is now a little girl. But this isn’t her story. I can’t tell her story; I can only tell my own story and those of the people I make up.”
Are you visiting Budapest? If so, you are probably aware of the thermal baths the city is famous for, but for something a little different, give Aquaworld Budapest a try.
At Aquaworld, you can relax and be pampered in the spa, soak in warm thermal pools, or be a kid at the indoor water parks.
Steve and I were enduring a prolonged heatwave in Budapest in the summer of 2021 when we discovered Aquaworld. We enjoyed it so much that we ended up visiting five more times.
Read on to see what Aquaworld is all about and if you should make it your next getaway.
What Is Aquaworld?
Aquaworld is a large hotel, water park, and spa complex in Budapest. You can visit for a day or stay at the hotel and extend your fun.
The Aquaworld complex has two sections. The aquatic adventure park is called Aquaworld Budapest. The hotel with its own bath area is called Aquaworld Budapest Resort Hotel. Hotel guests have access to the entire complex.
* It is one of Europe’s largest indoor water theme parks. * The complex has 21 pools. * There are 11 water slides. * The hotel has 309 rooms. * There is a spa for massages and treatments. * And a fitness center for workouts or a game of tennis or squash.
The pools are fed from a natural well with a bottom temperature of 35 degrees Celsius (95 degrees Fahrenheit).
Pool temperatures range from 26 degrees Celsius (78.8 degrees Fahrenheit) in the outdoor lap pool to 38 degrees Celsius (100.4 degrees Fahrenheit) in the jacuzzi.
Aquaworld is in the far northern part of Budapest on the Pest side. It can be reached by public transportation in about an hour from the tourist areas of Districts V, VI, or VII.
Who Is It For?
Anyone who loves being in or around water. You can choose to relax or get a little adrenaline fix.
I imagine any child entering the water park would think he had died and went to Heaven. No matter what age a child is, there is plenty to do in and out of the water.
There were also many adults without children. Like us, they took the children’s rambunctiousness in stride.
What We Did
On our first visit, Steve and I booked a standard room for three nights. We took advantage of the hotel’s 2+1 Hello Summer Deal; book two nights, and get the third one free. The booking included half board (breakfast and dinner each day) and access to all areas of the complex. On subsequent visits, we were also able to book two nights and get a third one free.
The outdoor pool in the hotel section
We also spent time in the water park section, where I tried out the slides, and we both had a little too much fun in the current pool.
What We Liked
The food. Both breakfast and dinner were served buffet style. You can only do so much with breakfast food, but there was an incredible variety. There was also a lot of variety for dinner, and the food was delicious.
The staff. Everyone was polite and helpful. When we first got to our room, Steve noticed that the shower door did not shut properly. We immediately informed the front desk, and it was fixed within the hour.
What Could Have Been Better
We wanted a light lunch one day, so we stopped at an outside kiosk. We both ordered a hot dog. We each got three mini hot dogs in a dry roll. The roll crumbled as soon as we bit it. It wasn’t on par with the rest of the food.
Good To Know
Robes are provided for guests to wear to and from the pool. Slippers are not, so be sure to have flip-flops, as street shoes are not allowed in the pool areas.
Our room did not have a balcony, and the towel warmer we would have liked to use to dry our swimsuits and robes was not working because it relied on hot water. Being summer, the boiler was off. Since there was only one hook in the bathroom, there wasn’t enough space to dry our swimsuits and robes. We could see clothes drying racks on the balconies of other rooms. If you visit in warm weather, you would be well-advised to get a room with a balcony.
I didn’t pack shampoo and conditioner because they have always been available in hotel rooms. There was shampoo and body wash in the shower, but no conditioner. You can buy it in the gift shop if you need it. Better to bring your own.
The hotel has two shops that sell swimwear, flip-flops, toiletries, toys, etc., but their hours are limited.
Aquaworld is listed as a four-star resort. Nothing was dirty or in disrepair. As you can see from the photo above, the hotel is lovely, but the room we were in was close to needing an update as the carpet and furniture looked a little worn. I would give the water facilities high marks, but consider the hotel room a three-star.
Our first visit was in July, and as you would expect, the park was bustling. Since all areas allow kids, it was not a tranquil setting. There were fewer people when we visited at other times of the year, making for a more peaceful, adult experience.
What Does It Cost?
Aquaworld is a great value for visitors from the U.S. Our total cost for our first visit of three nights was $555. It breaks down as follows:
Room, breakfast buffet, dinner buffet, water park entrance for 3 days
2 lunches and drinks with 3 dinners
Not bad for a decent room, great food, and fabulous entertainment.
Hello, I hope all is well with you. Steve and I are still in Budapest and plan to be here for another year. It’s been another low-key month, but things are definitely looking up here. Hopefully, they are where you are too.
Our big news is that we finally got our Covid vaccines!
Here in Hungary, things appear to be going in the right direction. The number of Covid cases dropped below 100 per day by the end of June (according to Worldometer). At month-end, the government announced that once the number of vaccinated people reaches 5.5 million (about 56% of the population), they would further ease restrictions.
Current restrictions include masks in shops and on public transportation. Only those with immunity cards can visit museums and gyms, eat inside restaurants, or stay at hotels. Since we don’t have our immunity cards yet, we have not been able to do these things.
We Finally Got Vaccinated
In Hungary, like the U.S., citizens who wanted to be vaccinated could do so in the spring. Being foreigners, we had to wait until the Hungarian government vaccinated its citizens. Steve and I understood that and were OK with being at the end of the line.
We weren’t OK with the lack of information and that the website for non-citizens kept crashing. Steve was diligent about keeping us registered, but alas, it did no good.
It was a Facebook post by an ex-pat that led us to our vaccines. This person said he sent an email to the Army hospital asking about vaccines and was told to come in the next day. Steve immediately sent an email, and sure enough, he received one back telling us to come in the next morning.
Our first and second choices were Pfizer and Moderna, but we were offered J&J and decided to take that instead of waiting who knows how much longer.
After our shot, we were told that we would get our immunity cards in the mail. It could be a week; it could be a month. We didn’t have our cards after two weeks, so we decided to visit the local office to see what we could do. The woman who waited on Steve told him he was not in the system. Surprise, surprise. So we continue to wait for our immunity cards. There’s a good chance that the immunity card restrictions will be lifted before we get our cards.
Food, Food, and More Food
There is still a lot we can’t do, but we can eat outdoors at restaurants. And did we ever. We enjoyed several meals at our favorite Budapest restaurant, Kiskakukk. We revisited favorites from last year and found a few new places.
We were sad to see that one of our favorites, Pizza Eataliano (dumb name, great food), was a victim of the pandemic. Another favorite, Babka, changed their menu. They no longer offer either of our favorites.
We Are Legal For Another Year
In May, we completed all the paperwork to renew our Residence Permits for another year. Early in June, right on schedule, our new permits arrived in the mail. Yay!
We are now allowed to stay in Hungary until mid-July 2022. The best part is that when travel opens up, we will be able to travel in the Schengen Area at will, as opposed to being restricted to 90 days out of every 180 days with our U.S. passport. For now, we will be happy to be able to travel within Hungary, which should happen in July if the Delta variant doesn’t take hold here.
On June 2nd Steve and I celebrated 42 years of marriage by doing two of our favorite things, eating and visiting a garden. We started with a light lunch at Kiskakukk, then strolled the Buda Arboretum for a few hours. We ended the day with a wonderful dinner at TG Italia.
Lovin’ Our New Home
We moved to an apartment closer to the city center in May. We love our new location. We are on the 8th floor overlooking a main street. The views are terrific. As Steve said, “These are really good seats.” After living in suburbia for 60 years, it turns out that we love city living.
Another plus to our new place is that we are at a major transportation hub. The airport shuttle bus is literally across the street. We can take a short bus ride to the Lehel Market when it’s time for some heavy-duty grocery shopping.
Nice Weather (While it Lasted)
After a housebound winter and a chilly spring, it was great to have warm, sunny weather. While we were busy eating our way around the city, a heatwave struck. For the last two weeks of the month, highs ranged from 88 degrees up to 100 degrees. This is 20 degrees higher than average.
Fortunately, we have air conditioning, but since we couldn’t visit indoor venues, we laid low during this time. Daily naps became the norm.
You would think that living in Florida for 30 years would have acclimated us. That doesn’t seem to be the case.
A Semi-Productive Month
In between nap time and reading time, I finished a post about several Holocaust Memorial sites in Budapest and one about the Lehel Market. I am still slogging away on my Italian lessons (will I ever use them?), and thanks to Zoom, I can enjoy the inspiration and camaraderie of my fellow toastmasters at Toast of Jax.
We hope to start traveling around the country in July. There are several places we want to visit, including multiple towns around Lake Balaton, the largest lake in Central Europe, and a popular vacation spot. We visited the lakeside town of Balatonfured in October and loved it.
Locally, we are also looking forward to doing some of the things we couldn’t do during the height of pandemic, including seeing the inside of the Hungarian Parliament building and the Dohany Street Synagogue.
Steve and I hope all is going well for you. We would love to hear from you in our comments section.
Stay safe and healthy,
Featured photo by Linda – Vaci Street coming back to life after the pandemic shutdown.
Budapest is full of incredible things to see and do. One that makes every list of things to do in the city is the Great Market Hall (Vasarcsarnok), also referred to as the Central Market Hall. It is worth a trip to view the impressive building with its Zsolnay tile roof.
However, for something different I suggest you visit the Lehel Market (Lehel Csarnok).
Full disclosure, I am not a fan of markets. I don’t enjoy food shopping, so I want to get in and out ASAP, not stroll from stall to stall making multiple purchases. Also, most markets are open fewer hours than supermarkets, so they tend to be crowded. But when Steve and I happened across Lehel Market one day, I was impressed enough to return another day for a shopping trip and a chance to photograph its unique interior.
You may be shocked when you first see it. It has nothing in common with any other building in Budapest. It is supposed to resemble a ship.
I think the outside is an eyesore, and I am not the only one. Here is a quote from Steve Fallon, Lonely Planet:
“Lehel Csarnok is housed in a hideous boat-like structure designed by László Rajk, son of the Communist minister of the interior executed for ‘Titoism’ in 1949. Apparently this is his revenge.”
Once you enter the market, you will be greeted with a colorful interior full of brightly painted beams and curving railings.
Both markets are heavy on food products: produce, pastries, meats, herbs, and spices (including many paprika products). Both have a supermarket in the basement and stalls on the upper levels where you can buy non-food items or grab a quick bite. The upper floors in the Lehel Market are teeming with inexpensive household and personal products (think dollar store after dollar store).
Lehel is also more “market-like,” in my opinion. The Central Market has a touristy feel with the first-floor stalls flanking wide aisles.
Lehel Market combines stalls with plenty of tables full of produce.
The Central Market is a draw for tourists, while Lehel is more of a locals’ shopping center.
The Central Market is on the Pest side near the foot of the Liberty Bridge in Fővám tér (District IX). Lehel Market is on Vaci utca 9-15, just a bit north of the Westend Mall. Both can be reached easily by public transportation. Lehel Market is a bit further from the city center, but not so far that you should miss it if markets are your thing.
If you find the history of the Holocaust as poignant and powerful as I do, you may wish to visit some of the Holocaust memorials in Budapest. This post highlights ten sites in Budapest that keep the memory of that terrible time alive and honor those who lost their lives as well as those who risked their lives to save the innocent.
While the Nazis persecuted many groups, the largest impact was on Jews. Throughout the post, I will reference the impact on the Jews of Hungary. This is not meant to ignore or diminish the effects on other groups.
The ten memorials are organized by district. The districts are laid out like this:
1. Memorial for Victims of the German Occupation
This beautiful but controversial statue on the southern edge of Liberty Square was erected during the night in July 2014. It shows the Archangel Gabriel (a national symbol of Hungary) being attacked by an eagle (representing Nazi Germany).
Some Hungarians feel that the statue puts all the blame of the persecution of Jews on the Germans and ignores the fact that Hungarians collaborated with the Nazis and aided in the deportation of their countryman. You can learn more about this controversy here.
In front of the statue, you can see a poignant collection of photos and artifacts that keep the memories of the victims alive. It is an impassioned response to the Memorial to the Victims of German Occupation.
In addition to the two items above, you can see the Memorial to the Soviet Red Army in the northern part of Liberty Square. It honors the soldiers who liberated Hungary from the Nazis. Unfortunately, the Soviets went on to occupy Hungary for 45 years.
Many statues from Soviet times have been removed from their places of honor and erected in Momento Park, but the Monument to the Soviet Red Army remains in a place of honor.
2. Shoes on the Danube
This unique memorial commemorates the thousands of people killed by the Arrow Cross Party. This fascist, anti-semitic party ruled Hungary for less than six months in the fall and winter of 1944-1945.
One way the party terrorized Jews was to line up a group along the bank of the Danube River, force them to remove their shoes (because leather had value), then shoot them and let the river wash their bodies away.
The memorial was designed by artist Gyula Pauer and was unveiled in 2005. It consists of 60 pairs of iron shoes representing the men, women, and children murdered here.
In addition to this atrocity, the Arrow Cross Party deported 80,000 people to the Austrian concentration camps.
Unfortunately, hatred remains in some people’s hearts. After the unveiling ceremony, several pairs of shoes were removed with a crowbar and kicked into the river. At a later time, pig’s feet were found in the shoes.
The monument is on the Pest side of the Danube River, south of the Hungarian Parliament Building.
3. Raoul Wallenberg Bench
Raoul Wallenberg was a Swedish architect, businessman, and diplomat who served as Sweden’s special envoy in Budapest in 1944. During that time, he saved thousands of Hungarian Jews by issuing protective passports and sheltering them in buildings that were designated Swedish territory.
Wallenberg was taken into custody by the Soviets in early 1945. The circumstances of his death remain a mystery. One likely scenario was that he was executed in Lubyanka Prison in Moscow in 1947. He would have been 34 years old.
The bench is on the southeastern side of Elizabeth Square.
There is also a plaque honoring Wallenberg at the corner of Raoul Wallenberg utca and Pozsony utca in District XIII.
4. House of Terror (Terror Háza)
A visit to the House of Terror will take you chronologically through the history of two Hungarian totalitarian dictatorships of the twentieth century. It begins with the Nazi occupation of Hungary in March of 1944 and continues through the first eleven years of the 45-year long Soviet occupation.
The two main parties to know are:
The Arrow Cross Party – This far-right group was modeled after the Nazi Party of Germany. They were in power for less than six months in 1944 and 1945. During that short time, they murdered between 10,000 and 15,000 civilians and deported 80,000 Hungarians to concentration camps.
The AVH – The secret police of the People’s Republic of Hungary during the early part of the Soviet Union’s occupation of Hungary. This group was comparable to the KGB. I was shocked to learn that this group used concentration camps after WWII but could not find much information about them.
This museum is particularly impactful because it is located in the building used by the two dictatorships to detain, torture, and kill those they considered enemies of the state.
“We are not in a distant military prison, not deep down in a dungeon, but on the avenue of the civil world, just a half a metre from the pavement, from the everyday life.”
To do this museum justice, be prepared to spend at least two hours.
Location: Andrássy Avenue 60
5. Stolpersteine (Stumbling Stones)
In Budapest and other cities in Europe, you can find plaques about 4 inches square embedded in the pavement in front of buildings. They commemorate residents of the buildings who were victims of the Nazis.
These stones uphold the Talmud’s teaching that a person is only forgotten when his or her name is forgotten.
Each plaque includes the resident’s name, date of birth, and as much information about their places and dates of deportation and death as is known.
This one reads, “Here inhabited Dr. Istvan Zoltan, Born 1899, Deported to Mauthausen Concentration Camp on Oct. 20, 1944, Killed April 18, 1946.”
These two stones are for a husband and wife. The husband, Jozsef, was born in 1905. He was deported in 1942, although no destination is given. He died in 1945 in the Hungarian town of Koszeg, where the Nazis had a slave labor camp. He may have been one of the 4,500 people who died of typhus in that camp.
More detail is known about the wife, Joszefne. She was taken to the Theresienstadt Ghetto in the Czech Republic. This was a hybrid concentration camp and ghetto. According to the stone, she died in Budapest in 1946 as a consequence of her captivity.
In Hungary, it was traditional for the wife not only to take the husband’s last name but for her to also take his first name with ‘ne’ added to the end. So, in this case, the wife, given the name Magdolna at birth, became Jozsefne upon her marriage.
While there are stolpersteine in many of Budapest’s district, the greatest concentration can be seen in District VII since a part of this district was historically Jewish. Learn more from A Guide to Budapest’s Jewish Quarter by Offbeat Budapest.
There are more than 70,000 stones in over 2,000 cities and towns in Europe. Read more about the stones in this BBC article.
6. The Emanuel Tree Memorial
Each leaf of this sparkling silver tree has the name of a Hungarian Jew killed during the Holocaust. The tree is in the Raoul Wallenberg Memorial Garden of the Dohany Street Synagogue. It stands over mass graves of some of those murdered by the Nazis in 1944–45.
There are four red marble plates nearby that recognize 240 non-Jewish Hungarians who saved the lives of Jews during the Holocaust.
The tree was installed in 1991 and paid for by the American actor Tony Curtis in memory of his Hungarian-born father, Emanuel Schwartz.
The tree can be seen at Wesselényi utca 7. It is part of the Hungarian Jewish Museum and Archives.
I took the photo through a fence because we couldn’t visit the museum during the pandemic. There is much more to see in the Dohany Street Synagogue and the Jewish Museum. I will update this post once we can visit them.
7. Ghetto Memorial Wall
I ran across this memorial by surprise while walking down Dohany utca one afternoon. As I passed an apartment building, I noticed what looked like bullet holes in the front wall. Just past the building, I saw three large pieces of rusted metal with inspirational writing in three languages (Hungarian, English, and Hebrew). It turned out to be the Ghetto Memorial Wall.
Next to the writing is a map of the Jewish Ghetto. There are holes through which you can see scenes from that time.
In November 1944, 200,000 Jews were forced into the ghetto. When the Soviet Army liberated it during the Battle of Budapest in January 1945, only 70,000 residents remained.
The memorial was installed in 2015 in recognition of the 70th anniversary of the Holocaust.
You can see this memorial at Dohány utca 34.
8. Hanna Szenes Mini Statue
There are about 20 mini statues in Budapest. They are the work of a sculptor named Mihály Kolodko. The statues are small (less than 1-foot square) and set throughout the city. Their subjects range from pop culture to politics, from humor to history.
One of the statues honors a woman named Hanna Szenes. She was a Hungarian-born Jewish war hero who parachuted into Yugoslavia during World War II to assist anti-Nazi forces. Unfortunately, she was captured and executed at the tender age of 23. Throughout her imprisonment and torture, she refused to give her captors the information they sought.
The statue is at the corner of Hanna Szenes Park at Rózsa utca and Jósika utca.
Carl Lutz was a Swiss diplomat assigned to Budapest in 1942. He is credited with saving the lives of 62,000 Jews from 1942 until the end of WWII in 1945. This memorial to him was erected in 1991.
Lutz housed Jews in safe houses in the city. The most famous is The Glass House, the former site of a glass import business. There is a small but well-regarded museum in this building at Vadasz utca 29. Unfortunately, we have not visited it yet because it has been closed during the pandemic.
In addition to safe houses, Lutz arranged for protective letters that allowed 8,000 Jews to emigrate to Palestine. This involved working with the Nazis, who grudgingly allowed him to offer protection to some Jews. Learn more about the amazing Carl Lutz and the use of protection letters.
There is a plaque on the wall next to the statue that reads:
“Whoever saves a life is considered as if he has saved an entire world” Talmud
This memorial is a Dob utca 12.
10. Holocaust Memorial Center
The Holocaust Memorial Center is a memorial to the more than half a million Hungarian Jews killed by the Nazis. Its permanent exhibit, titled “From the Deprivation of Rights to Genocide,” follows history as Jews in Hungary were first stripped of their property and human rights to the horrors of mass shootings and deportation to concentration camps.
A strikingly modern building houses the museum. In the courtyard, you can see a glass hall called the Tower of Lost Communities. The names of 1,441 settlements that lost their entire Jewish population to deportations.
At the end of the exhibit, you can see the small but beautiful Budapest Synagogue.
The museum opened in 2004 in the location of the Páva utca Synagogue. There is a lot to take in, so allow at least a few hours. Almost everything has an English translation.
Steve and I love hearing from our readers. Please let us know if you have seen any of these memorials and what they meant to you. As always, I have done my best to be accurate, but if my facts are not correct, please let me know.
Well, here we are, fourteen months into the pandemic. I hope you and your loved ones are staying healthy and sane. It can be a challenge at times, but things are looking up.
Steve and I are still in Budapest, waiting to be vaccinated and be able to travel again. Here is a look at what May 2021 was like for Steve and me.
State of the Pandemic
Top on everyone’s mind: pandemic numbers and restrictions. Soon after we arrived in Budapest in mid-March 2020, the entire country went on lockdown. It was so quiet. Fear of the unknown kept people inside. We reached a comfort level where we would take a walk about twice a week. The one bright spot was enjoying landmarks like Fisherman’s Bastion and Buda Castle without the crowds.
The first shutdown lasted only two months, and even after the country opened back up, the Covid numbers remained low. Then in late summer, the number of cases started rapidly increasing. A second shutdown began in November and didn’t end until May.
Despite being in the second shutdown, the number of cases exploded in March and April. At its high point, there were more than 10,000 new cases per day. That is a lot considering that there are less than 10 million people in the whole country.
As fortunate as we felt to be here in the early stages of Covid, particularly when the U.S. was struggling, we are now shocked to find that Hungary has the highest reported Covid death rate in the world, according to Worldometers.info.
We were finally able to register for the vaccine in early May. Now we must wait until we are notified that it is our turn.
The Hungarian government is proud of the number of vaccinations it has administered (50% of citizens are vaccinated), but they are struggling to vaccinate non-citizens. The website for non-citizens has crashed several times, and the process for getting the vaccination card has been fraught with problems.
So we wait, hoping to get vaccinated in the not too distant future. The Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, Astra-Zenica, and Pfizer vaccines are all available to some extent, along with the Russian and Chinese ones. We are not sure how much choice we will have when our turn comes.
I can attest that vaccine envy is a real thing.
Renewing Our Residence Permit
We have permits that allow us to stay in Hungary until mid-July. Since things are still uncertain with the virus, we decided to extend them for another year.
Last year we did this on our own. It involved three visits to the Office of Alien Policing and a total of 20 hours of waiting. It was as if the Marquis de Sade ran the DMV.
This time we hired a company called nVisaHungary to represent us. We still had to provide tons of paperwork, but our representative’s guidance made it less stressful. We had our appointment in mid-May. It was quick and painless, so hopefully, we will have our new permits by mid-June.
It costs $850 for the immigration guidance for the two of us, which is a lot of money, but given how much we’ve saved over the past fourteen months, we felt it was a luxury we could afford. And if we don’t get the permits, we pay nothing.
Moving Around But Not On
Steve and I are anxious to get moving. Sitting in one place for more than a year is not how we roll. Right now, the best we can do is move apartments.
A Catch-22 of applying for a residence permit is that you need to have proof of accommodations for the duration, so you have to sign a lease before you know if you will be able to stay.
We were in an apartment in District IX since October. There were many things we loved about it. It is bright, spacious, and comfortable. It has a full kitchen (what is referred to as an American kitchen here), a living room, dining room, two bedrooms, one and a half bathrooms, and two balconies. It is also very close to a supermarket and just a few blocks from a small mall.
The downside is that it is a bit away from the city center. During the shutdown, that was OK, but as things open up and we get vaccinated, we want to be in the city center.
The apartment was an Airbnb listing, and because there was much more supply than demand, we paid less than $1,000 per month. But now that there is light at the end of the pandemic tunnel, rents have taken a big jump. It would cost us at least 50% more to stay there long-term. On top of that, our host isn’t the best communicator.
We wanted to find a place that would be more cost-effective because once it is safe, we plan to visit other towns in Hungary and nearby countries. That means double accommodation costs.
We moved into our new place on May 26th. It is a bit smaller than the last place but very stylish. The owner used to have an interior decorating business, so it is full of touches you don’t often see in a rental.
A Taste of Freedom
By May 1st, the Covid numbers had come down enough for closed businesses, including restaurants, museums, and gyms, to open, but only to people who could prove they were vaccinated.
Since Steve and I are in our 60s with some health issues, we have been erring on the side of caution. We have kept our non-essential excursions to a minimum and did not eat outdoors at restaurants once that became available.
On the 21st, we finally let our guard down a little and took advantage of a beautiful day, which was a welcome change from the cold, cloudy weather that has plagued the city. We walked to the Liberty Bridge to see the latest mini-statue by Mihály Kolodko, then continued to the Buda side of the city.
We also enjoyed our first meal out in more than six months. We went to one of our favorite restaurants, Kiskakukk. The name means little cuckoo. It is more than 100 years old and serves traditional Hungarian food. I can only vouch for the stuffed cabbage, though. It is the only thing I ever order there because I absolutely love it.
Now that things are opening up, here are three posts to inspire you while in Budapest:
Despite being locked down for half a year, we have kept busy, and the days and months have gone quickly. In addition to working on this blog, I am studying Italian and have reconnected with my Jacksonville Toastmasters group, Toast of Jax, thanks to Zoom.
All this downtime has given me a lot of opportunities to read. In May, I discovered a new author, Joshilyn Jackson. I am on my fifth book by her.
Steve has been equally busy cooking (he makes an incredible chicken paprikash), answering travel questions on Quora while promoting Wind and Whim, and tending to all the little things that need attention in a home. He has also been staying on top of the constantly changing Covid and vaccine situations.
June looks brighter than May in several ways:
The weather is getting better.
We hope to get our new residence permits in the early part of the month.
We may be able to take a side-trip or two within Hungary soon.
And last, but definitely not least, we will celebrate our 42nd anniversary on June 2nd. I am so grateful that Steve was willing to make the leap to full-time travel and that he is as curious about the world as I am. Despite being sidelined, I count my blessings every day.
Steve and I wish you a wonderful June.
Stay safe and healthy, Linda
Featured photo of the Liberty Bridge, the Danube River, and Pest as seen from Gellert hill – by Linda Gerbec
Buda Castle sits on a hill overlooking the Danube. A fun way to get up the hill is on the Budapest Castle Hill Funicular (Budavári Sikló). It is a 150-year-old funicular railway that will take you from Clark Adam Square (Clark Ádám tér) at the end of the Buda side of the Chain Bridge to Buda Castle and back down again. You can purchase a one-way or round-trip ticket at the entrance to the funicular.
Clark Adam Square is at the end of the Chain Bridge. As of this writing, the bridge is undergoing renovation and is closed to pedestrian traffic. It will be closed to all traffic by June 2021. The work is expected to be completed by August 2023.
2. A Statue of King Saint Stephen
To the north of Buda Castle, you will find Fisherman’s Bastion (Halászbástya) and the Matthias Church (Mátyás–templom) . You can also see this elegant statue of King Saint Stephen (Szent István király), the first king of Hungary. He is also known as Stephen I and is credited with bringing Christianity to Hungary.
You can see the statue near the Matthias Church at Szentháromság tér 2.
3. The Red Hedgehog House
The Red Hedgehog House (Vörös Sün Ház) is thought to be the oldest building in Budapest (circa 1260). This former inn was also used as a theater and a cabernet/brothel during its long life. The hedgehog, however, didn’t take up residence until the early 19th century.
When we visited, there were tables outside, but because of the pandemic, there wasn’t anything going on. Even so, if you are in the Castle District, it is fun to go on a hunt for the red hedgehog over the front door.
The red hedgehog resides at Hess András tér 3.
4. Listening Ears
If you walk along the Danube River on the Buda side below Buda Castle, you can see this contraption:
These Air Defense Early Warning Listening Ears were used to hear approaching bombers during World War I. You can read about the listening ears concept in this article about aircraft detection before radar.
5. Another Statue of King Saint Stephen
This statue is located on Gellert Hill overlooking the Danube River at the foot of the Liberty Bridge, which makes for a beautiful photo opportunity. It is about a 30-minute walk from the Castle to this statue.
King Saint Stephen looks much less impressive here than in the statue near Fisherman’s Bastion.
On the Buda Side – District II – Rose Hill and Watertown
District II is a large district north of Districts I and XII. It comprises several neighborhoods, including Watertown and Rose Hill.
6. The Tomb of Gül Baba
One day Steve and I decided to explore a prestigious and wealthy area of Budapest called Rose Hill (Rózsadomb). We must have been in the wrong section because we didn’t see much, but on the way back to the Danube River we stumbled upon the Tomb of Gül Baba.
Gül Baba was an Ottoman Dervish from the 16th century. He is honored for his piety and talent as a poet.
The tomb of Gül Baba is the northernmost Islamic pilgrimage site in the world. While the tomb itself may not be of much interest to non-Muslims, the patio and terraced garden are peaceful and beautifully kept.
You will find the tomb at Mecset u. 14. You can also approach the grounds via Gül Baba utca, the steepest street in Budapest.
On the Buda Side – District XII – Highlands
This district is a little bit away from the rest of the Budapest attractions, but in my opinion, well worth the trip. It includes Janos Hill, the highest point in Budapest.
7. The Zugliget Chairlift
You can reach Janos Hill (János-hegy) via a 15-minute long chairlift ride. The Zugliget Chairlift (Zugligeti Libegő) starts in the Zugliget neighborhood. You can take bus 291 to reach the chairlift entrance. Tickets are sold from machines at the entrance.
Once you get to the top, you will be well placed to visit Elizabeth Tower and the Children’s Railway (more on both below). There are also several hiking trails in the hills.
The chairlift entrance is at Zugligeti út 97.
8. The Children’s Railway
The Childrens’ Railway (Gyermekvasút) is a railway run almost entirely by children. Only the driver and the supervisors are adults. The age of the students runs from 10 to 14 years old. They must be excellent students to be chosen for this honor.
The Children’s Railway is a narrow-gauge railway that travels through the Buda Hills for over 7 miles. It is the longest child-run railway in the world.
I was surprised to learn that there are many still functioning children’s railways in Russia and other ex-Soviet states and some Eastern European countries. They are remnants of the U.S.S.R., where they were used to train children in the transportation industry and instill the political ideology.
You can buy your tickets on the train, but it is best to have exact change. We did not, so the train had to go to the next station where we were able to buy tickets.
It was difficult to find the railroad from the area at the top of the chairlift. Look for signs saying Gyermekvasút or ask a friendly local.
9. The Elizabeth Lookout Tower
The delightful multi-tiered Elizabeth Lookout Tower (Erzsébet-kilátó) sits atop Janos Hill. The tower was built in 1910 and rebuilt in the early 2000s. It was named in honor of the much-beloved Queen Elisabeth of Hungary (1837-1898) because she enjoyed visiting the area. You can read about her tragic life here.
Once you get off the chairlift on Janos Hill, you can see the tower to your right. It is a short uphill walk to reach it.
On the Pest Side – District V – Downtown
District V sits along the Danube River on the Pest side opposite District I. The Hungarian Parliament Building is in this district.
10. Bullet Hole Markers
If you head inland from the Hungarian Parliament Building, you can see the Ministry of Agriculture Building. On it, you can see an unusual memorial. It is one of many memorials throughout the city that commemorate the failed Hungarian Revolution of 1956.
This memorial honors one of the events of that Revolution. On October 25th, peaceful protesters gathered in Kossuth Square (Kossuth Tér). Hungarian and Soviet troops opened fire on protesters, and many fled among the columns of the Ministry of Agriculture Building.
The event is now known as Bloody Thursday. Dozens of markers show where bullets fired at the protesters hit the walls. The exact number of dead is not known, with estimates from 20 to 1,000.
The Ministry of Agriculture is at Kossuth Lajos tér 11.
11. U.S. Presidents in Liberty Square
District V also includes Liberty Square (Szabadság tér), a public area with statues dedicated to freedom and liberty. You may be surprised to find statues of two U.S. presidents: Ronald Reagan and George Bush Sr.
The Reagan statue was erected in 2011 to recognize his efforts to help end the Cold War and Russia’s control over the country.
The Bush statue was unveiled in 2020 to mark the thirtieth anniversary of the fall of communist rule in Central and Eastern Europe. Bush visited Budapest in 1989. Here is more information about that visit, including a video of Bush’s speech to the Hungarian people.
As a side note: The U.S. Embassy sits on the eastern side of Liberty Square. The Embassy is surrounded by a high fence and heavily guarded. Quite frankly, I think it looks like a minimum-security prison. This is quite a contrast to the welcoming look of the numerous embassies that line Andrassy Avenue.
12. Two Porcelain Statues in Jozsef Nador Square
Jozsef Nador Square (József Nádor tér) was reconstructed in 2018. As part of this project, two large porcelain statues were added. The first is the Tree of Life by the Herend Porcelain Manufacturer. The second is Hercules Fountain by the Zsolnay Porcelain Manufacturer. A statue of the square’s namesake stands between the two.