3 Carefree Days at Aquaworld Budapest

Do you want to relax and enjoy a little pampering? Are you looking to escape the summer heat? Or do you want to have some pool-time fun? You can do all this at Aquaworld Budapest.

Like many people, Steve and I were enduring a long heatwave when we discovered Aquaworld. This place looked like fun: pools, pools, and more pools; waterslides; an oriental spa. Breakfast and dinner included. It seemed like a great way to escape the heatwave, and it was.

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, waterpark, and spa complex in Budapest. You can visit for a day or stay at the hotel for a mini-vacation like Steve and I did.

Outdoor pools at Aquaworld Resort Budapest

Our first impression, seen from the glass-fronted elevator

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.

Aquaworld Facts
* 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.

Indoor pool at Aquaworld Resort Budapest

From pools to relax in

To pools full of action

Where is Aquaworld?

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. 

What We Did

Steve and I booked a standard room for three nights. We took advantage of the hotel’s 2+1 Hello Summer Deal; book 2 nights, get the third one free. The booking included half board (breakfast and dinner each day) and access to all areas of the complex.

When we weren’t enjoying the breakfast and dinner buffets, we spent most of our time relaxing in the warm pools. Our favorite was the indoor/outdoor pool that is part of the hotel.

Outdoor pool and hotel at Aquaworld Resort Budapest

The outdoor pool in the hotel section

We also spent time in the waterpark section, where I tried out the slides, and we both had a little too much fun in the current pool. I would have loved to get a massage, but I don’t yet feel comfortable having someone close to me for an extended period of time. Too bad, as a 50-minute massage costs less than $40.

I wasn’t the only big kid loving the slides

Man in current pool at Aquaworld Budapest

Steve enjoying the current pool

What We Liked

I am a pushover for any hotel stay that includes a breakfast buffet.

Bacon on a breakfast buffet

Did someone say bacon?

Throw in dinner, and I am over the moon. Both meals 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 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

Our room did not have a balcony, and the towel warmer that we would have liked to use to dry our swimsuits and robes was not working because it relies on hot water. Being summer, the boiler was off. 

Also, there was only one hook in the bathroom, so there wasn’t a good place to dry 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.

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.

The hotel had two shops that sell swimwear, flip flops, toiletries, toys, etc., but they were only open on certain days and only for a few hours on those days (both at the same time).

Overall Impression
Restaurant at Aquaworld

The main restaurant in the hotel

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 looked like it 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.

The park was very busy, which is to be expected on a hot summer day. All water areas allow kids of all ages, so you may not find the peace and quiet you are looking for, at least in the summer. We found it best to get to the meal sittings early before the crowds and noise reached a crescendo.

We loved our experience at Aquaworld and plan to go back.

An indoor pool at Aquaworld

Under the dome

Who Is It For?

Anyone who loves being in or around water. You can chose to relax or get a little adrenaline fix.

I imagine any child entering the waterpark would thing he is in Heaven. No matter what age a child is, there is plenty to do in and out of the water.

Collage of Aquaworld

So many ways to play

There were many adults without children too. Like us they took the children’s rambunctiousness in stride. Perhaps there should be an area for adults only.

How Does Aquaworld Compare to Therme Bucuresti?

Steve and I could not help comparing Aquaworld to one of our favorite places, Therme Bucuresti in Bucharest, Romania. Both have thermal pools, waterpark activities, and spa facilities. Even though we enjoyed Aquaworld, we definitely prefer Therme.

4 photo collage of Therme Bucuresti

A few photos from Therme Bucuresti in 2018

Therme is 10 years newer (built in 2016) and much more eye-catching. It boasts the largest botanical garden in Romania, with 800,000 plants. Aquaworld has a few plants placed throughout.

The saunas at Therme are all themed. Aquaworld’s saunas are standard issue.

Therme has several mineral soaking pools and with signs stating the benefits of each.

One way Aquaworld is better than Therme is having a hotel attached to the property. Maybe someday Therme will add a hotel. That would rock.

Both Therme and Aquaworld are a great value for visitors from the U.S. Our total cost for the two of us at Aquaworld for three nights was $555. It breaks down as follows:

Aquaworld Costs

Room, breakfast buffet, dinner buffet, water park entrance for 3 days $490
2 lunches and drinks with 3 dinner $65
Total cost $555

Aquaworld’s slogan is “check in, chill out,” and it lived up to that promise. Steve and I plan to visit again and think it will be even better after kids go back to school or in the winter when you can laze in the warm water of the outdoor pool while snow falls around you. 

We highly recommend Auqaworld when you are in Budapest. And if you happen to visit Bucharest, be sure to experience Therme.

Safe and happy traveling,

Linda

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Medical Care on the Road: Challenges of Nomad Life

One of the biggest concerns people contemplating long-term travel have is handling medical care on the road. I am not going to sugarcoat it: it can be a challenge. And if the pandemic has taught us anything, it is that no matter how well-laid your plans are, something will come along to mess them up.

After more than three years on the road, Steve and I have had several medical-related experiences. All were positive except one. In this post, I will share those experiences with you so you can get a feel for the types of medical issues that may arise when you travel.

Medical Insurance Options

There are so many things to consider when choosing how to insure yourself and your family when you travel long-term. Do you keep your U.S. plan? Buy a travel insurance policy? Can you afford to self-insure?

These issues are beyond the scope of this post. If you want to dig deeper into medical insurance options on the road, I recommend starting with two articles by Nora Dunn, The Professional Hobo:

The Complete and Easy Guide to Insurance for Travelers

Expat Health Insurance: Travel Insurance for Full-Time and Long-Term Travelers.

U.S. Based Medical Insurance
Our  Medical Insurance Experiences

Steve and I both retired when we were 60. Since we were too young for Medicare and didn’t know how the whole world travel thing would go, we needed to have a solid U.S. medical insurance policy. We opted to stay with the plans we had through our employers.

In each case, we paid premiums through COBRA for the first 18 months after retirement. The combined monthly cost for COBRA was $1,500. If you do the math, you can see that it cost us a very scary $27,000 for the 18 months we were both on COBRA. I checked alternatives, but anything else would cost at least that much, even the Affordable Care Act (ACA), since you aren’t eligible for a subsidy if you have a viable insurance option available to you.

ACA Saves the Day

The good news is that once Steve’s COBRA period ended in July 2018, we were able to sign him up for insurance through ACA. This worked out great because we were living off savings, so we did not have taxable income. For the past three years, one or both of us have been insured through ACA.

I am currently the only one on ACA, and I pay $26 per month. We paid $65 per month in 2020 for coverage for both of us. The best part was that we got the most generous policy either of us has ever had. That’s saying something since both of our work policies were very good. The new policy is a PPO worth about $1,000 per month.

Disclaimer: everyone’s situation is different, and it is important to understand how ACA works. We happened to luck out with a great set of circumstances when our COBRA periods ended.

Happy Results

We have U.S. medical insurance policies in case we return to the U.S. to live or get medical care, but were pleased to find that our policies paid for a large part of coverage outside of the U.S.

The first time was when I had to visit a doctor in Quito, Ecuador. The total bill was $80. I was still on my PPO through COBRA, so I submitted a claim online. Insurance paid all but the $20 copay.

When Steve had his skiing accident in January of 2020, he was on a PPO through ACA. We decided to submit a claim but didn’t expect much. We were thrilled when they paid $1,800 of our $2,100 costs.

Since that time, we submitted all our medical bills and were reimbursed for most of them.

Travel Medical Insurance
The Choice to Self-Insure

We chose not to purchase travel medical insurance because everything we have read says how cheap medical care is outside the U.S., and we have savings to cover potential costs. And as discussed above, most of our costs have been reimbursed by our U.S. PPOs.

Then Steve turned 65 in January, meaning he was now eligible for Medicare. It also means he is no longer eligible for ACA. Since the basic medicare policy does not cover care outside of the U.S., and he needed proof of insurance to get a residence permit in Hungary, he signed up for Nomad Insurance through SafetyWing. It costs him $138 every four weeks.

One of the cool things about SafetyWing is that you can start and stop it in 4-week intervals. I cannot comment on how good the coverage is since we thankfully haven’t used it yet.

If you don’t have enough savings to cover an unexpected bill that could run into thousands of dollars, you should definitely get travel medical insurance.

The One Insurance We Won’t Be Without

One insurance we always have is evacuation insurance. We felt this was particularly important since we started our travels on a transatlantic cruise. As high as the amount of our COBRA coverage was, it pales compared to the cost of a medical evacuation.

According to this Forbes Advisor article, “The average emergency medical evacuation costs can set you back $25,000 within North America and up to $100,000 from Europe, according to estimates by Travelex Insurance. In more remote locations, a medical evacuation can cost as much as $250,000”. You can find out more here.

This article from USA Today also discusses evacuation costs.

We have used MedJet for our evacuation insurance since 2018. Medjet is available to citizens of the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. It is not medical insurance. It will not cover the cost of seeing a doctor or being hospitalized. Medjet Assist will arrange medical transportation to a hospital in your home country if you are hospitalized while traveling. It will also repatriate your remains should you die while traveling. The Medjet Horizon policy adds crisis response services for a variety of situations.

The price is based on age and the length of coverage. We are in our 60s and get coverage for the entire year. With the $100 discount for AARP members, it costs us $1,100 per year, a great deal since AARP membership for two is only $16 per year.

Beware that while Medjet provides a layer of comfort, it may not be available when you want it. In the early part of the pandemic, Medjet informed their policyholders that they would not be able to evacuate you for any reason because of travel restrictions. Eventually, they were able to resume some transports, including Covid related ones, in some parts of the world. They recently announced as of July 12, 2021, they will transport COVID patients globally.

Prescription Medicine
Our Original Plan

Before we left the U.S., we discussed our plans with our doctors, and they gave us prescriptions for a year. We filled each prescription for the first three months. For our inexpensive medications, we filled the rest of the prescriptions by finding the best prices using GoodRx and paying out-of-pocket.

Steve and I each take a few medications that are too expensive to pay for out-of-pocket in the U.S., so we left with only three month’s worth of these medicines, knowing we would have to refill them while traveling (which is discussed below).

We enlisted our daughter Stephanie’s help in filling our prescriptions for the expensive medicines. We order refills online every quarter, and Stephanie picks them up. The plan was that we would restock for the year on our annual return to the U.S., then we would repeat the cycle.

The plan was foolproof until it wasn’t. Because of the pandemic, we decided not to return to the U.S. in December 2020. That meant we couldn’t pick up the medicine Stephanie had saved for us or see our doctors for refills. That meant we now had to refill all our prescriptions in whichever place we find ourselves.

Traveling With Medication

Since we travel with hundreds of prescription pills, we follow these procedures:

Each of us has a letter from our doctor listing the medications we take, why we take them, and how long we plan to be away.

We also keep about a week’s worth of medication, the doctor’s letters, and copies of our prescriptions in our carry-ons and packed the rest in our checked luggage.

The medicine in our check luggage is kept in the pharmacy-issued bottles, although we do combine bottles to save space.

So far (knock wood), we have not had any issues bringing our medications into other counties.

Your Medicine Will (Probably) Be Cheaper Outside the U.S.

Our first experience with buying medicine overseas was in Croatia. Steve was about to run out of a few medications. He found out that he would need prescriptions for them, so he found an English-speaking doctor to write them. The cost of the doctor’s visit was only $15. The cost of the medicine was $212. The cheapest it could be purchased out-of-pocket in Jacksonville at that time was $1,832.

One month later, I noticed that I was about to run out of one medication. By now, we were in Bucharest, Romania. I was kicking myself for not having taken care of it when Steve did his. But all’s well that ends well. I stopped at a pharmacy to check that if I would need a prescription. The pharmacist said I didn’t. She asked how many boxes I wanted and handed them to me. The cost was $45 per box, compared to the lowest price in Jacksonville of $422 per box.

If you take away one piece of information from this post, it should be this: every country has different rules about which medications require a prescription. Before you visit a doctor, stop by a pharmacy and ask if you need a prescription for your specific medicine or check online.

Every time we have purchased medicine while traveling, it has been in boxed blister packs. The pro is that you can walk into a pharmacy, and as long as they have what you need (they usually do), you walk out a few minutes later all set. No waiting for the bottles to be filled. The downside is that you have to take each pill out of the blister packs.

But Your Medicine May Not Be Available

I found out the hard way that not all medicines are available in every country. I ran out of the thyroid medicine liothyronine in Ecuador. Since it wasn’t available in Ecuador, I arranged to have my daughter mail some to me. I never received it. Fortunately, it is something I can do without.

Liothyronine is also not available in Hungary. My doctor in Budapest explained why: liothyronine is a booster for Levothyroxine, so only a small percent of Levothyroxine users need it. There are not enough potential customers in Hungary to make it available.

So, two words to the wise:

If you have a medication you can’t live without, make sure you have enough with you or that it is available where you are going.

Do not count on getting it via mail. It may work, but in my case, it didn’t, and it was a costly experience both time-wise and money-wise.

OTC Medicines

You can’t walk into a store like Target or Costco and walk out with a year’s worth of pain relievers for $5. For one thing, some medicines that are OTC in the U.S. require a prescription in some countries. Secondly, if a medication is sold OTC, it will usually be in a box of 10 or 20 tablets and cost much more per tablet than we are used to paying.

And some aren’t available. In Budapest, I couldn’t buy diphenhydramine hydrochloride (anti-itch) medication (crème or pills). My doctor suggested another OTC medicine, and it seems fine, but once I get back to the U.S., I will be replenishing my diphenhydramine hydrochloride supply.

Our Experiences With Doctors

The second time we visited a doctor was in our second year of travel. We arrived in Quito, Ecuador, from the Galapagos Islands. Soon after we arrived, we both started feeling lethargic and slightly nauseous. At first, we feared altitude sickness because the Galapagos Islands are at sea level, and Quito is at an elevation of 9,350 feet (2,850 meters). Digestive issues followed a few days later. After a bit, Steve felt better, but my symptoms lingered long enough that I decided to see a doctor.

The visit couldn’t have been smoother. I found the name of an English-speaking doctor on my insurance company’s website. When I called, the receptionist put the doctor on the line. I explained what was going on, and he said to come right in.

I saw the doctor, and he ordered some tests, which were done right away in the same building. After a few hours wait, I got the results. Total cost: $80.

Before we traveled to Budapest in March of 2020, I ran across a blog that recommended FirstMed for English-speaking travelers. I made a note of it just in case, and I am glad I did. We have been in Budapest for sixteen months now because of the pandemic and have used the FirstMed services many times.

At first, we only visited to get prescriptions, and the out-of-pocket cost was reasonable. When it became evident that we would be here a while, we signed up for the Premium Plan. It cost $1,200 for the two of us ($689 for an individual). The plan covers a lot, including up to 28 doctor visits, annual checkups, and diagnostics. Learn about the plans they offer.

I was blown away by their efficiency when I had my annual physical (included in the Premium Plan). It started with a visit with my primary doctor, then a mammogram including ultrasound, an ECG, bloodwork, and two vaccines. All in 1 ½ hours and all in the same building.

Our Hospital Experiences

We have had two experiences with hospitals; one bad and one good.

The bad one was very bad. That was Steve’s nightmarish experience in Bulgaria after his skiing accident. He was in a small hospital in the small town of Razlog. But in speaking with others in Bulgaria, I believe that medical care isn’t very good anywhere in the country, even in the capital.

Our second experience with a foreign hospital was in Budapest when I had an e-scooter accident. That was much more in line with the type of facility and treatment we are used to.

The quality of medical care won’t stop me from visiting it a location, but it may limit what I choose to do there. For example, now that I know that medical care is not so good in Bulgaria, I wouldn’t choose to ski there.

Here are two articles that rank healthcare by country:

Best Healthcare In The World 2021

Healthcare Index by Country 2021 Mid-Year

I hope this post has provided you with some useful information about the medical care challenges long-term and full-time travelers face. I am not an expert, and everything I have written is anecdotal; however, if you have any questions, Steve and I would be glad to answer them to the best of our abilities.

As always, Steve and I would love to hear about your medical care experiences while traveling.

Safe and happy traveling,
Linda

Feature photo by Daniele D’Andreti on Unsplash.com

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June 2021 Recap: Things Are Looking Up in Hungary

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! 

Pandemic Update

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.

Chicken Fajitas at Tereza in Budapest
We love the chicken fajitas at Tereza.
Killer lemonade at Wasabi Extra in Pest
Wasabi Extra has fantastic fruit-filled lemonade as well as fabulous food.
Hungarian breakfast at Drum Cafe in Budapest
Hungarian breakfast at Drum Cafe

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.

Anniversary Day

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. 

Some of the gorgeous plants and flowers we enjoyed at the Buda Arboretum
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.

Nighttime view of Budapest Eye
Our nighttime view

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.

People shopping at Lehel Market in Budapest, Hungary
Inside the Lehel Market – huge selection in a colorful building
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.

The Danube River and the Buda side of Budapest
Buda and the Danube River on a perfect day.

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. 

Looking Forward

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,

Linda

Featured photo by Linda – Vaci Street coming back to life after the pandemic shutdown.

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Budapest’s Quirky and Colorful Lehel Market

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. 

The Central Market Hall in Budapest
The front of the Central Market Hall early on a Sunday morning

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.”

Exterior of the Lehel Market in Budapest
The incredibly unique Lehel Market building

Once you enter the market, you will be greeted with a colorful interior full of brightly painted beams and curving railings.

Inside the Lehel Market
Twisty railings and bright colors in the Lehel Market

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.

Interior of the Central Market
First floor of the central market late in the afternoon

Lehel Market combines stalls with plenty of tables full of produce. 

Produce stands in the Lehel Market
Just a few of the produce stands in the Lehel Market

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.

For more market options in Budapest, check out The Most Important Markets in Budapest by Have Fun Budapest and The Funky Side of Budapest for more Hungarian quirkiness.

Stay safe and healthy,

Linda

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10 Must-See Holocaust Memorials in Budapest

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:

Color map of Budapest’s districts
Districts of Budapest Colored”, by Heizler, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

District V
1. Memorial for Victims of the German Occupation

The Memorial for Victims of the German Occupation in Budapest
The Memorial for Victims of the German Occupation with personal items displayed in front

The Memorial for Victims of the German Occupation in Budapest
The Memorial for Victims of the German Occupation with personal items displayed in front

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.

Collage of items left in front of the Memorial to the Victims of the German Occupation
Just a few of the items in front of the Memorial to the Victims of the 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.

The Memorial to the Soviet Red Army in Liberty Square, Budapest
The Memorial to the Soviet Red Army at the opposite end of Liberty Square

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

Part of the Shoes on the Danube memorial in Budapest
Just a few of the 60 pairs of shoes in the Shoes on the Danube memorial

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

The Raoul Wallenberg Memorial Bench in Budapest
The Raoul Wallenberg Memorial 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.

Wall plaque in Budapest honoring Raoul Wallenberg
A plaque honoring Raoul Wallenberg in District XIII

District VI
4. House of Terror (Terror Háza)

Exterior of the Terror House Museum in Budapest
The eye-catching exterior of the Terror House Museum

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.

The building is on Andrássy Avenue, an elegant boulevard considered by some to be the Champs-Élysées of Budapest. Its location makes this excerpt from the Terror House website particularly haunting:

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

District VII
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.

Stolpersteine (Stumbling Stone) in Budapest

This one reads, “Here inhabited Dr. Istvan Zoltan, Born 1899, Deported to Mauthausen Concentration Camp on Oct. 20, 1944, Killed April 18, 1946.”

Stolpersteines (Stumbling Stones) for a husband and wife in Budapest

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

The Emanuel Tree Memorial in Budapest
The stunning Emanuel Tree Memorial in Budapest

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

Ghetto Memorial Wall in Budapest
The 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.

Map of the Jewish Ghetto in Budapest
The Ghetto map

Two scenes in the Ghetto Memorial Wall map
Two of the eleven photos you can see through the peep holes in the map

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.

Hanna Szenes mini statue
Hanna ready to jump into Yugoslavia

The statue is at the corner of Hanna Szenes Park at Rózsa utca and Jósika utca.

Here is more of Hannah’s courageous story.

9. Carl Lutz Memorial

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.

The Carl Lutz Memorial in Budapest
This Carl Lutz Memorial is one of the oddest statues I have seen.

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.

District IX
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.

Glass and marble Tower of Lost Communities

At the end of the exhibit, you can see the small but beautiful Budapest Synagogue.

Interior of the Budapest Synagogue
The 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.

Location: Páva utca 39

Dig Deeper Into the Memorials

While researching this post, I came across the thesis Holocaust Memorials in Budapest, Hungary, 1987-2010: Through the words of the memorial artists by Jessica Taylor-Tudzin. It is a long but interesting read.

More About Budapest

For a lighthearted look at Budapest, check out The Funky Side of Budapest and don’t miss The Beauty of Budapest in 50 Photos.

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.

Stay safe and healthy,
Linda

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May 2021 Recap: Still Sidelined in Budapest

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.

Two photos of an empty Fisherman’s Bastion in Budapest
The peaceful Fisherman’s Bastion in the spring of 2020

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.

Vaccine Anticipation

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.

A bright livingroom
The light, bright living room in our old apartment

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.

Photo collage of apartment in District VII
Our new digs

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.

Check out this article from Budapest Flow to learn more about the Kolodko mini statues.

A mini statue on a green bridge
Mihály Kolodko mini statue of Emperor Franz Joseph

While strolling on Gellért Hill, we noticed that the Cave Church was open. We’ve been to Gellért Hill several times, but the church has always been closed.

What a cool place. If you want to know more about this unique place of worship, check out this article about the Cave Church.

Four photos of the Cave Church in Budapest
Just a few of the cool things to see in the Cave Church in Budapest

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.

A plate of stuffed cabbage
Stuffed cabbage at Kiskakukk – I dreamed of this during shutdown

Now that things are opening up, here are three posts to inspire you while in Budapest:

20 Quick and Cool Things to See and Do In Budapest

The Funky Side of Budapest (including photos of five more Kolodko mini statues)

The Beauty of Budapest in 50 Photos

Keeping Busy

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.

Looking Forward

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

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20 Quick and Cool Things to See and Do in Budapest

If a trip to Budapest is in your future, lucky you! It is a vibrant and beautiful city with so much to see and do.

If you aren’t planning a visit, maybe seeing all that the city has to offer will push it to the top of your bucket list.

Steve and I arrived in Budapest in March of 2020. As I am writing this fourteen months later, we are still here awaiting an end to the pandemic. There are worse places we could be.

What Should Everyone See In Budapest?

Of course, you will want to see the neo-Gothic confection that is the Hungarian Parliament Building, Vajdahunyad Castle, Buda Castle, and the magical Fisherman’s Bastion.

The Hungarian Parliament Building, Vajdahunyad Castle, Buda Castle, and Fisherman’s Bastion
Clockwise from upper left: The Hungarian Parliament Building, Vajdahunyad Castle, Buda Castle, and Fisherman’s Bastion

You might also visit one of the thermal baths or learn more about Hungary’s turbulent 20th-century history at Terror House or the Holocaust Museum.

The items in this article are things you can see or do in a short amount of time, although if you combined several it will take a few hours.

The Two Sides of Budapest
Budapest is divided in two by the Danube River. The side west of the river is Buda and the side east of the river is Pest. This map shows the districts of Budapest.
Budapest colors numbers2

Districts of Budapest colored”, by Heizler, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

On the Buda Side – District I – Castle District
1. The Budapest Castle Hill Funicular

Budapest funicular ticket office and car

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

Statue of King Stephen near Fisherman’s Bastion in Budapest

To the north of Buda Castle, you will find Fisherman’s Bastion (Halászbástyaand the Matthias Church (Mátyástemplom) . 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

Front of the Red Hedgehog House in Budapest

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:

Megaphone shaped structure used to detect bombers in WWI

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.

Statue of King Saint Stephen with a horse overlooking the Liberty Bridge in BudapestKing 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.

A five photo collage of the Gul Baba site in Budapest

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

Chairlift in the Buda Hills

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.

Two photos of children working on the Children’s Railway BudapestThe 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

Front view of the Elizabeth Lookout Tower in Budapest

Four photos of the Elizabeth Lookout Tower in Budapest

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.

A wall with metal balls marking where bullets hit the wall in Budapest

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.

Statues of Ronald Reagan and George Bush in Liberty Square, Budapest

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.

Two statues in József Nádor tér in Budapest
Herend Tree of Life and Zsolnay Hercules Bath Fountain

I am amazed that these statues remain undamaged. This is a testament to the respect Hungarians appear to have for their public places.

Jozsef Nador was a member of the House of Habsburg, which ruled the Austro-Hungarian Empire until 1918. He served as Palatine (a high-level official attached to an imperial or royal court in Europe) to Hungary and is sometimes referred to as the most “Hungarian of the Habsburgs” because of his support of economic reforms, public works, and construction projects that benefitted Hungary.

Jozsef Nador Square is several blocks south of Liberty Square.

13. Elizabeth Square

Collage of four scenes in Elizabeth Square, Budapest

It seems like there is always something going on in Elizabeth Square (Erzsébet tér). The square is easy to spot because it’s the home of the Budapest Eye. There are also statues, green spaces, a small skateboard park, and a playground. There are several bars and restaurants and a large reflecting pool along one side.

This square is two blocks east of Jozsef Nador Square.

On the Pest Side – District VI – Terézváros

District VI begins east of Elizabeth Square and ends at City Park. Its main street is the famed Andrassy Avenue. All of these quick stops can be done on a stroll up (or down) Andrassy.

14. The Millennium Underground Railway

The Millennium Underground Railway (Kisföldalattiis also known as Metro Line 1. It is the second-oldest subway on the European Continent and has operated continually since it opened in 1896.

Underground car parked at Metro station 1 in Budapest
A Line 1 car at the Opera Metro station

It is a short straight run consisting of only 11 stops. It runs under Andrássy Avenue. If you take a ride on this line, be sure to go up and check out the elegant Andrássy Avenue.

If you are near Elizabeth Square you can find an entrance to Metro Line 1 at Deák Ferenc square. Or you can jump on at one of the other stops. Here is some information about Line 1 and a handy map.

15. Művész Kávéház

Exterior and interior views of the Muvesz Coffeehouse in Budapest

If you are exploring along Andrassy Avenue and need a break, you can do worse than the Művész Kávéház. The name translates to Artist Café. Be warned, though, the tables are tiny.

There are many elegant old-world coffee houses in Budapest, as you can see from this article. We have only visited this one since we are not big coffee house people. However, once things get back to normal, we plan on visiting several others, including the New York Palace and Parisi Passage, to bask in their splendor.

Visit this beautiful cafe at Andrássy út 29.

16. The Iron Curtain Monument

If you stroll down Andrassy Avenue or visit the Terror House Museum (also on Andrassy Avenue), you will see the Iron Curtain Monument. It serves as a poignant reminder of the restrictions suffered by many Europeans under Soviet rule.

The monument and the Berlin Wall segment are at Andrássy út 60.

The Iron Curtain Memorial in Budapest

Words on the Iron Curtain Memorial in Budapest
17. A Segment of the Berlin Wall

You can also see a segment of the Berlin Wall in front of the Terror House Museum.

A segment of the Berlin Wall in Budapest

On the Pest Side – District VIII – Palace District
18. The Szabo Ervin Library

The Szabó Ervin Library (Fővárosi Szabó Ervin Könyvtár) isn’t your average library. As a visitor, you can pay a small fee to enjoy the neo-baroque décor. As you move through the rooms, you will walk among students who are more focused on their work than the beauty around them.

A gold and white room in the Szabo Ervin Library in Budapest

A dark, ornate room in the Szabo Ervin Library in Budapest

The building, called The Wenckheim Palace, was a part-time home for Count Frigyes Wenckheim and his family. Upon his death in 1927, his family sold the palace to the government, which made it part of the public library system.

Visit the library at Szabó Ervin tér 1.

On the Pest Side – District XIV -Zugló

At the Northern end of Andrassy Avenue, you will come upon Heroes’ Square and City Park. The park is home to the Vajdahunyad Castle. The zoo is nearby. In addition to marveling at the facades of the castle, here are two fun things to do:

19. A Statue of Anonymous

Statue of Anonymous in City Park, Budapest

Anonymous was the unknown chronicler at the court of King Bela III (1148-1196). Anonymous is believed to have written the history of the early Hungarians. Writers often stroke his pen for inspiration.

You can see this statue in City Park (Városliget) near Vajdahunyad Castle. There is a smaller one in the Hungarian National Gallery, the art museum in Buda Castle.

20. Playground in City Park

Two views of the playground in City Park, Budapest

If you are traveling with children, you can become their hero by taking them to the 140,000 sq. ft. (13,000 sq.m.) playground in City Park (Városliget). The park opened in the fall of 2019 and features 50 pieces of equipment for children of all ages and abilities. It makes you want to be a kid again.

The Main Playground is situated in the southeastern part of the Városliget, in an area near the intersection of Dózsa György Road and Ajtósi Dürer Row

Quick Tips for Navigating Budapest
  • Building numbers come after the street name.
  • The postal code (think zip code) consists of 4 digits. The middle two identify the district. So postal code 1094 is in district 9.
  • Street signs are easy to find and most have the district number on them. They are on the buildings near the street corners.

Two street signs
The older signs have the district number, the newer ones also have the district’s name. Both of these are in District 9. (Kerület means district)

Even More to See and Do in Budapest

One of our favorite things to do in any city is walk for hours, taking in the beauty and uniqueness of the place. The Beauty of Budapest in 50 Photos will give you a taste of the elegance of this city.

Check out The Funky Side of Budapest to get an idea of some of the lighthearted things you can experience on your visit.

As always, Steve and I would love to hear about your Budapest experiences.

Stay safe and healthy,
Linda

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Too Many Languages: Challenges of Nomad Life

Many years ago, I was picking out pastries in a bakery in Paris with my older daughter Stephanie. When the clerk pointed to a pastry, I confidently replied, “por favor.” My daughter quietly said, “Mom, that’s Spanish.”

Looking back, I have to wonder if this error was a harbinger of things to come?

Too Many Countries, Too Many Languages

Steve and I spent eight months in Europe in 2018. During that time, we visited seven countries, and each one had a different language. Even if we wanted to, there was no way we could learn the languages of all these countries in such a short time.

We did the next best thing. We learned the basics: hello, please, thank you, goodbye. This, along with Google Translate and pantomime, was enough for us to function.

We mainly visited large cities, and many of the people we interacted with spoke English. This certainly made our lives easier, but it also meant that we did not have to work very hard at learning the local language. In the words of the TV character Adrian Monk, “It’s a blessing and a curse.”

The table below shows the percent of people who were proficient in English in 2019 in the counties we visited. The data is from Statista.

CountryPercent
Bulgaria58%
Croatia60%
France55%
Portugal60%
Romania60%
Spain56%
Portuguese is Not Gender Neural

You probably know that some languages assign genders to their words. Portuguese is one of those. So when I learned that the word for thank you is obrigada (feminine) or obrigado (masculine), I assumed that the gender I used would be based on to whom I was speaking.

I was wrong. Unfortunately, we were several weeks into our travels around Portugal when I learned this. Until then, I had been saying obrigado to men. A few of them replied with strange looks. But one man’s reaction really stuck with me. His smile was bordering on a laugh.

It wasn’t until our third week in Portugal that somebody set me straight. We purchased tickets at a museum, and I confidently responded with obrigado because he was male. The clerk politely told me that as a woman, I should always say obrigada. I thanked him for letting me know.

If you are wondering if you should correct a person who makes a mistake while speaking a language that is obviously not their native language, my vote is yes. If you do it politely, it will most likely be appreciated. I was certainly grateful to that clerk.

Immersion Subversion

You might think that people who spent ten months in Spanish-speaking countries, as Steve and I did in 2019, would become quite adept at speaking Spanish. That wasn’t the case for us. We didn’t meet as many natives who spoke English as we had in Europe. Instead, we relied on Google Translate and therefore failed to pick up more than the basics.

While we were in Latin America, I spent time on Rosetta Stone lessons. Now that I have plenty of time on my hands because of the pandemic, I am continuing to learn Spanish using Duolingo. Both programs have helped me recognize written words, but speaking and listening are still a long way off.

Why Don’t You Understand Me?

Based on my limited experience with foreign languages, I noticed a distinct difference between the way English speakers (at least those from the U.S.) act when someone doesn’t understand us and how people in Latin America act when the listener does not understand.

In Latin America, we noticed that if we spoke a few words of Spanish the listener would assume we spoke Spanish well enough to converse. I sat through more than a few awkward bus rides where my seatmate would go on and on in Spanish. Saying “No hablo Espanol” usually had no effect. All I could do was smile, nod, and try not to look too dim-witted.

It seems as if Spanish speakers believe if they just keep speaking in Spanish, the listener will suddenly realize he understands Spanish perfectly well.

On the other hand, we English speakers tend to repeat a word or phrase several times, often getting a little louder each time. Surely if the person we are speaking to would just listen, he would understand what we are saying.

The Other Izquierda

The opposite of the above occurred in Arequipa, Peru. Steve and I were in a taxi heading to the pick-up point for the next leg of our Peru Hop bus tour. Our driver did not have a GPS map and did not know exactly where we wanted to go. My map showed our destination, which was a few streets to the left.

Coincidently, I had just learned the Spanish words for left and right over the previous few days. So I said izquierda, the feminine version of left. He kept driving straight and looking confused. I repeated the word izquierda several times to no avail (being careful not to get louder each time). Eventually, he managed to get the point and headed in the general direction we needed to go.

I relayed this story to a group of people. Some of them suggested that there may have been a regional difference in the word for left. That may be, but a Google search shows izquierda and izquiedo as the only Spanish words for left.

It is very frustrating when you get the nerve to speak a foreign language to a native speaker, believe you are using the right words and pronouncing them well, and you get nothing.

Letters May Not Sound the Way You Expect

One of the things we enjoy eating in Budapest is…wait for it…Subway subs. Yes, I know they are not Hungarian. And quite frankly, I never ate them in the U.S. But here, they seem fresher and remind us of home. That leads me to my next language error.

I thought I would impress the friendly staff at Subway if I ordered my sub in Hungarian. Since I wanted a ham sub, it seemed easy enough. The word for ham is sonka. I could handle that.

My plan failed miserably. The woman behind the counter had no idea what I was saying, so I reverted to English. Fortunately, she understood that very well.

I later found out that the letter s is pronounced like sh. I should have asked for shonka. So when you are heading to the capital of Hungary, you are going to Budapest. Once you arrive, you are in Budapesht.

That’s One Interesting Alphabet

The Hungarian Alphabet can be intimidating as it has 44 letters and 13 vowels. But it is a phonetic language, so once you learn each letter’s pronunciation, you can pronounce any Hungarian word.

Several Hungarian letters have more than one character! CS, DZ, DZS,   GY, LY, NY, TY, SZ, and ZS are all letters in the Hungarian alphabet.

But We’re Always Learning

Steve and I were exploring the Cinkota Cemetery when Steve pointed out the word család on a tombstone. He commented on how it must have been a large family since it was on so many grave markers. We continued to explore, saying “C Salad Family” each time we saw it. After a while, it seemed like there were way too many családs, so I looked it up. It means family and is pronounced Chaw lad because the letter CS is pronounced like CH in English. See what I mean?

Learning that word led to one of my prouder foreign language moments. When we finished at the Cinkota Cemetery, we went to the Old Cinkota Cemetery. It is small and hard to find. The remaining grave markers are covered with vegetation.

An ivy-covered grave marker
One of the remaining grave markers at the Old Cinkota Cemetery

As we were leaving the cemetery, we saw a man walking towards us from the church next door. He asked us something in Hungarian. Surprisingly I was able to pick up one word in his question: család. He was asking if we were looking for family in the cemetery. I was so proud that I could understand his question.

I told him we weren’t. Relying on gestures, he invited Steve and me into the church. We had a lovely visit despite the language barrier. It turned out he is the current pastor, as he conveyed to us by pointing to his name at the top of a long list of pastors. Before we left, he gifted us with two hand-embroidered bags.

A church and two embroidered pouches
The Lutheran church next to the Old Cinkota Cemetery (Cinkotai Evangélikus Egyházközség temploma) and the two cross-stitched bags
Let’s Throw in Another Language

Shopping in a place where you don’t know the language adds time and stress to your trip. It can also lead to mistakes. For that reason, we make sure we take time all the time we need to pick out our purchases. What we didn’t expect in Hungary was to have to translate from German.

One popular drug chain in Budapest is D.M. This is a German company that sells cosmetics, health care items, and household products. So when you shop there, you may be translating from Hungarian or German. Good grief.

How Did He Know That Word?

Steve and I were at a pharmacy while he picked up some medication. Steve noticed the young man at the next window was listening to his conversation. In English, the clerk asked Steve if he knew how to use the medication. Being the smart-ass he is, he replied, “yeah, as a suppository.” The guy at the next window chuckled.

That store did not have the pills Steve needed. As we left the store, the young man stopped us and asked if he could help us find a store that carries them. I was surprised to learn that he was a Hungarian native and was awed that he knew the word suppository.

It Got the Job Done

Perhaps the most humorous language experience I had was in Bucharest, Romania. Steve and I were spending the day at one of our favorite places,  Therme Bucuresti. One of the many services they offered was hairstyling, so while Steve was relaxing in the mineral baths, I got my haircut. I wanted to find out how much it would cost for Steve to get his cut. My cell phone was safely tucked away in my locker, so I couldn’t use Google Translate.

I tried several ways to get the question across. The woman helping me was patient but did not understand what I was asking. I finally resorted to pantomime.

I made a fist and held it in front of my crotch. She immediately understood what I was asking, and I got the price.

Steve got a nice trim. I got a funny story.

Misc Observations
Galapagos sign

Sometimes other people mess up. We have seen more than a few poor translations in museums. Despite the less-than-ideal translations, we always appreciate when English translations are available.

This sign on a travel agency in Puerto Ayora in the Galapagos Islands always makes me laugh.

A sign reading “We spoke English.”
A poor translation in the Galapagos Islands
My Favorite Foreign Word

Romanian was one of the easier languages for Steve and me to decipher because it is a Romance language that has a lot in common with languages such as French, Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese. There was one word we repeatedly heard in Bucharest: Plăcere (pronounced pleasz  air ae). While it is not the official word for thank you, it was used that way.

Be sure to share some of your language blunders and victories in the comments section below.

Stay safe and healthy,
Linda

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Oops! Did We Do That? Our Biggest Travel Mistakes

As Steve and I prepared to travel full-time, we knew that we would make mistakes. Fortunately, we have been able to keep them to a minimum, partly due to luck, partly due to the graciousness of others, and partly because we spent more than half a year under lockdown.

Here are the biggest travel mistakes and near-misses we had during our first three years of full-time travel.

All money is in U.S. dollars unless otherwise stated.

The Schengen What?

We weren’t prepared for our first near-miss to happen before we even left the U.S. We only had three months to go before we set out for our travels when we first heard of the Schengen Area. We discovered that we were only allowed to spend 90 days in this group of 26 countries and would then have to leave the Schengen Area for at least 90 days.

Cue the cold sweats. We had already booked three months’ worth of nonrefundable stays in Barcelona and Paris. I broke out the calendar and started counting the days. Then I let out a huge sigh of relief. We had booked a total of 89 days!

The fact that we had procrastinated in deciding on our destination after Paris saved us. We had been considering Prague. If we had booked a month-long stay there or anywhere else in the Schengen Area through Airbnb, we would have lost that money.

Stay on the Bus

We started our journey on a Transatlantic cruise from Florida to Barcelona. One of our ports-of-call was Funchal, Portugal. We were looking forward to riding the famous wicker toboggans there. Here is a video of that exhilarating experience.

Being new to foreign travel, we decided to buy hop-on-hop-off tickets through the cruise company even though it was more expensive than doing it on our own.

We got on the bus, and at the second stop, we saw the sign for the gondola leading to the toboggans, so we hopped off the bus.

We marveled at the scenery as we rode the gondola up the mountain and had a thrilling toboggan ride. Then we spent close to an hour painstakingly making our way down a very steep hill while looking for another hop-on-hop-off bus stop. We never found one, but at least we got back to our ship.

We ended up spending $80 to go two stops on the bus.

View of garden and mountains in Funchal
We did get to spend some time enjoying the Madeira Botanical Garden during our day in Funchal.

They Weren’t Kidding About Barcelona

When you repeatedly hear that you are in the pickpocket capital of the world, TAKE IT SERIOUSLY!

Just a week into our stay in Barcelona, Steve was pickpocketed on a metro car. He thought his wallet and passport would be safe in his front pants pocket. It was not.

This mistake was more costly in time and frustration than in money. It involved treks to three police stations and a trip to the U.S. Consulate. You can read all the juicy details in Pickpocketed in Barcelona and get some helpful hints, so you don’t become a victim.

The thieves got away with Steve’s passport, several bank cards, and 40 Euro (about $48). Luckily Steve’s passport was found, which saved us the $145 replacement fee. Our bank cards were replaced within a few days, and our credit card company denied the $900 shoe purchase the thieves attempted.

Buyer Beware

By the second month of our travels, we thought we had SIM cards all figured out. After getting off the plane in Paris, we headed to the post office, which was in the airport, and spent 40 Euros (about $48) on 2 SIM cards. The man who helped us did not speak English, and we do not speak French. Even so, we managed to get our SIM cards installed.

We soon discovered that they were only good for making calls and didn’t include data. We replaced them with less expensive cards that had everything we needed. Even though we never used them, we carried them around for several months until we finally threw them away.

Read the Train Ticket (Read it Well)

The most costly mistake in our first year of travel involved the Eurostar train from Paris to London. We were heading to London with our daughter Laura and her friend. I had arranged for all of us to get there via the Chunnel.

Our experience with train travel was limited to two short journeys within France. In both cases, we showed up at the station about fifteen minutes before our train was scheduled to leave. There were no security checks, and no one asked to see our tickets. These two experiences made us lackadaisical about the train trip to London.

Armed with our Chunnel tickets, the four of us traveled from Strasbourg to Paris without any problem. We arrived at the Paris station with an hour and a half to spare before our train to London would leave, so we went out for a delicious breakfast. We arrived back at the train station to find that we had missed the check-in time for our journey and we would have to book a later one. The cost was $230.

I had neglected to read the fine print on the tickets that clearly stated the check-in cutoff time. As one lady pointed out, the train was entering a different country so, the requirements were similar to airline travel.

Actually, I believe the difference was that we were leaving the Schengen Area, which allows for movement among the 26 Schengen countries without border checks. The United Kingdom is not part of the Schengen Area.

Luckily the trains from Paris to London run every hour, so it didn’t set us back too much time-wise, but our wallet sure wasn’t happy. In addition to reading the ticket, in the future, we will check in as soon as possible and then eat.

A large statue of Jeff Goldblum with the Tower Bridge in the background
It’s not every day you get to see a bigger-than-life Jeff Goldblum and the Tower Bridge in one place.

A Near-Miss with Booking.com

We were able to avoid another costly mistake thanks to the goodwill of Booking.com. We had booked an Airbnb for a one-month stay in Strasbourg, France. The host canceled the reservation only eleven days before we were due to arrive.

It was the height of the tourist season, and we were not having any luck finding a place to stay for a whole month. We were able to piece together three hotels through Booking.com that would provide housing for a month. Then we found an Airbnb that was available for the month. We canceled two of the hotel reservations in time but missed the third by one day. This would have been our most costly mistake at $934.

We requested that they waive the fee, saying we had overbooked. We were so thankful when we woke up the next morning to find that Booking.com had waived the penalty.

The Ponts Couvert on Strasbourg, France
The Ponts Couvert in Strasbourg

Know the Paris Metro Rules

Our daughter Laura and her friend visited us in Strasbourg and then traveled with us to London. From there, they spent another week in Dublin and Paris. During their trip to the Paris airport to fly home, they learned that if you travel enough, something will trip you up.

They chose to take the Metro from their hostel to the airport. The Metro Police stopped them and told them they did not have the proper tickets for the zone they were in. The cost of this innocent mistake was $80 each.

A word of warning for Paris travelers: the Paris Metro Police are vigilant. Be sure you keep your ticket on you for the entire journey and understand the zones and related fares.

We Can Tell Time, Really

All the above mistakes happened before and during our first year of travel. In 2019, our second year of travel, we had only one costly mistake. To this day, we aren’t sure how it happened.

Steve and I had made reservations to fly from Buenos Aires to Cordoba. As always, we both checked the details before we finalized our purchase. The day before our flight, I was reviewing all our travel details when I did a double-take. Our flight wasn’t at 9 a.m., it was at 9 p.m!

We could have taken that flight, but that would have meant landing in a new city close to midnight. And we would have had to spend a whole day in Buenos Aires with all our luggage and nowhere to stay.

Changing the flight left us $175 poorer. To add insult to injury, the change fee was $60 higher than the original cost of the flight.

It’s All Worth It

Let’s face it, mistakes happen. That’s life. Why would travel life be any different? Considering that we’ve traveled to 42 cities in the past three years, I think we did a pretty good job. We made all our flights, only missed one train reservation, always had a place to stay in advance, and never went hungry. We also had luck on our side.

Steve and I would love to hear about mistakes you have made while traveling. Come on; I’m sure you have a few. 😀

Stay safe and healthy,
Linda

Featured image by Estee Janssens on Unsplash.com

This post was originally published on April 20, 2019.

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The Amazing Amaru Bioparque: A Wind and Whim Favorite Place

If you enjoy hiking and love animals, Cuenca, Ecuador, has the perfect place for you. It’s the Amaru Bioparque. You can spend hours there, working your way up and down the side of a mountain as you visit hundreds of species of animals.

Steve and I were delighted with Amaru Bioparque when we visited Cuenca in 2019. We spent a total of eight hours there over two days. We have many fond memories of our ten months in Latin America, and this was among our favorites. You can read about them in Our Top 10 Latin American Travel Experiences.

What is Amaru Bioparque?

It is a sanctuary for animals that have been rescued and, despite rehabilitation, cannot be returned to the wild. At Amaru, these animals can live out their lives in a natural environment.

Amaru receives about 450 animals every year. They come from illegal hunting, illegal trafficking of species, seizures by the National Police, and donations by civilians. The large number of animals received at Amaru is because it is the only wildlife clinic in the south of the country.

From the Amaru Bioparque website:

“We are an environmental zoological organization that offers a unique experience with the animals and plants that are a part of Ecuador´s natural and cultural richness. We promote and run education, communication, recreation, and research programs to foster the conservation of Ecuador’s biodiversity.”

The setting is rustic. You will hike over 2 km of dirt paths carved into the side of a mountain as you learn about the animals and their habitats. You will traverse hills and less-than-ideal steps cut into the dirt. Sturdy shoes are a must.

A dirt path surrounded by vegetation in Amaru Bioparque
This is a typical path in the park.

There are many signs throughout the park with information about the animals and their native environments. When we visited, most of the signs were in Spanish, but a few had English translations. The lack of English wasn’t a problem. We could understand quite a bit, and when we couldn’t, we used Google Translate.

Arriving at Amaru

Amaru is located about 5 miles (7 km) from the historic center of Cuenca.  It is easy to get to the park via car or taxi. The round trip cost for taxis was US$12.00 in 2019. When you are finished with your visit, the ticket booth attendant can arrange a taxi for you.

You can also get near the park by bus, but you will have quite an uphill walk before you reach the entrance. I recommend a taxi over a bus.

You will probably want to take a few minutes to enjoy the views of the city as you enter the park.

Overview of Cuenca from Amaru Bioparque

When you arrive, you should receive a map. Pay attention to it. It shows the path through the park. On our first visit, Steve and I failed to do this. After about an hour and a half, we looked at the map and realized that we were only a quarter of the way through. Since it was late afternoon by that time, we backtracked our way to the entrance.

Map of Amaru Bioparque

Here is the link to the map on the website.

We returned two weeks later so we could see the rest of the park. Now older and wiser, we arrived early in the morning and paid more attention to the map.

You cannot take food, pets, or large bags into the park. I was allowed to take my backpack because it was small, but it had to be inspected first. There is a place about halfway along the trail where you can buy drinks and snacks. There are some restrooms as well.

Some of the Animals You Will See
Andean Bear

One of the first animals you will encounter is the Andean or Spectacled Bear. The six Andean Bears that currently live in Amaru have a habitat that is greater than 37,000 sq. ft. (3,500 sq. meters). They are solitary animals. We only saw one each time we visited.

Andean or Spectacled Bear in Amaru Bioparque
White Capuchin Monkey

You can see these adorable monkeys (the park has four) traveling through wire tubes set among the trees. There is no guarantee you won’t get an unwanted shower.

A White Capuchin Monkey in a wire tube holding a plastic bottle at Amaru Bioparque
Squirrel Monkey

Delightful squirrel monkeys roam free in the park. As you might expect, they love to hang around the restaurant area, but I didn’t see them bothering anyone.

Two photos of a Squirrel Monkey at Amaru Bioparque
Capybara

The park has five capybaras, the largest rodent in the world. I always love seeing them.

Close up of a capybara with its eyes closed at Amaru Bioparque

Cuchucho

This cuchucho is a native to Lain America and is not threatened.

Cuchucho in Amaru Bioparque
Oncilla

This little cutie is a Latin American native and the smallest feline in Ecuador.

Oncilla at Amaru Bioparque

African Lion

As we worked our way through the park, we saw many familiar animals and many we had never heard of. But the most unexpected was the African Lion. After all, this is a park dedicated to preserving Ecuadorian biodiversity.

It turns out that Amaru currently has nine African Lions. Here is the story of two of them.

A female lion seen through a fence at Amaru Bioparque
Birds of the Tropical Aviary

The tropical aviary was a delight, with colorful, inquisitive birds everywhere. The birds are free within the aviary, and it was fun to watch the White-Throated Toucan hop along a fence.

Four photos of tropical birds
Five of the many tropical birds you can visit with including a Blue-Headed Parrot (upper left) and White-Throated Toucan (lower left).
Andean Condor

He may not be pretty, but this native of the Andes provides a useful service as a scavenger. The Andean Condor is one of the largest flying birds in the world. His wingspan can reach over 10 ft (3.3 m). The condor is the national bird of Ecuador and even graces its flag. Amaru has two Andean Condors, a male and a female.

An Andean Condor looking down from his cage at Amaru Bioparque

Carunculated Caracara

This bird of prey is a native of Ecuador and lives in parts of the Andes Mountains.

A Carunculated Caracara at Amaru Bioparque

African Clawed Frog or Ghost Frog

These are natives of Africa who were brought to Ecuador as pets. I loved watching them float gracefully, as you can see in this video:

American Bullfrog

These bullfrogs are native to North America and are an invasive species in Ecuador.

Two American Bullfrogs in a vegetation filled pond

Emerald Tree Boa

Snakes aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, but this boa is non-poisonous and looks pretty chill.

An Emerald Tree Boa resting on a tree branch at Amaru Bioparque

I hope you enjoyed meeting just a few of the many species of animals that call Amaru Bioparque home.

The Amaru Bioparque website has a lot of information about the animals in its care. The site has an option for English, but it didn’t work on all the pages. I found it best to Google “Amaru Bioparque” and choose “Translate This Page” so you get every page in English.

Helpful Hints

As of this writing, the park appears to be open. It is open every day except Christmas day from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. As always, you should verify this information before visiting.

A visit to Amaru is a real bargain. It costs US$ 6.00 for an adult. There are discounts for people under 18 and over 65. The U.S. dollar is the official currency of Ecuador.

In addition to sturdy shoes or boots, be sure to have sunblock and a hat or umbrella (it is Ecuador, after all).

The park is not wheelchair accessible or stroller friendly.

It is best to avoid visiting for a few days after a heavy rain. The paths can become slippery.

The Amaru website suggests you allow 2 hours for your visit. Other articles recommend 4-6 hours. I don’t think 2 hours is anywhere near long enough. We visited twice and spent a total of 8 hours.

The website lists several educational demonstrations that take place on weekends and holidays. I cannot comment on them since both our visits were on weekdays. Also, I would assume that the demonstrations are in Spanish.

A Volunteer Opportunity

If Amaru is your type of place, you may want to look into volunteering there. They require a minimum two-week commitment. Wouldn’t that be a fulfilling experience? You can find information about volunteering on the website under Support Us.

Have you been to Amaru Bioparque? We’d love to hear what you thought about it in the comments below.

Stay safe and healthy,
Linda

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Laundry on the Road: Challenges of Nomad Life

What’s the biggest challenge of nomad life? The language barrier? Missing family and friends back home? Boring footwear? Yes, yes, and yes. But perhaps the biggest challenge is laundry.

As a full-time traveler, I have dealt with possessed washers, a myriad of drying setups, and excess laundry soap issues.

I have learned that clothes dryers are not common outside of the U.S. You can read about clothes drying differences in this article by Real Simple.

Five pair of jeans hanging on a clothesline
As a nomad, you never know where you might end up hanging your clothes. Photo by Ricardo Gomez Angel on Unsplash.com.

But I have not learned how to determine the correct amount of detergent for each machine, so I usually end up running them through a second time without detergent.

Here is a recap of our laundry experiences in our first three years of full-time travel. Future nomads, you’ve been warned.

We spent most of 2018 in Europe, and Barcelona was the first city we visited. As we checked out our apartment, Steve said, “Isn’t there supposed to be a washing machine?”

We didn’t see one in the apartment, so I sent a message to our Airbnb hosts. They replied, “the washing machine is in (sic) the roof.” A quick check told us that yes, it was indeed “in the roof.”

Our hosts stopped by to show us how it worked, and it seemed simple enough. But that washer had it in for me. I would press button after button, but it wouldn’t start. However, if I unplugged it and plugged it back in, we were good to go.

Our second city was Paris. The city of lights and high prices. Our apartment was too tiny for a washing machine, so we used the laundromat down the street. I know it was Paris, but $80 to do laundry for one month still seems expensive to me.

These first two experiences taught us to make sure that any apartment we rent not only has a washer but that it is inside the apartment.

The downside of nomad life is that you must constantly adapt. The upside is that you don’t have to deal with any inconvenience too long and, most importantly, you aren’t the one responsible when something breaks.

We were staying at a large building on the Black Sea coast in Byala, Bulgaria. It was after tourist season, and we had the entire building to ourselves (think The Shining without the snow). I started a load of laundry, and the washer immediately started leaking. And by leaking, I mean gushing. Suds quickly covered the kitchen. I shut it off, and we commenced cleanup.

Our host had the perfect solution. He told us to use the washer in the apartment next door. The door was unlocked, so we were able to walk right in and finish our laundry. Don’t you love it when things work out so easily?

Everything went well for the rest of the year until we got to Lisbon.

We spent two weeks on a sailboat, so we did not have a washer. No problem. There was a laundromat a short walk away. It was spotless and had brand new appliances. And we were the only ones there.

I confidently tossed a Tide Pod in each machine, threw the laundry in them, and sat down. Then I noticed a sign that said “Do not add soap, it is included” taped over the soap dispenser. Oops.

By the time we got to Latin America in 2019, we had the whole laundry thing down pretty well. All of our apartments had a washing machine. A few of them had a dryer. Those that didn’t had either a drying rack or a place to hang them outside, except in the Galápagos Islands.

Because the choice of apartments in our price range was slim and none of them included a washer, we figured we would go to a laundromat. But as we explored the town of Puerto Ayora, we didn’t see any laundromats. We did see several signs for lavanderias, places where your laundry is done for you.

I felt odd delivering a bag of dirty clothes to a stranger, which is funny since I am no stranger to dry cleaning. I was also concerned that we might not get our own clothes back.  So I made a list of everything we dropped off.

I’m happy to report all of our clothes were returned to us clean and fresh at a cost of $8 per week. Now I want this service in every city.

Our regular readers will be familiar with our prolonged stay in Bansko, Bulgaria, in early 2020 because of Steve’s skiing accident. When he left the hospital, we moved to a holiday resort outside of town since it was the only place I could find where he could be brought in on a stretcher. You can read about those experiences in Hospitalized in Bulgaria and Bansko, Bulgaria, Not The Trip We’d Hoped For.

The resort provided a laundry service which consisted of filling one large bag with laundry for a set fee. If memory serves, it cost $US30 for one bag of laundry.

Because we have very few clothes, I didn’t think it would be worth the cost. I probably wouldn’t even fill half the bag. So frugal me decided to wash by hand.

It was a good thing Steve was bedridden since every available surface outside of the bedroom was covered in sopping wet clothes. I learned how effective towel warmers and radiators could be for drying.

A white bathroom with a shiny silver towel warmer
A towel warmer like the silver one in this photo does a great job of drying clothes. Photo by midascode on Pixabay.com.

Once we were able to move on from Bansko, we headed to Budapest. Our first Airbnb had a washer in the bathroom. Just a few minutes into the first cycle, it started to do a lively dance across the floor and proceeded to knock the toilet bowl to the side. Because why would anyone actually bolt the toilet to the floor?

Steve took a look and discovered that the transportation bolts had not been removed. Even after he removed them, it still jumped. Even after a plumber supposedly fixed it, it still jumped.

So I developed a routine. I would start the washer, set a timer, and run to the machine as each spin cycle started so that I could hold the machine in place.

As if that wasn’t fun enough, after I washed the first load of clothes, I looked for a place to dry them. I didn’t see a drying stand. There wasn’t a towel dryer in the bathroom. The shower curtain rod was too weak and too high to be of any help. I even looked on the interior balcony hoping to find a clothesline, but there was nothing. I messaged the host, and he delivered a drying stand the following day. To this day, I wonder where the guests that came before us dried their clothes.

A clothes drying rack with blue shirts
I have come to prefer drying this way over an electric dryer: fewer wrinkles and no rush to put the clothes away.

After seven months in the Budapest apartment, we moved across town. We are still in this apartment riding out the pandemic.

I’m happy to report that the washer in the new apartment is well-behaved. No dancing! And it has a drying stand and a towel warmer. There was even a nearly full bottle of laundry soap with an adorable bear on the front. Everything was going well on the laundry front. Our clothes looked good. They smelled good. And they were really soft.

After several weeks the detergent bottle was approaching empty. I showed it to Steve so he could buy a new one. He then discovered that I had been “washing” our clothes in fabric conditioner. Oops.

No doubt, our laundry challenges will continue once we resume our travels. Laundry challenges are just one example of how full-time travel doesn’t mean full-time fun. But I am willing to put up with laundry frustrations if it means I can continue to explore this big, beautiful world.

Stay safe and healthy,
Linda

Featured image by Elena Rabkina on Unsplash.com

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12 Things You’ll Love Doing In Cuenca, Ecuador

In June 2019, we were planning our next stop after Quito, Ecuador, when a new name came up. Cuenca. We had never heard of it. We decided to give it a try because some of the places we have enjoyed the most are the ones we had never heard of. We are glad we did.

After spending four weeks in Quito, Cuenca was a relaxing change. It is far less crowded, with about 330,000 people compared to 1.6 million in Quito. It has a lot of traffic, but not nearly as much as Quito, and the pollution is not as bad, although the older blue buses spew a considerable amount of black exhaust.

Over four weeks, we fell in love with the architecture, history, and natural beauty of Cuenca. Below are twelve things you can do in Cuenca that will hopefully make you fall in love with the charming city.


A Little About Cuenca
*Cuenca is Ecuador’s third-largest city after Guayaquil and the capital of Quito.
*The official name of the city is Santa Ana de los Cuatro Ríos de Cuenca. Cuatros Rios translates to four rivers. A nod to the fact that the city has four rivers.
*Cuenca is 292 miles (470 km) south of the capital of Quito.
*You can fly there from Quito inexpensively in less than one hour (we paid $US50 per person in 2019).
*Like Quito, Cuenca is nestled in the Andes Mountains and may require time to acclimate to the altitude of 8,400 feet (2,560 meters) if you are coming from a much lower elevation.
*The U.S. dollar is the official currency of Ecuador and has been since 2000. It is so nice not to have to worry about exchange rates or getting local currency.
*Very few of the people we met spoke English, but everyone was patient as we translated.
*Cuenca is a walkable city, and taxis are abundant and affordable.
*Cuenca is not far from the equator, so the temperatures don’t vary much throughout the year. Daily highs average 72 degrees Fahrenheit (22 degrees Celsius). Daily lows average 51 degrees Fahrenheit (~10 degrees Celsius).
*Apartments generally don’t have heat. We ended up buying a small space heater.
*There is also a small city in Spain named Cuenca.

Note: All money is in USD.

1. Hike Through Amaru Biopark

Amaru Biopark is much more than a zoo. This attraction is full of animals that have been rescued and, despite rehabilitation, cannot be returned to the wild.

You will hike over 2 km of dirt paths while learning about these animals. Be warned that the park is on the side of a mountain. You have to traverse hills and less-than-ideal steps cut into the dirt. Sturdy shoes are a must.

You should receive a map as you enter the park. Pay attention to it. It shows the path through the park. On our first visit, Steve and I failed to do this. After an hour and a half, we looked at the map and realized that we were only a quarter of the way through. Since it was late afternoon by that time, we backtracked our way to the entrance. We returned another day, and between our two visits we spent a total of eight hours in the park. There is so much to see.

Here are just a few of the many animals we enjoyed:

A Jaguar standing on a log
A beautiful jaguar

A bear standing by a pond
An Andean or Spectacled Bear

A Capuchin Monkey walking through a wire tunnel
Capuchin Monkeys move throughout the park through wire tunnels.

In addition to the Capuchin Monkeys frolicking above you, Squirrel Monkeys roam free in the park.

You can read about Amaru in more detail in The Amazing Amaru Bioparque.

2. Peruse Museo Pumapungo

At the edge of the old town, you will see two large grey, modern-looking buildings. One is the Banco Central Del Ecuador, and the other is the Museo Pumapungo (boy, is that fun to say).

Museo Pumapungo consists of a new and beautiful building filled with artifacts and displays highlighting Ecuador’s geographic regions. There are several things to see behind the museum, too, including the ruins of an Incan military post, a small botanical garden, and a bird rescue center.

Beware, there is no photography allowed in the museum. When we visited, most of the plaques were only in Spanish. Even though we have a translator on our phones, we did not feel comfortable using it since it would have looked like we were taking pictures.

For our second visit, we hired a guide (independent of the museum) who explained what we were looking at. We learned a lot in that two hours, and it was well worth the $35. It was interesting that the one section that was in English was about the indigenous Shuar and their head-shrinking practices and beliefs.

The ruins were underwhelming since, in the past, they were cannibalized by locals who took the stones to use as building material. But don’t skip this part. In addition to the botanical garden and aviary, on most days there is a herd of llamas lazily eating the grass. They are used to being photographed by the visitors.

A woman kneeling next to a llama
Hedgie and I making friends with one of the resident llamas.

3. Learn About Panama Hats at Homer Ortega Hats

Did you know that despite their name, Panama hats are not from Panama? They are from Ecuador. And Cuenca is one of the largest producers.

You can learn a lot about the history and production of Panama hats during a tour of the Homer Ortega Hat Factory.

A man working a machine in a hat factory and the finished product
Part of the hat making process and some of the finished product

And yes, I know, learning about hat making isn’t high on your bucket list. But the tour was interesting, and they have a killer showroom where you can pick out your very own Panama hat.

Hats in a display case
Not your typical Panama hats.

Panama Hat Fast Facts
*The hats are made of a straw called toquilla.
*The process of making the hats is on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List.
*The name “Panama hat” came about because Americans traveling through the Panama Canal to California during the Gold Rush often wore them.
*It was reinforced when President Teddy Roosevelt posed at the Panama Canal in 1906 while wearing one of the hats.
*The quality and price of a hat depend on the fineness of the weave and the intricacy of the pattern.
*The finest hats can take up to eight months to weave.

4. Marvel at the New Cathedral (Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception)

Three bule and white domes on the New Cathedral
The domes

You can spot the three blue and white domes of the New Cathedral from many places in the city. The cathedral’s formal name is the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception (Catedral de la Inmaculada Concepción). It is referred to as the New Cathedral because it is only a little over a century old. Construction on it began in 1885 and was completed in 1967.

Man and woman standing in front of the New Cathedral
Steve and me in front of the New Cathedral

Stained glass window and statues on the front of a cathedral
A close up of a part of the cathedral facing Parque Calderon

This is one of the largest cathedrals in Latin America, but it doesn’t have any bells. That is because there were supposed to be two towers on the cathedral. Because of structural issues, it was determined that the building could not support these towers, so they were never built. You can take the spiral stairs up to the roof for a small fee.

5. Stroll Along the Tomebamba River (Rio Tomebamba)

I’ll be the first to admit when I read a travel blog, and it says “stroll through (insert area here)” or “relax at (insert name of café here),” it feels like a cop-out.

However, I will make an exception for the pedestrian path that runs along the Tomebamba River in Cuenca. It holds a special place in my heart because we walked part of it many times to get from our apartment near Museo Pumapungo to the old town.

 

Three llamas lying in front of a fence
More llamas, these along the footpath

The section we walked starts on the north side of the river bank west of Av. Huayna-Capac. If you continue, you will eventually see stairways leading to a higher level. Take one of these to reach the Historic Center.

Looking up a steep stairway
One of the stairways you can take to get to the old town

There are many other places you can stroll along the river, including in Paradise Park (El Paraíso Park), and there are three other rivers to explore as well.

A fast-flowing river with a wooden walkway alongside it
One small part of the Tomebamba River, this part in Paradise Park.

6. Eat Cheap (or Not)

There seem to be two choices for dining out in Cuenca. You can go the inexpensive route, a small plain restaurant with traditional food at unbelievably low prices. Breakfast with juice and coffee is $2.50. Lunches are priced as low as $3.50 for soup, main dish, and drink. You will not get much ambiance at these restaurants. The second option is to go to a restaurant with ambiance. These cost more but are still reasonable by U.S. standards.

We visited one restaurant that stood head and shoulders above the rest:

Capitan

On our second to last night in Cuenca, we wanted to try somewhere new. We decided on Capitan, which was listed as the 5th best restaurant in Cuenca on Trip Advisor (and is #3 as of this writing).

We were underwhelmed when we arrived. The restaurant had four tables and could seat 16 people total. We considered looking for something else, but we were hungry, so we decided to stay.

And we were glad we did. This was one of the best meals we had during the three months we spent in Ecuador. It started with soft, aromatic garlic bread with an incredible garlicky mayo-like spread that I could have eaten for hours.

Next was a delectable shrimp ceviche, followed by sea bass (with crab meat for Steve, spinach for me). Add a Coke and three small glasses of wine, and the total with tip was $74.

Ceviche and popcorn
Incredible ceviche with the customary popcorn

Two plate sith fish, French fries, and vegetables
Our dinners, photos can’t do them justice

This meal was so enjoyable that we had an encore the next night. I wish we had discovered this gem at the beginning of our stay.

As good as the food is, it was not the best thing about this restaurant. The chef, who I also believe is the owner, was very welcoming and accommodating. He translated the menu for us and checked with us throughout our meal. You don’t usually see that in Latin America or Europe.

Capitan is at Tomás Ordóñez 6-76. The restaurant is small, so it is best to make reservations.

D’Galia Peru 

This restaurant also served fabulous ceviche along with other tasty dishes loaded with meat and vegetables. While the experience wasn’t as memorable as at Capitan, this is also an excellent place for a more upscale meal. It is along the Rio Tomebamba, not far from the Iglesias Santa Maria Del Vergel.

Three plates of Peruvian food
The food at D’Galia – so good and so good looking

The cost for this visit was $60. We visited again with two friends from Korea. The total for four of us was only $80.

D’Galia is at Av 12 de Abril 1-23 y Las Herrerías.

Fondue Garden

I had read about Fondue Garden somewhere and thought it would be a nice change of pace. And it was. We enjoyed a few meals there, including cheese fondue and chocolate fondue.

Chocolate fondue with items to dip
Chocolate fondue for dinner. Why not?

When we arrived the first time, we were greeted by Bonnie, a co-owner from the U.K. She made us feel very welcome, and it was nice to hear some proper English.

The restaurant has a second-floor patio that overlooks the Rio Tomebamba and the bridge named Puente Juana de Oro.

Fondue Garden is more moderately priced than Capitan or D’Galia. Our lunch with beverages and a tip was $35.

It is located at Paseo 3 de Noviembre y Escalinatas.

Man sitting at a table looking at a river
Steve at Fondue Garden

Now that I’ve shared six things that made us fall in love with Cuenca and made your mouth water, here are six more things to do in and around the city.

7. Take a Hop-On-Hop-Off Tour (or Two)

We used City Tours. This company has two hop-on-hop-off tours, North of Cuenca and South of Cuenca. They did a much better job than some of the hop-on tours we’ve had. You can board the buses a Parque Calderon and buy your ticket onboard.

The Homero Panama Hats tour was part of this. I doubt we would have gone to a hat factory otherwise.

8. Enjoy Parque Calderon

This is not a large area, but it can be a great place to rest and grab some yummies.

Parque Calderon with the New Cathedral in the background
The beautiful Parque Calderon

A girl walking by stands of sweets
There are plenty of delicious choices in the stalls around Parque Calderon

9. Take a Trip to Cajas National Park (Parque Nacional Cajas)

We hired a guide I found on Trip Advisor to show us around. Be warned, if you go to the higher altitude areas it will be cold.

Two men looking at a tree
Steve and our guide in the park

A hummingbird in a tree
A hummingbird in the park

You can learn about the park here.

10. Relax in the Spas in Banos

You can have a peaceful and affordable spa day just ten minutes from Cuenca. We didn’t do this, so I can’t comment on it. I kind of wish we had. You can read about the options here.

11. Shop for a Fuzzy Friend

Stuffed llamas (like the one below) and guinea pigs are in a lot of shops. They are so soft. Why not take one home?

Side note: guinea pigs (cuy) are a common food in Ecuador.

A stuffed llama on a shelf
I want to be your friend!

12. Admire the Architecture

In 1999 the Historic Center of Cuenca was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Have a quick look around, and you will see why.

Facade of a builing in Old Town Cuenca
A beautiful facade on a building in old town

Two ornate church doors
Doors on La Merced Church (left) and the New Catherdral (right).

For a more in-depth look at the architecture of Cuenca, check out A Guide to Cuenca Architecture.

Trip Details

Dates: June 20 – July 17, 2019
Days: 27
Total cost for 2: $2,800
Cost per day for 2: $104

Have you been to Cuenca? If so, Steve and I would love to hear about your experiences and restaurant recommendations.

Read more about our year in Latin America:
Our Top 10 Latin American Travel Experiences
Is a Land-Based Galapagos Trip Right For You?
Latin American Street Art to Fuel Your Wanderlust
Wind and Whim’s 2019 Travel Costs: Latin America

Bonus Photos

Front view of the Turi Church in Cuenca
The Turi Church

A large French style building
Can you believe this is a high school? It’s the Colegio Nacional Experimental Benigno Malo.

A dog sitting on a man’s lap at a soccer game
A four-legged fan at our first soccer game

Wooden door with Inca style carvings
A door on a business nea Parque Calderon

A woman in native clothing with a young girl
It is common to see older native women in traditional dress.

View of the Broken Bridge from the Historic Center
The Broken Bridge as seen from the Historica Center

Street art of Incan man
Street art by the Museo Pumapungo

Have you been to Cuenca? If so, Steve and I would love to hear about your experiences and restaurant recommendations.

Stay safe and healthy,
Linda

Featured image by Fernando Zhiminaicela on Pixabay.com


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The Funky Side of Budapest

One of the things I enjoy when exploring a city is discovering unique and colorful street art. The more eccentric, the better. Quite frankly, I think Budapest is lacking in street art (at least in the form of murals), but it makes up for it with a multitude of quirky novelties.

Street art

Even though street art is lacking in Budapest, here are a few that I found entertaining.

Fancy Face at Tereza Mexican Restaurant (District VI)

A large mural of a colorfully decorated faceYou can see this colorful face outside of the Tereza Mexican Restaurant on Nagymező utca, not far from Andrássy utca.

A Woman and a Monkey (District VII)

A mural of a woman dring through a straw while sitting next to a monkey

This woman and her monkey liven up the side of a large building on Kazinczy utca.

What a Door (District VII)

A door painted with a colorful and zany face

And how about this cool door on Kazinczy utca, which is just a few doors down from the Szimpla Kert ruin bar (discussed below)?

Llamas in a Tunnel (District XIV)

A drawing of two stylized llamas

Even though it is common to see graffiti in tunnels, the graffiti we saw in a tunnel connecting two Mexikoi metro station stops was a pleasant surprise. In addition to these llamas, the entire tunnel was filled with drawings of cute animals.

Budapest has much less graffiti than many of the cities we visited. Public places seem to get a lot of respect.

Big Statues

As you would expect, Budapest has a wealth of historical statues and monuments. But they also have quite a few lighthearted ones. Many can be found in District V, which runs along the Danube River on the Pest side of the city. Here are a few of my favorite:

Columbo (District V)

At the north end of District V, not far from the Margaret Bridge, you can find a statue of the TV character Columbo. He stands in his rumpled clothes, scratching his head while holding a cigar. His dog, Dog, sits nearby.

Life-size staute of the TV character Columbo and his dog

Why is a statue of an American TV character in Budapest? The main reason is that Peter Falk, the actor who played Columbo, was of Hungarian heritage. It is also possible that he was related to a Hungarian political figure and writer named Miksa Falk. For this reason, the statue is at the end of Falk Miksa Street (Hungarians write names with the surname first).

If you want to know more about the delightful oddity, check out this site and the video it contains.

Girl With Her Dog (District V)

This girl has a lovely place along the Danube River in which to play ball with her dog. They can be found south of the Chain Bridge.

Statue of a girl reaching for a ball in a dog’s mouth

Little Princess (District V)

Just north of the Girl With Her Dog statue sits the Little Princess. The sculptor, László Marton, was inspired to create this statue by his daughter because she loved to dress up as a princess. The princess is perched on a railing along the Danube River.

Statue of a child in a princess outfit

The Fat Policeman (District V)

You can meet this guy not far from St. Stephen’s Basilica. It is said that if you rub his belly, you will have good luck. Note his ceremonial headgear, which is called a Zrinyi Helmet.

Statue of a policeman with a large belly

Man on a ladder (District VIII)

While walking to the Kerepesi Cemetery one day, we came across this statue in Teleki Lászlo tér. I have not been able to find out what it signifies but found it charming nonetheless.

Mini Statues

In addition to the statues mentioned above, the city is graced with quite a few mini statues. If you have eagle eyes, you may just spot some of them on your own. Since the statues are tiny (generally less than 1-foot square), we had to use this cheat sheet to find them.

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. Kolodko’s mini statues grace several other cities as well.

According to the list above, there are twenty statues in Budapest. Of course, that number could change at any time.

Checker-Eared Rabbit (District 1)

This little spy can be found near Buda Castle. It is based on a character from a Hungarian children’s TV show.

Mini statue of a rabbit with an eyeglassKermit the Frog (District V)

You can see the always popular Kermit in Liberty Square. (Szabadság Square) not far from the U.S. Embassy.

Mini statue of a frog in front of a fenceDiver (District VII)

This statue of a diver was the first mini statue we saw in Budapest. That was before we knew of the other mini statues. It is outside of the elegant New York Palace Hotel and Café. It illustrates a legend that a  Hungarian author named Ferenc Molnár tossed the café’s key into the river to prevent it from ever closing.

While the café is still around, it is currently closed because of the pandemic.

Mini statue of a scuba diver with a keyTank (District I)

Some of the mini statues have historical meaning, like this tank. It commemorates the failed  1956 revolution against Soviet occupation. The tank is on the Buda side of the Danube across from Parliament. The gun is facing downward to signify the end of the revolution.

Mini statue of a tank with it’s gun bent downwardDead Squirrel (District V)

This unfortunate creature lies just behind the Columbo statue on Falk Miksa Street. To illustrate how small the mini statues are, we passed by the Columbo statue many times, stopped to photograph it at least twice, and never spotted the squirrel.

Mini statue of a dead squirrel with a gun
Ruin Bars

Ruin bars are unique to Budapest. They were originally underground bars set up in abandoned or decaying buildings. Since District VII (the Jewish Quarter) had been neglected since WWII, this was the logical place to find these buildings.

The bars were decorated with cheap, free, or even discarded furniture and novelties, eclecticism in the extreme.

Ruin bars still exist but have lost their alternative vibe since they got on the radar of tourists. Even so, it is worth checking out one or two of them, even if you aren’t a drinker/partier.

You can read more about Budapest’s ruin bars in this article by Nomatic Matt.

Szimpla Kert (District VII)

The first, most famous, and yes, the funkiest ruin bar is Szimpla Kert (Simple Garden in English). In addition to the nighttime activities, they host a farmers’ market every Sunday. That is when we took the opportunity to see what the fuss was all about.

Like two of the examples of street art (above), Szimpla Kert is on Kazinczy utca.

The front of Szimpla Kert
The front of Szimpla Kert on a Sunday Morning

Interior view of Szimpla Kert with plants and mannequin
One example of the oddities you will find inside

liebling (District VII)

We haven’t visited this place yet, but we definitely need to. It is a roof-top bar on Akácfa utca that is part of the Instant-Fogas Complex. This complex has seven clubs at one site.

Roof bar with large red lips and white eagle
The roof top bar liebling as seen from the street

Mazel Tov (District VII)

As of this writing, the only other ruin bar Steve and I visited was Mazel Tov, also on Akácfa utca. It is less zany, more classy than the above two bars. With an open feeling and some trees growing among the tables, it is a pleasant place for a light meal.

Interior of Mazel Tov restaurant and bar
Inside Mazel Tov; airy and relaxing

A Few More Funky Things

The Michael Jackson Memorial Tree (District V)

No, it isn’t a tree that was planted in the late pop star’s honor. The Michael Jackson Memorial Tree is a tree that stands in Elisabeth Square near the Kempinski Hotel Corvinus Budapest. It is covered with photos paying tribute to Jackson.

Jackson only visited Budapest three times. Once in 1994, to shoot a promotional video for his HIStory album, once in 1996 to check out a concert venue, and again in 1996 for the only concert he ever gave in Budapest (part of his HIStory world tour). Prior to 1989, Hungary was controlled by the Soviet Union, and acts like Jackson’s were not welcome.

A tree covered with photos of Michael Jackson
The Michael Jackson Memorial Tree in Elisabeth Square. You can see part of the Budapest Eye in the background.

Here is more detail about the tree from We Love Budapest.

Púder Bárszínház (District IX)

If you stroll down Raday Street in District IX, you may come across this golden bear. He sits in front of the Púder Bárszínház restaurant.

Raday Street is in the historic Ferencváros district and boasts many restaurants, including Costes, Budapest’s first Michelin-starred restaurant.

A large gold-tone bear statue sitting on a sidewalk
A cute but not very cuddly bear on Raday Street.

Bela Lugosi Bust (District XIV)

Since he died in 1956, you may not be familiar with Bela Lugosi. He was a Hungarian actor who became a naturalized U.S. citizen. He is most famous for his portrayal of Dracula.

If you visit the Vajdahunyad Castle in City Park, you can see a bust of Bela Lugosi. It was placed in an empty nook on the castle in the dark of night (how fitting) by the German artist who created the bust. You would be unlikely to notice it unless you were looking for it. You can read more about this bust and the artist’s escapades in other cities in this Atlas Obscura article.

A bust of the actor Bela Lugosi on a castle wall
Bela surveying the grounds at City Park

Closing

Budapest is divided into 23 districts. As you can see in this list, there is a lot to see in District V. This is no surprise since it is the downtown/tourist area.

District VII is the former Jewish Quarter and is heavy on nightlife. The three ruin bars mentioned here are in District VII.

The mini statues have been placed throughout the city and make for fun exploring if time permits. Personally, I love this city and can find entertaining delights no matter where I go.

I hope you enjoyed reading about some of the off-beat sights and activities in Budapest. Of course, Budapest is chock full of elegance as well. You can see some of that in The Beauty of Budapest in 50 Photos.

And check out 20 Quick and Cool Things to See and Do in Budapest for even more ideas.

As always, Steve and I would love to hear about the funky sights you have seen in Budapest!

Stay safe,
Linda

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Beware the E-Scooters: A Wind and Whim Travel Story

There are many ways to get around in Budapest. In addition to an extensive metro system, there are taxis, buses, trams, trains, and bicycles. There is even a chairlift to get to the top of Janos Hill. But for Steve and me, the most enjoyable way to get around the city is by electric scooter. At least it was until I had not one, but two, scooter accidents within a month.

Freedom After Lockdown

We arrived in Budapest in March of 2020. The entire country shut down just a few days later because of COVID-19. During the three-month shutdown, we limited our time in public. When the shutdown ended, we discovered the fun of scootering around the city.

We were nervous about riding next to heavy traffic, so we limited our scooter outings to Sunday mornings and holidays when the streets were less crowded.

Fun While it Lasted (Accident #1)

For the next few months, we would get out early on Sunday. We zipped around Budapest from City Park to Margaret Island. From the Castle District to the Palace District.

Then one Sunday, we were riding in the bike lane on Andrassy Avenue. As I approached an intersection, a young man stepped off the curb and into my path. He had failed to look both ways, relying on the convention that all traffic must stop when a pedestrian enters the striped crosswalk.

Bikelane, road, and crosswalk on Andrassy Ave. in Budapest
The scene of accident #1

I swerved left, then right, then left again. He stepped forward, then backward, then forward again. I barely avoided hitting him. I hit the back of a parked car instead. I was going too fast to stop and bear all the blame.

Results of Accident #1

I was fortunate that my only physical injury was a scraped elbow. But my pride and confidence were seriously shaken.

We aren’t sure what damage I caused to the car since it already had a lot of dents and scratches. Steve took several pictures of the car and left our contact information under a wiper blade. We headed home on foot.

Black Yaris with a dent in the side
I hit the back of this car. The huge dent on the side was already there.

A few weeks later, we got a call from the owner of the car. We met with him and filled out insurance paperwork, which of course, we couldn’t read because it was in Hungarian. We also submitted forms to LimeBike.

As of this writing, we have not heard anything else about this issue.

Down, But Not Out

This accident shook me up, but I decided that it wouldn’t stop me from riding scooters. I would just have to be more careful.

Realizing that it could have been much worse, I bought a helmet and wore it every time I rode.

Even with the helmet, I was nervous. Steve would often get ahead of me because he was going at a normal speed. Then he would stop and wait for me.

Accident #2

Just one month later, it happened again.  This time I didn’t damage any property, but I did end up in the ER.

We were heading home after exploring Obudai Island. We were traveling on a narrow sidewalk right next to a road. The next thing I know, I was reaching out with my left foot and then tumbling into the road.

It was a good thing I was wearing my helmet because my head bounced off the road. Fortunately, there weren’t any cars coming in my direction at that time.

A family was driving by and saw me fall. They stopped to help. They asked if I would like to go to the hospital. I was pretty shaken up, had a big bump on the back of my head, and was concerned about a concussion, so I said yes.

It seemed like a bit of overkill, but since we don’t have a car, the good samaritans called an ambulance. And because the accident occurred on a state road, the police were summoned as well.

Passing the Test

While we waited for the ambulance, the police recorded what had happened. That is when we found out that you need a valid driver’s license to ride an electric scooter. Fortunately, I had my Florida license with me, and that was satisfactory.

Then they did a  breathalyzer test. I am happy to say I passed with flying colors since my last drink was peach juice.

Now it was time to head to the hospital.

Not Quick, But Cheap

I was taken to the Hungarian Army Medical Center (Magyar Honvédség Egészségügyi Központ). As in the U.S., we had a long wait in the ER, but it was a much better experience than Steve had after his skiing accident in Bulgaria. You can read about that in Hospitalized in Bulgaria.

This hospital was clean, almost everyone was wearing masks, and most of the staff spoke English. After a cat scan, I was given a clean bill of health and sent home. Besides the bump on my head, I had an abrasion on my other elbow and a huge bruise behind one knee.

The whole thing, including the ambulance ride, only cost US$230. The most painful part was the realization that I had reached the point in life in which I can’t safely do everything I want to.

Just like Steve swore off skiing after his accident, I swore off electric scooters that day.

But There’s More

A few weeks after my second accident, I received a letter from the Budapest police. It was in Hungarian, but I got the gist of it by using Google Translate. It said that because I had a motor vehicle accident on a state road, I was subject to a US$500 fine. I wasn’t sure if the letter was a warning or if I would be fined. After a few emails, I was assured that this was only a warning. I was also told that future infractions would not be dealt with so leniently.

As you can see, while I was not a successful scooter rider, things could have been much worse.

How to Use LimeBike Scooters

Carefully. Very carefully, lol.

Seriously though, it is easy to rent scooters using the LimeBike app. After setting up your account, all you have to do is pull up the map showing where available scooters are located. You located a nearby scooter, press a few buttons, and you’re good to go.

Once you arrive at your destination, park it out of the way, making sure it is not in a no-locking zone. The app makes this easy.

If you are stopping for a time, be sure to pause or lock the scooter. You can always get another one when you are ready to ride again. They are everywhere in the touristy areas.

If you ride scooters, please be careful and consider wearing a helmet.

We have only used a few bike share apps, but they were a pain to use. The LimeBike app was the easiest we have used. Be warned, though; it is not the most economical way to get around.

What Does it Cost to Use a LimeBike Scooter?

I am not even going to attempt to analyze the price structure. I can tell you this: the average amount we spent per outing (which could be more than one ride) was US$10 per person.

If you want to get around quickly and inexpensively, you are better off with the metro and tram system or the buses. If you want to have a little fun and don’t mind spending more, a scooter might be just the thing.

A Final Word of Warning

Even if you don’t ride scooters, you are still at risk from them. Throughout Budapest, it is common to see electric scooters, bikes, and even motorcycles being ridden on sidewalks. A good habit to develop as a pedestrian is to walk as if you were driving a car. If you want to “change lanes”, glance behind you first. We have been amazed at how close to pedestrians riders will come without giving any warning.

Further Reading

If you want to learn more about e-scooters, here are two articles that may be of interest to you:

The results of a survey on E-scooters in Europe: legal status, usage and safety, a published in Septermber 2020 by the Forum of European Road Safety Research Institutes (FERSI).

A post about electric scooter accidents in the U.S. by a personal injury firm called Valiente Mott.

Safe and Happy Traveling,
Linda

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Sintra, Portugal – Stunning and Sublime

One of the best things about traveling full-time is discovering awesome new places. Sintra, Portugal, was such a place. This enchanting town, less than one hour from Lisbon, is brimming with historic palaces and castles.

Steve and I spent seven weeks in Portugal visiting six cities in the fall of 2018. Our tour of the country included stops in Porto, Lisbon, and the Algarve. But Sintra was the one that has remained in our hearts.

Read on to learn about Sintra and five of its most visited attractions.

A Little About Sintra

Sintra is situated in the Sintra Mountains 15.5 miles (25 km) west of Lisbon. It is famous for its 19th-century architecture known as Romanticism, and the entire town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In this area, you can explore several palaces and castles and their beautiful grounds. You can also visit the Sintra-Cascais Nature Park.

Sintra is often recommended as a day trip from Lisbon. However, if you love exploring as we do, you will need more than a day to do it justice.

It can be reached by car, but the roads are narrow and hilly, and parking is limited. It is better to take the 40-minute train ride from Lisbon. We got around the town by bus and walking with no problem at all.

Colorful buildings with tree-covered mountains in the background
Part of Sintra as seen from the National Palace of Sintra.

National Palace of Sintra (Palácio Nacional de Sintra)

Exterior of large white palace

The National Palace of Sintra was a popular summer resort and hunting retreat for Portuguese royalty for many centuries. When Portugal became a republic in 1910, the palace became a national monument. It is now a historical museum and the only medieval royal palace still in existence in Portugal.

The oldest part of the palace is the royal chapel. It is believed to have been built in the early 14th century. Much of the remainder of the palace dates from the 15th and 16th centuries. It underwent restoration in 1940.

The palace is located in town and is sometimes referred to as the Town Palace (Palacio da Vila). It is easy to spot because of the two large cone-shaped chimneys rising almost 100 feet (30 meters) from the roof. They provided ventilation for the palace’s two kitchens.

Close up of hand-painted doves

This is a part of the painted wall in the chapel. The doves represent the Holy Ghost descending to Earth.

Room with partially tiled walls and swans painted on the ceiling

The Swan Hall features an intricate ceiling featuring, you guessed it, swans.

A close up of azulejo tiles featuring a faun and flowers

The walls of the Coat of Arms Room are covered with azulejo tiles like these.

It is worth a few hours of your time. I recommend a tour to learn about the symbolism found in the various rooms.

Park and Palace of Monserrate (Palacio de Monserrate)

Side view of the Palace of Monserrate

The Park and Palace of Monserrate is located in the foothills of the Sintra Mountains about 2 miles (3.5 km) from the center of Sintra. While not particularly large, the palace is a lovely example of Romanticism. It combines Moorish and neo-gothic design elements. The gardens feature 1,000 species of plants in several themed areas, including a rose garden, a Japanese garden, and a Mexican garden. And how can you not love a place that has an area called fern valley?

Legend has it that circa 1093 a chapel dedicated to the Virgin Mary was erected on the site. In 1540 the hermitage Our Lady of Monserrate was built on the site of the palace. From that time until 1863, the estate saw several owners and was severely damaged by an earthquake in 1755.

In 1863 Sir Francis Cook purchased the estate of Monserrate. He commissioned the construction of the current palace, which became a summer residence for his family. He also renovated the gardens.

We visited in November, so the gardens weren’t at their best, but it was still fun to explore.

Hallway with marble columns and filigree details

This photo of a hallway in the palace shows the great attention to detail.

Close up of a fountain near the palace

You can see this fountain as you exit the palace.

Hedgie overlooking the palace lawn

Our travel buddy Hedgie couldn’t wait to run on the lawn.

Pena Palace (Palacio Nacional da Pena)

Exterior of Pena Palace from the road below

The most colorful of the Sintra attractions is the Pena Palace. Much of the exterior is painted red and bright yellow. The oldest section is the Manueline cloisters, which date back to the 1500s. Most of the current building was constructed between 1842 and 1854 under the behest of King Ferdinand.

The palace is brimming with an eclectic mix of architectural elements, including Neo-Gothic, Neo-Islamic, and Neo-Renaissance. The interior of the palace was restored to reflect the decor as it was in 1910 when the Portuguese nobility fled to Brazil to escape the revolution.

Gargoyle-like creature on the outside of a building

This handsome guy symbolizes the Creation. Be sure to say hi when you see him.

Terrace and pillars overlooking a valley

The Queen’s Terrace is a popular photo spot.

Don’t make the same mistake we did. Be sure to visit the Parque de Pena as well. It covers almost 500 acres (200 hectares) and has over 30 man-made elements. Here is some information about the park.

A word of warning – the palace sits on the second-highest point in the Sintra Mountains. There is a road that leads from the train station to the palace, but it is a 50-minute uphill hike. Be sure to take tourist bus 434 unless you are looking for a workout.

Castle of the Moors (Castelo dos Mouros)

View of the Castle of the Moors from a distance

We had so much fun exploring these medieval castle ruins that sit high in the Sintra Mountains. The castle was built in the 8th and 9th centuries by the Moors and was used to defend the area through the 12th century.

In 1147 Christian Crusaders stormed the castle. With the Moors driven out, it was left to become a ruin. It was partially restored by King Ferdinand II in the mid-1800s as he liked to view it from the nearby Pena Palace.

Unlike the first two places discussed here, the castle does not have rooms to see. It is a ruin where you can walk along castle walls, climb towers, and take in the views of Sintra, including the National Palace and Pena Palace.

Man walking on a castle wall

You can take tourist bus 434 to get to the castle, or you can walk there from Pena Palace in about 12 minutes.

Quinta da Regaleira

Large neo-Gothic mansion

You can’t tell by looking at it, but the Quinta da Regaleira is the newest of the five attractions in this list. The neo-gothic palace and chapel were built by a Brazilian-Portuguese businessman named Antonio Augusto de Carvalho Monteiro in 1904. Monteiro died in the palace in 1920, but it remained in his family until 1987. It was then purchased by a Japanese company to be used for private functions. It became a national monument in 1997 and was open to the public the following year.

The villa is definitely worth touring, but the real attraction is the extensive and totally over the top park. It reflects Monteiro’s interest in mystical ideologies, including the Knights Templar, the Masons, and alchemy. The park is almost 10 acres (4 hectares), and in addition to the expected fountains and statues, it includes lakes, grottoes, tunnels, and caves.

Rocky entrance to a cave

Walkway, pond, and stepping stones in a park-like setting.

Note the stepping stones you can access from a cave.

There are also two initiation wells on the property. The wells were not meant for water collection. They symbolize the initiation ceremony of the Knights Templar.

Looking down into a large initiation well

The larger one is perhaps the most famous part of the park. You can walk down the spiral stairs 88 feet below ground and see the Templar Cross inscribed in the floor.

Man looking through a moss-covered opening

    Steve on his way to the bottom of the Initiation Well

Steve and I loved visiting all the places above, but when we think of our time in Sintra, our fondest memories are of the time we spent exploring the grounds of Quinta da Regaleira.

The Cats of Sintra

OK, the cats of Sintra isn’t really a thing. But we love to meet cats and dogs on our travels and take their photos if they consent. Here are three cats we “met” while taking in the gems of the town.

Grey cat sitting on a sandy walkway
Palace of Monserrate cat

Cat lying infront a a woman’s boots
Castle of the Moors cat

Tan cat crouched on sandy walkway
Quinta de Regaleira cat

But That’s Not All!

There are many more things to do in and near Sintra. In fact, writing the article made me realize that there is a lot we didn’t see there. We need to go back.

Here are some other things to enjoy in the area:

Cabo da Roca – cliffs overlooking the Atlantic Ocean at the westernmost point of continental Europe.

Convent of the Capuchos (Convento dos Capuchos) – the ruins of a16th century Franciscan monastery. The convent’s simplicity contrasts with the luxury of many of Sintra’s attractions.

National Palace of Queluz (Palácio Nacional de Queluz) – another incredible historic palace with gardens located between Lisbon and Sintra.

Air Museum (Museu do Ar) – learn about the history of aviation in Portugal.

Cascais – we did spend a few hours in this coastal resort town about 10 miles (16.8 km) south of Sintra. It’s definitely worth another visit.

Harbor in Cascais, Portugal
The harbor in Cascais

Trip Details

Dates: November 13-23, 2018
Number of days: 10
Total cost: $1,300
Cost per day: $130

Here is what we spent in Europe in eight months.

We’d love to hear about your experiences in and around Sintra. As always, I have done my best to be factual. If you find an error in my facts, please let me know.

Stay safe and healthy,
Linda

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The Beauty of Budapest in 50 Photos

In January 2020, Steve broke his pelvis while skiing in Bulgaria. What was meant to be a three-week winter-wonderland ski trip turned into twelve weeks of pain and disappointment.

By the time he was healed enough to travel, COVID-19 was becoming a serious concern throughout the world. Instead of returning to the U.S., we decided to go to the place we had planned to be: Budapest, Hungary.

The Hungarian government had declared a state of emergency the day before we arrived. Most of the businesses started closing down just a few days later.

We isolated from the middle of March through the middle of June. During this time, we were able to walk around and enjoy the architecture. That was when I fell in love with the beauty of Budapest.

I am excited to share some of my favorite exterior views of this city with you.

Budapest’s Districts

Budapest is divided into 23 districts. I have organized the photos by district. As a tourist, you are most likely to stay in and explore the following districts:

District 1 – The Castle District  – this is where you will find the Buda Castle, Fisherman’s Bastion, and Matthias Church. Traffic is limited to people who live or work there, guests of hotels in the area, taxis, and city buses, making it a great place to stroll.

District V -Belváros, which means Downtown in Hungarian. This district along the Pest side of the Danube River includes the incredible Hungarian Parliament building and St. Stephen’s Basilica.

District VI -Terézvaros – home to the elegant Andrássy Avenue, the Hungarian State Opera House, and upscale stores.

Of course, the other 20 districts also have a lot to offer. I hope you enjoy exploring the beauty of Budapest here and in person.

Here is an article that explains Budapest’s districts well.

Arresting Architecture

It seems odd to have the very first photo be of a modern building, but since I decided to list the photos by district, this is the first. We came across this building while exploring the Buda side of the city.

Modern building with rounded side and a lot of glass
District II, Vérhalom utca 19

The next building is also on the Buda side. Construction cranes are a common sight throughout Budapest.

Large brick and cement building with a round tower
District II, Széll Kálmán tér

This elegant building is the Four Seasons Gresham Palace Hotel. This 100-year-old Art Nouveau building originally contained apartments and offices for the Gresham Life Assurance Company of Great Britain.

The Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palace in Budapest
District V, Széchenyi István tér 5-6

The Parisi Udvar is a Bell Epoque beauty that was a shopping passage when it opened in 1817. After suffering from neglect, it has been transformed into a 5-star hotel with opulent dining areas.

Ornate angled Art Nouveau building
District V, Petőfi Sándor utca 2-4

I just love the clean look of this large white building next to the Parliament building, which you can see below.

Large white seven-story building
District V, Kossuth Lajos tér

This beauty overlooks Liberty Square.

Large white building with decorative relief as seen at an angle
District V, Szabadság tér

And this building is part of the Nyugati Railway Station. There is a similar building which is also part of the railway station and houses a McDonalds.

Brick building with curved grey roof
District VI, Podmaniczky utca 22

One of the many impressive houses on Andrássy Avenue. This elegant street runs from Elisabeth Square to City Park. The Neo-renaissance mansions (many of which are now embassies) and high-end stores make for a lovely stroll.

A three-story pure white building with wrought iron decorations
District VI, Andrássy utca 124-132

The neo-gothic Stern House.

Ornate brown and yellow 4-story building
District VIII, Rákóczi utca 7

This frilly confection is the Vígszínház, the Comedy Theatre of Budapest.

Fancy yellow theatre building with black wrought iron details
District XIII, Szent István korut 14

Fabulous Facades

Here are two buildings that I never tire of seeing. They are at the foot of the Elisabeth Bridge on the Pest side.

Two attached 5-story tan buildings
District V, Váci utca at the foot of the Elisabeth Bridge on the Pest side

The Vigadó Concert Hall sits near the bank of the Danube River on the Pest side.

Large tan building with tall arched windows
Distrcit V, Belgrád rakpart

Like the two joined buildings above, these are at the foot of the Elisabeth Bridge on the Pest side of the city.

Two attached 5-story buildings
District V, Váci utca at the foot of the Elisabeth Bridge on the Pest side

You can’t go wrong with a pretty pink house.

Pink building with off white decoration
District VI, Lendvay utca 1

This bright, recently restored building is on a side street. Well worth the detour.

Bright yellow building with ornate white decorations
District VI, Aradi utca 30

The Anantara New York Palace Budapest Hotel. It was built in 1894 as an office for the New York Life Insurance Company. In 2006 it became a luxury hotel. The ground floor houses the New York Cafe, as elegant today as it was over a century ago.

Front of the Anantara New York Palace Budapest Hotel
District VII, erzsébet körút 8

This lovely gem flanks the pond in City Park. It appears to have restaurants and shops, but they have been closed during the pandemic.

Large white building next to a pond
District XIV, Vázsonyi Vilmos sétány

Incredible Icons

This is just part of the fairy-tale-like Fisherman’s Bastion. Interestingly, it was never intended to be used for defense. It was built between 1895 and 1902 as part of a campaign to construct several buildings in celebration of the 1,000th birthday of the Hungarian State. The bastion is on the Buda side of the Danube River.

Castle-like section of Fisherman’s Bastion
District I, Szentháromság tér 5

The Church of the Assumption of the Buda Castle (or the Matthias Church) is adjacent to Fisherman’s Bastion. The original church was built in 1,015. The current building was built in the 14th century and extensively restored in the 19th century.  Be sure to take a guided tour of the tower.

A church viewed from an arched stairway
District I, Szentháromság tér 2

Buda Castle sits on Castle Hill overlooking the Danube River on the Buda side of the city. As you can imagine, the castle has a long and complex history. It was destroyed in WWII and rebuilt during the 1950s and 60s. Unfortunately, the work was not done well. The castle is now undergoing restoration to bring it back to its pre-WWII splendor.

Buda castle at night as seen from Pest
District I, Sikló utca

This sprawling neo-Gothic beauty is the Hungarian Parliament Building. It sits on the bank of the Danube River on the Pest side of the city.

The Hungarian Parliament Building as seen from Buda
District V, Kossuth Lajos tér 1-3

St.Stephen’s Basilica is a Roman Catholic basilica named in honor of the first king of Hungary.

St. Stephen’s Basilica at dusk
District V, Szent István tér 1

Even though it is covered up while being renovated, I had to include the Hungarian State Opera House. We were able to have an abbreviated tour of the inside in the summer. It was magnificent.

The Hungarian State Opera House in Budapest
District VI, Andrássy utca 22

The Dohány Street Synagogue is the largest synagogue in Europe and the third-largest in the world. The Moorish Revival building is more than 160 years old.

Front entrance of a synagogue
District VII, Dohány utca 2

The Keleti Railway Station (translates to East Railway Station) is a hub for local and long-distance trains and buses.

The majestic Keleti Palyaudvar
District VIII, Kerepesi utca 2-4

The Great Market Hall, also called the Central Market Hall, is a great place to admire architecture while shopping for food and souvenirs. Interestingly, there is a supermarket on the lower level.

Central market hall on a fall day
District IX, Vámház krt. 1-3

This massive building is the Széchenyi Thermal Bath. Part of the building is painted a bright yellow, as you can see at the photo’s sides.

View of the Széchenyi Baths in Budapest’s City Park
District XIV, City Park

This is one part of the Vajdahunyad Castle. The entire castle features several architectural styles that celebrate the history of Hungary. Like Fisherman’s Bastion, this castle was built for the Millennial Exhibition in 1896.

The castle was initially built of wood and cardboard because it was not intended to be permanent. It proved to be so popular that it was rebuilt as a permanent structure that now houses the Hungarian Agricultural Museum.

Learn more about the history of Vajdahunyad Castle.

A castle-like building reflected in a pond
District XIV, Vajdahunyad stny. City Park

Delightful Details

Part of the tiled roof of the Matthias Church. Many buildings in the city have patterned roofs.

Close up of the decorative roof tiles on the Matthias Church in Budapest
District I, Szentháromság tér 2

This 120-year-old four-story building is called the Severa House. It was originally the home of an Italian salami maker named Károly Szevera.

Four mosaics that represent the four seasons are on the top floor.

Top of ornate building with four mosaic panels representing the four seasons
District V, Károly körút 14.

These are just three of the many busts on the Parisi Udvar building.

Bust of a woman and two men on the Parisi Udvar building
District V, Petőfi Sándor u. 2-4

This cute relief is one of eight different ones on a building on Vaci street.

Plaque with one child blowing a horn at another child
District V, Váci utca 66

It is not unusual to see statues in niches on the exteriors of buildings. This building features statues of several Hungarian leaders.

Exterior of building with three statues
District V, Cukor utca 7

This is detail on a porcelain Herend statue that stands in Jozsef Nador Square. Every time I see it, I marvel at how it has remained undamaged.

One of the things that impressed me the most about Budapest is the respect the citizens have for their city. The streets are the cleanest we’ve seen in any city so far, and public transportation is free of graffiti and trash.

Two colorful bird sitting on branches on a Herend porcelain statue
District V, Jozsef Nador Square

Here is another relief. This one is just too cute.

Plaque of a small boy reading to two large dogs
District VI, Dalszínház utca 9

These mosaics are on the top story of a three-story building.

Front of white building with Egyptian style decorations
District VI, Bajza utca 42-44

These beautiful corbels are on the elegant Andrássy Avenue.

Ornate brackets on a building on Andrássy utca in Budapest
District VI, Andrássy utca 4-6

These are two of the light-holding fauns that decorate the Anantara New York Palace Budapest Hotel.

Two winged fugures holding lights
District VII, Dohány utca 53

More reliefs. These are on the side of a building that houses a large drug and toiletries store.

Reliefs on a building
District IX, Tompa utca 5-9

Faded Beauty

As we’ve been exploring Budapest, we have been amazed at the large number of cranes and buildings being refurbished. We have remarked that we need to revisit the city in about five years to see all the improvements after they are finished.

While not as beautiful as the buildings above, the four buildings below cannot hide their elegance. Let’s hope they get the facelifts they deserve.

Even in disrepair, this building remains impressive.

Five-story building with fancy roof
District V, Deák Ferenc tér

This is the Drescher Palace. It stands across from the Hungarian State Opera House on Andrássy Avenue. Its history includes a three-story cafe, apartments, and serving as a ballet institute. It was supposed to become a W Hotel, but it appears that those plans fell by the wayside.

Large brown palace-like building in disrepair
District VI, Andrássy utca

I love seeing the difference between the restored section of this building and the part that is still waiting for love.

Large corner building with one half restored
District VI, Andrássy utca

This building is at the corner of the street we are currently staying on. If you look closely, you can see straps holding the statues on.

Old biuilding with statues
District IX, Mester utca and Páva utca

Beautiful Bridges

There are main seven bridges that connect the two sides of Budapest (in order from north to south):

Árpád Bridge
Margaret Bridge
Széchenyi Chain Bridge
Elisabeth Bridge
Liberty Bridge
Petőfi Bridge

Below you will see photos of the four most picturesque of these bridges.

The Margaret Bridge not only connects Buda and Pest but also connects both sides of the city to Margaret Island. It is the second oldest bridge in Budapest.

You can spend hours exploring Margaret Island. I highly recommend it.

A yellow bridge spanning the Danube River
The Margaret Bridge

Here is one of the pillars on the Margaret Bridge.

Marble pillar with metal ornaments and lights
District XIII, Margaret Bridge (Margit híd)

The oldest and most famous bridge in Budapest is the Széchenyi Chain Bridge. It is commonly known as the Chain Bridge.

The Chain Bridge as seen from the Buda side of Budapest
The Széchenyi Chain Bridge

Two lions guard the Chain Bridge at each end. A cool trivia fact is that the lions don’t have tongues.

The bridge was closed to traffic on a Saturday night in the summer.

The Chain Bridge at night
The Chain Bridge

This modern bridge is the Elisabeth Bridge (named after a beloved Hungarian queen).

The Elisabeth Bridge as seen from the Buda side of Budapest
The Elisabeth Bridge

The Liberty Bridge as viewed from the Pest side:

The Liberty Bridge as seen from the Buda side of Budapest
The Liberty Bridge

And detail on the Liberty Bridge:

Detail of the Liberty Bridge
Liberty Bridge Detail

The five bridges that existed in Budapest before WWII, including the four above, were all destroyed by retreating German troops in 1945. All were rebuilt. The Elisabeth Bridge was the only one not rebuilt to resemble the original.

You can see historic and current photos of the bridges and the city after the WWII bombings here.

Closing

These are just a few of the thousands of remarkable sights you can see as you explore Budapest. For a taste of the offbeat check out The Funky Side of Budapest. And for even more ways to enjoy the city read 20 Quick and Cool Things to See and Do in Budapest.

12 Full-Time Travel Questions Answered

Do you dream of leaving it all behind to traveling full-time? You’re not alone.

You may be wondering how affordable it is, or maybe you’re concerned about practical issues like medical insurance, prescriptions, and cell phone usage.

Here I answer 12 questions about what to expect if you make this leap.

A Bit of Background

In 2016 Steve and I announced that we were planning to retire and travel full-time beginning in 2018. You can read about how we came to this decision in our story “How It All Began”.

Other full-time travelers have written about getting both positive and negative comments when they sprang their news, but surprisingly we only got positive responses. I’m sure some of the people we told thought we were crazy, but they were kind enough to not say so. 

During our two years of planning, we got many questions. Here are the questions we were asked, along with some that weren’t asked:

Are you going to sell your house or rent it?

We opted to sell our house. We had lived in it for 30 years. It was a great house for raising children, but it had served its purpose. 

We had a decent-size yard with extensive gardens that was a fabulous place for the girls to play and saved my sanity as a stay-at-home mom. But the amount of work was growing tiresome. 

We had a pool that took many more hours of maintenance than we spent swimming in it. 

Renting may be a good option if you are likely to return to the home or neighborhood. We didn’t want the hassles of renting. We would have to pay someone to maintain the yard and pool and pay a management company. The last thing we wanted in our new life was calls about repair costs or delinquent tenants.

A man and woman at Machu Picchu
Enjoying the splendor of Machu Picchu sure beats yardwork.

Will you return to Jacksonville, Florida, when you are done traveling?

When we left Jacksonville in 2018, our plans were open-ended. We had no idea when or where we would settle. Even now, almost three years later, we still don’t.

One thing we know is that it won’t be in Jacksonville. We have no desire to return to the heat and humidity. One of our daughters lives there; the other is in Orlando. Other than that, we don’t have strong ties to Jacksonville. Steve and I have often discussed that we might not even settle in the U.S. 

What will you do with your cars?

Since we planned to spend only one month in the U.S. each year, we sold our cars. The abundance of public transportation in Europe and Latin America has spoiled us. When we return to the U.S., we rent a car. This can be quite pricey.

In 2018 we rented a car for 4 1/2 weeks for $885.

In 2019 a 5-week rental cost us over $2,000.

In many of the cities we’ve visited, we have used Uber. We find it efficient and affordable. Before our first trip back to the U.S., we considered using it instead of renting a car.

I found a website that estimated Uber costs (sorry, I don’t remember which one). Because Jacksonville is spread out and has heavy traffic, the prices were shocking. Also, having used Uber in Jacksonville a few times, I knew it wasn’t cheap. We felt that in this case, renting a car was the better choice.

Keep in mind that if you don’t own a car, you won’t have auto insurance. Our main credit card covers theft and damage to a rental auto. We always make sure we get liability coverage in case we cause an accident that results in someone’s injury or death or damages someone else’s property. Trust me, this doesn’t come cheap.

How do your grown children feel about this?

Our two daughters, Stephanie and Laura, have been very supportive. If the idea of us being out of the country for most of the year bothers them, they are selfless enough to keep it to themselves.

Our original plan was to return to the U.S. every December. During these visits, we can spend time with Stephanie and Laura, visit friends, and see our doctors.

This plan worked fine for the first two years. Then 2020 arrived. As of this writing, it looks like we will spend December 2020 in Budapest, Hungary, where we have been waiting out the pandemic since March.

How will you get your mail?

We are using a virtual mailbox service called Traveling Mailbox. The service notifies you via email when you receive mail. You then log in to see your mail and tell them how you want it handled.

Traveling Mailbox will forward mail anywhere in the world and deposit checks for you. Both of these have small fees attached. We recommend Traveling Mailbox but there are several companies that provide similar services.

You can learn more about our favorite services and apps here.

What will you do about cell phones?

Our cell phones are still connected to our AT&T account in the U.S. When we arrive in a new country, we get a local SIM card that gives us calls and internet data. We use internet data when we are out and about. In our lodgings we have wifi.

SIM cards are generally inexpensive. In Peru, we paid $11 per person for a 30-day plan.

AT&T also offers a plan that allows us to use our AT&T SIM for $10 for 24 hours. We do this when we have to make calls to the U.S. for financial or medical reasons. For talking with friends and relatives, we rely on WhatsApp.

How will you handle finances?

The good news is when you sell almost everything, you have very few bills. And everything can be paid online.

Even so, things can slip through the cracks. We recently found out that we owed our dentist’s office almost $1,000. The office had submitted the charges to our insurance company, and this is what wasn’t covered. We found out about this because our Chase bank account informed us that our credit had been impacted.

It turned out that the dentist’s office did not have our complete address on file (for the virtual mailbox). They also didn’t have our email addresses, and they only had our U.S. phone numbers, which we aren’t currently using. If it wasn’t for the Chase notification, this could have sat for another year.

What about medical insurance?

We chose not to get medical travel insurance. We believe the cost of medical care outside of the U.S. is generally affordable, so we pay for it out-of-pocket. A case in point: Steve’s ski accident in Bulgaria cost $2,000. This included nine days in the hospital with all tests and medicines and two ambulance rides. You can read about this less-than-ideal experience in Hospitalized in Bulgaria.

I am happy to say that the other few times we have dealt with doctors, the experience was professional, efficient, and inexpensive.

Our current U.S. insurance is through the Affordable Care Act, and surprisingly it has covered many of the costs we incur while traveling.

This is a perfect solution for us, but for someone who doesn’t have ample savings to fall back on, I would definitely recommend travel medical insurance.

Here is an article from The Hartford that summarizes the different types of travel insurance.

And here is some information about some of the top travel health companies. 

A note about other travel insurance

We have trip cancelation and baggage delay coverage through our Chase credit card but wouldn’t buy it if Chase did not provide it.

We always decline trip insurance when booking flights. Of all the flights we have taken, we only missed one when Steve was laid up from his ski accident. The way I look at it, the money we saved by not taking the insurance over the years more than covered the money we lost by not taking that one flight.

One coverage we won’t leave home without is our emergency evacuation policy through Medjet. This covers the cost of transporting us home in case of a medical emergency or transporting our mortal remains. You can add coverage for assistance during a crisis like a natural disaster or an act of terrorism. Medjet offers short-term and annual policies.

One thing to note: early in the pandemic, Medjet informed policyholders that they would not be able to transport them during the pandemic because of the highly contagious nature of Covid-19 that led to travel restrictions.

What about prescriptions?

Steve and I both take several prescriptions daily. Fortunately, most of them are inexpensive. On our annual returns to the U.S., our doctors write us prescriptions for one year’s worth of each of these. After we fill what we can through our insurance, we would use GoodRx coupons to fill the rest. 

Unfortunately, we have a few medications that are too expensive to buy out-of-pocket. When we set out in 2018, we only had enough of these for three months. We found that it is easy to get medications in other countries. Even though we are paying out of pocket, they are nowhere near as expensive as in the U.S. Depending on the medication and which country you are in, you may not even need a prescription.

Initially, we were concerned about carrying so much medicine, but we haven’t had any problems. We make sure that they are all kept in their original bottles. We also asked our doctors to write a letter that lists our medications, what each one is for, and how long we plan to travel.

Once we got into a travel routine, we started ordering our medications quarterly using our U.S.-based insurance. Our daughter holds them for us.

Of course, 2020 had to mess this up too. Since we are not returning to the U.S. in December, we will not be replenishing our supplies. Therefore we must see a doctor in Budapest and fill our prescriptions here. Not ideal, but still affordable.

Which credit cards will you use?

Several people we know love the Southwest credit card. I think it is great for people who travel on Southwest frequently. Since we may end up anywhere in the world, traveling by any number of airlines or by train or bus, that card doesn’t make sense for us.

Our primary card is the Chase Sapphire Preferred card. It is a VISA card that we’ve been able to use everywhere we have been so far.

We collect points for every purchase, which we can use at a 25% premium for travel. I have recently discovered that we can also use them to pay ourselves back for grocery and restaurant purchases with the same 25% premium.

We carry one Mastercard and debit cards from two different accounts as back up. Our pickpocketing experience in Barcelona taught us never to carry them together.

How can you afford to do this?

This is the one question everyone we knew was too polite to ask.

The simple answer is that we saved throughout our entire working lives. We didn’t save so we could retire early or travel full-time. We saved because we knew one day we would retire and need more than our Social Security to live on.

Are we rich? Rich is a relative term. I don’t consider us to be rich, but we have enough money that we don’t have to worry about unexpected bills like Steve’s Bulgarian hospital stay, and we can afford to splurge now and then as we did for our two-week-long Transatlantic cruise.

But we are also sensible and frugal. We love staying in four-star hotels at a two-star price, as we did in Puerto Iguazu, Argentina, but we aren’t willing to pay a five-star price for a five-star hotel room.

Lovely hotel room in beige and aqua
Our room at the Iguazu Jungle Lodge in Puerto Iguazu, Argentina. All this and a large balcony for $86 per night.

We have a budget that we use as a guide. Sometimes we are under, like during the pandemic, and sometimes over, like we were in the Galapagos and Peru.

Keep in mind there are oodles of people who travel full-time on a lot less per month than we do. Many travelers work on the road.

How much does it cost to travel full-time?

This can vary greatly. Some travelers spend very little by staying with friends, couch-surfing, volunteering in exchange for accommodations, or staying at hostels.

Food costs can be kept low by self-catering or eating street food.

We have chosen to travel at a three-star level. Each year I document our costs. You can read about the past two years here:

Wind and Whim’s 2018 Travel Costs – Europe

Wind and Whim’s 2019 Travel Costs – Latin America

That’s All, Folks!

I hope this answered some of the questions you have about full-time travel. If there is anything else you are curious about, please leave your question in the comments section.

Also, I would love to hear your answers to these questions.

Stay safe,
Linda

Featured Photo by Julius Silver on Pixabay.com

Therme Bucuresti: A Wind and Whim Favorite Place

Are you thinking of visiting Bucharest when the pandemic is over? Great! You’ll love it. Along with seeing the Palace of Parliament, Herăstrău Lake and Park, and the Cărturești Carusel bookstore, there is one other place that should be on your list: Therme Bucuresti.

What is Therme Bucuresti?

It is an astonishing wellness center and so much more. It is a place where you can feel like a carefree kid one minute and a pampered adult the next.

Therme Bucuresti is the largest relaxation and entertainment center in Europe. It opened in 2016 and welcomed 1.2 million visitors that year.

It is the first wellness facility of its size to be granted a LEED Platinum Certification for green building.

The thermal water that supplies all of the pools is extracted from 3,000 m below ground. The pool temperatures are maintained at 33 – 36 degrees Celsius (91 – 97 degrees Fahrenheit). We found the water temperature to be perfect.

It is also the largest botanical garden in Romania with over 800,000 plants!

Indoor pool at Therme Bucuresti surrounded by palm trees
The tropics in Bucharest

What Will You Find at Therme Bucuresti?

The best way to understand how much Therme Bucuresti has to offer is to visit its website. Be warned, it can be a bit overwhelming.

Therme Bucuresti is divided into three areas. As a guest, you decide which areas you want to access. Each area has dining options and all offer activities which can be viewed on the website. The three areas are:

Galaxy – this is the only area that allows children of all ages. Here you will find waterslides, a wave pool, and a game center. There is also a pool bar, an indoor/outdoor pool, a sandy beach, and a salt library to keep parents entertained. I am not ashamed to say I spend quite a bit of time on the waterslides.

Indoor pool and large waterslides
Fun, fun, fun – even for big kids like me!

The Palm & The Sands of Therme – This is where you will find another indoor/outdoor pool. The indoor pool has a retracting roof. The outdoor pool has a crazy river. Both have swim-up bars.

You must be at least 17 years old to enter this area, although parents can bring children up to three years old into this area.

The Palm also three mineral pools, a jacuzzi, hydromassage tables. There is a sandy beach with 500 palm trees and 1,500 loungers outside.

Large indoor mineral pools
Mineral pools in The Palms area

Elysiumthis is the wellness area. It features six themed saunas and a cooling calla shower. You can also get massages here. Like the Palms, this area is for people 17 and older.

The Elysium also has an indoor selenium and zinc pool with another swim-up bar.


A large shower in the shape of calla lillies
For a cold water blast after your sauna, visit the calla shower in the Elysium area

Our Experiences

We visited Therme Bucuresti twice in September 2018. Our first visit was for an entire day. We enjoyed it so much we decided to go back for a nighttime visit a week later.

One of the best things about Therme Bucuresti is what a great deal it is, at least for visitors from countries like the United States. Our first visit cost $172 (USD) for the two of us. While not a small amount of money, it is considerably less than what a similar experience would cost in the U.S. Here is a list of what we got for that price:

Access to all three areas
Robe and towel rental
Lunch
Two drinks at the swim-up bar
Two 45 minute massages
One haircut

Not bad for $86 (USD) per person.

A word of warning – if you get a massage, you will be given a skimpy (and I do mean skimpy) paper G-string to wear. Click here if you would like to see a similar version to the ones Steve and I were given.

Our evening visit cost $130 (USD). This included:

Access to all areas
Robe and towel rental
Four drinks
One massage

Even though there were many people there during both our visits, the complex is large enough that it never felt crowded.

A toy hedgehog at a swim-up bar
Hedgie hanging at the swim-up bar

Practical Stuff

Therme Bucuresti is 10 miles north of Bucharest at Calea Bucuresti 1K, Bucuresti, Romania.

There are several ways to get there: by car, taxi, Uber, or by the Therme Bucuresti shuttle bus that leaves from Piata Romana. Here is a link to directions and shuttle bus information.

You can rent a robe and towel when you arrive. As of this writing, the rental is reasonably priced at around  $12.00 (USD).

When you check in you will be given a wrist band. You will use it to open and lock your locker and record your purchases throughout your visit.

A note about shoes: you should bring flip flop style shoes to wear when walking between areas. I had some, but Steve’s were more like a boat shoe. They had a thick white sole. The staff took issue with them even though they had been sold as beach shoes and had never been worn outside. You can also buy slippers at Therme, but we did not do this.

For more information, you can read the Therme Bucuresti FAQ here.

Collage of lounge chairs, lockers, hair dryers, and decor in Therme Bucuresti
A few images of the facilities at Therme Bucuresti

Closing

If you’ve been to Therme Bucuresti, I would love to know what you thought of it.

If you haven’t, I encourage you to visit it if you are anywhere near Bucharest.

Writing this brought back such good memories that I wish I could go there right now. Unfortunately, the pandemic has us grounded in Budapest, Hungary. Maybe once it is safe to travel again, we will arrange a visit to Romania that includes a stop at Therme Bucuresti.

Here is a video by Grounded Life Travel so you can see even more of this beautiful complex.

Safe and happy traveling,
Linda

P.S. If you are curious about what it cost us to travel in Europe for eight months (including a month in Bucharest) check out Wind and Whim’s 2018 Travel Costs – Europe.

Paris’s Musée d’Orsay: A Wind and Whim Favorite Place

Ah, Paris! The City of Lights!

What should you do while visiting this fabled city? Climb the Eiffel Tower, peruse great art at the Louvre, stroll along the Seine? Absolutely.

But in addition to the above, there is one more place you shouldn’t miss, the Musée d’Orsay.

What is The Musée d’Orsay?

The Musée d’Orsay was voted the best museum in the world by Trip Advisor’s Traveler’s Choice Award in 2018.

It is a marvel of Beaux-Arts beauty that houses the world’s largest collection of impressionist and post-impressionist art.

Interior of the Musée d’Orsay with a large gold clock
The museum not only houses masterpieces, it is a masterpiece. Photo by Armand Khoury on Unsplash.com.

With works from 1848-1914, the Musée d’Orsay bridges the gap between the works of the Louvre which span a mind-boggling 25 centuries, from the 6th century BC to the end of the 19th century, and the Museum of Modern Art, whose works span from 1905 to the present day.

Silhouettes of three people in front of the clock window in the Musee d’Orsay
The clock window overlooking the Seine. You can see Sacre Coeur in the distance. Photo by Peter Mitchell on Unsplash.com

From Train Station to Art Museum

The building was originally a train station called Gare d’Orsay. It was designed to get visitors to the site of the Universal Exhibition of 1900.

The Gare d’Orsay sat on the left bank of the Seine, across from the Tuileries and kitty-corner from the Louvre. Because of this auspicious location, the exterior was designed to blend in with the existing architecture.

View of part of the Louvre as seen from the top of the Musée d’Orsay
You can see a corner of the Louvre from the balcony of the Musée d’Orsay.

By 1939 the station had become obsolete because of changes in train design. The building was used for various functions including as a mail center during WWII, a theater, and an auction house. Eventually, it was decided that it would become an art museum.

The museum was inaugurated on Dec 1, 1986. Thankfully the beautiful Beaux-Arts style was preserved.

The Louvre vs. Musée d’Orsay

I have been fortunate to visit the Louvre three times and hope to visit it again. I believe that anyone visiting Paris should experience the Louvre at least once. As the world’s largest art museum with a collection that spans many centuries, you are sure to find something that interests you. But as much as I love visiting the Louvre, I enjoy the Musée d’Orsay more. This is why:

1. It is not intimidating. You can find your way around quite easily and take in a large part of the collection in one day.

Musée d’Orsay has 181,000 sq ft. (almost 17,000 sq. m.) of exhibition space while the Louvre has over 4 times as much. Because of its size, I have always felt a little lost at the Louvre.

To see all 35,000 items on display in the Louvre you would have to walk 9 miles. The Musée d’Orsay displays about 3,000 items at a time.

2. It is not as crowded as the Louvre even though it has over 3 million visitors per year, pandemics notwithstanding. The Louvre has over 10 million visitors per year. We visited Musée d’Orsay on a free day and we didn’t experience the cattle car feeling of the Louvre.

3. I can’t get enough of that gorgeous building.

A Few Pieces From the Collection

Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Night over the Rhone
Starry Night Over the Rhône by Vincent van Gogh 1888

This is not the most well-known Starry Night, the one with 2/3 of the canvas filled with flowing and swirling stars and sky. That one can be seen in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

Here is more information about these two paintings and the song Vincent by Don McLean.

You can listen to Vincent here.

The painting The Floor Scrapers by Gustave Caillebotte
The Floor Scrapers by Gustave Caillebotte 1875

One of my favorites, and not because it features shirtless men (really). I love this because of its unique subject.

Portrait of Julie Manet by Pierre August Renoir
Julie Manet by Pierre August Renoir 1887

Another one of my many favorites. Julie was the daughter of artists Berthe Morisot and Eugene Manet, and the niece of Édouard Manet.

Statue of a nude woman sitting with her head bent forward
La Méditerranée by Aristide Maillol. Note the building detail in the background.

Detail of a hand on an arm of a statue
Detail of Oedipus at Colonus by Jean-Baptiste Hugues

A room in the Musee d’Orsay with the Edgar Degas statue Small Dancer Aged 14 in the forefront
Small Dancer Aged 14 by Edgar Degas – Photo by Christian Storz on Unsplash.com

Where is The Musée d’Orsay?

The museum is on the left bank at 1 Rue de la Légion d’Honneur, 75007 Paris, France in the 7th arrondissement. The nearest Metro stop is SolférinoMusée d’Orsay.

Links

Click Here are 10 pieces of must-see art in the Musée d’Orsay by Paris Pass.

And click here to plan your trip to the Musée d’Orsay.

Safe and happy traveling,
Linda

Featured photo by Pierre Blaché on Pexels.com

The Magnificent Estate of Versailles: A Wind and Whim Favorite Place

When Steve and I began our full-time travels in 2018 the first two cities we visited were Barcelona and Paris. Talk about setting the bar high.

Between these two cities, three places ruined us for all others:
La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona
Versailles (near Paris)
Cemetery Montmartre in Paris

You can read about why we think Cemetery Montmartre is the coolest cemetery in Paris here.

But right now it is my pleasure to share our impressions of The Palace and Estate of Versailles with you.

The Versailles We All Know

In 2005 I visited Paris with my daughter Stephanie as part of a school trip. One of the activities was a tour of the Palace of Versailles.

The Hall of Mirrors in the Palace of Versailles
The famous Hall of Mirrors

Our tour included the Palace and the Palace Gardens. We marveled at the over-the-top elegance including the hall of mirrors, heard the stories about people using the corners in the palace as restrooms during its heyday, and saw where Marie Antoinette gave birth in front of an audience. Here is an interesting article about royal birthing practices.

Ornate bed chamber in rose and ivory
A bed chamber in the Palace of Versailles.

Then we spent some time in the palace’s gardens before heading back to Paris.

A formal garden seen from above
Our travel buddy Hedgie enjoying a view of the Orangery as seen from the Palace of Versailles

I came away from that experience amazed by the opulence and overwhelmed by the crowds. Little did I know that I had just scratched the surface of Versailles.

Estate of Versailles includes the Palace, the gardens, the park, the Trianon estate, and several buildings in town.  It covers over 800 hectares or almost 2,000 acres.

A Second Look

Flash forward thirteen years to 2018. Steve and I spent a month in Paris as part of our new life as full-time travelers. We first visited Versailles as part of a bicycle tour on a dismal June day.

As we entered the grounds we were surrounded by open fields full a sheep!

A field with trees and sheep
The first thing we saw as we entered the grounds of Versaille was sheep!

We then proceeded to ride through the grounds where we visited the Trianon Estate, viewed several gardens, and enjoyed lunch on the patio at La Flottille.

A menu being looked at by a toy hedgehog
Our travel buddy Hedgie perusing the menu at a restaurant at Versaille.

At the end of our bicycle tour, we saw the Palace of Versailles. It was just as glorious as I remembered and it left a lasting impression on Steve. Every time we have visited a palace or grand home since then he says: “It’s not Versailles”. Indeed, not too many places can match the grandeur and mystique of this amazing building.

A Third Visit

Our tour through the palace during our bicycle tour had been rushed so we decided to go back on our own another day.

After we braved the crowds in the palace once more we spent the rest of the day exploring the grounds. Even after two days of visiting I feel as if we barely got to know it. We hope to one day return to the town of Versailles for an extended time and spend several days exploring the estate.

A goose standing on gravel
This goose was a surprise too.

A (Very) Brief History of Versailles

This phenomenal place began as a simple hunting lodge for King Louis XIII. A small chateau was built on the site in 1624.

The construction of the palace began in 1661 under Louis XIV. The palace and its elaborate gardens were completed in 1710.

In 1687 King Louis XIV had the Grand Trianon Palace built on the palace grounds.

King Louis XV added the Petite Trianon Palace to the grounds in 1768.

In 1783, during the reign of Louis XVI the Queen’s Hamlet (Hameau de la Reine) was built.

The Treaty of Versailles, which ended World War I between Germany and the Allies was signed in the Palace of Versaille in 1919.

The Trianon Estate

This section of the estate consists of 3 main areas described below: The Grand Trianon, The Petit Trianon, and The Queen’s Hamlet. The estate grew from the time of Louis XIII through Louis XVI. I find it hard to keep the Louis straight. I wish they had been more original when naming their heirs.

The Grand Trianon

This beautiful creation of pink marble and a type of rock called porphyry is located in the northwest corner of the estate. It was built in 1687 at the request of Louis XIV of France, who was known as The Sun King. He had it built as a place to escape the structures of life in the Palace of Versailles and spend time with his favorite mistress, Marquise de Montespan.

Here are 7 Fascinating Facts about Louis XIV.

The Palace has two wings which each house a royal apartment. They are connected by a colonnade called The Peristyle.

A grand walkway with pink marble columns
The walkway between the two wings of the Grand Trianon.

The furnishings were lost during the French Revolution. They were replaced during the rule of Napoleon Bonaparte. Those are mostly what you will see in the palace.

This page on the en.chateauversailles.fr website is full of fascinating information about this palace.

The Grand Trianon Palace in history:

On June 4, 1920, the Trianon Treaty was signed here. The treaty formally ended World War I between most of the Allies of World War I and the Kingdom of Hungary. The result was that Hungary lost 70% of its land and all of its seaports. It remains a source of sorrow and anger for Hungarians a century later.  Learn more about that in the article Hungary: Why is the Trianon Treaty So Controversial? from Kafkadesk.

From 1963 – 1966 the Grand Trianon was restored for use by President Charles de Gaulle.

The Petit Trianon

In the mid-1700s King Louis XV decided to build a chateau in the middle of his gardens. The three-story neoclassical building was completed in 1768. When Louis XV died in 1774 Louis XVI ascended the throne. He gifted the Petit Trianon to his wife, Marie-Antoinette.

The Petit Trianon
The Petit Trianon

The young queen used the Petit Trianon to escape the formality and demands of royal life. It is reported that she was in the garden in October of 1789 when first told of the armed crowd that would force the royal family to Paris during the early part of the French Revolution.

For one year, from 1794-1795, the furniture, artwork, and other valuables were auctioned off.

During the revolution the building was used as a hostel and a tavern, causing it to fall into disrepair. The building was restored by Napoleon I to be used by his sister and by the Empress Marie-Louise.

Learn more about The Petit Trianon here.

The Queen’s Hamlet

A century after The Grand Trianon Palace was built, a model village was added to the Trianon Estate. This village of small, rustic buildings formed a crescent around an artificial lake. It included a working farm that was used for the royal children’s education.

A rustic stone building with a tower
One of the buildings in the Queen’s Hamlet.

The buildings were not built for longevity and suffered from the weather during the French Revolution. From 1810-1812 Napoleon had most of them restored. A few were beyond repair and were demolished.

The hamlet underwent various restoration projects in the 20th century as well. One done in the 1930s was made possible by a donation from John D. Rockefeller.

In 2006 the farm was reconstructed and is currently home to many animals who are looked after by the Foundation for Animal Welfare.

Here is more information about this wonderful hamlet.

And There is Even More!

Did you know that the gardens on the estate boast over 200 statues, making it the largest open-air sculpture museum in the world?

There is also an orangery featuring orange, lemon, pomegranate, palm, and oleander trees. Some of the trees are more than 200 years old. They are housed in the Orangery during the winter and displayed outside in the summer.

There are also groves, which are like little parks in the woods, numerous fountains, and pathways.

Latona’s fountain
Latona’s fountain

As if that weren’t enough, you can visit the Gallery of Coaches in the Great Sables. Here you will marvel at the intricacy of the horse-drawn carriages of the past.

Whoo, That’s a Lot to See

All this information can be overwhelming. One thing is certain, the Estate of Versailles will provide days worth of exploration.

While researching this article I found out how little I know about Versaille’s complex and fascinating history. I have done my best to be accurate. If you find something that is incorrect, kindly let me know. Thank you.

Safe and happy traveling,
Linda

One Last Thing

While researching this article I discovered a fundraising campaign on the Chateau de Versailles website to replace funds lost because of reduced attendance during the pandemic. If you love Versailles and can afford to help here is the information.

 

Zagreb’s Museum of Broken Relationships: A Wind and Whim Favorite Place

In the summer of 2018, Steve and I visited Croatia’s capital city of Zagreb. We loved exploring the various museums, relaxing at Jarun Lake, visiting our first cat café, and strolling through the peaceful Zagreb Botanical Garden. But the most memorable place we visited in the city was The Museum of Broken Relationships. To date, it is the most unique museum we have visited. 

The museum is a varied collection of items that at one time played a part in a relationship. Each item comes with a short story about the relationship.

A Brief History

The museum is the no-longer-in-love-child of two Zagreb based artists, film producer Olinka Vištica, and sculptor Dražen Grubišić. When their four-year relationship came to an end in 2003 they joked about opening a museum to display the artifacts of their relationship. In 2006 they started collecting items and stories related to their friends’ break-ups. 

From 2006 through 2010 the collection was displayed in various cities around the world. During its tour, it collected more artifacts. In 2010 the collection got a permanent home in Zagreb’s first privately owned museum.

An Award

In 2011 the museum received the Kenneth Hudson Award. This award is given out by the European Museum Forum to recognize unusual, daring, and controversial exhibits that challenge common perceptions of the role of museums in society.

The judging panel had this to say about the museum:

“The Museum of Broken Relationships encourages discussion and reflection not only on the fragility of human relationships but also on the political, social, and cultural circumstances surrounding the stories being told. The museum respects the audience’s capacity for understanding wider historical, social issues inherent to different cultures and identities and provides a catharsis for donors on a more personal level.”

A Reason to Visit

If for no other reason, the uniqueness of this museum is a great reason to visit. History, art, and science museums can be found in virtually every city. Not so with relationship museums. You may have a chance to see a collection like this elsewhere, but don’t count on it.

There was a Museum of Broken Relationships in Los Angeles, but as of this writing, it is permanently closed. And from March 2019 through March 2020 the York Castle Museum in the United Kingdom had a temporary exhibit.

You should visit it because it’s fun, it’s sad, and it’s a little weird. You can’t begin to anticipate the things you will see here. I guarantee at least one or two of them will remain with you long after your visit.

A word of warning: even though we did take our travel buddy Hedgie, you shouldn’t assume this is appropriate for children. Based on what we saw I would rate it PG-13.

Here are a few examples of the things you will see:

I find this one particularly memorable because I can’t imagine why anyone would want to tear the legs off of a caterpillar, even a toy one.

But Wait, There’s More

The majority of the displays have to do with the death of romantic relationships. But there is one section that deals with the end of non-romantic relationships. These displays included many heartbreaking letters of people wondering why a parent had left them. You might want to bring some tissues.

Where to Find the Museum

The museum is at Ćirilometodska ul. 2, 10000, Zagreb, Croatia. Get all the information you need here.

Safe and happy traveling,

Linda

Featured image: Hedgie in one of the display items.

Is Full-Time Travel Right for You?

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It may seem strange that I am writing about full-time travel during a pandemic. But the pandemic will not last forever. While it lasts we all have plenty of time to dream and plan.

It’s a dream shared by many. Leave behind the hassles of daily life and travel the world. See faraway places, have exciting adventures, and meet interesting people.

Steve and I are fortunate to be full-time travelers who happen to be retired. But even if you aren’t ready to retire you can travel the world full-time as a digital nomad. There are countless people doing this and many of them generously share their stories and tips.

You may be asking yourself if full-time travel (or a nomadic lifestyle if you prefer) is right for you. Below are five signs that this lifestyle may be right for you, and five signs that it may not be.

Full-time travel may be for you if:
1. You thrive on change

If you are the type of person who is always wondering what is next in life this may be a perfect fit. Nomads need never get tired of the same old scenery. They can change locations as often as they wish (pandemics notwithstanding) or they can choose to stay somewhere longer depending on visa restrictions.

2. You are curious and love to learn new things

Whatever your passion, travel is sure to broaden it. You may even discover new interests.

One of the things I love best about travel is that it has made history come to life for me. I have never been a history buff, but seeing where things happened and hearing stories that I was not exposed to in the U.S. have made me understand and appreciate history.

Another thing that I love is learning about geography first hand. Hearing about or reading about places leaves me uninspired. Experiencing them has ingrained them into my soul.

How much you experience is limited only by your energy and your wallet. Every location has a variety of sights and activities to add to your experiences.

3. You are not tied down to a specific location

When we told people we were going to be traveling full-time several of them said they could never do that because they couldn’t leave their grandchildren. I totally get that. Since we don’t have grandchildren it was not an issue for us. Funny, no one ever said they couldn’t leave their adult children.

Steve and I are both introverts who value our private time. We miss our family and friends, but we did not spend most of our free time with them before we left the U.S. If you are constantly getting together with family and friends and love that part of your life, this is not for you. Even if you keep in contact through the internet, the lack of face-to-face contact and the changes in your life experiences can be hard on relationships.

When you get together with people from home you may find that you don’t have a lot to talk about. You may wonder why they aren’t on the edge of their seats waiting to hear about your worldwide adventures.  This article published by Forbes explains this phenomenon well.

4. You are flexible and adaptable

We all know that things can and will go wrong when you travel. Flights get delayed, luggage gets lost, accommodations disappoint. If you are the type of person who can accept these situations with grace and believes that things go right much more often than they go wrong, a nomadic life may be a good fit for you.

Not only can getting there be a challenge but living somewhere unfamiliar requires acceptance and adaptability too. Our first Airbnb was in Barcelona. It had a small kitchen. So small that the refrigerator was in the living room. It also had a clothes washer. That was on the roof. This life is not for the persnickety.

You can read about some of our early Airbnb experiences in Lessons from Airbnb. 

5. You value experiences more than things

It is easy to get caught up in the trap of materialism. If you are able to let go of material things that are tying you down not only will you be free to travel full-time, you will feel freer too.

Full-time travel is probably not a good fit if:
1. You don’t like change or uncertainty

If you dislike change this lifestyle is not for you. If you strongly dislike change you are probably not even reading this article.

2. You are tied to an area because of friends, family, or job

Besides not wanting to leave grandchildren, another reason for not wanting to leave home is caring for elderly parents or a special needs child. If you are in one of those situations and would like to travel hopefully you can get away once in a while for a well-deserved break.

Your job can also be the reason you can’t pick up and go. Some jobs can be done remotely, some, not so much.

3. You are really picky about food and brands

The Rolling Stones weren’t singing about travel but they could have been with their song “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”. If you are not adaptable to substitutes you are likely to be disappointed. You can carry some of your preferred brands with you, and some travelers have items shipped from home.

The flip side is that you may fall in love with certain foods or products that you can’t find once you leave a location. I tried but failed to duplicate the cava sangria I had in the coastal Spanish town of Sitges. The ceviche I had in Budapest fell far short of the wide variety I enjoyed in South America.  And I am still looking for the face cream I found in Colombia.

4.You aren’t willing to give up your creature comforts

Every bed will not be as comfy as yours. And in our experience, most sofas in our Airbnb rentals score poorly on the comfort test. I miss my cozy terrycloth bathrobe and have to make do with less than luxurious towels. Cooking can be a challenge if you don’t have the right tools and equipment. Your wardrobe will also be limited.

The list of things you will have to leave behind is very long. Only you can decide how important these things are to your happiness.

Of course, if money is not an object you can always travel at a 5-star level to get the fluffy towels and cozy robes. Personally, we are willing to do with some inconveniences in order to save money.

5. Pets are a (really) important part of your life.

If you can’t imagine life without Fido or Fluffy this is not for you. You can meet cats and dogs on the street and at animal cafes, but they won’t come home and snuggle with you.

When Steve and I left the U.S we only had one pet in our home. That was a rabbit that belonged to one of our daughters. We were lucky to find a great home for her. Before that, we were keeping that same daughter’s cats while she was in college. One of the things I miss the most is having them snuggle with me at night or cozy up on my lap.

Tuxedo cat lying on a bed
I miss this little snuggle bunny (Hershey Boy) so much!

You can see photos of some of the cats and dogs that have made me smile in 20 Captivating Cats Around the World and 24 Delightful Dog Photos from Around the World.

Only you can decide if full-time travel is right for you. I can guarantee one thing. If you decide to do it, you will never be the same.

Safe and happy traveling,
Linda

Featured image by Alireza Soltani on Pexel.com

Pickpocketed In Barcelona: A Wind and Whim Travel Story

When you repeatedly hear that you are in the pickpocket capital of the world, TAKE IT SERIOUSLY.

Despite the warnings, Steve was confident that if he kept his wallet in his front pocket it would be safe.

During our first week in Barcelona, the first city we visited on our journey throughout the world, Steve was pickpocketed.

How It Happened

It happened on a crowded Metro car on a Friday afternoon. First one woman bumped into him. While she was apologizing another woman bumped him on the other side. As the doors were closing they jumped off the car, taking his passport, forty Euros, and three bank cards with them.

We were shocked, angry, and unsure of what to do. A lady who saw what happened suggested we go back to the stop where it happened and check the garbage bags in case the thieves took the cash and threw everything else away. Fortunately, the bags were clear and not too full so they were easy to check. Unfortunately, we didn’t find any of Steve’s items.

We decided to go to the police station but had no idea where it was so we asked a young man on the street. He pointed us in the right direction but we arrived at the station only to find it was permanently closed. Struggling to maintain our composure, we asked for help at a nearby store. The owner helped Steve find the next closest police station while I stood on the street calling our banks.

We easily found that station and couldn’t believe it when we saw a sign that said, “Temporarily Closed for Renovations”. This was truly an “are you kidding me?” moment. Luckily there were several policemen just leaving a meeting and they directed us to a third station. It was a tense walk down the Ramblas as we wondered if it would be open.

And after a short wait, we were able to make a report with a policeman who spoke English. He said we must go to the U.S. Consulate first thing Monday morning to report the stolen passport. He prepared the police report and asked Steve to sign it. It was all in Spanish, but Steve had no choice but to sign it since he needed it to get a replacement passport.

Statistics on the number of pickpocket incidents are hard to come by. We knew the number in Barcelona was high, but we were shocked when the police officer told us that they process 400 reports a day. Of course, not everyone is going to report a pickpocketing incident, especially if the only thing stolen was cash. They know they will never see that again. Sometimes people don’t even realize they have been pickpocketed. They may think they lost their wallet or phone.

Over the weekend Steve looked up information on the consulate. The website said you must make an appointment online, and the next available appointment was more than two weeks away.
We opted to go there in person on Monday and plead ignorance about the online scheduling. After all, the police officer did tell us to go first thing Monday.

While at the consulate we met several groups of Americans who had either been pickpocketed or had their rental cars burglarized. We bonded over our misfortune. When it was Steve’s turn he was informed that his passport had been found and was waiting at the Metro station lost and found. Good news since a replacement costs $145.

As frustrating and time consuming as this experience was, it could have been worse. The thieves tried to charge $900 worth of shoes, but our credit card company declined it. Luckily I still had one debit card in my name that we could still use while we waited for our replacement cards. And we had enough cash in our apartment to cover us for several days. The fact that we were still going to be in Barcelona for three more weeks was also good. We would be there when our replacement cards arrived and the loss of Steve’s passport didn’t have immediate repercussions. Several of the people we met at the consulate had to change flight and cruise plans because their passports had been stolen.

After this Steve bought a camera bag that he refers to as his purse and his first money belt. We no longer carry all of our bank cards in the same place.

Cities With the Most Pickpockets

Petty crime can happen anywhere. However, there are several cities that continually make the list of the most pickpocketed cities in the world. This list is from an article published by Clever Travel Companions in 2018:

1. Barcelona, Spain
2. Rome, Italy
3. Prague, Czech Republic
4. Madrid, Spain
5. Paris, France
6. Florence, Italy
7. Buenos Aires, Argentina
8. Amsterdam, Netherlands
9. Athens, Greece
10. Hanoi, Vietnam

Common Pickpocketing Scams

Pickpocketing scams are limited only by the thieves’ creativity and acting ability. Here are just a few to be aware of:

1. Being offered something out of the blue. A woman offers another woman a pretty flower as if it were a gift. The second woman takes it and quickly finds out that payment is expected. I saw this happen to one woman. The thief was so bold that she tried to take money from the money holder around the tourist’s neck.

2. Being bumped by a person. Of course, you look their way, giving their partner a chance to pickpocket you. This was the one used on Steve.

3. Being asked to fill out a petition, usually by a young, harmless-looking woman. While your attention is on that, her partner in crime is relieving you of your valuables.

4. Being distracted by a shell game. I have not seen this one on any lists I’ve checked, but I believe it has to be a scam. We watched a man running a shell game near the Eiffel Tower. He would pick a spectator and ask him to watch while he moved three cups around. It ended with the spectator making some easy cash. I am sure that easy cash was a pittance compared to what was lifted from other unsuspecting spectators during the game. When we tried to get a photo of the group many of those gathered around covered their faces.

There are many more scams. This article by The Professional Hobo shares some travelers’ first-hand experiences.

How To Avoid Being Pickpocketed

Protecting your valuables from the grubby hands of pickpockets should start before you leave for your trip. Here are three things you can do ahead of time:

1. Make a copy of your passport. When you are sightseeing there is no reason to carry the original. Keep it locked safely away in your lodgings.

2. Record the information on your bank cards: card number, account number it ties to, and the phone numbers for customer service.

3. Activate text or email alerts for your bank cards and accounts.

Continue your vigilance while you are traveling:

1. Don’t carry all your cash and cards in one place. Consider leaving what you don’t need for the day safely in your lodgings.

2. Use money belts or other devices designed to keep your valuables safe. Pockets of pants are not a good choice whether in front or back. The harder it is for you to get to your money or cards, the harder it will be for thieves.

3. Trust no one! I know this goes against how most of us feel, but particularly when you are in a crowded place, make it obvious that you are protecting your bag or backpack. Honest people should not be offended by this. It is not uncommon to see people wearing their backpacks in front in places that are notorious for pickpocketing like Barcelona’s Las Ramblas.

4. Be skeptical. If someone tries to give you something you didn’t ask for or asks you to answer a survey, walk away. Remember that pickpockets can be any age and may look very respectable. They are also great actors.

5. Get aggressive if necessary. While Steve and I were sitting in a nearly empty metro station in Paris a woman approached me and said something in French. I did not understand and let her know. My actions should have made it obvious that I wanted no further interaction. She got closer and I held up my hand in a stop gesture. She continued to get even closer, so I loudly said “get back”. I got some looks, but she got the message.

What to Do If You Are Pickpocketed

If in spite of your best efforts you do become a victim of a pickpocket there are the things you need to do:

1. Take a deep breath and let that anger out.

2. Check nearby trash cans. Most pickpockets are looking for cash. They may toss everything else.

3. File a police report if your passport or insured items were stolen. This will probably be the hardest part since you may not speak the language or have any idea where the nearest police station is. Stay calm. It will all work out. Be aware that you will be required to sign the police report if you need it to get a new passport or file an insurance claim even if you can’t read what you are signing.

4. Call your bank card providers and have your stolen cards canceled. You still have other cards and cash tucked safely away because you have prepared for this, right?

5. Contact your embassy if your passport was stolen to make arrangements for a replacement. Be aware, these are not cheap. All the more reason not to carry your passport if you don’t need to.

6. Contact someone back home if items with your home address were taken. While most pickpockets just want your cash, some may have bigger plans in mind.

Final Thoughts

I think one of the reasons we find pickpocketing so frustrating is that the chances of a pickpocket being caught are very small. Don’t let these vile creatures ruin your next trip.

Safe and happy traveling,
Linda

Featured photo by Andrea Natali on Unsplash.com

Paris’s Cemetery Montmartre: A Wind and Whim Favorite Place

When Steve and I started traveling in 2018 the first two cities we spent a long time in were Barcelona and Paris. Talk about setting the bar high.

Between these two cities there were three places that spoiled us for all others:
La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona
Versailles near Paris
Cemetery Montmartre in Paris

Every time we visit a house of worship, a palace, or a cemetery we can’t help comparing it to these three places.

It is my pleasure to share our impressions of Paris’s Cemetery Montmartre with you. Hopefully you will be inspired to visit it if you haven’t already.

A Fascinating Yet Gruesome Start

The problems caused by overcrowding in Paris’s main cemetery, Cimitiere des Innocents, reached a head in 1780 when a wall of a mass grave collapsed, sending corpses tumbling into an adjacent basement. This was the last straw for Cimitiere des Innocents. This cemetery in Paris’s 1st arrondissement had been a concern because of the vast amount of bodies buried there so close to the populous. The city could no longer continue to add to the body count that had been growing for at least six centuries.

Like something out of a horror movie, the remains from Cimitiere des Innocents were eventually relocated. For two years carts covered with black veils would journey through the streets of Paris at night, accompanied by chanting priests. The new resting place was an abandoned quarry in the 14th arrondissement which is now known as The Catacombs.

When the gruesome work was done, Cimitiere des Innocents was destroyed.

Four New Cemeteries Are Born

During this time dozens of parish graveyards, but the city leaders saw the need for more cemeteries in which to bury the newly dead. They also wanted them to be placed far from the city center.

To fill this need, four cemeteries were founded outside the city limits. Montmartre to the north, Montparnasse to the south, Pere Lachaise to the east, and Passy to the west.

The first of the four new cemeteries to open was Pere Lachaise in 1804. In the approximately 25 years from the closure of the Cimitiere des Innocents until the opening of Pere Lachaise Cemetery, the dead were buried in the existing cemeteries.

Montmartre: Not the Most Celebrated Parisian Cemetery

Many lists of the best cemeteries to visit include Pere Lachaise. It has many famous residents including:

Frederic Chopin – Composer, pianist
Jim Morrison –  lead singer for The Doors
Edith Piaf – singer, songwriter, actress
Oscar Wilde – writer

Pere Lachaise is more than double the size of any other cemetery in Paris and about four times the size of Cemetery Montmartre.

It is definitely worth a visit but after visiting both Steve and I preferred Montmartre for three reasons:

First, Montmartre is set on many levels because it is built on an abandoned gypsum quarry. This makes for a more interesting walk and provides more exciting vistas than the flatter Pere Lachaise.

Second, Montmartre is the artistic neighborhood of the same name. Therefore, many of the people buried here were active in the arts, resulting in some unique monuments.

Tombstone with a man’s bbust. His face is in revese relief
A really unique tombstone in Cemetery Montmartre

Third, Montmartre is part of its neighborhood. The vibrance of the area (and how can you not love Montmartre?) can be felt since the cemetery is literally in the thick of things.

Mausoleums with buildings in the background
The living and the dead share the neighborhood

Cemetery Montmartre History and Facts

Cemetery Montmartre was established in an abandoned gypsum quarry that had been used as a mass grave during the French Revolution. The fact that it was a big hole in the ground accounts for its unique topography.

The cemetery opened January 1, 1825 in Paris’s 18th arrondissement.

Its official name is the Cimetiere du Nord.

Its original name was Cimetière des Grandes Carrieres or the Cemetery of the Large Quarries. Why do things always sound more elegant in French?

Cemetery Montmartre covers over 25 acres (10.48 hectares) and is the third-largest in Paris. Pere Lachaise is the largest, and Montparnasse is the second largest.

The Cemetery has always had just one entrance. It is at 20 Avenue Rachel under Rue Caulaincourt.

In 1888 a bridge, the Pont de Caulaincourt, was built over the cemetery. The original plan was to relocated the burial sites that were under the bridge. Some families objected so the bridge was built over some sites.

A bridge overlooking mausoleums and tombs
The Pont de Caulaincourt as seen from inside Cemetery Montmartre

Mausoleums under the Pont de Caulaincourt
Some of the mausoleums that remained under the Pont de Caulaincourt

The cross on top of a mausoleum in between the cross pieces under a bridge
Imagine how careful the engineers had to be

Here is an interesting article that explains more of the history of the bridge over the cemetery.

Who’s Buried in Cemetery Montmartre 
Edgar Degas

I knew that the artist Edger Degas was buried in Cemetery Montmartre and I kept this in mind as I strolled past numerous tombs. At one point I passed one the said Famille de Gas. I thought to myself, what an unfortunate last name (thinking of the English “gas”, not the French).

I finally resorted to looking up Degas’s grave using Find a Grave. Famille de Gas WAS Degas’s gravesite.

Mausoleum of the Famille de Gas
Edgar Degas’s final resting place. Note the two drawings of ballerinas presumably left by young girls.

Emile Zola

The French novelist, playwright, and journalist was originally buried in Montmartre. Five years later his remains were relocated to the Pantheon, the mausoleum where many great French leaders, scientists, writers, and artists are interred.

Family names on the original gravesite of Emile Zola
Names of family members buried in the Zola family gravesite

Dalida

Being from the U.S. I had never heard of Dalida, but her compelling memorial made me want to learn more.

Memorial to the singer Dalida in Cemetery Montmartre
Dalida’s gravesite in Cemetery Montmartre

Dalida was the professional name of a famous French singer from 1956 to 1987. She was very successful in Europe even though she did not release her music to the U.S. or U.K. markets.

She faced many struggles in her personal life including the suicides of several people with whom she was close. She committed suicide in 1987 at the age of 54.

The next time you find yourself in Paris be sure to visit Cemetery Montmartre at 20 Avenue Rachel, 75018.

So Many Cemeteries, So Little Time

During the past few years, we have visited cemeteries in several cities. Of all of cemeteries we have seen so far, Cemetery Montmartre continues to hold a special place in our hearts. But the world is big and there is so much more to see.

Have you been to Cemetery Montmartre? Did you fall in love with it too?

Which cemeteries around the world have you visited and have any of them spoiled you for all others?

Safe and Happy Traveling,
Linda

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10 More Things to Love About Buenos Aires

In the fall of 2019, we spent eight weeks in Buenos Aires. The original plan was to spend four weeks but we liked it so much we decided to stay longer. The positive side of not planning too far in advance.

In a previous article titled “10 Things to Love About Buenos Aires” I talked about 10 things that we really enjoyed during our visit. But my list was longer than 10 things, so here are 10 more things to love about Buenos Aires.

1. El Ateneo Grand Splendid Bookstore

Is this the most beautiful bookstore in the world? Many people think so. It was built in 1919 during a prosperous time for Buenos Aires.

The stage in El Ateneo Grand Splendid

The building was first used as a theater for tango performances. Later it was a cinema. Then it fell into disrepair but was saved from the risk of demolition when it was reincarnated as a book store in 2000.

The first part of the name is from a national bookstore chain. The second part refers to the building whose original name was Teatro Gran Splendid.

In addition to basking in the splendor, you can enjoy refreshments in the cafe. You might even be lucky enough to be there while a pianist is playing. You can also relax in a comfy chair in one of the theater boxes.

The stage and box seats in El Ateneo Grand Splendid

The store is located at Avenida Santa Fe 1860 in the Barrio Norte section of the city in the Recoleta district.

2. Cafe Tortoni

Cafe Tortoni is the most famous historical cafe in Buenos Aires. It has been in operation for more than 160 years. Once a meeting place for the artistic and the elite, it is now a mecca for tourists.

There is often a line outside even though there are tables available inside. You can go there to see a tango show or stop in for a bite to eat. Either way, be sure to check out the huge Tiffany glass ceiling along with the other elegant decor.

the dining room in Cafe Tortoni

Cafe Tortoni was founded by a French immigrant named Touan. He modeled it after his favorite cafe in Paris by the same name. Cafe Tortoni opened in 1858 and has been at its current location since 1880.

Cafe Tortoni is one of many historic cafes (bares notables) in Buenos Aires. They are protected by law, but I was unable to find out anything specific about the law. Check out this article published by The Guardian in 2018 to learn more about bares notables.

Cafe Tortoni is located at Avenida de Mayo 825 between the National Congress Building and the presidential palace (Casa Rosada).

3. Chacarita Cemetery 

Chacarita Cemetery (Cemeterio de la Chacarita) is a lesser know and less-visited cemetery than Recoleta. It was founded in 1871 as a place to bury victims of a yellow fever epidemic.

When it was founded it covered only 12 acres (5 hectares). Today it covers 230 acres ( 93 hectares). It takes up almost half of the territory in the Chacarita barrio where it is located.

A stately building in Chacarita Cemetery
One of the many lovely buildings in the cemetery

Chacarita is more than 16 times the size of Recoleta This means you will not find the crowds here that you will most likely encounter in Recoleta. You can learn more about Recoleta in “10 Things to Love About Buenos Aires.

In Chacarita you will find many beautiful tombs and fascinating catacombs. You will also see some sad situations.

Statues on the tops of tombs

crypts below ground in the Chacarita Cemetery

A damaged tomb in Chacarita Cemetery

Do be careful if you visit this cemetery. We were cautioned more than once to stay aware of our surroundings while we were there because its seclusion increases the risk of theft. Even so, we did not feel unsafe. Here is an interesting article by Will Byers about Chacarita.

Chacarita is located in the Chacarita district. The main entrance is on Avenida Guzman.

4. National Museum of Decorative Arts

I wasn’t too excited about visiting a museum of decorative arts, but I am glad we did. If you enjoy being surrounded by beauty be sure to check out the National Museum of Decorative Arts (Museo Nacional de Arte Decorativo).

This neo-classical home was designed by French architect Rene Sergent. It was built with materials imported from Europe. Design began in 1911 but the home wasn’t completed until 1917 because of delays caused by WWI.

It was the home of the Matias Errazúriz and Josefina de Alvear. After they moved in, the couple filled the home with a wide variety of fine art and exquisite decorative pieces. The rooms are decorated in different period styles.

Mr. Errazúriz bequeathed the home and its contents to the Argentine government upon his wife’s death in 1935.

Throughout this museum, you will see wonderful examples of European and Oriental furniture and art. The best way to enjoy this museum is on a tour. They are available in English at set times. We had a guide to ourselves which made for a very informative tour.

A room in the Museum of Decorative Arts
Luxury around every corner

The ballroom in the Museum of Decorative Arts
The ballroom was modeled after the one in the Palace of Versailles.

This museum is at Avenida del Libertador 1902 in the Recoleta district.

5. National Museum of Fine Arts

This National Museum of Fine Arts (Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes) is worthwhile for any art lover. In it, you can enjoy international art from the Middle Ages through the 20th century. It has 3 floors and 30 exhibition rooms. Because of its size, we broke it down into two visits.

A marble bust of Miguel Angel by Pietro Calvi
Bust of Miguel Angel by Pietro Calvi

The painting El Drama by Raquel Forner
El Drama by Raquel Forner

This museum is also located in the Recoleta neighborhood at Avenida del Libertador 1473. It is within walking distance to Recoleta Cemetery.

6. Palacio Barolo

Whatever you do, don’t make the same mistake we did. This spectacular 100-year-old building was right around the corner from our apartment and we had no idea how special it is. Just one more reason to go back!

The building was designed by Mario Palanti for Luis Barolo who made his fortune in knitted fabrics. The building is based on Dante’s The Divine Comedy. Its 22 stories are divided into hell, purgatory, and heaven. Be sure to arrange for a tour to learn all about it.

The facade of Palacio Barolo
The facade of Palacio Barolo

7. Theater Colon

Theater Colon is one of the top opera houses in the world with some of the best acoustics. You can enjoy this opulent theater by taking in a show or taking a tour. Tours are offered in English and Spanish.

The theater was closed for refurbishing from 2006-2010. The results are as spectacular as you would expect.

The main auditorium in Teatro Colon

The Golden Room in Teatro Colon
Part of the Golden Room which was fashioned after Versailles

During our tour, our guide pointed out something I had never heard of, widow boxes. These are seating areas on either side of the theater that are covered with screens. This allowed women who were in mourning to attend a show without being seen in public.

Widow’s boxes in Teatro Colon
Widow’s boxes

The Theater is located at Cerrito 628 in the Microcentro district.

8. ESMA Memory Site Museum

In my post “10 Things to Love About Buenos Aires” I talked about the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo. They are a group of women whose adult children were disappeared by the Argentine government from 1976-1983 during the Dirty War.

You can learn more about this dark period of Argentine history by visiting the ESMA Memory Site Museum (Museo Sitio de Memoria ESMA). Photos and stories of the disappeared and survivors help keep the memory of this time alive.

Faces of some of the disappeared at ESMA

Prisoners who were pregnant were allowed to give birth but their babies were usually given to families who supported the government. Then the women were killed. There is a movement to locate the people born in the detention camps.

Words on the floor in the ESMA museum

These words in the museum translate to “How was it possible that children were born in this place?”

This is not a stand-alone museum, but a complex of buildings. We did not allow enough time for our visit. Please don’t make the same mistake.

The museum is at Avenida del Libertador 8151

9. Steak and Malbec

Argentina is famous for its beef. It is lean, flavorful, and nutritious. There are several reasons beef from Argentina is so good:

The cattle are grass-fed, which leads to higher omega 3 fatty acid content. This means less risk of high cholesterol and heart disease.

Because the cattle eat a healthy diet there is less need for antibiotics and growth hormones.

The steak is slow-cooked on a parrilla (a grill heated with wood or coal)

You can learn more about why Argentine beef is the gold standard in this article.

This article explains the use of a parrilla and the concept of the asado.

In Buenos Aires, you can partake of the best cuts of beef for a very reasonable price. One of our favorite restaurants was La Cabrera. To make your visit even better check out their early bird special (don’t worry, it starts at 6:30 p.m.).

You might want to pair that delectable steak with a glass or two of dry, red malbec wine. Even though malbec grapes originated in France, Argentina currently produces 75% of the world’s malbec wine. The grapes are grown in the Province of Mendoza in western Argentina.

Buen apetito!

10. The Neighborhoods

There are 48 official neighborhoods in Buenos Aires, so if you find yourself getting confused don’t feel too bad. As you would expect, we spent most of our time in those that have the most to offer tourists. Here are the six you are most likely to visit as a tourist.

Palermo

This is the largest neighborhood in the city and has been divided into Palermo Soho and Palermo Hollywood along with other smaller sections. This is the area we stayed in for our first four weeks and it worked out well.

Words like trendy, chic, and nightlife are currently associated with this area. There are plenty of restaurants and shops and it is easy to walk around.

This is the greenest area of the city. This is where you will find Tres de Febrero Park, Jardin Botanico Carlos Thays, and the Japanese Gardens. There are also many peaceful, tree-lined streets.

A tree-line street in Palermo
A tranquil street in Palermo

A unique building in the Palermo neighborhood
Isn’t this a cool building?

Monserrat

I had a little confusion here. The area we stayed in during our second four weeks was usually referred to as Congreso due to the proximity of the National Congress Building. A prime example of the use of informal names for neighborhoods.

This area had a completely different feel from Palermo. For one thing, we didn’t see a lot of dogs, and very little of their leavings.

This is the political center of the country. Both the National Congress building and the Presidential Palace are within walking distance.

There are also a lot of Subte (Metro) stations here, and taxis are plentiful.

An empty Avenida de Mayo
An empty Avenida de Mayo with the Congress building at the end

Recoleta

This affluent and elegant neighborhood is adjacent to Palermo and it really walks the Parisian walk. You will find one stately building after another. This area also houses the famous Recoleta Cemetery and the Museum of Fine Arts, as well as several other museums.

La Boca

Described as a “brightly painted ghetto” by Culture Trip, this working-class neighborhood is considered a must-see for any tourist. Football fans can visit the La Bombonera stadium in this neighborhood. The area is also popular for street art.

The window of the La Perla bar
One of the bares notables in La Boca (photo by Eduardo Sanchez on Unsplash.com)

San Telmo

Considered to be the most authentic of neighborhoods San Telmo is well-known for its street market. It is also a good place for antiquing.

This neighborhood is considered safe during the day, but visitors are cautioned to be careful at night.

Puerto Madera

This is the upscale, modern part of the city. If you are looking for a change of pace from the traditional Buenos Aires vibe, check out this area.

A port was built here at the end of the 19th century but had a very short life. Within fifteen years it was virtually obsolete.

The area spent most of the 1900s in neglect. Efforts to revitalize the area were started in the 1990s. Now you will find high rises, high-end hotels and restaurants, and warehouses-turned-apartments.

In this area, you can also visit the Buenos Aires Ecological Reserve, 865 acres of low land on the Rio de la Plata. It is a great place for a nature walk or a bike ride.

In Conclusion

These are just ten of what we feel were the best parts of our time in Buenos Aires. Of course, there are many other ways to enjoy this very vibrant and cosmopolitan city. No matter what you look for when you travel, you are sure to find it here.

Trip Details

Dates: August 15, 2019 to October 10, 2019
Number of days: 56
Total cost for 2: $7,200
Cost per day for 2: $129

Further Reading

Buenos Aires was just one of the cities we visited during the ten months we spent in Latin America in 2019. To learn about some of the other places we visited check out Our Top 10 Latin American Travel Experiences.

We have also detailed what these ten months cost in Wind and Whim’s 2019 Travel Costs – Latin America.

Stay safe and healthy,
Linda

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6 Things You Should Know Before Visiting Barcelona

Boisterous and beautiful. That is Barcelona. This city in northeast Spain is a sight to behold and a privilege to visit. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t problems.

Here are 6 things you should know before visiting (or revisiting) Barcelona.

1. Gaudi’s Creations Grace the City

Antoni Gaudi (1852-1926) was a Catalan architect and a master of the Modernisme (or Catalan Art Nouveau) style of architecture. Modernisme is characterized by organic and botanical motifs, symbolism, rich ornamental details, and curves as opposed to straight lines.

Here is information on 21 sites in Barcelona where you can admire Gaudi’s talents. These are three of the most-visited Gaudi sites:

La Sagrada Familia

La Sagrada Familia (The Sacred Family) is Gaudi’s masterpiece and the culmination of his life’s work. It was so important to him that he chose to be buried inside it. This Roman Catholic minor basilica is the most visited sight in Barcelona.

Stepping into the basilica is a magical experience. The sunlight shining through the stained glass bathes the interior in vibrant colors.

Light coming through colored windows in La Sagrada Familia
This is what greets you when you enter La Sagrada Familia.

Ceiling detail in La Sagrada Familia
Support columns that suggest trees and an exquisitely detailed ceiling.

Be warned, La Sagrada Familia will most likely spoil you for all other churches.

The exterior is as astounding as the interior. Its three facades represent three phases in the life of Jesus: nativity, passion, and glory.

Exterior detail on La Sagrada Familia
One small section of the exterior detail.

Construction began in 1882. The estimated year of completion for all but some decorative elements is 2026. If that deadline is met it will have taken 144 years to build. The year 2026 marks the 100th anniversary of Gaudi’s death by being run over by a street tram at the age of 74.

Exterior view of La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Spain
You can’t view La Sagrada Familia without seeing the cranes and netting.

La Sagrada Familia gets over 3 million visitors a year. You are unlikely to get in unless you book your visit in advance. You get a 15-minute window to enter the basilica.

Services are held in the crypt every Sunday and can accommodate about 200 people. Mass is held at the main altar only on special holidays.

Here is some information about the structure and symbolism of the basilica.

Casa Mila

Casa Mila is another Gaudi work in the Modernisme style. This was built in the early 1900s as a home for husband and wife Pere Mila and Roser Segimon. The locals thought it was ugly and nicknamed it La Pedrera, which means the stone quarry.

The front of Casa Mila in Barcelona
The front of Casa Mila with its distinctive railings.

The owners lived on the main floor and had apartments above that they rented out. There are people living in some of these apartments today. The building is currently also used as a cultural center, a foundation headquarters, and for commercial space.

The whole building is interesting, but the roof is a delight. This is just one of the many chimneys:

A chimney on top of Casa Mila

Park Guell

No visit to Barcelona is complete without a stop at yet another Gaudi creation, Park Guell.

This was built in the early 1900s at the behest of Count Eusebi Guell as a luxury planned community. Of the sixty houses planned only two were built. It became a public park in 1926.

The park has two parts; a Monumental Zone and a Free Zone.

The Monumental Zone covers 5% of the park. You must buy a ticket to enter and visitors are limited to 400 every half hour.

It is here you will see the iconic dragon stairway. Be sure to visit the Hypostyle Room. It is an open space featuring a multi-domed, tiled ceiling and 86 Doric columns. I missed the opportunity to get some fab photos. Please don’t make the same mistake.

In this zone you will also see gingerbread-style buildings like the one pictured below, the colorfully tiled Greek Theater (or Nature Square), and the laundry room portico.

The tile covered lizard, El Drac, in Park Guell
El Drac will be happy to welcome you to the Monumental Zone.

One of the buildings in the Monumental Zone
This building in the Monumental Zone looks like a gingerbread house, but don’t eat it!

The other 95% of the park is free to visit. It consists of many paths through lush vegetation. Warning, this is not a place for a leisurely stroll. It is hilly and very crowded and street vendors take up a good part of the walkway with their wares.

If you persist upward, you will be rewarded with spectacular views of Barcelona.

A view of Barcelona from Park Guell with La Sagrada Familia in the distance
Park Guell is the ideal place to get great views of the city. You can see La Sagrada Familia in the distance.

2. There are Great Non-Gaudi Things To Do Too

You can find many non-Gaudi things to entertain you as well. Stroll the beach at Barceloneta, visit the Montserrat Monastery, shop at La Boqueria, or take a day trip to Cadaques to visit the Salvador Dali House Museum.

Fresh seafood at St. Joseph Market - La Boqueria
Fresh seafood at St. Joseph Market – La Boqueria

Here are four of our favorite non-Gaudi attractions:

Labyrinth de la Horta

Our favorite place in Barcelona was the little known Labyrinth de la Horta. This 22-acre park was once a private residence. The park was established in 1791 and donated to the City of Barcelona by the Desvalls family in 1967. It opened to the public four years later.

As the name suggests it includes a labyrinth. As you stroll through the park you will be surprised by unexpected scenes. Each one is a delight.

Garden and staircase at Parc del Laberint d’Horta
The owner’s back yard.

The labyrinth at Parc del Laberint d’Horta
The labyrinth

We recommend this park if you want to get away from the hustle and bustle of Barcelona for awhile. For most of our visit we did not see another person.

Recinte Modernista de Sant Pau

A hospital wouldn’t usually be high on our sightseeing list but we’re glad we didn’t miss the Recinte Modernista de Sant Pau. The complex of 16 buildings was constructed from 1905-1930. It showcases the work of Modernisme architect Lluis Montaner.

Montaner believed in the therapeutic properties of nature, color, and form. This belief is reflected in the wealth of details both inside and outside of the buildings, and in the gardens.

The courtyard at Recinte Modernista de Sant Pau
The courtyard at Recinte Modernista de Sant Pau

Hospital room in Recinte Modernista de San Pau
Hospital room in Recinte Modernista de San Pau

The hospital was in use until 2009. A new hospital was built in 2003 and in 2014 this one became a museum and cultural center.

Sitges

Sitges is a beach town on the Mediterranean Sea 26 miles (42 km) southwest of Barcelona. We first visited it on a tour with included a stop in Tarragona (below). Even though we were there on a drizzly day we found Sitges to be captivating.

Sitges will beguile you with stately mansions along the promenade, as well as twisty side streets and quaint shops. It also has a sassy side as seen in some of these photos. It has just under 30,000 residents, but in the summer the number of people is close to 100,000.

We were charmed enough to visit it again on our own.

A narrow street with dining tables and chairs in Sitges, Spain
Just one of the many places that says “come explore me”.

People in costume strolling the boardwalk in Sitges, Spain.
The funky side of Sitges

Tarragona

Tarragona is 51 miles (82 km) southwest of Barcelona. It is known for its well-preserved Roman ruins.

The Ferreres Aqueduct in Tarragona
The Ferreres Aqueduct

The Tarragona Amphitheater
The Tarragona Amphitheater

3. They Have Cava and Cava Sangria

Cava is the Spanish equivalent of Champagne. Almost all of it is produced in the Catalonian region of Spain.

A pitcher of cava sangria
Doesn’t this look delish?

Cava can be used to make cava sangria. It is especially enjoyable while overlooking the Mediterranean Sea on a sunny day. Be sure to give it a try when you visit the area and let me know what you think.

I tried to make it when we returned to Florida, but it just wasn’t the same. I guess I’ll have to return to Catalonia.

4. It’s Really Crowded

There are simply too many people in Barcelona. One reason is that it is very densely populated. Only 1.6 million people live in the city. However, the population density is 16,000 people per sq. km. (compare this to New York City’s density of 10,700 people per sq. km).

A second reason is that over 30 million people visited Barcelona in 2017. Of these more than 2/3 were day-trippers including cruise passengers visiting the city as one of their ports of call.

Cruise passengers come into the city by the thousands yet usually only visit for the day. They tend to go to the most popular sights like the Gaudi attractions listed above.

In an effort to control tourism the city passed a law in 2017 that forbids the building of new hotels even if they are replacing existing ones. You can read more about that here.

Barcelona continues to struggle with solutions to its overtourism problem as detailed in the July 12, 2019 Forbes article.

5. It’s Really Noisy

Because Barcelona is so crowded it is also very noisy. The noise is due to the large amount of traffic. Many people ride motorcycles which adds significantly to the road noise. It is not unusual to see people slowly ride their motorcycles onto the sidewalks.

Even with our windows closed we never got a break from the traffic noise.

A young woman in high heels riding a scooter
A common scene as we sat on our balcony

6. Pickpocketing is a Persistent Problem

When you repeatedly hear that you are in the pickpocket capital of the world, take it seriously.

A quick Google search of several websites show Barcelona is the city in which you are most likely to be pickpocketed, followed by Rome.

While these petty thefts can happen anywhere, the Metro and any crowded tourist attraction or area (think La Sagrada Familia and Las Ramblas), are especially worrisome.

It is not uncommon to see people walking with their backpacks on their chests to keep them safe. Simply put, you can’t be too careful or too paranoid about pickpockets in Barcelona.

You can read all about our pickpocketing experience in our post Pickpocketed in Barcelona.

Our Personal Take on Barcelona

In two years of travel one thing has been constant. That is the warmth and kindness we have been met with. The one exception was in Barcelona.

For example, we visited a nearby supermarket nearly every day and used our basic Spanish, but never got a smile out of the cashiers. We did not take this personally. As we watched the crowds from our balcony we did not see many smiles.

We enjoyed learning the history behind the famous sights and taking in the beautiful architecture and street art but we didn’t love Barcelona. Were our expectations too high? Were there too many unfriendly people? Did listening to the constant street noise get old really fast? Probably a little of all these things.

We feel fortunate to have experienced Barcelona. In light of the city’s serious issues with overtourism, we will probably not return soon. If we do, it would be to visit nearby towns combined with a shorter stay in Barcelona. And definitely a return trip to Labyrinth de la Horta.

Trip Details

Dates: April 22 to May 23, 2018
Number of days: 31
Total cost for 2: $3,600
Cost per day for 2: $116

More Information

You can find out what we spent during our first 8 months as full-time travelers in Wind and Whim’s 2018 Travel Costs – Europe.

Happy traveling,
Linda

Featured image of the Arc de Triomf by Leo Korman on Unsplash.com

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10 Things To Love About Buenos Aires

It was love at first sight. Within a day or two of arriving in Buenos Aires, we knew we wanted to stay longer than the four weeks we had planned. We ended up staying for eight weeks and we still didn’t want to leave.

These are many reasons we fell in love with this amazing city and we think you will love it too. Here are 10 things to love about Buenos Aires:

1. It’s Paris Without the Price Tag

Buenos Aires is sometimes referred to as the Paris of South America. Granted, there is no Eiffel Tower, no Louvre, and everyone speaks Spanish. But the city, with its turn of the century architecture, has the ability to make you think you are in the city of lights.

Buenos Aires is full of wide boulevards, stately buildings, and massive monuments. Several times I had to remind myself that I wasn’t in Paris. I wasn’t even in Europe.

From the 1880s through the 1920s Buenos Aires was one of the richest, fastest-growing cities in the world and this is reflected in the magnificent architecture. Many neoclassical, art nouveau, and art deco masterpieces grace this city.

The French Embassy in Buenos Aires
My favorite building in Buenos Aires; the French Embassy

Click to view five more examples of beautiful Buenos Aires architecture:

2. Fabulous Food at Paltry Prices

Continue reading “10 Things To Love About Buenos Aires”

Bansko, Bulgaria: Not the Trip We’d Hoped For: A Wind and Whim Travel Story

I could picture it so well. The crisp air, the snow-covered pines, the stillness of a landscape blanketed in white. Days spent swooshing down the mountain until exhaustion set in. Nights snuggled up in a cozy apartment, watching the snow gently falling outside.

After living in Florida for thirty years, I couldn’t wait to spend some time in a winter wonderland. After some research, I found the ski town of Bansko, Bulgaria. Three weeks of skiing there would cost about the same as five days at a U.S. or Canadian ski resort.

We made plans to head there in early January 2020 as the first stop in our third year of full-time travel. It didn’t turn out anything like I had imagined.

Note: all money is in USD.

Reality Rears Its Ugly Head

When we arrived in Bansko, the winter wonderland was woefully absent. The daily highs in town were in the forties, and not a flake of snow nor patch of ice could be found. The mountainside ski slopes fared a little better, but not much. Damn you, global warming!

Gondolas and melting snow
Receding snow at the bottom of the mountain

Throughout our nine weeks there, we watched the snow repeatedly fall then melt, which made the ski slopes very icy.

Woman walking through the snow in Bansko
Each snowfall raised my hopes, only to have them dashed when it melted.

Even so, we tried to make the best of it. We woke up to rain on our first day of skiing. The folks at the ski shop assured us that it was not raining on the mountain, and they were right. There was a very welcome light snow all day.

Both of us had a lesson to refresh our skills and a chance to ski on our own. Then we made plans to put our rejuvenated skills to the test by taking a long but easy run together.

A Turn For the Worst

We weren’t more than ten minutes into it when I hit a steep icy section and found myself sliding quickly down the mountain. With repeated reminders to myself to snowplow, lean forward, and remain calm, I made it down that part. I stopped to wait for Steve but did not see him.

After a little while, I figured he either passed me and I missed him, or he was taking his time and would catch up.

When I reached the bottom of the run, he was nowhere to be seen. After some hunting, I found him in the doctor’s office with a fractured pelvis! This diagnosis meant he would be hospitalized for about a week, then require complete bed rest for two more weeks.

After being checked out by the doctor at the ski resort, Steve was transported by ambulance to a hospital in the nearby town of Razlog. He ended up spending nine days there. You can read about that less than ideal experience in Hospitalized in Bulgaria!

Man lying in a hospital bed waving a white flag
Steve, on the day he left the hospital. I was amazed by his positive attitude despite the pain and lee-then-ideal hospital experience.
A Great Place to Recuperate

Since Steve would need to be transferred to our apartment lying flat, we had to leave our Airbnb, and I had to find a place that would allow him to be brought in by paramedics.

That was no easy task because virtually every apartment and hotel had either stairs or an elevator that was too small for the stretcher. It took three days, but I finally found a place about 10 miles from Bansko at the Redenka Holiday Club. They had the perfect first-floor one-bedroom apartment.

We stayed there for four weeks. It is in the country (my taxi was held up by a herd of cattle crossing the road one night), but it has a spa, indoor pool and hot tub, and a fitness room. Oh darn!

Indoor pool and spa at the Redenka Holiday Club
The indoor pool and spa at the Redenka Holiday Club, not a bad place to spend four weeks

We were able to get the half board, so breakfast and dinner were included. Whoopee, no cooking or dishes!

Photo of a salad
This was just the first course of dinner.

The staff was friendly and helpful and always asked about Steve. I joked that he was a celebrity even before anyone had met him.

We appreciate all the help the staff gave us and are honored to have left there with several new friends.

Unexpected Delights

Even when things don’t go as planned, there is always something interesting or beautiful to see.

I left the hospital to go to the Telenor store to top up Steve’s SIM card. It was a short walk. Until then, I had only seen the seamier side of Razlog. On my way back I came across this charming scene in a small park.

Man and woman statue in lake
A little greenery in the winter landscape

When I returned to the hospital, the road was filled with people in native dress and furry costumes. They were having a grand old time dancing and banging their drums.

People dancing in furry costumes
A Kukeri celebration

A little research told me this is a Kukeri festival. It occurs between New Year’s Day and Lent. Its purpose is to drive away evil spirits and provide a good harvest, health, and happiness during the coming year. Why anyone thought it was a good idea to hold it in front of a hospital is beyond me.

Making Friends

We made several friends during this time, including this four-legged sweetheart.

Dog bowing in play
Bansko loves to greet the folks who visit the Redenka Holiday Club

Bansko is a dog that hangs out at Redenka but knows better than to enter the buildings. I thought Bansko was a girl. One morning I was telling her what a good girl she was when a guy came by and said, “It’s a boy, and he doesn’t understand English.” What ?!?!

No matter what language he understands, he is well-loved and well-fed by the staff and guests at Redenka.

In a case of serendipity, I met a physiotherapist one morning at breakfast when I uncharacteristically struck up a conversation with him by asking if he spoke English. It turned out the Dimitar not only spoke English very well but was also incredibly helpful with advice while Steve was still bedridden. He also worked with Steve once he was up and about.

While Steve was in the hospital, a young woman who was also a patient struck up a conversation with me. Aleksandra is a student in Bulgaria and a thoughtful and delightful young lady. After Steve became mobile we enjoyed a delicious dinner with her.

Steve, Linda, And Aleksandra at dinner.
Steve, Aleksandra, and me at dinner.

And last, but certainly not least, we were privileged to get to know Anna and Tommy Orhan at Succuk Burger House and Cafe. The food is excellent, but the service is what kept us coming back. These two, along with the rest of their family, really care about their customers.

Four people in a restaurant
Enjoying our last visit with Anna and Tommy
Seeing the Sights

Bansko is a small town ski town (pop. 8,600), so attractions are somewhat limited. However, beauty is everywhere, as I discovered on a Sunday morning outing.

Bulgarian girls dancing in Bnasko
A Sunday morning show for charity

A visit to the Neofit Rilski House Museum taught me about this Bulgarian renaissance man. He was a monk, an artist, a translator, and a teacher. He was also the founder of Bulgarian secular education.

Room in an eighteenth century house
One of many comfortable looking rooms in the Neofit Rilski house
Kitchen in an eighteenth century home
The bread baking room

The best sight by far in Bansko is the Pirin mountains that surround the town. It seems that wherever you go, you can see them.

Ski mountain in Bansko
Ski mountain teasing us with her inadequate snowfall

We had an amazing view of them from both the living room and the bedroom at our third apartment and frequently commented on how much we would miss them.

Clouds in the Pirin Mountains
The view from our balcony
Why I Won’t Ski Bansko Again

When I was researching ski resorts, I was looking for an affordable place where you don’t need a car. Bansko was one of those places.

The town is compact. You can walk practically anywhere, and taxis are readily available. You also can’t beat the cost. A daily lift ticket is $38.  Ski rental, including a helmet, is $30 per day. Lodging is also a bargain. We booked an Airbnb for three weeks for less than $900.

Unfortunately, there was so much I didn’t know about skiing there. While the infrastructure is good with well-groomed runs and modern lifts, I found several negative things.

As a disclaimer, all my previous skiing had been on the East Coast of the U.S. on very 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:

You have to take a twenty-minute gondola ride up the mountain to get to the ski resort. The gondola itself is not bad, but getting to it is a hassle. Not only are the lines often very long, but 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 works well until you get towards the top of the stairs and try to get into a gondola car. At this point, it becomes a contact sport.

The rudeness continues at the entrances to the lifts. There are no lines, only surging crowds.

The other thing I found odd was that the entrances to the lifts were raised up, so everyone was trying to move up and into a slot while being pushed and crowded.

I also did not see any information on ski conditions. The only way to see the conditions is to go up the mountain. One day I went up, and between the ice and the large number of inexperienced skiers on the slopes, 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 also means that the slopes get very crowded.

As Steve’s accident showed, there was no warning of dangerous conditions and runs were kept open even when they had significant icy patches.

The last thing that was frustrating was how lift passes were handled. The company I rented from only sold you a pass if you booked two or more consecutive days with them. I was told to buy one at the bottom of the gondola station.

The gondola starts running at 8:30 a.m. On a busy day the line is already quite long by that time. The ticket booth doesn’t open until 8:30, so you stand there watching the line to the gondola getting longer by the minute while waiting to get a lift ticket.

But that isn’t inefficient enough. A sign clearly says 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 5 leva in cash for the deposit on the lift card. I did, but it was tucked away in my money belt, so she rang up a separate charge. All while the line to get the lift ticket was growing and growing. Why they don’t charge it all at once is totally beyond me.

Moving On

Our trip to Bansko did not turn out as we anticipated, but even so, we left with many warm memories. As we often find, it is the people we meet as we travel that have the greatest impact on us. Hopefully, the feeling is mutual.

Steve has skied his last slope. I, however, intend to try again next winter. I welcome any suggestions about great ski resorts that don’t require you to have a car.

Trip Details

Dates: January 9 – Mach 12, 2020
Number of days: 63
Travel costs: $8,800
Travel cost per day: $140
Addition costs (medical): $1,600
Total spent: $10,400

Stay safe and healthy,
Linda

Featured image by Ben White on Unsplash.com

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Our Top 10 Latin American Travel Experiences

When you are heading to a new location you think about the famous sights you plan to see. But often your best memories are of the little things that no trip planning could have anticipated.

From February through November of 2019 we traveled throughout Latin America. These are ten of our most memorable travel experiences from those ten months (in no particular order).

1. Riding Scooters in the Galapagos Islands

Woman riding an electric scooter

I may look like a nerd, but I just don’t care. This was the best day we had in the Galapagos.

We rented scooters in town and rode them into the countryside to visit the El Chato Giant Tortoise Reserve on Santa Cruz Island.

Galapagos tortoise with grass in his mouth

We ran into this adorable guy at the reserve.

Galapagos tortoise crossing the street

This fellow couldn’t be contained. We saw him crossing the road on our way back to town.

Horse standing in the road

We also saw this free-range horse just walking down the road.

Read more about our four weeks in the Galápagos Islands here.

2. Spending Three Days in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica

We took the bus from the capital of San Jose to the Caribbean coast. When we arrived in Puerto Viejo our first thought was “where the heck are we?” This place looked kind of rough. The name translates into “old port”, so that should have been a clue.

It didn’t take us long to see the charm. By the afternoon we were in love. The beach is just yards away from a wooded hiking area where you can see wild howler monkeys and sloths.

A beachside restaurant

Many restaurants line the beach and embody the phrase “pura vida” (pure life).

Sloth hanging upside down

We enjoyed a visit to the Jaguar Rescue Center. The name is misleading because they rescue and rehabilitate many species. We learned that many sloths are injured or killed when they chew through electric wires.

The sloth above, who lives at the center, was just hanging around in the open.

Puerto Viejo is the most laid back place I have ever been and I hope to visit it again someday.

3. Visiting Machu Picchu

This is the only tourist attraction to make my top ten. I am not a big fan of Pre-Colombian history, so I questioned whether it would be worth the hassle and cost to get there.

It definitely was. There is something magical about this place.

A view of Machu Picchu

It is not quick or easy to get to Machu Picchu. You have two choices, hike for about four days (definitely not for the couch potato) or make your way to the town of Cusco, Peru then take a train to Machu Picchu Town (or Aguas Calientes).

Linda resting after the Machu Picchu tourIf you chose to get there through Cusco you need to become acclimated to the altitude to avoid altitude sickness, which I was surprised to find out can be deadly. While Machu Picchu is only 8,000 feet (2,400 m) above sea level, Cusco sits at 11,200 feet (3,400 m) above sea level.

The train ride to Machu Picchu Town from Cusco takes a little over three hours and passes through the Sacred Valley of the Incas where you will be dazzled by one breathtaking view after another.

4. Exploring in La Cumbrecita, Argentina

“All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware” Martin Buber

How true this quote so often proves to be. While in Cordoba, Argentina we decided to take a side trip to a German-inspired hamlet called La Cumbrecita.

A foggy backyard

The day started out foggy but turned out to be sunny and temperate.

Wet dog on the shore of a creek

We spent some time playing fetch with this sweetheart in the Rio del Medio.

Steve standing on a rock in the river

We loved spending time climbing (carefully) on the rocks in the river.

photo of a pond

The reward for hiking down a rocky trail.

We saw people every now and then but were often alone on the trails. It was so peaceful and picturesque. It reminded me of how we would spend hours in parks or on nature trails when we were young. Time spent in nature can make you feel like you don’t have a care in the world.

Find out more about La Cumbrecita and Cordoba in Visiting Cordoba, Argentina’s Second Largest City.

5. Amaru Biopark

Imagine a hiking trail, a zoo, and a conservation organization in one. That is Amaru Biopark.

This park is built on a hillside and houses animals who have been rescued but cannot be returned to the wild. Because of its location, you will get quite a workout as you make your way through the park.

You will see so many beautiful animals, including African lions, which really made me scratch my head.

Female African lion

I would have loved to hear these animal’s stories, but I didn’t see any programs like that when we were there.

Squirrel monkey

Squirrel monkeys roam free in the park.

A blue-headed parrot

The aviary lets you get up close to many beautiful birds.

If you go, don’t make the same mistake we did. Our first visit was in the afternoon. We were slowly working our way around and thoroughly enjoying the animals when we looked at the map and realized that in several hours we hadn’t even reached the halfway point.

We backtracked so we could get out of the park before dark and returned earlier on another day so we could enjoy all it had to offer.

Overview of Cuenca

You can get some amazing views of the city from the entrance to the park.

This is highly recommended if you visit Cuenca.

6. Visiting District 13 in Medellin

District 13 (Comuna 13 in Spanish) is a poor neighborhood in the foothills of the Andes that less than 20 years ago was the most dangerous neighborhood in one of the most dangerous cities in the world.

Many people associate the violence in Medellin with Pablo Escobar’s drug empire, but guerrilla and paramilitary groups were also causing problems.

In 2002 the government initiative called Operation Orion freed the district from the scourge.

While it is still poor, it is now a popular tourist stop due to an abundance of street art like this colorful lizard:

Colorful mural of a lizard

There are many small, tourist oriented businesses and young people form dance troupes to earn cash.

A dance troupe and tourists

A series of escalators carry people up the mountainside. At every step, you are greeted with smiles and warm hellos.

At first, Steve was a little apprehensive because of the area’s past reputation. He kept his camera in its case for a while. Then he slowly started taking pictures but would quickly put the camera away after each picture.

At one point I turned around to look for him and he was surrounded by several children and was sharing his pictures with some local children.

Steve and kids looking at his camera

Seeing the positive changes to this once forsaken neighborhood impacted me in a way that very few of our travel experiences have.

Be sure to check out our post 10 Things to Love About Medellin, Colombia.

7. Sand Surfing in Huacachina

On our way to Machu Picchu we stopped at a tiny oasis town called Huacachina. It is basically a small lake surrounded by huge sand dunes.

There are two things to do in Huacachina; party and sand surf. Our party days are behind us, but we were excited to give sand surfing a try.

Sand dunes in Huacachina, Peru

The lower dune where some people walk up and surf down.

Dune buggies on sand dunes in Huacachina, Peru

Dune buggies take people to the higher dunes.

One method is to ride a board that is similar to a snowboard down the dune. We novices chose the easier method, which is to lay on your stomach on a board and fly down the dune head first.

But before you can do any of that you need to get to the top of the dune on a twelve-person dune buggy. It is guaranteed to be an exciting ride.

Both Steve and I figured it would be relatively safe to sand surf since we were on sand. Unfortunately, Steve found what might have been the only rock in the dunes and got a six-inch cut on his arm.

8. Visiting Santa Cruz Cemetery Manga

This memory is not a typical travel memory. We love to explore cemeteries for the history and art. Early in our travels, we went to Montmartre Cemetery in Paris and it was so compelling that it ruined us for other cemeteries.

That doesn’t mean we’ve stopped visiting them, but we haven’t found another one that comes close to Montmartre.

So we approached this visit as something to do. What a shock. This cemetery is in bad repair and you can see below:

Cemetery crypt with black tarp

As we continued exploring we were shocked to see open crypts with either cloth bags or exposed bones. Perhaps the saddest and most bizarre sight was a tomb with a skeleton lying on top.

Tomb with skeleton on top

Even with the disrepair, there was beauty to be found.

Flowers on a tombstone

Ant Stories

Many years ago I read about a family with young children who visited the Grand Canyon. The mother was a little dismayed when they returned home and all the kids could talk about were the ants they had seen in the hotel parking lot.

Thinking about this I realized that it is sometimes the little things, things that you can’t anticipate and could happen anywhere, that stay foremost in our minds after a trip.

I have started to refer to these as “ant stories” and here are two of my favorites from 2019:

9. Come In and See My Cat

One day Steve and I went to the neighborhood of Getsemani in Cartegena, Colombia. This neighborhood was once plagued with drugs, prostitution, and violence. It is now a safe, authentic neighborhood that attracts many tourists, often looking for street art.

Mural of two colombian women in traditional dress

Mural of a woman’s face

While I was taking these pictures a local man heard Steve admiring a cat outside his door, and invited him in to meet his cat (below).

Cat sitting on a chair

10. Maybe Later

In several touristy areas, we have been annoyed by people who stand in front of restaurants and try to get you to go inside. They are referred to as bringers.

Even when you say “no, gracias” or indicate that you just ate they won’t leave you alone.

It took a while but we finally discovered the magic words that make them happy and gives us some peace.

While walking through Machu Picchu Town we were being bothered as usual. When we said no to one bringer he said: “maybe later”.  We replied, “maybe later”. He broke into a huge smile.

We looked at each other with glee. We had found the magic words. We would never be driven crazy by bringers again!

That’s Not All Folks!

I hope you enjoyed this look back at our ten months in Latin America. These memories and many others have enriched our lives beyond our expectations.

While the memories are priceless, they did come at a cost. You can find out what we spent in Wind and Whim’s 2019 Travel Costs – Latin America.

Happy traveling,
Linda

Featured image: llama at Machu Picchu

Hospitalized in Bulgaria: A Wind and Whim Travel Story

In January of 2020, Steve broke his pelvis while skiing and had to be hospitalized in Bulgaria. It was a painful, frustrating, disappointing, and eye-opening experience.

Our Take On Bulgaria

Before I get into the details I must say this:

Bansko was the fifth city or town we have visited in Bulgaria. In 2018 we enjoyed the capital of Sofia, the second-largest city, Plovdiv, and the smaller towns of Byala and Varna.

All of our experiences in Bulgaria until Steve’s hospitalization have been positive. The people are warm and welcoming, the accommodations and restaurants are clean, and the food is delicious. Many people speak English which we never expect but always appreciate.

That is why our experience in the hospital was a shock.

One of the Bansko ski chalets
The beautiful scene as we headed off to ski.

The Doctor At The Base of The Mountain

As Steve and I were waiting in line to get on the gondola to go up the mountain I noticed a door at the end of a hall. The sign on it said Doctor.

Little did I know that just a few hours later I would be walking through that door to see if Steve was in there after we got separated while skiing and I couldn’t find him anywhere else.

He was lying on the examination table after having x-rays. We were told he had fractured his pelvis.

We were very happy with the care here. The doctor and staff spoke English and explained everything that was going on. They took three x-rays for a cost of $118 USD. Everything else up to this point was covered by the mountain insurance we had as part of our ski rental package.

Given the professionalism of this office, we didn’t balk when the doctor suggested Steve be transported to the hospital in the next town, which is Razlog.

Things Take a Downward Turn

Razlog is a town of 13,000 people about 4 miles (6.2 km) from Bansko. Bankso’s population is 8,600.

When Steve arrived at the hospital he was taken to the emergency department. The area was very run down with tiles missing from the ceiling, holes in the sheets, and what looked like a piece of linoleum laid across the foot of each bed.

It took quite a while for the doctor to be located and for Steve to be registered.

Sunset over the mountains in Razlog, Bulgaria
The view outside the hospital was much better than inside.

He had been put on a stretcher board to keep his hips immobilized while being transported. He had to lie on this board for several hours after he arrived at the hospital before he was put in a bed. All this time he did not receive any pain medication.

In addition, he was slipping to one side badly enough that I feared he would fall so I stood alongside the stretcher pressing into his side to keep him from falling. No one seemed to care that he was incredibly uncomfortable.

When it finally came time for Steve to be put in a bed there were only two men to do it. It ended up being quite painful for him as he was basically dropped onto the bed.

Things Aren’t Much Better Here

Luckily the floor Steve was transported to from the emergency department was in better shape, though far from what we expect in a hospital.

Even though many people we met in Bansko spoke English, most of the hospital staff did not. Fortunately, one of the doctors treating Steve did.

The only time we were able to get information about Steve’s condition was the few minutes every morning when the doctors came in. The nursing staff was not the least bit helpful and seemed impatient when we stopped them and used Google Translate to ask questions.

This was particularly frustrating because they were not very busy. There were only a few patients on the floor and often when I went looking for help several nurses would be eating, chatting, and watching TV in the break room. Yet they never made any effort to do more than the basics.

I was shocked that patients in the hospital were kept in their own clothes. Unless they change their clothes themselves or have a family member help they are left in the same clothes day after day.

Patients and their families were also on their own for basic care like washing, brushing teeth, and tending to more personal needs.

I fear for anyone who should find himself in this hospital without someone to help him.

I realized that the only way to get the nurses on our side was to kill them with kindness. It worked with some of them but not all.

Lie Still and Carry a Big Stick

I walked into Steve’s room on his second day there and he proudly showed me his newest possession. A long piece of PVC pipe.

Unlike U.S. hospitals where the patient is tethered to multiple machines, the only thing Steve had was an I.V. He was lying in bed the first night watching the fluid in the I.V. bag getting too close to the end. He wanted to alert a nurse, but the call button was on the wall a few feet away from his bed. Fearing an air bubble entering his bloodstream, he threw the I.V. bag to the floor and used the stand to hit the call button.

After this, he got a pole so he could reach the button. You can see it in the first photo. That pole came in handy for many things. I am still amazed that someone was able to get the pole for him.

Appalling Hygiene

Most shocking to us was the lack of hygiene. Steve was in a room with three beds, but until the last few days, he was the only patient. The room didn’t have its own bathroom, but it did have a sink. However, there wasn’t any soap or towels so I brought some from home.

There were three restrooms on the floor. The women’s room did not have toilet paper or soap. The second one was not marked male or female and surprisingly it had soap. But it was still BYOTP (bring your own toilet paper). I didn’t check the men’s room.

Then there was the food. Breakfast consisted of two slices of bread with a large blob of butter but nothing to spread the butter with. It sometimes came with a hard-boiled egg or some cheese.

A plate with a slice of bread, a pat of butter, and a hard-boiled egg.
Breakfast time.

Lunch was soup and bread, but no spoon to eat the soup with. And even if he had a spoon Steve would not have been able to eat it since he was lying flat and could not sit up.

Even worse than the lack of utensils or care about being able to eat was the fact that the bread that came with the soup was not on a plate, it was carried in by hand and set on the bedside table.

Dinner was, you guessed it, more bread, this time with cheese, both wrapped in a plastic bag.

At one point Steve watched a nurse drop a piece of his bread on the floor and return it to the table

Needless to say, he did not eat the food they provided. What little he ate during his stay was all brought from home.

There’s Always Something Positive

While dealing with the hospital situation was unpleasant, there were good things as a result.

Children performing a Kukeri ceremony in Razlog, Bulgaria
I happened upon this Kukeri festival on my way back to the hospital.

While in the hospital I met a lovely young woman named Aleksandra from Razlog who had recently had surgery. She is a university student who wishes to visit the U.S. someday. We will stay in touch through Facebook.

I also got to meet Anna and her family at Succuk Burger House and Cafe in Bansko where I enjoyed the cheeseburgers and fries way too much. They were so gracious in helping me with taxis and even arranging a ride to the hospital one day. If you are ever in Bansko make sure to visit Succuk Burger House and Cafe and meet these wonderful people.

Our luck with people continued once we settled into our new apartment. I struck up a conversation with Dimitar at breakfast one morning and it turns out he is a physiotherapist. He has already offered several helpful suggestions.

For the life of me, I don’t understand why the hospital personnel are lacking in the friendliness and hospitality the most everyone else around here has in abundance.

A Goodbye Argument

Release day finally arrived. We knew Steve would be transferred by ambulance to the apartment where he would be recuperating. We requested four people to help because he is a large man and we didn’t want a repeat of the fiasco that occurred when he was transferred into the bed.

Around lunchtime, two men arrived with a stretcher. We were surprised that they did not have the stretcher board to keep his hips immobilized while they lifted him. We really don’t know how they intended to move him from the bed to the stretcher without causing pain or aggravating his injury.

We used Google Translate to let the paramedics know that we were expecting four people and we wanted Steve on a stretcher board. This request led to a ten-minute discussion with four paramedics and two nurses all talking at once.

After getting everyone to quiet down we said Steve was not leaving unless he was on a board. They finally brought a board in and we were on our way.

Thankfully the ride was only about eight minutes long. Not only was Steve not strapped to the stretcher, but the stretcher was also not locked down in the ambulance.

You Get What You Pay For

You know the old saying “you get what you pay for” meaning if something is inexpensive you can’t expect much. This has not been true for anything we bought in Bulgaria except for the hospital care.

We had no frame of reference as to what a nine-day stay would cost. I was pleasantly surprised when I paid the bill. It included the ambulance ride to the hospital, nine days of “care” including X-rays, two ultrasounds, and medications and the ambulance ride home from the hospital. The cost for all of this was just under $2,000 USD!

We do not carry a medical travel policy because in most cases medical care outside of the U.S. is very affordable by our standards. We do however have evacuation insurance through Medjet to get us back to the U.S. in case of a serious accident or injury.

We didn’t expect much when we submitted a claim to our U.S. medical insurance company since our treatment was out-of-network. We were delighted to receive a check from them for $1,800 USD, leaving our out-of-pocket hospital and doctor costs at $300.

What Could We Have Done Differently?

I have read several accounts of U.S. citizens’ experiences with medical care while traveling abroad. They were all positive, but none of them had taken place in a small town in Bulgaria.

Once we saw the situation at the hospital I asked Steve if he wanted to be transported to Sofia on the assumption that the hospitals in the capital would be superior to this one. He was adamant that he did not want to be moved because he was in so much pain.

Looking back, I wish that I had asked the doctor what the different options were and where he would send one of his family members.

So the only other thing we could have done differently would have been to not ski in this area. I doubt that any warning about the lack of quality medical care would have deterred us. No one expects to get hurt.

Our travels have taken us to some off the beaten path places and will no doubt continue to do so. In order to keep exploring we have to believe that things will work out for the best.

All’s Well That Ends Well

It was a challenge to find a place to stay for four weeks while Steve recuperated. We needed somewhere that would allow him to be brought in on a stretcher and placed in bed. I spent several days looking online, sending emails, and visiting hotels before I found a suitable place two days before he was due to be released.

We ended up at the Redenka Holiday Club about 6 miles (or 10 km) from the center of Bansko.  Luckily they weren’t particularly busy and had some first-floor apartments available.

Our four-week stay includes not only the apartment but also breakfast and dinner every day for about $2,000 USD. There is also a gym, indoor pool with jacuzzi, and a spa. Hopefully, Steve will have a chance to enjoy them like I have been doing.

Indoor pool and spa at the Redenka Holiday Club
The indoor pool and spa at the Redenka Holiday Club, not a bad place to spend four weeks.

As of this writing, Steve is recuperating well. He has been improving every day and has just been able to be upright with crutches for a short period of time. We are thankful that he left the hospital without becoming sick.

His spirits have remained high and he is looking forward to seeing something besides the ceiling.

Happy (and safe) traveling,
Linda

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