If you asked 1,000 people which European city they would most like to visit, I’d be surprised if even one would put Skopje, North Macedonia, at the top of their list.
It’s not because Skopje isn’t worth visiting, but it is not well known and can’t compare to the draw of many European cities. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider visiting it.
Read on to find out what Skopje is really like, at least from my perspective.
A Little Background
Steve and I spent most of August 2023 in Skopje. It was the 88th city we’ve visited. We chose it for several reasons:
1. It is outside the Schengen Area – we had to spend 90 days out of the Schengen Area after visiting Greece, Croatia, and Italy in the spring of 2023.
2. It is inexpensive – to keep our budget under control, we offset visits to expensive places like the U.K., the U.S., and Western Europe with trips to more economical places.
3. It looked unique – I had read about the elegant classical buildings, the multitude of statues, and the two new pedestrian bridges lined with sculptures that resulted from the Skopje 2014 project. I was curious to see them.
There’s no denying that Skopje is interesting. The buildings, sculptures, and bridges in the city center are fun to explore. Skopje is the perfect city for you if you love to turn a corner and see something unexpected.
The Compact City Center
Most of the attractions are within walking distance of each other. For example, you can visit Macedonia Square and then cross over the mid-15th century Stone Bridge to Old Town and the Old Bazaar.
Old Town and the Old Bazaar
You can spend hours exploring Old Town and the Old Bazaar and never get bored. In addition to oodles of souvenir shops, there is an entire street lined with jewelry stores.
There are also many stores selling ballgowns and wedding dresses.
For times when you don’t want to walk, there are a lot of buses. You can use the Skopska app to get tickets for a single trip or a weekly or monthly pass.
Uber and Lyft aren’t available, but there are plenty of taxis.
Good Restaurants With Good Prices
You won’t want for places to eat. And the prices are kind to your budget. As you would expect, there are plenty of traditional restaurants. However, our favorite was a Mexican restaurant called Amigos. Their margaritas alone were worth a visit.
A Few Impressive Museums
While there aren’t many museums and tourist attractions in Skopje, the museums we visited were very good. Steve and I were particularly impressed with the Holocaust Memorial Center for the Jews of Macedonia and The Museum of the Macedonian Struggle for Independence.
English is Everywhere
It is easy to communicate since almost everyone speaks English. It is also widespread in museums and on menus.
If you can take your eyes off the glitz of the Skopje 2014 project, you can see examples of other architectural styles.
What Could Be Better?
As entertaining as it was to experience the city center, I couldn’t help thinking that with the Skopje 2014 project, the city leaders bit off more than they could chew. Maintenance seems to be a problem. There were just too many things that needed attention.
The Bridge of Art and the Bridge of Civilization
Both the Bridge of Art and the Bridge of Civilization were built as part of Skopje 2014. Both of these pedestrian bridges are lined with sculptures of men who were important to North Macedonian history. Only half of the sculptures on the Bridge of Art had name plates when we visited, and none on the Bridge of Civilization did. Older photos of the bridges show nameplates.
In addition to the statues, both of these bridges are lined with ornate lights. We never saw them on even though we visited during tourist season.
The National Theater
The National Theater building is lovely to look at, being adorned with statues and theatrical masks. There are also several free-standing statues around the building. Unfortunately, the area near the ground is already in disrepair, as you can see from this photo:
There is a lot of litter. While it isn’t unusual for cities to have a litter problem, I think a city that is trying to attract tourists would take extra care to keep the city clean.
Surprisingly, we saw much more litter around the city center than where we stayed, which was a 20-minute walk from the center.
There is also way too much graffiti.
The section of the Vardar River that flows through the city center was not the least bit pleasant. This may have been because the water level was low.
There was a lot of litter in the river, some of which was accumulating on posts. While looking online, I discovered these weren’t posts but water jets meant to put on a lighted water show. Like the lights on the bridges, these were not working when we were there.
You can see how pretty the fountain looks in the featured photo.
The Pirate Ships
Yes, you read that right. There are replicas of three pirate ships on the Vardar River. One ship is a restaurant and hotel, one is deserted, and one is in ruins.
If you’re wondering what pirate ships have to do with the landlocked country of North Macedonia, you are not alone. North Macedonian architect Nikola Strezovski said it best: “Skopje 2014 was something that shocked us all at the time. By the time the pirate ships arrived on the Vardar River, we were used to crazy.”
The Fountain Water
This last item is minor, but the water in the Warrior on a Horse monument was green. A lovely shade of blue would be so much better.
Should You Visit Skopje?
I don’t believe Skopje is a good choice for the occasional traveler. There are more exciting places with many more tourist attractions. But for frequent and full-time travelers, it is worth a look. You can revel in the kitsch, eat well without spending a fortune, and learn cool historical facts about a country and region you likely know little about.
That’s it for my review of Skopje. As always, Steve and I would love to hear what you think of this unusual city. Do you live in Skopje? Have you been there? Do you agree with my assessment? Let us know!
If you’re looking for somewhere unique and inexpensive to visit in Europe, consider Skopje, the capital of North Macedonia. This Balkan city is uncrowded and easy to get around. Its city center is a sight to see, with larger-than-life monuments, random statues, ornate bridges, and elegant buildings, thanks to the Skopje 2014 project (more on that below).
Steve and I ended up in Skopje in August 2023 for two reasons. One, we needed to find a place to visit outside the Schengen Area due to its visa restrictions. Two, I had read about the Skopje 2014 project and was intrigued.
We enjoyed our four weeks in Skopje. Now, I am happy to share what we learned while visiting Skopje so you can have an enjoyable visit too.
All money is in U.S. dollars
1. About 500,000 people live in Skopje.
2. Skopje is not crowded. There are 3,700 people per square mile. Compare this to New York City, with 29,000 people per square mile or 8,800 people per square mile in Budapest (data from Wikipedia). The only place we saw crowds was in the Old Bazaar, but even that wasn’t bad.
3. On July 26, 1963, an earthquake destroyed almost 80% of the city’s buildings and killed over 1,000 people.
4. The city is surrounded by mountains.
5. Macedonia Square is the center of the city. Visit it to see architecture, statues, fountains, and restaurants in a vibrant setting.
6. We saw little street art, but far too much graffiti.
7. The Vardar River runs through the city. The water level was low when we were there, and the section that runs through the city center had a lot of debris.
About North Macedonia
8. Two million people call North Macedonia home.
9. The country’s official name is the Republic of North Macedonia.
10. The Republic of North Macedonia is a young country. It declared independence from Yugoslavia in 1991.
11. Upon gaining independence, the country was named the Republic of Macedonia. Because there is a geographic region in Greece by the same name, the Greek government took issue with this. After 27 years, the official name became the Republic of North Macedonia. You can read more about this here.
12. Most stores and many restaurants are closed on Sunday.
13. About 60% of North Macedonians are Orthodox Christian. More than 30% are Muslim.
14. There are a lot of casinos and slot halls in Skopje.
15. I was impressed with the lack of pressure from vendors in the Old Bazaar. One storekeeper asked us if we would like to be his customers, but most let us walk by without comment if we didn’t show interest in their products. It is such a contrast to Morocco, where the taxi drivers grab your luggage and demand to know where you are going, and the vendors make leeches look timid.
16. Most stores, restaurants, and attractions will be closed during holidays. Holidayapi.com can help you see which holidays may impact your visit. Keep in mind: if a holiday falls on a weekend, businesses may be closed the Friday before or the Monday after.
The Skopje 2014 Project
17. The Skopje 2014 project took place from 2010 to 2014.
18. During this time, many new buildings were constructed, and others were renovated. Giant monuments and smaller statues were erected throughout the city center.
19. The project was intended to make the city more attractive to tourists and boost the national identity.
20. The project’s centerpiece is the majestic Warrior on a Horse monument in Macedonia Square. The warrior represented is Alexander the Great, but because of tensions with Greece over what they perceive to be the appropriation of Greek culture, the statue is not referred to as Alexander the Great.
21. Macedonian is the official language of North Macedonia.
22. Almost everyone speaks English. And they speak it well. The exception would be some of the older people.
23. Signs pointing to places of interest are in Macedonian, English, and Albanian.
24. It’s always nice to learn a few words, such as hello, please, and thank you, in the local language. However, you probably won’t use them much since English is so prevalent. If you need to communicate in Macedonian, an app like Google Translate should do the trick.
25. The European emergency number is 112. The operators speak English, which I learned when I had to call after getting stuck in an elevator in Bulgaria.
26. If you are looking for a local SIM card, the three main providers are Telekom (T Mobile), A1, and Lycamobile.
27. If you need a local SIM card, I recommend Lycamobile. We got our cards at Lycamobile POS Doctor Mobile on Blvd. Partizanski Odredi. For $3.50, we got 5GB of data for 30 days. Since we have wifi in our Airbnb, 5GB is more than enough for exploring the city.
28. I would advise you to stay away from Telekom. Their prices are much higher than Lycamobile’s, and many of their packages have to be purchased through the app. This would be fine, but neither Steve nor I could register on the app. It refused to accept our email addresses. It took four days to get corporate to install the package we chose, only to discover it was useless in North Macedonia. The package was called the Balkan package. It works in other Balkan countries but not in North Macedonia.
29. I can’t speak to the quality of A1. We tried to buy SIM cards at their store in Skopje City Mall and were shocked to find they didn’t have any left that day. This has never happened to us before.
30. The above experience is why you should always do your homework and know what data package you want. We got lazy, and it cost us time and money.
31. The Macedonian denar is the official money in North Macedonia. Its currency symbol is MKD.
32. As of August 2023, 1,000 MDK = ~$18.00.
33. Credit cards are widely accepted.
34. Euro were required in the Flamingo Casino. If you don’t have any, you can change your denar in the casino.
35. North Macedonia does not have a tipping culture. If you do want to tip (we always do because it’s so ingrained in us), 10% – 15% is recommended in restaurants. I would use this as a guide for other times when service has been exceptional.
36. Most streets don’t have street name signs, but Google Maps worked well everywhere we went.
37. Uber and Lyft are not available in Skopje. There are plenty of taxis, but it is best to negotiate the price upfront.
38. Public buses were plentiful and easy to use with a map app like Google Maps or Moveit.
39. Bus stops are not consistent. Some have shelters, some are designated by the word “bus” painted on the street, and further away from the center, they can be hard to identify. Some stops have displays showing the time until buses arrive. Many do not. The map apps helped a lot in these situations.
40. The Skopska app is the best way to use the bus. You can buy a single ticket or a weekly or monthly pass. We paid $29.00 each for our monthly passes.
41. Using the Skopska app on the bus can be tricky. Once you’ve pushed the button on the app to use your ticket, you will hear a soft noise. You need to hold your phone up to the validation box with the screen facing the box until you see eight little dots load on the box’s screen.
42. For our first several bus rides, we had no idea how to use the app. After we figured it out, we had no wifi for a few days. We hoped that if we were questioned, it would be enough if we showed we had purchased a monthly pass. We never saw any inspectors on the buses.
43. Buses come in several shapes and colors. There are single and double-decker buses. They are usually red but may be other colors because they are covered with ads. Some of the buses are very old.
44. Some buses have the bus number in lights at the top and some have it on a piece of cardboard in the lower corner of the front passenger side window.
45. Watch your head on the upper level of the double-decker buses unless you’re a shorty like me. The ceiling is low.
46. We found the city to be very walkable, partly because of how close together the main attractions are and partly because the streets and sidewalks weren’t crowded.
47. Most streets have crosswalks painted on them. If there is no traffic light, all you have to do is step off the curb, and traffic should stop, even on busy streets with several lanes. Still, you should look both ways and use caution; bikes and scooters don’t always stop.
48. If there is a traffic light, obey the walk/don’t walk signs.
49. Bikes and scooters are popular, so it’s best to walk outside the bike lanes and cross bike lanes like you cross a street. Look both ways.
50. Look over your shoulder before moving left or right on the sidewalk (like you do when changing lanes while driving). Despite having designated bike lanes, bikes and scooters are often ridden on the sidewalk, and the riders seldom warn you when they want to pass. Motorcycles and cars occasionally drive on the sidewalks, too.
Food and Water
51. The tap water is safe to drink; however, it is very hard. We used a filtered pitcher to get clearer water.
52. We aren’t adventurous about trying different foods, but here is an article by Nomad Paradise about Macedonian food.
53. The restaurant prices were the lowest we’ve seen in quite a while. They are affordable enough that you can eat at places right in the city center and still get a great deal. The prices for drinks were similar to what we’ve seen in other Central and Eastern European cities.
54. There is a row of welcoming-looking restaurants along the river in the city center. We ate at three of them. All were reasonably priced, the service was excellent, and the food was pretty good.
55. Restaurant Dion – We enjoyed the food here. We both had the chicken crown.
56. Buenos Dias – the helpings were huge, despite the photos showing smaller amounts. While the quality of the food was good, our dishes were a little bland.
57. Carpe Diem – We had a light lunch here. Steve had pasta; I had a salad. Both were okay, but nothing special.
58. We also ate at Restaurant Pelister on Macedonia Square. We both had sausage stew, which was not bad.
59. The restaurant we loved was Amigos. It is just a short walk from Macedonia Square. We had the fajitas for two for $14.00. My classic margaritas were the best margaritas I’ve ever had.
60. For a tasty and inexpensive takeout, try Plaset (there are several around the city). We enjoyed the chicken durum, which comes with your choice of toppings and sauces. It comes in three sizes.
61. We frequented two supermarkets, Ramstore and Vero. Both are large and have a wide variety of products. We started out at Ramstore in the Skopje City Mall but found that too many items weren’t priced, and the store wasn’t as clean as the Vero supermarket.
62. We preferred the Vero store at the corner of New Delhi Rd and Mitropolit Teodosij Gologanov.
63. If you’re close to the city center, check out the Vero store in Shopping Center Vero.
64. Bags are not provided at grocery stores. You can either buy them at the checkout counter or bring your own.
65. You have to bag your own groceries, and there isn’t a separate area to do this like we’ve seen in other cities. This can be challenging if you’re alone, and it always reminds me of this scene from I Love Lucy:
66. Pharmacies are indicated by a green cross. In addition to prescription medicine, you can buy over-the-counter medication here, too.
67. DM is your best bet for toiletries, household cleaners, and personal care items.
68. If markets are more your style, check out Bit Pazar at the northern end of the Old Bazaar. The vendors here sell pretty much every cheap thing you can imagine. The largest fresh food market in Skopje is also located here.
69. You can find smaller fresh food markets throughout the city, like the one down the street from our apartment. It is in a seedy structure, but the produce is good, and the vendors are friendly. It is at Boulevard Partizanski Odredi 26.
Things to See and Do
The Old Bazaar
70. Skopje’s Old Bazaar is huge and has something for everyone. Steve and I spent some time wandering what we thought was the Old Bazaar, only to learn we were actually in the Bit Pazar. It turns out that the Old Bazaar is an area of many blocks lined with shops, cafes, and restaurants. Learn more about the oldest marketplace in the Balkans in this article by Wander-Lush.
71. This fortress, also called the Kale Fortress, is worth a brief exploration. It is free to enter, and you can explore it on your own. There isn’t any written information at the fortress.
72. You can recognize Mt. Vodno by the large cross on top of it. This is the Millennium Cross. It was erected in 2002 to commemorate 2,000 years of Christianity in Macedonia.
73. You can hike up Mt. Vodno or take the Millennium Cross Cable Car to the top.
74. The museums we visited had almost everything explained in English as well as Macedonian.
75. The Archaeological Museum of Macedonia – Even if you aren’t interested in archaeology, at less than $3.00 per person, it’s worth it to see the inside of the building with its grey and white marble staircase and the striking way the artifacts are displayed. That’s the Archaeological Museum in the featured photo.
77. TheMother Teresa Memorial House – This small museum is free to enter. It showcases important moments and documents from Mother Teresa’s life. There is a small, pretty chapel on the second floor.
78. The Museum of the Macedonian Struggle for Independence – This museum documents the struggle for independence from the late 19th through the mid-20th century. Huge paintings of historical events and nicely done wax figures are an impressive touch. The ticket price of around $5.00 includes a guide if you wish. Our guide did a great job, but we had some trouble understanding him because of his accent. The entrance is on the side of the building away from the river. Their website is only in Macedonian, and we could only take photos in the lobby.
Skopje has some flaws, but if you can look past them, you will be rewarded with some wonderful museums, beautiful buildings, magnificent monuments, and quirky statues. English is prevalent, which gives you a break from language stress, and your dollar goes far. Skopje is a winner.
Until Next Time
Do you live in Skopje, or have you visited it? If so, Steve and I would love to hear what you think about it and if I left anything out. Just drop a comment in the comment section below.
If you love captivating natural beauty, amazing architecture, and gorgeous gardens, check out Opatija, Croatia.
Steve and I visited Opatija at the end of May, before the height of the tourist season. It was busy enough to be interesting without being crowded. The weather was warm and mostly sunny.
This seaside town of less than 12,000 residents on the Adriatic Sea is the perfect place for a restorative break. As is fitting for the area, most people were strolling or relaxing by the water. Read on to learn why you will fall in love with Opatija.
All money is in U.S. dollars.
But First, Where is Opatija?
Opatija is a small town on the eastern side of the Istrian Peninsula. It sits on the Kvarner Gulf (sometimes called the Kvarner Bay) at the northern end of the Adriatic Sea. It is easy to reach by car or bus in a few hours from several larger cities, including Pula, Croatia, Trieste, Italy, and Ljubljana, Slovenia.
A Few Opatija Facts
*How do you pronounce Opatija? uh·PAH·tuh·yuh The Croatian letter “J” is pronounced like the English “Y.”
*Modern-day Opatija began in the mid-1800s when a wealthy merchant, Ignio Scarpa, built the Villa Angiolina. Other wealthy families, including aristocrats, soon built vacation villas there. You can see these stately summer homes all around town.
*Opatija was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire from 1867–1918.
*Opatija has a Mediterranean climate. The summer season runs from mid-June to mid-September. Here is the year-round Opatija weather.
The Best Things About Opatija
One of the things we loved about this area was the Lungomare. This 12 km or 7-mile-long seaside promenade passes through Opatija as it goes from the towns of Volosko to the north and Lovran to the south. Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph I built the Lungomare. For this reason, it is also called the Franz Joseph I Promenade.
You can spend hours strolling the Lungomare. And we did. It is lined with trees and overlooks picturesque scenery. There are many stairways that lead down to landings close to the water. They are great places to sunbathe and take photos.
If you’re a fan of the elegant architecture of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, as Steve and I are, Opatija has you covered. The town is full of beautiful buildings for you to admire. Many of them are painted in pastels.
Villa Angiolina, the building that started it all is home to the Croatian Museum of Tourism. As of this writing, it is temporarily closed.
The Gardens and Parks
Besides ogling architecture, we love spending time in gardens. We enjoyed two in Opatija: the American Gardens and Angiolina Park.
Angiolina Park is a heavily-treed garden with over 100 species of plants next to Villa Angiolina. There is a large floral display in front of the villa. To the north of it, you can wander several paths past shrubs, trees, large rock formations, and a few statues.
The American Gardens are inland and, therefore, a bit uphill. These terraced formal gardens overlook Kvarner Gulf. In addition to a wide variety of flowering plants, including roses and camellias, there is a row of weeping mulberry trees at the bottom of the gardens. They were loaded with delicious berries when we visited. The top of the gardens features an eye-catching row of cypress trees behind stone columns.
You may wonder why it is called the American Gardens. In the 1920s, a Hungarian merchant made a fortune selling paprika in the Americas. He built the gardens to honor his wife, an Opatija native.
Even More to See and Do
The Open Air Theater is next to Park Angiolina. It wasn’t open when we visited, but if you visit in the summer, you can catch a show or movie there.
The Wall of Fame is also next to Park Angiolina. It features portraits of famous people from Opatija and people who have visited the town. You can see images of Franz Joseph I, Albert Einstein, Robert DeNiro, Isadore Duncan (the only woman), and Kirk Douglas, among others. There is an empty space, so you, too, can show that you have been to Opatija.
Park Margarita is another park where you can stroll among trees and shrubs. Steve and I passed by the entrance of this park but didn’t venture inside.
Getting there – If you have a car, you can drive to Opatija. However, parking may be a problem. We took a bus and, as always, used getbybus.com to plan and book our trip.
Getting around – Opatija is small enough that you can walk everywhere. You will have to deal with hills as you move away from the seafront, though. The local buses are easy to use and can even take you to nearby towns. You can buy tickets at Tisak stands, but beware that they only sell round-trip tickets.
Restaurants – Since we were only there for two nights, we didn’t get to try many restaurants. However, the ones we ate at were very good.
Restoran Ruzmarin was number one on our hotel’s list of recommended restaurants, with good reason. We had a wonderful lunch there and tried truffles for the first time.
Restoran Roko and Pizzaria Roko are next door to each other and were also high on the list our hotel provided. We had pizza from them one night, which was pretty good.
We discovered Restoran Mali Raj as we walked south along the Lungomare. It was an excellent place to stop for a seafood lunch or dinner. The restaurant is connected to the Boutique Hotel Mali Raj in the small town of Icici and overlooks the gulf. It is about half an hour’s walk from the center of Opatija if you don’t stop to take photos every ten steps.
Here are other restaurants recommended by Hotel Mozart:
Veloce by Roko (fast food) Bistro Yacht Club Restoran Molo Restoran Bevanda Restoran Istranka Antica Osteria da Ugo
Hotels – We stayed at Hotel Mozart. It is listed as a 5-star hotel, but despite its charms, it is more like a 3-star hotel. The air conditioning in this 129-year-old building wasn’t working when we arrived, and we were not informed of this. I was ready to leave right then, but Steve asked for a discount, and we decided to stay the night. It was an uncomfortable night.
The next morning, the manager offered us the second night free, so we stayed. Thanks to it being a cooler night and with the aid of a cheap fan, we slept great. Wouldn’t you know, the air conditioning came on as we were checking out!
Hotel Mozart had a lot going for it: excellent staff, a delicious breakfast, and cool décor. We had a deluxe room with a sea-view balcony. We chose it for the location and reasonable price. If you are thinking of staying there, you might want to check on the air conditioning before you book.
Here are some other sea-view hotels to consider, although we don’t have first-hand knowledge of them:
Hotel Miramar is a four-star hotel located in the 147-year-old Villa Neptune. That’s it in the photo at the top of this post. It has a spa, indoor and outdoor pools, and a private garden.
The Grand Hotel Adriatic was the one I picked when it looked like we might move from Hotel Mozart. It is a modern four-star hotel. This one has an adults-only spa and wellness center (check out the photos, it looks incredible), an indoor pool, and an outdoor infinity pool. As we walked passed the outdoor pool one day, loud music was playing. If that’s not your thing when relaxing by the pool, this hotel may not be your best choice. It is gorgeous, though.
Like the Grand Hotel Adriatic, the Hotel Admiral–Liburnia is in a modern building. It is also a 4-star hotel with spa services, an indoor pool, and a seasonal outdoor pool overlooking the gulf. As we passed the outdoor pool, we noticed it was peaceful.
Staying in Opatija can be costly compared to other Balkan towns. The biggest expense will be your hotel, particularly if you want to be seaside. Our hotel was $157 per night and included breakfast. The cost of lodging increases significantly during the summer months.
A sit-down lunch or dinner for two with drinks was around $50. We also enjoyed take-out food while sitting on our balcony.
To give your budget a break, try the bakery chain Mlinar, which is a good place to grab a light bite.
For a do-it-yourself meal, there are two Konzum supermarkets on Ulica Marsala Tita, the street closest to the waterfront.
Until Next Time
Steve and I loved our short stay in Opatija. If you find yourself anywhere near the Kvarner Gulf, check it out. We think you’ll fall in love with it, too.
If you’ve been there, drop a comment below and let us know what you thought of it. And please consider sharing this post on social media. Just use the buttons at the top of the post.
Are you planning on visiting Prague, the city of 100 spires? If so, this post is for you. Even if you are not planning to visit this beautiful Czech city, it may inspire you to add it to your bucket list.
There are two things every visitor to Prague does. One is to brave the crowds on the Charles Bridge while admiring the statues that line both sides.
So what should you do after you’ve seen these two staples of every Prague visitor’s itinerary? Here is a list of ten more interesting things to do in Prague.
A Little Background
Steve and I spent ten nights in May 2022 in Prague. For the first five nights, we stayed in District 1 at the Grand Majestic Hotel. We then moved to the Don Giovanni Hotel in District 3 because its elegant decor seduced me.
We had good stays in both hotels, but in hindsight, it would have been better to stay in District 1 the entire time. From the Grand Majestic Hotel, we could walk to most of the things we wanted to see, there were plenty of restaurants just a few minutes away, and the Palladium Mall was just around the corner.
The uniqueness of the Don Giovanni Hotel didn’t offset the time we had to spend on public transportation, and the area right around the hotel lacked supermarket and restaurant options. Lastly, the food at the Grand Majestic was better.
The Old Jewish Cemetery is the most chaotic-looking cemetery I have seen. The site is small and holds remains of the dead from 1439 – 1787.
Because of the lack of space, dirt was added on top of existing burial sites, and gravestones were added on the top layer to commemorate those buried in the lower layers. In some places, the graves are ten layers deep.
The original Maisel Synagogue was a Renaissance temple founded by the Mayor of the Prague Jewish Town, Mordecai Maisel. It was built in 1592 in what was then the Jewish ghetto, where it thrived for a century.
In 1689, it was severely damaged by fire and was rebuilt several times over the next two centuries.
The Neo-Gothic synagogue you see today is the result of a reconstruction that took place at the turn of the 20th century.
During World War II, the synagogue served as a warehouse for property confiscated from the synagogues and Jewish homes.
The synagogue has an extensive collection of religious and everyday items. One of the items we saw was the Golem of Prague. You can read about its significance in Jewish folklore here.
To visit the Maisel Synagogue, you must purchase a ticket for the Jewish Museum (as described above).
Now let’s move on to a more light-hearted subject, the Petrin Tower.
If the Petrin Tower reminds you of the Eiffel Tower, that’s because it was inspired by it. Like the Eiffel Tower, the Petrin Tower was built for a world exhibition. In this case, it was the Jubilee Exhibition of 1891.
At 63.5 meters (208 feet), the tower is about one-fifth the size of the Eiffel Tower. You can climb the 299 stairs to the top and take in the majesty of Prague.
This is a small museum showcasing items related to the Soviet Secret Service. You will either love this museum, hate it, or run screaming from it.
Steve and I visited this museum and were dumbfounded by the presentation. After a short film, our guide, a Soviet native, talked about several items in the museum. He seemed particularly delighted while demonstrating the weapons, complete with ghastly sound effects, thrashing, and grotesque facial expressions.
At one point, I noticed stairs leading to a basement. Right then, I decided I was out of there if our guide suggested we go downstairs. But alas, the entire tour was on the main floor, and Steve and I were relieved to have escaped unharmed. However, we fear our entry fee may be funding a serial killer.
The price of 16 euro seemed high for the size of the museum, but I guarantee, if you dare to enter, you will be entertained.
The Gallery of Steel Figures is one of those places you come across that has nothing to do with the place you are visiting but turns out to be pretty cool.
This gallery is full of sculptures made from scrap metal. To give you an idea of how intricate these are, a car sculpture can take up to 7,000 hours to complete. There is a wide variety of subject matter, from cars to cartoon characters, from animals to famous people. There is something for everyone.
Vrtba Garden is an Italian Style Baroque garden on the slope of Petrin Hill. It is small, but it packs a large punch.
Because of its location, the garden has several levels. The stairways are punctuated with statuary, adding to the elegance.
The garden is part of the Vrtbovsky Palace, the 18th-century home of Jan Josef, Earl of Vrtba. The garden took five years to establish, from 1715-1720.
Fast forward to the 1990s. The garden was in such disrepair that entry was forbidden. Luckily for us garden lovers, it was renovated from 1993-1998.
As you enter the garden, you will pass through Sala Terrena, an entrance hall linking the palace to the garden. The walls and ceiling of the Sala Terrena are covered with frescos, and it also has a few statues.
The garden is open from April to October and has a small admission charge.
The garden is at Karmelitska 25. It can be hard to find the entrance. Look for a small archway and signs that read “Vrtbovska Zahrada.”
Click here to read a helpful guide to the garden by Delve Into Europe.
Even though it is only three kilometers (about one and a half miles) from Prague Castle, Vysehrad Castle is a world apart. Here you can stroll through a park-like setting without dodging other tourists.
This riverside fortress is believed to have been built in the 10th century. In addition to walking along the fortress walls, you can see the Basilica of St. Peter and Paul, enjoy the park with its statues, or enjoy a drink or a meal. You can also tour the underground casements that aided troop movement in the 17th and 18th centuries.
If you enjoy exploring cemeteries as much as Steve and I do, don’t miss the Vysehrad Cemetery. Many Czechs from the arts, sciences, and politics are buried here, including the composer Antonin Dvorak.
Seeing a shiny, giant rotating head may not top your list of interesting things to do in Prague, but then again, you may find Franz Kafka’s Head as entertaining as we did.
The sculpture is 11 meters (36 feet) tall, weighs 45 tons, and has 42 rotating panels. You can see it rotating twice per hour from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.
But the question has to be asked; what does this sculpture represent? Perhaps it represents the tortured soul of an artist, the complexity of Kafka’s personality, or the impermanence of life. Is it specific to Kafka, or is it a representation of everyman? Since the artist isn’t telling, it is up to each of us to decide what it means.
If you still haven’t gotten your fill of cemeteries, check out Olsany Cemetery. The cemetery was established in 1680 to provide a final resting place for victims of the plague.
It is the largest cemetery in the city. It contains twelve sections, including the New Jewish Cemetery, the largest Jewish cemetery in the Czech Republic. There are Muslim and Orthodox sections, as well as a military section that includes the graves of British and Soviet soldiers.
Last but not least, don’t miss the Troja Chateau. Of all the memorable things Steve and I did in Prague, this was my favorite.
Even though this 17th-century chateau is outside the city center, it is well worth the trip. You can easily reach it by bus, and you will also be near the Prague Zoo and the Botanical Garden of Prague.
The chateau was built for the Sternberg family, members of the Czech aristocracy. Its Baroque design was inspired by French and Italian architecture and incorporated mythology into the building and the gardens.
The chateau has been owned by the Czech government since 1922.
The walls and ceilings in the chateau are covered with ornate frescos. There is so much to see that it is hard to know where to look first.
Leave time to explore the grounds and get some photos on the grand staircase.
What It Cost
Dates: May 14, 2022 to May 24, 2022 Number of nights: 10 Total cost for two people: $2,300 Cost per day for two people: $230
Do you love a challenge? Steve and I do, so when we first learned about the Dales Way, we were excited. It seemed like the perfect adventure for us. We planned our walk for June 2020, but the pandemic put our trip on hold for two years. In July 2022, Steve and I finally got to walk the Dales Way.
We spent ten days in northern England and walked on eight of them. We will never forget the beauty of the Yorkshire Dales and the challenge of doing our first long-distance walk.
Read more to discover what the Dales Way is all about, our experiences, and where to find practical information for your Dales Way walk.
Note – all money is in U.S. dollars unless otherwise noted.
About The Dales Way
What is The Dales Way?
The Dales Way is an 81-mile* (130 km) walk in the Yorkshire Dales and the Lake District of England. It runs north and south from Ilkley, West Yorkshire, to Bowness-On-Windermere, Cumbria. It is an easy to moderate walk that follows several waterways and takes you over the rolling hills of the dales. It passes through many farms (more on that later) and several villages and hamlets.
*The length of the walk varies depending on the source. I have seen everything from 78 miles to 83 miles. However, the signs at the beginning and end of the walk say 81 miles.
Facts about the Dales Way
Signs along the Dales Way
The first Dales Way walk was in 1969.
The Dales Way was created by the Ramblers Association, specifically the West Riding Ramblers led by Tom Wilcock and Colin Speakman. The Ramblers Association is a British charity that works to protect and expand the places people go walking. You can read more about the birth of the Dales Way here.
According to Colin Speakman in this 2019 article, about 4,000 people walk the Dales Way every year and spend an average of £1,000 ($1,200).
A fair part of the walk is on paved roads, particularly near towns and villages.
The path goes through two national parks, the Yorkshire Dales National Park and the Lake District National Park.
It is possible but challenging to complete the walk in four days. A more reasonable number of days is six to eight. We chose to do the walk in eight days, with a rest day after the fifth day.
England and Wales have a right to roam. This gives walkers the legal right to travel over mountains, moorland, heath, downland, and common land without having to stay on paths. Even so, some farmers post signs requesting walkers to remain on the trail or run a fence along the trail to keep walkers in one area.
Despite more than a century of effort, the right to roam didn’t become law until 2000. It then took five years after it became law before the practicalities were worked out and it was put into practice. Here is the history behind the right to roam.
The Romance and The Reality
Imagine doing nothing for days but walking through a serene landscape, then spending the evening at a country inn where you share a few pints with other walkers and enjoy some well-earned sustenance and slumber.
This is how I imagined our walk would be. And it was, to a point.
A few scenes from our Dales Way walk
It really is this beautiful, but there are a few things you should know.
You will see endless expanses of greenery and mile upon mile of stone wall. But much of your time will be spent looking down, first to avoid a turned ankle or worse on the uneven terrain and second to avoid the ever-present animal waste.
Because that is what none of the Dales Way walkers mention in their articles. There is sheep, cattle, and horse dung everywhere. Obviously, it is in the fields. It is also on the roads. If you are lucky like Steve, you will be congested and not smell it very much.
You will see enough sheep to last you a lifetime.
You will open and close far too many gates.
You will also climb many stiles. While we found them all doable, they weren’t always easy. Sometimes there was a large distance between steps or a very narrow opening.
Steve climbing one of many stiles
A Surprising Risk
Walking is a low-risk endeavor, but it is not risk free. If you develop a medical emergency on the trail, there may not be a way to summons help (cell service was spotty), and it may be a long time until help arrives.
However, the most surprising risk was one we didn’t learn about until we were on the trail. That is the danger of being killed by a cow.
Our first cow experience was early in our walk. We entered the grounds of one farm and started following the riverside path. We could see many cattle gathered along the river and on the path. We approached them slowly, and one cow started walking toward us. We turned and slowly walked away from her.
She headed back to the group, but the cows remained on the path, so we decided to take a detour. We walked towards the road, only to find the fence along the road was topped with barbed wire. We saw a gate without barbed wire on top, but it was locked. So we did the next best thing, we climbed over it.
This detour set us back a little, but we found out we had made a wise choice when we met some hikers who told us about the risk of being killed by a cow.
On average, cows kill five people in the U.K. every year. As you would expect, cows protecting their young are particularly dangerous. Farm workers are at the greatest risk, but walkers have been crushed or trampled by cows as well.
A more pricey option is to book your lodging directly and either carry all your gear or have what you don’t need on the trail moved from lodging to lodging by a service.
The easiest but most expensive way is to use a tour company to make arrangements for you.
Since this was our first long-distance walk, we used a tour company. There are several companies from which to choose. We chose Mickledore, a company that specializes in self-guided walking and cycling holidays in the U.K. We were happy with them.
Their services included arranging nightly lodging with breakfast, providing packed lunches, arranging daily transportation of our luggage, and providing maps, an itinerary, and a guidebook.
Sherpa Van is another popular service. They offer baggage transfers and accommodation bookings. We did not use them, so I cannot make a recommendation, but you can see their services and prices here.
If you use a tour company, you will still have to make plans for each night’s dinner. Mickledore advised us to make reservations in advance to be sure we had a place to eat each night.
Like Simon and Erin, we are not experienced hikers, yet something about this idea stuck with us. I think it was a combination of the uniqueness and the challenge, along with the assurance that it would be doable for two retirees in relatively good shape but far from athletic.
What We Loved
The peaceful, easy feeling – When all you have to do all day is place one foot in front of the other while soaking in the beautiful scenery, stress becomes a distant memory.
Meeting the best people – Whether they are fellow walkers, B&B staff, or random folks on the road, you will not find kinder, friendlier, more helpful people than the folks who live in northern England.
Seeing no chain hotels or restaurants – We did not see one Ramada or McDonald’s during our walk. Every place we stayed and every restaurant we ate at appeared to be a locally owned business.
Our first stay during our walk – the Riverside Hotel in Ilkley, England
The Shepherds Cottage Luxury B&B – Most of our accommodations were basic, 2 or 3-star rooms. They were more than adequate, but when we reached the town of Ribblehead and walked into our room at Shepherds Cottage Luxury B&B, we were blown away.
Our room at Shepherds Cottage. I doubt many shepherds had it this good.
Talking with Tony – Another great stay was at the Lakeland Hills B&B in Burneside. The lodging is in Tony’s house, so it was a different experience than at the previous B&Bs. The room and food were top-notch, but the best part was talking with Tony over breakfast.
What We Didn’t Love
The poop – Even so, we managed to keep it off our boots all but one day.
The trains – We spent a few days in Manchester before heading to Ilkley by train. Our train to Ilkley was canceled, and the replacement only went part way. Once we arrived at that stop, we had to grab a random worker at the small station to find out which train to take next. We did not see a ticket office.
On the way back to Manchester, the direct ride was changed to two trains after the journey had started.
The trains themselves were fine. Hopefully, England’s train travel issues will be straightened out soon.
The cost – It’s no secret that the U.K. is expensive.
The narrow roads – At least I didn’t like them. Far too often, we would walk on a road that was only wide enough for one car. When the road had vegetation or stone walls on both sides, there was very little room when cars passed. Even worse, the drivers seldom slowed down.
One of the narrow roads
Record heat – England was experiencing a record-breaking heatwave on our first day of walking. Luckily it was a short 6 miles (10 km). The temperature reached 100 degrees F (38 C) in the afternoon. Fortunately, the heatwave was short-lived, and the temperatures were normal for the rest of our walk.
Lost guidebook – Mickledore provided a fantastic guidebook complete with hand-drawn maps. We found it very helpful the first day, but not so much after that since we lost it on day one! Mickledore mailed a replacement, but no one was at our B&B to sign for it, so we never got it.
Getting lost, a lot – We missed quite a few signs, adding miles to our journey.
Our Strangest Experience – Screaming Maggie
We had a strange experience at one B&B. We arrived about 30 minutes before check-in. We didn’t see anyone around, so we sat on a stone wall (is there any other kind in Yorkshire?) to wait. A few minutes later, a man came by and called into the house, “Maggie, your guests are here.”
Maggie was recovering from surgery and let us know she did not like being disturbed. She complained that we were early. This was so different than the hospitality we previously found in Northern England.
But that wasn’t the weird part. The owner, Jim, came back shortly, and while we were settling into our room, we could hear Maggie haranguing Jim over his lack of concern for her. She was yelling, swearing, and slamming doors!
There were two more tirades that afternoon, including one while Jim was ironing towels as Maggie sat nearby and complained. After all this, we didn’t see or hear her anymore. We still wonder why the screaming stopped.
Beside that, our stay was satisfactory. Jim never mentioned these incidents and did all he could to be a good host.
What It Cost Us
This experience was a budget buster. The total cost was $4,200 and breaks down like this:
Cost in USD
Flight to Manchester
Trains and buses
Mickledore fee - rooms, breakfasts, lunches, map, book, intinerary for 8 walking days
Mickledore - two extra nights with breakfast
Lunches where not provided and drinks
A few notes about our costs:
Several weeks before our trip, we booked an EasyJet flight from Budapest to Manchester for just over $200 for both of us. Shortly after we booked it, the flight was canceled. The replacement flight with Ryanair was almost $600.
Since we travel full-time, I only include the transportation cost of getting somewhere in the cost of visiting that location. Therefore, I am including only the cost to fly to England here but not the cost to fly out.
Our train trip from Manchester to Ilkley cost $70. When we bought tickets to return to Manchester at the end of the walk, it was only $24. The price can vary greatly depending on what time you choose to ride. I have also heard that buying tickets well in advance will save you quite a bit of cash.
We chose to eat dinner at nice places. This cost could certainly be lower.
I did not include the cost of supplies since this varies greatly. Many people will already have most or all of the items they need for this walk.
What We Would Do Differently
Truly waterproof boots – Steve and I thought our boots were waterproof, but a few minutes of walking over wet fields proved otherwise. We both wore Columbia boots. I had mine for several years, had worn them in the snow with no problem, and gave them an extra coating of waterproofing before our hike. Even so, they leaked. Steve’s were new Columbia waterproof boots, and they leaked too.
We noticed that many walkers had the same problem. Since my boots are ready to be replaced, I will be looking at the waterproof ratings closely.
Skip packed lunches – we paid $160 to have a packed lunch each walking day. This generally included a sandwich, some cookies, other packaged snacks, and an apple. We had a good breakfast each morning and found that we did not eat much on the trail. If we book future walks through a service, we will forgo the lunches and pack a few snacks.
Study the maps more – Steve had studied the maps before our walk and spent a lot of time annotating the guidebook, but I believed that the signposts would be adequate. They weren’t. Much of the trail is well marked, but the section between the two national parks is not. It is also easy to miss a signpost.
Secure maps and guidebook – When you’re tired and hot like we were after our first day of walking, it is easy to lose things. One of our party, who shall remain nameless, didn’t realize they had dropped our guidebook until a few hours later. We returned to the site the next morning, but we didn’t find it.
Skip the rest day – We weren’t sure how our senior bodies would react to days and days of walking, so we planned a rest day in the middle of our hike. This turned out to be unnecessary since the walk was not strenuous. We stayed in the charming town of Dent and ironically ended up hiking up a hill after we were told there was a fantastic view from the top. We never got to the top because we weren’t wearing the proper footwear to walk on the stone-covered path.
Skipping the rest day would have saved us $200 on lodging and $85 on meals.
Why wouldn’t you go for a hike on your rest day?
Book the extra night at the end directly – We had decided to spend an extra night in Bowness-on-Windermere at the end of our walk. We booked that night through Mickledore for $200. Our room was on the top floor, so it was fun carrying our suitcases up four flights. It was cute but small and certainly not worth $200 per night.
Steve and I each had a pair of hiking poles but ended up only using one each. Many people walk the Dales Way without poles, but we found them helpful for navigating muddy and rocky inclines. We also used them to steady ourselves when climbing over stiles.
Steve with his hiking hat and pole
Rain gear, including a backpack cover, is necessary. After all, you can’t get emerald fields without rain. Luckily we only had light rain. Steve used a $6 poncho that kept him and his backpack dry, even if it did make him look like Quasimodo. I wore my Eddie Bauer rain jacket with hood and used a backpack cover, which also worked fine.
It is advisable to bring cash. We were able to pay for everything with a credit card, but if you run into a problem, you won’t find ATMs around every corner.
The same goes for supplies. Steve grabbed his poncho at Black’s in Manchester, but when we tried to find a shop along the Dales Way to replace our guidebook, the store had closed at 4 p.m. And since many of the villages along the Dales Way are tiny, there are a limited number of stores.
The Final Verdict
Despite the poop, the cows, and the countless stiles, Steve and I loved this experience and plan to do more long-distance walks. We basked in breathtaking beauty, met incredible people, and saw a lifestyle that defies the twenty-first century.
At the end of our walk
Hedgemeister had it easy.
Have you walked the Dales Way? If so, Steve and I would love to hear about your experiences. Drop us a message in the comments section below.
Are you thinking of visiting Budapest? Go for it. This Hungarian city in Central Europe is chock full of beauty and history.
Steve and I arrived in Budapest in March 2020 for a four-week stay. Because of the pandemic, we ended up staying for more than two years. During this time, we have explored every corner of the city and are happy to be able to share what you need to know when visiting Budapest.
I have highlighted the main tips and shared a few top tips. Be sure to read to the end for a bonus tip. You can thank me later.
Layout of the City
1. The Danube River divides the city into two sides: Buda and Pest. The west side is Buda. The east side is Pest.
2. Buda is hilly. Pest is flat.
3. Pest is the touristy, party side. Buda is the quiet, stately side. As a tourist, you will probably stay in Pest.
4. The two sides weren’t connected until 1849, when the iconic Chain Bridge was built.
5. The Chain Bridge is currently closed for renovation. The work is expected to be completed in August 2023.
6. There are 23 districts in Budapest.
7. Street signs are plentiful. They usually have the district on the sign. This sign tells us that it is district 9. Utca means street.
8. During the first Covid lockdown, Steve and I often commented on how clean the streets and sidewalks were. We thought it was because there were so few people out. Once the lockdown ended, we were happy to see that the streets were still very clean. Street sweeping machines and people sweeping and washing the sidewalks are common sights.
9. Tourism in Budapest has grown steadily over the last decade. According to Statistica.com, the annual number of tourists doubled from 2.3 million in 2009 to 4.6 million in 2019.
10. Most stores, restaurants, and attractions will be closed during holidays. These are the holidays that are celebrated in Hungary:
New Year’s Day
Memorial Day of the 1848 Revolution
Date varies - a Friday in late March or early April
Date varies - a Sunday in late March or early April
Date varies - a Monday in late March or early April
Date varies - a Sunday in late May or early June
Date varies - a Monday in late May or early June
State Foundation Day
1956 Revolution Memorial Day
All Saint’s Day
2nd Day of Christmas
11. Easter weekend can be especially challenging since most stores and many restaurants are closed on Good Friday, Easter Sunday, and Easter Monday. As you would expect, the stores are especially crowded on the Thursday before the weekend and the Saturday in the middle.
12. Dates are written with the day, then the month, then the year. So Christmas Day, 2019, would be written 25/12/2019.
13. Names are written last name first. When they are translated into English, the first name is first. So I am Gerbec Linda in Hungarian.
14. When a woman got married, traditionally, she not only took her husband’s last name, but she also changed her first name to his with “ne” added to the end. So a woman marrying a man named Istvan would become Istvanne. Modern women generally keep their own first name and may keep their maiden name if they wish.
15. Hungary is in the European Union (EU) and the Schengen Area. Visitors from the U.S. can spend up to 90 days out of 180 in the Schengen area, so you could spend up to 90 days in Hungary without procuring a special visa, providing you do not visit any other Schengen area country for the subsequent 90 days. Citizens of all other countries should be sure they understand the visa rules for their country.
16. Even though Hungary is in the EU, it does not use Euro. The official currency of Hungary is the forint (HUF).
17. Some stores accept Euro and you might even see a sign telling you the exchange rate.
18. Paper bills start at 500 forints and go to 20,000 forints. Coins range from 5 forints to 200 forints.
19. It can be disconcerting when you first use forints because of the large numbers. In addition, commas are used where Americans use periods, and periods are used where we use commas. So a charge of 18.000,00 would equal about US$50.
20. As of this writing, 1 USD = 367 forints. 1 Euro = 394 forints
21. ATMs are readily available, but you may want to try a few to get the best one for you. As a holder of a U.S. bank account, I found the Sopron Bank ATM at Bajcsy-Zsilinszky útca 12 was the best deal.
22. A standard restaurant tip is 10-15%. However, a service charge is often added to the bill, so you should check before calculating your tip. If there is a service charge, it will usually vary from 10-12.5%. We often tip a little extra directly to the server, which should be handed to him, not left on the table.
23. Credit cards are widely accepted, but it is wise to carry some forints.
24. The value-added tax, which is similar to sales tax, is 27%. This is the highest in the world.
25. The official language of Hungary is Hungarian (Magyar).
26. The Hungarian alphabet has 44 letters, including 14 vowels.
27. Some letters have more than one character. Seven letters have two characters, and one has three characters.
28. Each letter only has one sound, so once you learn each letter’s pronunciation, you can easily pronounce words. Here is a fun video on how to pronounce the letters of the Hungarian alphabet.
29. The letter sounds may not be what you think. For example, the letter S has the sound SH in Hungarian. So Budapest becomes Budapesht, and the grocery chain Spar is pronounced Shpar.
30. Hungarian is one of the hardest languages to learn for native English speakers. This is because the syntax is different, and often words that are separate in English get added to the end of the subject word.
31. English is widely spoken in businesses that cater to tourists. It is not so widely spoken in other places. We have found that most younger Hungarians are fluent in English, but older people are not since they grew up during Soviet rule when learning Russian was compulsory.
32. English translations are prevalent on public transportation and in museums and other tourist attractions. The translations are better than many of those we have found in other countries.
33. Here are some words that can help you while you are in Hungary courtesy of MyEnglishTeacher.eu. We use Hello – Jó napot! [yo nah-pot], Thank you – Köszönöm [koh-soh-nohm], and You’re welcome – Szívesen [see-ve-shan] the most.
The Public Transportation System
34. Budapest is easy to get around. There is an extensive metro, tram, and bus system, and it is also a very walkable city.
35. We found the transportation system easy to use and very clean.
36. The transportation system is run by BKK. Here is their website.
37. The metro, tram, and bus systems within the city all use the same ticket. They are easy to buy at machines found at many stops. As of this writing, an individual ticket is 330 ft (less than US$1), but you can lower the cost to 300 ft per ticket by buying a group of ten.
38. A part of Metro Line 3 is currently under renovation and being replaced by buses. It is expected to be completed in March 2023.
39. There is a bus that runs between the airport and the city center (Deák Ferenc tér). It is easy to use and takes a special ticket. Here is more information on that bus.
40. Be sure to validate your ticket. Here is the BKK information on how to validate your ticket.
41. Top Tip
If you take nothing else away from this article, be sure to hold onto your ticket until you’re completely off the vehicle or out of the metro station. It is common for ticket checkers to screen passengers in the metro stations. The charge for traveling without a ticket is 8,000 ft. (about US$22) if you pay on the spot. It doubles if you can not pay immediately.
Three Cool Things About the Transportation System
42. Metro Line 1 was the first underground in mainland Europe and has been in constant operation since 1896. It consists of only 11 stops.
43. You can take a funicular up the hill to Buda Castle and the Castle District. The Budapest Castle Hill Funicular (Budavári Sikló) is a 150-year-old funicular railway that will take you from Adam Clark Square at the end of the Buda side of the Chain Bridge up to the Buda Castle and back down again. It requires a special ticket. Learn more about it here.
44. There is also a chairlift run by BKK. This takes you up to János Hill and back down. János Hill is the home of the Elizabeth Lookout tower. It also has hiking trails, and the Children’s Railway runs through it. Like the funicular, this requires a special ticket. Here is the chairlift information.
Other Ways to Get Around
45. There are currently three e-scooter companies operating in the city: Lime Bike, Bird, and Tier. We have only used Lime Bike, and it works great. It is all done via an app, and it is the best sharing app we have tried so far. The scooters are easy to find and in good condition. After my second e-scooter accident, I gave up riding them. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t enjoy them. You can read about that experience here.
Taxi’s and Ride Sharing
46. Uber is not allowed to operate in Hungary.
47. There are plenty of taxis, but it is often suggested that you should either hire one through a hotel or negotiate the price before you get in. They have been known to rip off tourists.
48. I have noticed a taxi service called Bolt on Google Maps but have not tried it.
49. The MOL Bubi Budapest bike-share system works well. You can find bikes all over the city. You will need to register on their app before you ride.
50. Most streets have crosswalks painted on them. If there is no traffic light, all you have to do is step off the curb, and traffic is required to stop. Still look both ways; bikes and scooters don’t always stop.
51. If there is a traffic light, obey the walk/don’t walk signs.
52. While it is common for traffic in many cities to stop if a pedestrian sets foot in a crosswalk, in Budapest, many cars stop even if you are still on the curb.
53. Cross bike lanes like you cross a street. Look both ways.
54. Top Tip
Be extra careful on the sidewalks. Scooters, bikes, and even motor scooters and motorcycles often ride on them. The worst part is that you seldom get a warning when one of the riders wants to pass you. It is best to walk like you drive; look over your shoulder before moving to the left or right.
55. If you are looking for a local SIM card, the three main providers are Telekom, Yettel (formerly Telenor), and Vodafone. We used Vodafone when we first got to Budapest, but their customer service was horrible: it was not uncommon to wait for an hour or more to talk to a clerk at the store. We switched to Telekom, which has been great.
56. The European emergency number is 112. The operators speak English, which I learned when I had to call after getting stuck in an elevator in Bulgaria.
Food (and Water)
57. The tap water in Hungary is safe to drink.
58. Langos are huge slabs of fried dough with toppings. Some of the most popular toppings are sour cream and cheese or Nutella.
59. As someone from the U.S. who grew up with goulash made from ground beef and macaroni, I was surprised to learn that Hungarian goulash is traditionally served as a soup. We have seen it served on a plate in a few places.
60. Paprika is popular in Hungary. You will see it everywhere. Chicken paprikash makes good use of it. Steve cooks this delectable version.
61. You will also see (and smell) chimney cakes. Chimney cakes are made with a sweet dough that is wrapped around a cylinder and baked. The dough can be coated with different things like cinnamon or walnuts, and they can be eaten empty or filled with any combination of ice cream, whipped cream, or Nutella.
62. Bags are not provided at grocery stores. You can either buy them at check out or bring your own.
63. Groceries will not be bagged either. Most grocery stores have an area where you should bag your groceries. Simply put them back in the cart or basket as they are rung up, and move to the counter to bag them.
64. Pharmacies are indicated by a green cross. In addition to prescription medicine, you buy over-the-counter medicine here, too.
65. Over-the-counter medicines (OTC) are sold in small quantities and are pricey compared to what you can buy in the U.S. As of this writing, 20 200mg Advil capsules cost over $7.00. It is best to bring any OTC medicines you may need.
66. Drug stores, such as Rossmann and DM, sell toiletries, household cleaners, and personal care items.
Unique Things to See and Do
67. Budapest has 123 thermal springs, some of which feed the city’s thermal baths. Here is information about six of the baths along with tips for your visit.
68. The most well-known bath complex in Budapest is the century-old Szechenyi Baths. A bright yellow neo-baroque building surrounds the outdoor pools.
69. Another iconic bath complex is the Gellert Baths. Along with the companion Gellert Hotel, the baths are closed for renovation.
70. For something more modern, consider Aquaworld. You can visit their waterpark for the day or stay in the attached hotel and enjoy both the waterpark and the hotel’s wellness center. As our six visits will attest, we love Aquaworld. You can read more about it here.
71. Top Tip
Make sure that in addition to your swimsuit and towel, you bring flip flops, the kind made of a rubbery material, not street shoes.
72. Ruin bars were originally underground bars set up in abandoned or decaying buildings. The bars were decorated with cheap, free, or even discarded furniture and novelties, eclecticism in the extreme. You don’t need to be a partier to enjoy them, as they are now open for lunches and dinners. Read Nomadic Matt’s take on ruin bars here.
Kolodko Mini Statues
73. The mini statues are the work of a sculptor named Mihály Kolodko. Some of the statues were commissioned, but others were placed around the city Banksy style by Kolodko. Some are whimsical, some are historical, and some are social commentary. There are Kolodko statues in a few other cities, but Budapest has the most. Read more about them here.
A Few More Things
74. Hopefully, you will not need medical care while visiting Budapest, but if you do, I recommend FirstMed. The entire staff speaks English, and they provide excellent medical care.
75. If you need to print something, here are two good print shops: In District VII: Hi Res Digit(All) Wesselényi utca 16 https://www.digit-all.hu
For a fabulous breakfast, stop in at Cirkusz Cafe. They serve breakfast and brunch from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. everyday. Be warned, the lines can get long in the morning, so if you are interested in breakfast, it is best to get there early.
Steve and I took a five-night trip to Szeged, Hungary, in March. One of the reasons was to visit the thermal baths at Sunshine Aquapolis Szeged, which are connected to the Hunguest Hotel Forrás. We also wanted to see the Art Nouveau buildings that grace the city after it was rebuilt following a devastating flood in 1879.
Read on to learn more about the city and the best things to do in Szeged.
Szeged is 109 miles (176 km) southeast of Budapest near the borders of Serbia and Romania.
Szeged can be reached by train from Budapest in less than two and a half hours.
Szeged is the third-largest city in Hungary behind Budapest and Debrecen.
The Tizsa River divides the city into two parts, the western side, referred to as Szeged, and the eastern side, referred to as New Szeged.
It is easy to get around the city on foot or by public transportation.
Szeged is home to the University of Szeged, one of the most distinguished universities in Hungary.
Szeged is referred to as the city of sunshine.
English was spoken almost everywhere we went.
For an in-depth look at all things travel in Szeged, check out this site.
Szeged’s Unique History
Szeged has been inhabited since ancient times and was first mentioned in a royal charter from 1183. As you would expect, it saw many battles and many changes. But the event that makes this city unique could have wiped it out.
In 1879, most of the city was destroyed by a flood. Reconstruction during the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries has led to a city of relatively modern architecture.
What to Do in Szeged
1. Marvel at the Architecture
During the decades when the city was being rebuilt after the flood, the Art Nouveau style was popular, so Szeged has many lovely buildings in this style.
Since our first full day in the city was a Monday, and many attractions were closed, we did a walking tour. Despite the cold and a few snow flurries, we managed to see quite a few stunning buildings. Here are a few highlights:
The Bridge of Sighs was modeled after the one in Venice. It connects City Hall and the House of Labor.
Detail on the facade of the Beregi Palace
2. Visit the Votive Church
The Votive Church overlooks Dóm Square. This Roman Catholic cathedral is the fourth largest in Hungary. Construction began in 1913, but because of WWI, it wasn’t completed until 1930.
Before you enter the church, you will be captivated by its beauty and abundance of decoration. The exterior is sparkling clean, which you can’t say about all the architectural gems in Szeged.
Detail on the front of the Votive Church
More details on the exterior of the church
After you finish marveling at the exterior beauty, you can have a look around the inside of the cathedral.
After that, visit the tower and exhibition. The entrance to these is in front of the Church and underground. There is a small fee for each thing you choose to do.
We climbed the tower, but frankly, the city was not lovely from up high. Perhaps because of the time of year.
We spent quite a while in the exhibition hall. It is the most spacious exhibition hall we have seen, and everything is well marked in Hungarian and English. Whether or not you are religious, if you appreciate beautiful things, this is a worthwhile exhibit.
3. Tour the New Synagogue
Hands down, this was the best thing we saw in Szeged. The synagogue is breathtaking. If you visit, be sure to download the Jewish Heritage Szeged app. It is very well done.
Unlike the Votive Church, there aren’t separate activities in the synagogue. Most of the things to see are on the first floor, but there is so much beauty and so much history (thanks to the app) that a visit to the New Synagogue may end up being one of your favorite things to do in Szeged.
The interior of the New Synagogue
A trio of windows in the synagogue; you can learn about their meanings from the app
4. Get Your Art Fix at Reök Palace
Built in 1907, Reök Palace was originally an apartment building. Now it is the Regional Arts Center. The building is large, but the art center fills only part of it.
A corner view of Reök Palace
I was so excited to visit the center and see the exhibits showcased on their website, including an Art Nouveau exhibit and a Dali exhibit. Unfortunately, both of these exhibits had already closed, which was not obvious on their website.
The two exhibits we saw, Dante’s Universe and Digital Testimonials, were interesting enough, but I left disappointed. Hopefully, the art center will update its website and be clearer about the dates of exhibits.
Architectural details on the Reök Palace
5. Stroll Through the National Pantheon
Like the Votive Church, the National Pantheon is in Dóm Square. Sculptures of famous Hungarians fill three covered walkways.
One of the three sides of the Pantheon
If you are not from this part of the world (or a Hungarian history scholar), most of the names probably won’t mean much to you. The attraction here is the individuality of the memorials.
Some of the unique memorials in the Pantheon
6. Stop by the Mora Ferenc Museum
We didn’t visit this museum; the siren call of the baths was too strong.
The museum offers ethnography, natural history, and fine art exhibitions related to Szeged and the surrounding area. Be sure to check the website before you visit. As of this writing, several exhibits were closed for renovations.
The front of the Mora Ferenc Museum (photo by Szilas on Wikimedia Commons)
Where We Stayed
We spent five nights at the Hunguest Hotel Forrás. The hotel is on the east side of the River Tisza, but just a short walk or bus ride to the center of town on the west side.
We chose it because, as regular readers know, we love the thermal baths. The hotel is next door to the Sunshine Aquapolis Szeged, which you can access through an enclosed walkway.
Overall, we enjoyed our stay, which included half board. Both breakfast and dinner were buffets, and the food was pretty good. As we’ve found throughout Hungary, the hotel staff was cordial and helpful, although it did take three requests before Steve got the correct size robe.
The silent wellness area; yes, it is as relaxing as it looks
What It Cost
Dates: March 6, 2022 to March 11, 2022 Number of days: 5 Total cost for 2: $886 Cost per day for 2: $177
Our costs included a massage for $50.
Our transportation costs were $90, which was high because we bought our outbound train tickets online and paid way too much.
Is Szeged Worth Visiting?
I can’t imagine Szeged topping anyone’s list of must-see cities, but if you are in the area, it can be worth a quick look.
If you’ve been to Szeged, Steve and I would love to know what you thought of it and if you discovered any treasures I haven’t included here. Just head to the comment section below.
If you are lucky enough to visit Budapest, you will be treated to many architectural delights. And if you look at the buildings closely, you can discover unexpected and unique architectural ornaments.
Steve and I spent the two years of the pandemic in Budapest, so I have had a lot of time to explore the city. In this post, I share some of my favorite architectural ornaments.
The building at Régi posta utca 15 has four mythological reliefs. This one shows Leda, the Queen of Sparta, being seduced by Zeus in the form of a swan.
On the same building, you can see the gods Mercury and Bacchus, and the goddess and muse of dance and chorus, Terpsichore.
A trio of musical angels hang out on a 130-year-old building at Báthory utca 20.
I love this charming relief on the building at Dalszínház utca 9, and I want to know the story behind it.
Check out these endearing reliefs at Váci utca 66. The building originally belonged to the Serbian Orthodox Parish. The reliefs represent the four seasons and qualities such as joy and jealousy.
These are a few of the details on the Liszt Ferenc Academy of Music at Liszt Ferenc tér 8, a stunning art nouveau building. You can see more of it, inside and out, here.
As you can imagine, the Matthias Church at Szentháromság tér 2 is full of imagery. These two fellows caught our eye.
The hunting scene on one of the buildings on Szarvas tér added a little bit of color.
This relief at Vadász utca 38-40 takes you back to a more elegant time.
A walk down Fortuna ucta in the Castle District is a delightful change of pace. Here the buildings are simpler and painted in pastel colors. Visit this shepherd and his friend at Fortuna utca 25.
Here is one of the many detailed reliefs on the Shuttleworth House at Bajcsy-Zsilinszky utca 63. You can see more of the intricate facade here.
Say hello to these two sailors when you pass by Havas utca 1-3. Even though Hungary is landlocked, the country does have a navy. Hungary’s navy is river-based on the Danube River.
I was surprised to see these decorations on the building at the corner of Tompa utca and Ferenc körút. I believe the figure on the left in the middle relief is Mercury. If you know the story behind these reliefs, please share.
How can you not love this lion on the image-rich building at Jókai utca 42?
Can you ever have too many naked babies on your buildings? These cuties delight passersby at Váci utca 16.
How is this for a fancy facade? This is the Stein Palace at Andrássy utca 1.
Ten statues circle the building at Deák Ferenc utca 16. It is currently home to Ritz Carlton Budapest, but was originally the office of the Adriatic Insurance Company. The statues circling the building represent the different types of insurance the company offered.
Aren’t these balconies at Nádor utca 32 incredible?
I call this the Centerfold Building because the reclining man on top reminds me of the famous Burt Reynolds photo in Cosmo. You can see this sexy guy at Bajcsy-Zsilinszky út 21.
What a fun and fitting statue at the entrance to the Szechenyi Baths at Állatkerti krt. 12.
Other Cool Decorations
Two griffins on an intricately carved door, or is it a Gryffindor? Either way, you can admire it at Gyulai Pál utca 11.
If you have to have window grates, you might as well make them unique. These are on the Ministry of Education and Culture building at Szemere utca 12.
These angels watch over an apartment building at Váci utca 6.
Detailed frescoes on the apartment building at Rákóczi utca 7 are just two of the many decorations on this neo-Gothic gem with Moorish influences.
This door handle is the only indoor item in this post. It is in the Museum of Fine Arts at Dózsa György út 41.
Don’t forget to look down to see even more marvels. These three maintenance hole covers and the floor plaque (clockwise from upper left) are at Andrássy utca 22, Kristóf tér 2, the Árkád Mall, and Deák Ferenc utca 13.
These are only of few of the delightful decorations you can find when exploring Budapest. Steve and I would love to hear what you think of them. Have you seen any of them? Do you have favorites that are not in this post? Let us know in the comments section.
I hope you had a wonderful holiday season and are ready to start the new year. Like me, I’m sure you are hoping that 2022 will bring an end to the pandemic and a return to normal.
Despite an increase in Covid cases, our December was remarkable. That is because our daughters, Stephanie and Laura, visited us in Budapest for two weeks. We hadn’t seen them in almost two years!
Off to a Stressful Start
We all knew that traveling during the pandemic would be more stressful than usual. During the weeks leading up to the trip, we spent many hours reviewing plans. Despite our diligence, the journey from Orlando to Budapest was taxing.
The girls’ flight left Orlando Wednesday afternoon on December 1st. Both had had PCR tests, but by Wednesday morning, only Steph had her results. Rather than stress until the last minute, Laura had a rapid PCR test done. Of course, it came at a cost; $175.
Armed with the correct paperwork, Steph and Laura flew from Orlando to Atlanta and then to Paris. We knew the connection in Paris would be tight. What we didn’t expect was a double whammy. The plane arrived in Paris on time but had issues with disembarkation. Even so, there was hope. However, the flight from Paris to Budapest was moved up by twenty minutes at the last moment. The next flight was in the mid-afternoon, but it was full. They had to wait twelve hours for a flight to Budapest.
They checked into a lounge and were able to relax a bit. Then we started worrying about Steph’s PCR test. It would be more than 72 hours old when she arrived in Budapest. Laura was okay since she had done the rapid PCR test Wednesday morning.
Since a PCR test within 72 hours of arrival was one of the conditions for entering Budapest, she set out to get a rapid PCR test in the Charles De Gaulle airport. There were no rapid PCR tests to be found, so she had an antigen test done. At this point, we were not sure that an antigen test would be acceptable, but it was the best we had.
It was a miserable day for all of us. I am not an anxious person, but I spent the day with my stomach in knots worrying about whether Steph would be allowed to board the plane with the antigen test, and if so, would it be enough to allow her to enter Hungary?
Instead of greeting them at the airport around noon on December 2nd, we welcomed them just before midnight. I didn’t relax until I saw them come through the doors in arrival.
Just to keep things interesting, the U.S. tightened the rules for entry effective December 6th. All arrivals, regardless of vaccine status, will need a negative test within 24 hours. The good news is that it does not need to be a PCR test; an antigen test will do.
A Brief Rant
I understand that the pandemic has made everything harder, and of course, the airline industry has been greatly impacted. However, our experiences with Delta and their partner, Air France, left a bad taste in our mouths.
Delta scheduled the flights, including one with a layover of less than two hours in Paris. Their representative assured me that the layover time was more than adequate. And that may have been so if the arriving plane did not disembark late and the departing plane did not leave twenty minutes early.
According to Steph and Laura, the Air France gate attendant was unhelpful and uncaring. I imagine he is tired of the stress and constant rule changes caused by the pandemic, but his job is to help passengers.
Cold Weather and Warm Hugs
The daytime temperatures were in the low to mid-thirties with a bite in the air. We did as much sightseeing as we could handle in the cold and made up for it with a lot of family meals.
Steph and Laura stocking up on winter wear
Laura was hoping to see snow, but except for a light dusting which melted quickly, it was not to be.
Early morning snowfall
We watched our favorite holiday movie, Christmas Vacation. How does it manage to get funnier each time we watch it? We also enjoyed The Last Holiday with Queen Latifah. This is not a Christmas movie per se, but it does take place at Christmas time. Much of the action occurs at the Grandhotel Pupp, a functioning luxury hotel in Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic. The hotel’s over-the-top luxury isn’t as costly as you might think.
Even though we didn’t get to all the activities we had planned, we were able to share some of our favorite places with our girls.
We made several visits to two of the Christmas markets in the city, the one in Vörösmarty Square and the one in front of St. Stephen’s Basilica. Both were extremely crowded, especially around the food vendors. There were a lot of beautiful items for sale, but the prices seemed high.
A colorful booth at the market
The markets, as well as the baths, required proof of Covid vaccination. We had heard conflicting information on the acceptance of the CDC cards, so we were pleased that the CDC cards were accepted everywhere.
As our regular readers know, Steve and I love the baths and have visited them often, but this was our first time in cold weather. We went to the epic Szechenyi Baths. We all decided that we prefer the outdoor pools to the indoor ones. Of course, that meant hurrying between pools in 35 degrees F (2 degrees C) weather.
Steve and Steph in hot water
Fisherman’s Bastion, Buda Castle, and the Labyrinth
No trip to Budapest is complete without seeing the fanciful Fisherman’s Bastion. We bundled up against the cold to see it and Buda Castle. In between, we toured the Labyrinth, one of many tunnels beneath the city.
Lots of Good Food
Steve and I couldn’t wait to share some of our favorite restaurants with Steph and Laura. We went to Kiskakukk and Hungarian Hell’s Kitchen (also known as Nagy Fa-Tál Konyhája) for lunch and Spinoza for dinner. All feature traditional Hungarian fare.
We also got ourselves up early to enjoy breakfast a Circusz. This place is so popular if you are not there early, you will most likely be waiting in line. As always, the food was fantastic.
The dining highlight was the Advent brunch at Lang Bistro and Grill in the Hilton Hotel. The selection was huge, and each item was delectable. We had a view of the Danube River and the Hungarian Parliament.
Aquaworld (Of Course)
We had to share one of our favorite Hungarian places with Steph and Laura. We spent two nights at Aquaworld. I think they loved it as much as we do.
Museum of Sweets and Selfies
Perhaps the most fun we had was at the two Museum of Sweets and Selfies locations.
Just a few of our photos from the two Museum of Sweets and Selfies locations
Ervin Szabó Library
We split up one day. Steph and I went to the National Gallery (primarily Hungarian art) and the Cave Church. Steve and Laura climbed to the top of St. Stephen’s Basilica and went to the Ervin Szabó Library.
At the library, Steve and Laura expected to see elegant neo-baroque rooms filled with students. Instead, they found empty but still elegant rooms. The library is being used to film part of an Emma Stone movie, Poor Things. Even though it was closed, the guard let Steve and Laura look around.
A room in the library before the furniture was removed for filming
Budapest is a popular place for filming. It often stands in for other cities. When Steve and I watched the series Homeland, we were delighted to recognize several Budapest locations, including the New York Palace Hotel. In that case, the city was a stand-in for Moscow.
Despite the travel stresses and cold weather, we all agreed that the most important thing was spending time together. As always, we enjoyed chatting and laughing with each other.
A Christmas Surprise
Our landlord, Bé, and his partner Marcel set up Christmas decorations for us and brought wine and jam. We already knew Bé was a fantastic landlord, but this was above and beyond.
Riding Out the Winter
After a busy fall, it looks like Steve and I will be lying low (again) for the next few months. Perhaps we will take a few short spa vacations, but mostly we will be planning and praying for travel to open up in the spring.
We are still hoping to do the 10-day U.K. hike we had booked two years ago, and visit some countries close to Hungary like Austria and Slovenia.
Meanwhile, I am keeping busy working on this blog, studying Italian on Duolingo, and starting a Coursera course called Hacking Exercise for Health. I’m also looking forward to getting back to a gym. Wait, did I just write that? Who am I? Seriously, I have been pretty good about doing simple workouts at home, but I miss the treadmill and rowing machine.
Until Next Time
Steve and I wish you all a healthy, prosperous, and joy-filled 2022. Drop us a line or two in the comments section and tell us about your plans for 2022.
Hi there! I hope this finds you well as we enter the last month of 2021.
If you are a regular reader, you know that Steve and I enjoyed a summer full of activity, including visiting many baths and taking several side trips from our current home base in Budapest. Then November arrived.
Not only did November bring colder weather, but it also brought an uptick in Covid cases and the Omicron variant. So instead of exploring, we spent most of the month planning for our daughters’ December visit, celebrating Thanksgiving, and dealing with the unglamorous side of full-time travel.
But before I share those details, I want to introduce our new buddy, Hedgemeister.
Hi, I’m Hedgemeister
He is a stuffed hedgehog who will be accompanying us on future adventures. He is our third hedgehog buddy, and like the first two, he loves beer and has a sassy side.
A Scavenger Hunt and a Feast
This was our fourth Thanksgiving out of the U.S., but the first one we chose to celebrate. There are quite a few places to have Thanksgiving dinner in Budapest, but they are all in the evening. We prefer to have our dinner mid-day, so we decided to eat at home.
Not only did this mean a delectable feast, but it also meant we got to go on a scavenger hunt as we looked for turkey, cranberries, and gravy. None of these are popular in Hungary, so we had to pay top dollar, but it was worth it.
Steve ordered the turkey from a butcher at the Lehel Market. Not only did they forget to fill the order, causing him to wait a few hours, but we paid a ridiculous $3.50 per pound.
We found cranberries and gravy at Taste the World. As with all imported food, they came at a jaw-dropping cost: $5.00 per item.
A girl has to have her cranberries
At less than $2.00 per bottle, at least the wine was inexpensive
Two Vaccines Down, One to Go
We got our annual flu vaccines early in the month and our Covid booster a few weeks later.
The Hungarian government had a week-long vaccine campaign mainly providing boosters but offering first and second shots to the unvaccinated as well. It was so successful that they extended it for a second week. It was efficient, and we got to choose among five vaccines.
The last thing on our list is the tick vaccine. It protects against tick-borne encephalitis and requires three shots. There is no currently available vaccine to protect against Lyme disease.
All is Merry and Bright
After a low-key holiday season last year, it was great to see more Christmas decorations popping up around the city.
Dressed up Budapest
The Christmas markets opened mid-month, although you need proof of Covid vaccination to enter them. There are plenty of vendors selling Christmas items outside of the markets as well.
A Lot of Drugery
Every so often, a bunch of “stuff” needs attention. This month was full of those things:
We replaced our SIM card provider. We had been using Vodafone, which has been becoming less reliable by the day. And the staff at the stores is obviously frustrated. We said so long to them and switched to Telekom.
Both of us had eye exams at FirstMed, a great place for your medical needs. The exams went swimmingly. I then ordered my contact lens through Vision Express, and it took one month for them to arrive.
My iPad battery had to be replaced. That meant two whole days without it.
How I felt without my iPad
Planning continued for Stephanie and Laura’s trip. Steve and I can’t wait to see our girls. It’s been almost two years. As excited as we are, we all have felt the stress of planning an overseas trip during a pandemic. Our biggest concern is if the girls’ CDC documents will be accepted at venues restricting access to vaccinated people.
Yes, folks, this is the not-so-glamorous side of full-time travel. The daily tasks and frustrations may be less, but they still exist and are being done in a foreign country in a language you probably don’t understand.
And a Little Fun
We did manage to have some fun. I spent an afternoon at the Gellert Baths, we revisited the Hungarian National Museum (history), and we had several meals out, including all-you-can-eat chicken wings at Hoff House.
Hedgemeister’s first taste of chicken wings was a big success
Steve and Hedgemeister enjoying a new restaurant, Trattoria Cardinale
This Month’s Media
Even though travel is limited right now, you can enjoy learning about cool new places. One such place is Budapest’s Margaret Island. This tiny island in the Danube River is a delightful place to explore.
I’ve been reading The Return: A Novel by Victoria Hislop. It is the story of Spain’s civil war (1936-1939) which resulted in dictator Francisco Franco ruling the country for the next 36 years.
I did not know much about this war before reading this book, and it has inspired me to learn more. In true historical fiction fashion, it frames history in personal narratives and paints memorable pictures.
Deep divides between political ideologies fueled extreme violence. To make matters worse, the Catholic church’s supported Franco’s far-right coalition. I couldn’t help noticing the similarities between this story and the political climate in the U.S. right now.
I also recommend The Island, a novel by the same author about a leper colony on the Greek island of Crete during the first half of the 1900s and several mainland families’ connections to it.
Until Next Time
I wish each of you a wonderful December filled with joy, love, and good health.
When Steve and I arrived in Budapest, our driver suggested we visit Margaret Island. The way she described it did not make us want to head right over there. This view was reinforced the first time Steve and I visited the island.
We had been walking for close to an hour when we reached the southern entrance of the island. For several minutes we walked along a crowded sidewalk, thinking, “Is this it?” We were tired, so we turned around and went home. It turns out that you need to walk for four or five minutes before you are really in the park if you enter from the southern end.
We tried another day, and I am glad we did. Who knew one little island could hold so much?
I am excited to share many of the cool things to do on Margaret Island, starting from the southern end and working up to the northern tip.
A Brief Intro to the Island
Where is Margaret Island Located?
Margaret Island sits in the Danube River between Districts II and III on the Buda side of the city and District XIII on the Pest side. The long, narrow island covers an area of less than 1 square kilometer (less than half a square mile), but there is a lot packed into that space.
You can access the island from the Margaret Bridge on the southern end or from the Árpád Bridge on the northern end. Since most people will enter it from the south, which is closer to the city center, I will list the points of interest from south to north.
The points of interest on Margaret Island – the Margaret Bridge is on the far left
Why is it called Margaret Island?
The island owes its name to Saint Margaret. She was the daughter of King Béla IV, who ruled in the 13th century. King Béla was forced off his land in Buda by the Tatars. While in exile in Dalmatia, he promised his next child to God if he could get his kingdom back.
As luck would have it, he was able to return to Buda and rebuild his kingdom. His next child was a daughter named Margaret (Margit in Hungarian). He kept his promise and sent her to live with Dominican nuns when she was three or four years old. A few years later, King Béla had a Dominican convent built on what was then called Rabbit Island so Margaret could be closer to her parents. She moved to that convent when she was nine years old and lived there until her death at twenty-eight. Here is more information about Margaret’s interesting and tragic life.
The Main Attractions
The Centenary Monument (#18 in blue)
The Centenary Monument was erected in 1972 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the creation of Budapest by unifying the cities of Obuda, Buda, and Pest in 1873.
You can see the monument in the featured photo. This monument looks simple, but get up close and look inside. You will see reliefs of the main events in Hungarian history for those 100 years.
One small part of the inside of the Centenary Monument
Musical Fountain (#12 in red)
Just past the Centenary Monument, you will see a large fountain. There are hourly musical shows in the warm weather. Even when there is no music, this is a popular place to relax.
Here is the website for the fountain shows. It is in Hungarian, but it is easy to understand the schedule.
The Musical Fountain
Franciscan monastery ruins (#17 in blue)
As you head up the main road, you will come across the ruins of a 13th-century Franciscan church and monastery. There isn’t much left, but it is a great place for a few photos.
The front of the Franciscan monastery ruins
Palantinus Baths (#1 in light blue)
There are several baths in Budapest. What makes Palatinus different is that it is more of a swim park complete with slides. It is also less costly than the well-known Szechenyi or Gellert baths.
The clouds did not detract from the fun
Rose Garden (#9 in red)
Across the road from the Palatinus Baths is a large rose garden. It is a sight to behold when the roses are in bloom. But don’t despair; even if you visit when they aren’t in bloom, the island is full of vegetation.
Dominican Convent Ruins (#16 in blue)
Head toward the Pest side of the island and slightly left, and you will find the ruins of a 13th-century Dominican convent. Margaret spent most of her life here.
There is much more to see here than at the Franciscan monastery ruins.
Part of the convent ruins
Water Tower (#8 in red)
Just a little way ahead and toward the center of the island is the water tower. It was built over 100 years ago in the Art Nouveau style. If you’re feeling ambitious, you can climb its 152 steps to the top.
A word of warning: unless you are looking for some exercise, you should skip climbing the tower. There isn’t much to see when you reach the top. You get much better views of the city from Gellért Hill and Fishermans’ Bastion.
The water tower with an open-air theater at the bottom
Japanese Garden (#7 in red)
The island can be teeming with activity yet still be tranquil. One of the best places for tranquility is in the Margaret Island Japanese Garden. It is close to the northern end of the island.
The garden is small but holds several delights. Don’t miss the lily pond with the Little Mermaid of Budapest statue.
In the Japanese Garden
Other Things to See and Do
There is even more to see on this marvelous island. As above, the items are listed from south to north except the running track, which encircles the island.
Runners can enjoy the beauty of the island and views of the Buda and Pest shores while running around the island on a 3.2 mile (5.3 km) rubberized track. Learn more about this run here.
Mini Zoo (#10 in red)
This is truly a mini zoo, but the animals are sure to delight the little ones.
Premonstratensian Church (#14 in blue)
This Romanesque church originally dated back to the 12th century and was reconstructed in 1931.
Its bell is from the 15th century and had been lost. It was found buried in 1914 when a storm knocked down a tree. Monks most likely buried it during the Turkish invasion in the 16th century.
The Premonstratensian church
Musical Well (#6 in red)
Not to be confused with the musical fountain on the southern end. This well is a replica of the first musical well ever built.
The musical well on Margaret Island
Getting To and Around Margaret Island
It’s easy to get to the southern entrance on tram number 4 or 6. Both stop in the middle of the Margaret Bridge. You can also take bus number 26. It is the only public transportation that goes onto the island. These are just two of the many options. You can find the best route for you on Google Maps.
You can only drive onto the island from the north end, and only to go to the parking lots for the hotels, but there are several ways to explore it:
Walking – This is my favorite since the island isn’t that big.
Bikes – You can rent a bike on the island, although the hours are limited. Another option is to use MOL Bubi Budapest. This bike-share system works well. You can find bikes all over the city, and there are several places to return them on Margaret Island. You will need to register beforehand.
E-Scooters – Three companies have e-scooters available in Budapest, Lime Bike, Bird, and Tier. I have only used Lime Bike. Its app worked well, but I have sworn off e-scooters after having two accidents that were both my fault. You can read about them in “Beware the E-Scooters.”
If you want to try e-scooters, check out the various apps. There are restrictions on where you can leave them.
Fun and funky rentals – There are several vendors near the southern end of the island who rent bikes, scooters, and peddle cars. You can find them around the circle that contains the Centenary Monument.
Train – this cute train might be just the ticket if you are with young children.
The train is waiting for you at the Centenary Monument
As you can see, there is a lot of history and much to see and do on Margaret Island. There are also two hotels and a hostel on the island, as well as places to eat, playgrounds, workout stations, and public restrooms scattered about.
Until Next Time
I hope this post has inspired you to explore Margaret Island. Or perhaps it brought back memories of a past visit. Either way, Steve and I would love to hear your impressions of Margaret Island.
Can you believe it’s November already? This year is flying by. I can’t decide if that is a good thing or a bad thing.
Steve and I stayed busy in October, but this month all our activities were close to home. The most exciting thing that happened this month is that we began making arrangements for our daughters, Stephanie and Laura, to visit us in December. We are hoping the pandemic doesn’t mess up our plans.
The number of new cases is still low in Hungary but continues to increase. We are keeping a close eye on it. We’ve noticed more people wearing masks again.
Read on to see what we did, saw, and learned in October.
Dohány Street Synagogue
We started the month visiting a place that has been on our radar since we got to Budapest a year and a half ago. We toured the Dohány Street Synagogue. It had been closed to tours until recently. You can see part of the front of the synagogue in our featured photo.
This beautiful synagogue is the largest in Europe. The largest synagogue in the world is the Belz Great Synagogue in Jerusalem.
Here are a few facts about the Dohány Street Synagogue:
It was built in the Morrish Revival style.
It seats 3,000 people.
A smaller temple called Heroes Temple is used for winter services to avoid heating the large synagogue.
This is the only synagogue in the world with a cemetery on its grounds. There are over 2,000 Jews buried here. They are people who died in the ghetto during WWII and remained unburied when the ghetto was liberated.
There is a Hungarian Jewish Museum connected to the synagogue.
The synagogue is on Dohány Street, which translates to the unromantic Tobacco Street.
According to our tour guide, the synagogue is more ornate than most and has similarities to Catholic churches. This was done intentionally because the Jews who settled in Budapest wanted to assimilate. They wanted to show that they weren’t that different.
Inside the synagogue
There is a large statue of a weeping willow on the grounds. It is called the Emanuel Tree. The tree was installed in 1991 and paid for by the American actor Tony Curtis in memory of his Hungarian-born father, Emanuel Schwartz.
The tree is a memorial to Hungarian Jews killed during the Holocaust. Many of their names are engraved on the leaves.
The Emanuel Tree and engraved leaves
The synagogue grounds also contain several memorials to both Jews and non-Jews who helped save Jews during the Holocaust.
Budapest is teeming with beautiful buildings, but one of the most exquisite is difficult to appreciate from the street because other buildings closely surround it.
To get a good view of the Royal Postal Savings Bank Building, you need to go to the Hotel President, which is right across the street. Once there, you go to the roof-top restaurant Intermezzo to enjoy the building’s beauty and have a 360-degree view of Budapest.
This building is now the Hungarian State Treasury.
The Royal Postal Savings Bank Building
A Klezmer Show
We finally got to see the Klezmer show at the Spinoza Restaurant. The restaurant had been closed throughout the pandemic and just reopened.
Klezmer music is a tradition of the Ashkenazi Jews of Eastern and Central Europe. Even though we couldn’t understand the words, much of the music was instrumental, and most of it was lively. It was a great way to experience a little of the local culture.
A night of local culture
Steve got to spend several hours ogling cars, trains, and other wheeled contraptions at the Oldtimer Show held in the 10 acre Hungarian Railway History Park. I was in a Zoom meeting and missed it.
And other things with wheels
The Budapest Retro Interactive Museum
This is a new museum in the city that showcases life in Socialist Hungary. The displays are primarily from the 1970s and 1980s. There are a lot of hands-on exhibits and plenty of English translations. You can even use an old phone to hear jokes like this one:
Three men, a Brit, a Frenchman, and a Russian, are looking at a painting of Adam and Eve.
The Brit says, “look how reserved they are. They must be British.”
The Frenchman says, “Nonsense. They are beautiful. They must be French.”
The Russian finally chimes in. “They are Russian,” he says. “They have no clothes, no shelter, and only an apple to eat, yet they are told they are in paradise.”
Steve and I visited a similar museum in Varna, Bulgaria, a few years ago. The Retro Museum in Varna also showcases life under Socialism but is much larger and covers all the decades of Soviet control. Hopefully, the Budapest museum will do well and grow. Find out more on their website.
Photo of Leonid Brezhnev and Eric Honecker (East German politician)
Art Market Budapest
We also spent several hours contemplating contemporary art at an international art fair. It was held in The Whale (Bálna), a modern building with shops, restaurants, and convention space. I don’t know how Hungarians feel about this building, but I wouldn’t be surprised if not everyone appreciates its style.
The Whale on the Pest side of the Danube River
Inside The Whale
A Covid-inspired interpretation of The Girl With the Pearl Earring by Johannes Vermeer – this one by Naomi Devil
A vibrant painting by Omar Mendoza
Another Trip to Aquaworld
I apologize if you are getting sick of hearing about this place. This was our third three-night visit to Aquaworld, thanks to their “buy two nights, get one free” deal.
Since the swim season is over, it was a different experience than our first visit in July. There were fewer people, and some of the pools and saunas were closed because of the cool weather and decreased demand. But there was more than enough to keep us happy. We loved luxuriating in the warm pools while the air was 45 degrees F.
The view from our room, lovely any time of year
We also paid a visit to a third bath in the city. Rudas Baths aren’t as well-known as Szechenyi or Gellert Baths. However, Rudas Baths have the longest history. Its octagon-shaped Turkish bath dates back to 1550! Unfortunately, photos of the original pool aren’t allowed.
The baths have more modern features, too, including a roof-top pool overlooking the Danube River.
Rooftop bathing at Rudas Baths
One of several Zsolnay tile fountains in the baths
Loving City Living
Having spent six decades as a suburbanite, I’ve discovered that I love city living. Yes, it can be noisy and crowded, but that’s a small price to pay for the vast array of attractions at our disposal. I love that we don’t need a car and can walk to the grocery store in just a few minutes.
I also love that events occur constantly. One morning we went out for breakfast. As we headed home, we ran across an art display featuring animals. Here are two of them:
It isn’t every day you see a bull made out of beer cans
Or a shiny silver bear
Another day, we watched thousands of people fill the streets in our neighborhood to celebrate the Memorial Day of the 1956 Revolution. The president gave a speech, which we couldn’t understand, but we loved watching the crowds from our apartment.
As Steve says, “These are the best seats in the house.”
It is interesting to see how clean the residents keep the city. When the crowds cleared, the was almost no garbage on the streets. Soon afterward, street cleaning machines were doing their job. This is quite a contrast to the mess left behind in Buenos Aires after a day of protests.
No litter and streets being washed after political rally
This Month’s Media
In between our activities, I managed to publish three blog posts:
I also enjoyed another Dan Brown novel. Origin is the story of a scientist who discovers the answers to the questions “where did we come from” and “where are we going?” His discovery threatens the world’s religions.
Once again, Brown made locations come to life. He did a fantastic job describing the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao in Bilbao, Spain, and wrote a little about several Budapest locations, including the Dohány Street Synagogue.
The book also has Winston, a helpful AI creation with a personality. But my favorite part of the book was how the main character, Edmond Kirsch, logically examines religious beliefs. It discusses how throughout history, humans have invented gods to fill in the gaps in their understanding of the world.
The story also includes the Palmarian Catholic Church, a Catholic church that does not recognize any popes after Paul VI as Catholic and has its own “popes.” Some describe it as a cult.
Is this great literature? No. It is a thriller that teaches you and makes you think if you let it.
Until Next Time
Steve and I hope you had a great October. Drop us a comment to let us know what you’ve been up to or suggest some good TV viewing; we are desperate.
Are you planning a ski vacation this winter? Are you trying to get the most for your money? If so, you may be considering the Bulgarian ski resort of Bansko.
Steve and I chose Bansko for our January 2020 ski trip because of the low cost of accommodations and skiing and the fact that we wouldn’t need a car.
In this post, I will tell you what we loved about skiing in Bansko and what we didn’t. Even though our experience was negative, I must stress that we love visiting Bulgaria. In addition to Bansko, we’ve enjoyed visiting Sofia, Plovdiv, and the Black Sea Coast and have met wonderful people there.
Understanding the Bansko Resort
Ski-in, ski-out is not an option since there are no accommodations near the lifts. So before you can hit the slopes, you need to get up the mountain to the lifts. There are four ways to do this: by gondola, shuttle bus, driving yourself, or taxi. Most people take the 3.9-mile (6.3 km) gondola ride.
You have the option of getting off the Gondola in two places, but most people go to the second stop.
When you are ready to call it a day, you can return to town by gondola or vehicle, or you can ski back on Ski Road #1.
Bansko has 30 miles (48 km) of slopes and 14 lifts, including two 6-seat chairlifts. There are several places to eat throughout the resort.
Morning on the slopes
Learn more about skiing in Bansko on their website here or access the ski map.
All money is in U.S. Dollars.
What Is Good About Skiing In Bansko
You can walk practically anywhere
This charming town is compact, but if you need a vehicle, taxis are readily available.
You can’t beat the cost
Our daily lift ticket was $38. Ski rental, including a helmet, was $30 per day. We rented from Traventuria. The current cost for a lift pass, skis, poles, and boots for an adult is $123 for two days (their shortest package).
We each had an hour-long private lesson at about $70 each.
Lodging is also a bargain. We booked an Airbnb for three weeks for less than $900.
As you can see in the photo above, the gondolas are in great shape. The lifts were also in great shape, and the runs were well-groomed.
What Wasn’t Good About Skiing In Bansko
Unfortunately, there was a lot we didn’t know about skiing in Bansko. If we had known these things, we would have looked for another place to ski.
As a disclaimer, all my previous skiing had been on the East Coast of the U.S. on small mountains. It may be that what I found in Bansko is common in Europe. Either way, these are the things that made the experience less than ideal:
Getting on the gondola is a hassle
If you choose to take the gondola up the mountain, you will have a few challenges. You have to go up a long set of stairs to get to the loading area. Not easy to do in ski boots.
The line is orderly until you get to the top of the stairs and try to get into a gondola car. At this point, it becomes a contact sport.
Getting on the lifts is also a hassle
The rudeness continues at the entrances to the lifts. There are no lines, only surging crowds. To make matters worse, the entrances to the lifts are raised, so everyone is trying to move up and into a slot while being pushed and crowded.
As I was trying to get on one lift, I found that I couldn’t move one of my skis. It was so crowded that someone behind me had his ski over mine.
Safety isn’t a priority
I did not see any information on ski conditions. The only way to see the conditions is to go up the mountain. This led to a serious accident for Steve. We started down the Ski Road on what should have been an easy run. Suddenly I was speeding down an ice-covered slope. It took all my skiing skills to stay upright until I reached the bottom.
Steve was not so lucky. He fell on that ice and fractured his pelvis. You can read about his horrific hospital stay in our post “Hospitalized in Bulgaria.”
Several people stopped to help Steve and put up skis to warn other skiers. However, an instructor was skiing backward and ran into Steve. And he didn’t even apologize.
As Steve’s accident showed, there is no warning of dangerous conditions, and runs were kept open even when they had a lot of ice.
The slopes are overcrowded
I went skiing another day, and between the ice and the large number of inexperienced skiers, I felt unsafe and cut it short. Bansko is very popular with new skiers from Europe and the U.K. partly because of the low cost. That means the slopes get very crowded.
Getting a lift pass is inefficient
The last thing that was frustrating was how lift passes were handled. The company I rented from only sold passes for two or more consecutive days. SInce I was only planning to ski one day, I was told to buy one at the bottom of the gondola station.
The gondola starts running at 8:30 a.m. The ticket booth also opens at 8:30, so by the time the ticket booth opens, the line can get very long.
But that isn’t inefficient enough. A sign said they accept VISA, so I chose to pay that way. The clerk rang up my purchase, and I paid. Then she asked if I had cash for the deposit on the lift card. I did, but it was tucked away in my money belt under several layers of clothes. During this, the line to get on the gondola was growing longer. Why they don’t charge it all at once is beyond me.
My intention isn’t to hate on Bansko skiing but to give you information that can help you decide if this is a good choice for you.
Bansko is a charming town worth visiting any time of year, whether or not you choose to ski there.
A few scenes from Bansko
Steve has skied his last slope. I, however, intend to try again this winter. I will be considering the availability and quality of medical care near the resort.
We would love to hear about your experiences skiing Bansko and welcome any suggestions about ski resorts that don’t require you to have a car.
Stay safe and healthy, Linda
Our featured photo shows the ski mountain in Bansko.
One and a half years into this pandemic, and it’s still wreaking havoc with lives. Like everyone else, Steve and I can’t wait for our lives to return to normal. Still, we respect how dangerous Covid is and how it is overwhelming healthcare systems, so we will continue to be cautious as long as necessary.
Early in the month, Steve and I talked about how the number of Covid cases was low in Hungary, and maybe it was time to venture into nearby countries. We considered a trip to Vienna, Austria but discovered that their Covid numbers were higher than Hungary’s. So we now have a new travel rule: don’t go to places with higher rates of active Covid cases than the place you are. So we will limit our travel to Hungarian towns for now.
At the start of September, there were less than 200 new cases per day. By month-end, that number has tripled.
Gellert Spa and Bath
Our love affair with thermal baths continues.
Hotel Gellért has graced the bank of the Danube River in Budapest with its Art Nouveau elegance for over 100 years. It is on the Buda side of the city at the foot of the Liberty Bridge.
The hotel is connected to the Gellért Spa, a well-known Budapest attraction. You can visit the spa even if you aren’t a guest at the hotel. I had read some reviews that said that the baths need renovation. Despite those reviews, I wanted to visit it to see the décor, so Steve and I checked it out. I was not disappointed.
Yes, things could have been better. The fountains were empty, and the wave machine was not working. Mineral deposits hung from the statues in the thermal pools, and a few statues were missing. Even so, you can’t deny its glamour.
According to this article by CGTN, the spa was slated for renovation, but the loss of revenues because of the pandemic has put that in question.
The main outside attraction is the wave pool, which is currently being used as a swimming pool. It is surrounded by decorative tiles, statues, and plants and overlooked by a large terrace. Chaise lounges fill the multi-level patio. There is also a rather boring-looking thermal bath too, as well as a Finnish sauna and tub.
The GellértSpa wave pool and patio
The grandeur continues inside with a swimming pool and several thermal baths. A steam room, massages, beauty treatments, and medical spa services are available.
I loved the balcony with lounge chairs and a retractable roof overlooking the indoor pool. For someone who loves to read by a pool and does not want too much sun, this was perfect.
The indoor pool and balconies
Return to Aquaworld
Steve and I enjoyed our July visit to Aquaworld Resort Budapest so much we decided to make another three-night visit. Since school has resumed in Hungary, it was less crowded than last time.
Even though there were fewer people, there were a lot of families with small children. The complex is large enough that you can always find a quiet place, but the overtired kids made for some noisy meal times. Since it is a resort with a waterpark, that is to be expected.
We hung out in the pools and thermal baths until we were waterlogged, drying off only to eat and sleep. Breakfast and dinner were included, and the food was fabulous.
The indoor lap pool and hanging bridge at Aquaworld at closing time
On our first night, our waiter had a hard time understanding what we wanted to drink, partly because of the language and partly because he was hard of hearing. We finally got it sorted out. Thankfully we only had to place a drink order.
The next night, we chose a table in a different section. Low and behold, here comes the same waiter. This night, I felt like wine, so I asked for a glass of merlot. Our waiter said, “merlot isn’t good,” and suggested pinot noir. I agreed to give it a try.
The pinot noir wasn’t bad, but I preferred merlot, so when I was ready for a second glass, I asked for merlot.
The waiter said, “Pinot noir?”
I said, “No, merlot.”
He said, “Pinot noir,” and nodded his head.
I said, “No, merlot,” a little more forcefully.
He looked at me a said, “Merlot?”
I nodded my head in agreement. Phew, I was glad that was over.
When he returned with my wine, he put it down and proudly stated, “Pinot noir.”
I shook my head and said, “No, merlot.”
He went off to replace it.
I’ve never worked so hard to get what I wanted in a restaurant.
A Visit to Northeast Hungary
Steve and I talked about visiting some Hungarian towns east of Budapest for a while but never seemed to pull it all together. We finally got down to it and planned a trip to the towns of Eger and Lillafüred.
Our first stop was three nights in Eger. We explored a 13th-century castle, toured the Archbishop’s Palace and Cellars (caves that had been a wine cellar), and visited a Beatles museum.
We also headed over to nearby Egerszalók to see the Sodomb, a large limestone hill, and spend time in yet another bath.
A luxury hotel, the Beatles, a castle view, and a spa day
For more than a year, I have been intrigued by the Hotel Palota in Lillafüred.
Hotel Palota at night
The hotel is in a valley in the Bükk Mountains. There are several caves and many hiking trails to explore there.
Hotel Palota was built in 1930. From then until World War II, it was enjoyed by members of high society. During the war, it was occupied by German soldiers and also served as a hospital for Russian soldiers.
After the war, the hotel was again used as intended. For much of this time, it was managed by the National Council of Trade Unions. You needed a special voucher to stay at the hotel.
In 1993, the hotel was acquired by the Hunguest chain, which refurbished and modernized it. It is on the Register of Hungaricums as a valuable national treasure.
Views of the hotel
We toured two limestone caves near Hotel Palota. The first was Anna Cave. This cave has several plant fossils. The tour lasted about 40 minutes and was in Hungarian. Our guide got a lot of laughs while Steve and I stood there looking lost.
The second cave was the Szent István Cave. This tour was a little shorter and also in Hungarian. This guide did not get any laughs. Despite not understanding what was being said, Steve and I got some cool photos.
If you can only see one cave, I recommend Szent István. It has more interesting formations, which you can see in these photos:
Formations in Szent István cave
Miskolctapolca Cave Bath
The town of Miskolctapolca is one and a half hours from Lillafüred. Its claim to fame is the cave baths. In the Miskolctapolca Cave Bath, you can swim through caves in 86 degrees F (30 degrees C) spring water.
Into the cave
Inside the cave bath
Steve and I did not want to miss this, but we were a little disappointed. Because sound carries in the caves, and all the kids had to take advantage of that, it was noisy. Another issue was that the more secluded pools seemed to attract a lot of couples who thought because the lights were low, they had privacy. I’m not talking about teenagers who couldn’t keep their hands off each other. There were several middle-aged couples who were getting a little friendlier than is appropriate in public.
Despite this, I am glad we got to experience the cave bath.
This Month’s Media
Inferno is one of the most enjoyable books I have ever read. Not because of the plot, which is standard thriller, but because author Dan Brown does three things very well: 1. he brings places to life. A lot of this story takes place in Florence, Italy. His descriptions of that city’s sights make me anxious to see them. 2. he incorporates art, in this case, Dante’s epic poem, The Divine Comedy. 3. he ties in religious and social issues that make you think.
In Inferno, the primary social issue is overpopulation. How many people can the Earth support, and what happens when we grossly exceed that number? The mad scientist’s solution was one I would never have thought of.
It would be great if Dan Brown got all his facts straight, but despite these hiccups, I still enjoy everything his novels offer.
A few months ago Steve and I watched Unorthodox on Netflix and enjoyed it a lot. This month, I decided to check out the book on which it was based. In her book Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots author Deborah Feldman delves deep into the life of the Satmar Jews. She isn’t afraid to talk about the darker side of this secluded sect.
I enjoyed the book but was surprised when it ended without any details about how she left the Hasidic life or what she has done since. It was one of the few times I thought the show was better than the book.
Until Next Time
Steve and I would love to hear what you’ve been up to and if travel has made its way back into your life.
Featured photo – detail of a window in Hotel Palota
If you are looking for a fun getaway in Hungary, consider Eger. It is the largest town in the Eger wine region and only 84 miles (135 km) from Budapest. It can easily be reached by car or train.
A visit to Eger will reward you with beautiful views, Baroque architecture, and a valley dedicated to wine. You can also visit one of the five Beatles museums in the world!
Steve and I couldn’t wait to visit Eger. In addition to seeing new Hungarian sights, we were looking forward to spending a few nights in the Oval Suite at the Erla Villa hotel.
Our bathroom – can’t you feel the luxury?
In between oohing and aahing over the scrumptious décor and grounds of the hotel, we managed to see several Eger attractions. We hopped over to nearby Egerszalók to see the salt hill and the Saliris Resort.
Here is our take on the Eger and Egerszalók sights.
What We Did In Eger
Eger Castle is one of the most popular attractions in Eger. The castle dates back to the 13th century and is best known for the Siege of Eger (1552), during which the Hungarian defenders repelled a Turkish army that outnumbered them by more than 15 to 1.
Some of the castle walls with the city of Eger below
While there, you can visit several indoor exhibits, including one about the castle’s history. It covers several rooms, is well done, and includes English translations. When we visited, there was a temporary weapons exhibit that I enjoyed because there were several hands-on artifacts, and the explanations (in Hungarian and English) were concise and informative.
From left to right: 16th-century Hungarian field officer uniform, 16-17th-century fist shield made of tortoise shell, prayer book (no date), 19th-century Persian helmet
Ergi Road Beatles Museum
Who would expect to find a Beatles Museum in a small city in Hungary? The Egri Road Beatles Museum has a collection of over 2,500 items.
Just a few of the many items in the museum – who knew there were Beatles cuff links?
One of the coolest things was being led into a cave to see a short film about the Beatles’ early lives.
The totally cool cave with photos of musicians who inspired the Beatles
There is also a month-by-month history of the group from their discovery through their breakup. It is in Hungarian and English.
This museum is sure to bring back many memories for baby boomers, but any music fan is sure to get something out of it. You could say we loved it, yeah, yeah, yeah!
Archbishop’s Palace and Cellars
The palace has been the home of the Archbishop of Eger (Roman Catholic) since 1740. There is a museum of religious artifacts on two floors of the palace.
A sitting room display in the museum
Detail of the painting Memento mori by Lukács Huetter circa 1750
The cellars are caves used to store wine until the mid-1900s, when the fear of collapse led to many of them being lined with cement. That meant the temperature and humidity were no longer suitable for storing wine.
Eger is one of Hungary’s twenty-two wine regions. Every year there is a contest in which the Archbishop chooses the wine served during communion for the coming year.
You can tour the caves with a guide. David was our guide, and he did a great job. The tour includes a display of the wines chosen as the best of the year and a taste of the Archbishop’s favorite. Of course, I took a bottle home.
The hill was created by a buildup of limestone deposits from the 150 degrees F (65 degrees C) spring water. You can enjoy the mineral-rich waters at The Saliris Resort, either as an overnight guest or during a daytime visit.
The limestone terraces overlooking the Saliris Resort (or is it the other way around?)
The Saliris Spa has 17 pools. You can see the outdoor ones in the photo above. The inside pools are fun to explore since they are terraced and have several cave-like areas. The spa also has saunas and a steam room. There is a cute section for kids, too.
Just for fun – the sign for the Helli Borozo Winery and Guest House in Egerszalók
More Things to See in Eger
Since we only spent two full days in Eger, there are several things we did not see, so I think we need to go back. Here are some of the other Eger attractions:
This is the only surviving minaret of the ten built in Eger by the Ottomans during the 17th century. It is also the northernmost minaret in Europe.
You can climb the narrow spiral staircase to get a birds-eye view of Eger. We did not since I was dealing with a sore hip. If you don’t make it up the minaret, don’t despair. You can get great views of the city from Eger castle.
The minaret is 131 feet tall (40 meters) and has 98 steps.
The minaret, as seen from Eger Castle
The Valley of the Beautiful Women
This valley is home to dozens of wine cellars side by side. You can visit many of them to sample the local wine and have a traditional Hungarian meal. We did not make it there on this trip. Again, another reason to go back.
Kopcsik Marcipánia Bell Foundry House (Marzipan Museum)
This small museum showcases the creations of master confectioner Lajos Kopcsik. From the photos, it looks similar to the one we visited in Szentendre, Hungary. However, this one has an entire Baroque room made of marzipan!
Our visit to the Szamos Marcipán Múzeum in Szentendre showed us that you can make anything out of marzipan, even Michael Jackson
Since we didn’t visit the Eger museum, we don’t have any photos, but you can get an idea of what you can see there on their website.
The Cathedral Basilica of St. John the Apostle
If you love beautiful buildings as much as Steve and I do, you would want to swing by the Cathedral Basilica of St. John the Apostle in Eger. The basilica is currently undergoing renovation, but according to this article, you can still visit it. The work is expected to be completed in the fall of 2022.
Eger Thermal Bath
This being Hungary, no city would be complete without at least one thermal bath. In Eger, you have the Eger Thermal Bath.
The bath has 13 pools, 9 of which are open year-round.
As in all the Hungarian cities we’ve visited, there is no shortage of architecture waiting to be admired.
The dismal day did not detract from this building’s beauty (on Dobó István Square)
The Church of Anthony of Padua (Minorite Church) – a Franciscan church also on Dobó István Square
Where We Stayed – The Erla Villa Hotel
As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, Steve and I were excited to spend several nights in the most luxurious hotel room we’ve ever had. Up until now, we’ve always booked a basic room, unwilling to cough up more money for a fancy room when the chips were down. But I fell in love with the Oval Suite when I saw it on the Erla Villa website. Even better, three nights with half board (breakfast and dinner) was only a little over $600.
The room turned out to be as stunning as the photos, and the food was fantastic.
There were a few things that could have been better. For example, breakfast wasn’t served until 8 o’clock, and there wasn’t any place to get coffee before then. That is a mild form of torture for us early risers. When I finally got my coffee, it was superb.
Also, the shower curtain didn’t go all the way across the opening, so no matter how careful you were, the floor in front of the shower got flooded.
Despite a few little things that could be improved, I would recommend this hotel, not only for the ambiance but also for the food (and coffee).
Until Next Time
Have you been to Eger or Egerszalók? What did you think? What was your favorite sight?
Featured photo by Adonis Villanueva on Pixabay.com
Can you believe August is over? I don’t know about you, but for me, time is flying. Steve and I have done more this month than in any of the previous sixteen months we’ve been in Hungary.
We spent many hours luxuriating in the Budapest baths. We also revisited the zoo and explored three nearby towns. These are the highlights.
All money is in U.S. Dollars unless otherwise stated.
New Covid cases in Hungary have remained low all summer. Right now, there are less than 200 new cases per day. But that doesn’t mean we are out of the woods. The Hungarian government is prepared to take steps to protect people in the country if the Delta variant takes off here. Steve and I try to be positive, but we expect a fourth wave.
Splish Splash We’ve Been Lovin’ the Baths
The Palatinus Strand is like your neighborhood pool if your neighborhood pool had ten outdoor pools of varying temperatures, an indoor thermal bath, water slides, and a wave pool.
There are also two saunas and a steam room. You can get a massage for an additional fee. As of this writing, a 45-minute massage costs $22.
Palatinus Strand is popular with families, partly because it is more affordable than the well-known Szechenyi and Gellert Baths. It costs about $10 to visit Palatinus, compared to $18 to visit the Szechenyi or Gellert Baths.
A visit to the Szechenyi Baths doesn’t come cheap, but it is worth it. These baths are one of the largest spa complexes in Europe. You can see the century-old Neo-Baroque building in the featured photo above.
You can bask in the elegant setting while enjoying three outdoor or fifteen indoor pools. Water temperature ranges from 65 to 104 degrees F (18 to 40 degrees C). There are also three saunas and three steam rooms. Massages are available for an additional fee. As of this writing, a 45-minute massage costs $32.
Two of the indoor pools at the Szechenyi Baths
When you visit the baths there is none of that heavy chlorine smell I associate with swimming pools, especially indoor ones. I wondered why. I found the answer here.
For thermal pools the water comes from natural hot springs. It is filtered and the water is replaced every day. No chemicals are added to the thermal pools.
The other pools are treated with a minimum amount of chlorine and salt.
Three Side Trips
We’ve been taking advantage of the low number of Covid cases to see parts of Hungary outside of Budapest. In August, we visited three Western Hungarian towns. The first was the spa town of Hévíz, located 120 miles (193 km) southwest of Budapest.
People go to Hévíz to bathe in thermal Lake Heviz. Even though it is the largest thermal lake in the world suitable for swimming, it is not very big. The lake covers about 11 acres (4.4 hectares).
You can swim in the lake, but most people float on pool noodles
The lake is fed by mineral-rich water that has curative properties. It is recommended for people suffering from rheumatic diseases and locomotor disorders. The lake is around 95 degrees F (35 C) in the summer and 75 degrees F (24 C) in the winter. The water in the lake is replaced every 72 hours.
We stayed at Ensana Thermal Hévíz for two nights, where we enjoyed the three indoor and two outdoor pools. The water temperatures ranging from 82 to 100 degrees F (28 to 38 degrees C).
Veszprém is a small city 75 miles (120 km) southwest of Budapest. It is easy to reach by train or bus.
The main reason we visited Veszprém was to see the Herend Porcelain Museum in the nearby town of Herend. The visit included a factory tour, and after seeing the work that goes into their products, I understand why they are so costly. Each piece is hand-painted.
This piece costs more than $35,000.
There were plenty of English translations and QR codes. Tours are available in English. Ours was very well done.
Ödön, The Street Musician, Ernő, The Guard, and Leonora, The Girl and The Lion
The creator of these sculptures is Mikhail Kolodko. He has several in Ukraine and Hungary including about twenty in Budapest. You can see some of them in ”The Funky Side of Budapest.”
A few random photos of Veszprém
Next, we headed to Székesfehérvár, which is 40 miles (65 km) southwest of Budapest. Again we had a specific sight in mind. We wanted to visit Bory Castle. We loved it.
Bory Castle was the home of architect and sculptor Jenő Bory and his family. The one-acre lot only contained a wine vault and press house when Bory purchased it in 1912. From 1923 to 1959, he added to the castle, designing as he built. He did most of the work himself.
The castle is filled with paintings and sculptures, many created by Bory and some by his wife.
You can easily spend a few hours there discovering delightful touches and enjoying different perspectives. You can climb towers and visit areas with romantic names like the Elephant Garden and the Hundred Pillared Courtyard. Every time I see a place like this, I imagine what it would be like to grow up there.
Scenes from Bory Castle
We also spent some time in the Árpád Bath while in Székesfehérvár.
One of the lounging areas in the Árpád Baths
We didn’t enjoy this as much as the Budapest baths because all the pools except the cold plunge pool were the same temperature. And none were really hot.
The bath has several saunas and a steam bath. There is also a tepidarium, which is a room in which you sit or lay on warm ceramic tiles.
After the baths we headed to the Hetedhét Toy Museum. It is full of toys from the 18th and 19th centuries, with an emphasis on dolls and dollhouses.
Drawers under the displays pull out to reveal more dolly delights
The museum’s website doesn’t translate into English, but they provide translations on all the exhibits.
As you can imagine, Steve didn’t love this, but he was patient while I explored. I’m not a doll-lover, but I figured as long as I was there, I might as well enjoy it. Besides, it was cold and rainy outside.
A Cool Day At The Zoo
It has been a hot summer, but once in a while, we get a cool day. We took advantage of one early in the month to make our third visit to the Budapest Zoo and Botanical Garden. It is located in the city and is easy to get to. This zoo is not large at only 44 acres (18 hectares), but there is a lot to see. There are over 10,000 animals from over 1,000 species.
We enjoyed watching this cute prairie dog.
Each time we go to the zoo, we discover something new. On this visit, it was the bat cave.
I am also working on improving my site’s visibility. It isn’t easy to get traction for a blog on a saturated topic like travel. Add the fact the travel has been restricted because of the pandemic, and you can understand the challenge.
I am reading William Zinsser’s book On Writing Well. My first takeaway was simplify, simplify, simplify. Just like being a Toastmaster has made me critical of the speech patterns of public speakers, this book threatens to turn me off to many novels and blogs. I’ve already stopped reading some after a few pages because they had too much fluff.
One book I enjoyed was The Island by Victoria Hislop. It is a historical novel set on the Greek island of Crete. The story is about a young woman who travels to a small Cretan town to learn about her mother’s past. She learns about a leper colony on a small island off Crete called Spinalonga and her family’s connection to it.
Spinalonga served as a leper colony from 1903 to 1957. People with leprosy, including children, were sent to the island. They could not have in-person contact with their families. The people who were banished to the island developed a society with shops, entertainment, a school, and a government.
I first heard about Spinalonga and The Island in this post from My Path In The World.
Until Next Time
Wow, I get tired just reading about everything we did in August, and I didn’t even include our hikes. I hope you enjoyed August too. Steve and I would love to hear what you’ve been up to.
It’s been a long haul for all of us, and it isn’t over yet, but at least life has begun to return to normal. After almost eight months of lockdowns and slowdowns, we are living life again. I hope you are also returning to your pre-pandemic life. Here is what we’ve been doing this month.
We Keep Getting More Legal
Steve and I got vaccinated in June, and began July waiting for our immunity cards to arrive. We weren’t surprised when the immunity card restrictions were lifted before we received our cards.
Nonetheless, we now have them in case we need them in the future, and having them allowed us to get our EU Digital COVID Certificate. This certificate was the one government-related item that we got on the spot. No daily disappointment at the mailbox.
What We’ve Been Doing
The heatwaves of June followed us into July with many daily highs in the 90s F (30s C). The average high in July is 82 degrees F (28 C). We found two ways to beat the heat: museums and water parks.
Steve and I hit the local museums hard this month with visits to three history museums: the Hungarian National Museum (Magyar Nemzeti Múzeum), the Budapest History Museum (Budapesti Történeti Múzeum), and the Military History Museum (Hadtorteneti Muzeum).
The Hungarian National Museum follows the country’s history from prehistoric times to the present. We were impressed with the number of artifacts. The museum has several million pieces in its collection.
Be sure to take time to appreciate the buidling’s beauty, too.
The stairway in the Hungarian National Museum
The Budapest History Museum focuses on the history of Hungary’s capital city. The museum is much smaller that the Hungarian National Museum, but if you have time it is worth checking out. I particularly liked that there are hands-on activities for children placed throughout the 2nd floor exhibits.
The Budapest History Museum is also called the Castle Museum because it is in Buda Castle.
Soviet era street signs in the Budapest History Museum
We also paid a second visit to the Military History Museum. When we visited it last year I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it. This is a comprehensive look at Hungary’s military and wartime history.
One of the many rooms in the Military History Museum
All three museums do a great job of providing English translations.
As we spend time in museums, I think about how I appreciate history much more as an adult than I did growing up. Being able to experience the places where events happened makes it even more meaningful.
We Finally Toured Parliament
The Hungarian Parliament Building is one of the most well-known in Budapest, but until now we have only been able to enjoy the outside. Tours finally resumed, and we jumped at the opportunity. The tour lasts less than an hour, but you will see plenty in that time. After the tour, there are several exhibits to explore on your own. You can check out the parliament tour information here.
The Grand Stairway in the Hungarian Parliament Building
Thermal Water Fun
Hungary may be landlocked, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of water-based activities. Hungary has 1,300 thermal springs and hundreds of spas that take advantage of this natural phenomenon. You can learn more in the National Geographic article Hungary:the land of thermal spas.
We spent three nights at Aquaworld Resort Budapest on the outskirts of the city and loved it. You can read about it here.
A few of the bathing options at Aquaworld
We also spent a hot afternoon at Palatinus Strand, a thermal bath and swimming complex on nearby Margaret Island.
Two of the many pools at Palatinus Strand on a cloudy day
Now that we’ve discovered how much we enjoy the thermal baths, which can be used year-round, we plan to visit several more in Budapest and in other cities in Hungary.
4th of July Brunch at The Four Seasons
We continue to eat our way around Budapest. We paid our first visit to Kollazs Brasserie & Bar in the Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palace. For two and a half hours, we enjoyed a five-course brunch. Because of the pandemic, food was brought to the table. There was so much! By the time we got to dessert, we asked for only one serving of the five plates, not two.
A band kept the diners entertained. In addition to playing everything just a little too fast, the threw in a few Christmas songs, including Jingle Bells.
Just part of the first course of our brunch
Despite its name, Gresham Palace never housed royalty. This 100-year-old art nouveau building originally contained apartments and offices for the Gresham Life Assurance Company of Great Britain.
The front of the Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palace Budapest
Art nouveau beauty in the Four Seasons Hotel
Room prices start at around $500 per night, so we won’t be staying there, but we can still enjoy the surroundings at brunch.
Sunday Morning Bike Rides
One of the things I love most when traveling is getting out early before too many people are out. You can’t beat that feeling that you have the city (almost) all to yourself. I have been using the MOL Bubi Bikes and recommend them.
You can find Bubi Bike stands all over the city. The bikes are well-maintained, and the app works well. A monthly pass costs about US$ 1.70 and allows you to ride with no additional charges for up to 30 minutes at a time. If you want to keep riding, you just start a new ride. The cost is only 7 cents per minute if you go over 30 minutes. If you don’t want to pay for the subscription, you will be charged 7 cents per minute.
The wide road along the Danube on the Pest side is closed to traffic on the weekends. I find Sunday mornings ideal for a solo ride since Steve usually prefers to sleep in.
Sunday morning solitude on Margaret Island
An Unpleasant Surprise
A few days after the devastating floods in Germany and Belgium killed more than 200 people, flooding occured in most of Hungary. Fortunately it was not as drastic.
I was lying in bed on a Monday morning listening to the storm, thinking how nice it is that we are on a high floor and don’t have to worry about flooding.
Then I got out of bed and stepped in water. The rain from the roof was too much for the drainage system in our building to handle, and some came up through our kitchen sink.
After a few hours of cleanup and a meeting with our landlord, all was back to normal.
This Month’s Blog Posts
In addition to our Aquaworld post, we published“Medical Care on the Road: Challenges of Nomad Life.” This post shares information on medical travel insurance and evacuations insurance. I also discuss our personal experiences with medical care while traveling full-time. As a nomad, you can’t escape the hassles involved with staying healthy, but with a bit of planning and tenacity, your medical needs can be met.
This Month’s Media
Steve and I watched all six episodes of How to Become a Tyrant on Netflix in one sitting. Thank you for recommending it, Ramin Mahmoodi. The show is based on the book The Dictator’s Handbook: Why Bad Behavior is Almost Always Good Politics by Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and Alastair Smith. The series looks at six 20th Century dictators and the methods they used to gain power. Only one of the six, Kim Jong-un, is still in power. It runs about 3 hours total, and I highly recommend it.
We have been struggling to find more good things to watch, so Steve did some research and came up with a list of Netflix series we might enjoy. The trick is to use a VPN set to a U.S. city.
One of the shows we watched was Evil. A forensic psychologist, a seminarian, and a tech wizard investigate suspected supernatural incidents under the direction of the Catholic Church. Supernatural and sci-fi shows aren’t my thing, and some of the effects are a little hokey, but I enjoyed this show. Netflix only has the first season. Season two is on Paramount.
Another show I didn’t think I would enjoy but did is Unorthodox. It is the story of a young Hasidic Jew from the Satmar sect who leaves New York City for Berlin to flee her arranged marriage and oppressive life. The premiere season is currently on Netflix. It is only four episodes. Four more episodes are expected to be released next March. Don’t miss Making Unorthodox at the end of the first season. I was impressed with the attention to detail and authenticity.
The Satmar Jews originated in a small Hungarian town in the early 1900s. After WWII, they settled in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York. The Satmar sect is one of the largest Hasidic dynasties in the world.
The series was inspired by the autobiographical book Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots by Deborah Feldman. It is now at the top of my reading list.
I just finished the novel We Are All Good People Here by Susan Rebecca White. It is the story of two women who meet as college freshmen in the 1960s. It follows them and then their daughters through the next three decades as they face racism and antisemitism, and become involved in anti-war activities. The author does an excellent job of weaving historical facts into the story.
Another book I loved was This is How it Always Is: A Novel by Laurie Frankel. It is the story of the Walsh Family. They have five sons, the youngest named Claude. At the age of three, Claude announced he wanted to be a girl when he grew up. He also wanted to be a cat. As he grew, the desire to be a cat went the way of childish dreams. The desire to be a girl remained. The novel takes us on the family’s journey as they struggle to support Claude while protecting him from the reactions of society.
The best part is that while this is a novel, Frankel knows the subject well. In the author’s note, she shares with us: “It’s true that my child used to be a little boy and is now a little girl. But this isn’t her story. I can’t tell her story; I can only tell my own story and those of the people I make up.”
Are you visiting Budapest? If so, you are probably aware of the thermal baths the city is famous for, but for something a little different, give Aquaworld Budapest a try.
At Aquaworld, you can relax and be pampered in the spa, soak in warm thermal pools, or be a kid at the indoor water parks.
Steve and I were enduring a prolonged heatwave in Budapest in the summer of 2021 when we discovered Aquaworld. We enjoyed it so much that we ended up visiting five more times.
Read on to see what Aquaworld is all about and if you should make it your next getaway.
What Is Aquaworld?
Aquaworld is a large hotel, water park, and spa complex in Budapest. You can visit for a day or stay at the hotel and extend your fun.
The Aquaworld complex has two sections. The aquatic adventure park is called Aquaworld Budapest. The hotel with its own bath area is called Aquaworld Budapest Resort Hotel. Hotel guests have access to the entire complex.
* It is one of Europe’s largest indoor water theme parks. * The complex has 21 pools. * There are 11 water slides. * The hotel has 309 rooms. * There is a spa for massages and treatments. * And a fitness center for workouts or a game of tennis or squash.
The pools are fed from a natural well with a bottom temperature of 35 degrees Celsius (95 degrees Fahrenheit).
Pool temperatures range from 26 degrees Celsius (78.8 degrees Fahrenheit) in the outdoor lap pool to 38 degrees Celsius (100.4 degrees Fahrenheit) in the jacuzzi.
Aquaworld is in the far northern part of Budapest on the Pest side. It can be reached by public transportation in about an hour from the tourist areas of Districts V, VI, or VII.
Who Is It For?
Anyone who loves being in or around water. You can choose to relax or get a little adrenaline fix.
I imagine any child entering the water park would think he had died and went to Heaven. No matter what age a child is, there is plenty to do in and out of the water.
There were also many adults without children. Like us, they took the children’s rambunctiousness in stride.
What We Did
On our first visit, Steve and I booked a standard room for three nights. We took advantage of the hotel’s 2+1 Hello Summer Deal; book two nights, and get the third one free. The booking included half board (breakfast and dinner each day) and access to all areas of the complex. On subsequent visits, we were also able to book two nights and get a third one free.
The outdoor pool in the hotel section
We also spent time in the water park section, where I tried out the slides, and we both had a little too much fun in the current pool.
What We Liked
The food. Both breakfast and dinner were served buffet style. You can only do so much with breakfast food, but there was an incredible variety. There was also a lot of variety for dinner, and the food was delicious.
The staff. Everyone was polite and helpful. When we first got to our room, Steve noticed that the shower door did not shut properly. We immediately informed the front desk, and it was fixed within the hour.
What Could Have Been Better
We wanted a light lunch one day, so we stopped at an outside kiosk. We both ordered a hot dog. We each got three mini hot dogs in a dry roll. The roll crumbled as soon as we bit it. It wasn’t on par with the rest of the food.
Good To Know
Robes are provided for guests to wear to and from the pool. Slippers are not, so be sure to have flip-flops, as street shoes are not allowed in the pool areas.
Our room did not have a balcony, and the towel warmer we would have liked to use to dry our swimsuits and robes was not working because it relied on hot water. Being summer, the boiler was off. Since there was only one hook in the bathroom, there wasn’t enough space to dry our swimsuits and robes. We could see clothes drying racks on the balconies of other rooms. If you visit in warm weather, you would be well-advised to get a room with a balcony.
I didn’t pack shampoo and conditioner because they have always been available in hotel rooms. There was shampoo and body wash in the shower, but no conditioner. You can buy it in the gift shop if you need it. Better to bring your own.
The hotel has two shops that sell swimwear, flip-flops, toiletries, toys, etc., but their hours are limited.
Aquaworld is listed as a four-star resort. Nothing was dirty or in disrepair. As you can see from the photo above, the hotel is lovely, but the room we were in was close to needing an update as the carpet and furniture looked a little worn. I would give the water facilities high marks, but consider the hotel room a three-star.
Our first visit was in July, and as you would expect, the park was bustling. Since all areas allow kids, it was not a tranquil setting. There were fewer people when we visited at other times of the year, making for a more peaceful, adult experience.
What Does It Cost?
Aquaworld is a great value for visitors from the U.S. Our total cost for our first visit of three nights was $555. It breaks down as follows:
Room, breakfast buffet, dinner buffet, water park entrance for 3 days
2 lunches and drinks with 3 dinners
Not bad for a decent room, great food, and fabulous entertainment.
Hello, I hope all is well with you. Steve and I are still in Budapest and plan to be here for another year. It’s been another low-key month, but things are definitely looking up here. Hopefully, they are where you are too.
Our big news is that we finally got our Covid vaccines!
Here in Hungary, things appear to be going in the right direction. The number of Covid cases dropped below 100 per day by the end of June (according to Worldometer). At month-end, the government announced that once the number of vaccinated people reaches 5.5 million (about 56% of the population), they would further ease restrictions.
Current restrictions include masks in shops and on public transportation. Only those with immunity cards can visit museums and gyms, eat inside restaurants, or stay at hotels. Since we don’t have our immunity cards yet, we have not been able to do these things.
We Finally Got Vaccinated
In Hungary, like the U.S., citizens who wanted to be vaccinated could do so in the spring. Being foreigners, we had to wait until the Hungarian government vaccinated its citizens. Steve and I understood that and were OK with being at the end of the line.
We weren’t OK with the lack of information and that the website for non-citizens kept crashing. Steve was diligent about keeping us registered, but alas, it did no good.
It was a Facebook post by an ex-pat that led us to our vaccines. This person said he sent an email to the Army hospital asking about vaccines and was told to come in the next day. Steve immediately sent an email, and sure enough, he received one back telling us to come in the next morning.
Our first and second choices were Pfizer and Moderna, but we were offered J&J and decided to take that instead of waiting who knows how much longer.
After our shot, we were told that we would get our immunity cards in the mail. It could be a week; it could be a month. We didn’t have our cards after two weeks, so we decided to visit the local office to see what we could do. The woman who waited on Steve told him he was not in the system. Surprise, surprise. So we continue to wait for our immunity cards. There’s a good chance that the immunity card restrictions will be lifted before we get our cards.
Food, Food, and More Food
There is still a lot we can’t do, but we can eat outdoors at restaurants. And did we ever. We enjoyed several meals at our favorite Budapest restaurant, Kiskakukk. We revisited favorites from last year and found a few new places.
We were sad to see that one of our favorites, Pizza Eataliano (dumb name, great food), was a victim of the pandemic. Another favorite, Babka, changed their menu. They no longer offer either of our favorites.
We Are Legal For Another Year
In May, we completed all the paperwork to renew our Residence Permits for another year. Early in June, right on schedule, our new permits arrived in the mail. Yay!
We are now allowed to stay in Hungary until mid-July 2022. The best part is that when travel opens up, we will be able to travel in the Schengen Area at will, as opposed to being restricted to 90 days out of every 180 days with our U.S. passport. For now, we will be happy to be able to travel within Hungary, which should happen in July if the Delta variant doesn’t take hold here.
On June 2nd Steve and I celebrated 42 years of marriage by doing two of our favorite things, eating and visiting a garden. We started with a light lunch at Kiskakukk, then strolled the Buda Arboretum for a few hours. We ended the day with a wonderful dinner at TG Italia.
Lovin’ Our New Home
We moved to an apartment closer to the city center in May. We love our new location. We are on the 8th floor overlooking a main street. The views are terrific. As Steve said, “These are really good seats.” After living in suburbia for 60 years, it turns out that we love city living.
Another plus to our new place is that we are at a major transportation hub. The airport shuttle bus is literally across the street. We can take a short bus ride to the Lehel Market when it’s time for some heavy-duty grocery shopping.
Nice Weather (While it Lasted)
After a housebound winter and a chilly spring, it was great to have warm, sunny weather. While we were busy eating our way around the city, a heatwave struck. For the last two weeks of the month, highs ranged from 88 degrees up to 100 degrees. This is 20 degrees higher than average.
Fortunately, we have air conditioning, but since we couldn’t visit indoor venues, we laid low during this time. Daily naps became the norm.
You would think that living in Florida for 30 years would have acclimated us. That doesn’t seem to be the case.
A Semi-Productive Month
In between nap time and reading time, I finished a post about several Holocaust Memorial sites in Budapest and one about the Lehel Market. I am still slogging away on my Italian lessons (will I ever use them?), and thanks to Zoom, I can enjoy the inspiration and camaraderie of my fellow toastmasters at Toast of Jax.
We hope to start traveling around the country in July. There are several places we want to visit, including multiple towns around Lake Balaton, the largest lake in Central Europe, and a popular vacation spot. We visited the lakeside town of Balatonfured in October and loved it.
Locally, we are also looking forward to doing some of the things we couldn’t do during the height of pandemic, including seeing the inside of the Hungarian Parliament building and the Dohany Street Synagogue.
Steve and I hope all is going well for you. We would love to hear from you in our comments section.
Stay safe and healthy,
Featured photo by Linda – Vaci Street coming back to life after the pandemic shutdown.
Budapest is full of incredible things to see and do. One that makes every list of things to do in the city is the Great Market Hall (Vasarcsarnok), also referred to as the Central Market Hall. It is worth a trip to view the impressive building with its Zsolnay tile roof.
However, for something different I suggest you visit the Lehel Market (Lehel Csarnok).
Full disclosure, I am not a fan of markets. I don’t enjoy food shopping, so I want to get in and out ASAP, not stroll from stall to stall making multiple purchases. Also, most markets are open fewer hours than supermarkets, so they tend to be crowded. But when Steve and I happened across Lehel Market one day, I was impressed enough to return another day for a shopping trip and a chance to photograph its unique interior.
You may be shocked when you first see it. It has nothing in common with any other building in Budapest. It is supposed to resemble a ship.
I think the outside is an eyesore, and I am not the only one. Here is a quote from Steve Fallon, Lonely Planet:
“Lehel Csarnok is housed in a hideous boat-like structure designed by László Rajk, son of the Communist minister of the interior executed for ‘Titoism’ in 1949. Apparently this is his revenge.”
Once you enter the market, you will be greeted with a colorful interior full of brightly painted beams and curving railings.
Both markets are heavy on food products: produce, pastries, meats, herbs, and spices (including many paprika products). Both have a supermarket in the basement and stalls on the upper levels where you can buy non-food items or grab a quick bite. The upper floors in the Lehel Market are teeming with inexpensive household and personal products (think dollar store after dollar store).
Lehel is also more “market-like,” in my opinion. The Central Market has a touristy feel with the first-floor stalls flanking wide aisles.
Lehel Market combines stalls with plenty of tables full of produce.
The Central Market is a draw for tourists, while Lehel is more of a locals’ shopping center.
The Central Market is on the Pest side near the foot of the Liberty Bridge in Fővám tér (District IX). Lehel Market is on Vaci ut 9-15, just a bit north of the Westend Mall. Both can be reached easily by public transportation. Lehel Market is a bit further from the city center, but not so far that you should miss it if markets are your thing.
If you find the history of the Holocaust as poignant and powerful as I do, you may wish to visit some of the Holocaust memorials in Budapest. This post highlights ten sites in Budapest that keep the memory of that terrible time alive and honor those who lost their lives as well as those who risked their lives to save the innocent.
While the Nazis persecuted many groups, the largest impact was on Jews. Throughout the post, I will reference the impact on the Jews of Hungary. This is not meant to ignore or diminish the effects on other groups.
The ten memorials are organized by district. The districts are laid out like this:
1. Memorial for Victims of the German Occupation
This beautiful but controversial statue on the southern edge of Liberty Square was erected during the night in July 2014. It shows the Archangel Gabriel (a national symbol of Hungary) being attacked by an eagle (representing Nazi Germany).
Some Hungarians feel that the statue puts all the blame of the persecution of Jews on the Germans and ignores the fact that Hungarians collaborated with the Nazis and aided in the deportation of their countryman. You can learn more about this controversy here.
In front of the statue, you can see a poignant collection of photos and artifacts that keep the memories of the victims alive. It is an impassioned response to the Memorial to the Victims of German Occupation.
In addition to the two items above, you can see the Memorial to the Soviet Red Army in the northern part of Liberty Square. It honors the soldiers who liberated Hungary from the Nazis. Unfortunately, the Soviets went on to occupy Hungary for 45 years.
Many statues from Soviet times have been removed from their places of honor and erected in Momento Park, but the Monument to the Soviet Red Army remains in a place of honor.
2. Shoes on the Danube
This unique memorial commemorates the thousands of people killed by the Arrow Cross Party. This fascist, anti-semitic party ruled Hungary for less than six months in the fall and winter of 1944-1945.
One way the party terrorized Jews was to line up a group along the bank of the Danube River, force them to remove their shoes (because leather had value), then shoot them and let the river wash their bodies away.
The memorial was designed by artist Gyula Pauer and was unveiled in 2005. It consists of 60 pairs of iron shoes representing the men, women, and children murdered here.
In addition to this atrocity, the Arrow Cross Party deported 80,000 people to the Austrian concentration camps.
Unfortunately, hatred remains in some people’s hearts. After the unveiling ceremony, several pairs of shoes were removed with a crowbar and kicked into the river. At a later time, pig’s feet were found in the shoes.
The monument is on the Pest side of the Danube River, south of the Hungarian Parliament Building.
3. Raoul Wallenberg Bench
Raoul Wallenberg was a Swedish architect, businessman, and diplomat who served as Sweden’s special envoy in Budapest in 1944. During that time, he saved thousands of Hungarian Jews by issuing protective passports and sheltering them in buildings that were designated Swedish territory.
Wallenberg was taken into custody by the Soviets in early 1945. The circumstances of his death remain a mystery. One likely scenario was that he was executed in Lubyanka Prison in Moscow in 1947. He would have been 34 years old.
The bench is on the southeastern side of Elizabeth Square.
There is also a plaque honoring Wallenberg at the corner of Raoul Wallenberg utca and Pozsony utca in District XIII.
4. House of Terror (Terror Háza)
A visit to the House of Terror will take you chronologically through the history of two Hungarian totalitarian dictatorships of the twentieth century. It begins with the Nazi occupation of Hungary in March of 1944 and continues through the first eleven years of the 45-year long Soviet occupation.
The two main parties to know are:
The Arrow Cross Party – This far-right group was modeled after the Nazi Party of Germany. They were in power for less than six months in 1944 and 1945. During that short time, they murdered between 10,000 and 15,000 civilians and deported 80,000 Hungarians to concentration camps.
The AVH – The secret police of the People’s Republic of Hungary during the early part of the Soviet Union’s occupation of Hungary. This group was comparable to the KGB. I was shocked to learn that this group used concentration camps after WWII but could not find much information about them.
This museum is particularly impactful because it is located in the building used by the two dictatorships to detain, torture, and kill those they considered enemies of the state.
“We are not in a distant military prison, not deep down in a dungeon, but on the avenue of the civil world, just a half a metre from the pavement, from the everyday life.”
To do this museum justice, be prepared to spend at least two hours.
Location: Andrássy Avenue 60
5. Stolpersteine (Stumbling Stones)
In Budapest and other cities in Europe, you can find plaques about 4 inches square embedded in the pavement in front of buildings. They commemorate residents of the buildings who were victims of the Nazis.
These stones uphold the Talmud’s teaching that a person is only forgotten when his or her name is forgotten.
Each plaque includes the resident’s name, date of birth, and as much information about their places and dates of deportation and death as is known.
This one reads, “Here inhabited Dr. Istvan Zoltan, Born 1899, Deported to Mauthausen Concentration Camp on Oct. 20, 1944, Killed April 18, 1946.”
These two stones are for a husband and wife. The husband, Jozsef, was born in 1905. He was deported in 1942, although no destination is given. He died in 1945 in the Hungarian town of Koszeg, where the Nazis had a slave labor camp. He may have been one of the 4,500 people who died of typhus in that camp.
More detail is known about the wife, Joszefne. She was taken to the Theresienstadt Ghetto in the Czech Republic. This was a hybrid concentration camp and ghetto. According to the stone, she died in Budapest in 1946 as a consequence of her captivity.
In Hungary, it was traditional for the wife not only to take the husband’s last name but for her to also take his first name with ‘ne’ added to the end. So, in this case, the wife, given the name Magdolna at birth, became Jozsefne upon her marriage.
While there are stolpersteine in many of Budapest’s district, the greatest concentration can be seen in District VII since a part of this district was historically Jewish. Learn more from A Guide to Budapest’s Jewish Quarter by Offbeat Budapest.
There are more than 70,000 stones in over 2,000 cities and towns in Europe. Read more about the stones in this BBC article.
6. The Emanuel Tree Memorial
Each leaf of this sparkling silver tree has the name of a Hungarian Jew killed during the Holocaust. The tree is in the Raoul Wallenberg Memorial Garden of the Dohany Street Synagogue. It stands over mass graves of some of those murdered by the Nazis in 1944–45.
There are four red marble plates nearby that recognize 240 non-Jewish Hungarians who saved the lives of Jews during the Holocaust.
The tree was installed in 1991 and paid for by the American actor Tony Curtis in memory of his Hungarian-born father, Emanuel Schwartz.
The tree can be seen at Wesselényi utca 7. It is part of the Hungarian Jewish Museum and Archives.
I took the photo through a fence because we couldn’t visit the museum during the pandemic. There is much more to see in the Dohany Street Synagogue and the Jewish Museum. I will update this post once we can visit them.
7. Ghetto Memorial Wall
I ran across this memorial by surprise while walking down Dohany utca one afternoon. As I passed an apartment building, I noticed what looked like bullet holes in the front wall. Just past the building, I saw three large pieces of rusted metal with inspirational writing in three languages (Hungarian, English, and Hebrew). It turned out to be the Ghetto Memorial Wall.
Next to the writing is a map of the Jewish Ghetto. There are holes through which you can see scenes from that time.
In November 1944, 200,000 Jews were forced into the ghetto. When the Soviet Army liberated it during the Battle of Budapest in January 1945, only 70,000 residents remained.
The memorial was installed in 2015 in recognition of the 70th anniversary of the Holocaust.
You can see this memorial at Dohány utca 34.
8. Hanna Szenes Mini Statue
There are about 20 mini statues in Budapest. They are the work of a sculptor named Mihály Kolodko. The statues are small (less than 1-foot square) and set throughout the city. Their subjects range from pop culture to politics, from humor to history.
One of the statues honors a woman named Hanna Szenes. She was a Hungarian-born Jewish war hero who parachuted into Yugoslavia during World War II to assist anti-Nazi forces. Unfortunately, she was captured and executed at the tender age of 23. Throughout her imprisonment and torture, she refused to give her captors the information they sought.
The statue is at the corner of Hanna Szenes Park at Rózsa utca and Jósika utca.
Carl Lutz was a Swiss diplomat assigned to Budapest in 1942. He is credited with saving the lives of 62,000 Jews from 1942 until the end of WWII in 1945. This memorial to him was erected in 1991.
Lutz housed Jews in safe houses in the city. The most famous is The Glass House, the former site of a glass import business. There is a small but well-regarded museum in this building at Vadasz utca 29. Unfortunately, we have not visited it yet because it has been closed during the pandemic.
In addition to safe houses, Lutz arranged for protective letters that allowed 8,000 Jews to emigrate to Palestine. This involved working with the Nazis, who grudgingly allowed him to offer protection to some Jews. Learn more about the amazing Carl Lutz and the use of protection letters.
There is a plaque on the wall next to the statue that reads:
“Whoever saves a life is considered as if he has saved an entire world” Talmud
This memorial is a Dob utca 12.
10. Holocaust Memorial Center
The Holocaust Memorial Center is a memorial to the more than half a million Hungarian Jews killed by the Nazis. Its permanent exhibit, titled “From the Deprivation of Rights to Genocide,” follows history as Jews in Hungary were first stripped of their property and human rights to the horrors of mass shootings and deportation to concentration camps.
A strikingly modern building houses the museum. In the courtyard, you can see a glass hall called the Tower of Lost Communities. The names of 1,441 settlements that lost their entire Jewish population to deportations.
At the end of the exhibit, you can see the small but beautiful Budapest Synagogue.
The museum opened in 2004 in the location of the Páva utca Synagogue. There is a lot to take in, so allow at least a few hours. Almost everything has an English translation.
Steve and I love hearing from our readers. Please let us know if you have seen any of these memorials and what they meant to you. As always, I have done my best to be accurate, but if my facts are not correct, please let me know.
Well, here we are, fourteen months into the pandemic. I hope you and your loved ones are staying healthy and sane. It can be a challenge at times, but things are looking up.
Steve and I are still in Budapest, waiting to be vaccinated and be able to travel again. Here is a look at what May 2021 was like for Steve and me.
State of the Pandemic
Top on everyone’s mind: pandemic numbers and restrictions. Soon after we arrived in Budapest in mid-March 2020, the entire country went on lockdown. It was so quiet. Fear of the unknown kept people inside. We reached a comfort level where we would take a walk about twice a week. The one bright spot was enjoying landmarks like Fisherman’s Bastion and Buda Castle without the crowds.
The first shutdown lasted only two months, and even after the country opened back up, the Covid numbers remained low. Then in late summer, the number of cases started rapidly increasing. A second shutdown began in November and didn’t end until May.
Despite being in the second shutdown, the number of cases exploded in March and April. At its high point, there were more than 10,000 new cases per day. That is a lot considering that there are less than 10 million people in the whole country.
As fortunate as we felt to be here in the early stages of Covid, particularly when the U.S. was struggling, we are now shocked to find that Hungary has the highest reported Covid death rate in the world, according to Worldometers.info.
We were finally able to register for the vaccine in early May. Now we must wait until we are notified that it is our turn.
The Hungarian government is proud of the number of vaccinations it has administered (50% of citizens are vaccinated), but they are struggling to vaccinate non-citizens. The website for non-citizens has crashed several times, and the process for getting the vaccination card has been fraught with problems.
So we wait, hoping to get vaccinated in the not too distant future. The Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, Astra-Zenica, and Pfizer vaccines are all available to some extent, along with the Russian and Chinese ones. We are not sure how much choice we will have when our turn comes.
I can attest that vaccine envy is a real thing.
Renewing Our Residence Permit
We have permits that allow us to stay in Hungary until mid-July. Since things are still uncertain with the virus, we decided to extend them for another year.
Last year we did this on our own. It involved three visits to the Office of Alien Policing and a total of 20 hours of waiting. It was as if the Marquis de Sade ran the DMV.
This time we hired a company called nVisaHungary to represent us. We still had to provide tons of paperwork, but our representative’s guidance made it less stressful. We had our appointment in mid-May. It was quick and painless, so hopefully, we will have our new permits by mid-June.
It costs $850 for the immigration guidance for the two of us, which is a lot of money, but given how much we’ve saved over the past fourteen months, we felt it was a luxury we could afford. And if we don’t get the permits, we pay nothing.
Moving Around But Not On
Steve and I are anxious to get moving. Sitting in one place for more than a year is not how we roll. Right now, the best we can do is move apartments.
A Catch-22 of applying for a residence permit is that you need to have proof of accommodations for the duration, so you have to sign a lease before you know if you will be able to stay.
We were in an apartment in District IX since October. There were many things we loved about it. It is bright, spacious, and comfortable. It has a full kitchen (what is referred to as an American kitchen here), a living room, dining room, two bedrooms, one and a half bathrooms, and two balconies. It is also very close to a supermarket and just a few blocks from a small mall.
The downside is that it is a bit away from the city center. During the shutdown, that was OK, but as things open up and we get vaccinated, we want to be in the city center.
The apartment was an Airbnb listing, and because there was much more supply than demand, we paid less than $1,000 per month. But now that there is light at the end of the pandemic tunnel, rents have taken a big jump. It would cost us at least 50% more to stay there long-term. On top of that, our host isn’t the best communicator.
We wanted to find a place that would be more cost-effective because once it is safe, we plan to visit other towns in Hungary and nearby countries. That means double accommodation costs.
We moved into our new place on May 26th. It is a bit smaller than the last place but very stylish. The owner used to have an interior decorating business, so it is full of touches you don’t often see in a rental.
A Taste of Freedom
By May 1st, the Covid numbers had come down enough for closed businesses, including restaurants, museums, and gyms, to open, but only to people who could prove they were vaccinated.
Since Steve and I are in our 60s with some health issues, we have been erring on the side of caution. We have kept our non-essential excursions to a minimum and did not eat outdoors at restaurants once that became available.
On the 21st, we finally let our guard down a little and took advantage of a beautiful day, which was a welcome change from the cold, cloudy weather that has plagued the city. We walked to the Liberty Bridge to see the latest mini-statue by Mihály Kolodko, then continued to the Buda side of the city.
We also enjoyed our first meal out in more than six months. We went to one of our favorite restaurants, Kiskakukk. The name means little cuckoo. It is more than 100 years old and serves traditional Hungarian food. I can only vouch for the stuffed cabbage, though. It is the only thing I ever order there because I absolutely love it.
Now that things are opening up, here are three posts to inspire you while in Budapest:
Despite being locked down for half a year, we have kept busy, and the days and months have gone quickly. In addition to working on this blog, I am studying Italian and have reconnected with my Jacksonville Toastmasters group, Toast of Jax, thanks to Zoom.
All this downtime has given me a lot of opportunities to read. In May, I discovered a new author, Joshilyn Jackson. I am on my fifth book by her.
Steve has been equally busy cooking (he makes an incredible chicken paprikash), answering travel questions on Quora while promoting Wind and Whim, and tending to all the little things that need attention in a home. He has also been staying on top of the constantly changing Covid and vaccine situations.
June looks brighter than May in several ways:
The weather is getting better.
We hope to get our new residence permits in the early part of the month.
We may be able to take a side-trip or two within Hungary soon.
And last, but definitely not least, we will celebrate our 42nd anniversary on June 2nd. I am so grateful that Steve was willing to make the leap to full-time travel and that he is as curious about the world as I am. Despite being sidelined, I count my blessings every day.
Steve and I wish you a wonderful June.
Stay safe and healthy, Linda
Featured photo of the Liberty Bridge, the Danube River, and Pest as seen from Gellert hill – by Linda Gerbec
Buda Castle sits on a hill overlooking the Danube. A fun way to get up the hill is on the Budapest Castle Hill Funicular (Budavári Sikló). It is a 150-year-old funicular railway that will take you from Clark Adam Square (Clark Ádám tér) at the end of the Buda side of the Chain Bridge to Buda Castle and back down again. You can purchase a one-way or round-trip ticket at the entrance to the funicular.
Clark Adam Square is at the end of the Chain Bridge. As of this writing, the bridge is undergoing renovation and is closed to pedestrian traffic. It will be closed to all traffic by June 2021. The work is expected to be completed by August 2023.
2. A Statue of King Saint Stephen
To the north of Buda Castle, you will find Fisherman’s Bastion (Halászbástya) and the Matthias Church (Mátyás–templom) . You can also see this elegant statue of King Saint Stephen (Szent István király), the first king of Hungary. He is also known as Stephen I and is credited with bringing Christianity to Hungary.
You can see the statue near the Matthias Church at Szentháromság tér 2.
3. The Red Hedgehog House
The Red Hedgehog House (Vörös Sün Ház) is thought to be the oldest building in Budapest (circa 1260). This former inn was also used as a theater and a cabernet/brothel during its long life. The hedgehog, however, didn’t take up residence until the early 19th century.
When we visited, there were tables outside, but because of the pandemic, there wasn’t anything going on. Even so, if you are in the Castle District, it is fun to go on a hunt for the red hedgehog over the front door.
The red hedgehog resides at Hess András tér 3.
4. Listening Ears
If you walk along the Danube River on the Buda side below Buda Castle, you can see this contraption:
These Air Defense Early Warning Listening Ears were used to hear approaching bombers during World War I. You can read about the listening ears concept in this article about aircraft detection before radar.
5. Another Statue of King Saint Stephen
This statue is located on Gellert Hill overlooking the Danube River at the foot of the Liberty Bridge, which makes for a beautiful photo opportunity. It is about a 30-minute walk from the Castle to this statue.
King Saint Stephen looks much less impressive here than in the statue near Fisherman’s Bastion.
On the Buda Side – District II – Rose Hill and Watertown
District II is a large district north of Districts I and XII. It comprises several neighborhoods, including Watertown and Rose Hill.
6. The Tomb of Gül Baba
One day Steve and I decided to explore a prestigious and wealthy area of Budapest called Rose Hill (Rózsadomb). We must have been in the wrong section because we didn’t see much, but on the way back to the Danube River we stumbled upon the Tomb of Gül Baba.
Gül Baba was an Ottoman Dervish from the 16th century. He is honored for his piety and talent as a poet.
The tomb of Gül Baba is the northernmost Islamic pilgrimage site in the world. While the tomb itself may not be of much interest to non-Muslims, the patio and terraced garden are peaceful and beautifully kept.
You will find the tomb at Mecset u. 14. You can also approach the grounds via Gül Baba utca, the steepest street in Budapest.
On the Buda Side – District XII – Highlands
This district is a little bit away from the rest of the Budapest attractions, but in my opinion, well worth the trip. It includes Janos Hill, the highest point in Budapest.
7. The Zugliget Chairlift
You can reach Janos Hill (János-hegy) via a 15-minute long chairlift ride. The Zugliget Chairlift (Zugligeti Libegő) starts in the Zugliget neighborhood. You can take bus 291 to reach the chairlift entrance. Tickets are sold from machines at the entrance.
Once you get to the top, you will be well placed to visit Elizabeth Tower and the Children’s Railway (more on both below). There are also several hiking trails in the hills.
The chairlift entrance is at Zugligeti út 97.
8. The Children’s Railway
The Childrens’ Railway (Gyermekvasút) is a railway run almost entirely by children. Only the driver and the supervisors are adults. The age of the students runs from 10 to 14 years old. They must be excellent students to be chosen for this honor.
The Children’s Railway is a narrow-gauge railway that travels through the Buda Hills for over 7 miles. It is the longest child-run railway in the world.
I was surprised to learn that there are many still functioning children’s railways in Russia and other ex-Soviet states and some Eastern European countries. They are remnants of the U.S.S.R., where they were used to train children in the transportation industry and instill the political ideology.
You can buy your tickets on the train, but it is best to have exact change. We did not, so the train had to go to the next station where we were able to buy tickets.
It was difficult to find the railroad from the area at the top of the chairlift. Look for signs saying Gyermekvasút or ask a friendly local.
9. The Elizabeth Lookout Tower
The delightful multi-tiered Elizabeth Lookout Tower (Erzsébet-kilátó) sits atop Janos Hill. The tower was built in 1910 and rebuilt in the early 2000s. It was named in honor of the much-beloved Queen Elisabeth of Hungary (1837-1898) because she enjoyed visiting the area. You can read about her tragic life here.
Once you get off the chairlift on Janos Hill, you can see the tower to your right. It is a short uphill walk to reach it.
On the Pest Side – District V – Downtown
District V sits along the Danube River on the Pest side opposite District I. The Hungarian Parliament Building is in this district.
10. Bullet Hole Markers
If you head inland from the Hungarian Parliament Building, you can see the Ministry of Agriculture Building. On it, you can see an unusual memorial. It is one of many memorials throughout the city that commemorate the failed Hungarian Revolution of 1956.
This memorial honors one of the events of that Revolution. On October 25th, peaceful protesters gathered in Kossuth Square (Kossuth Tér). Hungarian and Soviet troops opened fire on protesters, and many fled among the columns of the Ministry of Agriculture Building.
The event is now known as Bloody Thursday. Dozens of markers show where bullets fired at the protesters hit the walls. The exact number of dead is not known, with estimates from 20 to 1,000.
The Ministry of Agriculture is at Kossuth Lajos tér 11.
11. U.S. Presidents in Liberty Square
District V also includes Liberty Square (Szabadság tér), a public area with statues dedicated to freedom and liberty. You may be surprised to find statues of two U.S. presidents: Ronald Reagan and George Bush Sr.
The Reagan statue was erected in 2011 to recognize his efforts to help end the Cold War and Russia’s control over the country.
The Bush statue was unveiled in 2020 to mark the thirtieth anniversary of the fall of communist rule in Central and Eastern Europe. Bush visited Budapest in 1989. Here is more information about that visit, including a video of Bush’s speech to the Hungarian people.
As a side note: The U.S. Embassy sits on the eastern side of Liberty Square. The Embassy is surrounded by a high fence and heavily guarded. Quite frankly, I think it looks like a minimum-security prison. This is quite a contrast to the welcoming look of the numerous embassies that line Andrassy Avenue.
12. Two Porcelain Statues in Jozsef Nador Square
Jozsef Nador Square (József Nádor tér) was reconstructed in 2018. As part of this project, two large porcelain statues were added. The first is the Tree of Life by the Herend Porcelain Manufacturer. The second is Hercules Fountain by the Zsolnay Porcelain Manufacturer. A statue of the square’s namesake stands between the two.
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
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 (Kisföldalatti) is 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.
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
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.
17. A Segment of the Berlin Wall
You can also see a segment of the Berlin Wall in front of the Terror House Museum.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
Even though street art is lacking in Budapest, here are a few that I found entertaining.
Fancy Face at Tereza Mexican Restaurant (District VI)
You 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)
This woman and her monkey liven up the side of a large building on Kazinczy utca.
What a Door (District VII)
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)
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Kermit the Frog (District V)
You can see the always popular Kermit in Liberty Square. (Szabadság Square) not far from the U.S. Embassy.
Diver (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.
Tank (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.
Dead 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
If you want to learn more about e-scooters, here are two articles that may be of interest to you:
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.
National Palace of Sintra (Palácio Nacional de Sintra)
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.
This is a part of the painted wall in the chapel. The doves represent the Holy Ghost descending to Earth.
The Swan Hall features an intricate ceiling featuring, you guessed it, swans.
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)
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.
This photo of a hallway in the palace shows the great attention to detail.
You can see this fountain as you exit the palace.
Our travel buddy Hedgie couldn’t wait to run on the lawn.
Pena Palace (Palacio Nacional da Pena)
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.
This handsome guy symbolizes the Creation. Be sure to say hi when you see him.
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)
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Dates: November 13-23, 2018 Number of days: 10 Total cost: $1,300 Cost per day: $130
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 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.
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.
The next building is also on the Buda side. Construction cranes are a common sight throughout Budapest.
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 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.
I just love the clean look of this large white building next to the Parliament building, which you can see below.
This beauty overlooks Liberty Square.
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.
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.
The neo-gothic Stern House.
This frilly confection is the Vígszínház, the Comedy Theatre of Budapest.
Here are two buildings that I never tire of seeing. They are 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.
Like the two joined buildings above, these are at the foot of the Elisabeth Bridge on the Pest side of the city.
You can’t go wrong with a pretty pink house.
This bright, recently restored building is on a side street. Well worth the detour.
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.
This lovely gem flanks the pond in City Park. It appears to have restaurants and shops, but they have been closed during the pandemic.
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.
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.
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.
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.
St.Stephen’s Basilica is a Roman Catholic basilica named in honor of the first king of Hungary.
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 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.
The Keleti Railway Station (translates to East Railway Station) is a hub for local and long-distance trains and buses.
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.
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.
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.
Part of the tiled roof of the Matthias Church. Many buildings in the city have patterned roofs.
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.
These are just three of the many busts on the Parisi Udvar building.
This cute relief is one of eight different ones on a building on Vaci street.
It is not unusual to see statues in niches on the exteriors of buildings. This building features statues of several Hungarian leaders.
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.
Here is another relief. This one is just too cute.
These mosaics are on the top story of a three-story building.
These beautiful corbels are on the elegant Andrássy Avenue.
These are two of the light-holding fauns that decorate the Anantara New York Palace Budapest Hotel.
More reliefs. These are on the side of a building that houses a large drug and toiletries store.
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.