Sinaia, Romania: A Great Addition to Your Bucharest Trip

If you’re fortunate enough to visit Bucharest, Romania, you will have much to explore and enjoy. Among the many things to see in Bucharest, you can tour the Palace of Parliament, one of the largest buildings in the world, peruse the stunningly beautiful Carturesti Carusel bookstore, and get pampered at Therme Bucuresti, an over-the-top relaxation center.

After you’ve seen what this amazing city has to offer, you may want to explore more of Romania.

Sinaia, Romania is a great choice. This town in the Bucegi Mountains is just 86 miles (140 km) north of Bucharest. It is most famous for being the home of Peles Castle, but it has so much more to offer.

You can see some of the highlights of Sinaia during a day trip, but I believe it deserves a longer stay.

Read on to discover all the things to do in and near Sinaia.

All money is in U.S. dollars.

A Little Background

Steve and I spent four weeks in Bucharest in the summer of 2018. While there, we took a group tour to Peles Castle and Bran Castle. During the bus ride, we drove through the center of Sinaia. We were both impressed with how picturesque it was, so when we found ourselves back in Bucharest in the summer of 2023, we took the opportunity to spend some time in Sinaia.

We spent five nights at the Hotel Boutique Vila LaKastel in Sinaia. It was pleasant enough, but we were disappointed with the breakfast. Not only didn’t we like the food, but they appeared to be rationing coffee. Our cups were only half filled, and we repeatedly had to ask for more. Because of this, we ate four breakfasts across the street at the Hotel Marami. They had a simple buffet and all the coffee we could drink for $9 per person.

Getting There and Getting Around

Getting to Sinaia from Bucharest

Sinaia is less than a two-hour drive from Bucharest. If you prefer public transportation, a train trip from Bucuresti Nord to Sinaia on CFR Calatori takes as little as 1.5 hours.

The Sinaia, Romania train station
The Sinaia train station

The train station is very close to the center of town. You can walk to your accommodations if you’re staying in town and don’t mind some stairs. You can also get a taxi or Uber.

We stayed near Peles Castle. You can walk to this area from the town center in about 20 minutes, and we did so several times. However, I wouldn’t recommend you do so with luggage. Sinaia is a mountain town, so there are a lot of inclines.

Getting Around Sinaia

A lot of Sinaia is walkable. One exception is the Telegondola station (more on that below), which is a 50-minute uphill walk from the town center. It is easy to get there by bus.

You can buy bus tickets at machines at the bus stops in town. If you’re boarding a bus elsewhere, you can get a ticket from the driver. Uber is available, and taxis are plentiful.

Things To Do in Sinaia

Peles Castle

The exterior of Peles Castle
Peles Castle in all its glory

Peles Castle is the main attraction in Sinaia. The castle was commissioned by Romania’s first king, Carol I, and inaugurated in 1883. The royal family used it as a hunting preserve and summer retreat until 1947, when King Michael I was forced to abdicate, and the royal properties were seized by the Communist government.

Carol I was of German heritage, which is reflected in the architecture. To call the castle ornate would be an understatement.

Fun Fact – Peles Castle was the first European castle to have electricity. There is a retractable glass ceiling and many other modern conveniences. You can learn more about them here.

The music room in Peles Castle
The music room

You can choose to see the first floor, the first and second floors, or all three floors. As of this writing, the cost is $11, $22, and $33, respectively. Expect to spend a few hours there.

The castle is closed on Monday and Tuesday, so those are great days to get photos on the patio without the crowds.

Click here for information on visiting Peles Castle and Pelisor Castle.

Pelisor Castle

Pelisor Castle exterior
The front of Pelisor Castle

I think of Pelisor Castle as Peles Castle’s little brother. It is just a four-minute walk between the two.

This castle was commissioned by King Carol I as the home for his nephew, Ferdinand I, and his wife, Marie. It was completed in 1902.

The exterior is in the German Neo-Renaissance style, like Peles Castle. However, the interior is filled with Art Nouveau elements. Most of the rooms are bland compared to the opulence of Peles Castle, but the Golden Room is a beautiful exception. The walls and ceiling have an intricate thistle design and are covered in 24-carat gold leaf.

The Golden Room in Pelisor Castle
The Golden Room

Ferdinand I became king upon Carol I’s death in 1914, as King Carol I did not have a male heir. He and his wife, Elisabeth, only had one child, a girl named Maria, who died from scarlet fever at the age of four.

Since this castle is much smaller than Peles, you only need about an hour here.

Stirbey Castle

Stirbey Castle is another 19th-century castle in Sinaia. It differs from the above two in that it is in the center of town and is much smaller. The castle was built by Princess Alina Stirbey, a Romanian noble, and her husband, General Emanuel Florescu, as a summer home.

Two pictures of Stirbey Castle
A drawing of the castle with Princess Alina and a current photo of the same view

The home is now a museum and a hotel with a cafe. In January 2024, the hotel rooms started at $60 per night. Get more information here.

It cost us $3.50 each to tour the museum. While not a must-see, it was interesting.

Dimitrie Ghica Park and the Town Center

The Dimitrie Ghica Park is in the center of town and was the area that made Steve and I want to see more of Sinaia when we drove through it in 2018.

The park has a large fountain and a pavilion. There are paved walkways and plenty of benches. The park is surrounded by impressive 19th and 20th-century buildings such as the Sinaia Casino (currently a conference center) and the Caraiman Hotel.

The Caraiman Hotel
The Caraiman Hotel as seen from Dimitrie Ghica Park

Bulevardul Carol I runs along one side of the park, then continues to the south. There are many restaurants, shops, and hotels on the stretch south of the park, including our favorite restaurant, Restaurant Wood, at Bulevardul Carol I 8.

Sinaia Monastery

The Sinaia Monastery is a ten-minute walk from Dimitrie Ghica Park. It includes two churches, the Old Church and the New Church.

The Old Church is over 300 years old. It is small, but the 17th-century Byzantine paintings are worth seeing. The New Church dates back to the mid-1800s.

The ceiling in the Old Church at the Sinaia Monastery
Look at the detail on the ceiling of the Old Church

The monastery served as a royal summer residence for King Carol I from his coronation in 1866 until the inauguration of Peles Castle 17 years later.

It is free to explore the grounds and the two churches. There may be a small fee to enter the museum. Learn more about it here.

Telegondola Sinaia

If you want some time in nature, the Telegondola is your ticket. We took the gondola to the top (6,560 feet or 2,000 meters). Even though it was pricy at $21 each round trip, it was worth it for the views.

Two views at the top of the Telegondola
At 2,000 meters – I’m not sure why there’s an abandoned phone booth

You can go to 1,400 meters or 2,000 meters. If you go to the top, you will change cars at 1,400 meters. Learn more here and in this article from The Balkans and Beyond.

Don’t forget a sweater or jacket (like I did). It was cool at 2,000 meters, even in the summer.

Hike and Ski

Sinaia and the land around it is so beautiful, you’ll want to spend every moment possible outside. One great way to do this is to hike some of the Sinaia trails. Here are some of the best trails to try from Wikiloc.

There is also a ski resort in Sinaia, but it doesn’t have a very good rating. A word of warning: if you get hurt, the health care may not be the best. I don’t have experience with health care in Romania, but Steve’s experience with health care in Bulgaria was abysmal.

Things To Do Near Sinaia

Bran Castle

The courtyard at Bran Castle
The courtyard at the castle

In less than one hour, you can drive from Sinaia to Bran Castle. You can also take a bus or train from Sinaia to Brasov and then get a bus to the castle.

Although it is known as Dracula’s Castle, this is a myth. Even so, it has undoubtedly brought many visitors to the castle. Learn the truth here.

We’ve been to the castle twice, both times in the summer, and it was packed. Since our first visit was part of a tour, we didn’t get to explore the grounds or the town. We had hoped to remedy that on our second visit, but that was not to be.

As we ended our tour of the inside of the castle and were ready to walk the grounds, heavy rains came down. We waited it out in the restaurant, hoping it would stop. It did lighten up a little, but not enough for us to walk around outdoors, so we returned to our hotel.

Getting directions to the castle was challenging. The desk clerk directed us to the central bus station (which is connected to the train station where we had arrived in Brasov). Once there, we couldn’t find any information on buses to Bran. We asked around, to no avail, although one man offered to drive us but wanted too much money.

Then I saw a line of people boarding a bus, so I asked them if they were going to Bran Castle. They weren’t, but the driver told us to get on, free of charge, as the bus was going to Autogara 2, where we could get a bus to the castle.

See the castle’s website to plan your visit and learn more about this fabled place.

We spent two nights at the Hotel Belvedere in Brasov. It was a nice hotel, but the best part was the restaurant, Restaurant Belvedere. We had two fabulous dinners there and highly recommend it.

Filet mignon and vegetable dinner
The food was as good as it looks and came with a small complimentary appetizer

Cantacuzino Castle

If you’re a fan of the delightfully quirky television show Wednesday, here’s your chance to see Nevermore Academy (or at least the building that was used for the exterior shots).

Don’t be surprised if the building looks different than on the show. Special effects and computer-generated imagery were used to make adjustments, especially to the roof line.

Cantacuzino Castle was the summer home of aristocrat and politician Prince Gheorghe Grigore Cantacuzino. It took ten years to build and was completed in 1911. Sadly, the prince died there two years later.

The castle is in the nearby town of Busteni. It is a short drive from Sinaia. You can also go by train. The trip will take about 30 minutes, with the last 18 minutes walking from the Busteni train station to the castle.

At the castle, you can tour the inside, check out the art gallery, stroll the grounds, or a combination of these. Expect to spend one to two hours there. Learn more at the castle’s website.

We didn’t get to Cantacuzino Castle. We’d planned to go on our last day in Sinaia, but it was raining. Since we weren’t staying near the train station, we would have had to take a bus there and then get on the train. This wouldn’t usually stop us, but that day, the bus and train schedules weren’t coordinated, so we gave it a pass.

You can read more about the castle and how it was used in the TV show in this Architectural Digest article.

Ialomita Cave and Monastery

If you want to venture a little further from Sinaia, you can take the hour-long drive to Ialomita Cave and Monastery in Moroeni. It may be challenging to get there using public transportation.

Once there, you can explore a large cave with a monastery at its entrance. We didn’t do this, but it is highly rated on Trip Advisor and Google Reviews.

You can learn more about Ialomita in the article from Calling For The Wild.

Our Costs

In Sinaia

Dates: July 27, 2023 – August 1, 2023
Number of nights: 5
Total cost for two people: $923
Cost per night: $184

Biggest costs: Accommodations: $482
Dining: 264
Activities: 90

In Brasov

Dates: August 1, 2023 – August 3, 2023
Number of nights: 2
Total cost for two people: $428
Cost per night: $214

Biggest costs: Accommodations: $235
Dining: 134

Final Thoughts

Sinaia was as magical as we had expected. It didn’t hurt that our 2023 trip gave us a break from the heat of Bucharest, either.

You can read about our month in Bucharest and Sinaia in our July 2023 update.

I would recommend Sinaia and the surrounding area to anyone who loves nature and history.

Until Next Time

I hope you enjoyed this article about Sinaia. Steve and I would love to hear your thoughts. If you’ve been lucky enough to see Sinaia, please share your experiences and impressions with us.

Happy traveling,
Linda

Kotor, Montenegro Photo Gallery

Here are our favorite photos from our November 2023 trip to Kotor, Montenegro. There are also two photos from the nearby town of Tivat.

Most of the photos were taken in Kotor’s Old Town, my favorite old town to date. As you can see, there were few people as it was off-season, and the weather was often bad during our stay.

To see the images in a slideshow with captions, press any image.

What You Need to Know When Visiting Tirana, Albania

What’s it like to visit Tirana, the capital of Albania?

Except for the lack of street addresses and lackadaisical bus schedules, it was similar to visiting any other city.

Before traveling to Tirana, I knew nothing about the city or the country. In September 2023, Steve and I stayed there for four weeks. You can read about that in “Wind and Whim’s Monthly Update: September 2023.”

Here are the practical things you need to know when visiting Tirana. There is a lot of information, but you can use the table of contents to find the information you need quickly.

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

About Tirana

1. Tirana is the capital of Albania.

2. About 500,000 people live in Tirana.

3. The same number of people live in Skopje, North Macedonia, yet when we were in Skopje in August 2023, the city was uncrowded. In contrast, Tirana was crowded.

4. Tirana is growing by 30,000 people annually, and new buildings are popping up everywhere.

Two highrise buildings
Just two of the many modern buildings in Tirana

5. Skanderbeg Square is a large square in the city’s center. It honors a 15th-century nobleman who rebelled against the Ottomans.

6. The Lana River runs through the city, but don’t rush to see it. At least when we were there, it was not much more than a little creek.

The Lana River
The Lana River in September

About Albania

7. 2.8 million people live in Albania.

8. Albania is a Balkan country on the Adriatic Sea.

9. From 1946 to 1991, it was under communist rule.

10. Albania became a republic after the fall of communism in 1991.

11. The country’s official name is the Republic of Albania.

12. Unlike its neighbors, North Macedonia and Montenegro, Albania was never part of Yugoslavia.

13. You can learn about Albania’s historical periods in this article by Adventure Unbound.

Culture

14. The most unusual thing about Tirana was the lack of street addresses. Our Airbnb listing referenced the GPS coordinates instead. We used the name of the hotel across the street from our Airbnb when dealing with taxis and using map apps. You can read more about this in this BalkanInsight article.

15. Religion was banned in Albania in 1967 when the Communist Party declared Albania to be the first atheistic state. The ban on religion was lifted in 1990.

16. About 60% of Albanians are Muslim. Almost 40% are Christian (Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox). A small number of people are atheists or follow another religion.

Communication

17. Albanian is the official language.

18. The Albanian language has two dialects: Tosk, which is spoken in the south, and Gheg, which is spoken in the north.

19. English is widespread in Tirana. It is on many menus and in museums.

20. Google Translate worked great the few times we needed to translate something.

21. We used Vodafone SIMs. We each got 35GB of data for 30 days at $15 each. We typically use 3GB of data per month.

22. Our SIM cards work great in Tirana and the seaside town of Durres.

Money

23. The Albanian Lek is the official money in Albania. Its currency symbol is ALL.

24. The letter “L” indicates the currency is lek. So 500 L means 500 lek.

25. As of September 2023, 1000 L = ~$10.00. To convert the price to U.S. dollars, we divided by 100.

26. We were able to use Euro at stops along the bus route from Skopje to Tirana and to pay the taxi driver when we arrived in Tirana.

27. Credit cards aren’t accepted everywhere. We had to use cash at some restaurants and all the museums we visited.

28. Tipping isn’t expected, but it is nice to leave a little cash if the service is good.

29. Beware of the ATM fees. When we arrived in Tirana, I went to the first ATM I saw, which was a Tirana Bank ATM. I was charged $7.00 to withdraw $200. I read that ATM withdrawals from Credins Bank and Alpha Bank may be free, but that information was two years old. Still, it would be worth a try.

30. Spend your cash before leaving the country. It is difficult, if not impossible, to exchange it in other countries.

Getting Around

Walking

31. It was easy to get around the city by walking, but the sidewalks were usually crowded.

32. Google Maps worked great for walking directions.

33. 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, scooters, and motorcycles don’t always stop.

34. If there is a traffic light, obey the walk/don’t walk signs.

35. Bikes and scooters are less prevalent than in other cities. Even so, it’s best to walk outside the bike lanes and cross bike lanes like you cross a street. Look both ways.

36. 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 sidewalks, and the riders seldom warn you when they want to pass. Motorcycles occasionally drive on the sidewalks, too.

Public Transportation

37. Uber and Lyft aren’t available in Tirana. Of course, there are taxis, but we usually used buses to get to places that were too far to walk.

38. Google Maps did not work for public transportation.

39. For bus information, we used Moovit. This helped a bit, but wasn’t totally reliable. For example, when we wanted to go to Bunk’Art 1, Moovit told us to take bus L4. We couldn’t find bus L4, but we knew we were supposed to head towards Porcelan, which was bus L11. If in doubt, ask the drivers.

40. Don’t expect to find traditional bus stations. We wanted to buy tickets from Tirana to Durres, so we headed to the bus station (per Google Maps), only to find it was just a bus stop. Fortunately, a local man told us how to get to Durres.

41. There is very little local bus information online. Just show up at the bus station or stop and ask around. Luckily, everyone was helpful.

42. Riding the bus is easy. You pay the ticket man after you get on. A ride in the city was 40 cents (40 lek). You don’t need exact change; the ticket man has plenty.

43. If you arrive by bus from an international city, you will be dropped off on the street near the Tirana International Bus Terminal. When leaving on an international trip, go to the back of the building where you were initially dropped off. There, you will find stores selling tickets for many destinations and bus lines. Again, when unsure, ask around.

44. Your best bet when using buses in Albania is to go with the mindset that as long as you are heading towards your destination, you’re okay.

Food and Water

45. A Google search on the safety of tap water in Tirana turned up everything from “Yes, it’s safe” to “Don’t drink it, you’ll get sick.” I dislike using bottled water, so I filtered and boiled tap water. That worked well.

46. Steve and I aren’t big on traditional food, but we did try some. Albanian cuisine is big on meat, which is often overcooked. The exception was the chicken kabob I had at Taverna Paidhage.

A woman with a chicken kabob
My chicken kabob at Taverna Paidhage tasted as good as it looked.

47. If you love trying traditional food, check out this list of Albanian foods from Nomad Paradise.

48. Generally, restaurant meals were inexpensive. Several times, we had two entrees and two beverages for under $20.

49. While restaurant food was inexpensive, the cost of drinks was often on par with what we’ve paid in other Southeastern European cities.

50. Conversely, we found the prices at grocery stores to be shockingly high, at least compared to other Balkan countries.

Restaurants

51. My favorite restaurant was Lissus Fish. They serve a complementary dish of marinated anchovies (super yummy) and have delicious fish dishes at reasonable prices.

52. We enjoyed dinner at Restaurant Tymi. This small restaurant is packed to the gills with pop culture decor. The food is cheap, and the music is lively. Warning: there may be a line to get in.

A wall of pop culture memorabilia
The walls and ceiling are a pop culture explosion at Restaurant Tymi

53. The food at Serendipity Mexican restaurant wasn’t as good as our homemade burritos, but we still enjoyed a platter of Mexican treats.

A platter of Mexican food
The variety platter for two at Serendipity

54. If you want to go full-on tourist, go to Oda one evening. This restaurant features traditional Albanian food and live music in a courtyard full of lemon trees. It is best to make reservations. We didn’t, so we had to wait a bit, but we got complementary raki while we waited! We didn’t love our food, but it was a fun experience.

Shopping

55. Grocery stores and pharmacies are open on Sunday.

56. We did most of our grocery shopping at Conad since there were several of these near our apartment.

57. The Conad store closest to us was on Bulevardi Zogu 1, but we preferred the Conad store in the Toptani Shopping Center and the one on Kavaja Street.

58. Bags are not provided at grocery stores. You can either buy them at the checkout counter or bring your own.

59. You have to bag your own groceries, and there isn’t a separate area to do this as we’ve seen in some other cities. This can be challenging if you are alone and buying a lot.

60. Pharmacies are indicated by a green cross. In addition to prescription medicine, you buy over-the-counter medication here, too.

61. Rossmann & Lala is your best bet for toiletries, household cleaners, and personal care items.

Things to See and Do

Bunk’Art 1 and Bunk’Art 2

62. Bunk’Art 1 and Bunk’Art 2 are history museums in the abandoned bunkers of the communist era.

63. These are just two of the 750,000 bunkers built in Albania by dictator Enver Hoxha from the late 1960s until his death in 1985 as he became increasingly fearful of foreign invasions.

64. You can see bunkers throughout Albania. Learn more about them in this National Geographic article.

65. Bunk’Art 1 is located on the outskirts of the city and covers five decades from 1939 to 1990. You can learn what life was like under occupation by fascist Italy, during WWII and the short-lived German invasion, and under four and a half decades of communist rule.

A mannequin with a gas mask
This will be your guide at Bunk’Art 1

66. Bunk’Art 2 is in the city center not far from Skanderbeg Square. It focuses on the power of the police from 1912 to 1991.

67. Photos are allowed in both museums.

68. Here is the Bunk’Art museum website.

Churches and Mosques

The Et’ Hem Bej Mosque

Et'hem Bej Mosque
Et’hem Bej Mosque (the building on the left)

69. The Et’ Hem Bej Mosque is a small mosque on Skanderbeg Square.

70. The mosque was built in the 18th century during Ottoman rule. It was closed during the communist era but treated as a historical monument.

71. You can visit the mosque. Women must cover their hair, and everyone must remove their shoes.

72. I couldn’t find information about the visiting hours online. The best thing is to call or check the information posted at the mosque.

The Resurrection of Christ Orthodox Cathedral

The Resurrection of Christ Orthodox Cathedral
The Resurrection of Christ Orthodox Cathedral

73. This modern church opened in 2012.

74. It is just a short walk from Skanderbeg Square.

The Great Mosque of Tirana

The Great Mosque of Tirana
The Great Mosque of Tirana

75. The mosque was still under construction in September 2023. Even so, it is worth seeing.

76. The mosque is also called the Namazgah Mosque. It is a thirteen-minute walk from Skanderbeg Square.

Dajti Mountain

77. Dajti Mountain is close to Bunk’Art 1. It is a great lookout place with much to do according to their website. We were there on a Wednesday in September, and many things were closed.

78. The Dajti Ekspres cable car takes you up and down the mountain. There are several ticket options posted at the office. We paid $14 each for a round trip on the cable car.

Cable cars going up and down Dajti Mountain
The Dajti Ekspres with the city of Tirana below

79. The cable car does not run on Tuesdays unless that Tuesday is a festival day.

The House of Leaves

80. The House of Leaves is also called the Museum of Secret Surveillance.

81. It was originally a private obstetrics clinic in Albania and was briefly used by the Gestapo during WWII. With the advent of communism, it became the headquarters of the Sigurimi, the country’s security, intelligence, and secret police.

82. The museum focuses on the equipment and methods of the Sigurimi.

83. No photos are allowed inside.

The National Historical Museum

84. The National Historical Museum is a large museum that covers the country’s history from the 4th century BC to the mid-20th century.

85. The museum has three floors. The Pavilion of Antiquity, on the first floor, had excellent English explanations. The other two floors did not.

The New Bazaar

86. The New Bazaar is in the Old Town of Tirana. The centerpiece is a glass and steel structure loaded with souvenir and food vendors. Other shops and restaurants fill the streets around it.

The New Bazaar
A small part of the New Bazaar

The Pyramid of Tirana

The Pyramid of Tirana
The Pyramid of Tirana

87. The Pyramid of Tirana was a museum dedicated to Enver Hoxha’s “legacy.” After the fall of communism, it had a few other short-lived uses.

88. The Pyramid is undergoing a renovation that will turn it into a cultural center with classrooms, studios, cafes, and restaurants.

Tanner’s Bridge

89. Tanner’s Bridge was built by the Ottomans in the 18th century. It’s worth your while to see it and get a photo or two if you are in the area.

90. The bridge is a three-minute walk from the Grand Mosque.

A man standing on Tanner’s Bridge
Steve on Tanner’s Bridge

Tirana Castle

91. The Tirana Castle dates back to the 1300s, and only a few walls remain. The area inside the walls now houses shops, bars, and restaurants.

Two photos of the Tirana Castle
The entrance of the Tirana Castle and raki bottles in a shop in the castle

See more photos of Tirana and Durres in our “Tirana, Albania Photo Gallery.”

In Summary

We didn’t love Tirana. It was too busy, and there wasn’t a lot to do. There is definitely a lack of museums. We were disappointed that the National Gallery of Art is permanently closed (according to their website).

If you are in the region, it is worth a short trip to see what it’s like. We were there for four weeks, which was too long.

Until Next Time

Do you live in Tirana, or have you been there? 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’re planning to visit Skopje, check out our post “What You Need To Know When Visiting Skopje, North Macedonia.”

Happy traveling,
Linda

A Venetian Surprise in Shkoder, Albania

One of the many things I love when traveling is discovering something incongruous, like when Steve and I ran across the wonderful Beatles Museum in the Hungarian city of Eger. You can read about that in our post about Eger and Egerszalok.

In early October 2023, we discovered another unexpected gem while visiting the Albanian city of Shkoder. It was the Venice Art Mask Factory.

A Little Background

We spent most of September in Tirana, the capital of Albania. That was followed by four weeks in Montenegro’s capital of Podgorica. On the bus ride from Tirana to Podgorica, we passed through Shkoder, Albania.

Steve and I liked what little we saw of the city, the 5th largest in Albania. I was particularly enamored with the magnolia trees that lined the streets. Even though they were several months past blooming, they were loaded with seed pods, and they were magnificent.

Once we settled in Podgorica, we arranged to take a side trip to Shkoder.

What to Do in Shkoder

Shkoder, with a population of 200,000, has several interesting things for tourists to do.

You can explore the Rozafa Castle ruins. You can check out the “Marubi” National Museum of Photography and the Site of Witness and Memory museum, which commemorates the victims of the communist regime in Shkoder.

You can see two cathedrals: St. Stephen’s Cathedral and the Orthodox Cathedral of the Nativity. You can visit mosques, including the Ebu Bekr Mosque and the Lead Mosque.

Farther from the city, Shkodra Lake and the Mesi Bridge are waiting for you.

But what really caught us by surprise was the Venice Art Mask Factory.

About the Venice Art Mask Factory

According to their website, the Venice Art Mask Factory is the biggest supplier of Venetian and masquerade masks. All the masks are handmade and begin with handcrafted papier mache. Then, they are individually decorated.

Photo collage of Venetian-style masks
Just a few of the impressive masks

In addition to being worn at the Carnival of Venice and other masquerade festivals around the world, these marvelous masks are used in Las Vegas shows and movies like Eyes Wide Shut. They also adorn the walls of restaurants and homes.

How to Get to the Factory

The Venice Art Mask Factory building
The Venice Art Mask Factory

The factory is an eight-minute drive from the city center, which is great if you have a car. We found that public transportation in Shkoder is scarce, and information is hard to come by. We waited 45 minutes for one taxi and an hour for a second one that never showed up.

If you don’t have a car, you can rent a bike. They are all over the city.

Steve and I chose to walk. It was an easy half-hour walk from the city center.

Our Experience at the Factory

There are two sections to see at the factory: the showroom and the factory itself.

The entrance to the Venice Art Mask Factory showroom
The showroom entrance

We saw the showroom first and were blown away. There was so much to see, and it was all enchanting.

After taking in the showroom, we saw the factory. It is a light-filled building with two rows of long tables where the masks move from table to table as they become masterpieces.

We were there on a Sunday, so no one was working in the factory. According to Tripadvisor, if you go on a weekday, you can see the artists at work.

Photos aren’t allowed in the factory, but be sure to notice the lovely paintings on the walls.

We were shown around by Tony, who explained the mask-making process in detail and answered all our questions.

We toured the showroom and factory at no charge. However, some Tripadvisor posters said they paid 3 euro to tour the factory, so be prepared. Since we don’t buy souvenirs, as they would end up in our storage unit, we gave Tony a donation. We never felt any pressure to buy something, but there were many beautiful creations we would love to own.

Until Next Time

That’s it for this short but sweet post. If you get a chance to visit Shkoder, which I highly recommend, do not miss this gem.

Happy traveling,
Linda

Skopje, North Macedonia Photo Gallery

Steve and I spent most of August 2023 in Skopje, the capital of North Macedonia. This city is unlike any we have visited. It’s quirky, it’s over-the-top, it’s never boring. We enjoyed seeing hundreds of statues and loved the museums. I hope you enjoy a look at some of the highlights of Skopje.

To see a slideshow of the images with captions, press any image.

You can read more about Skopje in “What Is Skopje Really Like? An Honest Review” and “What You Need to Know When Visiting Skopje, North Macedonia.”

What Is Skopje Really Like? An Honest Review

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.

You can read about our stay in Skopje in “Wind and Whim’s Monthly Recap: August 2023” and see more of the city in our post “Skopje, North Macedonia Photo Gallery.”

What’s Good About Skopje?

It’s Never Boring

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.

Six photos of Skopje
Skopje is beauty mixed with quirkiness

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.

The Stone Bridge in Skopje
The Stone Bridge heading towards Macedonia Square

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.

A street in the Old Bazaar, Skopje
A typical street in the Old Bazaar

There are also many stores selling ballgowns and wedding dresses.

Two dresses for sale in the Old Bazaar
If you’re in the market for a fairytale dress, you can find it in the Old Bazaar

Learn more about the Old Bazaar in this article by Wander-Lush.

The Public Transportation

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.

The Holocaust Memorial Center for the Jews of Macedonia
The Holocaust Memorial Center for the Jews of Macedonia

English is Everywhere

It is easy to communicate since almost everyone speaks English. It is also widespread in museums and on menus.

Diverse Architecture

If you can take your eyes off the glitz of the Skopje 2014 project, you can see examples of other architectural styles.

Photos of four buildings in Skopje
Different architectural styles in Skopje clockwise from upper left: the neoclassical Ristik Palace, the postmodern Church of St. Clement of Ohrid, a Brutalist building, and a 15th-century Ottoman building (originally a bath, now an art gallery)

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.

The Bridge of Art in Skopje
The Bridge of Art

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 Bridge of Art in Skopje at night
What the Bridge of Art looks like with the lights on (photo from Canva)

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:

The National Theater in Skopje
The National Theater – you can see the disrepair along the bottom of the photo

The Litter

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.

The Graffiti

There is also way too much graffiti.

Two photos of the National Opera and Ballet exterior
Top photo – mosaics on the National Opera and Ballet building; Bottom photo – graffiti on the side of the building

The River

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 Vardar River
The Vardar River was not picturesque

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.”

Two pirate ships in Skopje
Top photo: The Hotel Senigallia (hotel and restaurant). Bottom photo: an abandoned ship

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.

Lower part of the Warrior on a Horse monument in Skopje
Blue water is pretty; green water – not so much

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.

If you are interested in visiting Skopje, check out our post “What You Need To Know When Visiting Skopje, North Macedonia” for helpful tips.

Until Next Time

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!

Happy traveling
Linda

Feature image from Canva

What You Need to Know When Visiting Skopje, North Macedonia

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

About Skopje

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.

Vardar River view Skopje
Two lovely buildings, Skopje Fortress, and graffiti flank the Vardar River

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.

Culture

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.

The Warrior on a Horse statue in Skopje
The Warrior on a Horse statue in Macedonia Square

Language

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.

Communication

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.

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.

Getting Around

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.

Validation screen and validation machine for Skopje buses
The screen on your app and the validation machine on the bus

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.

Restaurants

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.

Chicken in curry sauce with potatoes and carrots
The Chicken Crown – chicken filled with mozzarella and prosciutto and covered in curry sauce

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.

Restaurant Pelister in Skopje
The terrace at Restaurant Pelister

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.

Shopping

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:

Hungry Cbs GIF by Paramount+ - Find & Share on GIPHY

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.

Skopje Fortress

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.

Skopje Fortress wall
You can walk the walls of the fortress and enjoy some city views

Mt. Vodno

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.

Museums

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.

Exhibition hall in the Archaeological Museum of Macedonia
One of the stylish exhibit halls in the Archaeology Museum of Macedonia

76. The Holocaust Memorial Center for the Jews of Macedonia – This is another excellent museum. There is so much information that even after spending two hours there, we couldn’t take it all in. It cost us less than $2.00 per person to enter.

Large photo collage of Holocaust victims
The exhibit at the entrance of the museum

77. The Mother 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.

Statue of Mother Teresa
A statue of Mother Teresa watching over her museum

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.

79. For even more things to do in and near Skopje, see “21 Things to Do in Skopje, North Macedonia” by Wander-Lush.

In Summary

To see more of Skopje, check out our post “Skopje, North Macedonia Photo Gallery.”

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’re planning to visit Budapest, check out our post, “75 Things to Know When Visiting Budapest.”

Happy traveling,
Linda

Why You’ll Fall in Love with Opatija, Croatia

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.

Map showing the location of Opatija, Croatia

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

The Lungomare

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.

Four photos on the Lungomare in Opatija
Along the Lungomare

The Architecture

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.

Four photos of buildings in Opatija, Croatia
Four of the impressive buildings in Opatija

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.

Gardens in Opatija
Small sections of 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.

Two people on the Wall of Fame in Opatija
Albert Einstein and Emperor Franz Joseph I on the Wall of Fame

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.

Practical Stuff

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.

Three photos of Hotel Mozart
The Hotel Mozart exterior and two of the charming touches inside

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.

Cost

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.

Happy traveling,
Linda

Featured image: The Hotel Miramar in Opatija

12 of the Most Interesting Things to Do in Prague

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.

The other is to spend some time checking out Prague Castle with its Gothic St. Vitus Cathedral and the preserved homes on Golden Lane.

Houses on Golden Lane in Prague Castle
Can you believe people lived in these houses within Prague Castle until World War II?
Detail of the exterior of St. Vitus Cathedral, Prague
Detail on the St. Vitus Cathedral

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.

Two photos of the lobby of the Don Giovanni Hotel in Prague
Seriously, how incredible is the Don Giovanni Hotel lobby?

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.

District 1

A note about the first three items

The Pinkas Synagogue, the Old Jewish Cemetery, and the Maisel Synagogue are part of the Jewish Museum. In addition to these three places, a ticket to the museum includes the Ceremonial Hall; the Spanish Synagogue; and the Klaus Synagogue.

Steve and I visited only three of the six sites and found all of them interesting and worthwhile.

You can purchase tickets at the Information and Reservation Center on Maisel Street 15 or at the Spanish, Pinkas, or Maisel Synagogues.

If you love learning about the history and impact of the Holocaust, check out our post, “10 Must-See Holocaust Memorials in Budapest”.

1. Pinkas Synagogue

There wasn’t a lot to see in the Pinkas Synagogue, but what we saw was powerful.

The walls are inscribed with the names of 80,000 Jews from Bohemia and Moravia who perished during the Holocaust. There is also a permanent exhibit called Children’s Drawings from the Terezín Ghetto.

Window and walls in the Pinkas Synagogue, Prague
A wall in the synagogue with names of Jews killed during WWII

After you finish exploring the Pinkas Synagogue, you will enter the grounds of the Old Jewish Cemetery.

2. Old Jewish Cemetery

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.

Gravestones in the Old Jewish Cemetery, Prague
Some of the gravestones

3. Maisel Synagogue

Front of the Maisel Synagogue in Prague
The front of the Maisel Synagogue; don’t you love the bright blue fence?

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.

The Golem in the Maisel Synagogue, Prague
Don’t forget to say hi to the Golem

To visit the Maisel Synagogue, you must purchase a ticket for the Jewish Museum (as described above).

4. Petrin Tower

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.

The Petrin Tower in Prague
It’s the mini-Eiffel

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.

5. Wallenstein Palace

For a dose of Baroque beauty, stop by the Wallenstein Palace. This impressive Baroque building was built from 1624-1630 as the home of Albrecht von Wallenstein, Duke of Mecklenburg.

Wallenstein was a Bohemian military leader, statesman, and mercenary. He only lived in the Wallenstein Palace for a year before he was assassinated on the order of Ferdinand II, Holy Roman Emperor.

After World War II, the palace became state property and was turned into government offices, albeit very lovely ones. Today it houses the Senate of the Czech Republic.

Make time to see the gardens, the aviary, the dripstone wall, and the frescos in the open presentation area.

Two views of the Wallenstein Palace in Prague
Frescos and gardens at the Wallenstein Palace

6. KGB Museum

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.

Three photos from the KGB Museum in Prague
These photos can’t convey the intensity of the presentation

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.

7. Gallery of Steel Figures

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.

A lion sculpture made of scrap metal
One of the many sculptures with impressive attention to detail

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.

8. Vrtba Garden

Vrtba Garden is an Italian Style Baroque garden on the slope of Petrin Hill. It is small, but it packs a large punch.

The Vrtba Garden in Prague
Peace and beauty in the heart of the city

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.

District 2

9. Vysehrad Castle

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. 

A gate at the Vysehrad Castle in Prague
The entrance to Vysehrad Castle

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.

Two scenes from Vysehrad Cemetery
Two scenes from the Vysehrad Cemetery

Here is the Vysehrad Castle tour information.

10. Franz Kafka’s Head

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.

Franz, or at least his head, in all his 45-ton glory

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.

District 3

11. Olsany Cemetery

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.

Scenes from Olsany Cemetery, Prague
A few scenes from the cemetery
The grave of Franz Kafka and his parents
The unassuming grave of Franz Kafka and his parents

District 7

12. Troja Chateau

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.

A man sitting in front of the Troja Chateau
Steve and Hedgemeister in the garden of the Troja Chateau

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.

Fresco of a woman in the Troja Chateau
One of the many frescos in the chateau

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

Our costs:
Lodging: $1,000
Food (primarily restaurants): $900
Activities: $200
Transportation: $200

We were centered in Budapest then, so our airfare to Prague was only $174.

After buying metro tickets on the first day, we learned that anyone 65 years or older rides public transportation free. If this is you, be sure you have proof of your age.

Until Next Time

I hope that you enjoyed reading about some of the many interesting things to do in Prague as much as I enjoyed sharing them.

Of course, there are even more interesting things to do in Prague. Check them out here.

Happy traveling,
Linda

P.S. Blogging is a lonely pursuit. It would mean so much to me if you would share, save, or comment on this post and/or join our email list below.

The feature photo is the Czech toy store Pohádka – Toys at the Golden Lion.

Walking The Dales Way: 81 Miles of Beauty and Charm

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

Collage of four signs on 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.

Collage of scenes on the Dales Way

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.

A man standing in a field of sheep

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.

A man climbing a stile on the Dales Way

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.

Here is an article from The Independent from 2015 that talks about cow deaths in Britain.

A cow on a rock on the Dales Way

How we like our cows – far away

Options and Costs

According to the data above, the average cost to walk the Dales Way is $1,200.

You can keep your cost lower than this if you carry all your gear and camp along the way. Here is a list of fifteen campsites on the Dales Way.

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.

Our Experience

How We Came to Walk The Dales Way

Our inspiration to walk the Dales Way came from Simon Fairbairn and Erin McNeaney at Never Ending Voyage. You can read about their experience in “The Ultimate Guide to Northern England’s Dales Way.”

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.

The Riverside Inn in Ilkley, England

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.

A bedroom at Shepherd’s Cottage Luxury B&B

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.

A narrow road in Yorkshire

One of the narrow roads

Memorable Experiences  

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:

ItemCost in USD
Flight to Manchester$600
Trains and buses$100
Mickledore fee - rooms, breakfasts, lunches, map, book, intinerary
for 8 walking days
$2,300
Mickledore - two extra nights with breakfast$400
Dinners$700
Lunches where not provided and drinks$100
Total$4,200

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.

Collage of a woman on a hike

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.

Practical Stuff

Learn More About Walking the Dales Way

The official website of The Dales Way Association is full of helpful information for learning more about the route and planning your walk.

Here is more helpful information about walking the Dales Way from the Waypoint51 website.

You can read more firsthand experiences of the Dales Way on the Dales Way Association website.

Good to Know

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.

A man hiking on the Dales Way

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.

Man and woman kissing at the end of the Dales Way

At the end of our walk

A toy hedgehog in a backpack

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.

Happy traveling,
Linda

What You Need to Know When Visiting Budapest, Hungary

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.

The Chain Bridge with pedestrians at night
The Chain Bridge on a summer night

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.

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

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.

Budapest street sign
A typical Budapest street sign

Culture

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 DayJanuary 1
Memorial Day of the 1848 RevolutionMarch 15
Good FridayDate varies - a Friday in late March or early April
EasterDate varies - a Sunday in late March or early April
Easter MondayDate varies - a Monday in late March or early April
Labour DayMay 1
WhitsunDate varies - a Sunday in late May or early June
Whit MondayDate varies - a Monday in late May or early June
State Foundation DayAugust 20
1956 Revolution Memorial DayOctober 23
All Saint’s DayNovember 1
Christmas DayDecember 25
2nd Day of ChristmasDecember 26

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.

Visas

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.

Money


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.

Language

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.

Transportation

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.

Inside of a metro car in Budapest
Inside a metro car

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.

A public transportation ticket machine
A ticket machine in a Metro station

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.

Cars on Metro line 1 in Budapest
A car on Metro line 1

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.

Budapest funicular
The Budapest funicular


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

E-Scooters

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.

Bike Sharing

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.

Walking

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.
A street with a bike lane and a crosswalk
A crosswalk and a bike lane on a Budapest street

Communication

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.

Two varieties of langos
Just two ways you can enjoy your langos

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.

Shopping

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

Thermal Baths

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.

Szechenyi Baths on a winter day
The Szechenyi Baths on a winter day

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.

Ruin Bars

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.

A room in a ruin bar
Inside the most famous ruin bar, Szimpla Kert

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.

Kolodko’s mini statue “The Checkered-Eared Rabbit” watching over the city
Kolodko’s mini statue “The Checkered-Eared Rabbit” watching over the city

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

In District IX:
Copy & More
Ferenc körút 43
https://solotag76.wixsite.com/copyandmore

Bonus Tip
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.

More About Budapest

Just in case this isn’t enough information, you can read more about Budapest in these posts :
The Beauty of Budapest in 50 Photos
20 Quick and Cool Things to See and Do in Budapest
The Funky Side of Budapest
10 Must-See Holocaust Memorials in Budapest
Budapest’s Marvelous Margaret Island
Unique Architectural Ornaments in Budapest

Until Next Time

I hope you have found these tips for visiting Budapest helpful and inspiring. Drop a note in the comment section and let us know your thoughts on Budapest and your top tips.

Happy traveling,
Linda

Featured image by Dan Freeman on Unsplash.com

 

The Best Things To Do in Szeged, Hungary

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 Facts

  • 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 in Szeged, Hungary

The Bridge of Sighs was modeled after the one in Venice. It connects City Hall and the House of Labor.

Detail of the facade of the Beregi Palace in Szeged, Hungary

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 in Szeged, Hungary

Detail on the front of the Votive Church

Collage of decorations on the Votive Church in Szeged, Hungary

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 in Szeged, Hungary

The interior of the New Synagogue

Three stained glass windows in the New Synagogue in Szeged, Hungary

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.

The exterior of Reök Palace in Szeged, Hungary

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 ornaments on the Reök Palace in Szeged, Hungary

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.

A walkway in the Pantheon in Szeged

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.

Seven memorials in the Pantheon in Szeged

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.

Mora Ferenc Museum by Szilas on Creative Commons

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.

Thermal bath at night

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.

More About Hungary

You can read about other Hungarian cities in these posts:
Eger and Egerszalók: A Great Hungarian Getaway
September 2021 Recap: Castles, Caves, Baths and the Beatles (Lillafüred and Miskolctapolca)
20 Quick and Cool Things to See and Do in Budapest

Learn more about Budapest in these posts:
10 Must-See Holocaust Memorials in Budapest
Budapest’s Marvelous Margaret Island
Budapest’s Quirky and Colorful Lehel Market
The Beauty of Budapest in 50 Photos
The Funky Side of Budapest

And find out what it cost for Steve and me to live in Hungary for one year:
Wind and Whim’s 2021 Full-Time Travel Costs: Hungary

Happy traveling,
Linda

Featured image – lion statues flanking the entrance to the Votive Church by Linda Gerbec


Unique Architectural Ornaments in Budapest

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.

Reliefs

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.

Relief of Leda and Zeus on a building in Budapest

On the same building, you can see the gods Mercury and Bacchus, and the goddess and muse of dance and chorus, Terpsichore.

Reliefs of the god Mercury, the muse Terpsichore, and the god Bacchus on a building in Budapest

A trio of musical angels hang out on a 130-year-old building at Báthory utca 20.

A trio of angel reliefs on a Budapest building

I love this charming relief on the building at Dalszínház utca 9, and I want to know the story behind it.

A relief of a boy reading to two dogs

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.

Collage of eight reliefs on a building in Budapest

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.

Cherubs on the Liszt Ferenc Academy of Music in Budapest

Three reliefs decorating the Liszt Ferenc Academy of Music in Budapest

As you can imagine, the Matthias Church at Szentháromság tér 2 is full of imagery. These two fellows caught our eye.

Two hunched figures pointing to pages in a book

The hunting scene on one of the buildings on Szarvas tér added a little bit of color.

Plaque of a deer being chased by 2 dogs

This relief at Vadász utca 38-40 takes you back to a more elegant time.

Ornate relief of two girls sitting on chairs

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.

Relief of a man and a sheep looking at each other

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.

Detailed relief on a building in Budapest

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.

Relief of two men in sailor-style uniforms carrying flags

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.

The exterior of a building with detailed reliefs

How can you not love this lion on the image-rich building at Jókai utca 42?

Relief of a stately male lion with one paw on a wheel

Can you ever have too many naked babies on your buildings? These cuties delight passersby at Váci utca 16.

A building with putti in Budapest

How is this for a fancy facade? This is the Stein Palace at Andrássy utca 1.

Facade of ornate building in Budapest

Statues

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.

Statue of a conductor holding a train engine
Three statues on a building in Budapest

Aren’t these balconies at Nádor utca 32 incredible?

2 statues of women with baskets on their heads

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.

A building in Budapest with a statue of a reclining man on top

What a fun and fitting statue at the entrance to the Szechenyi Baths at Állatkerti krt. 12.

Statue of a boy riding a fish

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.

Carved door with griffins in Budapest

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.

Black iron grate with snakes in Budapest

These angels watch over an apartment building at Váci utca 6.

Doors with angels in Budapest

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.

Facade of a neo-Gothic building in Budapest

This door handle is the only indoor item in this post. It is in the Museum of Fine Arts at Dózsa György út 41.

A dragon door handle in brass

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.

Three manhole covers and a floor plaque in Budapest

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.

See more of the beauty of Budapest in these posts:
The Beauty of Budapest in 50 Photos
The Funky Side of Budapest
20 Quick and Cool Things to See and Do in Budapest
Budapest’s Marvelous Margaret Island

Read about 80 Must-See Buildings in Budapest here.

Learn more about the city here:
10 Must-See Holocaust Memorials in Budapest
Budapest’s Quirky and Colorful Lehel Market

And see what it cost for Steve and me to live in Hungary for one year:
Wind and Whim’s 2021 Full-Time Travel Costs: Hungary

Happy traveling,
Linda

December 2021 Recap: Christmas in Budapest

Goodbye 2021, hello 2022! 

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.

Two women wearing hats that read “Bad Boy”

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 snow in Budapest

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. 

Christmas Markets

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 Christmas Market booth in Budapest

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. 

Szechenyi Baths

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.

People in the water at the Szechenyi Baths

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.

Nine photos at the Museum of Sweets and Selfies in Budapest

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 Ervin Szabó Library

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.

Christmas decoration collage

Christmas cheer

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.

Stay safe and healthy,

Linda

November 2021 Recap: Lying Low in Budapest

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. 

Toy hedgehog in a plant

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.

Jars of Ocean Spray cranberries on a shelf

A girl has to have her cranberries

Toy hedgehog with a bottle of wine

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.

Three scenes of Christmas lights in Budapest

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.

Statue of a man writing at a table

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.

Toy hedgehog with chicken wings

Hedgemeister’s first taste of chicken wings was a big success

Man in a restaurant

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 shared the best things to do on the island in our last post: “Budapest’s Marvelous Margaret Island: 12 Things to See and Do.”

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. 

Stay safe,

Linda

Budapest’s Marvelous Margaret Island

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.

Budapest’s Districts with Margaret Island highlighted
“Districts of Budapest Colored”, by Heizler, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 with tiny Margaret Island in yellow

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.

Map of Margaret Island

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.

Inside the Centenary Monument on Margaret Island

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.

Musical fountain on Margaret Island

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.

Franciscan monastery ruins on Margaret Island

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.

Palatinus Bath in Budapest

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.

Dominican convent ruins on Margaret Island

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.

Margaret Island water tower

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.

Statue and koi pond on Margaret Island

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.

Running Track

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.

Premonstratensian church on Margaret Island

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

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 sightseeing train on Margaret Island

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.

Happy traveling,

Linda

October 2021 Recap: More to Explore in Budapest

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.

Dohány Street Synagogue cemetery

The cemetery

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 of the Dohany Street Synagogue

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 in Budapest

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.

Memorial to Sir Nicholas Winton in Budapest

Memorial to British banker Sir Nicholas Winton who saved 669 Czech children

The Royal Postal Savings Bank Building

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 in Budapest

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.

The Klezmer Show at the Spinoza Restuarant in Budapest

A night of local culture

Oldtimer Show

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. 

Cars at the Oldtimer Show in Budapest 2021

Cars

Trains at the Oldtimer Show in Budapest 2021

Trains

Men on a railway handcar

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.

The Brezhnev Triple kiss

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.

View of the Danube and Pest

The Whale on the Pest side of the Danube River

Inside The Whale (Bálna) in Budapest

Inside The Whale

Modern take on The Girl With a Pearl Earring - by Naomi Devil

A Covid-inspired interpretation of The Girl With the Pearl Earring by Johannes Vermeer – this one by Naomi Devil

Jaguar on a chair - Painting by Omar Mendoza

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.

A pool and grounds at Aquaworld Resort Budapest

The view from our room, lovely any time of year

Rudas Baths

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. 

The Danube River and Pest seen from the Rudas Baths

Rooftop bathing at Rudas Baths

Zsolnay tile fountain in the 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:

A bull statue made of crushed beer cans

It isn’t every day you see a bull made out of beer cans

A bear statue made of metal pieces

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.

Four street cleaning machines in Budapest

No litter and streets being washed after political rally

This Month’s Media

In between our activities, I managed to publish three blog posts:

Just in time for the 2021-2022 ski season, “The Pros and Cons of Skiing in Bansko, Bulgaria” looks back on our experiences in January 2020.

Eger and Egerszalók: A Great Hungarian Getaway” details many of the interesting things to do just a few hours outside of Budapest.

And in case you missed it, our “September 2021 Recap: Castles, Caves, Baths and the Beatles” is loaded with great things to do in Budapest and nearby towns.

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.

Stay safe and healthy,

Linda

The Pros and Cons of Skiing in Bansko, Bulgaria

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.

Also, please keep in mind that our experience was in 2020. Things may have changed, so I encourage you to check more recent reviews.

Understanding the Bansko Resort

Ski-in, ski-out is not an option since there are no accommodations near the lifts. Before you can hit the slopes, you must 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.

Gondolas in Bansko, Bulgaria
The gondolas

You can get off the Gondola in two places. 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.

Two women with skis at Bansko Ski 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

We rented from Traventuria and found the prices very affordable. You can check them out here.

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.

Good infrastructure

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 Isn’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 take the gondola up the mountain, you will have a few challenges. You must go up a long set of stairs to get to the loading area. This is 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.

While I was trying to get on one lift, 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, so the slopes get very crowded.

Getting a lift pass is inefficient

The last frustrating thing was how lift passes were handled. The company I rented from only sold passes for two or more consecutive days. Since I only planned 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.

Four photos of Bansko scenes
A few scenes from Bankso

Moving On

Steve has skied his last slope. I, however, intend to try again this winter. I will consider 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.

This post was originally published on October 20, 2021.

September 2021 Recap: Castles, Caves, Baths and the Beatles

Pandemic Update

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 wave pool at the Gellert Spa in Budapest

The Gellért Spa 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 swimming pool at the Gellert Spa

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.

Indoor lap pool and hanging bridge at Aquaworld Resort Budapest

The indoor lap pool and hanging bridge at Aquaworld at closing time

We love this place so much we are going back for our third visit in mid-October. You can read more about Aquaworld in our post “Aquaworld Budapest: Tons of Fun in Hungary.”

The Case of the Frustrating Waiter

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.

Four photos of Eger and Egerszalok

A luxury hotel, the Beatles, a castle view, and a spa day

You can read all about the attractions in these two towns in “Eger and Egerszalók: A Great Hungarian Getaway.

Off to the Palace

For more than a year, I have been intrigued by the Hotel Palota in Lillafüred.

Hotel Palota at night

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.

Four photos of Hotel Palota

Views of the hotel

Exploring Caves

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:

Four photos of limestone cave formations

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.

Entrance to the cave bath

Into the cave

Inside the cave bath

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.

At the beginning of the book Brown states that “all artwork, literature, science, and historical references in this novel are real.” That statement has been challenged by several people, including Noah Charney in his article “Fact-Checking Dan Brown’s ‘Inferno’: 10 Mistakes, False Statements, and Oversimplifications” in the Daily Beast and Ricki Lewis, PhD in her article “Dan Brown’s Inferno”: Good Plot, Bad Science” in DNA Science (spoiler alert).

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.

Stay safe,

Linda

Featured photo – detail of a window in Hotel Palota

Eger and Egerszalók: A Great Hungarian Getaway

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. 

An elegant bathroom in the Erla Villa in Eger, Hungary

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

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.

Walls of Eger Castle with the city of Eger below

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. 

Photos of four artifacts in the Eger Castle

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.

Four photos of Beatles memorabilia

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. 

Four photos of a cave in the Beatles Museum in Eger, Hungary

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 room in the Archbishop’s Palace museum

A sitting room display in the museum

Detail of the painting Memento mori circa 1750

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. 

Learn more about Hungarian wines in this article from Wine Folly.

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.

Here is information on the palace.

Sodomb and Solaris Resort in Egerszalók

Egerszalók is a small village only a half-hour away from Eger by bus. It is known for the Sodomb (salt hill) and the Saliris Resort Spa and Conference Hotel. 

Sodomb (Salt Hill) in Egerszalok, Hungary

The Salt Hill

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 Saliris Resort Spa and Conference Hotel

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.

Read about our favorite Hungarian bath experience in “Aquaworld Budapest: Tons of Fun in Hungary.”

A sign for a winery and guest house in Egerszalok, Hungary

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:

The Minaret

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 in Eger Hungary

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! 

Michael Jackson 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.

Beautiful Buildings

As in all the Hungarian cities we’ve visited, there is no shortage of architecture waiting to be admired.

Green building on Dobo Istvan utca in Eger