75 Things to Know When Visiting Budapest

Are you thinking of visiting Budapest? Go for it. This Hungarian city in Central Europe is chock full of beauty and history.

Steve and I arrived in Budapest in March 2020 for a four-week stay. Because of the pandemic, we ended up staying for more than two years. During this time, we have explored every corner of the city and are happy to be able to share 75 things to know when visiting Budapest.

I know that 75 tips sound like a lot, but they are short and divided by category. I have highlighted the main tips and shared a few top tips.

Be sure to read to the end for a bonus tip. You can thank me later.

Layout of the City

1. The Danube River divides the city into two sides: Buda and Pest. The west side is Buda. The east side is Pest.

2. Buda is hilly. Pest is flat.

3. Pest is the touristy, party side. Buda is the quiet, stately side. As a tourist, you will probably stay in Pest.

4. The two sides weren’t connected until 1849, when the iconic Chain Bridge was built.

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

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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

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

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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

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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

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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

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Budapest’s Marvelous Margaret Island: 12 Things to See and Do

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

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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

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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.

Understanding the Bansko Resort

Ski-in, ski-out is not an option since there are no accommodations near the lifts. So before you can hit the slopes, you need to get up the mountain to the lifts. There are four ways to do this: by gondola, shuttle bus, driving yourself, or taxi. Most people take the 3.9-mile (6.3 km) gondola ride.

Gondolas in Bansko, Bulgaria

The gondolas

You have the option of getting off the Gondola in two places, but most people go to the second stop.

When you are ready to call it a day, you can return to town by gondola or vehicle, or you can ski back on Ski Road #1.

Bansko has 30 miles (48 km) of slopes and 14 lifts, including two 6-seat chairlifts. There are several places to eat throughout the resort.

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

Our daily lift ticket was $38. Ski rental, including a helmet, was $30 per day. We rented from Traventuria. The current cost for a lift pass, skis, poles, and boots for an adult is $123 for two days (their shortest package).

We each had an hour-long private lesson at about $70 each.

Lodging is also a bargain. We booked an Airbnb for three weeks for less than $900.

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 Wasn’t Good About Skiing In Bansko

Unfortunately, there was a lot we didn’t know about skiing in Bansko. If we had known these things, we would have looked for another place to ski.

As a disclaimer, all my previous skiing had been on the East Coast of the U.S. on small mountains. It may be that what I found in Bansko is common in Europe. Either way, these are the things that made the experience less than ideal:

Getting on the gondola is a hassle

If you choose to take the gondola up the mountain, you will have a few challenges. You have to go up a long set of stairs to get to the loading area. Not easy to do in ski boots.

The line is orderly until you get to the top of the stairs and try to get into a gondola car. At this point, it becomes a contact sport.

Getting on the lifts is also a hassle

The rudeness continues at the entrances to the lifts. There are no lines, only surging crowds. To make matters worse, the entrances to the lifts are raised, so everyone is trying to move up and into a slot while being pushed and crowded.

As I was trying to get on one lift, I found that I couldn’t move one of my skis. It was so crowded that someone behind me had his ski over mine.

Safety isn’t a priority

I did not see any information on ski conditions. The only way to see the conditions is to go up the mountain. This led to a serious accident for Steve. We started down the Ski Road on what should have been an easy run. Suddenly I was speeding down an ice-covered slope. It took all my skiing skills to stay upright until I reached the bottom.

Steve was not so lucky. He fell on that ice and fractured his pelvis. You can read about his horrific hospital stay in our post “Hospitalized in Bulgaria.”

Several people stopped to help Steve and put up skis to warn other skiers. However, an instructor was skiing backward and ran into Steve. And he didn’t even apologize.

As Steve’s accident showed, there is no warning of dangerous conditions, and runs were kept open even when they had a lot of ice.

The slopes are overcrowded

I went skiing another day, and between the ice and the large number of inexperienced skiers, I felt unsafe and cut it short. Bansko is very popular with new skiers from Europe and the U.K. partly because of the low cost. That means the slopes get very crowded.

Getting a lift pass is inefficient

The last thing that was frustrating was how lift passes were handled. The company I rented from only sold passes for two or more consecutive days. SInce I was only planning to ski one day, I was told to buy one at the bottom of the gondola station.

The gondola starts running at 8:30 a.m. The ticket booth also opens at 8:30, so by the time the ticket booth opens, the line can get very long.

But that isn’t inefficient enough. A sign said they accept VISA, so I chose to pay that way. The clerk rang up my purchase, and I paid. Then she asked if I had cash for the deposit on the lift card. I did, but it was tucked away in my money belt under several layers of clothes. During this, the line to get on the gondola was growing longer. Why they don’t charge it all at once is beyond me.

My intention isn’t to hate on Bansko skiing but to give you information that can help you decide if this is a good choice for you.

Bansko is a charming town worth visiting any time of year, whether or not you choose to ski there.

Four photos of Bansko scenes

A few scenes from Bansko

Moving On

Steve has skied his last slope. I, however, intend to try again this winter. I will be considering the availability and quality of medical care near the resort.

We would love to hear about your experiences skiing Bansko and welcome any suggestions about ski resorts that don’t require you to have a car.

Stay safe and healthy,
Linda

Our featured photo shows the ski mountain in Bansko.

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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 “3 Carefree Days at Aquaworld Budapest.”

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

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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 3 Carefree Days at Aquaworld Budapest.

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

The dismal day did not detract from this building’s beauty (on Dobó István Square)

Church of Anthony of Padua in Eger, Hungary

The Church of Anthony of Padua (Minorite Church) – a Franciscan church also on Dobó István Square

Where We Stayed – The Erla Villa Hotel

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, Steve and I were excited to spend several nights in the most luxurious hotel room we’ve ever had. Up until now, we’ve always booked a basic room, unwilling to cough up more money for a fancy room when the chips were down. But I fell in love with the Oval Suite when I saw it on the Erla Villa website. Even better, three nights with half board (breakfast and dinner) was only a little over $600.

The room turned out to be as stunning as the photos, and the food was fantastic.

Four photos of the inside of the Erla Villa in Eger, Hungary
Five photos of food at the Erla Villa

There were a few things that could have been better. For example, breakfast wasn’t served until 8 o’clock, and there wasn’t any place to get coffee before then. That is a mild form of torture for us early risers. When I finally got my coffee, it was superb.

Also, the shower curtain didn’t go all the way across the opening, so no matter how careful you were, the floor in front of the shower got flooded.

Despite a few little things that could be improved, I would recommend this hotel, not only for the ambiance but also for the food (and coffee).

Until Next Time

Have you been to Eger or Egerszalók? What did you think? What was your favorite sight?

Happy traveling,

Linda

Featured photo by Adonis Villanueva on Pixabay.com

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August 2021 Recap: Budapest Baths and Hungarian Town Attractions

Can you believe August is over? I don’t know about you, but for me, time is flying. Steve and I have done more this month than in any of the previous sixteen months we’ve been in Hungary.

We spent many hours luxuriating in the Budapest baths. We also revisited the zoo and explored three nearby towns. These are the highlights.

All money is in U.S. Dollars unless otherwise stated.
Pandemic Update

New Covid cases in Hungary have remained low all summer. Right now, there are less than 200 new cases per day. But that doesn’t mean we are out of the woods. The Hungarian government is prepared to take steps to protect people in the country if the Delta variant takes off here. Steve and I try to be positive, but we expect a fourth wave.

Splish Splash We’ve Been Lovin’ the Baths
Palatinus Strand

The Palatinus Strand is like your neighborhood pool if your neighborhood pool had ten outdoor pools of varying temperatures, an indoor thermal bath, water slides, and a wave pool. 

Four photos of the Palatinus Strand in Budapest

There are also two saunas and a steam room. You can get a massage for an additional fee. As of this writing, a 45-minute massage costs $22.

Palatinus Strand is popular with families, partly because it is more affordable than the well-known Szechenyi and Gellert Baths. It costs about $10 to visit Palatinus, compared to $18 to visit the Szechenyi or Gellert Baths.

Szechenyi Baths

A visit to the Szechenyi Baths doesn’t come cheap, but it is worth it. These baths are one of the largest spa complexes in Europe. You can see the century-old Neo-Baroque building in the featured photo above.

You can bask in the elegant setting while enjoying three outdoor or fifteen indoor pools. Water temperature ranges from 65 to 104 degrees F (18 to 40 degrees C). There are also three saunas and three steam rooms. Massages are available for an additional fee. As of this writing, a 45-minute massage costs $32.

Two inside pools at the Szechenyi Baths in Budapest

Two of the indoor pools at the Szechenyi Baths

When you visit the baths there is none of that heavy chlorine smell I associate with swimming pools, especially indoor ones. I wondered why. I found the answer here.

For thermal pools the water comes from natural hot springs. It is filtered and the water is replaced every day. No chemicals are added to the thermal pools.

The other pools are treated with a minimum amount of chlorine and salt.

Three Side Trips
Hévíz

We’ve been taking advantage of the low number of Covid cases to see parts of Hungary outside of Budapest. In August, we visited three Western Hungarian towns. The first was the spa town of Hévíz, located 120 miles (193 km) southwest of Budapest. 

People go to Hévíz to bathe in thermal Lake Heviz. Even though it is the largest thermal lake in the world suitable for swimming, it is not very big. The lake covers about 11 acres (4.4 hectares).

People floating in Lake Heviz

You can swim in the lake, but most people float on pool noodles

The lake is fed by mineral-rich water that has curative properties. It is recommended for people suffering from rheumatic diseases and locomotor disorders. The lake is around 95 degrees F (35 C) in the summer and 75 degrees F (24 C) in the winter. The water in the lake is replaced every 72 hours.

We stayed at Ensana Thermal Hévíz for two nights, where we enjoyed the three indoor and two outdoor pools. The water temperatures ranging from 82 to 100 degrees F  (28 to 38 degrees C).

Veszprém

Veszprém is a small city 75 miles (120 km) southwest of Budapest. It is easy to reach by train or bus.

The main reason we visited Veszprém was to see the Herend Porcelain Museum in the nearby town of Herend. The visit included a factory tour, and after seeing the work that goes into their products, I understand why they are so costly. Each piece is hand-painted.

Large Herend urn

This piece costs more than $35,000.

There were plenty of English translations and QR codes. Tours are available in English. Ours was very well done.

As is common in small towns and cities, there isn’t a lot to do in Veszprém. Even so, we enjoyed climbing the hill to the castle district and searching for the three Kolodko mini-statues that call Veszprém home.

Three Kolodko mini-statues in Veszprém, Hungary

  Ödön, The Street Musician, Ernő, The Guard, and Leonora, The Girl and The Lion

The creator of these sculptures is Mikhail Kolodko. He has several in Ukraine and Hungary including about twenty in Budapest. You can see some of them in ”The Funky Side of Budapest.”

Four photo collage of Veszprem, Hungary

A few random photos of Veszprém

Székesfehérvár

Next, we headed to Székesfehérvár, which is 40 miles (65 km) southwest of Budapest. Again we had a specific sight in mind. We wanted to visit Bory Castle. We loved it.

Bory Castle was the home of architect and sculptor Jenő Bory and his family. The one-acre lot only contained a wine vault and press house when Bory purchased it in 1912. From 1923 to 1959, he added to the castle, designing as he built. He did most of the work himself.

Bory Castle

Bory Castle

The castle is filled with paintings and sculptures, many created by Bory and some by his wife.

You can easily spend a few hours there discovering delightful touches and enjoying different perspectives. You can climb towers and visit areas with romantic names like the Elephant Garden and the Hundred Pillared Courtyard. Every time I see a place like this, I imagine what it would be like to grow up there.

Photo collage of Bory Castle

Scenes from Bory Castle

We also spent some time in the Árpád Bath while in Székesfehérvár.

Lounge area in the Arpad Baths, Szekesfehervar, Hungary

One of the lounging areas in the Árpád Baths

We didn’t enjoy this as much as the Budapest baths because all the pools except the cold plunge pool were the same temperature. And none were really hot.

The bath has several saunas and a steam bath. There is also a tepidarium, which is a room in which you sit or lay on warm ceramic tiles. 

After the baths we headed to the Hetedhét Toy Museum. It is full of toys from the 18th and 19th centuries, with an emphasis on dolls and dollhouses.

Paper dolls and doll dresses

Drawers under the displays pull out to reveal more dolly delights

The museum’s website doesn’t translate into English, but they provide translations on all the exhibits.

As you can imagine, Steve didn’t love this, but he was patient while I explored. I’m not a doll-lover, but I figured as long as I was there, I might as well enjoy it. Besides, it was cold and rainy outside.

A Cool Day At The Zoo

It has been a hot summer, but once in a while, we get a cool day. We took advantage of one early in the month to make our third visit to the Budapest Zoo and Botanical Garden. It is located in the city and is easy to get to. This zoo is not large at only 44 acres (18 hectares), but there is a lot to see. There are over 10,000 animals from over 1,000 species. 

A prairie dog at the Budapest Zoo

We enjoyed watching this cute prairie dog.

Each time we go to the zoo, we discover something new. On this visit, it was the bat cave.

A bat at the Budapest Zoo

Most bats were chillin’, a few were flying!

This Month’s Media

There were no new Wind and Whim posts this month. Instead I spent time updating my first blog post. You can read about the “12 Trustworthy Travel Services and Apps” we use and recommend. 

I am also working on improving my site’s visibility. It isn’t easy to get traction for a blog on a saturated topic like travel. Add the fact the travel has been restricted because of the pandemic, and you can understand the challenge.

I am reading William Zinsser’s book On Writing Well. My first takeaway was simplify, simplify, simplify. Just like being a Toastmaster has made me critical of the speech patterns of public speakers, this book threatens to turn me off to many novels and blogs. I’ve already stopped reading some after a few pages because they had too much fluff.

One book I enjoyed was The Island by Victoria Hislop. It is a historical novel set on the Greek island of Crete. The story is about a young woman who travels to a small Cretan town to learn about her mother’s past. She learns about a leper colony on a small island off Crete called Spinalonga and her family’s connection to it.

Spinalonga served as a leper colony from 1903 to 1957. People with leprosy, including children, were sent to the island. They could not have in-person contact with their families. The people who were banished to the island developed a society with shops, entertainment, a school, and a government.

I first heard about Spinalonga and The Island in this post from My Path In The World.

Until Next Time

Wow, I get tired just reading about everything we did in August, and I didn’t even include our hikes. I hope you enjoyed August too. Steve and I would love to hear what you’ve been up to.

Stay safe and healthy,

Linda

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July 2021 Recap: Living Life Again

It’s been a long haul for all of us, and it isn’t over yet, but at least life has begun to return to normal. After almost eight months of lockdowns and slowdowns, we are living life again. I hope you are also returning to your pre-pandemic life. Here is what we’ve been doing this month.

We Keep Getting More Legal

Steve and I got vaccinated in June, and began July waiting for our immunity cards to arrive. We weren’t surprised when the immunity card restrictions were lifted before we received our cards. 

Nonetheless, we now have them in case we need them in the future, and having them allowed us to get our EU Digital COVID Certificate. This certificate was the one government-related item that we got on the spot. No daily disappointment at the mailbox.

What We’ve Been Doing

The heatwaves of June followed us into July with many daily highs in the 90s F (30s C). The average high in July is 82 degrees F (28 C). We found two ways to beat the heat: museums and water parks.

Museums Galore

Steve and I hit the local museums hard this month with visits to three history museums: the Hungarian National Museum (Magyar Nemzeti Múzeum), the Budapest History Museum (Budapesti Történeti Múzeum), and the Military History Museum (Hadtorteneti Muzeum).

The Hungarian National Museum follows the country’s history from prehistoric times to the present. We were impressed with the number of artifacts. The museum has several million pieces in its collection. 

Be sure to take time to appreciate the buidling’s beauty, too.

Hallway in the Hungarian National Museum

The stairway in the Hungarian National Museum

The Budapest History Museum focuses on the history of Hungary’s capital city. The museum is much smaller that the Hungarian National Museum, but if you have time it is worth checking out. I particularly liked that there are hands-on activities for children placed throughout the 2nd floor exhibits.

The Budapest History Museum is also called the Castle Museum because it is in Buda Castle.

Two street signs in the Budapest History Museum

Soviet era street signs in the Budapest History Museum

We also paid a second visit to the Military History Museum. When we visited it last year I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it. This is a comprehensive look at Hungary’s military and wartime history.

A room in the Military History Museum in Budapest

One of the many rooms in the Military History Museum

All three museums do a great job of providing English translations.

As we spend time in museums, I think about how I appreciate history much more as an adult than I did growing up. Being able to experience the places where events happened makes it even more meaningful.

We Finally Toured Parliament

The Hungarian Parliament Building is one of the most well-known in Budapest, but until now we have only been able to enjoy the outside. Tours finally resumed, and we jumped at the opportunity. The tour lasts less than an hour, but you will see plenty in that time. After the tour, there are several exhibits to explore on your own. You can check out the parliament tour information here.

The Grand Stairway in the Hungarian Parliament Building

The Grand Stairway in the Hungarian Parliament Building

Thermal Water Fun

Hungary may be landlocked, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of water-based activities. Hungary has 1,300 thermal springs and hundreds of spas that take advantage of this natural phenomenon. You can learn more in the National Geographic article Hungary:the land of thermal spas.

We spent three nights at Aquaworld Resort Budapest on the outskirts of the city and loved it. You can read about it here

Indoor pool at Aquaworld Budapest

A few of the bathing options at Aquaworld

We also spent a hot afternoon at Palatinus Strand, a thermal bath and swimming complex on nearby Margaret Island.

Pools at Palatinus Strand, Budapest

Two of the many pools at Palatinus Strand on a cloudy day

Now that we’ve discovered how much we enjoy the thermal baths, which can be used year-round, we plan to visit several more in Budapest and in other cities in Hungary.

4th of July Brunch at The Four Seasons

We continue to eat our way around Budapest. We paid our first visit to Kollazs Brasserie & Bar in the Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palace. For two and a half hours, we enjoyed a five-course brunch. Because of the pandemic, food was brought to the table. There was so much! By the time we got to dessert, we asked for only one serving of the five plates, not two. 

A band kept the diners entertained. In addition to playing everything just a little too fast, the threw in a few Christmas songs, including Jingle Bells. 

A plate with deviled eggs and pigs in a blanket

Just part of the first course of our brunch

Despite its name, Gresham Palace never housed royalty. This 100-year-old art nouveau building originally contained apartments and offices for the Gresham Life Assurance Company of Great Britain.

The Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palace Budapest

The front of the Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palace Budapest

Interior of the Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palace Budapest

Art nouveau beauty in the Four Seasons Hotel

Room prices start at around $500 per night, so we won’t be staying there, but we can still enjoy the surroundings at brunch.

Sunday Morning Bike Rides

One of the things I love most when traveling is getting out early before too many people are out. You can’t beat that feeling that you have the city (almost) all to yourself. I have been using the MOL Bubi Bikes and recommend them.

You can find Bubi Bike stands all over the city. The bikes are well-maintained, and the app works well. A monthly pass costs about US$ 1.70 and allows you to ride with no additional charges for up to 30 minutes at a time. If you want to keep riding, you just start a new ride. The cost is only 7 cents per minute if you go over 30 minutes. If you don’t want to pay for the subscription, you will be charged 7 cents per minute.

The wide road along the Danube on the Pest side is closed to traffic on the weekends. I find Sunday mornings ideal for a solo ride since Steve usually prefers to sleep in. 

A bridge and a pond with one orange fish

Sunday morning solitude on Margaret Island

An Unpleasant Surprise

A few days after the devastating floods in Germany and Belgium killed more than 200 people, flooding occured in most of Hungary. Fortunately it was not as drastic.

I was lying in bed on a Monday morning listening to the storm, thinking how nice it is that we are on a high floor and don’t have to worry about flooding.

Then I got out of bed and stepped in water. The rain from the roof was too much for the drainage system in our building to handle, and some came up through our kitchen sink.

After a few hours of cleanup and a meeting with our landlord, all was back to normal.

This Month’s Blog Posts

In addition to our Aquaworld post, we published “Medical Care on the Road: Challenges of Nomad Life.” This post shares information on medical travel insurance and evacuations insurance. I also discuss our personal experiences with medical care while traveling full-time. As a nomad, you can’t escape the hassles involved with staying healthy, but with a bit of planning and tenacity, your medical needs can be met.

This Month’s Media

Steve and I watched all six episodes of How to Become a Tyrant on Netflix in one sitting. Thank you for recommending it, Ramin Mahmoodi. The show is based on the book The Dictator’s Handbook: Why Bad Behavior is Almost Always Good Politics by Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and Alastair Smith. The series looks at six 20th Century dictators and the methods they used to gain power. Only one of the six, Kim Jong-un, is still in power. It runs about 3 hours total, and I highly recommend it. 

We have been struggling to find more good things to watch, so Steve did some research and came up with a list of Netflix series we might enjoy. The trick is to use a VPN set to a U.S. city.

One of the shows we watched was Evil.  A forensic psychologist, a seminarian, and a tech wizard investigate suspected supernatural incidents under the direction of the Catholic Church. Supernatural and sci-fi shows aren’t my thing, and some of the effects are a little hokey, but I enjoyed this show. Netflix only has the first season. Season two is on Paramount.

Another show I didn’t think I would enjoy but did is Unorthodox. It is the story of a young Hasidic Jew from the Satmar sect who leaves New York City for Berlin to flee her arranged marriage and oppressive life. The premiere season is currently on Netflix. It is only four episodes. Four more episodes are expected to be released next March. Don’t miss Making Unorthodox at the end of the first season. I was impressed with the attention to detail and authenticity.

The Satmar Jews originated in a small Hungarian town in the early 1900s. After WWII, they settled in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York. The Satmar sect is one of the largest Hasidic dynasties in the world.

The series was inspired by the autobiographical book Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots by Deborah Feldman. It is now at the top of my reading list.

I just finished the novel We Are All Good People Here by Susan Rebecca White. It is the story of two women who meet as college freshmen in the 1960s. It follows them and then their daughters through the next three decades as they face racism and antisemitism, and become involved in anti-war activities.    The author does an excellent job of weaving historical facts into the story.  

Another book I loved was This is How it Always Is: A Novel by Laurie Frankel. It is the story of the Walsh Family. They have five sons, the youngest named Claude. At the age of three, Claude announced he wanted to be a girl when he grew up. He also wanted to be a cat. As he grew, the desire to be a cat went the way of childish dreams. The desire to be a girl remained. The novel takes us on the family’s journey as they struggle to support Claude while protecting him from the reactions of society.

The best part is that while this is a novel, Frankel knows the subject well. In the author’s note, she shares with us: “It’s true that my child used to be a little boy and is now a little girl. But this isn’t her story. I can’t tell her story; I can only tell my own story and those of the people I make up.”

The pros and cons of hormone blockers are part of the story, and in the author’s notes she points out the high rate of suicide attempts by trans and gender non-conforming people. The book doesn’t provide answers but provides a realistic look at the issues faced by parents raising a child born in the wrong body.  

Until Next Time

Steve and I would love to hear what you’ve been up to. Drop us a line in the comment section below.

Stay safe and healthy, Linda

Feature photo – the 2021 Budapest Pride Parade on July 24, 2021

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3 Carefree Days at Aquaworld Budapest

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

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

Read on to see what Aquaworld is all about and if you should make it your next getaway.

What Is Aquaworld?

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

Outdoor pools at Aquaworld Resort Budapest

Our first impression, seen from the glass-fronted elevator

The Aquaworld complex has two sections. The aquatic adventure park is called Aquaworld Budapest. The hotel with its own bath area is called Aquaworld Budapest Resort Hotel. Hotel guests have access to the entire complex.

Aquaworld Facts
* It is one of Europe’s largest indoor water theme parks.
* The complex has 21 pools.
* There are 11 water slides.
* The hotel has 309 rooms.
* There is a spa for massages and treatments.
* And a fitness center for workouts or a game of tennis or squash.

The pools are fed from a natural well with a bottom temperature of 35 degrees Celsius (95 degrees Fahrenheit).

Pool temperatures range from 26 degrees Celsius (78.8 degrees Fahrenheit) in the outdoor lap pool to 38 degrees Celsius (100.4 degrees Fahrenheit) in the jacuzzi.

Indoor pool at Aquaworld Resort Budapest

From pools to relax in

To pools full of action

Where is Aquaworld?

Aquaworld is in the far northern part of Budapest on the Pest side. It can be reached by public transportation in about an hour from the tourist areas of Districts V, VI, or VII. 

What We Did

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

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

Outdoor pool and hotel at Aquaworld Resort Budapest

The outdoor pool in the hotel section

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

I wasn’t the only big kid loving the slides

Man in current pool at Aquaworld Budapest

Steve enjoying the current pool

What We Liked

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

Bacon on a breakfast buffet

Did someone say bacon?

Throw in dinner, and I am over the moon. Both meals were served buffet style. You can only do so much with breakfast food, but there was an incredible variety. There was also a lot of variety for dinner, and the food was delicious.

The staff was polite and helpful. When we first got to our room, Steve noticed that the shower door did not shut properly. We immediately informed the front desk, and it was fixed within the hour.

What Could Have Been Better

We wanted a light lunch one day, so we stopped at an outside kiosk. We both ordered a hot dog. We each got three mini hot dogs in a dry roll. The roll crumbled as soon as we bit it. It wasn’t on par with the rest of the food.

Good To Know

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

Also, there was only one hook in the bathroom, so there wasn’t a good place to dry swimsuits and robes. We could see clothes drying racks on the balconies of other rooms. If you visit in warm weather, you would be well-advised to get a room with a balcony.

I didn’t pack shampoo and conditioner because they have always been available in hotel rooms. There was shampoo and body wash in the shower, but no conditioner. You can buy it in the gift shop if you need it. Better to bring your own.

Robes are provided for guests to wear to and from the pool. Slippers are not, so be sure to have flip flops, as street shoes are not allowed in the pool areas.

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

Overall Impression
Restaurant at Aquaworld

The main restaurant in the hotel

Aquaworld is listed as a four-star resort. Nothing was dirty or in disrepair. As you can see from the photo above, the hotel is lovely, but the room we were in looked like it was close to needing an update as the carpet and furniture looked a little worn. I would give the water facilities high marks, but consider the hotel room a three-star.

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

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

An indoor pool at Aquaworld

Under the dome

Who Is It For?

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

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

Collage of Aquaworld

So many ways to play

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

How Does Aquaworld Compare to Therme Bucuresti?

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

4 photo collage of Therme Bucuresti

A few photos from Therme Bucuresti in 2018

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

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

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

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

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

Aquaworld Costs

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

Aquaworld’s slogan is “check in, chill out,” and it lived up to that promise.

Steve and I plan to visit again and think it will be even better after kids go back to school or in the winter when we can laze in the warm water of the outdoor pool while snow falls around us. 

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

Safe and happy traveling,

Linda

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June 2021 Recap: Things Are Looking Up in Hungary

Hello, I hope all is well with you. Steve and I are still in Budapest and plan to be here for another year. It’s been another low-key month, but things are definitely looking up here. Hopefully, they are where you are too.

Our big news is that we finally got our Covid vaccines! 

Pandemic Update

Here in Hungary, things appear to be going in the right direction. The number of Covid cases dropped below 100 per day by the end of June (according to Worldometer). At month-end, the government announced that once the number of vaccinated people reaches 5.5 million (about 56% of the population), they would further ease restrictions. 

Current restrictions include masks in shops and on public transportation. Only those with immunity cards can visit museums and gyms, eat inside restaurants, or stay at hotels. Since we don’t have our immunity cards yet, we have not been able to do these things.

We Finally Got Vaccinated

In Hungary, like the U.S., citizens who wanted to be vaccinated could do so in the spring. Being foreigners, we had to wait until the Hungarian government vaccinated its citizens. Steve and I understood that and were OK with being at the end of the line.

We weren’t OK with the lack of information and that the website for non-citizens kept crashing. Steve was diligent about keeping us registered, but alas, it did no good.

It was a Facebook post by an ex-pat that led us to our vaccines. This person said he sent an email to the Army hospital asking about vaccines and was told to come in the next day. Steve immediately sent an email, and sure enough, he received one back telling us to come in the next morning.

Our first and second choices were Pfizer and Moderna, but we were offered J&J and decided to take that instead of waiting who knows how much longer. 

After our shot, we were told that we would get our immunity cards in the mail. It could be a week; it could be a month. We didn’t have our cards after two weeks, so we decided to visit the local office to see what we could do. The woman who waited on Steve told him he was not in the system. Surprise, surprise. So we continue to wait for our immunity cards. There’s a good chance that the immunity card restrictions will be lifted before we get our cards.

Food, Food, and More Food

There is still a lot we can’t do, but we can eat outdoors at restaurants. And did we ever. We enjoyed several meals at our favorite Budapest restaurant, Kiskakukk. We revisited favorites from last year and found a few new places.

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

We were sad to see that one of our favorites, Pizza Eataliano (dumb name, great food), was a victim of the pandemic. Another favorite, Babka, changed their menu. They no longer offer either of our favorites.

We Are Legal For Another Year

In May, we completed all the paperwork to renew our Residence Permits for another year. Early in June, right on schedule, our new permits arrived in the mail. Yay!

We are now allowed to stay in Hungary until mid-July 2022. The best part is that when travel opens up, we will be able to travel in the Schengen Area at will, as opposed to being restricted to 90 days out of every 180 days with our U.S. passport. For now, we will be happy to be able to travel within Hungary, which should happen in July if the Delta variant doesn’t take hold here.

Anniversary Day

On June 2nd Steve and I celebrated 42 years of marriage by doing two of our favorite things, eating and visiting a garden. We started with a light lunch at Kiskakukk, then strolled the Buda Arboretum for a few hours. We ended the day with a wonderful dinner at TG Italia. 

Some of the gorgeous plants and flowers we enjoyed at the Buda Arboretum
Lovin’ Our New Home

We moved to an apartment closer to the city center in May. We love our new location. We are on the 8th floor overlooking a main street. The views are terrific. As Steve said, “These are really good seats.” After living in suburbia for 60 years, it turns out that we love city living.

Nighttime view of Budapest Eye
Our nighttime view

Another plus to our new place is that we are at a major transportation hub. The airport shuttle bus is literally across the street. We can take a short bus ride to the Lehel Market when it’s time for some heavy-duty grocery shopping.

People shopping at Lehel Market in Budapest, Hungary
Inside the Lehel Market – huge selection in a colorful building
Nice Weather (While it Lasted)

After a housebound winter and a chilly spring, it was great to have warm, sunny weather. While we were busy eating our way around the city, a heatwave struck. For the last two weeks of the month, highs ranged from 88 degrees up to 100 degrees. This is 20 degrees higher than average.

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

Fortunately, we have air conditioning, but since we couldn’t visit indoor venues, we laid low during this time. Daily naps became the norm.

You would think that living in Florida for 30 years would have acclimated us. That doesn’t seem to be the case. 

A Semi-Productive Month

In between nap time and reading time, I finished a post about several Holocaust Memorial sites in Budapest and one about the Lehel Market. I am still slogging away on my Italian lessons (will I ever use them?), and thanks to Zoom, I can enjoy the inspiration and camaraderie of my fellow toastmasters at Toast of Jax. 

Looking Forward

We hope to start traveling around the country in July. There are several places we want to visit, including multiple towns around Lake Balaton, the largest lake in Central Europe, and a popular vacation spot. We visited the lakeside town of Balatonfured in October and loved it.

Locally, we are also looking forward to doing some of the things we couldn’t do during the height of pandemic, including seeing the inside of the Hungarian Parliament building and the Dohany Street Synagogue.

Steve and I hope all is going well for you. We would love to hear from you in our comments section.

Stay safe and healthy,

Linda

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

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Budapest’s Quirky and Colorful Lehel Market

Budapest is full of incredible things to see and do. One that makes every list of things to do in the city is the Great Market Hall (Vasarcsarnok), also referred to as the Central Market Hall. It is worth a trip to view the impressive building with its Zsolnay tile roof. 

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

However, for something different I suggest you visit the Lehel Market (Lehel Csarnok).

Full disclosure, I am not a fan of markets. I don’t enjoy food shopping, so I want to get in and out ASAP, not stroll from stall to stall making multiple purchases. Also, most markets are open fewer hours than supermarkets, so they tend to be crowded. But when Steve and I happened across Lehel Market one day, I was impressed enough to return another day for a shopping trip and a chance to photograph its unique interior.

You may be shocked when you first see it. It has nothing in common with any other building in Budapest. It is supposed to resemble a ship.

I think the outside is an eyesore, and I am not the only one. Here is a quote from Steve Fallon, Lonely Planet:

“Lehel Csarnok is housed in a hideous boat-like structure designed by László Rajk, son of the Communist minister of the interior executed for ‘Titoism’ in 1949. Apparently this is his revenge.”

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

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

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

Both markets are heavy on food products: produce, pastries, meats, herbs, and spices (including many paprika products). Both have a supermarket in the basement and stalls on the upper levels where you can buy non-food items or grab a quick bite. The upper floors in the Lehel Market are teeming with inexpensive household and personal products (think dollar store after dollar store). 

Lehel is also more “market-like,” in my opinion. The Central Market has a touristy feel with the first-floor stalls flanking wide aisles.

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

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

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

The Central Market is a draw for tourists, while Lehel is more of a locals’ shopping center.

The Central Market is on the Pest side near the foot of the Liberty Bridge in Fővám tér (District IX). Lehel Market is on Vaci utca 9-15, just a bit north of the Westend Mall. Both can be reached easily by public transportation. Lehel Market is a bit further from the city center, but not so far that you should miss it if markets are your thing.

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

Stay safe and healthy,

Linda

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10 Must-See Holocaust Memorials in Budapest

If you find the history of the Holocaust as poignant and powerful as I do, you may wish to visit some of the Holocaust memorials in Budapest. This post highlights ten sites in Budapest that keep the memory of that terrible time alive and honor those who lost their lives as well as those who risked their lives to save the innocent.

While the Nazis persecuted many groups, the largest impact was on Jews. Throughout the post, I will reference the impact on the Jews of Hungary. This is not meant to ignore or diminish the effects on other groups.

The ten memorials are organized by district. The districts  are laid out like this:

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

District V
1. Memorial for Victims of the German Occupation

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

This beautiful but controversial statue on the southern edge of Liberty Square was erected during the night in July 2014. It shows the Archangel Gabriel (a national symbol of Hungary) being attacked by an eagle (representing Nazi Germany).

Some Hungarians feel that the statue puts all the blame of the persecution of Jews on the Germans and ignores the fact that Hungarians collaborated with the Nazis and aided in the deportation of their countryman. You can learn more about this controversy here.

In front of the statue, you can see a poignant collection of photos and artifacts that keep the memories of the  victims alive. It is an impassioned response to the Memorial to the Victims of German Occupation.

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

In addition to the two items above, you can see the Memorial to the Soviet Red Army in the northern part of Liberty Square. It honors the soldiers who liberated Hungary from the Nazis. Unfortunately, the Soviets went on to occupy Hungary for 45 years.

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

Many statues from Soviet times have been removed from their places of honor and erected in Momento Park, but the Monument to the Soviet Red Army remains in a place of honor.

2. Shoes on the Danube

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

This unique memorial commemorates the thousands of people killed by the Arrow Cross Party. This fascist, anti-semitic party ruled Hungary for less than six months in the fall and winter of 1944-1945.

One way the party terrorized Jews was to line up a group along the bank of the Danube River, force them to remove their shoes (because leather had value), then shoot them and let the river wash their bodies away.

The memorial was designed by artist Gyula Pauer and was unveiled in 2005. It consists of 60 pairs of iron shoes representing the men, women, and children murdered here.

In addition to this atrocity, the Arrow Cross Party deported 80,000 people to the Austrian concentration camps.

Unfortunately, hatred remains in some people’s hearts. After the unveiling ceremony, several pairs of shoes were removed with a crowbar and kicked into the river. At a later time, pig’s feet were found in the shoes.

The monument is on the Pest side of the Danube River, south of the Hungarian Parliament Building.

3. Raoul Wallenberg Bench

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

Raoul Wallenberg was a Swedish architect, businessman, and diplomat who served as Sweden’s special envoy in Budapest in 1944. During that time, he saved thousands of Hungarian Jews by issuing protective passports and sheltering them in buildings that were designated Swedish territory.

Wallenberg was taken into custody by the Soviets in early 1945. The circumstances of his death remain a mystery. One likely scenario was that he was executed in Lubyanka Prison in Moscow in 1947. He would have been 34 years old.

The bench is on the southeastern side of Elizabeth Square.

There is also a plaque honoring Wallenberg at the corner of Raoul Wallenberg utca and Pozsony utca in District XIII.

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

District VI
4. House of Terror (Terror Háza)

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

A visit to the House of Terror will take you chronologically through the history of two Hungarian totalitarian dictatorships of the twentieth century. It begins with the Nazi occupation of Hungary in March of 1944 and continues through the first eleven years of the 45-year long Soviet occupation.

The two main parties to know are:

The Arrow Cross Party – This far-right group was modeled after the Nazi Party of Germany. They were in power for less than six months in 1944 and 1945. During that short time, they murdered between 10,000 and 15,000 civilians and deported 80,000 Hungarians to concentration camps.

The AVH – The secret police of the People’s Republic of Hungary during the early part of the Soviet Union’s occupation of Hungary. This group was comparable to the KGB. I was shocked to learn that this group used concentration camps after WWII but could not find much information about them.

This museum is particularly impactful because it is located in the building used by the two dictatorships to detain, torture, and kill those they considered enemies of the state.

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

We are not in a distant military prison, not deep down in a dungeon, but on the avenue of the civil world, just a half a metre from the pavement, from the everyday life.”

To do this museum justice, be prepared to spend at least two hours.

Location: Andrássy Avenue 60

District VII
5. Stolpersteine (Stumbling Stones)

In Budapest and other cities in Europe, you can find plaques about 4 inches square embedded in the pavement in front of buildings. They commemorate residents of the buildings who were victims of the Nazis.

These stones uphold the Talmud’s teaching that a person is only forgotten when his or her name is forgotten.

Each plaque includes the resident’s name, date of birth, and as much information about their places and dates of deportation and death as is known.

Stolpersteine (Stumbling Stone) in Budapest

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

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

These two stones are for a husband and wife. The husband, Jozsef, was born in 1905. He was deported in 1942, although no destination is given. He died in 1945 in the Hungarian town of Koszeg, where the Nazis had a  slave labor camp. He may have been one of the 4,500 people who died of typhus in that camp.

More detail is known about the wife, Joszefne. She was taken to the Theresienstadt Ghetto in the Czech Republic. This was a hybrid concentration camp and ghetto. According to the stone, she died in Budapest in 1946 as a consequence of her captivity.

In Hungary, it was traditional for the wife not only to take the husband’s last name but for her to also take his first name with ‘ne’ added to the end. So, in this case, the wife, given the name Magdolna at birth, became Jozsefne upon her marriage.

While there are stolpersteine in many of Budapest’s district, the greatest concentration can be seen in District VII since a part of this district was historically Jewish. Learn more from A Guide to Budapest’s Jewish Quarter by Offbeat Budapest.

There are more than 70,000 stones in over 2,000 cities and towns in Europe. Read more about the stones in this BBC article.

6. The Emanuel Tree Memorial

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

Each leaf of this sparkling silver tree has the name of a Hungarian Jew killed during the Holocaust. The tree is in the Raoul Wallenberg Memorial Garden of the Dohany Street Synagogue. It stands over mass graves of some of those murdered by the Nazis in 1944–45.

There are four red marble plates nearby that recognize 240 non-Jewish Hungarians who saved the lives of Jews during the Holocaust.

The tree was installed in 1991 and paid for by the American actor Tony Curtis in memory of his Hungarian-born father, Emanuel Schwartz.

The tree can be seen at Wesselényi utca 7. It is part of the Hungarian Jewish Museum and Archives.

I took the photo through a fence because we couldn’t visit the museum during the pandemic. There is much more to see in the Dohany Street Synagogue and the Jewish Museum. I will update this post once we can visit them.

7. Ghetto Memorial Wall

Ghetto Memorial Wall in Budapest
The Ghetto Memorial Wall

I ran across this memorial by surprise while walking down Dohany utca one afternoon. As I passed an apartment building, I noticed what looked like bullet holes in the front wall. Just past the building, I saw three large pieces of rusted metal with inspirational writing in three languages (Hungarian, English, and Hebrew). It turned out to be the Ghetto Memorial Wall.

Next to the writing is a map of the Jewish Ghetto. There are holes through which you can see scenes from that time.

Map of the Jewish Ghetto in Budapest
The Ghetto map

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

In November 1944, 200,000 Jews were forced into the ghetto. When the Soviet Army liberated it during the Battle of Budapest in January 1945, only 70,000 residents remained.

The memorial was installed in 2015 in recognition of the 70th anniversary of the Holocaust.

You can see this memorial at Dohány utca 34.

8. Hanna Szenes Mini Statue 

There are about 20 mini statues in Budapest. They are the work of a sculptor named Mihály Kolodko. The statues are small (less than 1-foot square) and set throughout the city. Their subjects range from pop culture to politics, from humor to history.

One of the statues honors a woman named Hanna Szenes. She was a Hungarian-born Jewish war hero who parachuted into Yugoslavia during World War II to assist anti-Nazi forces. Unfortunately, she was captured and executed at the tender age of 23. Throughout her imprisonment and torture, she refused to give her captors the information they sought.

Hanna Szenes mini statue
Hanna ready to jump into Yugoslavia

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

Here is more of Hannah’s courageous story.

9. Carl Lutz Memorial

Carl Lutz was a Swiss diplomat assigned to Budapest in 1942. He is credited with saving the lives of 62,000 Jews from 1942 until the end of WWII in 1945. This memorial to him was erected in 1991.

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

Lutz housed Jews in safe houses in the city. The most famous is The Glass House, the former site of a glass import business. There is a small but well-regarded museum in this building at Vadasz utca 29. Unfortunately, we have not visited it yet because it has been closed during the pandemic.

In addition to safe houses, Lutz arranged for protective letters that allowed 8,000 Jews to emigrate to Palestine. This involved working with the Nazis, who grudgingly allowed him to offer protection to some Jews. Learn more about the amazing Carl Lutz and the use of protection letters.

There is a plaque on the wall next to the statue that reads:

Whoever saves a life is considered as if he has saved an entire world” Talmud

This memorial is a Dob utca 12.

District IX
10. Holocaust Memorial Center

The Holocaust Memorial Center is a memorial to the more than half a million Hungarian Jews killed by the Nazis. Its permanent exhibit, titled “From the Deprivation of Rights to Genocide,” follows history as Jews in Hungary were first stripped of their property and human rights to the horrors of mass shootings and deportation to concentration camps.

A strikingly modern building houses the museum. In the courtyard, you can see a glass hall called the Tower of Lost Communities. The names of 1,441 settlements that lost their entire Jewish population to deportations.

Glass and marble Tower of Lost Communities

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

Interior of the Budapest Synagogue
The Budapest Synagogue

The museum opened in 2004 in the location of the Páva utca Synagogue. There is a lot to take in, so allow at least a few hours. Almost everything has an English translation.

Location: Páva utca 39

Dig Deeper Into the Memorials

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

More About Budapest

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

Steve and I love hearing from our readers. Please let us know if you have seen any of these memorials and what they meant to you. As always, I have done my best to be accurate, but if my facts are not correct, please let me know.

Stay safe and healthy,
Linda

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May 2021 Recap: Still Sidelined in Budapest

Well, here we are, fourteen months into the pandemic. I hope you and your loved ones are staying healthy and sane. It can be a challenge at times, but things are looking up.

Steve and I are still in Budapest, waiting to be vaccinated and be able to travel again. Here is a look at what May 2021 was like for Steve and me.

State of the Pandemic

Top on everyone’s mind: pandemic numbers and restrictions. Soon after we arrived in Budapest in mid-March 2020, the entire country went on lockdown. It was so quiet. Fear of the unknown kept people inside. We reached a comfort level where we would take a walk about twice a week. The one bright spot was enjoying landmarks like Fisherman’s Bastion and Buda Castle without the crowds.

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

The first shutdown lasted only two months, and even after the country opened back up, the Covid numbers remained low. Then in late summer, the number of cases started rapidly increasing. A second shutdown began in November and didn’t end until May.

Despite being in the second shutdown, the number of cases exploded in March and April. At its high point, there were more than 10,000 new cases per day. That is a lot considering that there are less than 10 million people in the whole country.

As fortunate as we felt to be here in the early stages of Covid, particularly when the U.S. was struggling, we are now shocked to find that Hungary has the highest reported Covid death rate in the world, according to Worldometers.info.

Vaccine Anticipation

We were finally able to register for the vaccine in early May. Now we must wait until we are notified that it is our turn.

The Hungarian government is proud of the number of vaccinations it has administered (50% of citizens are vaccinated), but they are struggling to vaccinate non-citizens. The website for non-citizens has crashed several times, and the process for getting the vaccination card has been fraught with problems.

So we wait, hoping to get vaccinated in the not too distant future. The Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, Astra-Zenica, and Pfizer vaccines are all available to some extent, along with the Russian and Chinese ones. We are not sure how much choice we will have when our turn comes.

I can attest that vaccine envy is a real thing.

Renewing Our Residence Permit

We have permits that allow us to stay in Hungary until mid-July. Since things are still uncertain with the virus, we decided to extend them for another year.

Last year we did this on our own. It involved three visits to the Office of Alien Policing and a total of 20 hours of waiting. It was as if the Marquis de Sade ran the DMV.

This time we hired a company called nVisaHungary to represent us. We still had to provide tons of paperwork, but our representative’s guidance made it less stressful. We had our appointment in mid-May. It was quick and painless, so hopefully, we will have our new permits by mid-June.

It costs $850 for the immigration guidance for the two of us, which is a lot of money, but given how much we’ve saved over the past fourteen months, we felt it was a luxury we could afford. And if we don’t get the permits, we pay nothing.

Moving Around But Not On

Steve and I are anxious to get moving. Sitting in one place for more than a year is not how we roll. Right now, the best we can do is move apartments.

A Catch-22 of applying for a residence permit is that you need to have proof of accommodations for the duration, so you have to sign a lease before you know if you will be able to stay.

We were in an apartment in District IX since October. There were many things we loved about it. It is bright, spacious, and comfortable. It has a full kitchen (what is referred to as an American kitchen here), a living room, dining room, two bedrooms, one and a half bathrooms, and two balconies. It is also very close to a supermarket and just a few blocks from a small mall.

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

The downside is that it is a bit away from the city center. During the shutdown, that was OK, but as things open up and we get vaccinated, we want to be in the city center.

The apartment was an Airbnb listing, and because there was much more supply than demand, we paid less than $1,000 per month. But now that there is light at the end of the pandemic tunnel, rents have taken a big jump. It would cost us at least 50% more to stay there long-term. On top of that, our host isn’t the best communicator.

We wanted to find a place that would be more cost-effective because once it is safe, we plan to visit other towns in Hungary and nearby countries. That means double accommodation costs.

We moved into our new place on May 26th. It is a bit smaller than the last place but very stylish. The owner used to have an interior decorating business, so it is full of touches you don’t often see in a rental.

Photo collage of apartment in District VII
Our new digs

A Taste of Freedom

By May 1st, the Covid numbers had come down enough for closed businesses, including restaurants, museums, and gyms, to open, but only to people who could prove they were vaccinated.

Since Steve and I are in our 60s with some health issues, we have been erring on the side of caution. We have kept our non-essential excursions to a minimum and did not eat outdoors at restaurants once that became available.

On the 21st, we finally let our guard down a little and took advantage of a beautiful day, which was a welcome change from the cold, cloudy weather that has plagued the city. We walked to the Liberty Bridge to see the latest mini-statue by Mihály Kolodko, then continued to the Buda side of the city.

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

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

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

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

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

We also enjoyed our first meal out in more than six months. We went to one of our favorite restaurants, Kiskakukk. The name means little cuckoo. It is more than 100 years old and serves traditional Hungarian food. I can only vouch for the stuffed cabbage, though. It is the only thing I ever order there because I absolutely love it.

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

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

20 Quick and Cool Things to See and Do In Budapest

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

The Beauty of Budapest in 50 Photos

Keeping Busy

Despite being locked down for half a year, we have kept busy, and the days and months have gone quickly. In addition to working on this blog, I am studying Italian and have reconnected with my Jacksonville Toastmasters group, Toast of Jax, thanks to Zoom.

All this downtime has given me a lot of opportunities to read. In May, I discovered a new author, Joshilyn Jackson. I am on my fifth book by her.

Steve has been equally busy cooking (he makes an incredible chicken paprikash), answering travel questions on Quora while promoting Wind and Whim, and tending to all the little things that need attention in a home. He has also been staying on top of the constantly changing Covid and vaccine situations.

Looking Forward

June looks brighter than May in several ways:

The weather is getting better.

We hope to get our new residence permits in the early part of the month.

We may be able to take a side-trip or two within Hungary soon.

And last, but definitely not least, we will celebrate our 42nd anniversary on June 2nd. I am so grateful that Steve was willing to make the leap to full-time travel and that he is as curious about the world as I am. Despite being sidelined, I count my blessings every day.

Steve and I wish you a wonderful June.

Stay safe and healthy,
Linda

Featured photo of the Liberty Bridge, the Danube River, and Pest as seen from Gellert hill – by Linda Gerbec

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20 Quick and Cool Things to See and Do in Budapest

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

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

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

What Should Everyone See In Budapest?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Budapest funicular ticket office and car

Buda Castle sits on a hill overlooking the Danube. A fun way to get up the hill is on the Budapest Castle Hill Funicular (Budavári Sikló). It is a 150-year-old funicular railway that will take you from Clark Adam Square (Clark Ádám tér) at the end of the Buda side of the Chain Bridge to Buda Castle and back down again. You can purchase a one-way or round-trip ticket at the entrance to the funicular.

Clark Adam Square is at the end of the Chain Bridge. As of this writing, the bridge is undergoing renovation and is closed to pedestrian traffic. It will be closed to all traffic by June 2021. The work is expected to be completed by August 2023.

2. A Statue of King Saint Stephen

Statue of King Stephen near Fisherman’s Bastion in Budapest

To the north of Buda Castle, you will find Fisherman’s Bastion (Halászbástyaand the Matthias Church (Mátyástemplom) . You can also see this elegant statue of King Saint Stephen (Szent István király), the first king of Hungary.  He is also known as Stephen I and is credited with bringing Christianity to Hungary.

You can see the statue near the Matthias Church at Szentháromság tér 2.

3. The Red Hedgehog House

Front of the Red Hedgehog House in Budapest

The Red Hedgehog House (Vörös Sün Ház) is thought to be the oldest building in Budapest (circa 1260). This former inn was also used as a theater and a cabernet/brothel during its long life. The hedgehog, however, didn’t take up residence until the early 19th century.

When we visited, there were tables outside, but because of the pandemic, there wasn’t anything going on. Even so, if you are in the Castle District, it is fun to go on a hunt for the red hedgehog over the front door.

The red hedgehog resides at Hess András tér 3.

4. Listening Ears

If you walk along the Danube River on the Buda side below Buda Castle, you can see this contraption:

Megaphone shaped structure used to detect bombers in WWI

These Air Defense Early Warning Listening Ears were used to hear approaching bombers during World War I. You can read about the listening ears concept in this article about aircraft detection before radar.

5. Another Statue of King Saint Stephen

This statue is located on Gellert Hill overlooking the Danube River at the foot of the Liberty Bridge, which makes for a beautiful photo opportunity. It is about a 30-minute walk from the Castle to this statue.

Statue of King Saint Stephen with a horse overlooking the Liberty Bridge in BudapestKing Saint Stephen looks much less impressive here than in the statue near Fisherman’s Bastion.

On the Buda Side – District II – Rose Hill and Watertown

District II is a large district north of Districts I and XII. It comprises several neighborhoods, including Watertown and Rose Hill.

6. The Tomb of Gül Baba

One day Steve and I decided to explore a prestigious and wealthy area of Budapest called Rose Hill (Rózsadomb). We must have been in the wrong section because we didn’t see much, but on the way back to the Danube River we stumbled upon the Tomb of Gül Baba.

A five photo collage of the Gul Baba site in Budapest

Gül Baba was an Ottoman Dervish from the 16th century. He is honored for his piety and talent as a poet.

The tomb of Gül Baba is the northernmost Islamic pilgrimage site in the world. While the tomb itself may not be of much interest to non-Muslims, the patio and terraced garden are peaceful and beautifully kept.

You will find the tomb at Mecset u. 14. You can also approach the grounds via Gül Baba utca, the steepest street in Budapest.

On the Buda Side – District XII – Highlands

This district is a little bit away from the rest of the Budapest attractions, but in my opinion, well worth the trip. It includes Janos Hill, the highest point in Budapest.

7. The Zugliget Chairlift

Chairlift in the Buda Hills

You can reach Janos Hill (János-hegy) via a 15-minute long chairlift ride. The Zugliget Chairlift (Zugligeti Libegő) starts in the Zugliget neighborhood. You can take bus 291 to reach the chairlift entrance. Tickets are sold from machines at the entrance.

Once you get to the top, you will be well placed to visit Elizabeth Tower and the Children’s Railway (more on both below). There are also several hiking trails in the hills.

The chairlift entrance is at Zugligeti út 97.

8. The Children’s Railway

The Childrens’ Railway (Gyermekvasút) is a railway run almost entirely by children. Only the driver and the supervisors are adults. The age of the students runs from 10 to 14 years old. They must be excellent students to be chosen for this honor.

Two photos of children working on the Children’s Railway BudapestThe Children’s Railway is a narrow-gauge railway that travels through the Buda Hills for over 7 miles. It is the longest child-run railway in the world.

I was surprised to learn that there are many still functioning children’s railways in Russia and other ex-Soviet states and some Eastern European countries. They are remnants of the U.S.S.R., where they were used to train children in the transportation industry and instill the political ideology.

You can buy your tickets on the train, but it is best to have exact change. We did not, so the train had to go to the next station where we were able to buy tickets.

It was difficult to find the railroad from the area at the top of the chairlift. Look for signs saying Gyermekvasút or ask a friendly local.

9. The Elizabeth Lookout Tower

Front view of the Elizabeth Lookout Tower in Budapest

Four photos of the Elizabeth Lookout Tower in Budapest

The delightful multi-tiered Elizabeth Lookout Tower (Erzsébet-kilátó) sits atop Janos Hill. The tower was built in 1910 and rebuilt in the early 2000s. It was named in honor of the much-beloved Queen Elisabeth of Hungary (1837-1898) because she enjoyed visiting the area. You can read about her tragic life here.

Once you get off the chairlift on Janos Hill, you can see the tower to your right. It is a short uphill walk to reach it.

On the Pest Side – District V – Downtown

District V sits along the Danube River on the Pest side opposite District I. The Hungarian Parliament Building is in this district.

10. Bullet Hole Markers

If you head inland from the Hungarian Parliament Building, you can see the Ministry of Agriculture Building. On it, you can see an unusual memorial. It is one of many memorials throughout the city that commemorate the failed Hungarian Revolution of 1956.

This memorial honors one of the events of that Revolution. On October 25th, peaceful protesters gathered in Kossuth Square (Kossuth Tér). Hungarian and Soviet troops opened fire on protesters, and many fled among the columns of the Ministry of Agriculture Building.

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

The event is now known as Bloody Thursday. Dozens of markers show where bullets fired at the protesters hit the walls. The exact number of dead is not known, with estimates from 20 to 1,000.

The Ministry of Agriculture is at Kossuth Lajos tér 11.

11. U.S. Presidents in Liberty Square

District V also includes Liberty Square (Szabadság tér), a public area with statues dedicated to freedom and liberty. You may be surprised to find statues of two U.S. presidents: Ronald Reagan and George Bush Sr.

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

The Reagan statue was erected in 2011 to recognize his efforts to help end the Cold War and Russia’s control over the country.

The Bush statue was unveiled in 2020 to mark the thirtieth anniversary of the fall of communist rule in Central and Eastern Europe. Bush visited Budapest in 1989. Here is more information about that visit, including a video of Bush’s speech to the Hungarian people.

As a side note: The U.S. Embassy sits on the eastern side of Liberty Square. The Embassy is surrounded by a high fence and heavily guarded. Quite frankly, I think it looks like a minimum-security prison. This is quite a contrast to the welcoming look of the numerous embassies that line Andrassy Avenue.

12. Two Porcelain Statues in Jozsef Nador Square

Jozsef Nador Square (József Nádor tér) was reconstructed in 2018. As part of this project, two large porcelain statues were added. The first is the Tree of Life by the Herend Porcelain Manufacturer. The second is Hercules Fountain by the Zsolnay Porcelain Manufacturer. A statue of the square’s namesake stands between the two.

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

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

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

Jozsef Nador Square is several blocks south of Liberty Square.

13. Elizabeth Square

Collage of four scenes in Elizabeth Square, Budapest

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

This square is two blocks east of Jozsef Nador Square.

On the Pest Side – District VI – Terézváros

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

14. The Millennium Underground Railway

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

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

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

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

15. Művész Kávéház

Exterior and interior views of the Muvesz Coffeehouse in Budapest

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

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

Visit this beautiful cafe at Andrássy út 29.

16. The Iron Curtain Monument

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

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

The Iron Curtain Memorial in Budapest

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

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

A segment of the Berlin Wall in Budapest

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

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

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

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

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

Visit the library at Szabó Ervin tér 1.

On the Pest Side – District XIV -Zugló

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

19. A Statue of Anonymous

Statue of Anonymous in City Park, Budapest

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

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

20. Playground in City Park

Two views of the playground in City Park, Budapest

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

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

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

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

Even More to See and Do in Budapest

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

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

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

Stay safe and healthy,
Linda

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The Funky Side of Budapest

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

Street art

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

Fancy Face at Tereza Mexican Restaurant (District VI)

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

A Woman and a Monkey (District VII)

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

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

What a Door (District VII)

A door painted with a colorful and zany face

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

Llamas in a Tunnel (District XIV)

A drawing of two stylized llamas

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

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

Big Statues

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

Columbo (District V)

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

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

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

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

Girl With Her Dog (District V)

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

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

Little Princess (District V)

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

Statue of a child in a princess outfit

The Fat Policeman (District V)

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

Statue of a policeman with a large belly

Man on a ladder (District VIII)

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

Mini Statues

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

The mini statues are the work of a sculptor named Mihály Kolodko. Some of the statues were commissioned, but others were placed around the city Banksy style by Kolodko. Kolodko’s mini statues grace several other cities as well.

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

Checker-Eared Rabbit (District 1)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mini statue of a dead squirrel with a gun
Ruin Bars

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

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

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

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

Szimpla Kert (District VII)

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

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

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

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

liebling (District VII)

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

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

Mazel Tov (District VII)

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

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

A Few More Funky Things

The Michael Jackson Memorial Tree (District V)

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

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

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

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

Púder Bárszínház (District IX)

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

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

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

Bela Lugosi Bust (District XIV)

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

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

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

Closing

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay safe,
Linda

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

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

Freedom After Lockdown

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

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

Fun While it Lasted (Accident #1)

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

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

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

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

Results of Accident #1

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

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

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

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

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

Down, But Not Out

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

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

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

Accident #2

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

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

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

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

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

Passing the Test

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

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

Now it was time to head to the hospital.

Not Quick, But Cheap

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

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

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

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

But There’s More

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

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

How to Use LimeBike Scooters

Carefully. Very carefully, lol.

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

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

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

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

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

What Does it Cost to Use a LimeBike Scooter?

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

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

A Final Word of Warning

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

Further Reading

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

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

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

Safe and Happy Traveling,
Linda

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Sintra, Portugal – Stunning and Sublime

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

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

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

A Little About Sintra

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

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

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

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

National Palace of Sintra (Palácio Nacional de Sintra)

Exterior of large white palace

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

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

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

Close up of hand-painted doves

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

Room with partially tiled walls and swans painted on the ceiling

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

A close up of azulejo tiles featuring a faun and flowers

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

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

Park and Palace of Monserrate (Palacio de Monserrate)

Side view of the Palace of Monserrate

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

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

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

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

Hallway with marble columns and filigree details

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

Close up of a fountain near the palace

You can see this fountain as you exit the palace.

Hedgie overlooking the palace lawn

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

Pena Palace (Palacio Nacional da Pena)

Exterior of Pena Palace from the road below

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

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

Gargoyle-like creature on the outside of a building

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

Terrace and pillars overlooking a valley

The Queen’s Terrace is a popular photo spot.

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

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

Castle of the Moors (Castelo dos Mouros)

View of the Castle of the Moors from a distance

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

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

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

Man walking on a castle wall

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

Quinta da Regaleira

Large neo-Gothic mansion

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

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

Rocky entrance to a cave

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

Note the stepping stones you can access from a cave.

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

Looking down into a large initiation well

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

Man looking through a moss-covered opening

    Steve on his way to the bottom of the Initiation Well

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

The Cats of Sintra

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

Grey cat sitting on a sandy walkway
Palace of Monserrate cat

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

Tan cat crouched on sandy walkway
Quinta de Regaleira cat

But That’s Not All!

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

Here are some other things to enjoy in the area:

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

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

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

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

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

Harbor in Cascais, Portugal
The harbor in Cascais

Trip Details

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

Here is what we spent in Europe in eight months.

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

Stay safe and healthy,
Linda

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The Beauty of Budapest in 50 Photos

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

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

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

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

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

Budapest’s Districts

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arresting Architecture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This beauty overlooks Liberty Square.

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

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

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

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

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

The neo-gothic Stern House.

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

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

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

Fabulous Facades

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Incredible Icons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Front entrance of a synagogue
District VII, Dohány utca 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Learn more about the history of Vajdahunyad Castle.

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

Delightful Details

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

These beautiful corbels are on the elegant Andrássy Avenue.

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

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

Two winged fugures holding lights
District VII, Dohány utca 53

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

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

Faded Beauty

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

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

Even in disrepair, this building remains impressive.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beautiful Bridges

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

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

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

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

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

A yellow bridge spanning the Danube River
The Margaret Bridge

Here is one of the pillars on the Margaret Bridge.

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

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

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

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

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

The Chain Bridge at night
The Chain Bridge

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

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

The Liberty Bridge as viewed from the Pest side:

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

And detail on the Liberty Bridge:

Detail of the Liberty Bridge
Liberty Bridge Detail

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

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

Closing

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

Therme Bucuresti: Romania’s Amazing Wellness Center

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

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

This is a place where you can feel like a carefree kid one minute and a pampered adult the next.

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

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

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

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

The best way to understand how much Therme Bucuresti has to offer is to visit its website.

What Will You Find at Therme Bucuresti?

Therme Bucuresti is divided into three areas. As a guest, you decide which areas you want to access and only pay for those. Each area has activities and dining options. The three areas are:

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

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

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

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

The photo at the top of this post is of the main pool in The Palms.

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

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

Four photos of Therme Bucuresti

Clockwise from upper left: slides in the Galaxy area, calla shower in the Elysium area, our travel buddy, Hedgie, at a swim-up bar, mineral pools in the Palms area

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

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

Not bad for US$ 86 per person.

Our evening visit cost US$ 130. This included:

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

A word of warning – if you get a massage, you will be given a skimpy (and I do mean skimpy) paper G-string to wear.

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

Practical Stuff

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

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

You can rent a robe and towel when you arrive. As of this writing, the rental is reasonably priced at around US$ 12.

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

A note about shoes: you should bring rubber flip-flops to wear when walking between areas. I had some, but Steve’s were more like a boat shoe. They had a thick white sole. The staff took issue with them even though they had been sold as beach shoes and had never been worn outside. You can also buy slippers at Therme.

P.S. If you are curious about what it cost us to travel in Europe for eight months, including a month in Bucharest, check out “Wind and Whim’s 2018 Full-Time Travel Costs: Europe.

If you’ve been to Therme Bucuresti, I would love to know what you thought of it. If you haven’t, I encourage you to visit when you are near Bucharest.

Safe and happy traveling,
Linda

This post was originally published on December 2, 2020.

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

Ah, Paris! The City of Lights!

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

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

What is The Musée d’Orsay?

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

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

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

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

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

From Train Station to Art Museum

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

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

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

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

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

The Louvre vs. Musée d’Orsay

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Few Pieces From the Collection

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

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

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

You can listen to Vincent here.

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

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

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

This is another of my many favorites. Julie was the daughter of artists Berthe Morisot and Eugene Manet and the niece of Édouard Manet.

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

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

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

Where is The Musée d’Orsay?

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

Links

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

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

Safe and happy traveling,
Linda

Featured photo by Pierre Blaché on Pexels.com

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

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

Between these two cities, three places ruined us for all others:
La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona
Versailles (near Paris)
Cemetery Montmartre in Paris

You can read about why we think Cemetery Montmartre is the coolest cemetery in Paris here.

But now, it is my pleasure to share our impressions of The Palace and Estate of Versailles with you.

The Versailles We All Know

In 2005, I visited Paris with my daughter Stephanie as part of a school trip. One of the activities was a tour of the Palace of Versailles.

The Hall of Mirrors in the Palace of Versailles
The famous Hall of Mirrors

Our tour included the Palace and the Palace Gardens. We marveled at the over-the-top elegance, including the hall of mirrors, heard the stories about people using the corners in the palace as restrooms during its heyday, and saw where Marie Antoinette gave birth in front of an audience. Here is an interesting article about royal birthing practices.

Ornate bed chamber in rose and ivory
A bed chamber in the Palace of Versailles.

Then we spent some time in the palace’s gardens before heading back to Paris.

A formal garden seen from above
Our travel buddy Hedgie enjoying a view of the Orangery as seen from the Palace of Versailles

I came away from that experience amazed by the opulence and overwhelmed by the crowds. Little did I know that I had just scratched the surface of Versailles.

The Estate of Versailles includes the Palace, the gardens, the park, the Trianon estate, and several buildings in town.  It covers over 800 hectares or almost 2,000 acres.

A Second Look

Flash forward thirteen years to 2018. Steve and I spent a month in Paris as part of our new life as full-time travelers. We first visited Versailles as part of a bicycle tour on a dismal June day.

As we entered the grounds, we were surrounded by open fields full of sheep!

A field with trees and sheep
The first thing we saw as we entered the grounds of Versaille was sheep!

We then rode through the grounds where we visited the Trianon Estate, viewed several gardens, and enjoyed lunch on the patio at La Flottille.

A menu being looked at by a toy hedgehog
Our travel buddy Hedgie perusing the menu at a restaurant at Versaille.

At the end of our bicycle tour, we saw the Palace of Versailles. It was just as glorious as I remembered, and it left a lasting impression on Steve. Every time we have visited a palace or grand home since then he says, “It’s not Versailles.” Indeed, not too many places can match the grandeur and mystique of this amazing building.

A Third Visit

Our tour through the palace during our bicycle tour had been rushed, so we decided to go back on our own another day.

After we braved the crowds in the palace once more, we spent the rest of the day exploring the grounds. Even after two days of visiting, I feel as if we barely got to know it. We hope to one day return to the town of Versailles for an extended time and spend several days exploring the estate.

A goose standing on gravel
This goose was a surprise too.

A (Very) Brief History of Versailles

This phenomenal place began as a simple hunting lodge for King Louis XIII. A small chateau was built on the site in 1624.

The construction of the palace began in 1661 under Louis XIV. The palace and its elaborate gardens were completed in 1710.

In 1687 King Louis XIV had the Grand Trianon Palace built on the palace grounds.

King Louis XV added the Petite Trianon Palace to the grounds in 1768.

In 1783, during the reign of Louis XVI, the Queen’s Hamlet (Hameau de la Reine) was built.

The Treaty of Versailles, which ended World War I between Germany and the Allies, was signed in the Palace of Versaille in 1919.

The Trianon Estate

This section of the estate consists of 3 main areas described below: The Grand Trianon, The Petit Trianon, and The Queen’s Hamlet. The estate grew from the time of Louis XIII through Louis XVI. I find it hard to keep the Louis straight. I wish they had been more original when naming their heirs.

The Grand Trianon

This beautiful creation of pink marble and a type of rock called porphyry is located in the northwest corner of the estate. It was built in 1687 at the request of Louis XIV of France, who was known as The Sun King. He had it built as a place to escape the structures of life in the Palace of Versailles and spend time with his favorite mistress, Marquise de Montespan.

Here are 7 Fascinating Facts about Louis XIV.

The Palace has two wings. Each housed a royal apartment. They are connected by a colonnade called The Peristyle.

A grand walkway with pink marble columns
The walkway between the two wings of the Grand Trianon.

The furnishings were lost during the French Revolution. They were replaced during the rule of Napoleon Bonaparte. Those are mostly what you will see in the palace.

This page on the en.chateauversailles.fr website is full of fascinating information about this palace.

The Grand Trianon Palace in history:

On June 4, 1920, the Trianon Treaty was signed here. The treaty formally ended World War I between most of the Allies of World War I and the Kingdom of Hungary. The result was that Hungary lost 70% of its land and all of its seaports. It remains a source of sorrow and anger for Hungarians a century later.  Learn more about that in the article “Hungary: Why is the Trianon Treaty So Controversial?”   from Kafkadesk. From 1963 to 1966, the Grand Trianon was restored for use by President Charles de Gaulle.

The Petit Trianon

In the mid-1700s King Louis XV decided to build a chateau in the middle of his gardens. The three-story neoclassical building was completed in 1768. When Louis XV died in 1774, Louis XVI ascended the throne. He gifted the Petit Trianon to his wife, Marie-Antoinette.

The Petit Trianon
The Petit Trianon

The young queen used the Petit Trianon to escape the formality and demands of royal life. It is reported that she was in the garden in October of 1789 when she was told of the armed crowd that would force the royal family to Paris during the early part of the French Revolution.

For one year, from 1794 to 1795, the furniture, artwork, and other valuables were auctioned off.

During the revolution, the building was used as a hostel and a tavern, causing it to fall into disrepair. The building was restored by Napoleon I to be used by his sister and by Empress Marie-Louise.

Learn more about The Petit Trianon here.

The Queen’s Hamlet

A century after The Grand Trianon Palace was built, a model village was added to the Trianon Estate. This village of small, rustic buildings formed a crescent around an artificial lake. It included a working farm that was used for the royal children’s education.

A rustic stone building with a tower
One of the buildings in the Queen’s Hamlet.

The buildings were not built for longevity and suffered from the weather during the French Revolution. From 1810-1812 Napoleon had most of them restored. A few were beyond repair and were demolished.

The hamlet underwent various restoration projects in the 20th century as well. One done in the 1930s was made possible by a donation from John D. Rockefeller.

In 2006 the farm was reconstructed and is currently home to many animals which are looked after by the Foundation for Animal Welfare.

Here is more information about this wonderful hamlet.

And There is Even More!

Did you know that the gardens on the estate boast over 200 statues, making it the largest open-air sculpture museum in the world?

There is also an orangery featuring orange, lemon, pomegranate, palm, and oleander trees. Some of the trees are more than 200 years old. They are housed in the Orangery during the winter and displayed outside in the summer.

There are also groves, which are like little parks in the woods, numerous fountains, and pathways.

Latona’s fountain
Latona’s fountain

As if that weren’t enough, you can visit the Gallery of Coaches in the Great Sables. Here you will marvel at the intricacy of the horse-drawn carriages of the past.

Whoo, That’s a Lot to See

All this information can be overwhelming. One thing is certain, the Estate of Versailles will provide days worth of exploration.

While researching this article, I found out how little I know about Versaille’s complex and fascinating history. I have done my best to be accurate. If you find something that is incorrect, kindly let me know. Thank you.

Safe and happy traveling,
Linda

One Last Thing

There is a fundraising campaign on the Chateau de Versailles website to replace funds lost because of reduced attendance during the pandemic. If you love Versailles and can afford to help, here is the information.

 

Zagreb’s Museum of Broken Relationships: A Wind and Whim Favorite Place

In the summer of 2018, Steve and I visited Croatia’s capital city of Zagreb. We loved exploring the various museums, relaxing at Jarun Lake, visiting our first cat café, and strolling through the peaceful Zagreb Botanical Garden. But the most memorable place we visited in the city was The Museum of Broken Relationships. To date, it is the most unique museum we have visited. 

The museum is a varied collection of items that at one time played a part in a relationship. Each item comes with a short story about the relationship.

A Brief History

The museum is the no-longer-in-love-child of two Zagreb based artists, film producer Olinka Vištica, and sculptor Dražen Grubišić. When their four-year relationship came to an end in 2003 they joked about opening a museum to display the artifacts of their relationship. In 2006 they started collecting items and stories related to their friends’ break-ups. 

From 2006 through 2010 the collection was displayed in various cities around the world. During its tour, it collected more artifacts. In 2010 the collection got a permanent home in Zagreb’s first privately owned museum.

An Award

In 2011 the museum received the Kenneth Hudson Award. This award is given out by the European Museum Forum to recognize unusual, daring, and controversial exhibits that challenge common perceptions of the role of museums in society.

The judging panel had this to say about the museum:

“The Museum of Broken Relationships encourages discussion and reflection not only on the fragility of human relationships but also on the political, social, and cultural circumstances surrounding the stories being told. The museum respects the audience’s capacity for understanding wider historical, social issues inherent to different cultures and identities and provides a catharsis for donors on a more personal level.”

A Reason to Visit

If for no other reason, the uniqueness of this museum is a great reason to visit. History, art, and science museums can be found in virtually every city. Not so with relationship museums. You may have a chance to see a collection like this elsewhere, but don’t count on it.

There was a Museum of Broken Relationships in Los Angeles, but as of this writing, it is permanently closed. And from March 2019 through March 2020 the York Castle Museum in the United Kingdom had a temporary exhibit.

You should visit it because it’s fun, it’s sad, and it’s a little weird. You can’t begin to anticipate the things you will see here. I guarantee at least one or two of them will remain with you long after your visit.

A word of warning: even though we did take our travel buddy Hedgie, you shouldn’t assume this is appropriate for children. Based on what we saw I would rate it PG-13.

Here are a few examples of the things you will see:

I find this one particularly memorable because I can’t imagine why anyone would want to tear the legs off of a caterpillar, even a toy one.

But Wait, There’s More

The majority of the displays have to do with the death of romantic relationships. But there is one section that deals with the end of non-romantic relationships. These displays included many heartbreaking letters of people wondering why a parent had left them. You might want to bring some tissues.

Where to Find the Museum

The museum is at Ćirilometodska ul. 2, 10000, Zagreb, Croatia. Get all the information you need here.

Safe and happy traveling,

Linda

Featured image: Hedgie in one of the display items.

Pickpocketed In Barcelona: A Wind and Whim Travel Story

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

Despite the warnings, Steve was confident that if he kept his wallet in his front pocket it would be safe.

During our first week in Barcelona, the first city we visited on our journey throughout the world, Steve was pickpocketed.

How It Happened

It happened on a crowded Metro car on a Friday afternoon. First one woman bumped into him. While she was apologizing another woman bumped him on the other side. As the doors were closing they jumped off the car, taking his passport, forty Euros, and three bank cards with them.

We were shocked, angry, and unsure of what to do. A lady who saw what happened suggested we go back to the stop where it happened and check the garbage bags in case the thieves took the cash and threw everything else away. Fortunately, the bags were clear and not too full so they were easy to check. Unfortunately, we didn’t find any of Steve’s items.

We decided to go to the police station but had no idea where it was so we asked a young man on the street. He pointed us in the right direction but we arrived at the station only to find it was permanently closed. Struggling to maintain our composure, we asked for help at a nearby store. The owner helped Steve find the next closest police station while I stood on the street calling our banks.

We easily found that station and couldn’t believe it when we saw a sign that said, “Temporarily Closed for Renovations”. This was truly an “are you kidding me?” moment. Luckily there were several policemen just leaving a meeting and they directed us to a third station. It was a tense walk down the Ramblas as we wondered if it would be open.

And after a short wait, we were able to make a report with a policeman who spoke English. He said we must go to the U.S. Consulate first thing Monday morning to report the stolen passport. He prepared the police report and asked Steve to sign it. It was all in Spanish, but Steve had no choice but to sign it since he needed it to get a replacement passport.

Statistics on the number of pickpocket incidents are hard to come by. We knew the number in Barcelona was high, but we were shocked when the police officer told us that they process 400 reports a day. Of course, not everyone is going to report a pickpocketing incident, especially if the only thing stolen was cash. They know they will never see that again. Sometimes people don’t even realize they have been pickpocketed. They may think they lost their wallet or phone.

Over the weekend Steve looked up information on the consulate. The website said you must make an appointment online, and the next available appointment was more than two weeks away.
We opted to go there in person on Monday and plead ignorance about the online scheduling. After all, the police officer did tell us to go first thing Monday.

While at the consulate we met several groups of Americans who had either been pickpocketed or had their rental cars burglarized. We bonded over our misfortune. When it was Steve’s turn he was informed that his passport had been found and was waiting at the Metro station lost and found. Good news since a replacement costs $145.

As frustrating and time consuming as this experience was, it could have been worse. The thieves tried to charge $900 worth of shoes, but our credit card company declined it. Luckily I still had one debit card in my name that we could still use while we waited for our replacement cards. And we had enough cash in our apartment to cover us for several days. The fact that we were still going to be in Barcelona for three more weeks was also good. We would be there when our replacement cards arrived and the loss of Steve’s passport didn’t have immediate repercussions. Several of the people we met at the consulate had to change flight and cruise plans because their passports had been stolen.

After this Steve bought a camera bag that he refers to as his purse and his first money belt. We no longer carry all of our bank cards in the same place.

Cities With the Most Pickpockets

Petty crime can happen anywhere. However, there are several cities that continually make the list of the most pickpocketed cities in the world. This list is from an article published by Clever Travel Companions in 2018:

1. Barcelona, Spain
2. Rome, Italy
3. Prague, Czech Republic
4. Madrid, Spain
5. Paris, France
6. Florence, Italy
7. Buenos Aires, Argentina
8. Amsterdam, Netherlands
9. Athens, Greece
10. Hanoi, Vietnam

Common Pickpocketing Scams

Pickpocketing scams are limited only by the thieves’ creativity and acting ability. Here are just a few to be aware of:

1. Being offered something out of the blue. A woman offers another woman a pretty flower as if it were a gift. The second woman takes it and quickly finds out that payment is expected. I saw this happen to one woman. The thief was so bold that she tried to take money from the money holder around the tourist’s neck.

2. Being bumped by a person. Of course, you look their way, giving their partner a chance to pickpocket you. This was the one used on Steve.

3. Being asked to fill out a petition, usually by a young, harmless-looking woman. While your attention is on that, her partner in crime is relieving you of your valuables.

4. Being distracted by a shell game. I have not seen this one on any lists I’ve checked, but I believe it has to be a scam. We watched a man running a shell game near the Eiffel Tower. He would pick a spectator and ask him to watch while he moved three cups around. It ended with the spectator making some easy cash. I am sure that easy cash was a pittance compared to what was lifted from other unsuspecting spectators during the game. When we tried to get a photo of the group many of those gathered around covered their faces.

There are many more scams. This article by The Professional Hobo shares some travelers’ first-hand experiences.

How To Avoid Being Pickpocketed

Protecting your valuables from the grubby hands of pickpockets should start before you leave for your trip. Here are three things you can do ahead of time:

1. Make a copy of your passport. When you are sightseeing there is no reason to carry the original. Keep it locked safely away in your lodgings.

2. Record the information on your bank cards: card number, account number it ties to, and the phone numbers for customer service.

3. Activate text or email alerts for your bank cards and accounts.

Continue your vigilance while you are traveling:

1. Don’t carry all your cash and cards in one place. Consider leaving what you don’t need for the day safely in your lodgings.

2. Use money belts or other devices designed to keep your valuables safe. Pockets of pants are not a good choice whether in front or back. The harder it is for you to get to your money or cards, the harder it will be for thieves.

3. Trust no one! I know this goes against how most of us feel, but particularly when you are in a crowded place, make it obvious that you are protecting your bag or backpack. Honest people should not be offended by this. It is not uncommon to see people wearing their backpacks in front in places that are notorious for pickpocketing like Barcelona’s Las Ramblas.

4. Be skeptical. If someone tries to give you something you didn’t ask for or asks you to answer a survey, walk away. Remember that pickpockets can be any age and may look very respectable. They are also great actors.

5. Get aggressive if necessary. While Steve and I were sitting in a nearly empty metro station in Paris a woman approached me and said something in French. I did not understand and let her know. My actions should have made it obvious that I wanted no further interaction. She got closer and I held up my hand in a stop gesture. She continued to get even closer, so I loudly said “get back”. I got some looks, but she got the message.

What to Do If You Are Pickpocketed

If in spite of your best efforts you do become a victim of a pickpocket there are the things you need to do:

1. Take a deep breath and let that anger out.

2. Check nearby trash cans. Most pickpockets are looking for cash. They may toss everything else.

3. File a police report if your passport or insured items were stolen. This will probably be the hardest part since you may not speak the language or have any idea where the nearest police station is. Stay calm. It will all work out. Be aware that you will be required to sign the police report if you need it to get a new passport or file an insurance claim even if you can’t read what you are signing.

4. Call your bank card providers and have your stolen cards canceled. You still have other cards and cash tucked safely away because you have prepared for this, right?

5. Contact your embassy if your passport was stolen to make arrangements for a replacement. Be aware, these are not cheap. All the more reason not to carry your passport if you don’t need to.

6. Contact someone back home if items with your home address were taken. While most pickpockets just want your cash, some may have bigger plans in mind.

Final Thoughts

I think one of the reasons we find pickpocketing so frustrating is that the chances of a pickpocket being caught are very small. Don’t let these vile creatures ruin your next trip.

Safe and happy traveling,
Linda

Featured photo by Andrea Natali on Unsplash.com

Paris’s Best Cemetery – Cemetery Montmartre

Do you enjoy exploring cemeteries when you travel? If so, Paris’s Cemetery Montmartre is one you shouldn’t miss.

Steve and I spent several hours there in June 2018, and it is still one of my favorite places.

It’s my pleasure to share my impressions of Cemetery Montmartre with you. Hopefully, you will be inspired to visit if you already haven’t.

A Fascinating Yet Gruesome Start

The problems caused by overcrowding in Paris’s main cemetery, Cimitiere des Innocents, came to a head in 1780 when the wall of a mass grave collapsed, sending corpses tumbling into an adjacent basement. This was the last straw for Cimitiere des Innocents.

This cemetery in Paris’s 1st arrondissement had been a concern because of the vast amount of bodies buried so close to the populous. The city could no longer continue to add to the body count that had been growing for at least six centuries.

Like something out of a horror movie, the remains from Cimitiere des Innocents were relocated. For two years, carts covered with black veils would journey through the streets of Paris at night, accompanied by chanting priests. The new resting place was an abandoned quarry in the 14th arrondissement which is now known as The Catacombs.

When the gruesome work was done, Cimitiere des Innocents was destroyed.

You can read more about this huge undertaking and see some cool pictures in this article by Marilyn Brouwer in Bonjour Paris, The Insider’s Guide.

There were dozens of parish graveyards in the city, but the city leaders saw the need for more cemeteries to bury the newly dead. They also wanted them placed far from the city center. Therefore, four cemeteries were founded outside the city limits. Montmartre to the north, Montparnasse to the south, Pere Lachaise to the east, and Passy to the west.

The first of the four new cemeteries to open was Pere Lachaise in 1804. In the approximately 25 years from the closure of the Cimitiere des Innocents until the opening of Pere Lachaise Cemetery, the dead were buried in the existing parish cemeteries.

Cemetery Montmartre History and Facts

Cemetery Montmartre was established in an abandoned gypsum quarry that had been used as a mass grave during the French Revolution. The fact that it was a big hole in the ground accounts for its unique topography.

The cemetery opened on January 1, 1825, in Paris’s 18th arrondissement.

Its official name is the Cimetiere du Nord.

Its original name was Cimetière des Grandes Carrieres or the Cemetery of the Large Quarries. Why do things always sound more elegant in French?

Cemetery Montmartre covers over 25 acres (10.48 hectares) and is the third-largest in Paris after Pere Lachaise and Montparnasse.

The Cemetery has always had just one entrance. It is at 20 Avenue Rachel, 75018 under Rue Caulaincourt.

In 1888, a bridge, the Pont de Caulaincourt, was built over the cemetery. The original plan was to relocate the burial sites that were under the bridge. Some families objected, so the bridge was built over some sites.

A bridge overlooking mausoleums and tombs

The Pont de Caulaincourt as seen from inside Cemetery Montmartre

Mausoleums under the Pont de Caulaincourt

Some of the mausoleums that remained under the Pont de Caulaincourt

The top of a mausoleum under a bridge

Imagine how careful the engineers had to be

Here is an interesting article that explains more of the history of the bridge over the cemetery.

Montmartre: Not the Most Celebrated Parisian Cemetery

Many lists of the best cemeteries to visit include Pere Lachaise. It has many famous residents, including Frederic Chopin, Jim Morrison, Edith Piaf, and Oscar Wilde. It is four times the size of Cemetery Montmartre.

Pere Lachaise is definitely worth a visit, but after checking it out, Steve and I preferred Montmartre for three reasons:

First, Montmartre is set on many levels because it was built on an abandoned gypsum quarry. This makes for a more interesting walk and provides more exciting vistas than the flatter Pere Lachaise.

Second, Montmartre is in the artistic neighborhood of the same name. Therefore, many people buried here were active in the arts, resulting in some unique monuments.

Memorial with a man’s bust and his face in reverse relief

How cool is this memorial?

Third, Montmartre is part of its neighborhood. The vibrance of the area (and how can you not love Montmartre?) can be felt since the cemetery is literally in the thick of things.

Mausoleums with buildings in the background

The living and the dead share the neighborhood

Who’s Buried in Cemetery Montmartre 

Edgar Degas

I knew that the artist Edger Degas was buried in Cemetery Montmartre, and I kept that in mind as I strolled past numerous tombs. At one point, I passed one that said Famille de Gas. I thought to myself, what an unfortunate last name (thinking of the English “gas”, not the French).

I finally resorted to looking up Degas’s grave using Find a Grave. Famille de Gas WAS Degas’s gravesite.

Mausoleum of the Famille de Gas

Edger Degas’s final resting place; note the drawings of ballerinas left by young girls

Emile Zola

The French novelist, playwright, and journalist was initially buried in Montmartre. Five years later, his remains were relocated to the Pantheon, the mausoleum where many great French leaders, scientists, writers, and artists are interred.

Family names on the original gravesite of Emile Zola

Names of family members buried in the Zola family gravesite

Dalida

Being from the U.S. I had never heard of Dalida, but her compelling memorial made me want to learn more.

Memorial to the singer Dalida in Cemetery Montmartre

Dalida’s gravesite in Cemetery Montmartre

Dalida was the professional name of a famous French singer from 1956 to 1987. She was very successful in Europe even though she did not release her music to the U.S. or U.K. markets.

She faced many struggles in her personal life, including the suicides of several people with whom she was close. She committed suicide in 1987 at the age of 54.

Here is a handy map to find these graves and more.

You can use Dale Dunlop’s post “Montmartre Cemetery – How to Enjoy a Self-Guided Tour” to make sure you don’t miss anything in the cemetery.

So Many Cemeteries, So Little Time

During the past few years, we have visited cemeteries in several cities. Of all the cemeteries we have seen, Cemetery Montmartre continues to hold a special place in our hearts.

Have you been to Cemetery Montmartre? Did you fall in love with it, too?

Which cemeteries have you visited, and which was your favorite?

Want to take your tombstone tourism a step farther? Check out these articles:
The Paris Insiders Guide on a visit to Pere Lachaise Cemetery
“Discover the Montparnasse Cemetery in Paris” by French Moments

And of course, we can’t forget the catacombs. The catacomb workers were on strike when we visited Paris, so we missed this. Hopefully, you will be luckier. Here is a bit of catacomb history and tips for your visit from Courtney Traub at Paris Unlocked.

And finally, here are two more of our favorite French places:
The Musée d’Orsay
The Estate of Versailles

Happy traveling,
Linda

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6 Things You Should Know Before Visiting Barcelona

Boisterous and beautiful. That is Barcelona. This city in northeast Spain is a sight to behold and a privilege to visit. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t problems.

Here are 6 things you should know before visiting (or revisiting) Barcelona.

1. Gaudi’s Creations Grace the City

Antoni Gaudi (1852-1926) was a Catalan architect and a master of the Modernisme (or Catalan Art Nouveau) style of architecture. Modernisme is characterized by organic and botanical motifs, symbolism, rich ornamental details, and curves as opposed to straight lines.

Here is information on 21 sites in Barcelona where you can admire Gaudi’s talents. These are three of the most-visited Gaudi sites:

La Sagrada Familia

La Sagrada Familia (The Sacred Family) is Gaudi’s masterpiece and the culmination of his life’s work. It was so important to him that he chose to be buried inside it. This Roman Catholic minor basilica is the most visited sight in Barcelona.

Stepping into the basilica is a magical experience. The sunlight shining through the stained glass bathes the interior in vibrant colors.

Light coming through colored windows in La Sagrada Familia
This is what greets you when you enter La Sagrada Familia.

Ceiling detail in La Sagrada Familia
Support columns that suggest trees and an exquisitely detailed ceiling.

Be warned, La Sagrada Familia will most likely spoil you for all other churches.

The exterior is as astounding as the interior. Its three facades represent three phases in the life of Jesus: nativity, passion, and glory.

Exterior detail on La Sagrada Familia
One small section of the exterior detail.

Construction began in 1882. The estimated year of completion for all but some decorative elements is 2026. If that deadline is met it will have taken 144 years to build. The year 2026 marks the 100th anniversary of Gaudi’s death by being run over by a street tram at the age of 74.

Exterior view of La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Spain
You can’t view La Sagrada Familia without seeing the cranes and netting.

La Sagrada Familia gets over 3 million visitors a year. You are unlikely to get in unless you book your visit in advance. You get a 15-minute window to enter the basilica.

Services are held in the crypt every Sunday and can accommodate about 200 people. Mass is held at the main altar only on special holidays.

Here is some information about the structure and symbolism of the basilica.

Casa Mila

Casa Mila is another Gaudi work in the Modernisme style. This was built in the early 1900s as a home for husband and wife Pere Mila and Roser Segimon. The locals thought it was ugly and nicknamed it La Pedrera, which means the stone quarry.

The front of Casa Mila in Barcelona
The front of Casa Mila with its distinctive railings.

The owners lived on the main floor and had apartments above that they rented out. There are people living in some of these apartments today. The building is currently also used as a cultural center, a foundation headquarters, and for commercial space.

The whole building is interesting, but the roof is a delight. This is just one of the many chimneys:

A chimney on top of Casa Mila

Park Guell

No visit to Barcelona is complete without a stop at yet another Gaudi creation, Park Guell.

This was built in the early 1900s at the behest of Count Eusebi Guell as a luxury planned community. Of the sixty houses planned only two were built. It became a public park in 1926.

The park has two parts; a Monumental Zone and a Free Zone.

The Monumental Zone covers 5% of the park. You must buy a ticket to enter and visitors are limited to 400 every half hour.

It is here you will see the iconic dragon stairway. Be sure to visit the Hypostyle Room. It is an open space featuring a multi-domed, tiled ceiling and 86 Doric columns. I missed the opportunity to get some fab photos. Please don’t make the same mistake.

In this zone you will also see gingerbread-style buildings like the one pictured below, the colorfully tiled Greek Theater (or Nature Square), and the laundry room portico.

The tile covered lizard, El Drac, in Park Guell
El Drac will be happy to welcome you to the Monumental Zone.

One of the buildings in the Monumental Zone
This building in the Monumental Zone looks like a gingerbread house, but don’t eat it!

The other 95% of the park is free to visit. It consists of many paths through lush vegetation. Warning, this is not a place for a leisurely stroll. It is hilly and very crowded and street vendors take up a good part of the walkway with their wares.

If you persist upward, you will be rewarded with spectacular views of Barcelona.

A view of Barcelona from Park Guell with La Sagrada Familia in the distance
Park Guell is the ideal place to get great views of the city. You can see La Sagrada Familia in the distance.

2. There are Great Non-Gaudi Things To Do Too

You can find many non-Gaudi things to entertain you as well. Stroll the beach at Barceloneta, visit the Montserrat Monastery, shop at La Boqueria, or take a day trip to Cadaques to visit the Salvador Dali House Museum.

Fresh seafood at St. Joseph Market - La Boqueria
Fresh seafood at St. Joseph Market – La Boqueria

Here are four of our favorite non-Gaudi attractions:

Labyrinth de la Horta

Our favorite place in Barcelona was the little known Labyrinth de la Horta. This 22-acre park was once a private residence. The park was established in 1791 and donated to the City of Barcelona by the Desvalls family in 1967. It opened to the public four years later.

As the name suggests it includes a labyrinth. As you stroll through the park you will be surprised by unexpected scenes. Each one is a delight.

Garden and staircase at Parc del Laberint d’Horta
The owner’s back yard.

The labyrinth at Parc del Laberint d’Horta
The labyrinth

We recommend this park if you want to get away from the hustle and bustle of Barcelona for awhile. For most of our visit we did not see another person.

Recinte Modernista de Sant Pau

A hospital wouldn’t usually be high on our sightseeing list but we’re glad we didn’t miss the Recinte Modernista de Sant Pau. The complex of 16 buildings was constructed from 1905-1930. It showcases the work of Modernisme architect Lluis Montaner.

Montaner believed in the therapeutic properties of nature, color, and form. This belief is reflected in the wealth of details both inside and outside of the buildings, and in the gardens.

The courtyard at Recinte Modernista de Sant Pau
The courtyard at Recinte Modernista de Sant Pau

Hospital room in Recinte Modernista de San Pau
Hospital room in Recinte Modernista de San Pau

The hospital was in use until 2009. A new hospital was built in 2003 and in 2014 this one became a museum and cultural center.

Sitges

Sitges is a beach town on the Mediterranean Sea 26 miles (42 km) southwest of Barcelona. We first visited it on a tour with included a stop in Tarragona (below). Even though we were there on a drizzly day we found Sitges to be captivating.

Sitges will beguile you with stately mansions along the promenade, as well as twisty side streets and quaint shops. It also has a sassy side as seen in some of these photos. It has just under 30,000 residents, but in the summer the number of people is close to 100,000.

We were charmed enough to visit it again on our own.

A narrow street with dining tables and chairs in Sitges, Spain
Just one of the many places that says “come explore me”.

People in costume strolling the boardwalk in Sitges, Spain.
The funky side of Sitges

Tarragona

Tarragona is 51 miles (82 km) southwest of Barcelona. It is known for its well-preserved Roman ruins.

The Ferreres Aqueduct in Tarragona
The Ferreres Aqueduct

The Tarragona Amphitheater
The Tarragona Amphitheater

3. They Have Cava and Cava Sangria

Cava is the Spanish equivalent of Champagne. Almost all of it is produced in the Catalonian region of Spain.

A pitcher of cava sangria
Doesn’t this look delish?

Cava can be used to make cava sangria. It is especially enjoyable while overlooking the Mediterranean Sea on a sunny day. Be sure to give it a try when you visit the area and let me know what you think.

I tried to make it when we returned to Florida, but it just wasn’t the same. I guess I’ll have to return to Catalonia.

4. It’s Really Crowded

There are simply too many people in Barcelona. One reason is that it is very densely populated. Only 1.6 million people live in the city. However, the population density is 16,000 people per sq. km. (compare this to New York City’s density of 10,700 people per sq. km).

A second reason is that over 30 million people visited Barcelona in 2017. Of these more than 2/3 were day-trippers including cruise passengers visiting the city as one of their ports of call.

Cruise passengers come into the city by the thousands yet usually only visit for the day. They tend to go to the most popular sights like the Gaudi attractions listed above.

In an effort to control tourism the city passed a law in 2017 that forbids the building of new hotels even if they are replacing existing ones. You can read more about that here.

Barcelona continues to struggle with solutions to its overtourism problem as detailed in the July 12, 2019 Forbes article.

5. It’s Really Noisy

Because Barcelona is so crowded it is also very noisy. The noise is due to the large amount of traffic. Many people ride motorcycles which adds significantly to the road noise. It is not unusual to see people slowly ride their motorcycles onto the sidewalks.

Even with our windows closed we never got a break from the traffic noise.

A young woman in high heels riding a scooter
A common scene as we sat on our balcony

6. Pickpocketing is a Persistent Problem

When you repeatedly hear that you are in the pickpocket capital of the world, take it seriously.

A quick Google search of several websites show Barcelona is the city in which you are most likely to be pickpocketed, followed by Rome.

While these petty thefts can happen anywhere, the Metro and any crowded tourist attraction or area (think La Sagrada Familia and Las Ramblas), are especially worrisome.

It is not uncommon to see people walking with their backpacks on their chests to keep them safe. Simply put, you can’t be too careful or too paranoid about pickpockets in Barcelona.

You can read all about our pickpocketing experience in our post “Pickpocketed in Barcelona.

Our Personal Take on Barcelona

In two years of travel one thing has been constant. That is the warmth and kindness we have been met with. The one exception was in Barcelona.

For example, we visited a nearby supermarket nearly every day and used our basic Spanish, but never got a smile out of the cashiers. We did not take this personally. As we watched the crowds from our balcony we did not see many smiles.

We enjoyed learning the history behind the famous sights and taking in the beautiful architecture and street art but we didn’t love Barcelona. Were our expectations too high? Were there too many unfriendly people? Did listening to the constant street noise get old really fast? Probably a little of all these things.

We feel fortunate to have experienced Barcelona. In light of the city’s serious issues with overtourism, we will probably not return soon. If we do, it would be to visit nearby towns combined with a shorter stay in Barcelona. And definitely a return trip to Labyrinth de la Horta.

Trip Details

Dates: April 22 to May 23, 2018
Number of days: 31
Total cost for 2: $3,600
Cost per day for 2: $116

More Information

You can find out what we spent during our first 8 months as full-time travelers in “Wind and Whim’s 2018 Full-Time Travel Costs: Europe.

Happy traveling,
Linda

Featured image of the Arc de Triomf by Leo Korman on Unsplash.com

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Bansko, Bulgaria: Not the Trip We’d Hoped For: A Wind and Whim Travel Story

I could picture it so well. The crisp air, the snow-covered pines, the stillness of a landscape blanketed in white. Days spent swooshing down the mountain until exhaustion set in. Nights snuggled up in a cozy apartment, watching the snow gently falling outside.

After living in Florida for thirty years, I couldn’t wait to spend some time in a winter wonderland. After some research, I found the ski town of Bansko, Bulgaria. Three weeks of skiing there would cost about the same as five days at a U.S. or Canadian ski resort.

We made plans to head there in early January 2020 as the first stop in our third year of full-time travel. It didn’t turn out anything like I had imagined.

Note: all money is in USD.

Reality Rears Its Ugly Head

When we arrived in Bansko, the winter wonderland was woefully absent. The daily highs in town were in the forties, and not a flake of snow nor patch of ice could be found. The mountainside ski slopes fared a little better, but not much. Damn you, global warming!

Gondolas and melting snow
Receding snow at the bottom of the mountain

Throughout our nine weeks there, we watched the snow repeatedly fall then melt, which made the ski slopes very icy.

Woman walking through the snow in Bansko
Each snowfall raised my hopes, only to have them dashed when it melted.

Even so, we tried to make the best of it. We woke up to rain on our first day of skiing. The folks at the ski shop assured us that it was not raining on the mountain, and they were right. There was a very welcome light snow all day.

Both of us had a lesson to refresh our skills and a chance to ski on our own. Then we made plans to put our rejuvenated skills to the test by taking a long but easy run together.

A Turn For the Worst

We weren’t more than ten minutes into it when I hit a steep icy section and found myself sliding quickly down the mountain. With repeated reminders to myself to snowplow, lean forward, and remain calm, I made it down that part. I stopped to wait for Steve but did not see him.

After a little while, I figured he either passed me and I missed him, or he was taking his time and would catch up.

When I reached the bottom of the run, he was nowhere to be seen. After some hunting, I found him in the doctor’s office with a fractured pelvis! This diagnosis meant he would be hospitalized for about a week, then require complete bed rest for two more weeks.

After being checked out by the doctor at the ski resort, Steve was transported by ambulance to a hospital in the nearby town of Razlog. He ended up spending nine days there. You can read about that less than ideal experience in   “Hospitalized in Bulgaria!”

Man lying in a hospital bed waving a white flag
Steve, on the day he left the hospital. I was amazed by his positive attitude despite the pain and lee-then-ideal hospital experience.
A Great Place to Recuperate

Since Steve would need to be transferred to our apartment lying flat, we had to leave our Airbnb, and I had to find a place that would allow him to be brought in by paramedics.

That was no easy task because virtually every apartment and hotel had either stairs or an elevator that was too small for the stretcher. It took three days, but I finally found a place about 10 miles from Bansko at the Redenka Holiday Club. They had the perfect first-floor one-bedroom apartment.

We stayed there for four weeks. It is in the country (my taxi was held up by a herd of cattle crossing the road one night), but it has a spa, indoor pool and hot tub, and a fitness room. Oh darn!

Indoor pool and spa at the Redenka Holiday Club
The indoor pool and spa at the Redenka Holiday Club, not a bad place to spend four weeks

We were able to get the half board, so breakfast and dinner were included. Whoopee, no cooking or dishes!

Photo of a salad
This was just the first course of dinner.

The staff was friendly and helpful and always asked about Steve. I joked that he was a celebrity even before anyone had met him.

We appreciate all the help the staff gave us and are honored to have left there with several new friends.

Unexpected Delights

Even when things don’t go as planned, there is always something interesting or beautiful to see.

I left the hospital to go to the Telenor store to top up Steve’s SIM card. It was a short walk. Until then, I had only seen the seamier side of Razlog. On my way back I came across this charming scene in a small park.

Man and woman statue in lake
A little greenery in the winter landscape

When I returned to the hospital, the road was filled with people in native dress and furry costumes. They were having a grand old time dancing and banging their drums.

People dancing in furry costumes
A Kukeri celebration

A little research told me this is a Kukeri festival. It occurs between New Year’s Day and Lent. Its purpose is to drive away evil spirits and provide a good harvest, health, and happiness during the coming year. Why anyone thought it was a good idea to hold it in front of a hospital is beyond me.

Making Friends

We made several friends during this time, including this four-legged sweetheart.

Dog bowing in play
Bansko loves to greet the folks who visit the Redenka Holiday Club

Bansko is a dog that hangs out at Redenka but knows better than to enter the buildings. I thought Bansko was a girl. One morning I was telling her what a good girl she was when a guy came by and said, “It’s a boy, and he doesn’t understand English.” What ?!?!

No matter what language he understands, he is well-loved and well-fed by the staff and guests at Redenka.

In a case of serendipity, I met a physiotherapist one morning at breakfast when I uncharacteristically struck up a conversation with him by asking if he spoke English. It turned out the Dimitar not only spoke English very well but was also incredibly helpful with advice while Steve was still bedridden. He also worked with Steve once he was up and about.

While Steve was in the hospital, a young woman who was also a patient struck up a conversation with me. Aleksandra is a student in Bulgaria and a thoughtful and delightful young lady. After Steve became mobile we enjoyed a delicious dinner with her.

Steve, Linda, And Aleksandra at dinner.
Steve, Aleksandra, and me at dinner.

And last, but certainly not least, we were privileged to get to know Anna and Tommy Orhan at Succuk Burger House and Cafe. The food is excellent, but the service is what kept us coming back. These two, along with the rest of their family, really care about their customers.

Four people in a restaurant
Enjoying our last visit with Anna and Tommy
Seeing the Sights

Bansko is a small town ski town (pop. 8,600), so attractions are somewhat limited. However, beauty is everywhere, as I discovered on a Sunday morning outing.

Bulgarian girls dancing in Bnasko
A Sunday morning show for charity

A visit to the Neofit Rilski House Museum taught me about this Bulgarian renaissance man. He was a monk, an artist, a translator, and a teacher. He was also the founder of Bulgarian secular education.

Room in an eighteenth century house
One of many comfortable looking rooms in the Neofit Rilski house
Kitchen in an eighteenth century home
The bread baking room

The best sight by far in Bansko is the Pirin mountains that surround the town. It seems that wherever you go, you can see them.

Ski mountain in Bansko
Ski mountain teasing us with her inadequate snowfall

We had an amazing view of them from both the living room and the bedroom at our third apartment and frequently commented on how much we would miss them.

Clouds in the Pirin Mountains
The view from our balcony
Why I Won’t Ski Bansko Again

When I was researching ski resorts, I was looking for an affordable place where you don’t need a car. Bansko was one of those places.

Unfortunately, there was so much I didn’t know about skiing there. Check out our post “The Pros and Cons of Skiing in Bansko, Bulgaria” to learn more.

Moving On

Our trip to Bansko did not turn out as we anticipated, but even so, we left with many warm memories. As we often find, it is the people we meet as we travel that have the greatest impact on us. Hopefully, the feeling is mutual.

Steve has skied his last slope. I, however, intend to try again next winter. I welcome any suggestions about great ski resorts that don’t require you to have a car.

Trip Details

Dates: January 9 – Mach 12, 2020
Number of days: 63
Travel costs: $8,800
Travel cost per day: $140
Addition costs (medical): $1,600
Total spent: $10,400

Stay safe and healthy,
Linda

Featured image by Ben White on Unsplash.com

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