Hungary – Budapest

The first time Nico and I passed through Budapest was last year.  We had driven through Slovakia and the Czech Republic, and were taking a cheap flight out of Budapest back home.  Unfortunately, there was a series of snags, including getting scammed by a cab driver, that led to Nico having to miss his flight and take a 24 hour long train journey back to Luxembourg.  We decided to give Hungary another shot when a friend came to visit in October.  Budapest is a beautiful city with a lot to see and do, and it’s a popular destination for stag dos and hen parties (British bachelor and bachelorette parties).

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Hungarian Parliament Building

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Day 1 – Thermal Baths, Parliament, Castle Hill

Public transport is cheap and easy to use, but make sure to stamp or validate your ticket!  Enforcement is strict, fines aren’t cheap, and playing the dumb tourist card won’t work.  I recommend getting the daily tickets for peace of mind and to just simplify things.

The first day, we started off with breakfast and freshly squeezed pomegranate juice at the Central Market Hall.  This is a great place to get some local souvenirs such as paprika and other spices.

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Budapest Central Market Hall

Next, we walked across the Danube to the Gellért Thermal Bath.  Budapest is famous for its spas and thermal baths, but do some research on which bath to go to beforehand.  For example, the Rudas bath was open to males only that day.  Gellért is housed in this beautiful and grand art deco building, built in 1918.  I could have spent hours here in the large complex relaxing and looking at the lovely architecture.

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Gellért Thermal Bath

In the afternoon, we did a tour of the Hungarian Parliament, which you can only do through a guided tour (5,800 HUF or $20 USD per person).  We had to book in advance, but there were no English tours, so we hopped onto a Spanish one and Nico did the translating for us 😊.  The building is stunning and the largest in Hungary, so the tour only covered a small percentage.  Beyond being able to see the ornate interiors, the tour wasn’t very informative, so I don’t recommend it.  According to Nico’s translations, the guide mostly spoke about when everything was made and what it was made out of, whereas I was hoping to learn more about general Hungarian history and politics.

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Just before sunset, we walked up to the Fisherman’s Bastion on Castle hill.  We got beer and goulash soup at the panoramic restaurant, while taking in the scenic view of the Danube river and the city.

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Fisherman’s Bastion
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Matthias Church
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Fisherman’s Bastion

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At night, we decided to check out the ruin bars that everyone talks about.  We went to the popular Szimpla Kert, which was a massive maze of smaller “bars” and rooms, e.g. live music room, art gallery room, wine bar, cocktail bar, shisha/hookah bar, etc.  It was great for people watching and to just wander around and stare at the decor.

Day 2 – Kékes (1,014 m or 3,327 ft)

We started the day with a brunch at the Csiga Cafe by our Airbnb before picking up a rental car to drive out to Hungary’s highest point, Kékes.  It’s about an hour and a half drive from Budapest, and you can basically drive to the top.  There’s not a whole lot to see besides a radio tower and a patriotic marker, but it’s a popular area for bikers and also turns into a ski area in the winter.

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Since we had a car, we stopped by a bear farm on the way back.  It would be a fun stop for kids, as you can feed bears with honey on sticks.  They also have wolves, llamas, sheep, raccoon-y things, pigs, lynx, and more.

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Vajdahunyad Castle
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Vajdahunyad Castle
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Elisabeth Bridge

Back in Budapest, we took a quick stroll around Vajdahunyad Castle in the city park in the to wait out the traffic before returning the car.  For dinner, we went to an amazing place with a live guitarist called Alma & Körte.

Day 3 – Danube Views

The morning we were to fly out, we took a quick walk along the Danube by Buda Castle where the Budapest marathon was passing through.

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Széchenyi Chain Bridge
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Budapest subway stop

Lessons and Tips

  • Make sure to validate public transport tickets or buy the daily passes for simplicity.
  • Budapest is really touristy, but it’s a large enough city so you can definitely visit less popular areas.
  • You almost always need to pay cash for bathrooms.  Even when we paid for a tour of the Hungarian Parliament, I still had to pay 200 HUF ($0.70 USD) for the bathroom entrance.
  • Order cabs ahead of time through reputable companies, otherwise there’s a high probability of getting ripped off.  Uber wasn’t available in Budapest when we were there.

Photos taken with the iPhone 6s or Fujifilm X-E2s

Iceland – Reykjavik 20 Hour Layover

Let’s just say it’s not always the easiest to get from Luxembourg to Texas.  I went back in August for a close friend’s wedding and to see my family.  The flights I checked were either ludicrously priced or involved flying from somewhere other than Luxembourg.  Eventually I settled on a €370 one way flight from Brussels to Dallas.  The only catch was that it involved a 20 hour layover in Reykjavik via budget airline, WOW Air, but I thought, why not, I’ll get to cross another country off my list 😊

One day is more than enough to see Reykjavik, but this stopover has given me an urge to come right back and see the rest of this beautiful wild country.  I didn’t do any day trips to the Blue Lagoon or any other typical tourist spots, but opted to wander around the town instead.

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Keflavik Airport to Reykjavik

To get from Keflavik Airport to Reykjavik takes 45 minutes by car or slightly longer by shuttle, so keep that in mind if you’re planning on doing a long layover in Reykjavik.  I bought a round trip bus ticket with Airport Direct which departs every hour, and I paid extra to be dropped off closer to the city center and my hostel.  Other options are Flybus, Gray Line, public transport bus 55, or taxi.  The public bus is the cheapest option, but also takes the longest.  Taxis will run you about €200, so unless you’re willing to pay to save a bit of time, I would avoid taxis at all costs.

The view on the ride in is stark and barren, but inspiring all the same.  The gray sky hid the distant mountains, random rock statues appeared along the road, and I didn’t see any trees until we got closer to the towns.  I never quite understood the atmospheric music by Icelandic artists until I got a taste of this landscape.

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Greece – Chania

Last week, it snowed for the first time this season in Luxembourg…  So now I’m writing about my summer beach vacation 😂

A bunch of us living in Luxembourg took a friends holiday in June to Chania, Greece, which is on the western end of Crete.  Crete is the largest island in Greece, and also where you can find the Minotaur and Mt. Ida, the birthplace of Zeus.

We were staying in an Airbnb in Kissamos, about a 50 minute drive from the Chania Airport.  Note, if you don’t have an EU driver’s license, you’ll need an international driving permit to rent a car in Greece.  We got in pretty late in the evening, but found a nice dinner spot by the beach with a really warm and friendly owner, who introduced us to the local drink, raki.

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Venetian Lighthouse in the Chania Old Town
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View of Kissamos from our Airbnb

Day 1 – Elafonisi Beach

After an ambling breakfast, we drove an hour to Elafonisi Beach in the southwest corner of the island.  It’s by a super scenic lagoon with shallow, turquoise waters, and white & pink sand.  Although it was a bit windy, we walked across a sand bar to the Elafonisi island and hiked to a chapel at the end of it called the Church Agia Irini.  After we got back, we had dinner at Fish Tavern in Kissamos.

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Pink sand at Elafonisi Beach

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Denmark – 48 Hours in Copenhagen

In June, I met up with a friend that I hadn’t seen for 7 years in Copenhagen.  She’s from Sydney and we first met in Austin, but now she lives in London.  Since we’re on the same continent, it was super cool to catch up in a new place.

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Friday

We got in after work, and took a train from the airport, past the center, and to our Airbnb in the Nørrebro neighborhood.  All of Copenhagen is hip and trendy, but Nørrebro is known to be more of a creative, multicultural, and young student area with loads of cute shops, cozy coffee shops, and late-night bars.  Because we got in a little late, most of the restaurant kitchens were already closed, but we ended up finding a Turkish place for dinner give each other the CliffsNotes on what we’ve been up to the last 7 years.  It was during Ramadan, so the restaurant was pretty lively as many families were having iftar, breaking their fast and having a great time.  Afterwards, we grabbed a bottle of wine from a corner store and had a grand ole time staying in and watching Ali Wong: Hard Knock Wife.

 

Saturday

It was one of the sunniest and warmest Mays on record for Denmark, and we definitely felt it.  We slept with the patio door and windows wide open, and I still woke up sweaty  and cranky with the sunlight barging in at 4:30 am.  A cold shower and a strong coffee from the Coffee Collective was the cure.

We didn’t have much of an itinerary, so we just walked through the lovely neighborhoods to the center.  Around the iconic Nyhavn canal, it can get pretty crowded and touristy, especially on nice days.  It was so warm that people were walking and cycling around with just a swimsuit on, which reminded me of Austin summers.

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Copenhagen Opera House

 

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Switzerland – 48 Hours in Lugano

There were some good US to Europe flight deals in April earlier this year, so we had several friends spending time across the pond.  We met up with Lauren and Steve in Lugano for a couple days while they were doing the Switzerland leg of their trip.  Although Nico had lived in Switzerland for a year, we had never made it down to the Italian area of the country.

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How to Get There

Although there is a small airport, it’s much simpler to get to Lugano from another major city.  We came from Zurich, which took 2 hours by train, because we were there for a day seeing some of Nico’s former classmates.  I went back the same way, but Nico took the train 60-90 minutes out to Milan for a work trip.

The moment the train passed into Ticino, the Italian-speaking canton of Switzerland, the vibe changed.  Switzerland has four official languages: German is the majority and spoken in the central part of the country, French is spoken in the west, Italian is spoken in the south, and Romansh is spoken in a small pocket in the southeast.  Although the Swiss are very proud of being Swiss and have their own distinct culture, the different linguistic regions maintain some strong cultural ties to the countries bordering it that share the same language.  Put in simpler terms and from an outsider’s point of view, the train car’s ambient volume increased and overall atmosphere became more chaotic the further south we traveled 😁

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Austria – Weekend in Salzburg

When you’re an expat, you can use any excuse for a trip.  Winters in Luxembourg are also pretty quiet, so we took advantage of any reason to mix things up.  Nico was in Munich for work, so I joined him for a weekend down in Salzburg, which is an hour and a half drive away from Munich.

Saturday

It was a cold and gloomy day when we walked around historic center.  Some things that Salzburg is known for became very apparent due to the amount of advertised tourism surrounding all three:

  1. Salzburg and some areas around were used as the setting for “The Sound of Music”.  I’ve never seen it, but I probably should.  There are entire tour buses dedicated to visiting all the filming sites for this 1965 movie.
  2. Salzburg means “salt fortress” due to barges carrying salt down the river Salzach. There’s also a salt mine that you can visit, as advertised with an interesting flyer.
  3. Salzburg was the birthplace of Mozart.  You can visit Mozart’s birthplace, Mozart’s residence, a Café Mozart, and eat Mozart chocolates.
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Domplatz Salzburg
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View of Salzburg and the river Salzach

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Spain – Seville & Granada

I haven’t written about any of my travels in 2018 yet, and I’m not going to give excuses, but I’m here to try to catch up 🙂  In January, Nico and I were back in Europe after spending the holidays bouncing around New York and Texas.  It was a ton of traveling to be able to see all our family and friends, and we were looking forward to a week to ourselves in Spain.

Day 1 – Cordoba & Carmona

Nico and I had met up a childhood friend of his and his wife and spent New Year’s in Madrid with them.  On January 2nd, we drove down to Carmona with a super quick stop through Cordoba as we were already running late.

Cordoba definitely deserved more than the roughly 1 hour stop we took.  It’s full of beautiful gardens with mixed Roman, Islamic, and Christian architecture.  We were able to walk by the Roman bridge, see the outside of the Mosque Cathedral, and the inside of the Jardines del Alcázar all while surrounded by fragrant orange trees.

At the end of our 5 hour drive from Madrid was Carmona.  It’s a small fortressed town built atop a ridge outside of Sevilla where we stayed in a beautiful hotel from the 1500s.  There’s a lovely town center where we had the most delicious spinach and chickpea tapas.

Day 2 – Sevilla

After a cozy night in Carmona, we spent the next two days in Sevilla.  I must say, with the highest praise, that Sevilla is like the Austin of Spain 😉  Not only because it was the warmest and sunniest part of our trip, but mostly because it’s a student heavy city with a lively and colorful feel to it.  There were cute hipster cafes and tapas bars in the area by the Metropol Parasol that just made me want to live there.  Aaand that’s the main thing that reminded me of Austin, but I could have also been a little home sick.

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Italy – A Winter Weekend in Piedmont

Living in a tiny country has gotten me used to frequent traveling, so after my ACL reconstruction, I felt like I was grounded in Luxembourg.  Although I did a fair bit around the city, I didn’t go anywhere else for over 2 months.  I had actually booked my flight to Turin the day after my surgery in anticipation.  However, I always equated Italy with warm weather (yes, I know the Alps are there, but that’s in a high elevation right?), so I wasn’t happy when I checked the forecast and it was colder than Luxembourg…  The good food more than made up for it though 🙂

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Palazzina di caccia of Stupinigi

Day 1 – Torino

Working in an international environment really has its perks.  Nico and I got several recommendations for where to eat and what to do from people who are either from Turin or had lived there before.  First up was to get some bicerin.  It’s a drink from Turin that is basically thick hot chocolate with espresso and milk.  We went to the popular Cafe Al Bicerin, est. 1763, where the decor is reminiscent of an old timey candy or coffee shop.  We had to wait in line outside because the space only fits about 15 people cozily.  If you’re in the mood for anything savory, you’re out of luck, but damn was the bicerin a perfect start for a cold day.

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Turino Advent Calendar

After we finished filling ourselves up with sugar, we took a stroll around the centro and then ducked into some indoor sites when it started raining.  We visited the Turin Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist, where the Shroud of Turin is stored.  It sits in a closed off area in a box, behind a curtain, behind glass.  Super exclusive.  They pull back the curtains once a day (?), and I was lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the box.  Afterwards, we checked out the Royal Library, Sabauda Art Gallery, and the Armory Museum.

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Sabauda Gallery

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Luxembourg – 1 Year & Counting

I cannot believe that it’s already been a year since I moved to Luxembourg!  I came with a heart full of hope, love, and excitement for things to come, and none of that has diminished.

How It All Started

My first blog entry was about how I met Nico and wound up in Luxembourg, but it was very personal and I was hesitant to publish it publicly until now.  In short, I met him at a hostel in Peru while I was solo traveling after a breakup.  We spent a year cross-Atlantic long distance dating, until we moved to Luxembourg together.

Reflecting on that first post, I’m baffled by the amount of time that has flown by.  I still miss Austin here and there, but I’m really enjoying being in Luxembourg.  As part of that, and cause now I’m an “expert”, I’ll be posting more about what life is like here, as well as what to do around these parts 🙂

Ireland – Doolin, Limerick, Galway, & Whiskey

In September, Nico and I went to Newport, RI for his cousin’s wedding.  We were there for barely 48 hours, but it was my first time back in the US in 6 months, and this is what I realized that I missed the most (besides my friends and family, of course!): the ease and incredible selection when shopping for anything, the way restaurants give you a huge, free glass of water filled with ice without you even having to ask for it, and how friendly and chatty strangers are.

We flew from Dublin to Providence with Norwegian Air, which usually has really great deals between Europe and North America (I paid around $250 round trip, which was cheaper than my flight from Lux to Dublin lol).  As neither of us had been to Ireland before, of course we made a holiday out of it.

Day 1 – Doolin

We landed in Dublin jet lagged at 8am, picked up our rental car, and made it about 15 minutes before we had to stop at the nearest coffee shop to gather our wits.  Our ambitious plan was to drive 3 hours to a hostel in Doolin and then check out the Cliffs of Moher.  I’m lucky enough to be able to sleep on flights relatively easily, so I drove while tried to catch some Zs.

From our hotel in Doolin, we headed off on the Cliffs of Moher Walking Trail, but there is also a Hop On Hop Off bus that takes you straight to the visitor center and popular view points.

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So windy

Holy crap, it was so windy.  It’s a beautiful little hike, a bit muddy, and the waves crashing into the cliffs are awesome.  That day, it was so windy that the mist from the waves down below were being blown straight up.  The wind also literally blew me off my feet, and I tweaked my injured knee and didn’t get to finish the hike.

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Cliffs of Moher

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