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

Texas – Caddo Lake

This is my first post about my home state, Texas!  As I detailed in a prior post, it’s not easy getting from Luxembourg to Texas.  I had taken two weeks off to be in Texas, spending one week with my family in Dallas and one week with my friends in Austin.  With my brother in California, my family tries to go on a family vacation every year or so.  My father had initially proposed going to Banff, but I was wary of adding another two flights onto my already packed itinerary.  So instead, we decided to go to Caddo Lake in East Texas.

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It’s just under a 3 hour drive from Dallas to Caddo Lake across some very flat and uninteresting plains.  When you get closer to the state border with Louisiana, the trees get taller, houses start showing up on stilts, and the cell signal gets worse.

It was pouring rain the evening we arrived at our Airbnb in the town of Karnack, where we discovered that not only did we not have cell service, we also didn’t have WiFi.  We were going to have a traditional, talk to your family kind of holiday!  Although, for the rest of the trip, we made a daily 20 mile drive to Marshall, Texas, so that my parents could check their hundreds of WeChat messages, my brother and I could download books and shows, and I could reassure Nico that I had not been eaten by gators.

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Dad was really excited to start fish immediately

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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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India – Delhi Wedding

In March, Nico and I had the pleasure and luck of being invited to a friend’s traditional Indian wedding in Delhi.  This was my second time in Delhi, but my first time attending an Indian wedding.  I also loved the idea of escaping to a warm climate for a few days.

The celebration was a 4 day long event, but I’ve heard of other Indian weddings lasting a week.  I have no idea how they do it.  I can’t party hard more than two days in a row these days.  Both the groom’s and bride’s families were so welcoming, decadently dressed, and put on an amazing party for everyone.

Day 1 – Holi Party

We slept in because we arrived the night before after a roughly 12 hour trip.  Nico had gone to grad school with the bride, and most of her squad arrived around the same time we did so we were all jet lagged.  Most of the wedding events took place in a city southwest of New Delhi called Gurgaon, and the first one was a casual outdoor lunch the same day as Holi.

Holi, a traditional Hindu festival, celebrates the beginning of spring as well as the triumph of good over evil.  It is best known around the world as the “festival of colors” for the colored powder that people throw on each other, leaving everyone coated in color by the end of the day.  We had been woken up by drums and music in the morning, and we could see people throwing color at each other all over the place, even on the streets.

Anyone and everyone is fair game, as we got an earful of color immediately upon arrival  from people we hadn’t formally met yet.  There were also water guns and water balloons that people used to color each other.  We were told to wear clothes that we wouldn’t mind throwing out afterwards.  What we weren’t told was that the yellow and pink colors are the hardest to wash off.  I think Nico had yellow spots in his hair for a week after.

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Menace with a water rocket

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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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