A Day in Hungary

Our one-day trip to Budapest quite an interesting experience. Having traveled quite a lot our entire lives, we usually feel prepared for travels, especially single day trips. However, no amount of experience prepared us for our road trip to Budapest.

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Driving from Prague to Budapest takes about 8 hours, which isn’t too bad. And we didn’t have any issues in Czech Republic, or Slovakia for that matter. Our first problem was on the border between Slovakia and Hungary. We had to stop and pay for the highway toll, which really, really should not have been a issue. Yet somehow it was the first hiccup on our trip. We thought we could pay for the toll with a credit card, silly us. Unfortunately, we couldn’t. And what was even more unfortunate was the fact that we did not have any Forints, the local currency. Somehow, we didn’t even have Euros. I know, we should have been more prepared, but we really thought we would manage with a card. Luckily, they let us pay with Czech crowns and we continued on our journey to Budapest.

 

1st big TIP: BRING CASH! Always bring cash of the local currency, even if you think you won’t need, chances are, you will!

 

After getting lost a couple of times and managing to get back on our way, we finally arrived in front of our hotel, Easy Hotel, in Budapest at 7pm. Checking in was a little bit of a struggle, because of a language barrier, but we managed. We even managed to get ready relatively quickly for the One Republic concert, which was the point of the whole trip. Next, we had to figure out how to get to the concert.

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The metro was a whole other experience. We got onto the metro at Oktogon, which is on the yellow line, and had to get off at the Stadionok, on the red line. Should be straight forward enough. Except that Stadionok was not always called that, on some maps it was Puskás Ferenc Stadion. We decided to just trust our gut and get off any stop that has the word Stadium in it.

 

Finally, we made it and we even made it on time. The concert was phenomenal, but that is it’s own story.

 

After the concert we decided it might be safer to just walk back, instead of taking the metro. Plus there was a huge crowd of people from the concert walking in the same direction as us, so we figured we would get back fine. Well after we shed the crowd at the nearest parking lot, we continued our walk, through a somewhat sketchy part of Budapest. After walking through a neighborhood, which was made up of houses fit to be in horror movies, we got to the Budapest Keleti railway station, therefore much closer to the center of the city. We stopped by the closest McDonalds so that we could make it the rest of the way.

 

After another 20 or 30 minutes we made it back to our hotel, where we passed out, resting for the 8 hour drive back.

 

Well, originally it was supposed to be 8 hours. I believe it was more like 10 hours, because, yet again, we got a little lost in Budapest. Well, it wasn’t really our fault. We just didn’t quite manage to get on the bridge to cross the Danube. And the real big issue was that there are very few bridges that cross the river, so once we missed it, we had to drive along the river for about 30 or 45 minutes, before we managed to cross it. Then we had to go almost all the way back to the first bridge, before connecting to the highway.

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Killing so much time by just driving through Budapest, meant that we got hungry when we were still in Hungary. So we stopped for food at a rest stop just before the borders with Slovakia. When looking at the menu, we were very unsure of what the food was. So we thought we couldn’t go wrong with marinated Buffalo wings. Well, we were wrong! Not only were they not Buffalo wings, but they weren’t even wings! We got chicken tenders. Which meant that I didn’t eat, because of my gluten allergy. Well, there was nothing we could do. So after picking at the fries and after trying to get the waiter’s attention, we got the bill. Again, we couldn’t pay with a credit card, so here’s my second tip:

 

            2nd tip: Bring enough cash. And then bring some more.

 

In Budapest we got cash and we thought we had enough cash to get back home. Well, we didn’t expect to stop in Hungary. So we ended up having just enough cash to pay for our food. Although, we got quite nervous, when we were short a couple hundred forints. Thankfully, I searched the car for any spare change and found just enough. Greatly relieved, we continued our journey home.

 

We got lost just a couple more times, but eventually we made it back home. The trip was a little dramatic, especially because of credit card issue, but then again, what is an adventure without a little bit of drama :)

Top 10 Castles, Château, and Palaces in Czech Republic

Czech Republic has hundreds and hundreds of castles, chateaus and palaces. Though we haven’t visited all that many of them, here are our 10 favorite castles. Why they are our favorite varies, some are just beautiful and some we have loved since we saw them in fairytales as little kids.

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1. Prague Castle – this is one of the most beautiful places in Czech Republic. If you are going to Czech Republic, then this is a must! For me, summer isn’t quite the same if I haven’t gone up to the Castle at least once. Dating back to the year 880, the Prague castle is one of the oldest and the largest castle in the world. Though the paid tours are definitely worth it, I also just love walking around the castle grounds and through the gardens for free.

 

2. Karlštejn – this is a very popular castle, mostly because of the numerous movies it showed up in and its history. Charles IV, the Holy Roman Emperor, built it in 1348, mostly for his treasures, including the Czech coronation jewels. And eve, though we haven’t been there recently, we have quite a few childhood memories of hiking up the steep hill (that got less steep and shorter as we got older) towards the castle. Best times to visit are around Christmas and Easter with markets and beautiful decorations.

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3. Konopiště – this castle was built as a fortress in the 13th century, but in the 15th century was expanded into a castle and a mansion, that was eventually served as a home of Franz Ferdinand d’Este, who was very fond of this castle. You can still tour his personal quarters and see his extensive collection of trophies around the castle. I’ve visited this castle twice and found it was worth it to go on a tour both times. The interiors are beautiful, and I found myself wishing I could live there :)

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4. Křivoklát – this is one of my personal favorites. Growing up, we would go to Křivoklát at least once a year. Over the past 900 years the castle survived numerous attacks and fires, but always ended up being reconstructed and expanded, into the beautiful structure it is today. Though all of the interiors aren’t furnished, there is definitely a lot to see, like the large library that has 52,000 books. Every time I’m there, I desperately want to spend hours going through all of the books.

 

5. Lednice – the Lednice castle is very fairytale like. I was 11 when I went there on a class trip, so I don’t remember much about my visit, but I do remember being in awe of how beautiful the castle is. The complex doesn’t only include the palace, but a greenhouse and a minaret, which seems to have appeared there out of nowhere. Of course when we climbed the stairs up to the top of the minaret we carefully counted the steps and then compared our numbers, competing for who was the closest to the actual number. It is also quite a young castle, dating only to the late 18th century.

 

6.Bouzov – this is another castle that appeared in various films, mostly Czech fairytales. This medieval castle was built in the 15th century and its still fully furnished, making the tours of the castle even more magical and fairytale like. It’s the place where you can daydream about what it would be like to live in a fairy tale.

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7. Chateau Jemniště – Chateau Jemniště was built in 1381. The history of this palace is long and complex, because the owners changed frequently. Some of the most important owners include Sternberg, Trauttmansdorf and Lobkowicz. Eventually the Germans occupied it during the Second World War and the communist regime nationalized it in 1951. In 1995 it was restored to the Sternberg family, who own it to this day. Since the history of this place is so complex, taking the tour was a very detailed history lesson, mostly of the 19th and 20th For history lovers, like us, this was amazing and so much fun. But then again, we might just be history geeks :)

 

8. Kunětická Hora – This is a 14th century castle was built as a fortress during the Hussite Wars, but it was eventually reconstructed into a large castle that was a very popular social destination in the 15th and 16th Eventually the castle started falling apart, and became too dangerous to stay in. Now it’s mostly just ruins, but you can still visit and climb up to the tower to see the surrounding countryside.

 

9. Chateau Lány – this is the presidential summer palace. Unfortunately this means that entrance into the chateau is not allowed. But it is definitely worth it to go walk around the gardens and checking out the palace at least from the outside.

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10. Červená Lhota – this is a picturesque little chateau, with a beautiful park surrounding it. However, inside it is a little different from other castles and palaces. Instead of gorgeously furnished and decorated rooms, filled with furniture dating back to the renaissance era, this palace is just a state museum. Though this can be interesting, it was a little disappointing when we visited.

 

If you go to Czech Republic, definitely visit these, they are very much worth going to and paying for the tours.



Sources

https://www.hrad.cz/en/prague-castle/prague-castle-tourist-information/visit-of-prague-castle.shtml

http://www.hradkarlstejn.cz/history/

http://www.zamek-konopiste.cz/history/

http://www.krivoklat.cz/

http://www.zamek-lednice.info/en/

http://www.czechtourism.com/c/bouzov-castle/

http://www.jemniste.cz/en/history-of-the-chateau/
http://www.hrad-kunetickahora.cz/

 

Cape Town in 72 hours

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We went to Cape Town a few years ago, but thanks to my travel diaries and the bajillion pictures we took, I can definitely write about it even now. I distinctly remember seeing Table Mountain for the first time. There is something majestic about it that none of the photographs, postcards or posters capture. At that moment, I knew I was in love.

We rented a car and decided that, for the sake of time, we would commence our first adventure:  the trip down to Cape Point. This proved to be an adventure, as the GPS decided to guide us through a web of side roads and right past a township.  Even though we didn’t quite know where we were headed, we got to see the Indian Ocean and the adorable little towns along the coast that seem like they were taken straight out of Pirates of the Caribbean. Many stops were made along the way, including a war memorial and a penguin watching spot. But, we were there during the wrong season, so no penguins for us.

We continued the journey southwards, towards the point that was feared by many explorers centuries ago, with a breathtaking view around every turn. All of a sudden, were entering the Table Mountain National Park. As we were driving through the park towards the famous lighthouse and Cape Point, I didn’t know in where to look first – we were on a strip of land and could see the Indian Ocean on our left and the Atlantic on our right.

 

After reaching the parking lot, we braced for the cold and headed towards the lighthouse and then down to the beach. We were freezing, but we got to see the two oceans meet and learned a lot about the history of Cape Point. Did you know that New Delhi is about as far from Cape Point as Paris?DSCN1635

As much as we wanted to stay, it was time to head to our next destination – The Groot Constantia Vineyard. On the way, we experienced and an unexpected delay in the form of a turtle crossing the road. All traffic stopped until the turtle was safely on the other side of the road. It was great to see this level of appreciation for the local wildlife :) And the turtle was adorable.

We wrapped up Day 1 of our visit by wine tasting at the Groot Constantia and Klein Constantia Vineyards. I tasted their local specialty – a desert wine. It is the sweetest wine I’ve ever tasted and you can drink only a little at a time, but buying a bottle or two is definitely worth it.

On Day 2, we woke up with the sunrise. To avoid long lines, we headed straight to Table Mountain. As drove upward towards the cable car, the city covered in fog came into view.

The cable car ride up the side of the mountain lasts less than five minutes and you rise more than 700 meters. The view from the car is beautiful and most of the ride is pretty smooth. The scariest point comes when you arrive at the side of the mountain and the car dramatically slows down, making it seem like you stopped mid-air. Slowly, the car rises to the station. I got off, knees shaking, and needed a few minutes to adjust to standing on firm ground again. If you’re afraid of heights, brace yourself, it’s not a super pleasant ride, but totally worth it.

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Once you’re on top of the mountain, everything below you seems tiny. On one side, you see Cape Town, which was slowly emerging from the morning fog. On the other, there is a clear view of Cape Point and the meeting point of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. Most of the clouds were below us, so I could see the amazing cloud formations above the Atlantic. We walked around on top of the mountain, which was surprisingly warm and headed back.

We devoted Day 3 to history. In the morning, we left to get on the ferry to Robben Island. We first took a bus tour around the island, where you can see the layout of the prison, see where some famous prisoners were held, see the lime quarries and hear about the history of the island. The bus tour is then followed by a tour of the inside of the prison.

We entered a large room and a former prisoner greeted us, as only former prisoners and wardens serve as tour guides, which gives the tour an interesting perspective. He told us his story and where it fit into the history of South Africa and the Apartheid. We then walked through the prison and saw some of the famous places, which were decorated by photographs from the time it was still a prison. We saw individual cells, each with a story of an individual who resided there, including the cell of Nelson Mandela. I got goose bumps while walking through these spaces and reading the stories.

DSCN1651As the tour finished, we were told that one of the largest penguin colonies in the world resided on Robben Island, but that this was out of the way and we had only 15 minutes before the ferry left. To be safe, we headed for the ferry and, once again, missed seeing the penguins.

Cape Town offers a lot more than I expected, with its natural beauty and history, that spending three days there is simply not enough. I definitely plan on going back and seeing what I missed. If you haven’t seen it yet, it should go on your bucket list!


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5 hours at the Frankfurt Airport

When traveling back to Boston, I had a 5-hour layover in Frankfurt. This gave me plenty of time to walk around and see what this airport is about. My gate was Z50, so right after landing from Prague I headed for that area of the airport.

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The Frankfurt airport is huge, which means it looks extremely empty. At one point, it looked like I was completely alone. That didn’t bother me, I prefer the emptiness over crowded airports, where you constantly crash into somebody, because they are standing in the middle of the hall.

One thing did bother me at the airport, though, the WIFI. Everywhere they advertised free WIFI, but those signs mostly just mocked me. For the first two hours of my layover I could not connect to the WIFI on my iPhone or my laptop. Finally, I managed to sign in and register for 24 hours. I was just thinking that the five hours would not be that bad, when the WIFI cut out for the first time. I spent the rest of the layover trying to reconnect to the internet, hoping I could entertain myself with something more than the few people around me.

 

I was also hoping for more shops,IMG_6478 where I could just buy a drink or a small snack. I wandered around for quite some time, but found nothing, so I ended up going to McDonald’s. I was very disappointed with the service there. When I came up to the counter to order, the cashier seemed very surprised that I did not speak German. Maybe my expectations are ridiculous, but why does it surprise people that at an international airport there are customers who do not speak the local language? Somehow, I managed to order an iced coffee and I got the right order, but not without a lot of sass and attitude from the cashier.

After spending five hours at this airport, I decided to avoid it, at least for the long layovers. For short transfers I’m sure the airport is great. It is clear where you have to go, and even though the distances are long, I had no issues getting from one gate to another. But hours seem to drag at the Frankfurt airport, so if you are someone who needs a lot of entertainment, bring a buddy or a lot of books :)!


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