Monthly Archives: October 2018

Budapest, Vienna, Prague: Honeymoon Edition: Day 5

Tues. Sept. 25, 2018:
Budapest, Hungary to Vienna, Austria:

I woke up around 8am but decided to keep sleeping. We were taking the subway to the train station so we had extra time. I was careful not to sleep in too late, I wanted to have breakfast at the hotel. It was a buffet fit for a king. They had mini individual serving packages of liverwurst paste, and thankfully I was able to secure some cucumbers to make a nice little sandwich- complete with cheese slice on top. I was not as impressed with the brie and crackers, just wasn’t feeling it. I stole a sip of the sour cherry compote from Brent, it was alright but I much preferred my coffee. I even grabbed a second one on my way out in a to-go cup. This time I had a cappuccino because the machine clearly had no idea what a macchiato was. Even still, with two coffees to start the day I was quite tired later on.

The subway was fast and clean. We got to the train station an hour early and we had no trouble getting our tickets. According to Google Maps there was an H&M 15 minutes away. I had half an hour to find a replacement dress or skirt for the rest of the trip. I found this year’s version of a dress I had bought in previous years, except instead of black with white plaid it was black with white flowers. It would suffice.

We got on the train early and were able to get unreserved seats across from each other (the two window ones were reserved). At the next stop there was a lot of shuffling around as the people in those seats boarded. Between trying to stow their luggage and get into their seats there was a lot of chaos going on. In the end the ladies decided to sit next to each other rather than across from each other- minimizing the shuffling. As I listened to podcasts I tried to download some more but the Wi-Fi was unbelievably slow, the first estimate was 4 minutes… for a 1-minute episode. I couldn’t believe it.

AUSTRIA! A new country!

The Vienna train station was awesome, it had lots of shops and a sports bar- I joked that it was a husband daycare while the wife shopped. The toilets were not free and all I had was a €5 note and I was not about to break it for a trip to the bathroom. It was hard to adjust to the new currency. I had finally started getting the hand of the Hungarian one and now I had to start all over again from scratch.

It was a 45-minute walk to the hotel. Along the way I was struck by how beautiful Vienna was, there were more pretty buildings. We dropped our stuff at the hotel and walked over to Café Hawelka for lunch. On the way we walked by St. Stephen’s Cathedral and the main shopping square. We scoped out a McDonald’s for later (conveniently less than 5 minutes from the hotel and it had self-serve kiosks).

Café Hawelka is one of the more famous cafes and you could tell, the place was packed. We got one of the last free tables. The server came over for our order and we looked at him in confusion. There was no menu on the table and rather than give us one (if it even existed) he told us the options. As soon as I heard coffee I stopped him. Yes. Then he went off into a sub-menu: black, milk, cream. Brent mistakenly said milk and cream, adding to the already confused atmosphere. The guy asked us if we wanted any food. Another stare from us. Deep breath, he started reciting a food menu for us. We saved him the time and stopped after the second item: chocolate cake. I was so hungry I did not care if we ended up eating something really heavy for lunch. I needed food. The caffeine really hit the spot, the cake was perfect: not too sweet or too heavy, with a hint of apricot. Alas it was only enough food to tide me over for a while. I’d definitely be needing more later.

We walked over to the Hofbrun, aka the Imperial Palace. We got to the ticket window at 4:15pm, just in the nick of time as the sign said that last admission was 4:30pm. Except the lady did not want to sell us tickets. We had an hour to see the Imperial Apartments but according to her that was not enough time, they needed at least 2 hours to be seen. We stared at her incredulously, Brent pointed to the last admissions sign. Under her breath she muttered fine, it’s your money, and grudgingly sold us the tickets.

The first part of the museum was the Sisi Museum and it was just a bunch of stuff owned by Empress Elizabeth. It was very crowded and I had to borderline shove people to get through. These people had no concept of space. The Imperial Apartments were awesome, the walls were gilded with gold and there were big fancy chandeliers everywhere. In one of the final rooms we go to see active restoration work which was awesome because you never get to see that. It made me appreciate historical house museums all the more. It was unclear how to get to the final part of the museum, but we did not really care that we were missing the silver collection.

On the way we had passed by the National Library and according to Google it was open until 9pm. Why not check it out we thought? It was right there. It was incredible. Easily one of the highlights of the trip. There were wooden ladders to reach the higher up shelves, some of the bookcases opened to reveal secret doors. There were old globes and the world’s oldest card catalogue. Which was just pieces of paper with the information of the collection stored in a box. There was a hand-written ledger of banned books from the 18th century, displayed alongside said banned books.

We stopped at McDonald’s to grab dinner. On the kiosk we were able to browse the entire selection at our leisure and in English. It was confusing because the way it was set-up you could only order at the kiosk with the option of paying at the counter but some people mistook that for where you could order and there were people milling about and causing confusion. This was also possibly the busiest McDonald’s I’ve ever seen. There were 20+ orders on the display board being prepped. It was also a long wait and we had to rush back to the hotel.

I got the Steakhouse classic from “American series,” it had a smoky steak sauce but it was only on one half of the sandwich. The other half was really dry and not good. Brent had almost the exact same burger, also with “American” in the name, except with cheese. Instead of fries he got “American dippers” but they were jus bergonya’s, same as we had in Hungary. They failed to live up to their name because we had no sauce to dip them in. We ordered Camembert donuts (which for some reason were also on the American menu) and got hot devil sauce on the side. The sauce matched the dippers more than the donuts. In the end it was way too much cheese. I wondered if it was American because it was not real Camembert, because it was breaded or because they called it a donut?

As we ate we got ready for our evening night out. We walked over to Café Imperial but it looked like a fancy sit-down rather than a casual café so we bailed- we only had 20 minutes anyways. We were already dressed up and we had some time to kill so we wandered around the hotel a bit. It was a really fancy place and I felt weird just walking around.

At the opera we had balcony seats which looked down onto the orchestra and had a side view of the stage. We were in the nosebleeds and every time I walked down to my seat I got a touch of vertigo. It was unnerving. On the ledge in front of us we had tiny screens that would show a translation of the opera (being sung in French) so we would at least have some inkling of what was going on. At intermission we went to the bar. I had a glass of white wine and we split a rumball. There was some confusion as apparently no one knows it as a rumball and I had to just point at it. One bite and it was clearly a rumball. My hips started hurting from having to lean forward to the ledge to the see the stage during the whole show. The fact that I was wearing heels did not help matters.

We walked back through the main square. It was nice because all the tourists were gone and it was much less crowded. There were no convenience stores in sight which struck me as odd. St. Stephen’s was still open, we popped in to have a look. It was gorgeous, even if we were looking through a gate at most of it. Across from the hotel we found a souvenir shop selling drinks. Alas the selection was paltry at best. They had one type of beer in tall cans: Gosser. No coolers, no ciders. My options were hard liquor, beer or none. I chose to pass, I was dehydrated and in need of water.

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Posted by on October 26, 2018 in Travel


Budapest, Vienna, Prague: Honeymoon Edition: Day 4

Mon. Sept. 24, 2018:
Budapest, Hungary:

I woke up around 9:30am, Brent’s alarm clock hadn’t gone off and he had been woken by the cleaners. Alas, this meant I was going to miss the hotel breakfast which only went until 10am. We walked over to the Great Market Hall in search of breakfast. It was just like St. Lawrence Market in Toronto with vendors in a giant building, all selling fresh veggies and meat. The second floor was dedicated to a tourist tchotchkes as far as the eye could see. Nestled in the corner we found a few food stalls. On the first floor our only food options were some bakeries and a small café I found down a hallway. I did not have high hopes for the café, it was more of a souvenir and liquor shop. I was pleasantly surprised when the lady proceeded to grind some espresso beans and use an actual espresso machine. It was also so cheap! Less than $2CAD. I was floored.

From the second level we had a view of the market down below. The upper terrace was crammed with tourists and we had a hard time getting around. Thankfully we got past them and found a stand selling mini-sausages in a bread cone. They had two sizes and the mini was the perfect amount of food. It was not as easy to eat as a hot dog. I alternated breaking off pieces of the bread and biting the sausages. The larger size was more like a hotdog with a better bread-to-sausage ratio.

After breakfast we walked over to the funicular to get to the top of Buda Castle but it was closed for maintenance. The one day we intended to ride! Now we had to hoof it uphill again, my legs were still so dead from the previous day. At the top I had mistakenly thought that the building in the main square was the castle. I was expecting that we were going on a tour of a proper castle. I was surprised to learn that Buda Castle referred to the whole complex on top of the hill and the castle building itself was where the art gallery was. I was looking at the church now. Oops.

We paid admission to go up a spire in Fisherman’s Bastion. The sign said that the admission ticket included a drink. What they failed to mention was that they meant a soda not alcohol. We opted to pay for drinks instead, they had Tokaj wine and the view was beautiful. This wine, Tokaji Aszu, was a lot sweeter and more of a dessert wine. From the mini patio we had gorgeous views of Parliament, the Danube River and St. Stephen’s Cathedral and of course all of the bridges.

We walked around the alleys. For some reason we went into the Hilton hotel, Brent had read something about it but clearly, we were in the wrong place. There was no sign of a casino or a nice terrace. It was a nice bathroom pit stop though so I did appreciate that.

We walked to the other edge of the hill that Buda Castle sits atop and looked down onto the other side of town. We walked back to the art museum, aka Buda Castle proper. Lucy had told me that there was really good ice cream to be had there and I had promised I’d try it. There was only one stand selling ice cream that day (the museum was closed). It was the tiniest little scoop of lemon gelato I have ever seen and in the crappiest of crappy ice cream cones. Halfway through it was just cone and I had to toss it. I wondered if I had been trolled. Had this all been a joke? We went around back of the museum and wandered in the general direction of our hotel. There were lots of pretty views but there were just as many tourists in the way. The wind knocked over a selfie-stick being used as a tripod, that was pretty funny to see. On our way down, we saw some horses and some guys in military get-ups. One of them was even resting on what looked like an army-issue cot- adding to the realism.

My legs were hurting pretty bad, I was really looking forward to relaxing in the Gellert thermal baths. It was confusing trying to find the hotel entrance to the baths. I didn’t want to lug all my stuff and have to get changed. The robes in the room and the info pamphlet made it seem like there was a separate entrance for hotel guests. We went in through the public entrance and then backtracked our way into the hotel. Back in our room I read over the info pamphlet again more carefully while Brent went to the spa to ask how it worked.

We had originally planned on going to the zoo after the baths and before dinner but those fell through because the zoo closes so early. We had the entire afternoon to while away in the thermal baths. When we first got there it was a maze of hallways and signs. Eventually we made our way to the first thermal bath by the pool. I was not a fan of it. It was not that warm and I was starting to doubt this place. Turns out it was just a mini pool beside the regular pool. Brent reported that the regular pool was even colder. I was already set on not going in, I did not feel like putting on a swim cap and risking a headache from it being too tight on my head. We wandered off in search of some proper thermal baths. The brochure said there were many and I was hell bent on going into as many as I could.

I finally found a nice one that I could lounge in. it had been designed so that there were two mirror versions opposite one another. I (mistakenly) assumed that they would be the same temperature. They were not. It was 3 degrees cooler in the second thermal bath and that was enough to have me running back to the first one. Beside the steam room there was a tiny little pool and Brent tried to convince me that it was a super warm bath. Except there was a guy beside us who was about to step into it but as soon as his toes hit the water he swore and complained it was cold. I looked at the little chalkboard sign, 20 degrees?! No way. I much prefer the 38-degree bath. The steam room was not that warm. We had to sit on the upper deck and even still. It was steamy and humid but not that warm. I had to bail pretty soon though as it was getting hard to breathe.

We went to the outdoor thermal bath, it was nice even though it wasn’t as warm as the indoor one I had liked so much. The cooler air outside made it more tolerable. We went into the “outdoor” (in that the structure was outdoors) Finnish sauna. The sign outside said it was 75-85 degrees Celsius. They weren’t kidding. It was broiling in there. I had barely sat down and already I was desperate to leave. It felt nice but it was too hard to breathe and I was certain I’d faint. One minute in there and sweat was just pouring down my face. I’ve never been so grateful that my glasses have plastic frames. Metal would have burned my face. As we left we saw people getting out of the bucket bath outside. I went first, dipped my fingertip in and recoiled. It was so cold. But I didn’t let on. I pretended it was nice and warm and I let Brent go in first. It was revenge for earlier. We went back to the outdoor thermal bath. Brent went to check out the outdoor pool and returned stating that it was weird because it was only ankle-deep. I was too cold to investigate.

Back inside we planned on going back to the perfect 38-degree pool except when we consulted the map on how to get back there (it was that much a maze!) we discovered we had missed one room with two thermal baths and a sauna! Off we went in search of the illusive last pools. Our goal was to go into every one of them. The first bath was 36-degrees, just not as good as my ideal one. The second one was 40-degrees and it was everything I had dreamed of in a thermal bath. I was done. I did not need to go see the other sauna. Turns out that sauna was way hotter than the first one. After the outdoor sauna I was set, I did not need any more sauna time. In the 40-degree pool I figured out what the temperature of my LUSH baths at home had been (same range).

I felt so nice and relaxed after all that time soaking. We still had an hour before we had to leave for dinner. I had worked up an appetite hopping between all the baths. I got comfy in my bathrobe in bed and cracked open a cider. The Kingswood apple cider from Romania was not good. It was like apple juice with malt. I was not impressed. Because we had a one-hour walk- on cobblestones no less- I packed my heels in my purse. As I tried to put on my red & blue striped dress from the GAP (my go-to formal dress) I realized to my horror that the zipper was stuck and misaligned. My dress was toast and I didn’t have a backup. Panic set in almost immediately. I gave up and wore jeans.

On the way we stopped at LUSH so I could buy a massage bar for my itchy legs. They didn’t have the seasonal gingerbread one and instead I got Wiccy Magic Muscles, the thinking being that maybe it would help with my sore legs at the end of a long day.

Over the course of the walk I only got hungrier. Walking over the cobblestones I was discovering parts of my legs I did not even know could feel pain. We were early so we walked around the park for a bit. We saw the most well-behaved dog of all time, playing fetch while being on a leash. The dog wanted the stick so bad but did not tug once on the leash.

At Gundel’s I felt very underdressed until I looked at the group in front of us. Most of there were in fancy dress except for the one guy wearing trackpants. At least I was wearing purple jeans. Most of the people in the restaurant were dressed pretty casually but I still felt a little bit uncomfortable. There was a live band playing and periodically one of the musicians would walk around to tables and ask for requests.

With the bread we got a weird honey-mustard/butter combo. It looked weird but tasted oh-so-amazing. To the point that I now wonder about mixing the two and attempting to recreate it at home. Up next we got a “gift from the chef,” beef carpaccio with mushrooms. It was ok but I was expecting more from such a fancy restaurant, the dish was kind of bland. Brent had the clear fish soup, as recommended by his 1000 Foods to Try Before You Die book. I had the goulash soup. Mine was the clear winner, by far. It had giant chunks of meat and lots of paprika. Brent ordered the Dover sole for his main (despite the hefty price tag) again recommended by the book. We could see why it was so expensive when the dish arrived. They fileted and de-boned it tableside- which was super awkward as that is a rather difficult task, never mind when you have two people watching you struggle. I had the breaded quail. It made me wonder why so many Hungarian dishes are breaded and fried. The breading on the quail was so thick, a solid layer of panko crumbs instead of a light dusting of bread crumbs. I was not impressed. I was also not enjoying the sauerkraut, it was too dry. The house-made kettle chips were the best part by far. We were way too full for dessert after all that food.

We walked to Doblo Wine Bar for a nightcap. It worked out perfectly because it was at the halfway mark of our walk back. Brent had a pinot noir and I had a cuvee dessert wine, both from the Tokaj region. The bar was great and had a really nice atmosphere. There was a jazz band playing. I finally managed to unload some of my Hungarian currency, as the next day we were heading to Austria. On our way back we also walked through a shopping arcade that had been repurposed with restaurants and bars, creating a mini entertainment district for tourists (all the signs were in English).

In the main square I could smell the chimney cakes being baked as we came up behind a stall. I had to get one, it was our last night in Budapest and it is known as a Hungarian street food. Alas the chimney cake I had was stale, not freshly baked. It kind of made sense, they have to cool down before you can put ice cream in them but even still I was disappointed. I’d had a better one in Toronto. We stopped in at the 0-24 shop, brent got a few more beers for the evening and I got a Powerade for our day of travel tomorrow (and to use as a water bottle in the future).

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Posted by on October 24, 2018 in Travel


Budapest, Vienna, Prague: Honeymoon Edition: Day 3

Sun. Sept. 23, 2018:
Budapest, Hungary:

I had woken up in the night with hip pain and a headache. On my way back to bed Brent asked what time it was and I checked my phone, it said 6:30- we had made it most of the night! Hurrah! Until I realized I had never changed my time zone, it was just after midnight and we had yet to beat the jetlag. Brent was so worried about falling asleep yet in minutes all I heard from him was snoring. I eventually fell asleep and slept through the night but I was worried at first. My 8am wakeup call was a gentle staring-at by Brent. Right as we were leaving our room to head down and catch the ride to our tour we got a phone call saying they were here. Perfect timing. Once we got outside a bit of confusion ensued, there was a minibus parked outside and Brent boarded and asked if it was the tour and all he got back were confused stares. The cabby parked next to the bus perked up, we were looking for him. He drove us to a hotel across the river which was the starting point for our day trip. The plan was to go up by bus and see some small towns and then cruise back down along the Danube. We were delayed by 30 minutes waiting for the Italian couple.

Esztergrom was our first stop of the day. There was a giant beautiful cathedral high up on a hill looking down onto the river and across to Slovakia. We went on a tour of the grounds, circling the cathedral before finally getting to go inside. During our walk I realized that for some reason, all the dogs we had seen thus far were just so much better than the dogs we usually see back home. I had no idea why I thought this. We had a mini tour once inside the cathedral but the view of the domed ceiling was obstructed by restoration work. The altar was enormous and gilded in gold as far as the eye could see. After that we had 15 minutes of free time to roam about. We passed by a stand selling grilled Camembert, alas the guy seemed to just be setting up and it was not open yet. I checked on our way back as well but still no-go. We could here the church bells ringing- meaning we were late getting back to the bus. No worries we thought, everyone was probably just slowly making their way back. This was not the case. We got there and just saw rows and rows of white buses- we had failed to remember which was ours. Thankfully the tour guide popped his head out. We were the last ones back, everyone was already in their seats. We drove across the bridge to have a look at the cathedral in all it’s glory, sitting atop a hill overlooking the river. It was a little bit odd that all we did was cross a bridge and suddenly I could understand half the signs around us (Slovakian is close to Polish). Ten minutes later we were back on the bridge heading back to Hungary.

We drove to another small town, again on top of a small mountain/big hill for lunch. The gentle rocking of the bus and the passing foliage lulled me right to sleep. I tried so hard to stay awake for the views but I couldn’t stay awake and I woke up in the restaurant parking lot. The restaurant had gorgeous views and I could see why it was our pitstop, I did wonder whose idea it was and who was getting the kickback (if any). Lunch started with biały barszcz with goulash. When we first sat down Brent wondered if there was any bread in the basket, I said probably not given it was there when we sat down and there were no salad plates or butter. Once our soup arrived though I thought there had to be bread in there. This dish calls out for a good slice of rye. Turns out Brent had been right and our soups were saved- made better actually. Up next we were served a plate of sauerkraut, which everyone at our table immediately took to eating. I knew it was the side of our main and held out. They all ended up getting a second helping after the confusion was resolved. The sauerkraut was not that good, it was a bit dry and therefore rubbery. Our main was chicken and turkey, schnitzel and breast. There was no way of knowing which was which- turkey breast and chicken breast are virtually indistinguishable. The breast was kind of dry and the schnitzel was too greasy and I was not a fan of the panko breading- give me some regular breadcrumbs! The potatoes were the clear winner- having sopped up all the grease. The schnitzel was good when taken with forkfuls of sauerkraut. For dessert we had a sponge cake with rum-chocolate ganache and whipped cream. It was initially plated all nice & pretty but it quickly devolved into a sopping mess that was hard to eat.

Up next the bus took us to our final destination for this leg of the tour: Szentendre. Inevitably I had fallen asleep on the bus again. It was a combination of the gentle rocking of the bus and the large lunch. We went on a short walking tour towards the centre of town and then we were free to roam until it was time to board the boat for our journey back to Budapest.

It was really difficult to find the entrance to the Margaret Kovacs ceramics museum. We walked by a sign for it but it didn’t look right. We Googled it and Google said we had just missed it. Even still, we ended up in the exit café and gift shop. On our way out we ran into the tour guide who pointed us in the right direction while extoling his love for the café. Her ceramic artwork was beautiful.

We considered doing the museum of miniatures but first we would wander the town a bit to give ourselves a break. We stopped at the Museum of Marzipan shop to get some marzipan because why not. It tasted like the fruits it was shaped into and it was not overly sweet. It was some of the best marzipan I’ve ever had. It was cute looking and I felt kind of bad eating it, someone had worked really hard on it and now I was just destroying it. We wandered around, cutting down random alleys, backtracking when they didn’t lead anywhere. At some point we climbed some stairs and found ourselves on the grounds of a beautiful little white church. A boyband/pop-duo was nearby filming a tacky music video. One of them was in a bright cherry red suit. It was an assault on the eyes. The song they were singing sounded vaguely familiar but I couldn’t quite place it. Then I heard the words “Puerto Rico” and it clicked: Despacito. Brent was unsure but I kept insisting, what other song has Puerto Rico in it?! As we kept listening it became obvious I was right. From the church courtyard we could see the rooftops of all the little shops down below. On the edge of the wall below us was a cat lounging on a square of grass, cleaning itself and complexly oblivious to my desperate attempts for even a glance- simply being acknowledged by the cat was all I wanted. If it came over I would be overjoyed. Alas, it was not in the cards for me and I had to content myself with failing to photograph it thanks to my crappy lens (which would become a theme during the trip). As we walked down the narrow stairs beside that wall I saw two more cats! I was thrilled and just about ran over- squealing with joy. Only one of the cats was interested in me- which was more than I had expected. My fun was quickly ruined when a slobbery and rude dog came slobbering through looking all dopey. As we walked down a few more alleys we realized we had to get back to the boat. I was over the town. It was quaint, with cobblestones and lamp shades hanging like Christmas lights. On the flipside there were so many vendors all selling tourist-y crap and so desperate and calling out to passersby. We walked back along the river so we could say we saw everything.

We got some of the last seats on the top open-air deck, our tour group had now merged with regular customers on the boat. There may have been a reason that our bench was the last to be taken. We were seated in front of the most insufferable two guys of all time. What a day to leave the iPod back in the hotel room. Every day after this I always made sure I had it with me at all times. They were young, mid-20s, and just so dumb and such douche-bags. There were moments when it seemed unreal. I wondered if maybe I was witnessing performance art? Theatre among the people? These two could not be real. It had to be an act. One was taking a selfie, the other said, “haha, dude, the camera’s facing the wrong way,” to which Dummy 1 replied “memories, bruh.” One of them remarked how livable Budapest is and how he could totally live there for a few weeks. I wanted to turn around and yell. The lowest point was “Danube? More like smoke-a-doob,” which would only have made sense if he then proceeded to light up… which he didn’t! Thankfully Brent came to my rescue and offered me an earbud and we listened to Serial S3E2. This definitely makes him a contender for Husband of the Year- and he’d only been a husband for a week.

We entered into Budapest around 6pm just as the sun was slowly starting to set behind Buda Castle. Parliament was awash in golden light- reminding me why I love photography so much. We got dropped off near the hotel where we’d started. We walked back to the shopping arcade, I was in desperate need of hand cream and I’d seen a L’Occitane there. We had dinner at McDonald’s but we had to decide fast- there weren’t any kiosks and we had to order at the counter. What’s a McFarm?! A JackLiner?! We would have to research those later once we were back in the hotel room. The spicy McNuggets did not deliver what they promised: yes the breading was slightly seasoned but nowhere near something I would call “spicy.” The BBQ sauce was the clear winner: it was smoky and bourbon-y, way better than what we get back home. Brent had a weird pseudo-BigMac/QuarterPounder that had a different bun and a shortage of cheese. Instead of fries we got potato burgonya, which was basically a complicated way of saying potato wedges. I was tempted by the Snickers McFlurry but it was overpowered by how much I did not want to go back in line. This McDonald’s had the fastest service we have ever experienced anywhere. Brent was barely finished paying and already our food was on a tray and ready to go.

We stopped at what was becoming our regular convenience store (two times= we are regulars of course) for drinks. I found watermelon margarita that had a chicken on the bottlecap and a new cider I hadn’t tried before. We also grabbed the red Delirium I saw yesterday and some snacks. We slowly made our way over to High Note Sky Bar. It was confusing, as we got closer I kept craning my neck up to see the giant building but there were none more than a few stories high. What kind of rooftop bar was this? I thought it was going to be high up, the Toronto Star had promised me views of St. Stephen’s Basilica. On the way we stopped to gawk at a neon-lit obstacle course. It was confusing because it had a net all around it and there were no contestants in sight. We stood there watching, trying to figure out what it was, it was called DRON something. Then we heard a quiet buzzing and the event started. It was a drone obstacle course. Now the name and the netting made sense. It was kind of cool to watch them maneuver the course, making tight turns and not crashing.

We got to the bar early and asked if we could just be seated now. The problem was that Brent could not show the email confirming our reservation because in his phone it looked like it had been made for the following afternoon which made no sense. Thankfully because we were so insistent on having a reservation we were seated no problem. On the way I had wondered why there was no coat check, especially given this place was kind of on the fancy side. Once we sat down I totally understood, it was damn cold. I had forgotten that rooftop bar= outdoor patio. I was so mesmerized by the view of the castle off in the distance, past the ferris wheel that when Brent offered to switch seats with me I was confused. As soon as we swapped I saw why: this was the view I had come for: the top of St. Stephen’s Basilica all lit up. I had actually momentarily forgotten when we sat down. We started off with a round of Palinka- both because it’s a drink Hungary is known for and also because of the similarity to my name. We had an apricot one and a plum one. The apricot one was better. I ordered a glass of white wine because it was from the Tokaj region of Hungary, known for their wine. Brent’s first beer was a delightful local cherry beer that tasted like juice. His second beer was supposed to be an IPA but as the server poured it (terribly, one of the worst pour’s I’ve ever seen, all head) he noticed that it was dark. That wasn’t right. He came back with the correct beer and apologized. After he left I noticed that the IPA was called Double Check. I cracked up, it was perfect. Nothing on the food menu had caught our fancy, but we had gotten snacks earlier.

We gawked at the Basilica lit up from the plaza down below. Buda Castle was similarly lit up as were the Chain Bridge and the Liberty Bridge. The brownie Oreos were a lie. They just tasted like chocolate Oreos. The Le Coq watermelon margarita tasted like juice but that made it a perfect shower drink. I had done it. I had finally stayed up until my regular bed time. Goodbye jetlag!

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Posted by on October 17, 2018 in Travel


Budapest, Vienna, Prague: Honeymoon Edition: Day 2

Sat. Sept. 22, 2018:
Budapest, Hungary:

We took a taxi to our hotel because it was raining and we could not figure out where to buy bus fares. We tried to check in to the Gellert baths hotel but we were told our room was not ready yet. I plopped down in the lobby in a big chair and took to reorganizing my purse, off-loading as much of stuff into my backpack as I could. We would leave our bags with the concierge and head out for the day. Once I had finished all my shuffling, we were all ready to leave our bags- and our room was ready. I swear I did not take that long sorting.

The hotel itself was beautiful, and we had convenient (and discounted, not free) access to the thermal baths. Our room did not reflect this beauty as much. We were both tired and we still faced a full day of activities ahead of us. We were in no state to figure out a confusing bathroom. Between the bathtub and the sink was what we later realized was a bidet. But for the first few minutes we stood there puzzling over it, especially given there was no toilet in sight. Across from the bathroom I opened the door to what I thought was a closet and lo and behold there was the toilet, in a sad small little room. How tired was I? In my travel journal my reaction to finding the toilet is: I was so relieved. It was not even intended as a pun.

We started the day at the Hungarian National Gallery. We knew it was at Buda Castle and from where we were we could see the complex above on the hill. The question was how do we get up there? We took a random set of stairs up and ended up in the castle gardens. From there we found an escalator to another courtyard, and finally another set of stairs that led us to the courtyard out front of the gallery (which is in the Buda Castle building itself).

There was a huge lineup when we got there. I can imagine Saturdays being busy, but this many people? There were at least 100 people ahead of us. Brent went to investigate, maybe this line was for people wanting to see the Frida Kahlo special exhibit and we could skip that and get in sooner via a shorter line inside? Nope. This was it. The people in line behind us had almost the same thought process when they arrived. We ended up chatting with them the whole time. They were an alternate universe version of us. They had just arrived from Vienna, having been in Prague before that (our trip in reverse). And before that they had gone to Amsterdam so we had plenty to talk about between that and them being fellow Canadians. Except they were from Winnipeg. And they were retired. But they were so much like us, albeit just a little bit off (the husband ran half-marathons, the wife was a teacher, they were celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary) right down to the purple FitBit the lady was wearing (I’d forgotten mine at home). In total we waited about half an hour but the time flew by.

Once inside the gallery we said goodbye to our new friends and headed off. We started with the Frida Kahlo exhibit because it would only get busier. People were more interested in the info panels than in her work. It was impossible to walk through the galleries, they were so crammed with people all slowly milling about. The rest of the gallery was kind of weak for a national collection, it was kind of small. The building itself was great, we had amazing views across the river of town and the Parliament building. Neither of us knew enough about Hungarian history or art to really appreciate the collection. My tiredness was starting to kick back in and was now accompanied by hunger. It did not help that the gallery was starting to smell like crepes.

It was just as confusing trying to get back down the hill. We could see where we wanted to go but we kept hitting dead-ends on the paths going down the hill. Eventually we found some stairs near the funicular (we didn’t take it that day because it was planned for Monday). We crossed the Chain Bridge to the Pest side and walked over to Café Gerbeaud for lunch. They are known for their coffee and their seven-layer chocolate cake. We ordered a cake sampler plate which had 3 different cakes (including the aforementioned seven-layer one) and a strudel sampler plate as well. Given we had barely eaten in a while- and doubtful we would be going back out again- we also split a club sandwich. I was doubtful of the sandwich; the club part is what turned me off. I was wrong, once the tomato was removed it was an amazing sandwich with breaded chicken, egg, lettuce and all on freshly baked bread. It weirdly came with Pringles on the side but I was too hungry to care. I ordered a fancy coffee with chocolate syrup, apricot liqueur and a scoop of ice cream. I had failed to really stir it well and towards the end I couldn’t drink it because it was thick and syrupy and all around too much. I was not a fan of the strudels, I didn’t like the cottage cheese and apricot one and the apple one suffered because I was eating it towards the end when I was full. Of the cake samplers the clear winner was the walnut and fondant one, followed by the Gerbeaud cake (seven layers) and last was the chocolate and cream one that was oddly dry. The café was nicely situated at the edge of the town square and shopping arcade.

Brent had left his waterproof sweater on the tram between the terminals back at Pearson. He had also forgotten his bathing suit at home. We took a mini detour to go shopping, stopping in at Pull & Bear, C&A, and finally H&M where Brent found a jacket. The prices were so confusing. I had to count all the money in my wallet and use that as a reference point when considering prices of stuff. I found a beautiful leather purse for 79,990HUF… except when I did the math it came out to $400CAD and was more than double what I had brought with me.

We backtracked a little bit to go look at the Parliament building. On the way we stopped at a convenience store. I got a strawberry-kiwi Fanta to drink while we walked. We also grabbed some drinks for later. I found Sommersby’s blueberry cider in a bottle, not only did I get to try a new flavour but we also got a new bottle cap. It was confusing trying to pay for stuff, I couldn’t wrap my head around the prices.

On the way to Parliament I looked down a side street and saw a giant beautiful church and insisted on a detour. We had found St. Stephen’s Basilica- we would be looking at it tomorrow from a rooftop patio.

From Parliament we walked back along the river. We crossed over on the other side of Chain Bridge this time to get the full experience. We confirmed our plans for the next day over nightcaps (the hope being that the cider would make me even sleepier). I was so tired but I still needed to do all the usual stuff to get ready for bed. It was also only 7:30pm but I was so tired that even my travel journal stopped making sense at this point (something about the TV only having 5 channels and me being too tired to try- to try what? I have no clue what I meant).

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Posted by on October 12, 2018 in Travel


Budapest, Vienna, Prague: Honeymoon Edition: Day 1

Fri. Sept. 21, 2018:
Toronto flight to Budapest, Hungary:

We got to the airport for our flight 3 hours early. This was mainly by my insistence, I wanted to get Wendy’s (which was in the other terminal) and I wanted to avoid rush hour traffic. I did have a back-up 6 inch sub in my purse in case Wendy’s didn’t work out, dinner had to be eaten before I got on the plane because once I was seated the plan was to sleep until we arrived.

I devoured my Wendy’s meal on the tram from Terminal 3 to 1. I was so busy eating I failed to notice/recognize the (famous?) hockey-related man standing near us, whom Brent was Google Image searching while I ate. Brent figured out that it was Craig MacTavish. They had given me an extra chicken tender, it was not what I had signed up for. The plan was a giant burger and 1.5 chicken tenders (who can say no to creamy sriracha dipping sauce?), not 2 chicken tenders! We had a new record for time between check-in and getting to our gate. It was under 5 minutes, both because there was no line at security and we did not have to clear customs (that would be later, once we landed in Budapest).

The second part of my sleep-plan was to get a hot chocolate (aka warm milk) from Starbucks. It really hit the spot. I topped off the plan with random episodes of Friends. Initially I had tried to browse Pinterest but the nearby Team Canada teen athletes were insufferable and I needed to have my headphones in. How insufferable were they? They were trying to time out their social media posts to exactly 7:00pm (the magical perfect hour for posting) and ensuring that they had the correct amount of emojis (very important). Getting on the plane I was already so sleepy. I had high hopes for sleeping the duration of the flight. Our flight was fully booked so we didn’t get to sit together- and I had chickened out of trying to get a free upgrade on account of our honeymoon. Right before the doors closed Brent came to get me, the seat beside him was empty. He saved me from the middle seat in the aisle section. And bonus on top of that: he wanted the aisle seat, leaving me free to use the window as another surface to try and sleep on.

No sooner had I set myself up, gotten my (professional) neck pillow into place, popped two Benadryls (aka super-drowsy antihistamines) and started drifting off- there was an alarming call over the PA for a doctor/nurse for an emergency situation. Waves of panic coursed through me in my drowsy, half-asleep state. I imagined a panicked and bumpy emergency landing in the middle of nowhere. It was scary but I managed to eventually drift off to sleep, there was no announcement about an emergency landing and eventually the situation resolved itself. At it’s peak though, the man kept moaning in agony and people milled about, completely disregarding that the seatbelt sign was on and thus prompting even more announcements over the PA for everyone to sit down. Finally, everything had settled and I was ready to sleep when the lights came on. It was time for dinner service. The smells and the bright lights were so distracting, still I tried to sleep through it- regretting having left my eye mask at home.

The old people sitting behind us kept using our seats as handrails, jerking us backwards every time they stood up. Eventually I fell asleep, after giving in and having a glass of Sprite. I slept fitfully, falling asleep for a bit, waking and fidgeting, readjusting to try and get comfy. My knees were getting sore so I got up to stretch and took the chance to use the bathroom. It was a tiny and confusing bathroom, I couldn’t even find it at first. After that it was back to fitful sleep except eventually I woke up after a longer period (1-3 hours) and it was bright outside. My thoughts immediately went to the thought of coffee. The snack with the coffee was banana bread, no thank you. The flight attendant gave mine to Brent, laughing that it such a light snack that its barely anything. I tried to eat my sub, but by then (8 hours later) it was soggy and disgusting. Instead I ate the chocolate covered pretzels and panda cookies I had packed. I immediately went back to sleep, it was a shorter nap but it was a nice deep sleep.

When we landed it was a short wait at customs and we got through fast, no questions asked.

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Posted by on October 11, 2018 in Travel

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