Monthly Archives: October 2018

Budapest, Vienna, Prague: Honeymoon Edition: Day 3

Day 3: Sat. 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

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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