24 hours in Budapest

Budapest is probably my favorite European city…well, maybe within the top 3.  It is different than anywhere else you’ve been. You don’t feel like you’re in Europe, you feel like you’re in the old world.  It’s got this dark magic, and I love it.

It’s a little more subdued, but yet very distinct from its other former Eastern Bloc neighbors, but don’t let that fool you.   There’s so much history from the Ottoman Empire and Turks and Romans to the Soviet influence, everyone has crossed through this area, including the Roma people, who give Hungarians their gypsy culture.   All of this historic interchange has led to Hungary (and Hungarians) to be a melting pot of mixed ethnicities.

Heroes’ Square is one of the landmark plazas on the Pest side, featuring Magyar and other prominent Hungarian leaders.  The central column is topped by Archangel Gabriel holding the Hungarian crown.  It is flanked by the Museum of Fine Arts and Hall of Art.

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One of the most memorable places I’ve been is the Central Market Hall.  This grand indoor market is full of colors and sounds and smells, it’s sensory way overload.  Marketplaces seem ubiquitous in America these days, but this feels so original.

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getting hungary just looking at this

There’s giant sausages and other encased meats everywhere (literally so many kinds of sausage), cheeses, pickles of all types. Hungarian food is one of my all time favorite cuisines.  Put a plate of chicken paprikash or goulash in front of me and you’re golden.  You must (read: MUST) buy paprika from Hungary.  So closely associated with this country, their paprika is the smoky and rich and perfect.  They sell it everywhere.

On the Buda side of town sits the Castle Hill complex, made up of Buda Castle, Fisherman’s Bastion and the Matthias Church.  Fisherman’s Bastion is a Gothic style viewpoint that looks like something out of a fairy tale.  This very popular tourist attraction provides sweeping views of the river and the Pest side from high above.

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The Danube river runs right through the center of town, splitting it into the two sides, Buda and Pest.  The gorgeous bridges that span the river are spectacles in and of themselves, and are lovely at night.

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chain, chain, chain…

Along the Pest side of the river is a long promenade dotted with cafes and riverfront restaurants.  This is a wonderful way to wind down and watch as the lights transform this city into something even more fantastical.  Budapest at night is something else.

Venhajo-Etterem restaurant is located on a converted steamboat and has direct views of the castle.  Dubarry is also an amazing dining experience, if the weather permits you must sit outside in the white linen bistro tables.  Both restaurants serve traditional Hungarian fare of which I cannot get enough.

Walking along the river front will afford you the most spectacular views, the low light of early evening is the perfect time to snap a photo of the Buda Castle.

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Unfortunately, I only spent a very limited amount of time in this wonderful city, and a lot of it was spent with family (yes, unexpectedly have family here), so I didn’t have a chance to visit the thermal hot springs. This is a must when you visit. The Romans were originally drawn to this area for the touted benefits of these mineral water pools. Of course, the Turks came through and built Turkish baths, some of which are still in use. The Szécheny Baths are a grand structure on the Pest side of town that has many baths.  Guess I know where I’m headed next time…

have a great weekend!

4 tres magnifique days in Paris

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There are not enough adjectives to describe the wonder of Paris.  No one needs a guide to this city, there are a million ways to enjoy it, and the little discoveries down every alleyway are what makes this place special.  You don’t need a ton of money, you don’t even need to see any of the popular tourist attractions.  You could walk around for days and not spend one cent and be content.  It’s all splendor.  The air is different when you arrive in this city of light and magic.  You feel different, you get a new lease on life– nouvelle joie de vivre.

I’ve been all over the world, and there is no city that causes my heart to take flight like Paris.  No city that comes close in terms of architecture and art and food.  It’s the ultimate muse for any travel fantasy, it puts the lust in wanderlust.  There’s a romanticism that cannot be recreated anywhere else; it’s no wonder that Paris salons attracted the best in art and literature to a bohemian lifestyle in the capital city.

To get a true sense of the city, you have to at least spend 4-5 days here.  My first visit more than a decade ago lasted for almost two weeks.  I saw the entire city as a 16 year old, and even though we did not have smart phones back in the dark ages (le horreur), I’ll never forget the moments during that trip.  It started my love affair with France and gets reignited every time I come back. C’est magnifique.

la vie en rose

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day trip to Heidelberg

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Heidelberg is one of Germany’s classic cities and is it’s original college town.  Home to Heidelberg University, Germany’s oldest institute of higher learning, this postcard of a city sits on the banks of the Neckar River.  About a quarter of its residents are students, so it’s a young, lively place, with several areas in the city to meet up and hang out with friends.

The city is 50 miles south of Frankfurt, so I traveled by train from the airport.  You don’t realize how large of a country Germany is until you travel through its countryside.  Vast would be an understatement.

I was in town for my German cousin’s wedding.  Having met his wife while in school, Heidelberg was the perfect location to celebrate their union.  The best thing about having European family is getting to travel in their countries.  For real.

The old town of Heidelberg lies on the south bank of the river.  The Kornmarkt plaza is the central meeting area, where there’s souvenir shops and farmer’s markets.  It is a part of the Main Street, a mile long pedestrian drag lined with boutiques and every type of ethnic cuisine possible.

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The castle on a hill (shout out Ed Sheeran) is the main event in this city.  The Heidelberg Castle ruins sit up above the river, it’s Renaissance style facade having been damaged by fires and lightning over the centuries.  It’s still quite formidable and impressive.

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If you see one thing in this city, you have to see these ruins.  If not for the historical relevance, but for the gorgeous view from its grounds.  Take the Bergbahnen funicular directly from Kornmarkt to the Schloss (Castle).

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This is just breathtaking.  Old world charm.  I couldn’t even imagine going to college in a place like this, with cobblestone roads and castles just down the street.

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The German countryside literally looks like the aerial view of Charlie Bucket’s hometown in the Gene Wilder classic, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.  With its brick buildings and the Old Bridge spanning the Necktar, it’s straight out of a painting.

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Heidelberg was a prominent location for the German Romantic movement in the 1800s.  And authors like Victor Hugo and Mark Twain wrote about these hallowed ruins as well.  I mean, with a view like this, how could you not be inspired?

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The 14th century constructed (started anyway) castle is made up of a courtyard with several surrounding buildings.  There’s Gothic and Renaissance styles of architecture, which have also persisted through the French pillaging it in 1600s.

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This Schloss also boasts the world’s largest wine barrel, the Heidelberg Tun.  You can climb up to a platform on top and dance on its dance floor.  I mean, wine not?

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The apothecary museum showcases pharmacology from the Renaissance period, and is incredibly well preserved.

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just say nein

When you’re in town for events, sometimes there’s not too much time to sightsee, but try to pick at least one destination to hit.  This one was worth it for sure, just remarkable.

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