weekend in krakow

When I was in fourth grade, one of the books required for reading was called The Trumpeter of Krakow.  This was a tale of persecution, crystals and alchemy, a haunting brass pronouncement, and arson.  Things that every child should learn about.

Flash forward some years, who’d have thunk I’d be standing in the middle of Pope John Paul II’s hometown, staring at that very tower where the Trumpeter was murdered?

Not 10 year old me, that’s for sure.

Poland is one of those former Eastern Bloc countries that typically flies under the radar, which I guess is a good thing for them because it’s not yet completely overrun by tourists.  I really loved visiting it, from the metropolitan and bustling capital Warsaw to the low key and casual Krakow.  Of course, there is a very storied history of this country because of role as the incendiary event of WWII (when the Germans invaded) which then lead to them being occupied by USSR from then until the end of the Cold War in 1989.  Lots of history.  Don’t sleep on Poland, I guarantee you it will be one of Europe’s must visit destinations in the next few years.

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day trippin’ dubrovnik: world cup edition

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GOOOOAAALLLL! It’s going to be Croatia vs France in the World Cup Finals on Sunday, so what better way to prepare for what is going to undoubtedly be a nailbiter, then to highlight the two nations?  I’ve already written extensively about the best of Paris, France, but congratulations to Croatia for making it to their first ever FIFA final!  You kinda have to root for the underdog, right?  I’m just happy I get to write about one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever visited, Dubrovnik, Croatia.

I visited Dubrovnik a really long time ago.  Like, we’re talking, I barely had my driver’s license/independence, and they barely had theirs.  It’s obviously changed quite a bit.  Back then, being in Dubrovnik was so memorable because it was a relatively unbothered by tourism (except cruise ships, which is how I came to visit).  Croatia had only declared independence from the former Yugoslavia republic in 1991, gaining that right in 1995 after winning their war.  I visited 5 years later, so the nation was a baby.

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mt srd then…scroll down for mt srd now

But babies grow up…and turn into popular teenagers.

Like really popular…instagram-influencer-status teenagers.  Seems like it is the hot destination of the moment, and I’m glad it’s getting its day in the limelight.  There’s a bustling tourism trade, especially due to its location as a jewel on the Adriatic Sea.  The coastline is one of the most gorgeous you will see, with its orange rooftops and imposing fortresses.  I guess some really popular TV show filmed there too — thrones something or other (wink wink), and that draws a lot of people, too.

As it has been some years, I’ve enlisted the help of my pal (and fellow traveling doc) BD, who has graciously let me use some of his photos and given me some updated tips.

it’s a nice day for a red wedding…

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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!

24 hours in Prague

Prague is probably the most popular destination in Central Europe.  It’s a great city filled with spectacular vistas and bridges and churches.  It’s the city of a hundred spires, packed to the brim with Medieval churches, a castle, cobblestone paths.  It’s very walkable, and the beer is cheaper than water (it basically is water?) .   It’s a european city, so there’s also a thriving red light district and sex museums–fun for everyone, question mark.  What do you expect, it was the capital of Bohemia at one point.

Praha is a classic destination, with art, culture and architecture abound.  I spent a much too short 24 hours here, and while there are other cities I prefer, this is certain a must see for anyone traipsing around Europe looking for a good time.

The devil wears praha

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