Thursday, December 12, 2013

We Wish You A Merry Christmas From Wroclaw

There is no better time of year.  Christmas Time - It's my favorite season. There is nothing I love more than the warmth and love the holidays bring to families all around the world. This year, Chris and I are headed back to the States to be with our family and friends but first, we took in all the sights and entertainment of Wroclaw's Christmas Market.

Stop in for some mulled wine - warms you right up
Santa - looks like you have a dready beard
Now that's an elf on a shelf
 The Many Food Vendors Around the Square:

Wroclaw's 2013 Christmas Mugs - you put down a 10zl deposit with your drink - if you return the mug, you get your money back, if not - you keep the mug - I kept my mug!
The Streets Around the City are Lined with Lights:

Christmas markets line the streets of cities all around Europe. If you have not been able to experience one yet - maybe ask Santa for a trip next year. It's a great way to celebrate the Christmas season and pick up gifts for family and friends! Click here for Wiki's history of the Christmas Markets.

Travelers Tip: Most cities begin setting up their Christmas markets at the end of November. So if you don't want to be away from home for the holidays, look to book your trip earlier - you get the best of both worlds.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Budapest Bound

Since before we knew we were moving to Poland, Budapest has been on our travel list. Chris' sister Rachel used to live and work there. She danced for the world famous Hungarian National Ballet in Budapest. We are not sure why it took us so long to get there - and not sure what we thought it would be like once we were there. But I can tell you after visiting it - we will be back. We loved everything about this city. Hands down, one of the best destinations we have been to.

To start off the trip, we had a long holiday weekend and no direct flights from Wroclaw to Budapest so we rented Pinkie and headed down to Hungary. It is about a 6.5 hour drive. The ride was easy and you pass through Poland, to the Czech Republic, through Slovakia and then Hungary. Interesting enough - on the drive, my comment about Slovakia was their highway looked very American. It was cool to hit Slovakia and see Bratislava - a place that we probably never would have passed through or visited otherwise. Also interesting, Slovakia is on the Euro which many countries surrounding it are not on yet.

To go to the basics about Budapest, it actually is 1 city divided by the Danube River. On one side you have Buda and on the other side you have Pest. Our hotel was in an amazing location on the Pest side - right near the Chain Bridge which connects to the Buda side and St. Stephens Basilica (and right next door to the Four Seasons - which you know is nice). Our first night there, we met up with a local who showed us around and stopped at a few trendy places for some drinks. Their nightlife scene is awesome. Every place seems full of young professionals enjoying drinks out on the town and if you are anything like me, I love wine bars and Budapest has quite a few nice ones. Cheers to that.

View of the Pest side from the Buda side - Chain Bridge
The next day - we walked over 15 miles and saw the best of what Budapest has to offer.

We started the morning with breakfast at Cafe Alibi, followed by a stroll down Vaci Street which is lined with stores - makes for a great shopping street and ends at the Central Market Hall - Budapest's indoor market. We walked across the Liberty Bridge that is right there and on the other side - you can hike up to the Statue of Liberty  We walked about half way up to the Citadel which still gives you some amazing views of the city. Worth the hike and if you have more time, for sure go all the way to up to Statue of Liberty.
Vaci Street - Pretty street even if you don't want to shop till your drop

Central Market Hall
Crossing over to Buda side on the Liberty Bridge
Awesome mini castle built into the side of the Statue of Liberty Hill
There she is in all her glory - Statue of Liberty Budapest style. Looks not as high up as it really is.
View from Liberty Bridge overlooking the city
The hillside castle up close and personal - some homeless people claimed a portion of it - I'd say they know a thing or two about waterfront - prime real estate
Hiking up
From Citadel/Statue of Liberty area - it is then an easy stroll along the river to get to the Castle Hill area. You have two options for getting up if coming from the Chain Bridge - 1 there is a tram which is super cute, known as the Funicular Railway or you can take the stairs which lead you up to top. We opted for the stairs - lined with trees and little places to stop and take in the views.
Train to Buda Caslte
Train to Buda Castle
Taking the stairs to Buda Castle
Amazing view from hike up to Buda Castle - stopping to easy the fall breeze and the beauty of Budapest
Seriously stunning view of Chain Bridge - St. Stephens is the building peaking up in the backgound
Once you make it to the top, it is so quaint up there. It is an older part of the city and a nice place to spend some time. Lots of cute cafes and shops. A few hotels. We worked our way to Matthias Church located on Holy Trinity Square. The church is stunning with great history (note it was a mosque during the Ottoman occupation) but does have a small entrance fee. We opted to take in the outer beauty and continue next door to the Fishermen's Bastion. The architecture is amazing and even more impressive are the views from the different terraces. One suggestion would be to grab some lunch and enjoy the views if you have time to kill - lots of places to sit and enjoy yourself. Just by walking around in the Buda Castle area, you will also see - Budapest History Museum, Buzogany Tower, National Szechenyi Library, Hungarian National Gallery, National Dance Theatre, Labyrinth, Hospital in the Rock, Tower of Mary Magdalene, Museum of Military History, National Archives of Hungary and the Vienna Gate. Lots of options for whatever interests you may have. We just did the loop and exited through the Vienna Gate.

The grounds of Buda Castle area
Statue in Holy Trinity Square in front of Matthias Church
Matthias Church

Matthias Church

Fishermen's Bastion
Fishermen's Bastion

View from Fishermen's Bastion
Fishermen's Bastion
Fishermen's Bastion - great place to sit and relax - take it all in
Fishermen's Bastion

One of our favorite activities is to walk through neighborhoods - so when we exited through the Vienna Gate we wondered around and made our way to the Margit Bridge. We wanted to see the island and the bridge has a UNESCO World Hertitage Site - the view of the city.

Vienna Gate
Funky building behind in a neighborhood

A stroll through the neighborhood
View from Margit Bridge
View from bridge of Parliament
On the other side of the bridge, you will pass the Parliament which is the second largest parliament in Europe. It is stunning. You can get great views of it from around the city but worth seeing it up close too. And from there, there are a few museums around but if those don't interest  you - you will quickly find yourself at St. Stephens Basilica. We opted to pay the suggested donation - and went in. Worth it.

St. Stephens Basilica at night

St. Stephens Basilica during the day
Inside St. Stephens Basilica
Inside St. Stephens Basilica
The Dome Inside St. Stephens Basilica
Inside St. Stephens Basilica
From there, a nice walk is down Andrassy Street. On this street you will pass the famous Opera House, home to the Hungarian National Ballet. Worth going in and at least seeing the lobby but they do offer daily guided tours if you are interested. At the end of Andrassy, you will find yourself at Heroes' Square. Heroes' Square was built to celebrate the 1,000th anniversary of Hungary back in 1896 and is the entrance to a beautiful park with a castle and all. Inside the park - they have one of Budapest's most traditional thermal baths - Szechenyi Thermal Bath. We were told this was a classic bath so we had brought our bathing suites and tested it out. It was about $20 USD per person for the day. Offers unlimited access to all the different pools, soaking tubs, saunas, steam rooms. We weren't sure what to expect but it was an interesting experience to say the least. Not sure why we thought there would be less people, but it was fairly pacted. We decided to walk around - see what the inside looked like, the place is huge with tons of baths - but the smell kind of got to us so we decided to check out outside. That was cool. It was kind of like a huge heated swimming pool. We hit pretty much as the sun was setting which was really neat. We capped off the experience with some time in the sauna. Our rookie mistake was not to pack a towel - or pool shoes - so learn from us - pack your own pool shoes and towels - you will thank us later for this tip.

Inside the world famous Opera House where the Hungarian National Ballet performs
Heroes' Square
Heroes' Square
Szechenyi Thermal Bath at dusk
Szechenyi Thermal Bath at Dusk
Szechenyi Thermal Bath Inside
Beautiful Park - Half of it turns into an ice skating rink in the winter - Statue is Heroes' Square
Heroes' Square Lit Up At Night
After all that walking, sightseeing and soaking - we were hungry and approaching early evening. We swung into Paprika's which is near the park for traditional Goulash Soup to warm up and sit for a few. We then headed back down Andrassy to our hotel, picked up a bottle of wine and put our feet up for awhile. (Oh, should mention definitely needed a shower after that baths - a must - so we showered immediately hoping we didn't catch a foot fungus from the baths - good news - no fungus even a few weeks later.)

That night we were debating if we wanted to go out for drinks - we opted to go for a walk across the Chain Bridge and view Budapest lit up at night in all it's glory. We sat along the river for awhile passing time. It was perfect.
Chain Bridge at Night
Walking over the Chain Bridge

Matthias Church Lighting Up the Night
Sitting Along the River - Chain Bridge to our right - Four Seasons just on the other side and St. Stephens peaking over it
A little blurry but Parliament and Margit Bridge - along the river at night - taking it all in

Chain Bridge - pretty sure I could walk across this and never get bored of it beauty and views

Four Seasons - Maybe next time...
Castle Hill Shining Down on You
So pretty much, we saw everything you can see in one day in Budapest. It is doable but if it were up to us, we would have spent way more time here. We will be back for sure. We loved it.

Until Next Time...

 Travelers Tip:

When deciding where to stay in Budapest, we would recommend the Pest side. There are a lot of sights to see, tons of restaurants/cafes, food stores, shopping and easy to walk around. That said, on the Buda side, the Castle Hill area has some nice hotels and there are a few shops and restaurants up there. The Castle Hill area on the Buda side looks like it shuts down earlier than the Pest side which has more going on - and is easier to get around.

Also, as for now - Budapest still has their own currency so you will find things very affordable if coming from the USD or Euro - shoot even the Zloty. Pretty awesome going to the ATM/BankoMat and pulling out 40,000 cash - aka around $150. But also hard to buy something worth a couple thousand - everything looks expensive even though it's fairly priced. 

Our Two Cents: 

Budapest: Starlight Suiten Hotel: Center of Budapest - Amazing hotel - Great Price
Budapest: Innio Wine Bar: Good Food, Good Location, Good Wine - Nice atmosphere 
Budapest: Paprika: Went there for the Goulash

Budapest: Cafe Alibi: Cute Cafe for Breakfast