A Travellerspoint blog

Budapest Recap

Thursday, July 17, 2008 - Saturday, July 26, 2008

sunny 75 °F
View RTW Trip - Part I & Croatia on jhongny's travel map.

It's nice to have the time to leisurely explore a city. The first day in any city is always the most challenging because we have to figure out a new language, the money, the public transit system, the street names, etc. Once we got past that Budapest was very easy to navigate. Just a warning: we had 8 full days there so even though it's just the highlights this post is pretty long so be prepared:

We did all the touristy stuff: walk around pedestrian only streets and on Andrassy Ut (their equivalent of Fifth Avenue), took the oldest subway in Continental Europe (the yellow M1 line), Hero Square, and Castle Hill as already mentioned. There's no castle anymore, but there are still lots of medieval buildings and also offers a great view all along the Danube.
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The top of the popular funicular is also there. Best time to ride the funicular is at sunset but we ended up taking the stairs along side it instead so that Ashok can take pics from various vantage points. Because of that, we also found our way to a platform that leads to the top of the tunnel entrance that faces the Chain Bridge. IMG_2310.jpg
It's not meant for tour groups because to get there you have to climb through overgrown bushes and a wire fence, but lots of couples and young people go there with some wine or beer (Budapest has no open container law) to watch the sunset or the bridge lit up.
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We went to Castle Hill several times so Ashok can take pictures at various times. It turned out to be a good thing because one night we saw that there was a festival on the bridge. It's something they do every weekend during the summer. In addition to the usual crafts and food stands, there were a couple of bands playing and a cool photography exhibit. There was one food stall with huge vats cooking Hungarian food that smelled so good but we had already had dinner so we went back the next day just to try it. The food was expensive but very tasty.

However, the best food we had was the meat stew at the Fakanal restaurant at the Central Market. They called it Goulash stew (as opposed to Goulash soup which everyone asks for), but I think it's actually called Porkolt and they just called it Goulash because that's what all tourists know. The meat was tender and the sauce so rich and flavorful... quite memorable.

The cloud from Czech Rep followed us and we had a couple of rainy days. On one of those days we went to the Terror House.
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It's a museum located in a building that was the headquarters of the secret police during both the Nazi occupation and the Communist era. It was a sobering experience as we saw pictures of the chain bridge under water, and of tanks rolling through the same streets we just walked through. The Jews in this region suffered the same fate during the Nazi era as others and I knew about that, but seeing film footage of a bulldozer pushing heaps of dead people into a pit is just disturbing. What I didn't realize was what the Hungarians suffered during Communist rule. The Russians treated the people of these small satellite countries as dispensable labor and would just set random quotas for the local government to fill and sent the people to Siberia or other places to do hard labor with very little food and horrible living conditions. Sometimes to fill the quota people would just get pulled off the streets at random. It's a depressing experience but I would still recommend it as it provides some perspective for the local culture.

After becoming a Republic, the communist statues were all removed and some of them were taken to Szobor Park (Monument or Statue Park). After Terror House it was only appropriate to go to the park. It takes a while to get to and is not really worth it but there was an interesting exhibit where they showed footage of training videos shot by th secret police to train new recruits on how to follow people, raid people's homes, etc. Scary thought.. but interesting.

On a happier note, one of the highlights of our time there is at the Szechenyi Furdo (I'm spelling these words without the accents above the letters but it would take me forever to figure out how to do it). This is the biggest outdoor thermal bath house in the city, and is located in the Varosliget Park which is like their Central Park. Think big outdoor swimming pools but in a very grand setting.
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In the middle of one of the pools is a circular current pool so you can ride along and go in circles (look in the middle of the picture). It's so much fun to ride!
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The best part was that a thunderstorm passed through when we got into the water. Since we were already wet we just stayed in the pool as the raindrops fell on us. This is definitely not something that happens everyday!

We also went to the other famous thermal pool, Gellert Furdo (Furdo means bathhouse) which is mostly indoors. It's not just because of the thunderstorm experience but I think the Szechenyi bathhouse has a better setting. One thing that is similar at both bathhouses is the way they are run. Buying tickets and finding the locker room is an experience in itself... not necessarily a good one, but an experience. It's the communist era showing through.. you have these old stocky women barking orders at you, there are no directions and you wander thru these circular hallways that all look the same with many other tourists that look as lost as you until one of the ones that got there earlier takes pity on you and explains the system to you.

Lastly, a funny tidbit: because our hotel charged a lot for wireless, looking for free wi-fi connection became one of our past times. Here's a picture of Ashok sitting in a popular square with my laptop (Jen, this is where I was IM you):
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In all, Budapest is one of my favorites so far and I would highly recommend it. I'd like to come back, preferably when we have an income, and try out some of the restaurants, the night life, and the shopping (that Ashok did not miss) that I didn't get to do this time.

Posted by jhongny 08:23 Archived in Hungary Tagged tips_and_tricks Comments (2)

Enough of cities... it's time for the beach!

sunny
View RTW Trip - Part I & Croatia on jhongny's travel map.

After 10 days (10 days!) in Budapest, we're heading out this morning to the coast of Croatia. Ashok scored a cheap flight from Bratislava to Split, Croatia (finally our flexible schedule gets us something) which is good, because we're splurging big time in Croatia. We decided to book a 7-day boat trip island hopping in Croatia (Hvar, Elifiti Islands, and others I don't remember the name to).

Quick note on Budapest though: After 3 nights on the Botel, modern conveniences and the need for space won over and we moved to a regular hotel on land. The beer is not as cheap as in Czech but we still had our fill. Other than that, we love it here. It's a great city, and we're glad we decided to take our time here. It's beautiful, yet it has a gritty underside so everything is not perfectly pretty like Paris. There are a few bath houses here (more like swimming pools here) so of course we enjoyed those. Unfoturnately, I gotta run, so I will have to give more details and upload pictures next time which will be after our boat trip (we won't have internet access on the boat).

Stay tuned....

Posted by jhongny 22:29 Archived in Hungary Comments (2)

Budapest, Hungary

Friday, 7/18/08

sunny 80 °F
View RTW Trip - Part I & Croatia on jhongny's travel map.

Sorry it's taken a while to update my blog, but in Trebic the wi-fi didn't work, and although the staff let us use their computer we've had to use that time to research places to stay for the next leg of our trip (takes a lot more time when you're on a budget and it's high season here, and the US$ is weak). What I'm doing now is write my blog offline and post them when I get time.

We are now in Budapest, Hungary, a couple of days earlier than anticipated. Originally we were going to stop in Bratislava, Slovakia, for a couple of days, but our experience upon arrival both with the rude manager at the hotel (more like a hostel) and the rude waiter at the train station cafe were so bad that we decided to just get on the next train to Budapest.... and it was one of the best decisions we made. Instead of not sleeping in some nasty room, we're now in a room on a boat on the Danube (THE Danube that I've heard about since I was a kid) with a view of Castle Hill in the distance. Today we walked around Castle Hill where you can get a great view of the Danube an the Pest side of Budapest (one of the first things you learn about Budapest is that it's made up of 2 areas across the river from each other, Buda and Pest. Kind of like the first time visitors to New York learn that the NY they know about is only one of 5 boroughs).

Here's a picture of our Botel (that's what they call them... I didn't make it up):
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Here's the view of the Danube from the botel:
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And here's a picture of us enjoying the sun from the deck (you can't see the beer but they're there):
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This city kind of reminds me of Paris, not because they look alike, but similar in that there are lots of beautiful buildings spread out around the city making it a great place to wonder around. The food is supposed to be very good, and I'm also excited about the thermal baths. We'll be in Hungary for over a week so I will have more on this place. For now, it's time to go to bed.

Posted by jhongny 15:36 Archived in Hungary Tagged round_the_world Comments (3)

More Czech Please

Trebic and Telc, 7/15/08 - 7/17/08

semi-overcast 72 °F
View RTW Trip - Part I & Croatia & Czech Republic on jhongny's travel map.

Here's a map of the places we visited in Czech in case you're like me and had no idea where they were before this trip:

Marianske Lazne is cool, but not easy to get in/out of. Getting to Trebic involved a 1.5 hr bus ride, then a 5+ hr train ride. When we got on the train, the conductor came by and said a bunch of stuff in Czech. I naively thought he said he was going to tell us before our stop came up, but Ashok was worried because he heard the word “bus”. He was right. About 1 hr into the train ride, the conductor came by and told us we had to get off and get on a bus to go to a different train station that turned out to be in a city about an hour away. Apparently this is the season for track maintenance - lucky us. On the brighter side, the Czech countryside is very pretty, with gently rolling hills that's alternately green and gold (barley? wheat? it doesn't matter) so it was a scenic ride.

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Trebic is a very small town (even smaller than ML) and is known for one of the best preserved Jewish settlements in Europe (a UNESCO World Heritage site).
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Even though it's restored now and looks nice in the picture, it's actually not a pretty history... the Jewish town is wedged in between the river and the rocky hill and therefore everything is squeezed into the small area, and the Christian town is across the river. It's not there anymore, but there used to be a gate that is locked up on weekends and holidays. Sadly, during WWII less than 5% of the Jews survived, and even though it has been restored Jews don't live there any more. We decided to stay overnight in the Jewish quarter to experience what it was like (small quarters, low ceilings). It's so small that we pretty much walked around the area in a couple of hours.

The next day we took the bus to Telc (an hour away), another UNESCO World Heritage Site. This time it's because of the beautiful Romanesque building facades in the main square. Lonely Planet claimed it was the most beautiful square in Czech and I would have to agree.
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It's again a very small town and there's not much more than the main square with a chateau on one end, but it's so pretty that it is nice just to stroll around or sit in one of the cafes and relax. In hind sight we should have stayed overnight in Telc and taken a day trip to Trebic but either way glad we got to see both.

Even though there were more places on our list, after a week and a half, we both feel it's time to leave Czech and see some other countries.

Posted by jhongny 15:28 Archived in Czech Republic Comments (0)

The adventure starts...

Marianske Lazne, 7/11/08 - 7/14/08

rain
View RTW Trip - Part I & Czech Republic on jhongny's travel map.

We left Prague on Friday, 7/11, which was when the adventure really started. Being a fairly international city, Prague was actully pretty easy to get around. Not so once you leave Prague and go into the smaller towns of Czech. Our first stop outside of Prague is Marianske Lazne (aka Marienbad), on the western side of Czech close to the German border. Ashok had read about it somewhere, but it was not listed in my Eastern European Lonely Planet guide so we had no additional information or map of the town (minor detail)... not good when the bus station is not in town but in an area that looked pretty abandoned. Ashok called the hotel to get directions but the woman only spoke German and Russian... Great! Luckily we had a phrase book (a last minute purchase that has come in very handy) so somehow Ashok was able to find out from a local which tram to take. The tram driver was also very helpful and told us when we got to our stop and even pointed out our hotel. People here are more helpful.... even if they are a bit gruff and you're not sure at first if they're telling you off but then you realize they're actually helping you out.

Marianske Lazne was developed as a spa town for the rich in the late 1800's to take advantage of the surrounding cold mineral springs which, apparently, can cure almost everything. The main part of town still looks as grand as it did back then:
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including the nicely landscaped park complete with a singing fountain (it's choreographed to classical music):
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and an old-style colonnade
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I feel like we've been transported back in time, and should be dressed like Jane Austen characters and stroll around with a parasol and my hand on Ashok's arm except, of course, we would be speaking German, not English.

Unfortunately for us, the weather decided not to cooperate and rained for the next 2 days. We made the best of it and went to the 130 years royal bath house (where supposedly many famous people, incuding King Edward VII went). The place was really cool and we did feel like royalty there.
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The second day we took a day trip to nearby Plzen to visit the Pilsner Urquell brewery (home of the original Pilsner beer). Finding the brewery was like an Amazing Race moment (I'll spare you the details) but it all ended well and we got there in time to make the last English tour. Of the brewery tours that I've been on (quite a few by now for some reason.. hmmm), this is one of the better ones because you actually see the real brewery not just a visitor center where the process has been recreated like a theme park. The most interesting part was the underground tunnel where they used to store beer, and still use to let the beer ferment. The fresh, unfiltered beer tasted really good too (sorry ran out of battery on my camera by then but trust me it was good).
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Posted by jhongny 15:07 Archived in Czech Republic Tagged round_the_world Comments (2)

First Stop, Prague

Getting settled into our new life

overcast 70 °F
View RTW Trip - Part I & Czech Republic on jhongny's travel map.

Almost a week into the trip and we're starting to adapt to our new lifestyle. The past few days have been somewhat trial and error and of course just adjusting to jetlag, being in a foreign country, etc. One thing that we weren't prepared for is the lack of affordable access to the internet (affordable based on our budget anyway). That's not only affected our ability to check emails and update my blog, but also our ability to research and plan out our trip. We're starting to figure out how to find the cheap internet cafes and how to work it into our schedule so we don't waste the best times of the day on the computer. Other than that, it's been quite easy to get used to not working although it still feels more like a vacation than a 10-month hiatus. I know I had doubts before, but already it's worth all the prep work to be here.

Prague was a great place for us to start the trip. It's got beautiful architecture and because it's surrounded by hills you get great views of the city from lots of places. It's definitely cosmopolitan, but at the same time it's also very chill.... a good break from stressful New York. By NY standards, Prague is not expensive. However, on our budget it is on the pricey side. Not to worry – we are still eating (as much as we love food we would not give that up!)- just not in the finer restaurants. We've still been able to find some good food. Czech food is pretty much all about meat – steak, roast pork (so tender! yum!).... however, after 2 days of just meat and potatoes we managed to find a good vegetarian restaurant that has unique décor. As I get more organized I will post separately the list of places so it's easier to find as reference. Another good thing about Prague is that beer is cheap – only $2.50 for .5liter (approx. 1 pint) – how can you not love that! Some may find this surprising (and my German friends may disagree), but Czechs consume more beer than any other country in the world (source NY Times - the Dannon legal team has drilled it into me to state my source).
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The one surprise for us is that people here are not very nice or helpful, especially to tourists. We've had waiters that avoid eye contact and don't want to serve/ seat you (at the U Zlateho Tygra, a traditional Prague pub where President Havel took President Clinton according to Lonely Planet). We've also gotten yelled at by the woman at the train station information booth because we had questions on train times (go figure). Maybe it's because Czech was part of the Eastern block for so long? To be fair, we've run into some very nice and helpful people, but overall I think the Czechs don't like foreigners.

One more funny tidbit – the escalators at the metro stations are extra long and steep, and go at super speed. Let's just say it was not fun for Ashok who has a fear of heights. Even with that, people will just push the strollers onto the escalator... very different from the US where that would not be allowed, or from Japan and Taiwan where the train/airport staff actually followed us because we took our bags down the escalator.
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Here are some pictures of us sightseeing around Prague:

View of the Prague Castle (one of the main sights in Prague):
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View of Prague from the Castle:
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Ashok in front of the Astronomical Clock in Old Town:
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Posted by jhongny 06:31 Archived in Czech Republic Comments (3)

Our itinerary & How to stay in touch

Updated with new dates on 7/20/08

all seasons in one day 0 °F
View RTW Trip - Part I & Xinjiang & RTW Trip - Part II & Croatia & Czech Republic on jhongny's travel map.

Many of you have asked so here's our itinerary so far. It's not very planned out, partly because we've not had time, and partly because we are tired of being on a schedule, and want to have the flexibility to change our schedules on a whim. I will be updating it as we go. In the meantime, if you know of any good places in any of these regions please let us know.

Oh, and of course if you can meet up with us along the way let us know as well!

To avoid mass emails, I won't be sending out an email each time I update this blog. If you want to be notified each time I post a new entry, I think allyou click on the "subscribe" link on the page and enter your email address.

Part I:

7/8 – 7/11 Prague
7/12-7/14 Marianske Lazne with day trip to Plzen
7/15-7/16 Trebic (day trip to Telc)

(dates are approximate)
7/17-7/26 Budapest & day trip somewhere
7/26-8/5 Croatia (Split, Hvar Island, Dubrovnik)
8/5-8/9 Montenegro (Kotor, Budva)
8/10-8/14 Tallin, Estonia (and maybe sidetrips)
8/14-8/17 Riga, Latvia
8/17-8/20 Villnius, Lithuania
8/21-8/29 Poland (Warsaw, Krakow, Auschwitz)
8/30-9/2 Extra days.. will either add days to places or go somewhere new
9/3 Back to Prague
9/4 Fly out Prague back to NY for 3 wks

Part II of the trip
9/23: NYC to S. Korea with 1 overnight stay (just enough to see DMZ)
9/25: Mongolia for about a week

October: China

Nov/mid-Dec: Southeast Asia
- Thailand
- Vietnam
- Laos
- Philippines
- Indonesia

Dec/mid-Feb: India

2/13: Egypt, Jordan, Turkey (Istanbul)
3/8: Morrocco, Tunisa
3/22: South America (Brazil, Argentina, Chile)
4/23: Curacao, Netherlands Antilles
5/2: back to NYC and the end of the world tour

Posted by jhongny 04:53 Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Ready or not, here we come!


View RTW Trip - Part I & Czech Republic on jhongny's travel map.

And we're OFF! For me, the start, and one of the highlights, of a trip (non-business), is the moment the plane takes off. At that point, everything that needs to be taken care of before you leave are either done, or there's nothing you can do about them anyway.... there's no more flight delays... all that's left to do is to relax and think about the fun adventure ahead.

After weeks of packing, moving, finding space to fit everything, packing for the trip, saying good-byes, and numerous to-do's before we go, we are finally on the road. We were really hoping to have a day or two of nice quiet time in NY/ NJ, but unfortunately we were busy up till the last hour. It was a little sad to leave our apartment (our first home!) knowing we won't see it for a whole year. It was also weird to not have a home and to have to pack up EVERYTHING. It was tough to limit what we bring with us on the trip to stay under the 50lb limit but at the same time have what we're going to need for the next 2 months (we're still worried that our bags are too big, but there's nothing we can do about it now). I know it's worth it, but it is crazy that we've turned our lives upside down to take this trip.

Posted by jhongny 04:50 Comments (0)

Set up blog... check!

Only a hundred more things left to do before we leave

Thanks for visiting this site! Ashok and I are busy tieing up loose ends before we leave for our big trip so I've only had time to set up the blog. I promise there will be more interesting entries on this blog once we're on the road. Of course that's not too hard to do at this point (as one NYU professor said at my b-school graduation: set low expectations and then exceed them!).

Countdown to the trip:
6/27: Jean last day at Dannon (wow! can't believe I'm actually leaving!)
6/28-29: pack and move out of apartment to Ashok's sister's house in Jersey
6/30: Ashok's last day at Akamai
7/1-7/6: last minute packing... and probably a good idea to start narrowing down which cities we want to visit instead of just having a idea of which countries we want to go to
7/7: Take off for Prague!

Please check back after 7/1 and I'll have our itinerary listed. In the meantime, if you have any suggestions for places to go please let us know.

Posted by jhongny 14:38 Comments (1)

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