Day 19

Ljubljana

Vienna to Ljubljana is pretty far, 238 miles. (I can’t remember why we decided to do them in one trip…) BUT, it was four train rides through some of the most beautiful landscapes I’ve ever seen!

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This trip was much smoother than from Budapest to Vienna, except that we missed our last train. We only had 5 minutes, and we went to the correct train, but the wrong direction. We actually got ON the train, but thankfully, I asked the man in the next carriage if we were on the right train and he confirmed that we were NOT. So, we hurried off the train, but by the time we got to the correct platform, it was long gone. It wasn’t a huge deal though, another one came 30 minutes later, we had a couple from South Africa to keep us company, and oh yeah… this was our view!

IMG_9595When we got to Ljubljana around 4:30 PM, it was really hard not to stop and take pictures! But we needed to get to the apartment, as our host was waiting for us and we were late.

We asked our host what she recommended for dinner, and she recommended Luda, a restaurant where you can get a four course tasting menu for $35 Euro. We knew this would be a splurge, and we were hungry… so we went for it. We are SO glad we did! In addition to the four courses, we also got bread with homemade butter, and a pre-appetizer I suppose? of roasted tomatoes, yogurt, and I don’t know what other deliciousness. Oh, and we got to experience Orange Wine for the first time. It’s like white wine, but with even more crisp flavor – a perfect summer drink.

For the rest of the evening, we just sort of walked around, amazed at how lively the city was for a Thursday night. We were pretty flabbergasted. We enjoyed our walk, and wound up at a bar next to our apartment for a quick glass of wine and a beer. Then it was back to the apartment for an early-ish night, since we wanted to get to Lake Bled as early as possible in the morning, due to expected rain in the afternoon.

We didn’t get going as early as we’d hoped, because when we got back to the apartment, a lovely summer thunder and lighting storm had started. We just wanted to sit on the balcony and enjoy the storm. We propped Bartley up on a pillow on the patio table (what a prince!) and drank wine (courtesy for our awesome host) and took in the rain and lightning. It was really quite magical.

 

 

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Day 18

Our train was scheduled to leave for Vienna at 8:40. At around 7:40, we noticed that it would be leaving from Keleti train station, not Nyugati. This made things extra stressful, and we were already running late. So, we decided to take a taxi. We got to Keleti at around 8:25, thinking were good to go. No. There was a super long line getting tickets – we couldn’t use the kiosks for international travel AND the tickets ended up being way more expensive than we thought they would be at 21,000 HUF – about $75 to go 2.5 hours. OUCH.

Don’t worry. It get’s worse. We were running to our train just in the nic of time. Bartley wasn’t even in his travel kennel yet. We were sweating. The train was PACKED. The Boyfriend had to search and search for places for all of our luggage, but we did finally find a place for everything, and miraculously, two seats together.

Or so we thought. Until about 30 minutes later, when a lovely, elderly Spanish-speaking couple kindly told us that, actually, the seats were reserved for them. By the way, there was no way (as far as The Boyfriend and I could tell) to know that the seats were reserved ahead of time. Of course we could tell by looking at their tickets, so we had no choice but to vacate the seats… and go where?

That’s right, standing room only. We went to the space in between train cars, because that’s what was left. For $75. To go 2.5 hours. When the ticket controller came by, we asked him what the deal was.  How can we not be guaranteed a seat if we bought a ticket? And he said basically, if you don’t reserve a seat, you are guaranteed the ride, not the seat. Thus far, we’ve just been lucky.

Thankfully, this was only our situation for another 30 minutes. Then, we were able to find seats further in the back, in the carriage section of the train.

We thought the “excitement” was over. Nope. When we arrived in Vienna at 11:19, we knew we were on a bit of a time crunch to get to our Airbnb, because the host had graciously agreed to let us check in early IF we could get there at exactly 12:00 PM. We decided we’d better take a taxi, because public transportation showed a 40 minute estimated travel time, and we didn’t want to risk running late. We found a taxi easy enough, and I noted the credit card machine on his dashboard. Excellent, since we hadn’t had time to take our euros yet.

The taxi driver seemed to enjoy Bartley’s company, and The Boyfriend and I were enjoying the beautiful architecture of Vienna, but when we got to our stop and I pulled out the credit card… the taxi driver informed us that his taxi was cash only! The credit card machine I saw was actually a receipt printer. At the same time, our host was impatiently waiting at the entrance to the apartment, because this was his lunch break and it was 11:59. We needed to check in fast. So, The Boyfriend had to rush off in search of an ATM, and I had to check in our bags and get the tour of the apartment, and the taxi driver, unfortunately, was left to wait. Thankfully, he wasn’t too upset about it, and I told him we would of course pay him extra for waiting.

By the time The Boyfriend came back, I was fully checked in, we were both anxious to pay the taxi driver and get inside. What a relief it was to be in our beautiful Airbnb at noon, rather than at 3:00 or 4:00, as is typically our Airbnb check in time. We rested, showered, and mapped out our walking tour for the evening.

What I love about traveling with The Boyfriend, is that even though we “plan,” we always let ourselves get off track if we see something interesting.

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Votivkirche Church

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Sigmund Freud Park

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Burgtheater

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Michaelskirche

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Hofburg Palace

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St. Michael’s Cathedral

The last stop we made before taking Bartley back to feed him and leave him in the apartment to rest, was to get a Sacher Cake at Hotel Sacher, a recommendation from our dear friend Lucy. We basically had dessert for dinner. WOWZ.

We left the apartment a little after 9:00, en route for the Belvedere Palace. We hadn’t had enough time to go to the even more famous Schönbrunn Palace Palace, so we wanted to prioritize this Palace, that was slightly closer to our Airbnb. Unfortunately, it was completely closed, but I was able to snap this one photo through the gate so our 40 minute trek wasn’t completely unnecessary. Vienna is SO spread out! How can it be? Isn’t it an old city? It’s just HUGE, and SO spread out.

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Belvedere Castle

But, following this little mishap brings me to the BEST part of the evening. We knew we wanted to head back towards the City Hall, where so many trendy food stalls were set up earlier in the evening. Thankfully they were all still open. When we first arrived we noticed – wow, they’re playing classical music! How cool! As we continued to walk though, we noticed they were screening a recording of a live oratory – DIE SCHÖPFUNG – LA FURA DELS BAUS – against the breathtaking city hall…. for FREE. Many people were enjoying food and drink, but hundreds were seated in front of the screen hanging in front of the beautiful City Hall, fully enthralled with the music.

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It was a truly special moment for me, because it was so unexpected. It reminds me of when I went to Paris by myself in 2008. I was nervous traveling alone, but I knew I had to see the Eiffel Tower at night. I took the metro, well after dark, which surprisingly doesn’t stop directly in front of the Eiffel Tower. I was having some trouble finding it (if you can imagine!) and all at once I came out from being a tall building, and I was underneath it. It was such a surprise, so incredible, I was awestruck. This lovely opera, in this beautiful, unexpected setting, with some many appreciative listeners, affected me similarly.

We enjoyed wienerschnitzel – the traditional veal for The Boyfriend, pork for me – and Vienna Sausage, and headed on back to the apartment close to midnight, knowing we had to catch a tram at 9:58 to Ljubljana, Slovenia.

 

Day 17

Budapest

Today was not a super eventful day. We wanted to take it easy in preparation for our next excursion, which starts tomorrow.

I woke up a little earlier than The Boyfriend and went and got a bagel with Bartley. We stayed at the cafe for a while, just reading and internetting.

When I got back to the apartment, we did some cleaning and laundry because a friend of mine is staying in our apartment while we’re in Vienna and Ljubljana. Then, we decided to splurge and go get a Thai massage! It is way more affordable here, and was just a nice way to spend our last low-key day before our travels.

Afterwards, we stopped for a burger at Deep Burger, just around the corner from our apartment. Don’t go. The food was good, but the service was really bad. The one waitress was hardly ever even at the counter, and always made it seem like a huge deal if we came up to order more, and got our order wrong each time we ordered another drink. Also, at the end when we wanted to pay, she asked me to use cash even though I could clearly see a credit card machine. This was the worst food experience we’ve had throughout the whole trip.

The rest of the evening was pretty uneventful: we went home, I worked on the blog, we packed for our trip, I did yoga, Skyped with my dad, took Bartley on a long walk and HAD CHIMNEY CAKE FOR THE FIRST TIME.  Photo credit from here.

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Day 16/34 Eastern Europe Trip

Kecskemét

The place I lived nearly ten years ago when I studied at the Kodály Institute. The place I really spread my wings for the first time, when I moved across the world, not knowing a single person I’d be spending the next year with. I visited four years ago, and it was pretty emotional coming back to such a wonderful place for such a short time. Now I realize, I’ll keep coming back to visit, so there’s no reason to get too sad each time I leave. 🙂

The Boyfriend, Bart and I caught an early-ish train at 9:53. We accidentally sat in the wrong section – whoops – but were in new, correct seats within no time. The familiarity of the time spent on the train, the views, the announcements being all in Hungarian and of course the train station, were quite nostalgic.

However, there were quite a few differences. Everything was lush and green, and walkways had been redone, there were also many fountains, and flowers. There are MANY more cafes, and everything just seems to be thriving. This picture is from the walk between the park by the train station, and the main square, a place that in the past looked unkempt and even kind of unsafe.

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Our first stop was the main square.

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Next, we went to Vincent Bar, the place I spent almost all of my time, when I wasn’t at the Kodály Institue. We had to have my favorite cake!

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My favorite cake – the Mondo Di Choco. It’s full of chocolate mousse on the inside, with a dry flaky outside, and raspberries at the very center. Oh so good!

After Vincent, my Hungarian friend Iza picked us up, and we went to lunch with her and her husband. They all had traditional hungarian fish soup, but I’m not a fish fan, so I had chicken stuffed with Camembert cheese and croquettes. Yum!

After lunch, we needed to take some time to pick up their little boy, who is almost two years old. Iza speaks Hungarian and English with him, so he will be bilingual. He’s already saying a few words in both languages. So cool! Iza learned English because she got to live in New York for a couple of years when she was growing up.

After picking up the little boy, even though there wasn’t any more room in my stomach, we headed to the best ice cream shop in town, one I’d never gotten to try. And wow, it really was the best! The Boyfriend had pistachio – the best pistachio I’ve every tasted – and I had a chocolate/vanilla/cookie flavor.

We spent some more time just catching up together, and then we parted ways. The Boyfriend and I continued to walk around town some more before catching our train back to Budapest.

Once in Budapest, we rested for a while. Then we decided to try Kuplung, a place we’ve tried before, because we saw that they had half price cocktails on Mondays. Sign us up!

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However, when we got there, they didn’t have the deal because they’re so busy due to the World Cup. (That is still going on! And people are still interested in it!) We still enjoyed a drink, before moving on to Mika Kert, and then on to Szimpla.

Actually, before Szimpla, we realized we were hungry, and stopped at a pizza place across the street. We didn’t expect them to stay open for us, but they did, and it was really good. The tomato sauce was really fresh and had such a strong tomato taste, it was almost sweet! The guy and girl working even gave us some free ice cream. Win!

Then we went to Szimpla, the very first Ruin Pub, I’ve talked about it some, and mostly walked around. It is a MASSIVE place, that is obviously full of locals and tourists alike. It was full of so much energy, music and noise. We plan to dedicate a night (or two!) to enjoying it more.

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Tomorrow marks the first day of the second half of our trip! My guess is that the first half went by pretty slowly, and now it’s really going to pick up. We have one more day in Budapest before our next excursion to Vienna and then Ljubljana. It was good to rest up, but now I’m ready for more adventure!

 

Day 12-13/34 Eastern Europe Trip

Prague

I can’t help but be a little disappointed about this portion of our excursion. Perhaps it’s because I had super high expectations. Since visiting it in the Fall of 2010, I’ve claimed it’s my favorite city. However, going in the summer is way different than going in October. Let me just get the negatives out of the way – There were SO many tourists it was a bit stressful, is was rainy almost the entire time, and I accidentally read a review of our Airbnb that said, “I think I was visited by a ghost.” Not the best combination.

We got to Prague a little after 3:00, and were settled in close to 4:00. (We had a little trouble finding the tram from the metro, and some trouble finding the actual apartment.) Our host said the check out time was super flexible, because no one was checking in the day after us. We were really pumped about this, because it meant we could have a full 48 hours in Prague! Given this fact, we decided to rest for a couple of hours.

We then decided to head into “Old Town,” and we were immediately accompanied by light rain. It wasn’t too inconvenient at this point, and the clouds made for some great photos. We grabbed a cheap beer and sausage for a snack, and walked around some more, just taking in this new city.

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We wanted to have dinner at Hastalsky Dedek because of it’s traditional Czech Cuisine offerings, and it’s really good reviews. When we saw that it was totally full, and felt how totally tired we were of walking, we noticed Orange Bar across the street. It was empty, but we’d thought we’d just order a drink and wait until things slowed down at Hastalsky Dedek.

Boy, are we sooo happy we stubbled across Orange Bar. The staff was fun, the atmosphere was great, they loved Bartley (always a plus) and WOWZ the cocktails were incredible. In Austin, we would’ve spent twice as much for drinks half as good. The Boyfriend and I were laughing about how we’ve never even gone out for cocktails in Austin, because it’s just too stupid expensive there. We ended up staying there the rest of the night, and it was a very good time.

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Due to the late night of drinking, we woke up pretty late the next day. And we woke up to cold, miserable, rain. We meandered down the street to a breakfast spot, called Home Kitchen. Unfortunately, it ended up being overpriced and mediocre in quality. We were super disappointed about the rain, because we really wanted to spend our day doing this amazing hike. We were so bummed, and I had a headache that was turning out to be pretty bad, that we decided to go back to the apartment to give the weather some time to improve.

It did! Slightly. It stopped raining, but Prague didn’t sparkle like it did the last time I saw it, because it was still really overcast. We headed back to Old Town a little after 4:00, so The Boyfriend could go up to the top of the tower. I decided to wait with Bartley since I’ve done that trek before.

Afterwards, we continued towards Prague Castle! On the way, we were suprised to see a film crew filming something, and stopped to watch some of the action.

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View of 14th Century Charles Bridge, over the River Vltava.

The way up to Prague Castle is very long and steep, but it is SO worth it!

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St. Vitus Cathedral within the castle walls. The Prague Castle complex is the largest ancient castle complex in the world!

On the way down, we spotted a tiny cafe and stopped for some drinks, and the lovely view.

We went back to the apartment to rest for a bit, and then decided to try Hastalsky Dedek again. There were available seats this time! We had fried pork, bread, mustard, pickles and horseradish for an appetizer. (Sidenote: grated horseradish looks like grated cheese… but tastes quite different. I learned that the hard way, hehe)

Surprise surprise! After dinner, we wound up back at Orange Bar and ordered lots of beautiful, delicious cocktails again. 🙂

We woke up later than I would have liked the next day. We ate leftovers for breakfast, and then headed towards Charles Bridge. We saw it on our way to Prague Castle the day before, but it’s quite a different experience walking across. For one thing – tourist central! – and another, lots of musicians and street vendors. Plus, the views are somehow better as well… or maybe it was just that the sun was finally saying hello. 🙂

After crossing the bridge, we headed to Letna Park, for some exercise before our 6.5 hour train ride back to Budapest, and nice views.

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We headed back to the apartment, quickly packed and made our way to the train station. All of our train rides thus far have been EASY. We’ve gotten there early, found seats easily, and had plenty of room. This one, was not easy. We got there about 15 minutes early, and right away we could tell – this train was going to be PACKED. We got on in the wrong section (My fault) and had to move fast, with all of our luggage from cart to cart to cart, till we found what must have been the last two seats together. We were tired and sweating, Bartley was panting, and there were two noisy kids next to us.

After stopping in Brno, the train emptied out quite a bit, and it ended up being a nice chance to catch up on some reading. Bartley was able to experience his travel kennel fully extended 🙂 and after Bratislava, The Boyfriend and I had four seats with a table all to ourselves. Not too shabby.

We walked back into Budapest, happy to be back in our home away from home, where the langauge, the layout, and by now many of the locations, are familiar. We will enjoy these next four days here before Vienna and Ljubljana. 🙂

 

 

Day 10/34 Eastern Europe Trip

Bratislava

Did we feel ready to leave our home away from home? I think yes. Were we glad we’d only be way four nights? Definitely yes.

We woke up, somewhat leisurely, around 9:30. I walked Bartley and picked up a pesto/proscuitto croissant and an aprioc crossiant. We finished packing and left the house an hour before our train left, taking the short 15 minute walk to the train station. At some point during these 15 minutes, I realized I left my jacket. The cool front was still lingering, so I knew that this wasn’t ideal. However, I figured I’d survive, and I’d buy a jacket if it was really necessary.

Tensions were defintiely a little high: train travel is not really something either of us has a ton of experience with. It’s been eight years for me, and even then it was pretty much just Budapest to Kecskemet and back. However, we got our tickets easily, found our platform somewhat easily, and were able to get on the train quite ahead of time, so we were able to find seats together.

Once we were on the train, we were pretty amazed how quickly Bartley fell asleep. I think, due to those handy dandy drugs on the flight over, he now associates his travel kennel with sleep. However, train travel is much better than flying because on the train we had plenty of room to extend one side of his kennel so he could stretch out a bit more. Happy dog. 🙂

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It’s hard to see him, but he is definitely stretched out and happy.

Loved the views of the Danube during the first part of train ride, and the views of the fields later.IMG_9022IMG_9032IMG_9035

When we arrived in Bratislava at 2:07, we had about a 15 minute walk to our Airbnb, which felt much longer for The Boyfriend, who was carrying Bartley’s kennel full of Bartley’s stuff and some of our luggage.

We quickly settled in to our Airbnb, and then realized we were reallly hungry. The Boyfriend looked up a great traditional slovak restaurant about 10 minutes away from the apartment. We loved their beer brewed right there in the restaurant, the DELCIOUS food, and the great service at the restaurant.

Right away in Bratislava, we felt a slower, less metropolitan vibe than Budapest, and noticed way more smiles from our servers and passersby. 🙂  After our late lunch, we built a quick google maps walking tour using info from Google Trips – it is such a different world traveling now than it was 10 years ago!

First, we saw Michael’s Gate, a gate that was used along the south end of the town’s fortified walls in the 14th century. Of course it has seen some reconstruction, such as the dragon and statue of St. Micheal being added to the top in the 1700s, but much of it is made of the original medieval materials.

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We also saw many lovely, narrow streets, and squares, Primacial Palace, and then….

DISASTER struck. It was so bad. We were walking across a bridge, and a bug flew in my eye. This has happened to me at least twice. I feel like that’s more times than satatistics would suggest, but it’s true, and it’s awful. A huuuge bug flew into my eye, (that might be an exaggeration, but it felt huge, and that’s what matters) and it was stuck and it was moving around and I was freaking out.

Since I didn’t have a mirror, the boyfriend tried to help. No use. We started running, Bartley in tow, to find a mirror or maybe someone with a mirror. A kind stranger was able to help us out. With her mirror, I made some progress, but ultimately, The Boyfriend got it out. For me, this was the worst part of our whole trip so far.

After this terrible moment, we proceeded to Bratislava Castle. I needed a moment to calm down, and Barltey was prohibited from entering the castle (rude) so we just chilled on a bench while The Boyfriend walked up.

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We went home for a bit, to feed Bartley and put him in his kennel, and then we headed back out, even though we were pretty tired. We left the apartment around 9:30 to discover that Bratislava shuts down much earlier than Budapest on a week night! We were enjoying walking around, but one by one, all of the restaurants and bars were shutting down around us. Thankfully, we finally found an Irish pub (lol) and enjoyed a burger, fries, and Slovak style sweet crepes for dessert.

We were exhausted. We immediately went back to the apartment to sleep. 🙂

Day 09/34 Eastern Europe Trip

Budapest

The Boyfriend’s Birthday!

For The Boyfriend’s Birthday, we did a lot of things we’ve already done before. I guess we’re cultivating our “favorite spots!” Plus, we had such an adventurous day yesterday, what with all the hiking, and the next few days are going to be very busy for us, as we’re going to Bratislava, Brno and Prague. A restful day was in order.

We started at Két Szerecsen, the place we went to breakfast our first morning here, and had  a repeat of this delicious feast.

IMG_20180616_104413Then, we went went back to Kazimir Bisztró, the place with the lovely outdoor patio from a couple days ago, and worked out some train ticket stuff for our upcoming excursion.

The next item on the agenda, was something The Boyfriend found himself, and this was definitely the highlight of his whole day: we went to this place called Bors, an eclectic street food spot, with Star Wars decor, rap music, funny guys yelling in the kitchen and at the cash register, and OH delicious food. He got one of his favorites, a pulled pork sandwich, and thinks it’s the best one he’s ever had. 🙂 This place was basically designed for him.

Sidenote: While I was waiting for The Boyfriend outside of Bors, I had this adorable exchange with a little Hungarian girl:

Girl: Do you speak Hungarian?
Me: Egy kicsit.
Girl: Enligh?
Me: Igen
Girl: I like your dog. Where are you from?
Me: Texas
Girl: Oh, that’s really nice. How old is he?
Me: Twelve
Girl: …Me too!

We went on to talk more about her dog, Popi (short for Popcorn!) and her name (Kata). It was really cute.

We stopped at Karavan (the hipster food truck court) so I could get langos, and we ate together. Then, we stopped at Racskert (the hippie food truck court with a lot of vegan options) for drinks and book time.

By this point, it was about 6 PM, and we figured we’d better pack for our trip… so we headed home. It was a little stressful making decisions: did we bring Barley’s large kennel so we had the option to go places without him during our trip? Did we only bring his soft kennel, but take him everywhere on our trip, in order to save luggage space? Did we need to buy all of our train tickets in advance? We ended up opting to bring his hard kennel, not only for our own convenience, so we could leave him at the Airbnbs occasionally, but also for him. This is a LOT of walking for him, so it’s good to have the option to let him stay back and rest. As for the train tickets, we only bought the ones from Bratislava to Brno, and Brno to Prague because it was really easy to do it online.

We went to bed early, nervous and excited for our next few days.