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Archive for the ‘Europe’ Category

One year ago today, we boarded a plane and set off to make our dream of traveling around the world a reality. We are happy to report that we are still alive and well. Today we are wondering, how did this year go by so quickly?! But in all reality, when we revisit the past year in detail, we realize just how much we have experienced.

Our ‘Year in Review’ includes two photos from every country we have visited in the past year. One selected by Mike and one selected by Amy.  This was an insanely difficult task, since we have over 12,000 photos now! Some photos are memories of a favorite place we visited, while others symbolize our mindset at that point in time, and a few are just pictures that we really love. We hope you enjoy and thanks for reading our ramblings for the past year; there is still more to come!

Spain

Mike's Photo - Spain

Mike’s Pick – La Sagrada Familia – Barcelona, Spain

This place is unlike any other church in the world. Our visit to el Templo de la Sagrada Familia took place on the first full day of our journey and really started things off with a bang! I can’t wait to return to Barcelona to see it again when construction is completed after 2026.

Amy's Pick - The Alhambra - Granada, Spain

Amy’s Pick – La Alhambra – Granada, Spain

When we stepped off the train in Granada, we were shocked with an unexpected bitter cold. Despite the below freezing temperatures we had an incredible day exploring La Alhambra, one of the most stunning palaces I have ever visited.

Portugal

Mike's Pick - Porto, Portugal

Mike’s Pick – Port Wine Boats on the Douro River – Oporto, Portugal

We try not to talk about work too much on our trip, but when you work in hospitality and tourism, a RTW trip is filled with very relevant learning opportunities. I have an all new appreciation for port wine after visiting several cellars in Vila Nova de Gaia.

Amy's Pick - Lagos, Portugal

Amy’s Pick – Lagos, Portugal

Lagos was the first of many improvised stops of our trip. To be honest we had never heard of it before, but it was along our bus route from Spain to Lisboa, so we stopped through for a few days. I will always remember Lagos with special sentiment because in my mind it symbolizes spontaneity.

Morocco

Mike's Pick - Our Riad - Marrakech, Morocco

Mike’s Pick – Our Riad – Marrakech, Morocco

Sipping mint tea in the refuge of our riad was one of the most relaxing experiences of our trip. I loved starting and ending our days sitting right here!

Amy's Pick - Colorful Tiles - Marrakech, Morocco

Amy’s Pick – Bahia Palace – Marrakech, Morocco

The colorful and intricate tiles in Morocco are unbelievably eye-catching. I would love to use tiles like these to decorate our house someday.

Denmark

Mike's Pick - Mike & Nils - Osted, Denmark

Mike’s Pick – Mike & Nils – Osted, Denmark

Nils (Amy’s host dad from her study abroad experience in 2006) was about as excited for our trip as we were. He and I took many trips “around the world” using these fun shot glasses printed with a world maps.

Amy's Pick - Candles - Osted, Denmark

Amy’s Pick – Candles – Osted, Denmark

These candles represent Danish hygge to me; it is a difficult word to translate into English, but generally embodies spending quality time with family & friends while being cozy, content and relaxed. There was plenty of hygge to go around during our visit with my host family.

Czech Republic

Mike's Pick - Hockey Game - České Budějovice, Czech Republic

Mike’s Pick – Hockey Game – České Budějovice, Czech Republic

During our time in České Budějovice, I had a high fever and terrible case of the flu. I spent three whole days  in bed and even considered going to the hospital, but still but couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see a Czech hockey play-off game.

Amy's Pick - View from Castle - Český Krumlov, Czech Republic

Amy’s Pick – View from Castle – Český Krumlov, Czech Republic

Český Krumlov is one of those magical places that makes you feel like you’re living in a fairytale. I love this photo because it captures the European-style architecture and lazy river that winds through the town.

Austria

Mike's Pick - Naschmark - Vienna, Austria

Mike’s Pick – Naschmarkt – Vienna, Austria

A major theme of our blog over the past year has been food. In Vienna, the Naschmarkt is one of the best places to take a stroll, grab a bite, have a beer, and see some really great artisan food and crafts.  We were in Vienna for less than 48 hours, but made two trips to the Naschmarkt during our time there.

Amy's Pick - Coin exchange at hostel - Vienna, Austria

Amy’s Pick – Coin exchange at hostel – Vienna, Austria

We only spent two days in Austria, using Vienna as a stopover for a train connection, however we found this clever coin exchange at our hostel. This photo reminds me of a game we play – whenever we leave a country, we try to use up all of the bills and coins that we have on hand, whether it be buying a piece of candy at a shop or giving it to a fellow traveler.

Hungary

Mike's Pick - Széchenyi Fürdő - Budapest, Hungary

Mike’s Pick – Széchenyi Fürdő – Budapest, Hungary

Whenever I arrive in a new city and hear about hot springs, thermal baths, or the like I get really excited. Who doesn’t like a nice soak? After a few months of backpacking under our belts, a day relaxing in these amazing public baths was just what the doctor ordered.

Amy's Pick - View from Castle - Budapest, Hungary

Amy’s Pick – View from the Castle – Budapest, Hungary

Budapest is one of my favorite European cities. I love how the river splits it into the Buda side and the Pest side. This day we walked almost 14 miles, exploring both sides of the city and growing our appreciation for how massive, yet accessible, it is.

Croatia

Mike's Pick - Old Town - Dubrovnik, Croatia

Mike’s Pick – Old Town – Dubrovnik, Croatia

After the Bed Bug fiasco was behind us, we really enjoyed the gorgeous walled city of Dubrovnik. I felt like I had been transported back in time.

Amy's Pick - Hvar Island, Croatia

Amy’s Pick – View from the Castle – Hvar Island, Croatia

This is my favorite self-photo of our entire trip. Somehow it captured Mike at the split second he was sneezing!

Bosnia

Mike's Pick - Stari Most - Mostar, Bosnia

Mike’s Pick – Stari Most – Mostar, Bosnia

When most people think of Bosnia, they think of the war. Few realize what an beautiful place it really is. The iconic bridge of Mostar was destroyed by bombs, but it has since been rebuilt and serves as a symbol of a country trying to heal.

Amy's Pick - War Tunnel Tour - Sarajevo, Bosnia

Amy’s Pick – War Tunnel Tour – Sarajevo, Bosnia

The Bosnian War is the first war I remember as a child, so visiting Sarajevo was very emotional. We took a tour with this man who lived through the war, and it was one of the most inspirational and educational things I did in the past year of traveling.

Turkey

Mike's Pick - Cave Church - Cappadocia, Turkey

Mike’s Pick – Cave Church – Cappadocia, Turkey

Our first day of exploring in Cappadocia included the Göreme Open Air Museum and its ancient churches and dwellings. Built by early Christians fleeing persecution, it is arguably the “birthplace” of the entire religion. Visiting was a very spiritual experience for me.

Amy's Pick - Blue Mosque - Istanbul, Turkey

Amy’s Pick – Blue Mosque – Istanbul, Turkey

The mosques of Istanbul are a sight to behold. Spending a few weeks in Istanbul taught me so much about Islam. Visiting Istanbul helped me to understand that it is possible for traditionalists, modernists, and everyone in between to coexist without surrendering their cultural identity.

China

Mike's Pick - Food Stand - Shanghai, China

Mike’s Pick – Food Stand – Shanghai, China

For me, one of the coolest parts of traveling is snacking my way through a city. We ate these rice dumplings almost every morning in Shanghai. Some cities in the US have food carts/trucks, but nothing quite compares to the street food scene in Asia. Forget what the State Department tells you; my advice, when you travel abroad EAT STREET FOOD!!!

Amy's Pick - Rice Terraces - Dazhai, China

Amy’s Pick – Rice Terraces – Dazhai, China

In the midst of China’s traffic jams, overpopulation, pollution, and noise, the rice terraces of Dazhai were the perfect escape for a few days of peace. I love this picture because we spent nearly an hour getting this shot with both of us in the air.

Hong Kong

Mike's Pick - View from Victoria Peak - Hong Kong

Mike’s Pick – View from Victoria Peak – Hong Kong

It may seem like a concrete jungle, but Hong Kong actually has some really great hikes, beaches, and islands. I really enjoyed our hike around Victoria Peak which ended with this panoramic view of the city.

Amy's Pick - Cheung Chau Island, Hong Kong

Amy’s Pick – Cheung Chau Island – Hong Kong

The stark contrast between landscapes in Hong Kong surprised me: a mega city that also has remote wilderness islands. We spent the day at the beach and hiking the perimeter of Cheung Chau island.

South Korea

Mike's Pick - Haeundae Sand Festival - Busan, South Korea

Mike’s Pick – Haeundae Sand Festival – Busan, South Korea

There aren’t a lot of beaches in Colorado; so it’s not big surprise that I had never seen sand art like this before. These artists are ridiculously good.

Amy's Pick - Sushi Dinner - Busan, South Korea

Amy’s Pick – Sushi Dinner – Busan, South Korea

We had a hard time fitting this sushi dinner into one photograph! It included everything from raw sea squirt to mud eel. Even though we shared no common language with the couple sitting next to us, they walked us through each dish and how to eat it properly.

Japan

Mike's Pick - Restaurant - Tokyo, Japan

Mike’s Pick – Restaurant – Tokyo, Japan

When we sat down and ordered, we had no idea what we were about to eat. We just got what everyone else was having. I like this picture because it reminds me of how the cooks complimented us on our chopstick skills and Japanese table manners.

Amy's Pick - Fushimi Inari Shrine - Kyoto, Japan

Amy’s Pick – Fushimi Inari Shrine – Kyoto, Japan

I love this photo because of the sheer color!

Vietnam

Mike's Pick - Bowl of Phở - Hanoi, Vietnam

Mike’s Pick – Bowl of Phở – Hanoi, Vietnam

Phở. #enoughsaid

Amy's Pick - Madonna Rock Dive Site - Nha Trang, Vietnam

Amy’s Pick – Madonna Rock Dive Site – Nha Trang, Vietnam

SCUBA diving is one of the coolest things I have ever learned to do. This was our very first day of diving – we didn’t have the hang of buoyancy yet, so the fact that our dive master captured this photo was something of a miracle.

Cambodia

Mike's Pick - Banteay Srei Temple - Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Mike’s Pick – Banteay Srei Temple – Angkor Wat, Cambodia

What can I say about Angkor Wat? This place is just sooooo cool. Cambodia may not have delicious food like Vietnam or dreamy beaches like Thailand, but Angkor Wat is more than a good enough reason to visit.

Amy's Pick - Ta Prohm Temple - Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Amy’s Pick – Ta Prohm Temple – Angkor Wat, Cambodia

I love this picture because it allows you to actually see the thousands of years of history that has taken place at Angkor Wat. The sheer size of this tree’s roots growing into the temple walls helps you to appreciate its place in the past and present.

Thailand

Mike's Pick - Elephant Reserve - Chiang Mai, Thailand

Mike’s Pick – Elephant Reserve – Chiang Mai, Thailand

We spent a lot of quality time with animals in Thailand: riding on elephants – cuddling with tigers – fending off monkeys.

Amy's Pick - Pad Thai - Bangkok, Thailand

Amy’s Pick – Pad Thai – Bangkok, Thailand

Pad Thai with tofu is my absolute favorite Thai dish and I miss eating it every day for breakfast! Surprisingly, considering all of the times we ate it, I can’t believe this is the only photo we took.

Laos

Mike's Pick - Mekong River - Vientiane, Laos

Mike’s Pick – Mekong River – Vientiane, Laos

This amazing sunset over the Mekong in Vientiane was one of my favorite from the entire year. You wouldn’t know it from this picture, but it seemed like the entire city came out to the river that evening to watch the sun slowly disappear.

Amy's Pick - Flight from Luang Prabang to Vientiane - Laos

Amy’s Pick – Flight from Luang Prabang to Vientiane – Laos

After the most horrifying bus ride ever from Vang Vieng to Luang Prabang, we decided to fly back to Vientiane instead of enduring another death-trap bus. This was the most beautiful flight of my entire life – the mud brown Mekong twisting through deep green jungle.

Singapore

Mike's Pick - View of Downtown - Singapore

Mike’s Pick – View of Downtown – Singapore

It may be a small country, but I was really impressed by Singapore’s modern architecture.

Amy's Pick - The Helix Bridge - Singapore

Amy’s Pick – The Helix Bridge – Singapore

The truth is that Mike stole the photo I wanted to choose for Singapore, so I picked this one instead. This photo is of the ground of a DNA helix-shaped bridge in Singapore. My nerdy science-loving side really loved this bridge:-) The A and the T represent the nucleotides adenine and thymine.

Malaysia

Mike's Pick - Salang - Tioman Island, Malaysia

Mike’s Pick – Salang – Tioman Island, Malaysia

SCUBA diving and beach-time pretty much sum up our month in Malaysia. 15 tanks each in less than 30 days. In retrospect, I think we should have stayed longer.

Amy's Pick - Long Beach - Perhentian Islands, Malaysia

Amy’s Pick – Long Beach – Perhentian Islands, Malaysia

This is a place where two days turned into four, and four into six, and six days into two weeks. I loved living on the beach, relaxing, diving and having a blank mind.

Australia

Mike's Pick - Gnaraloo Station - Gnaraloo, Australia

Mike’s Pick – Gnaraloo Station – Gnaraloo, Australia

If you’ve been reading our blog since the beginning, then you may recognize our friends here.  It was our first time in Australia, but they really made us feel at home.  Juan wasn’t very pleased with the fishing that week, but the Coral Trout I caught is enough to keep me enthusiastic about giving it another go.

Amy's Pick - Fishing - Gnaraloo, Australia

Amy’s Pick – Fishing – Gnaraloo Reef, Australia

A memory of the first fish I ever caught in the open water!

New Zealand

Mike's Pick - Kaikoura, New Zealand

Mike’s Pick – Kaikoura, New Zealand

We almost left Kaikoiura the day before this picture was taken. I am glad that we decided to stay another night, because we would have missed out on a great hike and some unforgettable views.

Amy's Pick - Lake Wakatipu - Queenstown, New Zealand

Amy’s Pick – Lake Wakatipu – Queenstown, New Zealand

This is only one of the hundreds of beautiful scenic photos from our month in New Zealand. This road into Queenstown from the south is one of the most spectacular drives I have ever taken.

Chile

Mike's Pick - Laguna Tebenquiche - San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

Mike’s Pick – Laguna Tebenquiche – San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

The water in this lake was so salty that it felt thick when I walked through it. The natural wonders of San Pedro de Atacama left me in awe day after day.

Amy's Pick - Pan de Azucar National Park - Chile

Amy’s Pick – Pan de Azucar National Park – Chile

After a week of camping at Pan de Azucar, one of the most tranquilo and beautiful places that I saw in Chile, we hitchhiked back into town to catch our bus. Our ride was from a local fisherman, and I had the luck of riding in the back of his truck along with his day’s catch. During that ride I remember thinking to myself “now this is traveling!”

Argentina

Mike's Pick - Christmas Parrillada - Escobar, Argentina

Mike’s Pick – Christmas Asado – Escobar, Argentina

I’m really going to miss this. But I always have Tio Francis in Denver, so I guess I’ll survive 🙂

Amy's Pick - Iguazu Falls, Argentina

Amy’s Pick – Iguazu Falls – Puerto Iguazu, Argentina

During our second day visiting Iguazu Falls, we were graced with perfectly blue skies and a rainbow across the falls!

Uruguay

Mike's Pick - Practice for Carnival - Montevideo, Uruguay

Mike’s Pick – Practice for Carnaval – Montevideo, Uruguay

Hopefully this was just a small taste of things to come during Carnaval in Cartagena.

Amy's Pick - The Hand Sculpture - Punta del Este, Uruguay

Amy’s Pick – The Hand Sculpture – Punta del Este, Uruguay

This sculpture is just plain fun. It makes you feel like there is a giant living underneath the sand, waiting to grab you off your towel while you’re sunbathing.

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For the second post of our Istanbul Photo Series, we are highlighting the mosques of the city. Although Turkey is secular by law, the presence of Islam is clear. The skyline is filled with domes and minarets of the numerous mosques, and the calls to prayer can be heard in all corners of the city. Yet, at the same time, locals are very much embracing Western culture, European fashion and a hopping nightlife. It is a city with many dualities. In some countries, mosques cannot be visited by non-Muslims; however, in Istanbul, mosques are a top tourist destination.   (NOTE: there are many photos in this post, therefore it may take some time to load)

THE BLUE MOSQUE

We arrived in Istanbul just as a fair was being set up in front of the famous Blue Mosque. Turkey’s strong sense of national pride can be seen by the flags hanging from windows, poles and bridges all over the city.

The Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art was one of our favorite stops in Istanbul. The exhibits were magnificent, and the view of the Blue Mosque was icing on the cake.

The inside of the Blue Mosque is jaw-dropping. The mosque gets its name from the haze of blue light that emanates from the painted blue tiles which touch nearly every surface in the building.

As one of the city’s main attractions, the Blue Mosque remains lit-up throughout the night, making it an awe-inspiring structure 24 hours a day.

The construction of the Blue Mosque was inspired by Istanbul’s main attraction, the Hagia Sophia. The Sultan Ahmed built the mosque just a few hundred meters away to try and trump the magnificence of the Hagia Sophia. The result was two unbelievable places of worship in the same block. This photo of the Blue Mosque was taken from the second floor of the Hagia Sophia.

THE HAGIA SOPHIA

The Hagia Sophia is one of the Seven Wonders of the Medieval World, and now we know why. It is hard to believe that this magnificent structure was constructed between 532-537 A.D.

As you enter the Hagia, symbols of the various religions that it has served can be seen. First constructed as a Cathedral, it was later converted to a mosque, and today is a museum.

The sheer size of the Hagia is impressive. The central dome is supported by 40 ribs, each of which has a window at its base allowing natural light to flood inside.

The juxtaposition of Christianity and Islam can be seen by the tile mosaic of the Virgin Mary with Jesus in the background of the Minbar.

THE LITTLE HAGIA SOPHIA

We found visiting the Little Hagia Sophia much more enjoyable than its well-known counterpart simply due to the lack of crowds. It is named as such because it is thought to have served as a model for the Hagia Sophia.

Behind the Minbar, you can see the apse of the former church that this mosque used to be, the Church of the Saints Sergius and Bacchus.

The restoration and maintenance in the Little Hagia can be seen in this ornate painting in the central dome.

YENI CAMI (THE NEW MOSQUE)

Only in Istanbul would the “new” mosque refer to a mosque built over 400 years ago.

SÜLEYMANIYE MOSQUE

This is the ablution area where Muslims wash their hands, feet, face and forearms before entering the mosque to pray.

The sunny day on which we visited Süleymaniye made for a vibrant contrast between the blue sky and stone white minarets.

Many of the historic sites we visited had been restored using preservation techniques. In this mosque, however, the interior was scrapped away and completely redone. Controversy aside, it gave us a feel of what the mosque may have looked like when it was initially constructed.

The Süleymaniye Mosque sits atop a hill that provides beautiful views of the city, Golden Horn and Bosphorus River. This photo was taken from the Galata Bridge, where fishermen line up to catch fish each day.

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If you’re hungry, eat before reading this post. We spent more than a week in Istanbul and are confident in saying that it is one of our favorite cities in the world. There are so many things about Istanbul that we want to share; so many that writing about all of them could take weeks. That being said, we’ve decided to create a photo series dedicated to this spectacular place. For our first installment, FOOD!   (NOTE: there are many photos in this post, therefore it may take some time to load)

ÇAYTurks drink a lot tea which they call çay (pronounced chai)

“çay, çay, çay, çay” are words you will hear all over Istanbul. Locals sip Turkish tea all day long; always served very hot with 2 sugar cubes.

We stopped at a tea house in Gülhane Park which overlooks the Bosphorous River. Çay is traditionally served from two kettles, one with concentrated tea and the other with hot water.

STREET FOOD – The best restaurants in the world don’t have websites

“Fish Bread” served with lettuce, onion, lemon juice and salt. The best lunch in town for 5TL ($3 USD).

These tasty fish sandwiches are prepared on boats floating near the Galata Bridge. The fish is grilled, deboned, placed in the bread, and handed to the cashier onshore.

Once seated with fish bread, you’ll find vendors walking around offering up a variety of extras to complete your meal. These dough balls are fried, drenched in honey, and sprinkled with ground pistachios.

Mr. Foko set up his kebab stand near our hostel in Sultanahmet everyday around 6pm. He grilled up spicy chicken, meatballs or lamb and served them in bread or wraps for only 5TL. It is the best and most affordable food in this expensive area of town.

Grilled corn vendors are posted on most streets and squares in Istanbul. The ears come hot (if you insist on one fresh out of the boiling water) and heavily salted.

Mike ordering up an ear of corn outside of Topkapı Palace.

RESTAURANTS – Great local eateries off the beaten path

We vote this the most fun bread served at a restaurant. It comes straight out of the oven to your table, puffed up with air and sprinkled with tiny sesame seeds.

Each dish of hummus we had in Turkey was very unique; ranging from creamy to grainy and with a variety of spices. This photo is of one of favorites and was served with the puffy bread pictured above.

Our waiter handed Amy this knife and said “kill him.” It was a very confusing interaction. Turns out this is the traditional (or perhaps invented for tourists) way to open up Turkish pottery kebabs. Enclosed clay pots are filled with meat, vegetables and bulgur, covered with dough and put into a fire. Once ready, tapping a few times with a sword opens them right up.

Once opened, the bubbling goodness is revealed. But, watch out for chips of clay!

Possibly our favorite Turkish appetizer, çiğ köfte, is made from bulgur, tomato and dried pepper. The dish originally contained ground beef as well, but nowadays is purely vegetarian. Served with lettuce and lemon, it is a great way to start a meal.

During our second visit to Istanbul, we found a fantastic local restaurant called Hayri Usta. We tried a variety of wraps over our four meals there, and the Adana Durum pictured above was our favorite. The frothy drink is called ayran, which is yogurt water (sounds gross, but is delicious) – a must have with any Turkish meal!

DESSERT – Turkish sweets are normally taken as an afternoon pick-me-up, rather than following a meal

Beautiful and delicious pistachio pastries

Last but not least, the famous Turkish Delights. There are countless flavors of these delightful delicacies to be found all over the city with the greatest selection at the city Spice Market.

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It took some discussion to figure out the best way to convey our thoughts on our transition from Europe to Asia. Technically speaking, we first visited Asia last week while in Istanbul; the city of is divided between two continents by the Bosphorus River, and we took a short ferry ride across one afternoon. That being said, our flight from Turkey to China will be the longest distance we have flown yet. For us it symbolizes a major shift for The Chamborres Expedition; so we decided that now is the best time to share our thoughts. We intentionally scheduled this post to publish during our trans-continental flight to China, so we are literally in the air as you read this!

An updated map of our route so far. Click here to check out more details.

For those of you who are visiting our blog for the first time, we just wrapped up the first “segment” of our RTW trip. In the last 13 weeks we have been to 10 countries and before diving into the next part of our expedition, we wanted to take a moment to step back and reflect on the past three months, including some of our favorites (as well as the least liked moments) along the way.

Traveling with our trusty packs

The first few weeks of our trip were surreal and filled with a sense of elation. The phrase “can you believe we’re finally on the road?!” was nearly a daily occurrence. You could call it the honeymoon phase.

As time went on and we became more comfortable in our roles as permanent travelers, we began to see Europe in a clearer lens. We realized that the continent is not as cohesive as it appears on the surface. Since arriving in Europe via Barcelona on January 16th, we have traveled in and out of the EU, while hearing numerous languages, exchanging many different currencies, and learning about the extremely diverse history and culture of this incredible continent. We have found that Europe is often labeled as “not that different than home” by Americans, Canadians, Aussies and Kiwis. Yes, English is widely spoken, and yes, the food and culture are not as seemingly exotic as in other continents; however, anyone who takes the time to get to know Europe will realize that there are many lessons to be learned here.

Countless times during our trip we have said “This country is amazing. We could spend a whole year here and still not see everything.” That’s the truth. When you scratch the surface of something great, you naturally want to dig deeper, but eventually we found ourselves yearning for more excitement, seeking that thrill that we had when we stepped on the plane for Spain. We realized that we were frequently talking about how stoked we were to get to Asia: to step further outside of our comfort zone; to be forced to play charades at every corner because people don’t speak English; to eat something so deliciously mouthwatering only to realize it’s dog meat; to bike through the insane streets of Bangkok. We may take back these wishes once we get to China, but this is what we have been yearning for in the past few weeks.

Our last full day in Turkey was spent similarly to our last days in Denver before the beginning of our trip: running errands, organizing, and mentally preparing for a big change. We wanted to make sure our laundry was clean, our medicine cabinet was well stocked, that our confirmation emails were printed out, and that we had backup copies of our passports and visas tucked away in our packs. Putting our time in central Turkey aside, landing in China will be for both of us a first time in Asia. We are a bit anxious and a lot excited.

In our post One Month ‘til Departure, we each listed the things we were most looking forward to during our RTW trip. For Amy, one of those things was Asia, and it still tops the list. She had mentioned an eyelash curler as a luxury item she couldn’t go with out, but has since stopped using it and make-up all together. Mike was excited for the pork in Spain (mission accomplished!) and also to explore Istanbul (check that one off too). Up and coming on his list are relaxing on the beaches of SE Asia and seeing the Great Wall of China. Lots of firsts await us in Asia, and we are excited to share them with you. Accessing our blog in China may prove to be a challenge, but either way we promise some great posts about Istanbul and Ephesus in the near future.

To wrap up this post, we thought a run-down of some of the bests and worsts from our visit to Europe, Morocco and Turkey would be a fun read. We are often asked questions like “what has been your favorite thing so far?” and while that is an impossible question, we can definitely narrow down some very memorable moments:

  • Best Food – Lamb and couscous tagines in Morocco (Amy), Jamón ibérico de pata negra in Spain (Mike).
  • Best Hosts – The Frederiksens who housed us, fed us and toured us around Denmark for a week.
  • Best Beach Town – The friendly people, cobbled streets and incredible cliffs of  Lagos, Portugal.
  • Best TourPort wine tasting in Porto, Portugal.
  • Best Train RideThe journey from Mostar to Sarajevo. Not necessarily the best train itself, but definitely the most beautiful scenery.
  • Best Hostel Atillas Getaway Traveler’s Resort in Selçuk, Turkey (go here if you are visiting Ephesus!)
  • Worst Hostel Hostel from hell in Dubrovnik, Croatia.
  • Worst 1st ImpressionMarrakesh, Morocco. What a crazy first 24 hours!
  • Worst Week – Stuck with the flu České Budějovice, Czech Republic.

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We believe that each place you visit leaves you with just a little more knowledge about the world in which we live. Last week we traveled to Bosnia and Herzegovina where we expanded our understanding of the Bosnian War. This former Yugoslavian nation does not likely appear on many RTW itineraries, and, to be honest, we didn’t have very high expectations. Sarajevo simply appeared to be a good place to exit Eastern Europe, but we could not have been more wrong. The sights we saw and the stories we heard about the Bosnian War impacted us profoundly. We are going to share our impressions, but first want to clarify that it was a very complicated war. It would take years of research to fully understand what happened, if understanding war is even possible.

Our first stop in Bosnia and Herzegovina was Mostar. Situated in the Herzegovina region, this relatively small city of about 130,000 people is most well-known for its old bridge (Stari Most) which spans the Neretva river.

The stunning Stari Most.

Sadly, however, the first thing that caught our attention in Mostar was not the bridge nor beautiful nearby mountains; it was the many bombed out ruins of buildings. Despite the nearly 15 million dollars that have been put into the reconstruction of the city since the war ended in 1995, many buildings remain in shambles.

Scars from the war can be seen everywhere.

Over the years, we have both visited developing nations and have seen poor living conditions, but witnessing the destructive power of war is something completely different. It left us feeling quite somber as we wondered through the town.

View of Mostar from the Old Bridge Museum.

After an evening of pondering our first impressions of Bosnia and Herzegovina, we decided to check out the brighter side of Mostar and see why it is a top tourist destination. Stari Most is indeed a magnificent bridge, and its white stone arch makes a beautiful contrast against the brightly colored, turquoise-blue water of the river. Our first walk across the bridge was met with an overwhelming cluster of camera-in-hand tourists peering over the edge. We quickly noticed that the crowd had formed to watch a group of locals jumping off the bridge into the quickly moving current below.

The things some people will do for a buck (or a Mark)…

At the Old Bridge Museum, which is housed in one of the bridge’s two towers, we learned that the original bridge was built in 1557 for the Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent. Like many buildings in Mostar, Stari Most was greatly affected by the war. In fact, after standing for more than 400 years, the original bridge was destroyed during a shelling on November 9, 1993. Reconstruction of the current bridge was not completed until 2004.

The reconstruction of Stari Most attempted to match it as closely as possible to the original, even using some of the same stones which were recovered from the river.

Our visit to Mostar happened to coincide with Easter. It was thought-provoking to spend this holiday in a primarily Muslim area; most people seemed to be going about their day as normal. You wouldn’t have known it was Easter at all were it not for the sound of church bells intermingled with the Islamic call to prayer. Interestingly enough, we entered our first mosque on Easter and walked to the top of the minaret where it is possible to take in panoramic views of the town.

Interior of the Karadjoz-bey mosque, the largest mosque in the Herzegovina region.

The Bosnian War was one of several wars that begun as a result of the dissolution of Yugoslavia and occurred when ethnic and religious tensions between Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims), Serbs (Orthodox Serbians) and Croats (Catholic Croatians) had reached a peak. While the wars have ended and the country of Bosnia and Herzegovina is now at peace (at least on the surface), signs of conflict between these groups are still present. One example in Mostar is the cross on Hum Hill. This hill was a key military position during the war and was the base of many Croat sniper and mortar attacks against the Bosniak population. Today, the hill is crowned by an imposing cross which stands at 33 meters high. For many Bosniaks, it is viewed as an attempt by Catholic Croats to claim ownership over the city. The city’s Croat population, however, argues that Muslim monuments (i.e. numerous mosques and the Stari Most) dominate the city’s old town. For the Croats, the construction of the cross in 2000 simply meant having a monument to call their own. Regardless of which side you’re on, the cross on Hum Hill is just one example of how the war continues to impact society today.

After a few days in Mostar, we caught a morning train to Sarajevo. In a recent post we mentioned how much we love train travel, and this trip was no exception. The train ran along the Neretva river, through rolling hills, and eventually, into snow-capped, rocky mountains. The two and a half hour ride was simply spectacular. For only $6 per person, it may be the best money we have ever spent.

Our attempt at capturing the beautiful train ride from Mostar to Sarajevo.

As the train pulled into Sarajevo, it was back to reality. While the city appears to have recovered and rebuilt more than Mostar, many buildings are still riddled with bullet holes and crumbling from mortar blasts. Yet, at the same time, the city has the vibe of a thriving European capital.

Bascarsija Old Town Square in Sarajevo

Unfortunately we only allowed ourselves one day and night in Sarajevo, but we think we made the most of it. Wanting to learn more about the war, we signed up for a “Tunnel Tour” through our hostel which is run by a family from Sarajevo. We learned so much from Saed, the father, who shared his knowledge about the history of the war and also many personal stories. He and his family lived through four years of war in the same building where they now run their hostel. It was chilling to hear him explain their daily routine of waking up before the gunfire and bombing began at 5am and relocating to the basement where it was safer.

Soaking in Saed’s stories and knowledge.

During the tour, we were driven all over the city of Sarajevo as Saed explained the landscape. An important note is that almost all of the buildings from the 1984 Olympic Games were destroyed; some have been rebuilt with donations from the international community, while others have been lost forever. We discussed what the city may have been like today if the war had never happened. It was growing rapidly and prosperous enough to attract the Olympics in ’84, but by ’94 was the centerpiece in a savage war. The name “Tunnel Tour” stems from the most important site visited, the entry of a tunnel which runs below Sarajevo airport, connecting the former Olympic Village of Dobrinja to the base of the mountains. It allowed the people of Sarajevo to transport much needed supplies to and  from the outside world during the siege, and it was vital to their ability to hold off the Serbian forces.

Entrance to the tunnel

During our week stay in Bosnia and Herzegovina, we learned so much about the history of the country and the perseverance of the Bosnian people. We both recall hearing about the Bosnian War on the news when we were young; it was the first war that we remember happening during our lifetime. Perhaps because of this, it made our visit more impactful. While Bosnia and Herzegovina is not the most glamorous of destinations, it is certainly a thought-provoking and beautiful place to visit, worth adding to your next European trip.

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When we woke up the morning after our hectic first night in Dubrovnik, we were ready to turn a new page and enjoy ourselves.

View of Dubrovnik’s old town from Fort Lovrijenac.

We started off by having lunch at a great vegetarian restaurant in the old town called Nishta. In central and eastern Europe, there is no lack of meat and potatoes, so stumbling upon a creative vegetarian restaurant was very refreshing. We loved this place so much that we ended up eating there three times during our short stay in Dubrovnik. By the way, we received no compensation for writing this, we just loved it that much. After a satisfying lunch, we were off to explore the town.

One of the many tasty dishes we enjoyed at Nishta Vegetarian Restaurant.

As a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most picturesque old towns in Croatia, Dubrovnik has become a tourist hotspot. Even though we were there in the off-season, the town was still crawling with visitors; not our ideal way to travel, but worth it, considering the sheer magnificence of this place.

Even though the wall walk is only 2km, it took us nearly 3 hours! We were stopping constantly to snap photos and enjoy the view.

Many European cities that we have visited claim to have amazing castle districts; however, Dubrovnik is truly the definition of a town within a castle. The wall completely encircles the old town, with only four gates with which to enter and exit. The best way to soak up the spectacular views is to take the “wall walk.” Tickets cost 70 KN (about 12 USD) and allow you to walk along the entire exterior wall of the city and visit the nearby fort. The walk is about 2km long and provides a 360 degree perspective on the city, sea and nearby islands.

View from the wall towards Lokrum Island.

One of the things that amazed us was the massive amount of stone and man power that went into constructing not only the wall, but all of the streets and buildings located inside of the city wall. Everything is made of stone.

During the 1991-92 Siege of Dubrovnik, the castle walls proved to be more resistant against modern weaponry than newly constructed buildings.

Another feature to note is that most of the city’s buildings are situated on steep hills, so exploring the town is quite literally breathtaking. After our first day we were exhausted, so we headed back to our hostel for a home cooked meal. The kitchen was located on the ground floor, and we couldn’t help but chuckle as we heard other tourists panting and gasping “I need a break” as they walked by our door.

The end of the 60+ stairs leading up to our guesthouse.

On one of our days in Dubrovnik, we decided to take a ferry to the nearby island of Lokrum. Being only a 15 minute ride makes Lokrum easily accessible as a half-day or full-day trip from Dubrovnik.

Heading out for a day of hiking on Lokrum Island.

Lokrum is a great place to take in views of Dubrovnik and sunbathe as well if the weather is right. We brought lunch with us and hiked around the edge of the island to find the perfect picnic spot. This proved a little more difficult than we had imagined due to the infestation of peacocks on the island. Peacocks were introduced from the Canary Islands and the population has since spread out of control. These birds will not leave you alone once they figure out that you have food in your pack.

They look beautiful, but they are really just over-sized pigeons.

It rained on and off on our last day; for Amy, as a native Oregonian, rain is always a welcome sound and smell. In between the clouds, we stopped for a glass of bubbly at a bar that is situated on the rocks which form part of the castle wall. Definitely a splurge from our usual backpacker budget, but champagne always tastes better with a view.

The view that justified the cost.

The only sign we could find for this place read “Cold Drinks” – we think that name sums it up pretty well.

Excluding our hostel mishap that we shared in Part II of this series, we absolutely loved the Dalmatian Coast. While Croatia has been growing in popularity among tourists in recent years, it still seems to be somewhat under the radar, but surely won’t be for long. The islands, beaches and cliffs that make up the Dalmatian Coast are a sight to see, and the Croatian people are so welcoming that you immediately feel at home in their country. We will definitely be back.

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In our last post, Dalmatian Coast: Part I, we mentioned how we booked our Dubrovnik accommodations without much forethought at 4:00am on the day we were arriving. Before sharing the many pleasant parts of our visit to Dubrovnik, we will finish telling you the story of our hostel from hell. We hope that you find it amusing and that it will help prevent others from making the same mistakes we did.

After staying up until the wee hours of the morning, we were in no hurry to leave Split and get on the road to Dubrovnik, but had to keep moving. We didn’t know the check-out time of our current apartment. We hadn’t packed. We didn’t know when the bus was leaving. But, thankfully we did know where we would be staying that night in Dubrovnik. Or so we thought…

The bus ride from Split to Dubrovnik was absolutely gorgeous. It drove right along the coast which provided incredible views of rocky cliffs slipping into the Adriatic Sea. After four hours, we had arrived in Dubrovnik. Once we found the address of the hostel where we had booked a room, we looked at each other with a “is this really it?” sentiment. There was no sign, the yard was cluttered with debris, a half dead bird was twitching on the porch, and children’s toys were scattered about. There was no doorbell or buzzer to be found. We proceeded to knock on each of the house’s three doors. Finally, a lady answered. She showed us around, and within seconds we realized the awful mistake we had made.

The place was filthy and in terrible condition: stained sheets, chipped paint, a broken window, busted handles, rusted fan, mold and cobwebs. They were the most uninviting accommodations we have ever seen. After a little discussion, we decided to inform the lady that we would only be staying one night (since we were already locked in due to our online pre-booking) and cancelling the other two nights of our reservation. She blew up! She was yelling at us and threatening to call the police, demanding that we hand over our passports. Yeah right! We kept our cool and explained that our reservation email specified that we could cancel if we paid for the first night. Eventually we smoothed things over, paid for one night, and decided to tough-it-out. In hindsight, we don’t know what we were thinking; we should have hightailed it right out of there.

Attempting to distract our minds from this hellish inferno of hostel, we sat down to catch up on email, book a new room, and do some research about our up-and-coming trip to Turkey. Suddenly, Mike spotted a bed-bug crawling on one of the mattresses; then, Amy moved our camera bag and found another. Before we knew it, we had found a third. That was all it took; at 11:00pm we called the owner of our recently booked (and positively reviewed!) guesthouse and asked if we could check in immediately. This is where our luck turned around.

Nikkolina, the owner of our new guesthouse, was truly an angel. She could hear the distress in Amy’s voice, and despite her guesthouse being full, offered to meet us right away. Amy was nearly having a panic attack as we walked out of the place we now refer to simply as “Hell.” We basically ran across town, packs and all, through the drawbridge and into Old Town Dubrovnik.

When we arrived, Nikkolina showed us to an extra room where we could stay even though it was not typically used by guests. Although just a simple, cozy and clean guesthouse, this place looked like a 5 star hotel to us! It was after midnight by this point, and we knew there was still one more thing we had to do before falling asleep: a bed-bug inspection. Mike’s work history in hotel housekeeping came in handy. We whipped out our headlamp and flashlight (putting them to use for the first time) and went through every single item in our backpacks in painstaking detail. We found one hitchhiker, put him to death, and continued inspecting the rest of our gear. An hour later, we were done and confident we had conquered the situation. Still, falling asleep proved difficult; after some assistance from sleeping pills, however, we were finally able to get a relatively good night’s sleep.

What did we learn from this experience?

  • Don’t wait until the day of arrival to book a guesthouse (especially if you’ve stayed out until the early morning).
  • Don’t book an accommodation that doesn’t have any reviews online.
  • If a place looks and/or feels wrong, leave immediately (dying birds cannot be a good omen).
  • When in doubt, only book one night. It’s better to have to switch hotels because they are fully booked than to be stuck somewhere horrible.

You’re probably thinking right now, duh Mike & Amy, this is all common sense stuff. And, you’re right, it is. We like to consider ourselves relatively well traveled people, but the excitement of our RTW trip got the best of us. Yes, it could have been worse, but it felt like the pits at the time. It all worked out in the end, and we will share our amazingly positive experiences in Dubrovnik in the final chapter of this series – Dalmatian Coast: Part III.

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Our journey to southern Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast was done in a very “fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants” kind of way; all of our train tickets were purchased at the station within an hour of departure. Traveling this way brings a sense of excitement and anticipation that is difficult to find in today’s internet-centric world where planning a trip can be done with just a few clicks of a button. In the past few weeks, we have been using trains as our primary mode of transportation which allows us to see much more of the landscape than traveling by plane. For both of us, trains are our favorite way to travel. They are not always the fastest way to get around, and you often have to make connections and switch trains, but the experience is so much more laid-back than flying.

The scenery along the train ride from Zagreb to Split included everything from snow-capped mountains to vineyards to lakes.

The trip from Eger, Hungary to Split, Croatia took us two days via three different trains, totaling about 14 hours on the rails when all was said and done. Our “layover” in Zagreb, the capital of Croatia, was a nice surprise. The city was much more full of life than we had anticipated, with tons of young people out and about enjoying the parks, cafes and restaurants that line the cobbled streets.

It’s a bit of a miracle that we made it to Split at all. Half way through our train ride we noticed that we had been stopped on the tracks for quite a while. Wondering what was going on, we poked our heads out of the window and noticed that the train was being decoupled; the front half was pulling away, while our car was left standing on the tracks. The train conductor didn’t speak English, so we just went with it and hoped that we were on the right car. Another engine arrived a few minutes later, and we were on our way again. Upon arriving at the Hungary-Croatia boarder a few hours later, our passports were checked and stamped. Our concern about being on the right train was raised again when we looked down at our passports and saw “Republika Hrvatska.” Hrvatska?!  We thought we were going to Croatia.  Turns out Hrvatska is Croatia.  English versions of cities and countries are often different (i.e. Sevilla>Seville. Lisboa>Lisbon.), but how did someone come up with Croatia from Hrvatska? Anyway, we digress.

We did eventually arrive in Split, and when we did, we felt very glad to be back in a city on the sea. Our last view of the ocean was in Denmark, and although only a month ago, it felt like ages. Being from Colorado, Mike had always said that he prefers the mountains to the sea, but it seems that each time we travel to the coast it is harder for him to leave.

Relaxing along the rocky Dalmatian Coast.

Split is the second largest city in Croatia, yet only recently has become a popular tourist destination. It serves as the transportation hub for the numerous islands that speckle the Dalmatian Coast. It is also known for Diocletian’s Palace, the ancient Roman palace that encircles in the old town, and for its numerous beaches and party atmosphere.

An exterior wall of the Diocletian’s Palace under the moonlight.

View of Split from the top of the bell tower.

The cafe culture along Split’s main pedestrian street  is also prevalent. On our first day there, Amy said “is it just me, or is everyone staring at us?” We quickly learned that people watching is THE thing to do in Croatia. Everyone looks at everyone else, and most people can be seen decked out in big sunglasses to aid in the sport of people watching.

The Split Riva, or sea promenade, is lined by outdoor cafes and restaurants.

We had originally intended on staying three nights in Split, but after a day,  we decided that would not be enough, so we extended our visit for another two nights. The weather gods blessed us with warm temperatures and cloudless skies, making ideal conditions for a few days at the beach.

Crystal clear water along Znjan beach.

Diving board along the popular Bačvice beach.

The most famous island along the Dalmatian Coast is Hvar. The ferry from Split to Hvar takes about two hours and the scenery is gorgeous. The boat ride alone justifies the cost of the ticket, but the stunning natural beauty of Hvar is the real gem. We spent our day on Hvar hiking up to the castle for an amazing view, strolling along the coast and swimming in the turquoise sea. Then, we soaked up some sun while dining in the plaza. It was one of the most relaxing and enjoyable days of our journey thus far. It literally felt like heaven.

View of Hvar harbor and the Pakleni Islands from the castle.

Have you ever seen such a perfect mid-sneeze photo? We were laughing for days over this one.

Flowers were blooming all over Hvar Island. It must be spring.

Maybe it was the great weather that put everyone in a good mood, but whatever the case, we encountered only friendly people on the island. Everyone we met, tourists and locals alike, had a huge smile on their face. Among those we met was a really fun couple that we kept running into throughout the day. We spent the entire ferry ride back to Split chatting it up with our new friends, Juan and Saskia. Originally from Zimbabwe, they now live in Australia and are currently wrapping up a 9-month road trip around Europe. Dinner that night turned into ten hours of stories and jokes. While being away from friends and family back home can be hard, one of the best parts of our expedition is meeting total strangers along the way and witnessing first-hand how a love of travel brings people together.

The crew after a delicious Croatian meal.

We had to leave the next morning for Dubrovnik, so once we returned to our apartment at 4:00am, we hopped on the internet and booked the first affordable place that we could find. Remember what we said at the beginning of this post about a few clicks of a button? BIG MISTAKE. But more to come on that story in our next post…stay tuned for Dalmatian Coast: Part II.

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Three days ago, while waiting at the train station, we started chatting with a fellow passenger about our RTW trip. Next thing we know he whips out a business card and…April Fools! That was just a ploy to get you to read our post. It’s about our wine tasting adventures in Eger, Hungary, and we promise if you keep reading you’ll enjoy it (especially if read with a glass, or bottle, of wine). And maybe if you tell enough of your friends about our blog, we might be on the Travel Channel someday 🙂

Eger is home to Hungary’s infamous “Bull’s Blood” red wine (Egri Bikavér). It is delicious stuff; a cuvee made from a blend of three or more grape varietals, many of which we had not heard of before our visit. You can taste Bull’s Blood, and many other red and white wines, in an area just outside of the old town called The Valley of Beautiful Women.

Wine cellars line the horseshoe-shaped road that makes up the Valley of the Beautiful Women

Interior of cellar #19, the first stop of our wine tasting adventure.

The cellars in the valley are lined up one right after the other and vary quite a bit in terms of their décor and seating arrangements. Some are very well appointed with great patios; others are simply holes dug into the side of the hill with standing room only. Either way “tastes” of wine, which are actually full glasses, start 90 HUF, which is less than 50 cents! The price and proximity of the cellars make this a gloriously dangerous place. The good news is that the walk back to Eger only takes about 15-20 minutes.

Enjoying a glass of Bull’s Blood at cellar #17

If countless glasses of wine haven’t quenched your thirst, the cellars also sell wine in bulk, poured straight from large tanks. You can buy plastic jugs to have filled with your favorite wine, or can bring your own container.

Plastic containers are available everywhere in the Valley, so you can take home a liter too.

Someone filled us in on the wine-by-the-liter deal before we arrived, so we brought our own water bottle. Reduce, reuse, recycle, right?

“I’ll take 1.5L of Bull’s Blood to go, please!”

It is a funny sight to see locals and tourists alike carrying grocery bags full of wine in plastic bottles. We got our 1.5 liter bottle filled for just under $4 USD.

A few locals carrying away their stashes of wine for the weekend.

Aside from wine tasting, Eger is a fairly small town with few tourist attractions; easily covered on foot in a few hours. In our previous blog we talked about how much we loved the Hungarian food in Budapest, and the trend continued in Eger. We stumbled upon a fantastic restaurant near the castle called Imola and had one of the best meals of our trip thus far. The highlight was a smoked duck appetizer served cold with goose liver mousse and berry preserves. We aren’t usually huge fans of liver, but this dish was stellar! It was a bit shocking to find such an amazing and elegant restaurant in a small agricultural town.

Spending a few nights in the countryside was a perfect way to wrap up our time in Hungary and relax before a busy two days of train travel to our next destination, the Dalmatian Coast in Croatia.

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Until a few weeks ago, we had envisioned Budapest as one city, but the fact is  there are many sides to this spectacular place.  From a literal perspective, there are two sides, Buda and Pest, sitting opposite each other along the Danube River. They officially became one city in 1873 and today are joined by a series of bridges and rail lines that make up the greater city of Budapest. However, beyond the two banks of the river, lie the many different faces of Budapest, and this is what makes it such a great place to visit; there is something for everyone.

Budapest for the History Buff

Like many other capital cities in Europe, Budapest features a historic castle quarter. Located on the Buda side of the river, Castle Hill is the place to go for the best views of the city, and it is home to several museums and monuments including, not only Buda Castle, but numerous churches, the National Széchenyi Library and Sándor Palace, the official residence of Hungary’s President.

Check out this spectacular diamond tiled roof of the Matthias Church on the Buda side

View of the Hungarian Parliament Building as seen from Fisherman’s Bastion

After exploring the castle district, take a ride on Budapest’s underground metro system, the oldest subway system in continental Europe. Many of the stations have classy tile work and a very historic feel to them. Lastly, don’t miss the Hungarian National Museum which houses great exhibits about the nation’s history and current archeological excavations.

Budapest for the Foodie

Eastern European food is generally not anything to write home about; but, we had high expectations for Budapest. The bar was set high by one of our favorite restaurants from home, a Hungarian spot in Denver called Budapest Bistro. We were not disappointed. Hungarian food takes the basic meat and starch components that are used in so many Eastern European countries and jazzes it up with paprika. This spice doesn’t add heat, but flavor. Some of our favorites included: chicken paprikash, rabbit in red wine sauce and garlic seasoned goose leg.

Chicken paprikash with spaetzle…this picture does not do it justice, we were more concerned with eating it at the time than getting a good shot

In addition to the traditional Hungarian restaurants that cover the streets of Buda and Pest, you should also check out the Central Market Hall (Nagy Vasarcsarnok). At a first glance, this market looks like any other in Europe with produce, meat and seafood stands, but upstairs there are several food counters where you can graze to your heart’s content. We particularly loved the stuffed cabbage rolls.

Nagycsarnok in Budapest – Home of many delicious Hungarian food stands

Budapest for the Party Fiend

If you don’t look closely, you may miss one of the most interesting parts of Budapest’s nightlife: ruin bars. Tucked into warehouses and dilapidated buildings, these bars are often unmarked and therefore easy to miss. Stop by during the day for a relaxing coffee or beer, or visit on a Friday and Saturday night to experience the liveliest atmosphere in town. Ruin bars are eclectically decorated, including anything from rusted old cars that have been converted into seating to toilets that are being used as planting boxes. They feature many types of entertainment from DJs to dancers to interactive art pieces.

Funky decor in Szimpla’s outdoor patio

Random and fun interactive art piece in Szimpla Ruin Bar. This basic circuit board controls a crazy assortment of lights, bells, whistles and music.

Hidden seating area at a Budapest ruin bar

If you want to read a detailed summary of ruin bars in Budapest, check out this post.

Budapest for some R&R

Likely brought into popularity when the Turks invaded Hungary, gyógyfürdő (thermal baths) are a traditional part of Hungarian life. These facilities usually include indoor and outdoor pools whose temperatures vary based on the minerals of which they are composed. Definitely set aside at least one full-day for relaxing in a fürdő during your visit to Budapest. We loved our visit to Széchenyi Fürdő, one of Europe’s largest thermal baths situated in the center of City Park. You can purchase tickets which provide access to various services, ranging from the use of the basic thermal baths for about 3,000 HUF to pool access with a private cabin, including massages and spa treatments for upwards of 9,000 HUF.

Outdoor thermal baths at Széchenyi Fürdő. These get up to 38 degrees Celsius – the biggest hot tub we’ve ever seen!

Locals playing chess in the thermal baths. They must be prune proof.

One of the indoor thermal baths at Széchenyi Fürdő

If public baths aren’t your style, no need to worry; head over to Margaret Island (Margitsziget). This island park sits right in the middle of the Danube River and can easily be reached by foot or by public transportation. The park is just over 5 kilometers around and has countless areas for picnicking and sunbathing. There are also tennis courts and trails for biking and running, if working out is your idea of relaxation. A small petting zoo, water park, ice cream stands and cafes make it a family friendly destination.

Budapest for the Arts Lover

If arts and theater are your thing, be sure to visit Budapest during the Budapesti Tavaszi Fesztivál (Spring Festival) which happens each year in March. We happened to be in town this week, and although we didn’t take advantage of its offerings, you can be guaranteed so see a wide variety of operas, shows, and live musical acts at venues across the city. During the rest of the year, the city houses several art museums, including the Hungarian National Gallery which includes a feature on famous artists from Budapest.

Frescoes at the Hungarian National Museum

As for our personal experience in Budapest…fantastic! Even before we arrived things were going our way. The night before we left Vienna, we saw a sign at the reception desk of our hostel that said “free ticket to Budapest.” Although it seemed too good to be true, we asked for more details. As it turned out, a fellow traveler had purchased a round-trip ticket and wasn’t going to be using the return. So, rather than trying to sell it, they asked the hostel to try and find someone who could use it. Funny how things like that work out; we were actually planning on doing the exact same thing with our round-trip tickets from the Czech Republic.

Free train ticket to Vienna thanks to a kind stranger!

But anyway, back to Budapest, it has been one of our favorite destinations thus far. Despite the fact that neither of us speaks a word of Hungarian, we felt at home. Before arriving, we had heard some bad things about Budapest being a “sketchy” city with lots of people out to scam tourists; so we had our guard up a bit when we arrived. As it turns out, everyone we encountered was friendly, helpful, and honest. Add the delicious food, sights, and activities, and you have all the makings of a wonderful city. If you are planning a trip to Eastern Europe DO NOT miss Budapest.

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