Category Archives: Europe

Burrito In Budapest

Arriba Taquiera in Budapest serves mission-style burritos. 1300Ft=$7 ish. Red sauce is too sweet. Green sauce has a slight curry flavor. Tortilla not right. Not enough rice an beans so it’s mostly tortilla. Carnitas too salty and dry. One of the worst burritos I’ve ever had. The best I’ve ever had in

Budapest Nightlife

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Budapest has a reputation for some of the best nightlife in all of Europe. I am not a big fan of clubbing, but I do enjoy hanging out in cool bars and watching all the people. Budapest is excellent for that. It has some of the coolest and largest bars I’ve ever been to and provides great vantage points for people watching.

There’s one I particularly enjoyed called Szimpla Kert. The interior is out of a movie set. In fact, it’s probably the coolest looking place I’ve ever been. Planet of the Apes played on a projector screen. A couch and some chairs were made from cutting old bath tubs up and putting cushions on them.

There was another place we went that I think was just an abandoned building that had been made into a dance bar. Only the top couple of floors were open and the rest was shut. So you had to walk up about 4 flights of stairs to even get there. But they had a really cool rooftop bar from which you could look out on the city.

There’s a neat little restaurant called Kiado Kocsma! that stays busy with students eating and drinking. There’s crazy kitch all over the walls. It’s like the basement of 1000 grandparents’ houses put together in Europe. Some good, weird music played the whole time I was there. It was quite nice and they have some tasty goulash.

Baths of Budapest

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I hiked up the Gellért hill to the Citadella and took in the spectacular views from the top. It’s really magnificent up there. I walked around the hill and the remains of the old fortifications and then hiked down again.

On a whim I decided to stop into the Gellért baths. I didn’t have a swim suit or a towel. I explained that to the lady taking money and asked if I could buy those there. She said “No problem, no problem. No need.” I figured they probably had rental suits so I went on in.

I explained my situation to the next person and he also said “No problem” and handed me a loin cloth. Actually this is the preferred way for the Hungarian men to go to the baths. The baths are segregated by gender for just this reason. I was a bit uneasy at first but quickly overcome my trepidation.

There are two large tubs, for lack of a better word, under a large canopy with tile mosaics and decorations. One of these pools is at 36 C, the other at 38C. Fresh water from the underground springs pour out of the mouth of some sort of figure on either side of the room. In the center, there is a walkway between the two and on it, fresh, cool water is spit by other figures.

At the far end of the area is the stream room, a cold water bath and some showers. Closer to the entrance are the dry rooms. You are expected to stay for a couple of hours or so and enjoy all of the amenities. I could only stay for an hour because they were closing.

When I left I felt completely rejuvenated. I expected to merely be cleaner, but instead found that I was more awake and fresh. Drained only of stress. Colors looked more vivid, blacks darker and I felt very much at ease. I was ready to explore the city more, to walk around by night and see the bright lights glowing. And so I did.

Budapest, Hungary

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One day here is a crime. Two a shame, three a pity and four a minimum. Budapest is quite possibly my favorite city that I’ve ever visited. It has been billed as one of the greatest places in the world and certainly lives up to the hype. This is a treasure on the Danube.

Buda and Pest were actually two separate cities until the 1800s when the first permanent bridge was erected, connecting them. Buda, which lies to the west, is hilly and feels ancient. Pest, on the east bank, is flat, more modern and busier. The two souls inhabiting the same body make the place feel at the same time young and old, sleepy and vibrant.

If you have a couple of hours to spend on a stopover or something, I’d highly recommend you cross over to Buda, climb up to the statue of Szent Gellért then keep going to the Citadella and take in the view. Don’t worry about making it back for your train because you’ll decide not to go wherever you were headed.

The baths are incredible, nightlife is fantastic, the cafes are wonderful, architecture is breathtaking, history is expansive, public transit is  efficient. The city has a lot of everything.

Take, for example, the Vörösmarty tér. On the north is St. Stephen’s church, built over approximately sixty years during the 1800s. Construction was delayed because it collapsed and was rebuilt. The church houses the mummified hand of the sainted namesake and first king of Hungary who lived around 1000AD. Walk a bit south and you can have a delicious coffee and torte at the famous Gerbaud cafe. With over 150 years of serving such delights, they’ve had ample time to get it right. Then continue down the Vici utca for the city’s main shopping district, ending at the Central Market where you can get fresh and dried food as well as some souvenirs of your stay.

And that says nothing about the open air parks, the thermal baths and saunas, the ruins, the spectacular city views, etc. Budapest is one of the fantastic places in the world.

Bratislava, Slovakia

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In the movie Eurotrip, Bratislava is pictured as a run-down city, devoid of culture and stuck in a post-Soviet state of perpetual slum. In reality, it is a city with many old buildings, well-manicured pedestrian alleys and cobbled streets lined with cafes. Its availability to tourists rivals some of Europe’s top destinations. As a part of the Schengen Agreement, travelers are allowed unfettered passage from full EU states. Nearly everywhere accepts Euros as currency.

I took a day-trip to the Slovakian capital with a native Vienan who’d never been. This is somewhat surprising, as the capital cities are the closest of all except the Republic of Congo and Democratic Republic of Congo. But they’re on opposite river banks and are essentially the same city so I consider that cheating.

Bratislava has a small old town on the North side of the Danube river, as well as the aforementioned Soviet-era buildings on the South side. The Novy Most, or “new bridge” separates the two and was a typical Soviet-style massacre of history for hideousness. They tore down quite a bit of the old city below the castle, including pretty much the entire Jewish quarter. But they did put a UFO-shaped restaurant on top of the off-kilter main posts of the bridge.

Bratislava must be the city with the highest per-capita fountain population in the world. There are dozens and dozens, ranging in age from under construction to several hundred years old. Some are sculpted figures and others are simply water shooting from a pool. It’s a bit odd. They’ve also got some odd statues. I’d have taken pictures but my camera was locked up in a Viennese hostel.

A giant castle overlooks the city. It sits atop a large and steep hill. Climbing it in the warm temperatures was worth it, I’m told. Unless it happens to be closed for renovations as it was when I went.

But the day wasn’t lost because the cafes and restaurants were quite good. Prices are about half of what they are in Vienna, as well. A nice respite from the empty wallet feeling you get from Western Europe.

Melk, Krems and the Danube

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I took a day trip to a couple of cities up the river from Vienna called Melk and Krems. Or as I refer to them, Milk and Cream. The plan was to take a train to Melk, then a boat down to Krems, then the train back to Vienna. Melk has a unique monastery and Krems has a few smaller attractions. At 45 Euro for the kombi ticket (train, boat, admission), it was quite economical.

When I got off the train in Melk, I smelled sweetness in the air.  There was an apple tree nearby and many of the fruits had fallen to the ground and were ripening. There were many colorful trees and flowers. The air was cool. It was a nice day for a trip like this. I walked to the main square area and it reminded me of the trip I took to the town of Blarney.

The abbey was originally a palace and was given to the Benedictines later. Its original purpose is obvious, as the grandeur of the place does not befit monks. There are about 500 rooms, one or two 200 meter long hallways, marble and gold everywhere. It all made me wonder how you’d fill that space.

I got a single ticket rather than going with a group. However, the place was a bit tight so I was often stuck behind tour groups.  Because of that I learned a lot. Though one of the groups spoke Spanish, they were mostly English speaking. One thing I noted was that I was the youngest person in the place, aside from the tour guides and the grandkids.

The first few rooms were meant to be symbolic and were bathed with differently colored lights. Blue, green and red. The blue is meant to symbolize innocence. I think. All the symbology was lost on me – and I was with an English group at that point.

The next rooms were more traditional. “Built in the Baroque, during the counter-reformation of the Church, the designers of the palace and of the treasures on display here wanted to emulate the glory of Heaven. They made extensive use of marble, gold, pearls and precious stones.”

The library has thousands of books. Much of them dedicated to the apparently rich astronomical history of the monastery. I was with a Spanish group at this point so didn’t understand much of what was being said. And there were too many people in the room to walk around and see the small placards.

The tour concluded at the church. Again, gold and marble.

Next stop, head to the boat to go down river to Krems. We made our way slowly down the river, past some spectacular views. A humble village that looks like I imagine it would have 200 years ago. A high cliff where the local regents made their enemies jump to their deaths. A quaint little summer palace for some king or other.

We had to change boats in Spitz and so disembarked onto the small stretch of ground that was backed against several restaurants and a church. A wedding had just finished up so all the guests and the wedding party were milling about as well. It was pretty crowded. The reception was apparently to be held on the boat to Krems. That boat had an area which seemed to be built for hosting such events, so it didn’t overwhelm the craft.

Another port of call on our three-hour tour was Dürnberg. It has a splendidly painted church and its port looks really nice, as you can see in the photo to the right. From the looks of the landings at Spitz and Dürnberg, these two cities might have been nice to see as well. Maybe make it a couple of days rather than just one.

Krems was rather unspectacular as we reached it near dark. I didn’t make time to see anything but instead just headed for the rail station to go back to Vienna. Here’s a lesson, instead of waiting around in Melk for the 16:15 boat to Krems, make sure you take the 13:50 boat. The boat will invariably be late and even if not you’ll be hard pressed to get to the last express train before it leaves. And the next slow train doesn’t leave for a couple of hours and takes 2 hours, rather than one. Unless it’s also late. I got back into Vienna around 10:30 fairly tired. But it was a good trip, overal.

Vienna, Austria

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Vienna, Wien to the locals, has a very long cultural tradition. During the late 1700s and into the 1900s they were home to some of the world’s greatest artists, composers and thinkers. All of this is evidenced as you stroll about the city.

Statues, museums and monuments abound in Vienna. One starts to believe that anyone who ever lived here has been memorialized in some way or another. The greats have parks, museums, statues, tourist stores, stars in the ground like in Hollywood, and any number of other dedications to their greatness. Those not so famous receive instead only their choice of one upon their deathbed.

And then they went and did something so ignominious to Mozart as bury him in an unmarked mass pauper’s grave. You really have to hate a guy to do that to him. I mean yeah, I hate sitting through classical concerts and operas as well, but that’s still a bit harsh. They’ve now added a memorial at the spot, though, to make up for it.

There’s what’s called a “cafe culture” in Vienna, meaning that they have a lot of cafes and like to sit in them for a while. It’s quite nice because I like to do that as well. And the coffee they make has a pretty big kick to it, so that’s good for me, too.

The city is fairly small, especially if you stick to the old-town area. So it’s easy to walk around. And it’s got some nice sites, like the Belvedere and the Hofburg. On a nice day, each of these is gorgeous. I spent nearly a whole afternoon napping in the sun on the lawn of the Hapsburg Empire. It was fantastic.

Old Friends and Imprisoned Luggage

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I have not been able to change clothes or post anything for the last two days because my luggage was imprisoned in a Viennese hostel locker. To tell how it got there and why it was stuck I will have to start a bit earlier. It started with an email.

“You will go to the Meininger Hostel tonight at 20.00 where you will be greeted by a friend.” The Philadelphian.

When I arrived at the hostel, I was indeed greeted by an old friend and roommate, named Yu. I haven’t seen him in about 3 years, during which time he’s been in school in Japan. This week he moved to Vienna.

So we caught up and planned out some things to see and do and went to get some dinner and drinks. I locked my luggage in the locker with a nice, strong lock designed to resist a shim.

We got back to the hostel and I realized that somewhere I had lost the key. I searched my pockets but to no avail. The key had vanished like a David Copperfield trick. No real trouble, just cut the lock off and be done with it. It happens a thousand times a year in hostels the world over, I’m sure.

Except there was a problem. The hostel had no way to deal with a well-made lock, they were only equipped to cut off the poorly made ones like those they sold. (Hey, a locked storage space like that is only meant to deter casual theft not a determined attacker.) We could always force the locker open by wrenching the locked piece, but that would break it. And their handyman wouldn’t be in until Monday to figure out a way to get it off without breaking the locker.

Stranded. Without phone. Without clean clothes. Without toiletries. Without laptop.

So finally this morning the handyman arrives, grabs the pliers and wrenches off the lock and I have my bag back.

Quick Bits On Oktoberfest

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The apron that women wear has a secret – if it is tied on the left, they are available; on the right, they are taken. Handy to know.

After 5pm the beer halls get crowded as people leave work and come to the party. So get your table early. The bands also play more foreign and popular songs intermixed with their traditional German ones.

They don’t put mustard on their pretzels here, but they do on their weisswurst. They put sour cream on their baked potatoes but call it yoghurt.

Most tents have their own themes, rooted in the traditional German labor force. You have the Fischer Vroni tent celebrates the fishermen; Hacker Festzelt seems to celebrate the lumber jack; Schutzen-Festzelt is for the hunters.

NASA Im Munchen