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The traveler sees what he sees, the tourists sees what he has come to see.  ~ Gilbert K. Chesterton

COLOMBO, SRI LANKA

December 26 & January 3, 2015

Manning Market

Manning Market

Colombo was a starting and ending point for our road trip around hill country and the south of Sri Lanka.  I arrived with very little expectations.  What I had read about Colombo left me unimpressed.  Sometimes this is a great thing because you can be easily surprised and delighted by the unexpected.  After a full day of wondering the city in search of good eats and interesting places I was left feeling confident that we made the best decision to stay only one night in Colombo.  My lens is very narrow and I am sure I missed a lot of what Colombo has to offer but if one place doesn’t have an initial draw, why wait to be convinced?  Life is short.  Move on.

Colombo (The Beginning)

Lodging: Decoco Guest House

Food:  Pilawoos (Hotel de), Sponge Bakery, Arpico

Drink:  Castle Hotel 

Explore:  Manning Market, sunset at Galle Face Green

Lodging

Guest houses are a dime a dozen in Sri Lanka.  Decoco Guest House was a nice place to stay for a night.  Was it fantastic? No…but it was certainly fine.  The owners were very accommodating and helped us with a few unusually difficult situations that we’ve never had to handle in another country.  Other than that I would say this guest house was quite average.  The location is hard to find on your own and also hard for drivers to find; if you are choosing a place based on location, I would suggest you skip Decoco.

Food

After settling our things at the guesthouse we headed out to explore for the day.  When staying in a city for as little as 24 hours, you have to decide wisely on how to spend your time.  Food was our number one must do, especially after so many endless hours in flight and in airports.  One of my favorite ways to experience food, culture, and the people of a new place is to visit the city’s markets.  We started our journey by heading to Manning Market.  It’s Colombo’s wholesale fruit and vegetable market.  It is cheap, if that is what you are looking for.  After roaming for nearly 45 minutes, everything seemed unappealing.  We left hungry but I knew just the place to brighten our spirits…

Hotel de Pilawoos…not a hotel but a 24/7 joint that serves the city’s best short eats.  We sat down and devoured two huge plates of kotthu roti.  This is hangover food at its best and is the meal everyone should have after a long flight.  Get the kotthu with cheese, I promise you, you will like it.  Spicy, with loads of texture from the chopped roti and a bit of creaminess from the cheese.  Dig in!

Kotthu Roti at Hotel de Pilawoos: 417 Galle Road

Kotthu Roti at Hotel de Pilawoos: 417 Galle Roada

Although we had plenty to eat, Jonathan always manages to find room for something sweet.  A short walk down the street from Pilawoos and we find ourselves in Sponge bakery.  Another miss.  But that doesn’t stop him from finishing his plate.

Passion fruit and yogurt cake at Sponge

Passion fruit and yogurt cake at Sponge

We had plans to meet up with some friends who were having an unfortunate stay at the hospital so for dinner we headed to a grocery store with the hopes of finding some easily transportable edibles.  We went to Arpico which reminded me of a super Walmart with more interesting groceries.  I mention this because if you find yourself in need of anything from snacking cheese to perfume…you will find it at Arpico.

Exploring

With a little guidance from Lonely Planet, we decided to walk toward Galle Face Green.  It’s recommended as a fantastic spot to indulge in some treats from street vendors and to watch the sunset. Jonathan and I have fun just about anywhere and Galle Face Green was no exception but I wouldn’t recommend it as a place for street food or to see the sunset (unless it’s an unusually clear day).  However, it was nice for people watching and there’s something worthy of your time if you take in a bit of the culture here.  After an hour of lounging on the wall by the beach, I began to gather how connected Sri Lankan families are.  There were so many families walking or playing together.  Everyone seemed happy and enjoying their time connecting with each other and the outdoors. This seemed to me like a daily pleasure rather than a family vacationing together.  A lesson our society could stand to learn, where the couch and television are too often the centerpiece of the evening.

Galle Face Green

Galle Face Green

Drinks

Intrigued by Lonely Planet’s description of Castle Hotel (a misnomer at best) as a “timeless boozer offering up cheap drafts” and located in “once-posh surroundings”, we headed that way; other options were nearly all overpriced cocktails in locales swimming with tourists.  Upon arriving, I sensed this moment was going to be a game changer for me. Something about the looks I received upon entering, the dim lighting and lack of any appeal to the interior had me on guard.

Priding ourselves on our ability to face discomfort in the eye, we proceeded to find a table and order some drafts. It was quickly evident, a female in this bar was not a typical or likely occurrence. We were offered a seat in a different section of the bar when we entered but turned it down to be in the main area where it seemed more lively.  I think that was the first hint we overlooked, the second came when our table was approached by a man who took our order without ever looking at me.  He would only address Jonathan until I finally spoke up on our second or third round. He wasn’t unfriendly by any means and eventually gave me a kind smile. Uncomfortable as I was, the cold drafts were quite welcoming. I always hope to be considerate of others’ beliefs and customs yet never apologetic for being a female.  So I sat with a bit of uncertainty.  At the end, I withstood the initial desire to leave and rather enjoyed the hour or so at Castle Hotel.  I would return again…next time, without any trepidation.  In fact, I highly recommend it.  From this post, it appears that it may not exist much longer.

SLCCH.jpg

Castle Hotel

Colombo (The Ending)

Lodging: Cinnamon Grand Hotel 

Food:  Beach Wadiya

I have to say, by the time we were headed back to Colombo I was very sad, and not because I didn’t fully enjoy it the first time.  I was sad to come to the realization that our travels were quickly coming to an end and we were also having to part ways with two of our best friends.  The country blew my expectations out of the water.  It was absolutely one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen.  I would go back in a heartbeat to experience the rest of the country we were unable to see.  I look forward to sharing the next steps in our Sri Lankan journey.  Up next, two nights in Kitugala. Stay tuned!

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As with any journey, who you travel with can be more important than your destination. – Unknown

TAIWAN

July 31 – August 10, 2013

taiwan flag

It’s been over a year since I traveled to Taiwan and with that much time between, my retelling is not as acute as I would like. One thing is for sure; traveling with truly smart, interesting and adventurous people will leave an ever-lasting etch in one’s memory.

If you followed my previous post, you already know that prior to meeting up with two of our great friends, we spent about a week in Vietnam.  We had an amazing time but the best was yet to come. Unfortunately, Jonathan and I became quite ill on our way from one country to the next.  In a matter of 24 hours we went from energetic, giddy travelers to ones on a hunt for a true medicine man to cure our ailments.  We had no real luck and were both probably the sickest we have ever been but that didn’t stop us from making the most of our adventure.

Two Couples

We are quite lucky to have such amazing friends. It would take a whole other blog to explain how we have met some of the finest people around but to make it simple, the four of us met over a decade ago while living in Washington, DC.  One thing for sure is that distance never breaks up a true friendship.  Jonathan and I now reside in New York City while Dave and Alex are living in another great city, Singapore.  That hasn’t stopped us from getting together.  We’ve made a point to make the globe our playground….and who do you want to go out and see at the playground??? Your friends!

Miranda & Jonathan

Miranda & Jonathan; living in New York City

Alexandra & David

Alexandra & David; living in Singapore

The Adventurers

The Adventurers

One Car

If you really want to explore and don’t mind getting lost (come on, that’s how you find the best places), you should rent a car while traveling.  Terrible at working that GPS?  Try figuring it out in Mandarin!  Bonus – you will actually get to know your travel companions even better.  Who knew Alex had the uncanny ability to tell you the release year of just about any song she hears?  It’s a rare gift, especially when she has never heard the song before…crazy talent I would have never discovered had the four of us not been squeezed into a little vehicle packed with over flowing suitcases, 7eleven snacks, and a never-ending supply of tissue boxes.

The Island of Taiwan

Our Itinerary:

  • Taipei:
  • Kenting
  • Taitung
  • Haulien
  • Yuanshan
  • Taipei

Taipei (The Beginning)

Lodging: Muzik Hotel

Food:  James Kitchen, Old Wang’s Beef Noodle Soup, Din Tai Fung

Drink:  Wistaria Tea House, Revolver

Explore:  Keelung Temple Night Market, Shilin Night Market, Longshan Temple

James Kitchen

James Kitchen, Da’an District

Din Tai Fung, Da'an District

Din Tai Fung, Da’an District

Wistaria Tea House, Da'an District

Wistaria Tea House, Da’an District

Keelung Temple Night Market, Keelung

Keelung Temple Night Market, Keelung

Old Wang's Beef Noodle Soup, Jhong Jheng District

Old Wang’s Beef Noodle Soup, Jhong Jheng District

Shilin Night Market, Shilin District

Shilin Night Market, Shilin District

 Kenting

Lodging:  Uni Resort

Food & Drink:  Kenting Street Night Market

Explore: Hiking in Kenting National Park, Eluanbi Lighthouse

Kenting National Park

Kenting National Park

Eluanbi Lighthouse

Eluanbi Lighthouse

Kenting Street Night Market

Kenting Street Night Market

 Taitung

Explore: Hiking in Jhihben National Forest

Jhihben National Forest Recreation Area

Jhihben National Forest Recreation Area

Hualien

Lodging:  Silks Place,  Tienhsiang Youth Activity Center

Food & Drink:  Mei Yuan, The Wellesley

Explore: Baiyang Waterfall Trail,  Swallow Grotto Trail, Lianhua Pond Trail

TWTG1.jpg

Baiyang Waterfall Trail

Swollow Grotto Trail

Swallow Grotto Trail

Lianhua Pond Trail

Lianhua Pond Trail

Yuanshan

Explore:  Kavalan Distillery

Kavalan Whiskey Distillery

Kavalan Whiskey Distillery

Taipei (The Ending)

Food:  Shao Shao Ke

Drinks & Entertainment:  Sublime, Brown Sugar, inHouse, KTV @ Party World

Shao Shao Ke, Zhōngzhèng District

Shao Shao Ke, Zhōngzhèng District

The Grand Finale

The Grand Finale

Verdict ~ Make your own road trip in Taiwan.  You will not be disappointed.  Vibrant, bustling cities full of culture, some of the most interesting and delicious street food in the world, breathtaking mountains, and gorgeous beaches…how could you go wrong? 

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A soup like this is not the work of one man.  It is the result of a constantly refined tradition.  There are nearly a thousand years of history in this soup.  – Willa Cather

HANOI, VIETNAM

July 25 – 31, 2013

Flag_of_Vietnam_svg

Thank Goodness for Smart Phones & A Little Faith

Jonathan and I have found ourselves in some funny, albeit stressful, traveling situations.  For example, showing up very late to the wrong airport to board a flight to Singapore was about the worst prior to our most recent trip. So what takes the cake?  Trying to get your boarding pass two hours before your flight without a visa to the country you are flying to.  Yes, that’s us, standing at the United check-in line looking dumbfounded when the receptionist told us we weren’t able to get on our flight without our visa documents.

Going back to the city and waiting a few days to head to the embassy in order to apply was not an option.  All it took was a few reassuring looks between the two of us, a quick Google search…and poof!  We were ready to outsmart the system.  For about $40 dollars a person you can apply online for an express Visa.  In one day, you can receive a PDF document allowing you into the country.  It took some convincing, but we were able to get United to send us to Thailand (our last layover city before Hanoi) with the hopes that by the time we arrive, our visa documents would be ready.  United cancelled our flight from Bangkok to Hanoi and made it clear that if we were unable to get into Vietnam or happened to be stuck in Thailand it was all on us.  We didn’t flinch.  We boarded our flight with good faith that our online application would go through before landing.

For anyone who travels, not quite fully prepared (like us), then it may be good to know that Vietnam does require a Visa for entry.  Also good to note, the Bangkok airport has a printing station and passport photo booth to complete any Visa requirements.   Thailand saved us…as if we needed another reason to love that country!

19 Hours…

Our plan for Vietnam was to indulge in great food and overcome serious jet lag before heading to Taiwan.  Although the beginning of our trip was not going as planned, we finally landed in Vietnam and were back on track.

It took everything out of me to not check in the hotel and go right to sleep.  It was roughly 6pm and I knew that if I wanted to get over the eleven hour time difference I would have to keep myself awake until an appropriate time to sleep…and then I remembered how amazing Vietnamese coffee is.  What better way to keep myself up than a cup of cool, sweet addicting goodness!

VNCoffee.jpg

Vietnamese coffee at the ever relaxing and air conditioned, Align 3D Café.

There simply wasn’t enough caffeine in the whole café to supply me with enough energy for the evening but I only had one choice.  Power through it.  Next up, dinner.  Anything would do after two days of in-flight meals but we were lucky to find ourselves near the famous Bat Dan Street.  It is rumored that Hanoi’s best pho can be found here on this street.  After strolling along for several blocks we settled down for dinner at the only place with a line of families and couples waiting for a seat.  Score.  When in doubt, look to the locals for clues on where to find the best food. Finally, a decent hour to catch some sleep.  We headed back to the hotel (Hanoi Elegance Ruby) and collapsed…  The next thing I know, Jonathan is waking me up from a lovely, deep sleep.  Whatever he wanted I imagined would go away if I just ignored his calling my name but suddenly it hit me like an amplifying echo…wake up, wake up – it’s 4:30 in the afternoon….wake up, wake up, it’s….  WHAT?  I was baffled; where was I?  And how on earth did I just sleep – wait let me count…19 HOURS!  That, my friend, is what they call jet lag.  Avoid at all costs.

Pho on Bat Dan Street.  More subtle and less fragrant than other places but certainly fulfills any need for a comforting bowl of beefy goodness.

Pho on Bat Dan Street. More subtle and less fragrant than other places but certainly fulfills any need for a comforting bowl of beefy goodness.

Day One

  • Sleep until an ungodly hour
  • Dinner at Highway 4
  • Night Market
  • Drinks

Sleeping 19 hours straight only leads to one thing…a ravenous belly.  No, two things…a ravenous belly and severe grogginess.  It was dinner time when we finally left the hotel and entered the world of the living.

Highway 4:  Get the catfish rolls!

Bo Tieu Den:  Beef sautéed in black pepper sauce

Bo Tieu Den: Beef sautéed in black pepper sauce

Nem Ca Xa:  Catfish spring rolls

Nem Ca Xa: Catfish spring rolls

Feast for two!

Feast for two!

An Evening Out:  Night Market and Drinks

The local night market is a great place to roam and purchase souvenirs.  The market basically had the same items found in the shops around town during the day but the draw to this market is not what it has to offer you but the energy it encompasses.  We were only a few among the tourists.  This market seemed to draw the locals out to pick up essentials, mingle with friends and to grab a bite to eat.  For a city that has little to offer for night life, I thought this market was an enjoyable way to walk off dinner and spend the evening.

Nothing like a beefy after dinner treat...

Nothing like a beefy after dinner treat…

...sweet and savory treats.

…sweet and savory treats.

Late night beers...

Late night beers

Just as we were beginning to relax and take it all in with a few beers we were ran off by the police.  After living in NYC for a few years, it is quite normal for us to eat dinner at 9pm and then head out for a drink.  Not quite possible in Hanoi.  The police rolled up in a truck and banged their long clubs on the bar’s awning.  We were quite surprised but quickly realized we were expected to leave and the bar owner needed to close down quickly for the curfew.  Plan according if you are used to late nights!

Day Two

  • Morning run around Hoan Kiem Lake
  • Bảo Tàng Dân Tộc Học Việt Nam (Vietnam Museum of Ethnology)
  • Don’s Tây Hồ (A Chef’s Bistro)
  • Hỏa Lò (Hoa Lo Prison or “Hanoi Hilton”)
  • Dinner at Essence Café and Restaurant
Jog around the lake...

Jog around the lake…

Our epic night of sleep apparently didn’t do us any good – jet lag still had it’s hold on us.  So…after lying wide awake in the wee hours of the morning, Jonathan and I decided to go for a run.  Since we were staying in the old quarter we decided to head out towards Hoan Kiem Lake.  We may have been the only ones up due to jet lag but definitely not the only ones who happened to be out exercising.  In the early hazy hours of the morning, you will find crowds of people at the lake.  Some doing yoga, some Tai Chi, and others jogging along beside us.

Vietnamese coffee post run.  Our only defense against the 12 hour time zone difference...and well, it's simply addicting.

Vietnamese coffee post run. Our only defense against the 12 hour time zone difference…and well, it’s simply addicting.

Bảo Tàng Dân Tộc Học Việt Nam (Vietnam Museum of Ethnology)

The great thing about being on vacation means that you don’t have to follow a schedule.  The downfall is without proper planning and scheduling you just might miss some things.  We had planned to start out our day at the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum.  Despite our early morning run, we took our time getting ready and enjoying breakfast.  By the time we arrived, the line was epic and it was raining.  We didn’t come all this way to spend an afternoon soaked and waiting in line…so we improvised.

We hopped in a cab and headed to the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology.  Glad we did!  The museum, although small, had much to offer in the way of learning about the culture and makeup of the Vietnamese people.  The museum highlights the tremendous amount of ethnic groups the are the backbone of the country.  I learned so much and it was a great way to escape the nonstop drizzle.

Don’s Tây Hồ (A Chef’s Bistro)

Oyster bar and views of the lake.  Yes please.  For lunch, we headed away from old quarter and towards West Lake.  Here you will find a less populated and more relaxing area to unwind.  Don’s Tay Ho has an eclectic mix of modern and traditional Vietnamese food as well as some international dishes that draw in an array of locals and tourists alike.  We sat down and devoured a lunch that would have probably fed a group of four.

Lunch overlooking West Lake

Lunch overlooking West Lake

 

Hỏa Lò (Hoa Lo Prison or “Hanoi Hilton”)

I was intrigued by this place…any prison that has Hilton in it’s nickname seems worthy of a visit.  Maybe that’s just me; I do love sarcasm.  This prison was a bit creepy but didn’t leave you with the skin-crawling sensation you can get from such sites (I happen to like that). However, it was interesting to learn about the history of the museum and the people that were once imprisoned there.  As we walked through and I was taking it all in, it became very clear that much of the information presented to the visitors appeared biased.  Bothersome but still worthwhile.  I was quite excited to see the guillotine room.  I can’t really explain why this was appealing but it was…I also found the artifacts and media covering John McCain’s imprisonment interesting (he was held as a POW at Hỏa Lò Prison in 1967).

Hỏa Lò Prison

Hỏa Lò Prison

 

Dinner at Essence Café and Restaurant

Surprisingly enough, we were able to muster up more energy to shower and head out to dinner.  Glad we did too because we had a fantastic dinner.  Essence Restaurant is ranked number two on Trip Advisor for restaurants in Hanoi.  You can expect great service and authentic Vietnamese food… and a long wait time if you don’t make a reservation.

Essence Restaurant in Old Quarter

Essence Restaurant in Old Quarter

Want to read more about this trip, check out Part Two

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I want to be with those who know secret things or else alone. ~ Rainer Maria Rilke

Hotel San Giorgio (on the left)

Beautiful and quaint street in Vis (Vis Island, Croatia)

The Secret

I love Rilke’s quote above. But really, who doesn’t want to be with someone who knows all the secrets? For example, if you happen to live in NYC you may remember the all too recent Speakeasy craze. Location and means of getting through the door was the secret to share with everyone you knew. Almost like a right of passage… I mean, some things are just meant to be shared and I am grateful for those who do! When it comes to travel, the person with all the secrets becomes a saint in my opinion. There’s nothing worse than hearing how you missed an opportunity to participate in something abroad just after you’ve returned from your journey.

And for that reason alone…I will share my little secret for those who plan to travel to Croatia.

The Discovery

While planning our honeymoon, Jonathan and I became a bit uneasy about our last destination. We had planned three days in Prague, four in Budapest and then had seven to plan for in Croatia. After overloading our brains on what we wanted to do, should do and couldn’t miss out on…we felt lost and back to square one in the planning stage. We had so much we wanted to experience in Croatia and much of it were things not easily done by purchasing a ticket or making a reservation.

We were hesitant. Really, on the break of throwing in the towel and extending our stay elsewhere. Until I just happened to discover the man who could make it all happen…and on any budget. This discovery is my secret to share!

While enjoying a glass of wine and doing some fun food googling one weekend evening, I came across a website that made me all too excited to get back to planning our trip to Croatia. I happened to come across a site, Culinary Croatia. After some playing around it all dawned on me…we could actually have it all – on our top to-dos in Croatia was a cooking class and to experience wine, either through a special wine tasting experience or visiting vineyards. I dug a little deeper and discovered that we could do everything we wanted with a little help from someone with all the secrets. That website led me to Secret Dalmatia, the ‘end all’ to our reluctance and frustration with planning this trip.

Secret Dalmatia

We aren’t the typical travelers that make use of travel agents or other sources before heading abroad. We usually have a plan we’ve made ourselves and somehow make it happen on our own. But Secret Dalmatia had so much to offer and could plan everything that we wanted…by insiders with our best interests at heart.

I wrote down a list of all we wanted to accomplish and contacted Secret Dalmatia. After a quick rundown of our budget and a list of what we wanted to do and where we wanted to go. The agent immediately reviewed my responses and summarized what we wanted overall…he totally got us. I got off the phone feeling completely reassured that he would, no doubt, find us the perfect places to stay and the right balance of personalized experiences and down time to relax and explore on our own.

My list looked something like this:

  • boutique/locally owned hotels within our budget that were more about sharing their culture rather than accommodating to ours
  • cities/locations that were vibrant/lively that offered lots of opportunities to mix with locals – less touristy destinations but with much to occupy our time
  • a cooking class – preferably private (just so you know, we were blown away by the experience we got!…post coming soon)
  • a wine tasting or a private trip to a vineyard
  • a beach destination that is more relaxing than anything else – no extreme nightlife required
  • destinations where food mattered – staying someplace where we could experience fine dining as well as great street food was a must
  • time to do nothing or plan our own excursions

The Experience

Within a week, we got a draft of our trip. Everything met or exceeded our expectations and was still within our budget! We were not expecting private transportation to all our destinations and the best rooms in the hotels we stayed but that’s what we got! It was immediately evident that once we checked in we were in good hands due to the fact that we had booked through Secret Dalmatia. It is apparent that the owner and founder of Secret Dalmatia, Alan Mandic, is well-respected in the tourism community. We were treated with so much respect without it being overbearing.

To top off the experience, we were given many recommendations for great restaurants in the areas we were staying. I have to say, as a true ‘Yelp’er, I rely heavily on recommendations and reviews when deciding on a place to eat. Every personal recommendation was beyond amazing. We were able to enjoy authentic Croatian food like the locals without having to do any research on our own.

The Gallery

The photographs below are only a small bit of our trip to Croatia. For more details on our experience or to see what we did and everywhere we stayed check out the links below the gallery.

Split, Croatia

Split, Croatia

Hotel Peristil (Split, Croatia)

Hotel Peristil (Split, Croatia)

Klub Gurmana i Hedonista (Split, Croatia)

Private wine tasting experience at Klub Gurmana i Hedonista (Split, Croatia)

Private tour of Diocletian's Palace in Split, Croatia (this is a photo of the model of the palace outside the entrance)

Private tour of Diocletian’s Palace in Split, Croatia (this is a photo of the model of the palace outside the entrance)

Best tour guide ever!  If you aren't a history buff before the tour you will be at the end - she was so enthusiastic and made history come alive!  To top it off, she taught us how to take it easy and enjoy a shot of rakija like the locals.  If I ever return to Split and she is there...I will find her!

Best tour guide ever! If you aren’t a history buff before the tour you will be at the end – she was so enthusiastic and made history come alive! To top it off, she taught us how to take it easy and enjoy a shot of rakija like the locals. If I ever return to Split I will find her!

Private day of cooking with Tatjana in Trogir at her home in a 13th century palace! Here, Jonathan and Tatjana are prepping the fish...Best experience of the trip!

Private day of cooking with chef Tatjana Ciciliani, in Trogir, at her home in a 13th century palace! Here, Jonathan and Tatjana are prepping fish…Best experience of the trip!

View of the town of Vis. (Vis Island, Croatia)

View of the town of Vis from the hillside (Vis Island, Croatia)

Our view from our room at Hotel San Giorgio (Vis Island, Croatia)

A great view from our room at Hotel San Giorgio; with unexpected champagne and fruit as a honeymoon welcome gift (Vis Island, Croatia)

Lobster, typical Croatian potatoes (boiled then drizzled with olive oil and herbs) and swiss chard - not pictured: dinner at Villa Kaliopa in Vis

Lobster, typical Croatian potatoes (boiled then drizzled with olive oil and herbs) and swiss chard – not pictured: dinner at Villa Kaliopa in Vis

Croatia – Part One

  • Split

Croatia – Part Two

  • Vis Island

Croatia – Part Three

  • Vis Island

Croatia – Part Four

  • Vis Island

Croatia – Part Five

  • Zagreb

The Verdict ~ Book your trip to Croatia for a romantic or adventurous getaway, full of history and culture, great food, relaxation, and lovely people. If you want to experience Croatia like a local then book your trip through Secret Dalmatia where Alan Mandic and his team will customize your experience exactly as you want. For all of you skeptics, this is not a paid advertisement…I love to share my experiences and only hope that the next person has as great of an experience as we did. Please comment if you have any travel questions!

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The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page. – St. Augustine

SPLIT, CROATIA

July 22 – 24, 2012

Choosing Croatia for our Honeymoon

Several years ago, shortly after getting engaged, Jonathan and I were out to dinner and having a lovely conversation with our waiter. He had traveled throughout the world and was inquiring about where we thought we would go for our honeymoon. At this point, we had tossed around many ideas but hadn’t given it considerable thought. Loving his personality and his traveling spirit, we asked him as he was walking away from our table to think of any place in the world that he’s been that would be the perfect honeymoon spot. He seemed to brighten up and bounce off with joy in helping us decide on a place.

He came back a few minutes later with a big smile, announcing that he had the perfect place. Croatia. We were intrigued. We knew very little about Croatia and as curious as we are, we knew he might be on to something. He explained that is was the most romantic place he has ever been with a coastline that rivals Italy yet better because it is less touched by tourism. Several hours and google searches later we were fairly certain that Croatia would be our honeymoon destination.

One of our best decisions ever. Stunning. Romantic. Peaceful. Charming. Relaxing. Fulfilling.

C R O A T I A  I S  F O R  L O V E R S !

Croatia Itinerary

We spent a week in Croatia but this post is only dedicated to the time we spent in Split as well as a morning/afternoon in Trogir. In case you’re interested in other cities, here’s our itinerary.

Split/Trogir – 2 nights, 2 days

Vis Island – 3 nights, 3 days

Zagreb – 2 nights, 1 day

Split: Day One

My first impression…not so good. From the moment our driver dropped us off by the port in Split I thought I just arrived in the land of annoying tourists. Every inch surrounding me was a souvenir stand or a cafe touting prices that rival New York. This was not what I was expecting. Luckily, by evening my impression had changed and I was beginning to see the beauty in this city.

Our hotel, and as a matter of fact – almost everything we had planned in Croatia, had been hand-picked and booked by an amazing, brilliant and interesting man, Alan Mandic (founder of Secret Dalmatia). I look forward to revealing how we came about working with Alan in another post but for now, what you need to know is that he found us an amazing place to stay and planned two of the most memorable experiences of our honeymoon.

Hotel Peristil

Hotel Peristil within the Diocletian Palace

Hotel Peristil has 12 rooms. It is intimate and it’s located within the Diocletian Palace. The location perfect. The service very attentive but not overly so. The downside is that the air-conditioning and the beds are not up to par. But who cares! If you travel to Croatia and plan to spend your time inside your room then you deserve to be uncomfortable. Best part of this hotel, other than the location…you can hear the Dalmatian folk singing in the open terraces along the palace from your room. At night, there’s almost always an artist performing at the main square just a few feet from Hotel Peristil. Open your windows and enjoy the music while you are preparing to go out for the evening!

After getting settled into our room we grabbed lunch at the hotel restaurant, Tifani, then set out to explore before a scheduled wine tasting in the evening.

Jonathan enjoying a brew and seafood salad at Tifani…perfect choice for the hot and humid weather.

In typical Miranda fashion, I chose a plate of local cheese with Croatian wine. This is paski sir, a creamy and well-balanced sheep’s milk cheese from the Island of Pag. Get this in Croatia…it’s easy to find and why miss out – it won the prestigious Barber Award and was named the Word’s Best New Cheese in 2010.

Klub Gurmana i Hedonista

This is the point when my perception began to change. We had a wine tasting booked at Klub Gurmana i Hedonista. Our driver came to pick us up and took us just outside of the palace walls. Once we arrived we realized we could have easily walked.  Although the drive was short, we got a quick introduction to the city outside of the palace walls.  Our driver introduced us to the expert of Croatian wines, at least in my opinion. The man behind it all, Igor Beros. A very intelligent and friendly man. Connoisseur of wines and pop culture. A great conversationalist and several hours later…a friend. I didn’t want to leave. No, this is not the wine speaking through months later. I swear. Go here and you will see for yourself!

Over the course of about three hours, Igor offered us about 5 wines to taste.  We learned about Croatian wine, wine-making in general and how to distinguish the age and quality of a wine by sight and smell.  We were not always this civilized…at some point we were discussing South Park and funny British television.  In fact, by the end of the tasting we were both calling Igor, Croatian Dave…in honor of our friend whom we sometimes refer to as British Dave.  Both men endearing, funny, tall as hell and owners of the most obscure knowledge of random things.  In short, we loved Igor like a friend.

The wine we tasted greatly varied.  We got a taste of a few young and old wines.  Bold, elegant and light varieties.  All of this came with some of the best anchovies I’ve ever had.  I’m saddened that I’m unsure if I will ever get them as good as those again.  I ate all of mine on the tasting board and Igor quietly slipped away for a moment to bring out a heaping plate full to keep me going.  I was, for a moment, embarrassed.  That lasted only until I had another  bite and then about 10 more…why try to hide my appetite and gluttonous spirit?  I’m all about embracing it these days…

Us and Igor at Klub Gurmana i Hedonista!

Enjoying a toast together!

The tasting board…before I demolish it!

On our way out Jonathan and I decided to buy two bottles of our favorite from the tasting and one that we could drink in five years on our anniversary.  After talking about the beauty of an aged wine, we set Igor to the task of finding a wine that would be perfect for opening after 5 years.  He jumped to the task like a joyous schoolboy!  Very cute!  He walked around his cellar deep in thoughts until he found the perfect one.  Now our task – be patient and wait before opening!  As we were walking out with our goods, Igor gave us a gift as a honeymoon present…he told us that we would have to try it and tell him what it is – the flavor was a surprise and something of a local treat!  We’ve yet to open this bottle.  It’s kind of like unwrapping a gift slowly to save the suspense.  It sits beautifully upon our counter as a reminder of an amazing Croatian evening.  I know all too well that we will open this sooner rather than later and I look forward to contacting him in regards to our best guess!

First Croatian Dinner

After indulging in the hearty cuisines of Czech Republic and Hungary, we were so excited to try Croatian food.  I can say, it was a welcome surprise.  Much lighter in comparison to the previous countries and still full of flavor!  After leaving our wine tasting and really not very hungry, we still found ourselves back in the palace walls and sitting down to dinner.

Using Trip Advisor as our dining guide, we headed to Trattoria Bajamonte.   This restaurant sits inside the palace and is a bit hard to find.  With tables spread out in a few streets just wide enough to walk down in twos, and no restaurant sign or kitchen to be found, you can easily miss this place.  We luckily happened to read a cork board by some tables and noticed that the handwritten menu was in fact for the restaurant we were looking for.  We happily set down and ordered what we read would be a very local/typical dinner.  We shared a plate of mussels and I went for the seafood risotto while Jonathan got the fish with potatoes and swiss chard.  Delicious!!!

Seafood risotto…a bit soupy but seriously good!

Fish with lemon, olive oil and fresh herbs with a side of swiss chard and potatoes

The Art of Manliness

As we were finishing up our last bites it began to rain.  This is when officially, without any doubt, Split won me over.  After hiding from the first few minutes of drizzle we headed back to our hotel.  If you are like me, a good rain storm is more romantic than most other imaginable things…gifts, cards, snuggles, poems or what have you.  Stand outside in the rain with the one you love and walk side by side like it’s a sunny day and instantly my heart becomes all gooey…and girly.  The palace is confusing with hard to find, let alone read, street signs coupled by the fact that the streets look all too similar to not feel like you are walking in circles.  I was swooned by Split and by the man holding my hand and running along with me to the next overhang or archway.  I found so much beauty in this moment that I don’t think I spoke much…at least that’s how I remember it.

Hiding from the drizzle at the end of dinner

Trogir & Split:  Day Two

Cooking with Tatjana Ciciliani

My obsession with taking a cooking class while traveling all stems from one day several years ago…in Thailand.  The quick version of the story (yes Jonathan, I can tell a quick story)…we were traveling with our friends, Dave and Alex.  It was our second full day in Chiang Mai and we had planned a day long cooking class.  I was stoked!  Thai food ranks among my favorite.  Although extremely tired, I remembered to set my alarm.  Unfortunately to the wrong time zone.  I woke Dave and Alex up twice, the first only hours after we all went to bed…Dave was nice about my mistake and stumbled back in bed.  I reset my alarm and was still wrong…just a few hours later, I woke them again, all ready for the class.  We still had at least two hours before we needed to be up.  He wasn’t laughing at my mistake a second time.  Jonathan and I went back to bed.  This time…Jonathan and I did not get up.  The intermittent sleep and jet lag got the best of us.  We stayed in bed while Dave and Alex went off to learn the fine art of Thai cooking.  I finally awoke in the late afternoon…this time angry that I missed out.

So, in preparing for our honeymoon, I knew we had to give a cooking class another try.  One thing that I didn’t know…it was going to be one of the most special days of our trip.

I can’t begin to tell you how amazing Tatjana is.  What I can say for sure and in the most simplest terms – she is passionate, kind, interesting, and above all,  one damn good cook.  In the few hours that we got to know her I felt a connection.  She is warm and funny with such a good spirit, a person who can make anyone feel at home and at ease…even with a cleaver in her hand.

Our day of cooking in Trogir with Tatjana must have its own post.  I look forward to sharing every detail no matter how small.  But here’s a peek for now!

Cooking with Tatjana Ciciliani

Jonathan and Tatjana prepping the fish…

Risotto, fish stock, fried sardines, and bread rising…just a few of the things we had going on!

Diocletian’s Palace

After our morning and afternoon with Tatjana, Jonathan and I headed back to Split for an official tour of Diocletian’s Palace.  I’m no history buff but I certainly loved the tour.  Our tour guide, a young vibrant Croatian woman, gathered us up at the port and took us for a walk through the palace.  One of the first things she told us was, “if you get bored or tired, I’ll take you to a fun bar for a pit stop”.  How could you not love her?!  After a huge meal, sitting down to a glass of wine and relaxing sounded great but her enthusiasm and love for history bled through.  Off we gladly went for a tour!

Unfortunately, my mind only recalls details of things that I’m passionate about…history, not so much.  So I have to say, all I have of this tour is my photographs.  If you’re looking for information about Diocletian’s Palace…google it.

A model of the palace…see how easy it can be to get lost here!

Narrowest street in Split – appropriately named, Pusti Me Da Prodjem (translation: Let me pass)

Grgur Ninski Statue – touch his toe for good luck!

The palace is a UNESCO World Heritage Monument – pretty cool that many people have homes within..

Near the monumental court and our hotel…

Rakija – National Drink of Croatia

At the end of our tour, our guide introduced us to rakija.  Rakija is a popular Croatian drink, similar to brandy, and is often taken just before dinner or on your way out for the evening.  As our tour came to an end and we were headed to the bar, we stopped at Rakijarnica to try out our first rakija and to toast to an amazing evening.

Best tour guide ever!

Rakijarnica (within Diocletian’s Palace) – loads of choices for flavors…we went for the sour cherry

Ghetto Club for drinks! A very bohemian and artsy bar with more locals than tourists…photo courtesy of Time Out Croatia (my camera died by this point in the evening)

On to Vis

On the morning of our third day, we awoke with excitement to begin a new adventure on Vis Island.  We enjoyed our time in Split but were ready for something more….beach, good food and relaxing?  Yes!

View of Split from the ferry to Vis

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Writing and travel broaden your ass if not your mind and I like to write standing up. – Earnest Hemingway

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY

Day Three

The Ultimate Cure for a Hangover

So over a week of indulging heavy food, drinking, celebrating and traveling…my body was coming undone.  My third day in Budapest started a bit rough.  A hangover set in quickly and combined with the fact that I’m no morning person it was a less than a vibrant start of the morning for me.  However, unknown to me at the time, our plans for the day would just be the cure I needed.

We started the day with a rush to find an open post office.  We had several bottles of wine in tow and no room in our suitcases.  After roaming around for over an hour, we finally found one open on a Saturday…and with a little sneakiness on our part we mailed our ‘books’ home and began to look for a hearty lunch to get us through the rest of the afternoon.

Our plan for the day was to start off with a relaxing day at the famous Turkish baths, Széchenyi fürdő.  We headed in that direction and found a nearby restaurant to fill up beforehand.

Lunchtime!

Paprika Étterem…authentic, hearty hungarian food and pints of beer…feeling better already!  This restaurant was so close to the tourist areas (zoo, park, baths and circus) that I had little hope that we would find a good meal, even with the high ratings online.  To my surprise, I had one of my favorite meals in Hungary.  I ate so much that I felt ill (although less hungover)…Jonathan even tried to pull my plate away when he saw my eyes bulging and my body sink into my chair.  I’m forever a member of the clean plate club and just couldn’t stop!  That’s how good it was!

Lunch at Paprika – yes, I ate of all this…

…and all of this too

hangover beers

…Bathtime!

Ummm, what was I thinking!  Who wants to be in a bikini after a huge meal and several bloating pints later?  I blame it on my foggy thinking.  But alas, we made it to our destination with a few extra undigested pounds on us.  Széchenyi fürdő was our first experience with thermal baths. I’m still not sure how I feel about this place.  After a confusing entry process, we entered the baths.  I was taken by surprise…the smell was horrific!  Sulfur, like I just walked into a hard-boiled egg factory.  Up until this point my hangover was dissipating but the odor brought it back to life quickly.

I immediately regretted our decision to come here but Jonathan urged me on and convinced me it was worth a stay if we opted for massages.  My feet were killing me so I agreed to give it a try.  I held my breath and hopped in a few baths trying to find the one that was just right…temperature and odor taken into consideration.  Next up, foot massage…or so I thought.  Apparently, that was lost in translation.  A few minutes into the ‘foot’ massage I realized I was getting a full body massage.  It was just what I needed and how can you complain – I thought it was a fine deal!

Fully relaxed and ready to try out the rest of Széchenyi fürdő , we headed outside to the open air baths.  Totally worth the experience.  We found ourselves amongst people from all over the world.  I live in NYC and am used to being surrounded by multiple languages spoken at once – but this was unlike anything before.  A lovely experience.  Miraculously, I began to feel cured!  No hangover, stomach calm, and head clear.  Finally ready for the day…albeit 4pm.

So my lesson of the day – cure a hangover with the following; long walk, beer, heavy food, turkish bath and a massage.  You will be as good as new!

Széchenyi Fürdő – outdoor area

Beer:30

So what do you do on your last full day in Budapest?  Buy more wine to take home…and then head to a pub!  It’s quite strange to be asked to leave a bar because you are carrying four bottles of wine with you…but understandable.  I buried them in my purse and we entered Alcatraz Pub shamelessly.  Yes, my purse is that big for good reason!  Hungarians are very kind.  The bartenders smiled at my actions and offered us some beers.

We had tickets to take an evening cruise on the Danube but with several hours to spare we hung out here for awhile before getting ourselves ready.  This place is absolutely adorable.  It’s all outdoors with a good mix of locals and travelers.  Alcatraz was just across from our hotel, Continental Hotel Zara.  If you stay there you must unwind at this pub.

Alcatraz Pub…apparently this is my theme pose on this trip, always toasting the camera with a pint

Evening Cruise on the Danube

I was a bit skeptical about taking a boat tour on the Danube simply because it is mostly if not all tourist and the selections available to us appeared a bit gimmicky.  This was our last night in Budapest and from everything we read we were not supposed to miss the Danube.  With most things other than bars and restaurants closing down for the evening we decided to go for it and give it a try.  So glad we did!

The boat tour consists of indoor and outdoor seating and headphones attached to each seat for the audio portion.  It was a misty, cool evening and blankets were provided for those who chose to sit outside – I recommend this.  The views from outside the boat aren’t obstructed and when taking pictures your flash doesn’t reflect off the glass.  If you’re in Budapest you should take the time to see the city in this manner but only at night as the views in the daytime aren’t as spectacular…the pictures say enough!

View of Castle Hill from the boat

Parliament

Last Hungarian Dinner

Jonathan and I both fell in love with Hungarian food and wine so no matter how excited we were to move on to the next country we knew we would be leaving behind a culture and cuisine that we fell in love with in just a few days…

Just after we got off the Danube cruise we headed up the street to Borkonyha WineKitchen.  Luckily, we got a table without a reservation, mainly due to the fact that we were just going to dinner at 10 pm.  From what I gather this is a place for trendy locals and foodies…and for good reason!  It was delicious!!!  Amazing contemporary hungarian dishes with a wide selection of wines at great prices.  Go here! http://borkonyha.hu/

Marinated salmon with quail egg, courgette and lemon grass coriander sauce

Soft mush with fried mushrooms, parmesan and chervil

Jonathan ordered one of the daily specials…wish we could remember what everything was on this plate because it was a hit!

Jonathan’s dessert…Raspberry cottage cheese mousse with almond crunchy and raspberry sorbet

My dessert…as ususal, if there’s a cheese plate on the dessert menu you better believe that’s what I’m ordering!

Final thoughts on Hungary

Our last day and we were excited to move on to Croatia but both of us agreed, we just didn’t get enough time in Budapest.  We had four nights and three full days and still didn’t get to everything we wanted to do or see.  We look forward to returning one day and checking off a few other things in the city and doing a road trip into the countryside to visit some vineyards as well as learn more about the Hungarian culture outside of one of the greatest cities we have visited so far.

Here’s our top favorites from Budapest:

  • Faust Wine Cellar
  • Central Market
  • Danube evening Cruise
  • Onyx – restaurant
  • Costes – restaurant
  • Borkonyha WineKitchen – restaurant
  • Paprika – restaurant
  • Szimpla Kert – ruin pub
  • Covinteto – ruin pub
  • Fungarian – crash course on language and culture

Verdict ~ Book your trip to Hungary now.  You won’t be disappointed…and bring your fat jeans, you will need them because with food this good you won’t want to miss out!

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Architecture in general is frozen music. – Friedrich von Schelling

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY

July 18 – 22, 2012

Budapest in 10:

  1. Romantic
  2. Wine
  3. Divided city
  4. Goulash
  5. Danube
  6. Ruin bars
  7. Wordly
  8. Castles
  9. Paprika
  10. Architectural paradise
    The honeymoon continues…

    Leaving Prague

    Spending our last few crowns on the train

    …and this is how you sleep on a train.

    Arrival Day
    After a very long day on the train from Prague to Budapest we finally arrive to our hotel.  We were sleep deprived but what was worse was our hunger!  We boarded the train without knowing that the cafe car only accepted cash and sadly, we had just enough crowns to buy two beers or nothing at all.  So first thing on our agenda was to find some food!  Unless you want to eat at McDonald’s it’s quite hard to find late night food in Budapest.  It was well after midnight and our search began…sorry but I’d rather go hungry for the night than end my day with a whopper.
    Lucky for us, the only place that the concierge knew of that was open this late happened to be within walking distance.  Off to Montenegroi Gurman we went.  This happened to be a Serbian restaurant.  Until this night, I was completely unfamiliar with this cuisine.  Now, I’m still unfamiliar but know that you best be a carnivore if you want to eat here… or better yet, if you’re not into beef, lamb, pork or goat, then go elsewhere!  This was really a true challenge for me since I’m still new to eating meat.  I had no idea what to order, not just because there were no understandable translations but I also couldn’t decipher from the pictures of the menus what I would be eating.  So what did I do?  I ordered two dinners and crossed my fingers with hope that I would like one.  Here’s what we had..

    So the plate Jonathan is eating off of is his dinner. Everything else, mine. He had some beef something or other and enjoyed it. My plate farthest to the left is filled with sausages of some sort. They were good. I couldn’t eat them all but when eaten with the bits of tomatoes and cucumbers the meat was even better. The plate directly in front of me was translated to be something like ham and cheese. See next photo…

Serbian ham and cheese.  A teaser with the cheese – I only found evidence of something cheese-like that tasted more like butter. Was this good, yes. Just not enough of it on the sandwich. So, I deconstructed my meat sandwich. Hopefully I didn’t offend anyone but really a plate full of sausages and then a sandwich with an infinite number of slices of pork was just too much. I will however try Serbian food again – everything deserves more than one chance.

Day One

Breakfast/Lunch

After a long journey the day before, we were ready to hit the ground running.  We woke up with the energy to conquer Budapest.  After comparing many reviews and consulting multiple websites we heading out for the day.  First on our list – eat Hungarian food.  After reading some reviews on restaurants near our hotel, we headed to Ladó Cafe, a family run restaurant and jazz bar.  Good choice!  We got there just past breakfast time so we ordered lunch.  To my delight, Hungarian was unexpectedly delicious and a bit lighter than the Czech cuisine we had just acquainted ourselves with.  I would recommend this for lunch or suggest going here for dinner if you’re in the mood for great food and live jazz.

Gulyás (goulash soup)…oh so tasty! The broth is full of flavor with tender meat and potatoes.

Hideg meggyleves (cold fruit soup – sour cherry)…this one surprised us – it was delicious and not too sweet.

Pörkölt (beef stew). This is a winner! Obviously, we practically finished it before I remembered to get out the camera.  This was a hearty, full-flavored beef stew with tarhonya (egg barley).  Tarhonya or spatzle is served with many Hungarian dishes and is so yummy.

Fungarian

After lunch, we decided to start checking off some of our Budapest to-dos and signed up for a Hungarian language class.  We found an available teacher and was there ready to learn within an hour.   And because we loved it so much, Fungarian deserves its own post…stay tuned!  But for a sneak peek here’s Jonathan and I studying.

Fungarian – Hungarian language class.

Central Market Hall

We spent the next few hours exploring the neighborhood and Central Market Hall (Vámház körúti Vásárcsarnok).  Central Market is one of the largest market halls in Europe and worthy of visiting if you are in Budapest.  The market consists of three levels.  On the ground level you will find meats, cheeses, spices, fruits and vegetables.  Go upstairs for prepared foods and souvenirs.  The basement (we never made it this far) consists of more meat stalls and fresh fish as well as a small supermarket.

Vámház körúti Vásárcsarnok (Central Market Hall)

Central Market – dried fruits and more

We decided to make a lunch out of this visit.  Jonathan scooped up some hungarian sausages, caviar, and goose liver pate while I sought out some local, pungent cheese and crackers.  Nothing beats a thrown together meal like this!

Local market selections for a quick and delicious lunch!

My favorite market find – stinky cheese!

Jonathan’s favorite market find – Dobos cake! (sponge cake layered with chocolate paste and glazed with caramel and nuts)

Exploring Belvaros – District V

After the market we had some time to roam around the streets.  We found ourselves zig-zagging through busy tourist filled streets* (see note below) and then into quite, desolated streets shortly after closer to the Danube and further away from the market.  It was nice to get away from the bustle and be able to walk quietly and admire the beauty of the architecture in Budapest.  It is such an interesting mix of Roman, gothic, neo-gothic, Turkish and baroque styles.  It really is an architectural paradise.  I don’t believe I’ve been anywhere in the world that had such a striking variety dispersed throughout the city.

*Avoid Vací Street – for some crazy reason this street was on a few must-do lists for Budapest.  I have no idea why anyone would want to go here.  It is a street lined with souvenirs and restaurants all competing for your business.  As you walk by everyone feels it’s okay to interrupt you and ask you to sit down and eat at their place or buy their merchandise.   The rest of Budapest is nothing like this – don’t let this tarnish your views of the city, just avoid it.  The souvenirs aren’t worthy and the rest of the street is filled with overpriced goods and jewelry.  Spend your time elsewhere…

The honeymooners – roaming the streets of the Belvaros district next to the Danube

Dinner

On to dinner…my favorite part of everyday!

As mentioned in a previous post about Czech Republic, Jonathan made reservations before our trip to several Michelin Star restaurants – it was our honeymoon, so why not splurge!  On this evening we had a table at Onyx.  For me, this was my most memorable meal in Budapest.  And of course – I’m only going to give you a teaser photo – Onyx is being saved for its own lovely post in the future!

Onyx – One of only two Michelin Starred Restaurants in Budapest

After dinner drinks

One big meal and I’m done!  Or so I thought.  We decided to walk for a bit and see what we might feel like doing once some of our food digested.  As expected, the walk perked us up a bit and we settled on trying one of Budapest’s famous ruinpubs.

Trip Advisor reviews led us to the ruin pub, Szimpla Kert in the Jewish district, only a few blocks from our hotel.  The reviews were spot on.   I later learned that this pub, Szimpla Kert, happens to be voted as the third best bar in the world by Lonely Planet readers.  I cannot argue against this one.

The website, www.ruinpubs.com, explains ruinpubs far better than I can so here’s a tidbit on what they are…

The beginning of the 21st century was an exciting turning point in the nightlife of Budapest: in the central area of the city new places were opened one after another in tenement houses and factory buildings doomed to destruction. These were equipped with rejected furniture of old community centres, cinemas, and grandmothers’ flats, bringing a retro feeling into these places. They were soon called ruinpubs and became popular very fast among the youth of Budapest – ruinpub is the exact translation of the Hungarian name.

Ruinpubs often move to a new place, or close for some years, then open in a new place again. They are not only good places to drink and have a party but also function as cultural community areas with film clubs, theatre performances, concerts, exhibitions, and creative workshops, too. They do not work in a franchise system, there is no specified design, and there are no rules, how to make them. Every place has a unique style and atmosphere. In Szimpla kert, (Simple Garden) you can have a beer in a cannibalized old Trabant car. In Instant, you can stroll around in the labyrinth of the tenement house. In Kertem, (My Garden) you can feel the atmosphere of a socialist beer-garden of the 1980s. From Corvin tető, (Corvin Roofgarden) you can have a view at the nightlife of this cosmopolitan city. Some of the ruinpubs are open in Summer only, while others have indoor areas, so you can visit them all year.

My advice – when in Budapest go to a ruinpub!  Here’s some photos taken at Szimpla Kert…

In the corner at Szimpla Kert – taking it all in for a moment before we explore the second floor and garden

Awesome stairway!

Relaxing outside in Szimpla’s garden where a black and white film is being projected on the exterior wall of the pub.

Second floor, overlooking the ground floor entry way

Day One in a Nutshell:

  • Brunch at Ladó Cafe
  • Fungarian – Hungarian language class
  • Central Market Hall – farmer’s market and picnic lunch
  • Exploring Belvaros, District V
  • Dinner at Onyx
  • Drinks at Szimpla Kert

Day Two at a Glance: (Writing Soon)

  • Exploring Buda
  • Buda Castle
  • Labyrinths of Castle Hill
  • Fisherman’s Bastion
  • Faust Wine Cellar
  • Dinner at Costes
  • Drinks at Corvin Tetö

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