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Posts Tagged ‘Eastern Europe’

Cooking done with passion is an act of love. – Tammy Mollai

TROGIR, CROATIA

July 2012

Chef Tatjana Ciciliani in her kitchen

Chef Tatjana Ciciliani in her kitchen

Last year, during our honeymoon in Eastern Europe, Jonathan and I got the pleasure of spending a day of shopping, cooking, and dining with the passionate chef, Tatjana Ciciliani. Of all of our adventures on this trip, this is the one that we will cherish and remember forever. For more details on how we found Tatjana check out my post, The Secret to Traveling in Croatia.

The Kitchen. The heart and soul of a home.

Deep within the walls of a 13 century palace, lies a kitchen. Not just any ordinary kitchen but one that is so full of love and passion that this incredible warmth spills out into the streets and entrances passersby. This kitchen, unlike any kitchen I have ever had the pleasure of entering, has its own pulse. It beats with energy yet is soothing and slows time which can easily make you forget that hours have passed and you’ve created enough food to feed a village. This kitchen belongs to Tatjana Ciciliani. A brilliant chef, a culinary artist, a mother, a wife, a friend to everyone. A passionate, loving, and joyful woman whom has changed the way I will forever view cooking and whose influence I will never be able to fully capture in words.

Tatjana is the type of person you meet for the first time and you immediately wish you had known forever. Her kindness and joy of life is simply contagious. After spending a day with her, you will not only be incredibly inspired but you will also feel as if you just traveled deep into the core of Croatia. I learned more about the Croatian culture in this single experience than I could have ever imagined.

Lessons Learned. More than a recipe.

Rather than write the specifics of our trip to the markets, what we bought and what we cooked, I feel drawn to share our experience through the lessons I learned while cooking with Tatjana.

  • Make use of all your senses. Taste is only one aspect of selecting ingredients to cook. Investigate everything, pick things up, feel them, smell them, listen and talk to the vendors. Buying quality, in-season and local ingredients will not only yield a better dish but will also bring you closer to your land and your community.
  • Waste nothing. Unless it’s an old cucumber…it goes in the stock! Or somewhere else equally important like infusing salt! I can’t remember how many times I almost discarded what seemed like a useless peel or the top of an onion and was caught by Tatjana. It was like she had eyes in the back of her head! I had no idea how easy it was to make use of every single bit. Why have I been so wasteful? I was astonished by how many items seemed disposable moments before suddenly transformed into something totally new and delicious. Fish bones, onion tops, stems of herbs, soggy old vegetables, extra flour from bread making…
  • Don’t rush. Be patient. Slow down and enjoy the process. I don’t remember one timer being set. We cooked for hours, yet somehow the morning and afternoon blended into one magnificent experience. We had pots and pots of items boiling away, bread rising, fish waiting to be descaled while out in the blazing sun…and not once did we ever rush or worry about time. I’ve never felt so nourished physically and mentally after a meal.
  • Buy wholesome food to feed the people you love. Not one item we used was from a can or a box. Every item was traceable to the earth or the sea…not a factory.
  • Make what you love and love what you make. Everything tastes better when you’ve created it from your heart.

The Gallery. From market to belly.

Learning how to select the freshest fish at the market in Trogir

Learning how to select the freshest fish at the market in Trogir

Farmers market in Trogir

Farmers market in Trogir

After hearing me rave about cheese, Tatjana selects some cheese for an appetizer

After hearing me rave about cheese, Tatjana selects some cheese for us to try

Tatjana whips up a delicious cheese plate with honey and figs

Tatjana whips up a delicious cheese plate with honey and figs

The final cheese plate

You know you want a bite, don’t you!?

Getting ready!

Getting ready!

Loving the denim apron!

Loving the denim apron!

Gutting the fish

Gutting the fish

Tatjana giving all the hard work to Jonathan...haha!

Tatjana giving all the hard work to Jonathan…haha!

Breading the sardines after descaling them

Breading the sardines after descaling them

Happily chopping along...

Happily chopping along…

Teamwork in the kitchen!

Teamwork in the kitchen!

We got all this going on and more...risotto, fish stock, fried sardines and bread rising

We got all this going on and more…risotto, fish stock, fried sardines and bread rising

Tatjana teaching me how to make a delicious cheese and olive loaf

Tatjana teaching me how to make a delicious cheese and olive loaf

My turn!

My turn!

Working with the cuttlefish...

Working with the cuttlefish…

Ready to fry!

Ready to fry!

Frying sardines

Frying sardines

Final product!! So delicious and crispy

Final product!! So delicious and crispy

Such a fresh and simple salad, straight from the market!

Such a fresh and simple salad, straight from the market!

My favorite dish - cuttlefish risotto!  And not just because I got to watch Jonathan burst all the ink sacs...

My favorite dish – cuttlefish risotto! And not just because I got to watch Jonathan cut all the ink sacs…

Jonathan making a creamy dressing for the sardines

Jonathan making a creamy dressing for the sardines

Setting the table...notice those cucumber skins I was about to throw away...they found a home in the water pitcher

Setting the table…notice those cucumber skins I was about to throw away…they found a home in the water pitcher

Packages!  Filled with fish, veggies, herbs and olive oil

Packages! Filled with fish, veggies, herbs and olive oil

Dessert!  I wish I could remember what was in this - Tatjana whipped it up in seconds flat and it was an delicious and sweet way to end of day of cooking with an very talented and charming woman!

Dessert! I wish I could remember what was in this – Tatjana whipped it up in seconds flat and it was a delicious and sweet way to end of day of cooking with a very talented and charming woman!

Jonathan and I learned so much in such a short amount of time. We have a better understanding of Croatian cuisine and of the wonderful people we met along the way. I no longer waste so much food and have jars upon jars of herb-infused salts for cooking, my freezer is full of homemade veggie and chicken stock, and my enthusiasm in the kitchen grows with every meal I prepare with Jonathan. We are forever grateful for this one-of-a-kind experience.

Much love to Tatjana and her family for welcoming us into their home.

xoxo, Miranda

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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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To the complaint, ‘There are no people in these photographs,’ I respond, there are always two people: the photographer and the viewer.  ― Ansel Adams

ZAGREB, CROATIA

July 27 – 29, 2012

Plitvice Lakes National Park

Plitvice Lakes National Park

Final Days of our Honeymoon

After almost two weeks of traveling through Eastern Europe, we still wanted more…  We left the Island of Vis with sad hearts.  We were having too much fun to leave – the journey to the next city is always exciting; unless it’s your last.  We spent a day of travel by taxi, ferry, and train, finally arriving in Zagreb exhausted.  The last destination on our honeymoon.  We would only have one full day to explore the city.  So we set out for some beers and snacks to get us through what was left of the evening and to plan how we would spend the following day.

Hotel Dubrovnik

After beers were consumed and plans were sort of made (nothing is ever set in stone for us) we went to check in for the night.  We were staying at Hotel Dubrovnik near Jelacic Square.  This hotel lacked personality, was quite unattractive inside and out but the location and price made it an excellent choice.  We didn’t get to explore much with our limited time so staying in a vibrant, easily accessible area was key.

A Day in Zagreb

What do you plan when you have 24 hours to see a city?  After looking over our options the night before, we decided we would opt to spend most of our day in Zagreb actually outside of Zagreb…it was the best decision possible.

After waking and grabbing a quick coffee we went straight to the tourist information center in Jelacic Square.  Really, the last stop I thought we would be making but we had no choice.  We wanted to go to Plitvice Lakes National Park and considering it was several hours of a drive away and after 9am we knew we were going to need help in getting there quickly.  Once we arrived we immediately found out that we were too late for the tour to the park.  It leaves quite early and we missed it by at least an hour or more.

Remembering our lesson from earlier in our trip, Jonathan decided to ask for details in how to get a private tour guide to take us there and back as well as take us through the park.  I sat back thinking this was a crazy request.  But to my surprise – we had a deal.  The local tourism office found an English-speaking guide, a car and driver and to top it off – a decent price, not much more than a group tour on a bus.  Our guide and driver would be ready for us within 90 minutes so we had some time to spare.

Dolac Market

Wish I could say we knew about this market but we didn’t.  It just happened to be right off the main square.  We needed to find something to pack for lunch for our trip and we stumbled upon this place by accident.   How did we not know about this?  It was true luck.  Jonathan and I love going to markets, especially in other countries.  Markets are a great way to learn about the local people and to better understand their cuisine.

Dolac market is a must see if you are in Zagreb.  It is over eighty years old and had all that you could wish for in a market.  If you move from the main square towards the market you first encounter flowers and plants of all kinds.  From there you go up the steps to a huge space where in the center there is a bounty of fresh fruits and vegetables, really too large to see from standing in one spot.  Surrounding the middle are cheese and cream vendors and little stands selling quick, affordable lunches.  Below all of this is where you will find fishmongers and butchers.

We pick up our lunch here.  Some bread, lots of cheese and fruit.

Flower vendors leading up to the main area of Dolac Market

Flower vendors leading up to the main area of Dolac Market

Jonathan buying fruit for our lunch

Jonathan buying fruit

Fresh dairy!  A cheese centered lunch...yum

Fresh dairy! A cheese centered lunch…yum

Notice all the red umbrellas at the market…we later found out from our tour guide that there is a reason why they are red and the story is a romantic one.  Of course I was all ears, these are little tidbits that I love to hear.  I’m no historian so here’s my abbreviated version of this story:  boy loves girl, kisses girl in rain, black umbrella turns red, there is a rainbow, suddenly a red umbrella is a symbol of love, a Zagreb souvenir is born.  Awwww, so sweet.  Don’t bring an umbrella to Zagreb.  Buy one here.  Maybe you will get hit by this lucky love bug!

Another 45 minutes to spare.  We meet our tour guide, pay up and then head out for coffee and a walk in the Zrinjevac until our driver arrives.

Walking around in Zrinjevac - a mini park near the main square

Walking around in Zrinjevac – a mini park near the main square

Plitvice Lakes National Park

I’m easily enthralled by large furry animals, extraordinary acts of kindness, charming old men, people with unfathomable talents, and stunning panoramic views of nature.  Ok…that was a bit much but so true, if you know me well, all of the above just crumbles my senses in so many ways, often making me cry or taking my breath away.  The last in that list is what is relevent here.  Plitvice Lakes National Park seriously was the most beautiful place I have ever seen.  I was seriously captivated by mother nature herself.  Left breathless and complete serene, so much so that I could have toured the entire park in silence…except that every few minutes with visual sense in overload, I found myself smiling and uttering how beautiful every inch of the park was then back to silence again..

Plitvice Lakes deserves a post of its own.  So I give you a link to satisfy your curiosity now along with a few teaser photos until I dedicate a page to this tour only.  http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/98

Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia

Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia

Plitvice is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is protected and preserved

Plitvice is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is protected and preserved

Awww.....the Honeymooners!

I am blessed to have the life that I do.  I am beyond grateful for the man I now call my husband.  Our journey started over 13 years ago but it truly feels like we are just getting started.

This was the last day of our honeymoon.  As much as I would like to keep the honeymoon tale going I will close here.  Some things are meant to be shared but the most precious moments  are left to be savored by those who hold the memories.  I look forward to recounting future travels and our big moments as they come but as for our last evening…it’s simply that – ours.

Croatia is for Lovers

I can’t say it enough.  Croatia is for lovers.  Go there with someone you love.  Delight in every moment, relax in the sun and by the sea, spend your evenings with a great glass of Croatian wine, fresh seafood and good conversation. 

Honeymoon Itinerary Recap

For a more in-depth summary of our trip go here.  You can find details of where we stayed, our little adventures and our favorites spots in each location.

  1. Czech Republic: Prague – 3 nights
  2. Hungary:  Budapest – 4 nights
  3. Croatia:  3 destinations – 7 nights (Split, Vis, Zagreb)

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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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A meal without wine is like a day without sunshine. – Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY

Day Two

…and we said, “Let there be wine!”

On the morning of our second day in Budapest, we awoke with renewed energy and were ready to conquer our second favorite thing after finding delicious food – it was our day to explore Hungarian wine! To do so, we decided to escape our side of the Danube and head towards Buda. After doing our own separate research on things to do in Budapest, Jonathan and I descovered that we both had written down the same wine cellar. This meant that our day as oenephiles would begin there…Faust Wine Cellar on Castle Hill. Lucky for us, it was right next to other must see places – why not check a few things off on our way?

Labyrinth of Buda Castle

We were staying in Pest so we opted for a quick, although expensive, taxi ride to Buda. There we would go directly to Castle Hill and spend our time exploring while waiting for the first wine tasting of the day. The architecture in Budapest is the most amazing I’ve ever seen and from Castle Hill you are able to take in the breathtaking views of both sides of the Danube at once.

Castle Hill is flooded with activities that will engage every traveler out there. We arrived with much to do but decided since it was already becoming quite a hot morning to go to the underground labyrinth of Buda Castle where we could cool off a bit. There wasn’t much to the labyrinth, after about 20 minutes of roaming around inside we were bored and ready to resurface. The history behind the caves and labyrinth is interesting but much of what we learned was at the entrance – in my opinion, only go here if you need a place to cool down or you want to play around like zombies…

Labyrinth of Buda Castle – map

The Royal Palace

The Royal Palace is a beautiful sight to see although the best views are from the Danube at night. We strolled through the grounds and found a few fun things along the way…pretzels, over-priced souvenirs, archery, and ‘Chippy’ the hawk!

Royal Palace

A little archery while exploring the palace grounds

Not bad for a first timer!

Husband taking his weapons seriously…

Chippy, my new best friend! I really wanted to free him but was sure the outcome would not be in my favor…

Matthias Church & Fisherman’s Bastion

Just a few hundred yards away from the palace lies Matthias Church and just beyond, the Fisherman’s Bastion. We decided not to tour the church – the outside view is magnificent and was enough to satisfy us. We did have more to see and little time before the wine tasting so at this point we became a bit conservative with time.

Matthias Church

For the best views I recommend paying the few forint and taking a walk on the Fisherman’s Bastion. There are at times many people to skirt around but just walking along and seeing the Danube and Pest from this area will be worth every effort!

Fisherman’s Bastion – view from one end looking across to the other

Views of Pest from the Fisherman’s Bastion

Faust Wine Cellar

If you’re looking for an introduction into Hungarian wines – your journey should start here. Prior to this trip, I don’t ever remember hearing much about Hungarian wine and am pretty sure I have never tried any before. Faust Wine Cellar is ranked #1 in the top 100 best things to do in Budapest, or at least was at the time of our honeymoon. It has honestly earned this rating for good reason. The service is brilliant and the location, simply beautiful. The cellar is located under the Hilton on Castle Hill. It is situated deep in the caves below and sets the perfect stage for a wine tasting.

Our visit started a bit of a craze for the two of us. After this tasting we bought several bottles of wine and mailed clothes home so that we had room to fit these treasures in our luggage. This was our most memorable and favorite experience while in Budapest so, as I have done in previous posts, I will save a solo post on Faust for the future. If you are curious now, check out their website for a look into what Faust Wine Cellar has to offer – http://www.gbwine.eu/palinka_tasting_wine_tasting_budapest.html

Faust Wine Cellar

Pool Time!

After several hours of tasting wine we decided to head back to our hotel and relax a bit before dinner. We were staying Continental Hotel Zara in the Jewish District. I highly recommend this hotel for several reasons. First, it’s just beautiful! From the moment you walk in the front door you know you are staying somewhere special. The rooms are small yet comfortable with modern decor that adds a luxurious feel for the size. The location of the hotel is probably the best part – it is so close to some amazing restaraunts and just a few blocks away for the most popular ruin pubs. But on a hot and busy day – the pool is where it’s at! Continental Hotel Zara has an outdoor rooftop pool and just inside and next to it is an indoor pool, jacuzzi and saunas. No better way to relax while traveling.

We packed a few beers in our bag and headed up to the rooftop for a swim and some down time. The views from the pool are unbelievable. You find yourself inside a modern swimming pool looking at the roofs of building that are centuries old with the mountains and beautiful surroundings peppering the horizon.

Continental Hotel Zara – entrance

Rooftop pool at Continental Hotel Zara

Dinner time – Costes

After long day of touring, drinking, and well…relaxing we set off to dinner at Costes. This was the third of three of Jonathan’s planned-in-advanced honeymoon dinners. Costes is one of two Michelin Star restaurants in Budapest (both of which he reserved) and was his favorite of the three.

Costes, like many things from this journey, will have it’s own post once I complete my day to day breakdown of our trip. Interested now, check out Onyx’s website and drool over the next pic! http://www.costes.hu/en#etlapunk

Costes Restuarant in Budapest

Another ruin pub!

After visiting the most famous ruin pub, Szimpla Kert, the night before I had already become a ruin pub fan. So next up for a night out after an unforgettable dinner was Convintetö. This ruin pub consisted of two floors (that we know of) and the second being the rooftop. From the entrance you immediately get the sense that you are entering somewhere unique and off the radar. Corvinteto is built on the top of an old socialist type department store building. It’s a cool hangout spot in the city with the one and only openair rooftop underground club in Budapest! Sunset, heavy duty elevator, huge open space, pálinka, panorama, ice-cold beer, comfortable sofas, dancing ’till dawn, sunrise in the middle of the city, on the top of the once state owned department store…go here!

Corvinteto – ruin pub

Beer after a long day of….wine, late night at Corvinteto

I love this picture! We have no idea where this leads to or how you get in but it’s inside Corvinteto and is the perfect background for hilarious pictures…

Day Two in a Nutshell:

  • Exploring Buda
  • Royal Palace
  • Buda Castle
  • Labyrinths of Castle Hill
  • Fisherman’s Bastion
  • Faust Wine Cellar
  • Dinner at Costes
  • Ruin Pub ~ Corvintetö

Day Three at a Glance: (Writing Soon)

  • Lunch at Paprika Étterem
  • Turkish Baths – Széchenyi fürdő
  • Alcatraz Pub
  • Evening cruise on the Danube
  • Dinner at Borkonyha Wine Kitchen

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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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