Category Archives: Uncategorized

Budapest Day 6: Home & Endnotes

We had a smooth trip home. A taxi, arranged by our Airbnb hostess, got us out to the airport in plenty of time. We had leftover Hungarian currency, so we went duty free shopping. Candy, Hungarian liqueur and some more Havana Club rum soaked up the remaining funds.

I slept from Budapest to Frankfurt. We had only a little over an hour between flights, so we only had time to hustle to our new gate. We had to undergo additional security to fly to the USA, but that was just a series of questions about where we went, what we did and our occupations.

On the longer flight from Frankfurt home, I watched Misery Loves Comedy, The Edge of Seventeen, rewatched LaLa Land and a couple of Curb Your Enthusiasm episodes. Global Entry again made Customs and Immigration a breeze, we HIGHLY recommend it if you travel abroad even occasionally.

Budapest really impressed us as being a world-class city. It had culture, great restaurants, museums and historical sites. The people were welcoming and friendly, speaking English often enough in Budapest, less so when we were outside the city. It was EXTREMELY affordable. Our dinners, with appetizers, main courses, drinks and desserts never exceeded $70 for the two of us.

Our style of travel, doing everything ourselves, booking things in advance where possible and using public transportation everywhere we could worked perfectly in Budapest. We bought the Budapest Card , which included unlimited public transportation and discounts at a lot of places. We didn’t even worry so much if it paid for itself. It was just around $38 for a 72 hour card. Because we had unlimited public transit, we would jump on the subway or trams without a thought to cost (which was only around $1.25 per ride anyway). We like walking and did a lot of it, but because this was a condensed time period and we had so much to do, time was precious and there was almost always a way to use transit to save time. And it allowed us to use the bus and subway upon arrival without worrying about changing currency and figuring out the costs when groggy upon arrival.

We picked Budapest specifically because they had a half-marathon that worked with Ellen’s spring break. After I began consulting with SOS Children’s Villages, I inquired about the village visit. So those pieces worked so well together.

Thanks for reading along for another trip. If you’ve lurked and not liked a post up until now, please like this one so I’ll know. Lots of people I didn’t even know read this will tell me they like the blog.

Finally, research what SOS does around the world for vulnerable children. If you are able, please consider a donation.


Iceland Thanksgiving: Day 1

img_1730

When visiting a country you have been to 3 times previously, it’s pretty easy to hit the ground running. We got on the plane and slept. We landed and knew just where to get our SIM cards (Arrivals Duty Free store, ask the cashier, Nova cards). We knew where to catch the FlyBus to the Blue Lagoon.

What was different this time was it was dark. We landed at 6:30am, were on a 7:30 bus to the lagoon, arrived there at 8, and got out of the water just around 10:30am…when it was just starting to get light. It was cold and windy and rainy, but with 100ºF water, it was still really comfortable and relaxing. But you miss seeing the moonscape-like lava fields on the way in from the airport.

img_1729

We then bussed into the city, found our AirBnB (our first time using it), met up with our friend Robyn who had arrived one day early, and headed into town. It’s never a mystery what my first desired stop is. img_1737

Got to visit the new flagship store. But since I own 3 jackets, a shell, a hat and a t-shirt, there really wasn’t anything compelling to buy. So I bought a pair of socks.

We walked more through town, which just feels like home at this point. Like seeing City Hall. img_1733

The Christmas decorations are up, and since there are only 5.5 hours of light now, they get to be lit up a great deal. img_1738

Ellen had picked a tapas place that Ben had recommended to us, Tapas Barinn. Fairly traditional tapas, a good amount of fish offered.

We were supposed to do a Northern lights tour tonight, but it was canceled due to the weather. Although the lights were a big part of coming in November instead of our traditional summer visits, we had read that the weather can be uncooperative, so you shouldn’t have your heart set on seeing them. So we don’t. We have two more shots the next two nights, but we’ll see what happens.

We have museums scheduled for tomorrow and the Golden Circle tour for Saturday. On the way home from dinner, we had to walk by the hot dog stand made famous by Bill Clinton. img_1739

Hope everyone back home is having a happy Thanksgiving!

 


Loire Valley Trip: Endnotes

DSC_0473

Monet’s garden in Giverny

Just getting around to summarizing our trip to the Loire Valley, here are some thoughts I am left with:

  • Short trip, but: We hear a lot “you went to France for 5 days?” But you’d go to San Francisco or New Orleans or San Antonio or Seattle for a long weekend. The flight to Paris is ~8 hours, but overnight going and part of a required travel day coming back. We’ve done these long weekend trips before, to Madrid and Barcelona. You can concentrate on a smaller geographic region and not feel rushed to do everything. In fact, this was one of our most relaxed trips, because we kept the distances short and took in what we could.
  • Off-line technology: It might come as a surprise to some, but I like being unplugged sometimes. Hey, the trip to Cuba proved I could be off the internet for 8 days and survive. So I chose to use nothing but hotel Internet (and occasional free hotspot). But being unplugged doesn’t mean you can’t take advantage of technology. I used 2 apps for the first time that work with no data connection, and can no highly recommend them. I already mentioned Navmii, which is a GPS app. You can download it for individual countries, which then includes all the maps and points of interest. We used it for driving and walking, and it worked wonderfully. The second app I loved was Microsoft Translator. You can take a picture of text (e.g. a sign or a menu) and it will translate it for you. It didn’t work perfectly, but often gave me the gist of something I couldn’t translate myself. Both apps are free and work without data, that’s great for a traveler.
  • Pack light: We both traveled with nothing but carry-on luggage. I used my new Tortuga backpack. 5 shirts, 2 pair of pants, socks/underwear, t-shirt to sleep in. Only thing I skimped on was only one pair of shoes. But being that light helped since we stayed in 3 hotels in 4 nights. And it meant no time waiting at the airport for the luggage to come out.
  • Get Global Entry: Global Entry really paid for itself this time. Now, at least at Dulles, you don’t even half to talk to an immigration agent. And while the line for Customs looked to be around 100-150 people, there was literally no one in the special Global Entry line. So we whizzed through, saving time and aggravation.
  • Keep traveling: Travel is easiest when you are young and healthy. We are no longer so young, but we want to travel our way (independent of tours) for as long as we can. Which is why we are going to keep doing trips like this as long as our health and money hold out.

Thanks for traveling along with us. Next trip is to Peru in early July.


Loire Valley Day 4: Three Châteaus

DSC_0605

For a day, we visited some picture perfect chateaus. And yes, the picture above is real, the frame is set-up to take this postcard-like picture.

Château de Blois was our first stop. We were somewhat surprised that it was an urban chateau. But we really liked it.DSC_0568

Château de Chambord was just too much. A 420 room “hunting lodge”?  It did have a circular staircase designed by Leonardi di Vinci. Not every hunting lodge has that.DSC_0589

I got the same feeling at Chambord that I got at Versailles. Too much. Just too much. The royals sure lived well, but where did the money come from and how did their subjects live? Europe’s history is full of excess

Leaving Chambord, we headed through the town of Bracieux. We were hungry and found a small place for an excellent lunch. We were the only English-speakers there, which we love. We had passed a chocolate factory just before that, Max Vauché. I’m not sure it was a formal rule before, but when you pass a chocolate factory, you stop. So we went back and bought a little bit. I mean, what the heck, we’re on vacation!

Château de Cheverny was of reasonable size. Nice gardens. And hound dogs!DSC_0596

 

Back in town, we had dinner at L’Epicerie. We had a half bottle of local Loire Valley red wine, salmon for Ellen in a creme sauce, steak for me. Ellen had cheese for dessert.

Sadly, we head home tomorrow. We had a full, but not too full, 4 days. We did the things we set out to do, and had some great non-planned experiences along the way.


Loire Valley Day 3: Vinegar and Clutch

DSC_0566

Chateau de Chenonceaux 

We left Angers after breakfast, heading for our first of 2 chateaus.

Our first real adventure came when looking for Chateau Azay-le-Rideau. I might have set the GPS for the town and not the chateau. And it might have a random spot in town when you don’t pick a specific destination. So following the GPS, it wanted us to go down a street that had a steep hill and didn’t look like it lead anywhere. I passed it once, but the GPS said it was the way. Now, I’m not the type to follow a GPS into a lake because it said so, but…

So we went down the hill. It wasn’t a street. There was no way to turn around. It was VERY narrow, with a house on each side. And the Citroen is a 5 speed. So that meant backing up, uphill, while managing not to stall. Which meant riding the clutch. Ellen had gotten out of the car, sort of to direct, but more so to make it easier on me. I kept having to straighten out. Back and forth. Up the hill. The car had the beeping when you were too close on either side. So that helped. Sort of. In the end, I made it up the hill, but the clutch was smoking, and the car was beeping on both sides. It’s easy to laugh…now. Oh, and later I used the windshield wiper fluid, which smelled of vinegar. So the title of today’s blog came from the smells in the car today.

The first chateau we visited was Chateau d’Azay-le-Rideau, built between 1518 and 1527. Lots of scaffolding and reconstruction, but still worth the visit.DSC_0533DSC_0523

We drove to Chenonceaux and had a casual lunch. It’s a small town, so it was then just a couple of minutes to one of the most remarkable chateaus.

Chateau de Chenonceau, built over the Cher River, is just spectacular. When you have a painting of a king, where the frame is more of a work of art than the painting, you’ve got something going. DSC_0545

As nice as the chateau itself was, it was the gardens that really made it what it is. DSC_0552DSC_0563

We then drove to our 3rd and final hotel of the trip, Le Manoir Les Minimes in Amboise. We checked in, and then were off to explore town. There’s also a chateau here, just next to our hotel. We had our afternoon beer/coffee, hit a grocery store for some fruit good for Passover starting, and then had a great dinner at Chez Bruno in town.

We have 3 chateaus to hit on our final full day tomorrow. And I bid adieu to the croissants and baguettes that I love. I brought matzah with me, and we’ll avoid bread for the next days, as we remember that we were once slaves in Egypt.

 

 


Loire Valley Day 2: Le Mans & Angers

DSC_0498

We had a wonderful breakfast at our Giverny b&b, and then were off. It’s nice having a 130k/ph speed limit. A little crazy to drive 180km on a highway and pay €25.90 in tolls. But, it’s France!

Our first stop was Le Mans. We chose Le Mans because it was the largest city between Giverny and Angers. We were glad we did. The cathedral above is Cathedral Saint Julien. You don’t see flying buttresses like that every day! We toured the cathedral and then did a walking tour, with the usual half-timber houses and such.DSC_0494

We grabbed lunch at a sandwich place in town (quiche for Ellen, baguette with mozzarella, tomato and salad for me). Then back in the car.

We checked into our hotel for the night 21 Foch. Right on the main street, it has a great location, and modern, Scandinavian style furnishings.

Château d’Angers was our first stop. Its origins date back to 1230. Not furnished, the outside was the best part. DSC_0500

 They do have Apocalypse Tapestry, created from 1377 to 1382. Housed in a dark room to preserve them, the pieces go on forever.IMG_0301
We did a walking tour through Angers, enjoying the narrow streets and ancient houses.DSC_0489
 After an afternoon coffee-and-beer stop, a stop in a department store for Ellen to pick up some Thomas Sabo, we ate dinner at a fabulous little restaurant, off the main square. Au Gré Des Saisons had the evening’s menu on a chalkboard that they brought to each table when it was your turn to order. They served just 3 appetizers and 3 main courses. Ellen had a duck appetizer and filet mignon, I had a raw salmon appetizer with a rump steak main course. The food was delicious, and just the two courses took 2 hours of leisurely dining.
We have more chateaus to hit, stay tuned!

Loire Valley Day 1: Giverny

DSC_0467

Water pond at Giverny

We are on a short 5 day/4 night trip to the Loire Valley. We never tire of Europe or France or travel at all.

We flew from Dulles to Paris on Air France. Plane was on time, we upgraded (if you can call it that) to an exit row so we had decent legroom. The flight was fine and on time. With the short length of this trip, we both made do with carry-on, so we didn’t even have to wait for luggage to get going.

We rented a black Citroen diesel from Europcar and jumped in. I have a new app to recommend, Navmii. It is a GPS navigation app that doesn’t require data. That’s right, I have chosen to forego constant connectivity, no SIM cards this trip. Ellen does have the 100MB plan from Verizon, but I’m just online when there is WiFi and I feel like it. Navmii allows you to download maps in advance, and it gave really good directions to get us from the airport to Giverny.

Monet’s home was our stop for the first day. Ellen booked us in a bed & breakfast a short walk from town. This picture shows our place, it is 2 levels and larger than our house. DSC_0408

The b&b is very near the church in town. It is where Monet is buried. It also showcased a custom we hadn’t seen before, leaving plaques and such on the graves.

 

Monet’s home and garden is well worth a visit. You can see the paintings from the views. DSC_0449

The town is tiny, the main street has no sidewalk, so you walk in the street with bicycles, cars, trucks, etc. The pace is slow and somehow it all works. DSC_0440

We had to find an ATM as the b&b only takes cash. That required us going to the next town over, Vernon. When Ellen checked in on Swarm, it reminded us that we had been here in 2013 as part of our Paris to Normandy river boat cruise. Who can keep track?

We took a brief rest and then walked to dinner in town. Not a lot of choices, but we were thrilled with Restaurant Baudy. We had the prix fixe, salad, main course (duck for Ellen, delicious lamb brochette for me) and dessert. Oh, and since we are in France, wine.IMG_0297

We fear we might be overtired, but the idea is to get a good night’s sleep and move along tomorrow. If you have a particular chateau you have visited and want to recommend, leave it in the comments!

Bonne nuit!