Category Archives: Vacation

Budapest Day 3: 13.1 Miles Of Fast Fun

Today was race day! Ellen came with me to the start. We helped a runner from Uruguay, who was racing around looking for the subway in near panic. We were glad to get her going in the right direction.

The expo looked pretty much the same as a race in the USA, except it was also set-up on race day.

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There was a warm-up that I half-heartedly participated in, mostly because I don’t like to tire myself out before the race!

The race had 6 corals, even with an expected time of 2:10-2:15, I was in corral 5.

About 10:15am, I was off! The race started in Hero’s Square and went right down Andrassy Avenue. Much of our activity yesterday, House of Terror, Opera House, lunch, was on that street, the main boulevard in Budapest. So it was familiar.

We went right past our Airbnb, and then over the chain bridge to Buda. This is the only picture I took during the race, I decided I was racing for time.IMG_2457

So only a few differences between this race and a race in the States. I liked that the course was marked in kilometers. Even though you are running 21 instead of 13, you feel like you get more regular signs of accomplishment as you reach them much quicker. Instead of gels or gummies, the glucose they handed out were pieces of bananas and white sugar mints (that looked like marshmallows to me at first).

From my watch, I was under a 10 minute/mile pace for every mile except one, and that included water breaks every 2-3 miles. I knew I was on a good pace, and I wanted to try to beat 2:10. It was warmer than I like, getting up to 72°F and the sun was out. But I gave myself no excuses, picking up the pace the last several miles. Mile 13 in fact was my fastest at 9:04 and the last part of the race (.22 miles on my watch since you always go longer than the official race distance) was 8:37 pace. I was really happy with my finish, the 2nd fastest of my 13 half-marathons.

For the first time for me, I had raised funds with this race for the charity I have been consulting for. If you’d like to make a donation to SOS Children’s Villages, please click here.

While I was running, Ellen was doing her own exploring. In those 2+ hours, she went to Hero’s Square, City Park, the zoo, and the Miniversum. We met back up near our apartment, going to the Spring Market (like a Christmas market but around Easter). I got a bread for lunch, Ellen got a potato latke-type thing with toppings. We went back to the apartment to eat.

Soon though, we were off again, We decided to treat ourselves to the baths and a massage. We went to Rudas Baths.IMG_2461

Saunas, pools of different temperatures, a beautiful outside pool that had a view of the Daube. And then after all that, the Lavender Dream massage, which was a scrub with lavender salts followed by a massage. Took much of the pain from the run away.

We walked back to the Pest side, pulled out our phones and found a place for dinner. A small cafe, Gerlóczy Cafe was just perfect. Salmon for me, duck breast for Ellen.

One more thing on the way home. Ellen wanted to ride the ferris wheel in a park near our apartment. So we did. The top had an awesome view of the Buda side, the castle and the church. IMG_2473


Budapest Day 1: Mostly Travel

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St. Stephen’s Basilica

Our quick trip to Budapest started out at Dulles Airport on April 6, 2017. We had wicked storms coming through DC that afternoon, so we were a little concerned from the beginning about making our connection in Frankfurt, as we had only just over a 1 hour layover. As it turns out, we were right.

A 20 minute delay became a 35 minute delay. When the pilot announced he was shutting down the engines as air traffic was stacked up, we knew we were going to arrive a little later than we had planned.

All credit to United/Lufthansa though. When we landed in Frankfurt, they had already rebooked us. Now, United had Ellen and I on different flights to Munich before being booked on the same flight from Munich to Budapest. But we had Lufthansa fix that and make sure our luggage was being rerouted. And extra time in Frankfurt just meant Ellen could take her time shopping at the Thomas Sabo boutique. We flew to Munich, waited about an hour and then finally flew to Budapest. Through the magic of the Interwebs, we had alerted our Airbnb hostess to our new arrival time.

Our luggage did arrive with our flight. We had pre-ordered Budapest cards, which include public transit. That was nice because we didn’t have to worry about figuring out fares or getting Hungarian forints right away. We took the bus to the subway, then the subway 10 stops and we were in downtown Budapest.

Our Airbnb is a block off the Danube, near the Chain Bridge. We our near so much, including the church pictured above. Our hostess met us at the apartment, showed us how all the different keys work and even called her son who speaks perfect English to see if we had additional questions, even though she spoke very good English. After just a few minutes we were off.

Quite near our apartment is an Easter market that we plan to go back to explore. IMG_2414

To no one’s surprise, our first stop was to get SIM cards. We went to a Vodafone shop, and in 15 minutes and for $12 each, we had 1GB of data. Check.

Not really having eaten much over the last day and a half, we were hungry. Ellen had found a recommendation for a Hungarian restaurant nearby. Cafe Kor was charming, cozy, delicious and very reasonable.

I had veal with potatoes.

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Ellen had duck.

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We stopped at an apple strudel place for, well, a 2nd dessert. Crashing very soon, have to make up for 6 hours of lost time, starting tomorrow.


Denmark/Iceland Day 10: Home and Wrap-Up

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You can wake up in Reykjavik and 6 hours later be back in DC. We had a smooth trip home, not much really to report. Filed for our VAT refund, spent some remaining Icelandic currency in the duty-free shot (saving some for Ben and Courtney’s New Year’s Trip), grabbed a quick bite in the Icelandic Air lounge and flew home. Global Entry helped smooth the process although the longest wait was for the luggage to come (but it did!). We had parked at a nearby hotel using Spot Hero, just $30 for 10 days.

Observations

We liked Denmark. It didn’t have the natural beauty of Norway or the people warmth of Sweden, but the people were nice and accessible, it was easy to get around, both with public transport and driving.

Ellen, as always, gets huge praise for her trip planning skills. We worked well together, changing our itinerary for the first time I remember, to drive further and see more.  Aarhus was the highlight of Denmark for me, and that was the city we added.

Technology wise, US chip credit cards worked well. We got a BarclayCard with a pin specifically so we could use a card in automated machines (gas pumps, parking meters, etc), and it helped out in several cases. We had good experiences with SIM cards in both Denmark and Iceland. Spoiled so much that our 1/2 day in Sweden felt jarring that we didn’t have data. Impressed that Waze continued to direct us in Malmo even when we lost data coverage.

Found a great use case for the Apple Watch. When trying to find a store or restaurant, instead of carrying the phone around for directions, I used Apple Maps and then put my phone in my pocket. The watch then displayed the directions and tapped appropriately when it was time to turn. It worked well and felt much safer not to have the phone out.

We did notice that many establishments have added surcharges on credit cards in general or foreign cards specifically. Still better than carrying a lot of cash, but there always seems to be some gotcha to get travelers to cough up more.

We used Tripadvisor and Yelp to help select restaurants, and that produced some great meals. That and we repeated meals at The Little Apothecary in Copenhagen and Icelandic Fish & Chips in Reykjavik.

Iceland was as wonderful as always. It was nice to have a car and do the traveling on our own. That allowed us to pick our sites and visit towns and restaurants too small for even a 16 person tour group to visit.

We had some of our best conversations with locals in stores, especially Skagen in Aaarhus, Thomas Sabo in Malmo and 66° North in Reykjavik. We ask questions of the retailers and find they are more than willing to share some of their background and viewpoints to interested travelers.

The biggest advantage of travel in my opinion is how it opens your eyes. Not just to how others live, but taking you out of what your normal is. Things like air conditioning. Copenhagen doesn’t have it because it is rarely hot, but when it is (like when we visit), they deal with it. The stores, the restaurants, the subway cars were hot. But when a rail car is unairconditioned in DC, all of a sudden #hotcar is trending. We are spoiled in the US, with comfort, big cars, and huge portion sizes. At many restaurants, a soda or sparkling water was 250ml, a little over 8 ounces. And that was it. No free refills. And you made it last because it was already $4.

I hope to keep that perspective with me of seeing the world differently and challenging the normalcy we get used to.

Thanks for reading along, I’ve enjoyed the questions and comments. If you enjoyed it (and got this far), do me a favor and like on Facebook or WordPress, or favorite on Twitter, just so I know you were reading.

Until our next big trip, which is….CUBA!


Denmark/Iceland Day 9: Blue Lagoon and Reykjavik

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Reykjavik has 21 hours of sunlight this time of year, and even after the sun set last night, it was still a little light. Flipside in winter must be tough.

This morning we drove back to the airport to return the car. Next, was our 3rd visit to Blue Lagoon. It’s fed by geothermal waters, so even with a 55°F outside temperature, it is warm and relaxing. We walked around the pool for about an hour, then had 1/2 hour in-water massages. Takes all the stress away to float on air mattress in the water and get a massage. They have this natural silica that results in the obligatory selfie.

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A bus ride back to the city, we then set out to walk and explore. This is the harbor right across from our hotel.

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The Harpa Concert Hall is also right on the water. We went in, it’s full of mirrors and glass and reflects the water and the city.

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A walk up the hill took us to the church, Hallgrímskirkja

. This time we went in. Plain on the inside.

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Last thing was a nice dinner, and we certainly had that at 3 Frakkar. Ellen had smoked cod, I had (and I took a picture of the menu so I could describe it for Rebecca) panfried salted fillet of Cod with cashew nuts, raisins, tomato and apple. We both thought our dishes were excellent, the sauces made them especially flavorful. We shared an ice cream sundae for dessert.

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We got the idea tonight that I should look for an Iceland football jersey. We tried a few stores before dinner with no luck. Ellen made it a mission, looking at all the stores on the way home, and lo and behold, we found one. So my collection now includes jerseys from Barcelona, Argentina, Poland, Denmark & Iceland, with a rugby shirt from Ireland.

Tomorrow, we have to come home. Glad to see Colby, but wishing this great vacation didn’t have to end.


Denmark/Iceland Day 8: Now with Iceland!

We changed countries fairly easily. And our car rental for the day was a Hyundai i30, so not much changed!

Before we get too far, the poll yesterday. Of 21 votes, 14 of you guessed $45-55. And you were right, the toll was around USD $55 EACH WAY between Copenhagen and Malmo. We found out there is also a train right from the airport to Malmo. Maybe next time!

Today was the first time in our 3 visits to Iceland that we rented a car and did our touring by ourselves. In the past we had used a tour company, but they were sold out for the western coast this time, so we decided to do it ourselves. Pixels will not do it justice, but here is a taste of what we saw today. DSC_0488 DSC_0473 DSC_0477 DSC_0483 DSC_0469 DSC_0470

The temperature varied from 8-14°C, overcast, windy, and it was still just breathtaking sites.

We drove back to Reykjavik and checked into our Planet Aparment place. New for us, quieter part of town, looks really nice.

We have a few favorites from our past visits, and we took quick advantage of them. First was Icelandic Fish & Chips for dinner. They have moved to a larger, brighter space. Food still as good.

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Next was my favorite outerwear store, 66° North. We both got jackets there.

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Finally we walked up to the church, because it is just such a great visual site. A good full day!

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Denmark/Iceland Day 7: Well, Now I Have To Add Sweden

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We had hot weather which was unusual, so we were due for a more normal cold, rainy, windy day. That day was today.

We left Aarhus around 8am and drove to Malmo, Sweden. Malmo is near Copenhagen, just a (16km long) Oresund Bridge ride from near the Copenhagen Airport. Anyone care to guess how expensive for a one-way crossing? (no Googling it first!).

We were looking for something different to do to spend the day. But perhaps a bit of the reason for going to Malmo, Sweden was that Ellen wanted to hit the Thomas Sabo store there and pick up a charm or two. So that’s the address we put into Waze. As an aside, SHOUT OUT TO WAZE for keeping the GPS directions going in Sweden after we strayed from our Denmark data connection. We found the store quickly, were helped by a very nice Sabo employee and Ellen was successful in getting a few new charms and a ring.

Since we were there, we decided to explore. It was pouring rain, 50°F, with 25-40mph winds, but we were determined. We found the town square, city hall and Saint Peter’s Church. We liked Malmo a lot, except for the weather. He hadn’t made it that far south when we were in Sweden 2 years ago.

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We walked until we were so cold and wet that we couldn’t anymore. Stopped for coffee/tea and then came back to Denmark. We are staying at the Hilton at the airport, so we checked in, returned the car and then went back to the hotel. We had thought about going into Copenhagen for our last dinner, but decided to dry off instead. So we had dinner at the hotel and relaxed a little, before our flight to Iceland early tomorrow morning.

There was time for one last Carlsberg, however.

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Denmark/Iceland Day 6: Aarhus (is a very, very, very fine hus)

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Don’t let the blue sky fool you, we had some off and on rain today, but nothing to disrupt our plans. Today was Aarhus, just Aarhus. Based mostly on Rick Steves’ walking tour, we hit 2 churches, a beautiful street, the art museum and threw in the train station for fun.

The church (seen above) dates back to the 12th century. Many of the frescos had been whitewashed during the Reformation, but that served to perfectly preserve them. DSC_0422

The tour took us to a street that was billed as the prettiest in town, and it lived up to its billing.DSC_0437

We then went to the modern art museum, .ARoS. It was awesome on many counts, but two stood out. First was The Boy, a 15 foot sculpture that was spookily realistic-looking. Notice the scale with the real person!

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Then, on the roof of the building was a circular walkway with a rainbow of color as you went around. Pictures did capture the colors, but not the feeling of looking over the city through different color lenses. First a panoramic sense of it, then a single view.IMG_1328DSC_0458

We walked along the Stroget to the train station, which had a mall as part of it. Ellen had concerns if we’d have enough to do today, but we easily filled it.

Ellen found a highly recommended pizza restaurant, Cafe Piccolina, which was a block behind the main church. The chef was from Italy, the wife worked the front, the children wrapped the silver. And the pizza seemed authentic Italian. This is the al pomodoro.

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Tomorrow is our last day in Denmark, so we are thinking of throwing it a curve and going to Malmo, Sweden. The weather isn’t supposed to be that nice, but we thought it might be fun. We didn’t get to Malmo 2 years ago when we were in Sweden.