Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Beautiful Budapest

Budapest...what an absolutely amazing and fascinating city. Being the ignorant American I am, I had a pretty vague impression of Communist-era Hungary and wasn't really sure what to expect from modern-day Budapest.

After settling in to my hostel (actually more like a guest flat, hidden three floors up), I pulled my usual let's-go-explore-without-knowing-anything move. First stop was St. Stephen's Basilica - a magnificent building with an even more jaw-dropping interior design. I climbed to the top of the tower and had a great 360 view of the city!

Sadly, the section with St. Stephen's mummified hand (yes, his actual hand) was closed for the day, so I missed the basilica's main tourist draw. On a side note, a church in Prague also displayed a thief's preserved hand so maybe it's a trend in this part of Europe...

What else made me really love Budapest? Well...CAVES. Budapest has this amazing natural cave and hot spring system, so a number of awesome museums were located inside a cave. Also, the thermal baths are really relaxing!
Hospital in the Rock (underground WWII hospital)
Cave Church, yup
Szechenyi Baths
I'm also a huge fan of Budapest's ruin pubs, a phenomenon where abandoned houses were transformed into these crazy (slightly psychedelic) pubs and clubs. The decorations are off the walls and almost all are free entry! I got to try the Hungarian national drink, palinka, a delicious fruit brandy.

I didn't see as much as I hoped to, but I saw enough to make me love it! Here's some more beautiful sights and tastes from Budapest.

Goulash! Finally :)

Three days were all too short for Budapest! It was quite an adventure and I can't wait to go back :)

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Viennese Princess for a Day

Vienna was so beautiful, stately, and REALLY rainy. I spent three days sloshing through puddles to get to my next destination and playing tug-of-war with the wind, which sort of dampened (haha) my opinion of Vienna. Still, I enjoyed the sights and tastes overall and would recommend seeing the city at least once.

I honestly didn't cover much ground in Vienna, but I got to see the main sights: the State Opera House (above), Schonbrunn Palace, the Rathaus (city hall), Kungsthistoriches Museum, and the towering Stephansdom.

Rathaus lit up for the Film Festival

One of my favorite experiences in Vienna was having afternoon tea at the famous Demel pastry shop. After running around in the rain all day, I almost died of happiness when I saw the cakes. Even the tiny tea sandwiches (3 euros each!) were so delicious. THE CAKES ARE AMAZING. The restaurant itself, which used to supply pastries for the royal family, is located inside a beautiful 19th century manor.

Before teatime, I visited the Schonbrunn Palace. It was really nice, but not as opulent and "pretty" as some other European palaces. But in any case, I think I got my day's worth of royal experiences!

I also really enjoyed my last night in Vienna, when I went on a late-night adventure across the Danube River. Starting from the Donauinsel (Danube Island), I walked across the bridge in search of a fairytale castle I spotted on the other side. It turned out to be a church, but I'd like to think that I found a magical castle by the river. ;)

And if you are curious what Vienna looks like, here are some more pictures from my aimless wandering around the city.

Cubist Jesus?

Elvish staircase (actually a cathedral but...)

Here's the library, nbd

Kungsthistoriches Museum - expensive admission but  
gorgeous design and good variety of art collections!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Back on the Road Pt. 1 - Prague!

I was planning to do a trip before school started, but I wasn't sure where. At the last minute, I realized I actually had 11 free days so where better to explore than the beautiful Central European capitals? I booked everything in the span of three days before and bam - I'm off!

My first (and eventually last) stop was Prague. The city is so gorgeous but I can't exactly describe why. I didn't fall in love with Paris or London, but Prague and Budapest really captured my heart. Maybe the pictures can speak for themselves...

After an INTENSE 14 hour bus ride from Copenhagen, I managed to navigate myself to my amazing hostel: Sir Toby's! This famous hostel is liked for good reason - comfy rooms, a nice brick pub, and daily organized activities. Would highly recommend to everyone. :)

After getting settled, I headed off for a free walking tour. The guide told some great stories about Prague and its landmarks, though we had to take shelter from the pouring rain in the middle. We even braved "The Crosswalk of Death" aka this crazy intersection where the cross signal lasts for like five seconds,

The ghost from Don Giovanni
(alternatively, Emperor Palpatine from Star Wars)

After the tour, I meandered around as usual and found myself looking at a jazz festival! It appeared to be free, so I went to check it out. The music was great and the food was sooo cheap. A beer and a dish for under $1, plus live music? DOWN.

After this musical interlude, I hiked up the hill and found myself with an amazing view of Mala Strana ("Lesser Town") with its red tile rooftops and cobblestone streets. I am ridiculously out of shape and the hike almost killed me, but the view was worth it!
Beginning of the hike of death

Memorial to the Victims of Communism

Finally...the view

After a bit of conversation, my hostel roommates quickly became my new friends and we went on a crazy pub crawl together! From the power hour to visiting a "communist propaganda" bar to dancing on the table, I had so much fun. 

My two friends and I spent the next day exploring Prague Castle, listed as the largest castle in the world! Really beautiful and, of course, enormous place. I will never forget how we bought a "shot" of melted hot chocolate and slurped it all together. We were so tired that the chocolate was AMAZING.

Day 3 in Prague actually happened at the end of my trip, and it was a solo last day. Still, I made friends while going on a beer tour (Czech beer is the BEST, hands down) and had an awesome last night!

Convinced me to try this delicious Czech dish!

I also saw my very first ballet, Popelka (Cinderella), at the gorgeous National Theatre! I've almost forgotten the magical beauty of ballet, and I was completely entranced by the performance. Going to the ballet was by far one of the best choices I made on this trip.

And all too soon...it was time for me to bus back (14 hrs yikes) from Prague to Berlin.