Budapest : Best City of the Summer

BUDAPEST

Danube River between Buda and Pest (c) 2018 onehundredroads
Danube River between Buda and Pest (c) 2018 onehundredroads

We recently relocated to Sofia, Bulgaria for work – more on that later. One of the perks of living in Eastern Europe is the proximity to travel destinations that might be otherwise out of reach on a European vacation due to the desire to visit the main cities (Paris, Rome, London) or time constraints. In any event, we were lucky enough to be able to get a last-minute flight to Budapest on a whim. What a surprise! Budapest did not fail to impress us with its beautiful, historic buildings, lively restaurant scene, and gorgeous waterfront setting along the Danube River. I had few preconceived notions about Hungary (hot paprika), but I was not prepared for how truly impressive Budapest is today. My advice for a peak-season summer city visit is to skip the big ones: too crowded, too hot, and too expensive. Instead opt for another capital city that is equally impressive and more affordable: Budapest.

Where to Stay
Where you decide to stay has a big effect on whether you like a place or not. First impressions do make a difference. If you are able to splurge a little or go during the week instead of the weekend, try to stay within walking distance of the main sights. We stayed at the Hotel Moments Budapest on Andrássy út 8. This hotel is an older building that was totally renovated in the interior. It has a delicious restaurant, excellent included breakfast and the location is perfect. Andrassy Avenue is a pretty, tree-lined street in an upscale area right around the corner from some of the major sites. I loved this hotel so much and it was surprisingly affordable. The room was large and we scored with a room overlooking Andrassy. I almost stayed at the Buddha Bar Hotel which is closer to the Danube; that area is decidedly more congested and touristy, but still nice. There are many hotels in both areas and either way you would be close enough to walk to the major sites.

Hotel Moments Budapest
Andrássy út 8.
Budapest
1061
HU
+3616117005

Where to Eat
There seems to be a bit of a foodie revolution going on in Budapest. We never got a bad meal, admittedly we did avoid the very touristy places. Our splurge meal was on the recommendation of the hotel. Yum.

Tasty Fish in Budapest
Tasty Fish in Budapest (c) 2018 onehundredroads

What to See

Walking and Parks – There is a lot to see just walking around Budapest for free. We do a lot of outdoor touring with our two-year-old son. On the first afternoon, we splurged on the Budapest Eye, a Ferris wheel which was really cool and gave us a nice overview of the city. It is located in a lovely city park with restaurants, food stalls, trinket shops and a concert venue as well. We saw a free traditional folk festival while there.

Check it out: Budapest Eye http://oriaskerek.com/home/.

Bridges and Castle Hill – There are a number of impressive bridges, including the Szechenyi Chain Bridge, spanning the Danube, and you can easily walk across. We walked to Castle Hill (Buda side) for a pretty view of Parliament (Pest side).  Castle Hill itself has some jaw-dropping buildings as well, and an interesting little place called Fisherman’s Wharf. You can hike up or take the little tram, or funicular, up to the top. I found the tram was well worth the fare.

Budapest Funicular http://budacastlebudapest.com/funicular-buda-castle-district/

Cruise – Finally, on our last night we took a 1-hour ferry down the Danube at sunset. It was last minute and we didn’t have a dinner cruise, but there are lots of options. Ours was simple but accomplished the same goal, seeing the sights lit up from the water was stunning. You can pre-book cruises or just walk up to one and ask for the sailing times.

Spas – Budapest is famous for spas, but we didn’t have a chance to go. I did visit the older more famous one, Gellért Baths. It was a neat old building and I’m sure worthwhile for a few hours. A Danish couple we met on the Danube boat went there and to another one, which they said was better – alas the name escapes me!

In short, three nights was a nice introduction to Budapest, but not long enough to enjoy this vibrant city.  I highly recommend it and intend to return myself.

Happy Trails!

Salzburg, Austria : Three and a Half Weeks in Europe (Austria, Switzerland and Italy)

SALZBURG

We are back from a nearly month-long trip to Europe, and catching up on the OneHundredRoads travel blog. Here today, we’ll begin a series of handy city guides to some of the top cities for sightseeing and adventure in Austria, Switzerland and Italy. Without further ado, here is a short review of a surprising favorite: SALZBURG, AUSTRIA

Salzburg Card – Transportation and Sites:
First, a word on the Salzburg Card. As soon as you arrive, determine the amount of sightseeing you are going to do (castles, museums, etc) and the number of days you’ll be in Salzburg. Since the Salzburg Card includes free transportation on all forms of public transportation along with discounted or included entry to many of the city’s sites, it is usually worth the investment.

Since we were travelling mainly without a plan, we ended up with the 24 hour card. We crammed several sites in within the 24 hours, but I think a longer pass would well worth it. You can purchase the card at the tourist office, or any of the major sites such as Salzburg Castle (a must see). You can purchase the card at the tourist office, or any of the major sites such as Salzburg Castle (a must see). Mozart’s childhood home was great too.

We spent a total of three nights in the city.

SITES:

1) Salzburg castle is very impressive: a gorgeous 360 panorama from the top of the tower, and the most creative and effective display of metal armor I have ever seen in a castle were two of the highlights.

Salzburg Castle
Salzburg Castle

2) St. Peter’s cathedral and church complex, including graveyard.
3) Museum dei Moderne lift to top of the opposite mountain gave us the view to the castle.
4) Mirabelleplaz and Mirabelle gardens, worth walking around in to see the roses and flower designs in the lawn pattern.
5) Saturday market along the river was really neat. We walked down to the Aldstadt (Old City) and looked at all the trinkets, clothes, jewelry from around the world. A couple of food stands were mixed in and along the path.
6) Saturday food market at the church plaza in Aldstadt was really wonderful, and if you had use of a kitchen, a foodie’s paradise. Everything from abundant fruit and veg, to cheeses, deli and cured meats, bread and pastries, fresh meat and fish too. A side of flower markets to boot. Food options for eating on premises including all forms of pretzels (doughnut pretzel!), sausage stands, sandwiches and one sit down restaurant where refined looking folk were sipping on white wine and aperitifs.
7) Alstadt – the old town itself is worth just walking around.

FOOD:

Savory Strudel at Kroll, Sazlburg
Savory Strudel at Kroll

The best restaurant we ate at in Salzburg was Humbolt Stube near the modern art museum, in the bar and cafe district. So good, we ate there twice. The district was packed with students and tourists alike in the evenings. The food at Humbolt Stube was plentiful, typical large Austrian portions at reasonable prices (around 10 to 12 Euro for mains, 18-20 for whole fish or large mains). We had the salad with fried chicken – probably one of the top 5 salads I have ever ordered in a restaurant – and the Austrian Grotsl, fresh bacon, pork, potatoes with a fried egg on top and cabbage salad on the side. The night before we had the chicken cordon bleu to share, delicious, and the goat cheese with balsamic salad. We ordered everything in single portions, but ended up sharing each dish which was more than enough food to split between two hungry Americans. We are not light eaters, that’s for sure!

Make sure you also try a strudel – or ten – savory and sweet ones are available everywhere. We tried the ones at Kroll.

LODGING:
We booked a great rate via Hotels.com at the Wyndham Grand Conference Center near the main train station which is not the greatest area, but is relatively handy to get Alstadt and extremely handy to the train station for train travelers. The hotel itself is wonderful: spotless, huge common areas, lobby, a pool, nice sauna and American size hotel rooms equipped with tea maker, large flat screen, modern furniture and one of the only large double beds I have seen in Austria (most double rooms are European twin beds put together, which I quite like actually). Attached parking is 16 Euro per night, public covered lot in the mall across the street is only 8 Euro per night and free on Sunday. Free parking in a city! Nearby, the Ramada also looks okay, and on the river approaching Old Town we walked by The Motel which looks new and probably a good deal. It is not a motel as they are known in the USA, rather it is a hotel. The Alstadt hotels seem nice, but no parking so that was out for us.

HISTORY:
As you will gather walking around the city and its wonderful old buildings, Salzburg has a fascinating history. It grew in prosperity due to its proximity to the salt mines (Salz = Salt). The sites provide adequate background, but it is worth investing an hour of reading about it on your own.

Happy travels!

Sulden / Solda – South Tirol, Italy : Snow in June

Horses, Solda, Italy by OneHundredRoads (c) 2014
Horses, Solda, Italy by OneHundredRoads (c) 2014

From my European travel journal (June 29, 2014):

“In Sulden (Solda) Italy,  the Vinschgau valley of the Stelvio National Forest…

What a beautiful place and a wonderful hotel we found, Hotel Nives.  Modern and new, with a disarmingly nice staff who, for the most part, speak English. We are still in the Tirol, actually Sud Tirol, so the food portions are huge. We ordered a prime piatti (first course) of pasta to share which was more than enough. Then had locate Tirolese special beef filet with onion sauce which was excellent, again more than enough in one portion to share. Both dishes were served split between two dishes with no extra charge.

The view of the mountains is spectacular. Last night at about 10:30 pm, it started snowing!  I can’t believe it. June 29th and snowing. We checked out this morning and are heading out toward Merano. Before we leave though, we took the chairlift up to one of the mid-peaks on the south west side of the mountain bowl. Tiny is hiking up a bit, I am sitting at the cafe having an excellent cappuccino. I will probably be sunburned on my face as the sun has come out in full force today. There is a beautiful blue sky, crisscrossed with white clouds above the mount peaks. The peaks are black and grey with startling bright white filling in all the cracks and covering the top, like a dusting of powdered sugar.  Around me, the sound of snow melting and the quite conversation of some Italian hikers sitting nearby. A beautiful place…”

Hotel Website: http://www.sulden-nives.com/

Image

Miami Yacht & Brokerage Show

President’s Day Weekend 2014 in Miami brings a lot more than just sales. It is the weekend for yachts, boats, speedboats and sailboats all being featured at the Miami International Boat Show [Link] and the Yacht & Brokerage Show [link]. The yacht show is free believe it or not.

Yes, you might have to brave the traffic, but it will be worth it to soak up the view and dream of ways to spend your lottery winnings. Better yet take the metro mover and connect to one of the free shuttles to the events. Boat Show Shuttle information [Link]

If art is more your speed, try the Coconut Grove Arts Festival [link] There are hundreds of international artists, live music and food tents. It is fun for the whole family. Here again, festival goers can avoid the hassle of driving and parking by taking, public transportation via the Metrorail and the Coconut Grove Circular. The Miami Herald published a handy article [link] on how to get around the traffic and alternative transporation The festival is $15 per person for adults.
Yes, it’s already Sunday as of this post, but you still have today and tomorrow. All the events run through Monday. So get outside, and leave the sales for another day. Enjoy!Miami Yacht & Brokerage Show

Source: Boat Show Updates @boatshowupdates

Tulum, Mexico Part II : Tulum Ruins and Attractions

Mayan Ruins of Tulum
Mayan Ruins of Tulum

The number one draw in Tulum, besides the gorgeous beach, is undoubtedly the ancient Mayan ruins at Tulum.   I have been to a few of the other Mayan ruins in the Yucatan peninsula including the spectacular pyramids in Tikal, Guatemala (definitely worth the trip) and the interesting little ones like San Gervasio on Cozumel island.  By comparison, the Tulum ruins are more expansive than I expected and the setting is by far one of the most picturesque. Think of ancient ruins atop a cliff, or the Big Sur of  eastern Mexico.   Walk amongst the ruins and imagine what it must have been like at the height of the Mayan empire; it is simply awe inspiring.

Practical Tips:

It is hot. Especially in August, you will feel the heat while walking the paths between the ruins. Make sure you 1) wear a hat, 2) bring sunblock, 3) bring water, 4) bring a small towel and 5) wear your swimsuit under your clothes so you can jump in the ocean at the end of the tour.  There are no changing rooms on the beach, but there is a free and clean bathroom right at the entrance to the park.

Getting There:

There is a little train/trolly car that takes people to the front entrance of the ruins. It is only a few dollars and it is definitely worth it, especially in the heat. The ruins are quite a ways up from the parking area where all the tourist trinket shops are located.  It is a round trip ticket.

All of the sites have little placards of information in English and Spanish.

DSCN5026
Information about the Tulum ruins is top notch.

It is a good trip for kids and families of all types. I saw several older folks walking through the ruins. Note, again, you should plan ahead with drinks and hats. There are some shaded areas, but there is no vending inside the actual park for water or sodas or to cool off.  A small tourist shop selling sodas is at the entrance to the park behind the ticket counter.

Finally, if you’re lucky, when leaving the park, a man with a small cart might be there selling coconut, strawberry and lime paletas (Popsicles!) for about a dollar each. They are delicious!

DSCN5020
Fabulous beach at the base of Tulum ruins.

New Orleans Trip : Restaurant Week

Crawfish Boil – Cajun Style (c) 2011 One Hundred Roads

I just found out yesterday that I will be heading to New Orleans, one of my favorite cities of all time next week.*  I can hardly contain my excitement! Football season is starting – Geaux Saints! – and the fall festival season is right around the corner.

In New Orleans, there is always something to do, and the festivals are top notch.Besides the obvious bucket-list-worthy Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest, there are so many others: Po’Boy Fest, French Quarter Fest, Essence Fest, Seafood Fest…each ‘Fest with its own twist on music and great food. I could seriously eat and dance my way through all the NOLA Fests and still be back for more every year.

So, imagine my elation while dreaming of all the places I want to eat next week, I come upon New Orleans Restaurant Week! 

While not exactly a Fest, it is a week long celebration of food at some of the top restaurants in New Orleans. The notion that food in New Orleans is an institution is well deserved. It really is that good. The slogan of the organization putting on the event is, “We Live to Eat”. I just found the blog today. Combined with the listings and reviews in the excellent and free local weekly magazine, The Gambit (website : bestofneworleans.com), both are a must stop for restaurant research before setting off on any trip to New Orleans. The Gambit calendar is also a great source for all things NOLA and has a calendar of events and music listings.  I can’t wait!

*And one of my former hometowns.

Tulum, Mexico : Hotels on the Beach

TULUM, MEXICO

Beach at Tulum Ruins, Mexico (c)2013 Sasha M. Sampaio
Beach at Tulum Ruins, Mexico (c)2013 One Hundred Roads

The gorgeous, turquoise water and intrigue of ancient ruins at Tulum in Quintana Roo, Mexico are worth seeing and can be done as a day trip from any of the major resorts along the Riviera Maya. Alternately, if you have more time, spending a few nights in Tulum would be ideal since there are plenty of outdoor activities for every skill level and age.  In this post, I’ll cover a few lodging options on the beach.

City Zones: Town vs Beach

Tulum beach is relatively off the beaten path.  It is a the southern end of the Mexican part of the Yucatan peninsula, just north of Belize. Tulum beach has a distinctively boho, San Francisco-yoga-type-people vibe,in a good way, and especially if you like that kind of thing.  In fact, only a few of the hotels along Tulum beach have air conditioning and potable water must be brought in. The downside: be prepared to pay a comparably steep price for a rather bare bones room, especially if you want air-conditioning. The upside: waterfront rooms on low key, relaxed, secluded beaches which are decidedly opposite of the mega resorts in Cancun.

My advice is to visit during a time of year when it is not blazing hot and a palapa on the beach will be pleasant without air-conditioning.  Alternately, you could stay in the city part of Tulum and find a good hotel at a better price, including A/C.  The drive to the beach from Tulum town is only a few minutes.

Shop along the street in Tulum beach zone (c) 2013 One Hundred Roads
Shop along the street in Tulum beach zone (c) 2013 One Hundred Roads

Hotel Reviews

Maya Tulum

Overview: This is where my Mom and I stayed. We arrived in Tulum with no reservations and no idea what to expect. Our first choice was to stay by the beach. It is a direct shot off the main highway. Once driving along the narrow, two-lane coastal road you will begin to see the signs and palapas of the various lodging options. We stopped first at Maya Tulum, asked about air conditioning then proceeded to spent a good hour and a half checking all the other places out. We came back to Maya Tulum as it was by far the nicest for the price in the area.  Maya Tulum Resort and Spa is comprised of several palapa style rooms, all free standing with a couple of main buildings including a restaurant, yoga room, reception and shop.  It caters to the yoga crowd, and you will receive a yoga schedule upon check in. The yoga classes run about USD $12 per class.

Palapa room at Maya Tulum (c) One Hundred Roads
Palapa room at Maya Tulum (c) One Hundred Roads

Rooms: We were shown two rooms, one in a small four plex room set back from the beach and the other a freestanding palapa right on the water. We chose the palapa so that my Mom could hear the ocean while we slept. But, as it turned out, my prediction that we would be listening to the ocean while lying awake in the heat was more accurate. Again, this was early August, a very hot time of year, and for one night it was fine, but I definitely would not be able to hack more than two days with no a/c.  The palapa seemed fairly new: the beds were firm but comfy, outfitted with mosquito netting, a ceiling fan, side fan, screened windows, small safe, two sinks, separate bath and shower rooms. The fans made it bearable for me and shockingly mosquitoes (normally, I get eaten alive) weren’t a problem under the netting and while using some regular bug spray. Bottled water in the form of a large jug with a pump was provided in room. The shower was surprisingly hot and had good shower pressure.

Interior - Palapa Room at Maya Tulum (c) 2013 One Hundred Roads
Interior – Palapa Room at Maya Tulum (c) 2013 One Hundred Roads

Hotel Amenities: The restaurant served a huge buffet breakfast which looked good, and seemed very popular along Tulum beach hotels as it filled up rather early with the toned bodies of American and European yogis in their post work out gear.   The hotel staffers were very friendly and not overbearing in the least. Another perk was the ample, included parking lot across the street from to the hotel. The beach was picturesque and not crowded at all. A stand of hammocks and some shaded chairs are along the beach for guests use. The turtle nests were marked and protected, and no lights were shining on the beach at night which was wonderful to see (compare: Cancun beach lack of protection for turtle nests and habitat). There is no pool, and I am fairly certain that none of the hotels along Tulum beach have pools. A security man was patrolling the beach at dusk and I presume all night long, though I am not sure.  Finally, the sand walkways were raked in the morning with little Zen-garden like circles and the tropical landscaping throughout the hotel grounds were immaculate.

Grounds of Maya Tulum (c) 2013 One Hundred Roads
Grounds of Maya Tulum (c) 2013 One Hundred Roads

Overall: I would definitely stay at Maya Tulum again.  If given the option, I would go during a cooler time of year (any month other than late June – September, early October a/k/a hurricane season) due to the lack of air conditioning. However, part of the charm of Maya Tulum and Tulum beach in general is that hordes of tourists stay away precisely because of the eco-ness of the amenities. I hope you can also experience it before Tulum becomes overrun and spoiled by further development as all beautiful, remote beach towns eventually do.

View from the Palapa room at Maya Tulum (c) 2013 One Hundred Roads
View from a palapa room at Maya Tulum (c) 2013 One Hundred Roads

Other Hotels:

Ana y Jose Charming Hotel and Spa – This place looks very nice from the outside, and is one of only two or three Tulum beach hotels with air conditioning. But, one huge caveat is the price! We were quoted USD $570/night for one room for two. It took all the willpower in the world not to yell, “Are you kidding me?!” I mean this is Mexico, not freaking Tahiti.  I was offended to say the least, and for that price you could stay at one of the luxury, gourmet all inclusive further up the Riviera Maya. Or, you could probably pay someone to build you a custom-made palapa. In fairness, we did not stay here because of the price, so this is where my review of Ana y Jose will end.

In my next post, I’ll include pictures of the Tulum ruins and information about snorkeling in one of the Mayan cenotes: Dos Ojos.