May
21

Six Awesome Day Trips In Hungary

We have been housesitting in the small town of Erdőkertes, about an hour North of Budapest. While public transport here is still good, it is time-consuming and inconvenient to take busses to explore all that we wanted to see. Because of this, we decided to use the money we are saving on accommodation and rent a car so that we have the freedom to explore the country of Hungary!

Hungary is a small country, especially by Canadian standards. It takes about 5 hours to drive from one side of the country to the other. Since we are situated close to the middle of the country we have been able to explore a lot of things within a two-hour drive from the home we are staying in. We are so happy to have found this housesit, as it has given us such a great opportunity to explore Hungary in an in-depth way. There is so much to see and do outside of Budapest!

Gödöllő

Gödöllő is a town that is easily reachable from Budapest by bus or train. The claim to fame here is the Royal Palace of Gödöllő. The palace is a baroque manor built in the mid 18th century. It was the summer retreat for Franz Joseph and Queen Elisabeth. We enjoyed our visit to the palace grounds although we did not pay to enter the palace rooms as we have seen so many similar things on this trip, including the grand Windsor Castle in England.

 

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Eger

Eger is the largest city in Northern Hungary. We went there to visit the hilltop castle ruins, The Castle of Eger. This castle was ruined and rebuilt numerous times in its tumultuous history. The most famous battle occurred in 1552 when the 3000 occupants held off an invasion of over 30,000 Turkish troops. The entrance cost for our family of four was about $15 CAD. Things are not well signed in English and at first, we wondered exactly what it is we had paid for. But after continuing to explore the different on-site buildings we discovered some really interesting exhibits about the history of the castle and its people. There is even a famous book and a subsequent movie about the battles fought here.

The downtown area of Eger is also worth a visit and it sits directly below the castle hill. We really love how many of the town centers block traffic altogether. It is so nice to stroll down traffic-free streets!

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Esztergom

Esztergom was one of our favorite places to visit. Only 46 km north of Budapest, it is situated on the banks of the Danube river which makes it incredibly picturesque. We loved the waterfront promenade and of course, we had to make the journey across the bridge so that we could say we have been to Slovakia! Esztergom has a beautiful hilltop Basilica and castle with sweeping views of the surrounding countryside. We paid to enter the castle museum (about $15 CAD) but in the end, felt that we did not get our money’s worth. While some things had English signs, they were not well done and we did not feel like we learned very much from our visit.

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Aggtelek National Park

Now, we have seen a lot of caves in our travels, many of which have been very impressive but Aggtelek takes the cake in our books. These caves are MASSIVE with chambers that could be concert halls (actually they do hold concerts in one of the chambers!) Aggtelek has Unesco status and it is easy to see why. Millions of years of limestone formations, amazing stalagmites, stalactites, and the largest amount of intact columns we have ever seen.The entrance was well worth the $25 CAD for our family. There is also a cute little playground at the cave entrance. We brought a picnic and spent a good hour at the playground before making the two and a half hour trek back home.

My pictures, taken on my iPhone, don’t do the cave justice and many of them did not turn out. Trust me when I say the cave was truly impressive.

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Vácrátót Botanical Garden

A 27-hectareare park and research center, the Vácrátót Botanical Garden is worth the trip. We enjoyed wandering around the well-maintained pathways through the forest, lakes, and gardens. Our favorite area was the ruined building amongst the trees. Unfortunately, there was no English signage so we don’t know what these ruins are from. The section around the lakes was like a fairy tale forest with these giant trees stretching over the water. So pretty! There are also several large greenhouses that hold plants from different climates. We were not too impressed with these as we have seen many of the tropical and desert plants before in their natural areas.

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Lake Balaton

Lake Balaton is a huge tourist magnet in the summer months attracting hundreds of thousands of holidaymakers seeking some beach time and water sports. We were so happy to have coincided our visit with the hottest day we have had in our six weeks in Hungary. It was so hot that we actually got to have a swim in this gorgeous lake! The lake is HUGE, 77 km long to be exact. So there are plenty of different towns and cities to suit your tastes. We only skimmed the surface (pun intended) of this lake.

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We stopped for lunch in Tihany which sits on a small peninsula on the northwest side of the lake and had a walk around the cute little town. We ate at the coolest of restaurants, Régi Idők, which holds the number one place on Trip Advisor for a reason. This restaurant has so much charm, funk, friendliness, and amazing food!

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By this time the boys were aching for a swim so we stopped to explore the water in Balatonfüred which was lovely. Strangely (to us) we learned that you actually have to pay to go to some of the beaches in this town. Luckily, as it is still off season, the ticket booths were closed and we got to enjoy summer weather without the crowds.

18556970_10154451962382233_5853562326068700041_nThere is so much more to Hungary than Budapest and we are so glad we have been lucky enough to explore some of it. If you have the opportunity rent a car and get out to explore all that Hungary has to offer!

May
17

The Beautiful City of Székesfehérvár

Don’t you just love the name Székesfehérvár? It is one of those typical Hungarian names that people who are not Hungarian look at and wonder how on earth it is pronounced.  After a lot of coaching from our new-found family, I can tell you it is pronounced Say-Kesh-Fair-Har-Var. Easy right?

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Székesfehérvár is less than a one hour train ride outside of Budapest. The train cost our family of four 3200 HUF (about 15 CAD). We were invited here by our cousins on quite a few separate occasions and were lucky enough to explore the city with locals!

At first glimpse, the city seems to be a lot of unadorned apartment blocks, but looking deeper, the city has so much beauty and charm!

The downtown area is simply gorgeous. It is picture-perfect Europe with cobblestone streets, colorful, ornate buildings, statues, churches, and of course what I now equate as a Hungarian National symbol, ice-cream stands! The best part is that the entire area is closed off to cars which makes the streets an absolute joy to wander.

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Of the many statues in the downtown core, the one of “Kati Néni” was our favorite. This statue is of an old lady who lived in Székesfehérvár and would sell her wares in the downtown streets every day.

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One of the most famous attractions in Székesfehérvár is the Bory Castle. While it is not incredibly old (it was built in the early 1900’s) it is a beautiful spot to visit. The castle is filled with statues and artwork and we had a nice time wandering around, despite the cold and rainy weather on the day of our visit.

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Close to the downtown area lies an AMAZING playground that we took full advantage of. This was by far the best playground that we have been to in Europe so far. I think that the trip down to Székesfehérvár is worth it for this playground alone!

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Next to the playground is a peculiar fountain that has people lining up to fill up their bottles. This fountain is quite famous as it spouts a type of water that is rich in minerals like iron. We had a drink…the water sort of salty with a metallic taste. Apparently, it has healing properties.

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Székesfehérvár makes a great (and easy) day trip from Budapest or would make a beautiful destination on its own. Our cousins tell us the downtown area is incredibly beautiful at Christmas time when the area is lit up with Christmas lights and full of vendors. If we ever come back to Hungary, I think this would be a city we could settle down in for a while.

 

May
11

One Month in Budapest

It is hard to believe our one month in Budapest is already over. It seems like we have just arrived and it is already time to leave.

We loved the apartment that we rented for the month with it’s soaring ceilings, large open rooms, enough beds for all of us, and not one, but two couches! Oh, it’s the little things that we appreciate when we are sleeping in other people’s homes for months at a time!

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And although we loved the apartment, we did not fall in love with the area we were in. We were right in the ruin bar district which made things rather loud at night, especially on the weekends. But it was within walking distance to a lot of sites and the metro, bus, and tram stops were all super close.

We loved a lot of things about Budapest. We found that prices were quite reasonable there. Eating out was not too expensive (much less expensive than Barcelona). We could have sit-down meals for about $8 CAD each, and street food like Gyros for $4 CAD each. We also loved the weekend markets and would often go to one each weekend just to try new Hungarian foods.

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May
04

May the 4th Be With You!

From our family to yours, we wish you a very Happy Star Wars Day!

May the 4th be with you!

Star Wars Day is an important holiday in our family. Usually, we are home from our Worldschool Adventures by May the Fourth and we always dress up in our Star Wars costumes and post fun pictures to FB. Today we celebrated it in the city of Budapest by walking around the city to take photos of our Star Wars mini figures. Enjoy!

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May
03

Public Transport In Budapest

Budapest has some of the most efficient public transport we have ever experienced. Virtually the entire city is accessible by trains, trams, buses, metros, and boats. There is no need at all to take a taxi anywhere and the public transport is on time and inexpensive.

Our family of four ended up purchasing a one-month pass that covers all of the public transport within the city. The cost of this was approx. $45 CAD each (30 USD). The unfortunate part about that was that our children SHOULD have been about half of that price, however, since we homeschool and had no student ID cards for them, the ticket ladies REFUSED to sell us student tickets. Trust us when we tell you that we tried, we even had three amazing ladies from Budapest go out of their way to argue on our behalf! But alas, no discounted tickets. If we ever come back we will make up some fake student ID cards because paying an adult price for a child because of an arbitrary rule is just plain ridiculous.

Anyways, rant over. We really love the transport here, especially the above ground yellow trams. They are so cheerful and are a fantastic way to see the city. Indeed, many days we just hop on a tram without really knowing where we are heading. Then, when we see something that looks interesting, we hop off! We have found many a playground with this strategy!

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Apr
24

One Of Our Best Travel Days Ever

We specifically chose to come to Hungary because of our ancestry. Or rather, Mike’s ancestry, although I am equally as interested. You see, Mike’s father was in born in Hungary and he immigrated to Canada when he was 25 years old. We were keen to come to Hungary to see where Mike’s father was born and to get a feel for the country he grew up in.

Now, being that Mike’s father was an only child, we did not have too much family to visit. There are a few cousins we knew we would get in touch with but none of them speak English which meant that communication was going to be difficult. Mike also had a Facebook friend named Zoltan in Hungary whom he had friended years ago but did not have much contact with. We share the same last name so we knew we were related to him but we did not know how we were related.

That is where things start to get interesting. When we announced our next stop on our European itinerary was Hungary, Zoltan asked us if we would like to get together while we were here. Of course we said yes! Zoltan and his wife took the train from where they live to Budapest and we spent the day together trying to figure out how we were related. After much searching on Zoltan’s part through old family trees and talking to relatives in Hungary, Zoltan has traced our routes back to the 1700’s when two brothers came from Poland to Hungary to the small village of Madarász where they worked to build a church. They stayed in Hungary and started families. We are the descendants. Zoltan figured out that we are actually 5th cousins!

Even before we knew for sure how we are related, in a shining example of Hungarian hospitality, Zoltan invited our family to our ancestral village of Madarász to his Grandmother’s house for an Easter lunch. The whole family was there to celebrate Easter together and we were invited into their family home with open arms and open hearts. I don’t know that I have ever felt so welcomed or so loved by strangers!

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Apr
16

Visiting the Vatican Museum (Without buying tickets online)

OK, OK, you have heard me tell you this before. We are cheap thrifty. We are here in Europe for three and a half months and we need to be careful with our Euros! That is why, against all online advice, we decided to not pre-purchase our tickets for the Vatican Museum in Rome. In what seems to me to be a ridiculous money grab, if you purchase your tickets in advance to avoid the huge lines you have to pay an extra 4€ per ticket for an online ticketing fee. That is 16€ for our family of four so we decided to take our chances and wait in line onsite for our tickets.

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Yes, there were long lines as you can see above but it wasn’t too big a deal for us. We decided to go after lunch so that our bellies would be full and there would be less of a rush to finish (visiting anywhere on an empty stomach is a recipe for disaster). We waited in line for almost exactly one hour. Or you could say we paid ourselves 16€ to stand around for an hour. Well worth our time in my books. Read the rest of this entry »

Apr
10

Visiting the Colosseum on Free Day

We were a little nervous to visit the Colosseum on their monthly free day. The Colosseum is the most popular tourist attraction in Rome and it is busy on any given day. Were we crazy for trying to visit it on the first Sunday of the month when all visits were free? Maybe, but it would save us a pretty penny and we are trying so hard to stay on budget in Europe!

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Apr
08

Wandering Rome With Rick Steve’s Audio Guides

When I posted in a traveling family Facebook group asking for advice on what to do in Rome, I was told about the free Rick Steve’s audio guide walking tours. Oh my, I wish we would have known about these in Barcelona! We downloaded all of the guides for Rome and we did almost every single walking tour available. Our kids loved learning about the history and Rick presents in such an easy going and funny way that the guides kept us all engaged. We saw things that we probably would have missed without the guides and we learned so much from them. I highly recommend them if you are coming to Europe and they are available for many of the main European cities.

Rome was made for wandering. Little alleys that open up to stunning piazzas.  Hole in the wall restaurants, sandwich shops, and gelaterias are tucked around every corner. Thousand-year-old buildings, opulent churches, and stunning statues await to be discovered. Four of our seven days in Rome were spent just wandering and those days were made more interesting with Rick Steve’s audio guides.

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Apr
03

The Cost Of Food In Barcelona

In order to make a three and a half month trip to Europe affordable, we have decided to only choose a few destinations and rent apartments on Airbnb for between one week to one month at a time. This allows us to save a HUGE amount on accommodation (we are averaging just over $50 CAD per night) and allows us to cook our own food in our apartments. Slow travel is a great fit for our family. We like to travel deep instead of wide. Slow traveling allows us to visit countries we might not be able to afford otherwise.

Our family of four is staying in Barcelona for an entire month. We have rented an apartment here for about a 60% discount over the nightly rate because we are staying so long. The neighborhood we are in is well outside the tourist zones which means it has a lovely local feel and local prices.

We have the option of three grocery stores in our immediate vicinity, two fruit and vegetable stores, countless bakeries, and a few butcher shops. These are all within a five-minute walk of us. Shopping for groceries in a foreign country is super fun and we love the mom-and-pop feel of all of the specialty stores in Barcelona. We can pop out our door to fulfill our cravings of croissants and fruit or hit up the patisserie for a fresh baguette to make our picnic lunches.

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