Electric Castle!

 

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I’ve been slowly working on this post for a week now because I’ve been very busy trying to sort out visa issues. Who knew how many papers and stamps you have to get to stay in this country? 😛 So, here it is – the recap from our time at Electric Castle Festival in Bontida (near Cluj).wp-1468922518323.jpg

When we got back from the Electric Castle festival, we were so exhausted from three days of camping and concerts. But I have to say, we had so much fun. I got to see some of my favorite bands and I think now I’ve crossed almost all of them off my list 🙂 It’s been a very good summer for music.

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We got to the festival and discovered that the whole thing is basically in the middle of a corn field. Cool. We parked in a huge grassy area with a thousand other cars, unpacked, and hauled our camping stuff in. We had opted for premium camping, so that meant we had to walk almost a mile around the festival to get to our “special” entrance. We checked in and scouted out a camping spot. It was kind of difficult to find space – the official camping area had opened the night before and already the place was packed.

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It didn’t take long to get set up (our tent is one of those 2-minute tents – totally awesome), and we went into the festival. We took some time exploring, getting drinks, and getting dinner.

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Sigur Ros was headlining the first night, and I was really excited because I have loved this band since I heard their music in the movie Vanilla Sky. As the band begins to play their hauntingly beautiful hymns, the sky opens up and we get our first drenching of the festival. No worries, at this point we were happy to be dancing in the rain.

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One of Sigur Ros’s songs:

After Sigur Ros came a dude known as Slow Magic. He basically wears an LED horse head and DJs some techno while he plays the drums over the music. He was pretty awesome.

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This photo is from his concert, but I like it because you can see the crowd in the video.

You can see him traipse about in the woods here:

The next day, I opted to shower in the morning (ha ha – huge mistake). After waiting in line for 30 minutes, I finally got my five minute ice shower. It was great because it was already hot, but I wish I had known that it was so much better to shower around 5pm. There’s no wait and it’s right when the day starts to cool off so you don’t get sweaty again.

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In the mornings, the showers were full of teenage girls who wanted to take 15 minute showers and then another 25 minutes to do their Kim Kardashian Coachella “festival” makeup and hair…and I’m standing over there, like, no way in hell I’m going to put anything on my face other than SPF today because it’s just going to melt off and I’m going to be wearing sunglasses anyway? What would be the point because no one would even see my face? I then realized that I am officially an old person 😛 Get off my lawn!

We spent the day chasing the shadows and avoiding the sun. We ate the most delicious doughnuts. I tried every flavor. I mean, not in one day, but over the course of the festival. Normally I don’t like the Romanian version of doughnuts, but these were verrrry close to something you might get a Dunkin’ Donuts and so I was pumped.

 

That night it started raining again, but we managed to see Argatu (related to the band Subcarpati). He did an awesome show, again with folk tunes mixed with techno beats. The crowd was really great and it made me really wonder why he wasn’t on the main stage. The crowd was huge; we filled the entire audience space and we were backed all the way up to the castle and the walkways. He really did a great job and I think he would’ve been great in the bigger venue.

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That dang banana was everywhere

A sample of Argatu:

I’m not sure how they decide who performs on what stage, but they really put some questionable acts on the main stage (uh, Elliphant?? Totally awful – the words to her big hit, “Spoon me, spoon me tonight, put your hands on my booty, you can’t spoon me too tight” duhh – I feel dumber just typing that out). Most of the people they had on the main stage were great, but some of them, Elliphant included, holy jeez they were not good.

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Thankfully you can skip around to many different stages and places in the festival. We spent some time in the Silent Disco where there are three different DJs spinning. They give you headphones and you can switch between the DJs and hear what they are playing. It’s fun because everyone is dancing to something different, but if you take off your headphones there’s no music. Just people jumping up and down. It was one of my favorite things about the whole festival.

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The following day we got a tour of the castle and the history behind it. The woman who did the tour was really informative. Banffy Castle is really old and she explained how the original structure was back in the late medieval times and how it was modified over the centuries. She even explained the more recent history with the world wars and the restoration. She pointed out some cool details in the buildings, like the tiny zodiac symbols carved under the Greek statues. I would’ve never seen those had she not mentioned them to us. I’m a big history fan, so I really enjoyed the tour.

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“Keep away from the walls”

We spent some time playing in the festival. They had a big wooden boat that rocked back and forth that was sponsored by Captain Morgan. The Captain himself gave the orders for the people to rock the boat. It was pretty fun.

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I took the “Pepsi challenge” where you try two samples of drink and pick the one you like better. I tried twice and (sorry Coke) both times I picked the Pepsi. As a southern girl from Atlanta, I feel pretty guilty that I didn’t like the coke more. They gave me a fun tattoo to commemorate my betrayal.

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The festival had also set up some carnival swings. They were also fun, but a little scary because the chains kind of creaked and you are pretty much trusting that they won’t break and send you flying off into oblivion.

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We also jumped off the Red Bull platform. This is one of the highlights of my life. It was so scary. Possibly the scariest thing I’ve ever done. Maybe the pictures don’t show it well, but it was like jumping off the third story of a building. I’m not an adrenaline junkie and I’m terribly afraid of heights. It didn’t look so bad from the ground, but when I got up there, I had to breathe for a few minutes before I could jump. The only reason I went ahead and did it was because the platform was burning my feet and that was the only way down…

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Claudiu was much braver than me. He jumped right away. Show off 😛

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Unfortunately after the sun went down that night it started to rain again. And OMG did it rain. So much thunder and lightning. Apparently it rained more that night than it normally rains in a month. Thankfully, the tent did not flood. Other people had to deal with wet tents and we did not! Major thank to the camping gods. But there was massive flooding in festival. Remember, this is a flat corn field, so it turned into a mud pit. The organizers had done some things in preparation, but unfortunately they had no idea that it would rain ~so~ much and really, there’s not much they could have done. Maybe drained out the water somehow? In some parts the water was so deep it was getting in people’s rain boots.

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We tried our best to avoid the shin-deep water, but we got totally muddy just the same. We listened to the Skrillex set that night from the tent. We were close enough that we could hear the music pretty well and we decided our need to be dry was greater than our need to see Skrillex on stage.

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Cool projections on the castle

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Nobody to watch this show 😦 it’s raining too hard

The next morning we had to leave, so we packed up our wet stuff and walked the mile back to the car. Surprise, the corn field is now a giant mud pit. Everyone is stuck. I could barely walk to the car, my shoes were getting pulled off my feet from the mud. There were gypsies there with their horse and cart towing people out for 50 lei. Thankfully, some other guys were there with their jeep and they were hauling people out for free.

wp-1468922740585.jpgI had a great time at Electric Castle. I think next year if I go, I’m going to spring for a yurt and VIP tickets so I can have a place to stand out of the rain. Maybe the organizers will have more places for people to stand (and sit) in case of bad weather next year. wp-1468922707477.jpg

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Vama Veche State of Mind

Buna Ziua, Tutoror!

I’ve looked around town and the internet for good “Romania” merchandise – souvenirs and t-shirts and whatnot, and (in my opinion) everything I’ve seen is kind of cheap and not really worth the bani (I mean, unless you really want a “Dr. Acula” t-shirt).

Since I’ve been unable to really find anything that I like, I decided to try my hand at designing some items that have my original photography. I would really appreciate some feedback on these items because I want to create something that people might actually want to purchase. Full disclosure – I will make a (small) royalty from these items. In other words, I won’t be getting rich, but you might be helping me buy a Frappucino.

The first item I’ve made is a tank top that has a picture the beach at Vama Veche. It’s pretty basic, it just says “Vama Veche” on it, but I’m curious if the font/colors look good with the picture. It’s difficult to tell on my screen, so if you check out this item and you think it could be improved, please let me know 🙂

http://www.zazzle.com/vama_veche_state_of_mind_flowy_racerback_tank_top-235798491545379999

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Culture Shocking

When I was in grad school, I wrote a short story about an immigrant couple who moved to America. The man left his non-English speaking wife at home every day, and she became scared to venture out without him. Just a trip to the grocery was overwhelming for her. My creative writing teacher told me the story was unrealistic and cliche.

…and yet here I am, overwhelmed at the grocery store. How many kinds of sausage can there be? And yes, creative writing teacher, my eyes do glaze over (he told me this phrase was also very cliche). Granted, I am not some abandoned immigrant wife, but there is some merit to the idea of the culture shock that everyone experiences when they truly immerse in the unknown.

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Still smiling in any language 😀

To help myself, I am studying the language. I work a little every day. I find Memrise is truly the most helpful app for learning Romanian. I’m focusing on one section called “Random Romanian Sentences” – seriously. I’ve learned helpful phrases like, “Do you know me?” (Ma cunosti?) and “I am so fat” (Sunt asa de grasa). Not to mention my favorite, “Mor de foamea!” (I’m dying of hunger!) – I like to add an “Doamne” to that sentence for a little drama. Imagine me lying on the couch, clutching my stomach – AYYYY Doamne, mor de foamea! Nu se poata! Sunt asa de grasa!! (translation: OMG, I’m dying of hunger! It cannot be! I am so fat!).

Anyway, the point is – I am adjusting to here and honestly, I still like it. Even though I’ve noticed something disturbing. It just sort of occurred to me the other day. There are no squirrels. Where are the squirrels?! Eaten by the street dogs? It’s not like there aren’t trees here – I just haven’t seen any of the furry tailed rats since I’ve been here. Once you notice this, it’s kind of odd. Or maybe it’s odd that I noticed. Whatever 🙂 (sunt nebuna? poate)

I’ve obviously got a long way to go, Frate. Maybe when I write my own story, I’ll include the part where my eyes glaze over…like a fresh gogosi. Or maybe my stomach will twist in knots…like a covrigi.

and on that note, I will leave you with this incredibly offense, but incredibly hilarious street “art”:

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I laughed so hard at this – no idea why

SHINE Festival

When I first arrived in Romania, Claudiu surprised me with tickets to the SHINE festival. SHINE Festival is a two day rock/metal festival in the heart of Bucharest.  I hadn’t heard of it, but once I found out the lineup, I was very excited. He had heard me talking about how much I was ~loving~ Carla’s Dreams lately, and he looked up when they were playing next. And, not only were we going to see Carla’s Dreams, but Subcarpati was playing the second night. Omg, I was so stoked.We booked a hotel and we were ready to go.

We decided to pack only our backpacks and take the train to Bucharest. I had heard scary stories about the trains in Romania, so I was pretty apprehensive, but the train we took was actually really lovely. It wasn’t too expensive and it took about two and a half hours, comparable with driving time. The difference is you can drink beer on the train. I also discovered that if you get car sickness, you can also have train sickness! Ha.

Our train ride took about two and a half hours, and we arrived at the Bucharest station, Gara de Nord. From Gara de Nord, we hopped on the metro – another neat experience. Despite the heat outside, the metro was nice and cool. Every time the train left the station, you got a nice breeze. Another really neat thing about the metro trains was that they are basically one long room – that’s right, you get on a train “car” but inside there are no partitions. You can look down from one end of the train and see all the way to the front. The metro trains are also much wider than ones I’ve seen in other cities. And the seats face inward (unlike Atlanta’s MARTA where the seats face all different directions and make absolutely no sense). Some of the stations have pretty artwork.

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We spent some time walking from the metro to the hotel (again, learning experience). I think mentally we were pretty convinced to take a taxi next. It was probably close to 95 degrees and humid as heck, so we were all sweaty and gross. Authentic backpacking. Anyway, we eventually found the hotel, took showers, and had a delicious dinner downstairs. Then, it was time for the first night of the festival!

We got some beers and settled into the seats around the Arenele. We had passes into the golden circle, which meant we could get right in front of the stage if we wanted, but we decided to chill out and enjoy the music first.

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My first observation was that I hadn’t packed enough black. Almost everyone was head to toe in black – I had forgotten this was a metal festival! I loved watching the young people (I sound really old here) enjoying their beers and thrashing about in the mosh pit. Everyone was having fun and being respectful at the same time. It was quite unlike what I would see in the US (people way too drunk starting actual fights – cops arresting and dragging hooligans out…etc.). The atmosphere here was chill and fun. Just a bunch of people enjoying some rad metal music.

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For Carla’s Dreams, we went to the front of the stage because I wanted to be as close as possible.

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They did a great show – even though I think they had some problems with their guitarist. Apparently he kept messing up(? although I couldn’t tell) and Claudiu said that the lead singer ended up kicking the guitarist off the stage for being drunk. Eh, it happens. They made up for his absence with great enthusiasm, and we all had fun.

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Most of the people singing in the crowd (around me, anyway) were younger women. Carla’s Dreams does a lot of pop songs, so I think they have a wider appeal to the population.

20160702_012426I sang along to the parts that I knew and I actually felt like I was a part of the group (which doesn’t happen often, I usually feel like the outsider in most groups).

We got back to the hotel, crashed, and slept until almost noon the next day. We had some time before the evening concert started, so we went to the Museum of the Romanian Peasant. They had a cool flea market going on outside and I ended up finding some very cool antiques – I can’t say specifically what I got because they’re going to be Christmas gifts for my family back home 🙂 We tried walking around some more, but we basically had heatstroke and nothing seemed worth the effort 😦

We decided to head back to the hotel to bask in the air conditioning after we did the flea market because it was already a zillion degrees and incredibly humid. Is this Romania or south Georgia?! Our air conditioner in our room was one of the most amazing things about our entire trip. The room was so deliciously cold. It really helped us to recharge.

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Robin and the Backstabbers

The last night of the SHINE festival was great – we saw Mihai and Robin and the Backstabbers perform, and then it was time for Subcarpati.

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I’ve written about them before, but honestly, there is so much more to this band that I could ever put into a post. I will say that what I admire most about this band is their commitment to integrating traditional old world Romanian music with new hip hop beats. 20160703_013822They make traditional Romanian music relevant for a new generation and it’s helping the younger generation connect with their culture. Subcarpati is doing what other artists should also be doing – helping to preserve Romania’s unique artistic culture not by changing it, but by adding to the “conversation”.

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Mara singing in Aromanian with Subcarpati

Here is an example of old world meeting new world – music that young people mostly likely wouldn’t listen to on their own transformed into something that makes you want to dance:

 

I wish we had bands in America that would try to do this with some of our traditional folk music. I’m thinking Appalachian folk music (because that’s where I’m from), but imagine if they took old bluegrass or traditional New England hymns and made something really wonderful with it?

Here’s another one (my personal favorite) that’s been transformed:

 

But I digress 🙂

Getting back to the concert – Subcarpati got on stage at close to midnight and when we left after two they were still going. The show was high energy with tons of crowd participation. So much jumping up and down and dancing. My soul was happy and joyful, but omg my legs were so sore the next day! They were the perfect ending to the SHINE festival. I’m very glad I got to see them perform. Argatu (part of Subcarpati) will be at the Electric Castle festival this week, and I hope to hear more of his work.

Again, we crashed at the hotel and probably would have slept a lot longer, but they wanted us to leave by noon 🙂 The concerts were so awesome and I’m so lucky to have see some of my favorite bands all in one place!

We took a different train back to Brasov – still nice, just older. Because I took a motion sickness pill, I ended up sleeping most of the way, so I don’t think it mattered really what train we were on, lol. I’m beginning to think that’s how those pills work – they just make you sleep so you’re completely unaware of the motion 😛

Up next is Electric Castle – I hope it’s as awesome as SHINE. I’m sure it will be 🙂

 

It’s the most wonderful time of the year…

That’s right, folks!

It’s AMERICA week at LIDL – get excited!!

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The return of the BBQ marshmallows (disclaimer: they are not BBQ flavored)

wp-1468401866489.jpg…and they even have Canadian American Maple Syrup!!

😛

But MARSHMALLOWS!!!

I’m so excited because the ones they have here regularly are either pink or tiny or part of some other kids’ candy thing.

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The other “American” products are things that are obviously Romanian but just repackaged in the “McEnnedy” brand. The American hot dogs are identical to the same small wursts in the sausage aisle. Except these were in a glass jar. I’ve never seen hot dogs in a glass jar before.

2007

Oh well. I found Monterrey Jack cheese slices – I bought these only because they were kind of cheap. They also had some different salad dressings, like French and Blue Cheese (but no Ranch? what the what??). There were some weird circle slabs that were trying to pass as pancakes. SIGH.

I wish McEnnedy company had actually consulted with an American to actually bring neat, unique products to Romania (like PopTarts, hello!). I’m always surpised to see what companies here think “American” is…I guess all we eat in the states are hot dogs and peanut butter.

 

In other news, it is hotter than Hades here.

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I got a little spoiled on cooler weather and now the eye of Sauron (the sun) shines upon us once again. Being without air conditioning, I have my top floor apartment closed up with the drapes pulled and my trusty fan misting on me while I catch up on Outlander episodes.

But I’m not going to lie, I am really looking forward to early Autumn. It kind of breaks my heart a little as a Florida-born summer girl, but I’m not really feeling this heat.

Things that are great about Autumn:

  • not getting sunburned
  • breathing air that isn’t the temperature of the surface of the sun
  • not sweating to death
  • going outside and not wanting to run back inside (maybe that’s where the Transylvanian vampire thing comes from?)

Next Monday, the high is supposed to be 66 – hallelujah!

 

 

Budapest part 2

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Buda Castle from the Pest side of the Danube

The next day we ventured into the Pest side of Budapest. Since this trip was last minute and I didn’t have any time to research the city, I used TripAdvisor to find some of the more popular places to visit. It worked pretty well for us – the app has a map and you can use your GPS to help locate the things to do that are near you. We used it to find restaurants as well.

We started with a walk on the opposite side of the Danube and walked towards Parliament. The walk had some fun artwork – I guess you could call them light boxes? Anyway, they looked like bat houses and when you looked inside of them, they had some fun artwork. I think there were about twenty of them every few feet or so.

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Did I mention it was windy?

I really enjoyed the walk on both sides of the river. There were lots of trees and benches to sit on and enjoy the view. Needless to say, we took our time getting from the Chain bridge side of Pest to Parliament.

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Gresham Palace interior

On the way, we briefly stepped inside the old Gresham Palace. It used to be an insurance company, but it burned down. It’s been recently renovated into a five star hotel in the Art Nouveau style. If I was a rich girl, I’d definitely try to stay here. If we’d had more time, I would’ve liked to have some tea. Alas. It was enough to just appreciate the architecture for a few minutes.

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Next, we went to the Shoes on the Danube memorial. The story behind this memorial is very dark. According to Wikipedia, the Jews were ordered to take off their shoes before they were shot on the riverbank. They were executed there so that their bodies would be carried away on the Danube. The memorial allowed for a moment of reflection and reverence for the dead. The more I visit places in Europe, the more real the Holocaust becomes for me.

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After the memorial, we continued down the riverbank to the Parliament building. It’s an impressive building – we didn’t do anything more than walk around it. I wish we could have gone inside, but I guess I will save that for my next visit.

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We ended up at another marvelous monument, this one dedicated to God. St. Stephen’s Basilica is a large cathedral that reminded me a lot of the churches in Romania. Very beautiful and very gold. They had a relic in one of the back rooms, I guess it was a saint? There was an option to go up to the viewing panorama area up top, but they were charging a fee so we skipped it. We had already gotten so many good views from Buda Castle so I didn’t feel like we had really missed out on anything. Overall, the church was nice to walk through.

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We took longer than expected (one hour) and our parking had expired. We had a ticket and a boot on our car. Man, these Hungarians do not play around. $40 later, we could drive again and decided to write off the fine as a good story 🙂

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We decided to spend the afternoon on Margaret Island, which is located near Parliament. We chose to drive there, but it appeared to be very accessible by public transportation.20160627_160529

We found out very quickly why so many people had chose to rent bikes. It’s not really such a big island, but there are many things to see all over it.

Legend has it that Margaret Island is named after the daughter of a king who made a deal with God. If he could have victory in battle, he would give his daughter to the church. Well, he won and he gave his daughter to the nunnery. I think she was either 12 or 14 years old. She didn’t live long (I think she died at 29?) – her grave marker is right outside the nunnery ruins. Now she is a saint and the island bears her name.

I ended up walking five or six miles on the paths trying to navigate to all the cool things. There are two (!) musical fountains, the ruins of a monastery, Japanese gardens, water tower, and even a small zoo.

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I really enjoyed the water show at the larger fountain. It was a great way to get off my feet for an hour and just enjoy the beautiful afternoon and surrounding nature.

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That night we went to a restaurant called the Meat Boutique. It was definitely not for vegetarians (i.e. hog heaven). I had the most amazing ribs.

It was kind of pricey, but honestly, every now and then you need to live a little. This place was definitely worth the splurge. I left feeling incredibly satisfied and full. It was the perfect ending to a fun two day trip.

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The zero kilometer marker for the city of Budapest

 

Budapest part 1

 

20160628_141914While we were in Timisoara, we looked at the map and saw that Hungary was very close. So close, in fact, that we were inspired to go there at the last minute. In two hours’ drive, we could be in Budapest? It was an opportunity we couldn’t pass up. We found a last minute hotel room and got on the road.

The drive was very easy – even the border crossing was fairly pleasant. I’m glad I’m not a truck driver because their line was at least a kilometer long and didn’t seem to be moving at all. I got a new stamp in my passport which made me very happy. One thing I really liked about their road construction signs is that they told you how happy or sad to be depending on how much more construction there was ahead. We saw lots of smiley faces and sad faces on other public transportation as well (sad face on an out of service bus, for example).

Our room was at a place called Budapest Best Apartments. It’s right next to the Chain bridge and the Buda Castle funicular (train that goes up the mountain). For two nights, I paid $95 – excellent for the location and the quality of the room. We checked in and started exploring the waterfront immediately. The room was recently renovated and it was open, spacious, and bright. My favorite feature of the room were the big windows that opened onto small terraces. The view from there was great.You could actually see the Danube river and the entrance to the Chain bridge.

We were also within a ten minute walk of Buda Castle (in my opinion, one of the most beautiful places to be in the city). It was not particularly expensive (about a 100 euro for two nights) and we booked it easily on booking.com. I think the next time I go I will try and book on the Pest side of Budapest (across the river) because it seems like there are a lot more things to do and places to eat over there.

The apartments themselves were in this cool, hundred year old building that used to be a bank. The architecture was really fascinating to me. I love dusty old buildings.

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Parliament from across the Danube River

We decided to grab a bottle of wine and head up the hill to the Buda Castle for the sunset. You can drink anywhere in Budapest, so we were excited to have a lovely bohemian evening watching the city lights turn on.

We settled in at the Fisherman’s Bastion and had the luck to be sitting next to some buskers with a guitar and violin. They played lovely tunes – some Hungarian classical songs and My Heart Will Go On. Apparently they only knew about four songs because they played them over and over. Still, it was nice to have the music in the backdrop.

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Overall, the best decision we made the entire trip was to go up there and drink our bottle of wine. Top notch experience, would do it again.

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Fortunately, we ditched our plans to watch the Hungary vs. Belgium game in a local pub. Hungary got their asses handed to them 0-4. We had a much better time with our wine 🙂

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I would say with confidence drinking a bottle of wine and watching the sunset in Budapest from the Fisherman’s Bastion was right up there on my top ten life experiences.