From Rainy Citadel to Snowy Village

This post will be rather brief. I haven’t been feeling that well today, and since it was a travel day there isn’t too much to report.

We awoke in Alba Iulia to more rain, which put a damper on us exploring the citadel some more. Since we had already seen most notable spaces within it, it wasn’t a huge let down and we opted for staying dry and having breakfast and leaving for Sibiu early.

Having the car (though more expensive then we had hoped it would be) has been a real convenience, and we’ve been timing the travel to Ada’s naps so that has been working out nicely. I have been getting a lot of reading done, which as most of you will know, pleases me. The mountains around us have begun to collect snow rather than rain, and the sights have been beautiful.

Sibiu is a small city, and we are staying within the oldest part of it which was ranked as “Europe’s 8th-most idyllic place to live” by Forbes in 2008. The streets are narrow and cobblestoned, the buildings look very 18th century with snowy, pitched roofs, and our three-roomed apartment is quaint and traditional with exposed beams and antique furniture.

We arrived, had a big lunch of Romanian chicken soup, pork and rice stuffed cabbage, and pork stew. Romania is big into their soups, and they have all been outstanding so far. Overall, all of the food we have been having this month has been rich, heavy, and delicious. And fattening. We have some work cut out for us when we get home as far as our bodies are concerned. Haha!

The rest of the day was mellow. Ada and I napped. Sal brought home some takeout (more soup, meat, potatoes, polenta, cheese). I gave Ada a bath. Tonight we will be content watching the snow fall outside while staying warm and cozy, and leave the exploring until tomorrow.

From Salt to Citadel

After a bite-free night in the Dracula Hotel in Turda, we woke to a beautiful rainless day and a quick breakfast. Turda is a cute, quaint little town with winding streets and plenty of views of the mountains nearby.

Sarah did a tremendous amount of research for this trip, and our Turda choice was mainly for the famous Turda salt mine. This is no ordinary salt mine; this is a playground, ferris wheel and lake…250 feet underground.  Ada had a blast walking around, playing on the slide, and taking in the cavernous sights on the ferris wheel. You (I know I do) often take for granted the engineering involved when someone mentions a mine, but this one was impressive.  There are lots of pictures in the album. If you see a few that don’t make sense at first glance, they’re probably of a mine shaft full of salt deposits.

A quick 60km later, we’re in Alba Iulia and walking their famous citadel. This is a walled city within Romania turned landmark, and they put on a winter market each evening in December. We took advantage of some mulled wine, listened to the band, and let Ada have her fill of walking around. She loved the snow machine (a little too warm for the real thing), the manger scene, and walking through a sea of people’s legs.

The town itself is a little industrial: tall, square, grey buildings that are in desperate need of patching and painting. Aside from the parks dotting the city, there’s little in the form of foliage. The Airbnb Sarah found is on the first floor on one of these buildings, which on its face didn’t bode well upon arrival. The owner of the apartment met us at the door, gave us the keys and a tour, and was nothing but completely welcoming. The apartment was small, but newly renovated and perfect for our one night.

Tomorrow we head to Sibiu for a three night stay, but so far Romania is a great choice for where we’ll spend the latter half of the month, as well as Christmas.

Valar Morghulis

We have arrived in Romania. Officially Turda, Romania situated within Transylvania. We pulled in at 6:30pm, but it might as well have been midnight. We are staying at the Hunter Prince Castle & Dracula Hotel, and there may be three other guests staying here tonight. Also, I feel it important to note that every person we have met has been somewhat frightening to look at in some way. That is no exaggeration. I thought it may be creepy and kitchy staying here and so far it has exceeded all of my expectations. There is a padded door to our room.

 

At least there is a minibar. And we had two bottles of wine with dinner, so if we ARE visited by a vampire, we’ll be drunk for it.

I find it particularly apropos that I am bound on finishing Dracula tonight here in this hotel. We will then most likely watch Downton Abbey until we sink into a fitful sleep, as Ada slept most of the car ride here (it was seven hours). I’d post more photos but the internet connection is frightfully slow.

Tomorrow go to the Salina Turda, which is a salt mine that has been listed at one of the top ten coolest underground places in the world to visit. So IF we survive the night, there’s that.

When All Else Fails….Order a Cosmo (Or Three)

This morning was stressful. I had originally made a mistake with the apartment booking for Budapest, so our first three nights were spent in one location, and our last night was booked across the river in the Castle District at a hotel. Once we had arrived, I found this to be a happy accident, since it would put us in two convenient sections for splitting up the sightseeing.

This morning it didn’t feel so happy. Ada woke up early. She was fussy. It was raining. We had to check out by a certain time mid-morning and the new room wasn’t ready for us yet. Ada pooped during transit. I was all done. So we bought tickets on this tourist golf cart that  would take us up the hill to the sights, found a restaurant, and threw back a few beverages. That took the edge off, Ada fell asleep on the way back down the hill, and the rest of the day we took it easy.

We ventured out for dinner and took in the view of Parliament at night from across the river, which really is gorgeous.

 

To comment a bit more on yesterday, since Sal had done the posting, the bath house I visited was called Kiraly Bath and it is the oldest thermal bath in Budapest, one of the medieval Turkish baths built by the Ottoman Turks in the 16th century.

Unlike contemporary Turkish steam baths, the Turkish baths in Budapest are actual warm thermal spring baths with hot waters in octogonal pools. In addition to the historical pool, there are 3 smaller pools and a steam room. The bath has a characteristic dim light, as the pool gets its light from the 16th century dome holes covered in glasses. The bath has not been restored for many decades, which gives it an even more fascinating historical appeal. All in all I can’t speak of the experience highly enough, and I was glad I chose this bath out of many others to visit. It honestly felt like I had stepped back in time.

 

It is hard to believe that today marks our halfway point. Tomorrow we head to Romania where we will spend the next fifteen days in various locations around the country. I have enjoyed Budapest, and it is a city I would most definitely return to, but I am glad about the switch to more rural locations. Ten days until Christmas!

 

The Oldest Baths

There was a new tactic today: we went separate ways.

Our journey started together on foot, across the Margaret Bridge to Margaret Island, which bisects the Danube River in the middle of Budapest. Sarah and I parted ways, where she made her way to the oldest baths in the city, and Ada and I walked the island.

Its December and quite dank. Its cold, foggy, muddy, and not so pleasant to be walking around.  Too bad, that’s exactly what we did while mom was away. Margaret Island is a beautiful park with a public pool, amphitheater, zoo, Japanese garden, and lots of trails.  It was deserted, which means we could sing our off-key songs and gawk at the wildlife.



Sarah loved the Hungarian bath house. She said it was small, ornate, private, and well worth the time alone. I’m glad she was able to spend a few hours to herself, which gave Ada and me time to walk the city.

Budapest is a large urban area that I’m sure too many people overlook when it comes to thinking of travel in Europe. Many of the buildings are stark, but so much of the beauty is right out in the open.

We had lunch in a ten-top Jewish cafe that was the most friendly, and tasty, stop we’ve had so far. Ada’s boisterous personality brought so many people to the table to say hello, ask where we were from, and return the myriad ‘Hi’s!’ she would give to patrons.

I spent a few hours in the late afternoon alone walking around and taking pictures, often of signs and other architecture that doesn’t usually raise attraction to anyone else. Where else does a Starbucks or TGI Friday’s not make sense? In downtown Budapest of course. I took pictures.

 

If your one year old is restless in restaurants, have no fear.  I take that back. Have some fear. Ours is restless too. Ada loves to eat. She loves to have attention paid to her, she loves cheese, bread, and meat, and when she’s done that means we’re done. She’ll start to whine, cry…or worse. We’re working on creating an environment where mealtimes mean patience, but so far its a work in progress.

That’s it. We move tomorrow from this apartment on the pest side of Budapest to a hotel the buda side of Budapest, and we’ll see what kind of history waits for us there. I’ve not yet experienced a bathhouse, and Sarah insists its on my list before we leave.

One more thing. Today is Thursday, December 14th, 2017. Its the release day of Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi. The theatre near us doesn’t have it in English, which means its the first time in 40 years I’ll not see a Star Wars on its opening day. Just saying.

Pest Today, Buda Tomorrow

Budapest, one of the largest cities in the EU, originally was the combination of three cities (Buda, Pest, and Obuda) beginning in 1873. Our apartment is in the former Pest side (east of the Danube River), and that is what we toured today. We did a ton of walking today and by the end of it Ada was not thrilled, so tomorrow we intend to take it a bit easier. There is a whole playroom chock full of wooden toys and legos within our current apartment and she has been in heaven.

After breakfast we ventured out and realized where we are staying is just a couple blocks from the Danube river, so we started there and made our way along it and knocking off some of the major must-sees. Included in that list are the Hungarian Parliament, Széchenyi Chain Bridge, the Great Market Hall, Vaci Street (the “heart” of Budapest), and St. Stephen’s Basilica. We had lunch (Goulash soup and a cold cut plate of meats and cheese and veggies) and kept going, stopping at the Christmas markets to buy Ada a new pair of sheepskin gloves (somehow she managed to lose hers on the walk) and have some hot mulled wine.

After our break we continued our tour down Andrássy Avenue until we reached Heroes’ Square, the largest and most impressive square in the city. It is the entryway to City Park, a large park that houses Vajdahunyad Castle, built in celebration of the 1,000 years of Hungary since the Hungarian Conquest of the Carpathian Basin in 895, and home to the largest agricultural museum in all of Europe. Also within the park is the Széchenyi Medicinal Bath, the largest medicinal bath in all of Europe; its water being supplied by two thermal springs. We only popped in to peek inside, but we have plans on visiting a bath tomorrow.

After all of this walking we were wiped and Ada was pissed. We came back to the flat, got some pizza to go, and spent the evening playing, bathing, and doing laundry. Tomorrow will be more relaxed, we may even take turns going out separately so Ada has more time to just chill in the apartment.

Here are the photos from today, as we took a bunch. I’m off to continue reading Bram Stoker’s Dracula in preparation of Romania.

 

A Rainy Budapest

The train between Vienna and Budapest is a quick 2 and 3/4 hours, which goes so much faster when lubricated by a pre-train beer and a during-train glass of wine. That, and some Sesame Street and puffy stickers to keep everyone (wink, wink) happy.

First impressions? Budapest is a real city. I expected something a bit more rural given the views on the train leading up to the city, but this place is the real deal. We arrived early evening, were seen to our gigantic-in-so-far-comparison apartment, and ventured out for some food.

We lucked upon a restaurant with borsch, a sizable wine list, and great atmosphere. Ada was in fantastic spirits, Sarah and I had a wonderful meal, and came outside to find…rain. It turns out we’ll see rain for most of our visit, but we’re determined.

No pictures today, but that’ll change this week.

A Rainy Budapest

The train between Vienna and Budapest is a quick 2 and 3/4 hours, which goes so much faster when lubricated by a pre-train beer and a during-train glass of wine. That, and some Sesame Street and puffy stickers to keep everyone (wink, wink) happy.

First impressions? Budapest is a real city. I expected something a bit more rural given the views on the train leading up to the city, but this place is the real deal. We arrived early evening, were seen to our gigantic-in-so-far-comparison apartment, and ventured out for some food.

We lucked upon a restaurant with borsch, a sizable wine list, and great atmosphere. Ada was in fantastic spirits, Sarah and I had a wonderful meal, and came outside to find…rain. It turns out we’ll see rain for most of our visit, but we’re determined.

No pictures today, but that’ll change this week.

Architecture Is My Thing

I love ornate, well-crafted, overly adorned, old buildings. Vienna has lots of them. I mean, lots.

 

We’ve already done a few days of walking around, and today we spent most of our time wandering the grounds of Schönbrunn Palace outside Vienna proper.

The weather ventured into the fifties in the afternoon, although the sun was nowhere to be found. We braved the subway (called the U) once again and managed to find our way to the proper stop.

The palace and grounds stood as the imperial summer home during the reign of Maria Theresa. We used the web site to do a little research on its history, but really spent most of the time walking through the vast gardens, making a few turns through the Christmas market set up in the courtyard, and having yet another few glasses of warm punch…this time of the egg nog and Bailey’s variety.

We did manage to find a pub for lunch, of which there are lots spread throughout the city. Thankfully the majority of them have staff who speak very good english and feature menus printed in several languages. Not allowing myself to sway from crude amounts of grilled meat, I ordered a rather large skewer of sausages, pork side, and bacon. The onions and potatoes count as vegetables. Sarah had salad. Ada had schnitzel.

Even this pub was something to look at once we got past the standard pub-facade exterior. It was situated in a converted theatre with a vast bar in the center. There were columns, cherubs, tapestries, high ceilings, and plenty of vibrant colors. We took no pictures.

There was a zoo on the palace grounds as well, apparently the oldest in the world. We had about an hour before they closed, which means we had the place just about to ourselves. Lions, tigers, and bears aplenty. Ada definitely watches everything with interest; now and then she will point and make noises, but I’m looking forward to the day she’s old enough to really get excited at the zoo or the aquarium. Regardless, it was a beautiful walk.

      

By the time we made it back to the palace it had closed to tours, but luckily Sarah had the camera all day and took lots of very good photographs. She has an eye for composition I often covet, and I’m thankful she loves the camera as she does.

    

Today was our final full day in Vienna, and in Austria. Tomorrow is Tuesday and we train to Budapest, Hungary. Aside from Hungarian goulash and Hungarian bath houses, I have no idea what to expect…which is most of the fun anyway.

Everyone in Vienna Smokes

For those readers who may have young children, or who are thinking of having young children, know that travel is not an impossibility. If you pack smart and prepare accordingly, I don’t believe children really care where they are in the world. They want their parents, food, milk, a warm bed, and a space to engage with the world. And that space does not need to be large. And it doesn’t have to be a nightmare for the parents either, as long as you know when to fold your hand and not force a square peg into a round hole. Museums? Probably not gonna happen on this trip. Ada doesn’t give two figs about culture or art or famous musicians or landmarks. She does have an appreciation for a good Krapfen (custard-filled donut) and seems to appreciate sausage and sauerkraut. And so far she hasn’t seemed to mind wandering around in the cold admiring the lights of the Christmas markets. Most of the time.

It is amazing to me how many times Sal and I were told leading up to this trip that Ada would not remember any of it, and the trip was essentially a waste. She won’t remember virtually any of her life so far, but that doesn’t stop me from bathing her, soothing her when she cries, or buying her crap that will eventually be discarded. Sal and I will remember it. And it will be part of her story as she grows, and perhaps if we are consistent, become part of her identity.

For those who might be interested in how we packed, I’ll say that Sal and I each carry a 70L pack (the Osprey Farpoint and Fairview respectively), a car seat (we picked up a Cosco Scenera NEXT because it is cheap, lightweight, and really easy to install), a lightweight travel stroller (Summer Infant 3D Lite) which is especially helpful on travel days, and an LL.Bean 40L pack that we use for Ada. We are happy with all of the gear. We brought along a few of her favorite toys and books, which she gravitates toward as we wrap each night. She showers with me every couple of days. She sleeps in bed with us (although a number of the accommodations have been good enough to supply play pens, we haven’t used them). I brought dishes and spoons and bibs that we have at home in case we did any cooking in the apartment, but we haven’t really used any of it. Most restaurants have highchairs, but for those that don’t we brought a fabric harness that ties to the chair, and fits in our daypack. Either Ada is the easiest kid in the world, or if you teach them what to do they will learn.

In Vienna we are staying in an Airbnb, a nice little flat that is comprised of a bedroom, a galley kitchen, bathroom, and (small) second bedroom. Its nice, and very well decorated, but doesn’t have the ease of access that the hotel in Munich had (we were staying in an Aloft hotel, part of the Starwood chain). Ada is thrilled as there is lots to touch and explore. Childproofing…not so much. Still, it makes her happy and it’s good to break up the day with allowing her to run around and open drawers. We try to hit parks as often as possible for that same reason. Although I curse Michael Kors for the boots we bought her…absolute garbage, (thank you Mom & Dad for the slippers you got her though, those have been a lifesaver).

In other news, Vienna is a beautiful city and though most of the food has been crap due to poor restaurant choices, their Christmas Market sausage right now is winning out of all three countries. And the mulled wine still works. I just wish indoor smoking was a thing of the past.