Top Ten Moments a Traveler Must Have in Budapest

Dubbed as the Paris of the East, Budapest is one of Europe’s highly acclaimed cities for its beauty and charm. In truth, no words can amount to the appeal of Budapest. It’s like a gift that came in a wonderful package; a place complete with rich history, stunning views and a regal ambiance all tied up with a romantic atmosphere. My trip to Budapest left me wanting more – a sign of a truly worthwhile escape. And as a traveler, that is all I can ask for – to find a place so captivating that one forgets the longing for home. And so, here are my top ten recommendations should you find yourself in the middle of this wondrous city. Give in to the temptation and play Budapest by George Ezra on full blast and prepare to fall in love with Hungary’s picture perfect capital.

1. Have a moment at the Szechenyi Chain Bridge

7Budapest is parted by the River Danube into Buda and Pest. The capital is connected by bridges, the most famous of which is the Szechenyi Chain Bridge. One of the city’s infamous landmarks, this was the first permanent bridge to cross the Danube and was an engineering wonder during the time of its construction. Call me a hopeless romantic, but it stirred emotions up in me and Budapest is just not the same without it. Tourists flock the area to capture the perfect moment and you might need to wait a while to get your own without a hoard of tourists behind you. But I assure you the waiting is all worth it. Made of cast iron and created with intricate detail, this is an important part of Budapest you should never miss.

2.  Enjoy a night stroll to the Hungarian Parliament

2016-20-11-13-11-17The world’s third largest parliament building is stunning at day, however it truly is a magnificent display of architecture at night. Unfortunately, it was a cold winter evening when we decided to visit and I could not feel my toes and fingers. The freezing cold did not stop me from appreciating the view though. The guards were staring at us with puzzled faces as we shivered our way into selfies and GoPro moments. They must have thought we were losing our minds marveling at the Parliament as patches of icy snow fell upon us but hey – what’s life without a little adventure?! Go for it.

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3. Explore the Danube Promenade

I might be wrong, but I think that the romantic ambiance of Budapest is partly owed to the fact that they have the Danube River right in the middle of their city. As simple as this sounds, merely walking alongside the Danube is a great way to enjoy the place. Shops overlooking the river and other landmarks such as the Elizabeth Bridge are easily found around the promenade.

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Along the banks of the Danube.

4. Afternoon coffee and cake with a view.

2016-20-11-13-25-26During our winter stay, a cup of coffee with cherry liqueur was not only welcome – it was necessary. Take a quick break from your tour and don’t forget to find a cozy coffee place to rewarm your toes.

We found a gem perched along riverbank, a quiet coffee shop with such creatively themed interiors called Marvelosa. Although we were happy to occupy a table on the first level, I suggest cozying up on a table upstairs next to a window. You can never go wrong with a warm cuppa and a picturesque view. Cheers to caffeine with shots of alcohol!

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From top image: Marvelosa’s cake of the day – a sponge cake with rich goat’s cheese. And the usual steamy cappuccino for the cold traveler.

 5. Pay tribute in Shoes on the Danube

2016-20-11-14-16-20Brace yourself for a time travel inducing experience by paying tribute to the fallen at Shoes on the Danube Bank. A stunning and truly unique memorial, the display showcases pairs of shoes left behind by victims of the Holocaust who were stripped naked and shot point blank while facing the river. Their shoes were the only reminder of what they were – a sad and painfully dark era in human history.

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6. Hop on the Castle Hill Funicular

Looking for a place with an awesome overview of Budapest? Look no further and fall in line for a quick ride to the Castle Hill Funicular or Siklo as the locals call it. It saves you the time of trekking to and from the Castle Hill while treating you to an unparalleled overview. Once you reach the top, discover the wonders of Castle Hill and don’t forget to snap some Instagram worthy photos.

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The Castle Hill Funicular

 

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Quick shot while descending from Castle Hill.
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Breathtaking view of Budapest from here!
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Castle Hill

7. Climb the steps to Gellert Hill.

Gellert Hill offers one of the best ways to see the city’s structures. Although we were not able to climb all the way to the summit due to problems with visibility, we were lucky enough to have reached the St. Gellert Monument. The view from this level is already amazing and I can only imagine the view from the all the way up the hill. For zero Hugarian Forints, you can have a bird’s eye view of the city while mapping out your next destination.

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Before climbing the steep steps to Gellert Hill
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View from the hill

8. Go get yourself some Palinka.

Hungary is of no exception to having local spirits and when in Budapest, you have to sample a drink or two of their Palinka. It’s a fruit brandy with a minimum alcohol content 37.5%. When asked for a recommendation, our friendly waiter suggested Palinka with glee. Together with a side comment that we should consider it a “liquid coat” for such a cold winter day. I had a Raspberry Palinka with 48% alcohol and boy – it kept me warm until the next day. Cheers!

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Cheers to travel tales! And 48% alcohol content!!

9. Bath like a local: The Szechenyi

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Budapest is known as a city of baths for a reason and the experience is all null and void without braving one of the largest public baths in the world. So forget your sense of personal space and keep all your germ phobia at bay – this is something you HAVE to do. The experience was one of a kind and it’s more of a social activity than one related to hygiene. It’s like a pub, only there were no drinks and everyone was already half naked. I absolutely loved it!!!! Put your sexy swim wear on, imbibe the ultimate Hungarian adventure and dive into the Szechenyi experience. Definitely the best way to chill out in Budapest.

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10. Climb the Cupola in St. Stephen’s Basilica.

26In every European city I visit, I always make it a point to see the nearest Basilica or Cathedral. St. Stephen’s Basilica (Szent Istvan Bazilika) is the largest church in Hungary and dedicated to their first king. The place was a massive and stunning place of worship. Having missed the summit of Gellert Hill, we couldn’t pass on climbing the Cupola for yet another outstanding view. And indeed that view from the Cupola is something you have to see for yourself.

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Budapest is a city that reminds you why travel is such an interesting part of life. It’s beauty and culture would never be known to us without the pleasure of travel and exploration. So the next time you think of a holiday, consider booking a flight to this charming, romantic city. Take it from this woman who cannot help but long for her next Palinka long after her return flight has landed in London.

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Beyond the Ruins: A Roman Travel Discovery

2016-19-11-18-03-15Rome, Italy – I could hear the clacking of my heels against the cobbled streets as we walked along the via supposedly headed towards the Colosseum. At least I think this is where the Canadian stranger with the white tank top pointed to. We were running out of daylight and as we hurled ourselves down the avenue, all of a sudden there it was to my right – the Colosseum in all its grandeur! It came within sight without a warning and it left me with a gaping mouth and a face embezzled with admiration. It was… Marvelous. On one side, the sun was setting on the horizon and its rays dramatically loomed over the famous landmark. Fantastic.

Rome is one of the most famous cities in the world both of today and ancient times. I have heard of this city without conscious efforts of knowing more about it, I have answered it on my short quizzes as a student and in travel magazines, it is described time and time again as a one of Europe’s greatest destinations. It’s Rome.

A trip to the Eternal City is an oath I made to myself so when the opportunity came to go with a friend, I was quick to go on a booking spree online. Going around Europe from London is easy and relatively cheap especially with travel game changers like EasyJet and Airbnb.

We stayed in a newly renovated studio type flat with reasonable space and agreeable interiors. Paolo, our excellent host, met us immediately and welcomed us alongside a jovial orientation about house rules and access to public transport. After handing each of us a map of the city, he bid us farewell and wished us luck in our Roman adventure.

It was a pleasant afternoon and with the Colosseum being of walking distance from us (the real question was which direction), we could not think of a better place to start. If you are expecting Rome to be a city of glamour, then I assure you this is not the case. Heading towards the city centre, I cannot help but notice the dilapidated walls, dark mysterious alleyways and street filth that no one is bothering to conceal. And I liked it – I am a fan of the unpretentious. As we gazed upon the mighty Colosseum I suddenly understood why people traveled to Rome – it’s not because of what the city has to offer in the present, it’s because of what was left behind.

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Dusk came too soon as the season was not really in our favour with its late sunrise and early sunsets. We were tired but not exhausted and even if we were, Erika and I were not the type to just retreat into our flat just because we were losing sunlight. So even though the map indicated that Fontana de Trevi was on the other side of the city, we chose to get lost and locate it by foot. After passing by trinket shops and consuming moundfuls of gelato, guided by our very wrinkled tourist map, we finally arrived at the infamous Fontana de Trevi. And for every night we spent in Rome, we found ourselves dwelling upon its magic – a coin ready at hand for a quick toss. Wishfully thinking that maybe the Roman Gods may smile upon us and grant us a wish.

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Vatican

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Vatican City

Visiting Rome would be a waste without stepping upon the holy land that is Vatican City. In a gentle and inexplicable way, being in Vatican reminds us of  life forces that are more important and far stronger than oneself.

Having done my research on how to see the Pope as closely as possible without being arrested, we managed to secure such great seats at St. Peter’s Square. I find Pope Francis admirable because of his simple ways and his ability to live by example, and this is my one shot at seeing him up close. My heart sang when his Holiness waved at us from a meter away carried by a white open car. No gold capes or drapes, not even the usual Pope headgear. Just pure humility enough to shame the entire of planet Earth.

After the mass, we toured the Vatican Museums and climbed St. Peter’s Basilica. I have to admit I have never prayed so much in a four day period. But in all honesty, it felt good. It felt right. It was a unique moment of surrender – an unloading of modern life’s burdens that I have never found anywhere else. At the end of the tour we entered a truly marvelous work of art which is the Sistine Chapel. I guarantee you that few things in life will render you speechless like Michelangelo’s obra maestra that is the Sistine’s ceiling.

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Vatican Museum
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Stolen shot from The Sistine

Daytrips

Italy is a country with a long list of  good cities to travel to. And from Rome, you can choose from a number of daytrips to neighbouring scenic cities like Naples, Pompeii, Florence and Pisa. Map at hand and a train schedule we heavily depended on, we boarded for Florence and Pisa and we were not disappointed with our choices. Here’s a tip or three to make this work: Book your tickets in advance and get the fast trains, secondly, grab the earliest trains for a head start and finally book an open return or late ticket back to Rome to make room for delays.

Florence

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Firenze

To say that Florence was a beautiful city is indeed insufficient. It’s picturesque, it’s artistic and home to painfully talented artists on a mission to create something sophisticated out of blank canvasses and sticks. It’s so beautiful you can almost feel emotions bleeding out of the vias and the pontes.

Famous points of interests include Florence Cathedral, Ponte Vecchio, Piazza del Duomo and Fountain of Neptune among others. Firenze is also home to the original statue of David by Michelangelo – a creation that I can only describe as tangible perfection.

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Statue of David

Pisa

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Leaning Tower of Pisa

My friends who have been to Pisa gave me a fair warning that there was not much to see aside from the iconic leaning tower. Honestly, it was not as big as I had in mind and there were more tourists in Pisa than Florence during our trip. It was fun because everyone was doing their best to capture the perfect picture. Backs were being broken and friendships were being questioned. Small as the place may be, Pisa had the perfect vibe for lazy afternoons over coffee and tiramisu. Irresistibly so, we gave in to alfresco dining and capped the evening with cocktails.

An unexpected (mis)adventure!

On our last night in Rome, we took the train back to our flat very much looking forward to a quiet night. Maybe it was the fact that I just came from the Vatican and I chose to believe in the good of other people, or maybe I was tired from all that walking and I just had no guards left to raise, but that night on the metro, two gypsies managed to lift my passport out of my bag.

I realised they took my pouch the moment they did because they artistically squeezed into the Metro with us then simultaneously disembarked just in time for the doors to close. I am from the Philippines – land of pickpockets. I just knew.

With a panic stricken face I stared at Erika with horror – I will be stranded here for a long time unless I solve this crisis.

I will never forget the station’s name – they got off at Barberini. Acting upon instinct I cried and got off the next station on the verge of a nervous breakdown. I did not even realise I was walking out of the station until Erika screamed at me and asked where I was going.

I sat down and breathed – and I remember thinking to myself how much it wasn’t helping. I couldn’t think and I couldn’t for the life of me collect myself no matter how hard I tried. And then a male member of staff passed by and I raised my head as if on cue. I asked for help and they called Barberini Station and gave a description of my pouch.

“Rosa?” He said.

“Uh pink yes!!” I said with all the hope in my heart.

They found it. The gypsies ditched it by the lift because it was basically worthless to them. All my cards were safe and my passport was returned after half an hour of emotional turmoil. Somewhere along the subways of Rome on the night of November 18th 2015 I was hugging a Roman soldier dressed in fatigues because he found my passport after two gypsies stole it from me – his long armalite rifle swaying back and forth as it hung over his shoulder. Needless to say – how’s that for a miracle story?

From the Colossuem to the romantic Piazza Navona, to the Pantheon up to the ruins that were once forums where the wise discussed relevant matters – Rome is truly an unforgettable city. There is a reason why the world still marvels upon those ancient ruins long after they were reduced to pieces. The words we have today are in debt to their Roman origins, deep inside we swoon over their capability to dream big and to challenge what’s possible and we wish we could parallel that. We look back and admire Ancient Rome because we subconsciously feel like idiots compared to them. And so I left Rome with this at heart: aim high and aim for the divine, for in this lifetime you do not need to prove greatness multitude of times – the Romans have assured us that it only needs to be done once if you do it right. And for as long as we are encased in these wasting physical bodies intolerant to time – ambition is our only shot into immortality.

If you do find yourself planning a trip to Rome, do yourself a favour and take my advice. Walk instead of getting on those hop-on hop-off buses. Get lost in the city and imbibe the culture as long as you can. Binge on gelato and feast on authentic pasta dishes. Have a long conversation with an Italian and see how passion is in every fiber of their being from their accent to their gestures. Fear not about being lost – it’s proverbially still the best way to find yourself. And also, keep your bags near – unless you want to have a good cry in the middle of the Roman metro like I did.

 

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Things About London I Learned to Love

Leaving your home country to pursue greater things comes with the sad fact that you will also leave behind a lot of things you love. From childhood friends to your favourite “kanto” breakfast to the endless support of your family – all of which accessible only via Skype and foodporn Instagram posts. Letting go of one’s comfort zone is terrifying and the separation anxiety may be enough to make someone turn around and take the easy way out. But then I told myself to suck it up and pack my bags because my hardwork was finally paying off and this was an opportunity to change my life. Despite my fears, I know that the blanket of comfort that comes with familiarity creates an illusion that everything is okay and that maybe, things are better off this way – but that is all crap. And of this I am sure because moving to London has widened my horizons so much that I did not even know what I was missing until I began my life here. My Dad would be so proud.

Living in a foreign land is not easy and at one point I found myself hammering a wardrobe together just to have somewhere to put my clothes in, but I slowly settled myself in. After all the culture shock and initial stressors of moving in a new city wore off (i.e. Omg I have no “tabo”, what the hell is an oyster card, where do I buy rice here? Etc.), I found myself thriving in London’s strange ways. There are days when I pause, smile and recall the times when I prayed to be where I am now and there are moments where everything still feels surreal. Today, I can say that as the months roll by and the seasons change before my eyes (too quickly I must say), I have learned to love this place as a second home. I don’t feel like a lost puppy anymore, and London has anchored its way into me in its own bizarre way. So, here are a few things about the city that has definitely worked its way into my Filipino heart:

1. The London Eye and Big Ben.

It may come as cliche to some, but even I find it hard to believe at times. Everytime my bus passes by the River Thames, I always linger to stare at Big Ben and The London Eye. I supress a small smile when they become smaller and smaller as the bus zooms away. These London icons are just divine to look at no matter how long you stare at them.

2. Londoners know how appreciate the beauty of small things.

I have acquired the habit of giving value to small things such as a breeze on a warm day, flowers during spring and even direct sunlight on a really hot weather. The fact that London experiences seasons makes you treasure sunlight when you see it, because you know that come winter all these are gone. You learn to notice how lush the green greens are because when Autumn comes, they all turn yellow and wilt to make way for the cold winter days. Because of this, I find myself appreciating simple things in life more from blossoming flowers to random acts of kindness. Things I would have missed had I chosen to bury my face in my phone.

3. The city is home to cute and well behaved dogs.

Just this morning I saw the cutest pug happily rolling on the grass – today’s reminder of what real happiness is all about. The dogs are so cute that you actually feel bad you don’t own one. Big dogs are around as well but I have never seen them be of any kind of nuisance. On a warm summer day, it is common to see people hanging around the park with their canine friends jumping and running around.

4. Hot Dads.

It’s hard not to notice how good looking some dads are in this busy city. And I am talking about responsible men too. A guy once walked past me in his business suit, case in one hand and a baby in the other arm; it must have been bring your baby to work day. They say husband material men are hard to find nowadays, but they are quite abundant in this part of the world. I’ve seen dads pushing baby buggies around the grocery store shopping for dinner, changing diapers and dads bringing their kids to parks (Even without the mom!) I don’t know if I’m the only person impressed with this but a man that can babysit and do groceries is what a happy wife’s dreams are made of.

5. Couples grow old together. (I think)

I am basing this on the fact that it is not unusual to see old couples walk together hand in hand while strolling around. I always try my hardest not to stare but it is a challenge when they are just sweet and makes you go aaaaw. Coming home from my trip to Scotland we sat across another couple in their 70’s and it is a privilege to witness how love still prevails in a generation where marriage seems meaningless.

6. It is a foodie’s paradise.

You can order anything you can imagine online or via telephone or collection. Needless to say, nothing is too weird in London and all sorts of pubs and restaurants can be found. From the zingy dishes of India to Spanish tapas to a fresh steaming bowl of Pho. London is a melting pot of race and culture and it would not be a surprise to find a Ristorante boasting of family recipes that have been handed down for generations. Search Zomato or Just Eat.

Even the grocery store seems to surprise me each time. I was on the pudding section one day when I saw a pot labeled “Spotted Dick”.

7. People are apparently health conscious although the NHS might disagree with me.

It can be as cold as 6 degrees but someone will be outside for a jog or an intense run. Whenever I am headed somewhere, 80% of the time I will come across someone out for a quick run – even around Central London. A horde of Asians could be taking a selfie with Big Ben and I bet you somewhere in the crowd would be a local in the middle of a sprint. The most unbelievable level of determination I have seen was a man in very short shorts jogging outside when it was 3 degrees.

8. People don’t care.

You can wear whatever the hell you want and chances are, nobody will mind. Londoners are a bit of a snob (In a good way if you ask me), and they don’t really care much for small talk. The general populace is not aggressively rude but as a rule of thumb: they don’t want to hear about it. Just stay out of their way and keep in mind that people in London walk on the left. If you dare stand on the left side of the escalator you will be hurled into the vortex of doom.

9. The Tube.

Now the Tube is something I love and hate at the same time. Everyone owns a certain degree of hatred for the tube because of their incessant habit of going on strike. However, I truly believe that the filthy alleyways of the Underground are a source of nostalgia for most locals. People hate it, it is always a little bit filthy, crowded, too hot, smells weird etc. but they love that they hate it. Personally, I think it’s a great place to people – watch aside from the obvious that it makes manoeuvring around the city fast and easier.

10. Reading is a culture and the television is something half the population can’t care less about.

I see it on the streets, on the train, on the bus, everywhere! England is a great reading nation and I have happily picked the habit. They make you realize how much time you waste in front of the telly and how much of your brain has died as a direct result of watching too much of it. It’s a shame really, all those years I spent not reading this much.

11. Tea Breaks.

I cannot call most Londoners laidback, however, proper rest and work life balance is quite important here. At work, aside from efficiency, tea breaks are important too and employees have resources to turn to such as a “stress pack.” (I am not kidding I have the leaflets and booklets with a helpline and all.) Some days my work is busy as hell, and I cannot afford a tea break but on quiet days, it’s nice to know that I can look forward to a few minutes of tea time. The variations of how this tea can be prepared is quite interesting and would merit a discussion on its own.

You’ve probably heard of the phrase “When one is tired of London, one is tired of life”. And in ways I cannot even begin to explain, that is so true. If you’ve never been to London, then I strongly advise you visit for a while and see for yourself; and you will believe me when I say that it is not so hard to fall in love with the sweet chaos this city so beautifully thrives in. My list is not in any way exhaustive and I may have forgotten a nugget or two, but it’s a list that’s bound to grow anyway. All I know is if my life were a book right now, this would surely be one of my favourite chapters.