Saturday, August 31, 2013

replacing memories

Five years ago, if not to the day, my mother and I left on a day-trip to Prague from Vienna. The beautiful city was left tainted with 2 of the 4 allotted hours spent in the city dealing with the logistics of a stolen wallet. I never cared to go back.

Earlier this summer, however, a friend of mine asked if it were possible to meet up before I left Europe. The only dates that I could join in on her intercontinental escapade would be during the Prague stop off. So I sucked it up and went.

The night I left Budapest was one of the hottest of the summer. My assigned bed to Prague was in a train car built at the turn of the century, last century. My two cabin companions and I were sweating buckets with only the hot air from the window providing a semblance of ventilation. When our conductor walked in to check tickets he explained how to bolt all three locks on the door and warned that we must shut the windows when we go to sleep.

"There are too many thieves that jump onto the train in the middle of the night," he went on to say after noting the incredulous looks on our faces.

Thankfully as the train picked up speed, and the night wore on, the cabin became more bearable .

Just before we all settled into bed, I stepped out to the hall. The windows were down and a deliciously cool breeze whipped the hair around my face. I rested my arms on the sill and watched the moonlit landscape pass by.

In the distance stood a castle-like building on a hill, perfectly lit up to make it appear as if it was something out of a fairytale.

While gazing at the building, a little Indian girl walked over to her dad who stood at the next window over and pleaded for a song. After a bit of hesitation, he consented. His beautiful tenor voice softly sang out a Hindi lullaby, making the moment magical.

And I knew- a second visit to Prague would make all the difference. 

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Fun Fact Budapest Edition

Fact: During communist Hungary, a statue was erected on the Buda side of the city, high on a hill for all to see. After the country was freed, all communist relics were destroyed. All but this one statue, that is. The statue was too beautiful to be demolished, the government thought (which it is), but it was tainted and they had to do something about it... so a plan was formulated. And the plan was this - in order to purify the statue, changing the symbolism from oppression to freedom, they would place a giant sheet over it for three days. At the end of the three days the sheet would be removed and the statue would be inaugurated as a statue of independence. And so it was.
photo credit

Fact: The flat Pest side of the city is home of the M1 - the second oldest consistently running metro line in the world. The retro yellow, two car, metro has been transporting spa-goers to and from the city center since 1896.
photo credit

Fact: During the war, Jews were lined up along the Danube and shot in the back, propelling their bodies forward into the water. Today, as a memorial, bronze shoes line a part of the river.

Fact: In the Jewish Quarter of Budapest, located on the Pest side of the city, laid an untold number of abandoned warehouse-esq buildings. The year 2000 brought about their rebirth, when the abandoned buildings were outfitted with beer taps and toilets and thusly named Ruin Pubs or Bars. Over time, the decor has multiplied drastically, although the structures themselves have remained the same. Even if you don't drink, the Ruin Bars are one of the coolest places you'll ever walk into.

Fact: At the corner of Karoly Krt and Dohany St (on the Karoly Krt side) is a little ice cream shop named Fragola. It changes lives for the better. Their pomegranate yogurt ice cream certainly changed mine.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

a river runs through it

Budapesht. That's how it's properly pronounced.  Otherwise you're distinguished as an ignorant tourist... although the locals will never tell you that to your face.

Previously two cities (technically three), Budapest was officially combined into one in 1873, with a lone bridge built 30 years prior - linking the two across the Danube. Mounted on a hill, Buda is a quieter and more refined area west of the river. The flat land lying opposite the river lies the more happening Pest side.

Today many bridges link the two sides. The oldest (although destroyed during the war and reconstructed) and most intricate being the Chain Bridge.  It provides direct access to Castle Hill on the Buda side, and is visually stunning.

Photo Credit *

My favorite, however, is the shortest of the lot. Reminiscent of the Bay Bridge in San Francisco, the Liberty, or Freedom, Bridge is a green chain-type structure built in 1896 for the Millennium World Exhibition. It too was destroyed during the war, and reconstructed with the added aesthetic (and practical) appeal of yellow retro-trams riding across it.

Photo Credit
* I'm on the road and just realized I didn't place all my photos of Hungary on my external hard drive. Which, coincidentally, makes you all the luckier... because I could never have created such stunning shots - being PhotoShop inept and all. 

Monday, August 19, 2013

splish, splash...

Soon after my return from Estonia, weather patterns shifted in Europe. What was a mere 9 degrees Celsius (48 degrees Fahrenheit) when I left, turned to 33 C (91 F) upon my return. And as great as my mother's local pool is, I was left wanting.

With my sister visiting from Hawaii, also itching for some water - but on a budget, we opted for a nearby local, famous for it's giant baths.

We opted for Budapest.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Estonian countryside

former German plantation home, turned museum

Estonian coast

boulders from Sweden, transplanted their way to the coast of Estonia

on Summer solstice, single men and women meet on the swing at the midnight hour to find "the one"

hanging bridge over to the beach

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Tallinn's good eats

A few cities around Europe have maps made by locals which include tips, to do's, to see's and to eat. The eat portion being my favorite, since there are so many tourist restaurants around, I need local help weeding out the bad from the good.  Thankfully, Tallinn locals created one such map... which made my trip a foodie euphoria.

The first map recommended restaurant I went to is located at the gothic town hall. Ill Draakon is situated in a dark little passageway holed out of the building medieval building. The must eats are their 1 Euro meat or vegetable filled pastries or their 2 Euro elk meat stew and all you can eat large pickles fished out of a barrel. There are no utensils - the stew is slurped, just like in days of old.
Ill Draakon

For breakfast I checked out Kompressor - the seller of enormous pancakes. Locals advised to go on an empty stomach and don't expect to be hungry for the rest of the day. The locals were right.

blueberry ricotta pancake
Then the map led me outside of the old city walls... where the freshest and healthiest of meals were made. Plus, each had free water and homemade bread refills.

First is Sesoon. It's a brand new restaurant, that is an adventure in and of itself to find. But the giant restaurant was filled with patrons ready for organic foods at their best. I was so enamored, I walked away without taking a photographic souvenir.

But my favorite would have to be Bistroo Kukeke, not only for its amazing food, but it's retro location. The name isn't written properly on the building, which is an old railway depot from the 1800's. Instead, the name, Kukeke, is represented with a design of what it means in Estonian: rooster.

deliciously fresh salad and pumpkin pastry
In search for the Kukeke, I found my favorite area in Tallinn full of abandon warehouses, old water tower, and condemned buildings. In one condemned building, rock music came pouring out of a broken window a couple stories high. I walked closer to hear the band practice.  A smarter me would have left it at that. But I was intrigued, and the front door to the building was opened. The walls of the stairwell was graffitied, the box tiled windows were dirty and broken here and there. The further I went up the stairs, the louder the music became. I arrived at the floor the band was playing the same moment a man in a wife-beater and boxer shorts descended the stairs from a floor above with a toothbrush in his hands. After I mumbled an excuse for being there, he expressed his distaste for the band, since he was living on the floor above and then said I could go check them out if I wanted.

area Kukeke is located in
I walked onto a large floor with a few sofas scattered around, a platform stage in one corner, and beer bottles strewn about. The walls were covered in graffiti. Behind another door, the band played. They played with passion, and I felt uneasy about interrupting. So it was then, when I was a mere 5 feet away, that cowardice overtook me and left without them ever knowing I was a groupie.

behind door number one, is the band I never met

Sunday, August 4, 2013

a little medieval

As much as I loved Stockholm, I didn't quite love the cost of it. For example, my stay in a 6 bed shared hostel room cost me over 30 Euros a night. That is the same amount it cost me to have a private room in an Estonian hostel for 3 nights. My finances thanked me in my decision to country hop.

The capital, Tallinn, is a small medieval city - easily navigable with the ability to see most everything within a day. Thankfully my stay coincided with the annual summer music festival, which allowed for a longer staying pleasure.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

under the summer sun

Stockholm is comprised of 14 islands, with one dedicated to an amusement park. That alone should explain their joy for life. I arrived in the prime of summertime celebrations. A food festival went on in the main park, music festivals were held in churches around the city, graduation parties on the backs of trucks road down the streets and the Swedish national holiday was held which included the grand precession of the royal family in traditional attire.

The weather was idilic, the sun rose at 3:30am and set around midnight, and the people were jovial. If all three stayed the same throughout the entire year, instead of just one of the three, I would have placed down (temporary) roots there in a heartbeat.