Eastern Europe Trip – Day 10 – Budapest, Hungary

Today I continued exploring Budapest. I slept in until 8:00am today, which was nice, as I was quite tired. I had some breakfast and coffee before venturing outside. It was quite chilly this morning, so I brought my jacket with me.

I took a tram to the Anantara New York Palace Budapest Hotel. The building was constructed in 1894 by the New York Life Insurance Company to be used as their local head office. It was designed by Alajos Hauszmann, Flóris Korb and Kálmán Giergl. During the communist era the building was nationalized. After the collapse of communism, the structure was purchased by Italian Boscolo Hotels in February 2001, and was totally renovated and reopened in May 2006 as a 107-room luxury hotel.

I then walked to the Franz Liszt Academy of Music, which was established in 1875 as a live concert hall and music university. It is also home to the Liszt Collection, which feature several valuable books and manuscripts donated by Franz Liszt when he died. The academy is currently located in a beautiful Art Nouveau style building that was built in 1907. It was designed by Flóris Korb and Kálmán Giergl at the request of Baron Gyula Wlassics, who was the Minister of Culture at that time. The façade is dominated by a statue of Liszt, which was sculpted by Alajos Stróbl. The building is fairly beautiful on the outside, however is supposed to be quite beautiful on the inside, however I was unable to get inside as they use a keycard system to enter.

Close by is Lotz Hall, which was originally a casino in 1884, under the name “Terézvárosi Kaszinó”, and became a department store in the 20th century. The beautiful Art Nouveau style building was designed by Karoly Lotz. When you enter the building it still says “Párisi Nagy Áruház” (“Paris Department Store”) on a sign on the façade, bringing homage to the history of this beautiful building. Abandoned for years, the building was brought back to life by the Alexandra bookstore, which had a café in the Lotz Hall and its stock downstairs. In March 2017, the business suddenly shut down and the Lotz Hall was closed to the public for almost two years until it was transformed into a venue that can be rented out, with a French-style cafe called “Café Párisi” on the top floor. Sadly the café closed during COVID-19, and there is a for rent sign out front.

Café Párisi is located on the famous Andrássy út street, which is one of the main boulevards in Budapest, dating back to 1872. The boulevard is lined with spectacular Neo-renaissance mansions and townhouses featuring fine facades and interiors. It became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2002.

A short walk away is the Hungarian State Opera, which was also closed due to extensive renovations. The Hungarian State Opera House is a beautiful Neo-Renaissance style opera house, with elements of Baroque, that was built between 1875 and 1884. It was designed by Miklós Ybl, a major figure of 19th-century Hungarian architecture. The opera house has capacity for 1300 people. A major renovation occurred between 1980 and 1984. The decoration of the symmetrical façade follows a musical theme. At the main entrance there is a beautiful wide sweeping stone staircase that is illuminated by wrought-iron lamps. The foyers contain marble columns, and the vaulted ceilings are covered in beautiful murals created by Bertalan Székely and Mór Than.

Continuing down Andrássy út street I eventually came to St. Stephen’s Basilica, which is a Roman Catholic basilica that was built between 1851 and 1905. The reason that the basilica took so long to build was the collapse of the dome in 1868 which required complete demolition of the completed works and rebuilding from the ground up. It was named in honour of King Stephen, the first King of Hungary from 975 AD to 1038 AD. The church was built on the site of a former theater, named Hetz-Theater, where animal fights were hosted. After the theatre was knocked down a temporary church was built in its place by a rich Hungarian named János Zitterbarth before the permanent church was built with money that was fundraised. The building is in Neo-Classical architecture style, and is the second tallest building in Budapest at 96 metres (315 feet) tall. The reason for this was that regulations prohibited building any building taller than this for a long time. It’s simply stunning on the inside.

I started walking towards the Hungarian Parliament building with two quick photo stops at the Postal Savings Bank, and the House of Hungarian Art Nouveau, which also was sadly a COVID causality. It recently gone out of business as well.

The Postal Savings Bank building is a beautiful Secessionist style building containing colourful tiles and folk motifs. It was built by Ödön Lechner in 1901. The building is now utilized by the National Bank of Hungary.

House of Hungarian Art Nouveau is dedicated to the Hungarian Art Nouveau Secession style. The museum is located in a house built by Emil Vidor in 1903 for the Bedő family. The contemporary furniture, decorative objects, paintings and instruments displayed in the museum showcase what it would have been like to live in the beginning of the 20th century. The building was restored between 2003 and 2007 by architect Benkovich Attila and the architectural historian János Gerle.

The Hungarian Parliament Building is the largest building in Hungary. It was designed by Hungarian architect Imre Steindl in neo-Gothic style and was completed in 1904. When Budapest was united from the three cities of Buda, Óbuda, and Pest it was decided to establish a new parliament building that would express sovereignty of the nation. The design was chosen from an international competition, with Imre Steindl emerging as the victor. The plans of the other two competitors were later also realized in the form of the Néprajzi Múzeum (Ethnographic Museum) and Vajdahunyad Castle (the Hungarian Ministry of Agriculture), both facing the Parliament Building. The building took over 100000 people the build, 40 million bricks, 500000 precious stones, and nearly 100 pounds of gold.

Close to the parliament building is the The Shoes on the Danube Bank memorial, which was opened on April 16th 2005 to honour the Jews were killed by fascist Arrow Cross militiamen during World War 2. They were ordered to take off their shoes and were shot at the edge of the water so that their bodies would fall into the river when they died. It represents their shoes that were left behind. The memorial was designed by Gyula Pauer.

By this point in time my feet were in absolute agony. These new Nike’s were just not working for me, so I decided to go to a shoe store in the suburbs to pick up a pair of ASICS. It was about a 40 minute ride, but completely worth it. My feet were instantly happy.

Near the shoe store was a neat hotel called Hotel Budapest. It’s a cylindrical shaped brutalism style hotel that was opened in 1967. It was designed by György Szrogh and built using slipform construction and fair-faced concrete, which was quite cutting-edge technology at the time. During it’s prime days it had a dance club on the top floor, which was then turned into a sauna and roof terrace, however in 1994 it was converted into rooms.

I then went back to my hotel quickly to drop off my bag with my Nike’s in there, and went to Mazel Tov for some food, which my friend Pat recommended to me. I had a Shawarma platter and an IPA beer. Both were extremely delicious!

The final stop for today was The House of Terror museum, which features exhibits related to the fascist and communist regimes in the 20th century Hungary. It also serves as a memorial to the victims of these regimes. The museum was opened on February 24th 2002. Unfortunately I wasn’t allowed to take any interior photos, but it was an excellent exhibit, and I highly recommend visiting it.

I then tried to book a bus to Bratislava for Saturday, however it seemed that the bus company wasn’t operating, so I’ll just head straight to Vienna on Saturday (in two days), and then do a day trip to Bratislava on another day. I was still hungry so I walked across the street from my hotel to Sali Salad Library and had a Greek salad.

Be sure to check back tomorrow, as it is my last day in Budapest.

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Czech Republic – Kutná Hora & Český Krumlov

After visiting Prague it was time to move on to my next destinations; Kutná Hora and Český Krumlov. First stop was Kutná Hora.

Kutná Hora was first founded in 1142 with the settlement of Sedlec Abbey, the first Cistercian monastery in Bohemia. In 1260 German miners flicked to the area to begin mining for silver in the surrounding mountain region. There was great economic prosperity from the 13th thru 16th centuries and the city competed with Prague economically, politically and culturally.

In 1420, Emperor Sigismund made the city the base For his unsuccessful attack on the Taborites during the Hussite Wars, which lead to the Battle of Kutná Hora. Kutná Hora was taken by Jan Zizka, but was burned by imperial troops in 1422 to prevent it falling into the hands of the Taborites. Zizka still the reigns of the city nonetheless and it emerged to new prosperity.

Kutná Hora was eventually passed to the Habsburg Monarchy of Austria in 1526. In 1546 the most prosperous of the mines was flooded. Eventually the plague, 30 years war, and a fire did the city in. The city became impoverished and the mines were eventually abandoned at the end of the 18th century.

The city has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1995. When I was here I visited the Church of Saint James (which was under construction), and St. Barbara’s Cathedral.

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After visiting Kutná Hora is was time to drive further along to my next stop, Český Krumlov, where I would be staying for the next two days.
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Český Krumlov started in 1240 when a settlement rose around a castle by the Vitkovci family, descendants of the Witiko of Prčice. The family died off in 1302 And Kind Wenceslaus II ceded the town and castle to the Rosenberg family. Peter 1 of Rosenberg, the Lord Chamberlain of King John of Bohemia, resided here and had the upper castle erected. Most of the people living below the castle were German-speaking at the time and migrated from Austria and Bavaria.

The Rosenbergs encouraged trade and crafts within the town wall, and when gold was found next to the town, German miners came to settle. William of Rosenberg, High Treasurer and High Burgrave of Bohemia, had the castle rebuilt in a Renaissance style during the time.

In 1602 Williams brother Peter Vok of Rosenberg sold Cesky Krumlov to the Habsburg emperor Rufolf II, who then gave it to his son Julius d’Austria. After the Battle of White Mountain, Emperor Ferdinand II gave Český Krumlov to the noble House of Eggenberg. From 1719 to 1947 the castle belonged to the House of Scwarzenberg.

After Word War I the city was part of the Bohemian Forest Region, which was initially declared part of German-Austria. The Czechoslovak army occupied the region by 1918, and it eventually became part of Czechoslovakia. in 1938 it was claimed by the Nazi Germans. After World War II the German speaking population was expelled and the town was returned to Czechoslovakia.

Under the communist ruling of Czechoslovakia the town fell into disrepair, but since the Velvet Revolution in 1989 much of the town has been restored. The city has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1992. The town was severely damaged in a great flood in 2002, but has since been repaired.

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2018-03-11 – Paris

Today I woke up at 5:45am. I started the day off by going to Moulin Rouge to take a photo of the exterior, but was disappointed that it wasn’t lit up. I’ll have to try again later. I then visited the two remaining Art Nouveau stations left in Paris (Abbesses and Point Dauphine). After that I went to Sacre Coure. It’s absolutely beautiful inside but sadly you’re not allowed to take pictures inside, and in fact I tried to take a photo but got in trouble and they made me delete the photo. My camera is so noisy you can’t hide the fact that it’s taking a photo. After that I took the Funicular down and went to the Grand and Petit Palaces, and Pont Alexandre III Bridge.
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I decided it was time for a break so I went to a Starbucks near Arc du Triumph. There was quite a bunch of hungover young women draped all over the couches in there. I was laughing on the inside remembering a few of those days in my youth. After having a coffee at Starbucks I went to The Arc. It was absolutely stunning and well worth the 200 or so steps to climb to the top!
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After visiting the Arc I went and saw the Eiffel Tower, found a good Vietnamese restaurant for lunch, and then went back to my hotel for a short nap.
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After waking from my nap I went to see the Parisian Catacombs. The lineup was about 1 1/2 hours but it was well worth the wait. The catacombs was originally used as a rock quarry and then later used as a mass burial ground when the city ran out of cemetery space and later bared burials from happening within city limits. Its estimated over 4 million people’s remains are in the catacombs. It’s an incredible but creepy sight to see.
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Random fact about the catacombs; during 2004, police discovered a fully equipped movie theatre in one of the caverns. It was equipped with a giant cinema screen, seats for the audience, projection equipment, film reels of recent thrillers and film noir classics, a fully stocked bar, and a complete restaurant with tables and chairs. The source of its electrical power and the identity of those responsible remain unknown.
After the catacombs I went to a highly rated (on Google) beer market called Brewberry Beer Cellar. There I picked up three beers; Jet Lag IPA, Jai Alai White Oak IPA, and HibouBerry Double IPA. All were absolutely amazing, but my personal favorite was the Jai Alai. I’ve been scoping out that one for a few years now since I heard about it on one of the podcasts I listen to. It’s brewed by Cigar City Brewing in Tampa, Florida, USA.
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I headed back towards my hotel and stopped for a Crepe and then relaxed in my hotel room for a bit and had my beers. After having my beers I went to take photos of the Eiffel Tower at night, and I must say it was definitely worth it!

I got back to my hotel quite late, around midnight. Tomorrow I’m off to see Mont Saint-Michel!!!

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Thailand – Day 1 – Bangkok

I departed Calgary for my around the world flight to Bangkok on December 30th 2017, which meant that I had the unique opportunity to spend my 2017-2018 New Years in the air. I flew business class from Calgary to Frankfurt on Air Canada on a Boeing 787 Dreamliner.

I transferred to a Lufthansa Airbus A380 for my Frankfurt to New Delhi flight. This flight was great because it was mostly empty, which meant I could stretch out across all three seats to sleep, and I got to celebrate New Years on board the plane, where we were served a complimentary bottle of champagne. It was fantastic!

After arriving in India I realized I was slightly in over my head compared to my usual travels because the airport was fairly run down, disorganized and few people spoke English. I had to collect my Thai Airways ticket from this desk, where it was total chaos. After spending an hour collecting my ticket and consuming precious time before my next flight I walked to the gate and stopped to get some bottled water and a coffee from a shop.

I boarded a Thai Airways 787 Dreamliner for the final leg of the journey to Bangkok. The staff on the flight were so friendly, and the food was amazing! The flight was very empty so again I had the whole row to myself so I could lay down in a makeshift bed.

After arriving in Bangkok it only took me 10 minutes to walk and clear immigration / customs and then I boarded a train to the Center of the city, which only cost 45 baht (less than $2).

After arriving in the Center of the city I found a 7-11 where I got a huge bottled water for 7 baht, and then started walking towards my first stop, the Golden Mount. Half way there I decided I would try to catch a cab, the first one turned me down, but the second said he would take me. It’s routine for cabs to turn you down in the city if it’s not worth it for them; they don’t like tourist traps because they get caught in traffic and it’s not worth it to them.

I successfully survived my first panic attack I’ve had in years when I was at the Golden Mount. I was overwhelmed by the amount of people that were there and I literally couldn’t move and felt trapped, but the place was pretty cool.

After visiting the Golden Mount I walked to my hotel, the Warehouse Hotel, to drop off my bag. I wasn’t able to check into my hotel at this point in time, so I left my bag, grabbed a 25 baht cola and relaxed for a few minutes before heading to the Grand Palace.

The Grand Palace has free entry today because of it being New Years, which was great because I’d later use the 500 baht fee I was going to pay on some delicious Thai food! I’m lost for words on how to describe the Grand Palace; it’s grand, it’s a Palace, and it has so much gold and gems I don’t even know where to begin! It’s so fantastic!

I then walked across the street to Wat Pho, the laying Buddha. Pictures don’t even do this justice; it’s enormous!

I was starting to get fairly dizzy at this point in time due to lack of food and sleep so I stopped at a small restaurant across the street where I ordered Pad Thai for 150 baht. It was delicious, but the portion was fairly small. I also got some street food; homemade potato chips!

After eating my late lunch I boarded a water bus to cross the river to the other side where I visited Wat Arun which is an amazing white temple with a tall spire!

The next stop was Wat Kalayanamit, where there is a massive gold praying Buddha. This place was beyond words; it was so breathtaking watching hundreds of people pray to the Buddha.

On the way to seeing Wat Kalayanamit I realized I was not in the touristy part of Bangkok any longer because I was starting to see a lot of homeless people, and people that were living in tiny little shacks. One thing that really got to me was seeing these two kids laying on a bare mattress under a bridge watching a tube television that was plugging into this rats nest of wires that had been spliced into a main power line. Their fridge and propane stove were in the same cramped dark conditions.

I was getting sleepy so I took another water taxi across the river, and then walked back to my hotel, where I checked in and took a nap, which turned into sleeping all the way through to the next day. Stay tuned for more adventures tomorrow!

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August 11th 2016 – Outback Tour Day 2 of 10

This morning we woke up early at 5:30. Breakfast was a simple Australian bush style breakfast of toast and basic cereals. I have not had cereal in years, but I had some corn flakes with skim milk, as well as some toast with jam. We set off towards Jim Jim falls at 6:30am. The drive took us down a 1 hour extremely rutted and bumpy gravel and shale road. After about an hour we came to the 4×4 trail where I hopped out and locked the front hubs on the truck to put us into 4×4. We took the 4×4 trail at a reasonable pace in order to not bottom out the truck but still at a reasonable rate of speed. About 15 minutes down the 4×4 trail we then came to the parking spot for Jim Jim falls.

During the fall Jim Jim falls has a very high flow rate, and you are not able to see it from land. The good photos that you see from the internet are from an airplane or helicopter. Luckily we came during winter so we could actually see the area where the waterfall would be, but also swim underneath. After parking the truck we walked about a half hour to a beach below Jim Jim falls. Most of us went in the water, while a few stayed behind because they were scared of crocodiles, or couldn’t swim. We swam a bit out from the beach towards some rocks, which we climbed over, to the other side where we saw a beautiful plunge pool. The water in the plunge pool was a little warmer, but absolutely beautiful. I swam to the other side of the plunge pool and relaxed under the barely trickling waterfall.

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Afterwards we hopped back into our 4×4 and drove back to the same camp that we stayed at the night before. We had leftovers and sandwiches, which were delicious. After lunch I helped hook the trailer back up to the 4×4 (we couldn’t take the trailer with us this morning due to the extremely bumpy road).

We started driving towards Mount Bundy, three hours away, where we are going to stay tonight but made multiple stops along the way. The first stop, an unexpected stop, was to clear a tree that fell right in front of us because of a small bush fire. We had to come to a sudden stop. The tree took five of us to move and two people to watch traffic in either direction. The second stop was a massive cathedral termite mound, which was taller than I was. The cathedral termite mounds grow 1 metre every ten years, so it is a slow process. The cathedral termites build their mounds from dirt, water, grass, and poop.

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The next stop was the Buklukluk Lookout. We learned about the foliage in the area and how the indigenous people made baskets and bracelets out of some of the foliage by weaving the fibres. We made bracelets, which took about 10 minutes, so image how long it would take to make a basket.

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Along the way to our next stop I was nominated to be a trivia quiz master, so I asked a series of ten questions each about World History, Animals, and Australia. The questions and answers were already prepared for me. The best team got 22/30 correct and won a prize of candy at the next stop. The next stop was pine creek, and old mining town, where we got ice cream, beer for camp tonight, and watched some caged snakes eat mice. I also received a bag of candy for being a quiz master, which I shared with the group. Gold mining was, and still is huge in the area, so many little towns along the highway were founded in the mid to late 1800’s. So much gold was found in the area that they were short of workers, so they got Chinese people that were serving time in Chinese jails to come work in the Australian gold mines, in return for freedom after a period of time. They did their time and stole gold by smuggling it back to China in urns of deceased family members, and then became quite wealthy. It is unknown how much gold was stolen, but it was suspected a fair amount.

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We got back on the main highway, called the Stewart Highway, towards Mount Bundy. The Stewart highway received its name from the explorer who was the first person to travel from Southern Australia to Darwin in 1861. The first telegraph in Australia was made in 1871 to England through Asia and Europe, which apparently took six years to complete.

We arrived at Mount Bundy, which is a beautiful farm area that has wild dingos, a bull, some horses, a miniature pony, and an alligator pond. When we arrived I setup my tent, and plugged in all of my equipment to charge (these tents all had electricity, which was nice). I took my camera and went in search of wallabes and the bull to take pictures of. I didn’t have the correct lens to take a picture of the wallabes, but at least I was able to capture some. After that I met up with the rest of the group who were sitting around drinking and talking politics, before we had to start preparing dinner. Dinner was mashed potatoes, buffalo steaks, sausages, and cooked vegetables. After dinner we went in search of toads and crocodiles by flashlight. We were unable to find any crocodiles, but did find some poisonous toads that if you lick them you will get high.

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I went to bed at 11:00pm. Check back tomorrow for more of my adventures!

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