The Magic of Budapest

Budapest was everything I envisioned and more. No matter the time of day or which part of the city you wander to, you’ll be amazed with Budapest and it will have you coming back for more!

Oh, Budapest! You were everything I envisioned and so much more! 

 

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Chain Bridge and Buda Palace at night

I had wanted to visit Budapest for the past 2 years, but the stars didn’t align to make it possible until this year. I can officially report that I finally made it happen and it was everything and so much more than I could have ever imagined. 

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Looking out over the Parliament from Fisherman’s Bastion at sunrise

Here is a city that stands in the shadows of Paris, Rome, London and Berlin as  one of Europe’s most underrated cities. But it may not stay that way for long – it is easy to see why more people are being attracted to this magical city on the Danube. This is a MUST on anyone’s bucket list, as you will leave Budapest wanting to come back for more! You’ll know what I mean when you get there.

Budapest is two different cities divided by the Danube: Buda and Pest. In 1840, the Chain Bridge was built to connect the two cities which made it the largest in Hungary. Today, the city is alive and thriving. Whether you watch the sun rise over the Parliament from Fisherman’s Bastion (highly recommended!), wander the streets to take in the sights, sounds and smells, spend an afternoon at the thermal baths, or watch the sunset on the banks of the Danube as the white lights of the city turn on, there is something for everyone in this city. 

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Sunrise on the Chain Bridge
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An afternoon at the Széchenyi Thermal Bath
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Sunset on the Danube – Shoes on the Danube and Fisherman’s Bastion

A typical vacation for me is usually busy and on the go because I want to see as much of a place I visit within the limited time I have. However, Budapest made me want to slow down and be more in the moment. That’s really the best way to experience it.  This city has a lot to offer, yet retains a quaint and underestimated feeling of exploration. Could I have seen the entire city in two days? Yes, but I had planned on spending three days there to really immerse myself in it more. Exploring a new city at a slower pace and taking your time can really make you appreciate things more.  And Budapest didn’t disappoint.

This is an easy city to explore by foot.  I tackled a different part of the city each day and sometimes visited the same area twice, walking up to 14 miles most days and enjoying every step of it. Slowing down and being more present helped me soak up the city’s energy; something I think most of us forget to do while exploring new places. I took in my surroundings while wandering, never fearing of getting lost. I fell in love with the countless alleyways brightened by string of lights hanging wall to wall and lined with restaurants, bars, and unique cafes. Even the hole-in-the-wall cafes or bars somehow are arranged to make it feel cozy and welcoming. I was in my happy place discovering this beautiful city on foot. 

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Walking from the Pest side to Buda side of the city

As I walked down the various streets, whether to the thermal bath or to the central market, I observed a city that was mixed with the old and new, tattered yet well groomed. While appreciating the beautiful architecture that dates back to the 17th century, I sensed Hungary’s tragic and sometimes violent history they had endured. The restoration of older buildings were evidence of Budapest’s story of revival and rebirth. The city is continuing to develop, which means it will only continue to get better. 

Hungarians and tourists alike gather in the city center’s green space to take in their surroundings while enjoying food, gelato, or a cold beverage during a hot summer day. I too grabbed a freshly made margarita pizza while sitting on the lawn reading and watching all the various groups of friends play cards, dip their feet in the pool, or just talk with one another and even with strangers. The city center gives off tantalizing energy that is intoxicating. I couldn’t help but feel content watching the sun’s light blanket the city with different shades of colors, as I observed humanity enjoying the simple things in life. 

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Green space pool by day
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Green space pool by night

It is hard to say what part of Budapest was my favorite. Every bit of it was an adventure of discovery. If I had to suggest one thing that a visitor must do, it would be to experience sunrise from Fisherman’s Bastion. Sunrise comes early, especially in the summer, but it is well worth a 4am wake up call to see the sky turning pink and orange to blue as the sun slowly rises above the beautiful Parliament building. I had the beautiful space nearly all to myself, and what a memorable experience it was to capture images of the sun rising over the city. As I gazed out to the Pest side of the Danube, there was a slight haze over the city as the sun continued to rise. The sun grew larger with every minute, and the bubble of pure exhilaration that I was experiencing in that moment nearly popped from all the joy I was feeling.

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Enjoying the beautiful sunrise from Fisherman’s Bastion
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Parliament from Fisherman’s Bastion
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Parliament from the Danube

Enjoying sunrise and wandering the streets without a care in the world are the reasons why travel brings me so much happiness. It feeds my soul. It fills me with pure joy. I cherish the memories I create during my travels and I can’t imagine a life without experiencing other countries with unique landscapes, customs, and cultures.

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Exuding happiness from watching the sunrise

I encourage you to visit Budapest to experience for yourself just how magical it is. Enjoy a coffee at one of the many adorable cafes and walk along the Danube to see the lights of the city turn on at night and you’ll feel the energy of this city. I fell in love with Budapest.  For me it no longer sits in the shadow of other popular European destinations. I’m sure you’ll feel that way too, and come back again.

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Shoes on the Danube at sunset

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Hiking Gibraltar’s Rock

Take a pit stop on your journey through Andalucia and check out Gibraltar. Here’s all you need to know about hiking Gibraltar’s Rock and the kind of views you’ll see!

Andalucia is sprawling with whitewashed villages and rolling hills, but it also allows you to visit a territory of England at the same time…The Rock of Gibraltar. You get to visit 2 countries in one day or even 3 if you head to Tangier, but that’s a story for a different blog. Even if Gibraltar is not on your radar, you’ll want to take a pit stop here simply to soak up the differences in the architecture, language, currency, and even the scenery as you venture up the rock. The views from this tiny southernmost country of Europe will NOT disappoint!

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View of the Rock as you cross the tarmac

Allot yourself at least 4 hours to spend hiking Gibraltar’s rock. If you are pressed for time or not the hiking type, there are taxis and cars for hire that will take you on a tour of the rock instead.

First of all, park outside of Gibraltar. You must drive across the tarmac of the airport, which means depending on the number of flights that are set to land or take-off upon your arrival, driving in can sometimes take longer than anticipated. At times this can take up to 3 hours to get through, so walking across the border is the simpler option. Where to park on the Spanish side is easily marked as you approach the border and you will pay for parking upon leaving. Once you pass the border and go through the easy customs office, you will walk across the runway and have a panoramic view of the Rock ahead of you. As disappointing as it is, you will not get a shiny new stamp in your passport, so prepare yourself.

There are 2 different ways to get up the Rock: enter from Jews’ Gate at the southern end or from Casemates Square. I decided to go up from Casemates Square and visit the Moorish Castle first and end at Jews’ Gate. Once you reach the first guard tower, you will need to pay either £5 for just the walking portion or £17 to gain access to the castle, the WWI caves, the Skywalk, and the highest point of the Rock at O’Hara’s Battery. The extra £12 is worth it just for the spectacular view at the top!

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Gibraltar border crossing
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View from Moorish Castle down on the tarmac and Algeciras

There are multiple different paths you can take depending on the type of hiker you are; nature lover, history buff, thrill seeker, and monkey trailer. Most paths overlap, but all

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Click the image to be taken to the Gibraltar site

end (or begin) at the same spot. As you continue to climb, the views of Gibraltar itself and Algeciras across the bay continue to get more breathtaking. Eventually you will make it to the Monkey’s Den, which is everyone’s favorite aspect of the Rock. These brazen monkeys are Europe’s only free roaming primates, but don’t be fooled by their stoic and nonchalant manner, as it’s all an act! At the top of the Charles V wall you will see the majority of the monkeys lounging around waiting for that rookie hiker to put down their bag (yes…that was me!) and pounce. Good luck getting your bag back! You want to document the moment you have views of the highest point, the astonishingly blue Strait of Gibraltar, views of Morocco, and the monkeys, but whatever you do, keep your belongings with you at all times. Those monkeys are not afraid to jump on you, hitch a ride on one the taxi tours, or even nose through your bag, because yes, they know how to open zippers and be more curious than you’d like.

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Stairs up the Charles V wall

On a clear day it feels as if you could touch Morocco because of how close it is. This vantage point really shows why Gibraltar is such a key territory of Europe and its trade. If the site of Morocco is too much of a tease and you are urged to touch upon the African continent and add a 3rd country to your Spanish trip, you can find day trips from Gibraltar, Algeciras, or even Tarifa.

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Can you see Morocco in the distance?
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View of Gibraltar from above with Morocco in the distance.

Overall, the hike is exhilarating, expansive, and leaves you in awe; just be prepared to walk up A LOT of stairs and get thrown in the wind a bit. If anything, after the hike you’ll be ready for a good fish and chips meal on Main Street before heading onto your next destination.

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Come hang with this little guy and take in the views!

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5 Top Things to Do in Ronda, Spain

Andalucia will provide you with an intimate setting of Spain that is rich in history and vast in its beauty. Ronda and its surrounding towns are definite musts if you visit this part of Spain.

Ronda is about a 1 hour and 30-minute drive from Malaga. My first impressions of the countryside were centered around the number of wind turbines across the landscape, but also the bright green and yellow hues that seemed to be painted across the rolling hills. Upon arriving in Ronda, you will see a number of streets lined with perfectly umbrella-like trimmed orange trees with the occasional bright fuchsia and purple bougainvillea tree mixed between. Nearly all the streets are winding, narrow, and cobblestoned. Carrera Espinel is a walking-only street filled with shopping and eateries that will lead you straight into the Plaza de Toros de Ronda, the largest bullring in Spain.

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Walking only street
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Blooms everywhere
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Orange trees lining the streets

Where to Eat

You will find many places to eat while walking along Carrera Espinel. Just a few blocks off of the walking street, you’ll find great local favorites along Calle Comandante Salvador Carrasco. I tried Bar San Francisco, an excellent choice. Around the Puente Nuevo there are plenty of outside seating areas that provide a great view of the bridge. I highly recommend Le Chuguita, known by tourists and locals alike for its 0.80 Euro tapas plates. It opens at 8:30pm and is packed by 8:45pm.

Where to Park

The streets are lined with cars on one side or the other. You can find street parking, but keep in mind if the curb is painted yellow that is a paid spot. Look for non-painted curbs if you go the street parking route. There are a number of paid hourly parking garages within the city just outside the main walking street or there’s a free overnight lot on Calle Comandante Salvador Carrasco across from Bar San Francisco, which I highly suggest is the best option.  Good luck!

Where to Stay

I stayed in a great Airbnb here in the middle of the city just 2 blocks from the walking street that had a balcony that overlooked the whitewashed walls around me. A plus to this spot was having a grocery store and markets right in front so I could grab a snack to hold me over till dinner time since most places close at 4pm. New to Airbnb? Here’s $40 off your first rental!

There are plenty of hotels around the bullring and bridge that allow for great views.

1. Puente Nuevo

The main reason people flock to this little country village is because of its memorable bridge. Puente Nuevo connects both old and new parts of the town and is steeped in history regarding its construction. There are multiple viewpoints one can choose in order to discover the various angles of the bridge. From the bullring, one can choose to walk along the gorge until whitewashed buildings across the way can be viewed; this will allow your eyes to land upon the monumental bridge. As you get closer one can appreciate the level of detail that went into the construction. In the center arch of the bridge, there is a single wooden door with a tiny terrace on either side which used to be a jail and depending on the crime, people were thrown to their deaths out of the door down to the gorge. Unfortunately, you cannot get any closer to the bridge other than walking over it. On the other side of the bridge, there is a garden you can walk through that has views of the bridge, more of the gorge, and views of the lush green countryside on the outskirts of Ronda. No matter the time of day one gazes at the bridge and the surrounding whitewashed buildings, it is a spectacular sight – a mesmerizing sight – from colors of stark white to orange and brown brick to reds and golds.

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Every angle is mesmerizing
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Watching the sun go down

2. Hike

While exploring Ronda and looking down from the imposing bridge, I knew I wanted to explore further. If you get a map from the tourism office, the hiking route is not clearly indicated. I’ll attempt to provide you with a clearer path…Walking across the Puente Nuevo into the old town, follow the road until you appear to be leaving the town and come across some stone stairs. At the bottom of the stairs, you will turn right and continue along the twisting road until you reach the point where it turns into a dirt path. There is a way to drive down, as cars are parked at the bottom, but what’s the fun in that?! There are a couple different points where you can stop to soak in the scenery all around you. Note: the path all the way to the end is not for the faint of heart but is completely worth it. If you are willing to crawl under fallen tree limbs, walk along a foot-wide path, and jump over a large enough hole, then you will enjoy some views that not everyone gets the opportunity to see. After surpassing the break in the path, you will walk through various ruins where people appear to once have lived.

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The gap in the path I had to jump over, but what was on the other side was worth it!
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The final point at the base of Puente Nuevo

 

3. Bullring

Ronda’s bullring is not the oldest in Spain, but it is the largest and first one that was completely constructed by stone, rather than stone and brick. The inaugural event occurred in 1785. Today it is preserved for history and is still utilized as a horse-riding school. Following the walking tour, you will come across a horse arena which is as elegant inside as the bullring itself. You will witness the corrals where the bulls were kept and prepped for their big debut in the ring along with bullfighting outfits from some of the most famous fighters that graced the ring. Once inside the ring, take time to absorb the enormity of the structure as the dark yellow dirt blends in with the pillars and seating as if to make it one continuous arena. Stand in the center and envision what it must have been like for the spectators to file in and find a seat among the 2 tiers for the day’s events.

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Outside the bullring

To see the bullring in its entirety, head to the hotel across the street and head up to the rooftop bar. Grab a local wine or beer to peer into the arena and take in the surrounding vistas at the same time. At sunset, this is the perfect spot to spend an hour or two as you watch the colors all around you become a kaleidoscope of patterns.

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View of the bullring from the hotel while sipping on some wine from Ronda

4. Walking Along the Moor

Take advantage of the beauty of the countryside, with the rolling mountain tops of the Sierra Nevada, the rows of olive trees, lush green farm lands, and the bright pinks and purples of the flowers along the path way. You will find benches and lookout points all throughout the walk where you can sit to soak up the Spanish sun perhaps while enjoying some churros and chocolate. The pathway will take you straight to the Puente Nuevo. It’ll be hard to get lost.

5. Day trips

Although Ronda is much smaller than I had anticipated, I am still glad I stayed there 2 nights. It is a great spot to use as a base if you end up taking day trips to the surrounding villages. The two I highly recommend are Setenil and Zahara.

Setenil de Las Bodegas

A town like no other, Setenil is one that is hard to forget…or even fathom how it was possible to create. It is a town built practically into the mountain cliffs. No matter how the natural rock formations are, people somehow adapted the constructed homes to the shape of the cliffs. Along the main street there are plenty of cafes and restaurants to sip a café con leche and take in the wondrous creation. The awe does not stop there though… get lost among the many alleys and see how narrow the buildings are and enjoy the illusion of the rock cliffs crashing down any day.

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Buildings and homes built right into the rocks
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Setenil, the town built into the mountainside

Zahara

This tiny town is one of the few on one of the largest lakes in the area. I first imagined the lake to be dark brown in color, but as soon as I turned the corner, I was amazed at the aqua blue color instead. So amazed, in fact, that I stopped the car in the middle of the stretch of road and got out to take pictures with the town in the background. The town is as cute and tiny as a button though. Upon walking up the flower potted, steep, and winding street you enter the main square where you encounter people gathered under orange trees enjoying their tapas or coffee. No matter where you glance, views of the lake are not far. The best view though is from the castle at the top of the mountain. You really get a feeling of how big and blue the lake really is.

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The main square

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Although Ronda is tiny, the history, location, and views are like no other. I was so glad I discovered this little corner of the world and it turned out to be one of my favorite parts of this Andalucía road trip.

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My view from my Airbnb

Buen Viaje!

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Christmas in Copenhagan

Christmas markets galore! Wander through the wide array of Christmas Markets in Copenhagen.

Europe is filled with wonder and adventure all throughout the year; however, during Christmas time, Europe turns into a winter wonderland and is…oh so dreamy. Germany and France typically top the Christmas market charts every year, but Copenhagen is one that tends to be overlooked.

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Wandering the Streets in Copenhagan

How to get around

Upon arriving at Copenhagen airport, the easiest way to get to the city center is via train. The train system is very easy to use and a great way to get to the city center and also to the outside of the city to see more of the countryside including the wide array of castles Denmark has to offer.

Copenhagen is a very walkable city, but don’t hesitate to hop on a bike to explore the city like a local. Most of in the inner-city streets are blocked off to cars which makes strolling down the cobblestone streets while you window shop or take in the meticulous architecture of the buildings easy.

Where to stay

I stayed at the 4 star Copenhagen Admiral Hotel which was neighbored the Royal Palace and was just a few blocks from the colorful Nyhavn. The building itself was converted from an 18th century warehouse and seems to have retained the large wooden beams within the rooms in order to retain some of its historical intrigue.

Despite the many wonderful hotels Copenhagen has to offer in the city center, don’t forget to check out Airbnb if you want to live like a local. New to Airbnb? Here’s $40 off your first rental!

Christmas Markets

1. Nyhavn

Nyhavn is an absolute must. Besides walking among the most colorful buildings of Copenhagen, the street is lined with lights as far as the eye can see. All along the canal there are stalls set up filled with all sorts of different ornaments and trinkets to take home. If you get the munchies or get too cold, don’t forget to stop by one of the stalls where you can try Glogg or Danish rice porridge. These will surely warm you right up from the bitter cold.

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Enjoying the magic of Nyhavn

Open from November 9th – December 23rd

2. Hans Christian Andersen Market

Take a step back into your childhood memories of the stories of “The Little Mermaid”, “The Ugly Duckling”, “The Snow Queen”, and many others while walking through the Hans Christian Andersen Market located in Nytorv Square. Each stall is named after one of his well known fairy tales, there is a majestic carousel for the kids, and of course Santa. Walking through this market will spark your imagination as you fill up on more mulled wine and hot chocolate.

Open from November 16th – December 21st

3. Freetown Christiania

Besides the Christmas market, Freetown Christiania is a unique experience in itself. The area and the market are unconventional, but provide an abundance of intrigue and sometimes even bewilderment. Along the street walls you will see a multitude of street art that brightens up the town, but gives it its character. While walking among the stalls, take in the unique handmade items, while also talking in the scented ambiance of the market.

Open from December 8th-20th

4. Kongens Nytorv

Not far from Nyhavn, wander to the Christmas stalls of Kongens Nytorv in the heart of the city where you will get the best views of the traditional Christmas decorations and lights on the Hotel D’Angleterre and the Magasin department store.

Magasin Department Store from Kongens Nytorv
Magasin Department Store from Kongens Nytorv

Open from November 16th – December 22nd

5. Tivoli Gardens

Perhaps the most festive and best Christmas market of them all is at Tivoli Gardens. It has remained tradition to turn these gardens into a true winter wonderland filled with rides, wooden houses, life size trains, Christmas trees of all sizes and decorations, snow filled areas, sleighs, and so much more. It is as if you have been transported to the North Pole where all your Christmas dreams come true!

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Warming up next to a coal fire
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Tivoli and it’s lights

Open from November 17th – December 31st

You won’t regret adding Copenhagen to your Christmas Market destination list. There’s so much for the senses and one’s imagination, but just be sure you check out the dates of the markets so you don’t miss out on anything!

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Drinking Glogg on a cold day

Skål!