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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Why Everyone Should Hike Bright Angel Trail

The Grand Canyon is a must do Natural Wonder of the World. There are so many things to see and trails to hike. I strongly believe, no matter your skill level or the length of time you have available to hike, you should make Bright Angel Trail a must do hike. It will change you in ways you did not expect.

If you live in the United States, you are lucky to have 58 National Parks available to visit without leaving the country. Without a doubt, the Grand Canyon, one of the 7 Natural Wonders of the World, should be on everyone’s bucket list. It will leave you speechless. It will leave you in awe. And it will be a moment in your life that you will never forget. I’ve been three times in my 32 years on this wondrous Earth, and have remembered every single time so vividly. 

There are four areas of the National Park one can visit: the North, South, East, and West Rim – each with its own spectacular viewpoints, activities, and hiking spots. 

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Map of the 4 different rims
Glass Skywalk
Glass Skywalk

West

The West Rim is where the Glass Skywalk juts out 70 feet over the canyon and is the second most visited rim, due to its proximity to Las Vegas. This part of the canyon is part of the Hualapai Indian Tribal Lands, which means it is actually not part of the National Park. 

East

The East Rim has become more popular due to Horseshoe Bend. This part of the canyon is technically 7 miles before the Grand Canyon, but provides views of the canyon rim with the Colorado River directly in the background. Horseshoe Bend is definitely worth a small detour if you have the time.

Horseshoe Bend
Horseshoe Bend

North

Look out point on the North Rim
Look out point on the North Rim

The North Rim is perfect for those looking for a quieter and calmer atmosphere as it receives much fewer visitors. There are only three major viewpoints that show the width of the canyon rather than the depth and only a sliver of the Colorado River can be seen by walking through Angel’s Window, a natural archway in the rocks.

South

The South Rim is the most popular rim due to its vast, expansive views. This rim is where the first tourists came to visit the park back in the 1850s, which is why it has been built up with large visitor centers, lodging, and family-oriented activities. There are about two dozen major viewpoints that allow visitors to peer down into the Colorado River. 

Sunset at the South Rim
Sunset at the South Rim

I’ve been lucky enough to experience the Grand Canyon in different ways. For a quick glimpse, a short four hour road trip from Las Vegas just to peer at the vastness of the Canyon’s West Rim is well worth the trip. But the canyon deserves much more of our time. 

In 2009, I stepped into a raft along the East Rim and spent seven days rafting down the Colorado River rapids, jumping into the river from various cliffs, and sleeping on cots looking up at the night sky with the Milky Way peering back at me in its full splendor. This is a trip I will never forget; but even then I knew I was still missing a crucial adventure from this natural wonder. I needed to hike into the canyon. Ten years after my river trip, I did just that. 

The South Rim of the Grand Canyon offers many trails to explore and choosing one can be overwhelming. I contemplated doing a trail that was not frequently ventured in order to be more “one with nature.” I had read about the popular Bright Angel Trail on the South Rim. that provides rest stops with bathrooms and water stations making it one of the most frequently trekked. I strongly considered the trail, despite the possible crowd of people and because of its accessibility to other trails. As fate would have it, I found a cabin in the village at the Bright Angel Lodge, steps away from the ever popular trail head and the rim of the canyon. While getting settled at the cabin and taking in the constant changing colors of my surroundings, I knew I was not going anywhere else to hike. I determined that at sunrise I was hiking Bright Angel Trail. 

Sunrise came early, at 5:10 A.M., and I had already situated myself along the rim of the canyon with my camera in hand, ready to capture the beauty of the day’s first light touching the red rocks from the rim down to the canyon below. The sun rose slowly above the canyon and highlighted the beginning of the trail I was about to hike. At 5:45 A.M., I took my first steps onto the famous Bright Angel Trail. I was filled with energy and excitement, despite the early hour, and eager to see where the trail would lead.

Sunrise with Plateau Point in the distance
Sunrise with Plateau Point in the distance
Gazing into the South Rim Canyon at sunrise
Gazing into the South Rim Canyon at sunrise

One of the biggest advantages of an early start is the fact that not many people begin their day so early. The canyon itself was slow at waking up: the air had a slight chill, the sun was gently rising. The steep decline zigzagged through the many rocky switchbacks and the towering rocks above provided me with shade. I was well aware that shade would be a high commodity in the hours ahead of me, so I welcomed the moment. Up to this point, the canyon rocks above me changed in size, color, and formation at every turn. The sheer size of them did not even seem real or possible. The canyon’s immensity made me feel as tiny as an ant. 

The start of the journey down Bright Angel
The start of the journey down Bright Angel

The further along the trail I got, the more I found myself turning around to see just how far I had traveled, and how deep into the canyon I had reached; it is an elevation change of 3,000 feet after all. With every new switchback the views grew increasingly more majestic. I encountered a rest stop with bathrooms and water stations nearly every 1.5 miles down the trail and the first campground was around mile 4.5. At this point, the iron-rich rocks changed from rusty reds to light browns; the vegetation expanded to include pink and yellow blooming cacti; acacia trees filled the air with a honeysuckle-like perfume; and the sound of a trickling stream welcomed me to a natural oasis filled with life that has hardly been touched by man. This haven, known as the Indian Gardens, stood in dark contrast to the vast desert surrounding this area. 

 

 

At the south side of the Indian Gardens, a fork in the road indicated to either head to Plateau Point, that offers views of the river below, or continue on Bright Angel Trail towards the river which can connect you to a multitude of different trails including a connection to the North Rim. No matter the choice, the majesty of the Canyon will never waver. Since I had spent 7 days floating on the river 10 years earlier, I thought gazing at the Colorado River from above would complete my Grand Canyon experience. After pushing an extra 1.5 miles to Plateau Point from Indian Gardens, the expansive panorama of the North Rim across the way and the aqua blue Colorado River raging 1,000 feet below was an image that will forever be ingrained in my memory. 

By making it to Plateau Point and after a six mile trek under the sun, I felt exhilarated, strong, and full of life. I had made it to the point that I set out to accomplish. I had made it to a viewpoint that most people will never get to see. From this spot, I felt so miniscule and insignificant as the canyon from both the South and North Rims engulfed me, and the busyness of daily life seemed to be forgotten. There was no thought of the responsibilities I had back home, or even back at the top of the rim. Any concern or worry dissipated into the expansive contours of the canyon, and I was left with just the feeling of happiness in that moment. I was my best self, as I think everyone is when they push themselves to accomplish something filled with mental and physical challenges. It is a feeling we all need to hang onto and not forget. Granted, this feeling of pure contentment and strength quickly depletes as you realize there is a 3,000 foot elevation gain still ahead of you, but that happiness and strength comes back once atop of the canyon looking back down to where you had just come from. 

The immensity of the Grand Canyon with the North Rim on the other side
The immensity of the Grand Canyon with the North Rim on the other side
Plateau Point and Colorado River
Plateau Point and Colorado River

Hiking back to the top of the South Rim, I wanted to remember every step I had taken. I frequently turned to look back at the path I had just left behind. Leaving the plateau and now back on the switchbacks, the greatness of this trail began to hit me, and I realized it was there the entire time. I had spent the better part of a day on the Bright Angel Trail, but it wasn’t until I was nearly back at the top that I really noticed the vast beauty of it. The way back to the top, also put the strength and determination I had into perspective, as I now realized the many people I encountered on the switchbacks had no intention of making it past the 3 mile or even the 1.5 mile rest area. The 8 hour, 12.2 mile round trip trek on Bright Angel Trail to Plateau Point was worth every bead of sweat and every foot step. The trail is dynamic and peaceful and reminds you of what is important – living in the moment and cherishing the experience.

Switchbacks of Bright Angel Trail
Switchbacks of Bright Angel Trail
View of Bright Angel Trail
View of Bright Angel Trail

My challenge to you, dear reader, is that you travel to the Grand Canyon. Whether you hike the 12.2 miles to Plateau Point, head to the river, or turn back somewhere in between, may you feel that complete bliss that comes with hiking Bright Angel Trail. I am willing to bet that the magic of the Canyon will change you and leave you with an everlasting memory that will never fade. 

Bright Angel Trail from Above
Bright Angel Trail from Above. Can you see the trail leading to Plateau Point?

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My First Solo Trip

I’ve traveled since the time I was a baby, but now I was ready to do my first solo trip. I bought a ticket, grabbed a bike, and traveled for 3 days across France to experience a trip that would open my eyes to new discoveries of myself and what I was capable of.

Over the years, I’ve been to so many places, mainly with family then with organized group trips. I didn’t feel ready to tackle being in a new country or city on my own…until not too long ago.

I was lucky to find a great roundtrip ticket to Paris during peak summer season with Scott’s Cheap Flights that I couldn’t pass up. Discovering Paris the November before, I knew I wanted to get out of the city to discover a new part of France. After much research, I landed on Alsace; but honestly, I don’t think I could have gone wrong with anywhere.

Next was the hard choice of what to do and how to get around. You can only get so far each day on foot and I didn’t want to be tied down to a train schedule too much. So I settled on a bike! I found Detours in France that helped me set up my trip. I highly recommend to anyone interested in this type of exploring. The company is entirely self-paced and sets everything up for you prior to arrival, including my 4 nights in hotels and 2 dinners. This allowed me flexibility to wander different little towns along the way and go at my own pace. Now, most people I told about my upcoming solo biking trip seemed to be in disbelief that I would even consider something like that. Ok, maybe it’s not the first travel idea a majority of people have, but I was excited to take on this new adventure and make my own memories.

My Bike Tour: Highlights from Strasbourg to Colmar

First stop: Strasbourg. I had seen so much of this unique city in pictures and it was the sole reason I decided to come to Alsace region and bike for 3 days.

I knew as soon as I walked off the train in Strasbourg, I was going to love this little corner of the World. The cobblestone streets, the flowers, and all the colors of the buildings made me feel as if time had stopped. I walked from La Petite France to the cathedral in the city center at least 2-3 times to really soak up every angle of the city. Just my tripod and me.

I was filled with so much excitement. With each step I took, I was more confident and more carefree. I learned to stop and take in my surroundings, take as many pictures as I could, and have fun with it even though I was on my own. I learned to laugh at myself, especially when I was trying to the get the perfect picture at the perfect angle with my tripod as people passed by probably questioning why I was sitting on the ground next to a bridge or laying on a ledge. There’s something about being in a different city other than your own and feeling as if you can do anything out of the ordinary. There should be no regrets. Get out of your comfort zone and make memories you want to share with others and memories you want cherish for a lifetime.

All 3 days of my bike trip were very different from one another; but the scenery, colors, and excitement never wavered. I passed swans enjoying their morning bath, an amazing amount of corn, wheat, and hay fields and adorable little towns along the way. No matter if I made a wrong turn, (which happened frequently), I was filled with so much joy and confidence. I’m sure I added at least an extra hour or 2 to my journey each day with the number of stops I made to take pictures, but that’s what I was there for. I wanted to learn and absorb as much as I could.

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Hay fields at every turn
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Sunflower field. Best sighting of the entire trip!

Obernai was filled with history and castles…and by far the best meal of the trip! This town was so prosperous back in the 1500s that it had 2 fortifications around the city, 20 towers, and 4 tower gates. I was lucky enough to stay at Hôtel Le Gouverneur with a bedroom overlooking the mote on the wall of the old fortification. The town itself has so much charm from the buildings to the people. If you walk around long enough, you’ll notice the buildings start to change colors and have a more alluring feel to them as sunset get closer.

This trip was the epitome of adventure. Besides the fact that I was on my own, I allowed myself to wander and say yes to things even if it would take me off the suggested path. The best diversion I had was a nearly 2 hour round trip hike to the top of a mountain to explore and take pictures of the remains of an abandoned chateau that I could see from the road. I was determined to see it no matter how long it took me. I wanted to see the view of the countryside and vineyards from that perspective – plus it was a welcomed break from pedaling. I didn’t have a map of where to go, so I was hoping I was following the correctly painted signs up to the top. At times the images would change slightly, but I just trusted that my feet were heading in the right direction. And they were, because when I made it to the top, the abandoned stone structure was so impressive. Walking over the draw bridge into the roofless chateau I felt like a little girl creating my own castle fairytale. There were windows on the 2nd story I knew I wanted to look out of, but there was no other way of getting there except to free climb the wall. And that’s just what I did. I found little grips and holes in the stone for my hands and feet and up I went. This detour was not planned or expected, but it will remain as a major highlight of the entire journey.

From Obernai to Ribeauville the colors of the buildings just seemed to get brighter and the flowers decorating the many fountains became more beautiful.

Despite how tired and sore my legs were, I still had one more stop on my grand solo adventure and I was ready to get to Colmar to walk around La Petite Venise. I was lucky enough to also be able to catch the quarter finals of the World Cup where France advanced and eventually won the Cup in the end. The streets will filled with people and there were so many flags everywhere you went. It wasn’t very hard to figure out where to watch the game, since as I turned a single street corner I found the hoards of people grouped around bars and red, white, and blue smoke bombs going off everywhere. From the overly excited atmosphere of people to the gorgeous building facades, the experience of watching a championship soccer match in Europe was one of a kind.

La Petite Venise and the streets surrounding it were magnificent. If one could construct a gingerbread village of all sorts of colors and shapes, I imagine it would look exactly like this. La Petite Venise was a lot smaller than I had anticipated, but there was still a lot to take in such as the smells and sights of the covered market hall right off the river. It was filled with all the things you want to take home for dinner. I grabbed some cheese, a fresh baguette, and grabbed a bottle of wine for myself, found a little spot next to a fountain to eat and watched children play and the locals hang outside their windows while watching the tourists down below. I was lucky enough to not only see Colmar at dusk, but also in the early morning when there was no one around. I had all the streets to myself to play and wander. I found streets that I hadn’t discovered the day before and may have been even more fantasifull. I imagined the locals starting their day by singing “Bonjour” from “Beauty and the Beast” and dancing on those cobblestone streets.

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Canals and color at every corner
Loving all the color of the buildings
Loving all the color of the buildings
Entering Le Petite Venice
Entering Le Petite Venice

I wouldn’t change anything from my first solo trip as I made the most of each day and made my own memories that will last for a lifetime. I learned a lot about not just the towns I biked through, but about myself and what I am capable of doing. There’s no looking back now, only forward to my next big adventure!

What Does Traveling Mean to You? Here’s What it Means to Me!

Traveling means something different for everyone, but we all have a common theme. Traveling broadens our minds and shapes our idea of life. Have you ever sat down to think, what traveling means to you? Here’s what wandering to far off places means to me.

Wandering to far off distant places has different meanings for everyone. For me, traveling is a way to be spontaneous, learn, and get out out of my comfort zone. I think if we love traveling it’s because we all seek some sense of adventure no matter how big or small. I have been lucky enough to travel since I was a little girl. I had parents who instilled in me qualities all independent travelers need – open mindedness for others and their culture, as well as confidence. I don’t think if I had these qualities I would be where I am today. Neither for my passion for travel, nor my daily life.
Snorkeling in Phi Phi Islands
Snorkeling in Phi Phi Islands
People often ask which place I have visited is my favorite. I honestly can’t answer that. Every country is so unique and I will always have special memories linked to them: the “firsts” of something, throwing catch in front of Buckingham Palace, stepping into elephant tracks while drinking tea on safari, snorkeling in crystal clear water to find Nemo’s, waking up before dawn to watch the clouds dissipate to unveil Machu Picchu, or even a first solo trip biking through France. The list goes on and that is why I can’t have only one favorite.
These experiences shaped me into who I am today and have fueled my desire to seek adventure and have more of those special moments. For this reason, I am inspired to travel more each year and sometimes to places not as well-known. It is also important for me to share my adventures with friends, family, and any other traveler I may be able to inspire. Traveling has many ups and downs, but in the end it’s only the ups we remember. Exploring unknown areas, either with a group or by yourself can seem daunting for many, but I’m here to tell you that you CAN do it. You will survive and you will only become more confident from each trip you take.
I hope you come along this journey with me, because I’m far from hanging up my carry-on just yet!
Solo Biking through Alsace, France
Solo Biking through Alsace, France