Bathing in Budapest

Previous Post: St. Stephen’s Basilica-Budapest

Széchenyi Thermal Baths- the largest medicinal bath in Europe, built in 1913

Bathing in Budapest seemed to be one of the primary reasons to visit the city according to tour books and blogs.  The multitude of thermal baths available in Budapest is unique to the city, and it was definitely number one on my list of things to experience during our 4-day visit there.  We decided on the Széchenyi thermal baths because of the outdoor areas and it seemed the easiest to navigate.  Thanks to Rick Steve’s instruction in his guide book on Eastern Europe we were able to get to the baths on the Metro, find the best entrance to the baths (as they are a few) and how to go through the somewhat complicated procedure to get to the water.  Honestly, without the guide book I’m not sure we would have ventured there as easily.

View of the Széchenyi baths from City Park.

We took the yellow Metro line to the City Park where the Széchenyi baths are located. The Metro system was vast and deep, covering the City and the outskirts in an organized, easy to navigate way.  We would find all of the Metro systems throughout our trip to be more convenient and cleaner than our BART system in the Bay.

We had purchased our tickets to the baths in advance because our hotel offered them when we booked our room advertising that we could skip the lines.  In early May we didn’t encounter any lines so booking in advance wasn’t necessary.  It turned out to be more of a hassle as our hotel didn’t give us our tickets when we checked in and they later had to hunt them down when we decided to go, ironically delaying our departure to go to the baths.  Because of our experience I’d recommend purchasing the tickets at the baths.

Once we arrived to the front entrance of the bath house we turned our tickets in for a wrist band and then headed downstairs to buy towels and a locker as we were instructed.  I also bought swim caps because I misunderstood what the attendant was saying.  The swim caps are only needed if you intend to swim laps in the specific lap pool.  Nice souvenir though.  My husband went to the men’s locker room and I to the women’s, we would change and then meet out on the pool deck.

Later we would figure out that a couple could rent a ‘cabin’, which was a tiny room where you can change together and lock your valuables instead of changing in separate places.  Rick Steves mentioned this in his book but for some reason I didn’t understand it until I had been through the process.  I think that I expected the ‘cabin’ to be some kind of private cabana and cost $100 extra like it would in the states but it was only a few dollars more and worth the convenience.

But our first experience was in the locker rooms. There were about a dozen small numbered locker rooms in the women’s section so it was important to remember which locker room I had changed in, and my locker #, or it would be like trying to find my car in an airport parking garage.  The process was further complicated by not having a key to my locker and every time I needed to get into my locker I had to hunt down the attendant with the “universal” key.  I seemed to have a difficult time knowing what to bring to the pool.  I was feeling an underlying stress because although the attendants spoke some English everything seemed mysterious and unclear for some reason.  It felt somewhat daring and comical.  Finally I made it outside and found Richard on the far end of the pool complex, his white hair easy to spot amongst the sea of other bathers.  It was crowded but there seemed to be room for us.

Széchenyi outdoor baths

There were two large outdoor pools for bathing in the mineral-rich, turquoise water; one was warmer for soaking and the cooler one had a whirl pool, jets, and a circular current pool. A third outdoor pool was for swimming laps. We hunted down two lounge chairs for our towels and flip flops then plunged in.  There were many young couples, young people in general, a few kids and plenty of mature couples.  It seemed a blend of locals and tourists.  The place was majestic and old, unlike anything we have in the States, and I was fully aware of the entire experience, enjoying each moment as I realized we were really here, soaking in the Hungarian thermal baths.

In addition to the outdoor pools at Széchenyi there were about a dozen smaller indoor baths, each containing varying degrees of hot, warm, hotter and colder water.  The baths are supplied by two thermal springs with minerals that help with joint pain and other ailments. The naturally heated baths have healing qualities in the water and the country’s healthcare system includes visits to the baths, prescribed by their physicians.  I think the minerals may have varied in the different pools as some waters were murkier and smellier than others.  We submerged for a few minutes in each one to experience both the calming effect of the warm mineral water and to appreciate the architecture.  There were also saunas and a cold bath which we did not try.  The baths were both relaxing and fun; soothing our tired muscles over worked by 10 miles of site seeing.  We slept better than ever that night.

We returned the next evening to soak under the stars.  Since we were familiar with how to get there on the Metro a night-time dip seemed feasible and welcoming, and because we knew the routine I felt more at ease.  We also rented a ‘cabin’ which was more convenient because we didn’t need to separate and we could lock up our things ourselves.  There were only a fraction of the people there at night creating an even more romantic evening bathing beneath the Hungarian stars.

 

St. Stephen’s Basilica- Budapest

Previous post: First Impressions of Budapest- Castle Hill

St. Stephen’s Basilica wasn’t a priority site when I created our itinerary for visiting Budapest, probably because I hadn’t heard that much about it, if we had time we would climb to the panorama for great views of the City.  But while exploring the streets of Pest on our first day we turned a corner and the Basilica, magnificent and huge, beckoned.  Wow, I was surprised by its size and beauty.  It was closed when we arrived at the entrance at 5:00pm but the next morning we would return to go inside.

On our way to the Basilica the next morning we stopped for breakfast at Anna Cafe located along Vaci Street.  The day before we had passed by the cafe, which was filled with patrons enjoying afternoon coffee outside, and it looked so inviting.

St. Stephen’s Basilica is the largest church in Budapest

We arrived just as the Basilica opened at 9am so that we were first in line to walk up the 303 steps to the panorama which encircles the dome.  The climb was narrow, dusty and a lot of steps.  Half way up there was an elevator but it looked tiny and old so we climbed the remainder of the stairs instead to get a full morning aerobic workout.

Panoramic view of Budapest from the dome of St. Stephen’s Basilica

The views of the city were magnificent, there we were on the top of the world, on the top of the dome of St. Stephen’s Basilica in Budapest, Hungary.  An experience 5 years ago I would never have dreamed of.

Looking out over the city of Pest was magical.

The Basilica was stunning inside.

Even with a tour group already inside it didn’t seem too crowded because of its size.

Visiting the Basilica was a highlight and memorable and I would highly recommend it.

Belvárosi Lugas Restaurant

After our visit we walked behind the Basilica to Bajcsy-Zsilinszky ut where I noticed a quaint, outdoor cafe across the street; Belvárosi Lugas.

Their menu offered vegetarian options and reasonable prices.  The server was also attentive and friendly.

 

First Impressions of Budapest- Castle Hill

View of Pest from Fisherman's Bastion

View of Pest from Fisherman’s Bastion

I have traveled to Europe several times with my daughter during the past few years but never with my husband.  It was time for him to get on board.  The decision to visit Central Europe evolved from neither of us having been there.  Budapest, Vienna and Prague seemed to be a popular itinerary, cities easily connected by trains.  It would be our first trip abroad together and my first trip as the solo travel guide, on past trips I had done much of the planning but I also relied on Lauren to help research accommodations and transportation options.  On this trip all the choices were left up to me.  Richard is pretty easy going except that he’s an inflexible vegetarian which was the only area that had me somewhat concerned.  I had read that the cities we would be visiting enjoyed meat focused meals but we agreed ahead of time that bread, cheese, pasta and pastries could always be passable options.

We arrived in Budapest at 9pm, bought a 5-day transit pass at the airport, then took a cab to our hotel which we found to be charming and perfectly situated near the river, public transport and walkable to most sites.

Our room at the Gerloczy Hotel, recommended by Rick Steves and a friend, had 12′ high ceilings and was beautifully decorated.

Gerloczy Hotel

The French cafe on the ground floor was quaint and the perfect place to begin our days with croissants and cappuccinos.

Our first morning in Budapest we walked along the very touristy Vaci Street on our way to the Danube.  We would learn to avoid this street of over-priced, mediocre traditional Hungarian cuisine restaurants and souvenirs, but on our first morning every step was a new adventure.

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View of Buda Palace from Pest

In less than 10 minutes we arrived at the water for our first view of the Buda Palace on the Buda side; magnificent and huge perched on the top of Castle Hill.  My first impression was that we don’t have structures like this in California; a place for rulers and royalty, 100 times larger than where most of us reside.

We continued along the waterfront to Chain Bridge, the pedestrian connection between Buda and Pest, and joining the other tourists we walked across the bridge toward Castle Hill.  I had anticipated taking the funicular but there already existed an extensive line of other travelers waiting for a ride to the top of the hill.  Fortunately a tour guide offering walking tours suggested we take the #16 bus, waiting just across the street, to the top instead.  We ran over, jumped on with our 5-day transit pass, and squeezed in just as the doors rattled shut. The bus filled with enthusiastic tourists climbed the steep, windy road toward the Castle District.

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Trinity Square in Buda’s Castle District

It was a short walk to Trinity Square, what seemed to be the center of the Castle District.

Matthius Church was a dominant structure on the hill.  We decided to tour the church in spite of the throngs of tourist groups piling in ahead of us.  It had been recommended in the tour books as the most beautiful church in Budapest, both inside and out.

Matthius Church was beautiful on the inside just as advertised.

The self-guided tour was enjoyable although the tour groups were distracting at times and I’d recommend going to Castle Hill in the afternoon if that’s an option.

View from Beer Garden across from Matthius Church

Just across the square from Matthius Church we discovered a beer garden and gazebo where a band was performing.just as we were ready for lunch.  It was a great spot on a gorgeous day with plenty of out door tables.

The food looked appetizing and fresh, and was delicious with the local draft beer.

Fisherman’s Bastion

Another popular attraction on Castle Hill is Fisherman’s Bastion.

Aside from being interesting architecturally the many towers and terraces of Fisherman’s Bastion offer panoramic views of the Pest side.

This tower at Fisherman’s Bastion looks straight out of a fairy tale.

Although there was much more to see on Castle Hill we were ready for a break from the crowds and walked down the hill to cross back over the Chain Bridge to our sweet hotel on the Pest side.

Next post: St. Stephen’s Basilica-Budapest

 

 

 

Pays Basque: Bayonne, France

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Map of French Basque Country

From our home base in Ciboure on the French Basque coast, we set out in the morning to nearby Bayonne, the capitol of French Basque (Pays  Basque).  Koldo drove inland along the French highway with the Spanish speaking GPS guiding him to our destination.  None of us had been to Bayonne so it would be a new adventure for us all.  In about 30 minutes we turned off the highway toward the entrance to Bayonne.

It was late Saturday morning when we arrived and the City was already buzzing as we soon would discover that we found ourselves in the midst of the annual Jambon Festival.

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Entrance to the Cathedral of St. Mary in Bayonne, France

Once parked we followed the crowd to the Cathedral of Saint-Marie which is at the entrance to the Medieval Old Town.  The Cathedral is huge and impressive.

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Cathedral of St. Mary, Bayonne

It’s twin Gothic spires tower above the City.

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The 13th century Cloister

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View of the spires from the cloister

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Interior of the Cathedral of St. Mary

Inside the Cathedral was beautiful as expected.

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View of Bayonne’s Cathedral from the Old Town.

Behind the Cathedral begins the narrow streets of the Old Town.

1fullsizerender33Bayonne’s Historic Old Town.

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Jambon festival (foire au jambon) along the Nive River

The streets of the Old Town led us to the Nive river where the annual Ham Festival (Foie au Jambon) was in full swing.  Farmers bring their cured ham to be judged at the festival which is held for several days over Easter weekend.

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The Nive River in Bayonne, France

We milled around with the crowd enjoying the variety of musical performances and the gorgeous weather, as it was an amazingly beautiful day.

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Cafes next to the Nive River.

On the opposite side of the Nive river a dozen outdoor cafes lined the promenade adjacent to the water.  Fortunately we were seated at a table which we would eventually share with a French family.  The place was packed for the festival so that the service was super slow, but we happily sat next to the river for a couple of hours enjoying our beer, jambon embellished meals, the sunshine and being in Basque France.

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View of the Petit Bayonne District

After lunch we briefly explored the Petit Bayonne District where the festival was also being celebrated.  There was a Basque Museum which I would definitely visit if I were ever to return to Bayonne.

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Church located in the Petit Bayonne District

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Adour River

Next we walked across the Point Saint-Esprit bridge to explore the less crowded side of Bayonne.  The view of the Adour River was beautiful from our perspective on the bridge.

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Gare de Bayonne railway station

We enjoyed the view of the Gare de Bayonne train station while sipping cafe au lait at the cafe across the way.  During our respite we decided that after leaving Bayonne we would stop by Biarritz on our way back to Ciboure.

French Basque Coast: Ciboure and St. Jean de Luz

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Map of French Basque Country

Leaving Zarautz on the Spanish Basque coast we continued on our road trip driving toward France.  As we approached the border I pulled out my passport but we crossed over without needing to stop.  This somewhat surprised me since the Belgian airport had experienced a terrorist attack just two days earlier.  Even though crossing borders in Europe is often like driving through states in the US we had brought our passports just in case security had tightened.

We arrived in the small coastal town of Ciboure after dark.  Our Airbnb host, an older woman with a young grandchild in each hand, called to us from the street corner when she saw us dragging our suitcases.  Our flat was on the third floor of a small apartment building with an elevator large enough for two people but all six of us managed to squeeze in along with our luggage.  No wifi or TV.

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L’Ephémère bistro cafe in Ciboure, France

As we didn’t have a clue where to go for dinner our host recommended a perfect bistro that was just a half a block from our place, L’Ephémère.  The atmosphere was quiet and formal in comparison to places we had been to in Spain but the waiter was friendly and helpful considering none of us spoke French.

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Evening meal at L’Ephémère

The ala carte dishes we ordered were fresh, tasty and nicely presented.  I would definitely recommend it.

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View of Ciboure from our apartment

The next morning we would discover that we had a gorgeous view of the town; roof tops and green hills dotted with deer.

And of the Farmer’s market on the street below where we would interact with the vendors and sample local sheep and goat cheese, sausages and olives.

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Typical architecture in Ciboure

Fort de Socoa

Fort de Socoa

One of the more interesting sights adjacent to Ciboure is Fort de Socoa, a 15th-century fortress built by Louis XIII.

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View of the bay of Saint Jean de Luz from the walkway next to the Fort de Socoa

It was about a ten minute walk from the parking area to the Fort, a lovely stroll with gorgeous views of the bay.

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Fort de Socoa

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View of the break water from Fort de Socoa.

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The harbor at Ciboure

The larger and more well-known town of St. Jean de Luz is adjacent to Ciboure and accessible by a short walk over the bridge that connects the two places.

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View from the St. Jean de Luz promenade.

We walked passed the harbor through the quaint streets of St. Jean de Luz that led to the beach which was sunny and bright on the day we visited.  Cafes and shops were plentiful on the promenade where we stopped for a casual lunch overlooking the sea.  The friendly server at the cafe helped us order sandwiches in Spanish since our French, and her English, was limited.  Most people working in the shops and restaurants did not speak English and fewer people spoke Basque than I expected.

In general, the French Basque area seemed more French to me than Basque in comparison to Spain where the Basque language and culture were more predominant from my perspective.

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St. Jean de Luz

After enjoying the sea view we walked back through the old town of St. Jean de Luz,

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Postcards

bought a few postcards,

#2IMG_3448 Crepe in St. Jean de Luzbrowsed a spice shop and a couple of bakeries and I couldn’t visit France without tasting at least one crepe.  St. Jean de Luz was a quaint a pretty place.

Later in the evening, after we enjoyed a lovely Italian dinner, it began to rain hard as we left the restaurant.  We walked a good 10 minutes in a heavy downpour back to our apartment in Ciboure.  As we passed over the bridge strong gusts of wind nearly knocked me down.  When we reached our apartment it was totally dark as electricity must have blown out with the storm.  Luckily the flash light on my phone allowed us to navigate 3 flights of stairs, down a long hallway and into our flat, otherwise I have no idea how we would have found our way.  Once inside we found candles but no matches so there was nothing else to do but go to bed.  In the morning the electricity was working again and the storm had blown through.  We survived.

Next Post: Pays Basque: Bayonne, France

 

 

 

On to Getaria and Zarautz

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Getaria Harbor

Leaving Zumaia, we followed the coastal road for what seemed a short distance, probably 10 minutes, before arriving in the fishing town of Getaria.

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The harbor in Getaria

Like Zumaia it was very busy, but luckily we found a parking space at the harbor where red and green fishing boats adorned the sheltered waters.

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Umbrellas for sale

Street vendors lined the walk ways selling tee shirts and souvenirs.

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View of Malkorbe Beach

We followed the walkway to the top for the best views of the coast.

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Panoramic view of the harbor.

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Monument to Juan Sebastián Elcano

Monument to Juan Sebastián Elcano

Getaria is known for being Juan Sebastián Elcano’s hometown, a seaman well-known for being the first man to circumnavigate the globe in 1522.  There is a monument honoring him and his crew located above the harbor.  The large figure at the top of the monument was sculptured by Vitorio Macho.

Names of the crew sailing with Elcano

Names of the crew members who sailed with Elcano.

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Main Street Nagusia Kalea

Our visit to the Getaria would not be complete without checking out the Old Town,

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Main Street Nagusia Kalea

where we enjoyed a cafe con leche and people watched on the main street Nagusia Kalea.

And a quick tour of the church of San Salvador before getting back on the road to our final destination Ciboure, a small coastal French Basque town.

#1IMG_8360FullSizeRender_2On our way we approached the surfing town of Zarautz, and being a surfing fan I was thrilled when Koldo pulled into a parking spot for one last stop before crossing the French border.  It was just a short walk to the beach.

#1IMG_3343b Zarautz FullSizeRender,A long, wide promenade, with cafes and surf shops, frames the beach in Zarautz.

#1IMG_3350 Zarautz FullSizeRender_1#2IMG_8364FullSizeRender_3Zarautz has the longest beach on the Spanish Basque coast, 2.4 km.

#2IMG_8367bThe surf was high enough for a couple dozen surfers although it was cloudy and cool discouraging sunbathers and swimmers.  We were there in late March but in the summer Zarautz gets very crowded and sunny.

#2IMG_8370 FullSizeRender_4Zarautz has a super chill vibe similar to most surfing towns.

#2IMG_8372 FullSizeRender_5#1IMG_8371 Zarautz FullSizeRender_1The surprise stop in Zarautz was a treat before getting back on the road.

Next post: The French Basque Coast: Ciboure and St. Jean de Luz

 

 

Dubrovnik: Views from The Town Walls

Walking the 1.25 miles of stone walls that surround the Old Town in Dubrovnik is a must when visiting this City.  Lauren and I saved this attraction for our final full day in Croatia.  We arrived early to Ploce Gate to get a head start on the many other tourists eager to walk on the ancient fortress walls that once protected the City.

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View of Lokrum Island and tiled roofs

Purchasing our ticket at 9am, with rain clouds threatening overhead and not a lot of people yet, we climbed the steps to the wall and immediately were greeted with spectacular views of the red tile roofs and the sea.

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View of Fort of Saint Lawrence

#3IMG_7412The wall is only about 3′ to 4′ wide in most places.

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The crowds thickened later in the morning.

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View of the Stradun

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View of the Old Port

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#2IMG_7366People still live in the Old Town and as we walked by a school we could see through the open windows kids sitting at their desks while class was in session.  They waved to us as we walked by and I wondered how it would be to live with all these tourists peering into your space.  They seemed to be used to it, apparently normal to them.

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The wall opens up in a few places.

You could easily walk the wall in an hour but we were up there at least two snapping photos and enjoying so many spectacular and interesting views.  It was a highlight of our trip for sure.  Once you enter the wall you are directed to go one way, passing through other entrance gates that you cannot go back through.  Near the end of our walk we ran into a young German couple we had first met in Split.