Buda and Pest


From Vienna we traveled to Hungary and visited the cities of Buda and Pest, which were joined together in 1873 and linked by the beautiful Chain Bridge which spans the Danube River. Budapest is a beautiful city and the views are equally grand from both sides of the river. On one bank you can gaze at the British Parliament-inspired Hungarian Parliament building; and on the other side, you get a spectacular view of Fisherman’s Bastion. Budapest is a city for lazy walking…along the river, across bridges, up and down hills and the kids indulged my desire to see the parliament building at night…from the other side of the river. They were troopers and it was only Lilly who insisted what we were doing was “Dumb!”


Budapest also is home to steamy and relaxing thermal waters. We spent a leisurely afternoon soaking in the mineral tubs and large outdoor pools at the Széchenyi thermal baths. It was a bit tricky figuring out where to change and store our clothing but once we unlocked the cabin with our plastic bracelets we were quick to dive in along with hundreds of other Christmas revelers. After an hour in the warm pool, we found the warmer pool and then made our way inside to the stinky pools. The complex is huge and we only ventured as far as the first 3 rooms where we found green pools that smelled like rotten eggs, saunas with magical colored lights and a cold dip which we think had a melting iceberg floating on top. When we managed to drag our tired bodies back to the cabin, Tim insisted he had never felt more relaxed. Although, he could have enjoyed a massage at the baths as well.

Near our hotel was the public ice skating rink located just outside the castle gates. What an incredible experience to ice skate on Christmas in the glow of a castle. We met up with the Becker family and had fun trying to remember how to skate without slipping and sliding all over the ice. On this trip, Will made it all by himself around the rink several times and Lilly was comfortable just having someone pull her along.

Another blog about Prague

Once again we made a trip to our favorite eastern bloc city: Prague. Lindsey and her friend Lauren thought it would be great to head out to Prague, our fairy tale city of choice.  Lauren has travelled extensively in Europe but had never been to the Czech Republic before.  We couldn’t resist the chance to present to her a city that reminds us of Disneyland.  We left home at 9am and made it to the Prague-Arcaden mall by 11:30am. We first stopped at the border crossing and paid a quick 16 euros for a vignette, the vehicle sticker that lets us travel unhassled on the autobahn for 10 days. Then, we tried to park at our favorite Park and Ride, next to the Zlicin stop on the metro. But, handy signs on the autobahn let us know that there were no available spaces at the P+R stops so we made a decision to park at the mall and chance not having a “security guard” watching our car for the day.
Not a problem, it turns out. The mall is a nice one with Rip Curl, Starbucks and H+M on hand. We simply walked through the convenient pedestrian tunnel connecting the mall with the metro stop to purchase our metro day tickets (110 Czech Kroene=$5) and after a 20 minute metro ride, made it to the Old Town by 12:30pm.  The three of us hit the Mucha museum first and I highly recommend this delightful little museum featuring the posters and art work by Alphonse Mucha.  Following a tasty salad lunch at a restaurant near the St Charles bridge, we crossed over the Vltava River and took Tram #22 up to the Castle Complex.  This time in Prague, we took the tram to the monastery high up on the hill and managed to score a new view of the city from this great height. We walked down to the cathedral, castle and other buildings in castle complex and wound our way through the vineyards before making back to the car (after a brief stop at the mall Starbucks–open til 10:00pm) and home by 9pm.  Whew…an exhausting but satisfying day!

Berlin’s Must Do List

Working your network becomes critical for families trying to plan a weekend trip at the last minute.  Both Facebook and WikiTravel have became my new favorites as I developed an itinerary that blended the interests of 4 adults and 2 kids.  Based on the recommendations of friends who recently visited the city, these were our top sites:
Pergamon Museum… a museum built specifically to house the excavations of the temple in Pergamon as well as showcase the Ishtar Gate from Babylon.  Those Germans were crafty folks in the early 1900s as they plundered valuable treasures from Turkey and took the booty back home
The Berlin Wall… wasn’t sure what I was going to see but I had heard that pieces of the wall still stood in the city.  We found a still-standing segment of the wall dividing old East Berlin from West Berlin and the East Side Gallery showcases pieces of the wall that have been used as canvas by artists in the 1990s.
Brandenburg Gate… the only remaining city gate from the old city.
Cinestar Original Movie Theater at Sony Center…OK, it doesn’t qualify as a historic site but we heard stories  that there was an English-language movie theater in the city and we were eager to watch a first run movie in our native tongue.
We made it into Berlin by noon on Saturday. We left our bags with the hotel reception desk (rooms not available until 2pm) and then took the metro directly to Alexanderplatz, a large shopping district in Berlin.  From there, we followed the blue signs on street posts that direct tourists to the top sites.  We decided to begin our visit to Berlin with a visit to the DDR museum, a place dedicated to better understanding what it was like for residents to live in East Berlin during the Cold War period.  It’s a pretty cool place to hang out WHEN it’s not packed with visitors.  It is such a tiny museum space that reading all the placards and touching the exhibits is practically impossible without bumping into your neighbor. It did have a Trabi on display–this is the car that East Germany designed and marketed after the explosive success of West Germany’s VW beetle.  The Trabi was made out of plastic and once ordered, took 16 years to receive from the factory!
After DDR museum, we found both Dunkin Donuts and the Brandenburg Gate conveniently next to each other.  How happy the kids were to see the donut sign; how surprised I was to be standing in front of the world’s most famous gate!  I’d say it was a win-win afternoon after this stop.
To round out our evening, we hiked over to the Sony Center and did find the English-language movie theater. Tim bought tickets for us to see Spiderman in 3-D and it felt so good to sink into those comfy, rocking theater seats and revel in the English language without having to read sub-titles.  Interesting for us: we were the only English-laguage speakers in the theater.  Everyone else was German or Pakistani!