When Buda Met Pest

Did you know that Budapest used to be two cities (Buda and Pest)? We didn’t until we arrived there! The Danube River that we came to love in Bratislava separates the two cities that were merged to become a single city on opposite banks of the river in 1873. We happened to be staying on the “Pest” side, which is unfortunately to the East because it would have been fun to stay in the Pest to the West (dad joke)!

Our home during the short six-day stint was the Sun Resort Apartments. This newly built, well-run and affordable complex is situated in the 8th District, which used to be one of the rougher districts in Budapest. In recent years, however, it finds itself in a period of growth and revitalization and is continuing to shed the bad rap from the past. The 8th District is now known for it’s jazz music, art galleries, and trendy cafes. It is also home of the Corvin Plaza (a well-kept collection of shops located right outside of our building) which was hosting an inaugural beer festival on the day that we arrived! Happening upon beer fests seems to be a specialty for the Kimbles. And we’re okay with that!

To sum up the highlights from Budapest, below is a short list of things to see and do in the city:

Budapest’s Top 5

1. Visit Margaret Island (Margitsziget): This island is located in the middle of the Danube, nestled between Buda and Pest. There is a 5k-long track outlining the coast of the island, which is perfect for running, walking or biking! If you come on the weekend you can enjoy a fountain water show set to music.

2. See the Beauty of St. Stephen’s Basilica: This is the largest church in Budapest, dedicated to Hungary’s first king. Karen and I attended mass here and it was the most beautiful basilica we have ever seen! Whether you want to participate in mass or just take pictures inside, it’s worth the visit. Fun fact: the basilica is one of the top 10 most photographed places in the world.

Beautiful Saint Stephen's Basilica!

Beautiful Saint Stephen’s Basilica!

3. Have Dinner and Drinks at a Ruin Pub: The popularity of ruin pubs (bar-restaurants located in previously abandoned buildings) is still on the rise in Budapest. We ate at Mazel Tov, a Mediterranean-style pub which looked more like a wedding reception venue than an abandoned building! The food and atmosphere were excellent and there was live music to boot.

4. Walk Through Fisherman’s Bastion (Halaszbastya): This place looks like the Hungarian Disneyland! Built between 1895 and 1902, this architectural treat features seven towers representing the seven Hungarian chieftains who led their tribes to settle in Hungary. If you’re looking for the best views in the city, this is where to go!

Fisherman's Bastion in all its Disney glory!

Fisherman’s Bastion in all its Disney glory!

5. Eat pizza at the Local Korner: Great pizza, better service. That should be the motto of Local Korner. It’s a delicious pizza place run by three young friends who know what it means to deliver good service. Like many restaurants in Budapest, they have a “drive-up” window where you can walk right up to the side of the building and order pizza by the slice directly from the window. We chose to go inside and order up a specialty pizza, which we then took home because there is a very limited dining area (one table). While we waited for the pizza, we were offered shots of vodka on the house and asked multiple times if we wanted coffee or anything else to drink. We enjoyed it so much that we ate here twice!

To see these sights come to life, check out our newest video below or subscribe to the “Kimblesinbits” YouTube channel!

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Bratislava: Eastern Europe’s Hidden Gem

A lesson that we’ve learned quickly throughout the first four months of our travels is that flexibility in scheduling can lead to some unexpected and exciting adventures.  Before we began our short two weeks in Europe, we had planned to spend one week in Prague and another in Budapest.  The original plan was to fly to Prague, travel to Budapest by train and fly from there to Asia since we had our flight already booked.  It wasn’t until we met our friends Juan and Lenka in Rio, that we decided to throw a small wrinkle into that plan!  Lenka is from Slovakia, and she was telling us about many of the great things her home country had to offer.  Given the openness of the two weeks that we had, we thought it would be fun to spend a few days in Bratislava (Slovakian capital city) on our way to Budapest.  Little did we know that it was going to be some of the best days we spent in Europe!

Before we even arrived in Bratislava, we knew it was going to be an adventure. Karen and I had the opportunity to stay at the Marina Botel (not a spelling error) and felt obligated to take it.  If you haven’t already imagined what a “botel” is in your mind, let me describe it for you.  It’s a boat docked on the Danube River that serves as a hotel.  There are two floors with a number of rooms that are pretty limited with space, and from time to time a boat will drive past and create waves that make the botel rock.  Neither of us have ever been on a cruise, but this was a nice segway into what that experience would be like!

This is the entire bathroom from the Marina Botel.  See what I mean about space?

This is the entire bathroom from the Marina Botel. See what I mean about space?

Perhaps the best feature about the botel was the area in which it was located.  We once again found ourselves outside of the cental area of the city, which presented us with an opportunity to explore some territory we might not have otherwise.  Situated on the Danube River, we were close to Old Town, which is a really neat area of Bratislava.  There are lots of great restaurants and shops situated amongst cool architecture.  It’s definitely worth exploring!  Some of our highlights included a visit to Le Šenk Craft Beer Cafe, a great local establishment with good food and as many as eight craft beers on draft!  We also made multiple stops at the Slovak Pub, a restuarant serving traditional slovakian food and beer at great prices.  Don’t miss out on their potato pancakes! As for the sights to see in the area, there are several visually appealing places to visit.  The Bratislava Castle overlooks the city and has some absolutely stunning architecture and views of the city; the UFO bridge looks somewhat like the Space Needle in Seattle and is a fun way to cross the Danube; and the Church of St. Elizabeth is a bright blue church with a very interesting exterior.  All of them are worth your time.

The Church of St. Elizabeth.  Beautiful!

The Church of St. Elizabeth. Beautiful!

In spite of all these great sites, the most memorable part of Bratislava started with an exploratory run through a local park.  We were running through the park and looking for different running and biking paths, when we came upon a long stretch that didn’t seem to end!  Later that day we went into a bike shop called BikeBratislava.  If you end up in Bratislava and want to explore the area the right way, go check this place out!  Their staff is awesome and incredibly helpful.  Our new friend, Luka, told us that we could ride that entire bike trail, which is called the Bratislava-Devín-Schlosshof-Hainburg path.  It goes in and around both Slovakia and Austria!  Suprisingly, you simply cross the borders with ease and make your way around this approximately 43-mile loop trail.  At first we thought it was the first time we crossed an international border on foot (or bike), until we remembered that the Detroit Marathon course runs into Ontario.  Either way, we were so excited to unexpectedly add Austria to our agenda! So, we spent our final whole day in Bratislava biking that trail and taking in some unbelievable scenery.  Had we not been fortunate enough to find that trail, we likely never would have known what was hiding right underneath our noses.  It was definitely one of our top highlights in Europe and something we recommend to anyone and everyone who has the opportunity.

For a video look at our time in Bratislava, check out the link below or watch the video on our “Kimblesinbits” Youtube page!

 

Seeing a Different Side of Prague

Thanks to our Chase Sapphire credit card points, we ended up staying in an area of Prague (Prague 3 district) that was slightly off the tourist trail.  We were located east of the Vltava River and a solid two-mile walk to the main square in Old Town, which is where many visitors go to see famous sites like the Old Town Square and the Astronomical Clock.  As a result, we spent more time in our area of town, where there were relatively few tourists, affordable dining options and a more authentic glimpse into the city life.  The streets were quiet and there were small parks at every corner. We literally got to see a different side of Prague!

Of the restaurants we came across, there were two that were so good (and affordable) we just couldn’t say “no” to a second encounter.  The first was called Café Pavlač.  It is a small café with an assortment of great drink options, from iced espresso to grizzly milk, which was what brought us there in the first place.  It wasn’t until we got there and tried it out that we learned their food is just as outstanding!  We are talking freshly homemade gnocchi with spinach and turkey, quinoa salads, and grilled ciabatta sandwiches. Both of us continued to ask one another “who is the chef at this place?” because the food and the overall presentation were incredible.  If you’re looking for a good coffee, reasonable prices, and fair portions for your buck, don’t miss Café Pavlač!

Our first meal at Café Pavlač!

Our first meal at Café Pavlač!

The second “must-eat” of Prague in our opinion is a small little pizza joint called Pizzeria Persona.  Yes: it’s exactly what it sounds like!  With a vast assortment of individual-portioned pizzas and calzones, there are so many delicious ingredient combinations.  The term “individual” is certainly relative, for most people might consider it a meal for two.  But for the pizza-loving Kimble family, we were able to get the job done.  Once again, the price is budget-friendly and the staff is very hospitable.

So, while we admit to not doing much advance planning for our trip to Prague, we definitely lucked out with the location of our hotel. We were able to eat at some really delicious places that didn’t break the bank! For anyone looking to visit Prague but hoping to get outside of the main square for food or lodging, we recommend heading east of the river towards the Prague 3 district. It’s within walking distance of all main sites, but is also quickly available by bus or tram for those looking to get off their feet for a bit.

Check out the link below or visit the “Kimblesinbits” Youtube channel for our video recap from Prague!

Czech your Expectations at the Door

Generally speaking, there are two ways to gear up for a trip. The first often requires months of advance planning with the help of Lonely Planet books, Yelp reviews and Google searches (i.e “Top Things To See In “insert city here). You arrive at your destination with a detailed itinerary in one hand, a printed map in the other, and a head full of expectations on how each day will play out. The second technique, which is the method we used during our recent trip to the Czech Republic, allows the trip to plan itself. Simply pack your bags and…go!

Now don’t get us wrong, we often enjoy creating an agenda of things to see and do in a new place we’re visiting, but sometimes it’s just as fun to show up there with no set plans and an open slate. We didn’t do much ground work before landing in Prague but we knew that we could expect to see a city with rich history, beautiful bridges and magnificent castles.  Yet two of our favorite experiences in Prague came as a result of being in the right place at the right time, and having a flexible schedule to accommodate the unexpected!

You know those magazines that sit in the seat-back pocket of the airplane seat in front of you? Well, Karen’s decision to pick up and read one really paid dividends for us (what else is there to do when your husband is sleeping?).  During our flight to the Czech Republic, she read about the Český pivní festival.  What’s that you ask?  Why, it’s the Czech Republic’s largest beer festival of course, taking place from May 7-23!  For two people who enjoy a cold craft beer, this was a fortunate find.  The festival was full of great food, 150 varieties of Czech draft beer, and live music. We enjoyed the festival so much the first day that we came back two days later to fill up our steins (and bellies!) once more.

Adam's meal of pork, cabbage, potato dumplings and beer.

Adam’s meal of pork, cabbage, potato dumplings and beer.

Two happy customers!

Two happy customers!

The second unexpected experience came after noticing advertisements around town for the 2015 IIHF World Ice Hockey Championships.  It just so happened that from May 1-17, the games were being held in Prague and Ostrava (another city in the Czech Republic)!  On a whim, we looked for tickets online and decided to watch Latvia take on Switzerland at the O2 Arena in Prague.  The atmosphere was electric and it was really interesting to enjoy the game as “non-partisan” bystanders.  We had great seats pretty close to the glass, and we were fortunate enough to be surrounded by a group of Latvians, whose team came out victorious (2-1) in overtime!

Celebrating Latvia's victory over Switzerland outside of the O2 Arena.

Celebrating Latvia’s victory over Switzerland outside of the O2 Arena.

For us, cultural experiences are some of the most exciting and enriching moments when traveling. It’s why we are trying to travel slowly, spending a few weeks in each place whenever possible. Sure, cultural experiences can be planned by doing research and talking with others who have gone before you, but we’ve had the most success when we just let the trip happen and allow the unexpected to occur.

The only expectation we have as of late is this: expect the unexpected!

What’s your preferred method of planning a trip? Have you ever just showed up to a place with no real plan? Tell us about your experience in the comment section below!