Rough Start, Strong Finish in Bangkok

A little over a week ago, we arrived in Bangkok with a bit of unfortunate timing.  Within an hour of our arrival, a bomb went off at the Erawan Shine in central Bangkok.  When traveling to distant places around the globe, there’s always a chance of encountering dangerous or unfortunate circumstances.  We knew this going into the trip but never really expected something like this to happen so close to where we were traveling.  Unsure of what to do next, we decided to lay low for a bit, following the news and Continue reading

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The Dos And Don’ts of Beijing

Adam and I have been on the road for four and half months and we have definitely experienced our fair share of adventure, usually in the “let’s go for a hike” sense but other times in the “did we really just sleep on top of a mountain” sense. We live for adventure but I have to admit…we were nervous about visiting Beijing, China. After spending a month in the US and two weeks in Europe, we had started getting used to hearing English and eating familiar foods. China was going to be an experience for all of our senses and we are happy to report that China. Is. Wonderful. With over 20 million people, ancient sites and impressive modern architecture, Beijing is unlike any other city that we’ve visited.

There are some seriously crazy new buildings in Beijing!

There are some seriously crazy new buildings in Beijing!

Old and new living in the same city.

Beautiful views at Temple of Sun Park.

It can be overwhelming planning a trip here, with so much to learn before you go and see and do once you’re there. To assist in your planning, we’ve prepared a short list of dos and don’ts in Beijing:

DO use the subway to get around town. It’s safe, cheap, and very easy to navigate. All signs are in both Chinese and English, and all announcements are made in English as well. If you can, grab a subway map from your hotel to help you plan your trip and navigate as you go.

DON’T drink the tap water, it is not safe. Bottles of water can easily be found at any of the small convenience stores scattered throughout the city.

DO visit The Great Wall. The Mutianyu section of the wall is only a two hour drive from Beijing and offers a great view of the wall and the foothills. You can reach the wall by foot, by ski lift or by riding in a four person gondola. If you’re feeling adventurous, take the winding steel toboggan track back down from the wall. It’s so much fun! (check out the video!)

DON’T cross the street without looking in all directions, twice, even if you have the ‘walk’ signal. There are buses, cars, mopeds and bicycles on the road and they all seem to follow their own rules of the road. The biggest vehicle should always have the right-of-way which means if you’re walking on foot and not paying attention, you’re going to lose.

Watch out for these guys! They're everywhere and you don't need a drivers license to drive them.

Watch out for these guys! They’re everywhere and you don’t need a drivers license to drive them.

DO expect to be served rice, noodles and soy sauce for breakfast. Say goodbye to your bowl of fruit loops and blueberry pancakes.

DON’T forget to check the hours for The Forbidden City. Otherwise you might show up an hour after the gates close like we did (oops!)

Locked outside of The Forbidden City!

Locked outside of The Forbidden City!

DO eat dumplings and peking duck. Highly, highly recommend Mr. Shi’s for dumplings and Da Dong Roast Duck for their lean duck. Quick tip on the duck: one is enough for two people, and since it is served with a condiment tray, soup, fresh fruit and a dessert, you definitely won’t leave hungry.

DON’T be surprised if people stare at you or want to take a picture with you. We’re not sure if it’s Adam’s height, his massive beard, or his downright good looks that’s turning heads in China but he is definitely an attraction for the locals. We’ve seen everything from a 360 degree stop-and-stare, to a wide-eyed, mouth open double take. In fact, our visit at The Great Wall was interrupted a few times by people wanting to take pictures with us! I only wish I could see what they were posting about us on social media.

To see a video recap of our time in Beijing, including footage from The Great Wall, Mr. Shi’s and Tiananmen square, click the link below or visit the “Kimblesinbits” YouTube channel!

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!

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!

The Sacred Valley, Quillabamba, Machu Picchu, Oh My!

Two days after our travel companions Dan and Nichole arrived last weekend, we embarked on an epic four-day adventure culminating with Machu Picchu.  Now, it’s important to know that there are a variety of options for visiting the sacred Inca site.  You can do it simple and cheap via a one (albeit long) day trip on the train. You can schedule a much longer trip, oftentimes seven or eight days, in which you visit all of the Inca ruin sites from Cusco all the way to Aguas Calientes, the city nearest Machu Picchu.  Or, you can do a private tour in which you determine the length of your journey, as well as the stops along the way.  The best choice for you will depend on your agenda, the time you have available, and your preference for a more or less rigid schedule.

For us, we determined that a four day trip made the most sense and we knew we wanted to visit Machu Picchu in a less conventional way.  This meant that we were going to take the private car tour.  Our host’s father, Daniel, has long been a tour guide in Cusco and he has a wealth of knowledge regarding the Inca (or more accurately, Quechua) people.  So, the five of us (and our driver, Carlos) left early on Monday morning to head to a few sites in the Sacred Valley. We visited Chinchero, Moray and Ollantaytambo during the day before heading to the jungle of Quillabamba on Monday night.  We spent all of Tuesday in Quillabamba and stayed for one more night before heading to our next stop in Cocalmayo/Santa Teresa on Wednesday afternoon.  At this point in the journey, we left our vehicle and hiked from Santa Teresa to Aguas Calientes on Wednesday evening.  This set us up for a beautiful Thursday morning at Machu Picchu, followed by a long trek home that night.

The four days we spent on the road seemed like a month because of the immense activities we experienced.  Since we don’t have a month to read about it, let me sum up why the Kimble-Rudenga itinerary was perfect for us (and may be perfect for you, too!):

1. Flexibility.   You aren’t tied to a specific timeline through private car transport.  There are options to stop off somewhere for lunch, spend extra time at certain sites and even pull off of the road if someone is getting carsick.  A private tour puts you in control of your schedule.

2. The ability to travel off the beaten path.  More than half of our four days was spent at sites that the train surpasses on the way to Machu Picchu.  The jungle in Quillabamba and the natural hot springs at Cocalmayo are “must-sees,” and you wouldn’t get to see them taking a direct route!

3. Enhanced knowledge of the Inca sites.  Daniel was constantly dropping knowledge during the car ride and at all of the archaeological sites.

4.  A more personal experience.  There’s definitely a different feeling when you have one tour guide for four people versus a large group.  Everything was so interactive (like climbing trees to pick your own avocado!) and being in a smaller group allowed for us to ask questions and really understand the culture and history.

5.  Better bang for your buck.  The price of the train ticket alone (not including entrance to the sites) is about a third of the cost of what we paid for our four-day excursion.

6.  Cultural experiences.  We made various stops at fruit stands and markets along our route, giving us an opportunity to try so many new things (ever tasted a pacay?).  Not to mention we were able to visit local farmers in Quillabamba and enjoy organic coffee, fruits, meats and vegetables!

7.  You can bring your dog!  Sofi experienced every bit of our four-day trip with the exception of Machu Picchu, so she definitely recommends a private car.

8.  Insane scenery.  Our route to Quillabamba allowed for a pass through the snow-capped mountains at over 14,000 feet!

9.  Working off the “car” legs.  The mountains don’t allow for cars to make it past Santa Teresa, so we enjoyed a 10-kilometer hike to Aguas Calientes.  The path follows the train tracks and gives a little sneak peak of Machu Picchu near the end of the trail.

10.  Memorable videos.  Daniel encouraged us to take time for pictures and videos, so we never felt rushed.  See below for a video of our journey from start to finish!