Budapest, Hungary [Travel Guide]

My adventure to Hungary began like most others. Back in August, I asked my travel buddy, Michael, if he was up for a trip. He said yes, so I told him to choose a destination. He had his heart set on going to Budapest, so we started looking at plane tickets. They were pretty cheap for the beginning of September, which was only a few weeks away! #YOLO. We booked our tickets, found some great Airbnb options, and started planning.

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Visiting Budapest was my first experience in Eastern Europe. Did you know that Buda and Pest were originally separate cities on opposite sides of the Danube River? They united about 150 years ago to form the “Pearl of the Danube”. Over on the Pest side of the city, our Airbnb was located near parliament buildings, cafes, ruin bars, and a riverside promenade. The area was buzzing and lively with young people. We spent most of our time in that area. The Buda side, on the other hand, had a feeling of settled wealth and sophistication. It was filled with medieval streets and houses, castles, thermal baths, and incredible views. The saying goes, “When Buda goes to sleep, Pest wakes up.” No matter your preferences while traveling, Budapest truly has something for everyone. Famous for its monuments and rich culture, the “Paris of the East” offers a variety of museums, galleries, flea markets, churches and synagogues, palaces, and historic buildings to explore.

Was there anything I didn’t particularly like about Budapest? Well, the food was pretty hard on my stomach. Traditional Hungarian cuisine is rich, heavy, and revolves around meat. Many dishes include dairy, are deep-fried, and are accompanied by dumplings, egg noodles, or bread. Since I have to avoid dairy, gluten, and red meat (due to longstanding health issues), this posed a slight problem. Luckily, I found a few vegan-friendly restaurants that I frequented for the duration of my trip. The downside, though, is that I don’t have a ton of food recommendations. If you have an iron stomach, you’ll definitely get to enjoy more of the traditional Hungarian dishes that I had to skip.

One more thing: The cost of living in Budapest is 52% lower than the cost of living in the United States. Pretty freakin' awesome. We used Airbnb to book our lodging, and for only $30 to $50 per night, we had a variety of modern, clean, gorgeous apartments to choose from. Even luxury hotels are affordable in Budapest, compared to luxury hotels in the United States. Food was also super inexpensive. You won’t have to stretch your budget to enjoy all the flavors that Hungary has to offer, that’s for sure. In fact, you’ll probably spend much less than you anticipated.

FOOD

Napfényes Étterem és Cukrászda: Located in the heart of Budapest, this was my go-to restaurant during my trip. The majority of their ingredients are grown organically, and they cater specifically to vegetarians and vegans. Their menu is enormous, and everything we tried was incredible. The best part? It was extremely cheap. During our meals, we always ordered multiple dishes, and we never spent more than $30 total. I’m still dreaming of the raw chocolate cake slice we brought back to our Airbnb.

ZONA: Michael and I ate lunch here before exploring Fisherman’s Bastion. The polished atmosphere on the bank of the Danube was perfect, and our meal was heavenly. I can’t remember what kind of fish was served (pictured below), but it was exquisite. That was one thing I actually really enjoyed about Hungarian cuisine…the unique selection of fish. The chefs at ZONA pride themselves on using simple ingredients to achieve “natural flavor harmonies”…and they’re excellent at their craft.

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Hummusbar: If you know me, you know I love hummus. When I saw there was a Hummusbar near our Airbnb, I was SO excited. The mission of Hummusbar revolves around freshly prepared, authentic, handmade food. There’s more than a dozen dishes to choose from, but I went with hummus mushrooms (which is literally just hummus topped with sautéed mushrooms and grilled onions). I also love masabacha, which is a spread made of hummus, boiled chickpeas, garlic, tahini, and lemon sauce.

KARAVÁN: Situated on Budapest’s chaotic Kazinczy Street, KARAVÁN is home to several food kiosks that house unique, mouthwatering meals. This cozy outdoor space offers nachos, sausages, french fries (with half a dozen flavorful dipping sauces), vegan burgers, deep-fried cheese, noodle dishes, soup, and more. They’re open quite late, which makes it the perfect stop for a midnight snack (especially after partying at Szimpla Kert…more on that later!).

Free! Gluten Free Bakery: The pastries at this place were AMAZING, and they were also soy and lactose-free. They had flaky croissants, bread, and cinnamon/chocolate pinwheels on display when we popped in for breakfast. I came back for lunch near the end of our trip and ordered a sandwich loaded with sun-dried tomatoes, hummus, and vegan cheese. YUM.

Michael ordered goulash soup at a random bar near our Airbnb, and it was delightful. Imagine a warm, hearty stew, seasoned with paprika and filled with meat, tomatoes, potatoes, carrots, and onions…so, so good. Speaking of paprika, some of you might know it’s an extremely popular and commonly used spice in Hungary. They even have paprika potato chips at gas stations. Yes, we purchased more than one bag. Some brands were sweet, and others were spicy. It was fun trying different kinds.

Something else you have to eat in Budapest is kürtőskalács (chimney cake), a sweet, spiral-shaped pastry that originated in Transylvania. It’s basically dough covered in sugar that’s cooked in the oven until the sugar caramelizes. The finished product is crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. You can eat it plain, but cinnamon is a popular topping. Many street vendors sell this delicious creation.

Lastly, sour cherry is a popular flavor in Hungary, and it’s amazing. If you see sour cherry pie on a menu, order it. I found mine in a small cafe near the Parliament Building.

THINGS TO DO

Soak in a thermal bath. Budapest has many nicknames, one being “The City of Baths”. There’s a good reason for this! The city sits on a patchwork of 120+ natural warm springs, which are believed to contain healing minerals and properties. Because of this, bath culture in Budapest is wildly popular. Széchenyi is the largest thermal bath in Budapest. Built in 1913, Széchenyi contains almost 20 indoor and outdoor pools. You can also find saunas, steam rooms, and whirlpools inside the complex. Michael and I explored Széchenyi on our last day in Budapest, but there are several other thermal baths in Budapest to choose from. The water is warm and toasty, so you can visit year round.

Walk across the Chain Bridge. Connecting Buda and Pest is the Chain Bridge, a permanent crossing that was constructed over the Danube River in 1849. The Chain Bridge is one of the most popular landmarks in Budapest, and it’s truly a sight to behold. Both the view of the bridge and from the bridge is stunning, especially after sunset. If you plan to take a stroll across, make sure to leave some time for a walk around the Danube Promenade. There, you’ll find 60 pairs of iron shoes. This monument stands as a haunting tribute to the 20,000 Hungarian Jews who were brutally shot along the Danube River during World War II.

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Explore Fisherman’s Bastion. If you’re curious about my favorite place in Budapest, this is it. Located on the bank of the Danube, this neo-Gothic/neo-Romanesque terrace was built to celebrate the 1,000th birthday of the Hungarian state. It truly looks like a fairytale castle, and the panoramic views of Pest and the Danube are spectacular. You can clearly see the Parliament Building in the distance, along with St. Stephen’s Basilica.

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Party at a ruin bar. Have you ever heard of a ruin bar? If not, you’re in for a treat. Imagine transforming an unused outdoor space or a dilapidated building into a lively, stylish, quirky bar. Now, imagine sipping dirt cheap drinks and cocktails while gawking at the eclectic interior. Ruin bars are often seen with mismatched furniture, strange art, unique antiques, and colorful wall murals. They’re trendy and edgy, but they also have a relaxed, all-inclusive atmosphere. The most iconic ruin bar in Budapest is Szimpla Kert. It was originally an old factory, and now it’s an enormous open-air cinema/pub. They host concerts, theatre shows, farmers markets, and dozens of cultural events. This is a place you absolutely don’t want to miss.

Go on a road trip. Budapest’s location in Eastern Europe is perfect, especially if you rent a car. It’s only 2.5 hours from Vienna, Austria; 5.5 hours from Krakow, Poland; 3.5 hours from Zagreb, Croatia; and 5.5 hours from Prague. Your options are practically endless. Michael and I decided to drive to Slovenia in the middle of our trip, and it was an excellent decision. We spent one night outside Lake Bled and one night in Ljubljana. It was so nice to escape the big city for a few days and bask in the fresh mountain air. I considered writing a separate post about Slovenia, but I know my two day visit wouldn’t do the country justice. Suffice it to say, Lake Bled was arguably one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. I definitely plan to dedicate an entire week or two to Slovenia in the future.

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Admire the scenery. If you want some jaw-dropping views of Budapest, you MUST visit Castle Hill and Gellért Hill. Both areas crown the banks of Buda overlooking the Danube River. Castle Hill, recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is situated towards the West. This is where Fisherman’s Bastion can be found, along with Buda Castle, Matthias Church, and various other historic sites. Gellért Hill, also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is situated towards the East. This is where you can find the Gellért Baths, the Liberty Statue, and the Citadella. If you want to see Budapest from the Danube River, consider booking a Legenda sightseeing cruise. They offer daytime, evening, and dinner cruises year-round, and their tours get fantastic reviews.

Visit Margaret Island. Right smack dab in the middle of the Danube River, Margaret Island is the green heart of Budapest. The majority of the island is a park. It’s a great location for a stroll or a picnic, but that’s not all there is to do. You can admire lilies in the Japanese Garden, soak in the Palatinus Baths, watch a musical fountain show, explore medieval ruins, climb to the top of the ancient water tower to capture a panoramic view of the area, or visit the petting zoo. If you want to get out of the city for a bit, Margaret Island is a great escape.

If you have any additional Budapest recommendations, comment below!

Fall 2018 Playlist

We don’t get much of a fall season in Virginia. The leaves don’t turn until Thanksgiving, and it rains (a lot). It’s not uncommon for the temperature to go from freezing to humid over the span of a single day. When the weather finally levels out, it’s almost winter. Despite the fact that my home state can’t properly figure out the seasons, I still love basking in autumn activities. Apple picking, pumpkin carving, and hot cocoa drinking are just a few of my favorite things…especially when paired with a soft flannel and a warm scarf. Here’s a little playlist with some songs that have been keeping me cozy during the chilliest days of fall. Enjoy!

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Summer 2018 Playlist

Summer is flying by in the way that only summer can do. The nights are deliciously warm, the days are unbearably humid, and the clock is moving forward at an unimaginable speed. Before the endless sunshine of the season makes way for autumn leaves and pumpkin patches, don’t forget to dip your toes into a refreshing pool (or the ocean!) one last time…and listen to this summer playlist, for good measure.

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Key West, Florida [Travel Guide]

Almost two years ago, my parents moved to Key West. I've now happily accepted the Conch Republic as my second home, a magical place to unwind and relax when I need a break from reality, and the town that occupies my daydreams when I'm craving bucci and a Cuban sandwich. From the roaming chickens to the quirky characters that walk around Duval street, there's so much to love about Key West. If you're planning a trip in the near future, keep reading to learn about some of my favorite spots! 

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FOOD

Santiago's Bodega: If there's a single restaurant you have to try while you're in Key West, Santiago's Bodega is it. This charming Spanish restaurant has a friendly neighborhood feel and offers affordable, mouthwatering tapas. Some of my favorites are the dates (stuffed with goat cheese and wrapped in prosciutto), chicken skewers, patatas bravas, and gazpacho. If you love cheese and you're feeling a little adventurous, order the saganaki.

Bien Key West: Bien is where you want to go if you're craving authentic Caribbean food. My parents always get the mahi mahi in red sauce (which consists of tender mahi mahi sautéed in olive oil, garlic tapenade, cilantro, and red sauce, served over white rice), which is satisfyingly spicy and delicious. That's actually the only dish I've tried there...but I can promise you won't be disappointed.

French Cafe Creperie: This European-style cafe can make all their crepes and galettes gluten-free/vegan, so are you surprised that I'm obsessed? The atmosphere of French Cafe Creperie is also perfect. Palm trees shroud the colorful outdoor patio, and you might even spot a roaming chicken or two. I ordered a galette filled with avocado, romaine, a sunny egg, cheddar, goat cheese, and vinaigrette, which was amazing. But you really can't go wrong with anything on the menu.

Date & Thyme: Every time I visit Key West, I visit Date & Thyme more than once. It's basically my holy grail. With an organic menu that caters to those who can't eat gluten or dairy, I always find myself wanting to order multiple plates. Their spicy yellowfin tuna wrap is my all time favorite! I'm also a huge fan of their carrot zing juice. 

Garbo's Grill: I somehow still haven't eaten at Garbo's Grill, but it has over 1,000 five-star reviews on Yelp, and my parents are obsessed. If you're looking for eclectic tacos, burritos, or burgers, stop by this husband-and-wife run food stand. The yum yum shrimp tacos are calling my name next time I'm in town...

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The Lobster Shack: If you thought lobster rolls only existed in New England, think again! This quaint coastal restaurant offers a small but creative menu that includes gems like their famous key lime lobster roll (I ordered this one, and it was divine), a lobster "BLT" roll, and a lobster grilled cheese (that you can top with bacon or jalapeño). They even offer lobster breakfast burritos!

Better Than Sex: This intimate dessert restaurant will knock your socks off. The indulgent desserts are divine, the dim lighting is romantic, and the sexual puns are equally creative and hilarious. Their wine and beer options are served in chocolate/caramel rimmed glasses...need I say more? (Order the peanut butter perversion, and thank me later.)

While you're in Key West, key lime pie is a must! I'm a huge fan of Key West Key Lime Pie Co. because they offer gluten-free slices, but if you're a chocolate lover, you should definitely try the chocolate dipped key lime pie on a stick. You can find them all over Duval Street.

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CAFES

Sandy's Cafe: I've tried bucci at several cafes and restaurants in Key West, but Sandy's Cafe always wins. What exactly is bucci? It's basically "the quintessential espresso shot of the Cuban coffee world". Bucci is strong, rich, and lightly sweetened with cane sugar. Order the colada, which is a double bucci, if you're with a large group. And don't forget to try their Cuban sandwich. Overflowing with ham, pork, salami, melted swiss, tangy pickles, and mustard, I would argue it's the best in the area. 

Five Brothers: This cozy corner shop rivals Sandy's in the coffee department. On any given morning, you'll find local regulars packed in a line out the door. Five Brothers is definitely a Key West staple you don't want to miss.

Cuban Coffee Queen: I love the waterfront location of this cafe. It's the perfect spot to grab a coffee in the morning, stroll around the marina, and enjoy the sunshine. We were craving something sweet, so we ordered a Cuban caramel coffee (cafe con leche, sub almond milk, with caramel syrup). It was delicious!

THINGS TO DO

The Hemingway Home: If you're a fan of Ernest Hemingway...or cats...the Hemingway Home is an absolute must. The guided tour is thirty minutes long, and the tour guides are really entertaining. Hemingway led a pretty wild life, so you'll definitely get a kick out of your visit. It's a huge bonus that dozens of cats, some with six toes, roam around the property.

The Butterfly Conservatory: This is my favorite place in Key West. When you walk into the conservatory, butterflies (of all shapes, sizes, colors, and species) swarm around you. It's breathtaking. The climate-controlled space also features flowers, plants, colorful birds, turtles, waterfalls, and more. If you're looking for a peaceful place to unwind, this is the ticket. 

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Key West Lighthouse: The view from the top of this lighthouse is spectacular. You can see all the way to the crystal clear ocean (where you can often find a cruise ship in port), and there are signs placed along the lookout to show points of interest around the island. Just make sure you're up for a climb! There are 88 iron steps in the tower's spiral staircase. It feels pretty rickety, but it doesn't take long to get to the top. And when you do, the view is totally worth it.

The Little White House: I don't consider myself a history buff...but I still appreciated the rich history of Truman's Little White House. If you want to learn about the historic building that served as Harry S. Truman's infamous winter residence, book this tour. Garbo's Grill is just a few steps away, so you can easily grab lunch afterwards. 

Go for a bike ride: Smathers Beach is a popular public beach in Key West, and there's a large sidewalk that runs alongside it. This is an ideal activity if you're craving a combination of exercise, fresh air, and gorgeous views. My favorite time to do this is right around sunset. The view over the Atlantic Ocean at the end of the boardwalk is beautiful.

Visit Dry Tortugas National Park: This is one of the most unique national parks in the United States. You have to take a two-hour ferry ride (that spans over 70 miles) to get there, but you're rewarded with a small, peaceful island in the Gulf of Mexico. The main attraction at Dry Tortugas is Fort Jefferson, which was used as a prison during the Civil War. The park is also known for its treacherous coral reefs, abundant sea life, and shipwreck legends. I really recommend a day trip if you're spending more than a few days in Key West. My experience was INCREDIBLE. You can check out a video I put together here! And find out everything you need to know about the excursion here.

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I'd love to know your favorite things to do in Key West!

Spring 2018 Playlist

Spring is a delicious season of regrowth and rejuvenation. The blooming flowers and warm sunshine spark a feeling of genuine joy deep in my soul, and judging by the birds chirping excitedly outside my office window, I'm not the only one who feels that way. If you want some extra pep in your step during these revitalizing months, check out my spring playlist on Spotify!