The Best Baths in Budapest

Like most top-notch tourist draws in the world, before most travelers even arrive in Budapest, they’ll typically have a slideshow of iconic images swirling in their mind.

Paramount among the scenes of Budapest is the drop-dead gorgeous Hungarian Parliament building, the regal set of bridges that span the Danube, and naturally, the sight of a bunch of half-naked old dudes playing chess in an outdoor pool.

Oh, it’s true, but those guys aren’t just hanging out in any old pools, these concrete ponds are proper thermal baths.

Budapest’s baths are legendary, with the city’s serendipitous spot over hundreds of hot springs to thank. This combination of geology and geography led to the building of a bevy of formal baths centuries ago, and the subsequent proliferation of tales touting their healing powers. These baths have been a huge part of the fabric of the city ever since, and no trip to Budapest is complete without a dip. So, to help you get your feet wet, here is a list of some of the best baths in Budapest, and what they are best suited for.

gellert baths budapest

Most Beautiful BathGellért Baths

This is one of the the most famous in town, and it is also the most beautiful bath in Budapest. The Gellért  Baths reside in a palatial Art Nouveau building, and will have you feeling like royalty when you wade into its waters. Grand adornments abound, like pillars, sculptures, and colorful mosaics that lend an air of opulence to the bathing. And that’s just inside. Outside, the pools are just as lavish, set amongst gorgeous gardens and even featuring a wave pool in summer.

Szechenyi baths budapest

Best Bath For ‘Pinch Me, I’m In Budapest’ Moments Széchenyi Baths

This is the biggest bath, the most popular bath, and if you’re curious, the one with the iconic chess players. A golden-colored candyland-esque castle inside Budapest’s City Park, with its 18 pools, Széchenyi is among the largest thermal pool complexes in Europe. You’ll find whirlpools and underwater jets here, and most uniquely, Széchenyi is open all year round, with a steamy wintry bath a truly unique experience.  

dandar bath budapest

Best ‘Off The Beaten Bath’ BathDandar Bath

When we were in Budapest, we stumbled across this hidden gem, and it was a true revelation. We only discovered it by walking past, and took a gamble that it would be fun to see what the lesser known spas were like. While it won’t win any style points (Gellért took them all, anyway), it is laid back, budget-friendly (about a third of the price of the big boys), and almost exclusively used by locals. I can personally attest, that I had been plagued by a sore shoulder for weeks before I visited Dandar, but walked out without any pain, and years later, it hasn’t returned.

Best Historic Bath – Király Bath

This bath feels like a step back in time and a trip to the East combined. Built when Budapest was under Ottoman rule in the 1500s, it maintains its original Turkish architecture (stone walls, arched doorways, and domes) to this day, with the spa’s fading glory only serving to add to its appeal. Király isn’t the biggest spa in town, but what it lacks in size, it more than makes up for with centuries of character and and soothing waters filled with a unique mix of minerals to help mend the body and massage the soul.

 

Photo Credit

An earlier version of this post first appeared on TravelPulse

Travelly Picture: Hope Cove, South Devon, England

We went on summer vacation to South Devon, and I took this picture of this little town called Hope Cove from the Southwest Coastal Path. I recommend doing the same to anyone.

 

hope cove

A Quest to Buy Westvleteren 12 Beer at the Sint Sixtus Abbey

Westvleteren1

By all accounts, the good monks at the Sint Sixtus Abbey in Vleteren, Belgium produce some of the most heavenly brews on earth. And one of their beers, Westvleteren 12, is regarded by many who know way more about beer than me as the world’s finest. In fact, if you punch in ‘world’s best beer’ on everybody’s favorite search engine, these Trappist boys are the first non-listicle result that pops up.

To say the process of acquiring Westvleteren 12 is complicated is to understate the murkiness of the proceedings.

The monks aren’t in it for the money, so they don’t brew a ton of beer, and what they do brew, they don’t distribute to bars or stores. No, they choose to only sell crates directly to people at their abbey, with each person only allowed to purchase once every 60 days. This, inevitably, leads to a thriving black market in the beer, with bottles being sold with a wink-and-a-nod all over the world at jacked up prices; and a ton of people out there making some serious cash posing as innocent locals every two months.

But I digress.

It’s supposed to work like this: you call them ahead, they take down your details (including your license plate), then you show up at an agreed-upon time and pick up your suds.

That didn’t work out so well for me.

Ever since I found out I would be in their neck-of-the-woods, I started calling. For months. It was always busy. I could never get through. It was frustrating, I mean, what were these monks busy doing, praying?

So, I figured I would just show up and see what happens.

Poperinge Belgium

After swerving through several roundabouts in nearby Poperinge (a place so renowned for their beer hops, they have giant statues of them), playing a game of ‘Wait, Is This A One Way Street?’ in the maze-like town center, and badgering sidewalk-strolling Belgians for directions, we arrived at the legendary Sint Sixtus Abbey.

The cars ahead of us were full of black market beer barons, I mean genteel locals all exchanging pleasantries with a chipper man who had been assigned the task of dishing out the beer and, it must be noted, bore a striking resemblance to Steven Avery from Making A Murderer. 

Everyone seemed so nice and friendly, that my confidence swelled.

Westvleteren 12

“This is going to be easy”, I thought.

Our turn came, I pulled ahead, and the beer man grabbed his clipboard and, yeah, started scrutinizing our car and license plate like he was working a border crossing. I rolled down the window, and in my best Flemish (which is English, by the way) pleaded “we don’t have a reservation, sir, but we came all the way from England, and I called for months, and I have a sick dog at home whose dream is to taste Westvleteren 12”. Or something like that.

Being an American used to warm and cuddly customer service, I expected to hear him say:

“Well, you’re technically supposed to have a reservation, but since you came all this way and you seem nice, go ahead and take some beer, and you know what, don’t even worry about paying for it”.

Sadly, that didn’t happen. The monk beer man ended the dream right then and there on the spot. I was crushed. We had come all this way, we had come so close to sipping the nectar of the gods, only to be rejected and leave parched and with an empty trunk.

But then he told us we could buy the beer over at their cafe, In de Vrede, which we subsequently found out is the only place in the world where it is sold in a retail setting. We drove over, bought a twelve pack of Westvleteren 12, and headed for home with smiles on our faces.

Westvleteren 12

Things officially became happily ever after though when we made it back home and I poured the first bottle. The mahogany-brown Westvleteren 12 flowed from its vessel like holy water, overflowing with toasty notes that tickled the nose and a creamy off-white head that pleased the eyes. As I finally sipped the sweet and smoky strong Belgian beer, I immediately knew what all the hype was about, and I was already starting to think about a return trip.

 

 

Abbey photo credit

An earlier version of this post appeared on TravelPulse

Travelly Picture: Hong Kong Skyline

I dreamed about going to Hong Kong forever, and most of that was because of the skyline. Here’s a picture I took of it from some mountain above town.

honk kong skyline

Rolling The Dice at The Double Down Saloon in Las Vegas

Double down saloon las vegas

Dive bars are like a boxes of chocolates. Or slot machines. You never quite know what you’re going to get.

By definition, dive bars are all rough around the edges on the outside. Often though, they are warm, welcoming, and some of the most genuine establishments in the world on the inside. But you never know for sure, so you just have to take a chance and walk through the door of a dive bar; and in a city famous for games of risk, Las Vegas happens to be home to a handful of darn good dive bars.

My favorite is the Double Down Saloon.

The Double Down Saloon. Just look at that name – I mean, you really couldn’t come up with a better one for a bar in Las Vegas, could you? It was the name that attracted me to the bar in the first place. One night while I was living in Las Vegas, I was strolling the streets near The Hard Rock when I spotted it. Based on the name alone, I figured there had to be something good hiding behind the rough-and-tumble facade. While the door guy working that night looked a little intimidating, my roommate and I decided to take a chance, and we hit the jackpot.

The Double Down Saloon dubs itself the ‘happiest place on earth’, and while some places would get a letter from Disney’s lawyers for such a nickname, they manage to get a pass. I’m guessing it’s because you’d never in a million years confuse the two.

Double Down saloon las vegas

No, the Double Down Saloon is no Disneyland. It’s a cave-like space with walls that feature ‘Day of the Dead meets Animal House’ type murals and signs with irreverent declarations like ‘Shut Up and Drink’, among others not fit for print. And if you hear ‘It’s A Small World After All’ being played, it’s being thrashed out by a live punk rock band.

No, the Double Down Saloon isn’t for the faint of heart, but don’t let that scare you for a minute.

While it may sound like a place that’s standoffish, everyone is welcome here, as long as you’re cool. And by cool, I don’t mean in the latest fashions or with a swollen bank account, I just mean down-to-earth and, well, just not a jerk. No, the staff at Double Down treats everyone like a king while they are shaking up cocktails, pouring beer, straining shots, and keeping an eye on the video gambling machines.

None of those things, however, are the reason why this place is the king of Las Vegas dive bars. What makes this place special is that even though it only opened in 1992, it manages to feel like a genuine throwback to Old Vegas. And when I say ‘Old Vegas’, I don’t necessarily mean the Vegas of Sammy, Frank, and the rest of the Rat Pack. I mean Vegas before it became sanitized, Vegas before it became an ‘Approved For All Audiences’ Griswold backdrop, Vegas when it was still a bit rough, and a little bit risky. The owner of the Double Down Saloon is so passionate about keeping this spirit alive, he’s even authored a couple of works of fiction on the subject, and trust me, you’ll feel it surround you the second you walk in.

The Double Down Saloon: go on, roll the dice and check it out, and tell ’em I sent you. Actually, don’t tell them that.

 

 

Photo Credit

This post originally appeared on TravelPulse

 

 

 

 

Travelly Picture: Sunset Over The Danube in Belgrade

When we were in Belgrade, we used to go watch sunsets at this big fort they have there overlooking the river. This is a picture of one of them and a guy.

belgrade travel

You Definitely Oughta Go To Zihuatanejo

 

One of Mexico’s pearls on the Pacific, Zihuatanejo (or ‘Zi-wa’ as many locals affectionately call it) is a chilled-out seaside paradise that still manages to fly a bit under the tourist radar. Well, with one huge notable exception, but we will get to that a little bit later on. I spent a few weeks there once, and ever since, I’ve been telling people they should zoom to Zihuatanejo for themselves. Why did I like it there so much? Well, I came up with six reasons and since the internet likes lists, that works out perfectly.

 

Zihuatanejo travel

The Beaches

Obviously, all coastal locales are going to have some sort of beach, but the quality of the beach can sometimes get called into question. Not in Zihuatanejo, though. All the beaches here are home to powdery stretches and ideal swimming conditions. The town’s main beach, Playa Municipal, is home to a spacious strip of golden sand, along with a daily parade of fishermen and their catch that creates a truly authentic atmosphere. The nearby Playa La Ropa is the most popular beach in town, as it is home to a curvaceous and especially gorgeous stretch of sand set under swaying palms that faces fantastic sunset views.

The most fun-to-reach beach is Playa Las Gatas, which can only be accessed by a budget-friendly local boat, and as a result is an oasis of extra clear and calm water perfect for scuba diving, suntanning, and swimming.

The Laid Back Atmosphere

Zihuatanejo feels different from other Mexican beach resorts from the moment you arrive, and I like that. Cancun, it assuredly is not. Sure, Zihuatanejo has all the benefits of being a resort town, but it still has the relaxed friendliness and personality of a village where everyone knows everyone else and they are willing to help people out. Speaking of that …

 

The People

We arrived in Zihuatanejo on an overnight bus from Mexico City, and we came out of the bus station in an absolute stupor of confusion. We were wandering the streets completely lost, when a local man stopped to help us out of the kindness of his heart. Not only did he know where the hotel we were trying to find was, he knew the owners. He told us to hop in his truck, and he took us over to the hotel. As we exited the truck and said our “gracias”, I knew we were in a special place. This was the rule during my time here, not an exception.

FishinHole

The Fishin’ Hole

Nope, not the local spot where folks reel in live ones, this is a little open-air corner bar in the center of Zihuatanejo, which was my favorite place to grab a drink in town. It’s definitely a dive, but in a really good way, popular among snowbirds and locals alike. The breezy Fishin’ Hole specializes in ice cold beer and margaritas, but they even whip up tasty chargrilled burgers and tacos, too.

Zihuatanejo travel

Barra De Potosi

Not technically in Zihuatanejo proper, but just a short hop down the coast, is a tiny village that feels like it’s stepped back in time. Home to a wide beach and some wild waves, the village is also home to a set of beachside seafood shacks, which serve up the daily fresh catch. And if you get thirsty, you can’t go wrong with a Coco Loco – a coconut filled with a boozy concoction of juices and spirits.

Zihuatanejo

Okay, You Knew This Was Coming: The Shawshank Factor

Confession: I hadn’t seen The Shawshank Redemption when we booked our tickets for Zihuatanejo. I know, I know, it was a crime. It wasn’t long before everyone I knew was telling me about the connection the town has to this iconic movie, and so I just had to watch it and see for myself. While apparently the last scene of the movie wasn’t actually shot here, it doesn’t stop you from posing for a picture on the beach polishing a boat like my boy Eric did, and for the rest of your life you get to tell people you’ve been to Andy & Red’s special place.

Travelly Picture: Batu Caves, Malaysia

When you visit Kuala Lumpur, you are legally required to visit Batu Caves. Well, at least it seems that way anyway. It’s a cool place though, because there’s some steep steps, some mischievous monkeys, and a shrine to a god.  Here’s a picture from the top of the steps of some statue and the metropolis of Kuala Lumpur in the distance.

batu caves

Travelly Picture: Fruit Store on Isla Holbox, Mexico

Isla Holbox is an island off the coast of Mexico that feels more Caribbean than Mexican. Case in point, this colorful store. I may not speak Spanish, but when I saw the sign, I figured we could buy some fruit there. We did, and then we ate it.

isla holbox

You Could Always Go To Romania

Let’s just say you’ve decided to go ahead and come over to Europe. First off, congratulations for making that fabulous decision, you won’t regret a thing, ‘promise. I’d like to take this opportunity to humbly suggest that while you are probably penciling in going to places like Italy, France, England, and Germany, that you could always go to Romania.

Why? Well, Romania is home to much of what most of us come to Europe for in the first place. Medieval towns? Romania has it. Fairytale castles? Romania is rolling in them. Grand capital city? They’ve got you covered. Rich folk culture full of tradition? Definitely. Underrated wine? Oh yeah. Gorgeous mountains? That too. Heck, the Romanians even throw in beaches on the Black Sea.

So why haven’t you heard a lot of this stuff about Romania before? Well, I don’t know the answer to that, but I do know these things about Romania:

romania travel blog

Transylvania is Tremendous

This region is without a doubt the rock star of any Romanian travel experience. Assuming you like storybook medieval towns, enthralling history, and majestic mountains that is. And if you don’t you should probably take a long look in the mirror.

Towns like Brasov, Sighișoara, and Sibiu are all travel-dreams-come-true home to cobbled centers and mountain surrounds. They were all settled by Saxons from Germany, and retain their traditional grandeur in spades. In sleepy Sighișoara, you will find twisty-turny streets and the birthplace of the real Dracula (Vlad ‘The Impaler’ Tepes) all in the shadow of the enchanting clock tower; Brasov stars with an uber-romantic town center and hikes to Mount Tampa that end in priceless views that pair perfectly with local wine at sunset; and Sibiu shines with its stoic town towers and sophisticated feel. You could even stay at this cool place in the mountains like we did.

romania travel blog

Maramures is Authentic with a capital ‘A’

The most mysterious of Romania’s regions, Maramures is cut off from the majority of the country by thick forests, and as a result, centuries-old folk traditions still survive and thrive here. In addition, the region is world famous for being home to steepled, eerily-beautiful wooden churches, with eight of them being deemed UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Bârsana Monastery is a great place to see one, which is also home to a myriad of fascinating murals.

romania travel blog

The Castles Are High Class

Romania is second to none when it comes to castles, with Peles Castle often coming in atop the European castle power rankings. It was built as a playground for the royal family, and still stuns with its German New-Renaissance architecture and sweeping views of the the surrounding Carpathian Mountains.

While Pele’s Castle was more of a summer play house, plenty of castles in Romania were actual fortifications, and one such example is Bran Castle, dubiously dubbed ‘Dracula’s Castle’. There’s no real evidence that Vlad ever really lived here, but it’s still a fun day out. The most underrated may be the Gotch Corvin Castle, home to a large moat and drawbridge, which if you are like me, I used to think all castles had.

Bucharest Buzzes

Not to confused with Hungarian capital of Budapest – even though tons of people do, including infamously Michael Jackson at a concert – Bucharest is home to grand boulevards, flowing fountains, and a fascinating albeit turbulent-at-times history. Much of its design was based on Paris, and it still shows.

romania travel blog

The Transfagarasan is Entrancing

I honestly don’t know how this road isn’t a household name. Just one glance at the twists and turns in any image of the Transfagarasan Highway shows how special this motorway is. Regarded by many as the ‘best drive in the world’, a trip down the Transfagarasan isn’t solely about twists and turns, as it also offers a portal to Romania’s diverse wildlife and village life.

 

Photo Credits: 1,2,3

This post originally appeared on TravelPulse