Zagreb: Capital of Croatia and place to catch some zzz’s

After leaving Split, my friend and I decided to stay a couple of days in Zagreb. We needed to fly out of the Zagreb airport and decided to take the time to see the capital city while we were passing through. We really did not know much about the city and came there with no expectations. Below are some suggestions on what to do, what to buy, what to eat, where to stay, and how to get around based on our experience.

Things to Do:

St. Mark’s Church. This church has a distinctive tiled roof that is worth taking a peek at. The church is located near other sites so a visit to this place is not out of the way. We stopped here to take pictures. The church was not open when we visited so I am not sure what the inside looks like. Plan to spend 15 minutes here to take pictures.

Museum of Broken Relationships. The title of this museum sounds crazy and depressing, but this unique museum is actually worth a tour. It is located in a small space so there is a limit to the number of visitors at any time. When we stopped by, we there was a wait so we got a ticket with a time to come back. We had to wait about 30-40 minutes, and during that time we walked around outside and came back. The exhibits are in English, and the museum also offers companion guide books in multiple languages. All museum items are donated along with stories about the break up of a relationship. Some of the stories are funny. Some are thoughtful. Some are sad. In general, this museum is an interesting concept and set up. Plan to spend about 45 minutes going through the whole space.

Croatian Museum of Naïve Art. This small museum features works by Naïve artists from Croatia. It is another interesting concept and displays some great works. The space is very small so it does not take too long to go through the whole thing. It is located across the street from the Museum of Broken Relationship so we were able to do both at the same time. Plan to spend about 45 minutes here.

Shopping:

I did not do a lot of shopping in Zagreb, but there were some items that I kept seeing in gift shops. One is the necktie. Croatia is where the tie was supposedly invented so this is something the city is proud of and touts as a souvenir. For those who wear ties or need a gift for someone who wears ties, this could be a good option. Although I am not sure that the ties here are of high enough quality or uniqueness to be a good gift. The other item that Croatia is proud to tout is the Licitar Heart. This is a heart shaped cake that is painted bright red and decorated with sugars. I am not sure if this would last well enough to bring back, but I did not really investigate these too much. I think the best things to bring back from here might be food items that will travel okay, such as local olive oils, chocolates, etc.

What to Eat:

We did not really hear much about must try dishes so we did not seek out any particular foods, but we did try to go to a couple of restaurants that served local cuisine and asked for recommendations. We enjoyed Otto & Frank, which is a good restaurant to try local fare. It has a specials menu that changes daily and when we went we both tried different specials recommended by our server. This restaurant is located in the upper and lower towns area, where a lot of other restaurants and bars are located.

Where to Stay:

We stayed in an Airbnb near Slavonska station. There were lots of good deals for this city so finding a place should not be a problem. This area was safe and close to grocery stores, cafes, and a couple of restaurants. It was also close to a tram stop so it was easy to get around to the city center and to the bus station.

Getting Around:

We arrived to Zagreb by bus from Split. The bus ride was about 5.5 hours. We chose to travel by bus because trains were not an option, and this was cheaper than flying. There are a number of local bus companies that make this trip throughout the day. The bus station in Zagreb is located across from a tram stop so it was easy to get to our Airbnb. The public transport is linked to Google maps, which also makes it easy to get directions. Travelers can buy single trip tickets at newsstand kiosks located in the bus station complex. Tickets must be validated on the trams. Like most European systems, Zagreb public transport is a bit of an honor system. Tickets are not needed to board but getting caught will come with a fine. It is better to buy tickets just in case since ticket inspections are random. When traveling within the city use the trams, walk, or bike (a lot of locals bike to get around, and our Airbnb did have bicycles for us to use). Since we were staying close to a tram stop, we chose to mostly take the tram or walk. When we left Zagreb, we departed by plane to fly to Greece. To get to the airport, we took the airport bus, which picks travelers up at the central bus station and drops them off at the airport. The ride takes about half an hour.

Overall, Zagreb was a cute and relaxed city. It might not be somewhere I would recommend going out of the way for, but I would recommend stopping by here if passing through or near it. The highlights can probably be seen in a day but plan to stay longer if taking some day trips outside of the city. We were here in August and it was not too crowded, but it was very hot. For travelers coming here in the summer, get a place with air conditioning. This city is probably best suited for travelers looking to see a cute town and to get away from the bustle and tourists of the busier coastal towns.

 

Mostar: A bridge to Bosnia and Herzegovina

While staying in Split, I took a day trip to Mostar through a guided tour. I was curious to learn more about Bosnia and Herzegovina and could not resist popping over to another country. Below is a description of what the city has to offer.

Things to Do:

Old City of Mostar. This historic part of Mostar has architecture that is heavily influenced by the Ottoman Empire. Although much of this town was destroyed during the Bosnian war, it has since been rebuilt in the original image. This part of town houses the famous bridge, lots of shops and stalls, and cafes. As part of the group tour I took, a local guide walked our group through the Old City and provided information on the city’s history. This guide was very informative and helpful. Although the Old City is small and easy to navigate, taking a guided tour is definitely worth the money. Getting to hear about this city’s past and present from a local is very important. Plan to spend about an hour with a guide.

Stari Most. This iconic bridge is one of the most recognizable landmarks in the country. It is a must see structure originally built as part of the Ottoman Empire. It was destroyed during the Bosnian War and later rebuilt as similar as possible to the original. There is a lot of history behind this bridge, which today is intended to inspire hope. Visitors can get great views of this bridge from the nearby riverbanks. When crossing the bridge, be prepared for the slippery surface. Try to wear shoes with good grips because the steepness and slipperiness will lead to lots of sliding and potential falls. I was wearing sandals with no tread, but luckily I did not fall or slip too much. Although I did not see this on my visit, locals and tourists can jump off the bridge. For those interested in doing so, training and a small fee is required. Locals might also be convinced to jump if there is a large enough crowd willing to pay them.

Biscevic House. This house has been preserved as an example of a Turkish house in the Ottoman Empire. Visiting this site was part of the guided tour. Otherwise, I am not sure I would have stumbled across this on my own. The house has an interesting courtyard and architecture and is worth a stop. The workers provide some information and visitors are able to walk through the house. Plan to spend about 30 minutes here.

War Photo Exhibition. This is something I did not do, but later wish I had sought out. At the time of my visit, our tour guide (who was very good) wanted to educate us about more than the Bosnian War. He was saddened that Mostar was now a tourist spot mainly to hear about the war when before it had been a tourist spot for its other rich history. So while I did see and hear a lot about the war, I tried to see other things beyond the war. And although I do think it is important to seek out other things not affiliated with the war, I would recommend still stopping at this exhibit. This exhibit is supposed to be small but powerful and is located in one of the bridge towers. Visitors should be able to go through this exhibit and still have plenty of time to see other things.

Shopping:

The Old City has its own version of a Turkish bazaar so lots of stalls and shops packed together and lots of trinkets on sale. A lot of the items are the usual tourist things that can be found in most tourist areas and a lot of overlap with what is found in Turkey. For those travelers with no plans to visit Turkey, buying ceramics and rugs might be of interest. For those travelers looking for something more unique to this country, I would recommend looking at the copperware and local art. There are lots of copper items for sale in this city, including beautifully crafted and adorned trays, coffee sets, and jewelry. Any of these items would make great gifts or souvenirs. For me, the trays might make the best purchase because they will likely be used more and can make a nice centerpiece. There are also some nice pieces of art, many featuring the bridge, that would make great souvenirs as well.

What to Eat:

Since I was only here on a day trip, I only had one meal here. But the food that I saw being served is very reminiscent of Turkish food. For my meal, I ate cevapi, which is small sausages served in a flat bread. This is a simple meal that is tasty and filling. There are lots of cafes around the Old City so just look for one with an open table and a good view.

The other thing to try here is Bosnian coffee. Although locals do not like to have it compared to Turkish coffee, it tastes very similar. The difference is really in the preparation and not the taste. The other difference is in how it is served. Instead of being served in the cup, it is served in the vessel it is cooked in. Customers pour the coffee themselves. To add sugar, put the cube in the cup before pouring and let the hot coffee dissolve it.

Where to Stay:

I did not stay here overnight so I do not know too much about the accommodations here. But I did see a lot of hotels located on the streets leading up to the Old City. These hotels were obviously within walking distance of the Old City and looked to be in good condition. And I heard the prices are cheap.

Getting Around:

I arrived to and departed from Mostar on a tour bus from Split. The drive between the two cities is about 2.5 hours. I chose to come on a tour bus because this was the most economical choice that did not require me to rent a car or do much planning. The meeting point for the start of the tour was in a central location near the pier in Split so I was able to walk there from my Airbnb. The meeting point for the end of the tour was at a gas station in Mostar that was about a five minute walk outside of the Old City. As mentioned above, Mostar is a smaller city so it is walkable, and the guided tour was a walking tour.

Overall, I found Mostar to be a charming city full of history. My short trip here was a great introduction to Bosnia and Herzegovina and made me interested in seeing more of the country. This country had not previously been high on my travel list, but if I were to return to this part of Europe I would definitely travel in this country more extensively. I highly recommend travelers to take a day trip tour to Mostar from Croatia. These group tours depart from Split and Dubrovnik and include stops in Pocitelj (a small village in Bosnia and Herzegovina) on the way to Mostar and in Kravice waterfalls (where visitors can cool off with a swim) on the way back to Croatia. I visited Mostar in August, and it was very warm. There were quite a few tour groups here, but the group I went in was about 15 people so not too large. This trip is for travelers interested in learning about the culture and history of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

 

Split now for the Dalmatian Coast

After spending several weeks staying in cities, my friend and I were ready to relax by the beach so we headed to Split in Croatia. Split is the new hot spot for Mediterranean beaches and was becoming very popular at the time of our visit. We headed this way hoping to still be able to find some great deals. Below are the things we found to do, buy, and eat and where to stay and how to get there.

Things to Do:

Beaches. There are several beaches around Split, but the one popular with tourists and a younger crowd is Bacvice Beach. This is the one we went to as it was also the closest one to where we were staying. It was crowded, but we could always find a spot to place our towels. On the days we arrived before noon, we were able to find lounge chairs and umbrellas to rent. We paid a set price to rent chairs for the day so getting there earlier allowed us to make the most of our money anyways. There are nearby bars, public bathrooms, and cafes. Beach goers can basically get anything they might need nearby, although they should avoid buying towels here. The ones sold in town are four times cheaper. We had forgotten ours and had to pay the high prices here. There is not much actual beach left here, but the water is nice and the location is convenient. This is not a beach for snorkeling or surfing. This is a beach for sunbathing and swimming or floating in the water.

Island hopping. The best thing to do in Split is take boat tours to the different islands. Tour companies have booths lined up all along the main waterfront. Prices and packages are pretty similar across the companies although there might be some slight differences in destinations. The main difference will likely be in the boat. We did the blue cave and six island tour, which is one of the more popular tours. Unfortunately, the day we went the cave was closed because the water was too choppy so the company substituted with other sites and provided us with some money back (the fee for the cave). The company also gave us the opportunity to re-book before the tour started. Tours will know about any closures the morning of. Unfortunately, tours were also boycotting the green cave when we were there so no one was going to that one. We could not re-book for another day so we ended up going on the modified tour, and it was great. We booked our tour through the company with the fastest boat (so ask around to find this one). The captains for this tour were great drivers and kept everyone entertained. Everyone on the tour had a blast going so fast. We all got splashed with water from the huge waves created by our boat and others. And parts of the ride felt a bit like a roller coaster. I would highly recommend seeking out this company for the six island tour. We also took a three island tour that included the blue lagoon and Hvar. This was different islands than the ones for the six island tour. We booked this tour through a different company that also had a booth on the pier. The boat for this tour is not a speed boat but more of a party boat that sold beer and other drinks and had an upper deck that allowed people to lay out and get sun. However, there was only limited space up top so we needed to board first to get a spot. This was another great tour with stunning sights. Both of the tours were full day packages, and both were highlights of our trip.

Hvar. We went to this island as part of the three island tour and spent a couple of hours here, but we could have easily come here and spent the day. Boats come to and from here multiple times a day so visitors can easily make a day trip here. This is one of the larger and more developed islands that has hiking, shopping, restaurants, and bars.

Diocletian’s Palace. These are ancient Roman ruins located in the city center. They are surrounded by lots of the restaurants and shops. These are not the most impressive ruins, especially in comparison to Italy and Greece, but still worth a look around since they are in a central location and not out of the way. There is also the option to take a walking tour of these ruins. However, we opted not to take one. We also opted not to wait in line to climb up the bell tower. We knew we were going to see lots of ruins and better ones in other countries. For those not planning to visit more ruins, it may be worthwhile to take a tour and to pay to go up the tower. Plan to spend 30-45 minutes just walking around.

Shopping:

For me, beach towns are not really the place to shop for gifts and souvenirs. The extent of my shopping in these places is usually for vacation items that may need replaced or were forgotten, such as flip flops, towels, swimsuits. There are lots of shops in Split. And popular items on sale included wooden toys and art and lavender. As I have said in a previous post, I do not find wooden toys to be a particularly useful gift. Lavender items could be appreciated as a gift to those who like the scent.

What to Eat:

While there are not necessarily must eat dishes in Split, we did find a few standout places to eat. The best quick and cheap place to eat is Sexy Cow. This place has great wraps and some of the best fries. It also has shakes and homemade lemonade. I recommend splitting a wrap with someone and getting your own fries. The best place for breakfast/brunch is Bepa!. This place serves tasty and healthy breakfast foods as well as homemade drinks. It also has a nice selection of salads and is located in the city center. I ate here a couple of times before going to the beaches. Normally, I do not worry about eating healthy but being at the beach and being in a bikini everyday does inspire the desire for some slimmer lunch options. Upcafe has a good selection of vegetarian and vegan dishes. The cheese burrito here was my favorite. It also serves espresso and coffee drinks. And of course, seafood is very good here and a great dinner option. There are many seafood restaurants that range from mid level to very pricey. We ate at a couple of mid level priced places and were not disappointed. The seafood was always fresh and well cooked.

As mentioned in previous posts, I also enjoy trying local wines. Paradox Wine and Cheese Bar has a great selection of Croatian wines, meats, and cheeses. This bar offers glasses of wine at a reasonable price and even offers half glasses, which allows visitors to taste even more varieties. It also offers mixed boards so visitors can try a variety of meats and cheeses. Try to grab a seat upstairs for better views.

Split has a lot of bars as well, but there were a couple that stood out. The Academia Ghetto Club is one that has a relaxed and bohemian vibe. It is located inside the ruins and has an open feeling. Be careful though because it is difficult to find. We got lost going there and leaving, and we were not the only ones! Sanctuary is more of a traditional cocktail and beer pub. It looks more like a sports bar minus the sports, but this is a good place to go to get good deals on drinks. And the deals do bring in the crowds. The crowd here is younger but not too young, and the vibe is relaxed. We came here a couple of times.

Where to Stay:

We chose to stay in an Airbnb, which was cheaper than the hotels. Unfortunately, we did not book until a couple of weeks before our stay, and many of the Airbnbs were booked. This place is very popular in the summer so book early. Our place was about a 25 minute walk to the the historic part of town and about a 40 minute walk to the closest beach. I would recommend staying within walking distance to the historic part of town (close to the pier and Diocletian’s palace). Otherwise, a car will be needed to get around. The historic center will be in walking distance to the pier, beaches, restaurants and bars.

Getting Around:

We arrived to Split from Budapest by bus (staying a night in Zagreb to break up the trip). The direct bus from Budapest to Zagreb is about 5 hours and from Zagreb to Split is another 5 hours. We chose to take a bus because there are no trains that stop in Split, and we did not book in time to get a good deal on a flight. The Split bus station is located near the pier. And there is an area nearby for taxi or Uber pickups. There are local buses, but they do not run everywhere and are not linked to Google maps. We chose to walk most places, and when we could not walk we took an Uber. To get to the islands we booked boat tours at the booths on the pier, and meeting points for the tours were also located on the pier. When we departed Split for Zagreb, we again took a bus. There are several companies that run multiple buses a day between the two cities, and prices are very cheap. The bus station in Split is very small and there is not a main board for bus information, but the buses are all lined up outside. We looked for our bus company among the buses and then asked the driver to confirm which one was our bus.

Overall, we really enjoyed our time in Split. However, it was not quite as cheap as we had hoped it would be. As the new hot spot it was definitely crowded, and the prices reflected the popularity. We were here in August so we enjoyed great beach weather, but this was also probably one of the more popular times to go. This is a good place to go for travelers who want to be near the Mediterranean but do not want to pay the higher prices of private islands and countries on the Euro.

Budapest really is the best

After visiting Prague, my friend and I traveled to Budapest for a week. We wanted to continue our journey through affordable cities in Central Europe, and we really wanted to try the thermal baths. During our time here, we really fell in love with the city and all it had to offer. Below are highlights on where to go, where to shop, what to eat, where to stay, and how to get around.

Things to do:

Hungarian Parliament Building. This iconic building in Budapest is very beautiful and an impressive structure. It is definitely picture worthy, and we took a lot of pics. We also took a guided tour of the inside. Tickets for these tours are sold onsite but only for the day of, and they do sell out. It is better to book tickets ahead of time online. I personally thought the tour was good but a little pricey. However, this should not discourage visitors who are really interested in learning more about the building and want to take a peek inside. There are some beautiful rooms inside that will make it worthwhile for those with a real interest. For those who are less interested, it might not be worth the price. Taking pictures of the outside is free, and the outside is the real showstopper. If visitors are taking the tour, plan to spend about 45 minutes here.

Buda Castle Hill. This complex has multiple sights including the Buda Castle. Visitors can explore the castle grounds and get some good views of Pest for free. The inside of the castle has been turned into a couple of museums. We did not go into these so I cannot rate them. But this is a must visit place even if skipping the museums. There are a couple of restaurants on the castle grounds and some vendors as well. However, I recommend not eating by the castle as there are better choices on the hill. To get to the top of the hill, visitors can climb or take a funicular railway. I would recommend taking the railway up to get some cool views and then walking back down. While visitors can tour the grounds on their own (and this is what we opted to do), it may be worth the money to take a guided tour, which will likely include more than just the castle grounds but the church and bastion as well. There were tour guides waiting by the funicular railway that were offering free tours (basically pay what you can as a tip). Plan to spend 1 hour just exploring the grounds.

Matthias Church. This church is located on Castle Hill. It has unique architecture and a colorful tiled roof. It is very pretty and a worthwhile sight. Visitors can also pay to go inside. We opted to skip this and just admire the outside. By the time we got here we had already seen a number of churches and knew there was going to be more on our trip. But the inside is supposed to be pretty so it might be worthwhile for others that have a real interest in churches.

Fisherman’s Bastion. This terrace is another stunning example of architecture with great views. It overlooks the Danube and is located in front of Matthias Church. We took some great pictures here. I would recommend grabbing a seat at the café on the terrace and enjoying a drink while looking at the view.

Margaret Island. This small island is located on the Danube between Buda and Pest. It is a great place to spend an afternoon outdoors. There are lots of pedestrian pathways to walk, a musical fountain, several gardens, a small petting zoo, ruins of a convent, a water tower that can be climbed, a spa, bars, and restaurants. In the summer people come here to lay out and get some sun. This is a very relaxed island, and we really enjoyed our time here. We explored the whole island and even payed the small fee to climb to the top of the water tower. Although there are restaurants and bars here, the options are limited so it might be better for visitors to bring their own light meal or snacks to enjoy on the grounds. Plan to spend 2-4 hours here.

Gellert Hill. The top of this hill offers great views of the Buda side. Getting to the top requires a short hike. My only advice is to bring water. We were definitely thirsty when we got to the top. There is a cart selling drinks at the top, but the prices are four times the amount from the store so bring water and a snack purchased beforehand. Also, try to go around sunset. We were able to see the sun set from here, and the buildings light up, which was really pretty. Plan to spend 2 hours to get up and down and enjoy the view.

Heroes’ Square. This square features important Magyar Chieftains and Hungarian national leaders as well as the tomb of the Unknown Soldier. There are also a couple of galleries on either side as well. We did not visit either of these galleries so I cannot rate them, but it might be worth a stop in one of them when going out here. The walk to get here is pretty, but there will definitely be a lot of tour groups here taking pictures. While I enjoyed taking a long stroll to get here and looking at the sites on the way, this square may not be a must see for those not planning to go to the galleries.

Budapest River Cruise. This was one of our favorite activities here. Taking a cruise of the Danube river at sunset allowed us to take some great pictures and see some breathtaking views. And we were able to see the city lit up at night. This company offers regular cruises, wine cruises, cocktail cruises, and dinner cruises. We opted for the wine cruise and had a great time. The wine was local, delicious and plentiful. This company has representatives downtown that can provide visitors with more information, which is how we found it. They also have a website where visitors can book online. The cruises run about 2 hours.

Turkish Baths. Budapest has access to a lot of thermal waters so there are a lot of baths and spas spread throughout the city. To get the best experience, try a couple of different ones. We went to Gellert Spa, which is one of the bigger and more popular ones. It costs a little more, but it is a larger complex so go ahead and buy a day pass. There is an outdoor pool and sunbathing area, an indoor pool, and several thermal pools. Visitors can rent towels there, but it is better to bring one. For those traveling in a mixed group, cabins can be rented to share. Otherwise, there are separate lockers for men and women, and mixed groups can meet up outside of the lockers. The pools and baths here are all mixed. We also went to a smaller bath, Kiraly Thermal Baths, close to where we were staying. It was cheaper, and we really liked this one as well. It had several thermal pools of different temperatures and a couple of sauna rooms. The main thing to know before going to any bath is whether it is mixed or for males only or females only. Also, remember to bring a towel and swimsuit. Some baths require a hat for people with long hair so be sure to bring a band to tie hair up as well.

Shopping:

Vaci Street and the Great Market Hall are the places to go for traditional Hungarian souvenirs. One item sold everywhere is hand painted eggs. These are an Easter tradition in Hungary but are sold year round. They could also be used as ornaments at Christmas time. Another popular item is paprika. For those who enjoy cooking or know someone who enjoys cooking, this is a great gift. Hungary is known for this spice, and it is used in many local dishes. It is sold in different variations and often in a cute pouch with a small wooden scoop. A third popular item is wooden secret boxes. These are sold in different sizes and are hand painted in different colors. The secret is in the way to open them, which will be shown by the seller. This would make another great gift or souvenir.

What to Eat:

Chicken paprika is one of the recommended local dishes that can be found in most traditional Hungarian restaurants. This dish is chicken in a paprika cream sauce served with noodles. It is hardy and not spicy. Langos is another popular dish. This is fried dough served with garlic butter, sour cream, and/or cheese. There is a restaurant devoted solely to Langos. But these can also be found as street food near parks. Chimney cake is a popular dessert that is served warm and dusted with sugar or cinnamon. These can be found as street food as well.

For drinks, go to a ruin pub. These pubs are known for their unique decor and fun experience. Most of them are located near the Jewish Quarter. The largest and most famous one is Szimpla Kert. We came here a couple of different nights. This pub is an amalgamation of several bars (including beer, wine, and cocktail bars) put together with a large covered outdoor seating area. This place gets crowded so be prepared to stand and hover near seating. Do not be afraid to grab empty seats at a partially filled table. Just sit down and make new friends, which is what we did. This place is also open during the day, and there is a farmer’s market on the weekends, although we never made it here for that so I cannot rate it. At night there is also a lot nearby that houses multiple food trucks with lots of tasty street food for late night snacks.

Where to Stay:

Budapest has a lot of Airbnbs that are cheaper than hotels. However, Airbnbs do fill up here. We waited to book a week before our stay and most of the places were taken (although we later found out that our visit overlapped with an international swim competition and a large formula one event). We ended up staying in a cute apartment on the Pest side of the river close to the river. From here, we were able to walk across the bridge to get to Margaret Island and to the Buda side. And we were close to the sites on the Pest side. I would definitely recommend staying in this area.

Getting Around:

We arrived to Budapest by bus from Prague, which took about 7.5 hours with no transfers. We took the bus because there were less train options and the amount of time for the journey was the same for both. For those able to plan ahead and get a good deal on tickets, a flight will save a lot of time. The bus station is within walking distance of public transportation. And public transportation is linked to Google maps. There might be discrepancies in the Google maps route, however, if there is construction work or reroutes. We ran into this problem once and ended up having to get off the bus at a random stop and grab a taxi to get back to where we wanted to go. Double check routes before leaving. Tickets for public transportation can be bought in metro stations. These can be used on the buses and trams as well. Like most European countries, the public transportation is a bit on the honor system. Tickets are not needed to board public transport, but those caught without tickets by plain clothed inspectors will be fined. We did actually get our tickets checked once here so it was good that we had them. Tickets must be validated before boarding and kept until they expire. While in the city, we mostly walked and used public buses. We did take taxis a few times in the evenings but found that the rates varied with some of the drivers being less honest. So try to avoid taking taxis if possible. When we departed Budapest, we again took a bus, and we took public transportation to get to the station.

Overall:

I was very impressed with the beauty of Budapest. The architecture and green spaces were really nice. The prices were really good as well. There was a lot to do so I would recommend spending 3-4 days here at minimum. We visited at the end of July, beginning of August. There were some hot days, but there were ways to cool off in the pools and baths so it was still a nice time to visit. Despite all the events happening in the city that brought in tourists, it did not feel too crowded. This city is great for people who want to visit Europe but also want to stretch their dollar a little further and who are interested in stylish architecture.

Additional Tip:

I usually try to read a book about the places I am visiting before I go, but with this fast paced journey across Europe I did not have time to read a book about every country I stopped in (12 countries in 4 months!). And for some of the countries, I ended up going back and reading books about them after my visit. For Budapest, I ended up reading The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer. This epic novel takes place in both Paris and Budapest (it would make a great read for either city) and follows the journey of one young man and his family during the years leading up to WWII and during the war. This novel is long so it will take some time to read, but it is gripping. It sheds light on the experiences of Hungarian Jews, which has been told less than others. Although it does not reflect the current culture of Hungary, it sheds some light on some of the darker aspects of its history and is worth a read.

Vienna: Capital of Austria and home of “The Kiss”

While visiting Prague, I decided to take a solo overnight trip to Vienna. This is about a four hour train ride or a five hour bus ride away. I could not resist popping over to see this rich capital city with its history of art and culture. And I was especially excited to see the works by Klimt. Although I was only there for about a day and a half, I was able to pack in a lot. I was also able to get some good recommendations from a friend that has been living there for a couple of years. Below are my insights on what to do, what to buy, what eat, where to stay, and how to get around.

Things to Do:

Historic Center of Vienna. Vienna has some great examples of Gothic and Baroque architecture. Stroll around downtown and view the gorgeous buildings, including St. Stephen’s Cathedral, Vienna State Opera, Imperial Palace, and St. Charles ‘s Church. I walked around on my own and had a chance to really take in the beauty of the architecture. If I had more time, however, I might have tried to join a walking tour to get some more historical information about the city and buildings.

MuseumsQuartier Wein. This complex located in the historic center houses several museums, theaters, and creative spaces. Visitors can buy tickets for individual museums or combo tickets to see more than one museum. When I visited I only had time to go to one so I chose the Leopold Museum. This one holds masterpieces by Viennese and Austrian artists, including the largest Egon Schiele collection and Gustav Klimt’s “Death and Life.” This museum is an absolute must see for art lovers. Plan to spend 2 hours for the Leopold Museum.

Belvedere Museum. This complex is composed of two former summer palaces. Today they house famous Austrian art. Visitors can buy a combo ticket to see both the Upper and Lower Belvedere or can buy a ticket to the individual museums. For those short on time, like I was, choose the Upper Belvedere. This museum  houses the permanent collection, including Gustav Klimt’s “The Kiss.” It has the largest Klimt collection and is another must see for art lovers. Seeing Klimt’s work in person is unbelievable. Plan to spend 2 hours for the upper museum.

Schonbrunn Palace. This is the former imperial summer residence and one of the country’s must see palaces. It is surrounded by beautiful parks and gardens, which are free to enter. Walking through these gardens feels like walking through a Jane Austen novel. I really appreciated the beauty of this place. This is a great way to spend a couple of hours. Bring a book and find a shaded spot to read while relaxing after walking the expansive grounds. Visitors can also pay to take a guided tour of the inside of the palace. I did not do this so I cannot recommend it, but it is probably worthwhile for those interested in learning more about palace’s inhabitants and seeing the decorated rooms. Plan to spend 1-2 hours exploring the grounds and 30-60 minutes if taking a guided tour of the inside.

Mozarthaus. This is one of Mozart’s former residences and is located in the historic center. The inside has been stripped down and replaced with some replica furniture and installments about Mozart’s life. An audio guide takes visitors through the house and teaches them about Mozart’s history and time in the house. The tour is informative and well laid out, but I would not recommend taking it for the price. I was disappointed with what was on offer here. Visitors probably learn just as much about Mozart on wikipedia or through a book. The house itself has been lived in and redone since Mozart’s stay, and most of the stuff in here is popular items from around that time. There is not a lot of authentic items that belonged to Mozart. Instead, I would recommend taking a picture of the outside of the house and skipping the inside. For those who do decide to take the tour, plan to spend an hour.

Vienna State Opera House. This beautiful opera house puts on a lot of productions by the opera, ballet, and philharmonic companies. Unfortunately, it was closed for the season when I went to visit. Otherwise, I would have loved to see a production in this building. For those who are visiting when it is in season, I would definitely recommend splurging to see a performance. I think it would definitely be a memorable experience.

Shopping:

My trip here was short so unfortunately I did not have a lot of time to do shopping, but I still found a way to buy a souvenir. The one thing visitors will find everywhere is Klimt related paraphernalia. Vienna is proud of this prominent Austrian painter. His work has been reprinted on everything (mugs, t-shirts, umbrellas, bags, etc.). However, I think some of the best reprints can be found in the museum gift shops. Buy a postcard or small print at the Belvedere gift shop to serve as a reminder of his gorgeous works.

What to Eat:

When in Vienna, stop by one of the many coffee houses and try a Viennese coffee which includes ice cream and is very delicious. One of the cafes I particularly enjoyed was Cafe Savoy. This cafe has a very decadent interior and a variety of delicious sweets to choose from. Pair a cake with a glass of wine and relax.

When in Vienna, also try a Viennese sausage. Sausage stands can be found all over the city and provide a range of sausages that they put in rolls with mustard. These are a great snack to eat on the go while walking around. The Bitzinger stand by the Albertina is recommended by locals as being the best. This is the one I ate at, and it was very good.

Other dishes to try include goulash, schnitzel, and strudel. These staples are regional and can be found in nearby countries as well (Czech Republic, Hungary, and Germany). For something more unique to Vienna, try the Sacher Torte at Cafe Sacher. This is another dessert that locals will recommend as a must eat.

Where to Stay:

For this trip I stayed in a hotel in the historic center area, and I would recommend this to others. There are several reasonably priced hotels here, and many of the sites are within walking distance of this area. There is also good public transportation in this area, which makes it easy to get to the hotels and to get to the couple of sites that are further away.

Getting Around:

I arrived to and departed from Vienna by bus (coming from and returning to Prague). This was a five hour trip with no transfers. However, if I had planned better I might have taken the train to save an hour. By the time I booked all of the economy train tickets were gone so there was a large difference in price between bus and train that made the extra hour negligible. The Vienna bus station is located near public transportation so getting downtown from there is not difficult. Google maps is linked to the city’s transport system, which makes navigation easier. There is also the option to buy day passes and multi-day passes along with single trip tickets. The prices for public transportation here, however, are higher in price in comparison to other countries. So staying somewhere that allows walking is best. If taking public transportation is necessary, purchase tickets at the metro stations and validate before getting on the subway. Keep tickets on hand until they expire. Like most European countries, the public transportation system here is a bit of an honor system. People could get on public transport with no ticket but getting caught will incur large fines. Being a tourist who does not understand the system is not an excuse that is accepted. Buy and use the tickets.

Overall, I found Vienna to be just as rich in artistic and architectural history as expected. This city definitely lives up to its reputation. Visitors should plan to spend 2-3 days here at the minimum to see the highlights. This city is on the more expensive side for Central Europe but worth it. I visited in July. The weather was great, and it was not too crowded. However, I think visiting the end of November through December would also be worthwhile. Vienna is supposed to have one of the top Christmas markets so getting to see that would be nice. Also, the Vienna State Opera House should be open then too. This city will appeal to travelers looking for an artistic and cultural experience.