Sunday, August 29, 2010

Hungarian Thermal Baths

Budapest has some of the world's finest Turkish baths! Our weary traveling muscles were due some TLC so we headed to the bubbly baths for fun.We grabbed our suits and went to Szechenyi Spa, the largest of the thermal spas in Budapest. Lucky for us it was a warm, blue sky day. The Spa complex was a vast complex of indoor and outdoor pools, saunas and steamrooms.Knowing how to move through the processes and facility is a trick in itself. We managed to rent a family changing room, using magnetic bracelets to lock and unlock the doors. It was a pretty tight fit so we got ready as quickly as we could.COME ON MOM AND DAD! I am ready to go swimming!The thermal baths awaited us!I thought about leaving my camera in the changing room but when I saw this scene I was glad I hadn't. The collection of plump round men in their too-small suits drinking and playing chess just made me laugh! Have you ever?!?
The twisty whirlpool in the middle was a treat. As soon as you got close it sucked you in and around kind of like a waterslide does. We had a blast in the warm waters.

We also went to brunch at the Hotel Gellert, another home to famous thermal baths.
We didn't don our suits at this spa, rather we indulged in an opulant brunch. The food was delicious and hit the spot! The cloth napkin elegance of the place was a welcome change from our hotel floor picnics.
Don't forget your bathingsuit if you travel to Budapest. Getting pruny and waterlogged at the Budapest thermal spas is a tourist must.

Urban Vibe in Budapest

Budapest was an interesting last adventure rounding out our month of European travel. We saw and did a lot, but at the same time the Iceland volcano grounded flights all over Europe. Not knowing if our flight back to Belgium and later trip to the USA would be impacted, it was difficult for me to focus. The back of my mind kept racing about our travel plans. And everywhere we went we were surrounded by stranded travelers frantically trying to amend their arrangements. No one knew when the volcano would end nor when flights would resume and that uncertainty had us all a little on edge.

Not surprisingly Kirk was much better than me at remaining calm, cool and collected! He took advantage of every moment to wander this amazing city. I was glued to CNN trying to predict our circumstances and chances for getting out!Kirk's walking tour took him to the famous Budapest Parliament and down the Vaci Utca, the Budapest equivalent of Fifth Avenue with high end shopping and fine dining.He found this Gerbeaud Bakery and brought back the most delicious pastries to his napping ladies (us) back at the hotel.We went into some incredible churches in Budapest. Just when I think I have seen it all another church with another display of faith and witness to God's love appears. It still takes my breath away!These photos were from Saint Stephen's Basilica whose landmark dome you can see from all over the city.But of coure, more candles!The Matthias Church on the Pest part of Castle Hill has magnificent roof detail. Budapest's "Great Synagogue" is Europe's largest with a seating capacity of 3,000. Outside the Great Synagogue was a metal tree monument whose willows contained thousands of leaves remembering the Hungarian Jews who perished in the Holocaust.

Budapest has an urban depth and vibe we were happy to be a part of - even if it was amidst the volcano uncertainty!

Settling in to Hungary - the Danube Bend

Upon entering Hungary we stopped at Lake Balaton for some sunshine and fresh air. The Balaton Pier was fun. I could tell how in warmer weather it is definitely the place to be. Affectionately called the "Hungarian Sea," Lake Balaton is the largest lake in Central Europe.From there we settled in to our Budapest hotel and immediately headed right back out of town the next morning. What can I say, we were a family on the go!?! Now I know why Connor just can't sit still. Look at her parents and the example we provided through our manic travel pace!The "Danube Bend," a string of riverside towns just north of Budapest, is a popular destination for both Hungarians and international travelers. This first stop was in the charming town of Szentendre. We arrived just as shops were opening and before the busloads of tourists. It was clear this was a "tourist town" with all the souvenir stock dotting the quaint cobblestone streets.I fell for these plush nativity ornaments. They were perfectly authentic and sweet. A little bit of Szentendre will decorate our Christmas tree this year forward.Toodling down the Danube we soon reached the town of Visegrad and explored the Visegrad Castle high up on a hill. The views from above were beautiful.The castle was pretty touristy, but we had fun nevertheless. We each took our turn in lock-up!Esztergom was the final stop on our tour of the Danube Bend. This town was a previous capital of Hungary and the seat of the Roman Catholic Church in Hungary.The Esztergom Basilica is the largest church in Hungary. Mighty impressive. We took it all in and of course had to light candles inside!The Danube Bend made for a low key day with "high key" sites. From here we went back to Budapest for a more urban beat. Yet the country air nourished our weary traveling bones and spirit.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Postojna Caves and Ljubljana

The next Slovenian adventure took us deep down underground and into the Postojna caves. This cave system is the biggest and most beautiful in the world. During the 1 hour tour we were able to explore 5 km of stalactites and stalagmites. I have never seen anyting quite like it. Have you?!? These caves were created by the Pivka River and discovered in 1818. It quickly became a top tourist destination in Slovenia. They added electricity and electric trains which helped scoot us in and out of the cave.
Once inside we got out of the train and divided into language groups. This was the first such grouping where "English" was the minority and by far the smallest group. It made me a little nervous to be so far underground with so few English-speakers but whatever...
We walked briskly with our tour the 2 km along the path. I was nervous that Connor might freak out at the caves or become clastrophobic - or that she wouldn't be able to walk the 2 km (we had no stroller) or she would announce to all she needed to go potty in the middle of it all. But somehow in the dark, cool caves she was able to keep up and enjoy with no potty breaks.
It was the type of place photos don't even do justice. The magnitude of the cave system was unbelieveable. The tour ended in the cave "concert hall" which can seat 10,000 with perfect acoustics. What a venue!Then it was back on the train to return to the sunny outside.Exhausted from the long day we drove past Predjama Castle. We were in disbelief this could possibly be the same day we started in Bled so long ago! The great outdoors just kept luring us more and more.
We stayed this night in Lljubljana (Ly-ewe-blee-ana), Slovenia's capital city. It was a jazzy hotel with a swimming pool and also the largest bed pillows I have ever seen!... Just look at the size compared to Connor - and these weren't even the shams!
Llubliana was a gem. The colors and friendly feel felt good.

Little details were ornate and surprising. Slovenia was once Yugoslavia. This certainly isn't what I imagined in my brain for Yugoslavia! They have done quite a lot of spit and polishing from the old days.
The outdoor market was filled with a rainbow of edible treasures. Why are food and market flower photos so tempting to snap?!

Llubliana churches were as good as they get. What a statement of faith.

Our last Slovenia stop was in the town of Ptuj. Yes it is pronounced pa-tu-ee, like the sound of a spit. It is Slovenia's "oldest town"I liked Ptuj's 'Kids at School' sign.We had an authentic Slovenia lunch of dumplings and my family was jeweled in their blue outfits.Just as I had hoped Slovenia made our top 5 list of favorite countries. I am so happy we went. It was safe and clean and just the right mix of nature and adventure. Don't miss the opportunity to see Slovenia if it presents itself.

Click here for our full album photos from Slovenia