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August 6, 2010 / agrove19

Travel: Budapest

So awhile back, my friend Brittany started obsessing about Hungary. She fell in love with images of the small country via the internet and made it her goal to visit the country one day. I, never one to turn down a travel opportunity, decided to accompany her on her quest to visit Budapest, with Prague as an addition.

However, I must admit, I knew absolutely zero about Hungary and less about Budapest specifically. I was curious but unsure at the same time. My vision of the city was blocked by my misperceptions about its history. I knew the country was a part of the Soviet Union, so most of my interests were in seeing how that affected its development. I expected to see a lot of uniform, block housing that lacked individuality. Thankfully, I was wrong!

Budapest in an awesome city. One of my favorites in the world. It is charming in a way that few large cities could ever hope to achieve. It has beautiful architecture (ok, so most of it is reproduction as the originals were destroyed in World War II) and beautiful scenery to boot. It also has a history and culture that not only survived but have thrived since their Soviet Bloc days.  If a city could be termed as approachable, that would be Budapest. Everyone was friendly and helpful and I attribute this to the fact that it is somewhat off the tourist beaten path. Communication was a cinch as well. Everyone spoke English (in fact, Brittany and I joked that when someone said they spoke only a “little” English, that they  actually spoke it better than most Americans!) and transportation was a breeze. Get your bus pass and you are good to go!

Budapest is actually two cities combined in one. The two sides are separated by the Danube river (or the Duna river if you are in Hungary). The Buda side is hillier than the Pest side and less commercial. It has Buda Castle as well as many historic sites. The Pest side is the bigger city of the two. It is more commercial and flat and has a lot of the business of the city. Most of daily life happens on the Pest side but a lot of tourist sites are on the Buda side. At least that is how it felt to me. Now on to those sites.

Here are a few of my favorite places of  and things about Budapest:

Gerbeaud:


This place is heaven. Pure and simple heaven. Its interior is reminiscent of a nineteenth century parlor, decorated to the nines with lavish wall paper and gorgeous chandeliers. As you sip your hot chocolate, you feel as though you are truly experiencing something, almost as though you have been transported to another time. You have to remind yourself that this is, indeed, your life. I ordered the Dobros Torte and Hot Chocolate and it was a delicious as it looks. If I ever return to Budapest (and I will), Gerbeaud will top my list.

This picture makes me want to go back to Budapest stat. Mmmmm….

Gellert Hill:

I am pretty sure we would have made our way to the top of this hill somehow, but it would never have been so easy without a little help from our Hungarian friends (hmmm… sounds like a song title). We had a couple of friends that helped us out a lot getting around Hungary and on our first day, they took us to see Gellert Hill. This is a giant hill on the Buda side of things. History says that a monk, named Gerard, was thrown from the top of the hill to his death. So of course, it is extremely popular. Nevertheless, after about a mile hike (Budapest is for walkers) we made it to the top. It was definitely worth it. You could see the entire pest side for what seemed like miles. The view was unbeatable. See it for yourself:

I need a better camera if I am going to continue seeing so much pretty.

Cruise the Danube:

On our first night in the town, I insisted that we go on a cruise of the Danube. I thought it would be a great way to see the city and get our bearings. The Danube is one of the rivers that historians salivate over. Take your pick: Several of Europe’s capitals are located on the Danube, the Blue Danube Waltz by Strauss and it was the dividing line in Budapest between the Germans and the Russians during World War II. I love this stuff. So we took our tour and it did not disappoint. We got some great pictures and a quick history of the city. It was also relaxing, as well were pretty tired our first day. Here is just one great shot out of many:

Parliament from the Danube.

Labyrinth of Buda Castle:

I like spooky. Ask Sarah Walker about the vaults. So, randomly, one day Brittany and I stumbled upon the labyrinth after previously deciding it wasn’t worth it. However, we had some time to kill, so what the heck. That was the greatest decision on the trip. When I say this was amazing, it is an understatement. We walk downstairs to the entrance, which is a cave looking room that is low lit. We pay our fee and are handed, get this, a lantern. Now, this is not a battery powered, Disney, we live in America so we sue  lot lantern. This is a real oil lantern. That is right, people who do not even know me, entrusted me to not set myself or Brittany aflame by providing us with a real lantern. Or maybe they just really don’t care seeing as how I am adult, my safety is really my concern. I am going with the latter. So, with no instructions, Brittany and I stepped into the dark with our lantern to make our way through a series of caves. Yippee!

Being a Budapest Millionaire:

On our last day in Hungary, we realized we had a lot of extra Forint (Yep, they have their own currency. No Euro here peeps!). So did we convert it, no. We spent. We spent like we had nothing to lose. We went to the Opera. We also went to the fanciest dinner at the nicest restaurant I have ever visited. I am a teacher so it is not too surprising that I have to go to a foreign country where our currency is more valuable to get a good meal. When we entered the restaurant, they took our coats. There was a pianist. We also had wine (and not the cheapest, might I add). It was nice feeling like I could have whatever I wanted no matter the cost for just this small moment in time. Ahhh…luxury.

I really am that posh.

So there were some of my favorite places, now for a few we didn’t get to see. Of course, I plan on getting these in next time.

Gellert Baths:

Next to the aforementioned hill, sits the Gellert Hotel and Baths. It is a famous landmark in Budapest and functions as a luxurious hotel and spa. I had some interest in the baths but I am always a little shy about jumping in my swimsuit and diving in a public body of water. Let’s say water parks rank high on my least favorite places list. But I do wish I had pushed my fears aside and jumped in (literally). However, next time I will be all about it. Canonball!

Parliament:

If you have looked at my pictures, you are probably saying, “Wait a minute, you have a million pictures of Parliament.” Well, you are correct. However, I only have a million pictures of the exterior. Unfortunately, we visited on a national holiday and did not get to see the interior. And, according to several sources, it would have been worth it. The money spent on building the Parliament could have also been used to build a small town. I love opulence for no reason, so it  was quite a bummer to not visit.

The Surrounding Countryside of Budapest:

As we left Budapest on the train, we passed several small towns that looked so awesome. While the city was great, I definitely would add a day trip if we went back. The scenery was gorgeous (Robin Hood (BBC version) was filmed outside of Budapest) and I think you can really get a feel for a place and culture when you experience life outside of the big city.

Szentendre

Koros-Maros National Park

Orseg National Park

My experience in Budapest was amazing and I really would like to go back someday soon. I highly recommend it as a European destination as it is inexpensive yet culturally rich.

August 3, 2010 / agrove19

Etsy Etiquette?

This summer I have been slowly planning my wedding. I have some ideas but I tend to get overwhelmed and then start slacking off big time. So my goal is to do little by little and not stress over the small stuff. One small thing that I started stressing out over big time was my stationary.

I began looking at invitations and started to get sucked into spending more time (and money) than I ever thought possible. I spent hours pouring over invites, getting P’s approval (well, mostly his disapproval) and trying to figure out my “style”. Seriously, I almost decided to take a trip, climb a mountain and find “myself” so that I could have some clue as to what I wanted. Then, one day it hit me. WHAT AM I DOING?

This is paper we are talking about here. Paper that will one day see the inside of a trash bin (or recycling bin, Brittany). Probably, April 3rd, the day after the big day. So, I decided to stop with the obsessiveness and figure out something quick. I value my time (probably a bit too much).

After searching on Etsy (I love me some Etsy), I found the cutest invitations that I fell in love with. On top of that, the store provides options. I can either have them print the invites or I can print myself. My budget smiled. And…get this… P loved them as well! Score! So, I convo’d the store and anxiously awaited a reply, excited that my search was over.

Well, I waited about a week. Not bad. It’s summer. I get it. People are busy. So I replied immediately and answered all of the questions asked. Now we are getting somewhere. They know my colors and the number of invites I will need. I got my pen ready in anticipation to check invitations off my ever so long to do list.

Wait. Literally, I begin to wait. I am ready to order but instead I am waiting. And waiting. Three weeks later, I am still waiting for a response. Cue brain to explode. I am normally impatient (I am working on it) but I think this would be excessive to a normal person.

So, what should I do? Have any of you ever experienced this? Anytime I have ever contacted someone on Etsy, they have promptly responded. I think I am going to need a poll for some advice.

August 1, 2010 / agrove19

Read It Before You Eat It

This concept is pretty simple. Know what you are eating.

One of the biggest changes I have made to my eating is that I now read all labels and ingredients before I buy something or I consume food. It has literally been an eye opening experience. I had no idea how many unnecessary chemicals I was eating in the name of preservation or taste enhancement. Also, I did not realize the toll these things can take on your health. In many cases, people think they are eating healthy and still continue to have ailments or just plain feel bad. However, what they do not realize is that they are actually eating a lot of foods that are really not good for you.

First, let’s see some common mistakes in label reading:

I have been on several different food plans and diets in my days and I have been reading labels for years. However, I only paid attention to the wrong parts and ignored the must reads.

For example, when trying to cut calories, I only paid attention to this:

Under two hundred calories? Good deal. That’s all I need to know, right? Wrong. I always thought that as long as I ate under a certain daily amount of calories, that it did not matter what I ate. In fact, some national diet programs tout that same mantra. However, using this method, many people (myself included) continue to eat bad foods (smaller quantities of course) and neglect to eat the right foods and this leads to nutritional deficiencies.

A couple of times, I started an eating program where the only part of the label I read was:

Carbs=Bad and as long as you stay away from carbs and sugar, you are good to go. Believe it or not, I actually tried one of these plans years ago. No breads, ok I get it. No bananas, no strawberries, no watermelon…say what? Also, diets like this tend to be reaally high in fat and not the good kind. Eat as much bacon as you want but don’t you dare touch a strawberry! Again, eating like this can be dangerous and in the end, you feel bad because your body is not getting what it needs.

So after doing a lot of research, I have started a new way of eating. Now, notice I do not say diet because really this isn’t a diet. It is eating the way it is supposed to be, eating for enrichment. Now when I do my shopping this is the part of the label I pay attention to:

The first thing I check out on products in my grocery store of choice is the ingredients label. If there is something I cannot read or understand, then I stay away. It is so easy and pretty clear cut. Now, not all preservatives are cancer causing carcinogens (look for another post on that) but it can be safe to say that loading your body with chemicals on a daily basis is never a good idea. Food dyes should also be avoided. It is pretty simple, if I want to eat peas, I want to eat peas not Yellow 5, Green 5 and whatever others preservatives and flavor enhancements have been added.

I also like shopping this way because it forces me to really look at everything I am eating. I am getting the nutrients my body needs? I am getting enough vitamins? Remember, the ingredients are listed so that the first ingredient makes up the majority of the product. Make sure it is a good one.

Now, this is very easy but you have to be careful. When we think of preservative laden foods, when tend to think of the little cakes that are supposed to outlast a nuclear holocaust. We sometimes fail to realize that they can be lurking almost anywhere and in anything. For example, I have been making fruit smoothies. Somebody recommended I look at frozen fruit. Fresh is best but frozen is always next best, right? Eh, maybe. I picked up a box of frozen strawberries and whew, first and only ingredient- strawberries (is anyone else shocked that this is actually a question that must be asked?). So I proceeded to move on. Peaches. Yum. I love peaches. I look at the ingredients list and drum roll please… there were at least five or six foreign ingredients (preservatives and color enhancements mostly). I quickly put them back and made a mental note. Now this might seem extreme but if you are going to feed your body good stuff, you might as well just feed it the good stuff.

Overall, it is important to read the entire label to make sure you are getting everything you need. Don’t worry, it is not as time consuming as you might think. Once you have a few basic skills down, it takes seconds.

So the moral of the story is, read it before you eat it. You may be surprised what you find.

July 31, 2010 / agrove19

Travel: Argentina

So every Friday I am going to post a travel related blog. Most posts will be about places I have never been. Some will be about places where I have already traveled. All will be places I would love to visit (in some instances, again).

The first place I am featuring is Argentina. Currently, Argentina is ranked number one on our honeymoon list. There are several reasons why I would love to visit this South American gem. Here are three:

1. I love Eva Peron and have since I was 13. Coincidentally, Evita was released that year (I was 13, I get a pass).

2. It has beautiful architecture combined with friendly prices. Of course I would love to visit Paris or Rome, but my wallet is not so keen. Argentina seems to have the best of both worlds. A great culture combined with affordability. Woot.

3. It is beautiful and geographically diverse country. ‘Nuff said.

Places I want to visit in Argentina:

  • Casa Rosada: The official seat of Argentina’s government. Eva Peron made speeches from the balcony and one day, so will I.

  • Ushuaia, Argentina: Now, my friend Reny, she is cool. She has been to six out of seven continents. Now you are probably thinking she covered the easiest six, right? No, not Reny. She has been to Antarctica. Even though I would like to (and heck, maybe one day I will), I somehow do not think Antarctica is in my cards. Apparently, they are cutting back on tourism. Sooooo…. the second best thing? Terra del Fuego. It is the southernmost spot in South America. It also used to be a penal colony. I might also get to see a glacier, not Antarctica, but I think Reny would be proud. Win and Win.

  • Buenos Aires: Some describe the city as an amalgamation (SAT word) of European and Latin American cultures. Yes please.

  • Parque Nacional Iguazú: I have never seen a waterfall. I have been deprived.

So there is my are my reasons for wanting to travel to Argentina. Have you ever been there or know someone who has? Any recommendations?

July 29, 2010 / agrove19

The Revolution

Hello Blog World (or the few friends I coerce into reading this)!

As this is my first post, I will explain the reasoning behind this blog. Recently, I have been making some changes. Ok, “changes” might be an understatement. I have revolutionized my life. And yes, I mean revolution. I want to eradicate the old and bring in the shiny new. I realized I was not living to my potential and missing out on a lot of cool stuff. So here is a list of things I am changing in no particular order:

1. Food: There will be a lot of posts about food on this blog because this change has spurred on many others. In the past, my eating choices have been less than stellar. Anything that was convenient was on my menu. However, after doing a lot of research on the food industry and health, this change has to happen now. Gone are the fast food dinners and processed sweets. My new eating habits include eating only ingredients I can pronounce. That means a lot of healthy stuff as well as a lot of adjustments. I will use this blog to post homemade recipes  and ways to eat healthy but not forfeit taste because at the end of the day, I still love food. Also, please note, this does not mean I will never eat a cupcake again. Instead, the next cupcake I consume, I will be making it- from scratch. Get it?

2. I am getting hitched! After five and a half years together, myself and the new yorker are finally tying the knot. We also just got a puppy. Our lives have been turned upside down. I am sure parents to “real” kids think this is a joke (and I agree with you), but  seriously, I feel like a parent. For the last few months, I have been navigating wedding planning with my rents and in laws, as well as training an opinionated puppy. However, luckily, I have experience with adolescent attitudes. See below. I am pretty sure this has been the biggest but the best change of all.

3. I am starting my second year of teaching. I teach 7th grade. If you think I am a glutton for punishment, you are correct. Thirteen year olds are the most complex creatures I have ever met. Even the nicest of the species will attack unprovoked. I should have blogged about my first year, but I am pretty sure the second year will be just as exciting.

4.  I love to travel and I have realized I do not travel enough. Each week I am going to feature a place that I would like to visit and will someday soon. Suggestions are always welcome!

So there is my manifesto. I know I am not entirely recreating my life from scratch, but I am definitely doing some remodeling.