Posts Tagged With: The American Norseman

Budapest: Loin Cloths and Spare Bedrooms

Spring and autumn are some of the best times to travel in Europe. Tourist crowds are gone leaving the great European cities vibrant and full of locals. This is very true for Stockholm, a city that basically shuts down in the summer time when most Stockholmers are traveling to place they’re sure will have sun or relaxing in their summer home out in the Swedish countryside. If you want to feel the real “vibe” of a city in Europe, come on the shoulder seasons.

Budapest from Castle Hill

Buda Castle

So with a weekend open in the beginning of October, I decided to take a solo trip to the capital of Hungary, Budapest. This city has been on my radar for many years as one of the must see destinations in Europe. Hungary has a long and impressive history with a significant “dark period” under Soviet control. In 1989 when the USSR disbanded, Budapest was a city that rivaled Vienna in beauty but had been put through the communist ringer for over 40 years. As an American and long-term resident of Europe, countries caught in the middle of post WWII have always interested me.

Budapest has come a long way since 1989 and has managed to revive its charm while living with some “left overs” of the communist era. Over a three day period I wore myself out with my Budapest travel guide trying to soak up all the city had to offer. I visited most of the major sights: Basilica of St Stephen, Castle Hill, Parliament Building, Grand Market Hall and I even saw Ronald Reagan. I also had two very unique experiences in the Rudas thermal baths and trying AirBnB as my option for accommodations.

Liberty Bridge

Yummy Sausage

Budapest is well known for its thermal baths located throughout the city. Some are elegantly decorated; some are like amusement parks for families. The Ruda Baths are recognized for their history with a concrete dome dating from the 16th century when Budapest was under Turkish occupation. I like to think of myself as a pretty open guy who is willing to try new things. With that mind-set, you can often find yourself in very peculiar situations and especially so when travelling abroad. So, I decided to try the Ruda baths as it supposedly offers the most “traditional” bath experience in the city (I’m usually a sucker for traditional). Upon entering the baths, each man (women are not allowed) is given a “loin cloth,” a wrist band a locker number. Two of those items are pretty self-explanatory. And the third, well that’s where things got interesting…. Men in the baths are asked not to go naked but everyone is required to wear a piece of cloth that makes you feel like a Roman in the times of César. The loin cloth is basically a napkin with a string that goes around your waste – Business in the front, “party” in the rear. So, I changed into my outfit and entered the main bath complex which is a huge room under a gigantic dome. About 100 men were soaking in various temperature baths around the room and the protocol is to start with cooler baths and work your way up. So, as the rule following guy I am, I started on the left side of the room and worked counter clockwise entering the five different baths with the last one being 42 degrees Celsius (107 Fahrenheit).

Rudas Bath

Now after you’ve done this for about thirty minutes your body feels like a boiled egg waiting for that plunge of cold water relief. To help you with that, big wooden buckets are perched around the room. You walk up, pull the string and get drenched by five gallons of ice cold water that makes you want to scream like a girl, but you can’t because your surround by a bunch of guys wearing loin cloths. Ah yes, back to the loin cloths. It’s pretty odd being in a room with a bunch of guys whose bare backsides are in plain view where ever you look. Even more strange for me was the Russian, Hungarian, German languages being spoken around me with no English speakers with in ear shot. This was a locals place and I guess one would question whether this would be the best place to strike up a conversation trying to make friends anyway… I chose the “quite option” and enjoyed my one hour soaking time and departed Rudas bath with a just one of many memorable experiences from Budapest.

Another first for me on this trip to Budapest was using the AirBnB online service that connects travels to people who rent out rooms in their homes to make a little extra money. This offers a unique and inexpensive way to truly live like a local which I try to make a hallmark of all my travels. The other great part is the money goes too directly to people of the city, not international hotel chains. My AirBnB experience was “interesting” in that I stayed with an Italian family that lives in Budapest part of the year and Rome the other. I used my room as you would any hotel, spending most of my time out sightseeing and staying in the room to sleep and get cleaned up. I would highly recommend this for those adventurous travels who really want to get the “feel of the place.”

Street Performer

In the end Budapest was all that I hoped it would be – Interesting history, fantastic food and unforgettable cultural experiences. In our modern world, cities and people are becoming more and more homogeneous. Budapest has all the makings of a city continuing down the path of ultra-tourism similar to Prague. KFC’s, Full English Breakfast, knock-off Louis Vuitton, and Zara’s on every other street corner. I think I even saw a Starbucks which amazes me because their coffee sucks compared to everyone other option in Europe but I digress… Budapest is a great city and I hope to return to experience it’s old world elegance mixed with moden charm.

For more images of my trip to Budapest, please visit

Categories: Europe Travel, Hungary | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lisbon and the Virtues of Portuguese People

From the quite town of Nazaré to big city Lisbon is quite a shift. In a little over an hour we drove though small farm towns and picturesque villages to the bustling metropolis of Portugal’s largest city. Lisbon is a fine city packed with history, fine food and interesting cultural sights that require more than a two day visit (as we learned).

Lisbon (Click for more images)

Lisbon (Click for more images)

As DUS will tell you, I like trolley rides and Lisbon rivals San Francisco for its unique and fun modes of public transportation. Unfortunately, like in SF, Lisbon trolleys are very popular and unless you want to do your best Garfield in the car window impression, avoid Tram 40 and take the less travelled and shorter Tram 28 that takes around the Alfama district.

Alfama in Lisbon’s historic old town

Alfama (Click to take a Trolley ride)

The Alfama is Lisbon’s historic old town and is a confusing maze of small streets, odd shaped building and home of the “famous” Fado music. We attended a Fado show and found the music to be quite soulful and genuine. Many of the songs are about resignation/longing and the singers use a lot of emotion in their performance. I thought the show was quite good but DUS had a giggle attack during one of the singers and almost had to be excused 🙂

Fado (Click to hear the music)

Fado (Click to hear the music)

The Bairro Alto which opposite the old town (in both geography and feel) is a fun, well-structured neighborhood filled with hip restaurants, trendy bars and the pretentious Port and Douro Wines Institute. If I were a young backpacker or college student, the Bairro Alto would be a top destination to visit or live. We found the vibe to be fun and welcoming motivating us to think about planning our next trip to Lisbon.

Barrio Alto (Click for more Lisbon images)

Barrio Alto (Click for more Lisbon images)

The city of Lisbon and country of Portugal was one of our best vacation destinations in Europe. We found the people of Portugal to be extremely hospitable (probably the best in Europe) and for that reason alone we would travel back. It’s funny how much the “feeling” from people affect your travels in Europe. The Scandinavians are often a bit cold and calculated; Germans hard and to the point; Brits are clever and witty; French are either ostentatious or aloof; Greeks are passionate and insightful; Italians have perfected “vivere la vita.” And the Portuguese…? Well, they are welcoming, down to earth and friendly. We found that to be a refreshing and slightly unexpected element of our two week trip in Portugal.

People of Portugal

People of Portugal

Categories: Europe Travel, Portugal | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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