Theme: European Christmas Holiday Country: Hungary Languages: Hungarian Unit of Currency: Hungarian forint Locations: Budapest Year: 2011 Bucket list: Viewing the city at night
DO: CHECK OUT ALL THE CHRISTMAS MARKETS
Walking around the Christmas Markets during the day and ending it with a nighttime coach ride to view the city
The second day opening of Hard Rock Cafe Budapest
Wet season of Hungary:
1) It had to happen at least in one country, it rained the entire day! Definitely gave thermal baths a whole new meaning! On a positive note, due to the treacherous weather conditions I now have discovered a clever way to take photos in the rain – the Hop on and Hop off bus was just the ticket that I needed on such a dreary day!
2) The grand opening of Hard Rock Café in Budapest was a hit for many locals, including the friendly staff. Normally I would not go to a chain restaurant while in another country, but I am so glad that I went here! Great food, good local beer, awesome music videos, and amazing staff created a unique and fun atmosphere!
3) The Christmas Markets covered downtown Pest and sold an assortment of Christmas and delicious holiday gifts. Wreaths made out of oranges, cinnamon, figs, and pinecones were a popular choice for those who wanted the traditional smells of Christmas. One of the more unique shops was one that sold bottles and shots of Schnapps. I tried the Schnapps Strawberry – which was made of strawberries grown on a tree! Not your traditional home-grown strawberry on a vine! Quite strong, but refreshing for such a gloomy day!
4) The brightly colored umbrellas outlined the city’s most famous landmarks, including Castle Hill. Castle Hill was formed by combining two cities: Buda and Pest in 1873. Much of Pest is positioned on the left bank of Danube River, while Pest is on the right bank of the Danube River. This is where history and scenery vie for attention. The nighttime glow from both cities of the Citadel was unbelievable! The perfect portrait of a peaceful city resting underneath your feet and the smells from the chocolate stand down the street produced a great experience in Budapest. Though the day combined cold and rain, the nighttime was perhaps the best time to view the city. The illumination of the city’s most spectacular landmarks created a masterpiece!
Theme: European Christmas Holiday Country: Serbia Languages: Serbian Unit of Currency: Serbian dinar Locations: Belgrade & Novi Pazar Year: 2011 & 2013 Bucket list: Photographing the Temple of Saint Sava
DO: TREK AROUND THE CITY TO FIND TEMPLE OF SAINT SAVA
Walking downtown and photographing a temple in the middle of the city and one of the largest Orthodox churches in the world
Tasting white hot chocolate while overlooking the local paint artists sketching the city landscapes and landmarks
Journey into Serbia:
1) Belgrade Fortress and Kalemegdan Park overlooked the old town and mouth of the Sava River. The fortress is the largest and most significant monument in Belgrade, with well-preserved walls, moats, and towers. Some kids were free running up these walls (wall flipping off of castle’s side and back tuck off of statue). The entrance of fortress was Kalemegdan Park, with views of the Danube from its terrace.
2) The Temple of Saint Sava was absolutely gorgeous! From the center of the city the temple was clearly Belgrade’s cityscapes, and was one of my favorite buildings in the city. The smoothing chimes were heard all over the city every hour illuminating this magnificent structure. The Temple of Saint Sava is the largest Orthodox Church currently used in Belgrade. The church is dedicated to Saint Sava, founder of the Serbian church and a significant figure in medieval Serbia.
3) Popcorn stands were located everywhere! The toppings were chili, butter, salt, garlic, curry, chicken, etc and were a favorite amongst the locals. The popcorn was made from an old school popcorn machine and it was, indeed, the best popcorn that I have had! It even beat your traditional movie theatre popcorn! Some of you may know how much I look forward to my visits in the states, complete with movie nights and movie theatre popcorn!
4) Christmas celebration was definitely in the atmosphere. The city lights that stretched for miles within Skadarilla Street were beautiful; they mixed well with the delicious smell of roasted chestnuts in the air. Skadarilla Street was a great example of why Belgrade was so unique – with the traditional Serbian scene, including strolling gypsy musicians mingling with artists and local revelers and artists creating masterpieces in front of your eyes.
Theme: European Christmas Holiday Country: Bulgaria Languages: Bulgarian Unit of Currency: Bulgarian lev Locations: Sofia Year: 2011 Bucket list: Glancing at some of the most popular architecture in Europe
DO: VISIT THE ARCHITECTURAL SITES
Visiting the Museum of Natural History and Academy of Architecture
Adventure in Bulgaria:
1) The capital, Sofia, combines a wide range of architectural styles. Varying from Christian Roman architecture to medieval Bulgar fortresses to Neoclassicism and prefabricated Socialist-era apartment blocks!
2) The largest museum collections are within the fabulous city of Sofia. The architectural designs on each of the buildings are inquisitive, while the Christmas lights on each of the buildings makes this place perfect to spend the holidays! The large Christmas trees situated in each of the districts creates a beautiful warming atmosphere for all generations!
3) Before darkness there was a thick cloud that rolled into the city, though some of my favorite buildings were covered in a dense fog, I was still able to take photographs! Looking at the final result, the fog illuminated several museums and gave my pictures the “pop” that they needed. In the end, the fog intertwined throughout the city produced images that seemed to quite haunting and spectacular! Highly recommend this location for the Christmas holidays! grin emot
Theme: European Christmas Holiday Country: Romania Languages: Romanian Unit of Currency: Romanian leu Locations: Botosani, Bucharest, and villages in the countryside Year: 2011 Bucket list: Visiting my Romanian best mate’s parents
DO: STROLL BUCHAREST AND ENGAGE IN ROMANIAN TRADITIONS
Tasting the unique foods and wines in Romania – Moldavian stew (raw meat, liver, kidneys, heart, pork fat, and smoked sausages fried together) and served with salty sheep cheese
Walking around the city at night while looking at the Christmas markets
DO: EXPERIENCE THE COUNTRYSIDE
Romania’s unbeaten paths:
Driving around the countryside
1) The capital, Bucharest, is an amazing decorative city! I loved that the “Old Town” had a street celebration, which gave a taste of an European Christmas Market!
2) My best mate Adrian’s family is super sweet. During my visit to each of their houses I was offered liquor on my arrival. One of my favorite drinks was my favorite drinks was Cranberry Whiskey, with real cranberries that Adrian’s aunt grew in her house!
3) The people have been super hospitable and their grins are quite contagious! Christmas is definitely in the air!
4) The never ending mountains are absolutely gorgeous, especially snow capped! After 2 years, I finally touched snow! The northern part of Romania is covered in it! An awesome end to a great visit!
Next stop: Sofia, Bulgaria
The European Snowboardin’ Expedition 2011-2012 is off to a great start!
Theme: Central American Adventure Tour Country: Costa Rica Languages: Spanish Unit of Currency: Costa Rican colon Locations: La Fortuna, Manuel Antonio, Puntarenas, San Jose, San Ramon, & Tortuguero Year: 2013 Bucket list: Witnessing green sea turtles nesting
Floating down stream on a safari river cruise with a small wooden canoe – torrential downpour with the victory of Costa Rican coffee
White water rafting expedition with Class IV and V rapids
DO: WATCH OUT FOR PIT VIPERS
Exploring the wildlife, including sloths that reside in the park
DO: FLY LIKE SUPERMAN
Jumping on the chance to fly like superman!
Abseiling into a waterfall and swinging like Tarzan
DO: WITNESS GREEN SEA TURTLES NESTING
Discovering a green sea turtle nesting site off of Costa Rica’s coast
Costa Rica Overview:
1) Trekking a volcano and hiking within Costa Rica’s jungle definitely pushed my personal limitations on so different levels. Needless to say, the 2 volcano hike was absolutely a challenge! The steep trails and mud stick holes formulated this 8 hour hike to be one of most difficult treks that I have completed in Central America. End result: Signature jumpin’ photograph with Volcán Arenal, hot springs, and new friendships created! grin emoticon
2) Canoeing down a river in a torrential downpour was crazy, and cold! For some reason, I had this silly idea that it would STOP raining, but did it? Of course not, after 4 hours of paddling through one of Costa Rica’s most habitable rivers in the rain, it made me realize how much rain Costa Rica gets every year. The lightning over the river was pretty cool, though quite close! I know that I am in the rainy season, but seriously, I could have used a little bit of sunshine!
3) Cruising on a jungle river looking for monkeys! I felt that I was on a proper safari, minus the safari hat! A peaceful river within Tortuguero was an incredible way to view the wildlife that reside here. Amongst loads of Howler and Spider monkeys, I saw a croc, several species of birds, lizards (favorite one: Jesus Christ lizard <actually runs on water!>), freshwater crabs, etc. This experience has geared me up to take on a river cruise on the Amazon!