Looking for magic? Go to Budapest at night! Go for a stroll, tram ride, or (best of all) river cruise. The city is transformed!
Lights guild the the city. All those fantastic, beautiful buildings are flooded with golden splendour while the more modern trappings fade into shadowy obscurity. Monuments we had never noticed before suddenly stand out in brilliance against a darkened backdrop. I can only say, “Wow!”
One Saturday we walked home over the Liberty Bridge. This is a suspension bridge with broad metal bands forming the arcs. Every night, young people climb up on the suspension arcs and while they watch the light, hoot and callout to every boat that drifts by underneath. Being Saturday night it was a real party!
Several days later, when we joined our river cruise, we had a night cruise up and down the river through Budapest. All those lights, all those beautiful buildings, even the headlights of the cars and busses seemed like magical fireflies. By the exclamations of “Amazing!” and the “oos” and “ahhs”, I wasn’t the only person to think so! Remember when I said people line up on the bridges and call down to passing ships? That night we got to be on the receiving end! From the vantage point of the roof of a river boat, we hooted and called right back to the folks lining the bridges. What a spectacular event to cap off our visit to Budapest!
Budapest! To me the name rings with exotic chimes of mystery. It is a place only seen in spy thrillers or read about in adventure stories.
Even as we drove in, our taxi driver proudly reamed off the names of the various sights I had only seen in pictures. The lyrical way he said the words were so different from the poor halting phonetical way I had tried to sound them out.
Budapest spans the Danube. In fact, it used to be two cities, Buda and Pest, until the famous chain bridge united them in 1849.
We have a lovely apartment on the Buda side, near Gellért Hill, overlooking the Liberty Bridge. It is a busy area with so much of the hustle and bustle of any big city, but, in my opinion, more than its fair share of sirens! We have been told Budapest is one of the safest cities in the world, and certainly we have seen nothing to make us feel nervous, but with all those police cars whipping past, you have to wonder!
My first impression of Budapest? Spicy! No, not the people, the food, especially the sausages! And they are everywhere! I have long said that you can tell a lot about what a culture holds dear by the things on the shelves in the local grocery store. Near us is a little-larger-than-corner-store grocery and it carries the usual fare.
What is unusual is that, as small as the store is, there is a special counter just for sausages, and a special employee to slice them. Mind you, it makes sense, it is rather warm here! September and the temperature is still up to 30° Centigrade (about 85° Farenheit). So the people would have had to invent ways to perserve their meat.
And speaking of food, if you like your meals hearty and robust, this is the place to be! Pork, chicken, veal and dumplings in all manner of stews and soups and, of course, paprika!
Budapest is a wonderful place to explore. I have loved the views from Castle Hill and was blown away by the beauty of the Parliament Buildings. I can’t wait to explore more of the city!
It is almost impossible to believe but it is true. Santorini really is as pretty as a postcard. When you see the view for yourself, THE VIEW, the one made famous in so many postcards, calendars, and travel books, you can’t help but pinch yourself. It’s real!
Mind you, all that beauty does come at a price, getting up to the cities, Oia (the prettiest one, shown above) and Fira (pictured to the right) takes a lot of work. There are only two docks accessible by the cruise ship’s tenders and even from there you have to make a choice. Walk the trail with its 600 steps? Take the gondola with its lengthy line ups? Or brave the rather (pardon the obvious pun) mule headed donkeys? Or take another boat which will take you to a bay with bus access? We opted for the latter.
The bus ride up the hill is amazing! I didn’t know whether I was gasping at each view as it appeared or at the fact both ends of the bus seemed to be hanging over the edges of the hairpin curves!
Santorini is actually a series of islands that are formed from the caldera of a sunken volcano and the small, rather new island of the cone. We are on the biggest piece. The bus took us to the top most point and from there we could see all around. I couldn’t get over the water! It was the clearest, bluest ocean I have ever seen. It felt like if you had just the right filter on your sunglasses, you could see clear to the bottomless depths!
Guess what? There are grapes grown on Santorini and we found them! They are grown short, spreading right across the ground like ivy, to avoid the almost constant wind. We had a lot of fun trying out the various blends at Santos Winery. Again, the view was incredible, although I must admit that from a distance, those white-washed buildings of the towns splashed on the top of the cliffs do look a bit like giant bird droppings…
When we got to Oia (pronounced EE-yah) we were in for another surprise. The bus had to park outside. The whole city has no vehicle transportation inside the walls. With all the steps, there aren’t even any of the scooters so common in the rest of Europe. All of the restaurants and shops are serviced not by trucks but either hand pulled dollies or loaded donkeys. Donkeys are extremely important here, so important in fact that the hundreds of steps are made long with narrow rises strictly for the benefit of a donkey’s gait rather than a human’s step. Once you realize this, it starts to make sense why the above mentioned restaurants and shops are so expensive! Not only does everything have to be shipped in to the island but it is then transported by labour intensive foot and hoof methods!
Santorini’s difficulties are also its strengths. Its inaccessibility has meant it has been able to hang on to its beauty even into the modern age.
Or: Bambinos in the Woods
Today we explored a new to us city: Napoli.
For me it was a completely fresh experience especially since, I blush to admit, I haven’t been in Italy since 1982, and that was during one of those “If this is Tuesday, this must be Belgium” bus tours.
At first I was apprehensive because I speak hardly a word of Italian other than a few words gleaned from menus. However, as with many European cities, English is the ubiquitous default language and everyone we came in contact with was more than happy to put up with our stuttering attempts to communicate.
However, I never really did get over my fear of Italian city traffic! As we left the busy port, with its bewildering maze of construction and roaring trucks, I could see this would be a very easy city in which to get lost. I was so glad we were walking, not driving. At each corner, we were lucky if we could locate a street name, and then it took even longer to locate that street on the map. If I were the navigator in a car, we would have been miles away before I figured out where were had been. By that time we would be lost again.
However, being a pedestrian in Naples does come with its own dangers, particularly when crossing the street. Looking for a crosswalk helps but that is still no guarantee that a car won’t cross dangerously close. I suppose a crosswalk means if they hit you, it’s their fault. Otherwise, pedestrians are fair game.
I am also afraid I misinterpreted the meaning of the little honk. We were at one busy crosswalk with cars dashing to and fro when one car gave a gentle honk and I took that to mean, “Go ahead,” as it would in England. I gave the driver a thank you wave and smile and strode right in front. Luckily, he was aware enough of my touristic blunders and didn’t hit me. As we went by other intersections, I soon realized the quick honk means, “Heads up, I’m coming through.”
My favourite parts of Napoli were the narrow streets that were (mainly) free of vehicle traffic… Except for motorcycles and scooters, they were everywhere! Every time scooters came to an intersection, they gave a warning hoot before scurrying through. One woman’s horn must have been on the blink because she yelled at each corner! Perhaps that is one reason why so many had faulty mufflers, having a loud vehicle become a safety feature!
The narrow streets are like canyons lined with balconies on either side. The balconies in turn are lined with all manner of flapping laundry. On the street level are the shops,and all are vying for your attention. Quickly you can see what is prized in Napoli: food, wine, lemons, pasta, shoes, clothes, tobacco, and mobile phones. I loved the shop that had beautiful little landscapes made with cork wood bark.
With all that traffic, all that honking, and all those people, you can well imagine that Napoli is a rather noisy city and you would be correct… Except in one place… Inside the Duomo.
This cathedral is an oasis of calm. A sanctuary of peace. A marble and gold haven of coolness. The contrast between one side of the door and the other was so sudden, it was almost unbelievable. It reminded me of the moment when you are snorkelling that you first put your head under the water. Instantly you are surrounded by silence and in that silence you suddenly become aware of a whole new level of completely unexpected beauty.
After being refreshed both physically and mentally, I was ready to charge out into the streets and brave the traffic with more vigour and, I hope, more savvy than before. I am not ready to hit the streets like a local, however. At one intersection I watched in awe as one fellow crossed a busy three lane street against the light, directly behind a police car. To top it off, the fellow was smoking. Apparently he likes to live life dangerously!
Or: Getting Wet is Worth It!
On this cruise along the Western Caribbean, we stopped and explored two rainforests, one in Panama and the other in neighbouring Costa Rica.
I love the rainforest! So many plants and animals to see and discover!
Yes, it is hot and humid but not as oppressive as Columbia had been. Besides, there was lots of shade and frequent rain showers to cool things off… or steam things up depending on your perspective.
In Panama our tour took us into the forest just beyond the famous Panama Canal. It amazed me how quickly we appeared to be in the depths of the jungle. Amazing iridescent blue butterflies, the size of our palms, flitted by in the green. A paca (large rodent the size of a cat) skittered across the road in front of the van.
Then the two toed sloth made his appearance. He was just hanging around in a tree by the bridge, not bothering anyone but our sharp-eyed driver spotted him. Two toed sloths, as their name suggests, has only two clawed toes on their front paws. However,
surprisingly, both two-toed and three-toed sloths have three toes on their hind paws. Sloths apparently do indeed move very slowly and if they look rather stoned… it is because they probably are. Their leaves of choice are narcotics. They are nocturnal and eat all they can at night. It takes them all day to sleep off their meals. They stay in one tree for days until they have consumed all they can. Then they climb down, relieve themselves, (If I had to wait almost a week before I could relieve myself, I’d be pretty relieved too!) and find a new tree.
Something else I did not know was that female sloths do most of the work when it comes to mating. All the males have to do is hang about in their tree and whistle. The females come… ah… running? Unfortunately, the harpy eagle, one of the biggest eagles in the world, has figured this out and has learned to imitate the male’s whistle. If any female is fooled and is attracted by the eagle’s whistle, she becomes an easy meal.
Later in a rain forest preserve, we all marvelled as lines of leaf-cutter ants, waving green flags formed continuously moving trails across our path.
Then there were the howler monkeys. We heard them long before we spotted their swift moving black shapes. You’ve all heard the sounds on documentaries, like rasping grunting pigs howling in rather than out. To hear that sound in person… to listen to it echo like a ruckus choir in a cathedral… it was almost surreal. Despite the heat and the humidity, I got chills.
A troupe of the more rare white faced monkeys presented themselves but only long enough to stare at us and think twice about crossing the road (which was more like a track) until later. With the scuffle of leaves and the waving of branches, they melted back into the forest until we had returned to the van and driven off.
In Costa Rica we went to the Vagueris National Park. Here we got to see one of those wonderful tree frogs, you know, the ones with the bright green skinny body and the bright red suction cup finger and toe tips? Here we got to get closer to the trees and vegetation themselves, thanks to a canopy tram line that took you down the mountainside to a rain swollen waterfall.
Here the rainforest truly lived up to its name. Until now we have managed to be either in a van or under cover when the rains hit. Not this time! We got to experience a true warm downpour. It was almost too hot for raingear but you quickly became as soaked as a washcloth without it.
Believe it or not, the tree top tram was upstaged. Our next event was a zipline right through the canopy. Eleven lines! Woohoo!
I can’t wait to get back to the rainforest again. I’d love to explore it under the wing of a forest savvy grandmother who could tell me all about each plant and its uses. Until then, the sound of howler monkeys will haunt my dreams.