A Guide to Sightseeing in Budapest

One of Europe’s most popular travel destinations, Budapest is experiencing a renaissance after decades behind the Iron Curtain. Internet hotspots abound in this city filled with culture and cafes on every corner. One of the first areas a tourist should visit is Vaci Utca, one of the most popular shopping streets in the city. It is pedestrian-traffic only, making it a tourist mecca. Restaurants, bars, and shops mingle amongst the ever-present carts peddling souvenirs and postcards. There are a number of currency-exchange booths on this street. Vaci Utca runs into Vorosmarty Ter (Square), a famous square in the city. It is home to a number of cafes, most famous is the Gerbeaud kavehaz, famous for their pastries and decor since 1858.

From Vorosmarty Ter, head to Szent Istvan Ter and the St. Stephen’s Basilica. It is Hungary’s largest church and home to the preserved right hand of King Stephen I, Hungary’s first Christian king. The area surrounding the church is a pedestrian-only square. Next stop: Heroes’ Square, bordering Varosliget (City Park). Heroes’ Square is home to a monument honoring Hungary’s greatest leaders, in statue form. Behind the square one can see the architecturally-significant Vajdahunyad Castle, built in honor of the millenial exhibition in 1896. It combines multiple architectural styles and houses the Agricultural Museum. Directly outside the castle sits a statue of King Bela IV’s anonymous scribe, to whom credit is due for knowledge about medieval Hungarian life.

Walking through Varosliget, it is difficult to miss the yellow domes signifying your arrival at the Szechenyi Baths, one of my favorite spots in Budapest. If you are visiting the city, be sure to carve out some time in Budapest’s world-famous baths. The thermal waters of the city have healing benefits. The Szechenyi boasts three outdoor pools that can be used year-round, as the thermal waters never get cold. One can play chess on one of the floating chessboards, or get a deep-tissue massage on a wintry day. The baths cost from 700-2000 forints, but are well worth it.

A short Metro ride later, you can find yourself on the streets of the Castle District, home to Buda Castle and Matyas Templom(Matthias Church). The district is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and is accessible by foot or shuttle bus, as no cars are allowed. There is a mixture of architectural styles in this area, all of which are breathtaking to view. The Buda Castle is home to a number of museums. The Ludwig Museum, located in the Castle, is a must-see. It houses a vast modern art collection. Matyas Templom is one of the city’s most popular tourist sights. King Matthias was married twice in the church during his reign as ruler of Hungary in the 15th century.

To the left of Castle Hill is Gellert Hegy (Gellert Hill), almost 800 feet above the Danube River. Named in honor of Bishop Gellert, who became a martyr after pagan worshippers killed him by rolling him down the hill in a barrel, the hill is home to a large statue of him. Also on the hill is the Citadel, built by the Austrian Army in 1849, and a small church inside the caves of the hill.

A boat ride down the Danube is something to experience while visiting the city. Many floating restaurants and nightclubs also call the banks of the Danube home. The Dunakorzo is a promenade on the Pest side of the river that is perfect for a lovely afternoon stroll. Budapest is a city that is coming into the 21st century without letting go of its rich, storied history.

The Unique Experience of Visiting Venice Italy

Venice is a city in north east Italy known for its canals and its role in the Renaissance. Many a tourist has taken a ride in a gondola and visited San Marco Square with its famous cathedral. Venice is also famous for its richly ornate Venetian glass.

Venice is a city where most people traverse the city either by walking or by the many canals and water ways. Instead of your regular buses on city streets, Venice has motorized water buses. The routes are well known by the locals and it is the main mode of transportation. However, the gondolas are still a favorite of tourists. They are not meant to be a replacement for the water buses but more like a carriage ride on the water. They are richly furnished with crushed velvet seats and Persian rugs. They are also used for weddings, funerals and other kinds of ceremonies. There is a smaller but less known Sandolo which can also have a singing driver. There are 177 canals that the water buses or the gondolas can take you through connecting 117 islands through the area.

The Basilica di San Marco was the personal chapel for the Doges for most of its history but in it became what is known as the Cathedral of Venice. This Cathedral is ornate, Gothic and spectacular. It attracts many tourists throughout the year. It is adorned with Byzantine, Romanesque and Gothic art and it sports many details from antiquity to the middle ages. Once inside it is hard to miss the gilded mosaics which span 8000 square meters of the vault and copulas.

The floor of San Marco is equally impressive. It is from the 12th century and is a mosaic of marble in animal designs and geometric patterns. A red medallion on the floor inside the main door marks a holy spot. It is where in 1177 the Doge arranged the reconciliation between Barbarossa, who was the Holy Roman Emperor and the Pope.

The altar piece is the Pala d’Oro (Pall of Gold) and is a long panel of gold adorned with jewels. It was commissioned in 976 and added onto over time to create its current ornate beauty. It is Byzantine in origin. It is rumored that Napoleon stole some of its jewels but as an tourists can see he left plenty behind.

This cathedral is probably the most fantastic of cathedrals second only to the Vatican in all of Europe.

Another attraction when visiting Venice is actually a place called Murano where the famed Venetian glass is made. This art of glass blowing actually came from the middle east and the far east. Venice had been trading with these areas of the world for centuries and thus had “picked” up this art of glass blowing. The art form made its way to Murano due to the risk of fire. That way the main island of Venice was not put at risk from all the hot furnaces that had to be employed in making the glass. In modern times these factories/museums are not far from the beaten path and are a definite “must see” when visiting Venice.

Venice is a unique city that attracts many tourists not only for its canals and different mode of transportation but also for its formidable role in the Renaissance. A visit to Venice is not complete without touring the Basilica di San Marco and making a side trip to Murano to capture a picture or two of the famous glass blowers of Venetian Glass.

Tips for Driving in Italy

Sometimes driving in a foreign country can be very confusing and nerve wracking. Maybe the tips below will help you in some way.

No doubt Italy is a beautiful country. Italy does offer a little bit of all kinds of scenery. There’s always something to see.

1) First you must have a full UK license and be 18 or older. So even if you have a license and are 17, you cannot drive in Italy.
2) Always drive on the right hand side of the road, and pass on the left hand side.
3) No cell phone use unless have a hands free kit. They feel this cuts down on accidents.
4) Seatbelts are mandatory in Italy, both front and back.
5) You can be fined if you have a child under the age of 12 in the front seat.
6) It is also mandatory that you carry with you a reflective vest and a reflective triangle at all times.
7) If you are visiting Italy, it is worthwhile to carry registration papers, insurance papers and driving license on your person.

Speed limits there are very strict. Speed limits are as follows:
• Motorway Speeds 13km/h
• Main Highways 110km/h
• Trunk Roads 90km/h
• Residential Road 50km/h

If you have been driving less than 3 years, you are not permitted to drive over 100km/h on motorways or 90km/h on main highways.

Also limit your alcohol to only 50mg per 100ml of blood volume.

The following is a short list of road rules you might find helpful:
• Buses, emergency vehicles, trams and trains have the right of way.
• Even in daylight hours headlights should be on
• You must have EU style license plates and GB sticker if car is not registered in Italy
• You must give right of way to traffic joining from the right.
• Priority is given to the car traveling upward on a hill or mountain
• Due to smog conditions at times, traffic may be halted. At other times they may switch to odd and even license plates
• You stay in your car at gas stations as most have attendants on duty. They will pump your fuel for you
• You cannot buy leaded fuel in Italy
• Due to numerous mountains there are many long tunnels and bridges

There are many historic centres in Italy. You must obtain a pass for these centres. Each city requires an individual pass. Anything marked ZTL in black on a yellow background requires a pass.
Enjoy your trip to Italy. If you plan on doing any driving maybe these tips will help.

Rainy Day Activities in London UK

If you’ve planned a trip to London, you should prepare yourself for the fact that at some point during your stay, you will inevitably experience rain. Don’t let the weather keep you from seeing and experiencing all that London has to offer. These four activities are ideal for London travel when the weather is gloomy and uncooperative.

Natural History Museum

The Natural History Museum in London is an ideal choice for a rainy day outing. The museum is located right off of the tube, so you won’t have to spend much time walking around outside in the rain. There’s a full-day’s worth of activity for children and adults alike, including (my favorites) the dinosaur exhibit, a hands-on bug exploration room, and a large cafeteria to eat a meal. The museum can be crowded, so arrive early and don’t be surprised if there’s a bit of a line to get in. However, once you’re in, there’s usually plenty of room to walk about and explore all that the museum has to offer.

Tate Modern

Located along the river in London, Tate Modern is an art museum specializing in modern and contemporary art. Admission to the museum is free, and it offers a ton for children and adults to see and do. Often, the museum offers hands-on art experiences called “Open Session” for children and their parents. Visit the Interactive Zone for a more up-close and personal look at the museum, or simply walk through the collections and displays for a taste of some modern art.

Kensington Palace

For many travelers, a trip to Kensington Palace tops their list, no matter the weather. Luckily, much of this Royal Palace can be explored rain or shine, making it an ideal destination for a rainy London day. Unfortunately, construction and renovations are currently underway at Kensington Palace until March 2012. However, a modified tour of the palace is still available for visitors, allowing you access to the “Enchanted Palace” in the state apartments. Kensington Palace can be reached via train, bus, or car, which gives travelers options when planning their journey.

Westminster Abbey

Like much of Kensington Palace, you don’t need a sunny day to explore Westminster Abbey. The abbey is open to tourists during the week and on Saturday, not to interfere with Sunday worship. Visit this historic site, where royalty is laid to rest, coronations occur, and most recently, where Prince William (future King of England) was wed to Kate Middleton. No visit to London would be complete without a trip to Westminster Abbey, regardless of the weather.

Don’t let the weather keep you in your hotel room. In fact, many of London’s best sites are feasible in rain or shine.

Things to Do in London: The British Museum

Neighborhood: Bloomsbury
One of the best things I’ve found since moving to London is the British Museum. I’ve visited almost half a dozen times and it still fascinates and delights every single time.It’s situated in Bloomsbury, a convenient walk from several tube stations – Goodge Street, Tottenham Court Road, Holborn, and Russell Square – so you can easily get there no matter which underground line you’re travelling on.

The museum is massive – over 90 rooms – and if you only have a few hours to spend you’ll have to accept that you’ll miss a great deal of it.

Much of the museum’s exhibits focus on the history of Britain, and the British Isles (which is a geographical, rather than political, term which includes Ireland and the Channel Islands), which you might expect given the name of the museum.

Some of the highlights of the museum’s exhibits include:

A mosaic from a church in Dorset. It’s a beautiful composition and is said to be the oldest representation of Jesus Christ’s face in the world.

The Lindow Man, a body of a man found preserved in a bog dating from 2000 years ago.

The Vindolanda Tablets, Roman writing tablets originating from a fort in Hadrian’s Wall. These tablets range from shopping lists to intelligence reports and give a fascinating look into daily life in the Roman Empire.

The Rosetta Stone. One of the most famous pieces of archaeology in the world today, the Rosetta Stone was found by Napoleon’s troops in Egypt and was the key to translating the heiroglyphics found in the Egyptian tombs.

Speaking of which, the Egyptian mummy collection is something else the British Museum is famous for, and for good reason. It’s probably the best collection of Egyptian mummies outside of Egypt.

The collections are so vast and wide-ranging that, whatever your interests, you’re bound to find something to interest you. Sculptures, mummies, drawings by Leonardo da Vinci, Native American totem poles, art from all the great cultures of the world: Babylon, Assyria, Egypt, Mayan, Aztec, Rome, Persia, Africa, Asia…

The bulk of the museum is completely free to explore but there are special exhibitions which cost money. Tickets for these can be bought there and then, or in advance, including through the Internet. Sometimes tickets sell out, so it’s best to book in advance if you can.

The current special exhibition is a collection of sculptures from West Africa, and past exhibitions have included China’s Terracotta Army, ‘Babylon: Myth and Reality’, and ‘Shah Abbas: the Remaking of Iran’.

If you’re in London for any time at all then you really should set aside some time to visit this cultural jewel. The building itself is almost as impressive as many of the exhibits!

Travel Guide to Dublin Ireland

After retirement, my wife and I were fortunate enough to be able to travel the world and see many cities. Dublin, Ireland is my favorite international city and to me it offers the best combination of food, people, art and history. Just flying into Dublin, you will be amazed at the deep green of the land and fields; it’s why the land is called The Emerald Isle.

To get from the airport into the city, we took the easy Aircoach bus, which offers quick service from the airport to the center of Dublin, as well as all the main tourist hotels in the area. Fares are reasonable, at about $17 round trip, and the bus is easy to catch right at the terminal.

For a nice basic hotel right within walking distance of most tourist sites, we’ve stayed at The Arlington Hotel. You are also close to the pubs of central Dublin and the Temple Bar area and will never be short of things to see, do, eat or drink. In a city like Dublin, which has a compact city center with very strong public transit, we find the location of the hotel is important and we like to be in the middle of the action. That way we can walk everywhere and always have things to see and do just steps outside the hotel’s front door.

Arlington Hotel
23-25 Bachelors Walk
O’Connell Bridge
Dublin 1, Ireland
arlington.ie

The old historic center of Dublin surrounds the Dublin Castle and has since the buildings were first erected in 1204. The castle is open to the public for tours every day and is the site of many important events in Irish history. Before visiting Dublin, it’s good to read up on the politics and history of this sometimes troubled place and it’s relationship with England.

We visited the Guinness brewery and took the great tour. It shows the history of this beverage and ends with a tasting session. What started as a behind-the-scenes tour has evolved into Dublin’s biggest tourist attraction. It’s big and flashy, and no longer really a working brewery, but it’s still both interesting and fun. It’s called the Guinness Storehouse and it’s open every day, with the last tour at 5 p.m.

Guinness Storehouse
St. James Gate
Dublin
guinness-storehouse.com

We also recommend a visit to the great Victorian park, St. Stephens’s Green. There are miles of paths to stroll through the gardens and the park also has play areas and rides for children. They have free outdoor concerts in the summer which are fun for families and also for single or solo travelers.

Another must-see in Dublin is a visit to Trinity College, it’s library and the Book of Kells. This is an ancient Gospel text and one of the most significant examples of medieval publishing.The book is from the 8th century and lavishly illustrated.Different parts of the book are shown at different times to aid in conservation and the book is presented with a lot of interesting historical information. Although the Book of Kells is the star, the library is filled with historic texts and others are also on display.This can get crowded, so its best to see it early in the morning, also lunchtime is good and less crowded. It’s open every day.Just visiting the Trinity College campus is an enjoyable experience, many buildings are from the 18th century and it just has a great ambiance.

Food and dining in Dublin is a another great reason to visit this special city. We’ve had some wonderful meals at The Tea Room, the restaurant at The Clarence, one of Dublin’s nicest hotels. Yes, the hotel is owned by rock stars, but it’s a beautiful property, also right near the Temple Bar area and tourist sites. Rooms start around $175 per night.

The Tea Room is modern, Irish cuisine and is considered one of the best in Dublin. The location is also right in the city center, everything I have listed in the article can be easily reached on foot, even by older travelers like me.

The Tea Room
Clarence Hotel
6-8 Wellington Quay
Dublin 2, Ireland
theclarence.ie/tearoom-restaurant

Dublin is an easy flight from the U.S. and the city is served directly by major international airlines.When your Irish adventure is finished and you are ready to return to the U.S., Dublin and some other major European cities have something very handy. The U.S. ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) has agents in the airport in Dublin, allowing you (forcing you) to clear customs before you even leave Irish soil. The officer, probably an American, will ask the standard questions about your travel and review your purchases for any customs duties due.When we arrived back in New York, we simply collected our luggage and left the airport, it made the process easier.

Top Hostels in Galway Ireland

Galway, Ireland, is one of the nation’s largest and fastest-growing cities and offers plenty for the discerning tourist. Pace around its cobblestone streets for shopping, dining, and an excellent nightlife or take a bus tour to view the city’s historical sites. Venture out on a variety of day trips to see nearby sites like the Cliffs of Moher or the Aran Islands. Whatever you do with your time in Galway, you’ll need a place to rest your head at night. If you’re traveling on a budget, look no further than some of Galway’s finest youth hostels.

Sleepzone Galway City

Sleepzone Galway City is located less than five minutes from Eyre Square, a central nightlife spot and home to many of Galway’s more popular nightclubs, such as Cuba. You’ll also be close to the train and bus stations, as well as the departure points for many of Galway’s bus tours. A further 5 minute’s walk will bring you to the pedestrianized Shop Street, so named for its many shops (and pubs).

Sleepzone Galway City offers a range of room styles, all ensuite, such as single rooms, triple rooms, or 10 bed dormitories. Amenities include linens and towels, as well as spacious storage lockers in each room (one per bed). The hostel’s common area features a full kitchen as well as laundry facilities and complimentary wireless internet.

Snoozles Hostel Galway

Like Sleepzone, Snoozles is located right off Eyre Square-although it boasts a slightly more convenient location, being literally right around the corner from the bus station and just down the street from the central square area. Snoozles has rooms ranging from four to 10 beds, segregated by gender or mixed depending on your needs. All rooms are ensuite so you won’t have to worry about wandering out into the hallway to find your bathroom.

Snoozles has a large common area with a pool table, several televisions, DVD and video game systems, and a large kitchen and dining area. Guests enjoy a complimentary breakfast consisting of tea, coffee, cereals, fruit and toast.

Barnacles Quay Street Galway City

Barnacles Quay Street Galway City is located on downtown Galway’s pedestrianized Quay Street, connecting to Shop Street and all its many pubs, restaurants, and shops. Rooms range from double bed rooms to eight bed dorms, and include showers, linens, and towels.

Every bed is fitted with an unobtrusive reading light as well as a private storage locker for your personal belongings. Their common areas include a large kitchen and dining area, as well as a modest lounge where you can rent DVDs and relax if you’re tired of too many wild and crazy nights out-if you do want to go out, though, Barnacles is about as close to the pubs as you can get.

Study Abroad This Summer in Ireland

There are a lot of good reasons why you should spend a semester overseas. One of the most popular places to spend a summer studying abroad today is Ireland. This country is unique because it is one of the countries that hasn’t been influenced by the Romans or barbarian Germanic tribes (i.e. the Visigoths, Vandals and Anglo-Saxons), nor has it been touched by Latin or Germanic influences. Therefore, Irish culture has been able to retain its Celtic basis.

Language

One of the best reasons to study abroad is to learn a new language. Since Ireland’s new language isn’t English, most of them do speak it because Ireland has been occupied and dominated by the English for over 700 years now. Before this happened though, the dominant language was Gaelic. This language is still commonly spoken in some of the more remote areas of Ireland. Since 1921 Ireland has been independence of the English and the government has began trying to revive the Gaelic language. There are even Gaelic-language television and radio broadcasts, as well as road signs that are both in Gaelic and English. So, if you are interested in studying the Gaelic language, the best place to spend your semester overseas is in Ireland.

Similarities In Culture

Culture is another great reason to spend a semester overseas studying in Ireland. Since this country shares a lot in common with the United States, you won’t be in for such a big culture shock. After all, in the 1960s such bands as the Beatles, the Who and the Rolling Stones were rivaling the likes of Elvis and the Beach Boys. This is because there were a lot of Americans stationed there throughout World War II who brought a taste for England home with them.

Differences In Culture

Even with all of the similarities that there are, Ireland does differ from American culture in some very significant ways. Oftentimes you may not even notice these differences until you spend a semester overseas studying in Ireland. This is because only when you spend some time being immersed into this culture will you fully be able to experience and appreciate these differences.

Conclusion

Once you spend some time abroad you will be able to see your own country and culture differently. This will allow you to have a better understanding of global issues too. If you are considering a career in diplomacy, international relations, journalism or marketing, this can be very advantageous for you.

How to Road Trip Through Scotland

Dreaming of soulful bagpipe melodies floating over heathered hills and foggy moors? Wishing you could disappear into the lush green expanse, but avoid incessant commentary from the seat behind you in a guided tour bus? (Trust me … in Greece I was captive audience on a three hour rundown of my seatmate’s mysterious skin maladies).

Navigating a self-guided road trip through Scotland is easier than you might think. Visitors to the UK from the United States are free to rent cars and drive on their State issued licenses, and freedom from tour buses allows you to sightsee, eat and hike at your leisure. In 2008, my husband and I struck out on just such an adventure. We recommend the route below, not because it is the only way to see Scotland, but because it covers a bit of everything, the lowlands, the highlands, and the capital city. Living abroad for 3 years, we still list it as our favorite holiday to date.

1. Arriving in Edinburgh

Depending on how you feel about sightseeing in England in connection with your trip to Scotland, there are a couple of options. Edinburgh and Glasgow both have international airports, but flying to London allows for the greatest flexibility of flights. From there, a train takes you direct from London to Edinburgh station. Rental cars are easily reserved online before you arrive and can be picked up from the airport.

Gothic architecture, a castle, a whiskey tour and miles of hiking await you once you arrive into Edinburgh. Driving through town can be tricky for those unfamiliar with UK roads, so for best sightseeing, I recommend staying in a hotel as close to the Royal Mile (main street) as possible. Edinburgh’s main shopping, restaurants and nightlife are all within walking distance of this main artery.

2. Across the Lowlands and Fort William

A mere three hours’ drive across Scotland’s lush lowlands to the northwest deposits visitors in the mountain biking capital of Scotland, Fort William. Stop at the Nevis Range Mountain Experience and test your skills on green, blue, red and black trails, including the 2009 World Cup race trail. Also home to the highest peak in the UK, Ben Nevis, visitors can drive or hike to the top for unsurpassed panoramic view of Invernessshire. For those more seafaring than mountain climbing, summer time boat rides give guided tours of local sea life, specializing in puffins and seals. Fresh sea food can be found in any of the dockside restaurants with views over the water and surrounding hills. For Harry Potter enthusiasts, stop by the train station for a peak at the steam engine train which carries Harry and his friends to Hogwarts at the start of each school year. Smaller than Edinburgh, stay at a local bed and breakfast near the centre of town. The rates are around 30 GBP per person per night and include four star accommodations and huge full Scottish breakfasts each morning.

3. Isle of Skye

One and a half hours further to the northwest is the most easily accessible island off of Scotland’s west coast. Home to breathtaking scenery, sheer cliffs drop to the sea, and waterfalls pour from the highest points, unhindered by trees. Local lore claims that sheep outnumber residents to this island. Explorers can appreciate the sensation of discovery in the Cuillin mountain range, where hikers trek for miles without encountering another soul, and views are some of the most spectacular in all of the UK. When ready to celebrate outdoor accomplishments, visitors can stop by the local single malt whiskey distillery, Talisker, offers tours and tasting and gives a bit of history of whiskey on Skye. For those who like to imagine ruling over this remote island, stop by the Dunvegan Castle and gardens on the north side of the island. As with Fort William, this tiny island has few hotels, but many bed and breakfasts. For summer months it is recommended to book before arriving as space fills up with Scottish and English tourists.

4. Inverness and Loch Ness

Circling back towards the northeast, take your time to meander through one of the most beautiful drives in Scotland. Wind through the spectacular tips and dips of highland hills and watch out for roaming Scottish wildcats and shaggy, orange Highland Cows. Follow the sparkling coastline of Loch Ness for 23 miles, and keep your eyes open for Nessie, the nickname of the local legend, the Loch Ness Monster. Daily tour boats take you out onto this deep freshwater loch and outline the history of sightings of this mysterious creature. Allow for time to stop at Urquhart Castle, a ruin with history dating back to the 6th century. In town, Inverness feels like a modern city, with hotel chains, restaurants and familiar shops on every street. Do take advantage of catching some local musicians at the Hootananny Pub downtown. On our visit, we caught a young accordion player and guitar accompaniment playing traditional Scottish folk music. For the outdoor lovers, hiking abounds around the Loch, and also holds a pristinely kept mountain bike track to miles from the main road, the Abriachan trails also known as the Kelpies trails.

5. End of the Road – Home to Edinburgh

The return drive to Edinburgh takes approximately 3 hours. With so much to do in Scotland’s capital city, it is worth exploring even at the tail end of a trip. If you enjoy Thai food, do not miss The Thai Orchid, located next to the Royal Mile to wrap up a week of spectacular Scotland.

Happy traveling!