AA on the road: Day 10 – What happens when you eat a 12-course dinner…

Day 10: September 5, 2015
Time: 12:00
Location: Budapest, Hungary

So good morning! Budapest is still our home for another 24 hours. The 12-course Michelin dinner paired with 7 glasses of wine apparently took its toll on poor Andreas and his tummy. The incredible gourmet explosion was too much for the poor tummy to handle, so it seems that someone will have to spend the day in bed and with less sophisticated and a more down-to-earth diet, consisting of yoghurt and banana.

This new development means that I am left alone to walk the streets of Budapest while Andreas is taking his revitalising nap. The streets are like postcards, ready to take your breath away on every corner. After the morning rain, the city looks fresh and smiling.

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The streets are like postcards in Budapest, ready to take your breath away on every corner.

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I find cities that still run these charming old trams so adorable. Fortunately there are still many in Europe who have chosen to preserve this iconic mode of transportation.

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The two eye-pleasers of Budapest greeting in passing.

… walking up and down the Danube promenade, starting of course with my favourite Parliament building…

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The rain brought out such intensity in colours.

…continuing towards the Chain bridge and the sweeping views across the Buda side…

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… and circling back to the Shoes on the Danube, a memorial for the Jews killed during WWII in Budapest.

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Finishing my stroll I head back home to find Andreas just waking up from his sleep feeling more fresh and ready to savour some real food. After some heavy negotiations, we reach a compromise, so he gets a plain pizza, which is a rather humble dinner compared to yesterday’s gourmet feast.

Before the dinner party though we simply needed to experience a ride on the world’s second oldest electric underground line and mainland Europe’s oldest line – Budapest’s very own Metro Line 1! The metro line is also included in the UNESCO World Heritage list.

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All the metro stations of Line 1 are designed in the same exact fashion, with these cute wooden guard houses and the green beams. A very historic experience indeed and a UNESCO World Heritage Site!

That’s all folks! Tomorrow we will say good-bye to lovely Budapest and continue our journey eastward and southward. Bye until then :)

Photos © Andreas Eriksen & Ani Movsisyan

AA on the road: Day 9 – Indulging in Budapest

Day 9: September 4, 2015
Time: 10:00
Location: Budapest, Hungary
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Andreas is behind the camera today performing his usual magic!

Oh what a trip so far! It is day 9 and country number 4 that has opened its pretty doors to us. Good morning from Budapest, a city that is waiting to take our breath away.

Today is all about exploring and indulging in Budapest. The day will unfold in the streets of flat Pest housing buildings that with great effort still cling to the once grand and glorious intricacy of the Austro-Hungarian architecture standing side by side with structures barely holding, sad and dilapidated, yet with a certain charm that makes this city so irresistible. The action will then move to the hilly and picturesque Buda that like a shy beauty is waiting to make you fall in love with it. Finally the day will culminate in one of the most memorable gastronomic adventures.

Pest, Buda and gastronomy will have to wait though. The first mention of the day has to be shared between our charming courtyard and our capricious Rover.

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Our secret retreat in Budapest – one doesn’t need much to transform a white canvas into a beautiful painting.

The courtyards in Budapest have quite the fame. They have to be experienced, as words cannot do them enough justice. It was a beautiful encounter as we opened our apartment door to find this fairy tale oasis.

Now it is high time for another car adventure. The next outburst of the capricious metal horse was a loud noise that was following us like an unbearable shadow all the way from Zlin to Budapest. Hopefully the Hungarian garages are more knowledgeable and less expensive than their Czech counterparts. Through our friends’ friends we have found a local garage.

Visiting the Hungarian car doctor. The initial inspection goes well despite our lack of Hungarian language skills. It doesn’t take them long to confirm the diagnosis.

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Here is the culprit – the slightly worn wheel bearing!

Hands are shaken, papers are signed, keys are handed over. The car will be fixed within a few hours! A major point in the plus column for the Hungarian car people. We are free to enjoy the sun and the pleasant autumn warmth in the beautiful city.

IMG_8015Hősök tere or Heroes Square is where we head first. Located in the end of Andrássy út, the grand culmination of the Budapest’s answer to Champs-Élysées, we find a square that is grand and imposing.

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Watching the groups of tourists make their way to the center for an obligatory selfie with the heroes feeds some emotion to the silent statues frozen in time. Speaking of tourists, Chinese rule all visitor stats. The grand city of Budapest, just like the other “must-sees” of Europe, has been discovered by the eager groups of the billion-plus nation of the Orient. I suppose this wide square won’t feel so wide within a few years…

Széchenyi Thermal Bath

Széchenyi Thermal Bath

Behind the cold square in the middle of a beautiful park hides a rather hot spot – the Széchenyi Thermal Baths. Crowded – yes! it is a beloved public bath after all. Affordable – you betcha, far from the heart-pounding prices of the West and Scandinavia in particular. Rejuvenating – so they say, we didn’t have time to personally test the healing powers of Budapest’s baths this time. On our short visit our taste buds took a glorious victory over our body relaxation in a fierce battle of indulgence in Budapest. But as the Terminator said so well before us – I’ll be back!

Making our way down Andrássy út, we greet the many faces of Budapest. Sometimes grandeur and imposing, sometimes dilapidated and falling apart, sometimes grand and sometimes shabby. This city has surprised and kept us in awe since the moment we pulled in.

IMG_8014IMG_8013 _MG_4729After a few hours spent on the flat lands of Pest, we head back to the car workshop to pick up our ride. As promised, the Rover is ready, shining in the sun and driving as smooth as a Bond car with no trace of the annoying noise of the past. The hills of Buda is a wonderful challenge for the car. As we cross the Chain Bridge connecting the two banks of Danube together we cannot stop feeling our newfound love for this city increasing with each hill we climb. Reaching atop the Gellert Hill we park and hurry past the crowds to the viewing platform. What awaits our gaze is simply breathtaking!

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Budapest – it’s so hard to resist your charm!

It is hard to leave the mesmerising view behind and descend the picturesque hills of Buda. But the scheduled time for a culinary magic was approaching fast. Apart from all the grandness, Budapest is also home to a number of Michelin starred restaurants. Good food is one small vice of ours. So an evening of gourmet food is what we presented to ourselves. After some quick research, we stopped our choice on Restaurant Onyx! An unforgettable evening of a 4-hour, 12-course ritual that delighted us and left our taste buds exploding in sheer joy. This place is so worth its shining Michelin! Starting with a rolling tray of at least 20 different exotic bread choices served as if each piece of bread was a precious object, followed by 12 courses of dishes that were out of this world, and as if this was not magical enough, ending the 4-hour festivity with yet another rolling tray of chocolate delights… The experience was unforgettable.

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Some of the beautiful creations of the Onyx master chefs.

We end the evening on a romantic note, strolling the banks of Danube. This walk was as romantic as it was essential. After our tummies filled with Michelin love we needed the physical exercises to keep us from exploding.

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The elegant Chain Bridge linking this grand city together!

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The Hungarian Parliament is mesmerising in day and night.

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Good night for now. Tomorrow is our last day in pretty Budapest before the journey continues east towards country number 4 – Romania!

Photos © Andreas Eriksen & Ani Movsisyan

AA on the road: Day 8 – acting in a Czech soap opera and finally heading to Budapest

Day 8: September 3, 2015
Time: 08:00
Location: Zlin, Czech Republic
Destination: Budapest, Hungary

Today has got to be the day… The day that we get to continue doing what we set out to do in the first place. Drive! Experience the world lying beyond the small Czech town of Zlin.

Andreas has a plan. He has stayed up late into the night researching on possible failure causes for the car engine. Posts at Land Rover forums, e-mails shot left and right, Facebook messages, countless YouTube videos seem to have produced a result. A hope rather… After all the trouble of fixing the car we dare not harbour big dreams, but nurture a tiny hope that today will be the day. The fuel pump seems to be the cause of all the misery. When it gets dirty, the supply of fuel shuts off and the engine stops. Come to think of it… Apparently it is a common Land Rover issue, that the official Land Rover workshop has no idea about, but the brilliant car owners know all too well about.

We repeat the same ritual of yesterday: pack and say good-bye to the lovely Czech family who have stood by our side day in and out supporting us with their love and care. Alena, our Czech mother has even managed to exceed her breakfast wonders. Freshly baked pancakes are waiting for us on the table as we go down with our bags. What a wonderful surprise!

Saying good-bye is hard, but somehow the anticipation of today being the day of finally being able to continue our adventure makes the sadness a tiny bit less emotional. We leave our beautiful home perched atop the hills of Zlin behind and drive our usual route to the car workshop we so wish to leave behind.

We arrive at the workshop just as they open. I head straight to our oh-so-familiar sofa up the stairs and make a temporary camp thankful for the distraction provided by Boyhood, which hopefully should have enough runtime – 2 hours 46 minutes to be exact, to last for the whole car fixing performance. I also have a backup of Stumbling on Happiness, a great, great book in my bag, just in case my temporary camp has to transition itself into a more permanent abode. As you can see we came prepared for the fight. Both the movie and the book are highly recommended by the way and not just in the rare case you find yourself stranded in a car workshop in Zlin 😉

Andreas heads straight for the mechanic and takes him (read forces him) for a ride so the guy could see with his own eyes how the problem occurs and maybe get an epiphany. At least that’s the hope. Alas just when you want the stupid engine to stop running, it refuses. How convenient, little bastard, pardon my French. An hour passes. To me it feels like they have already reached either Slovakia or Prague depending on what direction they are headed, and have left me behind, stranded in my camp in the small town of Zlin.

I am engrossed in my movie, so the wait is made a little less unbearable. I am sitting quietly minding my own business when a monstrous, stupid wasp, decides to add insult to injury and plant a loving kiss on my shoulder! That is it. That is the absolute last drop I can take. Tears start flowing, I am ready to scream, when my knight on the white horse, aka Andreas, comes back from his drive and rushes to my rescue. In come first-aid measures and after much time spent calming me down that no, I don’t have bee allergies and I should not be ushered to the doctor, I am put to sleep. This whole commotion feels like straight out of a soap opera. I don’t know to cry or to laugh…

I am left to rest my wounded shoulder, which to put all doubt aside, is aching and itching like crazy and is swollen quite a bit. Andreas heads to the workshop to tell the mechanic to get his act together and clean the fuel pump. After some back and forth discussions, of course the mechanic still doesn’t harbour the slightest doubt that his ingenious fix was not a fix at all, they agree to clean the fuel pump.

The spotlight is back again onto the sofa. My movie is long finished, my shoulder feels numb, my tears have dried out and I just feel tired. Minutes slowly tick by, replaced by hours… Finally after 6 loooooong hours of being stuck in this workshop, we get the news that the pump is cleaned, are shown proof of how dirty it was, and are ushered out to greet our car. 1,2,3… here comes the Rover that gave us so much trouble. You cannot imagine our joy! It cannot be described either, it has to be felt.

We cross our fingers and set the course towards Budapest. Oh how long did we have to wait to utter these words… Budapest, Budapest, Buda and Pest… we are coming to you.

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The last few kms of Czech roads before we cross the border into Slovakia.

Kms go by and the car is still driving like a champ. We cannot believe our eyes, and we are afraid to take a breath in relief. It can stop any second now. But no, more kms rush past and we are crossing the last stretch of the Czech road. Unbelievable! Our road trip is saved and we are really continuing our adventure.

Before we reach the Slovak border though, there are a couple of observations I need to put out there before the Czech road finishes. The first observation is that the Czech are truly kind and sweet people. We have received the nicest treatment, support and care from all the wonderful people that crossed our path. The second observation is that Czech women dress in lovely bright colours, even older ladies. And that is just a wonderful little showcase of joie de vivre!

A few more meters and here we are… Slovakia! Ahoj. Another border crossing, another blue sign with yellow stars welcomes us to its vast lands.

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Ahoj Slovakia! That’s a sight we longed to see.

Alas our unscheduled pit stop in Zlin made us cut our planned 2-night stay in Slovakia to a mere 4-hour drive through the country. From the car window we saw some beautiful landscapes pass by. Road signs pointing to promises of amazing sights succeeded one another without being turned towards. Until next time Slovakia, for now you will stay as a beautiful transit country in our memories.

The Slovak roads gave way to Hungarian roads and finally in the dark of the evening we reached Budapest. The city we were already starting to doubt we would ever make it to. Totally unprepared for a stay in our new destination and totally in awe that we actually made it there, we try to arrange for accommodation on the go. After some futile search, Fortuna smiles to us and we find a hidden gem right in the centre on the beautiful Pest side of Budapest. Opening the door to a courtyard of an impressive old building we unlock the door to our home in Budapest…

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We are home! An evening stroll around our hood quickly tells us that our home couldn’t have been located in any better spot. Budapest it is hard not to fall in love with you from the first sight.

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An incredible sight – the Hungarian Parliament building is breathtaking day and night.

Good night dreamy city. Can’t wait to see your pretty face again tomorrow.

Photos © Andreas Eriksen & Ani Movsisyan