Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Budapest Trip - 2016

The 'Budapest'  song by George Ezra played again and again on the big bus tour in Budapest... and added a lovely association to the trip - every time we hear the song, it takes us back to the Budapest trip! From Vienna, we took a train to Budapest and then a cab to our airbnb apartment. Right when we stepped outside the railway station, we could feel how different this place is from Vienna. The buildings are old, colorful, tattered and half shattered, and have a lot of finer details and character. It seems as if they have been through a lot and each building has a long story if you had time to stop and listen. To Megs and T, it reminded them of the old South Bombay - whenever Mumbaites meet, I notice that they try to associate each city to Bombay - shows their true love and obsession for the city!

Our airbnb apartment was in a tiny alley, we were a little skeptical about the place at first, but once we entered it, it looked so beautiful and airy! Tall ceilings, big windows, and white interiors (my three basic favorites). Our host was very friendly too and gave us a lot of tips on things to do, local food, drinks, pubs - it was a good start. We had 2.5 days in Budapest so it gave us some more time to relax and explore a little more of the city compared to the time we had in Vienna and Prague.

The first day (or the remaining 1/2 day after the journey) we took the big bus tour and visited the Heroes' Square (Hősök tere). The square has statues of seven leaders that led the Magyar tribes of the Hungarians. In the center is a tall column and on top of it is the statue of Archangel Gabriel, who holds the Hungarian Crown and the apostolic double cross in his hands. These statues are massive, and so tall. It is such a marvel and I wonder how they built them.

T researched and found this tiny hole in the wall place with amazing reviews called 'Zeller Bistro'. We weren't sure if we would be able to get into the place without any reservations, but after pleading with the restaurant manager, he did decide to give us a table after an hour of wait time. While we were waiting, Megs and I browsed through some items placed in the window of an antique store that was opposite the restaurant and Megs spotted an amazing antique vase that looked beautiful. Unfortunately, the store was closed so we left it at that and enjoyed a delicious meal. T tried the famous hungarian drink Palinka - it tasted really bad, I think it is an acquired Hungarian taste! The rest of the food and the wine pairings were delicious, would have loved to go back if we had time.

At night, T and I went for a walk around the Budapest city and walked with our tripod all the way to the Budapest parliament to get some night shots. The rain made the walk a little cold and unpleasant, but we stopped by for a vending machine coffee at a train station on the way, and I think that was one of the best hot coffees I had in the trip!

The next day, we grabbed breakfast at a tiny coffee shop right outside our apartment and then T and I continued the Big bus tour (Unfortunately, Megs wasn't well the next day and was stuck with a cold, so she stayed-in). Our first stop was at the Citadel to enjoy panoramic views of the city, the parliament and the Danube river separating Buda and Pest cities. After enjoying the lovely views, we stopped at a small outdoor cafe on top of the hill to have some water/wine/Palinka break. T wanted to acquire the Palinka taste before he left Budapest ;)
Next stop, we got off at the Market Hall and walked till the Chain Bridge (one of the two famous bridges at Budapest). My memory is a little blurred on what we did in between, but I do remember having lunch in a market square and then having some gelato to cool off the heat.
Next stop we went to Clark Adam Square for the Funicular ride. The Funicular ride was first opened in 1870 and at the time it was only the second railway of that type in Europe. It was completely destroyed in WWII, but was reopened in 1986. It was fun to take this 3 minute ride and enjoy the panoramic views of the city. This city is so photogenic from all the angels!

Next stop was the Fisherman's Bastion. This place is an architectural wonder (like every other building in Budapest). The towers, the terraces, the views, the countless steps and walkways.... everything was so spectacular. I was so tired of clicking in every direction, and one can only capture so much in the camera, plus I had to keep the camera aside and enjoy the moment as well! Sigh.

The parliament building is definitely the most prominent of all the buildings and can be seen and admired from every tourist spot. The Hungarian Parliament is one of Europe's oldest legislative building and has 691 rooms. Unfortunately due to the time constraints, we did not have time to take a tour of the building interiors.
Later in the evening, Megs joined us and we walked around St. Stephens Basilica and the Parliament building again. We had dinner at a random (a place not researched by T for best reviews) Italian place and T tried Unicum, the other famous Hungarian drink. Unicom is supposed to be a healthy drink - it is basically herbal liquor. However, I don't think T was very pleased with its taste and would probably never have it again, but it was an experience. When in Hungary, drink like a Hungarian!

The day wasn't done until we visited the Parliament building again. We did the night cruise on Danube river and were awed by the closer view of the magnificant structure.

And that was the end of a long, long, long day.

The next day, we checked out of the Airbnb apartment but we left our luggage there as our next journey wasn't until the evening. We walked up till Market hall and I did some souvenir shopping. This place had so many cute knick knacks that I had to absolutely buy. Wooden spoons, pencils with Hungarian Dolls carved, embroidered tea cup coasters, wooden tops, candle holders, Danube river shoe shaped pot, ceramic vases - all the essentials were bought!

Also since we had time to kill, and I could not take my mind off the the vase that Megs spotted the first day, T and Megs walked with me all the way back to that shop just so that I can pick up the vases (actually really old Palinka case). I thought that was a big score, and it was so amazing of T and Megs to come with me with so much patience!!!
After lunch at a local stir-fry chain, we had to bid farewell to Megs as her flight was a few hours earlier than our overnight train ride. They say, if you remain friends for 10+ years in life, you will be friends forever. So hope to see her soon again! :-)

Since we still had some time to kill till before our train departure, our airbnb host recommended that we spend some time visiting the ruin pubs of Budapest. I think that was the best recommendation and it was such a fun way to end the Budapest trip. These pubs are located in the buildings that were abandoned after WWII, they have very retro 70s decor, lots of plants, good music and very chilled out people! It was the perfect way to cherish the memories made on the trip and bid farewell to the city.

And finally, it was time to catch our over-night train ride to Munich! Coming up in the next travel blog post....

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Mom's spring garden - 2017

Made a last minute spontaneous visit to mom today and although I would have loved to capture the garden in the morning light, here are some pics taken today afternoon. Spring blooms of 2017 :D

The backyard is dominated by pink flowers and lovely lush greens...

The red mulch in the front yard is bright and colorful and warm. Love this sight of welcoming bunches :)

And the old bear continues to hang on the tree with his birdie! 
See another view of the garden as it bloomed in 2014 here.

In other recent updates, here are some more pics taken by mom :)

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Fiddle Leaf Fig

Fiddle Leaf Fig was my biggest obsession for a long time. I could not find it in the local stores, but when Ikea had baby plants for $12 - I bought myself two plants and hoped that one day they will be 4 feet tall! That was in 2013. Read about it here.
Now the plants are more than 6 feet tall and are still doing well.

They are still in their original pots they came in which seems a little small for the big plant. I also noticed that the leaves were drooping for one of the plants, maybe due to lack of nutrients. So last year, I decided to experiment changing one of the plants to a bigger pot. I did not want to risk moving both plants into bigger pots at the same time.

I moved the plant in September last year, but got to blogging about it just now. The plant looked a little sad in the pot, so I did not want to wait till spring to move it. I am glad that the plant adjusted well.

Also looks like it grew about an inch since last September (although the leaves have started drooping again). Now its time to feed it some spring fertilizer and continue watering it once a week. Lets see how far this journey continues.

The next thing I want to experiment on the plant is to see how it can branch out instead of growing up straight. Maybe something to try next time. :)

Monday, February 20, 2017

2017 Reading List

To increase my appetite for reading and stay motivated to read more, I am thinking of maintaining a log of the books I read this year - This is my own book club for books/journals/articles... actually any kind of interesting reading material I come across this year. Here is what I have so far, and hopefully this list will be constantly updated throughout the year (and hence the reverse numbering).

3) Kane & Able - My first Jeffrey Archer book was 'The Prodigal Daughter' which I probably read in high school and he has since been one of my favorite authors. After that first book, I think I read all his books back to back except Kane and Able (and now I also need to catch up with his books from the latest Clifton Series). Since we have been locked up in the house this weekend due to rains, this was the perfect pick. Its been a while since I read his books, and 200 pages into this book, I am reminded of why he is my favorite story-teller.

2) Urban Jungle - This book had been on my wish list ever since I first heard about it back in mid-2016. Social media/ Instagram advertising totally caught my attention and I added it to my Xmas wish list. The book was so hard to find in the local bookstores, and had to be ordered online and the shipment kept delaying. Finally Mrs. Santa (mom) gave it to me in January and I have been so glued to each page in the book - admiring the pictures and soaking in a bits of information on styling and caring for plants. Its one of my favourite coffee table books and the only coffee table book that I have read end to end!

1) Arranged Marriage - I first came across Chitra Divakaruni's books when I was browsing in the local Library and her book 'One Amazing Thing' was on the reading list. I loved that book and her writing style - it was just simple story telling and it was so refreshing to me. I also read 'Oleander Girl' and loved that story too. I think her stories all revolve around a strong female character born in India and facing the challenges and adventures of assimilating in the US culture and maintaining the balance of both cultures. Now I want to read all her books, and this is the 3rd pick from the author. It's a collection of short stories and I was a little disappointed in the way stories unfolded - each one had a sad ending or something that depicted that marriages arent perfect and there are too many untold imperfections, and the stories were heavy to read. It is true that marriages aren't perfect, but I like to read for relaxation and not to burden myself with the problems of the characters in the story to think about in my free time!! But, I still think it was a good read, and I am looking forward to reading other books from the author.

Thursday, February 16, 2017


Looking back at the trip we did in May and to continue the Europe travelogue... here is the next part (better late than never!). So we took a train ride from Prague to Vienna and now I know why Vienna is listed as one of the best cities in the world. We only spent a day and half in Vienna, but we made sure to make the most of it!

Day 1 (Actually 0.5): We reached Vienna late in the evening and checked into a cute little airbnb apartment in the heart of the city, right next to the Opera house. The apartment was part of an old building from the 1800s and it had that old charm - A magnificent entry door, really tall ceilings in the hallway leading up the apartments, the tiniest and the slowest elevator that took five minutes to go upto the third floor... all the experiences that remind you that you are in a really ancient building! But the building was very well maintained, it was clean and it looked royal. The small apartment was extremly chic, and it was a perfect for our stay! 
As soon as we checked into the apartment and finished our 'Wow' screams at getting so lucky finding this place, we stepped out and enjoyed Vienese style coffee and pastries by a street-side cafe - This was my favourite memory of the trip!

Vienna is a busy city. People are fashionably dressed and the city has a very busy hustle to it. So different from Prague. 

To add to all the excitement, Megs joined us at Vienna.  After years of planning a visit to Megs in Europe, so glad that we could finally make it happen. And happiness = Old friends + new places!!

In the evening we walked past the Operah House, the old town center, and visited St. Stephens church just before they closed. Since we had so much to catch-up, T found a perfect place for dinner - Figlmüller. The food, the wine pairing, ambiance, service, the company... everything made the dinner an unforgettable experience!

Day 2: The Big Bus tour is the best way to visit a city when you are short on time. The tour also included a 3 hour walking tour around the Oprah house and Old town square and we caught some interesting stories from the tour guide. We covered a lot on the bus and toured the city via the big bus audio recording.

A photo tip - To get the best pics, we always went a little early to the bus and sat in the front bench of the double-decker bus. The glass in front shielded the hair from flying in all the directions and we got the best pics from a height.

The only place we got off the bus was to visit was the Schoenbrunn Palace and I think that was a wise pick considering that we were so short on time. The imperial summer palace built and remodeled in 1750s was a wedding gift to empress Maria Theresa. The palace has  over 1400 rooms, I cannot imagine how the queen decorated them - and here I have 4 rooms to decorate in my new place and after a year in the place, I am still not done! The grand tour allows visitors to see 40 rooms in about an hour's time along with a very well controlled audio tour. The palace exterior was very unimpressive, but the interiors were rich. Each and every room was so grand and majestic - the tapestries, the chandeliers, the paintings, the ballrooms, the gardens - everything was suited to the lavish lifestyles of the kings and empresses! 

After the palace visit and missing the last tour bus, the famished us took an uber to a close-by shopping district (Mariahilfer Straße) to have some beer, wine and sacher torte. T also boasted of his language skills to the uber driver and spoke in random Sanskrit and French to impress him! 

After strolling around the city some more, we had a nice hot thai dinner at 'Bangkok' restaurant and the tired feet called it a day. And we had an early morning train to catch to Budapest...coming up in the next travel blog post.

Goodbye, beautiful city!