World Tour Euro-Update #1: Wandering Until Things Got Interesting in Amsterdam & Budapest
Memorable Moments in Amsterdam:
- Seven days before heading to Europe for five months, we realized that without visas we could only stay for three. Slight change in plans.
- An official tour guide teaching us the long-standing Hungarian tradition for good health: a shot of 80-proof ‘medicinal’ liquor first thing in the morning. Plus, how to cure a sunburn by slathering yourself in half a centimeter of sour cream (thankfully we didn’t have any burns needing attention, yet).
Days on the Road: 100
Countries Visited: 11
Cities Visited: Over 30 (including day trips)
WHERE WE ARE… NOW: Brasov in Transylvania, Romania • LAST: Budapest, Hungary • NEXT: Somewhere in Bulgaria…
Our first Euro-Update: We have to admit, we have been horrible about keeping up with our updates! But we are trying to create a better system that will allow us to stay current. That being said, we are skipping ahead to where we are now and will update try to keep these updates real time. 🙂
After an amazing trip home for our good friends’ bachelor/bachelorette parties and wedding, we headed back on the road. It was definitely a mix of feelings. We had been surrounded by friends, family and the comforts of home for a few weeks and we knew that going back on the road this time meant likely not seeing those people or feeling those comforts for another 9 months.
Oh, and we also learned about the Schengen Agreement a few days before boarding our flight to Europe where we had planned to stay for 5 months. This agreement states that you cannot spend more than 90 days within 180 days in a certain group of EU countries (nearly all of them!) without a visa. Of course we didn’t have enough time, nor the proper reason, to get a visa, so we boarded our flight with a lot of uncertainty, a few nerves but even more excitement for the adventure ahead – knowing we’d have to completely change a lot of our plans on the fly!
Our first stop was Amsterdam…
How’d we pick The Netherlands to start? Easy – it was the best flight we could find when booking on miles (San Francisco direct to London then to Amsterdam). So that decided our kick off! We had both been to Amsterdam once before but we were much younger and knew we likely didn’t appreciate the city for what it actually is… which is an incredibly beautiful, charming and exciting city. It’s the first place we’ve been all year that we felt we could actually live. And in all honestly if it wasn’t for the Schengen Agreement, we probably would have stayed even longer! Here are our Amsterdam Highlights…
1. Wandering the Canals for Hours
“Walk until things become interesting.”
We recently heard Rolf Potts, author of Vagabonding, say this in a podcast. And that we did in Amsterdam!
We clocked over 50 miles of walking in the week we were there! It is honestly the most amazing city to just wander in. We had a few long work days in the house (believe it or not, we were very unproductive at home so needed some time to catch up once we were on the road, haha) and a quite interrupted sleeping schedule to get adjusted to the time difference (one day Chelsea woke up at 2:30am, another at 12:45pm!).
But nearly every night we set out around sunset and walked along the canals, sometimes stopping for a beer along the way, other times just scoping out the scene on the streets. This is one of our favorite things to do in a new city, wander without a destination and see where we end up!
2. Taking a Bike Tour of the City
We love doing bike tours to get a lay of the land, and Amsterdam has a huge bike culture. There are actually more bikes than people, and the bike lanes felt like mini highways! It’s definitely the way to get around the city. Our Airbnb didn’t come with bikes but we did take a tour one day and were SO happy we did.
We learned a ton about the history and culture of the city – including why the houses purposely lean forward & to the sides (for rain shelter & hoisting furniture) and why some are so narrow while others are very wide (they were taxed on width, so wide showed status, while narrow saved a fortune – like house #7 above). Plus, we could always use the extra physical activity with the way we like to eat our way around town.
3. The Coffee
We were incredibly impressed with the coffee in Amsterdam and even learned about a Flat White (similar to a double shot dry cappuccino), which is basically Scott’s perfect drink! Every single place we ordered coffee, the baristas seemed to take their craft very seriously and what was presented to us was a perfect tasting and artfully crafted beverage. Our favorite shops? Back to Black and Lot Sixty One.
4. Live Your Legend Local Event + A Private Windmill Tour
We held a Live Your Legend Local event on a beautifully sunny Sunday afternoon (which apparently is rare this time of year around here) and had an incredible showing. About 15 people were signed up for the event but nearly 50 showed up! Every time we attend one of these, we are still blown away that there are so many passionate LYLers in so many parts of the world – and that a group like this can come together often with a week or less notice! At one point it looked like the group’s excitement (i.e. unprompted yelling and screaming) might even get us kicked out of the family brunch spot we’d reserved – a fun problem to have!
After the event, one of the hosts took us on a private tour of the last working windmill in Amsterdam, which has been in her family for generations. It was a very cool and unique experience we never would have been able to have without her generosity.
Later that night we were invited to dinner at the other host’s house. It was a very cool international night full of delicious home-cooked Filipino food, Dutch chocolate and Serbian coffee – and learning some unexpected stories about local’s life in Amsterdam, including lots and lots of laughs!
5. Visiting Keukenhof Gardens
Chelsea LOVES flowers… so when we learned we were in Amsterdam one of the eight weeks out of the year where the tulip fields are in bloom, a visit to Keukenhof Gardens was immediately added to the top of the ‘must do’ list. And it was SO worth it. It was honestly like Disneyland for flower lovers. Our senses were on overdrive with all the beautiful sights and smells in the park. it was a very neat experience and one that you must do if you ever find yourself in Holland in the spring!
6. Endless Bakery & Food Stand Tasting
Scott has a habit of stopping into just about every bakery we see (as well as most food stands). Actually, come to think of it, we have a similar problem with cute wine and beer shops. 🙂 And Amsterdam seemed to have more bakeries per capita than anyplace we’d been this year (until we got to Hungary, that is).
Next Stop, Budapest…
Unfortunately, due to the Schengen Agreement (and to make sure we don’t use up our 90 days before our family arrives in August!), we had to keep our trip to Hungary fairly short. But we did manage to fit in quite a few experiences during our 4 days there. Here are a few of our favorite things about this incredible city…
1. The Views of the City at Night
Now, normally we are not ones to snap endless pictures of buildings alone… but in Budapest, Chelsea found herself wanting to take nonstop pictures of the beautifully lit up buildings. We stayed in an Airbnb with this amazing balcony view for starters…
And as we wandered Budapest we quickly began to see the appeal of this gorgeous city as the grand buildings and bridges really do take your breath away!
2. Visiting the Ruin Pubs
Everyone we talked to about Budapest mentioned the ruin pubs. It’s sort of hard to understand exactly how cool they are until you visit one, but now we definitely see the hype! They are basically pubs made in old ruined buildings. The design is the prefect combination of character and chaos. If you ever plan to visit Budapest, a ruin pub, especially Szimpla Kert (the first and oldest), is a must!
3. Wine and Food Tour
We love food. We love wine. So why not do a tour that combines them both? We discovered Taste Hungary, which is a tasting room in the city + a group that puts on tours, and boy are we happy we did. We booked the Central Market Hall + Wine Tour and we can safely say, we aren’t sure we’ve ever come across anyone more knowledgable and passionate about food than our guide Virag. The day surprisingly started with a shot of Unicum, an 80-proof local ‘medicinal’ liquor, at 10:00 am so that we could ‘get hungry’ for all the food we were about to sample in the hall.
We then moved on to tasting in Etyek, a region mainly known for its white wines and had a wonderful 3-course lunch at Rokusfalvy Fogado, where we got to taste local specialties with a countryside feel – and apparently Jude Law visited this restaurant while shooting in Hungary! Chelsea was just a little bit excited about that fact. 🙂 After a long lunch, we tasted 5 wines at a small winery called Hernyak Birtok. There was more food, of course, and wonderful wines in what felt like someone’s living room. We learned so much about Hungary, food and wine from Virag! This was definitely a highlight of our time in Budapest.
Scott’s favorite local lesson: Apparently sour cream is the Hungarian cure for just about everything. For bad sunburns, apply half a centimeter to your skin and ideally go to sleep that way (so we’re told). Given the weather, thankfully we didn’t have a chance to test it out. 🙂
4. Live Your Legend Event
We had another incredible LYL gathering in Budapest with people seeming to come from many parts of the country. Seeing the way different local hosts put on their monthly events is always a big part of the fun (and education). Scott loved seeing the, “LYL Ass Kicker of the Month” pins, created by Laura and Krisztina, the amazing Budapest hosts. Definitely need to report that one back to the rest of the global groups!
5. The Sights From a Hike up Castle Hill
On our first night in town, we walked across the river to the Buda side and up Castle Hill. We had grand plans of then going to visit some baths, which are also a MUST while in Budapest, but the sights stopped us short (we still managed to make it to two in our four days). We caught a gorgeous sunset while enjoying a 3 euro glass of white wine, over looking the Pest side with what looked like a sand castle right in front of us. It was simply magical!
6. Day Trip to the Small Danube Town, Szentendre
Given our short time in Budapest, we were hesitant to take a day trip but locals insisted. And it was only a 30 min train ride from town… or so we thought.
Some of the people at the LYL event gave us very good directions on how to catch the train to Szentendre, but when we showed up to the station we saw a sign stating that construction had started the day before! There were apparently ‘great’ instructions on the re-route, yet we couldn’t understand Hungarian… so we stumbled around a bit, asked several people, caught a bus where the very kind driver drew the directions and number of the train on his hand since we couldn’t communicate, bought the wrong ticket only to run into people with the right one who then showed us how to use the ticketing machine properly (and avoid paying a fine costing 15x the price of a ticket). It’s always nice when we can be good, clueless tourists!
Anyhow, 2.5 hours later we arrived to the charming and colorful river side town of Szentendre. We wandered the cobblestone streets, walked along the river, had the best coffee ever (at that cute red table you see above) and grabbed some traditional Hungarian soups and cheeses to warm us up. Thankfully the return trip was a little less work since we had already lived through it once. 🙂
7. And Finally, Touring by Night, Like Real Tourists…
After 9 miles of walking one day, we decided to treat ourselves to a special ride home. Our driver blasted US party music as he peddled us home – right up until he blew a tire and we had to walk the rest of the way. 🙂
New Lessons from the Road:
- Wander. A lot. Exploring without plans is the best way we’ve found for finding adventure and being surprised.
- Take small tours, ideally early in the trip. We’ve loved these (with 6 people max) – we learn from a local, usually make a couple friends and get a much better feel for what life is actually like it town – and some of the less touristy hot spots worth visiting.
- Oh, and when wandering for long periods of time, try to have more of a clue about the visa rules…
That’s all we’ve got for now.
Next stop: Our 13-hour night train to Transylvania, Romania. More on that soon, but for now we should probably figure out where we’re headed next. We check out tomorrow and still aren’t quite sure where home will be!
We welcome any suggestions. Seriously. 🙂 Just hit reply or leave a comment below.
– Chelsea and Scott