Updated: 5 days ago

After Italy, we had two more destinations to look forward to before returning home to life as normal: Budapest, Hungary and Tbilisi, Georgia. At that point, neither of us had been to either country nor to any parts of the Central European and Eastern European region. With little to no idea of what to expect, it felt like we were fully in travel adventure mode as we headed to Bergamo Airport, a different airport again, to catch our Friday afternoon flight north-east to Hungary for the weekend...

Budapest


Arriving in Budapest the first thing we were told was that we didn't need to wear masks anymore—anywhere. Throughout our three days, it felt both normal and extraordinarily surreal (and that's after 20 months of seriously wild stuff, ahem). Some places, like the large Westend Shopping Centre we went to on our first day, felt like scenes straight out of the before times. It felt weird. But hey, we got on with it. You could argue for and against this but it was certainly nice to fully see faces and smile at people again (small upsides).


Our first impressions of Budapest were of rain, which we'd expected thanks to our friendly Airbnb host Peter, who wins the prize for being an all-round legend in every single way. After providing the most fabulously detailed instructions imaginable for transiting from Budapest Ferenc Liszt Airport (love this name for them) into central Pest, we easily made it to our charming 'Cottage In The City'. Legendary Peter met us to check in and he gave us a long list of recommendations for his hometown. We had great chats before letting him go join his family and enjoy their weekend. Praise Peter!



We stayed in the northern part of the Pest side of the city. Again, Aoife's planning wizardry really paid off here, as there was no shortage of great restaurants and everything we could want nearby (Aldi's and Lidl's with vast beer selections for instance because priorities). Our cottage was right on the street but hidden away behind a block so it really felt like a dreamy inner city treehouse and had everything we needed to feel cosy in chilly Budapest. Thank you, Peter!


We spent our first night at a local Hungarian restaurant called Blue Tomato and while we don't have pictures, we devoured an enormous meat board (more on this later). Needless to say, an excellent experience. The following morning we ventured around the corner to another of Peter's café recommendations, Sarki Fuszeres. This parkside nook was everything you could want: leafy surrounds, blankets on the chairs, chill and comforting meals, and bloody great coffee. We honestly loved this neighbourhood spot so much that we made it our temporary 'local' and returned for brunch on Monday, too. We also sourced some Hungarian sausage for Rob J from here and, again, we have heard only good reviews on how their products travel. 10/10 for these cute options in the 'hood! There were many more spots in this suburb, Újlipótvaros, that we liked the look of and we'll delve more deeply into everything we missed when we go back to Hungary.


Still thinking about everything we had at Sarki Fuszeres including that wee pot of mustard!

Every day we basically walked and walked and walked. This is on brand for us but it really did feel like we hit the pavement hard in Budapest. On our first full day, we went for the breakfast above then actually did a ton of shopping admin that we'd been waiting to do while in Europe. One of us got hiking pants (Simon) and one of us spent extensive time in the Lindt shop (Aoife). Success of all kinds was had (both of us) and though going to a shopping centre is something you can do at home, it's also quite fun to go see what's different and observe these normal parts of life for people. After dinner near our Airbnb, we retired for a quiet night. We'd planned a big day of eating and thermal spa soaking for Sunday so resting up in the cottage was a-ok.


On Sunday we walked to breakfast and happened to stumble upon the House Of Parliament, one of Budapest's countless unreal historic buildings, on the banks of the Danube River. Aoife had been trying to navigate us to go via St Stephen's Basilica and this just happened to be a breathtaking miss-turn along the way. I can't imagine what a job in the parliament would be like here if this was your office and transit into work every day. It's just so stately and majestic. Budapest is veritably soaked in history and this particular area had a memorial museum for the 1956 Uprising that we wished we'd been able to visit. This museum, along with many other buildings, museums and sites of cultural and historical significance are all on our list for next time. It's still tricky to go to some of these places with the pandemic and though we did set aside some of our final day for the National Gallery unfortunately, due to our poor planning and various other factors, both the gallery and other landmarks we attempted to go to wound up being closed. (We traversed this same area, Kossuth Lajos Square, again on the Monday and Aoife took this video while we were hunting for a bus ticket machine...)



Another of Peter's excellent recommendations was Szimpla Kert, which translates to 'Ruin Pub' in Hungarian. It's basically a big old commercial complex that was due to be condemned but instead was co-opted by market operators, merchants and publicans who turned it into this:






A lot more seems to go on behind the scenes here. Beyond being a cracking spot for a pint on the weekend, they run an indie cinema, recording studio, and host of other community-centred activities. A vending machine dispensing CDs and tapes from local artists gets a big tick from us! Read more about it here.


It has given rise to others in the area, big and small, with indoor and outdoor areas (or a mix). Subsequently the food and nightlife in the area (Jewish Quarter) was great to wander around in. I can foresee coming back to do a Goulash/Debreciner/BBQ/(insert chosen delicacy) crawl in this area in future. It really has something to offer everyone. I can confidently say I had the best shawarma of my life just outside Szimpla Kert at a Lebanese street food place called Manouche (I'm by no means a connoisseur but it set the bar very high). The following few photos are from around the blocks that make up this neighbourhood.






Budapest is held in high regard for its spa facilities, so of course we had to put this to the test to know for certain and we set aside the full afternoon to adequately assess the offerings. It was off to Rudas Baths for us!


Yes, the fountain on the far side is a nutsack. Pay it no mind.
Cheeky little lap pool...no laps for us though, we were there for the plunge and soaking pools!
We caught sunset from here overlooking the Danube. It was a "pinch yourself" moment. OK, the hot tub was very crowded at the time (embrace the nutsacks).

We put our phones etc. in the lockers, so thanks for https://krisztianbodis.com/hu/fotozas/ and www.rudasfurdo.hu for the photos.


Going from hot to cold spas doesn't ever get old, does it?


One word of advice if you are planning to go here—don't take the watch off unless you're leaving. The plastic watches they give you permit access into the various areas. I'll spare you the confusing story, but suffice to say we got it sorted and continued to enjoy the facilities. Oh, and do BYO towel AND thongs.

In the old Turkish area (pretty octagonal bath above) there was a dear old lady in her 80s hugging the nutsack fountain, and wouldn't give it up for anything or anyone. Its nice to be somewhere where you can be yourself!


In our post-spa haze, we walked back towards Pest in search of dinner...


Getting ready to cross Erzsébet híd (Elizabeth Bridge) during golden hour. The Danube is a fairytale and does make you feel quite schmaltzy waltzy...

...with romance on our minds, which very fittingly and thrillingly we found in the form of a post-spa feast...and then some.


We've received some feedback/heckles about the lack of food photography. Well...get a dog up ya! (below).



We were only in Budapest three days but every meal was exceptional. We found ourselves gravitating towards the carnivorous Hungarian fare like moths to a flame but there was no shortage of vegetarian and vegan options, and just about everything else you could want for. We stuck to meat and loved every minute of it.


Also this good gear below is like a Hungarian doughnut, called a Kurtoskalacs.


Go ahead, try saying it.



The full spiral-tube-thing is usually served on its own, and a half-tube usually comes with ice cream. Aoife opted for the dried raspberry coating because she's a wild thang. Are you ready for the pronunciation? Here it is in a video that's crying out for a trap remix:



Too soon were we dragged away from the sights, sounds and smells of this wonderful city. If we were to try picking nits we'd struggle to come up with even one. Maybe we just got lucky? Perhaps, but we'd both go back in a heartbeat — there's so much to see, so much to eat, and so much to learn. Before signing off from this city that's made its way into our top favourites power rankings, here are some final photos in a slideshow below: a cute little tank engine park we saw on our way to the Sunday market; outside the Grand Budapest Hotel (not really, but it sure is v. accidentally Wes Anderson); a heavenly-looking store; and, tarmac-bound for the midnight plane to Georgia.


Köszönöm, Budapest, we'll be back!



Love, Aoife & Simon xx


Just looking at some property while we're in town.

Next up, Georgia!

Updated: Oct 11

Trigger warning: the following post contains images and descriptions of people travelling internationally. This post is not intended to be an extended gloat, but more a soothing and reassuring pacifier for you, dear reader, and hopefully a sign that freedom and good times lay ahead—wherever your dateline.


Yeah...in hindsight 2020 was a bit of a shit time to start a travel blog.


It's probably fair to say that just about everyone, except maybe Kim Kardashian, has had a mongrel time of this last year and a half. Oh wait, didn't she get divorced?


Anyway, instead of loading up some photos of our "nearest and dearest" on Insta just to rub it in to the whole world, we decided we wanted to offer some (hopefully) relevant and helpful insight into travel and life where we are. We (I) didn't really think too much about the point of a blog before starting it early last year, other than a way to keep in touch with family and friends back home and elsewhere. We want to change that.


Last month before departing the prospect of travel seemed like a bit of a minefield, but once we got going (thanks to Aoife's excellent research and planning) and with the right documents in hand, it was actually quite easy. Sure there are pitfalls and obviously a lot of changes have taken place compared to the 'before times' (e.g. those guidebooks from 2019 will be somewhat out of date now). However if we can throw up our experiences onto the open web then hopefully they can be a more up-to-date and realistic resource to add to what's out there.


Orright, enough disclaimer. Let's get on with it!


Remember these? On the plus, side security is mostly a breeze now...and there's plenty of sleeping space!

OK, rose coloured glasses off for a moment—budget airlines are still shit. I'll spare you the whinge but we had to depart from Shannon airport instead of Cork due to the above fog. It turned into a 10 hour trip to go from Cork to Naples. It's mainly just a ballache to have to wear masks for that whole time, but this can be averted temporarily by buying alcohol on your flight, so keep that credit card handy!


Rubbish man cometh...
Mount Vesuvius on the descent

Naples



Naples was a single transit day of delicious food and wanderings, and we're certainly coming back for more.


Veni, Vidi, Vici


They can keep limoncello though.




Enormous cat scratching wall near our accomodation

Lo and behold, the hotel in Naples had the #1 mattress of the trip—or perhaps after 20 months of a tiny double bed in Ireland it was the most welcomed by us.


Back in the cattle car of the clouds bound for...

Sardinia


Our next flight was Naples to Alghero, which is a city at the north-western part of the island. From there we picked up our little humdinger hire car, which turned out to be a halfway decent Toyota Hybrid Yaris thing that had really good satnav. This aspect turned out to be a complete lifesaver. Driving in Italy is intense, to put it mildly. Once you're on the road its easy to see why it's the motor accident capital of Europe. After dark street lights only really exist on the biggest Stradaprovinciale highways and in towns, so the remaining night driving is done on pitch black winding coastal roads. Oh, and did I mention the internet is non-existent? So forget trying to do it from your phone alone. Day or night you really need to download offline maps in Google Maps (or similar) and have a satnav system that is going to keep you on track no matter the internet coverage. I actually can't comprehend how we would've done it otherwise. Asking shepherds for directions? Sounds Christmas-ey.


Thanks also to everyone for the prayers on the driving front, they obviously worked—no accidents baby!


Humdinger / Son-Of-Miyagi safely delivered us to our abode for the next week, about 40mins south along the western coast to the quaint little town of Bosa.



I'm not one for must-sees, but if you're coming to Sardinia you really ought to spend a night here. It's got everything you'll probably want in spades. It's not too big, it has a suuuuper charming old town, some fantastic restaurants/trattorias, and a couple of very adequate little beaches.


OK, a couple of things about the digs:







This drainer cupboard situation—yes please!








OK, forgetting the big vulvic eye of Sauron for a minute, the bath was pretty lux also.



High-stakes laundry. The novelty and adrenaline of this actually didn't wear off. Fear not, the pegs gripped well and nothing was lost.
Hard to believe this was the view from the balcony. Can you believe we had a balcony...for a whole week!

Boring stuff for a bit


To enter Italy we needed our proof of vaccination (EU Covid Certificate in our case) and a PLF (Passenger Locator Form). This is a kind of a contact tracing official record from port to port and it is administered through a special EU website. Once we were in the Shengen zone we didn't actually need to show this again, although there is some conflicting info on the various country websites saying otherwise at the time of writing. Much like in Ireland, we had to show our EU Covid Certs for the QR code to be scanned at several restaurants and transports that we used (this is something Italy has strict mandates on and refer to as a Green Pass—we just showed our EU vaccination QR docs). We always erred on the safe side, did the forms anyway, and printed copies of everything to show at departure gates etc. if need be. It seems like this will be the MO on the continent for the foreseeable though the number one thing is our EU vaccination cert that we're very grateful to have.


Aoife promises to write more on the logistics soon, but generally the planning dance went something like: looking at the flights before buying, checking the airlines guidelines, then the corresponding countries entry and exit regulations (credit where it's due, Ryan Air do actually list all of the countries and their respective government guidance websites on a single index page website). Perhaps in some cases there was a bit of reading local news that was required before pulling the trigger on the flights. In the case of Georgia it was monitoring their "traffic" status set by the Irish gov (red—do not travel, yellow—avoid travel, green—travel permitted), as it is outside of the EU and has recently had a spike with the Delta wave. Thankfully it was changed from "Do Not Travel" on the Irish end just prior to us leaving, and indeed we didn't need to quarantine on our return—thankfully.


The main other concern we faced was if PCR tests were required, if there was an available testing location, how much that was going to cost, its proximity to where we were going to be etc. When in doubt taking screenshots or printing those government websites offered us something to fall back on, at least. Thankfully we didn't have to pull them out.


Anyway, back to the fun...


We met this lovely Polish couple, Alexandria and Sebastian, at a local beachside cafe in Bosa. They were at the next table Zooming parents because Sebastian had just (successfully) proposed to Alexandria and they were celebrating. We noticed this and sent them a round of drinks. Soon after they struck up a conversation with us, and invited us to join them the next day on a yacht trip around the bay of Porto Conte and to Neptune's Grotto. Without wanting to cramp their romantic moment we declined, but they eventually twisted our arms, and we were glad they did.



The cove is due west of Alghero

Skipper Fabio (champion) who also makes a mean antipasti platter

The start of Neptune's Grotto (yes, kinda looks like a buttcrack). That ridge in the middle left is an ancient footpath with stairs, but instead of the day hike we opted to see it the lazy way.

A few fantastic swims, beers, antipasti, and naps followed for good measure. Asides from the white knuckled driving and parking in Alghero it was probably the most idyllic day ever.


Afterwards those guys continued north and we ambled back to Bosa. We rested the following day and then opted to go hiking the one following.


A word of advice, you will need a 4WD to attempt any dirt tracks on the island. Son-Of-Miyagi made it to the driveway of the national park outside of Oristano before we chickened out due to our lack of monster truck. Instead we sought out the island's only salt lake and one of the ancient watchtowers at a nearby cape. These watchtowers are a special feature of the island and are found dotted around the island in various states of repair.





Sunset over the Mediterranean
Food truck at S'Archittu doling out superb local catch

The next day we honestly kind of burned out. We wanted to make up for the lack of hiking with a trip to the Orosei mountains and sailing around the beaches of the east coast. The morning started with a parking ticket from a zone that our Booking.com host had said was OK to park in, so that was a bit of a bummer, but honestly at this point I think we were just panicked and FOMOing about our own experience before we had even left. We were over the halfway mark in our stay, and that FOMO hit us hard and caused a fair bit of frustration for no good reason at the time.


Yes, the Orosei Mountains are spectacular, but the real value of the day was realising that we needed to step outside the mindset of pre-Covid travel. Rushing everywhere, getting stressed, and having everything be a high-stakes, high-adrenaline ego stroke (for what?). We weren't going to see all the wonderful beaches on the island, and that was OK. This was not a life or death situation(!) There was no point stressing about not getting to see all of the sights when there was a perfectly gorgeous beach 2km's from where we were staying. It was a holiday after all, and not a conquest. This default mindset was hard to switch off, but introducing a little gratitude practise went a long way towards curbing it. I suspect the beautiful day had something to do with coaxing that realisation out of us.


Cala Gonone, a tiny seaside town in the Orosei Gulf surrounded by the mountain range.



From here we were able to start to get our groove back, to stop complaining and barking at each other, and to look around.


We spent a few more days just relaxing in Bosa, which was an added relief from our own pent-up expectations. But seriously, Bosa is great.




Pico truck
Aoife for scale
A little secret beach near Bosa—how strange is that bluey-green sandstone?
Original live music venue and trattoria

OK one last must-do. The island is known for this specialty roast whole suckling pig cooked over myrtle leaves—Porceddu—which is simply unreal. You'll feel like some kind of feudal lord eating it. Of course the local wine is outstanding and makes the whole experience complete, but carnivores should really check that out. Besides, you wont have to eat for a week afterwards. The local restaurant we visited for this was fantastic and the owner was so friendly. He insisted on sharing his homebrew myrtle spirit with us a post-dinner aperitif (it had a herbal flavour) then after we paid the bill, we were surprised with another round of a different spirit that appeared at our table (more aniseed flavoured). While lovely, we were struggling to walk at this point from the suckling pig combined with two jugs of local wine. Deliziosa!


I will also unashamedly plug Locanda Di Corte who wins the Ferret Hat Restaurant of Sardinia as best meal we had on the island (hard competition mind you), which is also in Bosa. We shared two pastas plus a Sardinian lamb dish and just soaked up the magic of this charming spot hidden away in the alleys of the town. Will also give an honourable mention to another seafood truck we visited on our last night, Dal Lisca Street Fish, beside the Castello Malaspina in Bosa. We climbed tiny stairs up to this truck in the dark, not really knowing if we would make it to anywhere or whether Google was misleading us. Not only was the location sensational and the crowd of welcoming locals completely wonderful, we had one of the most mind-blowing meals of the trip there: raw tuna (tonno) served ceviche-style with fresh passionfruit that was an absolute flavour bomb.



Milan


Yeah, all that stuff about relaxing, you can forget that. Milan was 24hrs of high octane formula one pitstop on the way to Hungary. To set the scene, we landed and were greeted by a huge hailstorm and torrential flooding.


Tip: don't tempt fate by taking a photo outside of Milan Central Station or pay the price of the Gods—that's all I will say on that matter. If anyone really wants the hair-brained story to go with that, message us in the comments or Whatsapp or something. The TL;DR is that we made it out of Milan alive, and with all of our luggage (just), but it very nearly turned into the Odyssey.


The Milanese were obviously hit very hard at the start of the pandemic, and the whole Lombardy region had huge casualties. We were grateful to be there and to be participating in the city again. It did take some patience on our part; you can't really trust anything on Google. This is certainly true in Ireland on a good day, but we experienced a lot of shuttered cafes, restaurants, gelaterias etc. in Milan. Hopefully those businesses are resourced and able to rebuild—they seem like the real heart of the city.


Some high points of Milano that we will treasure:

  • The first feeling of Autumn walking through a local park on the evening we arrived complete with dog-spotting and watching a neighbourhood game of pick-up basketball.

  • The kind cafe-owner who let us shelter during said torrential rain even though she was shutting up for the day.

  • Our early morning walk to the Duomo di Milano complete with standing espressos at a local pastry shop and taking in the outside of the cathedral as people rushed to work.

  • The final post-chaos and pre-flight risotto around the corner from Milano Centrale Railway Station. Both a mind-blowing risotto and possibly most well-earned beer/wine of the trip.

  • The generous Ryanair team member who looked the other way when our check-in bag was three kilos over at Bergamo Airport. This saved us around €40 and we shan't forget her compassion.






Stay tuned for Part II...


A note on the blog:


Wordpress crapped the bed recently, and died a horrible painful death while we were away. Well, specifically the hosting server did, so we moved everything to Wix. I know I know, we only just moved everyone over to the self hosted thing not so long ago and it's an enormous headache to set up new accounts etc. Please bear with us, I think we'll be able to make this work from here on.


As a result of the move we lost the list of subscribers and all of the comments :'( so please if you have received this to the wrong email address or you actually want to unsubscribe just let us know or hit that unsub button (we won't be offended!)


Ciao for now!


Simon & Aoife

xx



  • Simon Lane

Updated: Sep 30

Winter vs. Summer on the Cork Marina Walk



Further down the road

Abundant al fresco dining as restaurants claw back after Covid

Gelato from Cassanova in Cork City (bellissimo!)


#Cork

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