There are two main museums in Tokaj. They are not like Hungary National Museum in Budapest, or anything like that. Or at least, not as big. Both of them can be visited in less than two hours, and their location are only ten minutes from each other. So, it is worth to have a combined ticket for both in a day — cheaper.
The first one is Tokaj Museum. Of course.
It is just a bit further than the church, probably a minute walk from there. Two minutes if you are taking photos as you are walking. I genuinely cannot remember if it has a distinctive sign, but I remember that you could easily miss it if you didn’t pay attention to where you’re walking.
The building itself was the house of a Greek trader, before it was converted into a museum. It is still well maintained, but of course you could see some parts where the fixing was made — some odd bits that you are sure not coming from the original feature of the house. To be honest, I like that kind of fixing, it gives the house a new uniqueness. You don’t see that kind of renovation happen in an old listed house in the UK.
I like this museum. The last time I enjoy a museum that feels “homey” like this was the Edinburgh museum in… well guess what, Edinburgh.
Inside you could find the artefacts and history of Tokaj and the surrounding area. They also have a collection of religious artefacts as well as numerous interesting articles in the attic section of the building. The best thing is, we could take photos, a lot of them. The museum management told us that everything is free to be photographed. That alone has satisfied the tourist soul in me.
Outside the main museum, to the back of the building there is a small garden, and a passage to a basement. This basement used to be a wine cellar — of course. I never knew that wine cellar could be so cold. I mean, it was baking hot outside, but it was cool inside, and I honestly couldn’t see any air conditioning or something like that.
I think, being in a wine heritage region, this museum gave an extra effort to keep as many original features in the cellar, more than they did the main house itself. It was a lovely little museum. But, if you really want to talk wine, you need to go to the next museum.
When I was searching for hotel to book in this area, I asked my friend (who invited me to the wedding a.k.a. groom to be) about the wedding venue. I still remember what I asked him exactly (because I asked him via messenger, so I still have the transcript), but I just sum it up for our best interest…
I asked him how far was the wedding venue from the city centre. I mean, I was going to find a place close to the city centre, so that we could have a walk around too. He replied that “Tokaj is so small, the city itself is the city centre”.
When he said that, I genuinely thought that it was like the British style understatement when explaining something. Grumpy for example. Last week he was having a severe illness, and had to take off sick from work. He was in a terrible condition, and almost impossible for him to get off the bed. But you know how he explained his situation to the medical doctor on the phone, “I am a bit ill”. A BIT ILL? If it was up to me, he’s already on his way to the hospital inside an ambulance.
But what do I know? I am just an exotic yellow alien from a nowhereland.
Aaanyway…. I am not supposed to be the grumpy one here.
When I arrived at Tokaj, I realised that my friend was just stating a fact. The city… I mean… town centre was basically the town itself. From the train station to our guest house, there is one ATM, and one shop, several restaurants and cafe, and a lot of wine cellar and pubs. If you walk further down (there’s only one main street so you would not get lost), there would be several restaurants and cafe, plenty wine shop and pub, one bank with one atm machine, a tourist centre, and two museums.
In between, there’s a church, and the hall where the wedding was held. All of those (except for one of the museums) are in one street. Awesome isn’t it? I mean, even I wouldn’t get lost in here.
That night we went out for a wine (for me) and a coffee (for Mr. Grumpman). I cannot explain how beautiful the town was under the summer night sky. It was just… breathtaking. So, being a well travelled tourist that I am, I felt compelled to take photos to share the moment with anyone who can be bothered. I have to say that the photo was NOTHING compared to the real thing. Mainly because I am not a professional photographer, and the photo was taken with my phone (which is now rather old and sad, and has been asking for a retirement plan).
I wasn’t lying when I said, you don’t need to be a wine connoisseur, nor a kayaking enthusiast to be able to enjoy this town. We certainly did…
I know what you think, Sir… but in Hungary, Grumpy is an alien too. Haha! That’s a concept that has never crossed your mind, has it? But yes… We went to this little town called Tokaj. This is where the wedding happened…
Tokaj is a wine region, in the border between Hungary and Slovakia. The Wine Heritage status is given by UNESCO, as it’s been said that Tokaj has produced its very distinctive wine. Every shop, cafe, and restaurant in this town sells wine (unless it specifically says that it is selling ice cream… then it probably sells ice cream).
However, Grumpy and I are not really wine people.
Yeah… I do drink wine, but my knowledge about wine is “red” “white” or “pink”, and that it’s “drinkable” or “give me the whole bottle… please”. So, for us it is a bit of a waste if we go on a wine tour there… But if you are a serious wine connoisseur, or a wannabe (we don’t judge…) this would be the place for you.
Actually… This is the place for you even if you are not a wine connoisseur — but you like kayaking. Apparently you can do that too, especially during summer time like when we went there. I am pretty sure there were some other outdoor activity besides kayaking — unfortunately Grumpy and I are not that kind of people either.
So… you ask, did we enjoy our time in Tokaj? Ha! Of course we did! Obviously we don’t need wine or some outdoor physical activity to keep us happy being there, and there are at least a couple reasons why.
But I need to compile it first, so… until next time 😀
One of the first things that I made sure before I went on this adventure to Hungary was to make sure that my phone would work when we were in Hungary. All of the hotel and transport bookings and confirmation was sent to my phone number, and it would make it much easier for me if I want to contact my family. Or simply, I just like being completely prepared before embarking on an adventure.
I am not being paid to say this, but I am using T-Mobile — now you probably know it in the UK as EE. Whatever they call themselves now, but this mobile provider has a good network coverage in Europe. I don’t have to buy any extra booster to get my phone fully function in Hungary. I could just use whatever package I had at that moment and use it as if I was in the UK — which means, I could text freely, call freely, and use my internet too. No roaming charge either.
I definitely have no plan to change to any other mobile provider in any foreseeable future.
Why am I talking about my phone provider? Well… apparently this very fateful day, that has become incredibly crucial to us.
We were on our way to our next, and our last museum in Budapest, the Aquincum Museum. To get there, you would have to get a train, which unlike the metro didn’t have either air conditioning system, nor the proper loudspeaker to tell the passenger where to get off.
I realised that we should do it in few minutes when I looked at my google map, so I told Grumpy that the next stop would be ours. Grumpy made his way, but I got stuck a little behind. Grumpy got off right on time, and I didn’t make it.
We saw the train doors closed right in front of our face, took me away to the next station and left Grumpy on the other platform. Oooh… Bugger! Now… I couldn’t emphasise the importance of being well prepared, in any kind of adventure. If my phone didn’t work, I couldn’t tell him that the museum we were going to visit was between the station where he got off, and the station where I did. Technology has saved that day… But of course, I had to have a bit of a cry, because I was incredibly terrified if I lost my beloved Grumpy among the Roman ruins of Aquincum.
Aquincum is the name of the Roman city in Budapest. Unlike the Buda Castle hill area — which has a long history of military battle, Aquincum is the more “civilised” part of the history. Nowadays, though, you can only see the ruins, and a part of what was a painter’s house, and the vast exhibit of Roman stonework, and pottery.
You could also play with an interesting interactive games in the museum, if you want to. And of course we wanted to, and we did take part of the games… badly :D. But it was fun, and we were experts in having fun. And, after ice cream in that very hot day, we definitely have forgotten a bit about the previous train fiasco.
Learning from our mistakes on the first day, we prepared better for the next days. We stuck to Metro as our preferred transportation method, and also brought with us enough water to see us through the day. The water bit is particularly important, because when we were there Budapest was scorching hot under the summer sun.
The continent surely know how to do summer properly, Britain needs to learn from it.
Our next museum was Hungarian National Museum. I think it would be silly if we don’t visit this museum, purely because it is the Hungarian National Museum. It is like going to London, and not taking a moment to see British Museum. But I have to say, Hungarian National Museum is no British Museum, I personally think the Hungarian National Museum is much much better.
They have a wonderfully organised exhibit with a focused theme — all about Hungary, and a lot of interesting articles — lots of blings! But nothing impressed both of us more than the building itself. The museum interior was beautiful, with high, painted ceiling, and well maintained decorations. They’ve got a clean, and friendly cafe on the lower ground floor, which sold a really tasty Dobos Torte and a cup of high quality coffee that even a Grumpy coffee connoisseur like my travelling companion would appreciate.
One thing, though… you are not allowed to take photos inside, unless you pay for the photo permit. I am not sure about it, but we didn’t get ourselves a photo permit… sorry, I think you should visit the museum yourselves.
From the museum, we took a walk — under the shade — to see the Danube.
I mean, I would be a seriously lousy tourist if I didn’t see the Danube while in Budapest. However, I have to be honest with you, going to the Danube during the day might not give us the same kind of magic as going there during the evening. Unfortunately, we couldn’t stay too long there. Maybe we should come back some times in the future?
As we’re walking along the Danube on the Pest side of Budapest, we could see the Buda Castle, and its furnicular. Apparently the furnicular is one of the “things to do” in Budapest, but I see it as I see London’s Eye. If you have extra cash on the budget, please be a generous tourist. We didn’t, so we skipped that bit for this time… like I said, maybe some times in the future?
What we wanted to see as we walked along the river is the shoes. Shoes? Yes! I am talking about pairs of copper shoes on the river side. It is the artwork as a remembrance of the holocaust victim who were killed and thrown away to the Danube, during the wartime.
We did take our time there, not too long because none of us did well under the sun. We walked away, having a little discussion about the war.
From where the shoes are, we went to the Hungarian house of Parliament. I wanted to go inside, as I went inside Holyrood and loving it. But, the entrance fee to enter the building was a bit steep for a non EU citizen like myself — while an EU citizen (at least for now) like Grumpy could get a half price discount. So we just enjoyed the building from outside.
This place is definitely worth visiting. Even if you are skint like me, and couldn’t afford to get inside, sitting outside and enjoyed the court was very much enjoyable. The parliament building is a magnificent architectural piece, and the court with garden and fountain is clean, quiet, and refreshingly calming. Best of all, there is no closing time for the court and garden, so you can visit anytime.
I can safely say that one of our favourite places that we visited in Budapest is this Hospital In The Rock. We like it so much so that I would dedicate this whole blog entry just to talk about our visit there.
Hospital In The Rock, like it’s name is an underground hospital during the war times, and was converted into a nuclear bunker during Cold War. It is within the walking distance from Buda Castle, and its closing time is relatively later than the museums in the Castle’s area. I think it would be a good idea if you plan ahead, and put Hospital In The Rock at the end of the day, and visit the others first.
The entrance is not free, this time. But if you have the Budapest Card, you could get a good discount. The guided tour starts every hour, so if you time it right, you don’t have to wait for too long — they don’t have a little cafe or something for you to wait, so you have to sit on a bench while waiting for your turn. And, you HAVE to go on the tour if you want to visit this museum.
Originally I was a little bit disappointed that we had to go on a tour, because I would like us to be able to walk on our own pace. BUT, I realised that the tour is incredibly important for many different reasons.
First of all, this museum was once a hospital during the war, there are still a lot of working tools and equipment lying around there. Our guide said that if anything should happen — if a war ever broke (again), and people needs place for safety, the museum can be reverted back to being a fully functioned hospital. That’s why the tools and equipment you can see there is sometimes not a part of the museum exhibition.
And, being underground, it is very easy to be lost in this museum. So, that’s another reason why a guided tour is a necessity.
The most important thing, I think, is that this underground hospital was also once a “Top Secret Nuclear Bunker” in the cold war years. There are plenty of stuff, such as power generators from those days, still operated today. It is so tempting to “see what happens if I push this button, or pull that lever” when you’re around these technological wonders, but… no you shouldn’t.
We are not allowed to take photos nor videos during the tour. Aside of the safety reasons, I think that is a good idea. It might make it a bit tricky for people like me to share what we experience inside, but at the same time it would make people go to see the place themselves.
Yes it is not a free museum, but even a stingy alien like myself would say that our little tour was worth every Forint. Our guide was a very friendly young lady, who speaks an incredibly good English — she was very helpful and would answer if you have questions related to the museum, or Budapest in general. The museum itself was clean and well made, the exhibits were well made too.
I definitely recommend this museum to visit if you every go to visit Budapest.
I apologise in advance that I have to break our holiday story in few parts because there are a lot of it and I know for some people it would be too tiresome to read a whole dissertation about how much fun we had in Budapest.
Budapest is the capital city of Hungary, not to be confused with Bucharest which is in Romania. Close… but not quite. I had to correct few people for this, and had to endure the awkwardness of being the one who knows better. It is big and busy, it looks beautiful and tough at the same time. Not sure how to explain it, I might just give you some photos…
We bought a couple of Budapest Card, for each of us. Budapest card… is a card that would give you access to the whole public transport system in Budapest — metro, train, and bus (at least those all we know of), a free entrance to several museums there, and also give us discount price for entrance fee and dining — if you wish to do so. I have to make a disclaimer now, though — this Budapest Card works for us because we intended to visit museums and galleries, so it is helpful for us to get there and get an entrance. But if your intention is to go to the city and look around, you might just get a daily travel pass for your transport instead as they are much cheaper.
In Hungary we use Hungarian Forint. When we were there, the exchange rate to GBP is 330 ish HUF for a pound. In few places, they also accept Euro — but I found having Forint at hand is much easier as the pastry shop in the train station don’t accept Euro. I found it much easier to draw money from ATM than to bring cash and exchange it at a money changer.
Our first destination was Buda Castle. I made a mistake by taking bus instead of a metro. Well, there’s nothing wrong with the bus, but I just don’t know where to stop with bus as it stops everywhere in the city. They do announce when they stop, and where they stop, but it meant nothing to me as I don’t understand a word. With the metro, at least you know which was the station and we take it from there.
So, Budapest is divided by the river Danube. One side is called Buda, and the other is called Pest. Guess in which side the Buda Castle is? Of course it is in the side of Buda, it is not a trick question.
Buda Castle is a massive, massive historical structure on the top of the Castle Hill. In Buda Castle housed at least one gallery (Hungarian National Gallery — we went there), and one museum (Budapest Museum of History — we went there as well). In the surrounding complex you could find Houdini Museum (I didn’t know that Houdini was a Hungarian), and a bunker (we went there… and we have a lot to say about this place).
Now, I told you that we made a mistake taking the bus instead of metro? Yessur… we spent the whole morning trying to find this Buda Castle. One of the most recognisable architectural structure in the city, and we got ourselves lost by missing the stop. That was the last time we took bus in Budapest.
After days and days of waiting, finally the holiday came. I couldn’t wait to get on that aeroplane and fly to Hungary, but I think Grumpy would love to just skip the flying bit to the arrival. But anyways, I was so excited, I couldn’t even go to sleep at night — I ended up googling places to go to, and how to go there, and by the morning I have got a list.
The flight itself was smooth, I think the good weather both in the UK and the European continent helped a lot. We didn’t have any delay, or any incidents — which is good, because we surely didn’t need any more stress at that time.
We left Norwich just after lunchtime, a few hours transfer in Amsterdam, and arrived in Budapest just before midnight. We went on a complete tourist mode, and got excited at the sight of anything remotely British — like Tesco.
We arrived at this guesthouse. I didn’t expect the guesthouse to look like that, as it looked completely different from one one I saw online. I won’t recommend this place if you are expecting for a British standard B&B. This guesthouse is pretty basic, and slightly rundown — it amused Grumpy greatly to see how the toilet seat was installed in the shower room.
The lift was slightly dodgy, we only used it to get up to our floor in the end of the day because our legs would be incredibly tired by then, but we always pick stairs in the morning. Just because.
The best thing about the guesthouse we went to is its location. It is very close to Keleti Railway Station, which means it would make it easier for our next trip to Tokaji (where the wedding would be held the next few days), and transport to the whole city. It is also very close to ALDI, which is very handy as we chose the guesthouse which don’t offer breakfast at all (ALDI there opens from 7 am to 11 pm). It is close to an ATM, a Kebab Shop, and a pub/coffee house too, which means…. we were sorted.
Come to think of it, it is our first time going abroad together just the two of us. Usually, we went abroad only to my home to see my family, or going around in the UK. It was an incredible experience, and we are definitely looking forward to going for another holiday together like that.
Nossur! I am not trying to be overly dramatic by saying that. But let me ask you one thing… Are you a Potterhead? Well then, do you know that Edinburgh is actually the birthplace of The Boy Who Lived? Well then… if you don’t know what I am talking about, let me explain it to you in muggle terminology: “Edinburgh is actually the city where J.K. Rowling wrote Harry Potter”.
Legend has it that J.K. Rowling wrote Harry Potter while sitting down at The Elephant House Cafe in Edinburgh. The cafe has the spot overlooking the Edinburgh Castle, and it’s been said that it was then the lady herself breathed the life into the boy wizard.
Well… I am not a massive fan myself, so I didn’t get in to the cafe. In my defence, the cafe was jam packed with Potterheads, and my phone was dying, so all I wanted at that time was to find a place to sit and plug. So apologies for not getting photos.
But you know what? I am not surprised that Ms. Rowling got her inspiration in this city. Not only by looking at the magnificent looking castle, I believe. The city itself offers an unlimited number of inspiration — the kind of inspiration that actually urge you to write, if you are into writing.
No, I am not overselling it, I bought a notepad because somehow I had so many thing in my head to write down, random stuff. In the hand of a more capable author, I won’t be surprised that it could end up as ten magical years of Harry Potter.
I mean, look at it. The castle, the cathedral, all the museums… the people… As someone who’s got an unhealthy appetite to languages, my ears were constantly spoiled with foreign languages around me. If I closed my eyes (I didn’t, by the way — for safety reasons, obviously) I could hear them chattering in different dialects, and languages. All of them… are aliens there. For that magical moment, I felt the sense of belonging — that I wasn’t the only alien.
That’s my personal magic moment, of course.
But, what if you don’t do Harry Potter (or you don’t read at all), and you don’t like language like me (or you don’t care about things like that)? Could you find magic in Edinburgh? Sure you can…
You know who does magic? Yes… yes… white magic, black magic? WITCHES! Yes!
If you are into that sort of thing, there are billions of ghost tours and witch hunt tour and show scattered all over the oldtown. I didn’t do it though, I though I saved it until I go back there again with my grumpkins, preferably not during the summer though…
Where I came from, we have numerous regional food. Each province has their own way to do rice. Each city has their own kind of soup, or broth, or stew. Every time my friend and I talked about travelling locally, we would have a dedicated time of the day to savour the rich variety of food in my planet. Culinary travelling… That’s how we call it. Somehow, though, the possibility of local speciality food in Britain never occurred to me when I first arrived here.
Of course as time went by, I learned that faraway there on the South West part of the island they have Cornish Pasties, or here in Norfolk we are quite famous for our Cromer Crab. But that’s about it.
So, when I thought of travelling within the UK, culinary travelling has never crossed my mind. Yes, we do have gazillion castles, and ruins, and monasteries, and churches, and museums, and galleries, and everything that shouts history. But food… I remember one anecdote I heard before… “British people don’t have cuisine… They have food… ” Shame that I don’t really remember where I heard that.
The lack of finesse in culinary department was also depicted in Agatha Christie’s novel, where our beloved Belgian sleuth, Poirot had to deal with British food. That’s been the running joke, of course. I do love British food, and I think some of them are simply gorgeous. However coming from a culture that worship food, I can totally understand Poirot’s frustration
Therefore, after trying several fry-ups, and fish and chips, I have to admit that I didn’t have a lot of expectation about British food. And, all those rambling was just to justify my ignorance of Scottish food.
The first time I went to Scotland was just to go to a rock concert. In the B&B, I was offered “Full Scottish Breakfast”. I was excited then, but I realised that what I got there was basically fry ups which the English called “Full English Breakfast”. I am pretty sure if you go to Cardiff, they will call it “Full Welsh Breakfast”. So, I have decided for a while, so that I wouldn’t offend anyone, I might just call it “The Fryups”.
Since then, and until I went to Edinburgh last week, I never went to Scotland anymore. My knowledge about Scottish food was limited to whisky, and oat — both in oatmeal and oatcake. Ooooh, don’t get me wrong. I LOVE oatcakes. Scottish rough oatcakes, plain — just the best way to enjoy it. And whisky… well, I am not so good at handling my alcohol, so I have to be careful with that pokey stuff.
I did try local whisky in Edinburgh. My goodness, it felt like my face and throat melt on the first sip. I have to say though, the aftertaste was wonderful… In case you wanted to try it too, I tried: Highland Park 12 Year from Orkney. I tried it in Bar 50 in Edinburgh.
If you’re into a less pokey alcoholic drink, there’s also a local product called Hollyrood pale ale. Fruity and tasty, but if I have to choose, between both, I will pick the whisky.
But the best thing about Scottish food is what I just learned on my last visit to Edinburgh. And it is called: Haggis.
Okay… a lot of people would ask about what Haggis actually is, but then when I explain they would go, “eeew…. you eat that?” Seriously, why the hell not? It is probably one of the best thing I have every tried. When I had my first bite of Haggis, it was the moment I questioned everything in life, and wondered to myself: How could I live without knowing anything about this food?
Well, it was a bit hyperbolic. But I am being serious about how tasty it is.
I heard about Haggis for so many years from my grumpy darling, but only when I was in Edinburgh I got the chance to finally tasted it. It was not without struggle though. Most of Scottish food was served in a gigantic portion, which I could never be able to finish without hurting myself permanently. My opportunity came when I found a restaurant who served both Haggis, and children size fryup breakfast.
I asked the lady if I could swap the bacon with the haggis. Don’t… I know bacon is tasty, but trust me, there is world outside bacon. And the swap was worth every bite, okay? And with that, I owe a huge apology to Scotland for my ignorance about your food culture. Your Haggis has opened my eyes and satisfied my taste buds.
There you go… Scotland fed me, and it fed me well… I am a happy alien.