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September 1st, 2010


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11:34 pm - From Boisterous Budapest to Beautiful Barcelona
Some astute readers may have noticed a few references to an impending trip to Europe, specifically Budapest and Barcelona. In two weeks, I will be on my way to Europe on the company dime. My boss and I are going over there for some Investigator's Meetings at which I will give a half-hour talk in each city. Also, there will be face time with people involved with our clinical trial and such, but basically they are flying me across the Atlantic to give a half-hour presentation twice. I will have three or four days to explore each city when we're not stuck in a meeting all day (and a couple of those days will be on the company dime as well, so I can eat well). And my nights will generally be free, not that I'm a nightlife kind of person.

What should I see and do while I'm in Budapest?

In Budapest, we will be staying at the Boscolo New York Palace. I will need a hostel for two nights; does anyone have any recommendations? In looking for hostels in the same area as the hotel, I found Broadway Hostel, Big Fish Hostel, All-Central Hostel, and Thumbs Up Hostel. Broadway Hostel is mentioned in the Lonely Planet guide, so it looks promising. I'm not sure what to look for and consider in a hostel, though. (EDIT: I'm staying at the Red Bus Hostel, which came recommended by a friend of missquita's and is mentioned in both the Lonely Planet and Rough Guide books. It has its own used bookstore!)

I know there are a lot of museums in Budapest, but I don't know which are worth going to. Where should I eat? What Hungarian celebrity should I stalk?

What should I see and do while I'm in Barcelona?

In Barcelona, we will be staying at the Hotel Arts Barcelona. I will need a hostel for two nights; does anyone have any recommendations? The concierge recommended Barcelona Mar and Center Rambles, and I'm leaning toward Barcelona Mar, but there appear to be a bunch of hostels even closer to the hotel that I don't know much about. (EDIT: I've booked the Barcelona Mar.)

I know there's a lot of great architecture in Barcelona, but I don't know what's worth seeing. Where should I eat? What Spanish celebrity should I stalk?

If you have been to Budapest or Barcelona, please give me your expert advice! But if you haven't, I could really use any general European travel tips, as I've never traveled to another country without my family before, so I'm kind of afraid of being on my own in an unfamiliar environment. Don't I need to buy some sort of adapter so I can charge my camera and other electronic devices? How much cash should I carry around with me? Should I pretend to be Canadian? How am I supposed to get around? Do I need to worry about travel insurance? What the hell is travel insurance anyway? What should I buy or not buy over there? Will I be harassed by customs agents? I've never done anything like this before.
Current Mood: worriedworried
Current Music: Amanda French - All My Internet Friends

(74 memoirs | Describe me as "inscrutable")

Comments:


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From:sophia_helix
Date:September 2nd, 2010 07:15 am (UTC)
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I haven't been to either city, but just got back from Europe trip #4, so general travel tips and some general Spain ones:

- You'll need a European adapter for Spain, and hopefully Hungary uses the same plugs so you won't have to buy two. You can find out online. If you're bringing a laptop and your electronics have USB chargers, you can save a little money on multiple adapters and just charge them using your computer instead.

- Check what your bank charges for overseas withdrawals and bank card usage. Ours charged a percentage for every Visa swipe, so this time we opted to take local currency with us there, and then just make a couple of withdrawals as necessary when abroad. Your bank may also change money for you, which is really useful for avoiding exchange fees. I would suggest getting some Budapest dollars (or whatever they're called *g*) from your bank before you go.

- Travel insurance probably isn't worth it for you since you're going on the company dime. It's usually for when you've booked expensive tickets and hotels and then have surgery and can't go at all. It doesn't sound like you're making non-refundable purchases that you'll get screwed out of if something holds up your trip.

- Re: getting around, it sounds like you're looking at guidebooks, so I would just look up stuff about public transportation in each city. Chances you won't want to mess with local bus schedules, but I think Barcelona at least has a subway/underground, and if you position yourself in the right place hotel-wise you'll probably be able to walk to many places without having to get a taxi. (If you do plan on taking a taxi, look up tipping customs ahead of time for each place. Ditto for restaurants.) Find guidebooks that are on the small side and have maps of the places you want to go, so you can refer to them discreetly in public without having to fold out a giant map.

- You can't bring Spanish hams back into this country. Probably stay away from buying food items altogether as souvenirs, except packaged stuff or candy. That's all customs is likely to bother you about here unless you have drugs or fireworks or something in your suitcase.

- I don't know about the Budapest local culture, but I've been to Spain a couple of times and know a little about Barcelona. I would look up a few words in a guidebook before you go, just because that will make people like you better even though they will all speak English -- and that guidebook should be Catalan. Barcelona does not really want to be part of Spain and resents tourists who try to speak Spanish. Learn how to say "I'd like the..." for ordering food, and trust that when they hear your accent they'll probably switch to English. If you'd rather not try to speak the language, I find that quietly saying "Hi" with a sort of embarrassed look upon greeting the shop or hotel clerk at least conveys that you're sorry you can't speak it. *g*

- Important note!! Spanish women you meet socially will greet you with a kiss on either cheek, and sometimes 3 kisses, right-left-right!! (Men don't usually kiss other men.) This deeply unnerved me on my first trip there to the point that I started hiding out in back rooms when new relatives came over, because men will also greet women that way. You can try to head them off with a hand stuck out in front of you, but they'll probably lean in anyway. The trick is that it's really an air kiss, so if you can just nerve yourself to do a sort of quick, dry purse of the lips in the air with your cheek near theirs, then switch sides and do it again, you'll be OK. This isn't everyone in the street or a shop, btw; just people you're likely to encounter in your professional meetings, when you're being introduced.

- Also, watch out for siesta. Everything will be closed from about 2-5 in the afternoon, including banks. It's very common to eat dinner past 9 o'clock, and also for them to take an hour at the restaurant to get your dinner to you. Order appetizers. You'll have lots of opportunities to try exciting new fish, like tiny whole anchovies that have been deep-fried, or my favorite, tiny mussels. Shrimp will be head-on; just pull it off. Fish will also be head-on; cover it up with some other food if the eye freaks you out.
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From:spectralbovine
Date:September 2nd, 2010 07:41 am (UTC)
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Check what your bank charges for overseas withdrawals and bank card usage. Ours charged a percentage for every Visa swipe, so this time we opted to take local currency with us there, and then just make a couple of withdrawals as necessary when abroad.
Yeah, if I used my credit card, it's 3% every time. But if I use an ATM, it's only a 1% fee plus five dollars. So that's the better option.

Your bank may also change money for you, which is really useful for avoiding exchange fees. I would suggest getting some Budapest dollars (or whatever they're called *g*) from your bank before you go.
Forints! Which are really weak right now, so that's awesome.

Chances you won't want to mess with local bus schedules
I don't even want to mess with bus schedules in San Francisco, let alone other countries!

You can't bring Spanish hams back into this country.
This sounds like something you learned the hard way.

Barcelona does not really want to be part of Spain and resents tourists who try to speak Spanish.
Ooooh dear. Thanks. I will not attempt to ¿Cómo se dice? anything.

If you'd rather not try to speak the language, I find that quietly saying "Hi" with a sort of embarrassed look upon greeting the shop or hotel clerk at least conveys that you're sorry you can't speak it. *g*
Ha! That will be fun.

Spanish women you meet socially will greet you with a kiss on either cheek, and sometimes 3 kisses, right-left-right!!...This isn't everyone in the street or a shop, btw; just people you're likely to encounter in your professional meetings, when you're being introduced.
I seeeee. Thanks for the heads-up!

Also, watch out for siesta. Everything will be closed from about 2-5 in the afternoon, including banks.
Damn. I guess that's when I will sit there and read? Maybe I should bring more books.

It's very common to eat dinner past 9 o'clock, and also for them to take an hour at the restaurant to get your dinner to you.
Damn! Maybe...I should bring more books? I thought I'd be okay.

You'll have lots of opportunities to try exciting new fish, like tiny whole anchovies that have been deep-fried, or my favorite, tiny mussels.
I don't really like anchovies or mussels!

Shrimp will be head-on; just pull it off.
...Ergh.

Fish will also be head-on; cover it up with some other food if the eye freaks you out.
GODDAMMIT.
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From:heartsways
Date:September 2nd, 2010 07:41 am (UTC)
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I can heartily recommend Casa Batllo and La Sagrada Familia: two of Gaudi's masterpieces. The house is amazing and you can get an audio commentary that tells you about the architecture and history. La Sagrada Familia, of course, is one of the most famous pieces of Gaudi's work, and still isn't finished, but it's breathtaking in both design and artistry.

If you like Gaudi's work, Parc Guell is a little bit out of town but worth the visit. It also offers some great views of the city from a platform up at the top of the park, and there are some lovely walks through it, too.

The cathedral of Santa Eulalia is fascinating and you can go right up to the roof where you also get some breathtaking views across the city. There are also Roman remains that you can wander around - they're very well preserved so you really get a sense of the history of the city.

On the outskirts of Barcelona, Montjuic is a fabulous viewing point. There's a cable car that goes part way up the mountain, although the challenge really is to walk. There's also a modern art museum featuring the works of Joan Miro and the Olympic Stadium which, if you can get inside, is impressive. On a good day, you can see right across the harbor and down to the city itself.

The Picasso museum is also pretty good, although it's usually very busy and crowded so you don't really have a complete opportunity to appreciate the artwork. However, down by that part of town, there are some wonderful restaurants with local produce and food. And if you like that sort of thing, the market place just off La Ramblas is brilliant for a whole range of food - especially seafood. But I'm assuming that you won't be cooking for yourself; you don't really need to. There are plenty of cafe bars and places to eat at reasonable prices.

Barcelona is one of my all-time favourite European cities - can you tell, heh? I hope you have a blast.

In terms of your electronic devices, you should get an adapter and just check the voltage. I know US voltage is different to most of Europe. As with all major cities, I wouldn't carry a massive amount of cash around with me, as most places take cards anyway so you wouldn't need to worry about that. But Barcelona relies on tourists, so generally people are very friendly and helpful.

Public transport is generally good. You can buy travel tickets that combine the subway service and buses and they're not very expensive. I would recommend the tourist sightseeing bus, though, as you get a very full picture of the outskirts of the city as well as the town itself and have the opportunity to hop on and off at major tourist points if you so wish. It's well worth it as you get taken to places that are a little more difficult to find on your own. Plus, you can always go back if there's something that takes your fancy.

The most popular things that people buy are Lladro and jewelery; there are a whole host of shops selling those sorts of things. I think it's best to choose wisely, heh. Compare prices along La Ramblas as that's the most popular tourist spot for buying souvenirs or goods.

Barcelona is a wonderful, beautiful, vibrant city and I'm so excited for you to go there and experience it! Have a great trip. Let us know how it turns out.
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From:spectralbovine
Date:September 2nd, 2010 07:46 am (UTC)
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I've definitely heard Gaudi Gaudi Gaudi, so I know I need to see his stuff. And La Sagrada Familia looks AMAZING in pictures, so I will definitely check it out.

Roman remains?? I want to see remains! And of course the Picasso museum must be done.

As for cash vs. cards, cards take 3% every transaction, so that's going to add up. I'm going to hit up the ATMs occasionally instead.

I think my boss mentioned the tourist hop-on/hop-off bus as a good option!

Thanks for your suggestions!!
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From:kroki_refur
Date:September 2nd, 2010 07:54 am (UTC)
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Re: travel insurance: as far as I'm concerned, the most important thing that travel insurance does is insures you for if you get sick or injured while you're away. Of course, you may have a clause that does that on your medical insurance, but being British, I don't have medical insurance, so I always always take out travel insurance. Paying hospital bills in full is a bad, bad thing.

As for the rest: the only time I went to Barcelona I managed to get lost in the red light district, so I don't have a lot to add about sights (but go and see the Sagrada Familia, so I can live vicariously through you!) I didn't find that people were angry with me when I spoke Spanish to them -- they were mostly impressed that I could speak another language at all. But then, I was short and smiley and female and sixteen, so I probably got away with a lot that other people might not. If you speak any Spanish, it might be worth just saying "I'm sorry, I don't speak Catalan, is it OK to use Castilian or English?" Anyone who gets shirty about that is probably not someone you want to talk to anyway.

I guess you're not in Barcelona that long, but I heartily recommend Tarragona as a place to visit if you decide to get out of the city.

Also, I am totally jealous that you're going to Budapest. Just so you know.
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From:spectralbovine
Date:September 2nd, 2010 08:03 am (UTC)
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Well, you're in frickin' Middle Earth, so there's that. I don't know how you got used to walking upside-down.

the only time I went to Barcelona I managed to get lost in the red light district
Why am I not surprised?
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From:sabra_n
Date:September 2nd, 2010 08:01 am (UTC)
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In Barcelona, see anything designed by Gaudí: Sagrada Familia is the most obvious choice, but there's also the gorgeous Parc Güell, which has a gorgeous view of the city from the top of its hill, and a couple of houses along Passaeig de Gràcia in the Eixample. There's a block along Passeig de Gràcia called Illa de la Discòrdia because it's got several crazily...well discordant Modernista buildings on it, if you want a lot of architectural bang for your buck.

You can go to the Gothic Quarter for medieval architecture, and eat at Taxidermista in Plaça Reial, a square which is also notable for having Gaudí-designed streetlamps. (No, really.) Oh, and the National Art Museum of Catalonia is housed in a Disney-worth palace with an awesome "magic fountain" show a few times a week. Music! Lights! Really big fountain sprays! It's really a blast of a way to spend an hour or two at night. :)

Erm...apart from that...hm. If you're eating at a restaurant around La Rambla, don't pick anyplace that has seating in the middle of the street - they'll charge more for seating out there and chances are their food will be totally mediocre. The Café Vienna has lovely sandwiches, but apart from that, you might want to go a tiny bit off the Rambla for eateries that are less exploitatively touristy.

As far as your last questions go:

-Yes, you'll need an adapter. A type C "Europlug", I believe, which works in most of Europe but not in Britain. A European plug will have round pins rather than the flat ones on American plugs.

-The cash thing is up to you, but you should check how your bank and credit card companies feel about foreign transactions and ATM withdrawals.

-As far as I could tell, no one gave a flying crap that we were American.

-The Metro! If you've used subways before, it's a breeze to figure out, and the ticket machines can be set to work in English.

-I've never used travel insurance, and it seems pretty useless to me. But your individual circumstances could vary, I guess.

-Buy souvenirs! Or not. When I travel I mostly content myself with taking tons of photos and eating all the local food I can stuff down my gullet, but again, that's just me.

-You'll be fine in customs as long as long as you're not carrying agricultural products, unpackaged food, or mass quantities of cigarettes back to the States. :) I'm sure you can find a copy of the standard customs form online - just look at it to see what the agents are looking out for.
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From:spectralbovine
Date:September 2nd, 2010 08:11 am (UTC)
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There's a block along Passeig de Gràcia called Illa de la Discòrdia because it's got several crazily...well discordant Modernista buildings on it, if you want a lot of architectural bang for your buck.
Sounds fun.

eat at Taxidermista
Uh...

in Plaça Reial, a square which is also notable for having Gaudí-designed streetlamps. (No, really.)
Ha!

Oh, and the National Art Museum of Catalonia is housed in a Disney-worth palace with an awesome "magic fountain" show a few times a week. Music! Lights! Really big fountain sprays! It's really a blast of a way to spend an hour or two at night. :)
That sounds awesome! I love magic fountains! Oh, that's probably the modern art museum heartsways was mentioning above. I have to take some cable car to get to it or something. Aw, Wikipedia says the fountains only run on summer evenings? Ah, got it, "from May to September Thursday through Sunday every half-hour between 9:00 and 11:00pm." Late!

If you're eating at a restaurant around La Rambla, don't pick anyplace that has seating in the middle of the street - they'll charge more for seating out there and chances are their food will be totally mediocre.
Got it. I think the hostels I'm looking at are in that area.

The Café Vienna has lovely sandwiches, but apart from that, you might want to go a tiny bit off the Rambla for eateries that are less exploitatively touristy.
Adventure!

Buy souvenirs! Or not.
I don't really collect anything from places, I don't think. Maybe I should start.

You'll be fine in customs as long as long as you're not carrying agricultural products, unpackaged food, or mass quantities of cigarettes back to the States.
What if I stuff a Spanish hottie in my luggage? Will she go through okay? (In this scenario, she is obviously a contortionist.)
From:wee_warrior
Date:September 2nd, 2010 09:12 am (UTC)
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Can't tell you much about Barcelona (where I've been once, 16 years ago) or Budapest (where I haven't been at all), but you mentioned before that you might be in Berlin? Is that still the case?
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From:spectralbovine
Date:September 2nd, 2010 03:12 pm (UTC)
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Nope, sorry, they traded Berlin for Barcelona!
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From:ora_wai
Date:September 2nd, 2010 09:58 am (UTC)
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I did go to Barcelona, oh 5 years ago (time and it's flying!) but I stayed in Youth Hostels, and spent a lot of time drinking or wandering around the zoo looking for the albino gorilla (is dead fyi) and being amazed by the wolves and beer vending machines.

So, the Irish bar off Los Rambales is excellent (Molly's?) and there is a zoo within walking distance of the the city.
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From:ora_wai
Date:September 2nd, 2010 10:00 am (UTC)
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I wasn't walking around the zoo drunk, they were two separate events - English is my semi first language.
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From:spectralbovine
Date:September 2nd, 2010 03:14 pm (UTC)
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Ha!

THIS IS SO EXCITING AND I AM JEALOUS AND I CAN'T WAIT TO HEAR ALL ABOUT IT!
I'm already afraid at how long it's going to take me to write about it. I'm trying to figure out the best battle plan. Maybe not be so detailed. Maybe do fewer interesting things.
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From:philthecow
Date:September 2nd, 2010 03:02 pm (UTC)
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Barcelona is pretty well covered (Gaudi Gaudi Gaudi, magic fountain, churros with chocolate, delicious cheeses, the best wild mushrooms in Spain!), although I think people will be impressed enough that you have a few words of Spanish that they won't be grumpy that you're not speaking Catalan. Seriously, they have enough moronic British stag parties at this point that anything not in an entitled British accent is fine.

BUDAPEST! I was just there two weeks ago, and I can confirm that it uses regular European plugs so you won't need a second adapter. Maybe look up a few Hungarian words, but Hungarian is seriously difficult, and I can report that I had no problems with English for the most part. Most of the city is pretty walkable, but the metro is pretty easy to use (make sure you buy and validate your ticket in the little red or yellow validating machines, though!) and the Andrassy metro (the one closest to where you're staying) specifically is amazing, it's really old and interesting to see. I found the metro the easiest way to get over the river to the other side of the city.

Some of the sights are maybe more obvious in Budapest: you're going to want to go to the castle, the cathedral, the thermal baths in the park at the top of the hill behind Hero's Square are awesome. The House of Terror is pretty close to your hotel/hostel on Andrassy Boulevard and is fascinating and sobering and pretty key if you're going to understand why Budapest got to be kind of depressing. The synagogue is the largest in the world outside of New York City, and has pretty sweet architecture as well. You have to wake up early to buy tickets for the Parliament tour but people told me it was nice--I just walked by and gawked at how large the building was. You'll see advertising for "Memorial Park," which is a little out of the main city (if you don't want to screw with local buses, there is supposedly a direct bus there from Deak Ferenc square), and is a collection of old communist statues. I went and enjoyed it (if you go, don't miss the 'How to stalk people as a Hungarian spy' video in the pavilion outside the park, it is AMAZING), but was frustrated that it was smaller than I expected and light on information.

Definitely eat Kurtoskalacs, they are so delicious, and sit in a Viennese-style coffee house with a cup of coffee and some Sachertorte or something. If you like poppy seeds you are in luck, and the pancakes filled with walnuts in chocolate sauce are also amazing.

What else? I had an amazing and surprisingly cheap meal at Köleves, which is a tasty seasonal restaurant in the Jewish neighborhood. Goulash is something you have to eat, the cottage cheese noodles are great, paprika chicken is great, stuffed cabbage is great... I'm pretty fond of Hungarian food, really. Have fun!
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From:spectralbovine
Date:September 2nd, 2010 03:21 pm (UTC)
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The House of Terror is pretty close to your hotel/hostel on Andrassy Boulevard and is fascinating and sobering and pretty key if you're going to understand why Budapest got to be kind of depressing.
Yeah, that's on the list. I mean, first I thought it was an awesome haunted house, and then...yeah. But it's one of the must-gos, for sure. Great that it's in that area! And of course I want to see castles.

You have to wake up early to buy tickets for the Parliament tour but people told me it was nice--I just walked by and gawked at how large the building was.
I think I read about that on Wikitravel. It sounded cool.

You'll see advertising for "Memorial Park," which is a little out of the main city (if you don't want to screw with local buses, there is supposedly a direct bus there from Deak Ferenc square), and is a collection of old communist statues.
Yeah, I saw pictures of it in the guidebook, and it looks really cool! Except it said the direct bus is stupid expensive (4500 forints, which is like twenty bucks), so maybe there's a metro or something? I am cool with the metro.

if you go, don't miss the 'How to stalk people as a Hungarian spy' video in the pavilion outside the park, it is AMAZING
WHAT.

Definitely eat Kurtoskalacs, they are so delicious
Those look interesting, okay!

and sit in a Viennese-style coffee house with a cup of coffee
Do they do mochas over there? That's what I drink.

and some Sachertorte
That was a spelling word!

the pancakes filled with walnuts in chocolate sauce are also amazing.
Oooh.

What else? I had an amazing and surprisingly cheap meal at Köleves, which is a tasty seasonal restaurant in the Jewish neighborhood.
And it's totally in my area! Thanks!

Goulash is something you have to eat
Except I don't eat beef! They probably don't have chicken goulash.

the cottage cheese noodles are great
What now?

paprika chicken is great
Sounds good!

stuffed cabbage is great
Stuffed with...what?

Have fun!
Thanks so much! Where did you stay when you were there? Any hostels in my area?
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From:daynr
Date:September 2nd, 2010 03:09 pm (UTC)
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You'll be fine and it will be amazing! In Budapest, or before, I would try to find a good map that has English and Hungarian, to match street signs or get help from people.
Don't worry too much about money; call you bank and use your atm. You can get enough cash in each city to tie you over. Traveller's check, etc., are passe now and kind of a pain to use.
Only in hostels will you really need to guard you stuff, but you shouldn't have to worry too much. It's pretty easy to keep your stuff close and secure to you (like passport or what not.)
You will need a universal adapter. Try to plan to use one for all your gadgetry, and try to avoid your laptop. If you get bored, force yourself out to sit in a cafe with a book. It will good.
Take very comfortable walking shoes, and walk walk walk.

It will be amazing!
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From:spectralbovine
Date:September 2nd, 2010 03:23 pm (UTC)
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If you get bored, force yourself out to sit in a cafe with a book. It will good.
Oh, I definitely plan to do that. Just so I can be all, "I am READING. In BUDAPEST/BARCELONA!"

It's pretty easy to keep your stuff close and secure to you (like passport or what not.)
So I should keep my passport on my person at all times? The hostels all have lockers.

Take very comfortable walking shoes, and walk walk walk.
There will be a lot of walking around.
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From:sneaker328
Date:September 2nd, 2010 03:25 pm (UTC)
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Just to be clear about something that might not be -- there are two different types of things you may need when it come to electronics overseas. One is a converter which will convert the voltage of what you're using. The other is a plug adapter which doesn't convert the electricity, but simply has the prongs you need to plug in your stuff. Most laptops, camera battery chargers, etc. are already made with universal voltage, which means you don't need a converter. Check the info on your stuff and if it says both 110v and 220v you're good to go and just need to get the plug adapters.

I'm a big big fan of walking tours and there's a really good comprehensive one in Budapest called the Absolute Walk. It covers most of the stuff people have mentioned (except the House of Terror.) It's great because, aside from being cheap, you'll really learn a lot about the history of the city/country. It does go to the Synagogue too, but if you want a more detailed tour of the Jewish ghetto and to see the interior (definitely worth seeing), the Synagogue itself conducts tours of that. Do not miss an opportunity to go out to the Danube (the area around the Chain Bridge) at night and see the sights all romantically lit up.

Edited at 2010-09-02 03:27 pm (UTC)
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From:spectralbovine
Date:September 2nd, 2010 03:27 pm (UTC)
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Ooh, thanks for the tip on the walking tour. That sounds like a good plan, like when I get there if I'm not too jet-lagged, so I can go back to see things I liked.
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From:rachelmanija
Date:September 2nd, 2010 05:50 pm (UTC)
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Never been to Barcelona, but based on going to Madrid, go bar-hopping to eat different tapas at each one! A great experience, especially if you can go with a local. Also, Spanish breakfast pastries are really good.
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From:spectralbovine
Date:September 2nd, 2010 06:13 pm (UTC)
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Thanks for the tip! That sounds like something to do when the company's paying.

What Spanish breakfast pastries are there?
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From:smrou
Date:September 2nd, 2010 08:42 pm (UTC)
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In Barcelona, we will be staying at the Hotel Arts Barcelona.
Oh hey, that's where my parents stayed the first time they were in Barcelona and they loved it (I usually don't know the names of hotels where my parents stay so they clearly liked this one enough that it was worth mentioning).

I've never been to Barcelona or Budapest, sadly, but my parents have been to both places so I'll ask them what the must-see things are. I mean, I know that in Barcelona you have to see basically everything Gaudi's done (Casa Mila is my favorite, I think, based on the Gaudi films/books/shows I've seen), but you know that already.
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From:skogkatt
Date:September 2nd, 2010 10:39 pm (UTC)
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Ooh, Budapest! I have always wanted to go there! Moss waxes ecstatic about this fried dough that street vendors sell, which is savory, not sweet. Possibly cheese is involved. Apparently it is both tasty and cheap, so good for when the company isn't footing the bill.

I also have a friend who went there last spring and stayed in an awesome hostel, but I can't remember the name. I shall ask her (though she's at Dragon*Con right now, so we'll see if she has time to respond).
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From:spectralbovine
Date:September 2nd, 2010 11:02 pm (UTC)
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I love fried dough that is tasty and cheap! I will be on the lookout.

I want to book my hostel by tomorrow, probably, just to get it over with and so I can then plan around my location, but if your friend responds today, let me know!
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From:behindpyramids
Date:September 2nd, 2010 11:28 pm (UTC)
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You need someone to carry your bags. You need someone with a rudimentary knowledge of Spanish, excellent taste in books and deadly chocolate eating abilities. YOU NEED ME TO COME ALONG!


and uh, yeah, get an adapter.
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From:spectralbovine
Date:September 2nd, 2010 11:49 pm (UTC)
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BARCELONA HAS A CHOCOLATE MUSEUM.
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From:latropita
Date:September 2nd, 2010 11:54 pm (UTC)
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Barcelona: if you're looking into guidebooks, I'd get one that has a detachable transit map. They have a nice subway system (along with buses and trams) that was pretty easily managed, but I'd also plan things out somewhat in advance so you're not stuck in a station staring at their map for twenty minutes. I see someone already mentioned the magic fountain but seriously, you have to see it, it's so awesome! It's in a pretty cool area, too, so even though it's late you can scope out the plaza and Palau Güell and whatnot. Also, the remains of the 1992 Olympics! The Picasso museum was neat, and you totally have to check out both La Sagrada Familia and Park Güell. The Park is in the northern part of the city, so you probably want to leave a decent chunk of a day for getting there and wandering around. The architecture all over the city itself is super cool as well, so if you have some spare time to just wander around, you definitely should. (There is also this.) Spanish cuisine in general tends to have a tooon of pork, as something to look out for.

Budapest: I was with a tour so I can't speak to the transit situation, but European subways tend to be pretty excellent. Things that were delightful: the Great Synagogue! Heroes' Square! St Stephen's Basilica! Buda Castle! Skipping across many bridges (Chain Bridge in particular is absolutely spectacular) that cross the Danube while humming "On the Beautiful Blue Danube" (Princess Tutu-tastic)! Make sure to try some linzer torte and strudel, because: delicious.
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From:spectralbovine
Date:September 3rd, 2010 12:29 am (UTC)
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if you're looking into guidebooks, I'd get one that has a detachable transit map.
Well, I got three from the library and borrowed one from my boss, so those transit maps aren't coming out anyway. If they're in there, I haven't checked.

I see someone already mentioned the magic fountain but seriously, you have to see it, it's so awesome!
I will!

(There is also this.)
Hey, isn't that thing famous? I guess it's obligatory.

the Great Synagogue! Heroes' Square! St Stephen's Basilica! Buda Castle!
You're just shouting random words, Tropie.

Make sure to try some linzer torte and strudel, because: delicious.
I will be eating a lot of pastries on this trip, I see.
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From:jeeperstseepers
Date:September 3rd, 2010 01:59 am (UTC)
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Ok, I read many of the comments earlier in the day, and most of what I had to say was covered, but now there are too many for me to go through to make sure no one's already said this:

Effing PIN credit cards! The credit cards are different in Europe. Instead of signing, you punch in your PIN. Now, there was no problem using American credit cards at restaurants or shops or places where you hand your card directly to a human to run. But the ticket machines in all the train stations throughout France and Swizerland? Don't accept American credit cards. (I don't remember if this kind of problem exists in other places I've been to.) So make sure you have enough change (depending on where you are, it might have to be coinage) to pay for your ticket using the machines or make sure you get there long enough before whatever train you want to take so that you can stand on the effing line to buy tickets from an effing agent with your credit card.

Regarding travel insurance: it saved my ass when my back went out and I had to cancel my Thanksgiving trip to London. If I hadn't had travel insurance, I'd have lost hundreds of dollars. Now, this isn't your money you're dealing with, so maybe it doesn't matter to you, but you should look into it anyway and find out what happens if, say, you miss a connecting flight or something. Or if the train taking you to the airport breaks down and you miss your flight. Is the company going to pay for your new ticket? Travel insurance isn't very expensive, and you might want to see if the company would cover it, since it would help you out in situations like the ones I mentioned above, or if you do find yourself in need of medical attention. Or if any of your luggage is lost/damaged.

Edited at 2010-09-03 02:01 am (UTC)
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From:imwalde
Date:September 3rd, 2010 03:17 am (UTC)
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yeah, more places than you'd hope can't do the swipey American credit cards because instead of reading the magnetic strip, they read an embedded chip, which US cards just don't have. I never had trouble at an ATM, though.
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From:imwalde
Date:September 3rd, 2010 03:34 am (UTC)
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Looks like a lot has been covered, but seconding the Chain Bridge recommendation, it's just cool. And I did do the tour of Parliament in Budapest, it is pretty and opulent inside and the tour was just about the right length, an hour I think?

Hungarian is hard, and no one, NO ONE, speaks it but the Hungarians. I got around fine speaking English, and never felt like they resented it; it's pretty expected. It's what a lot of the European tourists speak there, too, although I did bust out German once or twice.

A few food tips from my time in Austria, not my sidetrip to Budapest, but the cuisines overlap a lot, given that they were part of the same empire until WW1.

-- Palatschinken = crepes. NOM NOM. Hungarians might spell it Palatschinky or something? English translations of the menu sometimes say pancakes, but no; really, they are crepes filled with something yummy, chocolate or apricot jam, or what have you.

-- If you do get strudel, get it with vanilla sauce. Delicious, delicious vanilla sauce. It's the Viennese way, so it should be in Budapest, too. It often comes on a big plate on which a center island of strudel drowns in a sea of vanilla sauce. *drools*

-- Goulash won't lead you too wrong. It's basically a default dish. (A little like pizza, even if subpar, well, it's still pizza, how wrong can they get it?)

-- Topfengolatsche (German spelling): a pastry consisting of a flaky dough pocket filled with something on the dairy continuum most analogous to the sweet cheese of cheesecake. I had one for breakfast at least once a week.
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From:spectralbovine
Date:September 3rd, 2010 03:41 am (UTC)
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English translations of the menu sometimes say pancakes, but no; really, they are crepes filled with something yummy, chocolate or apricot jam, or what have you.
Oh! Yeah, I saw some menus that were talking about pancakes filled with cocoa or jam. That makes more sense!

Topfengolatsche (German spelling): a pastry consisting of a flaky dough pocket filled with something on the dairy continuum most analogous to the sweet cheese of cheesecake. I had one for breakfast at least once a week.
Isn't that basically a Danish?
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From:ariiadne
Date:September 3rd, 2010 02:52 pm (UTC)
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Honestly the only thing I have to add to the fantastically useful comments above is that you can borrow my plug adapter if you want. Also, if you have an iPod I also have a European plug adapter for apple stuff.

I never needed a voltage converter for anything even while living/traveling in Europe since everything (laptop, camera battery charger, hairdryer) was universal except my DS (and I charged USB).

Oh! If you plan to take lots of photos, bring extra memory cards and/or a laptop for photo dumping. Have fun!
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From:spectralbovine
Date:September 3rd, 2010 03:44 pm (UTC)
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Honestly the only thing I have to add to the fantastically useful comments above is that you can borrow my plug adapter if you want.
I will do that! I was going to order one today, but that works too. Also, I have to return your Discworld books. Maybe I should bring two? My laptop, camera battery charger, cell phone charger, and Shuffle may not all want to fight for one plug. I found one on Amazon for like four bucks.

Also, if you have an iPod I also have a European plug adapter for apple stuff.
I have a Shuffle, so that may help, thanks!

Oh! If you plan to take lots of photos, bring extra memory cards and/or a laptop for photo dumping. Have fun!
I have about 6,700 pictures left on this memory card, so I should be fine. Even with a digital camera, I am pretty selective in my picture-taking, and I delete in-camera a lot.
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From:soundingsea
Date:September 4th, 2010 12:57 am (UTC)
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Super-awesome! *excited for you* :)
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From:thetheatremouse
Date:September 4th, 2010 01:44 am (UTC)
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Did I already tell you not to bring peanut butter? I forget....
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From:spectralbovine
Date:September 4th, 2010 01:49 am (UTC)
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...No. Why not?
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From:shutterbug1
Date:September 4th, 2010 09:39 pm (UTC)
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Hi there, Polter Cow. :) Haven't been around much since the heyday of the VM:MMM, but wanted to say 'hola'.

Speaking of Spanish, so jealous that you are going to Barcelona & Budapest! I was in Barcelona for a study abroad semester years ago, and have been back once since. I absolutely LOVE that city.

There's been a lot of great advice here and people have covered all the "must-see's" if you've just got a few days. Also, I haven't been there in years, so I don't know what's new there now. The Catalonian parliament recently voted to outlaw bullfighting, so that's new. Haven't ever been myself, but I know it was never as popular in Barcelona as in, say, Madrid.

Someone above mentioned eating times - yes, dinner's late, but it's also typically a smaller meal than lunch. When I stayed with my host family, the father always came home from work around 1 or 2pm for a big, midday meal - the type of spread we usually have for dinner - and we usually had more sandwich-type fare (or tapas) for the late dinner. This is obviously varied a bit in downtown eateries and tourist areas, but the general guideline is bigger meal for lunch, smaller for dinner.

Oh, and stay away from the beach in Barcelona - unless they've cleaned it up in the last few years. It's a big port city, so there's a lot of marine trade activity. It was passable when I was there, but not really enjoyable. There are much more beautiful beaches in smaller towns up and down the Costa Brava. If you're looking for a fun day (or even half-day) trip, they're easily accessible by a short train ride.

Have a great time!
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From:spectralbovine
Date:September 4th, 2010 11:07 pm (UTC)
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Hey, you!!

This is obviously varied a bit in downtown eateries and tourist areas, but the general guideline is bigger meal for lunch, smaller for dinner.
I seeeee. Well, we'll see how I feel about that!

I probably won't hit the beach anyway. Too many other things to see.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:September 6th, 2010 08:03 am (UTC)

Budapest

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I just came back from studying abroad in Budapest. I took a semester of Hungarian and traveled both in Budapest and outside, including the City of Pecs, which is one of Europe's Capital of Culture this year. Budapest is an amazing city full of beautiful people, food, and culture. My suggestions include:

Eating at/visiting Raday Utca (pronounced Rad-eye-eah Utza)
Shop at the Central Market and bargain for souvenirs
Go to the Szechenyi Baths ****ABSOLUTE MUST****
Go to the Castle District, Heroe's Square and explore St. STephen's Basilica
Watch an opera at the Opera House. IF you buy tickets early enough it can cost as low as 4 USD. Yeah that's right, 4 USD.


Museums:
House of Terror <-- awesome museum chronicling Hungary's painful past with both communism and socialism.
Dohany Synogague (also the second largest synagogue in the world)


Eat:

Hungarian pastries
Hungarian Goulash

Drink:

Palinka
Tokaj wine (pronounced Toh-keye)

Tips from one American to another:

Don't tip at restaurants or bars.. its all included in your bill unless stated otherwise.
Always haggle when buying souvenirs or fun knicknacks with vendors.
Use the metro system to get around the city... taxi's are pretty unnecessary and you might get easily taken advtange of.
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From:spectralbovine
Date:September 6th, 2010 05:13 pm (UTC)

Re: Budapest

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Thank you, anonymouse! $4 opera sounds pretty badass!
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From:miniglik
Date:September 6th, 2010 03:19 pm (UTC)
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I'm so excited for you!

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