Hungary Winter Drive – Museums Galore – Toy, Diocese & King Stephen

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The main walking street in Szekesfehervar with its beautiful cobblestones

Our next day in Szekesfehervar was spent exploring the lovely cobblestone streets in the city centre. Make no mistake about it, this city, although small, is chock full of buildings and attractions of historical significance. It almost seemed like every third building was a museum of some sort. We could not see everything in one day, but it must be some sort of family record for us to step into three museums in the space of 4 hours.

The first was the Hetedhet Jatekmuzeum (or Toy Museum). This was a lovely place brimming with nostalgia from the childhoods of yesteryear. Plenty to see here for kids from ages 3 to 90. 🙂

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Makes me want to be a little boy again!

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One of the countless little miniature sets on display

There was even a lovely activity room, where we could take a seat and try our hands at different games through the ages, including this ball balancing labyrinth game which brought back memories of my own childhood:

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Can you navigate the ball through the maze without succumbing to all the nasty traps?

Yes when I was a little boy, I would spend ages at the trade fairs where my Dad worked selling books and encyclopedias. I actually won a labyrinth set similar to this by navigating the ball from start to finish without falling through any of the traps. That was when I was in my prime and at the peak of my prowess. For this one, I could only make it to hole 15…

The next museum we stepped into was the Museum of the Diocese of Szekesfehervar, which charts the history of the Catholic Diocese in the area. This was surprisingly a wonderful little museum, and was extremely creatively designed with a mix of artifacts, artwork and contemporary media installations. There was a real feeling of peace within and was definitely worth the visit, even for non-Catholics like us. We didn’t expect it when we first entered, but it was our favorite museum we visited that afternoon.

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Lovely paintings at the Diocese museums which tell the story of Christ

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Many intricate sacred pieces on display as well

The final museum for us that day was the King Stephen Museum. This museum charted the history of the district from the early days of settlement. There were plenty of archaeological artifacts on display including clothing, currency, tools and weapons.

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Old stones

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Old metal tools, keys and knives

The hardcore history buffs will probably have a field day here, but it was a little bit on the dry side for us.

The wonderful thing about all these museums were that the prices for entry were very reasonable, and I would say all of them gave the bang for the buck.

From there, it was a lovely walk back to our hotel. There were plenty of photo opportunities with statues and installations lining the main walking street.

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The famous Aunt Kati Statue (Kati Neni Szobra)

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Interpretations please?

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Forget Santa Claus, Queen Elsa is coming to town!

All in all, it was a lovely walk, one which I would highly recommend. There were plenty of other attractions in town which regrettably, we did not have the opportunity to visit, I guess that would give us a reason to come back to this hidden gem of a city some time in the future. 🙂


This is part 7 of my Hungary Winter Drive blog series,  look out for part 8!

My wife and I enjoy having guests over at our place for fellowship over a nice home-cooked meal. If you would like to drop by to try some of my wife’s wonderful cooking and to talk more about travel and life, do drop me a mail at lenniechua@gmail.com to arrange a dinner date! Everyone welcome!


2017 Hokkaido Winter Drive Blog Series

2016 Drive from Singapore to Thailand Blog Series

2017 Drive from Singapore to Thailand Blog Series

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Hungary Winter Drive – Szekesfehervar Forever!

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Sunrise view from our hotel room @ Novotel Szekesfehervar

The next leg of our trip was a two night stand at the historic city of Szekesfehervar, which translates to “white castle of the (royal) seat”.  This beautiful city was the capital of Hungary in the middle ages, and is just an hour’s drive to the East of Budapest. I kid you not that even after 2 days exploring its lovely streets, I was still hesitant to even attempt saying “Szekesfehervar”. The next time you meet me, test me on my pronunciation!

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Along the way to Szekesfehervar, we decided to take a short detour to Lake Velence, the third largest lake in Hungary and apparently a very popular place for the locals to take a holiday. Unfortunately, the villages along the lake seemed like ghost towns in the winter, with not many shops open. After trying for some time to find a restaurant to have our lunch, we gave up and decided to head to our hotel at Szekesfehervar to check-in first.

We were quite bowled over by our lovely room at the Novotel Szekesfehervar. It was a two-level concept, with the living room and a toilet on the first level and the bedroom with the attached bathroom in the loft on the second level.

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Definitely one of our favorite hotel rooms ever!

Needless to say, the two girls were star-struck by that fairy-tale spiral staircase. That huge window which spanned two levels also provided a wonderful view, especially when it started snowing. We spent a fair bit of that afternoon just gazing out of the window in wonder.

The other great thing about our hotel was its location. As we would soon find out, the historical walking street was just a stone’s throw from the hotel, as well as the main shopping mall in the heart of town, Alba Plaza. There, we found some nice food at the food court, and took advantage of the Christmas sales to purchase some reasonably priced walking shoes for ourselves.

As you can see, our daughter had a fair bit of fun admiring the falling snow:

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It’s snowing in the streets of Szekesfehervar!

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Can I bring some of these snowflakes home as a souvenir?


This is part 6 of my Hungary Winter Drive blog series,  click HERE for part 7 where I share about our visit to the museums in Szekesfehervar the next day!

My wife and I enjoy having guests over at our place for fellowship over a nice home-cooked meal. If you would like to drop by to try some of my wife’s wonderful cooking and to talk more about travel and life, do drop me a mail at lenniechua@gmail.com to arrange a dinner date! Everyone welcome!


2017 Hokkaido Winter Drive Blog Series

2016 Drive from Singapore to Thailand Blog Series

2017 Drive from Singapore to Thailand Blog Series

Hungary Winter Drive – Matra Mountains

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We found the snow!

So after we came back from our recent Hokkaido trip, my daughter was pretty envious at our son’s experience playing in the thick snow at Niseko. We felt that we had to make sure that we find some snow for our daughter somewhere in Hungary. After consulting our trusty Google search, we found out the most likely place for this would be the Matra Mountains, which are part of the North Hungarian Mountains where practically all of Hungary’s highest peaks are located. Matra is located about a 110km drive to the East of Budapest, and we felt that this would be quite manageable getting there and back within a day. Besides, we were all still jet-lagged and woke up like 4am that day, and therefore could set off early!

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We took a leisurely drive out of Budapest, enjoying the beautiful sights around town in the early morning. We got ourselves onto the M3 motorway without much fuss, and even had a nice breakfast at McDonalds where we were very grateful to see the familiar self-service terminals with an option to order in English!

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Grateful for the English Menu

The menu options were also refreshingly different to what we are used to back home in Singapore, but needless to day, my daughter happily went for a Happy Meal with a Powerpuff Girl toy!

Another observation we made that morning at McDonalds was that they serve very nice tea! You have an option of quite a number of flavours and infusions and the tea was delicious!

After breakfast, we proceeded on our way, and my wife said a quiet prayer to ask God for some snow for our daughter.

Sure enough, as we approached the foot of the mountains, we saw some little snowflakes float down from the sky, and our daughter started getting super excited! Pretty soon, the whole landscape turned white, and we looked for the first safe place to park the car and let my daughter out to play!

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The suspicious girl playing outside the driveway

We found a little corner to park, just outside of someone’s house in the middle of nowhere. If the owner had seen us there, they must have found us to be rather strange, like what are these people doing parking out here and frolicking in the snow? Yes, this is what happens when you live in a country without the four seasons and you see snow for the first time in your life!

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We drove around for a bit, but we couldn’t really find a good place with a good view. However, just the experience of driving through a highland forest with the bare branches laced with snow was enough to get our daughter into a frenzy and put a large smile on her face.

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Some really beautiful and rugged winter scenes

Pretty soon, with the temperature dropping and the chill setting in, we tried to find a place for a meal, but we found that most of the restaurants in the mountain villages were not open at this time of the year.

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A mountain village centre

Our daughter started becoming very quiet and shivering in the snow, and we knew it was time to get her inside the car and to make our way down the mountain.

We ended up at a Tesco hypermart at the foot of the mountains, and we were rather surprised to find a Chinese food court there serving up some really cheap and tasty Asian fare. By the end of our trip, we were bemused to find that every single Tesco we visited had a Chinese food court inside, and always at the right front corner of the store just after the entrance. Very interesting. I think the service staff was also surprised to see us, and we overheard them guessing and debating what ethnic background we were from. I guess they don’t see many Chinese people in these parts. 🙂

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Chinese eateries dominate Tesco’s

So mission accomplished, and the interesting thing was that as we were driving back along the motorway, it was snowing heavily. The fields that were green and brown when we made our way towards Matra in the morning were now turning white as we made the return journey back towards Budapest. God has an interesting sense of humour, and he always seems to answer my wife’s prayers. 😛


This is part 5 of my Hungary Winter Drive blog series,  look out for part 6!

My wife and I enjoy having guests over at our place for fellowship over a nice home-cooked meal. If you would like to drop by to try some of my wife’s wonderful cooking and to talk more about travel and life, do drop me a mail at lenniechua@gmail.com to arrange a dinner date! Everyone welcome!


2017 Hokkaido Winter Drive Blog Series

2016 Drive from Singapore to Thailand Blog Series

2017 Drive from Singapore to Thailand Blog Series

Hungary Winter Drive – First Taste

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It was a straightforward 23km drive from the Liszt Ferenc International Airport to our accommodation the Mecure Buda, which is on the western castle side of town. Budapest is aptly named, a combination of the Buda and Pest districts which developed separately over hundreds of years on opposite sides of the magnificent Danube River which runs through much of Eastern Europe.

Our hotel was in a rather quiet district, and was nothing much to shout about. After checking in, we looked for a good place to have our first dinner, and we found our way to this nearby restaurant:

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Márványmenyasszony Restaurant

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The lovely decor inside.

It was a cozy place with nice decor, and was practically empty at that time of the evening. We ordered some food and proceeded to enjoy our dinner. The food did not disappoint. Every dish was exquisitely prepared and well-presented, with a generous portion of food. The accompanying bread and butter was also tasty, and went especially well being dipped into the Hungarian Beef Goulash Soup which we ordered. The lamb and chicken were nice, and the mashed potato was amazing. The best part of the meal was the spicy paprika sauce!

This would prove to be one of our favorite restaurants for our entire trip so if you happen to be in the area, it is well-worth a visit! Click HERE for directions.

Generally, we found Hungarian food to be tasty, but a little too salty for our taste buds. True enough, the day after I returned to Singapore, I had to make a visit to the doctor to review my blood test results. He checked my blood pressure and commented that it had gone up from previous readings. He advised me to cut down on my salt intake, and immmediately my wife, who was beside me, could not help but burst out in laughter. She had been talking the whole trip about how salty the food was. 😛 I figure, it is better to be salty and tasty, than to be salty and not tasty. Okay, maybe it is time for me to detox after all the feasting on my vacation!

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Grilled lamb

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Chicken with cheese

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Beef Goulash


This is part 4 of my Hungary Winter Drive blog series,  click HERE for part 5 where I share about our day trip out to the Matra Mountains where my daughter saw snow for the first time!

My wife and I enjoy having guests over at our place for fellowship over a nice home-cooked meal. If you would like to drop by to try some of my wife’s wonderful cooking and to talk more about travel and life, do drop me a mail at lenniechua@gmail.com to arrange a dinner date! Everyone welcome!


2017 Hokkaido Winter Drive Blog Series

2016 Drive from Singapore to Thailand Blog Series

2017 Drive from Singapore to Thailand Blog Series

 

Hungary Winter Drive – Driving in Hungary as a Tourist

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My wonderful rented Toyota RAV4, so smart that it can warn you when you are drifting out of lane or when you are about to crash into the car in front of you.

In this post I share about my experience of driving in Hungary as a foreigner.

Car Rental – One of the biggest worries was if the car rental would be a smooth process. I rented my car with U-Save Car Rental from the Rentalcars.com website after reading some mixed reviews about the company. Upon arrival at the Budapest Listz Ferenc Airport, we were glad to see a lady from the rental company holding up a card with my name, as promised. We then got a lift from the airport to the U-Save premises just a 5 minute drive away from the airport. The required documents were (1) Your driving license (2) A credit card for your deposit. I used my International Driving Permit as I had this done for my trip to Japan the month before, but this would not be necessary as long as your driving license is in English.

Highway Tolls – In Hungary, highway tolls are collected via the E-Vignette system. The roads from the airport to Budapest are toll free, but if you are intending to venture out of Budapest, it would be hard to avoid purchasing a permit. This can be done at petrol stations near to the motorways, but the great thing for us was that our car rental company settled this for us and we did not have to worry about the administrative hassle of getting this done in an unfamiliar country with an unfamiliar language.

Driving on the Right Side of the Road – This was an interesting experience for me as someone who has driving on the left side for my whole life. It certainly takes some getting used to and you have to consciously check if you are getting your bearings right, especially when making turns. The great thing was that my Toyota RAV4 car was pretty smart and naggy. Whenever I started drifting too much to the right, the warning lights would flash.

Traffic Police and Speed Limits – You have to be a bit careful of this especially when driving on the motorway. The speed limits are not standard and can vary quite dramatically for different portions of the motorway. The traffic police are also very vigilant and in my 10 days of driving, I spotted no less than 5 traffic police speed traps stationed either on the viaducts above, at the central divider, or at the slip roads at the side.

Child Seats – I read that children would require age-appropriate child seats or booster seats. I decided to bring my own booster seat from home for my daughter as it wasn’t too heavy or bulky and easily fitted into my luggage.

Refueling – My first experience at the petrol kiosks was a bit uncertain, but the process was easy enough to pick up quickly. Just identity the correct fuel (the labeling was simple enough) pump it, and proceed to the cashier inside the shop to pay with cash or credit card. The price of petrol and diesel was pretty similar about S$1.75 – S$2.00 per litre. I was rather impressed with the fuel economy of my RAV4, which averaged about 6 litres per 100 km on a powerful diesel engine.

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Pump black for diesel!

Parking Charges – Parking is chargeable at most of the major city and town centres. Look out for parking meters where you have to drop in your coins and to display the dispensed parking slips on your vehicle dashboards. Most of the parking meters have information in English, but not all, so you might have to get some help from the local people if need be. The good thing is that parking is free most of the time in the evenings and weekends. Do pay your parking though, as it is generally inexpensive and it is not worth the trouble of getting a ticket.

On the last night of our trip, I was unlucky and received a parking ticket just being 15 minutes away from my car when checking into my hotel, not knowing at first that the spaces in front of my hotel were public parking spaces and not owned by my hotel. I had to make my way to the nearest Post Office to pay the fine which worked out to be about S$11.

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I immersed myself so much into the culture of the land that I even got myself a parking ticket. I then had to figure out how to pay the fine at the nearby Post Office.


This is part 3 of my Hungary Winter Drive blog series,  click HERE for Part 4 as I share about our first taste of Hungarian cuisine.

My wife and I enjoy having guests over at our place for fellowship over a nice home-cooked meal. If you would like to drop by to try some of my wife’s wonderful cooking and to talk more about travel and life, do drop me a mail at lenniechua@gmail.com to arrange a dinner date! Everyone welcome!


2017 Hokkaido Winter Drive Blog Series

2016 Drive from Singapore to Thailand Blog Series

2017 Drive from Singapore to Thailand Blog Series

Hungary Winter Drive – Sprain, Pain & Piano

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I had to re-wrap the bandage because it was falling off. It ain’t pretty but it worked!

My holiday adventure began even before I boarded the plane. Having just came back from Japan the week before and knowing that I’ll be eating lots of yummy Hungarian food in the days ahead, I felt the need to go for a long walk / jog the night before we fly, to clear off a few extra calories.

So away I went, walking for a good two hours till it was past midnight, doing my rounds at a park that was a five minute walk from my home. Just before coming back, I decided to do a quick jog for one final circuit, so that I work out a bit more of a sweat. Little did I know that this would be a fateful decision. As I was rounding the final bend, I stepped into a crack at the side of the path, which I did not see in the dark. My left foot took a huge wobble and I literally went SPLAT and fell face first on the ground. Ouch… not good… not this… not one day before I’m due for the long flight to Europe and having to drive our way around for 10 days, in a manual car where my left foot would be crucially needed to engage the clutch.

It took me 5 minutes to pick myself up slowly from the ground and a full hour to hobble back home. I wasn’t sure about the full extent of the damage done, but it felt like at best a bad sprain, or even possibly a fracture. Thankfully, I have a brother who is a doctor, and he was able to give me some useful advise, and also loan me a set of crutches to bring along for the trip. I managed to also drag myself to a Chinese physician the next afternoon before my flight. He did a bit of magic on my foot (a little press here, a little step there) and wrapped up the entire foot in a bundle of herbal medicine. Somehow the treatment worked wonders, and my condition improved dramatically within a few hours. I was also grateful for the crutches, for they were a life-saver, giving me that extra support to navigate the long walks through the airport terminals at Changi and Heathrow.

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Our daughter had to be more proactive in light of my injury.

On a more positive note, it was wonderful to be back in London for the first time in 17 years, albeit only for a few hours at Heathrow Airport to transfer planes. A flood of memories came back, and I found myself reminiscing of the good times I had, four years of my youth living and studying in the UK. I made so many great friends from different nations, although I confess I am one who is very bad at keeping in touch. My apologies, old friends!

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Memories of my Music studies in the UK

It was nice to walk past a piano at Heathrow, and I took some time to tinkle on the keys. Even managed to get a bit of applause from the people passing by! Maybe I should have put a hat on the ground to earn some spare change! 🙂

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Next time I transit at Heathrow, I’m gonna do a full busking set!

Oops. Maybe not, with that security officer keeping his eyes on me!


This is part 2 of my Hungary Winter Drive blog series,  click HERE for part 3 where I share pointers about driving in Hungary as a foreign tourist.

My wife and I enjoy having guests over at our place for fellowship over a nice home-cooked meal. If you would like to drop by to try some of my wife’s wonderful cooking and to talk more about travel and life, do drop me a mail at lenniechua@gmail.com to arrange a dinner date! Everyone welcome!


2017 Hokkaido Winter Drive Blog Series

2016 Drive from Singapore to Thailand Blog Series

2017 Drive from Singapore to Thailand Blog Series

2017 Hungary Winter Drive Blog Series

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Frolicking in a Simontornya Wine Cellar

The last time I was in Europe was 16 years ago when I was just a wee boy. Okay, maybe that was a bit of an exaggeration – that was when I completed my higher education at the University of Birmingham, UK. It was an incredibly memorable 4 years then, living in Europe, experiencing the 4 seasons for the first time in my life, and exploring the rich cultures of the different peoples and lands which make up this great continent.

After those 4 years, I felt that it was time to explore Asia, and that I did for the last 16 years. It was now time to go back.

My wife had never been to Europe. Neither have my kids. Before this trip, my wife did not even know any thing about Hungary. My daughter only knows what it means to be hungry, but nothing about Hungary. She kept asking, “is Hungary in Europe, or is Europe in Hungary?” It was time for their eyes to be opened.

Okay I admit, I had an ulterior motive. The first time I visited Hungary in the days of my youth, I fell in love with the beautiful Budapest, so steeped in history, so rich in culture. Above all, I fell in love with the Beef Goulash soup, and I wanted to bring my wife there to taste the real thing, and learn how to cook it for me back home in Singapore. This was my grand evil plan. 😛

The other great thing about Hungary is that the cost of living is very reasonable compared to some of the other countries in Europe. We managed to get great deals for our travel itinerary:

  • 4 day 3 night Dream Trip package from Rovia / World Ventures at a 5 star hotel in the Hungarian countryside with 3 breakfasts and dinners provided, for less than US$100 per person. Look out for an upcoming blog post where I will share about the wonderful time we had on this package tour.
  • 10 day car rental for an incredible price of S$250 from Rentalcars.com. We booked a Citroen C3 hatchback, but were extremely blessed to get a free upgrade to a Toyota RAV4 SUV.
  • Our other hotels were booked from Agoda and Accor at less than S$100 / night on average. Yes, where travel is concerned, I spread my nets wide and grab only the best deals haha.
  • Oh, did I mention, extremely competitively priced air tickets from British Airways, which were made even cheaper because of the Rovia Price Pledge Promise!

So do join me as I detail the various aspects of our trip in my upcoming blog posts. Thank you for taking the time to read!

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The Beautiful Lake Balaton

 

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The Crucifixion Scene Depicted at Tihany Abbey


This is part 1 of my Hungary Winter Drive blog series,  click HERE for part 2 where I share about my unfortunate injury just the night before we fly for Hungary.

My wife and I enjoy having guests over at our place for fellowship over a nice home-cooked meal. If you would like to drop by to try some of my wife’s wonderful cooking and to talk more about travel and life, do drop me a mail at lenniechua@gmail.com to arrange a dinner date! Everyone welcome!


2017 Hokkaido Winter Drive Blog Series

2016 Drive from Singapore to Thailand Blog Series

2017 Drive from Singapore to Thailand Blog Series