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

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

Hokkaido Winter Drive – Concluding Thoughts

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It was a fantastic time doing my first winter road trip in Hokkaido, Japan. I first fell in love with Hokkaido 10 years ago on our first trip there. This time, we experienced a whole new dimension and we found ourselves falling in love again with the country and the wonderful people here. This are the things we will remember from the trip:

  • Driving in the Snow – we had some truly unforgettable legs, especially at Jozankei and Niseko, where we were literally driving through a winter wonderland. It was a very surreal special feeling. What beautiful mountains and countryside they have in Hokkaido, and with the entire landscape capped in snow, it was simply magical.
  • Check the Dates! – can you imagine my horror when I went to collect my car rental in Sapporo, only to find that I had booked the car on the wrong dates? In my rush, I had carelessly put the month as October instead of November on my car rental booking. To make it worse, there was no longer any car available to rent from Sapporo. Thankfully, I had my brother-in-law to save the day. We managed to find an available rental car in Otaru two days later. So the first two days of the road trip to Jozankei and Otaru, we used my brother-in-law’s rented car to shuttle both our families.
  • The Wonderful People of Hokkaido – In Otaru, my wife and son had to wait for me at the hotel lobby while I drove back to Jozankei to pick up my brother-in-law’s family. After some time, my son became hungry, and my wife had to walk to the nearby convenience store to pick up some food for him. Now this would be a trivial affair for most of us, but my wife suffers from cerebral palsy which affects her walking and her balance. It can be quite a scary ordeal for her to navigate uneven ground or even steps. When she walked to the convenience store, she found the store front had steps at the door with no railings to help with balance. An elderly Japanese man was waiting for his bus at the nearby bus stop. He noticed my wife’s hesitation at the store front and asked her what the matter was and if she needed any help. After my wife explained the situation to him, the man offered him his hand to help her up the stairs, which my wife gratefully accepted. As my wife looked around the convenience store, she then noticed that the man came back into the store and he started speaking to one of the attendants at the convenience store. As it turned out, he explained to the attendant my wife’s situation and that his bus was about to arrive. He had asked the attendant to help my wife down the steps after making her purchase. My wife was extremely moved my the man’s simple act of kindness. He really went the extra mile to make sure that my wife’s needs were taken care off. When my wife shared with me what happened, I was really bowled over. How amazing the people are… so thoughtful, so sincere, so genuine. The world would be a better place if we were all like the wonderful people of Hokkaido.
  • The Amazing Food – I always tell people, it is almost impossible to find a bad restaurant in Japan. The food here is amazing, and even the fast food taste better than what we get back home. We believe that it is because the people of Japan take pride in what they serve their customers. The attention to detail, the commitment to quality ingredients and food preparation processes, all these result in a food paradise that is unlike any other country on the planet.
  • Thank God for Google Maps – This was a life-saver, especially when the supposedly English-enabled GPS unit in our car strangely did not have an English keyboard to input the required destinations. What’s the point of having an English-enabled GPS when there is no English input mechanism? SMH.
  • My Son’s First Experience with Snow – He took to the snow like a dog to a bone. 🙂

All in all, these four days on the road in Hokkaido really opened our eyes to a different world, one that we will always remember. We hope to go back soon!

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This is part 10, and the final entry of my Hokkaido Winter Drive blog series, look out for my next blog series which will start shortly!

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 Hungary Winter Drive Blog Series

2016 Drive from Singapore to Thailand Blog Series

2017 Drive from Singapore to Thailand Blog Series

Hokkaido Winter Drive – Back to New Chitose Airport

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How time flies when you are having a good time. Sadly it was time for us to head back to New Chitose Airport, where our winter escapade began.

We had to choose between the quick route along the Hokkaido Expressway and the more scenic seaside drive along Route 36. Naturally, we chose the Route 36, also avoiding the expressway tolls which aren’t cheap.

This was a surprisingly smooth journey, except around the Tomakomai area, where there were plenty of traffic lights. This is a great area to have a meal or to shop, but pity we didn’t have the time to do so, as we were rushing to return our car before the 12noon deadline.

Thankfully, we made it to the Times Car Rental depot in good time. It was a pretty smooth and quick process returning the car, and in no time we were on the complimentary shuttle bus heading towards the airport.

The New Chitose Airport is nowhere as big as Changi or Narita, but it is certainly a shopping and dining paradise nonetheless. There are loads of wonderful restaurants. We settled for lunch at a Sushi restaurant which amazed us with its high tech checkout process.

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All the waitress had to do was to use a handheld device, armed with Near-Field Communication technology, to “scan” all the empty sushi plates on the table. It looked a lot like a magician waving her magic wand. In a few seconds, the cost of our meal was automatically displayed on a compact LED screed which we then brought to the cashier to settle our bill.

After lunch, we explored the myriad shopping and entertainment options at the airport mall. There were a lot of places to keep kids entertained, from Hello Kitty World, to Doraemon World, to Royce Chocolate World:

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Only in Japan, where kids of all ages never grow up! 🙂


This is part 9 of my Hokkaido Winter Drive blog series, click HERE to read my concluding thoughts about our trip!

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 Hungary Winter Drive Blog Series

2016 Drive from Singapore to Thailand Blog Series

2017 Drive from Singapore to Thailand Blog Series

 

 

Hokkaido Winter Drive – Kojohama

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After our visit to Hell Valley, we proceeded down the mountain to our accommodation for the night at the Kojohama Spa Hotel. We chose a Japanese style room with tatami beds which provided a more authentic local experience compared to the western style rooms we are more accustomed to. The only issue with our room was that we could not find the bathroom, even after opening every single door in the room. There was a toilet, a sink, but no bathroom. After going back downstairs to check with the reception, it turned out that the rooms literally DID NOT have bathrooms, and it was expected that the guests would use the onsen facilities, shared with other guests, to shower and bath. Interesting indeed. The only issue being the inconvenience for my wife, who suffers from Cerebral Palsy. Having poorer balance, it would not be easy for her to manage on her own in the shared bath with steps and slippery floors and all.

Thankfully, the hotel staff, after some consideration, offered us a complimentary upgrade to a bigger family-sized room, which had a shower facility inside the room. We were eternally grateful for their kind gesture, a real unexpected blessing indeed!

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After settling down in our new room, we proceeded out to a nearby Izakaya restaurant そばの池田 for dinner.

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This was a quiet place, where mainly the local people hang out, with hardly any tourists. With no English menu, it was a little difficult to figure out how to order, but the staff were very patient and helpful. With the food pictures that were available and whatever limited Japanese we knew, we made our orders. Man, the food was amazing!

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The tempura was the most well prepared we have ever tasted in Japan, fried just right, delicious, crispy but not oily or soggy. The sashimi set was amazingly fresh, and well presented.

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All in all it was a wonderful place to have our final dinner of our road trip, before heading back to New Chitose Airport in the morning. The prices, while not cheap, were still reasonable considering the quality of the food provided.

This is one of the greatest advantages of doing a road trip, you have the flexibility and convenience to drive out to find good food!

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After dinner, we returned to the hotel, where I had a long soak in the onsen. For the first time for the trip, I tried the outdoor pool. It was an interesting feeling, being completely naked outdoors in the freezing cold. Surprisingly, although the temperature must have been around zero degrees Celsius (it was snowing lightly at that time), it didn’t seem all that cold, perhaps because of the heat emanating from the hot spring. It was certainly a good way to unwind and relax, and I begin to understand why the Japanese love their onsens!


This is part 8 of my Hokkaido Winter Drive blog series, click HERE to read part 9 where I share about the final leg of our road trip as we head back to New Chitose Airport.

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 Hungary Winter Drive Blog Series

2016 Drive from Singapore to Thailand Blog Series

2017 Drive from Singapore to Thailand Blog Series