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

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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

 

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

 

 

 

 

Hokkaido Winter Drive – Otaru City

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Otaru Music Box Museum

This is the third time we have come to Hokkaido, but in our previous trips we have never visited Otaru. Otaru is a small harbour city, easily accessible from Sapporo by a 30 minute train ride. It is famous for the freshness of its sushi, as well as its canal walks and quaint shopping streets.

Having only one afternoon and evening to explore, we decided to take a walk down the Otaru Sakaimachi Shopping Street, which is popular with tourists and locals alike. Along this street, you can find plenty of local delicacies to eat, restaurants, snacks, deserts, mementos, everything that a tourist will need!

We had lunch at a sushi restaurant, and the food was delicious indeed!

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After lunch, we topped up with desserts from the Japanese Maccha Sweets shop, where they serve all sorts of Japanese Green Tea desserts, pastries and ice-cream.

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Walking further down the street, we picked up some souvenirs and eventually ended up at the Otaru Music Box Museum. This is a very interesting place, filled with music boxes of all shapes and forms. They also sell a host of music boxes of different grades and designs, but all of them were well crafted and unique. The prices are also pretty reasonable, considering the workmanship.

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Creative Designs

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Intricate and Captivating

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Sushi Music Boxes

We happily chose a simple music box with a lovely tune to bring back as a keepsake.

After the museum visit, we headed back to the hotel to rest and recharge.


This is part 4 of my Hokkaido Winter Drive blog series, click HERE for part 5 where I share about how to navigate the Japanese petrol stations without knowing any Japanese and our trip to the highland ski resort at Niseko!

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

Restaurant Congee Rice Noodles – Melaka

We had our late lunch at this restaurant today, just after it opened at 3pm. This was our first visit and we were happy to find somewhere air-conditioned, where we could eat in comfort shielded from the scorching heat outside.
The prices of the dishes here are slightly more pricy than what we can find in the vicinity, but still reasonable as the portions are sizable.

We ordered 6 dishes in total: Marmite Chicken (Rating: 8/10 a bit too much sauce), Cereal Prawns (8/10 not enough cereal), Kum Heong Lala (9/10 flavourful with good balance of spices), Gong Bao Frog Legs (8/10), Signature Toufu (8/10 simple but well executed), Seaweed Soup (7/10, decent but not outstanding).

There were so many other dishes we wanted to order, the food photos looked so tasty, but I guess we would have to come back another day to try.

All in all, we think this is a great find. There is something here for everyone. Our kids were all raving about their respective dishes and they asked to come back!


Here are the links to the other parts in this Blog Series:

Reviews of Hotels and Restaurants:

My wife and I enjoy having guests over at our place for fellowship and a nice home-cooked meal. So 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!