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 – 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

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