Hungary Winter Drive – St. Nicholas Day in Keszthely

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Excuse me Santa, can I take a picture with you?

After two nights in Szekesfehervar, the next leg of our journey would see us drive a full circuit around Lake Balaton, which is the largest lake in Central Europe. With an area of 592 square kilometres, it is almost the size of Singapore!

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Our destination for the day’s drive was Keszthely, at the western corner of the lake, which is an important cultural and historical hub in the region. It was a lovely drive, and we took a few detours off the motorway because we wanted to catch a glimpse of the beautiful lake!

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Down the little alley for a first glimpse of Lake Balaton

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Looks more like an ocean rather than a lake!

Not the best vantage point of the lake, I know, but better than nothing. This was our first view of Lake Balaton and we were immediately struck by its vast expanse. Compared to the seaside, the waters were so calm and gentle. You could barely make out the silhouettes of the hills at the opposite bank of the lake, and they seemed to blend in perfectly with the skies in the horizon.

After getting our Lake Balaton fix, we quickly made our way back onto the motorway to find our accommodation for the night – Beata Apartment, a homestay at a suburb just a short drive from Keszthely town.

This was the first time we have tried booking a homestay, and I must say it was a memorable experience. It took us a bit of time to find the exact location, but we were given directions by a helpful neighbour who pointed us the way to the house.

Our hosts, Feri and Beata, were super hospitable, and their house gave us a very homely feeling.

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A homestay with that homely feeling!

After settling us in, Feri told us that the 6th of December was actually St. Nicholas Day in Hungary, and we had arrived just in time to observe the festivities at the town centre at 4pm that day. Grateful for this information, we made our way back to town to check it out!

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The lovely town square at Keszthely where the St. Nicholas Day festivities were held

We were not disappointed. At the town centre, crowds were gathered in anticipation, with a real festival atmosphere with lovely games stations set up for the kids to play for free!

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How do I fire this crossbow?

There was also the requisite nativity scene, as well as a little barnyard maze made from hay for the little kids to get themselves lost in.

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Not quite mazerunner

Finally, the highlight of the afternoon – Santa’s arrival on a horse-drawn carriage! He brought his bag of presents and distributed little sweets to all the children present. It was certainly unexpected that we would luck our way to the St. Nicholas Day celebration, and we were extremely grateful for the recommendation of our hosts.

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Hello Santa!


This is part 8 of my Hungary Winter Drive blog series,  click HERE for part 9 where I share about our visit to the wonderful Helikon Kastelymuzeum at the Festetics Palace!

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 lovely 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 – 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

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

Mumtaz Indian Restaurant, HCMC

After a six year absence, we are finally back in Ho Chi Minh City enjoying our favorite Indian restaurant Mumtaz along Bui Vien. This restaurant has been a must-try ever since our first visit years back and it brings back so many happy memories of our early years of travel as a married couple. The food is always of a high standard and the service excellent. 

For tonight’s meal, we ordered the Rogan Gosh, Bhindi Masala and Chicken Madrasi with a Garlic Naan and Butter Naan. The food was delicious, with generous portions of meat, cooked to perfection in terms of texture and taste! This place really lives up to its high ranking on Tripadvisor. 

Summary:

– Chicken Madrasi Curry

– Mutton Rogan Gosh Curry

– Bhindi Masala Curry (Lady’s Finger)

– Spices, Papadom, Ice Water

– Bill: VND317,000

Sofitel Sentosa

This hotel is a wonderful place to seek refuge from the hustle and bustle of Singapore city life. As Accor Advantage Plus members we enjoy two free nights across the Accor range, and there is probably no better place to utilise these complimentary nights than here in Sentosa. You will enjoy beautiful sunsets amidst an idyllic setting where peacocks roam freely at poolside. The service and food is of top quality and the rooms are spacious and comfortable. My only complaint is that one night here passes all too quickly!