Hungary Winter Drive – A Dreamtrip to Remember @ The Fried Castle Hotel

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The friendly goats at the Fried Castle Hotel, Simontornya

We simply loved the Fried Castle Hotel @ Simontornya, a great place for a winter retreat in the Hungarian countryside. The hotel has some really great facilities which helped keep the whole family occupied and engaged.

Our hotel stay was part of our 4 day – 3 night Dreamtrip which we booked as a Rovia / Worldventures Platinum Member. Amazingly, it only cost us less than US$280 for three people – a real bargain, considering all the benefits and inclusions (3 breakfasts and dinners, including a crazy Palinka Party Night, complimentary use of hotel facilities, fruit platter and a bottle of red wine).

The trip included a host from Rovia, who helped to make all the necessary arrangements, and she certainly made sure we had a good time!

We were extremely pleased to get a complimentary upgrade to a family room, which boasts two separate but connecting bedrooms on the top floor. My lucky daughter got to enjoy snuggling in her own double bed!

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A warm welcome by at the Hotel Reception by our excellent host Brita Hammerschmidt

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Our daughter’s separate bedroom!

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Complimentary fruit platter and red wine

Considering the hotel’s remote location, we were rather surprised with the excellent facilities provided. Our daughter’s favorite was definitely the petting zoo, where we were able to get up close and personal with the friendly animals. Interestingly, when we entered the fenced compound, they actually walked towards us and allowed us to stroke them. Very well trained, or just very friendly.

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The animals at the Fried Castle’s Petting Zoo

The hotel boasts an excellent spa area with a big indoor pool, and a separate hot bubble bath. There were a variety of different suanas and aromatherapy rooms where you can use at your own preference.

There was also a well-equipped games room, where guests have complimentary use of the table football, pool, and ping pong tables. After meeting our new friends from Romania, we spent a couple of nights making full use of these, while chit-chatting and enjoying our drinks late into the night!

Truly, the best part in joining a trip like this is meeting the wonderful people and making new friends from all over the world. We learnt more about each other’s countries and cultures, we shared laughs and told stories. These people really made it a Dreamtrip to remember!

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The hotel’s games room with complimentary use of table football, pool and ping pong tables

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We spent quite a bit of time dipping in this hot tub

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Welcome tea in candlelight with light bites

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The crazy gang… grateful to have met so many new friends!


This is part 12 of my Hungary Winter Drive blog series,  look out for part 13 where I share about our crazy Palinka Party Night!

If you would like to become a Dreamtrips member, to enjoy memorable travel experiences like these, do let us know, we will be happy to share our experiences.

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!

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2017 Hokkaido Winter Drive Blog Series

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Hungary Winter Drive – From Siofok to Simontornya

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Jokai Park in the morning sun

The next morning, we wanted to take a last look at Lake Balaton before we checked out of our hotel. The beach was a short 5 minute walk from our hotel through a little park.

We were rewarded with a lovely view of the lake in the morning sun along the Siofok shoreline. The previous night was bitterly cold and there was frost covering the grass on the ground adding to the mystic feel. The lake was so still and serene, save for a raft of ducks swimming in the cold waters.

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The sweet serenity of Lake Balaton

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Frosted grass at the lakeside

After spending a fair bit of time admiring the beautiful waters, our daughter started to freeze up and so we headed back to our hotel to check-out. Our next destination was the little village of Simontornya, about an hour’s drive from Siofok.

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We chose the slightly longer route, passing by Iregszemcse and Tamasi, for no particular reason, except that we wanted to enjoy the countryside drive. The only issue was that the sun was shining almost directly into my face, which made it difficult for me to keep my eyes on the road.

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Countryside roads glistening in the morning sun!

Besides that little inconvenience, the drive itself was enjoyable indeed, passing by gorgeous fields and little villages along the way!

 

 

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Kisboldogasszony Templom at Iregszemsce

In no time, we found ourselves pulling into the Fried Castle Hotel at Simontornya. If you were looking for somewhere to have a relaxing retreat in the Hungarian countryside, then this is definitely the place to be.


This is part 11 of my Hungary Winter Drive blog series,  look out for part 12 where I share about our wonderful time at the Fried Castle Hotel at Simontornya, a steal at only US$300 for three people for three nights with meals provided and a wonderful Palinka party!

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 – Tihany, Completing the Balaton Loop

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Sunset at Tihany

After a wonderful morning at the Helikon Kastelymuzeum, we set off for Siofok using the longer north shore route along Route 71 as we wanted to complete the loop around Lake Balaton.

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This was a nice afternoon drive amidst hilly terrain and the nice little villages that dot the north Balaton shore.

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Route 71

Along the way, out of curiosity, we decided to make a short detour to check out the historical Tihany district, where the village, amazingly, boasts the most expensive housing prices in the whole of Hungary. When we arrived, we realised why. Set in the hilly Tihany peninsula which extends into the middle of Lake Balaton,  this village arguably has the most picturesque panoramic view of the lake.

The beautiful Tihany abbey stands proudly at the top of Echo Hill, aptly named for its famous echo which attracts visitors from all over the country.

It was a real pity we did not have time to fully explore the abbey and the lovely little village alleys which were littered with restaurants and shops.

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Tihany Abbey

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Wonderful view of Lake Balaton from the top of Echo Hill

With the sun rapidly setting in the horizon, we quickly continued on our journey, making our way around the lake and arriving in Siofok at dusk. Siofok, the biggest city on the shores of Balaton, is a commercial and tourist hub which boasts some lovely beaches and nightlife. In winter it is a bit quieter, but we still managed to find a nice pasta restaurant for dinner at the town centre. The Siofok water tower marks the town centre, but we were a little tired from our journey and didn’t make the trip up the tower, opting instead to retire early to our hotel room at Bella Apartments.

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Siofok Water Tower


This is part 10 of my Hungary Winter Drive blog series,  click HERE for part 11 where I share about our morning at the Siofok shoreline and our drive to sunny Simontornya!

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 – 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, click HERE for part 8 where I share about our experience meeting Santa at the St. Nicholas Day celebrations in Keszthely!

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 – 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 – 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,  click HERE for part 6 where I share about our visit to Szekesfehervar, Hungary’s “City of Kings” and its capital in the Middle Ages!

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