Free Vienna Bike Rental

While in Vienna, Gabs and I decided to check out their CityBike system. CityBike works like bike sharing programs in lots of other cities. There are kiosks around the city and with a “membership” you can rent a bike and return it to any other kiosk in the city. After you pay your membership fee, the bikes are typically free for the first 30-60 minutes. After that you are charged per hour you keep the bike out. This encourages returning to a kiosk quickly, which keeps the circulation of bikes moving throughout the city.

We’ve used these when visiting other cities and have typically paid about $7-$10 for a daily membership. In magical Vienna it is only 1 euro. And they credited that 1 euro to your first paid ride, if/when you accumulate it, so you can essentially ride for free. It blew our minds we could ride bikes around Vienna all day for FREE and we took full advantage.

Vienna is a bikers paradise. Clearly marked bike routes, barriers to separate you from traffic, big shade trees, and so much to see. The biggest danger is running into one of the big shade trees when admire the beautiful architecture that lies around every turn. I just wish we could have had more time to explore on two wheels.

One note – sometimes the bike racks are empty which is a big pain. If you have phone service you can check their app/website for terminal inventory. Otherwise make sure you have a location map on you so you can walk to the next rack.

Free Vienna Bike Rental

Free Vienna Bike Rental

Free Vienna Bike Rental

Free Vienna Bike Rental

DIY Danube River Cruise

River cruises down the Danube are huge business in Budapest. You can’t walk down the street without seeing 10 stands advertising such thing. The most popular are the dinner cruises. For about 50 euro you can get a soggy buffet dinner, one welcome drink, and an hour trip up and down the Danube at sunset. Or for 35 euro you and skip the buffet and just take the welcome drink and boat ride. 

Now we really wanted to take a boat ride down the Danube at sunset. The views of the city are unbelievable from the water and who doesn’t like a cocktail on a lazy boat? However, I was not about to shell out our entire daily budget for the float down the river and had no interest in the soggy dinner buffet. Luckily, I found a DIY option. 

Budapest recently launched a river ferry as part of their public transportation network. For 700 forint, about $2.50, you can take the ferry from one end of downtown to the other. The EXACT route the dinner cruises take. Hungarians also love themselves an open container and you don’t even get a sideways glance for drinking on the streets, in the parks, or as it may be, on a public boat. 

So instead of handing half your paycheck to the street side umbrella man to join the elderly tourists on the dinner cruise, pack yourself a bottle of wine, some plastic cups, and jump on the public transport. Make sure you get to the upper, front deck and grab a chair right on the railing if you can. Our boat was empty when we hopped on at Boráros Tér, but soon filled up with a Portuguese women’s college rugby team and the front seats were a hot commodity.  One warning – our captain was a curmudgeon and quite the aggressive docker. One moment I was admiring the setting sun and the next I was cursing the red wine I poured down the front of my white shirt. Either watch your glass or drink white. 

DIY Danube Boat Cruise 

BKV Boat: 11 (schedule here). 

Recommended Starting Point: Boráros Tér (Translates to Boráros Square. if you’re standing at the square, walk across the street to the river. Look for a round sign with a D and waves on it. The bridge/doc is obvious from there.)

Recommended Ending Point: Margit Hid (Translates to Margret Bridge, which is the yellow bridge. At this point, you can jump on the 4/6 tram and get anywhere in town.)

Price: 700 ft per person. You can purchase your tickets on the boat, but make sure you have exact change or close to it. 

DIY Danube River Cruise Budapest

DIY Danube River Cruise Budapest

DIY Danube River Cruise Budapest

DIY Danube River Cruise Budapest

DIY Danube River Cruise Budapest

Getting Cell Service While Traveling in Tanzania

Getting offline and disconnected from the rest of the world is definitely one of the draws of trips like this, however having access to a working cell phone has huge benefits as well. For us, getting things done in Tanzania required a cell phone. We were dealing with a few operators who had hacked emails, slow internet, no website, etc. And we were moving around so much that finding phones everywhere wasn’t a real option. Email, google voice and whatsapp are definitely great options but as any traveler can attest to it, fast and reliable internet is not easy to come by and these tools are worthless if the other end doesn’t also have them.

With this in mind, we decided to have at least one unlocked phone on us and get local SIM cards whenever necessary. Initially we wanted to “jailbreak” our iPhones but did not deal with it in the US as we assumed that getting this done in Hungary would be cheaper and easier. We were wrong. You can only get your provider do this but for European iPhones with European service. Even with all our local connections we could not find a place in Hungary that could get our American (AT&T) phones unlocked. So we just ended up getting a old, cheap, already unlocked, non smartphone (is dumb phone even a word?) from a friend for free.

So how do you get service set up in Tanzania once you have an unlocked phone? This was pretty easy, as most (if not all) cell phone plans here are prepaid. There are a few providers to choose from, such as Waka, Vodacom, and Airtel. We went with Airtel simply because they had an office right next to our hotel in Dar.

Before you can get your prepaid phone credit, you need to buy a simcard that has to be registered with the service provider using a valid ID (eg. passport or drivers license). It is a pretty straight forward process that takes about 10 minutes, is done by an Airtel employee and costs 1,000TSH ($0.50 USD). Once your SIM is set up, your phone is ready to receive calls, but can’t place outbound calls until you buy credit or bundle as they refer to it locally. You have the options of daily, weekly or monthly service. The longer the service the more minutes/data you have access to. Just keep in mind that no matter how much you use the plan, your credit will expire after the allotted time. In other words, if you purchase a weekly plan and do not place a single outbound call, you’ll loose your credit a week after activation. The good news is that you still will be able to receive incoming calls as long as you have a valid SIM card.

We choose the weekly plan that came in the form of a little scratch card called Airtel Money with an activation code on it. These cards can be purchased at most roadside stalls (they really are everywhere) and usually have a sign for the providers they sell cards for. Activation instructions on the card are printed in both Swahili and English, but I just let the nice Airtel lady set it up for me. A week cost us 5,000 TSH ($2.50 USD). It took less than two minutes before I was ready to text/call our newest local friend Bradon and finally track down our safari host.

Getting cell service while traveling in Tanzania.

Also, reloading the phone with more Airtel money is as easy as visiting one of the million of roadsides stalls selling credit. If ever in doubt about how much credit you have left on your card, you can get your balance texted to you any time by dialing * 102 # from you phone.

We’re yet to find out if our Tanzanian SIM will work on the rest of the countries we’re visiting (Malawi, Zambia, Namibia and South Africa) but in case not, we expect the set-up process to be similarly easy and cheap.

Fröccs

While in Budapest, I had a love affair with fröccs. To give myself a little credit, it seems like the whole city did. And who can blame them? Wine, bor, and soda water, sodaviz, are two Hungarian prides so it’s no surprise they combined them to make the delicious fröccs.

If you’re like me and are pronouncing this as froccs, stop. It is pronounce roughly pronounced frutch. There really are no English letters/sounds for some Hungarian sounds so it’s the best I can do. 

Some of you might be familiar with the concept and call it spritzer. This is the Austrian/German equivilant and Hungarians do not appreciate the comparision. Austria likes to claim invention of the drink, but really it was the Hungarian inventor of industrial scale soda bottling who poured the first fröccs around 1840. It was served here or there but really grew in popularity during the 40+ years of communism in the country. The historically delicious Hungarian wines were turned almost undrinkable under state control and adding soda water made it more palatable. Today we get the best of both worlds: once again delicous wines AND the popularity of fröccs.

There is nothing better on a 90 degree Budapest day than to find the nearest cafe and sit under an umbrella with a fröccs. I like to call it fröccsing. And the best thing is you can order different ratios of wine and soda water. Start with a nagyfröccs to get relax and taper down to a vicehazmester or sportsfröccs to keep avoid over fröccsing. The whole city fully embraces fröccs and you’ll find it in every restaurant, cafe, bar, or backyard bbq.

Here is a handy infographic from We Love Budapest that will help you navigate the world of fröccsing.

The many faces of fröccs (Hungarian spritzer)

Photo by welovebudapest.com

Upon returning I will make fröccs commonplace in the USA. Who’s with me?

Hungarian Family Cookout

Some days it’s really hard to be married to a family you can’t understand. There are countless awkward moments, nights spent on the fringe of dinner conversations, jokes you can’t understand, and giggles about your language attempt. But there are so many awesome days. Sunday was one of those days.

We went to Gabi’s brother, Gergo, and his wife, Ditta’s, house for a family cookout. Ditta’s dad was making red wine beef stew, pörkölt in Hungarian. And he was doing it the traditional way, over open fire in the backyard.

We arrived around 11 AM and it only took a few minutes for Istvan, Ditta’s dad, to bust out his 2002 homemade pálinka. Despite the stories of homemade pálinka making you blind (think moonshine), you just don’t say no when someone offers you their 13 year old hand crafter baby. Lucky for us, Istvan has been making pálinka for years and knows his stuff. He dropped some pretty interesting pálinka knowledge on us while we sipped his creation, which was surprisingly smooth and lacked the throat burning property of most pálinkas I’ve tasted.

Palinka Knowledge Bomb

Any Hungarian dish made over open fire should take a minimum of three hours. Sure, slow cooking the meat allows it to tenderize and the flavors to really come together. But the real reason is so that you can hang outside and drink. Sör (beer), bor (wine), and pálinka all made an appearance while we carefully minded the stew. I’m guessing the little buzz everyone gets going just makes the food taste that much better.

During those three hours we also harvested some blackberries. Ditta and Gergo have an amazing garden full of fruit trees and bushes. Nothing like picking berries on a hot day.

Berry Picking

Now back to that red wine beef stew. Istvan shared his secrets with me and I’m going to share them with you! And when we return to the USA we will bring an open fire pot and the buzzed-before-noon tradition with us. Sundays just got a lot more exciting.

Istvan’s Pörkölt

(Keep in mind nothing was measured so I did my best to put accurate amounts in there. Istvan did give me some strict instructions on timing which is noted. This fed seven of us with leftovers.)

  • Animal lard (we used pork)
  • 4-5 medium sized onions diced
  • 1 pound pork belly or bacon chopped
  • 1-2 pounds smoked pork meat (This is optional. There are WAY more pork options in Hungary so this might be hard to find in the US. Add some extra bacon and you’ll be fine.)
  • Water
  • 3-4 pounds beef roast chopped into 1 inch bites
  • 10 bay leaves (halved)
  • 2 tbsp cumin (halved)
  • 1 tbsp nutmeg (halved)
  • 2 tbsp mustard (halved)
  • Salt and black pepper to taste
  • 5 Hungarian peppers (We could usually find these in Kroger or at the farmers market in Atlanta. They are long yellow peppers. If you can’t find them, bell peppers are an OK alternative.)
  • 1 bottle dry red wine
  • 5 tomatoes chopped
  • 3 tbsp sweet/mild paprika (or more)

Start with a hot fire or outside gas burner (of course you can do this over the stove if you prefer). You need a heavy bottomed pan that can withstand the very high heat. In Hungarian this is called a bogracs and are made out of stainless steel, cast iron, pocelian, or copper and many are coated in enamel. Get your pan nice and hot and add some lard. While animal lard is making a comeback in the US, you can of course use butter if you don’t happen to have any bacon fat handy (although you really should always have bacon fat handy…).

Add onions and pork belly/bacon to the lard and sautee until onions are soft. Add smoked pork and enough water to cover everything about halfway. Let this simmer for 15-20 minutes.

Pork

Veggies

Next you’ll add the beef. The beef will produce some of it’s own liquid but keep your eye one it. Add a cup or two of water to start and continue to add more when things start to thicken up. You’ll want the meat to be covered in liquid most of the time to allow the meat to tenderize.

While you let the meats get familiar with each other, throw in about half your bay leaves, half your cumin, half your mustard, half your nutmeg, and black pepper/salt to taste. Stir this all in and let it simmer for a couple minutes and then toss in the Hungarian peppers. Let this sit for another 20 minutes.

Next open up our wine and toss in about 1/4 of the bottle. Stir well and continue the simmer proccess. Keep your eye on the liquid level and from now on alternate between wine and water when things get sticky. It’s important you use the entire bottle for the stew (Melissa – this means you may want to buy two bottles since I know you’ll drink half…).

Add the tomatoes and the remainder of your spices EXCEPT the paprika. Simmer, stir, and add wine/water for the next one – two hours. Your meat should be super tender, flavors combined, and guests getting a little punchy from the pálinka.

Now is when you add your paprika. This happens 10 minutes before you take the pot off the fire. No sooner. No later. The stew should be pretty thick, almost sauce like. Remove the pot from the fire and get ready to chow.

Finished Stew

This recipe is traditionally served with nokedli, a Hungarian dumpling similar to spaetzle. Nokedli is so important to Hungarian cuisine that Gabi’s mom gave me a nokedli maker the first time she met me. If you want to be lazy, you can use macaroni noodles but it is not the same. The dumplings are soft and squishy and soak up all the juices of the stew much better. It’s not even a question in my opinion, nokedli is a MUST. Each family has their own way of making it, the main difference being the addition of eggs. Gabi’s mom made the nokedli this time and she said to never use eggs, so that’s what we’re going with.

Anyu’s Nokedli Recipe

  • 3 cups flour
  • About 1.5 cup water
  • Salted pot of boiling water

Yup, two ingredients. Add water to your flour until the dough thickens and comes together. You want it gooey, but not watery. We used a spaetzle maker which really speeds things up and is much easier on the wrist. If you don’t have one handy you can use the old fashion spoon technique. You drop your dough on a cutting board and quickly slice off small bits into the bowling water with the edge of a spoon. Not as fun as using the handy maker.

You place your maker about three inches above the boiling water and fill the the loader with dough. Move it back and forth while the dough falls into the pot. Boil the nokedli until they float to the top and remove with a slotted spoon. Continue until you’ve used all the dough.

Service

Serve the pörkölt over the nokedli and enjoy. And as with everything dish in Hungary, this was served with a side of pickles. I love this place.

Plated

High Flying Hungarians at Müpa

Circus Pano

Our brand new sister in law, Ditta, works at Művészetek Palotája, The Palace of the Arts, in Budapest. The Palace of the Arts, referred to locally as Müpa, is a cultural center that brings arts, music, dance, and other performances to the city. Müpa is only 10 years old and pretty stunning in her architecture, both inside and out.  As they say on their website, “The primary cultural purpose of Müpa Budapest is to fill a void in Hungarian culture, yet its world-class technical features make it an outstanding work of Hungarian and international architecture.” We were able to visit on a gorgeous summer night and caught some great views of the building and the neighboring Danube river.

MUPA

MUPA

On the grounds of MUPA there is this cool tower like thing you can walk up. Perfect for a sunset view of the Danube.

Danube from MUPA

MUPA is a super well designed for local visitors and English speakers! All signage was in Hungarian and English, the lovely ladies at the info desk all spoke English, and even the performance program had an English summary.

MUPA

Ditta was kind enough to hook us up with third row seats to Recirquel Contemporary Circus Company‘s performance, “Paris de Nuit”. The show was inspired by the famous Hungarian artist Brassaï’s photographs from 1930s Paris. It highlights the cafes, brothels, and high society underbelly of the city between the two world wars through amazing acrobatics and music. Recirquel was founded in 2012 to showcase Hungary’s new contemporary circus genre to the rest of the world. I don’t really know my circus genres but this was sort of Cirque du Soleil(ish) with a more intimate feel and variety show format.

Circus

(Little known fact – the circus has been big in Hungary for centuries. With the exception of a closure during WWII, Budapest has had a permanent circus since 1891. It’s a staple of childhood in Hungary and Gabi has many memories of visiting with his grandparents.)

The show is provocative, at least by American standards. Sex, drugs, and other mischief is at the forefront of the show. However, it is beautifully interpreted through acrobatics, live music, signing, and dancing and is highly entertaining. Lucky for me, the show had little to no speaking so the language barrier was no issue. It was also a quick show, under 1.5 hours, leaving me wanting one more tightrope walking shimmy.

Program

Did I mention our friend Dhanush is visiting Budapest?! The bugga works remotely and so he decided to setup shop with us for a couple weeks. You’ll be seeing a bunch more of him in upcoming posts.

The buggas

Iceland’s Golden Circle

After two days in Reykjavik, we picked up our lovely SADcar in the city center and hit the road. From Reykjavik it is only about 30-45 minutes to the first stop on the famous Golden Circle route. Because it is so close to Reykjavik the route is super touristy. It allows you to see a sampling of Iceland in a few hours, making it perfect for the European stopovers who only have a day or two. Despite it being crowded, we think it is still worth seeing (just keep moving because an entire beautiful island awaits…).

I could break down exact directions from the city, but this person already does a really good job of it. It is well marked, paved, and a great way to get your legs under you for navigating the rest of your road trip. We decided to work north around the circle because it fit better in our route, but you can easily do the other way around.

Our first stop was Thingvellir National Park, the location where Iceland formed its first Parliament in 930 AD. This is also where the North American & Eurasian tectonic plates meet and are slowly moving apart from each other. This creates some pretty cool rifts in the geography.

DSC_5050

Thingvellir

There are also some beautiful waterfalls if you hike a bit further into the park.

Thingvellir Waterfall

Next on the Golden Circle is Haukadalur, a geothermal area with two famous geysers – Geysir and Strokkur. The english word geyser actually originated from Geysir. Geysir is not longer regularly active but Stokkur explodes with HOT water (sometimes on tourists who crowd too close) 100 feet into the air every five to 10 minutes. For those who have seen a geyser, it is pretty much what you’d expect to see (and smell – the sulfur here is very noticeable). Gabi had never seen one erupt and thought it was pretty remarkable.

Geyser selfie

Our best attempt at a selfie stick eruption shot. Fail.

Geyser

The last stop we made was to the mighty Gullfoss waterfall. Out of the countless waterfalls we saw, this one is probably the most famous. It is located on the Hvita river which is fed by the country’s second largest glacier, Langjökull. It plunges over 100 feet into a huge canyon. The weather was a bit rough so I don’t think we saw the full beauty of Gullfoss but Gabi does his best to give you a tour below.

Note: There is a forth stop. Kerid Crater Lake, but we skipped it. It’s the only sight you have to pay entrance to. It is under $5 but we were on our way to a secret hot spring hike (teaser) so we decided to move on.