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.

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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.

monkii bars – Our Newest Friends and First Partners

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People that know me well are familiar with my restless nature and with the fact that I tend to be a little OCD when it comes to working out. I really do need my daily exercised-induced dose of endorphin for my own sanity and of those around me.

Embarking on a trip like this presents a unique set of challenges when it comes to working out, as we won’t have regular and affordable access to gyms and yoga studios. Packing a pair of good running shoes (we’ll talk about the gear later) is a must, but I have been puzzled by options for full body workouts.

Lucky for me, some innovative guys had the same issue and took it upon themselves to find a solution – monkiii bars. I first read about them in Outside Magazine (my bible periodical) and was immediately intrigued by their product. Monkii bars promised to deliver a highly portable and ultra light weight (under 1 pound) suspension workout system. I really wish I’ve known about these guys a few years ago when I was spending about 200 days a year traveling for work. I was hoping to get a set for last Christmas but being a small start-up (based in Boulder, CO) dependent on their successful Kickstarter campaign for production they only had pre-orders available at the time. They tend to sell out of inventory as soon as they get a fresh stock of product.

After the holidays monkii bars fell off my radar and I settled for the cheaper option of using medical resistance rubber bands usually used for post surgery rehab workouts. That was until Mich and I were attending the Lyons Outdoor Games shortly before our departure date, as I was certain that they would have an activation/sampling area set-up at the festival. I did not see them at the games, but it made me think about them again. I emailed them about our trip and to see if they wanted to partner up. If their product indeed worked as promised, we’d be the perfect candidates to use it on our trip and write about our experiences on our blog.

To my surprise, a few days after I sent an email (into what I presumed to be a cyber-black hole) I did hear back from one of the founders, David. Our email exchange was followed by a meeting in Boulder which ended by me getting a set of bars to use on our trip. We’re incredibly excited to partner up with a small CO based start-up that is run by a couple guys that are as passionate about the outdoors and working out as we are.

I’ll be posting some of my workouts and reviews as we get into our travel routine, but for now check out my test-session at our campground bathroom in Iceland by the incredible Skogafoss waterfall.

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Iceland Budget Rental Car – SADcars

SADCars

SADcars. Yes, this is the legit name of the rental car agency and you’ll see soon why that is such an accurate name.

As a budget traveler, transportation in Iceland is tricky. Reykjavik is easily explored by walking or taking public transportation, but traveling outside the city for cheap isn’t easy. Joining a tour might seem like an option, but I urge you to reconsider. I wanted to poke my eyes out watching all the people on the tour buses shuttled around like cattle. They all looked incredible unhappy. And probably paid a small fortune to be on those tours.

Plus, you’re in Iceland! The land, air, and sea is alive and ever changing – shifting glaciers, steaming thermal pools, crashing waterfalls, burning sun, and thundering waves. You want the freedom to explore and ponder as much as you desire. For us, being tied to a tour group would be torture.  “Ok fine”, you say, “rent a car and get on with it.” Well, like everything else in Iceland, car rental prices were a little hard for our tiny budget to swallow.

In came SADcars. After much online research, I found a few articles highlighting SADcars as the cheapest in Iceland. SADcars claims “used cars with experience”. That’s one way to put it. Let me introduce you to our rental – a two door Toyota Yaris with 360,000 kilometers (that’s over 220k miles!).

Our SADcar

Now, we weren’t totally shocked. We heard a few fellow travelers talking about SADcars at our campground in Reykjavik. They both experienced some sort of mechanical issue with the car over their two week rental but agreed they saved enough money it was worth the risk. Gabi and I are always up for an adventure so we figured we’d roll the dice and go for it (and we prepaid so it was too late to change our minds).

Overall, we were super happy with our “experienced” car. We had no mechanical issues, it had good gas mileage, and we didn’t have to worry about every little ding or dent. We would recommend SADcars to fellow travelers like ourselves, who are willing to give up a little comfort in exchange for affordable freedom. But before you run off and prepay for 12 days, here are a few facts you should know.

The car is a beater.

Gorilla Tap to the rescue.

Seriously you guys. Think of the beat up car your neighbor drove when he turned 16. Add a few more dents, some rust, and a shitty stereo and that is your SADcar. But you’re in Iceland. There are gravel roads, wind storms, ice, and sometimes ash. And you know the rental agencies offer (and try to sell) insurance for all those. With SADcars there is no need for additional insurance. The car is so banged up they will never notice a few more dents. This was another money saver and offered piece of mind. Just make sure you have some Gorilla Tape for when something comes unglued…

In car entertainment is limited.

No aux plug, no usb port, no CD player, no cassette deck. For us, road trip = playlist so we came prepared. We had a mini bluetooth speaker, portable chargers, and offline Spotify playlists ready to go. But in my opinion, the Icelandic views provided the best entertainment.

In car entertainment.

Make sure you’re route accommodates an older car.  

Due to our limited time in Iceland, we decided to stick to the heavily trafficked southern circuit. It is packed with sights, very easy to navigate, and has camping in every town. In the summer, this route easily accommodates an old beater with shitty tires. I’ve heard the same can NOT be said for other parts of Iceland. As you move around the island (or towards the interior) towns with services are further apart and roads are more treacherous, many requiring 4×4. We would never have trusted our little SADcar in those conditions. The biggest hazards we came across in the south were sheep. LOTS of sheep.

Sheep crossing

Bottom line, SADcars was a great option for us and could be your solution for budget transportation in Iceland. It ended up costing us under $200 for a four day rental. At least 75% cheaper than what we found through other rental agencies. Just know what you’re getting yourself into and plan your route accordingly.

5 Ways to Keep on Budget in Reykjavik

Reykjavik is not a cheap city. Food, drink, and lodging can add up quickly and there are not many obvious options for budget travelers. However, Gabi and I are penny pinchers and found some pretty easy ways to stay on our very modest budget. Later we’ll dive into the overall budget for our Iceland road trip and how we managed to swing it. For now, here are some tips for visiting the capital city if you’re on a budget.

1) Camp

Camping in Icleand

“You’re camping in ICEland?” would be a standard response to this. However, do a little research and you’ll see Iceland has a robust camping culture and makes it seriously easy, comfortable, and affordable to camp. We stayed at the Reykjavik Campsite which was about a 20 minute walk to downtown. It has hot showers with amazing water pressure, a great kitchen and common area, and free wifi. All this for $12/night. A bunk in a hostel with similar amenities will run you $50-$60 a night. Think of all the puffin tours you could do with that extra money.

2) Cook

Picnicking with handmade sandwiches.

Or eat a lot of hotdogs. While in Reykjavik we did both. Food is expensive and most budget restaurants are not great or easy to find. I’d recommend trying some of the traditional dishes like dried fish, fermented shark, and some sort of lamb (it’s the most common meat). Other than that, cooking (and $3 hotdogs) is the way to go. There are a couple large grocery stores where you can find plenty of items you’ll kind of recognize despite the Icelandic labeling. Find the nearest Bonus, Kronon, or Netto and go at it.

3) Duty Free

Apprehensive about trying this local elixir.

Icleand has a 50% tax on beer, wine, and liquor and it can only be purchased at state run liquor stores known as vinbudin. They are hard to find and have restrictive hours. The one we found was open two hours a day, five days a week. Drinking at bars and restaurants is also expensive. We paid about $7 for the cheapest bottle of beer while enjoying the Reykjavik Runtur. The only way for a true budget traveler to stay on budget in Iceland is to either 1) not drink alcohol (but what fun would that be?) or 2) BYOB from the Keflavik Airport Duty Free. They practically beg you to shop at the Duty Free, funneling you through before you can pick up your luggage. We saw locals picking up truckloads of booze on their way back into Iceland. We opted for a six pack of Gull and the local schnapps, Brennivin, more fondly known as Black Death, all for about $20 USD.

4) Drink the Water

Clean, delicious water.

Iceland has some of the cleanest water in the world and it’s delicious. We saw so many people buying bottled water. It boggled my mind why they wouldn’t indulge in the delicious and free tap water. Ditch the bottled water and drink it straight from the facet. Your wallet, and the planet, will thank you.

5) Don’t Rent a Car for Reykjavik

Gabi planning out our walking tour.

If you planned a couple days in Reykjavik on either side of an Iceland road trip I’m sure you’re renting a car. Instead of renting or returning to the Keflavik Airport, consider picking up or dropping off from Reykjavik city center. With rental cars costing $70-$150 a day, you can save a lot of dough this way. When we landed in Iceland, we took a shuttle into the city for about $18/person. We then spent two days in the capital without a car, which is totally doable. We walked a ton but that’s the best way to see the city in my opinion. On the third day, we picked up our car in Reykjavik and a few days later we returned it to Keflavik on the way to the airport. The one way rental fee was about $15 total so we saved a couple hundred dropping the two city days.