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An Athenian’s Agenda ~ Part 2

Filled with sustenance once more, we continued on, up countless stairs and roads in Anafiotika, toward the Acropolis. Briefly, we stopped at Philopappos hill, for a stunning panoramic view of the city, before downing several bottles of ice cold water and marching on. Mount Lycabettus. The sun beat down on our poor scalps and shoulders before sizzling the rest of our skin as we bore onward up Acropolis, frequently pausing to glug ice cold water. Athens’ famous Acropolis sits at the top of a hill in the centre of the city, so one has to muster up a fair amount of energy for 20 minutes or so to reach the ruins. Upon arrival, it’s well worth it: with a 360 view of the city, 150 meters up in the air and history at your fingertips, this is what you imagine when you think of Ancient Greece. This ancient citadel contains the remains of several of most ancient buildings in Greece, those of which holding great architectural and historic significance – the Parthenon being the most …

An Athenian’s Agenda ~ Part 1

Awaking in our beautiful Airbnb was bliss, hazily pouring fresh filter coffee into mugs, sitting on the balcony and nibbling and orange-scented butter cookies (it was all we could find in the cupboards, but by God they were tasty). Rather last minute, we planned out our day, attempting to visit most of the historical sights in the city, but leisurely – we had four days in the city and so more than enough time to explore without excess stress. We stepped out, armed with sun cream and bug repellent (I had been bitten at least thrice since stepping out of the metro), into Kaisarini and walked through the streets lined with orange trees, up and down hills packed with tall apartment blocks, all quite uniform in style and colour. We were en-route to locate the Panathenaic Stadium when we stumbled across a baklava bakery – it could have been a scene from a movie; our heads turned in sync at the shop-front window, lined with shelves adorned with trays of oozing slices of baklava. No …

A Greek Adventure

The second I clambered out of the aeroplane door the bright white sun and intense heat hit instantly; we had finally arrived in Athens. Forgetting that Athens was a busy and hectic city, and it being Summer and overflowing with fellow tourists, being squished in the corner of a metro en route to our Airbnb shouldn’t have come at any surprise. Consulting google maps on a regular basis, struggling to carry all our gear and wiping our brows in the blistering heat, our accommodation drew nearer, until we finally could plop on the sofa and breathe for just a few minutes – shortly, we left to explore. It was a struggle to figure out the ticketing system for the public transport, of which seemed pointless as it seemed no one checks them anyway. To get a ticket we had to find a kiosk located randomly on any street, like an outdoor newsagent filled with magazines, candy and god knows what else. The rickety buses seemed also to be a bit precarious, arriving whenever and stopping …

A Home Away From Home

Although not as eventful as my first trip to Budapest, this holiday definitely was more relaxing without the burden of having to see everything in only a short period of time. It makes a change to spend more time in a place and get to know the city and culture in a unique way, one that resonates more than if you were to rush around in only 48 hours. On my last day we took one last wander through the city, stopping at Baotiful a very non-Hungarian restaurant serving the most amazing street-food style bao and pho. The sun began to set across the river, on the side of Buda and over the peaks of Fisherman’s Bastion and we walked up to see the Shoes on the Danube Bank by Hungarian Parliament, honouring the memorial and watching the sun turn from a warm amber and pink to a cold blue.

Everything Else in Beauty-Pest

Once familiarised with a city, the pressure is off to cram in all the tourist hotspots. Two and a half weeks (after already being previously here for another two in Winter) seems like the sweet spot to feel like a local. Spending my days freelancing obviously leaves less time for one to experience the city but alas, work-life calls. If I had finished my work or fancied a walk around midday, I strolled with my camera to the centre, closer to the Danube, stopping at my now favourite coffee place Espresso Embassy, and seeing the usual sights; St Peter’s Basilica, Hungarian Parliament, etc. I found Lumas Art Gallery on one street corner, a tiny shop with contemporary art and photography which is worth a look if you’re in the area. Rather randomly, I also somehow managed to become the temporary owner of a dog – another way to feel like a local: own a (temporary) pet. Amy, a golden retriever mix, became homeless after her owner died and lives in a dog shelter awaiting adoption …

Lazy Summers

The start of my second week in Budapest remained calm. I frequented coffee shops and took long jogs along the Danube to burn off all the tantalising cheesecake and coffee, walked up and down and around the narrow roads of the city, hoping to capture any magical moments, enjoying the sun (but remaining in the shade lest my poor skin suffer more). And for lunch, I would grab some fresh bread from a local bakery, and saunter home. Hitting up Madal coffee more than three times is a must. Above: cheesecake, banana cake, orange & turmeric juice, iced coffee. One coffee shop that has quickly become a favourite was Espresso Embassy; it’s embedded in the brightest yellow-faced building you’ve ever seen, it’s suave “E” logo jutting out above some wooden tables and chairs outside, adorned with tiny plants in white pots. Inside, they sell their excellent coffee blends alongside a variety of standard cafe drinks and a large selection of cakes and pastries, including cardamom buns, cheesecake and chocolate babka (which is a must-try). Large …

Castle on a Hill

The slow mornings continued to prevail, this time eventually making our way to Székesfehérvár – a city in Hungary that used to be its capital in the middle ages. After taking a Hogwarts-style train to the city, we walked through empty, serene roads lined with fruit trees to try and find sustenance – we sneakily picked off some ripe, tantalisingly orange apricots and ate the fresh flesh to temporarily fix our hunger. At long last, we finally settled on bEAT restaurant – fine dining in the city without a hefty cost. To start, an amazing Hungarian meat and cheese platter served with slices of soft sourdough baguette. For mains, Hungarian ratatouille; slices of tomato, pepper, onion and more, in a rich tomato-y sauce, mixed with eggs and with two slim sausages atop. To finish we had the ultimate cheesecake, with a nutty, slightly green tinted biscuit bottom, flower petals and a lip-staining blueberry sauce. Bellies heaving, we bumbled back onto a bus and made our way to Bory castle – a small castle built by …

Burn-Baby-Burn

We awoke to the sound of planes overhead, neeaww-ing back and forth across the city. This weekend, Budapest hosted the Red Bull World Air Race on the Danube, a summertime spectacle based on speed and precision for a select number of pilots and their planes, speeding down the river, winding through tall air-filled pillar-buoys and loop-de-looping high into the sky. The event attracted over 650,000 spectators in 2009, and this year the same could be said – perhaps more. The river-side was filled to the brim with scuttling spectators, lining the roads and elevated banks to watch the speedy planes zoom by into the sky. Both young and old were in awe, comical head turns of the entire crowd in full swing, much like what you could imagine at a Wimbledon match. Street food vendors dished out Gyros (kebabs), Lángos (basically giant flat doughnuts) and gelato to spectators, famished and parched from the blistering heat. We made our way to the race after making our way to the Hungarian Parliament, viewing the majestic neo-gothic style …

The Taste of a Memory

Continuing the pattern of drifting slowly through the Summer days, I traveled across the small Bulgarian town to my dad’s friend’s villa; an amazing little place high up in the hills overlooking the town. The wooden house held two floors and a balcony. Fruit trees bore beautifully ripe apricots and peaches, and chickens roamed in a small allotment amongst flowers and shrubs and plants; a dream location. We then continued on drifting to try and find some particular spices that we’ve longed for for many a year in our home cooking; chubritsa, regan and a kind of cumin. Often used in marinades or in meat and fish meals, to me it’s the smell of Bulgaria. Most notably the chubritsa and cumin truly MAKES a kufte – a Bulgaria “meatball” (basically a tiny burger). Mothers’ meeting. Venturing into my grandma’s building’s long-unopened cellar whilst back home, my dad and I went to find his old camera film developing equipment; cobwebs entangled abandoned possessions from long ago and dust thickly coated boxes and books and barrels. The …

The Food of Gods

The next morning after arrival brought yet another familiar scent that brought joy to every inch of my body; banitsa. Banitsa is a Bulgarian feta cheese “pie”; a common street food around the whole of the country, we often cook it on Sundays or mainly for special occasions (most notably christmas and new year when we fill the banitsa with kusmeti – “lucks”). My grandma had woken early to go out and buy a variety of banitsas, four in fact for us to try, all of which I happily inhaled after a peaceful night. One was a regular style banitsa, that tasted a lot like Brazilian pastel but with feta cheese, but was very different from one I’ve always had at home. Another was with rice, which I have made previously but also with spring onions and spinach. The third was Tutmanik – a banitsa bread, made with bread not filo pastry. The last was called “washed” banitsa, which I believe to be made with blanched filo sheets which are slightly thicker than usual. Some …