Travel | Budapest

It was hot. That is the single deepest impression Budapest left on my scape of memory. I know heat well – Alabama Julys are hard to forget – but this was a different kind of hot. It was full and inescapable and distinct. The kind of hot you can see shimmering forth from old photographs in scrapbooks at your grandmother's house. It was a good heat, a heat that accentuated that famously bright Bohemian spirit.

Liz and I rolled into the center of Budapest as the sky pinked and hunted down our airy, white, perfectly European flat – a single, top-floor room with two mustard yellow chairs and a clawfoot bathtub. We'd rationed a half-sleeve of melting Hobnobs during the long train ride from Prague, so the hanger was settling in fast and finding food became priority one. Lost in the maze of crumbling, candy-colored buildings, we were drawn in by the siren's call of Anker't, a stupidly hip restaurant built into the ruins of... something. A hospital? Maybe a tenement? Someplace grungy and ironically chic. The lanterns in the crumbling courtyard must've attracted every millennial in Budapest because the wait for a burger was over an hour. So on we tramped to delicious Menza, a polished throwback to midcentury design and dining, where I ordered a top-notch lamb burger with blueberry mayo.

That night Liz and I made the mistake of watching the first few episodes of Broadchurch, which we would later find out was not available on UK Netflix. So if you know who killed Danny Latimer, PLEASE TELL ME.

The next morning began with breakfast at Bluebird Cafe, a sweet little spot in the Jewish Quarter with great food and even better murals. As we wound through the grid of city streets, I felt we were living on a movie set. Each building and street lamp and wrought iron fence was worn and weathered in the most charmingly imperfect way. Every door seemed to be its own kind of interesting – forest green herringbone or bright goldenrod starbursts decorated entryways all over town. A well-placed red vespa never failed to add the perfect accent to each street scene.

Did you know the Danube splits Budapest into two sides – Buda and Pest? We crossed the beautiful Széchenyi Chain Bridge into Buda and the city's personality immediately morphed into something quieter, older, and calmer. An old wooden and brass funicular carried us up to the gorgeous Hungarian National Gallery, an incredibly rich art collection located in the old Royal Palace. We spent hours enjoying the air conditioning – I mean, the art and culture. The French Naturalism exhibit was absolutely perfect and I want to return to those marble corridors. 

We stumbled upon the cozy and highly recommended Pest-Buda Bistro & Hotel and tucked into a delicious kemenceben, a kind of Hungarian pizza. Happy and full, we spent the remainder of the afternoon soaking in the spectacular view of Parliament from the Citadel, a glowy white fortress built on Buda's highest point. The Citadel's archways were the perfect place to watch the city buzz and breathe. 

Looking for relief from the heat, we trundled down the metro line to the Széchenyi Thermal Bathsa strange and wonderful cluster of public thermal pools. I find few things more off-putting than strangers in Speedos, but the Baths were a refreshingly unique travel experience! The theme of new experiences followed me into the evening, which I spent on my very first food tour. Liz is a veteran food tourist and quickly sold me on the idea of shamelessly eating at six restaurants in a four-hour span.

Our Budapest Urban Walks group convened in the Jewish Quarter at a little grotto of a restaurant where we began our tour with a gorgeous spread of locally sourced charcuterie and cheese, homemade bread dipped in olive oil, and piles of figs. Our fellow foodies hailed from all over the globe and quickly located common ground as we talked travel and food. We then did my favorite activity: eating food while on the way to get more food. We grabbed an amazing apple-based stew en route to Karavan, a colorful food truck park with innovative updates on old Hungarian dishes. Our fourth stop offered some traditional goulash and a part of a chicken that I never want to eat again. (I only ate it because I wanted to impress the man on the tour who looked like a tough Santa Claus!) We swung by a ruin pub, a type of bar unique to the Jewish Quarter that uses only abandoned spaces and scavenged furniture, and finished the night with some Hungarian sweets and coffee at a Baroque cafe. The food tour ranks among my very favorite travel memories.

Our final day began with flower-garnished charcoal pancakes (yeah, I still don't understand what they were) from Szimply Food  and a trip to Alexandra Bookcafe. I always find a thrill from looking at familiar books in a foreign language. After stopping into a fun, design-y pop-up shop, we took a long walk to the Great Market Hall. The hall was impressively large and a few vendors had some beautifuk local produce, but most of the stalls seemed to sell the same four or five bits of tourist fodder. As our London-bound flights loomed, we grabbed one last iced-coffee-flavored taste of Budapest at the crazy cool My Little Melbourne cafe.

As we approached the metro station, I finally mustered the courage to take a sip from the public drinking fountain and felt, if only for a moment, bohemian.

Travel | Ireland

(Set the mood with a little Celtic folk and travel back to Ireland with me!)

Summer ended in a gentle whisper this year. My housemate and I made the hour-long flight from London to Cork, where we bade August a calm, quiet, cool farewell. Ireland was a place to breathe deep, breathe clean. The velvet green of those Irish hills gets into your bones somehow and the golden flecks of sunlight shimmer off the cold Irish sea and settle into your heart.

After renting a car and spending a quick night in Cork, Jana and I drove to Killarney National Park. In no hurry, we spent the day ambling through the woods, stumbling upon churches that looked as if they'd grown from the ground, and braving twisty mountain roads only to stop every hundred meters for yet another can't-believe-my-eyes view. My favorite detour: after turning down a mysterious dirt path, we came upon an abandoned house. Nature had made itself quite at home inside those concrete walls and I was ready to move it too! Jana kept waiting for a "feral man" to appear, which, to be fair, was an very real possibility. As the daylight faded, we traveled into the Killarney town center for a lamb burger and then located the evening's Airbnb, where a delightful hostess named Bernie was awaiting us with tea and biscuits and Irish-accented stories of her grandchildren. She was perfect and I fell in love immediately.

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After waking up in the coziest room to a mist-shrouded mountain view, we experienced the real wonder of Ireland: Bernie's full Irish breakfast. I'm still dreaming about those fried eggs. All fueled up and inspired by Bernie's recommendations, we rerouted our itinerary to hike the Gap of Dunloe. The beauty of this winding technicolor trek only intensified as the deep grey rainclouds rolled over the mountains. Just as the downpour began, a little teashop appeared in the heart of the Gap as if by a bit of Irish magic. We ducked in, filled up on scones, and completed the misty eight mile hike, where the Gap spilled into the Black Valley. Brimming with the glory of green and growing things, we headed to the Dingle Peninsula.

A pitstop at Ross Castle and many kilometers of treacherous-but-worth-it driving later we arrived in Brandon, where our hostess awaited us in the loveliest seaside cottage you could ever dream up. After tea and biscuits and life stories from our fabulous hostess Sue, we popped into a local pub for some stew and people watching. We happened upon a little public beach and, along with the residents of a mint green Volkswagen van parked in the sand, watched the sun sink into the sea.

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After a night of that deeply good kind of sleep that comes from fresh air and long hikes, we joined Sue for a full Irish breakfast, starring her homemade soda bread. (She shared the recipe with a sort of secret import that suggested I should be very honored, and I was.)  Our first stop of the day was Inch Strand Beach where I learned that a moody beach can be as wonderful as a sunny beach. We wound down the peninsula into Dingle, a colorful quilt of a town bursting with shops, bakeries, and art galleries. A few favorites: The Little Cheese Shop (we tried chocolate covered cheese!), the Dingle Record Shop (Bono is a patron!), and Lisbeth Mulcahy's gorgeous weaving studio. Per Sue's recommendation, we followed the coastline to the beautifully constructed Blasket's Heritage Centre where we explored the fascinating history of a tribe of people who inhabited the Blasket Islands until their forced evacuation in the 1950s.

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Next came the centerpiece of the trip: a late afternoon excursion up Slea Head Drive. Every twist and turn of the skinny, cliff-hugging road brought a new sunbathed vista. Rolling green hills dropped sharply into sheer black cliff faces, where Caribbean-blue ocean waves crashed against the craggy rocks. White stucco cottages dotted the hills like confetti. Don't forget this, I kept telling myself.

Don't forget just how vivid the roadside tangles of wildflowers are– pinks and oranges and purples so bright they seem to be lit from within. Don't forget just how thick the wooly mist is as it swallows the giant black mountains whole. Don't forget just how perfectly a dormer window can frame the view of a chilly Irish beach. 

Don't forget.

And then, of course, a rainbow sparkled into existence. Just for us. It lingered only long enough to melt into a glowy pink sunset, a sunset so good we had to pull the car over. As Jana and I leaned against an ancient wood fence and let the rosy light soak into our skin, I thanked God for this life, a life where Ireland exists and I have the privilege to explore it.

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Travel | Athens, Greece

This month I had the really unfortunate assignment of attending a week of meetings on Evia Island, about ninety minutes outside Athens, Greece. After a few days of sunshine, friends (who also happen to be coworkers), a little work and a lot of Greek food, some gals and I headed to Athens for a night. Our whirlwind 18 hours in the city included: a charming Airbnb rental at the foot of the Acropolis, feta and more feta, reading Acts 17 on Mars Hill, triangles of baklava the size of my face (praise God from whom all blessings flow), laying eyes on the Parthenon (!), narrowly escaping a demonstration at Parliament, scoring big time in a bustling market, moped dodging, and a 5am dash to the airport. A wee hours episode of the Bachelorette also somehow made it onto the agenda...

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Despite arriving during the peak of the unrest surrounding Greece's financial crisis, I found this beautiful country to be incredibly warm, welcoming, and lovely. I'm a fan of any place with metro stops that look more like museums. I cannot wait to be back in Greece again one day! (Would you judge me for having a Santorini Airbnb wish list that I update weekly? I knew you wouldn't.)