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Monthly Archives: October 2012

When I got on a plane to Ecuador one year ago, the announcements in Spanish terrified me.  I haven’t even left Los Angeles and I felt a slight sense of terror at what I was about to get myself into.  My few semesters of Spanish in high school and university weren’t going to save me now.  A year in, after so many countries where I don’t even know a little bit of the language, all of a sudden Spanish is comforting.  At least I can say the basics, count, and ask for things.  That only left the culture shock for me. This is a land of both ends of the spectrum.

The crest of Madrid shown of varying quality on the sewer covers. No other cities’ crest makes me think of a pudgy Pooh bear reaching for the trees.

It is a country of strong family and social ties.  One could hardly imagine there is a recession if you just walked around, the cafes and bars are constantly full of hip young looking people.  Much like when I lived in San Francisco and Los Angeles, I constantly want to scream “doesn’t anybody work around here?!” Except unlike in America, the answer is probably no, they don’t.  Once you talk to the Spanish, that is when you realize the cutbacks many of them are making.  How many of them live with their parents?  Many wonder if they’ll have to leave the country soon for work.

It is both a relaxed, joyous city and a depressing place.  Madrid is full of streets of designer stores and yet it is a glorious town to be in for the art inclined but wallet light.  There are so many free things to do in this town if you time it right.  The sunday morning flea market is a great place to stroll and people watch, stop for a drink and a bite, or just buy all sorts of junk.  The top notch museums are free for a few hours in the evening and some for whole days on the weekend.  Boscos, Picassos, Dalis, Magrittes, and Kandinskys for free?  Oh my!

Line for the most awesome rock concert? Nope, it’s almost free hours at the Prado!

This was a place where I tried to meet more than one Couch Surfer.  In big cities, I find it harder to get my head around what it’s really like there.  Standing in the Plaza Mayor with a brass band blasting as tourist swarm into cheesy restaurants, info offices and posing for pictures with dirty looking Puss in Boots, one can hardly imagine this was a site of the Spanish Inquisition.  The slice of every day life did mean a glance into the harsh realities of belt tightening but also the creative speed of the city.

A globally live streamed guitar and classical Spanish instruments concert. I’ve never seen a square pandeiro or the mortar and pestle looking bell before.

I wandered the twisted streets not knowing where to go as I didn’t understand Spanish hours.  Lunch is between 1-4 and dinner from 8 or 9 onwards.  This meant I was hungry a lot as I couldn’t find food when I wanted it except in the touristy spots.

The fancy meats display at Mercado San Migeul, an upscale but still affordable on the Western scale market full of ready to eat goodies.

It usually takes me a little bit to hit my stride and find the good bits anywhere and big cities just make that more difficult.  At least Madrid was tasty as I worked my way around it.  Much like in Vienna I discovered there was often menus of the day that were the most affordable option to try many things.  So I stopped in La Botilleria de Maxi and tried to understand the untranslated daily menu.  I stopped to try the main entree of Cocido Madrileno and my eyes caught on the duck ham.

Well, I guess this is duck jamon. Man, I should’ve ordered the other soup or salad options, this is dinky!

OH! That was an aperitivo! I ordered a duck jamon and grilled artichoke salad! Awesome.

Cocido Madrileno, or Madrid stew, also known as why I came to this place. Much like a pot-au-feu, this is a deconstructed bunch of meats including a big old block of fat and blood sausage with a sea of chickpeas. It was heartily delicious.

Getting to Madrid involved a full day of two buses, two trains, two subways, two planes and lots of walking so I had managed to catch a vicious flu from the people who kept sneezing and coughing on me.  I really wish I didn’t mean literally on me, but that seems to be ok here to infect others openly.  So with this phlegmy mess, it was probably good i didn’t realize wine or another drink came free although I did partake in a lackluster dessert.  Luckily Spain has amazing desserts I will cover in another post.  Onto the many other savory goods!

On a lazy weekend afternoon, I wandered into a bar well over a hundred years old with vermouth on tap. Seems like a good place to try the fried croquetas as this would be as good a place as any to find the cheesy goodness fried in lard.

Although my Spanish dreams of food were the expensive San Sebastian fresh goods of the north, I am equally pleased by the heavier simple fare I found.

Spanish tortilla is an egg and potato pie that I think could use some hot sauce.

On Sunday afternoon after strolling around the flea market I attempted to go to a popular local tavern.  This is perhaps the only time on the trip I’ve had to walk out of a restaurant as it was so crowded I didn’t really have any place to stand.  I felt bad waiting around with the groups to take up a four top when everyone was eying every available seat like vultures.  I skipped on the huevos rotos and round sandwiches and decided to investigate patatas bravas, or potates in spicy sauce.

This is what I wanted the tortillas to be in! Spanish food can be oddly salty. Multiple Spanish people have told me it’s so I’ll order more beer but it’s so bad it can ruin the taste.  Luckily these cripsy on the outside and fluffy on the inside potatoes sucked up all the salty goodness.

The Las Bravas mini chain is known for more than delicious spicy red Bravas sauce.  Tapas are difficult for one person or even small groups as they are most affordable and fun when split among large groups so you can try a little bit of everything.  Luckily Las Bravas has 3 and 5 plate tapas degustations for the solo traveler.

The Galician octopus was tender, croquettes good but not as great as the day before, and the pig ear on the left is the best I’ve ever had.  I’ve only had Asian pig ear before this which is solely crunchy whereas this was a combination of crunchy and tenderly melty.

Sadly my last meal in Madrid of a calamari sandwich was pretty dry and awful.  Skip El Brillante and go next door where they’ll at least put some spicy red Brava sauce and charge you a good Euro or two less.  This place reminded me a lot of Canter’s Deli back in Los Angeles.  It’s open later than most and people rave, but I just find it barely acceptable for the overpriced goods.  Luckily I’ll need to fly out of Madrid so I can make sure my last meal is better.

The Madrid your average tourist does not see.

On the last day I attempted to catch a bus to Seville and experienced the joys of Spanish efficiency.  After I finally got to talk to the aloof clerk after the bus I wanted had already left, I wandered outside and discovered the observatory and IMAX park.  This was the south end of the city and although not a particularly sight filled area, it was fun to see the people scurrying around the business park and out on their daily runs and walks in the tree lined park.  After the chill of Madrid I head south to Andalucia.  As one Couch Surfer I met put it, “You just got here and you’re headed to the most exotic part of Spain?”  Yup, the Moors liked better weather.

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Beautiful old towns with giant walls, fresh from the ocean seafood, and temperate weather in the 70’s.  What’s not to like about the Dalmatian Coast in late October?  Oh right, it’s so perfect multiple cruise ships stop in the big cities every day.  Croatians have been rather polite and friendly as have most cruise ship tourists I’ve run into.  However it just took one rude American on a local bus or the swarms of people I kept swimming through while they stood still everywhere to annoy me.  The saving grace of cruise ship tourists is that they have to leave by mid afternoon.

Dubrovnik was an independent merchant nation rivaling Venice back in the day. Just like Venice, now it’s a husk of a port, welcoming only cruise ships and tourism. They’ll charge you a mean 14 bucks just to walk on the walls.

Everyone was jumping on this for some reason I cannot figure out. Tourists just following each other or is there a story?

Once the hordes left the first day I settled in for a nice seafood meal.  Perhaps most indicative of Dubrovnik’s current industry, there were really only two types of restaurants: seafood or pizza.  They all had such similar menus and sadly high prices, it hinted that most of them would be pretty awful.  The lack of customers at most of these places was a tad depressing as well  Fool me once, shame on you, fool me with a whole town, shame on me.

Kamenice ran the same menu as everyone else but had some lovely Kamenice oysters. I do love raw oysters and didn’t let myself eat them in Southeast Asia.

I followed my oysters with a squid ink risotto. Somehow the special at every restaurant, it was tasty and in large portions here.

Sunny lunches are the way to go in this coastal town. This is a cold fish plate of octopus salad, marinated and salted sardines, cheese stored in oil, and fish pate. It was good but the weather was stormy and I did find it a tad oily so it didn’t feel quite right.

Luckily to cheer me up from my cold lunch on a cold day I saw this rainbow from my lunch perch.

The spray crashing from the turquoise waters. The real crazy part is the guy in the corner went swimming in these crazy waves shortly after.

Shortly after the storm, the weather cleared up entirely to display a beautiful harbor.

I spent a lot of my time on the outskirts of the old town enjoying the coast as most activities in town seemed to have a price tag. Do you think Gatsby would’ve waited looking at this dock?

Post clearing weather was a beautiful sunset over that cruise ship enjoyed over an overpriced beer at cliffside bar Buza. Tourists cliff dive 10-30 meters next to the bar often to injury and occasionally to their deaths.

The coastal towns of Split were full of more Americans than I’d seen since I was at the Vietnam War Memorial.  At Kamenice I met a wonderful Minnesotan couple that let me hitch a ride to Split.  Driving in a car along the coast is a much more beautiful and relaxed experience than bumping along in a bus.

Here’s where the enjoyable cruising bit happened.

We stopped in a town midway to enjoy a picnic of delicious Dalmatian ham, sheep’s milk cheese, seedless clementines bought at the side of the road, grapes, apples & white wine.

Two border crossings from a short jaunt through a chunk of Bosnia and Herzegovina later, we arrived in Split.  My driving companions headed off to medieval Trogir while I stopped in Split itself.

Both Split and Dubrovnik have beautiful old towns, which is what is attracting the cruise ships. Split’s old town is Roman emporer Diocletian’s retirement palace.

Croatian nature is gloriously unspoiled but tourism means they do stuff like place tchotchke stores inside second century Roman palaces.

My hostel must’ve had some great artists pass through. Last week it was occupied by a Gypsy orchestra that I later saw i a cafe.  It’s currently being occupied by friendly and idealistic teaching interns for a semester. I hope it’s more supportive and nurturing than Teach For America.

After being sick of the polished white stone covered in American tourists and tour guides with flags and microphones, I headed out to the Marjan Peninsula to walk around the trees and find some beaches.

My chosen swimming beach. I could use more sand instead of rocks but I enjoyed the shallow dater with some dead reefs and lots of silver fish.

The next day I went to popular Bacvice beach later in the afternoon and watched the locals wading in calf deep water.  I watched the local men play Picigin, which looks handball-like with many people and lots of shallow water.

The strange part of picigin is that it seemed to involve a lot of unnecessary diving and flopping into the water whenever they could muster it.

The greatest find in Split for me was not the beaches though as I found the water to be quite chilly.  I know Los Angeles water is a good 20 degrees colder than here but perhaps I am a weenie now or the air temperature usually makes up for it.  No, the real jewel to me is the fish and green markets of Split.  Rows of sheep’s milk cheese vendors jockey for space with prsut (Dalmatian prosciutto or ham) vendors who all circle the various fresh produce.  Nothing is on ice in the fish market yet it all looks fresher than what I can get in America short of a live tank.

The first day I eyed many fish but ended up making scampi scampi with these lovely little shrimp like lobsters. I imagine they must be amazing critters because I had no idea what I was doing but they ended up so tender.

The next day I returned to the fish market thinking about fish and mussels but instead saw many vendors with fresh looking squid. Fried calamari it is!

I had a few restaurant meals however I found that the raw product was more appealing to me than prepared fare.  Croatian coastal cuisine often involves simple preparations.  While my super tasting sister could probably find every nuance, I do end up a little bored with fish grilled only with salt and pepper.  While I cooked in Sarajevo and Dubrovnik to save money and eat healthier, I would stay in Split extra days just to try cooking more things from the fish market.  Although I’m no seafood expert it felt impossible to screw up such tender, fresh goods.

As for restaurants, I visited guidebook favorite Buffet Fife, which unlike other highly rated places still was full of guests in the evening.  A must for seafood restaurants.  The pan fried and grilled fish are quite reasonably priced here but like I said before, bland.  The service was also strange as they made sure they had fish stew for me, but came out 20 minutes later saying they were out.  I ended up with a delicious bakalara na bjanko, bacalao in most other languages or salt cod in English mixed with potatoes and onions.

My meal at Pizza Galija consisted of this delicious if salty sardine pizza and a delicious dark beer draft. I like the dark beer in this region as it’s malty without being hoppy.

I find this place more beautiful sans all the tourists, but low season means it’s hard to find events as the town quiets down. The sun casting a glow over buildings and water remind me of a cleaner Los Angeles.

Dubrovnik only has a population of 43,000 so I imagine the cruise ships just about doubles their population daily.  Split has ten times that many people so it is a town with other industries and what appears to be a working port.  The great part is both do not show the polluted signs of being harbors at all.   I suspect like many of the countries I’ve been in, I would just need a means of transport and to head out a short bit to see the beautiful un-touristy spots.  As is, in the off season these towns are a strange mix of day tourism and dead nights.

Not knowing what to expect in Sarajevo meant I didn’t know what I was about to eat either.  I arrived late at night, almost 11 pm, starving from being on a train all day.  I wandered into an almost deserted old town when it hit me.  Wafts of sweet hookah smoke and a 24 hour burek shop serving up pita, not the flatbread but the greasy phyllo dough filled pie.  The filling is rolled into the dough and then the dough is either laid out in straight rows or rolled into a coil and cut into pie like slices to be sold by the piece or kilo.

Such a large slice of meat burek that the tip had to be cut off and put on top before being doused in yogurt sauce. Just in case you didn’t have enough yogurt, the traditional drink to have with this is more plain yogurt.

While I ate at many buregdzinica shops, I often did so late at night so the pita were sitting out too long and not as crisp as they should be. So the best one I had was at Buregdzinica Bosna at lunch when they brought out this piping hot pumpkin (looked more like zucchini) burek with a flaky, perfectly crispy crust giving way to a soft steamy interior. Oddly this is the only time I didn’t get yogurt sauce.

Now it seems quite obvious that I would see some stuff similar to Hungary and the rest of the region mixed in with the delicious influence of Turkish food.  I still struggled with my budget but still found some tasty cheap eats to be had, particularly at the various pita shops and ascincas (cafeteria).  I just couldn’t resist all the delicious meaty things.

While I struggled to find a decently priced delicious stuffed pepper or cabbage in Hungary, I had no such problems here. The lady at Ascinica ASDZ noticed I was not a local and made me a sampler plate of everything.

Quite the opposite from the very modern Ascinica ASDZ was Ascinica Hadibajric with its tiny wooden interior.  I showed up near closing time (noon on a Sunday) in an effort to beat its progressively earlier closing time on weekends.  Either way the Ascinicas seem to be mostly a lunch event and are mostly closed by early evening.

One delicious veal chop, creamed spinach and beans. The nice lady refused my request for tripe though, saying it wouldn’t play well with the others, to trust her.

One of the most famous dishes of the area is cevapicici, little grilled sausages shoved inside a pita like bread with optional baseball sized cream cheese and onions. This is also traditional eaten with drinking yogurt. It is tasty and fast but a bit dry. After trying two places, I prefer Cevabdzinica Zeljo over Hodzic.

[748] The adorable stone streets are lined with lots of stores selling the same tourist crap you see everywhere but here there was a refreshing number of metal smiths still making copper coffeeware and burek pots by hand.  This picture darkened the window where you could see ancient equipment in use.

The weather wasn’t great while I was in Sarajevo so I found myself often ducking into places when it really started pouring.  One such time I ducked into a busy cafe I noticed earlier in a courtyard, full of what looked like students.  As the rain fell in sheets I sat down on a chair and was asked if I wanted something traditional.  Not a moment passed when someone would recognize a fried or colleague in the room.  It must be a place to see and be seen.

A traditional Bosnian coffee, coconut Turkish delight, and baklava. You drink the coffee the Bosnian way by dipping your sugar cube in the coffee briefly, then biting a bit of the dunked end off, and drinking your coffee. Somewhere in that complex method, you find time to eat your sweets.

The adorable stone streets are lined with lots of stores selling the same tourist crap you see everywhere but here there was a refreshing number of metal smiths still making copper coffeeware and burek pots by hand. This picture darkened the window where you could see ancient equipment in use.

Only later on my walking tour did I realize I had ducked into Cafe Divan, occupying the courtyard of the oldest surviving example of an Ottoman era inn.  Getting out of chocolate cake town would’ve been good for me but there are still tasty desserts to be had.  The best one is tufahija, a poached apple stuffed with a walnut filling and topped with a whipped cream topping.  It was hard to find but our walking tour guide finally told us Kuca Sevdaha was the place to get one.

I did end up cooking a few meals as this was pretty heavy fare. Luckily my hostel not only had a great view of the National Library, but the windows were lined with grapes still on the vine! This particular bunch looks pretty decimated because I’d already eaten a bunch.

Not having any expectations means I was rather pleasantly surprised with the meaty food of Bosnia.  Now I wonder why Chicago is the only place in America with lots of this type of food, I think Los Angeles could use some sausages, burek, and yogurt sauce.  I’m already planning how much burek I can take with me when I pass through Sarajevo again on the train.

What did I really know about Bosnia before I came?  I didn’t even know it was technically Bosnia and Herzegovina, which took me days to learn how to spell.  I walked into a world I didn’t expect.

A beautiful train ride and a world away from Hungary.

Bosnia evokes images of a brutal war not so very long ago and I didn’t know it had destroyed a rather metropolitan city.  It helped that I had a guide in this town.  I highly recommend going on a free walking tour here with Neno.  He wants you to understand and love his city as much as he obviously does, to see that their is a long history to love and a more recent one not to be forgotten.

Sarajevo is nestled in a lush green valley with a river winding itself through the middle.

I did not know about the 400 some years of Turkish rule bringing hundreds of mosques, strong coffee, and prosperity.  You can scarcely look around without seeing a minaret towering majestically in the skyline.  While the modern tragedies are quite prominent there are reminders all over the city of the more distant past.  Of old caravans and markets that hinted at the spice trade’s passing.

This is a centuries old Turkish cemetery in front of a more modern war cemetery. The Turkish gravestones are meant to look like little people wearing turbans.

I didn’t know about the 40 years of Austro-Hungarian rule that was the precursor to Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s assassination on a bridge in town.  The short rule brought whole districts worth of buildings and modern conveniences like electricity and trams.

The Latin Bridge seems so mundane now. It is hard to imagine it sparked one of the bloodiest wars ever.

It is always interesting to see things from the other view, where the assassinator was a hero for fighting for independence rights.

It is impossible to avoid the impact of this most recent year.  It was not bringing foreign invades as much as an explosion of the various ethnic groups in the city.

A Sarajevo Rose is a mortal spot where more than three people died so they memorialize it by filling it in with red resin.

You can see the marks on the walls as well. Bullet holes are still visible on many walls. The Sarajevo Roses are disappearing as twenty years later, things are getting repaved.

One of the most tragic attacks occurred at the market, where people still went despite the danger as they had to eat. Today there’s a memorial in the back and it otherwise just looks like a normal market.  The high number of civilian casualties of this bombing at the market helped finally end the war.

Life has returned to normal in the last twenty years.  Walking down the street with luxury designer stores and trendily dressed youth going about does not exactly scream tragedy.  Yet people still carry with them their years of fear and hiding.  Of living off awful international aid rations and being in bases for years on end.

This group of old men played chess despite the oncoming rain. I appreciate the guy wearing a plastic bag on his head as a defense.

The strangest thing I saw in town was something from home.

The US Embassy put up the flag huge on a few trams to celebrate July 4th. Three months later, the trams still look rather oddly garish. If we followed what Eddie Izzard says, does that mean we own the tram by sticking a flag on it?

There is a mix of the modern as one could easily be confused that they were in any other major city in the shopping areas combined with the architecture of so many eras past.  Fancy cars mingle with rather old trams and even donated train cars, relics others were done using.

There are a lot of people living in Sarajevo. They live in a mix of the old, the slightly less old, and the traces of the not nearly old enough wounds just starting to heal.

One of my favorite things that I saw is a photography exhibit called “See New Perspectives” featuring all Balkan artists showcasing how they view the region they live in.  There was a mix of the depressing realities of pollution, current economic woes, and wars past mixed with the strangeness of different cultures and topped with some optimistic views on life improving.  There was a display of heavy metal fans, university students discovering their world and themselves, and how a country like Macedonia deals with 10% of their population describing themselves as gay but being rather oppressive and hateful as a culture towards gay rights.  There were stories of whole Romanian villages that work menial jobs in Western Europe, scrounging every last euro so they can come home once a year to build gigantic mansions and drive luxury cars, showcasing a fake wealth.  In the brief time I am in Sarajevo, the exhibit perfectly captures my feelings on observing the myriad factors of so many different groups of people and different politics making this region so fascinating as it continues to evolve.

I meant to flee south to warmer climates, I’d bought a ticket to Sarajevo in Bosnia and Herzegovina. That night, as I was packing up to leave, my laptop broke again, the second time this month. I’d already had to change plans in Singapore to stay longer for a fix and it had come back with a part slightly askew. Now the part was completely broken and derailing my weather wienie ways. Back to Budapest it was, where I could find someone to fix my computer under warranty.  My farm host mentioned that in Budapest, people have a habit of entering after you but somehow leaving before you in revolving doors.  It’s true, I’m not sure how, but it happens here.  Well I hope everyone doesn’t leave for the south before me.

I tried to cheer myself up from my diverted plans with a sweet. I spied this in a 70’s looking store. The old lady firmly entrenched behind the retro orange and brown store all pointed to a delicious cake. Unfortunately the awesomely named Rokoko cake ended up being terrible and dry.

Last time I was here, I did some sightseeing and saw the city through a couch surfer who lived in the suburbs and loved vintage cars. This time around I stayed in hostels which ended up being the revolving door part of the trip. I never booked too far ahead, not knowing when I could get my equipment fixed and go so I got kicked out more than once as the place would be full and out of beds. The trip to Vienna happened in-between my stay this time, at one rather sudden booting out. It unfortunately cast a slightly stressful tint on this stay. Luckily I discovered some cool modern culture stuff happening to make up for it.

One thing leads to another while traveling and this time it all started when I went into a poultry store to buy some amazingly juicy fried chicken to enjoy in a park by the river.

Goose is more common here than most places so I also wandered out with “sult libamaj”, fried goose liver of the not force fed variety. It was preserved in a box full of what I assume to be goose fat. My farm host let me know rather matter of factly that all meats used to be preserved like this. Now I understand why there is a national dish that’s just fat on bread, but how is everyone here not dead?

Right next to the awesome poultry store was a toy and useless crap store selling fun modern things. The tourist area is dotted with cool design stores selling expensive things. These are some common animals of Hungary, including the rad spiral horned sheep that I forgot to take a picture of on the farm.

I had arrived for design week. I imagine there’s always something going on in Budapest but design is certainly one I enjoy. To get to Budapest I had taken a layover in Helsinki but not spent any time there due to expense. Now in Budapest, the star of the design week was Helsinki.

I guess I missed a cool design layover

Funny how that works. I wish I had found out earlier as there were some cool films and open studios and I had come on the last day or two.

On my first visit, I went to Heroes’ Square and noted that all the great Hungarians had great Hungarian mustaches. Apparently that’s a thing here, and it appears on aprons accordingly.

I wandered by a theater and saw it was the Kikassa Animation Festival. When I was a kid I wanted to be an animator and I still to this day love watching animations. This is the second time I’ve stumbled into an animation festival, the last when I ran into an old coworker showing at one in Portland, Oregon. I got to watch a tribute to the Hungarian-British animator John Halas. He was a strong proponent for utilizing technology to the max and there were some cool computer animated bits from the 70s and 80s. It was cool watching the influence of growing up in a tough place on a form considered in the west to not be very serious at all. I didn’t even realize the west had an animated version of Animal Farm, which I may have to watch more than the tiny clip I got to see. The rest of the time I spent doing what I usually do, trying the various foods and eating as much cake as I could hold.

I’d passed by Jeg Bufe before and somehow missed the crowds all standing up at window counters inhaling cakes. This is a piramis cake, a multiple layer cake surrounded with lots of chocolate buttercream and then coated in a layer of chocolate. Delicious!

I don’t get why cake eating and cafe coffee is such a fast ordeal here though, everyone seems to be in and out in a matter of minutes. One evening I ended up in a cellar restaurant, where you have to walk down some stairs and the entire inside was made of arched wood. A pretty cool location. As a cool bonus it was called Csülök Csárda, which means the Pork Knuckle Inn.

Pork knuckle, a part of pig I can’t say I see much in America, is everywhere in Hungary. I got mine covered in bacon, onions, and potatoes. See that pork I dug out peeking up from the huge stack? Washing all of that down with a beer made me a pretty sleepy person during the animation festival. The free shot of palinka didn’t help either.

One of the places recommended for all tourists and as a cheap eating location is the Central Market Hall also known as the Grand Market.  I find it a tchotchke tourist trap but seeing all the sausage and bread vendors is neat.  Go downstairs and see the fish and pickle vendors.  As a budget eatery though, I think that’s all bunk.  The prices at the steam tables where food sits out all day and is reheated in a microwave is the same as lunch specials at most sit down restaurants.  Order a “napi menu” at a restaurant instead of lining up with all the tourists.  The langos bar isn’t bad but is more expensive than most places where it doesn’t usually come with so many darned things on top.

Although delicious looking here, this stuffed pepper was on the cold side of lukewarm after their microwave reheating and the sauce was sickly sweet.

One evening I hiked out to the suburb area of Obuda on the Buda side of things across the river.  It had lovely old buildings and a delicious bakery.  Daubner’s is a pretty large place with four counters all with long lines for what turned out to be pretty delicious cake and people lugging out huge boxes of desserts.  I saw one lady inhale her cake before she even got to a counter.  I’ve had cake before dinner a few times as they usually close around 6 or 7 in the evening.

The E-80 torte consisting of sponge base, marzipan cream, coffee cream & cocoa powder. Not usually my thing but it ended up extra decadent here and therefore extra delicious.

While on that same side of the river I visited Regis Sipos, known for its halazle (fish soup).  When I showed up I was a little concerned the restaurant was quite fancy and full of waiters but only had one table of guys in jeans.  By the time I left though, the place was half full and had lots of suits and tourists clutching maps.  There was even a band of cellist, violinist and xylophonist.

It took me a while to find it as i only saw this at the Central Market and the restaurants I tried were out. Delicious but I’m glad I ordered a small as it was quite heavy.

The best way to follow a heavy fish soup is with a heavy appetizer of Hortobagy palascinta. It’s a crepe filled with ground meat and topped with a creamy smoked paprika sauce and sour cream. This one was then topped with some slices of fresh paprika pepper, in case two types of cream needed two types of paprika.

I went looking for goose leg at Kanaan’s in the XIII district and only found more goose liver in the form of croquettes next to this delicious fried duck leg. Well, I’ll take another delicious fowl as substitute.

On my last full day I went to visit the tourist famous Kadar Etkezde.  While etkezde are usually cheap lunch spots, this one was was expensive as most restaurants I’ve been to in the area so perhaps it is only for tourists now.  All the staff were exceedingly friendly and kept asking if everything was ok.  I didn’t have the heart to tell them everything was ok but not great.  Just like every time I ignore my instincts and go to something recommended by guidebooks.

I didn’t ever actually try chicken paprikash but I did try this Hungarian style paprika turkey.

Csaszarmorzsa, or the Emperor’s Crumb, a dessert that tasted like crumbled cake covered in powdered sugar and jam. Seems kind of heavy and peasant like for an emperor.

How do you make up for an overpriced mediocre lunch?  By getting cheap delicious retes!

Well, so the retes making in Kiskassa village ended up a bust but luckily there’s a delicious retes store in Budapest. Unlike the bready/cakey version of the village this one is mostly filling lovingly surrounded by greasy flaky pastry.

Just to prove I’m not only out to laugh at Asia for their Engrish mistakes, here is one time I think Hungarians might’ve missed the point. I don’t think that’s something one usually advertises.

The area wasn’t doing so well with lots of empty store fronts, but really I suppose any area with lots of sex shops isn’t usually the most kept up.

Also seen on the same street. How old is this shop? The euro is something like 280 Hungarian forints now.

I like spending lots of time in one place but not when I hadn’t wanted to and had to change hostels three times. The benefit of staying in a city is to not have to pack up so darned often. I stayed around the Oktogon/Nyugati train station area which is quite near all the happening things but also quite touristy.  At least it’s a very pretty place.

The view over the Danube River from the Margaret Bridge. You can see the parliament building to the left and the castle to the right.

It’s pretty at night too. All the couples making out around me thought so as well.  The neon McDonald’s sign on the far left is sad but fitting.

This time, after yet a third laptop mishap, I’m finally heading to Sarajevo. It is a city with so many awesome things and a great character and yet, perhaps with all my bad luck, it did not add up to be greater than all it’s parts. I go through briefly one more time on my flight out but otherwise, sorry Budapest, don’t call me, maybe I’ll call you sometime.

Two days is not a lot of time in the confection capitol of the world.  I took one in the diabetes gut and tried to make up for my short stay by making it as delicious as possible in a short amount of time.  There may have been a three dessert day.  Vienna is not a cheap city, but much like my stops in Hawaii and Singapore, my stomach wins out over tightening my wallet too much.  Even on the internet, the cheap restaurants seemed to be around 10 euros, which is about 13 dollars.  Not very cheap at all!   A street sausage would set one back enough for me to stay a night in a private room guesthouse in Asia.  This all took a little getting used to and some extra research to see where I could eat.  Returning to Budapest after this will look a lot cheaper.

Seen at Mozart’s mass grave cemetery: “Those who eat pigeons, eats rat!” I guess squab hunting must be a problem here, but it wasn’t what I was eating.

I ate rather well on this short trip and had to be rolled back onto the train. The first order of business after arriving in the evening was to find some eats.  I found a decent and relatively cheap (under/around 10 euros with drinks) gastropub that served me a delicious cold fish with warm boiled potatoes in a sour cream based sauce.  I enjoyed a Gruner Veitliner, the common white wine of Vienna.

Eating on the street means meat in tubes. In this case, currywurst! A sausage with lots of ketchup that has been doused with curry. I could definitely eat more of this.

Peekaboo! The Bitzinger stand has delicious dogs with a snappy casing. Unfortunately I found their service brusque and this bun that was toasted on the inside not much different from a normal bun at all. Maybe the cranky guy could put all his energy he spent scowling into lovingly handling the food instead.

The rest of the food was relegated to hamburgers, hot dogs, and kebabs for the most part.  While I love all those foods, I’ve seen them in every country so I’d prefer to try some Vienna specialities.  A mish mash of Asian food also appeared to be popular with restaurants serving a mix of fast food sushi, chow mein in round boxes, and teriyaki.

My second dinner took me to Cafe Phonixhof which is a delightfully bright little cafe that sometimes has live music.  I’ve come post fall grape harvest so this is the time to try a drink known as sturm, a mix of all the different phases of wine making.  I tried must, just the grape juice before fermentation, in Hungary and now onto the next phase.  The portions here were huge as good a deal as one gets in Vienna.

Quite different from their Hungarian counterpart, Austrian goulash is the variation I am used to seeing. This is a thick stew full of meaty chunks and little vegetables. The giant ball is a bread dumpling that is reminiscent of a matzo ball.

One of the best deals is that on weekdays most restaurants in Austria and Hungary have a set menu of multiple courses for a fixed price.  Sometimes, particularly at tourist  places, this involves a drink as well.  In Hungary, you can just say “menu” to order it and the word for a menu is something else entirely.

Lunch on my last day involved me walking into pig heaven and seeing a soft yellow light bearing down angelically on a hearty looking woman slicing into a huge ham leg. Or maybe she needed the lamp to see better, either way it was off by the time I snapped a shot.

The lunch special that day translated into something like lumberjack mess. There were pork chunks, pork skin, and smoked ham all mixed with vegetables, overcooked noodles and accompanied by a cold sauerkraut to cut all that grease.

After lunch I looked about as happy this a pig in… well, cut out of wood. As I sat munching on lunch at Porcus I saw many office workers come in for a sandwich of artisan ham and bread to go. Seems like a good deal to me for 3,5 euros compared to the wurst you’d get otherwise.

At the train station I caught up to one of the many canapés stands dotting the city. Though adorable looking I find the pre made sandwiches dry and the spreads to not be all that delightful after being exposed to too much air. They were also recommended on budget eating boards but enough to fill one for a normal sized meal was more expensive than many meals at sit down restaurants. I’ll pass thanks.

Those were my savory adventures but let’s be honest about what Vienna is known for.

Look, a bakery zoo! I wonder if I can pet them! No, this is the workshop of the famous Cafe Demel full of delicious looking chocolate cakes.

Instead of Vienna’s famed sachertorte I tried the annatorte, a lovely chocolate cake with folds of chocolate fondant everywhere. The cake was a smidge dry but the rest made up for it, fixing all the chocolate longings I’ve had the last few months.

Seen on what feels like every other corner in Vienna is the Aida chain. The place is decorated in bright pink with friendly looking diner looking ladies serving up pastries and cakes half the price of the fancier, older cafes. The cheese strudel was ok since I’d been walking in the rain for hours and being inside was enough to cheer me up. Otherwise I found the cheese itself quite dry. I hear the cakes are good though.

In a city full of ancient cake shops I could hardly try just one. This is Heiner and it may be my winner for best dessert I had in the city with this moist chocolate cake.

In both Hungary and Austria it is common to see crepes that they just call pancakes filled with jams or chocolate. This one is full of apricot jam and was delicious.

Hungary has Marka soda and Austria has Almdudler. It tastes kind of herbal-y and looks like a ginger ale. I think I prefer sour cherry Marka. Really, I’m pretty sure both of them are ghetto and the general populace prefers the international Cokes and Pepsis.

The desserts and sweets of Vienna really were pretty great.  However at three to four times the price of neighboring Hungary, I’m not sure if I felt like the cakes were three to four times better.  As a whole though, this is a pretty delicious if not so budget eating town.  I’m glad I only stayed two days or my wallet would be crying as I continued inhaling age tested confections all over town.

I imagine this is what standard backpacking looks like.  Landing in a city and hitting the ground running to squeeze everything into as few days as possible.  It’s certainly a change for me, and it was fun but it sure was tiring!  Still, I do the same things I do in every city, I ate, I checked out markets, and I went to a cemetery.  Ok the last one only happens in some cities.  I’m not sure I could keep up learning so much about a city that quickly and remembering it all if I did this for every place I went.  Luckily Vienna kept it packed with interesting tidbits to make it easy on me.

One of my most glad sights coming from overly obsessed with outward luxury appearances Asia was graffiti. Even though parts of Asia is covered in grime and trash, there didn’t seem to be any action to take the art and their lack of very loud protests to the streets. After some time in Hungary I realized their spray can skills seem to be confined to mostly kids scrawling their names out in lines with what might as well have been marker. Vienna has more elaborate and interesting looking pieces all along their canal and buildings.

As soon as I got into town at the train station, I saw a bunch of young, hip adults wandering around in lederhosen and dirndls.  Finally as I sat down on the subway I decided to find out what was going on and asked the couple across from me.  First I asked if they spoke English, and they said they did a little.  This is, of course, where we have a completely fluent conversation in English.  When I say I speak a little Spanish, this is not what I mean at all.  Anyways, so they told me that Vienna recently started their own version of Oktoberfest in a giant park and told me I should go, encouraging me to buy my own dirndl.  Alas I have no room in my bag for that nor 40 euros to spend on beer gardens.  Perhaps another year.

Instead I decided to wander around the old town.  What a beautiful sight at night!  You can’t walk one block without seeing some beautiful building or age weathered statue.  Austria must have the world’s longest list of heroes to supply so many.

Everywhere you looked was a grand building or a palace.  This one is adorned in statues.

I marveled at the well populated streets late into the night with whole families strolling.  Everyone looked so cultured in button down shirts, sweaters and blazers.   The busker at the subway stop was playing a harp.  Only midway through my own walk did I realize it was “Late Night at the Museum”, which meant all the I assume hundreds of museums were open til 1 AM.  What a wonderful annual event! to bring people out onto the streets.  I found out too late to really make it worth it but it was a great opportunity to people watch.  The sidewalks and squares were still quite full as I walked back at midnight.

The first day was a wonderful 70 degrees, tricking me into a false sense of security.  My second day, the only real full day, ended up being a cold, gray and rainy affair.  Fitting, as I was going to go wander around the giant cemetery.  Vienna is not a big place so I could walk from my hotel all the way through the old town in less than an hour.

Every corner in town reveals some royal fun. These were the royal horse stables. These horses have more pedigree than I and I think they’re taken care of better too!

The cemetery is out in the suburbs though, past where the subway runs even.  So I hopped on tram 71 to head out there.  This is a pretty old tram line and I heard that people used to use the tram to transport the dead to the cemetery.  So there was an euphemism for dying where one was “taking tram 71”.

Well, you can see where a coffin would fit in here. Now that space is for strollers.

The cemetery is a sprawling complex and contains the various famous composers of Austria.  These graves were kept immaculately with beautiful fresh flowers.  Their tombstones often had elaborate statues that really made the place look more like a park than a cemetery from afar.  All cemeteries are giant green spaces though, so I wish we had less of a morbid fear of them so we could utilize all that green space n every city.

You can see the tombstones on either side.

I tired of looking at all the Strauss tombstones and set out wandering the back parts of the cemetery.  I found the other less famous graves more entertaining.

You know you’re important in life when you get to be buried in one of the fancy arcades. You also get surrounded by beautiful half dressed women, but I suspect they’re just there for his awesome mutton chops.

Does this guy know he got buried in carbonite?!  He certainly looks calmer than Han Solo did about it.

I really liked this sharp modern looking tombstone for a man who died in the 40’s.

The front of the cemetery was full of well taken care of graves to show tourists. I rather liked the opposite end here, with its simple wooden cross and grass growing rampant, swallowing the grave back into nature.

Among the living residents of the area are red squirrels. I found quite a few playing tag in the area.

After checking out the biggest cemetery in the city, I headed to a small mass grave.  Mozart has a memorial in the big cemetery but in his times, everyone was buried in mass graves.

Putting easy open handles on graves seems like a bad idea.

My last day, or morning really, I spent visiting two markets.  The first was the touristy naschmarkt.  It was full of overpriced international restaurants and people aggressively selling clothing and knick knacks.  I took it as a bad sign that I went in the latemorning and it wasn’t really all open yet, they were still setting up for a lunch rush.

The fruit variety was quite amazing, with many things I saw in Asia making surprise appearances here. I really liked the dusty, velvety midnight blue of the plums.

After lunch I took a quick stop at the karmelitamarkt.  In much better impressions, it was open in the mornings and in the evenings when people get off work.  Now that’s a working market!  Unfortunately that meant when I got there in the afternoon few things were open.

Vienna is a delightful and regal city that I wish Ic ould’ve spent more time in.  The honest truth is though, that I don’t think I could’ve afforded much more.  I was just taking a trip to let the guys back in Budapest fix my laptop and I’ll be happy when I can head south to the coast like I originally planned to.