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Budapest

10 Jan

Ben and I snuck in a quick trip to Budapest before we both head back to work after the holidays.  We were supposed to have two and a half days, but a frustratingly long delay in departure on Tuesday left us without the extra half day.  We still managed to get in three museums, two activities, and a trip to the thermal baths.

Budapest_02Our hotel, the Bohem Art Hotel, was fantastic.  From the moment that we booked the room, the staff was attentive and helpful.  They coordinated a ride from the airport to the hotel and were very responsive to my e-mails notifying them of the multiple delays we experienced leaving Moscow.  It is in a great location, close to the Danube on the Pest side.  The decor was great, with art displayed throughout the hotel.  Each room has a unique artwork: that is my photo of the one in our room to the right (Classic Double, Room 110).  The other rooms’ art can be previewed on the website here.  I would definitely recommend it to anyone planning a trip to Budapest.

Budapest_06We started with the Hungarian National Museum.  We try to hit a history museum early on when we visit a new location because it helps make sense of everything we see during our trip.  This provided a decent overview of Hungary’s history from about the 12th-13th century until the 1990’s (the earlier exhibits were either closed when we were there or not very impressive).  There was also a small exhibit of Hungarians scholars “who made the 20th century.”

Next up, we checked out the Museum of Ethnography, which proved to be fairly disappointing.  It is located next to Parliament, though, so it was worth the walk to see that building.  There was a lot of construction, so we did not get any good photos of the building, but a Google images search has many.

We finished up Wednesday’s activities with a trek up the very steep hill of Castle Hill.  We intended to visit the Labyrinth of Buda Castle, but ended up at a different labyrinth exhibit (I have now learned that the other was closed down in 2011).  It was fun to see some of the caves, but the displays were very strange and very cheesy.  This did not stop up from having fun and taking advantage of photo ops, like Ben posing with a gargoyle by Dracula’s “grave” and doing his best King Joffrey impression.

On Thursday, we spent an hour trying the puzzle room game Claustrophilia.  It caught my eye on TripAdvisor as the #1 attraction for Budapest and seemed like something new and fun.  The idea is to find hidden items and solve puzzles in order to figure out the overall game.  We had a lot of fun and I think we worked well together, but I don’t think that we got too far at all.  I love puzzles, though, so it was a great way to spend an hour and I would love to find more games like this.

A friend recommended that we try the thermal baths while in Budapest, so that afternoon we headed up to the Szechenyi Baths.  This particular location seemed to be highly rated online and the whole facility was coed, so Ben and I could spend our time together.  We enjoyed the time we spent and suspect that we could have easily spent a whole day there if we had more time (there are eighteen baths!), especially if we signed up for any of the spa services.

Our last stop of the trip was to the House of Terror, a museum dedicated to the history and impact of the Nazi and Communist regimes in Hungary.  The museum is housed in the building that served as the headquarters for the secret police of both governments.  The building was renovated to house the museum and is mostly exhibits based on artifacts and video, but replicates some details such as the offices, cells, and gallows that were located there.

Ben and I both agreed that we would have liked to have had another day in the city, but, overall, really enjoyed our stay.  While January may not have been the most beautiful time to visit, we were able to do everything that we wanted without any crowds or lines.  Maybe we’ll make it back there sometime in better weather and get some more photos.

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How I Spent My Summer Vacation: Part Three

26 Aug

This summer feels like it just flew by.  It was a bit shorter than last year, but it was also significantly busier.  It was filled with travel and visitors, family and friends.  I have split this post into three parts in order to share photos.  This is the third of the three posts!

The third, and final, big event of the summer was a visit from Ben’s parents.  We spent a few days in Moscow, a week in St. Petersburg, and then a few more days in Moscow while they were here.  We managed to visit a TON of museums in both cities including the new Tretyakov State Gallery, the Armoury Chamber in the Kremlin, the Hermitage, the Trubetskoy and Alekseyevsky bastions and the Museum of Torture at the Peter and Paul FortressKunstkamera, the Zoological Museum, the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, and the Russian Museum of Ethnography.  We covered A LOT of ground in those two weeks and I’m so happy that they were willing to make the trip over here and were up for so much site-seeing.

We happened to have good timing when we were in St. Petersburg.  Ben had previously heard that there is a day when paratroopers gather in parks, get drunk, swim in fountains, and maybe start fights.  Turns out that day is August 2nd, VDV Day, the celebration of Russia’s Airborne Forces.  We were in St. Petersburg for this and saw the gathering, drinking, and swimming, but, fortunately, not the fighting.  This holiday was actually only a few days after Navy Day which was a huge celebration in St. Petersburg given its location on the water.  We saw more gathering and drinking, and a bit of fighting that day, but not as much swimming in the fountain.

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How I Spent My Summer Vacation: Part Two

22 Aug

This summer feels like it just flew by.  It was a bit shorter than last year, but it was also significantly busier.  It was filled with travel and visitors, family and friends.  I have split this post into three parts in order to share photos.  This is the second of the three posts!

After my trip to Florida, I had only one day back in Moscow before Ben and I headed off for a long weekend in Riga, Latvia.  Although it was about 10 days early, the trip was an anniversary celebration for us (nine years!).  We have managed to travel for the majority of our anniversaries, even if it was just a day trip to a nearby city.  It is nice to have a tradition that allows us to take time and do something just for us.

The weather was lovely and it was a great city to walk around and explore.  We visited the Museum of the History of Riga and Navigation and the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia to learn a little more about the country.  We enjoyed dinner at another medieval restaurant and drank so much delicious (and inexpensive!) beer.  We also tried Riga  Black Balsam which was quite interesting.

We also took advantage of the timing of our trip and went to the movies to see Pacific Rim since it was in English with Latvian and Russian subtitles.  It seems that seeing blockbuster summer films in foreign countries is becoming another anniversary tradition, last year it was The Dark Knight Rises in Copenhagen.  Honestly, I think this may have been the highlight of the trip for both of us, which just goes to show how perfect we are together.

We decided on Riga after visiting Tallinn in February.  We thought it would be nice to see all three Baltic states while we are living here.  We just have to get in a weekend in Lithuania now!

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How I Spent My Summer Vacation: Part One

17 Aug

This summer feels like it just flew by.  It was a bit shorter than last year, but it was also significantly busier.  It was filled with travel and visitors, family and friends.  I have split this post into three parts in order to share photos.  This is the first of the three posts!

Like last year, I started my summer with a trip back to Florida.  It was a great two weeks spent eating, drinking, shopping, and relaxing with family and friends.  When I think about being so far away from my family during the year, I try to remember that being able to dedicate a full two weeks to vacation with them is one of the perks of living over here.

I did change my permanent residency in the States over to Florida during this trip.  I am now a licensed driver by the state of Florida.  Naturally, soon after I had that I signed up for a library card in my old county system.

One thing that my mom and I did this trip was to spend an afternoon at Vino Van Gogh painting owls and sipping wine.  It was so much fun and gave me a chance to paint for the first time in a few years.  Every time I sit down with a canvas I remember how much I love it and how much I have missed it.  I definitely would like to do this again.

It seems that I didn’t get all of the photos from my parents, but I don’t want to put this off any longer, so here are just a few photos from the trip.

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Memorial Museum of Cosmonautics

21 Jul

Space travel is kind of a big deal here, so it’s no surprise that there is a museum dedicated to it.  Yesterday, we visited this museum, the Memorial Museum of Cosmonautics, here in Moscow.

The museum mostly walked through the history of the Soviet/Russian space program and included a section dedicated to worldwide space endeavors.  There were original artifacts, replicas, models, photos, personal belongings of scientists involved in building the first spacecrafts and cosmonauts/astronauts, and even the actual, taxidermy bodies of Belka and Strelka, the first dogs to go into orbit and safely return.

Belka and Strelka

Belka and Strelka

The Soviet space program boasted many firsts, including the first man in space (Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin, 12 April 1961) and the first woman in space (Valentina Vladimirovna Tereshkova, 16 June 1963).  Interestingly, Tereshkova’s flight occurred only two years after Gagarin’s, but it would be another nineteen years before a Soviet woman went back into space (Svetlana Yevgenyevna Savitskaya, 19 August 1982).  The third and only other female Soviet/Russian cosmonaut to go into space to date is Yelena Vladmirovna Kondakova on 4 October 1994.  In contrast, the United States did not have a female astronaut in space until 18 June 1983 (Sally Ride), but has had a total of 45 female astronauts in space since then.

I learned a lot from our visit and would highly recommend this museum to others.  There is a lot of history, science, and fun to be had there.  The bigger models and displays included translations in English, but some of the smaller bits of memorabilia were only in Russian.  We were with a Russian speaker, but I would still have enjoyed it without translation assistance.  See below for a few more photos (all photos in this post are courtesy of Ben).

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Friendship Is Magic

16 Jun

Ben and I were fortunate enough to have some friends visit Moscow recently.  They are friends that we met when living in Southern California, though they have also found new homes outside of Orange County.  It was so much fun to spend time with them here and to show them the city that we now call home.

FriendshipIsMagic_03

Photo courtesy of Remy and Svetlana

We did some sight-seeing, hitting Red Square (I actually went into St. Basil’s and GUM this time and we saw Lenin!), the Arbat, the Moscow Museum of Modern Art, and the Museum of Soviet Arcade Machines.  Much food was consumed.  Many stories and laughs were shared.

FriendshipIsMagic_01

Horseradish and Honey Vodka!

Between this visit, my sister and brother-in-law’s visit, and my trips to London and St. Louis, year two has offered me the chance to catch up in-person with some really amazing friends and family.  We have definitely made incredible friends here in Moscow, but having time with all of these people has been really important.  During our first year I didn’t leave Russia between October 2011 and June 2012.  It was too much of a separation from life back in the States.  I am certainly anxious to get back to Florida again this summer to see more family and friends, but having time throughout the year to connect with people really has made a difference in my enjoyment of living here.

More photos below!

And, yes, I did reference My Little Pony in the title of this post.

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London Calling

21 Apr

I recently had the opportunity to visit London for a long weekend.  This was my first time traveling to England and while the trip did not go exactly as planned, I still got to spend time with friends and see some sites.  The weather was beautiful for the weekend, too, which was a major bonus.

So Helpful!

So Helpful!

So, knowing that cars drive on the left side of the road and experiencing it are two very different things.  I cannot express how helpful these street signs were.  Sure, you should always look both ways before crossing any road, but this doesn’t help in actuality when you are still expecting the cars to be coming from the direction that they have come from for your entire life.

Flags Flying Half Mast for Margaret Thatcher

Flags Flying Half Mast for Margaret Thatcher

I was there the day that Margaret Thatcher died.  This shot was taken shortly after the news broke and shows some flags that had already been lowered to half mast.  By the time I heading back from taking photos here many more flags had been lowered all over the area.

When Ben asked me before the trip what I planned to do, I honestly told him that I had no agenda except to get close enough to Big Ben to take photos.  These photos were taken specifically to be posted online with this (modified) National Lampoon’s European Vacation reference.  The Griswald family’s various adventures are the source of many quotes within my family and I could not let this opportunity pass.

The gallery below has some more photos from the weekend.

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