Barcelona, Spain

Day 1: We arrived in Barcelona, Spain about mid morning after a short flight from London. Although the flight was short it was a bit of a bumpy one and Shaun didn’t have much leg room at all, however I guess that’s what you get with a no thrills cheap airline!

We caught a taxi from the airport to our apartment which was also an experience (I have never felt so unsafe in a taxi before). The driver kept looking down etc and was not paying attention to the road but we made it to the apartment safe and sound. After checking in we decided to go explore La Rambla which was about a half an hour walk from the apartment but it was meant to be the central part of Barcelona so we were keen to see it. Once at La Rambla we started stopping at sights along the way including Placa de Catalunya which was a courtyard that had sculptures and fountains, La boqueria markets and we even walked all the way down to the waterfront.

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The Columbus Monument is a 60 m (197 ft) tall monument to Christopher Columbus at the lower end of La Rambla

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Tiny cornettos
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Busker in La Rambla

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Sculpture at Placa de Catalunya
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Placa de Catalunya
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Placa de Catalunya
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Placa de Catalunya
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Chinese Dragon along La Rambla – Chinese dragon on facade of early modernist building “Casa Bruno Cuadros” on La Rambla 82. Local residents call this building the “Casa dels Paraigües” which means “House of Umbrellas.” It was built in 1858 and remodeled with the current facade for the umbrella shop on the ground floor in 1883 by Josep Vilaseca Casanovas.

 

 

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Another La Rambla Character
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Churros on the go
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Interesting plants…..

The waterfront was beautiful, with plenty of palm trees around it was like something out of the movies. We walked over one of those bridges that can collapse and we explored what was on the other side. We found a mall that had a whole heap of restaurants on the top floor, it wasnt set out normally though, These restaurants all had balconies that overlooked the water and it was like an indoor outdoor flow so there was a roof on the top floor but there wasnt a wall the entire way around so you could just walk out to the balconies and feel the fresh air coming through.

That night we went to the gothic quarter area for a walk around and ended up having dinner at a local restaurant. We ordered a whole heap of different tapas including potatoe brava (which is just roasted potatoes with a dipping sauce), squid, meatballs & chicken. We also ordered a jug of sangria & a fish bowl of beer, we decided we were not huge fans of the sangria but at least we had tried it. Overall we loved our first tapas experience because who doesn’t love tapas!

Day 2: Today we decided to venture out to an outdoor spanish architecture museum, however on our way we found a number of stops.

Our first stop was the Barcelona arena, while we were walking to the architecture museum we noticed a massive fountain in the middle of a roundabout then by looking around we noticed that people were standing on the top of the Barcelona arena viewing the city. We investigated and found it was only 1 euro to go up to the roof of the arena which was super cheap so we did exactly that. The views from the top were awesome and there were actually restaurants on the roof top as well so if you wanted you could have lunch or dinner up there. While we were up there we noticed a whole lot of fountains in the distance so we decided we wanted to go check that out.

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We walked down to the fountains which ended up being the Font Magica Fountain with many other surrounding water features. In the same area are the Les Quartre Columnes and the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya, the area is surrounded by water features so it is really beautiful.

After seeing all the fountains we headed to the architecture musuem however once there we could actually see into the musuem grounds (as it was outside) and we decided it wasnt worth going in as it was just models of houses that we had actually already been seeing around the place. The musuem was on the top of a steep hill so there was actually a great view of the city from the entrance which was a bonus. We went for a wandar around that area and found what we think may have been an old spanish riding school, there was actually a horse being ridden in the grounds when we noticed it. We continued walking and found a big look out with great views of the city and then we walked back down to where we started so we could catch the metro to Barcelona Beach!

I had read that Barcelona beach was one of the best beaches in the world so we were looking forward to checking it out. After a quick lunch stop (pizza with spanish chorizo yum yum) and a quick gelato stop at a place called eyescream.. weirdest concept honestly it was a block of gelato that they would then shave under a machine and then they would add little lolly eyes to it as well as two sides of other lollies.. it did taste good though so that’s the main thing. Once at the beach we were kind of surprised it was a pretty beach but it wasnt like anything we expected, there were lots of bars down it so small bars actually set up on the sand and you could hire beach loungers for the day as well. We walked along the beach and even tested out the water but it was a bit to chilly even for Shaun, whilst walking we ended up bumping into a couple that we had met on our pub crawl in Edinburgh which was very random but we chatted to them for awhile and then we headed off to a bar on the beach for a cold beer in the sun 🙂

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Wheel chair lane
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Barcelona gondola

 

After our beer we decided we would head back into La Rambla area and go to the La Boqueria markets again as the juices were awesome and we figured we could get dinner there. We just walked to La Rambla as it wasnt to far from the beach and we had a nice stop on the way for some spanish churros and chocolate. We found there to be some different stalls open at the markets and we ending up finding some lollies that looked like they were on steroids they were literally the size of our hands! After a successful evening at the markets it was time to head back to plan for our next day of adventures.


Day 3: Our last full day in Barcelona.. Today was the day to squeeze in any of the main things we had missed. So first of all we were off to La Sagrada Familia which is a large Roman Catholic church designed by Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí. Parts of the church are still being built so part of the church is new and the other part is old. We went through the church which had a range of features including mosaic windows that provided different coloured lights throughout the church, they also had some massive organs and the whole place had a gothic feel to it.


After our visit to the church we headed to Park Güell which is a garden complex with architectural elements situated on the hill of El Carmel in the Gràcia district of Barcelona, It was designed by the Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí (just like the church) and built in the years 1900 to 1914. The park was up a massive hill so you had to walk up a massive hill and then catch an escalator then walk some more but it was definitely worth it as the views over the city were awesome.

After the Park we headed to the La Boqueria markets again so I could get my juice fix for the day! We also got these waffles that shaun had been wanting to try so it was a waffle then it had mini kit kats all over it and was drizzled in chocolate sauce. It seemed like a good idea at the time buy my gosh it was rich!

 

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That night we had dinner with my friend who also came to Barcelona with us, we found a nice restaurant and had some of their Tapas which were the best tapas we had in Barcelona. After dinner we went for a walk and saw a few more sights in the area, one was a building called Casa Batllo which was designed by Antoni Gaudi and had the same gothic look as his other pieces and the other was another building designed by Antoni but this one was called La Pedrera.

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Casa Batllo
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Spanish Architecture in the streets

Day 4: Today we had to head to the airport but before we left we went to the markets one last time.. yes I became a juice addict. We also searched the seafood area of the markets for squid ink as we were hoping to get some for my aunty. Unfortunately we never found any however we did find it quite entertaining that the crayfish, lobsters and crabs were all still moving on the ice so it just showed how fresh the seafood was.

Belgium

A pitstop in Belgium on the way to London.

We were told that the 4 things that make Belgium famous is the chocolate, the beer, the waffles and the fries. We decided we had to try all 4!

The beer shops were incredible, such a large variety of beers including mango beer, chocolate beer etc. The chocolate shops were also amazing, I could have bought the entire shop!!!

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Amsterdam, Holland

After a very long day on the bus we finally arrived in Amsterdam! We had a cheese and clog tour at a family owned factory. We got to taste the cheeses and watch a clog being made. Our first evening in Amsterdam consisted of going to a local sex show which is a main tourist attraction in The Netherlands.

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Clog making
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Clogs
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Dutch cheese making
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Dutch cheese making

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Our next day started with a bike tour that lasted a few hours. We visited a few of the main parks including one called the Van Gogh park which is 4m below sea level and is constantly sinking, another interesting thing about this park is a lot of people lived there when there was a housing shortage and there was even a mail delivery to the park so people could still receive their mail whilst living there. It is also legal to have sex in the bush at the park (bit bizarre!). We also stopped at the Anne frank house and at a few canals to see the view.

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House boat

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A shop dedicated to condoms

After the bike tour we found lunch at a nice little cafe which claimed to have the best burger in Amsterdam. I have to admit the burger I had was pretty good! Shaun and I were discussing something about the fact I am dutch and the guy started talking to me in dutch…. I have dutch heritage but I can’t speak it!

Then we were off to the Heineken factory which was the first factory for Heineken so being Shaun’s favourite beer we had to visit it. We spent a few hours inside reading about the history, seeing the brewing stations and how it’s bottled, we even got to see the Heineken horses (to this day they still have horses) then we also got to taste the beer of course. Shaun bought quite a few souvenirs at the gift shop including a tshirt, beer coolers, a credit card style beer opener, a rack to stack his beer easier in the fridge and some Heineken drinking glasses.

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Statue for sex workers

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Urinal shaun found
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Hot food vending machine
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cannibas growing starter kit at the markets

As it was our last evening with the topdeck group we had a group dinner at a Chinese restaurant called Sea Palace which is the biggest floating restaurant in Europe.

Berlin, Germany

Our first stop in Germany was Dresden (just a day stop). It was freezing cold so we just did a bit of walking around and found some hot cinnamon donuts just like back home.

Once we arrived in Berlin we did a driving tour and stopped at a large battleground called Treptower Park. The grounds were where a fight between the Germans and the Soviet Union happened. There is a massive statue of a soviet soldier holding a German child and it’s surrounded by flowers etc.

We also went for a walk along the east side gallery which is part of the original Berlin Wall but some professional artists were appointed to cover the wall so it’s covered in art.

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Our full free day in Berlin began with a third reich walking tour which took us to the parliament buildings, the Brandenburg gate, the Berlin Wall (unpainted one), the site of hitlers bunker, the holocaust memorial and checkpoint Charlie. Our tour guide really knew what he was talking about and it lasted about 3 hours. We found it really good learning so much about the history. Unfortunately hitlers bunker is completely gone and so all that it is now is a park/car park so we weren’t able to see the actual bunker.

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Hitlers bunker is underneath this
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German Parliament Building
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The old parliament building
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Memorial for politicians who were killed
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Brandenburg gate
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Berlin Cathedral
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Bears are Berlins symbol
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Green walking man
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Red walking man
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Berlins traffic light symbols

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Coloured drain pipes are everywhere in Berlin

The holocaust memorial was more of an architectural feature as it was lines of concrete blocks at different levels which looked really cool.

 

Our walking tour ended at checkpoint Charlie where we got photos with the American guards which was pretty cool!

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After our walking tour we were off to the Rittersport chocolate shop which was a chocolate shop that enabled you to create your own flavours. The concept was quite simple you choose dark or milk chocolate then you choose from a large variety of ingredients including biscuits, lollies etc and then they put it all in a chocolate mould for you and you come back half an hour later and collect your personalised chocolate block. We made 3 blocks, I did one, Shaun did one and then we did a combined one.

In the afternoon we visited a classic beer hall.

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One litre of Heineken

We caught the metro home and it was the most confusing metro station we have been to in all of Europe. We literally spent over 30 minutes trying to find the train we needed, I was walking around with my map like a lost puppy so some guys who were drinking at one of the food places came up and asked if they could help me so we eventually found our way.

We did the Berlin pub crawl which was my (Anita’s) first pub crawl ever. We went with another 2 topdeck groups as well as other random people who had happened to book the tour. The price of the pub crawl included a welcome beer and a few shots at every place so that was good. We ended up meeting another kiwi couple who had just randomly booked the pub crawl so that was really cool hanging out with them for the evening. They were from Hamilton/Waihi beach so we had a bit to chat about and it was nice to meet kiwis as there are a lot of Aussies on our tour so it’s refreshing meeting kiwis. We had an awesome night and got home about 1:30-2am and had to be up at about 6am to head to Amsterdam!

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Prague, Czech Republic

Unfortunately it took us a bit longer to get to Prague then expected as there was a major traffic jam from Friday traffic and rain.

After a good nights sleep we planned a full day of exploring. We caught the metro to the Prague castle. The underground metro used to be communist bunkers so that was an experience in itself. The castle was situated at the top of a hill so that meant walking up plenty of stairs to get to it but the views of the city were beautiful.

We happened to be at the castle for the changing of the guard ceremony, I was astonished at how they can keep such an expressionless face.

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The castle
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Changing of the guard
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Guards marching the Castle
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View from the Castle grounds
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View from the Castle grounds
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View from the Castle grounds

 

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View from the castle grounds
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Building inside the Castle grounds

It was absolutely freezing walking around the castle grounds so we were pretty happy to find a Starbucks next door, they even had blankets for sitting outside!

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After the castle we walked over Charles bridge and through to old town square.

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View from Charles Bridge
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View from Charles Bridge

We stopped at the Prague ice bar on the way which is part of the 5 storey nightclub which they say is the largest nightclub in Europe. We went into the ice bar, entry included a free cocktail so we enjoyed a nice cold drink (in a ice cup) in -9 surroundings. Shaun also got an ice cold Heineken and on the way out we bought the most awesome little shot glass moulds so we can make our own ice shot glasses when we get home.

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In the old town square we saw the astronomical clock, markets, Tyn church and St Nicholas church. We also had lunch at this nice little Italian type restaurant. It was outdoor seating with heaters under the tables and they provided blankets so we were snuggled up having lunch. We walked all the way to Wenceslas square which is one of the main city squares in Prague.

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Gothic Church

 

We found the funkiest bar on the way home which was a scrap metal place – it had a clock outside made from scrapmetal as well as different pieces on the outside.

 

We also found a shop dedicated to Absinth!!

Prague was absolutely freezing when we were there so would love to go back in Summer.

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$50 coin
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$20 coin

Krakow, Poland

This trip was another 3 countries in one day. We had breakfast in Hungary, lunch in Slovakia and dinner in Poland.

Once we were in Poland we went for a night time walking tour just around some of the main sights then it was time for dinner. Shaun and I got Moaburger for dinner which is a NZ burger place it was a bit like burgerfuel and the burgers were seriously massive! You could even buy beer there so of course we had a burger and beer for dinner.

The next day was a free day so we started the day by going to Oskar schindlers factory which is where 1200 Jews were saved from being killed during the holocaust. The most interesting part of the factory were the stories of former employees, they had stories written on the walls as well as several videos. We walked around the ghetto, Jewish quarter and the market square. The ghetto was basically just old run down places so it matched the name really.

For the rest of the afternoon we just walked around exploring the city and we even went for a horse and carriage ride on the most gorgeous horses! It has made me really want a horse an carriage set up at our wedding. The horses took us around the city and after that we went back to the wawel castle where there used to be a dragon who would eat people in the city. There was a great view from the castle quarter as it was on a hill and overlooked the city.

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Our last adventure in Poland was auschwitz which was a former concentration camp during the time of the holocaust. Millions of people died at the camps, the Jews were sent from the ghetto to these camps by train. We were told that they were told they were going to go to a nice place and get new jobs etc so they were advised to bring along there nicest clothes and jewels etc. Once on the train there luggage would actually be left behind and the Germans would go through it all and sell it off, the Jews would be shoved into tiny train carriages (about 80 to a small carriage) and they wouldn’t be given food or water during the journey which would take up to a week so many died on the way.

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Once at the camps the men, women and children would be split into different sections. They would be inspected and some would be sent to work when others would be sent to the gas chambers to be killed. They wouldn’t know that they were going to the gas chambers they would just be told that they were going to take a shower and to strip off etc they would even be given soap and towels but once in there they would be waiting for water and instead they would get cylon B thrown into the chamber so within a few minutes everyone in the chamber would be dead.

We went to two of the camps within Auschwitz one which housed majority of the women and it showed all the items of those that were killed. After women were killed in the gas chambers their hair would be shaved off and so there was one room which just had piles and piles of the hair and there was even a carpet looking piece that was made out of human hair. I think the most freaky rooms were those that had everyone’s shoes so it was just massive piles of everyone’s shoes and also those that had the children’s clothing/shoes.

After 3 hours in the concentration camps it was time to head to Prague.

Slovakia

Our stop in Slovakia was a quick one as we passed through on our way to Budapest so we only spent about half a day here. We were still able to fit in some activities though.

On the drive from Austria to Slovakia there were the most gorgeous fields of yellow flowers. There were fields after fields of them, stunning!

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We explored the streets of Bratislava…

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Opera house
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Gorgeous windows
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House with roots growing on it

We also did a stop at a castle in Bratislava which was up on a hill and provided some nice views of the city.

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On our way out of Hungary and onto Prague we stopped in Duna Valley in Slovakia for Lunch. The village was was surrounded by mountains and in the winter they are all covered in snow. The roads had bridges with timers on them and in winter the roads turn into ski slopes so there is ski races along them.

 

Budapest, Hungary

Our next destination was Budapest which is the capital of Hungary. We stopped in Slovakia on the way for lunch so it was another 3 country day. We had breakfast in Austria, lunch in Slovakia and dinner in Hungary.

Once we had arrived in Hungary we went straight into a driving tour where we were shown all the main sights and we got off at the buda hills to go see the view. The buda hill is the highest point in Budapest so we had amazing views of the city it was seriously beautiful.

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We were also able to see the Hungarian parliament building which was definitely impressive in size.

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Parliament building

 

We had been told to try a traditional schnitzel while in Hungary so we found a traditional restaurant to do this. We  had been warned that portion sizes were quite large however we didn’t realise how large they really were.. I got a traditional Hungarian schnitzel which was literally the size of a pizza! Delicious by the way..

Tuesday was our full free day in Hungary so we started the day by going to the House of terror which was the building that was used for the headquarters of both the nazis and the Soviet Union. In 1944 the building was the headquarters for the Hungarian Nazis then between 1945-1956 the building was used as a headquarters and holding prison for the Soviet Union, there was also torture chambers as well as a cell where people would be hung to die. It was quite a weird feeling being in the cells that people were kept and the cell that people were killed in. There were a lot of videos around the museum that were of survivors telling their stories and there was a sheet of information in each room so we could understand what the purpose of each room was. There was one room called the hall of tears and it was a dark room filled with small lights and all around the outside walls were the names of the victims who had died, very chilling.

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Then onto the local markets where I bought myself another scarf to add to my collection I got from Florence.

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Budapest streets

We found a Hungarian/Italian restaurant nearby the shopping quarter and believe it or not we found the pizza better than the pizza in Italy! At this point we were loving the food in Hungary.

 

When walking the streets we noticed alot of places advertising fish massages, we hadn’t experienced one of these before so we were curious and had to give it a go.  Our feet were in a little pool with these Thai fish that literally nibble the dry skin off your feet. It was such a strange experience and extremely ticklish at first but it was one of those must do things for us. We also bought some Dead Sea salt from the same place as the guy made us try it on our hands and it made our hands extremely smooth and got rid of any dry skin (even Shaun’s hands were super smooth!).

We found some of the side streets had the look and feel of  Ponsonby in Auckland so we felt quite at home in Hungary. There were alot of beautiful food places on the water as well.

 

Budapest 1

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Overall we loved the vibe in Hungary. It was a beautiful city, the currency was a bit strange with $200 coins and $10,000 notes etc but the city was great we would definitely come back if we could.