Everyone experiences their own Budapest

Chain bridge and Buda Castle

The common question when tourists meet other tourists: “So what was your favorite thing you’ve done so far?” In Budapest I always found myself unsure of how to answer this question. What was my favorite site? Tour? Experience? My answer sounded boring and not what they were looking for. “Just walking around” I would say smiling, yet feeling like I was letting them down.

But it was the truth. Budapest is one of the most beautiful and interesting cities I’ve ever seen. The eclectic mix of old and new architecture, and the prominence of the Art Nouveau style, made walking the streets like walking an art gallery. George Ezra’s song “Budapest” has a clearer meaning for me now. If he’s going to be giving up a house in Budapest for this woman, she must be absolutely amazing.

There is more to do in Budapest than just walking and admiring the views, although I do highly recommend it. There is also WWII history to cover (and prior), stories of fascism and communism, plus parks, restaurants, thermal baths, and the well-known ruins pubs. Quite a mix!

Memorial: Shoes on the Danube river. In memory of the Jewish people shot and killed in 1944 and 1945 along the river, but first told to take off their shoes so they could be reused.

One thing I loved about the Hungarians I met was their desire not to falsify the past. Hungary is somewhat known for choosing the wrong side, including having joined Hitler’s Nazi army in WWII. The desire for truth and honesty is represented in Liberty Square, where a “German Occupation Monument” had been erected, showing the imperial eagle of Germany over the archangel Gabriel, meant to symbolize Hungary’s innocence. People of Budapest have been protesting this monument and the hypocrisy of it for nearly three years (1000 days and counting) with daily gatherings and a Living Memorial, composed of photos and personal items of those killed during this dark time during WWII. They want everyone, especially the Hungarian government, to face the past with responsibility so as not to repeat it. Their point is that Hungary was in alliance with the Third Reich, therefore could not be “occupied”. Hungary was not innocent, as the government’s monument tries to convey.

The Living Memorial, collection of photos and personal effects, protesting the German Occupation Monument in Liberty Square

The House of Terror is a historical museum capturing the horrible deeds of fascism and socialism during and after WWII. It is a terrible reminder of a dark time when political police and security services jailed people for years with no real cause, tortured for information, and kept people in the most inhumane of conditions. The write-ups in each room are thorough and can be taken away, and there are also audio guides available. A group of young men were behind me as I entered, laughing and enjoying each others’ company. They were silenced quite quickly by the images and information. It’s a sobering and important memorial.

House of Terror

Moving on to the lighter side of Budapest…

A tour of the Budapest Parliament building shouldn’t be missed (and is best to book online in advance, or go in the morning and book your tour for an opening slot later in the day). The building’s neo-gothic architecture is impressive from the outside, and the inside is as majestic as one would imagine. I’m not typically impressed by crown jewels, but they are there and they are impressive. The crown has been lost or stolen several times in its history, and therefore after WWII was given to the American army for safe keeping from the Soviet Union. It was eventually returned in 1978.

Parliament building
A favorite detail from the Parliament building – cigar holders, numbered so that the Parliament members could leave their cigars and come back to them later. Obviously no longer in use.

The Dohány street synagogue is the biggest synagogue in Europe and second largest in the world (largest is in Jerusalem). It’s gorgeous inside and worth stopping inside and taking the tour.

Dohány street synagogue

And of course, one of the most popular attractions in Budapest are the thermal baths. The baths are definitely worth going to for a relaxing morning or afternoon, but if you’re a woman or with a woman, be sure to choose one that is coed as several are for men only during the week. In this day and age I find that ridiculous, even if the intent is to keep with the historical Turkish tradition, and as an American woman I don’t like being told I can’t do something because I’m a woman. So I chose the Széchenyi Baths which are coed seven days a week. Gellert baths are also popular and coed all of the time. Rudas baths were highly recommended by my Airbnb host, but are men-only during the week. Most baths open at 6 AM, and if you go early, you’ll enjoy a more relaxing visit with the older Hungarians of the city. A few hours later you’ll be joined by the crowds.

Széchenyi Baths

Along with the thermal baths, the ruins pubs are a big attraction in Budapest. I had heard a lot about them, but not being much of a drinker or partier (those that were with me at New Year’s, shut up), I wasn’t all that interested. But it turns out you can hardly avoid them – the pioneer ruins pub Szimpla Kert is on the route of the walking tours. And there are numerous pub tours now offered. I saw these clubs as an interesting way to reuse stuff, probably a crazy fun way to party and dance all night for the younger crowd, and a bit of a fire hazard? I’m old, I know. I’m not the target for ruins pubs.

Szimpla Kert, ruin pub
Szimpla Kert, ruin pub
Chicken Paprikash

Of course a big part of travel is often to find the best restaurants, trying the local cuisines of the countries you visit. None of us want to be that tourist that won’t eat the local food. But in a place like Hungary, I really think you can be forgiven for not going for it more than a couple of times. That’s my hope anyway. I just don’t love that heavy meaty Hungarian food, but had some great Thai, Indian, Mediterranean and European dinners. Budapest has a ton of great restaurants, most of which are not Hungarian, so feel free to explore.

Budapest’s reputation of an all-night party culture is just one small piece of this dynamic city. It has something for everyone, whether you are out until 6 AM drinking and dancing, up at 6 AM running or bathing in the thermal baths, or just out all day admiring the city.

Margaret island’s 5.5 km rubber running track goes around the entire island

For more photos of Budapest, see the photo gallery.

Finding the familial in Slovenia

Lake Bled

You have a list somewhere, I’m sure you do. Some people call it a “bucket list” (although that has always felt too end-focused for me). Some simply have a list of destinations. Whatever you call it, stop what you are doing right now, and go get it. Write “Visit Slovenia” on it. Make sure your arrow inserts it at the top.

Slovenia truly has it all. Within the few hours it takes to drive across, you’ll travel through mountains and grassy fields and farmland, find beaches, meet wonderful people, breath in the cleanest air, hear some funky music, and be made to feel the most welcome. The tour buses are far enough apart to get through. The locals will mostly go about their business, always being sure to give you a smile.

Ljubljana’s town square

I chose Slovenia as a part of my travels as a way of finding out a little more about where I come from. I don’t know much about my ancestors, but I have this one wonderful little piece of information that my great-grandparents, my mother’s mother’s parents, were from two tiny farming villages outside Lake Bled, and were married there in the picturesque church on the tiny lake island.

Church of the Assumption, Lake Bled

If you are to have one piece of information on your ancestors, something like this is the information to have. It was an incredible feeling being able to walk up the 99 stairs to the church, looking around, wondering about who they were, what they were seeing, and how they felt that day. After my visit to Lake Bled, my tour guide offered to take us on a 5-minute detour to see the two farm villages where my great grandparents were from. It did take all of five minutes to see these tiny places, surrounded by farmland and the Julian Alps. I wondered how they adjusted to Cleveland, Ohio after this. (Side note: Cleveland has the highest population of Slovenians outside of Slovenia. Most immigrated there between 1880 and 1923, seeking economic opportunity.)

My great grandparents are from the tiny neighboring farm villages of Koritno and Bodesce. View through the car window.

This experience reinforced something I often think of under the Trump presidency. We are a nation of immigrants. I am here because America welcomed my ancestors from Slovenia, Hungary and Germany. Perhaps the “America First” philosophy would be reconsidered if more people visited the countries from which their ancestors came.

But I digress, and enough about me. Let’s get back to Slovenia, and it’s cozy capital, Ljubljana.


Ljubljana is quite small for a capital city, making it easy to navigate by foot. It was also voted the the European Green Capital in 2016, for many reasons such as it’s pedestrianization of the city center, move from car-focus to focusing on pedestrians, cycling, and public transit, and move towards a zero waste objective. Slovenia was also declared the world’s first “green country” by a Netherlands-based organization called Green Destinations.

Ljubljana castle, perched above the city

Slovenia apparently has about 100 castles, and as much as I feel like if you’ve seen one castle, you’ve seen them all, Ljubljana castle is worth visiting. A climb up the tower allows you to see the entire city, and the countryside beyond. And the museum does an excellent job of capturing Slovenia’s history, all the way to 1991’s move to independence from Yugoslavia.

Street musicians / cyclists

If you visit Ljubljana, it will take you no time at all to discover the quirky creative side of Slovenians. Street art and street musicians are everywhere. I also often had the feeling Slovenians weren’t focusing on art for art’s sake, but just a natural disposition towards finding beauty and expression in their everyday lives.

Slovenians love more than their art and music. They have a great love for sport and the outdoors. When I go back, which I most certainly will, I’ll be sure to take advantage of the river rafting, hiking, kayaking and other outdoor adventures offered throughout the region.

Škocjan caves: photo credit www.park-skocjanske-jame.si

If cave exploring is of interest to you, the Skocjan caves and Postojna caves are popular tourist attractions definitely worth while. I chose the Skocjan caves for the sole reason that they are less-crowded than the Postojna caves, and that you hike through them rather than being taken on a tram ride. The Postojna caves are better suited for those unable to hike, and perhaps those that want to be able to take photos (no pictures allowed in Skocjan, which helps keep the visitors moving through and focused on their path). Although I didn’t visit the Postojna caves, I did make a stop to see the Predjama castle which sits at the mouth of the cave. Truly stunning.

Predjama castle, Postojna cave

And finally, as a part of an all-day tour I did for the caves and Predjama castle, we also stopped for a few hours in the sea-side village of Piran. On that next trip to Slovenia I mentioned, where I’ll hike and kayak and raft, I’ll also be sure to take a few days to relax in Piran. Not a ton to do there other than swim and sunbathe and eat and relax. Active vacations always require a little downtime.


For more photos of Slovenia, see the photo gallery. And if you’ve been to Slovenia, let me know what you thought!

Croatia intrigues with intense beauty and complicated history


There’s a line in a Donna Tart book that says “That day… had the quality of a memory; there it was, before my eyes, and yet too beautiful to believe.” I have felt this way most days on the Dalmatian coast of Croatia. The rocky coastline and clear blue waters can take one’s breath away.

But Croatia is more than just a pretty face. Many of us clearly remember those years in the early ‘90s when the evening news was often reporting on a war far away. Tom Brokaw speaking of Yugoslavia and concepts of tremendousus importance, which I couldn’t begin to grasp at the time. “Bosnia”, “Sarajevo”, “Croatia”, “Serbs”, “Croats”, all mentioned in reporting of armies, bombings, strongholds, ethnic cleansing, civilian casualties, and fighting for independence. I remember it, but didn’t understand it then. And I certainly didn’t realize that was just a small snippet within a thousand years of seeking independence.

Dubrovnik’s Stradun Street in 1991’s bombings after they declared independence from Yugoslavia

I won’t recap that history here – you’ll find better resources on the internet to provide the full and accurate story. I’ll skip to the present, when an independent Croatia as it is today has only been in existence since 1991 and continues to build itself up from its battle scars. And what a wonderful job it has done.

A peaceful Stradun Street, Dubrovnik, today

The moment I set foot in Croatia I felt welcome. Although touristy, it is a welcome tourism. After all, tourism accounts for close to 20% of GDP from the 14 million or so tourists per year. So if you’ve heard that Croatia is up and coming, and you should try to go before the tourists truly discover it, sorry, that ship has sailed.

Early season tourist crowd in Split

But that doesn’t make it any less lovely. Especially if you go in pre- or post-season, or on the fringes. I can’t imagine the crowds and the heat in July and August, but May has been perfect. Mid-70s most days, thin crowds in Dubrovnik and Split, no crowds in Korčula. The water is a bit cold but not too cold – let’s call it “refreshing”. The tour guides and people in the service industry are refreshed and energized from their winter breaks. And you can get into most restaurants and excursions without pre-booking.

May and September are arguably the months to visit, and from my experience of May I would definitely agree. And if you can only go to one region in Croatia, the Dalmatian coast should be top of your list. On my next visit I’ll be sure to explore beyond it, but here is a quick recap of the places I visited.


View of Dubrovnik from the old city walls

Dubrovnik’s ancient city walls enclose a beautiful old town with a dwindling local population. Tourism can do great things in building economies, but it can also drive up rents beyond affordable pricing, especially in a country with a 20% unemployment rate. So as beautiful as Dubrovnik is, the old town runs the risk of becoming another Disney Land type tourist destination. That said, I absolutely loved it (when not feeling guilty about driving out the locals). The Croatians there mostly depend on tourism and make their annual income in the seven months when the majority of tourists are there. There are plenty of walking tours to help ground you in the turbulent history, and excursions to get you out on the water.

Bellevue beach

Out on the water was pretty much where I always wanted to be. The three-hour kayaking trip around Lokrum island is a lot of fun, as are the short boat cruises for panoramic views. There are a few beaches nearby that require some work to get to, and water shoes are a must on these rocky pebbly beaches (no sand here). Bellevue beach was my favorite, and since it is hard to get to, there were no crowds.

Hike up Mount Srd

One of my favorite things I did was a 7 AM hike up Mount Srd (don’t be too impressed by the hour – with sun up at 5:00, it’s hard to sleep in). There’s a cable car that most people take, running from 9:00 until sunset. But a hike up the mountain allows you to see much more than you would from the cable car, and also to get there before the crowds.



Split is larger than Dubrovnik, and although tourism is plentiful here, the city does not solely rely on it. Split is a working city with plenty more opportunities to get away from the tourist center if you like. Yet there is no shortage of tourist-targeted excursions and tours. I chose a catamaran day-trip that focused on relaxing on the boat, a few swimming stops, and a visit to Hvar. Other popular excursions will bring you to more islands and caves on a speed boat – perhaps you see more, but a little less relaxing?

Summer Blues Catamaran
Docking in Hvar – no color enhancements have been made to this photo

The walking tours around Split’s old town help map out the ruins of Roman Emporer Diocletian’s retirement palace, from which much of the old city was built. Walking through the narrow streets you get glimpses of the crumbled palace walls – what a retirement home this must have been!

Diocletian palace ruins make up much of Split’s old town


Korčula town on Korčula island

Many travelers coming to Dubrovnik or Split look for a little island time as well, often choosing between Korčula and Hvar. Korčula was my choice for being known as a quieter sleepy island, more relaxed than Hvar, known for a good night life and celebrity sightings. My initial itinerary had me in Korčula for three nights, but I loved it so much I quickly returned for another five. Extended travel can be exhausting, and a place like Korčula is perfect for recharging the batteries. Morning runs, long breakfasts, reading, swimming, sunbathing, and dinners watching the sunset – island time leaves you wanting nothing more.

A beach on Korčula island

Korčula’s tourist season runs mid-June through the end of August, so I was lucky to be here pre-season, pre-crowds. The disadvantage was that some of the excursions and tours weren’t really up and running yet, and although they could have offered them for a small group, it didn’t make financial sense for just me. But the benefit of that was finding things I wouldn’t have ordinarily done, like kayaking on my own, or hiking to another town. And some tour companies are looking for business, so I was able to do a private boat tour and running tour on Badija island, which I highly recommend.

Side trip: Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina

Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina

Mostar is growing in popularity for tourists, and is often a day-trip from Split or Dubrovnik. I decided to stay a night to see a bit more than I would in just a few hours, however I did find that it really can be covered in that short of a time. I hired a Rick Steves’ recommended guide (of course) who provided an incredibly interesting history of the city, as well as her own personal experiences. Beyond that, Mostar is beautiful when looking past the kitschy tourist shops that have collected near the bridge. And the current mix of three faiths and ethnic groups (Muslim Bosniaks, Catholic Croats, and Eastern Orthodox Serbs) offer a glimpse into much-desired yet tenuous reconciliation. I do think Mostar is well-worth a day trip or overnight, but unless you have a car and desire to further explore more of Bosnia-Herzegovina, then a short time is all that is needed.

Croatia has become an absolute favorite for me. This country had me at “dobor dan”.

For more photos of Croatia, see the Photo Gallery.

Sunset in Korčula


Genoa: A reminder not to judge a book (or city) by its cover

Genoa from a rooftop view

Genoa isn’t typically on the list of destinations for tourists coming to Italy. Its nearby neighbor, Cinque Terre, soaks up most of the visitors of the Italian Riviera. And I’ll admit my list of reasons for doing a three-day stopover weren’t extremely meaningful. I was looking for something on the Italian coast, on the way from Avignon to Florence, and with a nice Airbnb. And so Genoa it was. Plus the quick search of Google images made it look quite similar to Cinque Terre, and who wouldn’t want to relax at an Airbnb that looks like this?

Rooftop deck of my Airbnb

Not until a few days before leaving for Genoa did I start planning for it. Not too much came up online to provide ideas of what to do, and that’s fine because a few restful days in Italy will still be wonderful. Then I checked Google maps for my Airbnb location. The street view came up with a dark alley, graffiti, definitely a prostitute standing on the corner, and a group of young men standing outside the bar across the alley. Oh goodness, what I have gotten myself into?

Genoa’s historic old town has some dark alleyways, but street lights do come on after dark.

When I arrived in Genoa and walked to the Airbnb, I came across at least ten prostitutes along the way. Street numbers were a bit haphazard so I was walking back and forth, luggage in tow, cell phone out, “Tourist here!” sign above my head. Then I saw the “Fuck Gentrification” graffiti that I remembered from Google maps, the bar with the men in front, and found my Airbnb. Deep breath, I can handle this.

Genoa’s historic old town by day

Google images of Genoa had me thinking I was visiting an alternate Cinque Terre. Google maps led me to think I would be staying in a high-crime scary dark alleyway. Genoa and the historic old town where I stayed were neither, and within just a few hours of my arrival I started falling in love with the city.

Genoa: an Italian port city

Genoa is a port city, capital of the Liguria region, and has played a central role in maritime trade for centuries. It is a city of close to 600,000 residents whom do not rely on tourism. It is beautiful and gritty, welcoming and charming, and not for the sensitive tourist used to having all accommodations met.

Genoa: a city of elaborate architecture
Genoa: a city with piazzas at the end of every street

Genoa is a city of piazzas, where at the end of many of the narrow medieval lanes are beautiful squares surrounded by colorful buildings. The former wealth of the city is prominently on display in the architecture. Many of the most beautiful buildings are on narrow streets with the only views available are the ones as you crane your neck upwards.

Genoa: a city of vibrant color

It is also a city of hills and stairways. Although I definitely recommend a visit to Genoa, those with mobility impairments will have a tougher time at least in the hills and the historic old town.

Genoa: a city of hills and stairs
Genoa: the birthplace of pesto

Genoa is apparently the birthplace of pesto, and it is incredible. They have also mastered a Genoese focaccia recipe that will knock your socks off. This should not be taken lightly. I will dream of that pesto and focaccia for years to come.

I highly recommend a visit to Genoa if you are in the neighborhood. It’s as beautiful as the rest of the Italian Riviera if you don’t mind a little realism in your beauty shots. The people are welcoming as most Italians away from the tourist centers can be. Although walking tours are in short supply (they are offered I believe on weekends and a few certain days of the month), there is still enough to provide a wonderful visit for tourists for a few days.

As I researched more about the city, I felt enormously better about my location when I found that prostitution is legal in Italy, a fact I did not know despite several trips to this country. It just seems a bit more prominently on display in Genoa’s old town. I always felt safe, perhaps a testament to the legalization of vices. And if it still worries you, stay out of the narrow old town alleyways and you’ll be just fine.

For more pictures of Genoa, see the Genoa photo gallery.



Avignon, the popes, and oh that mistral!

Palais des Papes

Did you know that for 70 years the popes of the Catholic church governed from Avignon, and not Rome? Me neither! And I grew up Catholic, and have been to Rome a few times. I think it might be something the Catholics don’t like to talk about much.

The history of this Avignon papacy is complex, so here I will greatly oversimplify. In 1305, the French pope Clement V was elected by a deadlocked conclave following significant discontent between the King of France and the Roman papacy. Clement V decided not to move to Rome, and instead brought the papal court to him in Avignon. Seven popes then ruled from Avignon before Pope Gregory XI elected to move the papacy back to Rome.

That wasn’t the end of it. Gregory XI died a few months after arriving in Rome. There was then a breakdown in relations between the cardinals and the next pope, Urban VI, creating what was called the Western Schism, a period when there were two popes – one in Rome, and one in Avignon. This lasted 20 more years, and two more Avignon popes, but now those two popes are referred to as “antipopes” and not recognized by the Roman Catholic church.

Or something like that. Like I said, it’s complicated.

Palais des Papes

The papacy’s move to Avignon grew the city from around 4,000 residents to 40,000, making it one of the largest cities in Europe at that time. The Palais des Papes came to be with Benedict XII building the smaller old palace and then Clement VI adding on the massive new palace. It is said that Clement VI was an extravagant pope and thought it necessary to demonstrate the papacy’s wealth and power through this much larger construction. Although that quality of the Catholic church is one of the reasons I left it, I can’t help but be impressed by the Palais des Papes. Definitely worth a visit, and please shake your head with me at the entire tower dedicated to the Pope’s wardrobes.

Pont Saint-Bénézet

Avignon is also well-known for the Pont Saint-Bénezet, also known as the Pont D’Avignon. The bridge was originally built in the 12th century and spanned the Rhône between Avignon and Villeneuve-lès-Avignon. Just 40 years later it was destroyed in a siege by the French, but was soon rebuilt. However the bridge needed constant repair due to the Rhone river floods, and in the 17th century it was abandoned. The remaining four arches of the original 22, along with the Palais des Papes and the Cathedrale Notre-Dame des Doms are now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

There is another major presence here in Avignon that cannot be overlooked if planning travel here, and that is of Le Mistral, the strong, frigid, relentless winds that blow through the Rhone valley roughly 100 days a year. They can blow up to 65 miles per hour, may blow for several days in a row, and have an upside of creating the unusually sunny climate and clear air of Provence.

When these winds started blowing on my first day here, I was certain I would never be warm again. I thought I knew what strong winds felt like – I know the Santa Ana’s in southern California, the prairie winds of Nebraska, and the hawk of Chicago. These winds have nothing on Le Mistral. If your view of a trip to Provence is long walks outside and leisurely espresso’s and wine on terraces, seriously consider the time of year you are going (winter and spring are the worst for the mistral winds), and be prepared that no matter when you go, you might have to face these winds.

Avignon is an interesting city with beautiful views, but can easily be visited in a day:

  • Start with a walking tour at 10 AM with Avignon City Tours. Reserve ahead of time and you’ll have a small group tour with tour guide Caroline. She’s extremely knowledgeable and passionate about the city, and since she’s just starting out with her own business, prices are low at €30.
  • After Caroline’s tour, grab a quick sandwich then visit the Palais des Papas.
  • Once you’ve toured the palace, spend some time admiring the massive building from the outside, walk up to the Rocher des Domes park with views of the city and palace, then wander down towards the Pont Saint-Bénezet. I recommend skipping the €5 fee to walk on it, and instead either take the free river shuttle or walk across the Pont Eduoard Daladier to Ile de la Barthelasse. Walk along the Rhone river admiring the views of Avignon and the bridges.
  • Finally have dinner at L’Essential  or at Fou de Fafa. I wasn’t able to make it into Fou de Fafa, but I heard it was excellent and the menu looked incredible. Make reservations, and make me envious by letting me know how it was.
Van Gogh inspiration in Arles

If you decide to stay longer, my day trip with Provence Reservation was a highlight, and included Arles (with a focus on Van Gogh), Orange, Les Baux de Provence, and wine tasting at a Chateauneuf-du-Pape cellar. I would highly recommend this company – the tour was thorough and the tour guide quite knowledgeable.

Avignon will not make my list of cities to which I will return. The winds were freezing, my skin is so dry it’s turning to paper, and my hair is a permanent rat’s nest. I couldn’t quite figure the city out, and the people here had no patience for my mispronunciations in French. But the history is fascinating and the locals do love it, so this is just one point-of-view. Have you been? If so, leave a comment and let me know what you thought!

For more photos of Avignon and Arles, see the photo gallery.

A little secret called Uzès

A street in Uzès

Uzès is a small provincial town seemingly yet to be discovered by American, English or Asian tourists. Since my blog following is still quite small (Hi Mom!), I think it’s ok for me to share this little secret. If you come to Provence, come to Uzès.

Uzès is the kind of town that forces you to just stop. There is nowhere else you need to be. There are no tour guides, walking tours or “must-see” attractions. Its allure is in the food, wine and the town itself.

I had nearly five days here, and most days went like this: As I left the house in the morning I would go to my first patisserie. Then on to a cafe for an espresso, followed by a morning run exploring the countryside. Afterwards, I would walk a little around the town to find a restaurant for lunch. Then more walking around to choose my next patisserie, then either more walking or back to my room to rest. In the evening I would go for a glass of wine, then find a place for dinner. Yes, that is all. Eat. Run. Eat. Walk. Rest. Eat. Repeat.

One of the many wonderful patisseries

There are a few tourist sites to see, and Uzès does seem to be a tourist destination for the French. Uzès history starts with the Romans (as does much of this part of the world), and the building of a 50km aqueduct in 50 AD to carry water from the source in Uzès to Nimes. The Pont du Gard is the highest of all elevated Roman aqueducts and one of the best preserved.

Pont du Gard

Uzès is also home to the First Duke of France, who according to Discover Uzès has precedence over all the nobles except the royal princes, and was the only prince entitled to say the ritual motto “Le Roi est mort, vive le Roi” (The King is dead, long live the king), which was the expression of the durability of the royal power. The First Duke of France also had to assist the king at war: 21 Dukes of Uzès were killed or injured on battle fields. The current Duke often resides in Le Duchy d’Uzès, which was an interesting (although non-English) tour and great views from the tower.

Le Duchy d’Uzès

The markets on Saturdays and Wednesdays are lively and full of all varieties of meats, cheeses, vegetables and fruit, as well as some of the popular dried lavender and provencal herbs. This would be a bit more fun if you have a kitchen to use, but nice to experience just the same.

Wednesday market in the town center Place Aux Herbes

I did my best to try every patisserie in town, but couldn’t quite get to them all. Every one had wonderful pain au chocolat and various pastries. La Nougatine may have been just a small cut above the rest.

A sweet from La Nougatine. I made it about five steps out of the bakery before sitting on some stairs and eating this. The next time I went I ordered to stay and eat there, the more civilized approach.

The many cafes offer different ambiance. La Vieux Cafe d’Aniathazze became my favorite for the warm cozy interior. Another notable mention is Cafe L’Esplanade, which feels like a blue-collar bar with mostly men that smell of cigarettes. Its an interesting atmosphere of feeling like a seedy bar where instead of booze they’re drinking coffee.

Cafe de L’Esplanade

There are many great restaurants to choose from, and in small towns like this I recommend walking around and seeing which one seems to call to you. But if you are short of time, I can highly recommend Le Bec à Vin, which served the best Foie Gras I’ve ever had, and thankfully is open on Sundays and Mondays when many other restaurants in Uzès are closed (therefore I ate there twice, both times incredible). Le comptoir du 7 is pricier and fancier but delicious and well-worth the price. Le Pieton d’Uzès is a great option for less money. Here is where I had my one and only English conversation, where the woman there took at least five minutes explaining every one of the 30 or so tapas they serve. I’ll never forget the calamari salad and eggplant tapenade.

Foie Gras at Le Bec a Vin

Uzès is romantic, quiet, true local Provence, and I highly recommend it to anyone that can settle in and enjoy the French life.

For more photos of Uzès, see the Photo Gallery.

Deliberate Discomfort


Back home I know everything. Truly. Everything! I know my running routes, what I like for breakfast, and the best coffee in my neighborhood. I know that I like soy milk in my coffee and how to ask for it. I know when to tip and exactly how much. I know where I am and where I’m going, and how to get there.  I know that if I see dog poop on the sidewalk that it is a major infraction of social etiquette and that I have the right to be annoyed and disgusted.

Figuring out the metro

Now I know nothing. Or very little anyway. My social comforts have all been turned upside down. I’m not sure when I have the right of way vs the car or motorcycle. I don’t understand why nobody picks up after their dogs here. I’m constantly lost, and as I try to find the directions on my map, I can’t seem to hold these foreign names in my head for more than two seconds. The metro directions rarely say what I expect them to. I ordered a sandwich vegetal (vegetarian sandwich, right?) and it was tuna. I’m certain I’ve tipped when I shouldn’t have, tipped far too much or too little when I was right to tip, and not tipped when I should have. I don’t know what I’m eating, or what that crunch just was? I don’t see people running so I don’t know, do people not run in Spain?

This is the beauty of travel, and my chosen state for the next four months. Every time I get where I want to go, successfully do what I want to do, or eat what I want to eat, it is a major achievement. On my second day here I even managed to have an entire conversation without English! It went like this:

Me: Un espresso por favor.
Him: (something in Spanish) aqui (here)?
Me: Si
I drink my coffee.
Me: Cuanto quesa? (How much is it?)

Him: (something in Spanish.)
I have no idea so I give him five euros.
He gives me my change
Me: Gracias!
Him: De nada. Adios!
Me: Adios!

It was a beautiful thing!

Nothing here is normal to me yet, but I’m learning some wonderful aspects of the Spanish, or is it European?, culture. For example, I couldn’t understand the system for cars, motorcycles, bikes and pedestrians, as everyone was everywhere! Chaos! But then I realized the beauty of it – nobody seems to feel that they have more of a right to be somewhere than anyone else. In my six days in Barcelona I did not see one frustrated driver, not one exasperated cyclist, not one clueless pedestrian walking into the street with their head in their phone. Everyone seems quite happy to make their way around everyone else. It was so pleasant, and a reminder that different is often not a bad thing.

Now I’m in Uzes, where nobody speaks English, no signs are in English, and there are no British or American tourists. I don’t speak a word of French other than “merci” and “bonjour”, and it is intimidating to say the least. But I still managed to order a croissant this morning thanks to the international signs of pointing, and I found a stunningly beautiful running route through MapMyRun. Our resources are everywhere.

All it really takes is putting the discomfort aside, and knowing that things can be figured out easily enough. What’s the worst that can happen? Not much. Eyes open, and we will always find our way. 


Beautiful Barcelona

Placa Reial
Placa Reial

Barcelona lives up to the hype. It is absolutely everything everyone said it would be. I’ve heard comparisons to Venice due to the high amount of tourism, however the two are incomparable. Venice, although a beautiful piece of art, exists now seemingly solely for tourists. A trip to Venice guarantees gorgeous photos, with an unseen throng of tourists lined up behind every photographer, waiting their turn for the perfect selfie spot. But unlike Venice, Barcelona cannot be captured in photos. Barcelona should be lived and experienced, not just seen and visited. While Venice is good in a 1-2 day visit, Barcelona requires at least a week. While getting away from the tourists in Venice is nearly impossible, in Barcelona just move a few blocks away from the Ramblas and anything Gaudi. Learn the process for tapas and pintxos plus a few words of Catalan and you can immediately fit right in with the locals.

My week in Barcelona was incredible. I hope you get a chance to visit, and if you do, here are a few of my recommendations:

Get a map and metro card. First things first, get a detailed street map and learn the metro system. The city is easily navigable by foot and metro. No taxis needed.

You can’t avoid the Ramblas. Although you may want to. It unfortunately runs through the center of everything. Just avoid the restaurants – you can get much better food and drink away from this street.

Gaudi is worth the crowds. You won’t find anything like him anywhere else in the world. The exterior of the Casa Batllo was my personal favorite, but his work and his influence can be seen in numerous buildings. La Sagrada Familia’s interior is worth the entry fee, especially with the late afternoon sun filtering through the red/orange stained glass windows. If you’ve done other Gaudi tours in Barcelona, I personally feel the live tour at Sagrada Familia can be skipped. Especially if you have a guide book that describes some of the detail.

La Sagrida Familia around 5:00 pm

There’s no walking tour like a free walking tour. I’ve taken more than my share, and the Runner Bean Tours (www.runnerbeantours.com) in Barcelona are the best I’ve experienced anywhere. The Gothic Quarter tour and the Gaudi tour were both fantastic, and the night tour (€18) focusing on the “darker side of Barcelona” was interesting for it’s history lessons and outlandish stories.

Tour the Palau de la Musica. If you like beautiful things, the Palau de la Musica should not be missed. It is like being inside a piece of art. The tour is good, but even better would be to catch a live performance.

Palau de la Musica

Get out of the city once if you can. It’s nice to see the Spanish countryside outside of Barcelona, and there are numerous tours offered. I took a wine-tasting tour (go figure) through Castle Experience Wine Tours and had a wonderful time learning about cava and wine at the two vineyards. The tour guides were knowledgeable and fun. The company also offers wine tours combined with a visit to Montserrat, which I did not do but heard great things.

Cava tour at Rabetllat i Vidal winery

Eat and sleep with the locals. My Airbnb for €20/night was perfect, and gave me a chance to get away from the touristy area and experience real life in Barcelona. And one of the best nights I had was a dinner through Eatwith (www.eatwith.com) which pairs local host chefs with foodies for communal dining. There were I believe 8 of us, mostly visitors to Barcelona, with our chef Rudi, for an incredible dinner and really fun conversation. I’ll be looking to do this as I travel throughout Europe. Why eat alone if you don’t have to?

EatWith at Rudi’s

Park Guell (meh). People may argue with me on this one, but I found the crowds at Park Guell, even at 9 AM, to be a significant deterrent to enjoying this park. Unlike Gaudi’s other work, in which you can let yourself get absorbed into the structures and stories, this park’s Gaudi designs are nearly always covered with people taking selfies. The ceramic art is gorgeous though.

You won’t find a bad coffee, croissant or meal. It seemed everything I had was wonderful, so perhaps it’s best to discover the best places for you. Just a few recommendations though: my favorite wine bars were La Vinateria del Call (thank you Rick Steves!) and Zona D’Ombra (thank you guy from Uruguay!). My favorite tapas were at Orio. And twice I went to Vigo restaurant for their incredible paella as it was close to my Airbnb, and because they served it for one (many places serve for two or more), but I imagine there is great paella everywhere.

Many have told me Barcelona is their favorite city in the world. Everything about it makes it clear as to why.

For more Barcelona photos, see the Photo Gallery.