Day Fifteen. Learning to leave the house a little earlier

We enjoyed our tour with Alex so much yesterday that we had signed up to go on a Rome ‘mysteries‘ tour with him today. He had emphasized that the tour starts promptly at 9:00, and so we made sure to wake up in time to make it. We knew the bus went regularly, and figured that if we caught one right around 8:15, we should be right around the meeting point with about 5 minutes to spare. However, life being as life is, we didn‘t make it to the bus stop until 8:20 and, unlike our luck the other day with buses, we were stranded there until 8:40 while we waited for a bus. It was becoming pretty clear to us that we were going to miss the tour, and we had forgotten our pamphlet with the guides phone number. We got to the meeting point about 15 minutes late, and just sat for a few minutes trying to figure out a new plan for the day. While we waited, an American couple walked up to us that we recognized from the tour the day before. They too had had some problems with the Roman transit system this morning, and were wondering if we had been able to reach Alex, the guide. When they found out that we had forgotten his number, their pamphlet was immediately brought to light, and we were able, somehow, thanks to Jan’s phone plan, to get in contact with the guide. The directions seemed simple enough – go to the edge of the square, turn left, and look for a green door. Until we noticed roughly 5 green doors in a one block area. One of them was on a church, and we figured that was the safest bet, and hallelujah, we found our tour.

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While on the tour, Alex promised us that we would try the BEST ESPRESSO. He stated this quite emphatically. We nodded along but skeptically thought to ourselves about the commission he was probably getting from them, or the link he had, or the amount that we would have to pay for a cup. However, we were pleasantly surprised when we all received a ‘free‘ cup of espresso (the tour still cost money), and it really is a great cup of espresso. Deanna and Nastassia, being coffee enthusiasts, were in love with this little cafe, Sant‘Eustachio, for basically the rest of the day. A little gem, even celebrities are said to visit it when in the area.

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The tour led us past numerous churches, where we got to touch a Michelangelo statue, see some architectural tricks, a saint’s skull, and learn a number of interesting quirks about Rome itself.

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The tour ended at the Franciscan Monastery, after which Alex recommended a little place just down the road that serves good, italian food that isn’t overpriced. They had cold pastas for 5 euros, and rice plates for 8. If we could remember the name of it or where it was, we would love to give you a tip, but all we can say is that it was a little down the road from the Franciscan Monastery.

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Afterwards, we headed over to the Pantheon to fulfill one of Nastassia’s architectural dreams. Jan and Deanna had both been there before but had happily agreed to visit the site one more time for her sake.

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Not wanting to waste our last day in Rome, we wandered back through the Piazza Navona to soak in the sun and the vibe of the city. Quite a few vendors had their things set up and it made for a picturesque walk.

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We wandered all the way back to the Vatican in order to get into the museum, that we had missed the other day. Back up past Castel Sant‘Angelo all the way to the museum was about a 20 minute walk, but we were lucky enough that outside the Vatican museum there was almost no line.

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The Vatican museum is filled with cultural treasures and exhibitions that any art lover would adore. Not the least of which, it is attached to the Sistine Chapel, which in and of itself was an amazing thing to see. Deanna had downloaded an audio tour for the Chapel which was a great idea. A good way to get some extra information about a specific site without having to commit to an entire tour.

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After we had had our fill of culture and art for the day, we headed to the Spanish steps for some quality people watching. The stairs are more slippery than you would imagine, but it was a cool place to visit and relax after such a hectic day.

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Coming back to our flat, Jan got quite the surprise. He had a care package waiting for him from his sister, who had sent it to him before leaving on her own vacation. Magazines, chocolate, mentos, socks, and much more, his absolute favorite part was that she had found their oyster cards from a previous vacation and included them. Those will come quite in handy later in the trip!

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After this, all that was left was for everyone to pack up their things and get ready to part ways for a little while.


Day Two. Don’t touch little girl’s knees

Waking up in Budapest bright and early for a full day of wandering around and exploring the city. A fairly light and easy morning, aside from Nastassia doing an interesting taste test after adding 3 spoons of salt to her coffee, we got ourselves ready and out the door by 10 am.


We began with a free guided walking tour that leads through the high points of both Buda and Pest. After a quick Hungarian pronunciation lesson, BudaPESHT, we also were made to rub a little princess’ knees for luck. Crossing the Chain Bridge over to the Buda side, we passed into an area contributing an entirely different feel to the city.

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The day was a scorcher, but our lovely tour guide assured us that the tap water was extremely clean and fully drinkable, so we were saved from thirst or overpriced bottles of water by the convenient water fountains located all throughout the city. Climbing up to castle hill, which our guide mentioned wasn’t really a hill and also contains no castles, all three of us were charmed by the custom made Hungarian roofing tiles found atop the Matthias Church. Apparently fire resistant, self-cleaning, acid resistant, and water resistant as well, they are a Hungarian invention, proudly kept secret from all other manufacturers. If you want them for your home, you’re going to have to order directly from the Hungarian artisans.

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Done with the tour and not with the rubbing, we all looped back the way we came from to get a second look at some highlights. This pot-bellied police officer is here only to help you find a good meal, in exchange for rubbing his belly and mustache.


St. Stephens basilica is just down the road from this officer, and is the largest church to be found in Budapest. Formerly containing the whole right arm of St. Stephen, it now contains only the fist…or most of it, after some good old Christian relic-sharing. It also contains the burial places of several kings and queens, and a particular football star from the mid-1900s who helped break a 90 year British winning streak. Hungary is apparently no longer such a forerunner for football, and this is now an even touchier subject than their political history. As well, a curious note – this was formerly St. Stephen‘s church, but when the pope rolled on by, he made a side comment of what a lovely basilica Budapest had. No one argues with the pope, and so the church is now renamed.

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Stopping at a smaller vendor for a quick bite, some goulash soup and an enormous slice of pizza sets you back 950 HUF, or 4-5 CAD. Not too shabby! Escaping the heat by dipping our feet in a refreshing public pool – under which a club dubbed ‘Aquarium‘ is located (which we may be returning to later…) – we wrapped up our touristy part of the afternoon.


Handling the more serious, we stopped one of the train stations to book our tickets on our overnight train to our next location. This was supposed to be a quick jaunt, but turned into an hour long endeavor where our tickets for the international train in the capital of Hungary in a big major train station were hand-written by the woman at the cash. Warding off a few questions about whether we were having issues, we finally got the tickets and went merrily on our way to enjoy the rest of our day in Budapest.


Going for a lovely night walk, we found langos, a traditional Hungarian dish, and then washed it down with a few drinks found at their outdoor vendors. Tequila sunrises and Mojito‘s before bedtime? Can‘t say no to that!

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