San Ignacio: Mayan Ruins

Two and half hour drive from Belize City is the small town of San Ignacio—I arrived with a full bladder and an empty stomach at Hode’s, the restaurant where my AirBnB contact was meeting me.  I filled my belly with my first chicken “stew” with beans and rice and coleslaw. I would eat a lot more of both in the weeks to come. Not complaining by the way, it was always delicious. On Caye Caulker, I ate a lot of chicken and shrimp kabobs, also yummy and healthy. Other common selections on most local menus include burritos and fajitas.

After my meal, Suzy and her husband took me to the open air market for some fruits, veggies, and eggs, followed by the grocery store, before taking me to my home for the next seven days, located outside of town.

Cabin by the Mopan River in San Ignacio
Cabin by the Mopan River in San Ignacio

I walked into the small cabin and was amazed by how modern, well decorated, quaint and cozy it was. It lacked nothing—it even had a blender for me to make protein shakes. I knew right away it wouldn’t be difficult to be productive here.

Inside Cabin San Ignacio

I started each morning with a cup of coffee either down by the Mopan River watching the sunrise or comfortably lounging in the hammock on the porch before getting my sweat on exercising.

Sunrise over the Mopan Ricer in San Ignacio
Sunrise over the Mopan Ricer in San Ignacio

Once I’d cooled off in the shower from my workouts, and a proper breakfast, I normally spent a couple of hours writing before venturing out to do some exploring of the local Mayan Ruins. The first ruins I visited were right in town called Cahal Pech. The site was a palacio home for an elite Maya family, and though most major construction dates to the Classic period, evidence of continuous habitation has been dated back as far as 900 BC, making Cahal Pech one of the oldest recognizably Maya sites in Western Belize. The site is a collection of 34 structures, with the tallest being about 25 meters in height. The site was abandoned in the 9th century AD for unknown reasons.

Cahal Pech Mayan Ruins in San Ignacio
Cahal Pech Mayan Ruins in San Ignacio

Cahal Pech Ruins

The following day, I took the 20 minute drive to Xunantunich. I embarked on the manually ran ferry across the Mopan River to make my way to the ruins. This site was bigger, but just as peaceful, well groomed, and even more impressive than Cahal Pech. Xunantunich served as a Maya civic ceremonial center in the Late and Terminal Classic periods to the Belize Valley region. During this period, the region was at its peak, nearly 200,000 people lived in Belize, which is impressive considering that the current population in Belize is about 300,000.

Xunantunich Mayan Ruins
Xunantunich Mayan Ruins

Xunantunich Ruins

The Mayans definitely knew how to pick prime real estate. I didn’t hire a guide, although one could have been procured before getting on the ferry for $60 BZE. I wanted to be able to walk the site at my own leisure.

I spent a full day writing, the next day, in anticipation of taking a day off to check-out the Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) cave. I only stopped writing to cool off in the river by doing some tubing. River and cave tubing are very popular activities in Belize, but you do have to be careful of the little fish who like to nibble on whatever they find in their environment. I’ll admit it freaked me out when they surrounded me, it felt like I was getting stung. Needless to say, I didn’t stay in the river very long. It was none the less quite refreshing.

I booked my ATM tour with Pacz Tour which is located on Burns Street (the main street in San Ignacio). You can’t visit the ATM cave without a tour guide…and quite frankly, you couldn’t even if you wanted to. It’s a dark, wet, and confusing place. The guide provided us with a helmet and head lamp. He used a larger flashlight to make sure we didn’t miss the highlights of the cave.

The ATM cave is notable as a Maya archaeological site that includes skeletons, ceramics, and stoneware. The most famous of the human remains is known as “The Crystal Maiden”, the skeleton of a teenage girl, probably a sacrifice victim, whose bones which have been completely covered by the natural processes of the cave, leaving them with a sparkling appearance. There are several such skeletons in the main chamber.

Actun Tunichil Muknal Remains

We learned during the tour that the ceramics at the site are significant partially because they are marked with “kill holes”, which indicates they were used for ceremonial purposes. The kill holes ensured the bowls could never be used again.

Actun Tunichil Muknal Pottery
Actun Tunichil Muknal Pottery

The sheer size of the cave, with its rock formations, and large chamber where the remains are located competed as attractions with the almost 3,000 years old artifacts and skeletons. It was impressive.

Pictures are not allowed inside the ATM, since a few years ago, someone dropped their phones and destroyed one of the skeletons.

I would’ve liked to have visited Caracol, which is the largest Mayan ruins in Belize, located in another worth attraction, Mountain Pine Ridge, but I had more writing to do and was running out of time. I figured it’s a wonderful reason to go back to San Ignacio. I can definitely see myself spending more time in that lovely cabin by the river writing another book!

This was the life!
This was the life!

 

Caye Caulker: Writing and Water Activities

“Slow down, why you walking so fast, man. Take it slow.” One of the locals said to me in a Caribbean accent. I smiled at him and nodded. I had no reply for him, I always walk like I have somewhere to go.

My day started with a 0300 wakeup call. After making a protein shake, getting dressed, and stripping off the bed, my dad was already asking me if I was ready to go. He was driving me to the airport. I replied I needed at least another 15 minutes. This was my third time leaving to a new distant land to go write a book in The Chapters of My Life Series. I had packed the night before, and for once, I’d been able to cut back on what I was taking with me. But, I still needed to grab the last of my things, before I could head out the door.

The flights to Belize City, from Boston, via Miami, unfolded without any issues. I arrived, and, as soon as I had my luggage, my long sleeve shirt was stripped off, down to a tank-top, and my sneakers switched out for sandals before I made my way to the local gate for my flight to Caye Caulker. It was beach time! It’d snowed during my short two weeks back to Massachusetts, so I was excited to get back to the beach.

I was the only passenger on the small propeller plane heading to Caye Caulker. I could’ve taken a water taxi, it would‘ve been cheaper, but also longer. Since I get sea sick, the 10 minute plane ride worked for me. I felt like a well-traveled millionaire taking a private plane to my own island! The water was a beautiful, clear blue, and welcoming me to my home for the next seven days.

On my solo flight to Caye Caulker
On my solo flight to Caye Caulker

I landed, exited the plane, and was asked if I needed a taxi. I wasn’t sure where my Airbnb cottage was located so I accepted the offer the attendant made of calling me a taxi. The island is only five miles long and a mile wide, at its widest point, so I was pretty sure I could’ve handled the walk, but how many times do you get to take a golf cart as a taxi? There are very few cars on Caye Caulker, transportation is either by golf cart, bicycle, or on foot.

Riding in my golf cart taxi
Riding in my golf cart taxi

I checked-in to my new home, traded everything I was wearing for a bathing suit and shorts, applied sun tan lotion, and went exploring—that’s when I was called out for walking too fast. I would later learn the moto of the island is in fact: Go Slow.

Go Slow!
Go Slow!

Caye Caulker is a simple place, with a few streets, and about a half mile ocean front strip with a few restaurants, bars, a coffee shop, and a few places advertising rooms for rent. There are no resorts to be found. One side of the island is for tourists, and the other side, for its residents. Although small, and designed for tourism, it didn’t feel touristy. There’s a healthy selection of companies from which to select snorkeling, or diving tours to a plethora of spots all advertising exciting sights and sea life.

Caye Caulker Front Street

Beach Strip
Beach Strip

Caye Caulker Water Taxi

I did a one day sailing and snorkeling tour with Raggamuffin tours. I hadn’t snorkeled since my time on Okinawa, a good 14 years ago. It was an excellent tour—took sea sickness pills, so I didn’t have any issues. We stopped in three different locations, and the guides took us around pointing out the sea creatures and different aspects of the thriving barrier reef. Most memorable was swimming with the nurse sharks, string rays, and seeing a green eel. We were treated to juicy pineapple and watermelon on the way to our initial stop, lunch after our first excursion, and delicious shrimp ceviche on our way back. I met and chatted it up with a couple from Quebec, and later a guy from Toronto. I encountered quite a few Canadians on this trip. It was a splendid day!

Caye Caulker Tour Company

Aside from my day out at sea, snorkeling, my time on Caye Caulker was spent in a routine of waking up early, exercising on the beach, having breakfast at the Caribbean Colors Art Café (loved both their egg whites omelets, which came with a nice serving of fruits, and yummy banana bread and their banana pancakes, which were light and fluffy), writing, followed by taking various breaks to enjoy some sort of water activity.

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I rented a sea kayak a few times. My first sea kayak experience was in Dubrovnik where I initially struggled, lagging behind the other couple on the tour with me. But eventually—I figured out how to paddle properly, something I remembered how to do. I surprised myself with how easily and familiar paddling felt once I got back in a kayak. I had kayaked one other time, at Lake Bled, in Slovenia.

Kayaking Caye Caulker

Up in the neutral position
Up in the neutral position

My Caye Caulker first was wind surfing. I didn’t know what to expect. I certainly didn’t think it was going to be easy, but I also didn’t think the two hour lesson was going to wear me down, as much as it did. The sail was so much lighter than I expected it to be, meaning, it didn’t offer me the balance I was looking for. The balance, my instructor kept reminding me, is in leaning back and keeping my arms straight while comfortably keeping my hips forward. The position he wanted me in, was not one my body allowed me to achieve. I fell a lot and had to hop back on the board, re-establishing myself into the neutral position. I did manage to learn some of the basics like the neutral position, front and back turns, and I even sailed back and forth for a bit. If I lived by the beach, I’m pretty sure I would pick-up windsurfing as a regular addition to the activities I partook in.

The day came when it was time to go and I felt bummed out. I was a little behind on my word count, and definitely not ready to leave. It was with a heavy heart I looked back at the tiny island, surrounded by clear blue water, as I flew back to the mainland to pick-up my vehicle for the next leg of my adventure.

Puerto Rico: Beaches and Rainforest

My primary reason for being in Puerto Rico was to write. I need to emphasize that my current traveling is not for vacation purposes. I’m traveling to have new and stimulating places to write from – the traveling makes my writing more inspiring and interesting.

I picked Puerto Rico based on the cheap airfare. This turned out to be a mistake because this is not a cost effective place to travel to, Puerto Rico is a beautiful island, but also quite expensive. It is however, convenient, the currency is U.S. dollars, and while Spanish is the main language, most people speak English. I also rented a car which made exploring that much easier.

Old San Juan

I spent three days in Old San Juan. The highlight was touring Castillo San Felipe del Morro. Lying on the northwestern-most point of the islet of Old San Juan, Castillo San Felipe del Morro is named in honor of King Philip II of Spain. The fortification, also referred to as el Morro or ‘the promontory,’ was designed to guard the entrance to the San Juan Bay, and defend the Spanish colonial port city of San Juan from seaborne enemies. (Wikipedia)

Castillo San Felipe del Morro
Castillo San Felipe del Morro

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Had I not been busy writing, three days would have been too long in Old San Juan. There isn’t that much to do, but I enjoyed walking around during my writing breaks.

The Mountains

From Old San Juan, I spent a week in the mountains where it unfortunately rained all week. Had it not rained so much, I really think I would have been able to enjoy a few wonderful hikes. On one cloudy but dry afternoon, while the power was out, I took a walk on the road and enjoyed the scenery.

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Making my way in, out, and through central Puerto Rico (mountainous area) during my stay was a pleasure. The lush green Rainforest landscape provided fabulous views. It’s easy to drive for a few hours when surrounded by beauty – even through constant twists and turns.

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Camuy River Cave Park

In between my time in the mountains and the beach I visited the Camuy River Cave Park – Parque Las Cavernas del Rio Camuy. This cave is the third largest underground cave system in the world and the Rio Camuy runs through it. The tour takes an hour, and the Cave is a marvel that took 11 million years to create. It’s one of those places that pictures can’t do justice. I left in awe of nature’s power and wonder.

Camuy River Cave Park Camuy El Rio

The Beaches

I visited many beaches in Puerto Rico, and clearly, beaches are the top reason to go to Puerto Rico. Unfortunately, my planned trip to Vieques didn’t pan out. Vieques and Culebra are two islands to the East of Puerto Rico – had I been better educated about them, I would have planned to spend a few days on one of the islands. You can rent a hotel and a car on either islands.  Apparently, some of the most beautiful beaches in the world are on those islands.

The trick to getting there is by taking a ferry from Fajardo, but you have to get there a few hours before the departure of the ferry to get on. The ferry only runs a few times a day. It’s cheap to take the ferry and there are other ways to get to the islands that are more reliable, but also more expensive.

I showed up two hours before the ferry left, but didn’t make it on. I was totally bummed out. I was looking forward to touring the island on bike and enjoying some time on the beach. This was the day before my last day, so I missed out. Again, had I known better, I would have spent a few days there – biking, kayaking and snorkeling.

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Fajardo is also where bio bay is located. You can go on a night kayak trip through bio bay and learn about the Pyrodinium Bahamense, a microscopic plankton capable of producing natural light at the touch of your hand. It looks like glow in the dark water.

This was something else I really wanted to do, unfortunately, I was there during a full moon, and was told not to bother because it was too bright out.

Thankfully, I spent 6 nights staying at a beach house, so I got to spend quality time enjoying the ocean. The water was a perfect temperature. I even tried paddle boarding for the first time. The water was entirely too choppy to stand-up, so it was more like knee paddle boarding. I did stand-up at one point, holding on to to paddle, in an attempt to ride the waves back-in to shore. I did this a few times, it was a lot of fun, until I wiped out and lost my Oakleys.

Ann Bernard on Beach

Rainforest

After missing the ferry, I made the best of the day and headed to the El Yunque National Forest. Getting to the Park was easy, but once it the park, the lack of signs made it confusing. In a nutshell, if you go, keep driving up until you get to the “recreational area”. You’ll know you’re there when you see a large parking lot. Get there early, before 10am, or you’ll have a hard time finding parking and the waterfall will be overcrowded.

On my little hike to the top of El Yunque
On my little hike to the top of El Yunque

The “hike” – it’s really a walk, to the waterfall is easy. People do the walk in flimsy flip-flops but I recommend you at least have sneakers. The walk to the top of the El Yunque Mountain is a few miles and I also did it in sneakers. Hiking boots are not required. The path is well cleared.

I was happy to be “hiking”. Any time I’m on a trail going uphill, I’m happy. The view at the top would have been a lot more incredible had it not been raining.

Top of El Yunque Mountain
Top of El Yunque Mountain

A stop in the rainforest is a good day trip. If interested, there are tours so you can learn more about the vegetation and wildlife.

Overall

I had a couple incidents that were unpleasant and found Puerto Rico expensive, but I also met some nice people, enjoyed my time on the beach, and got my second book written.  If you don’t like finding yourself in completely foreign lands, you want quality beach time and have money to spare – then Puerto Rico is the place for you.

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Dubrovnik: Old Town and Sea Kayaking

I landed in my 31st country at 2:10 pm on June 16th.

I’m indeed keeping a closer country count now, I decided I want to get 40 countries under my belt by 40 (2+ years to get it done) and 50 by 50. The country was Croatia and the city, Dubrovnik. I had this trip planned for months and while I’ll be spending most of my summer in the mountains, I wanted to kick things off by the ocean. The last time I spent time by the sea was last September, in Crete. Which speaking of, it’s exactly what the landscape reminded me of as my driver was taking me to my hotel. The sense of déjà vu rapidly faded once I made my way to the Old City!

I stayed at the Palace Hotel, nestled into the sea side landscape, my room had a fabulous ocean view where I witnessed a few gorgeous sunsets. It was however, nowhere near the Old City. That required getting on the local bus (line 4) and taking a 10-15 minute ride. The bus ran every 15 minutes, so it wasn’t so bad.

Old City (Town) Dubrovnik

It’s no wonder Dubrovnik is one on UNESCO World Heritage list…it’s a unique jewel, a well-kept medieval city of beige rocks and red tile roofs. I’d seen pictures of Dubrovnik on Twitter and Instagram, so I thought I knew what to expect when I walked into the city wall…boy was I wrong. The smoothness of the stone streets, and the cleanliness of the stone buildings and walls made for quite an initial impression. I’ve been in other fortified medieval cities around Europe, and while all different from each other, they all had similarities, which is what I was expecting.  Happily though, I did not get that impression when entering Dubrovnik.

Stradun Street Dubvronik
Stradun Street Dubvronik

Dubronik Street

The main street (called Stradun) was crowded, but I followed it to the end.  Then I began wondering along less crowded side streets. I didn’t really know what I was looking for…I was just doing some exploring. The Old Town is still inhabited by locals, so as I explored, I wondered what life must be like living here now? I wondered what life must have been like centuries ago? Eventually, I realized while it was great to view the city this way, the real way to take a tour was up on the city wall. The city wall runs an uninterrupted course of approximately 1,940 metres (6,360 ft) in length, encircling most of the old city, and reaches a maximum height of about 25 metres (82 ft).

Dubronik view from City Wall

The entrance of the city wall was included in the Dubrovnik City card I purchased for ease of access to the public transportation. A good climb up a set of stairs and there it was…a bird’s eye view of the city. I took my time making my way around and admiring the views over the city and across the Adriatic ocean to the neighboring islands. Luckily, it wasn’t too crowded.

Dubronik Old Town SteepleThe word from the locals is that in July and August when the cruise ships dock into the city, this is not a place you want to be. It’s not considered to be the tourist season yet…although trust me, there were still plenty of people milling about.

Once I ended my tour of the city wall, it was time for dinner. I can’t say I picked the right restaurant. I has sea bass but it was nothing to write about. After dinner, I walked about for a little while longer then headed back to the hotel, arriving just in time to watch the sunset over the ocean.

Sunset Dubrovnik
Sunset Dubrovnik

Sea Kayaking

The way I’ve been living my life the last 18 months, it’s probably hard to believe I’d never sea kayaked before (or ever kayaked at all) but it’s true. It’s one of the things I came to Dubrovnik to do, so I was pretty bummed out in the morning when it started raining and thundering. I didn’t lose hope mind you, I prayed for the sun to come out; I knew for this to be the best experience it could be, it needed to be sunny.

Dubrovnik wall view from the ocean while kayaking
Dubrovnik wall view from the ocean while kayaking

It stopped raining before leaving the hotel, and the sky was clearing up…by the time I made my way to the pier where the kayaking adventure was to begin; the sun was shining. The sun shining was a blessing, but in the end, so was the morning rain. A lot of people cancelled because of the rain, so it was only me and another couple from Ireland in the group. I got my own kayak.

We stopped in this cave for a sandwich and a swim
We stopped in this cave for a sandwich and a swim

Being it was my first time, I struggled a little at first. My strokes were not getting me the momentum I expected, and the steering was proving challenging. Additionally, while I remembered to take my GoPro with me, I forgot the dang simcard (again) so I missed the chance to take some incredible pictures. My phone was in the barrel strapped to the rear of the kayak where my other belongings were also stored to keep them dry. It was a rough start, but a good start none the less. Love new experiences.

Turned into a gorgeous afternoon.
Turned into a gorgeous afternoon.

We circled around Lokrum island, passing a nature made cave and a nudist beach. We made a stop into another less shallow cave, where the guide handed us some sandwiches and snorkel gear. I chose to just swim around, climb some rocks and find out if I could still dive (which I can). The water is insanely clear and absolutely refreshing. Our guide mentioned how lucky we were to be the only ones here…usually on a day like this, the place is crawling with other kayakers. Thankfully, the morning thunderstorm deterred a lot of people.

We kayaked all the way around Lokrum Island
We kayaked all the way around Lokrum Island

Unfortunately, the time eventually came to head back. By then, I had a handle on the kayaking thing and was able to keep up with the guide. We kayaked around 7.5km and spent a good 2.5 hours at sea…enough for me to get a sun burned! It was an amazing afternoon.

How About You?

Have you ever traveled to Dubrovnik?  If so, what was your favorite place to visit?  Have you ever kayaked on the sea? Feel free to comment below or contact Ann’s Adventure Tour Writer and Blogger here.

 

Day 5 Bratislava

The second country (Hungary was the first) that I visited for the first time on this road trip was Slovakia.

I made an overnight stop to Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia after departing Budapest.

Slovakia was another key player in the Hapsburg monarchy. Bratislava was actually designated the new capital of Hungary in 1536, upon becoming part of the Austrian Habsburg monarchy. The city became a coronation town and the seat of kings, archbishops (1543), the nobility and all major organizations and offices. Between 1536 and 1830, eleven Hungarian kings and queens were crowned at St. Martin’s Cathedral.

The 17th century was marked by anti-Habsburg uprisings, fighting with the Turks, floods, plagues and other disasters. Bratislava was replaced by Buda as the capital of Hungary, and much like Budapest, in 1918, its history changed, as it was broken away from its Hungarian-Austrian ties, and became part of Czechoslovakia. Finally, on 1 January 1993, Czechoslovakia was dissolved into was is now the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

I arrived to Bratislava around lunch time, the sky was overcast, and I wasn’t exactly sure what sights to see. Like most places, Bratislava has a castle (hrad), so that seems like as good as any place to kick things off. The woman at the front desk offered me a map, and I started making my way towards the castle.

Bratislava Castle

I ended up stopping at the Old Town Hall and St. Michael’s Gate before making it to the hrad.

The Old Town Hall as a tower, which offers a nice view over the old town. The streets in the old town are filled with cafés with plenty of outdoor sitting, restaurants and a few shops. It’s a quaint and picturesque center.

St. Micheal's gate and street
St. Micheal’s gate and street

I toured the castle, which to be honest was a bit of a disappointment. I was hoping to get more of the history of Bratislava, but instead, what was offered was a series of different exhibitions. One such exhibition, which had really nothing to do with Bratislava, was a WWI exhibition. Admittedly, one of the largest WWI exhibitions I’ve seen. Since all the countries I’d just visited were drastically changed because of WWI, I spent a bit of time reading and learning more about it.

After leaving the castle, I made my way back into the old town and kept exploring.

I ended up in the Jewish neighborhood; I wish I’d known about it prior to my trip. I would have stopped in to the Bratislava Jewish Community Museum.

Bratislava Jewish Neighborhood

I walked on over to St. Martin’s Cathedral, but unfortunately for me, there was a wedding taking place so I wasn’t able to go inside. I did however; go around the church, where I found the most amazing wall with windows filled with VanGogh’s work.

VanGogh Wall 2

At this point, I was hungry and getting tired so I grabbed some dinner and then headed back to the hotel. I took at bath in the whirlpool in my room, and called it an early night. I had a five and half hour drive the next day.

There was one sight I had yet to see, Elizabeth Church.

The Elizabeth Church, aka the blue church, which is considered one of the most beautiful pieces of Art Nouveau architecture in the world.

As it turned out, the following morning, when I took Little Man for a walk, I came across it a block from my hotel…completely unexpected. Definitely one of the most unique churches I’ve photographed.

St. Elizabeth rock sign

St. Elizabeth Church Bratislava
St. Elizabeth Church Bratislava

How About You?

Have you ever visited Bratislava? What was your favorite part?  Feel free to comment below or contact Ann’s Adventure Writer and Blogger here.

Day 3 Budapest: Castle District and Cruise

I woke up on Day 3 in Vienna to an overcast sky and rain. I wanted to go take a picture of the famous status of Johann Strauss in Stadtpark, but didn’t feel like getting wet, so I had breakfast and departed for Budapest.

Budapest Castle District

I spoiled myself in Budapest, starting with staying at the InterContinental Hotel right on the Danube River, and with a private guided tour of the Castle District. The Budapest Castle District is not what it seems, I absolutely advise against seeing it without a guide. My private guide, Andi, was knowledgeable, spoke good English and ensured I learned a lot.

Back of Buda Castle and ruins of former castle
Back of Buda Castle and ruins of former castle

We started the tour from my hotel, as we made our way to the UNESCO World Heritage Budapest Castle District by public transportation; she began my education about the Hungarian people. Hungarians are not European, but nomadic people from Asia who migrated and conquered their way to Central Europe. They were a successful people for centuries and fought many wars to expand their territory but eventually, they began to lose the wars and became the conquered. The Castle District holds all the stories of their history, especially the more recent history for the last 100 years. Hungary has been conquered in the last 200 years by the Turks, and occupied by the Austrians and Russians. Their independence is rather recent.

Front of Buda Castle
Front of Buda Castle

We started the tour with the 13th-century Matthias Church and the turrets of the Fishermen’s Bastion. Matthias is the last of the Hungarian Kings still beloved by his people today. Matthias Church, under the rule of the Turks was a mosque, so it is different compared to other churches across Europe. The inside is much more colorful, it’s also the only church I know which has a severed human foot displayed in a case.

Mathias Church
Mathias Church
Fisherman's Bastion
Fisherman’s Bastion

The view over the Danube, across to Pest from the Fisherman’s Bastion is beautiful. From there we walked over to the President’s house and the castle next to it. Andi had a lot to say about the Prime Minister, the current state of affair in Hungary and the role of the President. She’s not happy with the way things are and concerned with where they’re heading.

View of Parliament Day time

The castle, like much of the entire Castle District has been rebuilt over the last 70 years since much of it was destroyed during WWII.

Some of the reconstruction took place when Hungary was under Russian rule, so the Russian block building concept can be found across Budapest and a little bit in the Castle District. The Hungarian, to protect their history and architectural past, made it mandatory to use whatever former structure was still standing when rebuilding and that’s how you end up with the ugliest Hilton hotel ever. Built during Communist rule, the Hilton hotel is a mixture of 13th, 17th and 21th century architecture. Andi asked how I thought it was possible for Conrad Hilton to build one of his hotels under Russian rule…I guessed money, to which she agreed but it wasn’t just money. She reminded me of his famous, beautiful Hungarian wife: Zsa Zsa Gabour.

Hilton Hotel Budapest Castle District
Hilton Hotel Budapest Castle District

We stopped for coffee and cake and talked some more. Andi spoke highly of Sissi, and how important she was for the Hungarian people. One of the bridges is dedicated to her, and you can find status of her across the city. She said, Sissi fought for the Hungarian people while they were under Austrian rule, and spent a lot of time in Buda. Sissi was the reason Pest was able to get an Opera House. Sissi’s best friend was from Hungary.

View of Key Birdge and Pest

We headed back to the hotel shortly after that; I was quite satisfied with my tour. I highly recommended it and can be booked through Absolute Walking Tours.

Evening Cruise

I didn’t have any plans for my first evening in Budapest, but after my walking tour I felt energized, and interested in learning and seeing more so I inquired about the evening cruise on the Danube. I booked a ticket on the Duna Bella 9pm cruise from the hotel concierge and then headed out to dinner.

Buda and Pest river banks at night
Key Bridge linking Buda and Pest

I have not seen any other city look the way Budapest does at night. Paris might be the city of lights, but it pales in comparison to Budapest due to its location on the Danube River, the many bridges, the Castle District and Parliament. You must take the night river cruise to get the full sense of what Budapest looks like at night.

Key Bridge and Caslte at night

As I walked back to the hotel after my evening river cruise, I felt extremely satisfied with my first day in Budapest. I had seen a lot and learned so much. There’s no way for me to cover everything from that day in a blog post…you must go out and experience it yourself!

How About You?

Have you ever visited the  Budapest: Castle District and Cruise?  Feel free to comment below or contact Ann’s Adventure Writer and Blogger here.