ParisAfter dominating the UK in 3 short days we headed over to Paris to immerse ourselves in yet another culture. We were separated on our bus ride over so my sister and I took the earlier bus and Kim and Steve left on the later one. We arrived first and attempted to navigate to our apartment in the city. We got to the general vicinity of our place but had no luck tracking down the specific building. After asking a few of the locals for directions we soon realized that 1. We don't speak French and 2. They don't speak English. We eventually stumbled onto our building which was a sigh of relief for about a whole second. The front door had a keypad lock and Kim who was on the second bus had all the info to get in. So again we out of luck in a foreign country where communication was nearly impossible. I contemplated climbing some fences and Kelly walked around knocking on doors. The pestering of people eventually paid off we soon found a young guy who spoke perfect English and perfect French. He welcomed us into his friends apartment where they were just sitting down to eat. They invited us to join them and gave us beer and wine. This guy was the closet thing to an angel for us. His group of 20 something year old friends welcomed us in like we were longtime friends. I know we looked like a hot mess with our backpacks, sweaty clothes, and flustered faces but instantly that changed to a sense of calm and enjoyment to be in the presence of good friends. They helped communicate with the landlord and got things sorted out for us. I cannot thank them enough for what they did.
The next day we explored another new city. Starting with a walking tour we got to see some famous landmarks like Notre Dame, the "Lock" Bridge, the Louvre, Tuileries Garden, and the Eiffel Tower. The coolest and cheapest night of entertainment for us was here in Paris where we had a Picnic under the Eiffel Tower. We walked there with no expectations but to "check it out" but soon decided that a few bottles of wine, delicious bread, and some cheese would make this tourist attraction more authentic. Enjoying a cheap bottle of wine underneath the Tower is one thing I will never forget, another surreal moment along the trip when it felt like that instance at that specific place in time was something out of a movie.
Here are the pictures from Part 3 - Paris
PragueWe were suppose to travel from Paris to Prague via train but after looking up the prices the morning we had to leave we decided otherwise. It was half the price to fly and saved 10+ hours of travel time. In Prague we were to meet up with our cousin Lauren. She arrived first and told us to look for a man holding our name. This luxury of car service was such a surprise but also much appreciated. We were taken to our hotel where we had a room for 2 at a very nice spot in the middle of New Town. At this point in time we were pros at sneaking past the front desk into our room. Our room of 2 was beautiful and easily housed all 5 of us. We began the next day as we normally did in a new country, hopped on a guided tour and got a lay of the land. The town was split into "New" and "Old" town and was divided by a river. This feature reminded me of Pittsburgh and normally this may make one feel homesick but there was no time for that, there was more to explore. We toured a good chunk of the city and prepared for the nights festivities. I was recommended to go to one specific nightclub when we were there - Karlovy Lazne. We did just that and we were blown away. Karlovy Lazne is a 5 story club with different themes, music, and dj's for each floor. To top that on the bottom floor was an ice bar. After working in the nightlife industry I thought I had saw it all. This play was beyond wild. The dj's were mediocre at best which surprised me and prompted the idea of moving out there to enter my head. We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and made our way home ready for the next days travels.
Here are the pictures from Part 4 - Prague
HungaryThe final leg of our journey ended where it began, in hopes to see family that we heard of and also dive deeply into our heritage. My grandmother lived in Hungary until she was 21. She always would tell us stories of her homeland while we were growing up. She kept in contact with her remaining family over there and 2 of the cousins even came over to visit throughout the years. Our goal was to finally fill these childhood stories in our heads with real life images. A train took us to a massive station in Budapest where we arrived late in the day and could not continue our journey to Tokaj. We spent a quick night in Budapest and left on the first train in the morning. Again the greatest thing we learned along this trip was to ask when we were (almost) lost. A very nice man on our train helped us get off at the correct stop and navigate a bus to the city of Tokaj. Tokaj is a wine town minutes from Rakamaz where our grandmother grew up. Waiting at the bus/train station for us is none other than our cousins who visited us in the States years back, Dani and Lazlo. They took us to our B & B house that was arranged by our grandmother. From there we were instructed by them to get ready for the days activities of sightseeing, "family program", and dinner with their family. They took us to some cools spots around town including the highest point in the city on top of a mountain, an old mine quarry that filled with water, and the man vineyards scattered throughout the hillsides. We then moved on to the "family program" which we were clueless as to what expect. They took us to their home where they lived with their family. We met Lazlo Sr., his wife, and their grandmother. They welcomed us in as their own and were excited beyond words to finally see us. We ate an authentic meal they had prepared and it was delicious. After dinner was followed with countless stories. The language barrier was difficult but we adapted and became very good at charades. During the animated storytelling going on Kelly somehow flooded the bathroom which added some fantastic comic relief. Their house was near some sunflower fields which the girls wanted to see so we walked around the neighborhood and checked out the countryside. At some point during our walk Lazlo Sr. got just our attention and sneakily stuck one some of those sticky plant balls on his wifes shirt. We all laughed because she was oblivious as to what was going on. She soon caught on and we all laughed as she returned fire with her own sticky plants on Lazlo Sr. The next moment that was shared I will never forget. Lazlo and his wife shared a kiss and smiled into each others eye. This was not a normal gesture that is shared between couples, this was true love. These two had some energy I have never saw before in my life. As this moment occurred I got chills down my back and my cousin Lauren turned to me and we both acknowledged that we were seeing the same thing. Without saying anything we both agreed with what the other was saying about the simple event that unfolded. Such a small gesture and amount of energy conveyed there and that I was able to experience with extended family across the globe made the entire trip and every dollar spent worth it.
Seeing the family and Tokaj was a once in a lifetime experience and will never be forgotten but for the last time we had to prepare to travel again and move onto the big city of Budapest. We said our sad goodbyes, shed a few tears, and left Dani at the edge of the train trucks where we first saw him. We made it to our last destination of the trip and were put up again by arrangements of our grandmother. This time it was a beautiful apartment style room that was far from the hostels and crammed hotel rooms we started out in. We did the normal city tour and hit a few museums and ruins pubs around our place. Collectively it was decided that we would make a "day" train trip to see the largest lake in the Central Europe - Lake Balaton. Just when we thought we had experienced it all this small side trip would prove otherwise. After a quick train ride we ended up at what seemed like another world. Lake Balaton can be described as an endless sea of water with painted hills in the distance and along the shore is beach lined with a small boardwalk, restaurants, and clubs. We were not expecting this. The day consisted of playing in the crystal clear water and catching some sun rays. Now the girls had planned on only staying the day and catching the evening train home to our place. I had other plans. I packed a bag for the evening and had a pair of "going out" clothes, just in case. We had tons of fun and the morale of the group was through the roof. Sitting on cloud 9 is a good feeling so we wanted to continue the evening there and see where it went. We grab food and try to plan the rest of the evening. At this point we know that there is a late train or an early morning train. I take this opportunity to go to the restaurant bathroom and change into my "going out" clothes. I come back to the table and say "I'm going to catch the train tomorrow morning." The girls fanangle some outfits and hair do's and we head out for the night. We stop in a few spots and end up settling at what seems to be a crazy college bar with people standing on railings and hanging from the ceiling. The night ends up being just as amazing as the day and surprisingly we all find our way home safely to the train and our room. The final days of our Europe trip are very relaxing. We get to experience some awesome city life and even take part in a real life escape room attraction. Steve and I make a trip to the world famous Bathhouse party at SZÉCHENYI which is a story that just has to be told in person. We soaked in the final night along an island on the Danube looking over the city. We sat there along the banks of the river staring into the city skyline and cracked a bottle of champagne. The stories of our trip were retold and we took a step back to realize what an unbelievable trip that we were so fortunate enough to have.
Here are the pictures from Part 5 - Hungary