What no one tells you about Budapest, ‘cos the views are breathtaking and the water is magical!

A Hungarian bath in Budapest

We’re back home.

Yipee!

I had a wonderful time in both Budapest and Prague but of course, my beloved Berlin will still be my one and only. Have no fear.

After Manchester of course!

Happy Hungarian people - Budapest Spring Fair 2015
Happy Hungarian people – Budapest Spring Fair 2015

Last week, I told you how amazing Budapest was and that did not change. In fact, Budapest turned out to be so much better than I ever imagined…!

I mean, after 11 years, I was hoping for miracles. And I found them.

Before I go any further let me remind you that I travelled from Berlin to Budapest. From Budapest to Prague. And then from Prague back to Berlin again. By train!

I also spent six (6) days and five (5) nights in two separate hotels.

We stayed firstly at the chic but luxurious Buddha-Bar Hotel Budapest Klotild Palace or simply the Buddha-Bar Hotel and secondly, at the beautiful boutique and musically inspired Aria Hotel Budapest.

The Teatro Aria - Aria Hotel - Budapest.
The Teatro Aria – Aria Hotel – Budapest.

I’ve spoken often about how I like to do things my way and also how if I like a place, I return again and again. Budapest might turn out to be one of those places and so we spent our time in the city.

We didn’t go to Slovakia.

We didn’t go to Austria.

We spent all our time in Hungary and all of that time in Budapest.

ALL of it!

In fact, quite frankly, there wasn’t even enough time at all.

WHAT SHOULD I DO WHEN I GET TO BUDAPEST?

Matthias Church and the Fisherman's Bastion terrace over the city - Budapest.
Matthias Church and the Fisherman’s Bastion terrace over the city – Budapest.

We only went for six (6) days so this was a sloooooow cultural family trip.

We did so many things and went to so many places that I don’t even know where to start so I’ll just list them. You’ll soon get the picture.

There is plenty to do in Budapest. You can:

A live escape game in Budapest.
A live escape game in Budapest.
  • Explore the Great Market Hall or Nagycsarnok which was built in 1897 and is the largest and oldest indoor market in Budapest. We found the market interesting but you know, once you’ve seen a whole collection of pig’s snouts for sale, eaten a pig’s ear for lunch, seen a batch of fried chicken claws and boxes of crunchy spiders, cockroaches and worms, not to talk of pig heads in a temple, you soon learn not to get too excited!
  • Be guided through the largest Jewish community in Central Europe and take note of the historically important Hungarian Jewish Quarter and it’s synagogues and museums. It’s the second (2nd) largest in the world!
  • Explore quite a lot of the bridges which are all so nearby.
  • Get excited and get hopelessly lost and confused in a live escape game.
  • Hop-on-or-off on a bus tour.
  • Check out Elizabeth Square – Lots of young people use the square as a place to hang out and chill. Practically every day, people paddle in the fountain and take a quick “shower.” There is also free drinkable water from the water fountain and hot steam spouting out of the waters.
  • Bring your own beer and wine but remember it’s officially illegal to do so, but unofficially ignored!
Enjoy the moment on Elizabeth Square - Dangle your feet and bask in the sunshine!
Enjoy the moment on Elizabeth Square – Dangle your feet and bask in the sunshine!

Enjoy the moment!

  • Go on a free walking tour around the city. We went on the United Europe Free Walking tour which not only has a free orientation tour and a free Jewish District tour, it also has a free communism walk too!
  • Explore the history and architecture of Budapest.
  • Understand the difference between “Buda” and “Pest.”
  • Take photographs of the Buda Castle.
  • Walk by the riverside and imagine living in the historic seat of power – The Parliament.
  • Check out some of the lovely churches and places of worship which are just bursting to be visited.
  • Go to the lovely Budapest History Museum.
  • Take photos of the Liberty Statue and Citadel.
  • Glide into the Danube Symphony Concert.
  • Wander around the Fisherman’s Bastion.
  • Stroll freely through the side streets.
  • Visit the Memento Park or Statue Park.
Jewish memorial shoes at the Danube in Budapest. © Phil Watkins
Jewish memorial shoes at the Danube in Budapest. © Phil Watkins
  • Be thoughtful and remember the people who were shot into the Danube, by visiting the memorial Shoes by the Danube.
  • Go people-watching inside the beautiful Budapest Castle with its neo-classical buildings.
  • Merely ramble along the cobbled historical streets.
  • Check out the various cafes, ruinbars and restaurants for a quick bite and a few rounds of Hungarian beer and Hungarian shots!
  • Visit the Castle Hill.
  • Splash in the fountains, lakes, ponds and rivers.
  • Wander through a huge number of churches.
  • Marvel at the architecture of the railway stations.
  • Take a stroll on Margaret Island.
Hungarian pickles - but I haven't a clue what they are!
Hungarian pickles – but I haven’t a clue what they are!

I remembered that I had seen something about a Hungarian buffet restaurant somewhere on the internet, and so we went looking for the place. It was a real Hungarian place. So Hungarian was it that I didn’t even recognise the food. Especially the more exotic vegetables! The restaurant is called Gastland Bisztró. We went to the one in Oktogon.

  • Don’t forget to go shopping.
  • Take a river cruise along the Danube river.
  • Go to the wide variety of saunas, spas and baths covered by open-air thermal springs, wells, jacuzzi-like bubbly spots, neck showers, massage jets, whirlpools and massages.
I certaintly won't be going to the sauna European style. Don't forget, I'm British!
I certainly won’t be going to the sauna European style. Don’t forget, I’m British!

If you’re thinking I’m going to tell you that I went to the baths in all my glory, then you’ve got another thing coming!

In case, you haven’t noticed. I’m still British and you know perfectly well what I think about saunas….

Gulp!

I found Budapest to be a classical city of awe so let’s get down to some practicalities.

HOW TO GET TO BUDAPEST

Take the train!
Take the train!

We decided to travel to Budapest from Berlin and I explained about the experience in my previous post. The train ride was cheap and fairly easy to navigate and from Berlin took twelve (12) hours but you can break the journey by going to Bratislava (Slovakia), Vienna (Austria) or Prague (the Czech Republic). You could come in via the Keleti, Nyugati or Déli train station. We came into Keleti.

If you’re flying in then most international flights would come into Budapest Liszt Ferenc Airport or you could take the bus-coach and come into Népliget Bus Station.

I DON’T SPEAK HUNGARIAN.

Although Hungary is a young country most people seemed to speak pretty good English in either American accents or really weird working class English ones! And if you speak French, Spanish, Russian or German, you will be very catered for as lots of tours and pieces of information could be found in these languages. I also noticed Japanese and Korean tourists and they looked very happy LOL!

AM I GOING TO LIVE IN A HUT?

It doesn't look like a cave...in Hungary!
It doesn’t look like a cave…in Hungary!

I don’t think so. Budapest might be a city from Eastern Europe but it’s the capital so you’re definitely not going to be living in a cave!

I’M ON A BUDGET. WHAT SHOULD I DO?

I saw many hostels, other moderately priced accommodation and budget hotel possibilities.

I can’t give you any details but catering to the more budget conscious traveller is available just try to remember that it isn’t Poland. Hungary is cheap but it isn’t that cheap!

I’M LOOKING FOR A BIT MORE LUXURY, IS THERE SOMETHING FOR ME?

Luxury at the Aria Hotel in Budapest.
Luxury at the Aria Hotel in Budapest.

Oh good god yes!

Absolutely, yes.

There’s such a lot to say and such a lot of information to take in that in order for this post not to be a 5,000 word piece, I’m going to work backwards and write about the last hotel in Budapest first, and then the first hotel with all the delicious food that is to be had in Budapest, next week!

Our last stay was at the five-star beautiful boutique and musically inspired Aria Hotel Budapest.

Let me tell you.

That hotel was amazing!

The Library Hotel in New York!
The Library Hotel in New York!

I had come into contact with the establishment because I was originally doing some research for my husbands’ birthday in 2016. I wanted to do something really nice for him and was thinking of perhaps taking him on a long weekend to New York, when my eye caught on a venue called The Library Hotel.

A library collection and a hotel with books?

Yes, please!

On seeing it’s splendour I wondered whether they might have hotels in Europe.

Mmmm.

Budapest perhaps?

They did!

And so I contacted them.

Staff Greeting ME via Twitter from the Aria Hotel in Budapest. Very impressive and I met most of them too!
Staff Greeting ME via Twitter from the Aria Hotel in Budapest. Very impressive and I met most of them too!

From that moment, they stayed in contact with me even sending a “we can’t wait to meet you” picture on Twitter which I thought was pretty awesome!

The Aria Hotel Budapest was a very new hotel with a musically inspired concept of luxury, a Hungarian experience, world musical heritage, a warm atmosphere and an exquisite rooftop that isn’t just a rooftop, but a rooftop that is almost parallel to the St. Stephen’s Basilica in Budapest!

Next to the St. Stephen's Basilica - Aria Hotel Budapest.
Next to the St. Stephen’s Basilica – Aria Hotel Budapest.

Located in the historic city center on the Pest side of the Danube River, the Aria Hotel was a former 19th century bank that looked small on the outside but was distinctly large on the inside.  It had 49 guest rooms and suites that each celebrated a major musical genre such as classical, opera, contemporary and jazz.

A bit like the Tardis of Dr. Who…!

The living space. Not the music!

We were in the Grand Luxury Room with 2 Full-Sized Beds – City View!

Exxxxxxxxquisite!

The Air Music Garden Balcony: Room Contemporary Music Style - Aria Hotel, Budapest. Phew!
The Air Music Garden Balcony: Room Contemporary Music Style – Aria Hotel, Budapest.
Phew!

It was so nice to have a huge bed Queen-Sized Bed with lovely white cotton sheets and loads and loads of pillows, and cushions.

Our stay at the Aria Hotel was an extravagance.

When you book a room on-line, you can never be entirely sure what you’re going to get and can only hold your breath and cross your fingers.

I didn’t know what to expect in Hungary and was amazed at what we received.

"The Tall Young Gentleman" relaxing in the the Grand Luxury Room and with 2 Full-Size Beds - Aria Hotel.
“The Tall Young Gentleman” relaxing in the Grand Luxury Room and with 2 Full-Size Beds – Aria Hotel.

Our Grand Luxury Room consisted of two huge 2 Full-Sized Beds, two (2) lovely fancy armchairs, a writing desk and chair, a large  wardrobe, a mini-bar, a safe, a fridge with complimentary water, a coffee and tea-making service, a huge large-screen TV, an AC unit.

We had an en-suite bathroom that had a rainforest shower AND a large bath tub, and fitted out with “Molton Brown” beauty & bath hair and body wash items, body lotion, dressing gowns, fluffy slippers and plenty of fluffy towels!

We also had access to Aria Hotel’s spa and sauna unit that consisted of a heated pool, a Jacuzzi, hydro bicycles, a Finnish sauna, an infra-red sauna, a steaming room and a fitness room.

We were so lucky to have the sauna and spa to ourselves in the late evening.

Such a thrill!

Such bliss!

Because.

British!

"Viktoria" - This wine has got my name all over it....!
“Viktoria” – This wine has got my name all over it….!

We also had free WiFi, a room iPad, a docking station, access to a digital music library, a generous buffet breakfast and a complimentary Afternoon Wine & Cheese Reception. That is to say, free wine and cheese from 16:00-18:00 every day.

Every Day!

Yipee!

Because these are the important things in life LOL!

A buffet breakfast at the Aria Hotel, Budapest.

For breakfast, we had a menu and you could choose a selection of eggs, a variety of breads, jams and honey, a wide variety of cereal, muesli and fruit, home-made spreads and sauces, seafood, delicious cold cuts, and cheeses,  vegetables, pickles and cream, As well as  cake, pastries, tea, coffee, water and juices.

“The Tall Young Gentleman” was pretty euphoric!

Now brace yourself.

The Aria Hotel Budapest isn’t for the backpacker.

It isn’t for the stingy or the penny-pinching.

It’s for the grown-ups and those who want and like, the good things in life.

The Music Garden at the Aria Hotel in Budapest. See how clever the floors were made!
The Music Garden at the Aria Hotel in Budapest.
See how clever the floors were made!

Here it comes…

All this from €336.00 per night in the Grand Luxury Room which for two (2) people would be €168.00 a pop!

Sometimes you need to spoil yourself.

And others!

WHAT ABOUT TRANSPORT POSSIBILITIES?

Take the train or any other form of transport in Budapest!
Take the train or any other form of transport in Budapest!

Budapest is pretty small so that everywhere is walkable and pretty to look at. The public transport system is fairly easy to use as there are only four (4) underground or subway lines. There are 268 buses plying the city roads, 32 trams and 15 trolleybuses.

Be very careful with taxis.

Make sure the price is fixed.

…Before you get into the taxi!

Or better still, take a traditional river cruise.

ANYTHING ELSE?

Chess players in the Széchenyi Thermal Bath and Swimming Pool NOT at the Aria Hotel of course! - Budapest.
Chess players in the Széchenyi Thermal Bath and Swimming Pool NOT at the Aria Hotel of course! – Budapest.

The sauna and spa in both the Aria Hotel Budapest and the Buddha-Bar Hotel were brilliant. At the Aria Hotel, we indulged in the luxury of my son and I being perfectly and completely alone in the cool pool, using the hot bubbly jacuzzi, and spreading out on the Egyptian-style chaise!

It was a shame that my husband – The Music Producer – couldn’t make it.

He would have loved it.

AND?

The view was so brilliant. As were my sunglasses!
The view was so brilliant. As were my sunglasses!

And the highlight of the Aria Hotel Budapest was the Highnote SkyBar.

“The Tall Young Gentleman”and I were lucky enough to get the opportunity to lounge in the SkyBar with complimentary cheese, wine and mock-cocktails, and stay as long as we liked.

And the view was exquisite so we just drank in the St. Stephen’s Basilica right behind us (so close that I felt as if I could touch it!) and the Ferris Wheel in front of us.

It really was glorious.

An exclusive rose-shaped ice-cream from Gelarto Rosa. Right next door to the Aria Hotel in Budapest!
An exclusive rose-shaped ice-cream from Gelarto Rosa. Right next door to the Aria Hotel in Budapest!

MY VERDICT:

I really like Budapest.

It’s not as cheap as Prague, but is certainly reasonably priced.

It’s breathtaking.

It’s romantic.

It’s a chill-relaxing city with craft-beer and interesting wine.

It’s lovely.

Me - The British Berliner - Live a life of both style & travel.
Me – The British Berliner – Live a life of both style & travel.

WOULD I COME AGAIN?

Totally!

Try and stop me!

A dummy head and a hat. For light relief!
A dummy head and a hat. For light relief!

For more information about the Aria Hotel Budapest, please contact: Aria Hotel.

This article is part-sponsored by the Buddha-Bar Hotel in Budapest and part-sponsored by the Aria Hotel Budapest and I received a 50% discount on the Budapest Card, but all opinions and the wonderful Hungarian cuisine that I nibbled on, are my very own!

I have so much to share with you.

Stay tuned!

Next week, I’ll be writing about the first hotel that I stayed at in Budapest – The Buddha-Bar Hotel – and the wonders of Hungarian booze and cuisine.

Quite interesting!

As usual, you can also follow me via daily tweets and pictures on Twitter & FB!

If you’re not in Berlin right now, did you miss me in Budapest or Prague!

August is going to be baking!

Watch this space!

The Little Princess (Kiskirálylány) statue sitting on the railings of the Danube promenade in Budapest, Hungary.
The Little Princess (Kiskirálylány) statue sitting on the railings of the Danube promenade in Budapest.

Have you ever been to the baths in Budapest? Would you like to stay at the Aria Hotel and drink cocktails on the Highnote SkyBar?

See you in Berlin.

If you like this post or if you have any questions send me a tweet, talk to me on Facebook, find me on Linkedin, make a comment below, look for me on Google+ or send me an Email: victoria@thebritishberliner.com

Please Share it! Tweet it! Or like it!

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The magic drink of Latvia is Balsam and I drank it!

The mighty Latvian sausage in Riga.

Right now, I’m running around like a headless chicken because I’m in Spain.

In Baaaaaarcelona.

OK. That’s not entirely true.

I’m really at a seaside resort on the Costa Brava. A place called Lloret de Mar.

But I spent a lovely day in Barcelona too, but more about that in a few weeks LOL!

So last week I wrote a lovely post about how gorgeous I found Latvia to be, and with the help of Linda the Irish Queen, the post ran through Facebook like wildfire. My post went live on Monday and on Tuesday I had 4,000 hits for the day.

On Wednesday, I had almost 7,500 hits on the day alone! And it kept on growing.

Latvia was the gift that just kept on giving.

I couldn’t believe it.

I am amazed at how many people, in this case, the Latvian people, really loved my post.

Source: serendipitymc.com
Source: serendipitymc.com

Thank you so much everyone!

So for those of you who don’t know and are coming to The British Berliner for the very first time, we were on an independent trip around the Baltic Region. This journey was an adventure of fifteen (15) days in total:

  • Three (3) days in Vilnius (Lithuania).
  • Three (3) days in Riga (Latvia).
  • Three (3) days in Tallinn (Estonia).
  • Two (2) days in (Helsinki) Finland.
  • One (1) more day in Tallinn (Estonia) again.

This is what I have written about them so far:

A European Capital of Culture.
A European Capital of Culture.

We travelled around the above four (4) countries by coach-bus and we were extremely lucky to be on a part-sponsorship of the largest international express route coach-bus operator in the Baltic region. An Estonian company called Lux Express, taking us through the Baltic Region by road from Germany, all the way through to Estonia, and back again!

And why?

Basically because the region has not really been discovered by tourists and travellers, and I’m also slightly eccentric LOL!

The Baltic States of Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Finland are countries based in Europe and their capital cities have stories of richness, history and grandeur, unspoilt by the full-board package set and the larger louts of stag and hen nights. They are sparsely populated, and not your typical cheap and friendly destination.

My mantra has always been, why not?

That’s why!

And quite frankly, even though you might have heard a whisper of these countries, nobody really knows anything about them, and hardly anyone you know, has actually been there.

It’s time to change all that.

Photo@ J-O Eriksson

When I said that Riga was beautiful, I absolutely meant it!

And that included the food.

Do you remember the musical number from Oliver Twist:

“Food, glorious food!
We’re anxious to try it.
Three banquets a day
Our favooooooourite diet!”

You can find what I wrote about food in other countries right here but food from Latvia was something else.

Yep!

Being that Riga and therefore, Latvia is in an unknown part of the world, it stands to reason that it’s food and drink culture would be similar so.

So now that you know how fascinating I find food posts, here comes the feast of Latvia!

A LATVIAN BREAKFAST:

Exotic seafood in Riga, Latvia.

The item above my good man, was breakfast.

Yes, breakfast. And let me just say, it was one of the best part breakfast items we ever had on our journey, and not because it was most unusual, even though it was, but because it was seafood.

In this case fish.

I loooooove fish!

But just look at that dish above. Is it not just delish? As I write this piece, my mouth is watering and I’m trying quite hard not to swallow my spittle!

It’s a wonderful plate of salmon with a dollop of mustard and dill creamy sauce, flakes of smoked herring, radishes, green peppers, baby pickled onions and bean sprouts!

Do you see what I mean?

Breakfast in Riga, Latvia.

The dish above (if you’re vegetarian or vegan, don’t look!) is a plate of grilled sausages, slices of bacon, peas, cucumber, peppers, sweet corn, radishes, onions and tomato ketchup.

This delicious wonder was part of the very generous breakfast buffet served by our rather lovely four-star boutique hotel  –  Hotel Justus. As I told you last week, Hotel Justus is located right within the architectural UNESCO protected area, and has just 48 rooms designed to embrace the architectural charm and historical delight of Riga.

Small enough to feel intimate and large enough to get all the benefits of a well-run boutique hotel.

Cost – Nothing at all. Included as part of the sleeping overnight fee!

A slice of toasty and a pasty in Riga, Latvia.

A slice of buttery toasty and a pastry.

Yum!

Cost – A part of the breakfast package!

A LATVIAN STARTER:

You all know how I very much like soup.

It was raining buckets and we found a tiny little bar/restaurant in which we were pretty much the only guests. Well, we decided to try something different.

Green soup from Riga, Latvia.

We had this green soup and a basket of brown bread.

It was absolutely awful. I felt as if I wanted to vomit and then I asked what exactly it was.

It was hemp! What the ?!&%!!

Yuck!

I didn’t choose another starter!

Cost – Between €1 – €2.00.

Shredded cabbage and pickles in Riga, Latvia.

We were introduced to the Riga Central Market and we absolutely loved it.

We liked it so much that we came back again the next day! Markets are such good ways to find the culture of a people. In fact, markets are really good ways to find the people! They’re all at the markets hanging out LOL!

Above you can see shredded cabbage and pickles.

Carrots, turnips, swede, spring onions, shallots and other strange vegetables found at the farmers’ food market in Riga, Latvia.

Carrots, turnips, swede, spring onions, shallots and other strange vegetables found at the farmers’ food market. Does anyone know what the purple round vegetable is, or is a beet? Beetroot perhaps?!

A basket of soft home-made herb bread with a sort of green olive sauce in Riga, Latvia.

A basket of soft home-made herb bread with a sort of green olive sauce. It was classified as “soup of the day” but was completely scrummy!

Cost – €1.50

LATVIAN MAIN DISHES:

Suckling pig in Riga, Latvia.

Oh yeah baby!

We went to this really nice place called Folkklubs Ala Sia.

Let me just tell you that the lip-smacking meal above is a 24 hour sautéed suckling pig! A suckling pig rolled onto crispy smoked pork potato mash, spring greens, crumbled traditional country cheese, oven baked tomatoes and a sautéed sauce.

Cost – €7.60.

Flounder fillet in Riga, Latvia.

Flounder fillet sprinkled with onions and bean sprouts combined with pan-seared asparagus and cauliflower puree served with creamy-Riga-sparkling-wine sauce!

Cost – €16.50.

 lovely meal of pork (?), red cabbage, some gravy in Riga, Latvia.This meal was from the little place that I can’t remember. There was nobody there but it didn’t really disturb us as by this time, we just wanted to find a place, chill out, eat and relax and the guy at the bar was pretty friendly so we did just that!

After the disgusting soup of hemp, we ordered this lovely meal of pork (?), red cabbage, some gravy and a side salad of felt salad which you recall in the Czech Republic, seems to be very common in this part of the world!

Cost – I can’t remember!

 

how much I like the sausage!

You know how much I like the sausage! Well, “The Tall Young Gentleman” had a wonderful meal of grilled pork sausages, white cabbage, mashed potatoes and a couple of tomato slices. Delish!

Cost – If only I could remember where we ate it!

 

a spicy tomato and cream dip!

Followed by a spicy tomato and cream dip!

Cost – Dip! Dip! Dip!

 

Because caviar. In Riga, Latvia.

Because caviar.

OMG. I don’t know if it was the real stuff but we constantly saw prices at the Riga Central Market that would pop your eyes out!

But look at that trout. See how fresh it is.

It was so fresh that we constantly saw batches of live seafood wriggling around, freshly caught.

The Music Producer was a little upset that the fish would feel the pain of life coming to an end, and would suffer. What do you think?

Cost for the caviar – You really don’t want to know. Even in Latvia! Cost for the trout – €7.90!

LATVIAN AFTERS:

 

A cupcake and a muffin!

As I said earlier, we went back to the Riga Central Market and discovered a hell of a lot more delightful little things such as:

A strawberry cream tart covered with flakes of strawberry icing and a custard-covered muffin with a sprinkling of hundreds and thousands!

Cost €0.28 & €0.26 respectively.

Cream puffs in Latvia, Riga.

Pastry cones filled with cream.

Cost – €0.36.

 

Sugary puffs filled with clotted custard cream and covered with castor sugar in Riga, Latvia.

Sugary puffs filled with clotted custard cream and covered with castor sugar.

Cost – €0.26

 

Cupcakes in Riga, Latvia.

Not at the Riga Central Market but we had them for breakfast! I have included it here as cupcakes aren’t really for the first meal of the day unless you live on the Continent where they follow the philosophy, “If it’s nice. Include it in the breakfast buffet” school of thought LOL!

Cost – Dream on!

 THE MAGIC DRINKS OF LATVIA

 

The delights of a Latvian brewery.

We went to a really jolly place called “Vina Teatris” or Peter’s Brewhouse. The brewery is known as the only one of it’s kind in the Old Town and is locally owned and operated.

It was our last night so we decided to go for it and really get into the delights of Latvian breweries.

I drink beer but I’m not a strong beer-drinker as one beer in the summer sun and I’m dancing on a festival float! Hand me one sugary glühwein and I go flat on the floor!

Just give me a couple of glasses of bubbly, nice fruity cocktails, a couple of ice-cold vodka shots and you’ve got a badge of approval by The British Berliner!

The Music Producer ordered the “Beer Tasting” set of three (3) beers which came with a huge bowl of aniseed.

We didn’t know what to do with it so we chewed it anyway LOL!

Cost – €7.50

My glass of wine and the seeds in Riga, Latvia.
My glass of wine and the seeds!

Cost – €3.60

 

The Latvian Balsam.

So Riga Black Balsam is a traditional herbal liqueur similar to the Czech Becherovka and is made with lots of ingredients mixed into vodka and other stuff!

I decided to “treat” my husband to the delights of a Latvian speciality – the Latvian Balsam. Now, I had heard so much about it in fact, Heather from Ferreting Out the Fun had even gone on a tour of how to make it. We didn’t have time to do such frolics so I thought taking a few shots would be the next best thing. We went to a “tourist” place called As Lido or Alus Sēta.

I was up for an adventure so the bar man gave me two varieties: the real balsam and the blackcurrant one.

I tasted the blackcurrant one and it was quite OK and then we decided to go for the original one too.

Swallow!

And oh no.

Not swallow!

Throw up!

I’m sorry to say this, but the original balsam was bloody awful!

We couldn’t believe it.

Was it an acquired taste like oysters? (I love oysters!).

Did you have to drink it in a particular way like tequila? Ha! I have stories I could tell. But not today LOL!

Or was it that we just didn’t like it?

Ah well!

Cost – €1.30

 

Riga Black Balsam.

Well, that’s it. I told you that the food in Latvia was fascinating. Go see for yourself and if you have any questions or need any help, let me know!

This article is not sponsored, but all opinions and the wonderful cupcakes and seafood that I was fascinated by, are my very own!

I have so much to share with you.

Stay tuned!

Next week, I’ll be writing about the very interesting Estonia and what we did in Tallinn, Estonia with the help of the Tallinn Card, what the view was like on the ferry crossing from Estonia to Finland with TALLINK SLJA LINE and what we thought about Helsinki in Finland!

Eddie Izzard will be back in Germany and will be front-lining a killer international night of comedy at the Admirals Palast on 08.05.15.

The Berlin Music Video Awards will be taking place from May 27.05.15 – 30.05.15. Anybody can apply!

The Berlin Fashion Film Festival will be taking place on 05.06.15.

I’ll be there. Will you?

As usual, you can also follow me via daily tweets and pictures on Twitter & FB!

If you’re not in Berlin right now, then you ought to!

May is going to be exciting.

Watch this space!

 

A pig's snout!

Have you ever been to Riga? Would you ever try a pig’s snout or would you stick with Riga Black Balsam?

See you in Berlin.

If you like this post or if you have any questions send me a tweet, talk to me on Facebook, find me on Linkedin, make a comment below, or send me an Email: victoria@thebritishberliner.com

Please Share it! Tweet it! Or like it!

Gosh! Riga in Latvia is gorgeous: 10 reasons to go there right now!

Photo@ J-O Eriksson

Bring out the pimms!

Things are definitely moving for me as The British Berliner.

Not only did I participate in a [VIDEO] interview that I contributed to as a representative of the Berlin Travel Massive Blogger Community at the ITB Berlin last month,  but I was again approached by a respectable Berlin on-line newspaper to do a video interview about my views on the upcoming British national elections!

I’ll let you know when it’s done!

Spain - Here we come!
Spain – Here we come!

As far as travelling is concerned, at the end of the week I will be on a very, very, very short break to Spain.

Hoooooola!

Unfortunately, it won’t be a long break of sunny bathing and tequila drinking as I still have to hand in and complete my Masters’ Dissertation at the University of Chester. In England.

Oh dear me no.

Sigh!

Bloggers at the ITB in Berlin.
Bloggers at the ITB in Berlin.

I’ll be going to the Travel Bloggers Exchange Conference otherwise known as TBEX to do a little networking, learn something new and meet other international bloggers. I’ll tell you all about it in May, after I’ve walked all over town and I’ve gorged myself on tapas.

For now though let’s get back to where I was just a few weeks ago in the Baltic Region.

So I’ve written about our adventure in Lithuania and the very excellent but enormously cheap food that we had in Vilnius.

Ah! Good Times!

Get ready for the other country in oh-my-gosh-is-it-or-isn’t-it-in-Eastern-Europe….

LATVIA

A song and dance festival in Latvia.

The Baltic States might be small in landmass but the countries are considered to be old European in look, rich culture, enchanting history, and long-established tradition. In fact, quite enchanting!

Latvia, also known as the pearl of the Baltic States and officially as the Republic of Latvia, is situated in the Baltic Region of Northern Europe – on the shores of the Baltic Sea.

I absolutely love the Baltic Sea and make every effort to go there every two years but from the Polish side rather than the German one!

Harmony of the countryside in Latvia.  Photo@ Arturs Jasinskis
Harmony of the countryside in Latvia.
Photo@ Arturs Jasinskis

Latvia is a multi-cultured state and right in the middle of Lithuania, Belarus, Estonia and Russia! As the Lithuanians, the Latvians are Balts by ethnic and linguistic origin and although separate independent countries, have closely related languages. The Latvians also have indigenous people called Livs and the two neighbouring countries both speak an Indo-European language and are the only two true Baltic languages that have survived!

Happily, all the traditions have merged together creating a unique environment, a vast cultural historical heritage.and a country-state of about 2 million people.

Latvia, is also a country not well-known and even within the E.U. itself, many Europeans have a hard time remembering what the capital city is.

It’s Riga by the way!

RIGA

Lovely Riga in Latvia.
Lovely Riga in Latvia.

Riga is the capital city of Latvia and also the largest city in the Baltic State Region.

You might not have ever heard of Latvia, but surely you’ve seen those pictures of elegant men and woman strolling arm in arm on the tiny streets of Riga nourished by Russian glamour and elegant Art Nouveau boulevards!

It's Me! Don't I look fabulous?
It’s Me! Don’t I look fabulous?

Riga is a metropolis pulsing with life, romantic walks and live music and celebration. It’s a medieval city that has been preserved and still shows traces of its religious and Romanesque past and has been proudly inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List for the wonder that is it’s unique architecture in the “old town” and also as one of the European Capitals of Culture designed to highlight the richness and diversity of cultures in Europe and increase the sense of belonging to our common cultural area that is the European Union. And this took place in all of 2014!

Wow!

WHY GO TO RIGA?

Art Nouveau in Riga, Latvia.

So let’s get down to brass tacks. Riga in Latvia is gorgeous. I’m going to give you ten (10) reasons to go there right now!

  1. The architecture is amazing: Everywhere you look is an impressive piece of art from each and every era. Whether you like art nouveau, romanesque, gothic or baroque architectural style, if you wanted it, you would find it within a few paces. The only city that I can think of that would be similar is London. Do you know that if you looked hard enough, you would even find parts of the old Roman London Wall!
  2. It’s in the “other” Eastern Europe: It’s still pretty unknown, very far “East” and not on either the backpackers or tourist run, so it’s pretty cheap and is never going to break the bank.
  3. It’s a Baltic hub: If you’re looking to go to the Baltic States then of course, you have to either go through Latvia, start in Latvia, or end in Latvia. It’s quite easy to get to as pretty much every airline in the Nordic-Baltic region does a stop-over in Riga, so you might as well give it up and stay a while!
  4. OMG the food: We ate terribly well and ate and drank to our hearts’ content. It’s that cheap, you should! Unlike Lithuania where we pretty much ate only rustic food, Latvia has a combination of both elegant and of a better class. More about that next week!
  5. Romance: Pretty much every European capital city has an “old” part of town and a “new” part of town. Cities taken over by the Soviet Union were able to hold onto the “traditional look” mainly due to the lack of interest in changing it, and a distinct lack of finance. However, these capital cities now have the last laugh as they still have the feel and look of centuries past, when royal or local aristocrats would probably chop people’s heads off, but would also walk the cobbled streets or ride across them and hunt for “spoil.”
  6. It’s small: Although Riga is the largest city in the Baltic State Region, it’s population is only a little over 600,000 inhabitants. I mean, the whole country is only about 2 million people! It’s small size means that it’s easy to meet people and to move around.
  7. Sausages: It seems to be a thing in Riga, so we had loads LOL!
  8. Communication: Most people speak English and have an endearing accent mix of American English, Swedish and Dutch. Oh, and they also have a warm sense of humour!
  9. The farmers’ market: An intriguing place where you could get the head of a pig, live fish swimming on the bare table, exotic vegetables, and tiny little cupcakes that didn’t cost more than 30 cents! More about that next week!
  10. Because Art: The best place in the world to find living pieces of Art Nouveau is indeed in Riga! 

TAKE ME THERE?

Our extremely funny walking tour guide in Latvia.
Our extremely funny walking tour guide in Latvia.

As you know, we were so lucky to be on a part-sponsorship of the largest international express route coach-bus operator in the Baltic region. An Estonian company called Lux Express, taking us through the Baltic Region by road from Germany, all the way through to Estonia, and back again!

In travelling from Berlin to Lithuania, we were on the cheaper arm of the coach-bus company called Simple Express but once we got to Latvia, we were switched to the more aptly-named Lux Express.

Lux Express.
Lux Express.

And was it luxury?

It was certainly different from any other coach bus company that I have either travelled with. And I’ve travelled with a lot LOL!

The seats were wider and bigger, there was a toilet on board and because there were fewer people, was fairly clean!

At the back of the bus was the even more luxurious V.I.P section. I had originally wanted to book that part of the coach-bus but it wasn’t to be as the reality is that most travellers would be at the front LOL! I nevertheless, had a peek. The V.I.P. section was curtained off for privacy just like a plane and there were one person seats rather than two. Each seat also had a small flat screen.

Bring your own blanket!
Bring your own blanket!

Even so, whichever part of the coach-bus you sat in was pretty awesome. We practically had the place to ourselves and could recline back quite well, there were night lights on the floor, individual screens on the seat with which you could watch films, comedy or TV series, listen to music, play games or go on-line. And this time the WiFi was fantastic, so if you had a smaller laptop rather than the huge one that I have, you could do as much work as you wanted!

The headphones were complimentary and there was also as much complimentary tea, coffee and hot chocolate as you liked. You just helped yourself as there was a huge drinks machine in the middle of the vehicle. And we did.

Very nice indeed!

The journey from Vilnius to Riga was only 4 hours and 15 minutes, so I watched part of “The Chronicles of Narnia” and a silly little film called “The Watch” although the  improvisation performed by Ben Stiller and Jonah Hill was brilliant!

IS IT GOING TO BE CROWDED?

Just me and my er...goat!
Just me and my er…goat!

Hardly!

Well, a little, but only because Riga is tiny. It was low season, the weather was wet and windy, and we all swarmed to the same place in order to have something to do however, the bars and restaurants had plenty of space. In fact, you only had to stand outside for a second when at least five (5) or six (6) various staff members would rush out to “help” you choose where to go!

WHAT IS RIGA LIKE?

We were only there for three (3) days but Riga definitely made an impression on me.

Unlike Lithuania, I didn’t find Latvia to be Eastern-European-like. Quite the contrary. At first glance, I found Riga utterly charming but then I haven’t lived there for five (5) years, unlike my crazy Irish friend Linda who became Latvia’s “most-wanted” on her utterly scathing but hilarious blog…

Riga is an Old Europe type of place very eager to welcome tourists and entertain you as every corner had some sort of bar, pub, or steak house! Having said that, they’re very easy to avoid if you’re not into that stream of entertainment, as every other place is of historical interest, art-inspired or a lovely cafe or restaurant. In fact Riga is stuffed with museums, art galleries, historical squares and places of worship!

I DON’T SPEAK LATVIAN.

It has really surprised me that in every Baltic State English is widely spoken however, if you speak Russian, you won’t be out-of-place. Having said that, a rather wonderful American-Russian blogger friend of mine was rather alarmingly, pretty much insulted, so watch out for that!

AM I GOING TO LIVE IN A HUT?

If things get too bad, you won't be able to live here 'cos it's peasant history!
If things get too bad, you won’t be able to live here ‘cos it’s peasant history!

I don’t think so. It might be a country from “the other” Eastern Europe but you’re definitely not going to be living in a cave!

I’M ON A BUDGET. WHAT SHOULD I DO?

There are plenty of hostels to be had.

I can’t give you any details but catering to the more budget conscious traveller is still fairly new and we even saw the very first Latvian hostel ever, and other moderately priced accommodation.

I’M LOOKING FOR A BIT MORE LUXURY, IS THERE SOMETHING FOR ME?

Hotel Justus in Riga, Latvia.

Hell yeah!

We stayed at a rather lovely four-star boutique hotel in the heart of the old town of Riga which I first saw on the website of a personal fitness trainer/sailor called Victor.

Our hotel was called Hotel Justus. Hotel Justus laid right within the architectural UNESCO protected area, was a Bishop’s residence in 1210, was part of a tavern in the 20th century and had just 48 rooms designed to embrace the architectural charm and historical delight of Riga. We were in the Family Suite which had two separate bedrooms and a joint bathroom.

Heeeeeaven!

It was nice to have the luxury of separate but joint bedrooms especially when you’re travelling and knick-knack is just thrown everywhere!

It was lovely just to have the space LOL!

Hotel Justus in Riga, Latvia.

Whenever we go on a family holiday, I like to mix things up a little in order to experience a wide variety of accommodation possibilities, to meet the locals, and to stretch our budget in a more comfortable way.

In Lithuania, I decided to book a small family Bed & Breakfast consisting of just seven (7) rooms, and located between the Old Town and a park. This B&B was called Vilnius Home Bed and Breakfast and we were in the Family Room. This time around, it was time for a little more comfort.

Our stay at Hotel Justus was an indulgence.

When you book a room on-line, you can never be entirely sure what you’re going to get and can only hold your breath and cross your fingers.

I didn’t know what to expect in Latvia and was surprised at what we received.

"The Tall Young Gentleman" enjoying his "space."
“The Tall Young Gentleman” enjoying his “space.”

Our Family Suite consisted of two separate bedrooms, a hallway, and an en-suite bathroom. The Master Bedroom had a double bed, two (2) rather nice fancy armchairs, a writing-table, a large antique wardrobe, a mini-bar and a large-screen TV and AC unit.

The second (2nd) bedroom had a chaise longue that could be converted into a single bed, a writing desk and chair, a large antique wardrobe, a large-screen TV and an AC unit. “The Tall Young Gentleman” was in his own private little world, loved it and was pretty ecstatic!

We had an en-suite bathroom that was very clean and fitted out with hair and body wash items body lotion, and plenty of fluffy towels as well as free WiFi and a generous buffet breakfast of both Baltic and Nordic origin.

Breakfast in Latvia!
Breakfast in Latvia!

For breakfast, we had delicious cold cuts, a variety of sea-food, vegetables, sauces, pickles and cream, scrambled egg, sausages and bacon. As well as a wide variety of cereal, fruit, bread, cake, pastries, tea, coffee and juices.

All this from €140.00 per night in the Family Suite which for three (3) people would be €47.00 a pop!

Delightful!

WHAT SHOULD I DO WHEN I GET TO LATVIA?

Gorgeous stuff!
Gorgeous stuff!

We only went for three (3) days so this was a sloooooow cultural family trip.

There is plenty to do in Riga. You can:

  • Go on a free walking tour. We went on Yellow Riga Free Tour.
  • Explore the urban history and architecture of Riga.
  • Take photographs of the Riga Castle.
  • Walk by the riverside and imagine living in the historic seat of power. It’s closed until 2016 but after that you’ll be able to take as many panoramic pictures as you want.
  • Check out some of the lovely churches and places of worship which are just bursting to be visited.
  • Go to the lovely Museum Riga Art Nouveau Museum and Centre.
  • Glide into the National Opera.
  • Wander around the Freedom Monument.

Down the side-streets in Riga, Latvia.

  • Stroll freely through the side streets.
  • Go to the oldest public museum in Latvia  – the Museum of the History of Riga and Navigation.
  • Visit the Latvian National Museum of Art.
  • Take in all of the Art Nouveau.
  • Pay your respects in the Jewish Quarter.
  • Go people-watching inside the Zeppellin hangars of the Latvian Central Market.
  • Merely ramble along the cobbled historical streets.
  • Check out the various cafes, bars and restaurants for a quick bite and a few rounds of Latvian beer and vodka!
  • Go shopping.

WHAT ABOUT TRANSPORT POSSIBILITIES?

Riga is pretty small so that everywhere is walkable.

Taxis are cheap. A taxi from our hotel to the international coach-bus station cost a marvellous €5.00!

Full of joy & relief!
Full of joy & relief!

ANYTHING ELSE?

If you’re flying with a budget airline, be prepared for delays.

My husband was only on the trip for a week and would rather eat his own hat than travel back to Berlin by road.

On his lonesome.

He decided to fly back to Berlin with airBaltic!

It was an ordeal!

His plane had left Riga and then due to technical difficulties had to turn around and fly right back again!

Bearing in mind the horrible accident that took place a few weeks prior, I was obviously a little nervous and for the first time in my life – anxious and was all over Facebook and Twitter trying to get the latest flight updates. Thankfully, all went well and he arrived home safe and sound.

MY VERDICT:

Photo@ Graham

I really liked Riga.

It’s lovely. It’s old. It’s got history, Art and culture, and looks absolutely gorgeous. It’s not as cheap as Lithuania, but is certainly reasonably priced.

If you’re looking for the next best European city that’s safe, quiet, and away from the tourist throngs, you’ve found it.

WOULD I COME AGAIN?

Absolutely!

I intend to do just that and can’t wait to visit again.

Let’s do it!

Photo@ Avisionn Photo

For more information about coach-bus travel to Riga, please contact: Lux Express.

For more information about a four-star boutique hotel, please contact: Hotel Justus.

For more information about an independent free walking tour, please contact: Yellow Riga Free Tour.

This article is part-sponsored by Lux Express and we get a little discount on the hotel, but all opinions and the wonderful art-deco architecture that I was fascinated by, are my very own!

I have so much to share with you.

Stay tuned!

Next week, I’ll be writing about the wonderful Latvian food and drink. Yummy!

After that, there will be posts on what we did in Tallinn, Estonia with the help of the Tallinn Card, what the view was like on the ferry crossing from Estonia to Finland with TALLINK SLJA LINE and what we thought about Helsinki in Finland!

I’ll be going to TBEX Europe (Travel Bloggers Exchange) an International Networking Conference, for the first time! It’ll be taking place in Costa Brava, Catalunya, Spain from 30.04.15 – 02.05.15.

Strictly Stand Up English Comedy Night will be taking place at the Quatsch Comedy Club on 29.04.15.

Eddie Izzard will be back in Germany and will be front-lining a killer international night of comedy at the Admirals Palast on 08.05.15.

The Berlin Music Video Awards will be taking place from May 27.05.15 – 30.05.15. Anybody can apply!

The Berlin Fashion Film Festival will be taking place on 05.06.15.

I’ll be there. Will you?

As usual, you can also follow me via daily tweets and pictures on Twitter & FB!

If you’re not in Berlin right now, then come meet me in Spain!

April is going to be bright and sunny.

Watch this space!

Art Nouveau in Riga.
Art Nouveau in Riga.

Have you ever been to Latvia? Do you think Riga is gorgeous or all hype? Is Latvia in Eastern Europe?

See you in Berlin.

If you like this post or if you have any questions send me a tweet, talk to me on Facebook, find me on Linkedin, make a comment below, or send me an Email: victoria@thebritishberliner.com

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