TRAVEL BLOG: Budapest in Two Days (Winter)

Photo taken at the Museum of Sweets and Selfies, a pop-up museum, similar to the Museum of Ice Cream in San Francisco.

This is the second part of my Europe trip recap. Budapest was our second destination! We decided to go to Budapest just a couple of days before I left for Vienna. It was simple to plan. We bought our tickets on OBB and booked our Airbnb in the heart of the city, near Gozsdu, a lively area with eateries and bars.

360 Bar has heated igloos that you can reserve. We were too late to reserve one, but we arrived early and were able to enjoy it on the rooftop before their dinner rush.
360 Bar has one of the best cheese fondue sets I’ve had. I wanted to eat it all myself! Kevin and I fought over the pickles and bread. The cheese was delish.

We didn’t get to do much research on Budapest, but we made a list of the places we wanted to visit:

  • Gozsdu Udvar
  • Miniversum Budapest
  • New York Cafe
  • 360 Bar
  • Museum of Sweets and Selfies
  • Szcheyeni Thermal Bath

Obviously we couldn’t make it to all of them because of our limited time there. We didn’t realize distance from the train station to our Airbnb was going to be so far, so we narrowed down our choices to just a few that were nearby.

Gozsdu was great. At night, it’s full of life. There were so many eateries to choose from: Italian, Hungarian, Mexican, Thai, American, etc. We ate at a Hungarian restaurant and ordered their goulash. It was so tasty! We also grabbed a few drinks at one of the bars and enjoyed the atmosphere.

This is a typical Hungarian breakfast, says the server at one of the Gozsdu eateries (I can’t remember the name of the place). I had no idea the sausage under neat the toast was made of horse meat. Cheers to new experiences!
Goulash at the New York Cafe.

We passed up the thermal bath because the weather was horrendously cold for us islanders. I couldn’t take walking on the street for longer than 10 minutes. I was a popsicle! One of our last stops was at the New York Cafe, a “cafe” that many claim is the most beautiful cafe in the world. The ceilings were painted in the similar style of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel painting. I ordered the goulash and Kevin ordered some cakes. We loved the goulash above all. I have dreams to stay at the New York Hotel one day and spending more time learning more about the history behind Budapest. A two-day trip just wasn’t enough!

Dim Sum Sundays

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This year, I’ve made it a point to reserve Sundays for mass and a little downtime with Kev. We’ve become that subtly annoying couple that snicker when the choir hits an off note, or when the priest dozes off during the first reading. It has become some sort of entertainment for us, yet we enjoy taking an hour of our day to thank God for what we have and ask him to inspire the other to treat the next meal. Thankfully my requests to be treated to brunch or lunch at a restaurant of my choice are always answered…which is why I choose dim sum most Sundays. I suppose it’s the variety of dumplings, char siu bao, puffs, and dipping sauces that convince me it’s the more exciting, yet affordable type of meal we can get on a lazy Sunday. Plus, the wait is never out the door at Chinese restaurants.

We usually hit up the dim sum at Happy Days along Waialae Avenue because it’s consistent and affordable. We don’t feel guilty ordering more than our fair share of shrimp dumplings or taro puffs. This is our go-to in town because it’s close to the gelato shoppe, you know, just in case we’re craving a sweet treat after our crispy, hot jin dui.

When we feel like splurging, we head towards the dim sum restaurant near my house, Harbor Village Cuisine. The dim sum is nicely presented on a menu. No loud, sizzling or steamy carts around here. I fancy the spinach and shrimp dumplings and the mochi rice here because it feels like they put a little more love into making it.

It’s rare that we wake up early enough to hit up the early mass. But when we do, we end early and crave some of the “local” dim sum at Char Hung Sut in Downtown Honolulu. My extended family owns the take-out dim sum shop. They learned the recipes from my great grandmother and are best known for their manapua, mai tai tsu, and half moon. I can’t stress how tasty they make these dishes. If I had to choose a meal that described my childhood, it’d be this type of dim sum because it was like a treat to have each summer. It’s a comforting type of meal that can be eaten for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Yes, in my family, dim sum can be eaten around the clock.

Hawaiʻi Island

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I flew to Kona this past weekend to meet my boyfriend’s parents for the first time. I was about six-years-old the last time I went there. My grams brought me one summer to visit her brother in Hilo and he took us around the island. I remember the drive to Kona was so green and lush, we didn’t see any buildings or manicured residential areas anywhere. Hawai’i Island residents used to be spread out, mom and pop stores were the norm and fresh Hawaiian food was the best you’ve ever tasted. Those were the days!

Back to this weekend…we went hunting for the best açaí bowls on the island. The bf’s niece suggested that we head over to Big Island Juice Co. in Hilo. We took the new Saddle Road and passed chilly Mauna Kea to get there. Upon arriving at our destination, we found it was next to a hookah shop and other local businesses. We walked into Big Island Juice Co. and they suggested their signature Dragonfruit Bowl, which they served in a real pineapple bowl, topped with granola, honey, kiwi, and pineapple. It was glorious and oh so melty. The dragonfruit was a bit tart, but the honey and toppings made it the perfect light meal. It was a humid day in Hilo and we needed the refreshment.

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Look at how big it was! Served on top of their branded cutting board. It was actually so melty that my hands were stained pink the rest of the day.

While in Hilo, we also hit up one of my favorite places…Two Ladies Kitchen! I died. They had so many varieties of mochi. I’m usually very picky about mochi, my preference is either traditional plain mochi or with azuki beans. Two Ladies is so good…they stuff full strawberries, grapes, poha berries, and other seasonal fruits into their mochi and it’s even more delicious. I tried to be good and eat only one of each. My bestie in Honolulu requested some so I planned to eat the rest with her…only to realize I left it back in Kona on our way back. #epicfailure

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Here’s a better picture of the mochi that we bought but left back in Kona. I get sad every time I think of it. The box on the left is the strawberry mochi. The plastic container on the right had a variety of manju, blueberry mochi, ube manju, shiso mochi, chi chi dango, and peanut butter mochi.

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Who goes to Kona and doesn’t order Kona coffee? We drank AND ate it later that day. Kona coffee ice cream was so refreshing in the Kona heat. I can’t forget how yummy it was.

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One of the other things on my list was to visit the farmer’s market in Kona. We picked up a fresh Maui gold pineapple, which is super sweet and less acidic than most, a fan for the humidity and lack of decent air conditioning in our car, and I needed a hat (from Cookies Clothing) to hide the messy hair from the long drive.

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I’d like to go back soon and hike down Waipiʻo Valley. We drove through Waimea and Honokaʻa to get there, only to see that you have to hike to get down to the black sand beach below. Shucks. I should have done more research. Oh well, next time!

The “Non-Vegas” Person’s Guide to Las Vegas

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I hate how so many people love Vegas. It’s a superficial oasis. Nothing natural about it. Going to there was never on my list until earlier this year…my two cousins, Maria & Belle, suggested that we all see Mariah Carey’s concert at Caesar’s Palace in August. I’ve only been there as a kid and I didn’t think much of it.

Oh whale. Why knot. It’s another opportunity to hang out with them and that was worth the alcohol I’d have to consume to feel part of the group.

I booked my ticket and the boyfriend and his roomie joined us. Fast forward to two weekends ago, I was nervous about going and being a party pooper. I secretly strategized my getaway plan for when we go to a bar and shots magically show up in front of me, eyes staring me down to tank my drink and down the shot. Ugh. I’m too old for this, I told myself.

We arrived at the Bellagio and the first thing I smelled was smoke. Cigarette smoke. Ugh. Disgusting. I couldn’t handle how strong it was (I’m probably spoiled by Hawaii’s no-smoking within 50 feet of a building law). I’m so sensitive to smell, guys. I can’t stand it and it makes me feel nauseous. I’d say it’s the number one reason why I would never stay at the Strip again. Aside from going out with my cousins, boyfriend, and his roommate, I avoided Las Vegas Boulevard at all costs. I didn’t care how glamorous people dressed or how grandiose the hotel displays were…I wanted to get out of there. The whole experience was a bit impersonal, to be honest, which is why I forced my cousins and bf to join me in my search for real experiences.

I’ve compiled a list of places and eateries that I did enjoy. This list is for anyone who dares venture off the infamous Strip. Thanks to Yelp for saving me money and my sanity.

Chinatown, Las Vegas

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Chinatown in Las Vegas? Yeah, I never heard of it before. But it’s like brand spanking new. This is the first clean and oddly spaced out Chinatown I’ve ever been to. It looks like everything was built a couple of years ago. Most of the shops and eateries are located on Spring Mountain Road, a convenient three minute ride from the swanky Strip.

We walked around and ate at Magal BBQ, which was obviously not Chinese, but they had great Korean bbq and our server so happened to be from Saipan. Score! He treated us to a bottle of soju, which he happily drank with us. We walked our full bellies off across the street to J’s Karaoke Bar, a Korean (there’s a pattern here, we go to Chinatown for Korean food and soju, obviously) hiphop themed bar. My cousins and boyfriend had a great time singing and taking shots in the dimly lit room we reserved for ourselves.

On another night, we went to Sushi Kaya, where you can eat unlimited sushi for $28. Let’s just say they lost money with us. I never order sushi inland, but this place obviously flew in their fish and uni. I was peer pressured to try uni for the first time here and it wasn’t bad.

I promised myself I’d try a good Chinese restaurant, the Pho Kim Long pho restaurant, and the tea shops next time I visit.

Seven Magic Mountains

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Prior to arriving in Vegas, I noticed at least four people that have been here in the last few months. I read up on it here. You can see the colorful rocks from the freeway and it’s only fifteen minutes away from the Strip (without traffic). It’s really in the middle of nowhere and that’s the beautiful part. The art installation will be up for the next two years. I highly suggest visiting this if you need a break from the casino.

The bf rented a car specifically to drive me out here because it’d be ridiculous to Uber it and have our driver wait until we were done taking photos. We spent about 45 minutes here taking photos, touching the rocks and talking to a few locals.

Downtown Las Vegas – Arts District

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I learned that Downtown Las Vegas was the “old Vegas.” The bf took me through Fremont Street, which was a tackier-but-cheaper version of Vegas. It still wasn’t for me. We then rolled through the arts district and saw lots of murals and hipster-esque eateries with no lines (yay! no waiting!) and free parking. This is where the locals are. I was sold. This is my kinda place.

Viva Las Arepas

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Venezuelan food was not on my list when planning our weekend getaway to Vegas. By the third day, I was over the endless lines at eateries on the Strip and I wanted food that was authentic and an atmosphere that was less chaotic. I quickly Yelped “best cheap lunch” and came across Viva Las Arepas, a Venezuelan eatery that had five star reviews and it was just a five minute Uber ride away from the Bellagio.

Can I just say arepas top burgers any day?! I loved it. Everything was cheap too. We saved a lot of money on this trip and still ate to our hearts content. We ordered the roasted pork butt, reina pepiada, and the wood fire beef arepas with an empanada. I can’t even describe how satisfying it was after a night of peer pressured drinking and debauchery. It definitely beat long lines and mass-cooked dishes.

Neon Boneyard Museum

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I know this section merits more than what I’ve experienced, which was just a side tour of the museum, but it’s really worth checking out if you’re exploring Downtown. We pulled up to the half empty parking lot at the Neon Museum and walked into the main lobby. The girl at the counter told us that they are booked for tours for the day (really….the parking lot was barely filled). Apparently, they try to take care of the old neon signs by limiting the amount of visitors. The only section that was open was a small section of their property that had the old Golden Nugget sign and a bunch of others that were neat to see (touching is prohibited).

That’s my list of non-traditional Vegas things to see and eat. If I was given a ticket to Vegas, I’d definitely stay at a smaller hotel and eat at Chinatown and Downtown daily. I’m sure there’s lots more Vegas can offer to those weary of large crowds and glam lifestyle.

Note: All photos taken with my iPhone 6+. Not bad, Apple. Not bad at all. 

Omiyage from Arizona

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We made our way back to Phoenix with some beautiful healing crystals, cactus candies, bundled sage, prickly pear tea and jelly from my friend Nox, a magnet for mom, teal and lavender turquoise pendants and flat arrowheads.

Whenever I travel, I always bring my family some tasty treats and trinkets from the city. My colleagues picked up some goodies from Trader Joe’s and snacks that we don’t get to enjoy in Hawaii.

Sedona, Arizona

Photo by Kris Alcordo

My team at work had been planning our trip to Phoenix, Arizona for some time. We were scheduled to attend two internal conferences that would help us network, share ideas and strengthen morale within the fundraising divisions across the nation.  In the midst of our usual lively banter at lunch hour, one of my colleagues, Tatsu, suggested we (Kris, MJ and I) should visit Sedona if we had time. He described the location as spiritual and majestic, something not to be missed if one should ever find him or herself in Arizona.

Kris, MJ and I quickly looked up photos of Sedona on Instagram and Pinterest. After seeing that it was only a couple of hours away from Phoenix, we looked at flights and managed to cram a day trip into our itinerary.

We had no plan. We Googled lots of things on the way over to Sedona. Sometimes not having a plan presents the best experiences when traveling. Kris and MJ were the perfect adventure buddies, we’re all so laid back and silly, it made the experience even more enjoyable!

Here is a list of what we did and a few helpful suggestions…

Take a tinkle break at Red Rock State Park.

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A bathroom break is necessary if you’re driving for hours, so be sure to stop at Red Rock State Park for a clean experience. You’ll understand why the rocks and mountains are red, how there’s running water below the terrain, and gather some tips on how to access these famous rocks.

Visit the open market in Oak Creek

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I’m a frugal gal who will look for the best deals. Let me tell you how I held back on buying geodes and turquoise by the satchel before realizing the vendors are actually reasonable compared to the extremely marked up goods in Sedona. MJ and I found that the shops in the heart of Sedona were really expensive. Good thing the market was on our way out and open until 5 p.m., I went back and purchased a few more pretty crystals, Native American textiles, and cactus candies.

Walk around the Tlaquepaque Arts & Crafts Village

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I’d hate to admit it, but this is a tourist trap worth visiting. Just don’t buy anything there. We walked around peeking into all of the shops, taking silly photos and frolicking around the outdoor wind chime gallery. Then we saw that there were Jeep tours that would take us to the top of the mountains, overlooking Sedona and other mountain ranges. We had researched that most tours cost $100+/person but this Jeep Tour service only charged us $50/person. Our instincts told us to book a tour there. Totally rad find.

Book a two-hour jeep tour and have the ride of your life.

Top of the mountain
Photo by Kris Alcordo

I’m kind of a closeted adrenaline junkie. I was stoked that the tour along Schnebly Hill Road was only $50/person, most places that I researched online were $100+/person. Sedona Jeep Tours really gave us a good deal and were able to accommodate us that day.

We greeted our guide and boarded our dusty, open Jeep. Kris took ownership of the DSLR and started snapping away. The tour was bumpy, entertaining, and amazing. We learned so much about the plants, the history behind some locations that were used for filming various movies, and some deep thoughts about how certain rocks resembled a toilet, shit, and Snoopy.

Photo by Kris Alcordo

The view at the top of the mountain range was majestic. It was chilly, quiet, and overlooked Sedona and other mountains. Being at the top makes you feel empowered…gives you that “Simba, everything the light touches is our kingdom,” type of feel. Oh yes I went there.

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There are tons of tours you can book in Sedona, from hot air balloon rides to spiritual vortex type of tours. But save your money, they can get pretty expensive.

When in a hurry, eat at the Secret Garden Café

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Yelp proved to be our best friend in Sedona and Phoenix. We needed a quick bite to eat before we took off on the jeep tour. Seeing that the Secret Garden Café was open and empty, we told them we have 30 minutes before we had to board the jeep. The staff quickly sat us, suggested the three top popular and quick dishes. We all ordered the BLAT, which was mind-blowingly good. I know, how can you mess up a BLAT? Well they took it to another level with sourdough and pine nut bread and jam-packed that avo like it was the main protein. I loved it and I would go back if there weren’t other good places to eat in Sedona.

Save lots of money!

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We realized its best to set some priorities when you go to Sedona. An afterthought was that we should have saved a little more money (I wanted to go on a hot air balloon ride, but it was $220/person).

 

Thirty

THIRTYREASONS3Today is the day I make my 30th circle around the sun.

Welcome to IslandBohemian.com v.2! I’m going to be posting A LOT MORE on what I wear, create, and obsess over. I’m taking more time to write, design, photograph, and share whatever makes me smile.

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  I love anything lacy, boho, big jewels or stones, and colorful.

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Lace, lace, and more lace!

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Black midi skirt, Costco, lace tank + camisole, Ross, lace kimono and necklace, Forever21, purple ring, Nordstrom Rack, gold chain bracelet, my own.

Today’s going to be a great day!