Monday, April 7, 2014

Carnevale di Viareggio

Carnevale is a big celebration here in Italia. Unfortunately since I couldn't make it to the venice festivities, I took a short train ride with two of my roommates to the beach town of Viareggio (7 euros). This town is known for holding a Carnevale Parade each year since 1873. Its about a 3 hour long parade that displays huge paper mâché floats with a group of people dancing on each one, there is music playing and paper scraps being thrown in every direction.

You can stand in any part of the street because the floats rotate around a circle so you will see all of the displays. To get into the carnevale section you have to pay €15 and there is no way around it. The police completely barricade the streets so that you can't see anything unless you buy the ticket. It's totally worth it though if you make the trip all the way here, you have to go! 

The entire city closes down and everyone takes part of the celebrations. It is very family oriented, people dress up in costumes even if they aren't part of a display and overall it is just a fun time. I believe that at the end of the Carnevale season ( which is about 3 weeks) they announce a winner of the floats. This year the "Il Ragno di Avanzini" won the title.

Here are some other pics of the floats

The canyon shot out pieces of paper
John Lennon

The back of John Lennon: "Revolution"

Front of Death
Back of Death
Masks of Venice
Voodoo Doll
Voodoo Doll Back

 Sorry I don't remember what they were all titled or themed...

Attack of the Giant Insect
Social Media; Internet
Poseidon; King of the Ocean 
Native American
 The town of Viareggio itself is adorable. It's a small beach town that reminds me a lot of somewhere in California or Florida. There is a beach which we walked on and dug our toes in the sand. There's a canal filled with boats and yachts, then there is a bunch of small shops and restaurants. I'm sure that during the summer months this is the place to be, maybe like our Jersey Shore, except super clean and elegant and actually nothing like the Jersey shore

We got there a little early so we had a few hours to walk around and see the city. In the center there is a few streets lined with tents selling cheap clothes and shoes. 

Throughout the town there were some carts selling pork sandwiches. Which seems normal, but the problem is that the entire pork is sitting on the counter, head and all… Yummy!

Also along the canal, since it is a beach town, there are small trucks/boats selling fresh seafood like fried fish and shrimp. Unfortunately, I didn't get to try any because I brought a sandwich from home but boy did it smell good! We found a relaxing park to eat our lunch walking left from the station. It was filled with picnic tables, trees and grass! Something we do not see very often in Florence! 

When we arrived in Viareggio, we stopped for breakfast at an adorable caffe walking on, Via Vittorio Veneto, the street straight out of the station. I had an amazing cappuccino with a Sfogliatelle di Miele! My favorite!

A great day in Viareggio, with great company! So next time you happen to be in Italy around February- March, I recommend giving it a try and experience what it is like to be apart of an Italian Carnevale.
Here's the website:

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Budapest: Paris of the East?

I never really gave much thought about visiting Budapest, but when my friend invited me to go explore his city, I quickly took up the opportunity.

Since flights from Tuscany were much more expensive and had connections of over 10 hours, I decided to fly out of Milan through Ryan Air. It can be super difficult to buy a ticket because seats sell out really quick, so I would recommend buying them as early as possible.  
My friend Alyssa and I took an 11am train to Milano Centrale by TrenItalia for 50€. Since I tried to be clever and outsmart the system, I didn't buy my ticket online because I was hoping that it wouldn't have the date and time written on it (When I went to Viareggio the ticket had a 4 month validity) so that I could reuse the same ticket later this month when returning to Milan. The chance of someone checking your ticket is really 50/50, so it was worth a try, right? I was disappointed to find it clearly written on the top of the ticket and just incase I hadn't seen it the "oh so nice" man at the ticket booth circled it for me... Whew, We'll thank God for my inner conscious because I got checked right when sitting down, and saved myself from getting a fat fine!
Enough about trains, we then took a shuttle bus by Terravision for only 5€ oneway to Bergamo Airport. The shuttle is located right outside the train station in Piazza Luigi di Savoia and it took exactly one hour to get there. Before we got on the shuttle we stopped at an elegant little cafe right next to the station and got a delicious sandwich. Unfortunately I was so hungry I didn't even remember to take a picture of the sandwich or the cafe; sorry guys.
I've heard many bad complaints about Ryan Air but I can't say that I experienced any of it. The check in was empty and took literally two minutes. The boarding itself was a bit of a mess because they do not call you in by rows so everyone is trying to cut in line and be the first ones on the plane. This is not Ryan Air's fault though, it's the Italian culture. (Which is one of the few negative things I will ever say of my beloved Italians) They have absolutely no manners when it comes to airports or sense of what it means to form a line! Getting through security was also the same scheme; completely unorganized and nothing like you will see in America. Moving on, the baggage restrictions seemed a lot better than what I imagined. There are no free drinks offered and the seating is random unless you pay the extra fee. *For a less than two hours flight you really don't need to sit next to your friends, save that money to buy yourself a cocktail and meet some new people! Overall good experience there and back. On the way back, Alyssa and I got super lucky and somehow had priority boarding so we skipped the entire line and of course felt really special about it!

We arrived in Hungary at about 5:30 and thankfully Steve was there waiting for us. We took a bus and the metro to reach his house and then made a stop to exchange our money. It's a much better rate out of the airport and for 100€ I got about 30,700 forint.
Since it was already 7pm we didn't waste anytime, we showered and went out for dinner. Right around the corner from his house is Raday Utca street filled with restaurants and bars. We went to a small sandwich place called Marie Kristensen. To our luck the special was a Hungarian sandwich: spicy salami, cheese, paprika, tomato and pepper. The meal also came with a drink and a Nutella crepe for dessert all for less than 10 euros (I don't remember in forints). I Highly Recommend!

We then headed to the Duna River and saw the beautiful view of the green bridge, freedom lady, Gatt hotel and a prestige college all on the other side of the river in Buda. Walk along the river you can capture some great pictures and it made me feel at home like I was back in Hoboken or Edgewater. On the Pest side of the river there is a really cool aquatic museum with blue lights and it's in the shape of a whale. Budapest is the name of the entire city but it's actually divided into two sides Buda and Pest one on each side of the Duna.

Aquarium Whale Museum Building

 We checked out this popular bar known for having swings instead of barstools, but we couldn't stop for a drink because there were no open tables. So instead we hit up another local bar with pool tables and music videos playing. There we tried some typical Hungarian drinks, which I can't remember the name of but one was a shot of vodka with raspberry syrup and tabasco sauce and the other was a light wine mixed with water? Well back to the shot... Tabasco sauce? Crazy! I know, but it really is unique and tasty. Who would think vodka, raspberry and TABASCO could taste so good? The fruity flavor of the cranberry covers up the vodka taste and the Tabasco gives you a warm burning aftertaste that is not overpowering at all. Although I can't remember the name, I do know it translated into something along the lines of hit the floor... I wonder why?
After this we went to ELLATO KERT TACOS, a Mexican restaurant that had a great vibe. There was foosball and pool as well as music playing and more than one bar that also served tacos and burritos. It had a mix of both locals and some foreigners which was great because I don't think I have ever been happier to hear people speak English in another country. Here we met Steve's friends and local celebrities Matty and Benny. The two young pop stars were on the X factor and are now on the verge of forming their own boy band. Although they were both embarrassed to speak in English, they didn't hesitate to sing for us American songs. It was cute and although Alyssa and I had no idea who they were, we can now say that we met Hungarian singers! Hahaha! We had a little jam out sesh and then headed on to the next location.

A two story club that was loaded with people. Here we saw a guy dressed in a naked old lady body suit and was dancing on stage having the time of his life; what a sight! We checked out the scene a little bit and decided to call it a night.

The next morning we overslept and skipped breakfast but went straight to Raday to a typical Hungarian restaurant for lunch. Since I already had my share of Goulash in Czech, I ordered a chicken stuffed with cheese and spinach (which I don't think is necessarily Hungarian) but Alyssa got chicken with tomato sauce, onions and I think Paprika.

We started the day by walking up to the freedom lady to admire the view of the entire city. I absolutely suggest making the hike up to the top, but beware it is quite the journey! Then we hopped on the tram that took us over to the Castle. The entrance fee to ride up the top and back wasn't too expensive and it is a tourist attraction worth seeing. It has a beautiful view from the top and the Castle is actually the location of where Katy Perry shot her music video Fireworks. It was a beautiful day out in the city but at the top of the hill the temperature dropped and the wind picked up. So of course we stopped for some hot chocolate and hot wine. (The wine has a cinnamon spice taste to it) Then on our way to the church we had to stop at a little stand that was selling Korosfoi Kurtoskalacs because the smell was irresistible. This Transylvanian dessert is delicious and they make it right in front of you. You can also choose if you want to add chocolate, coconut, cinnamon, vanilla or nuts to it.

There was Archery up at the top of the hill

On our way to the Castle

Trolley that takes you to the Castle

Look out for this Arch in the music video!

Alyssa got Cinnamon, I got Coconut
From here we walked over to the Matthias Church; by far the prettiest building in Budapest. I think the architecture of the church can be described as gothic but it's not "dark" at all. The church almost glows with a combination of the white walls and the hippie, flowered pattern ceiling; it's is absolutely breathtaking. The back of the church has a mini Great Wall type of structure going on. With little towers and passages that connect each one, it sets such a romantic setting. Of course the view to Pest is also amazing and from here you can get really good pics of the Parliament, which is also a beautiful gothic building. *Fun Fact: Michael Jackson wanted to buy out the entire Parliament and make it his summer house, but of course the Hungarians didn't allow it.

Absolutely Beautiful! Look at the Colors!

View of the Parliament

After we traveled back down from the castle, we were already exhausted. We decided to make one more stop at this well known Square. This was a very busy area and quite rich. There was HardRock Cafe, Casinos and some fancy hotels. We stopped inside a luxurious coffee and chocolate shop and all the desserts looked delicious.
Of course, a trip to a new country wouldn't be complete for me unless I stopped by a super market and so that's exactly what I did! The products I found here were actually pretty similar to those of Czech, actually overall i saw many similarities between both countries. So I bought myself some Hungarian Dark Chocolate and headed home to take a nap. That night we hung out at the apartment with Steve's roommate and his pop star singer friends.
A day and a half in Budapest was definitely too short of a trip but for the amount of time we had I think we saw a lot of awesome things. Unfortunately, Alyssa and I weren't able to make it to the hot springs to get massages and enjoy something Budapest is so well known for or even go exploring inside some caves, but not too worry... I'll just have to come back one day!
In the morning we took a taxi to the airport which ended up being about €20 euros and were ready to head back home to Firenze.

Lovely Bridge; one of many
Fashion Museum, near Steve's house

Best Gyro Ever!

Jewish Synagogue
*Tip: If you are living here, register on frecciarossa and receive discounts like a 10€ Birthday Gift!
*Buy tickets online, you save time and don't try to be cheap like me!
*TrenItalia prices can be a little more expensive because they are owned by the government. Try using Just make sure you check what station you are going into, many cities have more than one. Also, Italo has very limited destinations so check beforehand!
*Make sure to print out your boarding pass at home, when traveling with Ryan Air, because they will charge you a fee if they have to print it out at the airport.