Monthly Recap: Month 3

Here we are at Month 3. Hard to believe. We’re still going strong, though Della is going through her first bout of true homesickness. This was an emotional and eventful month. We dedicate our thoughts this month to two wonderful women who lived long, meaningful lives. We both lost our grandmothers this month. Lucille, Della’s grandma, was 101 years old. Marvis, Eric’s grandma, was 94. They were both kind, caring, and generous. They will be missed.

Here are our stats for this month.

Countries visited: 6 (Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Montenegro)

Beds Slept In: 16

UNESCO Heritage Sights Visited: 8 (Levoca Spišský Hrad and the Associated Cultural Monuments, Budapest including the Banks of the Danube the Buda Castle Quarter and Andrassy Avenue, Škocjan Caves, Plitvice Lakes National Park, Historical Complex of Split with the Palace of Diocletian, Old City of Dubrovnik, Old Bridge Area of the Old City of Mostar, Natural and Culturo-Historical Region of Kotor) Total on RTW: 23

We traveled by 0 planes this month!

We traveled by 4 trains (though one of them involved a train, a transfer to a bus, then a transfer back to a train!)

We traveled by 5 long distance buses.

We traveled by 2 different rental cars which took us from Zagreb to Dubrovnik, then Dubrovnik to Sarajevo and back!

Top Moments:

~ Our first top moment came at the very beginning of the month! We had long been looking forward to visiting Spis Castle. We had planned to do it as a day trip from Ždiar, but felt thwarted by it being a holiday weekend and therefore bad bus schedules. We switched our plan and it totally worked out for the best. We added one more UNESCO site of the old town of Levoča and were able to spend a wonderful day at the castle. The weather was glorious and the castle even exceeded our expectations!

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The amazing Spis Castle

 

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~ We had a top moment when, after a long day of traveling, we were able to successfully meet Della’s parents at the bus station in Zagreb. It involved both her parents making a train, bus, train connection as well as us doing the same. We converged on Zagreb one Saturday evening- Peggy and Wayne from Vienna and Della and Eric from Eger. Della and Eric arrived first, connected with our VRBO host, and then decided to head back to the train station to meet Peggy and Wayne’s train. It made for quite a happy reunion!

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~ During our two weeks with Della’s parents, we had the benefit of Peggy’s Rick Steves’ Guide Book. (Eric loved that book and might consider it a top moment by itself!) Rick had warned us not to expect too much from the people in the Plitvice Lakes region of Croatia, stating that often the service left something to be desired. We were so pleasantly surprised during another one of our top moments. We had a long day of driving to arrive in the Plitvice Lakes region. We met our Airbnb host, who was wonderfully friendly, making sure we had everything we needed in a great apartment. He even brought up some free beers from the local brewery where he works. We then headed to a restaurant that he recommended where we enjoyed the service of a wonderful man. He was friendly, funny, and competent. It was just a cherry on top when he gave us travarica (Eric’s new favorite liquor) shots on the house!

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The beer was actually quite tasty!

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Dessert with free shots!

~ Eric and Della returned to Dubrovnik after a few days in Bosnia-Herzegovina with Della’s parents. They said goodbye to Peggy and Wayne in Mostar before driving the rental car back into Croatia. We weren’t really looking forward to spending more time in Dubrovnik given that we had been slightly underwhelmed by our first experience (high prices and a LOT of tourists). We were also a little depressed after having to say goodbye to Della’s parents. However, we enjoyed another glorious, sunny day (after many of rain) upon our return. There was no drama with returning the car (which was unexpected) and we found our lodging quickly, despite having to hike up 421 stairs with our bags. But it was the next day that really brought the top moment- we found out that Game of Thrones was filming in the city at that moment. We slept in (which could have been a top moment also) and then headed into the city to hunt for the sites of filming. Turned out that it was easy to find. We were able to watch them setting up for a large scene this coming season. The excitement came when we, first, got to listen to what must have been the camera director explaining exactly how the scene was to be shot and getting some inside info about what was coming! Then we saw LITTLEFINGER walk right by us! Finally, when we weren’t even expecting it (sitting on the square, enjoying a Coke Zero and some snacks), we looked up and saw CERSEI walk right by. Della feels like she even got a smile. =) What fun!

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Eric is the King in the ever-continuing Game of Thrones

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We were right there with the official Baratheon/Lannister banner!

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It was quite fascinating to watch them set up for what is probably one scene. So many people and so much work involved.

Runners up for Top Moments:

~Della, especially, loved all of Hungary. She doesn’t have any really great reasons except that it was extremely enjoyable and she somehow identified with the place and people. She wishes that she could list the whole time in Hungary as a top moment, but we try to be a little more specific in these recaps. So, we picked a moment that was in Eger, Hungary. You probably read how we experienced some pretty depressing, rainy days in Eger. There was one day in particular where we were quite annoyed. We had a lot we wanted to do, but we just weren’t feeling like getting soaking wet while trying to do it. So, we headed back to our pension to relax and read. All of a sudden, after a few hours holed up in the room, we glanced to the window and saw the sun peeking from behind the clouds. We dropped what we were doing and ran out to visit the Eger Castle before it closed. What views!

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The clouds actually added to the effect

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We love castles and views…

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so happy the sun came out!!

~ The middle of our trip with Della’s parents was plagued with a bit of bad luck: we experienced days of gloomy rain, bouts of bad colds (all of us in succession), injuries (Della tweaked her back, Peggy’s toe continued to bother her, and Wayne sprained his ankle badly), unpleasant experiences (lodging being cancelled on us at the last minute and then having to pay more for less, car companies who didn’t do what they said and then literally yelled at us and hung up on us, threating to let the car be towed instead of allowing us to return it: Sixt Car Rental, by the way), some sad family news from back home, etc. I tell you all of this because it was the backdrop for one of our runners up for top moment. After all of this stuff to make us unhappy, we arrived in Sarajevo. Sarajevo is a difficult city to visit for a number of reasons, but we found it amazing. We also were able to finally find affordable, good food. This may sound like a small thing, but, somehow good dining options seem to be able to make or break a place for us. We found multiple pleasant restaurants with genuine servers, good prices, and tasty food. (Even the hardest person to please among us was happy!) Our last night with Della’s parents was amazingly pleasant. We dined in our second town in Bosnia Herzegovina, Mostar. The evening at a restaurant with all the above, plus a great ambiance, and amazing views of the wonderful Old Bridge of Mostar.

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Happy campers… er… eaters!

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Local food delicacy called Burek. Yum!

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Our meal, see the view in the background.

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This lovely bridge!

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Sunset in Mostar, adding to the wonderful ambiance of our final dinner

~ See above for the lead up to this second runner up as well. We had had many days of rain during our trip and expected many more. We arrived in the Plitvice Lakes region on a cloudy evening, had a wonderful dinner (see above top moment), and slept well (except for Della who was fighting the cold at that time). We woke up to more cloudy, gloomy weather, which was truly unfortunate for our trip to the amazing Plitvice Lakes. We had been looking forward to this for a long time, reading blog after blog about how wonderful these lakes were. This is what they are supposed to look like.

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This is what they actually looked like when we arrived.

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The rain had also caused many of the wooden paths to be closed due to flooding. We were quite distraught but hiked on anyway. The top moment arrived when, at around noon, the sun was able to peek through the clouds! It wasn’t perfect, but it gave us the light that we had been hoping for. The mist cleared and we were able to enjoy the second part of the lakes!

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The lovely upper lakes

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The sun is out!

~ We had a wonderful time with Della’s parents, however, because their trip was short and there was a lot they wanted to see, we moved very fast! We rented cars and zipped from city to city, mostly spending only one night in each location. This was great because we saw a lot, however, we were quite exhausted by the time Peggy and Wayne left. Traveling like that is OK when you get to go home after, but on this long trip, we can’t keep up that kind of pace. We knew we wanted to slow down and thought that maybe we had found the place to do it. We headed to the bayside town of Kotor in Montenegro. We had booked an apartment through booking.com and didn’t exactly know what to expect. We arrived to a great place! Spacious, homey, and with almost everything we could want. We had already decided to hunker down for a few days, but now we think we might even go for more!

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Stay tuned to the blog for more pictures of the actual town. It is lovely.

Items Missing, Broken, Discarded, or Added:

Discarded/Broken:

1. Eric’s computer. We were quite frustrated because we had bought a lightweight netbook for the purpose of this trip, but by the second month of the trip, it was starting to malfunction. It wouldn’t start up regularly and we began to worry that it was on its last legs. Luckily, we were able to buy a new one, ship it to Della’s parents and have them bring it to us.

2. Della’s cell phone battery. While in Budapest Della’s phone died. Luckily, it turned out to just be the battery. Unluckily, we were told that the specific battery she needed was not sold anywhere in Hungary. Cue a late night rush to the store in Denver by Wayne (Della’s dad) the day before they left to meet us.

Added:

1. See above: New computer and new cell phone battery, purchased at home and brought to us

2. New soap

3. New toothpaste and two new toothbrushes

Packing Update:

We’re still mostly happy with the contents of our bags. We probably have more than we really need. We still feel like we haven’t used some of our summer clothing. Shorts haven’t been worn virtually at all. We have finally used our swim suits (swimming in the Adriatic, next to the walls of Dubrovnik, and in Zadar) and we made use of our cold weather gear again during our time in Sarajevo. We also have been potentially carrying more books with us at a time then strictly needed.

Books Read: (Have you read any of these??)

Della has read Poland by James Michener, Everything is Going to be Great by Rachel Shukert, The Bridge at Andau by James Michener, Final Epidemic by Earl Merkel

Eric has read Outlander by Diana Gabaldon, Fire From Heaven by Mary Renault, Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Eric and Della have BOTH read Stonehenge by Bernard Cornwell.

Make sure to catch up on all our monthly recaps: Monthly Recap 1, Monthly Recap 2

Moments of Misery: Rain, Rain, and More Rain

There is almost nothing worse to dampen your spirits than rain when you are traveling. We have certainly had our fair share of rain during our time in Europe, but there is something especially miserable in knowing that it is going to rain the entire time that you are visiting a town. That is what happened to us in Eger, Hungary. The forecast was for rain for the entire time we were visiting. We had such high expectations for our time here! The first day wasn’t terrible. It rained lightly on and off all day, so we did most of the indoor things we had planned. We hoped to do the famous castle on our second day and return to the Valley of Beautiful Women (a 30 min walk from town). We woke up to steady rain. We had one more indoor activity we were interested in, so we headed out to do that hoping that the forecast of less rain in the afternoon would hold true. It did not.

Soaked and miserable, we headed back to our pension. Blargh.

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*Update: later in the evening, the rain did stop and we were able to rush and walk through the castle after all!! 😁

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Budget: Hungary

This is one of our Budget series of posts to give you an idea of how much we spent traveling around the world. Here we will look at Hungary. Check our posts to see what kind of activities we did and where we stayed!

In Hungary we used forint. We converted to US dollars using the current conversion rates at the time of our visit. It was approximately 240 forint to one dollar.

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Total Spent (8 days): $767.77

We normally break down into the following categories:

Accommodation: $284.85

We stayed in two hostels in Budapest: one dorm and one private room host. We stayed in a pension in Eger.

Activities: $186.81

We did three free tours in Budapest and tipped for them all. We visited the Szechenyi baths in Budapest which was somewhat pricey. We also experienced our first Escape Room game in Eger in addition to entering a few museums and other sights.

Alcohol: $34.50

We did a Pub Tour in Budapest and wine tasting in the Valley of Beautiful Women so this is a little higher than other locations. We also purchased a few bottles of wine.

Food: $199.91

We think we ate out one to one and half times a day. We did not cook as many times as in other locations.

Miscellaneous: $5.25

We purchased a few post cards, public bathrooms, and one souvenir.

Transportation: $136.46

We took a few metros and trams in Budapest which were not super cheap, but quite convenient. Our big transportation expenses were train tickets to and from Eger and then a long train ride from Budapest to Zagreb to meet Della’s parents!

This divides out to $95.97/day which, thankfully, is just under our $100/day budget. 

Eger, Hungary

We have been looking forward to going to Eger for a long time! We knew that we needed to find time to visit this smaller Hungarian town.

Where We Stayed

Agria Retur Panzio – This nice pension was a little bit far from the train station so we had to lug our bags all the way through Old Town to get there. However, we were glad that we stayed here. We had a pretty sizable room with a private bathroom. There was a shared kitchen and meal area that was quite pleasant. We were only a few minutes walk from Old Town and the town Minaret was practically right outside our door!  The shower was unique though.

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What We Did

Valley of the Beautiful Women – This is why we traveled to Eger! Just over the hill, about a 25 min walk from Old Town, is the Valley of Beautiful Women. We’re not sure why the name, especially because we saw almost no one in our time in the valley. It was a miserably rainy day. However, it was still quite enjoyable because the reason you visit here is because it is full of about 50 wine cellars, all right next to each other. Tastes are free and glasses were as reasonable as 100 forint (about $0.50)! We really enjoyed striking up a conversation with a bored Hungarian working in the first cellar. We chatted about wine, Hungary, language, and her life. We also enjoyed trying the Eger special wine: Egri Bikaver or Bull’s Blood. The wine gets its name because in 1552, the people of Eger withstood a siege by the Ottoman Empire for a month. 2000 men from Eger against 100,000. They held! The king Istvan Dobo helped his troops by giving them wine which stained their beards red. This lead to rumors through the Turkish army that the men of Eger were so strong and vicious because they were drinking the blood of bulls! Every cellar has their own variant of this famous Eger wine. They also will fill up a plastic bottle of wine for cheap prices. We filled our 1 liter nalgene bottle of our favorite wine for only 500 forint (a little over $2.00!!) There are many cellars to try, but the rain and the alcohol caused us to only get to 3. We wish we lived close by cause we would go back regularly!

Eger Castle – As we mentioned, Eger is famous for withstanding a siege from the Turks. The castle is beautiful. There are a lot of things to do in the castle, a few museums, etc. However, we were mostly interested in the views. Also, we only had a small window at the end of a day when it wasn’t pouring. You do have to pay to walk the grounds, so we spent some time exploring the walls and enjoying the views. You can see the ruins of the first cathedral which was built on the same hill around 1000 AD. Eger exists because it grew around this cathedral.

Climb the Minaret
So, we talked about how Eger withstood the siege from the Turks. It was amazing and heroic, and, understandably, Eger is very proud of this point of its history. Unfortunately, the first siege was in 1552. The Turks came back in 1596, and this time Eger did not hold out. Eger was under Turkish rule for about 100 years. The minaret is a remnant from this time. It is an amazingly narrow, tall tower. There is nothing to do but climb the tower. We didn’t count, but our Lonely Planet says that there are 97 stairs in this narrow staircase. It winds up to the top and you almost have to crawl up on your hands and knees to contort your body through the narrow passage. Once on the viewing platform, the only thing you can do is shuffle sideways with your back to the tower. Della couldn’t even fit up there with her backpack. We did have some lovely views of the town and castle. The sun even decided to make an appearance!

Eger Basilica
Eger boasts the 2nd largest Basilica in the country, and it was huge. We chose not to pay for the special, daily organ concert, but we did find time to enter later. It is beautiful!

 

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The Eger Basilica

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Inside the Eger Basilica

 

City Under the City
The other cool thing about the Basilica is that you can enter the City Under the City right outside. This is actually a network of tunnels that functioned as the archbishop’s enormous wine cellar. This was from the days when church taxes were paid in wine! We did a tour here as it is the only way to see them and it was in Hungarian unfortunately. Though they did give us a nice English guide which gave us information about each of the things our guide was talking about. The only thing we missed was understanding the jokes and being able to ask questions.

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An explanation of mold and how it is necessary for wine storage?

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City under the City. Not any real wine.

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Exit Point Game – So, we had heard about these Escape Room games in Budapest. The premise is simple: They lock you in a room and you have 60 min to figure out how to escape. You will use clues within the room, logic, and other tricks to open locks, solve riddles, and unlock doors. It’s basically a chance for you to channel your inner Indiana Jones. We had known that we wanted to try one of these games, but couldn’t quite get around to figuring it out in Budapest. But we were quite excited to see that one of the companies had recently expanded to Eger! We walked by their office in town, which was only a few min away from our pension. We had no trouble scheduling an appointment because they had just opened 2 weeks ago. There is a hint button, which we never used. However, you are on video the entire time so the woman watching us gave us a few unsolicited hints when she could see we were stuck. We got out right before our 60 min were up. However, we do believe that if had a bit longer, we could have figured it out with no hints! It was a blast!

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What We Ate

We found that a lot of places in Eger (also in Budapest) offered a special “daily menu.” This menu normally got you a soup and some sort of meal. We were excited that these typically cost about 900 forint (less than $4.00)! We ate at a couple of different restaurants with this deal. The food wasn’t particularly memorable, but it was tasty!

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Final Thoughts

We were certainly glad that we went a little bit off the main tourist track to visit Eger. It was a beautiful old town. Unfortunately, a bit of the beauty was marred because they were completely redoing the main old town square.  Despite this, there is plenty of things to do to occupy your time for a couple of days. We wish we could have stayed longer. We also wish we could have been more efficient, however, the bad, rainy weather made some of the potential sightseeing unpleasant. Overall, we really enjoyed Eger and wish we could do it again!

Budapest, Hungary

After saying goodbye to Slovakia, we headed south to Hungary. Our first stop was the capital city of Budapest.

Where We Stayed

Paprika Hostel – For our first few nights, we picked out this hostel online because the reviews made it seem like a low-key place (unlike a lot of other places in Budapest, who seem to be advertising how crazy they will be). We booked in a four-bed dorm room and shared with just one other person all three nights. The facilities were nice except another toilet would have been great), but we never quite clicked with the rest of the people staying here.

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Pal’s Hostel – For our last two nights, we decided we wanted the comfort and privacy of our own room, so we found a private room in this place. Even though it calls itself a hostel, it actually feels more like small apartments. We had to share bathroom and kitchen facilities, but only with one other couple. We really enjoyed our stay in this spacious room – and the location right next to the main basilica was amazing as well!

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What We Did

Budapest Free Walking Tour – It’s basically become our standard practice to take a free walking tour of a city on our first day there to get a feel for it. In Budapest, there were a few different companies, but we went with the one that had the best reviews. This overview tour started on the Pest side (Budapest is actually the union of Buda on the west of the Danube and Pest on the east), where we saw a few different squares and the beautiful St. Stephen’s Basilica. We then crossed the Chain Bridge over into Buda. We climbed up the steps to the Royal Palace, and then the tour finished at Matthias Church. From here, we walked down on our own through the Fisherman’s Bastion scenic overlook and back over into Pest (where our hostel was).

Free Pub Tour – Budapest is known for its nightlife, so we decided to get a little crazy and join a tour of some of the different watering holes. The free walking tour company offers a free pub tour – they make sure to emphasize that it is a tour, and not a pub crawl where the point is just to get drunk. A guide led us to three different places, and at each one we got a free shot! The last stop on the tour was one of Budapest’s famous “ruin bars” – an abandoned building that has been turned into a large bar (and usually with random decorations). We had so much fun that after the our was over, some of the group even went on to another ruin bar!

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Szimpla Ruin Bar

Free Communism Walking Tour – We definitely love our free walking tours! The tour company also offered a special tour that was a little different than the overview. It was less about seeing sights and more about hearing the stories of what life was like in Budapest during the Communist regime (with appropriate backdrops). We felt like we learned a lot and would highly recommend this!

 

Margaret Island Fountain Show – Our hostel gave us a tip that every night at 9, the big fountain on the southern end of Margaret Island puts on a light, music and water show. We grabbed a bottle of wine and headed over there. We were definitely impressed with the hour-long spectacle. This also gave us a good view point of the Parliament and Castle by night!

 

Watching the Cowboys Game

Central Market Hall – On our own, we walked down to this giant market housed in a pretty old building. The market was closing, so we didn’t have time to do much shopping, but we did manage to grab a lángos, which is basically just fried dough topped with a variety of things. We overheard someone say that the traditional topping was just cheese and sour cream, so we went with that.

Walk Around Parliament – Also on our own, we walked around the massive and impressive Hungarian Parliament building. We had thought about doing a tour of the inside, but it is actually pretty expensive. Also near the Parliament on the Danube we found a memorial to the Jews who in 1944-45 were killed on that spot so that their bodies would be washed away in the river. The shoes symbolize the fact that they were often ordered to take off their shoes beforehand.

Szechenyi Baths – One other thing that Budapest is known for is its baths. There are many springs in the area surrounding Budapest, and these are often used to create public baths. We went to the largest at Szechenyi. We spent a whole day exploring the different thermal pools, saunas and outdoor pools. Definitely very relaxing!

Where We Ate

Compared to other cities we have been to, we actually found it quite hard to find traditional local food in this city! Most of our meals were not Hungarian. We had Thai food, Turkish kebabs, and even Mexican food! On our last night we did finally eat at one place that offered a multi-course menu of Hungarian specialties.

Final Thoughts

We enjoyed our time in Budapest. There are a lot of different sights to see, and certainly a lot of different ways to have fun. A little more touristy than Krakow and Bratislava, but not as bad as Prague. We’d recommend a visit!

Sports Fan Abroad: NFL Opening Week in Budapest

As you may know, Eric is a pretty big sports fan. He knew that coming on this trip would limit his ability to follow his favorite teams back in the US, but he still would like to try when possible.

Eric’s favorite sport to watch is football, and his favorite team is the Dallas Cowboys. We were in Budapest on the first Sunday of NFL games, so he researched where it might be possible to watch the game. We were on our way to a British pub that might have the game on when we stumbled onto something even better: a Hungarian American sports bar! We knew we were in the right place when  we saw that it was called “The Endzone” and that there were people in NFL jerseys outside. Here’s a website for the bar (in Hungarian): http://www.endzonebbqpub.hu/

It wasn’t just Americans in the bar either… we did meet one, but there were quite a few fans speaking Hungarian as well. The favorite team of the bar seemed to be the Giants. Maybe it is because Europeans seem to really like New York.

We ended up leaving at halftime because it was after midnight, and the Cowboys were playing terribly. It was still a fun first experience of watching the NFL in a foreign country!

The American flag was a hint that we were in the right place

The American flag was a hint that we were in the right place

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You can kinda see a Broncos pennant up there.

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Notice the Giants Helmet