Maggie and Clay’s favorites in Edinburgh

As we leave Edinburgh and reflect back on our 2 week visit to Edinburgh, it is probably appropriate at this time to come up with a favorites list.  I have deliberately not chosen to list them in any particular order, but just as they pop in my mind.

Rosslyn Chapel: This is a perfect day trip just outside of Edinburgh. The Chapel was founded in the mid-15th Century, but a lot of people associate it with Dan Brown’s book – The Da Vinci Code.  Nice on the outside, and stunning inside. If you take the bus out there, make sure you get on the right one!



Real Mary’s King Close:  We loved the tour of the hidden streets that have remained frozen in time since the 17th century.  During the guided tour you learn about who lived there, how they lived and why it was sealed off.  The stories are intriguing.  Unfortunately, no photographs were allowed – this one is from Wikipedia.


Edinburgh Castle:  Impossible to miss the Castle that towers over Edinburgh and is visible from almost anywhere in the city.  If you time your visit well, you can be there for the 1:00PM gun and a little show.  So many different places to explore within the castle: the displays, historical re-enacters and the audio guide give you a good overview of the history of Scotland.  If you’re willing to stand in the line, you can see the Scottish Crown Jewels.

Arthur’s Seat:  It took us about 2 hours to do the hike up to the top, but it is definitely worth it.  Incredible views of Edinburgh.


Royal Botanical Gardens:  The Gardens were only a ten-minute walk from our rental unit and well worth the visit.


The Scottish National Gallery:   Although it is not as grand as the Louvre or Uffizi, it is a wonderful art gallery with a well designed layout.  Clay especially liked the John Singer Sargent painting, “Lady Agnew of Lochnaw.” There are a wide variety of paintings including English, Dutch, and my favorite the Impressionists.  We visited this Gallery twice – it’s free, and there’s plenty to see, so why not?

The Scottish National Portrait Gallery:  The Portrait Gallery is an excellent collection of portraits that gives you a good overview of Scottish history and culture.  Wasn’t expecting that.  Also noteworthy, it’s free too!

The Georgian House:   This was truly a nice surprise.  We both went halfheartedly, and came away wowed by our two hours or so at the House.  It really gives you a good sense of what high society living was like in the Georgian era.  The guides were very entertaining and knowledgeable.


Queensferry: Easy day trip to Queensferry to eat seafood and see the incredible Forth Bridge, which is visible from many of the restaurants in town.


Stockbridge Market:  Small farmer’s market just a few blocks from our rental apartment.  Fresh veggies, seafood, meat, crafts.  What’s not to like for this foodie?


Pubs:  They are everywhere and not to miss. One of our favorites was the closest one, the Cumberland Bar. Clay will remember it with a lump in his heart (and his stomach) for his first taste of Haggis. Dog lovers will be glad to know that they have the run of the place. We like them because you can strike up a conversation with just about anybody – as I did, to get this picture of the cute couple with the darling dog.


Maggie and Clay’s favorites in Edinburgh

Living like a local in Edinburgh

Well, we made it to Edinburgh on Saturday, May 14th, but unfortunately our luggage was lost again.  We are batting 100% failure on getting our luggage.  Next we leave Edinburgh for Chipping Campden, England on the 28th of May, and fly direct to Birmingham, England to pick up a rental car.  I can’t imagine our luggage being lost on a direct flight, but…….this appears to be the Olmstead’s fate on this trip.  Keep thinking positive thoughts about our luggage.

We love our rental place in Edinburgh.  We are in New Town as opposed to Old Town, but we don’t know how you tell.  Our New Town neighborhood is several  hundred years old (est. late 1700’s). The neighborhood is quite lovely,  but it’s still peculiar to me that “New” Town is that  old.  Below are some photos of our neighborhood and our rental apartment.  We got it through Home Away Rentals and are extremely pleased – fireplace in almost every room, tall ceilings and windows, and lovely old buildings.  What’s not to like?


We have been our typical busy bees catching the top attractions, but doing it at our own pace.  We were so happy to have had Ed and Kathy Grober visit us for a few days last week, and waited to do some things so we could enjoy them together.  Clay is writing a description of some of tourist activities. One of the things I enjoy most about just “being” in Edinburgh, besides the obvious touristy things,  is simply living the way the locals do.  Already I have already fallen in love my neighborhood in Edinburgh – Stockbridge.

Once upon a time it was a sleepy village on the outskirts of Edinburgh. It was incorporated into the city of Edinburgh in the 1800’s.   I love walking on  its cobbled streets, shopping at the small shops which runs for several blocks.   The closest I can come to comparing it to Austin would be S. Congress, but better.  More shops, more restaurants, and the classical architecture of a city established in the 1700’s.

stonebridge tap

The current “Stock Bridge,” built in 1801, is a stone structure that spans the Water of Leith. 27167970061_0ab8627c7e_o

If you go down the stairs at the base of the clock tower, you can follow the Water to Dean Village, a World Heritage site.  We did that, and found that it’s hard to tell a World Heritage site from the rest of Edinburgh. As far as we can tell, they could put that designation on the whole city.






Every Sunday morning there is a farmers’ market. We have made it both Sundays that we have been here.  I bought some pheasant soup that was delicious, and not gamey at all.  It is definitely the place to be on Sunday


There is a great selection of artisan food stalls, including one with pulled pork and another that serves freshly made paella.


We had a good time in Edinburgh, but now it’s off to Chipping Campden. I hope our luggage enjoys the trip as much as we do. Maybe it should have its own blog to tell about the adventures it’s having.


Living like a local in Edinburgh

Last Week in Hungary – Shedding a tear


It is a bitter sweet moment as we end our month’s long stay in Budapest.  We have seen so much more, having spent more time here than most tourists.

Reflecting back on our decision to stay a month we have zero regrets.  Little moments, like seeing the same next door neighbor every morning as she was having her morning smoke will be a memory we won’t soon forget.  She never smiled, even with a friendly good morning or wave.  About halfway into our stay, she would smile and say hello with genuine kindness.  I don’t know why she was not friendly as first, but something happened that changed her mind about her “Homeaway” neighbors next door.  Maybe that fact that we had no loud, wild parties or debauchery next door might have put us in a better light.

We closed out our last week with a few last minute excursions, but feel like we have done all the major things we set out to do.  This week we took a tour of the Hungarian Royal Opera House.  Our first week in Budapest included many classical music venues, so we didn’t go to a performance at the Opera house, but opted for a tour instead.  The tours are very popular, and when we handed them our ticket that divided us up based on the language we spoke.  No Southern English group, so I joined in with the official English group instead.  While waiting for our tour to start at the top of the stairs where the English sign was, Clay snapped a photograph of this grumpy looking guy behind the sign.


As you can see from Clay’s photos, it is an amazing building.  It was opened in 1884 under the shared responsibility of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  When opened, it became one of the most prestigious musical institutions in Europe. The acoustics are considered to be among the best in the world. It has seating for 1200 people.

Before the tour started we encountered our first and only obnoxious American tourist.  After a hello and the obligatory “where are you from”, he immediately launched into a speech about this opera house not comparing well with the Paris Opera House.  Both Clay and I were thinking , “we haven’t done the tour yet, so how do you know this?”  He then asked us if we had been to the Paris Opera house, with an obvious hint of how cultured he was.  (He previously mentioned he had been to lots of other opera houses, and this one just didn’t compare.)  Of course he was talking loudly and with that false like “Donald Trump” confidence.  I bet he has never been to an opera in his entire life. We just wondered what the Hungarian English tour guide was thinking when he arrived to take us on the tour.  Hopefully, he didn’t hear this jerk.  And, for your information, the Hungarian  Opera House was beautiful!



Day trip to Gödöllő

In honor of Queen Elisabeth of Hungary, I highlighted this section title in purple – her favorite color. Gödöllő is a small town not too far from Budapest.  It is only about 30km Northeast of Budapest.  It was an easy ride on the metro.  The attraction of most interest here to us was to see the magnificent palace where the Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary, Franz Josef, and his beautiful wife, Queen Elisabeth (“Sisi”) had as their summer residence.


Unfortunately we were not allowed to take photos inside the palace, so these pictures are stock photos.  We had an English audio guide which was very helpful in understanding why Hungarians love their Queen Elisabeth.  Briefly, she was born into Bavarian royalty and married Franz Joseph when she was only 16.  After becoming Queen she would often visit Hungary and developed a deep kinship with the people of Hungary.  She was instrumental in bringing about the dual monarchy of Austria-Hungary in 1867.



Tragically, she was stabbed to death in 1898 by an anarchist who simply put – “just wanted to kill a member of royalty”.  After her death her popularity with the Hungarian people only increased.  There are statues of her and numerous sites named after her, including the Elisabeth Bridge, just a 5 minute walk from our apartment here.

On the left is a statue of Queen Elizabeth, with the Elizabeth Bridge in the background. On the right is the Elizabeth Bridge at night, with the Libberty Statue on the hill.

I hope you can see a little bit of why we love Budapest so much. It’s old, it’s new, beautiful and maddening, with its own complicated history. It’s a fascinating place to immerse yourself for a while. Even though we’ve spent a longer time here than most travelers get to do, it still hasn’t been long enough.




Last Week in Hungary – Shedding a tear

In the Valley of Beautiful Women

Hungary has a rich and varied wine culture.Wine production suffered from two world wars and Communist mismanagement, but now it’s springing back into its own. There are several varieties of wine, each with its own unique flavor. Today the biggest problem with Hungarian wines is not their taste, quality or price, but with distribution. For various reasons, they’re not available all over the world like the wines of Chile or Australia. You have to come here to try them, so it’s kind of like finding a buried treasure.

The most famous is Tokaj, which are  grown in north east Hungary, near the Slovakian border. They are usually sweet white wines, but there some dry vintages now as well. Tokaj wine is so identified with Hungary that the wine is actually mentioned in the National Anthem, thanking God that,”into the vineyards of Tokaj you dripped sweet nectar.”

Hungarian Rosés are very good. We like dry wines, so we’ve learned to look for the word száraz (dry) on the label. Our friends Drema and Judy taught us to look for the “gray” color, not the radioactive pink that some rosés have. We’ve also learned not to get distracted seeing legjobb on the label. It sounds like something that would seem like a good idea after drinking a bottle of wine, but it just means “best.”

For Maggie and me, the legjobb is Egri Bikavér, otherwise known as Bull’s Blood. It’s a rich, hearty száraz red wine with a legend behind it. (There – you’re speaking a little Magyar already. Don’t worry, there won’t be a test.) In 1552, during Hungary’s wars with the Ottoman Empire, about 2000 men and women held off an army of Turkish invaders at the castle of Eger. The defenders fortified themselves with the local wine; seeing the men’s red-stained beards, the story among the Turks was that they had gotten their strength from drinking the blood of bulls. (That sounds like the kind of story you’d make up if you’d just lost a fight you should have won.) The Ottoman army eventually returned, defeated the castle and ruled the region for nearly 100 years, but a legend was born.

You can find all of these at local wine stores, but it’s more fun to go out to an area where 48 local wineries each have a little shop, dug out of caves in the side of a hill: Szépasszonyvölgy, “The Valley of Beautiful Women.” Outside the caves, there are tables set up, food stalls, games for the kids, and at night there are bands and strolling musicians – although we were there on Sunday morning , so you’ll have to go for yourself if you want to know more about that.

Besides Maggie, I didn’t see that many beautiful women. Either they come out at night too, or it’s a case of “wine goggles.” There’s no way for us to be sure.

In the Valley of Beautiful Women

Old World Art and Architecture

I would highly recommend Budapest for anybody who wants a dose of old-world charm without the high prices of London, Paris or Rome. The people are wonderful: nearly everybody we’ve dealt with has been friendly, open and willing to help a confused foreigner, even if we don’t speak their language.The weather has been great: during April and May, it’s been cool at times, but nothing that a sweater or light jacket couldn’t handle; the rains have been brief and rarely intense – more like a California rain than Texas or Florida. The food is very good: the traditional Hungarian food is tasty and there are lots of foreign restaurants: Italian, French, Irish, Indian and even Mexican.

A big part of that charm is in the city itself; just walking around and looking at the buildings. You can see that there were building booms in the late 1700’s – early 1800’s, early 20th century and then, unfortunately – the Brutalist school of the late 20th century shows its ugly head. There isn’t as much evidence of the Communist era as we expected; if you’ve been to Prague, you’ve seen those heroic statues on all sorts of public buildings, but here almost all of those have been removed and put in a place of remembrance, Momento Park. So take a tour around town with us – here are a few pictures of things we’re seen.

There are great cathedrals, as you’d expect, but lots of smaller churches that are decorated to the hilt:

A lot of the public buildings are decorated to an outrageous degree. Government buildings, concert halls, even bridges. It seems like every major building built around 1800 got the treatment. If you like Rococo, this is the place to be.

Art Deco gets its place in the sun, also (even on a cloudy day):


There’s also plenty of public art: some of it the grand statues, exhorting people to emulate the great men (and sometimes women) of the past, but lots of smaller pieces, some for art, some for no apparent reason, like the naked Nazi.

If there’s a plain wall, it often gets a mural:

This is just a small sample. Half the fun of going around town is looking up, to see what hidden treasures have been tucked away somewhere. We may look like tourists, but heck, that’s what we’re here for.



Old World Art and Architecture

Budapest – I love you – Observations


Being here for a couple of weeks certainly doesn’t make me an expert on Budapest, but these are my first impressions of this beautiful city that I have fallen in love with.

  1. The architecture, especially the Art Nouveau buildings is stunning! The views from Buda Castle are unlike any city views I have ever experienced.   Seeing the Parliament Building and the beautiful Danube River from Buda Castle was breathtaking.
  2. Cost of visiting here? Short term rental property via Home Away or Airbnb is very reasonable.  Lunch is a really incredibly good deal.  A lot of restaurants have special soup/main course prices of 1000 ($3.60) HUF to 1250HUF.  Clothes seem to cost the same as in the U.S. or the rest of Europe.
  3. Peanut Butter – how can a nation survive without it? Found some finally!
  4. Meat – it’s the thing here – chicken, pork, and beef. And, of course paprika – finest in the world.
  5. Body Size – There are not the extremes here as far as body size that you see in the U.S. You don’t see many overweight people, and likewise, not many anorexic people either.  Everyone seems to maintain a healthy weight.
  6. Metro system –   Clay and I bought a 30-day pass for about $33 each.  The Metro bus pass covers the trams, buses, and subway lines.  Our favorite is the bus.  You get to see the city better than being in the underground Metro.  Of course, if time is of importance, we take the subway.
  7. Hungarian history – Have learned that it is very complex. Relentless invasions and occupations have occurred here from the Mongols, the Turks, the Germans, and the Russians.  I have lots of admiration of the Hungarian people for their resilience.
  8. I have observed that many Hungarians drive fast and aggressively; therefore, be very careful when walking. But, on the other hand, people will flash their lights at you to cross in front of them.  Regardless, it certainly doesn’t hurt to look, look, look when crossing the streets at crosswalks.
  9. Big department stores or grocery stores?   Smaller, more personal shopping experiences.
  10. Credit cards – some stores don’t take them, even big restaurants or in the mall and other places where it would be no question in the U.S. Always take enough cash to cover your trip, or check online first!
  11. English – I think some of the tour books overreact to the lack of people who speak English. Of course there are people that do not speak English, but in general we have not had a problem with our VERY limited ability to speak Hungarian.  Smiles go a long way!
  12. Wine? Had no clue that Hungarian wine was so good.  We plan on taking a day trip to wine country before we leave.
  13. Butter? – We have not seen butter served with bread here. You can ask for it, but twice we were told – no butter so we stopped asking.
  14. Soup? – I have much in common with the Hungarian people.  I love soup and eat a lot of it too like the Hungarian people do.
  15. Personal space – Americans tend to expect more personal space than Hungarians. Certainly not a problem for me, but just an observation when walking around town.
  16. Dogs – not sure about this one, but I have observed that there are not many dogs in Budapest. Don’t see dogs like you do in Austin, or some other European cities especially in France.  Not sure why?
  17. Hats – Being from Alabama where my Mama told me to stay out of the sun, I grew up thinking hats were a good thing.  Living in Texas that notion was reinforced with the relentless Texas sun especially in the summer.  Here in Budapest I do not see a lot of other folks with hats on.  I would not expect them to understand my sunscreen either.
  18.  Crime.  One pleasant surprise is how safe I have felt in Budapest over the past month.  Out of curiosity I googled crime rate and sure enough, my feelings were justified.  The crime rate here is low, and murder rates very low.  I wondered what kind of gun laws Hungary has, and no surprise here…..very, very strict gun laws.  I felt even better after reading that because while I am walking around there are very few guns.
Budapest – I love you – Observations

A Great Day

Yesterday was one of those long, great days. We started off slow, with breakfast in the apartment, and that was so nice we stayed for lunch. Maggie fixed the pasta & pesto that had been left by our host, who is Italian. (Naturally she added her own touch, with chopped radishes, sun dried tomatoes and roasted cauliflower.)

We followed that with a trip to Erzsébet kilátó, a tower at the top of the tallest point in Budapest. It’s surrounded by a huge park, where it turns out is the place where people go on a sunny Saturday in April. There were hikers, bicyclers, families having picnics, people like us, out for a stroll, and some people for whom it was enough to just lie in the sun.


We took the bus from our apartment to the park, and had a conversation with the family who sat across from us: a man from England, his Hungarian wife and their little girl. He was their teaching English to the Hungarian employees of the British Embassy. We had a fascinating conversation about what it was like to be an expat in Budapest, what affect the Brexit might have on him, and what it was like to teach English in Hungary.

Near the base of the tower we stopped to look at a map and one of those small world experiences – one of the guys also looking at the map was going to USC. I forgot to ask him why he wasn’t in school.

From the tower, we got a panoramic view of the countryside, with Budapest in the distance. It’s very nice, but for us the trip up to the top was the high point.

On the bus on the way back, we kept hearing airplanes flying by low – definitely piston engines, not jets, so it wasn’t any sort of military exercise. Crossing the Elizabeth Bridge, we were treated to a show of four small airplanes with the Red Bull logo, doing stunts over the Danube. I got off a couple of pictures, but they were just finishing their act, so I didn’t get any shots of the more spectacular tricks they had been doing.

As if all of that wasn’t enough, on the way back, the church in our neighborhood had its doors open, and when we stopped to listen to the organ, we saw that a wedding was just finishing, and the bride and groom were walking down the aisle. We stopped to join the cheering, clapping, rice throwing crowd.


Back at the apartment, we toasted each other with the Champagne our landlord had left as a birthday gift for me. What a great day that was. Today is going to be full of activities, too: for May Day, there’s a race car demonstration and air show down on the banks of the Danube, just about a mile from our apartment. (The planes we saw must have been practicing for the show.) They couldn’t have planned a better celebration for my birthday. I’ll be down there with my camera, shooting until the batteries run out. Maggie will be there too, of course, but she might reach her limit before I do. If so, she may head to the Sunday farmer’s market in the Szimpla Kert Ruin Pub. Either way, it promises to be another great day.


A Great Day