The doors of Siena deserves its own entry...I was seriously blown away by the antiquity, stature, elegance, and plentiful DIVERSITY of doors!
While poking through various shops, I encountered a calendar featuring just the doorways of this charming medieval town, and I thought it would be fun to document the ones I liked as a game of sorts. I didn't realize that I'd be whipping out my iPhone literally every corner I turned...Still, I'm glad I did it because looking back on the photos brings a smile to my face.
My favorite door however was particularly delightful because the home owner clearly shared my love of Harry Potter. So impish!
Don't you just love it when people don't take themselves too seriously? So perfect.
What's more – an Egyptian bust in miniature for an absolutely statement piece door knocker. YES.
As much as we adored Florence, our family decided to carve space for a little day trip out to Siena. I had considered a wine tour that my colleague recommended, but ultimately decided we valued flexibility and the freedom to do as we pleased rather than follow an itinerary.
The bus ride over was so beautiful with the Tuscan hills and wild poppy in full summer glory.
It's impossible to miss the main town square – Piazza del Campo. There's a horse race that takes place here twice a year among other festivities. It was also just a good place to sit and relax (read: bake in the sun) while we roughly planned our way around the city.
The main attraction here is the Torre del Mangia which is right next to the Palazzo Pubblico.
One thing that immediately caught our attention was the the fierce pride each clan had in this medieval town in what is known as the contrade of Siena: 17 different districts within Siena are represented by a crest featuring a mythical creature (my favorite being the eel that looks like an evil Donald Duck), and during the biannual horse race, these contrade compete against each other.
After walking for a couple hours and taking in the Duomo di Siena, we stopped for dinner, which offered the most spectacular view of Siena's "skyline." :-)
It was still early, so we enjoyed drinks beforehand and just staked ourselves outside for a good while. My mom, who loves painting and is an artist at heart, kept going on and on about the various hues of Siena and how the sun hit the brick in just a way that made everything glow.
She was right, there was something very beautiful about all the terra cotta tones and rich brown accents. Hopefully I'll have the chance to pick up painting at some point, that would be nice.
After dinner, which consisted of Tuscan steak, pasta, and pizza, we booked it back to the bus depot to make it on time. We may or may not have gotten lost on the way (medieval cities are mazes!), and I busted out a very broken Italian to ask for directions. Thanks goodness for hand gestures.
After huffing and puffing away on our bike rentals for the better part of the day, we literally enjoyed the fruit of our labor at Laposa Winery, located in the breathtaking Badacsony region – a village of northern Lake Balaton.
White wine is definitely Hungary's forte when it comes to this country's premium vintage. The volcanic ash and minerals in the soil found in this region really imbue themselves into the character of the wine, and so it was to my great pleasure that our amazing guide, Tibor, gave us a tasting of no less than nine bottles of white wine. Yay for summertime.
Because we didn't drive, we were a bit puzzled on how to actually get up to the winery at first, seeing as it was up in the hills of Badacsony, but we came up with a solution. We parked our bikes halfway up a very steep driveway and then hiked the last bit up, which was torture in the direct sunlight, but then again also made our forthcoming bacchanalia that much more gratifying.
But we managed to make it up ok, and in high spirits, no less. ;)
Being an amateur wine aficionado, I've visited many wineries in my day – in Napa, Sonoma, rural Virginia, Santorini, the Georgia Caucasus, even, but none that competes with this view. Hungary's wine scene is still relatively unknown, and I for one, am glad that I'm in on this little secret. Because it's only a matter of time. Our wine tasting took place on a terrace overlooking the majestic lake.
Fun fact: Did you know Hungarians invented soda water? Ányos Jedlik, a priest and scientist, is credited for creating seltzer water or fizzy water, which was made popular in the 1800s through these glass bottles that have the nozzle to mix carbon dioxide with water.
Which brings me to my next point...Hungarians also pioneered the spritzer, or what they call fröccs. Anytime you're in Budapest, you can ask for one, and they'll ask you what proportions of water to wine you want. But we weren't trying to dilute our wine with anything during our tasting, ha!
I think it goes without saying that if you're going to indulge in a full-blown wine tasting, you need to be wise and eat while you're drinking...So we ordered plenty of food to keep us going.
Halfway through our tasting, we were surprised when Tibor presented us with complimentary riesling cake, which made this my favorite wine tasting of all times.
It tasted just as good as it looked.
So we were happily buzzed by the time we finally trekked back down. It was crazy how long we stayed at the winery. I'm pretty sure we were there for longer than three hours, but we didn't even realize the time passing by because we had so much fun learning about the wine, taking notes, and just chillaxing. I think in the back of our minds, none of us wanted to get back on our bikes because it meant the end to our Balaton weekend.
One of my favorite weekends in Hungary, that's for sure!
All my thatched cottage dreams kinda came true when I landed upon this rental on AirBnB. It's located in the Tihany peninsula of northern shore of Lake Balaton. It was perfect!
Lake Balaton is the second home away home for many Hungarians. It's where people flock to on the weekends. It reminds me a lot of Lake Michigan in certain ways. But Balaton's water is so much more appealing because it's nice and warm.
Loving the calm pace of life here.
And the distant hills...we'll be biking through northern Balaton for the remainder of the weekend.
A quick foray into Balatonfured, a surrounding town, before we got picked up.
For some time Joyce and I had been meaning to take the train from Budapest out to the small village where she had been conducting her research for an ethnography class. One Saturday finally presented itself to us (that lull between writing maniacally and presenting her thesis), so we walked over to Budapest Nyugati station at West End and enjoyed a little picnic on our train ride over to Nagymaros. The train ride was a pleasant blur of green fields and lush foliage whizzing by. It doesn't take long before the peace of escaping city life descends upon your shoulders.
Antiquing and perusing through the flea market was foremost on our minds. There was actually a farmer's market that we checked out first, and I bought a lovely handwoven basket that I am now a proud owner of. :-) Nearly everyone I've seen in Hungary carries wicker baskets when they grocery shop, so I was glad to join the club.
Ahh, but this painting...The old man and the pipe grabbed Joyce's immediate attention. She was smitten, despite it being in somewhat of a questionable condition. Nevertheless, we expertly haggled for it and got it down to a decent price.
Upon successfully acquiring Joyce's new art find, we ambled around the town and stepped into a quaint cafe which exuded really cool vibes...I loved the campy feel of this place.
The entire place reeked of nostalgia, something Hungarians know a thing or two about as indicated by this nationalistic map of Hungary pre-Treaty of Trianon when the country used to be a whopping 75% bigger than what it is today. Who was sitting at that negotiation table? Woof! Bumper stickers with the former geography of Hungary are ubiquitous here, although it's associated with right-wing tendencies. Basically people who can't let go of the past and like to victimize Hungary in its tumultuous history following the aftermath of WWI.
Success: Our finds of the day include a wicked cool portrait of a pensive Hungarian bloke smoking a pipe, my beautiful wicker basket of a gem, and an irresistible bunch of wildflowers. :)
Nagymaros is located on the water, so we strolled out to the waterfront and encountered this poor statue...Toppled.
Something funny clicked after walking to the waterfront and seeing the castle on the hill. Turns out I had been to Nagymaros before the previous summer. But I merely passed through to take a ferry to get across to Visigrad, where said castle is located. I hiked up the small mountain with Ishita to take in the sights on the Danube bend. Things always have a way of coming back full circle.
Sometimes I'm struck by how beautiful Budapest's architecture is when the light from the sunset hits the buildings in a certain angle. They seem to glow, and I catch myself pausing to look up at the facade, which oftentimes reflect both elegance and a hardened character.
Walking through Hunyadi Ter (Square) park where I was enchanted by so many flowers in bloom!
Not sure what this flower is, but it's cheerful yellow hues make me happy.
It's a little odd...knowing that I'll be leaving this city I've learned to call home in a matter of months. It makes me want to slow down time and enjoy the moment for what it is.
That moment you walk up the stairs back home and realize you've taken over an hour to walk back home from doing errands because you were lost in thought...
Vivien and I always manage to have the best conversations over a nice bottle of red and some type of roast, so we figured why not invite more folks and have a traditional Sunday roast? It's only proper as she's half British/Irish!
The photos are a little grainy as they were shot on my iPhone, but if anything it accentuates how cozy it was that evening. The best type of colleagues in my opinion are the ones you can also be truly candid with because they happen to be dear friends outside of the office.
Whoops! Vivien blinded by candlelight.
That's a little better. :-) I sure do miss these ladies.
Our Sunday roast menu had pretty much all the classic staples a la roasted chicken, green beans, carrots and potatoes. I made a zucchini asparagus salad, yum.