7 Trendy Bars and Clubs in Budapest for Summer 2016

In researching Budapest for our summer trip through Central Europe, I was reminded again why we loved Budapest so much five years ago on our honeymoon trip. The city is chalk-full of trendy places and the low prices mean it's easy for those on the USD to go high-end without breaking the bank, particularly with food and drink in beautiful settings. Here are seven cool places I'm hoping to get us to on our upcoming trip!

1. Raqpart

Located right next to the famous "Chain Bridge" of Budapest, Raqpart offers a great view and excellent drinks. TripAdvisor reviews suggest that service is not particularly attentive, but when you want to sit and watch the world go by from an ideal perch, slow service just prolongs the experience!

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2. 360 Bar

This bar is impressive enough to have been included in the Forbes list of Europe's Best Rooftop Bars. Bars at the top of buildings are a very recent trend in Budapest and 360 Bar is in the vanguard of this movement, which means it gets to be a busy place around horizon-hour. Forbes recommends getting there around happy hour to avoid being disappointed by the queue. We used this strategy to great effect in Montreal, when we visited the trendy Terrasse Place d'Armes rooftop bar as part of our summer bike tour.

3. Fellini Romai Kulturbisztro

In 2011, Johanna and I rode rental bikes through Romai Shore, a summer hangout for city-dwellers looking for a little separation from the downtown area. Fellini Romai Kulturbisztro occupies a central position in this bohemian encampment along the riverbank, serving grilled meats, Belgian beer, and ice cream. Romai Shore is accessible by bicycle by following the Danube bike path that leads north to the town of Szentendre or by taking a 20-minute ride on the suburban railway line (H5) from the Buda side.

4. Tesla Budapest

No, I'm not visiting a new wing of the electric vehicle-makers European sales department. Tesla is one of the top places to get the club scene in Budapest. It makes it all the more enticing when shots of premium liquor are under $3-5 and craft drinks like a moscow mule are in the $5-7 range. When's the last time you found those prices at a trendy nightclub?

5. Kuplung Ruin Bar

With all drinks half-price, this is a good spot to find some adventure on a Monday night. A classic example of a Budapest "ruin bar," this place sprung up from an abandoned building to once again find relevance. Kuplung means clutch, a reminder of the properties former life as a auto-repair shop. Now, the young and hip grace the space, enjoying the warm summer air and people-watching.

6. Csendes Tars

Csendes Vintage Bar & Cafe is Budapest's most popular ruin pub. Seeking to expand, this second location was developed in a more outdoor setting on the edge of a park called Karolyi Kert. It's very popular and looks like a great spot for an afternoon people-watching session with an ice-cold drink.

7. Rio Open Air Club

Okay, this one's kind of different, because we've already been to Rio. Five years ago we had an awesome time (arguably, too awesome) experiencing one of Budapest's "summer only" nightclubs and I hear they've done some renovating and upgrading since that time.

The Lost Coast Road Trip: Thirteen Less-Visited Places in California

Last spring, Johanna and I embarked on a drive up to the very top of California with very little in the way of plans. If you've been reading this blog, you'll know that this was a departure for me. We rented an SUV, packed our camping gear, and pointed the wheels north.

In just a few days, we covered 1,500 miles and visited some of the most under-the-radar destinations in California. We were struck by the sheer beauty even the least-visited places in California can produce. Here's a list of some of the places we visited and things we did:

  1. Spotted wildflowers along Jolon Road, a part of Monterey County that tourists rarely find.
  2. Drove down a five-mile dirt road to camp at Prewitt Ridge, overlooking the Big Sur coastline.
  3. Snacked on artisan foods in Pescadero, just a few miles inland of the well-worn HWY 1 route.
  4. Sped past Napa to visit Anderson Valley's greatest Pinot Noir producer (Toulouse Vineyard).
  5. Drew messages in the sand at Mendocino Headlands State Park.
  6. Hopped around the tide-pools at Glass Beach in Fort Bragg.
  7. Stopped to admire the coastal views from Pacific Star Winery.
  8. Headed inland to hammock-camp along the Avenue of the Giants (old-growth redwoods).
  9. Followed Wilder Ridge Road to Mattole Point, passing bucolic homesteads on the way.
  10. Got taken aback by fields of wildflowers near the victorian town of Ferndale.
  11. Paid our respects to those lost at sea at Trinidad Memorial Lighthouse.
  12. Communed with wild elk at Gold Bluffs Beach.
  13. Entered the jurassic era in Fern Canyon (filming location of Jurassic Park 2).

Here is a small selection of photos from our trip:

Enjoyed this post? Pin the image below to share with others! Also, consider visiting another blogger The Daily Adventures of Me, who has put together a list of US Road-Trip posts to stoke your wanderlust!

Eight Tips for Experiencing Santa Barbara Like a Local

While at my high school reunion over Thanksgiving weekend, one of the things I was repeatedly reminded to be thankful for is that I get to call Santa Barbara home. Some of my classmates had attended college in Santa Barbara and others had visited on vacation, but they all sang the chorus: "I wish I could live there."

Aside from being very thankful that I do live in Santa Barbara, I've always had a passion for sharing my city with others. Here are my eight tips for doing Santa Barbara like a local:

1. Take Advantage of the Weather - With monthly average temperatures hovering between 65-75 degrees, Santa Barbara has some of the most consistently exceptional weather in the country. Not only does this make sartorial decisions less complicated, Santa Barbara's weather allows its residents to take part in a number of outdoor activities year-round.

2. Exercise Outdoors - Santa Barbara is known for its East Beach volleyball scene, its bustling tennis clubs full of hall-of-fame and D1 talent, and for its ability to attract professional cyclists for winter training camps (and the AMGEN Tour of California). It's also an excellent place to hike (be prepared for elevation gain though!), surf, and even catch a polo game.

Santa Barbarians like to get their exercise outside. Even for those less active, a stroll down State Street or along one of the many tranquil beaches offers the opportunity to be healthy in the great outdoors.

3. Hit the Beach, However You Like It - Speaking of beaches, the Santa Barbara area is chalk full of them and there's one for every type of beach-goer. Here they are from north to south:

Goleta Beach for cook-outs and horseshoes; Thousand Steps for seclusion and cliffside vistas; West Beach for kayaking/sup and downtown access; East Beach for volleyball; Butterfly Beach for mingling with the jet-set; Hammond's Beach to hang with the locals; Padaro Lane for family-friendly waters and the Padaro Beach Grill; and Rincon Beach for the surf scene.

4. Be Pampered and Get Loose - If active sports and beach-time don't fit your definition of relaxation, certainly a trip to the spa and some yoga must ring a bell? Santa Barbara is full of men and women who look much younger than they are and taking care of their bodies is a big part of their success in resisting aging.

There are loads of massage and spa treatment options, and while Santa Barbara tends to have up-market pricing, a visit to groupon or livingsocial will often yield a coupon to make prices more palatable. For yoga classes suited to a variety of practitioners, try CorePower Yoga downtown. Into yoga but your spouse just doesn't get it? Send him next door to Armada Wine & Beer Merchant, an example of another way to live the Santa Barbara lifestyle.

5. Wine and Beer Culture - Santa Barbara is surrounded by some of the better wine appellations in California and a brewery that has won "mid-size craft brewery of the year" four times.

Oenophiles will appreciate the variety of quality wines available in the Santa Barbara area, not least of which are the incredible Pinot Noirs (one of the hardest wines to produce well) that come out of the Santa Rita Hills. For those who balked at the word oenophile one sentence back or simply lack any pretense about drinking wine, there's plenty to offer, too. Santa Barbara has more than two-dozen wine-tasting rooms and the Santa Barbara Urban Wine Trail makes enjoying them a cinch!

Firestone Brewing Company (ye of craft brewery award-winning fame) flows freely from the taps of most local bars, but there are also has a number of smaller local brewing operations making an impact on the beer world. In particular, Figueroa Mountain Brewery's tasting room has become a staple of "The Funk Zone," the trendy new district in lower-downtown where most of the local social drinking has flocked in recent years. "Fig," as most call it, is known for its internationally acclaimed double-imperial ipa called Lizard's Mouth. At 9% alcohol, you've got to be careful not to let the Lizard getcha, but Figueroa Mountain offers many other less-potent options as well.

6. The Two Best Streets for Dining in Santa Barbara - Food is definitely one of the highlights of living in Santa Barbara, particularly the sheer volume of delicious Mexican and Italian cuisine. To make the tough choice of where to go out for food and drinks just a little bit easier, however, there are two streets to which you can direct your focus.

Victoria Street is towards the upper portion of downtown on State Street. Within just a block there are at least a dozen restaurants worth visiting. Picking an Italian restaurant is particularly difficult, since there are five and they're all good. For my absolute top pick around Victoria, though, you have to try Bouchon. Make sure to call ahead for a reservation, as this French-California fusion establishment serves its farm-to-fork fare to a full house more often than not. If you're priced out of Bouchon, Brasil Arts Cafe offers a great happy hour just around the corner and there is usually live music.

Cota Street is a particularly trendy block of mid-downtown, well-suited to those looking for food that comes served with high-quality drinks. All-in-a-row, Cota's restaurants offer four different types of food and an array of beverage options to match. For the best burger in town, go straight to American Ale and wash it down with a unique selection of craft beers. Head to the Palace Grill for some jazz and a taste of New Orleans (make a reservation!). Globe is an excellent spot to spend a while chatting with friends amongst its mix-match blend of decorative style and Nectar features a sizable selection of tequilas and small plates to share. 

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7. Go to A World-Class Show - It's clear that for a city its size, Santa Barbara outperforms in many ways (that's why we live here) and that continues very literally into the performing arts. The Santa Barbara Bowl is a venue of only about 6,000 seats, yet it attracts some of the biggest names in the music industry, such as Jack Johnson, Radiohead, Steely Dan, Janet Jackson, and Jimmy Buffett, just to name a few from the last year.

For other forms of performing arts, such as international dance companies, theatrical performances, and classical musicians, the Granada Theatre garners the very best. In addition to its world-class performance draw, the Granada also happens to be an absolutely stunning historical building. It's worth going to a show there just to see its grandeur. If you can't make it to a show, you can still get an up-close look at the Granada by visiting The Good Lion, the swanky speakeasy that takes up some of the street-front portion of the building.

8. Staying in Santa Barbara without Paying a Fortune - The first seven tips offer local knowledge into what makes Santa Barbara so great and how to access the best of it. It is evident that Santa Barbara has a lot to offer and that typically comes with a very high accommodations price-tag. It's true, you will spend a significant sum on hotels in this city, but that's why you follow my blog and learn how to get award stays for free, right? Well, if you're new to Thorpe Travel, here are some other ideas:

The Lemon Tree Inn is a recently remodeled and relatively-inexpensive hotel that keeps you close to the downtown area. Another option is to check out vacation rentals, such as those found on Airbnb. I have found that for the same price as many hotels in the area, one can rent a small bungalow in a downtown neighborhood and with this promotion still going, renting a house could be downright affordable!

 

Tourism in Colombia: Is it Safe to Go?

Crime in Colombia: Once accurate opinion of safety in Colombia now mostly unfounded

It seems there is no discussing Colombia without the topic of safety coming to the forefront. It's understandable, given Colombia's history as a place where the drug trade ran rampant and guerrillas often wreaked havoc in rural areas and, indeed, even amongst the tourist population. What I must begin this travel report by telling you is that the people of Colombia are generally very friendly and eager to put this no longer accurate reputation behind them.

Despite the US State Department continuing a travel advisory (which I do encourage you to read before visiting), the vast majority of places that might interest tourists are as safe as any other part of the world. In my opinion, as well as the consensus opinion of all the major travel sites and message boards is that even the State Department travel advisory is excessive. My wife Johanna and I visited large cities such as Bogota and Medellin, as well as the smaller towns of Santa Marta and Guatape, with no trouble at all to report.

While I will provide more specific safety advice for each individual city in later parts of my Colombia travel report series, this post should give you the necessary information to decide if you'd be comfortable visiting major destinations in Colombia.

Cautious Behavior: Smart but probably unnecessary

If anything, I would say that in Bogota, the first city we visited, we were overly cautious. It is true that, outside of the two distinctly tourist areas of the city (North: Zona Rosa and Parque 93, and South: El Candelaria and the adjoining neighborhoods directly north) you will see immense poverty and depending on your complexion and language skills, might not want to linger, but this is true of every major US city as well.

By the time we finished our trip in Colombia, the overtly conservative behavior we exhibited in Bogota almost made me feel that we hadn't really given the place its due. However, I want to stress that a conservative, cautious attitude is much preferable to the opposite when visiting a new place (again, think street smarts, not Colombia-specific behavior).

A History of Violence: Where Colombia gets it's mostly inaccurate reputation

In the mid-1800's, while Colombia was still a colony of Spain, the ruling class was split into two parties, with armed conflicts of regional scale occurring at regular intervals. These conflicts were increased in profile, particularly in 1899, when an uprising from the liberal party's devotees fuel the "1000 Day's War," which resulted in over 100,000 casualties.

In the mid-1900's, conflict between liberal and conservative parties spiked again, with several high-profile officials murdered and several hundred-thousand Colombians killed in the ensuing chaos. By 1953, as a result of these conflicts, disillusionment with the current political system reached a boiling point and guerrilla forces began to emerge.

To counteract this insurgency, liberal and conservative political elites backed a military coup that was then supposed to eradicate the growing guerrilla forces. Instead, FARC and ELN guerrilla forces develop and expand from a leftist base, driving anti-Communist citizens to create their own para-military forces in places where the government did not sufficiently protect them.

Today, guerrilla rebel like FARC have been pushed into the most remote jungles of Colombia and even out of former jungle strongholds like Tayrona National Park, which is now a major tourist destination.

Desperation and lack of opportunity that resulted from political instability incubated the drug trade, particularly cocaine, in the early-to-mid 1980's. During this period, much of the armed conflict between guerrillas and para-military forces stemmed from desire to control the profitable drug-trade. One high-profile player in this regard was Pablo Escobar, the famed drug kingpin of Colombia.

Pablo Escobar's Medellin Drug Cartel left in its wake a swath of murders, violence, and intimidation, but for a short time, Escobar managed to elevate himself to an almost Robin Hood status and even held political office. At one time, Escobar's cartel controlled as much as 80% of the global cocaine trade and he amassed a fortune worth more than a billion dollars.

In 1993, Escobar was hunted-down and killed by the Colombian National Police, and the leaders of his rival, the Cali Cartel met a similar fate. Around the same time, several strong political leaders perhaps emboldened by the demise of the major cartels, began to change the country for the better.

Since the extreme poverty of many Colombians was a catalyst for the drug trade and violence, academics in places like Medellin began to call for public works that would benefit the poor, living in barrios on the hillsides surrounding Medellin, cut off from the city's educational and economic opportunities. Cable cars and long lines of escalators were set in place, connecting the poor to the city they had previously only been connected to in name.

A view from the mountain-side in Bogota, shared by many from the poorest barrios (it's easy to see why getting to town to make a living was tough before public transportation serviced these areas)

In the last ten years, Colombia has seen a significant downward trend in violence and the poverty that encourages it. While there have been some recent fluctuations, caused in part by the global financial crisis, Colombia seems on a path to continue this progress and is now receiving the attention of more than 1.5 million tourists per year.

Conclusions about safety in Colombia

Rather than be put off by it's history, we as travelers have the opportunity to be part of Colombia's resurgence. Due in part to the fledgling nature of it's tourism industry, Colombia is very inexpensive to visit, with Los Angeles to Bogota round-trip flights frequently available for as little as $500 and myriad hotel options for about $75 in large cities and $50 or less in smaller cities. While caution and destination-specific research is always advised, there is little reason for travelers to avoid Colombia, and so many reasons to visit.

To see a detailed travel report of our time in Colombia, click here!

Note: This post was first written in 2013, but it's content is still applicable today. While some larger cities have experienced small increases in crime, the general outlook still suggests Colombia is an up-and-coming international destination.