Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Beautiful Budapest: You win the prize this year

The world has apparently been conspiring to keep Budapest a secret from me all these years.  Who knew it was so beautiful? Who knew it was so great that it would beat even India (my true love) for my favorite place this year.

Stunning buildings along the river.. artfully lit up at night.

A quick fun fact:   Budapest is actually two cities: Buda on the left of the river and Pest on the right.  Together, the map reads "Budapest."  Where we were staying - on the Buda side - the roads cobbled and there are cafes on every corner.

Catching up on the competition: This leg will involve us traveling from Budapest to Gyor to Vienna to Bruno to Prague to Olomauc to Krakow … on our own … completing scavenges along the way … and all by Friday morning.  This part of the trip is a real test of navigation, puzzle solving and sheer stamina.

Going into the Europe leg, Rainey and I are in first place and “The Retired Traveling Chicks” (the powerhouse team of Kim and Maria – second timers to the trip) are in second place. Ugs and Emily worked their butt off in Dubai and WON the Dubai leg.  That puts them just 5 points away from second place.  If they can beat Kim and Maria in Europe they could bring home the silver medal. They are on the hunt....

Segways: First scavenge of the day for us in Budapest was to rent Segways for a tour of the Buda side (by the castle). It was the first time on Segways for several of the group and there was only limited instruction.  Plus the roads are cobblestones and very uneven.  But we were all optimistic – and everything was going great – when Bettina hit a bump and her Segway started spinning and twirling and literally hurdled her off… complete with screaming.  None of us knew how to hop off a Segway so we could only watch her tumble.  Nothing more serious that bumps and scratches but it was both scary … and hysterical !!!

Labyrinth:  We had to explore the labyrinth below the town square.  The fable goes that Dracula was trapped in this very labyrinth for 3 years by some king. The tunnels were creepy and dank and consistently ended up in dead ends.  If you really got stuck down there without any light, it would be downright petrifying.  Plus, unexpectedly, opera blared from the walls at different times: an odd and almost sinister atmospheric touch.

We figured out the metro system and the tram system and the bus system and scurried around the whole town.

Silver Tree:  Under the rules, we can only do five scavenges together – with other teams - each day (not including traveling and eating).  So by midday in Budapest, we had to split up and go our separate ways as we wanted to do a Danube river cruise together later that evening.  Right as we split, it started to pour with rain.  Rainey and I trekked on to get extra points while Bettina and Johnathan and Jordan took refuge in a coffee shop.  First stop – in the rain – Europe’s largest synagogue.  It has a giant silver tree in the middle courtyard (that’s right, a tree made entirely of silver – branches, leaves everything).  Every leaf is engraved with either a saying from the Torah or the name of a prominent Hungarian Jew killed in the Holocaust.

Hourglass: World’s tallest hourglass … just another statue in a line of cool statues in the park… but this one was worth points so we had to find it and photograph it. It takes a year for the sand to fall - grain by grain - to the bottom. And then the whole statue turns upside down and starts again.

Dinner Cruise: Early evening scavenge was a dinner cruise down the Danube.  Great opportunity for some sunset shots of the city.  And Budapest is one heck of a city.  One of the most beautiful in the world. Definitely a keeper.

Sunset from the top deck of the boat .... beautiful

Heroes Square:  Favorite scavenge of the day:  we had to visit Heroes square. We did not get there until late evening so everything was lit up. WOW. But isn't is disconcerting that some of the prettiest squares in every city around the world are dedicated to men who died in a war that no-one remembers? Awful statement about man's repetitive ability to harm each other. 

Every statue in Heroes square is unusual… with antler bridals for the horses and unique warrior helmets for the soldiers. 

Ark of the Covenant:  On the way from Budapest to Vienna we had to stop in the town of Gyor and find the “Ark of the Covenant.”  I’m pretty sure this isn’t the real one, but that’s the claim.  Big problem with this scavenge were the logistics. We had to get off the train, find left luggage lockers to store our suitcases (as we are traveling like pack mules this leg, hauling everything we have with us around), walk across town to the statue, find it, photograph it and then hustle back to the station before the next train came through so we could get back on our route to Vienna.

And yet we still found time to dance to the music of a Gyor street performer (for points, of course).

Vienna:  Vienna was a struggle.  We got in later than we wanted. We were TOTALLY sick of going up and down stairs in train stations with our luggage (this part is when you start cursing every extra pair of socks you “threw” into your suitcase at the last moment).  We had a hard time finding a hotel - for less than 90 Euros - that had 4 rooms available. (A bonus scavenge for this leg was to spend Tuesday night in a cheap hotel and we could not afford to drop those points).  Finally we got a hostel…tiny, no AC, lots and lots of teenagers and gap year kids hanging out in the lobby but clean and each room had its own bathroom. What a relief to dump the bags.  We immediately rented bikes and headed to the museum to see Gustav Klimt’s “The Kiss”…. Amazing.  No photos allowed in the museum so I’m using a photo from the poster outside. It's so fantastic in real life ... bigger than you would think and the colors of the flowers and the golds are vibrant.

In the evening, we went to a summer concert in the Music Hall. I expected to hate.  I expected to count down the minutes until it was over. I expected to sit there and concentrate on the fact that I was getting points, to overcome my boredom. But instead – I loved it. The symphony played basically the greatest hits of the composers, opera singers sang solos and duets from some of the great operas and there was even two ballet numbers.  And all in a posh concert hall in the middle of the Vienna state park. Great evening.

This is a tough leg with lots of walking (while you haul your luggage with you) and jump on and off of trains.  It just plain wears you out.....
We are now on to Prague…. Stay tuned.

Jordan trying on post-communist gear

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Dubai: Camel Markets, fancy shopping malls and sandcastle forts

We spent an evening and a day in Dubai. For this leg, Bill let us rent a car so we could visit some stuff outside of town. It seemed like a good idea at the time but ended up sort of kicking our butt:  lots of traffic, major problems finding parking and we got a soft tire and had to stop twice to get air put in it.

But it did give us some mobility so first thing in the morning we headed out to Al Ain, an oasis town about 2 hours from Dubai.  We had to visit the Al Ain fort which looks like a sandcastle fort. 

Also made a stop at the Camel Souk where they buy and sell camels.

This baby camel was putting up quite a fight (and was making loud honking noises) to be sold away from its mother.  Made me so sad.

And in the middle of the market, there was a dead camel. Just lying there. Everyone stepping over it. Like it was nothing. 

As an aside, Jordan has shown a stunning ability to sleep - ANYWHERE.  And I mean ANYWHERE.

Then we headed to a fancy, fancy, fancy mall where we had to ski on the indoor ski slope.  That's right .... an indoor ski slope with ski lift and everything.  It was such fun.

Followed by a swim in the Arabian sea. Only one team member had to get wet so the Raineys and Angel took the salty, sandy experience for 50 points.

My friend from childhood (Sonia) now lives in Dubai.  She moved here a few years ago from London.  So at the end of the leg, she came over to our hotel and had dinner with us and we got to catch up.  It was so nice to see her. 

We are now off to Budapest, Hungary... another new country for me (YAY).  We were supposed to  have a 7 hour lay-over scavenge leg in Istanbul but - for the very first time - we hit a difficult travel obstacle:m 3 teams got bumped off our plane from Dubai to Budapest.  The airline re-routed them and they should arrive in Hungary just a few hours after us but it messed up our plans somewhat.  Plus we arrived late into Istanbul so it would have been more like a 4 hour leg here - and the airport is 45 minutes from town - so Bill just canceled the leg.  Instead of eating Turkish delight and getting a Hamam bath experience, I'm sitting in an airport cafe blogging and waiting for our connection to Budapest. 

Budapest will be the start of the Europe leg which is typically a multi-day leg where we have to travel - by ourselves and with all of our luggage - for 4 or 5 days over a series of European countries.  Not sure yet what route we'll be on... but stay tuned and I'll let you know.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Incredible India: The countryside, Jaipur and Delhi

Background: Bill (the event producer) made the India leg a Par 7.  This means that there is a LOT riding on this leg as whoever wins it will get a BIG point advantage on everyone else.  So we knew we had to do long, hard days to even stand a chance.  Rainey and I came into India in first place but a loss here would set us back dramatically. And this is a tough country, mainly because of the powerful heat.

Bird Sanctuary:  SO - After we saw the Taj Mahal, we headed for a bird sanctuary a pretty good distance out of Agra.  There we rented bikes and rode through the park.  Hard to explain how nice it was to just be away from people for a short time.  The sheer crowds of India can be oppressive.  But we were dripping with sweat by the time we returned the bikes as it was 100+ outside.

Then we drove through the countryside to Ramthanborne National park.  The road took us through small villages and open spaces.  To women fetching water from a village water pipe or just riding along in a thoroughly dusty truck…. In such color.

We spent the night at the national park and set off at dawn the next day on a jeep safari in search of Royal Bengal tigers.  Sadly we found none but the very next Great Escape team (whose safari was 10 minutes behind ours) saw TWO tigers… one was eating a kill… and got some National Geographic worthy photos (soooo jealous).  

We did see tons of monkeys and some of the baby monkeys made me laugh out loud.  They were being so scamper-y and naughty. And the really little ones just hug on to their moms and peak out at you

Then on to Jaipur where we stayed the night in one of the most incredible hotels I’ve ever been in: The Taj Rambagh Palace.  It was the actual palace of one of the last maharajahs and recently was turned into a luxury hotel.  Talk about special.

Sadly we had to just drop our bags and head straight back out to the city as we only had one afternoon to see Jaipur and there were LOTS of points on the table there.  We even had to dress up in traditional Indian garb for a photo.

How ridiculous do we look?

Then palaces and temples and shrines galore

And we ended our day in Jaipur with a Bollywood movie at this old-fashioned ballroom-styled movie theater.  Lots of singing and dancing.  And all in Hindi with no sub-titles. Quite an experience.

The next morning, it was back to Delhi by train for some last minute scavenges before check-in. In Delhi we volunteered for a few hours at charity, working with kids in the nursery.  Such smiles...

What about a country where people just live - and wash up - on the streets?  And no-one gives them a second glance?

Emily's plotting face...

Next stop... Dubai.  A new country for me. Love it.

blog stats
catalog outlet store