The Ultimate Budapest Instagram Guide

Budapest, pronounced buda-pesh, has won a place in my heart as one of my favorite European cities.

It is one of the rare places I visited twice in the last year. The first time I visited the Hungarian capital was exactly a year ago during my Semana Santa extravaganza of 6 countries in 12 days. From decadent food full of goat cheese and paprika to some of the most delicious vegan dishes I have ever tried Budapest never fails to make my foodie dreams come true. Yet, food can’t be the only reason I travel, can it? Read on to see my favorite sites, the best bathhouses and more, all from my Instagram account, @MissFilatelista.

1. Marvel at the beautiful Vajdahunyad Castle and the surrounding churches and statues.

2. Find the anonymous statue and discover the story behind his pencil. I touched the pencil and its charms have worked for me immensely.

3. Join everyone at Széchenyi for a dip in Budapest's largest thermal bath with 15 different pools, multiple saunas, and steam rooms. The medicinal waters are from a well that is 1,246 deep into the earth!

4. Feed your Hungary self with a decadent garlic and cheese Langos from Retro Bufe.

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5. Walk the famed Chain Bridge that connects Buda to Pest centrally over the Danube river. Instead of taking a selfie that’ll only capture your face and some steel, take photos from either end of the bridge to show the entire sweeping beauty.

6. Pay your respects at the Danube Bank Memorial. While you gaze at the bronze shoes and think about the monstrosity that took place here remember, what you are doing now about the migrant crisis, Muslim ban, hate crimes, etc. is exactly what you would have done if you’d been alive during the time of the holocaust. Don’t just say never forget and never again. Instead, take action and stand up for what you believe in.

7. If you like architecture discover the Great Market Hall to admire the neo-gothic exterior and interior. Otherwise, skip it as it is a total tourist trap.

8. For a few euros climb to the top of the Cupola of the Roman Catholic St. Stephen’s Basilica and take in the amazing views of the Danube river, Buda castle, the Chain Bridge and the House of Parliament. From this vantage point, you won’t notice it but the House of Parliament and the Basilica were built to be exactly the same height to show that neither is above the other.

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9. Stroll the Szabadság híd aka the Liberty Bridge and try to capture a picture of the beautiful golden trams. Hop onboard to zip along the riverside for unbeatable views.

10. Devor delicious Mediterranean cuisine at Mazel Tov.

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11. Have cheap wonderful rosé wine at the Budapest ruin pubs. I loved exploring them by day and night as they remind me of the grimy dive bars in my former neighborhood, New York City’s Lower East Side. Szimpla Kert is my favorite, and everyone else's, it’s even been voted the 3rd best bar in the world by Lonely Planet. It opened in 2002 and has gathered an impressive amount of graffiti. Street art lovers like yours truly, will thoroughly enjoy hanging out in this spot.

12. Discover the church cave in Gellért Hill.The grotto chapel was used as a hospital during WWII!

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13. Actually relax at Rudas in the incredible Arabic style bath with boiling and freezing dipping waters. Don’t forget to dump a bucket of ice water over your head after the 40° tub. Follow this up with a sensual meditation in the many aromatherapy rooms. There are many other bathhouse options in Budapest as there are 123 springs that produce more than 70 million liters of water every day!

14. You obviously can’t go to Budapest without hanging out in Fisherman’s Bastion.

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15. Admire the beautifully tiled roof of Matthias Church. I want to wear this pattern on a dress.

16. Indulge in your lazy side and zoom down the Buda Hill in the funicular. I wish I had taken a boomerang video from the window. Take one for me and send it to me!

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17. Walk by the largest synagogue in Europe and explore the surrounding Jewish quarter.

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18. Look down as you stroll to see if you come across any of these WWII memorials that are in honor of holocaust victims and survivors.

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19. Feel fancy and book an evening river cruise. The cheapest option is a wine tasting that will get you properly tipsy. Everyone knows I can’t resist wine and beautiful views. This is the best way to see the beautiful House of Parliament, UNESCO world heritage site, aglow.

20. Have one of the most famous slices of chocolate cake at Café Gerbeaud. Established in 1858 and providing sweets ever since. To save some cash order your cake to go and enjoy it by the fountain right outside. Dining in will cost twice the price.

21. Enjoy the beautiful manholes around Budapest and discover that the city is also sometimes called Budapesti.

22. Get lost and take in the many architectural beauties that can be found in both Buda and Pest. I’m always on the lookout for pink houses.

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Making Waves for Water

I am currently in the state of Kerala, India and I’ve had water on the mind lately. From the famous backwaters and lagoons in Alleppey with their picturesque houseboats to the roaring Arabian sea in Kochi, lately I have found myself in my ideal element - surrounded by water. An element that I consider mine, even though I am an Air sign. Potable water is something I certainly take for granted. 663 million people around the globe live without access to clean water.

Earlier in the week I spent a few days experiencing village life through my partnership with Now, whenever I am handed a glass of water in India without seeing it’s origin I am always hesitate to drink it. Even though I have been here three months my stomach has not grown tolerant to the chemicals, enzymes and who knows what else that can be found in India’s tap water. Yet here I was in a village, far away from any shop where I could buy bottled water, from any water filters and with my reusable water completely empty. I was extremely thirsty after spending the whole day in the blistering Indian spring heat. My host did not speak English so I couldn’t communicate with her to try to find out if the water was clean, safe or filtered. I guzzled down the cup of water, assuming it would be my last and that I’d spend the next few days with insane cramps and a miserable stomach.

Later I asked the Snehatheeram liaison about the water, he laughed at me and told me that part of the community-based cooperative was bringing government water to the village. But it came from a well in the ground I told him! He explained that the well connected to the government water lines and that the villagers boil and chill the water before consuming it. They even infuse it with medicinal herbs. My water tasted of lemon grass which was entirely refreshing. I don’t know what I would have done if the water had not been clean. Now I know what my next investment needs to be for this life of mine on the road; a Lifestraw, which transforms contaminated water into potable water.

Growing up in the Midwest of The United States I didn’t often think twice before drinking water directly from the faucet, a hose, or a creek. Whenever we would go to Uruguay to visit my father’s family I never really understood why we had to only drink bottled water or boil water first, even before we used it for cooking. The idea that water could be contaminated was something entirely foreign to me. Then, in New York City, I began to actually appreciate tap water. Everyone knows NYC has the best water in the states, it comes from the Hudson Valley and is enriched with healthy minerals. Yet while in NYC we enjoy all the safe drinking water we can enjoy, there are thousands of people in Flint, Michigan who cannot even brush their teeth with faucet water. This issue has been ongoing for years and the government has yet to do anything significant to bring healthy water to the community.

The water crisis was not something I was very aware of until the holidays last year when my friend, Natasha Jhunjhnuwala, Founder and Designer of Mer Culture, and her family launch a campaign with Charity Water to raise over $10,000 to supply a water well system in a remote village to provide potable water to over 300 local people. She created a beautiful rendition of Imagine with reimagined lyrics about the water crisis that you absolutely must see. Through rigorous outreach and a 6K charity walk for water in Hong Kong where they live they were able to surpass their goal.

World Water Day is celebrated annually on March 22nd after the United Nations commemorated the day in 1993 at the UN Environment and Development Conference. Through my work with I have discovered many incredible NGO’s around the globe that are bringing clean water to their communities. Through partners travelers can directly impact water supplies through community based tourism. Many are in developing countries and are working towards improving local WASH facilities (water, sanitation and hygiene). Travelers can visit Eco Filtro, a social enterprise in Guatemala, to learn about their water filtration process that supplies clean water to local underfunded Guatemalan schools, each visit funds an entire water filter! There is the Entanda Discovery Tour in Uganda with proceeds providing clean water to the villagers. Guest can experience rural mountain life in Ooty, India with RDO Trust while supporting their efforts to supply the community with safe drinking water.

How will you make waves this World Water Day? Will you start to appreciate your access to potable water? In Europe I used to find it so strange that not only was water not served to me when I sat down, but more often then not I was required to buy water. While I believe the latter is a business strategy, it now makes sense to me not to serve tap water to guests until they ask for it. So don't accept water you won't drink, take shorter showers, wash your clothes less frequently. Small lifestyle changes can help maintain water supplies, wherever you are in the world.

10 Things I Never Knew About Bulgaria

For those of you who’ve been following along on Instagram you know that I love a good fact. Over the summer I visited many countries in the Balkans that I honestly knew nothing anything about. I couldn’t have pointed out Kosovo on a map or told you the capital of Albania. But I’ll keep the facts on my new “10 Things I Never Knew About X” series a bit more interesting, I promise! Let me know in the comments which countries you’d be interested in learning more about!

10 Things I Never Knew about Bulgaria

1. Bulgaria is Outside the Schengen Area

I  hadn’t realized before that Bulgaria wasn’t part of the Schengen zone. They are members of NATO and the EU but they’re outside of the grouped 90 day visa zone in Europe. Americans can actually stay in Bulgaria for 3 months during a 6 month period. Playing the Schengen zone visa game is what initially led me to the Balkans this summer and ultimately to discovering so many incredible places. If you’re in the same rut, I would absolutely suggest adding Bulgaria to your wish list of European, non-Schengen places to visit.

2. Bulgaria is Home to the Oldest Inhabited City in the Europe

Bulgaria’s second largest city is also the oldest in Europe clocking in at 8,000 years. Plovdiv is even older than Athens and Rome! Over the last 800 decades it’s been under the rule of the Romans, Macedonians, Byzantines, Ottoman Turks and of course, the Bulgarians.

3. A Bulgarian Psychic Predicted Major World Events

While in Plovdiv on the Free Walking Tour for I came across a portrait of Baba Vanga on Sahat Tepe Hill. She’s surrounded by historic Bulgarians and is the only woman muralized here. Baba Vanga had lost her vision after suffering an injury as a child. With her sight gone, she was blessed with the ability to see the destinies of others and the world. She’s been making headlines lately as she had claimed that there would be no 45th President of The United States of America. She correctly foresaw that the 44th President of the U.S. would be African-American. The clairvoyant had predicted 9/11 in 1989 stating that she saw steel birds attacking the American brethren.

4. Bulgarian Tomatoes were Once Worth Their Weight in Gold

Or more correctly, in ABBA Records.  During the Iron Curtain of communism, Bulgaria’s government agreed to trade their prized tomatoes with Sweden for ABBA records! They were the only thing that crossed borders during the era. The music brought citizens joy in an otherwise dark time.

5. Not a Single Jewish Bulgarian was Sent Abroad or Killed in WWII

During WWII Bulgarians saved their entire Jewish population by convincing the Nazi party that they were needed locally for infrastructure work. The building projects would be continuously extended to keep the Bulgarian Jews out of  Holocaust camps. Ultimately 48,000 Jewish Bulgarian citizens were saved.

6. Sofia is a Secret Foodie City

Her Majesty, aka Banitsa, is a delicious, gooey, cheese and filo dough pastry that you haven’t lived until you’ve tried. Bulgaria is the queen of all comfort food offering an incredible array of fresh soups made with local produce and of course, lots of cheese. The current food culture is shifting back towards traditions of farm fresh meals prepared slowly. Ingredients vary from local veggies to more modern, trendy foods such as quinoa, avocado and matcha. Some of my favorite spots were Sun Moon, Supa Star and Made in Home. The Balkan Bites food tour was a highlight of my trip and cost absolutely nothing.

7. The Oldest Building in Sofia is 17 Centuries Old

St. George is the oldest building in Sofia and the only one dating from the Roman era. Incredibly, its complete original structure from the 4th century is still standing. With its round shape it is no surprise that it was originally used as a warehouse for coal in the ancient town of Serdica. If I hadn’t gone on the Footura Sofia Walking Tour with, I would’ve never seen this historic structure as it is hidden in a square surrounded by modern hotels.

8. Red Red WIne

I had no idea that Bulgaria made some truly incredible wines! In the south-west area of the country, near the picturesque Melnik village and the mountainous border with Greece, there are dozens of extraordinary vineyards. Melnik 55 is produced by Logodaj Winery and is one of the best wines I have ever had! It is a heavy bodied red with cherry, spice, vanilla and nut aromas. A bottle cost less than 5 euros. We also visited Villa Melnik and Orbelus, which has a winery shaped like a massive barrel!

9. Bulgaria has Pyramids

When I am on the road a lot of my planning is done by zooming into google maps to find historic sites. As I am usually doing this on a bus, train, plane or car without WiFi it often means I can’t access the pictures but can just see the location on the map. I was immediately interested when I kept seeing markers for pyramids in Melnik. Without WiFi I could only assume that these must be some ancient structures built by early humans. I couldn’t have been more wrong. They are actually a pretty amazing feat of Mother Nature. These natural pyramids are constantly changing over time as they’re made of sand, not rock.

10. Bulgaria has The Most Beautiful Monastery in the World

The Rila Monastery is the most beautiful religious site I have ever seen! It was founded in the 10th century by Saint John of Rila but was destroyed by fire and was rebuilt between 1834 and 1862. The structure is a brilliant example of the Bulgarian Renaissance style. Today, the Monastery is still the most sacred Eastern Orthodox place in Bulgaria due to it’s history and it’s position in Rila, the highest Balkan Peninsula Mountain.