2020 Year in Review: AllThe[Travel]Things

Oh 2020, the year that… was. There’s absolutely too many things to say about last year in one post (maybe ten blogs?) so I’ll be sticking to discussing allthetravelthings here.

Wandering a trail in a nearby village.

Like so many, 2020 was a year of uncertainty, growth, and change for me. In terms of travel, in a pre-pandemic time we essentially had April-August booked to the brim with adventures in new places (the Baltics, Slovenia, the Croatian coast, Scandinavia, the Balkans) before our move from Hungary to Germany. As Covid-19 began spreading throughout Europe in the spring, those plans virtually disintegrated with each passing week.

The Lake at Most na Soči, Slovenia.

I’ve always felt incredulous and grateful for the opportunities to see new places while living abroad and this year I was especially appreciative of the experiences I enjoyed in between lockdowns, uncertainty, and preparing to move to another country. Maybe it was the possibility of never seeing these places again or the looming date of the end of my time in Hungary creeping up the calendar, but I think this year was my proudest for saying yes to hard things and pushing myself to always be in the present.

Attending Busójárás in Mohács, Hungary.

The uncertainty, coupled with the overall feeling of “final-ness” of seemingly every moment, made me even more thankful for both the limited opportunities I did have and the amazing people in my life that encouraged me. Reflecting on 2020 I am sad for the broken plans but absolutely in love with all I did see and experience my last few months in Eastern Europe, truly the “wild wild east” of the world, as a friend noted over drinks in Budapest three years ago.

Finishing a hike in the Tatra National Park, Poland.

So this super-long post–mostly photos I promise–is a celebration of the wonderful places I saw, the amazing folks I spent this year with, and of course the best libraries and light trespassing opportunities I could find.

Post-International Women’s Day Brunch (pre-mask times and when indoor dining was still a thing) at a nearby winery with great friends.

While 2020 was a dystopian hellscape in so. many. ways., I am grateful for the obstacles presented to us travel-wise in that I spent a great deal more time in nature and national parks and less in crowded places talking myself out of a maintaining-the-required-two-meters-from-the-nearest-person-panic. The restrictions forced me to rethink planning, wandering, and adventuring.

Ya girl in Lake Bohinj! That’s right, I’m in the WATER!

The extra lockdown time in my house–I am truly grateful for the ability to stay at home–was frustrating at times but also an opportunity to rethink new ways to interact and build community. The monthly-ish movie club I hosted transitioned from my living room to the AIM-esque Netflix Party (which I actually found to enjoy almost as much), my wonderful friend Bri–who normally organized in-person discussion groups with a group of women–thankfully continued our meetings on Zoom, and my March birthday, while at first seemed sad and depressing, was unforgettable; my Pápa friends created Tik Tok videos for me and my best friend reenacted her own version of Say Anything by playing Peter Gabriel in my front yard while chucking presents over the fence.

Brunch with friends after a wonderful night of good food and even better discussions with five women I am so incredibly grateful to call my friends 🤍
📷: Bri
Note: my arms are not usually THAT translucent but I applied 80 tons of sunscreen in response to that Hungarian summer sun!

The last sunset in our Pápa house.

While feeling cooped up could be stifling at times, I was also grateful to be in a house we loved. This was the longest Chris and I ever lived in one home in the fifteen years we’ve been married and I truly adored the space we had in our little town. In this house I said goodbye to my Boston Terrier Ike, sipped wine while reading for hours on the back-porch, schemed new travel plans, hosted impromptu Beyonce dance parties, and baked bread, fried wings, mixed pimento cheese, and failed at making proper buckeyes yet again. I met some of my favorite people while in Pápa and while it was incredibly hard to say goodbye as so many moved on to new places as we did, if 2020 has taught me anything, its how to stay connected from afar.

One of our first sunsets in our new house, Rammelsbach, Germany.

Reflecting on travel in 2020 reminds me of just how little I wrote or published last year. Food Writer Alicia Kennedy spoke my feelings to paper in her most recent newsletter:

“…while trying to write during a pandemic, the inspiration needs to be strong. The world isn’t giving me the usual constant sparks. The world is only taking my energy from me.”

Alicia Kennedy. 2021. “On Crisis.”

I promise-ish to publish complete posts on each place (I know, I know, I am at this point two years behind… eeeeek) eventually. I do want to provide a warning that this post does contain photos and descriptions of places including memorials of concentration camps, forced labor camps, and references to the Holocaust and WWII.

I am so. fucking. grateful. for my health and the well-being of my friends and family. I am so incredibly thankful for the privilege I had to self-isolate, quarantine at home, and travel while adhering to safety measures meant to keep myself and others safe.

Here is my 2020 Travel Year in Review:

ALLTHE[NEWPLACE]THINGS:

Bavaria, Germany:

Our first stop after crossing into Germany during our move.

Bovec, Slovenia:

We stopped in the adorable town of Bovec for dinner after exploring the Soča River nearby.

Devecser, Hungary:

Hoping to find the trees stained a bright red from the Ajka Alumina Plant Spill, we stumbled upon this memorial to the environmental disaster in a park in Devecser.
This memorial commemorates the towns hit hardest by the industrial accident that killed ten people and destroyed whole portions of communities in 2010.

Eger, Hungary:

After spending the day wandering the adorable city of Eger (northeast Hungary), my friend and I completed a wine cellar crawl in Eger’s Valley of the Beautiful Women.

Gic, Hungary:

This small village near Pápa is one of the cutest; a different colored bicycle marks each street.
An abandoned school in Gic.

Hajmáskér, Hungary:

First built by Franz Joseph I in the late 1800s and one of the largest barracks in Eastern Europe, the Hajmáskér compound is now abandoned after being used by the Germans during WWII and the Soviets prior to the fall of the USSR in 1991.

Hiša Franko (Kobarid), Slovenia:

My new happy place.
Our last day in Slovenia was all rain storms and mud slides. Absolutely worth it to spend our final night at Hiša Franko.
This was THE highlight for me in 2020.

Kanal ob Soči, Slovenia:

A quick wander around Kanal ob Soči before making our way to Kobarid. It stormed the entire night before and morning of, making the river filled to the brim with sediment.

Kobarid, Slovenia:

These storm clouds were intense but I am so thankful for the break in the rain to enjoy this view of Kobarid.
The Italian Charnal House, built next to the Church of St. Anthony and on Gradič nad Kobaridom, includes Slovenia’s only ossuary of Italian soldiers; over 7,000 are interned here and mostly fought in the Soča Valley during WWI.

Kolontár, Hungary:

A memorial to the Ajka Alumina Plant Spill in Kolontár, Hungary. This entire street was destroyed by red sludge (note how high it reached the side of this home) when a reservoir of toxic waste collapsed at an aluminum plant in nearby Ajka, Hungary. The wave of toxic waste reached as high as two meters (seven feet), destroying everything in its path.

Komárno, Slovakia:

Located on the Slovakian side of the Danube River, Komárno has an adorable Courtyard of Europe.

Komárom, Hungary:

The Hungarian sister city to Komárno, I visited the enormous star-shaped Fort Csillag in Komárom, located at the edge of the country. Originally built in the 1500s, this site was used as an internment camp for Jewish, Roma, and other marginalized groups during WWII. People were held here (including the Jewish population of Pápa) before being sent to concentration camps abroad.
The view inside Ft. Csillag.

Kraków-Płaszów Camp Memorial, Poland:

The overgrown remains of what once was Krakow’s KL Płaszów Concentration Camp during WWII. Located right outside the city, today the camp is a large area of weeds, fields, and stones, with random placement markers throughout the site. This is a much different memorial than Auschwitz; here visitors can either stumble upon the camp from a winding trail from the quarry or through the parking lot of apartments located directly across from the Grey House.
The Grey House, pictured here, was used to torture prisoners of the camp.

Lake Bokodi, Hungary:

The Floating Houses of Bokod sit on what was once the cooling pond (Bokodi-hůtőtó) for the now-closed energy plant.

Liban Quarry, Poland:

The now-abandoned Liban Quarry in Kraków was used as a forced labor camp during the Nazi occupation. This area was also the setting for the film Schindler’s List in 1993, leaving a combination of movie props and original aspects of the quarry behind.

Lillafüred, Hungary:

View from the Hunguest Hotel Palace in the small vacation town of Lillafüred.

Magyarpolány, Hungary:

The church of Magyarpolány was built in the 1700s by the monastery in Zirc (see photos below).
View from the church and top of the hill.

Metelcova (Ljubljana), Slovenia:

The independent and autonomous zone of Metelcova was once the headquarters for the Austro-Hungarian military. After the fall of the Soviet Union (1991) and Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, the abandoned barracks became inhabited by various marginalized groups in Ljubljana. Known as AKC, the space was recognized as a cultural heritage area in 2005 and is home to over 200 organizations.

Mohács, Hungary:

Truly the most wild Hungarian experience during my four years in the country was attending Busójárás.
The festival is a celebration of the end of the winter season.
The name is derived from the type of masks worn to scare away winter. Legend holds that the festival began when locals carved weapons and masks to scare away occupying Ottomans in the area.

Most na Soči, Slovenia:

One of my absolute favorite places in the world, I loved our time relaxing in Most na Soči.
View of the lake from a trail near our house.

Pécs, Hungary:

Pécs holds such a special place in my heart. This was my first new travel adventure in 2020 (February) and also the last city we visited before moving to Germany in October.
An abandoned mining(?) operation near Pécs.

Recsk National Memorial Park, Hungary:

This extremely well-done memorial to the only forced labor camp in Hungary is located in a dense forest between Budapest and Eger. The Soviets held around 1500 political prisoners here.
This is a view from the walk to the quarry (where prisoners were forced to work long hours). The last remaining barracks can be seen on the right.

Rammelsbach, Germany:

View from the top of the hill of our small village.
Our new favorite walking spot with the dogs.

Szentkirályszabadja, Hungary:

Wandering the ghost town of Szentkirályszabadja, an abandoned Soviet base.
Known as “Hungary’s Chernobyl” this base was built for Soviet families in the 1960s before being abandoned by residents at the fall of the Soviet Union in the late 80s/early 90s.

Villány, Hungary:

One of the most famous Hungarian wine regions.

Villánykövesd, Hungary:

The rows of wineries in Villánykövesd are so cute, but unfortunately closed when we visited in the summer.

Zakopone, Poland:

View of the Tatra Mountains from a brewery in Zakopane.

Zirc, Hungary:

The Zirc Abbey (established in 1182). Not many people visit during the winter months, so we essentially had the entire place to ourselves.

ALLTHE[RETURNTRIP]THINGS:

Budapest, Hungary

Budapest is still my favorite city in Eastern Europe.
Going Away Extravaganza with great friends (and awesome Mexican food).
Underground gin and tonics.

Bratislava, Slovakia:

So thankful for this last day spent in Bratislava.
Pickled cheese + Long Island Iced Teas.

Kraków, Poland:

My 🤍

Ljubljana, Slovenia:

I’m so thankful for the couple of days spent in one of my favorite cities.

Pápa, Hungary:

The Great Church and Main Square in Pápa.

Szigliget, Hungary:

I am so grateful to have lived an hour from Lake Balaton and visited the town of Szigliget for ice cream and tacos throughout the summer. 🤍
Ice cream date with my favorite people including the absolutely wonderful Bri at Home Base Hungary.

ALLTHE[SCENERY]THINGS:

Bükk National Park, Hungary:

Hungary’s largest national park, we explored a couple of places on our great Hungarian Road Trip of Summer 2020.
Walking around Lake Hámori, I initially presumed these train tracks were abandoned until our small tourist train actually took us across them the next day (yikes and double yikes). #JustHungaryThings
Super cute stop at the end of the train line where we ordered a chimney cake and waited two hours for the train to be fixed (of course). This little place was named “mókus”, the Hungarian word for “squirrel” which alarmingly is one of only five words I know in the language.

Anna Sinter Cave, Hungary:

The tour of this cave was absolutely terrifying in that the guide actually turned off all the lights while we were underground.

Hámori Lake, Hungary:

The “Pearl of Bükk”.

Kościuszko Mound, Poland:

Completed in 1823, the Kościuszko Mound in Kraków was built in honor of  Tadeusz Kościuszko and is comprised of soil from a number of villages across Poland.
View from the top including Liban Quarry (on the right).

Lake Balaton, Hungary:

View from one of our favorite restaurants in Hungary, Villa Kabala, that overlooks the gorgeous Lake Balaton.
So thankful for this baby and momma celebration with these lovely friends! Congratulations Ashley and Baby Tibor!
📷: Bri

Lake Bohinj, Slovenia:

The largest lake in Slovenia, Lake Bohinj is located in the valley of the Julian Alps and I spent a few hours just enjoying the day and making friends with the baby fish.

Lake Czorsztyn, Poland:

Lake Czorsztyn is a human-made reservoir in southern Poland. This is the view from the castle ruins there.

Lake at Most na Soči, Slovenia:

The artificial lake at Most na Soči includes a lovely walking path where we spent a lot of our summer afternoons during the week we stayed here.

Lepena Valley, Slovenia:

We spent the afternoon here climbing on rocks and admiring the gorgeous view.
Sigh, a happy place.

Lillafüred, Hungary:

The hanging gardens at Lillafüred are so beautiful; I’m thankful to visit the palace during summer, when everything was in bloom.

Pusztazámor, Hungary:

Lavender season in Hungary 🤍

Siklawica Waterfall, Poland:

Phew, what an intense hike to the Siklawica Waterfall! We hiked through the beautiful Tatra National Park this summer.

Soča River, Slovenia:

I.love.this.place. Extra special love and gratitude to my friend Bri, who helped me plan this Slovenian adventure.
The Soča River was absolutely freezing but I waded through, accomplishing one of my goals for 2020.

St. István Cave, Hungary:

Less yikes than the Anna Caves (they left the lights on at least), this limestone cave was formed during the Triassic period. Legend holds that the cave was discovered in 1913 when a dog fell through the only opening and was found by locals as they rescued him. Geological aspects of the cave were damaged during WWII, when it was used by folks seeking shelter during air raids.

Szigliget, Hungary:

One of my last days visiting Szigliget and the farmers market here.
One of my last farmers market visits and a beautiful afternoon with my favorite Klaudia 🤍

Szinva Waterfall, Hungary:

The largest waterfall in Hungary, located in Lillafüred.

Tatra National Park, Poland:

Located on the border of Poland and Slovakia, both countries are working together to protect this incredible landscape. I am a huge fan of mountain views if not mountain climbing, so our wandering throughout Zakopane was perfect for me.

Tolmin Gorges, Slovenia:

No, I absolutely did not cross the Devil’s Bridge (not in a million years). The Narrow Gorge and Thermal Spring were breathtaking.
The water was absolutely freezing but so wonderful on this extremely hot day. I loved it here.

Triglav National Park, Slovenia:

Ya, I’m down for hiking if there are cows involved. Triglav is the only national park in Slovenia and has so many gorgeous views. Being as heights-adjacent as I am, I stuck to mostly wandering this valley.
🤍

ALLTHE[LIBRARY]THINGS:

Budapest, Hungary:

Due to Covid we couldn’t tour the inside, which is gorgeous. A lesson to always make the most of your travel because you may not have a chance to go back.

Ljubljana, Slovenia:

The National and University Library was designed by Jože Plečnik and is one of his most important buildings in Slovenia. The library includes a number of exhibits but I unfortunately was not allowed to tour the inside due to the pandemic.

Pécs, Hungary:

The Knowledge Centre at the University of Pécs includes this beautiful egg-shaped dome at the heart of the six story library. These tiles were arranged by a ceramic artist named Márta Nagy.

Zirc, Hungary:

The National Széchényi Library at the Cistercian Abbey in Zirc was built in the mid 1700s and now includes over 60,000 books, along with the oldest globes in Hungary (unfortunately not globe bars, but still so impressive!). Our guide showed us a number of gorgeous books–as we were the only ones there visiting during the off-season–and explained how parts of the library’s ceiling were carefully repaired after a combat plane crashed into the building during WWII, causing significant damage.

ALLTHE[CASTLE]THINGS:

Beckov, Slovakia:

Please ignore the quality of this photo as Beckov Castle (Beckovský hrad) was one of the many Slovakian ruins we saw from the car on our trip through Slovakia from Poland to Hungary. The name derives from the Slavic “Bludište” (meaning “wander” and “maze”) and was built in the 13th century (!).

Csesznek, Hungary:

The Castle of Csesznek was built in 1263 following the Mongol invasion of Europe. On clear days you can see all the way to Pannonhalma and even the Archabbey there.

Czorsztyn, Poland:

Located on Czorsztyn Lake, the castle was built in the 14th century and demolished in 1790 after a lightning strike caused the roof to catch fire. Czorsztyn Castle (Zamek Czorsztyn) sits across from the Hungarian built Niedzica Castle, located on the other side of the lake.

Diósgyőr, Hungary:

The first castle in Diósgyőr (Diósgyőri vár) was built in the 12th century, although it was destroyed during the Mongol invasion from 1241-1242. The current castle was most likely built by King Béla IV of Hungary and Croatia, who ordered castles constructed on every hilltop after the Mongols left the country. Along with Eger Castle, the Diósgyőr Castle was occupied by the Ottomans in 1596 and slowly lost its military importance over time.

Eger, Hungary:

View from Eger Castle.
The current Eger Castle (Egri vár) was built in 1470 to replace the previous fortress that was destroyed by Mongols in 1241. Probably most famous as the site for the defeat of the Turkish army in 1552 (35,000-40,000 soldiers vs the Hungarian 2,000 defenders), the castle was again attacked and defeated by the Turks in 1596.

Lillafüred, Hungary:

Okay, not technically a castle, but the Hotel Palota is an absolutely gorgeous palace built from 1927-1930 on Hámori Lake and just 10 kilometers from Miskolc. This was the first time I stayed at a castle! Heather and I were the only Americans here during pandemic times–“We promise we live here! We didn’t travel from America!”–and we had a blast exploring the vacation town.

Ljubljana Castle, Slovenia:

Ljubljana Castle (Ljubljanski grad) was built in the 11th century, rebuilt in 12th, and completely demolished/renovated in the 1600s.

Predjama, Slovenia:

Predjama Castle (Predjamski grad) is the world’s largest cave castle and has sat in the middle of a 123 meter high cliff for more than 800 years. A number of caves are located behind the castle, which visitors can explore through numerous tunnels. Although after my Hungarian cave adventures (read: panic attacks) earlier in the summer, I chose to merely enjoy the view here.

Strečno, Slovakia:

Strečno Castle (Strečniansky hrad) was first mentioned in 1316 and sits atop a 103 meter high (338 ft) cliff overlooking the Váh river and Malá Fatra mountains. The castle is known as the home of Zsófia Bosnyák (Bosnyák Zsófia), a Hungarian noble who once lived here, where she managed her family’s estate, children, and dedicated her life to helping the poor in the area. She was known as a living saint to the people in Vágtapolca and after she died, many in the area visited her coffin (located at the castle) as a pilgrimage each Assumption Day (15 August).

Székesfehérvár, Hungary:

Bory Castle (Bory-vár) is one of two self-built castles in Hungary. Constructed by Hungarian sculptor and architect Jeno Bory, the castle was completed in 1959. Built for his wife. Ilona Komócsin, a painter, the castle also includes a “Chapel of Spouse’s Love” with a statue of Komócsin.
Gorgeous spiral staircase 🤍

Trenčín, Slovakia:

The history of Trenčín Castle (Trenčiansky hrad) stems as far back as 179 AD and is probably the northernost place in the world visited by the Roman Empire.
One of the legends of Trenčín Castle is that of Omar and Fatima. When Turkish armies threatened the area, the duke, Zápoľský, took a number of captives back to the castle, including a beautiful woman named Fatima. Her beloved Omar, a Turkish aristocrat, begged for her release, but Zápoľský required Omar to build a well for the castle in exchange for her freedom. The 80m deep well was completed after three years, concluding with Omar famously saying: “now you have the water, but not the heart”.

In actuality, it took a a garrison of soldiers forty years to dig the castle’s well, although there wasn’t any underground water accessible in the area; the water collected here was merely rainwater.

Zlin (Oravský Podzámok), Slovakia:

Orava Castle (Oravský hrad) sits at the top of steep cliff and was first mentioned in Slovakian historical records in 1267. Considered one of the most beautiful castles in Slovakia, Orava was mostly destroyed by a fire in 1800, and rebuilt following WWII. Orava Castle may look familiar as the structure was used as Count Orlok’s and Dracula’s fortresses in a number of adaptions (1922 and 2020).

🤍🤍🤍

“After every rain the sun comes out.”
–Ana Roš

Stay safe and wear a fucking mask 🤍

Currently:
Reading: They Were Her Property: White Women as Slave Owners in the American South (Stephanie Jones-Rogers)
Watching: Bridgerton (Netflix)
Listening: Good News (Megan Thee Stallion)

One thought on “2020 Year in Review: AllThe[Travel]Things

  1. Ok so first of all, THANKS for all the shout outs!! Second, isn’t it amazing how, when reflecting on a “down” year, all the things we accomplish [anyway] can really give us pause? I was filled with gratitude FOR you while reading this beautiful post! You really did SO MUCH! And listen, the Baltics aren’t going anywhere and we are definitely Covid-checking (not rain checking) that trip. Just wait!!

    So…also, I GASPED like David Rose when I saw your backyard’s last sunset in Hungary (how did I not remember that oasis!?) and I also didn’t realize you went to Tolmin Gorges! AHHH it looked like such a perfect day! I wish we could’ve made it there so I’m sooo glad to see YOU did and hear it was worth it! Gorgeous gorge! 😄

    Also, clearly, you have enough content from last year for a post just about castles, just about memorials, and just about food. You know, whenever you feel inspired! 😜🙌🏾 Love it!

    Like

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