Monday, November 30, 2015

2015 - Black Friday Day 1 (Michigan)

This year, we will repeat our outing last year where we went Black Friday shopping in Michigan and we plan to visit Great Lakes Crossing and Birch Run. The initial plan is to go on Thursday afternoon and return on Saturday unless we find more to do in the area and return on Sunday.

Blue Water Bridge is the border crossing that we go to this year which is the same border that we went to last year. While the border took us about 30 minutes to cross, it seemed like they were checking a lot of cars now (possibly due to what happened in Paris). We saw a lot of cars where trunks were checked which didn't really happen in the past. However, by the time we were up, the officer must have been bored because when Allison drove up, he asked what we were doing, to which Allison said we were going to Great Lakes Crossing and Birch Run, he swiped the passports and let us go. He didn't even look at me at all (the passenger). Odd...

We checked in at our hotel which is Sonesta ES Suites this year which is a short drive from the hotel we stayed at last year (Hyatt Place) and I would say, I think I like the Sonesta ES Suites more. While the Hyatt Place hotel had a bigger TV and the room seemed a bit larger, Sonesta ES Suites had a small kitchen which had a full size fridge, a two burner induction stove, and full set of kitchen appliances and cutlery (pots, pans, utensils, etc). There is a full sized tub, and what seemed like a slightly larger queen sized bed even though on hotels.com it said that this is a king. Breakfast, parking, and WiFi is included.

After we checked in, we went to the local McDonald's which we went to last year and it turned out to be closed today except for the drive-thru. We sucked it up and went through the drive-thru and just ate at the parking lot since we didn't want to fight the crowds at Birch Run since we were certain that the restaurants would be open. This year, we noticed that they had different deals (for us Canadians). $5 gets you two Big Macs, Filet-O-Fish, or McChicken (we opted for the Big Macs), $2 gets you two small fries and a large pop cost us $1.39 (or was it $1.29). All in all, it cost us less than $10 USD for two big macs, two small fries and a large pop. They also had a peel-and-win style game for football (I believe) and we won a small coffee, bonus!

Our first stop is Best Buy where I hoped to get the Lumia 640 for $30 and we got it! Actually, they had a few left when we got there at around 7:30pm. We spent about 30 minutes waiting to pay and then headed to Birch Run.

We got to Birch Run at around 9:00pm, and it didn't seem as busy as I remember it. We ended up going to our usual shops (Banana Republic, Nike, Ann Taylor, Gap, Columbia and a few others) and we finished at around 1:00am and go back to the hotel at around 2:00am and called it a night. Our damage at the end was 3 cardigans, 3 tops, 1 jean skirt, 1 pair of Nike runners for Allison and 1 Lumia 640 for Wai. The phone cost $32.37 USD after taxes and the total for the clothing was $113.85 USD.

Day 1 results, 1 phone for Wai, the rest for Allison.

Tomorrow, we go to Great Lakes Crossing after checking out the breakfast at the hotel in the morning.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Past POIs - Széchenyi Thermal Bathes [Budapest, Hungary]

While I don't quite understand and appreciate the thermal bathes, there are a lot of people who do and I thought it would be interesting to learn about its history and how it came to be.


Széchenyi Thermal Bathes is the first thermal bath of Pest built in 1913. With the 3 renovations that have taken place, with the last renovation being completed in 1999 which added the whirling corridor, neck showers, water beam back massage and more, it is one of the largest spa complexes in Europe.

From wikipedia (source)
The water comes from Saint Stephen Well Nr.II commissioned in 1938. The hot spring water contains lithium, sodium, potassium, calcium, and more. It also supposedly helps with degenerative joint diseases, chronic and sub-acute arthritis, orthopedic and post-accident treatments and more (Szechenyi Bath Water Composition and Therapeutic Uses).

From wikipedia (source)
The bathes are divided into two sections, indoors and outdoors. Indoors, there are 11 thermal water pools ranging from 28 C - 40 C, 1 cooling pool at 20 C, and 1 immersion pool at 18 C. Outdoors, there are 2 immersion pools at 18 C, 1 swimming pool at 26 C - 28 C which is 50 meters long, 1 activity pool at 30 C - 34 C, and 1 thermal water pool at 38 C.

From wikipedia (source)
As of January, 2015, the base price which includes a locker, entry and no time limitation is 4,500 Ft on weekdays and 4,700 Ft on weekends and holidays. There are cheaper options but limit when you can go (for example, 6:00 am - 8:00 am), you can find the details here (prices).

To get here, simply get off at Széchenyi fürdő on the M1 (yellow) line. It is also just a short 5 minute walk from the Heroe's Square for reference.

Come back next Friday for another Past Point of Interest!

Friday, November 20, 2015

Past POIs - Little Princess Statue [Budapest, Hungary]

While we were wandering Budapest, we stumbled upon this statue which we actually assumed was the Little Prince Statue but in reality it is actually the Little Princess Statue.

The Little Princess Statue (Kiskirálylány) can be found sitting on the railings along the Danube river in Budapest, Hungary along the pest side of the river. The statue was created by László Marton and placed where it is now in 1989, so a relatively new statue.


The statue is actually based on the artist's daughter who while as a child would dress up like a princess, wearing a newspaper crown made by her father and also having a bathrobe as a cloak. Knowing the details now, it actually makes sense and maybe we should have spent some time looking at the plaque at the based that would have explained it.

Not really knowing about this statue, while I was looking it up, I found that there are actually a number of statues in Budapest that seem like they would be worth visiting which we missed. Ones that come up that sound interesting at Szt Gellert Statue, Statue of Liberty, Timewheel monument, and Anonymus.

Come back next Friday for another Past Point of Interest!

Monday, November 16, 2015

Future POIs - Bronner's CHRISTmas Wonderland [Michigan, United States of America]

During Black Friday, we plan to go visit Michigan to do some shopping and one of the nearby places is Frankenmuth, which is a town that has roots from Germany and you can see the influences. The building designs, the foods, the beer gardens, it is all there. The main attraction here is Bronner's CHRISTmas Wonderland.

From wikipedia
Built in 1945, this place is the World's Largest Christmas store with landscaped grounds that cover a massive 27 acres which gets over two million visitors annually! This is a store dedicated to all things Christmas and the salesroom alone is 96,000 sq. ft. (2.2 acres or 1.7 football fields of space) with over 50,000 trims and gifts.

I don't personally celebrate Christmas, but I can appreciate the festivities behind the holiday and I think this will be a very interesting stop for us when we visit. My personal interest for visiting the site lies with the half mile long Christmas Lane which is lit in the evening with Christmas lights all year round and is open to the public. They even have a replica of the original chapel where they first sang 'Silent Night' on Christmas Eve in 1818.

From bronners.com
This will likely be my last Future Point of Interest post for awhile since we don't have plans for future trips yet, so I will bring back this series when I have some more things to write about that I am interested in.

Friday, November 13, 2015

2015 - Eastern Europe Summary

Duration: 18 days (arrived on the morning of Saturday September 12, 2015 and left in the morning on Tuesday September 30, 2015)
Cost: Flight from Toronto to Munich and Prague to Toronto ($1,108.42 CAD), 3 trains ($214.15 for three people), overnight train (67 € I think for private room just three of us) Hotels (819 € + $1,519.45 CAD for two), $342.83 for car rentals, roughly 17 € per meal in Germany and Austria, 4,000 Forint per meal in Hungary, 300 Kč per meal in Czech Republic and local transportation and admission.

Highlights (in no particular order):

BMW Museum in Munich, this museum has given me a greater appreciation for the brand and makes me almost want to get a BMW for my next vehicle. I believe that even if you aren't interested in what BMW makes, you will like the layout, flow, and collection that is housed in the BMW Museum. In my opinion, it is a must see while in Munich.

BMW Museum
BMW Museum
BMW Museum
BMW Museum
BMW Museum
BMW Museum
BMW Museum
BMW Museum
Dachau Concentration Camp in Munich, make sure to sign up for the guided tour and jump back to a time where things were different in Germany and learn about what happened here and how things were back then. The guided tour lasted roughly 2.5 hours and well worth the small cost of it.

Dachau
Dachau
Dachau
Salt Mine in Salzburg, while I didn't know what to expect nor did I actually know this was part of the plan (I didn't really look at our plan well), this was a surprise and the two slides plus the train out were excellent and worth the day trip here.

Salt mine slide #1
Salt mine slide #2
Linderhof / Neuschwanstein in Munich, while there were cool looking palaces in the other countries that we visited, these two really stand out the most in my mind (outside of the metal bird in Schönbrunn palace). Take a day trip and visit the two to travel back to a time where palaces were built with grand ideas and locations in mind and just wander and enjoy your surroundings. I feel that overall, Linderhof is my preferred palace of the two, but odds are, you will visit both given their proximity to one another. If you visit them, I would suggest Neuschwanstein first since it seems to be the busier one, but in my opinion, Linderhof is more enjoyable.


Neuschwanstein
Neuschwanstein
Neuschwanstein
Neuschwanstein
Neuschwanstein
Linderhof
Linderhof
Linderhof
Linderhof
Linderhof
Linderhof
Linderhof
Linderhof
Linderhof
Linderhof
Linderhof
Linderhof
Lowlights (in no particular order):

Kutna Hora, expectations were too high for me for this one. It is a small room, so much sure to visit the town nearby otherwise you spend a lot of time just to see this location. Make sure to go early because it gets pretty busy by 10:00am.

Kutna Hora
Kutna Hora
Kutna Hora
Kutna Hora
Must try food places:

Humboldt in Salzburg, was quite the surprise restaurant for me. It was the only place that we visited where I enjoyed all of the entrees that we got and unfortunately Humboldt was never topped for me for the rest of the trip.

Humboldt
Humboldt
Humboldt
Humboldt
Wratschko in Vienna, is a restaurant recommended by Anthony Bourdain and I would suggest it as well. Just note that the service was lacking for us but in my opinion, the food makes up for it.

Wratschko
Wratschko
Wratschko
Wratschko
Szazeves Etterem in Budapest, is a restaurant recommended by Allison's brother and worth visiting. Come on a Friday and be entertained by the live music there. Good food, good service, recommended.

Szazeves Etterem
Szazeves Etterem
Szazeves Etterem
What would I change?

Vienna could have been shortened to 3 days for us versus 3.5 days that we spent there. Budapest could have also been shortened to 2 days versus 3 days. Otherwise, I think the trip worked out well and everything worked out for us even though we were quite worried about the migrant crisis at the time which turned out to be a non-issue by the time we arrived.

I know that this is a common path that tours take and I can see why since it is very convenient to get from place to place. I do feel that we started on a high note and ended on a softer note which made me feel a bit bored by the end. Not so much due to planning, but the variety of things to see disappears after awhile and I think that happens to me a lot during longer trips. Not to fault the countries that we visited.

In hindsight, it may have been better to reverse the order of the cities, but that meant that we would hit Munich during Oktoberfest which is something that we didn't care to visit due to the additional cost.

Until next trip!