If it’s Friday it must be….a weekend in Budapest with Avios

If it’s Friday it must be …. Budapest? I’m lucky to live close enough to Heathrow Airport to escape for a weekend break and a change of scene as the fancy takes me. Somewhere like Budapest, for instance, where the kind folks at Avios are sending me for a three day break. I was last there in August 2010, when I spent a week in Hungary with the family, exploring the sights of Budapest and relaxing further south, near Lake Balaton. The couple of days in Budapest at the beginning and end of that trip wasn’t nearly long enough and I’ve been wanting to go back ever since. On my last visit, it was the humid days of summer and thunderstorms, now I’ll be seeing a more chilly face of Budapest, but I have my reasons. My niece is currently working in Budapest, so that’s a good enough excuse for me to visit her, with my parents and sisters, for something of a family gathering, hoping that we’ll get the benefit of a local’s insider knowledge.

View from the Fisherman's Bastion on our last trip to Budapest Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

View from the Fisherman’s Bastion on our last trip to Budapest

Did I mention that this trip is kindly being provided by Avios? You’ll remember them from the old Air Miles days, but since British Airways merged with Iberia Airlines, the scheme has been reborn as Avios and broadened to include loads of different ways to both collect points and spend them on fun trips with friends and family. Although I’ll be flying with British Airways from London to Budapest, you can also use your Avios points to book flights with many airlines, such as Iberia, Air Malta, American Airlines, Aurigny, Flybe and Monarch. I defy you not to find somewhere you’d like to visit on one of their flight schedules.

Since planning our weekend break in Budapest with Avios, I’ve had a good look around the website and was surprised at the number of ways that you can accumulate Avios points to spend later on a fun trip. I realised that I’ve been missing out on an opportunity to collect points, just by shopping at stores that I already use. Now I’m kicking myself that I could have been collecting Avios points while I bought my holiday wardrobe at Boden, my kid’s school uniform at M & S, doing my weekly online shop at Tesco, or by using the credit card from Lloyds TSB who I already bank with. Now I’m an Avios member I’m planning to be collect points at all my favourite brands when I shop, and make a quick check of the places that offer Avios points before I make any major purchases.

The Chain Bridge in Budapest Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

The Chain Bridge in Budapest

If you need any further inspiration, have a play with the Avios calculator where you can estimate how many points you could collect through your weekly shop, by filling up the car or shopping online. The website has plenty more ideas on ways to spend your Avios points on flights, hotels and other travel experiences. If your points won’t quite stretch to that dream trip, you can top up with cash, so there’s plenty of flexibility. I love the new Avios micro-site where you can decide where you’d like to go and then check how long it would take you to accumulate the points, depending on your own spending habits.

The Avios website was also very user friendly when it came to choosing a hotel for our stay in Budapest. You can narrow down your choice by filtering on star rating, facilities or points and then check the location easily on the map view or read Tripadvisor reviews direct from the Avios site. On such a short trip, I wanted to be close to the main sites on both sides of the river  and eventually decided on the Intercontinental Budapest, a classic, luxury hotel that overlooks the Danube.

Hungarian Parliament Building, Budapest Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Hungarian Parliament Building, Budapest

So what are we hoping to see in Budapest? Perhaps a return visit to the picturesque castle district, where the gypsy violinists seranaded us last time at the top of the Fisherman’s Bastion. From there it’s a great view over to the Hungarian Parliament Building on the other side although it might be a bit chilly to sit at the top in the outdoor cafe. I might pop in to the Matthius Church with the colourful roof tiles and interiors and visit some of the museums that I didn’t get the chance to visit last time.

The Fisherman's Bastion, Budapest Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

The Fisherman’s Bastion, Budapest

Although we visited other spas such as the thermal lake at Heviz on our last trip, I didn’t have time to visit any of the classic Budapest thermal baths, like the Gellert or the Szechenyi Baths, so they’re definitely on the list. Spas in Hungary are much more about health and wellbeing than beauty and are a really local experience for all ages and incomes. Apart from that our itinerary is relaxed, but my niece has booked us some great local restaurants that she knows so I hope that I’ll be reporting back on delicious Hungarian dishes.

Stay tuned to my Instagram, Twitter and Facebook with weekend for live commentary of everything that we enjoy in Budapest and thanks to Avios for making the trip possible. I’ll be using hashtag #HOHTBudapest

Read about our last trip to Hungary and Budapest

Memento Park – Icons of Budapest’s Communist past
The Festetics Palace and Marzipan museum in Keszthely
Boot slapping, skirt twirling, Hungarian Folk dancing – video

AviosMore about Avios
Avios is an easy way to collect points at the places you shop everyday, at online stores, while grocery shopping, when you buy your fuel and when you spend on your credit card. Then convert the points into a flight, hotel, holiday or just a fun day out with your family. There’s plenty of inspiration on the Avios website to start planning your dream gettaway. Become a member of Avios and you can follow Avios on Twitter @AviosUK or on their AviosUK Facebook page and see some flying lawnmowers on the Avios YouTube channel

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heatheronhertravels' Budapest - around Budapest photoset heatheronhertravels’ Budapest – around Budapest photoset

This article by Heather Cowper is originally published at Heatheronhertravels.com - Read more travel articles at Travel Blog Home

You’ll also find our sister blog with tips on how to build a successful travel blog at My Blogging Journey

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Where Heather will be travelling in Spring 2013?

With 2012 behind us it’s time to look forward to exciting travel plans for 2013 – doesn’t everyone like to have something to look forward to? I want to share with you where I’ll be heading this spring and if you’ve visited these destinations and have any tips for me I’d love to hear from you.

Children are given new clothes in India Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Children are given new clothes in India

January – A charity visit to Andhra Pradesh, India

What’s it all about? Through my local church I have connections with a rural parish near Kurnool, India and am trustee of a charity to support the education of children and other community projects there. My last visit to India for this charity was a few years ago when I spent a few days in a rural Indian village, meeting sponsored children, visiting a school and orphanage and visiting the stone quarries where many of the local people work, and I’m expecting that this visit will be very similar. Read about my experience Meeting my Indian sponsor child on my last visit.

What my travel plans? I’ll be flying in and out of Hyderabad where my hotel at Mercure Abids has been kindly provided by AsiaRooms.com, before driving up to Kurnool where I’ll be based while visiting the local villages where different families, schools and community projects are being supported. I’ll be travelling with another couple who are involved with the charity and we’ll return from Kurnool to Hyderabad by train which I’m expecting will be an experience in itself.

What am I hoping for? A bit of shopping for fun jewellery (I love my dangly earings) and cool Indian clothes, maybe some textiles or gifts in Hyderabad; Meeting the young girl and her family that I personally sponsor; Staying a night in the village with an Indian family to feel what it’s like to live on £1 a day; Seeing how the goats, mango trees, wells and community centres that our charity has helped support are helping the community.

Prince Hall Hotel, Dartmoor Photos: Princehall.co.uk

Prince Hall Hotel, Dartmoor

January – A Country House Hotel break on Dartmoor, Devon

What’s it all about? My husband absolutely loves Dartmoor and we were there in August with my teenage son and some of his friends. On our walks across Dartmoor we spotted the Prince Hall Hotel that is within the Dartmoor National Park and I’ll be spending a weekend there with my husband. Read about our last Wild and Wet adventure weekend on Dartmoor.

What are my travel plans? It’s an easy drive down from Bristol to Dartmoor for the weekend and we hope to meet up with some friends who live locally as well as enjoying some walking and other activities on Dartmoor.

What am I hoping for? Good local food, roaring log fires, time to relax with my husband, bracing walks on the moor and adding a few Tors to our collection. We’ve arranged to do a bit of Nordic walking on Dartmoor which I’m hoping will leave us both feeling fit and healthy after the Christmas season.

The Chain Bridge, Budapest Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

The Chain Bridge, Budapest

February – a long weekend in Budapest

What’s it all about? I visited Budapest with my family in 2010 as part of a week’s holiday and loved the city which has both wide 19th century boulevards and medieval cobbled streets. As my niece is currently working in Budapest it seemed a great opportunity to pay a return visit with my parents to explore a bit more of the city. Listen to our Hungary holiday podcast, covering Budapest and Laka Balaton.

What are my travel plans? I’ll be there for a long weekend, hosted by Avios (previously Airmiles) where you can use points collected when you shop to fund flights, hotels and other travel services. We’ll be flying British Airways from London Heathrow and staying at the Intercontinental Hotel Budapest, an elegant, 5 star hotel overlooking the Danube. We’ll be exploring some of the sights on both sides of the river and discovering any local haunts that my niece can lead us to.

What am I hoping for? An interesting dynamic from spending time with different generations of my family, a visit to one of the famous Hungarian baths which I didn’t have time for on my previous visit, to find the restaurants where the locals rather than the tourist go that my niece can recommend, perhaps to learn a bit of Hungarian dancing (I hear it’s a rather cool thing to do these days).

Taghazout in Morocco Photo: Vincentraal on Flickr

Taghazout in Morocco

April – Pretending I’m a surf chick in Morocco

What’s it all about? As my children are now old enough to travel independently and would rather be with their friends than their parents, I have to be a little devious when it comes to family holidays. My oldest son has taken to surfing in a big way, since he went to university in Wales, so when I heard that Taghazout in Morocco is a mecca for surfers, I decided it would be the perfect place for us to go for a family break over Easter.

What are my travel plans? We fly to Agadir and pick up a hire car, then drive up the coast to Taghazout where we’ll be renting an apartment by the beach. I’m not optimistic that I’ll be any good at the surfing, so I may stick to the yoga, but I’ve heard that there are a few interesting things to see nearby such as Paradise Valley where there are waterfalls and pools to swim in.

What am I hoping for? A laid back Moroccan vibe and youthful atmosphere that my teenage kids will enjoy, to get up on a surf board at least once in the trip, to try out some yoga and flex out those muscles that are stiff from sitting over a computer, to enjoy some delicious local Moroccan food and eat out every night without spending a fortune.

Rhine River cruise Photo: Lüftner Cruises

May – A European River cruise with my husband on the Rhine

What’s it all about? My husband has been telling me he’d like to try a river cruise and as his wish is my command, I’ve arranged for us to join a cruise on the Rhine with Lüftner Cruises. A few years ago I’d have mentally marked this as the kind of trip that my parents would enjoy and that I’d find rather tame, but as time passes I’m finding the idea of  seeing a lot of interesting places in comfort rather attractive.

What are my travel plans? We fly to Basel in Switzerland where we join our ship, the Amadeus Princess and over the next few days will stop at Strasbourg with excursions to visit the Alsace wine region, Speyer, Mannheim, Ruedesheim, Koblenz, Cochem and will disembark in Cologne to fly back to the UK.

What am I hoping for? An introduction to the whole river cruising experience, beautiful views of the castles and towns along the banks of the Rhine, great food and wine both on board and as part of some of the excursions, interesting sightseeing in the towns and cities that we visit on the cruise, to see a lot of different places while only having to unpack once and the chance to relax with my husband.

I’m really excited about all of my travel plans and am expecting that each of them will bring a different kind of enjoyment and experience. I hope you’ll follow along with me as I share these travel experiences on the blog, through videos and podcasts to bring you the sights and sounds of my experience and on my Twitter, Facebook and other social media channels.

If you have visited any of the places I’ve mentioned, please do leave me any tips that you have in the comments, I’m waiting to hear from you …..

Photo credits: Prince Hall Hotel by PrinceHall.co.uk, Taghazout by Vincentraal, Rhine River cruise by Lüftner Cruises, other photos by Heatheronhertravels.com

Disclosure: Some but by no means all elements of the trips I have planned are being hosted by the companies mentioned in this article.

This article by Heather Cowper is originally published at Heatheronhertravels.com - Read more travel articles at Travel Blog Home

You’ll also find our sister blog with tips on how to build a successful travel blog at My Blogging Journey

Subscribe to Heatheronhertravels Don’t miss out – subscribe to Heather on her travels

15 Hungary holiday podcast – Budapest and Lake Balaton

In Podcast No 15 in my travel podcast series, you’ll hear about my week’s holiday in Hungary starting and ending in Budapest with a few days in between at Lake Balaton, a large freshwater lake that’s a popular Hungarian holiday destination. We spent four days in the laid back Hullám Hostel and visited the castles and palaces along the lake shore, took the ferry across the lake and floated around among the water lilies in the thermal spa at Hévíz. In Budapest we also enjoyed the Palatine Baths on Margaret Island, admired  the statues of the communist era at Memento park and spent our last day exploring the castle district and the Hungarian festival of folk arts that was being held over St Stephen’s day.

Heather at Szigliget castle near Lake Balaton, Hungary

Heather at Szigliget castle near Lake Balaton, Hungary

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I hope you enjoy the slide show below that is designed to accompany the podcast

Our first couple of nights in Budapest were spent at Mandragora Hostel, set in a turn of the century apartment building with an internal courtyard, with Indian style decor. We found the Mandragora Hostel charming and comfortable, and the staff were extremely helpful, but you should be aware that the location is on a busy intersection, so some of the rooms facing the road can be noisy.

On our first morning we walked around Margaret Island, a large public park set on an island in the middle of the Danube and visited the Palatine Strand Baths there. The park is named after the daughter of one of the kings of Budapest who vowed that if the Mongol invaders would cease their attacks, his daughter would devote her life to God, and so she spent her life here in a convent.

The Palatine Baths is ideal for families with a large number of different outdoor pools with fountains and jets, some for swimming, others with warm thermal water and waterslides and a wave machine. We had lunch at the snack bar beside the baths and managed to over-order six plates of chicken livers!

Palatinus Strand on Margaret Island, Budapest

Palatinus Strand on Margaret Island, Budapest

Souvenir stalls in the Central Market, Budapest

Souvenir stalls in the Central Market, Budapest

After we returned to the Margaret bridge at the end of the island, we took the No 2 public tram which is well known as a good sightseeing route as it runs along the Danube, past many of the major tourist sights such as the Hungarian Parliament building. We were pleased that we’d bought a 24 hour transport ticket which was valid for the metro, buses and trams and meant that we could hop on and off as many trams as we liked.

In the afternoon, we visited the Central market where we admired the beautifully presented stall selling vegetables and paprika products, and bought a few souvenirs on the upper floor, such as painted eggs which we planned to use as Christmas decorations. We tried some snacks from the food stalls that were also on the upper floor of the market and especially enjoyed the Lángos, that’s a cross between a pancake and a doughnut, with sweet and savoury toppings. Guy also enjoyed his dark malt Hungarian beer that was a little like Guinness.

The next day we drove down to Lake Balaton, stopping on the way at Memento park, where the statues of communist leaders and other sculptures from the Communist era are now on display. The only leader who’s stautue was destroyed was that of Stalin who was so hated after his death that his enormous statue was pulled down, leaving only his boots that are on a podium at the entrance to the park.

Laka Ballaton is a major holiday area, popular with Hungarians and Germans with many campsites, guest houses and holiday apartments around the lake, which is used for swimming, fishing and sailing. The lake side is very green and fringed with reeds, with sections of the shore that have been made into swimming areas with platforms and steps into the lake.

Révfülöp at Lake Balaton, Hungary

Révfülöp at Lake Balaton, Hungary

Hullam Hostel, Révfülöp by Lake Balaton

Hullam Hostel, Révfülöp by Lake Balaton

We loved our stay at Hullám Hostel, a stylish and friendly hostel, that attracts an international backpacking crowd, but is also very family friendly. At the Hullam Hostel we enjoyed the Hungarian goulash and other local specialities that they served up each night that was cooked in a cauldron over an open fire, served with bread on an all you can eat system. During our stay a juzz evening was held in the hostel to celebrate the Hungarian national holiday of St Stephen’s day and  you’ll here some of the music from the evening throughout the podcast.

We visited the nearby castle at Szigliget that was built in the 13th century, set on the top of a volcanic plug and clambered over the battlements to get amazing views over the lake and surrounding area. On the way back we drove through the wine growing area on the slopes of the volcanic plugs and stopped for lunch at Salföld, a pictureque traditional Hungarian Village, with Salföld Manor a restored show farm, and tried the sour cherry soup in the garden of the Pajta Galeria restaurant on the edge of the village.

Salföld, nr Lake Balaton, Hungary

Salföld, nr Lake Balaton, Hungary

Sour cherry soup at Pajta Galeria in Salföld, Hungary

Sour cherry soup at Pajta Galeria in Salföld, Hungary

On another day we visited the Festetics palace at Keszthely, built in baroque style in the 18th century with the air of a French Chateau, surrounded by formal gardens. We didn’t go into the palace as the queue was rather long but the formal gardens were free to enter, with fountains and colourful floral displays.

On coming out of the palace, we followed signs to the Marzipan Museum, which was more of a patisserie and tea shop, with a room at the back displaying examples of cake decoration and marzipan models, including one of the Keszthely Palace. We enjoyed our cake and coffee at the end of the visit in the small courtyard at the back, although I thought it was stretching the point to call the display room a museum.

Heather at Festetics palace at Keszthely, Hungary

Heather at Festetics palace at Keszthely, Hungary

Thermal Lake at  Hévíz, Hungary

Thermal Lake at Hévíz, Hungary

In the afternoon we visited the thermal lake at Hévíz which is naturally heated and where the mineral properties of the water is thought to be very healthy. The spa is like a modern leisure centre, built on to the lake where swimmers float around in the warm lake with rubber or foam rings. It was a great example of the Eastern European enthusiasm for Wellness although a somewhat bizarre experience for us Brits.

On our third day in the Lake Balaton area, we crossed the lake on the ferry over to Balatonboglar to the southern shore and found a busy holiday scene with a funfair in full swing to celebrate the St Stephen’s day holiday. After a couple of hours wandering around the packed resort, we returned to the more tranquil northern shore and decided that we definitely preferred the area we were staying.

We dove back to Budapest where we stayed in Art’Otel for our final night of the holiday, with a great view of the Danube. The hotel is modern at the front although the back half is made up of older townhouses, joined by a pretty courtyard. The feature of the hotel is that it features the work of a single artist, Donald Sultan and we took an art tour to learn more about his art works on display in different parts of the hotel. The hotel is perfectly positioned for the castle district on the Buda side of the river and from the Art’Otel you can climb up through the cobbled streets to see some of the well known Budapest sights.

Church in Budapest

Church in Budapest

View from the Fishermen's bastion in Budapest

View from the Fishermen's bastion in Budapest

On our final day in Budapest we walked up to the Mátyás church which is notable for the decorative painted walls and colourful tiles,  and also saw the Fisherman’s Bastion, an ornate colonade where you can get a great view over the Danube. You will often find gypsy bands playing traditional folk music there and there are also a couple of cafes on the ramparts with a great view, and no doubt prices that include a premium for the view.

From there we walked along towards the Hungarian Royal Palace and found the Festival of Folk arts in full swing. There were many stalls with beautiful embroidery, painted eggs,  pottery and wood carvings and we enjoyed watching the Hungarian folk dancing and listening to the traditional music.

We took the Castle funicular down from the area of the Hungarian Royal Palace to the river level, which was only a 5 minute ride and rather expensive considering the short distance, although if you’re on a budget it’s perfectly easy to walk the short distance. We concluded that although we loved the Laka Ballaton area for a family summer holiday, there was plenty more to explore in Budapest and we’d really need a return trip to do it justice.

If you enjoyed this travel podcast please check out my other podcasts in my Travel Podcast Archive

Visitor information for Budapest and Lake Ballaton

On our holiday we stayed in the following accommodation;

Mandragora Boutique Hostel on the Pest side of Budapest
Compare prices and book Mandragora Boutique Hostel with Hotels Combined
Hullám Hostel in Révfülöp on the northern shore of Lake Ballaton
Book Hullam Hostel in Revfulop with Hostel Bookers
Art’Otel Budapest on the Buda side of the city, overlooking the Danube.
Compare prices and book Art’Otel Budapest with Hotels Combined

For more information on the other places we visited, please follow the links in this article to my other blog posts.

The jazz music used in the podcast was recorded on St Stephen’s day at Hullam Hostel. Gypsy violin music was recorded around the Fisherman’s Bastion and other folk music was recorded at the Festival of Folk Arts. The opening music was Venus as a Girl by Andy McGee on Musicalley.com

More articles from this trip to Hungary

Boot slapping, skirt twirling, Hungarian Folk Dancing – video
Memento Park – icons of Budapest’s Communist past
My Top 10 sights in Budapest
Thermal springs and rubber rings at Heviz in Hungary

Save on hotels with HotelsCombined.com

This article is originally published at Heatheronhertravels.com – Read more travel articles at Travel Blog Home

You’ll also find our sister blog with tips on how to build a successful travel blog at My Blogging Journey

Don’t miss out – subscribe to Heather on her travels

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