Sweet, Sweet Budapest and Maybe A New Home!? 

That’s Budapest y’all

I booked for six days and that’s already considered a lot of time. I ended up staying for two weeks. Bottom line, I loved it in Budapest so expect a lot of gushing in this post.

First let’s talk about coffee. Budapest has a thriving coffee scene but there are two that stands out in my eyes, Kontakt and Barako Káveház.

Kontakt

When it comes to artisinal coffee and excellent techniques for coffee making look no further. This place and the baristas working there knows what they’re doing. From espressos to cold brews, they come correct. Their beans are sourced from all over the world. When I was there their roaster of choice for the week was La Cabra, a Scandinavian roasting company. Kontakt will rotate their roasters every few weeks, even if you are a regular you’ll still get something new.

A great espresso
It was in the 30’s (Celsius) that week. This coldbrew was a life saver.

More pictures of Kontakt here.

Barako Káveház

Barako Káveház is special to me for two reasons. First, their coffee is amazing. It was another hot day when I came in and I ordered their Barako iced pour over. It was sweet, earthy, but also bright. Barako is a type of coffee from The Philippines, that’s right from my motherland. We out here in Budapest!

Barako cold pour over

The second reason this place is special is because of the people. Barako Káveház is owned by Ryan and he’s one of the friendliest people you’ll ever met. During my first visit I planned to have some coffee and that’s it. I stayed for the entire afternoon.

That’s Ryan. I have that grin because I was speaking Tagalog again.

It was hot and I mean hot that day I came in and the shop had proper AC (thanks Ryan!) I ordered my coffee and I was able to talk to Ryan. I asked about the history of the place and his history too. He actually came from a coffee family in the PI. When you visit his place ask him all about it.

Another thing that made his place great is his group of regulars that hang out there. They’re all opinionated, talkative, funny, and most importantly friendly. Here I was, a complete stranger and 20 minutes in I’m trading barbs and jokes like I’ve always been part of the group. Barako Káveház is special. I implore everyone if you’re in Budapest go there, have a cup of great coffee, and enjoy the company. If they ask how did you know about the place tell them Aj sent you, that Filipino backpacker from NYC. They’ll know who that is.

More pictures of Barako Káveház here.

These two places are my favorite. But Budapest has a thriving coffee scene. Here are the other shops that I went to.

Kelet. Pictures here.

My little Melbourne Brew Bar. Pictures here.

Espresso Embassy. Pictures here.

A city can be ruined if you stay at a horrible place. I was looking for something more intimate. So I booked at Bubble Hostel. If I can summarize my stay at Bubble in pictures it’d be with these two:

That’s Anna, Bubble’s manager.
A common site in the kitchen/common room.

Bubble is a small hostel there’s no escaping that. The great thing about it though because of it people are so social. The staff also facilitates this greatly. It’s awesome that every night there’s always an activity; from bar hopping, clubbing, to just chilling by the bridge. There’s always something going on. Jason and the others really took care of us while being there. Anna and Jason really made my stay special.

Budapest has variety and that’s something that I always look for in a city. If you want something cultural they got it, if you want to party, they REALLY got it, and if you just want to relax in a spa there are PLENTY of those. Variety, it’s the spice of life.

Two places that really struck out in terms of cultural history is the Terror Museum and Memento Park. The Terror Museum really conveyed how brutal and frightening the Communist regime was to the Hungarian people. It really brought that part of their history to life and I learned a lot. Taking pictures is prohibited but I was able to snap a few shots. 

Memento Park is another place that I found interesting. It’s the graveyard of all communist statues that was once littered all around Hungary. It’s really brought that part of their history to life for me.

A soldier of the Red Army.

There are so many places to visit and so many things to see. The two weeks I spent there barely scratched the surface. With that said here are the pictures I took while being there.

The Parliament Building. 

Bazilica Sfântul Ștefan din.

Hala Comercială Mare. 

Szimila Ruins Bar.

Random photos. 

It’s always great when reunite with people that you’ve met in your travels. I was able to do that plenty in Budapest. Fortunately, I was able to reunite with Jessica, twice! (Jess, we don’t have a Budapest picture together!?!) Next, from the Cluj-Napoca crew I was able to hang out and catch up with Simon and Jessica Ann.

That’s a good looking group of people.

Reunions are always a pleasure and it never gets old.

It’s not a secret that I’d like to work in Europe. Budapest is definitely on the top of my list now. It’s the first place that I’ve been to where I felt comfortable. I just vibed with the place. I do think because it’s a cosmopolitan place and that’s what I like. I do hope that if/when I move to Europe it’ll be in Budapest. So the next time I’m there it’ll be in a semi-permanent basis.

Budapest gave me so many great memories even though during certain days it was hot as hell I still had a great time there. Both the city and the people I’ve met really made it for me. Without hesitation I can say, favorite place in Europe so far.

Last night out in Budapest with a great group of people.
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Cluj-Napoca And The Power of Youth!!! 

Cheesy anime reference check, a new place to explore in Romania also check.

To start, if you want coffee Cluj-Napoca has a lot of options. That’s fine but there’s only one place you should go to:

Narcoffee

In Cluj-Napoca Narcoffee is the best spot for a great cup of joe. They have great beans sourced from all over the world but also they’re very creative with what they do with their coffee. Needless to say their espresso and pour over are top notch. Another cool thing they do is coldbrew with coldbrew CO2 foam. The foam adds a richness to drink. It’s a great addition to it. The standout item for me though is their coldbrew elderflower popsicle. I’d go back to Cluj-Napoca just for this. I love the fact that Narcoffee has the foundations down and that allows them to experiment and create their own unique coffee drinks. So, if you’re in Cluj-Napoca and want coffee it’s a no brainer go to Narcoffee.

The goodness of coldbrew elderflower popsicle must spread around the world.

Check out more pictures of Narcoffee here.

Cluj-Napoca is a university town. When I was there though it wasn’t school season so it wasn’t full of students at it normally is. Coming in from Sibiu, Cluj-Napoca was a huge welcome. I felt recharged going in and I was ready to be in a city again. That’s what I loved about Cluj-Napoca it was a proper city. I had options galore and it was all right there in my fingertips. I knew for a while that I was a city guy. This trip just enforced it. While I appreciate going out of the city for a few days, I’ll always yearn to eventually return to it.

My first impression of Cluj-Napoca was that it was Zürich…ish. What I mean by that is there were shadows of Zürich to it. The design of the buildings, the trams going around the street, and the way the city is laid out. Sure it wasn’t as kept up as Zürich, but let’s be honest few places are. Later on I’d learn that most Eastern European cities and towns are laid out like this.

Having plenty of universities in the city is what makes Cluj-Napoca cool. There’s an energy that you feel over there that you only get in universities towns. Creativity and the weird flows freely. I got that feeling and school wasn’t even in session. I’d love to go back when school is back in full effect a.k.a The Power Of Youth!

There were plenty of things to do in Cluj. A few personal highlights for me is their botanical garden and The National Ethnographic Museum. Hands down though a must place visit is the salt mines.

Rebuilding society after a nuclear fallout.

I was able to wrangle up Colton, a hostelmate to go to the Salina Salt Mines. It’s in a smaller town about 40 minutes away from Cluj-Napoca. The next morning he and I headed to the Salina salt mines and had a very good day. When we got there we had a bit of an adventure with the local bus. We took it the wrong way and inadvertently got a tour of the town of Turda. The best part is Joe, he’s the best bus driver in Turda. We were at the bus’ last stop and he knew we were lost. So, with his limited English he helped us out immensely. We were on the right bus and just had to take it to the last stop the other way. When we got going again he went above and beyond to help us. He gave Colton and I the schedule to the bus and heading back he made sure we got to the correct bus to go back to Cluj-Napoca. Bottom line it didn’t matter that his English wasn’t perfect. Joe was such a helpful man and in my opinion the best bus driver in Turda. So, if you’re headed to the Salina Salt mines and you’re in bus 9 say hi to Joe, he’s a cool dude.

The mines were breathtaking. It was like an underground society has formed there while waiting out a nuclear winter. The pictures really can’t do the place justice. It’s well worth a visit. All I know is that the salt mines in Poland has a lot of competition.

There’s even an underground salt lake!!!

After you’re done with the mines go for a swim. Right outside is a salt lake. I spent most of the day here. Because of its high level of salinity its impossible to sink. Needless to say it was one of the weirdest swimming experience I’ve ever had. With an awesome underground mine and with the salt lakes right outside the Salina Salt Mines of Turda is a can’t miss.

Just try to sink!!!

Take a look at pictures of the Salina Salt Mines here.

I was comfortable at this point. While I always enjoying going around, at this time I was 100% back into backpacking mode. The people I met in Cluj-Napoca were wonderful. The hostel I stayed at was great. Hands down Transylvania Hostel delivered. It was spacious, it was clean, it had a backyard, but the best part is that everday they had a different activity. There’s always something to do and people to be with. If you’re a solo traveler, I highly recommend the place.

A month into my trip I found my grove and I was enjoying it immensely. I’m glad I went to Cluj-Napoca. I knew nothing about the place and leaving it I had great experiences and met many friends. Cluj-Napoca was the finish line for me in Romania and it was a great place to end it.

A Reunion, Castles, Citadels, and a Monastery. 

Onward I go! My time in Bucharest is finally over and it’s time to move on. There was one thing I really wanted to see while being in Romania and that’s a castle. Fortunately, Romania is not lacking when it comes to castles. So with my bag packed I headed north. My first stop was Brașov and afterwards I headed west to Sibiu. 

Brașov is a small town. This is the gateway for Bran’s castle, other castles, and outdoor activities. I stayed at Kismet Dao hostel. The train ride was excruciatingly hot. It was sunny and hot in the car but at this point you’re used to it. I arrived in Brașov and thankfully it was only a 15 minute walk to the hostel. I stayed a Kismet Dao for a few days and it was a great time. The hostel having a garden really made it social. Everyone was just hanging out and chilling. Socializing was very easy and people were all cool. I stayed for about four days in Brașov and that was plenty of time. 

I arrived close to evening time and the first thing I wanted to do was eat and at this time I just wanted rice. On the way to the hostel I passed by a Chinese restaurant and that’s where I went. I was not as ashamed ordering my fried rice and chicken with cashews. It tasted exactly like American Chinese take out and it was glorious. After filling myself up I wanted coffee. It was great that Cipriani from T Zero recommended Croitoria de Cafea. With this in mind and with directions from Google maps ready I was on my way towards (hopefully) great coffee. 

Croitoria De Cafea

This place was recommended to me by a few people in Bucharest. Arriving there and having their espresso I can see why. They roast their own beans and source it from the same places the shops in Bucharest do. If you’re in Brașov this is the coffee shop to go to. 

Charged with an espresso, I started walking  around town. The place is beautiful it really has an old world charm to it. In truth though I was just killing a bit of time because later I was going to have a mini reunion. The time has finally arrived I got a message with an address and a few minutes later I met up with Tamara, Tara, and Sam!! 

The Hwajeong South Korea crew is here in Brașov, Romania! This was surreal to say the least. I’m so happy that I was able to have another South Korea reunion. First, with Dimitri in Bulgaria and second, with the Hwajeong crew in Romania. We set out and had dinner then went back to their place and caught up with each other’s lives. Unfortunately, we only had that one night together. They’re headed to Bulgaria and I just started my stay in Brașov. While our time together was short it was still awesome. It was just like old times. Reuniting with friends you made during your years abroad is always a privilege. 

The next day I had a mission. One of the main reasons I came to Romania was to see a castle and I was going to see a castle no matter what. The first castle I went to was Bran’s Castle aka Dracula’s castle (maybe, not really, it’s a long story). Yes, this is a tourist trap, and yes it’s overpriced and yes you will be in line most of the time jockeying for position to take pictures and yes you’re still going to do it. As I mentioned in my FB post; lower your expectations, be prepared for long lines, have a big bottle of water, and prepare a classic metal playlist and listen to it while going through the castle so you can pretend you’re invading it. 

For more pictures of Bran’s Castle click here

After being done with Bran’s Castle I wanted to go to a citadel so afterwards I headed to Rasnov’s citadel. The Citadel is great I had a lot of fun looking around taking pictures soaking in the history etc. It’s the bus ride that’s the most interesting. The bus stops in these small towns are not the best marked. With the help of Google maps I got out where it said Rasnov and I walked and walked and walked. It dropped me off in the town and the Citadel is a bit of a distance away. The upside of this is that I was able to explore Rasnov thoroughly. 

For more pictures of the town of Rasnov and The Citadel click here

I was disappointed with Bran’s Castle so I headed to Sinaia for a day trip to see more castles and a monastery. The first place I went to was Sinaia Monastery. The artwork in the monastery is beautiful and I felt a calmness while walking around. 

For more pictures of Sinaia Monastery click here

The two castles that I wanted to see was Pelișor and Peleș castle. Unfortunately Pelișor was closed and I wasnt able to go in. Peleș Castle didn’t disappoint. This is what a castle should look like. You’re suppose to pay extra to take pictures here so all of these pictures were taken either secretly or while being yelled at. Siniai was a great day trip. 

For more photos of Peleș Castle click here

For more photos of Pelișor Castle click here

I saw castles, citadels, and I was reunited for a short while with some old friends. I was done here and it was time to move on. The next stop for me was Sibiu. 

Bucharest & Having Too Much Coffee Man!!! 

Doing a specialty coffee shop circuit wasn’t my intention when I went to Bucharest. It was as what Bob Ross said, a happy little accident. It wasn’t my intention but it greatly shaped my experience in Bucharest. Now, I forever associate Bucharest with great coffee and even greater people. Although as a result of all the coffee I drank, there were days when I felt like this:

I’ll break it down to which coffee shops I went to per day click on the names of the coffee shops for their address. I’d like to add that this is a non sponsored post. I just like coffee.

Day 1

ORYGYNS Specialty Coffee 

This is the place that started it all and it’s all because of Alexandra. She’s the manager of Orygyn and she can make a great coffee. What I like about this place is that they switch their coffee beans up. Every two weeks they change their source. She told me that their beans usually come from Burundi (my favorite), Ethiopia, and of course Colombia. This is a very welcoming coffee shop with a friendly staff.

Alexandra also introduced me to an espresso tonic. This is something that you can drink during the summer all day. She’s the one that started it all for me. Without her help and recommendations my stay in Bucharest would’ve been very different.

Click here for more photos. 

Day 2

Now with a goal in mind I had a plan. While I’ll be going around and exploring the city. I’ll be going to the coffee shops that Alexandra recommended. A sort of 2 for 1 deal. See Bucharest and also experience their growing specialty coffee scene.

I was forturnate this day because I was able have my hostelmate Mona join for me for two out of the four shops I went to.

Artichoke 

The first order of the day was an espresso for me and a cappuccino for Mona. I’m happy to say that both tasted the way they’re are supposed to taste, Not too sweet for the cappuccino and their beans aren’t over roasted. The espresso tasted sharp and clean. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to talk to manager or owner of the place.

The place is tucked away at a side of a building. It’s near the art museum. So if you ever need a pick me up before or after some art, then head on over there.

Click here for more photos.

Fellow One

After my time at Natural Museum I headed over to Fellow One. I had a cold frappuccino this time because it was just too hot that day. Fellow One is a great place. The decor is inviting and you can totally see yourself sitting for a bit and enjoying the coffee. The frappuccino was sweet but not cloyingly so.

Click here for more photos.

Steam

After a tour around the Village Museum Steam was next on the list. It’s a good thing that it’s only about 10 minutes away. Steam is in a residential area so just follow Google maps for exact directions. As a bonus Mona’s back!

I have to say that steam is one of my favorite places in Bucharest. Their espresso tonic is another all day drink. Looking around the store the beans that they were using they day were Ethiopian. Steam is a must go coffee shop for me.

Click here for more pictures.

M60

M60 was the last stop of the day. Also, as a bonus it’s only minutes away from my hostel. M60 is definitely that coffee shop that you’ll go to with your laptop and spend your day there. This is the first place I’ve ever been to that adds oranges to their cold brew. The oranges added another layer of freshness to their cold brew. It’s something I’ll start doing at home. Lastly, I came back to M60 and tried their food and trust me when I say try their chicken sandwich.

Click here for more photos.

Day 3

Boiler

The third day started with a little bit of a drizzle that didn’t let up. While you won’t get soaking wet the constant rain does get annoying. Fortunately, Boiler was only 10 minutes away from my hostel. When I got there the barista at the front was also the owner. Paul really knows what he’s doing and he has a clear vision of how he wants his coffee shop to be. He takes his influences from Japanese and American designs. You can see that all the lines are sharp and clean in his shop. The sign for the coffee and the lights are a bit bombastic relative to the place. This was all done by design. Paul isn’t shy about his love of Japanese culture, there are One Punch Man mangas in the shop! This just added to my love of the shop already.

The coffee here is phenomenal. Paul sources his beans from Colombia, Burundi, Ecuador, and Spain. Those are just some of the places that I remember that he mentioned. The espresso was done to perfection. You can really taste the sharpness and fruitiness of the beans. He was using beans from Colombia that day. As a treat he also made an espresso tonic for me. It was the sweetest I’ve ever had and that’s without any other ingredients. Just an espresso and plain tonic water. This goes to show that Paul really cares about where he sources his beans from. The ingredients that he uses in his shop are top notch.

I was only able to go to one shop on the third day. I’m glad that it was Boiler.

Click here for more photos.

Day 4

This was my last day in Bucharest and I made the most out of it. The mission today was coffee. I saw all I wanted to see in terms of Bucharest’s sites.

T- Zero

The first shop I went to was T Zero, Ciprian is the owner and fortunately he was also the barista that day. Ciprian is such a great guy, he’s funny and a great person to talk to. Like all great coffee shops he rotates his beans every few weeks or so. His beans come from Colombia, Ethiopia, Burundi, Spain, and other places too. 

I really like the decor that he has going on in his place. It’s a bit macabre but in a very funny way. The mannequins he has hanging on the wall and the ceiling are a riot. Another great thing that he has which is actually a feature in all of these shops is the outdoor seating. It really is a place to gather with your friends. 

The espresso he makes his excellent. The combination of good beans and a great technique is all that’s needed. Fortunately, Ciprian has both. I had a great time in his shop so go for a visit. 

Click here more photos. 

Ivy

Ivy is literally just a few steps away from T Zero. Just walk about a minute and voila! You’re there. It was really hot at this point in the day and I wanted something cold. I’m happy to say that Ivy delivered. 

Manning the front that day was Petru. He’s an extremely friendly guy so go have a chat with him. I wanted an espresso tonic but he did one better. He made an espresso tonic with elderflower. I have to say out of all the espresso tonics I’ve had this is my absolute favorite. The elderflower adds a sweetness that’s not cloying. It actually added to its refreshingness. They also make other types of espresso tonic mixes so have more than one. 

Ivy’s space is big so having a big group won’t be a problem. Have an espresso at T Zero then walk over to Ivy for an espresso tonic and your day would be good. 

Click here for more photos. 

Labirint Concept Store

I was headed to the Parliament building and fortunately Labirint is on the way. What Alex is doing with his shop is very cool and interesting. It’s basically one stop shop for street culture. 

First, the coffee. The espresso is great. The beans are great and it was made very well. What makes this place awesome is what else he’s doing with it. It’s a place to gather. It’s in a former parking lot so space is definitely not a problem. He mentioned that in the summer he’ll have special events in his space. There’s an actual store for street wear clothing too. Right now he has shirts and sneakers with more to come. You can see that there are bikes and bike paraphernalia everywhere. This is by design because originally he wanted it to be a bike shop. 

Labirint is definitely a place to watch out for. Specialty coffee is just one thing, but I also think he wants to make it into a cultural center for the cool in Bucharest. I look forward to see how his place will be in a year. 

Click here for more photos

VanFruct

My last stop of the day is VanFruct. In terms of decor, to me this the most unique. VanFruct is doing something a little different. Aside from coffee they also serve shakes, vegetarian and vegan food. Aside from my espresso I also had an avocado shakeStefan also graciously let me sample a waffle with avocado, tofu cheese, and the best paprika sauce I’ve ever had. His mom makes the sauce by the way. 

His espresso is more on the fruity side. That’s done intentionally. He likes his coffee on the lighter and fruitier side. It’s also to match the motif that he has going with his place. After drinking the first one he asked me how I liked it. I told him that I usually have my espresso a bit stronger. So, unbeknownst to me he made two more espressos from the same beans but used different extraction methods. The result was like night and day. The taste of the espresso got stronger and more potent. Just the way I like it. It goes to show you that a skilled barista can do many things. So, if you like your espresso strong just let Stefan know. 

While chatting he mentioned that he too rotates his beans every few weeks or so. That day we had beans from Ethiopia. His other beans come from Colombia, Burundi, and Spain. 

Give Stefan’s shop a try. Aside from the coffee make sure to try his food too. Trust me you won’t be disappointed. 

Click here for more photos. 

The specialty coffee scene in Bucharest is growing. There are many people there who are passionate about their coffee. Everyone that I met and talked to would love to see the specialty coffee shops grow and for Romanians to have access to great coffee. 

On a personal note I’d like to thank everyone that I met during my coffee circuit. I just came in and started talking to you all and each and everyone of you were so friendly and welcoming. I will always associate Bucharest with coffee and from the bottom of the heart I’d like to again say a big thank you to all that I met. You all made my time in Bucharest unforgettable!