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Trip Report Isabel's summer trip photos - to Italy, Vienna and Budapest

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I spent about a week each in Italy (the Veneto and Bologna), Vienna and Budapest this past July and just got my photos organized and posted. They are at: www.pbase.com/annforcier

I don't do much in the way of trip reports, my photos tell a better story than my words do. But I will post some information that I think may be helpful to others planning trips to those areas, especially lodging and transportation info.

It was a wonderful trip and I highly recommend all the places I went.

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    isabel, your pictures are amazing! I went to some of the places you did and have very similiar shots. Are you a professional photographer? You covered so many areas in a week. Thank you.

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    Hi Bob, thanks

    ljc4creb - I didn't go to all those places in one week - that would really be moving fast! I had about a week in EACH of them, total trip was almost 3 weeks.

    I choose that combination of places because, as much as I love Northern Europe, I can't seem to stay away from souther Europe and my trips don't seem complete if I don't include someplace warm and sunny. So I picked that region of Italy because, in that area I'd only been to Venice and wanted to see some of the cities in the Veneto. I based in Padova and did day trips to Verona, Vicenza, Bologna, Treviso and Venice. Then I flew to Vienna and from there train to Budapest. I'd been to Austria before, but not Vienna, and never to Budapest.

    I liked only staying in three hotels, and I would definitely stay in all of them again.

    In Padova I stayed at the Hotel Al Santo. Very nice small hotel, recently renovated everything inside was clean and modern – excellent AC, lift, sparkling bathroom with hairdryer and good shower, TV (no English channels), friendly staff, great croissants for breakfast (with the rest of the usual offerings). Nice size room and large bathroom. There is wireless in the rooms but no computer for guest use, there is a cheap internet place about two blocks away though. The location was both a plus and a minus. It’s a two minute walk from Saint Anthony’s, my room had an excellent view and the lovely sound of church bells. You are really in the center of Padova, easy walk to the all the main sites of town. But it’s the opposite side of town from the train station, a good half hour walk. There is a bus from Piazza Sant Antonio for 1€ euro though. But if using Padova as a base and taking trains frequently this is a consideration. I would still stay there again though, the area is much nicer than near the train station (although that area seemed perfectly safe too). Single room €60 including breakfast. http://www.alsanto.it/indexing.htm

    In Vienna I stayed at the Hotel Pension City. The location of this hotel is it’s best feature, but the hotel is quite nice itself. It is literally two minutes walk from Stephansplatz, which in addition to being the very center of Vienna, has great metro connections to everywhere including the airport and train stations. But it’s on a quiet street, my room in the back of the hotel had no view but was very quiet. No AC but good fan and was comfortable even though it was in the 90s. Single room was average size with TV (CNN), mini fridge, fan, hairdryer, good shower, very clean. The included breakfast was good. Staff was friendly. The Hotel is on the second floor of a building with private apartments, doctor/lawyer offices, etc. There is a lift. The reception closes at 8pm but you get keys to the main building door and the hotel door (as well as your room door). Single room €60 including breakfast. www.citypension.at

    And in Budapest I stayed at the BudaBandB, thanks to someone on this forum, whose name I can't remember. But it was a fabulous tip, so thanks. This place is an absolute find, I can honestly say my stay in Budapest would have been no where near as enjoyable if I had not stayed here. Aside from the obvious fact that it is extremely economical, you are staying with two great hosts who really know the city and give great advice. They literally "wrote the book" on Budapest (The Frommers Guide). Even though I do extensive research and had detailed information with me, they were able to add to that by telling me places to eat, to see, and how best to get to things. The B&B is fairly well located, about a half hour walk from the river, but very close to a metro and a tram stop and from there you can get anywhere. The building exterior is a tad shabby, but the area felt safe and the flat itself is beautiful, extremely clean and comfortable. Breakfast was great, and you can use their fridge to store food/water, they have a computer and internet access you can use anytime. The flat is on the 4th floor but there is a lift. I paid 25€ including breakfast (prices just went up a bit but are still a bargain).www.budabab.com/index.htm

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    Great photos. Your Padova album really makes me miss that town. Anyone who is debating visiting Padova (Padua) just needs to thumb through your photos for the obvious answer. St. Anthony's Basilica is amazing - too bad they won't let us take photos inside.

    I really think Padova and Verona are musts for anyone going to Venice.

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    Hi, Isabel, I am interested in the B and B you stayed at, in Budapest. I tried the link you provided, but it did not work. Could you look at the link you posted and see if there is perhaps a letter missing? Thank you, and thanks for posting your pictures and info! pp

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    Hi Isabel! I just looked through your pictures and got stuck on the ones of Edinburgh, since I just came back from Scotland. I'll have to go back and look at your new ones now. Thanks for posting, it's always great to see where you've been.

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    Hi Nikki, I saw that you were in Scotland, hope you had fun. Budapest was wonderful, have you been there yet?

    peppermintpatti, sorry about the typo in the Buda B&B address. And thanks Will for correcting it. I can't say enough good things about that place, so if you have any specific questions I'd be happy to answer them.

    hookedoneurope97 - I definitely agree with you, Padova (and Verona) are great.

    Here's some of my observations: Except for Venice, the cities of the Veneto are not at the top of most visitors list when they go to Italy and spending a week in this one region I feel I got to experience some of Italy that I haven’t on my previous (three) trips. I based in Padova and did day trips to Verona, Vicenza, Bologna, Treviso and Venice, all by train. They were all great. Before this trip I had said I’d never met an Italian town I didn’t like, and I can still say that.

    Using one town as a base meant I didn’t have to keep moving from hotel to hotel, but I did spend more time in transit than I had planned. Between taking the train, waiting for the train, getting from the train station to the town centers, etc – it does add up – even though the actual train trips were mostly 20-45 minutes. There was a train strike one day, but I just choose to stay in Padova that day, although there were some trains running. Another day there was a bomb threat that closed the train station and stopped the trains for a morning. Except for that, trains in Italy are great in that they do go everywhere, and there are fast trains, frequent trains and cheap trains – though not all at once. You can go from point A to point B on a train that takes 20 minutes or one that takes 45 minutes, one that costs 13 euro or one that costs 3 euro. Lots of combinations, I usually just showed up at the station and took the next available train, although sometimes if I waited 10 minutes or so for the next train I could save quite a bit. I’d say about 80% of the time the trains were on schedule and on the track they were supposed to be on, and the rest of the time, well, that just made the experience interesting. It did put me on the edge of my comfort zone, not being able to understand the announcements about track changes, delays, etc. but even many Italians seemed confused a lot of the time and I never did get lost. Good exercise for the brain/common sense.

    Padova was a great city to base in. Large enough to feel like a real city but small enough to learn your way around. Initially not as much of the breathtaking “wow” feeling you get in say Florence or Venice, but the beauty and charm are certainly there, just need to look a little. Most tourists spend only a few hours, going to Saint Anthony’s Basillica, the Capella degli Scrovegni, and the main piazzas (dell Erbe, dell Fruti, Signori and Cavour – all of which basically run into each other in the center of town). But all the side streets are just seeped in that sense of history that I feel all over Italy. Lots of streets have covered porticos which makes for pleasant walking in either hot sun or rain. The huge Prato dell Valle is beautiful at any time but especially at sunset and when the lights are on and those gorgeous Italian colors – apricots, pinks, golds, yellows, etc are glowing. It’s a university town and there were lots of students, even in July. Tons of bicycles and everyone from small children to the elderly seem to use them to get around. It’s a wonderful town to just BE in, to stroll around and enjoy being there, especially if you love old Italian buildings, piazzas, fountains, gelato and summer heat.

    Verona was the most visually beautiful (other than Venice of course, which is in a class of it’s own) of the towns I visited, also the most crowded with tourists. From Piazza Bra with the arena to Piazza delle Erbe and its adjacent Piazza dei Signori, and Casa de Jullieta was all pretty much wall to wall people. And those are all beautiful places, but the rest of the city is gorgeous too and much less crowded. The bridges to the area north of the river were especially enjoyable and very quiet. In Verona I got the Verona card since at 8€ it was only 2€ more than admission to the arena alone and it saved a bundle (I saved 37€ and didn’t even get to everything the card covered). Every church in town is 2.50€, but free with the card and worth at least a quick peak. It also covers the Roman theater and admission to the tower in Piazza Signori which has nice views of the whole city (there’s a lift so no climbing!) plus it also includes the buses. I just couldn’t stop taking pictures, Verona was so beautiful.

    Vicenza- despite the incredible Palladian architecture this was my least favorite of the towns on this trip, but possibly because the main piazza and building (Basilica Paladio) were under construction. Also it was a Sunday and things were very quiet. But I got the impression that it was a kind of upscale type of city, that maybe doesn’t quite have the energy and interest many other Italian towns have. Everything was nice and clean and the Palladian palazzos are beautiful, it just didn’t have much heart and soul. It’s considerably smaller than Padova or Verona and I felt I’d seen enough, had a gelato, and was ready to leave after about 3 hours. I spent 10 hours in Verona and didn’t see anywhere near all of it, and even basing in Padova for a week I didn’t get bored there.

    Bologna – Really liked this city. The city has miles of covered porticos, very impressive to look at, and so pleasant to walk under. Some are very elaborate and high, some very simple and ancient feeling. The main squares, Piazza Nettuno and Piazza Maggiore (really one huge L shaped square) are the ultimate Italian Piazza, lined with the major church, impressive huge Pallazos and government buildings and featuring a gigantic Neptune fountain. Much of the city has a more medieval feeling than most cities; it felt really, really old. In fact in one square they were filming a movie, I’m sure because they needed someplace that looked hundreds of years old, and this did. But it’s a pretty lively feeling city too, especially the area around the university. There was more construction, traffic, and graffiti than the other cities in this part of Italy. The streets are very narrow, buildings very close together, but this did add to the medieval feeling. The two towers in the center of town, the Duo Torre are interesting because one is tilted quite severely, the other is really, really tall. Since I am apparently unable to resist climbing things to get good views, I decided to climb the tower, especially since some quidebook (I think Rick Steves who is usually right about stuff like this) said it was only 280 steps. I thought it looked higher than that, and it was, it was 504 steps, some of them very narrow. That’s way more steps than your average European city tower, and the view was really not that great. But overall Bologna seemed like an enjoyable city and I could see spending more than a day trip there.

    Treviso – Although none of these cities, other than Venice, are particularly touristy, Treviso is most definitely not at all a tourist destination. I think I saw about 3 other people with cameras/maps. But it’s a pleasant city with interesting center. It has some canals running through it which make it pretty, and the town is clearly rather affluent. And it was nice to see a town that isn’t on the tourist route. I certainly wouldn’t spend time in Treviso if my time were limited, there is a reason more tourists visit Padova, Verona, etc. but I had an extra day due to a flight change, and I’m glad I gave it a half day.

    Venice – Since I’d been to Venice twice in recent years, both times spending 3-4 days there, I wasn’t going to go this trip but I just couldn’t not go. I was only a half hour train ride away. I loved Venice on my first two trips there and still love it. There is no where on earth to compare with it, totally in a class by itself. But visiting it on a day trip I can definitely say that is not the way to do it. I know the majority of visitors are there just for a day, off the tour bus or cruise ship. And they stick to the main route between the train station, Rialto and San Marco. That area was wall to wall people. But just a few steps off that route and it’s a different place, peaceful, quiet, so beautiful. And after about 5pm the majority of tourists just seemed to evaporate. There was more scaffolding than on my previous trips, and Piazza San Marco was full of staging/seating for some concerts and I would have been very sad if that had been my only look at it. As it was, I just took a quick l walk through the Rialto-San Marco area and spent the rest of my time wandering the rest of the city.

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    Two years ago when I was basing out of Fruili (a small town near Udine you've probably never heard but a free place to stay), we decided to give Treviso a try on a whim at Mestre's train station while deciding on where to spend an afternoon while returning from Verona. We walked around the old city center for about an hour and were overcome by gnats. It was the strangest thing, but I think all the canals with still water had a lot to do with it. Nothing against the sights in town, but I was ready to leave, and we did. So, my 45-minute visit to Treviso was an obvious disappointment.

    We stopped in Vicenza, which we thought was a nice day visit, but we really loved Verona and Padova.

    Small world, but we also had a free place to stay in Bologna and that is a neat (and underrated) city. The Duomo is gorgeous inside (and very, very big). Saw all the usual sights and managed to get lost. Did not go up the Asinelli Tower, but did make it to the top of the hill above town and that's an outstanding view. You really get a feel for how packed in the buildings are and that all the roofs are red. By the way, I was told the covered walkway leading up that hill to the church on top has 666 arches. My legs were burning when we got to the top, but the view was well worth it, and apparently more fulfilling than your climb up Asinelli Tower.

    Of course, Venice is in a league of its own. There's a reason it is packed full of tourists.

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    isabel,

    Beautiful photos, as always. I even went back to look at some of your earlier galleries again.

    I just wish I had sunshine when I was in Bologna and Oberamergau. But you can't do anything that though.

    I was actually in Oberamergau while Hurricane Emma was hitting Europe earlier this year. Talk about a charming little town.

    Thank you for sharing your photos.

    Tom

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    Nikki -if you haven't been there since 1972 I recommend you go again, I think you'd like it. It doesn't have that WOW factor that Paris or London or lots of other places have, but there is a lot of beautiful stuff there, and it's quite interesting to see how things from so many different eras co-exist together.

    hooked - very interesting that you went to all the same towns that i did and had pretty much the same impressions. I definitely want to go back to Bologna. I wanted to do the 666 arches to the church above town but ran out of time. And now of course Padua and Verona are on my "must re-visit" list.

    TRSW - I know what you mean about the sunshine - it can make a huge difference (especially for us photographers) in your impression of a town. If you only have one day somewhere and the light is lousy you just don't get the shots, and for me anyway, the whole impression is off. Not that I don't enjoy a nice rainy day now and again, but for me anyway, when traveling, it's all about the light.

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    Wow! I've just gotten broad band (well, it is the 21st century) and am finally able to see so many things I've missed before. Looks like I'm going to be spending a lot of time in front of the computer -:) Not only am I enjoying revisiting so many places we've traveled... I found a photo of the street right outside my kitchen window! Thank you so much for sharing these wonderful pictures.

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    Lovely photos! Padova looks better than Verona in them, despite your comments. Perhaps you're just an extra-talented photographer, picking up beauty through your lens that the naked eye doesn't see.

    Thanks for sharing all this.

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    Here's my thoughts on Vienna:

    I was very pleasantly surprised by Vienna, I really liked it a lot. I had not been there yet because it just didn’t appeal to me, plus more than one person had said they didn’t like it. But it’s a visually stunning city, one of the cleanest I’ve ever seen, the old town very compact and extremely easy to navigate. It’s definitely a Baroque city, and Mozart images are everywhere, tons of opportunity for classical music, art, etc. But it’s got a nice lively feel to it, it doesn’t feel overly touristy but is certainly tourist friendly. I didn’t have a lot of interaction with the people, the usually tourist stuff – stores, restaurants, hotel, but everyone I met was as friendly as anywhere else. The transportation system is great, I got a one day pass on the day I wanted to visit Schonnbrunn and used both the metro and trams and they are clean, efficient and easy to understand. But the Ringstrass and everything within are totally walkable, and even some of the outlying sites, like the Belvedere and the Hundertwasserhaus, are not a very long walk. The S-ban from the airport, connecting to the metro is a breeze, absolutely no need to take one of the more expensive options.

    The classic street food is Viennese sausage which comes in several varieties and is sold at stands all over, either on a bun or a plate with a piece of bread on the side, and is artery-clogging to die for. The other specialty is of course, tortes. Sachertorte was definitely not my favorite, despite being a chochaholic. But some of the many other varieties are wonderful, and there are shops and cafes selling elegant desserts everywhere.

    I thoroughly visited the exterior of both Schloss Schonnbrunn and the Hofburg and they are both great, Hofburg more interesting due to something like 19 different courtyards/wings, etc. Schonnbrunn is just one big rectangular building, pretty, but not that interesting. The gardens, fountains, etc at Schonnbrunn definitely make it worth visiting and it’s an easy metro ride plus 10 minute or so walk from the center of Vienna. I had heard visiting the interior of both is redundant so I just did the interior of Hofburg, which was more interesting than I thought it would be. I don’t really like “fussy” and in general prefer exteriors to interiors, but the Hofburg was ok, each room is pretty similar. First you have to go through the silver collection (also porcelain, etc) which I found incredibly boring, but then the SiSi museum which I found actually very interesting, then the imperial apartments. You have a choice of audioguide or written text (in any language), both included in the ticket price. I’m very glad I took the written text as you can go at your own pace. Other interiors I enjoyed were Peterskirche, and Jesuitenkirche, both of which had organ concerts but it would be worth seeing the interiors even without that. I found the interior of Stephansdom rather boring. I took the lift to the top of the north tower, the view was not that great. They said the south tower view is better but you have to climb and once you get to the top you look out windows, there’s no exterior platform. Vienna’s more a city to see from the ground anyway.

    My favorite area was the area just north of Stephansplatz which is the oldest part of the city, lots of twisty cobbled streets and very old buildings. Highlights for me in that area were Minoritenkirche, Freyung Passage/Palais Ferstel, Molker Bastei, Griechengasse, and Schonlaterngasse. Vienna had a nice combination of those old twisty quiet streets, the lively pedestrianized shopping streets with street performers, etc., the impressive Ringstrasse and of course the Hofburg. There are also plenty of parks.

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    Isabel,

    I live near Gracie Mansion in the Big Apple. You REALLY did a thorough tour of our city. My feet hurt just looking thru the photos -:)

    Again... I'm going to be spending hours looking at everything. Love the shot of St. Chappelle.

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    Grandma - thanks for answering, I'm always curious when people say I shot a photo right near where they live. Obviously all those NYC photos were shot over several years (since I got my first digital camera in 2001). I'm a New Yorker, though I live in New England now, but I have friends/relatives in NY so I'm down there all the time. Although I love Europe more, I have to save NYC is a great place for a photographer.

    As soon as I get home from work I'll do the Budapest part of my report.

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    Here's the last part of my report.

    Budapest – Definitely an interesting city. It has some absolutely stunning architecture, some of which is in beautiful condition, but next to it will be an equally stunning building but covered in more soot than I’ve seen in any other European city, and next to that will be an ugly concrete boxy building, and next to that a
    brand next modern shiny glass building. So you don’t get that sense of overwhelming beauty that you get in Paris or Vienna or some other cities. There also don’t seem to be “districts” like there are in some cities, everything is mixed. There will be a five star hotel next to a strip club, with a used clothing store in a rundown building across the street from government buildings, etc. It has some great sites – the Parliament, the Chain Bridge, the castle, etc, The views of the Danube, especially at night are awesome. The castle district is atmospheric. But Budapest really has not grasped the concept of vehicle free areas (with the exception of the Vaci Utca, the main pedestrian shopping street), there are cars driving and parking everywhere and a lot of it is still pretty rundown and grungy (actually more gritty than dirty). There is construction everywhere, both street and building.

    It’s perfectly tourist friendly, but not a very touristy city. For example, cities that are heavily touristed have lots of street performers, etc and there were less of them in Budapest. People who interact with tourists speak enough English for you to get by without knowing Hungarian. There were not hoards of tour groups everywhere.

    The transportation system is wonderful, a combination of metro and trams (and buses). I got a 7 day pass that was worth way more than it cost. Budapest is rather spread out, not even counting the suburbs, so it was nice to hop the metro or a tram to get from place to place. The old line of the metro, the oldest on the European continent (not counting London which technically is not on the “continent”) was recently redone and is beautiful. But even the other lines are extremely clean, and more efficient than just about any other metro I can think of. Trains run every 3 or 4 minutes. And the trams, besides being a great way to get around are just plain fun. There are charming old rickety trams, and sleek modern trams.

    The main “street food” (although I didn’t actually see it sold ON any streets) is Langos, which is really just fried dough but is excellent and comes with about 50 combinations of fillings/toppings. “Classic” is with sour cream, ham and grated hard cheese and garlic juice. Yum. Also have sweet varieties. There’s also a Turkish/Greek restaurant, Szerja on Szent Istvan korut, which is a buffet style with decent food and the best baklava I’ve ever had. The best Langos was at the Central Market. There were more Burger Kings and McDonalds than it seems there are even in US cities, and while I didn’t eat in either of them, supposedly the world’s largest Burger King and fanciest McDonalds are in Budapest (Oktagon and Eastern Train Station respectively). I did peak inside them and they were huge and fancy.

    Since I was there an entire week, I got to some areas people on a shorter stay probably wouldn’t get to, like the Kerepesi Cemetary which is pretty interesting especially if you like weeping angles and art nouveau sculpture.

    I’m not sure I had any “favorite” places in Budapest, I walked miles and miles and covered most of the central part of the city. There are lots of great courtyards in the centers of buildings. You’ll be just walking along a street and look through a doorway/archway and there’s a courtyard, some with shops, some beautiful in great condition, some very run down. One of the prettiest was in the Pest County Hall. The New York Palace Hotel, a beautiful five star hotel, has what looks like a huge covered courtyard as its lobby. There are many incredible art nouveau buildings, and most of the older buildings have incredible sculptures decorating the doorways and rooftops. The Chain Bridge and the banks of the Danube really are wonderful. On weekends in summer the Chain Bridge is closed to traffic and has craft booths, food and music.

    One of the most moving memorials I’ve ever seen is the shoe memorial to the holocaust victims on the banks of the Danube near the Parliament.

    A day trip to Szentendre is also very worthwhile if you have more than a few days, but while I found it rather picturesque and very pleasant, it didn’t have that charm that lots of small villages all over Spain, France and Italy have. But it is easy, inexpensive and only about 45 minutes from central Budapest.

    Most people who don’t have a specific reason for visiting Budapest don’t spend 7 days there, but I had no trouble finding things to do and am very glad I gave it that amount of time. You could certainly see the highlights in two or three days, but the city has a lot more to offer. I can’t say that I feel the same way about Budapest that I do about Paris and London, cities I keep returning to again and again and can’t seem to get enough of, but it definitely is an interesting place that I’m very glad I went to.

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    It's funny to me to read about how spread out Budapest is. I'm from NYC and I've been to Budapest with my husband. We didn't find Budapest spread out (whatever that means). You take the underground a few stops and voila, there you are, wherever you want to be! The underground is so small (as far as distance is concerned). Trams are pretty easy. And, of course, you can just walk. Spread out? --- It's a city, after all. Everything can't all be on one place.

    So, I'm not sure what others are experiencing, but coming from NYC where you can travel 5 or 45 or 60 minutes to get from one neighborhood to another, Budapest, in comparison, was a breeze.

    P.S. We had a great time there and loved the fact that it wasn't all pristine.

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    Hi isabel,

    Your pics are truly amazing! I'm in the middle of planning a 3 month trip throughout Europe, and I get more and more excited by looking at your pictures.

    I hope you don't mind me asking, but what kind of camera do you use? I'm thinking about getting a good camera for this trip, and your advice would be greatly appreciated! In this case, the skill definitely lies in the photographer, but the pictures themselves are so defined and clear!

    I have really enjoyed looking at your pictures. Thanks for sharing!!

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    Your pictures are amazing! I'm supposed to be working but I have just spent the last half an hour browsing through your photos. I am envious; I seem to lack the ability to take a really good picture.

    Thank you so much for posting!
    Tracy

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    kenav- when i said I though Budapest was "spread out" I think I was comparing it to Prague or Vienna, or similar cities. They are all between 1 and 2 million people, so "small" cities in my mind, as opposed to NYC with 8-13 million (depending on what stats you use). I'm originally from NYC and don't really consider most other cities to be comparable. But Prague and Vienna, for example, have very distinct centers (Old Town Square and Stephansplatz respectively, and very concentrated historic districts. That's not true of Budapest which has many wonderful places, but they are several blocks/minutes walk from one to the next. I walked everywhere in Prague, and only used the metro a couple times in Vienna (to get to Schonnbrunn for example) but in Budapest I took the metro or trams several times most days.

    nrosebrock - the camera I used this summer is a Panasonic Lumix FX 18. I've used about five "major" cameras since I went digital seven years ago, including a digital SLR and several "SLR -like" cameras (Canon, Nikon, Minolta) and this one is by far my favorite. It's extremely light weight which is important to me and takes the best pics of all the ones I've used (including the SLR). Remarkably, it's also the least expensive. I also have a tiny Canon SD870 which is my "back up" camera, it takes pretty good shots too.

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