We all know him; we know his face, voice, quotes, and the no-nonsense, sarcastic, honest way he described everything around him. Even as I write this, I have that voice in my head. To say he inspired us would be an understatement. He made us view the world from a different perspective. To not just be a tourist but to dive deeper into a culture, community, or country. We watched his shows with rapt attention when we were still working our full-time jobs and dreaming of travel. To use them as an inspiration on where to go next when we were planning our next vacation, and almost as a guide when starting our long-term travels.
We wanted to explore the world as he did, take everything in, and not take any opportunity for granted. We also didn’t just want to see the places he did but also explore places like we thought he would. Take more chances, go off the beaten path, and decide for ourselves if an area was worth a visit or not.
I want to tell you about the places we visited where we actually tracked down restaurants, bars, or foods he recommends in them. Also, the good times and the not-so-good times we had during our almost two years of travel, in the very honest (and at times sarcastic) way we feel he would have appreciated. We never met Anthony Bourdain, but we felt like we knew him or at least appreciated the way he saw the world. So this is our story of tracing Bourdain, and I hope you feel we did him and our story justice.
I can’t remember when it started; what trip, moment, or an overly long day at work made us decide to start planning our long-term travels, but when we made that decision (drinking wine on our hotel balcony in Ithica New York, we will talk about this more later) we were single-minded. Everything we did and every penny we saved was towards our goal of traveling long term. Long-term travel for us was not just a few months, and we felt that if we were going to do this, we would do it right and travel for (hopefully) a few years. This is where the Bourdain obsession really started. Before this, we were casual observers watching a show, reading a story when we had the time, or planning a trip. With our main goal being years of travel, our nights out with friends, weekends in the city, concerts, or trips to the beach, we turned into weekends at home researching what countries to visit or the cost of accommodations in any particular location. We spent hours watching travel content online (as the cutting of cable was one of our many money-saving moves) and watching episodes of “A Cooks Tour,” “No Reservations,” “ Parts Unknown,” and the not as well known “The Layover.” Not to undervalue the very resourceful Rick Steves, Booze Traveler, and several YouTube travel vloggers; Goat’s on the Road, Kara & Nate, and the always funny & informative Geography Now! All of our free time was spent gathering as much information as we could on countries, cities, methods of travel, costs, what to visit/where to avoid. I’m sure at this point, our families and friends were tired of us talking about this as it is pretty much all we did.
I think this is a good point to go backward and talk about where this travel obsession came from, our never-ending need to see new places and have new experiences. Aside from beach trips, weekend adventures, and Philly for games (It is worth noting we are fanatical Philadelphia sports fans, going as far as purchasing World Series Tickets with our honeymoon money), we didn’t do many big vacations in our twenties. Not that we didn’t go anywhere; we were avid weekend trippers and are lucky to be in a location in Pennsylvania that Philly, New York, Baltimore, and the beach are only a few hours away. We often took advantage of this, spending Christmas in Ocean City, MD, Easter in Philly or Baltimore, day-tripping to NYC, and of course going to concerts and sporting events as much as we could! Even then, we were known as “ the travelers” by our family and friends and were often called upon to help search out the best deal.
Before we met, we both did some travel; Steve to Florida, California, and Mexico with his family, and myself (Jenn)to Canada, London, and Paris as a teenager. Our first airplane trip together was to visit Steve’s brother in Las Vegas, we have never been, and he lived there for a few years. We made a few mistakes, not realizing it would be oppressively hot in mid-July in the desert, for starters. The term dry-heat is thrown around a lot when talking about Las Vegas or anywhere in the south-western part of the US, really. I have realized “dry heat” pretty much feels like someone is pointing a blowdryer on your face all day long….for the entire day! We also were naive in thinking Steve’s twenty-something brother would want to play tour guide, that sleeping on his living room floor on an air mattress was a good idea, and having a connection through Atlanta to save a few bucks was being clever. He, in retrospect, did not want or planned on being our tour guide, the air mattress leaked, and our 2-hour layover ended up being six after a lengthy rain delay. We, however, did learn a few things, such as; take the easiest route, even if it’s a few extra dollars, it saves you so much time and stress (advice we should have taken more often, as you will see). Do your own research; it’s OK to take suggestions and recommendations, but have a plan ready just in case. Not to say we wouldn’t sleep on someone’s floor, but we did learn we definitely prefer to be comfortable. This trip did have its good points; the heat made us spend much of our day in the pool, which was very relaxing. We had to find our own way around something that would come in handy later. Vegas is incredibly large and overwhelming, but free drinks are around every corner (even if you are just playing penny slots)! We definitely didn’t love Vegas and haven’t been back since, but we would love to see it again now that we are a bit older and travel smarter.
A few years later, now married and that World Series experience behind us, we thought about having a “real” vacation. Lucky for us or not, depending on how you look at it, we had some extra cash due to a confusing tax situation. To make a long story short, we moved, paid our tax at the new location, they said we didn’t, we paid twice, and then after a lot of paperwork and phone calls, got our money back. We decided to use that cash we thought we lost on a trip.
Back to that “found money,” we knew we wanted to use it to take a trip but to where?? After much consideration and research, we decided on Key West Florida, neither of us had ever been there, but it looked beautiful and vacation-worthy. I’ll start by saying we LOVED Key West, the weather, food, locals, drinks, just everything! Our accommodation was a small hotel with cabana-style rooms, a pool, and complimentary breakfast, not far from the beach and the famous Duval Street. If I could choose again, I wouldn’t pick a location close to the beach as it was nothing special, full of seaweed, and overly crowded. We didn’t know at the time, but early August was a perfect time to visit, not super touristy as it was really hot/humid and right at the beginning of hurricane season. Aside from an afternoon thunderstorm, the weather was hot but perfect, and we did all the things tourists do. Visit Hemmingway’s house ( which was awesome), go snorkeling (was less awesome), take advantage of the casual open container laws, and eat Key Lime Pie (we highly recommend the chocolate-dipped one!). If you are looking for a special dinner, think about making a reservation at Latitudes, a restaurant on a small island only accessible by boat (the ticket is included with your reservation). I believe this is still the most expensive meal we have ever eaten (around $125 USD including dinner and a bottle of wine), but the food was good, the sunset view even better, and hey, we were on vacation. Our five days in Key West ended much too soon, and upon our return home, we were already thinking about our next vacation….Puerto Rico, maybe??
The First Trip, “Abroad”
After our epic trip to Key West, we wanted to go on another “big” vacation the following summer, which ended up being a busy one with my sister’s wedding at the end of July. Our plans at the time were concentrated on locations we didn’t need a passport for; Seattle, New Orleans, Puerto Rico, or The US Virgin Islands, I had an expired passport, and Steve had never had one, and we assumed traveling to these locations would be cheaper than going to say, Europe. We were VERY wrong! I still have no idea what made me search for overseas flights, but that $249 one-way Norwegian Air flight to London changed everything!! As I mentioned before, I had visited London when I was a teen, but this was 2015, and it had been almost 14years (I’ll let you figure out how old I am). As soon as we saw that flight, we booked it, got new passports, and started researching where else to go on our 9-day trip over the US Thanksgiving holiday.
A screensaver on our television is all it took. Wow, what a fantastic picture we said every time we saw it; where is that?? A simple answer...Budapest! “Parts Unknown” Season 5, Episode 6 sealed the deal.
“ Without question, one of Europe’s most stunningly beautiful cities. I was kicking myself throughout the shoot for the fact that I hadn’t been there earlier. If you are into architecture porn, Budapest is for you. One incredible building after another. Block after block of what is simply an incredible mix of styles, the imaginations of the creators gone wild during the city’s years of empire. It is really something to see. And I felt like a total rube arriving so late. What took me so long!? The food is delicious. The people lovely. The scenery unlike anywhere else on earth.”
- Anthony Bourdain
We didn’t know at the time, but after that first visit; we would go six more times, discover the wonderful thing called Palinka (a fruit brandy with many different names depending on the country, and one of our favorite things), make amazing friends and discover go-to places we would visit every time we came into the city.
First, however, was London, a city I fell in love with at 15 (still one of my favorite cities), and I was so excited to revisit. My first time there was spent visiting tourist sites, eating fish & chips, and sneaking out of our hotel at midnight to have a pint at the nearest pub...at the time no-one carded in London. A highlight was England's Football club beating Germany for the first time in 30 years. I have never been so happy to have a pint dumped on me (as a matter of initiation) or to see a man wearing nothing but the Union Jack, but I digress. London; if you have never been, we suggest visiting as soon as you can, the combination of history, music, culture, food, and free things to do is hard to beat. I will try to stick to our first visit to the city (we have been back several times), as I will touch on other visits later.
I wanted Steve to see all the things I loved about London, so our first day was spent walking around and seeing as much as we could; Borough Market, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, Tower Bridge, Tower of London, Globe theatre, and several historic pubs for a pint or two. The unfortunate thing was we were sick, not just kinda sick, but they should have stayed in bed and not walked 16 miles in one day kinda sick (we were, however, introduced to “Lockets,” we love them, and buy several packs whenever we are in the UK). Not wanting to ruin our time in London, on day two, we visited the London museum, had lunch at Borough Market (for the second time), and walked to the only pub we could find showing American Football games, all while fighting off our colds. It did help us learn the important lesson not to push it when we are tired or sick. It never works out well.
That first visit to London did lead us to the wonder that is duck confit (which I will seek out whenever possible), fish finger sandwiches, the flat white, a “Full Fry Up” (a huge, largely unhealthy, but delicious breakfast), and that no one in London ever puts honey in their tea. Also, happy to say we debunked the rumor they serve beer warm in the UK, its cellar temperature about 45 Fahrenheit (which is still pretty cold), and we have had enough to say we are experts on the topic. London is busy, really busy, but not to say it’s not worth visiting. You can find great budget eats (we frequent Whitherspoon pubs and local markets), cheap activities as most of the museums in London are free, and it’s a fantastic city to just wander around its maze of streets. We typically like to spend our extra cash on drinks. We find it’s the best way to meet locals and get a real feel for a city.
After a few days in London, we started feeling better just in time for our flight to Budapest.
Part 2 Coming Soon!