A Travellerspoint blog

Sibiu's Open Air Museum

sunny 22 °C

As I had no particular plans, I enjoyed a nice sleep in, then walked into town. Sibiu seemed much more pleasant this morning, and I was quite impressed with the city wall and it's Carpenters Tower and Potters Tower.

carpenters_tower.jpg

After wandering around for a while, I made my way to the train station to catch the bus to the giant open air museum on the outskirts of town. This was my first time to buy and validate a bus ticket, but it was pretty simple. Even without me looking lost, a passenger spoke to the driver to make sure I was on the right bus, then told me to sit near the driver and he would help me with where I needed to get off. Some way into the journey, the driver motioned for me to join him in the front, and I was riding shotgun on a bus in Romania. Although he couldn't speak a word of English, he did understand when I commented that it was like I had my own limousine. I thought he kept calling me Maria, but he was asking me if I was married.

Naturally, I was off at great speed when we reached the museum. What a fabulous place, it's so big and prettily situated. They've brought in and restored houses from all regions of Romania, and they're all quite different in style, but equally gorgeous.

astra_straw_house2.jpg

astra_house2.jpg

You can go inside each house and they are set up as they would have been once upon a time.

inside_astra_house2.jpg

The museum is set out in villages with connecting paths through forests.

astra_museum.jpg

As well as houses, there are churches, store houses, farm sheds, and all sorts of mills including horse drawn saw mills, floating mills, hydro powered mills, and wind mills. Unfortunately, by the time I reached the windmills, my camera batteries ran out, so I missed out on the close ups.

astra_windmills.jpg

I did however, climb to the top of the tallest windmill, very bravely. Then crawled down again backwards on my knees like a baby.

It was a very nice afternoon, walking around looking in buildings, watching the restoration crew re-thatching houses, and marveling at the wooden machinary. They took such good care of their animals, and from what I can see, still do. I like how the houses had a space for the animals underneath, and even a little hen house built into the front, like this one:

astra_house_guide.jpg

Everywhere I've been so far in Romania, the animals have been well cared for. The sheep and cattle always have a shepherd nearby, the horses look healthy, and the copious dogs are filthy but fat and happy. Only the cats seem to be in a sorry state, but I shall not gather them all up and bring them home.

Back in town, I chose vegetarian for dinner. Meals here don't come with many vegetables (if any), so I figured if I ordered vegetarian, I'd be sure to get some. It was nice, I liked the grilled cucumber. After dinner, I climbed to the top of the city clock tower, which has excellent views over the city, and I visited the pretty Liar's Bridge, so named after an old woman who used to gossip under it.

sibiu_liars_bridge.jpg

I ran into some Kiwis at the museum today, on a guided tour through Eastern Europe. They were all kitted out in New Zealand branded shirts and caps, which must be a much easier way of explaining where we are from. It would have helped me avoid situations like today when I was hopping around like a kangaroo, trying to explain where I am from. I know on how many levels that's wrong, but when 'New Zealand', 'Rugby', 'All Blacks', and even 'Australia' didn't work, I was forced to get creative. I'm that person you don't want on your charades team.

Posted by Gotmybindle 05:43 Archived in Romania Tagged romania sibiu Comments (2)

A Rough Start in Sibiu

semi-overcast 20 °C

My first impressions of Sibiu are not great. It has a reputation for being a special place, so I'm hoping it will grow on me yet.

Last night's accommodation was so good that wherever I ended up today was never going to measure up. Sorin, who owns Pension am Schneiderturm in Sighisoara, had laid out a wonderful breakfast this morning. I had home made bread with home made butter, jams, and honeys, and another glass of that sweet elderberry juice. Then I took a final walk around the town before collecting my bindle, and heading to the train station.

sighisoara_houses.jpg
Sighisoara Houses

Just as I was relaxing back in my seat, ready to enjoy a leisurely 2 hour journey, a young girl sat down beside me and proceeded to talk on her cellphone for the entire trip. I thought about throwing the cellphone and her out the window, but couldn't get the window open.

My hotel was relatively easy to find once I'd arrived in Sibiu, but they didn't know how to use the visa machine and worse still, their wifi doesn't work, so I am a ship adrift for a couple of days until I move on to the next town.

My room is nice enough with whitewashed walls and big wooden beams, and I'm getting used to the hard beds here, even if this latest one sounds like an old tree creaking in the wind. The building does seem on a bit of a lean, which would be fine, if it were not for Lonely Planet mentioning the mural painter killed in the 1586 earthquake here. There's a dip and rise in the floor too that I keep tripping over, but it's clean and tidy so I'm happy with that.

After I'd checked in, I made the short walk into town to have a look around. The square is pretty and I really like the paedestrian thoroughfare where lots of shops and restaurants are.

sibiu_square.jpg
Sibiu Main Square

A window style, particular to Sibiu, makes some houses look like they have eyes. It's quite eery looking down an alleyway and seeing an eye staring back at you.

sibiu_house_eyes.jpg

After lunch, the temperature dropped and it started to rain, so I headed back to my hotel to change into something warmer. Just as I did, a thunder storm came rolling through, and I've been resting here for an hour or so now, waiting for it to blow over.

A few things I've learnt about Romania since I've been here.

1. If you have an allocated train seat, it's impossible to find it. For example, mine yesterday was Wagon 8, Seat 33. Which was actually Wagon 7, Seat 45, of course. It is not just me, everyone walks around in a daze, trying to work it out.

2. Maps are only good if you know Romanian sign language, as the names of the streets on the signs are all abbreviated to such a degree that at times they are not recognisable.

3. Don't be fooled by the word salad. Last night, I chose tomato salad to go with my meal (pictured below). Pity the poor Englishman I met though, he chose the onion salad.

tomato_salad.jpg

Still, all is not lost. There is a bar in my hotel, so if the weather doesn't clear, I'll just head down there.

Update – Right, the bar's closed down. Squeaky bed, uneven floor, and no visa I can handle, but don't mess with my drinking arrangements. Barless, I walked into town for dinner, where I had Transylvanian Beef Soup, bread, and beer for dinner. Then I found a store nearby that sold wine so I bought a bottle of red, and retired to my room to sulk and drink.

Posted by Gotmybindle 05:26 Archived in Romania Tagged sibiu Comments (0)

Transylvania

sunny 29 °C

It ended up being quite a late night last night, as my hosts at Transylvania Hostel put up their new gazebo and decided it needed to be christened. It was a lovely warm evening, and I enjoyed having a few drinks and chatting to my fellow travelers. It was interesting to hear other people's experiences of places that I am about to visit.

I awoke to another hot day, and having heard how bad the reputations of taxi drivers in Europe are, I decided to walk back to the train station. My train journey today was a little under 4 hours, and during the journey I saw how different the landscape in Transylvania is, compared to the other regions I have visited so far. The densely forested mountains have given way to rolling hills cleared for agriculture.

train_to_sighisoara.jpg

The temperature continued to rise, until it was a stifling 29 degrees and it seemed like everyone on the train was desperate to get some fresh air. When I finally got to Sighisoara, I made the fatal error of avoiding the taxi again and putting my life in the hands of Google maps. As clever as Google is, it doesn't know about the many stairs leading to the citadel here, so I spent far longer than necessary wandering around the streets, carrying my backpack, sweltering in the heat. I must have lost several kilos in body weight, while my backpack seemed to miraculously gain several. Just when I thought I was going to expire on the stone steps, I made it into the citadel and found my accommodation. What an amazing place. Built in 1797, it has been renovated from a ruin to it's original state, and the owner is a fabulous host.

the_tailors_tower.jpg
My accommodation, in the yellow building, adjoining the tailor's tower.

After ditching my luggage, I set out to explore the medieval township. Yesterday was a special religious holiday here, so today most businesses are closed, but that didn't matter because the township is fascinating just to walk around. Founded in the 1200s, the entire citadel is a UNESCO world heritage site, and it's as though it's stood still in time since the middle ages.

sighisoara3.jpg

The original towers and bastions still stand, and there is a covered wooden staircase built in the 1600s that leads from the village into the citadel, along with a huge clock tower, and the birth place of Vlad Tepes. You may also know him as the inspiration for Dracula, or Vlad the Impaler, or let's face it - Vlad the sick bastard. Who in their right mind impales that many people??

sighisoara_tower.jpg

I spent a few hours just wandering around, soaking up the sights, and taking photos, before heading out of the citadel and into the township for dinner. When I got back to my accommodation, the owner brought out some elderberry juice and then followed it up with home made chocolate and red wine. A British couple who are traveling through Romania joined us, and a woman on her third visit here from Belfast. We spent several hours enjoying the warm summer evening and the wine. And of course we heard some bats, and there was lightening in the distance. This is transylvania, after all.

bedrom_in_sighisoara.jpg
My medieval sleeping quarters

Posted by Gotmybindle 13:27 Archived in Romania Tagged sighişoara transylvania Comments (4)

Cluj Napoca

sunny 28 °C

A group of older Japanese women have been staying at the same place as me, and when I saw them in the garden this morning, I went to say hello before I caught the train. They were so excited that I spoke Japanese, they all had to line up to get their photos taken with me, gave me peace cranes, and took my email address so they could send me a photo. One thing about speaking Japanese, it always comes in handy somewhere.

I sat in the sun waiting for the train, and believe or not, had a bit of trouble figuring out which track to stand beside, as I didn't even have any idea which way the train was going to appear from.

Gura_train_station.jpg

However, that was nothing compared to trying to find my seat, and just as the sting of a first tear started from lugging my backpack up and down the train countless times, a man popped out of a compartment and helped me find the right wagon, and my seat. Another Romanian knight in shining armour. On the way, I managed to wedge myself, my backpack, and a man who was looking out the window, into such a tight fit that we couldn't move for some time. All I could do was laugh, although I'm sure it wasn't so funny for the man with his face squashed up against the window.

Since I was in second class, I shared my compartment with 5 others including a woman who was struggling to stay awake until she had an energy drink, and then talked non-stop to her husband for the entire 6 hour journey. Admittedly, it was quite relaxing, rolling along through, and at times under, the Carpathian mountain foothills, watching the scenery and listening to the sing-song sound of the Romanian language. I couldn't understand any of it, but I did hear “Prince Charles” and “Dracula”, although not in the same sentence. Charles is popular here, given his love of Romanian heritage.

train_to_cluj.jpg

As we got closer to Cluj Napoca, it reached about 28 degrees, and our little compartment became like a sauna. However, that was nothing compared to the 2k walk from the station to my accommodation toting a massive bag on my back. Once I'd checked in and ditched the bag, I headed out to explore. What a happening place! Cluj is a university town so everyone is young and trendy, and it has a great atmosphere. Even by the time I had finished dinner, there were still hundreds, if not thousands of people sitting in the squares and boulevards eating ice creams, attending outdoor mass, having a drink or a meal in the terrace bars, listening to a band in a courtyard, or heading into theatres for the International Film Festival being held here now.

cluj_square.jpg

I wandered around in the heat working up an appetite (i.e., got a wee bit lost), and stumbled across some interesting sites, including the Tailor's Bulwark.

tailors_bulwark.jpg

Unfortunately I have to move on before I can really experience Cluj Napoca, but just from the few hours I've spent here, I'd say it's definitely worth at least a couple of nights.

cluj_church.jpg

Posted by Gotmybindle 10:50 Archived in Romania Tagged romania cluj_napoca Comments (2)

The Painted Monasteries of Bucovina

sunny 24 °C

I had a near religious experience today.

First thing after breakfast, I set out for Voronet, one of the famous painted monasteries of Bucovina, which my hosts assured me was within easy walking distance. I knew it was about 4km there, but the road seemed to go on forever, and as I rounded each corner still without seeing the monastery, I started to wonder if it even existed.

Finally, when I was about to stop and build my own church, I saw a bus at the end of the road, the telltale sign of a major tourist attraction. Voronet is awesome. The north side of the building, which gets the most weather, has almost completely faded but the west and south sides have maintained their vivid blue colours and the giant frescos remain intact since being painted to educate and entertain the armies waiting to do battle with the invading Turks, in the 15th century.

voronet6.jpg

After I had walked around it a couple of times, realisng that photos wouldn't do it justice, I ventured inside. As with all Orthodox monastries here, the walls and ceiling are also painted with amazing pictures depicting biblical scenes, and the brutal endings of many a good saint. From what I could see, most were beheaded, while others were set on fire, dragged around behind a horse, or hung upside down til the end finally came. While I was there, a priest was holding a service, and the sound of the nuns singing made it all the more special.

voronet5.jpg

The walk back into town was much more pleasant, since I knew where I was going, and I stopped to talk to two goats on the way. An elderly woman came along, who apparently owned them, and from the way she was smiling and bought her fingers to her lips to make a kissing gesture, I could tell she appreciated that I liked them. Hopefully it was that, and not “mmm, they'll make a good stew tonight”.

goats3.jpg

I walked back into the town and found a place for lunch, just as a strong wind started to blow. As seems to be the way here, it quickly blew over and by the time I'd finished eating, the weather was beautiful again. I decided not to walk the 5km to the other monestary, but to see if I could catch a minibus. According to Lonely Planet, if I hovered around the Best Western Hotel long enough, one would soon be headed that way. Sure enough, a blue van pulled up and a young guy jumped in. Now getting used to the system, I ran along the street and yanked the door open before it had time to pull away. To my relief, it actually was a minibus headed to the monestary, and not just someone's private van (not that that makes any difference round here).

Humor monastery isn't quite as spectacular as Voronet, but it's still wonderful. I sat in the sun for a long time, enjoying the setting. Unlike the blue of Voronet, the predominant colour in the frescos of Humor is red.

humor_monestary.jpg

This monastery also has a watch tower which I climbed half way up, but once inside the stone stairs are in steep, pitch dark, confined spaces, so I chickened out and headed back down. It was still quite early in the afternoon, so I thought I'd walk back into town. Besides, if I have one more ride in those minibuses, my organs won't be fit for donation.

It was a lovely walk, very quiet, and at one stage, there was just me and a cow. I'm not even scared of cows here as they mostly wear bells and that makes them sound super friendly. I've heard they make their own way home here, just like I was doing.

walking_ba..m_humor.jpg

Finally, when you think you've seen them all, another beautiful monastery suddenly appears before you in Southern Bucovina. I've been to the vatican, and trapsed around cathedrals and churches in England, Italy, and Spain, but nothing prepared me for Gura Humorului's newest monastery.

gura_monestary.jpg

After walking around the amazing building totally awe-struck for a while, I decided to have a sneaky peek in the door. Then I tried to open the door and it made a squeaky noise and a man appeared from nowhere. He nodded for me to go in, so I did, and this was the moment that nearly brought me to my knees. The entire inside from the floor to the very top of the tallest dome is covered in the brightest, most beautiful biblical paintings. It was like nothing I've ever seen before, and I must have spent an hour in there, completely spellbound. As incredible as the historic painted monasteries are, its this one that I stumbled upon on the way home that I will always remember.

And so my time in Bucovina comes to an end. While researching this trip, I often saw people asking Maramures, or Bucovina? For me, it's Bucovina hands down. You can see the same rural setting and beautiful Romanian houses as in Maramures, but here the people seem more relaxed and it has a much nicer feel about it. Oh, and did I mention the monasteries?

Posted by Gotmybindle 10:12 Archived in Romania Comments (0)

Northern Romania

Not for the faint-hearted...

overcast 20 °C

Ah it's good to be alive. I said goodbye to Sighetu Marmatiei this morning, having suddenly decided last night, that I actually quite liked the town. I think it was something to do with the rather handsome barman who suggested I have my first taste of palinka. I agreed, but only on the condition that he carry me upstairs if it had an adverse effect, and besides, he was shouting me. Its pretty strong and the hairs on the back of my neck stood on end, but having had years of practice with tequila, I remained upright, so I had to climb the stairs myself.

palinka_in_sighetu.jpg

This morning, I packed up my bindle again and headed for the bus station. To my relief there were quite a few women waiting to catch the same bus. I've found if I just point at me and say place names, I can have quite a conversation. “New Zealand, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Sighetu”. During the day, as each of these women reached their destination, they made a special effort to say goodbye to me, which was really touching.

I knew it was only a minibus, so hoped I'd be guaranteed a seat since I'd reserved in advance. I had read that there's just a rush and whoever gets on, gets the seat. 11 oclock came and went, and still no sign of our bus. Everyone started pacing, except me. I told myself it would come and when a young women joined us who could speak English, I was informed that the driver was new, slow, and probably lost. At 11.30, it arrived, packed solid. I thought people would get off but they didn't so I rushed around the back and threw my bindle onboard, and then rushed back around the front and inched my way in until the driver took my money and I was safely on board. Or so I thought.

Soon, 28 of us were crammed into the 15 seater. For the first two hours I stood, wedged between a woman behind me, and the armpit of the man in front of me. If the roads didn't kill me, the smell soon would. Fortunately, the driver had his window open because he was smoking, so every now and then a whiff of fresh air would hit me. When the driver wasn't smoking, he was talking on his cellphone, or filling in forms, which seems to be quite normal here. Every now and then we'd stop to let one person off and another on. Several passangers were intellectually disabled and had to get off every now and then to relieve themselves. Finally a woman who had completed her journey offered her seat to someone, then great conversation ensued, during which I heard “New Zealand” followed by oohs and ahhs. Everyone around me was nodding in agreement, then a young man stood up and offered me his seat. I was so embarrased and tried to decline, but the decision had been made and for the remaining 4 hours, I had a seat.

It was a journey I will never forget. We climbed high up over the Prislop Pass, up a mountain road that made the Devil's Staircase seem fit for a Sunday drive. Now that I could see out the window, the scenery was amazing. Remote villages scattered all along the way, many of them logging communities, and each with its own gorgeous monestary. This is the Romania I had imagined.

carpathian_mountains.jpg

Unfortunately, being able to see out the window meant I could also see that there was bugger all between the road and a plunge to certain death over the edge. Then the potholes started. So, the driver was forced to zig-zag across the road to avoid them, first towards the bank, then towards the edge of the precipe, blind corner or not. The only vehicles that passed us in the other direction were logging trucks, and I knew that they wounldn't be on the wrong side of the road to avoid potholes, even if we were. We stopped and a young guy got off to throw up. We seemed to climb for miles and I was relieved when we made it safely down to the other side of the Carpathian mountains, as I'd noticed at an earlier stop that the handbrake wasn't really working.

prislop_pa..sastery.jpg

Eventually I saw a sign with my destination just 5km a head. Coming into Bucovina, I noticed the houses were quite different to that in Maramures. Here, they have pointier roofs and pretty floral decorations on the outside walls. As we drove into town, I saw a sign for my accommodation, and as soon as the driver stopped, I was out of there, but not before profusely thanking the young guy again who'd given me his seat. I've found it doesn't matter if I don't know the language. All that matters is that I can convey how grateful I am for someone's help, and the language barrier is broken.

I've now reached my accommodation and have fallen directly into the lap of luxury. Tonight I am going to enjoy it. I think I've earned it.

Posted by Gotmybindle 09:21 Archived in Romania Tagged romania bucovina Comments (1)

Maramures

sunny 23 °C

Since arriving here, two people have recommended I go to Casa Iurca for dinner, and it's highly rated in Lonely Planet. So, last night I headed there for dinner and I wasn't disappointed. The courtyard was lovely, everything is made from huge timber beams here, and my dinner was cooked on an oven in the corner of the courtyard.

casa_iurca_oven.jpg

While everyone dined, we were treated to some local musicians signing traditional songs, which made the experience even more special.

casa_iurca_singers.jpg

This morning, I couldn't face eggs for breakfast, so decided to go with the jam on toast option. Since each choice is on a separate page, I only needed to point to the page, avoiding any chance of misunderstanding. Only, here it seems jam looks a bit different.

sighetu_breakfast_2.jpg

After that interesting start, I spent the morning wandering around town, browsing in the shops, and I visited the local hostel to see if anyone wanted to come with me to the monastery. However, all I could find there was an elderly man in his garden, who waved his hands about and knocked on the door long enough to demonstrate that no one was in.

I walked down to the supermarket, and found the minibus going to Barsana. I was a bit nervous about getting on the bus and being dropped off in the middle of nowhere (again), so I twice checked with the driver to make sure there would be a return bus to bring me back to town. Half an hour down the road, the driver pulled over and everyone sitting around me pointed up the hill to the monastery. From the moment I saw it, I was so pleased I had made the effort to get there.

barsana_monastry8.jpg

It was idyllic, and reminded me of home when I would sit down by the estuary at full tide, in total serenity with the water gently lapping the rocks and only the sounds of the birds, insects, and animals, and here at least, the occasional nun on her cellphone.

I had wondered how I would fill in two and a half hours before (hopefully) my bus returned, but I sat down and watched the nuns tending the garden against the beautiful backdrop, and time seemed to fly past. The buildings are beautiful, made even more so, but hundreds of flowers (mostly geraniums) hanging over the balconies, sometimes over three floors. Either a new church was being built, or an old one renovated, and I watched with amazement as the men working at the top lowered the scaffolding by ropes.

barsana_monastry12.jpg

When it was almost time for my bus, I walked back down the main road until I found an old faded sign with a picture of a bus on it. I hung around under that for a while, trying not to look like I needed a ride anywhere from passing motorists. And only 10 minutes later than scheduled, my bus arrived to take me back to town.

barsana_bus_stop.jpg

People say the roads are bad here, but the state of them is OK. Its more that everyone drives down the centre line, and the roads are shared by myriad minibuses, horses and carts, logging trucks, bicycles, elderly women pushing piles of sticks on wagons, maniacs behind the wheel of Mercedes, and at one stage today, a walking funeral procession behind a casket on the back of a ute.

I never got a chance to visit the surrounding valleys but I imagine they look much like this one I traveled through today.

maramures2.jpg

I should see a bit more of the countryside tomorrow as I continue my journey onwards. It's been an interesting few days, but I am ready to move on. The streets here are crowded with small groups of men standing around, talking, and smoking, and people seem to drink beer for breakfast. Still, there is plenty to see and do, and the people have been friendly and helpful.

Posted by Gotmybindle 07:00 Archived in Romania Tagged romania wooden_churches sighetu maramures Comments (2)

The good and the bad in Romania

sunny 24 °C

Thanks to the helpful receptionist at my hotel, I managed to find a shop that sold an adapter to fit my laptop plug, so we are back in business! What a relief. I told the guy behind the counter I could kiss him, but it might be wrong. I think he understood because he smirked.

Breakfast is as you'd expect in Eastern Europe. That's a cup of yogurt by the way, which I kept picking up to sip and then remembering it wasn't coffee.

breakfast_in_sighetu.jpg

After breakfast, I went on my adapter hunt, and at the same time found a supermarket that sold my brand of hair conditioner, so it was a double score. Then I headed towards the autogara, or bus station, to see if I could find a ride to Sapanta. Sighetu is not the world's prettiest town but it has some nice churches and I particularly liked this one.

church_in_sighetu.jpg

I have been suffering a bit of culture shock, and at night time I get a little bit homesick, but it's all part of the journey. During the day, while I am exploring, I enjoy every minute of it. Yesterday, on my way here. I was sitting on my own in a minibus, looking out the window at a completely different world, when "All by myself" came on the radio. It was quite a comical moment.

Anyway, I found the bus station down this road.

sighetu_street.jpg

I managed to find out via a man who translated Romanian into French for me, that there was a bus leaving for Sapanta at noon. Considering I don't generally speak French, it was quite an accomplishment. The driving here is not for the faint-hearted. I've heard the roads are bad too, but I've been to Eastern Christchurch, so they actually don't seem that bad. The bus pulled over in a small town, and the driver and his mates, pointed towards a street. So, I headed off in that direction, and soon found the Merry Cemetery of Sapanta.

merry_cemetery.jpg

People come from as far as New Zealand to see this cemetery. Each headstone is painted bright blue, and contains a picture of the deceased person's life, and often how they died. Well hopefully it shows how some lived, or otherwise a lot of women died while weaving or tending to their garden.

headstone2.jpg

Some people met an unfortunate end.

headstone4.jpg

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.

headstone6.jpg

After spending a good hour wandering around the cemetery to the sound of the church bells tolling, I headed towards a huge wooden steeple I could see in the distance. This is supposed to be the tallest wooden church in Maramures, so I was keen to see it while I had the chance. However, as I got further down the road which became more and more deserted, and the surrounding trees made me lose sight of the steeple, I decided it probably wasn't the best place to be, so I turned around and headed back to the main road, opportunity gone.

I hovered around the bus stop for a while, thinking that if I was lucky a bus would come, or if I was unlucky, I would have to walk the 18km back to Sighetu. A woman was standing nearby so I asked if she was going to Sighetu. She spoke good English and said she was hitching, so I asked if I could join her. Obviously, after what has just happened at home, I was a little apprehensive, but it is what everyone does here and I felt safe with my new Romanian friend (whose name I can't spell). We were picked up by a man, who stopped and picked various others up along the way. The going fare is 5 lei, and when we reached Sighetu, I paid for myself and my new friend because I was so grateful to have found her. When we got out of the car, she invited me to visit her daughter who she was going to stay with to help take care of a new baby. So, we walked to her apartment, I met the new baby, and we chatted over a cup of coffee. I had to take my shoes off when I went into the house and put some crocs on, but they were pink, so I managed. After coffee, she walked me back to town. On the way, we stopped and asked someone to take our photo. Behind us is the former communist prison which has been turned into a museum.

my_friend_in_sighetu.jpg

I hugged her goodbye as she was so lovely, and I felt really happy to have met her and thrilled to be invited into a Romanian home. Next on my agenda was the museum. It certainly bought me back down to ground, as I walked along the landings past the cells where so many people suffered. Although there was a lot of information available in English, I really didn't want to delve too deeply into it. The pictures of the people on the walls who were incarcerated there really personalised it, and after an hour or so of quietly looking around, I was pleased to be out of there.

sighetu_prison.jpg

I guess its important to visit these places to appreciate what the people have been through, and to be grateful for the life we live. It beggars belief how cruel people can be to one another. But what I take from today, is how wonderful people can be too, and without the kindness of a perfect stranger, my day would have been completely different.

sighetu_pr..emorial.jpg

Posted by Gotmybindle 07:29 Archived in Romania Comments (9)

The Long Road to Romania

semi-overcast 18 °C

I didn't have the best sleep, partly because I knew I had to get up early, and partly because I was worried about my day ahead. I had reserved a seat through the internet, but knew that it wasn't without risk. The bad news is, I left my adapter plug in Budapest, so if I can't find another one here tomorrow, that will be the end of the blog.

I took the underground to the bus station and once I'd found the station, I then had to find my bus. Just when I was starting to think the worst, I found it at the last departure stand. The driver looked a bit like an alien had just landed when I showed up, but I got on the bus and off we went. Well, it wasn't really a bus.

1shuttle_to_satu_mare.jpg

It was a very long drive, made longer when the driver managed to inform me via a Romanian passenger who could speak English, that I had to transfer buses in the first town across the border, and then transfer to another in the next town. I tried not to panic, and decided if I could make it to the second town, I'd be OK. However, a few phone calls were made and then before I knew it, they had arranged for another bus to meet me in the first town and deliver me to my hotel. I don't know what I would have done if I hadn't had the interpreter! It was a bit unnerving when the guards took my passport at the border (I was just hoping they wouldn't look at the photo), but I soon had it back, and we were off again.

Flat land gradually gave way to hills and the highway gradually gave way to small roads where trucks roared past, seemingly just inches away. We stopped once, where I managed to get a packet of bacon chips and a bounty bar for breakfast (that was the best choice!). When we reached Satu Mare, I changed to another shuttle bus and sat next to a young Romanian university student who told me lots of things about his home town (where we were headed) and Romanian culture and history.

He pointed out the Ukraine to me, so I had to take a photo. It's the town you see in the distance!

the_ukraine.jpg

So, after 10 hours traveling, I finally made it to Sighetu Marmatiei, the very centre of Europe. My first impressions of Romania are that it reminds me a lot of Mexico. This area at least seems similar, with people sitting in the sun, chooks galore, women wearing headscarves, happy dogs lying about, and people selling fruit on road-side stands.

I've heard the people here are very friendly, and there is a beer somewhere with my name on it, so I'm about to go and find out. Fingers crossed I find a new travel adapter tomorrow.

Posted by Gotmybindle 08:36 Archived in Romania Tagged romania sighetu_marmatiei Comments (1)

Chilling out in Budapest

rain 18 °C

I had planned to take a day trip from Budapest, but since there is so much to do here, and I awoke to my first rainy morning in Europe, I decided to flag the excursion and continue exploring the city. My first idea was to take a guided tour of parliament, but when I got there, the tours were not running due to it being a public holiday. So, after breakfast and a coffee, I made my way back across the river to see if I could find a shopping mall. So far, I've only stepped out in front of traffic once, from looking the wrong way. Generally, I thought European drivers were very good, until I saw this one.

river_bus.jpg

I took the underground to get to the mall, but when I got there (wouldn't you know it), it was closed for the public holiday. The metro here is so easy to use, so it was no great inconvenience, and before long I was back near my hotel. The ticket I bought for the Hop on Hop off bus was valid for two days, so I hopped on again and headed for Hero's Square. There's a small picturesque castle just behind the square, where a festival was being held today.

park_castle.jpg

I wandered around the castle and the park, just enjoying the atmosphere and people watching. The rain had gone and it was warm and sunny. It's a great time to visit Budapest, as there seems to be a celebration happening in every park and square. And they have chips on a stick.

chips_on_a_stick.jpg

Back at Hero's Square, I spent a while looking at the statues of Hungary's former kings. Each one not only has his own statue, but also a scene depicting some great moment or action during his reign. It's worth visiting the Square, just to see these. Then I boarded the bus again, and as it was open top, it was lovely just to sit back and enjoy the drive though the streets. I stayed on until we reached the Castle district as I hadn't had a look around there yet. Many of the buildings around the castle are riddled with bullet holes from WWII, including the former War Headquarters.

war_ministry.jpg

The castle has big concrete balcony-type structures offering great views of Budapest. There's also a fabulous fountain, and lots of areas to walk around or to sit and enjoy the moment. I thought I'd have one last look at Fisherman's Bastion, but just as I started out, two things happened. First, the sky turned black and a thunderstorm came sweeping through. Then, the castle guards came marching by. Not counting convicts in overalls, there's something about a man in uniform. I missed my best photo opportunity because I was too busy eyeing up the good looking one at the front.

budapst_castle_guards.jpg

After that bit of excitement, and since it was still raining, it was time to head back to my hotel. Half way down the hill it started to absolutely bucket down. I took pity on two Swedish girls who were umbrella-less and invited them to share mine. So we huddled together in a very confined space, chatting about Eurovision and our travels, while the heavens opened around us.

Tomorrow I leave Budapest, and I think 3 days isn't really enough. It's not all pretty, there are plenty of people scavenging through rubbish bins, sleeping rough, and begging on the street. But it's an incredible place and it's little wonder people have been living here for 2000 years.

Posted by Gotmybindle 09:17 Archived in Hungary Tagged budapest Comments (0)

How not to be a tourist in Budapest

Going, and getting taken, for a ride.

sunny 23 °C

I've done everything today, that a tourist shouldn't do. Firstly, I had breakfast at my hotel. That's where you pay top dollar for a buffet of cornies and cold cuts. Then I headed into town to buy a ticket for a hop-on hop-off bus. I was really just throwing money away because I'd already purchased a 7 day transport pass which can get me anywhere in the city, but the bus was a bit of a novelty (with no windows) and the commentary was interesting.

sightseeing_bus.jpg

I stayed on through the first 10 stops, getting to see lots of places including Heroe's Square, the Opera House, the huge Synagogue, various historic buildings (including the plague hospital) and Budapest's beautiful tree-lined boulevards. I finally got off when they had delivered me to the top of Gellert Hill, which overlooks the city. The hill is named after a missionary who tried to convert the pagan locals. After they'd heard enough, they put him in a spike filled barrel, nailed the lid shut, and rolled him down hill into the Danube. That aside, it's a beautiful spot today. You can see for miles right across Buda and Pest. Hungary even have their own statue of liberty towering over the city from high up on this hill.

budapest_f..ellert3.jpg

I hopped back on the bus to cross the river and just made it to the dock in time to catch the boat to Margaret Island. I was really surprised how nice it is on the island and 2 hours passed quickly, wandering around the park, people watching, drinking half a litre of beer and eating a chicken burger. I know I can eat those at home, but remember I was doing all the things today that you're not supposed to do as a tourist.

margaret_island.jpg

By this stage, I'd developed a taste for beer so once the boat delivered me back to Pest, I found a bar on the terrace and ordered the other half a litre - my next mistake. Never order a beer without checking the price list first. For the exact same as what I'd had on the island, I paid two and a half times more here. Everyone seems to fleece their bit off the top, even if the tip is already included in the price, so you can forget about seeing any change most of the time.

I decided to console myself by checking out one of the many casinos. Surely they wouldn't rip me off? I started to get a bit nervous when, before they would let me in, they took a copy of my passport, took my photo, and made me sign something to say I'm not a Hungarian politician. Then they gave me a membership card, and off I went. It must have taken me all of 30 seconds to lose what I wanted to spend, so now I have a nice new casino membership card to take home as a souvenir of Budapest. And they have all my money.

Something else I learned today, Hungarians say hello for goodbye. As I was getting off the bus, the driver said "Hello!" to the back of my head. Then in the beer garden where I had lunch, the waiter called out "Hello!" to me when I was leaving. The guide told us this yesterday, but I thought she was joking. Apparently not. I don't know what to say, so I just look puzzled.

I finished my day with a walk around town. There's a festival on, and it's a public holiday tomorrow, so there are live bands playing, lots of people drinking, and craft and food stalls galore. I decided to try the Hungarian favourite snack of deep fried bread covered in sour cream, cheese, and other who-knows-what on top. It was sinfully good and equally tasty.

hungarian_snack.jpg

The atmosphere in the town squares is fabulous and it looked like everyone was settling in for a good night. I would have liked to join them, but the sun was starting to set, so I scurried back to my hotel before I turned into a pumpkin.

Posted by Gotmybindle 11:30 Archived in Hungary Tagged budapest Comments (3)

Basecamp Budapest

sunny 23 °C

Because it was late in the afternoon when I arrived, I had to spend at least one night in the hostel, so the owner moved me back into the main building, much to my relief. I ended up having quite a nice night, enjoying a couple of beers on the couch and chatting with an Australian guy and his Finnish girlfriend who were tired out from pub crawls so decided to stay in to make monkeys out of socks. As you do.

sock_monkey.jpg

Early this morning, I packed my bindle, and navigated the metro system to find my new accommodation. When I walked up the stairs from the subway, the view that greeted me left me in no doubt that I had made the right decision to move. What a difference! No seedy back streets. No men looking at me like they wanted to spit on me, or worse. No people hassling me. Just the river Danube and one of the world's most spectacular views.

view_from_..astion2.jpg

I quickly found my hotel and stowed my luggage, since my room wasn't available yet. Then I headed across the famous Chain Bridge to join a free walking tour of the city. The tour guides were young local women who were really enthusiastic, and entertained us with interesting stories about Hungarian culture, history, and society. The tour ended at Fisherman's Bastion, overlooking the city. Not a bad place to get your wedding photos taken.

budapest_bride.jpg

I met a nice Bulgarian guy and his partner on the tour, who gave me his contact details and offered to show me around when I visit his home town or to translate over the phone for me, if I hit any language problems during my time in Bulgaria. After the tour, I headed back down the hill and found a cafe where I ordered Hungarian goulash. In Hungary, it's soup not stew, and I'd resisted ordering it in the Czech Republic and Austria as I wanted to try the real thing. It was full of vegies and big chunks of meat, so I had to loosen my money belt by the time I'd finished the meal.

hungarian_goulash.jpg

To walk it off, I took a stroll along the Danube, past the amazing parliament building. I came across Shoes on the Danube, a haunting memorial to the Jewish people who were forced to remove their shoes on the edge of the Danube and then shot so they fell into the river. There are 60 pairs of shoes made out of iron and it's quite a moving scene.

shoes_by_the_danube.jpg

Budapest is so stunningly beautiful, it's hard to put into words. There's so much to see and do here. I'm glad I chose to make it the longest stop on my trip.

Posted by Gotmybindle 08:58 Archived in Hungary Tagged budapest danube hungary goulash Comments (3)

Auf wiedersehen Vienna

sunny 23 °C

I had a few hours to spare before my train to Budapest, so after eating breakfast at my hostel, I headed off towards the historical centre. I started at the museum quarter and slowly made my way around the ring. All the buildings are so grandiose, that in the end I gave up taking photos. I wonder how many statues there are in Vienna? There seem to be an awful lot of naked men hanging out with their horses.

vienna_statue.jpg

I was marveling at how the buildings were excellent landmarks, until I got a bit bamboozled by them, and had to sit down to read my map. Some Austrian people asked to borrow it, so that made me feel a little better. Someone in the Czech Republic commented that I looked like a local, and considering the number of people who stop to ask me directions, I guess it's true. It happened three times this morning alone. I apologetically tell them I can only speak English, and they scurry off to the next person. At least, I think they're asking me directions?

Everything seems quite Roman in Vienna, like they were trying to recapture it. If I had more time here to delve a little deeper, I'm sure I'd appreciate why that is, but I must keep moving on, and at lunchtime I boarded my train to Budapest.

vienna_building.jpg

I love traveling by train, so it was a pleasant trip, just watching the countryside go by. For a while, there were wind turbines for as far the eye could see. Their futuristic look seemed like such a contrast to all the historic buildings I'd seen just an hour or two earlier.

When I arrived in Budapest, I had to buy a transport pass, and then navigate two metro lines to find my hostel. I was nervous about this but it was surprisingly easy. Until I got lost in the station. You're supposed to stride confidently about so no one knows you're lost and vulnerable. However, by the time I had strode confidently back and forwards down the same exit area about 12 times, I suspect it was obvious I was lost. Eventually I found the right exit. When I came up onto the street, it was like I had entered another world. It felt rough and dingy and so different to all the pleasant places I'd been in the last week. I found my hostel in a dark crumbling building. To my dismay, I was told my room was in another building and was lead a few streets away and into an even darker, crumblier building. As we made our way up derelict staircases and down dark hallways, I felt totally forlorn. I listened politely to the owner, thanked him, closed the door, turned on my laptop and booked into a hotel.

Posted by Gotmybindle 10:32 Archived in Hungary Tagged budapest vienna Comments (0)

Vienna

sunny 25 °C

When my ride arrived this morning, I was delighted to find my driver was another of those nice, handsome Czech men. Since I was the only one on the trip, he said I could choose whichever seat I liked so I chose the front seat to get a better view.

We chatted all the way to Vienna, other than when I got a bit quiet and sleepy due to having to close my eyes in the bright, warm sunlight since I'd lost my sunglasses in yesterday's incident.

We only stopped once so I could get a coffee, and within 3 hours he'd delivered me to the door of my new hostel in Vienna. I checked in, threw my bag in the luggage room, and headed straight for Schonbrunn Palace.

schonbrunn_palace.jpg

What a visual feast, that place is. It's not cheap hanging out there, but I don't suppose it ever was. Even the entrance to the palace is breathtaking. Once inside, it's almost too much to take in. I chose the classic pass option which included a tour of 40 rooms (there are 1400). The queues were longer than Disneyland, but they moved quickly, and before long I was inside, audio guide to one ear, jaw dragging on the ground.

I made my way through Maria Antionette's room, Napoleon's room, the room where Mozart played his first tune as a small boy, and saw more art and opulence than I could ever imagine. The audiguide was good, and told the story of each room and the palace very well. After being completely bedazzled by the interior, I headed out to the summer palace gardens. The views are amazing and you could spend days just wondering around the paths, each one with it's own lovely outlook.

schonbrunn..oriette.jpg

Despite the blazing sun, I made the long walk past Neptune's statue and up the hill to the Gloriette. What does one do with a gloriette? Other than turn it into an expensive cafe a few hundred years later? Other treasures I discovered were the replica roman ruins and a fountain so elaborate that I had to sit down for a while.

roman_ruins3.jpg

There was so much to see, around every corner a new statue or a pretty fountain. I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the place. And then I saw a SQUIRREL! It was so cute, eating it's little nut.

squirrel.jpg

Since it was such a hot day, I decided not to enter the maze, and as it was getting late in the afternoon it wasn't worth paying the extra 15 euro to visit the zoo in the palace grounds for only a short time. Still, in the 4 hours I was there, I think I saw more grandeur and beauty than I've ever seen in one place. It was definitely worth stopping in Vienna just to see Schonbrunn Palace alone. I might even say it was worth the 14.5 hour flight just to see it. And I really liked the squirrel.

Posted by Gotmybindle 10:19 Archived in Austria Tagged vienna schonbrunn_palace Comments (2)

River Rafting Pub Crawl

Sailing towards trouble....

sunny 22 °C

I awoke to another beautiful day in Cesky Krumlov and wandered through town until I found a cafe that served chai latte and waffles for breakfast. I was quite keen to do an organised activity so signed up to join a river pub crawl with another hostel. As that wasn't starting until 1pm, I had the entire morning to relax and enjoy the views. Cesky krumlov is magical. I imagine they actually did bake four and twenty blackbirds in a pie here. It's like something out of a storybook.

Cesky_Krumlov_Town.jpg

When I got to the hostel, there were nine of us (2 Kiwis and 7 Aussies) ready to go on the pub crawl. We got the safety briefing and instructions. What I heard was "we're going to drop you off in the middle of nowhere, you're to make your own way back, and if you lose the raft it's 1400 euro". Fair enough, how hard can it be? It took a while to load the rafts onto the van, but eventually we set off and just as we were getting the boats into the water it started to rain, so we jumped in and started off down the river. The clouds moved on, and within moments, it was absolutely serene. The water was like a mirror and we gently glided along with trees on either side, all of us feeling rather smug that we were here instead of at work. As it turns out, three of us all worked on IT health projects for the same organisation in Australia. However, we agreed not to talk work and concentrate on paddling and drinking instead.

1Rafting.jpg

At the first pub, everyone ordered a round of mohitos and we sat in the sun congratulating ourselves on our excellent seafaring skills. Out of nowhere, the sky opened up and there was a torrential downpour, so we scampered for cover under the pub veranda, and as quickly as it had started, the rain stopped, and there were brilliant blue skies again for the rest of the journey.

Since there were five in our boat, my paddle was the rudder, and I sat perched at the back altering our direction of travel at will. Since we had no idea how many pubs there were, or even where we were, we pressed on to the next stop. In between each pub was a weir we had to navigate, and as we drank more, our shrieks of delight got louder as we zoomed down the shoots and onto the next idyllic stretch of river.

Our favourite pub was the one closest to town, where they didn't even make us get out to get our beers. Instead they handed them over the balcony to us and we sailed on merrily down the river, pleased as punch.

Cesky_Krum..b_Crawl.jpg

When we reached the town proper, we came to the final weir. From where I sat, it looked a bit treacherous and I said "I don't think we should go down there". But by this time my crewmates were full of beer and courage, and insisted it was fine. I'm pretty sure I was still proclaiming that we shouldn't go over it, as I launched into the air, over the side of the raft, and plunged into the raging water and onto the jagged rocks. How I survived, I will never know. I can only put it down to beer. As I felt myself go under, I remember thinking "damn, I got my shorts wet". My sunglasses - lost forever. As I managed to get to my feet, I saw the look of absolute shock and horror on the faces of the group in the other boat. They later told me of the sickening feeling they had as they watched me tumble into the water and rocks.

Meanwhile, pandemonium had broken out on my raft. Everyone was out and we were wedged between the weir and rocks, desperately trying to free the raft and get back into it. One guy shared my fate, and was clambering around being half dragged along behind. By the grace of god, somehow, we all managed to get back on board and after checking we were all OK (only one person was bleeding), we made it to the next pub. Not quite so bloody smart now. Apparently there should have been a sign that said not to go over the weir, but to get out and carry your vessel overland instead. Now they tell us.

Everyone was concerned about me, but I was fine, if not a little soaking wet. So, I bid them goodbye, and squelched back to my hostel to change. By this stage I was ravenous so I found a nearby pizzeria, where I devoured an entire pizza, and then retired for the night, full up on adventure, beer, pizza, and a large quantity of the Vltava River.

Posted by Gotmybindle 20:44 Archived in Czech Republic Tagged rafting krumlov cesky pub_crawl Comments (5)

(Entries 31 - 45 of 51) « Page 1 2 [3] 4 »