Travel Blog Daniella and Luke's Travelblog

12Sep/10Off

Bratislava

I've been a little slack on updates lately due to not having reliable free internet and generally being a little lazy.  However, the bus on which we are now traveling from Vienna to Prague has free wifi, so here goes.

Bratislava is a lot like the other east-European cities we have visited; whilst it lacks the unrefined rawness of Bucharest, or the the opulent grandeur of Budapest, there are still some elements of both reflected in the city.

From the large tracts of uniform socialist-era housing blocks, to the stunning old world architecture and cobbled streets, Bratislava feels very much like a typical east-European city, albeit somewhat cleaner, less staunch and more commercial than what some may immediately imagine.

Bratislava is small.  Much smaller than any other capital we have visited so far and likely much smaller than any other capital we will visit for the remainder of our vacation.  Whilst we didn't bother venturing far into the newer side of town, the old city and city centers are compact and easily traversable on foot.

Also, Bratislava is comparatively cheap compared to it's neighbors.  1EUR buys 500ml of beer and 10EUR buys a large dinner platter for two.  For someone traveling on a budget, it's definitely a city worth a couple of days.   My only complaint would be that the city may be a little too small for anything other than a couple of days stay.  The cheap beer helps offset the boredom, but the sights are so concentrated and accessible that most attractions are likely viewable in a day or two.

The Blue Church.  Much bluer in real life than this image captured, however I don't have the time to adjust the levels in photoshop.

An excellent example of three contrasting architectural styles of spires on a church.

Michael's Gate in the Old Town section of Bratislava.

Bratislava Castle.

The courtyard of Bratislava Castle.

The Slavin Monument on a hill overlooking the city.

The Slovak Radio building - Geelongians may note the similarities to a local government building.

Parliament Palace.

View from our hotel window; in the skyline you can see the UFO Bridge, The spire of St Matthias Church and Bratislava Castle.

Traditional Slovakian fare - duck with red cabbage and potato pancakes, and dumplings with sheep's cheese.  Not pictured is the delicious garlic soup.

UFO Bridge.

And the view from the top.

And the other side showing the large rows of housing blocks.

Linux brand smokes and booze.  RMS would be turning in the filthy pile of soiled clothes that he calls a bed.

I have some more pics from Slovakia from a day trip we took to nearby Trencin Castle, but unfortunately my USB cable is in the luggage hold.  I'll try and post both them and some photos from Vienna tonight if the hotel has internet.

6Sep/10Off

Leaving Budapest

Today we made the last of our second last day in Budapest by heading out early to Szechenyi Baths.  Bathing culture has a strong following in Budapest dating back to the Ottoman occupation and many tourists visit the city strictly for the famous baths.

The baths were great. Past indoor mineral bathing pools the complex extends outside to large open-air thermal pools complete with fountains, spa bath and 'whirlpool' and then back into a basement level sauna, plunge pool and ionic air chamber.

Afterwards, we headed back to our hotel before heading to the nearby Great Synagogue, the largest Synagogue in Europe (the largest is in New York).

We then headed back to a large festival in nearby Andrassy Utca to watch open-air piano recitals.

5Sep/10Off

Buda, Pest and Castle Hill

If you're ever planning to use public transport in Romania to meet a connecting flight or tight schedule, then good luck.  Leaving Romania on an overnight train to Budapest (craftily saving the expense of a night's accommodation) we expected to arrive at 8:10 the following morning, we didn't arrive until 10:30.

This worked out OK for us as we had several hours to waste lugging our backpacks around until we could stash them at the hotel after check-in time.  However, making the most of our time we still undertook a fairly good exploration of Pest, locating our Hotel, the Great Synagogue and Parliament before the check-in time.

Despite some initial first impressions of Hungary from rural train stations hinting at some similarities with Romania; stray dogs, border guards with close-cropped blond hair in Soviet-era reminiscent uniforms and some derelict buildings, on walking from Budapest Keleti Pu train station the difference between the two neighboring countries became markedly clearer.

Budapest is beautiful.  Every building, even the large central apartment complexes, are Baroque masterpieces, landmarks sporadically dot the city and everything twists, turns and melts into everything else in a way that a camera refuses to capture.

Something about Budapest seems strangely familiar too.  The small lane ways dotted with stores, the beautifully preserved buildings, the logical layout of streets - at some times it almost feels as if it could be some street on the Melbourne CDB.

After checking in, we headed out to explore Budapest, first walking out to Buda and then heading north to Castle Hill.   Castle Hill is big, very big.  From our vantage point at the memorial in Buda, Castle Hill seemed to house a large palatial palace.  Only after arriving in the mid-afternoon did we find that the Castle complex including the old town and Churches spans about five kilometers.

Parliament, a fantastic example of the neo-Gothic architecture.

State Opera House.

View of Castle Hill from lower Buda.

View of Parliament from Castle Hill.

Matthias Church on Castle Hill.

Fisherman's Bastion.

The following day our luck riding on the coat tails of the warm summer tourist season finally ran out.  Although it had rained a little during our stay at Brasov, we had attributed this to the high altitude, Bucharest still being relatively dry when we returned.  However, waking this morning it was noticeably cold and damp.  Undeterred, we headed out to Statue Park - home of many of many relocated communist era statues of former communist Hungary.

The statue below was clearly the pick of  the bunch.  Film fails to capture the dynamism and sense of movement and energy in this piece.

Comrade Lenin.

Marx and Engels.

Afterwards we caught the Metro out to Hero's Square; erected in honor of Hungary's conquest of the land.

And after that we relaxed in a Borozo - a wine bar in which the wines are served soup style from large steel drums with a ladle like cup for stupidly low prices.

We then strolled down a couple of blocks to find the Grand Market inexplicably closed for the weekend.

After dinner, we took the metro out to view Castle Hill and Chain Bridge by night.  The Metro escalators are incredibly steep and long.

3Sep/10Off

Brasov, Bran and Rasnov

After spending two days in Bucharest, we took a train north to the city of Brasov, famous for its well-retained medieval old city center, churches and city walls and fortifications.

The train trip took us from the large plains of the low country surrounding Bucharest into across the Carpathian alps and into Transylvania.  Although the train ride was supposed to be a 2.5 hour ride, some unexpected and unexplained delays extended our travel time to a just over four hours for a 160Km journey.  Whilst the constant stopping and delays became a little tiring, it did give us the chance to observe some of the fantastic countryside views ascending into the high country.

On arriving in Brasov, we had more than a little difficulty in finding the guest house at which we were staying due to less than completely accurate Google Maps.  Only after unexpected, but very kind help from a friendly, English speaking stranger did we find the guest house.

Once settled we headed out to explore Brasov.

The city hall sits in the middle of the center square of the old town.  Dissidents were once tortured within this building.

Old church in the city center, notice the KFC sign on the building next to it.

The Black Church; one of the largest examples of the Gothic architectural style gained it's name when fires blacked it's walls.

The Black Tower.  Unfortunately not the epic Middle Earth one, but rather an important part of the medieval fortifications of Brasov and clearly more white than black.

View from the Black Tower over old town Brasov showing the clear scale of the Black Church.

Brasov's cheesy Hollywood style sign.  Bran and Rasnov also have similar signs.

The White Tower, the second tower in medieval Brasov's deference system and from which the Orcish armies were repelled on ought-eight.

The garrison that provided a supply link for the walled city over the surrounding moat to the surrounding lands.  The remaining city wall is visible in the foreground.

A restored city gate.

This was the sign on an auto shop near to where we were staying.  Notice the subtle influence of the Isilon logo in the design.

The following day we caught a bus to nearby Bran, famous for being the childhood home of Vlad Tepes.  Buses in Romania are a strange lot.  On the city routes the buses are electric, powered from the chaotic, overhead tangle of wires.  Buses to regional areas seem mostly to be the retired city buses; older models with worn interiors and banged out mechanicals that rattle and scream their way along the bumpy ride.

It also seems that the bus drivers are given free reign in the decor of their bus, with long strips of flags, stickers, religious avatars and assorted paraphernalia strewn about the cabin even adorning the window space immediately in front of the drivers view.

After stopping for petrol at a servo, the driver quickly had us on the way to a short 40 minute trip to Bran.  View of Bran Castle from the base.

And an interior shot of the courtyard.

Leaving Bran, we stopped off at Rasnov, also home to a famous castle.  Rasnov Castle is perched high on a hill overlooking the city.

Without a map of any sort we walked from the bus stop in a direction roughly towards the castle hill, and walking through the archway of a building, found a small, rough and very steep track leading up the hill.  Rationing that the light posts on the track must be an indication that this was the correct route we started a long, demanding, but fun hike.

View from the top of the trail.  An abandoned power plant/refinery? is visible just after the town and the Carpathian mountain range is viewable in the far distant.

Unfortunately, although seemingly complete from the exterior, the majority of the interior building of Rasnov Castle are largely in a state of complete or near-complete destruction.  The complete building remaining are mostly reconstructed replicas that have been erected seemingly to server only as overpriced souvenir vendors.

The new mortar and materials takes away a little from the experience, however the former school (on the left) is apparently one of the better preserved original buildings in the complex.

View of the castle gates.

And the city wall gates.

Visit complete, we found that the other side of the castle hill had a nice paved walkway down to a main road, so we took this route into town and headed back to Brasov.  Once there, we rose the cable car to the top of the hill overlooking the town (the same hill boasting the Hollywood style city sign in earlier shots).

A view over Brasov; the Black Church is the large building in the lower left, the town square and the city hall are in the lower center, the White Castle is in the middle left and the new section of Brasov can be seen strecthing back towards the distance.

And travelling back down in the cable car.

We walked back along the old city wall embankment to find a preserved guard tower next to this tennis club sporting a fairly nice club house.

Strada Sforii - the narrowest street in the world.

And that's it.  We spent the remainder of the day travelling back to Bucharest and attempting to avoid beggars and pay toilets whilst waiting for an overnight train to Budapest.

All said and done, Romainia is an odd kind of place.  Beautiful Byzantine inspired buildings sit side by side with direlect communist apartment blocks.  Stray dogs lay in the dirt meters away from the seats in a trendy cafe.  You can't drink the water but cheap fast food and beer is everywhere.  Smartly dressed young men speak perfect English whilst peasent archetypes ride horse-driven carraiges down highways.  At the end of it all, I'm still not sure what to think.

30Aug/10Off

Bucharest

Venice to Bucharest - it's a little bit of a culture shock.

Despite being a member state of the EU, Romania still seems the black sheep of the family.  As a far eastern European former communist state with a sketchy past it's easy to see why even other EU states regard it with some concern.

Even then, we were warned frequently in Italy and through travel guides that Romania, whilst beautiful, should be regarded with caution.  Understandably so we became increasingly concerned when we were unable to find any foreign exchange agency to date that was either willing or able to exchange Euros for Romanian Leu's.

Stepping off the plane at Banesea airport in Romania, the general dilapidation of the buildings was surprising, and the number of seemingly shady taxi drivers outside (of whom we were warned) in addition to the lack of the expected ticketing machines made us a little concerned.

However, after getting helpful directions to the ticketing office from a taxi driver, whom then offered us a ride to the hotel for 10 EUR (we accepted) things turned out better than expected.  The taxi driver turned out to be an unexpectedly nice guy and not the thieving Gypsy we had imagined, happily pointing out the major sites and changing routes from Gara du Nord to our hotel at no extra cost.

We then showered, dressed and headed into town along the main drag into the older part of town.  We were surprised.  Bucharest, having emerged from communism only decades earlier is a strange contradiction of self.

A central intersection of Bucharest, seemingly typical of powerlines, commercial advertisements, decrepit public housing blocks, gothic/revivalist architecture and crazy traffic.

An even better photo of the typical power line situation in Bucharest.

The Palatu Parliamentuliui, the second largest building in the world (by area?) after the Pentagon.

And after an incredibly good meal of pork and beef sausages and stuffed capsicum at approximately 1/4 the cost of a Euro priced meal, we hit up a supermarket for some cheap lunch-eats and beer.  The featured beer (modeled by lukep of G!) is a 2 litre 7% variety known as Stejay Strong and promises to build 'Caracter Musculin' was a whopping 8.7 RON (=~ 2 EUR).

Strangely enough, not pictured today is the many (many) stray dogs that litter the city (both figuratively and literally with poop) and the many circling black birds, perhaps waiting for one of the many dogs to die.

Tomorrow we expect to spend some time strolling through the very large city gardens, which if our experiences so far have been faithful to Bucharest, should also include viewing many stray dogs.