The diary of our trip round the world. You can view other diary entries by clicking the highlighted months at the bottom of the page or by clicking on one of the countries visited so far. Click our logo (on the left) to see the most recent news entries. We are adding new entries from Internet Cafés as we travel, so updates may be irregular. Please check back often to see how we are getting along.
|Getting to Romania was more complicated than we had anticipated. When we arrived back in Budapest we enquired about train times and prices and found that the minimum cost for us would be 38000 forints, about 108 pounds. This was much more than we have got used to paying for any journey, and two-and-a-half times our daily budget. OK, so we had saved some money wwoofing, but not to be spent in that way! We turned on our heel and went to find out about buses. I phoned the bus station and they told me that an overnight bus ran three times a week, and the next one was the following evening. The cost was about a third of the train fare, so we found accommodation (an apartment rented to us by a nice man who spoke good French!) and spent one more night in Budapest.|
In the morning we made our way by tram to the main bus station. I confirmed the information I had received over the phone, but there was no information available about prices for children. In the end we took a walk over to the parking lot where the buses were all parked, and searched out the Romanian buses. The drivers spoke no English at all, and the conversation we had with two of them was tricky! However it turned out that the bus we had been told about was fully booked, but the coach parked next to it was also going to Romania that night, and leaving a little earlier! We took that one! It was a nice coach but we were never quite sure how official it was, as it had nothing to do with the bus station and was full of Romanians returning to their country from work in Hungary. (We learned on the farm that Romanians often cross the border to work as they can earn more in Hungary than in Romania, but that they have to return regularly for their passport to be stamped.) Still, although we appeared to be a source of some amusement to start with, the crew of two were friendly and looked after us well, and we arrived safely in Sighisoara in the morning.
There is a one-hour time difference between Hungary and Romania, so it felt like 5.30am when we stepped off the bus, somewhat dishevelled after a bumby, bendy ride, into mist and darkness. However the driver infromed us that it was actually 6.30. We wandered into the town centre and found a cafe about to open at 7.00. After a coffee, accompanied by an ever-increasing crowd of random Romanians (farmers, tramps, school children on their way to class, ladies about to go shopping, taxi drivers..., all of whom greeted us in a friendly way, and smiled at Esther, or touched her face or hair, and all of whom smoked - perhaps apart from the youngest school childern!) we headed for the railway station in search of information about rooms.
We found our way to the Youth Hostel and were met by Serban. He showed us to another guest house down the road, more suitable for families. It was a new place, just opened, and our room was lovely. There were four beds, all with duvets and warm blankets, a private bathroom and use of a kitchen downstairs. It was spotlessly clean and quite lovely! We settled in! There we met and had lunch with two Frenchmen, Dul and Claudio. This crazy pair were travelling around the world for 1001 nights, collecting stories and tales to eventually bring together in a book. their plan is eventually to have the book published and then work as travelling story-tellers. Claudio told us one story, about a butterfly in search of love, and Dul cooked us lunch. It was a happy couple of hours. Thanks, guys!
Sighisoara's main claim to fame is that it was the home of the legendary Vlad (the impaler) Dracul, who, as well as impaling his enemies on wooden stakes, provided some of the inspiration for Bram Stoker's 'Dracula'. When we climbed the clock tower that houses the town's history museum and looked at the view from the top we could really see how this area could inspire the imagination. Although it was a warm and sunny day the air was filled with a hazy mist and the turrets and spires rising out of the mist gave the place a really mystical feel. It sent a shiver down my spine to imagine old vlad, a bloodthirsty tyrant, impaling people in the narrow cobbled streets swathed with mist and fog...
We walked up the 17 century covered stairway to the monastery at the top of the town, and then back down, enjoying the view of the town, which is very medieval in appearance, most of its surrounding wall still intact, together with its 11 medieval towers, which include the clock tower we climbed. We wanted to go in search of a restaurant on a hill that Nick had been told about at the guest house. We couldn't find the path the first time we tried, but the next day we found it and the food and the view were worth it! However, wandering around the edge of town gave us some insight into Romanian life. It is far less "developed" here than anywhere else we have been so far. Many of the houses on the outskirts of town are little more than tumbledown shacks. People keep pigs and chickens in their back yards, and many households grow paprika, tomatoes, aubergines and many types of squashes in their gardens. Horse and cart is a major way of transporting goods and people around town. It's a little like a trip back in time.
In all we stayed in Sighisoara for three nights, and were delighted with the friendliness and hospitality of the people there, and with the rural, peasant feel of the town. It felt unspoiled, rather than undeveloped, and we thought it was lovely!
|Nick spent his last night in Sighisoara out drinking the local brew, palinka, with a few people of various nationalities who he met at the youth hostel, so he was feeling a little the worse for wear when we boarded the slow train to Brasov in the morning. Nick slept on the train, Tom played on his gameboy, and Esther and I sat and spotted people and animals from the window. It was incredible to see how people live in rural Romania. Everywhere there were people in the fields bringing in the harvest, of corn, hay and vegetable crops, by hand. We saw a few old tractors but, on the whole, horse and cart is the main method used to transport goods. We even saw one ox cart. The villages were interesting to see as well. Groups of houses with higgledy-piggledy walls nestled together, linked to each other by unsurfaced tracks. We saw people drawing water from a well, and others fetching it from a communal pump, while children played among animals; pigs, chickens, geese, turkeys, horses and dogs. Each flock of sheep that we saw had a shepherd watching over it, and often children would be working in the fields with their parents. We saw one foal attached to its mother, which was pulling a cart. I suppose the people need the mare to work, and the foal has to come too, and also gets used to the idea of the cart rattling along behind. I think these people are referred to as 'gypsies' here, although I would have considered them peasants, rural farmers who make their livelihood from the land. Whoever they are they are poor by any western standards, and there are very many of them here.|
We were also struck by the beauty of the Transylvanian countryside with its rolling hills, forests and rivers.
At the railway station in Brasov we met Gabriel, who said he could let us room in a flat near the town centre. He took us there in his car and introduced us to Lucia and Gigi, our landlord and lady for two nights. They are an older couple who seem to live in just one small room in their flat and let the rest of the accommodation to tourists. I think it is common for people to do that here as a way of making ends meet. They were lovely people and looked after us as if we were family! They spoke no English at all, but Lucia was clearly used to communicating with foreign guests using sign language peppered with Romanian words we could guess at, and we got on fine! They showed us all the letters they have had from satisfied guests in the past, as well as their family photos, and then Lucia went off to make us some of her special herbal tea, made from herbs she gathers herself from the surrounding hills. It tasted lovely, and she showed us her boxes full of dried flowers and leaves it was made from. It was like staying as guests in their home. We shared the kitchen and bathroom with them, although we were never really allowed to do anything ourselves in the kitchen - Lucia did it all for us! She kept coming into our room to tell us something, or just to touch the children!! Esther found this rather worrying, but Tom thought it was great and adopted Lucia as a substitute grandmother. Romanians are generally very tactile with the children, and they, Esther particularly, regularly have their hair ruffled, or their ckeek stroked by men and women in the street, in retaurants and bars.
The day after our arrival we visited Bran castle,upon and around which Bram Stoker based Dracula's castle. Actually, on a pleasant October morning, it was a lovely place. The castle was originally built in the 14th century as a fortress to protect Bran and the surrounding villages from attacks, as they were positioned on the main route from Bucharest to the north across the Southern Carpathian mountains. Several Counts lived there, governing the area, until eventually the castle became a summer residence for the Romanian Royal Family, who used it until 1946. With towers and turrets and surrounded by forest it is in fact a very pretty castle. We enjoyed exploring and looking at the furniture in the rooms, which have been kept there since the Royals stopped using the castle.
Back in brasov, Nick, Esther and I went for a walk up the hill behind the house. Tom stayed in our room, as he had decided to start writing his first novel, and Lucia was delighted! He says she kept coming in to check on him, asking if he was cold, and giving him cups of tea and grapes from the garden. We reached the top of the hill, although it was quite a walk, and really enjoyed it.
Back in town we collected Tom and went for some street food. There was food galore in the square nearby, as it was the weekend of the town's Harvest Festival. Piles of fruit and vegetables were on display, all for sale, and the square was packed with traders selling all kinds of goodies. We ate mititai (pronounced "meaty-tay"), which were like sausage-shaped meatballs cooked over hot charcoal. We also had some gammon, which you had to buy from a kind of deli counter and take to the barbecue yourself. Then we gave the kids some money and sent them off to buy themselves something sweet. They came back with Lucia, who they had found on the square, and she helped them to buy popcorn. Later they had ice-cream too! Romania is very good for our budget!!
We left Lucia and Gigi's at 5.00 the following morning to go to Bucharest. They both got up to see us off, and Lucia hugged the children, with tears running down her cheeks. Over-the-top? Maybe just a little!
|We travelled from Brasov to Sofia via Bucharest. That was a place to which we will not be returning in a hurry! Ceaucescu and his communist government destroyed most of the city's pretty, historic neighbourhoods in the 1960s and 70s, and any that were left were destroyed by an earthquake. The city, that once was affectionately known as "little Paris", was rebuilt of concrete blocks, which rise, grey and depressing, at every angle. Now these buildings are poorly maintained and in disrepair, as are the roads and footpaths, where huge puddles abound in countless potholes. Well they did when we were there, anyway as, to add to the atmosphere of gloom, it poured with rain all day. Also there was so much traffic, and very few road markings, and, in short, it was just nasty!|
It was with a sigh of relief that we boarded the overnight train to Sofia. We pushed the boat out a little this time and booked a cabin on the train. That meant two bunks, a sink and a luggage shelf to ourselves! We spent a very relaxed night on that train. Esther slept well on the luggage shelf on a row of pillows, Nick and Tom had the bunks in our compartment and I slept on a row of seats next door.
At Sofia we met Sashko, a helpful man who ran a nice guest house in the suburbs of the city. (Hotel Horizont: Sofia 857 42 17). That night he cooked for us. The meal was a Bulgarian salad (suspiciously like a Greek salad), bean soup, a hot-pot of curd cheese, sausage, egg and okra, followed by a slice of baklava (Bulgarian, NOT Turkish!) It was delicious!
We stayed in Sofia for only two nights and then pressed on to Greece. We had some regrets about not exploring the country further, but there's always time, and our motivation to head south so soon came from the weather, which decided to turn decidedly autumnal while we were there. Before we left though, we did have the opportunity to visit the Bulgarian National History Museum. It was very interesting and we learned a lot about all the fascinating ancient sites and ruins that we did not have time to visit! There were items of pottery and stone tools which dated back as far as the 6th millenium BC, as well as information about Bulgaria's more recent history as a nation, including its involvement in the Balkan war 1912-13, following Bulgaria's release from the Turkish Ottoman Empire in the late 1890s-1908. In the Second World War, Bulgaria was allied with Germany, but miraculously managed to protect much of its Jewish population.
Two days after arriving we made our way by tram back to the station, and boarded an overnight to Thessaloniki.
|I'm sorry the diary entries seem to have dropped off a bit lately! We're finding Greece rather more of a stretch to our budget than the other countries we have been through so far! We are having to keep internet cafe use to a minimum. Access to the net costs aboutten times as much here as it did in Romania! More proper entries soon - I promise!!|
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