A Travellerspoint blog

'Much detail' in Bulgaria...

sunny

We are currently in Sofia, not actually as pretty as Budapest, which was more run down but I (Jane) thought it had more character.

We had a tour in the 'historical centre of town' this morning, that actually was quite interesting. Today in Bulgaria they commemorated the death of John the Baptist. We went to a church of St Stephen (???) which they believe was originally a Roman Temple, then a church, then a mosque, and now a church again! Poor confused building. It's been dated between the 3rd and 4th century AD (or given it's mixed history perhaps we should also include CE just to be sure).

We also saw the first building actually built as a church (I think on Justician's orders (spelling???)), which is in very much the same style as St Stephens, this church was of St Sophia (from where Sofia gets its current name they, obviously, changed the spelling).

Finally, we saw the St Alexander Nevsky basilica (I think it was a basilica). This building was the only one we could go into, (we could go into St Stephens if we wanted to but they were holding a service and Daniel and I thought it was a bit rich to trapse in to do a tourist gawp. The building was not much bigger than our lounge room so it would have been hard to be inconspicuous). Anyway, the Alexander basilica was lovely, it was actually built in the early 20th centry but the wall paintings look much older.

The info in our hotel room said that while Sofia was ruled by the turks the local people were able to build churches, but that they could not be above ground level. They still have one of these churches, which was below groud, but we weren't able to see it.

Our guide here has been a woman called Rania. Very knowledgable, unfortunately she told us so much that few of us actually remember anything. She had great English but tended to shout some of her words over the coaches' sound system. Daniel and I resorted to our IPODS, we could still hear! She promised us 'more detail' of many things, and she certainly delivered.

Between us we can remember that the Thracians came from Bulgaria, they are famous for a particular rose which was brought here from Damascus (this is used as the base for many perfumes), and the culture in their yoghurt, aaah, breeds like rabbits.

The country doesn't seem as poor as Romania, nor really as caught up in commercialism. We're sure they actually are, but fewer of their buildings are smothered with adds for western products.

We've had absolutely no security problems, just a cross-eyed cross toothed gypsy at lunch yesterday. We're off to Kalambaka in Greece tomorrow, I think (I should know!!) that we stop at, or view (cannot interpret this Trafalgar speak) the site of the battle of Thermopalyae (I really should know that spelling) and then in the afternoon we are off to see the rock monasteries at Meteora.

The day after is Delphi, the temperature in Athens was apparently 35 today so we are expecting a wee bit of sunburn.

Overall we haven't really had any difficulties with Eastern Europe, and it's been very interesting to see how proud all our local guides have been of their countries.

The Romanian, Radu, was particularly interesting. He studied at a University in Bucharest which was demolished to make way for the monstrosity of a palace Caecescou built (just read that phonetically, Daniel is the modern history fellow and he can't spell it either). He was very upset speaking of it.

Anyway, as we're hopping on a boat on our second day in Athens we're not sure when we can update this, we'll see how we go.

Posted by janeanddan 05:50 Archived in Bulgaria Comments (4)

Garlic, the difficulty with revaluing currency and Vampires

Hungary to Romania

sunny

We were finally the last ones on the bus yesterday morning as we thought it was leaving at 7.30 am and it left at 7.15 am. We had to do the walk of shame.

We left so early as we had a 12 hour drive to Sibiu in Romania. The roads are shocking and the people drive like they are playing a playstation driving game. Our driver, Hillco, (who I have been calling Willco for 8 days - I was wondering why he was giving me death stares) - must have nerves of steel. People overtake on blind bends on one lane roads. Three accidents on the way here. Thank goodness for travel insurance.

As we left Hungary, there was a great deal of garlic for sale as we were moving into Transylvania. Unfortunately, we were not allowed to stop the bus! The real Romanian Dracula - Ceacescu? awaited.

Yesterday was spent on the bus apart from a few toilet stops and a lengthy wait at the border. Daniel (me) tried to short cut the toilet queue behind a tree and ended up with a large amount of excrement on his shoe. I only wish I could say it was dog poo. Fond memories. Earnestly rubbing the shoe on the grass led to the disintigration of the shoe. One wonders what people eat here!

Anyway, we eventually arrived at Sibiu which is beautiful but is still recovering from communisim. Everything is grey and run down but it seems to be turning the corner. Regrettably, there are a few hicks on the bus who do not seem to understand what this country has been through. It is very interesting and it is beginning to be turned into a Coca Cola Amatil world but it is not there yet.

Today, we had a short drive around the medievil town of Sibiu which was impressive but it was raining heavily so we did not get to explore by foot. Out of interest, there are two currencies here - old lei and new lei. One new lei is worth 10,000.00 of the old lei. A bottle of coke is 25,000 lei or about $1.50.

Our guide is Radco and he was very interesting about the 1,100 people who lost there lives in the 1989 revolution against the communists. We visitied Ceaceceau's palace today. It is the second biggest building in the world behind the pentagon. It was an extraordinary waste of money costing $13 billion when people could not eat. 700 architects and 20,000 artisans with a million tonne of marble. It was stinking hot on the tour as Ceacesceu would not allow air conditioning as he feared poison gas.

I have really enjoyed the country despite the poverty and the gypsy's which you have to watch. We have just returned from a city tour and Jane is knackered. She is worried about me so I can't type too long as security is an issue here.

On a lighter note, I forgot to mention that when I was in London there was a huge sale at Lillywhites (a sports store) and I now own more Lonsdale than Ali G. So, Aiiiii and farewell from Daniel and his Julie.

Tomorrow, we leave Romania to go to Bulgaria for two nights in Sofia. It is very exciting to get two nights anywhere as we get to wash our clothes.

More happened today but I just can't remember. We are taking so much in it is very difficult and the Romanian wedding at Sibiu made so much racket.

Makes you realise how fortunate you are in Australia although Bucharest seems to have almost as many pokies!

Posted by janeanddan 08:19 Archived in Romania Comments (1)

Updating the World from Behind The Iron Curtain...

or Hungary Hungary Hippos

We left Vienna yesterday and drove for about half an hour to the Hungarian Border where we got to collect a new stamp in our passport. Very exciting as the EU has made stamp collecting difficult.

We then drove for about forty minutes to Győr which was a pretty dull little hungarian town. We had some drinks at the Cafe Mozart and we basically waited for the bus to leave. As an aside, Vienna is gripped with Mozart fever for his 250th birthday and everywhere is full of Mozart balls (Klugen).

We then drove to Budapest for a city tour. The Hotel is pretty far out which is unfortunate but the city is quite pretty if somewhat dilapidated in parts. We had a city tour with Dora our city guide who was quite friendly and amusing. We went to the Fisherman's Bastion which was beautiful and afforded a great view of the city. We then checked out some markets where a lady offered to discount her sister in laws handiwork as it was not as well done as her own.

Today we went and toured the Budapest Parliament which is huge and impressive. We then went to a little town of St Andrews for some goulash and a traditional hungarian meal which was enjoyable. It was a bit disappointing in terms of the markets as it was meant to be the artist's village and it was full of knick knacks.

Tonight, we are eating at the Hotel before an early start to Romania tomorrow at 7.30 am. We may not be heard from for a while after that as we are unsure of the net facilities in Romania and Bulgaria. We are also then in a rural part of greece near Delphi.

We are typing this from a small net cafe in Budapest and the software is quite bizarre so we are not sure if this missive will reach you all.
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For your interest, half an hour costs 400 forint which is about 2 aussie dollars. A coke is 189 forint!

Posted by janeanddan 07:04 Archived in Hungary Comments (2)

Vienna

sunny

Spent all day driving on 22 August driving to Vienna through some beautiful countryside. I am sick of the bus (Daniel).

The tour director has really started flogging the optional excursions which totalled 1,600 euro each. Ouch. We are not doing too many but that seems to disadvantage us as the whole thing is geared to get you to them.

On 22 August, we wandered round Vienna by ourselves while the rest of them went to dinner in the Vienna Woods. We saw a chamber orchestra playing Strauss and Mozart. Jane saved the show by releasing an skinny girl from the toilet cubicle at intermission. Jane thought she might have been a drug addict due to her appearance and urgency in leaving the cubicle but she was the ballerina for the performance! The show was excellent.

Today, we had a guided tour of the Hapsburg city. It is beautiful and impressive. We went to the crypt of the family which is full of bronze coffins and it would have been great if they had an english guide. Not much in english here.

We have just toured the Hofburg apartments where Emperor Josef and Empress Sisi lived. It was OK but a bit dull. Tomorrow we drive to Budapest which is not too far away.

Thanks to those who have left messages. We have appreciated them as we are a long way away. Jane still misses her boys although she saw a Austrian Schnauzer today.

Posted by janeanddan 06:51 Archived in Austria Comments (0)

Innsbrook, Verona and Venice

sunny

We had some free time to wander around Innsbrook this morning. It is beautiful and squashed between two mountain ranges.

We went to the Swarovski shop and Jane got a nice necklace. We were given a voucher to obtain a ´free gift and ensure a commission for the tour company´needless to say the free gift was crapola. No more commission from us!

We then hopped on the bus to go to Verona. It was very pretty but Juliet´s balcony was a bit dull and it was just a tourist lurk. We had some fine gelati to allow us to use the loo.

Now to Venice, Ah Venice as Indiana Jones exclaimed. This was the highlight of the trip so far. The lagoon is huge and contrary to popular belief it did not smell bad.

We went in at night by motor launch and made our way to St Marks Square where we had Spritzers while we listened to the band play for us at the Cafe Quatro. The band turned it on for the tourists regaling us with Don´t Cry For Me Argentina and My Heart Will Go On from the Titanic. Classy.

Venice was beautiful at night and the next day we went in again for a wander. People everywhere and lots of trinket shops. You get fined 10,000 Euro if you are caught with a fake gucci etc bag.

We had a nice gondola ride in the small canals which was great befor we made our way out to Burano the home of the lacemakers and fisherman. Every house is a different colour so you can find your way home when you are hammered. Good meal and we bought a tablecloth. Fingers crossed it is not from Taiwan.

Posted by janeanddan 06:40 Archived in Italy Comments (1)

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