Archive for April, 2011

News or no news from Turkey!

Sorry, there are no news yet. We are enjoying our time in Turkey (especially the hospitality of the rally really friendly and helpful locals), but we didn’t have time to go on the internet yet. There will be a new post soonish.

Man ın Mosque

Man ın Mosque

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Farewell, Bulgaria!

Another eventful week has passed and our time in Bulgaria has come to end already. We just arrived back in Sofia to drop off our car (no weird adventures in the mud this time…), and will be heading on to Istanbul by bus tonight (seemed like the more convenient option, as the train takes ages).

Jonah The Man (met him in Sofia, had a good laugh together)

Jonah The Man (met him in Sofia, had a good laugh together)

As our previous post indicated, we liked Sofia quite a bit. It is a rather small,  very pleasant city, full of nice cafes, a lot of beautiful streets and many, many parks (which we immediately made use of, sunbathing with a beer…). As with most cities in Eastern Europe that we have seen so far, the outskirts, of course, still have retained that atmosphere of communist time dreariness, with huge grey apartment blocks, but Sofia’s center was a very welcome change. We found a great hostel to stay and had one of the most challenging dinners ever- Bulgarian cuisine (which we have savored quite a bit during the last week, and liked a lot) served from the presumably longest menu the world has ever seen- it felt like reading for a philosophy exam.

Talking about reading, on the train to Sofia, I spent three hours teaching myself to read Cyrillic, which I am mastering by now (if slowly)- so even though we never had a clue what it was we were reading, at least we could read it, and it has helped in finding our way around, especially when driving in the countryside.

Rila Monastary

Rila Monastary

The decision to yet again drive was based on our preferred destinations- mostly remote, which would have made touring by train and bus complicated. So we got a fairly good deal with a rental agency, and headed off south to Rila Monastery, dramatically set in the Rila mountain range. No lectures by monks this time, instead being followed around by a dog that looked as if it came straight from hell.

The initial idea to hike up to the seven lakes situated above the monastery had to be discarded due to the persistence of snow and ice in the mountains to the present day (they rise above 2000 metres)- it would have been a life threatening endeavor, so that is sth. to return for in summer. Instead, we headed south to Sandanski, a town bordering one of Bulgaria’s wine regions  (of which there are many) and attempted a smaller hike there the next day, before moving on to tiny Melnik (200 inhabitants), famous for its native Melnik grape- and, conclusively, Melnik wine.

We got accommodation with a sweet old lady and spent two nights in the valley (Melnik is surrounded by bizzare sandstone rocks, that, over time have eroded into strange shapes- like pyramids a bit). Time was passed sampling wine (some of it with a weird, ham-like aftertaste) and strolling around the village, and concluded with a  beautiful hike along the rock formations, through a valley, and up onto a plateau with an amazing view of the entire area and the surrounding snow covered mountain ranges- you could see all the way over to Greece. In short: bliss. Melnik lies at the foot of Pirin mountain range, which we crossed

Melnik

Melnik

by car the next day, through yet more valleys, high up to where there was snow left, finally re-emerging into the plains and into Plovdiv, Bulgaria’s second largest city. A student town with a beautiful old city centre, full of art galleries and cobblestone streets, Plovdiv was a very enjoyable place to stay. And brought us to a surprising event- looking for a restaurant, we were scouting the streets and stumbled upon a rather cosy looking etablissement- seemingly only visited by Bulgarians. We entered, ordered, and enjoyed our meal, when suddenly, an entire Bulgarian dance show started out of the blue- three girls and three guys performing a variety of traditional dances, accompanied, at times, by a live singer. You might assume we had walked into the absolute tourist scam-but far from it, as said, the audience was Bulgarian, and completely enjoying the performance, singing, and later on, dancing along, turning the restaurant into a proper party zone. An interesting experience for sure.

Additionally, Plovdivit turned out to be the place were we had our proper wine tasting of Bulgarian wines, complete with cheese and other little bites. 2 whites, one rose and 4 reds were tried, all in the relaxing and laid back setting of the inner courtyard of a former wine merchant’s mansion. We ended up having more wine with the host, an American who had emigrated to Bulgaria some years previously and was running the place as a promotional center for Bulgarian wine now.

The next day, and with a slight hangover in my case, we left the city to head north, through the Valley of Roses (Bulgaria is the world’s biggest producer of rose oil), and into Kazanlak, which, according to Lonely Planet boasts an amazing daily market, a “must see”. We got there. We got out of the car. We looked around. We were incredibly unimpressed- your not even average city market. We walked around. We decided to leave. We got back into the car. We left. Plus, the city (no offense, Kazanlak) was really ugly.

Then the horror happened- Nico realized he had left his mp3 player at the hostel in Plovdiv- a year of travel without music- impossible.  So we called- and they had found it, luckily enough, necessitating a second visit to Plovdiv later in the week. But first it was on to Tryavna, a small place with many buildings in the Bulgarian National-revival era style (stone foundations, dark wooden balks, white walls), and famous for woodcarvings and pottery.

In general, we found Bulgaria to be rather different from Romania in many respects- of course, there are similarities, too. Yet, in terms of architecture, landscape, urban and rural living conditions, culture (a Muslim influence is clearly visible, many places have mosques), and its people, it has its own distinct flair and atmosphere, which we enjoyed throughout our stay. Most people were very helpful even if there was a language barrier. Interestingly enough, being the poorest country in the EU, Bulgaria’s road network was more decent than the one in Romania, and we saw less horse carts on the roads (yet, more donkeys). An interesting thing we noticed is the public “announcement” of cases of death. In the cities, but especially in the villages, entire walls are covered with obituary notices, including the deceased’s photo and age.

We paid a visit to Veliko Tarnovo, the seat of the Bulgarian kings before the Ottoman invasion (Bulgaria has had a troubled history, with many occupations, and changes in leadership as well as political structure over the centuries). The town is the location of a mighty fortress and has a nice old market square in which traditional Bulgarian crafts are sold.

Last stop on our way back to Sofia was Koprivshitsa, nestled in the Stara Planina mountain range. It is the best preserved among those villages featuring national era style houses, and we enjoyed walking around in the narrow alleyways a lot.

The time of us leaving Europe behind to head on to new shores is drawing closer, and we are curious and exited about the changes and new impressions that will come with it- which is the beauty of gradually moving away from your place of origin.

Thus, news from Asia soon,

until then,

greets,

Анна-Кристина & Николас

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As you can see there is a new categorie up on the top of the page. Enjoy our jump-pictures from all over the world 😉

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The Berlin Bears in Sofia

The Berlin Bears in Sofia

The Ireland Bear

The Ireland Bear

The Palestine Bear (Scarf bros)
The Palestine Bear (Scarf bros)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The New Zealand Bear

The New Zealand Bear

 

 

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Whoop

Whoop

Since we felt like spoiling you all a bit today, we are going to publish two new posts- our Romanian adventures have come to an end, and today Bulgaria greeted us with brilliant sunshine…

We arrived in Vidin around midday, and after a rather undelicious lunch caught a bus on to Belogradchik. The first thing apparent to the innocent traveller when entering this country is the fact that everything is written in Cyrillic- of which we are both experts, of course…not. So it will be interesting to see how long it takes us to master the different writing, in order to find our way around without too much trouble.

Belogradchik itself is a small mountain village, surroundeed by surreal looking rock formations (think of the Olgas in the Australian outback, or the Grand Canyon in terms of an approximation). It is a very beautiful stretch, naturewise, and we spent our day climbing around on the rocks, and exploring a fortress build in the middle of them- all concluded by watching the sun set behind the mountains (sounds rather cheesy, I know…).

Whooop

Whooop

Tomorrow, we are thinking of heading down to the country’s capital, Sofia, and then on into the mountains to do somemore hiking and visit even more monasteries (maybe more monk stories to follow?).

We will keep you posted,

until then,

cheers,

Nico and Anna

 

Whoooop

Whoooop

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Since quite a bit more than a week has passed by now, it is high time that we provide you with the juicyest of news. So here comes: our time in Romania is nearing its end, and the second part of the tour has been just as eventful as the first.

Storks

Storks

We spent a day wandering about Sibiu, as mentioned in the previous post, a nice place, but rather quiet- the pimping up pre-world heritage year apparently transformed the inner city quite a bit. Due to unavailability of public transport in much of the area we planned on visiting after, we decided to invest into Romania’s car rental economy again- but alas, no car available in our price range in Sibiu. So we took the bus and headed on to Brasov, a village sitting on the entrance to Prahova valley, surrounded by mountains.

Rolling Stone hostel became the base of operations, but for the first time in a while, the weather was not on our side- pouring rain, which made the plan to climb one of the hills around Brasov impossible. Coffee and cake it was instead, and walking around the city for a bit, before leaving for the country side a couple of hours later, with yet another shiny white Dacia Logan, courtesy of the Brasov car rental branch.

John

John

Our path led us to Sighisoara, a pretty medieval town northwest of Brasov. The old city center is sitting on a hill, overlooking the surrounding area, and full of beautiful old houses, topped by meandering cobble stone pathways. We found a great place to stay, a tiny pensiune in the heart of the old  town, complete with chicken coop and a very friendly landlord who made us taste all of his self made liquors and wine. And yes, the palinka was strong. After an initial round of red wine and schnaps, we decided to stroll around town for a bit . Anna: “Nico, I know this is ridiculous, we did not even drink that much, but I feel really dizzy, like my head is in the clouds or sth…. Nico: “Ah, good, glad your saying that, I already thought I was going crazy here…”. Which is why, of course, when coming back home, we had to have some of the white wine as well ;-). The evening was then spent chatting away to John (if that is his real name, we do not know), and then venturing out to find pizza as a midnight snack.

Day two of our second road trip was spent driving around quite a bit. First, to the German heart of the country (Romania used to have a large number of German settlers, which is still visible in many places- we are talking German translations of city names and the like, but also architecture wise). Saxon land, as it is called, has many fortified medieval churches we had a look at. Then on we went to one of the, allow me to quote Lonely Planet, “ugliest places in Transylvania”- Copsa Mica, an industrial town

Oh beautiful Copas Mica

Oh beautiful Copsa Mica

that, due to severe pollution from its many factories used to have Europe’s highest child mortality rate and left many people severely handicapped. These days, it is surrounded by the blackened skeletons of former plants and is in general sitting in a bit ‘Mad Maxish’ moon-like landscape . Yet, we saw more places like that in the coming days, so Copsa Mica might ‘win’ hands down on pollution levels, but is by far overtaken by other towns in questionable aesthetic terms.

Yes, he was stuck in her!

Yes, he was stuck in her!

Saxon Land is bordered by Szekely Land, the Hungarian equivalent to the German area. Tirgu Mures, one of the bigger cities in the region, forms a gateway to the numerous Hungarian communities living in this stretch of Romania. Place names are written in both Romanian and Hungarian, and a difference was visible even to us mere passers by: already in the way people dressed and looked.

We finally made out way via Gheorgheni to Lacul Rosu- a lake whose waters appear red, and have ghostly tree stumps sticking out of the surface of the water all over the lake. We did  not see much red, as the lake was still frozen, so instead there was ice pierced by wood. The road, from here, meanders into the Bicaz gorges, quite a stunning canyon with huge rocks stretching out over our heads to height of more than 150 metres.

Bicaz gorges lead into a broader valley that brings you up to the town of Bicaz, and this stretch of land, thus far, has been the least appealing part of the country- highly industrialized, run down, huge cement and asbestos factories scattered across the little towns. We drove on to Piatra Neamt to stay for the night.

Dumitru

Dumitru

The region, Moldova, is famous for its many monasteries, which we intended to visit the following day. And it turned out to be a rather interesting day. We began by having a look at two monasteries inhabited by nuns, who were working in the garden when we arrived. It felt a bit strange to wander around in their midst, and due to the language barrier, we could not really communicate with anyone. We had read about a smaller monastery up in the mountains, inhabited by monks, so we drove up a winding forest road leading to Sihla monastery. Initially, it looked as if our visit would turn out to be much the same as the previous two- having a look around and leaving. This proved to not be the case. When walking up a flight of stairs leading to a small church build against the mountain behind the monastery, and to an adjacent cave formerly inhabited by a saint, we were followed by one of the monks, who opened the church for us, and, upon figuring out that we were obviously not orthodox christians (this would have involved kissing the many icons in the church as well as crossing oneself repeatedly) he took it into his hand to teach us something about his church (and convert us???? We are still not sure on this…).

One of the Relics we had to kiss

One of the Relics we had to kiss

His knowledge of English was meager, nevertheless, with much

signing, we managed to communicate alright. And now, where to start in recounting the events? Without judging here, I feel like just sharing our experiences. My own view on religion is known to many, as is Nico’s,  nevertheless, gaining insights into the views of someone devoted to a faith is a rather interesting experience in itself. As a baptized (if not practicing) protestant, I was informed that it is a bad religion (the fact that Nico is not baptized at all we decided not to disclose). The fact that we are not married was pitiable as well of course.  Orthodox Christianity, we were told, is the only true religion, and its version of the bible is the only complete one, and the only one able to help people avoid a life of sin and painful suffering in hell. This fact is also known to the Freemasons (an this is were it started getting interesting), who are doing everything to destroy Orthodox faith by such means as implanting mini chips into people to be able to remote control them like robots- we were recommended some websites and books to read up on these atrocities….talking about conspiracy theories.

Some of Dumitros gifts

Some of Dumitru's gifts

Dumitru talked to us for a good while-actually hours- providing recommendations on such things as the number of children we ought to have and the places we should or should not live in (cities are bad, obviously). The day went on by him suggesting we go to some other monasteries- which we did, so we drove around with an Orthodox monk in our car. Things started to get fairly serious in the next monastery, when, upon spotting me, one of the apparently more influential monks called me the devil. You might wonder why- well, I sport a nose ring and piercings, earrings- all considered to be the sign of Lucifer in the Orthodox church. Talking about awkward moments. Dumitru took on an interesting role- while obviously not approving of our faith and lifestyle either (you should have seen his face when I told him I believe in Darwin’s theory of evolution), he nevertheless had set his mind and heart to showing us around and did not seem to dislike us, so he risked getting into trouble with the other monks by taking us to see relics, and beautifully painted chapels- much to the anger of the monk sitting there guarding it. We were also introduced to a rather interesting painting depicting the vices and sins, and where each of them would lead us (the latter obviously straight to hell). The painting was a rather recent one, so it included people with piercings, rock and heavy metal music (all the more I could now understand the monks previous contempt…) and such things as money, soccer and medicine (for the abortions, obviously).

Some nun

Some nun

Eventually, Dumitru told us we should have dinner with him at the monastery, and sleep there as well. After the day could not possibly get any weirder, we agreed to do so. Strictly separated bedrooms, of course (we had to sleep in different buildings even), made it an early night for me, but there was more action to be had for Nico, who, attempting to sleep, was visited by Dumitru 3 more times to get the lastest Orthodox music, check out an Othodox magazine and to receive 4 loafs of bread baked by the monks themselves. We had previously been given some crosses, pictures of saints and some choir music. And roseoil. 2 little containers, one of which exploded in my bag the next day, making all my clothing  smell like church (and they still do).

The Forest Which (Anna)

The Forest witch (Anna)

The next day, we got up quite early and left for the mountains to do some hiking. We drove along a huge dammed lake up to Caelhau massif. It is described of one of the remotest in Romania, barely touched and indeed we found the hike to be an amazing experience of wilderness. We choose for a trail leading us up to the summit of one of the peaks and meandered our way through the forest (it was damn steep in the beginning). The higher we got, the more you could see winter has only just passed, so the path turned into quite an icy track at times, making us crawl more than walk- actually, relatively dangerous at times. Cabana Docha greeted us at the top, a hut open year round,

Snow

Snow

where we decided to spend the night and walk around in the deep snow some more. The next morning, we were greeted by fresh snow and started our descent into the village, where our car was fortunately still waiting in one piece. Back we went to Brasov, and then on to Busteni by train, a small village nestled in Prahova valley. Sinaia, a place 5 km further one, was explored the next day- the region is famous for its mountain range and skiing opportunities, so we took a cable car up to 2000 metres- and indeed there was still a lot of snow and people taking advantage of it.

Tall Anna in a wine bar

Tall Anna in a wine bar

After all these countryside experiences, it was surely  high time for some urban strolls again- so our next destination was to be Bucarest, also to visit my dear friend Ana, who lives in the countrie’s capital. And what can I say- we spent an utterly relaxing 5 days in this part of the country, not doing much except for chilling in the park, talking, reading, going out for nice dinners, drinking wine, seeing a theatre play and the like.

Yesterday, we finally shouldered our bags and borded a train heading to the Bulgarian border- the second part of the journey (spent in one of the regional, slow trains) was an interesting experience in itself , sharing the wagon with many a number of beer drinking man, straight from work it seemed. Our last night in Romania was a quiet one, before we took the ferry crossing the Danube into Bulgaria this morning.

Farewell Romania, and thanks for the good times

Small Anna in the parc

Small Ana in the parc

In the Winebar

In the Winebar

Traditional Romanian Restaurant

Traditional Romanian Restaurant

Snow again

Snow again

Ana

Ana

The toilets start looking nastier

The toilets start looking nastier

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