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The Legend of Dracula


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hey say that nobody spends more than one night in Bucharest if they visit at all, and I was no different but atleast I was going to spend one night there to check out the place. As I arrived nice and early in Bucharest (at about 7am) I got to my hostel comfortably and received a warm welcome. Not only would they let me check in straight away but I could help myself to some breakfast first, you really couldn’t ask for much more.

A couple of quick hours to catch up on some sleep and then it was off to explore the place known as Little Paris of the East which unlike most eastern block cities does not really have an old town to see. This is because all of old town and other significant buildings were demolished to build one of the most extravagant parliamentary palaces in the world, in fact it said to be second only in size to the Pentagon. It is indeed a massive building and walking around it was an effort let alone having to keep the 1000+ room place clean. Also around the city and consist with the Parisian theme is an Arcul de Triumf and a shopping street modeled on the Champs Elysees. All in all not the ugly city that I was told to expect but more just a tired city that is a long way from being pretty.

The next day it was off to Brasov a curious little village albeit very nicely set amongst the mountains. I say curious but perhaps I should say confused as it not only sports a black and white tower (of which both are indeed white) but also a giant Brasov sign that is modeled on the slightly more famous Hollywood sign.

see the birthplace of the myth of Dracula, in Brasov. Dracula is loosely based on Vlad Tepes, better known as Vlad the Impaler for his choice of execution style and warnings that he sent to the advancing Turks. The castle here is based in Bran close to Brasov here and is rumoured to be the castle that Bram Stoker used as the setting for his book. The name Dracula for the character was at least inspired by Vlad as he would quite often sign official documents with Dracula (son of the dragon) which symbolized his father’s membership to the order of the Dragon. The castle itself is not super impressive and relies largely on the myth for its visitors, it is curious therefore that the castle then has room after room that dissociates itself from the myth/story.

We also visited another castle, the castle of Peles which was the first castle in the world to have electricity and even has an primitive inbuilt reverse cycle air conditioning system. The castle is most impressive however with its eclectic design style meaning that a walk into a different room provides a portal to a different time and place.
As a final thank you for visiting I woke up this morning to see the first snow of the season in Brasov. This wasn’t really inches thick walking in the street snow more just a gentle sprinkling of snow on the roof tops and the churches enough however to make it very pretty. This also cancelled the planned walk to the Brasov sign as its now a very muddy track and the Brasov sign is covered in so much fog that it is barely visible.

Posted by rhinoc 10:19 Archived in Romania Comments (0)

Its Just So Soviet

Veliko Turnova

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I arrived in Veliko Turnova here to stay at the same hostel chain and was hoping it would be as good as its big brother hostel. Sadly it wasn't quite up to the same standard and whilst still good it just wasnt amazing good. It still had the free breakfast and dinner but this was more the traditional toast and jam variety with dinner consisting of omlette or pizza. The hostel is also sadly a bit empty with only two other people here. However I did find a german guy and we settled into a few beers before checking some of the pubs in town. Nothing special but nothing too bad either.

The next day was off to see the sites of the town which started with walking down the old main street (and I mean old) with the current composition of mud and stones predating even cobblestone streets but it does have a nice touch. Around the town is the typical soviet block concrete jungle again with some newer, more artistic buildings providing some of the most horrible looking architecture that I have seen - very art for the sake of art. The city however does have charm about it that comes from the fact that it just looks and feels old and with the mountain and valley backdrop shrouded in fog and no sunlight to speak of this gives of a very cool (if slightly eery) feel. It made me think alot of the IT crowd quote, "its just so very Soviet".

The fortress looks out over the town from the highest hill and is in such a dominant position it would be extremely difficult to attach and impossible without resorting to siege warfare. The fortress is well worth the look around with much of the old wall and some of the towers still well preserved. The fortress also hosts a laser light show during the summer which would be well worth seeing I think. The church inside the fortress is also quite nice mostly because it is very understated but all of the art there looks very new. After this we walked around the park here and it is nice to be in a village that is so quiet with very few people and cars around in the street.

With the hostel dinner looking a way away we took the recommendation of the guy at the hostel and checked out a local restaraunt. With prices of 2-3 euro for mains we thought they would be small and we ordered an entree and a main each - big mistake. I struggled through my massive salad before even strarting on my massive fry pan of goulash. Two plates from the pan in and I had to give up with that and the other half of our large pizza sized garlic bread becoming my lunch for the next day - not bad for about $A13. With sunday night again looking quiet and more food being the furthest thing from my mind I headed back to my hostel saying goodbye to my german mate. To my surpise at the hostel three kiwis had checked in ensuring that the night was filled with beers and plenty of talk of rugby. Tomorrow its time to take an overnight train to Romania and chase the origins of the legendary Dracula.

Posted by rhinoc 08:18 Archived in Bulgaria Comments (1)

Joining the Smart Party


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Along the way I have met a few people that have suggested Bulgaria as a place worth visiting and after meeting Ina is Spain she further convinced me of its merits. Coupled with my disillusionment with Greece meant that I headed north a little earlier than I had expected. The train ride went smoothly and the border crossing even more so its nice to be in Europe and have these seamless transitions I have heard so much about 9I have almost certainly kinxed myself now though).

After arriving in Sofia and searching out my hotel using my lonely planet - 8 months in and I make this rookie mistake. As I have always mentioned in reference to the Lonely Planent book before their maps are usually wrong. After an hour of walking the map of where it was supposed to be and asking for directions without luck I gave up and just used the address and as easy as that I was there. The hostel I was at is talked up to be one of the best and I can honestly say its the best one that I have stayed so far with the staff genuinely trying to help you, the facilities excellent and the price not only cheap but including both breakfast and dinner. After a while you expect a free breakfast to be toast and jam but this one also included salami, fruit, three types of cheeses, museli and yoghurt - a fantastic start to the day. Dinner while not as grand consisted of plates of pasta and free beer. All in all one can hardly complain about this at all. The other nice surprise here is the presence of Czech beer that is available at ridiculously low prices. I was warming to the country already.

Sofia is such an old city with ~7000 years of civilisation here that has survived through many rulers of influence such as the Thracians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantine and Ottoman empires and then mostly recently as part of the Soveit Union. Pretty much any empire that had a strong presence in Europe has controlled Bulgaria such is its importance as the gateway to the Balkans. Bulgaria is however politically confused and voted the communist party back in twice after they had been liberated!

Around Sofia there is a very communist look about it with the typical "Soviet block style concrete jungle" with the only building that have any character being the churchs. The most famous one here is the Alexander Nevsky cathedral is one of the biggest and most impressive in the world. The Russain Orthodox church however for my mind was slightly more attractive and photogenic. These combined with a preserved Ottoman mosque and bathhouse as well as a very old roman style church gve the city a ice older style feel. Contrary to this they have Vitosha Boulevard which is their version of the Champs Elysees which is one of the most expensive commercial streets in the world. They also have a large ladies market when you can buy knock off anything for dirt cheap prices.

Whilst walking around we also made our way to the soviet monument which dissappointingly was blocked, not so dissappointly though it was blocked by the embriotic stages of the christmas markets. This provided the option for some really good food with a cup of soup, some bread and a two kebabs setting me back a little over 2 euros, did I say I was warming to this country. They also have a large "Ladies Market" here where you can buy knock off just about anything and I did consider getting another jumper here in case but decided that I couldn't be bothered carrying it now and the I would cross that bridge when/if I need to.

Ina also organised for one of her friends to take me out to one of the local bars around the place and get a feel of the real Bulgaria. This was interesting and I'm not sure it wasn't what I expected from a local bar but the fact that I was the only foreigner (apart from the Iranian owner) in there suggests otherwise, it was also a very neighbourhood bar where everyone knew everyone. Whilst I was there a massive political debate erupted (I'll point out now that not only did I not start it but I didn't even participate in it) over the government here. Lots of problems from what I can gather without any real will power on anyones behalf to change it. The other thing that amazed me was not only finding out that one of the girls in the bar was 14 but also watching mix her own drinks behind the bar. When I questioned my new friend he replied slimply with "here the rules are flexible" and with noone else registering any concerns that was that and life at the bar continues - a little bit strange. Closing time was also flexible, with the barman suggesting he was here until people wanted to leave it struck me that maybe I had found Barney and Teds bar (How i Met Your Mother) with the infamous no last calls - sadly it wasn't named puzzles although it would have been fitting. Also of note in this bar they played games that were not drinking games - found that a little weird.

With another hostel from the chain present in Veliko Turnova, as well as a prominent fortress this seemed like a good place to head on my way to Romania. VT is in the mountains so it promises to be slightly colder there but a little early for snow but it sounds like quite a nice town to head to for a couple of days.

Posted by rhinoc 07:02 Archived in Bulgaria Comments (0)

Monastries in the Sky


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Today it was time to take three more buses to get to Meteora where for some strange reason the monks decided to build their monasteries on the very top of the natural rock formations that are present. Annoyingly the pensions (guesthouses) have a strange way of doing business and actually raise their rates in off season to try and cover the costs of heating ect. rather than taking advantage of the limited options available and getting people into their house and making their cost off the kitchen. Odd and seems foolish to me but that’s the way it goes so sadly I had to over pay for a room here which ensured my stay would only be a night.

Given I only had a few hours if I wanted to get to Thessalokoni today I decided to share a taxi up to the highest and grandest monastery and walk the 6km back down through the rocks visiting the monasteries on the way. This offered up some of the most spectacular views that you could hope for with literally monasteries perched on the top of a rock surrounded by nothing but air. The amazing things is that there were once 20 monasteries but now only 14 remain f which 6 are open to the public, of the 6 that no longer remain some were destroyed by ottoman empire. How they did this is very impressive due to the difficulty in attacking such an easily defendable position but the other question I had to ponder was why. The only reason that I could come up with was to impart their religion further on the town but the monks were in an extremely isolated position and whilst it should have been easy to defend it would equally be impossible to attack from.

This aside the monasteries were actually used in one of the Bond movie “For Your Eyes Only” due to the amazing scenery amongst the rock formations. Walking through the monasteries it is quite amazing to see what they managed to achieve given their isolation even using the rope and basket technique to build and supply the monasteries. Nowadays it is slightly different with the rope and baskets replaced by a road and ever present jeeps that the monks use to supply the monasteries. Despite this intake of modern technology they still live a very reserved in the monasteries even if the monasteries do have a very touristic face these days.

Posted by rhinoc 06:45 Archived in Greece Comments (0)

Wisdom at the Centre of The World


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Well today it was off to consult the famous oracle of Delphi that was so influential in historic times. Once again another bus ride that will “almost get me there” that left me at a T junction with directions towards the centre of town. A short hike and some polite questioning got me to the bus station. One more bus and I was almost in Delphi. Once again in Delphi there is nothing like a hostel but I was able to take advantage of the lack of tourists here and bargain a hotel room from $65 down to $40. Still a bit pricey but the room is very nice and is about the cheapest I could hope for here. The hotel also has a nice little balcony that overlooks the spectacular location that it is, perched in the mountains overlooking the gulf of Corinth.

Once upon a time rulers of Greece would consult the oracle on decisions such as wars and important weddings. The oracle site is quite amazing, once again dominated by a giant temple of Zeus that housed the all knowing oracle. There is also a very nice stadium and theatre here that remain nicely preserved from ancient times. The stadium was once upon a time used to host the panhellenic games which were precursors to the modern day Olympics, something that I learnt today!

Interestingly enough these ruins are also at the very centre of the world or so mythology suggests. Zues apparently sent two eagles, one from the west and one from the east to find the centre of the world and they encountered each other right here in Delphi and there is an amophalos stone here to indicate it. However it also could mark the spot where Apollo slayed the serpent python (and this would provide a reason for it becoming a major place to worship Apollo) but the centre of the world concept is certainly more romantic and has it referred to as “the worlds belly button”. There is also a museum here that houses all the antiquities from Delphi that were not ransacked by the succeeding governments. This contains some really well preserved statues and the best bit was because I got there late they let me in for free.

Posted by rhinoc 11:45 Archived in Greece Comments (0)

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