Sighisoara, Romania (21st & 22nd of January 2006)

Saturday 21st of January 2006

Translyvania: vast tracts of idyllic pre-industrial landscape. All these fab walled towns (but big flat complexes on the outskirts). I was headed to Sighisoara, after a stop in Medias. I was looking forward to getting to the heart of Transylvania – a bona fide principality which, for most of the thousand years before it became part of Romania in 1920, was dominated by Hungary to its west.

And so to the town of Sighisoara, surrounded by green hills and huddled at the feet of a medieval citadel. Now you are in Transylvania proper, following the trail of Patrick Leigh-Fermor and his famous trek from London to Constantinople between the two world wars; and surely his “inn with gabled and leaded windows in a square lifted high above the roofs and triple cincture of the town wall” and with its “heavy oak table in the gastzimmer”.

Early in the 12th century, Geza II, the King of Hungary, invited Saxons from Flanders and the Lower Rhine to come to Transylvania and defend his eastern border in return for land and privileges; so they came and settled. Sighisoara is one of these towns and there are dozens of viallages around here (that I did not have time to explore) that the Saxons built and which survive almost entirely untouched to this day, surrounded, in most cases, by equally untouched ancient landscape.

When I got to the station, you can see the walled city on the hill, so you can hardly get lost. Turn right at the station entrance and turn left the first major junction. You pass a few hostels, like Nathans which also has a franchise in Krakow, Poland but I read online there is only one hostel within the wallked town called the Burg Hostel and I accidently ran into it as I walked into the old walled city. A very cheap hostel for such nice facilities. Its build above a bar and has a restaurant as well. It only cost 100,000 lei for a single bed in a 4 person dorm. Thats only 3 Euro. I booked in and found the room, toilets (the hostel area) to be brand new. Double glazing, boiling hot radiators, clean sheets. Spotless white sheets. I nearly jumped into bed there and then but I wanted to se some of the town before it got dark.





Sighisoara, Romania

Taken on the 21st of January 2006

Sighisoara, which Vlad Tepes called home, is one of the most beautiful towns in the heart of Transylvania. German architectural influences are visible throughout the entire city. Sighisoara was for several centuries a military and political stronghold. One of its most famous attractions is the Clock Tower (Council Tower), built in the 14th Century. This was the control tower of the main gate of the 2,500 foot long defensive wall. The tower has seven foot thick walls and was used to store ammunition, food reserves, archives and the city’s treasures. The clock was placed in the tower in the 17th Century. Highlights include: Guild Tower, Venetian House (built in the 13th Century), Vlad the Impaler (Dracula) House, Antler House, Wooden Covered Staircase, Hill Church, Hermann Oberth Square.

Click on the picture to see it in its original size





Sighisoara, Romania

Taken on the 21st of January 2006

Sighisoara, which Vlad Tepes called home, is one of the most beautiful towns in the heart of Transylvania. German architectural influences are visible throughout the entire city. This is essentially the main square beside the clock tower. Very nice colored houses and snow on te streeets. Deserted!!

Click on the picture to see it in its original size





Sighisoara, Romania

Taken on the 21st of January 2006

Sighisoara, which Vlad Tepes called home, is one of the most beautiful towns in the heart of Transylvania. German architectural influences are visible throughout the entire city.

Click on the picture to see it in its original size





Sighisoara, Romania

Taken on the 21st of January 2006

Sighisoara, which Vlad Tepes called home, is one of the most beautiful towns in the heart of Transylvania. German architectural influences are visible throughout the entire city.

Click on the picture to see it in its original size





Sighisoara, Romania

Taken on the 21st of January 2006

Sighisoara, which Vlad Tepes called home, is one of the most beautiful towns in the heart of Transylvania. German architectural influences are visible throughout the entire city.

Click on the picture to see it in its original size

I walked uptowards the clock tower and the graveyard. Big locked in dogs and I enjoyed it. There was hardly a sinner on the snow covered streets. There was also an unusual covered staircase leading up to the church.





Sighisoara, Romania

Taken on the 21st of January 2006

Sighisoara, which Vlad Tepes called home, is one of the most beautiful towns in the heart of Transylvania. German architectural influences are visible throughout the entire city. The Saxon graveyarsd. All German names. Very atmospheric at dusk and a big prowling black dog made even more so.

Click on the picture to see it in its original size





Sighisoara, Romania

Taken on the 21st of January 2006

Sighisoara, which Vlad Tepes called home, is one of the most beautiful towns in the heart of Transylvania. German architectural influences are visible throughout the entire city. The Saxon graveyarsd. All German names. Very atmospheric at dusk and a big prowling black dog made even more so.

Click on the picture to see it in its original size





Sighisoara, Romania

Taken on the 21st of January 2006

Sighisoara, which Vlad Tepes called home, is one of the most beautiful towns in the heart of Transylvania. German architectural influences are visible throughout the entire city. The Saxon graveyarsd. All German names. Very atmospheric at dusk and a big prowling black dog made even more so.

Click on the picture to see it in its original size

After the light went, I walked into the centre of towna nd it was really nice. No tourist kitsh or tourist orientated restaurants. just simple pubs and clus. Nice pubs actually. After about 2 hours, I had a bite to eat in a restaurant. Simple choices. I had a nice meal for 200,000 which was soup (Ciorba de zaravat), chicken, veg and chips, bread (paine) and two beers. Rather bland but soup was nice.

I went back to the hostel and to its bar. It seems the hostel bar is very popular with locals. I paid only 20,000 a bottle (Skol beer) and people were coming and going. i was knackered tired for some reason. After two beers, I could ardly think straight. It was around 10.00pm and I went on the Internet for 30 minutes (10,000). I was knackered.

I had a great nights sleep, beacuse I was so tired. The room was very clean, very warm, nice views, double glazing and I had it all to myself with a bathroom just outside the door. Recomended.

Sunday the 22nd of January 2006

I had planned to get up early (I did) and catch the 11.27am train to Brasov (duration 2.41) which was a P -Persoanl train. But I was up around 7.35am and did a little sightseeing as I thought there was much more to the town. This was because during the walk to town last night, I viewed the wallked old town which is in an elavated position from a different angle. It seemed there were alot more buildings. But when I spend an hour and a half walking around this morning, it all centered on the one area. I had just seen it from behind. Really there isnt much to the buildings within the walled city. The two churches, the house where Vlad the Impaler (Dracula) was born, the clock tower etc.

The great thing about the hostel is your at the centre of things. Even the view from my hostel dorm was fab.





Sighisoara, Romania

Taken on the 22nd of January 2006

Sighisoara, which Vlad Tepes called home, is one of the most beautiful towns in the heart of Transylvania. This is the view from my room in the hostel. I know it was Sunday morning and the bells in that church woke me up but what a great sight to wake up to.

Click on the picture to see it in its original size





Sighisoara, Romania

Taken on the 22nd of January 2006

Sighisoara, which Vlad Tepes called home, is one of the most beautiful towns in the heart of Transylvania. This is the view from my room in the hostel. I know it was Sunday morning and the bells in that church woke me up but what a great sight to wake up to.

Click on the picture to see it in its original size





Sighisoara, Romania

Taken on the 22nd of January 2006

Sighisoara, which Vlad Tepes called home, is one of the most beautiful towns in the heart of Transylvania. This is the main squae in the old town.

Click on the picture to see it in its original size





Sighisoara, Romania

Taken on the 22nd of January 2006

Sighisoara, which Vlad Tepes called home, is one of the most beautiful towns in the heart of Transylvania. This is the main square in the old town.

Click on the picture to see it in its original size





Sighisoara, Romania

Taken on the 22st of January 2006

Sighisoara, which Vlad Tepes called home, is one of the most beautiful towns in the heart of Transylvania. This is the clock tower.Out of all the towers, the one that best reflects the defence effort, and at the same time, the striving for affirmation and authority in the city of Sighisoara, is The Clock Tower, which became the very symbol of the town. Situated on the Eastern side of the inferior plateau of the city, it was built in the city in order to protect the main gate of the town and to house the Council. Its double function explains the care with which the townsmen built it, its appearance at the same time severe and festive. The Clock Tower was also useful to the meetings of the Council and to depositing the archives and the treasury of Sighisoara. Erected in the 14th century and even later, the tower is very picturesque with its double weepers – namely the defensive arrangement meant to control the access into the city, with battlements, a protection road and firing galleries, and finally, with its four turrets that symbolized – as an architectonic effigy of the entire community – the judicial autonomy of the city, which had the famous jus gladii, the seigniorial right of punishment. More information on the towers of the town can be found here

Click on the picture to see it in its original size





Sighisoara, Romania

Taken on the 22nd of January 2006

Sighisoara, which Vlad Tepes called home, is one of the most beautiful towns in the heart of Transylvania.

Click on the picture to see it in its original size





Sighisoara, Romania

Taken on the 22nd of January 2006

Sighisoara, which Vlad Tepes called home, is one of the most beautiful towns in the heart of Transylvania. This is the main square in the old town.

Click on the picture to see it in its original size





Sighisoara, Romania

Taken on the 22nd of January 2006

Sighisoara, which Vlad Tepes called home, is one of the most beautiful towns in the heart of Transylvania. This is the main square in the old town.

Click on the picture to see it in its original size





Sighisoara, Romania

Taken on the 22nd of January 2006

Sighisoara, which Vlad Tepes called home, is one of the most beautiful towns in the heart of Transylvania. This is the main square in the old town.

Click on the picture to see it in its original size





Sighisoara, Romania

Taken on the 22nd of January 2006

Sighisoara, which Vlad Tepes called home, is one of the most beautiful towns in the heart of Transylvania. This is the main square in the old town.

Click on the picture to see it in its original size





Sighisoara, Romania

Taken on the 22nd of January 2006

Sighisoara, which Vlad Tepes called home, is one of the most beautiful towns in the heart of Transylvania. This is the main square in the old town.

Click on the picture to see it in its original size





Sighisoara, Romania

Taken on the 22nd of January 2006

Sighisoara, which Vlad Tepes called home, is one of the most beautiful towns in the heart of Transylvania.

Click on the picture to see it in its original size





Sighisoara, Romania

Taken on the 22nd of January 2006

Sighisoara, which Vlad Tepes called home, is one of the most beautiful towns in the heart of Transylvania.

Click on the picture to see it in its original size





Sighisoara, Romania

Taken on the 22nd of January 2006

Sighisoara, which Vlad Tepes called home, is one of the most beautiful towns in the heart of Transylvania.

Click on the picture to see it in its original size





Sighisoara, Romania

Taken on the 22nd of January 2006

Sighisoara, which Vlad Tepes called home, is one of the most beautiful towns in the heart of Transylvania.

Click on the picture to see it in its original size

It was 9.00am and I decided to rush, grab my bags from that nice hostel and rush to get the 9.23, Rapid train (Duration 1.45) to brasov arriving at 11.27am. That would give me nearly two full days in Brasov.

Anyway, I made it just in time (including a hot coffee from the station – 8,000). It was cold this time of the morning and the ticket cost 235,000 lei. Off I go! Before that I should mention the towns (Sighisoara) connection with Dracula!!

The Truth About Dracula

The historical figure who inspired Bram Stocker for his novel – Dracula, is Vlad the Impaler (Vlad Tepes in Romanian).

He was descended from Basarab the Great, a fourteenth-century prince who is credited with having founded the state of Wallachia, part of present-day Romania. The most famous of the early Basarabs was Vlad’s grandfather, Mircea cel Batran (Mircea the Elder). As Wallachian “voievod” (a word of Slavic origin, used in Romania for the leader of a principality, a war-lord, or a supreme chief), Mircea was prominent for his struggles against the Ottoman Empire and his attempts to exclude permanent Turkish settlement on Wallachian lands.

Mircea died in 1418 and left behind a number of illegitimate children. As there were no clear rules of succession in Wallachia (the council of “boyars” had the power to select as voivode any son of a ruling prince), Mircea’s death led to conflict between his illegitimate son Vlad (Vlad the Impaler’s father) and Dan, the son of one of Mircea’s brothers. This was the beginning of the Draculeti-Daneti feud that was to play a major role in the history of fifteenth-century Wallachia.

His father, Vlad Dracul (Vlad the Dragon),was a Knight of the Order of the Dragon; the main goals of this Order of knights was to protect the interest of Catholicism and to crusade against the Turks. Vlad Tepes was born in December 1431 in Sighisoara –
a fortress in Transilvania, a Romanian’s region. He was named also “Dracula”, a diminutive which means “the son of Dracul”.

We generally know few things about his childhood in Sighisoara. He had two brothers, Mircea and Radu. They all ived in Sighisoara until 1436.
In the winter of 1436, Vlad Dracul (Vlad the Dragon), became prince of Valachia – now, Muntenia (one of the three Romanian provinces). He took up residence at the palace of Targoviste, the capital of Valachia.

Dracula and his family, lived in Targoviste with his father for six years, until 1442.Here, young Vlad was educated at court, with training that was appropriate for knighthood. But his father’s political actions were to have major consequences for him and his younger brother Radu. When Sigismund died, Vlad Dracul ranged from pro-Turkish policies to neutrality as he considered necessary to protect the interests of Wallachia. To ensure the reliability of Dracul’s support, the Sultan required that two of his sons — Vlad and Radu — be held in Turkey as guarantees that he would actively support Turkish interests.

After six yeres in Turkey, Vlad decided to return in Romania (his brother Radu decided to stay in Tukey until 1462) when he was informed about his father’s assassination in 1447, organized by Vladislav II; he was also informed about his older brother – Mircea, who had been tortured and buried alive by the boyars of Targoviste.

So, at only 17 old, Dracula, supported by a Turkish force, led to him by pasha Mustafa Hassan, took the throne of Valachia., but after only 2 months, the other claimant, Vladislav II, and took the throne of Valachia. In 1456, Dracula succeed again, killing his father’s assassin and so, he began his longest reign (6 years), when he hence established his controversed reputation.

His first act of revenge was aimed at the boyars of Targoviste for the killing of his brother, Mircea. On Easter Sunday of 1458, he organized a princely feast, and with this ocassion, and arrested all the boyars and impaled them on stakes. Because his brutal punishment techniques (he orderd people to be skinned, boiled, decapitated, blinded, strangled, hanged, burned, nailed, roasted, buried alive, etc, but his favorite method was impalment on stakes ) he soon became quite known as Vlad Tepes (Vlad The Impaler)

He punished everyone who didn’t follow the state’s laws: he impaled the Transylvanian merchants who had ignored his trade laws, the German Saxons of Brasov fortress – Transylvania were also punished in order to protect the Wallachian commerce activities. Almost any crime, from lying and stealing to killing, was punished by impalement. Once, Dracula placed a golden cup on display in the central square of Tirgoviste. The cup could be used by thirsty travelers, but had to remain on the square . According to the available historic sources, it was never stolen and remained entirely unmolested throughout Vlad’s reign. Dracula also looked upon the vagrants and beggars as thieves. Consequently, he invited them to his princely court in Tirgoviste for a great feast. After the guests ate and drank, Dracula ordered the hall boarded up and set on fire. No one survived.

At the beginning of 1462, Dracula launched a campaign against the Turks. It was quite risky, the military force of Sultan Mehmed II being by far more powerful than the Valahian army. However, during the winter of 1462, Vlad was very successful and managed to gain many victories. To punish Dracula, the Sultan decided to launch a full-scale invasion of Valahia and to transform this land into a Turkish province and he entered Valahia with an army three times larger than Dracula’s. Finding himself without allies, Vlad, forced to retreat towards Tirgoviste, burned his own villages and poisoned the wells along the way, so that the Turkish army would find nothing to eat or drink. Moreover, when the Sultan, exhausted, finally reached the capital city, he was confronted by a most gruesome sight: thousands of stakes held the remaining carcasses of some 20,000 Turkish captives, a horror scene which was ultimately nicknamed the “Forest of the Impaled.” This terror tactic deliberately stage-managed by Dracula was definitely successful; the scene had a strong effect on Mehmed’s most stout-hearted officers, and the Sultan, tired and hungry, admitted defeat (it is worth mentioning that even Victor Hugo, in his Legende des Siecles, recalls this particular incident).

Nevertheless, following his retreat from Valahian territory, Mehmed left the next phase of the battle to Vlad’s younger brother Radu, the Turkish favorite for the Valahian throne. At the head of a Turkish army and joined by Vlad’s detractors, Radu pursued his brother to Poenari castle on the Arges river.

Vlad, managed to escape the siege of his fortress by using a secret passage into the mountain. Helped by some peasants of the Arefu village, he was able to reach Transilvania where he met the new king of Hungary, Matthias Corvinus. However, instead of providing some help, Matthias arrested Dracula and imprisoned him at the Hungarian capital of Visegrad. It was not until 1475 that Vlad was again recognized as the prince of Valachia, enjoying a very short third reign. In fact, he was assassinated toward the end of December 1476.

Dracula was buried at the Snagov Monastery

Medias, Romania (21st of January 2006)

Saturday 21st of January 2006

Anyway, I got to Medias and was very cold and it was snowing. Very slippy and I only had an hour here before my connection to Sighisoara at 15.49. It was a small town and you can see the centre of town by spotting the main church spires.

You can check out the offical site and a picture site.

The historic centre is quite small but the old walls are still there and quite well perserved. It was snowing heavy now so I did not get alot of time here. My train (at 15.49) was due so I was back at the station at 15.20. I eas expecting a Personal Train but an IC train arrived ten minutes early at 15.39. Shit I nearly fell getting ont he train with the ice. If it wasnt for a guy behind me and a guy in front who draged me in, I would ahve faleen 3/4 feet from the steps of the train back down to the platform. Once I was on. I confirmed the destination with one of the passengers.





Medias, Romania

Taken on the 21st of January 2006

Medias (German: Mediasch, Hungarian: Medgyes) is a city in Romania. It is located in the heart of Transylvania, on the valley of Târnava Mare river in the Sibiu County. The population is around 55,403 inhabitants. It has one of the best preserved historical centers in Romania and also some well preserved medieval fortifications.

The city lies in the middle of the area which was inhabited by Transylvanian Saxons and in an area of 20 km around it there are a few dosens of fortified churches, two of them UNESCO World heritage sites.

Click on the picture to see it in its original size





Medias, Romania

Taken on the 21st of January 2006

Medias (German: Mediasch, Hungarian: Medgyes) is a city in Romania. It is located in the heart of Transylvania, on the valley of Târnava Mare river in the Sibiu County. The population is around 55,403 inhabitants. It has one of the best preserved historical centers in Romania and also some well preserved medieval fortifications.

Overlooking the historic church and town cenre. Snow falling.

Click on the picture to see it in its original size





Medias, Romania

Taken on the 21st of January 2006

Medias (German: Mediasch, Hungarian: Medgyes) is a city in Romania. It is located in the heart of Transylvania, on the valley of Târnava Mare river in the Sibiu County. The population is around 55,403 inhabitants. It has one of the best preserved historical centers in Romania and also some well preserved medieval fortifications.

Click on the picture to see it in its original size





Medias, Romania

Taken on the 21st of January 2006

Medias (German: Mediasch, Hungarian: Medgyes) is a city in Romania. It is located in the heart of Transylvania, on the valley of Târnava Mare river in the Sibiu County. The population is around 55,403 inhabitants. It has one of the best preserved historical centers in Romania and also some well preserved medieval fortifications.

Click on the picture to see it in its original size





Medias, Romania

Taken on the 21st of January 2006

Medias (German: Mediasch, Hungarian: Medgyes) is a city in Romania. It is located in the heart of Transylvania, on the valley of Târnava Mare river in the Sibiu County. The population is around 55,403 inhabitants. It has one of the best preserved historical centers in Romania and also some well preserved medieval fortifications.

The city lies in the middle of the area which was inhabited by Transylvanian Saxons and in an area of 20 km around it there are a few dosens of fortified churches, two of them UNESCO World heritage sites.

Click on the picture to see it in its original size

Sibiu, Romania (21st of January 2006)

Saturday 21st of January 2006

I was up early in my empty hostel. No travellers, no staff. The place was empty. I just left my backpack where it was and walked to where the old city fortifications were.





Sibiu, Romania

Taken on the 21st of January 2006

The city of Sibiu was one of the most important fortified cities in Southeastern Europe. Multiple rings were built around the city, most of them out of clay bricks. The south-eastern fortifications are the best kept, and all three parallel lines are still visible. The first is an exterior earth mound, the second is a 10-meter-tall red brick wall, and the third line comprises towers linked by another 10-meter-tall wall. All structures are connected via a labyrinth of tunnels and passageways, designed to ensure transport between the city and lines of defense.

In the 16th century more modern elements were added to the fortifications, mainly leaf-shaped bastions. One of these survived to this day, as the Haller Bastion {all the way down Coposu Boulevard).

Click on the picture to see it in its original size





Sibiu, Romania

Taken on the 21st of January 2006

The city of Sibiu was one of the most important fortified cities in Southeastern Europe. Multiple rings were built around the city, most of them out of clay bricks. The south-eastern fortifications are the best kept, and all three parallel lines are still visible.

Click on the picture to see it in its original size





Sibiu, Romania

Taken on the 21st of January 2006

The city of Sibiu was one of the most important fortified cities in Southeastern Europe. Multiple rings were built around the city, most of them out of clay bricks. The south-eastern fortifications are the best kept, and all three parallel lines are still visible.

Click on the picture to see it in its original size

I had a nice walk around town and I also on the net for an hour (15,000 lei). I went to the train station yesterday to change my ticket to Sighisoara to today and found that I lost it so I had to buy a new one, but luckily it was only 60,000 lei or so. I planned to go to Sighisoara (via Medias) for 65,000 Lei. It left at 1.03pm and arrived in Medias at 14.32. The train to Sighisoara was due to leave Medias at 15.49 and arrive in Sighisoara at 16.25pm. That was the plan anyway.

I walked the city some more. It did look quite beautiful with the snow and blue skies. It was cold but not bitterly so. I went and paid 5,000 to climb the church in the main square in order to get a better view of the city (Turnul Sfatului)..





Sibiu, Romania

Taken on the 21st of January 2006

The city of Sibiu was one of the most important fortified cities in Southeastern Europe. Its also very, very pretty! a deserted street early moening. The snow is starting to get mushed up and brown.

Click on the picture to see it in its original size





Sibiu, Romania

Taken on the 21st of January 2006

The city of Sibiu was one of the most important fortified cities in Southeastern Europe. You can see the Lutheran church in the background.

Click on the picture to see it in its original size





Sibiu, Romania

Taken on the 21st of January 2006

The city of Sibiu was one of the most important fortified cities in Southeastern Europe.

Click on the picture to see it in its original size





Sibiu, Romania

Taken on the 21st of January 2006

The city of Sibiu was one of the most important fortified cities in Southeastern Europe. You can see the Lutheran church in the background.

Click on the picture to see it in its original size





Sibiu, Romania

Taken on the 21st of January 2006

The city of Sibiu was one of the most important fortified cities in Southeastern Europe. You can see the Lutheran church in the background.

Click on the picture to see it in its original size





Sibiu, Romania

Taken on the 21st of January 2006

The city of Sibiu was one of the most important fortified cities in Southeastern Europe. You can see the Lutheran church in the background.

Click on the picture to see it in its original size





Sibiu, Romania

Taken on the 21st of January 2006

The city of Sibiu was one of the most important fortified cities in Southeastern Europe. An overview shot of the main square.

Click on the picture to see it in its original size





Sibiu, Romania

Taken on the 21st of January 2006

The city of Sibiu was one of the most important fortified cities in Southeastern Europe. Shot of the main square.

Click on the picture to see it in its original size





Sibiu, Romania

Taken on the 21st of January 2006

The city of Sibiu was one of the most important fortified cities in Southeastern Europe. You can see the Lutheran church in the background.

Click on the picture to see it in its original size





Sibiu, Romania

Taken on the 21st of January 2006

The city of Sibiu was one of the most important fortified cities in Southeastern Europe.

Click on the picture to see it in its original size

I headed back to the hostel around 12.20am and got my bag. I just left the keys there. The train I was taking was Personal and it was packed full. Hundreds of people all stuffed in. The thing with these “Personal Trains” is that thry stop every five minutes at small vilalges. You get the scenario, the train stops and you look out on the snow covered landscape and there nothings – just 50/60 people heading off down a road and you may see a vilalge or church spire in the distance. Pretty weird but some of these small towns (old Saxon forts) look beautiful. Wish I had more time.

Sibiu, Romania (20th of January 2006)

Friday 20th of January 2006
I had a wakeup call at 7.30am. I had a shower and a shave (including a self cut haircut). Anyway, buffet breakfast was included in the price and I got my moneys worth. Bread, yogurts, salami, tea, juice etc.

The journey was good. I think the train was empthy but I think they shove people in certain compartments to save on heating. Eight people can fit in a compartment and there are about 10 compartments per carriage. There were 5 people in ours. All individual travellers. It was unbearbly hot in the compartment. So much so, I had to leave and sit in one of the cold empthy compartmetns every 40 minutes or so. We also left the door open for long periods.

They got into a heated discussion about politics (from what I could make out) and they were including me in that (eye contact). I just used body language, nodding and it wsnt until I was asked some direct questions, that they found I could not speak Romanian. Much hilarity. Anyway, except for the heat (better than the cold), it was a fine journey.

There were only about a 4 stops in total. I arrived at 2.10pm, just as detailed. If they are ahead of schedule, they will stop at a town a little bit longer. When I arrived, it wasnt pretty. But you can never tell a town from its bus-train stations. Anyway I did not know whether I would even bother go into town. I purchased a ticket to Sighisoara for 15.51pm. I had an hour to kill so I said I would go in have a look around and come back to catch the train. There were number five buses with centrum on it. I paid 20,000 lei (for a two trip ticket. The bus was packed with young students. It only took 5-6 minutes to get into town. From a stop, I got a bit lost and just started to head towards spires in the sky outline.

What a great buzzing town. People were on the streets, animated, walking a buzz and smiles that wasnt in Timisoara. People were smiling and having fun. Well I fell in love with this town and felt it was worth travelling to here itself.

Lots of information on the town on the Internet. Wikipedia was excellent. Also, don’t forget to visit this great website: www.sibiu2007.ro, which give a great overview (and more) about the city of Sibiu, including a perfect city map to guide you around.

I see there is a cold snap across Europe. There wassnow on the ground, but it wasnt that cold.

There was a tourist office in the main square. They were very, very helpful pointing out the only hostel (brand new – July 2005) in town, various pensions and a small guide to the town.

I had a little trouble finding the hostel in the next square as it was so non descript. It was a 12 font little hostel sign. They are renovating the whole square as Subiu is the joint europoean Capital of Culture in 2007. The hostel was called “The Old Town Hostel” and it was 10 euro.

In that small square (just off the main one), there are a couple of 24 hour bars and a chill out club there that goes 24/7. Beers were about 20,000 lei for local beers to 36,000 Lei for Becks. I went to a decent restaurant and paid 260,000 for a great meal. It was vegetable soup, 3 big pieces of pork, bread, mashed potatoe, cabbage and two beers. There were a few drunk guys I had to clink glasses with every few minutes.

I had a very nice evening walking around the city.
Sibiu (name in German: Hermannstadt, Hungarian: Nagyszeben) is a city in Transylvania, Romania with a population of about 170,000. It straddles the river Cibin, a tributary of the river Olt.

The city was founded in 1190 by Saxon colonists settled in the area. It was probably built near a Roman settlement, one that would have come to be known during early medieval age as Caedonia, which might have been deserted at the time of the Saxons’ arrival.

In the 14th century, it was already an important trade center. In 1376 the craftsmen were divided in 19 guilds. Sibiu became the most important ethnic German city among the seven cities that gave Transylvania its German language name of Siebenbürgen, and it was home to the Universitas Saxorum, the Assembly of Germans in Transylvania. Common opinion in the 17th century ascribed Sibiu the quality of being the easternmost city to be part of the European sphere; it was also the eastern terminus of postal routes.

During the 18th and 19th centuries the city also became one of the most important centers for ethnic Romanians in the region. The first Romanian-owned bank had its headquarters here (The Albina Bank), as did the ASTRA (Transylvanian Association for Romanian Literature and Romanian’s People Culture). After the Romanian Orthodox Church was granted status in the Habsburg Empire from the 1860s onwards, Sibiu became the Metropolitan seat, and the city preserved its title as the third most important center for the Church in modern Romania. Between the 1848 Hungarian Revolution and 1867 (the year of the Ausgleich), Sibiu was the meeting-place of the Transylvanian Diet, which had taken its most representative form after the Empire agreed to extend voting rights in the region.

After World War I, when Austria-Hungary was dissolved, Sibiu became part of Romania; still, the majority of its population was ethnic German and Hungarian. After 1990 most of the city’s ethnic Germans immigrated to Germany. Among the roughly 2000 who remained was Klaus Johannis, who is currently mayor of Sibiu.





Sibiu, Romania

Taken on the 20th of January 2006

Arriving by train. It was cold and I was tired. I wasnt planning to stay and the area arounf the bus and rain stations were not nice but luckily I got a bus into town and got to see this great town.

Click on the picture to see it in its original size





Sibiu, Romania

Taken on the 20th of January 2006

The Large Square (Romanian: Piata Mare, German: Grosser Ring or Grosser Platz) is, as its name suggests, the largest square of the city, and has been the center of the city since the 16th century. 142 m long and 93 m wide, it is one of the largest ones in Transylvania.

Click on the picture to see it in its original size





Sibiu, Romania

Taken on the 20th of January 2006

The steep Stairs’ Passage leads down to the lower section of Sibiu. It descends along some fortifications under the support arches. It is the most picturesque of the several passages linking the two sides of the city.

Click on the picture to see it in its original size





Sibiu, Romania

Taken on the 20th of January 2006

The steep Stairs’ Passage leads down to the lower section of Sibiu. It descends along some fortifications under the support arches. It is the most picturesque of the several passages linking the two sides of the city. Very colorful and very slippy in this weather.

Click on the picture to see it in its original size





Sibiu, Romania

Taken on the 20th of January 2006

The Small Square: As its name says, the Piata Mica is smaller in size, being rather longer than wide. Its north-west side has a curved shape, unlike the Large Square, which has an approximately rectangular shape. Accordingly, Piata Mica plays a smaller part in the city’s present-day life. The square is conected to the other two squares and to other streets by small, narrow passages. The main access from the Lower City is through Ocnei Street, which divides the square in two. The street passes under the Liar’s Bridge – the first bridge in Romania to have been cast in iron (1859).

To the right of the bridge is another symbol of the city, The House of the Arts, an arched building formerly belonging to the Butchers’ Guild. On the left side of the bridge is the Luxemburg House, a Baroque four-storey building, former seat of the Goldsmiths’ Guild.

Click on the picture to see it in its original size





Sibiu, Romania

Taken on the 20th of January 2006

This is Luxemburg House, a Baroque four-storey building, former seat of the Goldsmiths’ Guild located in the Small Square where my hostel was.

Click on the picture to see it in its original size





Sibiu, Romania

Taken on the 20th of January 2006

The steep Stairs’ Passage leads down to the lower section of Sibiu. It descends along some fortifications under the support arches. It is the most picturesque of the several passages linking the two sides of the city.

Click on the picture to see it in its original size





Sibiu, Romania

Taken on the 20th of January 2006

The 18th/19th century houses were very colorful especially with snow on top.

Click on the picture to see it in its original size





Sibiu, Romania

Taken on the 20th of January 2006

On the south and east sides are two- or three-storey houses, having tall attics with small windows known as the city’s eyes. Most of these houses are dated 17th to 19th centuries, and most of them are Baroque in style.

Click on the picture to see it in its original size





Sibiu, Romania

Taken on the 20th of January 2006

Brukenthal Palace, one of the most important Baroque monuments in Romania, lies on the north-western corner of the square. It was erected between 1777 and 1787 as the main residence for the Governor of Trasylvania Samuel von Brukenthal. It houses the main part of the National Brukenthal Museum, opened in 1817. Next to the palace is the Blue House, an 18th century Baroque house bearing the old coat of arms of Sibiu on its façade.

Click on the picture to see it in its original size





Sibiu, Romania

Taken on the 20th of January 2006

Brukenthal Palace, one of the most important Baroque monuments in Romania, lies on the north-western corner of the square. It was erected between 1777 and 1787 as the main residence for the Governor of Trasylvania Samuel von Brukenthal. It houses the main part of the National Brukenthal Museum, opened in 1817. Next to the palace is the Blue House, an 18th century Baroque house bearing the old coat of arms of Sibiu on its façade.

Click on the picture to see it in its original size





Sibiu, Romania

Taken on the 20th of January 2006

The large squae is, as its name suggests, the largest square of the city, and has been the center of the city since the 16th century. 142 m long and 93 m wide, it is one of the largest ones in

Click on the picture to see it in its original size





Sibiu, Romania

Taken on the 20th of January 2006

Romania may be joining the European Union in 2007 and you will see alot of EU flags around town.

Click on the picture to see it in its original size





Sibiu, Romania

Taken on the 20th of January 2006

I am not sure what this church is called. Can anyone help?

Click on the picture to see it in its original size





Sibiu, Romania

Taken on the 20th of January 2006

A narrow passage way leading one street o the next. Very dark.

Click on the picture to see it in its original size





Sibiu, Romania

Taken on the 20th of January 2006

Some very colorful 17th/18th century buildings here.

Click on the picture to see it in its original size





Sibiu, Romania

Taken on the 20th of January 2006

I believe this is the Evangelical (Lutheran) Cathedral. It is the area where the earliest fortifications have been built. The buildings around this square are mainly Gothic.

Click on the picture to see it in its original size

Timisoara, Romania (19th of January 2006)

Thursday 19th of January 2006
Anyway, the hostel never woke me up but luckily I was up anyway. I left quite early and took the metro to the main train station. The information board was out of action and nobody knew what line the train was leaving on until about 5 mninutes before departure. Yes, I sweated that i would miss the train. It was due to to leave at 9.35am from budapest (Keleti) and arrive in Timisoara Nord at 15.34 (duration 4.59). You can check out train time tables at www.elvira.hu

I took my seat and off we headed. I was in a eight person comparment and it empty. It was uneventful. Romanian imigration officials asked me my business, was it my first time and stamped me in. No hassles. Very tidy. The landscape was quite rural, althought a big ugly gas pipeline ran along us the whole trip. Its unusual to see vast expanses of land, covered in snow and ice with no tress, bushes or hedgerows. Quite bleak, really.

EU, US and Canadian citizens can enter Romania without a visa and may stay in the country for 90 days. EU citizens do not even need a passport, as an ID card will suffice.

We arrived in timisoara exactly on time and following the Lets fo eastern Europe guidebooks advice, took a tram, but it went way out the wrong day. It was 22,000 lei for 2 trip ticket. The problem was I did not realise that in July 2005, the country swapped its currency. It was a pain in the ass, as both currencies are in circulation until Dec 06 and the notes look very alike. The central bank even says: “their designs and background colours are similar to the old notes”.

The denomination composition features a new value, RON 500, which is the equivalent of ROL 5,000,000.

As of July 1, 2005, Romania has dropped four zeros from its national currency. Yesterday’s 30,000 (old) Romanian lei (ROL) per U.S. dollar now equal 3.00 (new) lei (RON) to one dollar – three lei (lay) and 0 bani (bah-nee).

Both old and new coins and banknotes will be in circulation until December 31, 2006, when the old currency will be withdrawn. As a result, I took too much out of the ATM machine. Damn. Details and pictures of the old and new currency can be found from the National Tourism Site and the Central Bank site (which has the pictures).

Anyway, as I wanted to take some snaps before dusk, I walked around with my backpack checking out prices with various hotels as I went. There are no hostels in town – althought there is one 5km outide of town – some sort of youth federation. As its so close to Hungary and a popular business destiantion, its quite expensive. Anyway, at the end I stayed in the timisoara Nord hotel, about a two minute walk from the tain station. It was 70,000 Lei (or nealy 20 Euro) for a quite crappy room. Smalll TV, single bed and shower but shared hallway WC. I was tired and ate close by. I walked into town, took another wring tram, got back into town and headed to the old square which was wuite nice. I checked out the Irish Bar and spend 30 minutes in an Internet cafe (10,000 lei). The one thing that really helped me so far is the online presence of Romania Railways. I can check the times of trains in English from town to town. its top class and I would be lost without it. i can print of a page and show the person selling tickets in the tain station exactly when and where I want to go.

The official Romania tourism page for the town is here. A population of 330,000, I was somwhat diapointed at the lack of buzz or atmosphere in the town. maybe its the sulky hungarian character. fine, you know you are in romanian, the clothes, alot of Roma, old cars and alot of tacky shopfronts, but I was unimpressed by its visual character. It is interesting to note that Gustave Eiffel, the creator of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, built Timi?oara’s foot bridge over the Bega. It was also captured by the Turks in the late Middle Ages, and remained under Turkish control until it was regained by Hungary during the 18th Century. More information and links can be found on Wikipedia.





Timisoara, Romania

Taken on the 18th of January 2006

The main attraction is the Orthodox metropolitan cathedral (1936-1946) founded by King Michael of Romania; Byzantine style with seven bells made of rare metals imported from Borneo and Sumatra, which weigh some 8 tons. Underground – a collection of icons on wood and on glass.

Click on the picture to see it in its original size





Timisoara, Romania

Taken on the 18th of January 2006

The main attraction is the Orthodox metropolitan cathedral (1936-1946) founded by King Michael of Romania; Byzantine style with seven bells made of rare metals imported from Borneo and Sumatra, which weigh some 8 tons. Underground – a collection of icons on wood and on glass.

Click on the picture to see it in its original size





Timisoara, Romania

Taken on the 18th of January 2006

The main attraction is the Orthodox metropolitan cathedral (1936-1946) founded by King Michael of Romania; Byzantine style with seven bells made of rare metals imported from Borneo and Sumatra, which weigh some 8 tons. Underground – a collection of icons on wood and on glass.

Click on the picture to see it in its original size





Timisoara, Romania

Taken on the 18th of January 2006

The main attraction is the Orthodox metropolitan cathedral (1936-1946) founded by King Michael of Romania; Byzantine style with seven bells made of rare metals imported from Borneo and Sumatra, which weigh some 8 tons. Underground – a collection of icons on wood and on glass.

Click on the picture to see it in its original size

I also visited Piata Unirii is number one attraction in Timisoara. Its main attraction is the Roman-Catholic Dome (1736-1774) designed and build in a baroque style.

The things that jump out about Romania so far is:

– Where ever you go and when you drink somethink (pubs) you need to ask for your glass beacose all of them drink from bottle. fine by me. i rather drink my beer than way. I had a beer in a decent pub for 17,000 Lei.
– The amount of big vicious stray dogs knocking about the place. Somebody should be putting these mutts down.
– The great public transport (from buses, trolley buses to trams). They criss-cross the city.

I purchased my ticket late in the evening. it was easy with my print out. I was taking the 8.17am train from timisoara nord to Sibiu (arriving there at 14.11). In second class, the price was 300,300 Lei (30.30 RON).





Timisoara, Romania

Taken on the 18th of January 2006

The main attraction is the Orthodox metropolitan cathedral (1936-1946) founded by King Michael of Romania; Byzantine style with seven bells made of rare metals imported from Borneo and Sumatra, which weigh some 8 tons. Underground – a collection of icons on wood and on glass.

Click on the picture to see it in its original size

Anyway, I had a relatively early night. Tomorrow was another long journey to Sibiu. i was still get my head around the different and conflicting coins and notes currently in use. Lots of room for confusion. I was woried my inexpereince with the notes (old/new) would lead to misunderstandings or fraud.

THE TRAINS
from http://www.elvisvilla.ro/trains.html
Find here the main types of trains in Romania:
PERSONAL (P) stands for a local train, which stops basically in all (or most) stations and halts there are. The trains usually have open, Romanian wagons, without compartments, and the bathrooms are bad. Sometimes there are double-decker wagons, in which situation one should avoid the upper floor in summer, as it gets pretty hot up there. Expect the wagons to be poorly maintained and take a warm jacket if you travel in wintertime. This is the cheapest way of travelling by train in Romania, yet it also is the less comfortable. It is recommended though, together with the Accelerat train, for those interested in some sociological insight, as most regular people, especially in the countryside, as well as most workers use such trains because of the cheap rate. A 100 km. ride in a 2nd class wagon (“vagon de clasa a doua”) costs the equivalent of USD 1,5. No seat reservation is required, just head for the first seat available you notice. The wagons are usually blue, marked in white with the CFR logo. Rarely there are some green wagons, on routes such as Buzãu – Nehoiasu or Vatra Dornei – Dornisoara.

PERSONAL MOTOR (PM or rarely marked with AM) stands for a local train (see above), which is made of only one (rarely two) automotive wagon, which is used more and more rarely on routes such as Arad – Vascãu or Brasov – Zãrnesti. The wagons were built somewhere in the beginning of the 20th century and are a very picturesque way of “enjoying” a trip. No seat reservation is required and the price of the ride is the same like a regular Personal one.

ACCELERAT (A) stands for a train, which is also quite badly maintained. The wagons have 11 compartments of 8 seats each (2nd class seats wagons) or 9 compartments of 6 seats each (1st class seats wagons). This kind of trains usually stops only in bigger towns and cities, running faster than the Personal. We are dealing here with aging Romanian wagons, which are restricted to the minimum of comfort and the cheapest materials the people working in ASTRA Arad Plant could find. The bathrooms are just as bad as in regular local trains. This is the way regular people travel at long distance, as this is the cheapest of the fast trains in Romania. A 100 km. ride in a 2nd class seats wagon costs about USD 3,0. A seat reservation is required for this type of train (USD 0,3), except for very few routes (usually alongside Prahova Valley on the way back from long runs, simply because the train is generally packed and no seats are available). The wagons are most times blue marked in white with the CFR logo. Some trains have a dining car and some night trains have sleeping wagons.
RAPID (R) stands for a train, which is subject to your luck. Why? Simple: you could have the bad luck of having the same conditions, wagons and all like in an Accelerat train (see above), or you could end up in a red refurbished ASTRA wagon. The wagons have 9-11 compartments (just like the Accelerat trains). Otherwise this kind of train is only lightly faster than the Accelerat one, but it is usually less crowded, due to the higher price of the ride. The bathrooms vary widely from the same old bad ones, to neat ecological ones on the German wagons some trains have (especially some international trains). A seat reservation is required for this type of train (USD 0,3). A 100 km. ride in a 2nd class seats wagon costs around USD 5,0. Some trains have a dining car and most night trains have sleeping wagons.
INTER CITY (IC) stands for a close-to-modern train with air-conditioned wagons. The train has most times red, open Western wagons and all trains have a dining car, running only at daytime. The routes, which are served by such trains, are Bucharest – Timisoara, Bucharest – Cluj Napoca, Bucharest – Constanta and Bucharest – Iasi. The bathrooms are usually proper and the service – better than on other trains, yet the rates are just as high: USD 6 for a 100 km. ride in a 2nd class seats wagons. Most IC trains only run on weekdays. A seat reservation is compulsory on these trains (USD 0,3).

INTER CITY EXPRESS trains have been introduced with this fluffy name only for Marketing purposes, as they only run from Bucharest to Constanta, to the coast. They are just as nice as the regular IC and the conditions are the same.

EURO CITY and EURO NIGHT trains have a catch. There is only one EC and one EN running, to and from Budapest to Bucharest. They share the same rates with the regular Rapid trains on domestic routes though and the fact that less people know that results in the situation where rarely they are fully booked. They need a seat reservation both (USD 0,3) and the rate is similar to the one on a Rapid train: USD 5 for a 2nd class seats wagon. The EN has regular German red wagons (only 8 seats 2nd class wagons and sleepers), while the EC has white/blue open wagons belonging to the Hungarian Railways (MÁV).

Budapest (17th & 18th of January 2006)

Tuesday 17th of January 2006
This was a last minute trip. Very last minute. So last minute, I only booked a one way flight with Easyjet for £14.00 (Sterling). I was hesitating about going as I had a lot on with work etc, it was just after Christmas, it was going to very cold over there etc. Even the day before travel, I was undecided about going, as losing £14 on a missed fliht was not a big deal.

Even at the airport, I was having second thoughts. I was going to South America in July for research – did I really did this now! Anyway, I decided to head off to check in with my hand luggage.

I was at Gatwick around 10.55am and so had an hour before check-in closed at 11:45am. The airport was pratically empty. Checked out the weather in Budapest and founf it hovered around -4 to -8 oc. Damn cold and I was travelling hand luggage light, but lots of layers (T-Shirts) with one fake Chinese made “North Face” jacket. A couple of pairs of socks, jocks and just the pants and boots that I was wearing. Maybe 5kg in total. I was also carring a pretty next to useless “Lets go: Eastern Europe 2004”. While it covered the capital cities in each country, I would be visiting (Hungary, Romania, ukraine, Poland), not much else. It is very USA visitor orientated.

London Gatwick (South Terminal) To Budapest (Terminal 1)
flight 5485; dep. Tue 17 Jan 12:15
arr. Tue 17 Jan 15:40. Hungary is one hour ahead of London.

We were actually twenty minutes early to Budapest. It was -4 oc and sleet was falling. Alot of budget airlines fly to Budapest (Wizzair, Germanwings, Ryanair, Easyjet) and I could not see any national flag carrier airline. It is pretty small airport and we had to wait 20 minutes while immigration interviewd some poor Romanian guy in front of us in the queue.

I had sent an email yesterday to make a booking at a hostel but didnt get a reply. When I was here in 1998 (I think), there were only 4/5 hostels and most of them were not in the city centre. We stayed in Diaksport, at the end of a metro line. Still it had a 24 hour bar and was OK at the time. Now there are 20/30 hostels in town.

I typed 24 hour bar hostel budapest into google and Mellow Mood Central Hostel ,came up. Its a cheap hostel on the center of Budapest. Well cheap during a discount January.

Mellow Mood Central Hostel, a cheap hostel on the center of Budapest. Bar and … 24 -hour bar-selling alcohol, soft drinks and snacks around the clock …

Anyway, when we stayed in Budapest before we were miles out in another hostel with a 24 hour bar. All the hostels seem to have that facility here. Anyway, they had a special winter (10 jan – 28 Feb) rate of 2,500 forints per night for a 4 bed dorm.

Anyway, I only had hand luggage so I looked to find a cheap way into town. I took the public bus from outside the terminal (180 F) for a ticket to the last stop on the blue metro line which was 20 minutes away. I took the metro (185 f) aboout 10 stops to Deák Ferenc tér. From there it was less than a 3 minute walk to the hostel (which is a 1 minutes’ walk away from the famous pedestrian street: Váci utca and 2 minutes’ walk from the Danube promenade). If you want tourist information check out hungary.hu

They had my name so I booked in. Its a pretty nice hostel. Its big but clean. It was dark and the forcast expected temperatures to drop to minus eight. At about 6.30pm I headed to the 5th floor bar for a drink. Beers costs were 250-300 for a pint 5000ml bottle. Anyway i got talking to two Australinas. One guy worked in London and took numerous short trips to Europe on budget airlines. The second guy was divorced and was traveling around for 6 months or so. Anyway good chat. We were joined by a fellow Irish guy from Roscommon, working in Dublin. He had been scammed the night before. He was chatting to two girls in the street who calimed were Italian Backpackers. He went to a bar and purchasded three coctails. The bill was 350 EURO. he was gutted. Anyway beware. Its happening all the time over hear. The internet is full of warnings and the stories. See this site. It explains the full scam. The Irish guy was scammed in the same bar (the one with the elevator) as in thwe story.

Hookers are easy to spot in a street. It is the way they approach, their purpose is clear. These girls were scam artists, working a set up, so on approach to me, they were initiating a well thought scenario that had the finesse of a ballet with the execution of a talented method actor. You may think that I must be really stupid, and to a certain degree I refused to let some obvious signs interrupt my desire to be with these girls, but their scam takes all of that into account, every bit of it. Your doubts are caressed by several off hand comments dropped in at the appropriate moment, just like a good screenwriter who has reversals, conflicts and objectives. It is subtle and brilliant, they are reworking and adapting moment by moment and know where to place the right pause, know what distance to maintain and know how much or how little to smile. My dick is now in solitary confinement for the month, but punishing my private parts doesn’t take away the humiliation and never the 250 euro. Take care in Budapest.

Another Scare story here.

Technically, it is not illegal to charge $100 for a beer, and scam victims might neglect to check the menu first. Furthermore, few tourists would go to the effort — not to mention embarrassment — of pressing charges. The scam places are listed by Bostom.com and the american Embassy in Hungary.

Anyway the two Aussies left. We were joined by two Americans, two other Australians, so we sat and drank (alot, alot, alot) until 2am. The americans were rather boorish. Their parents had purchased their trip to europe. Anyway, a good night indoors, at the hostel. It sounds boring but it was mid week and Budapest’s nightlife is so spread out and quick moving, that it may have taken some time and effort to find a busy spot. Anyway, with pairs of very attractive but mafia sponsored consumption girls prowling outside, in a beered up state (and our brains in limited working order), may have left us with massive bar bills and broken bones. While the last time we were here, we were stopped by pimps tryingo to get us to go to Sexy clubs, the current scams are far more sophisticated.





St. Stephen’s Basilica (Bazilika), Budapest, Hungary

Taken on the 17th of January 2006

This church, the city’s largest, was built on the site of the unholy ‘Prank Theatre,’ an animal-cruelty extravaganza in which bears, wolves and hyenas tore each other to shreds while bloodthirsty crowds egged them on. Construction of the Basilica began in 1851 but was not completed until 1905, because the dome caved in. If you’re reading this inside the church and are now casting a wary eye upward, concentrate instead on the fact that the dome is exactly as tall as that of Parliament – 96m. The church contains the mummified right hand of King St. Stephen, founder of the Hungarian state. To see this relic, head to the chapel to the left of the main altar. Drop 100 Ft in the slot, and the glass case lights up to reveal this celebrated extremity in all its gnarled brown glory. The price is the same whether you’ve come to venerate a holy relic or merely to indulge your morbid curiosity. To get to the viewing platform above the cupola, take the elevator up, then scale 146 more steps – great views of Budapest.

Click on the picture to see it in its original size





Danube embankment
(Duna korzó), Budapest, Hungary

Taken on the 17th of January 2006

This pedestrian walk stretches along the Danube in Pest from Március 15. tér to Roosevelt tér. Outdoor cafes and benches sprawl out next to hotel fronts – all with ample breathing room around them (usually a rarity in this part of town). The motor traffic has been cleverly tucked away on the other side of the tram line. There are great views of Castle Hill, looming over the other side of the Danube.

Click on the picture to see it in its original size

Wednesday 18th of January 2006
I woke up (around 10.00am) tired but no great hangover. I left the hostel and headed to the train station to inquire about train tickets to Timisoara, Romania. I took the metro directly to the station and there is an international ticket office upstairs near track nine. Its actually cheaper buying a return ticket than a single. You may be better off getting a bus there or to the border and continue your journey from there. It was 8,200 F.





Keleti Train Station, Budapest, Hungary

Taken on the 18th of January 2006

Budapest has three major train stations, and each has connections to the metro system as well as to other public transport.To get to the metro station (red line), go down the stairs and through the underpass to the outdoor plaza. The metro entrance is on the far side of the plaza. Bus N°7, which runs every few minutes, will also take you to centrally located Ferenciek tere – to find the bus stop, follow the signs in the underpass.

Click on the picture to see it in its original size

Anyway, after buying a ticket, I took a metro to the national parliament area and took a few pictures. I then walked to Margarets Island to get a better view of the National partliment building (from Margit hid Bridge). I then walked from there across the Danube to the casle District. I spend some there and it was quite empty.





Parliament
(Országház), Budapest, Hungary

Taken on the 18th of January 2006

In 1902, after a mere 17 years of construction, Hungary presented itself with what was then the largest parliament building in the world. An architectural echo of the Houses of Parliament of London, this neo-Gothic edifice expressed the country’s robust self-confidence at the beginning of the 20th century. Since WWII, when Hungary’s House of Lords was abolished, members of Parliament have convened only in the southern wing of the building. During the communist era, they convened hardly at all – only eight days a year, in fact, to rubber-stamp the laws drawn up by the Party. Parliament is fronted by several monuments to the nation’s lost struggles: the wars for independence in 1703, 1848 and again in 1956. The cars in front of parliament mark the lost struggle for parking space in Budapest. Parliament also contains the crown jewels of Hungary – the Holy Crown and the Coronation Insignia, which were worn by Hungarian kings since the Middle Ages. At the end of WWII, these regalia were spirited out of the country and ended up in the United States, not to be returned until 1978. For the guided tours show up a few minutes early at Gate X, just right of the main stairs. The parliament building is chained off here, but a guard or tour guide should let you in to buy a ticket. Tickets are not sold in advance, and no tours are given when ceremonial events or sessions of parliament are taking place.

Click on the picture to see it in its original size

I walked from the bridge all the way to the Royal Palce, the Fishermans bastion, and Gellert Hill.





Budapest, Hungary

Taken on the 18th of January 2006

Just an old abandoned house on the way up to Castle Hill. Liked the colours.

Click on the picture to see it in its original size





Budapest, Hungary

Taken on the 18th of January 2006

A church on Castle Hill

Click on the picture to see it in its original size





Budapest, Hungary

Taken on the 18th of January 2006

A statue on Castle Hill

Click on the picture to see it in its original size





Matthias Church (Mátyás templom, Budapest, Hungary

Taken on the 18th of January 2006

The 13th century Matthias Church was renamed for the king who rebuilt it in 1470. It has witnessed significant events, including the marriage of King Matthias and the crownings of Franz Josef I and Charles IV. King Béla III and his wife are buried in the Holy Trinity Chapel here. The Turks whitewashed the Christian frescoes on the church’s walls and turned the building into a mosque. The church was severely damaged when the Turks were driven out in 1686. It was again ravaged in WWII and not fully restored until 1968. The church’s distinctive Gothic tower soars 80m high. Between the church and Fishermen’s Bastion stands a statue of St. Stephen, founder of the Hungarian state. Admission: 300 HUF.

Click on the picture to see it in its original size





Matthias Church (Mátyás templom, Budapest, Hungary

Taken on the 18th of January 2006

The 13th century Matthias Church was renamed for the king who rebuilt it in 1470.

Click on the picture to see it in its original size





Halászbástya (Fisherman’s Bastion, Budapest, Hungary

Taken on the 18th of January 2006

The neo-Romanesque Fisherman’s Bastion, perched on the edge of Buda’s Castle District, near Matthias Church and the Hilton Hotel, affords a marvelous panorama of Pest. Built in 1905, it was intended mainly for decorative purposes, despite its military appearance. Looking out over the Danube to Pest, you can see (from left to right): Margaret Island and the Margaret Bridge, Parliament, St. Stephen’s Basilica, the Chain Bridge with the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and the Gresham Palace behind it, the Vigadó Concert Hall, the Inner City Parish Church, the Erzsébet Bridge, and the Szabadság Bridge. To get to the Halászbástya, take the Várbusz from Moszkva tér or bus no. 16 from Deák tér, or funicular from Clark Ádám tér to Castle Hill.

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Fisherman Bastion (Halaszbastya): Fishermen’s Bastion, Budapest, Hungary

Taken on the 18th of January 2006

The Fishermen’s Bastion was designed by Frigyes Schulek and was built in 1905. The “building” is made up of seven towers – each one symbolising the seven Magyar tribes that came to Hungary in 896. The towers are a bit fairytale like, but still, they somehow fit together with the Mathias Church behind them. The area directly behind the church housed a fish market during medieval times – the name of the Bastion comes from here. During the 18th century, the Guild of Fisherman are also said to have been defending this part of the Castle wall. The Bastion offers great view of the Parliament and of the northern Pest side of the city.

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Budapest, Hungary

Taken on the 18th of January 2006

A shot taken from the Fisherman Bastion.

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Budapest, Hungary

Taken on the 18th of January 2006

A shot taken from the Fisherman Bastion of Budapest and the Chain Bridge. The Budapesters take pride in their bridges: each bridge has its own personality, and together they add immeasurably to the city`s panorama. The granddaddy of them all is the Chain Bridge (Lánchíd), which just celebrated its 150th birthday. Initiated by Count István Széchenyi, it was the first permanent bridge across the river. This proud structure boasts pillars in the shape of twin triumphal arches, and approaches guarded by stone lions. At night, thousands of light bulbs illuminate the bridge.

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It was about 2.00pm and I was tired from last night. I planned to walked to rudas baths to relax. it was 2,000 F in to use the baths, sunas etc and I paid another 2,000 F for a 20 minute water massage (about 16 Euro in total).

Near the Erzsébet Bridge, on the Buda side of the city, is another of Budapest’s classic Turkish baths. These baths are for men only, though both sexes are admitted to the swimming pool. During early mornings the crowd is predominantly composed of older men, and according to local lore, the place becomes something of a pickup spot after 9am.

The first baths were built on this site in the 14th century, although the Rudas Bathhouse itself dates to the late 16th century. It boasts an octagonal pool and domed roof; some of the small window holes in the cupola have stained glass, while others are open to the sky, allowing diffuse light to stream in. You’ll find most of the same services and facilities here that you would at Király: a thermal bath, a sauna, and a steam bath.

Its was renovated last year and isnt long opened. I was here before, years ago. There was no english and security was poor. Now you get a receipt, a special swipe card for your locker and a key that you keep on your person. Thats can be difficult as all you get is a piece of loin cloth to cover your genitals (barely) but nothing for your backside. Most guys wear nada. Still, its a very straight (hetro) place with no hanky panky. Its men only in ruad and they come in all ages, shapes and sizes.

Anyway I had my massage. You are placed (I placed myself) naked on a slab and a bare chested russian bear of a man came over and sprayed slighly scented, slightly soapy water on me. He went to work on my front first. Its a deep tissue/mussle type of massage and its really just brute force as he massages your legs and arms, stomach and soles of your feet. He then turns you over and does the same. Twisting and forcing his fingures into my shoulder blades and under my arms which really hurt. He also spent a long time dragging his knuckles down my back and spine. hurt a lot.

After about 20 minutes, he slapped me on the arse and then washed me down with water. I felt light headed and was happy to head to the main pool.

I stayed in Rudas until 5.30pm. They even have a sleeping room. You go in and relax, dream, fall aslepp on these couches. cool. Anyway, it was dark and I walked across the chain bridge. I then walked to Saint Stephens Basillica and to a Chinese place for a chicken curry.

It was 8.00pm at this stage and I headed back to the hostel. I had a 4 bed dorm to my self. Anyway, I headed back to the bar and met the Irish Guy who was scammed and the two australians. We settled back into cards and drinking. We had drunk so much last night, they ran out of beer by midnight. Anyway, I left at 1.30am and I was catching a train the next day. I asked the hostel guys for a 8.00am wake up call.





Budapest, Hungary

Taken on the 18th of January 2006

A few shots of various monuments and things that caught my eye.

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Budapest, Hungary

Taken on the 18th of January 2006

A few shots of various monuments and things that caught my eye.

Click on the picture to see it in its original size





Budapest, Hungary

Taken on the 18th of January 2006

A few shots of various monuments and things that caught my eye. A nice statue of youths trying to land a big fish.

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Budapest, Hungary

Taken on the 18th of January 2006

A few shots of various monuments and things that caught my eye. Taken on castle Hill.

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Edinburgh and Glasgow, Scotland (9th and 10th December 2005)

Day Three – December 9th 2005
We didnt do a whole lot as we were heading to Glasgow later on that day. We left our luggage stored in the hostel and headed to the Scotch Whisky Heritage Centre, not a big Favorite of mine. It was £6.50 entry and I really would not go there again or recommend anyone to do so. You get a free glass and a small squirt of Teacher’s (blended) whiskey. You can check out the museum
www.whisky-heritage.co.uk

This center makes the case for the Scottish national drink, whisky, by illuminating the traditions associated with its making. A film and ride on an electric car past 13 sets showing historic moments in the whisky industry are included in admission.





Edinburgh

Taken on the 9th of December 2005

An interior shot of the so called Whiskey museum.

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All you get is three crappy short movies, with little input from the guide (a talking manequin) and a 5 minutes ride on a very, very slow bumper car. Ouch.





Edinburgh

Taken on the 9th of December 2005

On the Royal Mile we spotted this piper making a little bit of cash busking. Pretty good, he was too and decent enough to have a chat as well.

Click on the picture to see it in its original size





Edinburgh

Taken on the 9th of December 2005

A friend decides to practice her accomplished Highland Fling dance routine on an unsupecting public.

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We got back to the hostel after lunch (I had a little hangover) and walked to the train station (£5.35 to Glasgow every 15 minutes) and it takes an hour. It was dark when we got there but the tourist office there was SUPER helpful. I have been in alot of tourist offices, but they staff here were the best. Free maps, printed directions. They knew every street, every bus stop and all questions answered from nightlife to bus numbers. First impressions. While Edinburgh is a tourist destiantion with a laid back town feel, Glasgow has an amazing big city buzz, which I love. I already prefer Glasgow over kitsch Edinburgh hands down.

We decided to take the metro to Kevinsbridge in order to get to our hostel. We were staying at the Glasgow
Youth Hostel

Glasgow’s youth hostel, overlooking GSC in the elegant Park Circus area, caters for groups and individual budget travellers. The Best Hostel in Town! Glasgow Youth Hostel, situated in the heart of the historic West End of the city, offers great value quality accommodation. Fully refurbished in 2004 and awarded 4 stars by VisitScotland, the hostel is perfect for independent travellers, families, and groups. All rooms are en-suite with good self-catering facilities available. Discover Glasgow’s art galleries, glorious architecture, friendly culture, shopping and fantastic nightlife.

While there are 25-30 hostels in Edinburgh, all of relatively good standard and review, Glasgow, even though a bigger city, has 5 all with risky reputations for cleaniness, theft and security.

We got slight lost as its a minute minute walk from town. Its a really attractive area and the hostel is excellent. £13 for an ensuite quad room with amazing facilities. TV room, big kitchen, clean, fresh, hot water. While its not a party hostel, its an excellent place to stay.

We headed down sown to a place called Merhcant City

The Merchant City has been at the forefront of the city’s development from St Mungo who founded Glasgow at the Cathedral, to the eponymous City Merchants’ who built the city’s prosperity and the leading arts and cultural entreupeners now spearheading the city’s current city renaissance.

Please check out the website for the area above. You can sample the delights of the Merchant City using pdf guides whether you are a culture vulture or looking to eat, drink, shop, bop and drop the Merchant City is the place to be.

We got a very nice meal at BAR GANDOLFI
64 ALBION STREET 0141 552 6813 f: 0141 552 8911
Once part of the old Cheese Market, Café Gandolfi in Albion Street, first opened to the public in 1979. The first conversion in the regeneration of the Merchant City continues to grow with the opening of the new upstairs café-bar in late 2002. Scottish and continental beers, an eclectic wine list and the same commitment to quality and service that made Gandolfi a Merchant City institution.

We also got some drinks at a place called ARTA
13-19 WALLS STREET 0141 552 2101

Not to be missed. A glorious Mediterranean experience. Authentic tapas restaurant, opulent Main Bar, internal courtyard, two basement club rooms and the live entertainment venue, Canvas. Cocktail are £3 at all times (except champagne cocktails at £5.50), Thurs and Sun & 5-9pm every Fri & Sat. Half price pasta all night Sunday to Thursday from a selection on the a la carte menu and the pre-theatre menu is available all night Sunday to Thursday, and from 5pm till 7pm Friday and Saturday, 2 courses are £10.50, 3 courses are £12.95. Housed within the former Corporation Cheese Market. Open 5pm ’til 3am Fri & Sat and 5pm ’til 1am Wed, Thurs & Sun. Free entry wed, Thurs & Sun. Free entry before 11pm Fri & Sat. Enter via 62 Albion Street after 10pm.

A really weird place. It was opulent, in a brothel sort of way. Looks of overdressed women (described in unpolite terms by many I met), gold diggers and wanna bes. More bouncers than patrons. Seen to be believed. See their website for pictures.

Anyway, we had a pretty early night. Glasgow was buzzing though. Great city atmosphere.

Day Four – December 10th 2005

We were up pretty early and put our bags into free storage. i lost my room key. I was expecting a hefty hostel fine, but they said no proble. Great hostel. We walked down towna nd took in a city bus tour.





Glasgow

A Glasgow Church. Its anme escapes me but I think its fameous.

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Glasgow

Taken on the 10th of December 2005

Alot of money is been spend here. Remember Glasgow for a a long time was the second most important city in the Empire and exported goods far and wide. If you want to see urban regeneration in action, go to Glasgow.

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Glasgow

Taken on the 10th of December 2005

Waxies near Parhead (Glasgow Celtic Football ground) has seen better days.

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Glasgow

Taken on the 10th of December 2005

Close to the birthplace of the industrial revolution I believe.

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We caught the score of the Celtic- Hibs match that was been held today (Celtic won) and had a nice pub meal with a few decent pints thrown into the mix. They have a nice Guinness type stout here nicknamed “Heavy”.

We caught the 5ish train abck to Edinburgh. We knew where we were going (the same hostel we were in) so it took so only 10 minutes walk. We grabbed a bite to eat and headed out. Last nite and all that. We had to be up by 7am but hey it was Saturday night in Edinburgh and the place was buzzing.





Edinburgh

Taken on the 10th of December 2005

An external shot of Edinburgh castle at night. It looks very attractive and imposing at night with all the lights focused on it.

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Edinburgh

Taken on the 10th of December 2005

An second external shot of Edinburgh castle at night but much closer taken at the top of the Royal Mile.

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Edinburgh

Taken on the 10th of December 2005

Just beside the castle on the Royal Mile is a camera place. It has one of those 20th century lenses on the top of the building to get panoramic views of the city. The camera obscura in the Outlook Tower at the top of the Royal Mile, next to the castle was established in the 1850’s by the optician Maria Theresa Short and was originally known as Short’s Observatory. The optics were replaced in 1947.

Click on the picture to see it in its original size

From Wikipedia

The camera obscura (Lat. dark chamber) was an optical device used in drawing, and one of the ancestral threads leading to the invention of photography. Photographic devices today are still known as “cameras”.

The term “camera obscura” was first used by the German astronomer Johannes Kepler in the early 17th century. He used it for astronomical applications and had a portable tent camera for surveying in Upper Austria.

The development of the camera obscura took two tracks. One of these led to the portable box device that was a drawing tool. In the 17th and 18th century many artists were aided by the use of the camera obscura. Jan Vermeer, Canaletto, Guardi, and Paul Sandby are representative of this group. By the beginning of the 19th century the camera obscura was ready with little or no modification to accept a sheet of light sensitive material to become the photographic camera. Portable and box camera obscuras from our collection are shown on another page on this site.

The other track became the camera obscura room, a combination of education and entertainment. In the 19th century, with improved lenses that could cast larger and sharper images, the camera obscura flourished at the seaside and in areas of scenic beauty. There are several pages that features images of camera obscura rooms such as this page on US park camera obscuras from our collection. Today the camera obscura is enjoying a revival of interest. Older camera obscuras are celebrated as cultural and historic treasures and new camera obscuras are being built around the world.

An Appreciation of the Camera Obscura

  • Flash Animation – Flash Animation that explains how the Camera Obscura works
  • The Camera Obscura in San Francisco – The Giant Camera of San Francisco at Ocean Beach, added to the National Registry of Historic Places in 2001
  • Vermeer and the Camera Obscura by Philip Steadman
  • Sinden Optical Company – Camera Obscura manufacturer.
  • Some cameras obscura have been built as tourist attractions, often taking the form of a large chamber within a high building that can be darkened so that a ‘live’ panorama of the world outside is projected onto a horizontal surface through a rotating lens.





    Edinburgh

    Taken on the 10th of December 2005

    Taken from the Old town looking at the Ferris wheel at the other side of the river. Nice Christmas setting.

    Click on the picture to see it in its original size

    Edinburgh, Scotland (7th and 8th December 2005)

    Day One – December 7th 2005

    We arrived in Edinburgh around 7.45pm. It wasnt as cold as expected and you can get a £5 open-return bus ticket from there to the city centre. Its not a pretty ride into town with the same shops fabricated from the rest of the UK from Boots, M&S etc. We got dropped off 20 minutes later at Waverly bridge and we walked another 15 minutes to our chosen hostel called “Budget Backpackers” which had some good good reviews from Hostelworld and BugEurope. We didnt botter with a guidebook as it waa a short break. It was a really, really nice hostel. Bright, good security, kitchen on each floor. £12.50 per person in a 4 quad room. We were there 5 minutes and we heading off to sample the nightlife. Most pubs close at either 1am or 3am.

    We concentrated on Waxies and Dropkick Murphys. It was a Wednesday night and a bit quiet. Still, the Guinness is decent up here. We also had a gander at the Royal Mile and got a good look around. In the city centre, they had set up an amusement park and a Christmas (German style) market with Mulled Wine, Bradwurst etc.

    Day Two – December 8th 2005
    We were up pretty early but lazed about. We headed to the Royal Mile (old Town). Generally, it was good but old in general is a tourist town, although if you move off the main drag you venture into some nice areas like the grass market.

    The “Royal Mile” is just one long length of shops selling Kitsch, Kilts and junk althought physically the buildings are great.

    The Old Town lies at its heart, with the dramatic feature of Edinburgh Castle at one end of the Royal Mile, which follows the spine of a hill down to the Palace of Holyroodhouse.

    And thats where we headed. Thursday at noon is First Minister question time at the Sottish Parliament and I wasnted to see the Scotish Parliament and Democracy in action.

    The highlight for me in ALL of Edinburgh was the Scotish Parliament. You can visit their Web site at www.scottishparliament.uk

    After much controversy over its cost — the better part of £500 million ($925 million) — and the time it took to construct, the new Scottish Parliament finally opened in autumn 2004. Designed by the late Barcelona-based architect Enric Miralles, it is a remarkable bit of modern design and perhaps worth the expense and delays. The abstract motif repeated on the facade was apparently inspired by Raeburn’s painting of Rev. Walker skating on a Duddingston Loch, which hangs in the National Gallery of Art. Visitors can take a free, self-guided tour or pay to be led about by a guide.

    There were some hard questions for the First Minister especially from an MSP for the Scotish Socialist Party which were pretty persoanl. It had to do with the Ministers refusal to meet Cindy Sheedan who was visiting the building at 1.00pm.

    Cindy Sheehan’s son Casey was killed in Iraq . She caused a storm of political embarrassment for George Bush and helped reinvigorate the anti war movement in the USA by setting up ‘ Camp Casey ‘ outside Bush’s ranch. Rose Gentle (her British Army son was killed) went to the USA in the summer to join forces with Cindy and now Cindy is coming to Scotland to join with anti war campaigners and military families here before speaking at the International Peace Conference in London on 10th December. (more details www.stopwar.org.uk )

    You can see a BBC new report here about her visit.





    Edinburgh

    Taken on the 8th of December 2005

    Ha, Ha, Tony Blair mask (isnt he always wearing one – with his plastic smile) in the window of a piercing shop.

    Click on the picture to see it in its original size





    Edinburgh

    Taken on the 8th of December 2005

    Rose Gentle, 40, has criticised the UK’s presence in Iraq since her son Gordon, 19, was killed this summer.

    Click on the picture to see it in its original size





    Edinburgh

    Taken on the 8th of December 2005

    More anti war protestors at the Scotish parliament.Rose is holding a picture of her son.

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    Edinburgh

    Taken on the 8th of December 2005

    The media scrum (scum) around Cindy Sheehan once she arrived. Hey, I would not mind been a photo journalist. It was quite exciting getting in elbowing the other more “established” photographers.

    Click on the picture to see it in its original size





    Edinburgh

    Taken on the 8th of December 2005

    An external shot of the Scotish parliament. i did not like its exterior. Seems somewhat fabricated or over barcelonized. The debating chamber inside is magnificent, though.

    Click on the picture to see it in its original size

    We did not a whole lot the rest of the evening.We walked up to the castle to get some pictures and got some dinner. We planned to get some drinks in that night. We started at the Oxford at around 8.00pm and hit about a half a dozen other places before a 2-3am end at a GAA function in Dropkick Murphys.

    The Oxford Bar is an unassuming little place on Young Street, well away from the main centres of interest for visitors to Edinburgh’s pubs. But for a number of reasons it has to rank amongst the best handful of pubs in central Edinburgh.

    The Oxford Bar, or “The Ox” is actually quite fascinating in itself: the door opens straight onto the far from roomy bar. Off to one side a doorway leads through to a traditionally furnished side room wrapped around a fireplace and with a window in the front wall.

    But the first thing that makes the Oxford Bar really special is the quality of its beer. It features in the 2006 CAMRA Good Beer Guide, meaning that it has featured in five out of the last six annual Good Beer Guides. This makes it one of the very best pubs in central Edinburgh for beer.

    The second reason, and why a steady stream of folk make their way to the Oxford Bar, is that it is the favourite pub of Detective Inspector John Rebus, the fictional central character in the series of crime thrillers produced by bestselling author Ian Rankin. You can’t expect to meet Rebus here, but you will probably meet others looking for him: and you might just bump into his creator, who shares Rebus’s love of The Ox.





    Edinburgh

    Taken on the 8th of December 2005

    Not so nice flats opposite the Parliament building at the bottom of the Royal mile. Nothing wrong as such but I liked the spiral steel stairs and the concrete.





    Edinburgh

    Taken on the 8th of December 2005

    An external shot of the a church on the Royal Mile.

    Click on the picture to see it in its original size





    Edinburgh

    Taken on the 8th of December 2005

    Edinburgh, trying to be funny, eh.

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    Edinburgh

    Taken on the 8th of December 2005

    An external shot of Edinburgh castle.

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    China (July 10th to July 11th 2005)

    I suppose it should be noted that this wasn’t a backpacking trip. i was simply a tourist not that in 2005, there is much diference between the two. Anyway, I did very little but relax for the month.

    Day Eleven-July 10th
    I woke up wondering should I stay or should I go. It was 8.00am and as well as relaxing I wondered what I was going to do. I required at the hostels yesterday about trekking, trekking maps or camping equipment, all to no avail but I packed up and took the bus to the bus station where I purchased a 45 Yuan ticket to Dali (new Dali as opposed to historical old Dali). It was 8.30am and the mini-bus was going. I got a seat near the door so i was able to spread my legs out onto the space between the driver and the front row passenger. It was a six hour journey in pleasant circumstances on a bloody good road, so we arrived there at 4.30pm.





    Zhongian

    Taken on the 10th of July 2005

    Like alot of towns in China (and indeed Europe) there is an old town and a new town. The old town here is of Tibetan people and all the houses are Tibetean wooden structures. The town, seeing tourist potential for Han tourists, is renovating all these houses and laying cobbled stone streets. In the centre of old town, is this cobblestone sqaure (and manatory drunk in the centre), where every night, locals dance away in large circes to music from loudspeakers. The new town is full of normal shops with Han Chinese Merchants.

    Click on the picture to see it in its original size





    Zhongian

    Taken on the 10th of July 2005

    Is it authentic? Seemed to be. I have seen the same practice in other towns, as work ends, the fun begins. All the dancers knew what they were doing, alot of intricate hand and leg movements, many in traditional dress. Yes, some tourists as well. Still it was enjoyable. I should mention that this square did not exist the last time I visited a few years ago. This town is going places.

    Click on the picture to see it in its original size

    Not to be confused with Old Dali City (a major tourist attracting city to which I had been before), Dali is a modern city surrounded by mountains. As soon as I got there (at one bus station), I took a 5 Yuan taxi to the long distance long station about 8-10 minutes away. The taxi driver had no English and no idea what I wanted. I tried every expression and pointed out buses, showed my (Vietanmese photocopied version) China Lonely Planet guidebook. Thank god, the city signs were bilingual and just pointed out city centre until I stopped the station. Lots of buses coming and hoing. Ah well.

    There was no point staying around Dali, so I went (in hope only) to get a ticket to Jinghong near the Laos border. The only bus was at 7.30pm that evening for 140 Yuan. I took it. I deposited my bag in storage.

    I had a few hours around this quite clean and efficient town with a background of mountains. I ate some nice street food of fried potatoes and these gorgeous pancakes. It was wasn’t the pancake itself but what was in it – gorgeous vegetables and spices. Hmm.

    There wasn’t alot to do and it started raining around 5.00pm. I went back to the station was sited opposite 3 Chinese waiting for a bus (the same one as mine as it turned out). The two girls and a boy were dressed as pop stars. One of the girls wasn dressed totally in pink from head to toe. She had a teddy bear (even though she was in her 20’s) and wore sunglasses (it was pouring rain outside now) the whole time.

    At around 7.00pm, I headed to the sleeper bus. There was no room below the bottom bunks for any bags (which is the norm) so I was forced to put the bag in the back booth with no lock. No backpacker feels safe about luggage, especially when they wont see it for another 19 hours (theft, rain damage etc). Anyway, I met two German travelers going on the same bus. Now, I get on with 99% of people but these guys …

    Ha, everything was wrong. Imagine two german guys speaking english and everything was “fuckin wrong, man”. “This fuckin bus… ridiculous. fuckin Chinese mercantile class, stupid people” They wanted two sleepers together so they told a Chinese guy to move, even though it was his seat. They shouted at him to move. They wanted his seat. When some wanted to pass them, they put their feet (as they were on the top bunks) over the heads of the Chinese so the Chinese passengers horror. Nothing likes walking underneath someones boots.

    I was happy enough to head to my seat in the middle top bunk at the back of the bus. I mentioned before, I think that you have your good sleepers (clean sheets, pillows etc) and you get what we got today. It was a converted normal bus so it wasn’t wide enough or high enough. You could barely walk the aisle and you could not still up on your bunk. The length of each bus was only about 5 feet so foreigners (I am about 6 foot) cant lie back down. You can only lie down with your feet up or sleep in a fetus position. But I dont think any of us slept. The rags they gave us to sleep with sank of fags and dirt, full of holes and I believe never washed. The pillow was as bad. The thing is, I need something to throw over me at night. Cant rest otherwise, but I had to.

    The pop stars I saw earlier at the station brought pink blankets and pillow cases. She gave out stink about the socks of the guy behind her. She had a magazine which she pretended to read but within its pages, was a mirror so that she kept looking at herself every 20 minutes. You could also hear the Germans continuing to give out.

    Day Twelve-July 11th
    We stooped around three or four times for breaks and had one 20 minute stop to get something to eat. They (the chinese governemnt/people) are building a new road to Jinghong, which we could see the whole trip. Spanking new, to be finished in a few months and here we were on a terrible road, where the bus could not afford to pick up any speed before hitting a pothole, corner, oncoming traffic before slowing down.

    I did not get any sleep last night. A few reasons. Because of the length of the bunks, it was uncomfortable. Secondly, the Germans had some crazy idea that the bus was full of thieves and miscreants that were going to kill us in our sleep and take our belongings. Therefore, I wanted to keep an eye on my day bag. Thirdly, my position in the back meant I felt the bumps and potholes more than those guys in the front. Lastly, the exhaust was broken so i so engulfed with smoke and petrol fumes all night.

    Anyway we arrived at 1.00pm. damn, it was hot here compared to Kunming/Dali etc. It was humid and damn hot. We walked to a nearby restaurant for food and refreshment. I think China is great. You pass a restaurant and the whole staff and owners try and get you in.. not out to rip you off but I believe they think its pretty cool to have foreigners frequent your premises. I dont who why, but the Germans let it to me to order even though my Chinese is crap and the restaurant owner/staff had no english. I visited their kitchen we had within 20 minutes plates of fish, chicken, vegetables and pork. When the Germans wanted Coke, the manager sent a girl out to get fresh cold bottles. The same with beer, he could do enough for us. It was a great deal all for the pricey sum of 50 Yuan (5 Euro in total). Food and drink is so cheap here.

    We were stuffed and grabbed a 5 Yuan taxi to get us to another bus station, so that we could get to Mengla before dark.

    We got there at about 2.15pm (a 5 minute taxi drive) and purchased a 32 Yuan ticket each to Mengla. It was going at 2.40pm. Indeed mini-buses go every 20 minutes there so its cool. So the three of us purchased some fresh fruit and headed off in a packed mini bus. We took the back seat.

    Yeah another 4.5 hours. I am to add up how many hours I have been on a bus over the past few days. It was cramped, hot and sticky and kept on trying to move my legs and get some movement. The two Germans were making plans for Laos and wanted me to go exploring in Northern laos. They heard from an American (warning enough) that there were tree houses close to the border where people lived. I have seen TV programmes about these type of tree dwellings in papua New Guinea but not Laos and didn’t think there would be due to lack of wild animals or flooding. Still they were convinced of this plan. Anyway, it wasn’t a bad trip and we arrived at 7.00pm on the dot.

    I had not stayed here before and I wasn’t going yo take any more buses. I could have taken a bus to Mohan on the border. Anyway, we checked out a hotel (after a tout brought us up there) and we got rooms for 40 Yuan each with ensuite. Yeah, it was damp and dirty but hell, a shower. Strange though, they gave us two condoms each at check it.

    Anyway, we met at 8.15pm in the lobby and headed down down to get something to eat. We found a a few street restaurants and the owners were were dragging into each. we settled on one and sat down on some street chairs and a table. A few beers and again fab food. We had a nice evening and had a walk around. A real border down at night. Of the main street. there were about 30% of the premises – Karoke Bars. Usually dark rooms with up TV and about 20 tables and chairs facing the TV. Lots of paid company. Another 30% were massage parlous and finally a few shops and restaurants. The whole town was shrouded in pink neon.

    The guys were pressing me on my plans and I wasn’t sure I wanted to spend another few days with them. Finally we settled on the idea that I could go early if i wanted to but they would wait for me in the lobby at 11.00am if i wanted to go with them. We had a pretty early night as it was a tiresome few days. I watched some Chinese TV and cut my hair. Bed.

    I dont know my plans for tomorrow either. I will decide whatever time I wake up. If its late, I will go with the guys. if its early, i might try and head straight to Luang Prabang.

    China (July 9th 2005)

    I suppose it should be noted that this wasn’t a backpacking trip. i was simply a tourist not that in 2005, there is much diference between the two. Anyway, I did very little but relax for the month.

    Day Ten-July 9th
    We arrived about 8.00am. I thought i Might know my way to the Tibet Hotel but somehow I got lost. Theres a nice new bus station here and its fairly efficient. I took a 5 Yuan taxi instead as it was starting to rain. I booked into a second floor room (shared bathroom) for 40 Yuan. Even though I slept on the bus, you never get off a sleeper bus in China feeling refreshed. No showers until after 6.00pm so I slept until noon. Nice.

    I walked to the Feli (prayer Wheel) and its as nice as ever (entrance fee has increased from 2 to 5 Yuan in one year). Invited by some Chinese tourists to help push the large prayer wheel around. Happy to oblige.

    I walked into town and got reacquainted with this nice town. Still, lots of construction but surprisingly not in the town but the old Tibetan quarter. They are building and renovating dozens of Tibetan buildings and have even created an old town square. they are putting cobble stones on the pathways and have opened Tibetan style bars, shops etc. I see the town becoming the new Yangshou for backpackers. Experience Tibet and Tibetan culture without having to go to Tibet. Some new hostels and backpacker bars have already opened. There is a lovely laid back atmosphere compared to chinese towns and lots of trekking possibilities. You can easily spent a week relaxing here.

    By the way, for the first time I went to a backpacker restaurant for the first time during the trip. It was really nice. A bowl of rice, bowl or ginger/chicken and a plate of steamed vegetables all for 25 Yuan.

    I took a bus to the Monastery outside town for 1 Yuan on a local bus (12-15 minutes) and it was nice and quiet. There is a voluntary contribution of 10 Yuan. Big changes here as well, as they are renovating and adding some new structures. Lots of novice monks and students about. I spent about 2 hours here wandering and contemplating (not too heavily). Yeah, thinking of how long I would spend in town and where I would go next. I didn’t plan anything (too busy) before I flew to china so all this is just stress.





    Zhongian Monastry – China

    Taken on the 9th of July 2005)

    Nice Tibetean style Monastry in the South East of China.

    Click on the picture to see it in its original size





    Zhongian Monastry – China

    Taken on the 9th of July 2005)

    Monks Clothes left out to dry. I didnt see any electricity cables here and certainly no Satelite Dishes, but most of the teenage monk novices had mobile phones.

    Click on the picture to see it in its original size





    Zhongian Monastry – China

    Taken on the 9th of July 2005)

    Impressive structures and they were building more when I was there. Looking to expand.

    Click on the picture to see it in its original size

    I headed back to the old town and walk the old streets until I get to the square. Music is playing from a balcony and its amplified all over the main square. There hundreds of local people are dancing to this squeaking but strangely rymdmic music. A bit like some Irish dances, they go clockwise and then back with extravagant hand movement or move into the circle in a mad mosh and expand outwards again. There are so many people 4-6 circles are required. I speak to a Taiwanese Tourist about his visit for about an hour and he is keen to learn the art of backpacking. He loves the idea of traveling place to place on public buses alone staying in cheap accommodation. He is on a package tour and he is really enjoying it. He says solo travelers are brave, but I assure him we are not. One thing he is correct about as he talks about an Australian he met earlier on his trip, Western backpackers have weak stomachs. It seems she was sick for a full week.

    While I am quite lucky (as I am always eating local and street food) and only very rarely get stomach problems, many Western get sick at the slightest smell of non-western food.

    Anyway I stayed until about 11.00pm and headed back to the tibet Hotel to have a late shower.





    Zhongian Monastry – China

    Taken on the 9th of July 2005)

    Zhongian Monastry – You can see the town in the background. Its about a 10 minute bus ride. Two monks on the bottom left relaxing.

    Click on the picture to see it in its original size





    Zhongian Monastry – China

    Taken on the 9th of July 2005)

    Another structural shot of the main building in the courtyard.

    Click on the picture to see it in its original size





    Zhongian Monastry – China

    Taken on the 9th of July 2005)

    Every where I went, monks were working. They were getting water from the well, carrying in with buckets, working with food. Gardening. No one was idle.

    Click on the picture to see it in its original size

    I also took a 5 picture merges of the Monastry. You can see them here and here .