A Travellerspoint blog

Stunning view of Budapest

Budapest


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Today there were two main destinations; the Ethnography Museum and St Stephen's Basilica.

On my walk across the Parliament square to the museum I admired the fountain and caught a small changing of the guard ceremony. I wished I could paddle in the fountain - it was a very hot day.

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The museum had a magnificently decorated interior which was lovely to look at and although the place wasn't quite as big as I was expecting, it had some interesting displays; my favourites were the traditional musical instruments (which included ocarinas, a double flute, bagpipes and a rough-looking folk violoncello that was beaten with a wooden stick), traditional toys and old photos of children playing with them, different costumes worn by mummers at Christmas, New Year, Epiphany and at Carnival, a collection of objects associated with the traditional fairs and a collection of more everyday items such as a bear trap, a bird-catching cage and some wicker and wooden beehives.

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After leaving the museum I had a sandwich for lunch in Parliament Square and then went to St Stephen's Basilica via the Danube. Although I didn't need to cross the river to get to the Basilica, I couldn't resist some photos from the bridge anyway... The views are so beautiful. I got an unexpected bonus on the bridge, as well - I discovered a vent in each side wall that blew out cool air from below! Given the heat and humidity, this was incredibly welcome. I couldn't believe that other people weren't already there. Due to the angle, the cool air wasn't noticeable unless you stood next to the wall and leaned forward a bit, so maybe that was why.

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The streets surrounding the Basilica are very grand and impressive.

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St Stephen's Basilica is named after the first king of Hungary and is the most important church in the country. It is stunning both on the outside and the inside and views from the top of the dome are fantastic. I enjoyed looking at all the decoration and architecture of the interior and lit a candle before moving into a another room - a chapel containing 'The Holy Right', the mummified right hand of St Stephen. It was housed in a very fancy silver and gold, cathedral-shaped container, but was very difficult to see properly.

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After that I took the lift up to the top of the dome. The 360 degree panoramic view of the city was amazing.

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I rested in my dorm for a couple of hours before going out for dinner at an Azerbaijani, Russian and Hungarian restaurant with a Russian girl from my dorm. Azerbaijani soup and stew went down a treat. Following this we went for a walk down the road to get a drink. First we went into a convenience store - I was under the impression we were buying drinks to take back to the hostel with us, but when she saw that I had a bottle of Coke Light instead of something alcoholic, she looked disappointed and said that she had wanted us to drink alcohol together and that since I was only getting a Coke, she wasn't going to get anything at all. Okayyyyy... If they'd had something I liked then I would have got alcohol, but all they had was beer, which I hate.

She was desperate to go to a club, but I didn't feel like it because I was knackered and in any case wasn't dressed up for it. We decided to go to have a drink or two together at a bar instead, so I took her to a place I'd passed on my way back from the basilica earlier. I ordered a cocktail and then asked what she was having... she said that she wasn't going to have anything! I thought she wanted to a drink together...?! Oh well - I didn't say anything about that, I just enjoyed my wonderful cocktail. It was genuinely one of the best pina coladas I've ever had!

We headed back after that as the Russian girl said she didn't fancy staying out any more and I was always going back to the hostel after my drink anyway.

Posted by 3Traveller 00:15 Archived in Hungary Tagged bridges budapest basilica museum hungary cocktails changing_of_the_guard unesco_world_heritage_site river_danube traditional_customs Comments (0)

Tired but happy in Hungary

Train journey and Budapest


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The long train journey continued...

It took about eight hours to get to Arad, the last Romanian stop before the border; it was past midnight by now, in fact closer to 1 am. Several people got out at this point, leaving me with only a couple of other people in my carriage. We stopped for quite a while here, but no Romanians came on board to check our passports. Eventually the train continued for a bit before stopping again - I assumed it was the first Hungarian stop, though I couldn't see a station name anywhere. Quite a long wait here before Hungarian border police came on board and checked passports. Then some more police came on board, checked passports again and also removed a panel from the roof of the connecting part of the carriage, set up a stepladder, climbed it and peered into the roof space - looking for contraband or for migrants, I assume.

We arrived at Budapest at 04.50, only ten minutes behind schedule. I took some money out, found the toilet and then set off for the hostel. My guidebook had warned me off taking a taxi from the station or from flagging one down in the street, so I didn't. I thought about using the metro or catching a bus, but was put off by the thought lugging my big case up and down the inevitable sets of steps and potentially not having room for it at all on the bus, so I ended up just walking instead. At least this time the way was flat! I was still knackered by the time I arrived though. As I walked through the streets I admired several grand-looking buildings and could definitely sense that I was in a Central European country rather than an Eastern one.

HBC Hostel turned out to be up two flights of stairs in part of a huge building with a central courtyard. As I arrived I realised that my big case had broken in a new place; the bottom edge had split almost all the way across. Luckily nothing had fallen out. Despite this, and my advanced stage of exhaustion, I managed to get everything upstairs OK. The lovely owner was up despite the early hour and let me in. He showed me into a different dorm to the one I'd booked (it was currently empty and actually better than the original one) and let me check in almost straight away.

After a few hours of sleep I felt much better. I went for a walk to the bank of the Danube, changing my leftover Romanian lei for Hungarian forints on the way (they wouldn't change my remaining Bulgarian leva, however). My hostel is in Pest, rather than Buda. I passed the Parliament building, which looks magnificent and is apparently the most photographed building in Budapest.

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On the way back from the river I passed a Spar! - so I had to go in and see how it was different to British ones. Cheaper, with lots of different unusual cheeses (some green, some red - the actual cheese that is, not the rind), sausages and cured meats, unusual sandwiches. After ten months in Bulgaria and then a month between Macedonia, Bulgaria, Turkey and Romania, it was a novelty to me to see so many ready-made sandwiches. I bought one, along with two macchiato coffee milk drinks.

On my way back from there I walked past a free walking tour just as it was beginning, so as it seemed to be following the same direction as me, I joined it for five minutes until I got back to the hostel. We stopped outside an old building covered in bullet holes from the revolution of 1956. I considered staying with the tour until the end and finding out more, but I was too knackered; I didn't have the energy to walk around for another hour and a half/ two hours. I have another four whole days to do stuff in, after all.

It was past 6 o'clock when I got back, so I decided not to bother going out again for dinner. I made the sandwich and iced coffee my dinner and have been on my laptop since then. I'm off to bed now though. More exploration to come tomorrow!

Posted by 3Traveller 09:27 Archived in Hungary Tagged trains budapest hostel hungary unesco_world_heritage_site river_danube Comments (0)

More rail travel

Sighișoara and train journey to the Romanian/ Hungarian border

My train to Budapest wasn't until 17.00, so I had a lot of time to kill in Sighișoara before then. I got up late, checked out at the latest possible time and put my big case, carrier bag and rucksack into their luggage room. Then I went for a walk down the hill into the new town. I found a small supermarket and bought snacks and drinks for later. I was overjoyed to discover a bag of caramel flavoured boiled sweets with what looked like delicious melt-in-the-mouth chewy toffee-like centre.

After a sit-down in a small park and some photos of the beautiful view of the top of the clock tower, I returned to the hostel and had a lovely leisurely lunch. I stayed in the restaurant after that, writing a long email about the day before and doing other stuff on the internet until it was time to get a taxi to the station.

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The train was a little bit shabby, but no worse than some I've seen in the UK. It was nearly empty. The train layouts have been very confusing to be honest, on every train trip so far - I don't think I've ended up in the right seat on any I've taken - and this was no different. Both carriage and seat numbers aren't always logically ordered. For example, on this occasion there were four long carriages on the train; I was supposed to be on carriage 409, seat 66, but both middle carriages were numbered 409 and claimed to have seats 22 - 80 or something similar.

I got on the nearest 409 carriage; there was a woman in seat 66 when I got there, so I showed her my ticket. She said 'Sprechen Sie Deutsch?' and I stood for a few seconds trying to remember what 'a little' is in German; Bulgarian and Spanish seemed to have pushed it out of my brain, however, so I ended up just saying it in English. She said 'English?' and I nodded, and she let out a short flood of German, which I managed to get the gist of (I'm quite proud of that actually, considering the many years it's been since I've had proper contact with the language). She was saying that she and her daughter had tickets for 65 and 66, but there was space opposite for me. She then showed me her ticket - it did say 66. I looked around and saw how empty the train was, so I just took a different seat across the aisle and at the front of the carriage.There were loads of free seats, plus I figured that if the ticket inspector had a problem with it, he or she would sort everything out.

When he came round, it turned out I was in the wrong carriage - he pointed at a sign which had 408 written on it. It said 409 on the outside and 408 on the inside! I should have been in the next carriage along. The carriage was so empty, though, he said it was fine for me to stay where I was.

Until the sun went down, the Transylvanian countryside transfixed me for quite some time; field after field of a particular type of crop I didn't recognise, hills, rivers, level crossings. Villages of shacks, colourful houses with terracotta-tiled roofs and the occasional wandering horse and cow. Every village seemed to have a church, often white, with a distinctively shaped tiled tower and spire. Sometimes the railway track ran so closely to the side of the road, pedestrians could have reached out and touched the train. As sunset drew closer I noticed an increase in flocks of birds, especially crows. One field we passed had a carpet of crows busy pecking at whatever crop it held; I'd never seen a field with so many birds on it before.

Posted by 3Traveller 00:15 Archived in Romania Tagged trains romania german sighişoara transylvania Comments (0)

Sighișoara: Germanic influences

Sighișoara


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The first thing I did today was walk back to the train station to buy my ticket to Budapest in advance - 183 lei (£32). Best to sort this out in advance rather than just turning up on the day and a taking a chance on there being a spare seat.

After that I did more exploring, going up the 13th-century Clock Tower first and taking photos from the top.

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It's a working clock tower, with seven intriguing wooden figures representing the seven days of the week - so Sunday holds a sun, Monday is Athena/ Diana with a crescent moon on her head and a bow in her hand, Tuesday is a soldier (representing Mars/ Ares/ Tiw), Thursday is Thor... These figures are on one side of the tower, and there's another set on the other. This set has a drummer (who beats the hours on his bronze drum), the Goddesses of Peace, Justice and Fairness, along with two angels representing Day and Night. All of these wooden figures are set in motion by the clock's mechanism. Apparently at 6am the angel symbolising the Day comes out and at 6pm the angel for the Night does (carrying two 'burning' candles), but I never caught them at the right time to see them.

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The Clock Tower also holds the local history museum - artifacts from the Hatters', Linen Weavers', Tailors', Shoemakers', Tanners', Furriers', Coopers', Turners', Carpenters', Tinsmiths' and Blacksmiths' Guilds. It also had several special patterned wooden gingerbread moulds used by the Bakers' Guild. Aside from guild artifacts, it had a collection of historic clocks, pottery and prehistoric flint artifacts, massive carved wooden (and sometimes painted) chests used for transporting goods in the 17th - 19th centuries, and some other things.

I also went into the Torture Chamber, also held in part of the Clock Tower; this was used to extract confessions from prisoners and contains some of the machines used. The Weapon Museum, a collection of medieval arms and armour, was round the corner, so I saw that as well.

Some general photos of the town;

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Sighisoara is in Transylvania and has had extensive German influence ever since the 12th century, when Saxon craftsmen and merchants were invited to settle in Transylvania and act as a defence force by the King of Hungary. Apparently the Romanian spoken here has been influenced by German, and most signs are at least bilingual - between Romanian and German. German is a commonly spoken second language. The most modern signs have English as well, and sometimes French. German is everywhere! The citadel and most of the other medieval buildings are Saxon, the craftsmens' guilds were made up of Germans, even now there's a Society for Germans in Romania here. The graveyard next to the Church on the Hill (description to come in the next paragraph) is a German one.

After a toilet stop back at the hostel, I headed out again, this time to the top of the hill within the citadel. To get there, I walked up the Schoolboys' Stairs, a covered set of 175 steps (formerly longer) dating from 1642 which leads to the old school and the Church on the Hill at the top.

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The old school was interesting, as you'd expect - one big room, with benches in rows and two science displays along one wall. Apparently the school only closed in 1997, having been in use for nearly 400 years - there was a list of all the school directors on the wall. Old schoolbooks were placed on the desks - they were all in German. I don't know whether German continued to be the language used to teach in even after WWI, when Transylvania officially transferred from Austria - Hungary to Romania.

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The church was interesting too - a contrast to all the Orthodox churches I've seen in Bulgaria and Bucharest. Almost as big as a cathedral, very spacious and relatively plain, though it had several brightly painted wooden altars, and on the walls some fragments of 15th century frescoes. They were very faded, but I made out St George and the Dragon on one fragment. The church also contains a crypt - the only one in Romania apparently. Most of the spaces where coffins were held have been filled up, but two have been left.

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I wandered around the Lutheran cemetery for a while, looking at all the German names and other writing on the tombstones and taking in the lovely views. The gravestones dated from the 19th century to the present one, though I noticed older ones that had clearly been moved. Then I noted sadly someone who had died on Christmas Day, so I didn't look round for much longer after that.

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In the evening I had dinner at the hostel's restaurant - a delicious onion, red pepper and tomato mixture with an egg and some more cornmeal mush and sour cream - and ended up talking for ages with two new people who had moved into my dorm. One was from Brittany and turned out to be a Breton teacher - I had to resist the urge to ask him to speak some. I did however ask him what the words for 'bread', 'police', 'slow' and 'hello'/ 'good day' are in Breton, so I could compare them to Welsh. He'd just been talking about how the older vocabulary and the grammar of Welsh is very similar to Breton. It turns out that the word for bread is 'bara' - the same as in Welsh - but the other words are different. He said that they don't really have any words for 'hello' or 'good day' in Breton - something I was surprised by! He said that Breton speakers hold Welsh as an example of how they would like Breton to be treated; apparently France doesn't recognise it as a minority language. He also said that Cornish is very similar, and if he reads a written text in Cornish he can understand nearly all of it, but he doesn't understand as much when listening to it being spoken, as he has done on the radio in Brittany! It was all so interesting!

The other person who I spoke to was a Canadian girl from the Toronto area who lives in London and is visiting Scotland and Wales in the next couple of weeks - I ended up giving her loads of recommendations, writing them down in her diary after she gave me it and asked me to write everything down in it! She was really nice.

Posted by 3Traveller 07:01 Archived in Romania Tagged cemetery museum hostel romania german sighişoara transylvania clock_tower romanian_cuisine unesco_world_heritage_site Comments (0)

UNESCO World Heritage Site: Historic Centre of Sighișoara

Sighișoara


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I had a very calm and relaxing day today, recovering from the physical strain of yesterday and the day before. I felt quite stiff and without energy, though saying that my lovely late lunch gave me some! Stuffed cabbage rolls with more of the cornmeal mush with sour cream. The cabbage was stuffed with rice and minced pork and was seasoned very nicely.

Before lunch I had a nice gentle stroll round town. The majority of the old town is inside the ramparts of the medieval citadel - very picturesque. The houses here are all painted in different colours, and one or two of them have a curious feature - they are wider at the bottom than at the top, and the walls curve in diagonally.

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Round the ramparts are nine watchtowers, all built at least five centuries ago (originally there were more; only these survive), each named after the guild that was in charge of its upkeep. So I've seen the Tailors' Tower, the Shoemakers' Tower, the Furrier's Tower and the Blacksmiths' Tower so far.

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The Blacksmiths' Tower had a small contemporary art exhibition in it - my favourite was the wooden chair made from separate pieces like a jigsaw. The other towers I've seen are used for different purposes, not available to visitors (though one of them had a wooden staircase round half of the exterior, which I climbed).

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Next to the last one was a tiny park with a statue of a guy with the biggest quiff of hair I've ever seen - Petofi Sándor, Hungary's national poet and a key figure in the Hungarian Revolution of 1848.

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I also passed the house where Vlad the Impaler was born - now housing a restaurant and handicraft shop. I bought two little Christmas tree decorations; small squares of coloured glass, one green and one red, framed with metal twisted into a bow at the top, so they look like presents. Not sure if they are intended to be Christmas tree decorations, but that's how I plan to use them. I can hang them with one of the metal loops. I also bought a small interestingly-shaped metal bell and a tiny picture of part of a citadel tower, framed with white card.

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At one point on my walk round town I heard the sound of brass instruments playing, but I couldn't see where it was coming from. After looking around, I noticed a barred window set right next to the pavement... through it I could see a brass band practising in a room below street level.

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For the rest of the afternoon I sat in the restaurant attached to my hostel, following the Ashes cricket online. For dinner I returned to the Vlad the Impaler house. I've forgotten what I had for the main - something quite small I think - but for pudding I had something described as 'curd cake with jam and cream'. This turned out to be very similar to a fried doughnut ball covered in jam, with a flattened top which contained a smaller ball of fried batter sprinkled with icing sugar. Delicious, but very filling!

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Posted by 3Traveller 14:12 Archived in Romania Tagged art hostel romania sighişoara transylvania fortifications romanian_cuisine unesco_world_heritage_site Comments (0)

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