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UNESCO World Heritage Site: City of Graz - Historic Centre

Graz


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After a smooth and uneventful journey from Maribor I got to Graz Hauptbahnhof (the main train station) at about 11:30 and easily found my way to my hostel round the corner. The hostel is huge - my dorm is on the 4th floor - and feels more like a hotel; it feels a bit sterile, but serves my needs. They did annoy me a bit at check-in though by charging me 3.5 euros extra for bed linen - making this an extra cost, and a mandatory one at that (for people who haven't brought a sleeping bag), seems rather cheeky!

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Anyway, I had all afternoon to explore, so explore I did! The historic centre of Graz is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it's easy to see why! I found it absolutely enchanting.

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After wandering the streets for a while (and buying a fridge magnet) I headed to the Schlossberg, a bastion on a limestone crag which overlooks the rest of the city. For the sake of exercise, and the general experience, I chose to take the path instead of the lift or the funicular. The views from the top were well worth it!

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The buildings on the Schlossberg were closed for the winter, but it was still lovely to walk round. Aside from the bastion itself, built in the 1540s, there are terraces, a small 19th century pagoda, and two clock towers.

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One of these clock towers is a symbol of the city, and the townspeople are incredibly proud of it. In fact, when Napoleon invaded in 1809, they successfully bribed him not to destroy it.

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Before returning to ground level I had a delicious apple strudel at a cafe perched dramatically on the side if the crag and bastion. I had it with a 'kleiner mokka' coffee, which itself came with a small wrapped chocolate sweet and (like all the hot drinks I've had so far this trip) a glass of cold water. I was just thinking to myself earlier that I needed to have apple strudel at least once before I left Austria, so this was a great place to have it!

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Once I'd walked back down the path again I wandered the streets again for a bit before returning to the hostel via Billa, where I stocked up on sandwiches, grapes and drinks for tomorrow, and the Hauptbahnhof, where I bought my ticket in advance. I'd probably be fine to leave getting it until tomorrow, but better safe than sorry when it's important I get to Deutschlandsberg - my next teaching destination - sooner rather than later tomorrow!

Posted by 3Traveller 03:07 Archived in Austria Tagged trains austria hostel clock_tower graz explorations fortifications unesco_world_heritage_site austrian_cuisine Comments (1)

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)

Tryavna revisit

Tryavna


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Tryavna is famous for its woodcarving and icon-painting traditions and also for its National Revival buildings. There is a difference between the buildings in Tryavna and the ones in Plovdiv, Arbanasi, parts of Veliko Tarnovo and elsewhere, however; the roofs are tiled with slate rather than terra cotta. Not slate tiles as we know it, either, but big, hefty, uneven slabs of it.

The first place we went to was the Church of Archangel Michael, deliciously cool inside and a feast for our eyes as well. As you might expect in a centre for woodcarving, the iconostasis and pulpit were wonderfully carved. The dark wood contrasted well with the colourful icons.

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The church is on the corner of the main square; a very distinctive clock tower stands on another side of it. I remembered this from last time. We asked if people can climb up it, but unfortunately it's closed off to visitors at the moment.

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Instead of that, we popped into a sweetshop next door - Tryavna has many of these, selling things such as Bulgarian delight, sheets of sesame snap and colourful curly lollies which look like rock.

After making some purchases (I got some sesame snap) we moved next door to the Old School Museum. We went under a stone archway and emerged into a small but wonderfully atmospheric courtyard. The school was built in 1839 and is similar to a house, with only one room actually a classroom. On the ground floor were craftsmen's workshops and on the first floor were the classroom, canteen and rooms for teachers, guardians and pupils from mountain villages. The school was the first secular one in Tryavna.

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The ground floor rooms weren't part of the museum and were closed, but upstairs I looked at an exhibition of colourful paintings and wooden sculptures of people done in the primitive style by the contemporary Bulgarian artists Nikola and Dimitar Kazakov, the old classroom, an exhibition of timepieces imported by 19th century Tryavna families (it included an 'reverse handed' clock - one where the numbers went anti-clockwise) and an exhibition of 19th century school textbooks and student reports.

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The latter exhibition didn't have any English text accompanying them, unfortunately, but it was still interesting to look at. One of these reports was actually from a school in Bucharest and was written in both Romanian and Latin - I liked comparing the two and seeing how similar the languages are.

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The classroom was interesting too because it was set up how it was in the 19th century. The front row was for infants and had little sand boxes for them to outline words and letters in; the second row had slates and was where the infants moved to after a year of sitting at the front. The third and fourth rows had inkpots; students only moved there once they were trusted to be able to write with pen and paper. An old-fashioned version of the Cyrillic alphabet was on the wall.

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After the school museum we walked on to the same café I'd had hot sand coffee at with F in January. It was too hot for coffee this time, so a cold drink was in order.

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From there we walked on to the 'Fountain of Love', something I'd seen back in January but hadn't known the background. It's very small, but has a beautiful carving of a woman; apparently whoever drinks from it will have a happy and long-lasting marriage. Both 'S' and I drank from it!

The fountain was opposite Daskalov House, the beautiful house museum with the carved suns in the roof that I had been to back in January. I had a sit down and admired the sculpture outside while the others went in.

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Another drink at a another café followed, before we left Tryavna and went on to Bozhentsi, a small village about five km away as the crow flies but actually about 20 km to drive due to the roundabout route you have to take through the hills.

Some general photos of Tryavna:

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Posted by 3Traveller 05:11 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged bridges art museum traditions bulgaria icons clock_tower orthodox_church house_museum tryavna traditional_customs Comments (0)

Lovely relaxing Plovdiv

Plovdiv


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Once I'd got back to Plovdiv from Asenovgrad Fortress I checked my email at the hostel and took some photos of the common room, woodcarving and courtyard before going out again.

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I went back into the St Konstantin & Elena church briefly, because I noticed they'd opened the main entrance which had been closed the day before;

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From there I walked to Danov Hill and climbed up it to the Clock Tower.

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The Clock Tower doesn't actually have a visible clock face, but while I was there I heard a bell strike two. You can't climb up the tower, so I just sat in the sun on a nice smooth rock and gazed out over Plovdiv. I could hear lots of birdsong and it was all very peaceful and lovely. In the distance I could see Nebet Tepe, the hill with the fortress remains on it. I walked round the terrace for a bit before going back down.

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At the foot of the hill I walked into a restaurant recommended in my guidebook (thinking that I'd have a big, late lunch and then just have a snack for dinner) but then walked straight out again because it was so big yet so busy I could just tell it would take me ages to get seated, let alone get any food. Instead of that I ended up getting a takeaway box of white rice and Chinese chicken & vegetables from a 'China Panda' café close to the Dzumaya Mosque and the main pedestrian street. I ate it in the square. Once I'd finished eating I walked round the perimeter of the mosque again, but it was still closed. Such a shame - I really wanted to look inside.

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Instead, I went down into the Roman stadium remains (I'd looked at them from the street before, but not actually been down and got close up).

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Back at the hostel I chilled for the rest of the evening. Two German girls from Berlin moved into the 4-bed dorm, in Plovdiv only for one night on a stop between Sofia and Istanbul. I had a kashkavalka for dinner and read more of my 'Personal Narrative of a Journey to the Equinoctial Regions of the New Continent' Alexander Humboldt book.

Posted by 3Traveller 14:39 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged mosque hostel bulgaria clock_tower plovdiv orthodox_church roman_remains bulgarian_cuisine Comments (0)

St Albans: Re-acquaintance with my hometown

St Albans


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Edit from January 2019: Little Marrakesh is still there, and is still one of my favourite restaurants in St Albans. St Albans Museum moved into the refurbished Town Hall on St Peter's Street in 2018.

I've had a very nice couple of days at home, revisiting the familiar and also looking at part of it in a new light.

Yesterday morning Mum, Emma and I went on a St Albans heritage walk round the Abbey parish, looking at the WW1 wall memorials with an official guide. These war memorials are either unique in the UK or very close to that. Instead of having a 'normal' war memorial, memorials were put on walls around the parish instead, some on private houses. Each memorial has the names of men from that street who died in the war. I'd passed by one or two of these before but never stopped to look properly, so it was interesting to find out a bit more about them. Our guide was very informative. What brought it alive were the stories behind some of the soldiers; many of them were brothers, brothers-in-law, cousins or friends of others either on the same memorial or other ones that the guide showed us. A couple of times she also pointed out a house close to one of the memorials and said that one of the soldiers on the memorial had lived there.

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After the walk finished Mum went round to Edward & Maria's for lunch and Emma and I walked round the market. I bought a chocolate brownie from a particular bakery stall which does especially thick, moist and tasty ones; I saved it for later, though, instead of having it there and then. After this quick look round the market we had lunch at Little Marrakesh, a Moroccan restaurant I'm very fond of. They do a good set lunch deal; a starter and main for £9.95. They do an exceptionally well-flavoured salmon steak with vegetables in a creamy sauce, served sizzling in a tagine. The hummous and bread was very good as well. Another thing I love about Little Marrakesh is its atmosphere and decoration. I haven't been to Morocco yet but it's almost exactly how I've always imagined a restaurant there to be like.

From Little Marrakesh Emma and I went to the cathedral to have a look at a small temporary exhibition of photos of and more background information about the soldiers from the wall memorials we had heard about earlier. I took a few photos of the inside of the cathedral while I was at it.

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The Clock Tower and an ice cream van were our next stops, before continuing on to St Albans Museum.

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Mum met up with us there and we all had a look round the new temporary exhibition, which was also WW1 themed; the 'home front' in St Albans and in Worms, St Albans' German twin town. I thought it was a really good idea to have information about the experience from both sides. From the temporary exhibition we moved upstairs to the permanent one. I've been to this museum several times over the 29 years of my life and so I have some favourite exhibits; the helmet and chainmail of Sir Richard Lee (knighted by Henry VIII), the colourfully painted Tudor roundels (small wooden discs/ mats used to hold sweets or sugared fruit), medieval leather childrens' shoes, the fishtank with fish in it, the 15th-century book printed in English in St Albans and the stuffed woodland animals and birds.

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Today for pudding at dinnertime we had fresh strawberries, sugar and cream - something I really wanted to have while I was in England this summer. It's one of my all-time favourite puddings! I had the occasional strawberry in Ecuador but they were always slightly sour. Maybe because they have such a wide range of sweet, ripe and juicy tropical fruits, non-tropical fruit like strawberries aren't quite at the same level there and are actually better in a non-tropical country like the UK. (That's my theory, anyway.)

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Posted by 3Traveller 12:43 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged united_kingdom market museum cathedral sisters mum clock_tower st_albans st_albans_cathedral Comments (0)

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