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UNESCO World Heritage Site: Hanseatic City of Lübeck

Klagenfurt, Hamburg and Lübeck


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On Sunday I arrived in Lübeck knackered after half a day of travel; a walk to Klagenfurt Hauptbahnhof early this morning, a short train ride from there to the airport station, walking from there down the road to the tiny airport itself, a long wait there, an hour and a half's flight over some spectacular mountainous scenery to Hamburg, the S-bahn train to Hamburg Hauptbahnhof, a 40-minute train to Lübeck and then another 40 minutes' walk to the budget hotel.

Klagenfurt Airport (or, to be precise, Kärnten Airport) was one of the smallest airports I've ever been to, beating only Baltra and Catamayo airports in Ecuador for size.

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I had a window seat on the flight so I managed to get some pictures of the mountains.

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I haven't got many photos from Lübeck itself, mainly because the weather wasn't particularly nice for most of it, and secondly because both the school and our hotel were outside of the centre so I was often too knackered to go out again once we'd returned from school. There were a couple of exceptions though which I will describe below.

One of the few sunny times during the week was on Monday afternoon when some of us went for a little walk down the side of the river Trave.

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On Tuesday we were given a short tour of the historic centre by some of the lovely English department. It was done at quite a pace, because we had a booking at a restaurant we couldn't be late for, so I didn't have time to get many photos. For such a historic place, the centre of Lübeck does have a couple of streets which look more like a typical anonymous post-war British high street; this is because those streets were bombed by the Allies during the war. Amongst other places we passed there was the historic Rathaus, the Marienkirche with its Devil statue outside and a couple of historic alleyways leading to courtyard cottages, built three to four hundred years ago for poorer people when the city expanded (the passageways are narrow but had to be wide enough to carry coffins through).

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Dinner at the restaurant we were booked into consisted (for me and most of the others) of their speciality, flammkuchen. Flammkuchen is common in Germany and Eastern France (and I've had it once before in Luxembourg); a lot like pizza, with an extremely thin base, and creme fraiche instead of tomato sauce. Delicious!

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On Thursday afternoon we went into the town centre to have coffee and cake. We went to Café Niederegger, which is within the most historic and famous marzipan shop in Lübeck. I didn't end up feeling like cake, so I had Swiss Rösti, which came with a fried egg, bacon and cucumber slices. The café was very atmospheric; displays of fancy silver spoons and other cutlery on the walls, classical music playing in the background, elegant decoration. Marzipan featured heavily in the menu, and was piled up in various forms in the shop downstairs. If only I liked it! Marzipan lovers would be in heaven in Lübeck. I did end up trying a piece at school, and it was a lot nicer than any I've had before (not sickly sweet), but still not something I'd really bother buying for myself.

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I am leaving Lübeck with the feeling that I didn't fully make the most of being there. I wish I'd explored more, despite being tired and having prep to do for work each day. There's a great museum here which I never managed to get to - the European Hansemuseum, about the Hanseatic League and the part Lübeck played as the leading city within it. I would also have liked to have gone inside the Holstentor, one of the two remaining city gates and the symbol of the city. I will just have to come back to Lübeck another time!

Posted by 3Traveller 04:25 Archived in Germany Tagged mountains airport austria germany lübeck unesco_world_heritage_site german_cuisine Comments (0)

Arrival in Istanbul; the fulfilment of a dream...

Veliko Tarnovo and Istanbul


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The bus was only 5 minutes late from Veliko Tarnovo's Yug station.

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The driver didn't check our passports and tickets (so there was no need for us to have arrived half an hour early) but the 'road hostess' did, after walking up and down the aisle offering people splashes of lemon water. We just held out our hands and she poured it on.

The bus only had three or four people on it apart from us. Just before we started moving the old man in the seat behind us leaned over and started talking to us in Bulgarian. He asked where we were from, so I told him (also in Bulgarian). At that, he said something else but I simply couldn't understand what he said. Dave broke in at this point and said that the man had said 'Margaret Thatcher'!

The journey to the border took almost exactly four hours. We went by a highly scenic route with forested mountains on every side; the beauty was heightened even further by the sunset, which created silhouettes of the mountains and turned part of the sky pink. Although there were almost no clouds in the sky, for a while only two stars were visible; one of them was so incredibly bright we thought that it might actually be a planet. When the moon appeared, it seemed particularly large and yellow.

The border crossing took an hour and a half, much longer than it took between Bulgaria and Macedonia. It was physically much larger, with some duty-free shops in between the two countries' passport control that we stopped at for ten minutes, and there was much more traffic. There was also a baggage x-ray room to go through. This time I did get a passport stamp, although the writing and dates on it aren't clear!

On the resumption of our journey the road hostess made another round with the lemon water and then the TV, which had been showing a foreign talent show ever since Veliko Tarnovo, was turned off. It was now past 2 am and we could finally get some sleep.

I woke up to a very pink sky, pale and delicate very early morning light and... the city of Istanbul spread before me, with minarets silhouetted against the sky! I was bleary with fatigue, but still a great thrill of excitement ran through me. We were clearly on a hill, for I got a real sense of how large the city is.

It was 05.40 when I woke up. About twenty minutes later we got to the big otogar (bus station). This is about ten km from our hostel, so we had to get on the metro for a bit and then a tram for five stops. We passed mosque after mosque. On our walk from the Sultanahmet tram stop to our hostel we went through some gardens with the Hagia Sophia on our left and the Blue Mosque on our right. I almost couldn't believe we were there! The sun shone and although it was so early, it was already quite warm.

Although it was only about 07.30 when we got to the hostel and check-in wasn't until 12, they very kindly said that if we waited for half an hour, they could get our room ready for us by then.

We set the alarm for 12, but when it woke us up we fell back asleep as soon as I'd turned it off. Then I woke up again later due to the calls to prayer wailing from the mosques, but fell asleep as soon as they finished. We finally woke up for good at 15.20 - we clearly needed the sleep!

When we stepped outside, two women were sitting on a doorstep nearby, shelling peas. Someone was playing a flute inside. We passed them on our way back to the gardens we'd gone through earlier.

Our destination was the Museum of Turkish & Islamic Art, close to the Blue Mosque. We took some pictures of the mosque and of Hagia Sophia, the gardens and of the Hippodrome (where the Romans used to race horses, but is only really a long public square now, with one or two archaeological sections left) on the way.

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The museum was excellent - really well presented, and with exquisite examples of calligraphy, Medieval Turkish carpets, carvings, colourful glazed pottery and suchlike. It also gave a lot of information about and had artifacts from the Ottomans, Seljuks, Timiruds and other ruling dynasties of Turkey and Asia Minor. I remembered studying some of these in one of my first year History modules at Swansea.

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We stopped at the hostel for a short while to rest our feet and have a refreshing cold drink; then we headed round the corner to the seafront. Finally I was standing on the European side of Istanbul, gazing out at the Asian side across the Strait of Bosphorus! This was something I'd wanted to do for many years...

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We walked around for a while before going back to the hostel and then out for dinner. We shared bread and hummous; then Dave had a salad and the soup of the day, while I had sautéed chicken which turned out to come in chunks with a tasty tomato and onion sauce.

Posted by 3Traveller 09:32 Archived in Turkey Tagged mountains mosque turkey museum istanbul buses bosphorus dave bulgarian bulgaria hagia_sophia veliko_tarnovo roman_remains unesco_world_heritage_site turkish_cuisine Comments (0)

Mount Vitosha

Mount Vitosha


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This morning Dave and I did something I'd been wanting to do since I first got to Bulgaria; we took a cable car up Mount Vitosha, the mountain overlooking Sofia. The cable car trip alone was worth the 10 leva it cost for a return ticket, because it was the longest I've ever been on and we were surrounded by beautiful forested slopes most of the time. Needless to say, the view of Sofia laid out before us in the distance was a grand sight as well; it reminded me of our view of Quito from the top of Pichincha Volcano.

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The cable car didn't take us all the way to the top of any of the peaks (there were at least three peaks of the mountains), but where it dropped us off was lovely, so we didn't feel the need to continue further - we just fancied a lovely stroll around, rather than an extremely strenuous hike in the manner of our Ben Nevis and Cotopaxi Volcano ascents.

Unfortunately, after only five minutes in one direction a man came sprinting past us at full pelt; after we'd continued for five minutes further we saw why. A man was lying on the ground, unconscious, with a small group of people around him trying to bring him to. We really hoped that he'd just fainted (maybe due to the altitude), or maybe tripped over and knocked himself out, rather than anything worse. He was right by the edge of the path ahead of us. As we got closer, we looked back and saw two Bulgarian paramedics come running up the path through the wood, so we got out of the way sharpish. There was clearly nothing we could personally do to help, so we continued, hoping though that the man would be OK.

The scenery was beautiful, with lots of large flattish rocks in piles, rhododendrons, bushes with very fluffy, cotton-like seed clumps, what looked like very large and fleshy-looking thistles and the occasional grove of pine or fir trees.

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The trail was well signposted. After about twenty minutes we reached a plateau of long-grassed heath, with more groves of trees further down the slope on our right hand side and a very high ridge/ peak on our left.

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We looked round for a bit before heading back the way we'd come. The man at the side of the path had now disappeared.

Once we got back to where the cable car had landed, we set off on a trail in the other direction. We had even better views from here than on the other one.

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The sun was still shining and it wasn't very windy at all considering we were very high up a mountain. On our return from there it was now lunchtime, so we stopped at a café and in Bulgarian I ordered us kyufte, kebapche, shopska salad and some chips for us to share, before we took the cable car back down again.

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Posted by 3Traveller 11:27 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged mountains dave bulgaria butterflies bulgarian_cuisine mount_vitosha Comments (0)

Further Plovdiv explorations

Plovdiv and Shipka


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Well, we certainly fitted a lot into this morning and the first half of the afternoon!

The very first thing I did after breakfast was walk to an internet café to print off Mum's boarding pass for her. Reception at our hostel didn't have a printer, but they told me how to get to a place where there was one. Something I've noticed in Bulgaria is that internet cafés are much rarer than they are in Ecuador - this was the first time I'd been to one in Bulgaria. It was mega-simple though - walked in, didn't even need to log on to one of the for-public-use computers as the girl in charge set up hers quickly for me instead; three minutes, cost about 20 stotinki (8p)! On my way back I stopped at a fruit & vegetable market and bought Mum a bag of cherries.

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First stop together was the Ethnographic Museum; I'd been there before, in March, but Mum hadn't. Our favourite exhibits were; the traditional musical instruments and mummers' costumes, the large wooden attar of roses container which had been steeped in the stuff for so long in the past that it still smelled wonderfully of roses, and the huge, fluffy (sheepskin?), colourful rugs on one wall. Mum also particularly liked the embroidery as well.

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From there we headed down the road to Hadji Aleko's House, via a souvenir shop where the owner's wife weaved mats and wall hangings on looms at the back of the shop (she wasn't actually in action when we went, but there were half-made things on them and the owner told us his wife made them).

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Hadji Aleko's House is a National Revival building now used as an art gallery. Downstairs was filled with contemporary paintings for sale, whilst upstairs had a permanent exhibition. My favourite contemporary painting was of a colourful Firebird. Lots of original antique furniture as well, especially upstairs.

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Once we had looked round the gallery we were feeling quite hungry, so I took Mum to a restaurant I knew of at the foot of Danov Hill. Back in March I tried to have lunch there but was thwarted by the public holiday crowds, so I was keen to return! My tarator and potato balls were delicious; the dish of cooked red pepper slices surprised me by being cold, but were nice all the same.

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Our last proper stop before returning to the hostel was done on an impulse at a small mosaic museum which I think was connected to a Roman forum excavation nearby. The mosaics were impressive and we also liked the well-lit and colourful collection of amulets and scent bottles made of Roman glass. It was just the thing to round off our Plovdiv visit!

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After picking up my stuff from our hostel and saying goodbye, I took a taxi to the north bus station. The bus journey back to Veliko Tarnovo was uneventful, though we did stop for ten minutes at Shipka. The golden domes of the Russian Church gleamed over the rooftops. Right in the middle of the parking area was a cherry tree absolutely dripping with ripe fruit; I enjoyed several ultra-fresh, sweet and juicy cherries before it was time to get back on the bus.

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Mum had a couple of hours to go in Plovdiv before her lift to the airport; apparently she went for another walk and saw a Bulgarian bagpiper performing outside a shop. This is something I really want to see before I leave Bulgaria.

Posted by 3Traveller 06:57 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged mountains art market museum buses traditions bulgaria mum plovdiv roman_remains house_museum bulgarian_cuisine traditional_customs shipka_pass Comments (0)

Into the mountains: Shipka Pass

Shipka and Shipka Pass


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Today we went back to Plovdiv to spend the night there before Mum's flight back to London tomorrow evening. Thursday is my normal weekday day off and I've booked tomorrow off as a day of holiday. To get to Plovdiv today, instead of going by bus I had arranged something special; a taxi to take us all the way there and drop us directly at our hostel. I arranged for the taxi man to take us through the mountains and stop at the Shipka Pass and the village of Shipka nearby before descending into the Valley of the Roses and the town of Kazanlak, where we hoped to get a sight of some rose fields and visit a UNESCO-listed Thracian tomb. This blog entry will detail our first two stops, at Shipka Pass and Shipka itself.

Set within the Central Balkan mountains, the Shipka Pass is very historically significant in Bulgaria as a battlefield during the War of Independence between Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire in 1877 - 78. We stopped at a car park/ layby at the pass and I climbed up the peak next to it, which has a memorial at the top. This involved firstly 200 or 300 steps up a forested slope, then about 50 metres' walk to another set of 200 steps, which lead up to the memorial itself. Mum went up some of the first set and I continued up them all.

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It was exhausting, but definitely worth it; the views were stunning. I could see for miles and miles in every direction. When I reached the memorial there was a large group of schoolchildren on a school trip; their teacher got me to take a group photo of them all.

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Once I had returned, we continued 13 km down the road to the village of Shipka. Our destination was the Shipka Memorial Church, or to give it its full official name, the Memorial Temple of the Birth of Christ. It's also known informally as the Shipka Russian Church, as it was built in the 17th-century Muscovite style and is dedicated not only to the Bulgarians who died in the fight for independence but also to the Russian and Ukrainian soldiers who died alongside them against the Ottomans.

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The white and red outer decoration and the gleaming golden domes are a sight to behold; the interior decoration is also very impressive. Every inch of the pillars and arches, plus most of the walls as well, is part of a fresco. They looked different to normal frescoes in Bulgarian orthodox churches, too; in fact they looked like they had been inspired by the Arts & Crafts Movement. The church was finished in 1902, which is within the correct time period...

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Before we left the church we descended into the crypt, where we saw the gravestones of some of those who had perished in battle.

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When we went back outside the church we noticed hundreds of red beetles congregated in certain areas.

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Posted by 3Traveller 13:17 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged mountains art bulgaria mum explorations orthodox_church shipka_pass Comments (0)

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