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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)

Bucharest

Bucharest


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Bucharest was incredibly hot and humid, almost at Guayaquil levels, but very interesting.

First of all I had fun exploring the old town, passing through University Square on the way.

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There was no free breakfast at the hostel, so I visited a bakery instead and ate the result (a small savoury pastry sprinkled with poppy seeds and filled with bacon and melted cheese) next to a small statue of Romulus and Remus being fed by the wolf.

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Then I came across the Old Princely Court, some remains of a palace used and extended by Vlad the Impaler, who as it happens was born in Sighisoara, my next destination after Bucharest.

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First of all I went underground into the brick cellars - it was interesting, with the bonus of being deliciously cool - and then I looked round the rest.

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This included the accompanying church - originally built in 1559, but much-restored since then. The Romanian Orthodox Church seems to differ from the Bulgarian in that the candle-stands are actually boxes and are outside in a separate area. I bought and lit a candle for Dad, and after I'd done so a woman came up to me, pressed two small packets of biscuits and two boiled sweets into my hands, said something in Romanian and walked away! She did the same with another woman, who hadn't lit any candles yet.

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The old town also contained the old and beautiful Stavropoleos Church. It was covered in frescoes on the inside and I had fun finding out the names of the saints in them via transliteration. It seems that Romanian used to use the Cyrillic alphabet.

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I also loved its pretty, peaceful little courtyard, where I stopped to sit down and have a cold drink.

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The old town was definitely well worth looking round.

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Last of all I visited the National History Museum, which was great. Special mention to the anthropomorphic pottery, the stuffed wild boar, the exquisite metalwork from 5th - 3rd century BC (helmets, cow head-shaped drinking horn, diadem of gold leaves and fish-shaped silver harness appliques) and the 14th - 16th century weapons.

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After a rest back at the hostel, during which I had two more savoury pastries for a late lunch, followed the Ashes cricket live updates for a while and caught Kate online for a bit, I headed back out. My destination was the cemetery where Nicolae and Elena Ceaușescu are buried, but on the way I stopped for a bit outside the infamous Palace of the Parliament. It was built on the orders of Ceaușescu and is the second largest building in the world (the Pentagon is the largest). A large part of the original city centre was wiped out to accommodate it.

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I found the cemetery OK, but it took much longer than I expected to walk there, so by the time I arrived at was nearly 19.30; it was supposed to close at 20.00. After spending about twenty minutes unsuccessfully looking for their graves, I had to give up and walk all the way back again. Although I knew which row and number their graves were, the numbers of the rows didn't seem to follow any particular order, and lots of the rows didn't have any number at all. It was quite maze-like and to be honest looking for the right graves was a bit like looking for a needle in a haystack! I'm still glad I went though, because it was interesting to see what a Romanian cemetery is like. Nearly all of the gravestones were shaped like crosses and were made of very white stone; there were some small mausoleums as well. I noticed lots of inlaid circular photos or pictures of the dead, like on the stones in the courtyards of the monasteries I've seen in Bulgaria. Outside the cemetery entrance there were lots of flower and coffin sellers with their wares on display at the side of the pavement.

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Instead of going straight back to the hostel, I made a diversion to an area of town I hadn't been to before, in order to have dinner at a restaurant I'd been recommended. I regretted it before I even got there, because I was so knackered (it was quite a long diversion) and as soon as I got there and saw a different restaurant there, I regretted it even more. It looked a bit posh and I was in not the cleanest of clothes and was literally dripping with sweat. Normally I would have just gone in anyway, but I was practically on my last legs by now and decided on the spur of the moment just to go in the nearest supermarket instead. I bought a pasta salad and a custard-like chocolate pudding, plus drinks, and tottered home. I knew that if I sat down for dinner at the restaurant, I wouldn't be able to get up again!

Posted by 3Traveller 08:57 Archived in Romania Tagged art palace cemetery museum hostel romania dad bucharest orthodox_church romanian_cuisine extreme_weather Comments (0)

Ephesus Museum

Ephesus and Selçuk


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At the north exit of Ephesus we savoured the air conditioning in the shop for a bit before leaving and taking a bus from the carpark back to Selçuk.

The first thing we did in Selçuk was head to Ephesus Museum, which was excellent. It not only holds treasures from Ephesus, but from the historic sites of Selçuk as well. Highlights included a bust of Socrates (4th cent. AD) and a magnificent statue of Artemis (2nd cent. AD)...

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...the gold and silver coins of the Ayasuluk Hoard (15th cent. AD)...

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...a bronze statue of Eros on the back of a dolphin (2nd cent. BC) and some Bronze Age swords and axe-heads...

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...bone spoons from the Hellenistic or Roman periods and some amber beads and pendants...

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...a curled-up bronze snake from the 1st century AD, an exquisite gold statuette of an un-named goddess (630 - 640 BC) and some gold-leaved diadems (1st-3rd cent. BC).

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Before we went out for dinner, at our hotel reception we arranged a trip for the next day. Ideally I would have loved to do this trip independently; to get a local bus to Pamukkale, spend the night there, look around the twin sites of Heiropolis & Pamukkale the next day and then get a bus back to Selçuk the following morning. But unfortunately we only had one day free, not three, and public transport looked very awkwardly placed for day trips. Oh well, at least we'd get lunch thrown in, and I was still incredibly excited to see the white calcite descending pools of Pamukkale and the historic site of Heiropolis, even if I knew we wouldn't get as much time there as I'd ideally like.

Like the evening before, we ate dinner at an outdoor table next to the aqueduct (at a different restaurant, though). The food was lovely and throughout the meal it was fun to watch the storks in their nests above. We also ended up cat-watching - lots of cats and kittens stalked around the tables and walls, hoping for scraps.

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Posted by 3Traveller 01:45 Archived in Turkey Tagged birds turkey museum dave ephesus storks selcuk roman_remains Comments (0)

UNESCO World Heritage Site: Göreme Open Air Museum

Cappadocia


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Edit from March 2019: There wasn't enough room in the title, but the UNESCO Site is actually called 'Göreme National Park and the Rock Sites of Cappadocia'. The open air museum is only part of it.

After our second breakfast we began our tour of the local area. To do this we joined up with a tour run by a local travel agent and organised for us by our hotel; usually we prefer travelling independently, but decided to give an organised tour a go this time.

We visited two sets of rock formations first- climbed around and admired some 'fairy chimneys' and some shaped like other things- for example a camel, a hand, two whirling dervishes, the Virgin Mary with her arms crossed.

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There were some fantastic views of the Devnent Valley and the wider Cappadocian landscape - all creamy and pinkish stone, olive trees, small fields of pumpkin plants, vineyards... Some of the rock formations had dwellings in them, now empty; two had been churches.

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At the first one I had an accident - I walked into the end of an olive branch, which scratched my forehead quite badly. Not much blood at all though luckily. The scratches stung like mad for a while but don't hurt at all any more. They are however embarrassingly very visible.

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In the nearby town of Ürgüp we were given a tour of a government-run Turkish carpet workshop - it was interesting to see some weavers at work, a man getting silk threads from cocoons of the silkworm and hear a bit about the process of making the rugs.

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It did however end with half an hour of sales techniques being tried on us, which we could have done without. After showing us round, the main guy herded us all into a big showroom, gave us tea, coffee or the local spirit and talked about carpets while other guys showed them to us. Then he gave an order, stepped aside and a crowd of salesmen all came in and nabbed us sitting targets... Cue awkwardness all round. There were some absolutely gorgeous rugs, but quite rightly (given how incredibly long each one takes to be made by hand) they were all extremely expensive, so we didn't get any. I don't think anyone actually bought anything.

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Lunch was very good - a collection of various salads and hot dishes, with some lovely puddings; fruit jellies, syrupy batter balls, fruit and a delicious chocolate blancmange-type thing. The view we got from the terrace outside was fabulous, too. We saw man-made door-shaped holes in cliffs and rock formations in the distance- apparently these were pigeon houses! Like dovecotes I suppose.

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We were also shown round a pottery workshop, saw a pot being thrown and painters painting plates by hand in traditional patterns. This time we weren't given the hard sell, which was good, but we still didn't buy anything because even the smallest thing was too expensive.

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We also saw a historic fortress very dramatically set within one giant rock formation, but people aren't allowed to climb it for safety reasons. So we only looked from afar.

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Last up was the place I most wanted to see; the Göreme Open Air Museum, a collection of rock-hewn churches. It's part of the Göreme Valley, itself part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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I loved the creamy curves of the stone, and the frescoes within.

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One of them, the church of St Barbara, had some very enigmatic, simple red frescoes which looked almost like Aboriginal Australian rock paintings. Unfortunately we weren't allowed to take pictures inside.

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I also loved the small but excellent exhibition of photos of Cappadocia taken from hot air balloons, which was in another of the churches.

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I did have another accident here though - this time I stepped into a hole and bashed my shin against the edge of the metal grille. The grille was supposed to cover a whole hole where a grave had once been, but stopped short. This is the chapel where it happened;

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For dinner that evening we went a café recommended in my guidebook; I had a delicious spiral vegetable- stuffed pastry thingy with tomato sauce and yoghurt, and Dave had a tuna salad. I had a chocolate and caramel Turkish ice cream to follow, but Dave didn't have anything.

Posted by 3Traveller 02:16 Archived in Turkey Tagged art cappadocia turkey museum dave fortifications natural_wonder unesco_world_heritage_site turkish_cuisine Comments (1)

Modern Istanbul

Istanbul


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On Sunday we had a relaxed morning and didn't leave the hostel until early lunchtime. Our destination was the area of Beyoglu, the heart of modern Istanbul. We had spent 95% of our time until then in Sultanahmet, the historic area, so we wanted to see what the modern centre was like. Taksim Square, in the centre, is on a large hill, so we took the funicular railway up there from the tram station. We'd just taken the tram across Galata Bridge from Sultanahmet.

The funicular turned out to be underground, unfortunately, so we didn't get any amazing views on the way up. However Istikal Caddesi, the main pedestrian street, leads down the hill from the square, so we got some good views from there.

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Although part of modern Istanbul, Beyoglu still has some historic buildings. As soon as we'd crossed the square we found a small art gallery which turned out to be in the former cistern building used for Beyoglu's water storage in the 18th and 19th centuries when the population of Istanbul spread. The artwork there was of a good standard, all modern paintings with price tags; each section was dedicated to a different artist and in a couple of them the artists were actually there, working on paintings. It was interesting to look round.

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After that we wandered down Istikal Caddesi, taking everything in. Although filled with international shopping chains, it also has Turkish Delight and baklava shops, 'vitamin bars' (juice bars where the fruits are piled up at the front), cafés with Turkish ice cream stands at the front, shops with foil-wrapped slabs of chocolate piled up against the windows, and some other miscellaneous shops.

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We went into a sweet shop after I noticed a sign saying Marron Glace- I knew these aren't common in the UK so I bought some, and then we noticed the baklava counter so Dave bought us one piece each of chocolate baklava and walnut baklava, both of which were delicious.

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There was an antique book and map shop which we enjoyed browsing; we had a late lunch at café, where we both tried things we hadn't had before- I had a lovely springy textured wrap filled with spiced (not the hot kind) lamb, tomato and onion, and Dave had a similar thing but in a sandwich and with beef instead of lamb; we visited the Catholic church of St Anthony, where I lit a candle and we admired photos of papal visits over the last century.

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We ate lunch upstairs in the café, so we had a good view of the street outside. While we were there, we heard lots of loud chanting begin, and van loads of armed police with riot shields arrived and stood to one side. Part of a demonstration was going on just round the corner. Later on it passed us- very loud, but seemingly not dangerous.

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I also visited a dervish lodge, now a museum, where these followers of the Sufism sect of Islam lived until it was outlawed by the Turkish government in the 1920s. Dave didn't fancy it so looked round the attached historic graveyard while waiting for me. It was interesting to read the given information, see the artifacts from their daily lives (which included musical instruments, turbans, cooking utensils, coffee-making and serving utensils and walking sticks the dervishes used to lean on and sleep as they couldn't lie down on beds) and see the arena where they whirled during the ceremony that required it. They had a map of where else in the world these dervish lodges were; I saw the one in Plovdiv, now a restaurant, where Mum and I had dinner once in May.

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My wrap had been smaller than expected, so to keep myself going after I left the museum I got myself a chicken kebab from a cafe - it was very tasty and the bread had a texture very similar to a ciabatta. Then we walked past the historic Galata Tower and down to sea level. We got ourselves two different types of syrupy batter things from a street seller before we reached the tram station.

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Posted by 3Traveller 13:20 Archived in Turkey Tagged art turkey museum istanbul dave procession turkish_cuisine Comments (0)

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