A Travellerspoint blog

The Ghosts of Budapest Past

overcast 28 °C
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"Wars teach us not to love our enemies, but to hate our allies." - W. L. George

Foodie moment

After our epic walking tour, our guide recommended a local restaurant where we could get an authentic Hungarian lunch set menu. For 10 Euro we got to try traditional Goulash Soup, Paprika Chicken with dumplings and local beer. It was all really nice, and the strange tiny dumplings are starting to grow on me!

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Cultural moment

Apparently drinking in public places in illegal in Budapest, but this doesn't seem to be upheld at all. As seen on a Thursday night in the central square of the city, every spare bench and square of grass has a group of young people sitting on it with bottles of vodka or wine and plastic cups. This seems like a completely normal thing to do on each warm weekend night.

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Wow moment

Today we visited the Opera House of Budapest. Apparently the architect was told they were not allowed to make it as impressive and grand looking as the famous opera house in Vienna (part of the same kingdom at the time), so he begrudgingly did this on the outside but considering he was given no restrictions on how the inside should look he made it considerably more opulent and beautiful than its Viennese counterpart.

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We also hiked up the hill in Buda to visit the castle/palace. This is in fact a former palace, and is not showing any of its former glory. This is because during WW2 it was completely destroyed, after WW2 Budapest was under Soviet rule so it was rebuilt it in typical soviet style...boring!

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The chain bridge was the first bridge to cross the Danube between Buda and Pest. Before it was built the only way to cross between the two sides of the city was by boat, or by foot when the river was frozen, but don't get stuck on the wrong side when it melted or you could get stuck for a long time!

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When I spotted a flyer for a ghost tour, I jumped at an opportunity to make up to Mark for the failings of Dracula's castle. We knew we were in for an experience when we first spotted our guide, a man dressed in a black hooded cloak with his face painted white standing frozen staring creepily at passers by. What followed was a walking tour filled with very entertaining stories, with some occasional jumpy moments. Did he use cheap tricks to make us scream (like speaking in a whisper then shouting at the climax of the story)? Yes, he did. Were his stories true? Most likely not entirely honest. Was it a fun way to spend a night? Sure was. Mark got some special treatment during one of the stories were about the curse the witches put on anyone who built on the hill of Buda ("Don't build on the hill! We will crush you, We will crush you!!!!). No Hungarian's ever have built there, but the Austrian empire did, and the soviets did too, and as our guide said "Where are they now?".

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What we learnt today

Firstly, one of the most interesting facts was that all tourist attractions and monuments in Budapest are rebuilt replicas of the original monuments, this is because Budapest was basically flattened by Allied bombing during WW2.

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Budapest is split through the middle by the famous river Danube. On one side of the river is the hilly Buda side, which was often seen as the more wealthy side. The flat side of the river is called Pest, and was generally the place for trading, and therefore more working class. Not sure if these divisions are still true, but people certainly do make a big deal of being from Buda rather than Pest.

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Hungary has had a pretty bad run of it as a country, and most of their problems have been due to aligning themselves with the wrong people/countries. In WW1 they were part of the Austro-Hungarian empire, therefore aligning themselves with the Germans. Later in their history, they accepted the offer of help from the leader of Germany, otherwise known as Adolf Hitler, to help get back some of their power and lost territories. This was all good, until the favour was called back in and they were once again aligned with Germany in a World War.

Posted by travellinglise 10:30 Archived in Hungary Tagged budapest Comments (0)

Boiling in Budapest

sunny 35 °C
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"I love travelling in a sleeper on a night train. You just go to bed, and wake up and you're in another country! Only way to travel!!" - Lisa

Foodie moment

On a recommendation from Trip Advisor, we went to a cafe called Suelto Cafe and Grill.. We ordered some not very traditional Hungarian but delicious, comfort food; a bacon cheese burger and chicken quesadilla.

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Then for dinner we went to a local pub and had some actual traditional Hungarian food. We ordered beef stew with dumplings and garlic chicken. Traditional Hungarian dumplings are not the type of dumplings we normally think of, they are more like a grated pasta thing, delicious never the less.

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Cultural moment

There is an island in the middle of the Danube river known as Margaret Island and on it is a pretty spectacular musical fountain. Around it, the locals sit with their feet in the water and wait for the show to start. We were lucky enough to nab a couple of the remaining chairs to watch the show. There were two pieces of music, one modern and the other classical that were played over loud speakers while the fountain put on an aquatic show with jets, bubbles and mists of water that shot out in time with the music. It was really awesome to watch and refreshing getting sprays of water because of the intensely hot weather.

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Wow moment

Budapest, being quite a big city, has a lot of amazing sites to visit. The first one we saw today was the Great Market Hall. It has multiple levels which include meats, vegetables, clothing, souvenirs and traditionally cooked foods.

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The next site we visited was the Dohany Street Synagogue, which displays some very impressive architecture. We didn't go in however as there was an entrance fee.

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Finally, we hiked through the previously mentioned Margaret Island. Other than the fountain, it is filled with gardens, old ruins, swimming pools and touristy things like being able to rent pedal cars, which we actually did. Due to our strict budget, we opted for the cheapest car and therefore the hardest to pedal car. It was a little retro car, and had the worst suspension ever! We had a time limit of 30 minutes and got to the far end of the island in 20. So we had our work cut out for us on the trip back, but with a lot of hard work and sweat, we made it back right on time!

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What we learnt today

What we learnt today is actually from the experiences of the night before. We had a long trip over to Budapest from Brasov and the best way to get there was via train. The trip is around 14 hours, so we opted once more for a night sleeper. Learning from our experiences in Spain, we splashed out a bit extra for our own private cabin and we are glad we did! It was an amazing experience to have a glass of wine while watching the Transylvanian countryside wizz by illuminated by the glow of a full moon. We even had our private en-suite with an (unfortunately) non functioning shower!

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Posted by travellinglise 09:24 Archived in Hungary Tagged budapest Comments (0)

The (unsuccessful) Hunt for Count Dracula

sunny 24 °C
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"Where is Dracula’s castle?" - Disappointed tourist.

Foodie moment

One of the well known dishes in Romania is Ciorba, which is a sour soup. It has vegetables and meat in it, and the broth has a souring agent such as lemon juice in it and sour cream. The taste of the broth was delicious, but the quality of the ingredients used (eg, meat) weren't often the best. Be nice to make it ourselves with good quality meat and vegetables.

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Back to our favourite local restaurant, this time we had Roast lamb, Beef Stroganoff and Peasant potatoes. The Stroganoff was a particular favourite of Mark's, but he assures me that it still doesn't compare to the one I make!

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Cultural moment

A common sight throughout Europe are the groups of men gathered in the local parks during the day playing competitive games against each other. In Spain it was Petanque, Bosnia it was chess and in Romania it is backgammon. The parks are set up with appropriate tables (and even equipment in the case of a giant chess set in Sarajevo). There is sometimes up to 15 old men standing around watching the games, sometimes putting their opinion in and being shouted down by the others. Its nice to see that the elderly have such a good facilities and opportunities to socialise and support each other.

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Wow moment

Towering over the town of Brasov is Mount Tampa. It is a great place for hiking and views. We caught the cable car up, and then hiked around the top. Its from up here you can get a view over the old town from next to the Brasov sign, as well as look in the opposite direction over the new town

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Due to time restraints we joined a tour to visit the 3 main tourist attractions around Brasov. The first was Peles Castle in Sinaia. This is an stunning palace set in large gardens. It was a summer residence build by the first king of Romania in 1883. It was an incredibly modern palace for its time with central heating, an elevator and electricity long before they were more common place.

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The next place we visited was the highly anticipated Bran's Castle, otherwise known as Dracula's castle. It was completely overrated! Unfortunately other than the market at the base of the castle selling everything vampire, the links to the myth and reality of 'Dracula' are very, very vague and tentative. Most of the castle is about the family that lived there, not the most interesting bunch, and their left over furniture. Once you get to the top of the castle there are some big slabs of writing outlining the history of Bran Stoker, the author of Dracula. There is also some information about Vlad 'The Impaler' Tepes, who was a sadistic ruler of Transylvania, whom they believe Bran may have based his character of Dracula on. Having said that, he had never been to Bran castle so another weak link to the Dracula title! The only real link was that the story of Dracula says that it is set in Transylvania, and the description of the area and castle somewhat links to that of Bran Castle (having said that, the information panels contradicted this by saying that the setting of Dracula was likely based on Whitby in Yorkshire as Bram spent some time there!). All in all. if they are going to tout the castle as 'Dracula's castle' they really should put some more effort into making that believable, at the very least have some guy with fangs wandering around!!

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Unfortunately our final stop, Rasov fortress, was being used for filming a movie so was closed to the public. We did drive past and got to see their own version of the cheesy 'Hollywood' style sign - strange!

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What we learnt today

Unfortunately Brasov doesn't have any good museums. The ones that are there received poor reviews so we didn't go to them. Its a shame though because I enjoy learning about a countries history and culture while I'm there, and for many people Brasov is the only part of Romania they visit, so there's no chance for learning.

Posted by travellinglise 06:39 Archived in Romania Tagged brasov p brans_castle Comments (0)

Brasov: The (stake in the) Heart of Transylvania

semi-overcast 24 °C
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"I don't need a sign to tell me where I live" - Brasov Citizen

Foodie moment

So it was about time we discovered a decent place to eat on our first day! This time we got some good advice from our hostel host. The restaurant was called Restaurant Sergiana and as you will discover, we became huge fans of their menu over the next 3 days. The first time we went for lunch and ordered the beef stew pie and the roasted lamb chops with 3 Romanian cheeses polenta. Before they came out however, we were treated to some pork (no surprise there) scratchings, also known as crackling, on the house. I love pork crackle, especially when it is free!
The pie was deliciously full of tender meat and gravy (the waiter cut off the pastry top before I got a picture of it) and the lamp chops (which were no longer in the shape of chops) were also amazing, the 3 cheese polenta was extreme in the cheese department to the max!

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The second time we went to Restaurant Sergiana we ordered the Transylvanian stew and the chicken schnitzel stuffed with ham, mushroom and cheese. To my delight, we once again got a free plate of pork scratchings. The stew was as yum as any stew I've ever had, and the stuffed schnitzel looked like something out of a master chef contest and tasted just as great!

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Cultural moment

Set up in Brasov's main outdoor square was a stage that each night held a free concert. Performing was a mixture of different traditional dancers and acts. We got to witness some great cultural traditional music from the local area which ranged from children choirs to big voiced ladies that sang in an almost yodelling style.

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Wow moment

Brasov has a lot of history, and along with it a lot of historical buildings. The entire town is surrounded by an ancient wall that was, like a lot of European cities, built for defensive purposes. Along the wall are several towers, two of which are the White Tower and the Black Tower, both of which are actually grey in colour. We walked up to the base of each, the white one having the best view of the two.

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Another of Brasov's defensive structures is the Fortress Cetatuia, which overlooks the entire town from the top of a steep hill. We actually spotted the Fortress from the other side of town and set ourselves the challenge of reaching the top. It was a bit tricky to find the path that leads up to it, and a tiring hike, but the panoramic view from the top was well worth it.

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What we learnt today

The first thing you can't avoid noticing on arrival in Brasov is the big Hollywood style sign that sits atop the Tampa mountain. It reeks of cheesiness, and most of the citizens agree, one quoted as saying something along the lines of "I don't need a sign to tell me where I live!". The idea came from the council as a way to try and boost tourism. The neighbouring town Rasnov, not to be left out, also has its own sign. Personally, I didn't mind it, and it was actually pretty cool to climb the mountain (as we will describe later) and view the town from behind the humongous letters.

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Posted by travellinglise 11:09 Archived in Romania Tagged brasov Comments (0)

Sibiu - Get Some Pork on Your Fork

sunny 30 °C
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“Our happiest moments as tourists always seem to come when we stumble upon one thing while in pursuit of something else.” — Lawrence Block

Foodie moment

We headed back to the same restaurant (why mess with a good thing!). Mark had been eyeing off a pork knuckle, so we ordered that, and also ordered Beef steak in Whisky Sauce. Once again great food, and once again SO affordable. I have to say that I think the Pork knuckle won the battle against Mark though!

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Cultural moment

In the main square of Sibiu they had set up a huge inflatable movie screen and put out rows of deckchairs. As it got dark they all filled up, plus standing room, and free movies were played. We didn't watch any (they were not in English), only heard them from our restaurant but it was an interesting auditory experience as they were full of a lot of explosions, dogs barking and some adult scenes which may not have been appropriate for the children watching!!

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Wow moment

Today we headed to the biggest tourist attraction in Sibiu (literally), the outdoor living museum. It is a huge parkland where traditional buildings and businesses from different parts of the country have been relocated and refurbished. It covers metal workers, weavers, water mills, hunters and the different styles of traditional architecture. A massive day, its a great way to see a lot without having to travel far, and the weather was lovely!

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The town centre of Sibiu was one of our favourites so far. Made up of 3 massive squares surrounded by churches and restaurants, every turn leads to another photo moment.

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What we learnt today

Although thankfully we never came across hard evidence of this, we get the feeling that many Romanians carry guns. One hint was this sign outside a bank. Another was the big bullet hole (we think!) in the window of our train window! But it is safe here...it really is!!

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Posted by travellinglise 10:16 Archived in Romania Tagged sibiu Comments (0)

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