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14 November

Saturday, November 14th, 2009

Brasov, Romania

We had specifically planned NOT to do a Budapest stopover, but being unable to get seats on the directly-connecting bus, forced us to spend two days in the Hungarian capital. As we pulled out of the bus station at 11:30pm, I contemplated what a perfect two days we had had – not because anything grand occurred, but because there were many small mercies to be thankful for.

We had arrived late at night and were pleasantly surprised to find the Metro entrance a mere ten metres from the bus stop. The train was easily negotiated and after only nine stops we emerged from the well-sign-posted underground, and a friendly local lad offered assistance. He was able to point us the right way up the street without consulting a map and our trudge-to-hostel was underway. It was over before we’d even got into a rhythm, being only 100 metres.
In the morning we would realise just what a fantastic location the hostel was in – smack bang in the middle of anywhere we wanted to walk to. (We would also look with some disbelief at streets we took the motorhomes along – we truly were insane, driving in the very centre of Budapest, through the impossibly narrow lanes!)
In the morning we would discover our room was not only enormous, but was graced with two balconies and a living room. Not only that, but the hostel staff urged us on our last day to bring the children back for an afternoon nap, allowing us free use of the room for a full twelve hours past check-out time. You could argue that the hostel was empty and so it did not matter to them, but they were under no compulsion to be so generous! For their kindness we were grateful.
Our time was also made enjoyable by the fact that it’s a magnificent city, the weather was wonderful for walking, we were aware that all too soon we will not be taking historical-city-strolls on a Thursday or Friday morning, and we found delicious food.
To top it all off, instead of being crammed on a full bus, there were only 15 people occupying the 61 seats on the bus we ended up having to take. This was a blessing in no way disguised, although we cannot say any of us had a good night’s sleep. At least we were comfortable, even if not rested.

Unfortunately our store of memories for the first few hours of Romania is more extensive than we would have liked; it would have been preferable to sleep through those first miles, but, as it happened, we were wide wide awake.
Being the middle of the night, it was dark. But not so black that you couldn’t gather an impression. The roads were surprisingly smooth, although morning light would reveal that anything OFF the main highway tended to be nothing more than wide dirt tracks. Piercing the darkness, lights glowing in occasional towns brightened the way. An enormous white cathedral(?) gleamed in Arad.  A young man rode his bicycle along the dirt path in front of the row of houses. An old lady hobbled along the edge of the road tucked under her headscarf. I wondered where they were going, and why at four in the morning. Houses seemed to be surrounded by high concrete fences, and looked army-barracks-like, positioned in straight rows perpendicular to the road. Sunrise would prove this observation to be true. Very few houses stand alone – most come complete with chicken-filled courtyards, all surrounded by a high fence, shared by two closely-set neighbours. The houses themselves tend to be more decorated than their Bulgarian cousins. Most have a strip the running horizontally around them at window height in a contrasting colour or concrete pattern. Different again. A new country, and yet again we find something we have not seen anywhere else.
Rectangular apartment blocks, also standing quite close together, reached up into the darkness. And in every village a huge array of banks, each with neon signage, heralding the east’s embracing of….of what? consumerism? capitalism? credit?

About midday we arrived in Brasov.

success in budapest

Friday, November 13th, 2009

night bus from Budapest, Hungary to Brasov, Transylvania (Romania)

We found them! The Hungarian specialties a reader recommended. And we found a  few more too 😉

We wandered over Chain Bridge to the funicular railway that takes unsuspecting tourists up to the palace and castle. We took one look at the price board and determined there MUST be a way to walk!!!! A very pleasant walk it turned out to be, too, winding up the hillside through the trees.
Our first find at the top was Hungarian Funnel Cake. The proprietor of the stall permitted only one photograph, so there you have him about to put the dough stick into the rotisserie-type oven. It will come out crunchy on the outside and supremely soft inside, and will be dipped in coconut or nuts or sugar or cocoa or cinnamon (which we tried) or just plain…apart it came in a long spiral….warm and delicious.

Along through the castle district, aware that this would probably not be the cheapest place to sample anything, but rejoicing that an upmarket Konditorei had the famed Drum Cake. Good thing that we are “the cup’s half full” people, coz we shared one piece between all of us! It was a delectable concoction – layers of a plain cake sandwiching layers of chocolate cream (and we decided that this much we will copy in our own kitchen). The real cake had a layer of crunchy toffee on top, which was all too sweet for us. Plain chocolate will top the one we make at home 😉

We strolled around the famous sites, took photos, enjoyed the shining sun, listened to the bells tolling at midday (on top of a hill is a great place to be for the noontime bell ringing – we’ve done it on Palatino Hill in Rome, Wawel Hill in Krakow, and now in Budapest too – each time purely coincidentally).
At the bottom of the hill I donned my extrovert hat and approached a bunch of people waiting at the traffic lights to see if any of them could help me find LANGOS (more or less pronounced lah-ng-osh). All of them were using their mobile phones! Not to be deterred, I enquired in a pharmacy (probably the most ironical place you could ask about an unhealthy treat!) As it so happened we were only a block away from the main market and were pointed in that direction with instructions to go to the top floor. We would never have even stopped at the stall if someone had not told us this was worth eating! It really did look more like a grog store to us, complete with resident alcoholic hunched over the table outside:

(that’s not the drunk in the pic!)

But stop, we did and with the finger waving and pointing that we have not needed for quite some time now, we ordered two different sorts. One was stuffed with meat and too similar to the Mongolian horseshoes that made Every Single One Of Us sick that we failed to properly appreciate it. The other was well worth scrambling round town to find. It was a dinnerplate-sized piece of simultaneously soft and chewy and crunchy fried dough covered with lashings of sour cream, garlic and grated cheese.

We have commented before that one of the good things about travelling in a big group is that you get to taste a larger range of foods than you could manage on your own. These were a case in point. Four of them filled ten of us. Completely.

Although we did manage to find room for a handful of fresh grapes….and then a mouthful of waffle a bit later on!

It really was a delectable day.

Oh, and the sightseeing was fun too!

Last, but not least. Guess what we had for dinner. Yes, should have been goulash with lots of paprika, shouldn’t it? Or perhaps goose something (lots of goose options on restaurant menu boards around town). But we had the right amount of money for a Burger King super special <blush> (a rare enough event to be blog-worthy)

a tale of two cities

Thursday, November 12th, 2009
Budapest, Hungary Krakow is supposedly the new Budapest. After our one day driving through the more famous city, we were impressed, but holding judgement as to which one we prefer. Leaving Krakow yesterday, we still hadn’t decided – we needed ... [Continue reading this entry]

moving again

Wednesday, November 11th, 2009
Budapest, Hungary Our final day in Krakow is Independence Day. Undoubtedly there will be a big parade. Patriotism runs rife here. There will be red and white flags flapping, national costumes, brass bands, pomp and circumstance. But it’s pouring with rain, ... [Continue reading this entry]

Monday: Bratislava Birthday

Monday, October 12th, 2009
to infinity Bratislava and beyond 320km In the vans from 9:30 to 5pm, with a couple of hours in Bratislava Tomorrow I will turn forty. Tomorrow we plan to be in the Czech Republic sans local currency. And so today – but when it ... [Continue reading this entry]

Sunday: Budapest been and gone

Sunday, October 11th, 2009
Budapest, here we come….and go…. 328km In the vans from 8:15am til 5:15pm, with a stop for an hour and a half in the capital It feels like we’re *almost* back in the Central Europe we left in spring. Is it merely ... [Continue reading this entry]

Saturday: through Serbia from Sofia to Szeged

Saturday, October 10th, 2009
Sofia to Szeged, more or less, and all of Serbia in between 580km In the vans from 7:42am to 12:30, then 1:20 to 5:46pm (border crossings: 40 and 20 minutes; did not have to leave the vehicles at all) A foggy mist laying ... [Continue reading this entry]