Monday, June 30, 2014

Bucharest, Romania

Bucharest Romania is an interesting city that is an eclectic mess of unfinished and ignored buildings and gardens, as well as beautiful, but copied examples of Parisien architecture. 

2000 years ago, the Romans crossed the Danube in search of gold.  Next came the Habsburgs (Hungarians), Turks and Russians.  In 1877 they declared independence from the Ottomans and Romania was formed.  Following WWII, they endured 43 years of communism until the revolution in 1989.  In 2007, they joined the EU and since, 3 million people have emigrated. 

The Romans brought the latin language with them, so rather than speaking cyrillic, like other eastern European countries, their language is slavic, similar to Spanish, Italian, Portuguese and French.

The highlight here is the Palace of Parliament, built by Nicolae Ceausecu between 1984-1989.  (Un) fortunately?? he was executed December 25,1989 and never realized his dream of ranting from this balcony, looking towards the Bulevardul Unirii.  20,000 people were displaced and an entire suburb was destroyed so he could build a longer and wider Champs Elysees (Unirii is 6 m longer!)  and other buildings mimicking the grandeur of Paris.  Bucharest wanted to become a 'better' Paris beginning in the late 1800s.  The largest boom in building was between 1919 and the 1930s, however Ceausecu carried this idea forward-


These fountains along Bulevardul Unirii no longer work but I imagine they would be fabulous!


Here is the front view of the Palace of Parliament-


and the side view-


This is the world's second largest administrative building, only behind the Pentagon.  It contains over 1 million cubic meters of marble in 3100 rooms in 12 stories, covering 330,000 m2.  The cost of building it is estimated at 330,000 billion Euros.  A Euro is $1.50 CAN.  20,000 workers slaved away for 5 years but it is only 90% complete.  The largest chandelier weighs 5 tons. There are 66,000 light bulbs in the place!  4000 people work there today but still, thousands of rooms are empty.  It is now used for the Romanian parliament.  It costs $8.50 CAN to enter, but another $10.00 to take pictures inside (which I didn't do).  It has a nuclear bunker in the basement and a private subway to the airport.  

This Inn was for caravans travelling along the Silk Road.  Bucharest is the last stop to the west.  It was built in 1808-


I enjoyed a typical Romanian lunch here of sarmale - meat cabbage rolls and mamaliga which is polenta.   Garnish was a cooked bay leaf and a hot pepper-


87% of Romania is Eastern Orthodox Christian.  This church, the Stavropoleos,  dates from 1724-


The inside courtyard of the Stavropoleos Church contains relics and tombstones from other demolished churches in the city-


And speaking of demolished churches - the communists destroyed 20 churches because they were 'in the way' of development.  However, six were moved - this one only 50 meters.  Imagine the expense-


Sometimes rather than moving a church, tall apartments or other buildings were just built in front of it, with the hopes that the people would 'forget' about worshipping.  

This church was moved 300 meters -


The Romanian Athenaeum was built in 1888 from lottery proceeds.  Today it is used for concerts.  A man was singing opera as I walked by.  It was beautiful-


This statue has been voted the 'ugliest' in the city.  It depicts a Roman emperor holding a she-wolf with a snake protruding from her head-


(Yes I do wear pretty much the same thing everyday!) 

Romanian independence rallies began in mid December 1989.  The people protested, cut the soviet symbols out of their flag, and loudly sang their national anthem.  Around 100 were killed.  This is Revolution Square.  It is an interesting statue - the white is the rise of democracy going through communism.  It continues with the impaling theme of Vlad Tepes-


I spent a lovely day here but all good things must come to an end.  We are on our way to Bulgaria tomorrow.....

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Sighsoara, Transylvania, Romania

We spent the night in Sighsoara, Transylvania- birthplace of Vlad (Tepes) Dracul - the Impaler, who was the inspiration for Bram Stoker's book Count Dracula.  This is the home he was born in, which is in the citadel town-



Here is the view from the citadel town-


There is a 14th century wall encircling the citadel town.  It also has 9 towers.  This is the square where the market and public executions were held-


The clock tower dates from 1280-


and its glockenspiel-


Bran Castle is Dracula's castle, although Vlad Dracul only stopped by once in the 15th century.  It dates from 1378 and is 60m high.  Dracul was the ruling prince of Wallachia from 1456-1462 and then again from 1476-1477.  His favorite way to punish his enemies was to have a dull, wooden stake carefully inserted into the anus and manipulated through the body, without touching vital organs, to exit via the mouth.  The death, obviously, was very painful and slow-


Inside the castle were many small, furnished rooms from the time of Queen Maria of Romania during the late 1800s.  

The courtyard-


Inside the castle were war uniforms.  This is an example of some chain mail-


Weapons-


An early form of taxation was called putting on scales.  If a convict weighed less than they 
'should' they must be a follower of Satan, and therefore must be tortured.  People were stripped to make sure they weren't carrying any excess weight, then weighed against an amount thought to be appropriate for their size and shape.  If they were too light, they were tortured until they confessed their crimes.  If they weighed the correct amount, they were set free.  One had to pay to be weighed!  Certificates were issued when one 'passed' so they didn't have to be put on the scales a second time-

  
Along the route, we've seen a few herds of sheep-


We'll be spending the next 2 nights in Bucharest........



Saturday, June 28, 2014

Romania

On the road again......  on our way to Romania to bush camp tonight.  Not!  Last year's bush camp has become a garbage dump so we pulled into a campground. 

This is the eastern Hungarian countryside-


Upon arriving in Romania, this man was racing his horse and cart down the mainstreet.  We won!


A typical western Romanian village- red roofs and always a church-


Stork nests tend to be in the villages and the more wires the better!



Some storks nest on chimneys of houses-


The Romanian countryside-


Haystacks-


This particular village had numerous homes like this.  So far, it's the only village like it we've seen-


Notice the detail on the roof-


Valleys and pasture- I have only seen a cow or two but quite a few herds of sheep-


Heading east we got into a more fertile part of the country-


Looking forward to visiting Dracula's castle tomorrow and travelling on to Bucharest.





Friday, June 27, 2014

Budapest, Hungary

We are so lucky travelling with Madventure.  We have a fridge!  many charging apparatuses!  free weights!  a punching bag!  excellent and plentiful food!  Will has done a great job of putting a fantastic overland company together.  Thanks a lot!

We're in Budapest, Hungary.  Budapest is prononced Buda Pesht.  The west side of the Danube is the city of Buda and it is hilly.  The east side is flat and called Pesht.  The Austrians and Turks ruled the country forever and the borders have changed often too.  Today, Budapest has public baths and coffee, thanks to the Turks and beautiful architecture, thanks to the Austrians.  

Hungary lost WW1 and were allies with the Germans in WW2 but controlled by the Russians.  They suffered through communism for 45 years.  In 1956, they revolted against the Soviets.  They lost but things changed to "Happy" Communism.  During Stalin's time, the people could not worship, but during Happy Communism, they could.   The original communist motto was " If you're not with us, you're against us."  During Happy communism it changed to "If you're not against us, you're with us."  Believe it or not, that simple word change gave the Hungarian people a lot more freedom.  Financially, Russia was very involved, but that ended in 1979 when Russia went to war in Afghanistan, taking their money with them.  Communism finally ended in 1989 because maintaining it was too expensive.

The first democratic elections were in 1990.  At this time, annual inflation was 40%.   Today, things are better, but there is a lot of corruption. 

People earn 5-600 Euros/month (after taxes).  This is about $900 CAN. 

There are remarkable differences here compared to Western Europe.  There are few brand name clothes and fewer Mercedes, Audis, Lexus and BMW, cars you see everywhere in Western Europe.  The metro cars are old and creaky.  


Today I went on two 3 hour walking tours with a company called Free Walking Tours.  The first was of the sights of the city, the second was a communism tour.   Both were excellent!  Here is what I saw!

Matthias Church was built between 1874-
















1896-



Fishermen's Bastion-  It's found near Matthias Church and Saint Stephen is on the horse.  It was built between 1895 and 1902 in neo-Romanesque style-


Holy Trinity Column, erected in 1713 is found next to Matthias Church.  The archangel Gabriel is on top-


A popular drink is Bull's Blood, which is really just a dry, full bodied red wine from the Szekszard or Eger regions.  I tried Dreher Bak, a strong dark beer with 7.3% alcohol.  It was no Guinness!  Their schnapps include Palinka - known as national firewater, a fruit brandy from 37% to 55.5% alcohol.  It was rank.  Unicum is Hungarian Jag.  It tastes like not sweet cough syrup.

Here I am with a bottle of Bull's Blood-


Gulyas is the staple soup, served with excellent bread-


For dessert I had Turo Rudi: cream cheese covered with delicious chocolate.  Of course I couldn't pass up the Jim Beam!


The Chain Bridge spans the Danube to connect the cities of Buda and Pest. It was completed in 1849 and is a suspension bridge.  It reminds me of the Brooklyn Bridge-



The Parliament building is an example of Neo-Gothic architecture with a bit of Renaissance and Baroque added just for fun.  It's the 3rd largest parliament building in the world with 691 rooms, 20 km of stairs, and is 391 feet high.  Only Brazil and London have larger parliaments.  It was inaugurated in 1896 on the 1000th anniversary of Hungary-


This is the first sculpture put up after the end of communism.  It is a young girl and if one rubs her legs, you'll have good luck-


This is a statue of the former police.  Notice the large belly - Hungarians love fried food!  If you rub his belly, you'll eat well while here!


This is the Royal Palace.  The Austrian king never lived here and the building was added on to often.  It is found on the Buda side and today contains museums and the National Library-


Saint Stephen was the first King of Hungary.  He Christianized the people.  This is St. Stephen's Basilica.  It holds 8500 people and took 50 years to build-


This is an apartment built by the communists.  Notice the air-conditionners on the outside of some of the apartments-


On the left is an example of an apartment building that was shot up during the Revolution in 1956.  To the bottom left of the photo you can see bullet holes.  The building on the right has been renovated-


A controversial monument is being erected.  It shows an eagle, representing the Germans, swooping in on the Hungarian Jewish people.  Hungarians are upset because it wasn't the Germans who sent the Hungarian Jews to the concentration camps, it was the Hungarian Nazi's and the Hungarian people themselves.  The people of Hungary want to claim responsibility for their actions, not blame others for their past.   Because of the constant demonstrations and anger, the site is constantly guarded by the police.  In spite of the anger of the people, the monument is still going up.


People have left memorials in remembrance of their murdered friends and family in front of the new monument-


This is a bunker that was recently discovered a few hundred meters from the parliament.  It might have been used during and after the Revolution.  It can hold 1000 people-


This was the world map shown to Hungarians during communist times.  Notice a few countries are missing!


The only monument rememberiing the Soviet Union is next to the American Embassy!  It remains as an honor to all soldiers who lost their lives during the Revolution-


This statue of Ronald Reagan was a gift to Hungary to commemorate their freedom in 1989-



Ruin pubs are located throughout the city in old abandoned buildings.  Nothing is renovated, used furniture is brought in, live bands entertain and people party.  Here is the eclectic decor of the Instant Pub and Club-


Yes, those are rabbits flying through the air and this owl is suspended from the ceiling-


Budapest is a beautiful, culturally diverse city that has witnessed thousands of years of history.  The people are friendly and it is a must see!