Archive for the ‘Eastern Europe’ Category

My last weekend in България/Bulgaria

Montag, Juli 13th, 2009

In the beginning it seems it will never come to an end … but finally time is racing to the last days. I would have had time to travel around – but actually I was tired of traveling – especially traveling alone. But for the last weekend I got invited by friends – Samantha and Mladen – to Karadere, a beautiful wild beach on the Black Sea coast between Varna and Burgas. I didn’t take me a lot of thought to decide to join – you shouldn’t miss such opportunities.

We went there with a fully stuffed car – us, our equipment and half a band equipment (amplifieres, speakers and wires) – which took us twelve hours (double the estimated time), because we stopped in several places to pick up stuff or meet people.

The beach was just great – no hotels, not even houses, no electricity, no water, no mobile phone; just a bunch of people camping and having a good time. The water of the Black Sea is very nice – clear, warm and not very salty. We enjoyed the days hanging on the beach, reading, playing, swimming and talking, the evening doing barbecue, eating salad and drinking rakia – the nights doing a jam session – live music, powered by the battery of our car.

If you want to experience this too … my friends will organize a little festival on that beach  for beginning of August (and later to a street festival in Istanbul). I want to go there again next year.

Good times in Austria and Bulgaria

Mittwoch, Juni 17th, 2009

Sorry for not posting a long time, but I’ve been very busy in the last four weeks. After a weekend in the Rodopi-mountains on a trip with the Erasmus Network (nice mountains, gorges and caves but stomach problems and bad organisation) I went to Vienna by bus (~13 hours each way) for a spontaneous visit (to help with the elections at the university and to join some parties which were going on that time). I finally even stayed a day longer and went to my home town Graz, because a friend, Peter, celebrated his birthday. In the following week I tried to finish my projects for university, there was still a lot to do. And finally three friends came for visit, Babsi for two days and Sub and Argyll for more than ten days. We had a good time together, in Sofia, on the mountain Vitosha and also some more places in Bulgaria, Veliko Tarnovo and Plovdiv, were we stayed for two nights each and short visits to Stara Zagora and Asenovgrad. These days I’m finishing my studies here in Sofia, after this I will enjoy my last weeks in Bulgaria, e.g. on a CouchSurfing-meeting this weekend on a beach near Varna on the Blacksea Coast. Here you have some impressions from the last weeks:

I hope now I will find some time to concentrate on my project, the OpenStreetBrowser, the „State of the Map“-Conference in Amsterdam is coming close (9.-12. July in Amsterdam). Yes, I haven’t announced it yet on my Blog, I’m going there, I hope it will be very interesting! During the last weeks I even had time do some OpenStreetMap-mapping in Bulgaria.

Cycling, Cycling, Cycling

Donnerstag, Mai 21st, 2009

You know, I’m a passionate cyclist. But since my bike got stolen in middle of October, I’m without a ride here in Sofia. I didn’t really miss it, because this place is just not made for cycling.

But, something amazing happened :) A friend of my mother, Nordfried, was doing a cycle tour from Novi Sad in Serbia to Vidin in the very north-west of Bulgaria along the Danube. To go back to their home country (Germany) they came to Sofia and wrote me an e-mail beforehand if I would be willing to help them with train tickets and show them around a little bit. For sure, I like being a guide, I myself always learn something new. After helping with train tickets Nordfried offered me to take his bike – he had just bought it in Novi Sad and has no use for it in Germany. I’m feeling so flattered … I’m very happy about it. But still I’m afraid to use it, because I don’t want it to be stolen again. And I need a good place for the night. First I need a good lock!

Two days later on Saturday, there was an invitation to a „bike parade“ through Sofia, to demand more bicycle lanes. As I have my new ride now, it was mandatory for me to go there. And I was really amazed, I think there were more than 2000 people. I didn’t even think there were so many bikes in Sofia (ok, I’m kidding). Afterwards there was a small party in the „Kolodrum“, a former bicycle arena, but I decided to go to the night of museums with free entrance. I think Sofia needs some more years, but finally it could become a good place!

In the last days I read in my newspaper, that – maybe due to the financial crisis – many more people uses bikes for their everyday ways in Vienna as in the last years. At the most important counting point – at the Ring near the State Opera – there’s an increase of about 25% to the last year. On other points, Lassallestraße, Kennedybrücke and Langobardenstraße the increase is about 50% (more statistics). This is really great news, I hope that the politicians now feel the need to do something (for example find a good solution for the cycle route at the Ring).

The Golden Nuggets

Freitag, April 17th, 2009

Last weekend Daniela, a friend of me (architect, half-Bulgarian/half-German, I lived at her place in Sofia in autumn), organised an event called „The Golden Nuggets“ here in Sofia. It was an experiment to explore how people react to unknown objects in public space. The objects – golden bottles with flowers; golden bags filled with balloons or goodies; black balloons with golden masks – were arranged at places where many people pass. Then we – the organisers and observers – hid and watched what happens. The results? Hard to tell and not statistically significant. In my opinion: Many people just didn’t care (maybe they are to much occupied with themselves?), the bags with the balloons were totally ignored (but they were not that visible maybe), people were afraid of taking them, and parents usually didn’t allow children to see what’s there. The best events were the first, on a central place on a traffic island … many people stopped and looked, and in a park on a sunny Sunday afternoon, where the balloons with the masks attracted many people, especially children.

Here are some pictures:

It will be interesting to see a comparison between different cities and cultures. Daniela is planning to do it also in other countries, like Spain and Germany. A first test-run in Hamburg already took place.

It was fun to take part in this event! Thanks a lot for the nice idea and the commitment.

Snowhiking in Stara Planina

Sonntag, März 22nd, 2009

Last weekend we decided it’s time for our long planned trip to Stara Planina. I came in early morning (at 6:30) to Triavna, a touristic town with a historic town centre. But it looked really nice, maybe because everything was still closed?

Later in the morning we started our trip to Stara Planina. Unfortunately the weather was not very nice … cold, snowy and foggy. After a comfortable night in the mountain hut „Bulgarka“ (named after the nature reserve park with the same name) we could enjoy hiking much more, as it was beautiful sunny :)

By the way: I can’t stand snow anymore, this week it was snowing again and it’s cold!


Freitag, März 13th, 2009

Last weekend I finally managed to go to Kosovo, although it was rather spontaneous, because my partner for the planned hiking tour got ill. Unfortunately CouchSurfing in Kosovo didn’t work out, so I had to stay at a guest house in Prishtina and didn’t really get in contact with people there.

You are wondering, whether Kosovo is a safe place to go? According to the channels that I checked (Wikitravel, Homepage of Austrian foreign ministry, …) the main danger in Kosovo right now are unexploded land mines, and you won’t encounter them as long as you stay „on the beaten path“.

I never felt afraid when I was visiting places, in fact people were always friendly and helpful … which seems to be natural in islamic cultures. The main population in Kosovo are Albanian origin, which was also the reason for the wish of their independence. The Albanian flag is also the second most seen flag around.

If you have already seen some places in Eastern Europe, it doesn’t look so much different. A lot of block buildings from communist times, in between smaller, older buildings. You see a lot of foreign organisations, especially the military organisations United Nations and KFOR (NATO), but also European Union and OSCE.

Striking to me was the presence of so many unfinished buildings, especially on the country side, where I passed them in the buses. I was surprised about the dense network of buses, there are buses to the other major cities every 15 to 30 minutes. For sure it’s not a big country, but still it takes up to three hours.

Prishtina is the capital of Kosovo and has the same problem that many capitals face: They grew too fast.

If you arrive in Prishtina by bus, it doesn’t look very welcoming. You first have to pass a highway crossing (there are some safe ways, but still it’s not very nice) and then you walk along Boulevard Bill Klinton to the city centre, passing some communist living blocks. The city centre consists mainly of big buildings, where the architects might have thought, they should be good looking. Many of them are used for the huminitary and military organisations. Around the city centre it’s getting more welcoming, a Turkish bazaar and smaller houses dominate these regions. You should definitely go to the ethnological museum (you can see traditional clothing and customs there, in a beautiful house from the 19th century), they guy there was very friendly and explained me everything in great detail. And he was for Erasmus in Vienna ;)

On the second day I went to see Prizren, a smaller city in the south-west of the country. First I was a little bit disappointed, but after some searching I found the city centre, with a small river flowing through it. Next to this you have a hill with a huge fortress (which is now used by KFOR) and some damaged houses from war. When I came there I saw, that some race will take place later on, but first the KFOR had to remove their tents from the main square. Later a womens car race where held, who had to find their way through a parcours.

Peja is an even smaller town to the west of Kosovo. It has two centres: A turkish bazaar and a pedestrian zone with cafes and restaurants. I was surprised to see some many people on the street enjoying the day … although it was Monday. I also enjoyed some grilled meat with some salad. And I enjoyed the view on the snow covered mountains. When I left Peja I had a talk with the guy from the toilet. He lived in Germany for 23 years and got deported 4 years ago. He wants badly to go back, because he’s missing his wife and his two children, but unfortunately he was not married.

So, my conclusion about Kosovo: People can live a normal life. For sure there are still many problems, but there’s a lot of development going on. Mainly with foreign money, we will see how they will develop, when they have to live from their own income (talking about money: the official currency is the Euro).

Revolutionary Timişoara and travel back to Sofia

Sonntag, Februar 8th, 2009

Finally I arrived in my (nearly) last stop of my travel – Timişoara. It’s the second largest city of Romania and – at least Geographically seen – the most western city of Romania. It has a large city centre with several pedestrian zones and squares, orbited by parks and on some parts by the river Bega. Around the city centre you have the typical suburban settlements of Communist era.

Again I spoke most of the time German, my CouchSurfer there is working as translator for German to Romanian language. And we even visited a performance in the German National Theater Timişoara (Deutsches Staatstheater Temeswar): „Alles zu seiner Zeit“ by David Ives.

The most interesting and touching thing I’ve seen in Timişoara was the Archive about the Revolution in 1989. Timişoara was the first city to protest against their leader Ceausescu and it was also the first city were the first people died. The director – who was veterinary before the revolution and got badly wounded – loves to talk and show you around. During a movie about the revolution and in the gallery showing the works of children after the revolution, I nearly started crying. Don’t miss it, if you ever come to Timişoara. I couldn’t find a homepage, but if you want to learn more about the revolution, I can recommend you this page.

After Timişoara I had to find a way back to Sofia. It was not so easy, there’s only one bridge between Romania and Bulgaria, in the East of the country, options would have been to go over Belgrade (with a break of 12 hours) or with a ferry between Calafat and Vidin. I finally decided to go over Bucharest, which took me 18 hours and additionally 5 hours in Bucharest which I used to visit the Museum of Peasants, which was really nice (although more English or German descriptions would be nice). The even have some old wooden houses and an old wooden church on display.

Romania was an interesting place to visit. There are still many places to visit – the Danube Delta or the northern parts of the country, which should more rural. I will for sure come back. Here you can see a route of my travel (Data by OpenStreetMap):

(I also made a map like this for our travel through Macedonia)

Being back in Sofia, I got a message from my friend who should visit me on Monday (which was my reason to come back to Sofia), that he has to cancel his visit. So I have to go traveling again! Next stops will be Kosovo and Albania. First I thought about leaving Monday morning, but my new flat-mates told me they can’t afford the rent and will move out at the end of February. As my other flat-mate is not in Sofia for most of the month, I have to search for flat-mates now. But the new Erasmus students are arriving, so it will be easy to find people.

On the way to Timişoara: Alba Iulia und Roşia Montană

Freitag, Februar 6th, 2009

My last stop in Romania shall be Timişoara, but before I was recommended to go to Roşia Montană.

My CouchSurfer gave me a ride to Alba Iulia (she had to go there from her work), which is a not very nice city. It looks as urban development just happens there, without noticeably structure. The interesting thing: There’s a huge fortress from the 18th century, shaped like a star. Most of it is unused, and when I was walking through this place I started dreaming about a festival. It would be a great place with all these backyards and big places. Imagine stages, rows of tents and stands selling various goods.

Roşia Montană is a mountain village with gold and copper mines, which were exploited in antique times for the first time. During industrial revolution it became a wealthy place, many workers came there and populated the area. Unfortunately it all went down in the 1970s under communist regime. At the moment it’s a sad place with deserted houses, unemployed workers and aggressive stray dogs. But underneath you can still feel the beauty of this place, every church has it’s own place of worship, the workers‘ buildings are ornamented and it’s situated in a mountainous area with interesting rock formations.

In the last years Roşia Montană got some publicity, as there is one Canadian company, which is trying to built a new mining project (since 11 years). Especially the young ones fear, that the project would ruin the place. On the other hand the company (using fancy buzzwords like ‚Sustainable‘, ‚Ecologic‘, ‚Community Process‘, …) promises to clean the place (some of the streams are already heavily polluted), bring new jobs and develop tourism. Tourism is also the option for the people opposing the project, but I don’t know where the money should come from – you need some huge investments to renovate the place and make it better accessible. I was talking to „Pro Roşia Montană„, a non-governmental organization, supporting this project. They say, they would support any project, because as it is now, the people can’t survive there. But they are also thankful for the opposition, at least the company had to bring strong arguments and to think about alternatives.

In Roşia Montană there’s even a small hostel, managed by a young couple. They are nice, and it’s a good place, so if you ever happen to come to Roşia Montană, I can recommend to stay at there place (It’s situated 800m back the main road from the main square and called „La Gruber„). I was the only guest (in fact, they were really surprised, that somebody is coming), but they said, that in summer it’s usually full. They also oppose the project, in fear, that the company will ruin this place. I’m sure the hostel would make it, it’s a small place, and there will always be some people going to strange places.

I was happy to leave this place after a night, but I will follow news about it, I got interested in it. I hope it interested you too :)

Fortified Sibiu and churches

Mittwoch, Februar 4th, 2009

I already told you, that my next stop is Sibiu (german: Hermannstadt), former Cultural Capital of Europe in 2007. If you expect all this modern things that happened and (partly) stayed, like in Graz, you might be disappointed, you can’t feel it. But the money in Sibiu was invested wisely, the centre has been well renovated and a huge pedestrian area has been developed. And it’s definitely worth. A short abstract of the history of Sibiu: Sibiu was founded in the 12th century by German settlers, but was destroyed by Mongols a hundred years later. Only about 100 inhabitants survived, who started to rebuild the town, but this time with heavy fortification. Soon Sibiu was wealthy again. As this region was threatened by many enemies, many castles and citadels were being built – like Braşov and Sighişoara, I visited before. Also many churches has been fortified, so called „Kirchenburgen“ were being built. And there are many, at least 300, maybe up to 700. About 140 still exist, but many need renovation.
In Sibiu I was couchsurfing again. This time it was pretty interesting, because my host was working for the protestant church, her current work was a EU proposal for the renovation of 18 of these fortified churches. I could even help a little bit. Unfortunately I didn’t meet one of her working colleagues (an urban planner from Berlin), who was responsible for the renovation of Sibiu for the year as Cultural Capital. I would have liked to hear some experiences from him.
So, back to my travel, I’m sure you want to see some pictures. Historic Sibiu has two parts, the Upper Town (for the merchants and rich) and the Lower town (for the workers). The Upper Town is arranged around three huge squares and has heavier fortification. The Lower Town has smaller buildings and narrow roads, crossroads are often enlarged to little squares. Everywhere in the historical centre, you have historical buildings (15th-18th century) and several churches.

On the last day in Sibiu I went to see some villages around Sibiu and two fortified churches. I wanted to take the tramway (there’s only one route left from the Southern end of Sibiu to one of the villages outside, Răşinari), but unfortunately I would have need to wait two hours. But there are some people who have some kind of informal collective taxi service, I could take one of these (for 2,5 Lei = 0,60€). From Răşinari (german Städterdorf) I followed a hiking route to the next village, Cisnădioara (german Michelsberg). I couldn’t find all parts of the way, but finally I managed. I had some really impressive views on the way. In Cisnădioara there’s one old Romanesque fortified church on top of a hill, with a simple wall around. Then I walked to the next village, Cisnădie (german Heltau), which is actually a little town, with another, bigger fortified church.

I hope I didn’t bore you with my tale about churches, but I found them rather fascinating. Maybe you want to see them yourself? Take somebody with you who speaks German or Romanian, there aren’t many people who speak English in that region (and texts are often only in Romanian and German, maybe a short description in French in English – even on the signs, which were erected for 2007).

Mighty Sighişoara and Mediaş

Montag, Februar 2nd, 2009

I decided to spend one night and one day in Sighişoara (German: Schässburg), which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site (I think I should start to compile a list of World Heritage Sites that I’ve already seen). It’s a little town with 30.000 inhabitants, topped with a citadel (a kind of inhabited castle). The citadel was built in the 12th centry by German settlers, and still looks like a medieval place.

On the way to Sibiu I had to change trains in Mediaş (German: Mediasch). I didn’t know what I can expect of this city, as it was not covered by my guide book, but I decided to make a little break. My worst fear was, that it’s a city, built during communist times, only with grey block buildings. I was wrong, it’s another old city, built by German settlers, with a fortified church in the centre (more about fortified churches in my tale about Sibiu).

Sorry for my short description, next – about Sibiu – will be longer. Promise. Enjoy your time!