Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Linz 09

Sonntag, September 13th, 2009

As you might know, every year one or two smaller cities in Europe get the label „Cultural Capital of Europe“. After my experiences in my home town Graz in 2003, my anticipation for Linz 2009 was pretty high (and the Pflasterspektakel last year). In Graz this was a festival for the whole population, because there were many temporary installations, e.g. all street lights in the inner city were coloured alternating green and blue, or the running gag that every triple repetition of an object got a big letter „3“ to it (you could find it in many shop windows, on posters and in the city landscape).

Unfortunately I was really disappointed about Linz this time.  If you just walk the city you don’t get, that you are walking through a cultural capital, just some advertisements points you to it. For sure there are many exhibitions, and there’s the newly built Ars Electronica Centre with it’s big stairs – a new hang-out for the youths. In my opinion it’s important that culture doesn’t reside behind walls, in rooms were you might even have to pay for the entrance. Culture has to be everywhere, so that the inhabitants get influenced by it too, and that they become a part of it. You should be surprised every now and then.

The most annoying thing was the traffic in the inner city. For sure it’s not much traffic, but every now and then I had to avoid a car. You can’t concentrate on the exploration of the city, and they don’t fit on pictures. Worst on the main square, it was really noisy. It was also hard to find a place to sit and relax, most squares are just empty, no benches, chairs or other amenities.

One notable exception was the exploration of the Nazi-past of Linz. During Hitler Linz became a big industrial city, many settlements were built in that time. On many places you could read about what happend there during this dark chapter of Linz. There’s a webpage to it, in case you are interested: In Situ Linz 09. One of the representative buildings which was built in that time are the bridge head buildings (Brückenkopfbauten) between Nibelungen-bridge and main square. This year parts of the façade were removed, to visualize the construction and the conditions how it was built, accompanied by information in the windows.

The longest night

Donnerstag, Juli 23rd, 2009

Unfortunately, Brussels was not one of my best experiences. The following things happened:

  •  I couldn’t find any CouchSurfing-hosts, so I had to stay in a hostel (internet: 1,5€/½h)
  •  The guy at the internet-cafe charged me for 70 minutes, although I couldn’t have been there for more than 30 minutes (4,50€).
  • Checking out of the hostel I forgot my anorak in my room, when I came there in the evening to pick up my luggage it was not there any more (the anorak, I still have my luggage)

But the worst experience was the flight back to Vienna. Arriving at the airport at 18:30 everything still looked alright. The first time I was suspicious was, when at the gate were two flights at the same time (we were supposed to leave at 20:10), this shouldn’t happen. We were told our flight is one hour late. After some time our gate was changed, arriving at that gate our flight was no longer to Vienna, but to Bratislava and the departure time has been changed to 1:05. I decided to buy some newspaper (maybe a c’t, haven’t read it for a long time), but unfortunately everything was closing at 9pm. Some long hours later (internet: 3€/¼h – no way!) our flight arrived around 0:50 (already to late to leave at 1:05), and due to some additional delays we finally took off at 1:52. Arrival Bratislava 3:15, from there we had a bus … not to Vienna, but to Vienna Airport. Currently waiting for next train (4:54), looking forward to bed (maybe around 6am?).

Northern France

Dienstag, Juli 21st, 2009

After Amsterdam I went to Lille, to meet Noémie, who was in my Bulgarian language course last year in Burgas. She invited everybody from the course to her home – unfortunately I was the only one who accepted the invitation. I was rather surprised to arrive on the French national holiday (July 14th), and we used to opportunity to see a military parade (which was rather boring) and fire works. I was wondering that the fire works were announced for 11pm, but it made sense, it’s bright really long in that part of Europe (and the sky looked just amazing before it got dark – I hope you can get an impression on the pictures). We saw the fire works from the central park, where they were accompanied by music and a story – the story of Europe after 2nd world war, as the day was the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall. It was impressive.

The rest of the days I spent sight seeing, in Lille and in Villeneuve d’Ascq, the home town of Noémie, just outside of Lille. It’s a calm town, a lot of green areas. And there’s a fancy automatic driver-less metro which offers a fast connection between to Lille. The architecture still has many elements which you can find in Holland or in Northern Germany, e.g. façades made from bricks.

As I still had a couple of days left until my flight to Vienna (on 22nd July from Brussels), I searched for more places to visit. Luckily I had talked to Ilona, one of my former flat-mates in Sofia some time ago, and she told me she will be in Rouen in July. So my next stop: Rouen, another 3 hours south-west of Lille. Ilona told me, she won’t be able to host me, so I searched for a CouchSurfing host, and I found Morgane. Ilona arrived a day before me, and I got an agitated message from her, that her people failed to pick her up from the airport (in fact they came, but 45 minutes late). So she went to Rouen on her own, and I asked Morgane if she could ask her … which she accepted, although it was already 1am (CouchSurfing is just a great idea).

On my way to Rouen I had a short stop in Amiens which I used for a walk. By the way. I could find a CityBike-system like in Vienna (they have the same in Lille too), sweet mini buses and some churches. One of the churches was strange, it was open to visitors, but there was nothing inside. No people, no benches, just a small altar. And apparently nobody had cleaned for several months, even the air was very smelly. Spooky.

In Rouen: churches again. I have to admit, they look really impressive, but after the third city they are getting boring, because they all look the same. And cold and grey inside. It was a real relieve to visit the modern church „Jeanne d’Arc“, just next to the place where she was burned. A wooden roof, which makes a very warm atmosphere. The architecture of the buildings in Rouen already looks pretty different, many FACHWERKHAEUSER. A big historic centre, with cafes, shops and people (but hardly any ATMs).

You might have noticed, public and alternative transportation is very interesting to me. So here are some more pictures to this topic:

Communication with people was hard, the prejudice, that French people only speak French is rather true. On the other hand I was really surprised how much French I still understand (I learned it many years ago in school), I remembered many words. But I totally failed to speak (no words, no grammar). But it was not really necessary, Morgane is translator for English and German (and French for sure), so no problem there. We spent a nice time together, talking, cooking, watching movies.

Right now I’m on my way to Brussels. I still don’t have a CouchSurfing-host for the night, I was very late to ask. I hope I still get a positive answer during the day. Tomorrow is my flight back to Vienna, and on Thursday I have to work again (after nearly 11 months).


Freitag, Juli 17th, 2009

The time in Amsterdam was not only dedicated to the OpenStreetMap, I had a life beside the conference. Manuela – cartographer and CouchSurfer from Vienna, who also attended the State of the Map – and I were searching for CouchSurfing hosts together. And we find a really nice community, the Casa Robino, a house of travelers. Nice thing about the Casa: Everybody there becomes host him/herself, there are no guests. Most activities are shared, e.g. cooking and eating (at least vegetarian, mostly vegan), dumpster diving (to save money on food and other usable stuff), cleaning (we had some unwelcome guests: mice) and social activities. The best evening we spent at the sauna Fenomeen (which is actually a squat), where entrance was for free (due to a sauna festival in Amsterdam) and which is a very nice place – there were even some guests playing music (saxophon, guitar, singing). If you come to Amsterdam, make sure to go there. Another evening we were invited to a boat trip through Amsterdam, which was very funny (especially as you have to watch our for bridges, to not hit your head). So much for Amsterdam, next destination: Northern France.

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.

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 :)