Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

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!

Medieval Braşov and Bran Castle

Donnerstag, Januar 29th, 2009

I think it was a good idea to leave Bucharest after two days, first I thought about staying three days. As I already wrote, my next destination was Braşov. It’s a city with about 280.000 inhabitants, in the central part of Romania, called Transylvania. Transylvania was settled by German colonists (the Transylvanian Saxons) in medieval times, Braşov was one of their settlements. Transylvania is called „Siebenbürgen“ in German, Braşov „Kronstadt“. The German population was very strong until the Second World War, you still can see many inscriptions in German language.
When I arrived in Braşov it was still raining and cold, therefore I just had a short walk around the city centre and searched for a coffee-shop where I can get dry and do stuff on the internet (Free Wireless Lan rules). I had to wait several hours until I could go to my CouchSurfers. The next morning it was very foggy, but in the afternoon the sun came out.
Braşov has a beautiful city centre, consisting of old houses. It reminds me on my hometown, Graz. It’s still surrounded by the original fortification walls on several places and some defense towers. On three sides the city centre is separated by hills from the outlying districts – which are not worth to see anyway as they were built in communist times and consist of block buildings.
One of the most impressive sights was the Black Church (built in 14th-15th century), the biggest Gothic church in Romania. It’s a protestant church, therefore everything is written in German language, even the new works of the children.

Before leaving to Sighişoara I went to see the Bran Castle – said to be one of the most famous castles in Romania. In my guide book it says that it’s „a bit of an anti-climax inside, elbowing your way through tourist groups“. I think it was a good idea to go there in January, it was really calm and I just met a bunch of other people (and a lot of cleaning personnel). It’s definitely worth the 1,50 EUR entrance fee for students (it wouldn’t be worth 10 EUR), it’s totally rambled, you can dream about hidden rooms and staircases. Outside there’s a village museum, displaying old farm houses of the surrounding area. Sadly you can’t see them from inside.

As I said, next is Sighişoara, UNESCO World Heritage Site, and then Sibiu (Hermannstadt) one of the two Cultural Capitals of Europe in 2007. I hope you liked my text and my pictures.

Gigantomanism in Bucharest

Montag, Januar 26th, 2009

After good sleep in the night-bus to Bucharest (the only notable thing was the bridge over the Danube – which is the border between Bulgaria and Rumania – near Russe. A narrow bridge with steep inclines on both sides – it looked rather frightening in the night), I spent two full days in this city. I had always thought, that Bulgaria and Romania are pretty similar – but apparently I was totally wrong. The language (Romanian is – surprise – a roman language) is not the only difference. The faces look different, as do the buildings.
Bucharest is a city full of contrasts. Nicolae Ceauşescu, the infamous leader of Romania between 1965 and 1989, tried to turn it into the „Paris of the East“. Huge boulevards cross the city, lined by monotonous block buildings. Boulevard Unirii (Unirii = Union) starts at the Palace of Parliament, which is said to be the second-largest building of the world after the Pentagon, and goes 3,2 km to the east – 6m longer than it’s prototype, the Champs-Elysee in Paris. If you go just one street behind these blocks, you can see the old structures – little churches, neat two or three story buildings – in various states, some of are empty and torn-down, some newly renovated.

Bus stops are hard to find – often there’s just a small sign with the name of the station and the list of line-numbers. If there’s a shelter at the stop (which is pretty common) you usually can find a map of the routes in Bucharest. No schedules, no information about coming buses. In contrast the information system in the buses belongs to the best I’ve ever seen. LED-displays inform about the next station and possible interchanges. Many buses also host an additional screen, which shows the exact position of the bus on a map and cycle through surrounding streets by highlighting them. In Bucharest there are also trams, trolleys and some metro lines.

Most of Saturday we (I was couchsurfing, which was a good experience again) spent with a group of photographers, who meet regularily to explore parts of the city together. The best was to see the reactions of the people living there, as the group of over 50 photographers invaded their neighbourhoods and took pictures of everything. The weather was just right for taking pictures, sunny and pretty warm.

On Monday, on the way to Braşov, I went to Sinaia, a small town famous for host two interesting castels. The nice thing: I met some U.S. peace corps volunteers, currently staying in Marocco and had a nice time with them. The bad thing(s): It was cold and rainy and the castles were closed, so we didn’t even bother to go there. And the town looks like a typical hotel ressort … Not very pleasing. So I took an earlier train to Braşov … but this is another story …

You will find more pictures on my photo pages, but please check again later ;)

Trip to Lakatnik and busy studying

Freitag, Januar 23rd, 2009

This week I had two exams and one home-work … It all went pretty well. Now, I have a longer break, which I will use for traveling … My goal is the Northern neigbouring country, Rumania. I already have a reservation for a bus tonight and a CouchSurfing-host for the first days. I’m planning to come back to Sofia on the 6th of February, so I have nearly two weeks to explore this country. Then on the 9th of February a friend from Vienna will visit me … I’m already looking forward to this.

One of the classes that I had last semester was „Contemporary Europe“, where we learned about organization and – more interesting – about Policies of European Union (or better European Commission). If you don’t know about these, you should check out, it’s really interesting, and there’s a lot of information online.

So, to end this short blog entry, before I vanish to foreign countries (ok, I’m already in a foreign country, but at least it’s a different one), I want to show you some pictures of last weekend – we did a short trip to Lakatnik, about one hour by train North of Sofia.

You can find some more pictures on my photo pages again.

One more thing happened: Yesterday I lost the filling of one of my teeth … thanks to one flat-mate I could find a dentist and it’s already been fixed :)

Istanbul and short visits to Veliko Tarnovo and Svishtov

Mittwoch, Januar 21st, 2009

I used to end of my visa to Turkey for a second visit to Istanbul, together with two friends, Marie and Ewa. I was a little bit concerned before, if I really want to go again, at least it’s a long travel and I’ve already seen a lot. But it’s really a city worth to see (again). The streets are full of life, there are so many interesting views. What surprised me again and again, that people selling things on the street are artists. They all have their own way of advertising their things by shouting, but also arranging their things in a special way. And usually they don’t insist too much (But now I can’t hear „Excuse me, can I ask you a question?“, „Where are you from?“ any more). But they are all men …

This time we didn’t have so much stress to see all the sightseeing spots, we spent most of the time walking around and feeling the city … and shopping.

If you go to Istanbul, you should definitly go to the Galata Tower, the view from their is fascinating. And with an entrance fee of 10 Lira (5 Euros) it’s comparable cheap.

One morning, when my friends went to Aya Sofia which I’ve already seen before, I spent in the area around Taksim Square and Istiklal Street, the most European part of Istanbul (you can also see a lot of women there), taking pictures of city landscapes.

Our hostel (Chillout Cengo) was also located in the area. Very colorful and nice place, and very cheap. I can really recommend it. One evening we went to a pub after we heard good live music from the window – „The Beatles“ (the name of the pub, not of the band, although I would really have enjoyed to see the Beatles – but I think, I’m too young for this). The surprising thing: They didn’t serve alcohol there, everybody was drinking tea. And smoking.

The day before we went to Istanbul I spent in Veliko Tarnovo again. I already told some things about this place in early November. It’s a wonderful place situated in a meander of the river Yantra. And it’s surprisingly difficult to take pictures there, you need the full view and the impression of distances.

After Istanbul I joined Marie for a day to Svishtov, a small town in the North of Bulgaria, located at the Danube river (which we couldn’t see because of heavy fog). Our bus back from Istanbul went to Veliko Tarnovo, where we arrived around 5am. It was „fucking“ cold, and we walked to another bus station for the bus to Svishtov (we could have taken a taxi, but then we would have waited at the other bus station for an hour, which would have been even worse). What to say about Svishtov? It has a university and therefore a lot of students, which brings life to the city. It’s at the Danube and has a port and some industry. There’s a high school which is said to be a copy of the University of Vienna (at least not the main building, but for sure it looks ‚Austrian‘).

You can see more pictures of this journey on my photopages.

After these days I decided to stay some days in Sofia. There’s some work to do at university (exams and home work) and some social things (Erasmus party, concert of one flat-mate, …). Hope you liked my views from Istanbul and the Bulgarian towns.

South America …

Mittwoch, Januar 21st, 2009

No, I’m not going to South America, there’s still a lot to explore in South-Eastern Europe. But Peter, a still very close friend from school, went there last month. Some of my readers should know him :) He will travel around that continent for several months. He also started writing a blog, you can find it here.

Snow in Macedonia

Donnerstag, Januar 8th, 2009

Curious, what I did for new year? We didn’t manage to go to Macedonia, due to our little illnesses and the lack of buses on the last day of the year. So we spent new year in a very nice pub in Sofia.

Finally we managed to go to Macedonia on January 1st and stayed there until the evening of January 5th and then had a long uncomfortable night in a small bus. There’s so much I would tell about, but I try to be short (and pregnant – sorry – that’s a joke that only german-speaking people understand). Short, because I don’t have so much time, and I don’t want to bore you.

One word about politics. There’s a dispute going on about the name of the country (read more on Wikipedia). Due to the non-acceptance of their constitutional name (Republic of Macedonia), Macedonia has currently nearly no chances to join any national federations, people even need visas to travel to most – even their neighbouring – countries.

Before I traveled to Macedonia the dispute was more or less the only thing that I knew about this country. But it’s really worth to get to know it, it has a very interesting history. Most of our trip we spent in Ohrid, laying in the south-west of the country on a lake with the same name. It’s a little town with beautiful old city centre with small historic buildings. In medieval times it was an important ecclesiastic centre, thanks to Clement of Ohrid, which might have been inventor of the cyrillic alphabet, but at least was student of Cyrill and Methodius. Since 1980 the town and the lake is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

On the day after we arrived it started snowing, and it only stopped for short times. I felt rather crazy to visit sight seeing spots in deep snow, but we had our fun with it (and fortunately good shoes).

We’ve also seen some more Macedonian cities: Skopje, Bitola and Prilep. Skopje, the capital of Macedonia, is a modern city with a lively pedestrian zone (and currently pompous christmas lights, sponsored by T-Mobile). There’s also a Turkish bazaar with little shops in little houses. Although Skopje has a long history there are not many old buildings left, because most of them have been destroyed in an earthquake in 1963. Bitola is a small town, not far away from Ohrid. It has a long pedestrian road with colourful little houses and a populated bazaar. Of Prilep we haven’t seen a lot, we just spend some hours there before we went back to Skopje. But there’s a huge bazaar too.

Accomodation was one mayor issue on our trip. CouchSurfing is not very popular in Macedonia yet, so we couldn’t find a couch. But at least we met one girl in Ohrid (who we had asked for a place in Skopje) with her friends. In Skopje, where we stayed one night, we met the guy from the reception of the hostel we were searching for on the street. He just came back from buying some candles, because they had no electricity. We stayed there anyway, because it looked very nice there, illuminated by candles. There was a group of Croatians who came for new year and we had some nice talks with them. On the next day, with a different person on the reception and with electric lights, the place didn’t look so friendly.

In Ohrid finding a accomodation was not so easy. At the bus station several people waited who offered accomodation or taxi rides, but we said we want to stay at a hostel and we gonna walk there. Finally one old lady walked with us, because she had the same direction. All the way she tried to offer us her apartment, but we stayed firm. She was friendly, so we asked her for her phone number. Which was a really good idea, because the other places were either full or not opened due to winter. And one place (which somebody on the street offered) we didn’t like at all. Finally we got nervous to get accomodation, because it already got 10pm (we arrived there at 8pm) and decided to take her offer … but she didn’t take the phone any more. We finally found some place which was not that bad, but had no window to the outside and was more expensive (15 EUR instead of 10 EUR). On the next day we finally reached the lady and were happy to take her offer. It was an apartement in a brand new building for second homes … it looked quite good, but you could see that it was actually cheaply build.

So. The three days that I stayed in Sofia now very quite busy, on Tuesday morning when I read my emails I found out that I and my group from university have to give a presentation on Wednesday – after bad sleep in bus, I was really not in the mood to do this, but I managed anyway. On Thursday I wrote an exam for AutoCAD (I just wanted to ask my professor some questions, but he offered I can take the exam right away) and I think it went pretty well. And tomorrow I’m going to Veliko Tarnovo in the morning and in the evening to Istanbul. We will stay until Monday evening there and then I’m planning to visit a friend in Shivschtov. I want to be back in Sofia on Thursday, because one of my flat mates gives a concert that day.

I hope you like my pictures and my short story (maybe it’s not that short? There would still be much to tell about – delayed trains, friendly people, crazy dogs, slippery snow, old cars, turkish coffee, good tourist info, strange movie, …). I can at least offer you more pictures … Visit my photopages – maybe I should publish more pictures there anyway.

A small map showing our route (Data from OpenStreetMap)

Good time and misfortunes in Austria

Dienstag, Dezember 30th, 2008

Christmas vacation is over! As I already wrote in the last article, I spent Christmas „at home“. Most of the time I spent in Vienna, the days around Christmas in Graz. I really enjoyed to be at home again and meet all my loved ones. If I would have preferred to stay in Vienna longer? No. It was good as it was, I got some new energy and new motivation to experience something new. But it felt strange, one day before I left again, Sofia felt so far away, and now I’m back.
As the title of this article mentions, there were also some misfortunes. When I was in one of my favourite pubs in Graz – the Nachtexpress – somebody took my jacket (I assume accidentally). Unfortunately there were my calendar (where I have a lot of notes and memories) and my digital camera in the pockets. Now I’m a proud owner of a Canon IXUS 80. I’m quite happy with the quality by now, I hope I can present you better pictures of the rest of my stay.

Flight over Sofia. In the background you can see Vitosha mountain.

I have at least one picture I want to show you: During the approach of Sofia airport we were flying over Sofia. You can see the city through the clouds and in the background the Vitosha mountain. I took the picture very fast, during take-off and landing you are not allowed to use electronic devices … but it was sooo tempting.

So, have a happy new year! I’m planning to go to Macedonia (to be correct the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) with a friend, but we are not sure yet if we will leave tomorrow or on the 1st of January (we both are a little bit ill with aching throats and coughing). I will tell you later, what I did :)

Sofia and Plovdiv

Montag, Dezember 8th, 2008

I have to apologize again, quite some time has passed since last article on my blog. I think, in Winter I won’t manage a higher interval, we will see. I haven’t told you yet, but I’m going back to Vienna and Graz for Christmas, and I’m really looking forward to it. It’s not, that I’m not enjoying the time here, but often I’m feeling a bit lonely here. Sure, I’m living in a nice flat with nice people and I found some new friends, but still I’m a little bit of an outsider here. Furthermore you often meet nice people and spend some time with them, but then they go away again, back to their countries, where they are coming from. When I moved into my flat we were five people, in middle of January we will be only two if we don’t find new flat-mates (which we should, because we can’t afford the flat for only two).

You wonder, why I haven’t told anything about Sofia yet? Hmm … I was asked from many friends before I came here: „Why Sofia?“. I think, I understand now. Sofia could be a nice city, if the municipality would want to. It sad to say, but it’s the least appealing city in Bulgaria I have seen. What I miss most in Sofia is a central pedestrian zone. I think the Vitosha Boulevard, which you can see on one of the pictures, should be a place like this. The road looks like the municipality decided ten years ago to block most of the car traffic and painted some cycling road. But that’s all they changed. There are shops and cafes, but none of them looked interesting to me when I was searching one there (which was during my first weeks in Sofia).

Sofia is strongly in the hand of car traffic. Every other means of transportation (tramway, trolley-buses, buses, cycling, walking) are unworthy (but this is actually not a surprise for me, it was an assumption that I had before I came to Sofia). On the second picture you can see a good example. It’s a cycling and walking way next to a small river south to the centre of Sofia, which has been renovated in the last weeks. Apparently the municipality didn’t know how to continue, because there’s a large crossing there, and the walking traffic has to use the underpass. The bad thing: You have to run over the road from there to come to the underpass, or you go back 100m and pass a bridge to the other side of the river.

The third really annoying thing is the fact, that the pavements are used for parking. That’s something that already annoyed me in Burgas. For me it’s not a problem, I’m healthy and can take care of myself even if I walk on the road (which often is the only option). But for older and disabled people and for parents with children this must be a big problem.

So, enough rant about Sofia, time to write some positive things. I think, these ‚Blocks‘ for social housing are better as their reputation. What I’ve seen the layout of the flats are quite good, they usually have two balconies, a living-room, kitchen, separate bath-room and toilet – and bedrooms for sure. And around the Blocks is a lot of green area with small shopping centres in between. They just don’t look very appealing from the outside. And the parks in Sofia are pretty good, and many of them have been renovated in the last years. I hope, I can show you some pictures later, maybe in Spring when it will be greener as now.

As I said, there are many better places in Bulgaria, for example Veliko Tarnovo, what I told you about some time ago. On the last weekends I have seen two more towns, Plovdiv and Blagoevgrad. And some days ago, I was on the Vitosha mountain again.


Plovdiv is one of the oldest towns in Europe, it has been settled continuously since 6000 B.C. And you can feel the culture in the city, there’s a beautiful old town and next to it the modern city centre with a huge pedestrian zone. There are several hills that give a nice overview over the city (this is something, that I appreciate very much. I love this in cities like Graz and Budapest and miss it a lot in Vienna). Plovdiv was capital of Bulgaria for a short time after independence of the Ottoman Empira, but thanks to the Great Powers of that time (Austria-Hungary and Great Britain) Bulgaria was separated in two countries and the capital had to be moved to another city: Sofia. Read more on Wikipedia, it’s worth.

As this article is already getting really long, I will save my views of Blagoevgrad for the next time. At least I still have a lot of work to do until Christmas (say, next week, because I’m leaving on the 18th) for my studies. In January and February I have a lot of free time, I have to be at my university only for three exams which will hopefully be during one week. I’m not sure yet what I will do with the rest of the time, but I want to travel a lot – You have to use these opportunities, there are not so many of them. So, if somebody wants to visit me, I have a lot of time. One friend, Gerhard, already planned a visit for middle of February.

Oh … one thing I really look forward is going to a Christmas market in Vienna, we don’t have them here in Sofia. So, who wants to join me, when I’m there?

So, have a good time, I hope the next update will be sooner :)