Monday, 31 October 2011

86 Bucharest

We searched the internet for places to see in Bucharest, bearing in mind that we have visited so many churches and other landmarks that they are blurring into one big mass. TripAdvisor did not come up with much so we selected what was available and despite approaching the place with an open mind, we were very dissapointed.  The city has no soul. Unlike other cities that have a seedy old town centre that tourists and residents alike flock to for an evenings entertainment or to see old architecture, this place lacks that completely. An extract from their own tourist web site offers an explanation:

.............. Bucharest had taken significant damage from the Allied bombing during World War II and the earthquake of March 4, 1977. However, neither of these events changed the face of the city as much as the redevelopment schemes of the 1980s, when eight square kilometres (about the size of Harlow) in the Old Historical Centre of Bucharest were leveled, including monasteries, churches, synagogues, a hospital and a noted Art Deco sports stadium. Some 40,000 people were evicted with only a single day's notice to make room for the construction of these Stalinist apartment buildings topped with neoclassical follies.

The photo below is a Google Earth screen shot of one of the residential tower block systems put up by Ceausescu. This place does not even have borough names like Tottenham, Chiswick or Grenwich. Instead it has sector numbers. The photo shows "Sector 2".
The Bucharest borough of Sector 2. The area is an urban disater. So bad that it is included in the 3D part of Google Earth. Tottenhams Broadwater farm is not !

This city has serious problems in the tourist attraction depertment. The mix of old and new has not been well addressed with some buildings having both. On top of that the infrastructure is a complete mess, with the wiring around the city all hanging down like a scene from a western tornado movie.

Museum of Romania

Good and bad side by side.

Modern day architect on drugs.

It was not all  bad

This defied belief. It was everywhere. Hanging in the streets and most of the lamp posts. It was a complete mess.

To balance all this bad news up somewhat, the people have been fantastic. They have all been courteous and helpful whenever we have had the chance to interact. For example: We attended the "Revivals Memorial" where there is a monument to all those who lost their lives in the 1989 uprising. Whilst there a man came up to us (we were obviously tourists) and gave us a short history of the overthrow of Ceausescu. He went on to explain that the log heads that made the path, were different sizes as that denoted the victims, ie, the men were large log heads, the children small and women were the middle size.  He also went on to state that although Ceausescu was gone, the country was still ruled by communists, only the name had changed to "the Social Democrats". (SDP)
Revivals memorial. The block behind is where, from a window, Caeusescu saw the scale of the demonstration outside. He was so shocked that he and his wife took a helicopter from the roof but were captured soon after. Days later they were executed immediately after their two hour trial on Christmas day.

Half  finished or half destroyed - who knows ?

Even these beautiful buildings were daubed with huge gaudy adverts.  People live in the flats behind these banners.

This was a nice touch though. An open air, second hand book market. It was huge.

Originally the "Peoples Palace". Built by Caeusescue, presumably called so as it was paid for by them. This is the second largest, by floor area, office buildiing in the world. Only beaten by the pentagon.

Opposite is the biggest kids playground in the world. (Joke)

The day was rounded off with a couple of large Jack Daniels and a beautiful sunset.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

85 Caeusescu's Folly

Wooohoo....this was amazing. The road went up to a height of about 6000 feet with bends and twists all the way. The views were spactacular and the trees were still in full autumn splendour. The photos show it all.
Looking back the way we have just driven up

Looking up towards the top of the mountain ridge

The lake is frozen and its still only October

Mrs Hall captured unawares

more of the same

Basic kooking at thentrance to the tunnel at the top.

This is how cold it is up here

Even in the tunnel huge icicles form.
We the started on our way down the other side and the sun shine gought out the coulours.

Even Leon enjoyed the sunshine

A lake halfway down

The same lake

The colours were amazing

My turn to be captured

We saw a lot of this. The locals having BBq's on open fires. It was only a couple of degreesa above freezing

The winding road seemed to go on forever, at least the next hour. We then hit the motorway for the last 100 kms to Bucharest.

And now Bucharest
We have a good internet connection here so hopefully more pics tomorrow.

84 A bit of Romanian history.

The Romanians have had a hard life. They have been pushed from pillar to post by successive raids from the Austrians and the Turks to name but a few. The only stability being bought in by the likes of Vlad Tepes (Vlad the impaler) in the 1400s who is regarded as a national hero in Romania as opposed to how we tend to think of him.
The country was even used as a gift from Turkey to Austria at one time.
Then following the Russian take over after WW2 they were forced into communism. In 1965 a Communist dictator took over, Nicolae Ceausescu. He along with his wife Elena started to bring some freedom from the Russians for the first decade of their rule but after that things went a bit drastic.
He (with much imput from her indoors) decided to create some sort of master race and orderd all women not to use contraception and outlawed abortion. He also orderd all women to have 4 children, and laterly 5. This birthing explosion left the counrty as a whole with more children than it could manage and huge orphanages were set up. The children in these places were malnourished and abused. The stronger ones were groomed to become part of the secret police whilst the weaker ones were left to lie in squalor.
These children have become known as 'Ceausescu's Children'
Before all this came to fruition, the communist empire collapsed and in 1989 the Ceausescu's with it. The country revolted against him and the Army joined in on December 22nd. The Caeusescu's tried to escape ina helicopter but were captured.
They were both sent to trial for crimes against the state. The trial started on Christmas day and lasted a whole 2 hours after which they were both taken away immediately and given some good news via a few AK47 assault rifles.
The orphanges did not close down and even 12 years later they were still in operation. Romania used the excuse that it had insufficient funds to deal with them.

Caeusescu wasted a lot of the countries minimal wealth on stupid costly projects. One of which is now known as Ceausescu's Folly. It is a road, officially called the Transfagarasan Highway, and it was daubed "a spectacular monument to earth-moving megalomania". It is a road straight over a high mountain range, intended for military purposes. There are several adequate roads that go around it.
The road was built by soldiers, of which about 40 died. About 6 million kilos of explosive were used on the Nothern face. It is like a mad snake over the mountain. 

Those of you who watch "Top Gear" will have seen Clarkson & co driving unfeasably overpriced sports cars over this mountain pass.

The only good thing is that we are going over it later today......  

Saturday, 29 October 2011

83 Draculas Castle

Saturday 29th Oct.
Today a relatively short 120 km drive to Bran Castle. It is described by Wikipedia as follows:

Bran Castle (German: Törzburg; Hungarian: Törcsvár), situated near Bran and in the immediate vicinity of Braşov, is a national monument and landmark in Romania. The fortress is situated on the border between Transylvania and Wallachia, on DN73. Commonly known as "Dracula's Castle" (although it is one among several locations linked to the Dracula legend, including Poenari Castle and Hunyad Castle), it is marketed as the home of the titular character in Bram Stoker's Dracula. There is, however, no evidence that Stoker knew anything about this castle, which has only tangential associations with Vlad III, voivode of Wallachia, the putative inspiration for Dracula.

So...Draculas Castle it is then. 
It is now a museum cum tourist attraction and with our lack of knowing what day of the week it is we did not know it was Saturday. It was mobbed. 

On the bright side there were about 30 youngsters dressed in Halloween costumes. It was nice – to a degree, however as we left the obligatory souvenir shop at the end of the castle tour, all the kids were laid out on the courtyard floor of the castle. We were about to walk past when we heard what we figured out to be a Romanian count down from 10 to 1 which the kids joined in on. At “1” Michael Jacksons “Thriller” burst though the loud speakers and they all got slowly up as though coming out of the ground and started to dance to the song. It turns out that they were actually dressed as zombies (I’m not sure if there is a difference, except maybe for the 2 missing holes in the neck).

It was actually very entertaining and obviously something that happens only once a year. We enjoyed it and were lucky to have caught it at exactly the right time.

Then is was off to our campsite which when we saw it changed our minds and looded for a nearby hotel On top of that the temperature dropped to about minus 4 last night.
We saw these on the way to the hotel:

The hotel was hosting a wedding, but what was a nice touch is that the staff are all dressed up on Halloween costumes.

82 The disaster of Moldova

Final pic from the Ukraine....don't ask what it is.

Tuesday 25th Oct.
A quick drive to the Moldovan border. We arrived there at about 2pm and the wait was only about an hour. They inspected out passports with a magnifying glass - literally. We had to pay the usual 20 Euros for what we are not sure but the bank note was shoved under the keybouard of the computer. I was asked about my green card insurance (which they knew I would not have) and then I had to buy insurance from them. They did at least gice me a certificate but without a finish date on it but it was computer printed and they stamped it too. The cost if the unsurance was 4 Euros, making it even more suspicious. 
From the internet, I had, the previous night found a hotel in town and put the coordinated into the sat nav. Unfortunately, the sat nav did not have any proper maps for Moldova to we were "flying in the dark" to some degree. 
Anyway, we eventually got to the Town of Balti and drove around and around trying to find the Hotel to no avail. We then decided to get some currency before continuing our search only to find that the two cash machines we tried refused all our cards.
So there we were. No money, no hotel, no language skills and no will to stay in the country. It was a shame as the place seemed nice and friendly but with no money, and the prospect of not being able to pay for a hotel with our cards, if indeed we found one, we decided to pull the plug on Moldova and drive into Romania. By now it was getting late and the prospect of driving on pot holed roads  in the dark was not filling us with joy.
We set off for the border and the Romanian town of Iasi.
Its like something out of a film set.

We soon found out why the horse and carts have dodgy number plates on.....they are otherwise invisible in the dark and at this time of year they are scrabbling to get their harvests in. The drive was very scary.
This was a small truck towing another on on the main road. The second one only had 3 wheels that actually rotated.
We arrived at the Romanian border at about 8pm and queued up with about 20 cars. This border was a bit easier once we had gotten past the "what is this for", "what does that do" stage with Gromit. Our destination from there was about 20kms of absolutely blissful flat tarmac, terminating in a small town called Iasi.
We could no resist this...
We were in Transylvania. It translates to "Land beyound the Forest" or something like that.
We found a back street hotel which in itself was very presentable, we were on the 3rd floor and there was no lift. On top of that the local dogs (of which strays are a very real problem in this part of the world) decided to bark alternately at each other all night. In the morning, at about 5 am they were joined by the local cockerels in someones garden, 30m from our hotel window. Bliss.

Wednesday 26th - Friday 28th Oct.
Outside the local shopping mall was evidence of the previous communist, communal heating system.

 The Grand Palace of Iasi.

Another quick pack up and a visit to the local supermarket and a drive round so the only thing worth photographing and then it was off to the heart of Transyvania and the 'birthplace' of Dracula. A small town called Sighisoara. I say 'birthplace', in reality the place is famous previous occupant, Vlad the Impaler, more correctly known as Vlad Dracul, was the inspiration for Bram Stokers original version of "Count Dracula".
The journey was very spectacular and involved crossing the Carpathian Mountains.
A gorge through the mountains.

The residents do not miss a trick to make a few bob.
It does not look it but is is only a couple of degrees above freezing.

A small community on the watershed at 1280m. Life must be hard in mid winter.

Night was almost upon us as we drove down the mountain.
We elected to stay a couple of days to recharge our batteries, we have done a lot of driving lately and even we need to stop for a break now and again. What better place to do it. We struggled to find a hotel in Sighisoara having planned to book into Hotel Dracula. We were eventually pointed in the direction of the Citadel, a walled in area on top of a hill. As it was dark we could not see what we were heading for but when we drove up to it, having paid 15 lei (£3) to enter, we were in for a very nice surprise. The Citadel was not like going backin time. It actually WAS a place that time had forgot. All the buildingd dated from the 1300s up till the mid 1800s. We found the hotel we sought. The hotel Sighisoara and it was beautiful. Even the stairs were worn from centuries of use. There were churches and belltowers everywhere. Cobbled uneven streets, dingy passageways, old timber fortifications and of couse, souvenir shops.
One of the more spectacular bell towers.

Vlad Dracul's house. Also his son, Vlad Tepes Dracula's birthplace. (Tepes is Slav for Impale - apparently)

The plaque that Karen is pointing to in the above piccy.

Here are some piccys around the town.

Dracula, in reality, was a sort of father and son team. The father was called Vlad Dracul, the surname being bestowed on him by the Sigmund of Luxemburg in 1431 when he made him a member of the "Dragon Order". Dragon in latin is Draco, as in the film "Dragonheart" where Sean Connery played the voice of the dragon "Draco", and also the sneaky opponent to Harry Potter, Draco Malfoy.
Hence Vlad became Vlad Dracul. His son who was born in the house below, was then called Vlad Tepes Draculea, "lea" bit meaning "son of". Draculea in Slav language translates to Dracula in latin and "Tepes" translates to impale. How Bram Stoker conjered up his Dracula story when he has never been here is a mystery but as we all know, he has made Dracula a legend that he did not earn.
Vlads house in now a restaurant and his legend lives on within it.

An authentic wall painting of Vlad (preseved as far as possible) on the resataurant wall.

The lovely Karen eating in one of the Restaurants rooms. Check out the picture under the chandalier.

The picture from the above photo. Vlad doing what he does best...impailing !  Its not often you go into a restaurant and these are dead bodies on sticks adorning the walls.

Another Picture of Vlad.

An ancient covered walkway.

The back streets at night.

No comment.

The lady can be scary at times.

Our hotel with Gromit outside. At the end is a covered stairway the the main church and graveyard.
Dragons feature quite prominantly in Romanian history (as across the rest of Europe, as we have seen) but here there are still original paintings in the churches of dragons as can be seen below.

The inside of the main church. The sign said "No Photography" but of couse that did not apply to me because we are not tourists - we live wherever Gromit is, so technically we are locals !

A wall painting (in the church) of a dragon being slayed.

And another...

The graveyard.

And again. The graveyard is live (if that the right word) the last entry we could find was only in March this year.
All in Sighisoarhy! is an amazing place.

A better view of the bell tower from the village below.

Next stop, Bran Castle. The supposed castle that Dracula (Bram Stokers version) lived in. It is about 100km South West frome here.