May 31, 2009


My parents came to visit on Ascension day last week - so we took advantage of the weather and visited estate De Horsten after cheruchan's recommendation.

May 07, 2009

Back in Bucharest

After today's continous journey I finally made it back to Bucharest. Although I was considering sidetrips to Halmyris and/or Istria still, in the end I went straight back - thinking that I'm done adventuring and that it's time to just go home. Even considering of pulling my flight forward a few hours.

It's funny to notice how quickly a mood can change. After having checked in to the closest option for accomodation (a very quaint hostel with old British men and whole family albums up on the walls) and chilling in the kitchen with a cup of tea I felt some energy returning. Why go home early, and settle for dinner in McDonald's while I'm still in Bucharest - the city that positively surprised me only a few days ago? Or had that suddenly changed?

Starting the long walk into the city where L. had shown me around extensively on the weekend I could see again why I enjoyed it so much. The roughness, the unpretensiousness, the feeling of being alive - it's all there. It's definitely not a 'pretty' or 'nice' city but it's worth getting to know I think.

P.S. But not in the middle of summer - it'll be awful with 30/35C temperatures, too muggy, dirty, dusty.

Observations from a village festival

Visiting the Danube Delta was high on my wishlist for this trip. I'm not a bird person but the area sounds beautiful so after leaving L. in Bucharest on Sunday I departed for a new adventure: reaching Sf. Gheorghe - and maybe more importantly - coming back to Bucharest in time for my flight home.

All the ferry schedules I had found, gave different information so after arriving in Tulcea (an easy-to-forget city) I decided on Monday morning to just go and see what would happen (knowing that there are only three ferries a week so turning around halfway wasn't an option).

The ferry there was absolutely packed - not only with people but also building supplies, food, plants, the list goes on. After asking my neighbour she said it was because of a local festival this week.


In my usual unplannedness I had expected Sf. Gheorghe to be as deserted as everywhere else so far and had not booked anythign ahead. Once off the boat, it turned out that there wasn't a map of the town anywhere, no discernible streetnames, and no clear signs for the pensions. By then I was picturing myself wandering the dirtroads of Sf. Gheorghe for the rest of the night, unable to find accomadation.

The place I did find with the help of some locals was a lovely cute pension where I was all of three guests. With the hour my host had a grilled fish dinner ready and I'd discussed plans to share a boat for a trip up the Delta with my Romanian fellow guests (a Bucuresti-couple who looked bored for their whole stay).


Currently I'm sitting on the upper deck of the ferry back at 6:30am - three days after the above happened. Well-rested, I suppose (apart from the 6am wake-up) - after two days of enforced laziness. I spent half of both days lying at the beach. A pretty much empty, long stretch of shelly beach on the Black See. Deserted, apart from a couple of cows, and myself of course.

The rest of the time was spent sitting at one of the boat jetties, reading and looking out over the water, and for a short two hours on a little boat to spot white pelicans in the Delta.

And then there was the festival. A celebration of St. George, patron of fisher men, but on the date of the old Russian Orthodox calendar. It started off with a ceremony in the local church, with a huge meal in the churchyard. After that, the party moved to the main square where a big stage was set up. Throughout the day there would be performances of the local band, ropetowing & dancing competitions and the highlight of the evening: a Ukrainian song and dance troupe, boated in for the occasion (the Delta stretches out into the Ukraine and the people have a shared history with many people in Sf. Gheorghe speaking Russian).

So, I had fun watching and observing the village celebrating the party of the year. All of the above was of course combined with plenty of beer and meat.

At some point, I had collected a fanclub of kids trying out their "Do you like [sports/pink/chocolate/etc]" phrases on me. And I had to do my best to keep a straight face when a Bucuresti dude in a cool PUMA-jacked told me about his trip to the Netherlands two years ago to see a concert of his favourite band, BZN....

But for now, my adventures are up. I'm heading back to Bucharest (a long day of ferry and bus) before flying home tomorrow. It's been a good two weeks, for the moment my travel bug is sated again.

May 06, 2009

On Budapest

It already feels weeks ago since I was in Budapest, while in reality it's only been about 8 or 9 days. I haven't managed to write anything about it yet, and having seen so many other places in between I'm finding it difficult to think back to it. I wonder how people on a 6-month RTW do it - and not let each city go up into the next one. Or maybe that is what happens but no one wants to admit it...?

The weekend in Budapest started out with an important realisation: I had assumed we were seeing Hungarian friends of M. in Budapest. Until she said - on the airport transfer into the city - that it is kind of exceptional that two Pakistanis are living in Budapest. That's when something clicked: uhm, who exactly are you talking about?
So the boasting to my colleagues that I would see the 'real' Budapest didn't come true - or at least, not in the way I envisaged it. I haven't had one bite of Hungarian food either, but homemade Pakistani food tastes great.

It was still a very good weekend of course, with lots of sunshine and kilometres of walking the city and hearing stories from T and B to go with them. The city really is beautiful, something of an older Paris but with maybe a little more life to it. I think that's mostly because everything isn't as perfectly restored yet as it is in cities such as Paris.

The division into the two parts is interesting. I knew that it was Buda and Pest but hadn't realized the two sides are so different. Pest really is downtown, busy streets, lots of big buildings, long shopping streets - everything a city should have. Buda, across the river, has the green, the lush trees, the hills with castles and palaces - and also the posh areas to live in.

Thanks to friends of B & T we also found the funkiest teahouse possible, and a couple of very cool cafe's. One of which caused major deja-vu. I still have to figure out what caused it, it was surreal walking around Szimpla but I cannot figure out at all which city, which place was so much the same.

May 05, 2009

The end of the world

Last week in Sighisoara I spoke to someone who was telling me how great the Danube Delta is, and that the small villages on the coast feel like the end of the world.

I am now in Sfante Gheorghe (or, St. George) and it does feel a little like the end of the world. It's only reachable by boat, in the village itself I've seen maybe three cars (the main form of transport is horse and carriage, and there are no paved roads.

I'm fascinated by these remote little places - they seem so cut off from what I consider to be the real world, but yet there are people living here, working here, going to school (up to 14 at least) and just living life.

For myself, I can't imagine living here - 5 hours by ferry to reach it, and then only a few times a week. But spending a few days here is bliss. I wish I could show how quiet it is here. Or actually, it isn't quiet at all - the noise is deafening: frogs, cows, lots and lots of birds, chickens, dogs, etc. Plus, if you chose your spot well - the Danube waves breaking against small fishing boats. Or even better: Black Sea waves coming in to land at the deserted beach.

May 03, 2009

On Bucharest *

I've had an afternoon on the bus to think about what I want to write about Bucharest. The city doesn't have a good reputation: grey, dreary, full of communist remains and not-so-safe. At least, that's what I was expecting.

With a friend living in the city at the moment this weekend was the perfect opportunity to find out what holds true of the above image. As it turns out, not much.

The word that describes the city best is unfinished. It is, quite literally, a city that isn't ready yet. Of course, every city builds, rebuilds, renovates - but Bucharest is the extreme version of it. Some buildings are really not finished; such as Ceaucescu's Palace. He was executed before the second biggest building in the world could be built the way he wanted it.
And there are so many old buildings which just stand empty, of of which only the front is still standing. And buildings that have scaffolding put up around them but no one seems to actually be working on those buildings. The same goes for plenty of broken-up streets.

Luckily, sometimes, there is a building renovated - back to what it was in the early 20th century. Seeing those buildings, and the potential of so many others, it's no wonder Bucharest was once called the 'Paris of the East'.

In the midst of all this urban chaos it mostly feels as a city that's coming alive. People out on the streets are either dressed in expensive brands or just very cheap stuff (there is no in between) - but they are out in the city. Eating, drinking, shopping. Because there's a big range of restaurants and plenty of cool bars and cafes with an edgy underground feel to it.

It's the type of city I like - one that you can see growing, evolving, finding a new fit for itself. Budapest is similar but much further ahead (more later). I wonder what Bucharest will be like in 10 years from now...

* Pictures to be added in later

May 01, 2009


Usually, when I travel by myself, I start writing up the various things that happen, impressions from different places and people. So this notebook has become a fixed part of my must-pack items.

Somehow this trip doesn't do that. I've started off two, three stories - but I have no inspiration to write any further than the first paragraph. Is this country not inspiring enough?

The landscapes I travel through are beautiful, the towns I'm staying in are pretty and pittoresque - but other than that? I'm not so sure...

It's one of the first times that I feel limited by travelling by myself. And that I feel a sense of adventure is lacking.

That might sound contradictory - to many people, travelling alone is a big enough adventure as it is. And maybe that's true but the things I do so far seem pretty common (I've been paying more attention to it after the responses over the last few months). But there's plenty of stuff that I just don't have the guts to do. Like, hiking up a mountain by myself. After I'd psyched myself up for it (after all, it was only a trail of two hours), stocking up on food and water, and digging out my raincoat from the bottom of my backpack - I chickened out at the bottom of the mountain. I'm just not comfortable enough hiking in unknown territory.

The vague disappointment disappeared though, when I was almost at the top of Postovaru (reached by cablecar) and saw that there was still quite a bit of snowand ice around. I definitely couldn't have handled that - I guess it pays to listen to my gut!

I'm still debating a next adventure. I would really love to go to the Danube Delta. It sounds stunning. It's a unique part of the world, where the Danube reaches the sea and wetlands have emerged with their special flora and fauna. It's also difficult to reach, or actually - it takes time. And I'm afraid to get stuck.

I doubt it will really come to that, but still - you don't know. However, the alternative would be mountains and small towns. I've seen the latter (Oradea, Sighisoara, Brasov) and have discovered that I won't tackle snowy big mountains by myself. On top of that the hostels are deserted so I'm not counting on meeting potential hiking partners anymore.

What to do? Resort to something semi-familiar, or head into something completely unknown?