2011 Page 1
View 2011 Eastern Europe in a larger map with points of interest index
We arrived in Amsterdam June 27th & spent three days having work done on the Rialta - rear brakes, oil change, transmission fluid change and the addition of a transmission cooler.
During this period, we hung out with out with our friends in Haarlem, Kees & Josie, & revisited Amsterdam.
After leaving the Netherlands, we bombed through familiar sections of Deutschland, stopping only for favourite restaurants, Schlenkerla in Bamberg and the Schneider Weisses Brauerei in Kelheim.
We then flew through Austria, staying a night in a free stellplatz in the lovely farm village of Deutsch Jarhndorf near the Hungarian border.
Next we found ourselves in Budapest, a city we last visited in 1990, when it was still ostensibly Communist. We took in the sobering Museum of Terror - dedicated to the victims of Nazi and Soviet/Gulag oppression and then walked the town, as we are wont to do!
We stayed at Haller Camping - close to the centre & 5 stops on the metro to the centre of Budapest. Leaving Sunday morn, we drove to the quiet town of Eger, with a magnificent basilica and a ruined castle. In the 1500s the Hungarians held off the Ottoman Turks in this castle - their valour was attributed to mixing the blood of the bull with the wine the soldiers drank (undoubtably an apocryphal tale).
However, the region is now known for its "Bikaver" (Bulls Blood) wine, which we of course had to sample, along with a Tokaji from the famous region a bit to the east: neither disappointed!
We entered Romania at Oradea, a typical uninspiring border town, not unlike border towns around the globe. Heading for Cluj Napoca, we found the roads to be better than we expected, the drivers to be better than we expected and the people to be very friendly.
The landscape is a melange of old dusty decrepit houses with peeling paint, flaking stucco & rotting wood framing , as well as many abandoned factories with rusty metal and broken windows - these monuments to entropy are interspersed with vibrant newly painted brightly coloured homes & enterprises. Very much a nation in a state of transition ... a bit of the phoenix rising from the ashes...
Horse drawn wagons we encounter frequently, cows meander down the middle of the road, meek wild dogs are everywhere, mooching at points of human activity, at every roadside rest stop.
Traveling east from Oradea, we enter the town of Huedin, where we encounter a bizarre assemblage of large domiciles - the size of a small apartment building, these are "gypsy palaces". "Graced" with highly ornamented metal roofs, they are often in a state of perpetual construction, with the family living in the partially finished house, pausing construction until more funds are acquired, then proceeding with the next stage of the building enterprise. Apparently the point is to impress other members of the clan with size & opulence, even though the family may live only in a couple of rooms, perhaps without electricity or running water.
We stop for the night in a camping 15 kms west of Cluj Napoca - Eldorado in Gilau.
Next morning we head for Hunedoara. The drive through the verdant gently rolling hills of Transylvania is pleasant. Hunedoara has an impressive medieval castle, Castelul Corvinilor , in the process of being restored, and a history of steel making dating back two hundred years. At one point, the steel mills were right at the doorstep of the castle.
We toured a steel exhibit in the Castle, accompanied by the very knowledgeable,passionate archivist/historian Rudolf (an impressive "industrial archaeologist" who taught himself very fluent English from watching cartoons and the Discovery Channel!). Almost all of the steel works (once the second largest in Romania), have been demolished since the fall of Communism - their ruined remnants litter Hunedoara, as do the skeletons of industry throughout Romania. Tens of thousands of steel workers lost their jobs in this small town when the mills & furnaces were closed & sold for scrap after the 1990 fall of Communism, apparently in the interests of a quick profit only, with no plan in place to build a new economy for the Romanians. This focus on making a quick buck from selling off capital infrastructure in pieces extends even to vandalizing & the ripping of metal out of old archive buildings. Even stealing manhole covers from the streets to be sold for scrap is seen as profitable- something we find that we have to be wary of when walking & driving.
After Hunedoara we found a charming rural camping (Camping Aurel Vlaicu ) surrounded by the fields and hills of Transylvania.
Next Morning finds us in Sibiu, a town somewhat spruced up when chosen as 2007 European Capital of Culture, but still exhibiting a thick layer of the dust of history: very pleasant pedestrian streets, an impressive cathedral, a large old Saxon Church and a section of the original fortified wall intact. Evert from the previous night's camping had recommended a restaurant serving Romanian food, so we began our tour with a very healthy lunch & Romanian wine!
This area was home to hundreds of thousands of German settlers, who lived in 300 villages with unique fortified churches that served to protect the villagers from marauding nomadic tribes. They are called Saxon towns, although the population was not entirely Saxon. Axente Sever (Saxon name: Frauendorf) was one such town:
We spent the night at Camping Doua Lumi in Blajel near Medias, warmly welcomed by Hans & Wilma, a Dutch couple who own the camping and are a wealth of information!
Leaving the camping, we stopped in Biertan,8 kms off the main road, on the recommendation of Hans & Wilma. Biertan has a well-preserved Saxon fortified church featuring 3 remaining encircling walls & numerous towers.
Next we visited the pleasant town & citadel of Sighişoara, one of the original Siebenburgen ( Seven main Saxon towns).
The following morning we traveled south to Brasov, strolled around the town...
... then headed a little west to Bran, with its questionable Dracula connection - we stayed in Vampire Camping & toured the castle next morning:
Finally, before leaving Romania for Bulgaria, we had a pleasant Sunday morning drive around Bucharest.