Tuesday, October 31, 2006


Nesebar is a little town positioned on what was once an island before it was connected to the mainland with an artificial spit about 2000 years ago. The island is only 700m by 300m and is a really well preserved old town chock full of ruined Byzantine era churches. We tried at first to get our bearings in the windy roads by going 'Ah, that's that amazing ruined church we walked past earlier' only to realize it was in fact another ruin entirely-cool.
We had read that Nesebar was probably going to be the most expensive place we visited in Bulgaria so we had our teeth gritted when we went to find a place to stay but ended up getting a modern double room with a balcony and an amazing view on the waterfront for 30 leva (about $25 AUD). Yay for offseason pricing! Apparantly the town comes up really well on Google earth and you can see the reefs around the spit. There are ruins underwater as well which were submerged several thousand years ago when the sea level rose, the diving would be incredible off here.
After crawling all over the town seeing the ruins and the fishing boats coming in with their catches and selling them straight from the dock we settled in on our balcony to watch the sun set. We really had a magic time in Nesebar.
Photos: Just some ruins, Sunset from our balcony, Fishing boat from our balcony, Mmm not quite warm enough for a swim.

From the Mountains to the Coast

We left Bansko the day after Eva's birthday via a narrow gauge railway that was supposed to be an amazingly scenic trip. The fact that it would take us 7 hours to get to our destination on the train when a bus could have taken about 3 hours we figured would be offset by the scenery. The trip didn't quite live up to our expectations although there was about an hour of going through an amazing gorge.
We arrived in Plovdiv pretty knackered from travel but found a nice private room to stay in at the back of an old lady's house with cats everywhere in the yard. Bulgaria appears to have fixed up the stray dog problem somehow as there are hardly any around but that has left a big gaping hole which has been well and truly filled by cats. The place is crawling with them!
Plovdiv is Bulgaria's second largest city and we spent a day wandering around their old town. We were a little disappointed as a lot of the buildings were in a pretty bad way or in the middle of being fixed up so we didn't really get a good feel for the place. We were very impressed by the Roman ruins scattered around the whole town however. A massive amphitheatre was found after a landslide in 1972 and there are other bits and pieces everywhere, in underpasses, behind office blocks etc. It is amazing seeing how a modern city is built around all the preserved ruins, what a pain for developers!
We grabbed a train from Plovdiv to a the largest Black Sea city Burgas. We met some really nice people on the train who looked after us and made sure we were on the right carriage when the train split in two at a junction. Everyone is so helpful and kind here we don't even need to ask for help when we get lost or need a hand as someone always offers first. The train ended up breaking down which extended the trip by about an hour, Adam reckons it was because the engine was made by Skoda (a Czech car manufacturer).
We only spent one night in Burgas before moving on to a smaller town but the town was cut in quarters by two pedestrian strips which made it really enjoyable to walk around without having to worry about cars running you over (this is a real concern and very, very annoying-the cars park on the footpaths so you have to walk on the road). We went to a Chinese restaurant for tea and made the mistake of not looking at the portion weights and ended up with three 800g serves. We ate what we could, surreptitiously threw the resident cat a couple of bits (it liked the spicy sauce) and then rolled home to bed. It was great waking up to the sound of seabirds in the morning before heading on to Nesebar.
Photos: Roman ruins in the middle of the main shopping area, Bulgarian revival housing in the old town of Plovdiv

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Happy Birthday to Me

After Melnik we decided to get mountainous again and headed to a town called Bansko which is a ski village during winter (obviously) . We had planned to stay only one night but due to erratic public transport where three busses a day means one at 6:30, one at 7:00 and one at 7:30 we stayed two. This was just as well as the next day, Eva's birthday, was much nicer and left a better impression of the town. We had great views of the mountains above us and exploring the cobbled streets with babushkas clambering over them was loads of fun. A phone call with Mum and Dad T and Chris in the morning was great, although strange to hear everyone's voices after quite a few weeks.
At lunch time we were in for a rude shock when we went to order a birthday beer and the waiter explained in broken English 'No beer, Bulgaria problem, no beer tomorrow' This we took to mean as there was a national sobriety day or some such thing and as we looked around in horror ('Not on my birthday, nooooooo' cries Eva) we realized that in fact no one was drinking at any of the outdoor cafes or bars. We then recalled that the previous night on the news they were showing footage of bottleshops etc. and had assumed it was something about a drinking problem-turns out we were right.
We recovered from our shock fairly quickly and reflected that out of the countries we have so far visited Ukraine would probably benefit greatly from a similar campaign and if anything a smoke free day was what Bulgaria needed. To add to the strangeness of the afternoon the belltower of the central church rang every 15 seconds for over an hour - interesting for the first minute, irritating for the next 59.
After we tuned out the bell and some more wandering and relaxing we decided that a brilliant dinner was what we needed to celebrate and as we were looking around for a cosy mehana (traditional tavern) we noticed that people were once again having drinks in the cafes, perhaps the tolling broke the curse? We will never know.
We could now enjoy our brilliant dinner with a couple of beers and to finish a drink of Rakia (the local grape brandy). Have we mentioned how good the food is in this country - Wow!! We are definitely doing an entry on food at the end of this trip, it has all been so different but we have certainly finished up in the tastiest country. A phone call from the other side of the world (guess who) was a great surprise and all up we both had a great day.
Photos: Another cobbled street (watch your ankles), Mountains behind Bansko.

Aaah, small towns

After having spent some time in large cities over the last couple of weeks we were relieved to be heading out into smaller towns around Bulgaria.
We first visited Rila Monastery, not really a town but a handful of hotels around the monastery to cater to both pilgrims and tourists alike. We arrived fairly late in the day and decided to leave the monastery till morning although from the outside it looked huge and quite impressive. We instead spent the evening wandering around looking up into the mountains the monastery is set in and feeling just how cold the weather up at higher altitudes is starting to get.
The following morning we grabbed breakfast at the very popular bakery which sold nothing but yoghurt, bread and donuts. The place was packed possibly because it is the only place to grab anything and it is directly opposite the entry to the monastery.
We then headed to the monastery and were lucky enough to be some of the only tourist there although the place was packed with locals there for the morning service. Everyone had sprigs of herbs to take into church, a few had brought bread to pass out at the entrance and the place was buzzing. Well maybe not buzzing but ringing as the monks inside the church kept up a chant all morning which was magic. We ended up spending some time looking around and we even saw a farmer bring (drag) a lamb in to be blessed by one of the monks. We in fact spent an awful lot of time out the front of the monastery as well as it is very poorly served by public transport and the bus did not come till two. So we got to observe the comings and goings for several hours including the police directing traffic, the mob looking people parked out the front doing who knows what and the fast moving nun running around distributing food to a beggar and a group of elderly pilgrims.
Once the bus came we began our journey to Melnik which included catching two other buses and was only successful due to very good luck with connections. Arriving in Melnik was strange as it was a town we had talked about visiting for ages and yet we weren't too sure what to expect. With a population of 240 but a roaring tourist trade due to the wine produced there Melnik was wonderfully quiet when we visited. We spent a day and a half eating delicious food and sampling Ok wines (even arguing with a cellar owner about Australian wines - he started it) and checking out the ruins spread around the town. The town is only 20 km north of the Greek border and boy did it feel like we were in a totally different region. Much dryer, the food is soooo much better and donkeys have replaced horses.
After all the wine we decided it was time for some fresh mountain air and headed onwards again.

Photos: The main street in Melnik, View of Melnik, The mass moved outside the church for a while, The church inside the monastery walls, The monastery and the mountains.

Now into Bulgaria

After having a couple more days wandering around Budapest (did we mention what a nice city it is?) we caught our flight back to Bulgaria, which in itself was fun, for the first time we had to check in our luggage, just before we started queuing (loosely termed) a call come over the P.A. 'paging a Mr. Adam Yacoumis, can you please come to the ticket counter' not bad in Hungarian. Adam then got ushered away back through customs and into a little dingy room, where he had to wait for an air Marshall to be present. He was then informed that they believed that he may be carrying some sort of illegal device in his luggage (What the?), he was then read the riot act, in Hungarian, at least that was what it sounded like. He then had to open up his luggage, the so called bomb thing turned out to be our phone and camera chargers, phew! Thank goodness because we didn't remember packing a bomb. He was then allowed back through customs and onto the flight. We also got a chance to give Ryan a call for his 8th birthday it was great talking to him and the others, sounds like he had a great birthday.
We spent a day in Sofia which was still raining and apparently had been constantly for about a week. It was a pleasant town, fairly modern but with loads of churches to duck into out of the rain and to have a look around. There is however a limit to how many churches can be tolerated in one day so after checking out the amusing changing of the guard ceremony and the archeological museum we spent the evening chilling out and booking our flights to the UK.
We have set the date for the 3rd of November and are flying Bulgaria air to Gatwick airport which should be interesting. Kinda scary thinking we are going to be job hunting and paying through the nose in England soon.
Photos: Guards at the Presidency, Hot springs in the middle of Sophia.


The time had come to meet up with Stuart, Melanie and Kebab in Budapest and boy were we excited waiting for them to rock up at the hotel we had all booked months earlier. They had made T-shirts up with the Rocktober details as gifts which was totally awesome.
On the first night we had a tops time with Adam and Stuart making up for the last 2 months of not catching up for drinks once a week which resulted in Adam being pretty useless on the sightseeing the next day. (Bloody Palinka!)
Despite Adam's temporary illness we spent four days walking around Budapest, the markets, bridges and old town as well as making a day trip out to Godollo palace with the guys, catching up on each others trips and having a few drinks.
The Friday night before Stuart and Melanie left was loads of fun, with an asianesc dinner followed by drinks and then a few more drinks in the form of some very tasty cocktails, listening to a Russell Crowe look alike playing the guitar.
Four days passed VERY quickly and it was strange to see Stuart and Melanie off on Saturday morning. Time just flew by, it was great fun and really weird to catch up with people you know on the other side of the world.
Photos: Rocktober uniform (cheers Logan), The Rocktober team, Eva and Melanie horsing around, View of Parliament from Buda, Stairway to nowhere (Random stairway in Stuart and Melanie's room), Eva practising for the UK, Paprika!!!!!!


We spent a day or two in transit first hopping on a train from Bucharest to Sofia. Spent a night there in what seemed a lovely but rainy city before hopping on our first budget European airline flight to Budapest, all in all a lot of miles covered on the way to Rocktober!!!!

Play Police

On our way to the train station in Bucharest we had the fairly unpleasant experience of almost getting scammed. We were walking along when a bloke came up to Adam blabbing about something, Eva thought he was a cab driver and kept walking as that usually gets rid of them quickly enough but by now he had stepped in front of Adam and explained that he was a Ukrainian tourist who wanted directions to the Intercontinental Hotel, yeah right! As soon as Adam said 'Umm, yeah that way' and went to walk off two other heavies rocked up and blocked his way. By now Eva thought to stop and return, just as the two new guys were spinning a line something like 'We are Romanian police. This man is a very dangerous drug dealer from Ukraine, heroin, cocaine, you are speaking to him so we want your passport to see who you are' Not particularly believable at the best of times and the badge that got flashed which had written clearly on it Play Police didn't help but that didn't change the fact we were in some Bucharest suburb with three big thugs surrounding us. Now is probably the time to thank all those people out in Cyberspace and guidebook world for the advice we have read on scams like this (and thank ourselves for the research we have done). We started to explain that yes we will show them our passports at the nearest police station we could walk to and we would be more than happy to cooperate once there.
There followed a lot of yelling of 'identification please!' and other such things but we held our nerve (all the while waiting to get bashed by three Romanian thugs) and they eventually gave up.
The funniest part was when they attempted to keep up the ruse by shaking Adam's hand and thanking him for his cooperation, hilarious in hindsight but scary as at the time.

Saturday, October 07, 2006


We arrived in Bucharest in the evening after a very long (8hrs), hot train trip and crashed pretty much straight away in a place near the station. The next morning we set out to a hostel closer to the centre and after settling in there had a bit of a nasty morning discovering our inner demons. After some food and a sit down we were ready to try the city out in a better frame of mind and organised tickets on to Sofia for Saturday night-it's really hard to believe it is almost time to leave Romania.
Bucharest was a very busy place and it took a bit of getting used to after all the quiet places we have been visiting. After wandering around for a day getting our bearings we set out on a bit of a walking tour starting on the large boulevard Ceasescu wiped out 1/6 of Bucharest to build. We had read a lot about this area and the general consensus was that the whole area was hideous but it was actually amazing. Sure it was no picturesque old town but the scale and grandeur of it all as well as the uniformity of the architecture sure had an impact.
At the end of the boulevard is the Palace of Parliament which Ceasescu never actually saw completed. The place is freaking huge!!!! It is the second largest building in the world after the Pentagon, crazy. The tour we went on took us through some of the most spectacular halls but only covered around five percent of the building. Our guide had only ever seen about fifteen percent. To give some idea of how over the top this building is the 4 curtains in one room weighed a combined total of 1 tonne, velvet of course with real gold trim.
We continued walking through the city and passed through the squares where the 1989 revolution really exploded. The old securitate building is just a shell left standing as a reminder of the old regime and there are crosses all over the place commemorating the 1000 or so people who died over a couple of days in the capital. Once we started looking we found bullet holes everywhere, some still with bullets hanging in there. We really were speechless thinking about just how recent all this was.
To get over our speechlessness we found -yet another- beer festival. Besides it had started raining and we needed to shelter somewhere. Several beers and a plate of German sausage later we didn't mind the rain so much and decided to make a night of it and hit a really nice bar, sampling a few cocktails and acquiring the coolest Bacardi swizzle stick in the process.
We spent our last day in Romania hitting the shops for supplies for our overnight train trip and trying to find a new Tshirt each, Saturday is definitely shopping day over here, everywhere was packed.
We then headed to the train station, on the way having a nasty experience and left the country in a rather paranoid mindset, more about that later.

Corvin Castle

We had wanted to visit Corvin Castle in Hunedoara from Sibiu originally but had not been able to hook up transport so instead did it on the way from Timisoara through to Bucharest. We planned to stay in a nearby town called Deva but when we arrived and the entire town had no water (and the hotels still wanted to charge $100AUD) we decided to move on to Hunedoara itself and try our luck.
We went straight to the castle as the afternoon was wearing on which hampered us somewhat looking around as we had our packs. Did I mention how cool this castle was!?! The whole thing is about as intact as you'll find and had all the turrets and towers you could ask for, oh and a drawbridge!
Despite the discomfort caused by carrying our packs around (it was hot too, 30 degrees) and the slightly unfriendly staff we really enjoyed the castle and the view from the window over the miles and miles of abandoned, slowly crumbling industry. Quite a contrast.
We then made our way to the town's one hotel, described in our guidebook as a 'dingy, flea-ridden place' best to be avoided. Well at least if had still been like that it would have been cheap! Instead it had undergone a major facelift and set us back what we would have paid in Deva. At least we had water. Did I mention how cool the castle was???

Photos: The view from Corvin castle, Corvin castle

Sighet to Timisoara

We arrived in Sighet in the north of Maramures (back up near the border with Ukraine again) and strangely enough found a cigarette market!! So this is where they end up. There were border police everywhere in the town but obviously have a blindspot for this little market.
Sighet wasn't a particularly pleasant town but contained a prison in Ceausescu's time for anti party folk and was very cruel, starving and torturing prisoners. It now contains a museum covering the communist period in all of the satellite states and all of the various cruelties etc. The museum is rated up there with Auchwitz for it's representation of the past and certainly had a similar effect on us although not to the scale of Auchwitz.
We had a particularly friendly doorman at our hotel in Sighet who gave us a shot of palinka on our way to our room, and when he was our waiter that night continued to bring us shots and said (through the translation of the receptionist) that he'd keep bringing it as long as we wanted, all for free of course. The fact he looked like Robin Williams made him even more endearing, crazy.
From Sighet we caught a bus back through Baia Mare (no sign of the dolls) and on to Oradea. We weren't too stoked to be back on a minibus but our driver did very well given the state of the road. We had heard they were bad, and thought we had seen the worst of it but this was ridiculous. Almost beyond description really but it had the effect of jackhammering your spine into the base of your skull, yuk.
Oradea was a very sleepy town, leaving us with not much to do or see but spend a pleasant day wandering around watching a bunch of men fishing and waiting for somewhere to open to feed us (the hotel doesn't do brekkie on Sundays-must be a fast day for all travelers or something). The receptionist at the hotel was nice though asking what Australia was like and if we really have that many snakes and spiders.
From Oradea we grabbed a train to Timisoara, the town where the 1989 revolution began. The town was really pretty with three squares and lots of nice old buildings next to the newer cement ones. The protesting started here when Father Tokes spoke out against the government and was arrested. There were about 100 deaths in the following few days. It was strange walking around realizing that anyone over the age of 28 or so would remember the revolution or may have lost someone in it.
Photos: Some bloke we met in Timisoara, Think we should ask for Royalties?


Maramures is a region in northern Romania which holds what is generally held as the last stronghold of true rural Europe, people living and farming much as they have since medieval times. We planned to base ourselves in a central village in the Mara valley and to hike to neighbouring villages but our plans didn't really last very long...
We grabbed a bus from Cluj-Napoca to Baia Mare (big mine-a predictably nasty looking town) and from there another bus which was headed for Sighet at the entrance to the Mara valley.
The first bus trip was no fun as Adam was busting to go to the loo the whole time, and when we arrived we dashed off the bus so quickly we forgot the package containing the Russian dolls we had been lugging across mountains etc for the last five weeks. By the time we realized what had happened the bus was long gone. The package was addressed and all too. We might have to chase down some Romanian dolls or something....
We grabbed some pizza in between buses which led to the next trip being doubly as unenjoyable as the first. Eva's stomach disagreed with the pizza - violently. After an hour of chills, spasms etc. Eva stopped the bus on an isolated hill top in the middle of a forest, leaving Adam to lug the bags off and tell the driver not to bother waiting as we had no idea how long we would be.
After that problem had resolved itself we were left with the entirely new problem of being stuck on top of a hill in the middle of nowhere. We knew another bus was due to go by in several hours but didn't really feel like hanging around not knowing if it would even stop for us as we weren't at a bus stop. Eva voted for hitching and Adam voted for walking. After every car that went past in a 15 minute window was either flash (therefore not picking up feral backpackers) or full (the one place they carpool!!) we were left with walking, Thankfully the roads here are very well signposted so we knew the next village was 12 km away and that we had about 3 hours of sunlight left, we got cracking.
The road was marked at every kilometre and we were walking at 6kmph (downhill thankgoodness) through very pretty forest. Unfortunately it was a little hard to enjoy as we had no idea if the village we were heading to even had a place to stay or even a shop and our worries were confirmed as we finally arrived and the place was a one street affair. They had a shop though so we stocked up a drink (frutti fresh saved our lives) and decided to try the next town which was only another km away.
We were walking through such a pretty village it was hard not to appreciate, with huge wood carved gateways and matching woodcarving on the homes themselves. When we rolled into the next town and saw a sign for a pension we almost fainted, they even had nanna out the front making jam over a fire with an ancient wooden mixing device.
The place was really, really nice and cheap too. We got to have dinner with the couple who run the pension (well he drives trucks, she manages the home). Everything was home made, the soup, bread, dessert and most importantly the palinka! They were a fairly young couple with a fourteen year old daughter and an eight year old son and they were passionate about their heritage, showing us photos of weddings and occasions where they had all the traditional dress on. They even had the 24hr culture channel on TV and seemed to enjoy it!
The next morning we were pretty sore but hiked on to the village we had originally planned to stay at, Ocna-Sugatag, another eight kilometres on. The countryside is wonderful, we passed so many people making haystacks, doing the washing up outside, making jam and heaps of old ladies lugging huge loads on their backs in baskets. It was quite a timewarp and once again there were loads of horses and carts trotting by, even the odd ox-drawn cart.
The next day we decided to visit a nearby protected peat bog instead of a village as we were keen to see some wildlife. We took a picnic and got to see more village life on the way. Arriving at the bog we sat for AGES not moving or talking hoping to see something living but to no avail. We did see a pretty cool nature at work moment though when a wasp stunned a caterpillar on a leaf, then when the wasp realized the caterpillar had dropped to the ground it in turn dropped straight off the leaf to get a search area figured out. It took a while but just as the caterpillar was waking up the wasp found it-brutal.
When we thought that was all we would see we stepped in some long grass and YAY!!! FROGS!!! We spent the next half hour searching for frogs and scaring the daylights out of the poor little things.
We bussed it out to a larger town the next day but rural Maramures was definitely a highlight so far.
Photos: Strip farming, Wooden gate, More scenery


Our next stop from Sighisoara was Cluj-Napoca, a largish town with a big university population. We didn't do much sightseeing but just kinda wandered around for a day and a half. We had to get Adam a new pair of shoes as his CAT shoes had worn through to the leather, in three months! Not happy! We stayed in our first hostel for the trip which was a cool little joint near the centre, Cluj had a really hip feel to it after we got used to being in a bigger city again. Lots of funky looking bars and restaurants and generally just pleasant architecture though the centre. Not a bad spot really....

Thursday, October 05, 2006

I just called to say I love you........

We will be updating our blog very soon, we are sorry for the inconvenience caused to any of our avid readers. We have been in fairly isolated places and we havent found the time, we have just arrived in Bucharest so we should have the chance soon. PS. emails will follow too :)