A Travellerspoint blog

Veliko Tarnovo to Campina

Sunny Sunday saunter.

sunny 28 °C
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Baking hot day from first thing and we set off for Bucharest. En route it was amazingly peaceful, we chose the right day to travel, hardly any lorries and not many cars. At the Bulgarian/Romanian border we just sailed through in 6 minutes, took longer to get the vignette for the road tax at the kiosk than as the queue of cars and lorries was so minimal. On the way in it took best part of 30 minutes.
Apparently, on a hot weekend, just as at home, everyone heads to the coast and the return trip doesn't start until the afternoon, so the roads were extra quiet mid morning. The GPS took us through the middle of town and guess what? There was a large demonstration, hordes of armed guards, black marias and security guards on very swish quad bikes all charging around the place. The actual demonstration looked pretty peaceful, thank goodness, a flash went through my mind that Lonely Planet said to avoid big city centres at weekends as there are demonstrations most weeks of the year and some can get ugly. Anyway, this one did us a favour in that there were very few cars going through, the police controls meant that the traffic was speeded away from the centre, and with them all busy sorting that out it was some miles before the dreaded traffic cops reappeared! Bernie said that when they went through in 2011 the blocks of flats were grim, this time they have been painted John James green (think nappies!) with white, so at least they are bright!
Campina, which we have stopped in for the night, is a pretty good town, looks prosperous, very few dilapidated buildings, the blocks of flats are tidy and general air of confidence. Our guest house choice is a winner. The owners have recently returned from working abroad for 20 years and the whole place is brand new. They have ageing parents and needed to be with them, and as there is quite a lot of business traffic, plus returning Romanians revisiting their childhood homes, having a B&B seemed a good option. We have the attic floor, large bedroom, wifi, flat screen tv and the bathroom is equipped with jacuzzi bath even and with breakfast we will be paying the amazing price of £38.00. Think they will do well as this town is a good starting point for connecting to the Transylvanian villages. They showed us down the road to a restaurant for our meal which was just as good a bargain.
The great difference between exploring Romania and Bulgaria compared to, say France and Portugal, is that as the side roads are really like our byways, only wider, your progress is really slow and the villages, because they are isolated and do not seem to have much contact with the outside world, have been unable to prosper. Don't think there can be many folk with Classic car club runs on a Sunday, the suspension wouldn't last five minutes!
The tourism industry is probably on a learning curve, there are precious few parking areas for tourists, signage is very hit and miss, we haven't seen any evidence of public swimming pools, water parks, theme parks and so on. The leisure industry would appear to be based on cycling, walking and family visiting mostly very localised to where people live. In the winter, there is skiing which has always been the main tourism earner alongside the Black Sea resorts. Our lodging owners are always taken aback that we are more interested in the countryside and mountains than the sea, until we show them where we come from!
No wonder the Brits took to Bulgaria with houses starting at £7k for a plot and basic house, new houses start at less than £45k, in Romania the prices are from about £60k upwards. The guest house we are in was only started from scratch last November and they had it up and running 3 weeks ago. When you think of the snow and wet weather which Romania has had in that period it is very impressive!
We had a great breakfast and then set out for up t'north!

Posted by Combes Caper 12:08 Archived in Romania Comments (0)


Monday morning marathon!

sunny 32 °C
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JULY 7TH and 8TH
The first part of the day went well, we reached Sigishoara for lunch, and went to the Austrian Gasthof again. Took another walk around the citadel and hoped to find the lace butterfly for Susan. However, the stall wasn't anywhere to be found, so we pressed on to Targu Mures. Even more rural up here, and lots more painted churches and houses, but very poor outside the towns. Many horses with carts on the road, they are still making hay. Some lovely mountain scenery and we loved the towns of Predeal and Sinaia and stopped off in Sigishoara again.
Targu Mures, did not tickle our fancy so we decided to go on to Rhegin. A much smaller place, but no hotels could we find. SOOOOOO on we went, this time to Bistrita. On the way, we called in at a couple of places, one the room was so small and hot that couldn't bear the thought in 30c heat. Another, allegedly a holiday resort!, the grand dining room was all set up for a wedding (at least that is what I think, as there was a box with a slot in it and a picture of young couple), the place was sparkling, but there was no one around! The search for somewhere to stay was quite tiring as we were about 7 hours on the road and nothing offering itself up. So eventually we arrived in Bistrita.
Bistrita is at the foot of the Carpathian mountains. We found ourselves a decent place to stay for a couple of days to explore the surrounding area. Must say the roads up here were good, although one section was very popular with the Police, but the drivers warned each other this time. The first hotel we stopped by, this being the first time I had not booked ahead, was very swish, but they wanted top dollar and would not negotiate. We went round the corner where there were 3 more hotels. The Codrisor, the receptionist was so helpful. When I said we would stay for 2 nights she upgraded us to a suite with a terrace and views over the park. It is a bit dated, but all mod cons, a spa bath and so on, exorbitant price of £40 with breakfast per night!! The winner is the staff, as always eh?
Then we trundled through the large park, with cycleway for cyclists and skateboards and roller bladers, another path for pedestrians, actually there are two, one upper and one lower! A wonderful restaurant with acres of outdoor seating called Crama Veche, where we had a crispy base pizza, drinks and coffee. What struck us was that the vast majority of customers were under 30. No swearing, no shouting, and all the children with parents were peaceful and into their food. When we left there it was well after dark and there were still loads of people cycling, running and smooching in the park! Quite a lot of work is going on in this area to renovate buildings and installing new drainage and water and gas mains, but we are so impressed.
Today at breakfast we met an English woman whose husband works out here. She has been coming out here with him for one month off one month home for several years. They are due to retire and she hopes to get to do what we are doing. She said that buying here is as fraught with problems as Spain and France, you never quite know whom you are buying from , or whether what you think you are buying is quite what it seems! But she loves Romania and is looking forward to the next stage of their plans, to come out here for longer spells and explore as we are.
Thankfully, she has suggested a routing for getting to Hungary and visiting a wonderful, yet another wonderful, area of Romania, Maramures. Then we are heading on down to Eger in Hungary, and HORSES, near Eger there is a great Lippizaner stud, and apparently Bull's Blood wine is grown there too, years since that was the in thing?
8th July
Today after our breakfast chat, we set out to explore the town. Baking again, lovely bakeries, just as well we had eaten. There is a lot of work going on in town, with pedestrianisation of the streets, along with cobbles being laid and new drains and service pipes. You have to pick your way, but it will be great when it is finished.
Later we went out on the road to travel through the Burkau Valley. Stopped off in one or two of the villages, though it is difficult to explore them as the roads, or rather tracks, are so narrow that you cannot park up and explore and they do not run to village squares. There is so much to take in and we hope that the pictures capture some of it. Then we went on up the pass for a spectacular drive, through a very alpine area and the buildings so traditional. The tourist board must really get to grips with stops for photo shoots! I saw a mobile shepherd's hut, which was brightly painted and on one side there were brightly coloured panels forming a pattern, but there was no way you could get a shot at it. We went right up to the top of the pass, the views were endless and the weather perfect. Not much traffic about either, other than the horse and cart traffic collecting the hay.
I spotted a sign to Colbita National Park, so decided we would go there, on the return journey. As I was in the driver's seat I turned off, real unmade road, stones flying everywhere, mutterings about suitable tyres, suspension etc. , but it was great. Potholes and all, past Transylvania cottages, farmsteads, haymaking, horses and carts for 3km. Then we came to a super lake, around which there have been some modern dacha type villas erected. But what a setting, pine trees all around and no one for miles. Satellite dishes in abundance?! , so think they're not toooo cut off. The trip reminded me a bit of the road to you Lesley, but there were more neighbours around along the route.
Bernie said I passed one lorry where the passenger had his head in his hands! Surely not my driving?
We came to a village right at the bottom of the roadway. You need to turn the clock back 200 years to imagine the scene really, the small wooden houses, with the animal sheds close by and no machinery to speak of. The horse is the power house and the family transport. Sadly, now that Romania has joined the EU, it probably won't be at all the same in another 20 years or even 10. Can thoroughly recommend a visit sooner rather than later.
As always, the return trip seemed a lot easier than the outward one, though it took another 30 minutes to get back to the main road. Managed to steer clear of speeding fines en route and now back to base getting ready for the evening's adventures.
The swimming pool in the park next door to the hotel was absolutely packed early evening. It is a fair old size and all ages were having a great time.
We walked into town in the warm evening air to Crama Veche beside the park. Ate our meal and just about finished when a thunderstorm cropped up. Down came the rain and the thunder and lightning were deafening. As all the tables are outdoors under canopies, an awful lot of people scooted off. Being Brits, we stuck it out, but opted to have the gas burner lit to keep us warm. The temperature must have dropped 15 c in the meantime. Water was pouring off everywhere and in some areas the paving was about an inch deep in water. Eventually it subsided and we managed to walk back through the park. Shame as normally this restaurant is busy until late and the park is a hive of activity with walkers, and cyclists etc.
Have booked ahead for our next two stops, not making that mistake again in a hurry!

Posted by Combes Caper 12:06 Archived in Romania Comments (0)

Veliko Tarnovo and around

Sights and shopping.

overcast 21 °C
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Today we went shopping in town. Woke up to drizzle, though it was good to feel cool after yesterday's scorcher. Yet another of our lodgings going through change of ownership! This time it is a trio of Germans who have bought the place. Apparently they aim to double the number of rooms and redecorate, hope they put in a cafe/bar, though don't think there is room for restaurant .

Going up into town we took some steps and found a totally new area, to us, which has been restored, has lots of arts and craft workshops as well as gift shops. The baker's was intriguing, if you wanted serving a small, 14 x 10 inches lane was slid across and a face popped up! When the lady wasn't serving she picked up her ciggy and sat outside in the square.
The street out of the square is cobbled and lined with interesting old shops and houses all the way down it. So nice to find such treasures.

Also along our new found route we discovered many wall paintings, graffiti style which are very good, so will add those photos tonight.

Bernie ended up having a haircut, so we found little hairdressing salon up a back street. He looks proper tidy now he's all spruced up. Hair, eyebrows, ears the lot got whizzed over! Some impressed, so booked to get mine sorted. Result great, though their techniques different from ours. With the change B bought pair of shoes!

Thurs pm
Drove out and around the local area, Arbanasi, nearby, has a monastery. We couldn't find it, instead we found a really well kept settlement , definitely an upmarket area. Everything gleaming. There was a museum, but nowhere to pull up! Very annoying, as it looked a nice building too. Anyway we did some experimenting on short cuts to the main road, that got "interesting" tiny back lanes wedge between the grand houses, and getting the X Trail round the corners took some doing.
We then saw a sign for the monastery, just a tad down the road. It was just below the glam pads, the church building dated from mid 19 century. Beside it was a dormitory block . Surrounded by gardens, with pergolas laden with vines. There was a well,a row of workshops, but not a sound coming from anywhere! Apart from the birds.

This hadn't taken us very long so we thought we would explore further afield. Another monastery was at Dryanovo, what fun that was, at third attempt we found the tourist office, and what we thought was the monastery. No it was just a large wooden building. In the tourist info they said, "no we don't have a monastery , that is another 5 km away. The sign outside said 300m? Heading down the road we pressed on, came to a sign which said "monastery 1.5km, oh good we thought. Blast , split second later, the blue sign pointing left said "monastery 1km, we definitely hadn't travelled anywhere near as far. Overshot, so then had to find safe place to turn round. About 3 km later the road was about big enough to turn in, there being no side roads off. Going back downhill we had cars behind and managed to turn in. 2 km later, car park sign appeared. With meter sign. Parked and went looking for meter, there were stall holders standing around and all said " no ticket", luckily after our last experience, they were right.

The monastery and adjacent hotel had been funded by EU money. The monastery church was small, but beautifully decorated and lit with chandeliers. A chap was sweeping up, and one monk stood waiting hopefully for us to buy things. Not keen on religious artefacts so gave donation. We heard choir softly chanting, but not sure that it was real as there were small speakers around .
Beside the monastery was a very grand new building, looking like a very expensive priestly quarters?

As we came out, the heavens opened, made dash for the hotel terrace and sat through 30 minutes of thunderstorm and downpour before we could move. Took a look at the souvenir stalls, but again no really interesting stuff.
In the evening we went to the same resto as Tuesday as it was threatening more storms. The castle walls had lights glowing once it was dusk and the sunset looked great with stormy sky. However it was chef's off night, or maybe night off!

Woken by small child at 6.45 looking for her room! Much muttering..... Took a run out to a monastery which B and the chaps saw on their trip. Since when there has been quite a lot of building renovation, though you will see from the pics that there is still plenty to do. The tower was looking splendid, again no rails on the stairs, so I opted out. There are only 3 monks living there now we think we were told! Met a Bulgarian outside who could speak English, he said he visits about once every 6 months. He pointed out the painting of the tree of life which he said was after a famous Bulgarian painter. Two ladies are doing all the painting of the building in the original style, obviously a lengthy and painstaking task. Having bought a couple of little items off the stall outside, we set off for the Roman town of Nikyup.

This town was started in AD 136 and was called Nicopolis Ad Istrum and researched by Nottingham University as a Late Roman City Project from 1995 to 2007. The current work is funded by grants from EU and there is lots going on there. The site is about 20km from Veliko Tarnovo and didn't take long to get there, I was all for going on the "alternative" road, but that was not well received, in the event the "proper" road made the Bolingey track look a doddle! We explored the site for quite a while, amazing the drainage system, the huge flags for the roads which are still there, quite daunting that nearly, very nearly 2000 years have gone by.


Posted by Combes Caper 04:55 Archived in Bulgaria Comments (0)

Speeding Fine and Astra Village Sibiu

June 30th

sunny 27 °C
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30th June
Speeding Ticket Fine and Astra Village, Sibiu
Our last day here in Transylvania, though we now want to see more of the it, and will probably make our way back with visit to some of the more northern areas of the region.

First thing this morning Bernie and the Romanian went off with a sheaf of documents to sort out the speeding ticket which we collected on our trip to Sigishoara, or rather on the way back home from there. Just like Spain and Portugal, you need to take your life's history with you when you go to any Government office. Thank goodness the young man who works up at the other Brits house, spoke perfect, self taught, English. He was able to steer the way through the labyrinth of questions and they managed to get back within 2 hours. A record! Copies had to be taken of everything, and at the copy shop, which just looked like an ordinary house from the outside, there was a queue of other people in the same boat. Then the correct amount of money to pay the fine involved more queueing at the bank, not helped by the fact that the chap immediately in front was going through a property transaction and there was only one counter person on duty to serve the public. Anyway, from now on, the speed limit is to be obeyed!

Sod's law, while they were gone, Pam said to me, let's go shopping, as she had things to get in Carrefour and it is in a huge shopping centre at Sibiu. So off we went for a "quick" trip, the necessity of touring the shoe and clothing shops took somewhat longer than planned, what a surprise! Then we went into Carrefour. Arriving back at base, there was poor Bernie, locked out in the boiling sun sitting in the car. He had thought I may have gone up to the fortress church, he got as far as the foot of the hill and decided to not bother to search. Just as well in that heat. Poor soul had been waiting for us over an hour. For once the system worked far faster than expected!

So after a wind down, we decided to visit the Transylvanian replica village museum only a few miles down the road. Must say it is set in perfect location, the backdrop of the mountains, heavily wooded area on the slopes and two large lakes around which the reconstructed houses and workshops have been erected. The project has taken 50 years to come to life, and like Eden, they are constantly introducing new features. We walked around for 2.5 hours, took loads of photos and were so impressed with the project. The houses and workshops have been brought in from all over and rebuilt , though they have not given information regarding the age of the timbers, but it does give a good picture of peasant life and work. There is a horse and cart which takes people around along the super track down through the complex, you can have audio guide or hire a guide for the day. Then they have weddings, parties and other functions as well as putting on Medieval fun days and farm days etc. We were glad we went on a Monday as at the weekends it is packed and no wonder!

In the evening we took Pam out for a meal to thank her for being such a great host. Her super Transylvanian house is a terrific base and to have someone who is knowledgeable about the region and has friends in the village is brilliant. Don't know how the speeding fine process would have gone if we had had to sort it out on our own. We learned so many things about life out in Romania which in an hotel we would never have had such an opportunity. Tried a really good Romanian red, which we all enjoyed along with our massive Romanian supper. What a good finish to our stay in Cisnadaora.

Posted by Combes Caper 08:17 Archived in Romania Comments (0)

Cisnadaora Romania and Sibiu Romania


sunny 24 °C
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29th June
Lazy day today, really hot and we had planned to hike up to the fortress church but couldn't face the heat. However, we learned that inside the church are memorial plaques to German soldiers who were killed locally during WWI. The Saxon people of the village took pity on the abandoned casualties and did what they could to help. We would have enjoyed the views from the top, well another time......

Took myself off for a couple of hours pampering, had most superb pedicure and massage at the Hilton and was only amazed that 2 hours crept into 3 plus!

In the evening we went into Sibiu for eats, found the right car park easily this time. In the square where they have been having the film festival all week, the stage which we saw being put up earlier in the week now housed a full orchestra and choir! We got there just as the performance started and it turned out to be a Romanian version of last night of the proms, Stravinsky, 1812, polkas and so on. All for free! We found a table, with difficulty in another square, most of the town was out on a great warm evening. We had a quite bite and then went back to watch the concert for the end half hour. Lovely surprise.

Taking a trip into town with Pam, learned that during Ceaucescu's time the Saxons in Transylvania were evicted from their houses and were given the choice of living a life of poverty as unwanted people here, or moving away. Most of them went to Germany where they successfully integrated. The Government sold or gave away their houses to others and the years rolled on. Then Romania applied to join the EU and one of the conditions of acceptance was the rehabilitation of the Saxon properties to their rightful owners. Sadly, most of the Saxon people, had by this time become so settled in Germany that they opted to sell the properties. For Pam and others, this was an advantage as many of the current influx of Dutch, British and so on, have bought these Saxon houses. Some of the newcomers are preserving what they can of the characteristics of them, many are being demolished and new houses built, which gives locals work, and most are either retirement or holiday homes. It seems unimaginable to us that the Saxon's suffered this in such recent times, it is like evicting one of our regional groups from their counties, e.g. Yorkshire, Lancastrians, Cornish! There would be revolution at the mere idea!

Another of the British residents now in the village came to live here by having been in social work in UK and got involved with helping the poor children in Romanian orphanages. These orphanages, you may recall, had appalling conditions and quite a few people ended up adopting some of the children. The orphanages still exist and a neighbour here was one of those rescued from the horrors of 20 years ago. She speaks perfect English and now in turn helps those who are abandoned to this day.

Posted by Combes Caper 08:02 Archived in Romania Comments (0)

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