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Photos from my bus round trip to Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey and Austria with Scandorama 3 weeks during August-September 2004.

To see the photos, click at the index to the left.
This is only a selection of 242 out of 760 pictures.

Saturday 28th of August
We went up at 6 pm and had ordered a taxi to Landvetter airport. The flight to Copenhagen went 9:25 and we had one and a half hour in the terminal. A taxi driver met us at Budapest airport, as we were the only from Scandorama today. It was nearly 30 degree outside when we arrived around 2 pm. The driver knew no English, but he knew where to go, so it was no problem. We could see a lot of Western European influence, not least from the advertisement signs, but through the centre we could see how beautiful and well-preserved the city is.

Hotel Budapest is situated at the Buda side, a few kilometres from the castle. After a night with lack of sleep we needed to sleep a while before we went out from the round 15 store tourist hotel, where there were plenty of coaches parked outside.

We knew which bus we should take, but when it finally arrived we couldn't buy any tickets on board, and the chauffeur was hardly helpful. This was our first impression of  Hungarian people...  so we were a bit sour, partly because we were hungry after only sandwiches on the flights.

We walked about 10 minutes to Moskva Ter, which is a main connection for transportations, where we got tickets to the metro instead and went to the centre. Easily we found a restaurant where us two starving people ordered goulash soup, which was really delicious. Then we had the strength to walk around in the beautiful inner-city, with a really nice architecture. A short stroll by Danube river, with a view of the castle in counter-light. In a touristic area we stopped at a cafe to eat a cake and have some coffee. An old woman went outside trying to sell flowers, which she probably had picked in a garden.

The light started to fade when we took the metro back to Moskva Ter, where we again saw a couple of all ladies selling flowers by the street. We realised that this probably is a quite poor group in this countries, maybe they were widows with no retirement payments.

We went directly back to the hotel and it was nearly dark just after 8 pm. Christina went more or less directly to sleep, although I read for a while.

Sunday 29th of August
I slept until nearly 8 am. We had a large breakfast buffet before we went out. We were very reluctant what to do with our valuable stuff as we were heading to the spa bath and we had no safety box on the room. Finally we decided that the least bad was to hide it at the bottom of our locked bags, although I would miss my camera...

We walked to Moskva Ter and took the metro to the centre, where we changed to the old metro heading for Szechenyi Spa baths. All station had a low ceiling, as the line is near the earth. They also had preserved the old style of the interior.

The bath is in the middle of a green park with lot of rubbish thrown around everywhere. It took a while to figure that that we first needed to buy a ticket and then queue for the entrance. We tried to get massage too, but that was too tricky. Probably it should have been booked at the guy at the entrance, but he didn't speak any English. Apparently there currently were more place for men, as they could enter immediately, but we had to wait about 30 minutes.

The guard in the men’s room started to speak French with me, so I had no problem to understand the system You got a locker to put your stuff in and then a token with a number, which the guy wrote on the inside of the locker and then locked it for me plus that he wrote my name on the front. Christina had only got a cross with a ring on her front as her lady didn't understand any known foreign language. We took a quick shower before we went into the first of many indoor pools, than we went outside and were stopped when we entered the first one, as we had no cap on our heads. We never understood why only this pool required it. Maybe because it was an ordinary pool? The other large pool was 34 degrees warm and I directly found a place below some hard water flow, which was like massage for my axles and back. It was really nice in the sunny and warm weather. We took a round inside and found several other pools to test, as well as several steam saunas, which were quite difficult to stay in for me with my eye lenses. One pool had whirling water, which everyone followed, although it probably was meant that everyone should stand still in the water and feel the flow of it. The warmest pool we found was 38 degrees. In most of the pool rooms are there a lot of green mould in the once beautiful dome ceilings.  We had been there nearly 1.5 hours when we went out and got refunded for a full day, which you always have to pay for.

Afterwards we went to the national circus nearby, but there were just an afternoon performance and none the day after, so we decided that we preferred the historical museum. We took a short walk around the park and ate a grill spit by the street before we went back to our hotel.

After getting the bus now, we found out that we could have bought tickets on the bus if we had coins and if this one wasn't offline.... Luckily we had a day ticket now, which made life much easier. We jumped off beside the castle and walked up in the heat and finally we got into the museum through a backdoor. Later we realised that this was not the intended way to enter the castle.

I had to buy a special photo ticket, although still I wasn't allowed to use flash, but that's often a less problem. It was a good museum and quite a lot was written in English. There are many findings, which are similar to those found in Viking tombs in Scandinavia and one fibula actually had rune inscriptions, so their trading connection to this area is very clear. There are a lot of corridors and rooms to get around in a irregular way, but still it was really a small part of this immense castle.

We changed 40 euro in a "no commission" booth and realised why they didn't take any commission, as we only got 80% of the expected sum, so it was really good that we had made the big change at the airport. We later found out that most exchange booths are reasonable, except 1-2 other.

When we had got out, we rested our feet on a bench before we continued. There were plenty of tourists outside and we continued to the Labyrinth of Buda castle. We wasn't sure what to expect and if we had understood it, we probably hadn't got down, but still we were happy that we did. It is like a big art installation with strange arrangements and statues plus even more strange music in most of the rooms. A lot of symbolism from prehistoric to futuristic time, where the most fun things were footprints of tennis shoes and a tomb with markings from a laptop beside the head. It was a very wet and mouldy feeling down there. Finally there was an exhibitions of old pictures of different mazes.

When we came up we made a walk to the Mathias cathedral and the Fisherman's Bastion with a nice view over Pest and the river of Danube. We were very tired so we decided to take the more expensive cogwheel train down to the river and then we walked over the chain bridge and found a restaurant in Pest, with a marvellous view over the castle. The food was ok, but as both my first choices wasn't available I felt a bit disappointed.

After we walked to the metro and took it in the dark to Moskva Ter, where we found a tram directly to the hotel where we were lucky to stumble upon several from our Scandorama group, who just had arrived. We also got a message from the guide together with the key to meet her in the morning. We were to tired to join our new companions. so we went up to our rooms to take care of our feet.

Monday 30th of August
After breakfast we met our guide Mirka Junninen to get some general information before the city tour. She is relatively young, but has lived in both Spain and Czech, so she is used of the life abroad. She also had done the four other of the same tour during the year, so she ought to quite experienced.

It had already started to be hot when we departed to Hörös Ter (the square of the Heroes). There is the millennium memorial, which was built 1896 as a memory of the 1000 years old kingdom of Hungary. The most important male persons is Saint Stephan (Istvan), who was the first Hungarian king acknowledged by the pope. But the first leader of the Magyars in this area was Arpar in the 9th  century and he had a statue below the pillar of archangel Gabriel. I also went away to take a photo of the castle Vajdahunyad, which now is an agricultural museum. After a couple of laps around the square our chauffeur Bosse could pick up us, as it was strictly forbidden to park by the square.

We returned back to the centre and stopped by the Basilica of Saint Stephan. The buildings construction started 1851 and 1868 the main dome fell down, but it was finished in due time for the millennium celebration. It was nice to see this great church with really clear marble colours.

We passed the parliament with 691 rooms, which was built 1896. It was a lot of pinnacles on top of it. The government has been there since the end of World War II. The coronation crown of King Stephan is also there. It was here the student revolt the 4th of October was started by Imre Nagy, when he tried to be released from the grip of the communism.

Next stop was near the Fisherman's Bastion, although Bosse couldn't find a parking place where they normally use to park. The bastion is just over 100 years old, but the nearby Matthias cathedral is from the 13th century and was used for coronation of the kings. As we had seen most of it yesterday we just made a short walk and than sat down listening on one of the many street violinists we had heard during these days. She was well educated in music as most of them and except a couple on accordion this has been the only instrument we have heard on the streets. At noon we continued with the group around the castle, but we were glad that we had been there before, as the other missed a lot, not least to enter the courtyard. 

We had a short coffee break by the bus before we went back to the hotel. We followed the bus to the railway station, as they should leave 4 people from the Budapest group of 70 people, as they hadn't fit into the other bus, as everyone had wanted to do this tour. We took the metro down to the centre near the Elisabeth bridge, as we were told that the large market is there, but we didn't found it.

We were getting hungry and found a really good restaurant nearby and ate a big lunch. Meanwhile we found out on the map that Mirka had mixed up the bridges as it was by the Liberty Bridge further South. We walked along the main shopping street and to our surprise we found a really big memorial of Karl XII, the Swedish warrior king, who had passed by and rested in Budapest during his ride in full speed to Stralsund. The plate was in both Hungarian and Swedish!

At the end of the shopping mall we found the large market, which had both a lot of fresh food, as well as other stuff. Except for the one in Riga, which is several times bigger, this is one of the largest we had visited of this kind.

We walked back to Deak Ferenc and took the metro up to the bath, where I finally could take a few pictures. We rested some in the park before we went on a walk to the castle in the park, which now is an agricultural museum. I can imagine that it's popular to use this castle as a background to different movies, as depending of the camera angle you can find a part of every possible time epoch! It is really fascinating and strange. We went around the castle end ended up at the square of the Heroes, which was much more quiet now. We just missed a ceremonial at the unknown soldiers tomb.

We took the metro back and continued to Moskva Ter, where we bought water for the trip tomorrow and then continued with the tram to the hotel. Outside the platform we finally found the cogwheel train we had heard of in the brochure, but we were less interested now to go with it.

At the room we packed our luggage, ate some bread and peaches we had got during the day. Christina went to bed early although I preferred to read for a while again. It was nice to know that it didn’t matter if I was too tired tomorrow, as I always could take a nap on the bus!

Tuesday 31st of September
The wakeup call was already at 6 am. The bus was loaded 7:30, but we had to wait as we got to know that one couple had to return home today due to an acute ill father of one of them. It took a while to get out of Budapest in the morning traffic, before we could head southward towards Szeged. We just made a short toilet stop before we passed the town. The landscape is quite flat with a lot of agriculture. Still the Hungarian state is auctioning off estates after the communism, as not all has claimed their old properties, so there are some uncultivated areas. It was getting quite warm outside, so it was nice with an air-conditioned bus.

We came to the customs at Nagylak, where we passed quite quickly. At the Romanian part Nadlac it took slightly longer, but we had time to change money. We felt as millionaires, as 50 euro was nearly 2 million leis! Mirka had to wait on an important paper, as the one who should look at it had gone shopping... Still it took less than half an hour.

We stopped in the village of Nadlac, where we had a picnic lunch at the empty concrete tables on the market place. It was perfect with the shadow over the tables and we had a splendid variety of food to taste plus some wine. There were a few inhabitants passing by, but it was a quite calm village. We saw also a horse with a cart. There are two churches in this little village.

We continued on the main road, which mostly had a max speed of 60 km per hour. The road is narrow, but still it had quite a lot of traffic. The landscape is flat with sunflower and corn fields among what we recognised. You could see that the living was quite poor, although there are many really new and fine houses around. We passed the town of Arad through a large industrial area with a heating power plant from which extends a lot of pipes crossing above the roads. When we stopped for a crossing train there were both sellers plus a beggar in a wheelchair. According to Mirka they are living below the pipes during the winter, because of the leaking warmth.

We passed several horse carts along the road and at least twice we saw stork nests upon the pole of electricity lines. Those lines are really abundant along the roads and even more in the villages. Most of the church towers were painted with silver. Suddenly the mountain turned up in the middle of the flat landscape. Many sell vegetables along the road to get some extra income. The country has 22 million inhabitants and about 90% are Romanian, although in this part are most of them part of the total of 7% Hungarians. Transylvania has been in conflict between the countries for a long time. There are many Germans in Timisoara and there are also many gypsies. The country is divided in 41 provinces. Gypsies are treated as a lower class and many of them get quite a lot of children, although many are not recorded, which means that they are not called to go to school, which unfortunately gives a lot of criminalities. The gypsies are often good at handicraft.  HR organisations have discovered many ethnic murders of gypsies. The main language is Romanian and that is a Latin language. Minimum salary is about 100 euro per month and the retirement income is about 50 euro per month.

The changing of landscape became considerably with more hills and not least forests and there were now mainly trees along the road. The villages we passed gave me a nostalgic feeling of my childhood on a farm during the 60 and 70ths decades, although all the carts rather made it look like the 50ths decade. Children were simple but ok dressed and the old men and women looked "old"!. Animals were free everywhere, although we only once saw any cows and they were in the ditch beside the road. Even the haystacks were on a single pole as my father sometimes made them. We passed by several power stations and many lines hang just above the houses, sometimes nearly dangling upon them!  Although many apparently were poor, it gave me a feeling that their life would improve quite much during the nearest 10-20 year.

We passed quite a lot of villages and some larger towns like the mining town Deva with a large citadel on a 300 m high hill. We stop at a parking lot for some coffee. It seemed as the trash bin was a large hole they had dug in the ground. The chauffeur throw our trash there, although most other complained about it, including Mirka. On the other hand in many other places is there as much rubbish thrown around, although directly on the ground.

We made a short stop at a gas station. There we saw a man who had small pickup car with a wagon with sheep. A young guy tried to sell a pair of binoculars. The sun was setting and it was dark when we arrived to Sibiu near 9 pm. After we had put our luggage in the room, we went down for a nice dinner, which we spent with two Norwegians: Nora and Erik. The Romanian guide Claudio had also joined the group, although he was only supposed to fix practical matters, like telling the reception that the fire exit door was locked. Christina was frustrated that it hadn’t been unlocked after the dinner. It was nearly 11 pm before we went to bed.

Wednesday 1st of September
After a good breakfast the chaos started. First a long queue to come up to, in our case, the 9th floor. There were 2 Italian groups who left at the same time in 2 elevators, which irregularly signalled overload. Finally I got into one and got up and queued again. It took at least half an hour before we put in the last luggage in an elevator and I walked down by the stairs. Christina had spoken with the reception about the fire exit door, which still was locked, but they didn't understand what she meant as the other stairs was open.  

A quarter late we started our walk around the old part of Sibiu. The city has a wall with 13 towers since the 14th century. It was Bela who fled from Hungary and the Mongols who made the inhabitants build it and merchants got advantages like a bit of land and some coins, if they promised to help and defend the city. The city has today 177000 inhabitants and you could see on all churches that the Roman-Orthodox church is very strong here. We entered the cathedral and there were many people and 7-8 priests who blessed them. On the grand place Piata Mare, is there a memorial from the revolts against the communism, which was 21st of December 1989 here in Sibiu and 2 days later was the dictator Ceausescu fallen in Bucharest.

Generally the inhabitants seemed to have a good life and many streets and houses have ongoing restorations, but we saw a few beggars, mainly by the cathedral, but we also saw a long queue outside some kind of social security office.

Back at the hotel it was time to travel another 550 km eastwards over the Carpathians on serpentine roads.  The roads is something that EU is helping Romania with. as an acceptable standard is a requirement to enter the union within some years.

As we went over the Carpathian mountains the road became more twisty than yesterday, but the traffic was calm compared to yesterday when we saw many crazy turnovers. Still there were many slow vehicles on the road. We saw quite many animals today. Both sheep and cattle’s. Families who just have a couple of sheep pay a shepherd to guard them daytime, when they need to graze. The houses are either colourful and in good shape or in really bad shape Many houses have small towers on the roofs, not least the elder ones. In one place we saw a large steel cross on the top of a mountain. It had been brought there as a memorial of soldiers who died in World War II.

We went through the large city of Brasov, where we saw quite a lot of traces from the communism time, especially the large ugly areas of apartments. When we came further up in the mountains we saw many abandoned factories since the communism, which were driven by state subsidy, which has disappeared now. There are very few foreign investors in Romania as the bureaucracy is too complicated for them to make it worth yet.

The skiing and trekking resort Sinaia has got it's name from a monastery, which was founded in the 17th century and still has about 20 active monks. Less than half of the group went to Hotel Palace for a lunch, but it was worth it. Both for the grandiose environment, as well as for the fine food. When we came outside had the small clouds been converted to a slight rain, but that was rather an advantage for this transfer day.

We went through a lot of forest, but it's an environmental problem that it's not replaced as fast as it's harvested even if this is stipulated by law. The main things that grow in the country is wheat, corn, barley, cotton and tobacco. 1991 should all land be returned to the real owners after the communism, but only max 10 hectare, which has given a lot of criticism, as it's hard to survive in the countryside and many young people are drawn to the cities and if possible abroad.

Many of the traditions are tightly hold, especially in the countryside. Weddings processions are always proceeded with a small orchestra, as well as funeral processions. The chest is carried open through the village and the procession may never be broken and they have priority in all crossings. The near family meets with regular interval during the first year to honour the dead and after 7 years are often the chest dug up and the bones are polished before they are buried again!

When we came down on the flat, the roads became straight and much broader again and sometimes we had a remote view of steep sand cliffs at the Southern side, which we saw better later on. We passed through one of the best wine districts "Valea Calugareasce". We made a coffee stop just outside Urziceni, beside a field with quite many sheep. It was still surprising that we never saw any kind of fences, but there always seemed to be a shepherd. A few single ones seemed to be tied to the ground. The rain had disappeared long ago and it was quite hot again, although it was near 5 pm.

Just before we entered the outskirts of Slobozia, we saw an estate of a rich man who loved the American series "Dallas" and had created a place called "Hermes" in the same style as Soutfork Ranch. As this isn't enough, he also has built a miniature Eiffel tower of his own. The sun became low and the light gave a fascinating landscape, although it was still flat when we came nearer Constanta.

When we entered the park of the Danube delta we had to pay a tax of 200000 for the bus to keep the maintenance of the park Outside Harsova we made a short break before we turned towards Tulcea.

It was dark when we checked in at Hotel Delta in Tulcea. Quickly we went up with the luggage, before we went down to the restaurant for dinner about 9:45 pm. A nice 3 course dinner with wine and some local artists who mostly sang international well known songs. The other large group also seemed to be Swedish, although some spoke English. We looked at the view over the water from a balcony before we went to sleep at midnight.

Thursday 2nd of September
Today we had a sleeping morning, as our tour out into the Danube delta didn't start until 10:15am. We also had time for a short walk outside. It was cloudy and windy today, so we brought both a jacket and a jumper so we shouldn't freeze, although I persistently wanted to keep my shorts.

It was a large boat owned by the hotel and we shared it with a German group plus a few odd people. We soon came off the main flow and it was very greenish with many trees and the roots were often visible above the water plus a lot of bush and willow. It didn't take long time before the clouds broke up and it became warm again. There were many men and boys fishing, both from boats and ashore. There are many small huts where those fishermen lives during summertime. It is also a vivid bird life, although we mostly saw Great Egret, Grey Heron, Summer Swan and many Seagulls and Ducks.

The delta contains over 300 species of birds, games and of course fish. There are three main flows: Chilia, Sulina and Saint Gheorghe. There is the largest colony of pelicans in Europe, although you need a lot of luck to see them. It was thanks to the French researcher Jacques Costeau, that the area was declared a nature reserve.

At 1 pm we stopped by a fisherman's hut and could walk ashore for a while. It's a very simple living, but except for the fish, they cultivate different kind of vegetables too, so they can probably survive quite well. Afterwards a good fish dinner was served with white wine aboard the boat. The way back felt more lazy and it was nice in the shadow with some fresh breeze now and then.

When had had come ashore it was already 5 pm, so we decided that we first went to the centre to the fruit and vegetable market. This town didn't look as it had more than this to show up except the delta. We bought some grapes to chew on during the bus trip tomorrow. We also entered a large galleria, but we soon get the feeling that this was like anyone you could find at home. In a bakery we bought a couple of bread pieces, which we had seen several carrying on a piece of string.

At the room we made some preparations for the morning before it was time for dinner at the hotel at 19:30. It ended with a surprise cake, as Bosse had his 60th birthday. After Christina and I strolled along the port, where there were plenty of teenagers in the lighted area. We came to bed around 22:30.

Friday 3rd of September
Up early and we left around 8 am towards the South. It was slightly clouded, but it would get clearer during the day. We made a coffee break in Constanta by the old casino from 1902. This is the next largest city in Romania and has the largest port, which is easy to imagine. Historically it's well-known for the Roman well-educated poet and author Ovidius, who was deported to this "isolated barbarian town" by emperor Augustus.

We passed the border at Vama Veche, which was very quickly done, with aid of a couple of cold beer cans which Mirka offered the warm guys who checked our passports.

Next stop was in Balchik, which apparently is a big tourist resort in Bulgaria, as there were many restaurant with menus in both English and German, plus many market stands with different souvenir trashes. Still Christina found some interesting leaflets about the Bulgarian history, not least about Thrace. We hade a good meal with lamb kebab, although served in a hot pitcher. The waiter was a serviceable man, who seemed to shine when I said thank you in Bulgarian. Sometimes that's all you need to know. We saw many who merely were clothed in a bathing suit or bikini walking along the street, so probably is there beach at the bottom of the street.

After a short stroll it was time to continue towards Burgas. We just made a break in Bania for coffee and toilet visits. Although it was warm and sunny, there was a refreshing breeze.

In Burgas, we checked in at hotel Bulgaria in the centre of the city and then we had an hour free, when we went out looking at the shopping mall, where nothing seemed to be missing. We bought some postcards, as we have time to write them on the bus.

At 19:30 was it time for dinner. We had to go to another then the usual one, as this one was booked for a wedding. We had a nice time and sat there quite a while after the meal was finished.

Saturday 4th of September
It was nice to sleep a bit longer than usual, as we didn't leave for the excursion to Nesebar until 9 am. This town used to be called Messambria and is one of the oldest towns in the area. In the mainland area lives 7000 people and in the old town has around 3000 inhabitants. It has been owned by Bulgarians, Byzantium, Turkey and there are my antique remnants, which you can see in the archaeological museum.

We started with a guided walk around the old town on the peninsula. There happened to be a honey festival in the centre today beside Pantekvaton, a Byzantine church built 1331. There are several portals in Byzantine style. A couple of other churches we saw were "The Saint Johan Krastitel" and "Metropolitan", which is the ruins of the largest one. The Nesebar houses are always built with a first floor in stone and a second wooden floor, which most of the time is wider, as they paid for the land area they built upon.

The town is mostly living on tourism and some fishing today. There is the ruins of a large guard tower from the 12th to 13th century, which were used to protect the town against pirates. We also saw a well in Byzantine style since the 18th century.

After the tour we went around by ourselves and we started to buy stamps at the post office before we went to the archaeological museum. It's not large but still quite interesting with  mostly antique and Thracian remnants. Afterwards we strolled around the market stands, which were everywhere plus had a small lunch until we met with the other at 1 pm. When we sat in the bus and should exit the parking spot, they filled it up with several buses which we had to wait on. Some even let off people. Probably this parking would be quite difficult to exit later if not in order as it in fact already was full. We also had a feeling that the town, if possible, was more crowded when we came.

It was just half an hour back to Burgas and we left our bag at the room before we went into the centre. First we had some coffee with a delicious cake, which was the reason for a lighter lunch. Then we walked towards the beach, but soon stumbled upon the archaeological museum of the town, which we entered. Although not big, it was better than the one in Nesebar. It even had a few things in gold, but their best things were temporarily at an exhibition in Brussels. Most text were written in Bulgarian, but at least we could figure out time periods of most thing.

We continued to the park near the beach and strolled through it. There were a lot of people around, as well as salesmen. There are also a lot of statues, which we were most surprised of the one with Alexander Pusjkin. As he is a Russian writer, we wondered over his connection with Bulgaria. In the Northern part is there a large war monument. We walked back along the beach, which wasn't really crowded. Here and there were watch guards below towers, which looked like coca cola bottles! A great place to advertise for something to drink!

When we came back near the hotel, we stopped by to see a wedding couple outside a tiny church beside our hotel. We went up to the room to rest a while before dinner, which showed to be just beside the same wedding's dinner party.

Sunday 5th of September
At 8 am we had checked out and boarded the bus for Sozopol on yet another warm and sunny day. We stayed there for half an hour. Just enough to visit their archaeological museum, which seemed to be more interesting than all market stands everywhere.  The visit in the museum was accompanied by classic music on a piano, which probably was rehearsal for a concert there. The most interesting were some beautiful figurines, although the museum of Burgas was better. The only who wanted to take a bath was Teresia, but she passed when she was alone. We continued short after 9 am towards the frontier at Malka Tarnovo / Kirklareri. All Norwegians, the Spanish man Alberdo and the English woman Joyce had to get visas, but the clearance and money exchange was quite quick. Mirka and Bosse had a lot of administration and payments before they had finished. Mirka said this was the worst ever on this border. Still we passed both borders in about one hour and we had now entered Turkey.

The twisty road in the forest went more downwards after the border until it was time for a picnic lunch after the village Kapakli. It was quite chilly, but sunny and around 19 degrees. It was besides an abandoned house and 4 local boys were curious to find out what we did there.

When we came down to the motorway, the landscape was more flat although hilly here and there. It seemed to be a lot of good fields and most houses we saw was is much better shape than we had seen in the two previous countries. Even some apartment blocks we passed seemed good-looking. We made a coffee break by the road before we continued towards Istanbul, which we reached after 5 pm. There were a few drizzling when we entered the suburbs. We saw many minarets as well as many colourful apartment buildings in good shape.

We should stay on hotel Feronya, which is near Taksim square. This seemed to be a major transportation point on the European side. Our room was really large and comfortable, as well as clean in every aspect, so we felt that we would enjoy some luxury for a few days. Also we had a safety box in the room for the first time, which felt good in this city.

Directly we went out for a walk, first to Taksim square and then down the main shopping street, which have an old tramway rolling along. There is really many places both to buy cakes and chocolates, as well as small bites to eat and we regretted that we had decided to join the other for dinner at the hotel. There were many impressions, both music and quite many people. There were many polices patrolling along this street as well as outside the hotels, so we guess that's because of all the bomb attaacks, which has occurred in Istanbul the last year. Anyway, they made us feel safe. Of course there are plenty of shops, mainly clothes, shoes, music and books. We saw a few board games in a bookstore window, so I got curios to see what they had in this country and recognised a Turkish version of "Sindbad", "Dungeon and Dragon the board game", "Taboo" and "Scrabble", so there must be some interest of here.

We returned in time for dinner, which was a tomato soup, meat with mashed potatoes plus melon pieces and we definitively became sure that we would have found more exciting food in town, but on the other hand we couldn’t have been sure when we would arrive to the hotel, because of long time in the customs. We were still thinking of the customs from Latvia to Russia, which took 13 hours three years earlier!

After dinner we went back to the centre and first checked the possibility to use the metro, but it didn't cross neither the Golden Horn nor the Straits of Bosporus, so it was quite useless for us during this trip. We had considered to go down to the harbour for ferries across Bosporus, but realised that it would be more fun to make another stroll along the shopping mall. This time we also went into a few of the passages. Even if it was getting late, it seemed as the number of people rather had increased now. Our feet was quite tired when we came back to the hotel for some sleep.

Monday 6th of September
At 9 am started our full day tour to the famous old attractions South of the Golden Horn. It was sunny, but quite windy, so it felt a bit chilly.  Our local guide FazilYöneyman spoke a nearly perfect Swedish and he seemed to have total knowöedge of all important dates, persons and events in the history of Istanbul.

Istanbul has been part of 3 important empires: The East-Roman, the Byzantine and the Ottoman. Actually is the oldest known organised settlement from about 7000 BC in Turkey and probably is a recently discovered site from 9000 BC in the Southern part of Turkey.

Before we crossed the Golden Horn, we passed by "the Yellow hotel", which was built 1892. This was the first hotel in Istanbul and it was built for the passengers of the Orient Express. Agatha Christie spent the time to write the book "Murder at the Orient Express" there and there are notes about famous Swedes like Greta Garbo and Ingemar Bergman, who have stayed there. Everywhere you could see mosques, but there are about 2300 in the city, 100 churches and about synagogues. The latter because about 500000 Jews were exiled from Spain during the 16th century. 98% of the 65 millions of Turks are Muslims, although the government is secularised since 1923.

Byzantium was created at the Golden Horn 657 BC and it was apparently an important place as it has been many wars and revolts here since then. The Roman emperor Konstantin won influence of the area and gave the city the name Konstatinopolis 324 AD, at the same time as he moved the capital of Byzantium to this city. 395 AD was the Roman empire divided and the Eastern part became Byzantium. 1453 did the Ottoman empire conquer the city and changed the name to Istanbul, which is from a Greek word meaning resistance.

First we stopped by the Hippodrome since 196 AD, although there is hardly any remnants left. It was 112 x 480 metres and could take 60000 spectators. In the middle of this place is the obelisk emperor Theodus fetched from Egypt 390 AD. It was a monument over Tychmos victory in Mesopotamia around 1500 BC and this is the oldest monument in Istanbul. There are carvings from the chariot race, as well as dancers in the pauses. There is also another obelisk, but with unknown origin. The crusaders stripped it of it's former metal plaques during the last crusade 1204-61. Between these two is the "Serpent column" from the 4th century AD. It is only 5.20 metres today, but used to be 8 metres with 3 serpent heads plus one golden vase. One of the heads is nowadays on a museum.

Beside the Hippodrome is the German Fountain, which has been donated by the German emperor Wilhelm during the 19th century. More important is there Hagia Sofia, which was built 532-537 as a church, then became a mosque and nowadays it is a museum. It's probably the oldest building in the world, which still is intact.

The it was time for the Sultanahmet mosque, which by Europeans is called the Blue Mosque. It was built 1906-16. It has a similar architecture as Hagia Sofia with 6 minarets. We were required to remove our shoes and put them in a bag, as well as wearing long trousers when we entered the mosque, as it's still in use. The reason for the name is that the interior has a blue nuance.

We continued to Topkapi, the palace of the Sultans. The first area is garden, which used to be open for everyone. It contains a church called Aya Irini, which was built by an Iconoclastic part of the Christianity, so there are no images at all, but the acoustic is so good, that today it's used for concerts.

Topkapi started to be built 1453 but has been extended by most later Sultans. 1933 it became a museum, as at the beginning of the 19th century a sultan built an European style palace by the Bosporus called Dolmabahce. Before we saw more of the palace, we had a lunch at restaurant Konyali. There are many treasures, not least Islamic relics, ceremonial swords and dresses. The two inner areas were only allowed for the Sultan and his nearest family plus his concubines, which could be over 200 and of course the eunuchs, which were a kind of guards.

The most fantastic part is the treasury, which have enormously fine things of emerald, jade, rubies and diamonds. The most precious treasures are the Topkapi dagger and the 86 carat diamond, which is considered to be one of the largest in the world.

When we came out we decided to leave the group, as they should return to the hotel. The few drizzling we have had seemed to have stopped.  Our goal was Hagia Sofia, but it was closed on Mondays, but we found the basilica cistern besides instead. This is a giant underground water reservoir and it's like entering an enormous cathedral. It's 143 x 65 metres with 9800 m2 and it has 336 marble columns in 12 rows and 28 columns. The water was received via a 19 km long aqueduct from North. All of the columns are different and a couple of them has a medusa head at the bottom, one upside down and the other is tilted halfway.

When we came out we tried to find where we were on the map, but we found a bus to the other end of the Southern bridge over the Golden Horn, after a taxi driver told us that it was 4 km and we couldn't buy tickets on the bus. When we entered a bus we got confirmed that he had lied for us in both ways, but otherwise we found that most other Turks are really nice and helpful towards foreigners. At the other side we first checked if we could find a boat to the Asian side, but there were none at the ferry terminal, so we looked up the old metro line nearby, which only have two stations. The metro is from 1871, which might make it the oldest in the world. The lower station is really lovely with a lot of mosaic. From the top station we continued to take the old tramway on the shopping mall, which started outside the Swedish consulate, due to renovation of the end of the tracks. It was fun to see how they turned, as the tramway chauffeur both changed the direction of the seats, as well as the driver’s place and how the line was connected in the air. A young man was nice  to leave his place to Christina, which appreciated this as she had hurt in both her hip and feet now.

At Taksim square Christina said that she might go to the Asian side anyway, so we walked down to the ferry terminal Kabats on really steep streets. The walk wasn't good for her, but we reached the ferry and went aboard. Although it was quite windy, it wasn’t bad to go over, but the landing was brutal, as the ferry slammed heavily onto the quay, so people ,nearly fell. We stayed there half an hour looking at the people walking by, as this was a big connection of transportations, before we went back with another ferry. Back at Kabats, we found a bus up to Taksim square, so we avoided the steep streets and than walked back to the hotel.

Christina had to rest and sleep for an hour before she was fit to go out and eat, although my feet were also slightly hurting. We met several from our group on our way, so the city felt a bit small... We found a "point and order" place along the shopping mall where we ate and then bought some chocolate as dessert before we returned for a well-earned rest.

Most of the other had meanwhile been on a tour to a fish restaurant, which we had skipped, as it wasn't on the Asian side of Istanbul, which was promised in the program. This was also the reason that we went there by ourselves.

Tuesday 7th of September
We went on another full day tour at 9 am. First we went to the spice bazaar, which was built in the 7th century. It is situated by the "New mosque", which is about 400 years old. There are first of all spices, but also a lot of candies, gold and many games, mostly chess and backgammon.

Then we made a boat tour on Bosporus. Fazil told us some fact about it. The strait is 33 km long and 700 to 3500 metres broad. It comes from the Black Sea, which is filled by 3 main rivers: Danube, Dnepr and Don. The stream is strong, normally 5 km/hour, but after heavy rains in North, it can be up to 13 km/hour. The strait is actually deeper towards the Black Sea with 60 metres, although the deepest place is 110 metres. About 125 million tons of raw oil is transported on Bosporus each year, and it will increase to 160 million tons, when a pipeline soon will be finished. There is about 50000 foreign boats passing the strait each year.

In the harbour did we see really a lot of rubbish in the water, so it was even disgusting. It was very windy and some drizzling during most of the tour. We started eastwards on the European side and one of the many palaces was Dolmabahce, which a sultan during the 19th century built in European style, inspired by Versailles. We passed several wooden houses, which are 100-150 years old and have been sold for incredible high prices, although bad shape. We turned and changed to the Asian side at the second hanging bridge, which also is 60 metres high, but have 8 lanes. Lorries are also allowed here, which is not the case on the other one. Just beside this bridge is there an old fortress with a citadel built 1452.

On the other side is there also a couple of smaller palaces, plus a military kind of palace, but historically are the buildings less impressive here. When we went back, we had to wait for an oil tanker to pass, as they always have priority because of security reasons. The weather had become better again, although it still was quite windy.

After the boat trip we went to a restaurant nearby, where we had a delicious Turkish lunch, although it's difficult to define Turkish as there are so many minorities, but this food was from the South Eastern part of Turkey.

Then we went to the Grand Bazaar, but first we stopped by a shop where they demonstrated Turkish carpets. It was lightly interesting, but felt very much like selling, so we regretted that we followed the other in. At least we were spared to see the weavers, which Christina had feared. There were some other grumbling about that this had been forced upon them, without being mentioned in the brochure. After this we told Mirka that we would leave the group and then we went to Grand Bazaar ourselves. In summary we felt that we could have avoided this tour, as we already had been on the Bosporus and the other things could we have done ourselves and much quicker. The best was actually the lunch.

The Grand Bazaar is really big with it's about 4000 shops and many more outside it. There were streets where many shops of the same thing were situated, like leather, gold, clothes, antiquities and in between all of these there are plenty of junk shops. Christina was looking for silk fabrics, but it was hardly possible to find. In all she thought it had changed quite a lot since she was here 16 years ago. It was more organised for tourists and less cheap junk.

We went out in the sun, which had become quite warm now and walked along the tramway tracks towards Hagia Sofia. We stopped nearby for a coffee break with a big chocolate cake  and resting our feet. Christina found a lovely newly painted, but in old style, Turkish warrior, which she felt in love with and had to buy. It would fit well beside our other “travel pictures” at home.

Hagia Sofia is now a museum after first have been a Christian church and later a mosque, when the Ottomans arrived. Luckily the direction happened to be towards Mecca, otherwise we don't know if it had been saved. It's really immense and fascinating to walk around there. We also found the Viking graffiti of Halvdan, which is upon one of the balustrades, nowadays well protected by a plastic cover. They have also uncovered many old Christian paintings and mosaics, which the Muslims had covered with plaster. We spent more than an hour there.

When we came out, we hoped to have time to visit the archaeological museum, but it had already closed, so we went down to the bridge. It wasn't worth taking a bus, as it was a traffic jam, so we walked as fast as any vehicle. Fortunately this meant that we passed the old end station of the Orient Express, which still is in use and still is very beautiful.

We, walked along the Golden Horn to the bridge, which we passed by feet. There were many men and boys fishing on the bridge. On the other side we took the old metro up to the shopping mall. While waiting for the tram, we met a Swedish group, which was in Istanbul for a week looking on different boats passing through the straits of Bosporus! They belonged to a society called “Skärgårdsbåtar”.

At Taksim square we went to the restaurant Hacibaba nearby, which Hans and Joyce had recommended the day before, but it was a disappointment, with quite a messy service and no better food than the day before, but it cost at least 3 times more.

It was over 9 pm when we returned to the hotel and it was time to prepare the packing again.

Probably as the other was expected to return late from the Oriental House, we had a later departure than normal, i.e. at 8:30. It was ok traffic out of Istanbul, but the 4 lanes on the motorway was extremely slow for an hour, which we finally discovered was due to an lorry accident.

We were about an hour late at the border station at Kapikule. It took a while to come through the passport control and papers fore Mirka and Bosse, but the longest time was to fill up the tank with duty free diesel, as there were many locals who even fill up several extra cans, although even we understood that this was explicitly forbidden. It was like a reality show to see this mess. The only bribe Mirka needed to "pay" was a cold beer and mineral water.

Soon after the customs, we stopped in the village Kapitan Andreevo, which made me wonder after which hero this slow, calm and hot village was named after. As usual it was a nice picnic, this time beside an old ruined school. Afterwards I made a short walk to see some of the houses and actually saw several people, although the tempo still seemed to be slow. There was an old man watching a herd of Turkeys and a boy passing by on a cart drawn by an ass.

The time was over 3 pm when we departed. We could see much more this time, that Bulgaria is a poor country with many buildings in bad shape, when you just had departed from Turkey. But the fields should be able to produce quite a lot of wheat, corn and vegetables.

Eventually we arrived nearly 6 pm, so we were just  half an hour behind schedule. The tour was moved an hour, so we had time to check in on the quite luxurious Princess Hotel Trimontium. As we stayed near the end of the shopping mall we took a short tour to change money nearby and we got a quite good rate even on the Turkish lira we got rid of.

18:45 we took the bus up to the Old Plovdiv and we were guided by Pandelie in English, although it was translated by Mirka. On the road we passed the only catholic cathedral, which has a very strange, but beautiful tower. After Alexander the Great had conquered the city, it got the name Philippolis for a while.

We went off the bus at Alexander Malinov square, where some old men sat chatting in the warm evening. The first interesting construction was the entrance gate room the 4th century, which was built upon Roman ruins . Most buildings in the old town is either museums or art exhibitions today. One of the most beautiful buildings is the ethnographic museum from 1847. We passed a few churches plus a place where a famous, although unknown for us, French poet called Lamartine lived in July 1833. The most interesting remnant in the town is the Antique theatre from the 4th century. Its acoustic is so good that the Bulgarian opera house use to have outdoor concerts here several times a year.

A church from 1882 is a memorial of the 3rd of March 1878, when the Russians helped Bulgaria to be free from the Turks. This date is now the national day. We also saw modern wall art, showing the growth of the culture during the 19th century.

We finished the tour at the other end of the shopping mall with a small Roman theatre, which had been converted to a cafe in a horrible way. There is also a newly erected statue of Philippe II, the father of Alexander the Great. There is also a mosque beside the square.

We walked back to the hotel and soon after we had a dinner at the upper floor of the hotel. A couple of Bulgarians sang in the background, which was quite nice, together with a great 3 course dinner. Afterwards it was late enough to go to bed immediately after another long day.

Thursday 9th of September
Yet another travel day started at 8 am. It was chilly with some clouds, but soon enough it cleared up, when we went towards the skiing resort Borovets. There was some drizzling, so we decided to shorten the break with half an hour, which probably would have been enough even if it had been sunshine. There are nice hotels and the lift system seems to be good enough for, most people, but otherwise it was a dull tourist resort. Many inhabitants of the town Somokov, which we passed when we had came down from the mountain, works there during wintertime. This town is known for its woodcarving school plus the one for icon paintings, especially with golden backgrounds.

After all the pine trees up in the mountainous part, we again saw a very flat landscape, although this time with a lot of bushes. The sun had returned and the temperature was increased from 7 to 17.  We had the Rila mountains on the Southern side and some hills far away on the Northern side. We saw some goat herders and passed through several smaller villages and a few towns. In some fields were they ploughing with tractors. We also passed an old closed airbase. Nowadays is the compulsory military service shortened from 2 years down to 9 months.

At the turn up to the mountains, there is a statue of the founder of the Rila Monastery, Ivan Rilsky, who soon after his dead was declared a Saint. When the bus started to climb, the road became a twisty, although it was less steep than expected. We had a lot of trees on both sides and we passed several small villages.

Eventually this fantastic piece of architectural art appeared in front of us. I went crazy taking photos of this place and it will be difficult to sort them out later... We started with lunch on a small restaurant nearby and then bought the last needed postcards before we started the tour with Pandelie as a guide.

The first monastery used to be 3 km further up in the mountains, but it became popular quite fast, so they need more space and it moved to the current place. Today it is only the defence tower since 1335, which is original. The Turks set fire on the monastery, although the monks had got a sealed letter from the sultan, that it should be spared, but the Turkish army never cared about this. There was also a fire in the 16th century. The monastery was restored 1815 in it's current status, the church built 1865 and the part with the museum was built as late as 1962. Probably there are about 13 active monks today, but we never saw anybody.

We started the tour in the museum. There are many incensories, gifts from other monasteries or churches, a couple of priest dresses, but first of all the carved wooden cross made by the monk Rafael 1790-1802. The detail richness is really amazing and he must have a masters craftsmanship, as well as a lot of time, even if it took 12 years to complete. It's said that after this he became blind! It contains over 1200 different images and is made of boxwood.

The monastery used to contain around 16000 books, which were extremely many for that time and the monks copied them to spread the word with aid of the Cyrillic alphabet, which suits the Slavic language much better than the Latin one. One room was dedicate to show the tower, as this is closed to visitors. It has 5 floors. There is the original wood carved door. In the museum you will also find the treasure chest with five locks and keys, which were carried by 5 different monks. We also made a visit in a room of a senior monk and into the kitchen. The kettle was really enormous and the ceiling up to the smoke hole was intricate.

The church is unique, as it has fantastic frescos at the outside, as well as on the inside. There are many icon painted with gold in the church. There is also a really old one called "Miracle Icon of the Rila Monastery", which is said to give spiritual energy when you are in front of it. There is also a lovely copy of it on the wall. In the church there is also a glass jar with the ashes of the last King Boris III (1894-1943). Rumour says that he was poisoned on order by Hitler himself. His son Simeon Saxe-Coburg Gotha lived in exile during the communism and claimed the throne after the fall of it, but was denied, although he was welcome as a common citizen. He used his fortune to restore many old buildings and became so popular that we won the last election of Bulgaria and became Prime Minister 2001!

It had become really sunny when we went towards Sofia, through a much hillier landscape now. We passed several factories, which many of them were shutdown and in a very bad shape since the communism. We had to make a bypass of the new motorway, which should have been competed before the Olympic Games, but it's at least 2 months late and you may wonder where some of the EU contribution has gone.

We arrived earlier than anticipated in the schedule to hotel Princess. After we had left our luggage in the room, we bought a map and walked towards the city centre. We were nearly trampled by a German couple who passed all of us in the lift queue. Why is this so typical with Germans? There are too many of them keeping up their bad tourist reputation! This city looks quite dull and have definitively no feeling of a tourist city. The old lady who first begged by the bus and later when we sat on a cafe didn't make a better impression. There was also a family begging at the bridge with the lions. The cafe we entered had everything written in Cyrillic alphabet, but maybe that’s why everything was really cheap and we had a delicious cake plus a cup of coffee for about 2 leva each (1 euro). We continued our walk towards the centre with the Saint Sofia statue. I suggested that we could take the metro back, but it went in the wrong direction. We got to know later that this was the first station and they are trying to increase the metro net, but everywhere are there plenty of archaeological remnants preventing the building of tracks and stations. This is especially true here within the old Sevdika fortress, although you rarely see anything from the ground, but in the grand market hall, as well as in a tunnel beside the metro station can you see the former city wall.

We walked back in time for dinner, which was quite standard European. Not bad, but not interesting... We didn't feel that this was a city to stroll around in the evening, so we went up writing the last postcards before it was time to sleep.

Friday 10th of September
It was about 10 degrees when we had checked out. We couldn't get our passposts before everyone had checked out and they had checked all the minibars. Did they have bad experience?

We went by bus to the "Holy Sunda place" by the statue of Saint Sofia, the goddess of wisdom, which have given the city its name. We had passed the Banja mosque, which is the only active one. Beside the store Zoom, all the NATO flags are hissed in a line.

First we went to the oldest building in the city, the church of Saint George, from the 4th century. It was built by the Romans and contains frescoes from several centuries. Outside can you see remnants from the old fortress Sevdika. We could again see the symbol of the lion, which symbolise strength and wisdom. According to Pandelie, Bulgaria got the symbol after the freedom of the Turks, but on the museum we saw many lion figurines from BC, so this symbol is much older than that and we also knew from before that before Christ actually the lions lived in this area.

Outside the President's office where there a couple of honourable guards with a plumed beret. There were some police activity as the president of Macedonia was there as a guest today. We also saw the governmental house as well as the parliament house, which have a big tower upon it. It used to have a Lenin statue on top, but it has been replaced by a flag pole. The archaeological museum, which is beside the President's office used to be a mosque during the Ottoman empire 

Many streets had yellow tiles on the ground. These used to be pedestrian only street during the communism. There was also another lovely yellow building, which originally contained the administration of the Turks, later became the Royal palace and today it's partly an art gallery and the rest is the ethnographic museum.

The most beautiful building in Sofia is the Ivan Vasov theatre from 1906. It's the national theatre built  in a neo-classicism style and named after a famous poet. It lays beside Grand Hotel, a glass building which is really ugly! We were followed by a photographer, so we wondered if we will be part of the next tourist brochure of Sofia?

We passed the beautiful and oldest Russian church, Saint Nikolai and stopped by the next oldest building, which also is a church, which is called Saint Sofia. There was a lot of activity  by  the military who prepared the red carpet and sweeping the streets, in preparation for the president of Macedonia for a ceremony to lay a wreath on the war memorial, since the recent war of Balkan.

We ended up the tour in the Alexander Nevski cathedral, which was built 1924, which another really beautiful church. It contains many frescos, but the iconostas was of marble instead of woodcarvings here. The ceiling is 53 metres at the highest point and he light crowns weigh 1250 kg each.

After the tour we went on our own to the archaeological museum, which appeared to be a really good one, except that most of the gold treasuries had been moved to the new National museum, 10 km from the centre. It contained many figurines from before Christ, which are marvellous, but also much ceramics, statues, sarcophagi and jewellery. There are still quite a few item in the treasury part, although of lesser value. We still had a feeling that the history was about Thracians, Romans and then jumped to the Ottoman empire. Just as when Pandelie guided us. We are missing 1000 years in between!

After the museum we strolled a while and then went to the large market hall, where we had a lunch plus a cake as dessert. We found the vegetable and clothe market nearby, which is immense with many sellers, as well as local visitors.

It was definitively much warmer, when we returned to the hotel to wait for the departure of the bus towards Veliko Tarnovo. This route was much more mountainous than before, with quite a lot of trees here and there, although only small forests.

We arrived around 5:30 to Grand hotel Veliko Tarnovo, which is supposed to be a 4 star hotel, but looked much simpler than any we had stayed on before. It is still very comfortable. The balconies hanged out as they were trampolines for a swimming pool and we had a view over the town on one side of the hills and a memorial nearby.

After some unpacking we made a short tour up in town and then checked the hotel shops, which especially sold rose oil from the nearby town Kazanlak. We also had a chat in the corridor with some of our friends before dinner.

The dinner was 3 course as usual and it seemed as we had the compulsory man and woman singing different classic western European popular songs. But this time a lady from a Japanese group started to dance by herself and then another and when we finished some in our group also danced. When they started a quicker one Christina and I went up dancing although our fitness wasn't good enough for this exercise any more. Somehow we had impressed the Japanese lady, so she invited me on a dance, which went quite well, as she followed well and it was less quick.

We were quite tired when we went up for a sleep.

Saturday 11th of September
After loading the bus with our luggage we went up to the old fortress Tsarevets, which means "where the king or tsar is living". It was a sunny, but quite chilly morning. Our local guide was Maja. The first fortress was built 1185 and remained for just over 20 years and the city was called Tarnovograd (= the town Tarnovo, veliko=big). This was the 4th largest city in Europe and had 25000 inhabitants at this time. The city is situated on 3 hills and the fortress had 10 metres high walls and they were 4 metres thick. The river Jantra surrounds most of the fortress, so the current entrance was the only one to connect to other hills.

The Turks destroyed the city completely during the summer 1393. They tried to rebuild all of it, but an earthquake 1913 destroyed it again. As always, material has been reused and a bit white block with carvings from Nicopopolis (a town nearby during 100-400 AD)  is part of the foundation to the palace at the top.

In this fortress is the church higher than the place as it's nearer God, although it's not often the case around here. The fortress area is about 5000 m2. Both the palace and the churches are fortresses themselves too. The church is 250 metres over the sea level and was painted 1981 with modern frescoes over the history. The pictures are really depressing to look at, but as this was during the communism, they had to conceal the Christian messages.

Veliko Tarnovo is a religious centre today with 14 active monasteries in the area. It also has a big university and a military school. It's currently 70-80000 inhabitants in the town.

After the tour we went together with Bosse to the local archaeological museum. It was smaller than we expected in this town, which had been the former capital. The museum seemed to be closed when we arrived, but when we rang the bell a woman arrived and opened for us. Quite a lot was written in English, but too often was any dating missed.

After the museum we found a pizzeria and when we just had ordered, Sten passed by and joined us too. We changed back the last of our Bulgarian money to Euro in an exchange office we passed, before we returned to the hotel.

At 13:30 it was time to leave towards Ruse at the Romanian border. The mountainous terrain changed soon to a more flat land again. The cars stood in the bus queue, so it was more waiting then used to be normal according to Mirka, but it took less than an hour to pass through. The "Friendship bridge" over the border is quite impressive with two columns on each side. The Romanian border was much quicker into Giurgiu

It took about an hour more before we arrived to Bucharest. The first impression was much better than when we arrived to Sofia. Particularly the broad boulevards added to this impression. Most of the streets, even the large ones, seemed to be one-way in this city, so we made a circle before we came to our hotel Central, beside Boulevard Regina Elisabeta.

After check-in, Christina had to rest as she still didn’t feel well, meanwhile I went out on a tour to see if I could buy a map somewhere, as the one I got in the reception was a dark copy of no real help. It was Saturday night so there were many people out, but no place to buy a map.

At 19:30 we all walked to the restaurant "Monte Carlo", which is in the middle of a very active park with a large pond. They were really quick to serve all plates and the entree with dill and cabbage was a new positive experience but the rest don't deserve to be remembered, as it was the most dull we ever had got...

It was dark when we returned. We looked at the city map with Göran and Kerstin in the lobby and they actually had a spare map from a brochure, which we got. Afterwards we sat chatting with Bosse (the chauffeur) and Claudio until it was time to go to bed. It's still a wonder how it's tiring to do nothing....

Sunday 12th of September
It was nice to not need to rush up for breakfast, which was among the best we have had. Apparently they didn't have a restaurant kitchen, as they did the washing up in the same room with a lot of noise.

It was slightly chilly but fully clear when we started the day to find the parliament, so we at least could se it from the outside. We passed by several immense buildings and one of them was guarded by militaries. We also passed a film or casting team beside a high mirror glass building and there were plenty of young people around them, maybe hoping to get a role.

The parliament has about 6000 rooms and is the 2nd largest building in the world after Pentagon. Beside all the other large buildings, it was easier to understand that Ceausescu built such a large complex to be remembered in the history, although it's tragic with all those who had to move when he ordered that several quarters of houses should be destroyed. It's several floors high and contains several crystal crowns, which weigh 2500 kg each. The parliament is surrounded with a really large green area, although we never saw the backside of it. In front of it is there a large place, probably meant for parades and a broad boulevard continues with large fountains in the middle, although it's just at the end that the fountain was active.

We walked down this boulevard, which was quiet during Sunday morning and then turned by the channel towards the historical museum.. We saw several filthy young boys going to bathe in the channel and had a feeling that they were homeless orphans. The museum was closed for restoration, so instead we sat down in cafe for a cup of coffee before we continued.

At the university place we saw many gathered people at a place and when we checked them closer, it was a collection market with stamps, coins, postcards, phone cards and many other odd stuff.

At he metro station we bought a day ticket, with aid of a helpful Romanian guy, who spoke good English. We went Northwards towards the Triumph Arch. When we came up from he metro we apparently looked a bit confused, so an old man pointed out the direction. He understood where we wanted to go, so he had probably seen many tourists before...

The Arch seemed to be a memorial of something which happened the 22 of October 1922 and King Ferdinand and Queen Maria was involved in this. That’s about what we could guess from the Romanian text on it. We found a small restaurant just beside it, where we ordered something to eat, with a menu in Romanian and nobody who could speak English, but we succeeded to get a really good meal and the waiter was really caring about both us and all other around.

We took the metro again and went to Piata Victorirei and went out for a walk. There are many beautiful and immense buildings and several of them are museums. It's probably true that here is more museums per capita than elsewhere. We also saw the well-guarded government building. We passed through a park, which wasn't really well cared, but that seemed to be normal with most parks in this city. I would guess that there are more important things to prioritise for the tax money here.

We continued with the metro to Piata Romana. There we ate a little cake in a pastry shop. There were many tables to sit down and eat them, but still you couldn't buy coffee. This place will mostly be reminded of the many electricity or phone wires up in the air, which was nested everywhere, but of course also for pompous buildings, although we started to get used to them now. From there we walked Southwards along the boulevard, as there were many shops and many was open although it was Sunday. We took a crossing street to get to the Senate and found us in the middle of some rehearsals and photographing of ladies in yellow and white. It seemed that a music festival should start there within an hour, although we thought it was too long to wait. There we found one of the most beautiful buildings of Bucharest. It looks like a theatre, but we guessed that it might be the place for the philharmonic orchestra.

At the university we decided that it could be interesting to take the metro to one of the ends, so we went to "Depoul IMGB". The last metres of the line was in open air and at one side it was the countryside and the one with the exit it was an immense factory, so we decided to go back a couple of stations to "Piata Sudulai". There it was a vegetable and fruit market in this suburbs with many ugly apartment houses. It also seemed to be large connection point for buses and tramways too. At least we got a glimpse of something else before we went back to the university.

From the university place we walked back to the hotel and rested for an hour before we went out to the coffee shop from the morning, where we ordered a couple of sandwiches. When we had got them, a shabby boy about 8-10 years asked for some and Christina had already realised that she couldn't eat all, so he got a part of hers.

It was dark when we returned to the hotel. The casting was still active, although they seemed to put together the stuff now. It was two very tired persons who prepared the packing for the morning.

Monday 13th of September
Yet another sunny day when we departed from Bucharest. As it was a working day it was heavy traffic. We followed a road, which we recognised since yesterday, as it was more or less along the metro line Northwards we had followed.

After about three quarter we were out of the city, although the main road was just partly 3 or 4 lanes. We passed the pretty large city Ploiesti, which is suffering of pollution from its heavy industry. Many years ago it had the largest oil industry in Europe, although it has decreased quite a lot now.

When we came up in the mountains it was seldom more than a single lanes, so we were often stuck behind heavier vehicles. We passed Sinaia, before we came to our only stop (except for coffee), along the road. Azuga is known for its production of sparkling wine. Eleonora who works in the wine factory guided as and Claudio translated to English and Mirka to Swedish.

Prahova Valley wine cellar has produced wine over 100 years and sparkling wine since 1903 and they have been royal deliverer. During the communism the factory was used as a warehouse for carbon and wood, but  from 1957 it restarted its production. Today is the largest shareholder a company from Liverpool. The wine is made of the grapes Chardonnay and sauvignon Blanc. The 60 years old wooden barrels may contain 1200 to 4500 litres of wine. The wine is mixed during 30 days before sugar and yeast and then bottled and stored for at least 12 months. The longer time, the better the quality becomes and it gets smaller bubbles. After each 12 months the bottles is slightly shaken.

The storage room must be protected from light, warmth (6-14 degrees) and shaking. The walls are 1.5 metres thick and there is plenty of mould in the ceiling, which actually picks up the moisture. When the storing is finished they remove the cork with the remaining yeast and some sugar is added plus the new real cork is put on it. This is the only process, which is made by a machine. Finally the bottle is cleaned in a 100 years old brushing machine and then labels is put on it manually.

After the interesting demonstration, we got to try 4 different kind of sparkling wines. One of them was good enough to buy for the next New Years Eve, although we wanted to avoid carrying glass bottles with the flight home. We also had a lighter lunch served, which was good after all this sparkling alcohol… We spent it in company with Arne and Ellen, which we got to know for the first time.

It was still lovely weather when we continued for another hour to Brasov, where we arrived just before 3 pm. After bringing the luggage to the room, we made a walk to the centre and there plenty of beautiful houses in the city, but the main square was probably the most wonderful place we had seen on this trip. I got in "spin" to photograph it before we went back. We also tried a couple of the local pastry from a shop on the mall.

At 16:15 we started a guided walk with Mirka in the city. Of course we saw the same thing around the square although we got to know that most buildings are from 18th and 19th century. There is a small Orthodox church inside the port of a tower. In the middle of the square is a tower, which was used for both announcing news, but also for guarding. Inside the tower is there a museum about Saxon life here. The city have guard towers and remains of a wall, which was used to protect against the Turks.

Beside the square is the "Black Church", which got its name since a fire 1676. It was built 1383 to around 1470 and is a German-Lutheran church, as there used to live many Germans in this area. It has recently been restored with German aid. The clock is the biggest in Romania with its 7 tons and the organ has over 4000 pipes. There are many Turkish carpets hanging everywhere in the church. They have been different old gifts. Outside is there a status of Johannes Honterus (1498-1549), who introduced the book printing into this country.

We continued and passed the most narrow lane with only 135 cm width. We also passed a lovely decorated synagogue. There live about 10000 Jews in this surroundings today. The Schej port could be passed by the Romanian only one particular day per year, otherwise it was only allowed with Saxons in the inner town and the Romanians had to live outside. There is also the older Ecaterina port, which is very beautiful with 5 small towers on top as decoration. When we came back to the square, we were free to do whatever we wanted ourselves. We strolled slowly back on the mall to the hotel.. Outside we bought some water and had just a large bill and had problem to get the correct change. We had a feeling that the woman tried to trick us, but finally we got what we supposed to get.

In the room we rested our feet and changed clothes before we went with most of the other in the group in taxis up to the citadel and the restaurant “Cetade". It was a reception with a trumpet and a guard at the post and inside we got an appetizer. It's a nice little defence place, which they have restored and remade as a restaurant with decorations of cannons, but also shields, spears and armours.

It seemed as we were the only ones tonight, although normally it is quite full here. When we sat down, the orchestra started to play operetta music for us. Particular the entree plate was finely decorated, but the rest was also tasteful and nice. After the dessert there was an entrance of 4 singers and 4 ballet dancers, They performed several different songs and all was finished with violin solo, which was marvellous.

We took taxis back to the hotel and the ambiance was very joyous in the reception, so I saw that the lady behind the desk smiled every time she looked towards us. We went up to our room to pack our stuff for the next day. We set up the portable fire alarm, as this room was missing any of these facilities and then we heard people speak in the corridor. It was Mirka and Ellen and we understood that something serious had happened and soon realised that Ellen's husband Arne was dead, although we didn't know the cause. We avoided to disturb them although we felt that we would liked to have done something and we were a bit chocked and had difficult to fall asleep.

Tuesday 14th of September
It was strange to go to breakfast today, as the other seemed to be unaware of what had happened and we thought it was better that Mirka decided when and where it should be announced. When we sat on the bus, she told us that Arne had had a stroke late in the evening, although nobody could have guessed it before. Ellen seemed to be in a calm chock and she had decided that she should follow us to Vienna where her children would meet up. We assumed that neither Ellen nor Mirka had slept anything during the night.

This day was jus a long transport in the sunny weather. The first stop was at a gas station just after Sibiu. After Mirka told us the real story of Bramstoker's Dracula 1897, which in real life was named Vlad Teppisch III. He lived in the 15th century. The name came from his father and it mean's "the son of the Dragon". He was a sovereign of Valdacia, but had castles in Transylvania as well as many trade stations, from where he got customs taxation. His castle is situated near Brasov. He was very powerful and fought against the Turks together with Mathias Corvinus of Hungary, but they also were competitors of Transylvania. He was always surrounded by an army, as many wanted the throne. He wasn't any vampire, but his methods was very cruel. He hated the Saxons and often executed them with a pole through their body. Finally his life was taken by the Turks. They are currently building a Dracula amusement park near Brasov.

Along the road Bosse had to pass many horses and wagons, as well as heavier lorries on the narrow road. At least twice we saw markets for horses and other animals.

In Deva it was time for a lunch break at McDonalds. If you ever had been on McDonalds elsewhere, you knew what to expect! After we made a short stroll around the railway station to stretch our legs. There we saw a couple of the many ownerless dogs resting in the shadow, although these looked quite nice. I also took a photo of the citadel, which is on a hill nearby.

We continued a couple of more hours before we made a shorter break at a gas station outside Arad. There are quite immense factories outside this city. By the road we later saw a large oil field, although the oil drills are quite small. Around 5 pm we reached the customs in Nadlac after a long day and it was time to set back our watches an hour. After a quite quick pass of the border, where not the Romanians even cared to stamp the passports this time, it still remained about an hour before our night stop in Szeged.

When we arrived in Szeged Bosse got problems with the police, when he finally had succeeded to park the bus in front of hotel Royal. They gave him a fine, because he had passed the tram rails, when he turned from the main street. In the general mess Stig and Anna-Lisa lost a suitcase, which showed up that a porter had put in a luggage room.

We had quite short time before we had to go down to the lobby again, as the payment for the excursions should be finalised today before the dinner. It was a good dinner, which we spent in company with the Danish couple Motie and Ann-Margrethe. We went to bed around 10 pm, quite tired although this was the first day without any touristic activity.

Wednesday 15th of September
After breakfast we had a guided tour around the centre of Szeged. It's the warmest and sunniest city in Hungary and it can be up to 40 degrees summertime, although today it was only around 20 degrees. This is because this is the lowest situated city in Hungary. Most of the buildings are from the 19th century, as the river Tisza flooded the 12th of March 1879 and only 300 of its 6000 building remained after this day. Otherwise is the city quite old. Emperor Franz Josef himself was engaged in the rebuilding, as Hungary was part of the double monarchy. Vasarhelyi Pal was assigned the task to build barrages to protect the city from a future catastrophe.

We passed "the source of Anna", where you can get 51 degree hot water from a fountain pressed up of depth of 944 metres. The water is considered very healthy and at least 3 local people took water from the fountain meanwhile we stood there. We passed the beautiful city hall, where they built a bridge to the adjacent house, as Franz Josef stayed there during his visit in the city. This was due to security reasons. The house of Deök has a fascinating architecture in Art Nouveau style, which at least a couple of persons said was inspired by houses in Barcelona. A problem with the houses is that they need ongoing restoration, as the paint can't stand the heat many years.

The "Gate of Heroes" is a memorial of the soldiers who died in the first World War and the paintings are quite bizarre and was actually over painted during the communism. The university was built 1912 and they are specialised in Chemistry and Biology. The arcades is like a Hungarian history lesson with many statues and paintings. The large area in front of the university is often used for festivals or concerts, as it can take 2000 persons in the public. Beside is the grandiose Thanksgiving church, in memorial of those who survived the flooding. It is built at the end of the 19th century, although there is a remaining tower from the church from the 14th century. Many streets have names of different big cities around Europe and the streets are stretched like sun beams from the centre.

We loaded the luggage and departed 9:45.and the sun was still with us. When we took the coffee break it was cloudy and warm as it would be thunder, but we just got a few drips when we came into the bus and Bosse quickly drove away from it toward Budapest. The border to Austria was quickly passed, probably as both countries belongs to EU now and we made a stop at gas station just after it. Eventually we arrived at hotel President in Vienna just after 5 pm. In the reception Christina and I made a booking of a city tour for tomorrow plus bought a 72-hour card for all transportations.

After the check-in Christina had to rest as she didn't feel well, but after an hour we went out to the main shopping street Mariahilfer strasse. It was written in the brochure that the hotel should be near this street, but that is slightly exaggerated. As it was after 6 pm, most shops had closed and there were some drizzling, but we strolled around for a while, before we found a restaurant where we ate some pasta.

We took the underground back to Westbahnhof and walked back to the hotel. We met 6 persons from our group, when they came out of a nearby restaurant. We went directly up to our room, as Christina felt slightly ill again and she went to sleep, although she woke up later due to the illness.

Thursday 16th of September
We went up enough early to say goodbye to the members of our group and then ate breakfast with Joyce. Her husband Hans had had a too good time the evening before, so he didn't get up that early.

The pickup bus for the tour was a quarter late, although we were the first. Anyway we were all in time for the tour, which started at Sudtirolplatz. It seemed to clear up and most moist on the street had dried up. Our guide Elisabet told us about the buildings around the inner "ring" of the centre before we continued to the summer residence of Maria-Theresia, which is called Schönbrunn. But this castle can hardly be called a summer cottage... It's really large with an even larger garden. At the other end of it is a large lovely construction called "the Gloriette".

At 11:15 sharp was it time for the tour through the apartments of the Empress Maria-Theresia, who governed the country 1740-1760. This reign started when she only was 23 years old. Of course several neighbouring countries saw the chance to increase their territories, but she held them off all but one single part. It's also unbelievable that she had time to give birth to 16 children, of whom the youngest, Marie-Antoinette is the most famous, as she became the queen of France during the revolution. The style is mostly Rococo and reminds a lot of Versailles. We probably passed over 30 of the rooms, although that's far from all of them.

Back in centre we saw a few more buildings before they let us off behind the opera house. We went to the nearby "Markt" to eat something, but it was an enormously confusing and noisy place, so  I wouldn't recommend it. Then we walked to Karlsplatz to take a few photos of the beautiful church and the lovely entrance of the underground there.

We walked back and up to the Spanish riding school and were lucky to get tickets to the extra performance Friday evening, although we would have to stand up during 80 minutes. We had tried to book this through Scandorama, but they had told us that there only are performances on Sundays, so especially Christina was happy as this had been a dream for her since she was a teenager.

He strolled around on the outside of Hofburg for some photos, before we took the underground to Neubaugasse, where I wanted to visit a couple of board game shops. I found the game "Raja: Palastbau im India", which I had sought for a while, so I was quite happy. We went back to the hotel and opposite it is Raimund Theatre, where they currently were running "Barbarella - das sexy space musical" and we checked if they had some tickets, which the actually had for the evening.

We put our stuff in the hotel room and went out dining before it was time for the show. Although our German isn't good, at least Christina could put the loose intrigue together and we cold enjoy the music together with an amazing scenario, so it was well worth visiting. It was also nice to just walk home over the street and look down on the chaos from our hotel room, when all other tried to get a taxi.

Friday 17th of September
It was nice to sleep quite long, although we were in the city centre around 10 am. It was really warm and sunny today. We started in the Nature Historical museum, which was built by Franz Josez, the husband of queen Maria-Theresia. He had bought a collection as a foundation to the museum and this fantastic house was especially built for this purpose, as well as it's mirrored twin house was built as an art museum on the other end of the square with a statue of the queen in between.

We were mostly interested in the exhibition of the findings from the salt mine of Hallstadt, which have well preserved many items which are 2-3000 years old, but also other pre-historical findings. But it's also fascinating to look at the decoration in the building, as the art has been adapted to the use of each grand hall. In the main stairway is a paining, where Franz Josef is examining some minerals and below it is a display case showing the items. He was so proud of the collection, so it's said that he visited it every day. Afterwards we ate a cake in the coffee shop and could just enjoy the amazing dome ceiling.

After we took the underground to Praterstern and ate a pizza before we went to the big Ferris wheel called Riesenrad, which originally is over 100 years old, although it was rebuilt after World War II. It was a splendid view this clear day over Vienna. We continued with the tramway and walked to the Kunsthaus Wien and Hundertwasserhaus nearby, mainly to look at the quite bizarre architecture. There are "ordinary people" living in the house, so we were not allowed to enter it, but there are many souvenir shops outside it.

We thought it was time to go back, so we took the underground. Christina went directly home, but I went off at Neubaugasse to visit another game store, where I found "Princes of Renaissance", another game I've been looking for a while. The shop "Damage unlimited" was bigger, so it took a while to get through it and Christina had probably slept for an hour when I returned.

It was time to go back for the Spanish riding school performance at Hofburg. We just came when the first few to standing places started to queue, but it increased quickly after us. If you haven't a numbered place, you may stand up anywhere in the gallery and there where special ramps where you could lean against a rail. We took place near the middle and was joined by some Swedish women. Actually we heard several other Scandinavians there as well.

The hall is really nice with several crystal crowns hanging from the high ceiling. The best places are apparently at one of the short ends of the rectangular ring, which contained nicely raked sand. I regretted that I hadn't brought my camera, as I could have taken some photos before the show, although many took photos anyway although it was forbidden during the show, mainly because the flash could frighten the horses. They sometime seemed to become enough frightened by the applauses.

The performance contained 8 parts with different number of horses. The first three did I consider mostly as only going forward and sometimes in circles, but Christina appreciated them much too. Then there were some with more complicated tricks like being on the back hooves or kicking with all legs at the same time. It was quite tiring to stand 80 minutes, but quite enjoyable and for Christina it was a dream since she was 10 years old, which had been fulfilled.

On the way back we went to a Russian restaurant to eat before it was time to go home and pack some before we went to bed.

Saturday 18th of September
A taxi drive picked us up at 8:30, so we were glad to be early, as we had got the time 8:45 from Scandorama. It was warm and sunny when said goodbye to Vienna. It was an unusually messy airport and it took a while before we figured out that we had too check-in before our flight turned up on the screen. The queue was long and took over half an hour, although there was someone checking that you were in the correct queue. We didn’t have much time to look in the shops, although they are quite expensive, especially as it are not any duty free to Copenhagen. We lifted about 11:30 for a 1.5 hours flight to Copenhagen and soon later we continued to Gothenburg, where we landed around 3 pm. Our friend Mikael picked us up and drove us home.
 

Carl-Gustaf Samuelsson
Christina Arrindell

 

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Carl-Gustaf Samuelsson