The last episode around Bosnia, Serbia and Slovakia was filled with great memories from the old Bridge in Mostar to Moslem temple founded by Dervishes and to Ottoman fortress of Kotor, Kravice Waterfalls, Belgrade and its version of Silicon Valley, and finally winding down in Slovakia. That Bug was sure packed with a lot of hidden surprises.
This time around we find Dave going through Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria, stopping through a bar under the stars, Transylvania, cruising around Varna and going through a few of its monasteries. Could it top the last episode? We believe it could, but we’ll get you to judge.
And so without further ado..
After around a 4-hour train journey, I arrived at the hostel in the city of Budapest. Budapest has a population of around 2 million or so and is split in two by the Danube river, one side being Buda and the other being Pest.
The first thing I decided to do was quite was not particularly touristy and one of my favourite things to do, have to the cinema. I felt like doing something normal and figured I’d have plenty of time to see the city.
After getting my fix for a few hours, I headed back to the hostel and was given a shot of Palinka by the owner. The owner proved to be very sociable and spent a lot of time with myself and others socialising and showing us about the city, the friendliest owner Id run across.
Whilst not having a bar, the hostel owner liked to organise a pub night every night. As I said, the hostel owner was pretty cool and I ended up going shots for a shot with him and had plenty of local beers. The first bar we went too had sand all through it in an attempt to make it look like a beach. The second bar was next to an outdoor bridge on the Buda side of the city (I was staying on the Pest side), it was phenomenal, good music, friendly people, and I managed to dance with some locals though I was a little sceptical regarding the look of some of the patrons. Later I was told some of the customers were hookers and I’m also fairly certain that lot of people under the age of 18. We finished up at around five in the morning and headed back to the hostel.
I got up at around midday and headed out for a free walking tour. This involved a walk that went for about 2 hours, describing the history of several buildings including the Buda Castle as well as the Fisherman’s Bastion which adjoin each other overlooking Buda and Pest.
The views from the castle of the city were amazing and there were many beautiful buildings within the city, the architecture in many ways is very similar to Paris.
I headed back down to the hostel and didn’t get up to much for the rest of the evening as the night before had taken it out of me and I was going to take a hop on hop off bus tour of the city the following day.
The following morning I was up early and went on the bus tour of the city. This involved around a 5-hour bus ride, detailing more history as well as giving me time to explore some of the sights. First I checked out Valduhunyad castle, it was kind of Alice in Wonderland looking structure sitting on a lake. I also checked out Heroes Square which had various historical figures portrayed in a lavish park. The tour then took us to the Citadel, another spectacular building overlooking Budapest; it also used to be a German Bunker during World War 2 and is now a museum. Another highlight was checking out the House of Parliament, again a spectacular building as is everything in Budapest, with a tall red dome.
First I checked out Valduhunyad castle, it was kind of Alice in Wonderland looking structure sitting on a lake. I also checked out Heroes Square which had various historical figures portrayed in a lavish park. The tour then took us to the Citadel, another spectacular building overlooking Budapest; it also used to be a German Bunker during World War 2 and is now a museum. Another highlight was checking out the House of Parliament, again a spectacular building as is everything in Budapest, with a tall red dome.
In the evening the hostel owner took as to an island to the east of town, this had a couple more spectacular pubs which were outdoors, the first very tastefully decorated with lots of orange lanterns. The second place was on the water and had I had a psychedelic rave experience, I ended up drinking more local Palinka shots and dancing about with the locals
I spent this walking about the city again; there are many things to see. This involved checking out the National Museum which went into detail of the formation of Hungary from the 9th century too now. I then went to the “House of Terror” museum. This was an old Nazi and Communist party headquarters which detailed atrocities committed by both regimes, including executions at the building itself. It’s probably one of the most confronting museums I’ve been in; it included a lot of Nazi and Communist propaganda material. I then checked out one of
I then checked out one of the three local Turkish baths within the city.
This was a great experience, it included a 25m swimming pool within an old Turkish building as well as a spa, and it also had an outdoor wave pool for when you want to catch the sun, great way to spend a hangover.
The evening involved another night club; this club housed thousands of people in an outdoor environment and had outdoor swimming pools. The music was debatable and I can’t say I really got into it, but was interesting to experience, Hungarians seem to love a variety of quality bars and excellent night clubs, must say I was partial to this myself.
I decided to check out the Statue Park, basically when Hungary was freed from the Russians, all statues were removed and placed into a park on the outskirts of town.
Whilst there weren’t many statues, it did include some rather gigantic statues of Lenin and Marx as well as soldiers.
After that I checked out the fine arts museum, this involved artworks from the renaissance period (Hungary was heavily influenced by this time which doesn’t exactly hurt its appeal) as well as an excellent collection of Greek and Egyptian pieces, kind of like a mini Louvre.
“The evening I spent at a ‘Ruins’ bar, this a bar that has no roof because Budapest was heavily bombed during World War 2, there are plenty of these bars and they never had the roofs repaired. This particular bar was overgrown with bushes and contained lots of wrecked and mismatched furniture to sit on. I did not head to any nightclubs and it was pretty cool to sit in bar with no roof under a starry night.”
I was a wee bit hangover and was touristic out by now so did not get up to much. I bought a ticket to Brasov in Romania and that was about it, spent the rest of the day in a park and hanging out at the hostel. Budapest is excellent fun, the hostel people were great, The locals were friendly though some were a little more than suspicious, but the diversity in the bar scene, the beauty of the city as well as loads of interesting things to do add to it make it one of the best places I’ve been to on my travels. It also helped that I loved the food and the local beer is also
The locals were friendly though some were a little more than suspicious, but the diversity in the bar scene, the beauty of the city as well as loads of interesting things to do add to it make it one of the best places I’ve been to on my travels. It also helped that I loved the food and the local beer is also quality and relatively cheap.
I was quite excited about the thought of going to Transylvania (who wouldn’t be?) and hoping to see a few vampires, unfortunately this did not happen, however he town of Brasov more than made up for lack of Fangers. Brasov is a smallish town of around 30000 people and is located in the Carpathian mountains (yes it’s a real place), a very scenic and gorgeous area dominated by forests. The train ride there was most picturesque, which was good, as the train ride itself is quite a slow journey for such short distance; this was my experience with all the train journeys in Eastern Europe, quite slow.
Upon arrival, the hostel I was at offered a tour straight away; this was my lucky day, plenty of time for vampire hunting. The tour involved going to three castles that were located in the Brasov area, Rasnov castle, Bran castle and the Sedadel (Citadel). The first, Rasnov was an old fortress castle built by the Templar Knights and overlooks the city of Rasnov and the surrounding valley. It was quite an impressive view and the castle was in a reasonable condition, it had people dressed up imitating the people of the day and the castle seemed fairly well intact.
The second castle, Bran, is known as Dracula’s castle, though Dracula was believed to only have been there for a very short while. Dracula was loosely based on a historical figure, Vlad the Impaler, who killed many nobles and fought against the Turks in the 14th century. He is regarded as a Romanian hero, though I would debate his technique of terror, which generally involved putting a spike up someone buttocks and out through their throat without hitting any vital organs, a pretty horrific way to go and kinda gross compared to Dracula biting down on the victim’s neck. The castle was renovated and in very good condition, again good views, though the passageways were a little tight. The third was the Sedadel, an absolutely stunning structure and it also contained the most magnificent furniture and weaponry I’ve ever seen. Unfortunately I didn’t get much in the way of pictures as the charge to take pictures so was bordering on lunacy and the curators were almost vampire-like in the way they stalked you and enforced this rule, nevertheless, a very interesting building. I also purchased a Dracula T-shirt which I believe enhanced my experience there. There is plenty of interesting history around Romania.
The following day involved trekking up the mountain that overlooked the city of Brasov. Apparently this takes an hour, an Aussie guy and I managed it in 30 minutes, in flip-flops (thongs). It was one of the most exhausting experiences I’ve had as my colleague was a lot fitter than me; the view was worth it though. The top of the mountain has a massive Hollywood sign on top of it “Brasov” obviously. After checking out some of the sights up there and almost retching from exhaustion, we descended back down and checked out the town itself, again very beautiful, an old town with churches, cobbled streets etc. you get the picture. The nightlife was pretty dead, though did have some good times hanging out with the backpackers from the hostel, it was very well set up for this with 3 massive common rooms, also managed to fit in a few Vampire movies.
After checking out some of the sights up there and almost retching from exhaustion, we descended back down and checked out the town itself, again very beautiful, an old town with churches, cobbled streets etc. you get the picture. The nightlife was pretty dead, though did have some good times hanging out with the backpackers from the hostel, it was very well set up for this with 3 massive common rooms, also managed to fit in a few Vampire movies.
The City of Bucharest
The following day I jumped on train head for the city of Bucharest and immediately bought another ticket out of there. In six hours I had managed to walk about a significant part of the city. This involved checking out a half-finished Palace casino which didn’t look it was going to be finished anytime soon, the Parliament which is the largest building in the world (apparently), it houses 20000 people, it was also very Communist design and not very attractive.
There was also a magnificent fountain in the town centre, some more churches and the old town which was in a state of disrepair, dug up footpaths and plank walk ways crisscrossing everywhere, looked terrible. I had not heard much positive news from other backpackers about Bucharest and can confirm it’s not necessarily worth visiting; I was ready to head for the Black Sea Coast and Bulgaria…..
I intended to stay in Varna for a few days and then head to some of the other seaside resorts on the Black Sea coast, instead I stayed a week. I had such a good time. It was an excellent hostel, the setup was in an old converted restaurant, and it included an outdoor pizza oven, outdoor sitting area and nice large dorm rooms. The guy that ran the place was also good at getting everyone staying there involved in activities. The hostel is around 10 kms from Varna town, the area is like a seaside resort you would have in Greece or Croatia, but a lot cheaper. There really aren’t enough good things I can say about the place.
My days usually involved laying on one of the many beaches along the coast. Other highlights would include a sailing trip that a few of us went on that was up and down the same coast.
This involved more lying about on the deck and having a lovely lunch, which was an unexpected bonus because all the local food I was not exactly the best. Boat cruises off the coast of Varna is a popular thing to do and so is swimming, there is so much salt in the water you actually float. There were also submarines and battle ships on the water which made it more interesting than a regular sailing cruise.
Another highlight was the hostel owner taking a few of us on a tour of the local monastery, this was in a nature park and the monastery itself was built into a cliff face, it was 5 stories and the first of its kind for me, though I am not religious I have viewed many monasteries, churches, cathedrals, mosks etc.
Other highlights would include checking out Varna town itself and enjoying a good victory by the mighty Chelsea over Manchester United.
The nightlife was also sensational; the first night I arrived included a heated swimming pool complex located on the coast. This mainly involved swimming about (obviously) and getting drunk on obscenely cheap cocktails, very good fun and a good group of people. Other nights included drinking around the hostel, there were two outstanding nights though, the first being a foam party in an area called Golden Sands (13 kms north of where I was staying). This involved all you can drink for an hour, then diving into a pool followed by dancing about in a nightclub full of pumping foam. Despite my initial concern about this (mainly hygiene) I had an excellent time of it, dancing and swimming about, it was probably one of the best nights Id had since being away.
The second was a pizza night organised the hostel manager (an Italian, so were a lot of the staff). This involved rolling the doe, putting on the filling and then chucking into a rather massive pizza oven, a totally unexpected experience.
All good things must come to an end
I had an excellent time at Varna and it was seriously and issue to tear myself away from the place. It was like taking a holiday from my holiday as there was no need to see any tourist sites and no need to move my backpack. Despite the rather ordinary local food and the obscene prices the cabbies like to charge, the hostel and staff were great (especially the pizza) and the backpackers I met were really good people.
It was like taking a holiday from my holiday as there was no need to see any tourist sites and no need to move my backpack. Despite the rather ordinary local food and the obscene prices the cabbies like to charge, the hostel and staff were great (especially the pizza) and the backpackers I met were really good people.
All good things must come to an end though, Id decided that it would be my only stop on the Black Sea coast and it was time to head to Istanbul, my final leg in Europe…….
The Travel Bug
The Travel Bug is a collaboration project that goes through Dave’s travel journals around the world. We started this series a while back and finished right here in Bulgaria. We’ll be back soon in the Istanbul!
He just completed another world trip and is bound to share his tall travel tales shortly.
PC likes getting the job done by day and writes, designs and codes during his spare time. He also enjoys having a drink with Dave and hearing his tall travel tales.
We hope to entertain you through this collection of stories.