Monday, 28 September 2009

Rome wasn't reached in a day

On my last day in Romania, I decided to do nothing. I thought I would go to Bran, accepting that there was no way I could go to Poenari Castle. It is this which motivates me to one day come back to Romania. I walked all the way across town, bought two local bus tickets, found the bus stop, but in the heat perhaps I felt very lightheaded. My money was dwindling and I was starting to think that if I did go to Bran, which I didn't particularly want to anyway, I wouldn't have enough left for the other things I needed to do. So I went back to my hostel and sat on my arse indoors for a few hours, away from the evil sunlight.

I awoke at 5am the following morning for my bus trip to Rome. When making this booking, it had not occurred to me how long this trip would be. The site was entriely in Romanian so I think I had just been proud of the fact that I had managed to book it, and was never informed of the duration. In the end, this bus trip was just over THIRTY FIVE HOURS long.
It started off well. I had a few provisions, two rings of poppyseed bread, a packet of crisps, and some chocolate. It took twelve hours before we were even out of Romania, and at some point, the road became less of a proper road and more of a dirt road smeared with ashfelt. Many of the people are wildly religious, there were people on the bus crossing themselves whenever we passed a church, and there were crucifixes randomly everywhere on the side of the road. I saw more of the country which I suppose is good. There were many people getting around on horse and cart, we passed loads of those. Small towns with chooks wandering around, stray dogs everywhere, and stereotypical gypsy-looking women; large nose, warts, grizzled grey hair, headscarf, missing teeth etc. My conslusion is that Romania is a weird blend of the old and new, an old fashioned place struggling it's way into the 21st century.

Anyway, for the most part of this lengthy trip, I had been sitting by myself. Infact, no one sat next to me until all the other seats were full, and the only one left was the one beside me.
Eventually I was stuck sitting next to a rather large man, typically. Sleeping, let alot sitting, was extremely uncomfortable. He said he could speak English but he really couldn't. No one on the bus spoke English really, not even the  drivers, so I was stuck talking to myself as usual. There were several people who it seemed, didn't know how not to stare at me.
I did drift to sleep every now and then over the night, but awoke ever half an hour or so not because I was on a moving bus, but because of the ungodly pain in my neck. I'd get up and move and my neck and back would make an audible cracking. My knees were also in pain from having to keep them bent, and we had to stop at every fucking station under the sun, and wait at each one for ages. Also, when we crossed the border from Romania to Hungary, the patrol took my passport off me and it was about half an hour before a random girl gave it back to me.
The bus trip, to say the very least, SUCKED, but atleast now I can say that I've been to Hungary and Austria aswell. Astoundingly, my ipod lasted the distance, which ensured I kept my sanity.

Over thirty-five hours later, we finally arrived in Rome. But the fun doesn't stop there!
The bus dropped me off at a random station, and suddenly I found myself stranded somewhere that I had no idea where the fuck I was. I tried asking for help at a ticket desk but the woman didn't speak English. I called up my accommodation who recommend me take  a bus, but could I understand the buses, or find the right stop? Of course not.
I approached a random man who couldn't speak english, but I asked him, "Metro?". He took my arm and pointed across the street. I said thank you and crossed the busy road, and soon enough, found myself in a train station. I tried to decipher the confusing train map and by some amazing works of cleverness, I got a train to the central termini station. From there I found my way into the metro to get to Barberini, where I needed to be. It took me ages to find my hostel because there was no sign outside, but in the end, a staff member waited outside and hailed me over. I was eternally grateful to have a comfy place to sleep.

Thursday, 24 September 2009


Well today was another huge writhing pile of fun. I'm actually genuinely surprised to find myself sitting comfortably in my hostel, talking to a large group of Antipodeans. I decided to go to Sighisoara, but was not 100% sure exactly how to get there. First I went on a mission to find food and came away with two bananas and a pack of mini croissants which are to last me for two days. I then needed to get some more money changed but all I had was some left over Danish Krones, and £60 worth of Scottish banknotes. I brought 20 Euro with me for backup, not wanting to use it since I have Italy and France still to go to. I went into around a dozen different exchange places and banks, but no one would take the Danish Krones or the Scottish banknotes, they'll only accept English. In the end I had to change the Euros or I would have no money for anything.

Then I was unable to find the bus that goes to the train station (which has a bus station next to it) so I cheated and took a taxi. I located the elusive Maxi-Taxis, and after much poor communication with people who could only speak Romanian, I found a minibus to Sighisoara. It left the station a full two hours after I arrived there, and while I was there, met another Kiwi bloke and his English girlfriend. Chatted to them for a while and they were just as baffled as I was. The station was filled with shady characters. Two men kept coming up to me, one came up three times before I eventually just said, "stop talking to me!".
I got on the bus, paid 26 Lei, and pointed to a phrase in my Romanian phrasebook for "Can you let me know where to get off?", and two hours later, I was dropped off in Sighisoara. Fortunately, there was a young man on the bus who could speak english quite well, and was translating for the bus driver for me. They told me where I could go to flag down a bus back, and when the last one was. I thanked them and went wandering.

The sun was already fading so I decided it would be wise not to stay for too long. I scribbled a map of the path I took so that I could find my way back. I had no idea which way to go so I guessed, and evidently correctly, because I almost immediately found the places I wanted to see. Well it wasn't hard really, Sighisoara is fairly small. Unfortunately, they were doing alot of roadworks and quite a few of the cobbled streets had been torn up and were occupied by diggers and tractors, which did a good job at spoiling the atmosphere. I found Vlad Tepes's birthplace, which is what I had wanted to see the most, I suppose. It's now a café, so I didn't go in, but was sure to take atleast one stupid picture of myself standing infront of it. 
I took a wee few pictures, which I will have up soon. I only spent an hour in Sighisoara after all the effort I gad gone to to get there. I was actually rather worried about not being able to get back to Brasov. So I followed my map back and found the spot where a bus might stop. I waited by the roadside for some time, and made myself a little sign reading 'Brasov'. A couple of buses went past, but going to other locations, and I kept trying to stifle the worry I felt about being stranded in this piffling, tiny Medieval township. Luckily, a bus went past with 'Brasov', amongst other locations, written on a sign in the window. I held up my  sign and flagged the bus down with my other arm, and it stopped. The driver only spoke Romanian but let me on when I told him where I wanted to go. I couldn't believe it had worked and that I was going to get back, I was so happy, BUT! It was probably the scariest bus trip of all time, the driver drove like a fucking nutter, and at one point, pissed off a guy from a taxi. I had no idea what was going on but there was alot of shouting and police around when the bus pulled over. Then the guy from the taxi got onto the bus for the rest of the trip, and the shouting and arguing continued, and then another man got involved and I really wanted to tell them to shut up, but after ages they finally did. I wasn't sure if he was taking his anger out on his driving, or if he always drove like that badly. Finally, after what felt like an eternity, I got back into Brasov and the driver charged me 15 lei, no idea why the trip back was so much cheaper. Got a bus back to the hostel, and by this point had a splitting headache and thought I might fall over. Hopefully tomorrow will be smoother, whatever I end up doing with it. Something easier, methinks. So now I am watching crappy movies in the hostel, still plagued by the headache caused by the stress of the day, and am very much looking forward to bed!

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Epic Photo-Post of Doom

Finally I have some photos up of my mighty journey so far. Each link will open into a new window where you can see my pics form each place.

Brasov, Romania

It's been a fairly lovely day which somewhat makes up for the shitty one yesterday. It's been sunny but mild, and I spent somewhere around six hours walking around the town. It's a long narrow town, so it only took me about 15 minutes to walk from one side to the other. I saw most of the sights to see in Brasov, the remains of the medieval wall that once enclosed the town, the Black Tower, the Weaver's Bastion, Strada Sforii (Rope Street), the Black Church, St Nicholas Church, the Schei Gate, and two Synagogues, one of which I went into. It was beautiful inside, all decorated in gold, but everyone was walking around praying to things so I thought I probably shouldn't hang around.

I've been sort of living off iced tea and am having difficulty obtaining proper food. Today I bought a chocolate covered, chocolate filled croissant, and a small thing of bread, but that's it. Yesterday I had half a calzone. The day before that I had a bread roll and a hotdog, and the day before that I had an apple. That's all for the whole four days, and I'm beginning to feel crappy because of it. Maybe I'll lose some weight, but probably not if I eat things like chocolate covered, chocolate filled croissants. I would happily kill for a vegetable or piece of meat right now.

During the times while I wasn't walking today, I was sitting down and writing things for my books into my diary. I did this for ages, because for some reason I seem to find this place highly inspirational. One point I remember was particularly nice, I was sitting near the Black Tower with bushes all around, and the bells from the nearby Black Church were all ringing for ages and it sounded so cool. The air was smokey, the birds were chirping, the sun was out, and I had somewhere to write, it was lovely.
I plan on spending the rest of today planning what to do with the next two days. I really want to see Sighisoara. I was pondering hiring a car and driving to the ruin of Poenari castle, Dracula's actual castle (not Bran castle, the one they pretend is Dracula's castle for tourists) but three things are holding me back. One, they drive on the other side of the road, two I can only hire a manual car and I can only drive an automatic, and three I haven't driven for over a year. I'll probably end up going to Bran castle anyway. Well I'll update tomorrow probably and can let you know what I ended up doing!

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

The Rocky Road to Transylvania

Holy fuck did I ever have a shit day. It started at 5am (another early morning, hurrah) in Copenhagen where I successfully got to the airport on time. After that it all started to go pear shaped. First I had difficulty checking in because I had checked in online the night before, but was unable to print out the boarding pass. So I was sent to three different places until I ended up back where i had started and the whole thing could have actually been very simple. Still being in possession of several hundred Danish Krones that I didn't need and couldn't get exchanged, I thought I'd spend some at the airport. For the first time ever I bought one of those massive things of sweeties that you always see in the duty free area, it cost me a fair bit but was still cheap considering it's massiveness. I was looking forward to making them disappear and thinking that so many would last quite a while, but oh no, I left them on the plane, what a stupid bitch.

It was when I arrived in Bucharest that everything became horribly stressful and scary.  Firstly I could only change a few pounds into Romanian Lei because they would only accept the English notes, not the Scottish. The people were very rude and unhelpful, which sucked because most of them didn't speak a word of English.
I had read on several places online that the best, easiest, and cheapest way to get from Bucharest airport to Brasov was to walk out to the main road and flag down a Maxitaxi, and that it should cost only 20 Romanian Lei for the trip, which is about 4.70. From the moment I stepped out the door I was hounded by taxi drivers competing for my custom. The first man offered me 200, another 100, one 60, and one 25, they kept trying to haggle and I kept trying to get rid of them. Eventually I was shouting at them and telling them to fuck off and leave me alone, but more kept approaching and were like, "Lady, lady! Where you go?". The worst was one guy who followed me in his car very slowly and shouted at me down the street as I strode angrily away, shouting back and him that I don't give a fuck, please leave me alone. It took a very long time for me to reach the main road because of these arseholes.
I made it to the main road and stood there for about an hour, several Maxitaxis came past but none of them were going the right way, eventually I threw a wee tantrum and walked back to airport, carrying my case the whole way because it's still being retarded. It was also really hot which made it suck oh so much more. The Maxitaxi idea was NOT as simple as the internet had made it out to be, infact it failed on several levels. I was besieged once more by taxi drivers as I went back into the airport, it was bloody awful.

Anyway I found someone inside who spoke a smidgeon of english and told me where I could get a bus that would take me to Gara de Nord, the northern train station. I didn't much like this option because I had heard that the train system is really complicated. Anyway I found  the bus straight away, didn't know where to get a ticket, jumped aboard thinking I could just ask the driver, but he was behind a window and the doors shut behind me and the bus started moving, so an hour later I found myself in Gara de Nord, for free.
There were no signs in English in the train station so I sort of had to guess, and again, everyone spoke only Romanian. Amazingly, I ended up with a train ticket to Brasov, for 35 Lei. Fortunately for me, a man must have over heard me, because he came up to me and told me that he was going to Brasov too, and showed me where to go. He was Romanian but spoke some English because he lived in Chicago. I told him I was going to follow him which he was fine with, and stuck with him the whole way. We shared a compartment with another woman who he spoke to while I listened to music and watched the scenery change around me. For a while I felt like I was on the slow train to nowhere, since the trip took over three hours.
Being in Romania feels a little like being back in the Czech Republic, only that it's dirtier, poorer, and has more gypsies. I swear that everyone here has the same face. There's a strange similitude in all the people that makes them all look like they could be related.
Many of the houses in the little towns I passed looked like they were  about to fall over, and there were alot of places that looked completely abandoned. It was like everything was built ages ago and then left to fall apart. There was alot of pretty scenery around that, however. At one point, the man told me to come out into the corridor so that I could look at the view, which was of towering, intimidating mountains with a river slithering past. In the end I think it was better to take the train.

I could hardly believe it when I reached the hostel, I would have jumped for joy, had I had the energy. I'm sore all over and I had a headache (which has finally gone, thankfully) and I truly cannot wait to go to bed. The hostel is very nice, feels like being in a big house. They give you a free drink every night you stay, free tea and coffee all the time, free laundry service, and free internet, nice! I think I'll be utilising the free tea and coffee quite alot. So it was an interesting day, to say the very least, but as always, I managed and got where I wanted to be.

Monday, 21 September 2009

Ice-Cream in Copenhagen

The journey from Berlin to Copenhagen was long and interesting. I had to get up at 3am so that I was nice and early for a 7.30am bus. My first great achievement was finding the Zentraler Omnibusbahnhof which was right on the other side of town from where I was staying. I got the right  busand was on my way to Denmark! I had to leave Paddy behind as I had booked him a plane from Berlin back to Edinburgh, so the rest of the journey I am doing alone. I prefer travelling alone sometimes. Anyway, the whole trip took eight hours including a ferry across the Baltic Sea. I saw ALOT of windmills on the way. We stopped  in a place called Rostock where a man speaking German came onto the bus and gave us detailed instructions entirely in German. So feeling completely baffled, I followed everyone else onto the ferry where they all dispersed. I sat outside and watched Germany shrink into the distance for a while, before going back to sit inside, all the while wondering how I was to find my bus again. Fortunately, I saw a couple whom I recognised from the bus trip, and followed them.
When we finally reached Copenhagen, and I shouldn't have expected to end up in some sort of bus station, oh no. The bus driver (who spoke only German) let us off somewhere random, and I was like, "Ah!". Having no idea where I was, having no map and no one around who spoke English to ask for help, I used my amazing sense of direction and cunning to find my hostel. I  walked for over an hour in the heat, using a rough map I scribbled from a bus stop. To make it so much worse, my bag decided that it didn't want to roll (the wheels kept going inwards) so I had to carry the fucking thing. I kicked it many times and shouted expletives at it, but it still wouldn't cooperate. I had blisters on my hands at the end of it. Eventually, inexplicably, I found my hostel, Sleep-In-Heaven. It's also a very nice place, and all the people here seem so friendly.
Feeling fucking shattered, I slept for about 12 hours.

I awoke before 7 O'Clock and prepared myself for my one whole day in Copenhagen. I had breakfast and two cups of Earl Grey (which seems to be the only English tea they have here) before heading out into the city, my first mission being to conquer the Metro system. It was very easy, since they have only two lines, and it took me about three minutes to figure out. Testing my new found knowledge, I went two whole stops to reach a mystery destination, with no plans of what to do after that.
Fortunately, I immediately found an open-top bus tour, so I decided to do that. I'm glad I did, for I got to see all the touristy things in the city that I wanted to see. I saw lots of beautiful old buildings, fountains, statues, the infamous 'little mermaid', a palace, little sail boats, and so much more. I learned quite a bit too which is always nice. i got off for a bit where I got my ice-cream. For some unknown reason, it has always been on my "Life To-Do List" to eat an ice-cream in Copenhagen. So I did, photos to follow ;) I also wandered Strøget, got my mum the souvenir fridge magnet which she demands from every location I visit, and a hotdog in a bun, another Copenhagen must-do apparently.

I retired early and decided to take the Metro back in the direction of the hostel, since I'm unfamiliar with the buses. However, I got onto the train, and was stuck in it for some time while the doors refused to close. A voice speaking Danish kept coming over the speakers, and the people inside started getting rowdy. It was very packed and hot and I had no idea what was going on. It's hard for me not to worry in these situations, but it was alright, and soon enough I was able to travel my two stops and return to the right area. I searched for dinner but was unable to find any. I went to a supermarket and came away with cheese, chocolate milk and iced tea, which was nice but not really dinner in anyway.
So that was my day in Denmark, shame I couldn't really have longer, but tomorrow morning I am off to Romania! Speaking of which, I must get to bed now since I have yet another early plane, yay.

Hallo Deutschland!

After not leaving Edinburgh for eleven months, I decided it was time to do alot of travelling at once to make up for it. It's not like me to stay in one place for so long! So, after weeks of frustrating and complicated bookings through foreign language websites, I am finally on my way with a three week long journey around Europe of mighty proportions.
The first step was wicked fun. On 16th September, I awoke at 2.20am after three hours of sleep, to get ready to catch a flight to Berlin at 6.30am. At 4.30am Paddy (my beloved Irish man-thing) and I were on a bus to the airport. Having had little sleep and a scoffed slimfast shake breakfast, I was feeling a little crook and my brain was not in the best condition. The trip on the plastic aeroplane was somewhat rendered with anxiety but in the end, I survived, and we arrived on time in Germany.

My friend Saul who was living in Berlin was nice enough to meet us at the airport and help us find our way  to the hostel. We stayed in the Sunflower Hostel, which was lovely by the way! Large bathroom with a nice shower, comfy bed, cheap and nommy breakfast, and the whole place had great character and atmosphere. The Common area even had a wee pond and was decorated so awesomely. I had a really nice time there, and met two Canadians who we spent quite some time hanging out with, Maiesha and Spiro.
We stayed in an area called Friedrichshain, the 'alternative' area, which was brimming with metal pubs and cool shops. Kebab shops were in no short supply, infact we pretty much ended up surviving on kebabs. I promised myself copious amounts of chocolate should I ever go to Germany, so that wish was fulfilled too. I bought a shit load of Tofiffee and flavoured milk. Most of our time was simply spend hanging out in the park, enjoying the sunshine and drinking beer. You can drink anywhere you like pretty much, so I felt like such a scummer wandering the streets drinking out of a wine bottle.  I made the most of the cheap wine, mainly buying Saurkirsch Wein and Erdbeere Wein, but I did try Satan Beer, because I simply had to.

Berlin, at first glance, seems to be a grid of large, stern looking grey buildings which are covered in graffitti. But within those building are all sorts of amazing things. I wish I'd had more time and money to explore more, especially all the weirdly themed pubs and clubs.
On our first night after going for a kebab with the two Canadians, we all went to a metal pub where the cocktails were named after different metal bands. I had a 'Slayer' cocktail, which tasted like bubblegum candy.
On the second day, Paddy and I went on a nightmarish journey into the centre of the city to locate the start of the Sandeman's free tour. We were 15 minutes late, but made the tour anyway, phew! Feeling very thankful and relieved, we joined the tour, and had a really good time. There was a Danish woman in the group who was being a bitch, but other than that it was good. I got to see all the sights I wanted to see; the Berlin Wall, the site of Hitler's underground bunker, the hotel that Michael Jackson dangled his baby from out the window, the Reichstag, some though-provoking memorials, and lots of beautiful buildings. I felt feeling well informed but of course, I'll never understand all of the horror that the city once saw.
On the third day, we did bugger all, which was exactly what I wanted to do. I bought more Tofiffe, hung out in the park with Saul, Paddy, Spiro, and Maiesha, before once again, heading out to get a kebab.
I enjoyed Berlin, and found it relatively easy to get by in. I utilised my limited knowledge of German and overall had a good time :)


Well, I thought it was about time I made a proper blog, in addition to building a proper website. Here I will log my adventures and any other rubbish I feel like burdening your brain with. Enjoy!