Hungary / Romania tour - 2010
was a bit of ad hoc tour - had some challenges to book the
summer vacations and suddenly I realized that I have one
week and I felt like traveling somewhere (without taking
lengthy international flights this time).
So I decided to book a short
'Interrail' - by flying to Budapest and the returning from
Bucharest. I actually also booked a flight from Wizzair from
Budapest to Tirgu Murges in Romania to save some time - the
rest of the tour was to be done by bus / train.
I enjoyed both of the countries and
managed to see a lot of different spots - anything from the
European capitals to small mediveal villages from the Unesco
wolrld heritage list.
Check out the
part 1 - Hungary
16.07.2010 Helsinki -
have booked the flights by using my frequent flyer miles
about one week ago. Unfortunately the miles are pretty much
useless nowadays - I had to pay about 100 eur of 'taxes' for
the return trip - you should get cheaper flights from the
budget airlines by booking eraly enough... Anyway a good
deal considering the short notice. Finnair flight is in
schedule and there are no surprises. I have briefly visited
Budapest airport on my way to Albania but this is the first
time to visit the capital of this country.
Again it is the time
to stay at EasyHotel - after the good experiences from
Berlin. There is no airport train / subway in Budapest -
instead they have some strange shared van type of concept. I
use public transportation instead - after a 20 min bus
journey I need to use two subway lines to reach the hotel.
The hotel is located in the downtown area on a silent small
street - the interior is pretty much the same as in Berlin!
The surrounding area reminds me of Riga and Prague - lot of
19th century buildings there. I have some barbequed duck for
dinner - unfortunately it is a bit cold so I guess they have
been using a microwave oven? I go to bed early as I feel
sleepy after the working week.
Today's agenda is to visit the castle and do some random
sightseeing after that. As there is a Burger King nearby the
breakfast plan is more than obvious. After the breakfast I
start walking to downtown along one of the main streets.
Budapest is such a beautiful place and there are so many
picturesque places on my way! I cross the impressive bridge
to the Buda side where the castle is located. You can take
the stairs or a 'tram' to the top - I choose to walk. The
castle area is impressive and reminds me a lot of the Prague
castle. There are numerous museums in the area but I don't
quite feel like a museum tour today. Even the churches seem
to have admission fees - I decide to skip them as well.
Anyway there is one
very interesting sight in the area - the Buda Labyrinth.
Basically it is an undergroung maze of ancient corridors and
rooms beneath the ground level. There is some kind of art
exhibition in the underground labyrinth that presents
various eras. First I thought it was some kind of historical
thing but soon I realize that it is a kind of tongue on the
cheek project - as the corridors themselves would have been
quite boring someone has brought all kinds of crazy artwork
there. At least when you see the fountains filled with fine
and some 80s cassette recorders in plastic you realize what
is the name of the game... In the end it is a fascinating
experience and I really enjoyed taking the break from the
heat in the chilly maze!
I continue my tour by
foot on the narrow streets. I descend down to the modern
parts of Buda and soon I realize to be a bit lost.
Fortunately I Iocate a subway station and take a train to
the Danube riverfront. I walk to Margaret Island that is in
the middle of the river. It is a pleasant area with parks
and trails - additionally there are some pools and spas
there. After relaxing at a big fountain I make a visit to
the big swimming pool complex - the place is huge with
numerous pools and glides. I have really good time there
enjoying the evening sunshine. As they close at around 8 pm
I take the tram and return to the hotel.
More Budapest sightseeing today... My first destination is
Memento Park that is an area where they have gathered old
statues from the communist era. There is a regular tourist
bus to the park from downtown Budapest. The monuments are
not that impressive compared to the ones I have seen in
Russia and Ukraine. There is an interesting film show that
displays some authentic educational videos that were
targeted for the local Stasi members in 60s and 70s -
basically the videos teach the art of spying.
I return to downtown at around 2pm. I
check out the local metro museum - just because I wanted to
compare it to the one in North Korea. As you might guess
this one is not quite as big as the one in Pyongyang... I
check out the city views from the rooftop terrace of a
nearby church and continue by foot to the nearby Parliament
House. The building is impressive and looks like a gothic
The cloudy weather in the morning has
again changed to sunny so it is again the time for a spa. On
my way I visit the 'House of Terror' that displays the
cruel acts of former Soviet Union and the local 'Stasi'. The
exhibition is more than artistic - visually stunning but it
is a bit difficult to understand what actually happened.
I visit another outdoor spa (Szertzeniy)
that is a beautiful complex with several pools and indoor
baths. As it is sunny I stay mostly in the outdoor area.
Many people seem to be playing chess in a hot pool! The spa
closes early (at 7 pm) so I take the subway back to hotel
area. I try to find a reasonably priced Hungarian restaurant
but end up in some tex-mex place to have a burrito with
nachos. I buy some Törley sparkling wine from the nearby
Budapest / Szentendre
I have one day for a day trip from Budapest. There are
several possibilities and I choose Szentendre as my
destination - it is somehow similar to making a day trip to
Porvoo from Helsinki. It is about 20 km by train there - the
local train is very slow and makes about 15 stops on the way
there. The small town is really picturesque but there are
not really any interesting sights apart from the area itself
(just numerous small museums and art galleries - many of
them seem to be closed today as it is Monday). Most of the
local stores seem to be selling all kinds of souvenirs so
tourism is obviously a big thing here. I spend some time
watching river Danube and some locals fishing. I visit some
museum displaying the works of a local ceramics artist -
weird enough for my taste. In general I feel that Szentendre
is not quite my cup of tea - would recommend it for the
elderly travelers who are into fine arts...
I take the local train back to Buda. I
really need to do some shopping as my old sandals are making
my feet hurt (fake Nikes I bought from a street vendor from
Vietnam). I finally found decent Timberland shoes from the
West End shopping mall - after the shopping I go again to
Margarit Island for some evening chill out. Later I visit a
Thai-Hungarian restaurant near the hotel. I enjoy some
goulash soup and other local specialties. It is an early
wakeup tomorrow so I go to bed early.
part 2 - Romania
Main destinations in Romania (after
Budapest and Szentendre):
- Tirgu (Targu) Mures
Budapest - Tirgu Murges - Sighisoara
It is the time to continue to Romania. I have booked a
Wizzair flight to the small town of Tirgu Murges (aka Targu
Murges) and my plan is to continue to Bucharest from there.
Wizzair flies from Budapest terminal 1 - it is easy to get
there by taking a local train. I really like the airport -
it is a small but efficient terminal that has a nice 50s
feeling - there is even an outdoor viewing platform where
you can watch the planes.
Wizzair flight is in time - as
expected the plane is more than fully booked. It takes about
an hour to reach the Tirgu Murges 'international' airport -
it is one of the smallest airports I have seen. Fortunately
I changed some romanian lei already in Budapest - there are
no ATMs to be seen! There is a minibus service to downtown -
I manage to locate the bus terminal on the way. There should
be frequent buses to Sighisoara but the bus terminal is a
chaotic place that reminds me of Asia. There are no
schedules to be seen - fortunately some lady speaks English
and tells that there should be a bus in 20 minutes. It
actually takes more than hour for the bus to arrive. The bus
is actually going to Brasov and the driver tells me that
they are not stopping in Sighisoara. The next bus there
would be leaving after an hour so I decide to go to Brasov
instead. As we leave Tirgu Murges it seems that the bus is
making stops to drop off people still - I also manage to get
off in Sighisoara (even though I paid for Brasov!).
I am a bit lost but manage to locate
the old city. Sighisoara is one of Unesco world heritage
sites - it is a very well preserved fortified medieval small
village with cobble stone streets. I book a room from an
excellent B&B place - I will be staying in a big room with
kitchen and bathroom for 25 euros per night. The family that
runs the place is very hospitable and really does everything
to make sure that the guests enjoy their stays.
After checking in I do some
sightseeing. First I walk to the train station and try to
find a place where I can rent a car. There are not too many
places around and it seems that there are no cars available.
I return to the old city and visit all the possible sights -
1) local museum and bell tower 2) torture chamber 3)
medieval arms exhibition. I also climb all the way to the
highest spot in the village to enjoy some stunning views of
the area. Later in the evening I try to locate 'Oak reserve'
outside the old city area but end up in some suburb with
angry stray dogs. I need to go back and enjoy a huge wiener
schnitzel in some local restaurant. After that I spend some
time with a crossword puzzle in some bar.
21.07.2010 Sighisoara / Biertan
I decide spend another night in Sighisoara. As there are no
cars available I decide to rent a bicycle instead - it
proves to be a good option. My plan is to visit some of the
nearby villages - main destination being the Unesco world
heriatege site of Biertan some 30 km away. On the way there
should be other villages - first destination after the
highway being Seleusz. It is a really scenic ride there with
green fields and wine yards. The buildings are anything from
mansions to modest small houses. Horse and carriage seems to
be a popular method for transportation!
I reach Seleusz
after some hour of bicycling. I cannot quite follow the
instructions from the tourist information - they told me to
'take the first left turn before the church' but I am not
really sure about where to make that turn. I end up in
someone's back yard and try to ask for directions from some
local guy who speaks English. He tells me to go back and
soon I end up on the highway that I have been trying to
avoid. Anyway I will continue and after some 10 km of
bicycling I reach the small town of Dumbraceni. There is
pretty much nothing happening there so I make the final leg
to Biertan - a very scenic journey in the middle of nowhere.
Biertan is a beautiful village where the time stands
still. Apart from the old church there are not that many
sights to be seen - anyway it is nice place that is
definitely worth the challenging journey. I have a delicious
tartar steak in the local medieval restaurant before
continuing my journey by bike. It is yet another hot day so
I decide to take the train from Dumbraceni. The train is
almost one hour delayed but anyway it finally takes me back
to Sighisoara. It feels like traveling on some freight
carrier - not the fanciest train I have taken (but it costs
only about one euro)...
Back in Sighisoara I have a pizza
quattro stagioni for dinner - unfortunately the pizza is
quite bad. I buy a bottle of local wine and return back to
the apartment. The host brings me some sandwiches as I need
to skip breakfast tomorrow (need to leave at around 6am).
22.07.2010 Sighisoara - Brasov -
As the Sighisoara visit took two nights I have time for just
a day visit to Brasov. So I take the 7 am train - this time
it is a 'rapid' train that is a lot more convenient option
compared to the slow train I took yesterday. Again the train
is late - I reach Brasov about 30 minutes after the
scheduled time. Anyway it was a scenic journey - there was a
huge fog that made the scenery look like it was from the
Lord of the Rings movie!
I leave my backpack at the Brasov
train station left luggage and continue my tour. The main
destination is Bran castle (aka 'Dracula castle') that is
some 30 km outside the downtown area. It should be the place
the inspired the Dracula book and movies - the actual 'real'
Dracula possibly visited the place just once. It is an easy
journey there and after 40 minutes I find myself in the
middle of some souvenir market. The castle itself looks
gloomy enough - at least from a distance. The place is a bit
of disappointment - there are so many people and too many
screaming kids. There are numerous rooms open for the public
but the corridors are narrow so it is really crowded in
there. So after an hour I take the bus back to Brasov.
The town is not too interesting -
after seeing Szentendre and Sighisoara I am not that
interested in churches and medieval buildings any more.
There is a cable car ride to the top of a nearby hill - I
take the ride there and see the funny Hollywood style Brasov
sign. I enjoy a late lunch in the central square -
unfortunately some beggars keep harassing me there. Then it
is the time to return to the train station and catch the
Bucharest train. Unfortunately the train is yet again
delayed (for more than hour) - my actual arrival in
Bucharest is delayed for about 3 hrs because of some
construction work on the way.
It is about 11pm when I am finally at
the Bucharest train station. I have booked a 3-star hotel
from Hostelworld. As it is late and dark already I decide to
take the taxi to the hotel (they should be cheap here). The
taxis in Romania are metered and should have price tags per
kilometer displayed - I just take the first one from
the taxi stand outside the station. It seems that the price
per kilometer is about three times higher than in Brasov
(3.5 lei in Bucharest). I have printed out a map of the
location and give it to the driver. Soon I realize that the
meter is moving way too fast and that we are in the middle
of nowhere. So it is obvious that 1) the map is incorrect 2)
the meter is tweaked somehow. Fortunately the driver manages
to find the correct location of the hotel and I do not run
out of cash before reaching the hotel. Anyway I end up
paying 46 lei (about 10 eur) for a ride that should have
been 15 lei.
The hotel is very nice and good value
for money but interestingly the reception says that the room
has been paid already - according to Hostelworld policies
they should only charge 10% in advance and then the rest on
arrival. Later I find out that some travel agency has
actually charged my credit card on the day of arrival...
23.07.2010 Bucharest - Helsinki
one week is obviously a too short period for this kind of
tour. I have just one day for Bucharest sightseeing - anyway
the list of potentially interesting sights is not that long.
The comments from various travel forums are not too
promising - Bucharest seems to be not the easiest capital
for even an experienced traveler.
The breakfast buffet is excellent and
plentiful. I check out after the meal and start walking to
downtown. The city seems to be a chaotic place - plenty of
traffic and the streets are in bad condition. There are
plenty of beautiful old buildings that would require a fresh
layer of paint - additionally there are numerous ugly
concrete blocks from the communist era. My first destination
is the main attraction in the city - Parliament house aka
Ceausescu's palace. There is a huge boulevard that seems a
bit rundown - there is plenty of empty space for rent along
the way. I guess the intention was to build something that
would rival Paris? The palace is there at the end of the
boulevard - the size of the building is just amazing. It is
a breathtaking sight - just the architecture is
unbelievable. It is a mixture of all possible styles -
anything from ancient Greece to Rome.
There are guided tours and of course I
want to take one. There seems to be different tours - from a
45-minute standard to special tour that lasts for 2 hours. I
think that standard tour is enough for me. I need to wait
for an hour for the tour to start - I do some random
sightseeing in the surrounding area. After Budapest the city
does not really impress me and there is too much heavy
traffic and pollution. The tour starts with a security check
and I need to leave my Leatherman tool for the security
There is a separate photography charge
(never understood that Eastern European practice) - I really
want to get some decent photos so I pay the extra 5 euros.
The guide is a beauty called Raluca. She leads the group to
numerous huge rooms that are unbelievably bug and full of
gold and other expensive materials. You really need to be a
madman to build a place like that! All the rooms seem to be
basically empty and there are no people to be seen. I wonder
where the members of the parliament are?
The tour is a really puzzling experience.
I exit the building and walk for 20 minutes to the other
side where there should be a museum of modern art
recommended by Lonely Planet. It turns out to be a major
disappointment - only one of the four floors is open and
there is just weird videos to be seen. There is a huge
wasteland next to the museum - I wonder what kind of garden
(?) was planned to be built there.,, I return to the
downtown area and make a subway ride just to see what kind
of system they have here. The line I take seems to be quite
modern, not the typical Soviet era design as in Moscow or
I cannot think of any more sights I want
to see so I head back to the hotel. My guidebook says that
traffic jams can be really bad in Bucharest so I leave early
for the airport. This time I get an honest taxi driver and
the ride costs 26 lei. There are no traffic jams so I end up
being at the airport 3 hours before the takeoff. The airport
is quite small (about 10 gates) and there is pretty much
nothing to do. The flight is operated by FinnComm (that is
currently having some financial problems) - anyway the
flight is uneventful and there are not that many passengers.
I wonder that for how long they will operate this route?
In general the 1-week tour was very nice
but the schedule was quite tight - should have had at least
10 days. And some beach life would have been nice as the
temperature was so hot!