2 continents, 12 countries, 4500 miles, 7200 kilometers
First of all my apologies to my readers, I fell ill shortly after we came back, so blogging took a backseat for a while ;-( But I am up and running again and here the first part of my promised travel report:
Uff, how to start a travel report about such a journey? I tried to draw up a Google Map to show you where we have been, but somehow I am too stupid for that. The lines kept either disappearing or lines appeared where I didn’t wanted them to appear. BTW, if you want to “read” a second opinion, my hubby also plans to blog about our travels, for this check out the blogging chaplains blog 😉
So, go ahead, grab an old-fashioned printed road atlas of Europe and follow along. I will post photos as I have them, but the first 2-3 days we only drove, no photos taken. So, here we go, are you ready? Steady? GO!!!
Day1 (5th October) Prague (Czech Republic) to Gyor (Hungary)
We left Prague (Czech Republic) in the late afternoon, heading for Hungary. Originally we had planned to reach Budapest that evening, but due to a late start we only made it to Gyor (Read through the wikipedia article, it is really worth it!) We found a nice hotel (Raba) and a nice restaurant (Comedias) to eat and so went the first day. Gyor is a beautiful historical town with lovely old buildings. After dinner we spent a lot of time to just to wander through the maze of the old town and “ah-ing” and “oh-ing” about what we saw. One observation left us frankly speechless: There was this flower shop which seemed to be open quite late, as all its merchandise was still standing on the sidewalk / pavement. All the plants and pottery were sitting there. And then we saw that the shop was already closed! Imagine that, to live in a place where you can leave your merchandise on the streets without fear that anybody steals your plants or that vandals have a feast day kicking around your pottery!
The only not so positive thing to mention was that the motorway between Prague and Brno was actually one of the worst bits of road we encountered during the whole journey! To learn to know which one was the worst, keep on reading 😉 Oh, yes, I forgot to mention one rather unpleasant thing I saw in a hotel. I saw there one of the worst examples of cheap group tourism. A group of middle-aged, over-weight and culturally unaware Germans (hey, I am allowed to do some German-bashing, I am one ;-)) had arrived earlier at the same hotel as we. Apparently they had visited one of these “Hungarian Gypsy Folk Dance Events” that have nothing to do with Hungarian and / or Gypsy culture and got — photographed with some real, living gypsies!!!
These same photos were now laid out in the hotel lobby, some stupidly grinning German tourists posing beside some bored looking, dressed up as gypsies, Hungarians. For me an example of the worst form of tourism / traveling possible, profaning the culture that is visited and still believing in experiencing a culture that exists only in the tourists imagination, but no where else. The bored faces of the Hungarian-gypsy models in the photos spoke volumes to me… I might write later a bit more about the history of gypsies in Europe, a real dark part of our society for the last centuries!
Day2 (6th October) Gyor (Hungary) to Nis (Serbia)
That was a long day, ach jo, as the Czech people would say. We left Gyor in the morning and shortly after joining the motorway got stopped – by the police! Hubby had overlooked a “do-not-overtake-really-don’t” sign and got issued a ticket. I will forever cherish the next words of the police man, who said in a very sweet voice, with a rolling “r” like only east-Europeans can roll it, “dunno worrrrie, it is NOT expensive”. We never had met such a re-assuring policeman before 😉
So carefully we rolled now through the flat plains of Hungary into Serbia and through the rolling hills of Serbia, by-passing Beograd, to its eastern border where we stopped for the night in Nis. Now Nis is a big town, but could we find a hotel? No, they all seemed hidden from our eyes. And could we park the car somewhere and go to look around by foot? No, not legally, as in Nis you pay for your parking by SMS, and that only works from a Serbian mobile / cellphone. No parking tickets automates anywhere, just signs with the telephone number to send your text to. Now, we never had been to Nis, we didn’t know anything about it (our mistake!) and the omnipresent one way streets and horse drawn carriages (yes, since Serbia, horse drawn carriages were part of the “ambiance”) didn’t make our life and search for a bed easier.
Finally I resorted to going into a bar, no, not to have a drink, also if I could have done with one, to ask for help / advice. Here I have to praise hubby, he is not like many men that are too proud and feel attacked in their “manliness” when you suggest asking for the way / directions, he doesn’t mind being helped. As communication, no matter if I speak the language in question or not, is my “speciality” in our relationship, it was me who entered a rather posh, up-market restaurant / bar and asked for help. One of the waiters who spoke a bit of English, certainly more then I speak Serbian, listened to me and then disappeared! We grew more and more nervous, as the car was parked without a parking ticket somewhere nearby and we didn’t really know how long it was “safe” to leave it there.
After a few minutes the waiter re-appeared with the proprietress in tow who kindly offered to drive ahead of us in her own car and show us the way to a nice hotel. Yups, the posh owner of the posh restaurant-bar, took time out to jump in her car and guide us through the maze of Nis to a nice hotel. It was the first of many, many great experiences we had in that part of Europe. After checking into the hotel, with free wi-fi again ;-), we went for a meal into town. Serbia, in theory uses the Cyrillic alphabet, but for practical uses like on a restaurant menu prefers to use Latin script – thanks be to God. Serbian is a Slavic language like Czech and thanks to our very limited Czech and a helpful waiter we managed to order two of the best home-made and home-grilled hamburgers both of us had eaten in our whole life!
Forget about the sawdust stuff you get at McFastFood, this was the real deal – MEAT! Combine that with some of the best grilled and oil marinated pepper I have ever eaten outside of Spain and a bottle of nice wine to wash all down – we were in Serbian food heaven. Finish that with a nice vinjak, the local grappa, for me and a nice dessert for my spirit despising hubby and a good nights sleep was warranted 😉
Day3 (7th October) Nis (Serbia) to Eceabat (Turkey)
Next morning then saw us heading over the gorgeous Serbian mountains towards Bulgaria. Horse drawn carriages became even more frequent, occasionally even on the dual carriage way (sic!), and around Sofia we hit the worst bit of road of our whole travel. No, not in Asian Turkey, in European, and to the European Union belonging Bulgaria, we hit a bypass around a capital that was basically nothing more as a country road littered with sizable pot holes and wavy tarmac. Add a huge amount of traffic and lots of lorries to that and you will understand why we were glad as we were back on the motorway! Unlike Serbia, Bulgaria uses the Cyrillic alphabet far more widely and we had a few close calls in losing our way. Note to ourselves: “For next travel, print out a Latin / Cyrillic alphabet cheat-sheet!” We would have loved to explore some of Bulgaria’s countryside and historic treasures, but time was short and so we passed straight through and reached the border with Turkey in the late afternoon. Hubby wrote extensively about our adventure to cross the Turkish border with a car that is registered in the Czech Republic, has the steering wheel on the wrong site and has a British driver and a German co-pilot! Let me summarize it like this: It took more than one hour!
And apparently that was short compared to what it might take in the height of the tourist season. Hubby even got his beloved “carly” registered into his passport and I kept making jokes about how appropriate that was since he and his car have a relationship only men can understand 😉
So, having crossed the border we were greeted by a beautiful mosque and very good roads that let us towards Eceabat on the Dardanelles where we found a hotel and some nice fish for dinner! The Dardanelles (see also Wikipedia article) are most known for the events during the first world war that let to the loss of more then 200.000 lives and are now remembered as ANZAC DAY by the nations involved. Staying with us at the same hotel were also four English gentlemen whose favourite pastime it was, to visit the sites of wartime events from the 1st and 2nd World War. They “had already done” Brittany and Normandy, to name just two, and were now visiting the sites on Gallipoli.
I must say I had mixed feelings, being both a German and a pacifist, about the enthusiasm they showed for these grim events. But they retired soon to the TV room and we to our bed, as it had been a very long day of driving and navigating. And the next morning I finally took the first photo of the journey. This wonderful view from our hotel, aptly named Aqua Hotel, window:
The sun rose over the sea and we could see for the first time – Asia! So, there are the first three days of our travel covered. In future I will post more photos and less text!
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