A Travellerspoint blog

Museums, cricket and sunset (sort of)

sunny 31 °C

After a lovely breakfast in a place that could have been on Brunswick St (apart from the hand-painted bus standing outside the window), I saw Sammy, Malley and Tom off for their trip to Elephanta Island.

Colaba is so peaceful. It's like a cross between Sydney and Lisbon and something entirely unique. I suppose it is the same climate as Sydney, it is old and crumbling like Lisbon and... is in fact India. The huge trees that reach across whole streets create a sleepy world dappled by light, where men lounge in white plastic chairs in the driveways and mangy dogs sleep on the paths. Blokes hang from lashed bamboo scaffolding with not even a rope around their waists, as they paint a facade with ferns growing through the cracks. Beggars with polio-wrought legs sit on the street in mangled heaps. Young girls hold babies, begging for food as tourists wander past through market stalls laden with jewellery. Talk about a fair go. I've never appreciated Australia so much.

I decided to check out a few of Mumbai's museums; the one that LP raved most about was in fact not shown on the map. So I went to the Gallery Museum, which was exhibiting a beautiful array of artworks by Prakash Bhende. If I were rich I would have bought half of them. Instead, I just gawked at them for quite some time,

Next up was the Monetary Museum, which basically went through the history of money. Starting from the little metal totems and bracelets, all the way through to whatever virtual banking happens today. I reckon they had a sample of most forms of money ever made, from all over Europe and Asia. Cute.

I tried to find a Parsi restaurant that LP raved about and gave up because too many men were staring at me, so I headed back to the Gates of India to meet the others. I was too early, and consequently spent about forty minutes sitting on the steps with Indian tourists pouring by. At first I was a little offended by how boys thought it was okay to stare, but then came to realise that they weren't smiling with the intention of offending, but rather because they were just a little fascinated by the bizarre face of the white girl with brown hair. A couple of boys asked if they could have their picture taken with me. Offended that they thought I was a zoo exhibit, I said no. A few minutes later, a handsome husband asked if he could take a photo of me with his very beautiful wife, and I couldn't say no. And the cascade went on from there. As soon as she had sat down next to me, a crowd began to form behind the husband. And so the cascade began. Little kids, whole families, groups of girls my age all waited their turn to have their photo taken with the white girl. Some women ran to my side actually squealing and dancing. I've never felt so famous.

I ran away from that area of the square because I could see things getting quite out of hand. But then, walking through the crowds,I noticed all the heads turning and smiling. Trying hard not to laugh outright, I stood by the gates to watch the others docking in from Elephanta Island. They took photos of me from the boat. Bloody tourists.

From there, we took a wander up Colaba Causeway to Keneseth Eliyahoo Synagogue, a big blue building hidden down a winding sidestreet. Sammy and I agreed that it had a remarkably similar interior to Russian cathedrals; big, open spaces with intricate carvings, yet definitely a place for everyone. Breathtaking. Heading up Mahatma Gandhi Road towards the University of Mumbai, we were distracted by a street stall selling sugar cane juice with lime squeezed in it. Malley was the only one brave enough to get one, but after a few sips, we ordered four. Bliss. Fresh, reviving bliss in a glass. We then visited St Thomas' Cathedral which was built in the seventeenth century, a huge, white buildings with about forty fans hanging above the benches. If this is winter, then they certainly do need them. Malley and I came out to find Sammy chatting to a bloke and Calvert, grinning as usual, playing cricket with some kids on the street. If you tell people here you're from Australia, they generally say something about the cricket, like, 'Aaah, the land of Ricky Ponting, ah?' Again, were distracted by a street stall selling one of the most delicious things I have ever tasted; a fresh, bite-sized pastry shell crushed in on one side to put a chickpea mix inside, then sprinkled with spices, seeds and delicious curd. Eating that, walking along the wide, tree-shaded Veer Nariman Road into the afternoon sun, with three dear friends and anticipation of a very precious few weeks ahead, I couldn't have been happier.

From there, we hit the Oval Maidan, where about 500 people were either watching or playing causal cricket, in a series of games crossing over along the 600*200m strip of green west of the University and High Court. Calvert and Sammy loved it.

Passing a stadium (yeah, India likes a bit of cricket), we reached the beach, well coast, where a crowd of (mainly Indian) tourists had gathered to watch the sun set over Mumbai. Problem was, with such poor air quality, there wasn't a whole heap to see. On the plus side, the sun was mighty red.

From there, we wandered back in darkness, got a little bit lost, which worked out for the best, as it landed us right near our hotel. After a pretty delicious dinner (although Sammy didn't think the toilet was much fun), we were all ready for bed. Lights out.

Posted by hazelnutty 10:20 Archived in India Comments (0)

Magic Mumbai

I woke up at 5am (10:30am home time) feeling seriously confused. I packed my bags and was out on the street searching for a better hotel. Sammy and Michael were to arrive from their Jamkhed course that night. I looked at a few, and finally found a place called Bentley Hotel (seemed appropriate for 4 Queeners) and booked in.

After a delicious mango lassi, I met beautiful Marjoline again and we headed to Churchgate Station, bound for Mumbai's National Park- it is huge- it takes up 1/6th of this massive island. At the station, I bought my 18 rupee (40 cent, return) train ticket. The station is that classic old setup of having about 6 lines all ending in a row, like Milan, or indeed, in Slumdog Millionaire. We made our way through the sea of women in vibrant saris to our train. I asked the driver 'Is this the train to Borivali?', and he replied 'yes' as the train started to roll away...

…... so like James Bond movie, we ran alongside the train, and with long, slow-motion strides, leapt through the doorless door. Victory. Glory. I have jumped onto a moving train.

Once inside, we discovered that we were in the women's carriage. The colours. The ornate designs. So many eyes on us. We sat next to two girls studying business law, who were memorising passage after passage of English words that I didn't even know the meaning of. Through the smog, we could see nothing but dirty walls of crumbing apartment blocks, thriving wilderness and series of low-lying slums - walls made from old plaster and tarps. Directly beside the railway tracks, for the best part of the hour, were gardens. It looked like lettuce or maybe another unfamiliar green, grown in some very, very fertile-looking soil. Each garden had a little wall of soil around it, so that it could be flooded. Every now and again, there was a man tending to one of the patches.

At one stop, the already-crowded carriage doubled its load, and we suddenly had women sitting on our laps. The woman in front of me had a beautiful toddler in her arms, and her mother was continuously chatting to him, kissing him, blowing raspberries and beaming. She was one proud grandmother. At Borivali, we got on a bus, and got a free ride to the Park entrance. We were the only ones in the bus. It didn't seem like a very fuel-efficient or energy-viable way of doing things.

We paid our 50 rupees for entry and wandered in. This was real tropical rainforest. I nearly got vertigo looking up into the roofs of those huge, umbrella-shaped trees. There was a big lake, a huge variety of birds, and most entertaining were the schoolchildren. Indian 5-year olds and not very tall, and so a crowd of 30 of them is probably one of the cutest things I have ever seen.

We decided to go on the lion and tiger safari, which was a bit of a letdown. Most of them were in cages, I guess because the park is so big that we'd never find them otherwise. They were very beautiful nonetheless.

Wikipedia has a website for the Borivali National Park (now called the Sanjay Gandhi National Park) and for Borivali.

We walked back through Borivali (town) to the train station, and realised that while the stares in Mumbai were a little bit intimidating at times, it was nothing like the rest of the country. These people obviously very rarely saw westerners, because while the children in Mumbai shout 'helloooo' at you, these kids pointed like we were actual unicorns walking down the street, and huddled into groups. We went into a local cafe and got something to eat. I'm finding that I eat much less in volume when eating spicy food. I guess it's just a lot for the tummy. Still haven't been sick. Touch wood.

Marjoline left me halfway home to go to the airport. Rather than being in the women's carriage, this time, we had accidentally jumped into the men's carriage. Ooops. Once she had left, I had that good old familiar feeling of being something much more than just a black sheep. More like a sparkly fluorescent pink sheep. I didn't feel scared; I had to stop myself from laughing. About 50 pairs of eyes watched me, some with a look of disbelief, some just grinning. All shameless about staring. A bloke stood up to let me have a seat, and we had a bit of a chat.

At Christchurch, I took my favourite route home, between the neo-gothic buildings of the High Court and University, and the cricket grounds, where about fifteen games are being played on the long strip of green at any given time. I took a wrong turn, kept walking, and landed myself on a street right next to Bentley Hotel.

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(Tom) Calvert had arrived, so I went up to visit, and we waited for Mick and Sammy to arrive. We watched some rather bizarre TV that seemed to be 95% ads and 5% content. Or maybe it was all ads. Not sure. About 4 times since I have arrived, (6 times now) a bloke has been asking me to be in a Bollywood movie. The reason they were asking westerners is because no Indian woman is willing to expose herself on camera. This scene was going to involve bikinis. As we watched TV, we noticed that all the dancers were white women, and all the actresses were Indian.

After a very suspenseful wait on the staircase, the two couples were reunited. What a happy moment.

Sammy was about to die from a lack of middle eastern cuisine, so we had falafels for dinner, and then sat by the Gates of India. Sammy spoke to a beggar girl whose baby was lying in the middle of the plaza. The gap between the wealthy and poor in this country is painful to think about.

Sammy wanted to tick the Taj Mahal Hotel off her “to do” list, so we went into the bar and ordered some drinks. And then realised that they were hideously expensive and took our order back. I had had a shoddy 7 hours of sleep in the last oh... 70 hours?

Zzzz. More soon.

Posted by hazelnutty 23:53 Archived in India Comments (0)

First Impressions of Mumbai

Wow.

semi-overcast 34 °C

Just... wow. Said in as many different tones of voice as you can think of. I knew it was going to be crazy, I knew it was going to smell like exhaust fumes and there would be people everywhere, but nothing really prepares you for the full force of a place so far removed from what you know or have ever experienced before.

Where do I start? From the beginning, I guess. 6:30am 09 December. Felt fine, no big knot in the stomach. Ran around packing my life at home up into boxes and shoved what would become my home for the next 6 weeks into a pack. My snail shell. After a few hectic tying up of loose ends (thank you so much, mum, dad and Rob), we were at the airport, and mum and I hugged goodbye. No tears. We're getting good at this!

On a plane. Sitting next to a bloke going to Hawaii for his annual Chemistry Conference. Reading the newspaper during takeoff, he kindly pointed out that this exact same plane, exactly a week before had nearly crashed into another plane just after takeoff. Thanks buddy. Melbourne soon disappeared under a quilt of cloud. Off into another world. Through Sydney, then to Bangkok. Didn't sleep. Too excited. Bangkok to Mumbai, didn't sleep; too pants-crappingish. It was 4am when we landed. Mumbai seemed to be a patchwork of glowing orange separated by patches of pitch blackness. I don't know whether it was forest, ocean, or indeed, slums.

In the airport, I had a bit of a flip-out, but got chatting to a couple of Swedish blokes. They were great fun. We stood in the taxi line together and after a good 40 minutes of discussion about Swedish versus Australian education, climate and culture, among other things, they threw me in a cab (for free) with some of their 8 other family members; 1 wife plus 3 kids each. We had to run behind the taxis to throw our bags in (laughing), all taxis in front of and behind us tooting incessantly. I joked that this was exactly opposite to the Swedish transport system. Magnus' son gripped hard onto the seat in front of him as we may or may not have dodged young girls with no shoes asking for a) 10 rupees, b) a chocolate c) anything.

Out onto the highway. This city does not have clean air. It was 6am at this point, and a peachy sunrise was excessively enhanced by the rosy colour of thick smog that covers Mumbai at all times. Buildings looked ancient, even the half-built abandoned ones- maybe it was the humidity, maybe the smog, but their walls were covered in big cracks and stains of green and black. There were patches of forest around, with actual jungle vines and everything! Real jungle! In a city! There was a cow standing in the middle of a hectic intersection, cars rushing past, nearly hitting people, but that cow was left unhindered. And then another.

Nature encroached on civilisation in the same way that this vast, sprawling population couldn't do anything but crush any hope this place had of being neat and orderly.

But this is something that I've learned today. It's not mayhem; it's the norm, and everyone knows how the system works. It's methodical chaos. It only works because people run out in front of taxis rather than waiting with hesitation. It is just different.

The Swedish families came to make sure I found my hotel ok, then they wandered off, white hair and striking blue eyes turning heads everywhere. God bless the Swedish.

I wandered. Somewhere. Didn't really read the map. Luckily my sense of direction didn't fail me and soon enough I was at the Victoria Terminus, the swarming central train station in Mumbai, where the trains all line up next to each other as people rush around in every possible direction. I passed the odour of a fish market, without seeing a single fish, and then found an amazing labrynth of fabric stalls, lining alleys beyond where I dared venture. Not yet. I was still a little overwhelmed by the noise, the rush, the smells and potent energy surrounding me.

Nearly passing out from the heat, or exhaustion, or the fact that I'd just had the biggest whack of culture shock in my life, I wandered back through a posher part of town, the oxford-style buildings of Mumbai, the cricket ground with hundreds of men in white, and many more watching from the shade. I got a little disoriented at this stage, but soon landed myself at the Gates of India, right beside the Taj Mahal Hotel; a rather hilarious juxtaposition to the place I am staying in directly behind it.
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Resisting the urge to collapse in my smelly hot room, I decided to take the ferry to Elephanta Island, an island right near the mainland that has a incredible set of caves with huge carved statues inside, that have been standing since 450 AD. Blessed as I was, a young blondish girl wandered onto the ferry just as I was being slightly harassed by some bloke (I don't know what he actually wanted. Whatever.). She is from Holland, and has been travelling alone around southern India for 18 days, leaving tomorrow. We got chatting on the ferry and found out we'd both been to Mongolia among a few other connections. She really knew how to interact with the locals without offending, but also without encouraging them to continue pestering you to buy their trinkets. Honestly softened with jokes and smiles. Always a smile.

The caves were incredible. People carved these? These impossibly beautiful, ancient things? The thought of how much devotion and effort must have gone into creating these things so long ago was enough to make me want to both weep and celebrate humanity.

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And the monkeys! Incredible! The oxen, cows, dogs, goats, chickens and crows. Elephante Island was a real animal farmyard. We climbed up to the top of the highest hill, only to see... not much, due to so much smog. At least there was no more beeping and shouting up there. Breathe of fresh/smoggy-but-silent air.

See Wikipedia entry on Elephanta Island -

On the way home, the sun was setting behind the silhouette of Mumbai's teetering apartment blocks, neo-Gothic towers and onion domes. That sun was so red. We sat on a ferry full of Indians, many of the women wearing the most incredibly beautiful saris I have ever seen, most of us letting our eyes fall shut in the cosy sunset before us. I found it interesting that while saris appear to have a function of covering up the body, most women have a significant section of their back showing. I guess different cultures just see different parts of the body as being 'rude'.

We wandered onto the Causeway (my street) and found a vegetarian restuarant. We soon had the waiter in stitches with our stupid questions and general hopelessness regarding Indian menus. We got lassis, and shared two amazing dishes with chapati bread, while watching life roll by as chaotically as ever outside. I remember sitting there feeling profoundly happy. Marjalein smiled back and said 'So, you've fallen in love with this place already?'.

Huh. Maybe I have.

Posted by hazelnutty 18:25 Archived in India Comments (0)

Berlin and Prague

Latest information: Hilary flew to Madrid on 23 September and travelled by Eurail around Spain and Portugal for about 3 weeks. She then headed to Venice for a few days then via ferry to Corfu and then Athens with a few side trips. She then visited Thessalonika, Sofia (Bulgaria) and Bucharest and Brasov (Romania), Budapest, Vienna, Prague, Berlin and Amsterdam (all via train). She then went to Brussels and London. She is now safely home!!

What is new on the website: Photos and stories for Berlin, Prague, photos for Vienna. New pages for Romania and Hungary.

Itinerary: Hilary was in Mongolia for 3 weeks in May. Lynda and Hilary were in Japan for 3 weeks until 14 June. Trans Siberian railway to St Petersburg until early July. Stockholm from 5 July, Switzerland from 11 July. Lloyd arrived home on 23 July. Lynda arrived home on 24 September. Hilary is travelling Europe on a Eurail – started in Spain then heading East then North before going back to London. She arrived home on 14 November.

THE ARRIVAL IN MELBOURNE!!
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London, Barcelona, Athens, Vienna, Berlin
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Travel map for Europe (Hilary solo): http://www.travellerspoint.com/member_map.cfm?itinid=200863&tripid=200863

Photo gallery for the Germany http://www.travellerspoint.com/photos/gallery/users/hazelnutty/countries/Germany/

Walking tour of Berlin, 7 Nov

Saturday 7th

Oh my gosh. I am never going to visit a city without taking a walking tour again. There is only so much that you can work out for yourself, and understanding things makes such a difference. If a picture tells a thousand words, then a picture with an explanation tell a MILLION words. I'll recount my day as a picture-story guide. (Caption under the photo, will try to get missing photos soon!)

[missing photo – see 80]
24 'Fernsehturm' TV tower, 368m tall structure erected in 1969 , can be seen from just about everywhere... including my street.

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25 The Neue Synagogue, just around the corner

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26 River dividing at the western end of the 'Museumsinsel', the museum island.

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27 Inner-city garden

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28 Hello Greenpeace boat!

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29 Preparations for Monday (20th anniversary) are already well underway, with the 'wall' of kid's art pieces already set up. The idea is that there will be a massive domino game played, resulting in the 'fall' of the 'wall'. I like it.

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30 This wall goes everywhere- it's not where the actual wall was.

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31, 32, 33 Groovy huh?

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34 Eastern side of the Reichstag, the Parliament Building. A fire here in 1933 allowed Hitler to make the communists look like the baddies and grab power. Better photo later.

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35 At the top of the Reichstag, there is a big glass dome, which people line up to see (for free) all day every day. 4 national flags are flown here. A flag was raised here in 1945 to signal Hitler's defeat.

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36 Apparently every German city has a 'city forest'; here is Berlin's. I think the park beside it is gorgeous- an open space for people to use as they like, with hardy rows of bushes to give the space a point of interest.

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37 Reichstaggebaude, again.

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38 '20 JAHRE MAUERFALL' banner, two Australians in foreground. Ha.

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39 Hundreds of people were helping to set up for Monday. The imposing Brandenburger Tor at the far end of Pariser Platz. This is where the New Berlin free tour met.

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40 Outside Starbuck's coffee, to be precise.

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41 Tour begins: This hotel, still in Pariser Platz, was where Michael Jackson hung his baby out of the window. There you go.

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42 This 1791 statue was originally said to be of Irena, goddess of Peace. She looked straight down the Unter de Linden, spreading peace over the lands. Then, dear Napoleon had it taken to Paris, placed in the Louvre, as a victory trophy, to Berlin's disgust. The statue of Irena was dragged all the way back to Berlin, but this time, she was to be called Victoria, goddess of war and victory, and one subtle change was made to the statue; she no longer looked down Berlin's avenue, oh no, instead, she had her head turned... to whom?

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43 ...the French embassy, just across the Platz. Haha. I don't know how true that is, but it's a good story.

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44 Ok. Here is the Reichstag, and you can now see the glass dome on top. The idea is that when people walk around it, who are they supported by? Looking down, they see that the Parliament is beneath them. Then they wonder, 'and who is all of this for?' and looking up, they see... TOURISTS. No, they see the People of Germany.

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45 46 47 This is the Holocaust Memorial. It's real name is 'Dankmal fur die ermordeten Juden Europas', the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe', but this name has sparked some controversy - what about the other groups that were discriminated against during the Holocaust, such as homosexuals? Another thing that caused discontent in many people was that it took so long to build a memorial for the Holocaust: This structure was built in 2005. Some people hate it; they think it is cold and there is nothing human here to connect with. Peter Eisenman loosely based the 2711-'stelae' grid on the Jewish graveyard in the centre of Prague, and has given no further explanation than that. I guess he wants it to mean something different to each individual.

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51 Eisenman designed the space with the intention of having no rules- do what you like with it, he had said; sun bake on them, have a barbeque here... but, as a war memorial, people weren't comfortable with this, so there are now 25 things that people cannot do here- one being to stand on the stones. This makes sense when you consider the rectangular columns to be graves.

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52 I really like the variation of depth experienced as one walks through what initially seems to be a very uniform structure- uniformity or order also being appropriate when Jews were represented by a mere number. It takes the best of both worlds; mourning the loss of individuality experienced by the war victims, while still maintaining that natural element, like a forest, celebrating the undeniable individuality of every being on this earth. It''s cold and grey, but it's intriguing and sensual too.

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53 Beneath this car park is the former sight of Hitler's second (bigger, deeper, stronger) bunker. It is from here that the man is said to have lost his mind, ordering around troops that he did not have, and from where he did not rise, except for 2 occasions, for the length of the war. It is beneath here that he took his life with his wife and dog, before demanding the bodies to be burned. He is said to have cried when his dog died, which people consider a tad hypocritical after the ordering the loss of so many human lives.

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54 There is a group of graffiti artists in Berlin who try to reach the most unreachable places, by 'sky-walking', or hanging each other off the tops of buildings to paint the walls. Madness.

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55 Berlin was built to house 7 million people. Today, it still only holds 3.5 million. Empty empty gardens.

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56 I think this was the warmest part of the day. That is, it never got warm!

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57 This building was once called the Ministry of Ministries. Seriously. It is from here that the Communist leaders told their people they would have to work more each day, in response to which, the people of Berlin marched in protest, and the scared officials hid or fled, only regaining control when the Moscow tankers arrived. Nice.

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58 It seems pretty strange that in the whole war, this building was untouched, while all around it were obliterated...

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59 ...many of which are still unused to this day.

There are 3 supposed reasons for this.

1) It is INDESTRUCTIBLE. Not likely.

2) Being a large building, it was used by the bombers as a central
reference point for bombing other things.

3)It was to be used as THEIR Ministry of Ministries once the Germans
were defeated. Dunno.

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60 The second largest remaining segment of the Berlin Wall in the background. It's pretty flimsy, but that was the idea. If people broke a big wall, it would be more expensive to repair. Better to have TWO walls, and in the middle, have a Death Zone. That will work, especially, if the snipers risk their own lives if they let anyone cross.

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61 We were standing on the line of the other wall.

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62 Checkpoint Charlie, Berlin's Disneyland; everything here is fake. The white box in the middle of the street is the checkpoint. The dude on the sign is Charlie.

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63 A former checkpoint. You had to be a Military officer, or a foreigner, to be allowed through. There were some amazing escape stories. Or failed attempts:

A couple were dating, one living in East Berlin, the other in West Berlin, when the wall was literally raised overnight. The guy walked around bars for weeks with a photo of his girlfriend, until he found a girl who looked remarkably like her. He asked her out, and a few weeks later suggested a day-trip over to West Berlin, (where his girlfriend was trapped). Partway through the day, he promptly threw the girl out of the car, picked up the real girl, and crossed back over the border, no questions asked. It was a grand plan, except that the substitute girlfriend's daddy was a hot-shot lawyer, so the couple ended up spending 14 years in jail on kidnapping charges. Ouch.

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65 Ah yes, this chocolate shop had giant (I mean GIANT) bars of chocolate, buildings and statues, all made of chocolate.

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66 Reflection of one of two twin monuments to the French and Berliners:

I don't really remember or understand this, but I'll give it a go. With the Plague sweeping through Germany, Berlin's population plummeted to 20,000 people. At the same time, the French were discriminating against protestants. Germany, being a largely Protestant nation, offered the French people French-speaking schools, French-speaking Protestant churches and 10 years without tax. It was a win-win; the French were rid of their Protestant people, and Berlin's population was replenished.

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67 In honour of the French, this monument, a Protestant church, was built in the Platz. The Berliners were jealous, so another, identical Protestant church was built for them, at the other end of the square. It is said that one could fun from one end of the square to the other and hear exactly the same service being sung in two different languages.

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69 Memory failing me again. Someone the Great, a stout character who liked kicking women, whacking people with a wooden stick when they were being lazy, and pinching his wife's bum in public, produced a gay son, Frederich.

Frederich tried to flee to England at 18 with his lover, but the couple were quickly caught, and the boyfriend's head was chopped off in front of him. He got the message, and quickly married a girl, whom he ignored entirely, and went about ruling his country. But then came the issue of an Heir. Frederich asked his younger brother to do the deed, which he accepted, and this palace, dubbed the 'baby-making factory' was built as a result. It is now a University.

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70 I think this building is a library. Anyway, this square was the site of Hitler's first major book-burning, which occurred in May 1933.

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71 A gesture to the Catholics of Germany; 'This is a free country; preach as you wish. To demonstrate our acceptance of all religions, we will even build a Catholic church for you in the heart of our predominantly Protestant city.' Or summink.

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72 The first Theatre where common people could afford to experience Opera and Ballet. It didn't have thrones for the Monarchs; this is a place for the people of Germany.

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73 Baby factory/University (across the road from Bebelplatz, where the book-burning took place). There are book markets and reading sessions here daily, to celebrate books.

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74 This window looks down below Bebelplatz, where there are empty book-shelves, as a book-burning memorial. There was a quote by someone about how tragic the burning of books is. But the interesting thing was that it was said 100 years prior to the Nazi regime; it was in reference to the Spanish Inquisitition. Have we learned the lesson yet?

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75 WWII Memorial. A mother holds a soldier in her arms. A Nazi soldier and a Jew are buried beneath the statue, with the message being 'No matter what side of this war you were on, there were tragic losses; war is nothing more than a means of destroying others, and is a loss to all'. I think that's still a bit one-sided in this case, when the Jews hardly fought back..?

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77 Speckly...

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78 (On Museumsinsel) Berliner Dom. This Cathedral was built in the early 20th century, with the intention of looking old. People hated it- there was widespread outrage that money had bee poured into something so ugly. During Communist times, the cross was taken off the top, because who needs religion when you're a slave and don't have time to preach? All crosses were removed from places of worship. This cross was only put back on top a matter of months ago, funnily enough.

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79 Altes Museum.

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80 There was a big deal made when crosses were banned, because the sun makes a cross on the ball. The leader at the time said 'It's not a cross, it's a plus sign for Communism!' I don't know if that's true.

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81 Tour ended......freezing bum off waiting to give Ben his tip.

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83 View along the side of the Museumsinsel.

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84 Some people started playing awesome in the middle of the square and the evening swarmed in.

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85 86 87 Market

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89 Cute little Berlin pedestrian lights. I can't remember who it was, but apparently this is the only thing from the Communist leader that the city embraced after the fall of Communism.

This is a Communist guard telling the people to stop;

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88 this is how the leader demonstrated how to walk across the road; with caution, pride and purpose. He believe that he had taught Germany's children to walk so (as a metaphor for their approach to life), and thus begged that this be the one trace left of his legacy.

Cold to the core and exhausted, I walked around after dark for a couple of hours, before heading home and snuggling up in bed. It was 6pm. Slept like a log, but woke up at 11pm and wrote this; it's now 2:30. Maybe time for more sleep.

Photo gallery for the Czech Republic http://www.travellerspoint.com/photos/gallery/users/hazelnutty/countries/Czech%20Republic/

Prague, 5 Nov

With no Czech money to pay for my hostel (or breakfast, more importantly), I went bankomat-hunting along the mysterious streets of Prague. I didn't find one in 40 minutes, but it was okay, because I was being blessed with the sights of one of the most delightful cities in the world; endless parks and squares dividing well-loved old buildings of the past.

After breakfast I stepped through the massive wooden courtyard door into the shadow of St Nick's Cathedral, an icon that tourists flock to day and night. Wandering two minutes towards the river, I found another Prague icon, Charles' Bridge. Ha. More tourists...nooo...

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The view from the bridge is stunning. Back towards my hostel, one can see Prague Castle standing high on the hill, with forests in full blazing autumn colour all along the ridgeline. Ferries glide along the glistening river, while tourists stagger along in wander at the ridiculous scene that surrounds them. Marvellous statues of all different ages and forms stand along the sides of the bridge, guarding all that cross it. Towards the Old Town Square, two old churches watch another day roll by, tourists seemingly forever marching through their doors.

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Hoping to escape from the bustle of the main tourist drags, I followed my instinct, which kindly led me into a secluded, vine-covered courtyard, and a photography exhibition, 'Forgotten Prague'; images from the 19th and early 20th century, before the city's buildings fell victim to business-driven demolition. The exhibition was about one quarter of something of the same standard in the centre of most other cities. It was run by two smiley old ladies, who sat at the entrance to a bizarre network of underground rooms, with arched doorways that even little people would have to duck under.

The photos, at first glance, revealed little; the buildings all looked the same as they do now! There was a photo of the square outside my door- beside St Nick's- it looked exactly the same! But notice the people- children lining up for bread, a man selling roasted chestnuts, an old woman grinning with her basket of flowers. There was a photo of Charles Bridge after it collapsed from severe flood damage in the late 19th century, and snapshots of buildings due for demolition in the same year.

I then managed to stumble into the Old Town Square right on the hour, where the little mechanical skeleton on the bell-tower shakes his tiny bell. The crowd below cheered, and a man played trumpet from the top of the tower. The Square is incredible- not a single building could be called less than stunning, each special in some particular way or other, be it adorned with stylish artwork or pretty little window frames, not to mention the grand copper statue in the centre, the tall black steeples that stretch up to the sky and the little courtyard of trees behind the church where people nibble on traditional sausages or pastries.

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From the Old Town Square, I wandered down to the National Museum, past Wenceslas Square, the modern centre of town. I ducked into a gorgeous traditional restaurant for lunch, for some Eastern European onion soup. Perfect. Down Sokolska street, I turned right when I hit the park, which is really just a forest, as the hillside is too steep for anything else. After half an hour of being semi-lost, (the fact that the sun was below 40 degrees in the sky at 2pm didn't help my navigational efforts at all!) I finally found the Vysehrad, the home of Prague first royalty. The delightful park looked across the entire city, which made me realise just how far away I was from St Nick's cathedral- and it was getting dark (at 3:30, I might add).

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After a few photos of the beautiful park and Gothic cathedral at its heart, I skipped on down the leaf-covered stairs all the way to the river, Vlatava, and jumped on the pedestrian highway bound for home. But no one could walk quickly along that riverbank- Not due to crowding; it was nearly empty- but because the slow-flowing golden water, sleepy old houses and inquisitive swans made me. I sat on the bank and chatted to the ducks, while some old men fished nearby. A lady walked her puppy, a mother walked her toddler, couples walked arm in arm...sigh...

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Passing the National Theatre and the river's islands, I headed into the city maze to the Bethlehem Chapel, where a trumpet filled the chapel and surrounding streets. Delightful. Everything is 'delightful'; I'm getting old. As night fell upon the land, I headed, in an around-about way, towards home. Charles Bridge was still bustling, as everyone tried to get 'the shot' of Prague by night. The pubs along my street were firing up, as everyone headed out to enjoy Prague's much-loved beer. Happy world.

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Posted by hazelnutty 00:47 Archived in Czech Republic Comments (0)

Vienna, Budapest and Romania

Photo gallery for Austria http://www.travellerspoint.com/photos/gallery/users/hazelnutty/countries/Austria/

Vienna, 4 Nov

The arrogant Germans and ditsy Americans (WORST group of dorm buddies I've had!!) didn't stop marching around until about 1am, so I had a bit of a late start.

It wasn't so cold today- no snow; this time it was rain instead. After putting my pack in a locker at Sudbahnhoff station, I headed to the Museum Quartier, to visit the Leopold Museum. The variety of exhibitions in there was incredible. Again, fantastic English explanations for each room made all the difference. One exhibition was focusing on the post-Impressionism styles- a great follow-up for my visit to the Albertine yesterday. Another, the Leopold exhibition itself, was a selection of works from various artists of very wide-ranging contemporary styles. The last exhibition was of another painter who I didn't enjoy so much due to the overabundance of naked women in his works. Too many nude people!!

Wandering back past the Albertine, I had a look in the Haus der Musik, which explored everything from the nature of sound, how our ears work and how our minds interpret the sounds, through to the history of Classical masters, and even a hands on section where people can record their own music. It was interesting, but sometimes they forgot to explain things in English, which made some sections like one big picture story book.

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With about half an hour to spare before I had to head to the station, I took the time to wander along the pedestrian streets and people-watch, and visit the amazing St Stephen's cathedral once more. I managed to get the timing just right but I ended up with 2 tiny Austrian kiddies- didn't make for a very serene visit.

I caught the 15:58 train with the hop that I'd get to see a bit of countryside before the sun went down. It was gloomy for about half an hour, then pitch black, so that idea didn't really work too well. It's 7:30; my train arrived at 8pm. Hello Prague...

Vienna, 3 Nov

My arrival into Vienna was another one of those glorious, astonishingly straightforward tasks. Nothing went wrong. Where's the catch? I don't know! I think it's the right hostel!? Well, the one I have landed at is great. Everyone is very respectful of that precious ritual called 'sleep'. Some hostels forget what the beds are for. After a lovely chat to mum and dad, and then nanna and gramps, I pulled on a singlet, thermal top, cardigan, jumper and raincoat, my gloves and hat, and braved the Viennese snow.

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Landing in the centre of town, I wandered around the Imperial Palace until I couldn't feel my nose anymore, then ducked into the Spanish Riding School. Yay. A snuffly woman came over to me and gave me her ticket- she had just learned that she is allergic to horses. I would die!

I watched two sets of Lippizanner stallions being worked, along with a few hundred other curious spectators. I'd hate to be a snob, but I actually think the Spanish Riding School in Jerez was better.

The riders in Jerez were carefully selected, and after being accepted, they trained horses alongside their masters, while undertaking a seriously challenging training schedule themselves. They were expected to make the horse canter in a circle in a large arena with their hands behind their head, among other incredible demonstrations of absolute balance and control.

The riders here rode with their hands. The held onto the reins, making the horse 'broken', rather than being truly rounded, and used the bit as a tool for punishing the horse- they were visibly tense and thus not going to perform at their best.

In Jerez, riders and horses came and went as they pleased, depending on how much or little time the horse needed, whereas here in Vienna, horses were worked in sets, having to enter and leave in a uniform procession. Hilary says 'nooo' to fixed training times.

Also, the Spanish school had introduced Arab lines into their stud in recent years, producing longer-legged, more steady-headed and agile stock. I think the Austrian school was trying to stick with the heritage lines, which is okay, but in comparison, the Viennese Lippizanners were more stocky and thus could not perform the expressive movements that the taller, lighter horses of Jerez were achieving so effortlessly. That's just my opinion. Ask an expert.

Back out in the sleety snow, a man selling concert tickets took me aside. I would have ignored him but he looked pretty hilarious in his beefeater-esque jacket. Ten minutes later, I walked away with a ticker to an orchestra/ballet/opera performance that night, at a reduced price because I had started with the excuse of 'No, I'm too poor'. Good.

Walking west through the city, I spotted the Stephansdom Cathedral. It's difficult NOT to see it, really. The cathedral stretches up to the sky with such narrow steeples and high walls and macabrely grey stone- I think we're nearing the heart of old German territory, perhaps. Inside was even more impressive. Intricately carved statues decorated ever column, and candles lit up the stone that was greyer than grey. But sometimes grey is beautiful, even just to provide perspective.

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Death can be beautiful, too, as my visit to the Kaisergruft, the Imperial Burial Vault, showed me. Beneath a surprisingly plain church, what must have been nearly ever Austrian monarch lay to rest, each in a intricately decorated true bronze tomb. Everybody from was down there; those who died before their first birthday, through to those who lived to 91. Some had bronze skulls with crowns at each corner of the coffin; some a skull and bones; some had a statue of the deceased depicted as sleeping on top, or were just covered in a silky, brassy sheet.

After wandering along streets selling everything from lavish chocolates, to boots and coats, I hit the ring road, with its 3 avenues of golden trees, walking all the way to the Museum Quartier. After studying each ticket deal in great depth, deciding upon one, losing my wallet, and finding it again, I walked up to the counter to be told that the main one I had wanted to visit, the Leopold museum, is closed on Tuesdays! Ha ha! Back into the snow and puddles. My tracksuit pants have seen better days.

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If I can't go to the Leopold museum, then the Albertina it is! I'm so glad I went. The gallery ticket includes entry into the Hapsburg State rooms, a stunning set of lounge rooms with Greek statues, exquisite painting, chandeliers and decadent, silky curtains, as well as an Impressionist exhibition, among a couple of other mad contemporary collections. The Impressionist exhibition was one of the best I have seen. Arranged in chronological order, it had fantastic in-depth explanations of each turn in the Impressionist movement, neo-Impressionism, Pointism and beyond. It displayed everything from the sources of paint colours in different eras to brush types, and even the kinds of easels each artist used when 'plein air', or 'open-air' painting (as opposed to the traditional, step-by-step, process in the studio) became 'the way'. I enjoyed it a lot. Art is the best.

Except, perhaps, for music? At 19:45, I arrived at the Kursalon Hubner for my musical treat. I was expecting a full orchestra and proper theatre, but the 10-piece group in the long chandelier-decked room did quite a fine job nonetheless. They primarily placed pieces by Strauss and Mozart, and I am inspired to go home and listen to classical music far more often. The dancers (especially the male) had very bad hands, but the opera singers belted it out flawlessly and were both great entertainers. Oh, the music is still ringing in my ears.

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Budapest, Hungary, Monday 2 Nov

Photo gallery for Hungary http://www.travellerspoint.com/photos/gallery/users/hazelnutty/countries/Hungary/

My night train from Brasov to Budapest was 20 minutes late arriving, (which I hear is better than normal) so my hands and nose and cheeks were icy cold. I scored an empty seat beside my own, and after a couple of hours of experimentation (e.g. lying on side in an L shape, with legs raised on opposite seats, resting head on armrest and curled up, etc) and finally found the perfect position. Imagine sitting on the floor, cross-legged. Only the wall was my floor. So my head poked out into the aisle, and my legs were crossed up the wall. Many hours of quality sleep were earned from my ingenuity.

The sun rose red out of the cloudy gloom, illuminating the frost that bit at every surface of the outside world. We were rolling across open fields, now barren- either ploughed for winter, or left with the rotting maize standing where it grew. There was an occasional patch of scrub left, or a long-ago abandoned farmhouse with no garden or windows. Later on, we began passing towns and villages, where every house seemed to possess a long, narrow stretch of land in line with the house itself, where animals were kept, or, for the most part, people grew vegetables or grapes, or kept animals. This was quite a change from Romania, where I didn't see a single food garden anywhere.

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The train was late picking me up, but that was nothing compared to the arrival time- 3 hours behind schedule! I was beginning to think that I had somehow missed Budapest!

Money converted, luggage 'left', and map in hand, I hit the metro system, with no fear. And with a chocolate swirly pastry in hand. Irresistible. I popped out in the centre of Budapest, and didn't know which distant spire or steeple to head for first. St Stephen's Basilica was first on the list, a grand stone cathedral with two towers. If one is good, two must be better.

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Passing the prettiest hotel I have ever seen, the Four Seasons Hotel, which dominated the river promenade, I crossed the impressive lion-guarded Chain Bridge to the far side of the city. I wandered beside the river to a beautiful old church that fails to get a mention on my map.

Back towards the bridge, I climbed the hill that everyone else took the funicular up, for a glorious view over the city. I stumbled upon the Buda Castle at the top, and explored its stunning vine-covered terraces and watchtower, gawking that something so beautiful is still intact today.

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Down the hill, I found two identical boarded-up churches, another pretty church, and the park where homeless people hang out and like to yell and by-passers. Run. I crossed another bridge, which seemed to have every national flag in the entire world raised, and some blokes with a powered hose who were washing the footpath... they're keen.

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The main tourist drag did indeed lure me in, but looked much like every other tourist drag in Europe, curiously. I popped out the other end at Budapest's Central Market, a massive old building bustling with locals doing their shopping, and tourists pretending to be locals. It could have been any other market in Europe, except for a few certain things; garlic and dried chilli were more prevalent than bread; the only fish was canned fish, which there was a lot of; every part of the animal was sold. I would list all the parts to you but I didn't examine them all too carefully. There were kidneys, and a lot of other 'bits' that aren't sold in Safeway.

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I had hoped to go to the National History Museum, but November 1&2 seem to be total duds for museums. It was getting quite late in the afternoon by this stage, but I wanted to see if the Hungarian Agricultural Museum, 'Magyar Mezogazdasagi Muzeum' would be open. No such luck. But I inadvertently discovered the tourist icon of Budapest, the Hero's Square, and a lovely park as a result. After a few happy snaps of the adorable Vajdahunyad Castle, I ran back to the metro for my train to Vienna...

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Romania

Photo gallery for Romania http://www.travellerspoint.com/photos/gallery/users/hazelnutty/countries/Romania/

Bucharest

Bucharest wasn't terribly exciting- probably partly because the tourist info office was closed so I was improvising. I found a sweet old church and was completely enchanted by the streets of Bucharest's 'Toorak'. Stunning! Autumn is in full swing and everything is covered in golden leaves. Ah.

On the train from Sofia (which was heading to Moscow) the provodniks were rad. 2 blokes in long coats with a fantastic sense of humour.

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Brasov

It started bucketing down in Bucharest so I headed back to the station, and took the train to Brasov- had two minutes to spare- awesome timing. I made notes in my little notebook about what I saw. At first it was just sort of barren, open steppe, with the odd cluster of tiny, simple houses or green, thick forest. But as we went on, there were mountains, and those green birch forests became increasingly gold and then orange, until we were actually in the most beautiful place on earth. I was nearly sobbing!

The train chugged along the side of a narrow gorge-like valley, where orange leaves lay deep on every surface except the steepest parts of cliff-face. Everything was a flaming orange and gold and red- above us and every surface. Then, behind the near mountains, we started to see higher peaks, with pine forest dusted with snow! The contrast of the burning autumnal colours with the icy green and white ridges behind... my gosh.

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Sleep deprivation catching up with me, I had a little nap, obviously feeling quite safe among my 5 Romanian cabin friends, who were peacefully chattering and obviously quite awe-inspired by the scenery outside, too.

I made friends with two older women, who obviously had no English, but they fed me little chocolate waffle chunks, and then one of them read my horoscope to me out of the newspaper! I nodded sincerely as though I had understood and we both laughed and laughed.

BRASOV ('Brashowv')! My god! It is possibly the most beautiful city I have seen in my life. A true alpine town, the buildings are all very chunky and old looking, with narrow streets and old churches, all surrounded by snow-dusted flaming mountains that I can see from where I sit now.

The staff at the hostel are great, lovely place to hide from the cold tonight. As well as explaining the layout of Brasov to me in great depth, with a map, they have recommended a couple of castles in nearby towns, Sinaia in particular- have to visit that one- it looks incredible.

Man I love this place. I could spend forever here! Going to Bran Castle (Dracula's birthplace) tomorrow with 3 other girls, then I will climb the mountain that overlooks Brasov before I leave for Budapest at night.

Halloween tomorrow. People are making costumes- one girl is using a
white table cloth to dress up as garlic. Ha ha ha.

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Bran Castle, Brasov, Saturday 31 Oct

Halloween. I don't get it, but the Americans are excited. I guess that rubbed off on me a bit. Marseille is dressing up to be a garlic. Pretty alluring.

Marseille, Loui, Liz and I (2 Americans, 2 Australians, all solo female travellers) decided to go to Bran Castle, the birthplace of the infamous Dracula. With five layers on, plus hat and gloves, we marched out to the bus stop, bracing ourselves for a bloody death sometime that day.

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From Brasov, we took the 4 lei ($1.50) hour-long bus ride to the town, passing through tiny, snow-covered villages, horses and herds of sheep in the valley between two orange and white mountain ranges. Stepping off the bus, Bran Castle watched down on us from above- what a sight it is! Leaping over snow-piles and puddles, we climbed up, where so many pilgrims must have been before us.

When one imagines Dracula's Castle, images of vast, gothic buildings with staircases that stretch up towards the limitless ceiling spring to mind. In reality, Bran Castle was built by little people, for little people, so most of the doorways didn't allow for my head or chest. The claustrophobic people of the world would find the tiny corridors terrifying, but I thought it was all just very cosy, really.

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Peles Castle, Sunday 1 Nov

I was awoken at 3am by a bunch of 'bloody Australians' returning to my dorm from their Halloween celebrations. No complaints; it's always nice to hear an Australian accent. The Brazilians weren't so impressed.

It was snowing in the morning. Only enough to leave a light dusting on the tiled roofs and pine trees across the road. Very pretty. I munched on the hostel's extravagant breakfast of toast and jam while smelly ghouls and vampires stumbled out of the dorms, their gashes, dark eyes and deathly white complexions not yet removed.

At noon, I joined the bunch of seven Brazilian, English and Australian kids on a trip to Peles Castle, a scenic hour's drive away to Sinaia. The snow didn't let up at any point, and despite the air being completely still, the orange coloured leaves, too, continued to fill the cold air with life. Winter or autumn? What is this?

One of the English boys nearly killed the tour guide when she made us wait outside for another 5 minutes- can your cheeks fall off from frostbite?

The palace interior was like nothing I have ever seen before. Peterhof (St Petersburg) uses gold and paintings to stun; this place used subtle beauty, and the signs of true artistic skill and dedication to steal hearts. It was like the perfect representation of what a wonderland castle would look like. The Armoury was filled with full sets of armour, swords and guns, and the Romanian proverb on the ceiling 'nullus sinea rex/dominicus' (OR SOMETHING) meaning 'Nothing without God'. Each room was filled with stunning woodwork, and vast silk carpets, of which 'one can only make two in an entire lifetime'. In the library, there was a certain bookcase that could be pushed to lead to a secret passageway.

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There were statues representing the Four Seasons, and a room, which, as our tour guide explained, had statues of all of the elements; 'water, wind, earth, fire, and arse.' I don't know what 'arse' was meant to mean. But we Aussies thought it was a fair call. Bums are good.

After our incredible adventure into the home of Romania's old monarchs, we were kicked out into the snow again, and shuffled back up to our van. I have noticed that there are a lot of Romanian school groups visiting these historical sites- it must instil a lot of national pride in them to recognise such beautiful places as their own.

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Back home from the palace, I nibbled on some baklava, before going 'home' to pack up for the next leg of my mad little journey...

You can see some pictures on Google images: put in Peles Castle

Posted by hazelnutty 03:07 Archived in Romania Comments (0)

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