From Bucharest

Weekend Trip: Budapest

Posted by Strainu on March 06, 2013
From Bucharest / 1 Comment

Versiunea în română aici.

The road

Map

I thought I should start a series of trip reports from Central Europe with some pictures from a city-break in Budapest on December 1st (which is the Romanian National Day, making the date a bit ironic if you are a Romanian). There aren’t too many pictures because my camera passed away while being there.

Since WizzAir stopped serving the OTP-BUD trip, airline prices went up, so we decided to go by car. The trip takes about 11-12 hours unless you catch some big queue at the border crossing. We left at about 3 a.m. on fog and we arrived in a sunny Budapest, just in time to catch the afternoon rush hour. The queues were bigger that in Bucharest, but everybody (drivers, pedestrians and cyclists) was much more disciplined.


Budapesta 2012 by strainu, on Flickr
Notă: ★★★★½

Accomodation

Usually, when going through Europe I search for hotels based on recommendations or I go with the big hotel chains, which offer virtually the same services no matter what country you’re in. This time, since we were 2 pairs, we thought it was more convenient to go with a 2 room rental apartment. We chose Lord Appartments, right in downtown Pesta, 3 minutes away from the Opera. The price was 120€/2 nights (+30€ for parking). The picture above is from the street we stayed on.

If you think the parking fee is expensive, you should know that throughout downtown Budapest you have to pay for parking, and rpices are quite high (up to 430 HUF – about 1,5 €/h). Once we got there we found out that parking in weekends is free, but given that the Lord parking was covered and guarded, I’d say it was worth paying for it.

Rating: ★★★½☆

What to see (in a day and a half)

After leaving the car at the appartment, we went for a stroll in Pesta.


Troleibuz Budapesta 2012 by strainu, on Flickr


Budapesta 2012 by strainu, on Flickr


Budapesta 2012 by strainu, on Flickr

Having enough of “road food”, we went on to teste some traditional Hungarian food in Liszt Ferenc square.


Gulaș Budapesta 2012 by strainu, on Flickr


Ceva mai puțin tradițional by strainu, on Flickr

Afterward, we went for the Christmas market in front of St. Istvan’s (or John) basilica.


Budapesta 2012 by strainu, on Flickr


Budapesta 2012 by strainu, on Flickr


Budapesta 2012 by strainu, on Flickr


Budapesta 2012 by strainu, on Flickr

From there, you can quickly reach the Danube…


Budapesta 2012 by strainu, on Flickr


Budapesta 2012 by strainu, on Flickr

The next day, due to the cold and the limited time, we decided to take one of the many tourist bus lines. Since we wanted to pay by card, we got a “bonus” walk to the company’s headquarters in the inner court of a beautiful Art Nouveau building.

Budapesta 2012

Budapesta 2012
Opera din Budapesta by strainu, on Flickr

The bus leaves from the center on Andrassy st., the ex-central boulevard of Pesta, then reaches the Millenium square. The audioguide is available in 20 languages, including a very good Romanian, much over other audioguides I’ve used.
Budapesta 2012

Piața Millenium Budapesta 2012

We were feeling courageous, so we went to the (uncovered) top floor – and freezed badly 😀

Budapesta 2012

After half an hour, we crossed one of the bridges to Buda and we were getting near the Fisherman’s Bastion…
Budapesta 2012

Budapesta 2012

The look from below is cool, but the panorama from the Bastion is much more attractive. The curch in the back is called St. Stephen and it deserves the detour, even if it’s not comparable to the churches in other imperial capitals of Europe.

Below you can find some images from around the Castle.

Budapesta 2012

Budapesta 2012

Budapesta 2012

Budapesta 2012

Budapesta 2012

Budapesta 2012

The initial plan was to also visit the inside of the castel, but it was already getting pretty late so we decided to move on. The buses’ course would go on to the Citadel, a fortification used during the Second World War. Today you will find a wax museum inside.

Budapesta 2012

You could get on the cannons from the yard and even look through the optical targeting system. Pretty cool, no?

Budapesta 2012

At the far end of the Citadel there is a huge statue visible from the whole city of Pesta.

Budapesta 2012

Back in Downtown:

Budapesta 2012

An interesting church, build on a street corner:

Budapesta 2012

Budapesta 2012

And a detail:
Budapesta 2012

The last few hours of daylight were dedicate to a small cruise on the Danube. The ticket was a combo with the panoramic bus, and the cruise has several stops from where you could visit various parts of the city. We wanted to see the Margaret Island, but the winter schedule meant that we only caught the last cruise of the day. At least we had the chance to catch some nice puctures at sunset. The camera was beginning to fail, so between pictures I had to warm it up under my jacket.

Budapesta 2012

Budapesta 2012

Budapesta 2012

Budapesta 2012

Budapesta 2012

Budapesta 2012

Budapesta 2012

Budapesta 2012

We had our diner at a medieval restaurant called Sir Lancelor. It looked much like the Excalibur restaurant from Bucharest, except it was bigger and it had much more entertainment (theater, fire eaters etc.). The effect of the entertainment on the slightly drunk tourists was quite funny, but I guess it was also pushing them to more eating and drinking.

The food also felt less medieval than in Bucharest. The menu contained plates such as bananas with meatballs in a doughnut-like shell (no idea what they’re called) which would have been difficult to prepare in the Middle Ages.

Amenajări Sir Lancelot

Budapesta 2012

Budapesta 2012

Sunday morning we went back on Andrassy str. and on the the eastern exist of Budapest. The neighborhoods further from the center have been very much influenced by communism, looking very much like their counterparts from Prague or Bucharest.

Budapesta 2012

Budapesta 2012

On the way to Bucharest we stopped in Deva to eat at the Ceapa Roșie (“Red Onion”) restaurant. The last time we were there we were impressed with the service and the food and we were eager to share this “secret” with the friends that accompanied us. Unfortunately we were bitterly disappointed this time – the food was terrible and the waitress seemed bored to an in inch of her life. If you have other recommendations from the area, please leave a comment – we would love to knon a good restaurant in Hunedoara county.

Budapesta 2012
Rating: ★★★★½

Would I go back?

Definitely! As a former imperial capital,Budapest has those dignified looks of the 19th century that make one want to explore it for much more than an weekend.

Alternatives

Any City Break in Europe will be just as good – find a cheap plane ticket and go for it. Closer to Bucharest you have Vienna or Bratislava. If taking a plane, go for Prague or Warsaw.

Overall Rating: ★★★★☆

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Veliko Tarnovo Sound & Light Show

Posted by Strainu on October 14, 2010
From Bucharest / No Comments

You HAVE to see it if you go through the area…

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Extended Weekend: Băile Tușnad (more stuff)

Posted by Strainu on June 17, 2010
From Bucharest / No Comments

Versiunea română aici.

I told you last year about the wonderful time we had at Băile Tușnad. This year, we decided to return to that part of the country to run and to do some hiking. You will find the practical information in the older article, so I won’t return to that.

Zona Tusnad - Sf. GheorgheMasivul Puturosu

There are a whole lot of trails in the volcanic mountains around Tușnad (see the maps above), but since we only had a half-day at our disposal, we decided to concentrate on two parts: Tinovul Mohoș (the Mohoș Marsh) and Masivul Puturosu (Puturosu -Smelly- mountain) with its sulfurous caves and its own Marsh, called Buffogo.

Tinovul Mohoș is a “reversed marsh”, as the guide put it: at the last volcanic eruption in the region, a layer of solidified lava landed on a lake. On this layer, small plants began to grow, forming an ever thicker layer of soil. The soil is much like a sponge – if you step on it, a hole appears, wPlanta carnivorăhich quickly fills with water. Depending on its thickness, different plants can grow on it: at the edge of the lake grow real trees, while in the middle only small pines and flowers can survive. What’s interesting is that one of the species of plant here is carnivore (see the photo on the right). The small drops on it are the poison that dissolves the insects it consumes.

The access to this area is only allowed with a guide. The tours leave every hour and cost 3 RON (1,5 for children). Consider another 5 RON/car for parking.

The other area we visited is accessible from the Best Western hotel in Balvanyos. Take the road from Bixad to Sf. Ana, but instead of turning left at the crossroad, turn right and go for another 2 km, then park at the hotel. From there, just follow the track marked with a blue circle (see the second map above). It will take you to all the interest points on that mountain.

Unlike most of the peaks around it, Puturosu Mountain (1143 m) is formed mostly by sedimentation, with some areas, like the 60m wall near the Sulfurous Cave, where magma intruded during the last volcanic eruption.

The gas emanation from the mountain are the southernmost appearance of the volcanic elements in the Carpathians. Unlike other similar emanations, this one does not only contains carbon dioxide, but also hydrogen sulfide, which is responsible for the yellow deposits on the walls of the caves – see the images below. The gas is present to about 1m from the ground (as high as the color on the walls 🙂 ), and it has an almost instantaneous effect if you go below that height.

If you take the trail around the mountain clockwise, the first cave is also the most famous one, called simply “The Sulfurous Cave” (the first image from the left). It’s an old sulfur  mine. When smelling the level of gas, one can’t help wonder how were the miners surviving in that hole?

Peștera sulfuroasă20100606-IMG_3216Tinovul Buffogo

Going forward around the mountain, you will get to a second cave, called Timsós Cave (the image from the middle). This one has a smaller opening, but is much deeper, and it goes down vertically, which means it is filled with poisonous gas.

From there on, the trail becomes very narrow and slippery. People with fear of heights should avoid it. During rainy periods, you should be well prepared if you are going that way. If you’re unsure, it’s better to go back and take the other way around the mountain.

If you continue, you will end up going to a forest so dense it will remind you of all the jungle movies you have ever seen. 🙂

In the end, you will reach a new crossroad. If you go to the left, you return to the hotel. It’s much more interesting to go forward, to the Buffogó Marsh. This is much smaller than Mohoș Marsh, but the water is much closer to the surface, and there is no guide. This means that you will end up full of mud, but it’s also much more fun.

The flowers in the Marsh are the same as in Mohoș, but a striking difference are the gases that escape from the water, making it look like it boils (the picture from the right).

After you’ve had enough of the mud, go back to the crossroad and take the trail back to the hotel. On the way, don’t forget to stop by the Birds’ Cemetery and the Killer Cave.  The cemetery is a valley filled with gas, where many birds, but also mammals have died. The Killer Cave, just next to it, is the biggest of all the caves on the mountain. It’s called Killer because there is no sulfur deposit on the cave walls, which means there is no warning on the gases inside. You can still see dead bats inside if you have a light with you.

From now on, the rest of the road is just going around the mountain and ending at the hotel.

At the end of the trip, you can return and enjoy a panorama of the Sf. Ana lake:

Panoramă Sf. Ana

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Extended Weekend: Prague

Posted by Strainu on June 11, 2010
From Bucharest / 3 Comments

Versiunea română aici.

The road
Map

Because we are talking this time about a more distant destination, the transport will be made by plane. The Czech airlines, CSA, has 2 flights daily from Bucharest Otopeni to Prague Ruzyne, one early in the morning and one in the afternoon. Prices are usually pretty high, but you can get a “City break” package from tourist agencies at excellent prices (for details, see the accomodation section below).

From the airport, there is a bus to the nearest metro station, which costs 26 CZK (the usual fare for Prague). From there, the metro should take you anywhere your hotel is.

Rating: ★★★★½

Accommodation

The best price to visit Prague is by choosing a “City Break” offer from tourist agencies. All of them sell the same package, from OK tours, which start from 199 EUR for flight + 3 nights in a hotel + breakfast. Of course, prices vary by the hotel. The hotels in the offer are:

  • Hotel OLYMPIC TRISTAR ***
  • Hotel ORION ***
  • Hotel SIBELIUS ***
  • Hotel U KRIZE ***
  • Hotel CHRISTIE ****

We chose the Olympic tristar, which is a little far from downtown, but with excellent public transport access. The building itself is a “classical” communist block, much like Romanian University dormitories, with small rooms and old furniture.

However, the rooms were clean, there was a TV and shower in the room and the breakfast was decent.

Rating: ★★★★☆

What to see

There is a whole lot to be seen in Prague, except the major tourist attractions. You should go through the more modern neighborhoods, like the 18th century buildings around the television tower with kids climbing on its side. They give you a different perspective on the city than the downtown. Or perhaps you would want to go follow on the footstepts of Kafka, the famous Czech writer, or the infamous soldier Svejk.

Turnul de televiziuneDSC07381

Of course, you shouldn’t miss the Prague Castle, the Jewish quarter (where you will find quite a few different nations actually, perhaps more than in other parts of the city) or Staré Město (the old city), including the astronomical watch.

Castelul PragaCeasul Astronomic

The Carol Bridge is a city on it’s own, with it’s many painters and souvenirs vendors. It is also the place to start if you are looking for a river trip. They’re a bit expensive compared with other European cities, but it’s well worth it. I recommend the small wood boats from Carol’s bridge instead of the large, impersonal metal boats that depart from other places on the river.

DSC09073DSC07536

On the other hand, you should avoid the museums, as they are unusually empty. For instance, the National Museum is a monster building, but the permanent exhibition would probably fit in the Military Museum from Bucharest.

DSC07562DSC07415

Rating: ★★★★★

Alternatives

Wien and Budapest seem likely replacements for those of you who already know Prague. The Hungarian airline, Malev, has an offer much like CSA’s, but the price is a little bit higher.

Overall Rating: ★★★★½

Links

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Weekend Trip: Buzău – Meledic, Muddy Volcanoes, Siriu Dam, Eagles’ Lake

Posted by Strainu on October 28, 2008
From Bucharest / No Comments

The road
Map

The quality of the roads on our path are very different. Until Buzău there is a European road, with 1.5 lanes. No problems there, most of the slower drivers go on the emergency lane, so you can overtake them without passing the middle of the road. Beware of the fixed and mobile radars.

From Buzău up until 10 km from the Meledic Plateau, the road is narrow, but in pretty good state. The same can be said about the road to the Siriu Dam.

The rest of the way is bad to desastrous. You have everything from country tracks to (theoretically) paved roads, where the asphalt is just a distant memory. If you want to get to the Live Fire (near Meledic), I strongly recommend a 4×4, even if any car will get you there if you hate it hard enough. 😛

Rating: ★★½☆☆

Accommodation

You can find hotels in Buzău and cabans and local homes on the rest of the road. The prices range from affordable to medium, but the quality is poor to none.

Rating: ★☆☆☆☆

What to see

Starting from Buzău, you can go to the Meledic plateau, home to some interesting salt formations, several salt caves (which hold some length records) and the only sweet water lake in the world to be formed on a salt mountain.

MeledicMeledicMeledicMeledicMeledic

From there you can go to the Muddy Volcanoes. It’s perhaps the best known tourist attraction in Buzău County. Beware not to fall in one of them. 😛 They’re not hot, so you’ll probably survive (if there is someone to pull you out), but you’ll have to be hosed before the mud dries.

Vulcanii NoroioşiVulcanii Noroioşi

The Siriu dam is one of the biggest rockfill dams in Romania. It’s placed on the Buzău River, near Siriu. From there, you can escalate the Podu Calului, Siriu and Monteoru mountains. It’s also the starting point to the shortest road to the Eagle’s Lake.

Barajul SiriuBarajul Siriu

Rating: ★★★½☆

Alternatives

A weekend at Horezu, in Oltenia, could be more to your liking.

Overall Rating: ★★½☆☆

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Weekend Trip: Transfăgărăşan and Bâlea

Posted by Strainu on October 04, 2008
From Bucharest / No Comments

Versiunea română aici.

The road
Map

The fastest way to get to Bâlea from Bucharest is through Piteşti, Curtea de Argeş and Transfăgărăşan (DN67). However, we wanted to go all the length of the Transfăgărăşan, so we went through Braşov, then on DN1 to Sibiu, and we turned left on DN67 near Cârţişoara.

To return from Bâlea, we continued over the mountains to Curtea de Argeş, Piteşti and finally Bucureşti.

The roads are all right, if we ignore the never-ending works on DN1 between Braşov and Sibiu. DN67 is in excellent condition considering the fact that it’s a mountain road closed for 5 month a year.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

Accommodation

If you want to sleep at Bâlea, your best chance is to bring a tent with you and hope it doesn’t rain. If you’re not the nature type, there are 2 cottages at the lake and 1 hotel at the waterfall.

Rating: ★☆☆☆☆

What to see

Some of the trails can be dangerous, and some are closed during winter. You should always have proper equipment and respect the warnings signs. It’s for your own good! If you need help, you can call 0-SALVAMONT (0725826668 – the mountain rescue HQ) or 112 (emergency services).

If you come from DN1 like us, you can leave your car at the Bâlea Cascadă hotel (you can’t miss it, there are lots of cars around). From there you can go to the lake by foot (only if you’re in good shape) or by cable. The ticket is 15 lei. By foot, there are 3 different routes: 2h30, 3h30 and 4h30 long.

Once you get to the top (over 2000m), you can admire the glacial lake and the impressive mountains around it. If you still feel up to it, you can go on another trip, for example to the Capra (Goat) lake.

When you’re done exhausting yourself, you can continue through the tunnels to Muntenia. If there is still time, you can stop in Curtea de Argeş to see the remains of the first capital of Valachia.

BaleaBaleaBaleaBaleaBaleaBaleaBaleaBalea

Rating: ★★★★½

Alternatives

From Râmnicu-Vâlcea you can go left in DN67 to Târgu Jiu and visit some monasteries and some caves.

Overall Rating: ★★★☆☆

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Weekend Trip: Sibiu and the Olt Valley

Posted by Strainu on September 23, 2008
From Bucharest / No Comments

Versiunea română aici.

The road
Map

To get to Sibiu from Bucharest you need to follow the A1/E81 to Piteşti (115km), pass on the newly built ring road and continue on the E81 to Râmnicu Vâlcea (68km), Cozia (17km) and finally Sibiu (90km), for a total of about 200km. The road is quite good, except for some parts of Dealu Negru where the road has collapsed and is currently being rebuilt. From Cozia to Sibiu there are another 100km of not-so-good roads. There are also some sections where the circulation takes place on 1 lane, controlled by traffic lights.

The trip takes about 4 hours without speeding. You could probably do it in 3h15-3h30 with a radar detector.

If you go by train, the trip takes about 5h30 and costs from 45 to 60 lei.

Rating: ★★★½☆

Accommodation

Accomodation in Sibiu is expensive and quite bad. I can’t really recommend any place, except the Old Town Hostel. It would be much better if you searched for hosting in the villages near Sibiu. You could try getting some hosting from Antrec, the Romanian branch of Eurogites.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

What to see

The pedestrian area of Sibiu is interesting. You can see numerous old houses from the 16th and 17th centuries. Piaţa Mare and Piaţa Mică (The Big and Small squares) are linked by small streets and stairs. In the same area you can find the famous Podul Minciunilor (The Liars Bridge).

All the city’s museums are there: the Bruckental Museum, the historical museum, the Lutheran Church, etc. The Towers and citadel, which limit the old town are also nice to visit.

If you’re in town for a little longer, you might want to visit the Astra Museum, near Sibiu.

DSC04763DSC04755

DSC04760DSC04754

Rating: ★★★★½

Alternatives

From Râmnicu-Vâlcea you can go left in DN67 to Târgu Jiu and visit some monasteries and some caves.

Overall Rating: ★★★½☆

Links

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