Friday, September 28, 2018

Hungary, Romania and Bulgarian – July/August 2018
The train from Vienna arrived in Budapest about 12:30 p.m.  I walked to the Hotel Star Inn where our Intrepid group would meet that evening, dropped off my luggage and headed to the center of town.  Stopped in a nice square and had a slice of the delicious walnut filled Ezterhazy cake and then walked across the stone bridge to the buda side past the Matthias church but it was closed.  We all met at 6 p.m. for our orientation meeting and then I walked back to October 6 and SAS Street for a delicious salmon salad with arugula and peppers at Café Kor.

Met the group in the morning for our orientation walk around Budapest.  I had been there before but it is always nice to get another point of view.  Our guide, Claudia, is from Romania and really nice.  Afterwards I walked across the yellow bridge to Margaret’s Island and enjoyed the beautiful fountains, Japanese gardens, the open woods, etc.  It was really lovely.  Stopped by Szazeves, the 100 year old restaurant to see its charming interior and then stopped again for another delicious piece of 7 layer Ezterhazy cake before heading to the Jewish quarter.  Peeked into a few “ruin pubs”, i.e. fuge Udvar in the historical Ghetto area.  They are part of Budapest’s lively nightlife and most started out in condemned buildings, old warehouses, etc. and are filled with flea market furniture, etc.  Great fun for the young!

Was able to get the last tour of the great synagogue, the largest Jewish house of worship in the world outside of NYC.  On the patio, there is a holocaust tree of life memorial which presides over the mass graves of those murdered by the Nazis.   Had a few minutes to see the museum of lamps, torahs, etc.  Very moving…

Enjoyed a delicious dinner outside at Menza near the hotel, i.e. warm goat cheese salad with walnut bread croutons and warm chocolate torte with ice cream.

After breakfast we took the train to Eger and had an orientation walk around the town.  Stopped for lunch at Macok with a few others and had delicious dishes.  I had perch-pike with cauliflower puree and a couple others had rabbit with sweet potato puree.  All beautifully presented.  Wandered up to the castle and around the little streets, had an ice cream and then returned to the hotel.  Later we all went wine tasting as the area is very well known for its unique wines.

Took the bus in the morning to Debrecen where we stopped for a couple hours to explore Deri Square with its fountains, colorful buildings and golden great church.  Stopped at a café for apple strudel and coffee before continuing by train and then private mini van across the central plains into the Maramures region of Romania.  It was a very long drive.  We stayed the night at Ramona’s guesthouse where she fixed us a delicious dinner of pork chops, mashed potatoes, cucumber/tomato/feta salad and nut cake for dessert!

After a nice breakfast a mini van picked us up and we were off to see the countryside.   First stopped to visit a number of wooden churches of quite unique design.  Also visited the sighet prison, located in the town of Sighetu, which was used by Romania to hold criminals, POWs and political prisons. You can look at the former prison cells which housed some of Romania’s foremost intellectuals; some of the cells have turned into exhibits on the history of the prison and communism.  A very worthwhile experience.  Stopped for an apple strudel and espresso before continuing on to visit an old grain mill, textile mill and place where they make plain and blueberry liquor which we sampled while our guide played the fiddle and our host the drums.  It was lovely.

Last stop was the Merry cemetery in Sapanta.  It is famous for its colorful tombstones with naïve painting describing, in original and poetic manner, the people who are buried there as well as scenes from their lives. 

Ramona’s dinner that night was mushroom fritters, soup with dumplings, cabbage rolls stuffed with meat and chocolate cake with coconut.  Not quite as wonderful as last night’s meal but good all the same. 

After breakfast we headed to Transylvania, stopping for a couple hours in Bistrita situated on the bistrita river.  I visited the Evangelical church tower and wandered around the town a bit before stopping at a little café for apple strudel and coffee.  Walked up to the synagogue but it was closed…On to medieval Sighisoara, a world heritage site famed as the birthplace of Vlad Dracul III, better known as Vlad the Impaler, whose name was the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s iconic Count Dracula.  Took an orientation walk around the old town, surrounded on all sides by fortified walls.  Afterwards I walked down to the village below to see the unique houses.

Dinner at Casa Georgius Kraus in the downstairs “cave” was delicious, i.e. duck breast salad with arugula and sundried tomatoes and apple pie with custard sauce.

Delicious breakfast with watermelon for a change.  Walked to the clock tower and enjoyed the museum of unique furniture, etc. on each floor as you climbed to the top.  Walked up through a tunnel to the church on top of the hill and then we all met at the hotel and drove to the small village of Viscri originally inhabited by Saxons.  An idyllic little village of red tiled roofs, it is a world heritage site, virtually unchanged for 900 years.  Homestay in a nice little guesthouse.

Once settled we visited an old church and museum nearby and then took a horse cart to the home of the brick maker to learn how bricks are made.  Delicious dinner, all of us eating at one big table outside on the patio, i.e. bean soup, potatoes with mushroom sauce, cabbage salad and peach cake for dessert.

After a simple breakfast we drove to the 13th century Saxon city of Brasov once a major medieval trading center.  Orientation walk and then free time to wander along the pedestrian street, etc.  Found a lovely café for cheesecake and espresso and then spent some time in the folk art museum and the art museum next door.  Walked up to the first Romanian school house and was enchanted with its old benches, chalkboard and even the first printing press where the school books were printed. 

Later that night we heard an organ concert in the black church, Romania’s largest gothic church.  I was so taken by the music that I forgot to look around at the rich collection of Anatolian carpets!!!  Dinner together at a nearby beer hall which was rather uninspiring…

Delicious breakfast of crepes with jam and warm mini croissants before taking the train to Bucharest.  After an orientation walk around this very cosmopolitan city visiting many of the ancient churches, the old part of town, etc. we picked up pastries for lunch and then returned to the hotel.  Later in the afternoon a few of us took a fabulous guided tour of the Palace of Parliament, the second largest building in the world (after the Pentagon) with its 3,000 rooms and 4,500 chandeliers covering 330,000 square metres.  Incredible carpets, staircases, etc.  WOW!!!

Had a lovely dinner at Kane Restaurant, i.e. duck sous vide with cherries and roasted beets, chocolate mousse cake and a glass of wine.  Had thought about taking the metro but as it was raining I just took a taxi back which was sooo much easier!

Delicious breakfast of mini croissants and mini pains au chocolat and then said good-bye to a couple people who were leaving this part of the tour.  Will have a room to myself for the rest of the trip!!! 

Took a long walk up to Muzeul Saturlut (Villge Museum), an
open-air ethnographic museum located in the Herastrau Park, showcasing traditional Romanian village live.  It contains 272 authentic peasant farms and houses from all over Romania.  Unfortunately, it was closed for the day but there was a camp going on so I was able to talk my way in and spent a couple hours seeing the houses from the outside and peeking in the windows!!! 

Stopped by a little French bistro for chocolate mousse cake with cherries and espresso and then walked to the Synagogue which was closed but I will be able to visit tomorrow before we leave.

Took a taxi to Fishhouse and had a lovely dinner, i.e. grilled octopus with potatoes and chicory and cheesecake with berries outside on the patio.  Started to rain just as I finished so returned by taxi.

Took a walk in the morning to the great synagogue with its beautiful chandelier – so glad it was open.  Wandered around the Armenian quarter, unique to Bucharest.  Took a train to Veliko Tarnovo, a very quaint little town with its cobbled stone streets, etc.  Only had time for a quick look around before meeting for dinner at Restaurant Shtastliveca overlooking the water.  We sat upstairs and everyone seemed to enjoy their meal.  I ordered duck which was very disappointing but everything else looked pretty good!!!

Picked up an apple pastry and coffee for breakfast and then had our orientation walk.  First stop was the Tsarevets Fortress, the former seat of the medieval tsars which boasts the remains of more than 400 houses.  We wandered around the ancient ruins, walked along the fortress walls and up past the palace ruins to the top of the hill where we visited the church of the Ascension with its very stark modern interior and dramatic murals painted by Teofan Sokerov in 1985 (not to everyone’s taste…). 

At 11:00 a.m. I joined a walking tour which told of the history of Bulgaria as we walked though the old city, stopping at interesting old Renaissance houses, handicraft workshops, etc.  Stopped for lunch at Ego and had a Greek salad and some warm pita bread and then wandered down to the Sarafkinata kashta house-museum, an example of Bulgarian architectural masterpieces from the period revival.  In the museum are displayed costumes, handmade cloths, jewelry as well as objects relating to everyday life.

Later I walked down to the tourist information office and across the bridge to the Asenevtsi monument representing the four kings of Bulgaria who have ruled while Veliko Tarnovo used to be the capital.  There is also a little park nearby.   On my way back I stopped for dinner nearby, i.e. grilled trout, grilled vegetables and chocolate tart for dessert.  Delicious!!

Took a local mini bus in the morning to Plovdiv, an ancient city.  Had some free time before our orientation walk so I walked to Kapana and then the old town to get a feeling for the city.  Orientation walk was really good highlighting some of the old parts of the city, etc.  Dinner at Memory where we sat outside.  I had a roasted eggplant salad with tomatoes and tapenade and a warm chocolate soufflé cake.

In the morning I walked to the Kapana area to visit the mosque and one of the great churches on the way up to the amphitheatre where we would see a performance later that evening.  On to the old town to visit some of the museums starting with the Ethnographic Museum, a national revival building filled with lots of interesting things used in the 19th century, folk costumes, musical instruments, etc.  Walked down the street of crafts to the balabanov house containing a lot of nice contemporary art as well as being a beautiful mansion on its own. 

Wandered through the stone gate to the small basilica, built in the second half of the 5th century, with its colorful mosaic floors.  Walked back to Kapana to Atlas where I enjoyed a great lunch, i.e. roasted pumpkin salad with cheese and pumpkin seeds and chocolate tart.  Strolled through the lovely park nearby with its beautiful fountains, lakes and statues and then we all met at the hotel to walk to the amphitheatre for the folk dancing show where several countries, i.e. France, Georgia, Slovenia, etc., were performing.  It was really good. 

Walked into town in the morning and then we took a mini bus to the bear sanctuary, home to rescued dancing bears.  On to Bkansko set at the base of the majestic Pirin mountains and a ski resort in the winter.  Orientation walk down the cobbled streets, passing the stone houses to the Church of Sveta Troitsa to see its famous frescoes.  Stopped by the big, wooden “washing machine” and then listened to a pre concert on the outside stage.
Had a delicious meal at Matsurevhan out on the patio, i.e. grilled trout, grilled eggplant/zucchini/onions/pepper and a unique biscuit dessert famous in the city.

After breakfast we took a gondola up to the Pirin mountains and spent a couple hours hiking which was really lovely.  Visited Pavel Rekznicek’s (a famous poet) house with murals of the revolution and pictures of him as a young man.  He was shot for political reasons…The house has three rooms where he lived with his mother.  Stopped for a delicious lemon tart across from Matsurevhan before heading to the little village of Gorno Draglishte where we stayed at a guesthouse.  Orientation walk around the town and then a delicious home cooked dinner, i.e. vegetable soup with homemade bread, potato/cabbage phyllo pie, zucchini with cheese and yogurt sauce, cabbage/cucumber salad and carrot “cake”.  Afterwards we all dressed in traditional Bulgarian costumes and danced outside together to music.  Great fun!!

Early breakfast, arriving at the Rila Monestery, the largest and most famous Eastern Orthodox monastery in Bulgaria, about 11 a.m.  The main church has five domes, three altars ad two side chapels.  On of the of the most precious items inside is the gold-plated iconostasis, famous for its wood-carving.  There are frescoes on all walls and the church is also the home of many icons.  Also visited the museum nearby with its beautiful breast crosses, small silver ones and a wood carved cross with miniatures carved out of wood.  Took a walk down to the cemetery and than had a piece of chocolate cake at the little outdoor café overlooking the stream.

On to Sofia.  Orientation walk gave us a good feel of this enormous city and a good idea of what to see on our own.  Our last dinner together at Hadijidraganov’s.  I had the chicken shish kebab with tomato/cucumber/feta/olive salad and it was really good.  Will now have a few days on my own…

Delicious croissant in the morning with honey and then walked to the covered market across from the mosque.  Met a group near the square for the walking tour and the guide was very informative about the city.  Went into the Aleksander Nevski Cathedral built between 1882 and 1912 in memory of the 200,000 Russian soldiers who died fighting for Bulgaria’s independence during the russo-turkish war.  Also visited the Sveta Sofia church, one of the capital’s oldest.  Went down into the subterranean museum housing an ancient nectropolis with 56 tombs and the remains of four other churches.  Very interesting!!

Stopped by the nearby Café Wien and had a lovely chocolate pistachio torte with pistachio sauce and an espresso, listening to Viennese music.  A nice break.  Returned to the hotel to pick up my bags and walked to my airbnb about 30 minutes away.  Met my hostess at the door and we walked upstairs and into an absolutely lovely flat.  One of the nicest airbnb I have ever stayed in.  She explained what was nearby, where I could get delicious pastries in the morning, etc. and had even picked up a delicious leek and onion baguette for me!  Then I was on my own.  Took a nice hot shower, add my delicious baguette and “regrouped” for a bit…Later that evening I walked to “Made in Home” for a delicious dinner.  A cute little house with tables in every room.  It was delightful!!  I had a warm goat cheese salad with quinoa, crackers, dried cranberries, walnuts and pepper pieces followed by a chocolate caramel tart.

Found the Furna Café nearby in the morning and had a delicious leek and onion baguette like I had yesterday with espresso for breakfast.  Walked to the open-air market nearby and to the synagogue and then spent a few hours in the Ethnographical museum with its regional costumes, crafts, etc.  Stopped by Made in Blue for a chocolate tart and espresso before heading back to the airbnb.

Later that evening I took the metro to Chefs restaurant and it was about a 10 minute walk from the metro stop.  Had such a wonderful meal, i.e. octopus with carrot puree and cheesecake with apricot sauce.  Very peaceful atmosphere. 

Furna for a chocolate croissant and then wandered around the ladies market filled with great fruits and vegetables.  Stopped by the Sveta Nedetya church, an Eastern Orthodox medieval church that suffered destruction through the ages and has been reconstructed many times.  On to the National Gallery of Art, occupying most of the historic and imposing edifice of the former royal palace of Bulgarian and filled with interesting Bulgarian art.  Stopped again at the Café Wien for chocolate cake and espresso and then walked to the doll museum but unfortunately it was closed…It is on ul.Tsar Samuli which is filled with art galleries so I wandered along enjoying what I could. 

Had dinner At Made in Blue which was a bit disappointing, i.e. strange sunflower nectarine salad, sweet potato wedges with blue cheese and figs and blueberry cheese cake for dessert.  Walked up to the Delta Blues Bar and listened to some great blues for about an hour…

Furna for a fig and cheese pastry and then walked to the 500 Bulgarian Art Museum and spent a couple hours there.  There are some 1,700 artworks from the gallery’s rich fund of over 42,000 museum pieces by Bulgarian and foreign artists exhibited in 28 halls on four levels.  The Bulgarian collection dates back to the 1890s, while the greater part of the foreign collection was formed in the 1980s.

Walked down Levski Boulevard and through the park to “little things”, a cute little restaurant I had thought to have lunch at; however, due to water problems it was closed…So walked over to Made in Home and had a delicious grilled peach and burrata salad with maple syrup glaze.  Back to Made in Home for dinner again, my last meal in Sofia.  Had the excellent goat cheese salad again along with the chocolate tart.  It was awesome!

My last pastry at Furna in the morning and then walked to the metro and took it to the airport and boarded my flight to LAX.  Watched “Wrinkle in Time” and “Downsizing” on board to pass the time!  What a great trip!!

No comments:

Post a Comment