A Nice Weekend in Varna

Two weeks ago I decided to visit the Bulgarian seaside near Varna. It is only 260 km from Bucharest and its beach called Golden Sand is a very popular seaside resort. And it’s super cheap, too!
So I had the luxury of a 4 star hotel with sea view and a nice, warm and sunny weather.
I always prefer holidays in the mountains but now as I caught sight of the endless blue water and the peacefully foaming waves I had to grin like a kid.

Golden Sand Beach, Varna, Bulgaria
Peaceful sea
Grinning like a kid

I took a long walk along the beach and couldn’t escape noticing that everything here is set for German tourists. They even had a nudist beach, sorry, no pictures!

Trabi-table in the Beerkönig
The Bierkönig himself!

I saw some pretty interesting sculptures on the beach:

Shower on the Beach
I guess the head was originally on the neck

Some beach painters were working hard, this one on a cat picture!

There’s a lively night life as well, the lights are cool and I could even watch a fire acrobat, who dropped one of his torches and an Elvis double! He was funny!!

Bulgarian Elvis!
Caution, fire!!!
Nightlife on Golden Sand

Land of Monasteries

As long as nice summer weather lasts I’m not wasting my time during the weekends. During my drive home from my previous weekend trip I noticed an interesting looking gorge and I decided to come back here to check it out. Then I found out that the area has several Orthodox monasteries worth visiting, one of them even part of the UNESCO World Heritage.

In fact, I’m not surprised about that as the country is full of monasteries! I don’t know how many altogether but you can look around and count if you visit this site.

The first monastery I visited is situated in the village of Polovragi, right at the entrance of the gorge that caught my interest the previous weekend: Cheile Oltetului.

Cheile Oltelului – inviting to visit from far away

The church of the monastery was unfortunately closed due to renovation works so I could see it only from the outside but it was nice. It was built in the 17th century although the original church dates back to 1505. You can find out more about it here.

The church of the Polovragi Monastery

Going into the gorge soon you get to a cave that can be visited by tourists. The cave itself is 10 km long but only an 800m part is open to visitors. Fortunately, as I can imagine the devastation that is caused by the hordes of visitors. All kinds of people, most of them in their lightest summer outfit, slippers, shorts and sleeveless shirts, carrying babies on their arms … and even the part open to the public was not that easy to walk through – sometimes really slippery surface -, not to mention how cold it was inside. From what I could see in this part, I can imagine how beautiful it can be further on.

Moon-like landscape in the Polovragi cave

There are a lot more caves in the area, some of them partly open to the public. I wanted to visit one more but when I could see the masses of people waiting for the entry already an hour before the next group I changed my mind. As rain was coming in, going for a hike was not an option either so I just drove off to see some other sights.

This is how I got to a nice road in the valley of the river Cerna (pronounced sg, like tcherna), surrounded by spectacular rocky mountains! This is the most beautiful route in Romania I’ve taken so far. I’m sure to come back here to explore it a bit more.

Cerna valley from Baile Herculane

Baile Herculane is a really old bath town founded by the Romans as they discovered its natural hot springs. After the Romans had left the town was abandoned and its miraculous healing waters were rediscovered only in the late 18th century by a Viennese doctor. After that it was a popular resort but in the communist era it was neglected again. In the 70’s modern hotels were built but some of the old baroque buildings can still be seen.
The nature here is really breathtakingly beautiful.

Cerna Valley
Inviting rock face in the Mehedinti Mountains (Cerna Valley)

On my way back to the hotel I had a nice view of the Godeanu Mountains I visited last weekend.

Time to say goodbye to the mountains for today

The next day I visited some more monasteries:

Horezu Monastery – part of the UNESCO World Heritage
Bistrita Monastery, inhabited by nuns only
Govora Monastery – less visited but equally nice

In Horezu, which is also known of its famous pottery, I met this very friendly cat.

Lazy cat in Horezu – no wonder it was above 30C at 10am!

Fortunately, these birdies (shame on me I don’t know what kind but I’m sure Istvan and Pete will know at a glance) were at a safe distance sitting on the wires. (And the cat didn’t look too active either)

And finally, I was lucky to get a nice shot of this night creature having its dinner on the balcony of my hotel room in Horezu.

Dinner time!

Faces of Bucsecs

Last weekend saw me exploring the Carpathian Mountains again. This time I went to Bucsecs, a mountain area just 2 hours drive from Bucharest, just at the border of Transylvania. This area is characteristic of its enormous rock faces but I saw some other friendly faces as well!

I planned some nice hikes, going up from the town of Busteni (at 900m) to the Babele hut (2200m) with the cable car and from there I wanted to go to the nearby Omu peak (2500m) and then down to Busteni again. Unfortunately bad weather came in and after taking some pictures of the unique sandstone formations of the Babele I quickly retreated using the cable car again.

A rock face at Babele called "The Sphynx"
Another nice sandstone formation at Babele

At the top it was raining small iceballs – I’m sure there’s an English name for it, looks like my vocabulary of rain is still not extensive enough – but when I got down it changed to rain. So instead of hiking I went to see a beautiful little monastery.

Caraiman monastery with some huge rock faces in the background

On this trip I met several other ‘faces’ as well.

This cat in the shopwindow is not willing to show its face! How impolite!
This one was bribed with some crackers so I could take a picture of its face
And this one didn't need any bribe, it was nice to me
Two donkey-faces for Rachel (well, almost horses)
And a bird face for Pete and Istvan, unfortunately a bit blurred

A Visit to Dracula Land

Since work brought me to Romania for a year I use my weekends to travel around the country whenever the weather permits. Last weekend was my first longer trip and my destination was Brasov / Brassó / Kronstadt, a beautiful old city on the Southern border of Transylvania. It was a city founded by Transylvanian Saxons who were invited by the Hungarian king in the 12th century to establish crafts and trade in Transylvania and build towns.

Brasov has a wonderful location surrounded by the Carpathian mountains, some of them exceeding the height of 2500m. The very own mountain of the city is called Mount Tampa, which, with its height of 960m seems like a small hill compared to the surrounding peaks.

The Black church, mount Tampa in the background

The Black church is the symbol of the city, it is one of the most beautiful monuments in Transylvania. It was built for 100 years! It received it name after the Austrian soldiers burnt down part of the city in the 17th century. In the flames part of the church were ruined as well and its walls gained their black colour. It was renovated in the 18th century when it received some Baroque elements to its main Gothic style.

The Black church
Medieval feeling

After walking around for hours I got thirsty so I had a “small” beer and one of the most delicious dinners of my life. I could taste the very origins of Hungarian cuisine, it was better than home! I’m sure I will be back!

The city greeted me with fireworks in the evening which I could enjoy from my hotel window.

The next day I went to visit two famous castles nearby. One of them is Rasnov (Bárcarozsnyó in Hungarian) where the medieval castle is built on the top of a hill and watches over the small village. Unfortunately, I forgot to take pics from the village!

Rasnov castle

My next destination was Bran (Törcsvár) which is home for the famous Dracula castle. The castle itself was built by the city of Brasov to protect the important pass through the Carpathian mountains from invaders. But why is this the castle of Dracula? Behind the well-known vampire of this name there is a real historical person, called Vlad Tepes, an exceprionally brutal squire who used to impale his enemies, hence his name, Tepes, which means Impaler. But his original name is Dracula, son of Dracul, which means son of the dragon. His father got the name of Dracul because he was member of the order of the Dragon.

The Dracula castle from its park

The castle was given to the Romanian “mother king” Regina Maria (King Mary, who was English, by the way) for her loyalty to the country (for her efforts to unite the country after WWI – the same reason Hungary lost Transylvania to Romania). It was inherited by her daughter, Princess Ilieana who was chased away by the communist regime. Later her descendants (living in Austria) got it back from the state and they run the museum today.

On my way home I took a beautiful, panoramic road through the mountains so I had to stop several time to take pictures. I offer a prize to the first person who guesses what make the car is on the side of the road!

Oh, and before I forget: the inevitable cat picture!

Dracula cat

As you can imagine, there are some excellent climbing areas around as well as hiking routes so it’s only natural that I will be back (and not only for the food and the beer)!!!

A Lycian Canyon

My last day out took a super route with some short steep “ups”, shady woods, and enjoably easy brisk contouring leading into a huge gorge. The woods, though mixed, were mainly evergreen (to my untrained eye anyway) and included many pines. Underneath these there were thousands of tiny pink miniature cyclamen: in the UK you see much bigger versions for sale in pots, but the wild ones were rather lovely.

Miniature cyclamen - or are these normal and the flower-shop specimens mutants?

The path turned left into the canyon and went up and along the LH side (true RHS) deep inland until it was possible to cross the – now dry – riverbed and turn back towards the coast.

Looking back. The path approached L-R below the distant cliffs
In the river bed

The last section of the descent leads steeply down past a rather hippy collection of small campsites and some rather more luxurious thatched cabins on stilts, to debouch on a superb beach of round white pebbles. The beach shelved steeply so there was little floundering around in the shallows and the sea was wonderfully clear – luckily I had brought goggles so was able to join a shoal of very pretty fish for a while. After three swims, punctuated by sunbathing, I dried off my damp garments on the hot stones (and of course there was no sand to get in everything!) and sadly had to pack up.

After a steep climb uphill back to the road to catch the bus, a freshly-made herb pancake at the idally located “Mama’s” pension seemed justified. You’d think Mama would get pretty uncomfortable sitting at her floor-level oven – but I guess she is used to it.

Who needs an Aga?

The pancake was yummy and I shared some of it with:

Any trip that includes nice cats gets the thumbs-up from me 🙂

And that is that as regards holiday until 2010 🙁

Tough Hungarians in Rough North Wales

Long time ago, back in April, Istvan and Dalma planned a trip to England to visit friends and relatives and sample some superb English rock. After exchanging couple of emails with Pete and Terry we decided that our destination would be North Wales. Thanks to the hospitality of Terry and John Hollands we stayed in the Ynys Ettws CC hut. We were very impressed by how cozy and comfortable the hut was.

The warm hospitality of Terry and John was not coupled up by the weather that seemed decidedly hostile. My friends in London had warned me about the weather in Wales and unfortunately they were just too right! So not much climbing was done during the 5 days we spent there together but somehow Terry always seemed to find a dry place to visit. As we learned from him: „If you are with Terry your hands will touch rock!”

We spent our first day at Holy Head mountain and accomplished a route in very strong wind. After that John and me decided to call it quit for the day but tough Istvan and Terry did one more route!!! They said it wasn’t as windy as the first one but I know they only wanted to make us feel bad! :sarcy:

Dalma going up Stairs. Note the trousers, I'm not that fat, it was so windy!!!
Terry in Sump Direct

The next day was hopeless so we only walked up to the Idwal Slabs in pouring rain and strong wind just to have a look. Surprisingly, some people were climbing (maybe Tennis Shoe but I’m not sure any more)!!! Even more surprisingly (or not surprisingly at all knowing how tough guy he is) Istvan is still sorry that we didn’t take gear to climb because he would have fancied one of the routes but perhaps not on Suicide Wall.

Here you can see our two heroes soaking wet! Istvan is not pregnant, he’s only trying to protect his camera from the rain!!!

Monday found us at the Moelwyns (Ffestiniogg) in high winds again. As we were approaching the climb the sensible part of the team (John & me) voted for the caf and walked back leaving the crazy ones to the elements. When they came back they stated they’d had a good time but that certainly cannot be seen on Istvan’s face!!!

Unfortunately Istvan’s last day arrived too soon so Terry was looking for something that would make this day memorable. His choice was Tremadoc which proved to be an excellent one! Sunshine, not much wind, beautiful route, what more could we have wished as a finish? We did PMP, Istvan climbing with John and myself with Terry. The route was very spectacular, especially the last part, and easy enough to give me a feeling of success and confidence. This was certainly our best day.

John Hollands in Poor Mans Pooterey

We finished it in Eric Jones’ cafe where we could meet him in person! Here you can see our team in the café.

After the boys of our team had all left I still had 3 days on my own before Rachel’s birthday party to explore North Wales a bit more. So I used the only really nice day to climb Snowdon which was a perfect ending for my Wales adventures. I just couldn’t close my mouth I was so impressed by the wild beauty of the area! I took hundreds of pictures I share the two I like the most.

A seagull looking into the mist on Snowdon Peak

We definitely will return!!!

Oh, and before I forget: a friendly cat in Dolgellau for Anna and Terry!