Trip Start Apr 24, 2007
Trip End Jul 25, 2007

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Flag of Poland  ,
Monday, June 18, 2007

Dear all,

We now find ourselves in Poland. The train arrived here in Krakow at 05:17 this morning following a nineteen hour ride from Sighisoara. We are staying right next to the main square in Krakow and I can hear 'the last post' being played softly in the distance.

The Hungary/Romania leg of the trip was interesting and I think we would both agree; gastronomically pleasing. Budapest is entirely lovely in the old part of the city, I think that side of the river is called Buda... or is it Pest? No matter.

Bucharest is the opposite of all these words; relaxing, attractive, quiet and organised. We were pleasantly surprised not to be mobbed at the train station by the sewer children we heard about, the authorities cunningly solved this problem by refusing entry to anybody without a ticket. The ticket office, I hasten to add, is IN the train station. We stayed in a pleasant, but hot hostel run by a Canadian family. The Mother's friendly advice on how to deal with train station staff was to just "go for it" (Try to speak Romanian); certainly optimistic, when neither of us know a word. We did have a tour of the palace, which although charmless in the extreme certainly impresses with its sheer size and exorbitance.

On our way to Sighisoara we met two girls who had been staying at the same hostel, Elina (from Finland)and Juliete (from France)- massive apologies if those are wrong at all - who were on their way to their friends Romanian wedding. Lovely and amusing people, they did make the journey seem much shorter!

Sighisoara is, I am glad to say, a pretty and distinctive town in the heart of Transylvania. The only thing lacking was a smile from anybody living there, in fact I honestly think that we didn't see a single person smile, or laugh, or even titter in the entire time we were in Romania. No joke.


P.S It turns out that sleep is well-nigh impossible on over-night trains between eastern European countries on account that the guards insist on checking your passport/tickets every 45 minutes.


I am starting to enjoy Eastern Europe's take on 'health and safety'. In Budapest whilst on a visit to one of the world's oldest zoos I was led (by one of the world's oldest zoo-keepers) into a 'walk-through' rhino enclosure. Not many people were walking. In Romania, a small village just south of Sighisoara had developed an ingenious way of saving space by placing their football pitch on a high-speed mainline railway; the tracks replacing the 'centre line' of the pitch. Chris suggested that in Romania home advantage means knowing the train timetable. At any rate this has to be the only country in the world where every kid wants to play in goal.
Budapest was a great city, and hopefully we can get some photos on of the Parliament (based on Westminster apparently), the 'Fisherman's Bastion' and the Basilica of King Stephen all of which were diversely beautiful. The later contained a vault that displayed the preserved remains of King Stephen's 'holy' right hand. Lovely.
As Chris has said Romania was a bit of a contrast; in Bucharest everything was broken and in Sighisora the taps ran brown water every time it rained. But the palace (the second largest building on the planet after the Pentagon) was truely immense. One room had a carpet that weighs 14 Tonnes and the number of rooms runs past the thousand mark.
Bucharest station was the most difficult place to buy tickets so far. Nobody speaks a word of English and my first attempt to book a train to Sighisoara ended (indeed it began) with angry Romanian women shouting at me. I returned the next day and tried again, this time in French. This seemed to catch them out and I took advantage of the brief lull in violent threats and made the reservation. Our 19-hour train journey to Krakow was made longer by the fact that we shared our compartment with a Slovak man who spoke no English and a Christian fundamentalist from Texas who seemed intent on getting us to talk to Jesus. After half a day of preaching had passed Chris cleverly feigned tuberculosis and we were able to excuse ourselves and move to an empty cabin further down the train. The Slovak man seemed annoyed that he had not thought of this.

Prague soon...Tickets please...zzz...

Nick -x-
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