May 2004
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Check out Weeks ending:  [1 May 04] [8 May 04] [15 May 04] [22 May 04] [29 May 04]

Week ending 1 May 04 (Bob)

Cappadocia -

Astounding Formations - Cappadocia is an area of sandstone formations that have eroded in many wonderous shapes, similar to Meteora in Greece and many formations like this that we saw in Australia.  It was a school holiday when we visited and children were everywhere, climbing all over the formations while their parents took pictures.  The so-called 'Fairy Chimneys' were the most interesting of the formations.  We were lucky to find Kaya Camping, a great caravan park, only 2 kilometers from the Goreme Open Air Museum where one can see these pinnacles.    

Underground Cities - Around  4000 BCE people started to burrow into the soft sandstone in this part of Turkey, and soon had developed entire cities in the ground.  Some were houses in the cliffs like the ones in the photo to the left. but others were were 6-8 levels cities dug into the flat ground, basically invisible from the surface.  They would provide for ventilation, water supplies, drainage, sleeping, churches, and storage - only food had to be cultivated on the surface and brought below.  By the 8th century AD they had abandoned these cities -only to be rediscovered in the 20th century by accident.  So far thirty have been found, but countless others may exist under the Turkish plateaus.

Encounter with Turkey's Finest - As we left Cappadocia we drove through Nevasehir, passed a 'Radar' sign, slowed down - but not enough.  The Police explained in Turkish that we had exceeded the speed limit and requested a $50 fine.  Bob argued, implied (incorrectly and improperly) that they were trying to rip us off and they offered to take us to the Tourist Information Center so that charges could be explained.  In the end they got their $50 (94 kph in an 80 kph zone) and we shook hands and walked away with our receipt.  They were very courteous and professional at all times, and were just doing their duty.

Ankara - missed opportunity - The capital of Turkey promised to be an interesting experience - however!!  We arrived in the afternoon and could find no caravan parks, so we parked on a scenic overlook with good views of the Ataturk Memorial.  This turned out to be the meeting place for lovers, drinkers, and perhaps worse - they kept us awake until midnight and on edge all night.  The next day we tried to find the Archeological Museum, but signage failed us and we gave up - heading out of town at 0900 unable to find any place to park; next stop: Istanbul.

Istanbul - crossroads of Asia and Europe - Friends from the sailing yacht Okura had recommended that we use the Atakoy Marina as our base while in Istanbul, so on arrival we checked in and an email had smoothed the way.  The General Manager kindly took time out of his busy day (a boat show as in progress and a yachting rally started in 3 days) and welcomed us, and had one of his people find us a spot to park for the next 3 days while we explored Istanbul.  The marina was a very professional operation with a uniformed staff, tight security, and well-protected berths.  We had a wonderful sea-front spot in their back parking lot.


Week ending 8 May 04 (Bob)

Leaving Turkey - and entering East Europe - We spent our last night in a caravan park in Edirne, a small border town near to crossings to Bulgaria and Greece.  Up early, we headed for the border to find a 10KM queue of trucks awaiting clearance to cross the border.  We are not sure which side of the border produced the hold-up, we followed cars and bypassed them all, going through 4 checkpoints on the way out in about 30 minutes.

Bulgaria - The entry to Bulgaria was what we expected from an ex-Communist country, slow, lots of stops, and only a few smiles.  After that, it got better - 2 lane roads made going a little slow, but the scenery was interesting.  As we approached a range of hills a bright glint of gold attracted our attention and we drove into a small village to find:

  • Church of the Nativity - In 1877 the Russians won a battle where we were driving, and the citizens of St. Petersburg collected money to erect a church to commemorate the event.  By 1900 a beautiful Orthodox church graced this hillside with bright colors and gold-plated domes.  It was really the first 'tourist' site we had found in Bulgaria and many travelers were visited it, taking photos, having a snack, and buying souvenirs - a very normal scene.  By the end of the day we had found an often-visited town with remnants of a medieval castle.

  • Veliko Tarnovo    We managed to drive through the main street of this cute town 3 times - once looking for the caravan park (that we never found), once to find a hotel, and a third time to approach the hotel from the proper directions.  Up a narrow street, scraping flower pots on the sidewalks as we went.  We parked beside the Comfort Hotel, but since we were leaning 10�, we blocked the 'street' and had to move - by backing 2 blocks over rough cobblestones.  Over the next day we visited the Tsar's castle that had been here since the 14th century, had wonderful meals for $4-5/person, and pawed over the souvenirs at many shops. Judi bought some fabric craft items, and Bob got a hand-made knife from the craftsman to the left. Finally we had to refill our wine cellar, and a beautiful young lady helped us do it with wine ranging from $2 to $8/bottle.
  • Summary of Bulgaria - It was a delightful surprise - the people were very friendly (have you heard that before?), roads were OK, price for meals were very low, and the food was very good.  We would definitely like to revisit this country.

Romania -  Another ex-Communist country that found itself independent after the 1989 break-up of the USSR, this one has had a little more trouble getting its act together.  The roads were bad, and bypasses around cities were abysmal.  We had decided to make tracks for the capital and found ourselves on its 'beltway', a 2-lane rutted road otherwise occupied with tractor-trailers, horse and donkey-drawn carts, and a few cars.  We followed this for 30KM, turned in the direction we thought the caravan park should be and drove smack into a McDonald's!!!.  Refreshed, and assured there were no caravan parks around, we headed towards the airport, and settled into a hotel parking lot - paying them 10 Euros for the privilege of parking in their parking lot and using their toilets. After we found an electrical plug, it wasn't too bad.

  • Bucharest - With 2 million people, the capital of Romania is another big city - with a few remnants of its past glory.  We wandered through the 'old city' with many churches, narrow streets, 2d hand stores, and some ornate buildings.  The old banks were the most impressive.  The Historical Museum had a fascinating replica of Trajan's Column, a 200' granite column with the story of Roman General Trajan's victory over the Dacians in what would later be called 'Romania'.  The original is in Rome.  We also walked to the Parliament building - a huge complex reputed to be the world's 2d largest building, after the Pentagon.  This seems quite an extravagance for a country of 23 million people, but we were to see more along this line.

  • US Air Force presence - By the way, Romania is a member of NATO, and since the hotel was under the flight path, we listened as many US aircraft, mostly large cargo planes and helicopters, took off and landed at the main Bucharest airport as late as 11 PM.

  • Transylvania -   Castles and vampires - the usual images of Transylvania.  We saw lots of the former and none of the latter.  More common were snow-capped mountains, horse-drawn carts, plows with oxen pulling them along, small family farming plots and huge fields of newly-planted grain.  People were generally somber, but often would smile if we waved.  It looks like a hard life.

  • Palaces and Castles -      Our first visit was to the Peles Palace, (right->)perhaps the most ornate palace we have seen so far on our travels through Europe.  King Carl had it built as a summer home from 1880 to 1914 and it had fabulous carved woodwork, paintings, oriental carpets, and a dining set reputed to have been carved by three generations of Indians over a period of 100 years.  All work was exquisite, and his Turkish Room reminded us of where we started this year's trip, a mere 10 days ago.  The palace must have cost a bundle - 4000 people worked on it -and this was only his summer place, so we don't know what other projects may have helped debilitate the country leading up to WWI.  We also visited Bran Castle (<-left), a medieval castle sometimes connected with Count Dracula (more later.  This was plain and utilitarian, originally intended to defend a pass along an important trade route.
  • Sighasoara - A small town with a picturesque medieval city in its center - this is where Count Vlad Tepes, the Impaler, later known as Dracula, was born.  They play this card to the max in the souvenir shops, and Bob succumbed and bought a blood-stained Dracula coffee mug, a wonderful memento to see each morning!
  • Cluj Napoca - Using El Dorado Camping as our base, we set out for the Apuseni Mountains near Cluj Napoca, and spent the day wandering through small villages, along pretty streams, and past countless small farms.  Life for these farmers seems hard, the soil is fertile but it is hilly, many toil with hand tools and animals, and long years working the soil have left many bent and walking with the aid of canes.  Most children looked healthy and many village houses sported satellite dishes, so life may be getting better.

  • Summary of Romania - Life seems hard in this ex-communist country and people were not as outgoing as Bulgaria.  The roads are mediocre but signs were good and maps are excellent - there are many beautiful places to visit, we would like to have seen more.

Week ending 15 May 04 (Bob)

Hungary - Entry into Hungary, which was our entry into the European Union, was uneventful, in fact it seemed too easy - and they did not stamp our passports which seemed strange.  But never mind, north we drove over flat farm lands and good roads that were well-sign posted.  Our one stop in Hungary was the capital city of Budapest - one of the cities on our list of 'must-sees'.  We stayed two days and managed to squeeze in:

  • A City Tour - a bus-window view introduction to the most important attractions

  • Parliament - an ornate building with 365 spires and magnificent stonework.  Inside it was just as beautiful with gilded statues and stained glass windows.  It was in remarkably good shape considering the bomb damage it sustained during WWII.
  • Fisherman's Bastion - this is a beautiful area with a collection of colonnades, spires, walls, and walkways overlooking the Danube. From our bus tour it was a remarkable structure on a hillside, but when we walked over to it we lost it and had great difficulty finding the street that would lead us to it.  At the entrance to the church that graced the center was a sign advertising the FSU Singers who would be performing the next evening - straight from the college that Bob's son is attending.

  • Chain Bridge - one of the many bridges that crosses the Danube, this is also one of the many that were rebuilt after WWII bombing.  It is reminiscent of the Brooklyn Bridge and provided a great way to return from Buda on the east side of the river to Pest on the west side.

  • Heroes Monument - In the 1890's Hungary built a monument to the heroes that had contributed to liberating and building the empire over the last 100 years.  It is a beautiful collection of statues and columns, and a reminder that a notion or empire, no matter how high or mighty, can decline in importance by virtue of incorrect political decisions.

  • Szepmuveszeti Muzeum, or Fine Arts Museum - a good collection of art of all ages, from Egyptian pieces to the Old Masters from many European countries.

  • Walk the streets - we walked the length of Andrassy St with its shops, old homes, and embassies and through the pedestrian mall with 10-15 blocks of restaurants and  souvenir shops.

Vienna, Austria - On our previous trip through Austria we had crossed from north to south without seeing the big cities.  This time we vowed to correct this oversight. Every vivid description we had ever heard about Vienna paled in comparison to reality.  A beautiful city with a palace for every taste, music for every ear, and an easy-to-master transportation system collaborate to make this a wonderful visitor's destination.  We were overwhelmed for choices and decided on:

  • A Walking Tour - three hours of commentary by Josh as we wandered the back streets and courtyards of old Vienna, with their hanging plants, beautiful churches, several of Mozart's 16 homes in Vienna, humorous wall paintings of religious rivalries, remembrances of the Holocaust, a collection of wrought iron fences - all as a counterpoint to the over-visited palaces. 
  • Our Own Walk - where we gawked at the Opera House, Hozburg Palace, Stephandom Cathedral and it seemed that every turn we found another gold-domed palace, prettier than the last one.  On Josh's recommendation we went to an exhibit of

  • Spanish Riding School - Judi had seen a write-up for this demonstration of the Lipizzaner horses and their trainers in our trusty Lonely Planet Guide. We lucked out, there was a performance the next night and we could get tickets from the ring at the Hozburg Palace without paying the Tourist Information their exorbitant 22% commission.  The show was a scene out of the 18th century in an indoor ring, with chandeliers and all of the colorful uniforms and pomp associated with royalty as the trainers put the horses through their paces.  They walked, cantered, sidestepped, jumped, reared up, and generally performed like a marching band at a football game. It was a wonderful show, although a little pricey at $60/person for a hard bench in the nose-bleed section.

Salzburg -The true Sound Of Music country, initially we bypassed the town to settle in the beautiful Bergesgaden mountains, a section of the Alps 20 miles south of Salzburg.  Our campsite had wonderful views of the snow-capped ski areas and a clear lake at the base of the mountains beckoned, but we had to press on the our date in Finland with friends we had met in NZ.

Week ending 22 May 04 (Bob)

Germany - We sped through Germany from south to north with a 2-day stop in Potsdam to bike around the town and take care of chores.  Our destination was Rostock, the port on the Baltic that would be our means for reaching Scandinavia.  We took the Superfast Ferry that zipped us at 26 knots through the night so that we covered 800 miles (2+ days of travel) in less than 1 day.

Finland - One of our major destinations for this Spring, we plan to visit Ilona and Jaska, Finnish cruising friends that we met in New Zealand when we arrived there in 1994.  They had moved on in '98 when we did, but completed their circumnavigation a year later, while we were still dawdling in Australia.  We are really looking forward to visiting this country of the 'mid-night sun'.

Week ending 29 May 04 (Bob)

Finland - This has been a wonderful surprise.  Despite all of the glowing reports that our friends Ilona and Jaska had given us over the years, we have found it even prettier than they described it.  We are beginning at the best time of year in Finland as the trees put on a new coat, the flowers come out, sailboats dot the Baltic Sea and inland lakes (despite the 10-15�C temperatures), and multitudes of people walk and bike the many pathways.  Our highlights of the week?

Visit with Ilona and Jaska -It was great to catch up with them after 6 years - they left NZ the same time as we did, but did not tarry, and were back in Finland by 2000.  We traded sea stories, went for walks in the parks of Espoo (their hometown), visited an exhibition of art by Gallen-Kallela, gawked at old schooners in Helsinki, met their daughter Hilka, and generally had a wonderful time.

The Sauna - Jaska built the sauna in their beautiful home (and many others since that is his profession), so we were introduced to it early in our visit.  With a population of 5 million people, and a reported 3 million saunas in the country, one does not have to go far to find one.  The process includes:

  • A shower

  • Ten minute periods of 60�C dry heat

  • Splashing water on the hot rocks, which creates a wave of steam that takes your breath away.

  • Flagellating the body with birch leaves to improve circulation.

  • Cooling off periods either at 12�C on the back porch or in a cold lake

  • Repeat above for 30-40 minutes

  • A cleansing shower at the end, and sip juice or a cold, well-deserved beer.

Helsinki -    The capital of Finland is a collection of islands, peninsulas, and bridges glued together to make Finland's largest city.  Several buildings are tall, but for the most part the city is scaled well for people, low government buildings, a few high cathedrals, busy waterfront, and many restaurants.  The Finlandia Center was designed by a famous Finnish architect and is a very attractive white structure.  We accompanied Ilona and Jaska to a concert at the Center one evening, and they performed several very interesting pieces, one new one with the composer in attendance. 

Porvoo -  This is a quaint town along the Baltic shore, with old wooden houses and churches.  We, like many other tourists, enjoyed the warm weather with a cappuccino on the deck of a floating restaurant.   Of course, we had to take photos of the picturesque waterfront. 


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