A Travellerspoint blog

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Overnight train to Bucharest & travel to Black Sea

Well, we took a chance with another overnight train; this one from Cluj Nopaca to Bucharest. Todd and I had lowered our expectations and we were pleasantly surprised. The cabin was slightly larger, significantly cleaner and more comfortable. We managed to have a decent night sleep and arrived in Bucharest at 7:00 am.
We had breakfast in Bucharest, but wanted to make our way to Romania's Black Sea Beaches. We chose a resort beach town called Mamaia. Apparently this is where the real action is; lots of pretty beaches, pretty people and pretty dreadful hangovers. Turns out that might be the case in the summer, but not so much in October. The beach was nice; not so many beautiful people, but definitely a few interesting characters.
We also found a very happening lively market/beer garden. Tried some local food and beer and enjoyed the music and people watching.
Headed back to our Hotel which was seriously, like something out of Stephen King's "The Shining", totally deserted, no staff around, the pool is drained, the hallways are dark, no cars in the parking lot; very, very eerie. Tomorrow we are making our way south, and crossing the border to Bulgaria.

Posted by toddllama 13:55 Archived in Romania Comments (1)

Travel day to Bulgaria

We planned on taking a bus or train down the coast into Bulgaria, however, there is no train that goes there, and the only bus doesn't leave until 4:00 pm, so rather than spend the day waiting we will still make our way down the coast, cross the border on foot and see what awaits us on the otherside. We took a cab from Mamaia (our beach ghost town) to a bigger town, Constanta, then a bus to the town closest to the Romania/Bulgaria Border, Mangalia, then a cab to the border. Todd and I then made our way on foot through the very desolate border crossing, hoping there might be some form of transportation on the other side. While there was no taxis or buses, there was, however, a VW van parked there, and a gregarious Bulgarian fellow jumped out asking if we needed transport. He was not able to take us to Varna, the Bulgarian Black Sea beach town we wanted to go to, however, he was able to take us to the nearest town (25 km away), where we could catch a bus to Varna. We arrived in Varna, but once again, much of the beach area is closed for the season. Had lunch and then grabbed a bus to Sofia (the Capital of Bulgaria). It was a long bus ride but found a great hotel once we got there (Princess Hotel).

Posted by toddllama 00:38 Archived in Bulgaria Comments (0)

Travel to Skopje, Macedonia

We got in late last night to Sofia so after wine and coffee we were both pretty whipped. We didn't plan on staying in Bulgaria long so are only stayed the one night. Bulgaria hasn't lost any of it's communist charm, thousands of worn out concrete apartment buildings and no colour. Smoking is Bulgaria's main pastime, even on the bus getting here. I'm sure I have seen a few 3 year olds with a but hanging out of there mouths! Early I walked to the bus station to buy tickets for Skopje Macedonia, our next stop. Got the tickets pretty easy so Linda and I had another couple of hours till we left so kicked back and took our time at breakfast. The bus was right on time, as usual, and took about 4 hours to get to Skopje. Once again was surprised at Skopje, not knowing what to expect. Pretty modern city with lots of young people and all dressed quite nice. There is a lot of construction going on here, not really sure what drives the economy but there seems to be no lack of money. All the hotels we checked out were really expensive, so decided on the Hotel Bristol. It wasn't until after that we looked it up on tripadvisor and the first post read "would not recommend under any circumstance". They weren't kidding, this place is a dump, and overpriced at that. But I'm not going to break the bank for one night. We escaped our hotel to explore the city's old town (that saying has got to be getting a bit old on this blog) and out for dinner, then back to the hotel.
We have an early start tomorrow and I doubt that either of us will try out the shower in the morning! Would rather smell than enter that thing. We are hoping to check out Kosovo and make it to Montenegro tomorrow.

Posted by toddllama 08:15 Archived in Macedonia Comments (0)

Travel day Skopje Macedonia, through Kosovo to Montenegro

Another big travel day today... we left Skopje (Macedonia) early in the morning (neither of us were brave enough to shower and needed to get out of the Hotel Bristol as soon as possible). Boarded a bus for Pristina (the Capital of Kosovo). Kosovo is a country with many contrasts; lots of very new development and rebuilding, but also lots of crumbling concrete buildings and monuments. Although, it was declared an independent nation in 2008, to this day, Serbia does not recognize Kosovo as it's own country which can create issues when travelling between the two countries. We've decided to spend most of our day traveling in Kosovo, but crossing the border and ending our day in Montenegro. After a brief stop in Pristina, we caught another bus to check out Peja (another city in Kosovo). We stopped for lunch and some local beer (also called "Peja"). Once again another bus, this one to take us into Montenegro. Scenery is incredible and we are starting to really enjoy the bus rides (no smoking - yay!). The border between Kosovo and Montenegro is essentially a mountain range, and the drive is stunning, tunnels carved through the mountains, lots of switchbacks, beautiful views of the towns below. A very spectacular drive. A young lady on the bus was able to translate for us so the bus driver new when to tell us to get off the bus to make our connection to Podgorica. So, the bus stopped (again, in what seemed like the middle of nowhere and we were on foot with our backpacks once again. Luckily, only a few blocks away we found the bus station. We had time for a coffee and wine, then once again back on a bus. Arrived in Podgorica (the Capital of Montenegro) in time to have dinner and relax; and a great night to sit on the patio. I ordered a pork cutlet which turned out to be the biggest pork cutlet either of us has ever seen (quite tasty though, and interesting enough, served with tartar sauce). Have to say Montenegro has been stunning so far, and tommorrow we are heading to the Bay of Kotor - I can't wait!

Posted by toddllama 08:27 Archived in Kosovo Comments (0)

Bay of Kotor, Montenegro is Incredible

Our hotel in Podgorica is definitely a step up, so with more reliable internet we have pre-booked a hotel for tonight just outside of Kotor. We finally met some Canadians on our journey at breakfast. They are here doing work for the election going on now. Good to meet some english speaking people, even though they took a few jabs at Edmonton. It was a relatively short bus ride to Kotor from Podgorica (2 hours) through some amazing mountains. Montenegro is totally mountainous right to the Adriatic Sea. Took a cab to our hotel, the Palazzo Rodomiri, a historic hotel (which used to be a Palace, hence the name "Palazzo", built in the 1700's. The Hotel Bristol this is not, very beautiful to say the least.
Palazzo Radimiri

Palazzo Radimiri

It is about 3-4 km from the town of Kotor. The receptionist told us it is a nice walk along the sea to get there, so we took her advice and left for town after checking in. It was a very nice walk and we stopped along the way for a few drinks. The Bay of Kotor actually looks more like a lake as it appears to be totally enclosed by mountains, but there must be an opening as there were 3 cruise ships in the bay. You know it, made our way to Old town, except this old town is totally enclosed by walls. It dates back to the 9th century. It has little alleys going every direction, sort of like a corn maze, and as long as you are on the inside you will never really get lost.
Stopped later to have some dinner and headed out for the walk back to our hotel. Made a deal with Linda that we could stay there if we cut out cab rides! As she wanted no more Hotel Bristols on this trip she gladly agreed. This hotel has a variety of rooms to hang out in, and we enjoyed sitting back and taking in the sites having a drink before heading of to bed.
Tomorrow we are planning on tackling the hike up to the Fortress.

Posted by toddllama 08:34 Archived in Montenegro Comments (0)

Exploring Kotor, climbing to the Fortress, Montenegro

Started out today by sleeping in a bit, needed some rest for our climb to Kotor fortress and it's great views of the bay. We had another thunderstorm roll in last night, seems every night there is a storm. After breakfast we took our walk into town firstly to buy tickets to Dubrovnik, then find the entrance to climb to the fortress. Luckily the rain has stayed away, mainly overcast with a few sunny breaks. Found the entrance fairly easily and paid 3 euro to climb up. The fortress is located straight up from old town and is steep the whole way. Took a few breaks to snap a few pictures and catch our breath. About 45 min to get to the top and a whole lot faster getting down. Give credit to the people who build things like this, I can't imagine how much effort it took to build this place. It's probably why it took so long to build, they started in the 9th century and completed in the 19th century. After getting down I decided to give Linda a break on the no taxi rule, mainly because I didn't feel like walking another 3k back to the hotel. Later we went to Ella's restaurant for dinner, I took some of my chicken back to the hotel to feed the 3 cats that hang out there. They enjoyed it very much. We are heading to bed early, as we have a 8:30 bus ride to Dubrovnik tomorrow.
Hey?! I'm eating my ice cream

Hey?! I'm eating my ice cream

Posted by toddllama 11:14 Archived in Montenegro Comments (0)

Travel to Dubrovnik, Croatia

Caught our bus this morning, right on time as usual. The buses run here like clockwork. Thank God we haven't been two minutes late yet. It was a very nice bus ride through the mountains to Dubrovnik. The two cities are only about 2 hours drive apart. First things first, we have scouted out a laundromat right by our apartment. Because we couldn't check in for a few hours it was laundry time! This is a very good thing because when you choose your clothes based on which ones smell the least, that's not such a good thing (although, we have been washing some clothes by hand along the way). One thing about Europe is it is not cheap to have your laundry done and self serve laundromats are few and far between. So this is the laundromat from heaven! Linda and I we're both happy doing the wash and eagar to put some clean clothes on. Coin laundromats are not common in these areas, this one we found was opened by a guy from Vancouver who had similar problems while travelling. It wasn't cheap, about 80 bucks to do all our clothes.
After laundry we checked into our apartment inside the walls of old town Dubrovnik. After changing we headed out for lunch and then for a walk around the walls which surround the city. Got some very nice views from the walls.
After that we headed for a drink at the Buza bar, located on the cliffs outside of the city walls on the Adriatic Sea. Unfortunately the drink was quick as a mini tornado came ripping through. It was a little scary as the waiters were trying to get people out. Later we saw the aftermath in the town as large patio umbrellas were snapped like twigs. All the cafes were cleaning up the damage that this quick storm caused. Check out where the umbrella is in one of the photos.
371924607_399221.jpg371924727_822559.jpg371924880_916626.jpgPatio Umbrella lodged up between two buildings

Patio Umbrella lodged up between two buildings

The weather calmed down later and we finished the night checking out the old town and having dinner.

Posted by toddllama 11:28 Archived in Croatia Comments (0)

Exporing Dubrovnik

It was really nice to sleep in, we've been on the road for some time now and it felt good to get a couple extra hours of snooze time in before our day of exploring. The first thing you are going to see in Dubrovnik is how beautiful it is. The second is how many tourists that there are here, lots! And, the third is just how expensive it is; significantly more expensive than anywhere else we have been. Now I'm don't think I'm overly cheap but come on, is it really worth 6 bucks for a little cup of coffee? Anyway, off we went with our city map in hand, and we still managed to walk right by the entrance for the tram that takes you up for a view of the city. Once again proves that we would probably lose if we were in the amazing race. We found it eventually and the views were amazing. Stayed at the top for a while enjoying a drink overlooking the city.
After coming down it was off to the beach located about 5 min from our apartment. Luckily the sun has stayed out all day, as yet another thunderstorm hit overnight. The beach here is mainly rocky, I managed to go in for a dip, Linda on the other hand just got her feet wet. Seems the rocks were just a little too much for her tender feet. We spent the rest of the afternoon there soaking up the nice sun.
We found a nice steakhouse for dinner, neither of us had steak but both enjoyed our meal. Got back to the apartment just in time, as you probably guessed, another storm has come in.

Posted by toddllama 01:39 Archived in Croatia Comments (0)

Day trip to Mostar, Bosnia & Hercegovina

Woke up early to the sound of rain, lots of rain. Todd and I made our way through the torrential downpour through the old town to our pick up point, as we are spending the day in Bosnia & Hercegovina. Our driver "Bobo" was a great guide. A big, gruff, burly man with lots of interesting opinions about almost everything. We crossed the border from Croatia into Bosnia and Herzegovina and stopped for pastries and coffee; which were very much needed. I was still shivering and trying to warm up from the rainstorm.
Our next stop was in a typical "Turkish" Town including a visit to an incredible mosque. Much of Bosnia was under Turkish control through the 15th century, so there is a very heavy Turkish influence here.
On the road again, and although Bobo took a wrong turn, we still managed to find our way to Mostor. The name "Mostar" means 'bridge keeper' and this city has always been an important gateway for trade. It's famous bridge, and many of it's buildings were destroyed in the 1990's during the Yugoslavian civil war. Most of which has been all rebuilt and is now a UNESCO world heritage sight.
We then went to this beautiful spot Bobo recommended for lunch; stunning scenery and great food. Explored the area a little bit then headed back to Dubrovnik.
Tomorrow we are making our way to Slovenia.

Posted by toddllama 01:53 Archived in Bosnia And Herzegovina Comments (0)

Travel day to Ljubljana, Slovenia

We made a deal with our guide Bobo to have his wife pick us up and to take us to the airport (yes, we are now flying to our next destination). Linda an I had originally planned on staying a bit longer in Croatia but the weather has really been quite unpredictable. So considering that, and the cost, and the amount of tourists here, we have decided to move on to Ljubljana (lyoob-lya-na) Slovenia. Because the distance is staggering by bus we decided to fly to Zagreb, Croatia and take a train to Ljubljana. Bobo's wife was right on time and saved us quite a bit of money to get to the airport. She was a very nice lady and explained a lot of the history of Croatia on the way to the airport. It was a lot better than taking a cab there. It was a pretty short flight to Zagreb but had to wait a few hours for the train to Ljubljana. We got into Ljubljana at about 9 o'clock. Found out quickly that this is really a nice little city. Went out walking for a bit, only to find dozens of patios right outside our hotel, which is located right on the river on a pedestrian street. Stayed out for an hour and are looking forward to exploring tomorrow.
I forgot to explain why I put the pronunciation of Ljubljana in, it seems while crossing the border between Croatia and Slovenia the Slovenian border guards gave everyone a thorough grilling. When asked where I was going I blurted out my broken english pronunciation of this city. I was so intimidated it sounded like I was talking with marbles in my mouth. Luckily they must have understood and let us travel on.

Posted by toddllama 05:01 Archived in Slovenia Comments (0)

Ljubljana, Slovenia

Our hotel here is not it's own building, but just a portion of the third floor of a historical building, now a residential apartment building, which seems kind of weird getting into. It is very nice (modern, bright, ikea furnishings) and in a great location.
We headed out late morning (seems we're not having a problem sleeping in now) to check out this city. Ljubljana actually might be the nicest place Linda and I have visited so far. Surprising, because this was to be a short stopover on our way back North. With a beautiful river running through the centre and cafes, shops, lots of trees, and pedestrian streets everywhere - you seldom have to see a car. We took the tram up to Ljubljana castle to look around a bit. Seen better, seen worse castles on this trip. Explored the market had a really good lunch (probably the best meal I've had on this trip) got lost in the university area (25% of population are students) and generally had a nice peaceful day. We visited the City Museum and checked out the "Love Padlocks" (otherwise known as Love Locks - Padlocks that are affixed to the bridge by sweethearts to symbolize their everlasting love). Ljubljana has been voted safest city in the world and we can see why. We would highly recommend Ljubljana as a place to visit, with its laid back casual feeling, and certainly has the friendliest people we have met so far. Very glad that we decided to come here.

Posted by toddllama 05:15 Archived in Slovenia Comments (0)

Restful days in Bled, Slovenia

Seems the nice city of Ljubljana has a nasty cold bug going around. Linda and I have both seemed to have caught a bit of a cold. I'm sure she gave it to me, she disagrees. Anyway we took a bus north to Lake Bled, Slovenia - to get some rest and shake this bug off. Took an early bus to Bled, about an hour and half trip. Lake Bled is the number one getaway place for Slovenians, a picturesque lake with an island with a church built on it. It seems they love to build churches in the hardest to reach places, on top of mountains or even islands. Seems to me, attendance would be better if they weren't so hard to reach. When we got to Bled we couldn't seem to agree on which way to go to our apartment, Villa Anna. As there were no taxis we went to the closest hotel to ask if they could call one. Villa Anna was only a few blocks from the bus station, the short taxi ride cost an amazing 10 euro. We still need to get better at reading maps! I didn't let it bother me too much as it was nice to get settled in for a little rest. Slovenia is the only country we have visited that has english tv channels (other than BBC & CNN), including Linda's favourite channel, Investigative Discovery. We managed to get out a few times, one for a walk around the lake, a nice 5.5k walk. Because it is off season here it's not too crowded, and the fall colours on the surrounding mountains are quite spectacular. Lake Bled also has a castle high above overlooking the lake, but we are getting all castled out and decided not to climb up to see it. Blame it on the colds or we're maybe getting a bit lazy. We checked out the town a bit and a couple of restaurants. Overall it was very nice couple days here relaxing and sipping on our tea and sucking on Halls cough drops. Good news is we are both feeling a lot better now and looking forward to our last week in Europe.

Posted by toddllama 02:02 Archived in Slovenia Comments (0)

Travel day through Austria, back to Czech Republic

Finally, finally, finally.... a first class train with first class service! Although Todd and I have 'First Class' Eurorail passes, the 'first class' is very subjective. In most of the countries we have travelled, the trains have had no first class cars whatsoever - so first class is irrelevant. Other times, there are first class cars on the train, but the term is used very, very loosely, and basically just allows you to have an assigned seat versus the usual 'free for all' that ensues in 2nd class. Other than nice scenery, the train rides so far have been less than spectacular (old trains, dirty, over crowded) and generally just a necessary means of transport rather than a luxurious part of our vacation ... until today. The standard of train service seems to differ significantly in Eastern Europe vs. Western Europe and today we are fortunate to be travelling through Austria, on our way back to the Czech Republic; we are on a "RailJet" train in first class. It's such a new train it even has the new car smell (I guess in this case, the new train smell?!). And, although there is a dining car, we also have in-seat service with an attractive rail attendant, (similar to a flight attendant), serving us meals and drinks (with real dishes, glass wear, and cutlery.) The scenery in Austria is also spectacular, even more so with all the fall colours. The only thing missing is the soundtrack to "The Sound of Music."

Posted by toddllama 02:07 Archived in Czech Republic Comments (0)

Back again in Prague

Linda was so excited about the fancy train she forgot to mention we were heading back to Prague for a short stopover and on to Cesky Krumlov in the Czech Republic for a few days. We had a bit of a problem getting into our hotel, as they couldn't find our reservation. A long travel day and Linda was getting a bit impatient with the receptionist. I sorted things out, but they could train there staff a little bit better. Breakfast was better than some others, you never quite know if it just a piece of bread or a whole buffet. Headed out to see some sights, weather has been cloudy but rain is holding off. The temperature is now getting to the chilly stage and to see the sun would be very nice, not today though. We warmed up for a couple of hours in our room and decide to go to the Globe restaurant by our hotel for dinner. We thought we were cheating a bit as the Globe has a very American menu. I went for one of my faves, buffalo wings, not like at home but Okay. Linda surprised me by going for a sloppy joe, go figure. I don't think shes had one of those in 20 years. Must have been good because she ate it all. Much to our surprise the Globe shows a movie every Sunday night. Tonight was Taxi Driver, haven't seen it in a long time but enjoyed it very much. Linda wasn't that impressed with the movie, but thoroughly enjoyed her wine while watching. Definietly a different experience and a nice night out.

Posted by toddllama 00:25 Archived in Czech Republic Comments (0)

Travel to Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic

Took off this morning for a train to Cesky Krumlov, a small town in the south of the Czech Republic. Our travel book listed it as one of the top 25 destinations in Eastern Europe. The train wasn't up to Linda's standard after our previous one. Local rail lines our a bit dumpy and this one was no exception. The train line was broken half way there so everyone had to take buses to another town. The next train was even dumpier than the first one, and got us to where we had to transfer to the third, you guessed it, dumpiest train of all. Luckily, it was free because most of the people who our supposed to stamp our railpass just look at it like it is a foreign object and give it back to us. It should have been used up a long time ago, but we have got quite a few free rides on trains. Getting into town we decided to forgo the taxi and hoof it to our apartment. Thought we were lost but just hadn't walked far enough. Our place is quite nice and close to everything. It also is in a different place as it is situated above a gift shop. After hours you have to open and lock the shop to get to your room. Had a less than spectacular meal, it seems Cesky Krumlov doesn't have lots of choice for food. Maybe tomorrow we'll find a hidden gem to eat at.

Posted by toddllama 00:32 Archived in Czech Republic Comments (0)

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