Transylvania…Spooky, Scary – Again (4)

November 19, 2008 - One Response

I’m going to go ahead and wrap this whole trip up because stretching it out over all these posts is getting fairly ridiculous. That, and I can only talk about similar churches for so long.

Our third day was an excurison into Korosfo for some shopping at the local craft market. The market is basically a flea market of local, homemade souvenirs that line either side of the road that passes through the town.



Nothing really to note in all the shops. I did get a pretty killer hand-woven wool sweater that I’m pretty fond of, otherwise it was the same things in every shop. Namely “secret” boxes, chess sets, tablecloth things, wool products and trinkets. Credit should be given to the chess sets though. Well, not all of them, because most of them weren’t made by the vendors. We did get to witness some sets being made first hand.

It was actually our first stop before being set loose on the rest of the market. The guy just sits down and makes pieces for chess sets and paints and lacquers them in his little shop. It was pure magic watching him blaze through the king’s minions. Check out the videos for yourself (I had to upload these to YouTube so you better watch them).

Making a queen:

Making a knight:

Some more pics of the master at work and his workshop:



Like I said, there’s more churches and I can’t say much else about them.

This first one is from Korosfo, circa 1700 and the best element of the structure is the fake clock painted on it that displays the time that church always begins.




We headed back home and rested up for the ride home after this church, but we ended the trip the next morning by pitting in Banffyhunyad for a 13th century, gothic, fortified church.




End of the trip. Hope I took you for as much of a ride as I was on. I sure dragged you on long enough.

Look at all my pictures here.


Transylvania…Spooky, Scary – Harem (3)

November 12, 2008 - 2 Responses

And the churches are behind us as we hit the road, beatin’ a trail to Turda and the much anticipated…salt mines? Whatever, I heard they were a bit chilly all underground and stuff, kinda like the caves we went to near Sloavkia, so I was down with the temperature relief.

It wasn’t too long of a drive which meant I didn’t get much of a nap and subsequently was fairly cranky when I got there. Also, I was still reading The Fountainhead at this point of the trip, so I had become quite cynical when approached with neo-classic architecture. I didn’t go to the salt mines with much hope, but again, I wanted the cold. Good thing for the salt mine though, we were greeted by a kitten at the entrance. I perked up a bit.


The entrance into the cave actually turned my once negative thoughts right upside down. We had a 500 meter walk through a tunneled hallway into the excavation area, and it was sweeet.


We got a tour once we were inside. They took us through an echo room where you could curse at a high decibel level and listen as it reverberates 16 times. You just have to scream very loudly if you want to hear it so many times. Otherwise all you’ll hear is a measly ten. We also got to see where over 850, I believe, horses died during the mines operation. The pulley system used to pull the salt up from the bottom of the mine previously was powered by the equestrians. Our guide informed, to the dismay of the four ladies in attendance, that the horses brought down to work would be blind in a week and dead in a month, and it took three horses to run the thing. I felt like I was back in the Terror House.

The obvious highlight of the mines is the vast emptiness that once supplied Europe with it’s salt rations when there wasn’t things like refridgerators to keep their meat. I don’t even remember how deep it was, but check out the pictures, it’s major.


There were cats down there playing soccer against the side of the mine and others engaging in some spirited volleyball. Before we descended down, however, we got to walk the perimeter of the area. The walkway was not what you want to put your feet to. Gaps between boards, way too much creeking, no supports below them, just the boards stuck into the sides. Needless to mention how quick and crowded the line moved around to the stairs. It was much nicer when we reached the bottom. You could check out the stalagtites of salt that had formed.


The last cool thing to mention about the mines is that on the stairs down about every level or so, there’s a plaque on the wall marking the year the mine was at that level. It get’s into the 1900s. Oh yeah, no humidity so no dust or allergies.


We skipped out on the nearby “Dracula” castle to head over to what excited me most about the day, more promises of ruins like the first day. And these, oh these, they were promised to be better.

The Fortress of Leta at Magyarleta is another 13th century bastion that was built for the Mongol invasions. Unfortunately, my camera died before I actually got to the ruins, but the trek up there was a vision itself. It was the rolling hill countryside of Transylvania and all that jazz. We passed some menacing sheep dogs and a horse just chilling out in the hills.


We hiked up a while in this stuff and it was quite the view the whole time.


Once atop a what we thought might be our final ridge, we saw what was our goal, dead ahead.


It’s the ruins on the small middle peak if you can’t tell.


I took some time before trudging through the valley to explore some of the neighboring peaks. Spencer snapped this pic of me and Jordan enjoying the vista.


Anyways, the ruins were sweet. Pretty much jumping around on old rocks and stuff. They were definitely way cooler than the others though. It was getting dark though, so we hit it back to the bus and got barked at again by even more fierce looking sheep dogs and went back to our little village for dinner.

That night was another one at the bar and getting shalacked this time at foosball by some locals. I think they don’t have anything else to do.

Transylvania…Spooky, Scary — Part Deux

October 27, 2008 - One Response

[When we last left our hero he was just leaving the company of young Romanian photography lovers and catching some shut-eye on the way to Kalotaszentkiraly (Sincraiu)]

It was dark by the time we pulled into our host city of Kalotaszentkiraly. The Hungarian village is as populated as West Rowan High School and also has horse and ox feces in the road. Dinner had already been prepared by our host family and consisted of a delicious potato stew and cabbage stuffed dumplings in some kind of orangish tinted sauce. I ate it up. One, because I was hungary, and two, I love all the Hungarian cuisine. Our hosts also graciously poured us shots of homemade plum palinka (regional hard alcohol) out of a plastic Cola bottle to drink before our meals, as is customary for these people. You could gas up a jet with that stuff. My breath was flammable the rest of the night. Luckily, I became very friendly with that cola bottle because we were given shots every night at dinner – and at breakfast. The transplant Magyars have to make it through the day somehow.

Fat and happy after dinner we were split into four groups to head off to our respected lodging. I went with five others about two minutes down the road where we were again split. Me and Jesse went into a smaller house across from the main house where the other four would slumber and we would all gather for breakfast. It was only myself, Jesse and, as I mentioned earlier, our bus driver Laszlo in a house. Me and Laszlo had to share a bed because there was only one bed and Jesse called the cot too fast. Why he wouldn’t sleep with me in the bed was very upsetting, because the floor was too dirty to sleep on. Of course I made all this up. i don’t know what I would have done had I shared a bed with Lasz. He smelled and I could hear him through two rooms with doors closed.

I digress.

The time was still early, so our entire program made the effort to relate to the locals by joining them at their friendly drinking establishment.

It didn’t turn out to be Cheers. We got dirty looks from the extremely dirty folk when we marched in 20 deep. The bartenders didn’t like serving us. Area youth took advantage of us on the foosball table. We’re smart kids and learned fairly quickly that the only place that would be kind to us was the otherwise abandoned upstairs, complete with ragged billards table. That’s probably actually what they keep the table for, relocating all the CIEE kids three times a year when they ransack the village and piss on everybody’s fun.

The night was going fine up until about 10:45. We’d been patrons since about 9-ish and, even though they hadn’t been happy about it, the bartenders had been serving us beer. When two guys went downstairs though to grab more beers, the bartender cut them off. Obviously it’s because the two were snockered. False. The bar only has electricity between the hours of 5 p.m. and 11 p.m.; they were trying to usher us out. I’ll repeat. The bar only has electricity for six hours a day. We went home at 11 because the town was dark. Luckily not the homes though.

After a shot of palinka in the morning and a hearty breakfast spread that rivaled that of the previous night’s dinner, it was back on the bus to the fairly sizable city of Kolozsvar [Cluj].

Like I already displayed, we hit a lot of churches over the weekend and that was our first stop in Cluj. The bus pulled up and dropped us off in front of the Calvinist Reformed Church, which had a gnarly statue of a guy out front. The opera was also across the street from this square.

No tour through this church though, and after a short picture spree it was off to – buh*duh*duh*duh*duh*nuh – an older, less interesting church.

The Reformed Presbyterian Church of Farkas Street was a gift from wonderful King Matthias, who is still revered in Hungary to this day, to the city in 1486. I know this because we were forced to sit through a tour of one room for close to 30 minutes by a woman whose hair was the same red hue as her outfit. Side note: I guess when Romanian woman get older they don’t turn into blue hairs, but red. What set the suffering was Simon having to translate every sentence. I was counting the number of death shields on the wall by the time we left. Outside was kinda sweet. There was a replica of “Saint George Killing the Dragon,” whose original lives in the castle in Prague. I mean, I’m always down with dragons, even violence against them.

Ten minute walk to – no life line needed – the Saint Michael Roman Catholic Church. No official tour here, except for Simon telling us things that nobody was interested in for about 20 minutes. The building is from the 14th century and is a gorgeous Gothic, but things really begin to lose their value when you’re hearing things you don’t care about. At this point I was still sleeping, and I didn’t care who was once a priest here.

Our last stop in Cluj was only a block away and birthplace to the mighty King Matthius. Notice the Romanian flag over the door. Don’t get it. We looked at it and then got back on the bus and left. Cluj closed.

The exciting adventures continue soon.

Transylvania…Spooky, Scary — Part One

October 12, 2008 - 2 Responses

Our Transylvania trip was what I believe to have been an attempt by our Hungarian guides to recapture the land they see as rightfully theirs. After the great war, Hungary was raped of its land for choosing the wrong side. What once stood as a sizable plot in central/eastern Europe was splintered and signed off to neighboring countries in a diplomatic fire sale. So, now in place of beautiful countryside in eastern Hungary, there sits Hungarian villages in Romania and 2 million displaced Magyars. Also, a grip of coeds tromping through sheep land and depriving hamlets of their innocence and naivety. If our leaders couldn’t forcibly take the land back, at least they could harass the locals with Americans.

I’ve expressed my loathing of our travel itineraries before. Get up at, like, 6 o’clock morning time and march to the opposite side of town to Hero’s Square. Today’s was worse; it was the first day it had rained our entire stay. The bus was legit though, an actual tour bus. And since there’s only 21on the program, we all got our own two seats. That lended itself to much lounging and, much more to the shagrin of Elizabeth Simon, us missing the views of the countryside. In our own defense, it all looked the same.

Our first stop and experience in Romania was with a 13th century bastion in Sebesvar [Bologa]. I forget who used this. Not really that important. This type of scene happened a lot over the 4 days. We pull the bus to the side of the road, walk up a hill and  — oh my gosh — find ruins of a building that’s over 700 years old and get to play on them. I guess this only really happens twice to us, but still. Two more times than a normal weekend.  A couple turret were still in the condition to climb into, and the holes in the wall where planks used to make up the floor was still visible as well.

For a slightly stupid, yet invigorating stroll, you could traverse the outer walls of the bastion. With the narrowing path and gusts that day, it took more concentration than we first expected. Of course, once you’re half way across you can’t really turn around.

Back on the bus and on through the country. I was back asleep until we hit the — you’ll like this dad — gypsy district. The houses these fools make are by far the most monstrously, grotesque abominations to dot an area since the soviets doted Budapest with building block apartments. Up to seven or eight Roma families inhabit these things. But considering the Roma are attention whores and their main goal is to make the estates as “flashy” and “expensive” as possible, you can’t really knock them for getting it done. They love colors, metallic roofs, windows and attaching anything that can symbolize wealth to the spires on the roof, namely American dollar signs and oversized Mercedes-Benz hood ornaments. No joke.

There were at least 30 of these behemoths either standing proudly or under construction. We even saw some local home owners.

From here is where the churches begin. Our program directer Elizabeth Simon loves churches. Understatement of the decade. You’ll see. We hit Felsofuld [Fildu de Sus] for our first experience. We hit a traffic jam along the way though.

(That’s our bus driver Laszlo in the rear view mirror. I shared housing accoms with him.)

This church was something like the oldest something of something. I can edit that, again, once I get the itinerary. Until then, enjoy some pics.

The church was purty and all, but as I already mentioned, the info got to be tiresome. Every church we visited came with half an hour of specifics, which by the second church was all the same. All the entertainment came from the town folk. When are tour bus pulled up, we were parked in horse feces. I don’t think this village had more than 10 cars, and all the transportation I saw were children’s bikes and real horse-powered carraiges – the carriages have license plates only with numbers like 36. Simon had also mentioned to us that we’d need candies for the chitlins when we got off the bus. This was indeed true. I had barely pulled the wee individual wrapped chocalates out of my pockets before they were in those kids mouths. They also followed us up the hill to the church and loved having pictures taken of them, so they could see them right afterward. Never in my life have I wanted a Polaroid more.

End of Part One… Will Finish


September 14, 2008 - One Response

Eger is one of Hungary’s rich wine regions north of Budapest. The city’s specialty wine is Egri Bikaver, or Bull’s Blood. Our overnight CIEE excursion included a whirlwind tour of the city and some stop-offs on the way. The presence of wine was constant.

We began the trip on Wednesday, bright and early, at Hero’s Square. Not the most fun to leave the dorms at 6:45 to trek across town to make sure we got there when the bus did. Mind you, the bus that my knees were plastered against the seat in front on me for the entire 6-hour ride. About 2 hours into the trip, we took lunch and a short hike around the Aggtelek national park, home to apparently Hungary’s most magnificent stalactite system. The caves span over 22 km, though the tour we took was only an hour and hit the highlights. It was one of those things where you walk in, aren’t that impressed and then get hit by that wall of natural wonder. For me it was the amphitheater; an indoor concert hall complete with stage, seating and for our tour, a light show of the formations timed to Vangelis. Oh yeah, Vangelis. It made me want to run through the rest of the caves. After that the doozies were on display. The world’s tallest stalagmite, which stands at an imposing 25 meters. Don’t know the foot conversion for that, but I think it’s around 80. My point is the thing is big. I could go on about rocks but the gist should be had by now. Another cool aspect of the caves is that it is located across the Slovak border. Up until a couple of years ago, the portion of the cave in Slovak territory was barred off. Also now stands a green pole that marks the border right outside of the exit to the cave. It is just funny, there’s not even a sign.

Another couple hours on the bus and we hit Eger. Our first night was a short tour around some points in the city. We stopped in front of the Minorite Church for a minute and checked out the Dobo Istvan Ter (Square) and the fierce statues. If there is anything Hungary does well, it’s make ridiculously ferocious horses on their monuments. The ter was on the way to the Turkish Minaret, a 40-meter-high former look out from the 1500s I believe. Had the terrible privilige to trek up the 90 some odd steps to the top. I tried to show it in the pictures, but the entire building is only 5 meters wide, which means that’s what you had to walk up. Once at the top, the lap around the building was only and half a meter wide and protected by a waist high railing. After that, I’m not sure why I’m not terrified of heights. But the views were nice; it’s about two streets over from Eger Castle and the bastions that surround it. But that stop’s tomorrow.

There’s a couple quick pics from out in front of the cathedral, but it was only a meeting place before we headed to the wine cellars for some tasting before dinner. The cellars are a little ways out of the main town and dug into the hills. For about 75 cents you could taste some local varieties in the numerous cellars. Some nicer than others. My favorite, with the exception of the creepy bar-woman who tended to us, was the first we visited. There were dozens of coins pressed into the fungus walls. The fungus is good fungus though, it’s for keeping the wine. Dinner was delicious afterwords, but the night ended there.

Next day started at the Lyceum, across from the cathedral, and home to the Camera Obscura. Basically an over-glorified toy, the camera is what the rich used to come visit back in the day. It offers a full view of the city projected onto a table by two lenses mounted on the ceiling; it’s controlled by three large hanging things. There’s nothing else to call them. Afterwards we visited underneath the cathedral which is home to a large tunnel system that used to house gallons upon gallons upon barrells of wine. Now there’s a funny old man who walks you around.

Highlighting the trip was definitely Eger Castle and surrounding bastions that overlook the city. The castle survived the siege by the Turks in 1522, defended by the local force and aforementioned Dobo Istvan. We got to see the grave of Istvan, located in the Hall of Heroes. If you notice, the hall is filled with monster stautes of the likes of Istvan and five other, well, heroes. There were some ruins of a gothic church that burned several years before the siege of 1522 and we toured the labyrinth of a inner workings.

The drive home was interuppted by a stop of a former Soviet labor camp in Recsk. All the evidence that there was anything there was destroyed but in its place they built a replica of one of the barracks. A watchmen’s stand is also still visible at the gate. It was an interesting site, but the lack of sights made for not the most exciting time.

Almost forgot, we also climbed to the highest point in Hungary, which is totally lame, so it makes sense I almost forgot it. Thank goodness for photographic evidence. Apparently all the good hills were taken away after the country sided with the wrong teams in those world wars. But we took some pictures with the highest point.

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A little Budapest, but mostly St. Endre

September 7, 2008 - 2 Responses

Not a lot of stuff going on.

We hit the Szechenyi baths in the main city park next to Hero Square on Saturday, which I didn’t break the camera out for. Lies, I took some pics of the Scientologists outside.

Inside the baths themselves were amazing. It was a smorgasbord of hot, cold and lukewarm baths, saunas, steam rooms, scantily clad and obese elder men, fountains, whirlpools. A very good day and great way to let your body detox after a night out. I think we stayed for over 4 hours. It’s a little pricey to frequent, but worth the time and money.

Sunday was a depressing, yet engaging visit to the Terror House.

Housed in the former headquarters of the secret police, I unfortunately had to leave my camera at the door. Inside, however, chronicled the occupation of Budapest by the Nazis and Soviets. It touched on everything from the sieges on the city to the lives of the peasants and propaganda. The most chilling portion was the last leg of the tour which included a walk through of the torture cells. What was open in the museum was about 12 cells or so, some in complete darkness with torture instruments still strewn around. The creepy part was that on display was only under the one house. In it’s hey day, the cells covered the basements of the entire block’s buildings connected through intricate passageways.

On Monday we took a train north to St. Endre, translates to St. Andrew, and scoped out the city. It was the epitome of a small European town with quaint buildings.

My favorite feature was a shaggy dog that took his time meandering the streets and hanging out with one of the guys from our program, Joe, an ex-Marine and my roommate.

Also involved was a great trip back to the city via a Danube River cruise. There were some great views along the way.

If you can’t tell, the man is naked. Back view only.

Coming into the city was a nice change of scenery. You can always get the views across the river and some good ones from the middle of bridges, but being even with Parliament when we docked was awe-inspiring.

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The Beginning

September 3, 2008 - One Response

Just starting to post up some pictures. This is mostly all just some sights around Budapest. Starting with the Great Market Hall and some views of the Duna River [Danube River]. Next it moves over to the Chain Bridge with some shots of it and some views off to the side. When you can see an island down the river, that’s Margret’s Island which sits a little north of the main downtown area. The large building on the river off to the right in pictures is Parliament and eclipses that of Britain’s in terms of size.

On the other side of the bridge is Buda and the Var, or Castle Hill. The tunnell you see is said to house the bridge in times of bad weather. We took the cog rail up the hill. In front of us is again the Chain Bridge and a new sight, St. Stephens Bascilica, which stands above the rest of the skyline is the tallest building in the city.

Atop the hill is Buda Castle, the former residence of rulers which now houses the Hungarion National Gallery. Walking down from the hill leads to a smaller area of Buda. If you notice the string player outside of a building in a photo, the walls behind them are riddled with bulletts, as are many others, from the countless seiges the city has withstood.

The last set of pictures is from the opposite side of the city in Hero’s Square, just outside of the city’s largest park. The larger statues of men riding horseback that surround the central column represent the leaders of the seven tribes that came to settle Hungary. The other statues located between the columns around back are the kings which once ruled the area.

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