Sarajevo

Up bright and early from the trip from Belgrade to Sarajevo – the theory being that the sooner we get to the borders (to be processed out of Serbia and then processed into Bosnia) the better. Simon is watching live webcams of the state of the borders on his phone, and he tells us it’s not busy yet.

But all good plans of mice and men are gang aft aglae! We don’t get far out of Belgrade and we run into a wee SNAFU… I say ‘wee’ but it’s gonna fuck up our entire schedule. The cops are pulling over tour buses and going over the driver’s logs to see if they’ve been working more than their regulated hours. Trucks and other commercial vehicles are going past us, but they’ve pulled up three tour buses. At this stage, it’s feeling like the 90s again and we’re going to be pumped for a bribe. But we wait and see… and we wait and see. Poor Chris, our driver, has had to print out a month of driving logs for scrutiny. Next thing we know, Chris is being taken over to the cop cars, we are all asking Simon, how much of a bribe are we going to have to come up with. I’m writing this while looking at the cops outside the bus all standing around looking for problems. And unfortunately they find one!

Chris has recently been on two weeks leave (part of the months worth of records the copy’s wanted) which clearly show the vehicle wasn’t being driven during that time, but it does however show he is logged into he bush – his ID card was in the bus while he is on vacation and that is a no-no. He’s supposed to remove his card when he’s not driving so that no one else can use his log in. No amount of Chris telling them he owns the bus and no one but him drives it is helping and the next thing we know he’s being driven off in the back of the cop car to go to an ATM to pay a fine for leaving his card logged into the bus!

FFS guys, can’t we just pay a bribe and be on our way like the other two buses. Simon literally just said to us all, ‘The other two buses, they were lucky, they just pay a bribe and keep going.’ But no, they had to find something. Eventually he comes back and we are back on our way to the Serbian/Bosnian border.Holy shit! The hilarity doesn’t end there! We are barely 15 minutes down the road in another small town and a cop comes out to the bus while we are stopped at a light and tried to pull the bus over again – Chris argues with him, shows him his fine and the receipt – the cop looks pissed off and dismissively waves us on our way! I’m chatting with BigSal while this is unfolding and she hits me right in the flashbacks to ’95 with this one: “All you need is a Susan the Fruit to talk about how interactions with local law enforcement are good because it’s immersive and you can learn so much about the culture you wouldn’t have seen otherwise!” Laughed out loud at that one.

‘Serbia’s finest.’ Simon says dryly as we once more get back on the road. They must have been in the middle of some sort of ‘harass the tourist bus drivers’ week – and now we are well over an hour delayed for heading to Bosnia.

Passing through Sedmica – a town known for it’s gorgeous blue river with water that is a constant 6-7°C no matter what time of year it is. The country side is pretty enough though. Lots of old buildings, some not so old, all equally full of bullet holes and damage though. Eventually we get to the centre of Sarajevo and this bullet riddled, damaged building is where we pull up the bus for a meeting point. :/ Like many other cities, Sarajevo is a divided town, the Old Town which is full of ancient and medieval buildings, churches, cathedrals, synagogues etc and the other side of the river is the New Town, full of corrupt building projects that locals can’t afford to live in – this seems to be a theme – Belgrade has plenty of these project areas too. This beautiful building is a reconstruction of the original library that was on this site in the Old Town – it was badly damaged during the war and while they have been able to rebuild the library as it once was, many of the ancient and medieval texts it housed were lost forever. The Old Town is full of little winding alleyways on cobblestone streets, it’s like a mixture of Turkish bazaar, and Moroccan kasbah having neither flavour of it’s own nor enough characteristics of either??? (That made sense in my head even if it doesn’t to any other reader!). Bosnian’s are mad for their coffee apparently and white they are adamant they make it a special way that is nothing like the Turkish way of making coffee …. to the untrained eye (ie: mine), it looks exactly like the Turkish way of making coffee! This is the Sebilj Fountain – it was built in the Ottoman style in 1753. It’s one of those legendary fountains that people believe if you drink from this fountain you will return to Sarajevo someday – I guess we are all going to be one time visitors because none of us are drinking anything that isn’t coming out of sealed plastic bottles atm!This was the oldest inn in Sarajevo, it used to be a stop for visitors travelling with their horses, and now the courtyard where visitors would be received is now a thriving restaurant and the stables which lined the courtyard are now shops.You can see the huge wooden beams that made up the stable roofs.I’m also in an intense love/hate relationship with cobblestones this trip thanks to the fibromyalgia I was diagnosed with in 2019… my feet are fucking killing me ALL THE TIME, let alone with the uneven surfaces. The hours on the bus are also not helping and each time we get off the bus, I feel like I’m getting off a long haul flight with slightly swollen feet… normal cobbles are bad enough, but these ones in this town are really just rocks planted in concrete worn smooth, so they’re proving extra fun.

In the middle of the old town is a Mosque, a Synagogue and a Catholic Church, we see here again the one-up-man-ship of each party trying to be superior to the other – part of it is about religion and yet weirdly not about religion at all. Some 70% of Serbians are not practicing any religion, but their religion defines their heritage and ethnicities in a way we just don’t’ really get back home. The Croats are Catholic and Orthodox, the Bosnians are Muslim and the Serbians lost as many as 80,000 of their Jewish during the Srebrinca Genocide (this is really contentious, a huge proportion of Bosnians would never use the term ‘genocide’ to describe what happened to the Jewish people in Serbia- but I don’t know what else it’s called when they’re rounded up into exterminated in mass graves). 😐

The result of this, being religious as a way of identifying your ethnicity while not really being a practicing religious person means that the Fazi Husrev-Beg mosque at the centre of the Old Town is very welcoming to everyone. There are still women’s sides and men’s side and shoes are off and scarves are on, but they are not so strict with their prayer times etc.

It’s a relatively simple mosque with one minaret and a single dome, and was built in the 1500s century. At the time it was built, a very forward thinking engineer/architect suggested they build a public toilet nearby by persuading the imams that they wouldn’t want their workers doing their business all over the ground where their beautiful mosque was going to be – and wouldn’t you know it, the public toilets they built are still there and in operation today, though I’m inclined to think the coin operated turnstiles are a more modern addition.

Ramadan feasting clock – this clock down’s show actual time as we know it – it is set to show when sundown occurs so people fasting know exactly when it’s okay to eat. This is a replica of the famous vehicle that the Archduke Ferdinand was in with his wife, Sofia when he was assassinated , triggering the WWI. Sounds like the entire plot was a bit of a clusterfuck and it was luck that the ragtag team of assassins managed to get anything right. A previous assassination attempt had failed and the various members of the untrained team were sitting around a coffee shop figuring out how they were going to kill him before they got in trouble with their handlers, when the Archduke’s driver took wrong turn and stopped them right in front of the coffee shop in question. One of the assassins opportunistically shot the Archduke, while another tried to immediately kill himself rather than being captured and chomped on an expired cyanide pill that just made him immediately ill, but didn’t kill him… he then ran away spewing his guts up and jumped off the nearby bridge which is barely 4m off the ground and doesn’t have much water in it, so he ended up being apprehended with two broken legs and sick from his failed suicide attempt. And yep, these stupid teenage pricks started a World War. The covered markets in the Old TownCompete with Bosnian Delight stores – not Turkish Delight, mind you, Bosnian… though stuffed if I can spot the difference. After thisThe Catholic Church in the centre of town, which is as big as they could make it in the space that it previously occupied. During the Balkans War (and Iknow this isn’t coming across very well in my pictures) the enemy armies that were attacking Sarajevo would take high positions on the hills around the town… you can see their elevated advantage from nearly every direction around the city. People coming in and out of the churches and shops were at a huge disadvantage trying to move about town to find supplies of water and food.Out front of this church is a pitted piece of concrete which shows the place where some children were killed by snipers. They continue to pain the pitted concrete to remind people of the horrors that happened here.Our guide, said his mother never let him leave the house as a small child in a red t-shirt because it was too easy a target for the snipers… fuck that! I wouldn’t’ have let my kid leave the house at all!

If we hadn’t been held up with the cops for so long this morning I would have possibly tried to go see this exhibit of the Srebrenica Genocide. It is something I am not particularly educated on, and I feel it’s important that people learn about these historical incidents and don’t forget the victims. After our quick (and I mean quick!) walking tour of Sarajevo we had some free time to go shopping, have a poke about and find some dinner. Simon recommended a small restaurant back near the library and instructed us all to try the Cevapi, pronounced ‘cheh-vah-pee’, (basically ‘minced meat fingers), that are served with a doughy pita bread, raw onions and yoghurt drinks. I’m always up for the local food, and they serve them in hands – literally five meat fingers or ten. I opted for a small serve and it was quite tasty – the recipe calls for 80% beef, 20% veal and some salt, so it’s just meat sausage without any skins. After this it was off to our hotel, on the way we saw many many more buildings that were showing signs of the snipers’ handiwork during the war. I don’t know enough about this war – I vaguely remember Milosovich being mentioned a lot in the news, but spending time with Simon hasn’t really cleared it up. With three wearing factions, sometimes each in ally-ship with each other and then spinning on a dime to suddenly be fighting with their former allies, it’s all very complicated. I’m not sure anyone won…

Plovdiv to Sofia

This is what Philippopolis should look like (below)… but it’s currently full of modern concert equipment, chairs, tents and shit – so I didn’t bother taking photos. I can’t decide if it’s depressing or fabulous that they are using this ancient monument to have concerts still. I wonder what the impact is on modern speakers and the vibrations from the amplifications.

This walking tour stuff after a full day of being in the bus (and well, lost in the bloody bus!) is exhausting. Chilling in cafes with a cider and people watching is Turing into a favourite way to kill half an hour. After this we left Plovdiv for Sofia… where this portion of the tour joins into a much larger group of people with a new guide and a new driver (thank fuck!!!).

Oh look… on the way out of Plovdiv, a city our driver allegedly has family in, our useful-as-tits-on-a-bull driver takes us off the A1 highway and straight into the boonies where we start pulling over again and this time consulting old paper maps. Hello? Do you want my phone? It has google maps…No? Let’s just harass the local police for directions… I honestly can’t roll my eyes any harder at this stage. Seriously, us girls could have taken over the driving and the navigation and we would have saved hours. Eventually we end up in Sofia and check into our hotel, which was rather swanky, before setting out on a short bus tour in Sofia. This fabulous Bulgarian Orthodox Church is the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral… it’s really gorgeous inside, but very dark and no photography is allowed. It’s probably a site that needs a lot of restoration. It’s build in a Neo-Byzantine style and serves as the main cathedral church of the Patriarch of Bulgaria. It is one of the 50 largest Christian church buildings in the world (by like square volumes of air or something0. It can hold about 5000 people inside and is the largest cathedral in all of the Balkans. It’s relatively ‘new’, with construction having starte din 1882 and the church being consecrated in 1924. Beautiful gold mosaics above every doorway.… and fine carving int eh stonework is really cool. This is not a photo taken inside the church you are not allowed to take photos in. >.>One thing I do love about Europe is the wonderful way they cover buildings under scaffolding so they don’t’ completely destroy the cityscape. You see buildings all over and (while this one is quite garish) you occasionally have to do a double take to realise that it’s a big cover over the facade of the building which is under restoration. The lion is a famous symbol of Bulgaria which is weird seeing they never had lions here, and the various artist’s representations of them make it pretty clear the artist has never seen one… this large bronze is a bout 3m long and he guards a tomb of an Unknown Soldier.

Saint Sofia Catholic Church – the oldest church in Sofia, it dates back to the 4th century. The building (some parts of which remains were where the Council of Serdica was held in 343AD and was attended by 316 bishops. In the 14th century the church gave its name to the city which was previously known as Serdika.

The photos don’t do the amazing stone work in the vaulted ceiling justice at all!There was a service being held when we were here – a memorial of sorts for someone whose funeral has already happened – so we were trying to stay in the wings and be unobtrusive.

After this, the youngin’s felt somewhat churched out and wanted a quick bite before we had to head back to the hotel and meet our new guide for the ongoing trip through the Balkans… I can’t believe we were in Sofia and they all wanted to go for McDonalds. But there we were!Looks just like every McDonalds ever – from about 20 years ago.Ordering was a little tricky though… I haven’t had McDonalds in years. It used to be a frequent travel stop – because we knew it would have clean (and usually free!) bathrooms, now it seems the crew wanted to hang out here for the free wifi. Which makes sense, most of them don’t have roaming data.

Then on our way back to the hotel, someone asked Georgi if he could take us to a souvenir shop so they could buy some little presents – and wouldn’t you know it, the only place he could think of was a fucking newsagent/tabac stand in a train station which was down three flights of stairs. Never mind, my feet just aren’t having it after two city tours today, so I stayed above ground with this famous statue of Saint Sofia. Then back to the hotel to meet the people who are going to be on the rest of our trip. The ill fated crew from the positively disastrous Travel Talk tour through Transylvania and Romania in July 2022… Shauna (IRE), Josh (USA), Holly (AUS), Sarah (USA), Stacey (AUS), Ginger (CHN), Robyn (AUS), Robyn (AUS), & Angus (AUS)

The Long Long drive from Sibiu to Ruse

Today is a transit day – no sightseeing unfortunately, we had a lot of ground to cover to get to Bulgaria within Nick’s (the driver) regulated driving hours – not sure I’ve mentioned much about Nick, but today it became apparent that he has been navigating all over Romania using a Tom Tom that seemed to be about a decade old. It turns out his mobile phone was broken so he didn’t have Google Maps and for the life of me I don’t know why Georgi wasn’t navigating for him, but we’ve had several wrong turns and many kilometres where we’ve retraced our steps. :/ Today was going to be one of *those* days but we were determined to make the most of it – well most of us were!

Our petulant Annoying American was sulking – like, literally, in the most unbecoming way considering she’s a 40 year old engineer contracted to the US Defence Dept. 😐 I had to snap this because I didn’t think people would believe me:

Yep, that’s her hiding under a blanket for a NEAR SEVEN HOUR DRIVE. To be honest, most of us were quite happy that she was moping; it meant she wasn’t trying to talk at us for the whole drive. Hurrah! I’ve never been on a tour with someone like this before – it’s bewildering.

The country side is beautiful as we wound our way through farmlands primarily of wheat and sunflowers, and my poor little fibro feet (while unhappy at me sitting on a bus for hours) were kinda glad to have a rest from the cobblestones for a day.

We had a quick and dodgy servo lunch, which I passed on – but insisted that Angus try the weird Eastern European petrol station hotdog. Maybe you just had to be there? But in Poland we thought they were odd… they have a bun, shove a hole in and tip sauces (into the bottom only) and stick a very thin hotdog in it. It’s kinda crunchy and not very filling… perhaps he should have opted for the double dog one.

We got to the Bulgarian border quite late in the afternoon and Ruse is barely 4 miles from the border.

Wouldn’t you know it? Nick got us lost again, and all of us thought it was hilarious – except AA. Of course. Eventually I gave Georgi my phone with the Google maps open and we made it to our hotel. 🙂 We didn’t have anything planned in Ruse for the evening so we just went into town and had a wander through the main square while hunting for a restaurant that could seat eleven of us – yes, I was trying to placate the AA monster, she’d been howling all the night before into the ether (ranting on WhatsApp) that people have been leaving her out of things and that she’d had to eat by herself, and when I tried to talk to her about this ostracism, she told me to leave her alone. I shit you not.

I suggest to Georgi that he find us a restaurant and that we eat as a group so Ms AA Emily doesn’t feel left out. He finds a place that say they’ll accomodate us in 15 mins so we go for a bit of a walk about to take in the town while we wait.

IT’s a pretty place with lots of empty buildings. Apparently over the last 30 years (well, pretty much since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Soviet thingy collapsing, people have been moving to Western Europe for better jobs etc. Bulgaria has lost half their previous population which no doubt is problematic for social services etc. Anyway – real estate is cheap if anyone is interested (inner city, 2br walk up from 20-30k Euro).

We went to dinner and unsurprisingly, they had two tables for us (this really needed this to be a whole group thing), and also unsurprisingly AA is nowhere to be found. She’d gotten tired of waiting and gone and ordered a salad somewhere else and sent someone to the table saying she’d be there shortly. Well, she did turn up and was the rudest, most embarrassing person I’d ever had the misfortune to dine with. She was rude to the waitress, insisting three times she wanted to be on her own check, but speaking to her like she was an idiot child. She sarcastically thanked us for ‘accomodating her and saving her a seat’, and also muttered something about being stuck at the ‘pleb’ table. Bitch please! The only reason I wasn’t sitting with the others was to make her feel more included. Seriously!

On a lighter note – dinner unexpectedly had a sushi menu, so I had me some sushi for the first time since I left Aust… very tasty indeed. This place lives on too much bread and pasta for my liking.

We have our meals and relax a little, I’m listening to AA saying horrible things about the perfectly lovely people we are travelling with and felt I had done the wrong thing in trying to ‘fix’ the situation – she’s irredeemable. After dinner, she wandered off to find some vodka lady (whatever that meant) and we found ourselves discussing what to do about her. For some reason I was under the impression that the other pax had spoken to Georgi about how frustrated they were with her disruptive, rude, inconsiderate and bullying presence but they had initially and on getting no response had gone up the chain from there.

I spotted Georgi across the square and thought we had best nip this in the bud, it was getting ridiculous. They all followed me over there and I told Georgi that I felt we have been trying, but every kind gesture over the last 48 hours was met with derision or passive aggression. He then told us that his bosses had three times already told him to ‘leave her in the middle of the road’ – and that’s a direct quote. I said ‘Why haven’t you removed her from the tour then?’ And he said, he has been a guide for many years and if he starts with ten he wants to finish with ten. Ummm… no, that’s not how this works. I told him in no uncertain terms that this wasn’t about him and right now it’s not about AA either – it’s about his duty of care to the other nine passengers on the trip and how he has allowed her to bully her first poor roommate, and waste the time and kill the morale of this entire group. This is the first travel many of us have been able to do since before the pandemic started and he was letting AA ruin it for all of us. I finished off by saying ‘Well it’s your choice Georgi, you can have one disgruntled and unhappy passenger or you can let her stay and you’ll have nine passengers complaining not just about her but about your handling of this matter.’

To say I was surprised to see her join us all at breakfast is an understatement… tbc.

Salina Turda and Hunedoara Castle

I’ve been to exactly one salt mine before (in Poland) and that was a fantastic visit. The underground caverns were huge and the place was set up to teach visitors about the history of salt mining in Europe and how prized it was as a commodity, as well as how it was actually extracted to the surface. This mine was somewhat different.

Salt was first extracted at Salina Turda since antiquity, and the mine continuously provided table salt from the Middle Ages (apparently first documented mentions of this salt mine date back to the 10th and 11th centuries) and was still in use in the early 20th century until 1932.

There are several different chambers open to the public the first of which are the two entrance tunnels – one ‘the OLD tunnel’ is about 700m long and accessed from a small car park and is called the Franz Josef Tunnel. The other is the cunningly named, NEW tunnel which is accessed from a larger newer car park and visitor facility and has only a 180m access tunnel. Yes, bet you can guess which one our hapless guide took us to. :/ To be fair though, he and the driver had never been here before, so I guess we were all pretty chuffed they found the place at all.

One of the main points of interest is the octagonal shaped, ‘Crivac’ room, which houses an enormous which called a ‘crivac’ or sometimes a ‘gepel’. It was pretty rudimentary machinery that was used to lift salt rocks to the surface – the one here presently was built in 1880-1881. This particularly machine is labeled as being the only one of its kind remaining in situ in a salt mine in Romania and possibly in all of Europe. .From the access tunnels, you traverse down some flights of steps to the Franz Joseph Gallery (I can’t see the words Franz Joseph ever written without hearing a thickly accented Austrian art gallery guide at the Kunsthistoiriches also mentioning the Empress Maria Terr-issa!) The steps are old and odd heights and not for the long of foot. This is a conical mine (bell mine). Salt mining in this type of room left behind underground halls of impressive dimensions: 90 metres (300 ft) height and 87 metres (285 ft) diameter. The depth from the mouth of the shafts to the base of the mine is 112 metres (367 ft). A “cascade of salt”, an underground lake, stalactites, and salt efflorescences complete the inert equilibrium of the giant bell. The underground lake is between 0.5 and 8 metres (1.6 and 26.2 ft) deep and occupies about 80 percent of the operating room hearth area. In the center of the lake there is an island formed from residual low-grade salt deposited until the late 19th C.

Now, it houses an odd amusement park having been refurbished to be a tourist centre in 2010 at a cost of $5.6M Euros.

The view from the Franz Joseph Gallery. At the far end you can see the 187 steps in 13 flights of stairs that are required to access the lower areas of the Rudolph mine.

Looking down at the paddle boats from the Gallery… weird. There is even a Ferris wheel down here, an art gallery, a cafe and a gift shop (of course!)Thankfully there is also a lift / elevator – if you do find the stairs difficult (and ffs when there is 187 of them, who doesn’t?) you can wait in line for the lift. The lift takes about 35 seconds to get from bottom to top and vice versa and fits only 7 people at a time, so during busy times you could have quite a wait. Thankfully for us, it wasn’t particularly busy this morning and the wait was barely two minutes. There is no mention on Trip Advisor or the website or any bloody google-able page as the existence of this lift… it’s kinda alluded to, but in a ‘you might be able to use it?’ kinda way. So it wasn’t until we got here that I discovered I’d actually be able to go in.

Worryingly… there is a disclaimer by the elevator saying that the management takes no responsibility if the lift stops working! It’s hard to get a feel for the vast size of this space. The enormous Rudolf Mine is 42 metres deep, 50 metres wide, and 80 metres long. It is the last place in the mine where salt was extracted in Turda. Rudolf mine is the last place where salt was mined in Turda.

On the northwestern ceiling, you can see enormous salt stalactites that are as much as 3m long… though you can’t get that from these photos at all.

Well worth a visit in my opinion and was certainly something different from the usual church tours we’ve been doing in each town.

After the salt mine it was back on the bus – to be sure tours like this involve plenty of bus trips, but I’m honestly not sure how many more bus trips I can spend in close proximity to the particularly odious Annoying American we have in this small group. Ten is a great group size to travel with, not too big, but when you’re on a small commuter bus, suddenly ten feels way too small and you can’t get away from each other. AA has this habit of listening to her music and singing along (no, she can not sing, but that isn’t what is so offensive, it’s just the disjointed noises of someone trying to sing along when they obviously don’t know the words that is so annoying). And when she’s not singing she’s watching comedy videos and laughing out loud at full voice… honestly this woman has no inside voice, no inner monologue and if I have to hear her saying “I need to go potty, Mr G?”, one more time, I’m going to go stark raving mad. She’s just so damn inconsiderate. At the salt mines, she just fucked off – didn’t tell anyone where she was going and when we were all ready to leave we were stood around like idiots wondering where the hell she was… several jokes about 10% attrition was considered industry norm were bandied about. But it turns out she whipped in and out of the mine super quick and the decided to go looking for local shops – without telling anyone and not replying to the WhatsApp group messages. 😐 Several of the young people on the tour had already had more than their fair share of her bullish behaviour and complaint emails have already been sent by several to the tour office to try and have her reprimanded or something as it seemed Georgi was none too keen to be confronting her. Me? I’m just biding my time until it’s my turn to write a letter – and we all know how those go. 🙂

Anyway, where was I? Back on the bus and off to Hunedoara to see the famous castle variously called Corvin’s Castle, Hunyadi Castle or Hunedoara Castle (I know not why). This castle is one of *the* largest castles in Europe. It is considered one of the ‘Seven Wonders of Romania’ – though apparently so are the salt mines, so two in one day is pretty good going.

It sure looks pretty – pretty fantastical that is. The castle was originally designed for this site in the mid-15thC and was partially built between 1440-1446. Building continued on it in 1458-1480 and then there was a huge building spurt on the place in the 17th century and even more done in the 19th century – the result of which is a hodge-podge of ‘architectural improvements’ rather than any determined or cohesive intent to keep building a 15thC castle. There were the obligatory dungeons complete with torture implements which were very easily accessible right at the front of the castle, being directly off the portcullis entrance tower. I don’t know what it is about seeing dummies in medieval castles that immediately sets your expectations for a less than informative visit. That and people dressed in medjieval clothing – which this place had (one guy in Rus pants, a 14thC men’s shirt, a 15th Burgundian pouch and a seax on his belt… should have nabbed his photo). Anyway, it was still fun even if I knew the entire place had burned down in 1876 and the current castle is effectively a fanciful recreation of some modern architect’s idea of what it should look like. Gothic-Renaissance castle bits ahoy…Turrets and gargoyles…

The Legend of the Well

It is said that the well was dug by three Turkish prisoners, to whom lvan of Hunedoara promised their freedom if they found water. Hoping to be free, the prisoners dug in rock for 15 years and at 28 meters deep they manage to find the precious water. In the mean time lvan of Hunedoara had died and his wife, Elisabeth Szilagyi decided not to respect her husband’s word, and instead decided to kill the three

prisoners. As a final wish the three Turks asked the permission to write on a piece of stone in the well an inseription

that said: “You may have water, but you have no soul”, as a reproach for a promise given but not kept. It’s lovely in here and I imagine it’d be great to hold events etc., but it is so bothersome looking around and knowing very little of it is original or even in keeping with the original plan for the castle. Now this looks like a perfectly SCA throne.

After wandering through the castle we all congregated near the long drawbridge, with was out timed collection point – only to find once more that fucking AA had fucked the fuck right off. No one knew where she had gone, where she was or when she’d be back. We stood around getting crosser by the moment knowing this would cut into our time in Sibiu tonight. When she eventually resurfaced, not even an apology just a ‘Oh I went for a walk down by that creek (the moat) and laid down and had a nap. I feel so much better after having my nap, you guys!’ Well, you can imagine the deadpan reception that declaration received and the guide, he just kinda stammered through a ‘Emily, you really shouldn’t wander off like that.’, and quickly shuffled us all onto the bus. Jesus – if that was me and that was my job I’d be giving her both barrels… as it was I pointedly said to her, ‘Thank you for keeping us all waiting, no one knew where you were – you could have been dead in a ditch.’ *mutter mutter*

Anyway, after visiting our fantasy castle we had another drive to Sibiu where we were staying for the night. Now in Sibiu we were supposed to be going to the Brukenthal Palace (which is a museum), the City Square , the Holy Trinity Cathedral, of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul Church – all of which were closed by the time we arrived… So we checked into our hotel and AA must have been wondering why no one messaged her to make a dinner plan with her, here. Cos OMG did the little turd have a massive dummy spit on the group chat! Wheedling, cajoling, then abusing everyone and attempting to gaslight everyone. Without coordinating anything and without being aware of what the others were doing – it turns out nearly everyone on the tour wrote complaints about her that night (and Georgi didn’t get off Scott free either – it’s his job to herd the cats and he most certainly was failing to herd that one!)

Sigisoara to Brasov

Up bright and early for a 0700 breakfast so we can leave the hotel at 0830. Several of the group don’t seem to get the memo though and we leave at 0915. It’s barely my third day with these people and I’m losing a little patience for how self absorbed a couple of them are.

We have a two hour drive to get to a little town called, Sigsioara. The town has about 28,000 people living here and it is a popular tourist stop for the well preserved old town, which is a UNESCO world heritage listed area. First stop was the 13th centrum Clock Tower which is now a small history museum. The Clock Tower is the most obvious town landmark being 64m high and quite pretty.

Dominican Monastery (below), which is closed to visitors – can’t say I blame them, they can be pretty damn intrusive.
The Sigsioara Citadel is also known for containing the house that Vlad Tepes was born in, known affectionately (and unsurprisingly) as Dracul’s House. It was too cheesy for words So I didn’t pop into there.

I did however take an opportunity to pop into the local ‘Medieval Armour Musuem’ a term which sadly must be used loosely because many of the objects on display in the Museum were quite late – 17th to 19th century swords and firearms. There were some cool breast plates though and some enormous muskets.

That pink thing on the left is my Beretta baseball cap… I can’t imagine any soldier carrying this thing about.

From Sigsioara we made our way to Targu Mures. Turns out that Targu Mures isn’t a partially popular tourist spot and the only reason it was on our itinerary was so we could learn about the religious tensions that were happening thirty years ago by showing us the Citadel of the town and the Culture Square which encompasses a Catholic Church, an the Ascension Cathedral, which is an Eastern Orthodox Church and the Quo Ante Jewish Synagogue.

We were all a bit confused about it – even our ‘expert’ guide, Gorgy who had never been there before. The driver, Nick got us lost, driving around in circles several times (we went past one statue three times) before dropping us off near a school so we could find the citadel on foot. Not at all impressed by that.

Then it turns out that the Catholic Church (below) and the synagogue are not open to the public anyway, so we only got to go into the Eastern Orthodox Church..

The Catholic Church is located inside the Citadel walls and apparently built their church to be larger than the Jewish synagogue… on purpose.
Which of course caused the Eastern Orthodox mob to build their cathedral even bigger again… quite something for a tiny little town of barely 28,000 people.
They call this the Ascension Cathedral, but it’s actually a church as it is under the purview of priest not a bishop. Construction started on it in 1925, and the frescos and murals were started in 1934. The gold iconostasis was completed in 1939, and then it turns out their plans were a little ambitious for this little town and they had to halt work on the frescoes when they ran out of money. Work eventually resumed they were apparently completed in 1986. The result is that some of the frescoes look 100 years old and are quite dark from age and incense smoke etc, and some look as bright as if they were done in the last few years.

Still, it is a very beautiful church and reminds me very much of orthodox churches I went into in Moscow and St Petersburg, and I’m glad one of the buildings on our stop in Targu Mures was open to the public. We had had a very rushed day today, what with one thing and another (getting lost, people ordering lunch and then their meals taking forever to arrive, and people just not listening to instructions and skiving off), so we were kinda glad to be having a 20 min break to take a moment to soak in the atmosphere here.

When the rest of the group joined us, we jogged off up the road to the Mayor’s house and to wait for Nick, the Boos Driver.
This is the Mayor’s residence, right next door to the Mayoral offices, and it seems the mayor who built it in the early 1900s was heavily into Italian/Latin architecture styles – which ends up in a weird mishmash of an Italian villa with a Romanian looking roof and decoration… I have no idea why Romulus and Remus are prominently out front – it’s a mystery?! And here we remained while we waited for The Annoying American on our tour to finally deign to meet up with the group. Yes, there’s three American’s on our tour, and two of them are delightful – thoughtful, engaging and considerate beautiful humans… and one horrifically entitled, self involved fucking clueless inconsiderate c&%t!!! This person had lost her sunglasses the night before – left them on a table at a Greek restaurant in Brasov, and had been whining all fucking day about not being able to get hold of them to find them for her, ‘My gawd, they’re like, $400 sunglasses, like they should at least be able to find them and like, send them to me in Bucharest.’ When she wasn’t complaining to us about her lost sunglasses, she was skiving away from group trying to find some ‘decent’ sunglasses to buy. So, we had been playing ‘Oh-FFS-Where’s-The-Annoying-American’ all day. Now we were all hurried up and getting ready to leave and she is nowhere to be found. Not answering messages on the WhatsApp group chat and eventually, she replies saying she’s buying sunnies and found ‘gold on special’ (WTF?) and will be there soon. So the ten of us stand around on the footpath outside the Mayor’s house cursing her and waiting for her to turn up.

She eventually shows up and she’s all smiles and happy is wearing her new sunnies “Yo-yo guys, Bul-garee in the house!” … took me a few moments to realise that somehow in this dinky little town she found a department store selling BVLGARI designer sunglasses. She was also showing around the ‘gold’ she’d found and turns out that was a dainty gold necklace with an Irish harp charm on it??? Urgh, we’ve been rolling our eyes about the unbelievable selfish and boastful nature of this woman for the last four days but everyone seems to have comfortably taken to quietly bitching about her behind her back and not addressing the problem.

Which of course meant I was the one confronting her about not being able to leave the group like that and keep us all waiting. Even the tour guide didn’t take her to task. This is the second time in three days that I left her standing agape looking like I’d slapped her.

Urgh… Annoying American finally acquired, so Gorgy called the bus driver and we head off to Cluj-Nepoca. When we get there – we find the Cluj-Nepoca’s Union Square in the middle of evening summer concerts of traditional music and not-so-traditional tunes being played on weird traditional instruments – very loudly! Thanks to Her Nibs being late, we weren’t able to check out some of the buildings around the square that were on the itinerary but we did manage to check out the cathedral very briefly because it was closing at 1900.

The square was full of locals out to enjoy the evening and the noise.The Matthias Corvinus sculpture – you know, the guide didn’t tell me who he was or why there was a statue to him and I didn’t bother supplementing that for a change by googling it myself (which is another recurring theme lately), so this is him, but fucked if I know what he did to be worthy of a huge sculpture in the town square.

Ok, I lied… Fresh to you from Wikipedia: was King of Hungary and Croatia from 1458 to 1490 and after conducting several (presumably successful) military campaigns, he was elected King of Bohemia in 1469, and adopted for himself the title, ‘Duke of Austria’ in 1487. There’s way more to the dude than that, like his lineage etc, but that’s the TL;DR.

St Mikhail’s Church is the second largest church in Transylvania (behind the Black Church from yesterday). The construction was begun in the St James Chapel (in the back of the church). The money to pay for this was largely collected from indulgence income apparently – man we should go back to the good old days of selling indulgences, only maybe the money could go to building housing for the homeless or something.

Anyway, the first documents relating to the building of the church date back to 1349. There are some fragmented frescoes in the church that make sense with that time period, but they’re pretty dilapidated, covered over and poorly kept. The construction was completed between 1442-1447 apparently, the original tower was built between 1511-1545, but the tower that can be seen now was erected in 1862.

Small evidence of poorly kept frescos… I don’t seem to have taken a photograph of the saints on the wall whose faces were all scratched off when the church was turned over to Lutheran hands in the 16thC.

By this time it is well on 1930 and we are hunting for dinner, along with every other resident of Cluj-Nepoca by the looks of it. We eventually found a restaurant with a vacant table and wouldn’t you know it a place called, ‘Toulouse’ in Romania doesn’t have French or Romania food, but burgers, pizza and pasta. Sigh… there was one oddity worthy of taking note of; in the back of the drinks menu was a cigarette menu and every table had a Dunhill ashtray on it. Yuk. Thankfully there was a decent breeze (blowing the right way for us) and we were able to while away an hour or so over some cheap ciders – $4 bottles of Strongbow.

We leave town to go the hotel about 2130 because of course the Annoying American is late again. We serve up yet another episode of the Blind Leading the Blind as our guide and driver got lost. Again. Seems Nick is using a decade old Tom Tom to navigate us around Romania and Gorgy can’t seem to read Waze properly but here we are in the back of the bus with Google Maps open trying to tell them the hotel is only 200m further up the street when Nick does a three point turn and goes back in the wrong direction only to discover they’re moving further away from the hotel and to do another three point turn and go back the way we were… ugh. We eventually pull up outside a restaurant and the Hotel sign can be seen in the back and I’m like, ‘Hello, according to the map, we need to go to the next driveway.’ Gorgy goes in to check things out, Nick meanwhile is unloading baggage, and when Gorgy comes back, he says ‘We need to go up to the next driveway.’ So we all carry/drag our bags up to the next driveway to get in the hotel.

Such a long day. It’s well and truly 22:30 by the time we got settled into our room and I had no energy to do this so, this was yesterday’s clusterfuck. I’ll get onto today’s clusterfucks in a few moments.