Published: September 6th 2007July 20th 2007
Our "last hoorah" of proper travel before we get to Londo has been a trip, mostly on trains, through Eastern and Central Europe. Enough countries that we have to take a second's pause to search our mind before we can say which country we are in.
Our last blog was in Northern Romania. As our hostel owner explained, Sighetu Marmatieu's main industry was smuggling. Many people- often old ladies- cross the bridge into Ukraine, buy cartons of cigarettes, return and sell them at a profit. Since the Ukraine cigarette prices were so much cheaper, those old ladies could make a pretty decent living, even if they smuggled cigarettes one carton a time.
We visited Transylvania. the pretty town of Cluj-Napoca seemed to be less about vampires and more about quasi Austro-Hungarian Bennetton wearing University types.
Budapest. We were having a lovely Sunday in a gigantic park on Margaret Island (an island on the Danube). As we were munching on a meal of local sausages, saurkraut, bread and mustard, we heard the distant ambiance of a euphoric crowd. Following the sound we stumbled into a packed stadium watching a water polo match. The atmosphere was fairly heated so we
The Greatest Lunch... ever!!!
Margaret Island park in Budapest, Hungary
thought it must be big teams playing. It turned out to be Hungary verses Russia! And the euphoric sound? The crowd watching Russia get their arse kicked!
Vienna. Pretty as a postcard, expensive as courier mail. We "couch surfed" (internet thing) meaning we stayed free of charge on someone's couch. We stayed in the apartment of an extremely nice Euro-funky woman, Martina. She was cool- and her apartment would have fit nicely into a book like Taschen "Vienna Style".
As we are earnest coffee drinkers S and I made a pilgrimage to Cafe Landtmann, founded in 1873. Vienna is where the coffee shop phenomenon began. The waiters wafted around in bow ties, catering to members of the Austrian government, well-off business people, and Sarah and me. Although buying two coffees and a cake was an investment, we loved it. So did Freud.
Czech Republic has been a revelation. We had a few badly needed days break from underground trains and concrete in a medieval village in Southern Bohemia, Cesky Krumlov. Most of the restaurants, and every other type of business for that matter, were in many-centuries-old cellar-like builings with low, rounded ceilings. One such restaurant had an
A greek Orthodox Chuch
In Segetu Marmatiei in Northern Romania
open furnace in the middle of the main room where all the meat was prepared over smoking embers. We devoured pork-knee for dinner, which made me feel like a king from a time before table manners.
The next evening we planned to eat at a "gypsy style" restaurant which was rumoured to have live music on a friday night. It being friday, we decided to go during the day to book. Unlike every other restaurant in town it was not open during the day. I poked my head through a little window into the darkness to get someone's attention. "Hello!" Nothing. "Dobry Den!" ["hello!" in Czech] Pause. A rough looking fellow who I assumed was the owner appeared.
X: When do you open?
X: Can I make a booking?
Owner: No. No bookings.
X: Is there live music tonight?
Owner: Don't know.
X: Is there live music tomorrow night?
Owner: Don't know.
Walking away slightly frustrated I figured it out- such a flagrant lack of customer service could mean only one thing: the owner with nothing to prove and therefore he is the owner of a very good restaurant! So later we got there, had a couple
of typically excellent Czech beers as the place gradually filled up with other patrons. This room was another rustic medieval relic. We were served dinner by the rough owner- "gypsy style" sausage with sour cabbage and potato and "Gypsy style" blue cheese pasta, both delicious. We were polishing that off, chatting with the Englishman next to us and feeling convivial, when three distictly Indian looking gypsy musicians burst in, carrying respectively a violin, an accordion and a double bass. Yes!
In short order they started, and from the first moment they were playing full tilt, maybe 160 RPM. They were incredably tight, obviously enjoying themselves and communicating in that wordless language of eyes and head-nods that you see from good bands. Inexplicably the song got even faster. And faster, well past the point where most bands would fall apart. The music was driving me insane. Looking over at Sarah seeing her grinning and wild-eyed, I'd say I wasn't the only one.
They did several sets playing more dance songs and the odd ballad. Quite unexpectedly halfway through a song all three would break out singing, two baritones and a tenor belting and lilting in perfect harmony. We collected
Our hostel in Budapest
In anything other than high tourist season, it doubles as a girl's boarding school.
more companions: an Australian, an Egyptian American and a Taiwanese artist-in-residence. The Muller Thurgau flowed freely and it was a bloody good night. The next day we were relaxing by the river at our hostel and Sarah realised how much like a New Zealand New Year's Day it was: the weather hot, us relaxed and hung over.
Now we are in Prague. Yes, it really is that good. Spires, trams and and beautiful art noveau buildings... pity it's as hot as hell out there, but soon we'll be in England, so we better make the most of the sun while we still can!
There are more photos below