More Central and Eastern European bling (incl Transylvania); *A flights, Accor hotels

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RooFlyer

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Re: More Central and Eastern European bling (incl Transylvania); *A flights, Accor ho

The Kunsthistorisches Museum and its twin, the Naturhistorisches Museum were built in the 1890s by Franz Joseph I of Austria-Hungary to house (some of!) the Habsburgs art collection, and they didn’t do things by halves. The building interiors are a blaze of marble and gilding, with statues galore; and then you come to the art and various collections! Gallery upon gallery of Old Masters; a large collection of ‘treasures’ and relics, ancient Greek, ancient Egyptian etc etc. Huge, and eye glazing after a few hours. But I do like a good Rubens.

I have to say however that it was very disappointing that most of the exhibits were labeled only in German. With a world class exhibit, I think its reasonable to expect English as well. Many of the exhibits are not obvious and there is a great deal to be learned by the visitor who doesn't just want to walk past the show cases and say that they've been there.

In fact, may I say this is a characteristic of Austria in general. Countries around it nearly always have English at important places - museums, road signs, tourist venues. But not Austria. Sprechen sie deutsch or tough bikkies. (Restaurants are an exception.)

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Dauntingly, we set off for the Natural History Museum opposite. The décor inside if anything exceeded the Fine Arts museum:

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But our special interest was the collection of minerals and meteorites – one of the largest in the world. And good to see Geology getting proper recognition! The bird on the right is holding a Trilobite. The boulders on the left are meteorites.

Geo.jpg
 
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Re: More Central and Eastern European bling (incl Transylvania); *A flights, Accor ho

In this batch we have the Austrian Parliament and the ‘Rathause’ (city/province legislature); the film festival was on, so some of the building blotted out by a big screen :(

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Just part of the Hofburg complex

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No trip to Vienna would be complete without saying hello to ‘Wolfie’ (his grave is elsewhere in the city); to the left of the building in top centre (Volkspark) is a picture of a naked man. Poor guy – there is a constant stream of young ladies groping him. Other pics – more of the Hofburg.

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The Schloss Belvedere. Great buildings and grounds, but I didn’t like the modern (post 1900) art inside.

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And that’s the trouble ith young blokes isn’t it – always with bulges in their trousers (and shirts).


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Re: More Central and Eastern European bling (incl Transylvania); *A flights, Accor ho

Two stops on the last day, the Treasury in the ‘Old Hoffburg’ and Schonbrunn Palace.

I am a bit partial to the odd Treasure – Crown Jewels in London, Hope Diamond in Washington, the Czars bling at the Hermitage, St Petersburg. Here we have the State regalia from the early 1600s and also the Crown of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation, created in the 900s. Lots of other good bling here. The crowds here – in fact throughout Vienna weren’t as bad as I expected. The streets are full of people, but queues to get tickets are relatively short, or absent.

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On to the Schonbrunn, only a E2.10 metro ride away. We loved the Vienna metro. One simple ticket for a journey, regardless of distance or changes. Easy to follow instructions on machines. Trains run very regularly during the day at least and none we got in were crowded, even at ‘peak hour’.

The Palace itself has stunning interiors, no pictures allowed, unfortunately. Only spoiled by the tour groups where the guide shouts out the commentary. These days, all tour groups should have in-ear receivers so the guide can speak quietly to all of them, and not disturb the other patrons. Took us about an hour to walk around; there are 2 (self guided) tours – Grand and Imperial, with the first taking in more rooms than the other. I must say that beyond the exhibits (decorated rooms), the set-up is a bit poor. Signage is poor and it’s not always obvious what you are supposed to do in any one spot. The toilets are disgraceful in the entry/exit area – even the gents had a queue (and there was not a crush of people on the site)!!

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The gardens are very impressive. It was a drizzly day, so it was just a quick flit through.

Overall Vienna – overwhelming at first; three days was always a silly short time to do it justice or to get ‘into’ it, but I at least got its measure so next time it will be a more leisurely visit, I think enjoying it more.
The Mercure Wien Centrum was well located – only 5 to 10 mins walk from Stephansplatz and after that, most of the attractions of inner Vienna. One last thing. This ice cream place did not fail to have a queue of at least 10 people coming out the door, most of the entire 3 days we were there. Even in the rain! We eventually struck it with only a few people there, so bought an ice cream. Not bad, but we must have been missing something – continuous queues??

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So that was Vienna. Next stops, places I’ve been looking forward to since I first visited Budapest 3 years ago – NW Hungary and the ‘Danube bend’.
 

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Re: More Central and Eastern European bling (incl Transylvania); *A flights, Accor ho

NW Hungary – the Danube Bend

I’ve wanted to visit north-western Hungry (so-called ‘Danube bend’) since reading about it when I visited Budapest a couple of years ago. So I convinced my friends that we should hire a car and zoom across there, and take in Bratislava on the way back.

Hiring a car (pre booked) in Vienna for travel into Hungry and Slovakia wasn’t difficult – just paid about €42 for the privilege. The Austrian highway tolls were included in the Austrian based hire, but to drive on Hungarian and Slovakian toll roads required the purchase of a ‘Vignette’ for each. Slovakia I bought in Vienna (a sticker on the windscreen) , but the Hungarian one was only purchase-able at the border (electronic based, but you just get a chit of paper). The minimum time you could buy for each was 10 days – so €10 each!

Anyway, all done and we zoomed east towards Gyor where we checked into the Ibis there before heading on east along the Danube. Not much to see as the river is bordered by groves of trees.

The first stop was the town of Esztergom, a small town on the river but hosting the largest church in Hungary – the Basilica. It sits on a hill above the river and is enormous (check-out the people on the steps in the RH pic).

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Most of it was re-built in the 19th Century (after destruction during the Turkish invasion of mid 1500s) but remnants remain from the 16th Century. The area has at least 2,000 years of history though. The Romans camped in the area and Stephen I, founder of Hungary was born and crowed in the then Cathedral in the 10th Century.

Inside is pretty awe inspiring; dominated by the massive dome.

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There is a Treasury of interesting 12th Century onwards church artifacts and of course there is a climb up to the outside of the dome itself – about 400 steps up a circular staircase. The views over the Danube, across to Slovakia and down the valley towards Budapest are worth the climb though.

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The views extended to the grounds and nearby features. There seems to be a lot of restoration of buildings around the Basilica … but I question the one below, right. Look out for that last step!

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One great thing about this place is under the forecourt lawns is a large, vaulted space now given over to a restaurant, and a display on Hungarian wines. Who could turn that up! There are good explanations of all the regions and even ‘a glassful from a real bottle’ type dispensing machines (like in some QF lounges). And who could resist buying a good quality Tokay (Tokaj) – about €35. Can’t wait to test that one out back home :)

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Re: More Central and Eastern European bling (incl Transylvania); *A flights, Accor ho

Carrying on the road along the Danube, we headed for Szentendre, about 20km NW of Budapest and described as a charming town with several old churches. We were a bit behind time, so it only got a quick look but we were still a bit disappointed. More a day trip from Budapest type of place rather than an extended trip destination.

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There were plenty of markets and cafes and a branch of the Danube looked attractive from a boat tour point of view.

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Unfortunately we didn’t make it to several other sights we wanted to visit – the citadel at Visegrad, or the interesting architecture at Vac. To get back to Gyor necessitated not just skirting but getting quite close to Budapest (well, Buda anyway) where got some glimses of the good stuff in between the peak hour traffic :) . But soon on the freeway which had a 130km/h limit and a good surface as it went through the rolling hills of western Hungary. But we are not sure where the guy on the right fitted in.

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We got back to the Ibis in Gyor. Gyor one would probably drive though without a second thought but we chose to stop there as it was somewhat central to what we wanted to see and there as an Accor hotel there – even if it was only an Ibis! But it was a pretty good choice – centrally located, modern and the staff were good. Room was standard (and I mean ‘standard’) Ibis; simple but comfortable and functional. The room was somewhat bigger in size than the Mercure we stayed at in Vienna.

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Gyor has obviously had a civic make-over recently and its continuing by the look of it. The old town has obviously been re-paved for pedestrianisation and there are oodles of good cafes and restaurants. The Town Square is very attractive. At night, its well-lit and there is a water feature in of a ‘dancing spurts of water’ type. There are of course old churches. A building site on the banks of the Danube by the remnants of the Town Wall promises more open space, cafes etc.

Apparently soda water is something of a national passion and here’s homage to it.

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Re: More Central and Eastern European bling (incl Transylvania); *A flights, Accor ho

From Gyor, next stop Bratislava

Zoomed there via a good highway/freeway and you are reminded of the crumbing boarders in Europe as you drive through the crumbling border control stations. Soon entering Bratislava; it’s almost right on the Austrian border, so that comms tower id probably over the border.

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We found the Hotel Dunubia Gate without much difficulty (thanks be to GPS) and checked in. It’s a reasonably modern hotel close to the Old Town. I scored un upgrade – to a large room, with spa etc which was rather welcome after the driving over the past 2 days.

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The environs around the hotel – towards the Old town aren’t very salubrious; lots of graffiti etc but soon you are in the older quarter and a town square.

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As we strolled the Old Town we came across this guy – called The Watcher and one of a number of quirky bronzes about the place.

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We were heading for the Castle and passed by our first Old Church, which the Soviets helpfully missed when building their freeway. But only just.
 

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Re: More Central and Eastern European bling (incl Transylvania); *A flights, Accor ho

Looking good RooFlyer​. Keep it up.
 

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Re: More Central and Eastern European bling (incl Transylvania); *A flights, Accor ho

Occupational hazard of castles is they tend to be built on hills. Steep hills. So we lumbered our way up this particular hill, with many steps. Along the way we met this young lady, whose significance escaped us, and finally the castle loomed up. It’s largely a 20th century reconstruction, but still impressive. There have been a lot of archeological digs in the grounds (ongoing) and in the centre, revealing numerous Roman and Neolithic artifacts. People have been living here for a long time.

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From the entry point of the castle there are great views over the Danube, including the ‘UFO Bridge’ and ugly Soviet era apartment blocks

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Inside, most of the rooms are empty, but they appear to be beginning to fill things up. Most impressive is the (newly created) staircase.

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The oldest part of the Castle, the Crown Tower dates from the 13th Century and traditionally held the Crown Jewels of Hungary, including the Holy Crown of Hungary, used from the 12th Century and weighing in at a bit over 2kg. During most of the Cold War it was stored at Fort Knox in the USA. There is a display of it in the Crown Tower today; I assume it’s a replica, as references say that its currently in the Hungarian Parliament building, but nothing in the display says that the one on display here is a replica.

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You can climb the Crown Tower via some very steep stairs and get yet more great views out over the Danube and beyond to the apartments and beyond those to another blight on the landscape, Austrian wind farms.

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Re: More Central and Eastern European bling (incl Transylvania); *A flights, Accor ho

After our exertions at the castle, we spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the Bratislava Old Town. It’s not that big, but has some interesting sights. Thunderstorms were threatening, so we took pre-emptive action and sat down at Vinimka, a wine bar with a broad canopy. Sure, enough there was a huge downpour that sent the tourists running, while I at least enjoyed a Slovakia Pinot Gris.

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For dinner we took the plunge on the least touristy place we could find. And the meal of duck was superb.

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On the final morning, we took a final quick final swing through the Old Town and came across this perspective on the Castle, and this Napoleonic figure – called The Leaner – in residence outside the French Embassy (or something French). Good to see the Slovakians having a sense of humour.

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Re: More Central and Eastern European bling (incl Transylvania); *A flights, Accor ho

Just loving the photos...great stuff
 

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Re: More Central and Eastern European bling (incl Transylvania); *A flights, Accor ho

Thanks, Major. Best bits are coming right up - but its snooze time here!
 

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Re: More Central and Eastern European bling (incl Transylvania); *A flights, Accor ho

Pannonhalmi Abbey, Western Hungary

Hells teeth. I’ve left out one of the most memorable visits of the trip so far. Just out of Gyor in western Hungary is the town of Pannonhalmi, with its World Heritage listed Benedictine ArchAbbey on the hill overlooking the town. It stands out as you approach. At the site, its immediately obvious a great deal has been spent to make this an attractive visiting place. There is a modern visitors centre and conference centre about half way up the hill; undercover parking and friendly staff; modern toilets. After buying a ticket and audioguide, the Abbey is reached via boardwalks though a very pleasant forest. (You no longer have to take a guided tour.)

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The Abbey was founded about 996 when King Stephan I donated lands. From the front you get a very nice vista over the town and countryside.

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Inside, the church part is somewhat austere and has undergone a renovation recently, incorporating some 20th Century features, which blend in well.

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The audioguide is set up brilliantly. It has a sensor and an earpiece, so commentary is automatically triggered when you reach the spot in question. You can enjoy the commentary at your own pace in peace and quiet – EXCEPT when Italian tour groups rumble through, with everyone talking loudly and pushing past.
There are some nice artistic touches though. The stained glass windows in the Chapels are colourful and delicate and one particular doorway is richly decorated.

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The highlight of the visit is the Library, one of the most beautiful rooms I have ever visited (next post).
 
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Re: More Central and Eastern European bling (incl Transylvania); *A flights, Accor ho

The Library was added in 1832, when education of the monks was being promoted. Today the library houses about 360,000 volumes and a very large archive of Hungarian language and culture.
You enter a beautiful space of columned shelved areas, and delicate frescos on the ceiling.

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A copy of the original charter for the Tihany monastery, (left) dated 1055 is the oldest document in containing words and phrases Hungarian language. One the right is the 1002 charter of rights and privileges of Pannonhalmi Abbey from King Stephen I.

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A parting view of the Library. This was a great visit. Its reachable in about 1.5 to 2 hours drive from Budapest and is thoroughly recommended.

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Re: More Central and Eastern European bling (incl Transylvania); *A flights, Accor ho

Great stuff!
 

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Re: More Central and Eastern European bling (incl Transylvania); *A flights, Accor ho

Romania! This is what I’ve been hanging out for.

But first we have to get from Vienna airport to Sibiu in Transylvania, and that ended up being a little more dramatic than we would have liked it to be. Returning the hire car and checking in at Austrian at VIE was a breeze.

Through immigration as we are leaving the Schengen zone, then security – what a pleasure! A new terminal and a very large security area and, amazingly almost all of the ?10 security lanes appeared to be functional. Being Star Gold, I had one unit to myself, but we all walked through without any queuing. :)

To the ‘Non Schengen’ Senator Lounge (again courtesy Star Gold for 2 of us, others guested). Not bad, not huge, but all the usual facilities (except toilets, which are shared with the Business Lounge outside). We lunched on salmon baguettes and some average Austrian wines. Sparking was something called ‘Schlumberger’, which I know as a oil rig services firm!

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After the lounge, it’s the hike to the gate. After taking a prize for Best Security, VIE takes a cake for worst walk to gates. A single straight pier accesses Gates 1-99 – all on foot! There are some travelators, but the walk is very long. After 10 minutes brisk walk we are passing Gate 21, on our way to Gate 37. Travelators stop at Gate 27. Finally! At gate 37. Here there is at least some interesting and useful furniture, and there on the tarmac is our ride. Another Dash 8.

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We board the inevitable bus and get taken out to the far end of the stand, passing Gate 1 on the way! Board & then we are off.

It’s about a 90 min ride to Sibiu. About 60 mins in, we descend beneath a solid cloud cover and do a few weaves, then a circle. What happened next you can read about here .

Thankfully on the ground, it’s a bus into the small air terminal. This time Austrian has broken my second bag (the wheelie handle), having blown a wheel on their first journey for me. Our tour company rep is there in a van to handle all of us with bags and we are off to the Ramada for the night, with rain still pouring down.

The Ramada is a modern-ish place, not very busy so a bit echo-y. The room is a bit dated but large and perfectly OK.

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We plan to have a couple of drinks in the bar then have dinner in the hotel, to save venturing out in the rain. Oh dear. Three guys in the bar were far more interested in watching the World Cup football on the TV than serving us. Oh, no we thought - the worst of the Soviet era service legacy survives in Romania! Fortunately we subsequently learned that this was anything but the case. It was at the Ramada only that we experienced any poor service, so its a definite avoid.

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After finally getting one of their attention, we left and went to a nearby place “Terracotta” which was nearly empty, but just fine.
Here is the view from my room, and from the elevator. It was a wet night!

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Re: More Central and Eastern European bling (incl Transylvania); *A flights, Accor ho

From a related thread post:

Great wine/TR RooFlyer. A bit OT - are you travelling independently in Romania? If so, any tips about rental cars/driving there?

Hi JohnM

We are travelled with a driver via a tour organizer and was very pleased with it, especially with the very great level of history and background needed in a new (for me) part of the world. But having now seen the roads and driving conditions (but only in Transylvania mind you), I would drive myself next time (except maybe in Bucharest which I was told was the Wild West).

Main roads are moderately well paved, but winding and usually single lane each way, resulting in some pretty hair raising overtaking maneuvers (including through small towns :shock:). But as long as one drove conservatively and allowed for such, its not bad at all.

Fuel stations modern and plentiful where we went; I imagine off the tourist routes things would be a bit more sparse.

Off the main roads the road conditions deteriorate markedly (potholes and gravel stretches). Most sights appeared to be signposted Ok when they are off the main road. In a number of places our driver appeared to pay a local guy to watch over the vehicle and he often got us much closer to the attraction from knowing some car park attendant or gate keeper.

I would avoid winter entirely and even the shoulders either side; lots of snow and poor conditions.

No knowledge about renting a car in Romania sorry, but I wouldn't think it out of the ordinary. I'm pretty sure you can rent in countries such as Germany & Austria and drive into Romania, for an additional fee.

I think Dmitri has more experience in Romania if he's reading this thread.
 

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Re: More Central and Eastern European bling (incl Transylvania); *A flights, Accor ho

From a related thread post:
I'm pretty sure you can rent in countries such as Germany & Austria and drive into Romania, for an additional fee.

I'm not so sure. All rentals (with the majors) I've had in W Europe specifically exclude taking the vehicle into E European countries (eg. from Austria I couldn't take the car into Czech Republic, which did surprise me as I wouldn't have thought Czech was so 'Eastern' any more - so I missed getting to Ceski Krumlov which I had hoped to do.)
 
Combining a phone charger and phone holder our Magnetic Wireless Car Phone Charger quickly charges your phone while driving without tangled cords!

Suitable for car dashboard air vent installation, our wireless phone charger makes phone calls and GPS navigation easier more convenient.

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RooFlyer

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Re: More Central and Eastern European bling (incl Transylvania); *A flights, Accor ho

Now, I’ve just previewed the pics I mean to use to cover the 3 days we spent in Romania and I’m afraid the list is rather long. I promise to cull them again, but anyone not interested in ancient castles, fortified churches and cute country and street-scapes might want to take a breather (like we haven’t seen any of those so far!) :)

We were picked up from the Ramada by our superb guide Marius (leaving the bulk of our luggage behind). Humorous, patient, knowledgeable on all things Romanian, great English and a careful driver!
From Sibiu we headed NE across undulating countryside; crops of beets, wheat and corn on the flats and verdant forest on the hills. We passed vestiges of the old Soviet planned economy. An old lead smelter that was plonked into the region to create jobs. As soon as the communist regime was over-thrown, it closed.

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Before long we were in the town of Biertan, to look at its fortified church. Built between 1493 and 1522 its one of the largest of its type in Transylvania and is on the World Heritage list. It’s a ‘Lutheran Evangelical’, built by the Saxons. As I understand it, in the 12th Century the Kings of Hungary brought Saxons (from Germany) into Transylvania to provide skills and settle, and as a reward they obtained certain exclusive trading rights. Out guide patiently explained the set up several times, but with so much ruling / pillaging / invading in the medieval times, I got lost. The concept of a fortified church is that with the threats of invasions and sackings from the Turks / Ottomans, the churches got fortified with walls and defenses, so that the village could retreat inside if an attack was imminent. We’ll see several other examples in the coming days.

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Biertan’s church isn’t in terribly good nick, but restoration is on-going. Inside, the triptych is one of the oldest in Romania, dating from 1450. The door to the sacristy has a nifty locking mechanism.

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These German masons obviously take their work seriously, as they dress in traditional costume! Then we drove off, soon to approach the citadel town of Sighișoara, where met up with Vlad Țepeș (phonetically, roughly “Chepesh”.

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Oh, you might have heard of him. Vlad the Impaler . Charming fellow.
 

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Re: More Central and Eastern European bling (incl Transylvania); *A flights, Accor ho

Sighișoara was settled by Saxons in the 12th Century after being invited there by the King of Hungary to supply certain skills to the economy, including defense against the Ottomans from the east. It developed into a fortified town with a large city wall (14th Century) and 14 defensive towers, each erected by a different gild. Its UNESCO World Heritage listed.

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Today the Old Town is still inhabited which means there are maybe more cars around than the tourists would like, but its still gorgeous. Here are some panoramas from atop the Watch/Clock Tower towards the churches on the highest point of the citadel, and of the Town Square, a lively, colourful place.

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And facing the Town Square is this guy on the corner of an inn. And away from it this very picturesque house.

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The Watch Tower is manifestly ancient (12th Century).

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The yellow building next to the Watch Tower is the birthplace of Vlad Țepeș, son of Vlad Dracul Vlad II Dracul , a Prince from the southern kingdom / province of Wallachia who was exiled in the town. And yes, he was the ‘model’ fro Bram Stoker’s “Dracula”. The town does the legend quite tasefuly. there is a torture chamber museum and a Vlad museum, but no guys in capes with fangs wandering about. :)

Vlad Țepeș Dracul (Vlad the Impaler) ruled Wallachia from 1456 to 1462 and he garnered a reputation for excessive cruelty. Don’t read the final para below if you are a bit squeamish

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Vlad’s method of impaling his enemies consisted of having a stake inserted at the ‘bottom end’ shall we say, and passing it upwards, avoiding vital organs so that it emerged from the victim’s mouth, resulting in a very slow death.
 

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Re: More Central and Eastern European bling (incl Transylvania); *A flights, Accor ho

Welp, you've reinforced my desire to tour Eastern Europe.
 
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