Saturday, February 24, 2018


After the delayed journey into Bucharest,  we again needed to rearrange what we had planned to do.  We decided we deserved some nice Romanian wine and a good dinner.  So we headed off to find a nearby wine specialist; Abel's Wine Bar.  We tried some very nice hearty reds (and brought a few bottles of Romanian and Austrian wines back to Laos)

Drinks to sooth the stresses of the travelling day accomplished, next it was off to fill the tummies.  A local beer-hall style restaurant popular with travellers and locals alike, was just around the corner. It was early and certainly not full but Caru' cu Bere  managed to find us a table "as long as we would be finished within two hours."  With just the 2 of us that seemed pretty achievable. 

Andrew had a small misunderstanding with the English menu and ordered the traditional Pork Knuckle and I had another dish.  On arrival it was enormous.  On reading the menu again it turns out it was described as being for 2 hungry people :-) He made a valiant attempt to eat it all, but the knuckle won in the end.

The new day dawned with heavy snow showers.  We needed to walk about 15 minutes to the National art gallery.  It was not a great day for looking at the streets as we trudged along, heads down.  It was a relief to get inside the buildings.  There was a very impressive collection of Romanian art and some good international galleries.

The destination for the afternoon was the Cotroceni Palace Museum.  Bucharest has a number of palaces, many with strong ties to the dictator Nicolae CeauČ™escu & his wife, and their excessive expenditures.  We chose the Cotroceni because it wasn't quite so over the top.  We walked and rode the metro to get there, stopping off for a quick kebab for lunch.  

The Cotrocheni Palace is the official residence of the Romanian President and we had to go through some security screening entering the building and were not allowed to take photos of the structures outside. Inside was interesting.

We walked up the Palace of the Parliament, a CeauČ™escu structure that Bucharest is famous for.  The guide books regularly describe the building as the largest administrative building in the world with an area of 365,000m2 & 1100 rooms.  They also say it costs USD $6,000,000 a year for electricity and heating.  We didn't do the available tour here, because a lot of people have commented on TripAdvisor that it is really badly organised, and you can only take in so many rooms.  So we just looked from the outside.

The next day had no snow falling so we actually retraced some of the route from yesterday, but this time we could actually see the streets and buildings.  Bucharest has a reputation as being somewhere you should plan to leave as quickly as possible.  But I think that attitude is changing and the city is reinventing itself.  There are numerous stately buildings.  The historic city however has been over-developed and there are tourist restaurant after tourist restaurant lining the streets in that area.  If we had had a little more time we could have explored another couple of days.

Through the country there has been a strong religious presence.  This ranged from people crossing themselves on buses as they past churches, to large numbers of churches and plenty of people going into them.

We manged to eat well in Bucharest.  For a brief moment pre-trip Andrew had been concerned because friends who had visited there in the 80's had struggled to find any food to eat.  This was not a problem for us this visit. 

Near our hotel was the recently restored Hanul Lui Manuc restaurant. This building had been a trading post/coaching inn in the past. We had a good warming set lunch there including local specialties of sour soup and polenta and cheese.  And a good dinner nearby at the city grill with a shared large platter of sausages.  Afterwards we found that beer hall, the city grill and Hanul Lui Manuc were all part of the same chain.

And then it was back to the airport to reverse the journey back to Asia.  Romania in winter, was a good destination but with the delays we experienced with flights and trains, I think we merely we pleased to have visited, and perhaps could not say we had loved the experience.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Sibiu and Brasov, Romania

After having to stay an extra day in Munich due to snow delays, it was a relief to actually takeoff.

We flew into Sibiu, proceeded quickly through a friendly immigration post and headed off to find a taxi.  As we arrived early evening, we decided it was too cold to venture outside,  so we proceeded to have a delicious cheese plate and kebabs in the hotel restaurant.  Both here and in Austria we enjoyed sampling cheese again.

The next morning it was cold, but clear, so we wandered off into the old town.  It was quite charming.

Sadly we could not go the very good art museum the town is reknown for.  In winter they close both Monday and Tuesday, and being  day late into town we of course were there only in Monday and Tuesday.

The town is also well known for the ''eyes" in the roofs of the buildings.  Everywhere you turn you see them, including more modern builds.

We went into the Evangelical Cathedral and paid our admission fee.  We thought we were going to see inside the Gothic church, but after viewing the displayed tombstones, the ladies at the desk said that was all we could see.  They were interesting carvings, but we felt a bit disappointed.

We did visit other churches in the town and had seen plenty of interesting buildings and people.

Having basically wandered the entire town, it was only lunchtime.  It was cold and we were hungry.  I had a recommended restaurant for lunch.  When we got there it was closed so we decided to walk around the block and check out other options - but basically saw none.  Luckily we went back past the original restaurant and it was open.  A hearty meal warmed us up.  Over lunch we agreed we had finished Sibiu, and we should amend our plans and head for Brasov.   

The next morning we walked down to the railway station and headed off to Brasov, about 2.5 hours down the road.  We couldn't immediately get into the apartment we were going stay in for just one night for, as they were still cleaning it.  But over the road there was a boutique burger restaurant where we ate burgers accompanied by crisps/potato chips.

After dropping the bags we did the speed tour of Brasov.  ! afternoon, 1 old town - we might as well be on a bus-tour.

The central square was atmospheric

One of the key landmarks was the Black church - an enornmous Gothic edifice.  It had displays of rugs everywhere relating to the history of the Ottoman empire trade route passing through.

It was short stay, but nice.  

Then the final journey by train the scheduled 2 hour trip down to Bucharest.  We left bang on time, we passed small towns and farms and we viewed not a lot of economic prosperity.  The we stopped...  For about 3 hours... in the middle of nowhere.  The conductor can through occasionally and said something, but the others in the carriage didn't move, so we stayed put.  No one spoke any English, or the ones that did had left in the 1st 1.5 hours.  There was some whisper of a bus out on the main road.  But we had no idea where, so on balance the most sensible decision was to just wait.  We got excited at one point because a flock of sheep was herded past by a lone herder  Luckily we had water and a few nibbles.  Eventually another engine arrived from somewhere and we were off.  Our 2 hour journey had turned into a 6.5 hour lesson in patience.  Andrew was so well behaved - amazing how a lack of options settles him down.  

Glad to be in Bucharest we walked down the platform toward the main hall, to be met by a camera crew who interviewed us about the delay.  Even now we have no idea why it happened - but we were probably on Romanian television. 

Monday, February 19, 2018

An extra day at Munich Airport

We made good plans and left the ski apartment early on Saturday morning: we needed to be in Munich to at 1pm to drop off the car.  It went really well until about 30 minutes out from the airport.  1. the light snow fall started to become very much heavier and 2. our GPS, with maps from a few years ago, couldn't quite handle the major changes to the road layout and kept telling us we were in a paddock and should turn around now.  We stopped listening to the GPS and and started following the actual road signs. By the time we got to the airport the snow was lying on the ground, but we felt relieved we were at the airport and on schedule.

We were delayed about 90 minutes in boarding the airplane, and once on board we were told there would be a short delay because of the weather conditions.  But were happy to be served a drink in the interim.  THEN, the pilot walked out into the main cabin and used the public address system to say there was a backlog of 40 planes in front of us for de-icing and that it would take 6 hours for us to get to de-icing point, therefore the flight had been cancelled.  We returned to the terminal and proceeded to participate in the most hideous customer service we have ever seen.  In front of us were 100 people and 4 service agents.

3 hours later, there were still more than 50 people in front of us, and 400 behind us.  Only then did Lufthansa start making public announcements that passengers should make personal arrangements for accommodation etc.  This was 9pm, and by this stage all the airport hotels were full, so we made a booking in Munich city - 45 minutes by train away.  We had also received an email saying we were booked on the same flight for the next day.  As we were still in the international terminal we had to clear customs and go find our suitcases.  After waiting in a line for 20 minutes at luggage tracking, they said they couldn't locate our suitcases and gave us an overnight kit, but told us to talk to the staff on the departures level.  The lady there spoke better English and said our bags were OK and had been transferred to the flight for the next day.  She actually gave us a EUR10 voucher each for a meal (which we used when we came back to the airport the next day).

We took our hand luggage and took the train into the city.  We got to our hotel just before 11 pm and we went down to the restaurant/bar of the hotel.  We had not had any dinner while waiting in the chaos, but had been given a couple of Kit Kats and water.  We went to order a soup each, only to find the kitchen had closed about 10pm.  Rather dejectedly we returned to our room, put on the multiple layers of winter clothing and returned to the street and the snow, hoping we would not have to walk the entire way back to the train station - where most things had been closing as we passed through.  The absolute highlight of the entire day was finding a Italian restaurant on the corner, where we purchased a couple of slices of Pizza.  It was absolutely outstanding Pizza.  It would have been fantastically good even if we weren't tired, cold and totally tired out by the day.

The next morning we reversed our journey, took pictures of the snow and went through the whole international customs/immigration procedure for a 2nd time.

Today the fleet of clearance tractors were mopping up water and there was no snow on the runways.  And our flight left as scheduled.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Saalbach, Austria: Feb-18 a week of skiing

Having had such a good time last year at Saalbach Hinterglemm, a return ski-trip was organised for Andrew.

We flew into Munich on Finnair with a short transit at Helsinki airport.  Here we watched the snow coming down very heavily and multiple planes being de-iced.  Onward to Munich airport where we fortified ourselves with some coffee and went to pick up our rental car.

Outside the day was overcast, but there was plenty of snow on the ground. We broke the 2 hour journey to our apartment near Lake Chiemsee by returning to Wasserburg am Imm, the town we had enjoyed so much last year as a lunch stop.  Sadly the very good cafe we had been to was closed for 2 weeks winter holidays.  After wandering around the old town for 5 minutes, we chose an Italian restaurant, mainly because there were plenty of people there.  We got back on the road and found our home for the next 2 nights in Bernau.

The next day we needed to go to a larger town to do a few errands and grocery shopping for the next week.  It was equal distance to 2 towns, and we found later we chose the least interesting of the 2.  Rosenhiem was a typical German town but on the plus side we found a brewery restaurant for a good hearty lunch.

Saturday, being changeover day in most accomodation in the ski towns, saw a lot of traffic on the road.  We stopped in the small border town of Reit am Winkel for a walk and coffee.  Back on the road there was one major tailback where it took us about 40 minutes to travel about a kilometer, leading up to an uncontrolled intersection.  After that it was plain sailing.

Back in the same house as last year, Anna Apartments, but a different apartment, Andrew was racing out the door to get his skis hired.  He was so happy when the man put his details into the comouter system and could reissue the equipment he had hired last year and the process took about 10 minutes.

The snow base was far better than last year, but it was a couple of weeks later in the year and lots and lots of children on school holidays.  Andrew skiied 4 days out of 6.  The other 2 days it snowed, one of them very heavily and there was 40cm of new snow overnight.

Quoting Andrew's trip notes...
"The fields grooming is excellent given my 8.30am starts. The lumps have been removed and I can ski down with ease of concentration and appreciate how fortunate I am
This resort attracts many Europeans and their high end vehicles ...The facilities are superb given the 70 lifts that all interconnect
I  have never been able to walk 40 metres to the ski lift in my life, easy to depart and return to the heated ski room
Lift queues can be long at times during the day, a number of people could learn from some English protocols and stop pushing along the queue line
It is lovely to explore new ski runs, pushing the boundaries for AJ.  I did some steep red runs that I managed well, snow was great, it was morning and not many people about. I did a couple of great runs thru a forest 2 valleys over, loved it
Have loved our time here."

I did a few hours work each and relaxed the rest of the time. Next it is back to Munich and a real weeks holiday for me.