Eating our way through Dubrovnik

Day 3 in Dubrovnik. After the adventures of the day before, this one pales in comparison.  A take it slow kind of day, which mostly revolves around Dubrovnik strolls, history lessons and food indulgences. First things first though – and that first thing is saying hello to this beauty that opens up before us on our pathway from the hotel to the old city. It seems like I will never tire of finding adjectives of to describe this dreamy, fairy-tale like city. No matter how much you gaze it, you cannot get tired of its out-of-this-world beauty. At least I cannot.

Morning view

So here is to another day in the fairy-tale. What’s on the agenda for the day? Food, food, food and once more food! Food in general is quite nice in Dubrovnik, fish is of course the crown jewel of the cuisine. What you need to get used to is the steep prices. This tiny jewel presents a rather tough competition even for Copenhagen and Zürich. Prepare to splurge a bit if you want to indulge on the many delicacies of Dubrovnik’s cuisine.

Onorfijeva fountain - the ultimate meeting spot for travellers and locals alike

Onorfijeva fountain – the ultimate meeting spot for travellers and locals alike

Our lazy day starts right at the foot of the famous Onorfijeva fountain – a beloved meeting spot. Our local guide and foodie Ana from Dubrovnik is waiting for us here to take us on a gastronomic tour in the city.

Strolling in Dubrovnik with our local guide Ana

Strolling in Dubrovnik with our local guide Ana

On the menu for the 3+ hour of food indulgence was a stroll in the city enriched with history lessons and culinary delights. Before reaching the culinary part though Ana told us about the 48 churches/religious sites (!) that are spread around Dubrovnik, the terra cotta roofs of the city, wells that once provided drinking water and now stay hidden under the cream coloured ground slabs, and the sad fate that befell the city back in 1991-1992 when the Serbian forces attacked the city, kept it under siege and destroyed much of it. Even though you don’t see traces of war in the city today, the wounds are still fresh in locals’ hearts…

Talking about the war time, brings an air of sadness on Ana as the memories from her childhood return to her. We stare at pictures of houses from 1992 totally destroyed, we hear stories of lives lost, of refugees being evacuated from the city, of hunger and struggle… why is there all this cruelty in the world?

As we get surrounded by a group of Spanish tourists, we leave the war memories behind for a little while, and Ana hurries us along to show us a special statue. As I look at the cream-coloured statue, my gaze falls to the middle section of it made of copper.

George R.R. Martin must have been heavily inspired by this statue carving in the middle of old town in Dubrovnik when creating Game of Thrones

George R.R. Martin must have been heavily inspired by this statue carving in the middle of old town in Dubrovnik when creating Game of Thrones

If you immediately thought of Game of Thrones, you are not alone. I think George R.R. Martin must have been heavily inspired by this statue carving, even though he claims he has never set foot in Dubrovnik. I mean look at this – the mother of dragons, a dragon at her feet, lion could be Lannister, the Iron Throne… And no, the statue was not just put up in 2011 when Game of Thrones aired, nor was Dubrovnik built in 2011 to play the set for Game of Thrones, despite of what some people visiting Dubrovnik believe. The city has been there for quite many centuries, and the statue maybe is not quite that old, but still old.

Our stroll and skipping lunch in anticipation and preparation of food indulgence experience has by now left us totally starving. Luckily food is the next item on the agenda. Ana prepared four stops for us on the menu.

We start easy with a Dalmatian tapas plate at Tavulin restaurant – Dalmatian prosciutto, selection of three cheeses from the island of Pag – young cow cheese, goat & cow cheese matured in olive husk, sheep cheese, black olive tapenade, chickpeas spread (hummus)+ Plavac mali wine (Miljas vineyard) from Pelješac peninsula.

The first stop of our food tour starts at Tavulin restaurant

The first stop of our food tour starts at Tavulin restaurant

The restaurant is just off the main square, it is a bit off the way from the main tourist highway so you need to know where you are going to find it. We absolutely loved our tapas plate and returned the day after for lunch to try more dishes from the menu. Really nice!

KopunStop #2 takes us to the famous stairs of shame – yep Game of Thrones again. On top of the stairs to the left you find Kopun restaurant. Kopun means rooster in Croatian. Here we are treated with a nice plate of kopun rooster paté, shrimp paté with black truffles, smoked deer ham from Slavonia region, kopun salad with bitter orange, tuna tartar with sesame seeds, fried and marinated paprika with carrot dip + red wine Merlot “Negromant”/white wine Malvasija “Tezoro” from Konavle region (Crvik vineyard).

By now I am already full, yet Ana has 2 more stops on the menu. Stop #3 takes us to Barba burger/seafood joint. It’s a hole in the wall kind of a place and really charming one. We are served with an octopus burger! Uhmm that was a first for us. Andreas totally ecstatic bites into his lovely black burger. Me – a bit less ecstatic, take a cautious bite. Tastes quite delicious actually. Burger approved, we move on to the last stop of the day.

Decomposed apfelstrudel

Decomposed apfelstrudel

It’s desert time at Lucin Kantun. I opted for the above deliciousness – a decomposed apfelstrudel. Quite a creative take on the traditional recipe. Tasted so good!
Dubrovačka rozata

Dubrovačka rozata

Andreas went with traditional dessert “Dubrovačka rozata” (créme caramel).

Needless to say, dinner was happily skipped after the delicious feast of tapas, burgers and desserts. Dubrovnik you pretty thing, even your cuisine is amazing. We tune out for the day, waiting in anticipation for day 4 that will take us on a full-day Game of Thrones immersion in King’s Landing. Cannot wait!!!

Photos © Andreas Eriksen & Ani Movsisyan

Medieval walls, terra cotta roofs, 350 height meters, buggy rides – that’s a day in Dubrovnik!

Dubrovnik in morning glow

Dubrovnik in morning glow – this view greets us every morning on our walk into the city.

Dobro jutro or in more plain tongue – good morning from dreamy Dubrovnik! And what a gorgeous morning it is. Birds are wide awake and chirping their love songs, the rising sun is kissing the red roofs of the city, the scent of mysterious white blooms are filling the air with love, and the turquoise waters of Adriatic are softly swaying in a dance of spring. It is hard not to get poetic in this city, when every step you take feels like walking in a fairy-tale.

In a sea of red roofs

In a sea of red roofs

Today’s mission is to get bird’s eye view over Dubrovnik. One of the best ways to do that is to climb the medieval city walls as early in the day as possible before the crowds start conquering them. Conquering Dubrovnik walls back in the medieval days was not really an option. Today times have changed and you can buy your way through for a small fortune. Setting you back with 200 kuna (HRK), will get you a single admission.

Dubrovnik panorama
One thing you will learn very quickly in Dubrovnik is that the prices for pretty much everything are insane. The price level seems to have a direct correlation with the prettiness of the city. And there was a time when I thought Swiss prices were a shock! Forget Switzerland, Dubrovnik is ready for you.

So onwards and upwards! No time for price shocks. The walls are not going to walk for you.

Fort Lovrijenac famously known as the site of King's Landing

Fort Lovrijenac to some known as King’s Landing

Oh this vista! As you make your ascend onto the narrow steps up the wall, the beautiness barometer hits off the charts. To your right is Fort Lovrijenac, today more commonly known to some as King’s Landing. To your left – a sea of red roofs and creamy houses. Can it get any prettier?

A postcard from Dubrovnik

A postcard from Dubrovnik

House dreams - wouldn't mind this beauty from a living room window

House dreams – wouldn’t mind this beauty from a living room window

Walls

A peek into the narrow alleys and courtyards of locals

A peek into the narrow alleys and courtyards of locals

Mediterranean vibes

Mediterranean vibes

The house in green looks like the ugly duckling in the sea of red roofs. It needed to make a statement obviously.

The house in green looks like the ugly duckling in the sea of red roofs. It needed to make a statement obviously.

If you let your eyes linger on the roofs for a few seconds, you can notice a difference in the shade of terra cotta on the roof tiles. As we learned from a local, back in the day there was a special tile making technique employed by no other than women of Dubrovnik. They were the tile masters of the city. The pale shade of terra cotta are the original tiles. The shade is natural belonging to the clay mixture from the grounds nearby. The shape of the tiles came from women making them on their thighs. Yep, you read it right.

After the war in 1990’s the city was greatly damaged and so was the roofs. During the reconstruction process, new tiles were added which were sourced from Toulouse, France. They couldn’t match the natural pale terra cotta shade 100%, so today the roofs stand as a beautiful mosaic of old and new.

Terra cotta tiles

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Here comes my mysterious white bloom scenting the air

The interplay of nature and architecture

The interplay of nature and architecture

One last look from atop the walls and off we descend only to climb again. No steep prices this time. We ‘decide’ to ditch the cable car in favour of getting some motion and climb a hill of 350 height meters up to the very top of the city. As if we didn’t just get enough from walking 2 hours on the walls. As you can hear the vote was not unanimous – far from it, and along the 1.5 hour of hiking you could hear feeble complaints being aired.

Hiking trails - up or down? Take your pick

Hiking trails – up or down? Take your pick

Andreas obviously enjoying the hike

Andreas obviously enjoying the hike

Andreas is obviously enjoying the hike. My sense of contempt settles in as soon as we reach enough height meters to get eyes on the target.

Fort Lovrijenac looks as majestic from above as from the ground

Fort Lovrijenac looks as majestic from above as from the ground

Dubrovnik and its surrounding islands

Dubrovnik and its surrounding islands

The target being this beauty! The right bank of Dubrovnik and its surrounding islands. All the way up to the top you are are rewarded with this views. Complaints are silenced by nature. My hiking pace on the other hand often halts to that of a turtle, with no offence intended whatsoever. Camera demands some action and often stops me for taking pictures. I have to obey its wishes.

Yellow flower we met also in Scotland

Yellow flower we also met in Scotland. Maybe not exactly the same, but it sure looks quite similar.

Mission accomplished. We have conquered the hill of 350 height meters and reached Fort Imperial! Just time enough for a quick bite before heading off to the next adventure of the day. A buggy ride in the wilderness. You can clearly sense who is in charge of planning the second part of the day. I am thrilled by the prospect of wearing this funny costume of pinkish red raincoat, blue hairnet under a grey helmet. That’s to protect you from the mud on the roads. Oh well… Off we go into the wild nature.

Our buggy ride

Our buggy ride

Despite initial fashion distaste towards the outfits we were ushered in, the ride was quite exhilarating. Mud was largely absent, yet adrenalin was there plenty of. So was beautiful views over Dubrovnik yet again.

Hike down was turned into a cable car ride down. But before that one last look at this dreamy view please!

This view againIt’s a wrap for a beautiful day 2 in Dubrovnik. The little gem of Adriatic holds so much more in store than meets the eye.

Photos © Andreas Eriksen & Ani Movsisyan

The city of red roofs, white blooms and Game of Thrones

It was the lingering scent of ‘orange blossoms’ that brought me back…

The flower of Dubrovnik

The flower of Dubrovnik

Back to pretty Dubrovnik, the pearl of the Adriatic Sea. Three years ago was my first encounter with this beauty. It was a love at first sight. Ever since then the city of red roofs and orange blossoms has held a special place in my heart. And the scent of tiny white flowers blooming in April all around the city lingered in my memories.

The girl and the flowerIt is the month of April three years later and here I am back in Dubrovnik, where the red roofs are still glowing in the sun, medieval walls are as intact and the Adriatic as azure. And most importantly the sweet scent of white blooms is lingering all over the city. I am yet to find out the name of the bush. The fact that it is so terribly enchanting and beautiful in its modest appearance only gets enhanced by its anonymity. I will just call it orange blossoms until then. The name sounds so pretty and they grow right next to orange trees, so why not.

Oranges

Welcome to Dubrovnik! The city of red roofs, medieval walls, azure waters and in recent years home to King’s Landing of Game of Thrones.
Dubrovnik

The city is out of this world beautiful, really! It is one of a kind. To appreciate Dubrovnik in all its beauty you should take it in from a hill above the city or from the city walls. For now though we will stay grounded and walk the streets of Dubrovnik to take in the scent of white blooms and retrace the steps down the memory lane.

Pile Gate welcomes you to Dubrovnik

Pile Gate welcomes you to Dubrovnik

Before reaching the gate though, there is a need for a proper welcome to Dubrovnik.

But first a proper welcome :)

Sipping wine in the afternoon sun with a gorgeous view of the medieval city in the horizon

It feels just as enchanting to be walking in the latte coloured streets of Dubrovnik, taking in the sweet scent of white blooms and pretty scenes. First day was all about walking from one end of the city to the other, soaking in the Adriatic sun and indulging on some delicious seafood. The city is quite tiny in terms of physical meter sense but quite long in terms of its beauty. So that small late afternoonish stroll form one gate to another was a pretty sweet welcome to the gem of Croatia. Stay tuned for more adventures from the city of Game of Thrones!

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Rocky shores of Adriatic

Rocky shores of Adriatic

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What a magical welcome!

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Hibernating before the summer season kicks off

Sunset view

Dubrovnik harbour looking all dreamy in the sunset sky <3

Photos © Andreas Eriksen & Ani Movsisyan

Seeking refuge in what makes me happy

September has not been an easy month – emotionally draining actually. I am not a diary person, never been and now is not the time either to pour my heart out. It would be nice to just escape it all… emotions, people, work, problems… I do believe in the magic of Christmas though, and Christmas is right around the corner. Maybe Santa with the help of red-nosed reindeers will spread some snow powder, stop the time from making crazy turns and make things happy again.

Until then I will hang on to that magic thought and seek refuge in one thing that never fails to put a smile on my face – strolling around with a camera in my hand and taking pictures of the beautiful that surrounds us in the place we call home yet goes so easily unnoticed as we rush through life.

Strolling around, taking pictures and listening to heart-warming melodies is exactly what I did in the weekend – walking around my neighbourhood in pretty København and trying to capture little bit of its beauty…

This shy beauty reminded me so much of autumn itself - a canvas painted with subtle burst of colours

This shy beauty reminded me so much of autumn itself – a canvas painted with subtle burst of colours

On a stroll in my hood - the iconic facades of Vesterbro

On a stroll in my hood – the iconic facades of Vesterbro

A new addition to Vesterbro - Axel Towers. Has some pretty cool angles.

A new addition to Vesterbro – Axel Towers. Has some pretty cool angles.

One of my favourite sights in the city - Københavns Rådhus from a new angle now that the green wall of the metro construction finally came down...

One of my favourite sights in the city – Københavns Rådhus from a new angle now that the green wall of the metro construction finally came down…

Colourful facades to bring some joy to the dark and gloomy sky

Colourful facades to bring some joy to the dark and gloomy sky

These two lovely ladies sitting comfortably on a rickshaw ala Denmark probably had quite a fun ride

These two lovely ladies sitting comfortably on a rickshaw ala Denmark probably had quite a fun ride

Dramatic sky hangs over Christiansborg - Danish Parliament

Dramatic sky hangs over Christiansborg – Danish Parliament

The bell tower of Rådhus - City Hall of København

The bell tower of Rådhus – City Hall of København

Lurblæserne - lur blowers announcing the start of autumn

Lurblæserne – lur blowers announcing the start of autumn

A postcard from København <3

A postcard from København <3

Photos © Ani Movsisyan

Getting my writing muse back

It has been a while… quite a while since I took to the typewriter to share stories from my travels around the world… 2 years to be exact. Not that there was any lack of exciting stories that could fill a whole book. Quite the opposite, the globetrotter that I am, I took every opportunity to escape into new and familiar lands… It’s just when life gets really busy at times, you forget to prioritise things that once made you very happy. It so happened that as I started a new job my workaholic self quite adamantly took control and dominated over my writing self.

IMG_1167Here I am 2 years later, trying to break that spell and find my writing muse again. Never too late, right? It all started by gentle nudges I kept getting over time by a couple of very special persons that made me reconsider that maybe it was time to restart my blog. Well cheers to that! If you, aka the special persons, are reading this, know that I am truly grateful :)

As I look back on thousands of travel pictures and the map of places I have traversed in the past 2 years, they bring back many happy smiles and beautiful memories. However memories also have this funny quality to them, they are like floating clouds, gently fading away through time and depriving you of the small nuances that come across your path when travelling.

Instead of dwelling on the past and regretting not transferring travel memoirs to ink just in time, I will instead focus on the present and the future. And the present currently is very much focused on oh so bella Italia!

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Stay tuned for stories from the eternal city of Roma that just celebrated its 2771st anniversary.

Photos © Ani Movsisyan

Feeling the spring on Bornholm – Part 2

The place where the reality is more beautiful than imagination… We were in the car driving through a small forest road covered with a beautiful carpet of white and yellow anemone flowers, when I heard Hongyi very quietly, as if talking to herself, give voice to her inner thoughts. The reality is more beautiful than imagination! I heard the sentence come alive, I pondered it over in my mind and I asked her to repeat it again. I thought it was such a profound observation that it deserved to be articulated again.

Days later I remembered it again, and I asked Hongyi if I could quote it. It might as well become the new catch phrase for the island that knows how to enchant.

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My favourite shot of the trip. I love the play of colours and nature.

We were on our way to Gudhjem, which translated means God’s home. It is not hard to imagine why when you enter Gudhjem. A charming city of red roofs, picturesque views, sol over Gudhjem smoked herring dish and the world’s biggest ice cream. What else could you ask for?

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Sol over Gudhjem – the red city in all its glory

Reaching Gudhjem I took Hongyi to my favourite viewpoint, a small park behind the churchyard. It has become kind of a tradition to take people to that place. There is a wooden bench perched on the viewing hill, and I have grown so fond of sitting there and gazing out.

Recharging in Gudhjem with pretty views and savouring an obligatory soft ice, we continued our Tour-de-Bornholm to Sandvig, a town north of Gudhjem for a little hiking action.

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Beautiful patterns in nature are all over Bornholm!

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Hammershus, Northern Europe’s largest castle ruins.

There are many hiking trails criss-crossing the island. I love this one, Sandvig – Hammer Odde Fyr – Solomons Kapel – Sandvig, in particular. Water, rocks, blooming bushes and views to Hammershus castle ruins make for a very pleasant hike.

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The rocks of Bornholm.

The hike goes by surprisingly quickly. One moment we are at Sandvig on the eastern coast of Bornholm, the other we find ourselves at the western shores having crossed the island horizontally. It must have been the sun and the postcard views turning us into little Asterix-es and giving us wings.

We reached the Hammerhavn late in the afternoon, just when the last of the captains was getting ready to head out to the sea on his small fishermen boat for a sail tour. We hopped on one with a very witty and sweet captain and cruised the waters of the Baltic Sea looking at the northernmost tip of Bornholm and Hammershus ruins from the sea. A beautiful perspective!

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Hammershus standing tall and proud and pretty.

As we progressed through the day going from a city life to nature to sea, we left one final item on our agenda – the forests of Bornholm. We had a special quest – locate the bornholmer anemone, called blegblå anemone. And we did! Well largely thanks to Hanne’s sharp eye. Scouring the forest we found the cute tiny flowers that covered the entire patch of ground.

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We found them! The blegblå anemone of Bornholm.

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A carpet of flowers lies in front of us.

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Where the road leads to…

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Sunset walk by Gudhjem :)

Time flies when you are having fun. Having accomplished our last mission of the day we started slowly making our way back to Snogebæk. But it was too early to call it a day. The sun was just setting over Gudhjem. The beautiful, soft light was just irresistible. It resulted in a silent admiration of the nature and a fun little impromptu photoshoot.

Photos © Andreas Eriksen & Ani Movsisyan

Feeling the spring on Bornholm – Part 1

My admiration of the solskinsøen, aka Bornholm, is no secret. This small island in the midst of the Baltic Sea took my breath away from our very first encounter on the warm August day nearly 8 years ago as I descended from the ferry docked in Rønne, the capital. Since then Bornholm greeted me on many, many occasions, every time showing the prettiest of its smiles, beautiful as a shy princess, and fierce as a brave knight. There is something really special about this island that just goes to your heart right the moment you lay your eyes on it.

_MG_7981May was my first visit of the year to the island, and I didn’t go alone. Hongyi, my Chinese friend, accompanied me on the trip. May is the period when the rapeseed fields are painting the island yellow, when the trees are in full bloom, when the birds are singing, when the water is azure blue and when the sunsets are a work of art. I think you would say it is called spring. I would certainly agree and send you a smile. However I would also say that to truly experience the magic of spring, you should just once feel it on Bornholm. As it was Hongyi’s second time on the island, my sweet mother-in-law Hanne prepared a grand tour for her or as much as she could fit in the weekend that we were there. It started with getting a bird’s eye view of the island.

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Standing atop a high platform, the island unveiled itself layer by layer from dense forests to fields covered with rapeseed blooms, to windmills and pretty little towns, ending with the blue of the sea.

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One of my favourite roads on Bornholm. I love the curvy shape, I love how the road disappears into the forest, and I love how the view changes with the seasons.

On the way to Snogebæk we stopped at Lilleborg, ruins of an old fortress. Not much of it is left, yet I like going there for its picturesque view. Just standing there and taking in the warm sun, the perfect stillness of the water, the reflections of blooming trees, and the chirping of birds. Ahh I could just stand there for hours…

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Everything on Bornholm is just made for a postcard.

Reaching home to Snogebæk we walked to the beach for some sunset walking. And what a sunset it was! Out of this world! Standing there on a rock by the beach, I felt like I was stepping into a painting, careful even to draw a breath so as not to disperse the magical sight.
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Good night, Bornholm, you have been such a beauty today!

Photos © Andreas Eriksen & Ani Movsisyan

AA on the road: Day 12 – Across Romania in a day

Day 12: September 7, 2015
Time: 09:00
Location: Cluj-Napoca, Romania
Destination: Mioveni, Romania

Waking up in Cluj-Napoca in the retirement home has not been a great experience. In line with the pension we stayed in Cebu, the Philippines, a few years back, however cleaner and less creepy. Poor Andreas struggled a bit to fit into the bed that was obviously a tad too small for his height. Well coming from the Viking lands is not always an advantage 😀

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The bed is definitely not Viking-friendly :)

Rushing through the morning preparations, we found the breakfast ready in the assembly hall with yarn-bombed wooden pillars. From the first sight it looked rather OK, taking a closer look revealed some cold mash of supposedly potato and another bowl with strange looking eggplant. Needless to say we didn’t dare touch any of it, having just recovered from Michelin tummy adventures.

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Our breakfast setting.

Leaving the retirement home, we spent much of the day getting across Romania. After yesterday’s adventures on the roads less travelled, we made a point of sticking to the big, shiny highways all the way, and by doing so ensuring a much smoother ride.

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After yesterday’s non-existing roads, this shiny asphalt is such a welcome sight!

On the way to our destination of the day, Mioveni, Andreas’ eagle eyes spotted a UNESCO city, Sighisoara, and we stopped there for lunch.

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On the cobblestoned streets of Sighisoara.

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Hey there, Sighisoara :)

The small town had a potential for being a beautiful place, it was a very old German-built city, with pretty old houses, but it was left to decay and disorder. Very touristy, very expensive. Surprisingly the Chinese were not leading the touristic diversity poll, I do not think the word of this small town has reached to the vast lands of the Middle Kingdom just yet. The word did reach the Spanish Armada though. They were everywhere.

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The old, the colourful, the falling apart.

 

Among the pretty houses we also found Dracula’s modest home, which is now of course a restaurant, and you could go check his room out. Not sure it was the real deal but we paid the entrance fee anyway to satisfy our curiosity. The doorman looked and acted like the Dracula himself, extremely impolite. As it should have been expected it was a very disappointing experience. Two rooms, one of them the fake Dracula lying in a coffin and casually chatting with tourists, in the other room his dining table. And that’s it.

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After an hour of walking around and getting our ears used to the intense flow of Spanish, we left Sighisoara with mixed feelings. The beauty and the beast of travelling. Here is a gem of a town, that would have provided such a charming experience had it not been overcrowded by visitors, and overcommercialized to cater to the same visitors with Dracula memorabilia, tourist trap of restaurants and pushy local business owners.

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Reflections…

Some more kilometers underway on the Romanian roads we reached another stop on our north-south axis. Brasov, a small cute town with surprisingly many clowns and balloons.

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We have arrived in Brasov.

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The city of clowns.

Brasov was pretty, with no trace of Spanish tourists and with a much more local feel to it. Some more kilometers underway and we arrived at Dracula’s castle in Bran to find it closed off and inaccessible even for pictures. The one below is the only glimpse we could get of it. Not a big deal. The hospitality of the security guard didn’t leave a very welcoming impression.

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Beware! Bran, Dracula’s residence.

Leaving Bran, Dracula and the sour guard, we continued our trans-Romanian trip. In the approaching dusk we could still make out the beautiful scenery of Transylvania that we were leaving behind. Our last destination for the day was Mioveni. Here we were greeted by Luminita, the sweet mom of our friend Roxana, and her partner Marius. Within 10 minutes of our arrival, Luminita already set a table bursting with fresh fruits and vegetables. Marius got right on with showing us the good roads to drive on to reach Bucharest and the not to miss highlights. Their sweet hospitality reminded me of being back in my home, Armenia. Not too long now. We are coming, Armenia!

Photos © Andreas Eriksen & Ani Movsisyan

AA on the road: Day 11 – The Romanian tale of a disappearing road

Day 11: September 6, 2015
Time: 10:00
Location: Budapest, Hungary
Destination: Cluj-Napoca, Romania
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We will miss your pretty face, Budapest!

The day has come to pack our bags, load the car, and take one last stroll in the beautiful streets of Budapest. The sun is shining brightly and the sky is the perfect shade of blue with patches of clouds dispersed all over the blue canvas. Just the day I love! Our first obligatory stop is the Parliament of course. I cannot tire from looking at this pretty view.

We reach the Parliament in the midst of a big commotion and a cheering crowd. With a bit of disappointment we quickly realise that the commotion has nothing to do with us approaching the scene, rather its sole cause is the changing of the guards! Ah what a shame… But hey why don’t we make use of the moment and join the bandwagon. By the time the guards in khaki uniforms follow their commander’s orders and do the well-rehearsed march, a huge crowd has gathered in the big square.

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The guards are definitely enjoying the attention :)

Now normally, as witnessed in other countries, the guards do their march, swing their swords, click their heels, turn sharply around and go back to where they came from. And don’t even dare to talk to them. The sword can easily spring into action. Apparently not the Hungarian ones. To our awe the guards finish their march and line up for nothing less but a photoshoot! This is an unexpected turn of events. The crowd is going wild. Cameras are set to motion, poses are struck and words are exchanged with the guards. We also get our chance to take home a fun memory from the day :)

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Our moment to shine!

We leave the guard meet and greet to try out another exciting adrenalin-packed adventure – ride on the cute little yellow trams of Budapest!

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Reporting live from Budapest’s cute little yellow tram.

Needless to say, the speed of the tram wasn’t what made our ride exhilarating, rather it was the sight of Budapest’s postcard-perfect streets and the riviera coming into view one after the other.

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Last glimpse of Danube.

We hop off the tram by the Chain Bridge. It is time to bid farewell to pretty Budapest and hit the road again.

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Budapest, we will be back!

Our next destination will bring us to another country – the land of vampires, aka Romania. There are some 200 km of Hungarian countryside to cover before we reach our favourite activity of crossing borders. So off we go!

The long stretches of driving are necessary to get us to our end destination, however they tend to become quite boring after hours of sitting in the car and gazing out the window. This is strictly the passenger’s point of view, and I am quite a demanding and impatient passenger when it comes to long drives. Andreas, the driver, never complains. Just from time to time he needs a bit of muscle stretching. So for the purposes of taking a break (better read, to give some excitement to the demanding passenger), we take a small detour from the highway to continue our drive through the Hortobagy National Park.

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The crown jewel of the national park is this old bridge dubbed Nine-Hole Bridge spanning across Hortobagy river.

 

Oh the passenger is now on full alert as we drive through beautiful, wide plains, passing by grazing animals and long, long stretches of open road. Stunning scenery!

IMG_8292Crossing a few more kilometers and waving good-bye to cute straw figures on our road, we finally reach the Romanian border!

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Ciao Hungary! You have been a real treat. Hello Romania, country #5! Excited to explore what you have up your sleeve for us.

A mandatory picture snapped by the border control. Another flag, another combination of three stripes, another hour spent on the border, stamps leaving their ink traces in our passports, brief exchange of greetings with the guards, a receipt for the road tax, and we are finally ready to continue our trip driving on the same stretch of asphalt dividing the two EU member countries.

That little stretch of asphalt that seemed rather smooth and similar to the Hungarian standards very quickly proved to be a bitter deception. A few kms in on the Romanian roads the driving habits suddenly changed, turning into rules are there to be broken principle, the smooth asphalt got replaced by big holes eventually turning to dusty narrow roads, horse wagons became a common sight, and as if this wasn’t an experience enough, ladies of a certain, ancient profession, started lining up the roads! I certainly hope this last criteria was not why Google Maps suggested this route as a better option!

Not exactly what we had in mind when we drove away from lovely Budapest earlier in the day. Oh well! Adventure is what we are after, so Romania bring it on.

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A beautiful welcome to Romania! Thank you.

As if to apologise for the offroad driving inconvenience, the nature sent us the most gorgeous sunset setting the sky on fire. Well done, apologies accepted.

So on we drive towards our home for the night – Cluj-Napoca, blindly following the Google Maps and its biased route suggestion, waving good-bye to the setting sun. We carry on through the dust, through the holes, on and on stopping occasionally to do a little impromptu photoshoot for our sweet Rover.

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Doesn’t he look just stunning?

An hour more of driving… It’s pitch black, the dusty roads and occasional villages lining up the road have long disappeared, we are now driving through a forest in complete darkness, with no other living soul around us. Talk about the land of vampires. Rather spooky. Google Maps still insists that this is the best route and Cluj Napoca lies in the end of this dark hole. We proceed. Mostly because turning back at this point would be a rather daunting task.

Another 40-50 minutes pass watching the kms slowly tick in on the dashboard. There is silence in the car, as we sit in intense anticipation for what lies ahead. Another few kms and the map claims that Cluj-Napoca is so so close… Cannot wait! A few more meters and suddenly we come to an abrupt halt!

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Our nightly adventures on the Romanian roads. A story to remember.

No way, no freaking way (pardon my French)!!!! The road… there is no road… it’s been washed away… collapsed into a gorge… there is one big hole… impossible to drive over even if you are James Bond. Oh no bloody way! The only reason why the car didn’t end up in the hole was because of its big, beautiful, magnificent lights. We have no choice but to turn back. Turn back into the darkness, so close yet so far away from Cluj-Napoca and attempt to reach it by driving the slightly “slower” route as claimed by glorious Google Maps.

We turn back. Sleeping by the side of the hole, in the middle of nowhere does not look too appealing. Another hour or so making our way through the darkness we reach one of the highways leading to Cluj. A deep breath of relief. The highway resembles a real highway. Smooth, beautiful, shining with signs and white lines. Oh thank goodness. We are back to civilisation. Reaching our destination becomes more and more realistic. It is way past midnight, we are way too exhausted, hungry and sleep deprived, but we are happy, ready to jump in joy, because we discovered the highway!

Another hour or so on the beautiful road and we pull up at our home for the night. A church turned into housing complex! A step in and we discover it is a housing complex for elderly! Entering our room you could almost suspect time travel was a true thing. Hmm interesting turn of events, definitely the day couldn’t get any more adventurous.

We are tired. It is way way past midnight, after ~12 hours on the road, more than 500 kms crossed even a mat on the floor would do the trick. Comprehending the full extent of our lodgings has to wait until tomorrow. Good night!

Photos © Andreas Eriksen & Ani Movsisyan