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 ūüėÄ

IMG_8328

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.

IMG_8332

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.

IMG_8393

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.

IMG_8363

On the cobblestoned streets of Sighisoara.

IMG_8414

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.

IMG_8347

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.

IMG_8371

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.

IMG_8430

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.

IMG_8403

We have arrived in Brasov.

IMG_8431

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.

IMG_8432

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
IMG_8241

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.

IMG_8253

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 :)

IMG_8257

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!

GOPR0256

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.

IMG_8264

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.

IMG_8269

Budapest, we will be back!

Our next destination will bring us to another country Рthe 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.

IMG_8293

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!

IMG_8300

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.

IMG_8311

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.

IMG_8315

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!

IMG_8327

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

AA on the road: Day 10 – What happens when you eat a 12-course dinner…

Day 10: September 5, 2015
Time: 12:00
Location: Budapest, Hungary

So good morning! Budapest is still our home for another 24 hours. The 12-course Michelin dinner paired with 7 glasses of wine apparently took its toll on poor Andreas and his tummy. The incredible gourmet explosion was too much for the poor tummy to handle, so it seems that someone will have to spend the day in bed and with less sophisticated and a more down-to-earth diet, consisting of yoghurt and banana.

This new development means that I am left alone to walk the streets of Budapest while Andreas is taking his revitalising nap. The streets are like postcards, ready to take your breath away on every corner. After the morning rain, the city looks fresh and smiling.

_MG_4850

The streets are like postcards in Budapest, ready to take your breath away on every corner.

_MG_4852

I find cities that still run these charming old trams so adorable. Fortunately there are still many in Europe who have chosen to preserve this iconic mode of transportation.

IMG_8216

The two eye-pleasers of Budapest greeting in passing.

… walking up and down the Danube promenade, starting of course with my favourite Parliament building…

_MG_4870

The rain brought out such intensity in colours.

…continuing towards the Chain bridge and the sweeping views across the Buda side…

_MG_4875

… and¬†circling back to the Shoes on the Danube, a memorial for the¬†Jews killed during WWII in Budapest.

_MG_4892_MG_4897

Finishing my stroll I head back home to find Andreas just waking up from his sleep feeling more fresh and ready to savour¬†some real food. After some heavy negotiations, we reach a compromise, so he gets a plain pizza, which is a rather humble dinner compared to yesterday’s gourmet feast.

Before the dinner party though we simply needed to experience a ride¬†on the world’s second oldest electric underground¬†line and mainland Europe’s oldest line – Budapest’s very own Metro Line 1! The metro line is also included in the UNESCO World Heritage list.

IMG_8274

All the metro stations of Line 1 are designed in the same exact fashion, with these cute wooden guard houses and the green beams. A very historic experience indeed and a UNESCO World Heritage Site!

That’s all folks! Tomorrow we will say good-bye to lovely Budapest and continue our journey eastward and southward. Bye until then :)

Photos © Andreas Eriksen & Ani Movsisyan

AA on the road: Day 9 – Indulging in Budapest

Day 9: September 4, 2015
Time: 10:00
Location: Budapest, Hungary
_MG_4758

Andreas is behind the camera today performing his usual magic!

Oh what a trip so far! It is day 9 and country number 4 that has opened its pretty doors to us. Good morning from Budapest, a city that is waiting to take our breath away.

Today is all about exploring and indulging in Budapest. The day will unfold in the streets of flat Pest housing buildings that with great effort still cling to the once grand and glorious intricacy of the Austro-Hungarian architecture standing side by side with structures barely holding, sad and dilapidated, yet with a certain charm that makes this city so irresistible. The action will then move to the hilly and picturesque Buda that like a shy beauty is waiting to make you fall in love with it. Finally the day will culminate in one of the most memorable gastronomic adventures.

Pest, Buda and gastronomy will have to wait though. The first mention of the day has to be shared between our charming courtyard and our capricious Rover.

IMG_8035

Our secret retreat in Budapest – one doesn’t need much to transform a white canvas into a beautiful painting.

The courtyards in Budapest have quite the fame. They have to be experienced, as words cannot do them enough justice. It was a beautiful encounter as we opened our apartment door to find this fairy tale oasis.

Now it is high time for another car adventure. The next outburst of the capricious metal horse was a loud noise that was following us like an unbearable shadow¬†all the way from Zlin to Budapest. Hopefully the Hungarian garages are more knowledgeable and less expensive than their Czech counterparts. Through our friends’ friends we have found a local¬†garage.

Visiting the Hungarian car doctor. The initial inspection goes well despite our lack of Hungarian language skills.¬†It doesn’t take them long to confirm the diagnosis.

IMG_8164

Here is the culprit – the slightly worn wheel bearing!

Hands are shaken, papers are signed, keys are handed over. The car will be fixed within a few hours! A major point in the plus column for the Hungarian car people. We are free to enjoy the sun and the pleasant autumn warmth in the beautiful city.

IMG_8015HŇĎs√∂k tere or Heroes Square is where we head first. Located in the end of Andr√°ssy √ļt, the grand culmination of the Budapest’s answer to Champs-√Člys√©es, we find a square that is grand¬†and imposing.

_MG_4715

Watching the groups of tourists make their way to the center for an obligatory selfie with the heroes feeds some emotion to the silent statues frozen in time. Speaking of tourists, Chinese rule all visitor stats. The¬†grand city of Budapest, just like the other “must-sees” of Europe, has been discovered by¬†the eager groups of the billion-plus nation of the Orient. I suppose this wide square won’t feel so wide within a few years…

Széchenyi Thermal Bath

Széchenyi Thermal Bath

Behind the cold square in the middle of a beautiful park hides a rather hot spot – the Sz√©chenyi Thermal Baths.¬†Crowded – yes! it is a beloved public bath after all. Affordable – you betcha, far from the heart-pounding prices of the West and Scandinavia in particular. Rejuvenating – so they say, we didn’t have time to personally test the healing powers of Budapest’s baths this time. On our short visit our taste buds took a glorious victory over our body relaxation in a fierce battle of indulgence in Budapest. But as the Terminator said so well before us – I’ll be back!

Making our way down Andr√°ssy √ļt, we¬†greet the many faces of Budapest.¬†Sometimes grandeur and imposing, sometimes dilapidated and falling apart, sometimes grand and sometimes shabby. This city has surprised and kept us in awe since the moment we pulled in.

IMG_8014IMG_8013 _MG_4729After a few hours spent on the flat lands of Pest, we head back to the car workshop to pick up our ride. As promised, the Rover is ready, shining in the sun and driving as smooth as a Bond car with no trace of the annoying noise of the past. The hills of Buda is a wonderful challenge for the car. As we cross the Chain Bridge connecting the two banks of Danube together we cannot stop feeling our newfound love for this city increasing with each hill we climb. Reaching atop the Gellert Hill we park and hurry past the crowds to the viewing platform. What awaits our gaze is simply breathtaking!

Budapest

Budapest – it’s so hard to resist your charm!

It is hard to leave the mesmerising view behind and descend the picturesque hills of Buda. But the scheduled time for a culinary magic was approaching fast. Apart from all the grandness, Budapest is also home to a number of Michelin starred restaurants. Good food is one small vice of ours. So an evening of gourmet food is what we presented to ourselves. After some quick research, we stopped our choice on¬†Restaurant Onyx! An unforgettable evening of a 4-hour, 12-course ritual that delighted us and left our taste buds exploding in sheer joy. This place is so worth its shining Michelin! Starting with a rolling tray of at least 20 different exotic bread choices served as if each piece of bread was a precious object, followed by 12 courses of dishes that were out of this world, and as if this was not magical enough, ending the 4-hour festivity with yet another rolling tray of chocolate delights… The experience was unforgettable.

IMG_8188

Some of the beautiful creations of the Onyx master chefs.

We end the evening on a romantic note, strolling the banks of Danube. This walk was as romantic as it was essential. After our tummies filled with Michelin love we needed the physical exercises to keep us from exploding.

_MG_4803

The elegant Chain Bridge linking this grand city together!

_MG_4797

_MG_4842

The Hungarian Parliament is mesmerising in day and night.

IMG_8190

Good night for now. Tomorrow is our last day in pretty Budapest before the journey continues east towards country number 4 – Romania!

Photos © Andreas Eriksen & Ani Movsisyan

AA on the road: Day 8 – acting in a Czech soap opera and finally heading to Budapest

Day 8: September 3, 2015
Time: 08:00
Location: Zlin, Czech Republic
Destination: Budapest, Hungary

Today has got to be the day… The day that we get to continue doing what we set out to do in the first place. Drive! Experience the world lying beyond the small Czech town of Zlin.

Andreas has a plan. He has stayed up late into the night researching on possible failure causes for¬†the car engine. Posts at Land Rover forums, e-mails shot left and right, Facebook messages, countless YouTube videos seem to have produced a result. A hope rather… After all the trouble of fixing the car we dare not harbour big dreams, but nurture a tiny hope that today will be the day. The fuel pump¬†seems to be the cause of all the misery. When it gets dirty, the supply of fuel shuts off and the engine stops. Come to think of it… Apparently it is a common Land Rover issue, that the official Land Rover workshop has no idea about, but the brilliant car owners know all too well about.

We repeat the same ritual of yesterday: pack and say good-bye to the lovely Czech family who have stood by our side day in and out supporting us with their love and care. Alena, our Czech mother has even managed to exceed her breakfast wonders. Freshly baked pancakes are waiting for us on the table as we go down with our bags. What a wonderful surprise!

Saying good-bye is hard, but somehow the anticipation of today being the day of finally being able to continue our adventure makes the sadness a tiny bit less emotional. We leave our beautiful home perched atop the hills of Zlin behind and drive our usual route to the car workshop we so wish to leave behind.

We arrive at the workshop just as they open. I head straight to our oh-so-familiar sofa up the stairs and make a temporary camp thankful for the distraction provided by Boyhood, which hopefully should have enough runtime – 2 hours 46 minutes to be exact, to last for the whole car fixing performance. I also have a backup of Stumbling on Happiness, a great, great book in my bag, just in case my temporary camp has to transition itself into a more permanent abode. As you can see we came prepared for the fight. Both the movie and the book are highly recommended by the way and not just in the rare case you find yourself stranded in a car workshop in Zlin ūüėČ

Andreas heads straight for the mechanic and takes him (read forces him) for a ride so the guy could see with his own eyes how the problem occurs and maybe get an epiphany. At least that’s the hope. Alas just when you¬†want the stupid engine to stop running, it refuses. How convenient, little bastard, pardon¬†my French. An hour passes.¬†To me it feels like they have already reached either Slovakia or Prague depending on what direction they are headed, and have left me behind, stranded in my camp in the small town of Zlin.

I am engrossed in my movie, so the wait is made a little less unbearable. I am sitting quietly minding my own business when a monstrous, stupid wasp, decides to add insult to injury and plant a loving kiss on my shoulder! That is it. That is the absolute last drop I can take. Tears start flowing, I am ready to scream, when my knight on the white horse, aka Andreas, comes back from his drive and rushes to my rescue. In come first-aid measures and after much time spent calming me down that no, I don’t have bee allergies and I should not be ushered to the doctor, I am put to sleep. This whole commotion feels like straight out of a soap opera. I don’t know to cry or to laugh…

I am left to rest my wounded shoulder, which to put all doubt aside, is aching and itching like crazy and is swollen quite a bit. Andreas heads to the workshop to tell the mechanic to get his act together and clean the fuel pump. After some back and forth discussions, of course the mechanic still doesn’t harbour the slightest doubt that his ingenious¬†fix was not a fix at all, they agree to clean the fuel pump.

The spotlight is back again onto the sofa. My movie is long finished, my shoulder feels numb, my tears have dried out and I just feel tired. Minutes slowly tick by, replaced by hours… Finally after 6 loooooong hours of being stuck in this workshop, we get the news that the pump is cleaned, are shown proof of how dirty it was, and are ushered out to greet our car. 1,2,3… here comes the Rover that gave us so much trouble. You cannot imagine our joy! It cannot be described either, it has to be felt.

We cross our fingers and set the course towards Budapest. Oh how long did we have to wait to utter these words… Budapest, Budapest, Buda and Pest… we are coming to you.

IMG_7954

The last few kms of Czech roads before we cross the border into Slovakia.

Kms go by and the car is still driving like a champ. We cannot believe our eyes, and we are afraid to take a breath in relief. It can stop any second now. But no, more kms rush past and we are crossing the last stretch of the Czech road. Unbelievable! Our road trip is saved and we are really continuing our adventure.

Before we reach the Slovak border though, there are a couple of observations I need to put out there before the Czech road finishes. The first observation is that the Czech are truly kind and sweet people. We have received the nicest treatment, support and care from all the wonderful people that crossed our path. The second observation is that Czech women dress in lovely bright colours, even older ladies. And that is just a wonderful little showcase of joie de vivre!

A few more meters and here we are… Slovakia! Ahoj. Another border crossing, another blue sign with yellow stars welcomes us to its vast lands.

IMG_7971

Ahoj Slovakia! That’s a sight we longed to see.

Alas our unscheduled pit stop in Zlin made us cut our planned 2-night stay in Slovakia to a mere 4-hour drive through the country. From the car window we saw some beautiful landscapes pass by. Road signs pointing to promises of amazing sights succeeded one another without being turned towards. Until next time Slovakia, for now you will stay as a beautiful transit country in our memories.

The Slovak roads gave way to¬†Hungarian roads and finally in the dark of the evening we reached Budapest. The city we were already starting to doubt we would ever make it to. Totally unprepared for a stay in our new destination and totally in awe that we actually made it there, we try to arrange for accommodation on the go. After some futile search, Fortuna smiles to us and we find a hidden gem right in the centre on the beautiful Pest side of Budapest. Opening the door to a courtyard of an impressive old building we unlock the door to our home in Budapest…

IMG_7982

We are home! An evening stroll around our hood quickly tells us that our home couldn’t have been located in any better spot. Budapest it is hard not to fall in love with you from the first sight.

IMG_8002

An incredible sight – the Hungarian Parliament building is breathtaking day and night.

Good night dreamy city. Can’t wait to see your pretty face again tomorrow.

Photos © Andreas Eriksen & Ani Movsisyan

AA on the road: Day 7 ‚Äď Yet another 24 hours in Zlin

Day 7: September 2, 2015
Time: 08:00
Location: Zlin, Czech Republic
Our Zlin home

Good morning Zlin!

The heavy clouds clad in a long veil of grey are hanging over Zlin. It is the same window overlooking the same hills that greeted us for the past 2 days in our Czech home. Yet these clouds make the view so different, so intense. I love such days. The smell of the air is so fresh filled with a threat of a downpour, the scenery opening up to the eye is so crisp, sharp and intense. It is amazing what a difference clouds make to the day. This is the beautiful morning that greeted us on the 7th day of our adventures.

Today we have an important appointment¬†in our calendar –¬†at 13:00 our Rover is going back to the workshop and coming out of there hopefully in tip top condition so we can continue our trip towards our next destination Slovakia!

Until then though there are still a few hours at our disposal, so after packing and saying goodbye to our Czech family, we head to our usual starting point in Zlin – Building No. 21 on tŇô. Tom√°Ň°e Bati 21, 760 01 Zl√≠n, aka Bata’s Skyscraper.

IMG_7856

Andreas making it absolutely clear that we are standing by the entrance of Building 21 and leading the way into the skyscraper.

Some kind of government function is housed inside the famous building today. But back in its heyday it used to be the headquarters of Bata’s shoe empire. In the 1930s when the construction was completed¬†the 21 was one of the first skyscrapers in Europe. The soul of Bata can still be felt in the long corridors, old elevators and countless of doors lining up all the 16 floors of the skyscraper. The interior was rather¬†reminiscent of the Soviet taste in architecture. Inside we found Bata’s museum and a very¬†interesting exhibition¬†– an elevator that doubled as a personal office of no one else than Thomas Bata himself!

IMG_7936

It was quite a sight. Nothing luxurious and imposing to convey Bata’s rank and status. Quite the opposite, the big room was rather modest in decorations. The only “luxury” he allowed himself was to build his office inside an actual elevator so he could move in between the floors, attend meetings, be on the shop floor and check up on his empire with ease.¬†This is one inspiring¬†and visionary CEO I would have loved to have met in¬†person.

Bata's office

Office inside an elevator. What a brilliant idea is that and something that many CEOs could take inspiration from.

Apart from the office-in-elevator there are other interesting details about Bata and his legacy to be learnt in the museum. If you ever make it to Zlin, do stop by Building 21.

After walking through Bata’s history down in the museum, we took an old-fashioned open-door or rather no-door elevator up to the last floor to look at Zlin, the city, boldly dreamt and meticulously realized by Thomas Bata. Up on the top floor of the skyscraper there is a open terrace overlooking the city. There was also a caf√© that looked rather empty and off service when we were there, but it could be open in the summer months.

Zlin from above

Rows and rows of mostly identical brick and glass structures. This is Zlin from above.

Rows and rows of mostly identical brick and glass structures. This is Zlin from above.¬†A city inspired by Le Corbusier’s urban modernism, a city designed for function and daily life.¬†Today, decades after their completion, the brick and glass structures still stand tall, however there is a certain air of sadness that has descended on them. Maybe it is the longing for the good old days, maybe it is a cry for maintenance… It is hard to say.

Letna district

View to the Letna district, where the lovely family hosting us was also living.

IMG_7920After getting our fix of bird’s eye view over the city, we descended back to the ground floor to find the restaurant we read about online. The restaurant turned out to be the canteen for the people working in Building 21 and we arrived right in time for the busy lunch hour.

IMG_7941
Luckily we weren’t asked to produce employee IDs, nor asked to pay with a lunch card. After humble attempt at explaining that we would like some food we were shown to an empty table and brought what happened to be the day’s menu of complimentary soup and this delicious lentil and sausage dish.

Though delicious, the lunch was no gourmet 2-hour long affair, we had to be done very quickly and rush back to the car workshop. It is time!

AA

Two happy travellers waiting on the oh-so-familiar sofa on the second floor of the oh-so-familiar Land Rover dealer shop.

Here we are waiting for hours while our car is in the workshop mostly sitting idle waiting for the mechanic to exchange the faulty part. In Zlin we did a lot of waiting but hopefully it will be over today and we can get on the road again.

Finally after around 4 hours of sitting on the oh-so-familiar sofa¬†on the second floor of the oh-so-familiar Land Rover dealer shop and keeping our fingers crossed for the car, we get the news that the Rover is ready! Hurra…!!! After 3 days in Zlin, way behind our schedule we are longing to get on the road and reach Slovakia. After settling the rather fat invoice we, all in smiles of getting the car fixed head to the front where our green-coloured beauty is awaiting us.
IMG_7947

Alas today wasn’t our day. After driving for about 10 km the car stops again showing the exact same problem of the engine simply dying. It is past 17:00, the dusk is approaching and there is still a few hours of drive to get us to Slovakia. I am on the verge of screaming, which I do getting on the phone with the workshop guy who was spellbound that after making us wait for days they did NOT fix the right problem and unfortunately cannot do anything anymore today as the workshop is about to close. Having no other choice we drive back to our wonderful Czech family to spend yet another, needless to say, not so carefree night in Zlin.

As Alena, our host was hurrying calming tea and her home-made honey to help us get through the stress of the day, Andreas took the matters in his own hands and spent a few long hours scouring the Internet on the potential causes of the car malfunction. It must have been our day after all, as his patient efforts paid off, and people, real Land Rover aficionados and experts, unlike the official branch we had the “pleasure” of dealing with, knew exactly what was the root cause of the car misbehaviour. And of course it was not the throttle body that the workshop diagnosed and made a hefty invoice for, it was nowhere even close to that. Something quite different and very easy and far cheaper to fix was to be blamed for. But the hour is way past midnight and we need to sleep.

Good night! Tomorrow is the day we will be on the road again…

Photos © Andreas Eriksen & Ani Movsisyan

AA on the road: Day 4 – Exploring Moravia

Day 4: August 30, 2015
Time: 10:00
Location: Skutec, Czech Republic
Destination: Olomouc, Czech Republic

Little past midnight we arrived in Skutec. Our original plan was to spend the night in beautiful town of Kutna Hora. Somehow with our short booking window and the late hour of looking for accommodation on Airbnb, we ended up grossly underestimating the distance between the two towns by a small 70 km. On the interesting side, nothing could beat our home for the night in Skutec.

IMG_7725

A picture says 1000 words. I hope this picture we took of our home in the morning sun is able to convey a little bit of that experience. A mixture of a clay hut and a nomad Mongolian tent, hand-made by our kind host Jan and his friends. Inside there was a mismatch of all kinds of furniture and hammocks occupying all nooks and crannies of the hut. The toilet was a dry closet, a polite way of saying hole in the ground. Quite an experience!

As it was a weekend, the local car workshop was closed in Skutec, so¬†Kutna Hora, with its Bohemian charm stayed¬†as an unexplored point on our paper map. Driving backwards with a car, whose behaviour couldn’t¬†be quite predicted judging by its capricious actions of the day before was not an enticing option. Hence, forward lay the road. In the August heat across the Czech countryside to Olomouc in Moravia.

There is something very charming¬†about Czech architecture. The cities feel like they are taken straight out of medieval fairy tales, the cobblestoned narrow streets, the colourful, beautiful buildings that are adorned with details ready to mesmerise you. Prague, the Czech crown jewel is of course hard to beat. But don’t underestimate the beauty that awaits you in the rest of the country. Beauty that is no less charming and comes with no tourist crowds.

IMG_7783
Olomouc is one of these small gems. We arrived in the city boiling in the heat to find charming streets, void of people, who probably had taken refugee in their homes to escape the summer heat.

_MG_4678

The multi-coloured facades of Olomouc

Our first mission was to locate food! On the way from Skutec the car kept us hostage, and we were afraid to do any extracurricular stops as long as the Rover baby kept on driving. So we arrived in Olomouc starving. With Andreas’ excellent food-spotting skills we found¬†a charming caf√© with a French name, tucked away in a quiet backyard,¬†with plenty of cuteness and trees to shade from the sun.¬†IMG_7729

Moving down the list of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, we put a tick on the hunger box, and turned our attention to the next basic need – shelter. A quick Airbnb search brought us to a lovely apartment right in the center of the city overlooking the charming roofs of old buildings and with a prime view to the city hall tower. Our host was the sweetest Czech family, a young couple with two most adorable kids.

IMG_7797

Armed with local tips from our hosts, we set off to discover the city. First off, Olomouc is really small, you can walk across the city in practically 30 min. Nonetheless, the amount of cuteness we discovered was far enough to keep our travellers’ eyes occupied for a couple of hours.

IMG_7795

Cuteness overload. The cobblestoned streets and old buildings are a sweet sight for our eyes.

IMG_7740

Look at this mosaic! It is incredible. From this grandiose entrance you would expect to find at a very least a palace. Hold your breath. It is a restaurant! Supposedly gourmet and all, we didn’t try it but it had a sophisticated menu and matching prices to go with the luxurious entrance.

IMG_7756

Olomouc has surprisingly many churches for a city of its size. The imposing Saint Wenceslas cathedral is set on a hill and is a nice stroll to make from the old city center.

_MG_4655

Locals hanging out in a community garden.

IMG_7760

An abandoned venue turned into a “secret” cinema.

IMG_7767

During service times, bikes get a VIP parking inside the church.

When we travel, there is always one must-do item on our itinerary, and that is to get a bird’s eye view over the place. In European capitals, there is always a good chance to find a church, a hill or¬†on few occasions a high-rise that has a commanding view of the surroundings. In Olomouc, this old charming city, the church of St. Michael had the honour to watch over the city. As we ascended its spiral staircase the sun was about to set, spreading a magical glow all over.

IMG_7771

The view from St. Michael’s church.

The main attraction of Olomouc is the city hall square with its Holy Trinity Column that is inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage List. This is also the place where we kept returning to after criss-crossing the small streets. A pretty impressive sight.

IMG_7786

Besides the impressive column, the square has another highlight – an astronomical clock. Of course, Prague has its world-famous clock, so¬†it would have been strange not to find one in Olomouc too. Don’t hurry to pass on judgement. It is not about copying all that Prague does. The one in Olomouc is not only astronomical, it is also very very Soviet. Yep! A remnant of the good old socialist times. As the cuckoo announces the strokes of an hour, slim figures of hard-working men and women pop out displaying the full glory and various trades of¬†the Soviet era.

_MG_4670

The astronomical clock of Olomouc is quite a show.

After walking around for a couple of hours we ended the day’s adventures at a popular local brewery. The Czech food, at least this dinner plate we were served in Olomouc reminded quite a lot of Bavarian food. Simple delights, no effort spent on gourmet twists.

IMG_7787

Our dinner plate for two with the complementary Pilsner of course. Na zdravi!

On our way back home we passed by the impressive square again. The bustling liveliness of the afternoon had worn off and the beautiful silence was only broken by the steps of occasional passers-by. A beautiful day spent in a beautiful city. Tomorrow new roads await us.

IMG_7789

Photos © Andreas Eriksen & Ani Movsisyan

AA on the road: Day 3 – Crossing the Germany – Czech Republic border

Day 3: August 29, 2015
Time: 11:00
Location: Berlin, Germany
Destination: Skutec, Czech Republic

Hallo! After 2 days spent in our wonderful Berlin we are ready to hit the road. The bags are packed, the car is tanked, and it is time to say good-bye to our lovely hosts – Miro & Isabell.

12083720_10207425690937667_1502017078_n

Miro & Isabell – our dear friends in Berlin (Photo credit: Miroslav Mateev)

Miro is from Bulgaria, Isabell Рfrom Germany, and now they call Berlin their home. Their love story is a beautiful one, I will just say that they had to travel all the way to Alaska to find each other there <3.

I first met Miro in 2010-2011 at my Deutsche class, when Andreas and I were living in Berlin. He was one of the most hard-working students in the class, on par with me (I am modest I know), and that is how our friendship was struck. I like hard-working people :) Miro is also a crazy bike enthusiast, he probably averages around 100 km a day or more, which according to my standards is insane and worthy of a trophy! So if you are ever in Berlin, you might bump into Miro, the famous cyclist of Berlin. Isabell is the sweetest English language/history teacher. She is probably the most diligent teacher in Germany, she puts so much care and love in her lesson preps, that one should seriously envy her students. Isabel is less into biking and more into hiking/strolling, which suits Miro just fine.

These lovely friends of ours became our first hosts of the road trip, and we couldn’t wish for a more wonderful start of the trip :) Tsch√ľss Berlin, tsch√ľss Deutschland, country #2.

Fahren fahren fahren auf die Autobahn. The course is set towards Basteigebiet, the last German stronghold before reaching the Czech border, the country #3 on our list.

The breathtaking scenery of Sächsische Schweiz

The breathtaking scenery of Sächsische Schweiz

Basteigebiet is an incredible bridge built in the rock formations in the natural park S√§chsische Schweiz¬†reaching across the border into Czech Republic. We heard about this place some years ago¬†when visiting Dresden but couldn’t¬†make it there at that time. Now the opportunity presented itself on a silver plate.

Rock formations

Sandstone rocks were¬†eroded millions of years ago and now stand as breathtaking columns. To ease access for the less adventurous visitors, a wooden bridge was constructed in the early 19th century. The heavy load of the visitors called for a sturdier construction and in the 1800’s¬†a sandstone bridge was built between the columns. Today the number of tourists¬†feels nearly¬†as breathtaking as the view.

Basteigebiet

The bridge, the rocks, the view across Elbe¬†and the plains were incredible, however the place felt a bit crowded. Probably visiting it in the 1800’s would have provided a nicer thrill of adventure than walking on the bridge together with an army of hundred others dominated by Chinese groups and¬†selfie stick couples. Nevertheless, it is quite a thrilling sight especially from a distance standing in a secluded corner and¬†taking in¬†the view.

#fromwhereistand

#fromwhereistand

#fromwherewestand

#fromwherewestand

After making our way back through the hordes of tourists it was time to refuel our own engines. We found a small selbstdienst cafeteria just by the entrance to the bridge. To put it in a nutshell, it was a bit dodgy food featuring deep-fried schnitzels from a place run by funny ladies and overruled by angry wasps. The only good thing about that place was the commanding view of the valley. Shame it was spoiled by this joint.

Rocks, Elbe and fields

Rocks, Elbe and fields

Time to get back on the road. The first international border is waiting to be crossed. Ahoj Czech Republic! First off you need a vignette of course. It is only Germany that allows foreigners to borrow their super nice highways free of charge, probably not for much longer though.

Ahoj Czech Republic! We have made it to country #3 :)

Crossing the German-Czech border was smooth as always in the EU, we barely noticed the small sign indicating the change of countries and the imposing structure in dull concrete. Andreas was very excited at the sight of the former customs station that barely had energy left to give us a wave for a safe journey.

The German-Czech border crossing or what is left from it.

The German-Czech border crossing or what is left from it.

Just across the border we found the next stop on our itinerary: Hrensko. Supposedly a small village with traditional brick and timber houses, instead we found a local version of the Chinese markets we frequented in Beijing. Later we learned from our hosts in Zlin, that the cheap Chinese goods are in high demand with the Czech people. Who would imagine?!

Hrensko - the timbered houses that we were looking for turned out not to be quite so spectacular.

Hrensko – the timbered houses that we were looking for turned out not to be quite so spectacular.

 

 

The apparent landmark of Hrensko - the copycat Chinese market.

The apparent landmark of Hrensko – the copycat Chinese market.

Looking closely behind the seemingly endless rows of cheap merchandise we did notice some traditional houses, but all the charm had been lost with the Asian invasion. In one of the local restaurants we enjoyed a local specialty of three sorts of schnitzel! Together with us there was a very merry crew of Germans that made it across the border for a cheap dinner and some local schnapps. They were quite an amusing sight worthy to have been photographed for memories.

When leaving Hrensko the car started to misbehave just after hours of buying it. In the moment of panic on my side and trying to keep it cool on Andreas’ side, he put on his favourite headlamp and opened the hood of the car to locate the point of cause. After feeding it some¬†lovely motor oil, we resumed the drive. Little did we know that motor oil was not the point of cause and that the first signs of a motor shutting down while driving would become quite a troublesome mystery¬†keeping us stranded in a small city for days to come. But I am running ahead of things…

On the Czech roads...

On the Czech roads…

Back to the Czech roads. We still had some kms to cover and the night was catching up. Apparently when booking our stay for the night we had misjudged the map and ended up booking a place that was much farther from the destination we initially wanted to find us at. After spending a few long hours driving through the Czech hills and forests we have finally arrived at the hut little past midnight. Fortunately our kind host was up waiting for us.

To be continued…

Photos © Andreas Eriksen & Ani Movsisyan

AA on the road: Day 1 – Buying the car in Berlin

Day 1: August 27, 2015
Time: 04:30
Location: Copenhagen, Denmark
Destination: Berlin, Germany

The dawn is about to break. Despite catching just 4 hours of sleep we wake up fresh as morning dew hyped from joy and the anticipation of the wide road that lay in front of us. After months of dreaming, worrying, planning, drawing, reading, searching, and dreaming again our big adventure is about to start.

Rewinding a few hours into the evening before, Andreas, the packing-master did an impeccable job of cramming our month’s of travel essentials into two medium-sized The North Face duffle bags. As he pulled the zipper shut on the bags in the late hours of the night, I had two thoughts:

1. Andreas is the Yoda master of packing! Seriously. Every inch of what to me seemed a rather small bag, was masterfully utilised. Every nook and cranny was neatly packed. Every single item we wanted to bring found a home. If there was ever a championship for packing, he would with no doubt win the title. You will discover more excellent proof of this later on as he artfully packed all the goodies of Armenia from lavash, peach, grapes to jams and wine into a 20 kg suitcase.

2.¬†How on earth¬†did I go from doing a weekend travel with a fully packed North Face bag to the same fully packed North Face bag rationed for one month of travel! Insane. I must say at that moment I secretly felt rather proud of myself for developing traits that helped me to exercise self-discipline on my urge of packing ah these 3 cannot travel without dresses, and oh that¬†absolutely essential t-shirt collection, and 3 pairs of shoes… Don’t be fooled, it was a darn hard struggle, firmly led by the packing master, Andreas. After a month on the road though as I was unpacking the bag I found that there were even clothes I simply didn’t manage to wear throughout the trip. Ah girls…

Back to the morning after. We have a flight to catch. We are going home. To Berlin. Our home for a year and a city that has become the site of our annual pilgrimage since then. Quite symbolically Berlin is what we chose as the start of our road trip.

IMG_7605

This oh-so-familiar corridor at Tegel airport in Berlin. Magical city, here we come!

One hour on an AirBerlin plane, and we are taxiing¬†to the gate of TXL. This airport is not one of the world’s most glamorous, but oh it is so efficient. 5 minutes in and out the door and you are on your way to a TXL airport bus taking you into the city that has so much to offer, to amaze and to make you fall in love with.

Our mission for the day is to locate and secure our ride. A rather important mission, given a car is an absolutely essential attribute of accomplishing a road trip. After many hours of online search Andreas had already shortlisted three potential candidates for us to check out. We naively thought that it would not be such a hard task buying a used car, after all it is civilised, law-abiding Germany we are talking about. But oh no… Berlin car dealers. Many pages could be dedicated to this particular segment of the city’s population. We will suffice with only a brief summary of probably the most intense day of our trip.

Around 11:00 we arrive at the first address, a huge impound, somewhere in Neukölln to check out the first candidate, an old Mitsubishi. After just a few seconds on the site we already felt like we were in Turkey. After some Turkish/Arabic exchange of screams among the various dealers, we are finally shown the right car dealer who possessed the Mitsubishi from the online ad. But the first attempt is almost never a success. Voila the car miraculously broke down yesterday and of course the dealer did not even bother to remove it from the online system or even try to fix it. Disappointed we leave the impound, off to the second location.

This one is half-way¬†across Berlin somewhere in S√ľdkreuz. This time the impound, or rather the car yard, was a much smaller site, with only a few exhibits. The dealer – another Turkish member of the Berlin car mafia, constantly on the phone and constantly screaming. In between those calls he showed us the car¬†–¬†a scratched, beaten up, plastic parts broken off Land Rover. Test drive did not make it better. After futile attempts to try to say thank you and good-bye to the dealer, who did not even bother to interrupt his 20 min and counting conversation, we left the premises to find the third car place.

Seems like we arrive at the hornet’s nest run by a Lebanese familia. Ali was the man who was juggling around a couple of bosses. He had many cars for sale, and among them with a dead battery parked behind a couple other cars, stood our beauty, an old, very old Land Rover Freelander. For Andreas it was love at first sight. His eyes were set on it and only on it.

After 3 hours spent walking around in the impound, being called¬†kollega left and right, witnessing many phone calls, negotiations, Polish buyers, money flying around, and observing firsthand¬†a closely tied network of dealer-car workshop-paper fixer, we were finally taken to¬†a werkstatt where cars were piling on each other. So Andreas’¬†dream car was deemed unfit to pass the T√úV test, the German car test that is needed for obtaining a car registration. We drive back to the impound, and after some more¬†hours and many more phone calls and a brief meeting with the Big Boss himself we negotiate a price and a plan to make the car ready for us¬†by Saturday, the day we would like to start our drive towards Czech Republic.

After a total of 5 hours on the impound, feeling exhausted, hungry and dusty we were released to enjoy the evening in Berlin.

IMG_7559

Exhausted. 5 hours with Gebrauchtwagen händler in Neukölln finally paid off. Maybe? Awaiting TÜV test and Ausfuhrkennzeichen.

Every time we visit¬†Berlin, there is one special place that we always return to: Sony Center & Potsdamer Platz. If you have been to Berlin, you will probably say just about now, but that is so touristy, why, oh why? Well, yes it is. Potsdamer Platz is quite popular amongst the crowds of people visiting Berlin. The Berlin Wall once ran here.¬†We love it for two reasons: #1 it houses the Sony Center, a beautiful piece of architectural mind. We have our beloved spot, lying on the metal benches under the center’s colourful roof, surrounded by all the life passing by, and gazing dreamily at this sky… And that is exactly what we did to release the long day’s exhaustion.

IMG_7570

There is no place like this – Sony Center

#2 is the sight of the three skyscrapers of Potsdamer Platz. Somehow standing there on that busy sidewalk, at the crossroads of Berlin’s turbulent history, looking up at these three buildings, you think back on the past and look forward to the future.

IMG_7608

Potsdamer Platz in evening light.

So here we where, in the midst of enjoying pizza at our usual pizza joint on Potsdzmer Platz, when Ali the car dealer, tracks us down to sign some papers for the car registration and receive cash, of course more than initially agreed for the broker’s service, another guy in the familia, to handle the registration for us with a small price bump along the way. After a really long day, we say good night to Berlin, hoping that the morning after will come with good news…and hopefully no more last-minute pricing surprises.

Photos © Andreas Eriksen & Ani Movsisyan