Through my eyes

living my life without regrets

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Cluj Napoca, Romania (Klausenburg)

Cluj Napoca, Romania ( Klausenburg ) 

I will write the German names next to the Romanian names, because for centuries those cities we will visit in Romania were at least 50% occupied by Germans. The “SiebenbürgerSachsen”, as they are known in Germany, were people sent by German Royalty to hold off attacks by the Mongols (Golden Hordes) and then later the Ottoman (Turkish and Islam) attacks. Those Germans established, built and organized their cities in ways that made them stand out in the region. A lot of the Germans sent to Romania were Protestants, people that the Catholic Church did not want in Germany and kind of ‘exiled’ them to the East. But the first waves of Germans came before the Reformation and to complicate it even more, they were not from Saxony but mainly from the lower Rhine Valley. History, even though understood, is still complicated.
History seems unavoidable when I visit a place. I ask myself questions like: how old is this town? What did it look like before man came to this spot? Why is the town in this spot? Somehow I am not so much interested in the latest buildings, bridges or living quarters the town is so proud to show me. I like to understand what made people come here and why and what kind of people they were. I have a hard time remembering the names because they are just names to me. Even though they were the important people of their time; today they are just names, with no longer any power behind them. I am not impressed with their wealth when they were alive, and I am sure I would not be impressed with their wealth today, either. But I must admit that, because of them, this part of the world looks like it does today. There are many circumstances that determine the appearance of a city or place in years to come. Just as there were many such circumstances and events that made a place the place it is today. History! It made and will make the world go around.
We had booked a pension via with an Italian name, Pension Piccola Italia.   We had a hard time finding it, even with our very good and brand new GPS.   We had maps of the town, we had our GPS but the city had major construction going on and a lot of roads were torn apart and detour signs all over the place. Our GPS gave up, too many detours. The map did not have the smallest streets on them and asking people? Do you speak Romanian? Besides, we were looking for a place with an Italian name, so when we did ask, they looked at us funny and kind of shrugged us off, shaking their head. “This guy is looking for Italia?” they might have thought. “This is Romania, fool.”
Well we found the place, an old, turn of the century house, converted into B&B. Parking for the bikes was under a grape arbor in the front yard behind a secure steel gate. Breakfast was in a small annex in the back, also under grape vines. Those plants give great shade. Much needed shade, the temps on the way in were 92 F and it was hot. The big, fat walls of the building though, helped the inside of the house remain cool and comfortable. No A/C, of course. It was an OK place to bunk down and explore the city. Exploring we did on foot, though. Besides the mess the construction made of the inner city, we were not happy with the way Romanians drive; aggressive, reckless and sometimes very foolish driving. We were better off per pedes, especially since the old town was only about 10 blocks away. When I use the word old town, it is a misnomer. Cluj (that is what the locals call the city for short) is a University town; There are many young people around. The ‘old’ center is made to look old but it is seeded over with Restaurants, eateries and drinking places. I felt like I was walking the gauntlet, everybody wanted us to come in and eat or drink in their place, the whole of it not busy, but all establishments very eager for customers.
We had dinner at one of the outside cafes but the atmosphere felt wrong. Naturally we had nothing better to do but watch the passersby and the general bustle of the place. To me it seemed contrived. I cannot remember the food we ate, all I remember is that it seemed overpriced for what we received. I do not know really what I expected, but I did not expect to see a town that made an area ‘old’ to bring in tourists but it was a failed attempt. Maybe we were too early in the day (7.00 PM) and the real “action” starts later, remember this is a University town or…… maybe the University was closed for the summer months. Anyhow, to me it was a dead duck place.
So all I can say about Cluj is that the houses need some fixing up, that most need a coat of paint and maybe there needs to be a program to teach drivers to be more respectful of others.
We had a nicer time at lunch today, we stopped alongside the road and the place had Romanian authenticity, great food and ambiance. A nice place with flowers in the front and a large hall with wooden tables and a nice menu greeted us. Even some (7) local bikers stopped in and occupied a table not far from us. They just nodded an acknowledgement when they saw us and did not make us a tourist target, like those dinner folks.
A curious event was the sight of large wooden houses with ‘silver’ roofs, trims and gables. I remember reading about some of them being ‘Gypsy’ king houses,  but did not know they looked like that. A very peculiar look, very different looking. Very ornate and foreign, something my brain could not conceive as ever being a house for me.Authorities in Hunedoara, a city in central-western Romania, are threatening to tear down the so-called 'gypsy palaces' dotting the region because all were built illegally, and many of them are safety hazards

Well, we are just starting to move into Romania, I need to keep an open mind. Romania is very different. 

Wednesday, November 25, 2015



Happy Times

We have ridden around Hungary before and since our target is Turkey, why linger?  We sure wanted to avoid the congested Budapest area so we picked local roads. Well, almost, because when faced with long, out of the way routes, we bit the bullet and had bought a minimum toll ticket for a week, which allowed us to use the highways. We were glad to use the highways to go around Budapest.
Looking at the map and calculating a route so that we don’t have to travel miles and miles, we headed from Sopron East towards the town of Kecskemet, a town that would make it easy the next day to enter Romania. The booking we made from said a double room, attached bathroom and breakfast included. All that for 23 Euro; parking within the premises or across the street. Great, off we go to find this place. Boy, am I glad we had our GPS. It turned out to be a room in a private house, nice and clean but not a hostel, as advertised. Not that it was bad, it just was very small. Yes, they had parking; they moved their car out of their carport and let us stay there for the night. The bikes were relatively safe. Finding a place for dinner was another thing, though. We ended up eating some strange Asian food in a nearby Supermarket that had a few tables stuffed in the corner. Now, I know that sounds snobbish and maybe it is, but the food was sub-standard. Greasy and all mixed together looked not appetizing. Served on a paper plate with a plastic fork is not ‘dining’.
We just used this private home as a sleeping place and left in the morning as early as we could (7.00 AM). Breakfast was a slice of toast with Velveeta cheese wedges, bad coffee but it was food. I tried to pay the woman but my pantomime must not have been understood, she just shook her head and moved away. I stood there, holding the Euros and did not know what to do. All she said was ‘Bookings’, which meant nothing to me. Language can help, but I don’t know a lot of people who learn Hungarian. She spoke no English, not even thank you. So, what do we do? Well I figured she wants her money sooner or later so let her come to me.  We packed our bikes, had some tough time getting out of the yard, a bit down the hill, and then we rode off. (I totally forgot to pay the woman), did not even think about it later on.

Sad Times
Our next ‘target’ is the border crossing for Romania, some 3 to 4 hours away. Mentally I make a list in my head of where my passport is, where the bike papers are, etc. Questions pop up: do I need a Vignette for their Highway system? How much money do I exchange at the border? etc.  My mind is preoccupied, busy. It is hot; the sun beats down on us in all of our full gear, with the helmet on, too. We finally come to the border and now the fun begins. I find a kiosk and they tell me I don’t need a Toll Vignette for the bikes. Bikes in Romania do not have to pay tolls for any Highway. Great!  Now comes the actual Border crossing! Ready, Carol?  Carol? 
We find out in our confusion at last night’s place Carol left her green document folder someplace. There is no other answer but to ride back. Yes, stuff like that happens to the best of us. We cannot call them, we don’t speak Hungarian. They don’t speak English, or German, or any other language. So, off we go, back to where we came from. About 4 hours later we pull in to their street and ring their bell. Ah, yes, we kind of waited for you, was their pantomime. Here is the green folder. A nice smile and a wave and a big relief on Carol’s face. But now what? We took a break in an Air Conditioned gas station for 45 minutes to cool down and to breathe a sigh of relief.  Carol and I talked. No, I don’t want to stay there again, did not really love the place but now it is the afternoon and where do we go?  I did not even love the town!  So we decided to go for another few hours back towards the Romanian border and find a hotel on a highway someplace. Anything will be better than what we had. Yes, we rode a lot of km that day!

The 'Wild West' in Hungary
Simple Rooms but looked nice 
yes, sh!@t happens !
About 2 hours later I see a sign that spells out “Convoy Hotel.” Carol and I agree we will just take it, no matter what it looks like. All we want at this point is a room. The temperatures on this day were around 90 F and we have had it. So, we walk into the reception and are told that the place has a Wedding Reception this very night. Yes, they have a room but it might be noisy because of the party. Again, what do you do? Also, there is no AC in the rooms, just a fan. The location is good, right off the highway, the bikes would be secure (somewhat) but with a party going on? Will some drunken guy pee on the bikes?  Will someone puke all over them? No AC really bothered me, the day was very hot and it still is hot. On the good side it is an easy walk to a restaurant, the price is acceptable and riding longer is just not in the cards. Carol has had it, too. So, we take the room and I slept great, did not hear a thing. The bikes were safe, the night cooled off enough to not feel the heat and all is well with the world. Sometimes I worry too much. But when on a trip, things can go wrong, sometimes they can be avoided, sometimes it is just my stupidity, other times stuff just happens. Romania is next!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Sopron, Hungary - Eisenstadt, Austria

Sopron, Hungary  -  Eisenstadt Austria

Joseph Haydn Bust

the Esterhazy Palace is now in the center of Eisenstadt
It was just a hop, about 90 minutes from Bratislava, Slovakia (Pressburg) to SopronHungary. The actual city we wanted to visit however was Eisenstadt in Austria. But again, the prices for hotels in Eisenstadt were way too high. So we went to the Hungarian side and saved a lot of money.
in the center of the courtyard the Haydn Museum
I know you wonder why I would go to Eisenstadt, you probably never heard of it. Eisenstadt, what is there? Ah, it’s the music lover in me. Eisenstadt was the Pleasure Castle or Hunting Castle of the Esterhazy Family.And the Esterhazy clan hired Joseph Haydn,the father of classical String Quartet music. For 40 years Haydn composed and worked for the elite of the Austrian Empire. Well, actually he worked for the Esterhazy family but also had occasions to teach pupils such as Mozart or even Beethoven and many more. No wonder they called him Papa Haydn. When you think of Eisenstadt you think of Haydn and also Esterhazy, the Hungarian Royal house. Eisenstadt was one of their castles. They were a complicated family with many family members and inter-relationships.
the American Tourist Hans
Ceiling in the Chapel 
I took the tourist tour but was more interested in the fact that this man Joseph Haydn, composed here. He might have walked where I now walk. He might even have sat in town having a coffee where I sat and had my coffee. It made me smile inside to realize that the world has changed to allow me, a commoner, to sit and talk where only the highest elite once lived. I read that Eisenstadt Palace in its prime was compared with Versailles.Well I have seen both, and no, Eisenstadt is not even close. Maybe it is the town encroaching onto the Palace Grounds today that makes this building a bit ordinary or not so special, maybe it was the way the Austrian Government rebuilt or refurbished the place that made it not equal to Versailles, or it might be just me. I am kind of jaded by now, I have seen too much.  The inside walls are not real, for example. Printed cloth is used to give the impression of ‘walls’ and architectural details are printed on the ‘walls’ that give a fairly good illusion, but after you see it, and know it, you know it’s not real. So yes, I have seen the Palace in Eisenstadt but only after the Restoration and what is left of it and what is shown to the tourist.
I read that, after Paul Anton Esterhazy and especially Nikolaus Esterhazy died the rest of the family did not like the Palace at Eisenstadt at all and abandoned it; left it to go to ruins. Rain and neglect took its toll on the palace and in no time it was a pile of rubble. To rebuild it would have cost a fortune and the Austrian Government had really no use for the place. So what to do? What they did do to the Buildings served a purpose, and tourists come to Eisenstadt, spend money, help the economy, listen to concerts, drink coffee in the coffee houses and all is well. True to Austrian ways, they have Sacher Torte to eat and even an Esterhazy Schnitte, cakes you just have to have when you are in Austria. Yes, we had those cakes in the coffee shop inside the castle. We were tourists! And then there is the music. Wonderful music!  The German National Anthem was written by Haydn, for example. He called it the Emperor Quartet and here is a sample of it. ( click on the blue name ) By the way, all the pictures you see on this YouTube clip are Germany. Great Stuff!    

those guys played well and had fun entertaining the public
We heard it played with a Brass group and it was done very well. The Tuba Player was really into it and fun to watch. I felt like a kid listening to great music.
No matter that Eisenstadt was and is in disrepair, Haydn’s music lives on.  The music will be around for centuries to come, it’s a repertoire, a staple of any Baroque performance. And if you are like me, who loves classical music, then Eisenstadt is a must visit. There is still a very fancy concert hall in the palace. 
for serious concert goers only... it had an air to it
It is still a hub of classical performances, music lives here.  Not just old stuff, but modern Jazz, too.
Portrait of 'Sisi' , a troubled soul 
It helps to know a bit of Hungarian History; who Sisi was (Empress Elizabeth) and why she was so loved by the Hungarians. (She learned their language and could talk to the common folks, a difficult language to learn).
This corner of Europe, somehow, still honors the Royals and the era around the Habsburgs. It was the center of the Holy Roman Empire for many years and it still shows today.
then a columned something now a coffee shop
can you see all the horses that used to live here ?
Bratislava had the German name of Pressburg then. Half the population of Pressburg was Austrian/German at the turn of the 19 Century. Eisenstadt was a center of culture but also a bit in the sticks then, so hunting was a big deal. A totally different time, but it left traces of the golden age that can still be seen today. Some of the old buildings are still being used. Old horse stables are storage places today for example. Old office buildings are made into coffee shops. Etc.
Roman Catholic was their Religion
Saint ?  
We took a guided tour through the Palace to see the where Sisi lived part time. We visited the Chapel; saw the relics of some Saint, whose name I forgot.
a cute pair, don't you think ?
We played tourists.  To ride the bikes from Sopron to Eisenstadt took all of 20 minutes in the morning. We found a good parking spot, stuffed all our riding gear, including boots, into the empty (we left stuff at the hotel) saddle bags and had a wonderful day. The weather was on our side. Not a cloud in the sky.
Eisenstadt is about 1 hour southeast from Vienna, near the Hungarian Border, look at a map    

blue skies, a perfect day for a visit
I try not to be too serious !
. Worth a visit if you like Classical Music. 

Monday, November 23, 2015

Bratislava, Slovakia

Hotel Brix in Bratislava, Slovakia has some good deals and Hotel Brix was one of those, well for us, anyhow. On purpose, we chose a hotel outside the old city, because the prices were outrageous within the historic center and parking almost nonexistent.  The ride from Budweis to Bratislava took 5 plus hours because the roads now are no longer the ‘highways’ we are used to riding on. Yes, the Czech people give it a highway number but really, it’s a glorified local road.
I wanted to see Bratislava for a quirky reason. A few years ago I spoke with someone who was aglow in praise of Slovakia, especially the Capital Bratislava. In her opinion this was a nicer town than Prague, or Vienna, or any other older Capital in Europe. What could I say at the time? I had not been to Bratislava, so I had to just listen and grin and nod my head to her. Now I can talk about Bratislava, I have seen the town. And my verdict is? Grinning! I like Vienna better, but it could be nicer than Prague, depends on what you like. No matter, we had a wonderful time exploring the rather large, old place. We walked our feet sore. No riding around on the bikes, those were parked securely in the underground garage of the hotel. We took the local bus in and out of town. The bus stop was directly in front of the hotel and it was super easy to use public transport. If there had not been a bus schedule, we would have gone to town by taxi. I find it much easier not to ride in big cities and not to be exposed to foreign travel rules. In addition it is much easier to walk around in regular street clothing than in riding gear. That is why Hotel Brix was perfect for us.

Carol’s rear view mirror came loose. No matter how I tried to secure it, it would not stay tight and fast. I had to rely on the Silicone I carry with my spare parts. This goo did the job, especially since it had 2 days to dry while being parked.

When I stop in a large town, I like to take my time and explore the town slowly. No, I will not see everything the town has to offer, but I get the highlights. We walked for at least 6 hours. I told you, our feet were sore. St. Martin’s Cathedral was one of those highlights. 
Church regalia from St. Martin's church

the crown room, see St. Stefan's crown in center

This church served as the place for the Kingdom of Hungary’s coronations.  11 Kings and 8 Queens of the Empire were crowned within the walls of this Catholic house of prayer. The most popular Coronation was probably the crowning of the Austrian Empress, Maria Theresa

I know this one.... Lamb of God

wood carving at each end of pews

decorated pews

Bratislava’s location made it a much wanted town to ‘own’. The great Empires around this town found it somehow irresistible to fight to occupy it. Already in the Stone Ages a castle was built to defend the population from the usurpers.
The list is too long to write, so I copied something I found which should give you a clue.
The list of conquerors is long.

the hangman's house
After the fall of the Great Moravian Empire Slovakia became part of the Kingdom of Hungary from the 10th century until the end of the First World War when the Treaty of Trianon created Czechoslovakia, a country of which Slovaks are widely proud - for example, some Czechoslovakian representatives, such as Alexander Dubček and Gustáv Husák, were ethnically Slovak.
Between 1939 and 1944, Slovakia was a German-controlled state. Then, it was conquered by the Soviets to recreate a new Czechoslovakia, but one that would be pro-Soviet and Communist this time.
This lasted until the fall of Communist rule in Czechoslovakia, during the Velvet Revolution of 1989. In 1993, peaceful differences between Czechs and Slovaks when rebuilding their nation after the fall of Communism led to the dissolution of Czechoslovakia into two separate and independent nations: the Czech Republic, and of course Slovakia (Slovak Republic). To this day, Slovaks and Czechs have generally friendly relations, and the two nations cooperate together frequently on international issues.
Bratislava was the capital (1536-1784), the coronation city (1563-1830) 
Believed to be the crown of St. Stefan 
and the seat of the diet (1536-1848) of the Kingdom of Hungary for many years. Since 1960, it has been the capital of the federal state of Slovakia within Czechoslovakia and since 1993, it has been the capital of independent Slovakia.
Although today Bratislava's population is mostly Slovak, from the 13th to the early 19th century, the majority ethnic group in the city were the Germans, who remained the largest ethnic group until the First World War (in 1910, 42% were German, 41% Hungarian and 15% Slovak out of a total population of 78,000). Hungarians formed another important group in the city in the 19th century, but after the First World War, many Germans and Hungarians left for Austria and Hungary respectively, and the remaining Germans were expelled at the end of World War II.
stark, empty halls inside the Castle
None the less, this German marched up to the Castle to explore and see for myself.
a steep incline to get to the castle gate
 I was not there to conquer anything but my tired, worn out body. Up on top, at the castle, I learned, German Tourists are allowed to come back and spend money. Never mind that they were thrown out a few decades ago. But then, technically, I am no longer German. And truth be told, Carol made me walk up those cobble stone streets, those twisty roads that give a grand view over the ancient city. The original castle dated from the 9th Century but it was rebuilt after being destroyed by fire in 1881.
barren court yards within the Castle
The castle today has an Austrian Empire feeling; Glitz and pomp and ornate decorations. By the end of the 19th Century the castle was used primarily for royal entertainment, rather than to defend itself against attacks. The inside is sparse; the interior court yards bare, the halls feel a bit empty. It’s a touristy place but has a historical value. The view from the top of the castle is stunning. 
Carol liked her Oxtail soup 
We sat and ate an Oxtail soup at the Veranda Restaurant. The weather was mild and we fit in perfectly, we were tourists.
Carol read something about a blue Church. 
St. Elizabeth ( blue church )
So, off we go to find this ‘blue’ Church. It was another long walk but we found it. It was closed but the outside façade was covered with blue mosaics and the roof with blue glazed tiles. 
blue details
did they mean 'heavenly' blue ?
did they mean 'heavenly' blue ?

blue, blue, blue + gold
In front of this Church of St. Elizabeth, we talked to a couple from S. Africa, traveling Europe on bicycles. When I think riding a motorcycle is tough, imagine doing those distances on a bicycle. Amazing! They were having a fine time though; they were not the youngest of folks either. I learned that there are many ‘Bicycle Roads Only’ criss-crossing all of Europe so traffic is not an issue. One hardly has to use car roads and every so many KM are rest spots, Hostels or Hotels. What a great way to see a country!
Presidential Palace 
After that we were so pooped, we took at taxi back to the Bus stop, which happened to be in front of the Presidential Palace. And from there we took the bus back to Hotel Brix.

Supper tasted great, we had walked up an appetite. We slept like babies. 
best mail box ever

I told him !  now he knows !

elaborate graffiti 

graffiti on a grand scale

the stones were slick in the wet rain 

rough road if I had to ride on this 

missing utility covers, not good for a motorcycle

zoom in.... layout of Castle 

birds eye view of Bratislava

narrow streets, cobble stoned 

Budweis, Czech Republic

České Budějovice
Budweis yes like the Budweiser beer.

On the map it looks close but it was a much longer ride than I thought riding from Nurnberg to Budweis. The town should be known to all for its Budweiser beer and that is really the only reason we went to Budweis. I wanted to be a snob. I wanted to drink Budweiser beer in Budweis, and I did.

The largest brewery, founded in 1895, is "Pivovar Budějovický Budvar" (Budweiser Budvar Brewery) which has legal rights to market its beer under the "Budweiser" brand name in much of Europe. The same product is also sold elsewhere under the names "Budvar" and "Czechvar" due to legal disagreements with Anheuser-Busch over the Budweiser brand. The American lager was originally brewed as an imitation of the famous Bohemian original, but over time has developed its own identity and attained remarkable commercial success. Anheuser-Busch has made offers to buy out the Czech brewing company in order to secure global rights to the name "Budweiser", but the Czech government has refused all such offers, regarding the Czech Budweiser name as a matter of national pride.
THIS is the original, the U.S. drink is the imitation

I do like a beer on a hot day, I have to tell you the Budweiser beer in Budweis tasted great but I am not an expert.
Hotel Zvon
The day seemed long and stressful because we only left Nurnberg at 10 AM. On top of that we had to find a gas station; we did not tank up the night before. Mistake:  always get gasoline before you sleep for the night.
No Room in the Hotel for us
Another reason we had a scary day, was because Carol lost her tank bag on the Autobahn. It just came loose and flew off. I was in the lead and did not notice, of course. The intercom we have is finicky and did not work just when the incident happened. I looked in the rear mirror and there was no Carol. What to do?  I pulled over to the right and waited a bit, but Carol did not show. The next step for me is to take the next exit and ride back on the opposite side of the Autobahn and keep on looking if I can see something. The mind is strange; it pictures anything from Ambulances to Funeral Possessions at those moments. I saw Carol standing on the side of the road and now had to find the next exit to get to her. It took ages to find my way back. So what happened? The straps came loose!  I felt bad for Carol but what could I have done otherwise, or differently. Those things happen. We strapped the tank bag to her pillion seat instead to her tank and all went well after that. Carol told me she had to run into the lanes of the Autobahn to reclaim her bag. A scary proposition when I think about it, but again, what other choice is there?  A tank bag can hold essential documents, monies and needed ‘stuff’. If you get used riding with a tank bag you can almost not ride without it. Luckily, I never use a tank bag; I keep “stuff” inside my riding jacket. I am sure Carol learned an important lesson.
Then, when we finally arrived in České Budějovice

I felt like a Dragon, when I found out I booked wrong

, we walked cockily into the big Hotel Zvon and told them we had reservations. We were tired and just wanted to clean up and rest. The day was hot. “Sorry, Sir, we do not have your reservation” said the Receptionist. What!!?  She was right! Somehow I made the reservation for the wrong day and there was no room available in the hotel for the day of our arrival. What to do now?  We found another hotel nearby but the parking was a block away. Parking for a bike, in a foreign country can be a real problem. Not that I feared much in the Czech Republic, but prudence is always good. The parking lot we were given was not ideal, but in hind sight all turned out ok. I just had to pay for an extra hotel. Bummer!  
loved the colors on the buildings

We used to make hotel reservations via the internet. Pick a city to aim for, have the address you want to go to in the GPS and the rest is easy. The problem is, you MUST be very careful making the reservation for the right day…..and that is how I messed up. I learned from this mistake, I am very careful now, double checking if, when I click ‘reserve the room’, all is really correct.