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Trip Report Trip Report: Hungary & Romania, May-June 2005. Re-posted to eliminate errors.

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Here's my report for our trip in Hungary and Romania taken in May-June. It was essentially a three week trip, with 19 days of car travel, mostly in Romania. The Romanian portion of the trip covered the Carpathian, starting in the northwestern part of the area (Maramures) and circling down to Sighisoara, Brasov and Sibiu. Hotels and restaurants mentioned without further comments met our standard of acceptability. Most descriptions of tourist sites are rudimentary because I defer to guidebooks and Clifton's report.

Resources used:

Clifton's Trip Report: Romania, Budapest and NE Hungary. Curses, blessings and cabbage http://www.fodors.com/forums/pgMessages.jsp?fid=2&tid=34543931&numresponses=140&start=0&keyword=148
Michelin Green Guide for Hungary
Lonely Planet's Romania and Moldova
Seeking Structure from Nature: The Organic Architecture of
Hungary
, Jeffrey Cook, Birkhaüser, 1996
Archittetura Organica Ungherese, La Biennale di Venezia 1991
The Shell maps of Hungary and Romania
various web sites for B&B's

We used mainly cash in both countries, and took about 300 euros as a backup. There are ATMs everywhere. We had no problems except in one town where the machine refused to handle the transaction. Same thing in the following town. I suspect that it was the US side that was having a problem. Two hours later the problem had been fixed.

Our trip started in Paris. We originally planned to see Romania and Bulgaria, but the logistics were impossible in terms of cost. Renting a car in Romania is too expensive ($100/day), and while we could find reasonable prices in Bulgaria, it was not clear that the car could be driven in Romania, and the trip would have to be a round trip to avoid stiff drop-off charges. The only cheap flights to Bulgaria were from Germany to the coast, which was not where we wanted to go, and the scheduling was impossible. Moreover we did plan to spend the second half of our European trip in France, which meant that going to Germany from the States and back from France was complicating the picture, especially since we were already going from New York but going back to SF. All this to say that we changed our plans, landed in Paris (eventually returned from Paris to SF) and then a couple of days later took SkyEurope from Orly (very good public transportation to Orly) to Budapest. The flight cost 25€ per person plus taxes which more than doubled the price (117€ for two). The return to Paris cost almost twice as much because we flew on a Saturday (very early). If cost is an issue, plan on mid-week flights for the lowest fares. Since we were staying in Europe for 7 weeks, we could have leased a car from Peugeot or Renault. But that meant starting from Munich or Milan to drive to Romania and eventually back to France, and we felt that our time was too valuable to drive through a good part of what we saw last year (Austria--http://www.fodors.com/forums/threadselect.jsp?fid=2&tid=34517351--and northern Italy--http://www.fodors.com/forums/threadselect.jsp?fid=2&tid=34522338), however limited our visit may have been at that time. It turns out that our travel costs in Europe (plane fare, train fare and car rental in Hungary and France) were a shade more than a lease would have cost us.

first Hungary: My wife had been lent some books about organic architecture in Hungary (think of it as Gaudiesque wooden contemporary architecture), so a part of the itinerary was based on finding this architecture. She forgot her notes, so we were traveling purely on the basis of recollection of town names. We landed in Budapest, called Thrifty and were picked up promptly. We had rented the cheapest rental possible (a Fiat Punto or equivalent) and were upgraded to a Citroën C4 with AC at no extra charge. I would have preferred the smaller car with AC. The total rental cost was 540€ ($587 with the 1% Visa fee--and I know, there is something wrong with the conversion rate) for 19 days. AutoEurope refused to meet the price, citing a need for extra insurance, and I had some misgivings, thinking that I will be stuck with some hidden charges because I wanted to take the car into Romania. The rental agency assured me over the telephone and in person when I got there that the only extra charge would be 6€ at the Romanian border, but even that fee was never charged. We left the rental agency on our way to Romania, but headed east toward Budapest because Visegrad was said to be a center for organic architecture and with an important historical castle. The town is on the right bank of the Danube, and I was advised by the people in the rental agency that I had to take the first bridge over the Danube to get there, which is the first bridge on the northern side of Budapest. We are told to take the road left (no. 4) and go straight into town until we come to a sports stadium, as which point we turn right etc.etc. We take the road left and within a quarter of a mile, see a sign that tells us to make a jog to the left to stay on 4. Within minutes we realize that this was not the right road, and we eventually make a right on what appears to be a north-south road, and then a left on the next major east-west road, but are on the service side road rather than on the restricted access main road, and the service road veers into another major road which it turns out takes us over the Danube. Taking the airport shuttle in when we return the car, we discovered that had we done what we were told to do, we would have found ourselves on the restricted access road and would not have been able to turn when we should have, so our little detour was a lucky break, and we never did see the sports stadium.

We get to Visegrad in the late afternoon, find a hotel (for bed and food we used the Michelin: House Honti and Gulyas Csarda respectively) and decide to explore the town. Walking around this very small town (it turns out that the town must be larger than I thought because we missed a complex of stores built in the style we were seeking), we see a building that is clearly part of the organic architecture movement. It's a sports hall, and we walk in and fall upon a concert of ancient Hungarian folk music--none of the Gypsy stuff. It sounds more like medieval secular music, with wooden flute (like recorders but probably not quite the same) solos that clearly imitated bird sounds. Unfortunately we could not understand the explanations. The singing by one soloist was more within the eastern European modes, or again, late western Medieval folk music. One could hear some of the slow movements of Bartok's Rumanian dances with less complexity (his music is probably based on Hungarian folk dances of the Carpathian region). We left the concert and walked around, finding no more organic architecture; strolling along the Danube is quite pleasant. The next day we went up to the castle and on the way up fell upon a restaurant that clearly was of the architecture we were seeking. Nearby we found a children's playground in a grassy field overlooking the Danube whose wooden play structures took on the shape of fanciful animals. There also was a hay feed building set in woods behind a high fence, and it turned out that deer came to feed there. Farther up the mountain there was an extensive summer toboggan run on tracks. I think that the whole area is designed as a family day outing from Budapest, and is probably very crowded on summer weekends. The siting of the castle is impressive, and the rebuilding is not too excessive. Loads of children going through. We must have been there at a time when classes end the year with outings to important national sites. There are some displays of what life was like at the time of the castle's active existence--a banquet scene, a torture room, a room with hunting equipment, another with fishing equipment; all interesting, but not worth the two stars given to Visegrad by Michelin.

We crossed the Danube by ferry, found a store where we bought picnic food. The availability of picnic items is limited. This is not France where almost any food store will have dozens of cheeses and a wide range of hams, sausages and patés to choose from. Bread is similarly limited in choice, and so was the fruit. Except for some higher priced restaurants, food was fairly basic throughout this trip. It was on to Eger for one night. Eger is a nice town, with interesting Baroque buildings. We fell upon a public swimming pool built in the style we were seeking. Our host in Budapest claims that the architect has gone overboard, built the olympic size swimming pool itself out of wood and that it is now leaking and rotting. We saw no evidence of that, or of repairs being conducted. We can say that it was being heavily used on the day we were there. We stayed at the Minaret Hotel, recommended by Michelin, because we fell right on it when driving in and felt that it was not worth struggling with one way streets and parking more than necessary. We did not follow Clifton's restaurant recommendation because there was a rock concert on the main square that made staying in that area uncomfortably loud. We mainly walked around the town, but did go visit the lyceum to see the library with a remarkable trompe l'oeil ceiling. We did not visit the fortress, which is Eger's main attraction according to Michelin. Our intent was to get to Romania in a fairly leisurely pace, recognizing that we just can't do everything. We did find the central market and purchased food for a picnic lunch.

From there we went to Sarospatak. We tried to avoid Miskolc by using secondary roads (I am allergic to superhighways when touring), got lost in the meanders of the puszta, partly because of bad road signage, of a confused navigator, and of a badly designed map (I think that the Shell maps are somewhat deficient in their color design). We arrived in one town and discovered that the road was blocked because of flooding. The policeman directing traffic knew only Hungarian, we knew none, but eventually he let me know that I can use the superhighway because the rental came automatically with the vignette. So we backtracked until we found a superhighway and reoriented ourselves and eventually reached Sarospatak. It was late in the afternoon (we did not leave Eger until 11 or so), and the town appears to have no true center. We used Michelin for the hotel recommendation and the restaurant. I highly recommend the latter, and believe that we should have stayed in its rooms (it offers 4 or 5) rather than at the hotel--the entire setup looked very appealing. The restaurant is very easy to find: Once in Sarostapak, cross the river (there's only one bridge) and make an immediate right on the road that is on the levee. Where there is a break in the trees for a view of the castle is where you will find the restaurant. The restaurant (Var Sorozo Vendeglo--accents omitted) is very good, although I wish the waiter had explained or suggested things to us. I had a pig's knuckle that was cooked in such a way that the meat was tender while the skin was so crisp that it crackled under the teeth. The problem was that while it was easy to crunch the skin once in the mouth, it was almost impossible to cut it with a knife. The portion was so huge that I was unable to finish it. My wife had duck, two legs & thighs, which were twice as much as expected. The food was delicious. But we noticed at another table that a couple ordered fish. The waiter comes out with a selection of fresh fish (all the same kind) from which the diners select the one they want (price is by weight), it then goes back to the kitchen and comes back golden brown (probably deep-fried), in a beautiful presentation, and also interesting because it has to be fresh and local fish. We wished we had thought of fish, and I should have, since the town is on the edge of that inland river delta system. The hotel we stayed at is the center of the town. We were there on a Sunday, and everything was closed. We went there for the architecture and were not disappointed. There are a residential high school, a community center and an apartment complex in the style we were seeking. The castle mentioned in the Michelin is best seen from the restaurant, but I am somewhat jaded in that regard. While looking at the community center, we discovered that its café had free internet connections. They also had children's performances in the auditorium: singing, dancing, baton twirling--not necessarily Hungarian in theme, as some older girls performed belly dancing, or is that a reflection of the long-gone Turkish occupation? The next day we drove off toward Romania. We stopped for lunch in Csenger and fell upon a church, a school and a sports hall that were in the organic architectural style. The pastor/priest happened to be walking by with two persons to show the inside of the church, and we obviously were looking at it, so he let us in. He may have been the pastor/priest of the church next door because we were there on a Sunday and no services were evident in the new church. The whole town was dead, worth a stop only for these architectural items, and we were the only ones eating in the hotel restaurant which was quite decent. This pretty much ended our search/discovery of organic architecture. We may have seen some in Kecskemet, but the buildings were not obviously in the style and may have simply reflected a common Hungarian style that is frequently incorporated in the organic architectural buildings. The last one we did find is in Budapest and conveniently contains a 24 hour Internet café.

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    Crossing the border took us 10 minutes. I just gave them the two passports and the international driver's license, the passports were stamped and we were on our way. Some find that they are moving back 100 years in time when crossing the border. I see it more as fifty years, or just 30 if I compare it to Hungary in 1975, when the country roads still had the horse-drawn hay wagons. But Romania gives the impression of being what western Europe must have been like after W.W.II, with lots of hand labor still being done in the fields. We do not recall seeing a single tractor in Maramures. Because Romania is not living in a post W.W.II Europe, with everyone in a similar economic condition, one sees some striking contrasts. Even in the poorer areas such as Maramures there are quite a few BMW and Audis (relatively few Mercedes) with Romanian plates; some people have enough money for fairly expensive cars, even if they are grinding their teeth on the lunches they are skipping (my apologies to Dick Gregory). The more common car is the Dacia, which is the Romanian version of the Renault 12, often with a rear suspension that looked as though it was reinforced with an I-beam (in Hungary there were still quite a few Trabants). Coca-Cola, and I do not mean this generically, is ubiquitous with vending machines dispensing liter size bottles that people are carrying in the streets, constantly sipping from them. Areas such as Brasov and Sibiu are developing commercial centers on the edges of town with all the big stores one can imagine (Carrefour, versions of Home Depot, car dealerships, etc.) and brand new supermarkets. These will carry a dozen variety of laundry detergent, and dish washer soap, and rows of canned goods, chips and crackers, but will have a miniscule fresh vegetable/fruit counter that is simply tucked in the corner of the store and a meat counter that is scarcely bigger. Gas stations are now the new gates to the cities--the old ones being the rows of Communist era apartment buildings. McDonalds and KFC are sprouting in all larger towns. We were looking for a restaurant in Suceava, and the directions given at the gas station that included an American style minimart was "turn right at the McDonalds"; they are becoming landmarks (not in the historical sense). I am not trying to deny the Romanians their choice of junk food or modern conveniences, but am only suggesting that there are implications in this leap into the 21rst century; add this food to their traditional cholesterol laden diet and you have a recipe for a health crisis within a generation. Construction is going on everywhere although many half-finished buildings (private or public) appear abandoned. We came up with this joke: "How long does it take for Romanian concrete to set? Until the next funding cycle." We asked where the money was coming from for all the new private houses in Maramures. Answer: Euros sent back from Italy, and prices for the B&Bs are often quoted in euros.

    Maramures: We drove into Romania and the first city we hit was the epitome of what we imagined the place to be like. The road into Satu Mare is rough, with a mix of cars, horse-drawn carts and trucks. The town is decrepit, including its central square which has great potential. The streets are worse than the incoming road. But we found an ATM and got our Romanian money. Drove off and could not find the signs going out of town. We circled around on absolutely awful streets, zig-zagging all the way to avoid pot holes, stopped to ask for directions and eventually were on our way. We also got lost, not as badly, in Baia Mare, went over the pass and headed for Vadu Izei. We had decided to stay with families rather than in hotels for this part of the trip because we figured from our readings that the towns were not the reason for going to Maramures and southern Bucovina. Vadu Izei is at the base of two valleys, both known for their villages with wooden churches, so I decided that it would make a good base for our visit of the area. It also is one of the centers for the B&B network, and the Internet site (http://www.ruraltourism.ro/indexen.html) lists quite a few B&Bs in this town. I had made a list of preferred B&Bs, with English spoken as one of the criteria, stopped at our first choice but Nicolae Prisacaru, who spoke fluent English and is also a guide to the area, was fully booked (he warned us that we should have reservations--this is late May!). We went to the next one, and they had room.

    Here comes an extended description of our stay. It is meant as a recommendation for those who are willing to accept the conditions, and as a warning for those who need more standard accommodations. We stayed in a compound (www.ruraltourism.ro/bledea) that was closed in front with a traditional Maramures gate. We slept in their living room which had been converted into their bedroom while they moved to what either was one of the son's room or their family room now that the living room was a bedroom. The web site claims three guest bedrooms, which means that the family would have to move out to the grandmother's house also in the compound. We had no closet space and lived out of our suitcases. We shared the bathroom with the husband, wife and their two children--or so thinks my wife, although I believe there was an upstairs bathroom. The hot water came from a wood burning hot water heater located in the bathroom, which meant that when there was hot water, the bathroom was also very warm--but they had a self-heating washing machine which allowed us to do our laundry. They burn wood chips in the water heater, and I suspect for the ceramic stoves; they provide faster heat than logs, but someone has to chip down the logs. We ate breakfast in the kitchen and dinner on a little porch in the yard. The only fresh fruit and vegetables we saw during those meals were tomatoes and cucumbers imported from Turkey. Most of the food, except mamaliga (I assume the corn meal is store bought) and some rolls, was home production: eggs from the chickens that were running in the yard, chicken, home-made sausage and smoked fatback, cured cabbage for stuffed cabbage, pickles, etc.. But this was not a farm family, even though they had an extensive garden and another piece of land to grow potatoes, usually kept a pig and had chickens. The wife worked in a clothing factory in Sighetu Marmatiel--aka Sighet--and the husband was a skilled wood worker employed in the Village Museum. His English was practically non-existent although he had spent several weeks in Lima, or was it Canton, Ohio doing decorative woodwork for the church of its Romanian community. Her English was better, but the "English spoken" listed on the web sites should be taken with a grain of salt. The food was good, it was interesting, but not particularly balanced. If you have problems with eggs fried in a quarter inch of oil, or a two inch long piece of smoked fatback as part of your main meal, this is not for you. On the other hand, since the sleeping arrangements are not the greatest, it would not have been worthwhile staying in such a situation if we had not included the meals. I can't say "participate in the meals", because we did not eat en famille with them, but they kept us company, with the husband refilling the home-made tuica glass--tuica is 104 proof firewater made in this instance from apples--as I emptied it; my feeling is that it helped cut the grease. It's through these conversations that we learned what they did and where the money came from for the construction we were seeing. One of their friends dropped by to say good-by. She had been working in the clothing factory, quit to take a job in Italy taking care of an old man. She would work three months--the length of her tourist visa--come back home and then start over again with a new tourist visa. Knowing that home care is not well paid, it says a lot that a woman is willing to leave her children in the care of the husband to go work in Italy. It also says something about wages in that clothing factory. There is a bus that goes directly from Sighet to Italy--it's a 22 hour trip. At the end of our stay, the hosts gave us a gift of a pint of tuica and a miniature version of what I call "scepters" that are often seen in the Maramures area--it's like a wood block puzzle on top of a pole (see the balcony decoration in the pictures).

    The day after our arrival we went back up toward the pass along the Mara River, using the LP Guide as our basis. Unfortunately we were unable to get inside any of the churches, and because this can be a constant problem, I recommend looking at the inside of the church in the Village Museum in Sibiu--the Village Museum's church in Sighet was also closed. The outside of the wooden churches and their surroundings are nice, but I am being perhaps misled by memory when I say that the Ruthenian churches of northeastern Slovakia are more interesting on the outside even if the steeples are not quite as high. Anyone with a serious interest in that architecture should perhaps organize a trip that would cover both of them. We had lunch in Ocna Sugatag which looked semi-abandoned but we later read in LP that it is a worker's summer resort, which explained the empty pools in May and the tiny (8'X10'?) cabins along the road. We found a hotel/restaurant on a back street and managed to order a meal, which turned out to be typical Romanian food. Without knowing it, we had our first tripe soup, which was delicious, as it was the subsequent time we had it. It is very mild in taste, nothing like the strong taste of andouillette. We also got a mixed salad, which became a pattern for us to relieve our craving for vegetables, and it is essentially a raw cabbage salad with a few other fresh ingredients thrown in. The same day we drove up the Izei valley to Leud as the final stop. More of these wooden churches, some of them right next to brand new concrete churches (they are building churches all over the place). The more interesting stop was at a monastery near Barsana which was brand new but apparently built on the grounds of an old long since disappeared monastery. The church could be entered and the other buildings (refectory, nuns' residence, mother superior residence) were really beautiful, all built in the old wooden style, using the traditional post and beam technique. We were not allowed into any of these buildings. While all this sounds rushed, it was a leisurely day of car touring.

    The next day we drove into Sighet (6 km. distance), found the central market and bought picnic items which we consumed sitting on a bench on the main square of the city--got quite a few looks. The market had a limited choice of fresh fruit and vegetables, partly because we were there early in the season--lilacs were still blooming. But as mentioned before, choices in food outside large cities are limited. We had parked the car and figured out how metering works (same goes for Timisoara, and maybe other places): One looks for the nearest newsstand and asks for a parking permit for the day that will cost about $1.30. You receive a paper where you scratch out the month and the day and then place the item on your dashboard. We visited the Maramures (folk art) museum which has some interesting items, then went to see the Village Museum which can be skipped if you will visit the similar museum in Sibiu, and finally the Merry Cemetery of Sapanta. I'll defer to Clifton for its description. If you want to see the inside of a traditional farmhouse, just ask Mr. Bledea. He has a relative who owns one 50 yards from the B&B which is unused and locked up, but furnished with household items and tools.

    Photos of this portion of the trip at: http://www.photoworks.com/share/shareLanding.jsp?shareCode=A85A2E2BD2D&cb=PW

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    Bucovina: The road from Maramures to Bucovina should be a main road, but it is not red on the map. Secondary yellow roads were quite good elsewhere, but not here. It is a slow drive not only because it goes over a mountain pass, but because it is in terrible condition. We had decided to stay in Gura Humorului, because it is centrally located relative to the justly famous painted monasteries. We had taken a list of available B&Bs with us, and the first one had a room available (http://www.ruraltourism.ro/bucovina/penshumor/boculet/html/boculeten.html)--in fact, we were the only ones staying there. Their directions are misleading, it is 1 km. total to the B&B, not to the fork which is within 150 meters of the main road. It is a brand new large chalet type building overlooking the city. It is a guesthouse, the hosts live in another house down the hill. The rooms are small, but each one opens to a wide covered veranda that faces the city. The downstairs is all living: kitchen and living dining room, with marble all over the place, and a half bath (for outside guests?). The same goes for the bathrooms upstairs. The verandas and the outer walls had not been finished yet, the inside was absolutely spotless. The sinks and showers (no bathtubs) had good working hardware, although the marble floor in the shower was a little slippery. But the water delivery did not meet the standards of the hardware, and we felt a little bit like Goldilocks. Each room was in a color theme: one light blue, and the other yellow, and the third one pink, etc. In other words, the whole house was designed as someone's idea of luxury, and some of it was over the top. But because of the large living area and the verandas, I would recommend it to anyone who plans to stay a few days in the area, and especially plans a day of rest, writing, reading, etc. The B&B was within walking distance of downtown Gura. Food was something else. We paid for breakfast and dinner, but when asked what we wanted for breakfast, we said just coffee, (home-made) jam and toast; we overpaid for breakfast. I'll describe our last dinner (our hostess--whose French was poor and English even worse--may have run out of ideas at that point): A delicious soup with very mild meatballs which turned out to be made from cow's ears. The main course consisted of a patty of mild sheep's milk cheese with a peppercorn in the center, and an aged sheep's milk patty of the same size with the same decoration, and a patty of mamaliga with the same decoration, plus a fried egg. Then came dessert which consisted of mild cheese medallions, deep fried and covered with sugar. Eating in town might be a better idea, although the only obvious place seemed to be the Best Western hotel right in center of town. There is an Internet café opposite the Orthodox church on the road to Suceava, but I do not recommend it; the computer just crawled along and it took forever just to delete the junk mail.

    We were in the area to see the painted monasteries. We first went to see the one in Humor, which is one of the major ones. The parking lot is large, letting us know immediately that tour busses will be coming. Vendors line the perimeter of the parking lot with all the fold items tourists might want to buy. My impression is that the Voronet parking lot had a greater selection. The monastery is mind-blowing even for someone who hardly knows his Bible, and both this one and Voronet--these are the closest to Gura and Suceava--should be visited first thing in the morning to beat the crowds. The interiors are not that large and one tour group can easily occupy the space. Upon leaving Humor we took a left turn on a road that quickly turned into a dirt road which further deteriorated as we progressed. We wanted to go in the direction of Radauti and decided that we were going in the direction of Sucevita because the road was really getting bad. Whatever direction, the road hit a dead end, and we had to backtrack to Humor and then Gura; Clifton was wise to turn around when the road first deteriorated. According to the map, both the road and the track exist as through roads, but we did not find them. We took the main road to Suceava, which is a very lively town with heavy traffic, but not particularly attractive. We had decided to have lunch in the Italian restaurant recommended by LP (Latino), and were very happy with the vegetarian pizza. From there we sought out some of the minor monasteries and churches that were in the same style, which we felt were worth the effort even if they are not as impressive as the 4 major ones. The Dragomina Monastery has a small museum with beautiful Slavonic manuscripts, and Arbore was completely deserted except for us and the gate keeper/guide who spoke French. On our way back to Gura we we flagged down by the police for doing 62 kmh in a 50 kmh zone, but got off with just a warning.

    The next day we went to Voronet, Moldovita, Sucevita and Putna Monasteries. As LP puts it, this last one is "dear to the hearts of Romanians" and can be skipped by non-nationals. Voronet is very close to Gura and the main east-west road, and has the largest parking lot with the exception of Putna, in other words it can be crowded. It also may have the largest selection of painted Easter eggs. These are painted by the nuns and are available at the entrance to the monastery. They can be purchased singly and are also packaged by fours, sixes or even a dozen. It is also the only monastery where I noticed "skirts" available for men and women who were showing too much leg; no shorts when visiting monasteries. Sucevita is the most grandiose in its size and setting, although all are set in valleys rather than on top hills. We had lunch in Marginea, in a roadside restaurant that reminded me of Mexico in its style and design--it was a dance hall in the evenings; the food was fine. The town is known for its black pottery which did not appeal to us, but there is a good folk item shop next to the pottery shop. As for the colored pottery you will see there, it is not from that area and can be found everywhere in Romania, including around Bran and in Sibiu (more on that later).

    Photos of this portion of the trip at: http://www.photoworks.com/share/shareLanding.jsp?shareCode=A259512BD21&cb=PW

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    Saxon Land From Gura we went to Sighisoara. The secondary roads (2e and 15c) to Targu-Neamt can be slow going because of the string of villages imposing a maximum speed of 50 kmh., but traffic was light We went around the lake to Bicaz, drove through the beautiful Bicaz Gorge and had lunch on top of the pass (resort hotels/restaurants are quite common on top of scenic roads and offer decent food). So far so good. From Gheorgheni I decided to take the secondary road via Suseni to Odorheiu Secuisec. It is only 45 km and two hours of hell. It should be avoided at all costs, and it clearly would have been faster to go 90 km. on highways 12 and 13. We arrived in Sighisoara and discovered all the hotels in the old town were full. If you absolutely want to stay in the old town, you must have reservations. We stayed in the lower town in a very basic hotel whose name I forget (it is past the L&M Alimentara, on the Str. Ilarie Chendi, according to the LP map). It turned out for the best; the lower town below the bell tower is livelier and has a greater choice of cheaper restaurants. We did eat at the Casa Wagner in the upper town, and it was very good but not great. However, LP is correct in saying that it is very inexpensive for what you get (our total bill came in at $20 on the credit card, and my wife claims that someone made a mistake in our favor). We also tried the Dracula Motel Restaurant 6 km. out of town and found it fair. I ordered their specialty--brains--and found them wanting; they were breaded and deep fried and not particularly tasty--I prefer the brains in smaller pieces cooked au beurre noir. A tour group was there, and part of their package included a performance of folk dances by a youth group. From our viewpoint, which was behind the performers, this was far more artificial and hokey than the performances we fell upon in Hungary. If I were to choose, I would go with the Casa Wagner because it offers western European-like meals that are lighter than standard Romanian fare. Our other meals in town were in the lower town below the bell tower at the restaurant whose outdoor eating area abuts the Western Union office on the corner of the Piata Hermann Oberth and the Str. 1. Decembre 1918. The first night there we had pizza, which was fine, and made a 10 fold error in giving the cash to the waitress. She was honest and came back with the money, asking if we had anything smaller. The second evening there we decided to eat Romanian food and I ordered the pig's knuckle. The same waitress warned me that it was a huge serving, better for two persons, and we so ordered. It was not roasted as I previously had it in Hungary, but had been mildly cured and then baked, so that the flesh had a ham-like flavor. The skin was not crackling crisp, but the taste was excellent. Needless to say, the waitress got two good tips from us (standard is 10%, which I doubled).

    Sighisoara is impressively situated on a hill, and looks gorgeous from a distance. It is relatively small in terms of the old town (we did walk to the railroad station one evening just to see what the non-tourist town looked like), although the main street of the lower town is also attractive. Its museum in the clock tower is small and that part of the town can be covered in a leisurely 30 minute walk. There is the climb to the Lutheran church on top of the hill (wrong season for the walnut lady), surrounded by an enormous German cemetery which is obviously kept up--the lettering on the tombs is very crisp and legible. The Orthodox church is on the other side of the river. That geographical relationship is probably indicative of the complex and difficult relationship that existed between the German and Romanian communities. That Romanians now rule means that the old town is stuck in amber, with most of its active community gone and tourism is what is maintaining it and reviving it (there are a couple of buildings in a high state of disrepair right off the main square--but I suspect that it will soon change).

    Sighisoara itself can be seen in one long afternoon and evening. However, it is a good base to see the surrounding area with its fortified churches. All of the churches we visited were Lutheran in faith and Gothic in construction. They were Catholic churches originally and were converted during the Reformation when apparently the Saxon population as a whole became Lutherans. We toured the countryside, looking at villages and finding their fortified churches. We started with Biertan, where we had the official tour. From Biertan we went to Copsa Mare whose church compound appears to be privately owned. As we peered in, a teenager came out of the house and opened the church for us; we gave her a tip. Back to Biertan and on south to hit the road between Agnita and Medias. The main roads are fine, but past Biertan, the road is a dirt track which will give some drivers pause. The road from Agnita to Medias passes though several towns with interesting looking churches. But they are all closed. LP is somewhat dismissive of Medias, but its main square near the Lutheran church is quite nice if un-restored, and the church itself has more remaining frescoes than most. It also had a young student as the ticket taker and guide, who spoke both German and English (he attended the German lyceum), and was quite knowledgeable about the church. As we left Medias, we drove by its open air market which appeared quite extensive. The next day we spent about 2 hours on a road in the same area that really would have given us pause had we known how bad it would be--some sections were so muddy and filled with water that stopping would probably have gotten us stuck with no help around for miles. We were driving essentially on forestry roads not meant for cars. We landed east of Agnita, drove to that town. It also has a large fortified church whose grounds are now a secondary school. The church is locked. On our way back from Agnita we drove through Apold with its fortified church which is open to the public, but we arrived too late to see it. The next day, on our way to Brasov we stopped by Apold to see the church. It is a small church but was interesting because we spoke to the man who is restoring it, or rather stabilizing it. He is a young East German who happened to be in that area of Romania about 7 years ago, a carpenter by trade, and he never left. With a shoe-string budget and volunteers (there was a Swede spending several months there) he is working on the church and its compound. He could explain a great deal, knew quite a bit about the history of this Saxon land, explaining that Saxon was a misnomer since most of the settlers came from an area of Germany that was close to Luxembourg. He was reluctant to accept restoration money from official organizations, preferring to work with the local population and training them rather than be forced to hire construction firms from the next large town. The church itself has some remaining paintings, but the discussion was what really made this little church attractive. We gave him money which he promptly placed in the contribution box. The map made us think that from Apold there was a track that would take us to the main Sighisoara--Brasov road (no. 13). As we progressed to the next village, the road got worse and worse, to the point that even I, who normally feels adventurous, decided that it would be best to backtrack. We then went to Agnita and on to Fagaras, which was a mistake. The entire trip took much longer than anticipated. It would have been better to backtrack to Sighisoara and take the main road to Brasov. I am mentioning this at length because I feel that we spent one day too many in Brasov and environs.

    Brasov: Brasov is located between the hills and the plains. The old, i.e. tourist, town is in a cul-de-sac, so do not try any shortcuts to Raznov via Poiana Brasov. No matter which map seems to indicate that there is a street connection from the old town to the road going to Poiana Brasov, it just is not there. We managed to get to the hospital for respiratory illnesses via local streets, but could not get through even though its main entrance is on the road we were trying to rejoin. One must go back to the square in front of the Hotel Aro Palace to join the road to Poiana Brasov. Brasov is also much larger than it appears when approaching from the west. Most of the post-W.W.II development--the much criticized and perhaps maligned apartment blocks--are in the plain on the eastern part of Brasov. It makes entering Brasov from the west relatively easy, and a probable nightmare from the opposite direction, which I nonetheless recommend because I believe that it would be a time saver to visit the fortified churches of Premjer and Harman on the way if coming from Sighisoara or from points east. We drove in from the west, followed the signs to the center of town, found parking (metered--French style with the single ticket dispenser in the middle of the block), and proceeded to look for housing. The first that we found, recommended by LP, had a room, the price was right (800,000 lei per night), went back to the car and drove it to the guest house. We always parked on the street in large towns and had no problems.

    The Beke Guesthouse is the LP author's choice, and aside from location and price, it does not meet the description of the book. The hosts were available only to collect the money up front, although they did fire up the wood burning water heater every morning except on the morning we were leaving, and then they were nowhere to be found. The courtyard is just a seedy courtyard which requires a good deal of imagination to give it a "mediterranean air". The room was reminiscent of Europe on $5 a Day. The bed was the worst. It was a bed and a half extended by a 15" plank and pad to form a double bed. It was OK as long as I managed to stay on the extension, without feeling the dividing line. But the guesthouse was 10 minutes from the old town's central square Piata Statului.

    We missed the signs for the tourist office, but it exists contrary to LP's assertion, and when we asked around, no one seemed to know where it was; it is in the Trumpeter's Tower in Piata Statului. They were the ones who helped us find a laundry (Creangac Demeter S.R.L., Str. Lunga 163), and checked the hours and the turn around time (24 hours) for us. They also helped us find the venue for a concert--the ticket office was not quite sure as to where it was. Of the two internet clubs listed in LP, only one remains in existence, but we found a second one on the same street as the Blue Net Club--speed was not a problem.

    We visited the fine arts museum (mainly paintings from local early 20th century artists) and the folklore museum next door which had a fine collection of local costumes and a decent if somewhat small museum shop. We went to a concert by the local symphony orchestra. The program included Rachmaninoff's 2nd Piano Concerto (the soloist gave two encores) and Richard Strauss' tone poem Ein Heldenleben. The hall was almost too small for a full sized orchestra--this was not their normal venue--but I really enjoyed seeing the double bass players stroke their instruments when playing soft pizzicati. We went into the Kron Art Café mentioned in LP about an hour before closing time. It had a small interesting exhibit of collages and as we were about the leave the skies opened up and we were stuck without an umbrella. The people in the café suggested we stay, offered us coffee (we did try to pay), and proceeded to have a conversation in French with us claiming that Romania is the original source of Europe's linguistic culture, for Sanskrit originated there, migrated to India before becoming the source of Indo-European languages. I mention this because there are undercurrents of nationalistic tensions in Romania, and yet, this same Romanian national sends his daughter to a German lyceum. When we visited the first Romanian School Museum, the guide was emphatic enough in his explanations to make me feel a similar undercurrent. The old town of Brasov is steeped in its "Germanic" past. The Black Church dominates that part of town, and it is a monument to Saxon Protestantism. The old town as it presently exists was developed in the second half of the 19th century, and one has the distinct feeling that it was Germanic in its existence--the carved signs remaining on the buildings are all in German. The present-day Romanians want to let us know that we are in a Romanian town, with deep Romanian roots.

    There are three restaurants that I shall mention (we also picnicked in Plejmer and on the way to Sibiu): one is the New York café, on the main pedestrian drag. Nothing fancy, but it was a shelter from the rain, and a trio came in to play some un-amplified folk-like music (no singing). We got what we paid for, no complaints. On another night we ate at a better class restaurant, and I left the cash on the table with a 10% tip and we walked out. We had not walked out more than 20 yards when the person behind the desk--not the waitress--came out claiming that we had given 700,000 lei instead of 1,100,000 lei, giving two 100,000 bills instead of two 500,000 bills. I did not argue because I had made amount errors before (remember Sighisoara?), and exchanged the 100,000 bill for a 500,000 bill. But I woke up in the middle of the night positive that I did not make such a mistake. Who knows? The moral to the story is that even if you leave enough for the total plus the tip, make sure the waiter approves of the amount before leaving the table. On our third night we were looking for Cerbul Carpatin mentioned in the LP guide. It no longer exists, having been transformed into a mini-mall. On second thought, we did get a business card that indicates its existence, but the address is wrong since it is at the other end of the Hirscher House as an upscale Italian restaurant which is very good and a nice change from standard Romanian fare and pizza. You can even order true vegetable side dishes that are other than a mixed cabbage salad. We were not overwhelmed by choice of restaurants in Brasov, but at one point realized that we might not be giving the city its due. One evening we walked down to a restaurant in a cellar, which shared its long hall-like entrance with another ground-floor restaurant, and could not get in without reservations. Between our guest house and the main square we saw a wine bar that was ultra modern, seemed to offer only drinks (no one was eating) and yet had tables set with plates and silver. But it had no menu listed outside, as if it was intended only for the cognoscenti. There may be quite a few places like that, offering something beyond the tourist venue.

    In the environs we visited Bran, Raznov and the fortified church of Prejmer. Raznov has a wonderful location over the valley, but it was a ruin and it is being seriously overbuilt. I do not feel that it is worth a visit because there is no sense that the reconstruction is historical but is only meant to look that way. Once past all the vendors stalls, some with real kitsch and some with interesting folk items or cut geodes, Bran stands out on its own. It is not a grand castle as one that belonged to a lord, but was built as a defensive castle that for a long time belonged to the surrounding communities. In the late 19th century and until 1947 it was used by the royal family as a summer home, so it is not a ruin that was reconstructed. On the other hand, the interiors are what 19th century royalty and especially Queen Marie wanted as a "Romanian" residence (we would have liked to see the kitchen). It has far more appeal than anticipated, but it could also be very crowded. The fortified church in Prejmer is very impressive with its defensive walls. It is quite different from the churches around Sighisoara whose walls are usually of a single thickness whereas the Prejmer defensive wall has rooms built into it and is thus about 25 ft. thick. Quite a bit was added in the seventeenth century as a defense against the Turks, although I suspect that it was also as a defense against any foreign armies that may be passing through--the painted monasteries of Bucovina were apparently gathering places to raise armies to fight against the Turks, but who knows what else these Orthodox Christians may have found worth taking when going through Protestant areas. All in all, we could have eliminated one day of our stay in Brasov without leaving out anything if we had taken the most direct route from Sighisoara to Brasov (even the Apold detour would have worked) with a little detour to Prejmer, spent the next day in Brasov and then taken a detour to Bran on our way to Sibiu the following day, even though from Bran one needs to go back to the Brasov city limits to catch the road to Sibiu. There is a supermarket at the town limit of Bran and a picnic site with a table on the road between Brasov and Fagaras.

    Sibiu On a clear day, the road between Brasov and Sibiu would be beautiful, with the high Carpathian mountains lining the whole length of the road. We drove it on a hazy day, and even the drive up the Transfagarasan highway was not that impressive, but we could not go farther than the cable car. The road was closed to traffic coming from the north at that point, a couple of cars came down, so that it may have been open to cars coming from the south. It did look somewhat daunting as it is a single lane dirt road with no guardrails. We did not take the cable car up, drove back down the mountain and on to Sibiu. We preferred Sibiu to Sighisoara or Brasov. It is an 18th century town that is in the middle of a major renovation to become Europe's cultural co-capital with Luxembourg in 2007. The town, even with its squares completely torn up, is beautiful but does not give the impression of being a tourist town exclusively. LP's recommendation of Hotel Ela is to be followed and reservations are essential for any summer traveler. Its courtyard is pleasant, and the guesthouse is a perfect place to rest or use as a base to explore the area. I would even consider Sibiu as an alternative to Sighisoara to visit the fortified churches, even though that would extend the drive to Biertan, for example, by a good hour. Sibiu had the best selection of maps and good postcards that we found in Transylvania. It is in the bookstore on the Piata Mare which also contains the tourist information desk. If you come to Sibiu at the beginning of your exploration of Transylvania, do not forget to browse in the bookstore.

    We took LP's recommendation for a restaurant--Pizzerie--which was good, but disappointing as a city's top dining spot ($51). Restaurant Bufnita was good, and not particularly stodgy; if anything it appears to be a sports café that's a hang-out for the young--we skewered the statistical curve.

    Check notices posted on church bulletin boards: We attended a free--donations strongly encouraged--organ concert by the Lutheran church organist which included music that had been written for that organ. Sibiu has a fine museum that is worth a visit. Even with a major portion of its galleries closed for renovation it had a broader range of art than the fine arts museum of Brasov. What should not be missed is the Village Museum on the outskirts of the city. Take the bus at the train station (in the summer there is a direct bus, otherwise there is a half-mile walk from the zoo stop to the village) to the Village Museum which contains samples of furnished rural structures from all over Romania. It is there that we saw the interior of a Maramures wooden church, still considered a religious site so that no indoor photography is allowed. Many buildings are locked, but there are attendants everywhere who are willing to unlock buildings for the genuinely curious. The museum's shop is perhaps the best place in Romania (we never went to Bucharest) to find folk items such as weavings, sheepskin vests, pottery, etc. The selections were perhaps larger for some items at Voronet, or even around Bran castle, but the prices and quality could not be beat.

    From Sibiu we drove in one day to Timisoara, visiting Hunadoara and the church in Densus on the way. Other than abandoned acres of greenhouses across the river from the Sighisoara-Medias road, this was the most extensive abandoned industrial area we crossed. All the post W.W.II steel mills are simply rusting away, some as a backdrop to the castle itself which may have been intentional: the then productive workers' castle overshadowing the Hungarian royalty's monument. Hunadoara used to be called Eisenstadt, which explains why the industry was developed there. One need not see bad planning in this development, or perhaps one should say the same for the rust belt of the U.S. On the other hand, the Ceaucescu regime probably milked the area for all it was worth with no attempt at updating and improving the infrastructure as time went on. We were not overwhelmed by the castle. It is very impressive from the outside, but it is a complete reconstruction since the castle burned down in 1850 or so. One gallery with traces of Renaissance frescoes is original and was rediscovered when the castle was rebuilt after the fire. The church in Densus is very interesting as it dates from the 11th century and uses remains of Roman columns within its structure. No dirt track to get there, contrary to LP, and it definitely is worth a detour. We parked our car next to the church compound, and a priest came out of the nearby house. He spoke only Romanian, but knew that we were tourists to see the church and opened it up for us. It appeared to be in the middle of nowhere, but there is a parking lot about a quarter of a mile away with spaces designed for tour busses.

    The Timisoara hotel (Hotel Cina Banatul) we stayed in is functional, clean and close to the center of things. It has a gated parking, but we parked in the street behind the hotel, purchasing a day permit the next day from a newspaper kiosk for the hours that we would be there wandering around the town. Crama Bastion (LP recommendation) has changed hands, but was fine if somewhat tourist oriented as a restaurant. The town is pleasant to walk around, with quite a few early 20th century buildings. We never felt the edginess Clifton mentions. There is a large central market where we picked up some lunch items.

    Photos of Sighisoara to Timisoara at http://www.photoworks.com/share/shareLanding.jsp?shareCode=A3D21E2BD27&cb=PW

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    back to Hungary The drive to the border was uneventful, even if we did find ourselves in narrow one-way streets in Arad, ending on a broad avenue and eventually a big intersection that made us believe that there must be an easier way through town. The Hungarian customs wanted to know if we had cigarettes, and then let us through. We drove to Szeged, which is a lovely town in late 19th century style--it was completely rebuilt after a terrible 1878 flood--with broad avenues, parks and walking areas. But it is essentially built in the style of a western European capital, and while pleasant, did not hold our interest very much. Kecskemet is a completely different story. The town is extremely appealing with beautiful architecture that seems to have a Hungarian touch to it. We arrived late one afternoon and left early the next afternoon, and felt we could have spent more time there. It also would be a good base for visiting the puzsta. We used the Green Guide recommendation and stayed at the Fabian Panzio. Our room probably was the smallest, with two single beds at right angles to each other; it reminded me of a ship's cabin. It was the only one available; reservations are mandatory. The Panzio has a large inner patio, all the rooms have AC, there is an outdoor deck outside the upstairs breakfast area, and the room was spotless. The owner's daughter was on call when we were there. She speaks English and French (married to a Frenchman), and gave us an excellent recommendation for a restaurant--Csarda Borhaz, Kolcsey-Str. 7--$54 for two, with a very good goose liver dish (she sniffed at the Green Guide recommendations). A plus if anyone is interested in backpacking in the Carpathians: she does it regularly with her husband, packing in food for a week at a time. She probably would have good suggestions.

    Photos of Hungary at http://www.photoworks.com/share/shareLanding.jsp?shareCode=A75ED42BDA8&cb=PW

    BudapestFrom there we drove to the Budapest airport, taking a secondary transversal road to reach it from the Kecskemet-Budapest road. I mention this because as the road went through some woods, every turn-off had one or two prostitutes waiting for clients; this went on for several kilometers. This was east of the airport, hence quite a distance from Budapest, so I have difficulty believing that it is its Bois de Vincennes. We dropped off the car, they drove us back to the airport from which we took the shuttle to our B&B (info@bellevuebudapest.com and www.bellevuebudapest.com). We had found the B&B on the Internet, not quite believing the description, but it was accurate. The B&B is 5 minutes down the hill from the Fisherman's Bastion and St. Matthias' Church, with a beautiful view of the Danube and the Parliament building. We had the room in the attic (60€), where you had to be at least 5'5" to see out the window. But the location in terms of access can't be beat. It is a ten minute walk to a major transportation hub along the Danube (Batthyany ter), which also has a couple of nice restaurants and a supermarket with a photo shop upstairs where digital pictures can be transferred to CD. Ten minutes down the street in another direction is another shopping area with an internet café. The hosts at the B&B, all of whom (husband, wife and adult son) speak fluent English, and can direct guests to the various services that are needed, which in our case involved a doctor's visit. There were three restaurants that are worth reporting: The one Clifton raved (Gambrinius) about was very good, but not worth a second visit from our point of view ($76). Another one was Vigado Sorozo Etterem, 1011 Budapest, Markovits I. u. 4., which offered Hungarian food. It was not fancy, but well prepared. The waiter pushed the gulasch on the first night, which is one of their more expensive dishes (I recall a price of about $10, but it may have been as high as $12--2400 forints), and it was very good. On another night I ordered the Serbian style carp, which was perhaps even more expensive than the gulasch but more interesting. It consisted of carp fillets baked on a bed of onions and tomatoes in a paprika sauce and topped with a piece of smoked fatback. It reminded of a dish I had in Gyongyos in 1975, and I suspect that there is nothing Serbian about it. The third restaurant is a café in the same area (Angelika Cukraszda), recommended for its pastries, where people come to read or talk over a glass of wine. But their food is quite good, and I would recommend it for a light meal. It is located at Batthyany ter 7. In all instances, the waiters reminded us that the service was not included.

    It rained while we were in Budapest, which did put a crimp on just wandering around and enjoying the city sites. The Paris passage does have an interesting bookstore with the best and cheapest selection of postcards, but looks other wise forlorn. The other passage in that area (just off the Vaci Utca) is in poor shape, with all the stores boarded up and housing the homeless. We went to the Hungarian National Gallery twice, once to see a special exhibit on Hungary's most famous painter who became more and more academic and less and less interesting as his career and fame progressed. A second time to visit the permanent collection, by-passing all the enormous canvasses of heroic times in Hungary's past. We also visited the Museum of Applied Arts, going there mainly for its architecture--it's an Odon Lechner building--and unfortunately, they were preparing for a major exhibit and most of the permanent collection was not to be seen. We visited the Great Synagogue, which is quite a building, but also quite a zoo. Indoor photography is prohibited, but when individuals in guided tours were snapping away without the guide's reprimand, I decided that only idiots keep to the rule. We visited the Museum of Fine Arts near Heroes' Square. We also visited the St. Matthias Church, with its impressive 19th century decorations and nice museum, but I have the impression that the crown is a replica. Budapest is visually attractive, but one should hope for nice weather to be able to wander through its streets with comfort. All our public transportation travels were on a three-day pass. Do not try to use the subway without a ticket. We were stopped at one point and asked to show our valid ticket.

    Photos of Budapest at http://www.photoworks.com/share/shareLanding.jsp?shareCode=AABEE13BD7E&cb=PW

    If specifically interested in Hungarian Organic Architecture, here are the unedited photos: http://www.photoworks.com/share/shareLanding.jsp?shareCode=AFDE172BD83&cb=PW

    It was in the cathedral's gift shop that I noticed some curious items for sale: maps and postcards showing a map of Hungary which included all the lands lost after W.W.I, i.e. from the Adriatic to Transylvania; irredentism lives! Our hosts mentioned that it was difficult for Hungarians to cross the border, which is why they did not go on vacation in ... Transylvania, correcting my voiced assumption that they would like to visit Romania--these are two different places. Hungary recently passed a return law similar to Germany's--any person who can prove Hungarian ancestry can move to Hungary and acquire Hungarian citizenship in 20 months. The law is intended primarily for the ethnic Hungarians in Romania. So the nationalistic issue cuts both ways, and we can only hope that inclusion in the European Union might mitigate some of the antagonisms.

    This ends our trip to central and eastern Europe. Since I do not take notes while traveling and rely on bills, maps and photos to jog my memory, there are bound to be omissions and errors. Back to Paris via SkyEurope. For that trip report see: http://www.fodors.com/forums/threadselect.jsp?fid=2&tid=34653387

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    Regarding your picture #58 from Timisoara: Lots of businesses advertise themselves as non-stop. but what did this one mean?
    Jul 28, 2005

    Michael, it translates
    "Funeral service, complete, Non-stop"
    Great trip report!

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    A_G: I knew that it was a funeral service, but what does Non-Stop mean in this instance? 24 hour service? You get buried over and over again? BTW, most places advertising non-stop are not continuous in service. There are very few 24 hour services in evidence in Romania.

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    Michael, your guess is as good as mine. I would think that Non-Stop means 24 hours service; however, the reality might be different, as you noticed. As for funeral services non-stop, it means that you can rest in peace knowing that no matter if you died during business hours or late in the night, an undertaker is on service, happily to service you. It also can mean that you can be buried continuously; after all you are in the land of Dracula.

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    ..and you were surprised they were driving BMWs, Audis, etc.?
    That only means the russian mafia is advancing! I just came back from a trip to Hungary and was shocked. First, I thought it was nice to see all that progress, but my Hungarian friend explained me how the russian mafia is growing towards the west.
    Check the US embassy (Budapest) link and you can get a hint of all the scams the mafias are running there with clueless tourists.

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    Aocla, not to minimize the tentacles of the Russian mafia, but I suspect that there are Romanians who have learned to float to the top regardless of the régime. This is true of all countries.

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    Thanks for the report & pictures Michael. Your's & Clinton's are very informative.

    I'm just on the very preliminary planning stage of a trip to Hungary - Budapest, Gyor & Sopron are our musts to visit my wife's relations & homeland.

    Ian

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    Just registerd on Fodors. My wife and I have traveled just about everywhere for the past thirty years and have just made reservations to go to Hungary(second time) and then to Romania in late May. After reading Michael and Cliftons reports it seems we may be in for a real adventure. Any more recent comments on Romania?

    Cliff

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    I lived in Romania for 8 weeks several years ago. If I recall correctly "nonstop" (which sometimes did mean 24 hours, but not always) was used to indicate a business where you stand at a counter, and select a service, and order at the counter. You don't "shop" around the building, or walk around aisles.
    I could be completely wrong about that. I just recall that all of the "nonstops" I frequented were businesses of that sort.

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    erinannie

    And how does your definition apply to a funeral service? I took the picture because I saw an incongruity in the service provided and the idea of 24 hour non-stop service.

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    With the funeral service I guess it means that if you want to make funeral arrangements at 4 a.m. (like right after someone died), someone is there for you to talk to. Don't get it either, since the dead guy is not going anywhere, so you might as well wait for 9:00 a.m., the usual opening hour...

    Usually, 24 hr open means that they are never closed. In most cases, it applies to small shops, where people might go late at night to get cigarettes/booze, etc. Some pharmacies also have the 24 hr sign. In that case, you don't get to go in, but you use a kiosk like window, and you have to ring a bell, since most likely the pharmacist is sleeping :)

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    I am switching location for my pictures. I was not happy with Photoworks which keeps on changing the URL, and am not crazy about Webshots, and I think Flickr allows for the best presentation of pictures. So if interested, here are the Romania pictures:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/mksfca/sets/72157623001926246/show/

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  13. 13 Munich Hotel - Stay at the Westin or Sheraton Westpark?
  14. 14 Plane or train between Copenhagen and Stockholm
  15. 15 Italy tours
  16. 16 Gift for French business associate
  17. 17 Trip Report Loving Italy: our trip to Rome, San Gimigniano and Venice
  18. 18 1 week Tuscany in November
  19. 19 Trip Report The honest Italian tale of the laughs, the panics and the awe
  20. 20 Where to stay one night during our drive from Amboise to Avignon?
  21. 21 Trip Report Sunny September Trip Report
  22. 22 Trip Report Mr & Mrs Annhig go bummelling round Germany.
  23. 23 paris apartment opinion airbnb
  24. 24 US looking into preclearance at European airports
  25. 25 lauterbrunnen-wengen 4 days
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