A Travellerspoint blog


Chapter 25 -Anyone for a Good Impaling? South Eastern Europe

By Neil and Nikkii

sunny 30 °C

Vlad the Impaler

You read that I, literarily, winced when I described in an earlier blog that Peter the Great had his son murdered in an extremely unpleasant way.

Well, Vlad the Impaler? Yes, when you were in the dog house with him, it really wasn’t good at all.

Vlad the Impaler – born 1431, died 1477

But more of that later. We had to get to Romania first.


Bratislava, Slovakia

In 1993, Slovakia decided it didn’t like the Czech Republic any more and got a divorce. Not quite sure why. As an Australian it seems a bit pointless. Victoria, a state in southern Australia is 482,000 square km’s. The Czech Republic is 79,000 square km’s with a population of 10 million and Slovakia is 49,000 km’s with a population of 5 million. Their separation in 1993 would be like Woolloomooloo (a suburb of Sydney, Australia) saying “I don’t like those Sydney people, I want to be a separate country. Sort of. I’ll have open borders and free trade but I want to have my own President and call her Ingrid”.

Still, they did it. We got an extra country on our list (country #30, I think). And experienced some food porn…

Pear and Goats Cheese entrée in Bratislava. Definitely one of the best meals of the trip.

…did some washing and had a ‘Bed Day’. The Bed Day is a concept that usually involves a champagne breakfast, the leisurely reading of books, followed by a white wine lunch, lots of sudoku or crossword puzzles and just a whole lot of not much. In this case there was not so much bed, champagne or a long boozy lunch, but a day hiding out from the world in our apartment and definitely NO sightseeing. Sorry Slovakia!


Budapest, Hungary

In Cuba we’d met a fabulous Budapestian couple who invited us to stay. But, its time to go off on a tangent…….

Our mates:

Before travelling through Eastern Europe, I had heard but not really understood some of the stories and connections our friends and their families had with Eastern Europe. Let me start with my best Australian mate:

My Australian Bestie, Cobber:

So my best mate in Australia, “Cobber”, is an amazing bloke. But his family history is amazinger.

His mother and father are from Hungary. They met in Budapest in 1949 and fell in love. They decide to escape the Stalinist government in 1949 and crossed first into Czechoslovakia, but were picked up by a Soviet patrol trying to cross into Austria at a forest crossing. They put them on a truck to take them back to Hungary but, when the truck slowed to turn a corner they jumped off.

His mum make it to Austria, but his father hid out in an attic in Bratislava for 3 months before eventually making it over the border. They met in a refugee camp in Salzburg and in 1950 got asylum in Australia.

A work mate of mine:

I knew my work mate was from Eastern Europe but I never knew until recently that their heritage goes back to some very interesting events in Hungary.

In 1956 the Olympics were held in Melbourne, Australia from November 22nd to December 8th.

In 1956 the situation in Hungary was tense. There were protests that started on 23rd October 1956 and by the end of October the communist Government had fallen.

Flag of Hungary with the communist coat of arms cut out of it. The flag with a hole became the symbol of the revolution.

Having initially said they were prepared to negotiate the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Hungary, the Soviet Politburo ordered the invasion of Hungary on 4th November 1956. By 10th November 1956 2,500 Hungarians were dead and 700 Soviet soldiers had been killed. 200,000 Hungarians fled as refugees.

My work mate’s Grandfather was a coach on the Hungarian Olympic team, and while in Melbourne only two weeks after the crushing of the 1956 Revolution he and 47 other members of the Hungarian team defected! Very soon after, my mate’s grandmother and father defected, eventually settling in Melbourne.

A Melbourne Friend:

Originally from Czechoslovakia, her family were getting considerable grief from the Communist party just before the fall of the Berlin Wall. The situation got to the point where they had to flee. The family got asylum in Australia in the late 1980’s.


I was just unaware of the sheer number of our friends who had direct, and very recent connections, not only to Eastern Europe, but the fall of the Iron Curtain.


Budapest, take two:

We had a lovely time hanging out with our friends at their wonderful home in the hills outside of Budapest.

We took a quick look around town:

A picture of us taken from Buda with Pest on the right side and the Danube in the middle.

Visited St Andrews, a beautiful town on the edge of the Danube:

View of St Andrews and the Danube.

And discussed, for quite a while, and developed some rather fabulous conspiracy theories including:
- The moon is in fact, made of blue cheese
- Elvis Presley is living in Columbia and having a nice time.
- The earth is flat
- JFK was killed by Martians.
- In the moon landings, they didn’t actually land on the moon, but it was filmed in a studio. If they had actually landed on the moon, they would have melted the cheese.

We also discussed the fact that Hungary apparently has the biggest transfer of public wealth to private hands in the world. Hard to comprehend if you don’t live there, but this sentiment of extraordinary government corruption was one repeated by people we met across Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria....

Ah Public celebrations….

In Australia there is a public holiday 26th January, being the day that Captain Cook put a British Flag in the ground in 1788*.

(*For those that are interested there is currently a move in Australia to move Australia Day from this date, as it is in fact also the date that the subjugation and destruction of the indigenous population commenced. We are aiming for a more inclusive date for Australia Day that all Australians can celebrate….)

While we were in Hungary on 20th August, they celebrated their annual National Day, but of particular note this year they celebrated 1,000 years since King Stephen (Istvan) came to the throne. Yep, back in 1017 AD.

We played virtual tennis…

Arpad and I playing virtual tennis....

The Hungarians like King Stephen so much they wrote a Rock Musical about him which gets played every National Day:

King Stephen from the 1983 Hungarian Musical, “Istvan, a Kiraly”

The Geezer King in the coffin.

The battle between Christianity and Pagan beliefs:

The battle between Christianity and Paganism. I think. Or maybe I found a link to a music video.

And the crowing of the main Dude, King Istvan. Hoorahh!

Istvan, a Kiraly

It is completely fabulous and definitely requires a viewing on YouTube. Drink something strong first….


The Main Gig, Man….

Then we finally made it to Romania.


And yeah, yeah there’s lots about the country; Economic Tiger of Europe, 2nd biggest building in the world after the Pentagon:

The second biggest building in the world, The Palace of the People in Bucharest.

But really, for me Romania is all about Vlad.

I mean he killed people in really nasty ways but I just like putting the voice down an octave and saying “Vlad the Impaler”. Go on. Put on your deep scary voice and say “Vlad the Impaler”. Fun isn’t it?

Plus of course, if the “Impaler” epithet wasn’t good enough on its own, then there is his real name which was, wait for it ……. Vlad Dracul.

Dracula from the 1931 Movie.

We really had a bit of a Vlad pilgrimage. We started off in the room that he was supposed to be born in:

Vlad’s supposed birthroom – Sighisoara, Romania. On the left is a smoke machine. On the right I’m having a look into the coffin.

Then a walk around the beautiful town of Sighisoara:


A couple of views of the 14th century town of Sighisoara, Romania.

And, I’ve got to include a couple of photo’s of inside and outside of our room in Sighisoara…..

No room is complete with stuffed animals outside. This particular room in Sighisoara had 4.

I am unsure of what is the most fabulous feature of this room. The Crimson Bed Sheet? The Pink wall? The Flowers?

Then onto Dracula’s castle outside of Brasov:

Vlad the Impalers digs. Bran Castle. Outside Brasov. Romania. I’ve decided that I’m going to do some renovations on my house when we get back. I’m going to get a turret built onto it!

Of course, there was lots of stretching of the truth around Vlad. He didn’t spend much time in either place but ‘Don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story’.

Enter Bram Stoker in 1897 and he needed a good location for his story about the bloke with the big incisors, and Transylvania, and Bran Castle came to the top of the list!

Of course, Hollywood loved the idea:

Poster advertising the 1931 Movie.

Then, of course, there was the rather fabulous ‘Sweet Transvestite, from Transexual Transylvania’. Yes, the Great Frank’N’Furter.

Frank’N’Furter (Tim Curry) from the movie “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” – 1975 (with Columbia, Magenta, and Riff Raff).

I think most people will have seen the film and/or the show. If not, go and see it straight away!

Anyway, that really doesn’t say much about Romania, but, well, it’s what struck me from our brief stay in Romania


Sofia, Bulgaria

Bulgaria. It absolutely pops to the front of your mind when you think “I really want to take a holiday in…..”. OK. Maybe it doesn’t, BUT!!....

Everyone else has been trying to be the Head Honcho in Bulgaria for a thousand years. The Greeks. The Persians. The Turks. The Austro-Hungarians. The Soviets. We’d been told that Sofia was a bit Blah, but we liked it.

It was the first country we’d been to in Europe where the influence of Islam was really pronounced.

Banyi Bashi Mosque, Sofia, Bulgaria.

Then there was the alphabet:

“How do you write Bulgaria in Cryllic Script?” I hear you ask! Like this!

Then Nikki was very taken with Alexander Nevsky Cathedral.

The Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, Sofia, Bulgaria. Alex, the grandson of the fabulously named “Vaselovod The Big Nest” (we saw his church in Vladimir in Russia), fought some big battles against the German and Swedish invaders in the middle of the 13th Century


And onto Greece.

Oh dear! Nikki said to me “How long since you’ve been in Greece?”

Yes. 1989 (ish). Oh dear. That’ll be over a quarter of a century ago. Tales of my mate Gregor and the Goat. Tales of playing “Beer Hunter” with my mate George and friends on a boat from Piraeus to the Islands…..

Ok. You asked. So you get half a dozen cans of beer. And 7 mates. Then 6 mates turn their backs on the beer. The 7th mate takes one of the 6 beers and shakes it really hard and puts in back in the 6 beers and mixes them up. The 6 mates then open the beers next to their ear. Of course, one mate gets sprayed with beer. Or probably all mates, because you don’t play it once……

Anyway, we’d arranged to meet up with my Dad and his wife in Kalamata and then move onto Athens for three days.

The train from Bucharest, Romania to Sofia, Bulgaria was 9 hours and at least 1,000 degrees centigrade. So when it came to getting from Sofia to Thessaloniki, Greece, Nik and I decided to take the bus. And my word! My Aussie Mate “Cobber” had said “Bloody Oath Mate! The Bloody Hills and stuff on the way from Sofia to Greece is bloody Ocker!” (Let me translate. “Good Heavens Neil. The scenery on the way from Sofia to Greece is rather spiffing!”). And he wasn’t wrong. It really was spectacular. Winding through the mountains and hills with beautiful streams and fields either side.

Scenery – South Western Bulgaria

Unfortunately we got into Thessaloniki late and only had one night there. But we wandered down the foreshore and saw the White Roundy Castle thing. And ate Greek food.

It was nice to be back in Greece!

Let’s spice it up and add a map in French!

Then off to Kalamata via Athens.

Kalamata is kind of famous for its olives. There are lots and lots of olive trees. No, I mean millions of them…. 132 million in Greece last count!

Now did you know that the Kalamata olives have to be picked by hand to avoid bruising? That’s a lot of olives…

It was great catching up with Father and Yvonne:

Young Mr Cooke and Even Younger Mr Cooke

Yvonne with large frothy coffee.

Kalamata sunset. Greece really is very pretty.

The last time I was in Greece it (or I) was a tad more Hedonistic.

Greek stuff – Its everywhere!

So Hedonistic. From the Greek word “hedone” meaning “pleasure”. And it was all started by Aristippus of Cyrene, a student of Socrates. Blimey. A student being focussed on pleasure! Who’d’ve thought?

Then there is the lingo.

Before the trip I spoke French and German in addition to English. And a smattering of Spanish. The Spanish really came on during our 4 months in Spanish speaking South and Central America and Mexico.

Then, after the US and Canada we had a month in Russia. Russian was the first language where I’d had to learn a different script – Cyrillic. It was a tad
tricky but not too bad. “P” = “R”, “C” = “S”, etc.

There was also this bloke’s trilogy that I read in Australia before the Big Trip:

Sir Patrick Michael Leigh Fermor DSO OBE. Intrepid Traveller. Heroic Soldier. Writer. Polyglot. Born – 1915, died – 2011

In 1933 at the ripe old age of 18, after being expelled from The Kings School, Canterbury for holding hands with a Grocers daughter and being told he was “a dangerous mixture of sophistication and recklessness”, he decided to walk the length of Europe from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople. Probably therefore proving the latter, if not also the former. He walked through Germany, Austria, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and into Greece. He arrived in Constantinople in January 1935. The first book of Fermor’s trilogy about his amazing trip was published in 1977 (42 years after he finished the walk), the second in 1986 (51 years after the walk), and the final volume posthumously in 2013.

Part of the reason I mention him and his writings now is that he was a linguistic genius. A Polyglot. He had the ability to master numerous languages. He wrote about how Hungarian is one of two Finno-Ugric languages in Europe (Finnish is the other). But Finno-Ugric is a separate language base. It is not based on Latin. Or Greek. Or Arabic. It is totally separate. Hungary is an island of Finno-Ugric in a sea of Latin and Slavic languages.

He wrote about how Romanian is a Latin language, sandwiched between the Cyrillic languages of the Ukraine and Bulgaria, the Slavic languages to the West, and the Finno-Ugric to the north.

Bulgarian script is the Cyrillic script.

Then we got to Greece and I had a “eureka!” moment. It was a mix of remembering my schoolboy and University maths (“Oh!. So the ‘Pi’ symbol is how the Greeks write “P”. And the Russians use basically the same symbol!”). Take a look at this!

A comparison of some letters in the Greek, Cyrillic, and Roman Scripts.

Then Nikki reminded me that it was Saint Cyril who developed the Cyrillic Script in about 830 AD obviously using Greek as a base.

Saint Cyril and Methodine – inventors of the Cyrillic script

In a later blog I will write about how Arabic is also linked to Greek.

Sparta and Mystras

Nikki was fortunate to have studied Greek mythology and history at University, and so was a tad excited about the prospect of visiting many of the ancient sites that she had only read about. As you can see from the map above, Kalamata is on the Peloponnese peninsula as are Sparta and Mystra.

Whilst the Brits were still living in mud huts wearing animal skins, the Greeks were building things like this:

Image of how Sparta may have looked at its peak.

Of course, it looks a bit different now.

The ruins at Sparta

To say the Spartans lived a spartan existence and were focussed on war is like saying Russians are a bit fond of a vodka every now and then.

Less than perfect children were killed by throwing them off a cliff. Seems a bit harsh!

“the Spartan child was bathed in wine to see if it was strong. If it was not it was thrown off the top of Mount Taygetus…”

Boys were removed from their parents at the age of 7 and taken off for military training. Troops were kept permanently hungry to make them more aggressive.

Sparta now is very pretty but not much is left of the original. The buildings are only 2,000 years old….

Mystras is a hill fort town established in the mid 13th Century…..


Mytras Ruins



Neither Dad, Yvonne, Nikki or I had been to the Parthenon, the Acropolis, or the Archaeological Museum in Athens before.

The Parthenon, built in 480 BC is just stunning. Built in honour of the God Athena (hence Athens. Yes. I know. It’s obvious. But I hadn’t made the connection), it has survived being a church, an armaments store and being blown up by some careless army sorts. And still it is amazing:

View of the Parthenon from our hotel in Athens

The Parthenon, Athens, Greece

The Parthenon Selfie!

Anybody hear the Chariots of Fire theme? Me and Dad at the Olympic Stadium. Originally built in 330 BC and the site of the first modern Olympic Games in 1896.

The National Archaeological Museum in Athens is said to be one of the great museums of the world. And it is. It’s difficult to know what is more amazing, sculptures that are 2,500 years old:

Ancient Greek Sculpture

The pottery that is 8,500 years old

Ancient Greek Pottery. Maybe from 6,500 BC?

Or the Antikythera Mechanism that was retrieved from a 2,000 year old wreck in 1901. It was so far ahead of it’s time that my jaw dropped.

Antikythera mechanism retrieved from a wreck off the Greek coast in 1901. It was believed to have been built around 100 BC.

It is the first analogue computer and was used not only as a clock but it could predict astrological positions and eclipses. It is truly amazing today, let alone 2,000 years ago.


Some clever clogs decided to remake it. These are the reconstructed Antikythera front and back panels. Truly Amazing.


So after 15 countries in 37 days to reach Kalamata in time to meet my father and Yvonne, we have decided to slow it down a little and spend some time thinking about, and hopefully helping other people. We are now on our way up north to Lamia to volunteer at a Refugee Camp for 2.5 weeks. After our time working with children in Colombia, we are both really looking forward to it. But that is another story…….


Posted by capetocape2017 05:40 Archived in Romania Tagged greece the romania hungary slovakia bulgaria dracula vlad impaler Comments (2)

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