Tuesday, 31 January 2012

A train journey to Istanbul

After boarding our train in Plodiv, we settled in our compartment, and managed to have a little sleep, before reaching the Bulgarian/Turkish border about 2-3 hours. Crossing the border was a long procedure. Everyone needed to leave the train, men, woman and children, and queue up to buy a visa to enter Turkey. Once we had the visa we needed to queue again to have the passport stamped.

Back on the train everyone went back to sleep, we woke up travelling in countryside, with the sun shining, as we were arriving into Istanbul, around a piece of coastline called the Golden Horn the travellers were talking to each other about their plans. A real sense of adventure. One kind traveller has given me a card with some Turkish words and phrases, but even for me Turkish is hard to use.

When we arrived in Sirkici station (the terminus) our first priority was a coffee from the Red River cafe, on the way to Second Home Hostel.
When we arrived at the Hostel, the small rooms were booked, but the hostel offered us a luxury suite, which was very welcome, as we had the opportunity to have a shower, a rest before exploring Sultanahmet,  Opposite our building is Cafe Bolu Lezzet Sofrasi. We had Stuffed peppers, aubergines, fresh orange juice, baklava & apple tea (a popular refreshing drink, the "normal" tea is served black)

Can (pronounce "jon") invites his hostel guests to supper in the hostel, which as well as introducing guests to Turkish food, and this was a highlight to what became an interesting stay and the opportunity to meet some great people. We had a soup made with yoghurt, chicken with fried vegetables, and we talked with Diana (from Sweden), Shara (an Iranian/American lady), two Canadian girls ..

After our supper Liz & I explored Eminou area before settling into the suite.

Monday, 30 January 2012

A couple of days in Bulgaria


During our May 2011 adventure we decided to continue from Belgrade to Istanbul, we left on a Wednesday. Bulgaria is on the route. There was the overnight train from Belgrade to Sofia, which turned out to be an endurance test, as the train didn't have sleeping accommodation. We travelled in a compartment with some scruffy men, although we had booked our own compartment, the reserved seats had not materialised.

So after a sleepless night we arrived into Sofia station at about 8.45. As we got off the train, several men offered their "help", and took us to a coffee bar, but then insisted the tip we offered (2Lev about ,£1) wasn't enough. So after that we didn't accept any help offered to us. We found the station grey and unwelcoming. There was a train to Plovdiv in about an hour after we had arrived, About 3 hours we had arrived at Plovdiv station which was more welcoming. There were plenty of places to buy drinks and food and no-one pestering us.

Our first priority was to have a drink (beer) and then to find somewhere for the night. Almost opposite the station was the Trakia Hotel, but we could only stay for one night. There was a festival that weekend and, as we found out later, all the accommodation was fully booked.

After a brief (and much needed) sleep and shower we started to explore Plovdiv, which we found very pleasant as the streets from Trakia to Stefan Stambolov Square were tree lined, here we stopped for a drink in one of the pavement cafes, before moving into the old town, a hilly part of Plovdiv complete with Ottoman style houses, Orthodox churches, museums, souvenir shops and art galleries.

We found an interesting Bulgarian restaurant, where we had our dinner (local beer and Bulgarian chicken and vegetables (served in ceramic bowls)).

We returned to our hotel at about 10pm. The following day we had more time to explore this interesting area

On Friday 13th May, we had enjoyed the much needed sleep at the Trakia Hotel, and after checking out we needed to sort out a ticket reservation for the train to Istanbul. Fortunately there was a ticket issuing office opposite the railway station, where the staff spoke English, and were more helpful than the staff at the railway station.

Back at Trakia we had a breakfast at the hotel balcony restaurant of omelette, chips, coffee and beer, and then we continued our exploring of the Old town. Mira from Virtual Tourist, had sent me a walking tour guide, which we used to explore Plovdiv.

Hinsilijan House, Djamaja Square, and Saborna Street. We visited an art gallery where the artists was present and had some very interesting paintings on view.

As the weather had turned out to be very warm, we spent the afternoon outside the Arena bar, which overlooks the Roman Amphitheatre.

We returned to the station and had some coffee and a roll at the station cafe and then waited for the train to Istanbul, which arrived at the station some 40 minutes late. We met an American (Saraja) and had an interesting conversation. We settled into our sleeping compartment and had supper and read.

Our final morning in Sarajevo (Tuesday 9th May)


We had enjoyed staying with Mona and her staff at Pension Lion, and having our lovely breakfasts at the Bosanska Kuca, it was sad to have to say goodbye to Mona and the lovely staff of the restaurant with whom we had become friends. The photo shows one of our breakfasts with fresh meat, fruit and salad, which we enjoyed with vanilla latte.

Just a little about the tram ride from and to Sarajevo station, itself an interesting ride as it travels along the main road, running alongside the Miljacka river, then turns sharp right by the Cumurija bridge, then left into Telali/ Mulamusafe Basaskije, it passes the fruit and vegetable market, the Eternal Flame, City park and City Hall.

Sarajevo tourist info 22, Zelenih beretki www.sarajevo-tourism.com (E-mail to tourinfo@bih.net.ba)

Our train for Beograd (Belgrade) left Sarajevo at 11.15, we took our final tram ride, and enjoyed the train ride through lovely sunshine and into and out of Croatia finally arriving into Belgrade at about 20.03

As we knew there would be no refreshments on board, we had taken our own rolls, fruit and drinks.

We contacted the Hostel 40 in Lumina street, and we were able to return there for the night. The picture is of the wonderful chandeliers hanging from the ceiling in this recently built hostel.

In the evening we had a mixed grill in the restaurant "3 Sosiri"



During our stay in Bosnia & Herzegovina, we felt we should visit Srebrenica, a small city in North East Bosnia, the reason being paying respect to the people who died during the 1992-95 "war" in Bosnia. I feel part of my travel experiences should include places/sites where sad but important events occurred.

In the former Yugoslavia and before 1914 Srebrenica (meaning "Silver Mine"), was a prosperous town. It was a centre for mining minerals, including silver, and because of minerals in the waters, it then became a popular spa town.

However due to the 1990's war Srebrenica was destroyed, so our visit was poignant .

To reach Srebrenica we needed to catch a bus from Sarajevo bus station at about 7.10am, we took a tram from Vijecnica at 06.15. The bus station served coffee and other refreshments. The journey took us into the mountains where snow had fallen, and we stopped for a comfort break in Olovo, at a motel with a small shop.

At 11.15 we arrived in Srebrenica, and at first we thought there was nothing here to see, everywhere looked shut, the weather was cold and wet, but we found a restaurant, which although appeared to be closed, was opened by the owners for us. We were invited to join in for lunch and a beer, and were offered a delicious meal of home-made chicken soup, cevepacci with onions and bread. We finished with a freshly cooked pancakes/fruit.

After lunch we took a walk to the main street, meeting/talking with local people, and looking at homes which were being rebuilt, and also a rebuilt mosque.

At about 16.00 we needed to head for the bus station, but as the bus driver who had been on his break, recognised us and allowed us to board the bus at the place he was parked.

The journey back to Sarajevo passed through the same mountainous scenery, we arrived back about 20.15, although we had no comfort stop.

We took a tram back to Bascarsija, and had our supper with an excellent red wine, cappuccino and Bosnian cakes in the Bosanska Kuca as this was our final evening in Sarajevo.

http://www.srebrenica-opstina.org/?i18n=en (this refers to the official website for Srebrenica)

The photo is of the bus we took, at the end of our journey in Sarajevo, we felt the driver had been very helpful to us, and although he spoke no English he still helped us with our journey.

Friday, 20 January 2012

Walking tours of Sarajevo, Saturday 7th May 2011


We had stayed two nights in the Postillippo hostel, but the experience we had had wasn't good, as there didn't seem to be anyone to talk to, nowhere to make coffee, and no open reception.

We took our luggage to the Lion Pension.The day was sunny, and before we checked in we had a Nescafe Vanilla coffee and a fresh cold meat/salad platter at the Kuca Bosanska.  The friendly and helpful receptionist called Mona, also had a friend called Samra Kondo. Samra is a tourist guide, and we had arranged to meet Samra for a walking tour of Sarajevo. We started at the Inat Kuca (Spite House) on the opposite bank of the Milijacka river, the history about this house (now a restaurant) is that when the Austro-Hungarians decided to flood the ar ea, the owner of this house insisted it was moved brick by brick! From outside the main library (Vijecnica) we walked down Kazandziluk (coppersmith alley), and Saraci /Ferhadija (the main artery in Bascarsija) where there is a Caravansaraj (an area where travellers are allowed to stay in rooms, while their horses are fed/stabled). The caravansaraj is now a cultural/community centre. We passed and visited the Serbian orthodox church, Saborne Krkva, inside there is a museum of Orthodoxity. The same street leads to an area with very different architecture, the type typical to cities of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, where we visited the Roman catholic cathedral and Novi Hram (Synagogue). Our tour included four different places of worship, we saw two mosques, Begova Dzamija (Gazi Hubrevi Bey's mosque) and next to the Serbij Fountain there is the Dzamija Havadze Duraka, where the "call to prayer" is still carried out live from the minaret  (rather than a recording through a loud speaker).

After seeing these places of worship we visited the Latin Bridge (Latinska Cuprija) the place where Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sofia were assassinated (the event kickstarted the first world war). On the same corner, there is a museum dedicated to the period.

We also visited two houses, an 18th century Ottoman nobleman's home (Svrzina kuca), which is now a museum, and features the style of Ottoman's homes. The other nobleman's house included the period when the Austro-Hungarians ruled Sarajevo, and from a rather humble beginning, the building included a theatre room, and "devoted" rooms, Ottoman houses the rooms are multi purpose, the sofas can become beds, etc.

This is the Despic House (Despjceva kuca), a part of the Sarajevo city museum (musej Sarajeva)

After our walking tour Liz and I returned to spend the afternoon, exploring Sarajevo (Bascarsija) we visited the Post office, a CD shop and ended with an evening meal at the Bosanska Kuca in Bradadziluk.

  • www.bosnianhouse.com

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Day trip to Mostar

Zdrava, During our stay in Bosnia & Herzegovina last May, we decided that we should visit Mostar for its historical and political interest. Mostar is also a UNESCO world heritage site. Mostar is named after the bridge-keepers (mostari) who looked after the bridge which joins two communities, We were staying in Sarajevo and the train to Mostar was due to leave at a rather ungodly 07.10, so we needed to leave our hostel about 6.15 am to ensure we caught an early tram from outside the library building. The day turned out to be bright and sunny, but as Sarajevo is among the mountains, it was still cold. A tram turned up in good time and although we had sufficient time to buy a coffee and breakfast, there was nowhere open, except one place where we had to be satisfied with a cold coffee. The train passed through magnificent mountain scenery, the train journey ended in Konjiv (like in England, there are weekend engineer workings here too) Our journey then continued by motor-coach to Mostar station, a rather unglamorous building (Autobuska stanica), and a fair walk from what we expected to see. A walk towards the centre was well rewarded when we arrived at the famous site of the bridge (Stary Most), which symbolically is more than a simple bridge. The bridge is a link across the Neretva river and links the former Carsija (pronounce Charshiya) to the mahala areas (ie the craft/commercial centre to the residential area). As we approached the bridge we passed through the Carsija, which comprised of narrow streets, containing craft and souvenir shops. The bridge itself is very steep and is only open to pedestrians, and by the "kapia" there is a visitor centre, showing films of Mostar under siege in the 1990's Yugoslavian wars, when the bridge was destroyed. On the other side of the bridge (the Mahala area) we soon found restaurants, bars and cafes and settled for our lunch at the Restaurant Sadrvan (pronounced Shadrvan) where the waitresses (dressed in national costume) greeted us from the gateway. The restaurant served traditional Herzegovinan food, we had Mostarski Sahan (small sausages, stuffed onion in cabbage leaves) local beer and dessert. See photo below. 

After lunch we continued to walk and explore the Mahala, crossing other bridges, and seeing an interesting golden colour building and Roman Catholic cathedral. We also spent some time sitting under the Stari Most, enjoying the sunshine, and then returned to the station in good time to catch our (now) coach. We still had some time to have a beer, coffee and local cheeseburger and chips. However the wait for the coach to Konjiv proved longer and by the time (about 1 1/2 hours late) the passengers were impatient and those behind us were pushing as we boarded the bus. The wait was caused by the need of a 2nd bus. By the time we arrived back into Konjiv, it was too dark to enjoy the scenery, and we eventually arrived Sarajevo 22.15, the tram stop outside the station looked like it wasn't going to see a tram again that evening and we eventually caught one from the main street.

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