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Birdman, atop Vlad's Castle, Romania
In search of Vlad the Impaler,
written by Seamus Waldron.

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The beginning



Why, oh why do I always get a flight that leaves at a ridiculous time in the morning? If it wasn't for the fact that I know I can leave my house and be in duty free within an hour, I would be panicking at this point.

The rain-swept journey to the airport was un-inspiring as was check-in at the Malev desk. Julian, Yvette and I were awake by now and dragged our weary bodies to customs and then the departure lounge.

It then started.

"I forget to get money from the cash-point!"; I say, slapping my hand to my head.

"So did I"

"Me too"

Out go a search party for a cash machine - found - wrong type. Bureau de change. Wrong type of card. Forgotten my cheque book.

"I didn't get insurance"; says Julian.


Calm down, things can only get better. I send Julian off to Thomas Cook to get insurance and some Forints (currency of Hungary). Yvette and I join him and we get some more Forints and some British Pounds.

Well, with money in tow, we ran to our departure gate. The two little green lights on the departure board had been flashing for quite some time.

I do this every time though. Run like heck only to get there and have to wait half an hour. No different this time.

Here's a trick I do the moment I'm in my seat on a plane. I change the time on my watch to the destinations' time. That way, you start getting used to it and you start to feel you are nearly there - even though the rain is pouring down outside your window, on the runway by Terminal 2.

Flights are flights really. Fun at first, distracting second and downright boring at the end. At least we went through the new terminal in Budapest. All spick and span and very white. Joy was had by all when my bag was the first off the plane and even more joy when our passports were stamped at customs. I have been to Hungary a few times and not once has my passport been stamped. I like those little stamps because people go "oooooo" and "arrrrrrrhhh" when they flick through your bulging passport. Well, if they were to flick through my American passport they would, it only has one blank page left. My British passport is a bare as a new-born. It has one stamp, "The Gambia". Tin-pot good-for-nothing excuse of a country (I wasn't overly impressed b it, can you tell?). So it was rapture when I got a new stamp in it. Sadness when I realised I should have used my USA passport, that bare page could have become interesting.

First stop, Hungary

Catching the airport minibus into town

The Airport Minibus service whisked us away to our apartment in downtown Pest. This service really is good. For a nominal amount of Forint, it takes you to any destination within Budapest. When you want to get back to the airport, it picks you up from any destination within Budapest. Now that's something I'd like to see elsewhere.

On arrival, "Bob" greeted us in faultless Hungarian. He showed us how to get into the courtyard, use the Lilliputian lift, open the stiff and creaky door and how to operate the 75 channel cable TV feed in our apartment. If only my Hungarian was good enough to explain that we would be leaving this evening and not spending a single night in this lovely 60's style apartment and that no, he didn't have to show us where the spare toilet paper was.

He went, we went out. First stop the "AMEX office", second stop "food", third stop "Turkish bath" or "Spa".

AMEX office. Julian and Yvette have come to terms with being in a country so different yet so similar to our own. Modern and forward thinking, yet still the air of history and "East European".

I great my "friend" in the AMEX office. This woman is great. Every time I'm in Budapest, I don't bother with the train stations, I come here and get it all done. Previously she has sorted out tickets to Vienna, Salzburg and Munich for me. This time, we want tickets to Romania. It takes a long time. F75 (approx. $US 120 ) each return to Bucharest. That's a lot, but we are on a mission and if it costs F75 then that's what we will pay.

We were wrong. It was F75 for all three of us. Big grins all round.

Food time. A nice little cafe that specialises in pizza's and pasta. Not typically Hungarian, but who cares. We sit down and toast our arrival. It's the first time sine the morning that we haven't been on the move. Time to relax, time to discover that Yvette isn't keen on her spaghetti bolognese made with tomato ketchup. Time to be a gentleman and let her have my lovely spaghetti with cream and mushrooms. Julian is the same, but he can suffer. As I later find out, both are not picky, they are "particular". I give up - or I would have if I had known that then.

One glass of Amstel and I'm tipsy. We sway out of the cafe and just walk. No direction in mind, just going where are feet take us. Through the student part of town, past derelict (or so I hope) buildings, which fantastic relief's all over them (mainly naked women, with the odd cherub thrown in for good measure).

It soon becomes time to find a spa and get wet. Out comes Lonely Planet. For the first time ever, this guide has been moderately useful to me. After 5 minutes finding the page about spas we choose one and head for it.

Problem, what sort of ticket do we need on the underground? Everything is in Hungarian and the automatic ticket machines will only issue tickets that have a value in denominations of 70 Forint (312 Forints to the �UK). We don't have that kind of fiddly loose change on us. Yvette and Julian head off to the big map of the underground system, I head off to the ticket window. No pretence, no hint of Hungarian, I just hold up a map of Budapest and point to the station I want to go to. The woman shows me a 110 Forint ticket, I then hold up three fingers and pass her the money.

"We need a transfer ticket for 110 Forints" says Julian.

"I know" and hand him a ticket. God I can be a smug git sometimes.

By the time we get to the spa, it is almost dark. Winter is arriving in Budapest and mist is everywhere. Yvette is disgusted with me because 5 minutes ago we were being tracked by a little, qutesy cat. I hate cats. It came up and looked at me through some iron railings. Stopping I fixed my gaze with it's and told it to fuck off. I don't' like most cats and I wasn't prepared to give this one a chance. It ran. It understood English! Yvette went quite and wouldn't talk to me.

Question : How do you ask for "a nice relaxing spa with none of the extras" in Hungarian?

Answer: You don't. You go up to the babushka at the ticket window and go "Spa?". Let he say something unintelligible and then you make a breast-stroke swimming motion.


Into the courtyard, find the right building, get pointed in the right direction, find a little green cubicle to change in. Leave everything in little green cubicle and have it locked up by the little green cubicle attendant, who then gives you a little disk to prove this is your little green cubicle (LGC). The disk number is written in chalk on the LGC and then you are pointed back the way you came, into the flow of bulging, overflowing flesh. Bodies hoping to be rejuvenated by 2 hours in the spa. Shower, hot pool, hotter pool, sauna, bloody freezing pool, moderately hot pool. Body tingles all over, This feels great. Back to the hot pool and repeat.

That plunge pool (the really cold one) is great. You really feel healthier for it. I suspect that once or twice a year they have to pull heart attack victims out of there, but barring floating bodies, it's a fantastic way to get you tingling and feeling great all over.

Oh yes, this place looks as if it would be a great pick-up joint, for men and women. If you look past the bulging flesh from most of the clientele, you get the odd trim, good looking guy or gal. I must say that Hungarian women are very pretty.

Back to the LGC two hours later. I feel wonderful, as though I've had a long relaxing massage. Tipping the LGC attendant 100 Forint, we head along the Danube, lit by a thousand flickering lights, towards the chain bridge and the foot of Buda castle. What a sight.

We're being pushed for time now, our train leaves this evening and we need to get home, re-pack, eat and get to the station (Keleti, for those interested). Now, I can't state how important it is to make a note of where your apartment is. We didn't really and as a result spent half an hour looking for it on the wrong street. Luckily the correct road was one over. Quick re-pack and we head straight for the station. Confirming the departure time we rush off to Pizza Hut for lasagne and a Pepsi float. Leaving our half eaten food, we rush back to the station, just in time to find that it was going to be half an hour late.

The train to Romainia, or how to get ripped off

Cold and tired, we find our carriage and sink into or seats. We made it. First major task over, we are on our way to Romania. In the morning, we will be in Brasov our first stop on the hunt for the Vlad Tepes.

Near Brasov there is a castle in a village called Bran. The Romanian tourist board claim this is Draculas castle. The fact that Vlad probably never set foot in Bran castle has nothing to do with it. It's easy to get to and has lots of spires. In other words, it looks the part. However, we know where the real castle of Vlad the Impaler is. It is about 120 miles across the mountains South East from Brasov.

Our plan is to get to Brasov, see Bran castle, get back on the train and head for Bucharest. In the morning head out to Curtea de Arges by train (2 hours) and then bus 30kms north into the mountains to the site of Vlads' castle. This was the plan. It was very much open to change, and it did quite drastically, as we shall see, but first let me tell you about or journey through the night, into Romania.

Julian catching some sleep on the train

Julian and I are sleeping across the seats, Yvette has made herself a little nest on the floor. All is peaceful, all is tranquil, until there is a knock on the door. It slides back, the light comes on and we show our tickets. Not much later, we show our passports. Then we show our tickets, then we show our passports, this time to Romanian officials. I'm now using my American passport so that I don't have to buy a visa. Julian and Yvette have to pay �20 each to get into the country.

Finally, after about 2 hours of this run-around, we try to get back to sleep.

There is a knock on the door, it slides back and the light goes on. We show our passports and tickets. The guard says our tickets are invalid and we are to pay for the ticket reservation from Brasov to Bucharest. I know this is a con. I try the "plead ignorance of the language" trick. The guard sits opposite me, holds out his hand and repeatedly says "money". I repeatedly say "No". Julian and Yvette don't quite know what to make of this. I'm determined not to give this guy anything. I know we are right. It goes on. I ask why we need to pay money, we are only going to Brasov. He can play the "I do not understand you trick" as well. We come to a stalemate. Julian decides enough is enough and gives the guard a twenty pound note. I had hoped it wouldn't come to that, but never mind. Julian explains that �20 is a lot of money. I ask for our "tickets". He gives us our passports back and his crony comes back with some $5 worth of change in Lei (the Romanian currency). Hey, at least we got something back.

I take down the numbers of the guards and they go. Julian looks shocked, Yvette is starting to think that everything is falling apart around us. It was going so well. I just shrug my shoulders and try to go back to sleep. This sort of things happens. It's one of those things, but whilst Yvette goes to the toilets, I explain to Julian that I think Romania will be too tough for us given the limited time we have. I suggest that we don't go to Bucharest but instead try to get to Vlads' castle from Brasov. I don't know how we will do it, certainly hiring a car is an option, but how do we do that? Will we be able to drive 120 miles to Vlads' castle? Yvette comes back, we all try and get some sleep.

There is a knock on the door, it opens (it's now light outside). "Tickets". Julian is wary, I don't think we have a problem. This inspector has his identity card on display. We'll have no trouble. Sure enough, we don't.

Finally, Romania

The Romanian countryside bleakly rolls by. The wheat has been harvested and only a few crops are left to be brought in. Small haystacks dot the landscape. They resemble melted marshmallows on a skewer. We see the odd car, no petrol stations. Occasionally a horse drawn cart briefly rocks into view.

We roll into Brasov. Swarms of people are trying to get on, we are trying to get off. On the platform, we are accosted by a bearded guy asking if we want accommodation. Julian is wary again, not wanting to repeat the experience of the train journey. He cannot understand why I'm talking to him, especially when I agree to meet the guy's wife, who can speak better English. I quickly try to explain that this is exactly the sort of person I was hoping to meet.

Maria introduces herself. A small woman with a round and apple red face. She talks a lot. We explain what we want to do. Visit Bran castle and go to Curtea de Arges to see Vlads' castle. She explains that it would be very difficult to do and that it would be very expensive to hire a car. She offers accommodation and help. I agree. Making our base in Brasov will save us a lot of train time.

Greg, Marias husband, helps us into a taxi, which whisks us past a lot of depressing, grey high-rise apartment blocks. I notice that nearly every car is a Renault 16 look-a-like. I'm not joking, they were identical in every detail except the name badge. This is not a happy place.

Apartment 8, up the stairs, don't make too much noise as the old woman in apartment 6 complains a lot. We have one room with two double beds. There are two other rooms, a kitchen a shower and bath. Generally, a nice place.

Castle 1, Bran

Inner courtyard, Bran Castle

Before leaving, Maria says she will arrange for a car and driver to take use to Curtea de Arges, but she says she does not want us to be disappointed as there are only a few ruins. She has to leave, she is a weather forecaster for the military and has to get back to work. Greg returns after an hour and drives us out to Bran, to see the castle.

Suddenly, we start seeing a different Romania. Snow topped mountains, brightly coloured, though run down, villages. Children playing, cattle grazing, the military doing exercises in the fields. You suddenly realise that we do have it good in the West.

Bran castle is perched about 100 yards up a hill, on the outskirts of Bran. It is picturesque, Disney probably modelled their fairy tale castles on something like this.

Claiming to be students and hiding our cameras, with pay rock bottom prices to get in. Up a dirt track we reach the castle. There are no other tourists. It is incredible to think that this is one of the tourist attractions of Romania and there is no commercialisation here at all. The ticket booth is simply that, a box with a window. Inside the entrance door to the castle is a board telling you the history of the castle in Romanian and English. At no point does it mention Vlad. This history lesson is really interesting though. Stepping into the courtyard, we show our tickets (cameras are still hidden). We are offered nice thick woolly jumpers. Why? Are they being nice and offering us something warm to wear as we wander around the castle, or are they actually trying to sell us them? We decline, but they are nice jumpers though.

Yvette climbs the castle stairs

There is a little arrow that the ticket lady shows us and encourages us to follow. Up the stairs and suddenly we are in a past time. The furniture, the floor, the walls, the ovens, the fireplaces - all out of time. Romania is proving to be difficult, but when you find a place like this, hardly touched by commercialism, you realise it is worth the hardship. We run from room to room. Yvette disappears up some stairs. We are 5 again and in a giant playground.

Eventually, we make it to the roof. Standing by the battlements you can see far and wide. You can also see into a room behind you that is closed off from the bitter wind. Peering in, you see a bearskin rug, head, paws an' all.

Julian and I make it to the courtyard. Yvette is still off exploring. As Julian gets to me, he sees that I'm throwing a coin into the well and making a wish. But what am I wishing? That we will get to Vlads' castle? That we will get back to Hungary and make our flight? That England will win the World Cup in France '98? (They didn't by the way). None of the above, but if I told you, the wish would not come true, would it?

Time to go. Greg gave us an hour and time is running out. We are offered another jumper. They are tempting you know.

Castle 2, unknown

Off to another castle. Enroute we start talking about football. Greg seams to like this turn of conversation. Luckily a British team had come to Romania just a couple of days before and had lost, so we had plenty to talk about and Greg was happy.

Seamus makes a wish

I wish I could remember the name of the castle we were taken to next. It was large and being renovated. It had just been used in a Hollywood film. Unfortunately, it wouldn't open again for "two or three years" said the woman in charge. The peak we had inside reminded me of the Sean Connery film "Name of the Rose". There were little allotments everywhere inside. I could almost see the monks tending to the vegetables and looking after the horses.

Greg dropped us off by one of only two cash machines in town. This is Romania second largest population centre. Good grief. Anyway, we try and upgrade our seat reservations for the trip to Budapest to couchettes. We fail, but we did manage to change some money into Lei. This wouldn't have been necessary if the bloody cash machine had worked.

Still only 4pm and we are knackerd and hungry. In the main square we find a lovely little restaurant. We eat. We relax, we almost fall asleep. The food is very good. Hot and filling, though I was the only one brave enough to have the "meatball" soup. It is now that I find out Yvette and Julian are "particular" as opposed to "picky" with their food.

It is a half hour walk to our apartment across town. I am desperate to go to the toilet. I am in a living hell, each step bringing me closer to the possibility of a bladder explosion! Yvette is making waterfall noises.

Relief is welcome when we reach our apartment (we managed not to disturb the old crony in apartment 6). Straight to bed. Julian an I share. However, we do have a little night-cap (it is 8pm). In Budapest we bought a bottle of Champagne. Julian opens it (half goes over the floor). Yvette pours it (it bubbles out the glass). We drink. We drink to the fact that we are on holiday, that we managed to get to Romania and finally we drink to Vlad, whose castle we will see in the morning.

Maria and Greg turn up at about 9pm to tell us everything is arranged for the morning. We dig into my emergency supply of $US and pay for everything. $70 all told. It is worth it though.

Sleep eventually takes us. Bliss, a whole night without customs or ticket inspectors.

Time to meet Vlad

Blue skies, children's voices outside. Good morning Romania.

All of us slept well and are bright and chirpy as we get up. Our driver arrives and we head off for Curtea de Arges. We take the route out to Bran and continue on the Pitesti road, which we only turn off from 30kms from Curtea de Arges. Brasov is 93 km behind us and Pitesti 43 km further on. The road had taken us up into the mountains. The mist descended upon us and the ice and snow made driving difficult. Luckily there are not many cars on the road, only the odd horse drawn cart. Just after we started our decent out of the mountain range, we passed through the village of Podu Bambovitei, notable because of the many sculptures lining the mountain road. We stopped to look. Many were roughly made, but interesting. I later found out that there is an annual International Arts Festival in Podu Bambovitei for young children. They are given canvas or stone and they create. Definitely worth seeing.

First stop in Curtea de Arges is the site of the ancient Kings Court from the 16th century. Not much to inspire you really, especially when you turn up and there are 4 coach loads of Romanian tourists swamping the place. There is an impressive Church on the site, though it was covered in scaffolding. I suspect that the tourist board has identified possible attractions and is in the midst of renovating many of them.

Whilst we waited for our driver, Michael, we decided to get some food. Across the road was a cafe, where we bought chocolate and oranges. Yvette needed the bathroom, so we waited outside whilst she went next door into a bar blaring out music, And what music was it? Oasis. You've got to laugh really. When I was first in China, the first music I heard was the theme from Star Wars.

Monastry at Curtea de Arges

Michael saw us and drove over to where we were. Onwards to the Monastery. Wow, big wow, very big wow. This has to be one of the most incredible monastries I have ever seen. Have a look at the photo, I can't describe it. Magnificent, inspiring, simply fantastic. The gumph inside says it is a "masterpiece of Romanian medieval architecture", who am I to contradict that? Curtea de Arges is in Wallachia and it was in 1517 that the Prince of Wallachia, Neagoe Basarab, inaugurated the monastery. This inauguration was attended by the patriarch of Constantinople.

Neagoe Basarab, Prince of Wallachia

After eating chocolate and buying some trinkets, we were on the move again, though back down the road we had come. Michael was driving faster, like one who knows they are on the way home. I was worried, we didn't care ultimately about Curtea de Arges, we wanted to get to Vlads' castle, 30km further on. I asked. Michael said Maria only told him to drive to Curtea de Arges. Oops. What I suspect happened is that we didn't explain exactly where it was we wanted to go. We kept saying Curtea de Arges when really we meant Vlads' castle. We carry on. Yvette is not impressed. I am not impressed. We stop again. I explain that we only came here to see Vlad Tepes' castle. We turn back to Curtea de Arges. Stopping Michael asks the route. A guy comes over asking if any of us speak French. Now my French hasn't been used in years and it was rusty, but we managed to communicate. The essence was that there was snow blocking the road up into the mountains and we would not be able to get to the Kings castle. This changed slightly to, there was an avalanche and rocks were blocking the road. I knew this was a stitch-up because there is a dam and power station further up the road and there is no way the road would be allowed to remain closed. I suspect Michael of asking the guy to come up with a story so he could get home.

We start driving out of Curtea de Arges again. We stop and explain that we really wanted to go to the castle, even if it was up the avalanche, just to say we had tried. Yvette was really unimpressed now so I asked her to look heartbroken, not too difficult I suspect. I explained that Yvette had really wanted to see the castle, Julian drew a picture of Yvette and then a broken heart. Michael started to bend under the emotional blackmail and eventually said it would cost more money. No problem for us as this was the one thing we wanted to see.

Castle 3, Vlads Pad aka Dracula's Castle

Seamus climbing the walls of
Draculas' Castle

We turned around again and this time headed off into the mountains. It was perhaps only 30 minutes later that we stopped to ask directions. The farmer turned his head looking up the valley and there it was, perched on a small outcrop of rock. Vlad the Impalas castle. It was incredible. We drove as close as we could. Michael said he would be back in an hour. To our left, at the foot of the mountain was a staircase, disappearing into the trees. We had to get up this, across a narrow bridge, explore the castle and get back in 1 hour. Yvette had found an account of this assent that said it was over a thousand steps and took one an a half hours. We got cracking.

The path of steps did lots of switch-backs. However, I noticed what looked like the old pathway up the mountain that had only a couple of switch backs. Off we went into the undergrowth. We saw a couple of soldiers watching us. Heaven knows why they were there, but we were the entertainment for the afternoon. Julian decided that going straight up the mountain might be a good idea. I wasn't so sure. Yvette and I continued following the ancient path. Almost there, the path had levelled out, heading for the castle, we see Julian struggling to get up the hill. I had thought he would have been waiting for us with a smug grin. I told Yvette to go on. When Julian got to me, he was almost ill with exertion. I walked on a small way, rounding a bend, there it was. The mist shrouded it, the castle was from my dreams or should I say nightmares?

When Julian had recovered, we continued around and met up with Yvette who was waiting for us on the bridge that would take us from out peak to the one the castle was perched upon. I couldn't wait any longer and ran. Across the bridge, up the steps and finally into the castle.

The first thing that struck me was how small it was. It may be in ruins but there is enough that imagination can rebuild the imposing structure. The views were fantastic and you can see why the castle was never invaded. Looking down I could visualise the spikes with dissidents' heads astride them. Chilling. History, raw, unaffected by tourism. Fantastic.

We explored every nook and cranny. Yvette was beaming. We all felt a sense of achievement. We had given ourselves 4 days to get to this spot on earth and home again. It looked as though we might actually make it.

Our hour was almost up, so reluctantly we tore ourselves away from the castle. With a few distant photographs, we started back. Down and down. Occasionally falling over, finding Yvettes gloves on the way down the mountain, she had dropped them on the way up.

In exactly 70 minutes, we had climbed the mountain, explored, soared among the ghosts of violent history and returned to earth.

A totally unforgettable experience.

Time to go home

Smiles all round, Michael was pleased, we were all pleased. We drove home. Hours it took. It was dark by the time we got to our apartment. 6:30pm, our train was at 10:17pm. Maria and Greg were coming to collect us at 8:30pm, so we didn't have much time. We packed, freshened up and went in search of food. It would be a half hour walk into town, so we decided to stop at the first place that looked reasonable. We found a fast food restaurant called Casablanca that looked promising. Near to it was a supermarket, so we decided to buy some provisions for the train ride home. A bottle of wine, some crisps, bag of chocolate chip cookies.

By the time we finished our bizarre but tasty pizzas in Casablanca, we were very short of time. Rushing back to our apartment, we stopped off at the second cash point machine in town, as we needed more money. We had decided that we would try to book couchettes when we got on the train. Maria had offered assistance doing this. Luckily, it worked. I haven't mention that there are 8000 lei to the $US have I? The money here is worse than in Italy. Julians' wallet was bulging, he had almost three quarters of a million Lei in it.

Maria and Grig

We hadn't been long back at the apartment when Maria appeared. We sat down and chatted. We were still beaming about getting to the castle. At 9:15 we headed off to the train station, where we were shown into the 1st class waiting room. It looked just like the second class waiting room, all plastic chairs, cold, high ceilings and people looking morose and keeping themselves to themselves. There is a monk sitting opposite us. Maria asks if we would write a little bit about her in her book of "things that have been written about her", whilst she and Greg go off to meet the train from Budapest. We say we will.

An inspector walks through the door. He starts asking to see tickets. Two in every three people are being told to leave. We have second class tickets and are asked to leave. We get up, shoulder our backpacks and start walking out. The monk gets up with that "oh, I just remembered something I have to do" look and makes for the door. He opens it for us and I give him a look of "I know why you're running!".

Later as we look down into the station from a huge balcony so wide I can sit cross legged upon it, I see the monk look at the huge clock on he wall. It's written across his face "I'm off to the 1st class waiting room" he thinks. Up the stairs he comes, scanning for inspectors. I'm giving a running commentary. Suddenly he veers off at a tangent that will not take him to the waiting room. I feel and hand on my shoulder. It's the inspector again. He has it in for me hand just shakes his head, meaning I'm not allowed to pitch camp on the balcony. Oh well. Of course, he doesn't stop anybody else from resting their weary bones on the ledge.

Maria and Grigs' card

10:10pm, we head for the platform, and meet Maria on the way. She leads us up to the platform and we wait for the train. When Greg arrives we take a few pictures and I get their card so I can put it here in this article. The train pulls in and Maria negotiates beds for us. They are too expensive so we stick with our second class reservations. Maria changes are money into dollars and we are jump on the train. Departing the station we wave goodbye to Maria and Greg, jewels in this wilderness.

Finally, we are on our way out of here. Everything is in order. Just customs at two in the morning. We get to our compartment, it is locked. We wait for the ticket inspector. Slowly he checks all the compartments and gets to us. I give him our tickets and reservations. In Romania you must have a reservation to travel. If not, you are open for heavy scamming on the train. The guard says our reservations are incorrect. It can't be. We checked. Julian despairs. I say I'll handle it. I look at the tickets and sure enough, the reservations had been made for the same day that we had left for Romania. We really didn't have reservations. Over time I explained that it was not our fault. The guard got somebody who spoke English to translate. I must have come across well. We all sat down in our compartment and agreed to pay a total of $10. By now, I was just pleased to be on the train and on our way home. We all had smiles on our faces and the inspector went on his way, happy to have made ten bucks, us happy because we hadn't really been ripped off. We had just made good of a bad situation.

Sleep. This time I was on the floor, whilst the others had soft, comfy seats.

Early morning, 2am. Romanian border. One hour of passport and ticket checks later, we were into Hungary again. Bliss, back to sleep.

7:30 am we arrive back in Keleti station, Budapest. By 8am, we were in our apartment and passing out. Julian and Yvette went straight to sleep, I sat and fiddled with the cable TV, watching BBC World News and Eurosport.

After being refreshed, it was time to head out again and do a bit of sightseeing. Due to the short amount of time available to us, our flight was 7pm, we decided to check out Buda castle and then go for another spa session.

Really, we relaxed for the rest of the day, ambling around the castle, admiring the old buildings. Hungary is a marked contrast to Romania, in the same way that Hungary is different to England. At lunch we found a lovely restaurant in the old town and indulged ourselves. Goulash and typical Hungarian food. I wrote a few postcards and we enjoyed the moment. Following this up we had another spa session.

Finally we were back at our apartment. It turned out the owned of the place was moving in next door. He asked if we had enjoyed ourselves in Hungary; "Oh yes" we replied. "How was the room?", "Wonderful". Grin.

The airport mini-bus picked us up and whisked us to the airport. The plane left on time and everything seemed to be going well. Then dinner was served. In my experience airline food would not be served looking as if somebody has been ill in the tray. The meat was unidentifiable, the sauce tasteless and the little chunks of carrot really didn't make the dinner look appetising. I would say 50% of people on the flight did not even attempt the food, of those that did, perhaps 1 in 3 actually finished. Yuck. One of the worst meals I have ever had on a plane.

What an adventure we have had though, from spas to remote castles. The history of Vlad the Impaler sends shivers up my spine. I could see that Julian and Yvette were just trying to get home, I was still travelling. After all, the hopes and dreams are in the journey, not the arrival.

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I hate marmite
My homage to Marmite. You either love it, or you hate it
Walker Mouldings Ltd
If you want replica oak beams for your house or office, have a look here
Management Issues
Huge online magazine about Management issues in the workplace. Created, maintained and powered by the SedaSoft SiteEngine
SedaSoft Ltd
The SedaSoft SiteEngine is an incredibly powerfull Content Management System (CMS) and website engine.
Website created for Lambeth Borough Council, using the SedaSoft SiteEngine, to make publicly available their image archives. (Getty Images, eat your heart out ;-)
Copyright © 1995 - 2005 Seamus Waldron. All rights reserved.