Oct 31 2009

Goreme (Cappadocia), Turkey

Arrived at Goreme
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around 5.30am in the morning. There were 6 other Malaysians on the same bus to Goreme and since they booked an extra bed at Backpacker Yasin Hostel (9TL, around 4 Euros a night with breakfast), I just tagged along.
There were 7 beds in our hostel and it’s in a cave.
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The toilet is in a cave as well.
Met some hostel friends (Brad, Hugo and Lori) and we rented 4 scooters for 2 hours (15TL)
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and rode around Goreme.
Stopped to take photos.
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The motorbike gang
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Taking a break
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Uchira hill
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Camel
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We rode to Uchira (west part of Goreme) and then to the east part.
Some moonlight
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Oct 30 2009

Ankara, Turkey

Arrived at Ankara trains station at 6.30am.
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Outside the train station
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It’s around 450km away and the overnight train took 8.5 hours. I prefer to take overnight train if possible because I can save a night of accommodation and time. For express train or bus, it will only take 5 hours.

View Larger Map

Everyone mentioned that there isn’t much to do in Ankara so I stored my luggage at the locker in the train station and planned to take an overnight bus to Cappadocia.
Walked to the park
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across the train station and met some friendly security guards.
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Walked around the city center
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and got up to the old castle in Ankara.
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Street View
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Since Ankara is the capital of Turkey, I decided to visit Malaysian embassy to ask about visa issues for my next trip to Iran, maybe Iraq and Central Asia. Took a minibus (konakalle) and got off at the south part of the city.
Ankara southern suburb
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Malaysian embassy
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is located at Mahatma Gandhi street with many other embassies.

The ambassodor was not in and spent time chatting with some malaysians from the embassy (from left Mr. Suffran, Mr. Azrin and Mr. Jamil).
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Like always, Malaysians are a friendly bunch and Suffran, a Colonel from the military working in the embassy bought me lunch.
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Took bus 114 (bus 112 will go to the embassy row as well) back to the city. Walked around Kizilay which is a popular place to shop and hang out.
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Kocatepe Mosque
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Took a metro
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to the bus station to enquire about bus schedule. Ankara is at the center of Anatolia so they have buses to almost every part of the country.
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Went to An?tkabir, Kemal Atatürk’s mausoleum but it’s already close.
Went back to the train station to grab my bag.
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I stored my bag for 11 hours and that cost my 7.5 TL.
Walked around the park across the train station at night. There were some very colorful lightings in the park.
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Took the 1.30am bus (20TL) to Goreme (Cappadocia).
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Turkey has nice buses and the seat is quite comfortable. The journey will take around 4 hours to Goreme.
People in Ankara are more formal and uptight. There are many people wearing suits, probably because there are many government officials. However, everyone is still quite helpful. The only problem is that people in Ankara don’t speak English. I have not met an Ankaran who can speak fluent english.

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Oct 28 2009

Istanbul 3rd day

We planned to do a big loop today. Starting from Sultanahment, we took a ferry to the asian side, then crossed over the Bosphorus bridge to the new city and came back all the way down to Taksim. After that crossed another bridge south to Sultanahmet.
Istanbul route

Took a ferry to from Eminou to Kadikoy which is at the Asian side.
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With Juliana
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With Kengo
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Visited Fenerbache football stadium.
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Bull
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The Asian part of Istanbul is more residential.
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After 2 days of looking at old buildings we wanted to look at the modern part of Istanbul. Took bus no. 500 from the Asian side crossing the Bosphorus bridge to Mendicekoy which is the new part of Istanbul.
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Visited Cevahir mall which is one of the largest mall in Europe
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Took a metro to Taksim. It’s so crowded and there were many people walking on the street. (Istiklal st)
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Fruit Stall
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Galata tower at night
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We walked all the way back to our hostel in Sultanahmet.
Next day,
This was my 4th day in Istanbul and it’s time to check out. Pics with the crew, we have been traveling together for the last few days and it’s time to say goodbye.
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Nice weather today. I am taking the pic at Eminou which is at the Sultanahment side and across river is the Galata side (you can see Galata tower from the pic).
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I was still deciding if I should either head west to Izmir, visit Ephesus (a historical site with Roman ruins) and Parmukalle (great view of Taverstine) or keep on continue my journey to the east to Ankara. Decided on the later because of time constraint.

Got a overnight train ticket at Sekerci tran station (30TL with student card) but the train will depart from Hyderbasa which is at the Asian side.

Today is Turkey independence day and there are Turkey national flags everywhere. Turkish are quite proud of their country. The military is quite powerful here and there is a compulsory military service for man. Also we can’t access youtube in Turkey, the website is blocked by the government. So I will try to upload some videos later.

Had Adona kebab for lunch with Faruk in Taksim area. Then took a bus to Bibek which is at the northern part of Istanbul, but I got off at Kolej since it’s late in the afternoon and it will take a few hours walk to Sultanahmet.
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The Bosphorus bridge
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Walked around Beksitas square
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Lahmacun, Turkish pizza (1.5 TL)
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Had Pilav, rice with bean (1.5 TL)
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and a Turuv Doner (1.5 TL) for dinner.

Firecrackers show because of Independence day celebration.
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From around Bibek to Sultanahmet, it’s around 12km walk

View Larger Map
Took the last ferry (9.10pm) to Haderbasah train station and then took the 10.00pm train to Ankara.
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I got the top sleeping berth
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I heard Ankara has cases of swine flu so hope things won’t be that serious.

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Oct 26 2009

Istanbul, Turkey

Arrived in Turkey Otogar bus terminal at 5.30am in the morning.
There are many budget hostels around the neighbourhood called Sultanahmet where the Blue Mosqu, Topkap? Palace and Hagia Sofia are located. Took a metro to Aksary and then switched to a tram to Sultanahmet. They don’t have a day pass here so every section of the transportation is pay per use (1.50 TL ~ .70) and not including transfer.

Got to Istanbul Hostel and got a room with around 20 beds, (20TLR a night ~USD 13)
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Met Juliana, a Brazilian who is also traveling alone at the hostel and we walked to the Topkapi Palace
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and the Blue Mosque.
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Basilica Cistern
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Turkey Map with tourist attractions
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Walked to Grand Bazaar which is one of the oldest and largest covered market in the world with around 3500 shops.
The Grand Bazaar
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Selling guns in the bazaar
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Took a tram to Kabatas then a funicular to Taksim, a famous street with shops and cafes with a few hostel mates.
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Next day,

Visited Hagia Sofia with Kengo and Juliana. It cost 20TL, around 10 Euros each to get in to Topkapi Palace and Hagia Sofia so we picked only Hagia Sofia. Hagia Sofia was built in 532 AD during the Byzantine empire and was the largest cathedral for a thousand years before Constantinople was conquered by the Ottoman Turks and turned the Hagia Sofia into a mosque.
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Inside is huge, looks a little like Orthodox church
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With the team
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View from the window
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Walked across the bridge to Beyoglu the north part. Fishing is a popular activity on the bridge.
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Balik Empek (fish sandwich 3 TL) for lunch at the fish market
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Climbed up a small hill and got to Galata Tower which is on the north side of the river.
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Spice Market
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Jimmy Carter, the ex president of US was in Istanbul too. We kept bumping into his group of VIP
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and he was staying at the Four Seasons at Sultanahmet, just across our hostel.

Night view of Hagia Sophia
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Oct 24 2009

Sofia, Bulgaria

Arrived at the train station
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in Sofia at 6am.

I had trouble reading all the sign boards because all the writing in Bulgaria is in Cyrillic. Bulgarians are proud of the Cyrillic alphabets because it’s developed in the First Bulgarian Empire.

Example of the Cyrillic alphabet

Since I didn’t do my research about hostel, I borrowed a guide book from a french girl I met on the train and jotted down the address for few hostels. Met a Korean guy, Anh at the bus station and he going to the same hostel too so we walked together to Hostel Mostel (24 LEV ~12 Euros).
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With Anh, another world traveler
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There are a lot of Chinese restaurants in Sofia so we had Chinese food for lunch (2.5 Euros each).

Road name in Cyrillic
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Sofia city center
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National Palace of Culture
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Alexander Nevski Catheral
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Grabbed Pizza with a few Hostel Mate
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Then we visited Mojito which is a bar/club.

Next day,
Daylights saving start today and Bulgarians move their clock an hour backward.

Sveta Nedelia Square
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Main Central Market
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More Cyrillic
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Went to the bus station to ask about tickets to Istanbul. Train cost around 60 Leva and takes 13 hours but is more comfortable. Bus only cost 40 Leva and will take 9 hours so I decided to take the bus because of the later departure time.

Mosque
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Sofia Mall
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I asked around about a Chinese market and someone told me that there is a huge one at Illianti. Tried taking bus 18 but got on tram 11 instead. Usually tram 11 and 12 will go to Illianti, however they cut short the tram because of some repair work so I wasn’t able to get there.

Took a 9pm bus to Istanbul (40 LEV ~20 Euros). Bulgarians are quite nice and friendly but the country is still poor and behind in its economy. It seems like the country still hasn’t move forward after communism collapsed. Things are cheaper here than other parts of Europe but average salary is just around 200 Euros a month so life is hard for the people in the country.

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Oct 22 2009

Bucharest, Romania

Romania has around 22 million people which is the second biggest eastern european country just after Poland. Bucharest is a city of 2 million and is the capital.
I noticed that in Romanian there are some similar words to Spanish. Compared to some other languages with Latin roots (French, Spanish, Portuguese, Romanian..), the Romanian language is the closest to Latin.
Arrived in Bucharest at around 9.30am
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so the ride took around 11 hours. I got another couch here and my host is Aline. It’s very nice of her to come pick me up at the train station and my couch is actually in a dorm in a technical university.

main train station Gara de Nord
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The city Bucharest looks a little torned, I am not sure what’s the word to describe it but it looks neglected like other ex-communist countries. There are some old and grey buildings.
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Fishing
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Wide street and junction, a legacy from the communist times

However, close to Piata Unirii, there are some nice historical buildings around the Parliament.
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Parliament Palace (the world’s second largest building after the US Pentagon) spans 12 stories, 3100 rooms and covers over 330,000 sq m.

Ci?migiu Garden
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Theater
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A very good interactive site about the maps of buildings in Bucharest

Getting local food at Carefour because of the varieties and it’s cheap
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With Aline’s friends (Lucia, Aline, Peter, Daniela, Mihail) in the dorm. They are very friendly and I had a great time with them.
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Next day,
Arch of Triumph
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Visited the Peasant’s museum in the morning (1.5LEI). It’s a very interesting museum where different kinds of houses from different parts of Romania were bought to this site.
The Peasant’s museum
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Swing/Merry go round
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Since I have an interest in Chinese economy and Chinese businesses, I took metro to Obor and then took a tram to the northeast direction. Walked 5 minutes to the northeast side from the last stop, to Europa, sort of a chinese market for the retail side. Spoke with a Chinese shopowner
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and he moved to Romania 10 years ago. He mentioned that China is developing so fast and even though quality of life in his town QingTian (a small town of 400,000 people and 250,000 live in overseas) is better than in Romania now but it’s hard for him to move back because China is too competitive and it’s hard to start all over again. The economy crisis did affect business for this year. He has 2 children in China. His past time after work is to surf the internet and he would like to go back to China soon.
Like in other countries, Chinese usually keep to themselves and don’t assimilate well with the local society. This is a pity because most Chinese immigrants are not highly educated so it’s harder for them to communicate with the locals.
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Retail Side
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Unlike in Budapest where there Chinese restaurants are everywhere, I don’t see a lot here in Romania. Walking in the city I didn’t really see any trace of Chinese businesses until I went to the market.
Wholesale side
This is just Dragonul building 2, there are Dragonul 1 to 7 so the market is huge. The complex sells pretty much everything in bulks.

Inside
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Food court selling chinese food
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I thought the Chinese market in Budapest is huge, but this is even bigger. The wholesale stores are behind the retail market and the whole area is around 2kmX2km.

After visiting a few Chinese market, I am amazed by the magnitude of Chinese businesses. This does not sound like Communism and those guys mean business, this is why China has a huge trade surplus.

Visited a Romanian market at Carigasi
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Took an overnight train to Sofia, Bulgaria at 8.04pm (130 LEI ~ 30 Euro)
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Oct 21 2009

Cluj Napoca, Romania

Cluj Napoca is the capital of the region Transylvania in Romania. Transylvania is synonymous with the birth place of Dracula but it’s just a myth.

Spent the day walking around the city. The city is pretty small, around 300,000 people and doesn’t require a lot of time to walk around it. I read that the city is ranked as one of the top five growing city by the magazine Monocle and there are some offshoring activities by European companies here because there is a big talent pool of students. According to the American magazine InformationWeek, Cluj-Napoca is quickly becoming Romania’s technopolis. There are many ethnic Hungarians here that sometimes indentify more with Hungary than Romania.

Ate at Agape, sort of like a food court in the city center.
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Chatted with a lady and she talked about there is an upcoming election and how she is dissapointed with the Politicians in Romania. After traveling across the Balkans and Eastern Europe, all I heard is that every ex-communist countries citizens complain about their corrupted and incompetant leaders. After the Soviet Union collapsed, many state firms were sold at a low price to people who were well connected with the governments and those well connected people are still running the government behind the scene today. So even though, there are good leaders out there but it’s hard for them to be elected because of the behind the scene power. I remembered that this is sort of mentioned in Joseph Stiglitz book, Globalization and its discontent.
Cluj is a nice university town
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There are 2 big malls in Cluj and visited Iulius mall
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and Polus mall
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with bus 24.
Took an overnight train to Bucharest at 11.30pm (9 hours train ride, 500km, 54LEI~`13Euros)

Some guys at the Hostel. There is a Portuguese, Finnish and Romanian.
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From the hostel, walked 30 minutes to the train station and took an overnight train to Bucharest at 10.30pm (54 LEI ~ 12 Euros).
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Romanian is a football crazy country, met some football fans on the train who are traveling to see the match between Red Star vs Fenerbahce.

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Oct 19 2009

still Budapest

St. Stephen Cathedral (Szent István Bazilika)
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Was walking around outside the Cathederal and heard some people speaking in Singaporean and Malaysian accent. There are in the book publisher business and came for a book expo.
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Parliament Building
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A shopping mall at Vaci Ut. Vaci Ut is something like a shopping street.
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Market
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Budapest is a famous spa city. It has more thermal and medicinal water springs than any other capital city in the world.
Széchényi Spa
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Joined a communist tour in the afternoon at 3.30pm. It’s quite educational and Gabor the tour guide talked about the history about communism in Hungary. The guide mentioned that even though Hungary achieved independence almost 20 years ago but people still have the communist mindset. Most Hungarians from the older generation still feel a sense of nostalgia about that time because during communism, goods and travels were more affordable. But right now, prices of goods are maybe 80% of Western Europe but average monthly salary is around 450 Euros so times are harder now. Hungary is still a poor country and even though the country joined EU in 2004 but the country still have not fulfill the Maastricht criteria so the country still can’t adopt the Euro currency.
Communist Style building in the city of Budapest
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The only Soviet monument in Budapest. There is a fence surrounding the monument to prevent vandalism by Hungarian nationalist.
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Next day, hiked up Gellert Hill which has a pretty nice view of Buda.
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and Pest
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Took a bus, Orangeways which is a new low cost bus company to Cluj Napoca at 3pm. Originally I was planning to go direct to Bucharest but the train ticket is quite expensive, around 80-90 Euros. The bus to Cluj Napoca cost around 4000 Forint ~13 Euros and then I can take a train from Cluj to Bucharest that should be much cheaper. At the same time, I can visit the capital of Transylvania.
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Arrived in Cluj Napoca at 11pm after 6 hours bus ride, here it’s an hour faster than Hungary. Tried to find my way to the hostel by walking. The city was very quiet at night and it took around 30 minutes walk from the bus station to
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Hostel Transylvania (47 RON ~11 Euros).
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Met some hostel mates and went to a bar/club called My Way. Surprisingly the place was packed with young people. This made sense because Cluj is a college town with 3 big universities. One of the biggest and best university in Romania, Babe?-Bolyai University is located here as well.
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Oct 17 2009

Budapest, Hungary


Wy?wietl wi?ksz? map?
Arrived in Budapest at 8.30am. I didn’t really sleep in the train this time after my laptop and money were stolen the previous time I took an overnight train.
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Budapest is the capital of Hungary and is a touristic city. Last year the country had 20 millions tourists and the population of the entire country is just around 10 millions.
Hungarian is a distinct language by its own, along with Albanian, Finnish and Greek which don’t share any roots with slavic or latin. The Hungarian language sounds pretty unique, I heard that it’s closer to Finnish than it is to English. The guide told us that the Hungarian people came from the Aral Mountains 1500km away many many years ago. There are also stories that Hungarians decendended from Attila the Hun.
An excerpt from Wikitravel “The Romans were replaced around 900 by the Magyars, who went on to found the kingdom of Hungary. The Mongols dropped in uninvited in 1241, but the Magyars bounced back and built the Royal Castle that still today dominates Buda in 1427.
In 1541, Buda and Pest fell to the Ottomans and stayed in the hands of the Turks until 1686, when the Austrian Habsburgs conquered the town. Now at peace, both sides of the river boomed, and after an abortive Hungarian revolution in 1848–49, the great Compromise of 1867 made Budapest the united capital of the Hungarian half of the Dual Monarchy of Austria-Hungary.”
On the west part of Danube river lies Buda and on the east side is Pest. Combining these 2 became Budapest.
The transporation here consisted of metro, tram and bus. A day pass cost 1550 FRT (1USD ~ 180 forint), around USD8-9 which is not that cheap. However, a monthly pass for students only cost around 3700FRT.
Crashed at Malwina’s place who I met in Belgrade 2 weeks ago. She is from Poland and studying in Budapest now. It’s very nice for her to host me.
Indoor Market
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Joined a Budapest free walking tour at 2pm.
View of the Castle across the river
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Castle on the castle hill
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Danube River
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With Malwina
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View from the Buda side (west of the river)
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Beef Stew Hungarian Style
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Malwina brought me to hear friends flat party and then we went to White Angel club which is quite a distance away from the city.
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Next day,
There are quite a number of Chinese restaurants in Budapest and I heard that there is a chinese market in Budapest so I decided to check it out. Took bus 173 to Blaha then switched to tram 28 and got off at the 6th stop. The 10th stop is another small chinatown.
There are Chinese people everywhere in the world and as a ethnic Chinese myself, I am always curious to see their way of life, their businesses in different countries and how do they assimilate in the local culture.
There are 2 sides of the Chinese market, at “Shi Hu”
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they cater more to the retail side and sell many cheap clothings and other low cost paraphernalias. The market is probably a kilometer long.
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I guess business is good since there are quite a few luxury cars around the market
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On the other side of the road, there are many huge warehouses and shops that only cater to wholesalers. Here is where the big businesses operate. I was surprise at the numbers and the sizes of the warehouses. It’s quite busy even on Sunday and things move fast here.

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Most business people here are from WenZhou, the city famous for its textiles factories and entrepreneurs. The market here looks bigger than the one in Belgrade and this doesn’t look like communism at all. There are many mercedes and BMWs so I guess business must be pretty good.
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Chinese workers on Sunday

I was asking directions about Chinatown and a lady invited me to a Chinese church for dinner. Was pretty lucky to get home cooked Chinese food after on the road for some time.

Chinatown is at the 10th stops of tram 28
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Oct 16 2009

Warsaw, Poland

Nathan’s Villa hostel
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is one of the nicest hostel I visited so far in Europe besides the hostel in Buenos Aires which is incredible. Nathan’s Villa is not very big but things are well placed and well thought of, the color is bright and very clean. A day pass for transporation cost 9ZL and 4.5ZL for students.
Warsaw was completely destroyed after the Germans left. Only 64 out of 986 buildings remained after the world and the city was completely rebuilt.
The southern part of Warsaw has some communist style buildings built by the soviet union. When I got here yesterday night, I thought it looked similar to Chinese cities with wide street and big buildings.
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This tall tower is one of the most hated buildings and it’s a symbol that big brother is watching.
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They have body sushi here too
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There are now more new buildings.
Old and New
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This is the only old jewish building left standing.
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Stare Miasto which is the old town of Warsaw was a UNESCO heritage city. All buildings were destroyed during the war and the old city was completely rebuilt.
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Visited Warsaw Uprising Museum (3ZL ~1USD),
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spent around 3 hours since the museum is quite interesting and have some interactive exhibitions.
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One of the catalyst which started World war II were when the Germans attacked Poland. The German attacked Warsaw on Sep 1st 1939. Even though England and France declared war on Germany but noone helped. The Nazi set up Jewish gettoes housing 450,000 people in a small neighborhood and many Jewish died of starvations. After 5 years of suffering, Warsawnians decided to stand up and fight the Germans on Aug 1st, 1944. After few months of fighting, they surrendered on Oct 5th, 1944 and the German killed 180,000 civilians and 18,000 insurgents.
After the war, before the germans left, they completely destroyed the city
Visited Akadia mall
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and got a selection of cheap polish food again in Careffour, the supermarket.
Took a train to Budapest at 9pm because I managed to get a special ticket cost 125 ZL, usual price is over 300 ZL.
Train Station
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