Category: Europe

Nov 03 2009

Diyarbakir, Turkey

To Diyarbakir

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Scenary during the journey
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Arrived at Diyarbakir Yeni Otogar (New bus station) at around 8am.
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The bus station is located around 14km west of the city so that’s why I did’t see any city like building. Nobody speaks English here so took a bus towards the east part of town and got off around the old city. A tip of looking for places to get off is to look out for signs of museums or places with a few 3-5 stars hotels. Usually this will be around the city center or places with tourist attractions, budget hotels.

Diyarbakir is considered as the unofficial capital of Kurdistan and is the largest city of Southeastern Turkey. Many people mentioned that the city is not safe and dangerous because of guerilla attacks and separatist movement. The city has around 1.5 million people and is the strong hold of Kurdish separatist movement. Around 90% of the population here is Kurdish and everyone is proud of their Kurdish background and tell me that they are Kurdish and not Turkish. There is a Kurdish looking flag on the public bus.
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There are around 30 millions Kurdish in the world but they don’t have a country. The Kurdish people live around southeastern turkey, northern iraq, northeastern syria and northwestern Iraq. They had suffered some atrocities and many were killed during the massacre of Armenians and during Saddam’s rule in Iraq.

There were not many tourist in Diyarbakir so everyone stared at me. Met a guy on the bus and he sort of showed me around but he couldn’t speak English. Approached by 2 guys and they invited me for tea but then they tried to sell me stuffs and I left.

Walked around the old wall, 6km in total
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The old city
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Since there were no hostel here, I gotta get a room in a hotel. After asking around few hotels,
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I checked in into Hotel Ozbal (20 TL single room with shower).
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Bazaar
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Late lunch at around 3pm, had chickn kebag (6.5 TL)
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To get to Northern Iraq, I will need to cross the border at Silopi, Turkey side to Zahuk, Iraq side. Then try to find my way to Dohuk, Northern Iraq 3rd largest city. I read that shared taxi is the only way to get there but since taxi is quite expensive, I found a post mentioned that there is a bus from Cizre to Dohuk, Iraq. Asked around the bus station but no one knows, plus nobody speaks english.

Met a Kurdish friend on the street, Erdol. He is a nice guy, showed me around
Ulu Camii (Grand Mosque) This building was originally a church and it was converted to a mosque.
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and treated me for dinner.
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He and his friend Suffran worked in US over the summer so they spoke pretty good English. I learned a lot about Kurdish history from them. He has many friends that joined the PKK, which is considered as a terrorist group in the mountains. The military is very powerful in Turkey and has more say that the government. The military doesn’t want to talk to PKK and between 1984 and 1999, the PKK and the Turkish military engaged in open war. Turkey has a compulsory military service so sometimes Kurds joining the military have to fight their own friends and family. However, things are getting better and the government lifted the ban on Kurdish language. However, Kurdish name is still disallowed.

We then went to the new part of the city to visit Mega Center mall
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and then had tea. That’s my 5th cup of Kurdish cay (tea) for the day and I didn’t pay for any tea.

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Nov 02 2009

Cappadocia and where next

It’s snowing today and the weather is around 0 C so there weren’t much activities to do. Spent pretty much the whole day planning my next destination. Originally I was planning to go to Iran from Turkey. However, right now I am considering to visit Northern Iraq before heading to Iran. I will need to head to the south east part of Turkey if I wanted to visit Northern Iraq. Another problem I have is time constraint because my visa to Uzbekistan is valid only until Dec 1st and I still have 3 more countries to go before Uzbekistan. Also I still have not got my Turkmenistan transit visa yet and I will need to give myself some additional time because many travellers have problem getting the visa.

Northern Iraq is open for tourism and it’s also called The Other Iraq. It’s an autonomy entity of Iraq and is governed by the Kurdistan Regional Government. Duhok, Arbil and Sulaymania are some of the bigger cities in Northern Iraq and I will try to visit those cities if possible. There are some good information on Lonely Planet Thorntree forum as well as some travel blogs, Backpack Iraq and Joe’s Trip.

Bought travel insurace finally because my next few destination will be more exotic and a little more dangerous. I should have bought travel insurance before my trip because the price for a 6 months coverage is just a little more than a 3 months coverage. I paid $173 for a 3 months insurance through world nomads.

Walked around Cappadocia in the afternoon
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Outside the Open Air Museum’
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Went to the bus station at 7pm and tried to get a bus ticket to Kayseri (one of the powerhouse economy in Turkey). However, the bus ticket agent mentioned that the bus is full. I don’t think it’s true but I can’t really argue with him since there are only 2 ticket agents that sell bus ticket to Kayseri and they are like a cartel. Got a overnight bus ticket to Diyarbakir instead (50 TL, 750 km away). They provided a shuttle to Nevesir which is another city 15 minutes away, then took the Batman bus to Diyarbakir.
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Turkey has some good buses and even though there is not much leg room but I have Wifi access on the bus. Bus stopped at 4.30am for morning prayers. Toilets are good business in Turkey because we have to pay for almost every toilet in Turkey.

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Nov 01 2009

Cappadocia 2nd day

Backpackers Yasin Hostel
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There are 2 tours around Cappadocia organized by Rose Tour. The first one is the red line which is closer around Goreme and the other one is the green line which goes further to the east part, to the underground city, the Ilhara Valley and a monastery. We joined the green tour (50TL) since it goes further.
The bus picked us up at 9.30am from the hostel.
Stopped by for a panorama view. Cappadocia means the land of beautiful horse. The area around Goreme has many underground churches. Many years ago, this is the hiding place for Christians from Roman persecution before Christianity became an accepted religion.
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The underground city Derinkuyu was founded around 1960s. There are around 36 underground cities that had been found so far and Derinkuyu is the one which is better preserved, has 8 floors (85 meters deep) so far but many floors have not still been excavated.
The Underground City.
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Ihlara Valley
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In 1923, there was an exchange of population between Greece and Turkey and this involved approximately 2 million people. Greek Orthodox living in Turkey had to move to Greece and Turks Muslims living in Greece had to move to Turkey. This caused many of Cappadocia Christian inhabitants moved to Greece and the caves were abandoned.
A church (Christian fresco)
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Caves
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Lunch is included in the tour. I had trout
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Monastery
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With some Malaysians
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Dinner, Spicy Kebab with tomato soup (11 TL). They provided unlimted bread and I think I ate more than a loaf of bread.
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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.

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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

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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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