I flew from Tel Aviv to Istanbul, Turkey. A land where east truly meets west. This was to begin my 2 ½ weeks of travel through eastern Europe. An old friend that I haven't seen in 13 years caught wind that I was going to be in the area and decided to join in the fun. Lauren has been living in the UK for the last year or so and needed a break from the corporate life, something I could completely understand and sympathize with. We were to meet at the Seven Hills Hotel in Sultanahmet, Istanbul. Since I arrived a few hours early and there seemed to be some confusion about checking in, I stowed my bags with the front desk and ascended to the rooftop restaurant for some brekky and the scenery. With views of the water, rooftops and the Blue Mosque, it was something that would take a bit to soak in. There were rooftop terraces all over town and the Mosque just towered in the distance. It's awe inspiring presence made me want to run down and start exploring the city right away.
The end of April was the perfect time to visit. Spring had sprung and all of the flowers were in bloom. There was even a tulip festival in one of the main squares that we happened past. I'm not a huge flower guy, but they just made the beauty of the land that much more powerful. With ornate mosques around every corner and amazing arrays of flowers in full bloom just adding tons of color to everything, it was the perfect timing for an aspiring photographer.
After walking through the parks we found our way to the shoreline where hundreds had gathered to take in the perfect day. It seemed to be the spot for the locals to buy some of the local bbq food and have a picnic. From there we made our way to the markets and through some old off the map neighborhoods to see how the locals really live. We even stumbled on some young girls teasing the boys on the other side of an old boarded up building providing the perfect photo op. Then we ended the day back at the Mosque for some night shots….
Istanbul ended under ground at the Basilica Cistern. A subterranean cavern, man made to hold water back in the day. Today however it's been drained of all but a few feet of water and walkways and lighting have been put in so that you can see the engineering marvels of the generations past. The reflection of the columns off the water made it a spectacular view and the very dim lighting made it a challenge to photograph for any photographer without a tripod.
Off to Romania where they were gearing up Bucharest for the Formula 3 race that would shutdown the streets and close off the Parliament. The parks and the land were nice, but Bucharest still has a ways to go before it catches up to Prague or Budapest. Remember 1989 was a common theme in town and they even had a square named after it. Obviously an important day in history to everyone that lived in the land, Romania is now a member of the EU and is in process of attempting to strengthen their economy to make it a better place for everyone.
Around town there were several sights to see from the old buildings to the new and the architecture in between. Including one of the worst coke ads that I've ever seen that I felt compelled to post…..so does it make you thirsty? We also decided that it would be nice to step it up a notch and stay in a decent hotel. We went to book two nights and were told that they only had one available, but the second night we could stay at the Venezia which was a new hotel owned by the same owner and had the same quality. However it was not open for business yet and would be opened the day we needed it. It turns out that we were their first guests ever and received the royal treatment included gifts brought to the room once we checked in and got settled. A very nice place indeed!
The following day we caught a train to Brasov and then Bran which is located in Transylvania. It's also home to the modern day Dracula's castle. I have to say that this excursion made our trip to Romania as the country side was what would put you in touch with nature. The pure beauty and unpolluted scenery of the snow capped mountains was something that made you breath a sigh of relaxation. The castle itself and it's surroundings were amazing. The old buildings around the castle were as old as the castle itself just adding to the ambiance.
Next stop was Budapest. This was a repeat city for me as I was here with my buddy Kevin back in 1997. However one of the main things that I missed on that go around was the Castle Hill and all that was inside. I found out this time around that I missed a huge part of Buda. Buda as you may not know is on one side of the river while Pest is on the other side of the Danube. Running around seeing churches and Palaces everything in between we tired ourselves out and headed to Pest where we found a little café for drinks and dinner. Sitting next to a few guys who were obviously from NY, I couldn't help but throw on my Sox cap and give them a big smile. Of course that drew instant comments in my direction, but it was all good as we enjoyed dinner in Pest and they disappeared into the endless crowds that flowed by at a constant pace. That evening we had a night train to Krakow……who knows what Poland will hold, but so far I've only heard good things from other travelers. We shall see….