A Travellerspoint blog

Free Sofia Walking Tour

And this is only the beginning

sunny 28 °C

Day 8 Wednesday June 1 2017
Sofia, Bulgaria - Rest Day / 0 km

  • We actually need 2 days to work out how to use the various features of our hotel room.

There are design flaws: the lighting system is only operable from one side of the bed - SG has to stay in the dark, whatever she wants to do ( light controls are AG's side ). In the bathroom, towels must remain scattered on the floor because there are insufficient hooks. Towel rail? How old fashioned.

  • Breakfast has a roof top view. The chefs are keen to introduce us to local Bulgarian food.
  • Yes, you've guessed - it's hot & sunny.
  • Today is titled 'Rest Day' but of course it isn't. Rest Days are usually packed with activity, but importantly for AG there is no driving.
  • June 1st is Children's Day - the younger generation are having a day's holiday and so must the people who look after them. It's party in the park time. Apparently museums & art galleries offered reduce prices today - for everyone.
  • We head to the Court of justice to meet up with the guide of Free Walk Sofia @ 11 a.m. We arrive around 10.45 and already there is quite a crowd. In fact at this time of year there are 3 guides available. The first large group leaves around 10.50. To avoid the disadvantages of large numbers we hang back for a later departure. Don't bother. There are numerous latecomers and all groups are of a similar size.
  • Our guide Stanislav is an actor by trade, so he is currently either impoverished or out of work or both. But it means he can tell interesting stories. And this is the beauty of the 2hr free city walks - you are introduced to the basics and then given the options to explore deeper. Our group is predominantly young and mixed nationalities. It's an interesting collection of people.
  • We learn many seemingly unconnected facts that help build the picture of Sofia today. We see several old & historically significant churches, some of which were converted into mosques when Bulgaria was assimilated into the Ottoman Empire (14-19C ). Bulgaria was finally freed from Ottoman control in the aftermath of the Russian / Turkish war which forced the re-drawing of the Balkan map.
  • Sofia is blessed with the source of about 40 different mineral waters. Sadly although the Romans & Bulgarians used to love to bathe in them, no public bath houses remain functional in the city. Our tour does take us to the Old Mineral Bath House but it has recently been converted into a History Museum & no bathing facilities remain.
  • After World War 2 Bulgaria became a Communist state for nearly 45 years, closely allied with the Soviet Union during the Cold War period. In the centre of Sofia there is much architectural evidence of Communist Neo Classical style which is surprisingly grand and attractive. Lenin's statue has long since been removed and been replaced with one of the legendary Saint of Sofia.
  • In amidst these massive Communist era buildings, surrounded, some might say hidden, stands the diminutive St George Rotunda Church. Built in early 4 Century it is the oldest place of Christian worship in Sophia. A daily service is still held according to the traditions of the Eastern Orthodox Church. It is worth looking inside too to appreciate the interior of the roof - the paintings you see are original from the 6 th Century.
  • Our guide explains that Sofia lacks an 'old part' in the same way as in Zagreb or Belgrade for example. The city has been built in layers - on top of each other rather than outwards from an older core. This is why so many ruins of previous eras have been excavated in relatively recent times as new infrastructure is being built. See for example the ruins of Roman Baths in front of the Banya Bashi Mosque which was itself built in 1576.
  • There were once 70 mosques in Sofia but today the Banya Bashi Mosque is the only one still in use. About 12% of Bulgarians are Muslims but they mostly live in SE Bulgaria nearer to Turkey. This city mosque was designed by one of the greatest Ottoman architects, Mimar Sinan, who also built the Blue Mosque in Istanbul. The similarities, albeit on a smaller scale are obvious to even the tourist's eye.
  • As we walk towards the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral we pass through a park area adjacent to the National Theatre. It is crowded with children enjoying their special holiday. The trees are heavy with blossom of one sort or another. SG recognises the fluffy yellow mimosa flowers . Ahhh, this explains the surprisingly beautiful aromatic smells in the evenings in both Belgrade & Sofia. It has been a mystery until now. During the day there is no fragrance.
  • Also under a certain type of tree are lots of red & white cords hanging from branches. Stanislav explains that the cords & ribbons are called martenitsi which symbolise health & happiness. The tradition on Baba Marta Day, March 1st, is to exchange with your nearest and dearest a martenitsi. You must keep your collection until you either see the first Stork of the season or the first plum tree in blossom. You should then tie a martenitsi onto a plum tree.
  • The plum tree is also known as the Rakhia tree, from that lethal Balkan brew that is fermented from plums.
  • En route to the cathedral which dominates the skyline in downtown Sofia, we pass by the small Russian Orthodox Church of St Nikolas, built in honour of the Russian Expulsion of the Ottomans in 1878. The multiple tiny golden domes, exterior mosaic decoration and the double bar cross are all - well, Russian in design.
  • Pretty much opposite the cathedral is the much older, smaller & humbler St Sophia Basilica with its famous underground museum. Down there are remains of tombs & earlier churches built on this same site, one on top of the other. The first church was built in 4 th century after the Edict of Tolerance was issued by Emperor Constantine. Thereafter religion was tolerated within and by the Roman Empire. There followed a massive scale of conversion to Christianity in the region. When the Ottomans arrived in Sofia they first used the Basilica as a warehouse before later changing it into a mosque.
  • The Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is worth seeing by day & by night when it is beautifully illuminated. It was built between 1904-16 and is said to represent Bulgarian & Byzantinian architectural influences. It was formerly the largest cathedral in the Balkans, until the Serbians went and spoilt things by building an even bigger one in Belgrade.
  • It will be obvious that our visits to churches & other places of worship have started here in Sofia.

And since we are heading to the cradles of Christianity, Armenia & Georgia, we will no doubt have many more on our agenda.

  • After a bite to eat at Moma's just off the main shopping street, Vitosha Boulevard we head back to our hotel for a couple hours of catch up with life and stuff back in the UK. And another swim for SG before an early supper up in the Roof Bar of Sense Hotel.
  • Tomorrow we are on the road again with sightseeing en route and at our end destination - so a busy day ahead.

Rotunda St George

Rotunda St George

Banya Bashi Mosque

Banya Bashi Mosque

Roman Ruins Adjacent to Banya Bashi Mosque

Roman Ruins Adjacent to Banya Bashi Mosque

Well Would You Want to Wear a Hat with an Eagle Feather? Soldier Guarding Government Buildings

Well Would You Want to Wear a Hat with an Eagle Feather? Soldier Guarding Government Buildings

Children's Day in Bulgaria - Adidas Get Involved Too

Children's Day in Bulgaria - Adidas Get Involved Too

Take Note Mr Juncker!

Take Note Mr Juncker!

Old Newspaper Kiosk in Park

Old Newspaper Kiosk in Park

Mimosa Blossom in Full & Aromatic Bloom

Mimosa Blossom in Full & Aromatic Bloom

Martenitsi Hanging in a Plum Tree

Martenitsi Hanging in a Plum Tree

Chess Being Played in the Park - Love the Sun Hats

Chess Being Played in the Park - Love the Sun Hats

St Nikolas Russian Orthodox Church

St Nikolas Russian Orthodox Church

Alexander Nevski Cathedral

Alexander Nevski Cathedral

Moma Restaurant Serves Reasonable Bulgarian Food

Moma Restaurant Serves Reasonable Bulgarian Food

Posted by sagbucks 12:18 Archived in Bulgaria Comments (0)

Exploring the Vosges in Alsace

Feeling guilty doing it by truck

sunny 25 °C

Day 3 Saturday May 27 2017
Xonrupt-Longemer to Landsberg am Lech 517 km

  • What bliss to be woken by an alarm set at a respectable time 7-45 a.m. It means AG and SG have had a long overdue & untinterrupted sleep. With house sale, trip planning and other 'stuff', it's been a while.
  • Its another gorgeous day. We really are being spoilt here in Northern Europe. But within just over a week we'll be in Turkey, so it's good acclimatisation.
  • We continue our meanderings on minor roads through the forested hills of the Vosges in Alsace, heading mainly SE. We climb lots of cols ( high spots).
  • It is only 10 a.m. but there is already a hive of outdoor activity: cyclists, pony trekkers, walkers, motorcyclists are out and about in impressive numbers. This region offers lots of beautiful curves for motorcyclists to navigate and a tough day's riding in the saddle or walking by foot.
  • We follow a scenic detour called Route des Cretes. We soon have the feeling of being at the top of the world, the Alsace world at least. The fine weather means the views are outstanding and the wind non existent.
  • We reach the highest point of our journey - Col du Grand Ballon, altitude 1424m. It is the summit of the Vosges area. Guide books warn of adverse weather and strong winds. They do not however mention the swarms of midges that we encounter as soon as we stop the truck for the obligatory summit photo. The air is thick with them & It's not a pleasant experience. It also deters us Sent from my iPad
  • Outside a shop selling local honey ( many different pollen types with presumably unique flavours ) there is a rudimentary collection of apiary tools & equipment. SG momentarily mistakes it for an anti midge suit rather than bee protection gear. Marketed differently they might even sell a few of those netted hats at this time of year.
  • The road' summit is a popular gathering point for those who have just made some substantial effort to get here. The cafe is full of cyclists, hikers and motorcyclists alike. We feel guilty having expended no energy, used no muscle power but rather arrived sat comfortably in our Landcruiser truck.
  • But we would be kidding ourselves not to realise that our truck trip does require a form of both endurance & stamina - to cope with: long & consecutive days of driving in hot climates, a massive agenda of sightseeing, 9 weeks in each other's company and in confined space, a different bed and bathroom almost every night and lastly but not least uncertain & unfamiliar nutrition. Yes we need to be fit physically & mentally for our journey ahead.
  • As we descend from the summit towards the pretty vineyard village of Uffholz we pass by the Hartmanswillerkopf War Memorial (HWK). It's sometimes easy to overlook that there was significant World War 1 hostility that involved no British soldiers and which are not therefore a primary point of military pilgrimage for Brits. This site of fierce trench warfare between 1915-6 in particular is also known as Vieil Armand. 30000 French & German soldiers died here, with another 30000 being wounded or taken prisoner.
  • In 1921 it was declared an historic monument. Bodies from other nearby battlefields and temporary war graves were exhumed and brought here. There are 12000 bodies of unknown soldiers also laid to rest in the crypt here. Imagine such a number. There are 3 chapels on site - Catholic, Protestant and Jewish. The HWK is located in an area that back in 1915 had been annexed by Germany since 1871.
  • Not surprisingly HWK has been dedicated to Franco German friendship and there are new (EU sponsored) facilities being built. It is busy with visitors, both French & German. If you are passing it is worth a quick stop.
  • The rest of our journey to Landsberg am Lech is on motorway. Just after Mulhouse, thanks to the Schengen Zone, we pass imperceptibly into Germany and cross the mighty Rhine - Germany's main river artery.
  • Almost counter intuitively we are first heading NE again towards Strasbourg before continuing East from Karlsruhe along the A8 direction Munich. We are impressed with the road infrastructure, both current and being built. We pass by countless zones of light industry & warehousing. But nicely so, interspersed with long stretches of woodland and farms. It is a prosperous part of the world. No wonder Germany is the powerhouse of the EU.
  • Traffic is heavy but flowing. The Germans are escaping for the weekend too. It has been difficult to find accommodation for this evening - most Gasthaüser stipulated a minimum of a 2 night stay. However we are most definitely on the move and do not wish to linger. We have also booked tonight's restaurant, Nonnenbraü - we have been allocated the 8 p.m sitting. No choice was given. They must be busy.
  • We decide to walk to and for our supper. It's important to get some exercise whenever we can. AG navigates the way on maps.me ( a great navigational app for your mobile that uses GPS and is FREE! ). A 40 minute walk is indicated since our hotel is on the outskirts of new suburbs whilst our chosen restaurant is on the other side of the Old Town.
  • Nestled beside the River Lech it is a very attractive place indeed. It's a fine, balmy evening, riverside cafes and bistros are buzzing with people relaxing at the start of the weekend.
  • We find the Nonnenbraü at the top of a steep hill. The garden is full, the nicely decorated interior empty. Fortunately we have reserved a table and we too dine outdoors. Why wouldn't you after so many months of winter.
  • As already mentioned it is asparagus season and in this part of the world they seem to revere the rather insipid looking white variety. There is a special asparagus menu which SG samples - asparagus soup ( creamy white colour) with toasted almonds, followed by grilled fish with more asparagus ( also white ). AG chooses soup as well and then gets stuck into some burger or other. Even he is not sure what kind. We drink a red Austrian wine, recommended by the restaurant owner. He seems to take pride in his wine cellar and nowadays rates Austrian wines. The wine is a mixture of Syrah, Cabernet & Merlot grapes and is very palatable.
  • We opt to walk back to our hotel. Dusk is merging into night. We don't have a torch so we stick to the main roads. In Germany street lights remain switched on and pedestrian crossings are well illuminated. ( SG is having an ongoing 'dialogue' with Bucks County Council - they switch off street lights to save money. And a zebra crossing on the very busy A404 has had a non functioning pedestrian light since before Christmas ).
  • Did SG mention that we have changed hotel rooms? It seems the norm that we are allocated rooms on the noisy side. Maybe it's the booking.com price we pay? Despite specifically requesting a quiet, calm location even at the expense of a view. Frankly we'd rather face a brick wall than be kept awake by traffic. From now on SG must get into routine of first checking rooms before unloading luggage. At Landhotel Erdhart we have to pay an additional 16 euros for peace & quiet.

And Our Room for Tonight - Also to be recommended

And Our Room for Tonight - Also to be recommended

We have That Top of the World Feeling

We have That Top of the World Feeling

You Can Ski in Alsace Too

You Can Ski in Alsace Too

Nearly at the Highest Road Point in the Vosges

Nearly at the Highest Road Point in the Vosges

Some Folk Work Hard to Get Here

Some Folk Work Hard to Get Here

It's Season for Midges & This is the Kit You Need!

It's Season for Midges & This is the Kit You Need!

Hartmanswillerkopf War Memorial

Hartmanswillerkopf War Memorial

And the Statistics

And the Statistics

The Franco German Border in this Area Until 1918

The Franco German Border in this Area Until 1918

Gorgeous Town of Landsberg am Lech

Gorgeous Town of Landsberg am Lech

Landsberg Architecture in Evening Sun

Landsberg Architecture in Evening Sun

Gorgeous Old Town Facades

Gorgeous Old Town Facades

River Lech at Dusk

River Lech at Dusk

A Good Recommendation @ the Nonnenbraü

A Good Recommendation @ the Nonnenbraü

Posted by sagbucks 07:01 Archived in Germany Comments (0)

Driving to Sofia & Outer Europe

sunny 28 °C

Day 7 Wednesday, May 31 2017
Belgrade to Sofia / 394 km

  • Fine, sunny and 28 C at 10 a.m. It's becoming hotter by the day. We're getting ever closer to Turkey.
  • Despite initial reservations about Boutique Hotel Townhouse 27 ( shabby street, graffiti on the walls etc ) we actually leave able to recommend it. The staff are friendly & helpful, we have a reasonable night's sleep, there's a small coffee machine in our room and breakfast is good.
  • In fact we are mellowing towards Belgrade. We have not had sufficient opportunity to explore all the old town - the parts with grand government buildings nor its various museums & art galleries. You should stay a bit longer, especially if you come in a few years time when building work in the Old City is complete.
  • As we leave the city, there is heavy traffic heading in. Belgrade may not yet have the class of its Croatian neighbour but it does have size. It is by far the biggest city in Serbia with a population of 1.65 million and has long enjoyed capital city status.
  • We are not sure if May 31 is a significant day in the Serbian calendar but still within the old part of town, police are controlling the traffic and overriding the traffic light system. With the usual chaos that human intervention creates. Maybe some important politician (s) is expected to arrive imminently. We are glad to escape before the possible closure of the road system.
  • it's another motorway day to Sofia the capital of Bulgaria and of course a border to cross. The last one in Europe on our outward journey to Georgia. Thereafter border days will assume greater significance with the possibility of delays.
  • It's wonderful that by luck our mother tongue is the number one universally spoken language in the world. Despite what Monsieur Juncker may think or hope. Serbian is difficult to read, let alone understand. The Serbians we speak to all have an interest and ability to converse with us in English.
  • The motorway SE towards the city of Nis is good, the service restrooms clean & free. Road tolls are payable in euros and you even get change back in euros - notes & coins. It's good this eurozone system!
  • SG uses the 250 km stretch of motorway to read up on the collapse & disintegration of Yugoslavia in the early 1990's. It is complex, but recent European history. It is embarrassing that we know or remember so little: the ethnic fighting in Croatia between Serbs & Croats, the bombing of the UNESCO World Heritage city of Dubrovnic, Slobodan Milosivc, Lord Carrington, the utter failure of the European Community to negotiate a diplomatic solution, the Siege of Sarajevo, the Bosnian War and finally the intervention of UN troops to bring to an end hostilities in former Yugoslavia. SG requires all of 250 km, and more, to understand the regional tensions of this part of the world.
  • At around 250 km the motorway route to Bulgaria ends. The rest is normal single carriage road. But it is evident that new infrastructure is being built and that there will eventually be a fast road connecting the capital cities of Serbia & Bulgaria.
  • We fill up with diesel just before the Bulgarian border and pay nearly 10000 Serbian didgeridoos. Exchange rate?!
  • The Serbian / Bulgarian border means crossing into a new time zone. We are now 2 hours ahead BST, 3 hours ahead of GMT. For the first time in Europe we must also show vehicle documentation. A sensible control, don't you think?
  • We have to buy a vignette for use on the Bulgarian road system. There aren't many motorways. This vignette business - I am sure you are getting the gist of the story by now. And a good idea why SG believes that we should be doing something similar in the UK.
  • With the aid of SatNav and a decisive navigator we successfully find our way to the Sense Hotel in Sofia. It is superbly located, just a few minutes walk from the iconic Alexander Nevsky Cathedral . It also claims to be a 'design hotel'. And it is. Having lived so long in a charming 1920's house with normal fixtures & fittings, we struggle to even function the lifts. Everything requires technical intuition to function. It's a challenge for both of us - one that we have no option but to embrace!
  • We must separate from the truck. The chassis is too tall to park in the hotel underground carpark. AG has to drive it a short distance away to park.
  • The hotel has a fitness centre & swimming pool. The pool is a design feature in itself. It is essentially a 15 m stainless steel tank. SG prioritises and goes for a swim. It is sheer bliss to stretch out and do some exercise.
  • We decide to eat in this evening. We have been on the road now for 7 consecutive days and are very tired.
  • Sofia represents the first rest stop of our trip. We are spending 2 nights here. This also means a washing day. We never do hotel laundry. The beautifully designed modern bathrooms of the Sense Hotel do not lend themselves well to drying wet clothes. Hooks, door frames, shower screens are all lacking. Fortunately SG has brought a laundry kit with washing line and pegs and can improvise. Goodness knows what the cleaning staff will think when they come to clean!
  • After an average fish supper but a glass of fine Bulgarian Chardonnay ( we always drink local ) we head up to the hotel Roofbar for city views at dusk. A highly recommendable venue.

Bulgarian / Serbian Border Control

Bulgarian / Serbian Border Control

The Magnificent Alexander Nevsky Cathedral

The Magnificent Alexander Nevsky Cathedral

Posted by sagbucks 13:27 Archived in Bulgaria Comments (0)

Beograd, Former Capital of Yugoslavia & Now Serbia

A City of Underground Gems

Day 6 Tuesday May 30 2017
Zagreb to Belgrade / 393 km ( written as Beograd in Roman script on maps & roadsigns )

  • A fine, if slightly hazy day. It's gradually getting hotter. At breakfast it's already 25 C. Fleeces for chilly evenings can be put away.
  • The Jägerhorn Hotel allocated to us the coolest, quietest, darkest of rooms. No bird, bell nor traffic noise. Which is amazing since the building is located right in the city centre and on the edge of the Upper Old Town. However SG has had a terrible night's sleep - fortunately and more importantly, the driver slept well. That's the very real downside of constantly being on the move and perhaps eating MSG food. Last night's risotto was served an extraordinary vivid green colour - one of the signs of MSG enhancement.
  • An instructive incident also occurred at Carpaccio last night - when the waiter brought the card machine to the table for us to pay, he had already converted the bill into £ sterling. Martin' s Money tips says NO! Don't let this happen. So we didn't. We made him void the transaction and start again in Croatian currency. Our previously jovial waiter suddenly lost his good humour. We suspect that the restaurant has a deal with their bank to encourage 'foreign' transactions. You are inevitably given a very poor exchange rate. It is a good reminder to us of how to play the card transaction game. Thank you Martin!
  • Until we have breakfast on the first floor terrace we do not realise just how convenient our hotel actually is. There appears to be a public right of way up through the lobby that leads directly to gardens at the rear and to a long flight of steps that zig zag up the rock face to the Gornji Grad of Zagreb. We recommend highly.
  • Its another motorway day that takes us SE to Serbia & its capital Beograd. The wooded countryside & pastureland is fairly flat and uninteresting. We are hoping to arrive in Belgrade early enough to do some sightseeing.
  • There is passport control leaving Croatia and entering Serbia. As always we check if we require a vignette. Once bitten twice shied. Serbia operates a toll system. There are long queues of trucks awaiting border control. The Schengen Area ( EU 's borderless zone ) must correlate with those countries within the Eurozone only. Outside the inner circle, travel is more carefully regulated.
  • Some unlucky (suspicious ) passenger vehicles are being searched inside out & upside down. It looks to be a thorough and lengthy affair.
  • Immediately past the Croatian / Serbian border the road surface becomes less pristine, more patchwork.
  • We arrive in Belgrade around 4. It is immediately noticeable from the architecture, transport infrastructure & ubiquitous graffiti that Belgrade is in a differnt league to Zagreb.
  • Our small 'design' led boutique hotel is within short walk of the Stari Grad, the older part of town. Parking of the truck is a challenge for both AG and hotel staff. It has to be parked off site.
  • Unfortunately we are too late to join the start of the free conducted walk around the old city. It happens twice daily @ 11 a.m. & 4 p.m. The meeting place is Rebublic Square behind the statue. Look out for a guide dressed in red. No prepayment or booking is required - but tips are appreciated. From our experience in other European cities - Berlin, Bucharest &. Budapest for example, the free walk offer is a great way to learn a lot about a city within a couple of hours. You then have the option of exploring in depth whatever interests you the most.
  • So from the rudimentary tourist guide map we set off on a self navigated walk up to the old fortress area. Here it is green, traffic free and you get wonderful views of the city skyline and the Rivers Sava and Danube. Belgrade sits at their confluence and is no doubt why it has also been considered a strategic possession by the various fighting powers of Central Europe down the centuries. Belgrade has had various identities: it has belonged to the Roman, Slav, Ottoman & Habsburg empires. In 1841 it became the capital of Serbia and between 1918-2006 it was the capital of Yugoslavia.
  • Up in the Fortress Park, there are chess tables available for public use. Some are occupied - we watch a couple of matches. one between a young contender & a senior citizen. They attract quite a crowd. What a lovely idea - to offer facilities for cerebral exercise in a public area. It is just a shame that the park has an air of general neglect - rubbish strewn over the lawns and flower beds that grow only weeds.
  • We stop for refreshments at the Kalemegdan Tavern adjacent to the fortress. It is a sophisticated bar & restaurant with great views of the Danube. Sunset here would be glorious - but as usual we have no time to linger.
  • We walk back to our hotel via Republic Square where predictably there is statue of a man on a horse. Why is it that Central European cities have so many statues with an equestrian theme?! The man sitting on this horse is Crown Prince Mihailo who was leader of Serbia 1839-42 and then again between 1860-8.
  • This evening we are eating vegetarian. Trip Advisor and the hotel Mgr both recommend Radost Fina Kuhinjica , Pariska 3 . We have to search very hard to find this little gem. Appearances deceive . It is only because AG smells cooking that we venture through a non descript house door. Take a look at the photos to discover what we find inside! The exterior of the building may be shabby, even grimy, but inside there has been a transformation. There is even a little garden for outdoor dining in the summer. We love discoveries like this. It adds to our sense of adventure.
  • We ask the ( very cute ) restaurant owner about his wish for 'obscurity' which is unusual when running a business. He explains they are part of the Belgrade underground scene, always have been and prefer it that way. What this means exactly we are not sure.
  • After a reasonable meal of vegetables and very drinkable Serbian wine we go on the hunt for some 'underground' live music - Belgrade old town reputedly has quite a few. We are searching for a place called 'Basta' which Trip Advisor warns is difficult to find, giving only approximate directions. We use the GPS system of the Maps Me app to home in. A small Amstel sign advertises a gateway that leads into the gorgeous garden of Basta. Fab jazz music is playing surround sound but sadly it is not live. Come back Thursdays Fridays and the weekend and you will hear a live jazz performances. It's only Tuesday - easy to forget.

*We are recommended an alternative jazz venue in the upper old town, so off we go again. Old Belgrade looks better in the dark. It is undergoing a major renovation project and many streets are construction sites. In 5 years time this part of town (around 2 km square ) should be amazing. But right now the transition has a way to go. You can envisage how it will all turn out by walking through the pedestrianised streets of the areas already completed. It's crowded with local people eating and drinking across a huge spectrum of venues. No international chain is in evidence. No Starbucks, no KFC, no Pizzahut. Just wonderfully idiosyncratic Serbian bistros and bars.

  • We actually find a venue with live music but it is loud ( difficult for AG to cope with ) and not jazz. Instead,mindful of another long motorway drive to Sofia tomorrow, we head back to our hotel.
  • Belgrade obviously has an underworld of emerging sophistication & idiosyncratic style - you have to delve under the surface but it's there and fun to find. Little gems known to insiders, just awaiting your discovery. How we love them!

Entrance to Our Hotel

Entrance to Our Hotel

Cerebral Exercise Facilities in Fortress Park

Cerebral Exercise Facilities in Fortress Park

Chess Match in Fortress Park

Chess Match in Fortress Park

Old Serbian Man Challenges a Student to Chess Game

Old Serbian Man Challenges a Student to Chess Game

View from Tavern Overlooking River Rhine

View from Tavern Overlooking River Rhine

Fortress Park - A Navigator's Sculpture

Fortress Park - A Navigator's Sculpture

La Belle Époque Influence, City Park Gates

La Belle Époque Influence, City Park Gates

Republic Square Belgrade, the Inevitable Man on a Horse

Republic Square Belgrade, the Inevitable Man on a Horse

Would you think this was a restaurant entrance ?

Would you think this was a restaurant entrance ?

The Interior Door to Radost Fina

The Interior Door to Radost Fina

Shabby Exterior, Wonderful Interior

Shabby Exterior, Wonderful Interior

Kitchen @ Radost Fina

Kitchen @ Radost Fina

Decor in Radost Fina Vegetarian Restaurant

Decor in Radost Fina Vegetarian Restaurant

Basta Jazz Garden  - We Try to Find it.

Basta Jazz Garden - We Try to Find it.

And Behind the Small Gate - a Little Jazz Gem

And Behind the Small Gate - a Little Jazz Gem

Belgrade Looks better at Night

Belgrade Looks better at Night

Many Streets in Old Town Belgrade are Building Sites

Many Streets in Old Town Belgrade are Building Sites

No Starbucks in Belgrade but this is Local Coffee Shop

No Starbucks in Belgrade but this is Local Coffee Shop

Local Restaurant in Old Town

Local Restaurant in Old Town

Posted by sagbucks 07:59 Archived in Serbia Comments (0)

Austria Slovenia & Croatia in One Day

Moving on down through Central Europe

sunny 26 °C

Day 5 Monday, May 29 2017
Graz to Zagreb / 185 km

  • it is our youngest daughter's birthday - 29 years old - Happy Birthday Hannah!
  • The Schlossberg Hotel is very comfortable and well located for exploring the Altstadt of Graz. It is also not particularly cheap (nor is Austria generally). The breakfast, if not included in your room rate, costs 18 euros. We are determined to do it justice. It is a very expansive buffet with real freshly squeezed orange juice, eggs cooked to your taste & timing and a full range of meats, cheese & patisseries.
  • The hotel has a large roof garden from where the city views are far flung. The art theme continues from the walls into the gardens. There is ample seating to enjoy a morning coffee or a sundowner if you have time.
  • Is Graz worth its UNESCO World Heritage status? We have seen towns & cities both more picturesque and more quaint. Graz is however a fine example of Central European urban grandeur influenced by the patronage of the various rulers of the mighty Hapsburg Empire between the Middle Ages through the Renaissance period up until the 18 th century. Remnants of fortification up on the Schlossberg at the back of our hotel actually date from the 11th century. The old inner city is full of narrow streets, Italian-style palazzi, impressive public buildings like the Rathaus as well as smaller shady courtyards where you are spoil for choice by bars, restaurants and lots of ice cream shops.
  • This morning we indulge in an hour or so of city sightseeing before heading to Zagreb in Croatia.

Mindful of the need for exercise we opt to climb the 260 steps that lead up to the famous Graz Clock Tower ( built in 1588 and spared from French destruction in 1809 ) from where there are great views of the Altstadt skyline. This clock chimes 101 strikes at 7, 12 and 19.00 hours - SG now realises what woke her at 7 this morning. The clock tower is more or less directly above the Schlossberg Hotel.

  • The steps were built by Russian prisoners of war between 1914-8 and are colloquially referred to as Russenstiege or Kriegstiege ( Russian / War Steps ) . If you don't fancy the exercise you can ascend the hill either by a funicular or glass lift. The choice is yours. We descend by funicular - since losing his hearing in one ear, AG has also lost some of his balance when on narrow sheer paths.
  • There is a concession fare on the funicular for over 60's so we think we qualify - but it transpires it applies only if you are Austrian and have the necessary proof of age. Our passports count for nothing. SG is annoyed - she reckons that in the UK our concession rates at museums , art galleries etc apply with proof of age, not citizenship. We are so generous to foreign tourists.
  • What a shame that the glorious steep tiled roofs and globe shaped church spires of previous centuries are 'marred' by modern architecture. Maybe this is why the city needs its UNESCO status. To stop more carbuncles being built in and around the Altstadt.
  • We also ensure that we see the old painted house ( Gemaltes Haus ) just up the road from our hotel on Herren Gasse, near to the impressive Landhaus also located on Herrengasse. - the facade is completely covered with frescoes created by Johann Mayer in 1742.
  • Austria is back to work. They enjoyed a 4 day Ascension holiday which spanned Thursday Friday and the weekend. That's probably the reason that traffic was so heavy yesterday on certain stretches of the motorway.
  • As we leave Graz heading through Slovenia and on to Croatia, signage makes us aware that we must also buy a vignette for our 1 hour use of the Slovenian motorway system. The cheapest option is valid for 7 days and costs 15 euros. A bargain for a week but less so for an hour!
  • Mind you the stretch of road we drive is beautiful, smooth, inky black tarmac of the kind we rarely see in the UK. Work is ongoing to widen the carriageway. At least our vignette money is being wisely spent.
  • It's not a question of Rip Off Europe that irritates us, it's the fact that UK authorities seem reluctant to establish or enforce any form of efficient money collecting system, even when it is legally due. No it is SG is Rip Off Britain that annoys - for ripping off the British tax payer. The Europeans have the right attitude - collect money from all legitimate sources and put in the necessary infrastructure to do so.
  • There is passport control at the Slovenia / Croatian border. We must show our passports twice. We check whether we need a vignette here too. Yippee, Croatia has free driving or rather it chooses to operate a toll system on certain roads. We later pay 9 euros for about 50 km of usage.
  • We arrive in Zagreb early afternoon. Our hotel the Jaegerhorn lies on the edge of the old town also known as Upper Gornji Grad. There is no parking in this part of town but we have been allocated a space in a vacant building lot some 5 minutes walk away. There are security gates so we are ok with the truck being temporarily out of sight.
  • Zagreb has that Capital city feel to it. It also has an extensive network of trams. Walking around you have to be careful of not only the trams but also the tramlines. You can easily trip.
  • We have been here once before towards the end of Rally Med 2012. But at that time it was a cold wet November's evening and we had no time for sightseeing. We remember very little. What a contrast to today.
  • We spend a short afternoon doing a whizz stop tour of some of major sights in the old town. The cathedral, a section of the old city wall, St Mark's Square and environs, the Stone Gate and finally Marshal Tito Square which has the reputation of being one of the prettiest Squares in Zagreb. Up by St Mark's Square you will find two museums which get a lot of feedback on Trip Advisor. We decide the Museum of Broken Relationships is not for us but we do pay to visit the Museum of Croatian Naive Art. This charming genre of art at last gained professional recognition in France in the 19 th century and then spread worldwide. SG has seen similar exhibitions in USA, China & Japan and is interested to see the Croatian version. AG is dragged along.
  • The Stone Gate was the Eastern gate of the medieval city of Zagreb. Legend informs that in 1731 a terrible fire destroyed everything around the gate except a 17th century painting of the Virgin & Child. People who believe in its magical powers of survival come here to pray in the wooden pews beside the archway and dedicate candles and flowers. This afternoon the gateway is also busy with tourists for whom the visit has a religious significance.
  • Oh and we also detour to see a bronze tribute to Nikola Tesla (1856 - 1943) who was a very famous electrical engineer and Croatian born. Fortunately he lived a long & productive life, the fruits of which benefit us to this day. There is a technical museum named in Tesla's honour in Zagreb - but SG fears it might be too high brow!
  • AG covets the ownership of a Tesla - the American all electric car which is both incredibly fast and beautiful ( in a car sort of way ). Elon Reeve Musk, the owner and creator of the Tesla brand has chosen to dedicate his iconic & revolutionary car brand to a Croatian born genius.
  • We book a table for supper at Carpaccio, an Italian restaurant near our hotel ( but not a pizzeria). It offers pavement dining in a pedestrianised zone. We are becoming quickly accustomed to outside dining and hope that it may long continue. SG cannot resist sampling a glass of Croatian white wine, AG goes dry. Carpaccio is to be recommended but you should reserve ahead if you do not wish to dine indoors.

The Skyline of Graz- Old & New Roofs

The Skyline of Graz- Old & New Roofs

Funicular Railway in Graz up the Schlossberg

Funicular Railway in Graz up the Schlossberg

Graz a Tram City

Graz a Tram City

The German Language Seems to be Getting Easier

The German Language Seems to be Getting Easier

Das Gemaltes Haus, 3,Herren Gasse

Das Gemaltes Haus, 3,Herren Gasse

The Russian Steps that Lead Up to Schlossberg & Uhrturm

The Russian Steps that Lead Up to Schlossberg & Uhrturm

Art Work in the Hotel Gardens

Art Work in the Hotel Gardens

Artwork on hotel Walls

Artwork on hotel Walls

Pristine Tarmac on Motorway in Slovenia

Pristine Tarmac on Motorway in Slovenia

Ban Jelacic Square

Ban Jelacic Square

Bronze in Tribute to Nikola Tesla, Croatian Born Electrical Engineer

Bronze in Tribute to Nikola Tesla, Croatian Born Electrical Engineer

Ubiquitous Trailing Geraniums

Ubiquitous Trailing Geraniums

Church of St Mark

Church of St Mark

AG in front of Zagreb Funicularv

AG in front of Zagreb Funicularv

Why Would You?!

Why Would You?!

Give a Girl This Bar of Chocolate & For Sure You'll Soon Be Single

Give a Girl This Bar of Chocolate & For Sure You'll Soon Be Single

The Museum of Broken Relationships Offers Ways of Ending Them

The Museum of Broken Relationships Offers Ways of Ending Them

Gornji Grad near Cathedral

Gornji Grad near Cathedral

Naive Art at Zagreb Museum

Naive Art at Zagreb Museum

More Naive Art

More Naive Art

You Guessed - Naive Art

You Guessed - Naive Art

Posted by sagbucks 06:02 Archived in Croatia Comments (0)

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