Photographs and updated panoramas from our 2010 Hungary tour

We toured Hungary by car in 2010. In the planning of our trip we wanted to see some of the Romanesque churches and Art Nouveau architecture in Hungary. See Time out from Entre-deux-Eaux: Hungarian Interlude  together with the map of our route around Hungary.

As well as ordinary photographs I took several to make 360° panoramas. However, those original panoramas (and many other old panoramas on the web site) used Flash, which was once the norm but is no longer recommended, for display. I have now rebuilt the Hungary panoramas using HTML5 for display so they should work in all browsers on all devices.

Below is the link to the complete 2010 Hungary tour  photograph album with the folders containing  selected photographs of the places we visited and the 360° panoramas. The panoramas are in both the specific place pages and at the bottom of the main page. Click on this image:

Hungary 2010

Hungary 2010 photographs and panoramas

End of term in Entre-deux-Eaux: April – June 2017

To download a printable PDF version (no pictures)
click on this link 
E2E2017no2.pdf (seven A4 pages)
The links in the text will take you to photographs of the locations

Photographs of Budapest 30 May-2 June
Photographs of Speyer and Cathedral 21/22 June 2017
Photographs of the Lalique Museum 21 June 2017
Photographs of some of our restaurant meals

As the children of E2E throw their school things into the cupboard and celebrate being free for the whole of July and August, their grandparents are winding up their social activities and gearing up to nurture and entertain their youngsters. Elsewhere the mad rush for the motorways south to the sun is starting. In fact, the whole of France had been enjoying (or suffering) a long period of swelteringly hot weather until a few days ago, when driving rain, wind and colder weather heralded the start of the summer holidays.

The oldies of Entre-deux-Eaux had their end-of-term coach outing on Thursday. John dropped Helen off at the village shop, where the coach was waiting, and then he went off to buy 3 kg of cheap apricots to make apricot and amaretto jam in peace while the oldies were swept off to a wood on the far side of Gérardmer.

It was the kind of dark pine forest in which you could imagine Little Red Riding Hood encountering the wolf. And in true fairy tale manner, our coach came to a halt at the end of the track by a wooden workshop and a house where a toymaker and his family and his goats live and work. When we first came to live in E2E, people were amazed that we had never heard of the film Les Grandes Gueules. But you have at least heard of the famous actor Lino Ventura? Such ignorance was shocking. Why, the film was made back in 1965 in the forests round Gérardmer at an old saw-mill not far from the toymaker’s workshop. In the workshop we watched clips from the film along with short films of the toymaker’s life through the decades, and then he showed us his tools, machinery, wood and stencils; the stencils hung silhouetted against the big window like Christmas decorations. After we visitors had stocked up with wooden trinkets and wooden toys for the grandchildren from the tiny toyshop, the coach raced through the forest and performed a tight five-point turn to the village of Liézey and the highlight of the expedition, the Ferme-Auberge de Liézey.

Everything was as it should be at the traditional inn, down to the long tables with their red-and-cream checked place mats, the red-and-cream patterned curtains and the lace-draped low lights. Aperitifs of sangria (possibly not typically Vosgian but “fashionable” back in the fifties and sixties) or kir were served, and then little glasses of delicious beetroot cream and garlic mousseline and a sweet bread with smoked ham chunks in it. These were followed by a starter – a large plate of salade vosgienne, a green salad garnished with warm fried potatoes and smoked bacon chunks. Next came even bigger plates of tofailles, not a word found in most French dictionaries, but a traditional Vosgian dish for which everyone has their own recipe, but which contains more potatoes, more smoked pork and more onions! Then cheese was brought three huge chunks of two different Munster and a Tomme des Vosges. Followed by enormous slices of tarte aux myrtilles, a tasty bilberry tart, which left the ladies anxiously examining their teeth in the privacy of the ladies’ loo to see how purple they looked. By the time we had drunk coffee it was nearly four o’clock, four hours after we had sat down at table, and no one was inclined to make a dash through the heavy rain back to the coach. But we had one more rendez-vous, down at the saboterie in Gérardmer, where we watched the traditional wooden clogs being made (one of the machines dated from 1913) and the oldies reminisced about going to school in wooden clogs which got further weighed down in winter by the snow that wedged under them. Helen’s neighbour on the coach bought a new pair for the garden, and others bought diminutive single clogs decorated with dried flowers as a souvenir of the old days.

For the previous month’s gathering of the E2E oldies John had confected a chocolate, hazelnut and meringue dacquoise for the spread of birthday cakes on which the candles were duly lit to the strains of joyeux anniversaire. Helen nearly missed the cake and champagne as the former mayor, M. Chaxel, was leading one of his “walks”, this time a car tour of the E2E monuments. First he drove his old car up a bumpy forest track from the church up to a farm and onto another track to the Behouille hilltop which led past a remote farmstead house; M. Chaxel spoke of the sisters who had lived there all of their lives and remembered wounded soldiers being brought into their house from the battle at the start of the first world war until they could be taken down to hospitals. In a clearing a few hundred yards up the track stand six memorials to the 520 Chasseurs and Chasseurs Alpins who died there on 3rd September 1914. When we looked at two further memorials outside the hamlet of Fouchifol, the ex-mayor told us the little known fact that one of them had originally been erected by Sergeant Pillet’s parents where he fell, a short walk above our house, but as it had got overgrown by forest it had been moved to this more prominent position by the roadside. As we stood by the stone at La Planchette commemorating two members of the second world war Maquis who were hanged by the Germans after gathering for an anticipated parachute drop, we were brought back to the present by a car that stopped. Out of it stepped an elegant lady flanked by two women in yellow T-shirts printed with President Macron’s name. President Macron had just been elected, despite the E2E election preference for Marine Le Pen (57.84% in the second round). There were mutterings of “Not more politics!” But the elegant lady was out campaigning as a candidate for the parliamentary elections which would follow. The only political comments to be heard from the oldies are moans about pension levels compared to state handouts for the undeserving who’ve never done a day’s work.

Sadly, our neighbour Danielle Laine, who many of you will remember from visits in the early days as a bustling active woman, had to miss the oldies’ end of term trip as she had had yet another fall and had broken her pelvis. “I keep falling now” she whimpered, but has insisted on leaving hospital to look after her husband Pierre; fortunately her health insurance covers some home-help, and her daughter is about 12 km away. Helen was entrusted with the task of inspecting the now inaccessible vegetable plot below her window and reporting on size and colour of tomatoes, beans, courgettes and cornichons (large gherkins for pickling).

In fact over the last three months our own vegetable plot and the grass in the field, orchard and pretentious-sounding arboretum have kept us busy between travels and sorties since April. At the moment we are enjoying broad beans, peas and dill with the first courgettes and blueberries to be picked today.

But before starting gardening at the end of winter (end of April here), we enjoyed seeing the family in Letchworth in early April. We stopped to see John’s sister Ann and Derek now happily settled in Kent and Leila was able to join us in Letchworth for a long weekend. Toby did a good BBQ in the April sunshine, Jacob and Farrah did treasure or egg hunts in our garden, the adults hunted for good bluebell woods in nearby counties (finally finding a lovely bluebell hill outside Hitchin), and we had a good day in London seeing “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead”, recent developments round Kings Cross, the Foundling Hospital in Coram fields and trying out the well-reviewed Luca restaurant in Clerkenwell (disappointing).

Imprimerie, Fontenoy la Joute

Imprimerie, Fontenoy la Joute

Soon after our return we consoled ourselves for the disappointing London restaurant with a trip into the countryside of the book village, Fontenay-la-Joute, for lunch at l’Imprimerie, the innovative restaurant with no printed menu (this whim of the chef is becoming more common). Snow had fallen in E2E the previous day, which was a surprise after sitting outside so recently for a BBQ, but as we left the hills behind we left the snow too. The chef’s partner had returned from her maternity leave and we were served by her and by their three-month old baby who was in a sling across her chest and watching everything with alert interest. We wonder what the Michelin inspectors would make of this unusual restaurant. Helen’s favourite dish was the starter of langoustine, foie gras, fennel, radish and grapefruit presented in two different ways, though an amuse bouche of asparagus in green tea and potato cream ran it a close second. There were some interesting wines too, apparently chosen from smaller producers through internet advice as there is no time to travel and sample. The label of the Flying Solo grenache syrah from Languedoc Roussillon recalled the flying postal service that Saint-Exupéry wrote about. Their use of ransoms in the soup and as a pretty garnish to a couple of other dishes, made us later go to the end of our vegetable patch and start picking and using the plant that a German friend, Margrit, had given us many years ago saying it was useful for salads; we’d never used it as it didn’t look promising for salad and it gets rather submerged later in the year by the horseradish and by nettles. So it was good to finally appreciate it; it really jazzes up a pasta!

Restaurant trips in May were varied. Helen’s birthday was celebrated in the shadow of the bottled-water factory outside the quaint Alsace village of Ribeauvillé and on the edge of the vineyards (some readers may recognise the Carola Parc from this description, where we went of the Friday of her 70th birthday celebrations). The little town with its storks’ nests was at its sunniest best as we strolled before lunch through the back streets and old gateway and past the people sipping coffee and eating chocolate cake outside the patisserie. After lunch there was the inevitable DIY emporium and a garden centre (John bought Helen some birthday geraniums, strawberries and lavender to plant out). Next day it poured with rain when we joined Helen’s Keep your Brain Active group for lunch at the Grand Spa Hotel in Gérardmer; they are a very sociable and welcoming group and the lunch was OK, in a Vosgian way too, but no post-prandial walk round the lake, which could hardly be seen through the rain. The following week, with temperatures up to thirty degrees, we drove over the hills to Steige and the Restaurant Guth’s wooden chalet on the hill above the village This time there was no goat to greet us, had it been eaten or just found a shadier spot?

Chez Guth beef

Chez Guth beef

The young chef Yannick cooks from ingredients foraged in the forest behind which included nettles, ransoms, fir buds and sorrel and the beef was cooked over aromatic bark and wood. The casserole of beef with its tantalising aromas was brought to the table for inspection before reappearing barkless on a rectangular plate between bright green leaf shapes of broad bean purée, raspberries and a wild herb sauce. In a neighbouring village, there is a man who supplies interesting cheeses. We asked about a strongly-flavoured one we liked and took a while to realise that the tasty marbled “sshheedh” turned out to be, when the word Scottish was added, a cheddar. The wild saffron “spring walk” dessert was wonderful and like nothing else we’d ever tasted. On the basis of our descriptions, Leila chose to go there with us while she was over in June, and we opted to relive the same menu deliciousness, with its seasonal variations; the wild snails in a parsley, spinach and garlic sauce having been replaced by a beautifully presented foie gras from a local farm served with thyme-flavoured toast. This time we had our coffee out on the balcony in the sun and enjoyed the wonderful panoramic view. Leila loves the little shops and the cobbled streets of Kaysersberg so we went there one day with her and enjoyed a very good menu-of-the-day at the Alchemille which is another recent discovery; fortified by a good lunch, John nobly endured the tourist streets of Kaysersberg afterwards without even looking pointedly at his watch.

Have we gone on for too long about food again? The week before Leila’s visit, we’d taken a last-minute mid-week flight to Budapest (from Basel).

Museum of Applied Arts

Museum of Applied Arts

Despite the heat-wave there was still snow on the mountains we flew over. And despite the heat we enjoyed walking round the town looking mainly at art nouveau and art deco buildings – outside, and inside where possible. On the first afternoon we walked from our pleasant guest room to the big market by the river and the ornate Museum of Applied Arts (whose exterior for some reason reminded me of the railway station at Bombay).

The main exhibition was of collectors and their treasures, and hinted at the underfunding for state arts and museums (presumably under the communists) and the wave of collections acquired with the dispersal of the aristocratic owner/collectors, a reminder of the opulent stately homes where Patrick Leigh-Fermor stayed on his pre-war walk across Europe and their aristocratic libraries and treasures. The temporary exhibition on Marcel Breuer’s tubular steel furniture and Farkas Molnar’s modernist and art deco buildings was very interesting, along with furniture from other Hungarian designers.

The following day we made the most of the varied forms of Budapest transport (all free for the over 70s) to escape from the city heat to the hills: a tram round the ring road from our accommodation in Pest to the Buda side of the Danube, a fascinating but almost solitary journey uphill on the cog railway (why had the driver got a folded step-ladder in his cab?) past wooded villas (including several which echoed the previous day’s exhibition), then a short walk to the children’s railway, built after the war and run by Pioneers, the Youth Section of the Communist Party.

Children's railway

Children’s railway

The ticket office had a young school girl earnestly explaining the tariffs but struggling with a Scottish accent in front of us, the train conductors seemed very small and inaudible, but the station master was an older po-faced boy who saluted gravely as our train drew into the station, packed with excited nursery-aged children. The children who staff it take a two-week assignment from school. Reassuringly the driver and signal people were grizzled adults. The light breeze in the open carriage was cooling as we passed signals and stopped at stations, one with a wonderful forest play area (the old Pioneer Youth Camp) and others with flourishing cafeterias; three trains passed in the opposite direction on the 12 km curving route, so it’s a popular line, and the small children all squealed as we plunged into a tunnel. What larks! We could have got off half-way, walked through the forest and taken a chair lift down, but we stayed on till the terminus and tamely caught a busy bus replacement (the tram track was being repaired). Back in Pest we sat in a cafe opposite the

Budapest Synagogue

Budapest Synagogue

Great Synagogue, an extraordinary domed and striped brick building (more reminiscent of a mosque); unfortunately the synagogue and most other Jewish buildings were closed during our stay (presumably for Shavuot). So we hopped on a passing old tram through the Jewish area to the ring road, where we ventured into some of the lavishly restored buildings like the opulent New York Café and Hotel (built in the 1890s by a New York Insurance firm) and the Art Nouveau Palace Hotel of 1910 (now a Novotel).

Palace Hotel Budapest

Palace Hotel Budapest

But sadly the splendid Paris Department Store on Andrassy had a removal van outside; the entrance was barred by two men who explained that the bookstore which had been inside for a few years was bankrupt and so empty and the famous Lotz cafe could not be visited. Instead we sneaked into the foyers of the florid Operetta, Thalia Theatre, Photographic Museum and Opera, before retreating hot and sticky to our guest room to cool down. The owner recommended a typical Hungarian restaurant by the big market where we ate that evening; the plates of crispy duck, cabbage and fatty potatoes and of steak and onion rings were piled high; the dulcimer player was bored and kept stopping mid ripple to retune, and for some obscure reason it was “not possible” to serve the shared dessert sponge and chocolate sauce without the lashings of cream, which we removed without problem. Afterwards we strolled across the Liberty (Szabadsag) Bridge with splendid views of the illuminated monuments on the hill tops and of illuminated passing river boats below. We peered into the decadent fin-de-siecle Gellert Hotel and Spa before returning on our splendidly modern line 4 of the Metro.

Gresham Palace interior

Gresham Palace interior

Next morning, having explored a smaller local indoor market, we took the same Metro 4 line back to the central market, which was less packed than before, where we bought paprika downstairs and examined the embroidered cloths and table runners upstairs. We took a tram along the Danube to the Szecheny Chain Bridge and detoured to the beautifully restored Gresham Palace (built by the British Gresham Insurance Company in 1907 as luxury flats, expropriated and divided into smaller flats by the Communists in 1948 and now the Four Seasons Hotel). We admired and John photographed the peacock wrought-iron gate, the Zsolnay tiles, the stained glass and the mosaics then sipped lattes and bottled water in the café as the waiters cleared away the late breakfast things.

Outside the traffic was at a standstill on the bridge and there were huge tourist queues for the funicular on the Buda side, so we slowly walked up the hill to the Fishermen’s Bastion where the mid-day sun beat down mercilessly on the large square.

Mattius Church

Mattius Church

The dark cool of the Matthias Church glittered with gold frescoes and deliciously over-the-top Neo-Gothic decoration, and in the dark cool gloom of the vast Neo-Romanesque Archives there was an exhibition, “Their Traces”, of signatures from the thousands of documents (Royal, German and Communist) which survived the 1945 Siege of Budapest and the 1956 Revolution despite bomb explosions and the destruction of stack rooms. That evening as we walked back from a restaurant we came across the ornate entrance to the 1912 Trade School on the next street from our room; John dashed out to photograph it after breakfast next morning before we had to leave for the airport. The Easyjet “departure gates” at the airport were in a stuffy corrugated iron structure on the tarmac with the sun beating down on it, and staffed by officious officials who did their best to puncture our happy impressions of Budapest.

Back in Entre-deux-Eaux the heat continued. At the village flea market up on the football pitch we bought some mint plants to replenish our submerged pots, and we drove to the Strasbourg IKEA to buy some lightweight summer duvets. We took a new route home from Strasbourg via the village of Wolxheim, to buy some pinot gris we’d enjoyed at the Epinal restaurant “In Extremis”. Visiting a wine producer is a serious affair, as you have to taste other wines too, and a young woman was summoned from one of the vineyards to discuss their various merits. It turned out that she and her sister had visited the young Epinal chef’s restaurant when he was near Lyons; she loved his food and was anxious to know what he had cooked for us to accompany their wine. So out came John’s phone and photos of our recent meal. An hour later we left with our two boxes and she threw in a complimentary bottle of their muscat which we had not tasted.

Two days later more complimentary drinks arrived, this time two bottles of still water delivered by our neighbour Claudine, who is a local councillor. She explained that for the first time ever the independent three-monthly inspections had identified that the water from one of the local sources was contaminated by E. coli and should not be used for drinking or food preparation, and produced a letter from Mayor Duhaut to that effect. Leila was impressed that we were regularly supplied with free bottles of water assuming English councils would not do so, but she has never experienced standpipes on street corners.

A few days after the water purity was re-tested and pronounced acceptable and Leila had flown home, John suggested driving up to see the Romanesque cathedral of Speyer which Helmut Kohl was so fond of (he took Margaret Thatcher and many other leaders there). We booked an overnight hotel, and decided to stop on the way at the Lalique museum in Wengen-sur-Moder deep in the Alsace forest bordering Germany (and quite close to some of the Maginot Line fortresses). It was a pleasant drive north from here via Baccarat into the northern Vosges.

Lalique Museum

Lalique Museum

The museum was modern, spacious and cool, and we enjoyed the rich displays of Lalique’s jewellery, perfume bottles, car radiator mascots, drawings, chandeliers, church glass and beautiful crystal and glass tableware and vases. We also liked the town of Speyer and our comfortable hotel, but found the cathedral rather soulless, perhaps because of its famously huge size and because the old Romanesque building had been rebuilt in Baroque style after a fire in the seventeenth century and had then been stripped of all that gilding and the frescoes and returned to a plain building at the end of the last century.

Speyer Cathedral crypt

Speyer Cathedral crypt (opens panorama)

The crypt had retained the feel of the Romanesque original. We saw an interesting film of the restoration work in the nearby historical museum. But all the time I could imagine Margaret Thatcher saying, “Next time you are in England, Helmut, I must take you to see Ely cathedral. Biggest isn’t always best.”

To round off the end-of-term activities, Helen returned on Friday from her last Scrabble game, a special one with a joker in every round and a seven letter word to be found on most moves. Suddenly we were free of commitments. So why not get Snowy’s MOT-equivalent done and set off to Letchworth again before the English summer holidays and Toby and family’s visit here?

Budapest Hungary 2017 photographs

An unedited set of the 450+ photographs I took 30 May-2 June
Click on this image to go to the photographs:

The Great Train Journey – the last week (Erzurum – Istanbul – Vienna – Entre-deux-Eaux) and an answer to all your questions

To download a printable Adobe Acrobat version click on this link The_Great_Train_Journey-week4.pdf (four A4 pages)

Clicking on any of the small photographs will open a larger version in another window

Did we get back safely from our 10,000km Great Train Journey, you ask? Yes, thank-you. Our Inter-rail pass lasted 30 days, and on the evening of the 30th day our taxi from Saint Dié station was duly approaching our shuttered-up house. The grass had grown lush and tall since our departure, and the house and garden looked like they used to in their early days as a holiday-only retreat. And oddly there were no cows.

Were our dreams fulfilled? In terms of a rail journey across Europe and east to Lake Van, as follow-up to our long-ago rail journeys round India, it was every bit as much fun, though perhaps less elegant than I’d hoped. 1903_building railway lineWe were in Erzurum when we last wrote. And as we waited at Erzurum railway station for the delayed train back to Istanbul, there was an exhibition of large sepia photos of the building of the railway line from Istanbul to Medina (never quite reaching the goal of Mecca), which gave an impression of earlier Ottoman and German dreams of grandeur and empire. T E Lawrence (of Arabia) was also there looking heroic and menacing, as was a film-still of a wrecked train. Sadly, the glamour of rail travel is in danger of vanishing along with the steam engines. Most of the Romanian and Turkish rolling stock was shabby and grubby and dining cars were only occasionally present. However, the new high-speed trains should restore some of the glamour and excitement. We travelled alongside the completed section of the Ankara to Istanbul high-speed track. And later during the return journey, some of the new Austrian and German trains restored the excitement and comfort of rail travel.

Vienna Wiesel double-decker train

Vienna Wiesel double-decker train

The buffet car of the Railjet between Vienna and Munich, with its curving blue seats and pink walls was almost as seductive as those long-ago glimpses of the Golden Arrow dining cars. And in Vienna itself, where we spent a whole morning riding the trams (with the excuse of a 24 hour ticket and John’s injured ankles), we spotted a double decker “weasel” train, so changed onto that and I fulfilled another dream of travelling upstairs on a train. (It was from there that we had a view every bit as dramatic as that in The Third Man, of the famous Ferris wheel).

Another dream had been to sense the fabulous Byzantium/ Constantinople lurking beneath modern Istanbul. We’d been fired up by the Royal Academy’s Byzantium exhibition back in January. But it was hard to piece together a picture of the old city. The archaeological museum is magnificent, but even that did not provide an overall picture. It feels as if over a thousand years of Byzantine history have little relevance to Turkey. The city walls, first spotted from the train, were striking reminders of the size of Constantinople. But unfortunately the building of the same railway line had destroyed some of the ruins of the old Bucoleon Palace by the sea (and former harbour). Bucoleon palaceWhen we were first in Istanbul, we enjoyed the restored Byzantine churches we’d seen. On our return from eastern Turkey it was good to have more time in Istanbul, to look for further remains of the old Byzantium. Our guide book warned that ruins of the Bucoleon Palace are now the haunt of tramps, and indeed, as we approached, one gentleman was spreading out his washing to dry on the old stone palace walls.

As we were finding our way round the modern city, three obelisks and columns kept looming up in unexpected places, making us realise that we weren’t quite where we thought we were, but were back on the site of the old hippodrome. It got quite comical in the end. But somehow, with all the big white tourist coaches waiting outside the nearby Blue Mosque, and the throngs being guided round the obelisks, it was hard to get a sense of the old hippodrome (though it would have been equally packed). But as we walked back from the remains of the old palace walls, our eyes sharpened, we Hagia Sophiacame across a huge curved wall above a street market, which must have been the semi-circular turn of the old race course. Another fragment of former grandeur. And of course the uncovered mosaics in the remaining Byzantine churches were glorious, especially with the glowing golds. Maybe one day the depressingly unloved Hagia Sophia will also be restored to glory.

And there were unexpected pleasures in Istanbul. It took a while to work out the ferry boats with all their different quays, but they were a picturesque and cool way of getting around. Returning from the east in the very late evening, it was great to come out of the railway station, step onto a ferry, and realise that the skyline was this time a familiar one in which we could almost pick out our hotel in the streets below Hagia Sophia. We later spent a day going up the Bosphorus and back. Wandering the narrow streets between our hotel and the sea front Bucoleon Palace was another pleasure, with the old wooden (former merchants’) houses jutting out over the streets. CaravanseraiAnd the scale of the old caravanserais between the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Bazaar was stunning. Most of them are very ramshackle now. Dark crumbling staircases lead up to rooms off the cool, arcaded corridors. Through open doorways men can faintly be seen in the gloom, machining trousers and raincoats or hammering away at silver dinner services or trophies. It was easy to imagine all kinds of dramatic film chases through these arcades, or sinister murder stories.

And did I get my special birthday meal on the train from Erzurum to Istanbul? The sleeping car promised well as we got on the train, for it was the most modern so far, a soothing pale grey colour, and even equipped with a small fridge. And for the first time the attendant presented us with some sustenance, – sour cherry juice, biscuits and chocolate. The scenery that evening was spectacular as we left behind the snow capped mountains, following the Euphrates through gorges, plunging into tunnels (there must have been over 150), and even having the sky briefly radiant with a double rainbow arching behind us above the gorge tunnels. The journey of a couple of our travelling companions made ours seem quite tame, as they were en route from Japan to Austria. But sadly the omelette and chips or kebap and rice, washed down with Nescafe in the dining car did not feel over-festive. So after spending our first day back in Istanbul at the Topkapi Palace and its harem, we dined in style on a roof-top restaurant overlooking Traditional starters and Sultans Tastethe Sea of Marmara on one side and the Blue Mosque on the other. The tray of traditional starters were all delicious, the Sultan’s taste (lamb cooked in five different ways) arrive in an elaborate lidded copper dish, along with a salad. The desert was a succulent selection but the crowning glory was the home-made cherry liqueur which was so delicious that we commented on it, so more was immediately brought. That definitely beat omelette, chips and Nescafe!

In general, Apple teawe found it surprisingly hard to find good restaurant food, especially at reasonable prices, and in the Sultanahmet area where we stayed. However occasional dishes like vine leaves stuffed with cherries or lamb and sour plum casserole were a wonderful exception to the ubiquitous kebaps and pideci (pizzas). And we did relish stopping for an apple tea and baklava in the afternoon heat. Not to mention the large rooftop breakfasts which provided a great start to the day.

How about a birthday present with a difference? Well, a large rug would have been tempting. But we must be loosing our stamina for the hassle of bargaining and the patter of men trying to lure you into their unique emporium. You could fritter away a lifetime with carpet salesmen and cups of tea. And we never spotted the perfect rug (and never saw any being sold). The other temptation was a tile. Topkapi tileYes, just a single tile. We’d seen such wonderful tiles in the mosques and fountains and the Topkapi Palace, that it would have been fun to incorporate one of the Iznik tiles into our bathroom back in Entre-deux-Eaux. But with such ridiculous starting prices as 100 euro, it was hardly worthwhile to open the bargaining. So I shall content myself with ordering some more Orhan Pamuk novels, and try out Barbara Nadel’s Istanbul crime stories.

So had we enjoyed Istanbul despite the bazaar hustlers and the partial neglect of the Byzantine heritage? We really had. It was a great time (especially on our return when it was quieter than our stay a few weeks earlier when much of Europe seemed to be visiting during the public holidays) and we were sad to leave on the night train. Appropriately our parting views from the train were of the old city walls, and the illuminated Byzantine harbour excavations (discovered when tunnelling for the new metro).

We’d chosen the return route via Bucharest, Budapest and Vienna, rather that the more usual Belgrade and Sofia (Orient Express) route, as we’d heard there were often long delays in Bulgaria that way (and indeed we later heard that the Austrian couple we’d met earlier ran into delays and missed their connections on that line). Vienna would have been sacrificed had we too gone that way.

Meanwhile, had John bought new shoes in Istanbul? And what about the Sultan’s Revenge? Well, our medicine chests of diarrhoea remedies remained untouched, which was good. But the lack of footwear was (literally) John’s downfall. He’d already slipped on a wet ramp in Romania and rain-soaked cobbles in Istanbul despite the grip of his walking boots (so his wrist had been bandaged ever since). The temperature had shot up since we left Erzurum, so John was now wearing the battered sandals he’d packed at the last minute (after reading travellers tales of filthy showers and toilets). Having arrived safely at Vienna Westbahnhof, John realised he’d left his glasses on the train, so ran back to retrieve them. Maybe it was the sandals, maybe it was the forty hours of inactivity on the trains from Istanbul, maybe the lack of salt after the heat of Istanbul, but both his Achilles tendons gave way. And his glasses had gone.

We stayed in a curiously old fashioned pension in Vienna, with a huge brass bed, huge wardrobes, huge dining room table (and correspondingly huge breakfast) and a landlady with a walking stick and a resigned dog. She seemed most perturbed that John did not leave our room that first day, apart from hobbling to the restaurant over the road in the evening, which was a Hong Kong Cookhouse. (I’d in the meantime got over-baroqued by all the city’s white and gold buildings). There were no other customers at the Cookhouse, but the young woman was harassed, and frenzied shouts came from the kitchen as delivery men appeared and disappeared with freezer boxes. The next day we embarked on our tram trip from the end of our road, culminating at St Stephen’s cathedral in the centre, with an open air café, a large coffee and cake (traditional Sachertorte for John). More trams and we got out at the Upper Belvedere, to see the Klimts. But even better was the temporary exhibition in the Lower Belvedere of Alphonse Mucha. And that evening John limped down to the nearest pub/stub where we had a more typically Austrian meal – and beer. Despite John’s injury, I’m glad we didn’t miss out on Vienna.

Day 30 and our last day on the trains. Eleven hours of trains, starting with the elegant Austrian Railjet (with its buffet-car) from Vienna to Salzburg and Munich, then an inter-city from Munich to Karlsruhe. The regional express from Karlsruhe was more packed than we could have imagined at 4 p.m. on a Wednesday, even allowing for schoolchildren. But the next day was Ascension Day and, given the hot weather, everyone seemed to be taking their bicycles into the Black Forest for the weekend. Our carriage somehow fitted at least 8 bicycles and panniers in between other people’s knees and luggage – and several had to be taken off and put back on at each halt so other passengers could alight. On our penultimate train (a regional all-stations) from Appenweier to Strasbourg, the German commuters got off at Kehl at the border and the French got on, and it was surprisingly exhilarating to hear French again. Safely over the Rhine, we caught the last of our trains, from Strasbourg to St Dié. Alas, taxis no longer bother to meet the trains at Saint Dié on the off-chance of trade, so we stood forlornly, before ringing for a taxi.

And the cows, which mysteriously weren’t grazing in the Entre-deux-Eaux fields? The shock news when we collected our post from Mme Laine, is that Dominique Duhaut has sold them all! He and Olivier have not managed to work harmoniously together (perhaps no surprise) and are dissolving the partnership at the end of the year. For now the cows have been sold and the fields lie uncut. It sounds as if two brothers from Taintrux and other farmers from Corcieux may between them take over the land.

And since then, our doctor has said that Achilles tendon injuries take a long time to mend, so John, like Farmer Duhaut, is taking life easily. Perhaps a different form of the sultan’s revenge so near the end of a wonderful journey?

The Great Train Journey – First week’s travels

copy of an e-mail sent 27 April 2009

To download a printable Adobe Acrobat version click on this link The_Great_Train_Journey-week1.pdf (two A4 pages)

There are now photographs of the Romanian Painted Monasteries we visited

Our travels have been good so far. Dorinda and Roger started us off in style with a lift to St Die, where we took trains to Stasbourg then Offenburg. The German trains were all very punctual, so all our first day’s 10 minute connections worked smoothly, via Munich and Vienna. The Hungarian express was very new and swish, and felt the right way to travel internationally. From Budapest to Romania was not so stylish, and our sleep in the station waiting room just over the Romanian border was fitful. The second morning our 1st class upgrade on the Romanian train northwards was the shabbiest we’d been on, with smelly loos with only occasional water. It was a dreary start through the drab, uncultivated plains north of Arad with seedy concrete blocks of flats even in the middle of the countryside, rusting old gas pipes and derelict industries. Later the landscape in Transylvania was pretty, with its mountains and small plots of land still being ploughed with the aid of horses. It seemed to be the day for sowing potatoes, just before St George’s Day (maybe he protects potatoes as well as beautiful princesses).

We spent 3 mainly sunny spring-like days in the north of Romania, based in Suceava, within travelling distance of the painted monasteries of Bucovina. The  paintings are all over the outside as well as the inside walls – all the Bible stories and lives of gruesomely martyred saints, many we’ve never heard of, were there in wonderful colour and we had a very enthusiastic guide, who loved the monasteries and their paintings (though I think she was a bit disappointed that we weren’t in the league of Michael Palin who she also showed round for his New European programme). And St.George’s day was being celebrated at the first, Voronet (no dragon, though, just a special service with the Archbishop of Suceava). We had Romanian food one night and another day we had lunch at one of the monasteries (excellent blueberry aperitif!).

Then, it was up for the 5 a.m. train to Bucharest, and the last leg of the journey on to Istanbul. Alas the fake Orient Express was way beyond our means, but the serviceable old Romanian sleeper we were on, which kept getting hooked onto other trains in Bulgaria, was a great night’s sleep, apart from the obligatory stop and descent at the Turkish border around 3 a.m. to obtain visas and police stamps.

We arrived in Istanbul reasonably on time, the train running between the sea and the old city walls for much of the time – very picturesque. The stylish old Orient Express restaurant on the platform alas didn’t stoop to morning coffee, with its tables all set with damask cloths and wine glasses beneath the portrait of Agatha Christie and film stars. But we found a great patisserie cum Turkish Delight shop a short distance from the station and treated ourselves to coffee and pastries in its blue tiled splendour to build up our strength before cramming into a tram (almost as bad as Indian transport – but no one on the roof) and then lugging our cases along cobbled streets to the Hotel Alp, (in the Sultanahmet area below the Hagia Sofia mosque and the Topkapi palace), perched on the edge of a rock face overlooking the port in the distance. Then the rain started.

We had various practical things to check in the afternoon, but after doing those, our footsteps almost inevitably led to the huge covered grand bazaar, with its carpets, lamps, antiques, fabrics, leather goods, ceramics etc. Great fun. And there’s still the spice bazaar to try another day. We hadn’t meant to buy anything, but we were forced to linger over the men’s shoes as John’s feet were feeling very wet and he realised the sole of one of his only pair of shoes had split right across, and the rain was getting harder. What timing! However the slim pointy turquoise or silver patent contemporary styles didn’t appeal to him! We saw one or two more sensible shoes on the way back here, but had had enough by then. Off shortly to look for food.

More later.