After finding out on Tuesday that my flight from Kiev to Aktau was cancelled, I had to come up with a new plan. My idea had been to head from Bucharest to Kiev via Moldova and Odessa, before ending up in western Kazakhstan and continuing overland broadly east for a while (before another hop even further east towards Japan). But without that flight there was no longer much logic to following that element of the route [admittedly, there’s no real logic to any element of this route through a selection of the weird places that I’m interested in] , though I was still very keen to visit the Mangistau region around Aktau. I have a visa for Uzbekistan from 4 Oct -2 Nov, and for Tajikistan from 1 Oct-16 Nov (overlap due to my own uncertainty about dates when I was planning, and also not fully understanding what the validity period of the Tajik visa would be…). Beyond that, my only restriction is that I want to be in Nukus (Uz) by 12 Oct as I’m going on a trip to the Aral Sea the next day (having seen the Kazakh side a couple of times, I’m going for completeness!).
So a few hours of trying various random city combinations in skyscanner later, I booked a flight from Bucharest to Bishkek (via Istanbul – where I am now) for Friday –today – and am now waiting for that connection. I’m intending to then cross the border to Almaty (Kaz) and take the 3 day train journey back to Aktau! As I said, no logic (also an example of the kind of behaviour that means I often travel alone..). This is just travel for the pure sake of itself I can’t deny – and because I have happy memories of lengthy journeys through the desolate but oddly fascinating Kazakh desert. 3 days on the train might well cure me of that fascination though.
On Wednesday I would originally have been leaving on the night-train to Chisinau (Moldova) but instead booked another night at the hotel in Bucharest –
Amazing lift in the hotel- so amazing I generally preferred to take the stairs to the 3rd floor –
and, as it had finally stopped raining, went and did some touristing! This is the outside of the Presidential pace from a fairly flattering angle:
(Earlier that morning I thought for a minute that my wallet had been swiped, and saw the whole trip crumble before my eyes before locating it, on my bed under a jumper that I had carelessly flung on top. So I was still a bit on edge from my panic when I crouched down to take that shot and heard a rustling behind me – then had to do an awkward apologetic giggle when I leapt into the air and the frame of the fellow photo-taking tourist behind me…).
I went on the tour you can do of the inside – loads of marble and pink carpets. Caecescu clearly was a man of appalling taste (often the case with brutal dictators) and ironically they hadn’t even finished building it by the time he was overthrown in 1991 so he never got to use it. However I was happy to see that part of it functions as a conference centre now that you can hire out – and if my job was here and not in London then you know where the next Institute away day would be taking place, don’t you? 😃
*atmospheric* view from the top through the safety barrier:
And from the front!
Even the kids playground next to the palace is on an impressively monumental scale:
I decided to use my last day/night to see at least a little bit of non-Bucharest Romania, and the easiest, not original at all, thing to do was head to Brasov – Transylvania… Ridiculously I thought I might have escaped the rain. This is the hailstorm that broke out as soon as I got off the train:
I didn’t have time to check out Bran Castle (ie the alleged but not actual Dracula pad) but Brasov itself has a very picturesque medieval (or old at least) centre and appealing setting in the Carpathian mountains:
Bears in the woods – apparently; Brasov bikes; a Transylvanian graveyard.
Walking round the city’s old bastion: spot the difference- Romanian, German, Hungarian, English!
I also found a decent pub (bibliotheque), which was a good way to prepare for the 5am wake up today to get the bus to the airport…