14 December 2009

Graduation Time! Short Hiatus

Roller Fabulous

It's graduation time! I'm with my folks in England getting my Master's certified, which means family time, food and friends! I'll be back soon with continued adventures in the Sinai, Israel, Palestine, Jordan and Dubai! Get excited!

-Kyle Taylor

11 December 2009

Egypt Through My Stomach

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This always happens. I think to myself, “the weather is hot, I’ve never “loved” cuisine x in the past,” I’ll be fine and not gorge. Incorrect. Instead, I’ll get obsessed with a set three dishes and eat them over and over and over (and over) again until I have to pop the top button of my pants to not burst at the seams. Egypt is - miraculously - no different.

Somehow these foods of the pharaohs don’t hit you right away. At the beginning you just see the streetside vendors hawking giants pots of pasta with “stuff” for 65 cents and you wonder what on earth is in it. Then you decide - after a great deal of thought - to just go for it, so you walk up to the counter, point to the thing the same way you’ve watched Egyptians point and think to yourself, “success, it’s chow time.” Then the guy asks you a question in arabic and I have no clue what he’s saying. Not wanting to look ridiculous and assuming that it’s something like “now, would like sauce x on this?” or “is this to go?” I plaster a big grin on my face, nod and give the man a “thumbs up.”

At this point he apparently changes his course of action based on my response, though I can’t be certain because I haven’t seen the full ceremony without the question. I only prepared for one stream of interaction and that stream is now derailed. He goes about his merry way shaking this, dumping that, spinning this, pouring that; all with a giant grin that says “man, this guy has no idea what I’m saying or doing.” With every passing glance I just smile and nod (possibly one of the greatest traveling tips possible). More questions. More smiles. More nods.

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The food preparation dance ends, I pay my 65 cents and minutes later I am forking into whatever it is I have both smiled and nodded to obtain. It is spectacular and I can’t hind it, shouting with a full mouth, “oh my god, this is so good.” I’m stopping locals on the street to let them in on the greatness. “Just smile and nod to every question and you’ll be as happy as me. Hey, why are running away? No, wait, this food is really good. Please go buy some.” Alas, I must fly solo in my happiness.

What, might you ask, is this dish that I have eaten at least once a day every day? Well, it’s apparently the “dish of the people” here in Egypt. Called koshari, it is a low-class filler consisting of pasta, rice, tomato sauce, grilled onions, lentils and chickpeas drowned in a blend of garlic and spice. Basically, it’s heaven on earth. Combine this with the greatest schwarma known to man, 10-cent falafel that’s delectable, Egyptian tea that must be sweetened with crack and a desert made entirely of vegetable oil and six types of sugar and you’ve got the five extra pounds I’m taking with me to Israel. I hope the border officials don’t mind...


Kyle Taylor

10 December 2009

Backsheesh? More Like Back-SHEESH!

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Our flight into Cairo lands on time. We scurry through customs where we are warned of our imminent sentencing to death should we be caught with drugs, by our sticker “money-making enterprise” VISAs and exit the airport. First order of business: find a taxi. I am approached by countless men whom I shrug off. Finally, a mom-aged woman approaches me. “Taxi?” she asks. “Yes, to Dokki. How much?” I inquire. “75 Egyptian Pounds.” As this is 25 pounds less than what I had already been offered I jump on it.

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She leads us outside to a man wearing blue pants, a pink shirt and brown loafers. I hand her a 100-pound note. She forwards this on to him along with a receipt. He hands her back 25 pounds - our change. What, do you think, this charming mom-aged woman does? She pockets 5 pounds, hands a twenty to me and says “some for him, this for me and here is your change” before b-lining back to the airport terminal to rob another unknowing tourist. Blue pants man leads us to a gaggle of men sitting along a fence and points to another man who jumps up in his matching track suit before grabbing my bag and descending some stairs into the parking lot. Minutes later we’re zipping through Cairo at an alarming rate given traffic, road size and speed limits. We arrive to our crash pad and the man asks for “a little extra.” I give him 30 Egyptian pounds and a promise to hire him for a day of driving to the Pyramids. That’s a total of 110 pounds now including the fare, the obligatory tip to the woman and voluntary tip to the driver.

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I say “tip” but what I mean here in Egypt is “backsheesh.” While we translate it as meaning “tip” that is actually quite fare from the truth. You see, while we tip if service is good as a sort-of reward for hard work and effort, “backsheesh” in Egypt is completely expected and if you’re foreign, the amounts just skyrocket. I have realized in the course of our eight days that while traveling in Egypt appears cheap on the surface, it’s actually one of the most costly destinations in the developing world thanks entirely to backsheesh.

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Why? Because you have to backsheesh for everything. Take a taxi? Backsheesh there. Somebody give you directions? Backsheesh there. Stay somewhere and have a guy help with a bag? More backsheesh! Get site information or a tip on where to take a good picture? Backsheesh squared. It’s a never-ending onslaught of “appreciation” and while it’s only a $1 here or $4 there, by the end of the day you’ve backsheeshed your way into the poor house!

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At the Pyramids our guide (whose fees were supposedly “included”) had the audacity to say, after being given $10 in backsheesh after only 90 minutes of our two hour tour, “what is this? This better not be for me. Maybe for the horse boy, but not me.” This led to a somewhat heated argument on horseback with the Pyramids as our backdrop and I proceeded to lambast the guy as a common criminal and somewhat crazy human being, telling him he has “made it awkward” and “ruined my afternoon.” This AFTER a $10 tip on a $20 tour.

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Then it was the all-day driver, who got $10 more in backsheesh. Then it was our taxi to the bus station. Our hostel helper. Our guide at Karnak. Our driver at Luxor. Slowly but surely the cheap cups of tea and student-priced entrance fees lose their majesty to the neverending onslaught of pushy tourism industry pros trying to squeeze a few more pounds out of me.

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This practice is completely exhausting and - at times - has the effect of totally destroying what is supposed to be a once-in-a-lifetime exploration of some of mankind’s greatest monuments in one of mankind’s oldest civilizations. Of the more than 60 countries I have visited, no place comes close to being as big a hassle as Egypt, where you almost always feel like someone is taking you for a ride. That is, as long as that someone is in the tourism industry because literally everyone else in Egypt may best be described as saintly, charming and preposterously generous.

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Egypt is - like China - a nation of extremes. Either exhaustingly nice or exhaustingly theft-like. Extremely rude or literally TOO NICE. In turn, my attitude or “Egyptitude” apparently only exists in extremes as well. Either having the time of my life and wanting to stay forever or frustrated beyond reason and desperately searching for a cheap flight out. As the days wear on a new mantra emerges: when in Egypt, do as the Egyptians do. Welcome to Egypt: Please hand your currency to a local. Don’t worry, they’ll find a way take it from you anyway.


Kyle Taylor

09 December 2009

The [Really] Great Pyramids

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Humans have done wonders over the past 1000 years to both create and destroy on a level that has - as far as we know - never been seen before in history. From castles to airplanes, we’ve found ways to craft nature and it’s resources into “things” that simply could not exist on their own. From the Great Wall to the Birj Dubai, human beings shock me with their ability on a regular basis.

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Cue the Great Pyramids of Giza. Nothing can quite prepare you for your first glimpse of these awe-inspiring, overwhelming, mind-blowing structures. Even in modern-day terms they’re remarkable - once perfectly smooth on four sides, symmetrical to a tee and nearly 600 feet tall. They weren’t built this century, however. In fact, they weren’t built in the last 30 centuries. No, these genuine wonders of the world were built nearly FOUR THOUSAND years ago. While Europeans were still living in caves and killing prey with sticks the Ancient Egyptians were building what continue to be some of the most impressive structures ever conceived by man.

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I couldn’t get enough of them. In fact, I made a point to visit, admire and go gaga for them every day I was in Cairo. This despite their not being all that accessible. That is, you take a taxi to the subway to a taxi that has to finagle its way some 5 miles down the most traffic-induced disaster of a thoroughfare I have ever seen, and I lived in China. That five miles takes nearly an hour before you arrive at the “Giza Pyramids” turnoff, where all cars must careen more than a mile away from the Pyramids to go around the Giza Pyramids golf resort. After that, it’s either a 2-mile walk or horse ride to the “main gates” which are oddly situated right next to a Pizza Hut. Despite the aura of “desert isolation” that surrounds the Pyramids, they are, in reality, crammed right in the middle of one of Cairo’s poorest suburbs. That’s right, people are living without running water or plumbing next to one of the world’s most visited sites. That is, the Pyramids, not Pizza Hut.

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The trouble is all worth it the minute you stand face to face with history. It’s really a toss-up between The Great Wall and The Pyramids for most amazing site ever. Lets just call it a tie and be done with it. In the meantime, I’m going to try and figure out what happened in the last 5,000 years to bring Egypt from the world’s greatest Civilization to a modern-day developing nation with the hope of avoiding a similar fate at home. If we do go, what will be our symbol of greatness? That is, what will people be snapping photos next to as they wander “Ancient America?” Hmm....


Kyle Taylor

08 December 2009

From Europe To The Middle East In Just Two Hours

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It’s an oddly simple equation: Depart Athens, Greece at 10am. Arrive Cairo, Egypt at 12pm. Two hours and just like that I’m whisked away from Western Europe and the Mediterranean to the epicenter of the near Middle East. Granted, it’s still traveling from chaos to chaos in many ways but seemingly everything - everything - is different. The weather, the air quality, the buildings, the roads, the people, the bargaining and yet, due to modern technology and the pioneering efforts of the Wright Brothers I can - in a matter of hours - traverse the globe and “plop” into another civilization that - for thousands of years - had no idea the civilization I just came from even existed.

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I find this to be one of the most fascinating parts of travel: this idea that things “changed so fast” when it reality, they really didn’t. What’s more, that feeling of “everything is different” really only goes skin deep. Yes, the architecture is different, the clothes are different, foods are different and religions are different. Underneath. however, it’s just bricks, cotton, beans and faith.

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If all this traveling has taught me anything, it’s that we are socialized from a very young age to constantly seek out, look for and identify what makes us different than everyone else. How are we unique? How are we special? Often times, how are we better? Yet if you peel away the surface, almost nothing about us is - in real terms - is any different than anyone else. Instead, it’s the way we have interpreted the same things thats different.

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We eat white bread, they eat pita bread. We leave the bricks red, they paint them white. We where cotton t-shirts, they where cotton robes. We have faith in “God,” they have faith in “Allah” (which means “God” in arabic). At the end of the day, we’re all just human beings trying to get through life with enough food, a place to call home and a reason to live. Maybe it’s time we start looking at the underlying truths about life that make it the same. Believe it or not, it’s almost everything. Just hop a plane, dart over an ocean and see for yourself.


Kyle Taylor

07 December 2009

Big Bad Bulgaria, Or How I Talked My Way Out Of A Speeding Ticket

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I was unsure of how, exactly, I was going to write about to adequately reflect on Bulgaria. My first thought was the incredibly maintained 1,800 year-old Roman Amphitheater in Plovdiv. It was spectacular and probably one of my favorite “sites” I have ever seen. Then I thought, “maybe my amazing $4 haircut that included a shampoo, condition and head massage.” Also good. Then I through around making the Rila Monastery the focal point. Oldest monastery in Bulgaria, tucked away in the mountains, has the whole “ooohhhh ahhhh” feeling required for such a venue, we got locked out trying to stay the night in the monastic cells...so both humorous and amazing. Next I through around the overall natural beauty. I mean, the country is just spectacular. Deep valleys, sky-high peaks, rivers, waterfalls; you name it, it’s here.

My problem was that nothing in the past few weeks had been particularly funny or ridiculous. Eastern Europe was - for the most part - put together, on time and functioning. Save for a private hostel “room” that had 3-foot high ceilings, Bulgaria was pretty “all good.” That is, until our ride back to Sofia from the monastery. It all began the day we started renting cars in this part of the world. Drivers here are bad. Like, obscenely bad. They invent lanes where lanes do not exist, they speed, they pass on blind corners, they park ANYWHERE and they simply don’t care about the “rules of the road.” So we leave the Monastery at half nine and are zooming down the highway at a reasonable 65mph. I turn off at a service station to have our bumper screwed back in (a steep hill and some rocks had their way with Matt the day before). It costs 65 cents for the service. Amazing! All is well.

I pull out of the service station and make a left back onto the highway. Traffic is steaming ahead so I play “rally car race driver” to get us up to speed. Just as soon as we’re going with “the flow” everyone behind me starts slowing down. I take my foot off the gas and coast up the hill we’re currently ascending. Just as we cusp over the highest point I see it - a speed trap. Two police officers with red wands flagging cars to the side of the road. Of course, all the Bulgarians know the cops are there because they drive the road every day. Me? I’m guessing 65mph is just dandy. Wrong. The leather-pants wearing cops flags me. I obey and pull off the road.

He walks up to the driver window with that usual police officer stride of “I’m way better than you.” I roll down the window. Wanting to make it known that I do not speak Bulgarian, I say, “hello there officer.” He stops in his tracks, a bit stunned. “No Bulgarian?” he asks. I nod my head no. “Registration, passport, license and you come over here.” The last part included a hand motion and a pivot as he redirected himself back to his own car. I bundle the necessary documents together and saunter to his vehicle, ready to take the ticket I have no idea my “reckless” speed has brought to me. He is busy writing another 60-year-old grandma-looking woman a ticket. She is screaming at him and rolling her eyes at me. I roll mine back. He rips her carbon copy off and now it’s my turn to play ball.

“You know how fast you are going,” he asks. “No, but I had just pulled out, so not very fast,” I tell him. “How fast was I going then?” He looks at me as if he has no idea what to say. “Too fast,” he replies, snatching my passport and drivers license frantically looking for the photo page. “Too fast. Too fast! Didn’t you see the speed limit sign, he says.” The answer to that question is no because there are no speed limits signs anywhere in Bulgaria. There are also no directional signs, no traffic signals and no lines on the pavement. What are plentiful, however, is pot holes. This is followed by some inaudible mumbling in Bulgarian before he pulls out a translation guide that literally reads across the top, “So You Got Pulled Over In Bulgaria.” It’s the official “how to” guide of police actions. Amazing.

The officer flips to the “So you were driving too fast” page and points to a speed bracket that reads 31mpg-59mph and says “this is you.” You were going 32mph too fast” (how convenient). The fine for this offense, you ask? $450. “How do you know this is how fast I was going?” I ask. “Police photo camera,” he tell me. “Can I please see the photo and speed stamp because I have yet to see any documents that show that I was, in fact, speeding.” He’s getting angry but I’m feeling firm and justified. Okay, I was speeding, but I wasn’t going 97mph and I’m not about to pay $450. “Listen, I don’t have the photo. You just pay me now and it’s fine.” Um, no. “That doesn’t sound official,” I start. “Why don’t you just write me the ticket and I will pay it in the appropriate manner.” Naturally, he doesn’t like this response and immediately starts huffing. After all, that $450 was headed straight for his back pocket. “NO!” he shouts.

This is when he realizes I know what’s going on. His response? He stands up, shoves my passport and driver’s license into my chest and says sternly, “You are bad driver. Bad driver go. Go bad driver. Go.” Now I am apparently off the hook and being encouraged by the police officer to “leave the scene;” a police officer who “polices” in the European country with THE MOST road fatalities per capita has just called me a bad driver. I walked calmly back to the car, told Matt of my successful escape and we drove off. I finally had my amazing Bulgaria story.


Kyle Taylor

04 December 2009

Sweet, Sweet, Sofia

Bulgaria - Sofia - 055

Sixty six days on the road from Hong Kong to Sofia, Bulgaria and I’m only just starting to fully grasp how old every non-USA civilization is. Or, to be more precise, how young the USA is. We arrived in Sofia - the capital of Bulgaria - via bus from Bucharest.

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Per usual, people were wildly helpful in making sure we located the bus we needed. Me: “Excuse me, where does the bus to Sofia depart from?” Lady behind the window: “Ten minutes. Out there (points out the window at absolutely nothing in particular).” Fortunately, the bus has a teeny tiny placard that read “Sof” (the rest of the sign was covered up by the driver’s coat). We boarded early and then, in an event that I have never actually witnessed in person before, the bus DEPARTED EARLY. Since the trip started in Romania I took out enough Romanian cash to pay for the adventure. Naturally, they did not accept Romanian cash. “No. Only Euros and Bulgarian Lev.” WHAT? “But we are IN Romania,” I pleaded. “But Romanian money worthless. Don’t want it. Also no dollars.” Yes, he compared Romania Lei to the US Dollar, so that’s just super.

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The owner of our hostel met us at the bus station. Within minutes our history lesson began. “Bulgarians are the first Europeans. We are the oldest society in Europe. The first white people. Everything here is old and important. Bulgarians invented the horse saddle. And also the girls are very pretty. Yeah, we are just great.” That overview combined with my guidebook’s factoid - that Bulgarians score second highest in the world on IQ test - set the stage for my exploration of this exceptional, intelligent, old city and oh my goodness, it’s all of those things.

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In the exceptional category we have the world’s highest rate of corruption, with nearly 70% of all GDP either earned on the black market or filtered through it at some point. That is coupled with a profound level of religious tolerance. There is a Protestant church, an Orthodox Cathedral, a Mosque and a Synagogue (the oldest synagogue in Europe) within 100 yards of each other! In the intelligent category we have more book stores per per capita than any other city in the world after Hay-on-Wye in Wales. Also, Bulgarians read more books per capita per year than any other place on earth. In the old category we have EVERYTHING. Just two days in Sofia and I’ve spent most of it going “wait, that was built when?” Churches that are 1000 years old. Layer upon layer of ruins tracing the tens of thousands of years of settlement in this part of the world. An entire capital city built on more than 100 feet of old cities below. It’s just absolutely mind-boggling to think that Bulgarians had been chugging along for a thousand of years before the first white settler landed in North America and stole the continent from the Native Americans.

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In five days we’ll be in Egypt looking at the ancient pyramids. If I can’t grasp 1000 years how on earth will I wrap my head around all that jazz?


Kyle Taylor

03 December 2009

Road Sign Madness

If you know me, you’re aware of my love for hilarious road signs. I decided it’s about time to share a few of the best thus far, so here goes.

This first one is just funny. The girl and the ice cream are adorable, then the mustache? And it was in Bucharest, which is just funny to me.

Girl With Moustache

Then there’s this info sign with an arrow. At first sight, not funny, but there’s a guy holding this info sign with an arrow and every few minutes he would turn to shift his weight and the arrow would be facing an entirely different direction! People were wandering around aimlessly just looking for some darn information.

Info Sign

What’s this? A car shower? Obviously it’s for a car wash but putting the car under an enlarged shower heard is just funny.

Car Shower

There are just so many words on this sign and it was 400 feet below the surface of the earth. The only phrase that stands out is “Attention The Shaft,” which is funny.

Too Many Words

I Heart Textil too!

I Heart Textil

So apparently they’re going to destroy this 500-year-old church and build a modern high-rise, which I am supposed to be excited about, I guess.

Building Swap

“Hey girl, what you listening to?” - “Oh, you know, just my favorite tunes while I contemplate buying a delectable McDonald’s cheeseburger.” - “No way, me too! Yeah, McDonald’s is so fun and cool.”
McDonalds Girls

Watch out for cows and humans.

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Apparently this is a houses, trees, cars and kids playing soccer zone.

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And this is a no houses, no trees, no cars and no kids playing soccer zone.

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The world is funny.


Kyle Taylor

02 December 2009

Death Car

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We’ve had incredible luck with our cars on this trip until Romania. The Opel Corsa did us good in Estonia and Latvia and the Volkswagen Polo somehow managed to carry five Anglos from corner to corner with very little effort. The story here, however, is quite different. First, we paid nearly twice as much per day for a Dacia Logan. If you’re thinking to yourself, “what the heck is a Dacia?” that’s because you have never and will never EVER purchase one. It is Romania’s national car company and the Logan represents 50% of sales not because it’s “that good” but because it’s “that cheap.” At $36 a day it was by far the best deal we could find, though if I had known it may mean the end of me, I might have splurged for something NOT awful.

Lets start with the radio. One hour into our journey it just stops working for no reason at all. Mind you, this is a road trip and no music means listening to the sound of the exhausted motor as we crawl up and down winding roads. This leads us to plugging a mini speaker into my iPod and setting it in the cup holder. While it’s barely loud enough to hear, it’s better than nothing. The radio does come back to life at random moments but within ten minutes it begins its slow and depressing death once more, flickering on and off, in and out until all noise fades away completely like an engine running out of gas.

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Romanian drivers are THE WORST. They dart out into the road, pass on blind turns and have no sense of personal space. As such, a horn would be wildly useful. At one moment a man driving a horse-drawn carriage leapt into oncoming traffic using a whip and his middle finger. I went to blast the horn only to find that there is, in fact, no horn on the steering wheel. Instead, the button in on the blinker bar., meaning you have to simultaneously hold on to the steering wheel at 10 and 2 while reaching around with your pinky finger to “show em’ who’s boss..” Good one Dacia. Good one.

The windows were fogging intermittently because it was cold outside and hot inside but also because the car is a piece of crap. I went to turn on the AC only to discover that the button is, in fact, permanently wedged in the “on” position. Thankfully (I guess) that’s where we wanted it).

Do you want to back up? Well, pay attention. Reverse is where 6th gear should be and there is no 6th gear.

How about inclement weather, like the snow storm we came across in the depths of a Transylvanian night? Switchback roads, half-working headlights, a broken fog lamp and a snow storm. Things you need: windshield wipers and wiper fluid to keep the windshield clear. Things we don’t have: wiper blades and wiper fluid. That meant a horrific screeching sound as the metal rods glided spastically from floor to side. Floor to side. Screech! Screech! Slam! Screech! Screech! Slam! I pull the “trigger” to spray some washer fluid. Nothing. I try again. Nothing. We pull into a service station to buy the necessary items as I curse the mafia-esque man who rented us this piece of [expletive] car.

I chalk up my survival to paranoia, fear and sheer luck. Next time, I want something NOT made in a former Communist country.


Kyle Taylor

01 December 2009

Lets Do The Time Warp...In Transylvania!

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You may be thinking, “hey, Transylvania is where Dracula is from. That’s a fairy tale. It doesn’t really exist, does it?” Yes. Yes it does, and it’s in Romania. In fact, Transylvania comprises the entire western half of this charming little country. A collection of small cities and villages nestled deep in the Transylvanian mountains, this region is as mysterious as its name and everything you’d expect.

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Not only does Transylvania really exist, so did Count Dracula! He lived in a massive mountain-top castle called Bran located at the narrowest point of the valley between what was once Hungary and present day Romania. Bran Castle was a fortress aimed at fending off attacks from those pesky Austral-Hungarians in the time of their empire. You’re probably wondering what kind of guy the Count Dracula was. Well, he loved organ music and enjoyed impaling prisoners on his front lawn. So while he committed murder we put him on cereal boxes and dress up in his liking on Halloween (which I somehow managed to spend in Transylvania with a Romanian girl dressed up as Tina Turner).

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The other two coincidences of this trip include traveling north to south with the changing leaves (it has been brilliantly orange, red and yellow everywhere we’ve been) and trekking right below every migrating bird in Eastern Europe. From Helsinki through Transylvania, we’ve seen literally TENS OF THOUSANDS of birds flying in their ganders and flocks to warmer climates for the winter months. It seems we are, in fact, migrating to warmer climates with them and it is breathtaking on a nearly daily basis.

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Transylvania - 01

Beyond Dracula’s castle, Transylvania (isn’t it so cool to read it, say it and even see it written?) offers mind-boggling mountains, fortress after fortress carved into hills and lovely, kind and generous people. I can’t rave about this part of the world enough. It is absolutely like stepping into a storybook over and over again. Highlights include Bran, Rasnov, Brasnov, Sinaia, Sighisoara, Cluj-Napoca and Sibiu, though we’d have loved to have gotten to Timisoara as well.

A final shout-out to the lovely Lutheran woman (the entire region is Lutheran despite Romania’s dominant Russian Orthodox faith because the Saxons (Germans) invaded, conquered and controlled the region for hundreds of years) who reminded me just how young America is. As we stood in a church built in 976 and she pointed out the carved wooden alter that is nearly 1,000 years old I thought to myself, “man, America is a baby! Romania has been around FIVE TIMES LONGER than the United States. Quite some food for thought while you eat your Count Dracula cereal swimming in chilled milk.


Kyle Taylor

30 November 2009

Bucharest - Europe’s Forgotten City

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We arrive to the central train station but are certain there must be a mistake. There’s no real “station” to speak of. Certainly we must be in a small village en route to Bucharest and not, in fact, in the capital of a medium-size country that is a member state in the European Union. I locate the one ATM while Matt helps the only other woman on our train get her bags into a taxi. We then hop into our own taxi and zip off to our hostel. Every single building we pass is covered in graffiti and that is no exaggeration. Literally EVERY single building has been tagged in an array of colors from the ground to about six feet up.

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Our hostel is on the eighth floor of an old Soviet-style block apartment. There is no internet or oven and the hot water comes and goes despite the fact that we are in “one of the nicest buildings in the city” located on the main avenue. This is the part of the story when Bucharest gets ridiculous. That main avenue is six feet longer and one foot wider than the Champs Elysses in Paris. Why? Because Romania’s ridiculous communist dictator from 1965 to 1989 (before he was executed during one of Romania’s several revolutions) decided he had to build the world’s premiere communist capital in a tiny, destitute country located in Southeastern Europe.

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This grand avenue ends at the Parliamentary Palace, which is the world’s second largest building after the Pentagon. Yes, the second largest building in the world is located in Bucharest, Romania. It is made entirely of Romanian natural resources and is comprised of 1,000 rooms that include 1,200 crystal chandeliers and 100,000 tons of marble. I know what you’re thinking: that is just “so communist.” It was quite possibly the most elegant, beautiful, awe-inspiring building I have ever seen, and we only visited 5% of it on our 1.6-mile tour. One last tidbit: To build this monstrosity the dictator destroyed 9,000 buildings and relocated 40,000 people from central Bucharest. The cleaning bill is $1500 a day and the electricity costs $2 million a year! When it was being built the costs equaled 80% of the nation’s GDP at $12 billion dollars. What a winner.

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This massive-ness is set against a near-deserted old town that appears to have been under construction for at least a decade. No sidewalks, no streets, no working signs and no people. There is just nothing going on. In a city of 2 million it was oddly devastating. In similarly new EU member states life has exploded since accession. Take Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania as prime examples - small countries with vibrant cities that have been reborn. It seems that for whatever reason, Bucharest is the European capital that Europe forgot about. That really is a shame because the people, the culture and the history deserve better than that. Thankfully, the food is divine and the nightlife raging, though I’d prefer - for the city’s sake - street lamps and sidewalks.


Kyle Taylor