Translated by: Pal Capewell
It’d be a lie to say all countries have the same impact on us and they all make us fall in love with them head over heel. Not every country has given us the same - either by quality or quantity - but nevertheless we are truly grateful for having had the chance to visit. Our point is to be very frank with the readers here. Based on our experiences, we became rather uninterested with Cambodia as we progressed southwards in Laos. Poverty everywhere, relying on tourism and naive tourists so heavily that it turned sickening. Pairing extreme poverty with tourism is never smart, from our perspective. Eni and I arrived to Cambodia with rather low expectations. Over time however, somehow this apathy faded off and even the disgustingly corrupt border crossing didn’t deter us from enjoying the next Southeast Asian country.
Let’s leave the border crossing fiasco out of the first impressions since it is so embarrassing for the country that there are no words for it. Besides, it is solely due to the super corrupt officials and does NOT represent the people. And, based on that, Eni and I agreed to leave the border crossing out of our image for Cambodia as we biked away from that horrid place. Instead, our impression begins from the first village we entered and started chatting with the locals. They welcomed us warmly, without any suspicions - instead, they helped us get settled. This is also the place where our most fascinating breakfast happened (thus far), with four seventy-something year olds. The six of us not only shared all the food but the interest we had towards each other, which took form in a rather limited, but all the more entertaining communication. Let’s begin with the topic that comes to mind for us first when thinking of Cambodia. No, it’s neither its history nor its architecture - but the people.
Cambodian people are wonderful. Seriously, in every single way. The poorest country we have been to thus far (unfortunately it’s quite the leader from a global perspective too, in this aspect). When I say poverty, I mean the simplest, most basic things. Yes, there are countries that are way poorer than Cambodia, but Cambodia is the one I personally witnessed and experienced.
Then there is the historical trauma, whose criminals and survivors are in our parents’ age (50-60). Cambodians don’t have much, except the depressing past, yet their eyes still sparkle. These loving souls emit only calm and happiness. Unlike Laos, they were not kind and hospitable towards us because they expected money (though Laos had its exceptions too, I must admit). Whom Eni and I smiled at either already had a smile on, or broke out in a smile immediately. This is why after a couple of days we were constantly smiling. It is such a liberating feeling!
It’s not clear how many people can speak English, but a few words are ready in everyone’s vocab. For children, the basic “hello, goodbye, I love you” are the most common, but they use what they have in such adorable ways! What Eni and I realized in the Laos-Cambodia-Thailand trio was that in Laos the children were the most direct and welcoming, in Thailand we expect the adults to be this way, but in Cambodia both kids and grown-ups are super sweet and loving. Cambodians always turned to us with genuine care and interest. Never a pushy or forceful move, never a negative incident. As we rode through towns on our bikes we couldn’t even determine where the “hello”s came from most of the time, just shouted the greeting right back. Us two and the locals had fun examining each others’ facial features in the quaint restaurants Eni and I dined in.
Talking about faces. I don’t want to cut to the chase, but I have to. There is a belief back home in Hungary that Thai people are all exceptionally beautiful. Well, sorry guys, that’s nowhere close to reality. In general, it’s really not true. Eni and I were surprised ourselves as well. Sure, there were a few beautiful faces but the chances of seeing such were much higher in Cambodia. Kids, women, men, everyone. Cambodians’ skin is darker than that of Thais, their noses are wider, and they have some impressive muscles - so impressive that those skinny white boys in European gyms would feel embarrassed. Maybe instead of going to the gym every day they should work on the fields, cultivate rice and do all hard work by hand. We only saw one Cambodian who was slightly fatter than the average, but it was obvious he belonged to the wealthier group. (Just to compare, Thailand has way more overweight people, children as well. The wealthier region, huh!) So yeah, Thai women might be pretty but they have nothing on the Cambodian beauties! Family values are important, Cambodians are very patient and loving towards kids. The elderly and monks enjoy the highest level of respect.
They are a very calm bunch, like you probably read in our New Year’s blogpost. Not one unruly move. Cambodians are generally modest, kind, trustworthy and calm. Perhaps these four words describe them the best.
Like in Laos, there are not many cars. Most people get by on motorcycles if they can, and also transport goods that way too. Most of you wouldn’t be able to imagine the size of the trailers behind these tiny motors. The roads are in terrible condition, though we did see efforts of some kind of reconstruction (with more failures than successes, sadly). The most extensive means of transport is the bus. Except the high-end ones, the buses are ran-down and whether they should be in service at all is questionable. Not that the average passenger notices, as the roads are so bad that the best Mercedes Citaro would shake the life out of anyone here; take the Siem Reap - Phnom Penh route for example, which takes seven hours. Unbearable. The traffic is not crazy at all though, and can be considered within reason (on a scale where China is crazy and Hungary is well organized). The Consulate’s website summarizes it pretty well: “The downside of road transport are the mines, which are often unmarked. For your safety, we strongly recommend to avoid train services due to the questionable state of the infrastructure. Motorcycles are not recommended. Again for your safety and due to the lacking knowledge of the drivers and questionable infrastructure, please refrain from motor-taxi services. If traveling by boat, make sure to only board safe-looking ones with proper organization. Refrain from boarding a boat that seems to be carrying more than it’s capacity. In general, do not board any means of transport if it seems overloaded.”
Of course, the Consulate’s job is to protect the Hungarians abroad, but Eni and I felt it to be a bit overly dramatic. It wasn’t all THAT catastrophic. There is a certain Asian perspective, which doesn’t coincide with the Western one. If we used a Western objective we would probably not be able to travel at all, as everything would be considered crazily scary and dangerous.
Food and Shopping
Rice, with chicken, pork, fish or seafood to go with it. This is the most common menu in most kitchens. Or, one can get the famous “noodle soup” which they prepare like in Laos but without the salad on the side. There is a lot of grilled meats and fish. Eni and I think Cambodians do better sandwiches than their northern neighbors. Bring the meat, we love it so! Their sugarcane juice is really delicious and they use tangerine to “citrusize” it (it’s a word I just made up*Balazs*). So basically sugarcane with a bit of citrus taste. They serve it with crashed ice. By the way ice.... a sensitive topic. One has to be extremely careful, as it is rarely hygienic. Ice is transported in massive blocks on a back of a dirty motorbike, covered by an equally dirty plastic wrap and are cut to pieces by tools with dirt of questionable origins. Eni and I tried to avoid ice at all costs, but at times it did force its way into our diet (for example locals put it in our coffee). This is why we asked most of our drinks to be hot (we prefer it that way anyway). Hygiene is not a common “illness” around here. :P Our stomachs had quite the training but I am not sure if I’d be willing to just fly in from Europe and risk a week long food poisoning during a two-weeks holiday...
They sell a lot of different meals from their motorbikes. Actually, they basically sell everything from their motorbikes. Sandwiches, sugarcane juice, ice-cream, coffee, noodle soup, fried pasta, raw fish and veggies, sweets. What we suggest to visitors is what can be said for most countries - eat where the locals eat. That way the authenticity of the meal is real, and it’s less likely that you will have food poisoning (khm, less likely, not unlikely). Extreme dishes Eni and I tried: duck embryo, fried insects, frog stew and stuffed frog grilled.
Supermarkets are rare, but small stores can be found in most towns. Don’t expect large selection but one won’t have to starve. Tap water is not drinkable but bottled water is readily available everywhere. The smaller bottles are cheaper if one buys in bulk. It was quite an uncomfortable feeling to produce this much trash, but one either buys 1.5 liters bottle for $0,50 or 6 liters in small bottles for $0,75. Banana, mango, pineapple, dragon fruit, jack fruit, durian are available everywhere. Durians have an unbearable stink to them and it’s easy to spot where they are grown. It smells like when the onion goes bad and you mix it with rotten tomatoes. Haven’t tried yet. No particular reason, just how things panned out. Cambodia has smaller bananas with black seeds; they taste much more like kiwis than what a European considers a banana. Coconuts are delicious, I love both their juice and their meat. Obviously not everyone is a saint here either, but regarding prices and payments we were taken for a ride much less frequently. Another interesting fact is how universally they accept USD, at the same rate nationwide. 1 USD - 4000 Real. Basically making USD a universal form of payment.
Fried banana. Best recipe ever, will do some back home too!
Cambodia is basically a grassy savanna. Quite boring, if you ask me. The sea to the south, jungle and mountains to the west. From this perspective, Laos is much prettier and more diverse. But one can hardly hold that against a country! Their architecture is quite unique - well not in regional perspective because Laos and Thailand were also part of the Khmer Empire. If we see a door or gate of a church, we already know it’s Khmer due to their typical characteristics. Eni and I mostly saw the countryside architecture though, which is very similar to that of Laos. Mostly wooden and bamboo “forts” with plastic roof. Bigger cities carry the French heritage. Angkor’s ancient city is a most fascinating spot. You can check here, if you missed it. (PASTE LINK?)
It is said that the best party is the one for which you don’t prepare. Well that’s how Eni and I were with Cambodia. We expected the least, that’s why it hit the biggest, the most. We grew fond of it for its culture, heritage, history and lovely people. This tiny country grew into our hearts! If we don’t consider Siem Reap and Phnom Penh, it’s not a very touristy country though. It has everything for the perfect summer holiday: it’s interesting, colorful, exotic, cheap. There is plenty to discover. An ideal destination for those who feel Thailand to be too boring or too deep in their comfort zones. But don’t expect services and infrastructure like that of Thailand! For me, that’s what makes it so much fun.
Word of advice before taking a nosedive into your very own Cambodian adventure - ask for the necessary vaccinations and preparations in your home country.
Translated by: Gréta Kojsza
Kyrgyzstan is often referred to as the Switzerland of Middle-Asia. The mountains must be the main reason of it, because we didn’t see any other similarity between the two countries. Kyrgyzstan is not organized or tidy at all, you hardly ever find a proper road and nobody likes tourists wondering around all by their selves. A tourist is accepted if it rides a horse or at least a guide is directing it through the area. A country where tourisms develops rapidly and corruption is told to be rolled back. A country which is called Kyrgystan, by everybody except us, Hungarians. Well, this time as well: Kyrgyzstan is subjective.
Holy Mother of God! We are literally grateful that we’ve survived Kyrgyzstan. I’m serious. Their driving style is madness… I can’t even put it into words. They seem to be wealthy, because as soon as you enter to the country you can see all varieties of Lexus, Land Rover, BMW and any other kind of luxury land rovers. I don’t even see this amount of expensive cars in Hungary. They go full tear, even in inhabited areas. The roads are not wide enough, and to tell truth, they don’t give a damn if they can pass by a biker safely. You’ll find it out after anyway… It happened several times that they passed (I mean rushed) by just a few centimeters away from us. (Once one of the drivers pulled the car on Eni intentionally and the rearview mirror of her bike broke due to the Kirgiz joke. They didn’t stop of course, but it took a few minutes for Eni to stop shaking.) A lot of them drive drunk, mainly on the weekends. How nice of them… They often shout out of the cars like ‘Get the hell out of my way, you f***ing tourist!’ (The tourist, who brings his money in their country.) In general, the roads are in horrible conditions, except some shorter sections and the road M41 between Bishkek and Osh (it has its own jolty parts though). Somewhere we were riding in the dusty and slaggy path right next to the road, as it was faster and easier that way. The secondary roads are usually unmasked and rocky.
The landscape and architecture
Kyrgyzstan is a wonderful country! The snowy, 4000 meters high mountains are visible already from the capital city. 70% of the country is highland, but what does it mean exactly? Three, around 7000 meters high mountains can be found in the country (Lenin 7134m, Pobeda 7439m, Khan Tengri 6995m), which can be climbed without an alpinist permission. However you need an allowance to approach them, because they are all situated at the border. It costs only 30-50 Euros. The country possesses twenty three 6000 meters high, eighty 5000 meters high mountains and God knows how many, that reaches 4000 meters. So anybody who feels like climbing mountains no one climbed before, you’d better go to Kyrgyzstan! Issyk-Kul, after Titicaca, is the second largest endorheic lake and its name literally means Hot-Lake, because it does not freeze in the winters either. Its deepest point is around 600 meters. Wherever you go, you’re surrounded by crystal clear brooks, green hill-sides and garbage unfortunately… The only clean places are situated up in the mountains, far away from people. Bottles of vodka or beer, dirt and litter can be found everywhere. Such a mess! Cars are washed in brooks and rubbish is thrown out of the vehicles’ windows. Waste removal exists solely in bigger cities. A lot of families set up yurts for the summer, and live there in the mountains until winter arrives. They keep horses, cows, sheep, process milk and other dairy products. Sheep are kept for their meat, the most common type of sheep is the dorper. They make ‘qurut’ (dried yogurt, the taste is a bit strong, but we liked it), kumis (fermented milk, very sour with smoky after taste) and cream out of horse milk. According to the Kirgiz, they’re durable due to ‘kumis’, though they pronounce it ‘kömöz’. Some of them set up yurts for touristic reasons, right next to their own, which are often more decorative. A vast of yurts can be found stand by main roads heading through mountains, where everybody sells dairy products and horses wonder around all free on the green fields (and in the middle of streets too). I wouldn’t say that the cities are beautiful. They’re quite disorganized and dirty. In Bishkek, we didn’t feel like being in the capital city, but in a bigger village. The center looks urban with multi-lane streets, traffic lights and blocks of flats. We saw plenty of mosques, but they were much more low-key, than the ones we had seen during our journey.
Well, the Kirgiz cuisine didn’t become our favorite one. They eat a lot of meat, but they don’t pay too much attention on spices. In Center-Asia, finding your way out of the trinity of saslik-plov stuffed meat balls seems impossible. Their dishes are quite heavy and greasy. Samsa, Muslim breads and nán are common. Jam, ground coffee and other global goods can only be found in bigger supermarkets. Their beers are delicious and they’ve got a wide variety of vodka. Even better, Russian vodkas can be bought for 7 euros per liter. (Tobacco and alcohol are extremely cheap, so we guess that a huge part of the male population has problems with alcohol. But it’s simply our personal opinion. According to them, there’s nothing wrong with it.)
Do not forget, that it is our subjective opinion, based on our experience. We don’t want to stereotype. In our views, Kirgiz people are not that kind or interested. They stare at foreigners and may say ‘otkuda:’, which is the shorter version of ‘Where are you coming from?’, but they don’t initiate conversations at all. I can only recall a few occasions, when they turned to us with real kindness. Most of the time, they were really neutral. A lot of men wear unusual, white felt hats or baseball caps that we didn’t see anywhere else. Pants and coats are common, their style is quite obsolete. In cities people obviously dress in western clothes, women wear skirts, long dresses. Their features are more Mongolic than the Uzbeks or Turks. Everybody is Muslim, but in a lighter style... Kind of ‘You might have a spritzer, don’t you?!’
Kyrgyzstan can be the best destination for the lovers of mountains and nature. You can have horse-riding excursions or hiking trips in fascinating spots. It can be an interesting time travel for tourists who decide to visit this country. But it’s so sad to see that their only resource, the nature is not protected at all. Because of their life-threatening driving style, we do not recommend the usage of bikes in this country.
If you’re in Kyrgyzstan, don’t miss:
-local dairy products
-swimming in a local lake
Translated by: Gréta Kojsza
Uzbekistan was the first “Istan” county which we could absolutely lose ourselves in. We had the opportunity to see life at tourist destinations, in villages and in “no men’s land” as well.
After Turkmenistan, entering the borderlines of the country was such mental refreshment! We were cloud on nine that one of the most difficult parts of our journey was over, but we’ve already got different kind of difficulties in connection with crossing the border: the uncertainty of accommodation registration was still bothering us. We didn’t want any trouble or get fined on the border. Having “real” accommodation each night would be luxurious and unaccomplishable. We knew that we would have to do wild camping sometimes.
June and July are the off-seasons in Uzbekistan in terms of tourism. Summer is long and dry, often with 45C° degrees. Cities are empty these days, tourists visit the country mainly Spring or Autumn. We were definitely lucky as the weather turned irregularly cool in the first few days. The thermometer showed 30-32 C° degrees and we were more than happy about it.
Roads are in pretty good conditions, drivers by-passed us in great bends and tooted us, sometimes accompanied by friendly waves and smiles. They drive gently, slowly. Some of them stopped and with the question “Otkuda?” wanted to know our final destination and how do we like Uzbekistan. We even got some melon and yogurt as refreshments. Besides Lada and Volga, which remained from classic soviet era, only Chevrolet and Daewoo can be seen on roads.
Landscape and ambience
Except the Kamchik pass and its surroundings heading to Fergana Valley, there’s not too much to be excited about. People do farming in most parts of the country and we were so glad to see it! They grow wheat, tomato, potato, pumpkin, cotton and any other kind of vegetable or fruit. They raise animals in parallel, mainly neat and turkey. “Donkey-carriage” is quite popular in villages.
People in villages are hygienic, properties are clean and tidied. The only thing we noticed and didn’t understand: the garbage is collected in the garden. After a proper amount is piled up, they simply burn it. The issue of waste treatment is not solved yet in the countryside.
Bukhara, Samarkand, Kokand and Andijon are beautiful and organized cities with fair parks. Cycling in these towns was an amazing experience as the traffic wasn’t teeming at all.
Samsa (pastries filled with meat, baked in furnace) is also made here, but the most popular one is the plov. We had the opportunity to taste is more times. People tend to say that each region has its own style. We tasted a dish, which was a bit too heavy and greasy for our taste. It was made of rice, mixed with vegetables and meat, poured with a huge amount of fat.
People are friendly and helpful, but not that informal that we are used to. Golden teeth are popular here as well. We noticed that people age “earlier”. Youngsters in their 20’s look 30-35 years old or even more. Everyone seemed at least 10 years elder than he/she actually is. Men wear European clothes, women wear long tunics and trousers. Most of the population is Muslin, but it’s not like in Iran. If we can use the expression “light” Muslin, then they are light. Men and women wore European clothes in cities. We met a lot of men, who were soldiers in Hungary in the 70’s or 80’s. One of them welcomed us with “Szevasz komám” when he saw our Hungarian flag.
On the whole
Uzbekistan possesses a rich historical past that its inhabitants are really proud of. Even though the country changed a lot since Ármin Vámbéry visited the real “wild East” in the XIX. century, the sense of the place is still intense.
Translated by: Greta Kojsza
What kind of a subjective opinion can you have on a country, in which you’ve only spent 81 hours altogether? Well, a very subjective one… We didn’t stay there for long and only saw a small part of it. It might be the reason for an intensive and densified experience. We were hesitating if we shall write is or not, but our story would be incomplete without it.
Hot and dry weather welcomed us over the borderline. The wind burnt our skin. The first city we arrived to was Sarakhs, but it didn’t have too much differences compared to the cities we visited in Iran. Though we recognized one thing! Draft beer is sold everywhere and women don’t wear scarfs. Then came the familiar car brands such as Lada, Volga etc.
The begging of June is extremely hot in Turkmenistan. It’s even hotter in the second part of June, so we kind of came out well from this weather. We’ve just met Frank, who cycled the Karakum Desert through in 59 degrees. Unimaginable! The temperature doesn’t decrease for the night either, so you’re simply sleeping in your own sweat.
The main roads are somewhere dicey and broken, but somewhere smooth as glass. Like they’re fighting against each other… Unfortunately, the bad phases seem to be the winner. As a matter fact, the old caravan passage is very old, so we could go along as slowly as a camel caravan indeed. You can hardly ever see road signs or any kind of traffic signs. Though drivers have a normal style of conducting, they pay attention to bikers. Except some Ladas or Volgas, only Toyotas can be seen on streets. One liter of fuel costs around 70 Hungarian forints.
The country is very ‘empty’. Sometimes I had the impression that we’re in the middle of nowhere. Mary was the only exception. This city isn’t that beautiful either, but has a nice ambiance and a lot of kind people at least. The density of the population is low, the roads are bleak and buildings are abandoned. We’ve got the feeling that some kind of tragedy happened and people have left. We were cycling in a watery and reedy place right after entering the border, which was truly pretty. As we’ve crossed plains and desserts, we can say that both of them have their own beauty. Compared to them, the golden statues that we’ve seen in many other places appealed us somehow less.
Food and beverages
Samsa (kind of a bundle stuffed with meat and baked in furnace) is prepared everywhere and usually sold by streets. Finding a place to eat or get something to drink is quite difficult, because there’s not even a single sign which would peg the existence of a restaurant or café, so we asked the locals. The first time we saw the square divan happened to take place in Turkmenistan. They cover it with blankets and have their meals by sitting on it. Foods and drinks are cheap in general.
People are nice and helpful. Their faces represent Asian features (much more than the Uzbek, though they’re closer to Middle-Asia).The locals and mainly women wear traditional clothes which we found beautiful. We have no idea why, but every single person above his/her thirties has at least one golden tooth. Alright, it’s not real gold, but golden colored cap (my dentist friends will tell…). They do love these bling-bling styled teeth. Russian is spoken everywhere and in bigger cities youngsters understand English. We have no idea about the employment rate of the country, but when we saw ladies washing the fence of the roads, the good old socialist times came into our minds with full employment. When a brigade dig the hole, the other filled it in. Of course we don’t know it for sure, but we really feel the necessity of washing those fences.
Watery areas possess a huge variety of birds. Furthermore, camels, 50cm long lizards and huge, palm-sized spiders can be seen, but we had the opportunity to meet a lost turtle and a lot of insects.
I doubt that many tourists would choose Turkmenistan as a main holiday destination. I guess foreigners simply pass through the country. In our views, it might be related to the following reasons
- It seems like the government doesn’t really desire any kind of tourists.
- Tourist visa’s only obtainable if you participate in an organized trip. We’re honestly curious about what they can show to tourists during such a holiday and how much money they can get out of these excursions?
- Lack of infrastructure.
- But at least they’ve got the system of presidential republic. It has developed since Nyyazow, though the government has still a lot to catch up with.
- The country doesn’t have a lot to offer in case of natural sights, historical cities or spots. Mary is the only exception.
If we’re in Turkmenistan, don’t miss:
Hitchhike a truck and ask for travelling on its platform for 100-150 kilometers. Why? Because it’s illegal and it is the most exciting thing you can do in that 5 days you spend there, let alone the bearable and nice climate. As a second option, look for a sand storm and check it from the inside.
Translated by: Alexandra Kiss
I was really looking forward to write this part of the blog. If Iran did not exist, it would have to be invented. But it is impossible to invent such a thing, so it is good it exists. I have never seen such a colorful country with so many contrasts.
Entering Iran was like travelling back in time. In the streets, there are swept-back haired men in slacks and checked shirts, on a motorbike or in old-fashioned jalopies. It feels like being in the USA of the 60’s, however, with an eastern decoration. The faces are also different from what we are used to: darker skin, black hair, women in hijab, men in long trousers, regardless of the extreme heat. Iran is the melting pot of cultures. Persian heritage filled with Arabic traditions, a pinch of Turkish, and recently elements of the American culture are added to these.
In Iran, there is no freedom. Most of us could not imagine that everything is controlled by religion and politics. Your practice of religion, your habits, morality, career, child raising, what to wear in the streets, your sexuality (as you can end up at the police station after a romantic walk in the park). It is controlled what you can drink and eat (however, not all of the Iranians are religious, even if officially they have to be), and once you are an Iranian, it is not easy to travel and to get a visa. The saddest thing of all is that you don’t have free will, the right to choose. We asked our friends to what extent the system affects their lives. Can they exclude it from their everyday life? According to the answer, it is not possible. It feels as if their heads were constantly pushed under water. It might be more difficult for them as they are not religious, they do not believe all the humbug they are given (many other people either), they have travelled to many other places, so they have seen people who were allowed to live their lives as they wanted to. For them, the way to survive is to travel abroad for some months by bicycle. They breathe in deep, and when their lungs are filled with air, they dive again. Maybe a day when they are drowning, they will not return, they will swim away with the dolphins. We recommend this piece of writing to them, to Mina and Habib.
Adults are treated as children in Iran. They are told what to do and how to do it. It got on our nerves, you can imagine how annoyed Iranians must be with this, which can be seen in the way they drive. It seems they find their freedom in the traffic, they do what they want on the roads. Nobody respects the Highway Code, and no one cares about whether it is respected or not. Such rules are broken in front of the police, for which your driving license would be taken away in other countries. It is easier to imagine all these if I give you examples. It happens sometimes that three, four, or even five people sit on the same motorbike. The father is driving, the four-year-old son is sitting in front of him on the gas tank, the mother is at the back with a baby in her laps. Between the mom and the dad, there is the seven-year-old daughter who is old enough to hold on alone. Or they just drive through red lights because no one is coming. They go in the wrong direction of the traffic to make their journey shorter. They don’t use the indicator at all. There is enough place for two cars in one lane, for experienced drivers, three cars don’t mean any problem either. It meant a huge, unimaginable chaos for us. Still it works well for them, we saw only a few crashes. Despite that it seems to be a suicide to go into a roundabout, I have to say that we were surprised in a good way. They are more attentive then their Ottoman counterparts. They slow down, let you in, and do not honk like crazy.
Besides this, they drive too fast, they may have never heard of stopping distance, and some cars are unbelievable to remain in one piece. In Iran, every driver has a fuel card. The first fifty liters of petrol cost 700 toman, which is 0,02 US dollars. After exceeding 50 liters, it costs $0,35. Of course, everyone has at least one car. The roads are full of thirty-, forty-years-old, heavily smoking trucks. Air pollution is so bad near big cities (and in Tehran) that we were suffocating. We have never experienced such smog before, not even in Istanbul, despite its heavy traffic. The capital city is surrounded with mountains, which make the smog stay in the valley. Not only cars, but many motorbikes are on the roads, too. Mostly Hondas and other local or Far eastern vehicles are the most popular. We didn’t see helmets at least on the half of the motorcyclists. Ops, I mean most of them had a helmet, but not on their heads. It was somewhere in their hands or on their handlebars. It is said that 10.000 people die yearly in motorcycle accidents, in Iran alone. This number is not surprising as the condition of the motorbikes is mostly poor and the equipment is missing.
Peugeot 405, 406, 206. Renault 5 imitation, Iranian fabrication. Kia Pride, or let’s say its Iranian version, Saba Seipa. They also have their own brand, Imco. Peycan is the local fake version of an English car type. You can find it in any amount, color, and condition. Zamyad, another type fabricated only in blue, which gives you the feeling of an American Dodge Ram. Those who can afford import cars from Europe, however there is heavy taxes on it. The rebellious souls drive an American car. We saw only a few cyclists. At the patrol stations, you can buy petrol, no chocolate, coffee or plush pig in most cases.
The landscape and the atmosphere
There is an abundance of natural variety in Iran. This country is hardly bigger 18 times than Hungary, but mountains, sea, desert, prairies, deciduous forests can all be found there. Among the buildings the mosques are the most beautiful, however, we preferred the Turkish ones. Their serais are not bad either. Old buildings are rare, we were told that the old is demolished and a new one is built instead. Nothing special, square-shaped houses with some decoration. It was only in Mashhad where we saw nice dwelling houses, photos can be found in our album. Cities and towns which we have visited were not so pretty. The houses seem to be unfinished. Iron pipes, bare roofing, floors incomplete. There is not a lot of garbage in the streets. The parks are really pretty, they are well-kept, well with drinking water, benches, and toilets can be found there.
It is incredible how crowded, noisy and smoggy is Tehran. The population is as big as that of Istanbul, but jam-packed in a quarter smaller area. The traffic is a chaos but it works well at the same time. Metros were so crammed with people that we could hardly squeeze ourselves in. There are separate compartments for women, and for all (it is useful to pay attention to the yellow inscription “Women only” before getting in). And there come the street vendors. They carry heavy shopping bags, many things they want to sell hang on their arms. They have everything you can imagine. Some goods they offer, including but not limited to bubble gum, insole, lighter, superglue, razor, tooth brush, tooth paste, torch, socks, balloon blowing kits, nerve-wracking special balls, vibrissae cleaner, Mp 3 player, rubber gloves, power bank, needle kit, perfume. They walk up and down in the metro compartments offering their super-quality products, even the torch that is used by American Police (at least they say so), and in order to take it under an endurance test, they hit them to the handhold rails. People either buy something, or they are extremely annoyed by these vendors. Personally, I found it amusing to watch how people bargain for or test the products. The price of the underground ticket is around 0,2 dollars, while a return ticket costs only 0,35$.
The best and the funniest way of commuting in the city (if we don’t like the crown and the vendors) is taking a routed taxicab. They are private minibuses driven by professionals or by men who are just pick people up on their way to bring the best out for everybody. If we got off our bikes near on a road, a car would horn us for sure, asking whether we want to have a ride. We ask in which direction he goes, and if it fits our plans, we accept the ride. The price is not clear-cut, we just checked how much others would pay. After a while, we were able to count the price of different distances. A journey of 5-6 kilometers would cost 0,5-0,7 dollars. Once it happened that a guy tried to trick us, but without success. We told him that we knew exactly the prices and we would not pay more. He accepted our answer, and we had a decent farewell. In many cases they gave us back the money if is seemed to be much, and once a man offered s a free ride. However, he accepted the half of the price when we insisted. The more courageous ones can also try it with motorbikes, if they are willing to pay a double price. It can be real adrenaline bomb for the passenger as the stuntman-like driver tries to find the free way between cars. There is not many famous landmarks in the city, only some markets, memorials, a TV tower, and a 4000 meters high mountain, which you can approach by funicular. Tehran is not really pretty, still there is something fascinating in it. Does this charm come from Tehran’s bustle?
The speed and the accessible content of course is restricted. This the citizens outflank by connecting to foreign servers and with other programs. We don’t really understand the government’s struggling.
The media is also national and strongly filtered. Solution is: parabolic antenna that gets the foreign Iranian broadcast. Politics, video clips, discussions about Iran, for Iranians, all unreservedly. If a policeman comes and wants to take down the antenna… well anything can be solved (like Dadan’s Bulgarian pal said, ’’If you can’t solve it with money, solve it with a lot of money!’’) This goes just like so.
The sun-bleached portraits of the fallen Iranian heroes are still alongside the streets. Khomeini Ajatollah peeks on every corner, watches with all-seeing eyes to check out whether everything’s going in the same old way. Propaganda, bans and inspections or not, things change slowly, so there is to be worried about. The warn-out citizens are welcomed by underground clubs and restaurants, which existence is spread by rumours and problems with the police are solved just like those of the antennas. If a grim religious leader weren’t enough, they often add the actual old guy, Khameni. They like wall-paintings, of which the toughest we see is: the soldier in uniform is walking out of the sea (Persian Gulf probably) and behind him are burning American warships and a helicopter is falling down. I know the USA isn’t quite white-handed, but I’ve never seen such an aggressive and inciting propaganda anywhere else, although I’ve only been at a few places.
There are no discos or clubs (officially), you should clap moderately on concerts, dance is best to avoid in public. Except for weddings, but still you can revel in public only for a while, then the core of the family goes home and has fun decently. There are no pubs of course, they throw house parties instead and they take the necessary narcotic stuff there. The country supposedly has quite a lot drug user. The common border with Afghanistan probably contributes to this fact too.
In Iran, people eat consciously. They have so to speak warm and cold dishes, however they refer to it based on whether a food stimulates or reposes blood pressure and not the temperature.
Sugar rich food is put on the table for breakfast, things that increases the blood pressure. Bread, marmalade, seeds, honey, yogurt, cheese. They don’t eat any meet for breakfast. For the main meals the garnish is usually rice, which provides the greater percent of the meal. Rice with some kind of meat, stew (khorest), vegetable. The side meal for them is the meat, they eat enough of the rice. The portions are different. They eat much less potato and pasta. The rice is cooked in a totally different way than at home, which also shows its principal role (there is a special device for cooking rice in most Iranian kitchen). What is more, there exist different types of rice: a type elaborated for celebrations and a simpler one. They decorate and savor it with all kinds of spices (for example saffron) and dried fruits. They eat less soup too, than us Hungarians, but still it’s present in their kitchen. They serve all dishes at once and everyone takes what he wants and in the order he likes. They eat a lot of leguminous and dishes made from them. After dining they too have tea (coffee is rare), with which they serve roasted seeds, candy, chocolate. Iranians drink alcohol too of course, it’s just somewhat harder and more complicated to get it. In the evening they consume a yogurt-like drink called dough (very similar to the Turkish ayran) to which they attribute a sedating virtue.
People are wonderful in Iran! They are welcoming, friendly, curious, opened for new things, and for the unknown. During the thirty days we spent we only had to put up a tent three times. This is not an extraordinary experience, we read the same from Zita and Árpi, the 360 degree bicycle honeymooner couple. We didn’t had to look for accomodation, people just came to us and asked if we would like to join them home, be their guests. The reason is that they like it and it makes them happy having a guest in the house, if unexpected, even better. Where does this come from? The culture, or from the Islam and prophet Mohamed, we don’t know. One thing is for sure, we have never been given as much care during our journey as in Iran and we feel like we won’t be either. They took care of us with love, without bias, information or questions. They didn’t ask what is our nationality, what confession we belong to, if we have a job or if are honest. They just came and gave everything (during the conversations everything was mentioned of course). It wasn’t good because we were able to eat and sleep free, but because as soon as Iranians noticed us, the care and attention just came naturally. Be that two saffron icecream, a bottle of cold water, a tea, a shady place, a bag of cucumbers, a few cold energydrink or fresh baked bread. They gladly talk about anything, they are curious about the world, still proud of their own culture too. We think it’s a magnificent combination.
Iran is a wonderful country, anyone who can should go and check it out. It isn’t expensive, assertive, neither ostentatious, and everyone will gain many great experience. The obligation to wear a hijab and long trousers is only a necessary inconvenience. Zoli Kobra put it into the right words how to approach these characteristics of the country. He said that the rules must be accepted and respected, and things should be done the way local people do, even if tourists are allowed to wear short trousers. Our freedom is a mirror to the restrictions they have. We should not throw this into their faces, but identify ourself with them.
If you have the chance to visit Iran don't miss it!
Translated by: Balázs Németh
Turkey is not equal to cheap trousers, gold jewels and big Bazaars. It is a little European but more Asian feeling and it can’t describe just one short sentence. The country is full of attractions, cultural heritages and has a huge cultural shock which can’t available in other part of Europe, but everything depends on the point of view of a person. We had to get used to a lot of things because there are a lot of differences against Hungary. But this is the reason why we travel to other countries isn’t it? We want to experience such things what we can’t find at home. So let us see how we see the country of half-moon with Istanbul.
In Turkey the first settlement which was inhabited called Edirne. We had been shocked immediately from big noise, bustling and millions of people on the streets. As we experienced , they spent much time outside on the streets with drinking tea, talking to each other and walking than inside between the rooms in Hungary. It was a good point immediately. At home, people they watch TV against walking in a park with neighbors and relatives, friends. Turkey is much social country as we are. Something may depend on money, this social life of course not. There were Muslim ladies wearing chador or kerchief on their face as well. In Turkey they have an ability to wear or not to wear these items against other Muslim countries like Iran. Except, when they must wear it, because of very religious fathers. Although, after this urge they may also refuse to cover their face, if they are so brave. In this case the biggest thing what ladies get is a wigging not a rebuke by a morality police. We don’t know the impression of other people, but all of the mosque was different and impressed us from time to time. May Muslims have the same feeling about our temples? A person who invite others for prayer, called Muezzin. We were also interested in their song every time.
Turkey has a lot of opportunities regardless of the season of the year when we visit. It has four seas and several peaks above 4000 and one above 5000 meters. The Van-lake is as big as 2 of our states together. Hills are green with bare rocks, snowy peaks and azure-blue palm trees. Turkey is cleaner than Serbia and Bulgaria, not much but it is cleaner. There is a lot of trash nearby the main roads everywhere we cycled. It might be caused by truck drivers. We also saw a lot of pet glasses filled with something yellow liquid. It is disgusting. It is characteristic on the country side, that basically more generations live in the same house, many times more than 10 people. They build up flat-roof houses from adobe and brick in the villages. There are water heaters/solar collectors on the roofs on many houses. The infrastructure is not complete, but electricity is everywhere where we were. It is not just a gossip, just some places had flush toilet. If you can’t imagine this, we describe. It is a square shaped porcelain cup is dig in the ground and you have to squat above it. It is luckiness if you have napkins or toilette paper, because it was missed from many rest rooms. Bidet is everywhere or there is a jug with water or tap. In the countryside at the poor families there is not table, bed and chair. They sleep on the ground on wide feather beds like a cover. We had left Istanbul for 40 days, when I wrote the Hungarian version of this article. I slept for 3 times and Eni slept 5 times in bed for this 40 days. To be honest we do not miss the beds and our waists are also okay. The also solve the eating on the beds and on the ground. Everywhere we were after Istanbul, the family ate on the ground. They have a kerchief or a waxed canvas and they eat on it. We could have seen sofa at the richer families but the pillow is also a must for the meals. As we saw they don’t have an unused furniture without a reason, like table with statues and so an. They furniture style called “simplicity”. Sometimes it means nothing. The Turkish flag is everywhere in the houses. Do you know the meaning of the white moon and star on red base in the flag? We also did not know it before. It is the view of the moon and the starts reflected from the lake which was painted red from the blood in a war. It is a little bit cruel but beautiful.
I read somewhere that Turkey developed more during the Ataturk and 50 years after Ataturk, then 500 years before. This way was not stopped. It is the 17th richest city of the world. It is the mixture of past and future. We also saw several hundred year old streets and modern office buildings or housing estates. This city is huge. There are more people live here than in Hungary and it is 11times bigger than Budapest, the capital of Hungary. If was hard to believe. About the buildings… mosques are awesome. Istanbul is one of the most beautiful cities what I have seen. If you would like to discover it, take at least 2 weeks for visiting. The transport is catastrophic. The drivers of transporter and taxi drivers do not respect nobody and nothing. The prices of the goods are variable. the region of visited places are the most expensive, but if you walk away some streets you can get everything 40-50 with percent discount. We say and try to keep this rule as “we go, where the locals eat and shopping. They don’t pay more for a food than its real value”
If you plan to go to Turkey by car, you have to pull up your socks. The big cities are the worse of course and the factor, that everybody is a beast on the road without forbearance. The kindest male also becomes a silly driver if he gets a car. In our literature, they would hit our mothers if they step off in front of the car. The problem is not really the chaos, but rather the complete deficit of civility on the roads. The chaos is much bigger in Iran. They do not let others come before them and push them to the edge of the road. The missed horn is as frequent as a leap year. We were almost hit by a car several times. It was not our fault. They have just come from the opposite way of one direction road. Eni has written in her article about Istanbul that they are standing on the horns all the time. It was so tiring if you hear the coming cars from your back and you do not know when they start to push the horn. There was all type of cars from old buses to newest cars. The most frequent cars are the Otocar minibuses with chrome color. The sentence that Allah is watching you („Allah Koruson”) was found able on each car. We guessed that they are not really afraid of that Allah watches them based on their driving moods. The basic types of passenger cars are Fiat, Renault and Peugeot. There is a type of old Fiat what you can not find in Hungary, but here they over lock this type as well. The motorcycles are so frequent. Usually they have 125ccm-150ccm Honda motorcycles and they rush on the roads 2-3 of them on 1 engine. They have slippers without helmet of course. The ages are variable. The youngest guy was about 13 year old. The quality of the roads is mostly good with big sidewalks like a bike lane. You should take care about dogs and sheepdogs. The sheepdogs are less friendly. The public transport and buses are okay with good prices. Railway is cheaper but slower. Airport is findable everywhere and because of the size of the country it is worth to travel by plane for big distances. The public transport is excellent in Istanbul and the “Istanbul card” for public transport is cool. We suggest is for visitors.
People and language
They are very friendly. Hungarians are liked in Turkey, something like sibling nation for them. We guess that they have different information about the 150 year of Turkish domination in Hungary. They may think that they had been invited in to Hungary to govern a country a little bit. But is does not make sense after 500 years. If someone doesn’t like them do not go there. Our country founder (Attila) thousand year ago was known as a Turkish man. We did not want to correct them. It did not happen that we asked something and they refused to do it because “just not”. If they had water we got some, if there was space for our tent we were allowed to set up. Lot of times we did not ask it was just happened that they bring some tea for us or we gained an accommodation. They love guests. We should learn it from them. Turkish language did not seem to be hard for us. They have many loanwords from Hungary. We learned the basics fast. Some samples for the words:
kücsük –kicsi (small)
kapö –kapu (gate)
sapka- sapka (cap)
sál- sál (scarf)
They do not really speak English and it won’t be better, because of the education. It is not must to learn foreign language. The government doesn’t think that it is an important issue against the common pray. We do not want to talk about politics, just write what we have heard. During conversation we recognized, that the high educated part of the people do not like the government, because they try to mix religion and politics together. This is the equipment to persuade religious people. The Prime Minister (Erduan) is not the most economical person. The new 1000 room palace with 2000 policeman guardians shows it. They feel that the country is not opened to the world. Atarürk tried to catch up other developed countries between 1923 and 1938. He cancelled the patrician casts and separated politics from religion. He is still popular. We saw his portrait hanging on the walls in many houses. Our experience is that there is a big stress in the country.
Prices and shopping
Turkey is not a cheap country. We have the same prices as home. May be the transportation is the only euro saving activity. we tries to solve our shopping where we saw the prices. We had an intuition many times they we are tried to be tricked. It was just a fear I guess, but Turkish people are famous for their “business skills”. Petrol is so expensive 460-500Huf (1,5-1,6 euro)
Food and tastes
If someone wants to lose weight, we do not suggest doing in Turkey, because he/she can’t stop eating delicious foods and sweets. We start the list with sweets. Baklava. We know some people who say it is too sweet. We don’t think it so. It is just perfect in our point of view. The chocolate is not the strongest part of Turkey but biscuits are the kings of the foods. We have tried 15-20 varieties of tastes and all of the flavors were perfect. These are findable in every shop in the range of 65-110gramm. The prices are between 0.75 and 1 lira. 1 lira is 110Huf or 0.33Euro. We ate 1 package every day during our trip. We can buy Ayran, which is a cold, acidulated drink like a yogurt. Coffee is not popular. Everybody drinks tea and drink 3in1 instant coffee. Tea stands in the middle point in the culture of Turkey. It is also a big part or ritual of social life. We found tearoom everywhere and when we go to somebody he will reserve a tea for us at first. One cup of tea is about 1-2 lire (0.3-0.6Euro), but we were also invited for a tea many times as kindness. Alcohol is not everywhere and if you find it is expensive. A beer costs 1.6Euro. They eat a lot of vegetables and bread for each meal. Some of the foods are served separated for the dishes and some of them are common. Some types of foods are köfte, bulgur, kebab, bread without leaven, yogurt and sheep cheese without a full list.
Turkey is a good start, if we want to get used to Asia. It is fully recommended if you go on bicycle to the other continent. It is easy available and it has enough difference against Europe, if you do not think about a holiday on the beach. Turkish people are very kind (basically on foot not by car) and they like Hungarians as well. Our name in their language shows it well, because we are only called similar in Hungary (Magyar) as in Turkey (Madzsar) and Iran in the world.
If you visit Turkey, don’t miss them: Istanbul (from start to end), Baklava, Ayran, one village on country side, get an invitation for a tea, Cappadocia, Antalya.
Translated by: Gréta Kojsza
This entry came into life with real difficulties. The main reason is probably that we spent only a short time in this country. In the other hand, we didn’t have the chance to meet too many people either. Our acquaintances, who put us up were busy with working, so we didn’t have time to talk. Let’s see, how we felt in Bulgaria.
Entering to the country, compared to Serbia ґwe didn’t see any differences when it comes to clarity. Maybe a little bit cleaner, but I wouldn’t swear on it. You can find plenty of garbage by the road on both sides. We firstly thought that we’re going to have to deal with abandoned dogs, but the county developed in this aspect (I spent the autumn semester of 2005 in Sophia with Erasmus exchange program, so I had the base for comparison)
Some of roads are in terrible conditions. The highroad 8 between Sophia and Plovdiv is impassable, we struggled with it even though, we travelled by bikes. The motorway otherwise seemed ok, at least on that 40 kilometers way we took (but don’t tell it anyone).
The driving style of Bulgarians-which is hard to define-but let’s say, they prefer driving fast, confident and sporty to driving slowly and thoughtful. If we don’t want to be sophisticated, then we could say that they drive like brutes. The preferred situations for overtake took place in bends, at the double white line, on slopes upwards and overtaking the other who’s going right on in the band, turning to the left and so on. The best scenario ever is the one, when a on 2 banded road it was the 4 of us next to each other. So I was overtaken by a car, then that one was overtaken by a more determined one and there was another car as well, coming regularly from the opposite direction. The road was quite broad, but still…The cars represent the current social state of Bulgaria, the middle class is really small. 60% of the cars worth a lot, 30% counts as the cars in bad conditions, imported from the west and the other 10% for the average. We somehow suspect that the mentioned Bulgarian driving style has something to do with the high number of crashed luxurious cars by roads or in used-car dealerships (you can never know what pleases to the buyer). The usage of traffic circles is common, but people don’t understand what is good for exactly and how do they supposed to drive in and out of it.
Shopping, prices, dishes
Bulgaria is noticeably, around 30% cheaper than Hungary. You can anything in shops, there’s a huge variety of local and imported goods as well. Beers are delicious (alcohol is basically cheaper), they’re getting better in vines, cheeses are good and ayran can be bought everywhere (a very weak yogurt drink). You must try “bánica” (pastry, resembles to strudel with filling inside) with “szirene” (white cheese), apple, spinach. A huge slice costs 1 leva (around 150 Hungarian forints). “Bánica” shops can be found on each corner of the streets. One night we went to a restaurant. Bulgarian cuisine is amazing, dishes are very delicious and creative. They use a lot of vegetables, meats are well prepared, mainly on the grill. If you order salad, don’t be surprised if you get a huge stack of it. It’s not like in Hungary, that you get 5 slices of tomato floating in the dressing. They start at 300-400 grams, but you can find even 800 grams on the menu on a very reasonable price. Eating in an authentic restaurant in Sophia is obviously not the cheapest option, but you can see the waiters dancing roundelay with the guests, with the help of the official entertainment employees. We saw it once, which was more than enough.
We already told you, that we lack experiences with the locals (this time), but what else could we do, we have to evaluate like this. I have to tell you, that Bulgarians are not the most polite nation, they’re not attentive and no one should expect being premised in the door. In my view, exemption doesn’t strengthen the rule (I have no idea who invented that one exemption would strengthen a rule, but there’s no point in it), but you can find some of them. They don’t speak English, maybe only youngsters in bigger cities.
Cities, nature, architecture
Sophia is located in a beautiful place, right next to Vitosha-mountains. It has some very pretty buildings and places to visit, but altogether the city is not beautiful. Most of the smaller cities are really socialists, grey and depressing. The villages next to roads looked the same. Same houses without plaster-work on the walls, or only on some parts of the walls for example: only the balcony (probably the main reason is the lack of money). The balcony is usually situated on the floor or on the ground floor, the houses are cubical in most cases. Plovdiv is a wonderful city, I mean its Old Town. So don’t miss it if you’re in Bulgaria. We haven’t been to the sea-coast, but we know that great places are situated there as well and the lovers of mountains can find suitable destinations for their passions. Bulgarians love putting old, useless jet-fighters on the top of columns, god knows why…
Bulgaria is an exciting country, with plenty of surprises and novelties. Do not expect for long sightseeing tours, except Plovdiv and maybe Veliko Tyrnovo and Nessebar. There’s nothing special about sea-coast, the mountains are romantic, suitable for days or weeks long hikes. Those who are interested in monasteries won’t be disappointed either. Going on bike trips is not the best idea, due to the previously mentioned Bulgarian driving style, but don’t panic, the situation is not life-threatening yet.
If you’re in Bulgaria, do not miss:
- Rila Monastery
- Try Bulgarian cuisine
- The church of Sveta Nedelja and the cathedral of Alekszander Nevszkij in Sophia
- post-communist something on the top of the Buzludzha-mountain
The knowledge of Cyrillic alphabet is highly recommended, but there’s no need for anti-rabic injections (abandoned dogs) for a holiday at Golden Sands.