Romania-The Search for Dracula’s Castle

As my semester abroad in Serbia finished, I took 3 week holiday. I spent it across 9 cities in 5 countries, best time of my life. Tried to spend as little as possible on accommodation by Couchsurfing, you’ll be surprised by the people you’ll meet. I recommend it to everyone because it is the easiest way to assimilate and understand where you are, who lives there, what they do, and of course you save money.

For my first stop I took a short train ride to Timisoara in the west of Romania. Even though Romania is one of the more prosperous countries in the Balkans, expenses are still pretty cheap here compared to most of Europe. I spent more time here than other countries I visited because I thought I had more time than I did. Here’s how I rank the cities I went to, Cluj-Napoca>Brasov>Timisoara>Bucharest (smh).

Cathedral in Cluj
Dormition of the Theotokos Cathedral, Cluj-Napoca, a Romanian Orthodox Church.

Strolling Around Cluj

Ironically, my favorite city in Romania is also the city I took least photos of. I find myself drawn to this city because of its potential, it had all the makings of a modern well functioning cityscape with a young population, the country’s best (?) university and a shit ton of heritage buildings. Versatile. A significant number of Hungarians live here and it is very easy to get to Budapest from Cluj.


Brasov old town
View of Brasov from the Black Tower.

The Legacy of Dracula

To be honest, I came to Brasov only because it is the closest major city to Bran Castle (Dracula’s Castle). I had high hopes for Dracula’s Castle but in the end I felt that I wasted my time in Bran, could have done more in Brasov. The small town of Bran has been milked by the tourism industry so much it is now a resort town, going into the castle costs 8 Euros.

Peles Castle in nearby Sinaia was so much prettier imo, it was the vacation home of the royal family until 1947, and you don’t have to pay to see the castle up close. I really like the “Brasov” sign on top on Mount Tampa (pictured), even though it looks like a cheap Hollywood knockoff , you can actually hike up to where the sign is. Generally a very chill city, good place to spend a whole afternoon in the centre reading a book.


Street art in Timisoara
Street art in Timisoara.
Street Smart Timisoara

Aesthetically I think Timisoara was the most beautiful city I went to in Romania with a rich mixture of Baroque and Gothic buildings. Piata Unirii was simply breathtaking and the most picturesque area I went to. You can find glimpses of the city’s local history turning corners of the many streets with signs telling you info about old factories and bridges. I rank it only in 3rd mostly because of myself, it was the first city I went to and I was not yet in the mood to engage with people and communicate.


Romanian Atheneum
The Romanian Atheneum, a concert hall in Bucharest.

The Lesser of the Bu-est capitals

Bucharest is the capital of Romania and maybe because of that I had higher hopes for it, but usually people say capital cities are never representative of any country. I didn’t have a wonderful experience here, I thought the city looked ugly, it rained all 3 days I was there, my host was very friendly but creepy and made me feel uncomfortable (a me problem).

The highlight of my first day there was hiding from the rain in a shitty mall with half of its shops closed and stealing Wifi from H&M. I need to go back there someday when the weather is better. All in all, I just couldn’t identify anything with Bucharest, maybe that’s why people know Budapest more than Bucharest. Ouch.

I took an overnight train from Cluj to Budapest, a 7 hour journey. Romanian trains are not very comfortable, when you use the bathroom, you’ll notice you’re peeing or pooping directly onto the tracks. In summer you also have to deal with the heat and your own sweat, when your seat mate is 100% Romanian who speaks no English, 7 hours feel like 70.

The Heart of Yugoslavia- Bosnia and Herzegovina

Introduction (Afterthoughts)

I spent a month living in Sarajevo, the capital city of Bosnia-Herzegovina covering a feature story about the discrimination faced by the largest minority group of the country, the Roma people. It was a rather strange month, I had my (new) phone stolen on a tram, and then a snow storm hit in April. This was written in around May 2017.

First Things First

Hey guys, I am currently in Sarajevo (Sa-ra-yeh-vo), the capital city of Bosnia and Herzegovina (1 country, BiH for short) working on my final project I hope I will be able to share with everyone in the future. It’s the May Day weekend, no work can (will) be done, so I might as well blog about my temporary country of residence.

BiH is geographically located west of Serbia, north of Montenegro and southeast of Croatia. The official language is Bosnian, some people don’t agree, but it’s basically the same language as Serbian, Croatian and Montenegrin with minimal differences. The country is made up of 3 “constituent” peoples; Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats, differentiated mainly through religious backgrounds (Muslims as Bosniaks, Orthodox Christians as Serbs and Catholics as Croats). Ethnic minorities (e.g: Roma, Jews, Eastern Europeans etc) complete the approximate population of 4 million people.

The political structure of the country is really complicated, there are 2 political entities that make up the country, please bear in mind I am not talking about political parties, I am talking about something close to having 2 different governments in a country due to the war of the 90s. The Republika Srpska (translated to Serbian Republic) make up most of the North and Southeast of BiH. It has a majority Serb population and has its own President BUT it is still BOSNIA.

I visited the capital of RS, Banja Luka (Ba-nia Loo-ka) for 2 days, it seemed like a nice little holiday retreat especially if you stay near the Vrbas river and the Kastel Fortress. I can imagine myself in the summer, floating down the river on a rubber float.

Vrbas River in the evening
Late afternoon across the Vrbas.


Kastel Fortress
Parts of Kastel Fortress
Serbian Orthodox Church of the Holy Trinity
Late afternoon overlooking the Serbian Orthodox Church of the Holy Trinity


Ferhadija Mosque
Ferhadija Mosque

One Country, Two Entities

Sarajevo is the capital of BiH and the 2nd political entity; the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Federation for short. It has a majority Bosniak population and is more touristy than Banja Luka. Even though I try to refrain from talking about religion, I can feel Islam here is being quite differently from Southeast Asia, or Malaysia, at least in the cultural sense. I would say it is a mixture of European and Islamic values.

My favorite thing about Sarajevo is definitely the geography. You see mountains wherever you look. There are various high panoramic viewpoints in the city I love. In the day you feel very close to nature, at night, the lights make the hills look alive.

Old Town Sarajevo
Old Town Sarajevo, a concentration of souvenir shops, restaurants, cafes and others. Basically the tourist go-to spot. I come here for ice-cream, exchange currency and the best burek in the world from Sač Buregdžinica.


Titova Street, Sarajevo
Maršala Tita, or Titova, street named after the great former socialist leader of Yugoslavia, Josip Broz Tito. A shopping street with a variety of food and coffee places.


Panoramic view, Sarajevo
I like this photo a lot. Took it at Kod Bibana, a restaurant at the top of Old Town. One of the many panoramic viewpoints.


Panorama of Sarajevo
View of the city from Bijela Tabija or The White Fortress, an old fort on top of a hill.


Overcast Sarajevo
Taken from the same fort, I like this shot because of the great lighting from the setting sun.


Sarajevo after snow
Sarajevo in the snow. 

I was shocked because it’s April, it snowed again today and it’s the May Day weekend. Makes me think how people lived here during the war. Sarajevo was under siege from 1992 to 1996 by Bosnian Serb forces. It was the longest siege of a capital city in the history of modern warfare. Civilians were trapped for 3 years while under heavy shelling. Today, explosion marks from mortars are still visible, marks painted with red resin indicates fatal strikes. These red marks are known as Sarajevo Roses. There is one just right outside my apartment building, I felt too uneasy to take a photo of it.

A City Torn Apart by War

There are 2 “sniper alleys” in the city. These were alleys within a sniper’s line of fire. Civilians often had to cross them at the risk of being shot, there are many photos of people running across these alleys during the war due to necessity, they had to bring food home, they had to navigate the city to survive. I highly recommend you search for some of these photos, they display strong human desires to survive.

I also want to clarify that there were also Serbs, Croats and minorities in the city when it was besieged, people of all ethnicities suffered. More than 10,000 people died during this time span. The war resulted in the fragmentation of today’s BiH and created the RS and Federation divide.

First Impressions- Belgrade

First Words

Hello guys, for my first post, this is a journal I wrote on my first week in Belgrade, Serbia when I studied abroad there last semester. I spent six months in Europe and expect more travelogues to come about my time there!

Enter the Balkans

Based in Belgrade, the capital of the Republic of Serbia, I will also be travelling to a couple of other cities in the region!

A little backgrounder on the region. Serbia was once a part of six republics that made up the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, the other five being Slovenia, Croatia, Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Macedonia. Ethnic tensions and nationalist sentiments arose in the late 80’s to early 90’s mainly between the Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks which resulted in bloody warfare and processes known as “ethnic cleansing”.

Long story short, they started committing atrocities against each other, genocide, rapes, you name it. When the war ended, Yugoslavia dissolved into separate nations. Belgrade then served as the capital of the Republic of Serbia & Montenegro. In 2006, Montenegro declared its own independence and we are left with Serbia.

Belgrade at Night
Belgrade seen from Branko’s Bridge across the Sava River separating (old) Belgrade and New Belgrade. Pictured is (old) Belgrade.

The Capital of Yugoslavia

Belgrade served as the capital of Yugoslavia, Serbia & Montenegro and now Serbia, it has seen more changes than your ex’s relationship status. A mixture of Western European and Communist Russia influences can be seen throughout the city. There would be cobbled stone streets with fancy-looking cafes, less than half a mile away there would be grey brutalist buildings built during the socialist era.

Skadarlija street
Ulica Skadarska, or Skadarlija, one of the more Western European oriented streets in Belgrade. The street is filled with bars and cafes. More likely to turn up at night.

You cannot judge the aesthetics of the city based on one or two photographs you find on Google. Unlike Paris, San Francisco or Tokyo and etc, there is no one designated theme to the city, it is what it is, a mixture of East and West.

Zeleni Vanac marketplace in Belgrade
Parts of the city orient more towards the East or Russia. Pictured is an old building and Zeleni Venac marketplace.
Youth theatre in Belgrade
More Eastern/Russian oriented architecture.

Tense Political Landscape

The Balkans is an area of much geopolitical interests, I will explain more as I update more. The standard of living in Belgrade and many former Yugoslav cities are among the lowest in Europe. Younger generations feel more inclined to leave the region and look for opportunities elsewhere if presented, of course, this information was obtained through conversation with some locals and cannot be confirmed.

The government is not a popular entity, in fact, a protest was staged a few days ago asking for the resignation of the mayor mainly because of a foreign invested plan to redevelop a neighborhood in the city, causing the demolition of many buildings. Masked men were sent to enforce the demolition of buildings standing in the way of the development one night, causing outrage. 

Protestors at the "Let's Not Drown Belgrade Protest
Protestors gather outside the National Assembly of Serbia.

As things stand…

In terms of how I personally feel about the city, I don’t think it is the prettiest city I’ve ever been in, but it is definitely the most interesting mainly because of the mixture or Eastern and Western influences. The streets are relatively dirty but being Malaysian, that’s nothing I haven’t seen before. Buildings here are covered in graffiti, many of which express controversial political views including stance on Russia and the refugee crisis.

Many refugees hoping to cross the border to Hungary are stuck in Belgrade because the borders have been closed, they have been here for months, there does not seem to be an easy way out. On my travels I can see where the refugees mainly gather, at the park or the central bus station. I am vary about reports of refugees causing trouble in other parts of Europe but so far I have not encountered or heard any problems here.

Being at war just 20 years ago and before that being under a socialist regime, Serbia has not seen much diversity in terms of the traffic of foreigners. As an Asian, I do get a glance or two in the streets but I can tell you it’s not a diverse city at all in terms of human beings. People here speak Serbian or Serbo-Croatian. Being the capital, a fair amount of people speak English albeit limited but many do not as well, so roaming around was kind of hard in the beginning. Having learnt to read Cyrillic, it’s easier to pronounce street names but I would have to grasp the language to feel completely at home. Here’s to hoping that happens soon!


Hoi Mun