Sunday, August 27, 2017

How Romania has changed

We landed at the Bucharest Airport at the tail end of Heatwave Lucifer. How do you know when a heatwave is really bad? When they give it a name, and especially after they give it a name like that.

This time was going to be different, this time we rented a car with air conditioning! How smart we were, driving away from that blazing hot, overcrowded, traffic-jammed city and on up to our pension in Corbii Mari. The one without air conditioning. Leaping Lucifer!

It's not like the place didn't have ACs, or at least in some of the rooms. It's that in the rooms that had them, they weren't working. There was a pile of them, air conditioners, stacked up by the back door. The rate of installation seemed to be .65 units installed each day. How long were we going to stay there? A week?

As I lie on the hot bed in the hot room in the hot pension, there was a knock on the door. The manager told me there was a room available with AC. I jumped on that like a crazed woman, and the manager kindly helped me move all of our stuff down the hall to the gloriously cool room. OK, yep, I can handle a week at this place.

Romania is getting AIR CONDITIONERS!

Next up, after not shriveling up in the heat, was seeing how the pension was going to handle our vegan diet. Breakfast was included in the price, and it was very meat-heavy. But with just a short explanation of what we needed, we got an incredible fruit plate and a plate of tomatoes and cucumber along with some vegan spreads every morning. Those were the tastiest nectarines I've ever had.

Romania does nectarines well.
So then came the next question, how had Romania changed in the four years since we were last there. In the villages? Not much. They still felt a thousand miles away from bustling Bucharest. There is still poverty amidst the abundant food supply from the fertile soil. Many of the young people have left, but the older ones are incredibly resilient. And yes, the horse-drawn cart is a very popular mode of transport. There is a charming custom of decking out one's horse with a pattern of red ribbons, so many that the horse just knows it's looking super fine and seems to trot that much more elegantly. I tried to get a picture of one of these red ribboned horses, but they were just too jaunty and quick for my reaction time, especially in the heat.
Just one red ribbon.
Craigslist has not hit the villages, if you want to sell a cow, you put up a sign.

Cow for sale
Every single house has a fence and gate. Every one. You just don't have a house all naked and exposed like most of us in the US have. The fence and gate are like the front door. You don't just waltz in to someone's yard without first yelling out for them. We learned this rule this time around, because in 2013 we broke the fence/gate etiquette many times without realizing it. Oops.

A bench is also very common.
Neighbors sit and talk.

The horse selfie, or horsie, has now become a thing.
I don't drink sodas at home. Don't buy them, don't drink them, even if they're offered at a party. Yuck, soda, who wants soda? In Romania, I do! Coca-Cola tastes so good there, it doesn't taste like an assault to the nose and brain like it does here. Yum. Plus, every bottle has a city name on it, and it's fun to see which one you get.

More on Cluj, read on.

Oh the beer.
Oh the Ciuc Radler.
We came back for loftier reasons, I would like to think.
But oh, the Ciuc.
After the first couple days, the heatwave named Lucifer broke. That means it went from the 106 degree range to the mid 90 degree range. Which still felt really really hot in the villages. Shade trees are still not super popular there - small fruit trees that produce food are way more popular than big trees that only produce shade.

You know a town is hot when it is named Hot.
This was the only shade tree in town.
Romania is a place where you're just about ready to throw up your hands and say you're never coming back, ever, and then something happens that touches your heart and begs you to give it another chance. A real shepherd down on the bank of a river with his herd of sheep, a group of Roma children quietly eating plums as they watch a video on your tablet, a kind couple pulling out their best chairs so you can take a little rest on their porch, the street dogs, the goats, the geese, the struggling little stores that are thrilled to sell their barely cold Cokes to the sweaty Americans, finding the best little seesaw you've ever been on in a park in the middle of town as you watch a man take his wife out for a ride behind their red ribboned horse. It's all part of the package, and it's why I'll go back. 

Good and simple times with really loving people.


Andrei and Iulia!

Vegan pizza with arugula? Yes!
My advice if you're looking for a really great place to visit in Europe, with great food, cheap prices, not much traffic, calm surroundings and tons and tons of charm? Visit Romania, but don't go to Bucharest! Don't fly into Bucharest! Fly into Cluj-Napoca, or as you'll learn it's really called, just Cluj. Everything about Romania that makes it hard to visit isn't an issue in Cluj. It was like Romania-lite. We loved Cluj and hope to go back. 

More mamaliga. Yum.
This mushroom sauce was specially made for us. 

Good times at the Botanical Gardens.
What a wonderful treasure in the heart of the city.

Cobblestone streets...

...and pretty buildings with an Austrian feel.
But without the Austrian prices.

Cluj Arena was the best part of the vacation, for sure.

Until next time, Romania.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

How Germany has changed

Please excuse any weird formatting issues. Blogger doesn't care much for this Keyboard.
QWERTY, I miss you!


If one reads the News (and please excuse the German Keyboard, it wants to capitalize some of the nouns) as much as I do, one would think Germany has changed so much it wouldn't be recognizable. Stories of overflowing refugee camps, knife-wielding madmen running rampant in the streets and other Headlines made me wonder how different I would find this place after an Eleven year Absence.

When we come to Germany, we are usually based around the cities of Frankfurt, Mainz, Bremen and a very Little town North of Bremen called Garlstedt. We've been in other larger cities in the past, but didn't visit them this time. Like I said, it's been 11 years. We've been here in 1993, 1996 and maybe three other times, I've lost track. I love it here, because it's cool and green, clean and orderly, well-run and efficient, and very safe. All those qualities make my heart sing, so I was bracing for the worst.  

So, after one week, what have I found? Here is my take on Germany in 2017:

  • People still smoke a lot. They throw their cigarette Butts in the street.
  • There is very Little litter, hardly any. If there were no cigarette Butts, there would be no trash in the streets to speak of, especially compared to where I live in Sacramento, California.
  • It is hotter, but it started off so cool that it's still refreshing.
  • If there is an obesity epidemic here, I'm not seeing it.
  • The buses run on time, as always. If you're late for the bus and you scream and yell and Pound on the doors of the bus as it's pulling away, the bus Driver will not stop. And that's why the buses run on time. You really must get to the stop on time.
  • From time to time you see Immigrant women in headscarfs, but I see more in our Sacramento neighborhood.
  • There are huge windmills and solar Panels everywhere.
  • The German People didn't go anywhere, they are still here. Just with some refugees added in.
  • Most everyone still speaks German.
Some other Things that haven't changed:

You'll see some socks with sandals, but less 
than in the past.

All the Buildings are still Standing.

You still don't have to share your covers.

Tomatoes and cucumbers for breakfast are still 
a Thing. 

Beer, still the national drink.

Lots of Little German cars,
but more SUV's too.

The Food is still awesome!

Yes it is, and it is everywhere. And so is the best gluten-free bread I've ever had. Gluten-free bread that doesn't taste like reconstituted cardboard. It is so good, it Toasts up like real normal bread, and Looks to be whole-grain, which I can't confirm because of Course it's all in German.

Soy Curls! In the Drugstore!

Happy German cows who love Soy Curls.

Alles gutes!

Thursday, August 3, 2017

James Harriot meets Jane Austen

It takes a village
Leaving for an extended vacation is never easy, especially where there is a family pet involved. There are supplies to be purchased, yards to de-poop, toys to be handed out last minute to lessen the guilt, glares to be endured as the suitcases come out. 

So finding a good pet sitter is essential, one who cares about your pet deeply, one who is willing to put up with the unexpected. Finding one who writes you a hilarious mini novel to read when you get back? Priceless. This time we didn't have to wait for our return to read the novella, we received it via email. An email that was read with dread and side splitting laughter. Here it is, written by our friend, neighbor and pet sitter Melene:

Well, Miss Molly has/had been her sweet self.  We had two studies cancel this week so I have been home more and with the heat I've kept her in more.  So I thought that her 'emotional' needs were being met well.  Then yesterday afternoon I walked back into the living room and there was Molly, soulfully sitting in the middle of the rug with most of her stuffed animals pulled out of the basket and artfully arranged around her.  Did I not immediately feel that it was some sort of of message.  Signaling some lack she was feeling in my stewardship of her?  What could I do?  What do drama queens appreciate most?  Paparazzi attention.  So I took a picture of her.  Which I will send.  When I figure out how to do it.

But evidently her indoor friends were not meeting all her emotional needs either, because she felt the need to reach out for some outdoor companionship - wild and odiferous.  I think she has been feeling the heat.  Even in the house she moves from place to place.  After she has warmed up one spot she will move to another.  So Tuesday night when she woke during the early morning hours and wanted out, I didn't worry when she didn't want to come back in.  'Enjoy the cool while you can.'  In the morning she came right in and all was fine.  (Until, of course, the incident yesterday of the indoor animal friends spread out on the floor.). So last night when she wanted to stay out again, no problem.  She didn't seem to be barking.  Until about 5:30 this morning.  Her barking woke me up.  I stumbled over to the sliding door, opened it and the screen door,  and was assaulted with (what is inelegantly known as) a  'snootful of skunk stench'.  "Oh, no!  Skunk alert! Get into the house as quick as you can!"  But  it was rapidly apparent that it was too late.  The smell came in with her.  And back out she went.  And back to bed I went.  To rest up for and research what I needed to do.  

I got the ''de-skunk" recipe from the internet.  You have all the ingredients- thank you thank you!  (I had visions of trying to slink down to my house wearing my pj's to gather what I needed and then to slink back hoping no one would see me. I was still very tired when I was envisioning this.  Although, with the current fashion mode, I probably wouldn't have gotten a second look from anyone seeing me.). 

I didn't know what you usually mix it in.  But I remembered seeing an empty plastic ice cream container in the recycle.  (So I did slink out to the garbage can to dig it out.  With Jessica's robe covering the pj's.). I mixed the solution and took it and Molly into the pool yard.  With the gates shut.  She let me pour it over her and work it in.  But when it was time to rinse it off, I couldn't get her to come close to the hose I had which was running nice warm water.  So I got her tennis ball and threw it into the pool a couple of times.  That had to do for her rinse.  

She keeps hanging around the back door obviously ready to come inside.  So I had to have a little talk with her about consequences of one's actions.  (When one is wet and residually stinky, especially as a direct result of one's own risky behavior, one cannot expect all the rights and privileges one usually enjoys.).  Her head was in the attentive position, but her eyes kept sliding from side to side. So I am not counting on her rehabilitative retention of either the experience or the chat.  But she can be sure that there will be no allowance of any late-night carousing tonight.  No way, Missy.

 What could we possibly bring home from our European vacation to make up for this? All the beer in Germany? All the plum brandy in Romania? We may need to get a bigger suitcase.