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.