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Saturday, October 22, 2011

Bucharest, Romania. A Night at the Symphony

Our hotel in Bucharest is just a few steps from Calea Victoriei (Victory Avenue) in the downtown area.  It is about a three block walk to the Athenium concert hall.

Our tour guide, Edward, from Medieval Tours was able to find tickets for us to the Thursday evening concert there.
Now, ordinarily, I wouldn't spend an evening at home listening to Beethoven and Brahms.  But, what's that old saying?  When in Romania, do as the Romanians do!

The soloist on the piano, Dan Grigore, is a well known Romanian and received much applause from the crowd.

My favorite though was director Misha Katz, a native Russian who resides in Paris.  (A couple of YouTube videos show Katz.  His enthusiasm comes through around 1:24 on this one.)  He was by far the most enthusiastic and animated director that I have ever seen.  He expressed joy and enthusiasm throughout the concert.  Following the applause and a few curtain calls at the end, he spoke to the audience in French, a language well beyond my skills but which Linda would translate for me later.

I'm not sure we totally understand the protocol for behavior at a concert like this.  I couldn't find anyone smiling during the performance.  During the movements, which were about fifteen minutes in length and immediately thereafter there was total silence.  Then, simultaneous coughing and clearing of throats for about fifteen seconds, fading quickly to perfect silence again.

While I enjoyed the show, I'll still choose John Fogerty the next time he's in town.  To which I should add, Elvis Costello will be here in Bucharest on November 3rd.

Sibiu, Romania

From Cluj, we continued south to the city of Sibiu, Romania.  Sibiu, with a populations of around 150,000 lies almost exactly in the center of Romania and lies just to the north of the Carpathian Mountains.  Driving into town the first view is not encouraging.

But it turns out that there are three public squares in the older part of the town and some nicely restored buildings.
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These town squares provide a focus for the very old Lutheran church and somewhat newer Roman Catholic church.
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We spent part of the following morning at the art museum which featured Romanian Impressionists as well as a collection of European masters.

The general attractiveness of the buildings on the square is probably one of the reasons that Forbes magazine rated Sibiu, "Europe's 8th most idyllic place to live."  Sibiu was also named one of the "European Culture Capitals" in 2007 and has been the focus of some of England's Prince Charles Romanian activities.

The rooftops are pretty, especially the ones with "eyebrow" windows.
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And, Linda found a some doors to photograph and add to her collection.
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Thursday, October 20, 2011

Cluj, Romania

Our first day's journey south ended at Cluj-Napoca, a city of around 400,000.  Cluj is back in Transylvania and is definitely big-city living.  It holds a large cathedral, Saint Michaels in a square at the heart of the town.
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We spent the next morning walking some of the streets near the square.  Satellite television means that the Discovery channel is on in the restaurants.  That in turn brings an "As Seen on TV" type store to the area.  Other signs of big-city life can be found, too.
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There is a very pretty Opera House.

And we spent some time looking at a fruit market along one a pedestrian mall.

Leaving the Countryside - Sighet to Sibiu Romania

After leaving Sighet and beginning our return to the South we stopped in a couple of larger cities.  This meant leaving behind much of the rolling hill country, the sheep farms and horse-drawn wagons.  One of my favorite countryside sights is the distinctive Romanian haystack.  We stopped and took several more pictures of those.
And we stopped for one more flock of sheep on the hills, too.

Update - next morning.

Linda described some of the charms of Romania for her friends and I always like to borrow from her descriptions:

"Why Romania?"  many have asked.  Romania is absolutely charming, especially the countryside.  Words can't begin to describe the beauty of the farms and herds of sheep dotting the wide valleys between the snow covered mountains or the charm of the country houses decorated with designs we never see in MN or the fascinating groups of gypsy women in such color combinations that our adult imaginations would never conceive. 

My fascination with Romania is with the gypsies and I'm in "gypsy heaven" here.  I see them every day and I love it.  Luckily they stare at me since I look so different so I don't feel bad when I stare at them.  Rationally I know they have a tough life but I find the idea of their life very romantic.  Most gypsies in Romania are settled in housing and their houses are as colorful and decorated as the women are.  They are every color of the rainbow but in the brightest hues and the roofs are adorned with lacy aluminum scallops and curlicues. All I can say is "Wow!"

It's an easy country in which to travel; hotels are modern, food is plentiful and Romanians love Americans.
Well, that probably calls for a few more pictures:

Our guidebook says that one third of Romania is mountains, largely forested.  One third is hill and plateau.  One third is plain mostly intensively farmed.  That seems about right to me.  A close friend who had been here some years ago suggested that I would find it much like western Oregon and Washington and he was right on target with that description.

Here is a "windshield shot" of our approach to the Carpathians from the north side.

Sighet, Romania

The small city of Sighet Marmatiei has a population of around forty thousand.  It has, as one mark of distinction, the birthplace of Ellie Wiesel, holocaust survivor and author.
A much darker distinction is the presence of the Sighet Prison where the former communist government held political prisoners.
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It is probably unknown to many younger Americans just what life behind the Iron Curtain was like.  Traveling with Edward from Medieval Tours has been a good reminder.  Edward grew up late in the Communist Period but remembers very well the oppressive conditions.  His ability to supply personal anecdotes about the communist times added a lot to the tour.

This excerpt from one of the English-language guide pages at the prison tells the beginning of the story of this particular prison.

These photos bring out the details:
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The Sighet prison was one of several such prisons in Romania.  A cemetery just outside of town has a memorial near the mass graves that resulted from the terror inflicted here.

The Merry Cemetery - Sapanta, Romania

Our trip over the mountains and into Maramures brought us to the city of Sighetu Marmatiei. This is a town that borders on Ukraine.  The next morning, we headed a few miles west to Sapanta, home of The Merry Cemetery.  For anyone traveling in the northern part of Romania, this is a "must-see."

Begun by a local artist in 1935, the cemetery features wooden markers carved with an image and a story about the person buried below.  The field of markers is a bit overwhelming at first glance:

But you soon focus in on a single marker like the farmer or the office worker.
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There are many, many references to this cemetery on the internet.  The easiest way to see more is to follow this link to Google Images for sapanta merry cemetery.

After seeing the cemetery, we headed to lunch at the nearby Ileana's Bed and Breakfast. Ileana's daughter, Maria showed us the operation of the loom while a young woman behind us showed photos on a computer to one of her older neighbors. This was an interesting study in contrast of technology.
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Maria served an excellent meatball soup along with a later main course and dessert.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Maramures, Romania

It's probably time to pause and recap just where we are.  This map shows the current political boundaries of what you might think of as "counties" in Romania. 

You might notice that the Moldova "county" sits adjacent to the country of Moldova.  Country boundaries are not always drawn to take into account local ethnic backgrounds.  It is worth reading the Wikipedia history of Romania and the Wikipedia entry for Balkanization to get a feel for why there is not an easy way to look at a person and guess that they are Romanian.

There are some pretty steep mountains between most of these regions in Romania.  We spent the better part of Sunday crossing some of them as we drove from Gura Humorului in Moldova to Sighetu MarmaĊ£iei in Maramures.

It has been an unusually cold week or so in this part of the world and we drove through a mixture of early winter snow and fall color.

Along the way we saw some villages with beautifully decorated homes and neat little farms.
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Near the summit as we crossed over into Maramures, we stopped just to admire the scenery for a few minutes

Coming down into Maramures, there were more small farms and the occasional flock of sheep with shepherds.
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It was pretty clear that we were in a different region when we saw some of the local women walking home from church.

This is a region of historic wooden churches and we stopped at this one.  The priest came down from the new church to show us around this old one.  Of course, the interior has many paintings on the wood walls and the construction details are interesting too.
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