Wonders of Carpathia

Wonders of Carpathia from Mihai Doarna on Vimeo.

I’ve been a little negligent on posting lately because I got a job(!!) and I’ve been super busy with that lately. Coincidentally, it’s a writing job, so when I come home I don’t necessarily feel like writing more ūüė¶

I have a post for our time in Athens coming up soon, and I’m very excited to share that with you. Until then, enjoy this beautiful video of the Carpathian mountains. I love living in these gorgeous mountains. Every day I wake up and wonder how I got so lucky to get to live here with all of this natural beauty. If you have ever thought about visiting Romania, plan your trip with some time to be in the Carpathians. They’re absolutely breathtaking.

Traveling: Zakynthos (Zante) Island, Greece

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Port of Kylini and Island of Zakynthos (Zante)

After we left Meteora, we headed straight for Kylini, which is where we would take the ferry to Zakynthos (called Zante by the locals). On the way to Kylini, we went over this incredible bridge. I say incredible because we paid 13 euro for the toll crossing ūüė¶ I couldn’t believe it was so expensive.

20160901_140905.jpgJust a heads up to anyone who wants to drive on Greek highways: Prepare to pay. Just take out 40 euro out of the ATM and keep it in your car because you will use all. of. it. I think we went through at least twenty tolls while driving through. That’s not really so bad in America because you’re paying fifty cents here, a dollar there…Greek tolls are like, 2.50 euro. Or more, depending on what kind of car you’re in. Tractor trailers were paying something like 15 euro every thirty miles.

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Olive trees everywhere!

But I digress. Let’s get back to the BEAUTIFUL MEDITERRANEAN WATER. It was unreal. I have never, ever seen water that blue, and I have been to Destin several times. It doesn’t even come close. I have no idea what makes the water that color, but holy heck it’s like simultaneously bright turquoise and clear at the same time?

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We caught the ferry at Kylini and spent the next hour just staring at the water. Some people just sat in their cars the whole time, looking bored, but we felt like we were on a cruise. We walked all around that ferry boat.20160901_152034

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Port of Zakynthos

But mostly we just couldn’t stop watching the water. Personally, I was inspecting the water for jellyfish. If you know me, you know that I am scared of jellyfish. I have no idea why. In Finding Nemo, they were really cute, so I’m guessing it’s my irrational brain thinking jellyfish = ocean spiders. I didn’t see any from the ferry, so I felt relieved.

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We could get into the swimming pool from our hotel room!

Once we were off the ferry, we made our way to our resort. We chose an all-inclusive beach resort because we wanted to eat and drink and lay in the sun as much as possible. And that’s what we did for four days.

We had good company. Literally every person there besides us was British. Hundreds of Brits. Blimey.

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View from the restaurant to Tsilivi Beach

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The pool had all these pretty sparkle lights at night – this is the view from the other side of the pool. You can see our room (second from the right).

We got out from the resort a little bit to go sightseeing and do some activities. We went to see the Shipwreck Beach and the Blue Caves. The Shipwreck beach was beautiful, but it was really overcrowded. I think there were hundreds of people there, which is to be expected of a tourist site.

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We had enough time to go swimming and explore the shipwreck (and watch people take ridiculous photos with the shipwreck) before we got back on the boat to go to the caves.

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I watched at least ten people take this photo “pulling” the boat. The best was this guy in the speedos.

We stopped at the Blue Caves to do some picture taking and more swimming. We had a glass bottom boat and you could see the fish swimming around the sea floor.

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I spent thirty minutes just swimming around the area. Okay, I say swimming, but it was basically me doggy paddling around. The water is so salty you hardly have to try at all (eat your heart out, Michael Phelps).  I think it was like 30 feet deep, but you could see all the way down to the bottom.

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Me succeeding at not drowning in Greece

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“Swimming”

We also went horseback riding. It was Claudiu’s first time. I think he enjoyed it ūüôā

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I found a cute dog at the horseback riding place. His name was Rocco.

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Rocco loves me, see?!

After several days of gluttony and sun, it was time to start the last leg of our journey: Athens!

Traveling: Meteora, Greece

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Meteora is a small grouping of monasteries near the small town of Kalambaka.wp-1474098947338.jpg

I would never in a million years have ever thought I would have gotten the chance to visit Greece. A few years ago, it was on one of my “sigh” lists for traveling – as in, “Sigh, too bad I can’t afford to go there.” The great news about being in Romania is that Greece is basically a 15 hour drive away

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Varlaam Monastery – they have a rope and pulley system that pulls a box across that big expanse. I think it’s only for supplies, thank God.

So when we decided to go to Greece, I broke out my handy Trip Advisor app and started looking to see where we could go besides Athens. One of the most popular destinations in Greece happens to be a small town called Meteora. Why is it so popular? This sleepy little village is home to several monasteries. Monasteries that are built on the tops of mountains.

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These stairs were carved out of the mountain’s stone by hand

But they’re not just any mountains. These are basically monoliths that go straight up with cliff faces on every side. Someone ~climbed~ up these cliffs in the 1300s and basically stood at the top and thought, “Yeah, I should build a monastery here. That makes sense. Now, how do I get down?”
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wp-1474098949848.jpgSomehow they devised a system to haul up building materials and supplies. I don’t know how they did it, but they ended up building like, ten of these things. There are also several unfinished (as in, given up on) monastery ruins that you can see once you get to the top.

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The (REAL) bones of the monks that lived in the monastery. Here is a thought: inside every one of us is a spooky skeleton!

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Light a candle and say a prayer for someone!

Here is something weird that I didn’t think I’d like at first. Since they are working monasteries, they have dress codes. For the men, pants. For the women, dresses or long skirts. I went the safe route with a maxi and a cardigan. Basically, all that was showing was my neck and you know what, I was really okay with that. I felt respectful of their space. If they had asked me to cover my head, I would’ve done that, too.

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The Directory

The views from the top of the monasteries were breathtaking…after I got over my fear of heights. Ha. If you know me at all, you know I basically become paralyzed when I am up high. I have trouble moving my legs. But somehow (!! strength of Zeus!) I managed to get close enough to the edge to take some photos.

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Background: Nunnery, Foreground: Clau

That evening we ate in town at a lovely restaurant. Claudiu had the traditional moussaka (he liked it, I was meh), and I had some Greek meatballs. For an appetizer we had a bulgher salad that was delicious. Of course, we both had Mythos beer.

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Mythos beer is actually really awesome

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MOUSSAKA!

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Meat…balls…not as exciting as Moussaka…

We camped at a local place that was clean, cheap, and full of Germans. Well, it’s not really relevant that there were so many Germans. Camping ¬†was just so much better than staying in a hotel because the air was so fresh and you could wake up and see the monasteries on the mountains right above your tent.

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Actual original charter for the monastery (1300s). It looks like his Greek teacher edited his paper ūüėõ

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Books written by monks 1300s-1600s)

After we had some breakfast and packed up our gear, we headed off to our actual vacation on Zakynthos (Zante) Island. So far, I was really impressed with Greece: the hospitality of the people, the food (and beer), and the gorgeous Mediterranean landscape. I think one of the best parts of road trips is watching the geography change as you move. We basically watched thick forests turn into scrubby hills.

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Carved by (who else) a monk!

The architecture changes, too. Bulgaria and Romania have similar style houses. In the very north part of Greece, they are somewhat similar, but they change color. Most of the Greek houses we saw were white. I’m assuming it’s to deflect the insane radiating Greek sun. More on that later.

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Views for miles of the scrubby brush…

Traveling: Sofia, Bulgaria

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Recently, I went on an awesome road trip through Bulgaria and Greece. I’ll cover the entire trip over the next few posts. The first day of the trip, we drove to Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria. We only planned to spend the night there, but we got there early enough that we were able to do a free walking tour of the city. For two hours, we saw most of the important historical sites and buildings in the city.

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For those of you who don’t know about free walking tours, omg. I recently discovered that this is a thing in almost every city (Brasov included). Basically, you meet up with a tour guide who has agreed to do the tour for free. If the tour guide does a great job, you can give them a tip, but you’re not obligated to pay anything. However, ¬†our tour guide in Sofia (Nikola) was ¬†so incredibly informative that we really wanted to give him some money. He really gave us an awesome view into the history of Bulgaria and the city.

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St. Sofia, symbol of wisdom

Sadly, I spent a lot of time out in the sun after I took this tour, so my brain didn’t retain too many details. I’ll try to describe what I remember.

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“Important Government Building”

Sofia has been inhabited as a city for thousands of years. Over time, it’s been conquered a bit by various empires, but it has retained its spirit and beauty. There are lots of ruins right in the downtown part of Sofia. They are always discovering new archaeological sites as they build.

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Recently, they’ve finished preserving a new section of ancient foundation. You can see where the ancient foundation ends and the reconstructed part begins at the line. These foundations are thousands of years old.

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One of the things that I liked the most about Sofia was its symbols of religious tolerance.

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There are several houses of worship very close to one another in the downtown area – an orthodox church, a roman catholic church, a synagogue, and a mosque.

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During the second world war, the Nazis insisted the Bulgarians send their Jewish population to the camps, and they basically refused, savings thousands of lives.

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Sofia is built on many thermal springs. The water is supposed to be really healthy for you, but I couldn’t get past how hot and kind of sulfur-y it was. Lots of people were filling up jugs and jugs of water at this public water station.

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Naturally, bath houses were a thing back in the day. This was a really popular place for Sofians to come and socialize and enjoy their delicious hot sulfur water. Our tour guide said it was like the Facebook of the 1800s. Now, I think the building is closed (? correct me if I’m wrong) for renovations, but it’s usually an art museum.

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Bulgaria, like Romania, was a communist country. The statue of St. Sofia replaced the statue of Lenin when Communism fell. Other monuments are not so easy to replace – the former headquarters of the Communist party is still a centerpiece of the buildings downtown.

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Former Communist Party HQ

The people of Sofia are laid back and like to be outside. The parks were jam packed full of people enjoying the night air. I can’t imagine staying cooped up in an apartment when you have such beautiful parks like they do.

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This fountain was very long and when the sun went down, it had beautiful lights!

What would Freud say about our food choices in Sofia?

We got some street food and hung out with the locals before we returned to the hotel to get some sleep for the next part of our trip.

As we were walking back to our hotel later that night,¬†we witnessed some kind of street kid gang roundup by the gendarme. I’m not going to lie, I didn’t feel as safe as I normally do. Watching those kids get hustled up reminded me that there’s definitely a darker side to all beautiful cities.

Subcarpa»õi came to visit us in Brasov!

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One of my favorite bands came with his favorite bands to play a concert out in the woods in Codlea, judet Brasov. They were celebrating the release of the new album. As always, the concert was high energy and there was a lot of jumping. I love that it was way out in the woods and even though there was a big stage set up, it still felt intimate. I’m glad they came and shared their new music with us. The sound of the new album is much darker than the previous one, in my opinion. It will grow on me, I’m sure of it.

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Lots of Romanian pride at the concert! The whole point of this band is to connect your Romanian culture and heritage to your modern life – so they encourage flags. There were some beautiful flags there.

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The age group of this concert was skewed very young. I’m glad to see the youth getting into a band like Subcarpati and reclaiming their heritage. It’s encouraging and I wish our American youth would do the same.

I’m going to get on my soapbox (of sadness) now, so if you want to skip the next few¬†paragraphs, feel free. All of the next section is strictly through an American lens and my experience only.

I saw a lot of kids there getting drunk. This is something I’m so not used to – here in Romania the legal drinking age is 18, but what the really means is that as long as you look like a teenager you can buy alcohol.

Or maybe not, one time I saw a girl who couldn’t have been more than seven carrying a 2 liter of Ciuc beer down the road. I’m assuming it was for mom and dad, but you never know. I saw a group of 15-16 years olds arguing with a shop lady about buying alcohol. She wanted to see ID, but obviously they didn’t have it. In the end, she sold the alcohol to them anyway.

It’s still kind of disconcerting to me to see 14 and 15 year olds stumbling around wasted. I want them to have their fun, but at the same time I want to shake them and tell them to stop poisoning their livers at such a young age. Sheesh. You literally have your whole life to get cirrhosis. What’s the rush? Don’t get me started on the smoking. Almost all of the teens here are¬†smoking. ~weep~

This country is pretty relaxed about things like alcohol and cigarettes (with the exception of the zero tolerance BAC % for driving). The government and the law doesn’t care what you do really, as long as you’re not hurting anyone or yourself. Which is good, but that leaves the responsibility on the parents of the kids…and most of them don’t seem to care too much either :/

 

 

100 years have passed since Romania entered the first World War

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On August 27th, Romania celebrated its 100th anniversary of entering the fray and declaring war on the Austro-Hungarian empire. To commemorate this occasion, Brasov opened an exhibit in the council house of Piata Sfatului.

In addition to a museum exhibit, they had people dressed in historically accurate uniforms reenacting military vignettes outside in the square. They were answering questions in character (and in English!), so it was a real treat for the history enthusiast in me.

There were even women dressed in early 1900s period costume walking around the area (which is so cool for me – I love the way we used to dress). Sadly, I missed the commemorative parade which featured historical military uniforms from all of the branches.


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These guards took their jobs very seriously – they even switched feet at the same time.

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News article featuring photos from the parade and some of the women in period costume.

For more pictures of the WWI soldiers, check out this Romanian news article.

If you want to read these articles in English,¬†you can paste the links into Google translate, or download the Google translate extension for Chrome (and then all you have to do is right click, “translate to English”).

Romanian Traditions: Oktoberfest

Today I am going to answer the question, “Why do Romanians celebrate Oktoberfest?”

Because that was my question, too. Oktoberfest (in my mind) is a German festival. So why would it be important to Romanians?

It has a lot to do with the original settlers of Brasov. The Saxons, a Germanic people, were settled in the Transylvanian region in the 1100s. Even though that was almost a thousand years ago, there is still a Saxon population here today.

Many descendants of these original settlers in Transylvania feel connected to their Saxon heritage and celebrate it in traditional ways, like Oktoberfest. In some parts of Transylvania,
German is spoken just as much as Romanian. In Sibiu, many signs are written in German. They even have a ton of German TV channels. Our driver last year spoke both languages fluently.

The president o61599462f Romania, Klaus Iohannis, is even part of the Saxon tradition in Romania. He was born in Sibiu and considers German to be one of his native languages. Sadly, Romania has lost a lot of its Saxon population. Many left Romania to move to Germany after the last world war and the fall of Communism. In 1930, there were over 700,000 citizens of Saxon descent in Romania. In 2016, there are less than 40,000. In my eyes, it’s important that Romania continue the Saxon traditions or they risk losing an important part of their culture.

There are hints of the Saxons all over the place in Romania, like the existence of Oktoberfest. You can also see the Saxons in the place names they left behind.

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Did you know that Brasov has several different names? Originally, the city of Brasov was called Corona (in Latin = crown). The Transylvanian town was named by its Saxon inhabitants in the 1200s Рit was also known as Kronstadt (Crown city).

The citizens of Brasov pay tribute to the original name and founders by including crown symbolism in the city’s emblem.

You can also see some local businesses getting inspired by the Saxon tradition…

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Brasov also has a Hungarian name. At one point, most of Transylvania belonged to the Austro-Hungarian empire, and so it acquired the name of Brassó. If you travel around the city, there are several signs that show the name of Brasov in all three languages.

Most of the population today only refers to the city as Brasov, but if you happen to allude to Kronstadt or Brasso, people know what you are talking about.

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Fun fact: Brasov was also known as Stalin’s City during the Communist era. It was said that Brasov was his favorite city.

Today I learned there was a big statue of Stalin right across from the Modarom during Communism, just meters away from where bullet holes remain from the ’89 revolution. /end Tangent]

I hope now you can understand why people in Romania would celebrate Oktoberfest. If you’re interested in learning more about Romania’s history, I recommend this book. I get a lot of good information from here. It also has pictures ūüėõ

If you want to read more about the Transylvanian Saxons, you can read up here and here.

Now on to the actual festival…

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We attended Oktoberfest in Brasov on two different days. We went the first night it was open and I was pretty overwhelmed. They had set up a huge tent and there were thousands of people inside, all drinking huge mugs of beer and eating sausages. There¬†was even¬†a German band playing. I’ve only ever been to Oktoberfest in Helen, Georgia, and this was so much more authentic.

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Here is a picture of the mugs of beer I was talking about. The picture¬†is sort of misleading because the mug appears small…trust me, they were not. I think you could fit at least three cans of beer into that mug. It was at least a liter of beer.

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They were selling so many different kinds of food.

Gallons of goulash.

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KURTOS!

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My favorite were the pretzels. SO. GOOD. Put that pretzel with a beer = heaven. The pretzels were also very large. I will say that the ratio of pretzel to beer was very satisfying.

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Roasted pigs were also very popular at Oktoberfest. I was kind of transfixed by them. They just…glistened…as they rotated. Magical roasted pigs.

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They also had lots of candy, gingerbread cookies (these are in the shape of objects or cartoon characters with icing – I bought one at Christmas that looked like a house), strudels, doughnuts, etc. Basically everything you need to get diabetes in a very short time.

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I was super happy that we took a taxi. After those big beers, no one is in any position to drive a car. It also made me feel better to see so many police officers out and about. The police here have a different feeling than back home. In Georgia, I always felt like the police were present to catch me doing something wrong. Here, I feel like they’re creating a safe space for people to enjoy their lives.

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Obviously, we had the WURST time. Ha. Sorry, I had to throw in that pun.

We actually had a lot of fun at Oktoberfest. I wish more of our friends had been able to come with us, but the timing of the festival was off. I think people weren’t expecting it to start in late August. Because…it’s Oktober…fest.

Anyway, despite the festival being so early, it really got me excited for the end of summer. I am ready for autumn now. The leaves are starting to change a bit and I’m very thankful that the temperatures are hovering in the mid-70s lately.

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Fall :3