Earthquake/Cutremur

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Last night we had an earthquake in Brasov. This is the second one that’s happened since I came, but I was awake for this one. It was my first earthquake and it scared the bejesus out of me. The USGS says it was a 5.6, whatever that means 🙂

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You know when your car starts to hydroplane? And you can feel it jolt as it follows the path of least resistance as it loses contact with the road? It’s like that. Coupled with the visual of the ornaments on the tree swinging in the air, I think you get the picture.

As Clau has a better head than me, he got me off the couch (that was moving) and moved us to the doorway. We’re on the top floor (5th floor by American standards), so I think the swaying/jerking motion was a little more pronounced. Like I said, I was pretty scared. My entire building (communist block housing) is made out of solid concrete, and I have no idea how flexible or earthquake resistant it is.

After the movement stopped, I had this sick, out of control feeling in my stomach. My teeth were chattering. It took about an hour before I felt like I could sleep. Thankfully, we had no aftershocks or anything. In the morning, it was snowing. Whew.

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Star = Epicenter; Dots = historical seismic activity

Earthquakes are not a new occurrence in Romania. Most of them (including the one from last night) have their origin in a place called Vrancea.

According to Wikipedia, in 1977, a powerful 7.2 earthquake in the mountains of Vrancea laid waste to Romania’s capital of Bucharest, killing over 1,500 people.Over 11,000 people were injured and almost 40,000 buildings were damaged.

Here is a recording of the earthquake (note: slightly disturbing content) taken from an opera house during intermission:

Previous to the 1977 earthquake, another occurred in 1940 with similar origins in the Vrancea region producing similar results in the country (7.7 magnitude). The intense shaking of this quake was felt all the way from St. Petersburg to Greece.

Other monstrosities that were born in the mountains of Vrancea? An earthquake in 1802 was an estimated 7.9, with several aftershocks stronger than a 5 magnitude. In 1986, an earthquake reported from 6.5-6.9 magnitude claimed the lives of over 150 people.

So this was not the first earthquake in the area and obviously, it won’t be the last. I just hope I’m not here when the “big one” that everyone’s predicting happens.

Romanian Traditions: Christmas Markets

The Christmas Market (Targul de Craciun) is an event that everyone here anticipates. The crowd gathering in good cheer, the wide availability of vin fiert (hot wine aka the best thing ever), and the lighting of the town’s Christmas tree (in Romanian, these trees are simply called “Brad”).

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Wrong Brad

The markets are filled with căsuţe (little houses) that sell different items. You can get decorated turta dulce (gingerbread), sausages, fudges/syrups, and other homemade items. They also have great food, usually grilled meat items and desserts (kurtos!).

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Examples of decorated gingerbread

At their tree lighting, Brasov had a large concert where Andra and Lidia Buble, two Romanian pop singers, performed their latest hits.

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Brasov: Before the tree lighting

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Brasov: After the tree lighting (and vin fiert!!)

Since Clau and I are both very into Christmas, we decided to trek up to Sibiu (about 2.5 hours’ drive) and visit their famous Targul de Craciun. It was just as pretty as the news described, with lots of căsuţe and lights. They even had projections mapped on the buildings – winter scenes and snowflakes. Sibiu’s market is much bigger than Brasov’s, so I think it was easier to accommodate more attractions (they had bumper cars and a train for the kids as well). I wish that next year our market will be just as lovely.

Here’s a short video from our trip to the Sibiu Christmas Market:

 

I was very sad to hear about the Christmas Market in Berlin 😦

People come to these events with so much hope and excitement in their hearts.

I think that’s what we should focus on – remembering that this season is about the best of humanity: celebrating generosity, family, and love.

Merry Christmas to all ❤

Burniță

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Typical December day in Brasov

It’s been below freezing for a good two weeks or so here. We’ve had a few days of sun, but mostly it’s been overcast/foggy/cloudy/snowing.

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A beautiful (rare) sunny morning in Brasov

It was starting to be a bit comical because there are so many layers of snow and ice on the sidewalk and everyone (myself included) walks like a baby deer down the street. Either that or they just give up and “ice skate” shuffle.

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me, irl

The weather forecast had said it was supposed to warm up. Like, really warm up. We’d surely see temperatures around 6-7 celsius. I was so excited! I do a lot of walking and as much as I like to pretend I’m Nancy Kerrigan (ha ha just kidding more like Tonya Harding), I was really looking forward to being able to walk without constantly falling.

So, imagine my surprise when yesterday it appeared to be raining. I was waiting on my bus and I felt these little wet pinpricks on my face. “Rain?” I thought – no, it was something even worse: burniță.

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sidewalks and parking = icy mess

Burniță is something I am familiar with as a former resident of the state of Georgia. Burniță is freezing rain, and it wasn’t long until everything was coated with a pretty glaze of ice. The roads were soon a beautiful slushy mess and the sidewalks were an even bigger disaster. Thankfully, Clau came to pick me up, but I can imagine that I would’ve broken at least one of my legs had I attempted to do my regular walk home.

The good news is that we have at least three days of snow coming up this week. I hope that the new snow covers up the old (which is so dirty now it looks like sand), and that we have beautiful white Christmas.

Update: We had some very thick fog last night and it froze 🙂 So pretty!

 

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Romanian Traditions: Moș Nicolae

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The night of December 5th is an important one in Romania. On this night, before going to bed, children shine and clean their boots because a special visitor will come in the night and fill them with treats. The special visitor is Moș Nicolae, aka Saint Nicholas. St. Nick celebrates his day on December 6. Moș is pronounced like “m-oh-sh” in one syllable. Not like “mosh” (as in mosh pit).

If the child has been bad, he gets a stick. Or maybe you get a stick to remind you not to do anything bad before Christmas 🙂

jos-nuielusa-totul-despre-mame-624x415I wonder if this is related to how we got stockings in our modern Christmas holiday tradition. Romanians do not hang stockings because their fireplaces don’t have mantles. So treats in boots translated to treats in socks over the fire? Who knows?

Above: examples of Romanian fireplaces

Other people who celebrate on December 6th are people who have names deriving from “Nicolae”. It’s their name day, so these people will have extra celebrations in addition to getting treats in their boots.

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In our house, Moș Nicolae came and brought age appropriate treats (for Clau – cigarettes and beer). I got chocolate and a stick (fitting).

The oranges this time of year are delicious! I’ve never had citrus that tasted this good, not even in Florida (sorry, Floridians!). They’re also crazy cheap.

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Multumesc, Mos Nicolae!

A Drive in the Snow

We’ve had a lot of snow lately in Brasov, and it is very beautiful. I’m so glad that if it’s going to be cold, at least we get something beautiful in exchange! And because you already know me so well, you probably already guessed that I dragged Claudiu out in the cold to drive me to Poiana Brasov. It was a short trip (all we did was eat some soup at a restaurant up there), and when we left it started snowing very heavily. I think it took it something like 30 minutes to drive 12 km. I took some video of our drive to and from Poiana Brasov, so please enjoy:

Learning Romanian: Memory Palaces

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I’ve mentioned before the love I have for the book “Fluent Forever” – it gave me some great tips on how the process of language learning works in the brain. I’ve taken some advice from this book and some other websites and started applying some of these concepts to my own pursuit of learning Romanian.

The first technique I started using was the process of spaced repetition. For this, I found the app Memrise to be the most helpful. People have created lots of Romanian resources including my personal favorite, “Random Romanian Sentences”. These sentences are truly random (i.e. Tom died in bed), and seemingly make little sense, but you actually end up learning the sentence structure. Later, you can substitute the words and retain the actual structure of the sentence as a Romanian would phrase it.

The second technique I am using is creating schema. I am creating Power Point slides with picture examples of words so I can learn the cultural meaning of the words. Maybe it would be better to describe them as visual constructions of meaning.

I think I mentioned doing this in a previous language learning blog. It’s not enough to know that bunica is grandma. American “grandma” and “bunica” are two entirely different cultural constructs. Bunica gives you supa. Grandma gives you candies in glass bowls (bonus points if they’ve been out in the bowls for days…or weeks). Bunica walks to the piata on Saturday and Grandma plays bridge at the senior center. The same goes for words like “church” – churches in Romania look nothing like they do in the U.S, inside and out (I think the biggest difference is the inside seating – Romanian Orthodox barely have any, and they’re located along the wall).

The last method and the one I’m having the most fun with lately are memory palaces. These were invented by the Ancient Greeks as a way to spatially memorize items. Basically, you build a mental house and every time you learn a new word or phrase, you place it in the house in a meaningful way. Later, you can mentally “walk” through your house and recall the items you’ve placed in each room. Sherlock Holmes also used this technique. If you want more information, there’s also a great TED talk on why this works so well.

I read an article where someone went a step further and created a memory town. I loved this idea and decided to steal it for myself. I thought about the hardest thing for me to learn in Romanian class, and I realized I struggle the most with the gendered nouns. Romanian is not like one of those nice pretty languages where the nouns play nice. Oh, no, my friends – Romanians nouns can be feminine, masculine, or neutral. And sometimes, they change genders based on number.

In order to save some of my sanity (whatever I have left at this point lol), I made a memory town with three parts. The old city (feminine nouns), the new city (where the man nouns live), and the island of misfit toys, I mean, neutral nouns. If you look at the image I’ve chosen, you’ll see it resembles Paris. That’s on purpose – I’ve been there and I’m familiar with walking around the streets. I like the feel of the buildings and I can visualize making houses and putting concepts into buildings.

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Left side “Old Town” = feminine / island = neutral / right side “New Town” = masculine

For example, the word for purse, geantă, is feminine. I created a handmade purse shop in the “Old Town” part of the city. The name of the store is Geantă. Creative, I know. Boring names aside, now I can remember what the heck a geantă is – and I get a visual when I try to recall the meaning. A large storefront with big windows full of handmade leather bags – it fits right in with rest of the old city charm.

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The town can be as big as I need it to be. It’s not even limited to the three sectors I’ve created so far.

I even have people living on the outskirts of town in the countryside. I have trouble remembering the sound difference between “Look at!” (Uite) and Forget (Uita). It’s basically an “uh” versus an “eh” issue. To solve this problem, I mentally created some WHEAT (uite) farmers who happen to be Canadian (Eh?). Look at them harvest their wheat, eh (uite)?

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Now I’ll never forget!

If you’re trying to learn a language and you’re afraid you’ll never remember anything – try some of the things I mentioned above. A lot of it is training your brain to automatically categorize and connect ideas – something that we’ve lost in the age of technology, I think.

Memorizing used to be very difficult for me until I actually started practicing it, and now I think it’s a bit easier. I’m not sure it’ll ever be easy, but at least with some of the tricks I listed above, I have a chance! 🙂

Traveling: Rome

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Rome, Italy – Mythological birthplace of the Vespa

A week ago, we found that we were both going to have a few days off work at the same time. The obvious thing to do in this situation? Book a last minute trip to Rome, duh. We had wanted to go at the end of October, but it hadn’t worked out.

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Actual autumn happening in Rome, Italy!

Thanks to Google Flights and the ITA Flight Matrix, we were able to get a really nice deal on our flight. I highly recommend using both of those websites to help you plan your trips, especially if you have flexible dates. Booking.com helped me find a great deal on our hotel  (located in the Vatican City part of town). I’ve used booking.com a few times now, and I guess I’ve earned some kind of status with them. When you book with them five times, any subsequent bookings are 10% off. It doesn’t seem like too much of a discount when your room is so cheap, but this time it helped make up for the nightly Rome city tax (which ended up being 32 euro for our trip).

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Mosaic floor in the Vatican Museum

Getting to Rome was a bit of an experiment in planes, trains, and automobiles. Our flight was scheduled to leave OTP airport in Bucharest at 6:30. It takes about three hours to get there from Brasov. We didn’t have any luggage to check, so technically we didn’t need to be there two hours before the flight (the airport is not very big and there are no lines at security or passport control). However, our airport shuttle recommended we leave Brasov by 1:00 am at the latest in order to make sure we had enough time.

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Bucharest under the clouds…

So our first day of our Rome trip, we left our apartment at 1:00 am and arrived in Bucharest at 4:00. We got coffee and settled in at our gate to wait for boarding. Our flight was short and sweet – I’m guessing – because I was able to sleep through the whole thing. We landed in Italy and after shuffling through their understaffed passport control, we decided to take the train into Rome.

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The yellow line will eat your leg

Ciampino airport is outside of Rome, so you have a few options of how to get into the city.

  • You can take a taxi – I think it’s 30 euro
  • You can take a bus to the Termini metro/train station
  • Or…you can take the train that will take you to the Termini station

We thought the train would be faster. It probably would be faster. It’s just that you have to transfer to the train station from the airport by a city bus first…so taking the train ended up being about an hour. So you go plane -> bus transfer -> train station -> Termini (bus/metro/train station) -> bus to hotel. Did you get all of that?

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Ciampino Airport is a short ways outside of the city

Also, it was rush hour and we were on the main train into the city. Let’s just say, if you’re not cool with being smooshed into fifty of your newest best friends, maybe the taxi would be a better option. Many Euro Trip jokes were made. “Mi scusi!”

 

We purchased the Roma Pass at the airport, so once we got to the Termini metro station, all of our public transportation was free. The pass was a good option for us because we wanted to see the city by walking and public transport and it gave us two site entrances for free. We ended up taking buses and the subway quite a bit – especially over to the Colosseum side of the city. The only taxi we ended up taking was to the airport at the end of the trip. We walked about 11-12 miles a day even with this metro and buses.

We paid:

  • The Roma Pass – 38.50 euro – also gives you skip the line privileges at Colosseum (not to mention you don’t have to wait in lines to buy tickets everywhere else)

Included in Roma Pass:

  • Colosseum ticket (includes Roman Forum & Palatine Hill) – (normal adult ticket price: 12 euro) – note: if you want to skip the line at this site without the Roma pass or a tour group, you have to make the reservation on their website and print your tickets at home and this costs 2 euro)
  • Borghese Gallery – (normal adult ticket price: 20 euro)
  • Free metro/bus rides – (they cost 1.50 euro per person per trip)
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So rude, these magnets (bottom row)

The neat thing about Rome is that there is so much to see – I think you could live your whole life there and not see everything. On every corner, on every building, on every ceiling is art, religious and secular. It’s overwhelming.

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Note: We did our best to try and see the “big” attractions, namely the Colosseum, Palatine Hill, Pantheon, Vatican/St. Peter’s, Spanish Steps, and Trevi Fountain. I have tried to include as many photos of possible because everything was so beautiful, but I have over 400 photos 😦 So, I’ve selected some of my favorites to share.

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Trevi Fountain

One thing that I recommend for any city is the free walking tour. These tours are a great way to quickly get your bearings and see some things you might have missed touring on your own. Normally, the tour guide is a professor or historian, and they love telling you about the city. If the tour is good, you can show your appreciation with a tip at the end. The tour we wanted to take required you to make a reservation, so I think it’s best to check the website ahead of time to see if you can just show up (like we did in Athens and Sofia).

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We saw this protest on the walking tour…I was proud of the dog. So patient. So protest.

Our tour guide took us to beautiful churches where we could see real Bernini sculptures and paintings by the masters. These pieces were just tucked away and not advertised. Without her expertise, we would never have seen them. She also recommended some great places to eat.The pizza place she told us to go to was fabulous and well priced.

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Looks like an abandoned shack on Google maps, but the food was delicious!

Without her advice, I would’ve never tried these baked rice cheese ball things. They were pretty good.

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Interestingly enough, this tiny little eatery was right across the street from Bernini’s family home. But that’s basically the entire city. Everywhere is next to something historic!

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Right across from Bernini’s family home!

Here are some of the places we visited:

 

Colosseum

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Pantheon

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Here is a video I made of the Pantheon using Google Photos:

 

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Vatican Museums and St. Peter’s Basilica

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Vatican City

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“Hello, we’ve been up all night.” 😛

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Inside Vatican Museum courtyard

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A very Catholic pine cone – inside Vatican museum

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Inside St. Peter’s Basilica

 

Borghese Galleryno pictures allowed  😥

Wonderful gallery, but you need reservations and you have to be there 45 minutes in advance of your tour time. You also have to check all of your bags (even purses), and you can’t take your phone out or someone on the loud speaker will remind you to put your phone away.

Palatine Hill

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Ancient ruins – Colosseum in background

Palatine Hill is so huge, we could have spent the whole day there and not seen everything. I had no idea this place existed, but it’s amazing. The history of the hill is very interesting – it started as a settlement 3,000 years ago. Then, it became a suburb for affluent Romans. Eventually, the whole thing just became a palace. The hill itself is one of the famous hills of Rome, so you get an amazing view of the city from there.

Trajan’s Column

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Trajan’s Column behind the trees

 

The history of the conquest of the Dacian people carved into a pole in the center of Rome. Yes, there’s a wolf head on a stick at the bottom.

 

Various other places – too many to name!

 

We also ate an amazing amount of gelato and pizza. All totally worth it, even the weird flavors of gelato that I had (like Marsala).

Most of the desserts that we had:

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Upper right hand corner is Granita – coffee, ice, heavy cream. Wow.

I just realized the photo with the Cassata is messed up :/ Anyway, here is the Wikipedia so you can see what it looks like. I can attest it basically tastes like pure sugar.

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I died and went to pasta heaven, basically

Rome was an amazing city, but we definitely felt like we had enough time there. In a way, it was overwhelming, really – the amount of things you feel like you “have to do” coupled with how every single building is basically a thing to see in itself…yeah, it’s exhausting. Our last day there, I was glad we didn’t have anything really planned, we just went where we felt we wanted to go.

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Pasta and Pizza and Pasta and Pizza

We ended up splitting an airport taxi with a nice Polish couple from the hotel, so thankfully we didn’t have a repeat of our arrival to Rome. Our flight was later in the morning, so we got some more rest than before. Nevertheless, we still slept the on the flight.

I hope this is a new trend. I look forward to sleeping through all of my future flights 🙂

We ended up getting back to Brasov by way of Gara Nord in Bucurest (airport –> bus transfer to Gara Nord (train station) –> train to Brasov. We slept on the train, too. I think overall, we felt pretty rested when we got home. It was a great trip, and I think next time I go to Italy, I’ll try Florence or Venice.