Romanian Traditions: Weddings (part 3)

Okay – this is the third and last post on Romanian weddings! Are you exhausted yet? I am! 😛

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Thankfully, the third day of the wedding was much more low key. We made our way to a different restaurant for another meal with lots of music and lots of guests. The wedding the night before included about 300 people. This dinner was smaller, but not by much. It was so packed that the “young” people were asked to move to tables outside. I might be in my 30s, but I’m never too old for the kids’ table 🙂

It was a blessing in disguise because not only was the evening very pleasant, but the music inside was (again) very loud. Now, I like loud music. I am not that old. However, after this wedding, I think traditional Romanian music (aka Music Popular) is now tattooed on my brain. The day after the festivities, I’m pretty sure I was brushing my teeth and doing the hora in my bathroom.

The food was two courses: a delicious filling soup and a plate of mixed grill meats. Both were incredible. There were the little cakes again (!!) and of course, more tuica. We also had a very tasty dessert bread that is traditionally served at special occasions. I’m not sure what the name of it is – can anyone tell me?

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The big traditions for this night included something a lot of people didn’t know about – so I’m assuming it’s either old or not practiced in some parts of the country. Lots of wedding guests left and dressed up in their best Halloween costumes and returned with a wheelbarrow. The strongest man in costume put the groom’s father in the wheelbarrow and pushed him around the restaurant while the guests danced. All of the parents had a turn – I think even a grandparent or two got a ride in the wheelbarrow. It was a raucous and very hilarious. The costumes weren’t like the commercial ones we have in America. They reminded me more of what costumes used to be thirty or forty years ago. Simple and scary. Even the little kids were dressed up, but they were adorable (ducks).

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After this craziness, the party wound down and the guests began to leave. We ended up staying until midnight, then I drove us home. I don’t know how people went to work on Monday, I was literally so exhausted and sore from dancing and having fun.

Overall, I feel very privileged to have been a guest at the wedding of our friends. I had a great time and I wish them all the very best in their marriage. Casa de piatra!

Romanian Traditions: Weddings (part 2)

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The second day of a Romanian day is the longest. My day started around 10:30 am when I met up with the bride at her house. She had just finished getting her hair and makeup done and there were lots of women there to help her finish getting ready. They helped her put on her dress and veil and then we waited.

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Soon we could hear music – you guessed it – the Romanian band showed up along with the groom and all of his family. The procession was led by the ring bearer and flower girl (? the children were carrying candles decorated with flowers and I’m not sure what their official titles were). The groom brought the bride’s bouquet and presented it to her.

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Everyone crowded inside the living room of the house to see the bride and groom with the parents and godparents. And yes, the band was also in the living room. I didn’t know so many people could squeeze into such a small space. More tuica and cakes were passed around. Lots of pictures were taken.

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Then we were off to city council where the actual legal wedding would happen. This is different than in America – here, you can get married in the church and it’s a legal marriage. In Romania, it only counts if you do it at city hall. Then you can go have a religious ceremony.

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This ceremony is mainly for family and close friends. Despite this fact, we were still a very large group. Again, we all piled in the magistrate’s room to hear the vows. After the vows were said, there was a short champagne reception (with cakes!!) and everyone lined up to congratulate the bride and groom.

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Many of the guests had bouquets of flowers with them. Those who didn’t stopped at the florist across the street from city hall. I didn’t know about this tradition, so I didn’t bring any flowers 😦  When the bride and groom were leaving city hall, guests who had brought bouquets held them up to make a cool flower arch.

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With the legal formalities out of the way, it was time for the church ceremony. Mind you, this is a smaller town, so we are walking from place to place. At this point we have gained a few people, so we have become something of a spectacle – people are standing on their doorsteps watching a huge wedding party pilgrimage to the house of worship.

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At the church, the priest performed the ceremony. Everything was in Romanian, and I’m not orthodox, so I have no idea what was going on. The only part I knew was when the priest puts crowns on the bride and groom to signify that they are the king and queen of their house. The ceremony at the church was lovely. Afterwards, we threw rice on the couple and went out in the street and danced.

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After all of this, we headed to the reception because the real fun was about to begin. I had no idea at the time, but we were about to have four meals served over the next twelve hours. Plus dessert. I can’t tell you how full I was after all this food.

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The first meal was more like a sampler plate of meats, cheese, and vegetables. An hour later, we got sarmale and polenta. After that came the fish course, which was so delicious I tried to eat all of it – big mistake 🙂 I could barely move at this point. We had another course of mixed grill meats with vegetables. Then, the wedding cake. Of course, we needed a lot of energy. There was dancing almost the entire wedding. The only time people weren’t dancing was when they were serving the food, but it wasn’t out of the ordinary for people to eat a little, dance, and then go back to their plates.

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The dancing included a lot of hora (which I did!) and some other faster paced danced (which I tried, but failed miserably lol). There was a photo booth and some other seating outside, so when we needed to cool off from the dancing, we headed outside to enjoy the cool night air.

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Negotiating the ransom for the bride

Towards the end of the night, the groom’s friends kidnapped the bride. This is a common tradition at any Romanian wedding. The groomsmen escort the bride out of the wedding at some point after dinner and take her somewhere. In the case of this wedding, they took her to the nearby town of Bran to a reggae concert where she danced on stage and had some fun. In order to get her back, the groom has to negotiate some kind of ransom. This night, the ransom was that he had to accept a fake bride (his male cousin dressed in wedding drag).

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Then it was the groom’s turn to demand a “punishment” for the groomsmen for stealing the bride. At this wedding, the lead instigator had a soup ladle tied on his belt and the other groomsmen had to undo the tie with their teeth. Hilarity ensued. Then they took off the shirt (? more punishment?) of the lead instigator and he had to dance with the fake bride.

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One of the last traditions I failed to get on camera 😦 After the bride threw her bouquet, the lucky girl who caught it was seated in a chair next to the bride. One of the bride’s female relatives took off her veil and replaced it with a head scarf. Then, they put the veil on the girl who caught the flowers. This ceremony signifies that the bride is now a wife, and the girl with the veil is the “new” bride. One of the things that I really liked about this wedding is that it felt very traditional but also updated for a modern audience. The ceremonies and customs were preserved, but it never felt like we were at an old-fashioned wedding.

There was one custom that was strictly observed – the giving of monetary wedding gifts. This is one huge difference in American and Romanian weddings. In America, the couple registers for items at a couple of stores. They probably want a toaster, some plates, and towels. You go to the store, get their list, and purchase only those items for the couple. Obviously, you are welcome to buy them whatever you want, but usually the bride and groom appreciate receiving items that they’ve picked out themselves. In Romania, the wedding guests do not bring gifts. There are no registries. Instead, you bring cash. And lots of it. Each couple is expected to give around 300 euro to the bride and groom. The idea is that you are covering the cost of your food at the reception and also throwing in some extra to help the newlyweds get started in life. You bring the money to the reception and at the end of the night there are envelopes waiting for you on the table. You put the now fattened envelope into a special container – later, the bride, groom, and families will sit around and count the money to make sure they all arrive at the same number. They do this the same night as the reception, as is tradition. Then, they pay the venue, photographer, videographer, etc. out of this money.

Once the night was late enough, the traditional Romanian music ended and the DJ turned on the modern dance tunes. We ended up dancing until 3 am, and we would’ve danced longer, but they had a wedding the next morning and they had to set up. So they kicked us out. We put our envelope into the appropriate place and found our way home.

I ended up sleeping until 1 pm the next day, which if you know me, is really out of character even if I stay up late. I was really exhausted. But the wedding weekend wasn’t over yet – there was one more night of revelry before we sent the newlyweds on their honeymoon.

Romanian Traditions: Weddings (part 1)

Late last month, two of our friends were married in a beautiful ceremony in Zarnesti. They had a traditional Romanian wedding and that means that we celebrated for three days. Each day had significant customs and traditions that were meaningful not only for the bride and groom, but also for the community as well. I’m going to break down the posts into three parts because each day highlights in different ways the heritage of the Romanian people.

The first night of the wedding begins at the house of the groom. His closest male friends and relatives pile on a horse cart, armed with evergreens, tuica, and a three piece band. The three piece band consists of a drummer, a saxophonist, and an accordion player. They play traditional Romanian music (as loudly as possibly).

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Their mission? Visit the homes of the bride, groom, and godparents and tie the evergreens to their gates. The evergreen signifies to everyone in the village that a wedding is going to happen.

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The men are also expected to raise a little hell while they’re doing it, of course.

The men and the cart start their journey by riding in the horse cart to the bride’s parents’ house. The bride greets the rowdy bunch with more tuica and plates of treats. The plates of tiny cakes are passed around and everyone is expected to drink and eat. The bride and her family dance the sirba in the street with the visitors.

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The bride giving out cakes and tuica while the evergreens are installed

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Dancing the hora at the bride’s house

The caravan begins to pick up with more people (the bride’s family joins the pilgrimage) – and now there are cars following the horse cart through the town. The band plays, the men in the cart drink and yell, and everyone comes out their front door to see the commotion. The cars following the cart blast loud Romanian music and honk their horns. If it sounds like a raucous, it is. The louder, the better.

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The cart and cars arrive at the house of the godparents. The godparents play an important role in the newly married couple’s lives. This is a couple that is chosen by the bride and groom to be their marriage role models. The couple doesn’t necessarily have to be older, they just have to have a good relationship with each other and with the bride and groom.

At their home, the evergreens go up, and more tuica/cake/dancing happens.

Here is a video of the group dancing and me turning down all the alcohol (cry). Fun fact, Romania has ~zero tolerance~ alcohol and driving laws. Your BAC had better be 0% when you get behind the wheel. So no tuica for me. Or beer. Waah.

 

For me, the cakes were really important. I love cake. These little Romanian celebration cakes were really good. I appreciated getting to eat so many of them.

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Plate of tiny cakes (left) and the tray of tuica and cherry liqueur (right)

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Close up of two of the tiny cakes

Last, the group (now much, much larger as we have acquired the godparents and their family as well) heads to the home of the groom. In our case, it was the groom’s parents’ business which happens to be a lovely pensiune. They decorate the gate and then (surprise!) dance in the street, all together in a huge group.

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Now, the very large party of family and friends celebrates the bride and groom by having a grill. (Loud) music continues to be played until you’re pretty sure the melodies have been tattooed on your brain and more drinking happens (except not me, because driving). It’s like an American rehearsal dinner, only a lot more fun.

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Afterwards, people go home and get some good rest because the next day will have more drinking, dancing, and loud music for almost 20 hours straight.

Romanian Traditions: Summer Grilling

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I’ve talked a lot about how much I admire the Romanian people and their dedication to enjoying and relaxing in nature. It’s easy to see why – the landscape here is absolutely gorgeous, the weather is mostly temperate, and apartments are small.  So it makes sense that if the conditions are right, you would want to be outside. You can see people grilling out everywhere. Literally right on the side of the road or by the train tracks. Anywhere you can make an open fire, you can grill.

Last weekend, we headed out with a group of friends to the nature (Piatra Craiului) to do some grilling and hang out in the sun. We were carried with us the necessities – hammocks, coolers full of Beck’s, and our huge cast iron grill.

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We arrived and the first item of business was to hang our hammocks and make sure our drinks stayed cool. The creek we were next to was plenty cold, so together we collected rocks and made a dam. I have seen this done at other grills – those who don’t have enough rocks for a dam put their drinks in a small trash bag and leave them in the water for a while. It’s pretty ingenious, actually. I’m sure some people do this in America, but I’ve never seen it. We tend to spend a lot of money on coolers and ice.

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We put a big blanket in the shade and lounged around talking. We turned up our music because our grilling neighbors were blasting manele, and we all know manele is practically ear cancer.

At some point, I fell asleep. The sun was warm and I’m always sleepy, so it was bound to happen. When I woke up, the fire had been started for the grill and food was starting to be prepared.

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Piatra Craiului

We had lots of different kinds of meat. In Romania, this is called a mixed grill. There’s pork, chicken breasts, sausages, and mici. Mici is like little rectangle hamburgers if hamburgers were made from beef, pork, and (sometimes) lamb. With mustard, they’re pretty good. People here love mici, but I’m still learning to like them. Potatoes were peeled and chopped, the salad of tomatoes and bell peppers was prepared, and the grilling was ready to commence.

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The first thing they did was put bacon on the top of the grill. This way the fat from the bacon went down the grill into the bottom part with the potatoes. Who needs PAM when you have bacon grease? The mixed grill meat was put somewhere in between. Thus, the circle of life was complete. The bacon fat helped to cook the other meats and somewhat fried the potatoes. We ate everything in about five minutes and life was good.

 

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after dinner…a very messy blanket 🙂

After the sun went down, a guitar was produced and we built the fire up. We sat around the fire singing songs until it got very cold. The stars were amazing. It looked like there were clouds in the sky, but that was just the milky way. I’m not sure I’d ever seen that before. I wonder how much more I would’ve seen if I hadn’t been by the fire.

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When the cows are coming home, but nature calls

In summary, I had a great time just hanging out – no electronics needed. Just sun, fun, and friends. I hope I can get into grilling more when I return to America.

 

Piatra Craiului Visitor Center opens in Zărnești

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Zarnesti has opened the visitor center at Parcului Naţional Piatra Craiului (Piatra Craiului National Park). The mountain and the visitor center are about 30 km from Brasov. I saw them building the center back when I visited the mountain last July, and I remember thinking – what is that? During construction, it looked like a big black blob. I was intrigued.

The architecture of the building is distinctive because it mimics the topography of the mountain. I’m glad it looks more like a big mountain now. Especially since it cost 6 million lei (although it seems that this is a postmodern interpretation of “mountain”).

The windows kind of creep me out a little…does no one else see these as eyes? This also freaked me out in Sibiu – the sleepy way the windows are shaped made me feel like the buildings had eyes.

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Photo Credits: Adevarul

From the pictures, the center looks open and spacious with several exhibits. Everything is meant to be interactive. You can learn all about the flora and fauna of Piatra Craiului, the mountain that I am going to climb this summer.

 

The visitor center is free (yay!) and was paid for with a combination of funds from the Romanian government and the European Development Fund. The center is part of an initiative to preserve the biodiversity of the mountain and to develop tourism in the region.

Watch a cool news clip about the center on Digi24’s website (Romanian)

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Piatra Craiului at dusk (July 2015)

Read more at Adevarul (Romanian) or Romania Libera (also in Romanian)

Visit ZărneștiWebsite (English)

 

Capra Neagra

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“Goats. They are weird. Yeah, they are crazy.” – Claudiu

We drove up to Zarnesti to Piatra Craiului and the beautiful gorge that is in the park. It was absolutely freezing, so we put on an extra pair of gloves – so officially, I had on: two pairs of socks, two pairs of pants, two sweaters, a parka, hat, scarf, and two pairs of gloves. And guess what? It was still freaking freezing. This is probably the coldest air I’ve ever felt, somewhere around -2 F.

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The snow on the ground was crunchy and the air was crisp, and by God, we were going to see the Zarnesti gorge!20151230_155819

We didn’t mean to walk too far, but as we were going along, we met a couple coming the other way who told us that there were black goats (capra neagra) on the mountain ahead. Black goats?! Apparently, these wild goats are something of a rarity, so we walked full steam ahead, ready for a treat. Well, we walked around one bend and then another, and no goats. We decided to walk just a few more minutes, and then give up if those furry little jerks didn’t show.

And then…goats.

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Can you see them in the photo? I spotted those assholes from the ground. There are six of them up there. A veritable goat-themed Where’s Waldo? of sorts. Look closer.

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We watched them hang out for a bit. I had never seen a wild goat before. All of my previous goats have been of the farm persuasion. But these ~wild~ goats were everything they’d been hyped up to be – cliff dwelling, impervious to cold, and very chill. But soon, the novelty had worn off enough that I was very aware that I was cold. Very cold. And so we turned around and hoofed it back to the car (pun intended). It took a long time for my feet to warm back up, some kind of goat-induced hypothermia, I suppose. But it was worth it – the Zarnesti gorge was absolutely breathtaking. 20151230_155248

I was actually surprised to see how many people were up there. Lots of hikers, both serious and casual, and some families. Again, this is a country of people who know exactly how beautiful their land is – and they enjoy it whenever possible.

…and of course, I can’t have a post about Zarnesti without including a photo of this beauty, Piatra Craiului:20151230_164620