Dacians!

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Words cannot express how much I love the Dacian empire. I only started learning about these ancient people last year, when I started reading the book “A Brief Illustrated History of Romanians” by Neagu Djuvara.

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How could my history teachers have kept the knowledge of these venerable people from me all these years? Why did we waste our time learning about the Revolutionary War every single dang year, and we never once talked about the Dacians. Or really any empires other than the usual ones (Greek, Roman, Ottoman, British). Thanks, Obama.

The earliest Dacian people (Thracians and their descendants) showed up to the party around 3,000 B.C, and by the year 500 B.C., they had developed their own civilization. The empire ended around 100 A.D. when Trajan (of column fame) conquered the people.

Dacians were so cool. Other than the fact that they marched into battle with wolf heads on sticks (yes, WOLF HEADS ON STICKS), they had a king named Decebalus who resisted Roman rule and managed to fight off Trajan for a bit. Decebalus is still revered today as a symbol of freedom. He’s popular enough that they carved a giant face statue of him in southwestern Romanian.

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If you want to learn more, I’ve included a short video someone posted on Vimeo.

At first glance, this featurette looks like it’s an “alien conspiracy” kind of video, but it’s actually a really interesting history video of the pre-historic Romanian and Dacian people.

Twenty minutes full of historical artifacts and cool archaeological finds 🙂 Enjoy!

The Other Land of the Gods | English version – 22 mn FREE from Le savoir des anciens on Vimeo.

Protests in Romania

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The politics in the Romania government have been very interesting as of late. The Romanian President, Klaus Iohannis, has spoken out publicly against the opposition party (PSD) and its party leader, Liviu Dragnea because the PSD has made some pretty shady moves this past month.

A few weeks ago, we started hearing about the new laws and changes that the PSD wanted to make in the government. Some were okay (free train tickets for students) and some were absolutely unbelievable. For example, a person working for the government can steal up to 50,000 euro without punishment. This is great news for a lot of criminals, including Mr. Dragnea, who was under investigation for stealing about 30,000 euros. The law was (obviously) wildly unpopular because it basically decriminalized corruption, which Romanians have been diligently trying to fight for years.

The law was passed in the middle of the night while we were all sleeping.

We woke up feeling outraged, like someone had stolen something from us. Pride? Dignity? A prosperous economic future in the European Union? Romania wants to enter Schengen, will they let us enter now that our country has legalized stealing?

The move by Dragnea and PSD was immediately censured by the international community. The Romanian people were also moved to action – and went to the streets.

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This doesn’t translate exactly – something like “Please, forgive us – we don’t produce as much as you steal”

This is where I chose to get involved. I am a legal, tax-paying resident of this country. I also love Romania and what it stands for – I couldn’t keep myself from joining the crowd and chanting, “Nu vrem sa fim o natie de hoti!” (We don’t want to be a nation of thieves!).

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Protests in Bucharest drew up to 250,000 people

As of right now, I have heard that the government will repeal the law, but people are still suspicious. I’ve heard others say they won’t stop protesting until the PSD government steps down. We’ll see in the next days and weeks what will happen, but I am so proud of Romania and her people. Democracy is here, alive and well.

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Teaching the next generation about the voice of the people 🙂

The protests themselves were mature, peaceful, and poignant. In Bucuresti and Brasov, people brought their children to make signs and march. It’s so important to pass on the values of democracy to the next generation.

Here is a video from the protests in Brasov (taken from a few different nights):

 

Further reading on the protests (in English):

Time Magazine (Feb. 6): Everything to Know About Romania’s Anti-Corruption Protests

Reuters (Feb. 2) – Romanian government stands ground as thousands protest 

Reuters (Feb. 5) – Video – Romania protests persist despite government climb down

New York Times (Feb. 5) – Romania Protests Simmer despite promises to back down

 

Balea Lac and the Ice Hotel

I wish I could say that I’ve been super busy and too distracted to post lately, but the truth is that I’ve had a lot of free time. I’m feeling pretty relaxed. Instead, however, of devoting this energy to constructive projects (like this blog), I’ve simply given up and become a human burrito.

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You see, it’s very cold here. Obviously from my last post (about the blizzard), we’re having an actual winter. I’m adjusting (? maybe?) but the truth is that being outside in the cold basically sucks a lot of your ambition out of you and you end up snuggled in your jammies watching Netflix. I’ve watched some very good TV lately. I watched The Crown, Poldark, Rebellion, and Vikings.

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But every now and then we get an urge to go do something, and after the new year we decided to drive to the Fagaras Mountains and take the telecabina to Balea Lac. In the summer, you might actually be able to drive up to Balea Lac, if the Transfagarasan is open, but right now it’s under about ten feet of snow.

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The Ice Hotel was our main motivation for making the trek up the hill, and it did not disappoint. We just visited, and I’m glad. I wouldn’t recommend actually sleeping there because the beds were very…firm. Everything, including the floors, is made out of ice. If you’re more of the Yeti/Sasquatch “love the cold” type, this is probably the hotel for you.

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Trying to find a comfortable way to sit on the ice bed

Each room is decorated in a different theme, and they carve figures out of the walls. I think this year’s theme for the whole hotel was Hollywood. They had Darth Vader, the Gladiator, a dinosaur, and an Orc. Also, Mihai Viteazu and Jesus. Because this is an ice hotel in Romania, after all.

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Jesus, dinosaur, Mihai V., and an Orc

We toured the hotel and watched the men use chainsaws to cut the ice blocks out of the lake. The blocks were this absolutely gorgeous color of blue. They looked like sea glass. The men used snow mobiles to drag the ice blocks over to the construction site. On this day, they were building an ice church.

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I think we spent about an hour on top of the mountain. We were lucky because when we got there we had good visibility and we could see the view from the cliffs down to the valley. At some point, it became very cloudy and started to snow, so visibility was basically nil. We decided to leave at that point, mostly because we were becoming ice blocks ourselves.

Here is a short video with some more moments from the Balea Lac and the Ice Hotel.

 

VISCOL (blizzard)

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The entire country of Romania has been hit with some pretty insane winter weather. Last week, we had a blizzard for three days. It was snowy and windy and freezing. The snow finally stopped, but the cold didn’t, and when woke up yesterday, it was -25c. I have no idea what that is in Freedom units (F), but at that temperature, I don’t think it matters. It’s COLD. Like, really, really, painfully cold.

This morning, we woke up to another blizzard. It’s only about -13c right now, but it’s not much relief. I want to do a post on how many layers of clothing I wear every day. Clau put on four (4!!!) layers today. Fleece undershirt, zip up sweater jacket thing, puffy under jacket, and outer jacket. He’s got pants under his pants and two pairs of wool socks under his winter boots. Insane.

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In fact, the weather is so bad that they cancelled school Tuesday and Wednesday. Keep in mind, Romania does not have school buses, so most kids walk. Even though most live close to school, it’s too cold to expect the kids to walk the short distances to class. They don’t cancel school for “ice” (looking at you, Georgia), but they do cancel school for a blizzard. Although the University is open today, which means *I* have to go to class. I am not walking, no way in hell. Today is an Uber day.

I am looking forward to the day that the weather is close to freezing again (ha ha).

Reuters article on our plight: HERE

Romanian newspaper article in English on the closing of schools: HERE

Want to watch the Romanian weather report? The weatherman is an institution – everyone loves him

Live Cameras of Brasov! (if you watch this today, you can observe our pain!)

 

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 ❤