Friday, November 30, 2012


Did I take pictures? No. Did we celebrate the day and the spirit? Yes, indeed!

Of course, as Thanksgiving is an American holiday, there was no recognition here.  I began my recognition of the day on Tuesday when I taught my class.  I took in a treat that I shared with the first 25 or so folks who came and told them it was in honor of American Thanksgiving.  Wednesday I received an email from some one at the Fulbright commission asking if anyone wanted to connect with a former Fulbrighter from the U.S. who had done his Fulbright experience in Spain and was traveling in Europe at least until his money ran out.  I quickly responded inviting him to both our Saturday night party and also to Thursday dinner with Amanda and me.

Thursday, Amanda joined the autism center group for swimming.  She reported enjoying the pool very much and also reveled in the fact that even among the staff, she was one of the best swimmers and had the highest degree of comfort in the water.  Apparently this is a regular activity for the center in the winter and so she will certainly join them again.  (This is a good thing as it appears we will not be getting to use the pool at our house that I was so excited about.) While she was doing that I went to the market at Obor - I have mentioned this market previously and have since learned that it is considered to be the best market in all Bucharest, and perhaps even in the country.  I was overwhelmed - again! - by the abundance of fresh produce.  I had no difficulty at all filling my shopping cart - imagine a large bag on wheels - in fact, the problem was I was filling it and knew that I was going to have to cook and store what I bought!

OK, I did take one picture - here is the abundance that I purchased:

As an aside, Obor market also has many no food stalls and one part is devoted to hardware.  There I was pleased to find a large metal 'square', an L-shaped ruling device.  I did not bring one from home and have been missing it in bookbinding activities.  Razvan said I got it for a good price, which was
also nice to learn, especially since I am pretty sure I paid a finders fee to the woman whom I asked
about finding one.  She went from booth to booth asking in Romanian and when we found it, had me
pay her and then she paid the booth operator...  I am pleased as it is a most useful item and one which I will gladly donate to the studio when I leave the country.

Back to food and celebrating the abundance of harvest time...

Thursday evening, Amanda and I met Jake (the previously mentioned Fulbrighter at loose ends for the holiday) at Readers Cafe, a small restaurant near us that offers a variety of foods at reasonable prices - and is owned by an American.  It seemed appropriate for the day.  We thoroughly enjoyed sharing stories and activities with Jake - he is a very nice young man who is clearly making the most of his opportunity to travel in Europe.  On his high recommendation we have added Sarajevo to our list of cities we would like to visit.

On Friday I spent time cooking some of the abundance.  I made leek and potato soup, baked red cabbage and apples, wild rice salad with walnuts, apricots, leeks, and clementines, and lastly, toasted walnuts and dried squash seeds together for a snack munchy.  I was pleased with my domesticity and also with the results!

Saturday evening we welcomed David, Elena, Barbara, and Gene who are all Fulbrighters, along with Gene's spouse, Mirea.  I provided the wild rice salad and the red cabbage dish, while others brought homemade bread, local wine, spinach balls, and a special cake for dessert.  The 'prize' went to David, who spent several hours making sarmalia, Romanian stuffed cabbage rolls.  All of the food was great, but best of all we had great conversation and fellowship.  I felt more connected to several of these folks than I had before.  I am hoping to capitalize on this connectedness re bookbinding...  Gene is working on translating some Romania poets into English - I think that might make a very nice handmade book.  Elena is researching urban planning and frequently walks in historic neighborhoods, as do some of the others.  Sounds like a useful connection for getting more pictures for the Romanian doorways book!  Elena was born and raised in Romania, moving to the U.S. only 10-12 years ago.
Mirea also was born and raised here, and Gene and David are both first generation Americans, of
Romanian parents.  Barbara first came as a Fulbrighter in the 90s, came a second time and then
stayed...  So there is a wealth of knowledge in this group about Romanian culture and its contrast
with the U.S.

All in all, I say we celebrated the spirit of the day very well!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Our weekend

As I write this, it is Monday morning at about 7:30 am.  I have been up for an hour and have taken Ralph for his morning constitutional in the garden.  I have also had my breakfast and am settled with a cup of tea to let you know of a pleasant at-home weekend...

On Saturday I met a group of folks with whom I'd connected online (via to visit the Botanical Gardens and Cotroceni Palace.  Amanda opted out of the adventure. I chose to travel via metro and my feet, using a metro stop I had not used before.  The walk was next to an industrial site, complete with nuclear cooling towers, viewed below from within the Botanic Garden.  So I don't think I'll bother with that walk again.

Inside the Gardens was much more pleasant!  Yes, it was a cold day and we were all bundled up, but there were still lovely plants growing and I met some interesting people for conversation.  There was Ahmed, from Egypt, who organized the event; Anna and Cora, who are both from the Netherlands; Jessica from the US (and who is a former Fulbrighter, who decided to stay and teach English here); and Fabrice from France.  We were the hardy ones who walked around the gardens for an hour and a half - about 10 others met us for the tour of the Palace.

It was decidedly warm inside the tropical greenhouse, but the rose in the bottom picture was growing outside in the rose garden.  Returning here in the spring and summer is definitely on my list!  Bucharest has some lovely green spaces within the city and this is clearly one of the nicest.

We then crossed the street to the entrance for the palace.  There we had to exchange passports for id badges and go through full airport-style security.  We also had to turn in cameras! (So images below are gathered from the Internet.) The palace was the official royal palace from the 1600s when parts of it were first built, through the late 1800s when Carol 1 and his family did major renovations putting it as it mostly is today, until 1947 when King Mihai was forced to abdicate the throne.  The Communists made it a training school for children and then Ceausescu made it a hotel for visiting dignitaries.  Today it is one part museum and the rest is official residence and offices for the president of Romania.  (For more details, see Our tour was in English, with a very knowledgeable, interesting, and energetic tour guide.  It was very pleasant to chat with her and be able to ask questions.  I was very sorry I was not allowed to take pictures as there were some magnificent architectural details I would have liked to "collect".  My favorite room - indeed, the favorite for most of our group I think - was the library.  I also very much liked the Norwegian room.

This aerial view is a great perspective - the museum (the part we were allowed to see) is the L-shaped portion made by the top and right sections of the right rectangle.  Inside that right courtyard is the Orthodox Church into which we also went.  (It is new because Ceausescu had it demolished.  The good news is that the people who demolished it saved parts - like columns and interior art work - that were used in the reconstruction.)

Behind the curtain on the left is a secret stairway that goes to the king's bedroom - just in case he wanted to quietly nip down for bedtime reading...

The two pictures above are the "Norwegian room" - I love the wrought iron work on the door!

I returned home at about 5:30.  Amanda and I had supper, talked about our respective days, and watched a movie.

Sunday we went off to church in the morning - I think I have mentioned previously that we are mostly regular in our attendance at the Anglican church.  I miss the diversity of topics in my Unitarian Universalist Fellowship from home, but I very much like feeling part of a spiritual community.  Members of the congregation - which is very small! - have been most welcoming and kind.  This day I took notice of a statue in front of the church that I had not attended to previously:

We walked home from church via our new favorite bookstore.  Beautiful building, LOTS of books - with plenty of them in English, DVDs, CDs, tea, artwork, a cafe, lots of space -- who could not like this place!?!


After lunch, we took Ralph and ourselves to Floreasca Park, about 10-15 minutes walk from the house.  Amanda tried out the really tall cement slide and Ralph enjoyed running, sniffing, and interacting with other dogs.  All in all a good day!

With all the fresh air over the weekend I slept very well last night!  I am now prepared to make up a midterm exam to give my class tomorrow...

Monday, November 12, 2012

Participating in news analysis

Last Tuesday, election day for the US, the Embassy here in Bucharest hosted a party for Americans and other interested folks to talk politics, watch the election results, and have an excuse for visiting with one another.  It was a nicely done affair, held at the Intercontinental Hotel.  For me it was a great chance to reconnect with some Fulbright folks and catch up on various activities.

While there I was asked to be a guest on a Sunday evening talk show for one of the cable news channels, Digi24.  On Sundays at 19,30 local time (that's 7:30 pm written in American), Balazs Barabas hosts a half-hour show dedicated to news outside of Romania and this past Sunday he focused on the American election.  He filmed at least one commentator from the Embassy there at the party, but I was asked to actually be on the show.

I was one of 4 guests, the others of whom were all Romanian (the 4th guest replaced the man on my right about halfway into the show).  When I arrived I was introduced to the man who would be translating for me and was then hooked up to both a lapel mike and an earpiece so that I could hear the translator.  I wish we had had just a little more practice time before the show began as I found it quite disconcerting to watch and hear someone speak in Romanian, while simultaneously English is coming into just one ear.  Depending on how much patience you have for watching or reading the clips and links provided below, you may see me looking like the proverbial deer in the headlights or more relaxed and confident of what I am saying...

The following are transcriptions from parts of the show.  If you open them in Google Chrome (and quite possibly in other browsers as well), the pages will be translated to English.  I guarantee I did not say exactly what the translation has me down for... (smile!)

And presumably, this link below will take you to the full show.  You want Digi24 Jurnal-Extern (External Journal) dated November 11 - and will probably have to scroll down the show menu to get to it.  For me as a participant, it was a packed and fast-paced half hour.  If you do manage to get the show, but don't want to wade through all of it, I was given the opportunity to have the last word and that is where I like to think I was at my best...

Saturday, November 10, 2012


My we have been busy!  Activities have been increasing for both Amanda and me.  Thus the gap in updating this blog.  We took a mini-vacation to Sibiu last weekend and that is what I will begin with...

Sibiu is close to the center of Romania, in Transylvania. The city, also known by its German name of Hermannstadt, was founded by German settlers in 1150.  It grew as a center of craftsmen and of politics for two primary reasons: its centrally location near two major roads and its location relative to a pass through the Carpathian Mountains to the south.  It is a beautiful small town - at least the historic center is! - and in 2007 was named a "European Capital of Culture", a designation of which the town is quite obviously proud.

Leaving Ralph in the capable care of my student Oana (pronounced 'wanna'), we took the train on Saturday morning, leaving Bucharest about 10:00 am.  At first the sky was overcast, but it quickly cleared up and we saw lovely fall colors in the first of the foothills that we came to about one hour into the trip.
The mountains came after about 2 hours of travelling (the total train trip was about 5 1/2 hours).  I was engrossed looking at the scenery as we travelled, especially paralleling the mountains.  Amanda slept most of the trip - she missed a lot of beauty!

I was a little surprised by the flatness of the plateau as we approached Sibiu...
We arrived in Sibiu on time, shortly after 3 in the afternoon.  By 4:30 we had checked into our hotel, Villa Weidner, located right on the main square (and with a bank in the lower level), and were wandering about.
 One of our first forays was into and up The Council Tower.  There are 120 steps up and partway up I realized neither of us had brought our cameras!  We continued on up, admiring both the inside of the tower and the views from the top.
Here is the tower as seen from the front of Villa Weidner after we got back down and I returned for the cameras...

One of the architectural features for which Sibiu is famous are these roof windows that look like eyes.  Not all of them are painted to emphasize the look, but it is indeed interesting to look out upon them.

It didn't take Amanda long at all to find a new friend among one of the (very few) stray dogs in the historic center.  "Red" obviously recognized Amanda's fondness for him, for he was often found waiting outside of doors we entered throughout our 3-day stay.
Soon it was too dark for pictures.  We found a pleasant restaurant for supper and called it an early night...

We got going relatively early (for Amanda at least) Sunday and did our museum sightseeing that day (as they were all closed on Monday) in addition to simply walking around and enjoying the sights. The tower of the Evangelical Church is one of the focal points of the center city.

We visited the Pharmacy Museum, located in a building that dates from the mid-1500s, a contemporary of the period at which the first documented apothecary, "The Black Bear", was established in Sibiu. The museum is small, but contains implements, jars, and cabinets ranging from 16th to 19th centuries.  It also includes a small exhibit on homeopathy, as the founder of homeopathy, Samuel Hahnemann, was a resident of Sibiu.
 From there we went to the Ethnography museum (, an old-style collection of varied items from around the world, mostly collected in the 19th century.  We were a little concerned about our plans for the day, however, since we had just finished 2 museums in less than one hour!  (Both were very small!)

Things changed a bit when we went to the history museum.  We spent an enjoyable 3 hours there, noticing the collections, learning a bit of Romanian history, and appreciating the building itself.  ( Quoting from one of my guidebooks, "This building complex is considered to be the most important civilian building in the Gothic style in Transylvania..."
Above, Amanda enters the central courtyard of the museum.  Below is a view within that courtyard toward the west tower.  The museum includes much of the inner part of all parts of the building surrounding the courtyard, including this tower. 

Same courtyard, different direction...
After a late lunch on the square, doing some people watching, I went on to the art museum and Amanda simply wandered around.  The art collection had a few pieces by artists I recognized and seemed to be a fair collection of European art from 15-1900's, but I was actually more interested in the building itself.  I wasn't able to take any interior pictures, but you can see a little bit here:

We poked about in a few shops in the evening and watched a Christmas tree go up in the town square.  It may be the actual tree for the town, although it seems a bit early, but there were also movie cameras and people definitely dressed up being filmed, so not quite sure what was going on...  But it was definitely pretty and fun to watch.

Monday morning I went off by myself for a bit.  I wandered from the "upper town", where Amanda and I had stayed, to the "lower town".  The lower town is outside the original city walls, which are visible in one of the pictures below.  Mostly I was taking pictures of various architectural details...

The wall in the left part of the picture above is part of the original city wall, dating from the 14th century I believe.

The photo above is taken that Monday morning, in the shadow of the Evangelical Church.  The moon is still up - see it just to the right of the top of the tree. 

Above and below are the primary Orthodox Church in the city, just outside the historic center.  Inside the art was tremendous - frescoes covering every surface.  There was a small shop near it selling icons and religious materials.  I had hopes they might have a small book of pictures from the inside of the church, but I was disappointed.

Some of the doorways leading from the main square (Piata Mare) lead to small alleys like this one below.  Here the perspective is with my back to the small shop we visited and heading back toward the square...

These women are purchasing their lunch, I suppose, from one of many such store-front vendors that are common in Romania.  I snapped their picture because of the traditional garb they are wearing.

After our final meal in the large Piata, I had to return - camera in hand! - to the Council Tower.  On one of the mid-levels, this model (below) of the historic center is provided: Piata Mare is in the back, behind the Evangelical church; Piata Mica (small square) is the large open area to the left; and Piata Huet is in front of the church.

And finally back to the top to take pictures out of each of the windows...

Below I have taken a picture of my feet as I am descending the oldest part of the tower.  These stone steps date from the middle ages.

Once I returned to the ground it was time to collect our luggage and head to the train station.  We caught the 3 pm train back to Bucharest.  I took just a few pictures, but it soon became too dark.  As you can see, the clouds were rolling in after our gorgeous weekend.