Eastern Europe September 2014



So much for traveling with carry on, the overhead compartment on the 757-200 was too narrow for my bag since I had filled the outside pockets. Fortunately the very kind purser on my Delta
flight put it in the first class closet. On the flight from Copenhagen I checked it since that flight had even smaller overhead compartments. The rest of the trip are direct flights, busses and trains,except for the return trip where I don't have to worry if the suitcase is delayed somewhere.
Had a delicious shrimp sandwich at Copenhagen airport with a nice glass of wine for $20. Finally boarded my flight and slept the whole way to Rome.
A very important fact to know when you arrive at Leonardo da Vinci Airport is that the ATM is upstairs in the departure area. Depending on where you arrive, I discovered on my return arrival that it was situated by the luggage retrieval area.

Another not vital but useful piece of information is that outside the arrival area are the white taxis which are the only ones to use if you are taking a taxi. Make sure the car is marked Roma and not Fiumicino since there will be a price difference. A Roma taxi is 48 Euros plus 1 Euro per suitcase
If you don't feel like a taxi there is always the train the Leonardo Express which will take you to Termini the central station the cost is 14 Euro or from the same station you can take a local train into Rome for 8 Euros it stops at Trastevere, Ostiense and continues. It might make for a marginally longer ride since it is a local train but it is convenient and comfortable.

Speaking of trains as I was leaving after my most delightful visit with my hosts to take the train back to the airport for my flight to Dubrovnik I saw that it left from platform 4 or binario as it is called in Italian.I stood on the platform the train arrived and like a total nincompoop I never thought to check the time or if it was the correct train. I was well on my way to Tuscany before I recognized my mistake. Had to get off and then on to another train and yet another one. It became a rather costly mistake but a lesson hopefully never to forget.

By the time I got to the airport the plane was closed for boarding but very conveniently there is a travel agent to help you on site. When I got to the agency there were four other people who had missed the same flight. In the end we all bought tickets for Split and on arrival rented cars. My travel Karma stayed with me and I ended up sharing the ride with two delightful Canadian girls. We made it to Dubrovnik in time for me to check in at 11 pm at Old Town hostel where $56 a night gives me a private room on the top floor. The location is perfect, the room small but very clean and I''m a happy camper.

Dubrovnik the City that never sleeps!
 

At least that is how it seems to me. Part of the reason that i came to Dubrovnik was to walk the wall which I did starting just after 8am when it opens. The fee for the privilege of climbing up and down 4000+  steps is 100 Kunas or $17. It took me about 1 1/2 hour to walk the entire wall with plenty of resting time both to admire the views and take sips of water from my bottle. By the time I was ready to leave I could see the beginning of the wall and it looked like a giant snake. The walk is a one way street and obviously gets very crowded, am I glad I started early.

It is very hot here so a trip to the beach seems like a good idea, except I left my bathing suit in New York. No biggie I can always buy a new one how hard can it be. Turns out very hard, the bathing suits here have built in and sewn in DDDD foam cups that actually sit somewhere between the navel and the chest. Certainly one of the most bizarre designs, I have ever seen, one that seemed prevalent in the stores I went to. Since bathing suit shopping is just about the most loathsome thing I know decided wisely to forget about it for now.

Dubrovnik is always crowded during the day but even more so when 3 cruise ships are in town. Now it is wall to wall with people it actually makes Times Square on matinee day look deserted. I decided to take a boat to Cavtar a small resort down the coast round trip 80 Kunas or $7.60. First though I had to have the famous oysters at` Kemanice restaurant by the market 6 oysters and a small beer cost 95K or $16. It held me nicely until the boat landed. Once in Cavtar I continued my quest for a bathing suit still no luck but I managed to buy a pair of cropped linen pants since the 5 pairs I already own are still in my closet. Never expected this heat, and apparently neither did the Croatians sine they have had a miserable summer.

Time for lunch there is no dearth of seaside restaurants lining the harbour, however I had received a tip from my lovely sales girl that just up the road was a place where her husband worked and the owner fished for his restaurant. Off I went to find Konoba Kolona and was not at all disappointed in my extremely delicious Yellow Fin tuna served with Swiss Chard and String Beans with a glass of wine was 165K or $28.

Took a long nap when I got back to the hostel and ventured out around 8 pm. What a difference, what a lovely place with all the little alleyways, back roads and hidden passages.
Somebody on Chowhound had recommended a restaurant called Azur which the receptionist told me was a hidden gem. When I finally found it there were no seats, but to come back in 30 minutes. Was referred to the Buzz Bar that one would never find except it was right next door down some unmarked steps into the most remarkable setting. The whole place was open air set on the rocks overlooking the Adriatic. I had a delightful glass of White wine and a whacky fun conversation with two Irishmen.

At Azur which has a Thai/Malaysian inspired menu I started with a 1/2 portion of a shrimp and cashew salad followed by a seafood curry and of course a glass of wine. The meal was really good and the cost was 165K or $28. I was sitting next to a couple from Switzerland who were very interesting She was American and he was Dutch probably in their late 50's now living in Zurich. They had met when she was working for Disney in Orlando and then proceeded to tell me a lot about their lives together. I left on a high note and the evening got even better when I returned to discover Antonia the really upbeat evening receptionist and a few other people sitting on the outside steps having drinks. More conversations and laughter finally at midnight I said my farewells and went to bed a very contented traveler
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Leaving Dubrovnik was almost surreal.... I walked out of the gate at 9 am and the line to get in was veery long. There were signs for entry and exit On my one short block from the hostel I counted 32 guides with their groups, each one with a number in his hand. I would love to return in low season if there is such a thing for this lovely place.


I was so much looking forward to Kotor, the e-mails I had received from my B+B were very warm and welcoming. Everything I had read indicated that I would be very content to stay for a few days.
Kotor is a tiny walled city with many churches, mosques and plazas it is also a stop for cruise ships of which there was one in town. It is very charming if you disregard the souvenir shops and restaurant employees that keep on verbally entice you to step in. It didn't strike me as a place to return to, perhaps I would have felt different if I had seen it in the evening.


Where I was staying was up on a hill outside the old city with a very long and arduous walk back, there was no bus service and it was very hot.
I did however manage to find a bathing suit in the nearby shopping center after having been told in one store that here were none to be found there. As it turned out the were several venues. By the time I had climbed up the hill I was too tired to go down to the beach, the nearest restaurant was another 10 minutes walk, fortunately I had bought some provisions.
One of the great things in this part of the world is instant coffee mixed with milk powder in individual sachets and small individual packs of granola, which with a container of yougurt has me set for the morning. The weather predictions for the next few days were thunder storms and heavy rains.

My friend Sue taught me that you cut your losses and move on when the accommodation is not suitable which I did. The owners were very lovely and totally understood especially as the grandmother two years older than I could never make that walk according to them.

On to Ulcinj where I will be on the beach for 4 nights if only the weather would change.
While I was in the bus station waiting to leave for Ulcinj I realized that it would be a long time before lunch and since the bus was late I decided to have a sandwich. The bread here is very soft and yet I managed to break a tooth which I will have to deal with sooner rather than later.

The bus ride was longer than expected both because of bad weather and rocks that had fallen down the mountain to close off half the road. When we were almost at destination we saw one of the worst traffic accidents I have ever witnessed. The two cars that obviously had collided were in pieces strewn all over. Fortunately we didn't see any of the people they had already been removed.
It was so lovely to arrive at Adriatic Apartments yesterday, a small hotel located by Velika beach outside the city center. It is owned by the family of a friend of mine. My room is facing the ocean which I have yet to explore since the weather is not exactly conducive. Last night there was one of the most incredible storms with thunder and lightning that I have experienced as an adult. It was so much fun to lie in bed and count how many seconds before lightning hit after the thunder, it certainly brought back a lot of memories of summers long gone by. This is the view from my wondow


This morning Tuesday, I went into the old town by taxi and walked around. Ulcinj is right on the border to Albania, I think I had some ambitions to go there for the day but it doesn't seem likely to happen. Am unable to get a day trip sightseeing in Montenegro, the only ones available are Russian speaking and somehow that doesn't appeal.
What struck me were how few Moslems I saw given the amount of minarets. It is a very typical seaside town, however it has a very interesting history that goes back several centuries B.C.through the Byzantine, Ottoman and Ventian Empires. The old town that was the original fortified town still has about 600 inhabitants. Another day went by with no dentist, had a lovely lunch in town of fish soup and a mixed salad. Everything so fresh and totally delicious.


Today Wednesday finally have an appointment with a dentist. who was very cute around 30 years old and also very good. I wish I was staying longer because a crown is $130 and the filling he did today cost $45. This should last the rest of my trip.
Took another walk in the old town and went into a super deluxe hotel the Venetian and spoke with the concierge about tours. Depending on the weather tomorrow I will either go to the monastery or around the lake. It is a German speaking tour so I should be able to understand some of what the guide has to say. Need a brush up on my German anyway and it should be fun. Since it doesn't look like I will get an opportunity to christen my new bathing suit I might as well do some sight seeing.

Went on the guided tour with 3 German tourists and the guide to Ostrog Monastery it was about 2 1/2 hours from here. It is cut into a cliff and the drive up the mountain is quite hair raising with all the hair pin curves and if it hadn't been for the rain spectacular views. This is one of the top sights in Montenegro with over 100.000 visitors a year.

To my uneducated eyes it seemed a lot of ado about nothing, very touristy and not particularly spiritual. We were then taken to restaurant for lunch where we were served a soup that could have been Liptons instant chicken noodle soup, a salad that consisted of 3 slices of tomato and shredded cabbage, the main course was lamb and frozen mixed vegetables with boiled potatoes. Even for a tour group place it was pretty dismal.
The guide who was a young girl and spoke quite good English as did the German couple made sure that all conversations were in German and at no time tries to slow it down or include me. Fortunately the one non English speaking woman and I conversed in German, mine pretty dismal hers of course fluent but at least we understood each other.
Got back and had dinner at the local fish restaurant delicious grilled Calamari with a glass of wine $10. The owners daughter who was 17 sat down and told me a little about the education, here 80% are ethnic Albanians and go to Tirana for their higher education. She seemed very goal oriented and really bright.

Friday morning the sun is shining I am going to christen my bathing suit before I leave for Belgrade, walk down to the beach and plonk myself on a bench under an umbrella. The water is pleasant but oh so shallow, I walk and walk and it never goes above my knees. Finally I just sit down in it and enjoy the ocean. I don't know what it is about me, maybe I look like a polyglot but people always strike up conversations in their own language. I am sitting on the beach minding my own business when this older couple sit down next to me and start talking. I haven't a clue what is being said but it doesn't matter we smile a lot.  The are little children playing in the water totally naked, they were somewhere between 18 months and 3 years and displaying such delight when they fell or ran it was so much fun to watch as each had is or her own personality. It's a perfect beach for families with small children.

Belgrade

Have I mentioned how much I like this city? As I have stated many a time some places speak to you and Belgrade does. Despite the fact that it has been bombed probably more times than any other place it has a distinct character. There are still a lot of scars visible from 1999 but many Art Deco buildings still exist. As opposed to Warsaw it seems that Belgrade rebuilt rather than copying, what was destroyed. There is a mixture of very modern and Communist era buildings especially across the river. I am staying in the old town on the oldest street in Belgrade it has a wonderful mix of buildings. There are also a plethora of outdoor restaurants and bars. The whole city is very congenial.
T
he Serbs are very helpful even if they don't speak a word of English. A case in point I have an entire day to kill since my train doesn't leave until 9.50 tonight. The receptionist suggested a fish restaurant located in Old Zemun which looks like part of Belgrade on the map. As I am a total sucker for restaurant recommendations I jumped on the chance to find Saran. As per suggestion I took bus #15 which did indeed drop me off in Zemun which was a very good distance away from where I wanted to be. Was put on bus #45 by a woman who spoke not a word of English and made sure the bus driver knew where I was going. Many, many stops later the bus driver told me where to get off and how to walk. I pass a village church and the whole place looks like I imagine rural Serbia looks like, cobblestone streets, low houses hidden behind fences or with inner courtyards.

Saran is obviously a very old restaurant quite large, apart from the charming interior there is also an outside terrace by the Danube. There is nothing rural or appearing low key about this place the hostesses have matching uniforms of pencil skirts in a dove blue colour and twin sets in beige. Yet it is so tranquil watching the river flow by and whole families out for Sunday lunch.
I am served a wonderful breadbasket with a kind of seasoned cream cheese totally delicious. I order the fish soup to start and ask if I can have a cup instead of a full portion, that didn't happen, delicious all the same. My main course was grilled Perch with a Potato Swiss Chard mixture which I would love to duplicate. this is washed down with a quarter carafe of white wine to be followed by an espresso. This entire meal cost $20 If you are ever in Belgrade highly recommended.

Last night I was so tired that I could hardly see but since I had been out all day without really eating something I decided after my sightseeing trip to go down the street to eat. I popped into my new found Swedish friend Jana's shop to ask where to go. As it turns out there was another woman in there who was born in Sweden but Serbian named Ivana. She and her husband owned the Italian restaurant next door so that is where I ate. It became a very interesting evening since we were joined by Ivana's husband 5th generation Belgradian. I just wish I hadn't been so exhausted and could have retained more of the conversation

Sofia

As I get on the night train from Belgrade to Sofia the conductor looks at my ticket and changes me from a 6 berth to a 2 berth compartment. My companion who was a very congenial Serb having lived in Germany for many years, informed me that he was getting off in a couple of hours. Despite torn sheets I slept very well and arrived well rested.
On arrival in Sofia, manage to get royally ripped off by a taxi driver taking me to the Hostel Mostel what should have been a $3 ride was $12. Unfortunately for him I didn't have enough Lev to pay full price and he had to be satisfied with what I could produce.
My room which is actually a triple is located in a separate building about 8 minutes away on the 4th floor in a walk up. I am less than pleased but not much that can be done about it now. First order of business breakfast, which is very scrumptious and ample. No wonder this hostel is so popular.

Then it is off on the free walking tour of Sofia, it is led by a young man named Filip and he does an admirable job explaining Bulgarian history and showing us all the main monuments, churches and mosques of Sofia. After the 3 hour tour a few of us go for lunch to a vegetarian restaurant that had totally delicious food, Unfortunately the name was in Cyrillic letters only, the weather is drizzly with intermittent rain but we soldier on to revisit some of the sites.

We pass a fruit market that has delicious looking baked pumpkin, a book sellers market and a lot of government buildings. I have now walked for 7 hours and am feeling it. What has struck me both in Belgrade and Sofia is how extremely clean the streets are. People chain smoke and do put out their cigarettes on the streets, but there are street sweepers and no other form of littering seems to take place.
The next morning is again a dreary drizzly day but I am off to probably the most well known sight in Bulgaria "The Rila Monastery"


 It is a 2 hour drive with part of it through small villages where you can see red peppers strung up to dry hanging on the balconies and beehives in a multitude of colors.
We arrive at the monastery and my breath is taken away, there are several buildings surrounding a courtyard all painted white with black stripes, in the background are the green Rila mountains partially covered in clouds. The church is one of the few religious sites in the world where I have felt spiritual. It is very beautifully decorated with frescoes, icons and a lot of gold. Yet it maintains this otherworldly feeling.
After the monastery we continue to see the cave where the hermit monk Ivan of Rila lived, it was his disciples who built the monastery, my knees refuse to walk any further, so I stay in the van quite content with what I have already seen.

Plovdiv the second largest city in Bulgaria is not to be missed.
From the second I arrived  by bus from Sofia 14 lev approx $8.50 and 2 hours it felt right. I am staying at the Old Plovdiv Hostel a building from the 1800s very lovingly restored into a hostel. It is located in the old town which is full of Ottoman Empire houses and cobble stoned streets. A stone throw away is the newer part with the pedestrian main street.
The houses in the old part have the second story as an overhang, because houses were taxed on the square footage of the ground floor, it make for a very charming look.
I have a huge 4 bedded room overlooking the garden to myself, the bed is very comfortable and the linens of good quality. It was the only room available and I paid for it as if it was a double approx $45 per night including breakfast. It is situated just before the hill which gives a very nice view of the whole city. There is also an outdoor restaurant on the hill where I had lunch. I found the cobblestones too hard to walk on so I basically only went to the Ethnographic museum which was on the way.
One of the reasons I like hostels is that you meet people. Hotels are much more isolating when you are a single traveler. Old Plovdiv hostel is no exception when it was time for dinner a couple of my newfound friends and I ventured out to a nearby restaurant which was adequate but nothing to write home about.

There is a black and white cat here at the hostel that gave birth to 7 kittens 10 days ago, so cute and sweet, she sits in my lap and eats literally anything you feed her. Talking about cats I have never seen so many feral cats anywhere as here and in Sofia. They talk about the dog problem, I never saw any dogs just cats everywhere.

Last July at the Fancy Food Show in NYC I had met an exhibitor from Plovdiv who gave me his card. I had called him when I arrived and we arranged to meet the following morning. Ivan picked me up and took me to the factory. It was such and exciting experience, the factory is very large in my opinion, but according to him not by international standards. They make about 40 different products. During my visit I saw how tomato puree was made, 100's of lbs of plum tomatoes that are machine harvested, trucked to the factory, washed and sorted and made into puree that gets put into large foil vacuum bags. Every 30 minutes a sample is taken to make sure of the quality and  that there is no contamination. There was another area where peppers were roasted and put into jars. Though some of that process was mechanized a lot was manual labor. I will never complain of the cost of ready made roasted peppers. There was milk from Poland that had arrived in what looked like oil trucks.
I saw how juices and milk were bottled in Tetrapak containers a completely mechanized process from the rolls of paper to the finished and sealed product including the 99p label for the British market. What an exhilarating morning, my visit ended with a glass of pure peach juice and a few samples to take with me.

What I had heard and Ivan confirmed was that many people missed the communist regime. Their lives were safe and secure. Everybody made the same amount of money you had state holidays that were paid for, your life was taken care of from cradle to grave. True there was great shortages and very few consumer goods Today, it is a capitalist society where it is much harder to make a living. The women in the factory make approx $400 a month, though life is cheap it is not that cheap.
I am writing this on the bus, which is a mini bus going to Veliko Tarnovo I am the only foreigner. On this bus everybody has a cell phone but the women are wearing artificial leather shoes and plastic handbags. What has also struck me is how few women wear any kind of jewelry, not even a thin gold chain. There are also very few jewelry stores. However the young women are quite well dressed even if the shoe fashions are quite outrageous.

The country side is beautiful, I don't know if this is a particularly good area for farming but there are acres and acres upon acres of harvested fields or dried sunflowers. I don't see any farmhouses as such but rather small villages and then there are the mountains.

Veliko Tarnovo in particular the old town Varosha in Bulgaria's former capital is very charming. The houses are built on hills overlooking  the Yantra River.  Varosha is utterly beguiling, I had been recommended to stay at Nomad's Hostel. It did not start very well, and I decided to move on after one night. As it turns out the hostel is closing, which probably explained my hosts less than welcoming manner. He did make up for it by driving me to a nearby town to catch a non-existent train to Bucharest,  more on that later.

The day is hot very hot and I have decided to go see the famous Tsarevets fortress. It is probably one of the oldest monuments in Bulgaria. The Fortress was built by the Byzantines and fortified by the Bulgurs and Slavs in the 8th and 10 centuries. It was home to 22 successive kings who ruled Bulgaria. It is high up, which makes it such a mighty site,  the church sits on top of the hill, was built in 1325 and has been totally renovated inside. There are now modern paintings depicting Bulgarian history. I really liked them but I may be in a minority.
There is a saying that only mad dogs and Englishmen are out in the midday heat. I am neither but this time I certainly resembled one it is easily 30 degrees Farenheit and I am totally lost going back. Fortunately I come across a woman who is weeding her garden and calls to her daughter who speaks English and accompanies me back to the hostel, up more hills and much further it seems than when I went. Am also a little nervous about missing my train to Bucharest but I needn't have worried there was none.

Bucharest never happened. I decided to take the easy way out instead of waiting at the station for a 10.45 pm train to stay the night in Ruse. This is very middle European looking town, which is a 3 1/2 hour train ride from Veliko Tarnovo and 1 hour minibus from Bucharest, where I got a single room in the English Hostel for 33 lev or $21.50 with a great breakfast. My train ride was made very pleasant by 3 18 year-olds who spoke excellent English. I had already made the decision that I was going to continue immediately to Brasov instead of staying in Bucharest. In the taxi to the train station I saw some beautiful turn of the century buildings but not enough to change my mind.

Brasov is a travelers dream, at least to this traveler. It's an old medieval Saxon town. There are almost no tourists and everything looks like it has for centuries. Everywhere you turn is another view of small narrow streets and quaint houses, at least in the old center. The more modern part still like in all parts of this area have the old communist buildings.
Of course I totally lucked out staying at Rinda's Room right smack in the old city. Rinda is an expat who bought this old building and did a magnificent total renovation  14 years ago. She has a separate guest room with its own bathroom which rents for $30/night. I could write a whole book about her suffice it to say we found each other and I feel like a friend and not a guest. After having acted as an arbitrator on how to hang a lot of ceramic plates I excused myself and went for dinner. My mistake I didn't ask for advice, went to the nearest place which was an Italian wine bar, and suffered for it all night and intermittently throughout my stay in Brasov.
I am here to see Saxon fortified churches unfortunately they are all closed on Mondays, which I didn't know as I take a bus from the Central bus station to a village named Harmon. I do get to admire the church from the outside and when I return to Brasnov I visit the market which is totally everything I think of as a market. The peasant women in their long skirts and head scarves selling home grown products, mountains of fresh produce, separate sections for cheeses, meats and charcuteries. I am in heaven just wandering around watching the transactions and interactions. There is a very long line in front of a grape seller, the only conclusion I can draw is that he sells grapes for wine making yet people don't seem to buy that much 6-8 lbs, may be that is enough for a small batch?
I stop for dinner at Kellers steakhouse off the main square a really good argula salad with freshly shaved parmesan, steak tartare and a glass of wine sets me back 80/Leo or $24 on my way back to my room I see a group of young musicians playing chamber music, a bit further up the street there is an open window and inside approx 20 young people are practicing
folk dances.
Next day another taxi for $2.50, which seems to be what it costs in every city and every distance, in this case to the bus station where I am off to Prejmer to see the most powerful peasant fortress in Transylvania surrounding the 13th century Gothic church. It is very impressive there are over 200 rooms to house people in case of a siege. Granaries to store supplies,  a school room and all the crafts needed to maintain a village life within the walls. I cannot wait to return and explore more of the fortified churches and this part of the world, I just need a companion who drives.
The adventures I have, mainly on a small scale which fit me perfectly. Today it was a day trip to Sinaia which houses Peles castle and  Pelisor. I had originally planned my trip to arrive in Bucharest spend a night there then take the train to Sinaia, see the castles and continue to Brasov. Well since Bucharest didn't happen it was only to go to plan B. There are more or less hourly minibuses  cost 11 lei or $3.30 that take 1 hour as opposed to the train 41 lei or $12 that can take up to two hours. The buses are right in front of the train station. On arrival I grab a taxi up to the castle it is a very long steep walk the same 8 lev. Peles Castle is worth all the publicity and pictures, it is a breathtaking edifice domineering the hill it sits on. By my pensioners ticket and splurge on a photography permit, (only because my friend Dianne said the regretted not having bought one) The permit is 31 lei or $10 the entrance was $6. The tour was conducted in English and was interesting enough. The castle is very somber, lots of dark wood, but interesting in that it was the first of its kind to have central heating, electricity and bathrooms. I clicked away and so did others, I asked one of the women it's strange that nobody has asked for the permit. Her reply "I don't have one" so much for that.
I then proceeded to  Pelisor castle the summer palace of Queen Mary  and King Ferdinand, it was built 1899-1902. What a contrast here the interiors are light and very art Noveau. Queen Mary had a large influence on the interiors. I click away, after all have to show my friend the "Decoguy" these lush interiors. Imediately a woman shows up to see my ticket for photos, I show her the one for Peles Castle, it's not valid here. I explain that I am not spending another 30 lei considering that nobody else but I had bought a ticket previously. They debate for a few seconds and decide my reasoning is perfectly just, so feel free to shoot away.
There is no taxi to be had on the way down so prepare for a hike. It took me about 45 minutes. All in all it became a 7 hour day. By the time I came back to Rinda's I was really unwell, took some Imodium and went to bed very early for my next day trip to Sighisoara
The trip just gets better and better.Romania gives me such a sense of wellbeing. I feel that the people are very kind if a tad reserved. Of course the language barrier is huge, much larger than I expected. Still I keep on having small unexpected and rather pleasant travel experiences.
It is pouring with rain and I don't have much to do but sit and share some of these moments with you.
Going from Bucharest to Brasov I share my seat with an accountant from Sibiu. He is probably in his 40's married with two daughters. A very fascinating man who explains to me why Germany can grow so much more on the same acreage as either Bulgaria or Romania, it has to do with the climate. He fills my head with more facts than I can possibly retain, but it is a pleasant travel diversion. There are constantly sales people passing by on the train, fresh berries, magazines, potato chips, an array of trinkets from a deaf man. Looking out the window the views are breathtaking.
Leaving Brasnov for Sighisoara I dutifully wait on platform 4 as I was advised. Strange there are no other people on the platform, finally I ask a worker for the train to Sighisoara, he points to a train that had been there for at least 15 minutes and grabs my suitcase and hoists me over the rails and onto the train. As it starts to move I realize my handbag is on the bench,
the door is still open and I scream "my handbag" the men look at me like I am crazy and someone gets it grabs the bag, passes it on relay fashion and just before the train picks up speed I have it in my hand.
When I enter my compartment there are 3 older people and a young girl around 18. The older people are just finishing their coffee in china cups, so civilized. For the next few hours there is no real communication, I realize that Romanians don't smile easily, not because of hostility but rather wariness, but eventually the ice breaks. My map of Romania comes out, the husband borrows my glasses so he can read it, then forgets to return them, much laughter ensues.
The girl shares an apple and without real language we all have a good time.
Taking the mini bus from Sighisoara to Sibiu 20 lei or $12 the driver stops all along the way and picks up anybody who needs a ride. The bus is bursting at the seams with a woman standing holding her infant. The driver tells her to give it to the man who is leaning against the door. In the end I am so nervous that I offer to take the baby. She does well for awhile then she wants her mom. My travel companion offers her seat, the mother takes it, and proceeds to pull out her breast and nurse the baby. No modesty here, though she wasn't dressed as one it was surmised she was a Roma.
The driver stops at a few photo-ops and tells the rest of the passengers that 30 seconds less won't make a difference. There were a couple I totally missed, one was a man tilling his field behind a horse, the other a horse and cart filled with gypsies. The route was extremely rural, the villages appeared to be self sustaining and rather distant from each other. We saw quite a few fortified churches in the distance. How I wished I drove a car.
This is the Romania I envisioned and I want to experience more of.
It is hard to believe that I have one day left in Romania and all I want to do is tell you about Bucovina and the painted monasteries. That wouldn't be right if I didn't also tell you about Sighisoara, the lilliputian medieaval walled city.
Which is where I stayed at Casa Lia for less than $20 with breakfast with Lia and Marius being the most hospitable generous hosts. Where I climbed 172 steps to see the church and cemetery and met a wonderful young couple from Southern Romania who introduced me to a local soup eaten in bread that night. This is also how I came to have the magical bus tour to Sibiu with another couple who also stayed a Casa Lia.
Then you wouldn't know about Pensiunea Cocosul Rosu in Sibiu where I was booked for one night and wanted to add another night, but they were fully booked, so I reserved the 3 bedded room and was prepared to pay for the whole room with its view over the rooftops of Sibiu. Where I ended  paying $48 for the two nights remaining in the same room and the receptionist refused to accept tips. Also taking the local bus to Astra, the outdoor ethnographic museum, which I could have happily missed. But if I had missed it I wouldn't have had the stuffed cabbage at the outdoor restaurant that was very good.
The whole city reminded me of a stage setting for an operetta,
I spent the last day visiting the Brukenthal Museum an art museum housed in a baroque palace built 1785. The collections are extensive, especially the Romanian art which requires a separate ticket. I have a grilled Filet Mignon at Pardon Cafe before it was time to catch my overnight train to Suceava and Bucavina.
Being this nervous person when it comes to overnight train travel, since I wanted a sleeping car, I had made sure to purchase my ticket as soon as I arrived in Sibiu. I didn't understand why I had two tickets with the same price on them and why it cost me $132. The ticket agent disappeared as soon as I had paid someone else explained because something I didn't understand, so I thought I had two tickets because I had to change trains. It wasn't until just before the train was leaving the conductor explained to me that I had in fact purchased two tickets. All was not lost, when we got to Alba Iulia I was able to return a portion of my ticket for a refund and ended up with a sleeping compartment to myself. One thing is for sure, I need a course in European train travel  even if it has all turned out for the best so far.
Suceava, I came here for one reason and one alone to see the painted monasteries and they haven't disappointed. As I arrive at Villa Alice my home for the next two nights the receptionist shows me to my room and remarks "This is the cheapest room, we have many so much better" at $50 a night with breakfast it suits me just fine. Since I have hired the owner to be my guide over the next two days I learn that he will do anything to sell his hotel and have guests upgrade, wherever we go he hands out the business card of the hotel.
As we travel around to the various monasteries, though I think of them more as nunneries, since I didn't see one monk or priest, I realize what a remarkable feat these churches are. The 500+ years old frescoes are incredible and what I learn is that several are fortified churches. There were invasions from many parts, not just the Turks but also Tartars and other tribes. It appears as if all the monasteries are nunneries as I don't see one male religious figure anywhere. The flowers and especially the roses are extraordinary at each and every location.

The photographs will be posted I promise. All the churches are more than my words can describe and I am so happy to be here. Have just lost everything I wrote into wherever things disappear, the first version was better but here goes.

On our way back my happiness is complete, I get to see more of rural Romania. We park the car so that I can take a picture of a house that is decorated with what looks like cross stitch embroidery. Across the road is a horse drawn milk cart, the driver is collecting milk from the various farms and transferring it into old fashioned milk cans before going to the dairy.
Heaven is when we proceed along the road and I see mountains of cabbages for sale. I ask for permission to take pictures and it is readily granted. I see how the women can some form of tomato sauce over an open fire. One of them tells me that she is sterilizing the cans, I for once keep my mouth shut instead of pointing out that the water is not boiling. Presumably she knows what she is doing, the pickles are beautifully arranged in the jars and the posing is cheerfully done. I have had a small glimpse of rural Romania and I cannot wait to come back and see more.


I got in late last night from Iasi in Romania where I sat next to a most interesting man on the plane. He was an agricultural engineer working for Monsanto and specializes in corn. I learnt a lot about corn, economic development in Romania and best of all that white polenta is the best with fish. He was also a great proponent for genetically modified food. His reasoning was that you don't need as many pesticides. He loved his job and Monsanto so refreshing to hear.
After spending the night near the airport since I got in so late it wasn't worth going into Rome. I was offered a lift at 8am from the guest house, which I gratefully accepted, thinking my flight leaves at 12 noon. When I go to check in I discover it doesn't leave until 1.40. I am at this point not looking forward to a day of traveling with a long layover at Heathrow as well. Didn't plan this very well if my calculations are correct I will have been on the road for about 24 hours.
I see the AlItalia lounge  and decide to see if I can buy a day pass. Travel karma continues, for 30 Euros I now have access to a lovely lounge, food and drinks and consider this one of my more worthwhile expenditures. May even consider that option at Heathrow where I have another 5 hours. Though if I remember correctly that airport is such a nightmare I may need that time just to negotiate where to go..

By the time I had negotiated both airports I felt as if I had walked the NYC marathon got home around midnight minus my suitcase which apparently went on to Hong Kong.