Posts Tagged home

Disappointing, but still loved

Two days in Bucharest, then we took a very early train to Timisoara, my home city, the place where I had spent almost 20 years of my life. How I loved it and thought I would never, but never move away! Still, I first decided to move to Bucharest, after my first big step out of my planned life story, out of my comfort zone – spending one year as an Au Pair in the US, an experience which to this day seems somehow surreal to me. Then it was the UK, thousands of kilometres away and a life experience which I never really thought I would have, even considering my unrealistic dreams of being a volunteer working with children in Africa (I could never have afforded it, nor could I today, still).
Back in Romania the best option for traveling, other than to rent a car (which costs just as much as it would here, in the UK), is the train. Flights are too expensive. By train you also get to actually see the country, although it is a long journey from Bucharest to Timisoara, about 600 km in 8 hours. I would not really recommend a coach, as they take almost the same time and you don’t get much more comfort sitting on the same narrow chair. On the train, as not all the seats are taken, you can stretch your feet, put them up on the one in front of you or next to you, and even take a good nap if you are able to. Luckily I can always sleep in trains, and sometimes in the most difficult postures, like crouching on one seat with my head on the back or arm rest. I probably look very silly, but don’t quite care about it.
On this travel I did take advantage of the rain and slept for a good 3 hours. Unbelievable, but true: Romania turned for one summer into England and the other way around, at least weather wise. We had some very rainy days there, and although I am not very up to date with the news, according to Facebook it seems the rain recently caused some floods all over the country, including in the area where my parents live (close by, they are on higher ground) and in Cluj, where my partner is from.

A very rainy morning, but no loss, passing through the fields in the South, not much to see, the landscape gets exciting as you approach Drobeta, the city situated on the Danube river, on the Eastern end of the defile where it pierces the Carpathian mountains. While we were getting closer to this city, I woke up. I must have my inner clock set to wake me at about this point of the journey. Seeing the big river that defines Central Europe, its waters mirroring the greatness of the kaiserlich und koninglich  power of the old Austro-Hungarian Empire, its flow mirrored in Strauss’ waltzes, is always a must. And not for the history it has seen, but for the natural beauty. In the area called Cazane all you can see is the mountains slopes covered by dense forest, the slightly wavy waters of the river, the viaducts built for the railway and roads, the Portile de Fier (Iron Gates) Dam, and the town of Orsova spread up the hill at the end of the defile. In its narrowest place, this crossing dug by water through the mountains measures 230 m in width (about 250 yards).

Our five days in Timisoara have been thoroughly planned, but the weather and some other factors made us change part of these plans. We haven’t managed to see my friend Liana Toma and her family, this amazing lady who is a house mum, a poet and an independent chef at the same time, and who keeps the loveliest of the loveliest cooking blog. It is in Romanian, but you can activate a translation function and trust me, it’s worth it. Once you have went on translation mode, however, your only worry would be keeping things in control and not diving completely into the culinary heaven it inspires.
Those of you who tasted my spinach and salmon roll, the biscuits I served on my good bye day at work with Allied Care in New Milton, or the almond rolled cookies I served on our Secret Santa day last year would be pleased to know the recipes are now available. This way, I’m trying to make up for my sins of forever postponing sharing them with you. Shame on me.

 

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What we managed to do is visit my cousin’s family in a typical village for Banat region, with big gardens and large backyards with lots of poultry and other such animals which don’t come as pets, but for consumption. On Sunday we got in my brother’s car and went on to have a barbecue afternoon, which lasted for some good 5 hours. 
I won’t bore you with all the family stories, although Anka, this cousin of mine, is quite amazing, a recent mum to two adopted brothers and a passionate biker, only about a week after we left she completed the Transalpine trip in Romania, riding her bike on the serpentines  high in the mountains of Fagaras. But what I will say is that visiting for the first time their old house in the countryside (the family used to live in the city until the grandparents passed away) I found a piece of my childhood there.
The scent of a typical traditional house in Banat was the sweet perfume of the day. If I were to describe it, I would say it’s the combined whiff of old wooden floors and furniture, of local dish
es and pork products smoked in the household, of homemade jams and compotes and drinks, and the gentle scent coming from the gardens and fields. It’s the flavour of calcimine inside accompanying the coolness of the walls in the summer and the engulfing warmth in the winter days. It’s the smell of hay, of straw, of vines and of vegetables. The smell of new cement and of old bricks.

It’s probably how I can best describe my home region at this time.

 

And this brings something else into mind. One lazy afternoon I took my foster brothers out in the back yard to lay down in the sun and play cards while catching a tan. They lasted for a bit out there with me, but I guess after half an hour they got bored and left me to it. As I was laying there in the blazing light, sweat all over me like a second, liquid skin, I could hear and see the world from the height of the grass blades. Some bees were buzzing around the tiny wild flowers, some pigeons were lazily cooing, chicken were walking around in their yard faintly cackling of boredom as well, sweet nothing to do on a summer afternoon in the Romanian countryside. The sun rays were sweeping over the roof of the house, framed by the trees’ green, the whole world seemed to purr softly, half asleep, and still so vibrant, pulsating alive through its every pore.

After all the delights of the countryside, which I deeply cherish, as being raised there, we did take two trips to Timisoara. This time I was slightly disappointed with the city I hold so dear. First, the most beautiful square in the city, Piata Unirii (Union Square) is dead for this summer. They have closed it all, replacing the old sewage and plumbing systems, which is a positive thing. However, the way they have done it, killing completely for the season a place which used to be the heart of the whole historical centre, full of restaurant and terraces, buzzing every evening with the sounds of the people sitting around with a drink or some sweet treat to enjoy, was probably not the best idea. It almost makes you wonder if there is any economic personal interest to bankrupt some local businesses.

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Our old pizzeria, Cora, located on one of the streets coming from Piata Unirii, by the most beautiful    and still functional synagogue in the city, is still there, still pretty and they still make great food. It’s a   shame, however, that while in Timisoara, if one wanted to find a fine restaurant with local cuisine they might face an uncomfortable challenge. Who goes to Timisoara to have pizza and pasta?
There are Casa Bunicii restaurants (Nana’s House), easy to find on Tripadvisor. On our first evening in the city we went to one and enjoyed a meal on the terrace, late at night. Still, I was slightly disappointed: while my pork chop and sauce were tasty, it came cold. I was so hungry I didn’t send it back. My partner’s skewers like in Bucovina, set on fire under our own eyes, for a deep pleasant chargrilled flavour, were just as good as the ones I tasted in the winter. The sour cherry liquor hit the spot as a dessert drink.

 

 

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Then we took the kids to the city, a trip which has become tradition. Going around in the Children’s Park, a place I used to visit a lot in my own childhood, well decorated and arranged, with lots of small rides, swings and slides and fancy objects, was very enjoyable. For years the park had been partly abandoned, in the way that there was no new investment, but recently they have renovated it all.
After the kids had a good play and climb and jump around, we went to have lunch just across the big Intercontinental Hotel, the first building with automatic sliding doors in the 70s, if I’m not mistaking (a story I know from my father). The restaurant Curtea Berarilor (Beer Brewer’s Court) had been recommended to us, and as we entered the inner yard it looked really nice. We had a sit and waited forever to be served, so we started to play a word game with the kids as we were all starving and bored to death. When the food came… my chicken wings were the blandest thing I have ever eaten, the soured cream and garlic sauce had no garlic in it. Not nice at all. We tried not to make a big thing out of it as it was a day for the kids to enjoy out in the city. The dessert we had at Cofetaria Trandafirul (The Rose Cake Shop), another place I used to go regularly to since a child, made up for the bad experience with the restaurant.

It could have been better. We could have enjoyed Timisoara more, if only Piata Unirii and the streets around it didn’t look like a war landscape, if only the restaurants were better, if only. But then my old city can still make it up to us next time when we go to visit.

I left Banat with the feeling that it is all still there, just as I knew it, content that everybody at home is doing well, my grandmothers are still in good health, and everything is as I used to know. On the other hand, it doesn’t seem to have more to discover for me, all as expected, nothing fresh and unexpected.
I still love my home region and would recommend people to visit it. When they are going to finish with renovating the streets and the square, it will be much better. As for restaurants, Tripadvisor should help. And if you haven’t been so used to how everything is around there, the risk of being bored dissipates as well. It’s a region full of history, and an inquisitive eye and mind would most certainly be happy to explore it.

(Foto 1: made by me. Fotos 2 and 3: Attila Vigh)

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Going home for Christmas. Flavours of Banat countryside

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Another winter, on my parents’ street. 

There is no better time than the present time, they say, as both the past and the future are, in great proportion, reflections of our own minds. And if it is so, how to better tell one’s life story than starting from what is here and now, in one’s grasp, fresh and throbbing alive. As it happens, that “one” is me myself in this (inside) land.

Since I’ve left Romania, it’s the first winter holidays I’m back at my parents’ for. The travel was the most adventurous of all so far and the time spent here feels so cosy, familiar and somehow new and surprising. It might be because I’m the same girl who left her parents’ house when she was eight, to go and live in a flat in the city with her grandparents, because of both fortunate and unfortunate circumstances, and because I’m different now, a woman who’s grown out of her own and the others’ expectations. Considering at least that I used to be so convinced I will never leave the region I grew up in, Banat, and I wouldn’t even want to think of moving to another country, my life today looks so different from what it’s been imagined it would be.

But I intended to write about my journey and my time here on this holiday so far, and the little revelations that came with it. Traveling from Bournemouth area to London proved most difficult and even tearful this time. True, when I booked my ticket out for the 26th I was trying to save some money and I knew at that time there won’t be any transport available. All those months ago we weren’t sure yet if I was going to travel alone or with my partner, meanwhile he decided he could use the money earned over Christmas and New Year’s, for the goals he has in 2014, and I couldn’t but agree. So the plan was for me to take the train to London on the 24th and stay there till the Boxing Day morning. Easy, right?

Wrong. The weather seemed to disagree with my plans and I was offered a double lesson. First, I really really really really (I couldn’t write really as many times as needed, as you’d quit reading my posting right now) need to be better organised. A difficult task for my bohemian side, but (hopefully) not impossible.
Second, I am blessed with great people around me.

Now what happened: it took me much more to finish packing than I planned or thought it would. Still, checking the train times at around 17:00 on Christmas Eve, the South West Trains web site seemed to let me book tickets for the after 19:00 trains. Yes, the storm was making havoc, but if the train line site didn’t say anything exactly about the later trains I expected to be able to catch one. Maybe I just didn’t look in the right place.
Fact is when I was finally done with packing, tired and sad and feeling guilty I didn’t spend more time with him that day, my partner dropped me off at the station on his way to work. And then disaster struck. I looked at the train station electrical panel to realise the only train left to travel that evening was the past 20:00 one to Southampton. SOUTHAMPTON????!!!  I was done, finished, heart-broken. There was no way for me to get to London, no more trains, and I couldn’t push my partner to drive me there as he would work for three nights on a row. Bursting into tears (I know, just like a silly cow) I called him to disclose the disaster. He asked me to calm down and go home. Later he texted me not to worry, everything was going to be alright, he talked to his brother and they would arrange the details later.

On Christmas Day my partner’s brother drove all the way from London only to pick me up, so that next morning, very early, he could give me a lift to the 757 Brent Cross bus stop to Luton. I was saved. And I can’t say enough how lucky I feel to have such great people close to me, on whom I could count to save my so much planned and dreamt of winter holiday.

The night of 25th, before catching that flight, was a torment: I couldn’t really sleep, I don’t even know if I slept, it felt like I was drifting away and sinking into sleep, only to regain my conscious hearing, open my eyes and see that it’s been only about an hour since I’d last check the clock. Horrible.
One thing went like clockwork: my luggage weighted exactly how much my home scales said, and my boarding was as smooth and stress free as it can get. Bingo!

The flight itself was shaky and not very pleasant, presumably because of the windy weather sweeping across Europe. I tried to sleep, I almost managed to, and I helped the little girl sitting next to me to get over the fear and feeling sick. Told her to look at the birds flying when it’s windy, they too are a bit shaken by the air flow, but nothing serious happens. Making her feel better and be less afraid helped me feel better. Truth is I do enjoy flying and usually at take-off I feel a bit like a Stargate character in space shuttle (well, I never said I’m the sanest in the world) and at landing I’m just as content as an elf who’s wrapped 1000 presents for the greatest children in the world.

My brother with my nephew and my foster brothers were waiting for me at the airport. We went home, unwrapped presents, they got me the loveliest pair of fuzzy slippers, we chatted and looked at photos and then I’ve slept for 12 hours. At last!

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Being at my parents’ home is different this time, if only considering I’m trying to eat as low carb, high fat as possible. The last part isn’t so difficult, as they have just had a pig sacrificed, in the old tradition, for Christmas, and now we’ve got homemade sausages, the best in the world, smoked and hanged to dry, sângerete or black pudding and caltaboș or what the Germans call leberwurst, bacon and pork grease and all the joys of a fat meat eater. The low carb part comes a bit more difficult, with the traditional chicken noodle soup (back yard reared poultry, they come running when you open the door, as it’s their signal for “come and be fed”), with the mashed potato and the Romanian mamaliga (worldwide known as polenta). Still, the pickled cucumbers, beetroot and red pepper, the zacusca (a very popular kind of vegetables stew, made with aubergine, carrots, peppers) help as acceptable side dishes in my new eating style.

It’s most difficult to fight my mum’s delicious cakes and sweets. This year she’s made a type of French fancy which is different by the fact that the sponge is moist and this makes it even more delicious. Then there is the usual two vanilla filling and caramel layers cake, with a chocolate icing, and the old Greta Garbo, with walnuts and strawberries jam. There is some left in the tray in the living room, used more or less as a storage room in winter, and every time I pass through in my way to the huge bedroom the sweet smell of walnut, mixed with strawberries and chocolate aromas, just seems like a winter childhood dream still alive.
If there is one thing that I could single out as reminding me of my home region, of my parents’ village, is the smell. Different smells, which all come together to say “here is where I grew up, this is what I will take with me no matter where I will go”. And, at the same time, it was one of the first things I’ve noticed to be significantly different when moving to the UK: the way the air smells, indoors and outdoors.
It might be linked to my childhood as a person with allergies triggered asthma attacks. Back then, and probably now still, I could smell a clean room or a dusty one or a room with mouldy walls, even if it wasn’t visible. But asthma attacks are a thing of the past I am not any longer concerned with, fortunately.

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Now, the smells of old familiar things have come to my mind not in a nostalgic way, but as something I want to keep with me, a small and important thing speaking of my roots. The way an old countryside house smells like, the wood smoke, the Greta Garbo aroma, the traditional sausages and ”jumări” (a kind of crackling, served on their own and not as crunchy), the dry vegetable garden, the smell of fresh snow and freezing cold (I haven’t yet been blessed with these so far, unfortunately), so many things talking the same silent language.
I don’t feel nostalgic or wanting to go back to my childhood, even if I came to realise the house where I grew up and which I have called “home” for all these years will no longer be our family home sooner than expected. My father being a priest has lived in this parish house since I was about 3 years old or so. But now he’s got two more years till retiring age. In the Eastern Orthodox Church, a priest can still practice priesthood and have a job as such for as long as he is physically and mentally fit, as it’s considered a vocation rather than just a profession. Apparently, they have come to ask priests to retire when they reach the age most people become pensioners.
It’s something I always knew would happen and most certainly both me and my brother have grown out of our teenage years, when we urged our parents to convince grandmother to sell the house in a neighbouring town and buy one here, in the village they’ve lived in for so long. At the same time, it’s a change coming sooner than expected and it just makes me realise it is high time for me to  find a way to store the heritage of where I’ve grown up, distilled into potions to be given further to my children or to whoever is interested in trying the flavours of different places.   

 

 

 

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