Posts Tagged trip

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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The man behind the crystals. Forgotten Romania II

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In the previous post I’ve started to tell about the trip I took on May to Ocna de Fier, together with my brother, sister-in-law and the kids. Driving there was really pleasant as it took us through the fields of my old Banat, the region where I was born and raised, into the hills of Bocșa. While a student in the University, whenever I travelled in that area I got excited as soon as I saw the wavy landscape, the forests, the greener shades as we were approaching the mountains.

Now the mountains weren’t out target, but this hidden village I’ve always known of, but never really sure how far or close it was from Bocșa. I had no idea Ocna de Fier was really just 15 minutes driving. I say 15 as the road is in a quite bad shape and you wouldn’t want to speed up in the forest anyway.

 

Getting close, you first reach the old iron mine, a gloomy site, you’d expect miners ghosts to flicker in the shadow of the deserted buildings. Then the countryside houses, aligned on the valley, actually look like mushrooms growing up a hidden path in the forest. You can see people aren’t very rich here, but there is something homely in the simplicity of the landscape, something welcoming, despite the silence that only the fowls in the yard are braking with their „cock-a-doodle-doo”, softer now just before the rain would start.

We drove up the road and I was a bit nervous we might miss the house with the crystal exhibition. On the other hand, I guess I was just excited, as I knew we could always stop, knock at somebody’s door and ask. Didn’t have to do that, as we stopped and asked a man on the street and he gave us precise directions: “Just drive forward and you’ll see it on the left side, before the Village Hall”. Easy, isn’t it?

 

We were there in about two minutes. Couple of days before my mum tried to ring and let the owner of the museum know that we were going. Constantin Gruescu exhibits his collection of stones in his own house. Well, his phone line was disturbed and we couldn’t reach him, but we were lucky that day, he was at home. And his house is always open to guests.

Finally meeting mister Gruescu face to face I could but only admire his energy, his open heart and his dedication. Growing up in a family with a mining tradition, he turned out to be passionate about rocks and minerals since childhood. I don’t know if he was really into mining at all, all I know is that he never worked in a mine, although he didn’t get a higher education either. In the times when he grew up it wasn’t easy for a young man to study. Still, he went to primary and secondary school for 7 years and then got professional qualification, three different courses, started to work at the age of 19, in 1943, as part of the quality control team in the Steel Factories in Reșița.This continued to be his job until 1977 (the year I was born!), when he got pensioned.

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 Mister Gruescu opened this museum in 1945, when he was only 21, and dedicated his life to studying the minerals, collecting them and showing them to everybody who comes to visit. The communist times came and passed, without causing much harm, his collection wasn’t confiscated or “donated” to the state institutions, although over the years he donated for    real many of the rocks and crystals to be hosted by bigger museums. Still, there is nothing    like just driving there, shaking his hand and listening to him for over an hour while you look    at the violet, golden or milky white facets, giving a special glow, of the crystals that seem to    have grown in that very room.

   On the right side, as you enter, you’ll find a big rock which is made of three generation of crystals, each grown in a different age, each by a new process of crystallization. You can see the different groups by their size and orientation. Mister Gruescu encouraged us to hold our hands palms down, above the big rock, and feel its energy. He said each person gets a different feeling, for some it’s a cold vibe, for others is warm, some feel tingling in their toes and arms or whole body, some become agitated. Well, the energy of the crystals is a much argued esoteric belief, although they have been used for centuries in alternative healing techniques. There is some scientific truth, as to crystals vibrating to the pitch that is emitted by a source close to them. For the sceptical, they at least give a quite beautiful sight.

 

The owner of this wonder room of minerals doesn’t practice crystal healing himself, although he could easily do. The massive rocks that he has seem to be taken out of an extra-terrestrial landscape. Some of them really reminded me of Stargate SG-1, to which I’m a forever fan. Some of them just sparkle imagination, some are poisonous, like the realgar rock, which contains arsenic and it’s thought to have been used by the cardinals in the old times whenever they needed to… send somebody to heaven (or hell, who could really tell?).

One of the stories he’s told us stands out for its ironic twist. During the former dictator’s rule, each County Council would send a gift to the Ceaușescu couple on a certain occasion (probably one of the many they were celebrated as the heroes of the Romanian people…). Mister Gruescu has been asked to help with two crystals for that year, which would have been gracefully presented, as gifts from Caraș-Severin. He donated a violet crystal for the dictator and a pink quartz for his wife. A month after the celebration, the quartz came back. The County Council official explained they couldn’t finish the case for it in time, so they didn’t want to make fools of themselves and decided to send something else. Years later, a visitor who had a position as a staff serving the dictators at that particular event said the truth was somewhat different. Ceaușescu wasn’t impressed or bothered by the crystal gift, he was merely indifferent as he passed through the room and was presented with what every county sent him. His wife, however, took a look at the quartz and overreacted, shouting “What’s this crap? Take this stupid thing out of my sight, I don’t want to see it!”  It is thought that she couldn’t stand the good energy of the crystal, which came into conflict with her really murky vibration, one of an egotistical woman driven only by her thirst for power.

 

The truth is that listening to Mr. Gruescu, now 90, can make you feel like you are in crystal heaven. His passion, his generosity and his open heart are the things that make this museum live. There is no fee to visit it. Everybody is welcome and everybody can make a small donation. When we left some money, he said it’s a bit much and asked us to take some crystals he had for sale, take them as gifts. Going there I had in my mind to record him talking about the museum and his experience with collecting and studying the minerals over years. He even discovered a formation unique in the world, called Macla Gruescu, and which looks like a cross, never found anywhere else before or after. But his modesty came first: I could see him a bit embarrassed with talking in front of my laptop, so just gave up the whole idea. Instead, I thought of writing this post in English and posting the photos we’ve taken there.

 

Funny enough, on the way back home both me and my sister-in-law fell in the line of duty. I got so sleepy I couldn’t keep my eyes open while my brother was talking to me, and she just fell asleep in the back and we had to leave her there while stopping at my parents to leave the kids. Maybe it was just because of the rain. Or maybe the power of crystals completely knocked us down, taking our minds to the higher dimension of dreamless sleep.

The happy bunch

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Next to one of my favourite crystals colony

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Three generations 

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Minerals party 

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Note: None of the photos can be reposted without written permission.

@Catalina George

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