Category Archives: Romania

Pa Pa Romania … Hello Delhi

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Leaving behind another beautiful country I have fallen in love with … I must be the easiest traveller in the world to please 🙂

I will miss the rolling hills and hillocks of Wallachia, Transylvania, Bucovina, the agricultural flatlands of Moldavia, the lush heavily forested regions along the Carpathian Mountains, remote villages, historical medieval towns, mythological vampires …. Oh no, not vampires!! …… there never was a real Draculian vampire as Bram Stoker’s novel from the 1800’s suggests and that set so many imaginations on fire, but there is a bit of a touristic component to keeping the myth alive and well in Transylvania 🙂

There was, however, a blueblood Count Vlad Tepes, son of Dracul … Dracula literally means, son of Dracul, the dragon being their family crest and symbol. He lived in what is now one of Europe’s last remaining inhabited medieval towns, Sighisoara, during the 14th century and was well known as Vlad the Impaler. There is a museum and a restaurant set in his old family home in Sighisoara’s town square . Enjoyed a nice spot of tea there after walking the old cobblestone streets of the town and of course exploring the old fortified church on the hill! ….. The Count’s method of dealing with enemies and particularly, Turkish invaders, was to torture and impale them with stakes …. lovely man …. Brutal times, brutal punishments in Europe over the centuries …… man’s inhumanity to man knows no bounds. So, hmm yes, no vampires, but there are many species of bats in Romania!!

The Romanian language (Latin base) is lovely to listen to ……. not at all harsh as are most Slavic languages in this part of Europe …….. sounds somewhere between Italian and Portuguese to my ears at any rate …. (the Romans were here at one point in history and I do note a similarity in features … Alex said it is a possibility that Romanians share bloodlines with the old Romans … not sure about that one, but it could be possible). The country is still behind most European countries economically, even though it has been in the EU for over five years. Alex jokes (sort of jokes …) that it is a contest on any given day, whether Romania or Bulgaria is at the bottom of the EU heap! Most live on incomes of between $500 – $1000 dollars a month … on average. Petrol is more expensive than in Canada although food, shelter, clothing are cheaper by far except in Bucharest! Still, it is hard to get ahead in this country with that kind of income disparity from the rest of Europe.

I must say, I did have my fill to some degree, of the many many many painted monasteries and old fortified towns and churches that Alex dragged me to 🙂 ……. All in all, I will still miss trekking up hills, in the pastoral settings of the villages and towns to these old fortified churches ….. They hold a lot of charm today but in reality, life was one violent siege after another in those far gone centuries, hence fortifications! My preference would have been to enjoy more visits with the townsfolk in these villages than view their temples of worship. Much as I enjoy history, and the structures attached to the stories, my preference is to mingle with the local folk in whatever country I find myself in. Fortunately, got a bit of that in as well. Aah, and the children ….. My sole reason for choosing Romania as a country to visit in the first place! I feel sad for their lot in life …. but happy that I was able to give them some love, comfort and sorely needed attention and that there is a steady stream of volunteers in their lives to do so. I have always believed that it is up to the able to help the least able in our world. I heard from Mihaela that another group of 7 are arriving soon. That kind of news can make my day.

Had a long travel day …. not always the best connections on these points tickets … Left Bucharest at 4:00 am May 24 and arrived in Delhi at 1:00 am. May 25!! So, here I am, in a totally different environment and culture yet again …. Posting my first picture in Delhi …. A view outside from my 7th floor window … on that note, I am off for a swim, an Indian head and foot massage and catch up on a lost night of sleep. Very hot here .. Temps in the low 40’s.

Sad news also as I opened a message from Mihaela in Birlad …. Apparently 6 month old Marian was returned back to St. Nicholas last week … His dad had taken him to Iasi for tests for ten days and also I suppose, to determine if he could handle caring for the child …. guess not. I often think that the one flaw God made, was allowing anyone and everyone the ability to procreate ….. Not everyone is a good parent, or in this case, a parent of any kind. Some people just f—, birth and abandon. I had high hopes that this little munchkin would have a home finally. I think of his little old man face, peering up at me from the crook of my arm, happy as a lark as he watched me with those old soul eyes. Little Marian, what’s to become of you? I hope some volunteer will take to him as I did, and give him comfort and love. For some, that is as good as life gets ……. Honoring the little dude today.

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La revedere to Alex Nagy and the back roads of Transylvania, Wallachia, Bucovina

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What a marvelous ride, Romania evolved into! It is unlikely I could have ‘planned’ a better finish to an amazing month! Alex Nagy was a great mate to have along as my guide to his mysterious country. Hard not to get a good glimpse of someone when you are together for so many days in a row …. we became, if not best buddies, at least friends and our goodbye was just a tad sad for me ….I will miss his passionate dialogue, his sense of humour (even though it is tinged slightly in what I have termed, the dark Romanian edge), his knowledge of just about everything …. one of those jack of all trades kind of guys …… A German/Hungarian ethnic background, dating back hundreds of years, creates a bit of that stubborn attitude, although must admit, Finnish folk aren’t exactly exempt from that prevailing attitude either 🙂 ……… but he is just so darn likeable, knows his history and politics so well, never mind everything to do with the wilderness and outdoors …. that it was easy to ignore the contentious stubbornness 🙂
I do notice that a serious stoic kind of contentiousness, appears to be somewhat of a Romanian characteristic! Smiles do not come easily to those 50 and up! I think that has everything to do with the communist regime the older generations have grown up under. Those 35 and under appear to have a more naturally cheerful disposition. A politically stressful life obviously makes living a carefree happy life hard to do. Alex shared much about life here after WW2 and I am still reeling from what Russia under Stalin, did in this part of Europe, right through to the early 1960’s!! Seven million Ukrainians alone, were murdered during and after the war … Never mind those deported to die in Siberia, including his own Russian countrymen, millions of them!! Romania lost almost all it’s intellectual and middle class due to Stalin and Hitler’s systemic murder of anyone they deemed inferior …. racism taken to extremes. One quiet evening, while staying in a medieval village, Alex showed me a documentary on his laptop, produced in 2008, of the atrocities during and after the wars. This country suffered deeply and in many ways, is still in transition from that period in history, never mind from the communist era. Unfortunately, most politicians in Romania today, are made up of leftover corrupt communists or the second generation raised by that first guard of communists ……. Living in North America, we come to know everything about the Jewish holocaust, but little about the other 20 million people killed during and after WW2. I need to sit with myself, reflect and absorb the month, the overall experience, what I have learned on so many fronts. Romania is a country steeped in many layers of history. Good thing I have a few days in Bucharest before flying to Delhi! This whole month, even though I had to preplan some of it …….. does reinforce a lifelong love of winging life, with minimal planning …. too many plans often equals too many expectations, and too much rigidity with little opportunity for spontaneous delights to present themselves …. intuition, a trusting hopeful heart, a positive flexible attitude …… they are my loyal guides …. still, there will always be bloops and bleeps, good and some not so good ….. part of the travel tapestry.

The children of Birlad ….. what can I say ….. My time was but a blip in an ever revolving door of strangers in the lives of Emanuela, Sami, Marian ( both little M and big M), Luca, Maiastra, Alina, Delia, Cleo, Lavinia, Ion …. but that same period of time has changed me irrevocably. I know friends and family wondered about my timing … that big 60th birthday would happen on foreign soil, far from my family and friends. A decade ago, at my 50th birthday party, I realized a tad late perhaps, that I am not overly fond of large parties in general, and in my honor, hardly at all! The surprise birthday dinner in Palm Springs this past February, was the size I am most comfortable with 🙂 and it ended up a beautiful evening, surrounded by those I love. I am thankful to Sarah, Margaret, Linda O., Mickey and Gordon for organizing the surprise and knowing me so well, being there for me! I love them dearly.

So, at some point in the last few months, despite my natural inclinations, I did have to resort to some organizing, albeit a bit on the last minute side, to accomplish my goal of starting a new decade doing something meaningful and helpful for the least able in our world. The fear that I would not have enough love to share, that I was not really who I thought I was deep in my heart, put that plan on ice for too long! I finally decided to stop dreaming, talking, planning, worrying about possible issues that might be a hindrance, and just do it! … and so I did! The abandoned children of St. Nicholas Pediatric Hospital in Birlad, Romania, unwittingly became my helpmates … so who really helped whom?? On a wing and a prayer, I continue along on this journey of the heart. That I once thought I would not have the capacity to love orphans, is a long gone memory. The well is endless.

“Every day holds a series of great possibilities. Today you can encourage someone, today you can make someone’s day brighter, today you can heal a broken heart.” Dr. Phil Nordin

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Malancrav Village, Transylvania

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Last night, stayed at another MET restored Saxon village home, dating probably hundreds of years …. Will surely miss all this history when I am back home again …. Pictures tell a better story than my mind is currently capable of … Managed to find some gypsy peers today …. Alex has a rather typical European and certainly a Romanian attitude towards the Roma Gypsy …. ie, something similar to what most Canadians harbor towards our Native Canadians …. Ummmm, that would be a touch of racism perhaps? I have developed, over many years, many experiences, a far more compassionate, accepting attitude …. being fully aware and prepared for and knowing well in advance, that most gypsies are indeed light fingered in crowds and yes, they often beg …. I had fun with the group in a little village despite Alex “tut tutting me like an old lady”, and had me wondering if we had experienced a role reversal?” …… Alex provides much laughter daily :).

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Street traffic in rural Transylvania and Moldavia

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Everyday sights for me these past few days …… Alex enjoying puppies at B&B in Sucevita. At one point, when Romania was to join the EU, it was stipulated that horse and cart had to disappear from the roads …. well, that had to be reneged …. this is how the majority of farmers transport goods, supplies, feed for animals grazing on summer pastures and for just plain getting around in rural Romania! … There is no money or indeed need for any other kind of ‘vehicle’ …. EU had forgotten their own agricultural roots that are still alive and well, if not exactly thriving in rural Romania.

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Lakes, Castles, Bicaz Dam and Gorge, Homestay with Maria, Lazlo and family in Lazarea

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Alex and I have fallen into a comfortable rhythm as we bump along on roads that could use a bit of maintenance, to say the least … We are like brother and sister, albeit, a much much younger brother 🙂 as we discuss life, love ….. families, and oh yes …. most definitely, politics!! … Seems he is as passionate about his own country’s politics as I, of mine … We have had some rather heated discussions (oh my, but this is so much fun for me as I usually get a “don’t get so excited about issues” from a certain someone, so it is great to be able to lose the reins 🙂 …… But strangely enough, in these last days, I, for perhaps the first time in my life, have moved into the somewhat unfamiliar territory of the listener 🙂 I thought I was going to enjoy a little look around rural Romania for my last ten days here, so imagine my delight when Alex showed up in Bucharest!!! From the moment he opened his mouth, rambling in excellent English, I knew I was in for a rare treat … For those who care to google, Alex did a half hour advertising gig for Romanian tourism nine years ago on “Passport to Adventure”, an American based travel show …. saw it on his laptop the other night.

There is a lot of corruption politically in Romania as I am learning and, it is far worse than I thought …. I wish Alex well, but it make take a few years for the old former communist guard to fade deep into the political forest, and allow for totally fresh politically sound, honest movers and shakers to take over …… At least in my own province, the economic wheel for all of Canada, the worst that can happen is that our new/old provincial government goes on what was a major vote grasping, promise-laden campaign, and lurches into a major spendathon, keeping Alberta in the red ……. that is not even on the same scale for concern as are the concerns facing Romania!! …. Here, most, if not all the politicians have become millionaires (at great cost to Romania) since the fall of communism and of that infamous and brutal firing squad execution of Nikolai and Elena Ceausescu on December 25, 1989, most, perhaps naively thinking that would put an end to both communism and political corruption in Romania! Alex has some theories about that but am a little uncertain to voice them ….. hate to get him in trouble 🙂 ….. But it does appear to be, after hearing this from varied sources within the country, that one corrupt form of government was indeed simply replaced by another …. Democracy made no difference in the corruption levels ….. Had no idea! …. There may be a revolution here yet again …. I suggested to Alex that it may be a good time to lead the charge …… 🙂

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Exploring the backroads of Transylvania ……

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Crashed in Bucharest for a few days …. kind of nice actually, to just walk around and not worry about the little kids although I must say, they got under my skin to a larger degree than I could ever have anticipated ….. with every other volunteer post I have participated in, the children had parents to go home to every night and that …. makes all the difference in the world! All the volunteers here end up being temporary mommies and daddies …. you would need to have a heart of stone, to not have that affect you in some way …. there are currently five other volunteers, young people in their twenties, heading to St. Nick’s as I type and hopefully, they will love the children as deeply as I came to do ….. it is the best one can hope for. I was but a ripple in their pond and monthly, new ripples appear …. is it enough to give them some kind of comfort in a world that has basically abandoned them for having been born “imperfect” …..

So, here I am, currently in Humor Monasterie in Bucovina, Moldavia somewhere in Romania!! On Monday morning, Alex Nagy, man of many hats … wilderness guide, mountaineer, full time employee for Search and Rescue, Romania, travel guide for a local travel agency, and for the next eight days, a part time guide and driver for a Canadian lady, wishing to explore the back roads of his country … that would be me! …… Alex is also a history buff extraordinnaire …. my mind is swimming with Romania’s historical lore and loving every moment of it, even if most of it blows out shortly after it blows in 🙂 ……. have landed in some kind of crazy travel heaven …. exploring medieval towns … villages, painted monasteries, fortified churches of every description, town squares dating hundreds of years! Apparently HRH Bonnie Prince Charlie, together with renowned Romanian poet, Mihai Eminescu have formed a trust to restore these old medieval villages to their former lustre …. it is a monumental task, but I was thrilled to sleep in this first village of Viscri, that Charlie signed on for and indeed, I may even have slept in the same guest house he toured! Walter, the owner, is of Saxon/German heritage, has had family living in the village of 400 people, for over 800 years!!! Historical heaven, as I said …. more later ….. enjoy some of my pictorial review of Viscri and area, including the little guest room in a house as old as any I have had the pleasure to visit. Walter, who speaks excellent English, laughed heartily when I told him I may develop gypsy fingers when it comes to all the old weavings, pottery, and various handworked goods in my room ….

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Last few pictures of Birlad

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Got up early one morning to catch a few pictures of my surroundings from the past few weeks …. The market outside the hotel, where I caught a fellow buying his dinner … Live chickens. The Roma gypsies and one of their homes, quite ornate buildings, scattered throughout the country … They often dress in the colorful clothing of their Indian ancestry ….. the women leave their hair long and braided as do women in India.

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Bidding adieu to Birlad’s Babies ….

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On my last days at St. Nicks, I walked along main street, looking for bubble makers for the kids … made for delightful fun for us all!! The smallest squealed, the older ones tried to catch the bubbles …. Stephan, my trusty six year old assistant, ran in to help …. these simple pleasures of childhood … not always available for these little ones of Romania’s placement centers! The children appeared more subdued, my last day …. They sensed, as children always do, when someone will be leaving …. this revolving and steady stream of volunteers is what they know and they have adjusted to goodbyes on a monthly basis. The concerns I voiced before coming here have not left me ….. I know the value of consistency in a child’s formative years. Perhaps that consistency is what Coca, Mihaela, Dan, their daughter, Delia provide …….. Delia goes regularly on days off from school, to read to the children, feed them and just play …. she is their big sister! The children, in a very short period of time, have woven themselves into my heart and saying goodbye was far harder than I had anticipated. A few short weeks ago, they were strangers. My goal of living from the heart continues … It is rarely an easy path ….

Mihaela, Delia and Dan had me over for a delicious chicken roast dinner for our last meal together …. they live in a two bedroom flat, as do most people living in the cities and larger towns of Romania. Most buildings are from the communist era …. Lots of concrete …… houses are the norm in villages. For the slowly emerging affluent business owners, professionals and politicians, the suburbs, even in small town Birlad, are developing rapidly enough and there is a scattering of large homes and more on the horizon … times catch up with everyone I suppose.

As I waited for Dan to pick me up on the weekend for the long drive to Bucharest, I realized I had left my moccasins at the hospital …. I grabbed a cab, picked up my slippers from first floor volunteer room ……. stood for a moment, sorely tempted to run up the two more flights to see the children just once more …. took a lot of restraint not to do so …. It would have been cruel to stop for only a few minutes …. expectation would have been high to have me take them all to a park, as I had been doing all along in the mornings …. I could not do it, just to satisfy my own selfish desire to hold the children once more. Sad morning for me.

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Springtime in Romania

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Explored Iasi, a two hour train ride away last weekend, and it’s myriad of monasteries, churches, attractive architecture, bucolic parks, university buildings and grounds. It is Romania’s largest university town, in it’s poorest region. Walked everywhere, inhaling the atmosphere and the fresh spring air! …. This is backtracking somewhat from my journal entries, but forgot to jot down what a joy it was to explore another part of this country and at this time of year! Calgary seems to frequently miss out on one of the most glorious seasons ….. melodious song birds, wildflowers, potted plants in bloom along boulevards, patios and balconies ….. the bright lime green of early spring growth everywhere, sidewalk cafes chock full of folks enjoying afternoon coffees, cakes and hefty mugs of Romanian Ursus beer …. It is just such a delightful swish of spiritual fresh air …. I didn’t realize how much I needed a break from both the children and the hospital, until I had been on the train for well over an hour and had unconsciously let out a big heaving sigh, startling the passenger beside me ……. but by late Sunday night, my thoughts meandered back to these dear little needy children ….. they all could benefit from simply being held snugly for hours every day …. Those little hands grasp mine like a lifeline and perhaps that is what a volunteer indeed is to these children … Delia, Alina, Ion, Luca, Sami, Marian ( big and little one ), Gabi, Maiastra, and on Thursday, one year old Lavinia joined our troops, who is another child with down’s syndrome, cleft palate issues and sleeps more than anything else … much like a newborn.

“FOR EVERY LOVE, THERE IS A HEART SOMEWHERE TO RECEIVE IT”. Ivan Panin

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