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Ananda …. The enchantment of awareness


I booked a stay at Ananda months ago, not knowing much about it … love surprises. Had I researched high and low, I could not have found a more appropriate spot in all of India to assimilate and reflect on my experiences of the past two months ….. to breathe them in …. and ah yes, work in some great spa treatments while doing so!! …. super way to move into this new decade. The owner of Ananda has worked hard to create a place where there is a sense of synergy with the environment …. it is an oasis of calm, as understated a spa resort as I have ever been to …. and the Ayurvedic treatments are outstanding …. they all start with a beautiful prayer, feet are washed in a copper bucket laden with smooth stones and warm aromatic water …. there is such wholeness to every treatment …

My ‘wake up call’ at Ananda is a steaming pot of their signature tea …. lemon/ginger/honey, delivered just before yoga stretches …. this is the Webb family tea formula when we have colds or flu but I am starting to appreciate it at Ananda as a healthy alternative to morning coffee ….. Madeline, who had a cold last week, drank it exclusively with our meals. As I walk for breakfast later in the mornings, a couple of peacocks are always near the door to the restaurant, peeking in and I watch and wait sometimes for five minutes before they flitter away ….. Certainly not your usual sight at any spa I have been to πŸ™‚ Ananda …. translates as bliss …. appropriate.















Because we shared two weeks of rather intense time together pretty much all day, everyday, (I referred to it more than once, as a yoga boot camp!!!) one goes through a few stages in the development of friendships in rather quick order ……. Initially we all ‘like’ each other in that well mannered superficial way people do, dictated by an ancient code of civilized social behavior …. but sometimes, like a precious gift from heaven, we click with someone instantly …….. and with others, once the early stage has passed, we become aware and sometimes annoyed by each other’s quirks and personality issues, and we all have those quirks, whether we acknowledge them or not …… eventually for most, not all, an acceptance of each other sets in, with more authenticity and honesty, facilitating a more meaningful and deeper level exchange. I have learned over many decades to be patient and wait for that stage to occur …. it is lovely when it does ….

We flew and drove from all over Northern India and various other countries, from different backgrounds, cultures, traditions, all with differing agendas but somehow, like a good family should, we learned to move in the flow of life at the Parmarth Niketan Ashram in Rishikesh. I feel honored to have lived with this group of ‘trainee yogis :)’ these past few weeks. We have shared and learned much under the tutelage of Indu ….. She is a lovely human being, married to a beautiful gentle soul, Somesh Sharma. Indu’s Mataji (mother) is just as lovely a woman, with a soothing, beautiful voice. Indu shared a little of her life story with us one day after class …… she refers to her mother as her guru, which intrigued me, so I asked about it …. She was adopted as a young child by Sadhi Abha Saraswati, (Mataji) and raised in this very spiritual environment of the ashram, where every day rituals of celebration and gratefulness are preformed via chants, prayers, singing. Sadhi is a highly revered senior member of the ashram, often singing the prayers and chants during the nightly Aarti ceremony ….. I doubt I have ever been in the presence of anyone who shines with so much kind gentle energy ….. I wish I had taken a picture to share but alas, she left Rishikesh recently and will not be back before I leave 😦

There have been many moments of humor as we navigated our way through asanas, yogic breathing techniques, chanting prayers in Vedic verse and just life in general, both within the walls and outside of the ashram …. Daily treks out to the street that parallels the mighty Ganga (never referred to as the Ganges as we Westerners call it and the pronunciation is NOT ‘gang ah’ but guhngah using a hard ‘G’.) produce even more humor at times such as yesterday when Madeline and I walked to Laxman Jhula for lunch …. Busy chatting away, I turned back to Madeline as we walked along the narrow road … almost always single file, given we are constantly dodging people, motor bikes, vegetable carts, cows, and looking down frequently to avoid stepping in the pies or other undesirable refuse …… well, I walked smack dab, with a fair amount of impact, into a cow, most definitely surprising the cow ….. Madeline was hysterical with laughter … Thank God for small blessings it was the cow’s head I butted not the other end, about to lay a dump πŸ™‚ … or worse, a bull! Madeline feels sorry for the cows and feeds them some veggies later in the day πŸ™‚

On a more serious note, we heard recently that a veterinarian who is researching the eating habits of cows in India, has preformed surgery opening the stomachs of various cows and discovered pounds of garbage in their intestines, including several plastic bottles!!! At the risk of sounding repetitive, India must address the garbage problem in their country …. It is beyond abysmal.

Managed to meet the Swamiji tonight, albeit very briefly ….. apparently he is a somewhat famous spiritual leader in India and heads many charities, hence his busy travel schedule and of course head dude at the Parmarth Niketan … our group was supposed to have an audience but unfortunately a handful of politicians trumped us, dropping in unexpectedly and ‘took our spot’ so we are booked for tomorrow night after the Aarti instead …. Aman’s husband managed a quick photo before we were ushered out ….. see below …. will see if he keeps his promises tomorrow …. there must be an equivalent term in India to ‘maΓ±ana, bukra Inshallah, or a Greek shrug, with regards to keeping promises ….




















My precious grandchild, Aliana Eeva …..


FaceTime is great, yes, but as wonderful as it is, I am often left in tears, the waves of homesickness invade for hours …. when little Aliana touches the screen, probably thinking she will somehow touch my actual face, it breaks my heart and I yearn to hold her in my arms …. Two months is just too too long to be away from my ten month old grandchild!! A revision for my future travel plans is in order, certainly for the next few years! … Aah well, less than two weeks and I will be hugging and kissing the little munchkin πŸ™‚

I love this picture of her that Sarah posted on her baby blog …. I like to think Aliana is “wondering if my grandma will soon be flying home over that big ocean”? :).


The Sounds of Silence …. No classes for the weekend!


A weekend silence blew in like a welcome warm summer breeze, allowing for many quiet, reflective moments ….. starting with sleeping in! …… meditating on a ghat along the Ganga River, dangling my feet in it’s cool holy waters, a walk along the forested road behind the ashrams, and savoring, rather than rushing through a morning coffee ……

As I walk the streets absorbing the scenes that are such a big part of life here and similar in many ways to the various places I have traveled to throughout India …….. there is a steady stream from early morning to late evening, of bathers at the River Ganga, the men with sarongs and towels, the women plunge in with full sari, an age-old ritual of washing away sins …..wonder if dipping my feet counts …. maybe a few sins will be absolved, surely πŸ™‚ ….. there are the roadside food stalls, where the sight and scent of various battered food such as deep fried pakora, or onion bhajis cooking, fills the air, the varied fruit and vegetable carts, where ‘always in season mangoes’ rule! (heaven is surely Alphonso mangoes year round!) ……. or the least enjoyable …. the stench of the ubiquitous cowpies!! …… or the noisy motorbikes squeezing everything out of their way, horns blaring, always blaring, the sight of saffron robed sadhus lined up, holding out their tin begging pails, pushy people all trying to make their way throughout the busy day, the many street sellers and their transport carts, cows trumping everything and everyone ….. they are the symbol of Hinduism, the bull is seen as the vehicle of Lord Shiva, the cow, referred to often as the ‘mother’ ….. ‘as a mother feeds her young from her breast, so does a cow provide it’s valued milk to humans’ …. In my humble opinion, they belong in fields not tiny ashram streets or the ghats, where they pick their way through garbage along with various fruit and leftovers fed to them and then pooping anywhere and everywhere, but I remind myself I am not in Canada and not of the Hindu faith, but am in India where one has to learn to live with cows if not love them ….. I enjoy learning about other cultures complete with traditions, rituals, and such but I certainly have no need or desire to embrace everything πŸ™‚ ……. particularly delightful are the smiley friendly children and their parents, so eager to become friends with us, the foreigners ….. the shop keepers selling their wares … water bottles, toilet paper, wet wipes, dettol, now wave with familiarity as I walk by, calling out, asking if I need supplies today …. the contrasts are so pervasive in India! …… the rubbish strewn streets and countryside …… garbage carelessly thrown out car windows, or dropped wherever, even when a receptacle is nearby …. amazes me, given these highly environmentally sensitive times we live in (education followed by strict fines would be of benefit but then, that is a western sentiment … must remember, this is India :)) …… such is the mishmash scene of my everyday reality here …… a mixture of good, not so good, creating the ambiance that is this ashram Mecca of spirituality in Rishikesh …

The Parmarth Niketan, it seems, is rather a commercial ashram … this week alone, PN was host to a convention of religious chanters, (I fell asleep one evening as they chanted for hours right under my window … woke up to the chant still resounding in my head πŸ™‚ ….. Not altogether unpleasant!!), an American student group here on a study program, a political party convention, numerous large family reunions and of course our mini United Nations group of yoga students πŸ™‚ three Canadians, Madeline, Nicole and I, Kate an American, Oleg from Latvia, Shamy from Mexico, Mirjam from Holland and Atul, Neera, Anchit, Jagat, Aman, Jitendra, Aysha all from Delhi and area, or Punjab …. Jagat, from a small town nearby ….. Madeline and I are the old sages of the group …. most are in their twenties, thirties and early forties…. oldest but not necessarily the wisest πŸ™‚ Oftentimes, it is the youngest who provides the simple words of wisdom (similar to those that pop out of my son Tim regularly …. we called them Tim’s tidbits when he was a toddler) ….. In this case, 23 year old Shamy from Mexico, a sweet, kind young lady, wiser than her years …… with a very adventurous spirit. Mirjam leaves Friday to join up with a girlfriend in Delhi … they had their BMW motorbikes shipped there and will ride home to Holland through India, into Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, with plans to arrive home in two months …. a harrowing journey, if I have ever heard of one …. another brave young woman!! The unusual is the norm here at ashram alley.

The late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi once remarked:

“If you wish to know something about India, you must empty your mind of all preconceived notions. Why be imprisoned by the limited visions of the prejudice? Don’t try to compare. India is different and exasperating as it may seem, would like to remain so ….. it is a vast mix of races, languages, customs, traditions, where two diametrically opposing views could be perfectly true! This is the secret of India, the acceptance of life in all it’s fullness, the good and the evil.”
















Yoga, Prayers, Mantras and Monkey Business


A mental lapse about the food rule cost me a bag of market cucumbers to one of the ashram monkeys! I felt a sharp pull on my arm and the bag was gone before I could blink … the monkey hugging it like a kid caught with a forbidden bag of candy … the little rascal quickly jumped over the fence and commenced munching away on my afternoon treat for Madeline and I! As I snapped a picture, a nearby ashram security guard warned I may want to put the camera away as the monkey usually follows his thievery with a second act ….. stealing the camera πŸ™‚

Adjustment to ashram lifestyle, has been smooth sailing, but it is unlikely I would ever consider living in one for any longer than a few weeks, a month tops, peaceful, serene and spiritual as it may be. I have heard rumors here that some Westerners come and never leave …. although I made every attempt to come here with few, if any expectations, I did presume this would be a silent retreat, having always wished to experience one ….. but, not to be, as this is a very social ashram and one cannot walk far without chatting with other tourists, particularly the local ones … Indians are a gracious people, very giving and friendly and they love having us in their pictures :)!! There are also some very chatty women within the yoga group …. so, silence …. hmmmm, not so much. It is culturally very different from my treasured life in Canada, where family defines what I value most. Still, despite yearnings for the comforts of home and the love of my family …. I will always enjoy experiencing other countries. At heart, I am a nomad, a gypsy …. It is no surprise I have ended up in India. Sometime during the 17th century, tribal gypsies from parts of India migrated to Europe and are now scattered throughout the continent. It was in Finland, where as a three year old child, I became fascinated with the gypsies that frequented the summer open air markets of Joensuu …. If mother let go of my hand even for a moment, she would always find me in the midst of the gypsies, marveling, totally enthralled with their colorful, trinket laden clothing and tinkly jewelry, and the gypsies, in turn, marveling at the happy little golden haired toddler …. It is a well worn and much loved story from my childhood.

It is inevitable that something new is learned while traveling to different countries ….. over these past few years, I have come to know parts of this vast wonderful world on a much deeper level than I could ever have hoped for. Volunteering has played a big role in that …… helping out has also been instrumental in my own personal awakening. I am learning that the study of yoga goes hand in hand with helping those in need …… It is a beautiful field of study in India, where yoga is not merely an exercise geared to buff and keep the body flexible, as it is in North America, although that is certainly a welcome side benefit πŸ™‚ …. but it is the spiritual component that has me sold. Yoga in India is about having a deep spiritual connection to God, ourselves and extending it to the world around us. The practice of yoga is, at it’s core, meant to transform us into kinder more compassionate people ……… inner and outer lives intermingled, merged, not apart …. walking strong with gentle loving steps …..

Indu teaches that precisely because of the concentration and effort required to perform the various poses/asanas, they are really a means, a tool, to focus our attention to our inner lives, our core, our spirit, our soul essence …… as I observe Indu, or her husband and mother-in-law, (both taught a class recently), yoga is like a state of grace …… as Indu teaches and moves into the various asanas, she becomes poetry in slow motion. Her voice during the prayers and chants is other-worldly, hauntingly mesmerizing …. In India, meditation, Vedic chants, mantras are integral to yoga …. it is totally foreign to an Indian, that one would have a yoga class without the spiritual element. It may have been a rather peculiar, circuitous way I ended up here in Rishikesh, but I know I have come to the right place to learn about this beautiful way of living …. It is called Yoga.

“The fragrance always remains in the hand that gives the rose”. Mahatma Gandhi

A sample of a prayer we chant every morning before asanas, in its Vedic verse:

” om sahana-vavatu, sahanau bhunaktu
tejasvina-vadhi-tamastu ma vidvisavahai
om santih santih santih


May He protect both of us. May He indeed nourish us. May we perform wonderful feats in our endeavor. May our brains be sharpened. May we have no disharmony and conflict. Om Peace! Peace! Peace!20120615-155649.jpg20120615-155635.jpg20120615-155616.jpg

A walk into town ….. Rishikesh


As it turned out, yoga and meditation classes start Monday, not Saturday as we had thought, leaving us a weekend to explore and orient to our surroundings … domestic duties done, rooms freshly scrubbed and smelling rather medicinal ….. still trying to air my room out after dropping a glass bottle of dettol all over the marble floor … stinky but you could preform surgery on it, as Madeline noted!) …. we set off to see what the world looked like behind the walls of the ashram.

‘Downtown’ Rishikesh, is a pleasant half hour stroll away …. I can’t say enough how refreshing it is to be away from the crowds of Delhi! … I think perhaps the total population of the Rishikesh area is slightly under twenty thousand …. A veritable village here in India! It is primarily a pilgrimage spot for Indians with the Ganga so accessible here but there are a good handful of European and North American spiritual seekers and the backpack trekkers thrown into the mix but we are a definite minority ….. the only time crowds are rather heavy, is during the evening ganga aarti musical celebration ceremony, when it appears everyone in Rishikesh shows up ….. it is a serene, happy, peaceful, friendly crowd …… a beautiful spiritual vibe permeates the air.

Madeline was digging through her Lonely Planet to locate ‘Little Buddha’, a breakfast stop for us, when a young man stopped us with a “oh ladies, throw that book away … the best spots are never found in guide books” ……. We made our first new friend! ….. Eric introduced himself, a Swede married to a Thai, living in Thailand and on a spiritual quest of sorts here in India. We walked along together looking for a breakfast cafe …. not much looked as promising as Little Buddha, so despite Eric’s hesitancy, that is where we went. His American travel mate, Mark joined us …… the food, coffees, fresh mango smoothies, ambiance (roof top overlooking the Ganga) were superb, contrary to his intro comment πŸ™‚ I snapped a picture of Eric researching a few things in Madeline’s Lonely Planet later in the morning …. too funny …. Madeline is going to mail him the book after she gets home :). Nice to make new friends on our first day …. such a great morning sharing travel and life stories with lots of laughter and good cheer all around. The guys were off on a ten day trek to various temples, high in the Himalayas, ending at one special temple that sits at 12,000 feet …. a spiritual trek of sorts for both of them …… we wished them well on their journey and continued our exploration of the town.

We both picked up a few supplies (wet wipes, tissues and water!) …… checked out the various trinkets available and slowly meandered back to the ashram, stopping once again at the Buddha cafe for an early dinner! ….. it may yet turn into our favorite dining spot in Rishikesh! …. walking back involved dodging cows and their stinky pies, motor bikes, taxis, loads of backpackers, pilgrims, dozens of sadhus begging along the way …. some may actually be on genuine spiritual journeys, but the orange robes have apparently been used as a disguise by fugitives from the law since medieval times …. still, every now and again we make a little donation, hoping we gave to an honest sadhu …. but it really doesn’t matter if they are or not to me ….. just kind of cool to share ….. who knows the true circumstances of anyone’s lives ….. I am not here to judge …… and so ends another great day in India!











On the road to Rishikesh


It was a rather pleasant, half hour flight to our destination for the next two weeks, the yoga/meditation capital of India, Rishikesh! …. The taxi ride from Dehra Dun Airport to the Parmarth Niketan Ashram took slightly longer ….. a pleasant drive on a winding road through rolling forested hillsides, skirting the Rajaji National Park, home to 400 plus wild elephants, 30 tigers and a few hundred leopards and numerous species of deer, was a delight after the pollution and hectic pace of Delhi and Agra. There were many signs along the road, warning of wild elephant attacks on vehicles, complete with pictures of an actual attack (see below) … we were kind of hoping but hardly expecting to actually see an elephant … but right along the roadside, halfway to the Ashram, an elephant appears ….. our driver did not want to stop. I snapped a picture as we drove by, Japanese tourist style πŸ™‚

Check-in was a slow process, or possibly we were just slightly impatient … not yet settled into the groove of the slower paced, meditative ashram life style …… thousands of forms, signatures, stamps and the like … okay, well maybe not thousands, maybe it was just two πŸ™‚ … we made our way to our air conditioned rooms (horray!! …. something we were sure hoping for but not counting on getting) …… despite the AC, not exactly the Ritz here at the Parmarth but appropriate for the somewhat reverent spiritual atmosphere and nothing a bit of wiping and washing things down with disinfectant couldn’t fix …… what else to expect from two ladies of German and Finnish ethnicity πŸ™‚

Temple bells rang, not long after settling in, heralding the nightly ‘ganga aarti’ …. a religious ceremony on the banks of that holy Indian ‘shrine’ ….. the River Ganga! …… certainly a reverent intro to this mecca for spiritual seekers ….. I rather enjoyed the drumming, singing, chanting, the lighting and passing around of candles. People watching was cool as well … lots of folk filling water jugs, dipping their feet, or washing hands in the cool waters of the fast flowing river ….. I saw an older lady drinking from the river …. Hmmm, not common and think I may pass on that! The river is very sacred to Hindus and is a place to wash away a lifetime of sins. A large statue of Vishnu stands on a platform style bridge over the river, overseeing the rituals of the aarti. There are so many Hindu deities, making this religion darn hard to figure out. The explanations from Indians themselves can often be confusing, so although the rituals are lovely to watch, I remain clueless to the significance of many of them. Although this is my second visit to India, and second time at a Ganga Aarti (first was in Varanasi), the number of people around all the time, still manages to astonish me …. I always think there must be a special holiday or something going on to attract such large crowds, but no, the crowds are there all day, every day! It is India after all, home to a few billion souls.

A communal vegetarian meal followed ….. I have been told meat dishes are not common anywhere in Rishikesh ….. no hardship for me! Madeline and I were both exhausted from the day and it’s infusion of sights, sounds, crowds, and oh yes, definitely smells, and crashed shortly after dinner, ready for our first sleep in a real live ashram πŸ™‚














Agra and the Taj


Arrived at the Emblem yesterday to find Madeline looking cheerful and well rested, after a long flight from Victoria, followed by a city tour of Delhi, including that rather noisy chaotic Chandni Chowk region of old town! To boot, she was released from hospital barely a week ago, having endured a painful bout with a kidney stone issue … I marvel at her stamina …. What a trooper!! Our friendship dates back almost forty years, albeit, most of it from a distance … Madeline et al have lived and worked in Saudi Arabia for the better part of the last few decades … So it is just awesome to be here in India together … A first “girls’ trip” for us, after all these years …..

After a rather early and ungodly wake-up knock of 5:00 am from Madeline, we hit the road to Agra to explore that mighty tomb and ode to love, Shah Jahan’s Taj Mahal …. We also worked the rather impressive Mughals Red Fort into the day … ready to crash early and catch our flight tomorrow for Rishikesh and our silent yoga meditation retreat ….. Ooommmmm
















New Delhi


There have been many days where I have missed family so very much …. it produces an ache so deep, where relief seems impossible … I breathe my way through the loneliness …. this is the contradiction, the paradox of my life … wanderlust, intermingled with a deep love for family and a desire to have them near …

I recently finished a book a friend recommended …. she found many similarities with my choice of travel and the author’s and thought I may enjoy the read …. I do and I did πŸ™‚ “Tales of a Female Nomad” …. living at large in the world” by Rita Golden Gelman. She is an author of many children’s books and this is her first for adults. I cried, recognizing a place of strong connection, as I read some of Rita’s words … a few quotes from her book …

“My spirit gets nourished in faraway places. Sometimes I wonder if it’s a biological flaw that compels me to seek the excitement and challenge that comes of being in a place where nobody knows me”

“I think my compulsion to settle into communities that are different from the ones I know, is related to my passion for experiential learning. I learn best and most happily by doing, teaching, sharing, tasting. When I am somewhere new, learning goes on all day, every day.”
















Hillsides of Gangtok, Sikkim


Until I actually checked where in the world I am here in India, did not realize that Sikkim borders Bhutan, Nepal, China … Tibet actually, and Bangladesh! I had been experiencing an aching kind of loneliness for family and feeling rather isolated from everything familiar to me … little wonder, as I am in as remote a part of the world as I have yet been in, and that includes my visit to Mongolia in 2010! These hill stations of West Bengal and now Sikkim, are hours drive from familiarity and no airports nearby that I have discovered …. not easy to land even a helicopter on these hillsides of the Himalayas!

Sikkim is a tiny state, wiggled into this north east corner of India, with extraordinary ethnic diversity … A city that literally appears to spill down a ridge. Lepchas, the original inhabitants, live alongside Tibetans, Bhutians, Nepalis and Indians from the plains of this vast country. Gangtok has often been referred to as ‘Shangrila’ ….. The scenery certainly qualifies … It is just so beautiful here …..I say it so often, that I may be starting to annoy Sanjay!

Until 1975 Sikkim was a kingdom, an Indian protectorate, ruled by Chogyals who were Buddhists of Tibetan origin, a dynasty with beginnings in the 17th century. In 1975 the state voted to join the Indian Republic ending the rule of Sikkim’s last king, Palden Thondup Namgyal, the last Chogyal!

I have been staying in the former guest house of the royal family here in Gangtok πŸ™‚ … Yes, Palden Namgyal lived here a brief time before 1975 with his second wife, American Hope Cooke and their two children … Now a converted 25 room heritage hotel, reminiscent of the posadas of Portugal, The Nor-Khill (translated as Mansion of Jewels although none were in evidence during my stay) … Can’t say I never slept where royalty once did πŸ™‚

Walked the hillsides to the Museum of Tibetology as well as the famous Rumtek Monastery, both rich in Tibetan Buddhist iconographic treasures smuggled in before China could get a hold of them … was allowed to view a prayer session for the student monks inside the monastery with Sanjay … No pictures allowed inside of course πŸ™‚ …. Tourists, we are so silly about trying to photograph our journeys instead of living them πŸ™‚ as Sanjay said …. It was very peaceful and meditative for us and we stood quietly on the side chanting along as well …. Lovely moments in these remote parts of India …. Helps ease somewhat, the lonely aches I feel for family and particularly my darling Aliana who I can hardly wait to hold close in a month’s time.



















Ghoom Monastery, cremations, toy trains & Babas


Rode a ‘Toy Train’ to Ghoom Monastery today …. this is a big deal here for Indian tourists … It is a very old, coal fired train from the 1800’s πŸ™‚ Wherever the train stopped, people lined up snapping pictures! Historically a significant train … transported both people and tea crops in this mountainous region for well over a hundred years … I am becoming quite accustomed to being the only Anglo around in this rather remote part of India, although I am sure there must be more of me around. I just have not seen many if any …. There are however, many Indian tourists from all over the country, who come to the mountains this time of year to enjoy the cooler weather and the place is bustling … Hundreds of jeeps daily crowd these tiny mountain roads, loaded with people, bags piled high …. Normal 8 seater vehicles with 15 easily snuggled in … a common sight, are the many local men and women carrying very heavy loads on their backs, of all manner of goods … not hard to figure from where the Sherpa abilities stem …. apparently the Nepalese account for about 20 percent of the West Bengal population base …. These are hardy rugged mountain people, accustomed to lugging loads on steep paths and roads in high elevations!

Posting a picture of Sanjay (not my guide Sanjay) and his lady Tehmina. We have enjoyed each other’s company at all our meals at the Windamere … met at the airport in Bagdogra, chatted up a storm, not knowing we would end up at the same hotel in Darjeeling! … They are from Delhi, and Mumbai … Sanjay is a deep sea oil exploration engineer, Tehmina, a lawyer. She attended a boarding school in Darjeeling from ages 8 to 16 … forty years ago! The education system is apparently very good here, due, to the systems set up during the British colonist years which still stand today …. many parents, who can afford to do so, opt to send their children here for schooling. Tehmina’s parents would visit frequently, staying together at the Windamere … It is obviously a nostalgic journey for her. Only one nun from the school remains from her years here, but did remember her! Today she is meeting up with old school friends who still live in Darjeeling. Tehmina has such a beautiful accent, a most charming way of relaying a story, and both have such a great sense of humour, that I could listen to their stories all day and never tire! But on to the rest of my day …….

Sanjay, my guide and I met up at the Ghoom Monastery later in the day … there was a funeral blessing taking place in front of the monastery, body on a flower strewn platform of sorts, family standing around the body, friends sitting on bleachers alongside …. the cremation followed, set up behind the monastery … We waited in silent respect for the service to finish …. I opted out of watching the cremation itself, although Sanjay said I was welcome to watch if I wished …. an education in how Buddhism handles death, he said ….. Strange day.

As I got ready to head for dinner, heard lots of commotion outside my ‘cottage room’, unusual as this is a very very quiet spot in a very noisy Darjeeling!! …. walked into the restaurant a bit early (at that point, I was the sole guest in the restaurant), to find lots of security staff combing the place, tv cameras at the ready, excited expectant staff all waiting for the arrival of a special spiritual ‘Baba’ who would be staying at the Windamere for a month (this is a very small private hotel, probably chosen for it’s isolation and size) … I was briefly on camera, asked what country I am from and if I am a follower …. couldn’t quite admit I had never heard of the fellow ….. In typical white garb, not looking spiritual much, in my opinion, despite the long black hair and beard :), he came in for dinner with his troops, ate and left, all before Sanjay and Tehmina joined me …. No dawdling about … eat and run! ….. I quickly snapped a picture before anyone caught me, as I had been advised, no pictures allowed! Have I said before, that I am a natural born rule breaker?? Baba, apparently, will be hosting functions and healing sessions etc. at the hotel and elsewhere all month in Darjeeling. Yes, strange day indeed ….

Long day of travel tomorrow in West Bengal to Gangtok in Sikkim … Wondering what kind of roads we’ll find, especially given the recent rain πŸ™‚































Tanzing Norgay Day!


Upon arrival in Darjeeling, checked into the chintz decorated Windamere, perched high above “main street”. This British colonial era hotel has been here for close to a hundred and fifty years …. the pictures, artwork, framed letters, some dating back to 1845, period piece furniture, all scattered throughout the hotel is like a walk through history. It is far from a typical hotel …. more of a series of rooms in a very large cottage …. very charming and very British, right down to afternoon tea served precisely at 4 pm! Tea, yes, that would be Darjeeling tea ….. delicious.

May 29, 1953 is probably not a date that automatically stands out to most of us from North America. It seems my first full day in Darjeeling coincides with “Tenzing Norgay Day”!! Still stumped?? He is rather a local hero in these parts! Sanjay my guide and I walked to the Himalayan Mountain Institute, where there was a celebration just breaking up beside the museum dedicated to Tenzing … Yes, that famous Sherpa who scaled Mount Everest with Sir Edmund!! ….. Although there is still doubt even within the climbing community here, that perhaps Mallory did indeed make it there first! Unless the infamous letter to his wife is found at the top, which is highly unlikely, the record will stand …….. Norgay and Hillary it is! A large statue of Tenzing Norgay stands proudly in front of the museum …. A monument at the foot, bears some of his ashes. The museum was fascinating … what a change from gear used 60 years ago to the plush supplies and insulated clothing, tents, sleeping bags, climbing supplies and boots of today!

Tenzing was born into the Sherpa community in Nepal, but eventually made his home in Darjeeling, hence the national hero status he enjoys here … Rightfully so ……. He became the head of Darjeeling’s Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, contributing much to Himalayan expeditions his whole life. Most of my pictures below are of his extended family, friends and many friends living here, dressed up for the day, celebrating all over town!I In the late afternoon, I walked over to a concert held in his honor … the festivities continued into the evening … thousands milling around …. the younger generation enjoyed posing in their celebratory clothing.

Darjeeling’s historical Raj splendor is still somewhat in evidence here, but it is the Tibetan, Nepali and Bengali character that makes up the ambiance of this area for the most part. Looking around at the population, I feel more like I could be in Tibet or Nepal, or what I imagine them to be πŸ™‚

How cool to end up here for Tenzing Norgay Day …….
























Darjeeling …


The road to Darjeeling, I am about to learn in short order, was basically a cart path at one time, that has been graveled and tarred in a few spots πŸ™‚ but certainly not widened! After a two hour flight from Delhi, arrival at Bagdogra, I am met by Santosh, who advises that we will be on the road for at least three hours ….. At that point, I thought, well, 100 or so kms, why the 3 plus hours?? I rarely read my itineraries and sometimes I just should!! …. So, onward to Darjeeling, a town perched precariously on a hillside, deep in the foothills of the Himalayas … it is highly possible I would not be here in Darjeeling, had I known the road conditions, but glad I didn’t know …… there is my winging it theory at work, albeit, overtime …. After holding my breath for far too long, my knuckles white, strained and exhausted, I exhaled, let go, put my faith in God, and finally got into the amazing scenery surrounding me … I could not, would not, ask Santosh to stop for pictures, so have barely a picture to share of the most awe inspiring scenery I have yet been exposed to in India! …. Just a few shots of the road in places where it was undergoing repairs and Santosh was forced to slow down! When I realized Santosh turns to me in the back seat with each attempt at conversation, giving me his full attention, eyes off the road in the process …. a road of sidewalk proportions, consistently curving up a steep mountain!! ….. well, needless to say, I remained quiet for the duration of the 3 hour climb to Darjeeling!!

Darjeeling has been sitting in and out of misty clouds since my arrival, so no good pictures of the stunning scenery except through a haze …… Wish we could have stopped enroute yesterday but not on that “road” πŸ™‚ …. If you use your imagination in one of my pictures, you can see the tip of Mt. Kanchendzonga, India’s highest peak at 28,169 feet …. On a clear day, it’s view dominates Darjeeling but alas, not in the cards for me as Darjeeling is normally under cloud cover this time of year ….. Will see, as I am here for a few days yet … Might be lucky …..














Back in Delhi!



A few days of lounging around the pool, a few swims, a massage or two, savoring the fine restaurants of this awesome hotel in the centre of New Delhi, The Taj, (rates on Expedia were fabulous this time of year so well worth booking!!) and I am ready to hit the next stage of exploring India …. A month here last year was far too short a time …. my visa ran out, otherwise I could easily have lost myself here for months! …. So I was thrilled when my friend Madeline suggested a yoga and meditation retreat in Rishikesh! ….. She had me at ‘India’, as I read her email πŸ™‚ We meet up on the 6th so am off on my own to the foothills area of the Himalayas for a snoop around. Took a taxi to Khan Market area and India Gate today and yesterday … Noticed the trucks unloading boxes of mangoes … looks like I lucked in to the season! …. This country is so chaotic, crazy and colorful …. I love it! ….. only this time, instead of temps in the teens, they are now in the mid forties!! Provides, ummm, a rather organic workout for the olfactory system, as I walk along the streets ……..















Exploring the backroads of Transylvania ……


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 πŸ™‚ ……. 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 ….



















Last few pictures of Birlad


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.










Bidding adieu to Birlad’s Babies ….


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.



















Springtime in Romania


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.
















Our smallest leaves today ….


Another beautiful sunny hot day in Birlad, as I walk my familiar twenty minute stroll to St. Nicholas this morning, stopping enroute to pick up some kleenex and baby wipes ….. Coca, our local Global Volunteer nurse’s aide, scares me half to death as I turned the corner to the hospital ….. she came up behind me, grabbing my arm, with a squeal of delight to see me walking …. she had just jumped off a bus from Tutova, a nearby town ……. I think of Coca, as our wing angle ….. she is a darling sweet, kind soul and so good with the children. As we enter our wing of the hospital together arm in arm, we find, after a weekend away, the children all appear quiet and subdued … we both get busy, prepping for the day (neither of us speaks the language of the other but somehow we have come to speak the same language of the heart and work well together) …… shortly after a bit of organizing and as I am feeding little Marian his morning bottle …… ‘little tiny 2 point something kilo Marian’ who is six months old or thereabouts, I notice a gentleman hulking about patiently watching from the hallway ….. I remembered him from my first day …. he is, as far as anyone knows, the father of young Marian ….. he appears far too old to be a father (but I have noted that people here appear older than they really are and my host Dan, tells me that life expectancy is somewhere in the vicinity of 70 in Romania …… a diet high in meat doesn’t help!) …… Rumor has it that the government will pay a healthy supplement to anyone who commits to looking after their own handicapped child ….. and that quite possibly this father is considering taking on his child for that reason, but intuitively, I think that is not his only motivation. In six months, no one has ever seen the mother but apparently, this gent has come by often in the past six months. I observed him on my first day, before I got to know the children or anyone here really, and I judged him to be a very gentle soul, full of kindness and love for who we believe is his child. As I have come to know his son, Marion, I see some of that same personality in the wee one. When I held him this morning, Marian took forever to finish his bottle of formula …. at least three times as long as normal …. he kept studying my face, listening to my chatter as I fed him. I alternate between singing Finnish folk songs, nursery rhymes and telling him what a lovely child he is ….. it is a special kind of sweetness, as he watches me …. an old soul is hiding in those very expressive eyes ……. yes, premature, underdeveloped, physically and mentally delayed, I know!!! But I find Marion fascinating ….. I have grown to love him. I had no idea that he was being taken away this morning and as I saw Coca getting Marion bundled up while I continued feeding the other children, I asked in English, what was going on? ….. all she could say was “Marion go papa” ….. I asked “go where?” ….. a rambling of Romanian followed, none of which I understood, so I ran into the hallway, just barely catching Marion leaving with his father. With a lot of hand signing and me jabbering away with three words of Romanian mixed with tears, I showed him how Marion likes to be held close in your arms, near the heart with the bottle angled “just so” …… oh the dear man … thank God for this understanding gentle soul, but still, he must have thought me mad! But I believe through it all, on some level, he understood. I plunged forward, instinct guiding me, realizing I am breaking all kinds of protocol and despite the cool nature of Romanians in general, I hugged him tight with Marion between us …… he was probably as surprised as I, and tears came into his ears, mixing with mine. I kissed the little duffer good bye and turned back to the other little ones …… a funny kind of happiness tinged in sadness settled in for a good part of my day …… a few picture of young Marian below ……



The little ones …


“To love a person is to learn the song that is in their heart and to sing it to them when they have forgotten” …… or in the case of these little abandoned children of St. Nicholas Hospital in Birlad, Romania, those who have barely had the opportunity to hear even the first notes of their heart’s song, help them discover it.

My days in Birlad would appear to follow a predictable pattern, not a few days into my posting …… but every day, I start out with a hopeful heart that my impact will produce a smile, a laugh, a contented sigh, or really any kind of response from the children! These are not big reward wishes by any means, but It is enough …

Little tiny Marian (a boy’s name in Romania) weighs about 2.2 kilos at 6 months of age, snuggles into my arm when I feed him his bottle, with such a happy expression on his face, as though I am the queen in his life …… he is so easy to please …… love and attention, all he requires from me …… the nurses and aides tend to the daily grind of diapers, baths, food preparation etc. …… when I attempt to put Marian down in his crib, his kitten like cries start up ….. I pick him up and carry him around, nestled happily in the crook of my arm as I tend to the others as best I can while keeping him close. A little bit of juggling is always in order. Marian is happy as a baby can be:) I cannot leave him crying, not in my DNA to do so ….. he was a premature baby, a fetal alcohol syndrome child, as are most of the children in varying degrees and need human touch so very much ….. where is the education for teenagers on this issue? It is no great secret that the majority of parents of these abandoned children are indeed teenagers! …. It is my nature to attempt to dig for the root of a problem …..

The sweetheart of the ward, one year old Delia is so bright and so normal in developmental milestones mentally, but alas, she has stunted limbs which will make life that much harder for her and basically, she is unadoptable, if there is such a term …. everyone loves her but she continues to live at Sr. Nicholas. ….. I hold this little child and love is all I feel …. She is very very affectionate, making that easy to do! ….. I like to think I helped add to her vocabulary with “mamama and nananana” but I am sure this process was started long ago with other volunteers and I was merely fortunate to be the recipient to hear it with regularity but still, I did notice the surprise the nurses displayed as Delia “nanananaed and mamamaed” in addition to her dadadadas and da’s ( da is yes in Romanian ) …. I am a great baby babbler πŸ™‚

Two month old Ion just eats, sleeps and snuggles happily in my arms as much as possible. It is hard to determine the extent of developmental delays sustained from his birth but, I know that some of those milestones at 2 months of age are just not there ….. the nurses try hard to make sure the children all “finish those bottles of formula” …. they celebrate with a “bravo” when a bottle is finished and I know they mean well, but when a good portion of the bottle is spit up shortly after feeding, I wonder hmmmm ……. I know they do not appreciate my taking the bottles away when the children purse their mouths, seemingly refusing another drop …. I have never believed in force feeding. But again, as a transient volunteer, it is not in my position to criticize or change the system. My job is to help out as best I can.

Cleo who is mostly vegetative with so much fluid around her brain, that her head weight makes up half her weight or close to it ….. smiles occasionally but with mostly vacant eyes ….. all I can do
is stroke her little arms and legs and talk to her …. she does respond in her own way to the affection and my chatting …..

On Wednesday, four older children were brought back to St. Nicholas from a “placement center” about 20 km. away …. they are regulars at St. Nicholas but were at the center for check ups and the like for the week before I came. These centers are no longer allowed to be called orphanages ….. part of the bureaucracy since Romania was admitted into the European Union. It is highly unlikely that anyone will ever adopt these children, so they live in the “centers” .

Seven year old Marian is paralyzed from the waist down, is very small for his age, and severely mentally handicapped. I took him for a walk outside in a baby stroller ….. I simply could not watch him basically laying with little stimulation in a crib for another minute. Dan and I had quite the job getting him into it, but once in there, I pushed him around in the warm sunshine and he laughed, yes laughed, for most of the hour I had him outside. Yes, I broke the rules, and took him out of the hospital grounds …. I showed him trees, flower buds, flowers in bloom, a dog barking, leaves rustling in the breeze and I swear to God, he was in heaven … he laughed, he pulled on my hand as I showed him the bushes and leaves and connected with me …… Dan was not pleased when he could not find me as I was quite far from the hospital gates, but I was so thrilled with the response from Marian, that I kind of lost track of time and place πŸ™‚ and would do it again in a heart beat. I have a strong tendency to break rules at times …….. I learned many years ago, that if an action has a good outcome, follow it. I may have to present a convincing argument to do so again next week πŸ™‚

I took 6 year old Sami who has mild to medium down’s syndrome, to the hospital outdoor park ….. he squealed in delight with every new texture, every new sound, the sun on his face, the breeze in his hair ….. oh just everything. He refused to walk up or down the three flights of stairs on our first attempt (I carried him even as he struggled against me, uncertain about what was happening) ….. no elevators here …… but by the second day, after encouragement and lots of practice outside on a curb, he navigated the stairs brilliantly, trustingly holding my hand the whole way up, and asked only to be carried for the last few steps back to the hospital rooms (grunting sounds … he does not talk ….. I like to think if someone had the time for ‘one on one’ work with Sami, he would be able to speak, no matter how rudimentary!) ….. he has apparently handled stairs before in the past but not often and with just a little practice, he was able to …..

Aaah and little Alina, five years old, and another FAS child …. sweet as pie ….. loves having me brush her hair, sing to her, dance with her ….. I took her out to the hospital park as well two days in a row …… I had to ask permission from the head pediatrician to do so, for all the older children actually ……. they were not overly enthusiastic about it ….. apparently insurance issues or something …… No surprise here that I believe children need sunshine and fresh air as much as they do those bottles of formula …. they are so pale and in such need of outside stimulation and there is really no one there, short of volunteers who can possibly do this …. the nurses are stretched thin as it is. I am hoping I can continue taking them all in turn, outside this next week. Little Luca, who has a bad case of scabies at the moment, is next on my outdoor outing hit list πŸ™‚ ….. he is a mentally and physically ( kind of go hand in hand really ) delayed three year old, does not walk yet, crawls, and is quite a handful, as I soon discovered … I took him out and let him crawl around ….. he had been banging his head against the crib in a repetitive motion and I could not bear it any longer …. he smiled as I picked him up and followed him as he scooted around in the two rooms that make up his home here at St. Nicholas. It as a delight to watch him happily going about discovering the toys, but oh boy, needs one on one attention big time! Aaah, and the scabies ….. presents a problem in such close quarters, so I understand the nurses’ concerns. So that rounds out my little darling motley crew ….. Will see what Monday brings …… late at night here in Iasi (pronounced Yash) in Northern Moldova ….. a two hour train ride from Birlad …..I arrived late Friday night …. Mihaela, Dan and their daughter Delia joined me for the day ….. a wonderful weekend to ring in my new decade of life ….. and a nice break from the hospital. Fresh air for my spirit. Hope my pictures of the weekend post okay and that there are not so many typos in this post ….. too tired to proof read and it seems my ipad does not have a spell check, or more likely, I have not discovered it πŸ™‚ …. weak WIFI in this hotel
Love to everyone.






















Birlad’s Little Ones


As I walked to the hospital today, it occurred to me how beautiful this part of Romania is … Lots of green park areas to enjoy a quiet sit down in between the sometime chaotic job of, what was today, looking after eight children, ranging in age from three months to seven years … I guess the nurses all thought I could handle it and I suppose I did, whew, a mid day break in the park was in order! I have a newfound respect for pediatric nurses working with children having severe disabilities …. I find myself lost in thought at various points during the day …… what will happen to these abandoned youngsters without the steady stream of volunteers to give them that extra attention they so sorely need? ….. Mihaela and Dan are doing an awesome job keeping everything working smoothly … My hat is off to them! One year old Delia is certainly the little darling of the ward, bright as a star, charming everyone daily …. no limbs to speak of, yet she manages more than one would imagine …. Enjoyed a May 1st outdoor barbeque at the home of Mihaela and Dan’s friends, Sandor and Lumi. … (It was a national labor day holiday here, although we still did work at the hospital during the day) …. They have a beautiful garden, blooming with early flowers of all sorts …. The temps have been hovering around 30 C since I arrived last week and everyone is taking advantage of the weather …. From Bucharest to Birlad, people are enjoying outdoor picnic lunches and dinners everywhere they can. As I review my days, I realize how lucky I am and how heartwarming it is to be included and so welcomed in this small town community …. If I remember to take my camera tomorrow, will share some town scenes in my next post.

Bucuresti, Romania


Long travel day .. Arrived to a bustling Bucharest, home to three million souls and once also home to that marvel of a gymnast, Nadia Comaneci of the perfect Olympic score from the seventies! … Not a tourist in sight! Rare indeed … Hotel, charming little boutique style Γ‰poque … Less than fifty rooms … Full of local folk and near old town and peaceful parks, facilitating long walks to help ease into time zone … Feet sore today from hours of navigating the cobblestones … came across a construction site rebuilding the streets with new cobblestones … Back breaking labor! Communism and years living under the terror regime of Nicholae Ceausescu has left it’s mark on those forty and up … Rather a serious brooding look to the elders, the youth, not so much. I am near one of the many universities of Bucharest …. Love being in the midst of that delightful student energy … All so helpful with directions and friendly … Romanians a curious mix of Roman features (Rome did rule this area for a few centuries and it shows in the features and local architecture). Seems I have arrived in yet another country with it’s marginalized folk …. Here, as in Hungary last year, it is the formerly nomadic Roma, known also at one point as, gypsies (nomadic lifestyle was recently outlawed for the Roma, by the government ….. Strange for someone like me πŸ™‚ …. Wondering if this can possibly be true ??! ) … Gypsy is a negative term for anyone in these parts … My blog name is not appreciated here πŸ™‚ Today, Romania consists of those with heritage remnants from Hungary, Germany, Ukraine, Turkey, and of course the ubiquitous Roma gypsies but the majority, almost 90 percent, are known simply as Romanians … A real mixed cultural bag … I am finding the locals friendly, helpful and for the most part, kind. Tomorrow another long travel day ahead, via the local train system … Dan Cirjontu and his wife Mihaela, the Global hosts here, will meet me at the station for the five hour ride to the small town of Barlad, where I will be working at the hospital …. Posting a few random shots as I walked the streets of Bucuresti, as it is known in Romanian … Bought some aromatic Lilly of the valley from a street vendor … Could not resist …. Heavenly scent transported me straight to the fields of my childhood home in Pottsville, Ontario! … I inhaled deeply, savoring, carrying the bouquet for a long while, before gifting to a lovely lady along the way. Dan instead picked me up with the family car and we drove to Barlad … A long over four hour drive …. Stopped in a little town for a Macdonalds grilled chicken sandwich … Yes here in remote Romania … And one of the cleanest and most modern Mcd’s I have ever been inside ……. Go figure πŸ™‚