shewhomust: (mamoulian)
It's the pre-digital equivalent of closing some tabs, disposing of old newspapers I've put aside as containing something of interest. It isn't always obvious what:

Romania, fair enough. But did I really think an article about cycling in the Carpathians would be useful? Apparently I did.

I don't expect ever to visit the salt flats of Bolivia - but isn't this an amazing photograph?

Though I obviously hung on to that issue for this article about wine tourism in Savoie.

(Over the page, their intrepid explorer Kevin Rushby goes looking for wildflowers in Weardale - and very nice, too).

Wales has a Coast Path, it seems; well, I should think so. It has a bilingual website, of course. We never go to Wales, I don't know why. We should...

Why did I save that one? No idea. Next!

Ah, here's Kevin Rushby again, in Yorkshire this time, where Simon Armitage has been carving his poems onto rock faces. Should this sort of high-class cultural graffiti be encouraged in wild places? Don't know. I have a soft spot for graffiti - and a scepticism about the kind of public art that carves poetry on things. Maybe I'd need to visit to find out what I think.

Blue Cabin by the Sea, somewhere totally impractical to stay on the Berwickshire coast - lovely pictures, shame about the website (wouldn't take much to make it function as it's obviously meant to). Or for somewhere totally impractical in the opposite way, how about the house Pugin built for himself in Ramsgate: "The house has a private chapel and a tower, from whose roof Pugin trained his telescope on ships in distress," and which now offers a view of more modern shipping from the freight ferry terminal.

Walking the Rhine gorge

Cycling along the Canal du Midi doesn't sound much fun: the cycling is painful, and the level, tree-lined canal becomes monotonous eventually. But I'd like to see more of the Canal by other means, and the article does suggest some hotels.

The Guardian seems obsessed with bikes: this time it's wine-tasting in Croatia - Istria, to be precise - which sounds good, except for the bit about the bikes. And a couple of days later, more about Croatia, in the news section this time, as they enter the EU.

And that's the last of that pile - but there'll be another supplement in tomorrow's paper (perhaps it won't be very interesting...).
shewhomust: (bibendum)
If Romania were a conventional tourist destination, the extraordinary decorative variety of its village houses would be a major selling point, and there would be big glossy books of pictures on sale throughout the country, not to mention the postcards. As it is, it took some detective work when I returned home to track down Jan Harold Brunvand's Casa Frumoasa, a scholarly monograph on the subject, illustrated with an abundance of rather grey black and white photos. Costing, inevitably, about three times what I'd expect to pay for that coffee-table tome. It's an excellent introduction to the subject, and also makes clear how much of what struck me - the boldness of the colours, the exuberantly cut and folded sheet metal - is a modern development of the tradition. But the photographs, while informative, are frustrating - particularly because it is clear from the text (and I think from the quality as well) that these are colour photographs reproduced in monochrome.

So it's a delight, as well as a frustration, to discover that many of these original colour photographs, as well as some others not included in the book, are available on Professor Brunvand's web site.
shewhomust: (bibendum)
[livejournal.com profile] desperance has turned his ingenuity, and his network of expert contacts, to the task of identifying the mystery bird at Budapest zoo. We were initially tempted by the Crowned Crane, which is a splendid and elegant creature, and seems to display the right kind of behaviour, but after some squinting at a very bad photograph of the sign on its enclosure decided that it was a Crested Seriema. Here's another one: the text is in Magyar, which is more appropriate than helpful, but the picture does justice to its crest (not always the case).

Thank you, [livejournal.com profile] desperance. And thank you, too, David, should you happen to be passing.

Thanks also to people who've said kind things about the holiday posts: I wrote them to please myself, because it's my diary, after all, so it was a bonus to hear that others had enjoyed them.
shewhomust: (bibendum)
Our morning in Budapest's Jewish quarter was wonderful, but very intense, and we decided to take the metro out to the City Park, at the far end of Andrassy, and find somewhere there to have lunch.

We weren't intending to go to Gundel - it has the reputation of the best restaurant in the city, and sounded very grand, and rather intimidating. But since we were so close, we'd just stroll along and look: and what we saw was that they offered a very tourist friendly lunch menu, and that we could eat outside on the terrace, and oh, well, why not?

This turned out to be a good decision: we enjoyed the sunshine, and the being waited on by charming and helpful men in the full rig of black suit and long white apron. We enjoyed the food and the wine, too. By the coffee, we were feeling extremely mellow.

Come inside...It just so happens that to get to Gundel from the park, you walk past the zoo. The zoo was not on my list of things to see; it would not have occurred to me to visit the zoo; if I've ever been to a zoo before, I don't remember it. But as we had walked past, there were tantalising glimpses of blue domes and grey elephants (real ones), and we were, as I say, feeling very mellow, and the entrance to the zoo was very inviting - and our Budapest card took us in for free: for whatever reason, we went to the zoo.

...at the zoo. I do believe it... )

And that's the last post of the holiday: we now return you to our scheduled programme.
shewhomust: (bibendum)
Our walk around Castle Hill in Budapest brought us to the Mátyás Church - so called not because it is dedicated to Saint Matthew but because the fifteenth century king, Mátyás Corvinus (I am charmed by the existence of a king called Matthew the Crow, but that's a whole other story...) was married there - twice.

Our guidebook said:
...today the most attractive aspect of the facade is its reflection in the [Hilton] hotel. Even the interior fails to exude any sense of Gothic space. The wall paintings are somewhat far-fetched...
Such fervent dispraise was irresistible, and we went in to see for ourselves.

In the Matyas ChurchI'm glad we did, because I enjoy excess, and have a taste for Victorian Gothic: and this was certainly excessive. Imagine what Pugin could have done, if he'd really pulled out all the stops and let himself go. It's true that the interior is so crammed with decorative detail that it does not exude any sense of space, Gothic or otherwise: there is no unity, but a mass of details, each more irresistible than the last. I was particularly taken by a crow design for all the world like a 1950s wallpaper.

The Great Synagogue in Dohany StreetThe following morning we visited the Great Synagogue which had intrigued us on our outward journey: this time a genuinely nineteenth century building, and one which had been designed all of a piece. The contrast was astonishing, and not just because this was nineteenth century orientalism, rather than gothic. I was forced to concede that, wonderful though the church had been, the synagogue was better. The decoration was equally rich, but co-ordinated, harmonious, and the result was not to reduce the exuberance but to focus it: yes, I know this is the theory, but I've rarely seen it so clearly demonstrated.

Next door is the Jewish museum.
shewhomust: (bibendum)
After ten days in rural Romania, we woke up in Budapest, a European capital city.

There was traffic. There were trams. There were shops: things to buy, stylish window displays, bookshops and bookstalls selling books (in Magyar, admittedly). There were familiar brands - Tesco, M + S, Big Mac - advertising themselves (also in Magyar). There were cinemas and postcards and tourism in general.

And, having left behind the dusty Romanian roads with their horse-carts, we discovered that the tourist treat was to take a ride around Castle Hill in a fiacre (spelled - if I remember this right) "fiakkre"), a horse-drawn cart - sorry, carriage.
shewhomust: (bibendum)
We left Romania on the sleeper to Budapest. This sounds very romantic, and romance means adventure, and adventures - well, I'd rather read about them than have them. So I was a little nervous, standing on the platform at Sighisoara at eleven o' clock, wondering if the train will arrive, if it will be on time, if we'll find our compartment, if we'll sleep...

The train arrived precisely on time, with helpful staff to show us to our compartment. The berths are wide and comfortable ([livejournal.com profile] durham_rambler was persuaded to take the upper berth), the lights, blinds, windows and heating are all capable of adjustment, and I slept soundly. Except, of course, that you are woken at three in the morning so that the Romanian police can check your passport before you cross the border, and again forty-five minutes later, so that the Hungarian police can check it after.
shewhomust: (bibendum)
The green at Viscri
Viscri is somewhere else again. Southern Transylvania was settled by Saxons during the middle ages; this is where the children lured away from Hanover by the Pied Piper emerged on the other side of the mountain. They called the region Siebenbürgen, the seven "burgs", fortified towns.

Now it is characterised by villages in which gingerbread houses - all baroque curves, candy colours and whipped cream - stand end-on to broad greens. With the fall of communism, ethnic Germans were encouraged by the German government to return "home", and the great fortress churches have congregations of a dozen or so Lutheran worshippers. Viscri is typical of these villages - or rather, it is atypical only in the extent to which it has been adopted as typical and therefore worthy of attention and restoration.

Viscri = DeutschWeisskirchSigns pointed to the houses of the keyholders, mother and daughter, who keep the keys to the church, and it was the elderly mother who accompanied us, urging us in German to pick and eat some grapes grom the vine in her yard. I wanted to ask whether this was for our benefit, or whether German was her first language, but couldn't think how to say "first language". So it came out "Is German your mother tongue (Muttersprache)?"
"Yes, German was her mother tongue, and Romanian her national language (Landsprache)"
A pause: "We learned Russian at school."
A longer pause: "But at home we speak Letzeburgisch, because the family is originally from Luxembourg."

Goulash

Nov. 5th, 2006 08:40 pm
shewhomust: (bibendum)
Things that you don't order with goulash (as determined by the demeanor of the non-English speaking waitress at the Hotel Fortuna, Baile Tusnad):
  • rice

  • potatoes

  • vegetables

  • tomato salad


Things which do accompany goulash:
  • bread

  • plum brandy (from a miniature teapot


The plum brandy - clearly a local and traditional treat - came unordered, and at first we weren't sure what it was (not salad dressing...). Later we learned that you knock it back as an aperitif, pouring from the spout of the pot into your mouth. With the excuse of ignorance, I enjoyed mine from my wine glass, as a digestif, when we had finished the wine.

Székely

Nov. 5th, 2006 08:33 pm
shewhomust: (bibendum)
Gateway to the cloudsIt's a sign of my ignorance about Romania that I had not anticipated how much the regions differed in ethnic make-up and all that goes with it. We drove through the mountains and over the pass, and came out onto the high plateau where, as David had warned us, the roadside vendors try to sell you honey instead of mushrooms or walnuts: there was a chocolate bee on my pillow at the Hotel Fortuna.

They also speak Magyar, and build larger, solider houses, less exuberantly decorated - which is not to say they don't have their own decorative style, but it involves richly carved wood and flat panels, rather than bright colours and finials. Horse carts continue to outnumber horse-carts, but not by so wide a margin, and there are more tractors.

Miercurea Cluj is an actual town, with actual shops whose windows contain things you might actually want to buy, arranged with the intention of making you want to buy them.
shewhomust: (bibendum)
Dinner, after an afternoon dash round Sainsbury's, was mussels and focacia and a bottle of Santa Rita Reserve chardonnay (reduced), which leaves me in the mood to write about Romanian wine. Once upon a time, eastern Europe was the place where cheap wine came from from. We joked about Algerian reds, labelled as French, but in fact they belonged to an earlier era; the suspiciously cheap plonk of our time was from Hungary, Romania, maybe even Bulgaria. The first wine [livejournal.com profile] durham_rambler and I discovered for ourselves was Hirondelle rosé: we weren't keen on their red or their white, but we loved the rosé, which we discovered was Hungarian.

Later, the flying winemakers moved in to Hungary, and it became a fashionable source of pleasant white wines, easy drinking at easy prices. But Romania continued to produce the most accessible pinot noir on the market, the three pound bottle, fruity as the best strawberry jam.

Then somehow they vanished. I thought we'd simply been distracted by the arrival of wines from all over the globe, from the Americas and elsewhere. But since we returned from Romania, I've been paying attention, and eastern Europe has simply been squeezed off the shelves - somewhere near floor level you'll find a Bulgarian merlot, and maybe a Moldovan rosé, but nothing like the diversity - of geography or of grape variety - that there used to be. Eventually I tracked down a Romanian pinot noir in Sainsbury's, and it was fine, but both the flavour and the label design had gone stylishly minimalist while my back was turned.

We didn't make great discoveries within Romania, either. We drank whatever wines were on offer: the Vampire merlot obviously, because how not? a Cotnari merlot which tasted of damsons, a Cotnari dry white, light and acid, a Fetteasca neagra - none of which was dreadful, but none of which we wanted to order again, because it was always possible that the next bottle would be better.

With two exceptions: the only wine we did actually order twice within the country was a dry muscat from Jidvei, like a mouthful of ripe grapes. As the Jidvei web site says:
Wine - a paradoxal comparison with the woman - is it a pleasure or a sin? It produces euphoria, it brings you to the realm of phylosopy and love. It can lift you to the highest levels of methaphysics or get you down into the hell of unconsciousness.

Each people has its tradition, those peculiarities that characterize it and offer it personality, that build it up during the centuries that pass over its teritory and its generations living there.

It would not be an exageration to overlap this potion extracted from the grape with the millenary history of the Romanian people in the Charpatian-Danube-Pontus territory.

Which brings me neatly to the wine we had drunk before when a friend brought us a botle home, and hunted throughout our holiday, finally finding a bottle just in time to take it home in our turn and share it with friends, Lacrima Lui Ovidiu, Ovid's Tears, the aromatic dessert wine whose name commemmorates the poet's exile by the Black Sea, in what is now the city of Costanta.
shewhomust: (bibendum)
Lake Bicaz from our balconyWe came, on this hot afternoon, to Ceahlau, and to the very fancy hotel nestled between the mountain and the lake which is wrapped around its foot. One wall of our room was window, filled with the view of the lake, and the hills rising on its far side, and we lay on the bed and read.

On Thursday morning, refreshed, we went downstairs in search of breakfast. There was no sign of life in the dining room, but we found a smaller side room, equally deserted but in which three places had been set for breakfast. The waitress appeared and asked if we wanted smoking or non-smoking, and when we chose non-smoking, ushered us back to the dining room, with its fabulous view of the lake.

- Would we like coffee or tea, she asked. Juice? And what else? We hesitated, and she brought us the massive menu from which we had ordered dinner the previous evening. Were we seriously supposed to choose breakfast from the same menu? It seemed we were, and we found and opted for omelettes.

When the waitress reappeared to take this order, she apologised: there was not, after all, any juice. Since the Romanian diet, as we met it, is generous with meet and starch, but sparing with vegetable matter, we were desperate for fruit and, returning to the menu, ordered fruit salads.

The coffee arrived: two cuos of strong black coffee (strong is good). And the waitress was sorry, but there were no eggs; would we like some cheese?

We said no, we'd just have toast. This turned out to be the same rolls as we had been served at dinner the previous evening. They had been pleasant enough then, but slightly stale: toasted, they were excellent. The fruit salad, on the other hand, in a village where there were windfall apples and plums everywhere underfoot, was tinned (and topped with a thick swirl of whipped cream).

After this sustaining breakfast, we set off to climb a mountain.
shewhomust: (bibendum)
Wednesday - the mid-point of our holiday - was hot. Really hot. We spent much of the day looking for somewhere shady to sit.

At the café in Targu Neamt, I asked the waiter "Do you speak English?"
"No. Do you speak Romanian?"
Fair point. And between us we had no problem placing an order for coffee, fizzy water, alcohol-free beer. Later, he asked if we were Dutch, and I said no, English.
"Ah, English - Liverpool, Manchester United..."
"No," we chorused, "Newcastle."
"Ah, Newcastle..."

Later, we sat in the car park by the Neamt monastery, too hot even for monastery tourism, watching an orthodox priest, black robes billowing as he paced to and fro, talking on his mobile phone.
shewhomust: (bibendum)
Flats
Romanian villages were beautiful, and one or two historic city centres were attractive, too: but the average townscape consisted of concrete blocks of flats, and I didn't photograph them. This one is an exception, because it may not be pretty, but it does make a geometrically interesting pattern.

It would be easy to think of drab lives under totalitarian Eastern bloc régimes, and not entirely wrong: but the architecture is not so much Staliism as 1960s brutalism. The individual blocks are no worse than things that were built in Gateshead: but there are more of them, more monotonously - except where the urge to decorate breaks out in a sunflower picked out on the side of a building in different coloured brick.

Other than that, the small towns are characterised by broad avenues (lined with a mixtures of shops, some of them so closed and shuttered as to look abandoned: the mini-market, the café, the mobile phone shop, the bakery, the travel shop. There are squares filled with flowerbeds, and everywhere there are new churches.
shewhomust: (bibendum)
From Probota to Cotnari by the back roads took us two hours. There was only one actual retracing of our route - when the road was reduced to a mud track which led into a clearing where a solitary pig was browsing peacefully. So we tried again, this time taking the less promising of the two roads, which climbed up into the hills, through villages of little houses constructed on the plan of the log cabins we'd seen in the museum (entrance hall with a room on either side) and many appeared - could this possibly be right? - to be built of mud bricks. Yet many were brightly decorated, and some were obviously new.

The shrines became more and more elaborate. The flat crucifix had already given way to three-dimensional figures, and these began to be roofed over in a style similar to the well covers - some were even glazed in.

Up the valley again, between meadows and walnut trees, and at last we emerged onto grass upland, dotted with flocks of sheep, often with a scattering of goats among them. A group of wagtails took off in a flurry of white undersides.

And there were people everywhere: in ones and twos accompanying the flocks of sheep, or whole families sitting at the roadside by their houses, where the maize was stacked, stripping the heads of corn from the long stalks. Overnight harvest time had arrived. Pumpkins had been gathered from the maize fields, where they seemed to be grown in among the maize, and arranged around the hems of the haystacks.

Probota

Oct. 25th, 2006 08:18 pm
shewhomust: (bibendum)
During our few days in Bucovina, we visited several of the painted monasteries: they are wonderful, and not the least extraordinary thing about them is that despite strong similarities between them (the themes of the painting, for example, and the positioning of these around the building), each one is fresh and distinct in my mind. Dragomirna, for example, is where we saw the woodpecker on the scaffolding which impeded our view of the church itself. Probota, on the other hand...

At Probota, the young nun (one of the disconcerting things about Romania being that the nuns are young, and rather stylish in their black robes and pillbox hats) who took our admission fee, spotted that we were foreigners and went and fetched the even younger nun who spoke foreign: French, as it turned out.

She guided us round the church, pointing out the Last Judgement in the porch, and the calendar which decorated the interior: that is, she explained that the row upon row of saints, most of them depicted in the process of dying a martyr's death, were arranged as a calendar, one for each day of the year (starting, as the year does, in March). Here were the tombs of Petru Rares and his family, carved with texts in old Slavonic script, and here was the votive painting, in which Petru Rares hand the church up to Christ.

Exceptionally, it was light enough and unencumbered enough that we were able to see the painting up the interior of the tower; above was Christ Pantocrator, and the hierarchies of angels rose in tiers between him and the mortals below. We had a slight linguistic breakdown at this point: our guide tried to identify the nine orders of angels for us, but knew the names only in Romanian, not in French. I knew most of them in English, and could produce a literal translation into French, to the delight of our guide, who produced a piece of paper for me to write them down, but rack our brains as we might, we couldn't put together more than eight (Googling suggests that the missing rank was Virtues, does not feel at all familiar. I draw no inference from this).

So we were feeling very pleased with ourselves as we set off in search of the vineyards.
shewhomust: (bibendum)
The main road from Cluj to Gura Humorului was our baptism of fire; thereafter the main roads varied from OK (with the odd pothole) to new, smooth tarmac, sometimes as many as three lanes of it, with white lines.

Off the main roads, it's another matter. Minor roads were often unmetalled, and liable to fizzle out. You'd turn off the main road onto a good metalled surface, only to find yourself, a mile of so further on, driving on loose stones and dust. No doubt the problem was in the map as much as in the road.

So, for example, on Sunday evening we took what we thought would be a short cut back to Falticeni, but which turned out to be a meandering drive through the hills in fading light.

On Monday, the map implied that there was a direct road connecting Humor and Arbore. We took the only turning in the village, which lead us along a good road, which gave way in turn to a good metalled road except over bridges, to an unmetalled road, to:
Road narrows

a point where the road was cordoned off because it ended in a sheer edge where the bridge had been completely removed, and beyond this point (by way of a ford) to a pair of closed metal gates.

It was a beautiful drive, from the broad river plain up into green hills strewn with haystacks and meadows thick with autumn crocuses, where geese wandered between the wooden houses with their elaborate metal roofs; there was something to look at for every yard of the ten miles of that dead end. And when we had retraced our route all the way back to Humor, we still couldn't see what other road we might have taken, nor identify on the map the road we had followed.

At dusk, the roads fill with pedestrians each leading a single cow - or at most, two.
shewhomust: (bibendum)
The lights on the pedestrian crossing count down, to warn you when the lights will be in your favour. When they are, move fast: the pedestrian symbol is running for dear life. The same signs display SO2 and NO2 status: "Normal", the day we were there.

Having failed to find the road up to the citadel, we had parked and set out on foot: it was easy, once we realised that the steps up to the citadel lead down.

Photos from Suceava.

At the café by the Citadel, we ate pizza again: it seems to be the default fast food. In Campulung Moldovenesc I had chosen Pizza Bucovina (because, how not?) but in Suceava one of the classic combinations, I don't remember which. Both times, tomato sauce had been listed as an ingredient, but arrived separately in a sauce boat, once in the form of ketchup, once as - how can I put this? - actual sauce made from actual tomatoes.
shewhomust: (bibendum)
For the first several days, we saw no cats: but there were small, quiet dogs prowling around the edges of public spaces, curious but wary, not unfriendly.

...

Later I discovered that this was yet another illustration of how much the regions of Romania vary. Suceava has cats. And Sighisoara has dogs who bark, in chorus, at some certain hour of the night.
shewhomust: (bibendum)
...on Saturday, as we crossed from Transylvania into Moldavia, the houses began to change. All along, there had been some wooden houses mixed in with the painted ones, but as we climbed into the mountains these began to dominate. But "wooden houses" covers a huge variety: painted, slatted, shingled, weathered, all kinds. Some looked like Swiss chalets, some had the decorative fretwork I associate with Southern Region railway architecture, others were Addams family Gothic, or swathed in arcades like something drawn by Escher.

Many were accompanied by a miniature version of themselves, in the garden or just outside the gate. It took me a while to work out what these were: too small for privies, surely, and too public. ("Tardis," said [livejournal.com profile] durham_rambler). The simplest were latticed, and some had a wheel on one side, which was a clue: these were the wells. Yet some could easily have been domestic shrines, their elaborate metal roofs all gables and finials and curlicues.

ETA photos of the well at the Village Museum in Suceava )

It was along this stretch of road, too, that we started seeing storks' nests, great circular platforms of twigs balanced on the tops of lampposts or telegraph poles. We never saw any sign of habitation, though.

ETA: The wooden architecture of Maramures

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