Friday, 19 December 2014

Project Botoşani+Cernăuţi

I’ve been dreaming to get to one of Romania’s northernmost cities ever since I was a child (the thought of those harsh, snow-filled winters was always there… in a corner of my mind… and then there was that thought of getting caught in a snow storm for days… crazy, I know, but this is me). And Cernăuţi was a part of the plan, too, long before the sad events in Ukraine. So, I thought I’d still give it a go.
Day 1 quickly turned into Day 0 due to some issues with the car brakes and to the glazed frost that unexpectedly hit Braşov and the surroundings.

Day 1:
The early start was not that early either and… following a pretty tricky, icy, snowy, and rainy road to Târgu Secuiesc and a 2-hour stop in Oneşti, the journey a.k.a. the last getaway of the year was officially on.
Sturdza Castle: Mesmerised
First stop – Sturdza Castle in Miclăuşeni, a beautiful piece of late nineteenth-century Neo-Gothic architecture I’d seen in the wedding pictures of two of my closest friends. The castle domain was enchanting with the carpet of yellowish leaves soft under our feet. However, the castle was not open for visits. It was explained to us that it is usually closed during their so-called winter schedule, between November and February, a piece of information I hadn’t found on any of the websites consulted for the trip.
The road continued in the northern part of Iaşi County, along frozen lakes and the sunny hills of Cotnari Vine Estate. And then, here it was. The official welcome to Botoşani County. No trees (there used to be a primeval forest in the area in very old times). And now, it actually looked more like the Scottish Highlands than Romania.
As the sun set and darkness took hold, Rădeni Village was hardly perceivable. Perched on a mellow hill – like almost all settlements in the region –, it did not provide the visit to the local wine cellar or a traditional supper at the (famous?) local inn, but it did make sure to get us acquainted with the calm and welcoming tone of the locals.
Passing through Frumuşica [The Beautiful One]… I recalled the legends that talked about the amazing beauty of all the women in the village, so famous for it that even Stephen the Great had been bedazzled by the charms of the local innkeeper back in the day.
In the end, we got to our home for the following 3 days and 2 nights: Conacul Zăiceşti [150 lei/double room/night; breakfast included] – an old boyar home, beautifully decorated, with spacious rooms and a feel of old Moldavian times you’d only experience in history books. Aaaah… and the staff… Aaaah… and the food… That was probably the greatest pasta dish I had in my life. And it was so inexpensive. Ah well, one lavish and lazy evening…      

Day 2:
The excellent breakfast was followed by a fast trip to Siret and then… the trip continued into Ukraine. No hassle. The grey feel, the damaged roads, and the crowds in a hurry at the outskirts of Cernăuţi [I chose to use its Romanian name in this article] were soon replaced by cobblestone, beautiful rows of pastel-coloured buildings, and narrow streets.
The decision was made fast: Hotin Fortress [Opening times: 9-17 (winter); 10-18 (summer)] would be the first stop. And – I’m still laughing – in spite of those inexistent signs, we did manage to reach it. A word of caution: Do not rely on using Lei or Euros or on speaking Romanian. Have Hryvnia on you. You will need to pay the parking lot at the fortress (30 UAH), the admission fee (10 UAH (students); 30 UAH (adults)), and you may want to have a look at those beautifully-crafted souvenirs or have a glass of mulled wine if visiting in winter.
Stara Fortetsya in Kamianets-Podilskyi was the next stop. Unfortunately, as it shares the same opening times with Hotin Fortress, its gates closed right before us. It got us the chance to see it light against the cloudy November sky, a view I’d never forget…
…the same way I couldn’t let go of my affinity for Ukrainian vodka, natural juice, and chocolates… a bunch of which I bought for myself and for my friends in a local store and was again delighted by the friendliness and openness of the people. A taste of a French éclair later and I was transposed back in time, first to a cake shop in Gori, Stalin’s birthplace, where I had also savoured one… and then to my childhood years. I’m at times at a loss of words when long-lost matching scents or tastes invade my life.
Returning to Cernăuţi at one point, we found the centre extremely crowded, lacking parking spaces, and decided to search for a restaurant to have dinner closer to the border. As they did not accept Lei and as we did not have UAH anymore, we ended up having very late dinner in Suceava [tocinei – a quite yummy Bukovynian dessert made of potatoes – included]. And I fell asleep in the car, in the end.

Day 3:
I knew that there were some very old trees left of the primeval forest I was telling you about at the beginning of the article. So, I went looking for them right after the very tasty omelette I had for breakfast. In Cristeşti. I met a very nice lady inviting me to her courtyard to see an ash that was 450 years old. I found some more old trees (ash + oak) in the courtyard of the village church, together with a very friendly black cat.
Sonia Iacinschi's Workshop
The search for medieval times continued with the old bridge at Coşula, of which, surprisingly, very few of the locals had heard. The first stone bridge had been built in 1503, in the times of Stephen the Great, in that exact spot.
Botoşani was the next stop. As it was Monday and as most of Botoşani County’s museums are closed on that day, so was the memorial house of my favourite historian, Nicolae Iorga.
Luckily, we did find Ceramist Sonia Iacinschi’s Workshop, next to ‘Vasilache’ puppet theatre, open, went in for a very special and private tour and bought some very beautiful pieces of Kuty Ceramics (having its origins in the fourteenth century).
The last leg of our journey took us to Ipoteşti, the native village of our greatest poet, Mihai Eminescu. We visited his house [Opening times: 9-17 (15.05.-15.09.) & 8-16 (16.09.-14.05.); Admission fee: 1 leu (students); 4 lei (adults)] and were then encouraged to follow the sign for 2.5 km by car and then walk for 15’ to the water lily-lake where the poet would spend the time and write part of his most beloved poetry.

The journey back to Braşov (we were in a hurry to get to our weekly pub quiz and meet our friends) was filled with snow and cold that peaked in Sfântu-Gheorghe. To somehow make up for the lack of white registered during the trip. J   

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

A mai trecut un an…

Să zic că l-am simţit sau că nu? A fost un an tricky, în care m-am simţit testată şi pusă la încercare din atât de multe puncte de vedere...
De câteva luni însă, cu toate lucrurile care au început să se lege, simt o şi mai mare fericire înăuntrul meu. În sfârşit, am finalul pe care-l visez de cam 4 ani. Zâmbesc cu atât de multă forţă şi nonşalanţă, sunt atât de relaxată şi de încrezătoare în ce va fi, că şi mie-mi vine uneori să-mi trag o ciupitură şi să mă asigur că nu visez.
Până una-alta, e un final şi un nou început. În forţă, alături de cei pe care-i iubesc şi care mi-au demonstrat în repetate rânduri că locul lor este lângă mine.
Aşadar, pe lângă fulgii aceştia pe care mi i-am dorit atât de mult, realizez că am tot ceea ce îmi doresc şi că de la „tot ce îmi doresc”-ul meu pot continua să construiesc mai mult şi mai mult, având o bază bună.
I have a dream... to travel all around the world, to make a difference, to turn the beings I love happy... J

Friday, 5 December 2014

Ukraine. Reversed

As I crossed the border back into Romania without any of the customs officers inventing funny bases to ask for a small bribe, I realised that some of the stories connected to this part of Ukraine were indeed urban legends: only a bunch of people spoke Romanian and none accepted payment in lei.
Always remember this when in Chernivtsi: while you’re driving on paving stone, you’re safe and close to the centre. On the way back from Kamianets-Podilskyi, I remembered the rows of lit reindeer, subtler to the eye as we approached the former Bukovynian capital in a very eager attempt to have a proper evening meal.
Red is the norm
As the darkness crept in, it got some human touch, too. Namely the conversations that were necessary to buy biscuits, chocolates, natural juice, and vodka [which is, in my opinion, the best I’ve ever tasted]. It reconnected me to the kindness of Ukrainians... a kindness that had always been there, hanging like an extra discussion member, or at least these were my experiences in Ukraine. Talk about an extra smile when you buy vodka and you’re given chocolates as a ‘thank you for your purchase’ gesture. The big wow that meant glimpsing over Kamianets-Podilskyi Castle, a former Ruthenian-Lithuanian castle, with first records of it going back to the 14th century, will stay with me forever. I’m thankful for seeing its gates close before me, as this clearly meant brighter red towers perched against the evening sky.

The dry cold air @Khotyn
Letting go of my new-found friend, a quite chubby puppy I cuddled and fed, was a bit hard, I admit. It’ll go along every memory accompanying the tens of minutes spent at Khotyn Fortress, inside the walls that had seen so much and on the steps that had probably also guided important Romanian rulers. At least Ştefan cel Mare [Stephen the Great] was there – or it’s what I’d like to believe –. And he got the same incredible view of the clear and silent [for now] Dniester River. Going round the parking lot equalled a quick view over the traditional items sold: some carved, others painted, but all colourful and beautiful. By the time the trip to the local ATM had been completed and the admission and parking fees paid, it was already clear that the Ukrainian hryvnya was the currency and that I would probably get to see Kamianets-Podilskyi Castle as well, which made me quite happy.
Sunday in Chernivtsi: hmmm, a bit tricky. Crowded; people shopping; no road signs. Luckily, we always seemed to be on the right road. Colours of the city centre had replaced the grey of the suburbs, a colour I often associate to Ukraine because I had twice seen it in winter and only once in summer. ‘Beautiful’, I thought, ‘rows of colourful old buildings making your drive as spectacular and as curiosity-driven as it might get’.
A series of small villages and towns dotted on the way to Chernivtsi and their names stood as evidence to the fact that it used to be Romanian soil. I was not trying to make propaganda, not even in my heart, but I always feel connected to the parts of the land that are no longer Romanian – even if they had not been Romanian from the beginning of time –, because I do love my country a lot and exploring these lost territories makes me go full circle. The ‘Why’s at the border crossing reminded me of other such questions uttered by border control officers in Bosnia and Moldova. ‘I’m travelling and visiting places! Is it that hard to believe?’—I just wanted to pour the words out. There are conflicts, I know, but given the immensity of the country, it’s as safe a travel as one would get.
This reminds me of the reasons I haven’t told many people that I was travelling to Ukraine. I foresaw the questions, the doubts, the insecurity. And I didn’t want to go there. As reality almost always wins over what is shown on TV – and I’ve witnessed this a lot over the past two years –, I imagined southern Ukraine to be a sanctuary where people would normally get on with their lives even if conflicts are lurking. And even if people do not deserve them.    

Monday, 24 November 2014

Şi, până la urmă, ce este un broch?

Acum vreo 11 luni, scriam aşa-- „un broch este o construcţie tubulară, fără ferestre, cu scop de apărare, ce se întâlneşte doar pe teritoriul Scoţiei de azi şi care datează de prin Epoca Fierului.” Iar experţii consideră că prestigiul de a fi locatarii acestor structuri se poate să fi fost la fel de important ca securitatea pe care structurile o ofereau.
Poate că a venit vremea să adaug un mănunchi de informaţii, având în vedere că numărul de broch-uri explorate de mine a ajuns anul acesta la 4 [un număr mult prea mic, dacă e să ne gândim că sunt peste 500 de astfel de construcţii, în ruine, evident, pe întreg teritoriul scoţian].

  1. Dun Carloway
Recunosc, am dezvoltat o fascinaţie ascunsă pentru aceste construcţii. Îmi par aşa, că stau la graniţa dintre mistic şi zorii istoriei înregistrate, deci pline de semnificaţii.
Aşa se explică nerăbdarea cu care am colindat Insula Lewis, într-o dimineaţă ploioasă [şi vântoasă] de octombrie, pentru a-l găsi. [Să nu uit să vă spun că în vestul Scoţiei, cazul Hebridelor Interioare şi Exterioare (de faţă), broch-urile sunt denumite „dun”.]
Construit între anii 1200 şi 550 î.e.n., Dun Carloway este unul dintre cele mai bine păstrate broch-uri din întreaga Scoţie. De la o margine la alta, ruinele măsoară 15m şi aproape 9m în înălţime.    

  1. Dun Beag
Sau „Broch-ul cel mic”, aflat la 1 km NV de cochetul sat Struan de pe Insula Skye, pe un deal.
Nu este nici pe departe la fel de impresionant ca Dun Carloway, cu zidurile atingând o înălţime maximă de 2m, însă este o apariţie cel puţin prin privelişte. De remarcat este faptul că săpături au scos la iveală monede din epoci istorice mai recente, aşa că se presupune că Dun Beag a fost locuit până mai de curând.

  1. Broch of Gurness
Ne îndreptăm spre nord, de această dată, mai exact Insulele Orkney. Pe coasta nord-vestică a mainland-ului stă această structură. Este diferită de cele două construcţii din Vest, menţionate anterior. Prin aceea că deţinea un fel de structură adiacentă a unui sat [care, se presupune, este aşezarea cel mai bine conservată dintre toate de acest tip].
Zidurile, în starea lor actuală, ating 4.10m înălţime şi au fost descoperite morminte vikinge din secolul al IX-lea, tot aici.

  1. Broch of Clickimin
Pentru ultimul nostru popas de azi, mergem şi mai la nord, pe Insulele Shetland. Unde se găseşte şi cel mai bine păstrat broch din lume, Mousa. Şi izolarea insulei îşi spune cuvântul. Din păcate, eu nu am apucat să îl văd, dar am vizitat şi ascultat mărturii interesante despre un alt broch. Controversat de-a dreptul. Şi situat chiar în capitala arhipelagului shetlandez, Lerwick.
Asemeni broch-ului Gurness, şi acest broch prezintă o structură ranforsată, să-i zicem, de apărare. Sub forma unui fort de piatră ce-l înconjoară. Prin ce este el controversat, până la urmă? Prin pietrele de diverse origini, pe care oamenii ce l-au descoperit au hotărât să le utilizeze pentru a-i conferi construcţiei un aspect estetic, cu toate că ale lor cunoştinţe de arheologie şi arhitectură nu prea coincideau cu stadiul iniţial al lucrării. Astfel, vizitându-l, te simţi cumva păcălit şi amuzat în acelaşi timp, în afara sentimentelor de „wow” ce te cuprind când te gândeşti la numărul de ani pe care-l duce în spate.