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The Rambling Family

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Romania

The worlds worst airport

We have just flown out of the worst airport in the world.  If you ever get the opportunity to fly from Bucharest to anywhere, pay extra to go out of the primary airport and NOT Baneasa.  Ridiculous.  There is a large round room, that’s it.  Approaching the airport there is no parking, just a drop off area and about 300 people loitering around on the grass with suitcases. Inside there is no semblance of organization when it comes to checking in…there are 6 desks and about 4 flights going out with people just mushing themselves (no lines) toward the desks.  We arrived to the airport early after an eventful day driving from Sighisoara in the heart of Transylvania to Bucharest.

The morning started well.  We slept in a bit, played, and made breakfast.  Last night we stopped at the grocery and got muffins, bread, and some other items.  Shopped a bit at the souve store down the road before getting loaded in the car.  Our first stop was the local Saturday market – we were on the people-watching trail.  It was quite lively, with lots of nice local produce, wicker crafts, and tons of baby peeps and ducks for sale.  We had to pry Zoe away from the chickens.  She really wanted one to raise and wondered why we couldn’t just bring it to Nan and Grandpa Joe’s house.  Back in the car we were taking a more direct road toward Bucharest, but through tiny villages and up over the mighty Fagaras mountains.  in our atlas the road appeared to be paved, but we (and by we I mean Bethany) drove about 30 km on dirt!  It was fun to go through the small towns one last time and see the amazing scenery, but Bethany had had it with the giant potholes.  As we approached the mountains, we were awed at the size.  They are huge!  It’s like a giant fortress – and the extreme elevation change is even more impressive than the alps because it’s not gradual.  Avi and Zoe had both fallen asleep in the the car for the trip, thank goodness as it took a while.  When we got to the town of Fagaras, though, they woke so we stopped for some lunch and visit to the local playground.  This town wasn’t super cute like the villages, but seemed quite nice. Zoe had fun playing with the local kids and Avi had fun playing and crawling in the grass.  It was good to burn some energy before getting back into the car and going up over the pass.  On the way we took a bit of a detour to a Bear preserve, but it was closed.  Bethany was sad because she has apparently never seen an actual Panda.  didn’t know that.  I was glad we tried to get there though, because the view was incredible.  Its in a large stream-lined valley near Bran with beautiful green hills to the north that lead to the Transylvanian farm lands and a huge wall of rocky mountain to the south protecting the valley.  I cannot say enough how incredible it is.

From there we had our final exit from Transylvania – up over the pass and back onto route 1 south into Bucharest.  The drive was uneventful.  At one point Avi got really hungry so we pulled over to some shop stands so I could nurse and Bethany could check out the wares.  As always, Zoe liked me to lounge back my passenger seat so she could play with my hair.  Back in Bucharest we made a stop at grocery store for some items, Zoe had a complete breakdown tantrum that originated with her not wanting her shoes on, and then we continued to the airport.

Baneasa airport is not labelled as such on the road – it is instead called Aurel Vlaicu – so we drove past it a few times before entering.  We still weren’t sure we were in the right place until Bethany spotted the car rental agent.  It’s been nice renting cars in Eastern Europe as they drop off and pick up wherever you want.  very cool.  We got some sandwiches at the only food available – Snack Cafe – and then went to the throng to checkin for our flight.  One of the airport workers must’ve seen my confusion trying to pick a counter, and he led us straight to the front of counter 1.  Apparentl it’s common for people with kids to cut. No one seemed shocked or mad about us cutting in front.  The next step was going past one of the two customs agents and then through security.  This actually went quite smoothly and we were looking forward to chilling out for an hour by our gate until we walked into the holding pen.  It was full of hundreds of people standing and camped out on the floor.  In a regular airport the space would be sufficient for one gate – one flight – but here there were 4-5 other flights all going out around the same time.  It was absolute chaos.  This airport could MAYBE handle one flight at a time, and certainly not the load they were attempting.  We camped on the floor by the stinky bathroom where Zoe watched Little Mermaid on the computer and Avi nursed the sleep.  Amazingly we heard the call for our flight and smushed ourselves into the gaggle of people heading toward the gate.  We were then ushered onto a bus which basically turned around to take us to an airplane that would’ve been quicker to walk to.  The busses opened and the hoard of people started loading onto the plane – a 737 – from the front and back with no direction.  Again with the chaos as folks in the middle tried passing others going from front to back or vice versa.   To my utter shock we took off only 10 minutes late.

The flight was uneventful and two hours later we landed at lovely, spottless,  amazingly German Koln airport promptly at 0113.  It took us about an hour to deplane, get our stuff, and get through customs.  There is a grocery in the airport so we stocked up on diapers and food for breakfast, then caught the 0313 train to Dusseldorf.  From the main train station we took a cab home.  It all went quite smoothly here in Germany.  The kids fell asleep on the plane, but woke for our time in the aiport and had some food with us.  Once we got them into the strollers on the train, though, they were out and even stayed asleep as we shoved them into the back of a cab and again crammed them into strollers for the elevator up to Bethany’s apartment. Bethany’s cats seemed happy to see us…and we quickly went to bed.

Today we slept in, did laundry, and went on a nice long bike ride / walk downtown to the May Day fest….it’s their Labor Day – which is still very much a celebration of labor partys or something like that.  Balloons, kid crafts and food made it quite the afternoon out.  A nice long afternoon nap and food delivery rounded out a tiring day.  It’s nice to be back.

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Sheep on the Road

Breakfast at an outdoor cafe in Sighisoara is an adventure. There are nice scruffy stray dogs vying for Zoe’s attention, people taking pictures of Dracula’s birthplace, and tables made from old treadle sewing machines. All outside in the nice sunny morning air. We had some crepes and then were off to see the church in the citadel up on the hill and the school that is adjacent. Instead of going up the main stairs we found some others leading through the field and thought we’d try that route. The stairs eventually led to a tiny trail and then petered out all together at the top where we had to hop over a low wall into the school yard. The local girls were out back having a smoke during break (everyone smokes here, it is really irritating) and laughed at us. Oh well, we made it and visited the church. Zoe enjoyed hearing the story of Jesus while we pretended to do church again. Avi road in the carrier on Bethany and had fallen asleep. On the way down the hill we went down the main route through a wooden coverd stairway to our car.

Todays’ adventure: explore the Transylvanian countryside. Outcome: success! We drove in a big loop today visiting the town of Biertan first. It’s fortified church is supposed to be one of the best, but we actually thought it was not as adventurous at the one at Viscri yesterday. It was a similar idea: 2 walls surrounding the church. The inner being used for storage and safety for the townsfolk. This one is a bit more touristy, though, and there are lights and safety rules. It was still really neat! Before going in we had lunch at a medieval restaurant – the atmosphere fit the bill. It smelled like wood-burning grilled meat, had huge chunky furniture and lots of echo-y space. The food, though, was not good. Undercooked meats, and an odd omelet. Luckily, we also had some basic soup and bread and filled up on that. It was raining outside, so this was a nice pit stop. Driving around Biertan was fun, too. It’s almost all dirt roads and they were now just all muddy, so Bethany put her driving skills to use.

From Beirtan we drove through lots of other villages on a scenic loop through Transvylanian countryside. The kids were worn out from all the steps and wandering at the church, so they fell asleep. Alot of dirt road and tiny villages. These are interesting places. The locals hang out front of their little home compounds and chat and whatch us go by. There are lots of chickens, donkeys, cows, horses, and goats all over the towns. Some tied up and some just wandering. There are also packs of roving dogs all over the place. On occassion we’ll pass a sheperd hearding his sheep on the hillside, but once a guy had is whole flock right in town. We had to wait while they all drank at the town spring and trough and wandered down the road past us. It is sometimes surreal and we feel like we’ve gone back in time to the middle ages, but then we notice the satellite dishes and the electric wires. Often, though, there are old ladies hauling buckets of water or a horse-cart pulling a young foal that really put into perspective the amazingly lush lives we lead back in the U.S. At one point we drove in one town in search of a wooden church as labeled on our tour map from the info office. We drove around a bit and after our second turn around the locals were all out trying to see what we were doing – keep in mind this is in a town of about 300. The first family we asked had no idea and then an old lady, who was taking a picture of us with her cell phone, came up to the window. We pointed to the icon on of the church and the description of it in the legend. She read it and said a bunch of something in Romanian. We caught that it was here…anymore….and something about pentecostal. hmm. Then she talked some more and we caught that she wanted to know where we were from, on hearing that it was the United States she got all excited and the young man with her seemed super excited to actually be witnessing the sight of American women. The old lady talked alot with fervor mentioning Chicago and Claudia. I guess she wanted to know if we met Claudia who lived there. Maybe Claudia used to be from this town? who knows. The lady was very nice and helpful. I’m sure the whole town will be buzzing about the two American’s with sleeping kids who would tell Claudia she said “hi” next time they were in Chicago. I’m sure that old lady has no concept of the size of a city like Chicago.

Another stop found us all (awaken the kids) hiking up the side of a mountain past some old run down houses and a muddy stinky barnyard-backyard trying to find an old-growth forest preserve. We hiked around for a while with no luck even after getting help from two separate guys. No idea where this was…the lonely planet directions sucked….but we had fun being out in the wet woods finding giant snails and being trailed by yet another pack of dogs Istanbul had Prides of Cats, Transylvania has Packs of Dogs.

Finshing our loop in Sighisoara, we stopped at the Penny Market to grab some food for dinner since we have the kitchen. Got ingredients for grilled cheese. Then we drove out of town to a little resort/hotel that does horseback riding. We had been hoping for a trail ride of some kind or a cart ride, but found out that Zoe was too young for a trail ride and the carts would be out on the main road. Carts on the road would be authentic…that’s where we’ve seen the most…but dangerous and not scenic. So, we opted for Zoe to just get a pony ride around the ring. We had to wait a bit and wandered over to a little sample-farm that had these crazy baby goats head butting each other and leaping off logs. Zoe loved feeding them grass. Avi loved the highland cow that licked his hands and he just belly laughed after watching the pig snort around and wag its tail. Too funny and a nice end to the day. Zoe’s pony ride was a hit! She road Negretsa – the black pony – and had fun patting her neck and feeding her dandelions. It was all just too cute. We raced dusk home and had a super late dinner. Bethany did a great job making grilled cheese on the open flame gassed up wood burning oven. She had a tiny cast iron griddle and two knives for flipping. She then got the kids to sleep quickly while I cleaned up. Can’t believe it’s our last night in a hotel on this adventure. Tomorrow will be tiring…so we’re going to attempt to sleep in. Checkout isn’t until noon. We’ll make our way back to Bucharest for a late late 10 pm flight to Koln and catch a 2am train to Neuss. Not the ideal situation, but it was the best option pricewise and timewise when we booked.

Sorry I haven’t posted pictures….the internet here has been patchy and we’ve been so busy it’s all I can do to type the blog before bed. Will do as soon as I can get a bit of time. That is hard to come by with two kiddo’s in a foreign country…even with Bethany’s incredible help. Go team pteranadon!

Siggy-what?

This morning we packed up our bags and left them stored at the guesthouse while we continued to explore Brasov. Our first stop was the interior of the Black church. For a change, it is a Lutheran church and way less ornate than the Orthodox ones we’ve been seeing, but had numerous Turkish rugs that were given to the parish as gifts. No pictures. Bummer. seems to be common. Zoe had a blast finding ‘our seat’ again…she chose number 33 since it matched the address for the guesthouse. We sat and sang a few songs. She loves to make up songs about what we’re doing….this one included lines like, “there is a dragon holding up the arch” and “singing for the organ; it is not on”. After that we pretended to open up books and read good things God told us to do. She said, “God taught us not to argue.” good lesson since she put up quite the fight when it was time to leave the guesthouse this morning. The last part of our little play-service was walking to all the giant pillars and touching the plaques. It was cute. Avi had fun walking around with Bethany checking out the paintings on the pews. Seems that people used to be assigned pew seats based on their talent guild.

When we left the church, the local schoolkids were all out playing. The school is right beside the church and it was so interesting and fun to see them on break just out and about…no fenced area, no worry about snatchers, no kids running off into town (at least that we saw). Zoe wanted to play too, and ran around a bit until she almost got trampled by some bigger boys. Avi squealed and kicked. He loves watching big kids run around and especially when people come at him. Our next stop was some late breakfast – we tried to find a cafe, but I really needed wifi. The only available was at McDonalds so we ate there an early lunch. The kids played in the tiny playplace with I checked email and got some details for our next stop.

To finish our tour of Brasov we walked along the old city wall along the Tampa mountain. It was really fun! Along the way, in the old watch towers are themed displays and artisans selling crafts. The first was a woodworker. Bethany and Zoe went in to see the items for sale and were then able to climb to the top of the tower and see all the woodworking supplies and a nice view. I waited out with Avi in the stroller. The next was a hunting – themed tower. Zoe and I went in to see all the taxiermy animals, and small hunting themed crafts. We climbed the stairs and then a ladder up to the top where we could see more displays about hunting attire and a great view. It was fun! The last tower was a rope-making theme. It was early afternoon by the time we got back to the guesthouse. We cleared out our stuff, took a quick trip to the local playground, and got in the rental car.

The kids fell asleep instantly as we made our way from Brasov to Sighisoara (siggy shora) by driving through the heart of Saxon Transylvania. The scenery was impressive – we decended out of the Fagaras mountains onto the high plataeu and rolling hills of farmland. There were way more horsecarts, old ladies in long dresses and scarves, and sheperds out with their flocks. Even the architecture changed – no more munsters homes, the ones here are small basic block homes with an attached courtyard entrance for the animals. They all seem to feature a dipped -down peak at the roof and come in a huge array of once-bright colors. Kind of a cross between Bavarian homes and those we saw in Tibet.

We took a nice detour along a rough dirt road to the town of Viscri – our first experience in a ‘Saxon’ town with a fortified church. These are the attraction here. Tiny agricultural towns with people from a German-Saxon heritage, and their old fortified churches. We’re still not exactly sure on what they were protecting themselves from….we think from the local Romanians, but also the Turks on occassion. Anyway, it’s amazing to see an old church protected behind 2 huge walls. The one at Viscri was incredible and we could climb all over everything! Some places were certainly not safe, and at one point we were a bit nervous about the stability of the hundreds-year old wood floors we were on. The church has an outside wall and then another inside wall that is also made up of rooms on the inside. Winding in and out of these we found all kinds of old artifacts from daily life – spinning looms, clothes, a “Saxon bed” (it’s a single bed that is about 5 feet off the ground with a pull-out drawer containing a lower bed), and lots of other farm stuff. Very cool. Zoe had a blast climbing the stetchy ladders to the top of the wall to look out and Avi loved the cold wind that blew over the top. He squealed at it. Inside the church was the highlight, though. It was so old, with old wooden benches, and an old balcony. The crazy part, though, was the trek up the bell tower. We walked up two flights of stone stairs through what seemed like a cave and then up 3 flights of very open very falling apart very shaky wooden stairs up to the tower. THEN, out on the tower balcony onto the super old wooden slatted landing. Zoe was a bit wigged out, and felt alot better with Bethany helping her along. It even made me nervous to walk on – worried about the woods integrity and ability to hold me while I held Avi. Whew! back inside we made our way down and out. I had to visit the, ahem, facilities – a true outhouse. Then we drove out of town, past all the chickens and horses and people hoeing their yards, and back onto the main paved road to Sighisoara.

We got here late in the afternoon and checked into our guesthouse. We are staying with the Casa Legenda Pensiune (pension), but in a separate apartment called the Grandma’s House. I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect when I booked it, but it has turned out wonderfully! There is a large bedroom with two double beds, a single, and a sitting area, then a dining area with a table and couch, a hallway kitchen, and full bathroom. It’s amazingly old. The furnishings are a mix of antiques and old odd things a grandma would have. The heat is in old wood burning stoves that have been modded out with gas….stetchily put in. The old wood burning stove has also been converted to gas. When the owner showed me around she turned on the heater in the bedroom and then in the kitchen she turned on a burner and put on the cover, but opened the little door at the front to let out the heat and expose the flame, “for the baby” she said. I said thanks. I know she meant to heat up the place since we had young ones, so I left it until she was gone and then promptly closed the Avi-eye level open door with flames and shut off the gas to the burner. I guess kids used to have to figure out quick what was hot and not. It’s a fun little funky place to be.

This evening we wandered around the town. Our place is up on top of the hill inside the old Citadel. So, it’s inside the wall of a former fortress or walled city. There are a few churches and a couple hundred homes all scrunched in and on top of each other. As dusk and then dark came it was fun to walk along the old wall, see the old buildings, explore the side streets, and walk across the town square. The hightlight is, of course, the birthplace of Vlad Tepes, later known as Vlad Dracul or Vlad the Impaler. Yep. Dracula himself was born here. We are, after all, in Transylvania! So, we decided to visit his birthplace by dining at the restaurant that know occupies the home. Our guesthouse also provided a 25% off card. They have the tone set in their – dark colors, dark wood, ornate decor, and a fancy-but-gothic vibe. However, they were playing crazy 80’s pop tunes like Yes and Aha. The food was expensive and not that awesome, but it was fun to eat there regardless. We all had a soup with bread and a few side dishes. It wasn’t crowded so Avi ate his mush and then crawled around a bit. One hassle about travelling has been the utter lack of high chairs at any restaurant – we’ve only encountered one so far in the McDonalds in Istanbul. Both he and Zoe did pretty well at the restaurant, but were sleepy by the end. Zoe was lounging on the seat cushions and Avi started to fuss as we left and walked back along the cobbled hill street to Grandma’s House.

Transylvania!

Our overnight train trip last night went well. It was such a fun old kath-thunk-a-thunk train that it lolled the kids to bed quickly. The train got super hot so at some point we opened the berth door to let in some cool air and it felt much better. This, of course, woke Avi who cooed and babbled and wanted to be awake. After a bit an attendent walked by and we mimicked fanning ourselves and pointed to the heater. He seemed to understand and went down the hall. The room slowly cooled off and we all went back to sleep. Bethany and I were awoken around 2am for the passports, but it went quickly. The Bulgarians came by and stamped them in the train, a few minutes later the Romanians came by and took our passports. After about 10 minutes he returned them…and another American guys, but we gave that back to him. I then asked the grumpy attendant with pointy talky if he wakes us for our stop at Bucharest and he mummbled something, mimed knocking, and then said, “sleep sleep” so I went to sleep. In the morning we had a kock at the door and the guy yelled, “Bucharest, five minutes” WHAT!!?? With a lot of hustle we made it off the train. Zoe was so tired…she doesn’t like being woken suddenly…but she did so good. Once on the platform we plopped them into the strollers and headed into Bucharest Nord train station.

We had some time before getting the rental car and were starved since we didn’t get the chance to eat our packed breakfast on the train. The first thing we saw were the golden arches, so McDonalds here we come. Zoe woke enough to eat some of a muffin and eggs. Avi was bright eyed and happy, but Bethany and I were dragging. No hair brushing, no teeth brushing. yuck. The rental car guy said to meet him out front and after some calls back and forth we found him and got into our kind of run down white chevy aveo. Driving in Bucharest is not as insane and rude as Sofia, but there aren’t very many lights so at intersections people just line up in crazy ways until they all get the gumption to go. We drove in a direction that seemed ‘out of town’ for a while until finding a petrol station and getting an atlas. There was also a nice guy at the station that gave me some direction. Overall, Bucharest seemed nice and liveable. Drivers appeared to be polite and there are a lot of modern construction projects going on. After an hour driving around we were finally on route 1 north toward Sinaia. Avi fell asleep promptly in the car – he again has a forward facing seat. This time it’s blue checks and old school with a metal frame. Seems comfy for him. Zoe has a baby blue seat similar to hers at home. Though she was so tired, she would not fall asleep during our 2 hour drive She enjoys rolling the window down with her foot, and keeps asking if we are on the freeway. The rule is that the windows are up on the freeway and can be down in town if we are slow. The ‘freeway’ here has two lanes in either direction with infrequent lights, but also people turning onto it…so more like a parkway back home. As we drove north the scenery changed alot. From city, to flat farmland, to rolling hills, to mountains with winding streams.

Once we got to the town of Sinaia we followed signs for Peles Castle. This was Carol I’s summer palace and also has the Pelsinor Castle – the next Queen Marie’s summer castle – on the same grounds. They are from the 1800’s but designed in an older style with open timbers, lots of wooden decoration, and cool turrets. Very awesome looking, but quite different. The inside of Peles Castle is super ornate, almost to the point of being gawdy with huge golden everything, lots of wooden carving, and ornate decor. super fancy. Both kids struggled with the tour of Peles. Zoe was tired and complaining. She rode my back for a bit until Avi completely lost it, and then Bethany carried her until she fell asleep. I took Avi and it was obvious he needed to nurse. I tried to hold him off with the pacifier, but that wouldn’t happen. SO, I nursed and walked. Great. Nothing like nursing a baby while touring a castle. He was quick and I kept as discreet as possibly at the back of the blob of people. I tried to hide behind Bethany most of the time, but of course there were fancy mirrors that the guide would direct people to look at and who was there? me! yippee. Not that you can see my boob or anything, but it’s just not a normal sight – woman nursing while walking in a castle isn’t on everyones list of photo ops. Avi was super happy when he was done and enjoyed the rest of the castle. We plopped down on some grass after the tour to feed him real food and let him crawl around, then went to the Pelsinor castle. Both Bethany and I preferred this one. It was smaller, more intimate, and we got to see the bedrooms that all had very unique floor plans with built in areas, platform areas, nooks for desks, and balconies. It was also not crazy ornate but decorated in art nouveau style. different and fun. We each toured separately so one could stay with the kids. Zoe was asleep in the stroller and Avi needed to play. Funny, though, we both picked the same bedroom as our favorite. It was the governesses room.

Back in the car we drove on to Brasov. We were up in the Transylvanian mountains now. It’s gorgeous passing small towns built into the valleys along the river. The architecture is unique – there are lots of tiny houses each with their own ‘munsters’ style edifice. The square turret is popular even on one story shacks. When we got to Brasov we drove to the old town area – our guesthouse was inside the original city walls. It took a lot of circling to find a parking spot. We are staying in Rinda’s Room – a room at an American’s house that she fixed up for guests. It’s great. She’s been here for 10 years! The kids will each share a bed with me and Bethany. In the late afternoon we walked about the old town. The town looks a bit more modern than the tiny villages we’ve been driving through, but still very old….very European looking. We saw the famous Black church and found the main square where we had dinner. Bethany tried the “Brasov Special” and it was delicous. A bunch of meat and spices in a schlopp of some kind on potatoes. So far it was the best Romanian food we’ve had. Otherwise the foods been bland and plane – meat, potatoes, cabbage. nothing special. Zoe enjoyed chasing and feeding all the birds in the square and Avi just squealed watching her. Back at the guesthouse the guest played in the nice garden for a while til it got a bit dark out and cold. We went inside and got them each a nice long bath. They were filthy. Then it was off to bed. Bethany and I then went up to visit with Rinda for an hour or so. It was very nice.

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