Friday, 20 December 2019

July in Romania

Summer sunset over La Mola from Sabadell.
The outskirts of Sabadell - not all factories.
Montserrat seen from Sabadell - closer than you think!
April was over and so was the Easter Break - but all things must come to an end, even the good things. Although I was back at work, the feeling that I was left after visiting the Czech Republic was still there and making me feel so glad that I was there. Knowing things end helps you cherish good moments when they happen as well as being able to let go of bad things when they happen. Finding happiness is not always about being in one 'happy place,' but having found little places along the way that add up to a happy state of being. Before I knew it, May had come and gone and the end of June was on the horizon too - time really can fly! I'm not even sure what I did in these 2 months other than work and keep my head down, looking forward to Summer and Romania. I managed a few small walks around Barcelona as well as Sabadell before I left my my usual summer camp gig in Romania for July, as although I was coming back, it would be a little and when I did come back, I wasn't sure where I would be living. I used the late sunsets and warm sunshine to walk around the outskirts of my city, walking by myself and making my own way, find paths here and there, not following a route, getting lost and finding myself again. The best way to explore. Sabadell may not be be most beautiful city, the best place to live, but it does have something and I like being here. I not a needy or greedy person and need very little to be happy most of the time.

Colourful fountains in front of Parliament.
Sunset in Bucharest.
Chilling in Bucharest.
Rabbit in Sabadell.
The end of June came quickly, work was finished, and flights were booked for Bucharest once again. This would be my third time in the country, working as a teacher at a summer camp for Romanian kids. Some people ask me "Why Romania?" and although it's not a bad question, the answer is simply "Why not?" For the most part, Romania is an undiscovered country, there aren't many tourists and it generally feels fresh, untouched and a little bit like a trip into what Europe was like 50 years ago - all in a good way. Where else can you see a horse and cart trotting down the road, people farming and collecting hay by hand in the traditional way and the real village life - and it not being a museum or actors dressing up for tourists in fabricated town. The school I work for there is good, they look after me and I enjoy working with the team and the teachers, as well as the great kids that come every year. There is that side of it, but apart from that there is the fact that I'm in an absolutely stunning part of the World. I always enjoy my time in Romania and I feel that working here at this cam is very much an all-inclusive paid for holiday (although I do work hard!). I landed in Bucharest at a reasonable hour this year, the first year I landed at around 2am due to lack of flights and delays, so it was nice to get picked up at the airport (yes they provide a driver too), whisked away to my hotel room to chill and change before going out for dinner with my teaching buddies. I've been to Bucharest 3 times now, so to be honest, there isn't much more to see that's new to me, but there is always something different. I got the chance to wander around a huge green space in the city centre, the Parcul Natural Văcărești. This vast area is 190 hectares of wetland not far from the main part of the city - it was originally meant to be a water reservoir during the Ceaușescu era, but now there is a basin with sloped concrete sides and everything in the centre is just green. Around this area there are tall apartment buildings, but there is a path that you can walk on right through this city green space and there is supposed to be a lot of wildlife and plants to see, but I didn't have the time unfortunately.

Rasnov Fortress.
Home away from home in the Romanian mountains.
Simply stunning!
Beautiful no matter the weather.
Before I knew it, our time in the capital had come to an end and it was time to drive North to the mountains and the summer camp. The drive isn't anything special, and there is usually a lot of traffic too, but the destination was exciting. This would be the 2nd year at the same camp, but I was happy as the views are spectacular there, the hotel staff are friendly and the hotel itself backs onto forest. It's quiet, beautiful and as relaxing as you're going to get with 60 kids running around. The traffic was horrendous on the drive up, party due to an accident, maybe also made worse by horse and carts on the road, but mainly because there isn't any sort of highway North, only a small, single carriageway road. The only real highway is from the capital of the country to Constanta on the Black Sea coast, sadly not north into the mountains even though there should as many people spend holidays up here and is popular with tourists (Bran castle is up here). We finally made it, driving through the town of Siniai along the way, past Rasnov fortress, then up the small, gravel road that leads all the way to the hotel. It was strange being back, the familiar feeling of it, yet I was very happy to be back, to get my old room and the view of the mountain that I would be looking at every day for the next month. A home away from home. We were greeting by the hotel staff and the hotel dog Gressie, a monstrous Carpathian Shepherd Dog who is as friendly and good with kids as she is big and lazy. We settled in, had dinner and relaxed with a beer or two and watch the sunset from the terrace. The kids were coming the next day so it was nice to have some 'adult' time. I knew the coming 4 weeks were going to be busy, with 55 odd kids a week, classes, reports to write, outings on buses and taking lots of photos of the day-to-day life on camp, as well as breakfast lunch and dinner with the kids. I love it.

The evening show... no need for tv here.
Ever changing and never dull.
The hotel dog Gressie.
Romanian traffic jam.
The work was going well and the kids were fantastic too. My mind still boggles at these Romanian children and how they speak so much English! They communicate freely with us, about their lives, ask questions about ours, grasp new language and accents as well as talk about the bigger picture in life. It's not just about English, these kids are so mature and sensible, so aware and interested in the World around them (thank you parents!) that you can't help but have a good time here and enjoy teaching. As good as all this is, when Saturday comes round and they leave (always a bit sad), it's time for some 'me' time and to do some hiking and get out of the hotel and away from people. Last time I did this last year, I walked right into a storm and rescued 3 kittens from drowning in a river. What was in stall for me this time? I packed my bag with some water, some snacks and my camera, jumped into my boots and headed off alone to see where my feet would take me - the sun was shining and the weather warm... perfect. I hiked along the ridge behind the hotel, admiring the pure beauty of this place, even though I'd been here and done this part of the walk many times. Romania in Summer is just bursting with life and colour all around - bees and flowers, lush green grass and fat cows munching, the berries on the trees and he warm breeze. There is nowhere like it. My walk took me past where I'd gone before and along some small, gravel roads and up to the next ridge, past old and crooked wooden houses, yards with goats and chickens, and very, very few people. I was happy, taking photos and walking in silence. There is nothing to fear here, no worries of getting lost, being chased off someone's land, falling or anything in this soft rolling landscape. The only worry is coming across a not-so-friendly dog. This can happen and did this time - I stood my ground and he charged over at me, barking his warning, but was pulled back and apologised for by a young shepherd girl. I continued on my walk, watching people making hay piles by hand, milking animals, just like it has been going on for decades if not centuries, all the while surrounded by beautiful countryside and the ever-present mountain. I headed downhill, towards the town, aiming to meet up with some friends for a beer after a long and hot walk. The town, Zarnesti, isn't exactly on the tourist trail, and is very quiet, yet still beautiful that only Romanian towns can do. Every house is painted brightly and has large, decorated gates which lead into well-tended gardens, the streets were void of traffic and bustle, with only a few cars and carts, and all along the street were pretty lampposts. You can always see a church or two in Romania, no matter where you are, and here was no exception. Although the town isn't much to see and is quite small, it was very pretty and nice to walk through.

Breathtaking views everywhere.
On top of the ridge.
Zarnesti and the mountains.
Time was ticking away and before I knew it, the camp was nearly over. The weekend weather hadn't been great to be honest, and apart from that one hike, I wasn't able to do much. I did revisit Brasov, my favourite place in Romania, and also take a drive to Sighișoara and spend an afternoon there, but like always, there isn't enough time for all the things you want to do, especially when you also have a job to do. I consider myself very lucky to get the opportunity to come here and work in such an amazing place - not to mention live and work in Spain. I sometimes wonder how life could have been different - if I'd never become a teacher, never came to Romania or met the people you meet along the way. What if I'd stayed in Australia and worked and lived a 'normal' life? I never regret what I've done, and that's the way it should be, but I am always excited about what will come in the future, yet I also try and live as much as I can in the moment to enjoy the 'now.' Plan and prepare for the future, remember and cherish the past but live in the present.

Car pooling, Romanian style.
The most beautiful view in the World
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UncleTravellingMatt. July 2019.

Wednesday, 4 December 2019

Cesky Krumlov Love

Welcome to Cesky Krumlov!
Czech sunsets.
One of the most beautiful towns in Europe.
With our holiday in the Czech Republic nearly over, I was feeling was a little sad. But before going home, I thought a visit to one of my favourite places in Europe, and definitely in the CR, was in order. This place is Cesky Krunmov, a town 170 kms and about 2 hours south of the capital by car. We were still staying with my friend Teresa in Hradek and we decided to all go down together in the car and stay for 2 days. She had a gig doing some acting down there for a local festival and I wanted to go back and see this stunning town, so it was perfect. After she finished work on Friday, we packed the car and left. There was hardly any traffic and we got there just as it was getting dark, so we checked into our accommodation and chilled and went to sleep, ready for the next day of exploring. Before I talk about the town or what I saw I have to say a few things about the Czech Republic that I found weird but very cute and interesting. The first thing on this list is the sleeping arrangements they have there - if you have a double bed, as most couples do, you normally have a double (or Queen) cover to fit the bed, and you both sleep under it... but not here! People here like to have their own cover, so most double beds here have 2 covers... to prevent duvet stealing during the cold Winter? I asked about it and they think we're weird by only having one! Something else I found weird, but cute, was the fact that everyone leaves their shoes outside their front door, even in a a block of flats. Everyone also has a shoe horn there to help them with this little ritual. Food-wise, there are many things to enjoy here, but you should put the following things on the list if you want the real experience: 1. Trdelnik and 2. Goulash in bread. The first one, which is hard to pronounce, is a sweet that is sort of cooked like kebab meat, on a big, metal spit. It's a kind of bread but very sweet as it's basically just rolled dough covered in sugar and a walnut mix. It's traditionally sold at markets, but Prague and Cesky Krumlov being tourist towns, you'll see them everywhere here - just be warned that you will probably need some help to finish this large, sweet treat! Beef Goulash is delicious anytime, but at wintertime especially. Here is it traditionally served in a bowl of bread too - yes, the bowl is edible! Eat the soup, with pieces of your bowl, but be careful you don't get too greedy and munch too much of the bread too soon!
Spring time!
Wander the streets, discover something new.

Traditional Trdelnik - a must if you visit!
Easter eggs - Czech style!
The car journey was fairly uneventful and we arrived in the city just as the sun was setting. I wasn't able to see any of the castle or the tower, just dark streets. Our accommodation had already been organised by Teresa and we were staying in a monastery. This wasn't any old monastery, it was a very old one - 14th Century to be exact! Built in 1350 and first inhabited by monks 7 years later, who were later joined by nuns in 1361, it has gone restorations, additions, updates and finally in 2014 was restored completely to its current, beautiful state. We got a great tour given by Teresa, who explained the history and even some sad but interesting stories that happened within the same walls that we were staying in. The most famous story known here is one of a priest who fell in love with a nun. The two sides of the monastery are separated to keep the nuns and the priests meeting in corridors, but there are many secret passage ways throughout the building. This is one of the things that lead to the love affair of these two - they met and fell in love. When the higher authorities discovered this affair, they told the priest that she had died. So distraught with the news, he decided to end his own life. Just like Romeo and Juliet, he she wasn't actually dead but at the news of his death, she followed suit, thus ending their short love story. This story is a legend, possibly true, but the next story is fact. A man called Julius Caesar lived in Cesky Krumlov with his wife, who he'd had enough of and decided to kill her. One day he pushed her out the window, hoping to get rid of her once and for all, but she survived the fall, and made her way to her family. He marched up to her family's house and demanded her back. He made threats and finally threatened to arrest her father instead, so she eventually went back to him. Not surprisingly, all was not forgiven and Julius ended up murdering his poor wife and chopping her up into small pieces and even went as far as painting her bedroom with her blood. I don't know how it ended, if he got caught by the authorities or not, but they are both buried at the monastery.

City streets.
The best viewpoint in the city is no secret.
Take away only memories, leave only footprints.
Krtek and friends.
Český Krumlov, although only small, is a stunningly beautiful town. Situated in the southern Bohemian region of the country, it sits on a bend in the Vltava River and surrounded by lush, green Czech countryside. Its main feature and tourist attraction is the castle, but the historic centre was also made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1992, at the same time as Prague Castle. It was founded in 1240 by nobles and the fortress first mentioned in 1253, but I won't go into detail here and it only involves names of people that I've never heard of before. The important thing is that during the communist era, the town fell into disrepair, but after the revolution (1989) it was restored and has now become a huge tourist attraction, for Europeans as well as Chinese and Korean tourists. Asian tourist have flocked to Prague and Cesky Krumlov more and more lately, not just due to its beauty, but because of the Czech Republic's famous 1950s cartoon character Krtek. This character, a small, black mole with a bright red nose, has adventures with his woodland friends and for some reason is now very popular with Koreans. Souvenirs of 'Krtek' can be found everywhere here! The last time I came here back in 2008 there were already a large number of tourists, but this time, a little over 11 years later, there seem to be far more. I tried not to let that ruin the experience as we wandered the cobbled streets and enjoyed the beautiful buildings. Just walking the streets and letting your feet show you the way, you're able to see and do many things - don't follow a map or your phone, walk where you want, turn left or right when you see something interesting.
The river Vltava.
The beautiful Baroque tower in the castle.

A rare, tourist-free view of the town.
Ahoj Mr Bear!
Avoiding all of the stores selling tack (although there were also some great stores, albeit expensive), we wandered into the castle though the main gates. The castle dates back from the 13th century but the present-day castle is far more modern, a Baroque style after the renovations in the late 17th Century. Up through the big gates, there is a large courtyard and surrounding buildings, and the famous tower on your left. You are able to go up (for a fee) and you get a great view of the city, sadly something we missed as we left it too late in the day (they closed at 4pm). Something you don't see at castles everyday now are bears - but here this is one little fellow that was out and about when we arrived. I don't know the story behind the bear, whether it's a tradition or not like Bern in Switzerland, but he's a brown bear and lives in the castle moat. There is a big fence up and around the moat to stop silly tourists falling in and becoming bear breakfast, as well as signs with writing and pictures of what not to do, people do it anyway. We didn't go in any building either, and I'm not sure you can or who much it costs, but I was happy wandering and seeing what was around us. From the height of the castle you can see the whole town and the views are spectacular. Being a big tourist destination, most of the best viewpoints are taken by people wanting selfies and posed photos. This can't be avoided, but as I wanted a photo myself (not a selfie), I had to wait and get pushed a little (and push back), but it was worth it. There was one particular woman who was very intense with her selfies and took it rather seriously - she was getting other people to take photos of her as well, posing with silly hand gestures, and at one point I thought she was going to fall off the edge! There were many other people up there too, all trying to get their pics, some even posing in dangerous positions off the castle wall, not seeming to care about the 100 metre plus drop. Why worry, if you fall, you're sure to die and never have to worry about anything again... just another statistic of the growing number of deaths due to selfies. We moved on to the castle gardens for a snack and some open air away from the crowds. The weather was stunning - sunny and warm! A perfect place to sit for a bit, have a bite to eat and enjoy some quiet time.
The Selfie Queen at work.
Risk-taking for photos...
Time to go home...
Through the window.
Although there isn't much to do here, not as many as Prague for example, it's all about walking and seeing things. There is plenty to see that are just ordinary buildings but beautiful to see for example. Sadly, our time here and the Czech Republic was coming to an end. We'd enjoyed seeing our friend Teresa in her home town, revisiting Prague and coming to this gorgeous place. Before we left, we all went out to dinner together, had a few tasty beers and spent our last night in the monastery. This was one of the best holidays I'd had in a long time - relaxing as well as active, and catching up with friends. Early the next day we all got in the car and Teresa drove us to the outskirts of Prague so we could get the train into the city and then the airport. We took one last photo together and wished each other well and that we would visit again soon, maybe next time in Barcelona. For now, it was back home. Sbohem a děkuji!
Such a beautiful town... until next time.
Goodbye Cesky Krumlov!

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UncleTravellingMatt. April 2019.

Birthday Weekend

The always impressive Pedraforca. Just beautiful! Hiking with a touch of snow. Winter was setting in by November, and although ...