Category Archives: Romania

Happy New Year 2018

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It’s nearly mid-January and I have only just found the time to write this new year post. Even though we have up until the end of January in France to do so, it’s still better to wish people a happy new year within the first week of the month. But lack of time is the story of my life at the present. Working full-time as a freelance technical and legal translator (I am now certified with the courts as well), looking after a large house and garden, cycling in the warmer months and hiking in the winter seem to take up  most of my time.

Jean Michel with his sons on the left and my son and daughter on the right

After a delightful Christmas with all our children – my son from Boston, my daughter from New York and Jean-Michel’s sons from Brest and  Limoges – in addition to my brother,wife and three sons, from Sydney, we welcomed in the New Year in front of a blazing fire, with warm thoughts for all our family and friends.

The cathedral in Angoulême

Travel-wise, 2017 was not quite as exciting as 2016 when we spent three months away altogether. However, we had a welcome short break and change of scenery in Angoulême at the beginning of February, followed by a most enjoyable week in Cyprus at the end of March with warm days and blue skies. We particularly liked the northern, Turkish part of the island with its wonderful painted monasteries.

Kykkos Monastery in northern Cyprus

We came home to spring, always the best time of the year in the Loire Valley. In April we had a fun day in a vintage car traffic jam in Blois with our friends Susan and Simon who take visitors on tours of the Loire Valley in their 1953 Citroën Traction Avant. I checked out family photos of my baptism so we could dress the part.

Jean Michel and I dressed for the part

The end of April took us to the Médoc (a four-hour drive south) for another long weekend where we combined cycling with wine-tasting and a breath of sea air. Living in the centre of France means that we are well-placed for this type of excursion.

With our power bikes on the banks of the Loire

In May, we finally made the decision to invest in electrically-powered bikes for two reasons – to save our ageing knees and to free us from restrictions related to the lie of the land. Our plan was to go to Romania in June, a country we have avoided up until then due to its very hilly countryside. We were not disappointed. Jean Michel applied his usual thoroughness to choosing the right bikes for our needs and we can now go quite effortlessly up amazingly steep hills. In fact, I’m more worried going down but our disk brakes are reassuring.

Said to be the oldest grape vine in the world – in Maribor, Slovenia

So, on 1st June, we left Blois with our bikes on the back of the car for a holiday that took us to Lake Iseo in the north of Italy, Maribor in Slovenia, where we tested our ability to scale new heights on our bikes, Eger in Hungary where we nearly got washed away in a freak flood, then Sighisoara in Romania, home of Dracula and sister city to Blois, which we used as centre to visit the fortified churches of Viscri and Biertan.

Sighisoara, home of Dracula and sister city of Blois

Suceava was the next port of call from which we cycled to many very beautiful painted churches, reminding us of our visit to Northern Cyprus. In Marmures, we stayed with a Romanian family where the head of the house spoke French and we learnt a lot about this still very backward part of the country with its beautiful wooden churches and friendly people.

The wonderful town of Cesky Krumlov in Czech Republic

We then started on the road back to France, via Levoca in Hungary, then the absolutely enchanting village of Czesky Krumlov in Czech Republic where our hotel had a garden overlooking the castle, the perfect place for a picnic in the evening twilight after a hard day’s riding. We then stayed in Slavonice before crossing into Germany and discovering Burghausen with its marvellous hillside castle. It was good to be back in a country where I could at least read the signs!

Sigmaringen on the Danube in Germany, near its source

To end our journey, we decided to return to our beloved Danube using the little village of Herbertingen as our base. Taking the train and cycling, we went as far as the source of the Danube at Donaueschingen.

View of Lake Iseo from the top of the hill

By the 28th June the weather was starting to deteriorate so we changed our initial plan to spend a couple of days in the Black Forest and went to Orta San Giulio in Italy instead where rain and shine alternated enough to let us ride around Lake Orta and up to the sanctuary of Madonna del Sasso, at an altitude of 700 metres! Once again, our power bikes proved their worth. We arrived home via Lyon on 2nd July, having been in eight coutries and covered 5,000 kilometers.

The church of Souvigny on one of our local bike rides

In July Jean Michel went walking in the Jura Mountains for 9 days with his sons while I stayed home and worked, looking forward to my retirement in June 2020 more than ever! I did discover a bike route into Blois that avoids the main road though. We then cycled as much as we could during the weekend and evenings until the weather turned too cold.

The blue mosque in Istanbul

September took us for a week to Istanbul which we loved. We rented an apartment just next to Galacta Tower which proved to be the perfect location. It had a quiet little balcony and small garden which provided well-earned rest after a day out in the busy streets of Istanbul. We often set out quite early to visit the sites to avoid the crowds.

Our wisteria in spring

On the home front, our automatic watering system is up and running but we don’t quite have a mini Giverny as initially planned, mainly due to our clayey soil, but we are learning as we go.

View from the garden of our new rental apartment in the historical part of Blois

Renovation of the studio flat I bought last year is making progress at last and should be ready for holiday accommodation this summer. We plan to offer an 18th century decorative experience with all modern conveniences. It is ideally located in the most historical part of Blois known as Puits Chatel and even has a little shared garden.

Typical house in the historical quarter of Blois near the rental apartment

I’m still keeping up with my daily photo on Loire Daily Photo even though Aussie in France is vitually at a standstill but I hope to be able to post more in the future, especially when I retire!

Timisoara in Romania – A great R&R stop

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We leave Serbia without regret and pass the border into Romania on the other side of Derdap dam. It’s raining and we thank our lucky stars for yesterday’s perfect weather for visiting the Iron Gate gorges.

Crossing the Derdap dam in the rain
Crossing the Derdap dam in the rain

There is an immediate change in the built environment. Although many of the constructions are still delapidated, the impression as a whole is much brighter, particularly the gaily decorated houses. Each village also has a sparkling white church in the middle.

Our lunch stop is Lugoj, a pretty little town built on a river with the usual contrast of old and new. We eat our picnic in the car because the temperature is only 12°C then have coffee in a café where we use our Romanian lei for the first time. A cappuccino costs the equivalent of 80 eurocents.

View from the river during our lunch stop in Lugoj
View from the river during our lunch stop in Lugoj

We arrive at the Savoy Hotel, a 4-star in the Mariott group where we have a large bright room which also has a small table and chairs. Sheer luxury after our recent accommodation. We book for a second night which costs a bit more (65 euro as opposed to 52) because it’s no longer last minute.

The Cathedral in Timisoara
The Cathedral in Timisoara

We leave again almost immediately to discover the town centre which is just across a bridge over the canal only a few minutes from the hotel. It is no longer raining, just overcast and a bit warmer. We start with the Orthodox Cathedral, where a wedding is just finishing and a baptism starting. Built between 1936 and 1946, this impressive building can hold 5,000 people.

A brass band in Piata Victorei
A brass band in Piata Victorei

We wander down to Piata Victorei which is full of Sunday crowds. At the Opera House end there are eight brass bands performing to loud applause. The whole place has a nice feel to it.

Piata Libiritii - my first attempt at a panoramic photo
Piata Liberitii – my first attempt at a panoramic photo

A little further on we come to Piata Liberatii, currently being renovated. I’m very impressed with the efforts being made to give the town a facelift. It’s a European Capital of Culture candidate city for 2021. I hope that it is chosen.

Piata Unirii
Piata Unirii

Piata Unirii is the heart of the old town with more lovely buildings under reconstruction. After a glass of wine and Black Forest cake (Jean Michel found a cake menu but only one type was available) we go down to the edge of the canal to look for a restaurant.

The path along the canal
The path along the canal

We regret that it’s not warm enough to cycle. Timisoara has a very impressive network of cycle paths. There are also many green spaces and parks which we discover the next day.

The other side of Piata Unirii
The other side of Piata Unirii

We have a mixed grill and vegetables with a glass of house red at the Rivière restaurant  for 100 lei (about 23 euro). The chips are luke warm and the meat – chicken, chicken and pork – is a bit tough. Although a lot of words in Romanian are recognisable because it is a Romance language (it originated from Latin, along with French, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese), we couldn’t recognise much on the menu and my phone app dictionary didn’t contain most of them, as usual. Next time we might have better luck.

A wayside cross in the city on the way to Trajan Square
A wayside cross in the city on the way to Trajan Square

After a good night’s sleep, we set off for coffee (it’s an intermittent fast day) and walk for some time through numerous university buildings, finally ending up in a café which is obviously the local haunt for well-heeled students.

Trajan Square
Trajan Square

We’re heading for the Trajan quarter but none of the streets seems to be on the map. Jean Michel asks an elderly man standing on the pavement  for help. We’re surprised when he is able to converse in French. He points us in the right direction and we eventually find our way. It is very sad to see what must once have been beautiful buildings in a sad state of decay but maybe once day, the city will be able to finance their renovation.

The unrenovated side of Trajan Square
An unrenovated building near Trajan Square

We manage to buy tomatoes , yoghurt and grapes from a little “mixt market” and ham from a stall on the square.

A rose garden along the canal
A rose garden along the canal

As we walk back along the canal, we come to a large outside entertainment area, a rose garden and a small botanic garden. There are also lots of areas set up for children.

A castle for children
A castle for children to play in

After a well-deserved nap, we set off again, this time to the tourist office for a brochure to illustrate the travel diary and to find a barber for Jean Michel. The tourist office is easy but the barber is a different story. There are pharmacies everywhere but no hairdressers’. We didn’t see any this morning either despite our very long walk.

We leave the old town to try the area on the other side of the hotel. It’s raining. All we see are a large number of second hand clothes shops, mini-markets and cafés. Not a single hairdresser.

The church opposite the café that we can't identify
The church opposite the café that we can’t identify

We stop for tea at a café opposite another impressive-looking church, but there is only green tea and herbal tea so we settle for a Coca Zero. I ask the waitress about a hairdresser for Jean Michel. She tells us there is one three streets away with a sign outside and another in the street next to the café, but she doesn’t know exactly where it is, which seems a little strange. I elect to go to the other one. “I’m not sure of the programme”, she adds, “but it should be open”. It’s 5.30 pm and I’ve noticed that opening hours here are often 8 to 3 pm.

The very non-descript hairdressers from the outside
The very non-descript hairdressers from the outside

The only indication of the presence of a hairdresser is the word frizzerie on the bottom left-hand side of the window. We walk in and see two hairdressers, one of whom is sitting dispondently next to her barber’s chair. Jean Michel asks if she can cut his hair. “Yes”, she says, and sits him down.

Inside the hairdressers
Inside the hairdressers

She doesn’t smile once the whole time but gives him a very professional-looking cut. She is a whizz with the razor. It is only when Jean Michel hands over the 20 lei (4.50 euro) that she finally smiles. “Thank you. Have a good day”, she says as we leave.

Our next task is to find an immersion heater to boil eggs and water in our hotel rooms which very rarely have an electric jug. I have seen a store that sells electric goods. We go in and I describe with ample gestures what I am looking for. “Yes”, says the lady, and goes to get one. She then hears me speak to Jean Michel in French and says “bonjour.” She tells us she learnt French at school. She speaks well enough for us to make our purchase – we even buy two.

There is work going on next door to our hotel. The house on the right is obviously being renovated to rival the one on the left
There is work going on next door to our hotel. The house on the right is obviously being renovated to rival the one on the left

Back in our hotel room, we’re feeling rested after our easy day and start checking the weather forecast again for the next part of our trip. We finally decide to go to Baja, on the Danube in Hungary, about 190 K south of Budapest and 250 K from Timisoara. It’s going to be sunny with temperatures rising from a maximum of 15 to 19°C during the three days we intend to stay there. We’ll be able to cycle again!

A decorated house in Banat
A decorated house in Banat

We haven’t spent much time in Romania, and only in one small area, but we know we will come back though not with our bikes. We’ll come by plane and hire a car so we can visit  the northern part of the country, particularly Transylvania.

Weekly Blogger Round-Up: All about Romanians – Mediaeval Slovenia – Travel Safety in Albania

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This week’s blogger round-up is focussed on Eastern Europe, a destination I find quite fascinating. To start off, Anda from Travel Notes & Beyond tells us what you should know about Romanians before you travel to the country where she was born. Next, Australian-born Jo Karnaghan from Frugal First Class Travel takes us to mediaeval Slovenia as part of an Adriatic sea cruise. To finish off,  Andrea from Rear View Mirror, an Australian married to an Albanian, answers a question she is often asked: “Is it safe to travel to Albania?” Enjoy!

What you should know about Romanians before you travel to Romania

by Anda from Travel Notes & Beyond, the Opinionated Travelogue of a Photo Maniac, is a Romanian-born citizen of Southern California who has never missed the opportunity to travel

travel_notes_romaniansAs a tourist in Romania, you may easily feel at home and forget that you are in a foreign country. But the welcoming and friendly spirit of the Romanian people will not help you bridge the cultural differences and understand their values. So in order to avoid a culture shock, there are some things you should know about Romanians before you travel to their country. Of course, Romanians are not all the same, but there are some cultural characteristics that most of them share. Read more

Explore Medieval Slovenia on an Adriatic Sea Cruise

by Jo Karnaghan from Frugal First Class Travel, an Australian who loves to travel – especially in Europe – and who has gradually learned how to have a First Class trip on an economy budget, without missing out on anything!

frugal_sloviniaSlovenia is a country famed for its Gothic architecture and medieval towns, the most fascinating of which is arguably the coastal city of Koper in the south-west. If you’re looking to go medieval in a big way then this city provides many old town historic sights as well as easy access to the country’s popular capital city.

Ports of call on an Adriatic Sea cruise will almost always include Croatia’s famous walled-city of Dubrovnik but if you’re looking to step back in time then ensure that Slovenia’s Koper is listed on your itinerary. Read more

Is it safe to travel in Albania?

by Andrea from Rear View Mirror (formerly Destination Europe), a fellow Australian who, after 6 years of living in France, has given up her Paris apartment to live a nomadic life slowing travelling around Europe, experiencing each destination like a local.

rearview_mirror_albaniaSince returning from an extended stay in Albania and publishing my guide to visiting the country, I’ve been receiving regular emails from readers wanting to know more.

Surprisingly, for me, one of the most common questions I’m asked is whether it’s safe to travel to Albania. I admit to finding this question a little perplexing. Aside from a brief period of unrest in 1997, Albania hasn’t been in a conflict since WWII.

Even during the Communist period when the country was mostly closed to outside visitors, it was still possible to safely travel around the country.

Random acts of violence are practically unheard of and even pickpocketing is uncommon. Read more

Weekly Blogger Round-Up: Fête des vendanges on the French Riviera – October events in France – Alba Iulia in Romania

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This week’s Blogger Round-Up starts with a great discovery. Every month, well in advance, The Good Life France gives a list of national events in France. I know we’re already halfway through October, but you can take a look at November while you are over at their website. Next, Chrissie from Riviera Grapevine invites us to participate in the annual grape harvest festival at Saint-Paul-de-Vence. To finish up, Anda from Travel Notes and Beyond shares her trip to the Citadel of Alba Iulia in Romania. Enjoy!

Major Events France October 2014

by The Good Life France, an independent on-line magazine about France and all things French, covering all aspects of daily life including healthcare, finance, utilities, education, property and a whole lot more

goodlifefrance_events-in-france-october-2014National Event in Paris – Nuit Blanche 4th October 2014. Held annually on the first Saturday night in October when museums, public buildings, monuments, swimming pools, cinemas, parks, universities  and historic sites are open to the public all night – an art an culture party!

National Event: Semaine du Gout – Taste Week: 13-19 October.  In Paris and throughout France, a foodie event featuring original and varied cuisines. Taste Week is an opportunity to learn more about the art of gastronomy, taste and learn to appreciate the diversity of flavours, and it also aims to increase public awareness of a healthy lifestyle. As part of the event, workshops for the public include cooking classes, tastings and entertainment. Website for details: Read more

EVENT 06: Fête des Vendanges et des Châtaignes

by Chrissie from Riviera Grapevine, a Sydney girl living in Nice with an insatiable thirst for the wines of the Var, Alpes Maritimes and Liguria. She happily sells, drinks and blogs about wine.

riviera_grapevine_wine_festivalWhat have you got planned for Sunday?

If you happen to be in the area, and fancy a chance to sample some of the unique wines of the Alpes-Maritimes, why not pop into the annual Fête des Vendanges et des Châtaignes in Saint-Paul de Vence?

October 19th marks the 2014 edition of this annual harvest festival for theVins des Baous et des Collines. Translated into normal speak, this term refers to the three vineyards found high in the hills behind the Riviera coastline, near the imposing cliff face above Saint-Jeannet. Read more

Reborn From Its Ashes – The Citadel of Alba Iulia

by Anda from Travel Notes & Beyond, the Opinionated Travelogue of a Photo Maniac, is a Romanian-born citizen of Southern California who has never missed the opportunity to travel.

travelnotes_iulia_albaAlthough a land of natural beauty, Romania wasn’t exactly the ideal tourist destination until after the fall of Communism in 1989. The country was struggling badly with poverty and the tourism industry was almost inexistent. The historic sites were badly neglected, the roads poorly maintained, food was scarce and lodging was primitive. So in spite of its great history and beautiful scenery, Romania remained in the often overlooked chunk of Balkan countries.

Although things have improved considerably lately, Romania is still largely unknown to the western traveler. Such is the case of the beautiful Citadel of Alba Iulia (also known as Alba Carolina), one of the biggest fortresses in Eastern Europe. Read more

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