Explore the “Carpathian Garden” brand

Has your Romanian friend been somewhat distant of late? Don’t worry, it’s got nothing to do with you. (S)He has just been preoccupied – engaged in a multi-headed monster debate that has been raging across the nation.

Apparently, in its infinite wisdom, the Romanian tourism ministry has attempted to Read more of this post

At the End of the World

Cimitirul VeselThe morning starts when the bright rays of sun penetrate through the windows and tickle me into getting up.

I’ve been told that hitchhiking is pretty common in Maramureș (this region), so on the road towards Sighetu Marmației I thumb down a navy-blue BMW transporting two young guys to Sighet. They can’t speak much English (or other foreign languages, for that matter), but I am able to discern that they are big fans of Read more of this post

To the end of the world

Manastirea BarsanaMy host asks me again if I am sure that I really want to go „to the end of the world”. I am sure.

At the autogara, it is easy to find my bus, for it is the only one around. By the door of the bus, we meet a gentleman headed to Sighet, where he works though he resides in Piatra Neamț. He is a government servant who spends a couple of weeks at work, and then a week off at home. We chat a bit and board the bus when the driver arrives.

The bus snakes along the mountains lining River Bistrița through some scenic beauty Read more of this post

The Pilgrimage

CeahlauAs Explorish had guessed and warned against, I wake up at every stop of the train. At one such stop, I open my eyes and look outside to check which station it is, but don’t see any indication of a name anywhere. There’s no one around that I can ask.

As I am still rubbing my eyes, searching for a name, the train starts to crawl. A clock at the station says it is 1.30am. Bacău! This is where I was supposed to get down. Should I „pull the chain to stop the train” and get down? Neaah…then I’d have to wait at the station till 4.30 or so. Instead, I should go to the next station, and take the train back here, for trains are cozier than the stations.

It takes almost an hour to reach the next station, Adjud, which suits me fine as my train from Bacău is at 4.30 anyway. Asking around at the station, I discover that the next train to Bacău is at 3.30, which is cutting it a little bit too close since it is about an hour’s journey. It doesn’t matter now – the deed is done.

There is a sandwich shop open but they have no vegetarian food. Outside on the platform there is a bar-cum-game-saloon where I find a packet of potato wafers and pear nectar. The wind is cool and nice and I enjoy walking on the platform, which is deserted except for a stray dog sleeping in a dark corner.

My train arrives at its due time, and delivers me to Bacău in one hour. Unfortunately, I have missed the connection literally by seconds – I can see its tail rolling out of the station. The next train is at 9am. So I walk out of the gara and to the nearby autogara and minibus station. Nothing goes to Piatra Neamț. Read more of this post

The Bull Country

Cetatea de Scaun SuceavaThe train arrives in Suceava after sundown. I walk out of the station right into a „non stop”. The lady selling me the bottle of water has no clue where Mihai Eminescu street is, or for that matter, where Nicolae Balcescu street is, but she asks a supposedly more knowledgeable customer to help. He doesn’t know either, but thankfully I have a printout of the High Class Hostel’s webpage, which includes a small sketch-map.

„Aaaa!”, he points to the McDonald’s on the sheet of paper I have proffered „Centru!”

I am a bit taken by the prominence that was seemingly just accorded to McDonald’s, but ask where I could get a bus to get to the town centre. The bus stop is right by the side of the shop, though he doesn’t know which bus goes to the centre. At the bus stop, it turns out that all roads lead to Rome, and as luck would have it, there is a bus currently parked and boarding. Excellent! But I am still a little lost – from where do I buy a ticket, I ask the folks in what looks like a transport office? It is given in the bus itself.

The girl selling the tickets is nice and promises to tell me when to get down. And she keeps her word even though I doze off in the admittedly very short trip. The map on the hostel webpage could be better, but it isn’t too hard to find the place.

My hostess Monica is perky and welcoming. She shows me around the neat and cozy little place. My bed is in the smaller room, which is Read more of this post

Bucuresti, once again

Palatul ParlamentuluiSwiss Air is selling tickets for flights to Bucharest leaving next day (on the 23rd) for £180, so I take the plunge and buy one online. The latest check-in time is 5.20 am, and the flight through Zurich arrives in București at 1pm. No problem, I’ve done worse times than that.

In line with the plan, I get home by 1 am on Monday night (or Tuesday morning, depending on how you look at it), grab stuff from around the place under the euphemism of „packing”, and get out of the house by 3.30am, proud of my acievement.

As it turns out, however, travelling in London at night isn’t all that it’s slated to be – many of the famed 24-hour and night services get cancelled, and all you can do is wait for the next one. And if you are stuck in an area with no taxis in sight, it could take a while to get there. Revising my plan of how to get to Heathrow a few times, I finally Read more of this post

4 luni, 3 săptămâni şi 2 zile – Review

While the website said that they were showing 4 luni, 3 săptămâni şi 2 zile at Curzon Soho from today, it turns out that they aren’t after all. So I take the short tube ride on the Picadilly line to the Renoir in Russell Square.

The Renoir, I discover, is a decrepit old place and not in an artsy or charming sort of way. I am just over an hour early so I get the bitter £1.50 freetrade coffee and hang around in the empty “lounge” finishing off some “stuff”. When they open the screen 1 hall, there is another surprise – a pillar right in the middle of the hall, meaning the back few rows are practically useless, especially the middle aisle seats.

Patru Luni, my first movie of 2008, more than makes up for all that. It is the story of an extraordinary day in the life of Otilia, a polytechnic student living in a dorm in România of 1987. I have not seen Cristian Mungiu’s previous four movies, and judging by this one, I have missed out on some good cinema.

On one hand the movie is fascinating in that it provides a slight glimpse into what it might have been like to live in Ceauşescu’s România. While I am normally wary of learning about “other cultures” from movies, the “signs of the times” are a relatively safer pick. For instance, having to carry around an ID card everywhere for everything is an explicit sign. More subtly, the lingering undercurrent of fear and treachery is palpable throughout.

The film is even more captivating in Read more of this post

Return journey to London

While I had managed to sleep soon after 1.30am, I am unable to get up at 4.30am as planned, and it is 5 by the time my eyes open. I was supposed to have left town by now. With a bit of rushing about, I finally check out of the hotel at 5.15am.

I would have imagined a sunrise around now, but it is pitch dark; autumn is here. Back on the highway, there are a reasonable number of cars rushing to Bucureşti. Of course, the highway is dominated by lorries and trucks in terms of percentage of vehicles on road.

As I cruise down the highway, I find my sweet spot behind a pick-up truck doing 125 kmph or so. As luck would have it, the “I” has dropped off from Read more of this post

Curtea de Argeş

Curtea de ArgesDecided to go to the monastery in Curtea de Argeş on Sunday afternoon. Since curtea means “court”, I am guessing that in older times, this place must have been the capital or seat of government for the region. While hypothetically the word could also have been used in the same sense that my hometown is in the “courtyard of the Ganges” or in the “backyard of the Himalayas”, I think the probability of that is low simply because the Argeş does not flow through the hamlet (Argeş is the name of both the river and the region).

Driving down there from Piteşti is interesting as the landscape gets increasingly magnificent. While it does not exactly become breathtaking by the time one reaches Curtea de Argeş, it does stoke Read more of this post

In Piteşti

PitestiDrove down to Piteşti on Saturday evening via the Bucureşti-Piteşti highway (or simply “the highway”, as that’s the only one in Romania). Piteşti, the capital of Argeş, is about a 100km from Bucureşti.

From what I’ve read, T. Bowyer’s comment on Piteşti, based on Luigi Mayer’s etchings was, “nothing more wild or romantic can be conceived”.

Geographically, it is not all that different from my hometown, surrounded as it is by hills and located as it is on the banks of a river. I hear that they grow plums here and use them to produce what is considered to be one of the finest Romanian ţuicas.

Wandering about, I take refuge in Read more of this post