Saturday, October 31, 2009

A peaceful Halloween

I'm sitting in the lobby of our hotel in the chair I always sit in since I have to come to the lobby to get internet access. There is a large wedding party for Maria and Anthony.  Down another corridor is an 18th birthday party for Deo.  Across from me, an older British couple is playing cards. There is a piano player and a singer with a lovely voice singing lounge tunes in English.  There is a little coffee bar in the lobby that serves good coffee in the morning and beer at night, or coffee I'm sure.   My bar tender brought me a beer without my ordering it.  He said, "I saw you sitting in your spot and prepared you your usual."  this after only 3 days - am I predictable?

After workshop sessions, Florin and I took a public bus around 4 to try to go to the city of Mdina.  Well, we got lost and ended up in the middle of the capital city, Valletta.  We walked around and I took pictures.  It seems I always get to take pictures at dusk!  thank God for software touchups.  We took a bus back and got off about halfway here to go to a little pub for dinner.  I had fish and chips, a local beer and a half pint of Strongbow cider.  Florin had a piece of rabbit and a braciole.

When we got on a bus to the hotel, our friends from Moldova (Marianna) and Odessa, Ukraine (Oleg) were on the bus.  Marianna went as an exchange student to the States when she was 16.  She went to New Mexico through a program with FFA (Future Farmers of America).  Now, back in Moldova, she is a translator and a human rights activist.  We laughed so much on the bus.  For some reason everything seemed funny.

We got back to the hotel in time for the group bus which was off for some place or other and a late night Halloween party under the full moon.  I decided not to go because I want to tour the island on Sunday and didn't want to be exhausted..  Here are some pics I took in Valletta.  Of course, once again, I got around to taking pics at dusk.


Friday, October 30, 2009

What day is it?


Quite honestly, I don't know how it got to be Friday.  There are a few hundred people here from all over Europe and even a few from Algeria and Palestine.  Algerian Arabic is REALLY different from what I speak.

This is a truly beautiful place.  It is a 5-star hotel/resort.  Maltese people are extraordinarily friendly and helpful.  The Maltese language is really a Semitic language written in Latin script.  So it looks like you can read the words but it's difficult.

Because the islands that make up Malta have been inhabited for so many centuries, it is really heavily built up.  Everywhere you look, from the seashore to the hills is covered in buildings.  The seacoast is irregular and there are many bays.  Last night we had a dinner cruise that went out and around all the fortresses from as much as a thousand years ago.  This is where the Knights of Malta (the Templars) had a stronghold and also the Knights of St. John Hospitaller.

The cruise was a bit of a disaster.  We were all really hungry after a long day of workshops and anticipated a "real" meal.  Instead, an Asian caterer irregularly brought around little snacky things.  So we were still in search of a meal when we returned to the hotel at midnight but even room service had shut down for the night.

Yesterday morning, I lay out in the sun for an hour or so in the morning, after having breakfast with two people from Finland, one of whom had studied at Columbia in NYC for a year. He is a sociologist working for the Finnish governement and also a musician.  His colleague is an attorney working for human rights.

There are many really fine people here but in fact, I feel like Malta is a stopover on my way home.  I am in-between my sabbatical and home, in a sort of twilight zone.  I'm here but not here.  I don't have the energy to engage with people after the intensity of the last week in Timisoara.  I am still in daily contact with friends from Romania, Moldova, Bulgaria, Poland and Montenegro.  They definitely own a piece of me.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Malta - a whole other world

At 3 o'clock Tuesday morning, my alarm went off.  I got up and made strong espresso before showering and taking out the trash and generally finishing picking up the apartment.  Florin called at 4:15 to say he was on the way in a taxi.  Our flight to Frankfort was uneventful - just over two hours - as was our connecting flight to Malta, also just over two hours.  It was such a pleasure to see this island nation appear in our flight path.  The buildings seem all to be low and light-colored.

The people are relaxed, beginning with passport control.  I expected to answer some questions about purpose of visit, anything to declare, etc.  The official looked at my passport, asked if I came in from Frankfort and then waved me through with no stamp in my passport, no inspection of my luggage.

There was a man with an ILGA-Europe sign for delegates to this conference and a whole busload of us gathered from many nations.  I met a few folks on the bus I had been with in Timisoara last weekend, as well as a fellow from Holland, two folks from Finland and I'm sure I'll meet a whole host of folks from other nations.  People will continue to arrive through tomorrow and the conference officially starts on Thursday. My friend, Anna, from Ukraine, who was in Timisoara last weekend, had a youngster, Alex, with her also from Ukaine.  He was so wide-eyed.  He had never been on a plane, never been out of Ukraine, and had never met foreigners before.  It was a delight to see the wonder in his face.  His head was practically spinning around, trying to see everything and everyone at once.

From the bus windows, we could see palm trees and brilliant sunshine, and soon the Mediterranean.  When we got to the hotel, they couldn't find our reservation.  It seems we were at the next hotel in the complex - there are 3.  When we got squared away in our room, we walked to yet another hotel to have lunch and got to eat outside looking out over the ocean.  I had Fried Halloumi salad (halloumi is a kind of cheese) and filet of sea bream, a delicious kind of fish.  Florin had pumpkin soup and a meze.  Meze is like tapas, a whole lot of little dishes of treats: artichokes with another kind of cheese, little kuftas (like kabobs but ground meat), stuffed grape leaves, mixed salad, and a few other things.  We washed it down with good water and good local Maltese beer.

We came back to the hotel and napped for an hour and now we're on the go again.  Dinner will be at 8 and I fully expect that we will be at the table for several hours, once again making new friends.

Here are some pictures taken by Krasi's camera around the table and in workshops last week in Timisoara:

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Last day in Romania

Today is my last day in Romania.  It's a simple sentence with what looks like a simple idea.  Well, it is a simple sentence but it can't hold all the feelings that I have about this country, this region, these people.

Before I came here, I was focused on doing something useful during my 8 week sabbatical.  It quickly became apparent that I would receive so much, that I would meet people who would become very important to me, that I would settle into an apartment and imagine living in it for a long time.

Before I came here, it seemed like I would have so much time.

I was so unprepared.  I am far richer as I do laundry and pack today than I could ever have imagined.

Folks at my church recorded  video greetings, a simple wonderful video that I watched late Sunday night after flying back from Timisoara. (Link:  My friend, Bess, took a video camera and walked around the Fellowship hall at church giving people a chance to greet me.  It came at exactly the right moment.  I was feeling sad and gloomy, thinking of people I don't want to leave thousands of miles behind me.  That video reminded me of all my people I want to see who are in front of me.  Today, I exist in a kind of limbo, caught between two worlds, both of which I love.  On two sides of the world, I have a home.  That is cause for quiet joy.

Florin and I will fly to Malta at 6 tomorrow morning.  I know I will have a good time there until I fly home to the States on Monday, a week from today.  But today feels like the end of my sabbatical.  Who would have ever thought it would be like that?

Saturday, October 24, 2009


It's 4 a.m.and I've pulled an all-nighter with Bart and Andreea.  I'll go down to Bart's room in half an hour and wait with him until it's time for the hotel bus to take him and Wojtek to the airport for their 6a.m. flight.

I went to the lobby around 7:30pm to wait for someone to walk to the restaurant with for our last dinner.  Ioana and Andreea showed up and said, "Good, we've been looking for you.  You are coming to the Opera House with us to see a famous Romanian dancer."  So I went with them and we found Bart at the Opera House and Florin came so I could have his ticket.  He had to host the dinner at the Casa cu Flori restaurant.

Our tickets for the Opera House cost 5 Lei, about $1.75.  Amazing.  We sat in the second balcony in the front row so we could look right down at the stage.  The story was set to Wagner so was kind of very emotional and at times dark.  It lasted about an hour and ended to thunderous applause and a great number of curtain calls.

We walked down the street to the restaurant where we found the rest of our gang and joined them for dinner.  We sat at dinner until about 11:45 and then nine of us went to a gay bar.  Two of the straight women had never been before and we all had a really good time for about an hour.  When the smoke started getting to us we walked back to the hotel.

Bart, Andreea, Nataly and I found a quiet place downstairs in the hotel and talked for a while.  Nataly went to bed and the three of us talked all night.  Bart went up to pack, Andreea to bed and I to blog.  As soon as I finish this, I'll go down to hang out with Bart until he leaves.  I'll miss him.  The rest of us fly out at various times; most of us on the flight to Bucharest this evening at 7.  There's about a 60% chance that Bart will be able to come to Malta.  It's really been a fun but emotional day.

End of the work of the conference

I am about to take a nap for one hour before getting ready to go out to our last conference meal together, to a nice restaurant in the main square near the Opera House.

Although I'm not sad to see the end of the conference material - our brains are stuffed to overflowing - I am very sad to see new friends leave the conference.  Igor, of gold flake vodka fame, left earlier today.  The Bulgarian delegation, Ruben, Kalina and Krasi left about a half hour ago.  Kalina, very smart, very serious, caused a laugh at my expense last night at dinner and also during the workshop this morning.  I had just explained to Bart, Andreea and Nataly that when I was young, I was called "Jimmy" but that only family ever calls me that now.  Almost immediately, Kalina, who was at a different table, called over "Good night, Jimmy (but it sounded like Jeemy) and my table all laughed.  This morning, during the part of the conference where we shared a thought or two about our experiences yesterday, Kalina once again said that she enjoyed Jeemy's workshop.  In fact I was quite surprised at the number of people who also commented that my presentation was helpful.   Anyway, to continue from where I got side-tracked, Kalina and Krasi both had big kisses for me and warm hugs.  I became a bit emotional.  In just a few days, I grew to feel very close to them and I don't know if I'll ever see any of them again.  This will intensify tomorrow when Bart leaves for Poland at the crack of dawn.  He's a tough nut to crack but somehow, Andreea, Iwana and I got a little close to him.  After some small group work, we reported.  Andreea reported for our group and she did so with enthusiasm and passion.  We were very proud of our young scholar.

Life is too full of good-byes.  I really have learned here in Eastern Europe to make the most of my time and my brief relationships.  These people have found a home in my heart and the friends I've made have made my life much richer.  I only hope I can keep them.

Friday, October 23, 2009

A tiring but satisfying day

Well, I woke up on Friday at three a.m. with a headache from the tzuica and wine and got up to take some Advil.  I got back to sleep till 5.   After a really good buffet breakfast, I went with a Bulgarian woman, Kalina,  to the Orthodox Cathedral which is less than 5 minutes from here, just across the river,  and is beautiful.  I'll take pictures tomorrow.  There was a worship service going on when we got there and we bought some candles for our prayers.  I learned that in Orthodox understanding, first you light a candle and then you pray.  The candle connects you from earth to heaven.  Then we gave a priest our names on a paper for the bishop to read out during the liturgy.  I stayed for half an hour and went back to the hotel to work on my presentation some more.

We began our day at 10 and had rather intense meetings on sexual and reproductive health with reports from the various delegates at the conference.  It occurred to me as I listened that the climate in the countries and the obstacles activists face all tie in directly with my presentation.

After a break for lunch, (it should be noted that we ALL told the organizers that we wanted NO more tzuica as long as we lived)  we continued with presentations and reports and my presentation had been moved earier (and someone forgot to tell me).  I had prepared a powerpoint and then made a second powerpoint greatly reducing the number of slides.  The presentation went very well and I was pleased that in the midst of a rather serious day, the delegates laughed a couple of times during my talk.  It always takes me by surprise because I don't think of myself as funny.  There was excellent discussion and thoughtful questions after my presentation.and a few asked for a copy of my powerpoint.

The organizers decided to call it a day right after my presentation and it was only about 4:30 so Bart (Poland), Andreea, Ioana(Romania) and I walked into the city center and sat in a coffee shop talking and laughing until it was time to head back to the hotel for our 8pm dinner. Once again, we all sat at table for 4 hours talking and laughing.  Some of the women delighted teaching in Bart some very rude phrases in Romanian and he was like a little kid delighting in being naughty. Conferences like this forge bonds quickly and after our first long dinner, this second one was much more fun because we had shared personal stories and an intense day of grappling with serious issues of human, sexual, and reproductive rights.  Igor, a Ukrainian, had brought a bottle of a special kind of vodka that literally had flakes of gold floating in it.  After we had all had a shot, someone said that now we'll set off the security alarm at the airport.  I can just see the scene of thirty of us setting off the alarm one after the other and the guards trying to figure out where the metal is!!!

Once again, they threw us out of the dining room at midnight and Bart, Andreea and I moved to an outside seating area off the lobby and hung out talking and laughing until 2a.m.   I had to call it quits then or I wouldn't be functional on Saturday.

I managed to sleep until 8 and slowly got myself moving, going down for breakfast at about quarter to nine.  I was the only one in the dining room.  I think we're all enjoying ourselves too much.  Those of you who know me probably find it strange indeed that two nights in a row have seen me up well past midnight.  I just bumped into Florin who looked worse than I feel.  He didn't get to bed until 4. Today promises to be another intense day and then we'll all go out to a traditional Romanian restaurant for dinner.  I will be sad to leave these new friends but the good news, for me, is that many whom I've gotten to know best will be going to Malta for the ILGA-Europe conference.

It seems that I've saved some wonderful experiences for the end of my trip.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Bleary-eyed and two sheets just before midnight

Hi.  What a wonderful day.  Traffic was brutal getting to the airport to fly from Bucuresti to Timisoara.  I found out why when I arrived.  An American flag was flying over the airport and a United States of America plane was parked in front of my exit gate along side a US cargo plane.  It seems that Joe Biden, the Vice-President has been in Bucuresti for meetings and the cargo plane was to carry his specially armored vehicles to travel locally.

My plane to Timisoara was a huge Airbus.  It was full.  Near me were a group of very large men, very tattooed.  American Wrestlers here for an exhibition.  It was cool to talk with them on the plane.  Great guys.

I got to the hotel about ten minutes before dinner at 8pm.  We have people from Romania, Moldova, Bulgaria, Poland, Montenegro, Ukraine, Russia and possibly other countries that I'll find out tomorrow.  I LOVE the Bulgarians.  Dinner was an excellent buffet and we were there from 8pm until almost midnight.  I confess to drinking 3 glasses of Tzuica and several glasses of red wine.  I started out talking with Moldovans and tables kept changing.  The Bulgarians were hilarious.  I had such a pleasant evening of laughter and discussion.

The conference starts tomorrow morning and I present my workshop at the end of the day for one hour.  It will be a fabulous day.  Our hotel is along the river so walking outside will be a treat.  I'll try to take pictures of my new friends to post on this blog tomorrow and Saturday.

This is such a treat for me.  I love meeting people from other countries and cultures and beliefs, gay and straight.

Talk to you tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Beginning of the last mad rush

On Tuesday evening, our Elder flew in and we met for dinner and to do final preparation for our workshop in Timnisoara on Friday and Saturday.  We will fly to that city tomorrow and meet the delegates from six or seven countries who will be participating.

We went to a Lebanese restaurant for dinner after our meeting and it was a disappointment.  No one spoke Arabic and the menu was confusing to say the least.  Many of the dishes I have been eating my whole life were called something else and had odd ingredients.  It was unmemorable enough that I won't describe it.  Except for KFC, it was the worst meal I've had in Romania.  Usually the restaurants are excellent.

I really am in the final stages of my trip.  After returning from Timisoara on Sunday, I have only Monday to pack and clean the apartment.  On Tuesday we're off to Malta.

It's been interesting examining my inner workings and feelings about the end of my time here.  Living in an apartment instead of a hotel makes the feeling of being at home much stronger.  Add to that having to do all the normal activities like shopping and cooking makes it just like being at home - without my dog and cats and friends and church.  So, I'm really sorry to see this adventure coming to a close and at the same time I'm ready to be in my own home in more familiar surroundings.

There are no things American I have missed.  I haven't watched TV at all in the past seven weeks.  I haven't followed the news so I have no idea what's been going on.  Reading in a quiet setting has been a great pleasure.  I have missed my church terribly.  There is nothing like being in the middle of your own people for joyful worship.

But adventures will continue once I return home.  I have a training in Florida in March and a big conference in Acapulco in July.  In fact, I just made my hotel reservations today for an oceanfront room.  It's such a good life.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

a work day

I've spent the day reading resources and preparing a powerpoint presentation for later this week when I'll be in Timisoara, Romania for a workshop for people from six or seven Eastern European countries.  The common language of the conference will be English.  I will be doing a presentation on a book by John Shelby Spong called The Sins of Scripture.

I like study days and I like reading.

I took a break this afternoon to walk up to the end of the street to a barber shop.  Between my limited Romanian and the stylist's limited English, I got a cut and wash for about $5.  Then I went up to the market to get water, Nestea, and a bag of milk.

Our Elder flies in from the States in about half and hour and I'll meet her for dinner at 8.  I wonder if I'll have cabbage rolls again.

In 13 days, I'll fly home.  But there's a whole lot to see and do before that!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Sunday evening

We never did see the sun today and late afternoon had us dodging showers.  I met Florin in city center around 1:30 and we had a coffee (do you detect a theme?) and then went to the National Museum of Art of Romania to see an exhibit called Faces of Modernism: Painting in Bulgaria, Greece and Romania 1910-1940.  It was quite an eclectic collection of art, some of it very interesting.  There were several examples from the Dadaist school and even a Pointillist painting, there were several landscapes and various nudes and self-portraits and pastoral scenes.  There were even a few I liked quite a bit.

After leaving the museum, we went to a traditional Romanian restaurant to eat (yet another theme).  Florin had a kind of fish called Royal Dorade (This mouth watering fish from the Mediterranean Sea has captured the imagination of European cooks for centuries. Dorade is a small fish with tender white flesh and when it's grilled or braised it has a rich, succulent meaty flavor, similar to the pompano or red snapper.)  Florin was served two whole grilled fish with Rosemary potatoes.  He laughed at me when I ordered Sarmale cu Mamaliga again.  By now, you probably remember that it's cabbage rolls stuffed with spiced smoked meat served with polenta and sour cream.  It's at least the fifth time I've had it but, with no apology I can say that it always tastes really good to me, and I have only 8 more days before I leave Romania for Malta, the last leg of my journey.  For dessert, Florin had a type of crepe stuffed with cheese and raisins and I had Tiramisu.  For once, we skipped the coffee.

I came back to the apartment after dinner for a low-key evening of reading and email.  I'm still a little tired after getting home so late last night.

The morning after

I had a terrific birthday yesterday.  The day began with computer check (how unusual!).  I had many well wishes on Facebook and a bunch of emails and e-cards from my friends all over.

Very early, I dressed and traipsed to the supermarket because I had no milk for my coffee.  Milk comes in bags here.  I'm always afraid they'll tip over and spill everything but, in fact, they're pretty well-constructed.  I settled in and drank my espresso with milk and a bit of sugar and read for awhile.

I met Florin around 1pm for lunch but neither of us was very hungry so we went to a coffee shop called "The Living Room" and had a coffee.  After an hour or so, we went down the street to a rather fancy restaurant for my birthday lunch.  We had a typical appetizer, kind of like antipasto, with tomato and cucumbers, olives, a couple of kinds of cheese and several kinds of ham or salami, and a semi-hot yellow banana pepper.  It was accompanied by chilled tzuica which is plum brandy and quite strong.  After the appetizer, I had a dish with chicken leg, roasted red peppers, leeks flavored with a piquant mixture of soy sauce, worcestershire and balsamic vinegar.  It had a nice bite and was served over rice.  We drank the house Romanian red wine which was very good.  We finished with, you guessed it, cappuccino (I've been spelling it wrong throughout this blog)

We took a long walk in increasingly heavy rain to see the Romanian Orthodox Patriarchal Cathedral.  We got there towards the end of a service.  The service was well-attended but not crowded.  I am really sorry I can't show you pictures of the inside of the church because it is one of the most beautiful churches I have ever seen. Here is a picture of the outside:

We stayed till the end of the worship then walked a ways to a small monastery church but didn't stay long because it was crowded and dark.

We walked to see the Parliament building, outside of which Florin had given a speech during Pride.  It is a huge building dominating a hill.  It was really too late in the day to be taking pictures but I have this one that I tried to clean up a little bit.

We had been invited to a small family gathering and took a taxi there, arriving around 7:30.  Our hostess, her mother (a psychiatrist), another couple, Florin and I, had a wonderful evening of eating and visiting.  Often the conversation swirled around me in Romanian and I could only pick out words here and there, sometimes enough to get the context but I didn't feel strange or left out.  I was really comfortable among kind and welcoming people.  I had another glass of tzuica and then contented myself with apa minerala, the ever-present sparkling mineral water. 

I arrived at the apartment around midnight and had skype calls with my sister in Florida and my good friend, Naida, who is looking after my house and cats in NY.  I  text chatted with Reid, my grand-nephew and Paul for a half hour or so and then went to bed, fully satisfied that I had had a memorable birthday.

Friday, October 16, 2009

A rainy cold morning after a warm evening of friendship

Well, last night (Thursday), I met a group of folks at a place called Cafe Krishna on  Boulivardul Kogalniceanu.  Traffic was so heavy on the way there that it took a lot longer than I expected and I was late by about 20 minutes.  The cab driver dropped me at the corner of Kogalniceanu and I walked until I found the cafe.  The theme was like an old harem.  Down dark stairs with small sitting areas on the side.  I had no idea where I was going but asked the bartender who was expecting me and led me down a hallway to another little room where my friends Alexandra and Ludmilla were waiting.  Everyone else was late also.  There was a little niche in the wall of our room with a statue of Lord Ganesh, the ceilings were decorated with multi-colored fabric to look like the inside of a lavish tent.  The music, too loud, was Arabic.  The whole cafe was full of young people - and me.  Our group dribbled in.  Two more women I hadn't met, Florin, and then Adrian.  It was a cozy group and we talked and laughed and drank beer.  I chose a local beer that I liked named Ursus.  It has a picture of a bear on the label.  The only downside was that there were a lot of smokers.  By the time we left at around 10, we were all pleased at the evening's conversations and I, at least, had the beginnings of a sinus headache from all the smoke.   Florin and I walked for while and stopped at Pizza Hut to grab something to eat.  Pizza Hut here is really much nicer than in the States.  I had a thin crust ham and mushroom and olive pizza that didn't have even one drop of grease on it.  After dinner I caught a cab, dropped Florin at his place, and continued on to my neighborhood, Floreasca.  I didn't stay up long and was surprised to see that it was after midnight when I went to bed.   I woke around 3 with a headache and took a couple of ibuprofen.  It was no problem to fall back to sleep.

It got so chilly yesterday afternoon that I called Florin to tell me how to turn on the heat in the apartment.  No problem - it's part of the tankless hot water system that circulates water through radiators.  Very efficient.

Today I will meet Florin and we'll do some business related to an upcoming conference and then sight-see a little - perhaps the Cathedral and Patriarchal residence, have a meal and I'll come home.  Tomorrow is still in the planning stages.

Many folks at home have sent very heart-warming messages.  Everyone agrees that church is going very well but that they miss me.  Also very reassuring and heart-warming.  I heard that there was snow in the forecast at home - all I can say to that is Ugh!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


By disposition, I'm a cheerful person.  I wake up cheerful and I go to bed cheerful.  At least the great majority of the time.

Today I've been in a funk.  I think it's been building for a while.  I spend a lot of time alone and am feeling quite lonely and homesick today.  I think the idea of my birthday Saturday so far from home is weighing on me.

The good news is that these kinds of days don't last for me and tomorrow I have a meeting I'm looking forward to.

I've been reporting pretty fully on my days here, so thought that, even if it's not up-beat, I'd report on this one too.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Stray Thoughts

Well, although my Turkish restaurant lunch was delicious, it wasn't what I thought is was going to be.  The Romanian menu word was berbecut so I made the (false) assumption that it would be grilled meat over rice.  It seems that berbecut means ram, as in male sheep.  So I started with a rich lentil soup followed by boiled ram over well spiced rice.  A dish of yogurt on the side added to the flavor.  It was good.

While in the restaurant, I noticed that we were the only ones sitting in the non-smoking room.  That's my stray thought:  everywhere we've gone, the level of smoking among both men and women and teens is really high.  I've seen kids who were obviously too young to smoke, puffing away.  In Moldova, a carton of Marlboro Red (locally produced under Marlboro supervision) cost 140 Moldovan Lei - about $12.50 in US dollars.

And water.  People drink a lot of water.  Apa plata is "flat" water or no gas.  Apa minerala is gassy or sparkling water.  Both are equally popular.

And eating outside.  I have been completely happy eating outside every day.  but now the really nice weather seems to have moved into cooler, wetter weather, so two days ago, I started eating inside.  You really notice people smoking when you're inside.

That's enough stray thinking for one day.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Back in Bucharest

Arrived in Bucuresti about an hour ago, cool and rainy.  It seems that the glorious weather is finished for this year and that rainy much cooler days are ahead.  The forecast for the week doesn't have any day that reaches 60 degrees Fahrenheit and my birthday weekend ahead is forecast rainy and cold.

The train ride from Chisinau was uneventful.  This time we were in the first car of the train and it made for a much smoother ride.  No terrible odors this time either.  In the train schedule a full three hours is allotted for border crossings. 

Chisinau was a wonderful time for me.  I immediately felt embraced by the people I met and spent time with.  Those who came to my meeting on spirituality and communion service have already been in contact by email and I may just have made some friendships that will last.

Wednesday or Thursday, I will have a second meeting with some of those who came to my meeting in Bucharest at the beginning of the month.  I could not be more delighted about this.

Now I'm going to get in a long hot shower and take a nap.  Maybe some people can sleep on a train - I'm not one of them.

Columbus Day for you. Travel day for me.

It's a really gray, rainy morning in Chisinau.  We didn't stock our apartment very well with food, so we had Russian potato salad for breakfast with a cup of tea.  Lean, Nataly and Mihai kindly sent some home with us last night.

We will head out shortly for a noon meeting at a human rights organization called Gender-Doc, then we will come back to the apartment to pack up and head to the train station for our 5p.m. train.  We will be in the same train car as when we came from Bucuresti but a different sleeping compartment - not the very last one so may not have the same disturbing odors as on the way here.

I have thoroughly enjoyed my time in Moldova.  The people I've met have been so warm and friendly and willing to go out of their way to make my stay enjoyable and full of good information.  Once again, I have collected email addresses so I can continue a dialogue with my new friends here.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

An excellent Sunday in Chisinau, Moldova

I had an absolutely wonderful day today.  After our terrific meeting and communion last night at our apartment, one of my new friends, Yevgeniy (Eugen) came to get me so we could go to the Wine Festival.  Moldova is full of good vineyards and excellent wine.  We took a mini-bus that was jammed full of people but was cheap transportation.  About 25 cents for each of us.   We walked around the park where the wine festival was going on.  Many well-known names of vineyards were represented.  We tasted some and constantly smelled the food vendors who were cooking kebabs over coals.  An incredible smell.   After we left the festival, we walked through an old park that must once have been beautiful but is currently in disrepair. 

I got back to the apartment about 3 after walking back - an incredible distance on a hot day.  I made myself a cup of tea and lay on the couch to read until Florin returned about 3:30.   At 4, Nataly and Leah picked us up in a cab and we went to a new mall that is really impressive and beautiful.  While the others attended a board meeting, I went to a great coffee shop and drank cappuchino shi apa plata (cappuchino and still water (not gassy)) and read.

After the board meeting, we came back to Leah and Nataly's apartment where Mihai, Leah's 14 year old son was waiting for us.  He had made a really delicious potato salad that he told me about when I saw him in Pittsburgh in July.   Then the food started coming out.  Unbelievable.  The table was groaning with food, as was I after eating it.   Because they knew sarmale was my favorite, they cook it.  Do you remember that Sarmale is cabbage rolls?  There were roasted peppers and a kind of farmer's cheese called brinza.  There was herring.  After filling ourselves, there was fruit and fresh walnuts and chocolate cake.  We picked constantly and drank wine.

It really has been a splendid day.  When I checked my email, I found that some of the people who attended my workshop in Bucharest on the 2nd want to have another session with me during the week.  That is terrific! 

A few pictures from today can be found at

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Playing the tourist

On Friday, Florin had some work and meetings to take care of so Leah and Nataly very kindly offered to take me to a cave monastery in a village called Orhei Vecchi about 35-40 minutes from Chisinau.  Nataly borrowed her father's car and they picked me up.  It was a crystal clear warm morning with full sunshine.  We stopped at a supermarket to pick up picnic lunch supplies and headed out. 

Almost immediately out of the cities we began to see the agricultural nature of the country.  There are vineyards everywhere and hundreds of walnut trees lining the road.  The roads became more and more rural before we reached Orhei Vecchi and we walked up a fairly steep hill to reach the cave monastery.  The area is a bowl-shaped valley surrounded by limestone cliffs.  A small river winds all around it.  When we arrived at the monastery, they were having worship because it was an Orthodox holy day, the Feast of St. John the Evangelist.  We walked down into the cave church.  It was simple and lovely, the walls were the whitish limestone of the very cliffs.   There were about 20 villagers present for the service.  The candelabra over the sanctuary wasn't electric, it was candles.  It was really beautifully primitive.  I could imagine the exact same service being celebrated centuries ago.  After worship we went through a door that literally took us out onto a cliff with a two foot ledge.  It was kind of shocking scary beautiful. 

After leaving the church, we walked along the cliff road to see a new church that was being build.  We passed a very colorful cemetery and a limestone cross overlooking the valley.

After leaving the monastery area, we drove a short way into the valley to see the river filled with ducks and geese.  There were the ruins of a Turkish bath from days when the Ottoman Empire included this part of the world.  Then we walked a fair way along the river to find a place to have a picnic lunch and to relax and talk.  Nataly gathered walnuts.  I found them more delicious than any walnut I ever had.  I couldn't get enough of them.

We arrived back in the city around 4 to meet Florin but he went off to another meeting or two and Leah and I walked downtown while Nataly returned the car to her dad and met us downtown for dinner.  We returned to the restaurant the Florin and I had eaten at the day before.  I had a local beer, a bowl of zeama (a local specialty: a chicken noodle soup with a lemon-sour broth) followed by pork medallions and a pear poached in honey and red wine.  Nataly also had zeama while Leah had potato leek soup.  They had interesting looking salads.   We walked across the street again to the patisserie called Delise for coffee/tea and dessert.  Natalie and Leah had rich chocolate tortes and I had an apple tart with a nut bottom crust.

We walked back to the apartment and chatted with Florin for a while, planning a meeting we're having Saturday night.  The women left and we crashed.  Long, wonderful day.  Pictures can be found at

Report on the train ride to Chisinau, Moldova

Sorry I haven't been able to post in a few days.  I haven't had internet access for long enough to get on the blog.

We caught the Bucharest-Chisinau train on Wednesday night at 8pm.  We found our first class sleeper car.  It was the last car on the train and our compartment was the last compartment on the car.  Our compartment was about 5 feet wide and about 6 and a half feet deep.  There was a padded bench seat on each side of the car with a little table between.  The padded seats were the beds, very narrow.  The conductor came to bring clean sheets.  Oh, I forgot to mention that our compartment was right next to the toilet.  The toilet empties directly onto the tracks.  Sometimes we got the odor of the fuel, sometimes the cigarette smell from the next compartment and sometimes the toilet.

Now the fun part:  imagine Saturday morning TV cartoons.  Now picture a train with the last car flying from side to side and bouncing up and down.  That was us.  At times, I was sure I was going to hit the ceiling and other times I thought I'd be tossed onto the floor.

We reached the Romanian border around 3a.m. and were there for an uneventful hour.  We started again and reached the Moldovan border where first they stamped our passports and then the customs person came to see if we had anything to declare.  They weren't at all interested in my luggage and I didn't have to open it.  Florin had some sex-education/HIV prevention booklets and the rather dour woman looked extensively through each booklet.  Florin offered her a copy but she firmly declined.

We arrived in Chisinau about 8:45 so the 200 mile trip only took twelve and three-quarters hour.  Our friends, Leah and Nataly met us and we went to our apartment to settle in.  Then we went out for a very expensive breakfast.

I'm learning a new currency.  The Moldovan Lei (Lei is the same name the Romanians use for their currency).
One US dollar is about 11 Moldovan Lei.  The bills come in various colors and are smaller than the US dollar.

After a nap and a shower, we walked downtown.  The city appears old and somewhat run down.  There are some interesting churches and other buildings.  The National Cathedral is in the middle of a park.  I'll try to get a photo of it.  Florin took me to the place where the bus of LGBT Pride marchers was attached and almost overturned last year.  Then we went to a really nice restaurant.  I had borscht for the first time in my life and found it delicious.  For my entree I had Moroccan chicken over rice pilaf.  Florin had a potato-leek soup and a veal stew that was served in a very hot covered pot right out of the oven.  The smell was amazing.  After dinner we walked across the street to have coffee and sinfully rich dessert at another place.  I had my usual capuchino and a cake called Torta Mozart - lots of cream and chocolate.  I was so caught up in my dessert, I just don't remember what Florin got.  After that, we walked the 20 minutes back to the apartment and crashed.  That's our Thursday.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Some info about Chisinau

So, I was doing a little research about Chisinau, Moldova and this is what I found:

Rich with history and fertile soils that produce abundant vineyards, Moldova is an
unjustifiably forgotten tourist destination, as yet untouched by the budget airline brigade. In this land-locked eastern European country, you can wander round vast monasteries, sample the local wines, or trek through ancient forests.

Despite remaining one of the poorest countries in Europe, the people are friendly and welcoming, and the main centres, such as the capital Chisinau, have everything a visitor could need. Chisinau's cathedrals, monuments and museums survived severe WWII bombings to the city, including the house where Pushkin spent his days in exile penning some of his most famous works.

There are plenty of small restaurants and coffee shops. The service tends to be slow, but the cuisine is delicious, with a range of traditional national dishes and European food.
National specialities:
• Mititeyi (small grilled sausages with onion and pepper).
• Mamaliga (thick, sticky maize pie) which is served with brinza (feta cheese).
• Tocana (pork stew) should be tried with sweet-and-sour watermelons and apples.

National drinks:
There are more than 100 varieties of excellent wines produced in Moldova.
• White wines include Aligote, Riesling and Sauvignon.
• Moldovan Cabernet and Merlot are noteworthy reds.
• Doina or Nistru brandy is an ideal accompaniment with desserts.

5 to 10% will be gladly accepted.

In Chisinau, there is a good selection of theatres and concert halls, and an opera house. The Eminescu Music and Drama Theatre specialises in Romanian productions, as does the Youth Theatre Luceafarul (Poetic Star). All performances in the Chekhov Drama Theatre are exclusively in Russian (the building used to be the Chisinau Choral Synagogue). The Philharmonia Concert Hall houses Moldova’s Symphony Orchestra. It is also the base for the folklore Doina Choir, the internationally-renowned Zhok National Dance Ensemble and the Fluerash Orchestra of National Music. Russian and Romanian productions can be seen in the puppet theatre Licurici (Glow-worm). The country is famous for its tradition of folk arts and there are many lively musical groups (Tarafs), which play a variety of rare folk instruments including the tsambal (not unlike a dulcimer), cimpoi (bagpipe), fluier and nai.

Shopping:  buys are the handmade carpets and locally-produced wines and brandies. The main open-air market (tolchok) is on Calea Mosilor, about 10 minutes’ drive away from central Chisinau. Although crowded, it sells everything and is a good place for bargains. There are several craft centres where trades include woodcarving, enamel painting, embroidery, weaving, and the making of musical instruments.

So, we'll see how the reality matches the description.  More later.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Monday - a travel day

Sunday night at our huge hotel, there were only 10 guests, including us.  When we went for breakfast, expecting a breakfast buffet, the waitress said, just order what you want.  So we had poached eggs and a kind of sausage that tasted like polish sausage.  There was also a fruit compote made from sour cherries that was really delicious.  I never saw such a thing in the US.

We went around 11:30 to catch a train to Bucharest only to find that the train was going to be delayed.  We checked with the mini-bus and found that there was only one available seat, so we waited until just after 1pm for the train and rode second class in a compartment with four other people.  We arrived in Bucharest at just after 3pm and Florin was hungry for KFC.  So we ate spicy chicken wings at the KFC at the train station.  It was the worst meal I had since arriving in Eastern Europe.  After we ate, we went to a ticket agent to get sleeper car tickets for Wednesday night when we'll leave for Chisinau, Moldova, returning overnight Monday arriving Tuesday.

I'm back at my apartment, bare feet and shorts.  It's 73 degrees and sunny at 6pm.  It's nice to have a bit of solitude.  Tomorrow, I'll have my usual Bucharest routine and may or may not see Florin.  These bouts of activity followed by alone time suit me just fine.  Moldova will be intense people time.  I don't know yet where I'll be on my birthday but wherever it is, a celebration is in order.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Sinaia - Sunday afternoon 10/4

We arrived in Sinaia around 1pm and checked into our hotel.  Then we went on a four hour walking tour.  Some of the pictures are at

I may add a few more photos.  I have one of a poster saying Beware of Bears.  Sinaia is a city created around a royal palace and is a favorite place for Romanians and many tourists to visit.  To read the history of the Romanian Monarchy is quite interesting.  The first king, Carol I was a Hapsburg and his offspring populated palaces around Europe.   It is a city in the mountains and people use it year round; in the winter it is a popular ski spot.  We did a lot of uphill walking and passed various roadside merchants selling a wide range of products.  The embrodery is really beautiful.  One woman was very insistent that I should by an embroidered table cloth.  Her refrain "ten dollars" - it really was worth it but my decor doesn't lend itself to embroidered tablecloths.  The crochet work is also very beautiful.  We looked at the main palace and then did a small tour of a smaller palace built by some of the royal children who found the main palace too much.  We wandered up to a Romanian Orthodox monastery.  They don't allow pictures inside churches which is a pity because we've seen some magnificent churches.

After our palace tour, we walked back downtown and found a restaurant called Steak.  I found out that here steak can mean any kind of meat.  I had bean soup with smoked ham and chicken with red beans and a lot of garlic slices.  Florin had lamb chops, and a salad.  We drank a dry Romanian red wine.  Then we walked back to the hotel and have been in the lobby catching up on email and blogs.

This has been a marvelous weekend.  We will either take a train back to Bucharest tomorrow or a maxi taxi depending on whether there's a general strike or not.  Talk to you soon.

Brasov - Saturday afternoon 10/3 and Sunday morning 10/4

Brasov is a fascinating city.   I have uploaded some pictures and here is the link to see them:

As we always do, we walked all over the place, stopping as needed for a meal or coffee.  I took a bunch of pictures.  My niece, Pam, had a list of pics I had to take.  In fact, I only got two of her requests:  the 15th century Black Church, a German Evangelical congregation - Die Schwarze Kirche.  We attended service there in German on Sunday morning.  The whole inside of the church has ancient Oriental rugs displayed on the walls.  They are from the days of the Turkish Empire.  I remembered enough German from high school - almost 50 years ago - to get the gist of the service and to recognize the gospel.  It was a very staid service without bells and whistles.  No dancing in the aisles there!  There was not communion at the service.  Afterwards we went to a coffee/pastry shop and had sinfully rich pastry and coffee before heading back to our hotel to pack and take a private car to Sinaia.  I really liked the feeling in Brasov, called by the Germans Kronstadt.  The whole city has a friendly, relaxed feeling to it.   Saturday is apparently wedding day because we saw several wedding parties.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

A never-ending journey

I'm writing this from Brasov, in the Carpathian mountains in the Transylvania region of Romania.  Our train left Bucharest at 8:30 a.m. for a short journey of 166km (about 103 miles).  Would you believe that it took four and a half hours.  Yes, it did.  At times, it felt like we could run faster than that train.  Sometimes, because of construction, there were only one set of rails and we had to shunt off and sit and wait for the train or trains from the opposite direction to pass.  It's beautiful countryside to see.  At one point, an old woman was herding about 30 goats across a shallow river.  Often, herding goats is like herding cats.  It's also common to see horse-drawn carts carrying lumber or other goods alongside brand new cars speeding along the highway.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Middle of the Night

It's 2:30a.m. and I ought to be sleeping.  I'm a little wired, sandwiched in between a presentation that went well earlier and a train in a few hours to the mountain cities of Brasov and tomorrow to Sinaia.

10 people came to my presentation tonight, 4 men and 6 women.  We started with a translator but found that those attending were able to understand without it.  People were very interested in the topic and a few stayed around afterwards to talk.  A few were quite knowledgeable and very interested in religion.  A number of those attending left me their email addresses so we could have further conversation.  I am pleased.

I really have to try to get a few hours sleep.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

a blurry Thursday

Thursday went by in a blur since all I did after my daily trip to the market and visit to the park was read to prepare for tonight's workshop.  The invitation went out by email to a large mailing list of all kinds of people: activists, members of LGBT groups, straight allies, etc.  Did I tell you the title of the workshop is "God, Sex, and Spirituality?"  We have no idea if it will draw 3 or 103 people.  So, it might be a small group discussion and it might be lecture with a lot of discussion or it might be a few folks sitting around drinking coffee and talking.  I'll let you know tomorrow.

I mentioned drinking must the other day as a fall favorite.  In addition to this unfermented grape juice, there are many things that are commonly drunk that we don't see a lot.   In the juice section there are pear nectar and peach nectar both of which I really like and there are varieties of Nestea I never saw at home, such as Red Tea flavored with pear.  I'm enjoying this very much.

As I was getting ready to come for this adventure, I thought about the things I would need most.  Reading material was on my list ahead of anything else.  I could do without underwear and socks before I could do without books!  I couldn't possibly pack the number of books I would need for seven week.  I needed theology and scripture and light reading to study from and prepare.  My solution was to splurge and buy an Amazon Kindle.  Look it up on Amazon if you don't know what it is.  It will hold up to 1500 books so I loaded it up and it has been an indispensable companion.

This has been a mish-mash of ideas on this Friday morning.  I'm going to eat, shower and head out for my walk and shopping.  For those who are having trouble commenting, the key is to have a Google or AOL/AIM or some other ID.  Each comment needs to be from one of those and there's a drop down box of choices at the end of the comment text box.  Thanks to those who've shared thoughts with me.  It's very nice to know I'm connected.