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Panoramas from Southern Transilvania

Back in August, I took several panoramas during a trip from Sighisoara to Fagaras where we decided to take the winding country roads, which meant also meant driving on dirt roads for quite some time during that trip. The views were worth it. Here are a few of them. Go ahead, click through to see them at full size, the details are worth it.

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A drive through Mures County

A few weekends ago, we took an afternoon drive through the Southern part of Mures County (in Romania). We wanted to drive on side roads and get a better sense of the countryside. We mapped out the itinerary ahead of time. Here it is:

  • Târnaveni
  • Seuca
  • Ganesti
  • Mica
  • Idrifaia
  • Suplac
  • Odrihei
  • Croisânmartin
  • Balauseri
  • Fântânele
  • Viforoasa
  • Sângeorgiu de Padure (Castle Rhédey)
  • Lacul Bezid
  • Fântânele
  • Bordosiu
  • Vetca
  • Jacodu
  • Soard
  • Vânatori
  • Albesti
  • Sighisoara

Road quality is an issue of concern in Romania. A lot of them need repair, a lot are under construction and a few are in pretty good shape. The state of a road doesn’t always correspond to its importance — in other words, an important road isn’t always in good shape, though it should be. We were surprised to find that a country road in the middle of nowhere was in really good shape while one of the main county roads was in bad shape; more on that later.

One of the places we wanted to visit was Castle Rhédey in Sângeorgiu de Padure. When we got there, it was closed due to renovations, so we drove on.

Castle Rhédey

The next place we wanted to see was Lake Bezid. It’s a man-made lake, created by flooding an entire valley and a village in order to have a large water source for the surrounding region.

Lake Bezid Lake Bezid Lake Bezid

There were day campers on the shore of the lake and lots of people were enjoying the nice weather. We stopped a couple of times and walked around. Sophie was curious as always.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The ruins of some of the buildings from the old village of Bezid, now buried under the lake, can still be seen.

Church ruins Ruins

We drove around the lake, hoping to find a side road back to the main road, but there wasn’t one, so we had to turn back; keep that in mind if you visit it.

The map shows a country road that links Fantanele to Sighisoara. It goes through the village of Vetca, going through Jacodu, Soard, Vanatori and Albesti. If you should decide to take that same road, know you’ll get to a point (past Soard) where only the most able offroad vehicle will be able to continue, so plan on turning back and using the main road from Balauseri to get to Sighisoara.

We didn’t regret trying that side route at all though. The village of Vetca is made up of three smaller villages (Salasuri, Jacodu and Vetca) and it’s such a beautiful place that it’s worth visiting even though it’s out of the way.

As soon as you enter the lands that belong to the village, you’ll notice the difference. Most notable is the quality of the road, which is in fantastic condition compared to other country roads we’ve driven on. Then you also notice there’s no garbage on the side of the road, that the fields are tended to nicely and most importantly, that the villages themselves are clean, well landscaped and the houses are well maintained. Some of the houses are downright picturesque, right out of a story book. See the photos below.

Wheat RPOP-2013-07-1262 RPOP-2013-07-1264 RPOP-2013-07-1263 RPOP-2013-07-1274 A restored house in Vetca. A restored house in Vetca. A restored house in Vetca. Sculpted gate A restored house in Vetca.

As we drove through and marveled at what we saw, we met someone by the side of the road, cutting the grass. We stopped to ask him what he knew about the beautiful houses. It turned out to be the mayor of the village of Vetca, Mr. Fekete Pál. We got to talking and found out he’s the man responsible for the quality of the road, the cleanliness in the village, and the little storybook houses you see in the photos enclosed here.

Mayor of Vetca

There are a total of 800 families in the three villages under his leadership, and they’re in the middle of nowhere, not in a major city. The revenues are what they are. Yet here is a man that managed to get a decent road built through his villages, to encourage the people to keep their houses and streets clean and also to renovate all of the beautiful houses I’ve shown here. So when I hear some mayor in a town or larger city complain about not having the funds needed to do his or her job, I’ll think of Mr. Fekete from now on. If he could do it, then it can be done. What these other mayors are lacking is the willpower and the inclination, not the funds or the help.

Mr. Fekete is clearly a man who isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty doing the actual work. Not only is he a builder, he’s also a sculptor in wood. The sculptures you see in front of the houses, the gates (including the big wooden gate at the entrance into the village) and all of the other woodwork was done by him.

When I left, I told him he’s achieved amazing things and  he should be proud of them. I was glad to shake his hand and wish him the best.

If that country road had continued on from Soard to Vanatori, Albesti and through to Sighisoara, we wouldn’t have turned back, I wouldn’t have taken these photos and we wouldn’t have met Mr. Pál. Isn’t it interesting how things work themselves out? What you initially think is a setback turns out to be an interesting adventure!

Hope you enjoyed the photos!

Classic Solo Shoes

Classic Solo Handmade Shoes

Late last year, I ordered a pair of handmade shoes from Stefan Burdea, a shoemaker from Bucharest, Romania. I’d like to show them to you now. They’re the Classic Solo model, a beautiful and understated pair of shoes made from a single piece of leather.

Some of you may already know that it’s fairly difficult to make these shoes, as it requires much greater skill from the shoemaker to get it right from a single piece of leather than it is to make them from multiple pieces, which can be fitted much more easily around the boot tree.

I’d like to show these shoes to you now via a video I made (part of my Elegant Gentleman series). I’m happy with them, especially since they meet a very important criteria for me: they’re comfortable to wear for long periods of time. That’s the most important criteria for me when choosing shoes. They have to fit me very well. All other aspects: design, finish, materials, are secondary. Sure, I first pick up a pair of shoes based on how they look, but if they don’t fit me well, I’ll put them right back down on the shelf and move on.

I don’t know if you’ve ever had a pair of handmade shoes made for you, but you should if you get the chance. They’re much more comfortable than machine-made shoes. And because they’re handmade, there’s usually more attention to detail and a higher level of workmanship, as you’ll see from the photos. It’s rewarding to wear shoes that you know were made just for you. Try it sometime!

De Vorba cu Ligia: the first four shows

De Vorba cu Ligia

As I looked over my site archive today, I realized that I haven’t yet told you about Ligia‘s latest show, which is called “De Vorba cu Ligia“. Translated from Romanian, it means “Talking with Ligia”. It’s a simple name and a lovely show where she interviews various interesting people doing good things in Romania. It’s a show where we also talk about raw food, which is what we did in the fourth, most recent episode. We publish each episode to Ligia’s YouTube Channel in full 1080p HD. We started filming it in December of last year, when Ligia was about six months pregnant with Sophie, and we filmed the last episode this last weekend, when Sophie was 2½ months old.

I’ve posted the first four shows here for you. They’re in Romanian, but I know that at least a few of you subscribed readers know the language, so you’re fine. As for the rest of you, the last two episodes will be of interest, because we’ll show you stuff, not just talk about it, and that’s easily understood in any language. Besides, you’ll get to see our little Sophie in the last one, and babies are adorable in any language!

Episode 1 (12/20/12):

Episode 2 (2/5/13):

Episode 3 (2/14/13):

Episode 4 (5/22/13):

Enjoy! :-)

More photos of spring blossoms

I took these photos a few weeks ago in our garden and didn’t get a chance to post them until now. The sour cherry trees were full of flowers, the lilac trees were sprouting leaves, the ladybugs had started to come out, the dandelions were in bloom (I love dandelions), the strawberries and tulips were blossoming as well, and a few more flowers whose names I don’t know were looking quite pretty. Enjoy!

I’ll have a regular coffee, please

Coffee… some say when you drink it, it’s like flogging a tired horse. Sometimes you need to do that — you need to push yourself a bit further and get that day’s work done. And sometimes you just want to savor a well-made cup of coffee. It’s a bit like meditation. You focus on one thing while you let the world flow around you.

It’s getting harder to find good coffee on the go in Romania. I used to get an espresso now and then, especially when driving at night. That was till I got tired of espressos that were too bitter, too bland or tasted like motor oil. It used to be you’d rarely find an espresso back in 2008 and 2009. Now everyone, including the random roadside stand, has an espresso machine and most taste terrible. To date, the best espresso I’ve had was at a little hotel on the beach in Ladispoli, Italy, back in 2009, and that says something about the quality of the espressos if in more than three years nothing even came close.

The thing about the espresso is that if you want a good one, you have to have a good espresso machine. And that machine has to be serviced regularly and constantly calibrated. You have to put in quality coffee in the right amount. But most restaurants and hotels forget these other things. They think that if they’ve got an espresso machine, they’re good to go. No, no, no. Not unless you want to sell crappy espressos.

So I’m not drinking espressos anymore. I’ve switched back to regular coffee. To my dismay, I’ve found out that most places don’t have filter coffee anymore. In the short span of three years, they’ve all stocked up on espresso machines and forgotten about regular coffee. Stop at any place in Romania but a five-star hotel and ask for it. You know what they’ll say? “Sorry, we don’t have any. But we can serve espressos. Would you like one?” To which my answer is easily guessed.

Given my experiences, I was pleasantly surprised when I had breakfast at a Swiss hotel next to Hanul lui Manuc in Bucharest, where I had what was quite possibly the best cup of filter coffee ever. Just as I was thinking it, my dad, with whom we were dining, exclaimed: “Wow, this is very good coffee!” I sure wish I could remember the name of the place but you can’t miss it, it’s right next to Hanul lui Manuc, the great historic inn, which by the way, doesn’t serve filter coffee or turkish coffee, only espresso, as if the espresso existed in the 1800s.

To make sure, we went back there just last week to have breakfast and sure enough, the coffee was just as delicious: perfectly flavored, not bitter, not watery, the right aftertaste, went down easy and made you want more. I called the waiter over, complimented them on their coffee and asked how they made it. In case you’d like to follow the same recipe, here it is: ground Lavazza coffee, 6 grams per 50 ml of water. They run it through a regular coffee maker, albeit a big one. That’s it. It’s so simple. Why aren’t others doing it?