During our recent visit to Bran Castle, we had a few spare hours that we chose to spend wandering through the mountains above Bran. We found a dirt road that wound its way up the mountains through a beautiful village called Sodohol and then entered into Bucegi National Park. We stumbled onto it by chance and followed it till we could go no further without damage to the underside of our car, so we parked it and walked. We had a wonderful time and I hope the photos you see here will show it. Some of them are high-resolution panoramas and one includes a view of Bran Castle from afar. Enjoy!
This weekend, Ligia and I participated at an event called “Tabăra lui Andrei”, put together by the team at Țara lui Andrei. They organize these wonderful camps for underprivileged children every summer in the village of Bran, in order to provide training, employment opportunities and personal development courses for these children. Each camp lasts about a week, with teams of about 60 children brought in to learn how to grow into productive, well-balanced people who like what they do in life. They do miracles! Normally, you’d say you can’t do much with someone in a week, but you’d be surprised at the results they get!
This week’s camp was for chefs and waiters. At the end of the week, after a lot of on-the-job intensive training and motivational seminars, they organized, cooked and served a three-course meal to a group of Romanian celebrities, notables and government officials invited to attend the dinner party.
We, the dinner guests, were treated to a wonderful event and were blown away by the professionalism of these children of high-school age. The evening started with appetizers, continued with a private tour of Bran Castle and culminated with this special dinner, served in the newly opened Castle Tea House.
I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the good people at Țara lui Andrei for the amazing, life-changing work they’re doing and for the impact they have on the lives of these children who get to see life through a different lens, even if only for a little while, and then get employment opportunities and a chance at a better life. I’m so proud that this kind of work is going on in Romania!
I also made a video where I talked a little more about this, and there’s a photo gallery here as well.
Ligia and I were in attendance at a wonderful event last night, organized by the good folks from Proud To Be Romanian at Cetatea Făgărașului, a medieval fortress whose construction began in 1310 and continued through various repairs and improvements well into the 1630s.
It goes without saying that I love medieval fortresses and castles. I feel right at home whenever I visit one. I loved the architecture here, the various tunnels and cellars that run under its walls, the beautiful, grandiose rooms and hallways but most of all and perhaps a little odd, the window encasements which were made of carved stone. They were so beautifully and delicately made and were perfect for the style of the castle.
We got there a little before the entertainment started. Being there ahead of time gave us the opportunity to explore the castle and take some photos, which you’ll get to see here. The evening’s festivities involved wine and champagne tastings, hors d’oeuvres, some networking, a ceremony celebrating those who are doing good things in Romania (Ligia was among those who were feted) and a concert in the castle’s inner courtyard.
I also shot some 360° video with my Giroptic camera (it’s embedded below and may not display properly in certain browsers like Safari on a Mac). I have to apologize for its quality. While the novelty of this kind of video kind of makes up for the camera’s technical inability to record proper HD video, it’s not enough to recommend it. And when you hear the bad sound recorded with its microphones, you’re even more put off. Again, sorry… If any of you know how to improve the quality of the video captured with this camera, please let me know.
But enough whining! The event was great, the champagne and the wine were great and the castle was amazing! We loved it! One of the people we got to meet was Mrs. Simona-Mirela Miculescu, Representative of the UN Secretary General and Head of the UN Office at United Nations (you’ll see her in one of the photos with Ligia) and you should have seen my face when she said she knew me and liked my show, Romania Through Their Eyes… 😳
Thank you Adriana and Rob for putting this wonderful shindig together!
This is a timelapse video shot in the Bucegi mountains in Romania in spring (14-15 march 2017), more specifically in Fundățica village, Brașov county. The Bucegi mountains are part of the Carpathian Mountains and yes, they are near Bran Castle, which we all know from Bram Stoker’s novel, blah-blah-blah, vampires, blah-blah, winter snowstorm, nightfall, blah-blah, blood-sucking and all that jazz, yes, this text is intentional, hope you find it as funny as I do.
I recorded this over the course of two days (12-13 march 2017) in Bucharest’s Sector 1, with a very nice view of Herastrau Park, courtesy of our hotel room at the Pullman. We were there for our spring expo. Enjoy!
Here are over 500 photos from the latest edition of our Raw Generation Expo. It’s one of our worthwhile projects, an event through which we promote healthy foods and a balanced life. This one took place in Cluj-Napoca and it was the second regional edition we held there. We’re coming up on twelve national editions and this one makes six regional editions. Here’s to a good life for everyone!
Raw Generation Expo Cluj a fost un eveniment extraordinar de bine primit, care a incununat cu succes seria expozitiilor de anul acesta. Am avut parte peste 40 de expozanti (mai multi ca la prima editie) si in ambele zile foarte multi vizitatori fericiti. Mai jos puteti vedea o parte din pozele de la eveniment. Multumim Cluj-Napoca pentru primirea frumoasa si ne revedem in toamna lui 2017!
One of the first things I feel in the morning is my daughter kissing me on the face and whispering “Daddy…”, usually followed by a request for food or cartoons or playtime. She’s our alarm clock, whether we like it or not, though I have to say, no matter how tired I am, waking up to a little angel giving me a kiss and calling me daddy is a pretty good way to start the day.
Yesterday morning, even though I’d worked till 2 am and she was waking me up at 7 am, I got up and took her in my arms and started walking together toward her playroom. I looked casually out the kitchen window and (this happens every year) let out a “Yoo-hoo!” because the first snowfall of the winter had already covered our yard. Sophie did the same — after all, she wants to be like her daddy — and we both giggled as we looked out the windows at the pure, little ice crystals coming down in a hurry.
Still, I needed my sleep, so I got a fire going in her playroom, got her some food and shuffled back to bed. By the time I got up again, the snow was still falling, albeit in less of a hurry, and blustery winter winds had begun to blow. You know the kind, the chill goes right to your bones and makes you shiver no matter how many clothes you have on you.
After breakfast, I had to grab a camera and go out to photograph the snowfall. It had started coming down a little heavier again and this was a chance not to be missed, in spite of the cold weather.
I did just that. The streets were mostly deserted, which is just the way I like it, although the tracks of hurried morning traffic were visible in the snow. It was odd weather. The warmer ground had turned the freshly fallen snow to slush and yet high winds were blowing down, carrying more snow from up above and spreading it everywhere. It was not a good time to walk around with a camera in hand. My fingers began to slowly freeze and become unresponsive. I’d forgotten how this felt. A warm summer will do that to you. My nose and ears seemed to be in a parallel plane where the sensations consisted mostly of prickly pins being shot at them. The cold started creeping up my legs and in spite of the old saying that goes something like “I’m freezing my a** out here…” it wasn’t my derriere that was suffering, it was my kidneys. Weird stuff…
Anyway, I persisted, walked throughout the historic district and photographed what caught my eye. I hope you’ll enjoy these photos. It was a fun and partially frozen experience…
By the way, high wind advisories are still in effect throughout Romania. Meteorologists are saying that some regions are expected to have winds up to 60-70 km/h. Should be interesting!
This is probably the first hotel review I’ve ever published on my site, but I feel strongly about this and wanted to share my thoughts with you.
It’s not often I have high praise for a hotel. I do for this one. My wife and I are repeat customers here and we’ve always had positive experiences. We’ve stayed here multiple times during the past few years and we can both say that it’s the one thing we look forward to our trips to Bucharest. We like to travel, but we hate spending long times on the road, dealing with traffic, bad drivers, hot, sweaty weather and being cooped up in a car for long periods of time. So after all that unpleasantness, being able to unwind in a pleasant hotel room with a wonderful view is decompression heaven. To me, there are certain things which are important in a hotel:
- Location: how central is it, based on the business we need to conduct in that town, or the sightseeing we want to do, if we’re there for pleasure. For us, a hotel in Sector 1 (the northern part of Bucharest) is exactly what we need, because we conduct most of our business here and it’s easy for us to head to the highway and get back home.
- Parking: I want proper, spacious parking, right next to the hotel, free of charge if possible, guarded and well-lit, to minimize the potential for criminal activities and to make it easy for us to load and unload our car (we tend to travel with lots of luggage);
- Comfortable rooms and comfortable beds: yes on both counts. I can’t properly express in words how good it feels to step into a hotel room here after a long, hot day in the car, take a shower and unwind. I know I can get a good night’s sleep, wake up refreshed and go about my day with confidence.
- Price: it needs to be affordable for our budget, yet not too low, so as to discourage the unpleasant types (rude, loud idiots who think hotels are places where you party and make noise). Here the Pullman tends to be on the high side, which sometimes makes it difficult for us to stay here, but it’s still the first place we check when we plan on staying in Bucharest, because it often offers deals and special pricing for repeat customers.
- Friendly, helpful staff that resolves our issues promptly: not that we’ve had many issues while staying here, only minor ones, but it’s nice to know they’re always on it when we ask them.
- Great architectural design, both inside and outside: while the outside of this hotel is fairly streamlined and modern, the inside is great; it has lots of classical design cues, the hallways and the rooms are carpeted so as to reduce noise, the floors and walls are soundproofed, and best of all, each room has double doors. Let me explain that last part: there’s the entrance to the room, which leads into a hallway, with access to the closet and the bathroom. Then there’s another door that leads into the room itself. What this means is that there are two doors and two walls between your bed and the hallway (which is the main sound source at night) and this ensures you’re isolated from all the hallway traffic and can actually get a good night’s sleep.
- Large windows with great views: it delivers perfectly here. Pretty much every room gets a beautiful, panoramic view of Bucharest (see the featured image posted here).
- Good closet space and luggage stands: self-explanatory. It’s surprising how many other hotels have terrible closet space and no luggage stands. These two things are staples in a hotel room. They simply must be there.
- Armchairs and a work desk: for unwinding and getting some work done.
- Key cards that work: in many other hotels, the cards keep going inactive, requiring guests to go back to the front desk and get them reprogrammed. Not so at the Pullman. You can keep them in your wallet, next to your credit cards, you can keep them next to your cellphone or other RFID cards, and they’ll always work.
- A great breakfast: while the menu stays the same here, it’s a good menu and the food is very good. They also serve good pot-brewed coffee, which is my favorite, because I’m fed up with bad espresso.
- Good WiFi: the WiFi is free here and it works reliably. It’s not the fastest, but it works and you can actually get stuff done on it. I’m writing this post on the hotel’s WiFi. I’ve been to so many hotels where they charge you for WiFi, or it’s free but it’s crappy and peters out, leaving you frustrated and having to resort to 3G on your cellphone or tablet.
- Workout and exercise facilities: while the workout equipment selection is limited, it’s enough for maintenance workouts and as an added bonus, there are two saunas (a traditional sauna and a turkish sauna). They’re a godsend after a long of day of work and standing on our feet.
Here’s hoping things stay the same here, and we can keep relying on this hotel for our stays in Bucharest!
In a sentence: expensive, crowded, terrible accommodations and lots of rude people. I expressed my initial thoughts in a Facebook post embedded below. Read on for the details.
We thought we’d go to the beach for a few days. We hadn’t taken a vacation in years, and since we had to attend a wedding that was taking place in Constanta, we thought, why not combine the wedding with a few days of vacation? In theory, that sounds like a good thing, a practical thing. But this is Romania, so when you want to do good and practical things, you usually have to pair them with nasty things of some sort.
That is the ever-present curse of life in Romania. It’s a gorgeous country, but you can’t always look up at the mountains, the flowers, the rolling hills, the forests (which are disappearing) and so on. Sooner or later, you have to look at the people (many of which have little or no concern for the environment or public order), at the ground with garbage strewn everywhere, you have to open your wallet and pay ridiculous prices for stuff that costs less in most other places, you have to spend time cueing up in long lines with smelly people to deal with lazy (but too-well-paid) government bureaucrats, et caetera. Sadly, the heart wins this little game of positives and negatives and in the end, you’re still in the country, fuming over the crap you have to swallow but somehow happy with your choice.
Back to the beach-going experience… You should know that going to the beach in Romania is much more expensive than going to the beach in many neighboring countries. I would even venture to say that if you were to take the money you’d pay for a stay at a 5-star hotel on the Black Sea here, you could probably have a pretty nice stay at a 4-star resort in or around Monaco (where higher prices are justified), and just about everything about the trip would be better. You’d end up happier, better fed, more rested and more entertained. But for some damn reason I can’t fathom, some foreigners still choose to come to Romanian beaches and pay ridiculous prices. I understand why Romanians do it (see the paragraph above), but why do these foreigners put up with the crap? Low self-esteem, maybe? Perhaps they like being treated like crap by hospitality employees? Perhaps they like paying good money for sub-par accommodations? Maybe they love getting honked at and cussed out by Romanian drivers? Don’t know. Might be worth exploring (by someone else, not me).
We had to book our stay in Constanta when it was still winter in order to find a decent place. After much online research, we settled on renting a furnished apartment. It was more reasonable than paying for a hotel and also more convenient, because we had a kitchen, but I wasn’t thrilled by our stay. There were small things that bothered me, such as creaking, noisy doors that rubbed against their frames and were hard to open and close, uneven floors, tiny bathrooms with showers that weren’t in good order, no P-traps on the drains, which meant weird smells coming up from the pipes, lots of road noise from outside, A/C units that didn’t cool all the rooms, the lack of a dining room table, which meant we had to eat off a coffee table, and last but not least, having to find our own parking (that’s a feat unto itself in the middle of summer in Constanta).
At any rate, we had it good compared to what you’d get in a 3-star or a 4-star hotel, where you’ll encounter much higher prices, grimy rooms, ill-equipped bathrooms, stuff that’s not working, expensive parking, crappy breakfasts and the list can go on and on. Fact is, star ratings on the hotels and pensions in Romanian beach towns differ greatly from those in the rest of the country or elsewhere in the world, for that matter. I’m not sure if this is because of bribery, but you can safely assume that a 3-star hotel will actually have 2-star accommodations and likewise, a 4-star hotel will have 3-star accommodations, a 5-star hotel will have 4-star… you get the point. And I’m being kind here when I drop the ratings by only one star. The difference is more like 1.5 stars and the prices are insanely high at 4 and 5-star hotels. You know, I wouldn’t mind paying those prices if I actually got the level of service one gets in other luxury hotels in other countries, and if the experience as a whole merited the expense. But it doesn’t. The decor inside these places is garish, in bad taste, and you get treated as if you should be thankful they took you in. Why pay good money for crappy service and ambiance? Makes no sense to me.
Just about now, any rational human being reading this will ask why Romanians put up with this crap. You have to understand, Romanians had to put up with a lot of crap during a half-century of communism and some of that fear of making waves is still going around. Plus, it’s the Romanian Black Sea. It’s all the seaside we’ve got. There’s the damned nostalgia of trips to the beach during our childhood and it clouds our minds. The hotel and pension owners know this (at least on some intuitive level, because they see the demand) and so they have this attitude that says “You get to go to the beach, this is a prime location, shut up and put up with what I give you, because there’s always someone else that pays these prices”. It’s a truly shitty attitude and these are truly shitty people and I for one refuse to put up with shitty people.
As long as I’m talking about people, let me address the people of Constanta. I realize the picture I present here isn’t representative of the city as a whole, but hey, tourists don’t get to see the city as a whole, they interact mainly with drivers on the streets and with hospitality employees and those two groups are exactly the ones that are bothersome. I can’t believe all the honking and the rudeness on Constanta’s streets. I know there are a lot of tourists in town during the summer, but my bad experiences were with cars bearing the county of Constanta license plates. They either drove too slow or too fast. They honked incessantly. They blocked our exit from parking lots so often I finally lost my temper and had a shouting match with a few “cocalari” in a Porsche Cayenne (isn’t it amazing how many assholes own Porsche Cayennes?) I can be intimidating when I’m angry so on the bright side, it was funny to see the fear in their eyes when I confronted them. I wanted to break into laughter but I kept up my angry mask and got them to back off. On the not so bright side, anger has a price, as you know, which in my case was a beauty of a headache that lasted the night.
I also couldn’t believe how many people were revving up their engines to show off during all times of the day, and the police was nowhere to be found when these things happened. Noise violations are punishable with hefty fines in Romania. It’s too bad the police can’t be bothered to enforce the laws. I mean, it’s not like that’s their job or anything…
As for hospitality employees, let me just give you one example: many of the beaches here are private, which means some bar or restaurant or hotel owns them (not the entire thing, but a strip that extends almost to the breakers). On these strips of beach, they typically offer some version of lounge chair that you can rent. Until recently, you could rent them by the half day or the full day. Now they only offer full day rents, even if you’re only planning to spend 1-2 hours there. We wanted to get one of these chairs for a short stay at the beach, so we were willing to pay the silly-money sum they were asking just so we could sit down for an hour or so as my daughter played in the sand. We paid it, headed to one of the chairs, only to be stopped by an employee who told us we couldn’t sit there. Why? Because we needed to pick a chair toward the back of the strip. Excuse me?! I’m paying the same price as everyone else, why should I sit at the back when there are plenty of available chairs right by the waves? The owner, a bald, rotund man with a tight jacket, came over to see what was happening. I reiterated my stance and they weren’t having it, but neither was I. I asked for my money back, we got it and we walked away. I think what those dummies were trying to do was to discriminate and stick the “uncool” people at the back (parents with kids, older people, etc.) so they could stick the “cool” people at the front and by association seem cooler themselves, but I’m not going to put with up with this sort of crap from anyone. I’m not a second-class citizen anywhere and I won’t accept second-class treatment. And neither should any of you, if you’re reading this.
We could’ve played the celebrity card. My wife is a well-known author in Romania, she’s been on TV hundreds of times, so we could’ve acted important and “cool”, but why spend our time and money with shitty people who discriminate against decent people? Don’t think this is an isolated incident. This sort of crap happens everywhere: bars, restaurants, night clubs (particularly at night clubs). If you don’t look “cool”, you get treated like crap. Instead of trying to fit in and putting up with this bullshit, choose not to spend your money where they do this. Vote with your wallet, it’s the best vote you can cast for just about any important issue.
The second day we came to the beach, we wanted to spend the whole day, so we had to find a place where we could rent some lounge chairs and an umbrella. We found one where we could sit right next to the shoreline and we could watch our daughter closely as she played in the sand, then we settled in. Well, the umbrella was a flimsy thing that barely covered one chair, which meant we had to be constantly aware of the movement of the sun and move our chairs and the umbrella around accordingly. So not only did we pay what we think was a ridiculous amount for crappy chairs and a crappy umbrella, but we briefly fell asleep and as the sun moved, it gave me a nasty sunburn on half my back and my legs. Damn these pricks who don’t take the time to think about what they’re buying for their customers!
Finally, Romanian beaches are over-crowded. They’ve always been over-crowded. Given all I’ve written above, it’s not logical, but there it is. These days the government tests water samples at the most commonly used beaches in order to determine and announce the presence of unwanted organisms or chemicals and while we were in Constanta, they were quite clear that the water was full of unwanted bacteria in Mamaia (the main resort town). They were advising people to go further north and bathe in cleaner waters. Also, we tried taking a leisurely stroll on the boardwalk one evening. You know how in most places in the world, this is possible? In Mamaia, this turned into a game of dodging left and right and craning our necks to spot breaks in the crowd. It was insane. I’ve never seen so many people taking a “leisurely stroll” together anywhere in the world. It was stifling. I don’t do well in large crowds. We ended up turning onto the beach and walking among the breakers so we could get some peace and quiet.
I will say this: they’ve renovated the boardwalk and it looks really good. Lots of restaurants have popped up here and there offering all sorts of cuisines and dishes. There’s also a brand new portion of the boardwalk which is wider and (for now) quieter and easier to navigate. We took a walk there on another evening and it was pleasant. But to our dismay, it seems just about every place on the boardwalk assumes the main way to attract customers is to broadcast loud music at all times of the day. The music is typically some sort of club music with thumping base beats, because of course “research has shown” that crappy loud music with lots of base beats is exactly what people need in order to relax, day or night. Where the f**k are the police when this happens? They’d bring in a fortune in noise violation tickets.
Thanks for reading through this. It wasn’t pleasant to write, because it forced me to re-live those experiences, but we must speak up when we encounter these situations. Perhaps I’m different, because I’m used to the beaches of South Florida, which are very democratic: you drive up, park your car, plop down anywhere you like and enjoy the ocean. It’s clean, it’s peaceful and you’re left alone. When you do pay money to be on the beach, you get treated nicely and if you’re at a resort like the Breakers, you get treated very well. There’s a range of hotels and accommodations available, the prices aren’t insane and the star ratings are actually meaningful. And so is the case pretty much anywhere else in the States. Not so in Romania…
Question: what do you do if your child gets sick on a weekend in Romania?
Answer: nothing; not an effing thing, not unless you want to deal with Romania’s state health system.
Sophie got sick over the weekend. We initially thought it was a mild case of heat stroke. Now we think it’s enterocolitis.
We don’t frequent state-run hospitals in Romania, because the doctors and nurses are more often than not undertrained and uncaring unless you bribe them, and the facilities are incredibly dirty and overrun with filthy, smelly “citizens” — you know, the kind of “citizens” who don’t contribute a cent toward the very services they overrun.
When she started to complain of a headache and tummy ache and started to go limp in Ligia’s arms, we panicked. We thought, okay, let’s hop in the car and drive to the private Polisano hospital in Sibiu, which is where we typically go on the rare occasions when we need medical care.
An aside: we don’t go to the state-run hospital in Medias, which is where we live, because it’s packed full of the same medical staff I mentioned above and is also full of the same “citizens” in its waiting rooms. The last and only time we tried using the emergency room at the hospital in Medias, Sophie could have literally died for lack of care and concern on the part of the staff, who were more concerned with the “citizens” than with tax-paying, hard-working people like us. But hey, the SMURD helicopters can fly low right over our houses to ferry the dirty dipshits to the emergency rooms, waking us up and scaring our children at night, because why not, dirty dipshits are more important than tax-paying, law-abiding, decent people.
Back to Polisano. Turned out they were closed on weekends. What kind of a hospital is closed on weekends?! So there were no private, paying alternatives for people like us on a weekend. We were pointed in the direction of the state-run emergency room.
We walked in. It was chock full of dirty, smelly “citizens”, some of them yelling at the nurses. Some dipshit was yelling about suing the hospital, so everyone could hear him. The door to the treatment room got slammed into his face by one of the nurses (good on her). There was grime everywhere in the public areas, even on the walls. There weren’t enough chairs. “People” were standing up, emanating the unmistakable stenches of unwashed sweat, layers of it, that had been alternately drying up and getting wet again on them for days on end. NO way we were staying there. We walked out with nowhere to go.
Thankfully, Sophie started feeling better. We took a walk through Sibiu’s historic district with her. We held her in our arms. When we got back to the car, she started complaining again about aches. We were at a loss, with nowhere to go.
Sophie’s usual pediatrician doesn’t answer her phone on weekends. Most of the doctors in Romania don’t answer their phone on weekends, as if diseases and accidents take a break on the weekends as well. A pediatrician in Medias even yelled at me when I called her on a Saturday, told me not to bother her and go to the emergency room.
I got in touch with my dad, who is a doctor — albeit not a pediatrician, but a psychiatrist and a damn good one if I might add. He lives in another part of the country, so he couldn’t see Sophie personally, but judging from her symptoms, he eliminated heat stroke and pointed us toward the likely possibility of enterocolitis, probably contracted at the kindergarten. We picked up some furazolidone for her from the only pharmacy in town open 24 hours and drove home.
As a last reminder of how shitty the healthcare system is in Romania, the hallway leading up to the pharmacy stank to high heaven of a filthy mix of old perspiration and urine. I complained to the pharmacist, who apologized and said about half an hour before me, a gypsy woman had come in for something and left the pungent odour behind her. The pharmacist had opened all of the windows to air out the stench, but it was stubbornly clinging to the space.
Conclusion: For f***sake, don’t get sick on weekends in Romania. Better yet, just don’t get sick in Romania, period, end of story.