Chasing the Light, Stories, Thoughts About Life, Traveling

Lost in the Forest of Dean

Silence never felt so deep and yet, I was not alone. I looked up at the haunting sway of trees, their branches both sheltering and menacing me. A gun was shot in the heart of the forest. My heart stopped for a moment. My flee from the Dean’s castle had not gone unnoticed. But I could not marry this shadow of a man. He who had lurked in darkness, watching his own men die on the battlefield.

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I knew a place where I would be safe, The Speech House. The lady of the house would surely host me and send my pursuers away. I stepped over the moss covered branches, pressing them deeper into the mud. My feet were cold and wet, but eager to make haste. The sky was on the brink of sunset and I seemed to have lost my way.

A crow hissed a warning as I got closer to its nest. I took that as an omen to turn away. How long had I been running for? Hours, perhaps, but they weighed on me like days. At last I could see the welcoming lights of the manor house on top of a hill. The statue of a stag watched over me as I squelched my way up the hill. I could hear hushed voices amongst the trees.

My dress got hooked by a thorny branch. I turned to untangle it. My eyes filled with fright at the sight of four men with their hunting dogs on thick leather leads. As I forced myself free I could hear the sound of the leads being set loose. With the last bit of breath I flung myself over the massive oak doors of the Speech House. They were locked! ‘Let me in!’ I cried. The dogs were almost at my feet, their growls drew nearer with every pound on the door. I covered my face in anticipation of a fierce encounter.

*

The doors of the bus open. I have been waiting in the snow covered night for half an hour in front of The Speech House, in the Forest of Dean. ‘Are you going to Coleford and then Gloucester?’ I ask the driver, a young man, not more than twenty two. ‘Yes, there are no other buses coming this way.’ ‘You saved me!’ I say. ‘I would have been stuck here for the night if it wasn’t for you.’ I get in, shivering from head to toe. At least I can get home now. What an adventure it was!

 

 

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Greece, Traveling

A Slice of Greek Adventures [EN]

[RO] Versiunea in romana poate fi citita aici.

15/11/2018

Thessaloniki, Greece

Ah, how I wish I knew greek now! As I write these words I’m waiting in Thessaloniki station for a train to Larissa. Three sweet old ladies are talking noisily next to me. Each one of them has asked me whether I’m going to Larissa. Although I have gesticulated that I don’t speak greek, they still insist that I know their language. My destination is Kalambaka, where I wish to find the beautiful Meteora. I have to change trains at Paleofarsalos, but I believe we’re all going the same way. I tell them in english that this is the right train and smile. As I wait, I contemplate on the events that have happened so far.

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The three sweet old ladies from Thessaloniki train station.

Fani, a good friend whom I had met at GOYGB camp (Greek Orthodox Youth of Great Britain) showed me around Thessaloniki on my first day here. The tall, huddled buildings gave me the impression of a colourful Bucharest. Bizantyne churches and roman ruins fragment the modern with voices from the past. Hundreds of cafes ornate the city with greek music and student laughter. Cars and scooters cover the streets, with some cars blasting out greek music through their speakers. Very rarely have I heard something in english.

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Thessaloniki from above.

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The city reminded me of a colourful Bucharest.

The majority of menus have greek letters and many a time have I tried to read them, in hope that we have common words (little success). Mum would love it here, it’s full of confectionaries. I recognized many of the cakes we have in Romania, like baklavas. In fact, many things reminded me of home, but especially of Bucharest. The rich confectionaries, the pop up shops near bus stations, the short, bulky people, with their dignified looks, the multitude of churches and the kindness of the locals. Ah and how can I forget about χαλαρώ (halara = relax), the main word for thessalonians. The athenians have always wondered at the eternal calm of thessalonians. 

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Greek confectionary.

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Cakes my mum would love.

The greatest miracle of this place is something else, however. Dozens of stone churches arise from the sea of modern buildings. Most of them are in a Byzantine style, with some dating from the 5th century after Christ. Under this well treaded earth await thousands of martyrs like St. Demetrios, his good friend St. Nestor and St. Anisia. The greatest of them all is, of course, St. Demetrios the myrrh-streamer (Agios Demetrios), the protector of thessalonians. I visited his holy relics three times until now and felt great joy from him. During the christian persecutions from Roman times, christians used to pray in secret, in catacombs. Under the walls of St. Demetrios’ church one can visit these caverns baptized in tears and blood. The saint himself was impaled with a spear on the ground where his church now stands.

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Me in front of St. Demetrios the myrrh-streamer’s church

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The catacombs under St. Demetrios’ church.

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Little Byzantine church amongst the modern buildings.

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The Arch of Galerius (roman emperor) or Kamara, dating 4th century A.C.

On Sunday me and Fani went for the Liturgy at St. Haralambos’ church, a replica of a monastery with the same name from mount Athos. After a blessing we went to another church, Acheiropoietos (5th century A.C.) for coffee and socializing. Young people from all around the world gather here under the wing of Father Spiridon. It is a truly blessed place! I met three theology students from America, Ignatius, Vincent and George; John, a greek who speaks romanian and who studied in Iasi (Romania); Andra, a romanian who speaks greek and studies history here; Eleftheria, a young lady of amazing joy, who is doing her masters in antique theatre. They all radiated of an unutterable gladness!

After coffee, I went with Fani and a few other people for…another coffee, of course. Let’s not forget ‘halara’! Greek coffee is like the one mum makes on new year’s night, when our guests wish to stay awake until the morning…and the following day. After an hour of chatting, Fani’s brothers came to pick us up and drove us to their family home for lunch. The Pliaki family is a rare beauty. They are seven brothers and sisters, Fani, Vicky, Oreste, Thomas, Aristotle, George si Nicolae. Mother Maria and father Iorgos also joined us at the table.

Vicky, an angel of a child, always smiling, gently asked me to say The Lord’s Prayer in romanian. After the prayer we feasted on meatballs, baked potatoes, musaka, cabbage and beetroot salad, pickled peppers, tzatziki and many other culinary delights. Some people were fasting, since Christmas lent had started. Either way, we all had a plenteous meal, in a deep, respectful silence.

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Sunday lunch with the Pliaki family.

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From the left: Aristotle, Oreste, Vicky, me (Anamaria), Fani, Thomas and George. Nicolae was away 🙂

After lunch we told stories in the living room. Fani’s father went for his afternoon nap, after having instructed me on Greece’s history for half an hour. He talked about the origin of the world’s languages and how some european words come from greek. Although interested by the conversation, I couldn’t help but think of the film My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Before our departure mother Maria even packed up a food box for me. Aristotle and Thomas then drove me and Fani back into town. They didn’t escape their mother’s generous food boxes either. How lovely it is to see this family meet on a Sunday!

I forgot to mention the sea, the beautiful Aegean sea! A buoy full of cyclists, fishermen and wanderers like me connects it to Thessaloniki. Not too far from it one can find Aristotle square, named after the famous greek philosopher. On Monday I followed his example and philosophized about the works of art in the photography museum, which lies in the old port. One of the exhibits was on the refugees that found a home in Thessaloniki. I was touched by their war stricken gazes. Other pieces talked about the contrast between poverty and wealth in the world. Some made an appeal for protecting the environment or made people aware of how poor people live in places like China.

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The Aegean sea, tied with Thessaloniki.

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Aristotle’s square on a november day.

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Exhibition on refugees who have found their peace in Thessaloniki.

In Hong Kong, for example, dozens of british colony buildings were destroyed, evacuating dozens of families. The reason? Building taller, more solid and productive skyscrapers. What a difference between this place and Thessaloniki, where the modern architecture is imbued by the Byzantine empire style. Ah, but this city suffered as well! Invasion after invasion, first the romans, then the turks and finally the germans. In the White Tower one can discover many stories about these honest and cheerful people. Their song seeps into the heart and whispers of a painful history for the ears that wish to listen.

Anyway, it is time to let my thoughts settle now. I’m on the train towards Meteora with a talkative american and a shy canadian. I’ll leave you with these images from Meteora, a truly blessed place! My adventures there can be better expressed through the visual medium…

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Meteroa in autumn.

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St. Varlaam monastery.

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St. Varlaam monastery and Meteora valley.

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Greece, Traveling

O felie din aventurile grecesti [RO]

[EN] English version can be read here.

15/11/2018

Salonic, Grecia

Ah, ce as vrea sa stiu greaca acum! In timp ce scriu aceste cuvinte astept trenul spre Larissa in gara din Salonic. Alaturi de mine, trei batranele simpatice vorbesc galagios. Fiecare din ele m-a intrebat daca merg spre Larissa. Desi le-am gesticulat ca nu vorbesc greaca ele insista acum ca le inteleg limba. Eu merg la Kalambaka pentru a vedea frumoasa Meteora si schimb la Paleofarsalos. Cred insa ca e acelasi tren pentru toate patru asa ca le spun in engleza ca se afla unde trebuie. In timp ce astept, meditez asupra celor intamplate pana acum.

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Cele trei batranele simpatice din gara Salonic.

Fani, o prietena buna pe care am cunoscut-o in tabara GOYGB (Greek Orthodox Youth of Great Britain) mi-a aratat Salonicul in prima zi aici. Blocurile inalte si ingramadite mi-au dat impresia unui Bucuresti colorat. Biserici bizantine si ruine romane fragmenteaza modernul cu voci ale trecutului. Sute de cafenele care de care mai moderne impodobesc orasul cu muzica greceasca si rasete de studenti. Masini si scutere impanzesc strazile, cu unele masini bubuind a muzica greceasca. Foarte rar am auzit ceva in engleza.

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Salonicul vazut de sus.

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Salonicul mi-a amintit de un Bucuresti colorat.

Majoritatea menu-urilor au litere grecesti si nu de putine ori m-am chinuit sa le inteleg, poate, poate avem cuvinte comune (putin succes). Mamei i-ar placea aici, e plin de cofetarii. Am recunoscut multe din produsele pe care le avem si in tara, cum ar fi baclavalele. De fapt, multe lucuri mi-au amintit de Romania, dar mai ales de Bucuresti. Cofetariile bogate, magazinele din statiile de autobuz, oamenii micuti de statura, cu priviri demne, multimea de biserici si bunatatea oamenilor. Ah, si cum sa uitam de χαλαρώ (halara = relax), cuvantul de baza al tesalonicenilor. Atenienii sunt mereu mirati de calmul etern al tesalonicenilor. 

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Cofetarie greceasca.

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Prajituri de care i-ar placea mamei.

Dar minunea cea mai mare a acestui oras ramane altceva. Sub marea de blocuri moderne se ridica cu barbatie zeci de biserici de piatra, in stil bizantin, unele din secolul V d. Hr. Sub pamantul acestui oras asteapta mii de martiri precum Sf. Dimitrie, bunul sau prieten Sf. Nestor, Sf. Mucenita Anisia. Cel mai mare dintre ei este, desigur, Sf. Dimitrie Izvoratorul de mir (Agios Dimitrios), protectorul Salonicului. I-am vizitat racla de trei ori pana acum si am simtit multa bucurie de la el. In timpul persecutiilor romane, crestinii slujeau in ascuns, in catacombe. Sub zidurile bisericii Sf. Dimitrie se pot vizita aceste caverne botezate cu lacrimi si sange. Insusi sfantul a fost impuns cu sulita in locul in care sade astazi biserica sa.

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Eu in fata bisericii Sf. Dimitrie Izvoratorul de mir.

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Catacombele de sub biserica Sf. Dimitrie.

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Bisericuta bizantina intre blocurile moderne.

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Arcul lui Galerius sau Kamara, din secolul IV d. Hr.

Duminica am mers la Liturghie in biserica Sf. Haralambos, o replica a unei manastiri cu acelasi nume din muntele Athos. Dupa o binecuvantare am mers cu Fani la o alta biserica, Acheiropoietos (din secolul V), pentru cafea si socializare. Aici se aduna tineri din intreaga lume, sub aripa parintelui Spiridon. E un loc cu adevarat binecuvantat! Am cunoscut trei tineri din America, Ignatius, Vincent si George, studenti la teologie; John, un grec care stie romana, fost student la Iasi; Andra, o romanca care stie greaca, studenta in istorie aici si pe Eleftheria, o tanara de o veselie molipsitoare care isi face masterul in teatru antic. Toti radiaza de o bucurie tinereasca minunata!

Dupa cafea, am mers cu Fani si alti cinci tineri la…o alta cafea, desigur, sa nu uitam de ‘halara’. Cafeaua greceasca e cum o face mama la revelion, cand avem musafiri care vor sa stea treji pana dimineata. Dupa o ora de stat la povesti, au venit fratii lui Fani sa ne duca la masa acasa la parintii lor. Familia Pliaki e de o frumusete cum rar am intalnit. In total sunt sapte frati si surori, Fani, Vicky, Oreste, Thomas, Aristotel, George si Nicolae. Mama Maria si tatal Iorgos ne-au insotit la masa.

Vicky, un inger de copil, mereu zambitoare, m-a rugat cu blandete sa spun eu Tatal Nostru in romana. Dupa rugaciune ne-am pus pe piftele, cartofi copti, musaka, salata de varza si sfecla rosie, gogosari, tzatziki si multe altele. Unii posteau, fiindca tocmai incepuse postul Craciunului. Oricum ar fi, cu multa liniste si respect, toti ne-am bucurat de un pranz imbelsugat.

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Masa de duminica cu familia Pliaki.

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De la stanga: Aristotel, Oreste, Vicky, eu (Anamaria), Fani, Thomas si George. Nicolae era plecat 🙂

Dupa masa ne-am pus pe povesti in sufragerie. Tatal s-a dus la somnul de amiza, dupa ce imi povestise de istoria Greciei vreo jumatate de ora. Mi-a vorbit de originea limbilor lumii si cum unele cuvinte grecesti seamana cu cele europene. Desi interesata de conversatie, mi-am amintit usor amuzata de filmul My Big Fat Greek Wedding. La plecare mama Maria mi-a facut si un pachet. Aristotel si Thomas ne-au condus pe mine si Fani inapoi in oras. Nici ei n-au scapat de pachetele bogate ale mamei Maria. Ce frumos se intalneste familia Pliaki duminica!

Am uitat sa mentionez marea, frumoasa mare Egee! O geamandura plina de biciclisti, pescari si hoinari ca mine o uneste de Salonic. Nu departe de ea sade piata lui Aristotel, marele filozof grec. Luni i-am urmat exemplul si am filozofat asupra lucrarilor de arta din muzeul de fotografie, din portul vechi al orasului. Una dintre expozitii era cu refugiatii care si-au gasit adapostul in Salonic. M-au impresionat privirile lor atinse de ororile razboiului. Alte lucrari expuse vorbeau despre contrastul dintre saracie si bogatie in lume. Altele faceau apel la protectia mediului si locuintele ascunse ale oamenilor in China.

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Marea Egee, unita de Salonic.

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Piata lui Aristotel intr-o zi de noiembrie.

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Expozitie cu refugiati care si-au gasit linistea in Salonic.

In Hong Kong au fost distruse sute de locuinte de pe vremea coloniilor engleze, evacund zeci de familii. Motivul? Construirea zgarie-norilor mai productivi, mai inalti si mai solizi. Ce diferenta intre acest loc si Salonic, unde imperiul Bizantin se imbina cu arhitectura moderna. Ah dar cat a si suferit acest oras, invazii dupa invazii, de la turci si apoi nemti. In turnul alb se pot afla multe despre vietile acestor oameni sinceri si zambitori. Cantecul lor strapunge inimile si asterne o istorie dureroasa la picioarele celor ce vor sa il asculte.

Oricum, las gandurile sa se aseze acum. Sunt in tren spre Meteora cu un american vorbaret si o canadianca timida! Va las cu aceste imagini din Meteora, un loc cu adevarat binecuvantat! Aventurile mele acolo pot fi exprimate mai bine in fotografii…

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Meteora toamna.

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Manastirea Sf. Varlaam.

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Manastirea Sf. Varlaam si valea Meteorei.

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Romania, Traveling

Autumn in Ciocanesti [EN]

[RO] Versiunea in romana poate fi citita aici.

16/10/2018

Ciocanesti, Romania

I leave at 10:00 a.m. from Happy Inn, Vatra Dornei. The Eurotello minibus goes towards Ciocanesti at 10:50. After I buy a mini-pizza si a soft cheese croissant from a small bakery, I take the scenic route through the marketplace to get to the bus station.

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Vatra Dornei and Bistrita that passes through the town.

While waiting for my minibus, I look at the interesting people around. An old, swarthy looking man, with a fawn hat, is shaking from head to toe with old age. A middle aged woman has come with her bicycle to wait for a package from her sister in Piatra-Neamt (my hometown). After a conversation with her I understand that she is from Borca, but is now settled in Vatra Dornei.

‘If you’ve read Baltagul, that is where Nechifor Lipan was murdered by the shepherds.’ she tells me, reminding me of the bitter-sweet school bibliography.

‘Yes, I remember going past there with my dad yesterday.’ I tell myself.

A lady with an impeccable romanian accent tells me, with her hands behind her back, that she doesn’t know whether the bus schedule is correct. ‘I was just walking around.’ she tells me, while pushing a pair of glasses on her nose. A young lady, possibly my age, points at the information office. ‘The jacket she’s wearing seems to thick for autumn.’ I think to myself. The bus station shade, however, has formed a freezer for the patient travellers.

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Patient ladies at Vatra Dornei bus station.

I enter the information office, where three men are speaking loudly. They are dressed in greys and navy blues, with their cheeks streaked by both frost and sun. Their boss, a gentleman with a bold look about him and with his teeth thinned from tobacco, tells me that the schedule written on the panels is correct.

I wait on a wooden bench in front of a minibus that says Carlibaba. A granny with a floral head scarf climbs into the bus, although the driver is away. I take a closer look and notice a suspended hat, on top of one of the seats on the minibus. It belongs to an old gentleman who had the same idea as the granny. I get into the minibus as well and say hello.

A few minutes later a nun appears and sits next to me. ‘Where are you going sister?’ ‘To Ciocanesti.’ ‘Is there a monastery there?’ I ask. ‘There is one at Mestecanis. It’s easier to get there through the valley than over the hills.’

The minibus starts and after 30 minutes we arrive at a crossroads. One path leads to Mestecanis and another to Ciocanesti. I get off at the same time as the nun and another old lady with a head scarf. It seems that all the respectable ladies here wear floral head scarfs. Now I understand where my grandmother got this “fashion” from.

On my left I see a little meadow, with a cow grazing in it. Bistrita flows gently nearby, small, but brave. After a short visit to the river I start my walk through Ciocanesti. A lady in her early sixties stands behind her gate with curiosity. ‘Good morning! Is this the right road to the village?’, ‘Yes, straight ahead! I heard you coming from afar, your trousers make a squeaky noise.’ she tells me, while admiring my mountain attire. I take a photo of her and carry on.

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A cow grazing next to Bistrita.

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The lady at the gate.

Scattered houses on scythe mowed hills and valleys are guarded by short wooden fences. Here and there one can see a golden or dark horse, with slick hair shining in the sun’s caress. Although it’s 12:00, the sun seems to be setting in Ciocanesti valley. Large haystacks with thinned out tops await with dignity in pine wood pot pegs.

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Scattered houses on hills and valleys.

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Large haystacks with thinned out tops await with dignity in pine wood pot pegs.

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A haystack gazing at the hills.

White houses, with national motifs painted in various shapes, start appearing, one more beautiful than the other. They resemble boys and girls in festive attire. Weary from walking, I sit on a bench in the yard of the village museum. This is where the famous painted eggs museum resides in Ciocanesti. A couple comes to visit the museum with their newborn child. The museum is closed.

‘We have to call here as well.’ the mother says plainly.

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Traditional house from Ciocanesti.

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One of the locals passing by a village house.

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One of the styles of house decorations.

I idly stare towards the far away mountains. The statue of Stephen the Great looks back at me from the middle of the yard.

‘I wonder what the link is between the medieval ruler and this place.’ I ask myself.

A tall young lady, with long, black hair, enters the yard and opens the door to the museum. I reckon she is from one of the nearby towns, as she is so elegantly dressed. I follow her and the family that called the museum. Our guide takes us to a large room, full of painted eggs. All of the eggs are decorated either by the ‘galos’ (a mixture of tinctures) submerging method or by the coloured wax method. None of the egg designs resemble each other and this is because the housewives don’t have a manual for their models. Their imagination creates new designs every year.

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Ciocanesti eggs, painted with the coloured wax method.

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Eggs painted by children for a village competition.

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Winning egg designs for a competition and the newborn baby sleeping

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Ciocanesti egg, painted by the ‘galos’ submerging method.

Our lady tells us the local legend, of how Stephen the Great used to bring his army to Ciocanesti before a battle. Here the soldiers would repair their swords and armour, in preparation for the ottoman invasion. These facts explain the ruler’s presence in the front yard and the name of the village (Ciocanesti is like ‘ciocan’, meaning hammer in romanian).  Ciocanesti is the smallest community in Suceava county, but it is very united, especially around feast days.

The trout festival, on the village feast day (The dormition of the Mother of God on 15th of August), Easter and Christmas take grandma’s dowry out of her chest. People dressed in national clothing go rafting, paint eggs, ride strong horses, ornated in the colours of the romanian flag (red, yellow and blue).

The young lady recommends that I visit the Holy Cross hermitage, 7 km away from the main road. I would have to walk that distance through a pine and beech wood forest. A group of children come in and say hello, next to a short school teacher. Our lady shows them how eggs are painted and then joins the children in a happy birthday song for Ionel, one of the boys from the group.

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The young lady explains egg painting to the youngsters.

I leave with a heart full of joy. I walk for a while longer on the main road until I see a grand inn. ‘Ah, it would have been good to spend the night here.’ I think to myself. I eat a “ciorba radauteana” with sour cream and garlic (traditional chicken soup from Ardeal/Transilvania). That fills me up so well that I take the second course I ordered for the road: “Ne dati ori nu ne dati, fasole cu carnati!” (Verse from an old carol asking for sausages and beans).

I walk through the village a while longer and suddenly spot the sign towards the hermitage. It’s 14:00, I hope to get there and back while there is still daylight. I turn left, towards the hermitage and after a few minutes I come across three monks trying to lift a tree trunk. Further up I can see their monastery, under the patronage of St. Stephen the Great. ‘Don’t take a photo of us, we’re not that handsome.’ the abbot replies after I ask him for a photo.

‘Am I allowed to go to the hermitage?’ I ask.

‘Well why wouldn’t you be allowed?’ the abbot says, slightly confused.

One of the monks signals to him, trying to clarify my question. Some monasteries are stricter than others.

‘I was just wondering.’ I say with a smile.

‘Just be careful, there are 6 km to the church.’ the abbot continues.

I thank the monks and go further. After five minutes I meet two children of 5-6 years of age, a brother and his sister. I ask the boy if this is the right path to the hermitage. He replies that it is and that there are only 3 km left. I smile and carry on. The road to God is shorter for children than it is for grown ups.

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The road to the Holy Cross hermitage, amongst the pine trees.

The grey pine tree forest grows in front of me. The strong scent of pine wood makes me dizzy. ‘Lord, it’s so beautiful here!’ By the side of the road I find a small well inside a tree trunk, with a tiny cup on top of a stick. The soft, green and moist moss mixes gently with the sorrel I used to eat from my grandmother’s “sipot” (water source) as a little girl. I take a sip of cold water and move on.

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The well inside the tree trunk.

Suddenly I see a few logs by the roadside. The forest is cut down in a few parts. My heart breaks as I see the desolate flight of crows. I walk a few more steps until I reach a sign towards the hermitage at a crossroads. There are 3 km left, ah, good, but I have walked on plane ground so far. The climb begins now. It’s harder to ascend than to descend. The pine trees, however, start sharing the forest with beech and birch trees in a most surprising manner.

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Pine and beech tree forest.

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The king of beech trees.

The climb gives me vertigo, I feel my backpack pulling me down, but I tell myself this is Calvary and I need to carry my cross all the way up. I reach the top of the hills at 16:30, with the sun slowly setting over the valley. A part of me fears that night might catch me alone in the forest. I wonder whether to ask the abbot to host me at the hermitage for the night.

A 4×4 car reaches the church gate at the same time as me. ‘Are you from the monastery?’ I ask wearily, hoping I didn’t come here in vain.

‘No, we’re just visiting.’ the driver tells me and then gets back in the car, where his wife is waiting.

The car reverses and drives towards the only other visible house on the platou, besides the hermitage. I try to enter through the gate, when I see three dogs running towards me. They greet me with barking noises and I step away, remembering a bite I experienced in my childhood. I sit down next to the gate, with the dogs barking on the other side.

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The main security dog at the hermitage.

I wait without knowing what I’m waiting for. I get up and notice a short man in the church yard, his beard is reddish and he is dressed like a sportsman. His track suit is stained with white paint.

‘Good afternoon!’ I shout over the dog barks. ‘I came to see the hermitage church.’

He approaches with hesitation and tells me to come in. After I enter the yard, the dogs stop their protests for a moment. The gentleman stretches out a strong hand, also stained with paint. He has inquisitive, blue eyes. He is the abbot of the Holy Cross hermitage, a practical man, hard working and full of grace.

‘Gheorghe Zaharia, you can find me on Facebook.’ he tells me after a while. ‘My mum has the key.’ He then takes out his phone and asks his mother to come and unlock the church door. The lady comes quickly, without uttering a word. I enter the church and am greeted with warmth by the saints, with their loving eyes peering through this small Heaven on earth. It’s dark in here, but this is only the shadow of a happiness that looks towards the sun.

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The Holy Cross hermitage church.

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The dome of saints.

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The shadow of a happiness that looks towards the sun.

After I pray at the holy icons, I go to write a commemoration list. I hand it to the abbot’s mother, who has just spared a few tears for her loved ones, hidden behind the candle table. I dare not ask whether they have a room for me tonight. I feel I have interrupted the solitude of this place.

I walk towards the gate, guided by the abbot’s mother. She is a meek woman, short of speech and stature, dressed modestly, but of a deep inner silence. ‘Do you think I can get to the village before dark?’ I ask wavering.

‘Yes, you’ll get to the village centre in half an hour.’ she encourages me.

platoul

The valley with beech and pine trees in front of the hermitage.

I glance once more towards the valley of pine and beech trees. The ash greens and golden reds meet in a solemn kiss over the hills. I brace myself and start walking slowly towards the village. The sun seems to have stopped, his sunlight still touching the top of the trees. In about an hour and a half darkness will reign over the valley. I have climbed for three hours, but I’m hoping to be quicker on the way down. I don’t think I’ll make it in 30 minutes, but quick enough for me to avoid being stranded here in the shadow of the night.

God, the forest is so beautiful! And the silence is so sweet! Nothing has bothered me, but then I reach the deforestation area. Two young lads, strapped with thick leather belts are filling their carts with logs. On my left I can now see a hill with tree stumps, a hill in mourning. I know that many people in Dorna valley live from woodcutting, but we should be more discerning of what we can borrow from nature. I go past them and bid them good afternoon. Their large horses are decorated with red laces.

After about 10 minutes I hear the carts coming from behind. The first one goes past me, but the second one stops just in front of me.

‘Good evening! It’s a long way into the village. Do you want a lift?’ the young lad asks me, who, in fact, is about 40 years old. The fresh mountain air makes people look younger.

Glad that I get to ride in a horse driven cart, I forget about logs and deforestation. This is how I meet Ghita, from Izvoarele Sucevei. He tells me that he came to Ciocanesti, where his wife lives, after they got married.

‘I hope people don’t start talking about you giving me a lift.’ I say, half joking and half serious.

‘Let them talk.’ Ghita replies with the calm specific to people from the countryside.

I reach the village and there is still daylight! Sadly there are no buses running towards Vatra Dornei at this hour. I thank the man and horse and then walk slowly towards the other end of Ciocanesti. I go towards Iacobeni, whose balad I have found in a poem written by Gheorghe Vicol, called The Legend of the Iacobeni People. The sun has set, but its last rays are still illuminating the street, where I stand waiting for yet another miracle.

This is the second time in my life when I need to hitchhike. The first time was towards Petru Voda monastery, a few years ago. Half an hour goes past and not one driver takes pity on me. The street lamps light up.

A man in his 40s stops an old car in front of me. Amazed and grateful, I get in. This is how I meet Costel, a traveller like me, who’s listening to french hip hop. ‘Our singers don’t know how to sing.’ he tells me sarcastically.

After a conversation about travelling, Europe, music and mountains we reach Vatra Dornei safely. I am exhausted, with blisters on my blisters and can’t wait for sweet slumber. God, what a day! I wonder what tomorrow will bring!

crucea

The road to God is shorter for children than it is for grown ups.

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Romania, Traveling

Toamna in Ciocanesti [RO]

[EN] The English version can be read here.

16/10/2018

Ciocanesti, Romania

Plec la 10:00 a.m. din Cabana Happy Inn, din Vatra Dornei. Microbuzul Eurotello porneste spre Ciocanesti la ora 10:50. Dupa ce cumpar o minipizza si un corn cu urda de la o brutarie mica, o iau prin piata spre autogara.

vatradornei

Vatra Dornei si Bistrita care trece prin oras.

In timp ce astept microbuzul, privesc spre oamenii interestanti de aici. Un batranel negricios, cu o palarie cafenie, tremura tot de batranete. O doamna mai in varsta venise cu bicicleta ca sa astepte un pachet de la sora ei, din Piatra-Neamt (orasul meu natal). Dupa o conversatie cu dumneaei inteleg ca e din Borca, dar s-a stabilit in Vatra Dornei.

‘Daca ati citit Baltagul, pe acolo era Nechifor Lipan cand a fost omorat de ciobani.’ imi zice ea, amintindu-mi de dulce-amara bibliografie scolara.

‘Da, imi amintesc ca am trecut pe acolo cu tata chiar ieri.’ zic in gandul meu.

O doamna cu un accent romanesc impecabil imi spune cu mainile la spate ca nu stie daca orarul autobuzelor este corect. ‘Ma plimbam si eu pe aici.’ imi spune, impingandu-si ochelarii pe nas. O domnisoara cam de varsta mea arata spre biroul de informatii cu degetul. ‘Geaca de fas pe care o poarta e prea groasa pentru toamna.’ zic in gandul meu. Umbra autogarii, insa, formase un congelator pentru calatorii rabdatori.

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Doamne rabdatoare in autogara din Vatra Dornei.

Intru la biroul de informatii, unde trei domni pitoresti vorbesc galagios. Sunt imbracati in griuri si bleumarin, cu obrajii brazdati si de bruma si de soare. Seful lor, un domn cu o cautatura indrazneata si cu dintii rariti de tutun imi spune ca programul inscris pe panouri e corect.

Astept pe o bancuta in fata microbuzului spre Carlibaba. O babuta cu un batic cu flori urca in autobuz, desi soferul plecase. Ma uit mai atent si observ o palarie suspendata pe un spatarul unui scau in microbuz. Este a unui domn care a avut aceeasi idee ca batranica. Urc si eu si dau ziua buna.

Putin mai tarziu apare o maicuta care se asaza langa mine. ‘Unde mergeti maicuta?’ ‘La Ciocanesti.’, ‘Este manastire acolo?’ intreb eu, ‘ Este la Mestecanis. E mai usor de ajuns din vale decat din deal.’

Microbuzul porneste si peste 30 de minute ajungem la o intersectie. Un drum duce spre Mestecanis, iar un altul spre Ciocanesti. Cobor cu maicuta si inca o doamna cu batic. Toate doamnele mai in varsta de pe aici poarta batic cu motive florale. Acum inteleg de unde a preluat bunica ‘moda’ asta.

In stanga vad o mica pajiste cu o vaca pascand. Bistrita curge lin in apropiere, mica, dar viteaza. Dupa o scurta vizita la rau o iau la pas prin Ciocanesti. O doamna mai in varsta sta la poarta, curioasa. ‘Buna ziua! E bun drumul asta spre sat?’, ‘Da, e tot inainte. V-am auzit venind de departe, va fosnesc pantalonii.’ imi zice, admirandu-mi imbracamintea de munte. Ii fac o poza si merg mai departe.

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O vacuta pascand langa Bistrita.

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Doamna de la poarta.

Case rasfirate pe pajisti si vai cosite de otava stau lipite de garduri joase de lemn. Pe ici pe colo cate un cal balan sau negru, cu parul lucios paste in mangaierea soarelui. Desi e ora 12:00, soarele parca asfinteste in valea Ciocanestilor. Capite mari cu varfuri subtiate asteapta demne in prepeleci de brazi slefuiti.

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Case rasfirate pe pajisti.

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Capite mari cu varfuri subtiate asteapta demne in prepeleci de brazi.

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O capita privind spre dealuri.

Casele albe, cu modele nationale zugravite in diverse forme incep sa rasara, care de care mai frumoase. Ele seamna cu baieti si fete in straie de sarbatoare. Ostenita de drum, ma asez pe o bancuta in curtea casei de cultura. Aici e muzeul celebrelor oua incondeiate de la Ciocanesti. Un cuplu vine cu bebelusul lor sa viziteze muzeul, care e inchis.

‘Trebuie sunat si aici.’ zice doamna.

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Casa traditionala din Ciocanesti.

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Unul din localnici trecand pe langa o casa din sat.

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Unul dintre stilurile de decoratii pentru case.

Eu stau si privesc alene spre munte. Statuia lui Stefan cel Mare ma priveste inapoi din mijlocul curtii.

‘Ma intreb ce legatura are domnitorul cu locul acesta.’ imi zic.

O domnita inalta, cu parul lung si negru intra in curte si ne deschide usa la muzeu. Ma gansesc ca o fi dintr-un oras din apropiere, din moment ce e asa elegant imbracata. O urmez, alaturi de mica familie ce sunase la muzeu. Domnita ne calauzeste spre o camera mare, plina cu oua pictate. Toate ouale sunt decorate fie cu metoda prin scufundare in galos, fie prin ceara colorata. Nici un ou nu seamana cu altul si asta e pentru ca gospodinele nu au un manual de modele. Imaginatia lor creeaza noi modele in fiecare an.

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Oua de Ciocanesti pictate cu ceara colorata.

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Oua incondeiate de tineri la un concurs din sat.

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Oua premiate si bebelusul dormind de dragul lor.

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Ou de Ciocanesti pictat prin scufundare in galos.

Domnita ne spune o legenda a locului, despre cum Stefan cel mare obisnuia sa isi aduca armata in Ciocanesti inainte de un razboi. Aici soldatii isi reparau armele si armurile pentru a face fata invaziei otomane. Aceste fapte explica prezenta lui in curte si numele locului. Localitatea e cea mai mica din Suceava, dar e foarte unita, mai ales la sarbatori. Festivalul pastravului, de la hramul satului, Pastile si Craciunul scot din cufere zestrea bunicii. Oamenii se imbraca in straie nationale, merg la plutarit, picteaza oua, calaresc cai semi-grei, ornati in culorile steagului romanesc (rosu, galben si albastru).

Domnita imi recomanda sa vizitez schitul Sf. Cruce, la 7 km de la strada, prin padurile de brad si fag. Un grup de copilasi intra si dau buna ziua, alaturi de un domn profesor micut de statura. Domnita le explica cum se picteaza ouale iar apoi canta impreuna la multi ani lui Ionel, unul dintre copii din grup.

domnita

Domnita la explica prichindeilor incondeierea oualelor.

Plec cu inima plina de bucurie. Mai merg putin pe strada si vad o pensiune mareata. ‘Ah ar fi fost mai bine sa poposesc aici in noaptea asta.’ ma gandesc eu. Mananc o ciorba radauteana cu smantana si mujdei. Ma satur asa bine, ca felul doi il pun la pachet: ne dati ori nu ne dati, fasole cu carnati! Mai merg apoi prin sat putin si vad semul spre schit. Este 14:00, sper sa ajung si sa ma intorc pe lumina.

O iau spre schit si dupa ce merg o bucata, dau de trei calugari care incearca sa ridice un bustean. Mai sus sade manastirea lor, a Sfantului Stefan cel Mare. ‘Nu ne poza, ca nu suntem asa frumosi.’ imi zice staretul cand ii intreb daca le pot face o poza.

‘Am voie sa merg pana la schit?’ intreb eu.

‘Pai de ce sa n-aveti voie?’ intreaba staretul putin confuz.

Unul dintre calugari ii face semne, incercand sa-l lamureasca pe staret de intrebarea mea. Unele manastiri sunt mai stricte ca altele.

‘Intrebam si eu.’ zic zambind.

‘Vedeti ca pana la manastire sunt 6 km.’ continua staretul.

Multumesc calugarilor si merg mai departe. Dupa cinci minute dau de doi frati de vreo 5-6 anisori, un baiat si o fata. Il intreb pe baiat, mai in joaca, daca e bun drumul spre schit. El imi raspunde ca da si ca sunt doar trei kilometri. Zambesc si merg mai departe. Drumul copiilor pana la Dumnezeu e mai scurt ca al celor mari.

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Drumul printre brazi spre schitul Sf. Cruce.

Paduri de brazi suri se ridica inaintea mea. Mirosul lor tare ma ameteste. ‘Doamne cat e de frumos!’ La marginea drumului gasesc o fantanita intr-o buturuga, cu o cana mica intr-un bat infipt in pamant. Muschiul moale, verde si umed se imbina cu macrisul pe care il mancam de la sipotul bunicii, in copilarie. Iau o gura de apa rece si merg mai departe.

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Fantanita in trunchiul de copac.

La un moment dat vad buturugi pe marginea drumului. Padurea e defrisata in cateva parti. Inima mi se frange cand vad zborul dezolant al corbilor.  Merg inainte pana vad un alt semn al schitului, la o rascruce de drumuri. Mai sunt 3 km, ah, ce bine, dar pana acum am mers pe loc drept. Urcusul de acum incepe. E greu la deal, usor la vale. Padurile de brad, insa, in mod suprinzator se imbina cu padurea de fag si mesteacan.

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Padure de fag si brazi.

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Imparatul fagilor.

Urcusul e ametitor, simt cum ghiozdanul ma trage in jos, dar imi zic ca aici e Golgota si trebuie sa-mi port crucea pana sus. Ajung in varful dealului pe la 16:30, cu soarele asfintind usor peste vale. O parte din mine se teme sa nu ma prinda noaptea prin padure. Ma intreb daca sa-l rog pe parintele staret cand ajung, sa dorm acolo peste noapte.

O masina 4×4 ajunge o data cu mine la poarta schitului. ‘Sunteti de la manastire?’ intreb eu obosita si sperand ca n-am ajuns degeaba acolo.

‘Nu, doar vizitam si noi.’ imi zice soferul si intra inapoi in masina, unde il astepta nevasta.

Masina intra in marsalier si o ia spre singura casa vizibila pe platoul pe care sade schitul. Incerc sa intru pe poarta, cand vad trei caini alergand spre mine. Ma intampina latrand, iar eu ma retrag, amintindu-mi de muscatura din copilarie. Ma asez jos, langa poarta, cu cainii latrand pe partea cealalta.

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Paznicul sef al schitului.

Astept si nu stiu ce astept. Ma ridic apoi si vad in curtea schitului un om mic de statura, cu o barba roscata, imbracat sportiv. Treningul lui e stropit de var pe alocuri.

‘Buna ziua!’ zic eu printre latraturile cainilor. ‘Am venit sa vizitez schitul.’

El se apropie sovaitor si-mi zice sa intru. Dupa ce pasesc in curtea schitului, cainii inceteaza din protestele lor pentru o clipa. Domnul imi intinde o mana puternica, si ea plina de var. Are ochii albastri, cercetatori. El e staretul schitului Sf. Cruce, un om practic,  harnic si plin de har.

‘Gheorghe Zaharia, ma gasiti si pe Facebook.’ imi zice dupa o vreme. ‘Mama are cheia.’ Scoate apoi telefonul si o roaga pe mama lui sa vina sa deschida usa schitului. Doamna vine degraba si deschide usa bisericii fara sa rosteasca un cuvant. Intru in liniste si ma intalnesc cu cetele sfintilor cu priviri mangaietoare, din cupola acestui mic Rai pe pamant. E intuneric aici, dar aceasta e doar umbra unei bucurii ce priveste soarele.

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Schitul Sf. Cruce.

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Cupola sfintilor.

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Umbra unei bucurii ce priveste soarele.

Dupa ce ma rog la sfintele icoane, merg sa pun un pomelnic. Il inmanez mamei staretului, ce tocmai varsase cateva lacrimi, ascunsa dupa masa cu lumanari. Nu indraznesc sa intreb daca au un loc unde pot sta la noapte. Simt ca am intrerupt linistea acestui loc.

Merg spre poarta, condusa de mama staretului. E o femeie blanda, scurta la vorba, micuta de statura, imbracata modest dar de o liniste launtrica adanca. ‘Credeti ca ajung in sat pe lumina?’ intreb eu sovaitor.

‘Da, faceti 30 de minute pana in centru.’ imi zice ea incurajator.

platoul

Valea de brazi si fagi din fata schitului.

Mai privesc o data peste valea de brazi si fagi. Verdele cenusiu si rosul auriu se intalnesc intr-un sarut peste dealurile inverzite. Imi iau inima in dinti si pornesc agale spre vale. Soarele pare sa fi stat in loc, lumina lui atinge inca crestele copacilor. In cam o ora jumate se va asterne noaptea. Am urcat trei ore, dar la vale sper sa fac mai putin. Nu cred ca ajung chiar in 30 de minute, dar suficient de repede cat sa nu ma prinda intunericul printre brazi.

Doamne, ce frumoasa e padurea! Si cat de dulce e linistea! Nu m-a tulburat nimic, pana am ajuns intr-o zona de defrisare. Doi flacai incinsi la mijloc cu curea lata de piele isi umplu carutele cu butuci. In stanga mea sade acum un deal cu trunchiuri taiate, un deal in doliu. Stiu ca multi oameni de pe Valea Dornelor traiesc din taiatul lemnelor, dar trebuie mai mult discernamant in cum sa ne imprumutam de la natura. Trec pe langa ei si le dau buna ziua. Caii lor semi-grei sunt ornati cu snururi rosii.

Dupa vreo 10 minute aud in spatele meu carutele venind. Prima trece pe langa mine, iar a doua opreste inaintea mea.

‘Sara buna! Mai e mult pana in sat. Vreti sa urcati in caruta?’ ma intreaba flacaul, care de fapt avea vreo 40 de ani. Aerul curat de munte ii intinereste pe oameni.

Bucuroasa ca am ocazia sa merg cu caruta, uit si de butuci si de defrisat. Asa fac cunostinta cu Ghita, de la Izvoarele Sucevei. Imi zice ca a venit in Ciocanesti la nevasta lui, dupa ce s-au luat.

‘Sper sa nu vorbeasca vecinii ca m-ati luat cu caruta.’ zic eu, mai in gluma, mai in serios.

‘Las sa vorbeasca.’ imi zice Ghita cu calmul tipic oamenilor de la munte.

Iata ca ajung in sat si inca e lumina! Din pacate autobuzele spre Vatra Dornei nu mai circula la ora asta. Multumesc omului si calului si merg apoi incetinel spre marginea opusa a satului. Merg spre Iacobeni, in alte cuvinte, a carui legenda am gasit-o intr-o balada frumoasa, Legenda Icaobenilor, scrisa de Gheorghe Vicol.  Soarele a apus, dar ultimile lui raze imi lumineaza strada, de unde astept o noua minune.

Asta e a doua oara in viata cand trebuie sa merg cu ia-ma nene. Prima data a fost in drum spre manastirea Petru Voda acum ceva ani. Trece cam jumatate de ora si niciun sofer nu se indura sa ma ia cu masina. Se aprind felinarele.

Un domn cam de 40 de ani opreste o masina veche in fata mea. Uimita si multumitoare, urc in masina. Asa il intalnesc pe Costel, un calator ca si mine, ce asculta hip hop frantuzesc. ‘Ai nostri nu stiu sa cante,’ imi zice el sarcastic.

Dupa o conversatie despre calatorii , Europa, muzica si munti ajung cu bine in Vatra Dornei. Sunt ostenita de drum, cu bataturi la bataturi, si abia astept somnul cel dulce. Doamne ce zi! Oare maine cum o fi?

crucea

Drumul copiilor pana la Dumnezeu e mai scurt ca al celor mari.

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Australia, Traveling

Adventures in Australia. Part 2 – Jumping Crocs, Adelaide and Mary Rivers

(!) Read Part 1 here.

15th of September 2017

Today we started our adventure with the Jumping Crocs on Adelaide river. The place where we waited for the tour had a country/redneck vibe. Our co-tourists looked relaxed, almost oblivious to the obvious danger behind this tour.

The tourguide, an eager looking man in his early thirties, casually took us to the middle of the river in a medium sized boat. It had a shoulder high metal rail and no other protection. We were told to keep our extremities inside the boat, as they might be chopped off unexpectedly. Great…

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Stumpy prefers the tourists to the pork chops (Photo by Bogdan Nacu)

The guide then started flinging pork chops at the water. The saltwater crocodiles came in one by one to have a taste of the starter and have a look at the mains – us. Stumpy, Plumpy, Bumpy and Jumpy were most likely some of the crocodiles in that river.

Whistling Kites were also quite a sight for sore eyes. We reached a special spot where they were used to receiving treats. As soon as the guide threw diced pieces of meat in the murky waters, a small cloud of dark brown birds came storming down to catch the easy prey. Their shriek gave warning to all interested predators that the feast was in their name.

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Whistling Kites at Adelaide River.

Teia skipped today and I don’t blame her, those toothy oversized pickles were no picnic. I felt a bit shaky after the encounter and could not help but wonder: if those crocs can jump that high after a piece of pork, surely they can flop onto the boat.

Did you know that crocodiles use their tail to propel themselves into the air?

After the adventure with the crocs, we went to Corroboree Park Tavern to have some seafood. The tavern was in the middle of nowhere, with a few old fashioned gas pumps outside and samples of dusty bikers here and there.

Inside they had a bit of everything: a counter for food orders made of plied metal, wooden tables and chairs, red brick walls, a merchandise shop full of crocodile printed T-shirts, cards, books, small “bull-shit” bags, didgeridoos, slot machines, an alcohol shop, top shop shows on TV, slideshows of local tourist attractions, a real crocodile skin, a floating leg (hopefully made of plastic), fish trophees, a jukebox, aboriginals using the ATM, tourists making silly remarks (me), bearded bush men, all under an army of committed fans, running at full speed.

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Corroboree Park Tavern, see if you can spot the floating leg.

After a feast of crab, fish, shrimp and oysters, we went to Mary river for a wetland safari amongst the lillies. From Adelaide river’s Spectacular Jumping Crocodile Cruise to Mary River’s Wilderness Retreat we barely drove half an hour, with Corroboree Park Tavern at half the distance. The view at Mary river, however, was very different from our fear stricken tour from before.

Our guide was a middle aged lady, full of passion for wildlife and a great sense of humour. We were immersed in an aquatic paradise, filled with pastel colours of pink, green and blue.

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Mary River pastels.

Our guide slowly slided the tour boat through the deeply rooted, large lily leaves. They were invading our path more and more as we advanced through the, yet again, croc infested waters. The guide’s favourite bird was the Jacana or “Jesus bird”, who got its name from its propensity to “walk on water”, from leaf to leaf. The tiny, red crested birds were very friendly and greeted us without fear.

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Jacana or “Jesus bird” on a lily leaf from Mary River.

Another beauty was the Water Darter, with its long, wavy neck and its sharp, pointy beak. It got its name from the way it hunts for fish, by “darting” into the water and piercing its prey with its beak. This strange bird then hops onto a branch and swiftly bangs the fish against the trunk. Its excuse for this beahavior is either “I’m tenderizing the fish” or “I need to get this thing off my beak”. Either way, fish end up sliding down the darter’s endless throat and into its belly.

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A Water Darter resting after a meal.

We had a quick snack of water lily seeds and stem, which taste a bit like peanuts and celery respectively. Lilies are incredible, you can eat most of the flower, while the leaves serve as a waterproof material. Scientists go crazy about lily leaves as they have so many practical uses.

After the break, we spotted two Jabirus, a yellow eyed female and a brown eyed male, on either side of the river. They looked like couple after an argument.

jabiru

Enter a caption

Did you know that Jabirus are the arch nemesis of crocodiles, as they have the strength to pierce through the scalp of an unsuspecting croc.

Sea Eagles were by far the most majestic birds I’ve seen on this trip. Their strong nests can be spotted from a distance, buried in the tall gumtrees. These birds also mate for life, which is a great lesson for humanity.

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Wise Sea Eagles (photo by Bogdan Nacu)

Some crocodiles were spotted here and there, with a climax of bringing the boat to the bank, next to a medium sized croc, having his siesta. His tail had its tip snapped off and his eyes were reluctant to greet us. I had a feeling that he was one of the little crocodiles (see Schnappi das Kleine Krokodil) , bullied by the larger, alpha male crocs.

Dad asked if he should jump out of the boat, with a smile on his face. ‘Grab its tail and we’ll all get some nice photos.’ was the guide’s equally playful response.

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Schnappi was not in the mood for photos (photo by Bogdan Nacu)

The evening ended with a beautiful sunset over a few crocodiles fighting over half a dead crocodile. Cannibalism is common amongst these fierce creatures. Just before this free cage match we bumped into three boatmen who were off fishing. One of them had his feet ploughing through the dangerous waters. He laughed when we told him to be more careful of the creatures lurking underneath. Let’s just say he missed quite a show…

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Sunset over Mary River (photo by Bogdan Nacu)

 

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Australia, Traveling

Adventures in Australia. Part1 – Arrival, Humpty Doo and Litchfield National Park

(!) Read Part 2 here.

13th of September 2017

After a rather harsh trip with 12 or so pieces of luggage through Sydney, we caught the plane to Darwin. By “we” I mean Teia (aunt), Cristi (uncle), Bogdan (cousin), Ira (cousin in law), Vero (mum), Nicu (dad), Andrei (brother) and Ana (myself). The trip to Darwin was about 5 hours long, so a bit like flying from Rome to Oslo, but it felt short, given that we were still in Australia.

As soon as we got to Darwin, the hot, humid air filled our lungs, the dry season was on its last foot. Bogdan and Cristi rented a couple of 4WD cars and we were off to our first little holiday home in Humpty Doo, a town close by. The name is like a combination of Humpty Dumpty and Scooby Doo, what’s not to love? Our adress was 62 Origin Close, Humpty Doo, which makes perfect sense, since that was our starting point for all the crazy adventures we would have next.

The house we stayed in was built by a lovely couple, Kathy and Adam. They built this Tropical Oasis in what seemed the middle of nowhere, with a forest at the doorstep. Waking up to a concert of wildlife is definetly an experience worth having in the Northern Territory. The swimming pool, the modern look of the home, the cockatoos flying by, the chickens me and Ira liked to visit (and feed) and our hosts themselves were such a joy!

house

62 Origin Close, Humpty Doo house we stayed at.

14th of September 2017

I will try to translate the delirious writing that I did in my travel journal after the first day here, although some sentences might be too cute to leave out. For example “Today we went to Litchfield National Park, a charming, heat filled desert land, full of crispy plants and crazy wildlife. All those lizards!”

Our first stop was at the Magnetic Termite Mounds, where little termites build castles of red earth from north to south (I feel a Gaskell reference coming), in order to regulate the temperature of their home. A field of these architectural feats on a misty day can remind one of a blood curling thriller, as it looks like a cemetery.

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Creepy looking termite cemetery (photo by Bogdan Nacu)

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Dad, mum and auntie next to a cathedral termite mound in Litchfield National Park.

A less gothic relative of the magnetic termites are the spinifex termites, who build majestic cathedral mounds like the one below. Spinifex is a type of plant that grows in sand dunes and arid regions. It produces a type of resin with sticky properties, which helps the termites keep their walls intact.

Did you know? Termites have more in common with the cockroach than with the ordinary ant.

After a scorching experience at the termite mounds, we were hopeful to find a flowing waterfall at Florence Falls. All our sorrows seemed to have disappeared as soon as our feet touched the clear blue lagoon. The fish were kissing our feet and we braved the foamy waterfall.

Our trip to the Northern Territory and Western Australia have given me perspective on how afraid I am of the world. Even a waterfall could suffocate me with its endless blessings. This first waterfall has brought me closer to embracing the wild and letting go.

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Florence Falls in September 2017

After Florence came Tolmer Falls, a croc infested, much larger enclosure of fresh water. We cautiously took photos from the top cliffs and went on our way to Wangi Falls. Since September is towards the end of the dry season, it was no wonder that most waterfalls had dried out. What remains is usually a set of small lagoons, where wildlife flourishes. Saltwater crocodiles can get trapped in such enclosures as the dry season progresses.

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Tolmer Falls in September 2017

Before reaching Wangi Falls, we had a short detour through Walker Creek, where we were hoping to find some lunch. Guess what, all the cafes were closed due to the small number of tourists popping by. We got to a campsite there and feasted on ice cream and cheese instead. Best lunch ever!

What can one say about Wangi Falls to truly describe its beauty? It’s one of those places that makes you wonder whether you’ve made the right choices in life. After passing a misleading sign of Free Wifi, we got to what was hopefully also a misleading sign: Danger! Crocodile Infested Waters. The threat level was low, but it still suprised me how many people were swimming in that lake. ‘They must be german’, I thought to myself, as  most incidents around the Northern Territory involve germans ignoring the warning signs.

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Wangi Falls at sunset

Cristi was the first to brave the swim, Bogdan, dad and Andrei followed. Us women were watching them from a lookout point with mixed feelings. A gum tree full of flying foxes nearby was making a terrible noise. Golden orb spiders were hanging loosely over the dark waters. On our way to the lookout point, a large lizard, shaped like a miniature brontosaurus emerged from the foliage.

I was trying to grasp all of these creatures in my mind, while staring at the waters of Wangi. ‘Do you want to swim?’ asked Ira and my heart sank slightly. I was determined, however, that girls should be at least as brave as boys, so I went for it. We swam together, all the way to the waterfall. We even went into the 3m “jacuzzi” carved into the rock just to prove to ourselves that whatever the boys can do, the girls can do. It was becoming a funny imitation game, but we did it, we braved the swim!

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Brontosaurus looking lizard

After we got out of the water, me and Ira returned to mum and Teia, who had been taking photos of us from a distance. A dark grey snake swam rapidly right beneath the wooden platform under our feet. ‘Good thing we saw this now and not before.’ I thought to myself. It was probably a harmless water snake, returning from its routine 9 to 5 job of taxing fish for stealing coins from tourists.

The sun was ready to set over Wangi Falls, so we took our superstar selfie and plodded home. A wild boar, whom we named Johnny and a bilby with no name (sob) made our cars stop a couple of times. We did some evening shopping, had a barbeque at our tropical oasis house and got to enjoy each other’s company a bit more. Bogdan and Andrei were still jumping drunk in the swimming pool by the time everyone else had gone to bed, full of anticipation for the next day.

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Our superstar selfie at Wangi Falls (photo by Bogdan Nacu)

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