All posts by Gabriela Solomon

MSR_Oltenia_tour

Oltenia tour and its hidden treasures

By | Destinations, Oltenia, Rural break, Traditions, Urban break | No Comments

In 2016, when Lonely Planet rated Transylvania as the first tourist destination in the world, we decided to defy the trends and invite you to a marvelous route in… Oltenia – the southern-west part of Wallachia.

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Day 1

Bucureşti – Piteşti – Slatina (around 3h with the car, 190 km)

  • Tour in the old city of Slatina with a dictionary of architectural styles in your hands (1h)
  • Short stop at Atletul Albanez (Albanian Athlete), the oldest merchant establishment in Romania (30 min)

Slatina – Craiova (45 min, 60 km)

  • Lunch at the Bulevard Restaurant (1h)
  • Tour at the Art Museum, to enter the world of Brancusi (1h)
  • Prefecturii Square, Old City center, Romanescu Park and getting lost on the streets (2h)

Craiova – Ponoarele (2 h, 130 km)

Day 2

  • Guided Tour at the Limestone natural wonders in Ponoarele (God’s Natural Bridge, The fields of clints, The Cave, The lakes Zatonul Mare, Zatonul Mic) (2h)
  • Visit at grandma Victorita – seeing a traditional household in Bratilovu (1h and 30 min)

Ponoarele – Sohodol Gorges (30 min, 25 km)

  • Lunch at Runcu – Casa din Pădure (1h)
  • Visit Sohodol Gorges and discover the legends about “the ring of the fair lady” and “dragon’s nostrils” (30 min)

Sohodol – Hobiţa (30 min, 22 km)

  • Visit the Memorial House of Brancusi (1 h)

Hobiţa – TgJiu (30 min, 25 km)

  • Visit Brancusi Sculptural Ensemble and Targu Jiu City Centre (1h)
  • Visit The Endless Column (30 min)

Tg Jiu – Cartiu (17 min, 13 km)

Day 3

Cartiu – Curtişoara (15 min, 12 km)

  • Visit the Museum of Popular Architecture from Gorj (1h 30 min)

Curtişoara – Crasna (20 min, 20 km)

  • Visit Crasna Hermitage (45 min)

Crasna – Novaci (15 min, 10 km)

Novaci – Măldăreşti (40 min, 30 km)

Horezu – Bucureşti (3h, 220 km)

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The route begins with Slatina, a place where the old didn’t have the chance to meet with the new.

50 of the buildings you can see in the old city centre are on the UNESCO Heritage list. Built between 1860 – 1938 they offer an almost complete image of the architectural styles that can be found all over Romania: Neo-Gothic, Neo-Romanian, modernist, Art Nouveau and Art Deco. Most of these architectural jewelries can be found on the streets: Poboran, Dinu Lipatti, Gradinitei and Fratii Buzesti. You cannot miss Radu Greceanu Highschool (1891), Slatina City Hall (1905), The Ethnographic Section of Olt County Museum, Caracostea House (1902), The Teachers’ House (1899) and the old headquarters of the National Bank of Romania from Slatina (1908).

At the beginning or at the end of the architectural tour you must stop on Dinu Lipatti Street 25 at the coffee shop Atletul Albanez – The Albanian Athlete. This is the oldest merchant establishment in Romania that survived through the communist era. The Memish Family of Albanian origin has been involved in the Balkan trade for over 300 years.

In 1912 a great-great-great grandfather who settled in Slatina won a contest of Greco-roman battles organized by the circus that came into town at that time. Out of respect for the city and its citizens, he donated the award of 300 napoleons to the city council and the council rewarded him by allowing him to open his shop: Albanian Athlete. Here you will taste braga – a drink made of fermented cereals, alvita – traditional candy and ice cream and you will feel the presence of all the people who enjoyed their time in this place throughout centuries.

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The tour continues with Craiova and its restored city centre. Here you will find a diversity of architectural styles: Renaissance, Baroque, classic, neoclassic, romantic, Neo-Romanian and buildings built by French, Italian, Romanian or German architects. We recommend you to see the Council Square, Old Town, Romanescu Park and get lost on the streets of the city.

On our list we also have Madona Dudu Church, a pilgrimage spot due to the miraculous icon of Mother Mary that – according to the legend – was found in a mulberry tree where the altar was built later on. Even beyond the spiritual beauty, we recommend the church for its cultural beauty and for the painting signed by Gheorghe Tatarescu.

MSR_Craiova_CasaBaniei

Baniei House is the oldest laic building in the city today, being built in 1699. Now it hosts the Ethnographic Museum and in the past it used to be the meeting point of Craiova assembly. Judging by the input of art historians, the building was rebuilt by Constantin Brancoveanu based on the model of a building by Barbu Craiovescu from XV century.

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Two beautiful buildings remember of a little Paris of Oltenia – Jean Mihail Pallace (now the Museum of Art Craiova) and Vorvorenilor Pallace (the official headquarter of Oltenia Church).

Entering the Art Museum and following Brancusi steps, we will discover one of the greatest legacies of Romanian and Oltenian art. The art works displayed here represent the first creative time of the artist, student at the School of Arts and Crafts of Craiova. Here we find The Kiss – built in stone in 1907, Vitellius – the oldest art work of Brancusi created in 1898 from gyps, Woman Torso – marble work from 1909, Vanity – from 1905, Head of a Boy – from 1906, Mademoiselle Pogany, Chair and Corset – from 1902.

From the museum, after we visit the city centre and the English Park, we continue strolling on Unirii Boulevard until Romanescu Park, a relaxing spot where we encounter landscapes of the past century.

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We spend the first evening at Ponoarele, in the heart of Mehedinti Plateau. From Craiova to Ponoarele we have a good journey, seeing small and tidy households as we pass by. Walk slowly and look at the sky.

We start the new morning discovering the natural wonders of Ponoarele Limestone Complex:

  • God’s Bridge
  • Ponoarele Cave
  • Fields of Clints
  • Zătonul Mare and Zătonul Mic

God’s Bridge is the biggest natural bridge in Romania and the second as size in Europe (30m length, 12m width, 22m height). It is the only one of its kind opened for car traffic. The story says that the natural bridge formed due to the falling of the Ponoarele Cave ceiling. The legend on the other hand, tells the story of the Devil who lived there. The people from Ponoarele were praying to God to save them from the evil one. Hearing their prayers, God hit the ceiling of the Cave with his hand and it all fell over the entrance. But the Devil escaped, going out on the other side of the cave and grabbing with his claws the top of The Hill Cave, forming the clints fields. The Devil climbed then on a rock that is now called Devil’s Rock and he drained all the lakes.

MSR_Ponoarele_Clints

The Fields of Clints (Afrodita and Cleopatra) are formed by calcareous channels created by water erosion. The ditches are sometimes higher than 4-5 metres length and have a depth of 30 cm. They are similar to corridors cut in stone where you can find different vegetation forms like thyme or nettle.

Zatonul is the biggest lake formed on limestone from Romania but it is a temporary lake. Depending on the season and on the amount of rain, you can see the lake as something huge or as a small stream of water.

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Ponoarele are galleries, wells where the water disappears in one place and appears again a few kilometers further on. All this area is full of ponoare – this is why there is an abundance of limestone phenomena.

We continue our visit at grandma Victorita, the grandmother of our friend, Adriana and the wife of Ion Suciu – both of them successors of shepherds who ran from Transylvania under the Austro-Hungarian rule in the XVIIIth century. There are many villages that have the Transylvanian heritage and Bratilov is one of them, together with Titerlesti, Novaci, Vaideeni, Baia de Fier, Corbi. Dumitru Suciu, the father in law of Victorita was part of the management committee of Shepherds’ Trade – association formed by shepherds to protect them and their rights. In the interwar times they used to organize gatherings and also publish a monthly magazine called “Sheepfold”. In the house of the Suciu spouses we find out about the shepherds traditions: black and white costumes from Jina, marquisette costumes from Gorj, carpets, bags weaved at loom and bats sculpted in sycamore tree by the Suciu men. If you are patient, we read stories and poetry written by great grandfather Suciu.

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MSR_Bratilov_VictoritaSuciu

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We say goodbye to the atmosphere created by grandparents and to the house full of memories and we go towards Sohodol Gorges. Quick, quick, we eat a delicious meal at a guesthouse and we enter the gorges – natural reservation with impressive landscapes that covers over 350 hectares. When we exit the canion, we notice a gate – a ring in the rock and the nostrils formed by Sohodol river in the bottom part. With a binocular we can notice the protected birds including the butterfly and the rock martin.

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MSR_Hobita_Brancusihouse

With our stomach calm and with our eyes delighted by natural landscapes we continue our journey to Hobita at the Memorial House of Constantin Brancusi. We found out about the artist in Craiova already and here we will imagine how he saw endless columns in the oaks from his neighbors’ garden, how he would sculpt, how he remembered the gate of his house and sculpted an identical one in his workshop from Paris.

In 1938, he finished the World War I monument in Târgu-Jiu where he had spent much of his childhood. Table of Silence, The Gate of the Kiss, and Endless Column commemorate the courage and sacrifice of Romanians who in 1916 defended Târgu Jiu from the forces of the Central Powers.

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MSR_TheEndlessColumn_Brancusi

Analyzing the artist’s words and knowing the symbols of his other works of art, we realize that The Gate of the Kiss is an Arc of Triumph under which the heroes pass at peace into the other world. It seems that the main idea from The Kiss is simple: love as fusion between two separate entities brings back the original unity of life. Here it is about life after death.

The Table of Silence was carved in stone and represents symbolically the table before the battle of the Romanian soldiers. The chairs around the table are in the shape of an hour glass and measure the time, while the number of the chairs remembers of the Last Supper with the 12 disciples.

It talks about family reunion, meditation upon life and cherishing time.

At the end of Hero’s Pathway we have the park that waits for us with the Endless Column. It is a symbol of the endless sacrifice, embodying an axis mundi that aims to support the sky for the eternity.

Our night ends very close by at Cartianu Villa – the house built in 1769 by Enache Cartianu, a very rich governor who held 400 hectares in Cartiu village. His successors built near this place (now part of the Etnografic Museum of Tragu Jiu) the Cartianu Guesthouse, a local jewelry that respects traditional values.

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MSR_Curtisoara_detaliu

The third day starts with the road from Targu Jiu to Novaci. We recommend a stop at Curtisoara – Museum of Folkloric Architecture of Gorj and at Cornoiu’s Kula. The museum in open space hosts architectural monuments and folkloric techniques from Gorj. Other than the Cornoiu kula (XVII century) here we can also find reassembled buildings like Saint John the Baptist Church (1820), peasant constructions made out of wood (houses, cellars, roof tops, technical installations from XVII-XIX century) with typical furniture, costumes, sewing, ceramics, tools. The oldest house presented here was built over 200 years ago: the house of Udriste Priest from Olari village from 1802.

On our way we will stop at Crasna Hermitage, a place full of peacefulness and spirituality while we enter the house of a painter in love with ethnography and traditional symbols.

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MSR_DacianaUngureanu_colectie

In an interview for jurnalul.ro, Daciana Ungureanu talks about the Ethnographic Collection Daciana Ungureanu and welcomes us into the story: “I have inherited from my family many objects that I keep dearly. Two of the dowry coffers that I keep are full of costumes from Gorj and Hungary, old lace and other textiles for the house. I have most of the pieces from my grandmother on my mother’s side and were worn by her. This means a lot for me. These are extremely fine pieces, most of them for celebration purposes and they are woven in amazing colors and details through diverse techniques and materials. I do not have enough words to describe them, you must see them.”

From Novaci, we follow a zigzag road beneath the mountain, towards Baia de Fier (Iron Bath), Polovragi, Vaideeni, Horezu. From there, we follow the signs that lead to Maldaresti Kulas. The kulas were built by Oltenia governors to protect themselves from the Turkish invader groups coming from the Danube. Due to their uniqueness, they were nominated to be part of the UNESCO heritage. The name comes from the greek word “kale” or “kule” which means “tower”. There were a lot of kulas in all Oltenia and in the west part of Muntenia but from a few hundreds of such houses, only 27 survived until today. More than half of them, not being given the chance to be transformed into museums, are in a precarious shape or already in ruins.

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Most of these buildings have thick walls of 80 cm. When the enemies were coming close, the servants were hiding the animals in cellars. The governors were running at the first floor and put a thick wood at the door to be sure the door would resist. If the first floor became unsafe, they were going up to the defense tower on a rope ladder. They were getting water from the cellar’s well, had food and waited for the threat to pass by.

Lunch will be served at Maldar Manor and the road to Bucharest goes through Ramnicu Valcea and Pitesti. If you wish to stop on the road, there are things to visit for another 2 days.

This is only a part of the route we planned for the Great Tour of Oltenia. If you want to join us, you can find the tours here. If you need details, contacts or other information, you find us here.

photos by Claudiu Netoiu, Mihaela Dinca, Florin Valcea

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Martisor tradition in Romania

By | Must read, Traditions, Weekly secret | No Comments

The “martisor” is a red and white string offered as a talisman at the beginning of spring. One folk tale says that the string was spun by Baba Dochia, a mythological old woman identified with the return of spring. During the first nine days of March Baba Dochia spins the wool thread next to her sheep, wearing nine sheepskins that she takes off one at a time each day. As she sheds the sheepskins, the weather gradually turns warmer. She uses the red and white wool to make the threads, the former symbolizing winter and the passing year, the latter a sign of spring and renewal.

In the old days the “martisor” was an important custom, the peasants offered close ones lucky charms or twisted wool threads to protect them from disease and bad luck. With time, a coin recalling the sun was added to the thread.

Since then the “martisor” took various forms. I can’t recall how it was during my grandparents’ time, but I like to think it was simpler than today. Whenever the 1st of March is approaching I find myself looking for the traditional “martisor” which carries some meaning. The list below revolves around the “martisor” that has motifs, fabrics, techniques or inspiration of a traditional nature. For me they’re all beautiful, simple, bearing a story.

The list below revolves around the “martisor” that has motifs, fabrics, techniques or inspiration of a traditional nature. For me they’re all beautiful, simple, bearing a story.

Daciana Ungureanu – Everlasting signs

martisoare_Daciana

In the past few years Daciana, an artist from Novaci with a passion for the traditional values, has been a savior in my quest for the “martisor” as every year she has a different collection of a traditional vein. You can contact her on the Daciana Ungureanu Ethnographic Collection Facebook page.

Mesteshukar Boutique – Shukar Martisor

Mesteshukar

Mesteshukar ButiQ (MBQ) is an active supporter of revaluing the traditional crafts of the Roma people. They have recently opened a showroom on Edgar Quinet No 7 in Bucharest, and can also be found at the Romanian Cultural Institute in Stockholm with an exhibition called Nomadic Design Practices.

The Paper Mill – Cărţişor

moara de hartie_Cartisor

The Paper Mill (workshop on paper making, binding, calligraphy, painting) envisages the “martisor” as a book with covers of handmade paper and pages of recycled paper containing poetry about spring. You can contact them at echipa@moaradehartie.ro or on their Facebook page. Their work can be found at Sophia Bookshop and the English Bookshop in Bucharest, and it’s also available for shipping.

Ionela Lungu – Figurines

Ionela Lungu_Pacala (2)

Ionela Lungu is an artist, modeller in clay, photographer and wizard who brings to life figurines based on the characters of Ion Creanga. She charms with photographs of The Ozana River and stories from the Humulesti village. If we are really lucky we can meet her at fairs in Bucharest, Suceava and Iasi and hear her stories live.

Painted Gifts – wooden martisor

CadouriPictate_martisoare

I know Andreea from the entrepreneurship courses we have attended together. We
haven’t got on well with the paperwork and financial tools, but our passion remained unscathed. She has always painted and the muse sometimes even visits her at night, with T-shirts, gift boxes, furniture and painted rooms as proof. She recently started painting martisor on ceramic, wood, fabric, some of them turning into fridge magnets. For orders contact her on her Facebook page Painted Gifts – Cadouri Pictate.

Village Signs – traditional martisor

SemneleSatului_martisoare

I found their Facebook page with photographs of traditional stitches and crafts, which I recommend for their attention to detail. Orders can be placed via private Facebook messages on their page Semnele Satului.

brancusi_MSR

An encounter with Brancusi

By | Destinations, Events, Must read, Oltenia, Urban break | No Comments

A pioneer of modern sculpture, Constantin Brancusi found inspiration in folkloric art and geometric lines. I first learned about Brancusi and the Architectural Ensemble at Targu Jiu when we discussed important figures of Gorj County during my 4th grade Geography classes. I remember feeling small every time I sat next to The Endless Column, as well as something else that eluded words, which I still have trouble explaining. Luckily I now have the artist’s words to help me decipher both the sculptures and the emotions connected to them.

My first true encounter with Brancusi was through a friend’s article on 10 Romanian places in Paris, which revealed to me the story of The Kiss – a piece commissioned by the father of Tatiana Rachewskaia, a wealthy Russian who killed herself out of love.

Her story led me to finding more about the craft of sculpting and about how Brancusi saw the link between life, death and love. His sculptures are linked in a series: The Kiss came first, then The Kiss Column, followed by The Gate of the Kiss. He said:

I wanted to make something that told the story not of a single couple, but of all people who loved each other and walked the Earth before having left it.”
What’s striking about the work of Brancusi is its simplicity or “resolved complexity”, ashe named it. A layman’s eye looking at The Gate of the Kiss sees lines and circles carved in rock. In actuality all sides of each column are adorned with symbols of the kiss – two halves of a circle. Above the gate there are 40 pairs of lovers facing each other; their faces only show the eyes and the mouth, which unites two halves of the same unit. The interlocked silhouettes of The Kiss are reduced to a few symbols on the gate, recalling couples, love, life and death.
After reading my friend’s article and seeing Targu Jiu with new eyes, I wanted to visit Brancusi’s workshop in Paris, a replica found at Georges Pompidou Centre, which hosts a large part of his works. The experience was a feast for the eyes: the ensemble of works, the way the light fell on bronze and marble, each sculpture and pedestal. Brancusi was constantly mindful of the relationship between the sculptures, their surrounding space and the pedestals. The intimate connection between the sculptures inside the workshop became paramount, and around 1950 he refused to sell his works. If convinced of letting one go, he would replace it with a replica made in cast to recall the original piece made of marble or bronze.

 

Atelier Brancusi, Paris… #brancusi #constantinbrancusi #sculpture #atelier #studio #Paris #column #art #endlesscolumn

A photo posted by Nicola Ferrero (@nicolaferrero) on

My next meeting with Brancusi will be at his home at Hobita. I know the Oltenian gate he sculpted resides at Paris, but I want to see the places that molded him, the gardens where he envisioned The Endless Column in the shape of the oaks, the table he ate at and the veranda where his mother would be waiting for him.
Do you recall your first encounter with Brancusi?
***
Our big plan is an Oltenia tour, that will happen this year in June, which will include Hobita and Targu Jiu. Our smaller plan is a special trip, with focus on Brancusi. Find more about what are we planning for you on our Join us on trip! page.
Gabi_MySecretRomania_Nucsoara

10 lessons learnt after one year in Romania

By | Just my opinion, Must read | 3 Comments

I was born and raised in Romania; every day I had a picture of the real country in front of my eyes and I still didn’t see it clearly enough. It’s what happens when you have something close to your eyes and you cannot focus.

Every time a foreigner would ask me “how is Romania?”, “how are your fellow countrymen?” I had the same dry answer, almost automatically: “Romania is a beautiful country, too bad it has inhabitants.” It is the translation of a phrase I didn’t invent “Romania e o ţară frumoasă, păcat că e locuită!”, a phrase that a lot of Romanians use when they want to describe their country in 30 seconds. This generalisation is not flattering at all, it does not honour any of us. It refers to everyone, even to the one uttering the words “too bad it has inhabitants”. It says something about my mom, my dad, my grandparents.

This dry answer comes to me after years and years of being showed the flaws: my failures, my misunderstandings and what goes wrong in the country (government flaws, bureaucracy, corruption). On the other hand, my teachers and my parents would say: “the French are so elegant!, look at the British educational system!, look at the Dutch social system!” My mental path formed soon after “they are better, have prettier, cleaner countries! Let’s go there!” So I visited more and more countries, looking for a “better, greener grass than in Romania”. I did the same at a personal level – I looked for answers about myself in the neighbourhood’s courtyard. And the more I looked for them elsewhere, the lonelier and lost I would feel.

It took me almost two years and a journey of 10 000 de km to see the link between people very proud of their courtyard, their history and traditions an the smile and the energy they showed every day. Although they have more problems than Romanians do (poverty, corruption, violence – all multiplied by a 200 million population), Brazilians share beautiful stories about their country, their family, music and dancing. They take their energy from their country’s nature – beach, rivers, mountains, from music and stories of local heroes. The crisis they are going through is challenging a lot their perspective, but they are surely more inclined to look inwards then outwards.

I came back to Romania and I turned also inwards, which helped me see with different eyes my “dowry chest” – the traditions, customs and stories that my family accumulated for years. I also showed other people this inheritance and saw that we all learn from this journey inwards, back home. These are the lessons I’ve learned since I came back from Brasil:

1. the Romanian blouse is a story in itself

Discovering the Facebook page La Blouse Roumaine in 2013 and the blog semne-cusute (sewn signs) in 2014 were magic moments for me. They represent the code that I needed to be able to read a part of the riches that I inherited from my grand parents and great-grand parents. I remember all the times we moved the carpets, the rugs, the quilts and all the other woven items from the attic into the courtyard for spring cleaning. We air them, we talk about their motifs and about who made them and we put them back into a room where nobody sees them for another year.  The same happens with the traditional costumes. I knew they had a huge value, but I didn’t have the chance to acknowledge that value. I couldn’t “read” them. This year, during Easter, I discovered a ia – a Romanian blouse that I could read. It belonged to my grandmother and she had embroidered her name on the blouse. I realised that the symbols our ancestors chose for weaving and sewing their dowry tell a story. And a sewn story, like a told story, needs listeners. I will surely listen from now on!

2. nature’s lesson about peace

We reached a remote village in the Apuseni Mountains after a very tiring journey from Bucharest (7 hours of driving and some steep slopes at the end). The moment we entered our host’s courtyard, all the noise in my head seemed to quiet down. We all looked around, made friends with the sheep, the dogs, the bees and we couldn’t believe how peaceful it was. The villagers, their household and their livelihood have a deep connection with the nature that surrounds them; this, in my opinion, brings balance and tranquility.

3. life at the countryside is not easy

In December 2015 the garden of the House of Parliament was taken over by shepherds who were on strike because the legislators thought they might know better how many dogs they need to guard their flocks. One of the photographers at the event wrote that he couldn’t keep up running after one of the men that were protesting. He was in his sixties, he wore a huge sheepskin and when he decided to sprint, he outrun everybody. My mom is also in her sixties and I cannot compete with her for a simple day at the household. Waking up at 6:30, feeding the livestock (cow, chicken, pig, rabbits), cooking breakfast for the family, cleaning the house, making cheese, cooking lunch, doing the dishes, cutting the fresh cheese, milking the cow, feeding the animals and sending them to bed, dinner again. During a day like this, I feel the need for a break or a nap every 2 hours. My parents don’t take breaks and they also have a fulltime job.

Yes, the countryside is a lot more peaceful. Yes, you can have a comfortable dream house. But the miracle of peace and tranquility comes with hard work, sometimes physical hard work.

4. every horse is an unicorn

The majority of our trips happened this year in the southern part of the country, in a village called Odăi, in Lotrului Mountains. Our instructors taught people that were afraid of horses to mount and unmount; they also taught 5 years old kids, misses, misters, respectable ladies and gents. The horses feel so well the fear of their rider that they won’t follow an hesitant command. If you say “gallop” on a soft tone, they will never run with you.

There were two moments this year when I entrusted our faith to the horses. I trusted them more than I trusted myself in those situations. In one of the trips a storm was approaching. The thunders and the lightning were pretty close and the path was engulfed by small bushes. I was riding Fulger (Lightning) and our guide, Mariuca, was telling me to let the horse find its way through the bushes. I accepted the fact that he knows better and I let him climb a slope that I would have never climbed on foot. We reached our shelter exactly when the storm passed and the sky regained a clear blue color.

Odai nomade

The second moment happened in October, in our autumn trip, when we came back from a tour at sunset. Our eyes got first accustomed with the dusk and then with the darkness. I could see only a bit of white (the rear of the horse in front) and we would call each other to see if we are all in formation. Those 20 minutes were the best teambuilding exercise ever. And our horses transformed themselves into unicorns, the horses of princes and fairies.

5. you can also clean off dust from history

Aferim!, a film made by the director Radu Jude, is a good example of how to clean off the dust from the history of a country and to bring in onto the screen. Set in early 19th century Romania, the film is (virtually) the first film ever to depict the enslavement of gipsies that occurred for some five hundred years in the present day territories of Romania.

The restoration of the saxon houses from Cincu, Cincşor, Viscri is another good example. Like digging up in your grandmother’s attic and finding shuttles, spindles, combs from her old loom.

I needed a lot of dusting on my personal history and one of the moments when I did this was the Christmas trip for baking cozonac (a Romanian traditional cake made for holidays). I asked my mom to search in the attic for the old kneading-trough, the oven utensils, the pans and we’ve restored the journey of baking these cakes like grandmother would have. Although we worked for almost 8 hours (kneading, fermenting, putting in pans, raising, put in the oven, baking), I felt that everything had a meaning. That “nothing compares with home baked bread and cozonac” had a taste, a smell and a touch connected to it.

6. that other people cherish their inheritance

It is important not to be the only one looking in the dowry chest, so I tried to find people that share the same passions and values.

We heard and loved the story of Muzeul de Pânze şi Poveşti (The Museum of woven fabrics and stories) from the village Mândra, in Transilvania. Alina Zară-Prunean built an “oasis of Romanian spirit with 0 budget, pride, ownership and meaning!” They looked for pieces of old fabrics in attics, they promoted their value, they taught children to preserve and cherish the national symbols and treasures. They celebrate 7 years of  creating workshops, handicraft evening sittings, social enterprises and projects. Their brand MândraChic is an online shop that sells “contemporary dowry” and their new partnership Colţul Românesc is an online shop that pleads for local consumption and for sustaining the small Romanian producers from High Natural Value areas.

We also like Kraftmade – a networked from from craftsmen and designers that wish to integrate in our daily life traditional techniques and skills. They are the connection between the craftsmen, the designers and the market and they help the owners of the craft to create new products with old techniques (a belt made like a traditional whip, a purse made like a woven rug, a handmade banner), to expose them and to sell them in Romania or abroad.

There are few Romanian travel agencies that really want to show authentic Romania to foreign countries. Dan Chitila is the founder of such an agency – OutdoorActivities.ro. He started in 2012 with an idea, then he became a guide and showed tourists from Europe, USA, Thailand, Japan, Australia, Canada, Israel parts of Romania that are not shown in the touristic guides: haymaking in the villages Peştera and Măgura, traditional lunch with villagers in Zărneşti, along with highlights like Sinaia and Peleş Castle. Every tour is customised for the tourists that contacted him and includes at least a hike, because Dan is a passionate mountaineer and he loves all the corners of the Carpathian Mountains. In 2015 he received a Certificate of Excellence from tripadvisor.com and he is decided to keep his rank!

7. crafts are fascinating

If you already saw this documentary by Mihai Pleşa and his team from Fascinaţia Meşteşugului you will take my word for it. o să mă credeţi pe cuvânt. If not, please book a session in a workshop and try to do something with your own hands: a dish at the potter’s wheel, a model painted on ceramics, a start with a Romanian sandal (opinca), a start with a woven rug or carpet, anything. Any type of such endeavour teaches you that every object requires, time, attention, art and a lot of dedication. It is very hard to craft, so paying attention to the objects made by craftsmen and artisans is a step for showing appreciation. Buying is another step.

8. the Romanian “mioriţa – sheep” should learn foreign languages

We saw the short film The last Transhumance, a preview of the documentary directed by Dragoş Lumpan. He started following the last Romanian families that walk with the sheep thousands of km every year and he ended up creating an artistic, etnografic and sociologic project that sums 8 years, 6 countries, more than 50.000 of km, 100.000 photographs, 70 hours of filmed material and 100 hours of audio records. Being born in a shepherds family, I understand about the lifestyle at a sheepfold, about taking care of the sheep “from morning until tomorrow morning, 360 days per year”. As a daughter of the present, I also understand that shepherding, in its Romanian format, is not lucrative. The wool, the meat, the milk are cheaper in other countries because of state subventions.

romania-secreta-cum-se-mulg-oile-la-stana-lui-nea-sandu-in-muntii-lotrului

To save itself, the Romanian sheep should start convincing fellow Romanian to buy from local producers (like the social enterprise Made in Rosia Montana does) or to convince foreigners to visit. If she would learn foreign languages, she could invite tourists at the sheepfold, to prepare a traditional meal (with meet or vegetarian), to serve cheese, curd, cottage cheese. To ask the shepherds to sing for the tourists or to teach them to milk the sheep.

9. it is hard to grow if you have no roots

My recipe for moving into a new place is creating a network. People that I already know, friends of friends, acquaintances that can help me. When you are new to a place you will cherish a recommendation, a piece of advice, a kind word. This year I realised that a network is not enough when you are trying to build something. It’s like a floating spider web. The roots I (re)discovered were the stories that my mom and my grandparents always told me, the grandparents house from the mountains in Nucsoara village, the Romanian blouses and the dowry chest, the way you make wine and bread at the country side, the way people gather around the fire (the heart of the house).

10. Romania is so beautiful that people from abroad fall in love

The Bucharest Lounge is a project started in 2011 as a Rebrand Romania Movement, by Yvette Larsson from Sweden. She visited Romania in 1985 with her parents and then, when she returned in 2011, she felt inspired to “spread the word about funky Bucharest and beautiful Romania”. Her blog saw the light of the day because of pure enthusiasm to get the crowds back to Romania!!! Her 2016 campaign is called #letsgotoRomania2016 and here you can find the YouTube playlist with the reasons we love Romania and why you should come visit. Thank you for your love and inspiration, Yvette!

Some of the lessons I’ve learnt in one year of really seeing Romania have meaning also for others. Some don’t, but I assure you of the process – if we look attentively in our courtyard (be it family, town, country) we are going to find the projects and the people that have meaning for us!

MySecretRomania_cula_Maldaresti

Kule. Romanian fortified houses

By | Destinations, Must read, Oltenia, Rural break, Weekly secret | No Comments

In Romanian architecture, kula means a type of fortified house, with a simple and compact aspect, with a square or rectangular plan, built on two or three floors. It had the main role of defense, but also of surveillance and living space.

The kule were built by southern Romania’s noblemen in order to defend themselves from the Turkish predator gangs coming from the Danube. Because of their uniqueness, the houses were proposed for the UNESCO world heritage list. The name “kula” comes from the Turkish word kale or kule, meaning tower. There were a lot of them in Oltenia (the southern part of our country), but, unfortunately, out of hundreds of such wealthy houses, only 27 survived (now listed as Romanian historical monuments). More than half of them, without the chance of turning into museums, are in very bad shapes or just ruins now.

Why do we know this word and where have we seen a kula?

  • From Greuceanu, a Romanian fairytale written by Petre Ispirescu. „Greuceanu went to the Green Forrest kula, opened the door with the Dragon’s finger and found there the sun and the moon. He took the sun in his right hand and the moon in his left, threw them up in the sky and everybody was happy.”
Kule. Romanian fortified houses

Ilustratie din basmul Greuceanu

  • from Aferim, Radu Jude’s Aferim! movie, winner of Berlin’s Silver Bear. Talking about the places he found for the movie sets, Jude says: „It was a bit hard to find them, because nowadays it is not simple to find places untouched by modern things like electricity, for example. Part of the set was in Dobrogea, Haleș Monastery near Buzău, cula Greceanu near Horezu, from Măldărești, forests near Bucharest. We kind of searched through all Țara Românească (Romanian Country, southern part of now Romania, where all the action is taking place)”
Kule. Romanian fortified houses

Scena din Aferim – cula Greceanu, Maldaresti

  • From the descriptions of the NeoRomanian style by Valentin Mandache: „One of the first classical NeoRomanian style buildings, which still exists in Bucharest, is the Doina restaurant building, designed in 1892 by Ion Mincu, a famous Romanian architect. Here we can clearly observe in the center of the building the kula prototype, with its fortified bastion like a main element of structural diagnostic and byzantine decorative components, peasant ethnographic motifs and Turkish decorative models.”
Kule. Romanian fortified houses

Bufetul de la Sosea – actualul Restaurant Doina

How do we visit these Romanian fortified houses?

Because the kula structure is so compact, our first reaction is to say „if I see one, I have seen them all”. What is really impressive, despite the present state of these buildings, is that they resisted through all these centuries and they can still tell their own stories.

  • A first way of seeing them is through museums. Among the most popular ones are those included in Curtișoara Gorj’s Traditional Museum Complex: kula Cornoiu and kula Tătărescu. Also, in Măldărești Muzeum from Vâlcea we have kula Greceanu, kula Duca and, also in Vâlcea, kula Bujoreanu from the Traditional Architecture Museum in Bujoreni.
MySecretRomania_cula_Duca

Kula Duca

MySecretRomania_cula_Duca

Kula Duca – the retreat door, used whenever the invaders came

Cula Greceanu

Kula Greceanu

Before hitting the road, read the story of the kula you are about to visit. You will find out that most of them have 80 cm thick walls, that when enemies were approaching, the servants would hide the animals in the basement. The noblemen were first hiding at the first floor and they used to put a big wooden stick to surely block the door. If the first floor would become insecure as well, they would climb up a rope, to the defense tower. They would pull out water from the basement well, they had food, they also pulled up the rope/ ladder and waited for the danger to pass. Back in 1700, danger didn’t mean a bomb, so the tower was safe enough.

  • Another way to visit these houses is to book a few nights in a kula. Near Măldărești Muzeum Complex there is Maldăr’s Mansion, a rebuilt kula, initiative of Vasilescu family, opened for the public since 2012. The thick walls, the original oak doors, the vintage furniture and the restaurant food will take you back in time. Although captain Maldăr’s legend has its origin on the kula Greceanu domain, here you can get the stories with all your senses. It appears that the captain was captured by the tartar ruler in one of the tartars invasions. He fell in love with the ruler’s daughter and she obtained its pardon. He came back with the beautiful daughter as his wife and with money. (the term Maldăr means pile in Romanian, and in this context, maldăr was used in „maldăr de bani” – pile of money, or „maldăr de dușmani” – pile of enemies).
MySecretRomania_cula_Zatreanu

Kula Zatreanu

Kula Zătreanu (also in Vâlcea) was also bought by a businessman who wants to make a mansion out of the XX century kula extensions (Boicescu Mansion) and a museum out of the kula which nobleman Radu Zătreanu built in 1754.

  • The third option is becoming an apprentice in one of the architecture and restoration workshops
    organized by Pierre Bortnowski (inheritor of cula Cornoiu) and Artis Organisation. In 2015 they worked on the shingle roof of the mansion, in 2014 they restored the wooden work, in 2013 they covered the house with new shingles.
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Kula Cornoiu – photo Artis Peritia

  • The forth option is to ask the locals or owners to tell you about the houses. That is how we saw kula Zătreanu and kula Sultănica from Șuici, in Argeș.

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Our big plan is an Oltenia tour, that will happen this year in June, which will include these marvels. Our smaller plan is a special trip, with and about kule. If you want „one-shot” trips, we will also have trips in Oltenia and Muntenia which will include seeing one of the Romanian fortified houses on the way. Find more about what are we planning for you on our Join us on trip! page.

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Prahova Valley tour and history

By | Muntenia, Trips, Urban break | No Comments

Check out our Prahova Valley tour by car, best during weekdays. Get a taste of Romanian history, from medieval times until now!

Did you ever wonder how to get to Dracula’s Castle from Bucharest? What else to see in the area and where to eat? This is where we can be of help, because we gathered all the info you need in one place.

Day 1 Sinaia

Bucharest – Ploieşti – Sinaia (2 hrs by car)

Sinaia – Buşteni (30 min by car)

  • Buşteni – Babele by cable car (17 EUR, return ticket)
  • Cantacuzino Castle (1 hr, 5 EUR, the entry is every hour)
  • Dinner at La Cerdac restaurant
  • Accommodation at Vila Leonida (40-50 EUR/double room, breakfast included )

Day 2 Bran

Buşteni – Râşnov (40 min by car)

Râşnov – Bran (15 min by car)

  • Bran Castle (aka Dracula’s Castle) – (1 hr, 8 EUR)
  • Lunch at Taverna Lupilor – (1 hr and 30 min, 20 – 25 EUR)
  • the picturesque villages of Măgura Branului and Peştera – (2-3 hrs of wandering and exploring)

Coming back on the wonderful Rucăr – Bran Corridor and then on Piteşti – Bucharest highway (3 hrs and 30 min)

Camil_Iamandescu-Castelul_Peles

Our historical route begins with Peleș Castle, the summer residence of Carol I, Romania’s first Hohenzollern dynasty king. Back in 1866, Alexandru Ioan Cuza, the first prince of the United Territories of Moldova and Țara Românească (we didn’t call ourselves Romania yet) was forced to resign and then the authorities were facing a big problem. Documents stated that the unification of the two lands would be valid only during Cuza’s seat. The only solution they came up with was bringing a foreign royal house. Peleș Castle was built during 1883 and 1885, following German architect Johannes Schultz’s plans, in a Neo-Renaissance style. The royal family would spend six months of the year over at Sinaia and the castle was a residence for them until 1947, when the communist regime nationalized the property. Starting 2007, the castle is property of King Mihai I (our last king and one of the few alive leaders from the second WW), being managed as a museum and national institution by the Romanian State.

Besides the regular visiting tour, you can see the castle during other events as well: The egg hunt – organized each year, on the Saturday before Easter, The sound of music concerts, temporary exhibitions.

We go on with Bușteni – Babele cable car, built during 1974 and 1977, when our communist leader, Nicolae Ceaușescu asked the Tourism Minister back then for some rejuvenating tourism projects. This cable car is the first one in Romania to go up from 850 m (Bușteni city) to 2300 m (Bucegi plateau, near Babele Hut). The view from pillars 4 and 5 offers you the 28 m tall Nation’s Heroes Cross, built during 1926-1928, on the Caraiman Mountain (2291 m), to honor those who fought during first World War. You will see also Jepilor Valley and behind, on the other side of the road, Baiului Mountains.

Cantacuzino Castle takes us back to the reign of Carol I. The castle was built in 1911, at the request of Prince Gheorghe Grigore Cantacuzino (Nababul), ex Romanian Interior Minister during 1899-1900 and 1904-1907. Direct descender of Constantin Brâncoveanu (ruler of Țara Românească – the south part of later named Romania, back in 1688-1714) he had a colossal fortune, so he was nicknamed Nababul (term originating from medieval times, used to point out rich noblemen). Out of his pocket came funds for great buildings such as Bucharest’s Cantacuzino Palace (now the George Enescu Museum), Bușteni’s Cantacuzino Castle and Florești’s Cantacuzino Palace, also known as The Little Trianon.

castelul catancuzino busteni

castelul catancuzino bustenicastelul catancuzino busteni

The castle in Bușteni is built in Neo-Romanian style, following architect Grigore Cerchez’s plans, being surrounded by a wonderful park with small caves, waterfalls and fountains.

Also inspired by members of the royal family, general Paul Leonida plans a vacation house in the area. Off Zamora’s Hill, the general wanted to have the overview of Baiului and Bucegi Mountains, as well as the recently built first World War Heroes Cross, from the comfort of his veranda.

Vila Leonida was bought by Drulă Family in 2009 and restored for the interwar atmosphere in which it was built.

vila leonida busteni vila leonida busteni vila leonida busteni

Second day takes us further back, in medieval times. Râșnov Fortress is first mentioned in 1335 documents, during a Turkish invasion. Despite all, there is archaeological proof that indicates the presence of fortification elements on the Fortress’ Hill, dating the Bronze Age. It might have been the Dacian fortress Comidava and a wooden Teutonic fortress (1211-1225).

The fortress survived several Turkish attacks, rulers constant changing and it was a great shelter for Râșnov citizens, during wars. It was restored after the 1940 earthquake and it was then used as a movie set for the historical films Dacii 1966 (The Dacians) and Nemuritorii 1974 (The Immortals), directed by Romanian Sergiu Nicolaescu.

Bran Castle’s history also starts with Teutonic knights. They built a fortress here in 1211, but they were chased out in 1226. In 1377, the Hungarian king who was ruling over Brașov area at that time allowed Saxons to build a castle. They were building until 1388 and during several decades the castle had a double role: of fortress and custom as well, for Transylvania’s East border, destined to try stopping the Ottoman (Turkish) Empire from expanding on our lands.

castelul bran curte interioara1Prahova valley tour

The only historical connection that Bran has with Vlad Țepeș (Vlad The Impaler who inspired Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula) is the 1459 incursion of his army in the Brașov area. Țepeș burnt from scratch the city’s suburbs and killed hundreds of Saxons because they were asking for bigger custom fees for Țara Românească (South part of now Romania, which he was then ruling) and they were also supportive with Vlad’s opponent for his throne. The Saxon community painted him as an oppressor in written Chronicles, as a revenge maneuver.

The Castle was bought by Brașov’s community in 1651 and since then it had multiple functions (including a Hut for the Forest District) until 1920 when the local council gave it to Queen Mary of Romania. She made a royal family residence out of it and before she died she bequeathed it to Princess Ileana. In 1948, the communist government forces Princess Ileana to leave the country and not until 1990 (after the 1989 Romanian revolution, when we regained democracy) could she get the right to revisit the castle.

Since 2009, the Castle is owned by inheritors Princess Ileana, Archduke Dominic, Archduchess Maria Magdalena and Archduchess Elisabeth.

Măgura and Peștera villages offer an unforgivable view of Bucegi and Piatra Craiului Mountains. If you want to relax and step into a quiet place, we highly recommend a 3 km trek, up the hills.

The Rucăr-Bran Corridor is a tectonic one, separating Bucegi and Leaota Mountains from Piatra Craiului and Iezer-Păpușa Mountains. Following this natural corridor, authorities built DN73 road which becomes more and more off-road as it goes up, with lots of curves, reaching Fundata town, at over 1000 m heights. If you want to stop on the road, you have attractions for another 2 days route.

Costs

The costs for the route we just described can reach 125 EUR/ person, depending where and what you choose to eat.

By car, the route is 425 km long, so gas could cost around 35 EUR. To rent a car for 2 days you might have to pay 100 EUR or more, plus a warranty tax for the firm.

Guided tours

For exploring less known areas around Brașov, you can choose a guide’s services.. Dan Chitila can show you Măgura and Peștera villages by foot. Also, he can take you up in Baiului Mountains, to enjoy the view from Piscul Câinelui (Dog’s Crag).

Photo credits  Castelul Peleş – foto by Camil Iamandescu