Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Interesting Times in Romania

The staff at the school where I taught arranged an afternoon field trip for the American Volunteers. This occurred last Monday, May 21. I was delayed writing about this because when we returned that day, my camera had a melt-down. I'm only now getting the SanDisk into an operable camera so that I can share pictures, because this is a day that needs the pictures.

Our first stop was at a high school in the village of Zorleni. This high school is a technical high school. We were welcomed by the principal. She explained the high school has 1000 students arranged in 32 classes.For example, we visited an accounting class.

We went first to the library where we did introductions. Then we visited a small art museum in the school. It holds some work of Marcel Guguianu, a noted Romanian sculptor. He once attended this school.
He also donated a book collection of first edition books signed by the author. They are housed in this beautiful book case.

Here is a close up of the artistry on this book case.

After the school visit we drove about 20 more minutes through rolling hills and valleys to the Bujoreni Monastery. I have never before been to a monastery and had no idea what to expect.

To reach the monastery one drives about 10 minutes down a gravel/stone road through a forest. Then the trees open and one sees a sight of great beauty.   

To reach the monastery grounds from the parking lot, one walks up a set of stairs and then goes through an archway. 

Here is part of the paintings on the archway walls. 

When leaving the archway one sees this scene.

We learned this monastery has its beginnings back in the 4th century. Then during an invasion its most precious icon was hidden in a tree for protection, and subsequently knowledge lost about its location for a very, very long time. The story continues that some centuries later very rich merchants camped in the forest as they were trekking through the country and a donkey carrying the gold strayed from the camp. After a great search, the donkey was found kneeling in front of a tree in which the icon was found to be hidden. This led to a renewal of the monastery.  For many years it was knows as the Donkey Monastery, but its present name is Bujoreni.

It continued to grow and operate until the Communist takeover, following World War II. It was nearly ruined by neglect in the 50 years that ensued. In 1992 a few monks came back and began restoring the monastery buildings and grounds. They continue to work to this day, as the piles of lumber attest. 

 We toured the “old church,” overcome by its beauty. 
Steeple of "old church"
 Then we trekked up a hill to the “new church.” 

Because this is  regarded as  building under construction, not yet a dedicated church, we were able to take all the photos we wanted. 

Some of the work being done in the "new church"

 I could recognize St. George the Dragon Slayer.

Our next walk took us through the agriculture part of the monastery. One volunteer whispered to me asking what those objects are pictured above. She had never ever before seen hay stacks. This made me recall another American volunteer. While driving between Krakow and Zakopane in Poland, one sees many, many fields with hay stacks. One American asked if these were built for the tourists; I replied I thought the farmers stacked the hay for the sheep.

The monks eat a vegetarian/no meat diet.  They have cows for milk and cheese production, used both for their food and as an income source. 

They also have many different type of fowl for eggs. 

And there are bee hives for honey. 

After visiting this area, we were taken to a dining room where we were treated with an excellent lunch. 

It began with a wonderful mushroom soup. 

This was followed by a potato stew and a vegetable salad. All was accompanied by wonderful bread. We also got to sample the cheese made at the monastery. Oh, yummy!

Next came fish soup. I had absolutely no room for more food. Dessert was a sweet bread. Glad I took half a piece. It was also yummy. 

Before leaving I wanted a photograph of the sculpture of Stephen cel Mare -- Stephen the Great. He is a highly revered king for the area of Romania. Noticing I was taking a photo, a monk indicated he would do the photo for me. 

So here's a first -- a photo of me taken by a monk in a monastery! 

Back to Barlad about 5 PM. We certainly didn't need an evening meal after this wonderful luncheon at 3 PM. As it was a quite warm day, we decided ice cream might be in order, so we walked off to Trattoria de Vinci for dessert and coffee.

Just a wonderful day. All this as a thank you from the school where I taught. When we volunteer we often feel like we get more than we give, and this day is certainly an example of that. 

Monday, May 28, 2012

Morning Walks in Three Countries

Before leaving Barlad on Saturday morning, I took a walk through the city. Predictably, on the day I was leaving the rain had disappeared and there was bright sunshine.

I thought this wall and the flowers both beautiful.

I also enjoyed walking through the nearby park. This was shortly after 8 AM in the morning and there were many there enjoying the sunshine.

The roses in particular are quite showy now.

Walking back to the hotel I came through another plaza area.

The fountains were running. The tent is part of a campaign effort by a person running for a position in the city government. There are votati signs all over Birlad as well as other cities in which we traveled, for the election coming up in early June.

Sunday morning found me at the Amsterdam Airport walking from my hotel to Schiphol Plaza.

The roadway above is A4, heading to various cities in the Netherlands.

It was a long walk from where I entered the terminal to Departure Lounge 3 where I checked in for my flight. After that I did another long walk to my gate. Much of the walk was on Holland Boulevard.

I found some Australian chocolate done up in the form of initials.

I stopped for a cappuccino.

This morning I walked along the Mississippi River. Two surprises -- summer has arrived while I was gone, and we are due to have a minor flood on the river by Friday. While I was gone I did read a newspaper headline that the May weather in Minnesota was wet and wetter -- rather like what I had just experienced in Barlad. When crossing the river to come home yesterday, I could tell it was at minor flood stage.

Summer flowers are in full bloom.

Hosta in bloom.

Roses here too, but looking a bit weather-beaten by all the rain.

And I found this modified flag hung in honor of Memorial Day.

So there you have it -- views of three countries. Now time for a nap to get over jet-lag.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Leaving Romania

I left Romania today. A van arrived at the hotel at about 9 AM. We made it to the Bucharest Airport a bit before 1 PM. We all got a bite to eat at the grocery store on the arrivals level. Then we began watching for the next Global Volunteers team. Four of them are nursing students from the University of Iowa. Since that is where I did my BSN degree, I was thrilled to see them. Then we found the 5th team member who arrived on a different flight.

After that Dan, one of the Romania Country Managers, walked me to the international departure area. I waited and waited and waited for the desk to be posted for the Amsterdam flight. The only thing I could see was the "Premium" desk. I finally went there and asked how to check in for Amsterdam and was told, "Right here" and we'll be posting the desk in about 10 minutes. My bag, much to my surprise weight 20.1 kg. No problem, but I'll find some things to take out overnight and put in my carry on bag so it won't be a problem tomorrow.

After clearing security and passport control, I was in the shopping area. I got a very good mele-- a roll rather like what we call in the States a cinnamon roll along with a Coke Zero -- a cold Coke Zero.. Then I made the long trek to Gate 14. There I found a nice coffee shop and got a cappuccino. At last it was time to board the flight.

I'm back at Citizen M. Very glad I found this hotel at the Schiphol. It is a convenient and nice place to stay.

Got International CNN on the TV and learned next week is Poland week on International CNN. This is part of a wind-up to Euro 2012. Sorry I will miss this -- the TV week I mean. Wish to had International CNN in the States.

Going to find a cold drink and then will probably crash out. I have the alarms being set for 6 AM so I get up and get going for my flight in the morning. Very glad I'm taking a night out to sleep.

I had a wonderful time in Romania. Sorry this adventure is over, but some more pictures and stories will soon appear here.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Morning Adventure

I had breakfast right at 8 AM and then afterwards braved going outside. It was cool and the wind is blowing at a very high speed. I wanted to go down to the Penny Market to see if they had anything different than Lidl right across the street.

On my way I got a photo easily of one of the driver's ed cars. I have seen this frequently here in Barlad.

Nearby is an important sign that a visitor to Europe should know. This signifies a pharmacy, spelled farmacie in Romania, spelled apetka in Poland, and spelled gyogyszeter in Hungary! This is where one can get medicine, and often medicine without a doctor's prescription. The pharmacy is always a separate shop, nothing else sold there, not like the combined places we have in the United States.

Often what one see is a green cross against a white background.

And every city in Europe in which I've lived or visited has a requirement that some are open 24 hours a day.

In the market I had fun looking at the products.

I wished I could take these home.

I am quite certain from the way they were packaged, I could not take them through customs in the United States.

Next to them was dates from Tunisia.
I found broccoli from Spain. It looks slightly different than broccoli in the United States. Had it not been labeled, I am not certain I would have correctly recognized what it was.

I saw this sign and didn't even have to look. My Polish kicked in, but this legume has the same name in Romanian.

Here's what was below the sign.

This product, however, has me puzzled.

Here's the package.

It looks like a lozenge of vitamins, but if so, what an interesting name for it.

Stay tuned, I've many more stories to tell about my time in Romania.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

After Work Adventures

The principal of the school where I'm teaching told me he would take me to the "best pastry shop in Barlad." He picked me up at 6 PM, had his son and daughter along, both of whom have been in my classes. We drove to the pastry shop and as I climbed the stairs to the 2nd floor of its location, I didn't realize a shelf began on the right side to hold plants. Bang into with my head, so I taught the word, "Ouch!" He was right indeed about the pastry.

It was hard to make a choice, and oh wonders of wonders -- I found a cold Coke Zero. I'm in the part of the world where many believe cold drinks make one ill, and it's really, really hard to find cold drinks.

After enjoying both pastry and ice cream, we went to the nearby city park. We wandered in the area that is designed for small children. It was fun to see the very little children in this area. It is a fun space.

Then we walked on the trails and boulevards in the park.

It's amazing to me to see that all the flowers are just the same as I see in Minnesota. The only difference I notice is that many roses are in full bloom and it's usually too early for that in Minnesota.

They returned me to the hotel at 8:30 just when the skies opened for rain again. It was a lovely evening.

I'm saying all this rain is my fault. I was one hour out of Amsterdam when I remembered that I had left my umbrella at home. I'm certain that if I had remembered it the sun would have shone every day while I was here!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Busy Day # 2

I woke up at 5:45 and started on preparation for classes for the day. I went down to the lobby area around 7:15 because all of the other team members were leaving. They were taken to the train station to catch the 8:04 AM train to Bucharest, arriving there hopefully at 1:05 PM. Tomorrow they board a 6 AM flight to Amsterdam, and then from there catch an Amsterdam to Seattle flight which is about 13 hours. They are all headed to a psychology conference being held in Seattle. I don't envy that plane ride at all.

I went to Primary School # 2 and taught two classes this morning. In the first one I used cards of the United States as way to help student learn how to pronounce English. We also found the states on a map. When we were done, one of my students came up to me and said, "I love geography." The rest of the day I've had mostly younger students, and the last class had 21! Twenty-one first -third graders keeps one hopping!

During the lunch break I wandered down the street to the Fugi Film store to see if there was help for my camera. The clerk took one look at the lithium battery in my camera and said, "no batterie." So I told her I'd like to purchase a new camera. I now have a version of a Nikon Coolpix -- got it for a very good price. The battery charger has a European plug, so now when I travel to Europe I'll have one less thing that needs an electrical adapter. Now I have to get acquainted with how to do things with it-- I've already started taking photos, but how to transfer them to the computer is the next task. The paper manuals in the box are all in Romanian, but it came with a CD that has electronic versions of the manual in about 12 other languages.

But before I can play -- I have to plan classes tomorrow. I'm trying to get together a power point of pictures about the Saint Paul and the Mississippi River.

Please hang in here if you have been looking for photos. I'll be at that task after the Thursday classes are planned. Friday is easy -- Bingo for every class. This is a totally new game to these kids and they love it.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Busy Day in Barlad

I'm missing my camera so this entry has only words. I woke up around 6 and the weather was lovely. I decided to go for a walk. My first stop was the FugiFilm store to learn about the hours it is open and to do some window shopping for cameras. Tomorrow I believe we will work on my camera problem.

I then walked through the market -- what we might call a Farmer's Market in the United States. I was amazed to see milk being sold in re-purposed plastic bottles -- ones that originally held water or soda. I also was amazed to see the cheese. This is white cheese, a bit like mozzarella, and the cheeses were the size of a very large loaf of bread, if not bigger. I got a jar of honey in the market. I enjoy getting honey in different places and enjoying the different flavors it has due to the plants used by the bees. This is poliflora -- which I assumed means many flowers, and I later learned that was a correct assumption.

I was at the school at 9:00 expecting to work with some teachers, but something happened with that plan -- I don't know what. One of our team characteristics is to "go with the flow," so that's what I did. I had a class of 2nd graders, at the beginner level. They were so much fun. Last week I taught them how to play bingo. Today, whenever someone would answer a question about a letter or word that was challenging, I was say something like "very good" or "super," and then one of the little girls would say, Bingo! This was followed by two third grade classes.

Back to the hotel for lunch, which was Bulgarian Salad. This is definitely a dish I will be making at home -- it is very simply and very tasty.

Back to school for two more classes. One was 5th graders who love to do Simon Says. I've still yet to have just one winner. They are very good at Simon Says and it's hard to trick them. It is good for teaching vocabulary. One I did was "Simon Says, jump and down if you are ten years old or more."

One more class and then back to the hotel. I was tired! The principal drove me back and forth and when we were leaving school this afternoon, he said, "Now I must tell the students you are leaving." I have had a wonderful time, and I hope my classes have been helpful to the students. But I have three more days!

I wandered down tot he street to a sidewalk cafe and had a Coke, a real Coke, because this cafe had neither Diet or Coke Zero.

At 6:15 two high school students met his at the hotel and walked us to their high school where we spoke a bit about studying at universities in the United States. Then we walked basically across the street to Restaurant Alona for our evening meal. All the food on everyone's plate was yummy. Mihaela phoned her mother and she stopped by with a special Romanian bread made for a religious holiday tomorrow.

So I hope this gives you a flavor of volunteering. Go to www.globalvolunteers.org if you want to have this kind of fun somewhere in the world, too.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Iasi Adventure

OK, I'll help you at the beginning. Iasi is a very important historical Romanian city. The name of the city is pronounced Yash.

We left on a driving trip with Dan, one of the Romanian country managers about 9:30 AM on Sunday. When I arrived the country managers told me they were giving me this trip in return for my driving them around when they come to Minnesota for training. Well, now I think I must drive for the next five years -- because they did far more for me than I have done for them.

As seems usual, the weather was rainy. About one hour north, we encountered a huge black cloud, thunder, lightening, and even some hail. We could see clearer weather ahead and thankfully that happened.

Our first stop was the Botanical Garden. This made me feel quite at home because many of the plants are very familiar. Also St. Paul has a Conservatory that hold palms and tropical plants so they are part of home for me too.

Here are some views.

All of the above should be familiar plants to readers in North America too.

One area of the conservatory has very tall trees -- rather like a rain forest environment. They are housed in this section of the conservatory.

Outdoors we enjoyed some views.

And lovely -- the Romanian word for iris is iris. Now I know perhaps 5 Romanian words!

The rain drops returned so we ran for the car and went to a special building at the university in Iasi. This building has some classrooms in the back; however the front entrance of the building brings one to a ceremonial area.

There is first a long hallway, perhaps nearly 100 meters in length.

Each of the alcoves has a fresco. These were painted in the 1970s. They depict important aspects of Romania history or myths that explain Romanian cultural beliefs or history.
This fresco, for example, refers to the story of the construction workers who were building a monastery. In a dream they learned the walls would only survive hundreds of years if humans were enclosed. The lesson from this myth is that one can not make a lasting change without sacrifice.

Three of the frescoes were repainted about 3 years old. Originally they had displayed the Communist leader, Nicolae  CeauČ™escu. As all know, he fell from power with the changes in 1989-1990. The three panels of frescoes now again refer to genuine Romanian history and culture, repainted by the original artist shortly before his death. 

Then we received a real treat. This building holds an aula, a word used in many European countries for  hall or conference room. It is always a large room that can seat up to hundreds of persons and is used for special events, not usually for classes. 

We were able to have a special tour of this special room. 

The photo above shows the pillars in the balcony railing. I took these photos to give readers an idea of the level of craftsmanship in the construction of this room. My photos simply do not do it justice. 

The above is a picture of the windows on the upper level. This aula was built in the mid-19th century and at times has served as the meeting place for the Romanian parliament. Originally it was heated by wood stoves. Now it is more modern in many ways. The building manager called our attention to holes in the center of the upper level walls. These marked the observation/listening posts for the secret service members sitting behind the ways observing and recording what was said. Obviously, this has all gone away. He went on to tell us students may attend this university for 3-4 years and never see this room. We were indeed fortunate to visit this room.

After our visit at the University we went to see the Orthodox Cathedral. 

Nearby is the Palace of Culture. We could only admire this from the outside, as it is presently closed for renovation. The principal of the school at which I teach is so very optimistic. He told me, "It will be open the next time you come to Romania."

 Nearby a band -- what we in the Midwest U.S. would call a marching band -- was playing certain something similar to a Sousa march. 

We certainly also looked at the all the choices in the market. Pottery caught the eye of the other volunteers. 

I was amused to find Halloween pumpkins in this vendor's booth. 

While the pottery was very lovely  I knew that my small apartment in St. Paul can not hold another thing -- that is until Dan pointed out what he termed very special ceramic work.My piece is part of Cucuteni pottery, which if I understand correctly represents designs nearly 2000 years old., and not commonly found in a market such as this.  I purchased a pendant to wear as a necklace. My apartment can hold that! 

From the market we walked past a cross monument, erected in honor of those is Iasi who died in an effort to regain Romanian's freedom during the 1989-1990 time. 

 Then we walked to St. Nicolas church where a wedding was taking place. We were told it was OK to just walk in. The music for the ceremony was lovely -- a real treat. 

By this time, we were feeling the need for lunch. We went to a food court in a nearby shopping center. Then it was time to head back to Barlad. The sun lighted our way and I really enjoyed the views. The road follows a low part of a valley and on both sides of the road are very scenic hills.

In Romania there appear to be no fences on farm/agricultural fields. Thus, one sees shepherds watching flocks of sheep, goats, and cows to keep them from straying into the road way. When I see horses there are usually only 1-3 and they are tethered to keep them safe.

So Iasi proved to be a wonderful adventure. I'm so glad to have seen it. It is a very important city in Romania history -- back to the time that this part of present day Romania was called Moldova. What is left of this region after the boundary changes following WWII is still also called Moldova on the Romania side of the border.

Now I have a challenge. The battery is my camera quit working. There is a camera store here in Barlad which may be able to help me. The trick is to find time in my schedule to get there. So you all may see only words for a few days!