Sunday, March 24, 2013

Adventures Coming Home

I am home from Romania but had some interesting, but not dangerous, adventures while doing that.

It was a 13 hour trip from Barlad, Romania to Amsterdam. First we traveled 5 hours by train, then I took a taxi to the Bucharest airport. From there it was a plane to Paris, then what seemed like a 2 mile hike to the gate for the plane to Amsterdam. We left Barlad at 8 AM Eastern European time and I got to Amsterdam at 8 PM Central European time. When we landed in Amsterdam the pilot said Amsterdam was having exceptionally cold weather. Oh, my it was. I'm so glad I didn't make a plan to do some touring in the area before coming home.

Once at the hotel I went down to the "canteen" and got a bottle of water and yogurt with muesli and then went up to my room to eat the food. Then I crashed in bed.

I was up at 6:30 this morning, and out the door around 7:30, and it was even colder than last night. The three minute walk between the hotel and Schiphol Plaza seemed like a 3 mile walk!

Boarded the plane and got an aisle seat on the center where there are 4 seats in a row. I was amazed and happy to see an empty seat between myself and the next passenger. That much space almost seems luxurious now.

Things were uneventful until we crossed the land mass for Canada where we hit some bad air and we did rock and roll! I noticed immediately the flight attendants were walking the aisles to make sure the overhead bins were not coming open so someone would be hit by flying luggage. Sometimes people think flight attendants are high paid wait staff, but they are right there if there is any danger, that's for sure.

I soon figured out that  the passenger in the row between the empty seat and me had his wife and little son in the row ahead. But then I met his daughter too who was in the row ahead of me. She would slip around the corner to talk to "Dad."

About 3 hours before we were to land, the little boy, maybe soon to have his third birthday, crawled over the seat to sit by "Dad." He spent a lot of time playing games on an Ipad and coloring on paper with his father. About 20 minutes out he somehow knew we were soon to land and he buckled up his seat belt all by himself. I said, "Oh, good boy!" and he immediately crushed with shyness. It was the only thing I said to him during the whole flight, but I was surely surprised that after sitting next to me for two hours and that he would be shy if I gave him some praise.

When we landed I pulled out my passport and the customs declaration card and put both in a side pocket of my carry-on bag so I could get them out quickly for border patrol. As I was leaving the plane someone from border control grabbed that and wrote AX on the custom declaration form. I wondered why. When I hit passport, the officer motioned to someone and I was told I had been selected for a survey. The officer told me to pick up my luggage and then come to certain line for an interview. The interview was basically the same information that one writes on the form. It was short and not a big problem, but next time I think I will keep the passport and custom declaration more hidden!

Finally out of the border patrol area and I was on the phone to building shuttle to see if  could get a ride home. While on the phone a flight attendant approached me and asked, "Are you the mother of Najale's (my granddaughter) mother?  I said yes, but was surely surprised. I sent a text about this to my granddaughter and she helped me remember there was somone in my old neighborhood who was a flight attendant. I never really knew this woman, but Najale did from staying from me and playing with the neighborhood kids.

So that's the coming home adventures -- maybe fit the description of "mundane" in my blog heading above!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Visiting Peles Castle

Our basic plan for Sunday, March 17, was to visit Peles Castle. Our driver and guide told us to meet him at 9:00.

At the top of this photo, in the 12:00 position, you can see some parked cars. This photo was taken from the balcony outside my room. At the 3:00 position you can see a set of wooden stairs. These are for the terrace right outside the entrance to the vila where we stayed. This photo definitely shows what the climb up and down was like from the parking lot.

We loaded the luggage in the van and he collected our room keys and returned them to the reception desk. Then we were off to Peles Castle, a bit to our surprise, because somehow we all thought we were having breakfast with him first.

The drive to Peles Castle was between 30-40 kilometers. I honestly had never heard of this castle before. I read about it on Wikipedia the evening before and was glad I did. I encourage you too to try the link I have provided.

Our guide walked us to the ticket booth.
We were in a large courtyard. It was decorated in an Italian style.

I wondered if this is how the courtyard in Wawel Castle may have looked before all the frescoes were destroyed by occupying powers during the time of the partition.

We were in luck for we waiting only about 10 minutes for an English language tour of the castle. I know we were joined by many for whom English was an additional language but the obvious choice since they didn't speak Romanian.

The price for taking photos was a bit expensive, and I elected not to buy a photo pass and simply look and enjoy the castle. Glad I made that choice, for we had to wear slippers over our shoes, slippers that didn't fit too well.  It is difficult to walk up a long flight of stairs wearing ill-fitted slippers and not lose one. Thankfully, I didn't feel too dumb, for others were losing their slippers too! I don't think I could have managed the slippers and a camera at the same time.

I didn't know until this tour that the first King Carol of Romania was really a German prince. He found that the Carpathian Mountains reminded him of home and that is why he elected to build a castle in this location. Also, he had studied architecture and was anxious to put what he had learned into action. The workmanship in this building is breath-taking. For example, you may think you are looking at a painting, and then the guide points out the picture is totally made of wood.

After the interior tour we went outside to take photos outside where there no restrictions.

These pictures are not bright because the weather was very cloudy and in fact snow began while we were walking about.

Two from our team elected to walk further to take some pictures, and two of us decided to wait in the coffee bar for them. We gathered together in the coffee bar while the others had some refreshments and then began to walk to the parking lot.

I noticed this cannon in the snow on the terrace as we were leaving the coffee bar.

The above is not a black and white picture. Black and white were simply the only colors present.

We met our driver/guide and explained we had decided to skip doing a ski-lift trip up a mountain. We thought the combination of snow and clouds would obscure any view we might get.

Instead we gratefully headed to a charming restaurant for lunch.

We sat ourselves down by a stove with a burning fire and had a wonderful lunch.

Here we are looking very happy after lunch.

Notice my colleagues from Arizona and Texas look like its winter and I'm standing there in my spring coat without a hat. Well, I must disclose I had on a polar fleece jacket under the spring coat!

Then we were off for the four hour trip back to Barlad. I took the video below out of my window in the back of van as we made our way up and over the mountains.

We surely had a very nice time over the weekend.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Bran Castle

Following our visit in Brasov, we drove about 30 K and arrived in Bran. Our plan was to tour the Bran Castle.  We first went to Club Vila Bran and checked in. Our rooms were not ready so we went for lunch at a nearby restaurant. This restaurant had a lot of Polish items on the menu. I asked for the White Bors expecting it would be zurek. A bit later the waitress came to the table and said that would take 40 minutes. I didn't want to inconvenience my colleagues so I changed the supa to chicken soup. But I did get beets.
The white on the top is not smetana -- sour cream in the United States. It was horseradish, and I do believe the beets were cooked in water, too, that had some horseradish. But they were good!

Once lunch was done we walked to the ticket booth for Bran Castle. The admission was 25 lei. I had no small bills, only 100 lei bills, and the attendant told me she had no change. I was quite amazed, for how many times that day had she collected 25 lei from visitors? One of my colleagues noted Visa card was an option, so I paid that way.

We started up to the castle, and I truly mean up. I know it was more than 100 steps, for last summer I walked 82 steps up to a church in southeast Poland, and this was way more!
We truly were climbing up the side of a mountain. But the views were surely nice!

Once to the castle there were even more steps.

Security Guard at the bottom of the first stair case
If you have clicked on the web link for Bran Castle you will discover a palace or castle has been in this spot for nearly 600 years. The Teutonic Knights built the first as a way to guard and control the Bran pass through the Carpathian Mountains.

The present castle is decorated as it was for the inter-war years, that is the time between the First and Second World Wars.

Here are some of the rooms within the castle.

I have seen many of the ceramic stoves in old buildings, but this is the first time that I have ever seen a bench attached to the stove so one could cuddle up by the heat.

This view from a terrace illustrates how high up we had to climb to enter the castle.

And some of the views out of the windows gave views of other parts of the castle.

And a couple of the rooms were more like a museum. Also there were rooms set aside for exhibits to explain how this castle became connected to Stoker's Dracula. Without these explanatory exhibits one would never have known the castle had any connection. I was really expecting something more touristy for Dracula, so all in all this castle tour was a pleasant surprise.

I saw one more thing I have never seen elsewhere.

The above scale was designed to weight an individual. If that person weighed less than his/her body appearance seemed to indicate, the person was considered to be occupied by the Devil and so was executed.

Once the tour was done we walked down the steps and entered a market.

I didn't buy anything, but it was fun looking. Once done with shopping we found our van driver and then went back to Club Vila Bran. Our rooms were ready and the driver took us to Vila 1.

More steps. It must have been about 75 steps from the parking area to a terrace, then probably about another 25 steps from the terrace to the entrance to the building. Then much to our surprise our rooms  -- 10, 11, and 12were not on the first floor, but rather on the 3rd floor.

Here is only part of my room. There is another section that has another bed and it has an en-suite bathroom. It also has a wrap around balcony.

Above is a view of Bran Castle from my room.

I spent the late afternoon watching TV and taking a bit of nap.

At 7 PM we set our for the Club Vila restaurant. Another 5 minutes climbing steps up the side of a mountain. But once we got there we found a wonderful restaurant. We all great dinners. And the entertainment was fun.

The video below shows the animal characters that appeared as well as the restaurant decor.

A wonderful day in the Carpathians.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Visting Brasov

We left Barlad about 2 PM on Friday for a trip to Brasov. This drive took about 4.5 hours. The first 20 k or so out of Barlad are on very bumpy road. We were very glad when the road smoothed out a bit.  We went over one side of the Tutova Hills which form the valley in which Barlad is found. We crossed rivers
and through villages.
We stopped about halfway at a gas station and I was delighted to find a cold Coke Zero.

The video below shows a rather typical village scene.

Also somewhere along the road we found a woman selling kurtoskalas, something I had learned to love while living in Hungary. My fellow team member had asked if we could stop for bread. I had no idea this is what she was meaning. I was surely happy, and I think too it was some of the best kurtos I have ever had.

We got to Brasov about 5:30PM and checked into the City Centre Hotel. We had just lovely rooms here. Mine was quite cool when I walked in, but I turned up the radiators.

We headed out to the pedestrian shopping area,walking up to the main market square. Then we backtracked to wonderful restaurant. The waiter brought us complimentary schnapps-- oh does that burn going down!

This restaurant had gulyas on the menu. This is the first time I've had this since living in Hungary.

Above is my scrumptious second course.

We were early to bed and then up for breakfast at 8:30. I could see our trusty van had a dusting of snow.

 Following breakfast we checked out of the hotel and then our van driver went about halfway to the location of the Black Church, called that because the stone has been blackened over time by fire.

We first walked by some very interesting glass mosaic art pieces.

 Then we entered the market square area.

Arriving at the church we found it too large to really take exterior pictures with the sight lines we could get. Here is a close-up of the clock tower.

 The inside was marked with many NO PHOTOGRAPHY signs. We walked in and were amazed. There must be a least 100 Turkish rugs hanging in the church. None of us had ever seen anything like this. Upon our return to Barlad we learned it was traditional for the German traders who built Brasov and this church to donate a rug to the church as a sign of their thanksgiving for yet another safe trip to and from Anatolia.

After seeing everything we could we walked back to the van and headed for Bran Castle, but that's another story.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

4th Teaching Day--Getting to Minnesota by Rocket Ship

We have completed our fourth teaching day at School #2. By now I'm into the routine of 5th graders in the morning and 4th graders in the afternoon. Students in kindergarten through 4th grade go to school in the morning and students in 5-8 grades go to school in the afternoon, hence they do this extra English instruction at a time they are not scheduled to be in a classroom.

My room is the computer room. I told another volunteer it says computer room right on the door. I forgot a different word is used for computer.
Here's the computer stations.

I use a table and chairs and a blackboard on the opposite end of this room for my class. 

Today we did Smelly Stickers. These are scratch and smell stickers. I have the students write the word for the small in both English and Romanian. 

 Two are very easy! The Romanian word for banana is banana, and the Romanian word for pizza is pizza! 

I like to have students sometimes use words in both languages so that I know they truly have a concept attached to the word, and are not learning English words by rote. 

This afternoon I used a set of vocabulary cards that illustrated this point. The students could look at dresser, sofa, mop, and broom and say them correctly, but they couldn't tell me what to do with those objects. Thankfully a picture was on the reverse, and they would say, "Oh, it's a ...." and fill in the appropriate Romanian word. 

My morning group joined another group to participate in an "experiment." One of my fellow volunteers is a retired 3M scientist and now a volunteer at the Science Museum of Minnesota.  He introduced this lesson by saying, "I got a phone call this morning. I have to get home to Minnesota very quickly. My cat ate all the food and is going hungry. I can't take an airplane, that's not fast enough. I can't take a train or walk across the ocean. I need a rocket ship." 

So one student was given the end of a fishing line and told to walk to the other corner of the room which is now Minnesota. 

The start of the journey is Barlad, the other end of the fishing line attached to a table leg. 
 Well, the rocket ship zipped to Minnesota on almost the first try. So the volunteer "punted" quickly with asking how to make the trip a bit slower because the speed of the first rocket would give him a headache. 

So here are the students trying to figure that out. The boy on the left had the idea but not the vocabulary and did quite a conversation with his hands to show slowing the release of air would slow the "rocket ship."

So a  "valve" was put into the balloon. The first two times these rockets flew they surely crashed in the Atlantic Ocean. Then it was discovered the valve was being compressed while it was being inserted.  Great care was taken to put the valve into the rocket ship carefully. 

And here's what happened. 

Now if you haven't figured it out, the rocket ship was a balloon and the fishing line maintained the flight path. It was inserted through a piece of a straw attached to the top of the balloon with masking tape. The "valve" was also a piece of a straw, held in place for a bit by a twist tie. A great amount of learning with some very simple objects and also things easy to pack into a suitcase -- but word of warning -- bring the straws to Romania, they are very hard to find. These were donated by a pastry shop we visited on Tuesday evening, they can't be purchased in a grocery store.

I'm having a great time in Romania. If you want to try something like this please go to and explore what may be the right thing for you.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

2nd Teaching Day

Today my morning class were boys from the 5th grade class. Their energy level was so different from that of the girls yesterday that I was very grateful they were not mixed together. When I mentioned this I learned that right now the boys and girls "can't stand each other!"

We again spent one class period doing multiplication bingo. When the class was nearly over I said I wanted a picture of the table and then we would clean up. (Global Volunteers has a policy of not taking pictures until relationships are established, so that's why my intention was only of the table.) I looked up and boys were all posed for the photo. I asked if it was OK to take their picture and they agreed.

On my way down the stairs at the school I took some pictures.

Here is a collection of pottery and other hand crafts that is on the 2nd floor landing. By the way, in the United States we would call this the 3rd floor landing. In Romania as most elsewhere in the Europe what we call the 1st floor is called Floor 0. As one goes down the steps this collection  of pictures provides a greeting.

They are done in the style of icons and are original work of older students in the school.

My afternoon class was another group of 4th graders. They arrived asking to play Simon Says -- not at all my favorite game because I want activities that keeps everyone involved, not games in which people are tossed out the game. We did struggle through the alphabet and vocabulary words, despite their complaints of  this being boring. I find they really need this work for when they say A I truly don't know if they mean A or E.

After school the principal took us to the Berlin pastry shop. As we we were driving I kept seeing signs that said Amanet. He pulled over to a parking place and said he had to do a two minute errand. Again there was the sign.

I pulled out my dictionary and tried to find the word. The ones closest to it meant either lover or mistress and that surely didn't seem to fit the context. We asked and he explained it was where one took things to get some money -- oh! it means pawn. Looked up pawn on the English side and there it was-- amanet.

As we entered the shop, the principal turned me to me and said everytime his family goes there, they remembered my cracking my head on a flower planter that sticks out over the stair well as one climbs to the 2nd floor. I said, "Watch out" just at the same time,before another volunteer did the same thing.

Take a look at what awaited us at the pastry shop. I was "forced" to eat something called the chocolate bomb and have a cup of espresso.

Then we were back to the hotel for only a few minutes before we went off to a wonderful Italian restaurant in Barlad for our evening meal.

Here's our team after we had eaten a wonderful appetizer, an entree, and then went to the dessert case to chose the final course.

I'm in the green sweater in the front row on the right hand side. In the middle is the daughter of the Romania country managers. One of country managers for Romania, Mihaela, is in the center of the row of those standing. Our team consists of a mom and her adult son from Arizona, a married couple from Minnesota, a woman from Texas, and me, also from Minnesota.  Nice, nice people.

Monday, March 11, 2013

First Teaching Day

The first teaching day has been completed. In the morning I had 5 girls who are 5th graders. Most are eleven years old. This means they have studied English about 2-3 years in their school curriculum. We spent most of the time playing multiplication bingo. This gave them a great deal of practice saying numbers from 1-144 in English. We ended up with Hokey-Pokey and Simon Says.

Back to the hotel for lunch. We were treated with a wonderful meatball soup. This was followed by a cold chicken salad. This has small pieces of chicken and lots of green beans and corn. I would never have thought of this combination, but it truly was very good.

In the afternoon I had 6 students who are 4th graders. This means they have studied English about one year in their school curriculum. They remembered me from May 2012, for the first question was : "Bingo?" With this group I worked on the pronunciation of the English alphabet. These students may say A, but really mean E. Likewise they may see E and really mean I. They do have good vocabulary, and it's 21st century vocabulary.  I was using some alphabet cards that had a letter and a picture; for example, the card for D shows a duck. I asked them to give me another word that began with each letter. I really enjoyed that F is for Facebook.

Back to the hotel for a nap for I had not fallen asleep until 3 AM. I was really tired.

We had a very nice dinner comparing notes about our day, with 3 us teaching English, and 3 volunteers working at the Children's Hospital. With today's phones, we really can compare notes. One volunteer brought back video of herself rocking a child and while the video was being recorded, slipping out of the chair. The look on her face is indeed priceless.

So a very good day. Just hope to actually sleep tonight!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

From A to B

Yesterday morning I left Amsterdam on a 7:10 AM flight. It was a cool, rainy morning.

My first flight took me to Paris. Then it was a long, long trek to the terminal and gate for my flight to Bucharest. However, we arrived in Paris a few minutes past 8 and I didn't need to be at the gate for the next flight until 9:55, so it was a long, but not stressful trek.

 Upon arriving in Bucharest I wondered if I had managed to somehow take the wrong flight. Nothing looked familiar. Then I began to realize we had come to a new terminal. We had to make a long trek to the old terminal for passport control and baggage.

Soon, however, I found the country manager and the other team members; I was the last arrival.

 We loaded up luggage and then began the drive to Barlad.

After about two hours we stopped in Bazau and had supper at McDonald's.

Bazau is a fairly large city with many interesting buildings. Below is a church I noticed near the McDonald's.
 As we continued north we went through an area of vineyards, now dormant in March. We also began to see snowbanks in areas sheltered somewhat from the early spring sun.

It was dark when we arrived in Barlad. We quickly checked into Hotel Moldova, and about the first question was "What's the password for the wireless?" I learned at breakfast this morning that some had already done Skype conversations back to the states. I was SMS to a friend in Poland via Skype.

Here's my room. Soon the bed with the suitcase will also be covered with teaching materials. We are off to a good start.

Friday, March 8, 2013

You Must Have Two Desserts

By the time readers you get to the end the title of this posting will be more clear. However, it also serves to speak to the day which was divided into two exploring segments.

I didn't get much more rest in bed than I had on the plane the previous night, but it surely was more comfortable. By 4:30 I decided to give up. After all, at home I would still be up running around -- hard to adjust the body clock in 24 hours. Came down to breakfast and was immediately approached by a man asking me if I could answer a question. Apparently he and his drinking buddies were having a discussion and needed someone to settle it. He spoke English but was just drunk enough to not make much sense. I got a bite to eat and a cappuccino and seated myself far away from these guys. However, I could hear them, "Oh it's 5:00. Maybe it's time to go to bed!"

I wandered over to Schiphol Plaza to scope out my where I should be for my early morning flight tomorrow morning. Airport was still very quiet at this time. I spent some time exploring the art.

The base of this is a world map. The poles come up from each of the continents and one can push a button and see a video from a city on the continent. For example, the North American choices are New York City and San Francisco.

This sculpture is called Sun Rider and is the work of  Arthur Sprocken.

The above is called Polyester Knot and is the work of Shinkichi Tajiri.

I headed outdoors to find out where the 300 Conexxion bus to Haarlem stops. I enjoyed this view below when I stepped out the door.

Went back into Schiphol Plaza and back to Grand Central Cafe. I had a another cappuccino and a croissant with cheese. Then I came back to room and crawled back into bed, looking for a nap and hoping the weather report of sun by noon would be true.

Woke up at 1:30 PM and yes, the sun was shining. I got a train ticket and headed for Amsterdam Central. I had in mind to go have a meal at the Sea Palace restaurant, a place that has been on my list since last summer. However, construction caused a bridge closure and I ended up on the wrong side of canal and really didn't want to back track a lot to find another way across the canal. I knew the Amsterdam library had a very nice cafeteria, so I headed there.

I got a sandwich and a piece of cheesecake. However, when I was paying for it, I got the idea I had done something wrong.  Turns out I was supposed to have two desserts for 2.75 euros, apparently some kind of special -- so I went back to the dessert station and picked up a second one. This truly is a problem I've never encountered before.
Enjoyed wandering around here looking at exhibits within the library, including the banned book exhibit. This type of exhibit is something my university library does this time of year, too.

Headed back to the train station. Noticed a new sign since last summer.

Now it is very easy to see what trains stop at Schiphol without having to read all the fine print for each individual train on the schedule.

The Netherlands railroad is truly helpful, for when I got to platform 14 I found two staff there to answer questions, and they were kept quite busy by tourists.

Love the hats!

Off to find some supper and then will curl up on my bed with the BBC. There are some good things on tonight. What a treat to have TV that really has some interesting programs. I'm beginning to go days at a time without turning it on while at home.