Staying with Dacian and his mom in their apartment in Baia Mare. In the morning, we go to the Mineralogical Museum, with far-out mineral formations found by miners in the region's mines. Then we pick his mom and drive out to the village of Lapushel, then to a furniture factory to pick up his girlfriend Anca. To explain... there is a shiny new factory, built after the fall of Communism, making furniture for export only. It is called "Italsofa", and it is high-tech and intimidating:
Then, there is the factory where we pick up Anca. It dates from the Communist era, and makes domestic furniture for the domestic market:
Dacian and i jokingly call it "RomSofa."
Remember the strange white hills i saw coming into Baia Mare? Well, they are called steril and consist of washed mine tailings (deseuri de minereu). They are huge mounds of mineral deposits, of various ages, across of central valley. I am very curious about them, so with Anca, we visit them. I love the sign below, which says, in English: "DANGER. ACTIVE SLIMES. KEEP OUT."
Dacian was walking across to the top of this steril mound as i was taking photographs, so i got several of him in the picture :) This mound is 30 years old, and still almost nothing will grow on it.
Standing on one mound looking north, we see where they are busying creating the next one:
Looking south, one can see that it's perfectly lovely farmland, which just happens to have these giant mounds of junk in the middle of it...
Considering that the rivers here are devoid of animal life due to things like cyanide spills, you gotta love this sign, posted on a bridge of the river Sasar:
it roughly translates as "WATER IS LIFE! KEEP THE WATERS CLEAN! DEPOSITING GARBAGE OR TAILINGS FORBIDDEN." A little late on that one..
We go over to the "country living" house of Dacian's mom's side of the family, in a village near the steril. I take a family picture, and learn about the various fruits growing around the house, including the vishina. Last year i drank a lot of delicious homemade wine of this fruit, this year i find out what it looks like, a small, tart, bright-red cherry.
Storks (barza) live on the tops of poles in these villages, apparently not minding the town around them..
The mystery of where that buffalo milk comes from is solved: out grazing with a herd of cattle, there are many dark water buffalo, looking strangely out of place to me, as i usually imagine them in some Asian rice paddy..
We visit his Aunt's house, and graze on delightful raspberries (zmeura) growing in her garden. We drop off Anca, then head back to the apartment and geek out for some time on the computer. Dinner: mamaliga with liver, mamaliga with buffalo milk, zmeura with smantana. Dacian's mom, who speaks no English, tries speaking to me in Romanian but i fail quite badly at understanding her.
That evening, we talk a walk through town and meet up with Anca again. On the side of a building i see an ad for Dacia which strikes me as amazing truth in advertising:
Granted, it's advertising their mobile roadside service, but i found it appropriate as every Dacia i have been in has broken down at least one during the time i was in it.
Up at 6AM to catch train to Bucuresti. This trip will take 12 hours and take me all the way across the country. My first-class ticket cost only $18. First part of the trip is back through the Somesh river valley i have already seen. Although this train is supposed to be Accelerat, it seems to make plenty of stops in small stations. A beautiful sunny morning, very green landscape outside. My booth companions are a sleeping man and three women who talk quietly among themselves. I'm surprised to find i can understand a lot of their conversation.
11AM. We are moving through an endless land of green and yellow rolling hills. A lot of the ground looks over-grazed. In the small patches of land which have escaped grazing or crops, beautiful bright yellow and purple wildflowers bloom. Also intense orange-red maci (poppies) along the tracks. The moving train reduces my pictures to a blur, but i try anyway:
11:10 AM we pass from hills into a wide, flat river valley, and cross a river. A small industrial area is here, smokestacks looking out of place, the station is Ci^mpia Turzii.
11:36AM south of Razboieni station, there are pipes, high greyish mounds and strange colored ponds which must mean mine tailings... but we are in the middle of a wide flat valley, not where i'd expect a mine.
Next several hours, i roll through all the rest of Transylvania, passing through Sighishoara.. i believe that's where this picture is, with monasteries in the distance..
In parts of southern Transylvania, there are golden yellow hills and sparse oak trees which look like nothing so much as ... California. Definitely not my mental image of Transylvania!
In Brasov, many people get on and off, and i find that my fellow passenger is Andreina, a young woman in all pink:
She has a well-worn copy of "filozofie ezoteric indien" which brings her a sense of peacefulness. She is on her way back from Cluj to Constanta, where she is an aspiring singer. She asks for us to speak English so she can practice (or perhaps politely avoiding my stumbling at Romanian..) She points at a cross on a high peak in the Bucegi mountains as the train goes through the pass, which she remembers as being brightly illuminated at night. She has bee-stung lips and prehensile toes. We buy raspberries from a train vendor and she shares her pretzels with me, a good thing as i've run out of food. As we descend from the mountains into the plains, she curls up like a cat in her seat and sleeps.
We pass through the stink of Ploiesti's petrochemical waste (an infamous refinery), then 15 minutes later the air is clean and there are long rows of mysterious colored boxes in the pastures to the left of the train. They look like boxes for beehives, but there are too many of them, several hundred meters of them, on trucks, on the ground. The cabin fills with a beautiful sweet smell like fresh wildflowers. Perhaps they are indeed beehives.
In Bucuresti, Vasile meets me at the station and we go over to his apartment, where i will stay my remaining time in Romania, and meet his roommates.
(I have no journal from the rest of my trip, so going on memories here...) I meet up with Tudor, another VTP recipient, and we spent 7 hours walking around Bucuresti, mixing English and Romanian, and he shows me sights: surprising modern-looking government buildings, the (only) Chinese and Japanese restaurants in the city... as my previous attempts to mail him a VTP CD have failed, i get to give him one personally.
That night, i meet up with another VTP recipient, and we talk business in a cafe in a lovely park in the middle of the city, and i consume another whole bottle of wine. I wobble back to Vasile's place.
Vasile takes me around the city a bit, and i finally get to see the Casa Popolului, aka Palatul Parlimetului, aka the second largest building in the world:
This building is so huge i can only fit a small part of it into a photograph, or capture just a small corner of it. Penguin gets a penguin's-eye view of the front side of the building. Facing it are giant apartment blocks. These were built during the same Ceausescu era, so they are still ugly concrete blocks, but these were for the important Communist people, so they are ugly concrete blocks with much more ornate detail, architectural flourishes, more trees and bigger sidewalks:
We head over to a building in the "Youth Park" which houses a sports complex, and a small office in one corner which has a team of people doing GIS work on Romania's national park boundaries. It is a small team led by a very nice fellow, and much of the discussion of history, law and surveying is fascinating...
However, despite my persistence, i was unable to tell how much of the work was done, where the resulting data was, or would be, or when. There seemed to be many copies of the data around, and nobody quite knew what was where. This was rather disconcerting.
Lunch: McDonald's. There appear to be items here unknown in American McDonald's, such as the "McPork.."
Vasile and i spent some quality time geeking out back at his INMH office, then head over the RQA where we meet up with Bogdan for dinner. Bogdan looks quite different than a year before, with short hair.. we discuss all sorts of things, including some ideas he has for a place he want to build, having to do with martial arts and a Japanese tori gate.
Many farewells to Vasile and his roommates. I have really grown to like his Bucuresti apartment, and consider buying one - for around $30k US, less than a down payment on a New York apartment, i could have a nice place to stay on future visits, a rental property the rest of the year, and a good investment, as prices are just going up and up the more Romania modernizes and moves toward Western Europe...
My last view of Romania, the massive Fagaras mountains, part of the southern Carpathians.