My roomies are Jamarco and Lucca - friends ftom Italy. Last night we had a massive dinner together (Chinese Eggplant is awesome!) so they invited me to go see the Great Wall along with Roberto - a friend of theirs - and "some girl from France" who volunteered to join us. I'm going to post a couple of photos now as I'm falling asleep after massive banquet #2.
Monday, September 15, 2014
PRC blocks almost everything: Facebook, Twitter, EVERYTHING Google including this blog, New York Times, Donna's blog site (Wordpress), YouTube, Google Map!, so many others. And, can't set up a vpn from here. So, I have not kept up this blog of wonderful adventures with great people from all over the world because (a) as always, it's hard and (b) now it's blocked until I land in Houdton in 6 days. I imagine thst I will write the blog in the air.
Leaving lots of stuff unsaid for now, I find myself alone in Beijing for the first time since I arrived. So I'm sitting in a restaurant waiting on my order. No English inside, so I photographed the picture from outside and showed it to the waitress: "You want a beer with that?" she asked, to my amazement.
Two days later (now 9/11) I'm taking a day off, sitting in a Starbucks relaxing. But for Skype, I'd be incommunicado here in PRC.
Beijing is great, but they must clean up their air pollution and open up their internet for me to return. If they do those 2 things, this would be a world-class city.
Tuesday, September 2, 2014
7Last night ten of my roomies and I went out looking for a bar to raise a beer to the memory of my grandfather. They had all read my blog entry about him from a couple of days ago. And they wanted to join in. After they did (12+ me) I volunteered to buy the round. But last night was September 1 and Mongolia has a "blue law" of sorts that no alcohol can be served - anywhere - on the first day of each month. We ended up going to a restaurant where 11 of us (2 dropped out) raised a glass of apple juice (Papa would have approved) and I paid the $17 bar tab. It was great: people from 52 to 22, from Turkey, Holland, Germany and France, all speaking English and all toasting John Calvin Rollins, MD. Video (9 seconds) posted on Facebook.
Asleep at 11 I was horizontal for the first time in 55 hours yet I awoke this morning at 4a thinking I was headed for Teralj Park on a guided trip but my traveling partner - a guy from Holland who said it was set - dropped the ball and that leaves only tomorrow. So I headed out to find a foot massage (they are still swolen from the long flight) and found a rarety: a Mongolian restaurant. The menu was all in Mongolian, the clientele was all Mongolian, so I had lunch here. Photos of the menu and the lunch below. $6.
5 hours of sleep in 3 days and 6 cups of coffee today but I'm fading....
I didn't find the foot massage but did - finally - find my way back to the hostel and slept 5 hours. Headed out with 3 guys to find beer and food. 2 hours later, after 2 giant good local beers and a large plate of Mongolian grilled meat dumplings ($8 total) we returned home and I made a few calls home. A good first full day.
Sunday, August 31, 2014
If you have followed my (what my friend Robert likes to hear me call) perambulating, you know that I have perambulated to a plethora of places, packing my palate with pounds of pasta, pain, and other products. Anyhow, I have come to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.
I had no expectations - but I could not have set them too high for the flight here. We emerged from the smog of Beijing and as we crossed into Mongolia the clouds cleared for a landscape that I have never seen nor imagined and my vocabulary lacks any adjectives to describe the 300 or so miles south of UB.
But if you think you have seen pastels, before today I would not have disputed your claim. But until you have seen the Gobi Dessert on a crystal clear day in the late summer from a vantage point 35,000 feet high as the sun rises... you have not seen pastels. As if a thousand giant varied hued candles had dripped on a land of unimaginable dimensions and then old carbon paper had been randomly smeared in fits and starts. Where water was found tiny dots - like craters on the moon - are at the center of a spiderweb that seems like fracture lines but in fact are trails cut by horses and camels seeking that water in what the world's greatest adventurer (Marco Polo) said was the most arduous journey of his life.
The Chinese are building a road across the Gobi and often in the vast panorama the only sign that humans exist is that tiny line snaking around and across the mountains and plains below. Here's just one sample picture.
From Houston to Beijing - 14+ hours - in a new Boeing 777. Vastly better than US airlines. I have an exit aisle seat with 8' to the bulkhead. But China Air is no Qatar Airlines. So far in 11 hours we have had pasta with thin tomato sauce, salad, fruit and bread. Then a half cheese sandwich wrapped in Saran Wrap. No wine or beverage service. And instead of 2-4-2 (US) seating or 2-3-2 on Qatar here is 3-3-3 with narrower seats and aisles. This is the longest flight I have ever been on, but 14 then 12 then 2 with 2 hours on each break has - I hope - prepared me for this: 5 in Atlanta, 2 to Houston, 4 in Houston, 14+ to Beijing, 4 in Beijing and 2+ to Ulaanbataar. Here's my route: over Alaska and Siberia.
Last meal was better: fish and rice, cheesecake for dessert. Could not get enough water on the flight: will buy some after security on my way home. Here I am in my seat. Only 17 days out so no luggage.
Food in the Beijing airport is MUCH better than the Atlanta airport. I was hungry and had barley soup (very large) with coffee at one restaurant for $7 then changed $s to Yuan, cleared security, and bought pepper beef with rice and veggies and water for $6.
Friday, August 29, 2014
It's time to complete an ancient promise. In 1958 I was sitting in the lap of my Granddaddy John (for whom I am named). He was 83 , retired after 47 years as a surgeon, and I was his 3rd and last grandchild - the only one to live their childhood within a hundred miles of him: I lived 100 feet away (just across the residential street). He called me "Johnny", I called him "Papa", and he was magical: he smelled of Tampa Nugget cigars. He had a wooden leg. He would tell amazing stories. And he loved to help me read the latest National Geographic magazine.
That's what we were doing that day in 1958 when he said to me: "Johnny, there are two places I would have loved to have gone... but now I never will."
"Machu Pichu, Peru; and Ulaanbataar, Mongolia"
"That's ok, Papa. I will go there for you."
"You do that, Johnny."
In 1986 - 28 years later - I made it to Machu Pichu and told my long dead grandfather that I was halfway. Tomorrow - 28 years after Mach Pichu - I fly to Ulaanbataar. I will raise a glass or two to that kind, gentle loving man who gave me his name and a whole lot more.
Sunday, August 10, 2014
Saturday, August 9, 2014
Our autumn trip(s) are set. August has Stefie Lepara here from Bologna. She returns to Italy August 30th and I leave that day for Mongolia. Immediately afterwards Donna takes Megan on her college trip: French Riviera and Paris. Megan will stay to attend school there for a semester. After 4 days in Mongolia I take a 27 hour train ride to Beijing where I stay for 9 days before returning to GA on 9/15 - the same day Donna gets back from France. We recover from jet lag and leave 3 days later in our car to go to Miami to see Alan and Melissa. Then we pick up our friends Robert and Dorothy in Ft Lauderdale and head to The Longino Ranch for visiting and horseback riding. We meander north and R&D return to the UK as Trevor arrives for a visit. Upon his departure Donna and I catch our breath and leave a couple of days later for a 6 week trip in the camper up the East Coast all the way into Canada and back the 2nd week in November.
I have a lot to do between now and 8/30 and I'm uneasy about leaving Donna for 17 days, but I will have fun and so will she.
Wednesday, May 21, 2014
We've had busy days and the internet is so bad here that it is usually useless to try to post anything. The next day (Tuesday) James went para-ponting. Then the following day (Wednesday) we had our astounding day to Cape of Good Hope. Followed by Thursday a Hop On Hop Off bus around the peninsula which allowed us to combine 2 days' events into one: wine tour and visit to a township ( a haunting conversation with our guide as we looked out over the corrugated tin shacks with 700 homes sharing one water spiggot and three bathrooms; we saw two distinct other residential areas in the distance: "coloreds live over there, the rich whites over there, and we live here.". "Do you think it is changing?" "It won't ever change." "Never?". "Never.")
Today - Friday - James' last full day here, we worked in a movie ("Three Days to Kill"), a lunch at the waterfront, and a ferry ride to Robbin Island where Nelson Mandela was held for most of his 27 years in prison for opposing Apartheid.
James left yesterday (Saturday May 17, 2014) to go home. What an amazing, fine young man God has given me. It hurts me that he was so wounded by my battles to see him, but I see his recovery behind those walls he erected against the world. That recovery is grounded in his faith in Jesus.
My flight was cancelled so I'm following a day later which allows me to go back to Central Methodist Church to hear another sermon of the sort I wish we had in America.
Cape Town is set in a beautiful place but it is just a big (5+ million) dirty, poverty-stricken, racially segregated, technologically antiquated city with minimal public transportation. I am very ready to return home. Being in this place - so very far away from all of the people I love and who love me - is exceptionally lonesome. Hopefully I am wiser from this experience. I'm on my way....
Sunday, May 18, 2014
Wow! Sharks and more sharks! Some over 13' long! Today, Monday May 12th James and I headed out on his bucket list: to go cage diving with the Great White Sharks. I had heard that it was not uncommon to have a trip cancelled for bad weather, or to have a trip without seeing any sharks. Well, that didn't happen. We had about 100 encounters in 2 1/2 hours. Up close. One came by when I was in the water, it turned away from the bait, looked directly at me, swam a bit toward me, then at about 5' away, it turned and swam away! This blog won't let me post videos! So I will have to post to FB one of them then add a link here for the rest.
The most amazing thing of the day happened near the end when a 10' GWS crashed into the cage, knocked open a section designed for use by professional photographers, and got about 3' of its length IN THE CAGE with its nose shoved into an Irish journalist's stomach. It was upside down and locked in place so it couldn't bite. James was running video from just overhead so we will surely be posting links to that everywhere when he wakes up. The Captain said he'd been doing this 22 years and had never seen a shark get in a cage.
Monday, May 12, 2014
Rollin and I spent 2 weeks battling poor WiFi in hostels across the UK. Trevor's WiFi in Poland was great. The WiFi in the Paris hostel was good. The Prague WiFi was also good. A hotel in Salzberg: D-. Then Ramsau Germany. It was so minimal that email was very difficult. Bucharest: just marginal. Istanbul: lousy. Cape Town: worse than all but Germany. C'mon people! This is 2014 not 2004. Inadequate internet gets your hostel/hotel/apartment a 2 letter downgrade. So an "A" becomes a "C". Fix it, or change your line of work!!
Once upon a time there was a boy who we then called "Frank" (now "Rollin") who had a big little brother James. Daddy and Frank used to love to hike to "the ghost house" when James was too little to go all the way. So Daddy (me) would hold James' hand as he walked 4 little steps to one of mine.
Life happened and James is now 21, 6'3" and 210. Life happened and I'm almost 63. So, with few remaining chances left, James and I went out on a walk that was challenging to the edge of one of our abilities. But this time, it was my ability that was pushed to its limit as James and I climbed - for 2 1/2 hours - to get to the top of Table Top Mountain in Cape Town, South Africa.
James and I are here to celebrate his 21st birthday. He wants to go cage diving with the Great White Sharks. Scheduled for tomorrow. Monday May 12th.
So on the 11th we climbed and climbed and climbed some more. At 2:15 I was completely gassed with :15 left to go. But I made it, then we ate and rode back down in the lift.
3/4ths of the way to my "bucket list" item of seeing half the world's countries, Romania was #81 and South Africa is #82. 21 more and I'm there!
And, I'm here during SA's celebration of 20 years of freedom.
Istanbul with Donna was one of those really great, memorable experiences. Now starts South Africa with James who arrives at 2p today, May 10 to celebrate (a few months late but we had to wait for the season and his final exams) his 21st birthday. The days now seem to have flown by. 2 months? Wow.
It's raining - fairly hard - today. First real rain of the trip. Gear held up well. Dinner at the hostel - I was starved. Dinner 2 at the Zulu Bar next door. Photos posted on FB. More to come. At airport awaiting James....
Wednesday, May 7, 2014
Version 3 - the current one - was completed 1500 years ago. It is 7,000+ sq meters of floor space (70,000 sq ft) and the ceiling is 59m (180 feet) high. Which makes it bigger and taller and a thousand years older than the great French cathedrals we visited last spring. Here are a couple of photos from inside.
In the late 1400s Constantinople fell to the invading Muslim army and Constantinople became the capitol of the Ottoman empire. Sophia was converted from a church where people had prayed to Mary for the prior 900 years, to a mosque where people would pray to Allah for the next 500. Finally, in the 1920s, it was converted to a museum.
The photos show the image of Mary and the Islamic writings adjacent.
Monday, May 5, 2014
The ancient palace of the victorious sultans who overcame the eastern Roman empire and eventually established the Ottoman empire centered here in Istanbul and ruling a huge section of the Middle East and North Africa. Some of the spectacular items I saw 41 years ago are missing and photography is not allowed. However, in one small room there was an incredible collection of artifacts which would be hard to prove or disprove. Mohammed's footprint beard and tooth, St John's arm and a piece of his skull, David's sword, Joseph's hat, and Abraham's bowl.
Sunday, May 4, 2014
It was time. We had arrived one evening (Friday) and set up our "stuff" in the apartment. Saturday - the day after changing apartments - is a rest day so we took the 2 hour cruise and gathered food from various stores and figured out the tram/metro system. Wine here is 3x the price in Romania, Czech, or France.
Today was exploration. But first pancakes with honey (some) or blackberry jam (others), coffee (still Czech coffee) and tea (English, from Romania). Dressed for rain and headed out. Stopped at the Blue Mosque (see Donna's blog for photos) and met Sadik. The courtesy and conviviality for which cultured Turks and Arabs are known is exemplified in Sadik Turhan. He volunteered to be our guide to the Blue Mosque, got us in ahead of the lines, agreed to help us find a better and less expensive apartment when we return (our current apartment is fine, if a bit expensive) in March for 6 weeks, and gave us a tour of his carpet and jewelry businesses. This was fun too, and we shared a cup of tea (Donna) and coffee (me) with him as he answered all of my questions. Here are photos of his businesses. My left arm is halting a car that was about to hit our photographer! If you need what they have, Donna and I can attest to their fine quality and gracious hospitality:
The sun came out, the temp climbed, and we headed back to cool off and change clothes. More later....
Saturday, May 3, 2014
Friday, May 2, 2014
Turkey is prepared. They have a prosperous Muslim democracy, based in manufacturing, technology, agriculture and tourism. They have friendly natives, excellent infrastructure, and awesome weather. They have Greek and Roman ruins, in aggregate lined up along their coast, unsurpassed even in Italy. And they have their long, island dotted coastline on the beautiful Mediterranean. Their airports and harbors are new - built for expected crowds of tourists.
But in the single-most important aspect of becoming tourist-friendly, they get an F-. Ease of access. I wrote at length about the difficulties getting here. First impressions last. But last impressions... they last longer.
Today we arrived at the airport 2:20 early. No signs for Pegasus in a HUGE airport, almost empty of people. At the far end was Pegasus. "Your flight leaves at 2:55" the agent proclaimed sourly and then just looked at us. "OK, now what?" I asked. There was then a 3 agent huddle to decide. We were to pay 41 Lira (US$19) because our bags - which had been fine on 2 trips on Pegasus this week - were suddenly overweight. I had checked: 31 kg per person was the weight allowance. Ours totalled about that - so half of the allowance. We would have to cross the huge airport, find the ticket office, stand in line, pay the fine, and return. But wait! She said she could take the payment if we used a credit card. Problem solved. Or so we thought. Her credit card machine was suddenly broken, so off we went.
A tremendous hassle on the way in to collect $68. A tremendous hassle on the way out for them to collect $19. So less than $45 per person. Why don't they just add it to the $200 airline tickets. A 20% tourist tax.
No restaurants in the airport. None. No news stand. No wifi. A sandwich shop open to the outside so everyone - everyone - was smoking. We took a pair of unnamed sandwiches and 2 bottles of water and a cup of coffee (US$18) and sat in the airport, eating and waiting for our flight.
I love Turkey. I HATE the airports.
Memo to Turkish govt: hire American or German or French or Japanese or Korean or Qatarian airport service management. In fact, just about any country west of Hungary, east of China, north of here.
PS. When we arrived in Istanbul, we waited 20 minutes for our luggage. Then boarded the shuttle bus - which the driver promised would leave in 20 minutes - for 40 minutes. We left at 5:19 for a 45 minute ride to a 5:30 appointment. "The bus/train/airplane will leave when we all get there" - does not work.
PPS. The bus driver, driving a huge new-ish bus packed with passengers going downtown in this ancient city of narrow winding roads kept taking telephone calls and chatting with great animation as we swerved through traffic.
If you have followed Donna's blog - and you should have been: hers is far better than mine; you would have seen that we two Protestant Christians joined a young Colombian Catholic and a Muslim family of three from Libya and Hungary. I spent much of our 2 hour walk talking with "Faresh" (I thing that was the husband's name) about religion. Initially, he was concerned that as a westerner, I thought all Muslims were terrorists. I assured him that I knew otherwise, from my earlier life as a Baha'i (related to Islam as Christianity is to Judaism) and from my studies. He spoke of his Sunni sect of Islam and looked with some disdain at the harshly more strident Shia sect. He was very knowledgeable about his faith and was curious about mine. Sunni do not believe that Jesus died but that He is in heaven and will someday return to lead all Muslims to Paradise. He condemned the anger and killing in the name of religion and was interested to know that so had Jesus - even to condemning anger as equivalent to murder. So, too, he said in Islam. I told him that Jesus had abolished the 640 Jewish laws and replaced them with just "Love God, Love man, Speak of Him to the world.". He liked that.
When I would mention any of the holy 4 - Moses, Abraham, Jesus or Mohammed, he would interject "may peace be upon him."
We found lots in common, and I think were each surprised at what we heard from the other. Sons of Abraham indeed. I hope he contacts me through this blog or email. He has my contact info but I lack his.
If, 2 days ago, I had said to Donna: "I want to rent an apartment in Smyrna" she would have assumed that I hit my head. Our beautiful home near Waleska Ga has no disadvantages compared with an apartment in Smyrna Georgia. Ah, but Smyrna, Turkey. Known - as we discovered last night - as Izmir, Smyrna has Greek and Roman ruins equalled in my experience only by Rome and Ephesus. We came to Izmir because the train tracks between Bucharest and Istajnbul were under construction. So, by flying, we had 2 days to "kill" and so I thought of Ephesus. And Izmir is the giant city nearby and with an airport. So this morning we set out to find the Roman agora. We walked by - unimpressed. So we headed for the open market but discovered it was 6 miles away. We turned around to return to our hotel and, in a few minutes, there - suddenly - was THE Agora! We had seen the backside wall and - like everywhere in our journey east of Prague - there are no signs. We explored the main portico. About 600' x 200', we walked through the huge basement (much is still not excavated) and along the column-lined 1st floor. The top of the columns was the 1st floor ceiling and there was an equally large and tall 2nd floor (now gone) with identical columns and a huge roof. Photos.
Thursday, May 1, 2014
Speechless. A unique moment in time and space.
28 years ago this week: "This week and next we are going to be studying chapter 2, verse 8 of Ephesians" said Pastor Steve Brown at Key Biscayne Presbyterian Church. "For it is by grace you have been saved, and not by works, lest any man boast"
Whatever. I'm here in the back waiting for Simone to get out of church. And isn't Christianity all about don't do this and don't do that and hell and stuff? Whatever.
Simone and I didn't hit it off (I remember her name because I heard shortly thereafter that she was diagnosed with MS and quickly died) but the next Sunday I remembered the cool room, the deep voice. The puzzling message, so I returned.
This is what I've been trying to tell you all along sang my heart. Jesus died for ....me? God loves me as much as Daddy???? No way. Well, MAYBE! That day I asked Jesus to enter my life and be my King.
And it started from a sentence a guy named Paul wrote to his friends in Ephesus. Those friends in Ephesus would come to include John before he was exiled by Domitian to work in a rock quarry on Patmos. And Mary, Jesus' mom.
A quarter of a million people lived here - the second largest Roman city. The library here (photo) rivaled Alexandria and the Egyptians stopped selling papyrus to stop it's growth. The industrious Romans switched to animal skins - parchment - and to keep them together as written, later bound on edge: books!
Ephesus. Wow, I'm walking where two men lived who personally knew Jesus, who wrote about him, whose writings survived the first thousand years and now teach me what they knew. Ephesus!
Wednesday, April 30, 2014
8Wow! From the ancient times of the Persian Empire which conquered here through the 1970s when I was here last, Istanbul has had a reputation as a place welcoming to foreigners. No more. Donna and I experienced the new Istanbul at the airport and it is an ugly sight! Our ride to the Bucharest airport was lovely, thanks to our landlord who drove us there. A long wait in the airport (marred only by US$8 for an expresso in a paper cup and no currency exchange that would convert our Romanian Lei to Turkish Lira (Romania is - maybe - 75 miles away) and our Pegasus 737-800 left right on time. We flew into beautiful Istanbul and landed right on time. Then "the wheels fell off" of the lost Turkish welcome. We had 1:10 to transfer from Pegasus to Pegasus. How hard could that be? This hard only after several dozen PhDs in how to screw things up designed the system.
Expedia had told me we didn't need a visa for this trip I booked through them. I called after my online booking. In Bucharest, Pegasus told us to get a visa in Izmir. Pegasus could not issue a boarding pass for the second leg of our flight with them - "computer problems" (one of those PhDs in screwupology). So when we exited we faced a line of 150 people or so needing a boarding pass. I called out to an agent who hustled us around the line. (No PhD involved). Next: passport control line of 200+ people used up 40 of our precious minutes. We spoke to a Danish woman who lives in Istanbul. She assured me that the flight would wait on us - even 45 minutes! What a business model: let's fly whenever everyone arrives! At the head of the line the passport control guy - who didn't speak English, French or Spanish (and no doubt had a PhD) refused to let us through. We had to go buy a visa! With 10 minutes left we turned to find the visa cashier. No signs. Found the same non-PhD Pegasus agent who took us to the visa line. We were #3. #1 had US$. No good for visa - so they missed their flight. #2 had Turkish Lira - the currency here; no good. Euros only. (PhDs abound). They missed their flight. This is exactly the attitude that persuaded me that I don't want to return to Italy. Let's hope it improves.
We happen to have €50 ($67) to buy visas and our non-PhD Pegasus agent is waiting to hustle us through the "flight crew" line. Once through the PhDs had removed all directional signs but we found our way to another security line. This time (but not in Bucharest) the PhDs had decided my wine opener was a problem. We tossed it and raced to the gate. We needed to get Lira from an ATM but the 30 or so on the way to the gate had - you guessed it - long lines. We were late - but they were waiting for us and a hundred or so in front of us and 40-50 behind us in another line. All the while the signs say the flight has left and the PA system announces last call. We got on the plane and left the gate a half hour late.
The pilots' announcements are at 100db and the crew won't let me wear my noise-cancelling headphones. In the terminal we find an ATM. Then taxi to hotel. Sleep!
Monday, April 28, 2014
In addition to no signs - in any language on any subject- on the trams, trains, and busses (so there is no way to know - as a first time tourist what the next stop is), not even ads; and in addition to a high unemployment rate while public parks aren't mowed and packs of dogs run wild; another disconcerting aspect of Bucharest is "sincudashia". I have no idea how it's spelled - that's phonetic. Getting on the metro, there is a recording played inside the train and not outside the train: "attencia sincudashia" BANG. The "BANG" are the doors slamming shut as - not after - "...shia" is pronounced. If you hear ...shia as you are getting on the train - you are caught in the doors! As happened to us twice.
We've enjoyed our trip here, more because it's interesting than anything else. It needs lots of basic maintenance - but the city is filled with ongoing construction and re-modeling. But it's time to go.
There is a time in each of our trips, usually 3/4ths of the way through or so, when we miss our kids and our home and our friends more than the excitement of the next day. We planned for that this time: we move on to another city. We are nearing the end of our time in Bucharest and again we are there. The good news for me is the highlight place is later today: Ephesus! Paul wrote to the Ephesians: "For we know that all things work together for the good of those who love God, who are called according to His Will". I know that to be true. Today I asked Donna if she has a magic wand and could go back in her life and change things, what would she change? She asked me. I said "nothing. The battles I fought brought me here. God carried me through. I can't imagine better than now."
So, my longing for our kids and our house and friends is shoved aside. I'm going to see where Paul and John lived. Where John was when he wrote his most beautiful gospel.
Bucharest has been interesting. Not "interesting" as in "I'd like to spend more time here" kind of interesting. More like a composted pile of old leaves and cut grass from years ago with new life emerging from the corruption of death. Cecescu - the communist dictator until 1989 - tore down most of the 200+ year old buildings and replaced them with big, grey, standard concrete tombs. I saw some of these in Sofia and Belgrade and Budapest in 1973 but we didn't bother to go to Romania which was both a police state and Europe's poorest country. But in those other cities, the old and the concrete tombs stood together. Here, death won out and only now is life returning.
There are so many beautiful places in the world - more beautiful with equally friendly people.
Sunday, April 27, 2014
[Photo]. Like our handy-dandy tram in Praha (22?) that took us everywhere, our Bucharest tram 1 takes us to the huge Obor market going one way and the huge mall going the other. For US 33¢ per trip!
ThIs is our favorite apartment so far: rooms are large and bright and well-equipped and with nice views of the city from this 7th floor of an old, renovated, communist apartment building from the USSR years.
The large building in the middle of the photo in the distance is the palace that the last communist dictator here had built. When built, it was the largest building in Europe: the size of the Pentagon!
Bucharest's buildings are 10% restored, whereas Praha's are close to 90%. At the fall of the USSR Romania was the Haiti of Europe: financially ruined. Momentum is building, people are staying. 10 years: watch out for Romania! [apt photos]
So, now for more luxury: we are headed to a spa - our 1st this trip - which has salt baths, steam baths, swimming pool, and a one hour massage each plus champagne all for US$110. I've never done this in the US: costs upward of $500!
PS We survived! It took 30 minutes to check i. They demonstrated the locker lock in the men's locker room and gave me an electronic bracelet. They did neither for Donna. You will have to read her blog for her adventure. So we arrived in our couples' massage room wearing our heavy cotton robes and little tiny paper shoes. We were each handed a tiny plastic envelope about the size of a Splenda sprinkle. I opened it and a micro-hair net fell out. [Photo]. We were getting foot, head and hand massages so I was puzzled by this tiny hair net. The massage staff began to laugh and say "no, no" when I realized we were supposed to take off our robes and bathing suits and puton these G-strings. Well, we all had a great laugh because like the tiny shoes, these were made for really small people. But, as I said, we survived.
Thursday, April 24, 2014
Time for a movie date! So tonight (Thursday April 24, 2014) Donna and I headed out to go to a movie. We got on our Line 1 and headed 6 stops to a point where we were to change lines. We found ourselves quickly going thru a very clean, very upscale, modern city and when we got to stop 6 in our rickety tram, we were in front of a giant mall. It's "only" 30% of the size of the largest mall in Georgia, but its wide aisles, indoor ice rink, laser tag arena, 10 giant movie theaters, new IMAX, and "Tequila Bowling make it seem larger and 21st. Century USA. Everything is in English too. Wow!
We lucked out. Yesterday, when we arrived, I was skeptical about Romania. It is crowded, noisy, dirty, and hot. I was tired from 20 hours on a 1982 East German (ie USSR) train with poor toilet (singular, for 30+ people), nasty shower (ditto), and tiny quarters. But mostly I was tired from the heat and from hauling 20 lbs of cooking items plus 40 lbs of backpack a half mile+ in the noise and crowds and dirt and confusion. What a difference a day makes. First, I've figured out the unnecessarily complex public transport system, our apartment is spacious, comfortable, full and equipped kitchen, elevator, ultra-fast internet. And I slept 8 solid hours in the cool of an air conditioned apartment. Today when we went out it was cool and misty. About 50F. What a delightful change!! We went to what we were told was a huge farmer's market. I was not impressed: I love these markets and have been to the biggest and best in North Africa, the Far East, Europe, and South America. So, I was prepared to be disappointed. I was wrong. HUGE. That's the word. Canton and Hasty - imagine an enclosed football field packed to the ceiling with every kind of item with just room to walk through. Then triple it. Then put a second story on a third of it with a more Western European market there. Wow! The prices are a bit less than the US markets (maybe even 40% less), everything is fresh. I took a photo of one tiny corner of one section of fish market because the aisles were wider for a better photo. Unfortunately, it's a bit blurry. I also photographed the money. It's spelled Lei and is pronounced "lay". Each one is worth 33¢ so R10 = US$3.33
And I photographed a bottle of Romanian Merlot. 2 liters (2.5 quarts) which cost R21.50. Like I had experienced in Spain 41 years ago, you can bring your own bottle or - as here - you can buy one from them. Amazingly, they also have the same system for un-pasteurized milk - right out of the cow! Donna took a photo for her blog. I bought 1L of milk in the grocery this morning for R6. The raw milk in the market for 1L - when you bring your own bottle - is R.5. Yep US 17¢ for 1.2 QTS.
Wednesday, April 23, 2014
The 5 hour train from Salzburg to Budapest had limited WiFi: we could send and receive text and email. That was very nice even though we could not access the web. I have pondered how strange this is compared to 41 years ago where - even in France and Spain - placing an international call was a multi+ hour proposition. I contacted my parents every other Wednesday.
So we are now on a "first class" sleeper car going to Bucharest from Budapest. The trip was scheduled to be 16 hours plus losing an hour to an eastern time zone. But we were running an hour late and then there was a 2 hour strike so our eta is now departure +20. I tried to call our landlord to postpone our 1p meeting to 4p but - no internet so no Skype. My UK phone has plenty of £ left on it but it doesn't Roam in Roamania. So our conductor called on his phone and we postponed the meeting time.
The morning ride into the heart of Romania has been very interesting. One of the interesting and common sights I have been unable to photo because of the proximity to our 60mph train: small herds of sheep grazing on the borderlands between either woods or plowed fields and the train tracks. Each flock of sheep has a shepherd with a long stick. I have read that there still are wolves and bears here. But I did take some photos. As always, if and when we find internet, I will post this along with the others backed up in queue.