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

Sincudashia Bucharesti

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 - "" is pronounced. If you hear 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.

Bucharest: sincudashia.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Relaxing in our "room with a view"

[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

Except for... wow!

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!

Romancing Romania

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

Continuing in the internet-free zone

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.

Racing to just miss T & E

My son Trevor and his wife Eleanor live in Warsaw. I visited with them there a few weeks ago. I have a traveling family. Next month Donna and son James will be changing planes from different continents, to different continents, for 3 hours in Frankfurt Germany. Today Trevor and Eleanor have just left Budapest Hungary. Donna and I are arriving shortly. We missed each other by a few hours!


"Salzburg" means "City of Salt".  3,000 years ago mankind found "white gold" in the mountain behind Salzberg. I came here first in 1965 and then down into the mine in 1973 when the mine was still operating. Six people with one guide used the actual slides the miners used and we wore heavy gloves to slow our rapid descent. 41 years later the 3,000 year old mine operates no more except to transport 40+ tourists at a time on new slides with slower speeds,gravity stop, and no guide in front. But still fun. Photo. 

OK, so I'm a guy who doesn't like palace gardens.  With the exception of Tivoli in Copenhagen and Tuileries in Paris: boring. Add one more to the definitely-un-boring list: Mirabelle Gardens, Salzburg in April. 4 Photos.

In fact, Salzburg in April is - at times - a big garden. 3 Photos: 

Monday, April 21, 2014

Tears for us

For a week+ in Praha, the weather was amazing. All the way to the train station it was fine. As we opened the train car door to board, the skies opened, down came the rain, and we dashed up the 3 steps with only a few drops hitting us. It seemed our friend Praha was weeping for our departure. 

Turns out the tears were for us - for the problems we were going to confront on our way to Salzberg: two broken trains, and a 12 hour trip - much of it standing, packed in like sardines. Donna's blog tells the story
Then we arrived in Ramsau bei Berchtesgaden - as beautiful a place as I remembered from my two previous trips. Dan and Kim arrived and we decided to rent a car for a week - which turned out to be a Mercedes. That brought back great memories from April 1965 - 49 years ago - when Mom, Dad, and I travelled through here in a Mercedes.
Thanks, Mom & Dad for that trip!  Thanks, Donna, for this one!

So we headed out to see the Werfen Ice Cave - which I visited with my 1st wife in out VW camper in 1973 [photos] It was closed.

So, we headed out the next day to see Hitler's Eagle's Nest - a mountaintop resort built for his 50th birthday present by his 2nd in command.  [Photo] But we couldn't get there: it was closed!  It seems the open season begins May 1.

After an awesome lunch, we headed over to the Salt Mines at "Bad Durreburg" - that's the name of the village. It was open and we had great fun exploring the mine and sliding down the slides where the miners had slid between layers. It had been used as a mine for 2, 500 years! [Photo]

We continue to struggle with an almost complete lack of internet - it just doesn't work most of the time. But it's great having Dan and Kim along and we are having fun times in this beautiful spot.

Good Friday - the day my Savior died for me. To be continued...

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The last tango in...Praha

Today - Palm Sunday - is our last full day in Praha. Went to church: same ol' same ol'.  Then a great lunch [took a photo of the menu for the kids] and then to some gardens [photos] before packing to leave. Shirtsleeve weather here. 28°F Tuesday in Ramsau!  Brrrr!

Out of Praha

The other day we tried to exit a room but the door was blocked by a young woman. So I said "Ausfahrt, bitte" ("exit please" in German), no response. "Sortie, si'l vous plait" (French); "Salida, por favor" (Spanish); then "exit, please", none of which she understood (maybe the one non-bilingual Czech?),  before my hand-signals caused her to clear the way.

Today we exited Praha with no difficulty to take the train 40km to Konopiste Castle, a 700 year old castle last owned by Archduke Ferdinand, an apostle of peace, whose assassination in 1914 in Sarajevo, Bosnia was the excuse Kaiser Wilhelm used to start WW1.  ADF was a great hunter who, including his round-the-world hunting expedition, killed 300,000 animals. It seemed that he had most of them mounted. The castle, presented as it was in 1907, was a warehouse of stuffed animals and weapons of war. Photos were prohibited. The castle is a mile and a half from the train station so we walked both ways, following markers [photo]

We returned home, cleaned up, and went out to our small neighborhood restaurant - where the people at every other table were smoking!  Yuk!!!  I had a 500 gram piece of pork (apparently a knee) which had about 100 g of meat but was delicious - best meal so far for me.

Back home to sleep.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Tramming Praha

Rick Steve's says - but we discovered before we read it - that Tram Route 22 goes everywhere we want to go and picks us up 2 blocks from our apartment. It goes one way to Tesco where I get our groceries and one way around all of the tourist areas. I managed to lose my blog entry from yesterday so see Donna's blog for then. But we did see many places [example: photo 1] of where the un-restored pre-Communist construction (which was ubiquitous when I was here in 1973) was connected to Communist restored structures and pre-Communist restored structures. What an amazing transformation in 41 years: drab sooty grey to a cacophony of color, from no one speaks English to everyone under 30 does, the food still lags a bit, but a 95% improvement! In five more years.... we will have to come back to see!

We rode over to Wincelas Square [photos 2&3] and took a picture of the big national museum there. And stopped for an expresso and a hot chocolate at a cafe on the square [photo]

Today (Friday Apr 11, 2014) is a day of perfect weather (highs around 60, clear, light breeze). We noted that we left at 11a today - a full hour earlier than our previous days as Donna has recovered from her jet lag.
We went first to Old Town at the river. From there we explored the old Jewish quarter [photo out of order after paddle boat], rented a paddle boat in the river (pedals WAY too short for us so we came back after 20 minutes) [photos] walked through some more beautiful streets [photos] then across Charles Bridge, took a tram to a funicular to the top of the highest hill around Praha. [Photos].  [I'm adding more photos now because my kids at Hasty have asked for more; I have not heard yet from my kids from Canton. ]

Then back home on - of course - Tram 22. Photo.