Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Fan Fest/ Rosia Montana Part Doi

A couple of weeks ago, I returned to Rosia Montana, in the Apuseni Mountains, for an event called FanFest (Actually pronounced "fuun fest", but I don't have that Romanian letter on my keyboard. My mother actually alerted me to a PBS program which aired about two weeks before the festival about Rosia Montana. It seems to be a pretty fairhanded take on the situation up there, and if you want to check it out, I believe you can view it at http://www.pbs.org/wnet/wideangle/shows/romania/index.html. Oddly enough, living right here near the site, I cannot view the show with my European IP address, but I think in the US that it should be possible. I went there with my organization up there to promote our system of greenways in the Apuseni to the thousands of people there to listen to music and such. It was a great time, with lots of good music, Ursus beer, and mici. Following our visit to Fanfest, we went to our cabana at a place called Cheia in the mountains, to do some repairs and spend the week out of the city. It was quite relaxing, and good to get some hiking in. We went mushroom hunting in the forest (supposedly the best mushrooms in Europe come from Romania) and saw some of the countryside. It was overall a good week. To get to the bus to take us back into the city, we had to experience - not hike 6 km, part of which was actually in the river, which was interesting. Then, we actually missed the bus that would have taken us to the train station. So, we had to hitchike or walk another 18 km into the city. Well, we were lucky and a man in a truck stopped and picked us all up. A genuine Peace Corpsexactly a rarity in Romania, but not an everyday event either! Anyway, it was a fun experience, and I got to see some more of the beautiful mountains around here.

Thursday, August 23, 2007


A few weeks ago, I went with my lovely Romanian tutor Alexandra to her family's house in the country near Bistrita (pronounced Bis-trits-a). Anyone who has ever read Bram Stoker's Dracula will know it by it's German name, Bistritz. It was a nice place to go and see the Romanian countryside. We had a nice weekend of climbing cherry trees, making hay stacks, drinking traditional Romanian alcohol (palenka and visine), and generally just relaxing for the weekend. We also had fresh milk, homemade cheese, and delicious homemade sour cream (smantana). We drove out into the mountains and saw some of the local sites, such as a lake and the Hotel Castle Dracula. Anyway, here are some pictures.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Some Traditional Romanian Things

We were working on our tourist info center in the Apuseni Mountains a few weeks ago, and it is attached to a museum of traditional Romanian things. I thought I would put up a few pictures to show what Romanians used to wear and use and such. And also, a picture of the info center itself. We then ate dinner with a family out there, frying up the meat over a fire, which was very interesting.

Rosia Montana

In mid-June, we went for the weekend to Rosia Montana, a very old and famous mining town in the Apuseni Mountains. Currently it is a very controversial place, and much discussed in Romania. It has been a mining town since Roman times, and is one of the oldest occupied places in all of Romania. You can even visit Roman mine there that is 1000 years old. Throughout the communist period it was mined by the Romanian government, but that mine closed down a couple of years ago. Now, a Canadian corporation is planning to build the largest cyanide mine in Europe there, which will displace most of the population of the town. I suppose I am a bit one-sided about this, because my organization is working on environmental issues in the area, but many people are concerned about cyanide in the water, especially because from here it could potentially flow into Hungary and down the Danube. Anyway, there is a lot of information out there about this, if you go to Rosiamontana.org there is a bunch of information. Anyway, visiting the site was a very nice experience, and also a sad one. Lots of poverty exists there and the people don't know who to turn to or who to trust, it seems. The company offers them jobs and some economic support, but also wants them to leave their town and move centuries-old churches and cemataries. Some organizations are working on eco-tourism, but that clearly is not as lucrative as gold mining. A very difficult spot for the people of Rosia Montana. Luckily, they get to live in a beautiful place, for now.

Time for an Update!

Hey, I apologize for not updating this thing for so long. I wish I could say that I have been super busy, but the real truth is that once I got my own internet connection, I lost all discipline about updating it. Suddenly there was no hurry to do new posts or anything because there was no rush or anything to do them. Anyway, I have been doing some stuff for the past two months or so since I have lived in Cluj-Napoca, and the following few posts will hopefully catch up. Anyway, sorry for taking so long, to anyone who is still checking here for any updates about what I have been up to. Here are some pictures of a natural reserve that my organization has custody over, and that we visited a few weeks ago.

Monday, May 14, 2007

First Week in Cluj-Napoca

Well, here I am in Cluj-Napoca, my new home town. I have been here for one very eventful week in the historic capital of Transylvania. (I just discovered, by the way, that this city is mentioned on the first page of Dracula by Bram Stoker, only then it was a German city called Claussenberg - cool huh?) I have been meeting new people pretty much every day and getting to know the city. It is a big city, the third biggest in the country, and a very important city on Romania. It is also the best and most fun city in the country, in my humble opinion - but don't trust me - ask around and people will say the same thing. I think it has something to do with the huge college scene here and all the fun things to do. Robert Kaplan says in Balkan Ghosts that "There is no city in all of the Balkans quite so entrancing as Cluj". Anyway, enough hyping of the city. I moved here last Sunday from Ploiesti with all of my stuff along with five other Peace Corps volunteers (in the same compartment, no less). I moved in with my second host family, and I then spent the week getting to know some of the other volunteers here, several members of my organization, and just generally getting to know the city. So far, I love it. It may just be the most fun city I have ever lived in, which is saying something because Fort Collins was pretty awesome. However, there is three times as many college students here and an old-world European atmosphere that just can't be compared to anything in the states. Anyway, here are some pictures from the train ride and from around Cluj.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

It's Official!

I am now an official Peace Corps volunteer. We ended our ten week training period yesterday and rasied our right hand to take the oath as volunteers. It was very impressive with a ceremony at a theatre here in Ploiesti. Our country director was there along with the mayor of Ploiesti and the American ambassador to Romania. The ambassador did the swearing in, and then we had a reception afterwards. So, now the training is done, time to get to work! We had a big celebratory party last night, our last time all together for the next six months. It was all a lot of fun. So tomorrow, I will hop on a train with all of my stuff and move to Cluj. There, I will live with another host family for one month, and then move into my own place. I will just be happy when I can stop having to pack all of my stuff up and move it every few weeks! It is odd, there is not much exciting about Ploiesti, but now it feels like home. We know where everything is, and we can get around well. I didn't think I would be sad to leave it, but I kind of am. Of course, I will miss my current host parents a lot as well, so I will have to come back and visit before to long. It is such an odd experience though, that we all go through in the Peace Corps. We met a new group of friends ten weeks ago, spent every day with them since, bonded, got really close, and now we are going to be spread all across this relatively large country. So, we are left to start all over getting to know a new city, develop a new group of friends, and try to figure out what is happening around us. It is just kind of hard to describe stuff like this to anyone unless they have been through a similar experience of rapid change in their life. Anyway, asta este. I need to pack all of my stuff up (again) and get ready to go. Cluj-Napoca awaits!

Friday, April 27, 2007

Site Visit Part Two: Apuseni Mountains

Ok, so now for the rest of my site visit last weekend. After being in Cluj for two days, we went backpacking for the weekend in the Apuseni Mountains, where I will be working much of the time over the next two years. We drove a couple of hours out of Cluj to some small villages in the country where people still live much as they have for centuries. It was amazing the contrast between the modern city and the countryside. We then went even farther, hiking from a remote village out into the forest. We went to a cabana in the woods that my organization owns and keeps up as part of their ecotourism projects. The cabana is actually an old schoolhouse in a village that now is almost completely abanonded. There are no road for cars to the village now, and most of the buildings are abandoned, so it was fun to go around and see things. Amazingly, the village was still largely inhabited as recently as ten years ago. We stayed in the cabana for the weekend and hiked around, seeing a bit of the mountains. Some other members of the organization also hiked in on Saturday and we had a big campfire complete with mici, beer and palenca. It was a very good time. I could not have planned a better site visit if I had tried, and now I am anxious to move to Cluj next week and start doing more of this stuff!

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Site Visit Part One: Cluj

So, this weekend I got out of Ploiesti and visited my new hometown of Cluj for the first time. I met my counterpart, saw where I will be working, and got to know the town a little bit. It was an absolutely awesome weekend, and I could not have planned it any better. This post will focus on the city of Cluj, where the first half of my visit was, then I will move on in the next post to the Apuseni Mountains, where my organization does most of its work. Anyway, on Wednesday night we took the 6 1/2 hour train ride to Cluj from Ploiesti, arriving a little after midnight. I met my new host sister (Roxana) at the train station, and she drove me around the city a bit before we went home. In the morning she took me town to the center of Cluj and we saw a bit of the city in the day. We met up with another volunteer and his counterpart and spent the afternoon with them. Cluj is an amazing city, very old and full of history. It was once a very distant outpost of the Roman Empire and was inhabited by Germans for a long time, and was a majority Hungarian until about twenty years ago. It is now a center for several universities, and is literally crawling with college students. The middle of the city is all old Saxon architecture, but the outskirts are all communist block buildings, which makes for an interesting contrast. Anyway, we went to an animal museum and basically just hung around the city for the day on Thursday. Thursday night I got to meet many members of my new organization and they did a presentation at a school about their activities over the past year, so that was very informative an exciting for me, even though I couldn't understand much of what they said in Romanian. At least there were pictures! Anyway, that about sums up the Cluj portion of my site visit.


Hey, so it has been an awful long time since I updated this here blog, so I figured I would go ahead and let people know what I have been up to. I will start off in this post talking about our trip to Brasov last weekend. Brasov is a medieval Transylvanian city about three hours from here by train. We decided that it was necessary to see this famous landmark while we were relatively close to it. So, we got on a train at 7:30 in the morning and headed up there. The day was beautiful and probably the best day I spent in Romania up until that point (maybe some better ones since). We hiked up the side of a mountain to an old fortress and hung out for a while. Then, we went down into the central square of the old German part of the city. For a long time, Romanians were not allowed to live inside the city walls, and it was only Germans there. You can definitely tell that it is an old Saxon town by the architecture. We had some lunch and hiked all over the city in the afternoon. The biggest site to visit in Brasov is the "Black Church" that dominates the city. It is the biggest gothic cathedral between Vienna and Istanbul, and it is amazing. It has an organ with 6000 pipes and was built in the 1300s. It was built as a Catholic church, but later became Lutheran after the reformation. That evening, we tried to take a bus out to Bran Castle, but it was to late, so we will have to do that some other time. Instead, we went back down to the square where there was a concert and a big festival (Brasov days). We saw "Accent" (Think Romanian NSync) and we drank beer out on the square. After a very fun evening, we went and got some shwarma at a fantastic all night restaurant called Ando's. We didn't make it back to the train station until after two AM. We finally arrived at the station in Ploiesti at 6:30 Sunday morning, exactly 23 hours after we had left. Anyway, it was a great day and an amazing town!

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Site Placement!

Hey, another post with an exclamation mark. Seems that I live a pretty exciting life these days in Romania. On Friday I learned where my site will be for the next two years, and exactly what type of work I will be doing here in Romania. I will be living in the third largest city here, Cluj-Napoca, and I will be doing work for an environmental NGO there, doing eco-tourism and environmental education with youth. Cluj is an exciting, urbane and sophisticated city, full of college students, coffee shops, and bars. There is even an international film festival every year! If you want to know more about Cluj, the wikipedia site seems pretty good: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cluj-Napoca. I will be working in the nearby Apuseni Mountains for my job. They are not big mountains, but they are a huge natural attraction and they are full of caves, apparently. There are some pictures of the Apuseni at this site http://www.aboutromania.com/apuseni00.html. Pretty cool looking, no? Being in such a big city center and with some cool stuff around me to do, (I wonder if you can tour the Ursus brewery?) I am expecting plenty of visitors. I will need to be purchasing a nice couch when I move in, I am sure, to accommodate whoever wants to stop by. The more people that stay with me, the better, I suppose. The job seems very exciting, very much what I was hoping for while here in Romania, and I hope to gain a ton of experience that I will be able to use in the future. Cluj is definitely a pretty Posh Corpsish site, but I also expect to be out of the city much of the time, working in mountain communities. Oh, by the way, since I will be in the largest city in Transylvania, I am hoping to have plenty of Halloween visitors as well. Party in Dracula's home, baby! (Actually, I will not be very close to Dracula's castle, and he was actually the prince of Vallacia, but no one not reading this needs to know that). Still, there will be plenty of forests and wildlife around me, and there are lots of wolves in the Apuseni mountains, so that should be all kinds of fun. Anyway, as you can tell, I have been researching my new home and job a bit this weekend, and I am excited. Three weeks until I get to visit, and five weeks until I move there. Time moves fast when you are having fun!

Sunday, March 18, 2007


This weekend, a bunch of us decided that we needed to get out of the city and see some real sites in Romania that we have wanted to see for weeks but have not gotten a chance to. So, we headed up the valley to Sinaia, a little resort town with an old Romanian castle and plenty of hiking and fresh air in the mountains. Sinaia was amazing, and for the first time I felt like I was really in Romania. Nothing against Ploiesti or Bucharest, but they are really just cities, and all cities are alike in a lot of ways. Luckily, all resort towns in the mountains are alike in a lot of ways too, so that boded well for Sinaia. We first walked around the town a little bit and checked out the local street vendors. We went to an old Orthodox church and visited a monostary in the town, which was amazing. The churches here are all very intricately painted and beautiful, and there is just something that is so much more holy about an old dark church than any clean protestant church in the suburbs. Anyway, after that we headed out to Peles Castle, considered one of the best in Europe. It was the vacation home of the Romanian royal family until World War 2, and it is set with an amazing backdrop of mountains in the forest. After the castle we hiked up to 1400 meters a the base of the ski slopes. It was a fun and beautiful climb up through the forest, and the view from up there was awesome. We could have paid 5 lei (a little more than two dollars) for a ride up in a maxitaxi, or we could have taken the gondola for a lot more, but who would want to do that when you can hike? Anyway, we hiked back down, stopped in at an Irish Pub for a quick salute to St. Patrick's day, and took the night train back to Ploiesti.