Sunday, May 31, 2015

Bran

Yesterday morning, we left the village of Rua Alb and drove to Bran, where Dracula's Castle is located. We encountered a few unusual traffic issues along the way, but it was a fairly easy trip. The first thing on our agenda was to see the castle. In reality, it has very little to do with the Dracula story, but it was still a very cool place to visit, and since the story was fresh in our minds, we were able to picture certain scenes perfectly. The boys' favorite part was the torture room, which displayed a variety of ways to die, be mangled or, at the very least, be publicly humiliated in the Middle Ages. Besides the cool exterior, Jeff and I were especially interested in the secret staircase, encased between two walls and not discovered until a fairly recent renovation. The place we are staying here is beautiful and roomy and has a wonderful view of the Carpathians. The hosts do not speak much English, but they are very kind and obviously crazy about kids. The woman brought us dessert and hot chocolate last night and then swept the kids off to the game room to play pool and air hockey.

traffic problems

Dracula's Castle

exploring the castle

secret staircase

This is the torture device the boys were most interested in.
It's a spiky chair people would be made to sit naked in
until they were ready to confess their crimes.

I would not want to be locked in this box!

The scales of justice, which were used to "weigh" the sins of the accused.
It was believed that those in cahoots with the Devil would weigh less than they should.
Sometimes, the person was weighed against a Bible and would usually go free, after enduring
the public humiliation of being stripped down and weighed in public, because they would
obviously weigh more than the Bible. This was used much in witch hunting.

No vampires here!

Our Bran home

the view from our balcony








Saturday, May 30, 2015

Retezat National Park

Since yesterday was Ruth's birthday, we let her pick the agenda for the day, after an amazing breakfast provided by our hosts. She requested that we go hiking, so we made the short drive over to Retezat National Park, following instructions like, "just drive until the pavement runs out and then park your car and hike from there." We found ourselves in the Carpathian Mountains, on a gorgeous day, and we had a wonderful time hiking, watching a brilliant display of shepherding and having a picnic on the summit of one of the more manageable hills.

Our host family provided another homemade local specialty for dinner last night, and their fifteen-year-old daughter made Ruth a birthday cake, which was delicious and a very fun surprise.

homemade pitas and mushroom omelets--it's what's for breakfast

homemade bread, fresh cucumbers, and milk from the neighbor's cow
(The cucumbers were a new, but delightful, addition to our breakfast table,
especially when paired with the homemade dill cream cheese.) 

The lovely Carpathian Mountains

near the beginning of the trail

the birthday beauty

our fearless leader 

Two Flocks Coming Together
(It was absolutely fascinating to watch the dogs and shepherds work.
It became fascinating after it was slightly terrorizing, when we happened
upon the lower flock by accident and the dogs charged at us, barking like crazy,
before we realized our folly and headed off in a different direction.)

A Great Picnic Spot
(Clay is still a little wary of the sheep dogs in this pic
and doesn't want to take his eyes off them.) 

our lunchtime view

...and the view continues

our little mountain climbers

happy hikers

birthday cake makes it official

Friday, May 29, 2015

Sweet Ruth,

 You are officially a teenager! On the one hand, this is hard to believe, because it still seems to me that you should be a little girl. But on the other hand, you are so mature, responsible, and independent, that I often think you are older than you really are. You are smart and beautiful, and absolutely capable of anything, and I am so very proud of you. I have seen you blossom in many ways in the last year.

You participated in the Challenge B class at CC during this last school year, which gave you the opportunity to hone your logic, research and communication skills. Among other things, you participated in a regional science fair and a mock trial, which were a joy for us to experience along with you. You are always serious about your school work, and these activities were no exception. You went above and beyond the minimum requirements and put your heart and soul into every endeavor. 

You became more serious about horse riding in the last year and competed in several shows, where you met with much success. Your riding teacher and all those who interacted with you at the farm were constantly impressed with your work ethic, which spurred you to do, not only what was asked of you, but so much more, and your natural inclination to encourage and support younger riders. They gave you a touching going-away party and surely miss your almost-daily presence at the farm. Your great love of horses prompted us to give you tickets to the morning exercises and a tour of the facilities of the Spanish Riding School in Vienna for your birthday. You were in a state of absolute bliss while we were there and were so knowledgable about the beautiful Liperzzaner horses. As happens so often, I learned a great deal from you while we were there. 

There was a point during the last year when you decided to try to meet new people and confidently inserted yourself into a new group, where you knew no one. True to your nature, you quickly made many friends, and the bravery you showed by stepping outside your comfort zone was another lesson for me. I am thankful I have you to teach me so many things and to help me become a better version of myself.

And, speaking of stepping out of your comfort zone, this year has brought a number of really big changes to our family--selling our house and most of our possessions, leaving behind friends and family, and embracing a bit of a nomadic existence, while embarking on an epic trip around the world--and you have taken it all in stride and have been an enthusiastic and helpful partner throughout. 

It is hard to find the right words to tell you how much I appreciate you and admire you. You are such an amazing asset to our family and a blessing to my heart on a daily basis. I am proud of you beyond words and am so thankful I have the opportunity to know you and to learn from you and to walk down a shared path with you. You are full of life and passion and are already leaving your mark on the world. Some adults cringe when their children reach the teenage years, but I am so excited about this new chapter in your life and mine, and I look forward to every moment. You are my favorite daughter, and I love you so much! Happy 13th birthday!

Love,
Mom




Thursday, May 28, 2015

New experiences in Romania

We left Hungary this morning and headed to Romania, which is the first country where we have had an actual border stop and had to present our passports to the officials. It was an easy crossing, but there is always a bit of a pit in the stomach of a foreign travel when they must physically hand over that most precious of documents. On our drive, we finished up the audiobook of "Dracula," and it was so cool to be hearing descriptions of the country and looking out our windows to "see the movie version," as Jeff so eloquently put it.

The new experiences did not end at the border. Our home for the next couple of nights is a little more, um, rustic than any of the other places we have stayed on this trip, but definitely full of character, and we are thankful for the experience. We are in a tiny village, in a travel trailer (caravan), in someone's backyard. The property is beautiful, and the trailer does have electricity and running water in the sinks. But, alas, the water is not for drinking and there is no working toilet. Instead, there is an outdoor bathroom area, with a composting toilet and shower water that is warmed by the sun, when the sun is shining, which isn't today. We knew this was going to be the case before we decided to stay here, so it's not like we are surprised, but it is certainly a new experience for us. And, my boys were just pretty pleased to know that it is not only o.k. to pee outside, but required.

The kids spent the afternoon frolicking around the large property and feeling like they were in Heaven. They took a particular interest in catching millions of snails, which we learned are just past their season. Apparently, this is one of the few places in the world where snails are collected in the wild and then packaged up and sent to France as escargot.

The family is providing meals for us, and tonight they prepared an amazing chicken and dumpling soup and a casserole of chicken, potatoes and peas, which was served over a deliciously flavored cabbage dish, along with homemade bread made by the man, who we knew from previous contact to be a passionate baker. The chicken for the soup and casserole was given as payment to the woman from one of her students, to whom she walks an hour up into the mountains, after being dropped off by the school bus "where the pavement ends," to teach English to, regardless of the weather. For dessert, they served what they call "pie," which was custard and raisins, layered between something like pie crust. Every dish was so delicious! They said if we'd like to have milk for breakfast, we could let them know and they would ask their neighbor, who might be able to get some from his cow. I promise you, I am not making any of this up, and they are not putting us on.

After dinner, the 18-year-old son of the couple offered to take us down to the public spring (a quarter of a mile) to fill up bottles with drinking water. It was a lovely little walk, though I admit to being fairly shocked that this is an actual thing. I mean, who walks down to the spring to fill up water bottles with drinking water?!

our first Romanian home

the outdoor bathroom

one of our neighbors

a lovely view

right next door

enjoying berries from the garden

snail hunting

Max thought probably by the time we get to France,
these guys would be on a plate waiting for us.

collected from just one tree

smallest snail hunter

my caravan cuties, ready for dinner

chicken and dumplings

So much yum!

And for dessert...

The Alb River, on the way to the spring

watching the water bottle filling process

Ruth filling up our bottle in the spring

the first bridge to cross to get to the spring
(It's a little more rickety than it looks!)

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

"The Temple of Baths"

We are staying in Mako, Hungary, and just around the corner from our apartment is an amazing Hungarian thermal bath house, Hagymatikum ("The Temple of Baths"), where we spent the day today. I am not usually a fan of swimming pools because 1.) I don't enjoy getting my head wet 2.) I cannot voluntarily subject myself to that kind of cold, regardless of the outside temperature and 3.) I don't love the smell of chlorine. But, what I learned today is that if you increase the temperature of the water to that of a bath, remove the chlorine smell, keep it all at or below chest level and plop the whole thing down in a beautiful and architecturally interesting building, I actually kind of like it.

The Temple of Baths

gazebo outside the bath house

inside the gazebo

such a restful place

loving the warm pools

There were three large pools inside. This is the view looking across one of them.

The kids enjoyed the cave, with all it's lights and spraying water and echoes.

This is the view from the upper balcony.
That round pool in the middle was turned into a whirlpool every half hour,
and the swimmers could swirl around in it.
It was, without a doubt, the kids' favorite feature. 

looking up