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27 July 2013 / M

Day 1 – Arriving in Romania and driving toward the mountains

At the end of May/beginning of June B and I went to Romania for 9 days. It was an eye-opening experience and the people and places there moved me greatly. I thought I’d write a post about each day we were there and tell some of the stories from the trip.

The photos from this day start here.

We flew into and out of Bucharest, though we never visited the city itself. We planned to at first, but then decided there was too much we wanted to see on our tour of Transylvania. I would like to try to go back and visit the capitol one day. At the airport, we picked up the rental car which we’d use for the 9 days. I was nervous about driving in Romania thanks to things I’d read online about how crazy the drivers are there. We set off and about a minute later I was honked at for some inappropriate roundabout behavior, but things went ok after that and I managed to not get lost despite the traffic and some confusing construction. Soon we were on one of the country’s few freeways, heading west towards Pitesti where we’d turn off onto the Transfaragasan Highway, a road known for its twisty turns and amazing views once it gets into the mountains (a west-east line called the Faragas Mountains, which are essentially an extension of the Carpathians). The drive to Pitesti was fairly boring. I didn’t realize it’d be so flat in the entire area around Bucharest, so it was not until we were well off the freeway that things started getting prettier.

The freeway was fairly easy to navigate, but I did start experiencing common Romanian road hazards when we were on the smaller highway. There were horse-drawn carts on the road (these are still a common way for people from villages to get around). There were people walking or cycling on the side of the road. There were people parked in a lane of the road. There were bad potholes that you needed to avoid. There were stray dogs in the road who didn’t care that a car was coming. I don’t remember any specific incidents from the first day, but these things made driving a much more different experience than it is in the US or just about anywhere in Western Europe.

As we drove, we saw many roadside altars which ranged in design from simple wooden crosses with a bit of a wooden cover over them to elaborate little huts with a statue and paintings and icons. Most people in Romania are Orthodox Christians and the artwork had that Orthodox style to it, similar to what you see in Greece or Russia. One village we passed through though had a building that wasn’t quite a church, but definitely was too big to be an altar. We pulled over to take some photos.

Chapel along the road to Lake Vidraru

Before we took the photos though, we had a little encounter with a local woman. An elderly woman came up a side road towards us. She was dressed in the traditional way many older women dress with a scarf over her head and a long, dark skirt on. She had a plastic bag and some embroidered cloth in her hands. She had few teeth left in her mouth. I turned towards her to say hello and she took that as an invitation to come over and talk to us. In a language we could not understand at all. At first I tried to get her to understand that we don’t speak Romanian, but she didn’t seem to care. She talked on and on, making various gestures, pointing to the chapel, pointing to the town, pointing to the road she’d come up. I settled into just smiling and nodding. I realized eventually though that she wasn’t going to stop talking, so I needed a way to make an exit. I started walking slowly over to the car as if we were about to leave. Still talking, she followed us in that direction and then said goodbye and carried onwards towards the town. I wish I knew what she went on about.

We carried on up the highway, which was much more quiet now. Pretty much since we left the airport, we’d been counting all the stray dogs we saw along the road. There are thousands of feral dogs in Romania and there were some wandering around just about every highway and parking lot we came across. None of the dogs we saw seemed too scary, but we never pet them or fed them. I know counting the ones we saw is practically like counting the number of cars you see on a highway, but it was something to keep us occupied during the long drives in the car. And once we saw all these altars popping up along the road, we started counting them as well. So we kept a running tally, which B named the God vs Dog count. It wasn’t just counting. We also developed rules of what counted for each and what didn’t, and had discussions about whether a specific thing we saw should be included or not (“Is that dog a stray, or does he belong to those people?” “Is that altar too big?” “Does just a cross with no roof count?”). It helped pass the time in the car. I’m not sure if God or Dogs won.

A bit further up the road past the village with the chapel, it finally felt more hilly and the Arges River ran alongside the road. We soon arrived at Poenari Castle, a fortress high on a rocky tip that Vlad the Impaler once fought off Turks from. His wife also jumped from the fortress towards the river below when it looked like they were about to be captured. We had plans to hike up to it the next day.

Poenari Castle

Soon after the castle, the road entered a river valley and then climbed up to a tunnel, on the other side of which was Lake Vidraru. The lake was huge, but all artifical, only existing thanks to a high dam. The road immediately went over the top of the dam, where we got sprayed by mist coming from the water spilling over the dam.

Lake Vidraru dam

The views up the lake were gorgeous, with high, snow-topped mountains at the far end of it. We’d be driving up to the mountains the next day, but at the moment, I was very glad that just up the road was the hotel we had booked for the night. It had been an overwhelming day and I was exhausted.

31 October 2012 / M

Père Lachaise Cemetery

In honor of Halloween: a set of photos I took recently at the Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris. The atmosphere was perfect: it was overcast, the trees were gaining their fall colors, and crows were cawing from the trees. I couldn’t have asked for better.


















P1030088A carver adding a new name to a family gravestone. In the photo below, it looked like the entire monument was new; both the family name and a deceased’s name were marked out for engraving.








P1030102Note the stone to the left which is supporting, and has partly fused with, a tree trunk.





9 August 2012 / M

Swinging in Amsterdam

Photos from December when Mediamatic used their new location in a former factory for some major swinging on meters-long ropes.







IMG_3901Another building near Mediamatic


IMG_3900Abandoned bar





6 May 2012 / M

Photo Sunday: Leiden’s Hortus Botanicus

My birthday last year fell on a Saturday with some pretty decent weather, so I decided to spend the afternoon at the Hortus Botanicus (botanic garden) in Leiden. The fall colors were setting in and it was fairly quiet in the gardens, making it a good time to visit.


Venus flytrapsThere was a large display of many different carnivorous plants which were fun to look at


Carnivorous plants


Hortus Botanicus LeidenI was thrilled to be another year older


In the greenhousesGiant ferns in one of the greenhouses. I’m not sure if the hazy spot at the middle of the photo is a ghost, or perhaps just a result of the problem I had with steam forming on my lens because of the humidity in the greenhouse


Japanese GardenThe Japanese garden


Hortus Botanicus



Next door to the Hortus, the Sterrenwacht (astronomical observatory) had its doors open in honor of reopening after major renovations. We popped in there and had a look around.


View from the SterrenwachtView from the top of the observatory


View from the SterrenwachtTrees in the botanic garden, Pieterskerk, and city hall


Sunset and a small observatory


Pushing the observatory domeB pushing one of the small observatory domes around

17 April 2012 / M

Adventures in Austin

During our trip to Austin we ended up having a day of quirk visiting the toy store, Toy Joy, and the backyard trash creation, the Cathedral of Junk. Below are a few photos from each (more toys here and more junk here).

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9 April 2012 / M

June trip: Austin

Last June I went to the US for a bit more than two weeks. The main purpose of the trip was to attend a family reunion in Oklahoma. To make the trip more interesting, I also visited Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota and Austin, Texas. I posted about Minnesota and Oklahoma earlier. Now to return to the middle part of the trip: Austin. The full set of photos are here.

Visiting Austin marked my first time to Texas. I was a bit intimidated about being a liberal Oregonian/resident of Europe entering Lone Star Bush country, but Austin doesn’t quite fit into that mentality. It’s like Portland but with less rain, really. It’s full of hipsters and funky shops and loads of food carts. But despite the similarities, it had a definite Texan feel that distinguished it from Portland. B and I had a great time there, it was a total summer vacation of sitting outside, going swimming, or getting ice cream late at night; cooling off in watering holes; and enjoying BBQ and lemonade. Some photos of where we hung out…
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6 March 2012 / M

Photo Sunday: Fall in Leiden

Well, ok, Photo Tuesday… I’ve not been posting regularly on Sunday for the last few weeks, so I can cheat and not actually post on Sunday. In this post: photos from two sunny days last fall.

Leidse Hout swingsSwinging B


Leidse Hout TheehuisA very empty, quiet Leidse Hout Theehuis with…


Bunny on the theehuis roof…a bunny on the roof! He wasn’t supposed to be up there and we got to watch four people running around for 10-15 minutes trying to catch him.


Fall day along the SingelAlong the Singel


Tijdloos wedding window displayVintage wedding dress displayed in the window of the shop Tijdloos. They always have wonderful, classy window displays.


Hartebrugkerk/CoeliekerkHartebrugkerk/Coeliekerk with an amazingly blue sky


Birdcage in Plantsoen parkIn the Plantsoen park along the Singel there are a couple of large birdcages. Some photos of the birds there…


Birdcage in Plantsoen park


Birdcage in Plantsoen park


Sunset along the SingelSetting sun

20 February 2012 / M

February freeze

The full set of photos are here.

All signs may be pointing towards global warming, and they may not make winters like they used to, but each of the last 4 winters have been remarkable in one way or another in terms of ice or snow. Last winter, we got probably the most accumulation of snow I’ve ever seen here, eventually up to about 8 inches (hey, it’s a lot for us), and December had the lowest average temperature in decades: an average high of -1.1C. It was an intense month, but then January and February were tame and snowless. The previous winter, 2009-2010, we were hit by frequent snowstorms. Between December and mid-February, it snowed more times than I could count and instead of melting away the next day, it usually stuck around for awhile due to cold temperatures. In 2008-2009, things froze up enough to allow a fair bit of natural ice skating for the first time since I’d moved here. Some kids didn’t know how to get around on the ice since they’d never had the chance to skate outdoors in their lifetimes. Unfortunately, I missed out on going to canals or lakes that were frozen enough to walk on and had to settle for looking at photos others had taken of walking or skating on the ice.

This winter was not promising to be anything but depressingly disappointing. For two months it was exactly the weather I hate most: wet and windy. Ok, it was also rather mild, but the short days that were so gray the sun may as well have not even bothered to try to shine on us were getting to me, and I’m from Oregon. I was also disappointed for B who just missed all the snow we got last winter and I thought it wasn’t fair that now, his first full winter here, it was being utterly not winter-like. But then there was a sign of change. It was going to get cold, quite a bit colder than we’d been used to these recent months, and it seemed like it might stay that way for awhile. This could be interesting.

In the end, it was the strongest cold snap I’ve experienced in the Netherlands. Nearly two weeks of sub-zero temperatures and low temperatures that were very low indeed. It was a hard adjustment, not only to the cold, but early on there was a strong east wind that bit at your face. In the five minutes it takes me to walk from the train station to my work, my legs went numb (I admit jeans are not the best clothing to wear in such weather). The Dutch meteorological bureau started posting, along with their usual map of current temperatures on their website, a map showing what the temps were with the wind chill. Colors used: deep blues and purples, like frostbitten fingers and toes.

But so far we were only freezing every time we stepped outside. Nothing interesting was going on. It hadn’t snowed. The canals didn’t seem to be freezing at all, perhaps because the wind was too strong and pushed around the water too much. But after a few days some snow finally arrived, along with the requisite freakout that happens as soon as you seen a flake fall here (as I heard a guy say to a friend on the train that morning, as a sprinkling of snowflakes came down that was so slow you could count them: “Oh no, a flake! We can’t go any further!”).  By that afternoon, the trains stopped, the freeways turned to parking lots, people left work early knowing it would take hours to get home. But at least it looked pretty and provided some distraction on a Friday afternoon. The following day, bright and sunny, was perfect for some sledding on the hill of the Burcht in Leiden.

Sledding at the Burcht

Sledding at the Burcht

Sledding at the Burcht

Sledding at the Burcht

During the next week though, the ice dominated. The canals finally iced over and the ice grew. I saw a photo of people skating on the canals in Amsterdam, just like the good old days, an occurrence that people often said wasn’t possible any more in the warm inner city. It was exciting. And if people were on the ice in Amsterdam, could we do the same in Leiden? I’d seen the canals in the center of Leiden get mighty frosty, but never icy enough to hold a person. But skaters were being spotted around town. And by midweek, B and I decided we had to go out on the ice while we could. We didn’t have skates — finding skates anywhere was nearly impossible, they were being snatched up as soon as they arrived in stores — but no matter, we could go sliding around. We went out one evening after dinner, on a clear night with the full moon beaming down. We went to a canal not far from us and I slid off the canal edge onto the ice and shuffled out to the middle. It was awesome to be standing in the center of the canal.

Frozen canal and full moon

We followed voices to where the center of the action was: the wide area where the Oude and Nieuwe Rijn meet. Around a dozen skaters were buzzing around, plus the cafe at that point, Annie’s, had put a few tables out on the ice.

Ice cafe

Everything was still very cold and icy that weekend, but a thaw was in the forecast, so it was the perfect last chance to do as much skating as could be done and to enjoy this rare state while it was with us. On that Saturday, the usual 20 minute walk to the train station turned into a 2 hour dawdle as I took photos and we went out on the ice again, this time along the Galgewater. Once we got to the bridge over the water on the Prinsessekade, and we faced the scene below, looking like an old Dutch painting.

Enjoying the ice

We shuffled out amongst the skaters and non-skaters enjoying the wintery day.

Frozen canal and De Put windmill

Walking the dog on the ice

Skating with baby buggy

There was even a proper koek en zopie stand, the way it should be, keeping the people out there warm with hot chocolate, gluhwein, and soup.

Koek en zopie stand

The next day was meant to be the end of the two-week freeze. It was amazing how quickly I’d become ok with -8 degrees as a high. Far from being sick of the cold, I didn’t want to go back to rainy blehness. Though we didn’t originally plan to head out that afternoon, we needed to make a visit to the V&D and afterwards we could not pass up having a warm drink at one of the tables Einstein’s had set up on the frozen canal.

Having drinks on the ice

Sure, my bum was frozen numb thanks to the cold passing above and below me, and the tea I had barely made a dent in the cold I felt, but it was great to sit out there. A steady stream of people skated past. Some skaters stopped and had a break at the cafe, sitting at the table in their skates. A couple of guys at the table next to us smoked pipes. My amazement went from the poor girl who had to take orders out there, whose fingers were red from the cold, to the servers wearing only t-shirts who came out with the drinks.

Going to work the next day there was the sad discovery of the canals going wet and slushy thanks to some rain. Soon it was back to the mild and wet weather we’d already had so much, making the wintery interlude feel distant and unreal.

5 February 2012 / M

Photo Sunday: Sunday Market at the Westerpark

From the frozen middle of winter, I’m jumping back a few months to when summer finally showed up briefly during the first weekend in October. Following on somewhat from last Sunday’s post, today’s photos were taken the same weekend at the Sunday Market in the Westerpark in Amsterdam (this was the day we escaped the 3 October insanity). It was a lovely day, perfect for browsing the market and then plopping in the grass for awhile to soak up the sun.

Cuba ManA guy bringing a Caribbean feel to the market at a mojito stand. The bananas aren’t real bananas, but maracas.


DancingA mom dancing with her daughter to the Caribbean music


WesterparkB lounging on the grass


Amsterdam Centraal Station in setting sunAmsterdam Centraal in the setting sun

29 January 2012 / M

Photo Sunday: Leidens Ontzet 2011

Leidens Ontzet, aka 3 October, is Leiden’s big, annual city festival. It is to celebrate the end of a seige of the city by the Spanish in 1574 and is commemorated in a number of ways. It is rich with traditions: parades, reenactments, a hutspot meal, and, the top of them all, the handing out of haring en wittebrood (herring and white bread). Hutspot is served because some that was found abandoned in a kettle outside of Leiden was a sign that the seige was over, and the herring and bread was what was fed to the starving citizens who had been holed up within the city walls.

This was definitely the most I’ve experienced the festival since living in Leiden, due to living in the center now. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but what I got was a 4-day onslaught of drunken crowds, music, and general madness. Those things may apply to most 3 October celebrations, but I think it was all a bit ramped up this year. One thing was the timing. The 3rd was on a Monday, so most bars decided to get things started on Friday. The bar across the street from us was no exception and never seemed to close for those 4 days. Every night music was blasting till 5 or 6 in the morning. Our view was blocked by a temporary cover they put up spanning the street. When we came home, we had to squeeze past patrons of the bar who greeted us with helpful statements like “you live here? Hope you’ll be able to sleep tonight!” After a couple of evenings of putting up with the pounding music from across the street, we fled to Amsterdam for a day to get some peace and quiet.

Then there was the coinicidence of the weather. After the worst summer in decades, the sun decided to show itself all that weekend. Instead of the miserable, gray, wet fall weather that always seemed to be the curse of 3 October celebrations in the years I’ve lived here so far, this year we were treated to a taste of the summer we didn’t have. Everyone was out in t-shirts and shorts and skirts. People weren’t driven indoors by the rain. The party atmosphere only increased.

It was an… interesting time. Perhaps things will be a bit less insane this year, but we might want to look into a weekend away this time.

Photos below and more on Flickr.
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