Week 132 October 8, 2016, 2.5 years!

This week we had unlocked wifi and a refrigerator in our accommodation in Bitola,
Macedonia, but no kitchen. So, we ate many of our noon and evening meals at the nearby restaurant, Kus Kus – said like Cous Cous but their logo looks like Kys Kys, where we also had secure wifi. We holed up there with our devices and the internet for some of our time, to do planning for some of the specific elements of our next few months. Our journey takes work, requiring skills of both vision and attention to detail. And, woo hoo! We marked yet another new milestone this week: two and a half years since we left home. So far in that time Loren and I have managed well together with few disagreements and innumerable precious experiences that bless us with fabulous memories to savor for the rest of our lives.
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The International Festival of Classical Music was held in Bitola this week and we were there for the opening and second nights. A wonderful violinist, accompanied by an equally talented pianist, from Kazakhstan thoroughly entertained us, including – if we understood correctly, four encores. It has had my brain trying to come up with words to share it. For example, one’s forefinger plucking and bow flying over and over her strings, while another one’s fingers gaily tripped and pounded on keys, Ajmah – said Aiman, and Capa – Sara, respectively kept our rapt attention for two non-stop hours at their 25th Jubilee opening.
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The next evening Phta – Rita a highly gifted Serbian pianist played some of the fastest finger movements and most energetic fortissimo performance pieces that we have ever witnessed. While these three performers were female, there are also male artists scheduled for later in the Festival.
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A highlight this week too was taking a taxi to visit Heraclea Lyncestis – a large site, like a complete neighborhood, of Roman ruins. You could see how some structures were built on top of older Grecian ruins. The mosaic floor tiles were especially well preserved. We walked back to our AirBnB from there for a little exercise.
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The next day we rode a bus to Gevgelija through a vast stretch of dramatic tree covered mountains, cut deeply through by a river running alongside our road. This brought us close to the border of Greece and near to Thessaloniki, which will be our first Greek destination of this journey. Gevgelija, Macedonia, is a town of 18,000 people, a fine place to hang around for a couple of nights, which we must do to remain out of the Schengen area for the last of our 90 days visa restriction. Here is the bus sign for our trip from Bitola – the first listed name to Gevgelija the last listed name. Some of the vowels look familiar, and a few consonants, of the 30 character Cyrillic alphabet.
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As we leave behind the Balkan Peninsula, I can say that the people we met, the things we did, and the places we saw, gave us new treasured impressions. From two weeks in Croatia, a few days in Bosnia and Herzegovina, many in Montenegro, over two weeks in Macedonia, and part of a day in Albania, once again we have hopes to return, both to these nations as well as the ones we missed – Slovenia, Serbia, and Kosovo. Albania was the only country that was not part of the former Yugoslavia, which I learned means, “The Land of the South Slavs.” And, like parts of Romania, what little we did see reminded us of earlier times in the USA, coupled with unmistakable 21st century innovation. We heard more than a few nostalgic reflections on Socialism while we were here, hearing this sentiment the most: “Everyone had a house and everyone had a car.”
Though we knew nothing of the Slavic languages, nor could we read the signs written in Cyrillic, we were still warmly welcomed and well cared for. I must mention that we have had some of our best belly laughs from hearing our offline navigation app pronounce the names of the local streets as we find our way walking about! We have appreciated the thriving farmers’ markets, and, as in Italy, eating only foods that are in season. We have enjoyed hearing mostly mellow tunes from the USA of the 70’s and 80’s, many with covers by local artists, though some current and older tunes are aired too. I was sorry to see the number of cigarette smokers and smell some smoke inside airy restaurants. I was also quite impressed to see the many solar powered water heaters on buildings’ roofs.
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Now, we are in Greece, to celebrate another milestone – the 25th Anniversary of our Honeymoon! When Loren and I were dating and talked about future travel goals, I let him know of my dream that if I ever visited Europe I had promised myself that I would visit Greece first. This was because Sister Coldrick, who taught my first college class – Western Civilization – had taught it so well that not only did I decide to pursue further  studies for a degree, I also dreamed that I would see Greece in person if I could.
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And Loren honored me with our honeymoon there. In 1991, we heeded the sage advice to wait until late in September to visit, since earlier in the month – right after our wedding – would still be quite hot. So, we honeymooned in Greece the last week of September and the first week of October. Now, twenty-five years later, it was such a coincidence that our Schengen visa had expired just in time for us to be in Greece again during the first week of October for this special occasion. We spent our first two nights on the mainland, in Thessaloniki, which is the second largest city in Greece. For some reason it reminded me of being in Manhattan, then I noticed a sign for a club named Manhattan! This city also has Roman ruins and is a port city. We holed up some in Mikel’s coffee shop with wifi while we were here, for more planning work.
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Then we took a short flight to the island of Crete, the largest Greek island, and fifth largest island in the Mediterranean – after Sicily, Sardinia, Cyprus, and Corsica. Crete too has been on my wish list to see forever, or at least ever since taking Sister Coldrick’s Western Civilization class in 1979.
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We are now in Chania pronounced HAH-knee-ah, where, so far, we have taken a full day tour to see a knife maker’s shop which introduced us to how the steel blades and then the handles are made, taste olive oil at a very high tech production facility, and, taste wines at a winery with a friendly cat.
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We also saw a 3,000 year old olive tree, and, enjoyed a traditional lunch prepared by our hostess Irini in a village in the mountains. Her husband Dimitri offered traditionally numerous refills of our glasses of homemade wine of golden brown color, sweet tasting like sherry, and, the famous apertif, Raki.
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We finished the day with a drive through one of the steep gorges on this western side of the island.
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We will head to Heraklion, also on Crete, later this week.
PLEASE NOTE: While this week we have had flaky internet coverage, we may not have any service at all in the next several weeks. Please visit here again for our next post which we will make when we can.

 

Week 131 October 1, 2016

This week, still on Lake Ohrid, Macedonia, we rented bicycles one day. We rode from the Old Town of Ohrid, around part of the beautiful clear deep blue lake, through Struga to Kalishta, to our destination to see a cave church. We went partway into the dark interior, but it was hard to capture a photo of the facade. It was unmistakably an autumn day of bright sun with a chilled wind indicating summer is all but over. We hired friendly Joko and his boat to ride us back to Ohrid, and enjoyed seeing the sunset together with him.
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What we notice now – and often have a taste of thanks to Loren’s daring filching – are the ripe fruits of many laden grape vines, and apple and fig trees.
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Our AirBnB was right next to the lake where we enjoyed most of our meals on the patio. A plethora of birds entertained us, flitting from boat to shore, preening and sunning. At this time of year, swans teach their cygnets to practicing flying in preparation to migrate for the winter.
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In looking over a few tourist brochures, I learned that Constantine Miladinov’s Poem, Longing for the South is read at the start of each annual Poetry Festival that is held in Strega. I also was moved by this quote:
“Senses are gates of our souls.”
We had a memorable day tour to see parts of the lake with Georgi, our AirBnB host. He stopped for us to take photos, to see the Museum of Bones – a recreated historic village, the National Park Galicica with St Naum Springs – a water source of the lake, and, the Monastery of SvNaum– St Naum, with its resident peacocks.
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Then we crossed the border into Albania. Georgi drove us to Korce, before stopping for lamb chops and a glass of Kosac, which is also the name of a local Albanian birra – beer.
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The restaurant where we ate has a collection of books and one jumped out at me about the life of Stiv Xhobs – Steve Jobs. At the back of the book, the only part printed in English, was his Commencement Address to the Stanford University graduating class of 2005. It was good to be reminded again of his reflections that I had read some years ago.
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As we have seen in many places there are numerous cats out and about. Recently though we have also seen many dogs on the loose. It is entertaining to observe their behaviors – lying lazily in the sun, striking up friendships with each other, trotting along as if they have important engagements to attend. One little pair scampering towards me were so enamored with nosing each other side by side as they approached that they did not see me and ran into my leg. One of them appeared to be so baffled, as if to say, “What just happened here?” It was quite amusing. One little one actually joined us, then guided us, from a lake edge trail up through myriad paths to the fortress we intended to visit. It made sure that we entered the gate safely and waited as we paid, then merrily trotted on down the hill.
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We had a pleasant morning walk at Lake Ohrid before we left by bus to travel to Bitola, then by taxi to Di Hovo. At our Di Hovo Villa we met a young couple on holiday. She is from Moscow and lives half the year in Berlin, while he is from The Netherlands, worked in Moscow where they met, and currently lives in Berlin. We had a long conversation over a leisurely breakfast then went on a hike together to see a creek and waterfalls. The next day we enjoyed a hike to a monastery together. It is always delightful to  find kindred souls to share some travel experiences and explore new places together.
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Now, traveling again by taxi we have arrived in the nearby city of Bitola. We look forward to attending a piano concert here this evening!
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PLEASE NOTE: While this week we have internet coverage, we may not always have service in the next few weeks. Please check back here, I will share my weekly post when and as often as I can.

Week 130 September 24, 2016

From Kotor Bay, Montenegro where we were at the beginning of this week, Loren and I took a day tour to the Ostrog Monastery of the Orthodox religion. It is built into a cliff high up on a rocky mountain. Many faithful make pilgrimages here, third in number only to sites in Moscow and Greece. It was quite foggy or overcast on the drive there so we could not see the monastery. Before we left the fog had lifted and we could still make it out on the distant mountain that was still somewhat shrouded at the top.
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Montenegro has much rugged terrain, with our trip back from the monastery making for fabulous views from our touring van, despite the clouds – of towns, vistas, vegetation, and waters. We were enthralled by the bay’s vast symmetric-like terrain, perhaps even more stunning for the shadowy reflections.
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We took a second hike up to the fortress that zig-zags upwards and downwards in dribs and drabs. We were on a less used trail this time, so had it nearly to ourselves.
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Kotor we learned, like Split and Dubrovnik in Croatia, is visited by behemoth cruise ships each day, meaning numerous people poke around the towns during the daytime. The size of the bay dwarfs each vessel, looking like a toy boat in a bathtub from the mountainside.
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One afternoon Loren and I $plurged on a delicious and leisurely lunch at Restoran Galion on the harbor. Loren insisted on waiting for a table to be available next to the water instead of taking the first one we were offered. That was a perfect idea for a more delightful exerience of the fabulous ambiance and exquisite food. We also took the suggestions of our Monastery tour guide and shared a glass of Alexadriovich Trium – a white wine, and a small bottle of Procordet – a red.
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The next day poured rain on and off and on again all day. Late in the afternoon we bade farewell to Montenegro when we boarded an overnight bus to Skopje – said Scope-yeh, Makadonia – Macedonia, or, officially, FYROM – the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. On the map Loren noticed that our route would pass through Kosovo and Albania while we were on the bus. But, the drivers held onto our passports and in the pitch dark, border crossings were indistinguishable from anything else.
We found ourselves transferring buses at 5am in a light rain. I want to remember that people who I do not know are not strangers but potential friends, even in foreign lands. An example is when a woman in a black triangular scarf with gray hair peeking out visibly from beneath it, who had boarded the second bus before us, gestured me to two available seats near her. Even though we were spoke different languages and were dressed differently, she had noticed from the first bus that I was traveling with a partner and helped me find what I needed in that moment. With a grateful smile I nodded my thanks and her smile in return was a welcome gift. I am sure if we had not had the language barrier that we would have had a friendly conversation. That second bus was just a little more comfortable to sleep in just a little bit better.
Here is the latest set of Haiku poetry that I wrote before we arrived in Macedonia:
Sounds through the Windows of Three
   Three-Story Walk-ups in the Balkans
by Claire Adalyn Wright
Split, Croatia:
wee hour male chants –
just like joyful football* fans’
singing of anthems
Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina:
street kids’ loud laughing,
destitute parents’ scoldings
subsequent crying
Kotor, Montenegro:
young adults’ gleeful
friendly, nearly flirtatious
innocent banter
*European football – what Americans call soccer
After a thorough introduction with a local map of the sights to visit in Skopje from our AirBnB host, then a morning nap, we visited the modern City Center. The many statues, Stone Bridge, Old Town, the Bazar, and its microbrewery beckoned. Here we paid more for two small beers and a plate of zucchini chips than we had spent on our full lunch – a salad, plate of cheese fries, dish of veal livers, a large beer and a serving of baklava, at a restaurant in our AirBnB neighborhood. Any wonder I am still carrying those extra pounds and more since I started complaining about them last fall?
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We finished our day by seeing the Memorial House of Mother Teresa in her native Skopje, which displays memorabilia of numerous important aspects of her life.
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We then spent another day in Skopje, first visiting at the free City Museum, where they tell the story of the utterly devastating earthquake that happened here in 1963. The spelling in Cyrillic of Museum almost looks like the name Musej that we were already familiar with from Croatia. Then, we headed for the bus to take us up the steep hill on the outskirts of town. We were befriended by a woman who was waiting for the same bus – which was not one of the other numbered ones that frequently kept arriving. She spoke little English, so enlisted the help of younger people around who were also waiting, to help us understand that our bus would arrive in 20 minutes. It was closer to 45 minutes though, and in that time we learned that she has a sister living in Washington state, and that her name is Ole – Olive. Together we rode half way up the hill in our bus.
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Then Ole invited us – using sign language, to visit the church there with her, where there were festivities to celebrate a holiday. We later learned that this was the annual Little Mother Mary Day. Big Mother Mary Day is celebrated every August 15 or 20, and, on a liturgical calendar, nearly every day is a religious holiday. Ole made sure that we each had a bowl of soup and a drink while we enjoyed the traditional circle dancing of some parishioners to traditional pieces that several musicians played. We returned the favor by inviting Ole to join us on the cable car to the top of the hill to see the Eiffel-Tower-style large cross at the top. On the bus ride back, she again requested others’ help to be sure we knew that she had enjoyed a lovely time with us. We conveyed similar sentiments.
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In our Skopje neighborhood, people park their cars on the sidewalks because the streets are not wide enough to park on both sides and allow for a car to drive between them – even given their small car models. But, the result is that pedestrians must walk in the street. I am not sure what the right answer is to this problem.
We often meet interesting travelers, and at this AirBnB were two more: two young men from Los Angeles, originally from Argentina and Mexico. The most interesting thing is that the Argentinian – at 35 years old – will be starting to study Polish academically in Poland this October. I am impressed with him knowing and following his passion.
Our last full day in Skopje was spent taking another bus up a hill to see Macedonian Village, a newly developed resort meant to preserve the traditional arts. We had another wonderful lunch of five traditional foods here. Then we hiked the two and a half hours back down to town.
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Now we have traveled by bus once again to stay a few nights at Lake Ohrid, Macedonia. Ours is the one on the left in the map below. The other is Lake Prespa. I am excited that we actually might be able to visit Albania during the daytime as opposed to an overnight passthrough. Albania claims nearly half this lake – just like how Lake Tahoe in California is nearly half claimed by Nevada. Lake Prespa is similarly nearly half located in Macedonia while the other half is split between Albania and Greece. Our AirBnB host offers day trip driving tours, and a couple of his routes include a visit to Albania… hmm.
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PLEASE NOTE: While now we have viable internet service we may not in the next few weeks. Please visit here again, I will make my weekly post when possible.

 

Week 129 September 17, 2016

We were still in Mostar of Bosnia and Herzegovina at the beginning of this week, where we walked to the far side of Stari Most – Old Bridge and saw the men who jump in a “Cliff Dive” after taking a total collection of 25Euro from the tourists. One of our AirBnB hostesses had sketched a rendition of it beforehand. We also found the Kriva Cuprija – Mini Crooked Bridge, nearby, and, a potent sign that I found very difficult to get a good photo but still felt it important to share: “DON’T FORGET, BUT DO FORGIVE, FOREVER.”

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Our AirBnB was located across the street from one of several mosques in Mostar. While we knew the muezzin would call the faithful five times a day – which time varies due to changes in sunrise and sunset, the loud singsong chanting often felt startling, even intrusive, since we were so close. The strange thing is, once the call ended, which sometimes felt abrupt and unexpected – probably because I do not understand the Arabic, I found myself missing it, wishing it had lasted longer. Finally, after spending a period of time hearing the calls to prayer in parts of southeast Africa, Morocco and now Bosnia and Herzegovina, I looked up the words and followed along as they were called. Then I felt more settled when the call finished.
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On Sunday, September 11 – the 15th anniversary of the tragic events in New York City, Washington D.C., and Pennsylvania, Loren and I rode an early bus back to Croatia for two memorable nights in the impressive-by-day, romantic-by-night, Dubrovnik. On our first of just two evenings here, and of a sober nature fitting to help honor 9/11, we first visited the War Photos Limited museum in Old Town, which is a walled citadel. This musej – museum, hosts rotating exhibits from various photographers which we were interested in seeing after visiting a smaller War Photos Exhibition in Mostar. We both came away sad from seeing more of what people in war ravaged parts of the world experience during the violence, and in their attempts for survival. Of course we had already had a sense of that from years of media reports…
For the first photo below, the photographer’s write-up explained: “1995 near Kljuc, BIH [Bosnia and Herzegovina] – A Bosniak soldier cries after arriving to his home village, 3 years early [sic] he had hid in the forest and watched his family and the rest of the village executed by Bosnian Serb forces. Photo @ Emmanuel Ortiz.” This now brings tears to my eyes. The third, “Iraq November 2015 – On his return home a man paints over the words ‘Islamic State’ on the front gate to his property in Sinjar.” I apologize, the heading for this one had probably named the photographer but I neglected to note it.
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To have witnessed  the aftereffects firsthand in Mostar — as I mentioned last week – extensive cemeteries, relentless begging by a few men, women and children… this amid so many bombed and burned out shells of buildings even over 20 years later now, some with trees and other greenery overtaking the insides of the shells of what used to be homes or businesses — was and still is heart wrenching. I wonder – is this because so many of the buildings were owned by those who were killed or displaced, never to return to reclaim them? Parts of Mostar thrive – we had lovely accommodations with two young, intelligent, talented women who are devoted to remain in their city. We ate delicious food, met other wonderful people, saw beautiful sights… But, the heaviness of the pain and loss that I sensed there continues to tug at my soul.
Afterward this photo display, we lifted our spirits a little with a Chamber Duo of flute and classical guitar in a small church. Just when might the world learn to make more instruments like these for posterity and peace, instead of weapons for devastation and destruction? When Loren and I returned to our sobe – room, I was inspired to read that the motto of the old Dubrovnik Republic is, “Non bene pro toto libertas venditur auro,” which is Latin, meaning: “Freedom (or Liberty) is not sold for all the gold in the world.” I also conjured up the vague memory of a song from my childhood to the tune of Taps: “Day is done, gone the sun; From the lakes, from the hills, from the sky; All is well, safely rest; Love [my change] is nigh.” Sigh.
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The next day, we had a wonderful time seeing our friend, a Unitarian seminarian who we first met in Segesvar, Romania, and his travel buddies who are also visiting here in Dubrovnik! It only required a little work to match our schedules, which was worth it. We went to Banje Beach together, walked the 2 kilometers of many stone steps of the medieval walls for great views, and, ended our time together toasting coffee mugs. Loren and I finished our day in Old Town enjoying a talented duo perform for what seemed like hours. And, now I better understand why Dubrovnik is called, “Pearl of the Adriatic.”
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On Loren’s and my early morning walk to the bus station, it dawned on me that a whole segment of tourism has sprung up around Game of Thrones sightseeing. Our first inkling of the trend was in Ireland, and we have since encountered more offerings of it in Morocco, through Croatia, and in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Now we are in Kotor, Montenegro – Black Mountain in Italian, renamed by the Venetians from its original name. What other than Crna Gora? Black Mountain in Montenegrin, of course. Here, perchance, they speak some Italian! We are staying on Stari Grad – Old Town, street, within the old city walls. 
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So far here we have hiked the hour up 1000 stone steps to the extensive old fortress that shines with a bright yellow glow over the citadel walls and nearby harbor at night.
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Montenegro uses the more familiar Euro money system, after we learned to change from the Romanian Lei, Croatian Kuna, and, Bosnian and Herzegovinian Mark currencies. One nice thing is that the words Dobar dan – for Greetings, Zivjeli – Cheers, Hvala – Thanks, Molim – said mow-leem for Please/you’re welcome, and, Ciao – Bye, that we first learned in Croatia have been consistent across Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro too. What we notice here is the Cyrillic alphabet is used, making sign reading much more challenging… We enjoyed several conversations with the delightful tour office staffer. From her we rented bicycles for a 40 kilometer – nearly 25 mile, ride around the series of inlets and bays tucked back in behind the Mediterranean waters of Kotor Bay.
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This extensive Buka – Bay, area is considered fjord-like. While there have been a couple of evenings of fierce thunder and lightning, we have had mainly good – even stunning, weather during the days. Many times we have heard a song bird that has a similar trill to my favorite — the Canyon Wren — that serenaded Loren and me many times many years ago in the US southwest. I also delighted in the dainty lavender colored blossoms, cats everywhere, blue skies, warm sun, a bit of a breeze… Ahh.
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I will conclude this week with some rambling thoughts and learnings: I recently heard that the number of Eastern European countries is 25. I tested myself and came up with the correct names of 21 of them, and made up 4 others that were not right, off the top of my head. Loren accurately named 18, and made up one, before tiring of the game. Then, I learned that the number is actually open to debate – more commonly people consider it to be 21! The interesting thing is how a couple of months ago I would have been straining my brain to, perhaps, come up with half of them.
Then, I challenged myself to name the 53 countries of Africa – again, I later learned that there are 54. I had to think a while and only came up with 30… I believe that before last fall I could not have even named ten with confidence, so I am proud of knowing at least this many now. Loren won this time – he named 32. Now I have a list of the 54 countries. It is just 4 more than the number of states in the USA, but somehow feels overwhelming to learn where all these 54 countries are on the continent of Africa. Ok, it just takes time to learn something new, and for me, travel helps a lot.
This is similar to when, before I moved to California, I only understood the geography of the eastern states of the USA. Now I also have a better sense of the layout of the western states, from travel and from living in closer proximity. I am fairly well versed now at naming all 50 of the US states. How about you? Now I have hope for my learning the African countries yet.
All this led me to wonder how many countries are there in the world? I learned that the number varies, depending on whether or not you include some areas in dispute – the Palestine State for one, the Western Sahara for another, or, countries seeking freedom or independence from occupation – namely Greenland, Kosovo, Taiwan, and Tibet, and, the constituent countries of England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. Based on my little research – I am claiming there are 197. Many are in Asia. Loren likes to call that area, “The Next Segment of our Journey.” We will see what materializes in time. We are not yet even half of the way around the world from home… This list will take some time for me to memorize, and will likely change as world events continue to unfold.
PLEASE NOTE: This week we had limited internet coverage, so I had to upload my photos after the original post. As we may not have viable service over the next three months, please visit this site again, I will share weekly posts when and as often as I can.

 

 

Week 128 September 10, 2016

Dear Sweet Family and Friends, it is awesome when Loren and I hear from you, to catch up in what ways we can while we are journeying. Finding your comments on our blog is always a gift as they reinforce parts of our journey’s journal. We also treasure your emails. Thank you for keeping in touch!
One day this week while still in Croatia we hiked 6 kilometers round trip to the river near Plitvice Lakes to swim, as no swimming is allowed in the NP anymore. Entrance 1 of the park was just 500 meters from where we were staying. Another day I hiked a good part of the park route marked “K,” while Loren and our AirBnB host’s son hiked a longer and more strenuous trail. My delight was with the many ducks, aside from witnessing more outstanding beauty in nature. Last week Loren and I had hiked route “A” and some of route “F.” The trails are well marked, and, an easy to read karta – map, that we bought for 20 Kuna – about 3USD, helped.
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This week too we celebrated Loren’s birthday! It was a big one – he is now eligible to collect the first level of Social Security, if he decides to do so. Applying for Medicare – should it look the same in three years time – is on the horizon. We enjoyed a bottle of local red wine, a gift that our AirBnB host in Split had sent us away with last week to help us celebrate. We splurged on a dinner special-for-two of our first young goat meat at the family restaurant where we had celebrated our anniversary last week. This dish was not available to us on that evening because it requires advance ordering, as it takes two hours to cook. Both nights we had complementary snifters of Rakia – plum brandy, which went down more smoothly for me this night, being the 2nd time…
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We felt fortunate that we had had three gorgeous days of hiking in Plitvicka Jezera Nacionalni Park. Our last full day in the area turned out as predicted: completely rainy. Loren learned from our AirBnB host’s son that the area is a rain forest, even though in winter it snows and freezes. So, we made our last day a rest day.
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We then headed by bus to Split overnight, back to our same lovely host in her comfortable AirBnB. Then, we split Split, to travel by daytime bus to Mostar in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Dalmatian coast south of Mostar reminded us of Big Sur, except for the nearby islands. There was an incredibly long line of cars and campers at border control. Our bus driver bypassed them all – fortunately the only car coming in the opposite direction pulled over for us! We arrived to where the immigration officers board the buses, much more quickly had he not jumped the line, otherwise our passport verification wait time would have been longer than some we had experienced in Africa.
We are now settled in our Mostar AirBnB with delightful sisters as our hosts, both college students. We treated them to lunch and they introduced us to their arts. One sister has much talent in debate and drawing, the other is a gifted singer who shared with us Sevdalinka Emina, a traditional Bosnian folk song of yearning. It tells a touching story of a beautiful woman in a garden who is unmoved by her admirer’s greeting in her task of watering of the roses. Our hostesses’ great-grandmother is famous for writing the lyrics to a version that was made popular by a local musically talented doctor. As if that were not already a special story, this sister was chosen by audition at 10 years of age to sing this song at the celebration of the grand re-opening of the Old Bridge in 2004. It had had to be rebuilt – so well that it looks original – after being demolished in the civil war.
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On the topic of the war which is hard to avoid seeing the lasting effects of and talking about while walking around town, we came across a local park that had had to be converted for use as a cemetery. Headstone after headstone records the death year: 1993. We also visited the War Photos Exhibition on permanent display at the Old Bridge. 
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Then, while on a one day tour, we finished the day at “Sniper Tower,” a formerly attractive, modern glass building where mercenary gunmen had stationed themselves. Around the perimeter are still chunks, chips and shards of plate glass fragments. 
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The building, like so many others 20 years later, is simply a multistoried mortar-wounded concrete shell. Artists have left myriad messages in a 2016 Street Art Festival.
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I learn best in a hands-on, experiential way, and on our journey I am learning so much. I had known of the unrest in Belgrade – capitol of the former Yugoslavia in the early 1990’s. But I had felt so far removed; I remember feeling a vague, sad awareness at that time. Being in Bosnia and Herzegovina now, the aftereffects of the struggles as communism fell and regional boundaries in the Balkan countries were sometimes violently fought for, are highly visible. Mortar damage is tangible, and there is a palpable heaviness. We did not experience this visible or spiritual vestige in the areas of Croatia where we had visited. So many of the locals’ family members and friends here were either killed, or took refuge in other countries, and most of them have not returned.
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We also visited “Tito’s Aircraft Hangar” on the day tour. This was tunneled deep into a mountain during the Cold War, for storing planes and for protection should there come a World War III. It seemed similar in some ways – especially the massive amount of concrete used for the walls– to bunkers we had seen at Normandy beach. Hitler had designed those for protection of what he saw to be Third Reich’s 1000 year reign. What can we learn from all this? How do we protect all humanity from violence? I believe we can learn to communicate in better ways, to be able to live in peace on our precious planet. Now and forever. Ok?
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On a lighter note, other stops on our day tour were the historic Blagaj Dervish House, a place of study for the Sufi’s during the Ottoman Empire. It was so well built and protected then, that it still proudly stands against the mountain, beside the river, of its origin. It is where Whirling Dervishes come annually in mid-May to practice their dancing meditation. This is where Loren and I shared our first cup of Turkish coffee.
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Another stop was for a hike up a hill to the medieval castle and fortress of Pocitelj. The one other stop was to Kravice Falls, where we had lunch. Loren swam in the take-your-breath-away cold water.
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One more thing I have learned from our journey is how to correctly pronounce Herzegovina: Herz-eh-govina, not Herzgovin-i-a as I used to mistakenly say. On Sunday we will return to Croatia to visit Dubrovnik for two days, a place that Loren has been interested in visiting for 40 years. I am also interested in seeing the War Photos Limited temporary display there, a larger version of the Exhibition to what we saw here in Mostar, including current images from Syria… I have so much still to learn.

Week 127 September 3, 2016 – 25 Years!

Dobradan! Pozdrav! Good Day! Greetings! from Croatia, and, Happy Labor Day weekend!! I have to admit we feel more than a bit distanced from that U.S. holiday this year. We were still on the Dalmatian coast of the Adriatic sea in Split at the beginning of this week. One evening there was an extensive sound of fireworks, and, on looking out our window, I made a few photos. Our AirBnB host knew of no reason for the show. Maybe someone knew that Loren and I were having a wedding anniversary this week? Ha Ha Ha!
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We took another hike on the peninsula and over Mt. Marjan – said Mar-yahn, to Bene – said Behneh, beach, then had lunch including traditional Croatian style smoked-and-wind-dried ham at Lucia’s – pronounced Lucheezia’s restorant – I think you know how this is pronounced, overlooking the beach. We walked more through Diocletian’s open palace with the period staff, and simply relished in what has felt like the most-strung-together days of gorgeous weather of our whole journey, at least in many months. On our third walk to the Split peninsula, we rented bicycles to see more of Mt. Marjan.
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We also attended a second Chamber music gathering at the Split City Muzej – Museum. With both those cozy evenings, and from seeing other recent musical performances, it became more apparent to me how much professional musicians may emphasize their emotion with their facial expressions, and, as if they are dancing with their instruments, through their body movements.
We were up early the next morning for our 7am bus ride of four hours to arrive in Plitvice – said Plit-veet-seh, Lakes. There has been much reconstruction in this area since the time of the former Yugoslavia. The house we are staying in – very near the National Park – is brand new, because, the home that the owner had grown up in on this site – we learned from his daughter who spoke better English, was destroyed during the war. When he rebuilt it, he added enough space to offer rooms for rent. After a walk around the Rastovaca neighborhood, it was plain to see many other homes here are new too. Nearly all have similar looking signs for available rooms, and, they do fill up. At dinner we had a nice conversation with a young British couple who had traveled a year in Asia, at breakfast we met a young couple from Ireland though the wife hailed from Croatia.
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We rode a 9:30am bus for about 2 hours to see Zadar. We spent the afternoon at Kolovare beach, where we had natural shade below the trees, for when we weren’t dipping in the refreshing clear water of the Mediterranean. We brought a picnic supper to watch sunset near the Sea Organ. The Sea Organ is the attraction that enticed us to travel here – a set of multi-length pipes architected in such a way that they are “played” by the waves as the tide comes in. The effect produces lyrical sounds that remind me of whale calls. By the way, can you find the Croatian word for chocolate on the cookie package in my photo?
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After sunset the Pozdrav Suncu – meaning Greeting to the Sun, a solar powered night light show began, as we enjoyed a pleasant conversation with two families on holiday from Italy. Experiencing these two awesome wonders of the modern world was the highlight of our memorable day in Zadar. With the only bus option that allowed us to see what is referred to as “The best sunset in the world” with leaving Zadar for Plitvice Lakes at 23:00 – 11pm, it was a long day. After midnight on the way back we had one more awesome experience – we acknowledged our 25th wedding anniversary! 9/1/91 to 9/1/16, but who’s counting?
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Speaking of wonders, we waited until September 1st for our first day to visit Plitvice Jezera – Lakes, National Park, what my cousin claims as the “8th Natural Wonder of the World,” because, the entrance fees were much less expensive than in August, and, every little bit we can save allows us to travel that little bit longer. And, speaking of September 1st, we enjoyed a lovely dinner at Petra’s, a recommendation by and half-mile walk from our AirBnB home, to celebrate our special anniversary.
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Ok, so I agree, Plitvice Jezera *is* more amazing than Krka Falls. What we saw there in two hours compared to what we have seen here so far in two 6 hour hikes, is incomparable. Here we have seen the most number of waterfalls in one place that we have ever encountered. With warm autumn sunshine, cool mountain breezes, trails to meander, sounds of waterfalls, views of nature, what more could one ask? Well, ok, one could ask for a few less people. We understand 8,000 people were in the park on our second day there, which is only half the number of those who visit in early August. But, still, 8,000 are a few thousand too many!
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It is hard to picture what this area was like 25 years ago. Hearing from my cousin who wrote how her daughter-in-law had to hide in tunnels for safety before she fled Croatia, and that her paternal grandmother died at the hands of invading troops, helps me imagine maybe just a snapshot of that time. The “Iron Curtain” that delineated east from west had prohibited travel in Eastern Europe for westerners and the western world for most eastern Europeans. This year, our host is seeing more Americans visit than people of other nationalities. As so many Europeans already know, this area is well worth visiting for its exquisite natural beauty. I am grateful that there is now a peace and prosperity here, and feel privileged to spend time seeing the incredible vistas.
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PLEASE NOTE: This week we have decent internet coverage, but we may not have service in the countries we are visiting next. Please visit here again, I will share my weekly post when I possibly can.

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Week 126 August 27, 2016

“How could it possibly be the end of August?” I ask. Loren has remarked several times, “We only have so much time in life and we don’t know how much time we are going to have.” That is true both of life and on our journey. In the meantime we are having the times of our lives and are so very grateful to be realizing our dreams of travel now. We will just continue to take it one-day-to-three-months at a time.
This week began with us attending Sunday service at the Kolozsvar 1 congregation in Transylvania, also in Cluj, Romania. This needs a little explanation, and this is what we were told: Kolozsvar, is the name of the city in Hungarian, which is the language of Transylvania. After World War I the region of Transylvania was taken from Hungary and given to Romania. For a brief time during World War II Transylvania was returned to Hungary, then at the close of World War II it was again turned over to Romania. To the Romanians, Kolozsvar is named Cluj, and the Romanians do not understand why the Transylvanians do not speak the Romanian language. The Transylvanians prefer to retain their Hungarian language and heritage, though are content to be in Romania.
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Kolozsvar 1 is one of three Unitarian congregations in the city of Kolozsvar. This one is near our AirBnB, in the same block on the same street as the Unitarian Headquarters building, and, the Unitarian schools – both the seminary and the primary-through-high-school, school. We felt fortunate that the current intern at Kolozsvar 1 was able to sit with us during the service and to translate the concepts of the sermon, as had been done for us in Arkos and in Medias by each minister’s wife. As you might notice from the sign on the door which is as historic as the whole area I might add, how different the Hungarian language is. I can make out words, what I believe might say “Worship 11am” and possibly “Preaching Today:” and the minister’s name, but with little to no certainty.  
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Sunday was also the finale of the Hungarian Cultural Days in Kolozsvar. We attended part of a marathon org – organ, concert, then with our AirBnB host we saw an operatte – a performance of popular songs which included in Hungarian what we could recognize as If I Were A Rich Man. She also helped us purchase a local favorite langos – said longoosh, which is a pastry filled with cheese and sauce. Loren and I then saw a brass performance – the musicians sat high over us on the balcony of the large church tower.
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We met up with our host again for the evening concert which ended the festivities. In all, Hungarian Days are a delightful, family friendly community gathering. Our friend, the Unitarian minister had warned us that the concert would be “many people – like 30.000, celebrating together.” We were happy to be two among them!

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The next day we met our friend for a tour of the Unitarian school where she had attended herself and where she now teaches Religion and Social Studies. The building was built in 1900. Fortunately the two early museums inside have been preserved through all the turmoil during that century. We enjoyed a meaningful visit over lunch with her afterwards. It is sad that Transylvania is so far from California as we would be happy to spend more time with her and the other fabulous Hungarian Unitarians who we met and visited with too briefly while we were here.
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It was fortunate thst the weather waited a day for the Hungarian Days events to finish before it let loose with a storm. Our afternoon hike planned turned into a visit to one of the malls in Kolozsvar. I needed to replace the camera I have become so fond of but with the sands from Namibia still causing it to act up more – or rather neglect to act properly at all, it was time to bid it farewell. I want to mention how often we have been asked on visiting in parts of Europe and Africa, “Where you come from?” Loren likes to respond with playing a guessing game. He encourages the person to enumerate with him where the English speaking areas of the world are: Australia, Canada, England, Holland also sometimes comes up in the list, New Zealand, Scotland, South Africa, The United States of America, and, then have them pick. The United States is usually not their first guess…
It took us all day to travel from Kolozsvar/Cluj, Romania to Split, Croatia, due to limited airline scheduling. In the waiting room for the first of our two flights, I heard chatter, then smiled at being part of the world community when I heard “email” and “internet” interspersed in otherwise unrecognizable words. It reminds me of years ago when on a business trip to Canada and, sitting in a restaurant by myself I overheard “income tax” within a French conversation… Coincidentally we actually spent most of our travel day to Croatia in France – at the borders of Germany and Switzerland, but, in the technically non-Schengen Basel/Freiburg International airport in Mulhouse, France. We were glad to successfully pass through immigration with our knowledge of the Schengen visa.
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Our day ended with a night flight into Split, Croatia. So Loren jokes, “We split for Split!”
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In Split, our AirBnb is situated next to the train and bus stations, which are next to the harbor. There are a vast number of sailing vessels, cruise ships, and tour boats lining the docks. It continues to be August – when most of the people of Europe are still on holiday, and Split is definitely a popular destination. I totally understand why! We have spent time exploring the city centre which spills out and around the preserved and restored ruins of the Diocletian Palace, built during the Roman Empire.
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We have also hiked around the end of the peninsula and over Mount Marjan to put our feet in the beautiful Mediterranean Sea. Well ok, so I did that, while Loren swam in it. All along we had the pungent smell of pine, the relentless sound of cicada, the sun shining in the blue sky over breathtaking scenery… in other words, all pleasant experiences. 
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My cousin, who’s daughter-in-law hails from Croatia, had warned us about the food and needing to work off the additional extra weight we will gain… Cherry grappa, yum! Fresh fruits, soup and veggies with garlic and oil that our AirBnB host has provided for us, yum! Yum! So, we also did a bit of hiking around the spectacular vistas of Krka – said Kirka, National Park. It is so impressive that we plan to return before we leave Croatia.
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Tomorrow we will take another hike around the peninsula at least – our extra calories need to be worked off!
PLEASE NOTE: While this week we have sufficient internet access, we may not have service in the countries we are visiting in the coming weeks. Please visit again, I will add my weekly post when it is possible.

Week 125 August 20, 2016

Buna Ziua! Said Boo-nah Zee-wah, this is our last full week to be able to say Good Day in Romanian. Well, just for now I hope… Loren and I started this week by attending Sunday service at the Segesvar Unitarian Church, in the Romanian named city of Sighisoara. Segesvar is Hungarian – we are getting used to the dual names of places here. Though we were unable to understand the Hungarian sermon, we could follow the hymns a bit and it was nice to be in community in their cheerful sanctuary. 
Toward the end of the service the minister came down from the elevated pulpit, asked something in Hungarian, a congregant responded affirmatively, then came forward. This young man then translated in English that the minister had received a phone call at 9am from a couple from California and if they would like to come to the front to say a few words about themselves… which we did and the young man translated for us. As we left the sanctuary the Reverend asked us in English to come to his home afterwards. Loren and I then had a delightful visit with he and his wife, who fed us a delicious meal, and, gifted us with homemade brandy and jam, and, homegrown honey!
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While his wife prepared lunch, the minister drove us to see his other church – many Unitarian ministers here serve multiple congregations. What was amazing is that we had noticed a Unitarian church when we drove around Lake Sonata last week, and, we made a photo of the prominent Unitarian motto: Egy Az Isten – said something like Edge Oz Eesh-ten, for God is One, in Hungarian. This is what distinguishes our denomination, Unitarian in questioning the Trinity over the Unity of God. It turns out that this minister had previously been the minister there for over 11 years.
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He also has the distinction of being formally recognized for the erecting of three Unitarian church buildings, including this one we visited together, which is also a partner church to Princeton, New Jersey.
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That evening we were invited to return to their home to meet their son, who is a Unitarian ministerial student in Kolozsvar in Hungarian or Cluj in Romanian, and his girlfriend. Together with the Rev. his son, Loren and I went to the bee farm where Loren and his son helped him feed the newer colonies. I drove and took photos. I was not allowed to share in the subsequent toast of homemade brandy with another minister who lives at the property and other ministerial friends, because, there is zero tolerance of drinking and driving here. Good idea! Remember the “Romaniac” drivers I wrote about last week that Loren had identified? And that behavior is sans alcohol use…
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The gift bottle of the Rev.’s brandy was actually a blessing as Loren came down with the flu this week. It was bad enough that we had to cancel our plans to meet his son for a hike. The next day we did meet up with him – he was housesitting for his parents this week while they went to be with family in another village. We went for a walk together to the Citadel of Segesvar. But just that short hike was enough energy spent for Loren for the day. We were able to see the monument to Petöfi Sàndor, a national poet and hero who wrote the anthem for and is believed to have died in the Hungarian Revolution.
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He is known for being a writer on love and freedom. I especially like this poem of his:
I’ll Be a Tree
by Sandor Petofi

I’ll be a tree, if you are its flower,
Or a flower, if you are the dew-
I’ll be the dew, if you are the sunbeam,
Only to be united with you.
My lovely girl, if you are the Heaven,
I shall be a star above on high;
My darling, if you are hell-fire,
To unite us, damned I shall die.
The next day Loren was feeling more up for a hike to go up the hill with our new friend to see the beautiful views.
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The next day Loren was nearly back to normal, so with our friend we had another hike to see more views. We enjoyed a snack at the hillside Vila Franka restaurant, walked back down, then bade our so-hope-to-see-you-again farewells. It was nice to spend this special time with him in Segesvar, hear of his studies in the travel industry, his travels, and now of some of his studies, experiences and travels as a seminarian. All best to you in your last year of school!
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A friend from California recently wrote: “Of course as you know from your travels, its the people you meet along the way that are the real change agents in your life.” We find this is absolutely true, week, after week, after week, after week… and the best ones are the ones who become lifelong friends.
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On the subject of weeks, this one is the nice round number of 125 since Loren and I packed up and left home. Wow! And as we packed up to leave Segesvar, I was so aware of all the zippers and snaps that Loren and I cinch up each time we leave one place for another. Fortunately all the fasteners keep cinching for us!
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We rode by bus back to Cluj where we returned to the same AirBnB. This week is a big celebration called Hungarian Days here, and, with her, we saw a light show projected on the main church. When Transylvania was ruled by the Unitarian King John Sigismund in the 1500’s, this church was Unitarian. Now it is Orthodox. We have learned that each denomination here has its own different greeting. I will finish with sending out the beautiful Unitarian greeting in Hungarian: Isten áldja! similarly said something like Eesh-ten Auldio, for God bless you! On Tuesday we will head off for Croatia…
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PLEASE NOTE: While this week we have good internet coverage, we may not have service in the countries we are visiting in the coming months. Please visit here, I will add my weekly post as I can.

Week 124 August 13, 2016

Loren and I are moved when we hear from family and friends that our journey is inspiring to you. Thank you for keeping in touch with us! This week we had an email from another couple – offhand we can recall previously hearing from three other couples or families who have taken, who are on, or who will soon begin their own extended travels as a result of learning about our experience. Yay! May you too have the fortune to realize your dreams.
We had a nice stay in Sibiu, enjoying a dinner out with our AirBnB hosts at their favorite restaurant, then we had a couple of walks through the City Centre in what was once a double walled citadel. The apartment where we are staying was a few stories up, and with taking the stairs we had a little extra exercise this week. 
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Then we enjoyed staying in a “traditional Romanian house” AirBnB in the country near Sibiu, a charming large home respite next to a creek. The host is also the owner of six delightful stray female dogs. While on a hike with her and them in the hills she attracted yet a seventh to her pack – this one a male.
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Our host accompanied us the hour and a half to make sure that we would find our way to Medias – said Meh-dee-osh, for a Unitarian Sunday service that was translated for us by the Reverend’s kind wife who sat with us. One thing our AirBnB host said afterwards, which resonated for me is: “God’s plan is bigger than our own.” Da da da – Yes, yes, yes, in Romanian, that is so true.
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On the way back to her home we enjoyed a picnic at a local preserved fortress together, where we were able to climb the precarious steps all the way up into the bell tower where the view was outstanding. We also visited a Festival – pronounced fes-ti-VAHL, for traditional music and more traditional food.
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We covered a lot of kilometers in our rental car this week. 
     “Claire, you have become good at navigating roundabouts,”
an impressed Loren said as we drove from Sibiu to see the fortress in Alba Iulia – said you-lee-ah, home of the biggest citadel in Romania. 
     “Claire your rediscovered New Yorker driving skills have allowed you to drive more
       like a Romanian, I mean, like a Romaniac,”
Loren said further, using his invented word for the daredevil drivers we have seen, as we neared Cluj-Napoca airport to return our rental car in heavy traffic. Once a New Yorker, always one, I guess. We have been asked on several occasions what we think of Romanian drivers…
At Alba Iulia I was a little disappointed because the palace was home to the only Unitarian King in history – King John Sigismund during the 16th century, but, we found absolutely no reference to his reign. Regardless, it was impressive, with a modern cathedral built in honor of the coronation of Ferdinand and Maria.
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In Kolozsvar – Hungarian for Cluj, we had the privilege of having our former Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Sunnyvale California Partner Church minister from Kolozsvar and her daughter join us for dinner. We invited our AirBnB host, and her neighbor – a long term friend of hers who is also a retired Unitarian minister. What a small world! It was wonderful to visit with our friend after all these years. Then Loren and I enjoyed a walking tour of some major sights of the city with our AirBnB host.
The next evening we had the pleasure of having dinner again with the retired Rev and his wife. He gifted us with a book in English – translated from the original Hungarian, with reflections of Transylvanian Unitarians about our faith. It is a treasure! One chapter is his own translation of the Unitarian Catechism that youth in Transylvania must prove they have learned at their confirmation. Another chapter is by a Transylvanian minister, who years ago had studied in Berkeley and who I remember preaching to our Sunnyvale congregation. His chapter is a delightful read of his experiences and reflection on the U.S. UU’s, which triggered more of my own memories.
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Loren and I also enjoyed a day hike on a path through enchanting woods with some local Hungarian-speaking Transylvanians who hike weekly and who our AirBnB host helped us find. A couple of them spoke a little English, and one spoke some Italian, so, in addition to being good exercise it was socially enjoyable too — including the time when it poured down rain for which we sought shelter. It rained some all the way back too. One of the women was also a Unitarian, and another was scouting out wild mushrooms in the forest as we hiked.
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That evening we went to a local Org – Organ Concert in the Reformed Church. As much as I love music, I recently have come to the conclusion that there is sometimes a fine line between music and noise. I realize though that this applies to all the arts. I therefore respectfully request to amend the age old idiom about Beauty’s Beholder with this: Delight may or may not be found in all of one’s senses: sight-sound-taste-smell-touch and any others you care to include, not limited to just one’s eye.
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On our last full day in Kolozsvar for now, our former Partner Church Rev. gave us a tour of the Transylvanian Unitarian Headquarters, where she now works as Secretary to the Bishop, and for their seminary. It was impressive to stand in the hall where leaders of the six districts of Transylvania and one district of Hungary meet – the connection between Transylvanian and Hungarian Unitarians just resumed in 2012 — after a break of nearly a hundred years due to European political turmoil. The beautifully wooded walls are fringed with images of former Bishops and lay leaders, hung high. The seminary includes a chapel where daily student worship services are offered.
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The next day we took a train to Sighisoara in Romanian – Segesvar in Hungarian, which took nearly six hours. The first 45 minutes included waiting for the train to arrive, then to depart, the Cluj station. No wonder there are warnings that trains may not be on time. But, that also gave us more time to have fun with the five year old Romanian boy and his grandparents who shared our compartment. With hand gestures and the ways that the Romanian language is like Italian, we learned it was his first ever train ride! In all those hours he tried many times and ways to lie down for a nap, but he was too excited to have his riposo.
In Segesvar, we rented a car to be able to drive to a Unitarian Gathering. I wish we knew some Hungarian because even with the invitation in hand, I am at a loss to explain more than that we visited park in a wide open space with a stage near the congregation of Szekelyudvarhely in the village of Odorheiu Secuiesc, for the Szejkefurdoi Unitarius Talalkozo. I do know it was anticipated that 2000 people would attend. The previous few days of cloudy, rainy weather cleared for a mostly sunny day for the event.
Some people were there in traditional costume, and some of them participated in the ceremonial worship or performed dances afterwards. We sang Hungarian hymns and were offered the Lord’s Supper (communion). When I said, Ishten Aldjon – God Bless You, to the Priest who gave me Communion, he replied in English, “God Bless You,” which felt like a dear connection.
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We all then followed the procession of ministers through a long corridor of wooden portals in the nearby field to honor and place commemorative wreaths on the grave of Orban Balazs. We were able to briefly visit with a few of our friends from the Arkos camp who we had met last week. On our return trip to Kolozsvar, we drove through other areas of the countryside. In all, another lovely day.
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I am aware that emergency vehicle sirens in Romania sometimes sound like the ones in the USA – they more often whirr in crescendo and decrescendo, instead of blaring the two alternating tones like in most of the rest of Europe. I am also aware that as we have traveled through parts of Europe and Africa that I have smelled more cigarette smoke in public places, smelled more unpleasant scents in the streets, more harsh chemicals, exhaust, burning rubber and smoke from intentional fires than I am used to in California. How I wish people were not exposed to such toxins… more reason to resume my Bikram yoga practice to eliminate those toxins from my body. Until then I will follow the advice I found from a graffiti artist in English in Kolozsvar this week:
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PLEASE NOTE: While this week we have an internet connection, we may not have viable service on a weekly basis. Please visit this site again, I will upload my posts when and as often as I can.

Week 123 August 6, 2016

Loren and I began this week still in Sighisoara, or Segesvar in Hungarian, Romania. We took a walk around the fortified town, visiting the Muzeul de Istorie – Historic Museum, at the medieval clock tower. Then we walked to the top of the hill where we had the delight of hearing a soloist and organist rehearsing some pieces in the medieval church, and, back down to our BnB through the old narrow streets.
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From there we drove on to Brasov – said Brahsh-hov, Transylvania, to the home of our next AirBnB hosts. They are hoping to make a go of their startup working together for environmental concerns. If you are interested you can visit their appealing website:
     Greentumble.com
We went for a wonderful hike with them and their hunting dog the next morning, in the nearby Piatra Craiului mountains.
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Loren and I then drove the hour and a half to visit the Hungarian speaking region in Transylvania. We were invited by the minister of the Unitarian church in Szentivanlaborfalva, which was once the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Sunnyvale, California – our home congregation’s partner church, to visit overnight at a summer camp in Arkos – said Arc-ohsh. The children came from three neighboring communities – Arkos or Arcus in Romanian, Szentivanlaborfalva or Santionlunca in Romanian, near Targu Mures on the map, and, from Sepsiszentgyorgy or Sfanta Gheorghe in Romanian, and Saint George in English. Here 130 children conceived 13 rules – for example, “Be nice to each other,” “Tell an adult if you see a child crying,” among others to follow for the week. They danced, sang, made friends, and, decorated a joyful Welcome banner!
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After the children went to bed, the adults enjoyed some social time. 
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Loren and I stayed overnight at the home of a lovely local family, who, along with other involved families helped us feel like we were already part of the community. We happily participated in singing some English verses that they knew among the many hymns and songs they sang in Hungarian. Camp ended with the Sunday Service.
After another delicious meal together, we followed the minister of our former partner church and his wife, also a minister, to Szentivanlaborfalva to see their church there. They are redecorating the inside which will obviously be gorgeous when they are done. They helped us take the suggestion of a friend from UUFS who has visited Transylvania to stop along the side of the road for some sweet “K-word” bread. The name she could not recall is Kurtoskalacs. We also bought a loaf of yummy potato bread, both homemade and warm from being fresh baked. We did not say goodbye as we left as Loren and I very much look forward to seeing them and their daughters along with others of our new Hungarian speaking Transylvanian friends at a gathering later this month…

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The next evening, back in Brasov, Loren and I took the local-guided walking tour around town, which started with visiting the “Black Church,” after it was partially destroyed by fire.
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Inspired by a particular sight, I wrote another poem:

     Thoughts in Brasov, A Three Verse Haiku
by Claire Adalyn Wright

     A shop named Ravel
brought to mind travel! And, un-
     
ravel? Or, ravel?

What is different
about those two words? I can

     not tell them apart…

     Never mind. There will
     be little unraveling
in our traveling.

So, since we are visiting in Transylvania, I must mention Dracula. His character makes this area a tourist destination, and the locals remind us with frequent advertising. We drove by Bran Castle, where Vlad “The Impaler,” who is thought to have inspired author Bram Stoker’s novel, was once imprisoned. We did not go inside. I also must mention that I have not noticed a single local person who sounds like a Transylvanian vampire. Years ago I did notice some similarity from my first times of hearing a few different Unitarian seminarians who visited California from Transylvania over the years who preached at our congregation while they were studying at Starr King School for the Ministry in Berkeley. Maybe it is because I have been hearing other European accents for the past year? Or is it that I am used to this particular accent now from my years at UUFS?
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We also drove by Rasnov Castle, then stopped at Peles Castle to walk through the garden and visit the monastery. We arrived that evening in Sinaia – said Seh-nigh-a, in time for an Enesco free classical concert by a Portuguese Youth Orchestra. It featured Beethoven’s 5th among other pieces. And it was obvious that it is August – holiday time in Europe! The hall was so crowded that we only found one proper seat… which I offered to Loren and I sat on a short flight of stairs in an aisle. The advantage was that when a seat next to Loren was available after others left early, I had the privilege to view the orchestra from the opposite side of the hall as well.
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The next day we stopped to see George Enescu’s Villa, named “Luminis.” After touring the home we purchased a CD of his music which entertained us as we then drove through the Bucegi mountains of the Carpathian range. We stopped to take a couple of short hikes in the countryside. After dinner we had a nice walk around the hilly neighborhoods of Sinaia and learned that Queen Anne of Romania had died and her funeral procession was being brought to Peles Castle.
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All our mountain driving and hiking had prepared us for the long and winding drive through the Transylvanian Alps to Sibiu – said Sib-e-u, in south Romania. To get there we drove on the Transfagarasanan, a military road created at the order of Romanian Communist Leader Ceausescu many years ago. Along the way we stopped to climbthe 1,480 steps to Poienari Fortress which literally depicts a couple of victims of Vlad III, Prince of Wallachia in the fifteenth century. Hence his nicknames, Vlad The Impaler, then Drakula.
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On a happier note, I also have to mention our new friends and their sons, from Poland. They shared our first AirBnB home in Romania in Danesti in the Maramures region. We enjoyed several conversations in the common kitchen, family area and yard. When we were leaving, they said they were staying a few more days, and that they would see us again. As Loren and I drove the Transfagarasan, we stopped for lunch to sit near a waterfall beside our car. As we sat, a car going the other direction pulled over and stopped. Who was in it? Our Polish friends and their boys! They said once again that we would see them later. I was so touched at seeing them again and commented several times on what a fun coincidence it had been to be in the same place at that point in time.
Today Loren and I spent several hours at Astra, an open air museum in Sibiu displaying Romanian life prior to modern conveniences. As we were leaving, it was uncanny to see our friends and their sons walking toward us! We do hope to see them again, as we are all visiting in Romania for our first times for a while longer…
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PLEASE NOTE: While this week we have decent internet coverage, we may not have viable service in the countries we are visiting over the next three months. Please check back here, I will share my weekly post when and as often as I can.