Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Bucharest, Romania: May 2, 2018

Early this morning we said goodbye to our hostess Maria at Pensiunea Mara in Deseşti to begin the drive to Cluj-Napoca airport for the very short flight to Bucharest. At Diana's suggestion, once in Bucharest we had the taxi drop us as the Ceauşescu House Museum.

The Romanian revolution began on December 16, 1989. Nicolae and Elena Ceauşescu, the presidential couple, were shot by a firing squad on December 25, 1989. Nicolae Ceauşescu was in power from 1965 until the revolution.

Their Bucharest city house has been open for tours only a couple of years. The tour took us through only a small fraction of the 80 rooms in the house. Walking through their house and gawking at their things felt like driving past an accident and being unable to tear your eyes away. It was ghoulish, but I couldn't not look.

The house tour guide said that none of the golden furnishings or plumbing fixtures were gold. He said they were all covered with gold paint not real gold or gold leaf.

The Presidential Couple's bedroom with their night clothes laid out on the bed

Their private movie room
The enormous closets of clothing, shoes, furs are all now tagged and part of the inventory of the house.

The house and its contents are a time machine forever stuck in the 1980s.

While some of the decor would be less than tasteful especially to 21st-century eyes, the many, many mosaics were beautiful 20th century relics.

The walls surrounding the indoor swimming pool were covered in mosaics. It took two craftsmen two years to complete the job.

Detail of brilliant mosaics next to the entrance and exit from the swimming pool room.

The house tour lasted about 45 minutes and ended in a garden space. The peacocks who live here are the 8th generation of those acquired by Ceauşescu. There were several peacocks and pea hens but only one put on a show for us.

When Ceauşescu lived at this property, it was quite secluded. One of the buildings on the former grounds is now owned by the Syrian Government and is the residence of their ambassador. Multi-storied buildings have been constructed on all the adjacent lots. The house is no longer secluded.

Later in the evening we walked around some of Bucharest's old city streets enjoying the classic architecture and the lively pedestrian streets. We re-visited the beautiful Romanian Orthodox Stavropoleos Church built in 1724 in the Brancovenesc style. Despite being dwarfed by the tall buildings that surround, its architecture still demands attention.

Tomorrow afternoon we will begin the long journey home from Bucharest, to Munich, San Francisco, Sacramento. It has been a fabulous vacation.

K + K Elisabeta - our second stay at this hotel. It is close to the old city as well as the metro system. Their rooms are very comfortable and above all their staff is extremely helpful and courteous.

Ceauşescu House also called the Primaveri Palace. Tours can be booked in advance at the website.

Southern Maramureş County - Cerneşti and Rogoz, Romania: May 1, 2018

From Deseşti we drove south and back over the Gutai Mountains into the Lăpuş River area to Florean Museum. Florean is an open air museum of stone sculptures. Sometimes the organizers have summer sculpture programs. The sculptures are left behind and nature reclaims the space. We wandered....

It was a nice walk, about 2 kilometers in from the national highway.

From the Florean Museum we drove to the town of Rogoz which is the site of another one of the eight wooden churches that make up the UNESCO Heritage Site of Wooden Churches of Maramureş.

The Holy Archangels Michael and Gabriel Church in Rogoz was built by the village community in 1663. The interior paintings date to 1785 and were painted by Radu Munteanu (the same painter who did the frescos in Deseşti). As is common for Romanian Orthodox churches, a cemetery surrounds the structure.

The priest of this church said the exterior door is small so that marauding Turks couldn't ride their horses into the church. The size and shape is repeated in the entrance between the narthex and nave.

The priest said that several years ago a bolt of lightning struck the top of the church and traveled down to the narthex stopping only at the small table below the cross. The burn scars to the right of the narthex doorway and on the table top remain.

On the left side of the narthex entrance to the nave there is a painting of angels as escorts for the souls headed to heaven. The person's soul, wearing white, is a more ephemeral being when compared to the angel.

The narthex formerly was the place for women while men were allowed passage into the nave. As customs changed, windows were cut into the walls between the narthex and nave so that all could observe the services. Now, the only requirement is that a woman's head be covered and a man's head should be bare.

One painting in the narthex shows three priests holding a cloth that is filled with the souls of those that are going to heaven.

Painting of Last Supper in Nave
The nave and iconostasis are covered with scenes from the bible.

The interior of the church is small which meant that part of the congregation would be stuck outside. According to the priest, small holes were drilled in some of the walls so that the sermon could be heard outside.

Pensiunea Mara in Deseşti is a peaceful guesthouse with delicious food from which to base a trip to Maramureş.

Diana Condrea owner of Uncover-Romania-Tours is well informed about Romania's history, she's a photographer, she is an excellent traveling companion, and her tour itineraries are flexible and interesting.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Maramureş County, The Craftspeople of Sărbi, Romania: April 30, 2018

Gheorghe Opriş, maker of palinka bottled with a wooden ladder.
When we arrived, Gheorghe Opriş was tending his bubbling palinka (fruit brandy). This one was being made from apples The fire was hot, and the still distilling. He took a break to share a shot of palinka with us, and then he entertained us with his music and singing. We eventually progressed into his ladder-making workshop where he showed us how he inserts small ladders into the bottles that he then fills with his excellent homemade brew.

While Gheorghe was entertaining us, his wife was washing a large sheepskin blanket. 

Water from the stream flows rapidly into a wooden circle, a washing whirlpool, that is used for washing heavy items. Throw the blanket or carpet into the hydro-powered washing whirlpool and the stream water pounds it clean.

Hydro-powered washing whirlpool
Nearby we visited Vasily Borodi who makes traditional Maramureş hats for men.

We're always looking for a hat for Dan. He tried on one, but it wasn't the look we were going for.

Our next stop was to the home of textile maker extraordinaire Ioana Pop. 

Her home was packed with her traditional Maramureş textiles all made by her.

A ready-made dowry
 Dan tried on a shepherd's jacket, and I had to talk him out of it. It was heavy enough to be suitable for Antarctica. The hat was good though.

Ioana Pop
Ioana Pop is holding the beautiful blanket I bought from her. She spun the wool and loomed it into this beautiful piece. As we were leaving, Ioana was gathering her tools to return to working in the field with her daughter and son-in-law.

Maramureş County, Deseşti, Romania: April 30, 2018

One morning after breakfast, we saw the milk guy headed back toward the sheep fold with his wagon and milk can. We hurried and followed him at a distance because he had a head start and he was really moving. When the barking dogs headed his way, he threw a rock at them.

The milk guy was wary of the dogs up ahead, too. He stopped at the top of one hill and called toward the sheep fold before he continued. Emboldened because the dogs kept their distance, we followed a little while longer realizing that soon we'd be without the milk guy as a protector. We turned back toward the guesthouse and safety.

On Sunday, before our drive to Săpȃnța, we walked to church. We were hoping to see people dressed in traditional clothing, and we did. We milled around outside the church people watching.

St. Paraschiva
The wooden Romanian Orthodox church in Deseşti, St. Paraschiva, built in 1770, is one of the eight wooden churches of Maramureş that are listed as a World Heritage site. A cemetery surrounds the church.

Placing Flowers on her Mother's Grave

Waiting for services to begin
While women's heads should be covered to enter the church, men must remove their hats. The hats of the men are hung outside the church.

This morning, Monday, we showed up again and the priest gave us a tour of the exquisite interior paintings.
Lower portion of Iconostatsis
Upper portion of Iconostatsis depicting the Crucifixion
Artist Alexandru Ponehalschi painted the iconostasis and the other icons in the church in 1778-1780. The interior wall fresco paintings dated 1780 were by master artist Radu Munteanu and his assistant Gheorghe Zugravu. The frescos on the walls of the nave depict scenes from the bible beginning with Adam, Eve, and the serpent and continuing through the crucifixion.

Frescos in the narthex remind you what will happen if you are not a believer.  Judgement day is depicted on the walls of the narthex (entrance/exit) on either side of the doorway. As you leave the church, the left wall has kind of a rogue's gallery for those that are damned. Below the portrait gallery depicts the red burning river of hell as it carries damned souls into the maw of the Leviathan monster. The right wall which shows those that have been judged to be pure enough for heaven isn't as interesting.

Overall view of left wall showing the damned

Who is damned according to this fresco?
Jews--the merchants, rich, so easy to envy
The Habsburgs--they have a history
The Turks--more history
The Crimean Tartars--yep they did the Romanians wrong
The French--????
An airing of grudges and scores evened out through the centuries for all to see.

There is a second church in Deseşti. The denomination is Greek-Catholic. It is new but built in the traditional style. Its paintings are not as interesting as the the other wooden church, but its proximity to a stork nest drew us to it.

Many people believe that storks bring not babies but luck. These white storks arrive every March to return to their nesting poles and lay eggs. They take turns sitting on the eggs and when the one mate returns to the nest both birds clack their beaks in greeting. They are mesmerizing to watch from the elevation of the church.

White stork coming in for landing

From the church we took a short walk through Deseşti northeast toward Hărniceşti. It was a work day and most people were in their fields planting their crops.