Romania


Ricardo Muti, this year’s conductor and in the year of our marriage, 2000

I’d usually write about my New Year experience in one post but this time was persuaded to break it into two parts, so here’s the second instalment.

New Year’s Day became ‘special’ for me 20 years ago when, then living in the student hostel of the high school in which I was a volunteer English teacher, I was invited to spend New Year’s Eve with the family of a history teacher, urged on by her younger sister. Having followed the Romanian tradition of a ‘midnight feast’ I was invited to stay the night rather than return to my chilly hostel room 7km away. Little did anyone know, least of all me, to what that would lead, or did I? Two years later that history teacher became my wife and a tradition for us was set.

 

 

 

Romanian traditions and Vienna New Year concert

The following morning was spent with a background of New Year dance and traditions on the tv, something I was well versed in having spent a few years in the Romanian Bucovina, one of the regions where traditions are best preserved. Then in common with tv stations throughout the world the Romanian station switched to covering the Vienna New Year concert. Petronela and I have followed that every year since, the following year at a mutual friend/colleague’s home where a month or so later on that friend’s birthday you might say that the romance was perhaps recognised as ‘serious’.

 

 

 

So, back to this year. The kitchen had been left a ‘disaster’ as we fell into bed at 2am, bubbly consumed with the background of Nile Rodgers (see yesterday’s post) then Jools Holland with truly amazing artists like Ruby Turner and Mavis Staples (and I’d better mention Ed Sheeran who doesn’t have such a bad voice 😜).

As I said, the ‘kitchen’ was left a disaster but in fact we don’t have a kitchen as such, the sitting room area and kitchen being ‘open plan’, separated by just a counter, next to which we have our dining table – a beautiful mahogany drop-leaf amalgamation of a modern top in classical style and a base from the mid 18th century. You can see it with one leaf up in yesterday’s post. First to be cleared in the ‘disaster’ zone was the table; I just ate what remained on it from ‘the feast’ for breakfast 😂).

Eclectic musical taste?

But to return to the Vienna New Year concert (you get the idea I have a somewhat eclectic taste in music? Though ‘classical’ is top for me). The tv on which we watch and listen to the New Year concert is in what I term our ‘musical corner’; you might see two Romanian nai (panpipes) in some pictures, one tourist and one for a musician, as well as a harmonica; under that, unseen, is a piano, ‘hifi’ and a large collection of LPs, orchestral and opera. CDs are next to it.

One of the things I love about the Vienna concert is the ballet sequences; I’ve been an avid follower of ballet since my Grandmother took me to my first, Swan Lake, when I was seven years old (so you can imagine how pleased I was that Darcey Bussell was made a ‘Dame’ in the New Year Honours). The grace and beauty of ballet I saw in gymnastics when the Romanian team was preeminent so gymnastics are now the only sport I’m really interested in. You might say that ballet is now my second favourite art form, the first being music itself, whether instrumental or sung.

 

 

 

An innovation this year was an informative trip through Vienna with a young lady on a bicycle, calling at many of the most notable venues in this wonderful cradle of music. I enjoyed that.

This year’s conductor of the New Year concert was Ricardo Muti, not who conducted the first one Petronela and I saw together in 1998 but he who conducted the concert in the year of our marriage – 2000.

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Răcitură

New Year’s Eve is a special celebration for us: it is my wife Petronela (P)’s birthday, which in accord with Romanian tradition means ‘open house’, the table spread with Romanian food. No invitations are issued, friends and neighbours just ‘know’

Romanian food

The day before is a busy one for P as generally she does all the Romanian (specifically Moldovan) cooking but this year I attempted a favourite of mine – răcitură (known as ‘piftie’ in other parts, pieces of meat in ‘aspic’ – in this case pork though I prefer with cockerel or, even better, goose). Of course you can make it with commercially available gelatin but I was determined to make traditionally so was on a hunt for pigs’ trotters (feet) and ears. I was amazed when a butcher in Leeds Kirkgate market suggested the only place I would find them was in the pet shop. “Are you are butcher?” I asked. Fortunately there are ‘proper butchers’ in Bradford so I was able to pick up both trotters and ears on my way to hospital on Thursday (see previous post). The result must have been OK: my Romanian neighbour (Moldoveancă – lady from Moldova) ate almost a whole dish. Something new for me, at the suggestion of my Latvian blogger friend Ilze I ate some with mustard and vinegar. Delicious!

Table with Romanian food, awaiting guests

For those unable to come to ‘the party’ Facebook and other internet applications have created a different way for wellwishers to join in: at the last count over 150 people had written their birthday messages on Petronela’s ‘timeline’ to which must be added more than 30 private messages, some internet live chats and the odd phone call. What on earth would you do with that number of birthday cards?

Birthday girl early

Birthday girl later

London Fireworks

Guests gone (the last at 11pm) we turned on the tv at 11.55pm, popped the ‘bubbly’ at 00.00, then watched the London fireworks as we always do. Of course, with friends in other parts of the world I was sending New Year wishes at 00.00 before and after according to other timelines

Nile Rodgers (pic Rollingstone)

Nile Rodgers and Chic – better music

A big musical step up from previous years, bracketing the fireworks, for me was Nile Rodgers performing with Chic, celebrating their 40th year. Dreadlocks flying, he ensured we stayed awake to finish the bubbly. The likes of Gary Barlow, Bryan Adams and Robbie Williams – as in previous years – don’t cut it for me, boring me to sleep! Queen better!

I’m now going to do something I never did before, stop this post here and continue – with a completely different type of musical experience with a lot of personal history behind it, in another post – probably tomorrow.

Daniel’s cafe/bistro Ilkley is not run by Daniel but by his daughter Miruna and her husband. The name is a tribute to Miruna’s father who runs a hotel in our other favourite place, the Romanian Bucovina, specifically in the spa town (a bit like Harrogate) of Vatra Dornei.

We decided to visit this small but cosy coffee shop by day, a ‘bistro’ in the evening, yesterday afternoon. The cakes are ‘interesting’, yesterday’s were with butternut squash or pumpkin, but neither is ‘my cup of tea’ as we say so I opted for the Romanian sponge with apple and plums, the only truly Romanian cake on offer. With the first taste it took me back to my ‘honorary grandmother’s’ house near Câmpulung Moldovenesc, about 30km from the spa town, where we twice stayed for a while during our summer break. She makes an identical ‘cake’ (in fact it’s more like a pudding).

If a new visitor to Ilkley don’t stop at the Cow & Calf rocks and a walk on Ilkley moor but continue on the moorland road for some wonderful views. Here’s as we decend into our village

Romanian chocolate cakes

Unfortunately, not liking anything with fruit Petronela settled for just one of the excellent coffees. It’s a pity there are not more Romanian cakes, particularly chocolate cakes of which there are many: chec negru (black cake), amandine, mascota and others. All excellent and any one of them would have suited Petronela. There had been brownies, sold out, but for me the Romanian version is better: boema, chocolate cake soaked in a caramel syrup and topped with a ganache and ‘frișcă’ – sweetened whipped cream. It’s certainly more indulgent for any chocoholic.

But the main reason for a visit to Daniel’s if you are in Ilkley is the Romanian (more exactly Bucovinian) welcome. You will not find a more hospitable, friendly people anywhere and it hasn’t been diminished at all by being transplanted in Yorkshire.

Something I particularly like is Miruna’s tribute to her father, posted on a window. That also is very typically Romanian. Having been lucky enough to meet him on a previous visit, we can confirm he’s a great guy.

Daniel’s cafe/bistro has a website:

https://www.danielscafebistro.co.uk/

Don’t miss it (not open every day – see website) if you visit this lovely small Yorkshire town. If you’re lucky Miruna will have taken my hint and have more Romanian chocolate cakes!

Today is my ‘birthday’ but not the day on which I was born. It is the day on which, 17 years ago, I ‘acquired’ my Romanian name – Dimitrie. My ‘ziua onomastică’ – onomastic day.

Few people call me that: the priests who married us 17 years ago just three days later, my Godfather (ie my ‘best man’ in English terms), my in-laws and a few close friends in Romania who know our story. I’ve had a few messages or calls from some of them today. Other than these a few people know it from questioning my ‘personal’ email address (I have a few addresses, for different purposes).

So, today is the day of Sf. (Saint) Dumitru (Romanian) or, with other spellings, Greek, Russian, English, etc – eg Demetrios, Dimitri, Dimitrie. I adopted the latter. He’s rather like St. George but he didn’t slay any dragons as far as I know.

Seventeen is a special number for Petronela and me. I have referred to it before I think but it may be the subject of a post in three days time.

PS. Some churches, eg the Roman Catholic church, celebrate St Dimitrie on a different day.

I’ve said it before: Bradford, my home city, has become what to me is the biggest ‘slum’ in Europe. Because on Tuesday I went to Leeds, vibrant, fun, smiling people (bit about that on my post of 14 September) I decided as I needed to visit my bank yesterday I’d go to Bradford where there is a branch. I wish I had not.

In the Bronte village of Haworth in February

I’m not going to post any pictures of the city, they would be too depressing. It’s been turned into a city of ghettos, many of poverty. The much vaunted ‘new’ shopping centre, full of the usual chain shops has, appropriately I suppose, the most boring architecture imaginable. The major shops having moved to this centre, the previous shopping streets are filled with empty, deteriorating premises. It’s all reflected in the faces of the weary, hunched over figures on the streets.

All this in what was a magnificent Victorian city, built by the wool barons to demonstrate their wealth.  Vestiges of the old city remain, including the magnificent city hall, but most of it has been allowed to deteriorate. If you look above the tired shop fronts you can still imagine the superb local stone architecture that was.

It’s no coincidence that the ghettos have something like the highest incidence of uninsured drivers, the highest incidence of deliberately provoked ‘accidents’ to seek compensation and some of the worst driving you will experience anywhere (as I experienced only yesterday and but for extreme vigilance I would now have a buckled front wing).

Some jewels

There are a few jewels, for example the Alhambra where I was introduced, as a child, by my grandmother to ballet, opera and pantomime. I don’t go any more, crossing the city to reach it is too depressing. Another once magnificent building, St George’s Hall where I was introduced to live symphony concerts, is a sorry sight and another smaller concert venue, Eastbrook Hall,  where I think I heard Eileen Joyce play, has long gone, only a facade remaining. Another former jewel which I used to visit frequently, the national media museum, following a threat to close it because of falling attendances (not surprising as you had to go to the depressing city to visit it), has been ‘taken over’ by the London Science Museum. It would have been better, as I said at the time, to move it intact to Leeds, somewhere near the superb Royal Armouries museum. Attendance would have soared. Now, for ‘culture’, I’d go to Leeds.

There are many more jewels in the surrounding vast Bradford Metropolitan District, the World Heritage village of Saltaire where I spent my childhood, the Bronte village of Haworth, Ilkley Moor and others, but the disaster of the city is slowly but surely creeping out to consume them.

Antidotes

What a difference in a similar city in one of Europe’s substantially less wealthy countries, Iași in Romania. So one antidote to the Bradford visit was to look at some pictures taken in the city when we were there this summer.

The restoration of the buildings which declined in communist times is not finished yet but there’s enough to make it a happy place to visit, bustling with culture and, soon, the swarms of young people will be boosted as the new university year begins.

Back to the Chevin (pub!)

A final antidote to the Bradford visit, a climb up to the Chevin (see my post a few days ago) on a superb autumn day this afternoon. Only high enough today to have a drink in the Chevin Inn which boasts it has the finest views in Yorkshire from the garden. I think I’d argue with that but the views are certainly superb. Viewed with a pint of Timothy Taylor’s (local brewery) Landlord bitter in front of me and, for Petronela, a not so local cider, with a packet of crisps, it’ll do. Enough to obliterate memories of Bradford. Fortunately I wrote about that visit to the city before setting off on our 2.1/2 hour walk.

 

Picture of the set of 'toiuri' with the flask. They are decorated with a oicture of a couple in national costume.

Țoiuri and flaska

I’ve almost never bought ‘souvenirs of’ places I visited, either for myself or as gifts for others, but I’m quite pleased with something I brought back from Romania this time. I always bring some ‘palinka’ – the very alcoholic drink made from plums – not that found in commerce but that distilled by friends, or friends of friends. It always comes in a plastic bottle previously holding mineral water – so not very impressive, even if it’s held my favourite, Borsec, when serving to friends back in UK.

The drink, and the slightly less alcoholic version usually referred to as ‘țuică’, was traditionally served in a tiny ‘tankard’ called a țoi (pronounced ‘tsoy’) and served from a small flask so I wanted to find a set of ‘țoiuri’ (plural – ‘tsoy-oorr’). I really wanted a set in glass, or rustic pottery, but I didn’t find either so settled for a ‘tourist’ set in porcelain. At least it’s made in Romania, from one of the two factories in Alba Iulia, not from China as so much ‘traditional’ ware now is.

Bilberries – afine

Having missed the bilberry season in UK, we brought back the Romanian version, afine, in the largest glass jar we could find. We didn’t collect them but bought them in the market, 2.5kg for honorary grandmother, 2.5kg for mother in law and 2.5kg for us. You can buy them, apparently cheaper, by the roadside, but the weighing scale can have been doctored and they can have been diluted with something similar in appearance like elderberries so at about £4/kilo it’s better in the market.

2.5kg of afine, less those already eaten for breakfast, behind the set of țoiuri

2.5kg of afine, less those already eaten for breakfast, behind the set of țoiuri

Afine are the same as the British bilberry but tend to be just a little smaller and more intense in taste. Either are far superior to the cultivated American ‘blueberry’ found in supermarkets here, usually imported from South America but can be from, eg, Spain.

To preserve them all you do is pour sugar on top, which eventually forms a fine syrup. I put them on my usual breakfast of raw oats and milk. They can be used to make ‘afinată’ by letting the sugared berries soak in țuica, but I prefer them just as they are. Having had them for breakfast every day since returning home I’d soon finish them if I continued so starting this morning with grapes I’ll now add other fruit most days and give myself a treat on just one or two days a week.

Raw oats and milk with afine

Breakfast

Other culinary items brought back were ‘zarzavat’, finely chopped herbs and vegetables (preserved with salt), a better addition than the vegetable stock cube resorted to here, ‘ardei iute’ – hot peppers usually accompanying borsch (not for me) and tomato juice made from the intensely tasting tomatoes grown in the countryside, not those from the glasshouses which have little more taste than those sold in UK. All of these prepared by mother in law. Also brought were 5 litres of ‘salcăm’ (acacia) honey from a local beekeeper; we were lucky, the bees didn’t make much of this, my favourite, this year and most available was polyflora. Several bottles were added: a few of one of our favourite reds, from the Murfatlar region – Trei Hectare; newly appeared in Romania, cider, for Petronela; and a couple of the renowned sweet whites from the Cotnar region of north Moldova – Grasă de Cotnar – for friends ; neither P nor I like sweet wines.

That completed the haul; the long drive back, very hot for the first days, made bringing other ‘fresh’ foods back impossible so there’ll be an early visit to Marinela’s Romanian shop in Harehills, Leeds.

At one time posts about food and cooking formed a substantial proportion of my posts on this blog but there are now so many I usually settle for reading some of, to me, the more interesting food blogs or the posts about food from bloggers I follow more generally. I almost never follow recipes anyway except for classic French cooking though I often get inspiration from them.

As so often in Romania, things are not as they seem nor as you have been told.

The necessary legal documents to buy the ‘dream house’ (see previous post) were not in order as we had been assured they were and, more important, the elderly lady – D-na Saveta – owning it has two daughters, one of whom was keen for her to sell it but the other – who wasn’t answering the phone or communicating in any way – didn’t want her to sell it at all it turned out. She needs ‘permission’, and a legal agreement, from both to sell it.

We haven’t yet given up entirely but it seems unlikely; to get the documents in order would take at least a year (though that time scale would not be a problem for us).

Tomorrow we’re hoping to have another chat with D-na Saveta after erecting the tents in the garden here to dry as we packed them rather damp in Săliște. It should be sunny here tomorrow morning.

The route back – first part

Map of route we aim to follow from Campulung Moldovenesc to Budapest

So, we are back in the Bucovina having spent about a week in Săliște, Sibiu, returning to Iași on Thursday. The villages and small towns around the city of  Sibiu are quite wonderful with their multi-coloured, well maintained saș (saxon) architecture. I put a few pix on my Facebook journal, Dusty2Romania, but Petronela has put far more on her Facebook. Having ‘done’ the spectacular ‘Transfagărășanul’ last year we thought we’d try Romania’s highest main road – Transalpina, 2,145 metres – this year. I wasn’t so impressed though it seems extremely popular with motorcyclists and occasional cyclists.

Very noticable throughout Romania was a massive increase in the number of cyclists – lycra, helmets and all – not only foreign tourists but many Romanians.

Back in Bucovina

We arrived at my ‘honorary grandmother’s’ house, just 7km before Câmpulung Moldovenesc, a couple of hours ago. We will leave most probably on Monday to follow the route shown above rather than the way we came, via Baia Mare, Sighet and Borșa, so then skirting the Ukrainian border. There is camping at the spa town of Marghita (not named on the Google map above but the last thick black circle before the Romania/Hungary border I think) so we aim to spend a night there then on to Budapest, where we have selected another campsite.

We will then go through Budapest, hopefully avoiding the M0 motorway around the south of the city which is a really scary drive – maniac Hungarian drivers sticking 2 metres from your boot at 90mph – on the way to Austria then Germany but haven’t decided on a route yet. So far we have seen four bad accidents this trip, one on that Budapest ring road and one today on the way here from Iași which, to get round it, took us on what was really a forest footpath – fun in other circumstances.

We fancy trying to pick up the Rhine valley which we really enjoyed in the classic mini in 2006, where there were some excellent campsites. I’ll probably be able to do another post somewhere along that route.

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