Travel


View from our front window

View from our ‘front’ window. Most of the trees are still largely green. Few leaves have fallen

The obvious signs of autumn are coming late this year. Most of the leaves are still on the trees, even the horse chestnuts, usually the first to undress, have kept their clothes despite the high winds of the past few days though there are quite a lot of conkers down. Maybe that’s only because the children have been throwing sticks up to bring them down. Last year the trees were almost bare at this time; this year most of them are still green. Even the acer outside our window is only a little rusted.

On the other hand, the berry trees – rowan, hawthorn, etc – are particularly laden with their red feasts. Not for long I think. Blackbirds seem satisfied with six berries for each meal; the crows, flapping to stay on the thin branches, take far more. They might wish they had been less gluttonous if the harsh winter foretold by the berries occurs. Or maybe they just know I’ll keep the bird feeders full from the first frost.

The temperature is down, only 17degC in our flat first thing in the morning. As the energy supplier has recently hiked the price by 12.5% we’ve resisted putting the heating on yet. If the sun stays out it will get up to 19degC in our sitting room/kitchen, which has large windows facing south. The bedroom, facing north, will remain cool.

Wharfe Valley

Some of the near white drystone walls dividing green fields in the Wharfe valley between Burnsall and Grassinton

The ‘white’ drystone walls glistened in the sun

With bright sun yesterday morning we decided to take a ride up the beautiful Wharfe valley, which gets wilder the further up you go. We didn’t go far, only as far as the village of Grassington but it’s a lovely ride from Bolton Abbey past the Barden Tower , closely following the river, to Burnsall then Grassington (I’ve put a link on the placenames for those don’t know the Yorkshire Dales, or you can google them). Though it’s much visited there’s not really much special about Grassington unless there’s a festival on but the surroundings are wonderful. The autumn colours we expected on the way were in short supply. The ‘white’ drystone walls were a substitute delight in the sun.

The touristy shops beckoned but we just settled for some ‘Thirst Aid’, proclaimed on a blackboard outside a small coffee shop, which was suggested would help with the “steep” climb (not really). Just two tables outside in the narrow street on an even narrower pavement but the small space had beckoned to the sun and seemingly trapped it. The declared “outrageously good coffee” was excellent.

So, a day doing nothing special but, arriving home, Petronela and I agreed it was a ‘special day’.

Haiku

autumn comes tardy

nature’s paintbox still half closed

birds gorge on berries

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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.

 

I must be getting back to normal; it’s taken almost two weeks following our marathon trip of approaching 5,000 miles over 45 days. First, yesterday, I made the first ‘full English’ breakfast since our return; today I’m baking bread for the first time (couldn’t bear any more from the shop, even ‘good’ bakeries) and I’m making ‘leftovers’ soup – from the carcass of a roast chicken with some mushrooms. That’s what I call ‘back to normal’.

The two loaves baked today, one still in the tin, the other out

Just out of the oven

It was only laziness that delayed breadmaking till now and I’m sure I’d offend that tv celebrity baker, Holiday Inn or something. I’ve long settled on my own recipe and let a breadmaker do the hard work, do the second rising in the warming oven, so all I do is a very brief knead, divide into two tins and, after doubled in size, put the two loaves in the oven to bake. If I lived in Germany I’d probably be even lazier – I’d buy my bread from the bakery. I prefer the firmer consistency to the airy ‘foam’ we get here.

My recipe, two tin loaves from: 500g wholemeal strong flour; 170g of wholemeal spelt flour, 430ml water; 10g butter; 2.1/2 teaspoons salt; 2.1/2 teaspoons sugar; packet of dried yeast. Sometimes I add sunflower or pumpkin seeds. Today I just brushed the tops with milk and scattered poppy seeds on.

Dinner tonight will be as lazy: beef stew made some time ago, from the freezer, with dumplings. I know, it’s not yet winter but I love stew and dumplings and it’s quite chilly today.

Although I kept a daily journal of the trip on Facebook (Dusty2Romania) I do intend to do at least one post here, about in particular the campsites on which we stayed, from the horrors of Budapest to the excellence of some in Austria and Holland. Soon.

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.

Our real life Cruella de Vil

Returning to UK after the longest period away since I returned, in 2004, from living in Romania there’s so much to write about. Should I settle on a theme or just ramble away as is my wont? The latter is more my style so here goes.

Britain used to be the most liberal of countries and we thought of Germany as very strict and restrictive. Now it seems to have reversed. Stupid regulation after regulation governing everything here, so called ‘Health and Safety’ reaching ridiculous proportions, every child seems to have an allergy so cannot eat this or that (we’d have starved!), excellent recruits for the Nazi SS, unintelligent bullies, controlling train travel (at least on Northern Rail) and car parking, not all of course but a substantial proportion; teachers now expected not only to teach but to take over the role of parents in the most basic of  ‘education for life’; teachers and nurses bogged down with stupid form filling rather than getting on with the job for which they signed up, so leaving their professions in droves. Essential utilities companies, like British Gas (foreign owned of course), hiking their prices by stupendous amounts while rewarding their senior executives with massive pay rises.

We have a perfect Cruella de Vil leading the country using leaving the European Union (I refuse to use that dreadful ‘B…..’ word) as a perfect excuse to remove the power from Parliament and put it in the hands of a few of her lieutenants, so called ‘Ministers’.

Of course, everything is the fault of the immigrants, especially if they’re from eastern Europe or Muslim – I don’t think.

In fact, it’s the fat cats who are determined to get even fatter and roll in their slime.

Even (now this is going to upset 10% of the population) my previously favourite radio station, Classic FM, has sunk further into the money-making mire with repeated self-congratulation from the majority of the presenters, advertisers who seem to think the audience is made up of cretins. Their much (self) lauded 25th birthday concert, with a superb orchestra and chorus (the Liverpool ‘Royals’), was largely rubbish with no obvious reason for the bits and bats played. There was a super rendition of Bartok’s violin concerto by a young man, only 21 I think, and a premiere of a very interesting, exciting, piece composed by a young woman, only 23 years old, whose name I cannot remember but I’ll be seeking her out. With that fabulous orchestra and chorus why the devil didn’t we get, eg, Beethoven’s 9th instead of that mishmash of bits of this and that?

What prevents me jumping in the car and going back across the water? An elderly lady’s smile, sitting on a wall in my village main street and discussing the weather with me yesterday morning while waiting patiently for her bus.

 


A beautiful day at ‘Camping Warnsborn’ near Arnhem close to the German/Dutch border. This is an excellent site and perfect for a first stop after taking the morning ferry from Harwich to Hook of Holland and for the afternoon ferry back, being only 1.1/2-2hrs drive from the port. The owners, Felix and Margo, are very pleasant. Beautifully maintained grass for pitching a tent and surrounded by woods; we didn’t have time to explore them 5/6 weeks ago but will do so on this lovely ‘English’ summer day – 24-25degC. It’s easy to find from the E35 motorway as it’s close to Burger’s Zoo, which has clear signs on the motorway after which there are excellent camping signs to the site.


Surprising a good run this morning from the Rhine valley to here, arriving at 1pm after a leisurely drive with no holdups. I’ve mentioned before the inability of Germans to maintain free-flowing traffic around road reconstructions and although we had a clear run some indication of what motorists were in for was given by a kms long queue in the opposite direction to enter Germany. I guess Germans can organise a piss up in a brewery but that’s about it; I don’t want to hear any more about German efficiency, though those in the north seem generally a lot friendlier than those in the south despite the oompah oompah and lederhausen down there.


I probably mentioned the birdsong last time we stayed here at Warnsborn, lovely to wake to, but this time we are visited by many dragonflies; they seem to find Dusty’s open door the ideal place to sun themselves. I got a oic, sort of, but the iPad isn’t ideal and I can’t be bothered with a camera.

In fact the last three days, two in the Rhine valley and one restful now not far from the ferry are an ideal finale to our trip. We just downed a bottle of some fizzy rosé P found in Aldi, about acceptable for the occasion resembling a mildly alcoholic lemonade. Far better was some ‘alt Gouda’ cheese, bought in Germany though we’ll be passing close to Gouda tomorrow morning.

It’s good P is not going back to stress of ‘that school’ and it’s allowed us to miss the rush back for the beginning of school this week. She has meeting with two agencies next week for some ‘supply teaching’; anything is better that the nonsense she had to endure where she been for so many years, much appreciated by the students but not by the so-called ‘senior management’. Better for my sanity too.

It’s good to have such a fine end to the trip (not counting what we might find when we arrive in UK, though we know the campsite is good) after the ‘disasters’ of Hungary and Munich. Thankfully we had the pleasant Austrian site between.

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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