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.

 

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Former headmaster Dumitru Bunea with a portrait of founder of the school, M Kogălneceanu

Former headmaster Dumitru Bunea with a portrait of M Kogălneceanu, who founded the school in  1831 in a former ‘palace’

Two important things to do today, in the morning resolution of some medical problems, in the afternoon visiting the museum at the high school where Petronela (my wife – P from now) and I met, Liceul Agricol M Kogălniceanu, Miroslava. Succeeded with both.

A high school in a heavenly setting

How did I become a teacher at Miroslava? Living and teaching at the time in the city of Suceava, I was invited on a British Council course for Romanian teachers of English and there met a teacher of English from the Informatics high school in Iași (about 100km away). She persuaded me to come to Iași once a week and teach there. Someone else mentioned to me the beautiful setting of the Miroslava school so one day I climbed the hill, 7km from the city centre, to have a look. The high school is an agricultural high school, so apart from general education students can be educated to be vets, food technicians and other profiles, caring for animals in the school farm, raising crops on the school’s 100 hectares of agricultural land, caring for the orchard and vineyard, even keeping bees. That was so when I and P taught there; it may have changed somewhat now.

Wandering around, admiring the park, the orchard, the vineyard and what seemed to be an old, rather run down ‘palace’, all of which seemed to make up the school, I met someone who turned out to be the the deputy headmaster, explained I was a native speaking English teacher. He took me to the headmaster, Dumitru Bunea, who quickly persuaded me to teach there too (they had no English teacher, in fact no member of staff, including the head, spoke English). The ‘bait’ was that I could have a room in the ‘camin’ (the student hostel) and eat in the school canteen in return for teaching. As I was at the time a volunteer, so no income, I ‘bit’!

As usual on this blog, click any picture in the gallery below to see the pictures larger as a slide show

A unique museum

The headmaster, not only a history teacher like P but a dedicated historian, had some time before began to collect agricultural implements, many brought by students from the surrounding villages, with the idea of making a museum in the school. This expanded into collecting traditional items of clothing, pottery, etc. As the collection grew, including pre-neolithic artifacts to relatively recent things (eg from WW2), some of the best were donated to the city’s museum of culture (Palatul Culturii) and many duplicates donated to surrounding schools to make their own museums.

There is now an extensive collection at the school though it does not have the money to house and display it as it would wish. The village mayor had acquired European funds to do this but the city reappropriated these funds so the project is now in limbo. As Mr Bunea is now retired, getting this project off the ground again is even less likely. This is really sad; if I won a big, big prize on the lottery I would certainly finance it.

Although I visited the museum, of course, during my time teaching at Miroslava, I never had a a really good look, particularly to discuss it with the man who created it – Mr Bunea. It was an enormous pleasure, and honour, to do that today over more than four hours.

A further honour was to be invited to sign the ‘Carte de onoare’, alongside personalities from all over the world and in many languages.

Busy day and temperature is climbing again (29-30degC). Escaping to the cooler climes of the Bucovina tomorrow for a few days, looking for a possible place to move and visiting friends.

The moment I cross the border into Romania I feel better, particularly if I cross in the north east of the country. This route takes me most directly to where I say I was ‘reborn’ – the Romanian Bucovina – via Maramureș, the two areas of the country where tradition is best preserved. They border the Ukraine, the part which was Romania until Churchill and Stalin gave it to the USSR. I’ve been there when I was chucked out of Romania for some minor misdemeanor (probably not renewing my visa in time, but that’s another story). It’s still very Romanian and I found most people spoke Romanian as well as Ukrainian.

In the past, when I lived in Romania, in the early years I had to leave Romania every three months then come back to renew my visa. Usually I chose to go to Budapest and crossed the border at Oradea, a busy crossing. Since returning to the UK I’ve preferred, when driving, to cross in the north east. Two years ago I crossed at Valea lui Mihai, a quiet crossing point.

The route

Google map of route from Petea to Iasi

This year I chose a crossing a little further north, at Petea, taking the 19 from the M3 from Budapest, well signposted for Satu Mare and Romania, as although it seemed to be a bit busier it was quite a few kilometers less to get onto the 18 road taking us through Maramureș and Bucovina – not the quickest route to our final destination, the city of Iași, but the most spectacular. Via Bistrița would be quicker and we’ll almost certainly return on this route knowing of the roadworks on the 18.

The Romanian border police have an excellent website which shows the actual waiting time at each crossing.

We did get ‘lost’ a couple of times negotiating Satu Mare to get to Baia Mare. The first was in Satu Mare itself, as so often the case, having been well signposted suddenly you reach a T junction with no sign. We turned the wrong way. Second, after leaving the town there was a sign indicating the route for heavy vehicles so we didn’t take it. When we reached a village with a typical Romanian country road it was clear we should have done. No big deal, it just took a little longer.

Roadworks

The road works on the 18 mountain road, which began on the climb to about 1,000 metres then descent (I think 26 hairpin bends) of the Gutai pass on the 18 between Baia Mare and Sighet, this year made it all the more adventurous (as logged on my Facebook ‘diary’ Dusty2Romania). At the top of the pass is a ‘han’, an inn, Pintea Viteazul, good for a break and something to eat. We ate a ‘ciorba’, a soup. Later I saw that this renowned inn is for sale, for €300,000.

For kilometer after kilometer there was a giant hole about every 100 metres, to take a very large ‘tube’ (1.5-2m diameter) to take water from the mountain under the road, rather than washing the road away as in the past. Some of these holes would have accommodated the Dacia Duster.

The right ‘lane’, which we are on, has been excavated to put a layer of stones then asphalt. The left ‘lane’ has not. Often it was a single ‘lane’, sometimes with traffic lights, sometimes not. More fun, especially when some drivers ignored the red light.

 

As I wrote in the ‘diary’, roadworks like those between Sighet and Cîrlibaba in UK would surely have led to the road being closed. In Romania no, particularly as it gives the only access to many villages along it. It was always an ‘adventure’ to take this road but at the moment more so. When complete much of the ‘adventure’ will have gone, though it will still be a spectacular route.

Camping Borșa

We camped for the night in the village of Borșa on a small campsite (Camping Borșa – they have a website) at the base of northern Romania’s highest mountain – Pietrosul Rodnei, 2,303 metres.

A few kilometres more and there’s the Prislop pass, 1,416 metres high. There didn’t seem to be anything wrong with it when we traversed it in the camper two years ago, in fact we slept a night at the top, but it had been dug up this year.

Continuing to Iacobeni you meet the major highway E58, a good road immediately climbing the Mestecăniș pass,1,096 metres, then down through the town of Câmpulung Moldovenesc to Gura Humorului, where you’ll find two of the famous ‘painted monasteries’, Voroneți to the right as you enter the town and Humor from the town centre to the left. In and around Câmpulung and Vama we have many friends, mostly deriving the projects I did in this area in the 1990s. We did not stop as we’ll be going back there.

The E58 goes to Suceava city but shortly after Gura Humorului we take the 2E towards Fălticeni but bypassing that we turn south on the E85, the major north-south highway from the border with Ukraine at Siret (where I spent my first 6 months in Romania in 1993). I drove this road many times, to the capital București, in my first six months in Romania. After several kilometres we turn east at Moțca, another good road, the 28E through Pașcani to Târgu Frumos, where we pick up the E58 again all the way to Iași.

I can’t explain why I feel so much better after entering Romania. Although the hot weather has something to do with it, it’s not just that as it was similarly hot in Hungary. It’s something spiritual.

A week of sorting, packing, searching for campsites on our route, about 1,700 miles, from Menston, Yorkshire in the UK to Iași in north Romania, including the ferry crossing.

We’ve done this journey three times before though never following quite the same route: in 2006 in Mini, our 1975 classic mini via the Rhine valley; two years ago in Lofty, our 1972 VW bay camper by the most direct route. The first time was in 2000 when we’d flown to the UK for my mother’s 80th birthday then took a Honda Accord back to Romania (after getting married at three days notice!). This year we’ll make a small diversion from the direct route, camping in Holland, then through northern Germany avoiding Cologne but after that on the direct route, hoping for fewer long hold-ups than two years ago.

Map showing approximate route from Hook of Holland to Iasi in Romania

Approximate route

There will be a few small diversions to camp sites but not counting these the total journey is about 1,680 miles (2,700km).

Facebook group for brief diary

As I did two years ago I’ve made a Facebook group

Dusty2Romania

to, hopefully, post a daily brief diary when we have internet access. You’re very welcome to follow us there if you use Facebook. Facebook being what it is I’ve made the group closed, but if you’re not already a member (I made many friends – in the real sense of the word – members  already) just ask. I aim to supplement the brief Facebook entries with more substantial blog posts, which I much prefer, here when possible.

Menston to Harwich (nearly)

First stage, tomorrow, down to Harwich where we’ll take the ferry to Hook of Holland on Tuesday morning. We’ve booked into a campsite at Bradfield, near Manningtree, about 8 miles from the ferry terminal, recently refurbished I understand, for Monday night. It’s behind a pub; we’re hoping that’s good for a meal so we don’t have to cook. I’ll let you know how it is.

Grumpytyke is back, I hope fairly frequently, after a long absence, and I’m trying to decide whether to resume with the wide ranging subjects which I wrote about before – Romania, VW campers, classic minis, haiku, Yorkshire and food and cooking, and a few more as the mood takes me – or to limit myself to one or two themes. That might be difficult for me.

I just ploughed through emails going back to February this year – helluvalot of spam – and was glad to see a lot of ‘old friends’ still posting, though some seem to have disappeared in recent months. Apart from one short post in February ‘explaining’ my absence I haven’t really posted or looked at emails for about a year.

Me

Much of my absence has been due to a major health problem. I was diagnosed with prostate cancer, had my first ever stays in hospital and spent a while with tubes and bags limiting my movement. Hopefully it’s under control for the moment. I might have something to say about the wonderful overworked nursing staff in the NHS, but the often abysmal administration, management and systems, in a future post. (more…)

Icon of Saint Dimitrie

This icon of Saint Dimitrie, Dimitrios (Greek) or Dumitru (Romanian), is one of several in our home

Today is Saint Dimitrie’s day, so also ‘my’ day as Dimitrie is my name too, given to me when I was baptised on 26th October. In the Eastern Orthodox Tradition, the name day corresponds to the day on which a saint “fell asleep”, or died (Gregorian calendar).

I was given the name in the Orthodox church of ‘Stefan cel Mare Domnesc (the Lord’s Church of Stephen the Great), Iasi, the church I attended when I lived in that Romanian city (and the church in which I was married).

Although in Romania the saint is known as Dumitru, I chose the Russian version – hence Dimitrie – and that is how my several Orthodox priest friends, and some other friends, call me.

When I was in Romania people would call at my home on this day and share a drink and a snack, or even a celebration meal. Now, in the UK, I receive email messages and ‘iconograms’ from friends and relatives in Romania, especially from my Godparents – Godfather Vasile, now a mathematics lecturer in an Australian university, and Godmother Gabriela. (more…)

Christmas is getting closer and much as I, being an old traditionalist, like to ignore it until Christmas Eve, I can’t do that as far as sending Christmas cards is concerned. So today I’ve devoted to making some.

This year I thought I’d do something with pictures of Romanian decorated eggs; decorated with Christmas scenes and symbols is not traditional, nor is feeding a ribbon through so it can be hung on the Christmas tree. I think I can take ‘credit’ for this as a suggestion made when I was working in a project to try to increase the income of the ladies who decorate the eggs.

Egg2_1060835 Egg1_1060834

I cannot take any credit for the one below – again it is not ‘traditional’ but the relatively small number of women making these wonderful paintings on hens’ eggs have no artistic training – it’s a natural talent. Some of the nuns in the monasteries paint eggs like this too.

Egg3_1060838

However, I have some people I want to send a Christmas card to who cannot see – tenants in the houses supported by the small charity for which I work and a couple of work colleagues. What about them?

What better than enclosing a CD with some of the wonderful Romanian Christmas carols, very beautiful and very different to the carols I was used to before I went to Romania.

Here are just three from the ‘Christmas card CD’ I have made this morning (hopefully if you click on them they’ll play on your computer – they’re MP3 files not the CD audio files).

22 Colindul clopotelor               21 Linu-i lin             19 O, ce veste minunata

22. The carol of the bells    

21. I can’t translate it – smooth (like the music)    

19. O, what wonderful news

– sung by the superb ‘Mira’ choir of the ‘Lord’s Church of St. Nicholas’ in Iasi, Romania (Lord in the sense of ruler, of Moldova, Stefan cel Mare – Stephen the Great). The only musical instrument in the Romanian church is the human voice, if you discount the bells and the toaca (the wooden board drummed to summon the faithful to prayer), of which this Iasi church has neither. I have been lucky enough to hear this choir many times when I lived in Iasi, not just at Christmas. The church is the one in which I was married.

The third carol is my favourite, perhaps because it is the first I learned by heart and surprised my pupils each year by singing it to them. For you, I can assure you that Mira is much better!

You’ll find Mira on YouTube:

 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zNmJVKjeQpM