Friday, April 06, 2012

Going Home - a Live Blog

“The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.” ( Maya Angelou )

Chronologically, this blog starts at the bottom - with the most recent updates at the top.
For pictures from this trip, please click here

April 22, 2012

Finally, home-home. In Utah, that is. The trip back was much longer than the trip there – over 24 hours by a lot. It felt like 100 hours all in all. In Amsterdam, we were delayed by over an hour because one passenger who was coming from Dublin had bought a bottle of Irish scotch in the Dublin Airport and Security would not allow the bottle to enter the plane for the US! This, I find very puzzling, as there are hundreds of stores selling liquids inside of all airports, and one figures that once you cleared security once in your trip, you are good to travel on whatever plane your itinerary entitles you to fly on and that whatever is sold in the airport is safe to fly with onboard. But that would only make sense, right?! While the passenger and the Security disputed the matter, we waited rather anxiously in the crammed “double decker” plane for over an hour.

Once in Chicago, all went well through passport control and customs, but we were once more delayed on our final flight – we waited on the plane after boarding, again, while they fixed a mechanical problem with the plane’s gas tank. I wondered – why boarding the entire flight and the luggage, if you they knew we might not be able to fly?! But then again, what makes sense in the airline business?!

When we finally arrived, delayed as it were, in Salt Lake, we found out that our luggage didn’t make it. We picked it up in Chicago and walked it through customs, but somewhere between the customs’ re-checking belt and our plane for Salt Lake, it was lost. Lovely!

All in all, not a terribly bad trip. No extra nights spent in airports, and no extra vouchers to “use on a later flight”. We made it home, exhausted and happy to wrap ourselves in the familiar once again.


A few notes about Romania on this final entry. Back in 1989, when The Revolution broke out and communism was overturned, foreigners would say that Romanians had forgotten how to smile. Life was so hard and threatened during communism dictatorship that people found no reason to be happy. 23 years later, I have to say, Romanians can’t smile, still!

It is so heartbreaking to see a people so passionate, so eager to live and love and give, be so disappointed, so complacent, so hopeless and saddened. You can see it in their foods (rich and flavorful), in their conversations (always boisterous, lively, loud), in their giving up their own bedrooms to accommodate guests in the best place in the house, how much joie de vivre these people have! And yet everything around them is falling apart, literally and figuratively, plunging them into darkness. The flicker in their eyes almost all gone.

Eavesdropping on random conversations in the street all I heard was “there is no money”, “everything is too expensive”, “these thieves (meaning the government) are making us starve while they’re getting rich”, “I worked again for nothing this month”, “I am swimming in debt”. Every time I go back, I miss my folks, and I desperately want to give them, if I could, a better life. But they are so embittered about it all, they can’t believe a better life is possible. This saddens me.

I wish there is something, anything, I could do, at least for those I love desperately, who feel trapped in that Godforsaken country.

The streets are still broken. The blocks still crumbling. Traffic is still a mess – people paying no attention to rules, and parking on grass, sidewalks, randomly in the middle of an intersection, what have you.

People I know and love still have big hearts and are generous and hard working, but they have no hope.

Although Romania is no Afghanistan, nor Iraq or Israel (that is: there is no war going on and there is somewhat of a feeling of safety while walking about) the distrust and doubt in people’s eyes and attitudes is overwhelming. Everyone is suspicious. We could not take pictures in a public place like the mall, or an opera house or a church. We had our cameras sealed in plastic at a department store, because they would not believe us we didn’t buy them there, once we left the store. You don’t leave your camera, your phone or any other electronic in the park car, for fear the car will be broken into and your equipment stolen.

I loved being back, because it gave me two weeks of being with my family, whom I love and miss every day. If it were not for them, however, I doubt I would ever make this journey again. I had missed the foods and the smell in the air. The smell of spring and the sound of the cuckoos in the crisp morning.

Old friends I thought I had left there were cold, distant, or dodged our get-together entirely, with little to no apologies. Time and distance are definitely taking a toll. Despite the sadness in my heart, I know this is just human nature. Such is life.

It’s sad to come to the realization that the place that formed who I am, the place that schooled and educated me, the place where I grew into a young woman, that prepared me for life, has little to no reason to call me back. I recognize it, but it’s not me anymore. I don’t believe it ever was, really!

Romania is a place I connect with people. The US is a place that I connect with lifestyle. I take bits and pieces from both to make my own world. All in all, is just a matter of where my heart is, to feel “at home”. As long as I have my heart, I am home.

Taking this journey with my husband made a world of difference – there is no one who has their finger on my heart’s pulse like he does. I saw everything through my own eyes and he echoed what I was seeing, reinforcing my feelings, observations, validating my memories. It was an emotionally powerful journey, and if I were to do it again, I’d jump on that Salt Lake to Paris flight tomorrow! Plus, I am already missing my mom’s sarmale, so that would be an even stronger reason to do it.

It’s a good trip to make, sadness and all, to refocus and re-ground once more. It shakes you up to your core and wakes you up! Makes you grateful for what you do have and for having the guts to not look behind when you initially left.  No regrets for me. Only some for those I left behind.

For glimpses of Romania, as our cameras saw it, click here.

April 18, 2012

The back yard of the house I grew up in, in the Northern Carpathians (Bucovina)

Back home to the city. We have been in the mountains for the past two days, visiting friends and family. Everyone we saw was so happy to see us and so friendly and hospitable. We ate more than we should have, but everyone cooked lots for Easter (which lasts for 3 days here), so they were glad to share.

Heating our lunch on a wood stove

My favorite: smoked trout

Aa. got to meet the extended half of my family, and my goddaughter. The weather was not good. Just rain, and cold and fog. Not sure what pictures we have come up with, other than lots around the fire and around the plentiful tables!

It was nice to see everyone, and to get away from the bustle of the city. The mountains were fresh, as always, and quiet. No traffic noise and no stress there. Just peaceful!

We drove back today, through more rain, mud, and fog. Just nasty! We are back in Iasi, where Aa. is recovering from a nasty stomach bug! Yuck! I am proud of him for being healthy all this time, as he definitely is not used to the water nor to the very heavy foods here!

Now, we're on the last days of the visit and the clock is ticking to get our bags packed! Lots of people gave us lots of souvenirs, and such, and we bought a couple of things for some friends back home, and also Aa.'s family. We'll be packing for the next couple of days and saying more goodbyes, here in Iasi. Almost everything we are bringing over is very fragile, so we'll pack for a while trying make sure everything will get across in one piece.

Later in the week, we'll be home bound ... We have had a fantastic time, and I miss my folks already, but ... we both miss home, too, especially our shower and our own bed! Visiting is lovely, but having a home to get back to is the best!

A piece of history: when my relatives poured this (now crumbling) concrete patio, in 1988, they engraved the names of all the children who helped in the pouring. My name and my sister's name are included and still there today.

April 16, 2012

2 years ago today I married the most wonderful man alive. Thank you, babe, for two amazing years of happiness! I am forever grateful to you and forever in love!

Yesterday, it was Easter Sunday here. We had several friends of the family and several relatives stop by to have Easter lunch / brunch/ dinner with us. It was a typical Romanian party, that started at 1 PM and ended at 9 PM. We went through 20+ dishes, several types of drinks, coffee, dessert, and we ended everything with dancing. I am not sure what my very calm and laid back husband thought of it all, but at some point he said he feels like home. That's all I needed to hear!

Today, we're driving to see my relatives in the mountains. It's going to be amazing on so many levels - unique, picturesque, old-timey, confusing (for Aa.), refreshing, eye-opening, emotional (for me) - all in one. "The mountains" are this little village in the Northern part of Romania, where I spent most of my childhood holidays and vacations. Half of my heart is still buried there. I cannot wait to get on the road.

We will visit some monasteries on the way, and a couple of smaller cities. For the most part, we'll enjoy family, friends, their offerings and we'll be translating dirty stories about my sister and I growing up there to Aa.

The postings will probably stop till I get back, as the internet availability there is so very limited. Of course, if I am wrong and it's aplenty, I will post snippets of what's going on.

I'll catch everyone up on what's next when I get back.

A good new week to all!

April 14, 2012

A completely indoor day. Since tonight is Easter for us, we are on a race against time to finish cooking. My folks have been cooking for 3-4 days, and still had 10 more dishes or so finish up, and of course, to decorate the eggs.

Egg decorating is not just child's play here. It's serious, traditional business.

We mostly watched, although we helped some too, with the cleaning and cooking.

At midnight, we will go to the midnight service to welcome Easter. We will return home with burning candles to light candles up around the house. I missed this moment, this day, the most. So glad I am finally here and get to enjoy our traditions and faith.

Love to all who are reading here, in this beautiful day.

Easter eggs, Romanian and dad style ....

April 13, 2012

Writing from 'Casa Vanatorului' Restaurant in Iasi

We slept in today. We ate breakfast and then visited my university, over 150 years old. Aa. really liked that!

For those of you who went to this university and are reading this - did you know they are renovating the heck out of it ?! The old, beat-up wooden and metal desks are out, replaced with new, light weight, IKEA looking desks and the old, heavy, nasty chalk blackboards are being replaced with light weight white boards. And each amphitheater has its own thermostat, for temperature control. One step closer to the Western world.

We then walked to two historic parks, and we are now having lunch on an outdoor patio in the middle of one of the parks. It's a beautiful spring day with just enough chill in the air to not get us sweaty!

I am posting this from my iPhone, through the free wifi offered by the restaurant/ park.

Aa. at the 'Casa Vanatorului' patio restaurant, enjoying a draft.

April 12, 2012

A typical breakfast at my parents' house: home made smoked meats and fresh cheese. Now, ready for a new day!


We had lots of adventures today - went to mom's hospital, built in 1880's, which was a trip back in time; we walked all over town, in neighborhoods I grew up in and have not visited in 20+ years; we visited an old teacher of mine that brought me back to my school days and to a time when America was just a distant and not realistic dream.

But nothing beats the unusual more than what we came home to - this smoked pig tail that my mom is getting ready to put in the sarmale pot, for "extra flavor". Yum?! Not in this shape, at least!

April 10, 2012

It was a day of sightseeing and walking around town, today. We drove all over the place - went to visit a friend's new pet store, full of exotic fish and what not. Then, we went to one of many farmers' markets in town, and Aa. was amazed at how rich it was and how fresh everything smelled and tasted. The one downside of the trip was that in the meat market, we were yelled at to not take pictures. So we had to put the cameras away.

After that, we went to a supermarket, Carrefour, and we just walked about, and bought some bread and beer - you know, the "essentials". There, they took our cameras and sealed them in plastic, just so they'll know we did not steal them from the supermarket (which sold the same cameras we had). The freedom loving American in Aa. really felt violated on this one!

We walked about the neighborhoods I grew up in and we visited the high school I went to. It looks like time never went over anything. Everything still looks the same. Even the potholes in the roads are still in the same spots!

At the market - grains, meats, cheeses, veggies, eggs and herbs.

My only living grandma came to visit after that, and that was the highlight of my day! Such a good feeling to see her, maybe, even, for the last time! Such a gift.

We then helped dad with smoking the meats for Easter. Oh my! So much meat! So much smoke! So much flavor! That was another first for Aa. The very rudimentary smoker dad built himself along with tying the meats together and hanging them on wood sticks inside the barrel filled with smoke was some other kind of trip back in time!

Ready to go in the smoker for round 2 - or as dad says: 'This spells c-h-o-l-e-s-t-e-r-o-l'.

The rest of the day was spent waiting for the meats to cook and watching TV. Just another day in the family.

Yum. Aa. got to experience 'halva' for the first time. So good and absolutely un-find-able anywhere near where we leave.

April 9, 2012

I need to start by saying THANK YOU to all of you who wished me a "happy birthday". WOW! I had no idea I was so popular. And yes, I know, that for the most part, Facebook reminders help, but I am SO grateful that you all took the time to say something on my wall, and/ or give me a call/ email. Since I am in Romania, I got to speak with people that normally can't afford to dial an international number and call me - such a blessing to be able to talk to old friends and all my family everywhere, this time . THANK YOU.

We spent the day at home, and some family visited. We had cake and yes, I blew the candles in one breath. :-) For dinner, dad took us to this fancy restaurant and we had good, traditional Romanian food. The restaurant was at the top floor of a hotel that is in the downtown, in Union Square, one of the most central spots of Iasi - my home town. The view of the whole city was beautiful. We saw the city in the dusk, and then at night and it was just amazing. I showed Aa. my university, my university's library, my old block of flats, where I grew up, the church my sister got married in and the Metropolitan Cathedral - the most important church in our town. We saw all of these from the roof of this hotel, where we had dinner. It was magical!

Now, we came home and my parents - especially my dad - are trying to build the menu for all the meals for the whole week. Oh my God! We are both so full it's not even funny. We can't even think of food, much less of a whole menu. But everything in Romania revolves around food - it's the only way my family knows how to say "I love you".

We eat non stop here. And dad says all the time that we eat nothing and that we hate his food. NOT the case. We have been here for a little bit more than 24 hours and I feel like throwing up already - so uncomfortably full!

That's about all for today. It's been rainy and windy here, but starting tomorrow, the weather is becoming warmer and brighter, so hopefully we'll get out and see more of the city.

We'll keep you posted!

The big three - seven ...

View of Iasi from the Panoramic restaurant, on top of the Unirea (Union) Hotel, in downtown Iasi

April 8, 2012

Iasi - Romania.

We are home. Yes: the wine is sweeter, the tomatoes are juicier, the meat is smokier and the hugs warmer!

Paris was a nightmare. We had over an hour for a layover but we ended up with just barely a bathroom break! The bus that took us to the right terminal was 20 minutes late and then it took forever to drive us ALL around the whole airport to get to the right place. That left us with something like 15 minutes for bathroom and for Alina to buy a COOL watch I have wanted since my last trip through Paris, 3 years ago. Happy birthday to ME!

Bucharest was another nightmare - so hard to navigate. Not a huge airport but not so well marked!

After 30 minutes of delay due to bad weather and the most difficult landing of out lives, we are in Iasi. Hallelujah! The weather here is bitter - wind, rain, snow and temps of 30's! Bbrrrr!

My parents and aunt had a feast (literally) ready for us. About 10 appetizers and three main courses followed by dessert and chased down with scotch, tuica, and dad's own wines ( red and white ). We are so tired and so full we can't breathe. But so happy!!

It's 11 pm here, or 2 pm in Utah and that only means we have been up for 30 hours! Someone needs to turn in!

More on the following days!

Aa. and dad sharing dad's red wine - 2011 was a very good ' demi- sec ' wine year for Romania.

April 7, 2012

First day of the trip - last look at Mount Timpanogos and Utah Valley. En route to Salt Lake City airport and further on to Paris. Beautiful day here.

I am very nervous about our suitcases' weight - we are smack dab at the limit of 50 lbs on each one of them. Hoping for nice folks at the checkin line.

Good bye, Utah, for a bit!

Step one of being nervous is over: we had THE nicest man checking our bags. He knew lots about Romania and all the countries around it. Then, he didn't even blink when he read '51 lbs' on the monitor for one of our bags. Sooo grateful for nice people.

We're eating a California Pizza Kichen sandwich outside our gate. All ready for jumping over The Pond.

Mount Timpanogos as seen from I-15 in Utah County: bye-bye, home!

April 6, 2012

It’s that time again. After virtually exactly 3 years, I am headed home. So much has happened in these years: I found the love of my life, I married, I moved across America, I have a new and different and fun job, I have one more nephew. I have grown. And grown gray. And I am just as excited to go back as I was 3 years ago. As I ever am.

I don't have a twitter account and I won't open one. I am more of a keeper of words rather than just ... throwing them out there, into an ever changing medium. *shrug*. I will keep this blog updated with tidbits from this trip. It’s something I have never done before, outside of my trip across America. I will see if technology keeps up with me and if it helps with allowing me updating this blog from just about anywhere. I will post when I get a chance, in between visits with friends and family, and in between planes and car rides. I will use a variety of devices, I am sure, and will see how far an iPhone can really travel – literally and not so much. Sometimes, I won’t have time for more than just a picture, but I hope that it will still tell a tale.

We are leaving tomorrow evening from Salt Lake City, on a direct flight to Paris! This is the first time ever when I fly from my home city directly to Western Europe. So excited to cut that one “American layover” that always has tons of potential for delays, cancellations and what-not’s.

We then have a flight to Bucharest and another one to my home town of Iasi. We should be at my parents’ house sometimes around 12 PM MST on Sunday. All in all, around 18 hours. We will be 9 hours ahead, so if you’re reading from the US – sorry for the oddly timed updates.

That’s it from home.
“See” you all … on the road, or should I say, “in the air”.

Hope I’ll keep it interesting.