Romanian Road Trip: Little House in the Forest

For those of you not interested in Romania or holiday pictures, look away now, as the following few posts will be all about my holiday there. I’ve had a fraught love-hate relationship with my home country all my life (more about the whys in a later post), but this time almost everything clicked to make it a magical experience. Two days of cold and snow (up in the mountains), but the rest of the time we had temperatures in the mid-20s, blue skies and ravishing autumn colours.

I’ll start with the place we stayed in last, as it was the most memorable. Lost in the fertile and beautiful landscapes of the sub-Carpathians in the centre-west of Romania, Pensiunea Dacica was like a place in fairy tale. We had to follow nearly 5 km of unpaved, narrow road alongside a stream, going deeper and deeper into the forest as night was falling. At first I thought the wolves would come to get us (we still have bears, wolves, wolverines, lynx and the like in our mountains), but when we arrived, we found all mod cons awaiting us: running water, heating, electricity, comfortable rooms, good food, lots of books and even Wifi.

View of the entire complex from the surrounding hills.

Not forgetting, of course, the array of friendly dogs, cats, donkeys and occasional stray cows to give you that authentic countryside experience.

Early morning visitor at my window.

The reason for this seeming miraculous retreat in the depth of the forest? This guesthouse is the brainchild of a team of archaeologists who have been working on the Dacian remains which are abundant in this part of the country. [The Dacians were the native population (related to the Getae and Thrakians of the Balkanic peninsula) before the conquest by the Romans in 105-106 AD, as witnessed in the carvings on Traian’s Column in Rome.] They established a publishing house and foundation for educating children and people more generally about history and traditional culture, not just the Dacians.

The library and conference room, complete with projector.
We played cards in the common room, but you could have a disco in here.

They have a library and study room, ideal for a historian or writer wishing to work in peace, a common room for socialising, plenty of outdoor spaces to settle down and read. And, of course, lots of mountain trails and archaeological sites nearby to explore. Sometimes the dogs and cats would accompany us to the top of the hill.

Our companions as we climbed up towards Dacian fortress Piatra Rosie (Red Stone).

I can’t forget the delicious food – with Ioana, the cook, fussing around my children to find out what they would like best for the evening meal and worrying if they didn’t finish off everything on their plate. In the morning, we had more than 20 jams to choose from, home made on site, including unusual varieties such as lilac flower, watermelon, peony petals and even carrot. In the evening, we could choose between home-made apple or plum brandy, mead or sour cherry liqueur. Everyone working there showed the legendary Romanian hospitality and kindness (which is sometimes more legendary than real in the bigger cities).

We only stayed there two days, but I could easily imagine myself staying there for a proper holiday or even a writing retreat for a month. It was quiet when we were there, as there’s no half-term holiday in Romania and so it was off-peak, but the few people who were there were regulars, who kept coming back every year. I am almost reluctant to share details of this little piece of paradise, as I don’t want it to become trampled by too many tourists.

You can also camp in the more basic chalets, but you have a kitchen and place to eat in the shade.

While there, we went to visit Sarmisegetuza Regia, the ancient capital of the Dacians. It is situated in a nature reserve and it’s the most peaceful, inspiring location, even if you don’t believe in ley lines and building for solstice sun positioning.

The Dacians put up a fierce fight against the Romans. Their last king, Decebal, waged three wars against the Romans, but was finally defeated in 106 AD. Together with a few of his generals, he retreated to the fortified capital tucked away in the mountains and they all committed suicide rather than allow themselves to be captured by the Romans and marched through Rome in chains. Traian had to content himself with only the head and right hand of the dead Decebal. The Romans razed the city to the ground and forbade any access to it, for fear of the growth of cults around the deceased leader or possible rebellions. So, rather like in Sleeping Beauty, the forest grew around it and it was forgotten for over 1500 years, until archaeological interest arose in the early 19th century.

The interpretation of the Dacian legacy since its rediscovery has been very interesting. At first, the Romanians chose to emphasise their civilised Roman ancestry, probably in an effort to underline their Latin origin in contrast to the Slavic populations surrounding them and also to show that they were equal to the Austro-Hungarian empire that one third of the country was part of. From the 1930s onwards, the Dacian roots and the proto-population theories were used for nationalistic purposes. The Dacians were presented as fearless and noble, yet never as aggressors. (The Greek cities on the Black Sea coast, the Boii, Bastarnae and Illyrian tribes might all disagree with that, as they were all conquered or driven out under the first Dacian king to unite all the territories, Burebista.)

Yet, despite the bloody past and biased interpretations, this feels like such a blessed and happy spot. You can imagine people contentedly pursuing their agricultural and animal-rearing occupations here. The stones on the ground all glitter enchantingly, since these hills used to contain gold. Gold treasure hordes have been found in the region as recently as 2014.

The Eastern Gate to the city

You could be forgiven for thinking that people can still live as happily as their ancestors in these spots, albeit with all the mod cons. Pensiunea Dacica certainly makes you believe that all is still well with the world. But you would be wrong. The whole area is under threat from big corporations for fracking, with the government happily issuing licences (so as not to be overly reliant on Russian oil and gas), despite protests by the local population. In an earthquake-prone country, that could be even more of a disaster than in England. And, although this particular area around Sarmisegetuza is a nature reserve, huge swathes of forests everywhere else have been privatised and are being sold off and chopped up for timber or building.

One of the surprising promoters of Romanian tourism with an authentic flair and trying to protect the Romanian ecology is Prince Charles, who has bought a fortified village called Viscri. His foundation has turned this into a guesthouse but he seems to be ploughing the profits of it back into the local communities, attempting to revive local arts and crafts, encouraging the renovation of old houses and using local produce for food. 

My two favourite cats of the many friends I made there.

 

Autumn Haikus

Although I have a business webinar to run later on today, my thoughts are very much focused on a selection of poems I will be submitting for a competition. So here are some poems which will not make the grade, but which suit the season.

From Wikimedia
From Wikimedia

Burnt-ochre leaves run

alongside my car. Warm hug

after sleepless nights.

 

Ghost-white snails clinging

at the end of hot summer:

let go of grass blade

 

Distant bark of dogs

embrace sun darting through leaves

then pop of shooting!

 

wp_20161023_08_57_40_proOlives hanging shy

colourless maidens bustling

in their silver gowns.

 

Leaves in frost casing.

Darting in the undergrowth –

hoary platitudes.

From inspirationgreen.com
From inspirationgreen.com

 

 

Autumn in all its glory: Savill Garden, Windsor

In case you think it’s all doom, gloom and complaints in my life at the moment, there are the occasional perfect autumn days to rejoice every little cockle and mussel of my heart. There are few things more beautiful than an English garden, but perhaps one with artworks to discover and a son with a map determined to see every single one of them (and exclaim at the prices) is the best garden of all!

Savill Garden is an enclosed, well-tended part of Windsor Great Park, but not that easy to find even with a GPS. It’s considered one of the finest ornamental gardens in England, is part of the Crown Estate, and until 31st October it hosts an exhibition of 61 sculptures.

Autumn colours
Autumn colours

Landscape with deer
Landscape with deer

A sea of hortensias
A sea of hortensias

Lilac tree, the most expensive sculpture in the garden.
Lilac tree, the most expensive sculpture in the garden.

Borders with real flowers and sculpted ones.
Borders with real flowers and sculpted ones.

A more affordable metal flower which captured our hearts.
A more affordable metal flower which captured our hearts.

The prize for artificial flower of the day goes to this one, though.
The prize for artificial flower of the day goes to this one, though.

Mr. Fluffles, owner of the garden, who showed us around his manor.
Mr. Fluffles, owner of the garden, who showed us around his manor.

 

Friday Fun: Autumnal Colours

It’s pointless to wonder which season is my favourite: I love them all! And yet there is something about the gentle sun of autumn on leaves which now feel free to show off all their colours… And, even if you don’t like pumpkins, there will be something to tickle your taste buds in the bountiful harvest.

P1030671

P1030659

P1020739

P1020651

P1020743

20151017_130856

Art from the local Pumpkin Festival.
Art from the local Pumpkin Festival.

And finally, the most beautiful picture of all, for which I can take no credit whatsoever. From the magnificent chateaugudanes.com website.

gudanes

Friday Fun: Japanese Landscapes

I am currently in Japan but have no time to take pictures or upload anything much, so I will use some ready-made ones to try and express all my love for its beautiful landscapes. Especially now autumn is coming…

From trekearth.com
From trekearth.com

Autumn in Tokyo, from Shibuya246.com
Autumn in Tokyo, from Shibuya246.com

Temple of the Golden Pavilion, from tucantravel.com
Temple of the Golden Pavilion, from tucantravel.com

Quintessential Mount Fuji, from Urban-Review.com
Quintessential Mount Fuji, from Urban-Review.com

Steps leading to a temple, from gardendesigneye.com
Steps leading to a temple, from gardendesigneye.com

From the 'it must have been manipulated' category: Japanese bridge, from Favim.com
From the ‘it must have been manipulated’ category: Japanese bridge, from Favim.com

In case you’re wondering, it is Friday here already…

My thoughts go out to the poor Japanese whose homes are flooded or washed away by mudslides in the eastern part of Japan. Sadly, these landscapes above seem as remote to them now as they do to the rest of us.

Friday Fun: Paris As an Inspiration

Back from our Paris trip and wading through 650+ emails… so I may be a little behind with reading and commenting on your blogs… Here are some highlights from our trip – some iconic sights, and some lesser-known ones.

Notre Dame in autumn.
Notre Dame in autumn.

Sainte Chapelle  stained windows.
Sainte Chapelle stained windows.

Flower market.
Flower market.

Jardin des Plantes (botanical garden).
Jardin des Plantes (botanical garden).

Natural History Museum - Evolution Hall.
Natural History Museum – Evolution Hall.

Parc des Buttes Chaumont.
Parc des Buttes Chaumont.

City of Science - The Geode.
City of Science – The Geode.

Zoo of Vincennes.
Zoo of Vincennes.

Nikki de Saint Phalle sculpture along the quay bearing her name.
Nikki de Saint Phalle Nana sculpture along the quay bearing her name.

Jardin des Tuileries. The goat in front of the Louvre.
Jardin des Tuileries. The goat in front of the Louvre.

More Nanas... bathing...
More Nanas… bathing…

The obligatory pilgrimage to Shakespeare & Co. bookshop. Although, as my older son said: 'What's the point of bringing us here if we don't buy any books?'
The obligatory pilgrimage to Shakespeare & Co. bookshop. Although, as my older son said: ‘What’s the point of bringing us here if we don’t buy any books?’

I do wish I'd bought this pop-up book of Paris...
I do wish I’d bought this pop-up book of Paris…

 

 

Sometimes You Just Need Time Out…

… I didn’t work, I didn’t write, I didn’t even read anything this weekend. This time it was all about the family, enjoying the autumn (despite the less than sterling weather) and creating memories. And the apple-and-pear juice we made is the best thing we’ve ever tasted!

Autumn landscape in the Saleve.
Autumn landscape in the Saleve.

Walking for charity in the Botanical Gardens in Geneva.
Walking for charity in the Botanical Gardens in Geneva.

Gathering apples and pears for juice-making.
Gathering apples and pears for juice-making.

Squeezing the juice out of the fruit pulp.
Squeezing the juice out of the fruit pulp.

Releasing balloons for the Charity Walk.
Releasing balloons for the Charity Walk.

The perfect place to write a poem, don't you agree?
The perfect place to write a poem, don’t you agree?

 

Open Link Night: Autumnal Poetry

P1020461My garden teems with cucumbers, roses’ droop, heavily scented figs.

My floppy bag sufficient to fit all the harvest:

in it I also gather eggshells discarded by chicks.

I lay your boots and spade neatly to rest inside the shed.

Played the gardener enough for today – this week – this month.

So easy to forget in today’s sun-stillness:

those moments I flare in nervous thrall –

when is the shift to sandstorm season?

It’s there in the echo of last cuckoo-call.

 

Musing about the change of seasons with a little help from Sappho tonight. Please join us over at dVerse Poets Pub, where we are celebrating that wonderful free-forming, room-for-all event that is Open Link Night.

Pointless Pictures to Inspire

The weather forecast from tomorrow onwards is “l’automne s’annonce”. Rain, low temperatures and perhaps even snow on the mountain tops. So here is my last hurrah to the far too brief summer we have had this year.

Swiss Mountain Peaks
Swiss Mountain Peaks

Alimentarium Museum, Vevey
Alimentarium Museum, Vevey

Fake Beach in Vevey
Fake Beach in Vevey

Hotel du Lac, as in Anita Brookner's novel
Hotel du Lac, as in Anita Brookner’s novel

No lake this, but the sea
No lake this, but the sea

Autumn Clean

Remove-Makeup-Step-1For days I’ve caked my face with no make-up,

nor dried my hair with gusty blow.

I’ve not set forth in world’s jungle with bayonet lipstick,

I’ve let lianas grow.

I’ve invited light in, with a naked face.

Finished sentences, allowed time to think.

I’ve let children wander, rise above balloons of their fears,

and drift back with or without answers.

No urgency there.

I bask in the pleasure

of dayfall, dawn briskness.

Cooler temperatures make mountains clear

so inspiring

we always believe we can start afresh.