Romantic Romania

The vast and beautiful Danube flows through ten countries-more countries than any other river in the world, also forming several borders including that between Bulgaria and Romania.

Crossing into Romania was a little like stepping into a fairy tale, or into a Constable painting, for while the roads, infrastructure and villages were better kept and looked a little more affluent than in Bulgaria the communities were also quaint and olde-worlde.

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I’ll admit to being surprised, having assumed Romania to be much poorer than its neighbour. Having said this, there were countless signs that Romania is stranded in a bygone age, such as hand-tilling in the fields, hay-making with horses and carts and horse-drawn transport.

The pretty, tree-lined streets of the villages are made up of tiny, single-story homes-many with tiled exteriors in intricate patterns. Outside many homes there are benches positioned to catch the evening sunshine, often occupied by a couple of women in headscarves having a gossip.

On the road we followed an open truck with a horse tethered in the back. The horse was blinkered and attached each side but even so the truck lurched around corners, swaying and jolting but causing no apparent distress to the equine passenger.

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We stopped for lunch alongside the Danube basin, where the waters again form a border, this time between Romania and Serbia, so that the wooded hills of Serbia are visible on the other side.

As in the previous country [see last week’s post] we’d scant information on camp sites but headed for ‘Hercules’, a tiny, five-pitch site behind a restaurant opposite a busy road and railway line. We drew into the driveway to be greeted by the owner and shown to a place, which was not a problem since we were the only van there. The sun beat down into the small, neat back yard, a chance to relax after the journey. Though small, the site boasted clean, efficient showers, a washing machine and every convenience.

This being one location where our mobile internet was unobtainable we took devices to the bar and used the site wifi while we had beers. Later an Austrian couple pulled in to be our neighbours for the night. We settled down to sleep. At around midnight we were woken by loud, staccato bangs from a building next door and looked out to see the sky alight with fireworks. Odd timing-but who are we to judge on another country’s customs?

Next day we were off north again towards Hungary, travelling through ravishing green countryside and rustic scenes that included thousands of beehives. I spotted them in industrial numbers along the verges and in the fields, often being tended by veiled beekeepers, the results laid out in modest roadside stalls. Then there were beehive trucks:

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These unusual vehicles were parked in lay bys or pieces of wasteland. It was uplifting to see such a large-scale industry from bees. At least someone is taking care of them!

Having passed mile upon mile of queued lorries we arrived at the border with Hungary. I felt bereft. We’d whisked through Romania in two days and a part of me clamoured to stay and explore, to wander along the village streets and photograph the countryside. But don’t worry, Romania, we will be back. Besides-a visit to Romania just has to include an exploration of Transylvania.

And then there was Hungary…

 

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Adventures in Dance

Some people are dancers. Others are not. I fall into a kind of hybrid category, in that I am a dancer in my imagination.

As a tiny child of four I was hauled off to Ballet lessons. Initially these took place at ‘Miss Pinegar’s School of Ballet’ in Salisbury, Southern England. Miss Pinegar’s was held in a dark and gloomy hall. We’d use a cloakroom to have our shoes changed for those soft, flesh pink slippers and off we trotted to perfect our pliés and pas des deux. I was even involved in a performance-as a flower fairy in an extravaganza loosely based upon ‘Babes in the Wood’. So far so good.

We moved to East Anglia [as described in a previous post]. A ballet school was duly found. I was given a list of French terms to learn. Others seemed more accomplished and lissom than I, so that I fell by the bar side. I dug my tiny heels in and refused.

When the sixties rushed in, deluging all with Minis, Carnaby Street, The Beatles and swinging style I applied myself with dogged single-mindedness to learning ‘The Twist’ and then ‘The Shake’, gyrating in energetic circles around my friend, Gillian Farley’s kitchen table.

The sixties morphed seamlessly into the seventies and hippie-dom saw us drifting around like characters from Lord of the Rings in elfin attire, skirts sweeping the floor and covering our bare feet-which was just as well since they were filthy from being unshod. We swayed about to ‘Are you going to San Francisco’ with flowers in our hair, thinking we were ethereal, mysterious and elegant.

Thereafter any adventures in the land of Dance were curtailed owing to being mired in the bog of children and domesticity, although my own small daughter, clad in her own soft, pink slippers cavorted around a church hall looking more than cute in a gauzy, circular skirt and leotard.

In my forties I began a newly single life and took up activities hitherto unimagined during married life such as ‘Ceroc’, sometimes called ‘Leroc’ [originating in France] and these days called ‘Mo-jive’-a form of super energetic, fast jiving involving countless moves with a partner which took [me] a very long time to learn. While we single women were not prevented from acquiring Ceroc skills by being in a partner-less state we were hampered by there being significantly fewer male pupils, and since we were required to move along and change partners every few minutes there was always long, snaking queue of women waiting to get back into the line.

There were pleasant enough men at the Ceroc sessions but romantic attachments were rarely formed, however one startling outcome was that after many months of dogged stumbling and treading on toes I learned to dance the Ceroc, for a time becoming addicted to it. Even now, after nearly 20 years with Husband [who planted his feet firmly in the dance-free zone] I am always entranced by watching others twirling together in an effortless jive.

Watching dance, in fact is something I find I love-whether it is the uninhibited thrashing about to a band at the pub or the unutterably lovely elegance of Swan Lake. What’s not to like?

Think you don’t have an Accent? Think Again!

A recent poll in The Independent newspaper revealed that the British accent is the most popular in the world.

This is an odd piece of news. For a start, who is to say what, exactly a British accent is? There are many. There is Geordie, West Country, Scottish, Brummie, Northern Irish, Kentish, Cockney, Liverpudlian, Welsh, East Anglia, Yorkshire, Lancashire, Home Counties and many more besides…

Within the areas there are also differences in accent. A trip around Scotland, Yorkshire or Birmingham would expose a plethora of differing sounds in words.

Presumably the ‘British’ accent of the study is ‘BBC’ style, although even in an organisation as large as this there have been attempts in recent years to get regional accents on to the airwaves rather than the plummy tones of yesteryear.

While it is surprising to learn that the French accent is less of a draw, it is no real shock that the Queen’s English is admired around the world. Many years ago I undertook a road trip along the West of the USA with a friend-my first jaunt to America and one that I considered intrepid, given that I would be driving an automatic car on vast freeways and attempting to join the LA traffic and cliff-hangers of San Francisco.

Part of our home made itinerary took in a trip to Las Vegas, which involved travelling across the desert. We’d scheduled in stops, one of which was at Victorville, a kind of truck stop on Route 66. We’d found a hotel [on our budget we were confined to the cheaper chains], dumped the bags but at that point, although we’d driven all day in sweaty heat, a beer seemed more compelling than a shower.

We found a simple, no frills bar which was occupied mainly with workers, mainly male, enjoying a drink after their day’s labours. The arrival of two English women provoked enormous interest, so much that we were unable to buy our own beers and were interrogated on every aspect of our personas and our trip. This, incidentally included a query as to whether we met the age criterion for alcohol [most flattering, since I was 40 at the time]. The flattery continued. ‘Ah luuuurv yer aaahccent!’ one of the admirers drawled. This threw me. Having moved about the country quite a bit throughout childhood I consider myself accent-less. ‘I don’t have have an accent, you do!’ I replied.

Every country, of course has regional accents but you have to be well versed in another language to recognise them. After many years of regular trips to France I still struggle to understand the Southern French tones, and even here in my own homely island much that is spoken with a Scottish twang escapes me-notably post match inquests from football managers etc

I don’t really have a ‘favourite’ although I must confess to there being one or two I really do not like. What are they? Not saying! What’s your favourite?

The B&B Rant

A lot of people swear by B&Bs for their holiday accommodation needs. B&Bs, guest houses, chambers d’hotes-whatever you like to call them-differ from hotels in a variety of ways, but personally I would prefer to eat my own hair than stay in them.
The reasons fans of B&Bs give for loving them are varied, but rely on the principle of the ‘personal touch’. They say things like ‘such nice people’, ‘just like family’, ‘home from home’ and it is just this that provokes me to shudder at the idea of staying in one. This judgement does not come from hearsay, reportage or conversation but from real, empirical research. In other words, my experiences of said places have been entirely negative.
I don’t want to stay in someone’s home. I can manage [just about] to stay with close family members for up to two nights, perhaps but even then I find it hard to manage.
I don’t want to sleep in an overheated, tiny, stuffy room crammed with family photos, ornaments, souvenirs of Brixham, lace doilies and knick-knacks. I don’t want to be suffocated by an enormous cloud of puffy duvet.
We are not the earliest of risers. I want a lovely, exclusive en suite [for night time needs, if nothing else] and at least two cups of tea before I face anyone [Husband excluded of course]. I may want to slob about pre-ablution watching News 24.
When I do surface, I don’t really want to eat anything until at least late morning, and then I am not able to cope with ‘full English’ [in other words: cereal followed by bacon, sausage, egg, baked beans, fried bread, tomato, mushrooms, black pudding, toast and marmalade].
Most of all though I don’t wish to sit at the breakfast table and make small talk with the ‘friendly, welcoming’ host or hostess. I don’t want their life story, learn what their grandchildren are studying at university or where they have been for their holidays.
If all this makes me sound humbug I don’t care. Give me a plain, simple, anonymous hotel. It doesn’t need a stupendous view, an infinity pool, a Michelin starred restaurant or four posters [although they can be fun…]. I want to be able to use a breakfast buffet-preferably up until eleven or so. I want tea and coffee making facilities [biscuits are always a bonus]. I want a TV I can watch from the bed. I want a firm, clean, comfortable bed with options for temperature control [ie covers to put on or remove]. I want a clean, efficient en suite with a shower that doesn’t need a degree in engineering to operate. Ideally, some beautiful toiletries are provided. I’d really like a late night bar where I can grab a last glass of wine before I turn in. I’d like INTERNET [included in the price!]. I’d like pleasant, non intrusive service.
I don’t mind that it is part of a ‘chain’ and every room is the same. It needn’t have an Alpine or Namibian Desert view.
Otherwise-give me a comfortable, efficient camper van, which does have ensuite, tea & coffee making, glass of wine and TV-and I don’t need to talk to anyone [Husband excluded]…

Puff!

                I imagine it is quite possible that one day smoking tobacco will become extinct as an occupation throughout the world; but for now it remains. Despite the dogged determination of most governments, at least in the Western world, those who continue to smoke take either a bold, confrontational stance of bravado about it or skulk in apologetic huddles professing their desire to quit whilst smoke issues from their orifices.

                I am, myself an ex-smoker. I recall my first cigarette, smoked as a young child when, in the company of a friend I found a discarded packet of ten in a disused railway carriage that had once been used as an abode but then abandoned. ‘We will have to smoke them’ the friend declared, for no reason that I could discern, although I did my best to oblige, possibly in order to cement the friendship or through some ill-conceived desire not to cross her. In any event I did not wish to seem lacking and besides, my own mother was a smoker. How could it be wrong? Of course, as I discovered after the one or two puffs that surrendered me green with nausea, it was very wrong indeed.

                About to become a student, and in thrall to the era of hippydom I experimented with pipe smoking. I smoked a small briar filled with Clan tobacco. It was beautiful, stylish and startling, and I considered, then that I cut an edgy and unusual figure with it dangling from my lips. All manner of colourful and unorthodox student characters drew me into their thrilling circles. No matter that it burnt my tongue and caused shooting pains across the roof of my mouth. My mother, horrified that I should produce such an uncouth item at the dinner table plied me with cigarettes in order to prevent embarrassment. Bingo. I became a cigarette smoker.

                During the ensuing years, whilst I pursued the usual route into career, marriage, children and divorce my relationship with smoking waxed and waned as by turns I gave up, then took up the vice. Once I gave it up for a whole ten years, beginning with selfless denial for the sake of my unborn babies and ending with the stresses and strains of marriage fall-out. I turned from lowly cigarettes to the more debonair joys of small cigars, sharing the pleasure with Husband [who’d made his appearance by this time].

                We jetted off for a few days in Barcelona, arriving to the hotel too late to buy cigars and with no prospect of obtaining any. We would have to do without. Next morning we determined not to succumb to cravings, resulting in some skirmishes as we went about our sightseeing-once, I believe in the middle of a busy thoroughfare. By the time we returned the worst was over and we were no longer nicotine addicts.

                Here in the south of France, as in many outposts of Europe and the Americas where it is banned in public places, cigarette smoking is rife. They cluster around the doorways of bars or puff away brazenly, flouting the law.

                I sometimes wonder if I shall take up electronic cigarettes as a consolation in old age-when all else is lost, perhaps, although I may well get to be as sick as my ten year old self in the old railway carriage…