For most of my year abroad for my Fulbright to Romania, I posted regularly on Facebook so that my family, friends, and students could travel vicariously with me. Included here are almost all of my travel posts as well as a few from my host cities Bucharest and Cluj. In private posts, I shared commentary and poetry of a more personal nature; many of these can be found in “Poestry.”
Press all day long, and you’re still not done;
and paint your smile, like you’re having fun;
count you’s all night at your party for one…
a world from home, and you’ve just begun.
A freshman at fifty-six.
WASHINGTON, D.C. I leave tomorrow for 12 months in Europe, of which almost 10 months will be with my Fulbright grant teaching in Romania, and the remaining time before and after traveling. Tomorrow begins six weeks on the road: Iceland, Scotland, England, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Italy, Albania, Turkey, and finally Romania. My only anxiety comes from worrying about what will happen in my own country, while I am gone. As a U.S. Fulbright Scholar, I am and want to continue to be proud of my country: I want to represent an America that hasn’t become so angry and irrational that it has confused being “great” with being good.
WASHINGTON, D.C. Four-hour delay for our plane. Hopefully, we’ll depart around 6:00 p.m. (here in DC), and I’ll be at my AirBnB in Reykjavik no later than 5:00 a.m. (their time).
I have arrived safely in Iceland. It’s 5:30 a.m., and I still have an hour travel on two different buses to get from the airport into the city. It’s in the 40s here, and I’ve put on a sweater. Crazy. More later.
ICELAND. Golden Circle Tour. Lava fields. Geyser. Waterfalls, Tectonic Plates Division. Game of Thrones locales at National Park. Rotting shark. (Yes, I ate it. Gag.) Photo album later. I head to Glasgow, Scotland, tomorrow morning.
Delayed everything going from A to B,
But vouchers and apologies at every turn.
Rich tourists dozing on floors.
Probably more Americans here than locals,
Who all speak exquisite English
And will do everything to help you.
Incredibly expensive food and beer
And fish at every meal,
In every imaginable form.
And coffee wretched beyond belief.
But scenery that will knock your socks off…
And you’re wearing them and a sweater
Even though it’s early August.
50-hour layover and well worth
The jet lag and inconveniences.
GLASGOW, SCOTLAND. Despite a three-hour flight delay, I now am settled for the next two nights in Glasgow, the largest city in Scotland. Compared with Reykjavik, this is a bigger city but less touristy and so much busier, warmer, cheaper, louder, and drunker (it is Saturday evening, after all). I can understand very little of the working-class dialect spoken here. Strange to think that it’s harder to communicate here than in Iceland! Today’s victory was shipping/dispensing with my 40-pound duffle to Romania…for just $55! I’ll play generic tourist tomorrow with whatever happens to be open on a Sunday.
GLASGOW. After a huge (and free) breakfast that included baked beans, I took the Hop On/Hop Off Bus, found what I was interested in, and then walked countless miles. Journeying on foot usually provides the best touristing. The highlight of the day was exploring the medieval cathedral (High Kirk) and the adjacent cemetery (Necropolis). Biggest challenge today has been finding and wearing clothing to meet the quick changes of the weather. I’ve given up trying to understand these people talk: I just smile, point at stuff, and nod. As in the U.S. I continue to be offered the senior rates and have doors held for me. Egads. I leave tomorrow morning for Edinburgh, where I’ll spend four nights and take in part of the Fringe Festival.
EDINBURGH. I arrived early this afternoon in Edinburgh (Scotland) and now have checked into my dorm, where I’ll spend the next four nights. I have a private room but share a bathroom and living room/kitchen with three other privates. Due to the Fringe Festival, when the city’s population doubles, housing is VERY expensive, and I am paying my highest nightly rate for this six-week journey: $85/night. (My average for the trip is $70/night, but this week and location are special.) Cheers!
EDINBURG. The Military Tattoo was sold out tonight, but I still caught the fireworks from my dorm room, as I finished my “automated” laundry, thanks to a special app through my cell phone’s new SIM card. (Several hours today were invested in securing cell phone service and then doing laundry.) My dorm suite mate is a very friendly Pakistani here at a week-long speech therapy program to improve his severe stuttering. I can understand him much more readily though than anyone back in Glasgow. Tomorrow I will reunite with a dear Sam alum Jennifer for lunch and a matinee. (And I now have clean clothes!) Edinburgh is so beautiful but whoppingly crowded; hopefully I’ll have some good pics to post tomorrow.
EDINBURG. I visited the Edinburgh Castle today and had lunch at the Redcoat Cafe. Given that most of the tables were taken, a German couple from Kiel asked if they could join me. Christine is a lawyer and former member of the German Parliament (Bundestag). Helmut is a dentist and nationally ranked sharpshooter. He shared his passbook showing every gun for which he is licensed, but only at gun ranges and competitions, but not for hunting–those would require different licenses. We then talked for almost 45 minutes. Their most pressing questions were: 1) Does the American Dream still really exist? If so, does it exist for all Americans? 2) If America is a democracy, why is the president actually elected by the Electoral College? Why do only two parties have such a lock on elections? 3) How could I explain the popularity of Donald Trump? Did I think there was a chance that he could be elected? Both had visited the U.S. many times and said with confidence that “Americans are too smart to make such a mistake.” If only I shared their confidence. And then the castle’s howitzer fired its 1:00 volley, and our lunch ended. What a lunch!
EDINBURG. For my last full day in Edinburgh, I attended five events produced by five different countries. I began at 10:00 with the brilliant but devastating US/THEM (Belgium), about the 2004 Beslan school massacre. At 11:30 came ONCE (Russia), a wordless and surreal clown nightmare about failed love (I think). After lunch, I ditched a World War I memoire in favor of an uplifting concert at Greyfriars Church by the Barnsley Youth Choir from England. Then at 4:00, I attended a sold-out shadow puppet show about a Boston marriage by Chicago-based Manual Cinema. Finally, after supper, I went to the Royal Lyceum Theatre for SHAKE, a horrible French adaptation of TWELFTH NIGHT. I walked out before intermission and now am washing clothes in preparation for my morning train to London.
LONDON: GLOBE THEATRE. After a much delayed train ride from Edinburgh and a lost hotel/dorm reservation, I had just enough time to take a shower and then head to the Globe Theatre to see Kneehigh’s new 2 1/2-hour musical 946: THE AMAZING STORY OF ADOLPHUS TIPS. While I had toured this amazing reconstruction many years ago, I had not seen a performance in it until tonight. No Shakespeare this weekend, but still, what an experience! Beautiful and comfortable weather, diverse and attentive audience, and an intriguing story told well by an ensemble that could act, sing, dance, play instruments, and puppeteer! And now, I finally have my own slides for theatre history! Yippee!
LONDON: THE SHARD, WINDSOR CASTLE, & BANKSIDE. A very touristy Saturday: morning at The Shard for spectacular views of greater London, then an hour train to Windsor to see the castle, and then a long late afternoon stroll along Bankside followed by Memphis-style barbeque. Gorgeous weather but mobs of tourists everywhere. My $50/night dorm room at the London School of Economics (private room with shared bath and free English breakfast!) is just two blocks from the Globe and one block from Tate; I highly recommend it for summer travelers who want to make this expensive city more affordable. Big tip: book all popular attractions online to fast-track into everything and save hours waiting in line.
LONDON. A rather touristy Sunday that included attending the morning liturgy at Westminster Abbey (Anglican), lunch and walk through Westminster, a visit to the Roman Catholic Cathedral and ride up its tower, a walk to Buckingham Palace and St. James Park, a two-hour bus tour, and an organ concert at St. Paul’s Cathedral (Anglican). In for the night now to prepare for my meeting tomorrow in Cambridge with Metis Theatre (and to rest my dogs and watch some Olympics).
CAMBRIDGE. Day trip to Cambridge (60 miles north of London) to meet with Metis Theatre about the WORLD THEATRE project, which I’m interested in producing in both Romania and the U.S. The university is comprised of 31 colleges, each with its own campus. Perhaps the most famous is King’s College, due largely to its magnificent chapel and choir. Graham Riach, my Metis liaison, is a fellow at Emmanuel College, where we enjoyed a picnic lunch. Now I am back in London and headed to the National Theatre, where I’ll see THREEPENNY OPERA led by Rory Kinnear (Frankenstein’s Monster in PENNY DREADFUL). Tomorrow morning, I will head to Brussels, Belgium, on the “chunnel” train.
BRUSSELS, BELGIUM. I took the two-hour “chunnel” train from London to Brussels at mid-day. This is my first visit to Belgium and its capital Brussels, a pancake-flat city where most of the folks speak Flemish. Beautiful but quite warm weather; fortunately, my budget hotel has a floor fan, and I’m just blocks from the city center with its diverse restaurants and hundreds of different and delicious Belgian ales. My current plan is to day-trip to Bruges in the morning and then return for a second and final night in Brussels before heading to Germany.
BELGIUM 2: BRUGES & BRUSSELS
I took an hour-long morning train to visit historic Bruges, which was every bit as beautiful as I had heard and, fortunately, not too crowded. Then I returned to Brussels late afternoon for a hop-on-off bus tour and then a long hike through the historic center followed by an al fresco supper. I am glad I included Belgium on my itinerary and would be happy to spend a few more days here; however, I head to Germany in the morning and will spend tomorrow night in Cologne.
COLOGNE, GERMANY. This morning, I took the two-hour train from Brussels to Cologne, best known for its towering cathedral, which took over 600 years to complete and is the most visited landmark in Germany. After lunch, I took a 90-minute bus tour but, unfortunately, so much of this city was destroyed during WWII and what exists today is reconstruction or just plain modern (and not very appealing to me). Still, the cathedral is incredible and a must-see. Since Cologne is hosting the world’s largest computer gaming conference this week, hotels are prohibitively expensive, and I am staying 30-minutes outside the city. Tomorrow morning, I will train to Nuremberg and stay for one night before heading to Innsbruck. (You may recall from an earlier post that I’m trying to visit new-to-me cities on this trip, which holds true, except for London and Rome.)
SCHWERBEHINDERTE. I arrived at the Cologne train station a full hour early, had a leisurely coffee, and then waited patiently (and sweat-free!) on Platform 11 for my 9:36 train, which never came, because I was at the wrong train station. Fortunately, I was allowed on the next ICE train headed east and was escorted to and told to sit at this particular seat: SCHWERBEHINDERTE, which is German for “severely disabled.” Now enduring countless stares as the sweat runs down my red face.
NUREMBERG, GERMANY. I took a 4 1/2 hour train from Cologne to Nuremberg and arrived mid-afternoon. (Not the train I was supposed to take: see earlier post.) I had two reasons for visiting this, the second largest city in Bavaria: one, my father had been stationed here with the army during the Nuremberg Trials and told me lots of stories (and had pics!), and, two, I wanted to see the site of Hitler’s 1930s Nazi rallies. I wish I had bypassed Cologne altogether in order to have a second night and more time here in this beautiful, albeit reconstructed, city. Tomorrow, I take the train to Innsbruck, Austria, where I’ll spend one night before heading to Italy.
INNSBRUCK, AUSTRIA. I took a one-hour train from Nuremberg to Munich, had lunch, and then had a two-hour train ride to Innsbruck, where I’m spending the night before heading to Bologna, Italy, in the morning. Quite hot here when I arrived, but then all cooled as rain moved in. With weather conspiring against me and feeling a bit road weary, I devoted the rest of the day to maintenance: washing clothes, watch repair, beard trimmer purchase, rest for my bad knee, etc. N.B.: Being able to launder clothes rather than rinsing them in a sink (or bidet) is a major challenge on extended trips. Now I’m watching the Olympics on Austrian television. It’s amazing how differently most of Europe covers the games compared to the U.S.: I’ve seen coverage of events I never knew existed and much more gender parity and inclusion of “underdog” nations. Frankly, all notions of American “exceptionalism” end quickly, when you realize you’re likely the only person on an entire train who cannot converse readily in a second (or third or fourth) language. Alas.
TRAIN PAINS. For this month-long journey across Europe, I am traveling only by train. I booked my longest train trips in first class, but I booked so far in advance (months ago) that they cost less than a standard seat purchased now. On many train lines, the seats, regardless of class, are simply assigned. Today I had an assigned middle seat in a six-person compartment: too warm, a little claustrophobic, rather smelly, and dominated vocally by an irritated elderly lady really upset about the refugee situation in Germany. (Once she departed, the rest of the journey was fine.) Tomorrow’s trip to Bologna is five hours long, and my assigned seat again is in a compartment. I just called OBB (Austrian trains) to ask if I could change my seat. NO. Could I be assigned to an open compartment? NO. Did my first-class ticket give me any say in where I sat? NO.
BOLOGNA, ITALY. The five-hour train ride from Innsbruck (Austria) through the Alps to Bologna (Italy) provided spectacular scenery, particularly around the Brenner Pass. I am staying in a small, family-run hotel in Bologna’s historic center for the next two nights and then heading to Rome. Curiously, the hotel matron doesn’t speak English, so my two years of undergrad Italian have helped considerably. Although I bumble aplenty every day and have made a few “mistakes” on this trip, my only real concern now is my left knee, which makes walking most days slow and painful, but it has to hold for one more week until I get to my sister’s in Albania and can rest. So it goes…
BOLOGNA 2. A beautiful day in a magnificent city, but… After only an hour of painful walking this morning, I hopped in a taxi and headed to the hospital. I was in and out of the ER in 75 minutes: registration, triage, waiting, orthopedics doctor, cortisone shot (and a command to lose weight), and check-out/payment. Italians have socialized medical care (through taxes) and don’t pay anything directly for doctors or hospital visits, but non-EU foreigners do: I was charged 25€ ($30) for everything. Everything. Again, I ended up speaking more Italian to them than they English to me, but we somehow managed. I returned to the city center at noon and, with knee brace and shot, I managed to play tourist for another four hours, including a leisurely lunch. I’ll rest now and then journey out again for supper. Tomorrow, I head to Rome, where I’ll spend two nights. Ciao!
ROME. This morning, I took the Frecciarossa high-speed train (19€ early purchase rate) from Bologna and made it to Rome for lunch. Yesterday’s shot has improved my knee considerably, and I was able to pound the pavement until sundown. I visited Rome 10 years ago during a heat wave and saw most of the big attractions then; fortunately, it will be a bit cooler this week but still in the 90s, and I’ll try to get away from the throngs. I’m staying a couple blocks from the Spanish Steps (which are closed), an area that is too high-end and touristy for me, but I got a great rate (and a/c!). I will be in Rome for two nights and then head to Naples. Still in good spirits, but I’m starting to weary of living out of a suitcase.
ROME (Wednesday). Earthquake north of Rome last night. Since my headboard is just inches from the hotel’s only elevator, I jiggled all night anyway and didn’t really notice much. Walked early morning to the Vatican, but St. Peter’s was closed in preparation for the Pope’s open-air audience at 10:00. Got through security but decided not to stay and, instead, took the scenic route (aka got lost) to Trastevere, where I visited one of the city’s oldest churches, Santa Maria. Then over to the Roman Forum and Colosseum, all while noting renovation work everywhere. Late lunch of mediocre sushi and now back in for a siesta. Beautiful weather again and in the low 90s.Tomorrow morning, I will head to Naples for two nights (and a visit to Pompeii). BTW: Many thanks to those of you who sent messages after the earthquake to check up on me! Much appreciated!
NAPLES, ITALY. (Thursday) I took the fast train (a little over an hour) from Rome to Naples late this morning. While I was a bit leery of Italy’s second largest city given its poor, longstanding reputation (impoverished, dirty, crime-prone), I found the place beautiful in a rustic, local color sort of way and quite fascinating and charming, perhaps because there are so few tourists and so little pretension. (I can be old, fat, and sweaty here, and no one notices or cares. Yipee!) I’m staying in a very poor neighborhood (“Sanitas”) in a former convent attached to a church that stands above ancient catacombs. I walked over five miles this afternoon (a victory given my knee) and had a tour of the city’s opera house (my favorite single hour on this trip so far) and visited two castles: one at the seafront and the other on a mountain towering over the city. My current plan is to visit Pompeii tomorrow, spend a second night in Naples, and then head to Bari, where I’ll catch an overnight ferry to Albania.
POMPEII. I took the local train this morning from Naples to Pompeii (about 35 minutes each way and $7 roundtrip). Important historical site and swarming with tourists by mid-day; they must be staying in Sorrento rather than Naples. Impressive, but a classic case of the forest being greater than the trees, but I’m glad I went, even in this heat…and I can promise you that Colin Farrell couldn’t have ridden any chariot through any street here. Tomorrow I head to Caserta (less than an hour away), where I’ll have lunch and visit the Royal Palace, which claims to be the largest in the world. Then I’ll fast train to Bari, bus to the port, and take an overnight ferry to Durres, Albania, to visit my sister. I am hot and tired, almost out of clean clothes, completely over tourists and the hustle and bustle…but I’m in great spirits and have learned so much on this trip. MY BUCKET LIST IS NOW.
NAPLES TO DURRES. Yesterday, I took the early train from Naples to Caserta to visit the palace, which claims to be the largest in the world. Then I waited hours (in the heat) for the three-hour train to Bari on the Italian coast, where I waited many more hours (in the heat) for a delayed ferry that didn’t board until 2:00 a.m. I was able to sleep a few hours before we arrived in Albania at 11:00 a.m. I now am reunited with my sister, Linda McTier Carrier, who lives and teaches here in Dürres. After a day without, I have internet again as well as cell phone (with an Albanian SIM card), so I’ll be able to contact my dear mother, Jan McTier, whose 88th birthday is today. Happy birthday, Mom! Shume urime!
DURRES, ALBANIA. While my sister Linda began her first day back with her 3rd graders, I explored the city center this morning. Durrës is Albania’s primary port and second largest city; it also is the ancient city of Epidamnum (the birth place of the twins in Shakespeare’s COMEDY OF ERRORS) and pocked by numerous ruins, including an amphitheatre. The sea front and beaches here are popular tourist attractions, primarily for Italians, hence the multiple ferries that shuttle between here and Italy. I am happy to have clean clothes again as well as air conditioning and, most importantly, to spend some quality time with my sister. Now to work on my paper and presentation for next month’s conference in Craiova, Romania.
DURRES. ANOTHER FIRST. A car ran into me this morning: left front corner plowed into my bright blue knee brace. The car was coming out of an alley and wasn’t going fast, but the driver didn’t brake until I was on the hood. Huge thud, and everyone on the block watched as I rolled off and landed awkwardly, hurting my right ankle. Driver uttered his apologies twice, “Me Fal! Me Fal!” I didn’t verbalize my own “M F” words and, instead, picked myself up, glared a bit, and then continued hobbling down the street. Three more weeks until I arrive in Bucharest. Hope I can make it. [Later]
Despite this morning’s mishap and subsequent aches, my day did improve, and I greatly appreciate the many well wishes that were sent. After school, my sister Linda treated me to a favorite restaurant of hers, Portiku, which is built into and atop Roman ruins. The food was excellent as was the company–a young couple, also from her school. Then we went to the farmers market to buy produce for tomorrow night’s dinner party. Linda’s been cooking away and now has a cheesecake in the oven, and the whole place smells heavenly.
DURRES. After teaching all day, my sister Linda returned home during a brown out and still managed to host a wonderful supper party for 16. She had shopped, prepped, cooked, and baked for the past two nights and, fortunately, the electricity (and a/c) was restored before we started eating. Delicious food, indeed, but this was foremost a labor of love for her returning co-teachers, whom she greatly admires and wanted me to meet. Where she gets the energy, I’ll never know, but I do know that she never ceases to amaze and inspire me.
DURRES. HOUSE-BOUND. Actually, bathroom-bound would be more apt. After a month on the road, I finally got “traveler’s tummy” and have spent the day traveling from bed to toilet and back. Likely culprit was either the fresh produce or the water, be it the glass of tap that comes with a coffee or the ice cubes accompanying a soda. So it goes. Fortunately, I have medicine (prescription and OTC), and I don’t have to travel anywhere today…and the view from my bedroom’s window (pic below) is quite pleasant: our family’s building is surrounded by fruit trees (orange, lime, lemon, olive) and grape arbors, all well tended by the grandfather and soon ready for harvest. There’s also an attentive watchdog, a boisterous rooster, an estrous cat, and a half dozen squeaking turtles to create a lively soundscape. Hopefully, this soon will pass (bad pun), and Linda and I still will make it to Krujë this weekend.
KRUJE & DAJTI (ALBANIA). This weekend, my sister Linda McTier Carrier wanted to share some of her favorite places in central Albania, so she rented a car and took me first to Krujë, a mountaintop village, where we toured historic sites, shopped in the bazaar, and enjoyed a magnificent lunch of traditional fare (and met some fellow Americans!). Then we drove past Tiranë to Mount Dajti and took a cable car almost to the top (20 minutes each way!), where we marveled over breathtaking views of the valley and capital city. Afterwards we drove back into Tiranë for supper and then returned at nightfall to Durrës. A long but glorious day: the weather was warm and beautiful, the natural and historic sites absolutely incredible, and the Albanian people so welcoming and helpful…now, if only I could adjust to the drivers here (my sister included), who just plain terrify me.
DURRES. Today I visited my sister’s school, Albanian College, which offers pre-K through 11th grade. The building is massive and impressive but not necessarily user friendly. (Most of the surfaces are marble or masonry, and the students are loud, so the whole place is one big echo chamber.) I also visited the local church (Orthodox Christian) a few blocks away and spoke with Deacon Anthony for a half hour about Christianity in this former Communist country. Later, I enjoyed my afternoon meditation in the small mosque beside the school, but I didn’t take interior pics, since others were praying. The temps are cooler now, because we’ve had rain, but that also means very high humidity. Linda’s stomach bug seems to have passed, and tomorrow night, she and I will fly to Istanbul for a long weekend.
GOODBYE, DURRES! Lots of paperwork and scurrying around today to get ready to leave Durrës, Albania, where I’ve spent the past 12 days visiting my sister. Finally found and visited the small Catholic church (not far from my $4 barber shop), picked up an early supper, and then fetched Linda at school. It’s raining now but no lightning, so hopefully our night flight to Istanbul will be on schedule. We leave for the airport in an hour and are so excited about this trip! For those of you concerned about our safety, please note that Turkey is a bit larger than Texas, and we will be on the opposite side of the country from where there are travel warnings. (Think Houston to El Paso distance.) I’m also enrolled in the STEP program to stay in touch with the State Dept., and this will be my last “public” post until I reach Bucharest. Cheers!
ISTANBUL. 1:30 a.m. Linda and I have arrived in Istanbul and now are settled into our hotel in Sultanahmet. Dog-tired but so happy to be here!
ISTANBUL: SATURDAY. A very warm but gorgeous day and enough breeze to allow for nine straight hours of touristing. Such a delight to share this incredible, historic city with my sister! Today included many “must sees”: Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, Basilica Cistern, Grand Bazaar, Süleymaniye Mosque, Spice Bazaar, plus breaks for coffee, lunch, tea, and dinner. Linda’s favorite: “All of it!” My favorite: seeing her face light up every time we turned the corner. Tomorrow, we will start with Topkapı Palace and then go for a boat or bus tour. All is well…
ISTANBUL: SUNDAY. Linda and I spent the morning at Topkapı Palace, the historic home of the sultans (and their harems and eunuchs). After a veggie-heavy lunch, we took a two-hour, double-decker bus tour that included a trip over the Bosphorus Bridge, which connects the European and Asian sides of Istanbul. Then we picked up a 2 1/2 hour boat tour and spent as much time marveling at our fellow tourists (and they at us!) as the spectacular scenery and architecture. Finally, we enjoyed a tasty but overpriced supper of meses and fresh fish. Now back at the hotel, Linda is packing for an early morning flight back to Albania. I’ve so enjoyed my two weeks with my sister and will miss her greatly. I’ll remain in Turkey for another week and then finally head to Romania.
ISTANBUL: MONDAY. Today is Kurban Bayramı (Eid-Al-Adha), the most important feast day here and the beginning of a week-long holiday. This day commemorates Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son, which demonstrated his complete submission to God. Lots of places are closed, and a great many of the locals have left the city on holiday. Linda also left before dawn and made it back to Albania by mid-morning. After lunch, I moved to a non-touristy, working class neighborhood in Fatih, where I have rented a one-bedroom apartment for the week (although I will head to Cappadocia for two nights later in the week). Not fancy, by any means, but comfortable and affordable…just $35/night! All is well.
ISTANBUL: TUESDAY. I accomplished little today other than finally getting a Turkish SIM card for my phone and writing another thousand words for my paper. Gorgeous weather, and I couldn’t stay inside, so I wandered the side streets of Fatih and then back to the touristy heart of Sultanahmet to grab a bite and people watch. At supper, my waiter asked me: “Where is everyone? Where are the Europeans? Where are the English-speakers?” I thought for a moment: not once today had I heard a word of English spoken, nor had I crossed paths with another “pale face.” Before I could suggest that recent events were the likely culprits, he shook his head and asserted, “Government. Politics screws everything up.” Amen, brother, amin. I nodded in agreement and ordered another cup of chai. More “T” with my tea, please.
ISTANBUL: WEDNESDAY. I spent most of the day writing and waiting for my laundry to be done. Late in the afternoon, I headed down the hill to the “Little Hagia Sophia,” which was built in the 500s (before the “big” one!) and later converted to a mosque. Then back to my favorite restaurant, whose staff now knows me and calls me “the last European,” since I am one of the few “pale” tourists in the city. Then I took the tram over the Golden Horn to Galata to visit the landmark tower. I queued for over 40 minutes, but the views were stellar (although my nighttime pics aren’t). Tomorrow, I will fly to Göreme in Cappadocia (central Turkey), where I’ll spend two nights and then fly back to Istanbul.
GOREME, TURKEY. This afternoon, I took a one-hour flight to Cappadocia in central Turkey. My hotel room is a cave carved out of a fairy chimney on a hillside overlooking the town of Göreme. I hadn’t planned on a side trip, but I couldn’t resist the chance to visit this unusual region…and the off-season prices: $70 roundtrip flight and $50/night hotel (for my man cave). If the weather permits, I’ll take a balloon trip at dawn and then a midday “historical” tour/hike through the valley. Then back to Istanbul Saturday morning.
BALLOONING OVER CAPPADOCIA. This was my first balloon ride ever, and it was sensational! We left the hotel at 5:30 a.m., so that our balloon would rise with the sun. Very expensive (as much as my flight and hotel combined) but worth every penny. Definitely one of my all-time favorite travel experiences. Now off on a walking tour through the valley. I’ll spend another night in Göreme and then fly back to Istanbul tomorrow morning. Cheers!
CAPPADOCIA, TURKEY. After our balloon trip (see earlier post) and a hearty breakfast, I took off on a six-hour hiking/bus tour of the region with three other travelers. Our guide Ali shared so much of the history of this region, which was an important Christian settlement for many centuries. We hiked through the valley for two hours, then visited the abandoned Greek town, had lunch in a cave, then walked through the mushroom towers (my polite term), and finally explored the largest of the underground cities. (I couldn’t handle the narrow passages and low ceilings and backed out after 15 minutes, but my companions spent another hour descending 100 feet into the labyrinth!) In my whole life of traveling, today was one of the very best! I will spend one final night in Göreme and fly back to Istanbul tomorrow morning.
BACK TO THE ‘BUL. I left Göreme this morning as the sun was rising (along with the balloons). Cappadocia was an incredible experience, and I’m so glad I went, but I’m also happy to be back in Istanbul. Were I younger and more energetic, I’d probably hit the Saturday nightlife in Taksim, but instead I’ll stay in my quiet little Kadırga neighborhood, get some sleep, and then perhaps join my Armenian neighbors at church tomorrow morning. Except for my bad knee, all is well. (You’ve probably figured out by now that these daily posts are primarily to update and reassure my mom, Jan McTier, who still worries about her grey-haired son.)
ISTANBUL: SUNDAY. I arose too late for the Armenian service, so I enjoyed a leisurely morning of writing and then a final lunch at my favorite Ottoman kitchen (see earlier post). I was seated at a table with an Albanian family and discovered that the mother has a brother who is a musician in Houston! Small world! My plan to spend the afternoon at Miniaturk (Google it) ended when I realized I hadn’t recharged my camera battery. Instead, I wandered down to Eminönü to watch all the activity at the Galata Bridge and take a few pics. Tomorrow morning, I finally will fly to Bucharest to begin my grant. I will be sad to leave Istanbul, which I love dearly, but I’ve lived out of a suitcase for two months now, and I am ready to be settled and get back to work.
BUCHAREST AT LAST! After two months on the road, I now am arrived in Bucharest and settled in the Rus family apartment, which I will call home for the next five months…and it has strong wifi, a tv with English channels, and a welcoming and helpful neighbor. And I have a Romanian SIM card and working cell phone! Many thanks to Ilonka, the Rus family, and Adrian. Mulţumesc!
BUCHAREST. Although it took 60 minutes this morning to get to the Fulbright Commission (walk, bus, walk, subway, walk), I had a pleasant and productive meeting: such nice, helpful folks and so happy to have us here. Then, I enjoyed meeting and having lunch with the other theatre Fulbrighter (Rick) and his son (Aidan), who are headed to Craiova for the year. Rick is a professor at Clemson (near where I grew up) and got his Ph.D. at Texas Tech (where we share some friends). Then I returned home and spent the next three hours tackling paperwork problems on both sides of the ocean…one of those days when I just need to remember the forest and worry less about the trees. Beautiful, cool fall weather here, and I’m wearing a hoodie. All is well…if only I’ll let it be so.
CRAIOVA. Four hours on the train this afternoon to get to Craiova in the southeastern corner of Romania. Took a long walk through the city’s center, which has the old world charm that I so love. Our conference begins tomorrow morning, and I will present in the afternoon. Still need to rewrite parts of the paper and then synch it with my Powerpoint. Fingers crossed!
BUCHAREST. This afternoon, I taught my first class at the University of Bucharest, my second host university. For many of the students, this was their first graduate class in American Studies at U-B, and it was with an American professor. (!) I was impressed by their English skills and their willingness to embrace me and this course. I also was flummoxed to learn that most of them can attend only half of our scheduled classes due to circumstances beyond their control and that I’ll need to amend my syllabus accordingly. Egads! After class, I had supper with several of my Fulbright colleagues, who are freshly arrived in Bucharest to attend orientation, which begins tomorrow morning. They also are dealing with hurdles (to be polite) that are beyond their control but, like me, seem genuinely happy to be here and are determined to play the best hand with the cards being dealt.
BUCHAREST. FULBRIGHT ORIENTATION. The first of two days is now complete: 11 hours of mixing and mingling with 22 U.S. grantees (faculty and students) and representatives from the Commission, the Embassy, and the government. Lots of valuable information, delicious food, and invigorating company…with just enough culture shock to make us think (and say), “Huh?!” What is most clear from today’s session is that Romania greatly values this program and that we are most welcome. Tomorrow, we have a bus tour of the region that includes two famous castles.
SINAIA. CARPATHIAN TRIP. Nine-hour field trip today north to Sinaia in the Carpathian Mountains. There are two castles here built by King Carol I in the late 1800s: The larger Peleș Castles is majestic and formal, while the smaller, adjacent Pelişor is more intimate and family-oriented. This was a great end to our Fulbright orientation. I am honored to be in such good company and to have such gracious hosts. Tomorrow, I get to sleep late and catch up on laundry, cleaning, homework, etc.
BUCHAREST. FIRST FRIZERIE. Woke up with a “winter’s arrived” head cold, so I wandered off to the farmacie (pharmacy) at lunch and stumbled upon the frizerie (barbershop) and opted for a trim. Barber Tony gave me the full “professional,” which included singeing my ear hairs with a cigarette lighter (I’ve had that done before in Istanbul) and then threading my wayward eyebrows (an uncomfortable first for me). All for $4 plus a handsome tip. Despite his cologne spritz and my subsequent shower, I still cannot get rid of the singed hair smell…but that will pass as, hopefully, will this head cold. Now to make a pot of chicken soup.
BUCHAREST. Within a ten-minute walk of my apartment stands this glorious parish church, Biserica Șerban Vodă, which originally was built in the 1940s. What is new construction now or just renovation, I don’t know, but the interior, like that of most Romanian Orthodox churches, is spectacular. This is the first time I’ve gotten to see this style of sacred painting in progress: wall being stuccoed, drawing/outlining the figures, and then the paint. A neat experience on a beautiful but chilly and windy fall afternoon.
BAVARIA, GERMANY. Reunited last night with my sister Linda McTier Carrier in Munich. Spent most of today on a bus tour of “Mad” King Ludwig’s castles in the mountains along with a visit to Oberammergau, home of the famous Passion Play. Then returned to city center for a big meal and beer at the Hofbrauhaus. A beautiful and tiring day, but well worth it. Tomorrow we day trip by train to Salzburg.
SALZBURG, AUSTRIA. We took the 90-minute fast train (RailJet) to Salzburg this morning and returned after supper. Overcast and rainy almost all day and not enough time for the salt mines or Sound of Music tour, but we still had some wonderful sightseeing, including the castle, cathedral, and Mozart Museum. Tomorrow, we will sleep late and spend the day in Munich.
MUNICH & DACHAU. Today, Linda and I had different missions and took separate paths (at least until supper). This morning, I took the 25-minute S2 train to Dachau, where I visited the infamous prison camp. I returned in the afternoon to Marienplatz in central Munich and visited several landmarks, notably the cathedral, the Residenz Museum, and the small but reconstructed court theatre (that I teach in theatre history and now have my own photos to share!). Afterwards, I wandered into a nearby demonstration in which the flag-bearers were protesting AGAINST a recent decision/law to begin deporting some refugees. I salute the concern and compassion of the protesters as well as the calm and civility of the police. This has been a lovely reunion weekend, but we must leave tomorrow morning: Linda back to Albania and me to Romania.
BUCHAREST. I now am back in Bucharest, and Linda should return to Dürres later this afternoon. Before we left (too early this morning), I asked Linda about her favorites from our reunion trip to Germany. She said they were: 1) spending time together, 2) the food, and 3) our first-day castle tour. While I agreed and loved all of this, my favorite was but one: each night, for four nights, as we headed to the hotel, exhausted to the point where goofy meets grumpy, we would hold hands as we walked—for real support as much as affection. Rock and anchor, we, big brother and little sister, Awa and Lulu, for the past 55 years. Të dua.
BUCHAREST. I began my eight-week Romanian language course this evening: 16 two-hour sessions (and books) for $300, so less than $10/hour. Six students from six countries: Hungary, Thailand, Czech Republic, Germany, Croatia, and USA (me). I clearly am the oldest and least adept linguistically of the group…and I had just come from teaching a two-hour class at UofB. The teacher began on the dot and proceeded at break-neck speed. At break, I “joked” with her that my slow Texas ears were having a tough time. Perhaps my jollies will coax some patience, but I know she must keep on schedule. Note to self: In this country, I am not a unique snowflake, and I won’t get a ribbon just for participating; I’ve got to wake up and keep up, or I will be left behind.
BRASOV, TRANSYLVANIA. This afternoon, I took the train (2 hours, 40 minutes) from Bucharest north to Brașov in Transylvania. The historic city center is quite beautiful and so walkable but feels deserted. Granted, the temps are down in the 30s at night, and there’s no snow yet for skiing, but this is my romanticized picture of Romania. Tomorrow, I will join several other Fulbrighters in nearby Bran for Halloween weekend at Dracula’s Castle.
BRAN, TRANSYLVANIA. Took an overcrowded bus 45 minutes from Brașov to Bran late this afternoon. Rented an apartment at Transylvanian Inn where the arriving Fulbrighters could meet for dinner and drinks. Lovely evening and company. (Eight together on this first night, and more will arrive tomorrow.) Tomorrow night we all will convene at Dracula’s Castle for the big Halloween party. Then back to Bucharest on Sunday.
BRAN. I visited Bran Castle, aka “Dracula’s Castle,” this afternoon. (Yes, I’m returning tonight with my group, but I wanted some daylight pics and sober footing.) As far as castles go, this one is rather small but quite intriguing and curiously liveable…but it is not for sale, nor is it for the claustrophobic. Long wait in line for a ticket (only one ticket window!) and then too many tourists in too many tight spots, so I forfeited the uppermost levels and returned home for a hot shower and siesta. In addition to tonight’s party, we will “fall back” our clocks and gain an extra hour (of ?). Tomorrow afternoon, I’ll train back to Bucharest from Brașov, perhaps with a bit of snow.
BUCHAREST. MUZEUL SATULUI. I spent the afternoon at Muzeul Satului, Bucharest’s outdoor museum that preserves and celebrates Romania’s domestic architectural history…and it got its start here over a hundred years ago! This is a “must see” for anyone visiting the city, particularly if the weather is as beautiful as it was today. I missed the arts and crafts “in practice” that I experienced at Oslo’s outdoor folk museum; however, I was well satisfied with this visit and plan to return. Plus, after living in south Texas for so many years, it’s wonderful to have autumn temps and colors!
BUCHAREST. Many, many thanks to all of you who have wished me well today! This has been my most quiet and solitary of 57 birthdays, but your greetings and kind thoughts have made me feel loved and closer to home. And I really needed that today, so…thank you, faleminderit shume, şi mulţumesc mult. All fares well here in Bucharest, but we are eight hours ahead, and I have been on FB too long today and need to bid adieu. Cheers! Gëzuar! Noroc!
BUCHAREST. When I was in high school, I won the “Voice of Democracy” contest with a speech based on Tocqueville’s quote: “America is great because America is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.” And I believed him, and I believed what I wrote. I still do. I leave now to teach a class in American Studies at the University of Bucharest. I know I won’t make it through without some tears, but I hope that my life-long pride in my country and my once-held belief in the fundamental goodness of the American people somehow will surface and offset my current shame and despair. Without goodness, there cannot be greatness.
BUCHAREST. I now am returned from a weekend trip to Constanţa on the Black Sea. I’m still depressed and demoralized by this past week’s tragedy, but now I stand a better chance of restraining myself on Facebook. Tomorrow evening, I am to address a graduate class at the Bucharest University of Economic Studies about leadership, ethics, and the recent election. I will be out of my depth completely, but I have plenty to say. Without goodness, there can be no greatness.
BUCHAREST UNIVERSITY OF ECONOMIC STUDIES (ASE) Tonight I guest taught an American Studies class for the first year Masters students at ASE. The course focuses on business leadership, and the professor, herself a former Fulbrighter to the U.S., wanted an American present to address recent events and the election. I wore a tie (!), and my remarks were surprisingly calm and well reasoned, perhaps because I chose to focus on the what and why rather than the who—phenomenology and philosophy rather than politics and personalities. I discovered that these students, all of whom speak beautiful English, are keenly aware of the global implications of this election and are wary, even fearful, yet they still want to believe in the American Dream…as do I.
KYIV. I now am arrived and settled in Kiev, the capital of Ukraine. 90-minute flight on a discount Ukrainian airline (with no logo!) but no hassle at passport over my three-year Russian visa. I was the only American on a plane of Ukrainians, whom I didn’t see smile until we had landed. As always, everyone assumes I am German…I have yet to figure that out, but it’s gone on now for over ten years of travels. (And, honestly, given our current situation, I will be safer as such, so I continue to speak the little Deutsch that I know.) Since I am here for three nights, I rented an apartment in the heart of the city…spacious, beautiful, and just $60/night. The owner is so gracious but cannot speak a word of English; fortunately, his accompanying daughter Eugenia can. She seems confounded that an American would want to visit Kyiv; I plead the history geek rather than note my fears about her/our future. The weather for the weekend promises to be mild (highs up to 40), and I packed accordingly; however, I didn’t realize that there had been a substantial snowfall earlier this week, and I’m sloshing through the streets in shoes rather than boots. My bad. From an American perspective, prices are lower than Romania, the streets less harrowing, and the people more pale, blonde, and bigger physically. The thought that they continue to play teeter-totter with Putin amazes and horrifies me. Tomorrow, I will hit the main attractions. Cheers!
KYIV, UKRAINE. After a late rise and sturdy brunch of pumpkin soup and salmon, I pounded pavement for five hours: low 40s, dreary, and melting snow everywhere but plenty to see and do. Spent an extended period at Independence Square, where most of the turmoil and deaths occurred during the 2014 revolution. Got to talk with a man, who had been part of the uprising, explained what happened in detail, and now was selling ribbons made by and supporting wounded soldiers. Also visited two magnificent Orthodox cathedrals and their surrounds: St. Michael (blues) and UNESCO site St. Sophia (greens). Dark by 4:00 p.m. but transit aided by fast underground. (The mega-deep subway here was intended to double as bomb shelters as in Moscow.) Hopefully there will be some sun for tomorrow’s visit to Pechersk Lavra, the thousand-year old cave monastery across town.
KYIV: SUNDAY. Finally some afternoon sun and enough light to capture some of the splendors of this historic city. Spent much of the day at Pechersk Lavra, the caves monastery, that might be considered the Vatican City of the Ukrainian Orthodox (Christian) Church. The “caves” contain the catacombs for priests and religious buried underground in somewhat mummified form in glass coffins (no pics allowed)…but, for me, too claustrophobic and dangerous (carry your own taper candle? really?) and not nearly as impressive as the above grounds complex of churches and exhibits. I attempted to scale half of the bell tower (once the tallest edifice in eastern Europe) for a couple pics and now lie back in my apartment in sheer, iced agony with my bad left knee. Overall, I like Kyiv and have enjoyed my visit here. Great prices, art and architecture, history, and agreeable people…I’d put it somewhere on my second tier of European cities to visit = well worth the time and price, and I’d be happy to return…as long as I can avoid anyone with a trained pigeon or monkey or wearing a furry suit and asking, “Where are you from?” (My dislike for these people has been demonstrated repeatedly and explicitly.) Tomorrow afternoon, I will head back to Bucharest, which, for better and worse, still resides somewhere on my third tier.
BACK IN BUCHAREST. I now am returned from my long weekend in Kyiv, Ukraine. Despite being quite cold, windy, and gray, the city and experience exceeded my expectations. Included here are some pics from my three days that I liked but didn’t post. I’ll spend the upcoming Thanksgiving week/end here in Bucharest in order at attend the final Saturday session of the children’s theatre program at UNATC. And, one month from today, I’ll be headed back to the U.S.!
THIS THANKSGIVING. I woke up this morning with a migraine and learned hours later that my 88-year old mother had taken a fall and was in the hospital. Being so far away, there’s really nothing I can do, other than to rely on my brothers back home. This, for me, is the most difficult part of being overseas, and it makes my current worries here seem so trivial. Perhaps this is a reminder for me to keep things in perspective and to give thanks for the innumerable blessings so long lavished upon me and my family. For these blessings…and for these reminders always to be thankful…and to keep everything in perspective…I GIVE THANKS. (But your kind thoughts, good karma, and prayers for my mom will be appreciated.)
LISBON, PORTUGAL. Now arrived and settled in my little hotel just a couple blocks from Rossio (the city center pictured here). The flight was almost 4 1/2 hours from Bucharest, and it’s two time zones (two hours) earlier here. My, what a beautiful city, and the Christmas lights are delightful! Pouring rain tonight, so I’m staying in (and it’s almost midnight my time), but it’s supposed to clear by morning. Cheers!
LISBON. Five hours on foot so far and now time for a siesta. What a glorious city! Arrived at the medieval cathedral at its advertised opening of 9:00, but it didn’t open, so I strolled aimlessly but happily through the narrow alleys and then hopped on a water-side bus and ended up at the Monastery of St. Jeromino, which happens to be a top tourist destination…and for good reason. Breathtaking! Got there as it opened and before the crowds. Then a mis-chosen bus and well-chosen subway back to the city center for a fish lunch and stroll through the main shopping district. I’ll rest my bad knee for a bit now and then head back out after dark to see the lights.
FARO, PORTUGAL. To get from Lisbon to Seville I decided against flying and opted instead to take the 3 1/2 hour train south to Faro on the coast, spend the night, and then take the bus to Seville tomorrow morning. I think I made the right choice: this small city on the water is so beautiful and peaceful. 60 degrees and mostly clear skies, and this is typical weather here! Portugal has been splendid, and I cannot believe I waited this long to visit. Tomorrow, I head to southern Spain, where I’ll spend the next five nights. Olé!
SEVILLE, SPAIN. I took the two-hour, express bus from Faro (Portugal) to Seville this morning. On my walk from the bus station to the Old City, I passed the bullfighting stadium and, despite my disdain for this “sport,” ended up taking a tour. Then I strolled around the historic center, had some paella for lunch (vegetarian, my mistake) and visited the cathedral, which is the third largest church in the world. My knee was cooperating, so I scaled the tower for some incredible views of the city. I wish I had more time here, but I’m training to Grenada tomorrow morning.
GRANADA, SPAIN. Another glorious, southern Spanish city but a bit more difficult to access, since the trains are stopping about 100 kms out, and then you have to take a bus. Still, only took 3 1/2 hours this afternoon, and there was plenty of great scenery. (Picture Big Bend in Texas but all covered with olive trees.) No need for a jacket this afternoon, which seemed curious given that the nearby mountains are covered with snow. I’m having to rely much more on my rudimentary Spanish, which entertains and perplexes the locals. Tomorrow I’ll visit the Alhambra, and I cannot wait; this is why I’m here. Unfortunately, my mom has had another spill (and another hospital visit), and I’m rightly preoccupied with her condition but am much relieved that my brother Michael and his wife Lynne are doing what they can.
GRANADA. The main reason I came to Granada was to visit The Alhambra, which was a Moorish fortress/palace until the Catholics took southern Spain in 1492. In turn, it became the home base for Ferdinand and Isabella and where they granted Columbus permission for his journey. What an incredible place! The Alhambra now is on my Top 20 (man-made) sites and so worth the journey to Granada, which itself is a fabulous and very maneuverable city. (Can I retire here?) Really bad knee day, though, and I’m spending the rest of the afternoon icing it. (Hielo, per favor!) Tomorrow morning, I’ll ride a bus almost five hours to get to capital city Madrid, where I’ll spend my final two nights.
MADRID. I took a 4 1/2 hour express bus this morning and now am arrived in Madrid, the capital of Spain and the third largest city in the EU. Big and expensive. My room here is about the same size as my bathroom last night in Granada. The price difference between the two hotels = $13. Such is life when traveling on a budget. Still, the room here is clean and the bed comfortable, so no complaints. I will be here two nights and then return to Bucharest on Sunday. Mom remains in the hospital. I’ll share updates as I get them.
MADRID. Good sightseeing on a mostly overcast and chilly day but on a very bad knee. I bought the Madrid Card at Plaza Mayor and was able to avoid queues and save much time. Hobbled down to the cathedral and took the elevator up to the dome for some impressive views. Afterwards, I visited the Royal Palace (Palacio Real), had a veggie lunch, and then saw the changing of the guard (on foot and horseback). Then to the Opera (Teatro Real) but opted against the tour, since it was in Spanish and wouldn’t permit photos. Back to my hostal for a siesta and then to the Prado Museum, where I got to see Bosch’s “Garden of Earthly Delights” as well as Goya, El Greco, and many other masters. Incredible. Then lumbered back as night fell. Huge craving for a burger and ended up at Five Guys. Will head out early tomorrow morning on a day tour of El Escorial and then fly back to Bucharest late night. MOM UPDATE: Six days now in the hospital but some hope for release tomorrow, although we don’t know if that means home or elsewhere.
MADRID. Pouring rain. I took a half-day trip from Madrid to El Escorial and Valle de los Caídos. The Escorial is a behemoth palace/monastery/school built atop a crypt containing the remains of most of Spain’s royals. No pics allowed inside, and the church was closed for Mass. Fooey. Still mighty impressive and lots of info from our bilingual guide. Then to the Valley of the Fallen, where fascist dictator Franco built a massive underground basilica to commemorate those who died fighting for him during the Spanish Civil War. Franco himself is buried near the high altar. The overhead hill is topped by one of the largest crosses in the world. All very impressive but also disturbing given its history. Then back to the hotel and two hours of maneuvering to get settled in the airport, where I now await my 8:40 p.m. flight back to Bucharest. If all goes well, I should be back “home” by 3:00 a.m. A long, cold, and wet day. No updates yet on Mom.
BUCHAREST. Our two-day Fulbright reconvening ended today with a tour of notable Bucharest sites, including the Palace of Parliament, which is the ginormous administrative building (second in size only to the Pentagon!) built by dictator Ceaușescu in the 1980s but never finished. The home of Romania’s parliament, the building is largely unoccupied, though scores of tourists visit it daily…but see only about 5% of its vast space.
BUCHAREST. I am taking the night train (sleeper) from Bucharest to Cluj, where I have meetings tomorrow with a realtor as well as my new Dean. We leave at 10:00 pm and arrive at 7:30 am, if all goes on schedule. I have a single with its own tiny bathroom, so this is both transportation and hotel for appr. $75. The room is rather cold, and the walls are thin, so I’m not certain how much sleep I’ll get…but it’s another adventure.
CHISINAU. Now settled in Chisinau, Moldova, where I’ll spend the weekend. 18 degrees F but should be in the mid 30s tomorrow. Cold and tired but in good spirits. Godspeed to my sister Linda, who now is en route back to the U.S. from Albania.
CHISINAU, MOLDOVA. I spent the morning writing and then had lunch at a nearby Czech restaurant. In the afternoon, I explored several notables in the center of the city including Nativity Cathedral (Moldovan Orthodox) and The National Museum of History of Moldova. For my mid-afternoon coffee, I just happened to sit next to a table with four of the five Fulbrighters posted to Moldova. What a small world!
CHISINAU. I realized last night that the two places I most wanted to visit (the world’s largest wine cellar and the cave monastery) are not here in Chisinau and, unfortunately, were not available today because I hadn’t made prior arrangements. (Rather unlike me to be so lax.) So be it. I still enjoyed a long walk in the city’s center and had a much protracted and overpriced lunch that included quail soup (first pic). The Christmas carnival across the street (second pic) is sparsely attended and rather low-key, except for the canned music (usually techno) that blasts from 11 am to 11 pm. Tomorrow morning, I will fly back to Bucharest.
BUCHAREST. Spent a most enjoyable half-day with fellow American theatre professor NeilDavid Seibel, as he paused in Bucharest on his journey from Oslo, Norway, to Iași, Romania, where he’ll spend the holidays with a Fulbright colleague. We explored the old city and had a robust lunch at Caru’ cu Bere. I now am deposited at a hotel by the airport icing my bad knee and awaiting my morning flight to Paris and then to Atlanta. If all goes well, I’ll be back with the family at the farm in Georgia tomorrow night. I cannot wait: as much as I love my adventures abroad, there really is no place like home. Cheers!
PARIS. 3-hour flight from Bucharest to Paris this morning. Now at CDG waiting to board for a 10-hour flight to Atlanta. Shared lunch with a father and son from Dallas who are headed back to their family home in Nigeria. They hate these long flights, as do I, but it’s what must be done…and it’s worth it. Cheers!
DEARING, GEORGIA. My holiday week in Georgia was wonderful but went by too quickly. It was great spending quality time with family and friends, including the Lemleys (pictured here). As fate would have it, this was my first trip without camera or phone, hence the absence of pics and posts from me. Now I’m headed to Atlanta, where I’ll catch a plane to Paris and then another to Bucharest, which will remain my home base for one more month before I move to Cluj. Happy New Year!
BUCHAREST. Now back safe and sound in Bucharest. Appr. 20 hours in transit and almost no sleep, but everything went without a hitch, save for a winter head cold that’s trying to slow me down. Quite unimpressed with Air France: a flying sardine can with mediocre food and service, although it’s still steps above TAROM; I’ll stick with Lufthansa (or BA or Turkish) for future crossings. This Sunday, I’ll fly to Ljubljana (via Belgrade) to spend a week in Slovenia and Croatia before classes resume on the 9th.
BUCHAREST. Just minutes away from midnight here in Romania and at the end of a year that teetered daily between awesome and awful. During this past year, I have visited 22 foreign countries and now have lived almost four months in one of them. For better and worse, I have seen sites that defy both believability and description, and I have taken over 20,000 photos trying to capture what my words cannot. What I am left with are old adages and clichés…but truths, nevertheless: one, there’s no danger worse than fear; two, when you look for the good, you will find it; and, three, there’s no place like home.
LJUBLJANA. I now am arrived and settled in Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia. My sister visited here a couple months ago, feel in love with the place, and insisted that I visit…so, here I am. Since I don’t resume teaching until next week, I have some time to explore and will spend this week visiting three of the countries from the former Yugoslavia that I missed during my Kosova grant: Slovenia, Bosnia, and Croatia. (BTW: These are beautiful but small countries: see the graphic below.) Fortunately, booking in advance and waiting ’til after New Year’s has afforded some good bargains, and the dollar remains strong. It’s quite cold (low 20s) but no snow.
LJUBLJANA. I explored the Old City on foot today including the Cathedral, the Franciscan Church, Metelkova (“Funky Town”), the Castle, and Puppet Museum. I also ran into Fulbright colleague Melanie, now concluding her holiday travels. Beautiful, blue skies all day with temps pushing up to 40. No icy sidewalks nor too many tourists.
SLOVENIA. This morning, I took the public bus north to the mountain resort town of BLED: 75 minutes each way and less than $10 for the roundtrip. Despite having blue skies, the (glacial) lake and surrounding mountains were so hazy that you barely could see the landmark island in the middle. Given the limited views, I opted against the boat ride to the island as well as the hundreds of steps up to the castle and, instead, enjoyed a leisurely outdoor lunch before returning to LJUBLJANA. This evening, I walked almost 30 minutes to the nearest “Hot Horse” to try a horse burger. The taste didn’t agree with me, so I ended up at a “Pop’s” (beef) burger joint back in the city’s center and shared a table with three affable Slovenes in their mid-twenties. A cold but very pleasant day but still no snow. Tomorrow morning, I will fly south to Sarajevo, Bosnia, where I will spend the next two nights.
SARAJEVO. I had a short flight at noon from Ljubljana to Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia. Curiously, both cities are about the same size–a quarter million folks each–but they feel so different. It’s colder here, and the temps will continue to fall this week and bring more snow. I am staying in a lovely little hotel in the Old City that’s just $43/night, which includes breakfast. My neighborhood is predominantly Bosniak (Muslim), but within a short walk are the Catholic (mainly Croatian) and Orthodox (Serbian) cathedrals as well as a Jewish synagogue. The icy sidewalks are treacherous, and the air is hard to breath due to the nearby homes burning wood and lignite…but I feel very much at home here, as I did back in Kosova. I’ll spend the next two nights here before heading to Zagreb.
SARAJEVO. Snowed all night and most of today: pretty to look at but awful for walking and playing tourist. Dropped off my dirty clothes at the city’s one and only laundromat, owned and run by an Australian ex-pat. Quick lunch of burek and ayran and then visited several churches and historical places, including the site of Archduke Ferdinand’s assassination, which precipitated WWI. Walked by the river and saw dozens of buildings heavily bullet-pocked during the siege (1992-1996); easier to understand now how this city was held hostage by snipers for almost four years. Also now understand why Sarajevo was often called the “New Jerusalem” with so many mosques, churches, and synagogues co-existing in the Old City. Heavier snow now and almost dark at 4:00. Temps will drop to single digits by the time I leave tomorrow and fly to Zagreb.
BUSTED IN SARAJEVO. I bought a ticket for the tram (light rail) this morning but forgot to get it stamped after I got on board. 30 minutes into the ride, the ticket guy came through and busted me. No luck trying to explain my situation (aka ignorance/stupidity). I had to pay a fine on the spot of 26KM (Bosnian marks), which isn’t a huge amount, but it is as much as I had paid for all three of my (non-hotel) meals. Alas. Live and learn.
ZAGREB, CROATIA. I arrived late afternoon yesterday in Zagreb, which is much larger (and flatter) than the other two capitals on this trip. The look and feel here are decidedly European, and the people are predominately Croats and, therefore, Roman Catholic. I’m staying near the city center at a fabulous, old hotel (the Palace) with torturous bedding. Not a cloud in the sky, but the temps in the low 20s returned me to the hotel mid-afternoon. I’ll venture back out at supper. Tomorrow morning, I will fly back to Bucharest, which promises to be much colder and snowier.
BUCHAREST. I taught my last class of the fall term at the University of Bucharest this afternoon. (Curious that it coincides with the first day of spring classes at my home university in Texas!) Next we will have a full month for finals and a break before the spring term begins. Next week, I will move to Cluj (in Transylvania), where I’ll teach and direct at Babeș-Bolyai University, the largest university in Romania. I’ve spent the past week battling a cold that turned into bronchitis but now am on the mend. Temps stay below freezing, so the snow and ice remain, although some shoveling has opened the sidewalks. Tomorrow I head to Jerusalem for a long weekend.
JERUSALEM. This morning, I took the bus from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and then the tram to the Old City, where I got lost trying to find the German Lutheran Guesthouse, my lodging for the next three nights and my base for a personal retreat. Found it, checked in, had a late lunch, and then got lost again. (This is why I have to get a local SIM card asap!) Spent the afternoon at the Wall doing the only thing I could on this most ominous day. Fortunately, there is no television or wifi in the rooms here. 50F at sundown. Bronchitis continues to subside.
JERUSALEM. This morning, I visited the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, purported to stand atop ancient Golgotha, the site of Jesus’ crucifixion and burial. Since today is Shabbat (Sabbath), most stores as well as the city’s transportation system are shut down. At noon, I hopped aboard an Arab bus to BETHLEHEM to have lunch and visit the Church of the Nativity, believed by many to be the birthplace of Jesus. Then returned to the Old City mid-afternoon, coughing a lot and too cold and weary to continue. Rest and then coffee at the Guesthouse with a college student, who is with a group of 24 from St. Olaf. Unfortunately, I won’t attempt the return to Tel Aviv for the protest tonight nor Masada tomorrow. Chatting now with some Germans, who seem obsessed with Trump. As they put it, “We have to live with him, too.” I hadn’t thought of that.
JERUSALEM. After breakfast, I headed to the Temple Mount to go near (but not in) the Dome of the Rock. Then I took the tram to Mt. Herzi to visit Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial and museum. I was joined there by hundreds of young Israeli soldiers, most carrying assault rifles. Then back to the outer walls of the Old City trying to find Schindler’s Grave (was closed). Ended up in a taxi with a talkative Orthodox Christian driver who “toured” me to many of the Biblical locations that I hadn’t visited yet: Gethsemane, Mount of Olives, Jordan River, and Jericho. Spent most of the trip skirting the seemingly endless walls still being erected to segregate the Palestinians and supposedly protect the ever increasing (and illegal) Jewish settlements on the West Bank. Upon my return, I went for supper that turned into an hour-long chat with the cafe’s Palestinian owner. So, a most informative but also unsettling day…a journey from Holocaust to Apartheid.
MOROCCO. I recently spent 10 days in Morocco visiting the imperial cities and their in-betweens: Marrakech, Casablanca, Rabat, Meknes, Volubilis, Moulay Idriss Zerhoun, and Fes. I’ll post some photo albums in the next few days. It has been a real relief to be off of Facebook for a while, but, as my youngest brother reminded me, I need to share my experiences with my family and friends. And, yes, school will resume soon in Romania, and I’ll go back to work, but, until then, I’m exploring as much of the world as I can. My bucket list is now.
BUDAPEST. From my new base in Cluj, it’s just a 40-minute flight to Budapest, the capital of Hungary. I found a roundtrip on WIZZ for less than $100 and a small apartment two blocks from the Opera for $50/night. Here are some pics from my outing today: the Hungarian State Opera, the Dohány Street Synagogue, and St. Stephen’s Cathedral. Tomorrow, I’ll see Brecht’s GALILEO at the National Theatre and then head back to Cluj on Tuesday.
BUDAPEST. Organ concert at St. Stephen’s Cathedral this afternoon: majestic instrument but very familiar program and rather safe execution. Then to Brecht’s GALILEO at the National Theatre tonight, which was as bewildering and dangerous as anything I’ve ever seen onstage. Granted, I don’t speak Hungarian, but I do know the script, which provided scant help during the two hours (no intermission) of a director-heavy, gymnastic staging of a very athletic, young, and scantily clad cast. Intriguing, nevertheless, and cost less than $10. Tomorrow, I return to Cluj.
BUDAPEST. The single best minute of my today: watching a fully armed Hungarian policeman holding and fawning over a toddler as her mother plodded through airport security…a gentle reminder of our humanity so appreciated on this overcast day.
CLUJ. A sunny and warm (45F) afternoon in my new home base Cluj. After lunch and a 30-minute barista lesson (and enough caffeine to have me shaking), I walked for hours around the city’s center. Arts and crafts fair at the main square. Lovely old buildings and lots of color. And sunshine…just what I needed today. For better and worse, I’ll miss the Oscars, which will be ending about the same time I get up tomorrow morning. School starts this week, and I can’t wait!
MUNSTER. Spent a lovely day with my friend Caroline Care Thomasand her husband Peter. Visited a nearby castle, park, and botanical garden in the afternoon and attended a French chanson concert this evening. Tomorrow I will train south to Luxembourg.
LUXEMBOURG. Today, I took two trains 5 1/2 hours southwest to Luxembourg City, where I am spending one night. Much of the rail trip followed the Danube River, which was lovely to watch, despite the rain. Luxembourg is quaint but expensive, and I’d say that this detour probably hasn’t been worth the time and expense. Still, I’m finishing my pan-Europe bucket list, so no regrets. Tomorrow, I will take two trains 5 1/2 hours northwest to Rotterdam (via Brussels), where I’ll spend two nights before heading back to Cluj.
ROTTERDAM. Trained five hours north to Rotterdam, the second largest city in Holland and home to Europe’s largest port. While the city lacks the historic charm (and tourists) of Amsterdam, it is much cheaper, particularly for lodging, and only 45 minutes away. I will stay here for two nights and then return to Cluj.
ISTANBUL. I’m headed to Dubrovnik and Kotor for a long weekend with overnight layovers (going and coming) in Istanbul. I intentionally picked Turkish Airlines knowing that this route would mean two free hotel nights as well as a chance to revisit my favorite city. Unfortunately, it’s cold and windy here, and I do have a 6:00 a.m. shuttle pickup, but I think it’s been worth it.
DUBROVNIK. Now arrived and settled in Dubrovnik after a two-hour flight from Istanbul. The weather is dreary, but the Old City is marvelous. I’ve rented a small apartment in the center: very convenient, affordable ($50/night) and comfy despite the patched walls and scarred floors. (Part of the building was blown up by the Serbs during the war in the early 90s.) Tomorrow, I’ll day trip south on a public bus to Kotor in Montenegro. Hopefully, the weather will improve.
KOTOR. This morning I took the bus from Dubrovnik (Croatia) south to Kotor (Montenegro). Two-hour ride (22€) with another 20 minutes for border checks, but the scenery was spectacular, particularly when the clouds cleared. This town is much smaller, cheaper, and slower-paced, and I love it: mountains, ocean, history, fish and, best of all, fewer tourists. I’m staying one night here (within the walls) and then returning tomorrow morning to Dubrovnik.
BACK TO DUBROVNIK. I took the morning bus from Kotor back to Dubrovnik (2 1/2 hours), had some overpriced fish for lunch, and then spent the afternoon “walking the walls” and exploring the Old City. Gorgeous weather: upper 60s, no clouds, low humidity. Clothes now washed and hanging from pulley lines, as in the movies and at so many other houses today. Tomorrow evening, I’ll fly back to Istanbul, spend the night, and then catch a Thursday flight back to Cluj. Of my many excursions this past year, this one ranks near the top.
DUBROVNIK. For my half day remaining in Dubrovnik, I visited the Franciscan church/monastery as well as the Jewish synagogue/museum, both within the walls of the Old City. Unfortunately, the city’s museum is closed for renovations. Then I took a cable car up the mountain for some incredible views of city and coast. Octopus burger and oysters for lunch followed by some berry yoghurt (and some odd belches). Clothes clean, line dried, and packed. Now headed to the airport for my flight back to Istanbul, where I’ll spend the night.
LARNACA, CYPRUS. This afternoon, I took a direct flight on discount carrier BlueAir from Cluj to Larnaca: 2 hours, 15 minutes and just $100 for the roundtrip. Many of the folks on this flight were Cypriots coming from London, presumably to spend Easter back home. I’m staying at a small hotel across from St. Lazarus Church (built in the 800s) in the city’s historic center. (Legend holds that the resurrected Lazarus lived another 30 years and then died and was buried at this spot.) I attended part of tonight’s liturgy (see the video clip), but it was just too crowded and hot to stay. I’ll base here for four nights with day trips around the island including Limassol and capital city Nicosia as well as North Cyprus, which is controlled by Turkey. Then back to Cluj for the Triduum.
DAY TRIP TO NICOSIA. This morning, I took the 80-minute public bus (7€ roundtrip) from Larnaca to the capital city Nicosia, which is almost in the middle of the island. Both city and island are split in half with the Greek Cypriots (mainly Orthodox Christians) in the south and Turkish Cypriots (mainly Muslims) in the north. In Nicosia (or Lefkoşa for the Turks), I had to go through two sets of border controls, which required my passport but took only a few minutes. (Traveling off-season has so many advantages!) For me, the Turkish-held north was the most interesting, with its restored han, bazaar, and medieval cathedral, which was converted to a mosque in 1570, when the city was conquered by the Ottomans. The last two pics here are from my morning visit to Larnaca’s seawall, fortress, and St. Lazarus Church.
MONASTERY IN THE SKY. I spent the day with Fulbright colleagues, Dean and Maya Cleavenger. This morning we drove 45 minutes southwest of Larnaca to visit Stavrovouni, which is one of the oldest Christian monasteries in the world (founded in the 300s!). Perched high on a mountain, the small church claims to house a piece of the True Cross (of Jesus), which was left by St. Helena after her shipwreck on Cyprus on her return journey from Jerusalem after discovering the cross…and so on. You need not buy into the story to appreciate the majestic setting and spectacular views of the valley below. Dean and I were allowed up the hill and into the monastery/church, where we saw the reliquary, but Maya had to wait below with the other women. After a leisurely shared lunch of mezes and grilled meats, I got my hair cut and then rejoined the Cleavengers on the beach for conversation and beverages. A lovely day with wonderful weather and company!
NICOSIA. I returned to Nicosia this morning to reunite with Marina Maleni, who played Helen to my Menelaus in THE TROJAN WOMEN almost 30 years ago at the University of Texas. Marina is the Development Officer of the National Theatre of Cyprus (Θεατρικού Οργανισμού Κύπρου), which I got to tour before our lunch. She is married to a theatre director and has three children (ages 16-20), all of whom are involved in the performing arts. How wonderful to have our lives intersect again after all these years! (And many thanks to Stuart Brown for connecting us on Facebook!)
DUBLIN. I am spending my week of spring break in Ireland, the final country on my pan-Europe list. Blue Air has a direct flight from Cluj to Dublin Airport: each way is less four hours and about $100, which I consider a bargain. Dublin itself, though, is rather expensive, particularly lodging and food. Two hours time difference, which means I’m zonked now, but catching the early train to Cork tomorrow morning shouldn’t be too hard. (I’ll add some notes on each pic rather than narrate here.) Happy Easter to all! Paște fericit!
LUNCH STOP IN LIMERICK. This morning I took the local bus from Cork to Limerick, where I paused a few hours to walk the city center, visit St. Mary’s Cathedral (Anglican), tour St. John’s Castle, and finally have a pub lunch of lamb stew and red ale. Then I took the express bus from Limerick to Galway, where I’ll spend the next two nights.
CLIFFS OF MOHER & THE BURREN. Today, I took the eight-hour bus tour (30€) of The Burren and the Cliffs Of Moher. Spectacular scenery and lots of history from our guide about western Ireland. I could see the Aran Islands and Connemara in the distance, but I’ll have to hold them for another visit. Overall, a great but tiring day with lots of good conversations with other (mainly American) travelers. Tomorrow, I train back to Dublin, where I’ll spend my final three nights.
BACK IN DUBLIN. After a long morning walk through Galway, I took the mid-day train back to Dublin (2 1/2 hours). I’m staying in a “bed-sit” at a Catholic guest house across the street from an Anglican parish church that also is home to the Romanian Orthodox Church in Ireland. After check-in and “orientation,” I bussed over to Trinity College to see the Book of Kells, but I arrived minutes before closing; I’ll have to return on Saturday. As goes the first pic: before supper (scorchingly spicy Nepalese), I wandered into a pub and ended up chatting with these two women, one of whom opened her purse exposing this head. I had to ask: turns out, they are cosmetology students learning to cut hair and practicing on wig heads. Overall, a rather curious but not unenjoyable day. Tomorrow, I will day-trip to Belfast in Northern Ireland.
BELFAST. This morning, I took the early train from Dublin to Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom, not the Republic of Ireland. The city is famous for building the Titanic (and so many other goliath ships) and infamous for its decades-long “Troubles” (or “Dark Days,” as our guide called it) that pitted neighbors against each other and resulted in thousands of deaths. I was surprised by how large, modern, and beautiful so much of the city is. I also was struck by the many grim reminders of a tragic and not so distant past. This was my third “walled” city in as many months: earlier this year, I visited Jerusalem and Nicosia. This is what I have concluded: if walls are the answer, then we’re asking the wrong question.
DUBLIN. I spent the morning at Trinity College seeing the Book of Kells and the Long Room (Library). Then over to the Abbey Theatre, where I chanced upon two returned tickets for tonight’s sold-out preview of GODOT. Bussed out to Kilmainham Gaol but couldn’t get a ticket, so I ended up at the Guinness Storehouse (exhibit, not factory tour), which culminated with a free pint and some Irish dancing. Then to the medieval Christ Church Cathedral (Church of Ireland/Anglican), where I marveled at the floors and startled everyone in the crypt with an untimely Guinness belch. Now back to the Abbey to see GODOT. Tomorrow afternoon, I will fly back to Romania.
DUBLIN. PRE-SHOW pic of WAITING FOR GODOT at the Abbey Theatre tonight. Gogo already was waiting, absolutely motionless, as we arrived. Produced by Galway’s Druid Theatre, directed by Garry Hynes, and featuring an all-Irish cast that “sang” Beckett’s text in ways I’ve never heard it before. Breathtaking, Rothko-esque design that gently revealed itself during the nearly three-hour performance. (Yes, the glowing peripheral frame remained lighted throughout.) A great night of theatre, but I’m too tired to write more. Heading to the airport in the morning. Cheers!
IASI. This morning, I took a 40-minute flight from Cluj to Iași (pronounced “yash”), which is in the northeastern corner of Romania. We have three Fulbrighters posted here, which is part of my reason for coming, but I also am trying to visit as much of the country as possible before I leave. (Next month, I’ll hit Timișoara, Sibiu, and Sighișoara.) I’ll stay three nights here in a small rental apartment and then head back to Cluj on Thursday morning to teach my final classes of the semester.
TBILISI, GEORGIA. I now am arrived and settled in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, which, for much of my life, was part of the Soviet Union. For having over a million folks, the city doesn’t feel big and rushed; as noted in many travel guides, it has a quirky and curious vibe, which appeals to the former Austinite in me. I will be based here for the next nine nights, although a few of those will be spent south in Armenia. My wifi here is extremely slow, so I may not be able to upload much until I return to Romania. This is as far east as I have traveled (Tbilisi is due north of Bagdad), and I have no facility for the language or even its alphabet…but my yen for adventure continues.
TBILISI. I spent several hours this afternoon walking around the center of Tbilisi, which fast is becoming one of the most interesting cities I’ve ever visited: history, art, religion, architecture, food, drink, prices, etc. Think Istanbul on a smaller scale and without the crowds, rush, and hassle. A tolerable number of tourists everywhere and most speaking German or Russian, save for the entourage of Welsh soccer players running around in shorts and flip-flops (!). As in past travels, everyone assumes that I’m German for some reason. Rain is moving in, so I’ll probably spend the evening inside. The tv doesn’t work, and the internet is too slow, so I might actually read a book…which isn’t a bad thing.
TBILISI. The mystery of my erratic neighbors was solved by today’s laundry: I’m living with a soccer team. After hanging my own wets on the line, I headed into the commercial district to get my other “must do”s done. Since my landlord won’t accept a card, I had to wrangle enough cash to pay for my nine-night stay. Next, I got a Geocell SIM card for my phone and data needs: $8 for a 15-day unlimited plan. I tried to work in a tour of the National Opera but was told to return on Saturday (when tours are conducted). Then I went to the Bank of Georgia, where I had been told I could buy a transportation card. 30 minutes later, I walked out with a government-registered “Express” card, which folks here evidently use to pay for everything…except their rent. Finally, I paid my landlord, who, in turn, fixed my television and handed me a huge box of candy. Tomorrow morning I will head to northern Armenia on a day tour.
ARMENIA. I just returned from a 10-hour day trip to the north region of Armenia, which is famous for its monasteries and churches, some of which are a thousand years old. (Armenia was the first country officially to adopt Christianity back in 301 AD, according to our knowledgable 23-year-old guide Gigi.) We were joined by two affable South African rugby coaches, who are visiting Tbilisi for the U20 Championship. (This Sunday, I will join them for the match between Georgia and South Africa.) An exhilarating but exhausting day. Tomorrow I will explore more of Tbilisi.
TBILISI. Spent the morning on chores and school paperwork as well as several calls to the U.S. Embassy trying to figure out if my passport is or isn’t “full.” (The issue stems from those four pages at the back of the passport that say “endorsements” rather than “visas.”) Since the issue isn’t resolved, I’ll forgo my weekend visit to Yerevan (Armenia) and remain here in Tbilisi. My afternoon sightseeing was cut short by rains moving in; however, I did the “hop on, hop off” bus, which provided a good route but far too little information (and no pics) to be worth the price. So it goes. I’ll enjoy a quiet night in and reattempt today’s plans tomorrow.
TBILISI. Began the morning with online (p-card) “training” for my home university and then spent the rest of the morning getting one prescription refilled: one doctor for “official” diagnosis and certificate (in Georgian, expensive), another doctor across town for the written prescription (in Georgian, free), and then the pharmacy for the pills (in Russian, affordable). Three taxis (no English but cheap). But it’s done, and I have enough now until I get back. Then spent the afternoon in the oldest and most touristy part of the city. Beautiful, comfortable weather but so gusty…but didn’t stop me from taking the cable car up the hillside to the old fortress and the Mother of Georgia statue. Then to the mosque and sulphur baths. No clue what I’ll do tomorrow…and that’s okay.
TBILISI. Big hiking day with good payoffs but a sore knee and mega blister. Spent the morning (en route to and) at the new cathedral, which is jaw-dropping for its verticality but too touristy to feel like a sacred space. (The same is true at so many other religious “attractions” I’ve visited.) Then crossed town and took the funicular up the mountain for some incredible views. Glorious weather except that the winds from yesterday’s front are so fierce that many folks are wearing masks, and I had to buy saline drops to get the sludge out of my eyes. Lots of coughing, too. Tomorrow, I will take another day trip, but this time up into the Georgian mountains. I REALLY like this city and hope that some of you will get to visit in the near future.
CENTRAL GEORGIA. Today, I took another 10-hour day trip, but this time toward the center of the country, where we toured several UNESCO-listed churches and historical sites, including Mtskheta, the first capital of Georgia and home to its most sacred church. Then on to Gori, the hometown of Stalin (yes, boo) with his museum, unchanged since the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Lunch with homemade wine at the home of our driver, prepared by his gracious wife. Finally the ancient cave city of Uplistsikhe followed by a cold local beer. This has been one of my favorite days during the entire past year abroad: beautiful weather, magnificent scenery, and, most importantly, great companions, all of whom love traveling and experiencing new places and people. Our van carried 15 people from 10 different countries with ages ranging from 20s to 70s. Tomorrow, I will rejoin my new South African friends for a day of U20 rugby. Cheers!
TBILISI. I spent the morning grading final exams from my three classes at UBB and then joined my new friends from South Africa (and another from Zambia) for a lunch of burgers and beer. Then taxied across town with them for an afternoon of U20 (Under 20) rugby between France and Argentina. After yesterday’s rock climbing, my knee was giving me fits, so I returned to home base after one match to wash my dirties and hang them out with the neighbor’s team. (I still don’t know if they’re soccer or rugby.) Tomorrow evening, I’ll fly back to Istanbul with my rugby friends; they will layover a few hours before heading back to Johannesburg, while I will spend the night before flying back to Cluj. All in all, a wonderful week.
CLUJ. Back in Cluj after a 23-hour layover in Istanbul. Began the day with a 7 am MRI on my knee in a beautiful but almost vacant private hospital in Taksim. [Their pic below.] Evidently, this weekend’s rock/cave climbing was a very bad choice: hematoma and more tear of the meniscus. Hopefully, my travel insurance will cover all but the deductible. Doctor offered to schedule arthroscopy (in Istanbul), but I’ll have to settle for some recumbency, ibuprofen, and ice (in Romania). I’ll be in Cluj for the next two nights to finish grading finals (round one) and then head to Sibiu Thursday evening for the SibFest theatre festival. Now to make some ice.
Finished grading finals this morning and met with the department chair this afternoon. Off to Sibiu (Romania) tomorrow afternoon for ten days at the SibFest theatre festival, where I’ll be joined by my UT covfefe Stuart Brown. Then back to Cluj for final retakes (yes, that happens here), then pack up and leave Romania on June 29.
SIBIU. I arrived last night in Sibiu after a four-hour train ride from Cluj. Rained the entire time, but the train was on schedule, full but uncrowded, and comfortable. (My colleagues here will appreciate that!) I am here for SibFest (FIST), an international theatre festival, which will run for the next ten days and includes as many free events as ticketed ones. The rain brought a cool front and glorious weather for today’s introduction to the Old City, which was founded in the 12th Century by Saxons (Germans), and may be loveliest city I’ve visited thus far in Romania. Tonight, I will attend LECTURE ON NOTHING, an homage to John Cage, created and performed by Robert Wilson.
SIBIU. Fabrica de Cultura, Sibiu, Romania. 9:45-11:30 p.m. Not Mary Zimmerman’s version (which I loved), but a completely different wrangling of Ovid’s classic poem, presented by the National Theatre of Sibiu at an abandoned factory on the outskirts of town. Director Silviu Purcărete’s staging was as visual and visceral as it was poignant and poetic…and with a only a sprinkling of spoken text in Latin and Romanian. The best 25% of the night was as good as theatre gets for me, while another 25% easily could have been edited or chopped, but I say bravo and mulțumesc for DARING. Overall, this may have been the riskiest (artistically) and most dangerous (physically) piece of theatre I’ve seen in ages. When you perform only in your underpants and set fire to the scenery at the end, you know you’re not in Kansas (or Texas) anymore…and, I kinda like that.
SIBFEST. This afternoon, I was joined by my friend Stuart Brown, who is a theatre professor in Florida. We saw some Japanese street performance, had a traditional Romanian supper, enjoyed an American multi-media performance, and finally joined many thousands in the main square for German overhead motorcycle acrobatics. And I got to Skype chat with Dad on this, his 90th birthday. Tomorrow, we will attempt Gorky’s THE LOWER DEPTHS in Hungarian.
SIBIU. Spent the day exploring Sibiu with my UT-Austin friend Stuart. Then returned to Fabrica de Cultura tonight to see a production of Gorky’s THE LOWER DEPTHS, presented by the Hungarian State Theatre of Cluj (where I currently live). Very long (3 hours 20 minutes) but terrific acting and supertitles in Romanian and English. If you don’t know the play, then consider this: it makes LES MIZ feel like sitcom. Tomorrow we will train to Sighișoara (one of the Dracula towns), spend the night, and then return to Sibiu on Wednesday for more theatre.
SIGHISOARA. Early this afternoon, Stuart Brown and I took the local train 2 1/2 hours northeast to Sighișoara, the medieval Saxon town where Vlad Țepeș (aka Dracula) was born. We intercepted my Fulbright colleague Ellen Peck from Iași and spent the next many hours eating, drinking, and exploring the citadel fortress containing the old city, which has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Such a beautiful place this is—a definite must for anyone visiting Romania! Tomorrow afternoon, we will return to Sibiu for more theatre.
SIGHISOARA. Spent the morning with Stuart and Ellen sightseeing in Sighisoara and, after a shared lunch, took the local train back to Sibiu (almost three hours). Then returned to Fabrica de Cultura tonight to see a Taiwanese “black light” production of MACBETH that included song and dance numbers as well as lots of Bruce Lee-light fight scenes. Now up late, chatting with Stuart about how we might connect our own students with global/cultural experiences like these.
SIBIU. Today, Stuart and I explored an exhibit of Romanian/Moldavian folk masks, then an outdoor installation of children’s games made from found objects, and finally the Brukenthal Palace/National Museum. After lunch, we returned to Fabrica de Cultura for Philippe Gentry’s image-driven INNER LANDSCAPES (France), and then we experienced a rowdy Romanian rendition of the ROCKY HORROR SHOW in a local bar. (Yes, Rocky Horror in Transylvania—too novel to pass up!) Tomorrow will be our last full day at Sibfest.
SIBIU. We ended our last day at SibFest with another production of Macbeth, this time from Hong Kong and performed in Cantonese. For me, this was the most artistically satisfying and memorable event I attended all festival: breathtaking visuals, highly skilled performers, east-meets-west aesthetic tension, and the perfect balance of innovation and sound dramaturgy. (For the second half of the play, the actors playing Macbeth and Lady Macbeth flipped roles!) Curiously, though, over half of this international audience had vacated by the time we returned from intermission. Their loss. Tomorrow, my friend Stuart will fly to Vienna, and I will return to Cluj to grade the finals retake before heading off to Timișoara.
TIMISOARA. Yesterday, I turned in my final grades and had a last meeting with my chair, thus ending my duties at UBB and completing my Fulbright grant. Early this morning, I took a 30-minute flight southwest to Timișoara, the third largest city in Romania and very close to the border with Serbia. I’ve rented a small studio on Piața Victoriei (the main square) and will stay here for the next three nights. Beautiful weather but hot: we are in the upper 80s today and will move into the mid-90s by the time I leave on Friday. Then a few more days in Cluj to pack up.
ARAD. I’ve ended up with a summer cold, so I decided against pounding the pavement in Timișoara in favor of a side trip to Arad…all with delusions of a lovely scenic train ride through the pancake flat, western farm lands of Romania. But it’s 90 degrees, and the train had no a/c, and every carriage was closed compartments. I shared mine with three affable gentlemen who were as amazed by my sweating as I by their aromas. Our attempts at conversation proved that I knew more Romanian than they English, but we smiled and laughed all the same. Now I’m rehydrating and hoping to get some pics and supper once the temps lower a bit.
ARAD. Cold/Cald. With my cold worsening, I returned this morning to Timișoara on yet another NO A/C train, where I conversed with a group of young American missionaries (Calvinists this time instead of Mormons) here to learn Romanian Sign Language; they were so uncomfortably hot that they stood most of the trip. (I do enjoy watching skinny people sweat!) I rarely get colds in the summer, but when I do, I have to soft-pedal for a while, and so I’m back at my little studio washing my sweated-through clothes. Not all the touristing I had hoped to do on this trip…but so it goes. Tomorrow morning, I will fly back to Cluj and start packing up. [The pics below are from Arad, which is lovely, as is Timișoara.] BTW, “cald” is Romanian for “warm”…and today is foarte cald.
CLUJ. Transition. I’m staying at this little hotel for the next two nights, as I close down my apartment in Cluj. Evidently, the entire bathroom is the shower, and the bed consumes most of my room. No problem…I’m just so happy to have a/c! Just one more full day in Romania.
CLUJ. And so it ends. My nine months in Romania now are over. Tomorrow morning, I’ll take the early (6:50!) Wizz flight to Bologna and then spend the next three weeks on the road (mainly Tuscany and northern Italy), then fly back to Houston for a few days before heading to Georgia to visit my family. Believe it or not, I’ve grown weary of traveling (55 countries now), but I cannot pass up this last opportunity to explore a few more new-to-me places. I’m too tired right now to make any sweeping judgments about my experience here other than to say that I am so grateful to have had this opportunity and that most days here have been as good, productive, and happy as I let them be. I will be back in Texas (for good!) the first week in August.
FLORENCE. I took the early morning flight from Cluj to Bologna (95 minutes) and then a mid-day, high-speed train to Florence (30 minutes). I rarely repeat cities, but this is one of my all-time favorites. I am spending the next five nights here in a convent with four elderly nuns who are all smiles but cannot speak a word of English. $40/night gets me a private room and bathroom, passable a/c, and weak wifi. Takes about 15 minutes to walk to the Duomo (cathedral). Not surprisingly, Florence is flooded with tourists, most of whom seem to be Americans.
FLORENCE. Cool and overcast all day. Wanting to avoid queues for individual attractions, I bought a “Firenze Card,” which allows (nearly) automatic admission to 72 attractions during a 72-hour period for 72€. I started with the Duomo (a repeat and more interesting outside than inside) and its Baptistry (remember Tom Hanks in INFERNO?) but skipped the Dome (463 steps) and the Bell Tower (414 steps) due to my problem knee (and being old and fat). After lunch, I visited Santa Croce, which contains the tombs of Galileo, Michelangelo, and many other luminaries, as well as its fascinating adjacent buildings and leather workshop. Next came the Great Synagogue and Hebrew Museum, where I learned much about Florence’s Jewish history and current community. Then a few other sites as I headed back to the convent before the rain began.
FLORENCE. Beautiful weather and a full day of sightseeing…some repeats, some new: the Central Market, Santa Maria Novella, Arno River and Ponte Vecchio, Palazzo Vecchio, Cathedral Museum, and the Medici Chapel with the Michelangelo Sacristy. The real highlights of the day, though, were two discussions during beverage breaks: the first with two retired gentlemen from Arkansas exploring Europe for their first time as a couple and the second with a maple-leaf-clad quartet from Ontario, proudly celebrating Canada Day (150 years!). In both cases, I was reminded that there still is so much about life and love to celebrate and share.
FLORENCE. After a morning sweating at the neighborhood laundromat and then a mediocre burger lunch at the “1950 American Diner,” I spent the afternoon recharging my artist batteries by visiting three exhibits. First was Bill Viola’s “Electronic Renaissance” at the Strozzi Palace in which the artist “rebirths” Renaissance paintings in his glorious, slow-motion videos. The last time I felt this moved by an exhibit was McQueen’s “Savage Beauty” at the Met…which is saying a lot. Then to a multi-media DaVinci installation in a converted church featuring his notebooks, paintings, and machines. Sensory overload. Finally, a return trip to the Pitti Palace, but this time for the Galleria del Costume, where the displays themselves often out-marveled the garments. Tomorrow, I will day-trip by train south to Siena.
SIENA. Today, I took a day-trip by regional train south to Siena: 90 minutes and $10 each way. Yesterday (July 2) was the Paleo, a major horse race which is held in the city’s center twice each year, and there were lots of tourists still hanging around. As you can see in my pics, the red clay encircles the plaza, and the whole place still reeked of horse. And it was 90 degrees today, so hot, dusty, and stinky but still absolutely beautiful. The highlight for me was the cathedral with its famous black-white banding and glorious ceiling treatments. If you plan on visiting Tuscany, be sure to include this hillside, medieval town. Tomorrow morning, I’ll depart Florence and head north with the next two nights in Pisa.
PISA. This morning, I took the regional train 45 minutes (and $9) northwest to Pisa, where I’ll base for the next two nights. Pisa never was on my bucket list, but now that I’m here, I’m delighted to see the famous tower (it’s still leaning) and enjoy this old, charming city. I’m staying in a B&B beside the river: $45/night for comfy room and bed, great a/c, but a shared bath. So it goes on my budget. Not a cloud in the sky, temps in the mid-80s, and not too many tourists. Tomorrow, I’ll day trip over to Lucca, where SHSU previously has had summer programs.
LUCCA. Today, I took a day trip by regional train from Pisa to Lucca: 30 minutes each way and $8 roundtrip. I had never heard of Lucca until a few years ago, when our Dance Department sent some of its students there for a summer residency. I can see why: it’s an easily accessible and lovely medieval city but enough off most tourists’ radars that you might get some work done. The most interesting site for me was the Roman amphitheatre transformed into a residential and commercial venue: the floor of the theatre is the plaza, and the seating area now is clusters of buildings. Warm but beautiful weather continues, and the tourists are tolerable. Tomorrow, I’ll train up the coast through the Cinque Terre before ending in Genoa, where I’ll base for the next four nights.
GENOA. This morning, I took the train from Pisa northwest to Genoa, one of Italy’s main port cities and probably best known to most Americans as the home of Christopher Columbus. Most of the two-hour ride was through mountain tunnels with only occasional glimpses of the beautiful coast and crystal clear sea. Not many tourists here in the city, which has a more “work-a-day” feel and appeal, kinda like Houston, except for all the hills. I will be based here for the next four nights with day trips to the Cinque Terre and Turin. Good news: I finally have a room with a full-sized bed and private bathroom. Bad news: I think I’ve lost my Raifeissen (European) debit card. Alas.
GENOA. I spent most of the day on foot exploring the city: more public squares, churches, and panoramic views. Today’s highlight, though, was Cimitero Monumentale di Staglieno, one of the largest cemeteries in Europe, where I ambled over three hours, much of it in search of one particular monument (the Calcagno Tomb). I will post a separate album later, when I have better wi-fi. Tomorrow, I hope to join a boat excursion down the coast to either Portofino or the Cinque Terre.
CINQUE TERRE. This morning I took the three-hour (36€ roundtrip) ferry boat down the coast from Genoa to the region known as the Cinque Terre. Of the five villages, I visited the one furthest north (Monterossa), which was way too beechy-touristy for me, and then the one furthest south (Riomaggiore), which was like the postcards I had seen and much more to my liking. Rather than risk the long boat ride back, I hopped a local train south to La Spezia and then picked up the Intercity train back to Genoa. A bit sunburned now but very happy to have visited this picturesque locale. Tomorrow, I will day trip two hours north to Turin (as in “The Shroud of…”) and then return to Genoa for one final night.
TURIN. Early this morning, I took the train two hours north (and then two hours back this evening) to visit Turin, which probably is best known for The Shroud housed in the city’s cathedral, although it now is stored in a box in a side chapel and can be viewed only once each year. More interesting was my visit to the Mole Antonelliana and the elevator ride up for some splendid views of the city and nearby alps. Warm, overcast weather with sprinkles and too humid to be comfortable. For me, Turin (along with Milan) is on my list of “meh” cities—glad I visited once, but I’ll not need to return. Tomorrow, I will leave Genoa for good and head northeast to Bergamo for the next two nights.
VICENZA. I made a special trip to Vicenza today to visit the Teatro Olimpico, which was designed by Palladio, opened in 1585, and has the historical distinction of being the first indoor/roofed theatre in Europe. Hopefully, I’ll also get to visit Teatro Farnese in Parma before I leave Italy next week.
VICENZA. Despite my plans to visit the Roman theatres of Verona today, the train schedules conspired against me, and I ended up taking a side trip in the opposite direction to Padua, mainly to visit the Basilica (and tomb) of St. Anthony of Padua. I stayed only a few hours in the city due to the threat of rain and then returned to Vicenza for a second visit to the Teatro Olimpico, where I had hoped to get some backstage access but instead got only more (but better) shots of the interior. (I’ll create a separate theatre album soon.) Since I don’t have many great shots from today, I will leave you with four pics from four different buildings’ ceilings taken during the past four days: two are sacred; two are profane. I’ll let you figure them out. Tomorrow morning, I will head to Bologna, where I’ll be based for my final four nights in Italy (and Europe!).
VICENZA. While waiting for the train this morning, I kept hearing a familiar but unexpected voice. Finally, I realized that these fellows were watching RDR over in the corner. I don’t know which season they were on, but they were transfixed, and the episode ended just in time for them to dash off to their train. Small world, ain’t it? I’m now in Bologna, where I’ll be based for my last four nights. Tomorrow, I will head to Parma to visit the Teatro Farnese.
PARMA. This morning, I took the train an hour north to Parma (as in Parmesan cheese) for the sole purpose of visiting the Teatro Farnese, famous for being the first theatre with a proscenium arch. Unfortunately, much of the theatre and the palace containing it were destroyed during WWII but later reconstructed in the 1960s. I also visited the attached art museum as well as the nearby Castello dei Burattini (Puppet Castle) and the city’s magnificent Romanesque cathedral. Today effectively ended my “must see” list, which is a relief, and now I’m left with only a few “must do”s, particularly laundry before I leave Europe on Tuesday.
BOLOGNA. My last night, and I’m having all sorts of mixed feelings. Tomorrow evening, I’ll fly to Istanbul, spend the night, and then fly back to the USA on Wednesday. Fortunately, the laptop ban for Turkish Airlines ended earlier this month, and I’ll be able to board with all my gadgets. HIATUS: Now that my year abroad and travels are ending, I’m going to take an indefinite break (haitus) from Facebook beginning Wednesday. I’ll continue to keep my Messenger up and running, though. Cheers!