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Euroviv moves to Texas

Us right after Catalin received his visa from the US Embassy, Bucharest.
I created this blog a few months before moving to Romania in 2011. Euroviv I jokingly told my friends is the newer, more sophisticated version of myself. I was making light of the fact that I'd be 'Europeanized' over here, that this move to Romania would change me a bit. What do you know, that is exactly what happened. I now put a premium on having fresh baked bread in the house. I've learned the Romanian art of receiving guests with good food, drink, conversation and great pleasure. You should never feel guilty spending your time or money with friends, it is always worth it. Homemade trumps store-bought every. single. time. I can light a gas stove with a match now, cook more dishes than I ever have in the past, and enjoy a nice coffee from our ibrik in the morning. These small things, little bits of daily life in Europe, are treasures in my memory. I wish I could share them all, but it is more feeling and joy than I have words.  I'm grateful for the year and 9+ months spent abroad. As much as I dislike some things about this country I know I'll miss many more things, people and places. I am both happy to leave and sad to go. This is what Romania has done to me; I love the place yet can't stand to live here permanently! If you've lived in the country you might understand the sentiment.

-Viv




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Tip: Packing Wine in Checked Luggage

I'm in the middle of packing so this will be quick. One of the best souvenirs to bring back from Europe is....WINE. You can find great wine at any price point. A taste of Europe ya? But wait, that wine bottle needs to go in your luggage. Will it make the trip? Glass+Liquid+Int'l Flight= Anxiety. Last time I went to Texas I was adamant on bringing four bottles for my parents. This time I've got wine and some beautiful Romanian ceramics. Problem solving like this is a joy of mine. How could I make a cheaper version of this $150 wine carrier? Well, I'm here to tell you it is possible to make one using recycled materials and duck tape. Awesome! Ok this is what you need:

Supplies:
One 2 liter plastic bottle
One wine bottle
Strong tape (ideally duck tape)
2-3 plastic grocery bags
Knife blade
Optional: Newspaper (extra stuffing)  & Cardboard box (extra protection)

  1.  If you're really paranoid, like me, duck tape the top of the wine bottle.
  2.  Place the wine bottle in one grocery bag and tie securely at the top. Repeat but this time place the bottle so that you tie the bag at the bottle's base. Repeat as much as you want. This helps cushion things and makes it harder for liquid to escape should the worst happen.
  3. Using your knife slice off about 3 inches from the top of the plastic bottle. 
  4. Insert the wine bottle into the plastic bottle (which is now wrapped in grocery bags).
  5. At this point you need to use scissors and tape to form the bottom of the plastic bottle to the wine bottle. I usually cut 3 inch strips around the perimeter of the plastic bottle and tape it securely to the wine bottle.
  6. Placing the top of the plastic bottle over the wine bottle is optional. Depending on the shapes of both bottles it could be easy or difficult. Secure with more duck tape.
  7. Place the bottle(s) in the cardboard box with some newspaper around them for added cushion and tape it closed. I only do this if my luggage box is mainly empty and I need the bottles to not roll around.
NOTE: This packaging was used for a cross-atlantic flight successfully. All four wine bottles made it to my parents house. We had a great wine tasting night!



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Keeping in Touch while Abroad

One of the first things I did after arriving in Romania was buy a cell phone package that included international minutes. My family is very close-knit so the ability to call them was important to me. Unfortunately I quickly found out those international minutes run out fast. I had 'phone card syndrome' where the pleasure of speaking to someone is spoiled by thoughts of 'am I going to run out of minutes?' Plus my family couldn't call me which made it harder to stay in touch. I was pretty bummed about the situation so I looked for other options.

Here are the top four ways I keep in touch while living in Europe:

Rebtel- This is a phone service that takes all the effort out of international calling. If you've ever used a phone card, trust me this is NOT THAT! Instead you create and account, and then add contact numbers for those abroad (in any country). Rebtel will automatically generate a unique local phone number for each person you add to your contacts. For example: I have a local Romanian number saved in my mobile, the number has been assigned (by Rebtel) to my sister's cell phone in Texas. I dial her Romanian # and it rings her cell in Texas, easy. No having to input long lines of numbers and international codes on my phone. Cost? 1.5 cents per minute. On top of that my sister can call me in Romania using a local Texas number assigned to my phone anytime at no extra charge to her. I wasn't sure if it was a legit service when I first got to the site but they give you five free minutes to try it w/o requiring any payment info. It is genius, I've been using this service for over a year and highly recommend it. Note: This is not sponsored content. These are the honest words of a customer. I do however earn points if you end up purchasing their service here.

Google Voice- Google voice is awesome if you already have it set up in the US. My google voice worked even though I was in Romania so I could make phone calls to the US for free from my laptop. It was perfect when I needed to call places which I knew would put me on hold forever, like my US bank, Ebay customer service, etc. Side note: Anyone else have terrible problems using a US Ebay account abroad? It locked down on me 3 times! My luck ran out after six months though. Google voice found out I was in Romania I guess. Still, if you really need to use the service try a proxy like HotspotShield. It works ;)

Skype- A no brainer here.  The only catch is trying to meet-up online when there is a 8 hour time difference. Who wants to hang around waiting for people to get on skype? Rebtel fixed that for me. Now I can easily call my parents or they can call me and say "hey lets skype". Fyi: If skype is crashing too much I usually switch to google video chat.

Postcards- True, I haven't been sending out dozens of cards but I made it a point to send a few every time we travelled somewhere new and interesting. It was my favorite way of letting people know that I was thinking of them.

There you have it, a few ways I found to easily keep in touch with my friends and family back home. If you have tips please share below!
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Ravasel : Viorica's Village

Going to visit Ravasel, the small village where Viorica grew up, has been on my to-do list for a while. It is only an hour's drive away from Medias and is so tiny it is not counted as its own place on the map. A google map search for Ravasel will bring up Mihaileni, Romania–it is the core of a cluster of villages within the area. I think you've got the idea of its size now let me tell you why this place is so interesting.  First there are more horse drawn carriages than cars... seriously. Second you can "tour" the village in about ten minutes by foot. Third everyone is mostly self-sufficient by producing their own food. People live old school here. It is a sight to see for someone who has never taken a bath outdoors using collected rainwater, plucked dinner up from a backyard garden, or bought milk from a neighbor down the street. (that would be me!)


Uncle Rucu's garden.

Plucked a few of these for an afternoon snack and took some home to Medias.




On our walk we came across this woman splitting pumpkins to feed her pigs. Thanks to her willingness to share- we went pumpkin picking!

Pumpkins are not commonly sold in markets, so these were a happy find. Now we just need to carve these suckers.


Viorica buys potatoes from this couple.




Family photo, Oct. 2012
Back on the main road. 



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Wine Making: 101

September was an eventful month for me. The weather changed from scorching hot everyday to beautifully warm with cool nights. Perfect weather for long walks and running errands. Each time I stepped past the entrance gate into Viorica's garden I was greeted with the sweet smell of ripening grapes on the vine. If you're trying to imagine this from home, just stick your nose in a Welch's grape juice bottle, it is the same smell! I'd been anticipating two things the month of September: 1) a letter from the National Visa Center regarding Catalin and 2) harvesting grapes to make wine. Thankfully both wishes were fulfilled. Here are a few photos from our harvest.


















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Weekend in Cluj

In the past I've visited Cluj on business but this weekend was all pleasure. Cata and I hopped into our classy ride (an old school dacia) and spent a few days roaming the city where he once attended university. If you're visiting from Bucharest I think you'll definitely notice how clean the streets are in Cluj. It is a nice looking city that has old world charm plus new world fun (hello shopping mall). Going to the movies and eating ethnic food were a must for us since Medias doesn't offer such things. Highlights: Cluj Botanical Garden, Cluj Flea Market (awesome!), and Indigo restaurant.
It is more like a park than a garden. It is huge, with several greenhouses and thousands of plants. My new favorite garden this is a must see.

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Fig-tastic Jam

The joy of homemade gem or dulceata was first made known to me after Viorica gave me a jar of her homemade strawberry jam almost two years ago. Everyone's mother or grandmother makes sweet batches of fruit preserve annually; it is a common practice here. The fun part comes in tasting variations in recipes from different households. Some add vanilla, others add lemon, all taste good to me (except for quince). Until today I was convinced jam making was a complicated and difficult process. It has got to take hard work for the result to turn out sooo darn good doesn't it? In short....nope! We bought figs yesterday and today we've got a delicious fig jam. The process took about an hour and a half total. Tomorrow's breakfast menu? Clatite w/jam of course :)

If you'd like to make your own fig jam, we based our recipe off of this one link here.
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Summer Wrap-up: Name days and Pickles

 Everyone is preparing for the coming winter here in Medias. That means lots of cooking and canning in the kitchen. Viorica is making tomato sauce right now but before that was zacusca –a vegetable spread. As usual this is all new to me, the foreigner! I've never in my life seen people prepare for winter. In Texas there is no need really. To join in on the preparations I decided to try making my own pickles for the first time. The recipe is not Romanian, as their pickles have horseradish and no vinegar. They're not bad but I'm always left craving the kind I know and love, Vlasic zesty dill pickles. Hopefully this copycat recipe yeilds zesty results. I won't know until a few weeks from now though when they're ready. I'll keep you posted on the great pickle experiment. 

Below are a few photos from my name day. Yes I have a name day! My middle name is Marie so I got to celebrate along with thousands of others here in Romania on August 15th– Saint Mary's day.   In brief, if you're named after a saint then you get to celebrate yourself on that saint's day. In essence your name day is like a 2nd birthday; you can make it as big or small of an affair as you choose. For my name day we drove to Targa Mures (an hour away) to shop and go to the movies. It all felt like such a treat.  Before hopping in the car Viorica bought us each a fresh-made kurtos which made for a very sweet end to my first name day.





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Trashy trails- the littering problem in Romania

We went to Remet this weekend for Viorica's 66th birthday. It is about a two hour drive from Medias into the mountains. You'll find lots of little cabins in the area, hikers, and camp grounds. The hike was beautiful but this pile of trash along the path was not. Littering is a big problem in Romania. Walk, ride or drive through the country's cities and you'll see piles of trash along the roadway, along train tracks, and gathering in rivers. It is a pity to have such beautiful scenery adorned with empty bottles and old wrappers.
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Summer outside the city - Medias

After doing a few calculations to see if it was even possible, Cata and I decided to swap Bucharest for Medias this summer. We've been here for a month so far and I don't regret that decision one bit. Home cooking, cool summer evenings, grilled everything, and family-  It sure is nice to be home. All we are missing is a visit from our dear Bucharest friends, hai la noi!
Grillin'!
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Rome- la vita bella

Sometime in early spring Catalin and I hatched a plan to move out of our apartment, go to the seaside and then fly out to Rome. Due to scheduling all these things had to happen in a seven day period. A la madre (meaning Oh Shit). I prepped for the move as much as possible in advance so that after the seaside we could simply move boxes and clean the apartment. It was more grueling for Cata and our dear friend Bara who drove to Medias and back the same day (9pm - 5am). Of course you know how things go, I caught a cold after visiting the seaside which made me little help during the move. Luckily I was mostly over it by the time we got to...



ROME! The eternal city still has me in its trance. Just as in previous trips I did advance research into historic sights, beautiful piazzas and tasty dining options but nothing could have prepared me for Rome. It is a living museum of art, culture and history. Whereas in Prague or Vienna I hardly interacted with locals Rome's vibrant characters extend at minimum a warm smile and more often a jovial chat ending in "Ciao ragazzi!" Whoo and you should see the Romans argue. Hands wave, fingers pinch the air, and voices rise. They have all kinds of gestures to express themselves (short video here). As you would expect we hit all the tourist hot spots while in town: the Colosseum, Forum, Vatican, etc. You can't possibly see everything the city has to offer but I feel like we got a good taste. Here I'll touch on my favorites from the trip, a few tips (aka what I learned from this trip) and Rome's surprises.


FAVORITES:
-Staying with a local
This was my second time using Airbnb.com, a short term room or apartment rental site, with great results. We had a loft to ourselves in our host's home and  an entrance key to come and go as we pleased. Staying with a local left me with special experiences I wouldn't have had otherwise. Our host Salvatore , a retired business owner, told us about the Pope's Sunday blessing (yup we've been blessed by 'Benny' ;) and other helpful tips.  Salvatore had a big apricot tree whose ripe fruit I ate everyday at breakfast (I'm not exaggerating, these things were delicious). One night we walked in right when Italy had won the Eurocup semifinal. Salvatore's wife was so overjoyed she kissed my cheeks and hugged me. It was a true Italian experience. Little things like this I won't soon forget.

-Triamisu and Coffee
I love how Italians do coffee. No frills for breakfast just hit the cafe bar, order a damn good {insert coffee of choice here, mine was cappuccino} add a cornetto and go. In America fast/easy to access coffee is usually... how should I put it? Total crap. No way around it. Gas station coffee, though I've never had it, has a reputation all its own. And don't expect much from a drive-thru cup of coffee. Mmm Italian cafe's don't offend the senses in such ways. I'm glad they take coffee so seriously- somebody has to!

-Sistine Chapel / Michelangelo 
Some of Michelangelo's beautiful work at the Vatican.
What can I say? It is considered the most impressive work of art ever created by a single human being. It is striking at first sight but with the audio guide I was able to appreciate it much more. We visited the chapel first and then browsed the museum afterwards.



-Roman fountains
I am certain that every summer visitor to Rome leaves praising the city's free flowing, ice cold, drinkable water fountains. This ancient tradition of free flowing water for all carries on today all over the city. Some fountains are fancier than others but all provide a refreshing drink. I would love for my home state of Texas to adopt this idea. Of course not all fountains are functional, some are just plain
beautiful thanks to artist such as Bernini who left his mark all over the city.


Aventine Hill at sunset.
-Trastevere
While cruising Rome (by foot) you might begin to wonder, where are the quiet alleys and romantic nooks? Hmm well they can be hard to find in the center where things are loud, bustling and alive. For me Trastevere was the romantic Rome I'd seen in movies. It was peaceful, historic, and the perfect place to get lost for a few hours. Get thyself to Aventine Hill as well near dusk, it was another one of my favorites.








ROME TIPS:

Lines-
10am was the golden hour for us at the Vatican. Just a 35 min. wait.
Don't wait in line too long. This tip sounds irrational but just go with me on this. Have you ever seen ten people try to go through a door at the same time? Major blockage. The same thing happens at the entry gates to Rome's historic monuments every morning between 8-11am. Too many people are trying to 'beat the line' and thus they end up in a long one. There was no line at the Colosseum when I walked by at 3 o'clock. It isn't always easy to plan schedule wise but try and check other things off your list at 8am (sleep maybe?). Instead of standing in line visit another monument or one of the many open air sites like the Spanish steps. The Colosseum line was ridiculous when we wanted to enter at about 11 a.m. so we went to the Forum first; much shorter line and your ticket is also valid at the Colosseum so you get to skip the Colosseum line!

Clothes-
A scarf worth a thousand naps.
There are lots of clothing tips for Rome online. Mine for summer boils down to loose linen and silk. Wearing these two fabrics feels so much better than heavy cotton or tight synthetics. It also looks fresh. To my surprise I reached for my knee length linen skirt and dress most on the trip-- it really is cooler to have legs covered in light fabric. Lesson: Try to bring breathable bras/underwear as well. My strapless was suffocating and so I went without it with my dress (don't worry nothing showed!) Shoes? Honestly forget 'fancy' you need need need comfortable walking shoes. 2 pair is best so you can change it up. Lastly Cata and I didn't go back to our room until the very end of the day which meant we walked the sweltering Roman Forum and ate a nice dinner in the same clothes. I imagine many tourists don't go back to change either. So from my experience short shorts and a tank top look out of place at dinner but a longer skirt and silk tops felt more appropriate. Not that anyone will bother you about what you are wearing. All this Rome/Italian fashion stuff is a bit over exaggerated in my opinion. My only observation of my fellow Americans (as we were all waiting in line at the passport check point) was that there is a definite line between wearing nice comfortable clothing for a day in Rome and looking a mess. Sun protection is absolutely necessary in Rome's summer heat. I used an umbrella and fan to keep cool but you could also just buy one of the many cute hats from vendors. Lastly bring a large cotton scarf. Ours offered a clean place to sit and/or nap anywhere we happened to be plus it tripled as a cover up for church. Used it literally every day in Rome.

Audio Guides-
Trastevere audio guide was one of my favs. So fun!
Download audio guides in advance / print maps (or use  a fancy iphone). We always have a budget for trips and trust me audio guides for each historic location add up. I downloaded a bunch of Rick Steves' free guides and used them with great success.

Roma Pass-
I think most tourists arrive in Rome and immediately purchase their transit pass (now costing 16 euro for three days). We had every intention of doing the same thing but a few hiccups prevented us from doing so until day three in Rome (see Rome surprises below). By then we had realized that it was actually cheaper to just pay per ride (1.5 Euro) than to buy a pass. The reasons being that A) there is really only one metro stop in the historic center of Rome, the Colosseum stop and B) The bus system is not easy to navigate at all so we didn't bother with it. About the buses: Stops are not announced on the bus and the driver only stops if you tell him too. Sounds like disaster for a tourist! We only used transit to get into town and to go back home at the end of the day. Things are not that spread out so walking is not bad at all. I enjoyed it actually.

Leather-
When I come back to Rome, I'm coming back to this store.
Who hasn't heard of the quality of Italian leather? Prior to our trip I decided that this would be my Roman souvenir. I had heard great reviews of a small genuine Italian leather shop that made all its goods on its premises. The place is called T-nobile and I recommend it highly. I went in hoping to buy a leather wallet for myself but walked out with a beautiful purse instead and the satisfaction of knowing I'd bought a locally made, quality item. I don't have a website to direct you to since this business chooses to function by word-of-mouth only. It is a great place where you're bound to find something, plus the staff are very helpful and friendly. Address: Via Nazionale, 7, Trastevere



Rome's Surprises:


Transit strike- 
A few buses run on strike days, but they are packed!
If you come in the summer there is a chance you'll have to endure a day without mass transit. This summer they are happening about once a month on Fridays. The strike was not so much a problem once we were in the city center, but getting to the center was a 3 hour ordeal. Also the Colloseum was closed due to the strike. A fact we came to find out once we got to the entrance gates. It was by far the most frustrating day in Rome. If you are going to Rome this summer find out if/when there is a strike while you are in town (they are usually announced in advance). Also the strikers don't aim to prevent people from getting to and from work, so during normal 'going to work' and 'coming home from work' times most transit is working, including the metro. This means you can still move around on a strike day but only during a very specific time frame. If you miss that window of opportunity, as we did, you'll be taking a cab home.

Rome is dirty- 
Simple as that. There are surprisingly few trash cans around the city which seems to encourage littering. Trash and dust are everywhere. This is another reason to bring a utility style cotton scarf. We used ours to sit anywhere we found shade without worrying about getting dirty bums :)

Tourist traps abound-
More than any other city I've visited Rome feels like a giant tourist trap at times. 'Eat outside the city center' they say, 'don't eat from the tourist menu' they say, 'avoid looking like a tourist' they say- BAH! In Rome, touristy restaurants are a dime a dozen. It is hard to avoid sitting down at the nearest pizzeria for some food when they all have tourist menus and you've been walking in the heat all day. I did not expect it to be so hard to avoid eating at a mediocre tourist restaurant but it was. My advice is research in advance if you can, and listen for Italian when you walk by the restaurant. The more locals the better obviously. I hate restaurants that have waiters waving you in, those tend to be the worst. Of course on a desperate afternoon with no other options in sight, we stopped and ate at such a place. This too is part of the experience of being a foreign person in a foreign land.

So would I go to Rome again? Absolutely. It is a lively place full of charm and history. Not to mention good food when you find the right place. Rome and Paris are now tied as my favorite cities in Europe. Sorry Bucharest, for me its Roma tutta la vita!

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Fascinating interview: American Businessman investing in Romania

Don Lothrop is described by the interviewer as "not a businessman but firstly a civic minded person". Lothrop has visited Romania 58 times since his first trip in 2003, in fact his American friends jokingly call him "The Romanian". He has some great insights on the biggest problems facing Romania today and what the future may hold. He touches on the following topics: illegal logging, economic fairness, young Romanians coming home from abroad and promoting true democracy in Romania. For me it was a great pleasure to see someone making positive change in this country where, I confess, I have felt it to be impossible at times. Enjoy this nugget of positivity!
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Strange things at the Antipa Museum of Natural History

I did a bad bad bad thing (cue music). One afternoon we visited the Antipa Museum of Natural History and upon seeing their displays I kind of broke their no photo policy...a lot. Trust me I don't make a habit of breaking museum rules especially at art museums but I couldn't fight the urge to document and share the crazy things inside this museum. The set ups are pretty cool to look at and in some cases (see wild-eyed cat below) they are just plain hilarious. Some of these animals are very old so I'm guessing they've had some patch jobs done (read: oddly placed eyeballs, lumpy facial structure and/or missing clumps of fur). It was a quirky yet fun afternoon. If you go a few hours before closing like we did you'll practically have the place to yourself.
Here's what I captured with my super stealth spy gear (aka my camera phone):





My story:

Girl meets boy.
Love strikes.
Boy moves to Romania,
girl (now engaged) follows suit.

I'll be living abroad for the first time in my life beginning January 11th 2011. Follow this blog if you want to see my adventures.

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