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.



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:

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!


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!

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. 


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.


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.


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.

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.


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.

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!

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!

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):


Top 5 'Moving to Romania' Questions Answered

Every now and then I receive an email from someone who wants to move to Romania or is at least considering the idea. They often have the same questions I had before moving. I remember searching the web for any kind of first-hand information to no avail back in 2010 before I moved. So below are the top five questions I receive from readers and their answers. I must preface this with the reminder that these are my own opinions based on personal experiences.

1. How do I get a visa / resident permit? - The easiest way I know of to get a resident permit is to marry a Romanian (done!) or get hired by a large corporate company based in Bucharest. The later has the resources to provide any permit or visa you need. American tourist visas are granted right when you enter the country (that passport stamp is important) and last for 90 days. After that I've heard of people traveling to the nearest country, Bulgaria, and then returning to kickstart another 90 day tourist visa period. This last option is a bit risky in my opinion since you are leaving your chances up to the mercy of an immigrations officer who may or may not want to stamp your passport. The benefit of the 90 day country hopping plan is that you get to avoid the endless headache that is the Romanian immigration office and its paperwork. A general note: After living here for over a year I've observed that Americans are much more concerned (or should I say conditioned?) in regards to following immigration laws than your average Romanian. I've had a few laugh at my deep concern to be in the country legally. "Who will catch you if you're not?!" is a remark I've gotten a few times. Make of that what you will.

2. Can I work in Romania? -From my experience the vast majority of American expats that come to Romania do so because they or their spouse have obtained a job here. If that is your situation you probably don't need to read this paragraph. For the 2% that come to Romania without employment already secured I would say: come with a good chunk of savings. Romania has been hit by the crisis like everyone else. Jobs are scarce and if you were to be hired, employers are required to prove that they could not find a Romanian qualified to do the same job. Teaching English or working for an NGO are areas worth looking into. Speaking Romanian is not required across the board but it will greatly improve your chances of finding work.

3. Should I learn the language?- In short, yes I think it is great to learn the language wherever you may be living; Romanians definitely appreciate the effort. On the other hand many Romanians speak English very well so learning Romanian is not a must before moving here. If you can, try and at least learn the basics before coming.

4. Healthcare?- Romania, like many in the European Union, has a state run healthcare system. The big difference being that in Romania the system is "in shambles" and requires bribing of medical staff and/or paying for private medical care (source: Public Radio International article). This is a complex problem who's intricacies I won't get into on this blog. The reality is that you will probably be able to afford quality private medical care (much cheaper here than in the US) and won't use the state run clinics/hospitals. I've had both good and bad experiences with the medical system in this country. I hate the idea of bribing but love that my medication which usually costs $100 USD back home was a mere $4 here. If all this makes you nervous than I advise you do what I did- get all your major check-ups or operations done before moving.

5. What is it like living there? Short answer: Safe, at times frustrating, and always interesting. By far Romania's two greatest assets are its people and the country's natural beauty. The later of which you'll only see if you leave the city. From my experience Romanians are extremely close with friends and family. If you are someone they know and care about they would do anything to help if you are in need. It is a great feeling, especially if you ever have the pleasure to be a guest in a Romanian's home. On the other hand, if you are a stranger the treatment is not nearly as warm and welcoming (at least in the big city of Bucharest). There is a joke amongst Romanians that roughly translates to "Romania is a beautiful country, too bad it is inhabited" For me this joke hits at the bitter truth about a country who has all the resources to be great but which has suffered at the hands of mass corruption in government and greed. So how does this translate to daily life? Well things don't always work as they should here. As simple as that sounds, there is a level of civil orderliness to life in the United States that is not the same here. It can be a rough adjustment.

Spring in Bucharest 2012


Night of Museums - Noaptea Muzeelor

Grand staircase of the former royal palace (now the National Art Museum) about 4am. Photo by Catalin Abagiu

Day trip: Ruse, Bulgaria

I did it! Took the 1 hour drive to Ruse, Bulgaria. These are a few outtakes from the days photos, to see more visit my photography blog vivianphoto.

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.