December: the month of celebrations (Happy Birthday, Romania!)

For Romanians, December is a month of celebrations. Having Latin blood, we love our families and love a good party, especially around Christmas and the New Year. We beginning our celebrations, however, on the first day of the month: December 1, our national holiday and the day of our country’s Great Union.

Transilvania (the Romanian spelling of Transylvania) means the land beyond the forest and it has a complicated and tumultuous history. I love this land more than any part of Romania, being a biased native of this Dracula-land (spoiler alert – the vampire thing is not real, and vampires would NOT sparkle in the sunlight…if they existed, of course). Transilvania is as beautiful as is passionate. It has castles bearing rich tales of rulers from B.C. and the brave Dacian times, to medieval times, and beyond. The ancient edifices contrast the austere concrete buildings of the communist era, against the backdrop of lush natural surroundings of meadows and mountains.

In the heart of Transilvania sit several important cities, and one of the most important ones for Romanians is Alba Iulia. One of the oldest settlements in Romania, Alba Iulia has been around since before the Roman Empire and has witnessed Romania’s first union when Mihai Viteazul (Michael the Brave) fought off the ottomans and on the 6th of July 1600 first ruled the lands of Ardeal (Transilvania), Muntenia (the southern region of Romania), and Moldova (including the portion between the rivers Prut and Nistru).

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The union didn’t last, unfortunately, and a series of turbulent times passed before Romania was once again united on December 1st, 1918 with the union proclamation taking place in the same city of Alba Iulia. December 1st is when Romanians celebrate the National Day of Romania and the Great Union of our country’s lands.

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http://romaniatourism.com/alba-iulia.html

I had the privilege of visiting Alba Iulia this past September and I was impressed with its beauty and quiet majestic presence. We took a slow tour of the Citadel on the top of the hill, enjoying the gentle mingling of visitors and locals with echoes of an iconic past.

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Christmas in Romania – Part 1: Trip to Romania and Christmas Feast

This silly day job is keeping me from writing more… so sorry to make you wait. Here is part 1 of my latest trip to Romania.

This winter I escaped to my hometown of Brasov, Romania for the holidays and it was
everything I could have asked for: family, friends, food, wine, dancing, walking…and more food.

The trip didn’t start quite right. 20151217_141656I had this weird feeling that nagged me: “I’m not ready to travel yet.” This is very strange, as I am usually super-pumped about hitting the road, especially when it comes to going home, to Romania…  I was supposed to leave on Thursday, December 17, made it to the McGhee Tyson airport in Knoxville, Tennessee, reluctantly said good-bye to my lovely husband who dropped me off, and proceeded to the gate. However, my Delta flight to Atlanta had some technical issues and the delay caused me to miss my other two flights through Europe. After spending half an hour on the phone with a representative who pretty much said “just go ahead to Atlanta and maybe you can catch a flight to Europe from there,” I asked the lovely attendant at the counter to book me on another flight. I called my husband to come retrieve me, only to return and give the trip another try two days later. The silver lining was that I got to go dance at the local ballroom dance studio’s Friday night party one more time before hitting the road. Fortunately, Saturday travel was light, so it was smooth sailing to Romania!

Twenty some hours later, I arrived at the airport in Otopeni, Bucharest (we call it Bucuresti and it is the name of Romania’s capital). From there, I located my shuttle driver from M&M Express, a very convenient transfer service between the airport and major cities in Romania. Within two hours, I was finally home!IMG_6798

As soon as I walked in the door, my parents greeted me with hugs and kisses – and that never gets old! The phone rang and my brother, who was visiting from Switzerland where he lives together with his family, invited us to dinner. Food! Yes!! But first, a shower – airplane oogies, yuck – and a quick nap. Turns out that waking up from a one-hour nap after 20+ hours of no sleep is very hard… Luckily, I didn’t have to do much thinking between my parents’ apartment and getting into a taxi heading to Sacele, the nearby town my brother calls “home” while in Romania. The first thing on the agenda was to get two double espressos in so I can function properly and then the feast began.

Side note: Taxis are super convenient and available day or night. They are also very cheap – about $3 from one end of town to downtown or to the nearby town of Sacele; some of the cheapest ones are Martax and Tod Taxi. The taxi will display the price per kilometer and the total at the end of the trip. If you are worried about being overcharged, you might want to learn how to say the address where you’re going in Romanian and then refrain from speaking English/looking like a total tourist during the trip. However, most of the time, the taxi guys are friendly and they might even speak some English. I occasionally tip a little (1-2 RON, or .25-.50 cents), especially if it’s late at night or if I’m going outside town, or at the very least round up the amount.

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Downtown square: Piata Sfatului
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Downtown, view of Tampa hill and the Hollywood-style sign on top of it

It took a few days to adjust to the seven hour time difference, and I enjoyed doing absolutely nothing! My husband finally arrived on Christmas Eve and he had the same short nap option before our big holiday dinner at my brother’s house. We, Romanians love to eat (and party) but we go all out at Christmas and New Year’s.  Here is some of the absolutely (not) calorie-free food we got to enjoy (recipes will follow).

Appetizers

  • Salata de vinete = babaganoush or roasted eggplant salad
  • Zacusca = spread similar to bruschetta, roasted red peppers and other veggies
  • Crochete = fried cheese balls
  • Salata orientala = potato and egg salad
  • Piftie = meat in garlic gelatin
  • Various pork products, like caltabos and toba – my husband’s favorites…not

Main meal

  • Brisket and sausages (baked in wine…falling apart and delicious)
  • Pickles (muraturi): varza = cabbage, pepene = watermelon, gogonele = green tomatoes, morcovi = carrots, conopida = cauliflower, castraveti = cucumbers
  • Sarmale – traditional stuffed cabbage rolls, mandatory at Christmas time
  • Red wine

Desert

  • Cozonac = traditional sweet bread, rolled up and stuffed with walnuts, raisins, and sometimes Turkish delight
  • Assorted baked goodies: cornulete cu nuca, prajitura
  • Coffee

I will soon share some recipes, I promise.

Christmas in Romania – Intro

Christmas in Romania: Intro

This winter I escaped to my hometown of Brasov, Romania for the holidays and it was everything I could have asked for: family, food, dancing, walking, and more food.

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I could have used a bit more snow but the good part about not having much snow was that we were able travel around the country. I had the opportunity to travel to Maramures, the northwestern corner of Romania, where traditions are kept alive to this day by the locals.

Come back later and read the details of the trip. Meanwhile, here are a few photos to hold you over:

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