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).


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.


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.



Sunny Sunday with Friends in Greece

Sunday morning in Voula came with plenty of sunshine and a sweet reunion with my best friend from college: my roommate of three years and sister-at-heart. It had been five years and two children since I had last seen her. My friend is one of the most loving beings I know, known also for her signature smile. It was the best feeling to see her again and spend a little time with her, now as responsible adults…

Her four little girls – three curly-haired like their momma, and one with straight black hair, like her daddy – greeted us in the church yard and swarmed as I gifted them with coloring books and colorful hair clips. Their brother wanted nothing to do with them, too busy burning energy by kicking a large yellow ball as hard as he could – and sometimes getting the ball stuck on top of the grapevine shading the benches around the church courtyard.


After a while, we distributed the children to family to watch over them while we drove south of Voula, along the coast. We paused at Okeanis, a restaurant perched atop a beach with the same name. The drinks, as well as the conversation, were refreshing. The waters didn’t seem to be affected by the recent oil spill from a tanker in the area and the beach was abuzz with action. In the distance, a swarm of white sails like tiny sharks were following the instructions of the local sailing school.


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Refreshed by the drinks and the gentle breeze coming through the large open windows, we headed further down the coast to Aperanto Galazio, a seafood restaurant on Varkiza beach. We pulled in the sandy parking lot and walked a few steps to a waterfront table. The arugula salad we had was unlike any I had in the U.S. The roka leaves were large and deep green; their mild peppery taste was further augmented by the thinly sliced Parmesan cheese and nicely complemented by olive oil and balsamic vinegar dressing. The mandatory slices of ripe and juicy tomatoes fanned out to form a bright salad base.

But whenever by the sea, one must have seafood. I savored all that I could from a generous serving of pasta with muscles, octopus, and a giant prawn staring at me from the top of the heap. My husband didn’t say much as he cleaned out his plate of elbow macaroni with octopus, tomatoes, and fresh herbs. Desert was Samali or Greek halva, a semolina-based sweet, toasted in oil and infused with sweet syrup, with delicate aromas of cinnamon and clove.

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After a while, we said good bye to our friends and headed to the Voula beach looking forward to a refreshing swim. We watched for oil before going in but couldn’t see any right away, so we immersed ourselves in the comforting waters of the Mediterranean, stepping gingerly over the slippery rocks lying on the bottom. When we came ashore, we figured out why the rocks were slippery: black tar was staining the soles of our feet… It seems that the oil had settled on the bottom of the sea. We tried in vain roughing our feet with sand. Then, I remembered the Dawn duck commercial! Didn’t rescuers use dish detergent to clean up the avian victims of oil spills? I told our host about it but she looked at me a little incredulously, as she hadn’t seen the commercial. Well, I am here to attest that the ad was correct: a drop of dish detergent did the trick and our feet were once again clean!

Next on the agenda was walk to Leoforos Vasileos Pavlou, a street closed off to cars and lined with restaurants and terraces, where everyone congregates for dinner, drinks, and to let their children play until late hours of the evening. But first, we stopped to admire the artwork of senior citizens in the area, who habitually get together to exhibit their crafts – not for profit but to share with the community. Our restaurant choice of the evening was Il Vero, an Italian affair, possibly because our friend is originally from Italy.

Il Vero menu

And when it comes to Italian food, pizza is a must. And, as our friend insisted, if you want il gusto vero (the true taste) of Italy, you must have the anchovies. So, we split the Napoletana (with anchovies, tomatoes, mozzarella, and a sprinkle of oregano) and Capricciosa (with tomato, mozzarella, ham, mushrooms, and artichokes). On the side, we had a slaw salad with a green pepper dressing that was spicy just enough to awaken the taste buds. We relaxed into the evening with great conversations as we sipped on a chilled local white wine – the perfect ending to another day in Mediterranean Paradise…

Once Upon an Olive: Athens, Greece

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Six a.m. came early and with it our ride to the airport. We guzzled down just enough coffee to crack open our eyes and finish packing. The ride was smooth and we stopped a couple of times on our way to Otopeni, the main airport in Bucharest, Romania. The Greek welcome came in flight in the shape of a Melekouni sesame cookie, a traditional honey and sesame seed sweet bar, given in Rhodes at weddings or christenings.


The short flight from Bucharest to Athens landed around noon on a hot and steamy day. We paid the 6 euros for the bus ticket and embarked the X96 towards Pireus. At our stop, Nosokomio, we got off and proceeded to drag our roller bags down the noisy sidewalks towards my dearest friends’ home. The walk we now did 6 times, brings back good memories, almost like going home.

Our sweet friend was waiting for us with a large smile and warm embrace. The furry friends Rex and Bonnie were also glad to see us although they had just met us.


Our friends’ house is right across from the Mediterranean and on certain days, there is a fresh market right down the street. We didn’t want to miss out on the occasion so, after we dropped off the bags, we took a quick tour of the fresh market. The olives are my favorite: so many types and looking so amazing. We chatted with the local vendors – even if we didn’t speak Greek and they didn’t speak much English – and learned that the green olives are simply young olives, which turn darker as they ripen. I tasted some of each and triumphantly carried a bag of them home. The pomegranates were poised for a photo op and the vendor told me how to shoot their best angle: from above. He tossed a pomegranate to my husband as he wished us a good evening. What a warm welcome! I must learn some Greek…


As any true European welcome, food was on the agenda. Our Greek friends took us to George’s where the traditional Greek salad with a healthy helping of feta on top and a nice glass of red wine kick-started our dinner. We feasted on keftedakia with potatoes, eggplant spread, tzatziki, and steamed greens.


After a short walk, we rested at a café terrace with a café freddo and a healthy discussion about life.Freddo

The evening came with a live outdoors concert on the beach of Glyfada. The mayor of Glyfada reassured the audience that the recent oil spill from a nearby tanker didn’t affect the local waters. The concert went on past the time we left and our first day in Greece concluded with a refreshing shower and a much-needed long sleep.

Intro to worldly travel blogging

Taking baby steps towards the big escape…

Some of the countries I was fortunate to experience include: Romania, Holland, Turkey, Austria, Switzerland, Lichtenstein, Greece, Spain, France, Italy, Mexico, and The United States of America. I barely scratched the surface… There are many more countries that I would love to visit and many more unique destinations within each of the countries I have already visited.

All photos © Oana Harrison


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