Monday, October 3, 2011

Way Too Long Since My Last Post.....

Over a month since my last post!  Way too long.  I'll try and catch up in bits and pieces.

I survived my Dream Ten Years in the Making Trip.  I spent a few hours on a bus getting to Tirgoviste and eventually found Vlad the Impaler's palace.  I walked all the way around the outside before I found the entrance, which was through a gap in a gate.  Much longer and I would've scaled the walls.  There was a photo tax and entrance fee, but you're free to walk around all of the ruins. 

Not everything is labeled, but there are some signs that tell you, in English and in Romanian, what was going on in certain sections of the palace and the time period.  I wandered around all of the grounds, saving Chindiei for last.  Chindiei was a watch tower that the Impaler commissioned.  You can go up inside.  The stairs are questionable right inside the door, and going down was even more fun.  From the top you can see the entire palace complex and get a great view of the city.  Watch your head if you're tall.  The door is shorter than I am, and I'm 5'3"!  Gorgeous place.  I'd live there if I could.

I spent two nights in Tirgoviste, and after spending most of the day in the palace complex, I returned to my hotel and prepared for my next adventure--Castle Dracula.  Yes, there is a real Castle Dracula.  It is NOT Castle Bran, near the small village called Bran.  That is the Hollywood Castle Dracula.  The real one is near the village of Arefu.  I spent most of the day travelling, but I met some great people. 

I hitchhiked for part of the way.  It is safe, but you've got to use common sense.  Bad things could happen to you.  I didn't have my knife with me, so I was extremely paranoid, but I had my keys with me.  They never left my hand.  I went to one of the four bus stations in Tirgoviste, trying to find a way to get to Curtea de Arges, which is where I would take a mini bus to Castle Dracula.  The only bus I found was leaving at 3 pm and going to Pitesti.  It was 9 am.  Ok no.  I went to the road that led out of town going in the direction of Campulung (on the way to Curtea de Arges), and a man walked up to me.  I don't speak Romanian, and he soon figured that out.  He spoke Spanish, and so do I.  How crazy is that?!  My Spidey-senses weren't tingling, so I pointed to Curtea de Arges on my list of locations.  He nodded, we agreed on a price (120 lei, approx. $40) and I got in his car.  We spoke in Spanish for about 2 hours. 

When we arrived in a small town, we picked up Vlad.  Yes, his name was Vlad.  He was about my age, early 20's, and he translated from Romanian to English for the remainder of the trip, about an hour or so.  Vlad and I parted with our driver in Campulung, and we walked across town to the next bus station, where we just made the next mini bus to the city of Pitesti.  Vlad said that Pitesti would have a mini bus that would get me to Castle Dracula.  At the bus station there, we tried to find the bus in question, but we were at the wrong one.  A man approached us and offered to take me wherever I needed to go.  Every nerve in my body screamed NO!  He was a creeper.  A sketchy, shifty creeper.  Vlad said something to him and pulled me away quickly.  Apparently, Vlad said, the man thought I was rich and manipulative.  Ok...?

Anyway...that's the teaser.  I'll update more later. 

Friday, August 12, 2011

A Word on Products

Being me, I'm not a fan of changing products I've grown accustomed to, so I was curious as to the kinds of products available in Europe.  It sounds ridiculous and may seem narrow minded, selfish, and generally foolish, but this was just one more thing on my mind while I was packing for travels not only to Harlaxton but also to Romania.  In my travels I've learned that products Americans love are basically worldwide, well, at least in the countries I visited, and there is no further need to worry.  Every country is obviously going to have its own types of products.

For example, Romania's soap/shampoo/conditioner is under the name Wash-N-Go, and it works.  In Romania, you can also get the Western brands like Pantene, Clean and Clear, and Dove in pharmacies (Farmacie), although they will be more expensive.  England has other Western brands that we all know and love (the above mentioned in addition to Degree, Fructis Garnier, Olay).  Ladies, Always, Kotex, and Tampax are available from England to Romania.  I checked.  And if you find the need for them, Durex condoms were available everywhere was well. 

In my travels, I have also discovered that food is essentially the same.  The chocolate in Romania is absolutely delicious.  Milka is, I think, the best.  I found Snickers, KitKats, and Skittles, Orbit gum, as well as Mt Dew, Coca Cola, Sprite, and Pepsi.  I even found Pringles and Nutella.  England and the Western countries are closer to the States.  Just the other night I found Hot Pockets in ASDA, and I was thrilled to pieces. 

For the most part, products from soap, shampoo, and food are available in the Western countries. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

A Dream Ten Years in the Making.......

I've been in Bucharest now for about 24 hours.  I don't see why it gets such a bad reputation.  I'm leaving in the morning, and I haven't had many problems.  As long as you stick to the streets (not alleys) and get in before dark unless you have at least one other person, I see no reason why it is a terrible place in the eyes of so many. 

I started in Cluj, where my flight left around 7 pm.  We landed in Bucharest around 8 and I found the express bus (783) to take me to the hostel.  I stayed for two nights at the Midland Youth Hostel on Strada Biserica Amzei.  It is directly off the bus stop Piata Romana.  It is a very laid back place, mostly young adults here, although there are some older folk.  Free internet, check out is at noon, and there are a number of small cafes nearby.  One of the managers was fantastic and very helpful, and I didn't have any problems, but one of the other managers turned his music on his computer to the complete max, and then turning the speakers up all the way (on a porn video, by the way).  I met some really awesome people from all over the world.  There is a Metro (Piata Romana) and there are bus stops on the main road where I got off the express bus from the airport. 

My plan for today was to see Snagov Monastery, where Vlad the Impaler was allegedly buried, Curtea Veche, the Old Court of Bucharest, and the Vlad the Impaler room at the National Museum of History.  I was successful in only one of those, unfortunately.  My first "stop" was Snagov.  That alone is a story.  Before I arrived in Romania, I looked online for the easiest and cheapest way to get to the Monastery, which is 30 kilometers north of Bucharest.  I found a review written by other travellers who listed a route, landmarks, prices, and everything.  They were as follows: get on the M2 Metro line and go to Aviarotilor; exit the station and head toward Piata Presei Libere (they recommended going through the park, which is about a 30 minute walk, and you'll see a small carnival and Hard Rock Cafe at the exit of the park).  At Piata Presei Libere, you should see some mini buses, and you should find the one marked 444, which will take you to Snagov.  The directions also stated to have the driver stop at the train tracks so you could get off and go left and follow the road to the lake to Complex Astoria and ask for a boat. 

Well, here is what I did.  I went to Aviarotilor, walked through the park, and found the Hard Rock Cafe and Piata Presei Libere.  I did not find the minibuses.  I went to a couple different taxi drivers before I finally found one who knew Snagov.  There were several questions, attempts at Romanian, and asking people on the street before we got to Snagov and found Strada Monasterea Vlad Tepes.  We went to the end of the road and the taxi driver asked for that fraction of the payment.  You should never do that, but he was there when I got back, but still...don't do it.  I walked across the bridge and got into the Monastery (15 lei, plus a 20 euro photo tax).  It's small, but it's gorgeous inside.  Murals cover the place.  There are tombs around the walls and some posters with pictures and information about Vlad and his connections with Snagov.  The priest gave a history of the Monastery in Romanian so I didn't know what he was saying, but I could pick out names so I knew what he was talking about. I paid the photo tax and took pictures, walked around the outside, and went back to the taxi.  I'm ashamed at this, but I paid about 140 lei, round trip, for the trip to Snagov.  Next time, I will try to find the minibuses and check with tourist agencies because that's sad.  Ugh.  Oh well.  Honestly, though, even though I paid that much, I think it was worth it.  I'm really glad I got to see Snagov, even if the other two were unsuccessful. 

I walked around trying to find Curtea Veche based on the directions I had, and obviously that was a failure.  I did find the museum, and I couldn't pass up relicas of Trajan's Column at my eye level.  Gigantic panels, exact replicas, explanations in English...I couldn't just leave it.  :D  I saw the National Treasure room, which has artifacts from the aristocracy and royalty of the people living in Romania from the Bronze Age to the present day.  The Vlad the Impaler room was closed, and will be closed for several months, so that was disappointing.  However, all of this means that I have to come back. 

Tomorrow morning I'll leave for Targoviste to see Vlad the Impaler's main palace.  I know that palace and museum will be open.  If it's not, I may just have to jump some fences. 

Monday, July 18, 2011

Vlad the Impaler Research

On 19 July, my research trip will commence.  I have waited ten years to see some of the places I'm going to visit.  I'm actually leaving the excavation to do research for my senior thesis on Vlad the Impaler.

I'll take a bus, or hitch hike, from Zalau to Cluj, and from there fly to Bucharest.  I'll spend one day in Bucharest doing research in the Vlad the Impaler room at the National Museum of History, Snagov Monastery, and then Curtea Veche (the Old Court).  After that, I'll go to Targoviste, where I will see Vlad's palace, Curtea Domneasca and Turnul Chindiei (his tower), and then spend a day seeing his private fortress in the Transylvanian Alps before returning to Bucharest and then Cluj on 23 July. 

I am kind of excited. 

I've been to Sighisoara already, last weekend.  I had hoped that I would be able to spend some time looking at the palaces and finding the documents and other contacts for research and my own personal mission, so it is fantastic that I actually get to leave an excavation and go see all of it.  It hasn't sank in yet that I am actually going to see what I've waited to see for so long, but I am very excited to go. 

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


So it's been more than two weeks since my last post.  I've decided I should keep up to date on the happenings here in Romania.

I'm working at a Roman military fort that was one of five major sites along the limes, the border.  Porolissum was officially established in 106 CE by the Roman emperor Trajan after his conquest of the Dacians.  It was abandoned around 270, when Emperor Aurelian decided to shrink the Empire as a defense.  We are excavating what we believe to be part of the forum, but we change our minds based on the evidence we excavate.  It has been so wonderful so far, and I will be sad to leave, but we've got quite a bit more digging to do and I am going to try to come back next summer and then again in the fall.

The field crew has uncovered quite a bit since we’ve been here.  We’ve now got 5 trenches open, and possibly a sixth is coming later, but since we’ve only got 2.5 weeks left, who knows.  So far in my two trenches, I’ve found bones (joints, long bones, ribs, jaws, large animals, small animals, teeth, and claws), pottery (plates, including one with a serpent design, and other vessels), some shells, glass fragments, and some iron.  It is possible that there was a hypocaust (heating) system where we are digging now, and we’ve uncovered several tiles that fit the description.  In addition to that, we’ve uncovered several stamped tiles that reveal the identity of the auxiliary cohors that were there, such as soldiers from Gaul, Spain, Thrace, and even one from Britannia.  Other impressions include dog prints, finger prints (some of which you can see the lines), and what we think might be a foot print.  It is so incredible to trace your fingers around an ancient Daco-Roman’s fingerprint, or place your hand where their dog stepped into the wet clay.  It is so cool.   

We have a pet sheep called Pepe who rides in a car with his owner, Giţa, and sometimes in the trunk. Giţa's dog, Puppy, runs alongside the car and eats leftovers and basically everything else. They live in the nearby town of Moigrad, which is the location of the local bar and on the way to the city of Zalau, where we all go when we need internet or food.  Romanian workers from the area help us with excavating, and they are mostly teenagers and they teach us words.  We’ve learned quite a bit, things like numbers, colors, and useful phrases, in addition to phrases that are not so useful but rather bad but entertaining nonetheless.  We work Monday through Friday from 8 to 5 with a one hour lunch break at noon.  A local woman cooks lunch and dinner for us and the food is delicious. Pork is usually on the menu, along with cabbage, rice, or potatoes.  After excavating, dinner isn’t until 7 or so, so we mostly just chill.  We don’t have much water because it has to be pumped in, and we only light our fire (our water heater) every  other day, so we shower on days that the fire is lit and chill on the others. There is drinking going on, of course, but I’m not much of a drinker, so I sit there and chat.

For the first few days, it was so cold, and so rainy, and we were miserable.  The weather in Romania is very much like the northern United States and Canada, so bring warm clothes if you visit.  Apart from rain and cold, it’s hot, but it’s not quite as humid as the Midwest in the States, at least where we are.  I visited Sighişoara this past weekend and it was fairly humid there.  On days where it is either too rainy or too hot, we wash artifacts (in the same buckets where we wash our clothes).  On a few occasions, our site director has given lectures on archaeological methods and such. 

It has been fantastic here so far.  There have been a few episodes involving the intoxication of some of our crew, but afterwards it makes for great laughs and gossip.  We’ve got 2.5 weeks left, and they will fly. 

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Newest Adventure....

The day after tomorrow I will begin my journey to Romania.  After a bus ride to Chicago, my flight lands in London on Tuesday morning.  I will be spending all of Tuesday day and night in Heathrow before boarding a flight for Cluj, Romania, at 6am Wednesday morning.  I will go from London to Vienna to Cluj, and be spending the night in none other than the Hotel Transilvania before meeting the rest of the excavation crew on Thursday, June 23 at another hotel, which is odd but oh well.  On the way back, it'll be a pit stop in Munich.  I'm hoping I get stamps from these places cool is that?

I'm not entirely sure how much internet access I will have after I leave, but I'll do my best to post fairly regularly.  It will be a fantastic adventure, and I'm just ready to get there.  I'm not so excited for the flights.  I don't mind flying, but the 8 hour + overnight flight to London just drags on.  Oh well.  I'm going.  It's not like I have a TARDIS or Vortex Manipulator. 

S'pose I should give a refresher on the excavation in Romania.  It is a Roman fort, and it was one of the last outposts of Romanized civilization before the "land of the barbarians."  It was about the size of Pompeii, around 20,000 people, including soldiers.  Wood has been preserved there, as well as clay tablets and other inscriptions.  There is an amphitheater.  It looks gorgeous from the pictures, and I cannot wait to get there and snoop. 

The area had been occupied by the Dacians and Celts prior to the Romans, but the fort was not built on a previous settlement.  The site flourished during the Roman period, kinda fell a little bit after the Romans left, but a Roman lifestyle prevailed after the fall of the Empire.  There were some problems in the early medieval period, and then the site was gradually abandoned after the 7th century CE, as the village beneath the fort grew.  This village exists today and the villages often help with the excavations.  We're about 10 miles or so from the nearest city, so we aren't too far in the boondocks but just far enough. 

I cannot wait.  I have a trowel, and there is a hole in the backyard to prove it.  I cannot wait to play in the dirt, in the sun, with the bugs, the heat, native food, culture, langauge, and even ancient culture.  I get to participate in Roman Days, a festival celebrating the Roman occupation.  I just cannot wait to see Romania. 

(I can't resist this....)  Allons-y!!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011


York:  York was awesome.  We had to see the Jorvik Viking Center, where I also found Scratch-n-Sniff postcards that I proudly shipped to my family.  I couldn't resist.  The reconstruction was smelled, um, interesting.  We also found the Roman baths that were there and tried on Roman armor.  That was exciting.  I also found a police box money bank, and I couldn't leave it there.  We visited Clifford's Tower, which is on top of a big hill in the middle of the city.  You can't miss it.  In the 12th century, Jews and nobles were trapped inside as the townspeople rebelled.  They set the Tower on fire rather than face the mob.  There are stains on the wall where people were burned.  And we would not have been allowed back on the coach if we did not see York Minster--a gorgeous cathedral.  Five Sister’s Window is there, and it is the largest piece of stained glass in the world.  There was a statue of Emperor Constantine next to York Minster, and some lunatics climbed up and sat on it.  Ugh.  Oh, if you go to York, you must go to Little Betty’s Tea shop.  Best tea in England, expensive, but absolutely delicious.  It’s right next to the House of the Trembling Madness Café.