“There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only who is foreign.” – Robert Louis Stevenson

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Still here in Romania (plus pics)

So here I am again, posting so soon. I have the afternoon off (I feel a bit guilty about it because everyone else is either washing pottery or working in the heat). I just thought I'd touch base and make sure the top blog on the page is actually about where I am. I'm also uploading pics from my other camera, so can put a few of those in too.

This weekend, I'm off to the Dacian capital of this area (that's Roman era for the uninformed!). It should be great, but it's a long hike (6 hours). I'm looking forward to swimming in the waterfall (and avoiding the snakes that are supposedly on the surrounding rocks... it's sounds like some kind of myth or ancient quest!).

For those who want more info on my dig site, here's the website: http://www3.sympatico.ca/gonciar/

Anyway, here are some recent pics.

So this is Bran castle. Here is the courtyard I love (except you can't really see it!) and all the millions of tourists parading through.
Here's the outside of Bran castle. It's pretty ordinary, but still has mystique. It's not like there are actually any castles in New Zealand anyway, so any castle is still fabulous.

This picture is the view from Rasinov castle... you can see some of it in the foreground. In the distant mountains is where Bran castle is... but what a fabulous view, eh!?

This is the amazing Peles castle I mentioned in an earlier blog. This is just the outside--it truly is such an amazing place--exorbitant and ostentatious, just the way new castles should be!

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Ayuthaya Photos

When I was in Bangkok I had some time to kill... they wouldn't give me a visa, but I'd left three days to get it. I spent Tuesday in Ayuthaya, Thailand's ancient capital, reminiscent of Angkor Wat in Cambodia, or Bagan in Myanmar. It's a beautiful site not far from Bangkok. Here are some photos of the trip.
Here I am climbing up one of the temples that was not in the main complex. This is a Burmese style of pagoda, but I forget why!
At one edge of the site there was an area where tourists can ride elephants. What can I say, but Thailand has almost perfected the tourist industry, and everywhere is about making money. For example, this baby elephant has been trained to squat so you can rest on his leg, then bow and hold out his trunk for the cash. I felt awkward sitting on him... I thought I'd squash his leg!
This is now in the main complex. It's a pretty neat place. At least it's not swarming with tourists yet. There are hundreds of stupas like this, in crumbling brick and stone. An interesting fact: it is nearly impossible to find a statue in Ayuthaya that still has its head. When the Burmese sacked in whenever, most of the people had gone, so they decapitated all the statues instead to vent their anger. Talk about the need for stress management!
Here's another view of the site--this one's just a little stupa.
Here's another view, with a slightly more intricate shape, and more intact outline.
What's fantastic is that all the buddhas have modern fabric robes in varying shades of yellow... it really adds some color to everything. They're simple, but they prove the Thai's continuing beliefs in the sacredness of the monuments. I love the fact that in the open air, they prove their faith and belief.
Thailand's largest outdoor reclining buddha. This has to be one of my favorite positions of the buddha. It's so ungodlike and yet still peaceful and relaxed. It almost seems contradictory to meditation... too easy to fall asleep. And would you look at the fabric on this one!
This is the famous image from Ayuthaya of the decapitated head with the tree that grew around it over time. Unfortunately what you cannot see from this is the fence that is cropped very close around it and the swarm of tourists all taking the same image!

Romania photos

Here are some travel pics from around Romania. Most of the best ones are on my other camera, but here are some I do have. Unfortunately, they're mostly from the weeks where the weather was bad. Whoever said that no sun made for better pictures? They're wrong!

Here's me standing in a Medias with the fortified church behind me... Yes, the clock tower is on a lean. This church is perpetually closed unfortunately. Medias is the closest decent sized town to us at our dig in Mosna. It takes 2 hours to walk to. Believe me, I checked!

This is the view from the Council Tower in Sibiu, which is the biggest town in our province. You can see the church (which was the center of the oldest form of the city--Hermanstaddt), and then the second city's border. That's not a fish eye lens, but I wish it was.

This is the view from the top of the church tower you can see in the previous picture. They have a beautiful tile arrangement on the roof.

This is the church door of the hilltop church in (oh I forgot the name, I'll get it later and check back to you!) near Sibiu. We ate lunch in a lovely little German style restaurant here after the long walk up to the top of the hill (which had no toilet!!!!)!
This is a typical Saxon home. They were fortified in a way which Romanian homes were not (a big sign of the class differences). Our village has heaps of these quaint homes. They were really long sections that reached all the way up the hills behind where all your crops grew.

This is taken among the ruins at Slimnic, halfway between Sibiu and Medias. It had spectacular views of course, but the best part about this castle church was the little old Romanian guy who lived inside in the open courtyard. He had cats, chickens, goats, and even a fat bunny roaming around inside amongst the grape vines, washing lines and other homey things. Could you have a more perfect place for your house? I want that house!!
This is the view of the village of Slimnic from the fortified church/castle. It looks similar to my village, Mosna (which I don't yet have a picture of to post). But you can see the typical houses, rolling hills and peaceful lifestyle and landscape.

Searching for Dracula in Transylvania

Last weekend was the Dracula tour. We based ourselves in the mountain resort town of Predeal and toured the regions castles. Can I just say that the Carpathian mountains are amazing!! There are the most majestic snow capped mountains with steep cliffs and run down ski lifts dotting the views. One town has a cross on one of the highest peaks, but I didn't manage to find out the story behind it. I have to romantically imagine something heroic.

Before we got there however, we visited Sigisoara, catching a downpour out in the open (never ever does it fall while we are in a museum). It had a lovely old city which we wandered, and we climbed the 172 steps (much to my companions disgust!) to the church, listened to the peaceful humns and organ, and wandered the serene cemetary behind. The church clock tower was neat, with it's odd little characters jumping outside at the chime of the bell. All Romanian towns have beautiful red tiled roofs, and the landscape from above is absolutely enchanting.

The first castle on the list was Bran castle, also known as Dracula's castle. The biggest irony is that Dracula never even lived there, and possibly, never even visited there either (though the hopeful do say that he possibly passed through on one retreat from the advancing Ottomans). Bran castle was more of a big house, that the owner decided to post on top of a high hill instead of on flat land. It doesn't have the drawbridge, and while I love the multi-level rooms and winding corridors and staircases, it was small and quite simple. Apparently this is where Bram Stoker based his novel from, but I didn't see any evidence that he'd been there either. I was instantly attracted by the idea that it would make a charming hotel (isn't that a horribly capitalist concept!!). What can I say? It had an ideal little courtyard with overlooking balconys in wood. It was oozing charm (and that is such a cliche). It was overly whitewashed, and we were guided through the castle like sheep behind enormous, obnoxious Romanian tour groups. There were ropes directing you where to go, and the desire to wander aimlessly was severely ruled out. It was a disappointment to some. Rachel and I decided to climb the hill behind the castle (foolishly thinking that the path would lead to some fantastic lookout over the castle). It led us to a lovely hill top pasture, but no view through the trees.

The second castle was in a place called Rasniov. Now this was a castle!! High atop a mountain overlooking the entire village and surrounding plains, it was in delightful ruins, but had enough civilization to allow for an ice cream and beer botique (that combination is common in Romania). There were rooms left open for the elements, as well as a museum with frightening-looking torture and detention equipment. I even found a stable with donkey poop everywhere just to ensure I never left the Romanian reality. They had a skeleton in the floor that make the Romanian children shriek, as well as the fairground-type put your face in a painting for the obligatory 2 euro. We spent an entire afternoon there, and explored the little pathways up and down the hill because our tour bus didn't realize there was a closer parking lot!

That evening, we watching disco lights, shooting stars and two randomly grazing white horses from our hotel balcony and discussed the problems of ourselves and the world. It was very romantic, and I'm not sure if I'm glad or not that it wasn't winter.

The next day we promoted ourselves to the 19th Century and visiting the spectacular Peles castle. The tour there was even more restrictive (not even any photographs allowed on this one!) but seeing the inside was utterly worth it. It was such an amazing inside, although I can't decide if the owners had fantastic taste or ostentatious spending habits. Rooms of wood, weapons and wilderness pictures (the queen wanted paintings of her poetry, so naked nymphs cover one room's walls!). We were a bit disappointed that we saw only one wing, but considering you have to wear these silly slippers to cover your shoes (that never fit and never match), perhaps it is decent of them to make you put them on only once considering the many entrances. It was in such a superb locations, in the rolling forested hills at the carpathian foothills (with a stupendous view of course). There was a quaint little hunting lodge (of course, still bigger than most mansions) of the son of the Romanian king of the time. Queen Marie had her way with this place, and I must say she likes pastel and awful lot, though the gold room of leaves is just surreal.

We ended the weekend with Brasov (actually, it was technically our second visit there), where we experienced the most instantaneous change of weather (sunshine, two drops, then a litteral second before an enormous rainfall). They had a charming square with the necessary church (which of course was shut!) and a lovely pedestrian street (being repaved of course--they seem to be doing that in every Romanian city). We wandered, people-watched, listened to the music festiva for a bit, caught up on email (bringing us back to the 21st century reality), and ate some delicious food.

A great weekend.

Tribute to my girls

Our last evening out in Myanmar: Do I need to explain anything?

Kate from Oz, Hayley from Taranaki, and me. I have no idea where the crowns came from.

Syria photos

Okay, since I've got some photos ready, here are some pics from my last trip, when I was in Syria, Jordan and Israel with my family this past April.
Here's me with my mum on the Jordan-Syria border (that's why the background is so boring). This is one of the only photos where I'm not wearing an enormous camera around my neck.

Here's mum and I in the Damascus market. These are my dad's pics, which are pretty much the only ones I have where I'm in them (otherwise I just take em). That's a stupid travel phenomenon, but it always happens. Anyway, we're standing at the formerly Roman gates and behind my dad is the famous mosque.
Here we are in Palmyra. It really is as hot as it looks. That Muslim castle behind is also as fabulous, mystical and inspiring as it looks.
Here's me in the middle of the Damascus souq, with the guy on the camel, the other tourists, and my grandma handbag. Don't ask me why, but this picture amuses me.

I'll add some more here later when I've got around to resizing them.

Romania dig photos

I decided that I should post some pictures from my dig in Romania.

Here I am in Sibiu at the museum that we're doing the dig through--Brukenthal Museum. I'm standing with a statue of a mideval knight. Each of his "scales" was sponsored by someone in the village.

This is the dig team minus the director, Andrei, and a couple of others. Right after this it poured with rain and we got very soaked!!!

This is part of our dig site... what you see exposed are pieces of structural clay, pottery and bones. Thats the dig director, Andrei, and Olya, another volunteer.

Here is the coolest thing I found, a flint blade. I know, I know, not really a very big deal! Now you can see how the insignificant becomes very important.

This is the dig site from above (where we all hide behind the bushes for the loo). You can see how small and insignificant it is in relation to the area (imagine how many house sites we are NOT excavating!). Look at the lovely rolling hills, and imagine the sunshine, puppies frolicking and shepherds all around us!

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Digging and Voyaging

Well, I'm finally here to post again and I have so much to say... we've been so busy!

During the week we're in a little village away from internet and phone signals, and during the weekends, we're madly dashing around the country on organized tours, so have barely had time to read all my emails, let alone reply or write a blog. Rowan in NZ and Kate in Oz both had babies, Kate from Myanmar's in Ladakh with her mum (what a fantastic place that sounds like!), most of my colleagues are around the US, Omar's just been back to Morocco for the first time, Rebecca from D.C. and Rachid are both getting married (but not to each other, thank god!), and my ex, Soufiane got married (now that is weird!), Rita's doing a hike for discovery to raise money for Leukemia, Tim's in Monrovia, Beth Dougherty's in SE Asia for the first time, Julie's back in France and over the moon and others are all over!

Romania and the dig are great. We plod along at our own pace and I must say that I'm really enjoying myself and all negative feelings are gone. The weather has improved in the last week or so, and now we have scorching hot days, which means we almost pass out in the trenches digging! We take our first photographs of the things unearthed tomorrow... mainly just bits of broken pottery and structural clay. It's interesting that so much effort goes into such insignificant bits and pieces, but I'm enjoying it nevertheless. Andrei, the dig director, gets so excited when we find a pottery shard that has paint or an etched design. We're going to put one pot back together next week! The site is neolithic. It's part of what's called the Petresti culture, which I think was pretty much limited to Romania. We spend some afternoons washing pottery in freezing water from the well behind the dig house--my first time ever using a well. I'm no longer the oldest on the dig, as some have arrived and others have left... the dynamic is very different depending on the week!

The food here is good but very simple... we've had lots of meat and potato type meals, very traditional, but good. My favorite swings between the cabbage wraps and the beans! They all have homemade wine here and a hard alcohol called moonshine (as I'm sure you can imagine). Three younger diggers have already had incidents of alcohol abuse throwing up and the like! It's evil stuff. Andrei complains that if Romania ever enters the EU, the homemade wine will disappear as the olive groves in Spain did because they form too much of a competition for businesses. Sad, really. All the home farm animals will also be eradicated for mass farming. No more cows passing us on their way out to the field each day, or chickens squawking in the back of the house.

We're in a little village called Mosna, in between Medias and another mideval city called Biertan. Every little hamlet and village had a fortified church once, built by the Saxons in the middle ages, who themselves were invited by the Hungarians to live here to protect from Ottoman and other raids. The Saxons left as soon as Ceausescu was out of power, but their legacy is still left in a strong German prescence. Mosna has a church, but not much else as most Saxons left and now it's 60% gypsy (much to our dig director's disgust). There are two shops, houses and that's it! It's charming but very simple and rural. The countryside is lovely.. rolling green hills and forests, and very few fences in sight. This is a place where the shepherd still takes his flock out each morning. We have a shepherd that hangs around our trench singing to himself each day accompanied by his sheeps baas.

We've also adopted a stray puppy that lost his leg somehow... he's all fixed up and one volunteer is going to take the dog back to Canada (which has much more animal liberal laws than ours). I was very amused to watch the vet patch him up with scissors that fell into two parts and a blunt blade to saw at the extra bandage! He has a "satellite dish" around his head to stop him knawing on the leg and tail (which he bit off in fits of agony!). Andrei was very amused to hear that he had 8 canine teeth which means that he would surely have won in any fight against the village dogs! He has gone from a whiny old man to a playful puppy, and has amazed everyone with his progress!

Well, must go now as I'm late for dinner! Oooops!

Thursday, June 08, 2006


So the last post was in a bit of a rush as we were leaving. I'll put a bit more now, but I'll have to leave again in the middle, no doubt. I'm in the middle of about 5 months worth of backlog on things I want to say (I have a little notebook full of it!) so will whittle away at it while I'm here. I'll even try and post some photos.

But for now, Romania. How's the digging, going? For the first two hours of the first day, I asked myself over and over again: What have I got myself into? Why did I sign up for FIVE weeks of this? Do I really find this interesting? This was as I used a small trowel to put small holes in a square meter of dirt, pick through the dirt so that it is in small pieces, then put the dirt in a bucket. Over and over and over again. Occasionally, I would find a shard of pottery about an inch across, or a small piece of earthen clay (neolithic building material) and dust it off and put it aside, but for the most part it was very monotonous. My back aches, my fingers get dry from sifting dirt, my arms, knees, and legs are sore from trying to stand in the correct positions.

However... as the time passes and my hole gets a little bigger, as does the pile of things I find, the monotony bothers me less, and I enjoy the sun shining (in the few seconds it does, the rest of the time I shiver in my 50 layers of clothing), the birds chirping, the lack of fences, the puppies mingling around us, the shepherd and his flock on the paddock next to us. It will be a long 5 weeks, but I am glad that I have done it. Perhaps if I do it again, I'll choose something where a little more is likely to come out of the ground, but this Petrich culture is interesting even if they really didn't leave us much. And even though I'm doing one square meter in a million, and with all of us we'll only do 20 squares in a million, and even though I have a reputation in the group for always finding nothing in my plots, in the whole scheme of things, I am doing something. And it's interesting and relaxing and I'm happy.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

In Medias

I'm back in civilization again.... and after only two days out of it, I really noticed it. I go from one place without email to another one without email!! I'm in this tiny little village where the power goes off for half a day, there are stray dogs everywhere, and I can't speak the language, there's no phone, internet or any shops whatsoever... it sounds too familiar!! We've come to the closest town, Medias for the afternoon mainly for the others to let family know that we're alive!

We had our first "dig" today.... I'm the oldest one in the group...all young North American uni students... a very strange sensation for me, as I'm usually the youngest. The head guy is hilarious... he talks proudly of selling his Canadian passport for $2000 in France, getting court marshalled for swearing at higher ranks in the army, sleeping on park benches, smuggling knives through US customs, etc, etc!!!

The weather's been miserable and I haven't got enough clothes... it's like NZ in mid winter. Hopefully the sun will come out!

Anyway, troops are moving on, so will write more later.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

In Bucuresti

Well, have arrived in Bucharest, finally... it took stops in Bangkok and Vienna to get here, but I'm here now. What a shock and difference from elsewhere! I feel like I've jumped back in time. I think the biggest contrast was because I came from the orderly Vienna. Romania has so far to go in order to catch up to the rest of Europe. I wonder how much further along the new EU members are in comparison!

What's different... here things are still obviously recovering from communism. Things have a shabby appearance, and signs for shops still look as if they were erected yesterday. Things are dirty and run down. I love all the cobblestone streets that are left, but they are obviously left, and not deliberately. Trams and busses are rickety, people's fashion is just not up with the trends (still tight, boob showingly scandalous at times), and women's makeup is still very overdone and way too 80s and pink! I'm very surprised at the amount of English that's spoken in random places (why am I so arrogant as to expect it, require it, need it, seek it?). I went to the main square, where, elsewhere in Europe there would be souvenir shops and street cafes. Here, there were certainly people, but it was disorganized and more of a place of passing through, than hanging out and enjoying being social. To be fair, there was a huge festival (with lots of beer and meat on sticks), and many were heading down to that.

Get nothing wrong, I don't disagree with the statement that Bucharest is just awaiting a mass exodus of travellers from across Europe, but it's still not really ready for them. My own archaeology leader advises us not to pass through the "awful" Bucharest airport (I was pleasantly surprised at how nice it was---these people need to go to Baku or Yangon!!), and the busses and trams were positively alien in terms of how difficult they were.

Let me give you an example: I spent half an hour standing in the puddle of water that was dripping off my trousers (which it had soaked up from the splashes of water of passing cars, not to mention getting rained on with no jacket, umbrella or convenient tram-stop shelter), waiting for the tram that took forever, only to be unable to pay for it (silly clicking machines don't work), and then told that it didn't work (I'm assuming) by random Romanian guys laughing at me for even trying. I got out at what I assumed was my stop (only the observant who had walked the route before would have had any idea that it was the right place as there were no a) signs, b) street lights, c)indications of it being a tram stop, even!) only to try and cross the road (remember, no street lights, so cars are very likely to run me over!) and get hooked up on ginormous puddles and almost run over, while slimly escaping being turned into a drowned rat by the cars speeding and the said ginormous puddles. Then I turn around and seconds after the very-long-in-coming-tram, the tram-I-waited-forever-for-in-the-rain-tram that had dropped me off, another tram passes by. Talk about annoying timing!

Okay, time to sign off... I'm getting evil looks from the other hostelites... that hermaphrodite (random!) sitting over there seems to want on this gloriously fast connected (and free) machine.

Friday, June 02, 2006

From Vienna

Copy of post from Beloit Blog:

So I'm here in Vienna and now I can be just a tourist instead of having to worry about all the little details... those finally appear to be out of the way. Got the visa, got a place to stay, am ready for Romania. Now Vienna... let me just put you in the right mind frame: I arrived and it was 10 degrees centigrade (that's probably 40 or so) and this is meant to be SUMMER... me coming from 100+. So I'm wearing every single piece of warm clothing I brought with me and still shivering. Dreary cloudy weather just doesn't do much to make me appreciate the palaces and my photographs of the sites look much less interesting!

I had a group of high school kids (I can't get away from them) in my hostel romping around till 3am last night (I suppose I am going to have to stop being cheap and not stay in hostels if I want to avoid this, but honestly, all I do is sleep there so why shell out for more?). Now I'm sitting in an internet cafe... the people around me are all smoking (ash trays provided, which makes this feel so seedy), it took me forever to even find this place to be able to check my email. Now, this freakin keyboard keeps spitting strange letters out at me... I was used to the French one and now they give me this one... switch the z and y, move the @ and the ' and the ( and ).... just to make my life difficult. Why do people feel so strongly about moving only some things around to prove a point about individuality and nationality? Did you know that even the American and British keyboards are not the same? There's another one... I have to look everywhere for the question mark! I haven't even mentioned that hotmail, blogger, gmail and every other site I've logged into is in German (even up there it says Titel instead of Title and 'Post wiederherstellan'... I'm assuming that means 'publish post' or something. Oh, no, that would be 'Als Entwurf speichern'). And I do not speak any German. I spent half of yesterday thinking the letter ß was a B... its not, its an ss.

But the coffee here is great, the palaces amazing, and I truly love all the Schiele and Klimt, though the Viennese (Ger: Wieners) must get tired of seeing 'The Kiss' everywhere on everything. Some other cultural things I've noticed (so help me, this is what I do when I travel-- observe) Everyone seems to be dressed like Americans (coming from Asia I suppose they must), there is no walmart, tesco, carrefour or any other mass stores (Austrians don't shop that way, and instead trot off to their local store with a little wheeled bag like little old ladies), but there is Mango, H&M, Levi's, Guess, Starbucks, and other worldwide stores... they truly are conquering the world, it's quite disgusting! Now I must go off to climb Stephansdom, walk the Graben, wander the Hofburg Palace and listen to some Mozart in the Schlosspark. Have a lovely day all!