Tag Archives: Food

South Africa – Hermanus, Swellendam and Franschoek

A two hour drive took us to the charming town of Hermanus – especially famous for its whales – and we did see some from the hotel deck. But the real “Wow factor” for me here was the stunning hotel we were in – The Birkenhead House – designed by the same people as the Silo Hotel mentioned in my previous post. This is what I call classy luxuries bliss – and it was complimented by amazing food – all meals included – and while this is not something I would usually do – once you get here you are glad you did as you don’t want to leave the place for even a minute.

Public areas in the Birkenhead Hotel

Contemporary and comfortable design is key at the Birkenhead House

My bedroom and plunge pool at the Birkenhead House

Then after a breakfast that looked like this ……

Luxe brekkie at the Birkenhead House Hotel

it was wonderful to take a 90 minute cliff walk into Hermanus to walk some of it off and enjoy the views along the way……

Cliff walk into Hermanus

Only to return to this ……

Home made scones with a view at the Birkenhead House Hotel

Just as well I only stayed for two nights….

Another two hour drive took us to the town of Swellendam. A very pretty small town and nice to stop at a less touristy place for a night. The scenery en-route was stunning and the local Drodsky Museum was nicely done.

Classic views on the road to Swellendam

Dutch cape houses including our bed and breakfast at Hotel Roosje van der Kopp

Finally, we finished our time in South Africa with a visit to the lovely Franschoek – a much busier place than when Trudy and I last visited decades ago but still absolutely charming.

We loved the Hugenot memorial and museum – really interesting info on how they came to settle in the western Cape and who knew Roger Federer was descended from them and had visited his relatives there?!

The Hugenot Memorial in Franschoek

The Hugenot Museum – with boy in pink hot pants ?!?

As for the food – goodness it was good. The first night we went to Reuben’s which we loved (and the chef is a local) and I enjoyed two kinds of steak tartare.

Eating at Reuben’s

and the the second, to officially recognise Trudy’s birthday year, was the fantastical La Petite Colombe – the pictures are only half as good as the food and the experience. A must visit if you are in the area.

A zen feel to the food at La Petite Colombe

The surprises keep on coming at La Petite Colombe


We also enjoyed our stay at Plumwood Inn – very convenient for the Main Street yet tucked away too.

And of course you can’t visit this area without doing at least one wine tasting day which we enjoyed in Stellenbosch for the whole of our last day – forgetting we had to be up at 5am for our flight to …….?(watch this space)

Scenery around Stellenbosch and the vineyards are looking good

Trudy, Alan and I enjoying a day at some local wineries in Stellenbosch

Have already booked a longer stay in SA for early 2021!

Belgium, Food and drink

Someone asked me – “what about the food in Belgium” – so I have produced a compendium of some of the dishes I ate on this visit. Hopefully something for everyone!

Firstly – things I ate a lot of – moules, steak tartare and cakes!

Moules, steak tartare bistro style and creamy cakes

When I was only a bit peckish then it had to be beer (a meal in itself here) plus bitterballen – crispy very hot fried breadcrumbed balls filled with mashed potato and a meat ragu or bits of bacon. Irresistible – and cheap! The meal below also included some very large scampi in a rich creamy sauce – another popular dish over here.

Beer, bitterballen and creamy scampi.

In Bruges my friend Luisa and I found a place for lunch – Rock Fort – at the last minute which was excellent and very central but also off the beaten track. This time it was a shared burrata dish followed by more steak tartare – and very prettily presented and tasty on both counts. Definitely recommend

What we ate at Rock Fort, Bruges

One day in Antwerp I decided I wanted to try one of the Michelin starred restaurants here for lunch – always best to have lunch in expensive and popular places – easier to get in, more leisurely and often a Prix fixe menu. This one was called Kommilfoo and while a bit of a walk to get there (good excuse to enjoy your meal all the more) – it was well worth it. Decor, service and food were exemplary/

Kommilfoo decor, my downed G and T, an amuse bouche and another tartare!

Veal, berries, vino and petit fours – no room for dinner after that lot!

Back at the other end of the spectrum there is a lot of opportunity for chocolate and beer tasting. One of the famous small chocolate makers in Bruges is Dumon so we tried a few there and the Wall of Beer is a reminder how important this stuff is to everyone in this country!

Chocolate and beer – two words that always spring to mind when you think about Belgium

Extra special in both Bruges and Brussels was catching up with one of my cruise buddies Luisa – who happened to be visiting from the US at the same time as me. Really nice to get together and take the food tour in Brussels as well.

Enjoying food and beer with friends is always special

Germany, Berlin – (final post from Berlin) – Street Art and cruising around the city – my personal potpourri

For my last Berlin post I am offering up a collection of visuals including street art, parks, statuary and stuff that took my eye. I am definitely coming back soon…..this is a super cool place. Grungy and elegant all at once.

Street art is to be found all around the city so I took a specific tour to see the things I would not have stumbled on myself in some of the grungier parts of the city.

The building below is in the City Centre and you have to admire the colorful effect on three sides of this wall – including the TV Tower and Einstein of course – how Berlin can you get?

Ackerstrasse, Berlin

The works below are in the Hackesche Hofe – now a very gentrified part of town but this alleyway which reminded me of Hosier Lane in Melbourne is the bit that is kept for the artists. The man on the left is not Barack but Otto Weidt who lived here and employed mostly blind and deaf Jews. After the war started he helped to falsify their documents and hid a whole family behind a cupboard in his shop. I didn’t have time to go inside to check out the museum – next time. The Anne Frank is by Jimmy C (English born but Australian) who was commissioned to do it.

Hackesche Hofe and other spots displaying street art

The street art pieces below were my favourites in Hackesche Hofe

Another spot for commissioned street art (if that expression isn’t an oxymoron) is the East Side Gallery – a portion of the Berlin Wall that was deliberately left up so that invited artists could do their thing. I think it has become a bit too touristy and permanent – on the whole, my preference is for transient street art.

Examples from the East Side Gallery including the well known kiss between Brezhnev and Honecker

On the right, more from the East Side Gallery and on the left a very effective piece of art at Oberbaumbrucke

Finally we went to the very grungy parts of Kreuzberg and also the Gurleiter Park – usually in the news for drug busts and suchlike but in the afternoon it was indeed grungy and one nutter did come up to us and tell us what he’d like to do to our mothers but other than it was fine – so glad I grew up in Central London sometimes! here the art tends to be more political and very anti gentrification – in Kreuzberg they are very proud that over 200,000 people signed a petition not to allow another MacDonalds in the area (and sadly they are everywhere else in Berlin). It has a large Turkish population and as a result it is a great place to eat excellent Turkish food.

Some clear messages in Kreuzberg

Talking of food – as I usually am. My contributions for this blog will be “cake and chocolate as art” as seen in the food department of the biggest department store – KadeWe – jaw dropping.

My idea of ‘cake art’

How does anyone ever choose out of these?

The nice thing about a long stay is you can really get to understand the public transport and use it effortlessly (well after a few days!). I loved gadding about on the Ubahn and Sbahn – especially as they never seem to get ridiculously crowded even in the rush hour.

Trains at Ostbahnhof

As my hotel was very close to the Tiergarten – which is really like a forest in the middle of the city, I took the opportunity on many occasions to just stroll around listening to an Audible book on my ipods. Exercise, beautiful visuals and reading – great multi-tasking.

Walking in the Tiergarten

More scenes in the Tiergarten

The memorial to the persecuted LGBTI community with lots of flowers as I was there during Christopher St Parade. Also rock sculpture in the Tier Garden – a global art project but entertaining to me is that one of them was a joint US, German and Venezuelan project – probably wouldn’t happen today!

And I didn’t only go to museums – I also appreciated learning about the city, it’s history, the damage during the War, the Wall and the eventual rebuilding of the City of 1990 onwards – and to be honest it is still a work in progress with a lot of construction (or rather re-construction) to be seen at every corner.

I hadn’t really understood the way in which both Germany and Berlin were divided up after the WW2. First Germany was divided into four occupied parts – Soviet, French, US and British and the same was done to Berlin but this put the city into the strange position of being totally surrounded by Soviet occupied Germany even though three portions of if were Western controlled. When the Cold War took off a few years later and Stalin reneged on the deals with the Allies he really wanted all of Berlin and because he was in charge of all of Germany surrounding it he sieged the city and wouldn’t allow food into it in an attempt to cause those in the Western parts to surrender to his power. But luckily the Brits, US and French weren’t having any of that and for the 11 months of the siege those countries used the area around the now defunct Templehof airport and dropped food and supplies out of the sky (apparently every 90 seconds and known as the Berlin Airlift) to the people of West Berlin so they did not starve and in the end Stalin realised it was not going to be so easy to get his hands on all of Berlin after all.

Another good outcome of getting up early is to see the Brandenburg Gate before the crowds arrive – although the cleaners were hard at it as it was the morning after the Christopher Parade so a lot of beer bottles around – all gone by 10am. It has been recently cleaned up so looks great and it is worth remembering that this famous monument was located in the Death Strip (or No Man’s land) when the Wall was put up so no-one on either side saw it at all for 30 years!

Brandenburg Tor

Always something different to see – the Red Rathaus O(old) and the new (ish) TV Tower, the Gendarmenmarkt and the famous border crossing Checkpoint Charlie.

The varying sites in the centre of Berlin

The construction below is of the massive Humboldt Palace and an example of how much is going on in the city of this kind of thing. It should be completed later this year and I am sure will be another fantastic place to visit. It’s always nice to catch a glimpse of the Victory statue on the main road that separates on the two parts of the Tiergarten

The places you see wandering around Berlin

Old and new mingle well in Berlin

Just as I was leaving the Adlon Hotel my eye was caught by a Bank (yes really!). It is a big building sandwiched between the Adlon and the Brandenburg Tor and I am so glad I wandered to the entrance to take a look. It is the HQ of the DZ Bank and the interior was designed by Frank Gerry (never saw any mention of that in my guide books). I’ve seen a lot of atriums in my time (usually just four sides and a square hole in the middle) but this has Gehry’s usual flare and creativity. What a great place to work. Apparently the area at the bottom can be used as a large auditorium. Nice surprise.

The DZ Bank Corporate Centre

Goodbye to Berlin – it’s been a blast – and I forgot to mention how much I enjoyed a live performance of Cabaret in German in a tented theatre with seats in cabaret style in one of the many central parks. A musical I love and great to see it where it was set. Life is a Cabaret old Chum…..

Cabaret Live in Berlin

Hungary, Budapest – A river runs through it part 2 – the Pest side of the River Danube

Having only briefly covered Pest (pronounced Pesht as ‘s’ on its own is ‘sh’ whereas if you want an ‘s’ sound you need to have “sz” which probably explains why Hungarians learn English and not the other way around!) in my earlier blog on the synagogues and Ruin Bars – I thought it appropriate to finish my visit with a tour of the Pest side of the river – the much more fun and lively side!

Everything in Budapest is about the river – what on either side, getting across it, boating down it, walking along it and even the trams trundle by.

Although there is loads of construction going on in the city and especially in some of the large squares there is still lots to see around and about the holes in the ground just be wandering around and discovering squares, fountains, sculptures and statues.

On the topic of sculptures – these are some of my favorites from the Pest side and I know there are many more I did not find – a good reason to come back.

The Fat Policeman below is keeping an eye on the apartment across the street and is based on the artist’s grandfather. Everyone likes to rub his tummy. The girl with the dog is very popular and I was very happy to capture her with a real man with his dog!

A selection of sculptures in Budapest including the Fat Policeman and the Girl with a dog

The Little Princess below is very popular and I think the Ronnie Reagan one is pretty good. The weirdest though is Will Shakespeare (actually outside the Starbucks of my hotel). This is a replica of a sculpture whose original is in Ballarat, Victoria, Australia (yes honestly). The original sculptor was a Hungarian born Australian and the replica was unveiled in 2003 and meant to represent close ties between Australia and Hungary. I get all that – but why William Shakespeare? Weird enough that he is in Ballarat but then again in Budapest? What has he got to do with either Australia or Hungary?? (Answers on a postcard please:). I am perplexed…….

More sculptures in Budapest including William S?!?!

The saddest sculptures are the famous shoes along the Danube which was created to honor the Jews and others killed by facist Hungarian militia in 1944/5. They were ordered to take off their shoes and then shot at the edge of the river so that their bodies would fall into the Danube and be carried away. Several of the shoes were stolen in 2014 – no one knows by whom or why.

Memorial Shoe sculpture by the River close to House of Parliament

There is also a burgeoning street art scene especially around the Jewish quarter. Below is the beloved Empress Sissi and the Rubik cube (which was invented by a Hungarian) as well as a commemoration of a 1953 World Cup match in which the Hungarians beat England. It was a big deal apparently which is in the memories of all Hungarians as strongly as 1966 is for Brits. Like us, they are still basking in that reflected glory. Time to let go, I say…….

Street art in the Jewish Quarter and living in the past football success!

The Time Magazine cover is a reproduction of an actual cover at the time of the ill fated Hungarian Revolution against Soviet communist rule in 1956.

Street art in Budapest

The National Gallery , which is located in the spectacular Heroes’ Square, is now split between the Pest side and the Buda side – I have to say I was underwhelmed by the collections there but I did like these busts by Messerschmidt dating back to the 1770s.

The magnificent Heroes’ Square

Messerschmidt sculptures in the National Gallery

The chain bridge is one of quite a few that straddle the Danube in Budapest and it is probably the most photographed as it resembles the Eiffel Tower in design – but as a bridge – if you know what I mean?

The Chain Bridge from every angle!

Don’t think I didn’t eat while in Budapest – of course I sampled all the local specialities.

Grazing around Budapest

Craft beer one minute; rooftop cocktails the next

Fore gras fantasy, stuffed cabbages and sour cherry and poppy seed strudel.

A visit to the Houses of Parliament by the river is a must. The exterior is stunning – apparently based on the design of the Houses of Parliament in London – and so is the interior (which is only half used)! This is because it is perfectly symmetrical and was built to house the equivalent of the Houses of Commons and Lords and to be exactly the same as each other – but of course there are no more lords in Hungary so the bit we get to see is the space that is no longer used for politics – which is really a bit of a waste when you see how plush it is.

Luckily someone had the sense to ensure that all the stained glass windows were taken out and hidden as WW2 started to accelerate. They also took 600 detailed photos of everything so were able to recreate the interiors perfectly after the war,

Exterior of the House of Parliament – day and night

The Golden Staircase and interior corridor in the House of Parliament

The main chamber in the House of Parliament and beautiful carvings of every profession that exists

Just outside the House of Parliament is an underground memorial to those who were killed at the time of the Hungarian revolution against Soviet communist occupation in 1956. It is a sombre memorial to remember the many young people who went to the square outside the Houses of Parliament to peacefully protest two weeks after the initial uprising. But by then, the Russians had returned and they fired indiscriminately at the crowd killing many people and this violent approach continued in a brutal fashion across Hungary for the next year until all insurrection had been quashed. Over 200,000 Hungarians fled the country at this time and were taken in by a variety of other nations (those were the days when we took care of people in need). The Russians stayed in Hungary until 1990!

The Hungarian Revolution Memorial

St Stephen’s Basilica is at the Centre of Pest and while I didn’t like it as much as the more unusual Mathias church in Buda it is pretty spectacular from the outside and inside.

Exterior of St Stephen’s Basilica

Unusually at the altar it is not Jesus you see but St Stephen is is very important to the Hungarians. I believe they had to have special dispensation to allow this to happen.

Interior of St Stephen’s Basilica

As ever in European churches, they do a pretty good job with domed roofs!

Domed cupolas in St Stephen’s Basilica

Although it is summer season I did manage to visit the Vigado Concert Hall to enjoy an evening of Hungarian symphony, operetta, ballet and gypsy violins. It was great!

Exterior of Vigado Concert Hall

The art nouveau concert hall just before the Hungarian Gala evening began

And so farewell to Budapest………

Hungary, the Buda side of the river

It seems that whenever you find a city with a river through the middle there is an automatic rivalry between both sides. There is no exception in Budapest. People who live on the Buda (old historic) side are known to say “everyone who lives in Budapest lives in Buda or wants to live in Buda”: those on the Pest (more modern side) say “Buda,Siesta; Pest, Fiesta”.

On this occasion I stayed on the Pest side right on the river. I’m glad I did. It enabled me to enjoy the urbane and lovely Pest side (being a city girl more my thing) while enjoying the views of the Buda side and being able to walk or take a quick bus journey there.

Day and night time views of the Buda side of the River Danube

I was meeting some friends for lunch on that side so made it my day to visit Buda (and a day is fine I think).

Castle Hill is where you find the old palace, the Fisherman’s Bastion, cobbled streets, the Mathias Church and various museums plus great views all around.

The Mathias church is spectacular inside and out and has existed since the 11th century with a rebuild in the 15th century. For a while it was converted into a mosque (yes, Ottoman rule again) and it was used for one of the coronations of the Austrian emperor Franz Ferdinand and his wife Elizabeth known as Sissi in the 19th century. She loved Hungary and learned the language (she was smart) and convinced her husband to let Hungary have its own language and jurisdiction. She is very beloved over here. I remember my mum was obsessed with Sissi – I think she was the Princess Diana type idol of her time.

It is a lovely church inside and out. Very warm colours and a lot of bright Hungarian folk art. Liked this one a lot. If you go to the museum of the first floor it’s easier to take pics of the detail and erase the crowds out. There are lots of them!!

External views of Mathias Church with its pretty roof tiles.

The soft colours of the interior of Mathias Church plus one pic showing the hordes!

Close ups of the artwork higher up in the chirch

The organ and folk art style above the stained glass windows

Castle Hill houses the Fisherman’s Bastion rampart walls. These were last rebuilt at the turn of the 19th/20th century to celebrate the millennium which is why it is more ornate with a viewing terrace than a practical defensive fortress. There seem to be various theories on why “fishermen”? The fisherman’s guild may have protected the original fort as they lived below it and also there was a fish market there – so that’s most likely I suppose. It is very fanciful and the views are lovely.

The Fisherman’s Bastion

I also met up with my friend Jo’s mum Gillian and her friend Jill for lunch inside the Bastion which was very posh:)

Inside the Fisherman’s Bastion Restaurant

Me, Gillian and Jill

Tasty morsels at the Fisherman’s Bastion restaurant

By the way, my pork was uniquely Hungarian from the mangalica pig bred here for superb tasting pork (I learned about this from my food tour guide Ange on the previous day when I tasted some pate from the same pig) . Have to share a picture of them as they are “pigs in sheep’s clothing” and I had to look them up for myself to believe they really existed.

Mangalica pigs

I walked around the castle hill area dodging the rain by visiting the National Gallery which had an exhibit on surrealism. I think the buildings were more interesting than the art and signage is lousy!

Museums and fountain on Castle Hill

A little bit surreal

and then one shot looking down from the Buda side before I walked down the hill to and crossed over the Danube back to Pest.

The other hill on the Buda side is where the citadel is located plus the lady liberty statue and some of the best views of the Danube.

There seems to be some debate about what she is holding? A fish? A leaf? Or as one 8 year old told my guide “it’s obvious – she’s holding an iPad and taking a selfie”!

Slovenia – Ljubliana – various impressions of this delightful capital city.

Ljubliana must be one of the smaller capital cities in Europe (population 400,000 in a country of 2 millionP) but it packs quite a punch. Clear influences from Austria and Hungary are all around but the prices are (still) cheaper.

I rented a great apartment just 6 minutes walk into the main part of the old town but with panoramic views in all directions – windows and terrace on both sides!

Views from my lovely panoramic apartment

The old city centres around the river which is bordered by cafes, restaurants, shops, art galleries and pretty buildings and many dinky little bridges. It is also possible to take a boat ride down the river for a different perspective.

The Dragon bridge below is one of the most well known bridges. There is a dragon at each of the four corners as the dragon is seen as the symbol of Ljubliana. Many myths abound as to why. Apparently he lived (or still lives) in the surrounding hills. He was the dragon that Jason slaughtered on his quest for the Golden Fleece or he was the dragon that St George caught or he escaped and is living in the mountains and when he has a cold and breathes heavily the mist descends over the hills until he is feeling better!

A continuously photogenic riverside makes it hard to know when to stop taking photos!

Riverside view, a dragon on the bridge and the main squares of the Old Town

The colourful building below was an attempt by the crafty artists to develop a “Slovenian ethnic style” back in the day but it never took off. However I am glad they kept this building as an example as it is really quite pretty – although I am not sure I would like a town full of this!

By the river and in the old town of Ljubliana. Ljubliana Castle in the distance at the top of the hill

Everyone goes to visit Ljubliana Castle which looks down on the Old Town. It has gone through many iterations and many rebuilds and repurposing. Of course it was originally built to defend the town from the Ottomans but subsequently became a prison and these days is a cultural centre which hosts events, allows visitors, has open air movies and concerts etc. I took the furnicular up and walked down but I did walk up the spiral staircase to the top of the tower for the views. The spiral staircase is designed on two levels so it looks like one but in fact it is one staircase above another so people go up on one and down on the other. Very clever. The views are impressive as you’d expect. Also pretty at night.

Ljubliana Castle, the spiral double level staircase, the views and the castle at night

The main church has an impressive metal carved door which tells stories from the bible and also local struggles. It was dedicated to the ever popular Pope John Paul who seems to pop up everywhere I go! The bit I liked the best though is if you look at the photo on the right hand side you will see a tiny shiny bit at the bottom. That is actually the artist’s signature and is an engraving of his face on its side as shown in the zoomed version bottom left. Obviously he didn’t keep this a secret as everyone has touched his face for luck and that is why it is shiny!

The entrance to the main Catholic church in Ljubliana

Another person you hear a lot about in this city is the resident acrchitect Joze Plecnik. Most of his work was between 1920 and the mid 1950s and he is absolutely everywhere so I decided to do a Plecnik focused walking tour of the city (there was only 3 of us and the other couple were from Melbourne and their son works for ANZ – of course!).

Apparently he was very grumpy (shades of FLW I think) and the photo is a very rare one of him smiling – usually he looked more like the bust below – dour. He designed the two storey market building that runs along the riverside. At ground level it is all restaurants and a few market stalls and at river level it is a full fish and meat market and houses art galleries.

Fish as art?

Also in the Center of the old town are the three bridges – Plecnik built the other two around the original first one. He always used polished concrete or limestone (it was cheap and plentiful) and recycled everything. He also loved curves and these are classic examples of his work. He liked to build on to what was already there – like on the Roman Wall below.

Examples of Plecnik’s work in Ljubliana

His most famous large building is the National and University student library – exterior shown above. Bit hard to see but the windows at the top jut out in a triangle shape so meant to look like open books.

The interior is also all his own design. We couldn’t take photos inside the study area
(which was spectacular) as there were students studying but we got to see the main entrance and have his favourite tea in the student cafeteria. The entrance staircase was meant to inspire students to work hard – carry all your books up the stairs to the “light at the end of the tunnel” and also where the study area is. He deliberately made all the chairs hard as he felt chairs were not to be lounged in but a place from which to study!

Interior of the National and University Student library building

We went on to visit the photography school that he and his pupils designed which was formerly a monastery.

Former monastery, now the school of Photography

He also designed the bridge below with the pyramid (he liked them too) which is one of the few in the world that has trees on it. The symbol on the house at the bottom right was put on houses during the plague to show that the plague stopped at this point.

Turns out Mr Plecnik was a very grumpy workaholic. The house he lived in was bought by his brother and he was supposed to live there with his three siblings. In the end only one brother lived there at the same time but they were such different characters – the brother loved people and his lady friends; his workaholic brother liked neither – so that didn’t last long and Plecnik lived here alone. He even bought the next door house so that he wouldn’t have any neighbours other than the church. Basically he used to walk into town every day either by the river or the main road and 90% of his work in Ljubliana is in that small area.

Plexnik’s house and the church next door. He was religious and got on well with the priest but no-one else

Interior of Plecnik’s house with uncomfortable chairs to discourage visitors (this one is also a self portrait) plus easy access to his coffee and the garden.

Finally of course a food tour with Jasmine – and I lucked out again as this time it ws only me on the tour. Lots of opportunity to sample local wine and local dishes in some interesting spots. I liked the soup below – meat and turnips and then you pour in the pumpkin oil. Sounds strange but it was very good indeed.

Romania – 6 day interior tour, part 2. The Maramureş Region – wooden monasteries, The Merry Cemetery, The memorial to the victims of communism and more ……

We continued driving through the Maramureş region in NE Romania with more gorgeous scenery at every turn and some awesome haystacks.

Roadside scenery and haystacks.

We visited a private house in Dragomiresti that has been turned into the Museum of the Peasant woman. I should say a “peasant woman” is not the derogatory term we might think as it is an honoured role with recognition that the women do almost everything – educate the kids, ferry them around, cook, clean, shop, grow vegetables etc etc. – nothing new here then…

The wooden house below was the museum and is designed in traditional style. The wooden rope carving is a symbol of the family sticking together and is repeated in the way dough is crossed and baked. The pole with the saucepans on it in front of the house indicates it has a lady ready to find a husband inside (as long as there is a pot at the very top!). The shawls are hand embroidered and specially for wrapping around icons.

Museum of the Peasant Woman House

We then moved on through the Carpathian Mountains of Northern Transylvania to the Bârsana monastery famous for its wood buildings. Wood is big in these parts and it is indeed heavily forested although some unscrupulous companies seem to be deforesting at a rate of knots – even in the national parks! Presumably the Romanian government turns a blind eye!?! Not good.

Below is where the priests and nuns live on the monastery grounds. Views and premises not too shabby.

Bârsana Monastery – Priests live in the first house and nuns in the second.

There are then various churches and shrines on the grounds all made from wood in traditional style. Just gorgeous – even on a cloudy and rainy day.

And the interiors of the Orthodox Church (Romanian Orthodox is more akin to Greek Orthodox whereas Bulgarian is more similar to Russian Orthodox) have the usual frescos telling stories but in a far simpler artistic style than the monasteries at Bucovina. Even the open staircase and the nails are made of wood as you can see bottom right.

Interiors of the wooden church in Borsana

In Bogdan Voda we saw the oldest wooden church right next to a much newer version – same style but I know what I prefer.

Oldest wooden church in Bogdan Voda

This area is famous for its large wooden gates which are placed at the external part of many houses leading to the front drive. Traditionally they has two doors – a narrow one for people and a wider one for animals.

Traditional Wooden Gates in Maramureş

Having seen so many it was great to meet the father (Toader Barson) and son team who design and make a lot of these both locally and for a worldwide audience too. Their fame has spread but they are down to earth people and it was fun to meet and and chat with them.

Meeting the woodworkers in Maramureş

Next stop was the Merry Cemetery in Sapinta started by Stan Ioan Patras who took on the ancient Thracian View that death was just another part of life so rather than be sad it was right to be Merry. As a result both the church and all the wooden tombstones are cheerful sleuth carved pictures and stories about those who have died. Some are quite funny. See if you can spot the difficult mother in law!

Local traditional clothing for the seasons at the Merry Cemetery Sighet

Colourful Wooden headstones at the Merry Cemetery

Every picture tells a story – not always flattering!

It is definitely stork breeding season and they seem to like poles in just towns. Great to see lots of chicks in the nests before they start their flying lessons.

Look what the stork brought

I didn’t realise the renowned Auschwitz survivor and and Nobel prize winner, Elie Wiesel was born in the nearby town of Sighet so made a quick stop at his house which is now a museum. No time to visit but glad I took a quick look.

Elie Wiesel memorial and his original home

Still in Sighet I visited the chilling Memorial to the Victims of Communism Museum houses in a former prison. Each prison cell is set up to explain about. A different aspect of the rise of communism and those who fought against it over the forty or so years it took its hold in Romania. Over two million were killed during that time. Another harrowing story of what humans can do to each other in the pursuit of power and control.

Memorials to the victims of communism and quiet area for contemplation

Powerful sculpture – Procession of the Sacrificed Beings – representing the desire to herd people to one way of thinking which is represented by a solid brick wall

That evening I overnighted at a homestay. I wasn’t sure what to expect but the house was huge – I had a bedroom, living room and en-suite and then enjoyed a home cooked meal. It was really fun and made a nice change from being in a hotel.

Traditional meat and vegetable soup with sour cream and a peck of pickled peppers (possible Peter Piper’s?); sammerle (stuffed cabbage): chicken with paprika and rice, colourful pickled vegetable and pancakes with home made cherry jam and more sour cream (homemade and so thick you could turn the dish upside down and it didn’t fall out!)

A really busy and long day but enjoyed seeing and learning new things.