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Author: Leigh (Bella) St John

Over 500 Bucket List Items – and more than half already checked off!

Today I checked off another two items on my bucket list – and that prompted me to go back through and take another look at not only what I still want to see and do, but also what I have already accomplished and checked off the list!

I am a great believer in deciding what you want, believing that you can and will have it, and then moving in the direction of that dream – even if you are not yet able to see exactly how it will all pan out…

That’s how I have been able to check off sooooo many amazing things in my Bucket List – that now has over 500 items on it – and more than half of which I have already checked off!

A great many people make comments such as, “oh, I have to add that to my bucket list!” but rarely do they actually do that – and without a list, without capturing that great thought, idea, place, or experience, it is often forgotten and thus never achieved…

When I found the above quote, it really resonated with me as that’s pretty much how I feel every day…

I would love for you to check out my Bucket List and let me know what you think?

Everyone can make excuses for not doing the things they want to do… and if you know me at all, you know I do my best to live by Yoda’s saying:

Do or do not – there is no try!

I would love it if my Bucket List can inspire even one person to take the leap, to step out of their comfort zone, and to do something they have always wanted to do…

Soooooo, I have but one question to ask you…

~ Bella

Lovely Majestic Hotel

It’s funny how different brands are represented differently in different countries.

In Australia Marriott is a premium brand,whereas in American it is a budget brand.  In America, Ramada is very often a budget accommodation, but here in Romania, it is a five star brand.

Anyway, I am recovering well (albeit slowly) from being Frogger-squished when I was hit by the car in Italy, and have found a FABULOUS massage guy who comes to my apartment a couple of times a week – but yesterday I was thinking that what I really need to aid my recovery in addition is a hot-tub and a heated pool…

To my infinite delight, I found both at the beautiful Ramada Majestic Hotel – and even better?  It is right across the road!  So, I packed up a case, walked across the road and checked in for a few days!

…and apart from the pool (that is wonderful and doing me a world of good!), the breakfast buffet is quite extraordinary!

…all inclusive for only 80 Euros per night!

…and I have come downstairs for an early dinner – this delicious meal is only $7.50 USD.

…and topped off with my favourite sparkling mineral water and a delightful Romania wine… (the rest of which I do not drink here they will magically transport up to my room…)

I have already decided that when I come back to Romania, I will be staying here instead of renting an apartment.

…and yes, I will be coming back!  I have not yet left, but am already looking forward to my return trip!

But, for now, I am sitting here enjoying my wine and the latest edition of “Country Life” – and all is well with the world…

 

Transfăgărășan Road into the Clouds and a 60′ Wall of Snow!

Before I get into the journey from Bucharest up into the Carpathian Mountains, I thought you might like a sneak peak at what a traffic jam looks like on the Transfăgărășan Road…

Being an avid “Top Gear” fan, I had seen the episode they did on what they termed the most amazing road in the world, the Transfăgărășan Road – but for some reason, forgot where it was until the other day I was exploring online and came across it and recalled it is actually in the Carpathian Mountains of Romania…

So, of course, I needed to do a road trip!  🙂

On this trip, as with the trip to the salt mines, I had a private tour guide – and he is soooo wonderful, I will write a separate post about Adrian and his Team before I leave Romania…

(and I need to point out right from the beginning – as I was scrolling through the photos to make notes, I kept thinking about how they sooooooo do not do justice to the majesty and beauty that we encountered)

Anyway, we left Bucharest reasonably early…

…and I have travelled to the other side of the planet, but still am haunted by Las Vegas!!!  (on Adrian’s keyring)

The Argeș River…

This building below is one of many, many now abandoned and dilapidated communist farming co-operative buildings…

…and of course, I had to buy some new clothes and a scarf!

This is the Cathedral of Curtea de Argeș and is stunningly beautiful…

Inside the Cathedral are buried the two favourite Kings of Romania and their Queens – Kings Carol I, and Ferdinand; and their Queens – Elisabeta and Maria (Queen Victoria’s grand-daughter).

Although the Queen’s actual name was Pauline Elisabeth Ottilie Luise zu Wied, the majority also knew her through her literary works under the name, Carmen Silva [Sylva].

In this photo below, you will see a red image on the wall and this is such a sad story…

During construction, everything they built by day was mysteriously ruined by night – every night!  Tormented by the fact that he couldn’t finish his construction, master Manole dreamed one night that the only way that he could complete his masterpiece was to offer a human sacrifice. After he woke up, he and his workers decided that the first person to arrive that morning on the construction site should be the one sacrificed.

Unfortunately, the first person to arrive was Manole’s pregnant wife, Ana who had awoken especially early to prepare her husband a lovely meal and bring it to him.

Undaunted but heart-broken, Manole enclosed his wife and unborn child into the wall, brick by brick… and construction continued…

Manole did not come away with his life either…  After he and his men managed to finish the construction King Neagoe Basarab liked it so much that he wanted to make sure that a construction like that would never be replicated and so he locked all the men in the attic of the building intending never to release them.

Using the only items they had available, Manole and his men tried to escape their captives by building wooden wings and intending to fly down to the ground safely…  Every man died in the attempt…

…and this is King Neagoe Basarab of Wallachia who ordered construction of the building and death to the workers who created it…

On this stall, I found Heaven!

I had no idea about the notion of eating pollen – nor the combination of eating pollen and honey…

Pollen is one of the most amazing super-foods on the planet and is higher in protein than even meat!  http://www.mercola.com/article/diet/bee_pollen.htm

To traditional and ancient beekeepers, the pollen represents the masculine and the honey the feminine – the pollen gives you the protein and the honey the carbohydrates…

Even modern medicine has done experiments and proven the effectiveness of the combination, far outweighing the benefit of either alone.  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20645809

…and when you combine them from the same hive…….  Magic!

As a side note, in addition to the pollen and honey I purchased from this woman, Adrian was able to find me some FRESH (as in not dried) pollen here and I now take a large teaspoon of pollen and a large teaspoon of honey – just as is – and the a couple of strawberries (as apparently there is something in the fibres of the fruit that kickstart the reaction…

…and I do this as many times as I feel the urge to during the day – sometimes just twice, sometimes as much as five or six times…

It’s amazing!

 

 

…and now we reach the beginning of the Transfăgărășan Road… and this sign says that the road is only accessible for 104km – you will find out why soon…

…and here we have the real Dracula’s castle, well, sort of…

From Atlas Obscura:  “The true Dracula, (Turk-impaling Prince of Wallachia as opposed to the sultry blood sucker) fell in love with Poenari Castle in the 15th century, and realizing its potential as a major stronghold with an amazing vantage point, consolidated and fixed up the crumbling fortress, making it one of his main places of residence. It’s said that his first wife, Jusztina Szilagyi of Moldavia, flung herself from the towers of Poenari during a siege by Vlad’s muslim brother, Radu Bey. Before flinging herself into the Arges River below, she exclaimed she would rather rot and be eaten by the fish than to be a captive of the Turks.”

…and if you look carefully below, you will see a couple of impailed peasants…

“Ceresit” is simply an advertisement for a concrete company…

…and this little critter decided to come and visit – which is apparently a sign of good luck!

These women are picking the very tips from the new growth on the fir trees.  The Romanians ferment it and then around Christmas time turn it into a drink…

 

 

 

 

There are little temples like this scattered all through the country on the side of the road…

…and despite this being the middle of summer, we come across our first snow… but that is NOTHING compared with what we find a little later on…

 

 

The squiggly lines you see is actually the road…

The railings are destroyed every year by the snow…

Only two weeks ago, this area was under tens of feet of snow…

See the concrete structure in the middle of the photo below?  That’s the tunnel through which we would normally drive!

The wall of snow you see in the picture below is where we would normally drive… but what’s even more amazing is that in around three weeks, it will all be melted!!!

The water from this natural fountain was soooo sweet and pure…….

 

…and our traffic jam…

This slogan appears a LOT through Romania…  “Basarabia e Romania” means Basarabia (the bulk part of Moldova and a minor part Ukraine) is Romania – as there is still a huge push to have Basarabia reunited with Romania.

Want cheap wifi?  That’s certainly what you get here!

…and then back to my favourite restaurant for a late supper… (and this photo does not even come close to doing this meal justice!)

Oh, and I managed to find the Top Gear episode about the Transfăgărășan Road online:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bORvyzgykqw

~ Bella

Romanian Salt Mines, Wineries, Mud Volcanoes and the Statue of Liberty!

…and the Statue of Liberty?  Yes!  Probably one of the last things I would have expected to see in Romania – but more about that in a moment…

I booked a private tour guide to take me exploring through some of Romania’s interesting sights and places and he was FABULOUS!  I will write a separate post about Adrian and his services before I leave Romania…

Anyway, we left Bucharest reasonably early in the morning and I love seeing the fields of poppies that just spring up all over the place…

This pair look soooooo cute!

While this below may look something akin to the Addams Family Mansion, it is actually a Gypsy mansion – and the names at the top are the people who live there…

The more I learn about the Romani people (gypsies), the more fascinating the subject becomes!

For instance, I didn’t realise that while most are Christian, they follow strict Hindi purity laws…  Here is some info on that from Wikipedia:  ”

This regulation affects many aspects of life, and is applied to actions, people and things: parts of the human body are considered impure: the genital organs (because they produce emissions), as well as the rest of the lower body. Clothes for the lower body, as well as the clothes of menstruating women, are washed separately. Items used for eating are also washed in a different place. Childbirth is considered impure, and must occur outside the dwelling place. The mother is considered impure for forty days after giving birth.

Death is considered impure, and affects the whole family of the dead, who remain impure for a period of time. In contrast to the practice of cremating the dead, Romani dead must be buried. Cremation and burial are both known from the time of the Rigveda, and both are widely practiced in Hinduism today (although the tendency is for Hindus to practice cremation, while some communities in South India tend to bury their dead). Some animals are also considered impure, for instance cats because they lick their hindquarters. Horses, in contrast, are not considered impure because they cannot do so.”

…and now we arrive at the Slanic Prahova Salt Mines…

…this little girl was so cute – she has obviously just learned to tie a knot and kept tying and untying her jacket – being very pleased with herself for each successful tie!  🙂

We board a…. errr…. ummm…..  kinda mini-bus of sorts…….

…and head off………..

…arriving at what looks like a disused nuclear waste facility………..

…and no, “inchideti usa” doesn’t mean American’s cannot enter – it means ‘close the door’…

…and then the ride began………..  going down and down and down at a ridiculous speed……….

…until we arrive at the caverns…….

…walk through the tunnel of doooooommmm…… not really, but it seemed to fit! 🙂

……through the door to who knows where……..

…and then……… oh, my goodness!

The galleries are over 180 feet high, we are 712 feet deep, and the temperature is a constant 12oC…….

Because of the purity and the composition of the sodium ion rich air, combined with the atmospheric pressure that is 18-20 mm Hg greater than that of the ground surface, the galleries have been used extremely successfully for more than 100 years in the healing of a range of respiratory challenges.

Also, due to the purity and stability of the micro-climate, many scientific experimental stations are set up within the galleries…

…this is actually a reflection…

Not just a place to explore, different galleries have been turned into football fields, basketball courts, and more…

…sculptures made from salt…

…and now we take the ‘interesting’ ride back to the surface…

This policeman had just finished taking a photo of this man posing in front of billboard for assault rifles…  but please do not get the impression that Romania is dangerous – it is one of the safest places I have ever been…  Will write another separate post on my thoughts about Romania – and how ‘free’ it is!  Seriously!  They have freedoms here that haven’t existed in most Western countries for generations…

…and now off to wine country…

…and along the way…  The Statue of Liberty!!!???

…and here, no signs of deer prancing across the road… here it is a prancing goat…

Welcome to LacertA Winery (pronounced la-cherta)…

The chief winemaker is pointing up to the ceiling…  Here, rather than pumping the liquid from one place to another, they use the force of gravity and simply have one level below the next…

…not such a bad way to while away a couple of hours……..

…and on our way again, we encounter a traffic jam…

These below are bee hives… and I have something fabulous to tell you about bees, honey and pollen when you get to my post on the Transfăgărășan Road!

 

 

…and so we arrive at the mud volcanoes…

…and don’t worry – the mud is cold…

From Wikipedia:  “As the gases erupt from 3000 metres deep towards the surface, through the underground layers of clay and water, they push up underground salty water and mud, so that they overflow through the mouths of the volcanoes, while the gas emerges as bubbles.”

 

 

…and so we leave the Berca Mud Volcanoes and head back to Bucharest…

…oh, and this is interesting…  These were built during the communist era, but rather than pull them down, the yellow you see is actually a high-tech coating that preserves the exterior and produces up to 50% reduction in energy loss!

…and back to what is now my favourite restaurant in the whole entire world… and it happens to be literally across the road!  …and for this incredible meal in a five-star, fine-dining restaurant, two large glasses of wine, one large bottle of sparkling mineral water – approximately thirty-five US dollars……!!!

~ Bella

 

 

Transylvania, Castles and more…

Oh my goodness gracious me…  I didn’t really have expectations before arriving in Romania – but even if I did, they would have all been blown out of the water…

I will give you a more in-depth response in a week or so when I update this post, but for now, know that I will be back – probably more than once – and I love this country!  I have made several new friends – find this to actually be the ‘free-est’ place I have ever experienced in soooo many ways – and feel like one month will not be enough to do it justice…

Anyway, here are the photos from my Transylvanian tour (including Peles Castle, Bran Castle and Brasov)…

It was lovely standing outside the Hotel Capitol watching Old Town Bucharest wake up and come to life…  We left reasonably early in the morning for what ended up being just over a 12 hour tour…

One thing I found fascinating was that almost every single house was like a mini-farm.  The Romanians are very self-sufficient and grow, make and produce the majority of what they need.

The gold roof on this building was soooooo incredibly bright and shining!  This photo doesn’t even come close to capturing the brilliance…

I know this photo is blurry, but this little boy was so cute – just standing beside the road waving to passing cars…

…and speaking of standing – they do a lot of that here!  Stand.  …and sit.  As for the standing – I haven’t quite worked that out – but the sitting…  There are seats outside most Romanian houses where the residents just sit – and people will visit and sit – and they chat – they exchange information, gossip, check in on each other – and move to another place to sit.

Life is lovely and slow here…

This building below is a now-defunct vehicle parts manufacturer.

…and now up to a world-class ski resort!

This, below, is Peles Castle.

From Wikipedia:  “Peleș Castle (Romanian: Castelul Peleș pronounced [kasˈtelul ˈpeleʃ] is a Neo-Renaissance castle in the Carpathian Mountains, near Sinaia, in Prahova County, Romania, on an existing medieval route linking Transylvania and Wallachia, built between 1873 and 1914. Its inauguration was held in 1883. It was constructed for King Carol I.

A personal property of the Royal Family from the beginning, Peleș Castle was quickly nationalized after the Communist coup d’etat on December 30th, 1947 that led to the illegal abdication of HM King Michael and his forced exile. After the King’s return in 1997, the castle was returned to the Royal Family after a long judicial case that has been finalised in 2007. However, the King expressed his desire that the castle should continue to shelter the Peleș National Museum, as well as being ocassionally used for public ceremonies organised by the Royal Family.”

The photo below – this is not a bookshelf, but rather a secret passageway…

I am never fond of these signs..!

…and now we enter Brasov to stop for lunch…

Leaving Brasov on our way to Bran Castle – that most people think of as Dracula’s Castle but it actually wasn’t (we will see Drac’s castle in another post on another trip)…

There are a lot of unfinished houses like this one below – but the main reason is not that they have been abandoned.  Rather that Romanians are allowed to build their own homes in their entirety – and many take a few years to complete…  They do the work themselves, with the help of family, neighbours…

…and here we have Bran Castle…

From Wikipedia:  “Bran Castle (Romanian: Castelul Bran; German: Törzburg; Hungarian: Törcsvár), situated near Bran and in the immediate vicinity of Braşov, is a national monument and landmark in Romania. The fortress is situated on the border between Transylvania and Wallachia, on DN73. Commonly known as “Dracula’s Castle” (although it is one among several locations linked to the Dracula legend, including Poenari Castle and Hunyad Castle), it is often erroneously referred to as the home of the title character in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. There is, however, no evidence that Stoker knew anything about this castle, which has only tangential associations with Vlad the Impaler, voivode of Wallachia, the putative inspiration for Dracula. As discovered by the Dutch author Hans Corneel de Roos, the location Bram Stoker actually had in mind for Castle Dracula while writing his novel was an empty mountain top, Mount Izvorul Călimanului, 2,033 metres (6,670 ft) high, located in the Călimani Alps near the former border with Moldavia. Stoker’s description of Dracula’s crumbling fictional castle also bears no resemblance to Bran Castle.”

Important note:  What hardly anyone knows is that just before I left Italy, I was hit by a car!  (Remember the ‘Frogger’ post that broke a bottle of wine?  It was about a week later that I myself was Froggered!).

Anyway, by the time we reached Bran Castle, I just was not up to going walking and exploring anymore so I sat at the bottom with a glass of wine and the following photos are thanks to lovely sisters from Missouri I met on the tour…  They agreed to take my camera and shot the following for me…

…meanwhile, this is where I was curled up…

…and so we leave Bran Castle and head back to Bucharest…

…and I thought it very fitting that I should see this sign just as we arrive home…

~ Bella

 

Bucharest’s Historic Casa Capsa

Sitting, working away on my balcony – I started to feel a little peckish so decided to get dressed and go out for dinner… literally across the road – to the historic Casa Capsa…

Whereas most places in Europe have designated hours for dinner, here in Bucharest many restaurants open from lunch, right through the evening without closing – fabulous for a girl like me who loves to have an early supper or dinner!

According to Wikipedia:  Casa Capșa is a historic restaurant in Bucharest, Romania, first established in 1852. … Capșa is not only associated with its exquisite pastry products, but also for a hectic literary life of yore… a welcoming place for Romanian writers where they could meet, talk and…associate.”

Again from Wikipedia:

In 1852, Anton and Vasile Capșa founded the first confectionery shop on Calea Victoriei, somewhat north of the present Casa Capșa, which was founded by their younger brother Grigore Capșa (1841-1902) in 1868.[1][2] Anton and Vasile had financed Grigore through four years of courses at the renowned Boissier in Paris, where he turned down an opportunity to become the supplier for the French Imperial Court.[3] The French-inspired confectionery of Casa Capșa soon established a continent-wide reputation. The business expanded in 1881 to a full-service restaurant, at a time when quality restaurants along Western European lines were still quite a rarity in Romania.[1][2]

In December 1916, during World War I, following the Battle of Bucharest and the occupation of the city by the Central Powers, the restaurant was requisitioned by troops of the Kingdom of Bulgaria‘s army. Reportedly, these left the place in a deplorable condition for an extended period of time.[4] Casa Capșa invented the all-chocolate Joffre cake in honor of a visit to Romania by Joseph Joffre after the war, and they were the first to introduce ice cream to the country.[2]

Interior of Casa Capșa

The coffee house, established 1891, was an important literary and artistic gathering place, but never turned a profit, “because the writers and artists who went there usually ordered mineral water and coffee and made them last for hours on end.” In contrast to the elegant restaurant and confectioner, the coffee house had simple, uncovered wooden tables. Tudor Arghezi referred to it as an “Academy”; one could make a literary reputation by reading one’s texts there. Actors also were among the regulars: at the time the Romanian National Theatre was nearly across the street, adjacent to the Terasa Oteteleșanu, now the site of the Palatul Telefoanelor.

When the Romanian Communist Party took power in 1948, they closed Casa Capșa. The restaurant operated during most of the communist era as the “Bucharest Restaurant”, regaining the Capșa name in 1984. It was at the Capșa that the poet Nicolae Labiș stood up in November 1956 and loudly recited Mihai Eminescu’s banned patriotic poem “Doina”; a few weeks later, after spending some time at the Capșa, Labiș was fatally hit by a tram, just a short distance away.

The In Your Pocket guide series describes it as having been “…the chosen venue for the beautiful people at the turn of the [19th] century…”  and sitting here listening to a Romanian-sounding Tom Jones filling the air, I can certainly relate…  I felt ever so elegant and lovely…

My choice this evening – Moldavian Stew with Polenta and Poached Egg…  Delicious!  (it was more delicious than it looks in this photo!)

…and I rarely do dessert, but I told the waiter I felt like chocolate, and nuts, and berries, and vanilla ice-cream…  so they created this especially for me!

Oh, and while this may seem to be a photo of something old and tattered – it is just the opposite…  This photo shows that the marble columns are real and not some mere painted fake…

I LOVED my evening here sooooo much, (and one cannot beat the price!), that I think I will be back most nights for dinner until I leave…

There is something ever so lovely about dressing for dinner and going to somewhere elegant – especially when it is LITERALLY across the road!

~ Bella

Farewell Italy, Hello Romania!

Yesterday I left Italy and headed to Romania for the next stop on my “Freedom Life” tour…

(oh, and it was a good thing I flew yesterday as today, Romanian air traffic controllers decided to go on strike to demand better working conditions).

Sitting at Ciampino Airport, it was interesting to see the armed guards patrolling the grounds…  Interesting, also, that there were not as many guards here as there were at Roma Termini each time I was there…

…and this may look like people relaxing in a park somewhere in the city – no, it’s just people waiting to check-in…

I flew with RyanAir and they were lovely – the entire process from check-in to arrival was wonderful.

Arrival at Bucharest…

I saw soooo many wonderful sights in the limo on the way from the airport – will peruse many of them again in the daylight, but this one was worth snapping on my phone as we passed…

…and as I settled in and checked my phone…  Bewitching hour!  🙂

View from my bedroom window…

View from my balcony…

…and funnily enough, I check my phone and it’s the daytime bewitching hour!  LOL!

It’s funny – the apartment itself is lovely – and the outside of the building is lovely – however getting from one to the other, is… well……….

…and I step through those rather ghastly looking doors to this……!

I guess they don’t like frizzy hair in Romania?

All these people (apart from the woman in the white jacket) was standing in line at the patisserie…

I have found my new writing pub while I am here…

…and a bookstore full of Isaac Asimov…  Love it!

Sooooo…….  So far so good!

~ Bella

 

Final day in Lido di Ostia

Well, after a fascinating stay of almost three months here in Italy, today is my last day before I relocate to Romania for a month.

…and what a gift – this morning there was a procession on the main street below, complete with flag-throwing!  I had only ever seen that in the movies – and in particular in one of my absolute favourite movies, “Under the Tuscan Sun”:

  • Patti: These are straight men.
  • Frances: In tights. Waving Flags.
  • Patti: Fantastic.
  • Frances: Yeah!

 

…and last night’s sunset…
Farewell, Italy…

Driving Holiday Along the Amalfi Coast in Italy

What an absolutely fabulous five days we had driving from Lido di Ostia down to Amalfi and Ravello, back up through Positano and Sorrento… (more items now checked off my Bucket List! http://luxuriousnomad.com/bucket-list/)

Our first stop after having picked up a rental car and leaving Ostia was Terracina, an ancient Roman ‘colonia maritima’.

Atop the impressive hill is the equally impressive Temple of Jupiter Anxur.

From there, the following day we drove down to Amalfi… (and the roads do not need elaboration – and yes, they were as ridiculous and squishy as they appear in the photos!)

Oh, and on the wall in the photo below, it says “MURAL NOT FOUND” – someone’s idea of a joke?

Quick stop for lunch…

Then, after two glorious nights in Amalfi, we headed north to Positano (I LOVE Positano!) and Sorrento…

Mount Vesuvius…

Then, for the last night of our trip, staying in the Grand Hotel Vanvitelli, in San Marco Evangelista.

Oh, and why a photo of the map?  Because rather than say “Carlo the third”, it kept saying “Carlo Eye Eye Eye”…  LOL!  It was very funny – ok, perhaps you needed to be there!  LOL!

…and finally back to the Leonardo da Vinci Fiumicino Airport…