Food, Glorious Food!

I know, I know, three months since my last post. Time slips by. The main cause for the pauses, you will probably not be surprised to hear is work – in various forms. For me blogging is not work – and inevitably suffers for that – sadly always ending up at or near the bottom of the ‘to do’ list along with ‘learn more Romanian’ and ‘check socks match’ – that last one a great improvement on the recent, thankfully short, phase of ‘check for trousers’.

But enough griping! For this post we take a visit to a new event in the ever evolving and morphing Cluj summer calendar – The inaugural 2016 Street Food Festival.

EF (4)The festival got under way on a Friday, but I didn’t visit until Sunday, thinking it would not be so  busy. Big mistake! On the Saturday a several day long spell of  stunning weather was broken by a tremendous thunderstorm and torrential downpour. Result; people reset their Saturday festival plans for Sunday.

So, on a beautiful summer Sunday, just after noon, I arrived at the entrance, with many other Clujians and visitors of all types and ages. The festival was occupying an area on one side of Cluj Arena, which itself lays at one end of Central Park. Ever a popular destination on a Sunday in any case, particularly for young families, the park was extra busy with a steady stream of erstwhile festival goers making their way through to the arena area.

Once inside, the mostly visiting food trucks, and more regular food stalls were arranged neatly along one side of the  broad tree lined avenue, with more randomly placed offerings on the other side.

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By the entrance, immediately on the left, was a ‘chill’ area – gaily coloured hammocks and large beanbags were scattered among trees, along with a few refreshment stalls, including one offering regional craft beers. This area of sun dappled grass offered a cooling respite from the press and heat of the festival area itself – there was even a DJ offering ‘chillaxing’ sounds, amazingly not too loud, that drifted through the trees and among the festival goers taking a break.

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EF (11)As you might expect the local ‘fixed’ suppliers – restaurateurs, bistro bars and such – wanted to be in on the act and a number of the stalls were representing these. But there were many food trucks – the vast majority of which I’d never seen before – and probably won’t again until the next festival. There was even a converted London red bus selling bespoke burgers!

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Wandering around the various stalls and trucks two things were obvious; people were enthusiastically embracing the opportunity to try something new, and there’s no point queuing too long for anything when there is so much choice!

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Of course being Romania, there had to be a stand promoting smoking; now that the law prohibits smoking in most premises, restaurants, cafes and public buildings an opportunity to peddle the product like this couldn’t be missed, and there it was – a Pall Mall stand. Needless to say in my native UK this would clearly not be allowed (literally – it’s illegal). Even if it was allowed basic Health & Safety requirements would at least mean a fire engine and medics be onsite at all times, visitors would probably be required to sit on Fire-Blankets – and possibly be offered psychological counselling…but I digress…

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We are coming to the end of this brief tour, but I’ll round off with just a few more pics and some off-piste offerings.

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My overall impression? A very good effort for a first try. I was a little disappointed with the range of food on offer – it could definitely have been wider. But generally Romanians are quite conservative in their food tastes I’ve found.

Looking ahead though, I expect this festival will be a regular summer calendar fixture from now on, and my experience here tells me that once a ball starts rolling – whatever it might be – the offer just seems to get better and better with each outing.

And with Cluj bidding for European City of Culture in 2020 I expect to see even more fresh ideas being tried out in the meantime…

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Posted in Cluj, Events, Food, Romania | 3 Comments

Join me for coffee @Roots!

DSC_0098 Those of you who hail from cities further afield, lets say in the UK or the USA, will be dimly aware of the preponderance of chain or franchise coffee shops – the main player being Starbucks of course.

And in my ‘home’ town – Manchester,  UK – you can literally stand at the door of a Starbucks and see the next one!

Well, here in Cluj there is just one such establishment. But, at the same time you can still pull the trick of standing at the door of a coffee shop and see the next one. The difference  here is that they are all – and I mean all – independents.

In fact I never seen so many coffee shops in one town in my life. Not only that, its as if Cluj is a free-for-all testing ground for coffee shop formats. You would not believe the varieties of ways would be coffee drinkers are enticed into these venues!

So, I’ve decided to take you on a journey of discovery, I’m going to visit as many coffee shops as I can and give you a short review of each one. I have a feeling this is going to be like painting a long bridge – by the time I get to what I believe is the last coffee shop new ones will have popped into existence – it’s that dynamic.

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We’re going to start with Roots, just a few minutes walk from the apartment, on Str. Eroilor (nr.4), near to Piata Unerii. Amazingly while it has only been open a couple of months there are others even newer close by!

Roots is quite narrow, maybe three to four metres wide, and long. On entering, to the immediate right, is a small alcove area offering a variety of preserves, cordials, wines and other food items not always found, or easily, in more regular outlets like supermarkets.

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In front of you a long counter runs away, almost to the full length of the café. The ceiling is vaulted, a lot of these premises were originally either used for storage, workshops or traditional retail shops, and beneath the now smooth, pale, plasterwork probably lays red brick.

And the ceiling is fairly high, probably 4.5m or so. The only natural light comes from the large window facing the street. Despite this the interior has an airy feeling, not oppressive at all.

The staff are warm and friendly and make suggestions as to what you might try. This is a Roots thing, they have two main blends on offer – a comfort blend and something a little more robust.

Your coffee arrives on a small wooden platter, with an accompanying spoon in a small glass, set in a little recess.

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But where is the sugar? Well, you do not get any with the coffee – but it is available on request. I never discovered why, but it is obviously another one of the Roots quirks.

Another small thing is that Roots appear to be unique in providing a glass of cool water to accompany your coffee.

This is actually rather nice as coffee of course dehydrates the drinker. In fact you can drink as much water as you like as refills are made regularly!

Anyway on this occasion I went for the comfort blend and sat in the window.

Most of the seating is in fact up at the long counter, though there are three tables at the back seating four each comfortably.

As well there are sweet snacks (cookies etc) to accompany your coffee – or a freshly made juice if you prefer.

Ever mindful of finding new places to work as alternatives to the apartment I tested the WiFi – download speeds were a quite reasonable 8Mbps (2Mbps uploads) testing to London with Ookla.

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And the price? 11 Lei for a latte appears at first glance to be a little on the expensive side for Cluj – but in Roots defence I have to say the coffees are larger than those served elsewhere – probably twice as big. So on balance it represents fair value I think.

If I was to be critical I would site the lack of power sockets for that bane of 21st Century life, device charging.

Beyond that small counterpoint Roots is a very pleasant experience in a light and contemporary space.

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Posted in Cafes, Cluj, Romania | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

‘Tis The Season To Be Foggy…

I don’t know how it happened but its Christmas again! Looking back I can only account for about four months of 2015, the rest has disappeared in what I’m calling the ‘Age Dilation Effect’. This is not currently recognised by science but is something that becomes apparent as the years stack up. At this rate a year will be reduced to a long weekend in the not to distant future, oh well, you have been warned!

While I still have a grip of sorts on time I thought to give you a quick trip around Cluj’s Christmas lights – albeit in the fog! The city seems to be suffering more than usual from fog this year, a bit like my own experience of the past twelve (really!) months.

Around six in the evening I took a walk down to Piata Unirii (Union Square) past the Orthodox Cathedral in Piata Avram Lancu and it’s lights – which are white this year.

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As for visibility, its about fifty metres, and chilly, but not really cold, maybe about three degrees (Celsius that is). From here it’s a five minute walk along Bulevard Dul Eroiler to Unirii. Here are a few images of Eroiler.

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As last year the city has placed a large light canopy over the centre section of the square. It looks wonderful, emerging as it does out of the fog.

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Around the canopy is a Christmas market and an ice rink. The market stalls sell hot food, drinks like mulled wine – Vin Fiert – in Romanian, other locally produced food and traditional toys and gifts. There is something for everyone and every taste for sure!

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Or maybe your thoughts are running to a spot of ice skating? The rink’s timber base is built from scratch each year in early December, then the surface is laid and frozen over a number of days, it stays in place until January and is very popular…

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One particular stall sells (real) fur hats and hails from Moldova, I know ‘cos I had a chat with the owner at a previous market a while back. Some of the hats are made from seal skin – others from critters of the mountains and forests, of which there is a great deal here.

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By the way, if you are wondering what Castane Prajite’ means, it’s actually for the next stall – roast chestnuts!

Of course Piata Unirii is also home to the Catholic St. Michael’s Cathedral. It was looking suitably mysterious shrouded in the fog.

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A popular store in Cluj is ‘Moldovan‘, it’s a kind of delicatessen but also sells high quality fresh as well as traditional prepared or smoked meats of various kinds. This year Moldovan brought along a custom food stall to the market.

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Romanians have a great love of preserves – in the UK we call it ‘pickling’ – a habit here that stems from harder times I think. Its great that the traditions are kept well and truly alive with a number of stalls selling preserves. Other stalls are satisfying a similar love of pastries and biscuits (cookies), smoked meats and sausages, whatever your fancy, it’s here!

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This was a discovery for me – see the slabs of white stuff at the front of the stall in the image above? That’s pork fat. Very traditional. One of the ways it’s eaten is with the national Hooch – distilled from plums – called Palinka, not a drink for the faint hearted. I’ve mentioned this before but Palinka will put hair on places it has no right to be – and it’s gender neutral…

Here are a few more images from around the market…

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So that’s about it. I’ll finish with a few more images from around the square. But before I go – if you’d like to get email alerts for updates to An Englishman Goes To Transylvania! click the Follow button top right – Thanks for reading and a Happy New Year to you all!

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Posted in Christmas Lights, Christmas Market, Cluj | Tagged , , , | 8 Comments

Ethno What Now?

DSC_0558OK, let’s get this out there straight away. Before arriving in Romania I’d no recollection of ever  hearing the word ‘ethnographic’ before. Or if I had the information got pushed out of my brain-space to make room for something deemed more important like ‘is it possible to eat too many bananas in one go’. I know, important stuff right? We all have to make choices on what we hang on to.

It turns out that ethnography is loosely related, and often confused with, anthropology. Here’s the difference in a nutshell; ethnography is a method, a way of doing things. Whereas anthropology is a discipline – the study of the origin, behaviour and physical, social, cultural development of humans. Ethnography is employed in anthropology.

No need to thank me right now, but I had to read a whole bunch of stuff to give you that pithy explanation.

Getting straight back to the here and now though, just outside Cluj is a wonderfully sprawling outdoor Ethnographic museum. Founded in 1929 the open air part – Romulus Vuia – is partnered with an indoor exhibition at Reduta Palace, founded in 1922.

On a recent, incredibly sunny afternoon in late September, I visited Romulus Vuia with a friend. So let’s move on to some photos.DSC_0556 DSC_0452 DSC_0430So, no prizes for guessing that this is a museum of buildings. Buildings that originated from numerous locations across Romania. Examples span hundreds of years, starting in the late 17th Century to early 20th.

And these are not reproductions. They are original structures representing many different aspects of living. From mills to farming, metal working to weaving. There are examples of wooden churches and public meeting places, all dismantled in their original locations, transported to Romulus Vuia and then lovingly rebuilt and filled with the relevant furniture and trappings of everyday life

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Entrance to the park is for nothing, almost. Actually it’s about £2 ($3, E2.7). A bargain I might add. Once inside you are free to roam. Attendants are constantly wandering around with sets of keys for the various buildings. On spotting visitors they will unlock a nearby building inviting the curious to step inside. From there the attendants often lead the way to the next building and so it goes.

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Some of the dwellings have working orchards and fruit and vegetable gardens to add to the realism. What was also fascinating for me was the simple yet incredibly robust building methods employed. A good example was how on properties from a certain region the boundary fence was woven from something like willow and was about a metre thick, flexible but incredibly strong I’m sure. And one of the churches had a wooden main door lock, with a ratchet and key. See the images below
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Gates and fences also feature heavily in Romanian dwelling designs throughout this period. In fact many modern era residential properties have big high gates and fences. I initially thought it was to do with security but was informed, to my surprise, that is was more to do with showing off!

The bigger and fancier your gate and fence, but mainly your gate, the more status you had (have?). It’s hard to believe the original notion still stands, maybe it’s just become ‘a thing’. Here are a few examples for you…

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So, that’s about it. I’m going to finish with some more external and interior shots from the rest of the museum. On some of the interior shots you’ll see the Romanian country version of an Arga.

These huge, usually all white,  ovens look to be of stone or possibly clay brick (fire brick?) construction. They seem to have multiple levels, shelves possibly, and also to have  multiple ovens. I suspect they were used for heating, cooking-baking and drying things. I’d like to give you some proper detail but despite some vigorous Google bashing I really could not find any decent information…

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Before the final image; If you’d like to get email alerts for updates to An Englishman Goes To Transylvania! click the Follow button top right – Thanks for reading!

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Posted in Cluj, Places, Romania | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Cluj Days!

As we move in to the summer months there are events in and around the town almost weekly. In the next few weeks there is the international film festival week, TIFF. After that the Cluj Never Sleeps weekend. Then we have Jazz In The Park, over a long weekend.

But this weekend just gone was the annual Cluj Days, a celebration of everything Transylvanian.  There were parades featuring historical societies, sports teams, the arts and who knows what else ‘cos I didn’t get to see everything by a long shot.

Street markets spread around the town centre featured local food producer stalls, clothing, jewellery, arts & crafts and books etc.

In Piata Unirii during the afternoons and evenings there was a mix of traditional and modern music, all attended by a very decent crowd.

I walked in to town early Saturday afternoon and caught a few of the parade entries before moving on to the market. I particularly liked these performers – unfortunately I couldn’t find out who they represented – but their costumes and performance were quite mesmerising, drawing an interested crowd of young and old. Here’s a few images for you…

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Other standout parade participants were historical re-enactment societies, popular here, in their fine costumes. They were a very enthusiastic and vocal bunch, covering several hundred years of history (I think). However it must be said I would not be at all good at a ‘name that costumes era’ type quiz…

DSC_0004 DSC_0005 DSC_0002There was much more in the parade, too much to cover it all here sadly. I decided to move on then to the markets. One was in Piata Avram Lancu, in front of the Orthodox Cathedral. Here are a few images from there…

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There was also a guy with a stall selling really amazing whistles that sounded like bird song when you blew them They were made of pot and brightly coloured…

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This next image is of a stall selling distilling equipment, something taken very seriously here. I’m pretty sure every family can boast several producers, each bringing their own spin to the craft!

There are two very distinct ‘home brew’ spirits in Romania țuică (sounds like ‘sweeker’) , a type of brandy, and palincă. The former – țuică – is quite often aged in oak barrels where it takes on a yellowish hue. Both are very powerful, made from plums.

However, palincă (sounds like ‘palinker’) can also be made from other fruits, mainly pears and apricots. Each have a distinct taste and character. Either will put hair on a billiard ball.

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Now, here’s a Romania factoid – it has a lot of woodland and forest. In fact over 25% of Romania’s land area is covered in woods and forests, that’s six and a quarter million hectares (15 million acres) and 96% of it is publicly owned.

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Species covered range from oak hardwoods to Norway spruce softwoods and everything in between including  a well regarded Romanian Cherry. So you can imagine a lot of stuff gets made from wood and offered in the markets. I can’t show everything but here are some carved items and more general purpose products…

However, all is not well in Romanian forestry with illegal logging now a major problem. And large-scale forest clearing has increased dramatically since 2000 when Norwegian companies, particularly the Schweighofer Group were given permission to begin commercial logging operations.

 

There have been a number of investigations and new government legislation is aiming to curtail the worst offenders.

Before we get to the food market I’ll finish with a final selection of images from the street markets and a quick stop on the way at some participation art at the junction of Eroiler and Piata Unirii.

This crowd sourced event invited anyone to paint whatever they liked on a 30 cm square of wood-board.

The results were laid out to dry before being attached to the multi-sided structure that rose about five meters and had several sides for mounting on.

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The results were very colourful with themes ranging from religion, to thoughts about freedom, not forgetting a tip of the hat to just about every social trend and cultural meme of recent times in between!

It made me wonder whether an analysis of all the contributions might yield insights into the mind state of Cluj citizens? Yes, I really said that- now you know I’m crazy.

DSC_0044So we finish with a few images from the ready to eat food market area. This was on St. Mihai Kogainiceanu and featured many different cuisines, all at very reasonable prices.

I mention prices because going to something like this in the UK will leave you feeling somewhat groggy from what I call Open-Wallet-Surgery, usually requiring a lie down afterwards.

Surprisingly here everything is reasonably priced. I can tell you it’s a bit of a shock for us Brits.

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A final few pics. I met a Romanian friend at the food market, who promised an explanatory tour of what was on offer. One of our try-outs was beer sausages accompanied by beer, yes my friends, perfection in this world is possible – if only fleetingly.

But, amid the noise of multiple conversations around us, I noticed a quietness. Glancing around I spotted the source, a group of mime artists on a break. Dedication to their performance art extended to the dinner table! I managed to get just one shot of this rare moment, worried I might startle them.

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And these last two are of a glass blower demonstrating his skills to an interested crowd. They were packed so closely around him I only managed to get a shot of his gas flame, I just like the colours…

DSC_0052 DSC_0051There you have it! Those of you in the know will be saying “Cluj Days was nearly a month ago!” and of course they are right. Unfortunately I’ve struggled to find the time to get this blog out, but managed finally in the end – note to self – must try harder!

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Posted in Cluj, Events | Tagged , , , , , , | 6 Comments

If These Walls Could Talk!

In Europe the currents of history tend to run deep. So it’s no surprise that Cluj’s own timeline stretches back a ways. A couple of millennia or so ago, before the slow motion road-crash that is the European Union was conceived, a Greek geographer Claudius Ptolemy (AD 85 – 165) recorded a settlement here, it’s name now lost in the chaos of the intervening time-stream.

Then, around AD106, the Roman’s arrived with some very fancy ideas for the time and imposed a new, catchy name; Municipium Aelium Hadrianum Napoca. Now, why would you want to change that, ever?

Eventually though something closer to it’s current name appeared,  around 1213 it was called Castrum Clus.

Move forward to the 13th Century and the town was enclosed within a substantial defensive wall with Bastions. Sadly, in an act of what can only be called cultural vandalism, the majority of the wall, and the bastions, were demolished in the early part of the 20th Century.

But all was not lost! Some sections remain. So I thought I’d take you on a short, largely photographic journey, between the two main surviving wall sections.

We start here, in the south-east corner of the citadel at The Tailor’s Tower, named after the Tailors’ Guild who took care of, and guarded, this part of the city when the bastion was built in the 15th Century. Over the centuries the defences were added to, eventually containing 18 bastions that also acted as controllable points of access.

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From here we go west-ish down Str. Mihail Kogalniceanu. The first building of significance we come across on the left is the Franciscan church, constructed with the aid of a generous donation from the then king, Mathias Corvinus (1458 – 1490), who was born in Cluj. A statue dedicated to Corvinus stands in Piata Unirii.DSC_0123During this period, such was the recognition of its urban, economic, political, spiritual and cultural values that the town became known as the “Treasure City“.

The church has recently been undergoing major renovation, not quite finished, but here are a few highlights…DSC_0021 DSC_001313 DSC_002020
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Being a big university town (60,000 plus students) many buildings are connected with the various institutions, and so it is on Mihail Kogalniceanu. Here are some of them along the way…
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In my personal view though the gem on Mihail Kogalniceanu is this one…
DSC_00222This Art-Deco style theatre, designed by George Cristine (Bucharest) and constructed between 1935 and 1937 was inaugurated by King Carol II. It is part of the Babes U. (UBB) campus and continues to be in regular use by amongst others the Cluj Philharmonic Orchestra

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Continuing we now cross Str. Universitatii, jink left and re-join the wall on Str. Potaissa passing another UBB building on the corner with some very nice brickwork in evidence…DSC_0033 So now we are on the final stretch as we continue down Potaissa…
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A final view, looking back…
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So there you have it! I hope you enjoyed our little walk. The distance from the first wall remnant in the south-east of the Citadel to this one in the south-west is 0.77km (0.48m). It must have been quite a formidable site and deterrent when it was complete and functioning, now of course imagination is required to fill the sadly missing gaps.

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Just Passing Through

Over the Christmas period I took a break from Cluj life, returning to England to spend some much needed time with friends and family. So, in a break from my usual Cluj fare I’m going to take you on a little journey with me, following my route back to my home county of Lancashire, via a short stay in London.

Traveling from Cluj to the UK is not a journey fraught with choice. There’s only one direct route; to London’s most northerly airport – Luton. The “Luton Experience” as I fondly refer to it, is a fair example of all that has gone wrong with modern air travel. Obviously it’s not alone in this but as an older airport Luton seems to encapsulate the essence of the problem. The crowds, the queues, oppressive security, overpriced everything, lack of seating, overused facilities and finally – why can’t I hear anyone speaking English? Blah, blah, blah.

And I could go on, in fact if you were here in person I would – people who know me will be nodding their heads sagely in agreement and thinking – thank God I’m not there in person, he can really go on… Anyway all I wanted to do was get out! And that’s why there are no photographs!

Having arranged to stay with a friend, Paula, for a couple of nights I hopped on the shuttle bus to the nearest railway station – Luton Parkway. This shuttle is a “bendy” bus, they pivot in the middle. Be assured, at 7:45 in the morning you don’t want to be on a bus where when you stand in the middle – everybody avoids it so for some reason I always end up there – the front and back view continually twist about, completely dis-orienting you on the winding airport service roads. It’s like being in a spin dryer with strangers – an experience I’m normally prepared to go to extra lengths to avoid.

Anyway let’s get started!

Most everyone likes a nice animal photo so I’m going to start with one. Meet Roger, Paula’s little friend. He’s very cute and let me, actually I had to use a zoom lens, take this photo of him relaxing in Paula’s kitchen.

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Roger Wishes He’d Ticked The ‘No Publicity’ Box

Once I was settled in with Paula I had to make tracks back into London almost immediately. The whole reason for my London stopover was to meet my good friends from San Diego, Debbie and Steve. They had been vacationing in Europe and were passing through London on their way back home to California.

We hadn’t seen each other for two years and went all out to get together on this date, the 17th of December, the only point of crossover we had. I arrived at their hotel at 2pm and after hugs all round we set off for some back street exploring and then dinner.

We visited a couple of Victorian shopping arcades, the first on Old Bond Street. The Royal Arcade opened in 1879, this and other London arcades are widely regarded as the first true examples of shopping malls.  The very first was opened in 1816 on Piccadilly – The Burlington Arcade. For the curious Piccadilly got it’s name from a type of clothing collar; the piccadill, sold in the area. Consumers flocked to the select tailors, corsetieres and jewellers around Piccadilly and our love affair with shopping began!

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Royal Arcade – Old Bond St. London

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Burlington Arcade North, Piccadilly, London

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Burlington Arcade South, Piccadilly, London

Xmas Decorations Off Carnaby St.

Xmas Decorations Off Carnaby St.

After much walking we made it to dinner. Steve was determined to have traditional Fish & Chips before returning stateside so after some Googling his wish came true. After, we took a slightly more leisurely walk back to their hotel and following more hugs all round,  I left them with a promise to visit San Diego in the  near future…

The next night I had a rendezvous with another friend I hadn’t seen for even longer – Pam – who I’d last seen some ten years ago. We were meeting in the early evening at a restaurant, The Archduke, on the south bank of the Thames near the Royal Festival Hall.

I arrived a couple of hours early because I wanted to walk down the Thames’ south bank and take photos. I had a plan to head for Southwark’s Borough Market, which I’d read about and sounded interesting.

The first thing that caught my eye was this art installation, painted on a first world war battleship, HMS President, by Victoria Embankment.DSC_0336 This temporary art work by German artist Tobias Rehberger takes it’s inspiration from a style of optical distortion used extensively during the First World War called ‘dazzle painting’.

Originally devised by British artist Norman Wilkinson and supervised by vorticist artist Edward Wadsworth, the camouflage technique incorporated bold shapes and strong contrasts, aimed to confuse rather than conceal

The sun was just beginning to set when I passed The Globe Theatre and noticed the tide was out. Here you can see the exposed river bank and in the distance, above the red building, the OXO tower, home of the eponymously named OXO restaurant with it’s wonderful views across the Thames.DSC_0335The night swept over pretty quickly after this shot, within twenty minutes it was almost dark, or what passes for darkness here at least! I’d arrived on the edge of Southwark, with the market just a few minutes away.

London's Newest Bit of Skyline - The Shard

London’s Newest Bit of Skyline – The Shard

Just a few minutes before reaching the market this nice contrast between old and new hove into view – The Old Thameside Pub – and the glass towers of the City of London on the north bank.DSC_0340Then, a short walk away from the river brought me to the market itself.

Borough Market is housed under a glossy green Victorian cast-iron frame with specialist producer stalls lining the narrow entrances leading in from the narrow streets around the periphery.

Staggeringly the market has been in Southwark (though not it’s current location) for about a thousand years, that’s right – a millennium – opening for trade for the first time in the 13th Century having moved from what was then London Bridge!

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At Borough Market – Being Stalked By The Shard

The streets surrounding the market are full of interesting bistro’s, restaurants and speciality foods shops of every imaginable kind. There’s also a micro-brewery called Brew Wharf. Unfortunately I’d arrived a bit late for the market itself so I’ll just give you a few photos from the surrounding, atmospheric, streets.DSC_0346

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An Upstairs Dining Room

At this point I was beginning to run a bit short on time so headed back along the embankment for my get together with Pam.

On the way I dropped by Hays Galleria, named for it’s original owner merchant Alexander Hay. Now refurbished and re-purposed, in 1650 it was a brewery, then around 1840 it was converted into a wharf (dock). During the 19th Century it was one of the main delivery points for imported leaf tea and is certainly today an amazing site.

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Hay’s Galleria, Southwark, London

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Hays’s Galleria – The Navigators – Sculpture David Kemp

During what was becoming a brisk walk as time was marching on I took a few more night-time shots. I was heading back towards the Royal Festival Hall, passing a number of atmospheric (well I thought so) scenes that I thought might turn out to be interesting photos – you decide.

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Tower Bridge

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HMS Belfast

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New London Bridge

 

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Millennium Bridge To St. Paul’s Cathedral

London Eye From South Bank Xmas 2014

London Eye From Royal Festival Hall

A Wintery Dusk - Houses Of Parliament

A Wintery Dusk – Houses Of Parliament

With just a few minutes to spare I made it to The Archduke, a wine bar and restaurant built into an arch under Hungerford Bridge, for my get together with Pam.

Not seeing someone for at least ten years, and having a time limit, tends to lend a sense of urgency to a conversation I can tell you! Pam was as delightful as I remembered but tight on time. Having to meet her hubby Pete for drinks with friends later meant we had just a couple of hours, but we applied ourselves to the task at hand, managing to eat something, drink wine and gasbag – a lot – so as you might imagine, time had wings.

Parting, we resolved not to leave it so long before getting together again, I really do hope that’s the case.

So, I made my way back to Paula’s in south London, arriving there about 10pm. She had spent the day indoors, other than walking Roger, and we gravitated toward the dining table, me, Paula, her daughter Betty and a bottle of wine – with Roger snoozing quietly under the table – a delightful end to a lovely afternoon and evening.

The next morning, after a restful night, I headed off to the centre of London again, this time to catch the train from Euston to Manchester. Paula – a perfect host I might add – kindly dropped me at her local station and we said our farewells, promising to stay in touch.

I decided to swing by St. Pancras station as I love the renovation job that was done there. I particularly like the huge bronze statue by sculptor Paul Day at one end of the concourse, depicting a couple in the act of either parting or arriving, who knows…

Close up of embracing couple St Pancras station

St. Pancras – The Meeting Place – Paul Day

Inside Renovated St Pancras Station

St. Pancras Shopping Concourse From Eurostar Level

And so north I went! The service to Manchester is operated by Richard Branson’s Virgin Trains and as usual it left on time. Journey time for the 250 mile (402km) journey? Two hours and ten minutes – enough time to relax a little and take in the scenery on what was turning in to a very cold period, for England anyway!

Arriving in Manchester I was greeted by a very frosty scene, so I wasted no time getting to my final destination, Whalley (pronounced ‘wall-e’). I was going to be spending most of my time at Brian’s, my sister’s father-in-law who very kindly picked me up from the station. I was ready for a cup of tea at this point!

After a quiet night I awoke to this scene from my bedroom window – a bit frosty!

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Frosty View From Bedroom

Anyway, that’s enough of my yacking! Suffice to say I spent the following week visiting friends and family, catching up with events and generally chilling.

I’ll leave you with a set of photos of various places I visited as I travelled around in my trusty Mini Cooper – big thanks to Brian for looking after it! On my first morning back I was able to get in it, start up and drive away; perfect!

Here’s the gatehouse of Whalley Abbey, a few minutes from Brian’s house in Whalley.

Whalley Abbey gate house (I'm staying in Wahlley)

Whalley Abbey Gatehouse (14 Century)

I met good friends Rowena & John at the Assheton Arms in Downham for a very pleasant lunch.

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My Mini Outside Downham Village Church

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Cottages At Top Of Main Street, Downham Village

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Assheton Arms, Downham

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Main Bar, Assheton Arms, Downham

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Pendle hill From Assheton Arms, Downham

Here’s a shot of Clitheroe Castle, looking towards Pendle Hill, famed for the Pendle Witch Legend!

Clitheroe Castle At dusk

Clitheroe Castle And Pendle Hill As Dusk Approaches

Here’s a few photos of the very quaint Barnoldswick Town Square.

Town Square

Barnoldswick Town Square Looking Towards House Of Flowers

Barnoldswick Town Square (Albert Road end)

Barnoldswick Town Square (Albert Road end)

Bench In Memory Of My Partner- Gail Usher

Bench In Memory Of My Partner- Gail Usher – Who Was a Superb Florist

St Mary-le-Ghyl

St Mary-le-Ghyl Church, Barnoldswick

A wonderful afternoon was spent here at The Angel At Hetton with friends Mellissa & John plus Rowena & John. We had a fantastic traditional English roast-beef Sunday lunch in front of a roaring fire and gasbagged for hours, sublime…

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The Angel At Hetton

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Main Bar, Angel At Hetton

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Angel At Hetton – Night-time!

Pendle Hill is a place to see wonderful sunsets looking toward the Fylde coast…

Dusk From Pendle Hill

Dusk On Pendle hill

Finally, people who know me well are aware I like to cook and bake. For Christmas day I was tasked with supplying a desert so I made this –  a merengue roulade with autumn fruits, the fruit lays on a bed of whipped cream, it’s all very wholesome.

But it was almost a disaster as the first merengue wouldn’t rise , luckily I’d planned for a retry – the second one was spot on and proved very popular.

I needed some help with the rolling and Brian stepped in – that’s his hand!

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Rolling The Merengue – The Tricky Part

 

Roulade, Rolled And Dusted With Icing Sugar

Autumn Fruit Merengue Roulade, Rolled And Dusted With Icing Sugar

Anyway that’s it! I realise this was a bit long but what the hey, sometimes there’s more than others…

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The Year Has Drawn To a Close

Oh dear, where has the time gone! I’m writing this entry on the first day of 2015 having not written for a few months. I decided that the new year was a good point to re-boot my efforts. So, for 2015, expect more – I know, it’s great, right?

Anyway, back in early December I started to notice increasing activity in Piata Unirii, preparations seemed under way for various special events and activities. A look on the town’s website suggested that a spectacular light canopy was going to be erected over the square.

This is my first time in Cluj at Xmas so I’ve no idea whether this is a regular thing or not but I was looking forward to seeing it for sure.

I do recall when I arrived back in January 2014 I saw an ice rink and a Xmas market in Unirii and sure enough, as December progressed, the construction of this year’s rink and market began.

I went into Unirii to record some of the preparations…

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Top Of The Light Canopy

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Light Canopy Bolted To Concrete Blocks

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Xmas Lights In Place

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Nice Big Studs Holding The Pillars

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Frost Covered Xmas Tree Goes Up – Around 15m (45ft) High

The lights were switched on officially on the evening of a national holiday here in Romania. The holiday, on December 1st, is called Grand Union Day or Unification Day, and celebrates the joining of Transylvania with Romania in 1918.

That night I joined a group of friends in the square which was very well attended, though the weather was horrible. The only solution was drinks and cakes at a patisserie on Eroilor, very sensible I thought!

Canopy Lights Up Dec 1st!

Canopy Lights Up Dec 1st!

Xmas Tree From Under Canopy

Xmas Tree From Under The Spectacular Canopy

But the lights were not restricted to Union Square. They stretched all the way down Bulevar Du Eroilor to the Orthodox Cathedral in Piata Avram Lancu, where the area around the fountain was transformed with colourful light installations, the effect was quite magical.

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Lights Along Blv. Eroilor

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Along Eroilor

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Strollers Along Eroilor

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Lights Along Str. Eroiler

I recall commenting to a number of friends that had I experienced it as a young boy I’d probably have never wanted to leave! And in fact night after night parents brought their young children to Piata Avram Lancu, and the wonder on their faces, bright eyed at the enchanting scene, was something that sticks in my mind.

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Lights in Piata Avram Lancu

DSC_0174 DSC_0175 DSC_0179 DSC_0182 DSC_0187Throughout December the Christmas market in the square proved popular. The vendors were offering everything from handmade fur hats to regional delicacies and small producer food stuffs to hand crafted toys, pottery, ceramics, jewellery, furniture and clothes. And of course mulled wine ‘vin fiert’ was widely available throughout the many cafes and bars around the square.

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I arrived around a quarter to midnight and on the stroke of 2015 all the lights were extinguished and the fireworks, light show and music began.

There were thousands of people, parents and their children. They were out to welcome in, amongst other things, the start of the cities year as European Youth Capitol. No doubt it will be an interesting year packed with many special events and moments, planned or otherwise!

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Spot The Chinese Lantern! Well I Like It!

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It only remains to wish you all a Happy New Year, and whatever happens, find time to laugh – preferably with friends! I’m planning on many changes for myself in 2015 so let battle commence!

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Castle Coltesti in Alba

Not having a car here has naturally focussed my attention on Cluj but occasionally there are opportunities to get out of town for the day.

One such came this last weekend when our friends Sorana & Tony invited us to join them on a day out. We set off first thing on a lovely Saturday morning heading up and south out of Cluj valley toward Turda – home of the salt mine I’ve previously blogged about – and the region called Alba.

Within half an hour we’d turned off the main road on to what we Brits would call a ‘B’ road. Here in Romania this is where the fun begins because the quality of the surface on these roads varies greatly. Smooth stretches are interrupted by patched sections with seriously large pot-holes that have to be navigated around.

Not long after the ladies were in need of a comfort break so we pulled in to a small hotel – where previously our friends had stayed for a few days – suggesting to the staff that we’d be back for lunch. The hotel, with rooms at around 170LEI (£34),  is set in a beautiful wooded valley with a church and seminary opposite. DSC_0016 DSC_0063 DSC_0018From there we drove on to the quaint village of Rimetea (1999 winner of the Europa Nostra award) with it’s picturesque Orthadox church in the centre and the spectacular backdrop the “Rock of the Szeklers” – part of the Trascau mountains. DSC_001919First mentioned in the history books in 1257 the village, as it turned out,  was having it’s annual village fete! And, as the villagers largely are of Hungarian descent, the flavour – literally – was, well,  Hungarian. In a courtyard off the village centre we joined the locals and visitors for a steaming bowl of freshly prepared veal Goulash (I’ve been told the ‘L’ is actually silent) with potatoes and a sweet pickled cabbage. It was so good Tony and I decided to try the lamb version! DSC_0065 Opposite the courtyard was a small village hall where what I’m assuming was the local youth orchestra struck up the Hungarian National Anthem and proceedings, for a respectful couple of minutes, came to a halt .DSC_0068 After eating we had a short walk around the village, spotting this tiny chapel in the basement of someone’s house, then headed off to the castle – just a few minutes away.DSC_0069

DSC_0070 The castle, atop a limestone bluff to the west of the next village – Coltesti – was built toward the end of the 13th century by the Thorocsay family, with the help of the surrounding villages to provide protection against the Ottomans. DSC_002626

DSC_0057Two towers were constructed above very steep rocky slopes forming a natural defence. Connected by a walled yard, one was used as living quarters, originally consisting of five stories, but is now a ruin. DSC_003232 DSC_004141 DSC_0034 DSC_0033 DSC_0031

The other was a 20 meter high dungeon tower and it’s walls have stood the test of time surprisingly well, though the roof and floors have collapsed. DSC_0035 DSC_0036

Other buildings were added in the 15th and 16th centuries though soon after it was partially destroyed during an Austrian attack in 1702. On that occasion many of the walls were blown out and Colesti village was set ablaze.

Fast forward a few centuries and, scrabbling around in the dungeon tower, Tony came across a GeoCache. I later found it had only been stashed away in June this year – well spotted Tony!

It only remains for me to express my thanks to our friends Sorana and Tony for sharing their day with us – thanks guys!

That’s it for this post – I’ll leave you with some of the surrounding views, and a few smaller things that caught my eye…DSC_005656 DSC_0054 DSC_0046 DSC_0040 DSC_0042 DSC_0025 DSC_0048 DSC_0053 DSC_0051

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Nice Day For a White Wedding!

Through the spring and summer months Saturdays in Central Park here in Cluj are dominated by wedding ceremonies, conducted in the Gazebo (see 60 degree view) by the lake. GN first made me aware of this totally charming occasion after being invited to a wedding of a work colleague a couple of weeks ago. My interest was piqued, and as your intrepid Blogger, I decided to get down there and report back!

So, this weekend, after a quick breakfast I headed down to the main entrance on Str. Emil Isac, about a half hour walk from the apartment. It’s directly opposite Teatrul Maghiar de Stat (Hungarian Theatre) and on what was a beautiful Saturday morning at around 10:30, I found myself at the strangely quiet, tree lined avenue leading in to the park. DSC_0001

After a few minutes walk however, towards the Old Casino (see 360 degree view), lake and pavilion, I spotted increasing numbers of very well turned out ‘strollers’ – wedding guests! – I soon realised wedding parties must arrive early, but then wander about while waiting their turn with the officials waiting on the Gazebo.DSC_0050

DSC_0101Also later I became aware of the ‘Wedding Traffic Controller’ who calls the next wedding party to the Gazebo! And this waiting time is not wasted, I could see pre-ceremony photos being taken amongst the trees, by the Old Casino, pavilion and lake.DSC_0002 DSC_0117 DSC_0100 DSC_0104 DSC_0102

Guests fill the many benches lining the avenues and around the fountain. Flowers are parked on tables scattered amongst the trees surrounding the Gazebo along with more guests. DSC_00177 DSC_0080 DSC_0036 DSC_0017 DSC_0037DSC_0046There are hundreds of people gathered and as you can imagine the atmosphere is one of joy and celebration – and no doubt nerves – it’s complicated… DSC_0108DSC_0033As their appointed time grows near the wedding parties form queues in the paths leading to the Gazebo. DSC_0073DSC_0094 DSC_0092 DSC_0052 DSC_0020 DSC_0015 DSC_0012 In fact it’s such an established event that on the side of the Gazebo where the ceremony takes place there are spectators gathered on the benches there – and near the steps where people enter and exit.DSC_0099 DSC_0096 DSC_0062 DSC_0055 DSC_0024

During the actual ceremony the Bride and Groom appear to give a very robust ‘da!’ to their vows, I think it’s amplified so everyone get’s to hear it. DSC_0022As the Bride & Groom exit the Gazebo their guests form two columns, holding flowers above their heads to form an arch of sorts – it’s very colourful and clearly everyone is enjoying the moment, some a little more than others!DSC_0031

Afterwards the parties head for their reception venues scattered around the town, from the humble to the opulent.DSC_0106 DSC_0075 DSC_0064 DSC_0034 DSC_0013 Looking at the photos you’ll see the often spectacular hair on many Brides and guests. I’ve been informed that hairdresser’s often start on a Brides hair at 4am, so a long day for all involved. DSC_0115 DSC_0114 DSC_0111 DSC_0095 DSC_0093 DSC_0088 DSC_0085 DSC_0084 DSC_0076 DSC_0069 DSC_0063 DSC_0007

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed the photos and remember – this happens every weekend!

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Posted in Central Park Weddings, Cluj | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments