Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Short Break in Romanian Posts

Due to a death in the family, Dan and I are back in the states. I will resume posting about our trip to Romania in about a week or so.

Sighisoara, Romania

The Clock Tower

ProEtnica Dignitaries

The Shoemaker's Tower

Our 75 euro a night Hotel Room

View from our Attic Room

Sighisoara marked uncharted territory for us. We were headed there without any hotel reservations. Being the eternal optimist, I was certain that we would find accommodations. I mean, how crowded could a town without an airport be?

Dan, on the other hand, is a planner with a capital PLANNER. He likes reservations, confirmation numbers and directions, preferably the more detailed the better. (All things considered, it’s amazing that we have stayed together this long!)

The guide book (which I have many an issue with) listed several hotels, none of which had more than 3 stars (see my issue?). We decided we wanted to stay in the upper, more historic part of town, whose claim to fame is that it is the only occupied medieval Citadel in the world. Oh, it’s also the birthplace of Vlad Tepes, aka Dracula, which I think is probably more of a tourist draw. Either way, we paid the 10 lei (approximately $3.00 USD) to gain access to the upper part of town.

The first thing we saw when we topped the hill into town was a huge stage being set up with a banner advertising ProEtnic Festival 2006. Things were not looking good for the optimist. We were then turned away by three hotels. Things looking worse. Apparently, we had arrived on opening night of a huge, international festival that was scheduled to last 10 days and the place had been sold out for months. Things looking bad, very bad.

Dismayed that we would not be staying in the Citadel, we decided to look around since we had already paid the entrance fee and had a primo parking space. As we were walking around the town, we saw this quaint little hotel not listed in the guide book (see my issue?), located underneath the Shoemaker's Tower, one of the nine historic Towers still remaining from the Middle Ages.

For grins, we went in to see if, by any chance, one of their ten rooms was available for the night. The attendant replied, “yes, but it is 75 euro for only one night,” in a voice that suggested she didn’t think there was a chance in hell that anyone would pay that amount. In unison, Dan and I said, “we’ll take it.” I gathered from the look on the lady’s face that we had probably just made her month, if not year.

Surprisingly, the hotel was fairly modern – for something built in the 15th century. We had a small en suite bathroom. We had a portable fan. We had a TV. We had nothing else. I imagined that this must be what camping is like. Dan informed me that I could not call it camping, since we had running water and a toilet. So, we’ll call it a two-star and leave it at that.

The rooms were absolutely spotless, the décor rustic, and the proprietor very, very nice. In fact, other than the drunk tuba player that serenaded us into the wee hours of the night, we had a very pleasant stay in this hotel.

Dan and I had to laugh when we read the hotel's "regulations", copied below verbatim - including all punctuation. (I imagine this is what it must be like to listen to me speak French!)

The Regulation of “Home Epoch”

Dear guests, we, the family, if you want, hostess, we advised, to put at hand for you this architecturel jewel, but the family tradition ask imperative, to respect the coat of arms, from “HOME EPOCH” This emblem doesn’t allow, not even through ricochet, to make exceptions from the rule, to try, to driblate someone, so that, even and stealthily, we must recognize that only, after long hesitations we firm, to honour us with your presence dear guests, because “HOME EPOCH” suffer of fear diagnosis, the current usualy illness, whorn have all the neats Palaces to don’t be maim in them splendidment. Just so this is, in end, the quintessences, to get on well for don’t fall down, one or other in the other one trap. You don’t destroy, because will cost much, to much, but not even us to be loserd. What we beging you, don’t do it.

The furniture displacement (armchairs, chairs, table, bed).
Smokeing (on hall you have at hand chairs, tables and ash-trays).
The shoes cleaning with towels, bathroom carpet.
Staineing the carpet (with wine, blood, paints, etc.)
To stop up the WC of the tank with under-wears or absorbments.
To take care of walls and all is in the room.
Copyright 2006 by Cindy Lane except excerpt from Casa Epoch. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Hey CNN - I'm Not a Freak!

I interrupt my one-woman crusade to boost Romania’s tourist industry to clarify some misperceptions that some of you may now have of me following a recent CNN broadcast. (If you haven’t read my post, “Don’t Horse Around With Airport Security”, then none of this will make any sense.)

1) The Kama Sutra body lotion was purchased as part of a bachelorette gift and was not intended for personal consumption. (That’s my story and I’m slipping – I mean, sticking – to it.); and,

2) Liquid Smoke is used for marinades. To my knowledge, it has never been marketed as a sensual body lotion, but, I think CNN anchors Betty Nguyen and Tony Harris make a good point. Perhaps someone from Wright’s Hickory Seasoning should be exploring whether to expand its uses into this particular market. I can just imagine the marketing campaign: Slap some smoke on rumps or rump roasts -- We flavor it all!

Link to CNN transcript of August 12th broadcast:

© 2006 by Cindy Lane. All rights reserved.

Peles Castle - Sinaia, Romania

Due to several roadblocks, and I do mean that literally, we arrived at Peles Castle ten minutes too late to tour the facility. Although we can't speak to the inside, the outside was gorgeous.

For more information on the castle, see

When In Romania, Drive Like the Romanians!

It wasn’t until two years after we met, that Dan and I got into our first major “I’m not speaking to you” fight. It involved a rental car, a Hawaiian island and me throwing the map out of the window. Fourteen years later, our relationship is still somewhat navigationally challenged, but, we have made gains. Given that we have not killed each other driving in Belgium (and they say that the threat is from the other drivers), we decided to spit in the wind and test the very limits of our relationship by spending three days driving around the Romanian countryside. A country, mind you, where all of the tourist guidebooks and websites refer to driving as a “challenge.”

Having driven over 800 kilometers (that’s about 500 miles for you Americans), I can say with absolute conviction that the word “challenge” does not even begin to describe the mind-numbing, life-changing, experience of driving in Romania. The fact that Hertz required us to purchase accident insurance should have been our first clue that we were embarking on what was sure to be a memorable journey, followed closely by the way the Hertz guy checked every square inch of the car, noting even the most miniscule scratch, ding and dent.

As we started out from the airport, with me driving, because, let’s face it, I’m the better driver, we really didn’t know what to expect. Our plan was to make it to Sinai to see Peles Castle before 5:00 pm. But, you know what they say, the best laid plans of mice and men ….

My first piece of unsolicited advice for driving in Romania is to roll with the potholes. While the major roadways are in fairly good condition, the country roads have holes in them that could rival the size of the Grand Canyon. Folks, you could lose a car in some of them!

Second, with the exception of Bucharest, the Romanian drivers are extremely courteous. They flash their lights to let you know that a police officer is up ahead (I love this. It reminds me of Texas.), they pull off to the shoulder, whenever possible, to let you pass (Again, Texas.) and they don’t drive with their horns. That being said, they are also the most courageous drivers I have ever seen! Apparently, the best way to pass a slow-moving vehicle is to do so in a blind curve. I can’t tell you how many times we rounded a curve to find a car headed straight at us. Brake, curse and shake your head. Brake, curse and shake your head.

Speaking of things in your lane of travel, in addition to the potholes and the oncoming traffic, we also had to dodge bears (yes, a BEAR), wagons, horses pulling wagons, cows being herded across the road, great mounds of dirt, as well as your run-of-the-mill pedestrians, dogs, turkeys, chickens and tractors. It was never a dull kilometer. The sights we saw out of the front windshield were so surreal, we had to start taking photos. C'mon, who would believe a bear?

Third, resist the urge to strangle your copilot with your bare hands if he utters, "pass with conviction" at you one more time. Little did Mr. I Haven't Driven Yet realize, the rented Ford Focus had about as much pick-up as a weed-eater.

Similarly, throwing a map out of the window when you are driving around the outskirts of a small Hawaiian island is one thing, doing so in Romania is quite the other. Resist the urge.

If neither of you speak Romanian, when navigating for the driver, do not, I repeat, do not pronounce the names of the streets in what you would think it sounds like in Romanian. Chances are, your jacked-up version of Romanian sounds absolutely nothing like the driver's jacked-up version of Romanian.

That being said, there is no better way to see Romania – the true Romania – without driving through it. It was absolutely spectacular. More pictures and posts to come!

©2006 by Cindy Lane. All rights reserved.
Photographs copyright 2006 by Cindy Lane and Dan Bradley. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Ciao Bella!

The one thing I absolutely love about Brussels is that I never know what is going to happen to me next, which, coincidentally, is also what terrifies me most.

Walking home from the hair salon, in a beige fog, I was yanked back to reality in front of the supermarche by someone grabbing my arm. Thoroughly convinced that I was about to be robbed, I tightened my grip on my purse and prepared to scream. The scream died in my throat when I looked down to see who was doing the grabbing.

It was this little old lady, whose head hit me at about my elbow. Harmless, one would think. Instead, the voice of experience had me saying to myself, sweet Jesus, not again. If you have been reading my blog, you know that I have had some "experiences" with old ladies in Brussels (see, Maam that Hurts and The Bathroom Attendant). Quite frankly, they terrify me.

She took my hand and started handing me her shopping bags. At first, I thought she was trying to give me her toilet paper and her bottle of bleach. I politely declined. She kept pushing the bags at me. Since she obviously wasn't giving me her groceries, I then thought that she may be looking for her keys and in need of a free hand. So, I just stood there holding her bags.

The lady kept saying something to me, to which I replied, "je ne se parle pas francais." My complete and utter lack of knowledge of the French language did nothing to dissuade this woman. She kept on talking, and, more importantly, refused to let go of my hand. I figured it was some sort of collateral on her part. I had her groceries, she had my hand.

The little old lady shuffled me to the curb. At that point, I felt so stupid. It was then that I realized that she wanted help stepping off the curb and into the street. I took my right arm, the one with the shopping bags, and cupped the lady's elbow to help her off the curb. The lady still had my left hand in hers. Once we had cleared the curb, I tried to hand back the bags of groceries. Instead of taking them from me, she pulled on my left hand.

This particular little old lady was quite attached to me and, by that, I mean she had a vise-grip on my hand. She was not letting me go anytime soon. She shuffled me across the street. I then tried in my very best Spench, "je habite over there", pointing to my apartment, which was now behind us and across the street. She started pounding her chest and saying, "Italiana, Italiana." I totally got it that she wanted me to speak Italian, but, unless she had a bottle of red wine in her bag, my Italian was not going to help the communication process.

Resigned to having been abducted, I took comfort in the fact that she couldn't be taking me that far. I knew that, eventually, she would get to where she was going and want her groceries back. So, I walked and she shuffled without a word passing between us. After about 10 minutes, I asked "ou?" She just pointed ahead. We kept on going.

We finally arrived at the door to an apartment complex, where she let go of my hand and grabbed her groceries. "Grazie mil," she said to me. I replied to her in the only Italian that I thought might be appropriate under the circumstances, "Ciao, Bella," which earned me a huge toothless laugh.

© 2006 by Cindy Lane. All rights reserved.

Color Me Monolingual

While I was back in the States, I tried desperately to get an appointment with my colorist for some highlights. For the first time in five years (i.e., five holiday bonuses), she was unable to squeeze me in. Something about recovering from a cesarean and the need to bond with a newborn, blah, blah, blah. I guess we all have our own little crosses to bear and it looked like mine was going to be getting a full head of highlights in Brussels, a town not exactly defined by color.

Previously, I had stopped at the hair salon down the street from the apartment to see if they spoke English. Oui, I was told. Most people would have taken that as a sign that perhaps their English was somewhat limited. But, then again, most people looking for highlights don't go to salons where the proprietor sports bright pink hair. Signs, Cindy, signs!

Having scraped by on context clues, hand signals, animal sounds (see November 2005 archives, "Thanksgiving Turkey Saga"), and Spench for the past 10 months - less the time spent in the US for bad weather and the "deported months" - I was fairly confident that I could convey the color I wanted to the stylist. I was wrong. Really, really, really, wrong.

There I was, seated in a chair, all alone in the shop except for the colorist and her assistant, draped in a cape that stunk with the worst BO this side of the metro, when the following conversation ensued:

I would like some blonde highlights please. Not too blonde. You know, not platinum blonde. Just some soft blonde streaks around my face and perhaps a darker shade in the back. Can you do that?

Oui. Oui. Beige.

No, not "beige", bl-on-de.

Oui. I know it. Beige.

No, no. Not beige. Blonde. More like the color of this (me holding up one of the last remaining "blonde" highlights in my hair.) See, definitely not beige (as I am mentally running through a list of things in my head that are beige: shoes, purses, belts. Lots of beige things, but hair is not one of them!)

Yes. I understand. You want beige, like her (pointing to the assistant, who's hair is exactly what I didn't want - Vegas stripper white).

Uhmm, not exactly. I want something along the lines of this (again, me holding up my own hair). Is that possible?

Oui. (Something in French to assistant, after which, they both look at me like I'm crazy). Beige!

Me (outnumbered and defeated, but desperately in need of highlights):
Oui. Beige.

I spent two and 1/2 half gut-wrenching hours dissecting colors in my head and wondering exactly where "beige" was going to fall on the color wheel. When it was all said and done, my hair was ... beige!

Copyright 2006 by Cindy Lane. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Flower Carpet

On Saturday, Dan and I decided to capitalize on the few hours of sunshine that has befallen Belgium since I have arrived back (Where's that heat wave every one has been complaining about? It has done nothing but rained since I've returned!) and we hit the Grand Place to see the flower carpet (

If you know me, you know that even artificial flowers die at our house. It's a talent I have. Dan, on the other, can nurse a crispy brown, shriveled-up, water-deprived sprig of a (insert any botanical species here) back to life. It's a sickness he has. As such, our plants are either half-dead or half-alive, depending on whose responsibility they have been entrusted. To see an entire "grand place" covered with petals from begonias was pretty amazing. It took a team of volunteer whatevers over one year to design and create the flower carpet.

If you missed it, make plans to see it in 2 years, because that's when it's coming back!

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Silly Cindy

Usually, if Dan and I want Italian food in Brussels, we hit Scampis, this great little family-run restaurant near St. Catherine's. But, last night, we decided to try something new, so we went to Rugantino's (184 Anspach). The food was incredible, the wine list fairly extensive AND we were seated in a non-smoking section. How unbelievable is that in Brussels?

After dinner, we stopped by the Celtica for a quick drink. It was packed, which is pretty typical for the Celtica. We nudged our way into a table where two other guys were sitting. Exit one guy pretty quickly. The other guy we ended up striking up a conversation with. He too is living in two countries, splitting his time between Belgium and Tunisia, where his wife teaches at the university. Ben's English was amazing, but I noticed that his accent was really pronounced when he said my name.

After talking to Ben for the better part of the night, he asked for our email addresses so we could keep in touch. I handed him my address and he started to laugh. I found that quite odd, especially since my email address is anything but humorous. Ben leaned in and said something to Dan. Dan started laughing. I found that quite irritating, especially since it meant that they must be laughing at my expense. I leaned over and asked, "what's so funny?" Turns out, Ben had been calling me the wrong name all night long. He thought my name was silly, as in with a capital "S"!

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Don't Horse Around With Airport Security!

Armed with my newly issued Belgian Visa, I made plans to return to Belgium via Houston, after spending a week with my family for my daddy's birthday. (My older sister flew in from Florida with my three nephews, but we were still one family member shy of a full tree, as my little sister broke her back riding a bicycle (yeah, she's coordinated) and was unable to make it in. Even without her, we were able to make the Griswalds look like the Cleavers, but that's the subject of another post at another time.) Here's how my return to Belgium unfolded:

My flight to Brussels was delayed in Houston three times. The three-hour delay threatened my international connection in Atlanta, so Delta put me on another flight, right before they cancelled my original one. As it turned out, I didn't need to worry about the tight connection. The new flight sat on the runway in Houston for over an hour, pretty much ensuring that there was no way I was going to make the connection to Brussels.

When I arrived in Atlanta, Delta had rerouted me through Manchester, England. When I tried to board the flight to Manchester, I was detained at the boarding gate because of a problem with my ticket. Apparently, Delta's computer would not recognize me as having cleared the boarding gate. At this point, I should have taken it as a sign and just stayed in Atlanta, but, no, I went back to the gate to have my ticket reissued. For some reason, the agents (yes, plural) were unable to figure out the problem. While everyone else sat on the plane complaining about the delay, I waited for "any available lead agent or supervisor" to make their way to gate E-15 in response to the page. Finally, a supervisor came and overrode the system, allowing me to board the flight.

When I arrived in Manchester, I deplaned and headed toward the "transfer" hall, where I was met by a vested airport employee, who escorted me through a back door, down some stairs, and into a holding room. He told me to wait for "Mike" and that Mike would take me to the other terminal. At this point, I should mention that there was not another soul in sight. I thought it a little strange that the airport was so quiet, but I was really too tired to give it much thought.

"Mike" turned out to be the bus driver. He arrived about five minutes later and drove me (no one else on the bus) around the airport to the other terminal. Once we arrived at the other terminal, Mike escorted me through a back passageway, using a magnetic key card to open various doors. After we went through a maze of hallways, Mike handed me off to "the man in yellow." During this whole time, I did not see one other passenger, nor did I enter the main terminal area.

The man in yellow asked me if I was going to Brussels and, if so, did I have a boarding ticket. When I told him that I did not have a boarding ticket because of a screw-up in Atlanta, he called someone from "upstairs" to come down and help me out. As I was waiting for help from above, I realized that I had been in the airport for at least 30 minutes and had not seen a single person other than airport employees since deboarding the plane. I remember thinking how odd this was. I also wondered what kind of flag must be on my passport to warrant all of the individual attention. I had never experienced anything like it.

Some lady from SN Brussels came down and issued me a paper ticket and showed me to the security checkpoint. I was the only person in line at the checkpoint. Like the seasoned traveler I am, I asked the security agent manning the scanning device if I needed to take my laptop out of my bag or take me shoes off. No, she says, you should be fine.

I walk through the machine without any beeps. Again, seasoned traveler. Just as I am about to pick up my laptop case and head off with my third private escort, I hear the security agent yell, "Wait!" She is not using the "wait, you forgot your luggage" tone of voice, but rather the "wait, we have a possible security breach" tone. Believe me, there is a difference.

Now, remember, I had been flying for the past eight hours so I had absolutely no idea of the security issues facing Manchester airport, but, when I saw the look on the agent's face, I knew I had a problem. She looks at me and asks, rather incredulously, "Is it possible that you have a horseshoe in your luggage?" "A horseshoe?", I asked, equally incredulous. "Yes, a horseshoe," she replies. And, then it hit me. It just so happened that I did have a horseshoe in my luggage, so, I replied, "yes." Let me tell you, nothing screams secondary inspection quite like a horseshoe!

I'm guessing by the number of supervisors that responded to the agent's "we have a situation" call, that the airport screening crew does not see many travelers with horseshoes. In fact, I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that perhaps I was the first. I underwent a security screening just shy of a deep cavity search. During the ordeal, I really had to resist the urge to point out the obvious -- that I could inflict more damage with my 2 and 1/2 inch spike sandals than I could with a decorative horseshoe souvenir (It's a Texas thing. Don't try to understand it.), but I did not think that it would expedite the inspection process.

Once the agents had satisfied themselves with the fact that the horseshoe was for decorative purposes, they "escorted" me to the upstairs level. It was then that I realized that things were not normal. People were everywhere and they were just plain miserable. I chalked it up to all of them being British and didn't give it a second thought. Besides, I had no time to really ponder the situation, as my flight was boarding and I was too busy wondering why I was being escorted to the gate. All it takes is one deportation to drive you to paranoia!

When I landed in Brussels and learned of all of the problems at Manchester airport, I just had to shake my head in disbelief. The horseshoe, which I had planned to give to my European neighbor, has now become my lucky charm. If it were not for the distraction it caused in security, I'm sure I would have been "relieved" of the liquid items pictured above, all of which were in my luggage: a bottle of sweet and sour mix, 2 bottles of cocktail sauce, 3 bottles of Bath and Body Works antibacterial soap, Kama Sutra body lotion (part of a bachelorette gift for a friend), a bottle of A1 steaksauce and a bottle of liquid smoke (another Texas thing -- it's used for marinades and BBQ)! Given the commotion the horseshoe caused, I can only imagine the frenzy that a bottle of "liquid smoke" would create!

© 2006 by Cindy Lane. All rights reserved.

I Have A Visa!!

The country of Belgium has once again opened her arms (and borders) to me! It only took over a year and one deportation proceeding, so I guess that makes me one of the "lucky" ones, but I am no longer an illegal immigrant. I have a Visa! Next time I get kicked out of a foreign country, Belgium included, I can guarantee you it will be under different circumstances.

Thanks for all your support. Please stay tuned for more expat adventures!