Wednesday, September 27, 2006

You Americans -- You All Sound The Same!

Last night, armed with the latest edition of In Style magazine, I went to the little restaurant on the plaza for some spaghetti bolognese. I ran into two of my neighbors, Dominick and Yannick, who were sharing a bottle of wine on the patio. As good neighbors do, Dominick and Yannick invited me to join them while I ate dinner. As good neighbors do, I accepted.

As we were discussing the political elections in Brussels, what's new in the neighborhood, and Dominick's upcoming move to the apartment across the street from me, Dominick's phone rang. Although Dominick's conversation was in French, I could pick out a few words here and there, namely "Cindy."

I had no idea who he was talking to, but I assumed it was a fellow member of the Neighborhood Action Committee. When Dominick handed his phone to Yannick and asked him to interpret (Yannick speaks flawless English), I was beginning to think that perhaps my assumption was wrong. To the best of my knowledge, I am the only member of the NAC who does not speak French.

Yannick took the phone and asked Dominick who it was on the other line. Dominick responded in French, again using my name. Yannick started talking to the person on the line in French, but quickly switched to English. Just as Yannick asked, "Who is this?", the phone went dead. Dominick had run out of credits.

Dominick and Yannick then had a conversation, in French, during which I heard my name being bounced around a couple of more times. Although not normally this rude, curiosity got the better of me and I asked, "who was that?". Dominick responded, in English, "your husband." "My who?", I asked. "Dan, your husband, " Dominick replied.

Setting aside for a moment the fact that I am not married, I was having a few problems coming to terms with Dan calling Dominick. First, how did he get Dominick's cell number? I don't even know Dominick's last name, let alone any contact information. Second, why would Dan be calling Dominick, who doesn't speak any English? Third, why would Dan think I would be with Dominick and/or that Dominick would know where I was at? Fourth, why didn't Dominick hand me the phone instead of Yannick? And, the list goes on.

Thinking that I somehow misunderstood Dominick, I asked Yannick, "who was that?" Yannick's reply, "I don't know because the phone went dead before the guy could tell me his name, but Dominick says it was your husband, Dan." I guess my French is better than I thought, because this is exactly what I took away from my conversation with Dominick.

Yannick then used his cell phone to call the guy back, as his number had popped up on Dominick's caller ID. Yannick talked to the guy for a few seconds and then handed the phone to Dominick. Dominick struggled through some English phrases and then hung up. The whole time Dominick was talking on the phone, Yannick was laughing. Hard.

Thoroughly confused, I asked Yannick what was going on. Apparently, Dominick answered the phone and was telling the guy on the other end, who spoke some French, that he was having dinner with his (meaning the guy on the phone's) wife. The guy on the phone kept asking Dominick who he was referring to and Dominick kept responding, "your wife, Cindy."

Since the guy on the phone was not getting it, Dominick wanted Yannick to translate it into English for him. The only problem was, the guy on the phone was not Dan! It was a wrong number, but, since the guy sounded American, and Dominick only knows two Americans (me and Dan), Dominick just assumed that it was Dan on the phone.

Copyright 2006 by Cindy Lane. All rights reserved.

A Personal Worst

On Monday, I drove to Aachen, Germany to shop at the Wal-Mart. (I cringe every time I read that statement! I'm pretty sure you are a red-neck if you drive through three countries to get to a Wal-Mart.)

It took me 1 hour and 20 minutes to get to Aachen. Once in Aachen, it took me 3 hours and 12 minutes to find the Wal-Mart -- and that's with a GPS, a map, and stopping multiple times to ask for directions. (The address I had was not the correct one. I don't care what the Wal-Mart website tells you, don't search for Elsastrasse 139!)

It seems that people in Aachen either don't know where the Wal-Mart is, or, they enjoy screwing around with Americans and sending them all over the city. I am now intimately familiar with the Ring that goes around Aachen, as I have traveled every square kilometer of it -- numerous times. I believe some would call it "driving in circles."

To add insult to injury, there are Wal-Mart billboards everywhere in town. I'm not asking for arrows, but it would have been nice if one of these huge-ass advertisements would have had the address posted on it. Where's the love, Sam?

I finally stumbled upon the Wal-Mart. As my luck would have it, the one thing that I was looking for, Wal-Mart did not have.

Wasted trip? Not really, because I scored some Reese's peanut butter cups!

Copyright 2006 by Cindy Lane. All rights reserved.

Monday, September 25, 2006

The Return of the Nasty American

Even though I have been cursed at (in more than one language), forced to use the men's toilet, reduced to tears over 4 cents in a department store, tram-wrecked, evacuated by threat of bomb, laughed at, stalked, rained/sleeted/hailed/snowed on, propositioned by more than one dirty old man, deprived of Mexican food, insulted, forced to engage in road rage, beaten by an old lady with a cane, terrorized by the very spawn of Satan, concussed, and, oh yeah, deported, I have tried to maintain the attitude of a good global citizen. Some days, I'm better at it than others. Yesterday, wasn't one of them. (For the first appearance of the nasty American, see December 2005 archives, "From Good Global Citizen to Nasty American in 1 Hour and 52 Minutes.")

For those of you who have never had the pleasure of searching for an ATM machine in Brussels, it's not like in the States where the things are on every corner, in every convenience store, Indian reservation and fast-food joint. Even living in the city center, the closest ATM to my house (which, by the way, is not on my bank network) is 7 blocks away. Fortunately, the machines that I have found do not charge a service fee for non-customers of the bank, which is a good thing, because Dan, who has never said a word about how much money I spend on shoes, has a tendency to go stark-raving mad over a $1.50 service charge for ATM fees.

I was in front of the ATM machine at the KBC bank on Rue Antoine Dansaert (the one where the scaffolding is finally being removed after all these months), and this blonde-haired guy wearing a green army jacket and carrying a black backpack steps in front of me and walks right up to the ATM machine. As I was in a fairly good mood, I decided to let it slide.

The guy, who I will call Rudy, had his ATM card in one hand and a lit cigarette in the other. Rudy was much more interested in putting the cigarette into his mouth than he was in putting his ATM card into the machine. Since I had no idea what kind of transaction he was contemplating, I gave him the benefit of the doubt that he may need nicotine courage to get through the ordeal, and I waited patiently as he took a long pull on the cigarette.

Several puffs later, I was no closer to getting my turn at the ATM. Thinking that he may have somehow failed to see me when he cut directly in front of me, I coughed, politely, to let him know that I was, in fact, still waiting patiently for the machine. He turned, shot me an annoyed look, and held up one finger, which I interpreted to mean that he was only going to be a minute longer. Wrong. I guess it is French for "Not only am I'm going to finish smoking this cigarette, I'm going to light another one and I will get around to using the ATM when I'm good and ready, and there's not a damn thing you can do about it."

As he fumbled for his lighter and a pack of Marlboro Reds, I fought to contain the rage that was building up in me. I tried to reason with myself. I wasn't in a hurry. I could use the time going over the list of things I wanted to get done that day. I could start naming all the things I was thankful for.

By the time he got his second, cigarette lit, I was calm again. How stupid would it be to lose it over an ATM machine? Besides, I was the one that did not want to walk all the way to the ING bank to use the multiple machines at that location. Serves my lazy-ass right!

Rudy finally put his card into the machine. This particular machine is insanely slow, so I was expecting a little bit of a wait while his transaction cleared. While I was waiting, this cute little girl in a blue and white dress with a pixie haircut starts walking toward the bank machine. Oh good, I thought, someone I can wait in line with and share looks of annoyance and exchange rolls of our eyes as we wait for Rudy to get his act together.

Pixie girl had a few problems, not the least of which is that she did not know how to form a proper single-file line. She did not take her place behind me, as would be normal under the circumstances. Nor, did she stand on either side of me, which would have been equally appropriate in proper line formation. No, Princess, positioned herself in FRONT of me, and slightly to the side. To anyone approaching the machine, from her position, it would be logical to conclude that Princess was next in line to use the machine and that I, the one that has been waiting through multiple cigarettes, would be second.

I was momentarily distracted from Princess when I saw Rudy take his ATM card out of the machine. Thinking he was finished, I took a step forward -- merely for Princess's benefit. I wanted her to know that I had been waiting for the machine, that I was next to use the machine, and that I had no intention of allowing anyone to cut in front of me (again) to get to the machine. Princess stepped forward too. At this point, I'm good and irritated. Princess is clearly working in concert with Rudy to put me over the edge.

Speaking of Rudy, I'm was beginning to think that chances were he would die of lung cancer before I got to use the ATM. He pulled his ATM card out, only to replace it with another one. He also took this opportunity to light his third cigarette. Frustrated and out of patience, I asked, "Will you be much longer?" Rudy, as his name suggests, ignored me.

I looked at Princess Pixie and said, matter-of-factly, "I'm next." She, too, basically ignored me. I took a step closer to the machine. PP did the same. Oh, so she wants to play, huh? I hoped Princess brought her A-game, because she was going to need it! Good global citizen had officially taken a backseat to pissed-off, smoked-out, competitive Nasty American!

I took a huge step forward and sideways, basically, blocking Princess Pixie from the machine. I felt like Shaq posting up under the basket. Screw the discreet distance. We are now standing way inside Rudy's personal space. Not only could I see his fingers (assuming they ever got around to entering a PIN), I could read the screen. The bank was not accepting Rudy's card.

Rudy, working on his third cigarette and third card, is starting to get distracted by all the action that is going on directly behind him. Concerned that this may push him to a fourth cigarette, I say to Rudy, "It's ok. She's trying to cut. How much longer?" Rudy looks at PP, PP rolls her eyes, and they both ignore me.

By this time, the two men taking down the scaffolding are just standing there, waiting to see what happens. Rudy finally finds a card that the machine will accept, and he is waiting for his receipt. I take this opportunity to turn my head and stare down Princess Pixie, while raising my arms at my sides ever so slightly, so as to further impede any forward progress on the part of PP. She looked at me with this bored aloofness, that, quite frankly, I found more annoying than her proximity and rudeness, simply because it made her look even cuter! I committed myself right then and there that there was no way in hell that she was going to get to the machine before me, even if it meant a catfight, which I'm sure is what the construction crew was hoping for!

As Rudy was leaving, probably to buy another pack of cigarettes to get him through the next 30 minutes, I stepped up to the machine and shoved my card into it. I turned to shoot PP a victory glance, but she was gone! Turns out, she didn't even need to use the machine, she was just waiting on Rudy.

Copyright 2006 by Cindy Lane. All rights reserved.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

The Campaign Trail

I spent Saturday walking through my neighborhood putting campaign flyers into people's mailboxes in support of my neighbor, Phillip Close, who is running for a position in the City government. Phillip is candidate number 5 on the Socialist Party list. and

According to Wikipedia, "at the start of 2006, 14 of the 26 representatives of the Parti Socialiste, the largest party in the Brussels regional parliament, are Muslim immigrants (ten of Moroccan origin, two Turkish, one Tunisian and one from the West-African state of Guinea)." I'm betting that they are also the only party in Brussels with a blonde-haired, green-eyed, non-French speaking American campaigning for them in a hugely immigrant neighborhood. Not sure if that hurt or helps Phillip. I know that it definitely confuses the neighbors!

If you are eligible to vote, be sure to vote on October 8th!

Saturday, September 23, 2006

By Popular Demand -- Recipe for Deviled Eggs!

I apologize for not putting the recipe for oeuf de diable on my last post. What was I thinking? So, for those of you who asked, here it is. Be sure to give me props when we start a new culinary sensation in Brussels. (Maybe my new favorite restaurant in Brussels, Le Manufacture, will catch on to these little gems!)

Boil eggs
Cut eggs in half
Take yolks out and mashed them with a fork
Add mayonnaise, a little mustard, sweet pickle relish (Good freaking luck finding this in Brussels!), salt and pepper
Spoon yolk mixture into the little holes on the egg halves
sprinkle with paprika
Voila -- oeuf de diable!

For more recipes and better instructions, check out

Copyright 2006 by Cindy Lane. All rights reserved.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

The Egg of the Devil

Adding to my list of "Things You Probably Would Not See in the US," last Sunday, Brussels - which I remind you is a capital city - was completely car free! It was part of some Car-Free Sunday celebration that has been going on for years, and, I have to tell you, I loved it! While the whole concept is a little insane (Can you imagine downtown Houston closing the inside of the Loop to cars for an entire day?), it certainly made for an incredible day.

Our little community, like many others in the Commune, capitalized on the occasion and held a "barbecue entre voisins" at the Plaza. Had I attended the last Neighborhood Action Committee (NAC) meeting, I, presumably, would have been more prepared, since the NAC organized the whole event. I say "presumably" because my French is still poor and it does not appear to me that anyone else in the 'hood has been practicing their Spench. (See, A Pictured Says A Thousand Words - In Any Language, November 2005 archives.)

Nevertheless, I found out about the BBQ when I ran into Dominick, the non-mayor of the Ville and the president of the NAC, (See, Do They Call You Burger for Short?, May 2006 archives) on the Thursday before the big day. I could tell from Dominick's expressions and hand gestures that something was going to happen in the Plaza. What, I did not know. Dominick must have picked up on my confusion because when we returned from Amsterdam on Saturday afternoon, we had a flyer in our mailbox describing the upcoming festivities. When I say, "describing," I mean it was in French and Flemish.

Since it was already pretty late on Saturday, and the BBQ was the next day, just to be sure, I took the flyer to the supermarche downstairs in hopes of catching the manager, Emir, before closing time so that he could translate it for me. Specifically, I wanted to know whether we were supposed to bring our own food, bring food to share, if food was being provided, etc.. Emir had left for the day, so I spoke to this other guy, whose name kinda sounds like Christopher but starts with an M (I've found that it if I say it really fast and let my voice drop near the end, the guy does not keep correcting me on the pronunciation.)

Now, mind you, Mistopher's English is only slightly better than my French. He told me that there was going to be a BBQ on Sunday. Got that. I asked him if I was supposed to bring food. I received a blank stare from Mistopher. I started forking imaginary food into my mouth from the imaginary plate I was holding in my left hand. Ah, yes, Mistopher says, you will be able to eat the food. (It's episodes like this that probably keep me in the running for the village idiot!)

After some pretty imaginative hand gesturing and a complete slaughtering of the French language, I was able to get across to Mistopher that I wanted to know what I was to bring to the BBQ. Mistopher's response: Some people bring old things in their house they don't want. Merci, Mistopher.

I decided that it would be best to bring one of each -- an appetizer, a main dish, a side dish and a dessert. Since, to my knowledge, there is no such thing as a 24-hour grocery store in Brussels, I had to raid my American food product stash. Talk about taking one for the team.

Sunday morning, I got up early and started making my menu: deviled eggs, Italian chicken (chicken breasts marinated in Italian dressing and Lipton onion soup mix baked in the oven with bell pepper strips, Roma tomatoes and mushrooms), Kraft macaroni and cheese, and a chocolate cake with sugar sprinkles. By 11:00, I was ready for the BBQ.

Dan, on the other hand, had just come off a couple of really tough weeks and would have preferred nothing more than to sit in the recliner and read the paper. That was not going to happen. As I had to remind him - more than once - I'm on the committee! I was already freaking out because I was not there to help set up.

We got to the Plaza a little after 11:00 to find exactly one other person there -- Dominick. Dominick, who is one of the nicest guys I've met to date in Brussels, speaks very little English. Although we attempted to talk, I would hardly describe what we were doing as conversing. It was more like labored sign language accentuated with a few horribly mispronounced words and a lot of shoulder shrugging and head-shaking.

More than once, Dan shot me that "what-have-you-gotten-me-into" look. I ignored it. Ten minutes later, another French-only speaking committee member, Oliver, showed up. When I had reached the point where I was going through my French pocket dictionary reading out phrases, such as "ou est la pharmacie" and "ca pleut comme vache qui pisse", Dan had had enough. He bailed, promising to return after he "took care of a few things." I shot him that "don't-you-dare-leave-me" look. He ignored it and I could have sworn I heard him mumble something about me being on the committee.

One hour and forty-five minutes later, which roughly equates to the entire sections of "survival phrases", "transportation", "hotel help" and "weather talk" in my French dictionary, people started showing up, including Dan for the second time. But, to my amazement, no one was eating any of my deviled eggs, even though I was the only person that had thought to bring an appetizer to the BBQ.

Intent on introducing this side of the Atlantic to perhaps one of the greatest Southern appetizers of all time, I went around the Plaza offering up my plate. Now, normally, I would serve deviled eggs on a chilled glass dish with little cut-outs for the eggs, but, since I left that back in San Diego, I opted for a Chinet paper plate with a lace paper doilie. Martha would have been proud.

Apparently, my attempt to compensate for the lack of proper egg serving platter caused a bit of confusion with the locals as to what type of food I was offering. People would ask, "dessert?" or say, "apres?", which is French for "after." I would respond, "no, oeuf de diable." No matter how hard I tried, I could not get anyone to even taste one. Completely baffled, I ate one in front of some people, and had Dan do the same, to prove that they were, in fact, edible.

It wasn't until I happened upon a table with an English-speaking Dutch family that I realized why no one was eating my eggs. In addition to not knowing what they were, most people were not interested in trying something that I was referring to as the "egg of the devil." Once the Dutch family tried them -- and loved them --- the eggs of the devil flew off the plate.

Copyright 2006 by Cindy Lane. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Amsterdam -- It Really Is Disneyland for Adults

I remember a line from a movie where it said that Amsterdam is Disneyland for adults. Having been there numerous times, I have to say that there is some truth to this. But, the absolute best thing I have found to date in Amsterdam is La Margarita Restaurant. Finally, a restaurant on this side of the Atlantic that got Mexican food right!

I had the chilaquiles and they were awesome (not as good as Lucy's but, then again, whose are?). Dan had fajitas and Maureen had a chimichanga. We all loved our meals!

From the Dam, head south (away from the Central Train Station) on Rokin. Follow the street for a couple of blocks until you see the first street that runs in front of the canal. Take a left on this street (Langebrugsteeg). The restaurant is on your right, at #6.

Muy rico!

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

I Dreama of Roma

Victor Emmanuel Monument

Roman Ruins

Altar at St. Peter's

Once I had straightened out my second immigration crisis, I celebrated my status as a temporary legal resident of Belgium by (drumroll, please) leaving the country! My friend Maureen, who flew in from San Diego, and I went to Rome to see a couple of tourist sights and to pick up some Italian boys -- Versace, Armani, Salvatore Ferragamo, and Dolce & Gabbana to name a few.

On the way to the Vatican, these two little Italian ladies approached me -- with a map. I knew right then and there, that if native Italians were picking the only blonde in a 5 mile square radius to ask for directions, they were either seriously and hopelessly lost, or, I was about to get rolled! Given my experience with little old ladies, I was betting on the latter.

Although they did not speak English, they were able to point to the map, point to the street sign, and then ask "something, something, St. Maria?" Knowing the irony had not escaped Maureen, I shot her the, "are-they-for-real?" look over their heads. Apparently, they were.

While I am no Rand McNally, I like to think that I am fairly directional. It's a skill that has developed sheerly out of necessity from traveling with Dan. Unlike Dan, I can at least figure out when the map is upside down! (That would be a reference to the recent Romania trip when I was driving in Sighisoara and he, as the map reader, was yelling that we needed to be "over there". Yeah, "over there" is a great navigational aid. I'm sure Galileo and Columbus used it all the time! I kept driving the direction that he was pointing, knowing that there was no way that he was right, as we were driving away from town and not into it. When I finally had enough of his "GPS", I pulled the car over so that he could drive me to where "over there" was. Once behind the wheel, his GPS signal did not come in nearly as strong. He grabbed the map and pointed, with conviction, to where "over there" was and asked me to help him get there. When I started out by turning the map right-side up, I think we both knew who had one that little battle!)

So, I took their single sheet of black and white paper that, in a pinch, I guess could resemble some sort of a map, and tried to figure out where "something, something St. Maria's" was. To get my bearings, I looked around the little piazza (that would be a square) that we were standing in to find some sort of a name that I could then search for on the map. There was a street sign in front of me, so I was able to orientate myself using that and the piazza.

I had to laugh when I realized that the church that they were looking for was the very same church that we were standing in front of and, after which, the piazza was named! Maureen and I likened it to two Americans standing directly in front of the Statue of Liberty and asking the least American-looking and the only non-English speaking person in the vicinity where the Statue of Liberty was. It was that comical.

I won't bore you with all the touristy things (see links below), but, if you are interested in shopping, here's a couple of discount shops where you can find Italian designers at a fraction of the cost than in the US:

Although we did the obligatory Via Condotti, Via Corso, and Via del Babuino, we also hit Il Discount Dell Alta Moda (Via di Gesu' e Maria 16). It's really close to the Spanish Steps (take the Baboon street past Chanel and take a left a couple of streets before you hit the Plaza del Popolo). It carries Prada, Gucci, Armani, Laura Biagiotti, Krizia, Moschino, Dolce & Gabbana, and Etro, to name a few, at a DISCOUNT. The catch is to take 50% off the marked ticket prices, and, in some cases, even more. Here's a link I found- after the fact:

We also went to Discount System (Via Viminale 35). The selection was not a large as that of Alta Moda, but the prices were comparable. This shop was a little harder to find, but it is off Nazionale, in the Theater District, not terribly far from the Repubblica station.

Our best find, non-clothes or handbag related, was the paper store, Il Papiro, located at Via de Pantheon 50. This is one of the oldest printing houses in Italy and is known for its hand-crafted marbled stationery. If you are at the Pantheon, looking into the square, go north (I think) up the street to the right of the square -- keeping McDonald's on your left. It's about a block up on the right, before the next plaza.

For a great wine bar (enoteca), try Capranica Enoteca e Taverna at Piazza Capranica, 104

Touristy Links:

St. Peter's
The Vatican and the Sistine Chapel
Victor Emmanuel Monument
The Forum (aka the Colosseum)

Copyright 2006 by Cindy Lane. All rights reserved.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Visa - It's (Not) Everywhere You Want to Be

I'm not a big fan of the Belgian police station. Every time I go there (ok, the two times I've been summoned), things do not go as planned. Last Friday, my relocation expert/French translator went with me. Things did not go as planned.

Turns out, the visit was part of the standard background check for my residency permit. The police needed to know where I was living, with whom, whether I was working, etc., etc. Not a problem or, so I thought. I supplied them with the information and handed over my passport with a new-found confidence that can only come from a change in immigrant status.

Apparently, upon close inspection of my Visa -- something I never did -- it states that it permits a single entry. What this means is, I had already violated the Visa twice in less than a month since it had been issued. And, more importantly, was about to violate it again in 2 days.

I left the police station to call the Consulate General in Los Angeles for some guidance. She told me that I was not to leave Belgium until I received my residency card, as I did not have permission to re-enter the country. "Officially", I could not travel. When I told her that I had tickets to go to Rome in two days, she told me, in no uncertain terms, that the "official" position was that I could not travel.

She went on to say that, if I was hell-bent on going to Rome (I'm paraphrasing a little here), I should go to the Commune the next day and inform them of this intention, as well as the fact that I had already violated my visa on two prior occasions. Now, I realize that immigration is not exactly my strong point, but, I really couldn't think of a faster way to start a second deportation proceeding than turning myself in for visa violations. Been there. Done that. Not interested in doing it again.

Unsure of what to do, I started asking advice from experts, human resources, neighbors, etc. What I learned is that there is an "official" way of doing things in Belgium and, then there is the way everyone else does things. Many people told me to ignore the single-entry requirement and to go to Rome because no one ever checks these things. To support their position, they used my own two (undetected) violations. Of course, these are the same people that said Americans don't get deported, and we all know that's not true!

After struggling all night with the devil on my left shoulder and the angel on my right, I called my relocation expert/translator and asked her to meet me at the Commune at noon on Friday so that I could narc myself out. I knew from experience that, at the very least, I would have 5 days to get out of the country. This left me with plenty of time to go to Rome with my friend from San Diego and still get kicked out of the country - again.

To be completely honest, on my way to the Commune, I was entertaining some pretty negative thoughts about Belgium. Granted, the present fiasco was my own creating, but, nevertheless, I had sworn that if I ever got kicked out of a country -- again -- I would have a great story to go with it!

At the Commune, I let my relocation expert/translator do the talking. Since my French is still limited to menu items and directions, I'm not completely sure what went down, nor do I want to know. All I know is that I went to the Commune expecting to get deported, but, in a surprise turn of events, I ended up with a temporary residency card!

It's taking me awhile, but I think I'm starting to get the hang of the Belgian way of doing things!

Copyright 2006 by Cindy Lane. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Same Song, Second Verse?

I have been summoned to the police department and have been told to bring someone with me that speaks French. Good thing? Bad thing? We shall see ...

Monday, September 04, 2006

Copsa Mica, Romania

As you drive from Sighisoara to Sibiu, you pass through Copsa Mica, known, unfortunately, as Europe's most polluted town. A carbon black plant, operating from 1936 to 1993, reportedly left a ton of soot per HOUR on the town, leaving everything black, including plants, people, laundry, and animals. White snow fell for the first time in sixty years in 1994, one year after the plant shut down.

The other source of pollution is a lead smelter plant, whose effects on the town, while less visible, have been much more costly, including lung disease, lead poisoning, impotence and the highest infant mortality rate in Europe. Because of the heavy contamination of the soil, health officials advise against eating livestock or vegetables and from drinking the water and milk.

The town has been declared an "environmental disaster area," although efforts are now being made to make a difference.

You can read more about it at

Sibiu, Romania

We didn't spend much time in Sibiu, as the majority of the buildings in the old town were being restored in preparation of Sibiu being named a European Cultural Capital in 2007. If you are interested in more information, check out

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Brasov, Romania

The Black Chuch

Churches on the Main Square

We spent a night in Brasov, Transylvania's second largest city. According to local legend, when the Pied Piper led the children from Germany, they vanished underground and emerged in Brasov's main square. For the record, we didn't see that many kids in the square.

We stayed at the Aro Palace, in part because the guide book described it as "ludicrously mafioso." For the record, we didn't see anything even remotely mafioso, but the hotel was very nice.

The Old Town's most famous landmark is the Black Church, which took almost a century to complete. For the record, it wasn't all that black.

Sighisoara Bathroom Attendant

Dan and I sat down at this cafe on the square in Sighisoara to watch the ProEtnica Festival. For whatever reason, this bathroom attendant took an instant dislike to me - and this is before I started watching her every move and taking photographs of her!

When I went to the bathroom, I looked for the customary table and small bowl of change, but did not see one. When I got ready to leave the bathroom, this lady was standing at the stall door, with her hand out. Not having any change, I gave her the smallest bill in my pocket, which was probably five times more than she was charging, but I was ok with it. Hopefully, she would remember me and give me one on credit if I needed to use the bathroom again before we left the cafe. That was my thinking, anyway.

During the 3 plus hours we spent at the cafe, there were many, many, many more people that used the facilities, but this lady charged exactly THREE people - me, and 2 little girls, ages about 8 and 10 (and they gave her change). I couldn't believe it. I could see why she might charge the kids -- young, naive, gullible, not to mention likely to play in the water, but why charge me and no other adult?

I begged Dan to go to the bathroom so that I could test my theory that she was singling me out. Dan, who didn't need to go to the bathroom, thought I was spending way too much time obsessing over what amounted to about 30 cents. I explained to him that it was the principle, not the money. Dan finally relented and went to the bathroom. Sure enough, he got to go for free.

Copyright 2006 by Cindy Lane. All rights reserved.