January 7, 2016

Gaita Colombiana

Roughly one year ago I traveled to Barranquilla, Colombia for two weeks to partake in Carnaval and visit family. While there, I partied hard, ate a lot of my favorite food, danced, and caught e coli, which rendered me useless for the second week of my trip. 

Before returning, I mustered the strength to pick up one item of interest: a gaita. These are wooden flute instruments that come in a variety of sizes and play a large role in Cumbia music. I've included one of my favorite songs, La Pollera Colorá, as an example of what it sounds like.

 Supplies (l to r): syringe needle cap, knife, twine, charcoal powder, and bees wax

Supplies (l to r): syringe needle cap, knife, twine, charcoal powder, and bees wax

Unfortunately my gaita didn't fair well on the flight home. The mouth piece fell out and left a big chunk missing. So, I did a bit of research and figured out how to construct a new headpiece. Below are photos form 

It begins with melting the bees wax, which will eventually have the charcoal powder mixed in. I sort of just guessed the amount to throw into the pot. 

While the beeswax melted I worked on the reed, which can be made from a syringe needle cap. I don't know for certain, but I think that wrapping twine around the syringe cap helps with the grip. 

Returning to the beeswax... after mixing in the charcoal powder, I let it cool off and solidify.                    

 Important note: This smelled awful and stunk up my apartment for days.

Important note: This smelled awful and stunk up my apartment for days.

 Ready to mold

Ready to mold

I found that it was easiest to mold the cylinder once the waxy substance was on the cooler side.

Next comes the knife and slicing the cylinder like a hotdog bun.

This is where the difficult part came in. Once the wax cylinder was tapered onto the body I had to place the reed correctly so that the air would flow just right. This took a lot of trial and error.  

In the end I got the gaita to play... but only 3 notes worth. Probably because it's a cheap souvenir not meant to be played seriously. Luckily my parents will be returning to Barranquilla soon and I intend to have them pick up another one for me.

December 11, 2015

béton brut

Brutalist architecture of Romania. 

October 9, 2015

End of the road

I've just finished packing my suitcase (dad is still at it) while eating too many chocolate-covered Turkish Delights. I'm pretty sure I've put on a few pounds on this trip. But it's all okay because tomorrow we return to Seattle. I return to being vegan, hitting the gym, and working at Msoft until I can do this all over again. 

Today was a perfectly paced final day. We treated ourselves to breakfast at Van Kahvaltı Evi in the Cihangir neighborhood. I had my first taste of Turkish coffee (I don't know why it took so long) and we enjoyed an array of mezzes. I warned my dad that I intended to go shopping after breakfast. He could come along or we could part ways, but shopping was on the agenda no matter what. We ended up parting ways. But not before we stopped into one shop that really left an impression on me.

We happened upon a plant store, Muz,  which immediately caught my eye even though there's no way I could bring back a plant from Istanbul. We went inside and they had a great collection of pottery and other non-living goods. I loved the way the shop was set up--part plant store, part artisan goods, and part coffee shop. 

After we split up, I made my second stop at Mono, a record shop close to our breakfast stop. There was a lot to go through, but I focused on the selection of records recorded or pressed in Turkey. I ended up only buying two records (they're pricier here than in Bucharest, where I bought 6). One is Beats & Pieces from 60's & 70's Turkish Psychedelia and the other is Karisik Disko.

More shopping followed, with lots of walking inbetween. I had plans to meet back up with dad at 3pm for our second cup of coffee, this time at Mandabatmaz. It's a small, traditionally-fashioned Turkish cafe that serves the richest coffee I've ever experienced. We sat outside on low stools caught each other up on what we had been up to the previous three hours. 

Once coffee was done, we headed back to the hotel for our spa appointment! We both booked a hammam/massage package, which started off with fifteen minutes in a eucalyptus dry sauna. When our time was up, we were led to the hammam...together. Once we realized they intended to have us bathe in the same room--at the same time--my dad and both enthusiastically repeated "father!" "daughter!" "not wife!". The misunderstanding was fixed by putting me back in the dry sauna until my dad was done using the room. And that was the last I saw of him. Just kidding. Once the massage and bathing and scrubbing was all done, I returned to our hotel room to grab my dad and set off for our fancy dinner. 

We had reservations at 6:30pm at 360 Istanbul, a restaurant that (you guess it) has a 360 degree view of the city. What's even better is that we were able to catch the sunset. I couldn't have thought of a better way to finish our trip. I put to my dad that we should each share what we'll miss most about traveling together. It was interesting to realize that our answers were very similar. It has been a wonderful experience getting to spend time with my dad as an adult. The last time I spent this much uninterrupted time with him was when I was a kid living at home. Our experiences in Romania brought up a lot of family history and self-discovery that I was able to process with my dad as an equal. 

I could dive deeper into what else I've appreciated about this trip, but I have to wake up at 3am and it's already 11pm. I need those four hours. So long, Istanbul.

October 9, 2015

Day 2 in Istanbul

I’ve just left my dad, half asleep, listening to Deep Purple in the hotel room. This is the night I will try and experience nightlife in Istanbul. I’ll admit I’m not off to a great start considering I’m sitting at a swanky cocktail bar, sipping on an almond-cinammon Disarono concoction, and hunched over my laptop. I’m a real party-starter.

Today kicked off with a very Maxim-esque adventure. We (ahem, “we”) accidentally left Romania with a borrowed cellphone and GPS unit, which my dad was now hell-bent on returning to his cousin as soon as humanly possible. It somehow turned into a two-hour endeavor, but we made it to DHL location and shipped our package off to Bucharest. Side note: we later received an email from Sergiu that there was no rush returning the items and to take our time. I’m pretty sure my dad opted for the one-day delivery, but I wouldn’t know because I waited outside and watched guys try and scam tourists.

 The Blue Mosque from inside Haga Sofia

The Blue Mosque from inside Haga Sofia

After our Turkish DHL experience, we headed over to the Blue Mosque. We arrived during the prayer hour, so we waited in the courtyard until we could enter the mosque. During that time we people-watched the hell out of our fellow tourists and were amazed at some of the outfits women had on. Were they really that tone-deaf to show up in mini-skirts or did they just not care? Maybe that’s anti-feminist of me to say.

Great. The bar I’m at is closing. I am a nightlife-curse. Time to gulp down this syrupy monstrosity of a beverage and change locations.

I am now at a bar called “Ugly” and I’ve just ordered a drink dubbed “Love Juice”. Aside from vodka, I have no clue what’s in it. Bottoms up!

Once we entered the Blue Mosque, the first thing that caught my attention was the stench of dirty feet. I know, surrounded by all that beauty and all I can think about are the stinky feet surrounding me. Once I worked past that hang up, I realized just how cavernous the mosque feels from inside. It possesses an understated type of beauty—much different from the exterior, which I found myself more drawn to. We moved quickly through the mosque, pulled by the waves of people around us. My dad made a point to take me to the place where my mom was yelled at when they visited. I guess she was in the wrong place at the wrong time (the men’s area of the mosque during prayer).

Leaving the mosque we had a clear view of Haga Sofia, our next destination. This is the historical site that won my day. Its exterior has a really intriguing structural style with varying depths and heights between rooms and domes, the result of centuries of remodeling. Inside was also a treat, where walls engraved with Islamic scripture stood in harmony with faded frescos of Jesus and his apostles. It was the most beautiful culture clash I’d ever seen.

Our final historic visit of the day was Topkapi Palace. My dad and I are still unclear as to where exactly the palace is actually located. All of the buildings we walked through were designated for council members, or events (such as the circumcision room). The palace grounds were large and had a mixture of old and modern buildings, making it more museum than palace. The real show-stopper (other than the circumcision room) was the terrace that gave a stunning view of the Bosphorus and surrounding land. Not to mention there was a fucking rainbow over Istanbul at that very moment!

 Circumcision room

Circumcision room

After our exhaustive string of tours, we headed back to the hotel with a pit stop at Kurukahveci Mermet Effendi Mahdumlari to buy some coffee beans. After an impromptu nap, during which I allegedly punched my dad, we set out for dinner at Ficcin, a great Circassian restaurant that had the most delicious potato dumplings. Like I told my dad, there’s nothing better than starch wrapped in starch.

That leaves me at this moment. Sitting alone at Ugly, drinking my teal-colored Love Juice.

October 7, 2015

I’m from the barrio

Here I am, having a beer in the courtyard of a blues bar, listening to a Turkish band cover Smooth by Santana. The guitarist is killing it. I'm now in Istanbul--the Pera area to be exact. Yesterday was our final day in Bucharest and we didn't get to our hotel in Istanbul until 2am, so no journal entry (sorry, mom). I will quickly note that our final day in Bucharest was exactly what I'd hoped it be. I was able to walk around Revolution Square and see the potato (Memorial of Rebirth) up close. We had a final amble through the old city, and capped off the day with Sergiu and Adriana for dinner in their courtyard under a canopy of grape vines. 

My dad and I are staying at the Pera Tulip Hotel, the same hotel he and mom stayed at when they visited five years ago. It's situated in the more European side of the city near Galata Tower. We took off around eleven this morning, walking down İstiklal Avenue towards the Galata Bridge. You could see several mosques in the distance while walking down the hill with their slim, circular minarets. It was interesting to compare them to what I had seen in Morocco, where their style is square or octagonal. 

Our first activity of the day was taking the ferry along the Bosphorus. In retrospect, this probably wasn't the best activity to kick off my first day in a new city. I wanted to get into the streets and instead we were embarking on an hour-and-a-half boat ride that left the city and traveled north of the Bosphorus Bridge.  There's no denying that it was a beautiful trip, especially with sun being out. But my energy level was craving something a bit more hands on.

Nevertheless, we cruised along the strait while enjoying a cup of tea, which I soon realized was what my dad most loved about this trip, which he also did with my mom five years ago. There are advantages to traveling with someone who is a bit familiar with the city. For example, I had no clue that the bottom level of the Galata Bridge was packed with restaurants. My dad clued me into that because, yep, you guess it: He went there with my mom five years ago. But there's also the potential downside of having an attraction over-hyped and then feeling let down once you arrive for a first impression. 

Fortunately Istanbul is a city that doesn't let down. After the ferry ride, we continued on to the spice bazaar, picking up some pastries for dessert. Again, my experience in Morocco--specifically Fez--came to mind. There's a lot of similarities, yet Istanbul so far appears much more polished and new. I got a similar impression in the Grand Bazaar. I was going in expecting a similar experience to Fez or Marrakesh, and there were similarities, but what really impressed me was how orderly and modern it felt. 

We wandered around aimlessly for a long time before heading back to the hotel to clean up for dinner. The restaurant we picked out...
...Sorry. It's really hard writing right now with this band butchering Smoke On The Water. It's step below drunk karaoke. I don't understand how the street cats can sleep with this racket. Speaking of which, there's a cat curled up on my backpack, which at first grossed me out, but now I think it's kind of sweet. My new Turkish pet.

Back to dinner, we ate at The Number 19 Dining, a cozy spot near our hotel. This place had amazing food that had that home-cooked-meal feel to it. What was most interesting was the way they presented their dining options. Rather than a menu, they had the dishes spread out in the front of the restaurant and you picked from them, after which they would bring it out to the table. Kind of a high-end potluck. Like, I said, the food was great and the concept even better.

After dinner, we walked the entire length of İstiklal--even more impressive at night. It's the widest (and longest) pedestrian-only road I've ever seen...
...Sorry, again. I have a cat update. There are now two cats curled up on my backpack sleeping, and a weird albino-looking one on the outskirts. It's eyeing my roasted peanuts.

İstiklal. Huge. We walked a lot, I bought some Turkish Delights, and now I'm here with my cats, Turkish cornball of a bro-dude-cover-band, and empty pint of beer.
So far the distractions have been endless. Everything deserves attention and admiration and I'm beginning to think three days isn't enough.

October 5, 2015

Winding down

Though we have four days remaining of our trip, in many ways it feels like this experience is coming to an end. My energy is a bit low, I have a touch of homesickness, and my patience is wearing thin. At the same time I'm feeling anxious about fitting in every last thing I want to do or see in Bucharest before we leave tomorrow night for Istanbul. 

Yesterday was a wifi-less day, which is why there was no blog post. Of course, I was fine with that because, as I mentioned before, my impatience has made it so that I dread having to sit down before going to bed and summarize an entire day's worth of experiences in tidy little paragraphs. I'm especially dreading having to write about yesterday because so much happened in the form of conversations. 

We spent the entire day in Galați with family, arriving first at Radu and Veorica's home, where we would be staying that night. We arrived to an enormous spread of food, and place settings with multiple dishes--a sign that more food is to come. We spent the afternoon eating and drinking, beginning at the dining table and then moving into the back courtyard to sit in hammocks and lawn chairs. It was the perfect pace for a sunny Sunday. 

The whole family in Galați was there, joined by Radu's two sons, Radulicu and Ionuț--they were the final two cousins I had yet to meet. After finishing lunch, we all moved on to Nicoleta's home, where another enormous spread of food awaited us. My dad was able to spend more time with Sonia and share family stories, while I was busy sampling some of Nicoleta's homemade brandies. Noticing how much I enjoyed the cherry brandy, she packed some for me in a giant water bottle to take back home.

I also had the chance to get to know my cousins better as we spent a good amount of time talking in the courtyard about current events, video games, and what life was like under communist rule. On the whole, yesterday was about strengthening newly formed bonds and learning more about my family's history and why certain things are the way they are. 


October 3, 2015


 Happy International Coffee Day!

Happy International Coffee Day!

We had a super lazy morning--didn't even set an alarm! It turned out that our hotel has an awesome breakfast buffet, so we pigged out. After that we loaded into the car for a very short trip to the Cemetery Eternitatea (just on the edge of the city) where Dad's grandfather, grandmother, uncle, and aunt are buried. We were a little confused as to whether or not the uncle (Ticu) is actually buried there, because we didn't see his name marked anywhere. 

Dad went to buy a candle to light at their grave site. While he was doing that, I happened upon a little side building (next to the church) where they had a slanted platform behind a glass divider on which bodies were laid out for viewing. It was an interesting thing to stumble upon. 

After our visit to the cemetery, we left the car at the hotel and walked down towards the palace for lunch at a raw-vegan restaurant called Vivid. Dad was super skeptical, but it turned out to be so delicious. We were also told that today is International Coffee Day, so they gave us free (fair trade) coffee!

We walked through the palace grounds, which is where all the museums are located. It was a beautiful area with large lawns and fountains. It seemed like everyone was out strolling about. 

The rest of the day was very laid back. We walked back to the hotel and I did a bit of light shopping along the way. Dad and I split off so I could take a nap while he tracked down Abuela Tania's college. Dinner was also pretty simple, with dessert taking the spotlight. We shared a profiterol-- 3 cream-puff pastries with ice cream and whipped cream. 

 Where's dad? (look close, you'll find him)

Where's dad? (look close, you'll find him)

Tomorrow we hit the road at 8am for Galați. Our alarms are set for 7am, so I'm calling it quits early tonight. 

October 3, 2015

A check-in with Dad

Prior to leaving for our trip, my mom created a journal for my dad with a series of writing prompts, quotes, and even travel-themed crossword puzzles. It's a great idea, and my dad has faithfully dedicated an hour each night to the journal. However, last night over dinner he said, "I should have shared with your mother that I do not like writing in journals". 
Nevertheless, after returning to our hotel room, he sat at the desk and continued writing.

October 2, 2015

If you’ve seen one

There's this scene in Singing In The Rain where Debbie Reynolds flippantly explains why she doesn't go to the movies that often: "If you've seen one, you've seen them all." Is it wrong that I started feeling that way in regards to the painted monasteries? I only started to feel this way once we reached our final monastery today. I suppose 5 is the magic number in this case. 

 Sucevița Monastery

Sucevița Monastery

We first visited the Sucevița Monastery, followed by the Humorului Monastery. The former is not only the largest monastery in the Bucovina region, but also has the most impressive frescoes (in my opinion). Because of this, Humorului was sort of setup to disappoint. It's significantly smaller, and the surrounding courtyard bare in comparison to the other monasteries. However, there were people inside the church who were in the process of restoring the frescoes, so we were able to observe how they slowly (very slowly) bring the paintings back to life. 

 This tower was bigger than the church 

This tower was bigger than the church 

It's unfortunate, yet understandable, that photographs cannot be taken inside the churches. Looking at the exterior of the churches you would expect the interior to be the same. But it's actually much more vibrant and complex. It's beautiful the way the paintings climb up the interior of the domes to depict various stories from the bible. 

After our final monastery visits, we set off for Iași and once again enjoyed a beautiful drive. There was this one town we passed through that had bags of potatoes propped up on benches in front of people's homes. It seemed like everyone in that town was in the potato business, which had me wondering how anyone could make a profit with such steep competition. 

We arrived in Iași around 6pm and booked a couple of nights at Hotel Unirea, so we'll be staying put for a day before Dad goes all road warrior on me again. We got to walk around a bit after eating at a place called CUIB. Good vegetarian food and atmosphere. 

October 1, 2015

Acasa Celibidache

We left Onești fairly early this morning after stopping off at a patisserie for some coffee and breakfast strudels. Dad also got himself an eclair because...why not. We took the road North to Roman, a city large enough to appear highlighted on our road map, but too small for a mention in our guidebooks. Roman is the city where my grandmother was born and raised, and where her family home still [barely] stands. This was also the home where my uncle was born and raised, hence his bust perched on the front lawn. 

The house was built in 1887, presumably by or for our grandfather Demostene Celibidache. It would make sense given the timeline and his appointment to the city government. The hazier details are ones we hope to have clarified when we see Sonia again on Sunday.

While in Roman, we happened upon a march or parade or dedication of some sort. From what my dad could make out, a group of military personnel were being acknowledged and blessed by an Orthodox priest for some impending battle. But, as my dad quickly pointed out, none of the service people looked young enough to be in fighting condition. And it was true. Not only that, but who's Romania about to go off and fight?

Mystery unsolved, we left in the direction of our next destinations, two large Orthodox convents located near Târgu Neamț. The first convent we visited was a bit of a let down. I was actually confused as to whether or not we were allowed to be there. It just felt unwelcoming and unremarkable. The second convent was a whole other story.

 Agapia Convent

Agapia Convent

The Agapia Convent is incredibly beautiful and one of the most tranquil places I've ever visited. The interior courtyard of the convent is full of roses and wildflowers, and is extremely quiet--but not the eerie kind of quiet. Outside of the fortified walls are rolling evergreen hills that make the convent feel completely isolated. They even had a museum of random Eastern-Orthodox artifacts as well as art by Nicolae Grigorescu, who was responsible for painting the interior of the church after it's restoration.

After the visit to the convent, we continued our way North to Gura Humorului, a more tourist-friendly spot given it's central location to the painted monasteries of Southern Bucovina. I should mention that our drive since Sinaia has been incredibly beautiful. The landscape has changed from forested mountain ranges, to farmland, to rolling meadows...And the architecture becomes more ornate and less touched by the country's communist past. 

Upon arriving in Gura Humorului, we found ourselves with a bunch of extra time, so we booked a room at the very cute, very reasonably-priced Hilde's Residence, and then jumped back into the car to see our first painted monastery. 

Voroneț Monastery is just a few kilometers north of Gura Humorului and is known as the "blue" monastery. Supposedly the color blue used in the paintings is one that no one has been able to reproduce since. I don't know how true that is, I haven't fact-checked, but there you go.

 Detailed view of the Voroneț Monastery's exterior wall

Detailed view of the Voroneț Monastery's exterior wall

What I will say is that the inside of the church made my jaw drop. From floor to the very-high domed ceilings, are painted elaborate frescoes and icons in crazy bright colors. Inside the church were some before-and-after photos showing was the paintings looked like prior to the restoration. It was remarkable to see how well they were able to restore the details and saturation of the originals. 

Tomorrow we will visit two more of the painted monasteries that lay further in the North. After that, we'll zip clear across to the East for Iași.