Tuesday, 7 September 2010

An Apology

Ok, so. I like to write those long, literary-esque blog posts. I rather enjoy them. Much better than saying “and then I did this…”. But they take time. I’m digging during the day but I brought a lot of work for uni that needs to be done and I told myself to do it. And I do need to do it, it’s much more important than you all knowing about what particular metaphor I would like to use to describe Brasov in a horribly pretentious first-person narrative (it’s a personal blog, if you don’t like it, get your own :D). Worst case I’ll retell the same stories a million times over. I’m noting down plans to jog my memory of the events, for the blog posts, so I guess eventually you’ll get more stories. I have pretty pictures, interesting anecdotes and odd videos (OMIGOSH THAT WAS TOTALLY A TRICOLON CRESCENS WITH A HYPERBATIC THIRD PHRASE INTERRUPTING THE CONSONANCE/ASSONANCE PLAY don’t listen to me, I’ve had too much Tzuica). But later. Yeah, you get your blogs WHEN I FEEL LIKE IT.

So, to let you all know what you really want to know:

  • I’m having a great time, and I’m learning more than I could have ever imagined about myself and life in general.
  • My Romanian really only consists of thank you (multumesc), good morning/day/evening//good night (buna diminatsa/ziua/seara//napte buna), cheers (narroc), please (va rog), I am (sunt), gerunds are formed by a –tul ending, yes/no (da – yes, just like Russian –/nu), and the most important fact: MOST ROMANIANS SPEAK ENGLISH! I met a kid, Lucian, in the internet cafe on Wednesday who was 13 and spoke nearly fluent English. We’re Facebook’d now.
  • The other three volunteers are: Kirstine, the Dane (AKA Vicky the Viking), Sophie, the German (AKA The Hamburger) and Lena, the other German (AKA Cleo). My nickname is Gunther. Apparently it is applied to well-hung Austrian men and ugly Germans. Go figure.
  • I have found bones, pottery and a bit of an inscription. Currently we are in Sarmizegetusa excavating the Capitolium (temple to Capitoline Jupiter) and a drainage channel built by someone after another temple was ruined (this temple is to three Persian gods… can’t remember the weird names). Going to Arad this weekend for the remainder to dig up Bronze Age Thracian pits. Apparently there are SKELETONS!
  • Tzuica is made from apples, plums, any sugary fruit – best from plums or pears. Sasa (my roomie PhD student Archaeological buddy) says I should tell you that.
  • I am currently listening to Evanescence. iPhone speakers are working a treat because these new headphones sound like being underwater.
  • I have a mild sunburn on the back of my lower upper-arms (around the elbow). Aside from that I’m healthily tanned.
  • My beard is awesome. Will send pics before it gets shaved (if ever).
  • The food here is… REALLY HUGE PORTIONS. Speaking of which, dinner time! TTYL, lots of love darlings.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

The Plan

Wednesday 25 August London to Brasov
Thursday 26 August Brasov to Porolissum
Friday 27 August Porolissum
Saturday 28 August Porolissum
Sunday 29 August Porolissum to Sarmizegetusa
Monday 30 August Sarmizegetusa
Tuesday 31 August Sarmizegetusa
Wednesday 1 September Sarmizegetusa
Thursday 2 September Sarmizegetusa
Friday 3 September Sarmizegetusa
Saturday 4 September Sarmizegetusa to Arad
Sunday 5 September Arad
Monday 6 September Arad
Tuesday 7 September Arad
Wednesday 8 September Arad
Thursday 9 September Arad
Friday 10 September Arad
Saturday 11 September Arad
Sunday 12 September Arad
Monday 13 September Arad
Tuesday 14 September Arad
Wednesday 15 September Arad
Thursday 16 September Arad
Friday 17 September Arad
Saturday 18 September Arad?
Sunday 19 September Arad to Brasov?
Monday 20 September Brasov?
Tuesday 21 September Brasov?
Wednesday 22 September Brasov to London?


Apparently Brasov is always worth a look so I’ll return to have a few days there before finally hitting the road home. My flight is at 22:50 on 22 September, so I am going to look into getting to Bucharest early and having some time there. Lord knows where I’ll put my rucksack, maybe I’ll just carry it. It would be nice to find a locker or something for it though. Need to look into it when I post this blog (MENTAL NOTE TO SELF TOM!). I’ll tell you about Arad on a need to know basis.


N.1 (I’m going to try to keep the blogs shorter; I stayed up far too late last night. I promise a minimum of one blog every M-W-F, but maybe you’ll get more!)
N.2 (Planned and half written on the train from Brasov to Cluj Thurs 26 Aug, finished Tues 31. Events occur on Wed 25th Aug.)

“Thomas!” Alex extends his hand as I offer an uncertain “Salut,” outside his apartment block on the outskirts of-

I’m writing this on the train. Alex gets off the phone:
“My best friend is getting married this Saturday. Only yesterday we were running naked after cars in Brasov. We're growing up,” he muses with trepidation.
“Naked after cars?” I inquire.
“Yeah, it was mid-Februrary, four or five years ago. We lost a bet and it was about -21, -22.”
I'm missing the obvious point, so I offer in vain reassurance, “Well, it happens to all of us.”
“We always used to say we'd get married if we were stupid or bored!” he laughs.
“Is he happy?”
“Yes... I've told him what I think though!”

-Brasov. Daniel and he exchange a few words, laugh and Daniel leaves. “Multumesc,” I call as he gets into the car.

“Welcome to my house!” Alex declares, leading me into his apartment. It has two or three bedrooms, a kitchen, sitting room, bathroom and hallway in miniature. His room, in which I will stay, has all the hallmarks of a big kid. There are action figures on the shelves and a giant plasma TV connected to an Xbox.
“Where did you learn English Alex?”
“Cartoon Network.”

Alex enjoys the little things. He’s very upset to see the water in his new aquarium is still cloudy, but even so he’s rather proud of it. It is impressive. There’s a shisha thing in the corner with a Canadian flag sticking out of it (his ambition is to get out of Romania and live in Canada). He has a towel pinned up with the BMW logo. He shows me a racing game on his laptop that effectively involves destroying your opponents and surviving to the finish, and I’m disappointed to forget its name later. I note the video games on the floor and we begin a geeky discussion.
“But they're very expensive here, much more than England.”
“They're expensive too, in England.”
But the pizza arrives and we end the conversation there. Though I still wonder at our relative definitions of 'expensive'.

Over pizza we watch Bear Grylls on the Discovery channel. Alex has cable and the Romanians prefer subtitles to dubbing, so we both enjoy our own cynical commentary:
I'm going alone into the deep marshes...
“With your cameraman, sound guy and producer!”
...where no-one will be able to help me if I'm injured.
“Except the guys filming you in the helicopter.”

I ask Alex a bit about himself. He's 22, an IT student at the university, but he also works two jobs: the ProjectsAbroad desk officer (the general point of contact about anything) and repairs computers for another company.
“In the holidays, or all the time?”
“All the time, of course!”
I'm a little stunned. Two jobs? And studies? 
“Isn’t that pretty tough?”
He looks away for the briefest time, with his voice trailing off he says, “Yeah, it can be. But money…”

I unpack while he makes my bed. I help him with the duvet, and when it’s done I pick up my new headphones in their awkward clamshell packaging.
“Do you have any scissors for these?”
I follow him to the kitchen where he gets a pair and I open it, explaining, “I left my headphones at home, I bought these in the airport.”
“How much were they?”
“Sixteen pounds.” I had looked for cheaper ones but, being petrified of planes and always looking for an escape while flying, bought them. The plan fell through when I realized they were unopenable with my bare hands. I didn’t think too much of the price anyway.
“Woah, not cheap huh?”
It hadn’t really crossed my mind. What could I do with that money? Why did I spend it? I guess it was worth it, in the end, but I hadn’t thought about it, just handed the money over. Three hours waiting tables. The cost of a nice lunch for two.

It’s an old cliche, that you don’t know how privileged you are. I’ve always been grateful and respectful of my father’s provision for me and our family. But I guess when all you know is your dad just paying for stuff, never saying “I can’t afford this” and rarely saying “It’s too expensive” (though more often “You realize this isn’t cheap, you should look after this/use it/be grateful.”), you get that way yourself. Step into a tiny apartment that houses a family (I briefly met his sister, his mother was on holiday), meet a guy whose ambition is for Canada but works two jobs while studying for a degree in IT, all while avoiding growing up, or getting too serious (he’s doing a fine job),  you start learning a lot pretty quickly.

Sixteen pounds. Not cheap. 

Saturday, 28 August 2010

Update 28/8

I have about three blog posts in the cooker but can't upload any. I don't have a USB stick and this Internet cafe won't take SD cards...

In short: got to placement, met some great people, NEARLY found a spearhead, going elsewhere tomorrow. I might re-write one if I have the time but I'd rather just give you decent ones and dump a load on you when I get Internet for my netbook or SD card access.

Also none of them are quite finished so even if I did get access now, I'd need to polish them off. I'll get at least one done for Friday's and another for Monday.

I'm getting a tan!

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Where Am I?

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Where Was I?

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Where Will I Be?

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A Thousand Tiny Photos

I walk away from my Dad just before security in London Luton. It doesn’t feel all that scary though. I mean, I’ve taken planes alone before: the only difference is, this is the first time I’ve gone to a foreign country alone. It isn’t really a huge leap, I guess.


You can make up your own mind about the colour scheme. I sit in the lounge, waiting for the queue to die, consuming a hearty cinnamon and apple doughnut and regretting not replying to Alicia’s letter (I WILL, I PROMISE!).

The plane is an Airbus A320 and remarkably plush. I settle down for the flight next to a Romanian couple, and, as I extract my Rough Guide to Romania, I am struck by the lack of long hair on men. A nameless dread engulfs me and for the shortest time I ponder getting a haircut on arrival before realizing that I’ve a) probably already offended them and b) I should stop assuming that the culture is radically different.

The Rough Guide is entertaining, certainly, but I feel it doesn’t explain how to actually bribe someone (they call it “tipping”. To dodge train fares.) Do you sidle up to them and pass the Lei? Do you smile and put into their chest pocket? Do they initiate the exchange with a cough and an outstretched hand?

I’m still reading the language section when the plane begins its approach. There’s a lot of turbulence, and I can’t help but wonder at this being some bizarre method of altitude loss by disrupting lift. Stalling the plane probably isn’t quite the object either but I’m not the only one suffering from unease. The lady next to me laughs nervously and I point to the “basics” section of the language guide and say “Rau” (there’s an accent there; pronounced “roh”) which means “bad”. She agrees and I feel assured that in my last moments I actually did something constructive with my rapidly shortening lifespan!

We applaud the landing. First time I’ve ever done that, but I feel an awesome gratitude for the relief it has lent me. Landing at a speed that you know is too fast necessitating huge amounts of braking is always discombobulating.

Romanian is basically pro-French. It’s kind of easy, (pronunciation is quick to get a hold of, I remembered a lot of the symbols from my study of Egyptian) but it ramps up. I still haven’t got a hold of a grammar but I know it declines and conjugates more thoroughly than French (the only other European/Romance language I know well enough to comment on), and that it has quite a bit of Latin to it, which is pleasant (cald = hot, este = is, este calde “It’s hot!”).

I step off the plane and it’s warm, but for some reason not oppressively so. I wonder if they’ve been acclimatizing us over the flight. The sun is bright in an empty sky. I don my sunglasses and walk grinning down to the coach. Buna ziua!

At immigration the man looks twice, then a third time at me. My hair was longer in the photo, I look a bit more like I should be in a band (a bad band. And fourteen.) than the smiling guy who tried to say “Salut.” Eventually he concedes, swipes the passport and hands it back. I’m slightly disappointed, as I walk to the baggage reclaim, since they probably would have to do some kind of biometric scan or something cool.


My rucksack is on the second trolley. This is my home away from my home away from home, in a quiet corner of the carousel where I repack my passport and shirt into the bag (two layers… yeah, I’m prepared). Note the careful arrangement of objects and do not ask the question why I took this picture.

My hair fears are assuaged by Daniel, the ProjectsAbroad (the people who are running this trip for me) driver, who is definitely beyond a number 2 haircut. He has a friend with him, whose name I don’t catch. He apologizes for his English, I apologize for my Romanian and I already feel pretty welcome. My big rucksack goes into the boot, little one on the backseat beside me. Joining the highway Daniel guns the engine and a horn blares from behind.

“Welcome to Romania!” he observes, and I start to wonder that maybe this nation takes life with the seriousness it deserves. I smile.

“So you’re doing Archaeology?” (Daniel)
“Da... er, sase hores to, er, Cluj.” (me attempting Romanian)
“Ooh, Cluj. Six hours tomorrow, two hours in the car today! Lot of travelling.”
“Yeah, a lot. How long to Brasov? Two or three hours?”
“There’s lots of traffic now, so could be three. Everyone goes on holiday from Bucharest because it’s too warm. 36°. About 28° in Brasov.”

I’m shocked. I know it would reach that temperature but I reasoned that it had passed, the height of the afternoon having dwindled into 1615 hours as I got off the plane. It honestly doesn’t feel anywhere as bad, and I’m even wearing jeans and walking boots.

Romanian weather is infamously variable; hikers are advised to expect sudden, heavy thunderstorms. Not far from Bucharest the clouds gather into this:


We pass a wooden church, a beautiful white one among the greater metropolitan area of Bucharest. I don’t bring my camera to bear quickly enough.

Eventually I fell asleep, somehow, but woke up half an hour later. I didn’t want to miss the mountains.


That cross is 39 metres high. The Romanians call this land Ardeal. It’s a generic term for mountainous forested areas, but they apply it to Transylvania mostly. It makes me think of Arboreal, and it is, rich blankets of trees everywhere. And in the valleys below we take our course.

I manage to grab a picture of a… something. It looks like a church, here:IMG_1275

(lazy picture editing there, sorry. Rotate THEN crop…)

I see other prettier churches. I see them painted, beautiful Orthodox ones in Brasov. I see shrines dotted all over the place, next to carts parked by the road selling melons. There’s a man taking his bull for a walk. There are stray dogs everywhere (Ceausescu's regime bulldozed homes for city re-planning, and owners released their dogs onto the streets. They’re breeding and the population is booming).

These are the thousand tiny photos that I didn’t get with my camera, the ones that fill my mind. I already love them.

In Brasov I met Alex, the desk officer of ProjectsAbroad and my host. He’s only a few years older so we get on pretty well (geeky gamers… but also rather laddish). I’ll tell you more about that some other time, maybe. But yeah, that was my journey here.

It’s a really beautiful country. I want to come camping here, bring a friend. It’s raw and old and new, all at once, and I’m weaving a tapestry with those thousand tiny photos. I’ll hang it in my mind’s eye for a long time to come.


Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Testing Out Writer

Typing this on the Wind. Not too shabby, it seems. Keys are a lot heavier than my MacBook’s though.