Old Faithful

August 19, 2017


We joined the crowds (and I mean crowds) watching the 10:45 “show” that Old Faithful put on.  I must say, as crowded as Yellowstone is this weekend, the Park Service seems ready for all of us.   And so, a front-row seat and unimpeded view.

But let’s talk about the etymology of the word “geysir.”  It’s Icelandic — which makes good sense, since Iceland has its fair share of these blowholes.  But “geysir” is not a generic term — or at least, it wasn’t originally.  “Geysir” is the proper name of a specific geysir in Iceland that, like Old Faithful, is fairly predictable and therefore fairly popular.  And the proper name has become the generic term. How many people know>

What I remember most fondly from my trip 56 years ago are the mudpots and fumaroles.  And I spent most of the day trying to find a mudpot that matched my memory from that time. It finally happened at the Paint Pots, and not only that, but a family including two children only slightly older than I was 56 years ago were absolutely mesmerized by the mudpots — in fact, they had named the bubbles.  Here I thought I was unique, but probably all primary school kids like a smaller phenomenon — something that is sized more to them.


It’s been a busy two days.  Tomorrow we leave to head west through Idaho.  The crowds will continue, of course, because of the eclipse … we’ll manage!



America’s Wonderland

August 18, 2017


It’s my birthday! And as we entered Yellowstone, the ranger said that if I wanted to pay $10 for a Senior Citizen card, she would be happy to make it happen.  For $10, I can now enter any National Park/Monument/Historical Site/WhatHaveYou for life.  In a few weeks, the cost goes up to $80.

Even at $80, what a bargain! The National Park system is now my oyster! The National Park system began at Yellowstone, and so it seems fitting that I should get my Senior Citizen card here.  The last time I was here, actually, was 56 years ago.  Believe me, I remember it as if it were yesterday. I really do.

Truth be told, this isn’t a good weekend to be at Yellowstone.  First, Frank and I are barely back from Romania, and we need to get our feet back under us.  But we were in Evanston for a meeting, and Frank has never been to Yellowstone, and as discussed it’s been more than a half-century for me …

And then there’s the eclipse.  Yellowstone is north of the centerline, but close enough to totality (and this IS August) that everyone and his sister decided to be here this weekend. We spent the afternoon dodging traffic and searching for parking spaces in the Park – hardly conducive to the tranquility that is supposed to be part of the Park experience.

But that brings up another point.  The Trump Administration is going through the Monuments that Obama enacted to see which ones to eliminate.  Hooey! May I suggest that an Administration official come here if s/he needs proof that our Parks are popular and, among other things, create jobs?  And that the Wonderlands of our Nation are truly worth setting aside for future generations?

Meanwhile, Happy Birthday to me, in the Park that started not only our National Park system, but National Park systems throughout the world.





Narrow Gauge Logging Train

July 25, 2017


Frank had arranged for us to spend the day on a steam-powered narrow-gauge railway traveling up-up-up a valley tucked into the mountains almost to the Ukrainian border.

It was lovely.  It was quaint.  Why is it that “bumpy” on a road is uncomfortable but on a train it is “quaint”?  It was all of that.

It was also an experience in miniature of what we have been seeing on the sides of the roads the past few days.  Village churches with aluminum roofs, gleaming in the sun.  Horse-drawn wagons.  A dog herding sheep.  An elderly lady washing the clothes in the river.  Beautiful vistas.  Tall evergreens.

And at the top, while the train crew served a “mixed grill” lunch (I would call it sausage and chicken breast, plus the trimmings) we were entertained with Romanian line dancing (basically, a grapevine) with passengers joining in.  It was fun!

For being in the middle of nowhere, this is a remarkably popular excursion — our train held about 180 people, we estimated, and it was one of four trains that made the trip! For all that, I think we were the only English speaking people on the train – the crowd seemed to be made up of Romanians on summer holiday.  Which made it even more fun.

Today is our last full day in this country, and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it – well, except for the road work yesterday! Tomorrow we head back to Hungary and home.


Growing Accustomed

July 24, 2017


It’s always the same in a new place:  You see something characteristic to the region but absolutely new to you, and you must take pictures everytime you see it.  Then it becomes commonplace, and something else takes over as the “thing” that must be photographed. So it has been for us.

The first was horse-drawn carriages. basically blocking traffic. After we had our fill of those, it was stork nests, and now we don’t even bother to call out when we see a nest unless it has a minimum of three birds in it.  Then it was haystacks, and now that we have had our fill of them, I find myself taking pictures of elderly ladies wearing babuskas as they go about their business.

We are in the middle of nowhere — well, Maramures, to be exact, a region in the northern part of Romania up against the Ukraine border.  It’s been a tough day – we knew the roads would be “secondary” (make that “tertiary” by western standards; what we didn’t know is that there would be road work the entire trip, and so (as designated driver) I learned to ignore the center line and go for the next few feet with fewest potholes.  If this rental car gets returned in decent condition I will be amazed  But it was beautiful — the scenery, I mean — and we were certainly off the beaten track with no English and no expectations.  And lots of opportunity to take pictures of babuskas!

More tomorrow.  If we all survive …

Painted Monasteries

July 23, 2017


I loved Transylvania and could have happily stayed a week, but our self-imposed itinerary required us to move on.  We drove most of the day — I should explain that Frank doesn’t like Dana’s driving, and neither Dana nor I like Frank’s driving, so I’m the designated driver — and are now in Suceava in the northeast corner of the country.

Our drive here was, um, memorable.  First, it’s important to avoid horse-drawn carts, bicyclists, pedestrians, whatever happens to be in the right-hand lane.  Second, passing lanes are available when headed uphill on switchbacks – in other words, when on a curve, one is expected to speed up and pass slower traffic.  Third of all, if the guy in front of you wants to turn left, he doesn’t signal – he just moves all the way to the left and slows down.  After awhile, I found myself getting used to this … anyway.

There are few tourists, and fewer English speakers in this part of the country.  The painted monasteries – they date from the 14th century and no one is quite sure why they were painted on both the outside and the inside although everyone’s got a theory – are quite unique.  The colors are still vivid — except on the north face from whence cometh the weather — and the quality is exceptional.  Remember, this is the time during which the early Renaissance art was developing in Italy – and this work is of the same quality.

Today, the monasteries are closed, but the churches are still active places of worship.  The local people were clearly moved to be there in ways that tourists can’t duplicate.  It was wonderful.

Undiscovered Territory

July 22, 2017


It first happened to Frank and me in 1993 when we visited Prague.  And again in 2008 when we were in Estonia.  Now, we’re in Romania — eastern Europe offers surprises that are, well, surprising!

Let’s face it:  The world has been to western Europe, and as great as it is to experience this for oneself, the leaning Tower of Pisa leans, the Acropolis gleams, the Eiffel Tower marvels – just as it is supposed to.  Eastern Europe is an adventure.

And no more so than here in Transylvania.  We started off the day at Bran Castle, which is supposedly where Bram Stoker got the idea for Dracula.  Today it’s a theme park, but we happily took our picture beneath the castle which evokes everything it is supposed to evoke.

And then it was off on adventure.  Of all the factoids about Transylvania, the weirdest is also the most  true:  That this area was settled in the middle ages by Germans who emigrated here to help hold the border against the Ottomans.  So Transylvania is one small German village after another, complete with “fortified” Lutheran churches — fortified, that is, against attack — and half-timber houses with steep roofs.

The Germans, miraculously, maintained their heritage and their language for about 500 years.  After WWII most of them emigrated back to Germany, where they presumably found their German to be more akin to that of Luther than Brecht.  But what they left sure is beautiful. We passed working farmers with horse-drawn wagons, medieval churches, and lots and lots of rolling hillsides.  We visited a twelfth century bell tower and ruins to match.  And then back to Brasov for an organ concert, dinner and to bed.  ‘

Tomorrow, more  adventures.


Gateway to Transylvania

July 21, 2017


By the time breakfast was over, our laundry had reappeared and we were packed and out of the hotel it was 11:00 or so, and then we spent more time at Avis Rent-a-Car — but well worth it, because we came away with a car with automatic transmission.  Hurrah!

Then we headed north and, several hours later, arrived in Brasov.  Frank had arranged our hotel – it’s a perfectly charming old house on the hill that once held the citadel a short walk from the main square — unfortunately, no elevator, and we are on the third floor.  Remembering that on the Continent the floors start with zero, make that four flights up … anyway.

Frank and I went for a walk down to the square for a look-see and a beer, and then we rejoined Dana on the terrace of the hotel for supper.

Tomorrow:  All that Transylvania is famous for!