Paynesville Press - August 16, 2006

Community Perspective

Romania should become travel destination

By Kathy Ziegler

Editor's Note: This is the second column submitted by Ziegler following her trip to Romania to visit her son Frank Jr. this spring.

The schools are required to accept any children who want to come. There is a gypsy camp outside of town below the Eastern Orthodox monastery. All of the many monasteries around the country have such camps and help the gypsies with any of their needs (food in particular), to make up for using them as slaves in years past.

No one is afraid of them, except the tourists who are told to beware. In the cities they may be pickpockets, but mostly they just ask for charity, particularly the children riding the underground trains. Some can be seen sniffing paint in plastic bags. No one does anything about it.

When Cecesceau was in power, he forced the Jews and others from their homes, turning them over to the gypsies, to destroy neighborhoods.

We stayed with a Canadian couple in a pensiune (like a bed and breakfast) and learned that the father of the owner had been forced from his home in the 1970s and sent his children to Canada. One son, now about 50, told us about coming back after the revolution to reclaim his home. He and his Canadian-born wife and four little children had to live in the basement as he had to take each of the 13 gypsies living there to court individually to evict them. It took eight years.

They had the sabbath rules posted, so it must have happened when the Romanians sided with the Germans and hunted down the Jews. He didn't say what happened to his parents. Cecesceau razed whole villages, forcing the citizens to live in ugly block houses, which are still a blight in every city today.

Another remnant of those times are the pets that lost their homes as the owners were forced into apartment living. There are many stray dogs and cats everywhere. The dogs can become dangerous if they get too hungry. The government is starting to round them up to neuter them after a Japanese businessman was killed by a pack of dogs a few months before our visit.

Romania hopes to be admitted to the European Union in two years, so other forms of moderization are taking place, like institutions for orphans and mental patients being forced to close. The problem is that there's no place for the residents to go.

It's a poor country. But it's also very charming, so it will become a tourist destination within the next 20 years. There are beautiful monasteries everywhere, the six most famous found in Bucovina in the Carpathian Mountains.

They are colorfully painted inside and out. No one knows what kind of paint was used to last against the elements for over 500 years. They're surrounded by lovely gardens cared for by the nuns, which we weren't able to appreciate in March; we only saw rows of bottomless two-liter pop bottles covering dormant roses. But the beautiful snow-covered mountain scenery in between the monasteries was spectacular.

There are more bears and wolves in Romania than anywhere else in the world. Hikers and animal lovers will be drawn to this unspoiled land. The Romanians will have to learn how to put a few amenities in place like decent toilets. Even in some nice restaurants they are not much better than the "two holer."

But the prices in restaurants are very good. Most meals are about $3. They are switching from old Lei (30,000 = $1) to new (300 =$1) which can be confusing so we were glad to have Frankie handle the money and tell us what things cost. We stayed in pensiunes for the most part, paying between $20 and $30 a night for a clean room with bath. City hotels are $50. Sometimes breakfast is included, and you have to hope other guests washed their hands as you pick up a loaf of bread to slice your piece, or when handling other food items laid out for all to share.

Horse-drawn cart in Romania Public transportation is very good. And cheap. We preferred trains but used buses and "maxi taxis" in remote areas. The first night I arrived in the town where Frankie lived, we got off the bus a mile from his house with big suitcases (loaded with school supplies). When I asked about a cab, he said there were none so we'd hitchhike. He stood on the road and pointed his finger down as a car passed and within minutes someone stopped!

We did this several times when we missed a bus or none was to be had. Frankie offered money (under $1) and sometimes they'd take it, but usually not. The lady he lives with is a nurse and she travels to the hospital in the next town this way everyday, even though her retired husband has a car in the barn. It's the accepted way and very safe.

Romania - where Frank Ziegler Jr. of Paynesville is serving as a Peace Corps volunteer - mixes the old with the new.

Walking around at night alone isn't dangerous, either. When we traveled by bus, we all put our belongings underneath, as the seats are narrow and there's no storage place inside. When the bus stopped in each town and people got off, they opened the bottom to get their things, and no one was concerned with watching to see what was being taken.

One day I noticed one woman watching everyone as they loaded their things and seemed very concerned, so I asked Frankie why she was so attentive, telling people where to put their bags. He said she was guarding a cake she'd made and didn't want anyone messing it up!

The pastries here are very good! I'm a tea drinker and enjoyed their "fruits of the forest" tea, which is served everywhere but always different. It depends on which local berries and herbs are used. They usually don't bother with tea bags.

I tried to find out who owned the land around the town, but no one seemed to know. I was curious because the animals graze there in the summer, and people were always walking around gathering straw to feed goats, chopping kindling wood, etc. One lady gathered twigs and was tying them to a long stick to make a broom. These brooms could even be seen in the cities, being used by street sweepers. Men were chopping bark and branches off long logs with hatchets. Huge logs were being split by hand. We observed men widening mountain roads using shovels and wheelbarrows. Building a house takes years because of all the hand labor. But they last for centuries.

As we traveled around the country, Frankie contacted other Peace Corps Volunteers in the places we visited. We'd take them out to dinner, and they'd tell us what to see, where to stay (sometimes with them), as well as the food specialties on our menu. Sarmala (stuffed cabbage rolls) were always a good choice. Flori, the woman of the house where Frankie lives, made us sarmala, first going out to the barn to get the cabbage where it was stored in straw for the winter.

One time when we were at a monastary, I wondered about a row of graves, heaped with blankets under the snow. We were told that the apples from the orchard were stored there. Vegetables are always pickled or cooked, so salad isn't on the menus. I'd brought Frankie some seeds to plant in the garden of his host family; Flori was intrigued by the lettuce mixture. He's told me since that when he picks the spinach for his salad and gives her some, she always cooks it.

One cold day we went to a local spa to swim for $1. The Romanians consider these mineral baths to be very medicinal, with various grasses used for their particular ailment. We had a wonderful half-hour massage for $2!

Through churches and the Lions Club, Paynesville has sent groups of its citizens to Romania recently. I hope everyone has found the country to be as interesting, as friendly and as instructive as I found it. I am also happy that our son has the chance to spend part of his youth teaching and learning from these people.

Ziegler of Paynesville recently visited her son Frank Jr. in Romania, where he serves as a Peace Corps Volunteer.

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