Friday, 15 June 2018

Romania 2018


So I went to the airport one train earlier than scheduled. You never know, quite a few have been cancelled in the last few weeks. It was running late a few minutes, as was the airport connection in Geneva. So far, so good.

Arcul de Triumf in București

I browsed through the food court and the 2 and a half shops in the airport lobby. The security check queue was almost empty, so I had plenty of time.

So I thought.

Until, when thinking I would go through security, I realised I had forgotten my passport. I checked the time, knowing I would never make it home and back in time to catch my flight, even if it ran late half an hour, a advertised. I started sweating lightly.

Antic Ex-Libris book store

Street crossing

Now Romania is part of the EU, no? So I could go import myself with my Swiss ID card? What about the passport number I registered on the ticket?
I went to look if I could find a WizzAir desk, thinking that's the last air company anyone would know of. Quickly, I was directed to the SwissPort desk, at which WizzAir was hadvertised.
The lady at the desk quickly asserted that I could go with my ID and that no one would care if I traveled with my ID instead of my passport. She ended our conversation with "ça va mieux maintenant.".
That's what happens when you book a trip with almost no time to prepare it.

Castelul de Bran

Now why did I choose Romania? Basically because of two reasons. The first, I never set foot in that country, which is reason enough. Second, I wanted to see how Dracula's Transylvania looked.

Room in Castelul de Bran

Room in Castelul de Bran

Transylvania, or at least the very small parts I've seen of it, is really nice when the sun shines.
Dracula's castle, which is actually Castelul de Bran and quite small is very beautiful, inside and out.

Inner court of Castelul de Bran

I rented a car to freely roam the Romanian roads, although I had only so much time at hand. Two days to be precise, with a flight scheduled at lunch time on the third day.

On the first day I drove all the way to Bran, which is a small town out of the Carpathian mountains. The road winds through the Carpathian mountains to get there though.
After visiting the castle and considering the next step using a restaurant's WiFi connection, I drove back to Sinaia, from where it would be close to go visit Peleș Castle and the Sfinxul. The Sfinxul is a Sphinx shaped rock in the Bucegi national park. It's not so far, but it's a narrow and very winding road that gets up there. It was heavily clouded and rainy, so I wasn't able to see it.

Castelul de Peleș

For my first night out of Bucharest, I found this most awesome house which was designed by the same architect that was hired to improve and extend the Peleș castle. The house itself also looks like a castle. Its current residents, Carmen and her mother are also very welcoming and nice. Carmen also makes elder flower limonade.

Moorish room in Castelul de Peleș

Reception room in Castelul de Peleș

Castelul Bran was built much earlier than Peleș, and for complete different reasons. Bran castle originated with a pass control checkpoint at Roman times. The castle built later on the same spot as it is thought, was built for the pass control and also the administration of the surrounding areas a far as Brasov.

Royal bedroom in Castelul de Peleș
Peleș and Pelișor (its smaller neighbor) on the other hand, were built for king Carol the first. It has been the royal family's summer residence from about 1911 up to the last king of Romania, who died in 2017. During the winter months, the castle was open for visitors as a museum. The money gathered like this being used for helping improve Romania's social well-being like funding for the elders, the poor and the sick.

Vegetation below Castelul de Peleș

All the rooms are heavily decorated with tapestries and heavy furniture. Different rooms have complete different decorations, like for instance the Turkish room and the Moorish room.
Bran castle was a functional castle with very sober rooms. It has its own authentic charms. I personally like it better. Also, Vlad the impaler lived there, and was probably the origin of Dracula.

Small town between Bran, Brasov and Sinaia

As an end note, I'll quickly write about Bucharest (București in Romanian), Romania's capital city. I have been there first, on my trip. I arrived in the afternoon, booked an UberX taxi to Central Guesthouse, where I stayed for 2 nights. I was impressed with the first glimpse of prices I have seen. Because, when looking at the prices in Lei (RON), it looks like similar prices than in Switzerland. Except that you divide the Lei by four to get Swiss Francs.
The city is very interesting in itself. It has loads of museums, ancient buildings, and other sights to see and visit.

Countryside outside of Bran, in direction of the Carpathian mountains

The metro system is quite efficient and very easy to navigate. You can get a day pass for 8 Lei. Mainly everything of interest seems to be on the blue line.
Some interesting sights would be the old village (like Ballenberg in Switzerland) but have not been to it, the largest beer hall in eastern Europe (have not been either), the parcul Regele in the north of the city (visited), the book store Antic Ex-Libris located in a historic building (quite impressive, have visited), The Arcul de Triumf (visited). I roamed the old city, and when I saw it all (it's not that big), I took the metro to the parcul Regele, and aftewards mostly walked back to the old city.

Vila Rezetat in Sinaia

The old city has been converted to a eating/party place for tourists. The prices are still quite OK though. And there are some interesting restaurants like the restaurant Hanu' lui Manuc which has animation and local dishes.

Menu page of Hanu' lui Manuc

The prices are even lower outside of Bucharest.

Bucegi national park
Bulz in restaurant Snow in Sinaia

Friday, 16 February 2018

The man in the chair

The boy was slim
He grew up to be a slim man
He went to Burma
To watch people pass by
He took a chair and sat
Sat on the side of a busy street
He watched and watched
People pass by
It was so interesting to him
The man watched and ate
People brought him food
Street food, finger food, soup
They fed him well
So well, that the slim man
Was not slim anymore
The slim man grew fat
And fatter and fatter
So much that he stayed in his chair
All day long without moving
As the years went by
People couldn't see the chair anymore
The chair was still there
This chair the slim man chose
He chose it to sit upon
This chair was now lost
Lost in the fat man's body
This heavy body

When the fat man dies
They will find the chair again
They will put it there
Next to a busy street
So someone can sit on it
And watch the people pass by

Friday, 14 July 2017

Diving in the Read Sea

It was my first time in Egypt, my first dive in the Red Sea and my first live-aboard diving cruise. I went there in June 2017.

The luxury of the boat struck me from the first moment when I set foot on it.
Seeing the boats next to it, with their small kit-up spaces for the divers, the impression of having made a good choice only grew.

My new colleague Nico recommended me this company, Anthias Plongée, that operates from Hurghada in Egypt. He did a fairly good job, so I booked a trip with them with my eyes shut.

My cruise was the Vertiges et Légendes version Tiran. We left in a north or north eastern course towards all the dive sites around these parts. We visited Ras Mohammed, Tiran islands, wrecks like the SS Thistlegorm, the Rosalie Möller and others.

The diving was good, and so was the food and service on board.

As I had booked a course to learn how to dive sidemount, I was assigned a personal instructor for the trip and most of my dives. Which was quite pleasant.

Here are some pictures.

Diver's kit up deck








Scorpion fish

Geometric moray eel


Sunday, 11 December 2016

Biscuits Factory 2016


C'est avec engouement et empressement que je me suis dirigé, le premier vendredi du mois de décembre, chez Nicole et Thomas. C'est chez eux, que comme à l'accoutumée, allait se passer un week-end de folie pâtissière.



Effectivement, déjà en arrivant le vendredi soir, Lejla, l'invitée spéciale de Bosnie, et Truffeau, le spécialiste en truffes et en corvées, se sont attelés à créer des pâtes à biscuit artisanales.



Parlons peu, mais parlons bien. Lejla, de ce que j'ai pu comprendre, a passé quelques années en Suisse dans sa plus tendre jeunesse. Elle s'est liée d'amitié avec ces personnes amicales qui travaillent aux CFF. Dans le temps, les CFF était une entreprise où il faisait bon travailler et où les gens se côtoyaient, s'aidaient et bref. C'est toujours comme ça dans certains secteurs. Vous l'avez compris, Lejla connait plus qu'une personne dans la bande. Le nouveau, c'est moi.




Le petit Thomas s'est présenté à 7h du matin le samedi. Il a pris le bus de chez lui pour venir faire des biscuits. Ses parents l'ont appelé dans la journée pour s'enquérir de son bien-être.

A part ces quelques spécificités, le week-end s'est déroulé dans une parfaite bonne entente et une jovialité déconcertante.

Au résultat peu attendu de 10'536 biscuits, le décompte fait sur une feuille de calcul, se sont ajoutées 6'098 truffes. Le nombre de biscuits s'explique sûrement par le fait que les biscuits produits sont plus petits que ceux de l'année précédente. Il fallait noter le désarroi de Genolet quand il a dû peindre une myriade de petits lapins.




Voici une vidéo qui montre l'intégralité du week-end en moins de 3 minutes. Il s'agit d'un timelapse construit avec une photo toutes les 30 secondes pendant toutes les heures actives du week-end.
Malheureusement, cette vidéo n'est visible que depuis des ordinateurs (pas d'appareils mobiles) pour des raisons de copyright sur YouTube.


La vidéo suivante est montée avec des moments clés de la fabrication de biscuits de toutes sortes. Elle contient aussi l'interview manquant: le mien.



Les deux vidéos ci-dessus peuvent être visionnées sur Vimeo, où il n'y a apparemment pas de questions de copyright (pour le moment encore).

Biscuits 2016 Timelapse
Biscuits 2016

Voila, j'espère que vous aussi avez profité d'un petit moment de douce folie sucrée.

Hasta luego.

Thursday, 5 May 2016

A wedding (or two) in India

Taj Mahal

What I kept repeating to local people, is that I was quite astonished that India was not at all like I expected it to be. And people told me that they knew the world had a bad image of India. After seeing movies like Slumdog Millionaire and hearing a lot about the overwhelming poverty in India, I arrived there positively surprised.

Busy street in Delhi

Visitors at Amber Fort, Jaipur

Obviously, poverty in India remains present, as in many other parts of the world, but it's not worse than in other Asian countries, and I would say, a lot better than most African countries. India's economy is not too bad off, I think and people are willing to work.

So back to the trip now.

Rajasthan

Cenotaphs in Udaipur

At first the trip around Rajasthan was all about visiting a lot of historic monuments and not at all about meeting people. But you know me, I managed to meet some interesting fellows anyway. Don't ask me about the hundreds of monuments, I don't quite recall which belongs where.

Well of Chand Baori, Rajasthan

So I met the local gems mafia bosses of Jaipur, who are international gems dealers who travel a lot to Europe, Dubai and other places. Everyone has a particular country in which he acts. They stopped me because I looked like a friend of theirs, so I ended up drinking chai with them on the side of the road. Originally, I was looking for a festival that was already finished...



In Udaipur, I met Lokesh and his family. Lokesh is a miniature painting artist. Mostly he copies paintings over and over again because people ask for these particular paintings. But I also found some different paintings, some of which I bought. If you want to buy some, feel free to ask me, I can put you in touch. And also, Lokesh now has a Paypal account for overseas payments.

First wedding in Udaipur (no I don't know them)

Guests at first wedding

On the first evening, I was strolling back to the hotel, when I met Lokesh's mother. She yelled for his son to come and meet me (in Hindi I guess). After showing me his paintings, he invited me to my first Indian wedding the following evening, and to a late dinner the same evening. That's when I first met his wife and his daughter Sakshi. I ended up spending two days with the family.


Rajasthani Thali

At the wedding in Udaipur, we basically went out to eat, and came back after we finished. On the second evening, it was said there were around 5'000 attendees.

Tanvi & Venkatesh's wedding in Delhi

Tanvi & Venkatesh

Back in Delhi after a horrendous 14 hours bus drive (including 3 or 4 hours of waiting), I found my hotel where they were astonished that my next stop was the Piccadilly hotel in Janakpuri.

The first night was spent at Tanvi's parents appartment where the men drank whiskey while the ladies got a lot of henna applied to their arms and legs.

Lokesh and me in Shilpgram Udaipur

Sakshi in Shilpgram Udaipur

On the following day, the whole family and many guests moved to the Piccadilly hotel. In the evening there was a reception in one of the smaller halls. There was lots of food, animation and the gift ceremony. Tanvi's family offered many gifts to Venkatesh's family (that's the part I remember).

On the third night it got more interesting. Being one of 4 people in traditional gown, I was the center of attention during the procession. The procession, was all about Venkatesh sitting on a horse with a band of musicians and dancers playing in front of him. Dancers included the guests and the official hired dancer ladies. For some obscure reason, many of the guests really enjoyed my dance style.

Woman posing for her husband

After this, we all went to the big reception hall, where all the guests (including many newly arrived) went in to have dinner. We danced a bit more and had some food. Then some friends went upstairs to have a beer or two in the rooms. There was no alcohol at any of the wedding ceremonies.

At around one in the morning, the religious ceremony started. This would go on until the groom and bride walked around in a circle seven times. This would happen shortly before five in the morning.

Kerala

Kovalam Beach

In Kovalam I met this French dude Damien with whom I travelled a bit. We met a bunch of nice fellows in Fort Kochi, with whom with went to the cinema the first evening. That was quite a story. The guys didn't know how to book tickets on Internet and we went pretty late. As it was the first night the movie was showing, most cinemas were full. We drove across Ernakulam like crazies. In the end we found some spot in a faraway cinema. The movie was not a great movie, but it was fun to watch a Hindi movie in Hindi in a mostly non-Hindi community. Not too many people in Kerala speak fluent Hindi. They speak Malayalam.

Train in Thiruvananthapuram
Apart from that, the trip was pretty relaxed and uneventful.

Despite people's advice, I managed to take the train without booking three and a half year in advance.

Backwaters of Kerala

Fishermen and their "catch" in Kovalam

Incredible India it is.

My favourite vendor: chai in the street