Catching Up

Jacob and I keep saying that we have been chasing the end of summer. We started our travels in Sweden, and left just as it was starting to get cold. Then to Prague, where it was warm. Then the south of France, where it was hot.

We left France as the cold and rain was starting and escaped to Turkey, where we spent a week on the beach. Obviously, it was warm. By the time we left Turkey in early November, we knew there was no escaping the cold now. We were afraid we might have missed autumn entirely, but we did not. Romania has given us a beautiful autumn.

But it is cold. I'll be the first to admit it, we are wimps. I wasn't always such a coward when it came to cold - I grew up on the East Coast where flip-flops were my shoe of choice up until the first snow. But now we live in Southern California, where I get excited to pull out a sweater if the weather drops below 70 degrees.

We are living in a great old house - it is big, has high ceilings, and no central heating. Instead the rooms are heated by beautiful tile furnaces that run off gas. In an effort to save on gas, we keep our bedroom warm, and turn on the kitchen furnace in the evening when we make dinner. All other rooms (including the bathrooms) stay at an even 40 degrees, or lower. If we want to get between the kitchen and the bedroom, we run. Trips to the bathroom are often accompanied by yelps of cold-shock.

We have been forcing ourselves to adjust however, knowing that this is necessary since we will have Christmas in Germany, then to Switzerland for January. Progress has been made I believe - we went for a walk the other day in 50 degree weather and we made comments on how warm it was.

Last weekend two friends invited us to go on a little road trip with them. There was a popular Christian band playing in a town close to the Hungarian border about three hours away. Excited to spend more time with our friends and the chance to see some Romanian countryside, we gratefully accepted.

Friends, this was my first impression of the Romanian countryside.

It looked exactly like a Grandma Moses painting. Yes, Grandma Moses, a funny old lady from New York who painted idyllic folk landscape scenes with skewed perspective that made horses as big as houses. Somehow here, it all made sense. Grandma Moses, I now realize, was subconsciously painting Romania, not Idaho or New York as I had always assumed.

The landscape we saw is just like the painting above - hilly, alternately forested and agricultural, with pockets of valleys that house little villages and church spires peaking out above the trees.

Our drive through the countryside was gorgeous. It was the first time I'd seen autumn forests in, oh I don't know, six years.

Then we got to a place that blew my mind even more. So as many people know, there is a large population of Gypsies who live in Romania. In fact, that is all many people know about Romania - Dracula and Gypsies.

Now for a couple of caveats before I go any further. Firstly, Romanians and Gypsies are two very (very) distinct people groups and cultures who co-exist within Romania. Saying they are one and the same would offend many people. Secondly, I believe Gypsy culture, unlike anything I have ever seen before, is fascinating and worthy of respect. The pictures I will show and information I will share are in no way meant to belittle or criticize their unique way of living.

Ok - the Gypsy houses. I legitimately flipped out when I saw these houses.

Jacob and I had been told of them before. As we had been informed, while many Gypsies still live a very nomadic lifestyle, and some have completely left their Gypsy lifestyle behind, there is another group altogether: the rich Gypsies.

These wealthy families build beautiful, flamboyant mansions; often painted vibrant colors, topped with silver roofs, and sometimes decorated with giant statues of lions.

Our little car next to the house for perspective. Notice the top of each pinnacle has a mercedes emblem on it?  
Here is where it gets really interesting. Many of these houses are unfinished - and will always remain unfinished. Few of them are even furnished or inhabited.

The yards are often totally un-landscaped. The houses I photographed were sitting on either side of a two-lane highway, overgrown with weeds, littered with rubble and wandering chickens.

Here is how it was explained to us: the mansions aren't meant to be lived in necessarily - they are a symbol of wealth. It's like buying an expensive car and then never driving it. It's all about the status.

So where do these wealthy families actually live then?

They live here.
In little shacks in their mansion's backyard. Apparently many of these little cabins don't even have indoor plumbing - instead the families choose to build an outhouse. Once again, as it was explained to us, just because the family is wealthy, doesn't mean they want to become fully "modern" by our western standards. For hundreds of years they have lived nomadically in small houses with outhouses, and that is still just fine for them. Just now they throw a mansion in their front yard.

If some person or organization wants to give me a bunch of money to go photograph and learn about these Gypsy mansions and the family stories behind them, just let me know! I would do it in a heartbeat.

Once we arrived at our destination we spent some time walking around. It was a very pretty town, filled with ornate art-deco style buildings.

We ate in a very quirky American style diner called the "Lactobar".

Our friends Anda and Emma at our awesome table inside of a Convertible. 
Clearly we got the best table in the house.

After we ate dinner we went to the concert, which was really fun except for the minor obstacle of not understanding anything. After the concert the four of us were invited to visit the house of a new friend who lived in town. We spent an awesome evening talking and drinking tea while crammed around a table with 20 people (15 of which were family, and we were the only guests). We all stayed up until 3 am talking, then crashed in their living room. The next morning, groggy, sleep-deprived, and un-showered (sounds like college!), we got on the road back to Cluj.

We made a stop by Emma's father's gorgeous lake-resort, and met an awesome dog named Ben that looked exactly like a lion. Pictures for all that will come later. :)