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In October 2016 we flew from southern England to Romania.

Romania is a big country by European standards and not one to see by public transport if time is limited.  So to travel beyond Bucharest we hired a car and drove northwest to Brașov and on to Sighisiora, before looping southwest to Sibiu (European capital of culture 2007) and southeast through the Transylvanian Alps to Curtea de Arges on our way back to Bucharest. 

Driving in Romania was interesting.  There are some quite good motorways once out of the suburbs of Bucharest, where traffic lights are interminable trams rumble noisily, trolley-busses stop and start and progress can be slow.  In the countryside road surfaces are variable and the roads mostly narrow. This does not slow the locals who seem to ignore speed limits making it necessary to keep up to avoid holding up traffic. 

Initially the TomTom (GPS navigation device) that we now carry with us from OZ, thought we were still in England.  When it asked if we wanted to avoid ferries I answered 'yes' and was told there was no available route to Bucharest - where I was standing at the time.  Not until I asked for the nearest petrol station did it relocate itself.  I thought it was an amusing TomTom idiosyncrasy.  From then on it was invaluable.

 

Romania map 1Locating Romania

 

 

Visiting Romania

We saw no signs advertising lions in Romania, like those pointing to Longleat during our recent sojourn in Southern England, but our guide-book represented the local bears as being just as dangerous.

The next most dangerous thing in Romania is Dracula, who is represented in all the tourist areas in myth and legend.  That he was the imaginary character of Abraham 'Bram' Stoker, an Irishman writing a novel in the British Library in London, is immaterial to the tourist potential of the story.  To give the fictional story some semblance of real world plausibility Dracula is said to be based on the real life 15th century Romanian aristocrat and soldier Vlad III, Prince of Wallachia,  a member of the House of Drăculești and therefore known as Vlad Drăculea. 

Vlad III was better known as Vlad the Impaler for mounting his captured enemies vertically on a spike up through their body.  This was at the time of the Crusades when such behaviour was not unusual and Vlad, a Christian knight, had much vaunted success against the Ottoman Turks, according to graphic recreations, skewering quite a few.  But there is nothing whatever to associate him with the drinking of blood - unless it was at mass.

Romania is a big country and the circular 'tourist' route we took was largely within the picturesque Transylvanian region that also happens to be the wealthiest and best educated part of the Country. 

Much of Transylvania seems 'first world' with well tended houses and well-dressed healthy-looking people going about their business. Yet at regular intervals this image is contradicted by poor local farmers out on the roads with carts and other horse-drawn vehicles, occasionally tipped over in a ditch. 

 

Romania Romania
Romania Romania
Traffic hazards Romanian style

 

But these farmers are fortunate compared to the people who walk for miles.  These very poor people are in contrast to the generally late model German and French cars sharing the road with them.

Romania has one of the fastest economic growth rates in Europe (off a low base) and low rates of unemployment, yet the new wealth is evidently quite uneven in this once communist country. 

Some villages, are obviously poor and decrepit with no evident services like electricity.   Şaroş pe Târnave, in the pictures below, is a paradise compared to others we saw but didn't approach. 

 

Romania Romania
Romania Romania

Şaroş pe Târnave - Romania

 

Wealthier villages in this region closely line the roads in a side-by-side distinctive Romanian style, each with a large door or carriage entrance giving into an internal courtyard.

Farming seems to be efficient. Large fields of corn are commonplace but we also saw hops being grown on a large scale. Houses on larger rural properties are well-appointed, evidently prosperous, an Audi or BMW parked alongside modern tractors and farming equipment.

 

 

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Travel

Denmark

 

 

  

 

 

In the seventies I spent some time travelling around Denmark visiting geographically diverse relatives but in a couple of days there was no time to repeat that, so this was to be a quick trip to two places that I remembered as standing out in 1970's: Copenhagen and Roskilde.

An increasing number of Danes are my progressively distant cousins by virtue of my great aunt marrying a Dane, thus contributing my mother's grandparent's DNA to the extended family in Denmark.  As a result, these Danes are my children's cousins too.

Denmark is a relatively small but wealthy country in which people share a common language and thus similar values, like an enthusiasm for subsidising wind power and shunning nuclear energy, except as an import from Germany, Sweden and France. 

They also like all things cultural and historical and to judge by the museums and cultural activities many take pride in the Danish Vikings who were amongst those who contributed to my aforementioned DNA, way back.  My Danish great uncle liked to listen to Geordies on the buses in Newcastle speaking Tyneside, as he discovered many words in common with Danish thanks to those Danes who had settled in the Tyne valley.

Nevertheless, compared to Australia or the US or even many other European countries, Denmark is remarkably monocultural. A social scientist I listened to last year made the point that the sense of community, that a single language and culture confers, creates a sense of extended family.  This allows the Scandinavian countries to maintain very generous social welfare, supported by some of the highest tax rates in the world, yet to be sufficiently productive and hence consumptive per capita, to maintain among the highest material standards of living in the world. 

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Fiction, Recollections & News

The Cloud

 

 

 

 

 Chapter 1 - The Party

 

 

 

This morning Miranda had an inspiration - real candles!  We'll have real candles - made from real beeswax and scented with real bergamot for my final party as a celebration of my life and my death. This brief candle indeed!

In other circumstances she would be turning 60 next birthday.  With her classic figure, clear skin and dark lustrous hair, by the standards of last century she looks half her age, barely thirty, the result of a good education; modern scientific and medical knowledge; a healthy diet and lifestyle and the elimination of inherited diseases before the ban on such medical interventions. 

It's ironical that except as a result of accidents, skiing, rock climbing, paragliding and so on, Miranda's seldom had need of a doctor.  She's a beneficiary of (once legal) genetic selection and unlike some people she's never had to resort to an illegal back-yard operation to extend her life. 

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Opinions and Philosophy

Gone but not forgotten

Gone but not forgotten

 

 

Gough Whitlam has died at the age of 98.

I had an early encounter with him electioneering in western Sydney when he was newly in opposition, soon after he had usurped Cocky (Arthur) Calwell as leader of the Parliamentary Labor Party and was still hated by elements of his own party.

I liked Cocky too.  He'd addressed us at University once, revealing that he hid his considerable intellectual light under a barrel.  He was an able man but in the Labor Party of the day to seem too smart or well spoken (like that bastard Menzies) was believed to be a handicap, hence his 'rough diamond' persona.

Gough was a new breed: smooth, well presented and intellectually arrogant.  He had quite a fight on his hands to gain and retain leadership.  And he used his eventual victory over the Party's 'faceless men' to persuade the Country that he was altogether a new broom. 

It was time for a change not just for the Labor Party but for Australia.

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