Today was Bear Caves day. I was super-excited about this because I love caves. I love exploring them and learning how they were created and all that fun stuff. This cave was especially unique because it has a pretty awesome story to go with it. “Pestera Ursilor” means Bears’ Cave in Romanian. The cave was named so, as numerous cave bears (Ursus spelaeus) were found in this cave. The cave was visited by these large animals more than 15,000 years ago. But one day, a rock slide closed the entrance while more than 140 bears were still in the cave. Becoming hungry, the bears killed one another until all were dead. Today, this story is told by their remains; tons of bear bones covering the floor of large parts of the cave with the marks of bear teeth. The Bears’ Cave dwells an extraordinary range of stalagmite and stalactite formations varying in size and forms, as well as an impressive amount of Cave Bear fossils. – Ursus Spelaeus – a species which disappeared more than 15,000 years ago. The cave entrance – which is situated at 482 m altitude – is by the tourist pavilion. Bears Cave is 1 km in length. It is disposed on two-overlapped levels: one which is larger, being 488 m in length and fitted out for tourist reasons, and an interior level, temporarily active, being 521 m in length, which is used for scientific reservation.
The cave was undisturbed until 17 September 1975 when the cave was discovered during quarry works. The marble and limestone of this area was mined by the inhabitants of the nearby village of Chiscau. The first person in the cave was quarry worker Curta Traian from Chiscau. And he still lives today. I wanted to get a picture with him but he wasn’t around. When we arrived at the caves, it cost extra (just like at the castles) to take pictures. But Ana’s, (Alex’s wife) father used to work in the area and is good friends with the tour guide. So when it came time to pay to take pictures, he told the cashier that it wasn’t necessary. So I took a lot of pictures.
Here we are about to go inside:
From left to right: Alex, Soren, me, Alex and Ana.
Just like the Salt Mine that we visited, it was very cold inside. And it was nice to get out of the heat again. Romania was absurdly hot, and I think I’ve mentioned this a few times already. But it felt good to sweat and get some much needed sun.
Here’s the tunnel as we walked in…
…pretty cool, right?
And here’s all the bear bones they have been talking about:
We weren’t allowed to go off the platforms and they told us to not touch anything. The tour guide was especially concerned about people touching the stalactite formations because oils on the human skin ruins them and they stop growing. Here’s me with a bunch of stalactite formations in the background…
…and here’s a picture with a bunch of stalactite formation:
See the ones at the bottom of the picture that are kind of flat on the top? Those ones have stopped growing because people touched them. I was very curious to know what they felt like and I’m pretty sure I refrained from touching one. I think. If I did touch one, it was one that had already been touched and wasn’t growing. That’s my story. At the end of the bear caves tour, we came upon this:
This is the remains of one of the bears at the end of the tour. The bear apparently died of starvation and collapsed. Beyond the bear there is more cave to discover. Nearly 600 kilometers of cave that scientists want to explore. The tour guide had a great sense of humor and although everything he said was in Romanian, my fiancée translated the majority of it. Or at least the funny stuff. On our way out, he played a joke on us. He claimed that bats were going to fly over our heads for a few seconds when he turned on the lights. I thought that was going to be awesome but I didn’t want a bat to fly into me so I was a little nervous. When he turned on the lights, everyone jumped but no bats flew out. It was all a gaffe but the kids on the tour all jumped and screamed. It was pretty funny.
Also, make note of the green algae growing on the rocks. This is formed by the air and humidity from the outside air getting inside the cave. When we entered the cave in the beginning there were a set of doors that we had to go through so it kept the outside air out which helps preserve the cave. But at the end, it’s pretty much just a turnstile that we exited from and all the outside air flows in and helps grow the cave algae:
We left the bear cave and headed deeper into the mountains. This spot…
…was a favorite of the aforementioned group of people we went into the bear cave with. During the summer months, when it’s super hot (like today) they would jump in the river to cool off. It was like being a kid again but as an adult. The landscape and the things to do around this area was beautiful and endless at the same time. Life seemed to go back to the basics. Playing in the river, walking around town, a simple life with out all the big city lights and big city hustle.
We headed back to the city of Beius to spend the evening with Alex’s other cousins. They lived in these old looking communist apartments. They seem very rundown and old on the outside, but I assure you. They are very nice and updated on the inside. It was cozy and very peaceful. Here’s a look at some across the way:
Notice the laundry line at the top of the photo? A lot of Romanians believe that it is not necessary to have a dryer along with a washer machine. It’s not that people can not afford one. Its the idea of people just don’t feel the need to use that type of resource to dry their clothes. They hang dry everything and let the breeze and sun do the work. It takes a bit more planning and it takes longer to do laundry but it’s very effective. I was used to the idea of just throwing them into the dryer and going to do something else but not here.
We had to be up pretty early tomorrow to head to the mountains again. Alex’s cousins were working over night and they would come home, we’d load up the truck and head out. The next three days were going to be epic.
In Case You Missed It:
We left Stei for Magura late this morning. Magura is a small farm town way out in the sticks in Romania. These small towns are vibrant with life and have so much hospitality. It’s farmland, though. So the people are out tending to their crops. It was beautiful and hot. Real hot.
The night before I had indulged a little with Uncle Traian. We drank two or three Romania beers apiece and with the combination of that, the strong coffee and the heat, I wasn’t feeling very well. We got to the farm and my stomach was in knots. And the first thing Alex’s family offered us was this delicious cheese bread meal that I was addicted to. Alex’s Mom makes it too, and I never, ever pass it up. I knew that if I ate some, I’d be having some serious issues and Alex had warned me before we came out to Romania that one place we’d be staying didn’t exactly have a modern bathroom. I didn’t care. I wanted to experience Romania and all that it had to offer. Including using a non-modern day bathroom.
After the cheese bread, I felt worse. But so far I felt as though it was worth it. I decided to lay down and drink some water to help lower my core body temperature. But what I really needed to do was use the bathroom. I layed down for an hour or so and it was time to go. You know, Mother Nature and gravity isn’t going to wait. I ventured out to the outhouse and opened the rustic wooden door. There was a long brick hallway that led to another smaller door. The sun was shining in like a beam of hope. Beyond that was the bathroom. I could hear the sounds of the flies. I looked back to where I came from and I was sort of panicked. Could I do this? I had my doubts. I thought back on my tour in Iraq and realized I had used the bathroom is far worse circumstances and made it through that just fine. I approached and saw a spider web with a pretty good sized spider scurrying back behind the toilet paper roll. My stomach lurched. It’s happening. I started to sweat and had to just go for it. There was no turning back now. I loosened my belt buckle and looked to my feet. It was time.
I closed my eyes and dreamt of white unicorns prancing over shiny, bright rainbows. White fluffy kittens danced around and mewed gently as they bounced around on white, cotton candy-like clouds. The air smelled of a strawberry/mango mixture. It was delightful. I dreamt of snow bunnies running around in fluffy snow at the bottom of the mountain. I could feel all my worries and stresses leaving my mind. It was peaceful now.
After I made my way back to the bedroom to lay down for a little while longer, Alex checked on me. I felt better and I sipped on water slowly. She thanked me for being a super-star and putting up with things like the outhouse. It seriously wasn’t an issue for me. I just wished I didn’t have to rush in there like I had to because it is sort of a culture shock. Anyone who enters an area like that would appreciate being able to take their time. My body was not cooperating like that. I got to experience such a thing and I will always remember something like that. I didn’t want to come off as one of those snobby, uptight individuals who was afraid to try new things the “old way” so I toughed it out. I think I made a point to myself to use the outhouse more often then I really needed to. And it was nice to be able to take my time in there and not be rushed by Mother Nature.
I think one thing that really helped me get through the day was this little guy…
..this is Bobee. He’s the resident farm dog and he’s absolutely the most cutest dog I’ve ever met. Seeing him made me miss my dog back home (who was in good hands with my parents, and I couldn’t thank them enough for them helping me out and watching her for two weeks), and he was so curious of me and was so loveable. If you petted his ears or petted his head, he was your friend for life. He hobbled along after us everywhere we went. And if you didn’t pet him right away he would latch onto your leg and beg for attention. How cute is that? He works hard, though and follows Alex’s Aunt everywhere she goes including out to the farm land. It’s really amazing the amount of loyalty these dogs have for their owners. Even though Romania has a stray dog problem, the dogs they do own are the most loveable and loyal dogs ever. And they eat very well, too. They get to eat all the left overs that we don’t eat.
For the better part of the day, I sat on the steps outside the bedroom underneath some honeysuckle vines and watched Alex’s Aunt peel peas from their pods. I offered to help but as their guest we were kind of forbidden to do any of the work on the farm. She sat there for a little over four or five hours peeling a huge bucket of peas and at the end of the day we all got to indulge in the fruits of her labor. We had this dish of peas in some kind of gravy or batter and it was absolutely delicious. All the food I’ve experienced in Romania has been awesome so far. I have yet to have one bad meal. And I think that’s why I passed on the Cow Stomach soup because I didn’t want to risk eating something I didn’t like.
We left the farm before dusk and I kind of regret not spending a full night there. We ended up spending the night at Alex and Ana’s house (Alex is the son of Alex’s Aunt who lives on the farm) and they live in this gorgeous home that they’ve been renovating for a while. Here’s the entry way:
It was a beautiful house and Alex did all the work himself. All their furniture was hand made and bought locally and it was absolutely stunning. We hooked them up with Netflix because they have a Smart Tv and it had the app on there for them to use. They just needed a paid subscription and since Netflix allows multiple accounts on one subscription, we thought it would be a great gift idea. Alex and Ana were thrilled to have it and we watched a few shows that night before bed.
This is where we slept. The couch kind of fold out into a bed:
The house was comfortable but this unusual heat in Romania had everyone sweating like crazy. The locals seemed to not mind it but stated that it was a little unusual to be this hot. Alex’s home seemed to be just right. As soon as the sun went down, we opened the windows and felt a nice, cool breeze come in and cool us off. And with Netflix, we were set for the night.
Sighisoara is so rich with history. You have no idea. While traveling to Sighisoara, Alex continued to tell me how medieval it is and how awesome, and beautiful and I’d just have to see for myself.
Since we spent the night in a hotel just up the road from Old Town Sighisoara, we were able to walk there. To enter the older part of the city, we had to climb 170 stairs to reach the top:
Could you imagine having to climb these stairs every single day of your life? Well, people still do it. There’s a high school still being used today at the top of the hill so all the students and faculty members use the stairs to get to school. How crazy is that?!
Let me back up a little bit, though. The food in Romania since day one has been amazing. I can’t even begin to tell you. And eating out has been amazing too, even though the food isn’t exactly home cooked, it’s still very good. We ate buffet-style at the hotel before checking out and they got very creative with the eggs:
The yogurt isn’t sweet like it is in America because they don’t overload it with sugary fruits. It’s real yogurt.
After breakfast we started our adventure into Sighisoara. The old part of town. It was amazing to walk toward it and see a huge clock tower built in the 1300’s. That’s really, really, really old.
Here’s a picture of the clock tower as we approached:
We passed the Rosenthal House on our way and an old myth was that the first mayor of Sighisoara became corrupt (stealing money or something) and the townsfolk cut off his head in the middle of the street. I didn’t bother to confirm this myth via the internet.
As we approached the town we walked underneath this tunnel. We saw this hook thingy hanging down and the plaque on the wall stated that criminals were hung as punishment for their crimes while the townsfolk looked on. Here’s a picture of the tunnel with the hook still attached:
And here’s Alex and I hanging out in the tunnel area:
We circled around and found this old church. It was the first church ever built in Sighisoara and is nearly 800 years old, still standing, and still being used today. How awesome is that?!
Here’s some statues that we saw that are over 800 years old as well:
As we left Sighisoara, we passed through the last part of the town and saw an old, yellow building that belonged to Vlad the Impaler’s father. This is where Vlad the Impaler grew up and later moved to Bran Castle.
We continued our journey towards Stei and as we passed through various towns, Uncle Traian pointed out this house. More like a palace or a modern day castle. It belonged to Gypsies:
According to Wikipedia; Gypsies originally came from the Punjab region of India and entered Europe between the eighth and tenth centuries. They were called “Gypsies” because Europeans mistakenly believed they came from Egypt. They aren’t very well liked in Romania because they have a reputation of earning untaxed income through petty crime activities, mostly stealing. This reputation is widespread throughout Romania and other European countries. A more legitimate way some earn income involves selling mushrooms and berries harvested in the mountains (usually sold on the street sides). Most American’s have two misconceptions about Gypsies. The first being that all Gypsies aka “Roma” are Romanian people. They are not. Perhaps the name “Roma” or “Romi” adds to the confusion. Gypsies (although born in Romania for many generations) are not Romanian. They have a distinct culture, language, ancestry and history of their own-only slightly overlapping with Romanian history and identity. The second misconception comes out of pure ignorance: that Romania discriminates against their gypsy population. Enter Madonna-sticking her foot in her mouth-circa 2009 at a concert in Bucharest. The artist who spent two WHOLE days in Romania spoke out against the so called “discrimination” and “suffering” of the Gypsy people saying “it has been brought to my attention that there is a lot of discrimination against Romanies and gypsies in eastern Europe.” Tens of thousands of Romanian fans booed the American singer who offended an entire country with her uninformed and judgmental opinion. Perhaps Madonna forgot that she was in Romania-not America. Romanians were not interested in the artists’ entitled opinion of Romanian affairs. This speaks to a more universal theme: American’s criticizing that which they know nothing of. Believe it or not—there are countries in the world that do not desire American “freedom” and American “democracy.”
We left Sighisoara around noon and continued to our next destination: Turda. Romania has approximately seven Salt Mines around the counties and we stopped to see this one:
The mine was incredible to see. I had looked at a Youtube video of it prior to leaving for Romania but to see it in person was awesome…
…and down we went:
This was our view when we got to the bottom:
We didn’t take a boat ride around the water at the bottom but many people did and people signed their names all over the wooden structures at the bottom. The salt mine was now inactive but had previous been used to mine salt out of. After an abundance of salt was mined out, the mine was closed and re-opened to the public which became a popular tourist destination. They also opened up a wellness clinic inside so that people could come to have their asthma cured. The salty air inside is actually very good for you. We touched the walls and licked our fingers and the air ever tasted like pure 100% natural salt. The noises in the mine were amazing, too. The echoes from peoples’ voices and the elevator noises made it very surreal and spooky. During our trip, Romania was experiencing record heat waves topping out around 34 degrees Celsius. That’s very hot. Down in the mine it was around 12 Celsius. It felt so good to be down there and out of the heat. I didn’t want to leave because that meant going back out into the heat and Alex’s Uncle’s car was not equipped with air conditioning. Our air conditioning for the trip was “windows down” and let me tell you, in 95 degree heat, the cool breeze felt good.
We arrived in Stei at approximately 6pm and after two days of driving and traveling nearly 600km, it felt good to get a shower and eat some good food. Uncle Traian lives on a farm with a full garden with tomatoes, a sour cherry tree, herbs, cucumber, almonds and grapes as well as chickens and rabbits. Most all the food they eat is from their farm and is so fresh and awesome tasting. For our dinner we had a fresh salad and fresh chicken that was literally butchered two days ago:
We also had Visinata. It’s basically fermented sour cherries. Like moonshine but way better. They pick sour cherries from the tree and put them in this:
The cherries are in there for a couple of weeks and they add the sugar to start the fermentation process. Then they pour pure alcohol in the jug and after awhile they’re able to drink it. I clearly don’t understand the science behind it all because I’m not exactly explaining the process like I know what I’m talking about but it was very tasty. It’s a very popular drink in Romania and very healthy for you since it’s all natural…
One thing I did want to highlight in this entry is the natural water springs that are in the mountains. We stopped by one to re-fill our water containers while on our journey to Stei..
…the water is so cold and so good and so refreshing. I was a little concerned about drinking it but it is 100% safe to drink.
Tomorrow we would be heading to the farm deeper into the Romania country.
I called the airport first thing this morning to get an update on the luggage situation. The lady on the phone said she sent a message to the Amsterdam aiport and they are not responding. So she said she’d keep trying. There are only three or four flights out of Amsterdam to Romania a day. The problem is this: we were leaving for the country this morning so last night we were struggling to make a decision to either A). Wait one more day to see if the bag would arrive to Bucharest or 2). Leave for the country anyway. The other problem we were facing was Alex’s uncle, Uncle Traian had driven nearly 600km to Bucharest from a small town called Stei and was staying in a hotel the night before and we were scheduled to leave for Stei this morning. So waiting on the bag one more day would really set things back.
We decided to leave and forget about the bag.
Mr. Nic dropped Alex and I off at the hotel where Uncle Traian was staying, we got into his car and off we went towards Stei. Our first stop was Castle Peles in a tourist town called Sinaia. It was absolutely stunning and this was my very first castle I’ve ever visited. I was stationed in Germany for a number of years while in the Army but never made it out to any castles. So it was pretty exciting to see an official European castle.
Here’s a picture when we first walked up:
It cost 20 Lei (which translates to about $5 USD) to get in plus an additional 15 Lei for pictures. Alex had already seen this castle and had paid to take pictures about four years ago so she talked me out of paying to be able to pay for pictures. I could’ve easily snuck a few pictures here and there but I didn’t want to be that guy getting caught and ruining the chance of seeing the castle. It was a guided tour and took approximately 25 minutes to see the bottom and 1st floor of the castle. There were lots of interesting facts and tidbits of information by the tour guide but the sheer beauty is about all I wanted to see. I did sneak a castle selfie at the end…
…but that picture doesn’t do the castle any justice. It was gorgeous inside and I almost regret not paying extra to take pictures. There was a giant mirror inside the castle that was transported by train and then by horse and buggy and it didn’t break. We also saw a painting that was painted by a man who only used his feet. We also saw a real-life bookshelf trap door in the library but it was out of service due to renovations.
Our route towards Stei was through the country. So this was a common occurrence and the Romanians joke and say, “Ambuteiaj” which means “traffic jam”:
The country was beautiful. The small towns were so unique and rustic with old world charm. I was overwhelmed by the beauty. I sat in the front seat of the car next to Uncle Traian and at first when I arrived to Romania and met Alex’s friends and family, I thought the language barrier would be a huge problem. I spoke very little Romanian and most Romanians who knew very little English were embarrassed to speak because they were worried they’d get words wrong. It turns out that the language is pretty easy to understand and learn. So the language barrier was not an issue. Plus, Alex was fluent in both languages and could easily translate.
Growing up in America I was always taught that communism was a terrible, terrible thing. As I grew older I learned to formulate my own opinion, research and learn about things on my own. Naturally. Anyone with half of a brain should be doing so. I was interested in learning about the different political governments. America is heavily capitialisitic and other countries have more socialistic outlooks and being that Romania was under heavy communistic rule, I was eager to talk to people about it. But I was nervous about bringing up the topic because like I said, I learned that communism was all bad.
The road trip we were taking would take nearly two days because of all the stopping we would be doing. So I had a lot of time to talk to Alex’s uncle about communism since he lived through that era. He told me that even though they were under strict rules and laws, the government was always there to take care of everyone. Rarely did anyone suffer. In fact, no one suffered. If you were out loitering the government officials would stop you, ask you what you were doing and if you didn’t have a good reason they’d take you in and give you a job right there. Everyone had to work. Roads were maintained, everyone had jobs and nearly everything was paid for: healthcare, child care, vacations, retreats for wellness, and free apartments. The downside to communism (and there is always a downside to every government system) was there was absolutely no room for anyone to be creative or create their own idea. It just wasn’t allowed. The government provided everything for everyone.
Communism also made sure everyone was equal. No one became more independent than anyone else. The government audited people’s bank accounts to ensure no one was accepting money from outside the country if they had reasonable suspicion. The farmers who grew crops generally sold their produce to the government and received the same amount of money like everyone else did. Meat, bread, sugar, cheese, and oil (among other things) were rationed to make sure everyone got an equal share. So therefore it was very hard to come by. But people didn’t suffer. There wasn’t any homelessness and everyone had a piece of the pie. If you’re caught getting extra rationed produce because you were close friends to a farmer, you were sent to jail. Since Communism ended, some Romania’s say, “now we have everything we want but no money to buy it”.
Communism ended in December of 1989. The people wanted it gone because of the major influence from the United States of America during the Reagan era. Romania wanted to copy America but some have the opinion that now they’ve experienced how America is, communism may not have been all that bad. Alex’s uncle seemed like it wasn’t terrible because he didn’t have to worry too much about things. He told me that since communism ended, the Romanian politicians have become very corrupt. They line their pockets with dirty money, they make laws that favor their own interests and they’re lying, dirty, corrupt people. I told him America is much the same way and he said while laughing, “A trebuit sa invatam de la cineva”. Romanians have a great sense of humor.
The thing I learned about communism is that things worked. Things functioned. Roads were repaired in a timely manner. While we drove around Romania, there was a lot of road construction. The road workers were just standing around, sleeping in tractors and drinking in the shade. No work was being done. Under communism, the roads would be fixed in a month, Uncle Traian stated, “Now? It takes them 10 years.” He wasn’t even exaggerating. Alex had visited this same area in 2012 and the roads were still being worked on. If you could see the condition of some of these roads, you’d be appalled. Some are so bad you can barely drive on them from all the potholes and road work.
Serbia actually had a better communistic program that worked a lot better than Romania. The reason why communism didn’t work in Romania is because it was overly strict. They didn’t allow Romanians to take vacation outside of the country like Serbia did. People were happier in Serbia under communism. Romanians didn’t worry about tomorrow like they do today. Back then, their money was strong. The country was in surplus by 7 billion dollars. They could buy what they needed. Today, it’s a lot harder because the Lei isn’t as strong. Ultimately, communism fell because of a revolutionary spark that started in Timisoara, Romania in 1989. Few remember the original cause but hardships with food rationing combined with growing animosity towards the government led to a full scale revolution. The most violent of all communism revolutions across Europe.
What a history lesson.
We arrived at a small restaurant in the country and I almost ordered cow stomach soup. I just couldn’t build up the courage to eat it. A lot of people seem to like it but I was told that if I saw how it was prepared I’d never want to eat it. Ever.
We finally arrived at our second castle. Bran Castle (where Dracula lived for many years) located in Sighisoara. Dracula was a real person back in the 1600’s but his real name was Vlad Tepes (also known as Vlad the Impaler). He received this name from stabbing criminals in the chest with a stake and letting them die in the streets in front of the public. It was a great crime deterrent. Bram Stoker created Dracula based on some of Vlad the Impaler’s history and background and being that the castle was located in Transylvania it gave it a nice ring. Transylvania is a region in Romania.
Here’s a few more pictures of the castle:
Sighisoara is a nice tourist town and we ended up staying in a hotel there. I learned something about hotels in Romania, too. On most of the hotel signs they use a star rating. Five stars are obvious the best. But three stars are more practical. We still got all the creature comforts that a five star hotel had but for a lower price. So it was worth it. We ate dinner at a local restaurant and the food was exceptional. Nothing compares to home cooking in Romania, though.
I left Seattle, Washington at 1:46pm Tuesday afternoon. I arrived at the Bucharest airport in Romania at 3:30pm the same day. Funny how when flying half way across the world a person can land in another country almost the same time they left 8 hours ago. Unfortunately, just like the Cayman Island vacation, my luggage was delayed coming in. How these things happen, I have yet to figure out. It’s one bag and as long as it follows the bag in front off it, it shouldn’t have a problem getting to the next destination, right? One would think so. My worst fear was finding out that my bag was left in Seattle because when I checked in I had to go to a customer service desk because my passport wasn’t scanning. That’s sort of what happened last year when I went to the Cayman Islands. But I won’t continue to bore you with lost luggage stories.
I met my girlfriend, Alex and her Aunt at the front gate and this was my reaction:
(Picture to come later. Check back soon…)
As you can see, I wasn’t too happy. After flying nine hours from Seattle to Amsterdam and sitting on the tarmac in Amsterdam for an additional 40 minutes and then a three hour flight from there to Romania, then finding out my luggage was lost. Yeah.
We arrived at my girlfriend’s Aunt’s friends house, Mr. Nic to spend the night and an extra day or two before we headed out into the country. They live in this beautiful house that costed them roughly $20,000 U.S dollars. It was absolutely stunning. They have this huge vineyard out front with a few fruit trees and this mean Belgian Malinois dog locked in a kennel for protection. The dog, (named Max) was let out at night to guard the home. Romanians typically have dogs to help them with things around the house or farm like guarding property, herding animals, and there is a stray dog problem in the country but over the years it has been getting better. Romanians typically don’t feel too emotional about dogs because most have them as farm dogs and they aren’t as connected to them as Americans are to their dogs. Americans typically have them as pets and consider them part of the family. I’m not saying Romanians are mean to dogs or hate them, but it’s just a different relationship. So the stray dog population had grown out of control because there wasn’t much control over breeding. But like I said, they are taking action now and things are a lot better.
After getting home, we had a huge pan full of meat for dinner…
…and let me tell you. This meat is 100% organic, straight from the farm to the butcher to the house to our stomachs. There is no heavy processing or added chemicals or fillers. Its pure meat and it was very tasty.
The next day we headed into the city of Bucharest. Romania used to be under heavy communistic rule and a lot of the landscape still shows the remanence of that era. It’s extremely interesting and depressing at the same time because Romania, after communism ended, a lot of things changed and not necessarily for the better, (but we will get into that later).
Communism ended in December of 1989. If you’re a history buff, you’d know that communism was forced upon a lot of these smaller countries in Europe by Russia. Romania had originally backed Germany during World War one but switched sides to back Russia part way through. During the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact (the German/Soviet non-aggression pact) kicked Romania leaders out of the meeting and thus forced communism on the country. Basically, Germany and the Soviet Union said, “these smaller countries can’t beat us in war so let’s just split them all up”. It was more than just Romania effected by this. There’s a lot to read on this and it’s pretty interesting.
Things like the trolley system and apartment buildings are still occupied by Romanian’s today. We used the trolley to go from the place we were staying to the modern era mall:
You can see the old apartments in the background behind the trolley. They look horrible on the outside but they are very nice and clean on the inside. The trolley’s have no air-conditioning so during the summer time it’s extremely hot and muggy when it’s 90 degrees or more. And during the winter time, there is no heat. So it’s very, very cold. Romania may give the appearance that it’s a poor country but it’s actually a very healthy and beautiful country.
That evening we drove to Cismigiu Park where I proposed to my girlfriend of almost five years. It was the most stunning, most wonderful part of the trip so far:
I wanted to make it a once-in-a-life-time thing. My girlfriend, Alex, (now fiancé) was born in Romania and her mother took her to this park many times when she was a child. They moved to the United States when she was five for a better life. So coming back with her to meet her family was very important for the both of us and asking her to marry me in her home country was equally important.
After our memorable moment in the park, we walked to the Monte Carlo restaurant. The dinner was a celebration of the marriage proposal by one of Alex’s family members; Aunt Lilly. There was a lot to eat…
Plus a stunning view of the nearby lake…
…and then, of course desert:
On our way home, we stopped at a statue in Bucharest. The statue was of Mihai Viteazul (Michael the Brave) on the back of a horse…
…and he was one of Romanian’s greatest heroes dating back to the 1500’s.
After visiting one of the most iconic statues in Bucharest, we bummed around the mall and bought a bunch of new clothing for me since the airline had left my bag in Amsterdam. The U.S dollar is very strong in Romania so a $100.00 goes a long way. We bought four shirts, one pair of shorts, one pair of shoes, four pair of socks, three underwear, one toothbrush, one toothpaste, one thing of deodorant, one pajamas set and shaving cream with a razor all for about $300 Lei. Which translates to about $75 dollars. Pretty amazing. So if you ever plan to travel to Romania, it’s fairly cheap with U.S dollars.
Here’s a picture of me riding back on the trolley:
During batting practice, it was all Nelson Cruz and Robinson Cano. In fact, Nelson Cruz hit a ball completely OUT of Safeco Field. Click this link to watch the video highlights.
Lots of baseballs were tossed up into the stands and due to it being “Salute to Kids” night at the ballpark, the majority of them were tossed to kids and most were either dropped or bobbled around. The ones were dropped were easily glove-tricked out from behind the walls…
….I easily secured two balls during batting practice:
One kid used a blanket tied to his glove but he forgot the most important element of his glove-trick: the rubber band. I literally watched this kid for 10 minutes trying to dangle his glove over a baseball but it wouldn’t secure into his glove because there was nothing to hold onto the ball. Ultimately, a security guard went down behind the wall and picked up the baseball for him.
I sat with my Twins rooting girlfriend, Alex in the outfield hoping to snag a home run ball during the game:
She isn’t really a Twins fan. I bring both visiting and home team hats for autograph opportunities. Lately, I’ve been striking out when it comes to autographs. I usually get my ticket signed by someone before the game. And for the last three games I’ve attended I’ve been trying to get a picture with former Mariners Dave Valle but he hasn’t been showing up to the Root Sports broadcast booth for some reason. Today was no exception. Again, a no-show.
The game was pretty entertaining. The Twins beat the Mariners in the end by a score of 6-5 and we left towards the top of the ninth to beat traffic. Aoki smacked a home run in the first inning to give the Mariners the lead but the Twins managed to rally back and hold the lead.
Next month I fly out to Romania so I’ll be busy trying to keep up every day with daily blog entries on the trip.
Total Lifetime Games Attended: 121
Total Baseballs Snagged This Season: 9
Total Lifetime Baseballs Snagged: 343
Total Lifetime Foul Balls Snagged: 1
Total Lifetime Home Run Balls Snagged: 0
For the better part of the afternoon, I watched the security guards fumble with the table at the gate…
….priorities, I tell ya. Today turned out to be a gloomy, raining, wet day at the ballpark. I bought the cheapest tickets possible ($26.00) which put my seats up in the 300 level of the stadium. I wanted to spend the majority of my time in The ‘Pen. Today’s goals seemed simple enough: snag a bunch of baseballs, get a picture with Dave Valle, get Jose Mota’s autograph and snag a home run ball during the game.
Being that it was Kyle Seager bobblehead night, I figured it would be a sold out game. It came close. 42,687 showed up and I’m assuming 3-5 thousand probably left after they got their bobbles because while I walked around the stadium, it didn’t feel like a capacity crowd. During batting practice, it wasn’t that bad. I snagged my bobblehead and glove tricked my first ball out of the bullpen. My second ball came by just leaning over the railing and picking it out of the bullpen after it was hit into there and rolled around for a little bit. I made my way across the seating bowl securing my third ball that I picked out of a cup holder (put there by an usher) and my fourth and fifth balls came bouncing into the stands; one on the third base side and one on the first base side.
After BP I set up near the Root Sports broadcast table and I waited and I waited and I waited some more for Dave Valle to show up. I checked his Twitter and found out that a new ice cream machine was placed up in the broadcast booth and I suspected that’s where Valle was at. Getting ice cream:
By then it was too late to run down to the Angels dugout to get Jose Mota’s autograph. My night was slowly falling apart. If you’ve never been to Safeco Field and have never experienced The ‘Pen (on College night or any other night for that matter) you aren’t missing much. It usually gets overly crowded full of drunk people and the music is so loud you can barely hear the person next to you. So after about the 2nd inning, I made my way up to my seat to watch the game from there…
…of course when I bought my ticket, I forgot to buy the one without the “obstructed view” warning.
I watched the game from my seat for a few innings and then I wandered the stadium. I actually got up close and personal with the new timer that was installed last year in all of the stadiums…
…and the premise behind this new addition is to attempt to speed the game up. Ever since Manfred took over from Selig as baseballs Commissioner, he’s been doing everything in his power to speed the game up. He’s told the players that they have to keep one foot in the batters box at all times and if they don’t they could receive a fine. Then they installed the timer which gives pitchers two minutes between innings to get ready. Now I’ve been hearing that intentional walks will be changing. The batter simply takes his base. Along with that, the umpires are enforcing shorter mound visits.
I understand that games can be long and lack action and excitement. The game I attended yesterday lasted over three hours. And I didn’t stay for the whole game, either. I don’t agree with changing these little things about the game. I don’t agree with the Manfred era of baseball. I don’t agree with the netting in front of the dugouts and down the first and third base lines in an attempt to “keep fans safe”. These rules where the catcher can’t block the plate and late slides into second base have become illegal take away so much from the game. I think there needs to be some level of fan accountability where the fans who attend games should have some reasonable expectation of a game that might last longer than anticipated. I also think that fans need to be more alert and provide safety measures for themselves instead of relying on Major League Baseball to keep 35,000 people safe. If you can’t stay alert during play or can’t stay off your cellphone for two minutes during a game, maybe the outfield seating is best for you.
Going into the ninth inning, the Mariners were holding on to the lead 7-6. Steve Cishek came in to close out the game and left a pitch over the plate for Albert Pujols. He hammered a 3-run home run and the Angels went on to win the game 9-7. Final.
Cishek later posted this one Twitter…
…he receieved plenty of support, there were still many nay-sayers. The Mariners have never really had a successful closer since I’ve been a fan. And I’ve been a fan since 1989.
Total Lifetime Games Attended: 121
Total Baseballs Snagged This Season: 9
Total Lifetime Baseballs Snagged: 343
Total Lifetime Foul Balls Snagged: 1
Total Lifetime Home Run Balls Snagged: 0
Willie Bloomquist is one of my favorite players and when he announced his retirement it made me sort of sad. I was never able to get any memorabilia signed by him or meet him at any of the games while he was active on the field. But I’m happy he’s retired and doing the things he wants to do. He recently accepted a job with the front office with the Diamondbacks so there’s still a chance I can catch him at the ballpark to get something signed.
I recently connected with him on Twitter and asked him how retirement was going…
…seems like everything is going well at the moment.
The Angels were in town this weekend and I always try to make it out to the stadium to see them. Mainly I like heckling Albert Pujols because he seems to make it a point to ignore the fans. So whenever he takes his at-bats, I like to obnoxiously yell “Puuuujjjjoooolllls!”. On a positive note, I like to wave and cheer on Mike Trout because he always responds to his fans, and I like seeing that from him.
My girlfriend, Alexandra accompanied me for the game and we stopped at the Pyramid Ale House prior to game time. I ordered the beer battered fish, which by the way, was awesome but the service wasn’t so great…
…we’ve been here before and our last visit the service was sub-par as well. We both decided this would be our last visit here.
When I entered the stadium, I spotted my first baseball of the day on the ground near the Root Sports set up. Once the rest of the stadium opened up, I managed to find three more baseballs in the right and center field bleachers and one was hit my way and I was able to snag it on the carom.
Alexandra and I headed down to the Angels dugout and once at our seats, we found this stuck to the front of my seat:
Here’s a closer look at what it says:
This was the view from our seats during the game:
By the bottom of the fourth, the game was tied 1-1 until Nelson Cruz hit a high drive out of the park in the bottom half of the fifth. Then in the bottom of the eighth, Angels pitcher, Joe Smith walked Norichika Aoki and then literally tried to pick him off at first base several times. The crowd became extremely restless and then on about the sixth or seventh attempt, Mike Scioscia challenged the play:
It was the first time I’d ever witnessed a live challenge and so it was interesting to watch the umpires put on the headsets and watch the video over and over again. The call stood; Aoki was safe at first. It was still pretty cool to see.
The game had lasted well beyond three hours so we left after Robinson Cano belted a double into the gap. The Mariners had the lead at this point by one run. Steve Chisek would be in to close the game out and by the time I got home and checked the score, I learned he blew the save. The one thing I was happy about was the fact that Robinson Cano had extended my Beat The Streak game streak to 16 with his double to the gap. The Mariners losing in the 9th? Not so happy about that but it’s baseball.
Total Lifetime Games Attended: 120
Total Baseballs Snagged This Season: 4
Total Lifetime Baseballs Snagged: 339
Total Lifetime Foul Balls Snagged: 1
Total Lifetime Home Run Balls Snagged: 0
The main goal was to attend this fan fest and get Jay Buhner’s autograph on a baseball bat. I had purchased a nice wooden bat from a sports retailer the night before, packed up the camera and headed into Seattle.
The last time I attended a fan fest was a few years ago and I really had a good experience. I wasn’t trying to mirror this experience to last times but I was imagining some quality time with Buhner. After all, it’s fan fest!
When I got to Safeco, the lines were already wrapped around the stadium:
The rules for autographs were pretty simple: the first 200 people in line that claimed vouchers upon entry would get that players autograph of their choice and so on and so forth until there were no more vouchers for that player. The players were staggered at various times so all you had to do was enter the ballpark, walk to the banner with the players name on it that you wanted, grab the voucher from the staff member and beat feet up to wherever the autograph session was taking place. Make senses? Okay, good.
Jay Buhner was signing autographs right at 10:30am so as soon as I got inside, I grabbed the voucher with his name on it and I just followed the signs that led me up to this hallway:
There were all kinds of cool things to look at waiting in line but all I really wanted to do was meet Jay Buhner.
I have been a Mariners fan since 1989 when my Mom took me to my very first Mariners game in the Kingdome. We sat up in the 300 level near the 3rd base side and the Mariners played the Baltimore Orioles. That was the first game I witnessed Cal Ripken Jr. play and all of my Mariner favorites. Since then, I’ve attended handfuls of games growing up with my Dad and we always sat where we could see Ken Griffey Jr.
Over the last few years, I’ve met a lot of players and I wanted to start meeting my childhood favorites like Jay Buhner and Dan Wilson. I met Edgar Martinez a few seasons ago by being in the right place at the right time.
Anyway. When Buhner finally arrived I had a question in mind that I wanted to ask him. And when I got up to the table to have my memorabilia signed, the staff member who was with Buhner was handing him so much stuff so fast for him to sign, I think Buhner was a little flustered. He even made a comment to the guy, something along the lines of “you’re handing me stuff and I don’t even have time to sign it!” Something like that.
When I handed my bat to the staff member, I stood in front of Buhner…
… and asked him, “Jay, when do you think Ichiro will hit his 3,000th hit?” He immediately replied with. “How many hits does he got?” I think at the time Ichiro had 2,919 or something like that. I was soon cut-off by more fans walking in front of me to get their picture taken with Buhner and the staff member kept piling on the memorabilia for him to sign. So I just picked up my bat and sort of walked away. I turned back once or twice more to watch but I was soon greeted with, “Have a nice day!” from another staff member which sort of meant, “please exit this way”.
Wow. I stood outside of the doors and just watched Buhner scurrying to sign balls and bobble heads and cards and all sorts of stuff. He had his head down and was just signing away.
Occasionally he would look up and laugh or whatever and shake a hand or two, but it was all business getting everything signed in front of him. I felt bad for him and I felt bad for the fans. Buhner had 200 autographs to sign in an hour and a half and I guess the point of the whole thing was to just get something signed and move on. But I wanted to at least talk to him for a minute or two like I got to talk to Edgar Martinez. I got to tell Edgar how I went to games as a little kid, and cheered for him and chanted, “Ed-GAR! Ed-GAR!” with my Dad and we drove home that night smiling after a M’s win. I shook hands with Martinez and took a picture and all was right in the world.
All wasn’t right in the world on this day. Buhner was a mad man signing autographs. I don’t blame him, though. It’s all about making the fans happy, I suppose. And if it’s just spending two quick seconds getting something signed from a baseball player and not having much interaction, then I guess that’s what makes people happy.
I feel fortunate as a baseball fan, though. I have a decent sized collection of signed baseball memorabilia from some of the greatest baseball players who’ve ever played the game. I’ve met and took pictures with many of my favorite players, I’ve traveled to 14 different MLB stadiums, I’ve seen MLB games in both Japan and Australia, I’ve caught a foul ball and I’ve shook hands with Nelson Cruz in Macy’s in down town Seattle. So over the years it’s been fun.
I walked away from Safeco today feeling happy that I got Buhner’s autograph on a baseball bat that’ll forever be in my collection but at the same time, I felt a little frustrated. I sort of put myself in Buhner’s shoes for a moment, too. He gives a lot of his own time to the fans. He raised the 12th man flag at the Seahawks game and he seems to be pretty involved in the community around the area, plus he goes to these fan fests just about every year. My only wish is during these autograph sessions, the process could just go a little slower.
I picked up a new hobby. It’s called “Geocaching”. Some of you may heard of it and some of you probably won’t know at all what I’m talking about. I’ll tell you all about it in a minute.
This year, I really didn’t do a whole lot of baseball related stuff. I went to a couple of Mariners games and my girlfriend and I traveled to the Cayman Islands for a week. I also flew to Chicago and met Jake Arrieta during the Catch in the Confines event. You can read all about that here.
As the result of not going to many games obviously my “ballhawking” stats have slowed down quite a bit. I’ve snagged 334 baseballs in 119 games (which averages about 2.81 a game) at 15 different stadiums. I have focused more on getting pictures with different players and getting good autographs from my favorite players. I’ve gotten two bats signed; one by Eric Davis and one by Miguel Olivo, I caught Dustin Ackley’s batting glove a few years ago and I have signed baseballs from Mark McGwire, Will Clark, Jake Arrieta, Brandon League and a few others.
In 2016, I would like to snag my 400th baseball but that might be a stretch. I have tentative plans to see the Pirates play at Hiram Bithorn stadium in Puerto Rico in May, as well as taking a trip to Europe and Hawaii later in the year. And I would like to travel to Los Angeles to see the Dodgers and possibly get to Arizona next year.
So back to this geocaching thing. While sitting in the lobby of a shop waiting for my motorcycle to get some work done, I overheard a couple people talking about geocaching. They were saying how they’re from England and came to Washington State to geocache. Since I’m a big fan of traveling, I thought I could get into this when I’m bored when visiting other countries. So I Googled it and found it to be truly interesting. There are 2.7 million caches hidden around the world and since February of this year, I’ve found 193 of them. So far I’m on an active streak of finding at least one cache per day for nine days straight right now. My numbers seem minimal and that’s fine. I just started caching this year.
There’s a lot of different caches and I tend to like the traditional caches and the Earth Caches the best. Earth caches are defined as finding a historical land mark or a type of geological find and taking your picture with it and logging some questions to the person who placed the cache there. I’ve found a handful of these and have learned a lot about glacial erratic rocks. Since I’m living in the Pacific Northwest, there are a lot of these. Traditional caches are just a container (big or small) hidden somewhere in the landscape both urban or rural. Urban caching, as I like to call it, makes me feel like a weirdo stalking around and acting suspicious. Rural caching is much better because I usually take my dog with me and we are hiking back trails and digging around in the bush. So it looks pretty normal.
I do miss the baseball stadiums, though. In 2013 I traveled a lot and saw a lot of different cities and stadiums. It was a lot of fun and I think this is a much needed break from the daily grind of going to as many games as possible and trying to catch as many baseballs as I can. I’ll probably never snag 1,000 baseballs within my lifetime and, really, I don’t intend to. I probably won’t even catch 500. My goal is to get to all the stadiums and catch at least one ball. Sadly, Turner Field is going to get demolished at the end of 2016 and I may not make it there.
So to conclude 2015, I had a great year. 2016 will probably be better and I hope to blog a lot more.
I hope everyone is having a great holiday!