Throughout Europe with Excellent Cappuccino

Pastries at Cafe Konditorei in Vienna

In the past several years I have traveled throughout several European countries and grew fond of really great coffee. I believe that most people have not experienced the aroma and smooth taste of truly great coffee.

It isn’t that I think of myself as a connoisseur or an advocate of beans from specific places throughout the world. I also don’t believe I am a snob because I rather enjoy a cappuccino or a latte than a cup of black Americano.

This story is about exceptionally great coffee with a particular emphasis on cafes and coffee in Europe. Like the one in this photo inside Cafe Konditorei in Vienna, Austria, many European cafes sell delicious pastries along with exceptional coffee. Fantastic coffee, pastries and food are also found at the famous Cafe Central, also in Vienna

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Finding Your Spot!

I bet your imagination wandered when you read the story title! You probably thought to yourself about what spot I am referring to! After all, I have been known to ask similar questions in my blog stories like “Are You Regular?” and also to get a bit provocative as in “Nude in the Sauna.” But this story isn’t like that. However, I hope the title captured your attention so you read on!

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Farewell to My Typical Days in Romania

It is 5:00 AM and the neighborhood rooster noticed that the sky is brightening and he begins to crow. Moments later he is joined by another and the chorus is aggravating the dogs and they begin to bark. I am uncertain if the barking is at the roosters or the townspeople who are making their way into Cluj-Napoca. Such has been the typical start of everyday in my exploration in Transylvania.

Outdoors at Engel’s Bistro

Soon the sun is completely visible and the roosters return to their “more calm” state! But the construction crews on the sides of my apartment now begin their day’s labor as the edges to Cluj expand further into the countryside.

With the seven hour time difference between the Eastern Europe Time Zone and the Eastern Time Zone in the USA,  it is not uncommon that I am awake and going before my friends and family in the USA have gone to sleep! While I have often written about Cluj and my journeys, this entry is about my typical daily routine in Transylvania.

Continue reading “Farewell to My Typical Days in Romania”

Burned at the Stake in Transylvania

Dracula is based on Vlad III. Credit: Public domain

Dark and highly intense tales of mystery, superstition, and legend are passed from generation-to-generation in Transylvania. I am fascinated with Dracula and his blood-sucking legend which permeates our thoughts of this Romanian region. Transylvania is synonymous with Dracula and to this day there are also many additional local legends involving torture, coercion, punishment, death, magic, beasts, and alliances with the devil that have become common parts of the exciting local culture. Continue reading “Burned at the Stake in Transylvania”

My Cluj-Napoca Exploration in Romania

cluj-napoca-on-map180I have now been in Cluj-Napoca, Romania for almost a month and I have made many observations while exploring this small city. This entry into my travel blog is about my observations during my exploration of Cluj.

Cluj is located in the north central Transylvania region of Romania. It has a very long history influenced by Romans, Hungarians, Gypsies, Transylvanian German Saxons, Communists and several religious affiliations.

Mihai Viteazul Memorial

Cluj is a livable city of about 330,000 people. Much of the population is composed of college students from the 6 universities in the city. I like it here and have decided to return during June and July to further explore Romania in general and Transylvania in specific.

Mihai Viteazul is remembered as a Romanian hero with memorials to him in Cluj, Bucharest and elsewhere in the country. Known as “Michael the Brave,” he was the Prince of Wallachia, of Transylvania, and of Moldavia. He united the three principalities under a single rule which eventually became modern-day Romania.

Through the centuries there has been so much historic interaction between the Romanians and people from the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian Empires, Germans, and others. To recount history would make my head hurt so I won’t. That said, the area in and around Cluj has a huge history and there are many remnants as reminders of the past.

For those so inclined, Cluj presents an exceptional place for historic research and learning. In this blog, however, I am going to emphasize more about my thoughts and observations with some historic notes interspersed.

Matthias Corvinus, King of Hungary, was born in Cluj and is remembered in Unirii Square

I arrived in Cluj by train from Budapest in early April. The 7 hour train trip was delayed arriving by 3 hours but once I was settled, my exploration of the city began at its ancient heart, Unirii Square. In and around the square are important Roman artifacts from the 1st century and newer structures.

The newer points of interest include the imposing Saint Michael’s Catholic Church dating back to the 14th century and the massive memorial to Matthias Corvinus, a former King of Hungary and Croatia born in Cluj, Romania in 1443. Banffy Palace from the 18th century is home of the National Art Museum and was the palace for the Governor of Transylvania.  It is located opposite St.Michael’s Church and a block away is Corvinus’ birthplace from the 15th century in the center of the medieval historic museum area where numerous street vendors and outdoor cafes are located.

From Cetatuia Hill, St. Michael’s Catholic Church dominates the Cluj skyline

The city is bursting with memorials. Preserved old city walls and remnants of earlier protective fortifications are found nearby. There are many memorials to historic and noteworthy individuals throughout the Central Park. And the architectures of the Dormition of the Theotokos Orthodox Cathedral and the adjacent Romanian National Opera House are beautiful. From a vantage point on Cetatuia Hill (once the location of a fortress) overlooking the city, St. Michael’s dominates the city skyline. Just outside Central Park is a monument that is dedicated to the resistance to the Communists and those who died in Cluj during the violent December 1989 revolt that ended the Romanian Communist government.

There are several museums and an attractive Botanical Garden in Cluj. These along with the places I have previously mentioned attract numerous visitors mainly from Eastern and Central Europe. Theater, opera, symphony, and cultural events are highlights within the city. There are many small cafes, hidden bistros and aromatic pastry shops that provide traditional, very flavorful Romanian and international foods and drinks.

Banffy Palace

Services to sustain the infrastructure appear to be a challenge to the city authorities. Basics such as utilities and transportation are provided well. Although it is interesting to walk back in time in the city among old structures and memorials, the buildings that look good are maintained by private investments. It is sad to see deterioration of the public buildings such as the historic Banffy Palace which is literally crumbling. Many of the residents see this as a difficult reality where spending decisions have been made to allocate revenue among many competing priorities.

Under the prior Communist regime people recall long queues for small amounts of meat and bread. One person told me that it was special at Christmas to be able to get his only orange for the year. Life today, although difficult, is better. Life outside the city is very much at a subsistence level and I will discuss that in a future blog. The massive ugly housing projects during the Communist era remain as a stark reminder of that sad time.

Almost everyone I have met is pleasant and speaks English… and often a third language in addition to Romanian. Everyone has stories that they are happy to share about themselves, their country, its history, and the world. The people are often highly educated with post-graduate degrees but many times find themselves doing service related work or jobs with lower skill requirements. Pay is low for all positions. Many Romanians go to other European countries to work in construction and agriculture. Buying fresh flowers from street vendors or the market is really big in Cluj. Everyday there are beautiful floral displaces in many places.

Cluj is a very nice Eastern European city. I like it and the surrounding area and will blog more over the next few months about my observations from my explorations throughout Romania. If you have comments, please let me know in the space provided below.