Entries tagged with “Travel notes to Romania”.

Some of my friends who read the travel notes recorded during our vacation in Romania this summer keep asking – what about the food? When will you share the culinary experiences of your trip? May I say that I kept them pour la bonne bouche?

I must start with a counter-recommendation. Avoid Hanul lui Manuc a place of great tradition that fell under the hands of not so skilled cooks. If you are there because of circumstances go to the Romanian restaurant at least, or ask for the Romanian menu, and not the for the one called Oriental or Middle Eastern. If you ever lived or travel to the Middle East you will immediatly feel the fraud, and if you did not you risk to get the wrong impression about Middle Eastern food.



Now, I should say from start that when I travel to Romania I am walking on the nostalgic path when it comes to food There are a few dishes which I tried in other places of the world, but they never succeed to equal the flavor of the ones prepared in Romania. In this trip I made an exception, as we travelled to the area neighboring Serbia, so we tried Serbian food as well, on both shores of the Danube. By far I should say the one prepared on the Romanian shore was better and I warmly recommend Taverna Sarbului (The Serbian’s Den) which is actually a chain with other restaurants in Bucharest, Constanta, Sinaia and Brasov. It was much better than the Serbian counterpart called At Toma located on the other shore, which has however two advantages – less expensive and they also speak Romanian which is good for the non-Serbian but Romanian-speaking visitor.



Taverna Sarbului near Drobeta Turnu Severin have even a traditional device for charcoal roasting lambs.




The location of the restaurant on the shore of the Danube is excellent.  You should go for any of the pastries filled with meat (they were excellent also on the Serbian side) and for the grills. You can avoid however the kebab, as the Romanian mititei are much better. We went for Sausages on beans and for Lamb cooked in spinach – both photographed here one second before they disappeared.



We ate quite well in Timisoara near the Bega river, at the place the local call At the Boat. I like both brands of the local micro-brewed beer, bearing the name of Nenea Iancu the Romanian playwright and satiric writer who is remembered dearly this year 100 years after his death, and who was a big fan of beer and places where his characters drink beer.



A trip in Romania without eating papanashi is like you never got there. The best we had during this trip were the ones in the restaurant of the hotel in Sebesh, were we spent the last night of the trip.




A trip to Romania without eating mititei (the Romanian version of the Oriental kebab, the true one!) is like you never got there. On our way to Bucharest, after descending the mountains before Pitesti we stopped at Dedulesti, where a chain of restaurants on the side of the road prepare arguably the best mititei in Romania. They indeed equaled in our memory the ones prepared at the legendary Cocosatul in Bucharest.




Last, at least for me, a trip to Bucharest without eating at least once at Caru cu Bere is like I was not in Bucharest. It’s not only nostalgia for the so many meals and beers I had there with my parents, my friends, and lately my sons (Avi loved the place), it’s also the fact that the place succeeds for the last few years to keep a good level of the cuisine, not to speak about the beer prepared according to the same receipt of the one enjoyed by Nenea Iancu. This time we were twice there, and we enjoyed Ciolan pe varza (pig foot on sauerkraut) and sarmalute cu mamaliguta (cabbage stuffed with meat on polenta). However we also have one negative recommendation – avoid the galuste cu prune (gomboti, plums filled pastries). As they say, one does not come at Caru cu bere for gomboti.

Here is an odd and sad story – the story of a place of worship, the story of a place that witnessed the history of a Jewish community and was the symbol, the place of gathering and the center of life of this community. A place which was sold as a piece of real estate and its purpose changed. Instead of becoming a place of remembering it will soon forget all.



This was the second day of our trip in Western Romania. After having spent the night in Baile Herculane and then traveled for a few hours in the wild and picturesque valley of the river Cerna we descended to Turnu Severin.We stopped first at the walls of the medieval city which are also the head of the bridge built by Apolodor of Damascus in the years 103-105 when the Roman army entered Dacia to win the second and final war and conquer this territory. Then we went to the center of the city which looks quite nice and was quite and empty in that summer Sunday afternoon. There we noticed the building, a red bricks structure with a silhouette that looked familiar.



Without any doubt the building was a synagogue. Or better said it was once a synagogue, because now the firm outside indicated the present destination of the building – a notary office. What we were seeing was the former synagogue built in the center of the city in the second half of the 19th century by the Jewish community of Turnu Severin. The community was not too big in numbers, a mix of about 140 Ashkenazi and Sephardic families, but probably a wealthy and flourishing community as they could afford buying in this location and building the Jewish place of prayer in the heart of the city. I could find no information about the building on the Internet, not the exact year of its building, not about the architect and builder, not about the benefactors who contributed. I do not know if there are any archives of the community, there are certainly Jews who were born here, or descendants of the Jews born here living all over the world, they could have contributed with information, photographs, memorabilia, they could have helped to make this place a museum if there is no longer a viable community for praying, but the fate of the place was to be different.



I could actually find more information on the Internet about the transaction that settled the fate of the synagogue building. The case made some waves a few years ago. If the information I found is accurate, the building was sold by the Federation of Jewish Communities of Romania (FCER) in 2006 for the amount of 57,000 Euros (the price of an average apartment in Bucharest) to a family of notaries who opened here their office. Here are two articles (in Romanian) describing the story and the history.





We could not enter the building, the offices were closed on Sunday. Near the synagogue a big Christian Orthodox cathedral is being built, actually it looks close to completion, and it dwarfs the much modest (in size) synagogue. The building looks like it’s being maintained in good conditions, but soon the external architectonic details still existing that keep trace of the original purpose of the building may disappear, and with them the last memories of another Jewish community in Eastern Europe which is gone forever.



I realize that the cycle of blog entries about the trip to Romania last year advances too slowly. There are a few reasons and a few excuses that I will not list here, but it may be a good outcome as well. As the memories sediment and the emotions I felt during that trip get some rest, I can better structure the story of this travel which was from many points of view different from any other trip I took recently. Here is the second stop we made in the second day of the trip, at the beautiful and so special monastery of Agapia.


The name of the monastery and of the neighboring village comes from the name of the hermit Agapie who according to the tradition built a wooden church in the second half of the 14th century in a place located about 2 kilometers from the current location. As the church was destroyed by a snow avalanche on a Easter Day, it was rebuilt close to the current place, and later in the 15th century a monks monastery was built around. Several kings of Moldavia donated lands and contributed to the building of the monastery and churches inside – Petru Rares, Alexandru and Bogdan Lapusneanu, Vasile Lupu, Petru Schiopu (the Lame). By the end of the 18th century the monastery is turned to the nuns, but it is almost completely destroyed by fire during the events of the Greek revolt and Russian occupation that followed.


It is after the destruction in 1821 that the monastery was rebuilt and took its present form. Painted in sparkling white the church of the monastery is not big in dimensions, but strong and elegant. The building is built on the foundation of stone, with thick impressive walls. The side wings, a new porch and the old narthex were added in 1858-1862. The roof is simple with a low inclination, pierced above the nave by a slender tower with octagonal base.

source http://www.viziteazaneamt.ro/2010/08/opera-lui-nicolae-grigorescu-la-manastirea-agapia/


The most impressive art elements in the monastery are the paintings of Nicolae Grigorescu, one of the most important names in the history of Romanian art, founder of the Romanian school of painting. Grigorescu was only 20 when he received this work, and between 1859 and 1861 painted the walls of the church leaving here an important mark for his artistic career, as well as for the whole Romanian church painting and art in general.


Iisus rugându-se în grădina Ghetsimani - source http://ro.wikipedia.org/wiki/M%C4%83n%C4%83stirea_Agapia


Inspiring himself from works of the great masters of the Renaissance, the artist added his own touch. As many other great artists dealing with Bible subject (El Greco comes the first to my mind) he took as models for the characters of the Gospels from the people he met around – nuns, monks, peasants. He added his personal touch as well as sensitivity and devotion for the subjects he dealt with.


source http://cadelnita.blogspot.com/2010/05/agapia-nicolae-grigorescu.html


The remarkable composition and dramatic power of telling the story are impressive in many of the more complex paintings.


Sfanta Treime - source http://ro.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fi%C8%99ier:Biserica_Agapia_-_SfTreime.JPG


Also exceptional are the way Grigorescu uses the architectonic details, paints every available space and corner and succeeds to provide to the ensemble a sense of complex beauty and monumental despite the relatively small dimensions of the church. Immediately after finishing the work at Agapia, Nicolae Grigorescu travelled to Paris, He studied at Ecole des Beaux-Arts, had Renoir as a colleague and Miller, Corot and Courbet as acquaintances, associating himself to the school of Barbizon and later to Impressionism. Back in Romania he painted on the front of the Romanian Independence War in 1877 and became the most important founding figure in the history of Romanian painting.


Back to the courtyard we could admire the museum of the monastery (with more works of the young Grigorescu) and the lodgement of the nuns, some available to visitors guests of the monastery. Church economy developed around the monastery, many of the nuns working on gardening and farming around – a tradition that also continues an older way of life and living.


However newer ways of communication are also present – as you can see in the photo of this nun talking on a mobile phone.