Friday Thought #90 Romania’s dark history

To finish off our Romanian trip report, I must mention the political history of the country as it is one of the most extraordinary stories to emerge from a county so close to home, and in the very recent past.

Nicolai Ceausescu was Romania’s communist president from 1967 – 1989 and despite seemingly starting out as exactly what the country needed and wanted, it soon turned sour and Ceausescu became increasingly brutal and repressive. He maintained tight controls over the media, sanctioned a brutal secret police force and made decisions which resulted in extreme shortages of fuel, energy, medicines, and a nationwide famine. Finally, after years of growing unrest, unlawful killings and political demonstrations, Ceausescu’s communist government was overthrown, and following a dramatic helicopter escape attempt, Ceausescu and his wife Elena were subjected to a brief show trial and sentenced to death by firing squad.

We visited these sights in Bucharest and in Târgoviște, an hour north of the capital, expecting them to be busy and full of tourists with cameras, like any European capital, especially one with such a fascinating history. But what we discovered was quite the opposite, Bucharest was like a ghost town. We were seemingly the only tourists, and the only people paying any attention to these historic landmarks. We got the distinct impression that Romanians don’t want to commemorate the revolution or celebrate their freedom, they just want to forget that this ever happened.

It took us a long time to even find the Ceausescu Museum in Târgoviște, given that it had no signs, wasn’t marked, and has the incorrect address on the website. This crumbling and unremarkable building is where the Ceausescus were held, tried and executed. Eerie doesn’t even come close. You can sit in the chair where they were sentenced, see where they spent their final days, and touch the bullet holes which remain in the wall where they fell. It should signal the end of repression for Romania, a start of a new era, yet the guest book indicated that we were the only visitors in the last 10 days.

Another stark reminder of the Ceausescu’s rule, and one which perhaps the Romanians would like to forget, is the Palace of the Parliament in Bucharest. Ceausescu built this in the 1980s to try and replicate the regime in North Korea. In order to build this narcissistic monstrosity, a hospital was demolished along with several monasteries and around 37 old factories and workshops, and 40,000 people were kicked out of their homes. The cost of building it was estimated at around €3 billion, of public money. Today it is the fourth biggest building in the world and the cost of heating and electric lighting alone exceeds €5.5 million per year. Despite housing the entire Romanian Parliament and several museums, approximately 70% of the building remains empty. Just what Romania needs; a country which still has one of the lowest net average monthly wages in the EU, at just €540.

Romania was a truly fascinating place, and I am pleased that through visiting I was able to learn so much more about the dark history of this country. If you ever find yourself in Eastern Europe I thoroughly recommend a trip.

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thumb_IMG_5115_1024A surprising lack of pride on a national monument.

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The bullet holes remain, as do the original lines drawn where the Ceausescus fell. Eerie doesn’t even come close.

 

 

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Friday thought #26 Discovering new places – Kosovo and Macedonia

Going somewhere new is always an amazing experience, especially when it’s in an entirely new part of the World, completely unknown and with no pre-conceptions. No matter what you encounter, it will be an adventure, and Eastern Europe definitely delivered. Our only basis for going was that we’d vaguely heard the skiing could be good, and the half term school holidays in France are as good a reason as any to get the hell out of the Alps. You can fly directly to Pristina, Kosovo from Geneva, so why not?

Some of the absolute highlights for me:

* One man chairlifts!

* Dinner for two for €3.50!

* A local Kosovar overhearing us speaking English in the street and proceeding to shake our hands, thank us profusely for our help in liberating his country, and paying homage to Tony Blair and Queen Elizabeth II!

* The wonderfully friendly and welcoming people

* The heavily armed ski patrollers on the pistes in Macedonia

* Hitching a ride with a cat ski operation in the back bowls of Popova Sapka in Macedonia

* Sledgers outnumbering skiers by at least 20:1!

* The severe looking guards at the Macedonia/Kosovo border seeing our skis, breaking out in to smiles and telling us through the hatch where to go next for the best skiing.

* The total and utter chaos on the roads to Brezovica ‘resort’, Kosovo, with cars, coaches and pedestrians all sharing a one track, rutted, snowy road.

* Getting a ride up to our hotel on the back of a skidoo.

* The touts flogging soft drinks, chocolate bars and cigarettes at the base of the chair lifts from rickety wooden tables.

What an endlessly fascinating and intriguing area, I don’t think I have ever come across a more welcoming, friendly and hilarious people. In both Kosovo and Macedonia there seems to be no logic, very few rules, and a definite lack of urgency. The lifts in the tiny ski areas may or may not open and if they do it might only be for half an hour.

What a wonderful place, we’ll most certainly be back!

Moonscapes in Popova Sapka, Macedonia
Moonscapes in Popova Sapka, Macedonia
Lakeside skiing in Mavrovo, Macedonia
Lakeside skiing in Mavrovo, Macedonia
The atmospheric one man chair in Brezovica, Kosovo
The atmospheric one man chair in Brezovica, Kosovo
The tiny resort of Brezovica, Kosovo, where sledging is clearly the national sport!
The tiny resort of Brezovica, Kosovo, where sledging is clearly the national sport!
Fresh lines in the back bowls
Fresh lines in the back bowls
Animal tracks heading in to the sunset
Animal tracks heading in to the sunset
Now this is what you call chaos!
Now this is what you call chaos!

Friday thought #25 Nature at its best

Following a recent ski trip to Kosovo and Macedonia (more info to follow, such a fun trip!!) I feel the need to share some of the most beautiful examples I saw of snow in all its glory. Living in the Alps you’re surrounded by snow for several months of the year, but going somewhere new can sometimes bring a whole new perspective to the weather you feel you know so well. When fresh snow is combined with wind and storms, the resulting effect can be absolutely incredible. Enjoy x

A long forgotten chair lift in Kosovo (have you ever seen a one person chair lift before??!)
A long forgotten chair lift in Kosovo (have you ever seen a one person chair lift before??!)
Ice patterns on the window, -11 Celsius outside!
Ice patterns on the window, -11 Celsius outside!

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An amazing build up of snow following several days of storms in Macedonia
An amazing build up of snow following several days of storms in Macedonia