Monday, September 30, 2013

2013 September Reading List

Not much to report this month as I had a two weeks vacation and the weeks before and after were pretty much wasted too.

Perfect Shadow by Brent Weeks – I liked it even better than the first book in the series, after all it’s about my favorite character, he he! 4/5 stars

won a Hugo. The idea is quite beautiful and the writing isn’t bad at all, although a little heavy with information for a novella in places. 4/5 stars

Shadow’s Edge by Brent Weeks – This one took forever to finish mainly because the vacation fell right in the middle, but the last sentence was gold! 4/5 stars

Sunday, September 29, 2013

2013 Croatia – One tunnel, two tunnels...

Paris wasn’t in the cards this year.
We started making plans late, and after considering Madrid (affordable fights only at midnight and which apartment owner would be crazy enough to come and deliver the keys to some strangers at that hour?) and Lisbon (a bit far and also expensive), Mom suggested Paris. The two of us have been there briefly a long time ago, but the boys haven’t, and I quite fancied going back. I still do. While reluctant at first, Dad got all excited and even suggested Little Brother to brush off his French. Little Brother lost his interest after that. :P
Do you know how difficult it is to find suitable accommodations in downtown Paris, in a building without stairs? I do. I wasted two frigging weeks searching for apartments on the ground floor as there don’t seem to be any elevators installed in the old city center. The plane ticket prices went up, and we were exceeding the time window when Mom could take time off from work, plus we had to consider the September weather and University starting soon. The fact that many apartment owners didn’t bother to reply to my inquiries (written in French, mind you) didn’t help. I guess they’re sick of Romanians.
In the end, we had to admit it wasn’t going to work, not this summer anyway. We considered Warsaw and Zagreb next, but Dad didn’t want to drive through Ukraine to get to Poland, and if we went to Zagreb then there were all the other locations on the coast worth visiting too. I felt a headache coming on thinking about all the work finding accommodations would imply, but I opened a map and started designing a circuit through Croatia. In one weekend, I had everything mapped, and the following week I had three out of four apartments booked. I was a bit in a hurry because we had to go and visit grandma for a week and there wasn’t much time left after that. I sent inquiries to tons of people and made my last choice based on distance to the city center, floor residence, and, of course, price, without really caring about how the apartment looked like. This fed up I was with the whole process.
My luggage was packed a week before our departure. Dad and I had a bet made with Mom on 100 EUR each that she would spend the last night before our departure packing, but at 10 PM she was all done and drying her hair so she won.
Here we were, the usual suspects (we'll keep their names secret to protect the innocents, hehe): my Mom (MM), my Dad (MD), little brother (LB) and yours truly. The same car, plus two GPSs (one newly bought and the other received by Mom as advanced birthday present from a friend—all in the same day LOL), and a brand new roof box (I don’t know why we waited so many years to get one). As usual, these are some random thoughts about our vacation and the places and things we've seen, non-edited  (editors, stay away), and not meant to insult anyone. OK, let the circus begin!

Sunday, September 8, 2013 – Iasi – Oradea 12:00-22:00

We woke up early and we were sort of ready, but we weren’t. The boys had to install the roof box on top of the car, and by the time we carried everything to the parking lot and LB brought the safety vest from the other car (this will become important later on!), it was close to 11 AM. Then MD had to stop by the office for one last minute thing. We waited in the car while MM went to the church across the street to lit some candles for our journey to go well. This also will have a special significance later on. :P
Around noon, we were finally leaving Iasi. At least we didn’t have to stop and put on gas. As we were approaching Ruginoasa, MM announced that MD’s passport wasn’t in the same place as the rest of them. Stop the car, search her bag well. It wasn’t there. Call grandma and ask her to look around the apartment in case the passport was forgotten somewhere on the furniture in the living room or the bedroom. It wasn’t. Curse because grandma found the present we had left for her name anniversary one day in advance. Call the friend who had visited us the previous evening and ask her if she remembered what MM had done with MD’s passport. Yes, she put it in her bag. Well, it wasn’t there. Untie the straps around the roof box and take everything out. Go through all the bags. Curse some more. Pop open the trunk. Relief. The passport was lying behind the headrest of the back seat where it had fallen out of MM’s bag when she took out her wallet to go to the church. Ride furiously into the not so distant sunset, keeping quiet so we wouldn’t throw blame at each other. No music either, as the emitter was either broken after lying for a whole year at the bottom of a drawer, or we had copied the files wrong on the USB flash drive. I was relieved we hadn’t returned home to turn the apartment upside down and still not find the passport since it was in the car.
We followed the by now familiar route:  Pascani, Tg. Neamt, Toplita, Reghin, Cluj, Oradea. We even stopped for a short lunch break at the same tourist rest stop on the side of the road outside Reghin like last year. We didn’t stop in Reghin to buy cakes from the Snowdrop shop because it was getting late so we drove right through it. The road works from last summer were finished, so the roads weren’t so bad, but the portion around Cluj was still a neck breaker, ouch.
It was dark when we entered Oradea and checked into Hotel Lyra. One of the double rooms turned out to be a triple, no idea why, so it was a bit cramped. No Dolph Lundgren movie, besides we were too tired to watch TV, but The Expendables II had been on TV the previous night so we were all set for our vacation, tee-hee!

Monday, September 9, 2013 - Oradea – Zagreb 10:00-18:00

We treated ourselves with the special omelet they make for breakfast at Hotel Lyra. LB had been raving, and possibly even dreaming, about it ever since leaving Iasi. At 10 AM, we were all packed and leaving the hotel.
After filling the tank and buying the vignette for Hungary, we presented the passports at the border and we were asked if we had anything to declare. MM said “no” while MD said “yes, a bottle of whiskey.” “No, tuica?” asked the guy. “No, nothing like that,” MD said, and then he cursed, “Damn, he ruined the surprise,” as MM didn’t know about the bottle.
The GPS refused to show us the way to the highway, so we turned on the second GPS, too. Letting both of them guide us, but mainly watching the signs on the road, we made it to Debrecen, but there we missed a turn and had to cross the town instead of going around it.
While it had been sunny and only a little cold in the morning, the clouds started to gather and we crossed Budapest through a light rain. The endless Hungarian highway was boring as usual, which was frustrating, especially since our team had beaten the locals at soccer with 3:0 earlier during the week, so MD was careful not to go over the speed limit. :P
We weren’t far from the Croatian border when we had a flat tire. We had to change it in the pouring rain, so imagine this scenario: me sitting inside the car, while the boys changed the tire, and MM held an umbrella above herself and one over the luggage pulled out of the trunk, while wearing the safety vest. No need to say they were all wet long before finishing with the tire. No one thought about getting my yellow raincoat from the bags (the one from Amsterdam, remember?), but then again it was in the roof box along with all of our clothes and opening it would have meant getting everything else wet too.
So we announced our host we’d be one hour late, and then the boys did a little strip-tease show, swapping jackets and trying to warm up. If you had seen LB trying to fit inside my coat (he’s twice my size), you would have died laughing. If the tire had waited another kilometer, there would have been no rain. Another car with Romanians had some engine trouble on the other side of the road, and the driver asked us if we had any tools, but we didn’t. Why would we carry any when we didn’t know what to do with them? :P
MM drove the last 30 km on the highway before entering Zagreb (the highway access cost about 5 EUR and the nice thing was that we paid in euros and received the change in kunas so we didn’t have to rush to the exchange office as soon as we got into town) because MD’s eyes were bothering him (it happens after driving on the highway through the rain usually), then he took back the steering-wheel and drove us to the apartment. It helped that we had looked it up on Google Maps to know how the building looked-like so it was easy to find. On our way in, we passed by a long park with many rows of colorful flowers that MM would want to visit later on.
The landlord was already there, waiting for us. He was very helpful and showed us where to park the car for the night and said to take it in the morning to the parking near the train station. Only 25 euros per day. Facepalm. We paid the rest of the rent (he had done the math wrong, so he would have ended up 2 euros short if we hadn’t said anything, hehe!) and asked where we could have the tire fixed. He showed us on the map the direction in which to go as it was way off the map. We also inquired about how to get to the Old Town as we’d heard there were stairs on the way. He confirmed it and said we had to take the funicular, there was no way around it. It always puzzles me how people never seem to get it that we don’t mind walking, we just don’t do stairs. And then he said, “And now let me show you where the good restaurants are,” to which we were quick to jump, “No, no, no restaurants!” thinking about the trunk loaded with food we’d brought along.
After he left, we inspected the apartment and set for dinner. It was a modern apartment that had been recently renovated, a bit oddly shaped, with a small living room because the room had been split by a fake wall so it could have two twin beds fit in the back. A corridor decorated with black and white posters of actors from the 40s and 50s connected the entrance hallway to the kitchen and the master bedroom. Some budget cut must have been made when decorating the flat as the hallway posters were left unframed, but a wide selection of empty frames decorated the bedroom’s walls. It looked good, actually. There was also a balcony opening in the interior yard. MM declared herself satisfied with the kitchen and proceeded to prepare dinner. “Soup! We want soup!” We don’t mind if soup is missing while at home, but we become big fans of instant soup when travelling.
By the time we finished dinner, it was raining too hard to go out for a walk, so we plugged in the laptop, let the people at home know we were fine, and turned in for an early night.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013 – Zagreb

In the morning, the boys woke up early to move the car in the garage in Tuskanac (close to us and also half the price). It was too cold for MM to have her coffee on the balcony like she wanted to. We had a rich breakfast and hurried out decided to see most part of the city as it was announced to be the day with the best weather during our staying in Zagreb.
Our apartment located in Bruna Trenka was pretty close to the center, we only had to go up north along two parks, which looked more impressive on the map. We walked to Trg Bana Josip Jelacica (the main square), checked the products the vendors were selling (MD bought spicy sausages), then went around the corner to visit the cathedral and then Dolac (the outdoor market) just before closing time. From there we headed again up north on Kaptol and returned on Tkalciceva between all of the restaurant and terraces.
Once we were back in Jelacica Square, we went west on Ilica (a long street that separates the upper town from the lower town), passed by the funicular, and turned north on Mesnicka looking for an entry to old town. Of course there was a route that included no stairs! We ended up in the north end of upper town and came from there. On the way to Markov Trg, we visited Mestrovic workshop/museum, then walked around St. Marcus Church (it was closed), to Lotrscak Tower where we watched the city from above, the Stone Gate and back downtown.
 It was clouded and cold, so we returned to the apartment to eat and warm up. I didn’t let them rest for long, I woke them up as soon as the sun came out. There were still things to see. We went in the west part of town this time, by the National Library, Mimar Museum, the Ethnographic Museum, the National Theatre, and then up and down on Ilica and to the Mestrovic Pavilion from where we returned home passing by the Gallery of Modern Art. It just proves that most important sites in Zagreb can be seen in one day.
We were a little surprised to see so many women wearing black and little make-up. LB commented on how most girls walked in pairs and were rarely accompanied by boys. I instantly fell in love with the sidewalks that were close to the street level (in downtown they were only separated by a ditch from the pavement).

Wednesday, September 11, 2013 – Zagreb

It was cold and rainy in the morning, so MM and I stayed at home while the boys went out for a stroll despite the rain. When the rain stopped around noon, we called them to ask where they were and found out they had visited the Museum of Contemporary Art. I was a little miffed that they had gone without telling us. I’m not a big fan of modern art, but I like the modern buildings the exhibitions are located in. We waited for them with the lunch ready, more soup and noodles, and hurried out before it rained again.
We explored the east side for a while, ended up back in Jelacica Square, then wanted to visit a Japanese exhibition, but it wasn’t doable, and soon it was raining again so I got to use my yellow raincoat. Of course, once we got to the apartment, the rain stopped.

Thursday, September 12, 2013 – Zagreb

Big day as it was MM’s 60th birthday. Even the weather understood the importance of the event and improved some. We went out around noon, walked around down town, bought homemade spinach pie and sour cherry pie that we ate in the main square, then went to see the cathedral again. I quite liked it, especially the chandeliers.
When MM complained about getting dizzy if we went up and down Ilica once more, we headed south. We checked out the train station and the underground passage. From there we went farther south to see the big park with many rows of flowers and a fountain in the middle that we had seen from the car on our way in. On our way back, we checked out the store inside the passage. I was not impressed with Zagreb fashion.

Friday, September 13, 2013 – Zagreb – Rijeka – Rovinj 12:00-18:00

We were supposed to leave the apartment at 10 AM, but it didn’t work as planned. When the boys went to get the car from the garage and repair the tire, they found out the tire was damaged beyond fixing and we had to buy a new one. They didn’t sell tires at the place where they did repairs, but they gave us directions where we could find tires. It was somewhere on the outskirts of town and we ran in circles for a bit until we found the place. The thing is you can’t drive thousands of kilometers with mismatched front tires, so we actually had to buy two. It took some rearranging of the stuff in the trunk to make room for the extra tire. Thank God for the roof box, or we would have been forced to either abandon the old spare or put it in the car with us. It wouldn’t have been something new for us since we returned from Greece with a spoiler once.
All said and done, it was already noon when we left a hot and sunny (!) Zagreb. The plan was to stop and visit Rijeka on our way to Rovinj, and we still did, even if it was late. The GPS kept losing signal as we drove on the narrow streets near the mountain so we had to let the street signs guide us while searching for one of the two garages I had located on the map. We drove along the Riva (the street next to the water) three times before we got to the parking, again it helped that I had looked it up on Google Maps as it was easy to notice it thanks to the blue sings on top that made it look like a playground once you were on the right street.
We went straight to the harbor where we looked at the boats and inhaled the salty sea air. Lots of seagulls and fish near the surface. We walked along the Riva and then entered Korzo, the pedestrian boulevard parallel to it, which we also crossed three times to learn it well. :P For once it was a warm day, we thought 24C was hot after the cold in Zagreb. LB teased me, “See, there’s no difference compared to 16C, is there?” to which I promptly replied “One jacket!”
After we had a sandwich, we notified the landlady we would be an hour late and started on our way towards Rovinj. The landscape changed rapidly, resembling more and more to that of Tuscany, except for the tunnels. Croatia is very big on tunnels! Many nice, well-lit tunnels. The longest was over 5 km long and we had to pay to cross it. We used the highway twice on the way to Rovinj, each time paying close to 5 EUR.
The villa in which we had rented an apartment was in the corner of the street at the periphery of the town, so we passed twice by it before noticing it. Luckily, the owners lived upstairs and weren’t bothered by our late arrival.
The kitchen cabinets were a little worn out, but the living room was huge as well as the bed in the bedroom. Lots of big, pretty plants inside and outside. The balcony was covered by a kiwi plant with fruits. No internet access, but at least LB and I didn’t have to fight over the laptop.
We ate quickly and headed out into town. The apartment was a little far from the city center, and we almost got bored walking as there wasn’t much to see other than villas, plants, and tourists. It was getting dark when we reached the pedestrian main street, the lights were just turning on, and we absolutely loved it, the streets paved with shiny stones, the small shops, the buildings, everything. We walked up to the market and then up and down along the border of the water. Lovely. And for the first time since the beginning of our trip, I didn’t freeze.

Saturday, September 14, 2013 – Pula – Rovinj

We had a healthy breakfast, finished the sweets bought at the Pirates Cave Candyland the previous night, and hopped in the car to go and visit Pula (my Romanian readers better not smirk! We’ve used all the bad jokes already. :P) The first stop was, of course, the Arena. We baked in the hot sun for about an hour while the boys took pictures of the smaller version of the Collosseum. There was a cat around so I, at least, didn’t get bored.
Then we took a stroll through the city center, the pedestrian area and the waterfront, looking for historical monuments like the Arch of the Sergi, the Gate of Hercule, the Chapel of St. Mary Formosa, the Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Mary and so on, without missing the market, of course. Nice city, more modern than Rovinj but with a Roman feel. I was glad, though that I hadn’t found accommodation there, because I had considered it. Rovinj was much better.
So we hurried home, ate something, and went back out to explore Rovinj in daylight. Being weekend, there was some kind of festival in the main square with several bands, and orchestras playing. MD got distracted by his photos and we lost him for an hour or so. His cell phone lost signal so he didn’t worry as he didn’t receive our messages. It was bound to happen  sooner or later so I didn’t panic, but it was still annoying.
Once we regrouped, we went to the church on top of the hill. We chose a long alley without stairs, and while the pavement was still bad, the view over the water was magnificent. Unfortunately, we arrived during the mass so we only glanced inside from the entrance. Lovely stained glass windows. We took the stairs back down as the road was just as bad, and after walking some more in the streets, we finished the evening with a walk along the whole length of the waterfront, while the boys try their skills at taking night photos.

Sunday, September 15, 2013 – Rovinj – Zadar – Split – 10:00-20:00

It was time to leave Rovinj. Sob. And we forgot to pick a kiwi fruit and take with us as souvenir. We definitely must go back!
The initial plan was to take the coast route towards Split, but since we also wanted to stop and visit Zadar on the way, we would have gotten there too late so we had to take the highway. Since parking is free on Sundays during the off season in Zadar, we dropped the car in the first parking we saw near the water and crossed over into the old town. Compared to Rovinj, I found Zadar to be bigger, bulkier and less intimate, perhaps because of the imposing Roman feel.
We started with People’s Square (another Mestrovic Museum there, but we didn’t enter), and from there went to the Roman Forum and continued towards the end of the peninsula. We passed through a square with wells on the side and mistook it for The Five Wells Square (no wonder we couldn’t get the count right!), then stopped to admire the view at the Sea Organ and listen to the  sea, but it was too windy so we returned on to Riva to the Roman Forum where we checked the souvenir stands and fed chips to pigeons while LB climbed into the tower of St. Donat Church.
As it was getting clouded and threatened to rain so we returned to the car, discovering the real Five Wells Square on the way. It was dark when we arrived to Split, just in time to see the landlady parking in front of the building. The living room felt cramped, and the whole apartment was kind of dark during the day, but the kitchen looked nice and we all liked the huge wardrobe in the bedroom. On the down side, there was no double bed, only unfolding couches, and the wi-fi signal wasn’t strong enough to reach the living room (the rooter was locked in the wardrobe—I’ve never seen a password that long!). But it came with free parking and it was really close to downtown, so we didn’t complain.
Because of the strong wind, we couldn’t go out that evening, and it even rained during the night. The lightning reflected creepily in the wardrobe’s mirrors.

Monday, September 16, 2013 – Split

With the windows facing the back yard, we couldn’t get a correct feel of the weather to dress appropriately. When we went outside, we realized it was the hottest day so far. The sun was shining brightly on a clear blue sky with not a cloud in sight. LB grumbled about self-combustion all morning, and MM complained about the heat too. I was in heaven.
We began with a walk along the border of the water—a water that was less clean and had less fish near the shore compared to what we had seen in Rijeka, Rovinj, Pula, and Zadar. Split has a lovely promenade that looks amazing at night with all the lights on. We considered taking the ferry to Dubrovnik, but I didn’t fancy being sick for half a day.
Once we had our fill of the water sight, we entered the old town. The main attractions were the Palace of Diocletian and the People’s Square, but that didn’t mean we didn’t explore every tiny little street, with a mandatory stop at the flea market outside the north wall and the souvenir stands and market on the east side. We were looking for souvenirs to bring home, and  I pointed out a bracelet with white crystals. MM also spotted a matching necklace and when MD joined us, they bought them both.
We enjoyed an ice cream around noon (the trick is to go deeper into the town to escape the blown up prices for tourists closer to the shore) and it was really good. Then we took another ride around the city. Up until now, we hadn’t seen any stray animals, many dogs on leash, pigeons, and seagulls mainly, but now we noticed several stray cats. We saw a pair of gray with black stripes, grown up kittens sitting on top of some stairs, and of course when LB wanted to take a photo they turned around and left. Typical.
The old city is not so big and tired because of the heat, we returned to the apartment late in the afternoon. After we ate and a short rest, we went out again to see the city at night. MM wore her new crystal jewelry, after having decided to keep the bracelet for herself. She also received a red coral bracelet with matching earrings from MD. Red coral and blue stone jewelry are at every corner of the street in Croatia!
Since we had become quite expert in packing and unpacking our things, we didn’t hurry to return but stayed out quite late, first listening to jazz played live on the promenade and finishing with a traditional walk along the water.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013 – Split – Dubrovnik – 10:00-16:00

The weather forecast predicted rain, and while the sun was visible through the clouds it could go either way, so we decided against visiting Trogir and went straight to Dubrovnik, following the coast road this time. Beautiful scenery, but with the road full of twists and turns it made for and exhausting trip. The few kilometers driven through Bosnia and Herzegovina showed a noticeable change in scenery, road quality and architecture. No one stopped us to ask anything at either border.
We missed the entrance on the street of our next apartment so we had to enter through the opposite end. Another villa, only smaller, with a nice garden and its own garage. Two okay bedrooms, a tiny bathroom, and a small entrance hall that served as both kitchen and living room. MM declared that was the worst equipped kitchen so far.
While we prepared lunch, a very skinny cat with a very long tail showed up. Her fur was dark gray with yellow smudges that made it look like the color had run out of it. It also made her look dirty when in fact she wasn’t. She meowed pitifully, ready to run at the slightest gesture but obviously hungry. MM gave her a few bits of prosciutto to which MD protested that we’d never get rid of her, so when she meowed again I suggested to give her a bit of bread. They were skeptical, as we had never seen cats eat bread with nothing on it, but the poor thing was starved. It was MD who encouraged LB to feed her the entire loaf, and when that turned out not to be enough, he asked if there was any pate left in the fridge. So we gave her pate. Our cat loves it too.
Everyone’s hunger sated, we went out to check the old city of Dubrovnik. Everywhere I had looked on the internet, everyone said there were stairs at the west gate and recommended entering the city through the east gate so we went along the city wall towards est. MD got bored half-way through and insisted on walking in through the north gate because “there are only a few steps.” Yes, there were few steps to the gate, but from there to get down to the Placa (the main street) there were a lot of stairs. LB took one look from above and exploded, “In the entire Europe, you couldn’t find one city without hills, stairs, or bridges? What is wrong with you?”
We managed the stairs, walked up and down the Placa, went out on the pier, but it was a little too windy for me (I hadn’t imagined that a city surrounded by such tall walls could be so windy), so we spent most of the time on the west side where the streets were more accessible. We hid inside an art gallery near the east exit when it rained for a few minutes and looked at some paintings. LB commented that the artist had gotten the perspective wrong in several places and offered to teach him how to do it right, the way he’d learned at the university. It was particularly amusing because the artist was chatting with a group of people in a corner, but of course he couldn’t understand what we were saying.
The return we made it through the west gate (no stairs, but a nice, wide ramp) and the road was shorter and nicer, going parallel to the water for a bit. We arrived at the apartment through a light rain. A few minutes later, the cat showed up accompanied by a black kitten who was also very hungry. So we fed them both.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013 – Dubrovnik

We had three cats for breakfast. No, we didn’t eat them. We fed them. It turned out mamma cat had a second, shyer kitten, white with black spots. This time she let them do the begging, and they were shameless, while she waited patiently for every one of them to be fed.
MM insisted we should dress well because it was very windy outside, but when we looked out the trees weren’t moving. She argued that the bush in front of the door shook like it was having a seizure, and of course it did since the kittens were playing hide and seek in it. No wind, a perfect hot, sunny day.
We gave the boys the morning off to do all the photos they wanted and walk on top of the city walls while we explored the old city in our own rhythm. So many cats! They were everywhere. We checked out the stores, the market, the souvenir stands, and even walked outside the walls for a bit on the border of the water but also in the city towards east. As a kid, it always puzzled me when people said the sea was blue because the only sea I knew, The Black Sea, was green (ha!). Well, near Dubrovnik, the water is dark blue.
There were plenty of tourists, and we heard all possible languages, from Russian to German, French, English, Italian, Spanish, Romanian and Japanese. Many Asian women walked in pairs, and although they wore wedding rings, we never saw their husbands.
When the boys rejoined us, we ate and walked some more in the same streets. We checked the jewelry stands one last time, and I somehow ended up with a coral bracelet with small, red beads. Before leaving the old city, we entered four churches in a row (the fifth was closed) which made it difficult to keep the memories separate later on.
We didn’t return to the apartment, but crossed the city in the opposite direction to see the harbor. The goal was to watch the sun setting there, but we were too late. Still, the view was beautiful with all the lights on on the hill and a bright full moon.
The cats were waiting for us when we got home so we fed them and spent the rest of the evening in their company.

Thursday, September 19, 2013 – Dubrovnik

We’ve been on TV! Okay, let me explain. It rained in the morning, so hard that even the cats went into hiding. MM and MD napped while LB watched a show on the laptop and I watched TV. We had discovered a channel that broadcast a live feed from the Placa. Chances were we’d been quite a bit on it the previous day.
When we saw that people closed their umbrella in the Placa, we started for the old city. Our mission was to help LB find gifts for his girl friends back home, and it took a while to achieve that. I’m willing to bet the number of souvenir stores equals that of cats. For us, we bought a colorful glass support made for candles. It rained on and off so my raincoat came in handy, especially protecting me from the wind.
Another night spent packing and entertaining the cats. Just before going to bed, MD asked us to make a list with the towns we were going to pass through on our way back to Romania as it was an unknown route for us and we didn’t fully trust the GPSs. LB grumbled because he wanted the laptop, but then started clowning around and soon there was so much giggling I don’t know how MD managed to sleep at all.

Friday, September 20, 2013 – Dubrovnik – Bosnia – Serbia – Drobeta Turnu Severin – 10:00-22:00
The cats showed up late in the morning. We were already packed and heading for the car. It was heartbreaking seeing the kittens try to climb up LB’s legs as if wanting to stop him from leaving. I made sure to leave some bookmarks and my writer business card inside the map we found in the apartment, just like I had done in every location we had stayed in during this trip, then we said goodbye to our host, and we were on our way. Or so we thought.
Just before leaving Dubrovnik, we stopped to change the location of the GPS on the windshield because the sun made the screen shine and we didn’t see a thing. When we wanted to get back into the traffic, we nearly ran into a bus. I had had a bad a feeling each time I saw one of those big, white, metal monsters rushing by, being under the impression that they were driving too fast and too close to the sidewalk, and this time it was a close call. Lucky for us, MD has good reflexes and avoided the collision.
A bit shaken up, we took the right instead of left at the next crossway and for the next hour or so we wandered on a small road that passed through Mlini until it brought us back to the same crossway. This time we turned left and finally left Dubrovnik.
There was no problem at crossing the Bosnian border and no taxes other than a 1 EUR eco tax. What puzzled me was that those who were leaving Bosnia had to pay it too. We followed the route Trebinje – Bileca – Foca – Gorazde – Visegrad.
We missed the right turn twice and had to go back, and once the GPS tried to take us on a truck road, but MD simply refused to go that way. There wasn’t much traffic, only a car here and there which was a good thing because the road was full of twists and turns, particularly after we entered  the natural park, with no straight portions of road.  They had tunnels too, only that they were less well lit, looking like some poor copies of the ones in Croatia. In fact the whole country looked poorer. The road quality was good. I think some portions had been recently repaired or made as they didn’t show up correctly on the map.
When we passed through towns, I noticed they don’t have houses like we do. There were mainly villas, looking quite new and many still unfinished. I really liked Gorazde, a very nice town.
In the afternoon, we crossed the Serbian border. Again, no taxes. Uzice – Pozega – Cacak – Kragujevac – Pozarevac. The scenery changed again, resembling more to ours, from the landscape to the building style. Another step down on the poverty scale. Wider roads since there were not so many mountains around but full of patches, still usable. We snapped photos of mosques and Muslim cemeteries as that’s not something we see often. 50 km on the highway (around 5 EUR).
Unfortunately, when we got to the Danube, it was already dark. So we drove over 100 km along the border of the water, trying to catch glimpses of it and looking at the gorgeous full moon above. Good thing there was only one road to follow because the GPS was swimming more often than not. It was cool to pass through a fort and then all of the 16 tunnels (we didn’t count them, but they were numbered).
We crossed the Danube at Portile de Fier II and were let to pass at the border right away when they heard we were returning from vacation. Welcome back home! MD was like “Remind me the local driving rules. I’m scared here!” We reacquainted with the bad roads without markings, unlit roundabout intersections, the whole nightmare.
The big mistake was to check into Hotel Traian in Drobeta Turnu Severin, a hotel from the communist era that hasn’t been renovated since. It’s a dump, with rooms having the feel of the inside of a tomb. The furniture looked like something grandma might have received when she got married, and the blankets were older than me. To top it all, the light wasn’t working in the hall of one of the rooms and the other had no fridge. Both remote controls looked like they were coming from war, and we had to pick them up from the reception desk, though for the life of me I can’t imagine why anyone would want to steal them.
When we arrived, all the windows were dark so we were probably the only guests. We discussed about moving to one of the pensions down the street after seeing the rooms, but it was past 10 PM and after 12 hours of driving, we were exhausted. We ate something (there was a Dolph Lundgren movie on TV, hehe!) and promptly fell asleep.

Saturday, September 21, 2013 - Drobeta Turnu Severin – Radu Voda – 10:00-18:00

I’m not crazy to wake up at 7 for something as irrelevant as breakfast, so of course I was brought breakfast to bed. The omelet wasn’t as good as the one at Hotel Lyra, but the sausages were okay.
We had barely started our trip to Giurgiu when a fallen truck blocked the access to the bridge ahead. We waited in the long line, while some of the cars headed back or crossed over the field. When we saw the crane that handled the truck putting it back in place instead of moving it to the side, MM declared there was no point in waiting and urged MD to also cut it over the field. So for the next few kilometers we shook like canned beans following the wagon tracks while looking for a way to cross the river and the train tracks and get back to the main road. With more than an hour delay, we did. But we did get to test the GPS in the off road mode, so yeah…
From there we went to Craiova and then Alexandria where we felt like we were in another country. Great roads and markings—I didn’t think we had anything like that in Romania. High five to whoever made that happen. In Giurgiu, we stopped at the supermarket to get a cake for my aunt’s birthday, and LB demonstrated his driving skills while we waited in the parking. The roads had been repaired since the last time I had been there so we easily got to Radu Voda.
My cousin and his wife were in a hurry to return to Bucharest (it was past 6 PM already), and we barely had time to exchange a few words and take a look at their giant dog before they left. Don’t worry, we weren’t left without a dog. My other cousin’s old Spaniel was vacationing there.
My aunt and her husband proudly showed us the garden, vineyard, and orchard, and then we retired on the porch where we enjoyed my aunt’s great cooking and caught up with their news for the rest of the evening.

Sunday, September 22, 2013 – Radu Voda – Iasi – 12:30-20:30

It was such a beautiful day that we didn’t want to leave, but we still had a long trip ahead of us, so at noon, after having a barbeque and a huge slice of cake we were getting back into the car.
The road from Bucharest to Iasi was long and boring, but at least I got to plot the ending of a story, which came as a surprise. MM drove for a couple of hours to let MD rest and also because she had promised she would once we got back into the country. It was funny to listen to LB giving her driving tips, considering that he’d only finished his driving lessons the day before we left on vacation and she had been driving for thirty years. She was going a little slow for my liking, but in her defense, she’s not used to drive this car.
At 20:30, we arrived home to an anxious grandma and a traumatized cat. The poor thing had managed to lock herself up in a nearby building and remained trapped in there for a couple of days until grandma sent someone to rescue her. 112 said they had more important things to do than deal with cats. :P She’s been eating like crazy ever since. Grandma is fine.

Final comments (I’m sure I forgot to mention lots of things that seemed important/amusing at the time but hopefully not too many):
- Visiting Croatia was well worth it.
- I need to remember to schedule the departure for future vacations on a Sunday with return early during the weekend (just in case we decide to stop somewhere on the way) because it worked well this time.
- We shouldn’t schedule our vacation later than the beginning of September. The risk of having bad weather is too high, and it’s crowded with old tourists during the off season.
- I still regret not visiting Trogir. *sniffs*
- We should have booked one extra day in Rovinj and less time in Zagreb.
- I wanna go back to Rovinj! :D

Next year, Paris, here we come!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Helion Contest - How it works

This is going to be a post in Romanian because it's mainly relevant for the Romanian literary community.

In toamna anului trecut am participat la Concursul national de proza scurta SF organizat de Helion. In noiembrie s-au anuntat castigatorii. Povestirea mea, "O familie de sclipiciosi", a luat premiul II. Am primit un e-mail cu felicitari de la organizatori si, prin primavara, un telefon ca sa confirm adresa la care sa-mi trimita premiul. A trecut vara si nimic. Okay, nicio problema. Mai uita oamenii, sunt ocupati, se iau cu altele, etc. Nu ma grabeam, desi mi-ar fi placut sa tin in mana o dovada a faptului ca obtinusem premiul II.

Ieri, surpriza. Ma trezesc la posta cu un colet de 9 kg, continand 38 de carti si reviste, jumatate din suma de bani asociata premiului si o foaie de varsamant scrisa de mana pentru intreaga suma. Umm... Okay, accept si carti. Frumos ar fi fost sa-mi se comunice (prin telefon, e-mail, o notita in colet, un porumbel calator): "Vedeti, din cutare motiv nu va putem trimite toti banii, dar va trimitem carti in loc." Din nou, n-ar fi fost o problema. As fi inteles. Dar, si aici intervine un mare DAR... unde stie cel care a trimis cartile ce citesc eu? Sa nu uitam ca aceste carti nu sunt un "cadou". Reprezinta contravaloarea unei sume de bani cu care eu as fi putut sa fac ce-mi trecea prin cap. Bine, probabil ca pana la urma tot pe carti s-ar fi dus, dar CE carti? Eu scriu SF si fantasy si se vede din postarile mele de pe blog si activatea de pe Goodreads ca tot cam asta prefer sa citesc. Cele mai multe din titlurile trimise au tangenta cu literatura SF si fantasy. Avand in vedere preocuparile mele, care credeti ca ar fi fost sansele sa am deja in biblioteca o mare parte dintre aceste carti? Destul de mari, zic eu. Okay, nu am chiar atat de multe si sunt cateva pe care chiar voiam sa le achizitionez, deci nici asta n-ar fi o catastrofa. Dar ce ma fac cu restul? Si ce legatura au cu SF-ul originile culturale revolutiei franceze, tragedia germanilor din 1914-1945, controversele legate de Paul Goma si biografia lui Robert de Niro?

Plus, de ce aveam nevoie de trei dintre titluri in dublu exemplar? Ca sa nu mai spun ca vreo cinci carti au cotoarele roase si sunt clar folosite, doua sunt mai batrane ca mine si doua mai aveau inca praf pe ele.

Si ca sa ma amarasca, sunt acolo si editii recente ale Revistei Helion, revista in care ar fi trebuit sa fie publicate textele premiate. Asa scria in prezentarea concursului si eu de aia am participat, nu pentru bani. Dar asta este problema mea.

Si am sa trec si peste faptul ca una dintre carti este "Calatorii in timp", o antologie care include unul din textele mele si pe care deja o am in triplu exemplar. Unii ar putea considera asta o insulta...

Nu, ceea ce m-a deranjat a fost faptul ca nu mi-a spus nimeni nimic. Sa ma fi avertizat ca le-au trimis macar, ca sa ma duc la posta cu masina si cu o sacosa rezistenta. E vorba de 9 kg! Daca soseau in timp ce eram plecata in concediu? Se intorceau cartile la Timisoara? Se intorceau. Asa, am ramas cu un teanc de carti cu care nu stiu ce sa fac.

In final, afacerea asta cu Helionul s-a dovedit a fi una paguboasa. Acum trebuie sa construiesc noi rafturi la biblioteca.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

"Calatorii in timp" Review (2)

The September issue of SRSFF Magazine includes a review of "Calatorii in timp". I was aiming for the entertainment value so I guess I didn't miss my goal.

"Calatorii in timp" has a 15% discount on Nemira website so get it now!

Later edit: There's a second review of "Calatorii in timp" in the same issue of SRSFF Magazine.

Monday, September 23, 2013

A Victory that Counts in available on B&N, Kobo, and iTunes

A Victory that Counts (The Impaler Legacy #2) is now available on:

Barnes & Noble



Feel free to check it out!