Archive | July, 2012

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Cat Tales: July 2012

Posted on 31 July 2012 by brett

Pearl Jam Prague Finale

Pearl Jam Prague Finale

The Pearl Jam show in Prague was so inspiring that we decided to spontaneously follow the 10 Club to Berlin for two more shows. It did help that our new PJ friends (Dave & Lauren) offered their hospitality in Istanbul if we joined the parade. And, just when things were getting exciting….. we met our favorite guitarist Mike McCready at the Prague rail station. What an amazing guy traveling like a normal dude with his friends and family.

Mike McCready at Praha Train Station

Mike McCready at Praha Train Station

In hindsight, I wish I had told Mike about my friend Kevin. I vividly remember our sophomore year at the University of Maryland listening to Mike’s side project “Mad Season”. Kevin loved the “Above” album and always wanted to play it along with Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains Unplugged. Mad Season is up there with some of my favorite albums of all time. The band consisted of Layne Staley (Alice in Chains), Barrett Martin (Screaming Trees), a friend of Staley’s from drug rehab and of course Mike on lead guitar. Like Kevin, Mike had alcohol abuse issues…. but fortunately was able to turn his life around. I wish I could say the same for Kevin and think about him everyday. We badly wanted Pearl Jam to play “Release” in Kevin’s memory. Continue Reading

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“Save Vama Veche” Romania

Posted on 29 July 2012 by brett

Stufstock 10 - Rock Music Festival

Stufstock 10 – Rock Music Festival

About three hours Southeast of Bucharest lives a tiny hippie fisherman’s village called “Vama Veche”. The Romanian Black Sea spans from the beautiful Danube Delta in the north to resort-ridden areas around Constanta…… and of course Vama Veche in the south near Bulgaria. Local people have mixed feelings about development along the Black Sea, especially those that remember special places like Vama Veche during Communist times. Known for its nude beach and intellectual counterculture, it’s amazing that Vama Veche existed during Nicolae Ceauşescu’s reign. Since 1990, Vama Veche developed quite a bit relative to prior years. A movement called “Save Vama Veche” was created to help preserve the environment and stop mass tourism. Since 2004, the Stufstock Rock Festival has played an integral part in preserving the spirit of this small beach town. It has drawn upwards of 50,000 people each year.

Our dream to visit the Black Sea came true when our friend Calin had the big idea to take us to the 10th annual Stufstock Rock Music Festival. We were worried about booking accomodations, but everyone in Bucharest kept saying that the town is tiny and everything is “close”. The drive to Vama Veche was pretty much uneventful except for a famous bridge crossing the Danube River called “The Anghel Saligny Bridge” (formerly King Carol I Bridge). It was built between 1890 and 1895 and became the longest bridge in Europe and the third longest in the world. Today, it is used for railway trains. Continue Reading

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Inside the Saxon Triangle, Transylvania

Posted on 26 July 2012 by christie

Saxon Triangle, Lands of Transylvania

Saxon Triangle, Lands of Transylvania

When people think of Transylvania, vampires, beasts, fairies and Dracula always come to mind. But, this fairytale land is so much more. Transylvania is home to the most well-preserved medieval towns, Saxon (German) architecture, glorious castles and stunning mountain scenery. Interestingly, Saxon (German) villages dominate this region. German Saxons came to Transylvania during the mid 1100s from the German regions of Northern Europe. They were placed in Transylvania by the Hungarian King to defend the border of Hungary against invasion. Highly skilled and talented, the Saxons built several fortress cities to protect their adopted homeland. We never imagined to find such German heritage nestled in the heart of Romania.

Cow Walking

“Just taking my Cow for a leisurely walk”

After leaving the smeltering heat of Bucharest behind, we set out on a week-long car adventure around this remarkable land of mountains and walled citadels. Before making our way across the Transylvanian border, we spent time with our friends Calin and Mara in the Prahova Region where we tasted wine (Fete̯askə Ne̯aɡrə) and stayed in a countryside villa. There… animals, pedestrians and horse-drawn carriage dominate the roads. Brett skillfully navigated around cows, horses and stray dogs as we never knew what would lie ahead on the undeveloped Romanian roads. We had a relaxing evening barbequing, drinking wine, listening to David Gilmour and sharing stories with our Romanian friends.  Continue Reading

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Bucharest: Rebirth of a Nation

Posted on 20 July 2012 by brett

Palace of the Parliament

Palace of the Parliament

I always described Bucharest as this dingy old Communist-era city struggling to find its way into the 21st century. Each previous visit was for business and I seemed to only notice dark aging historical buildings and American fast food restaurants. I badly wanted to know the real Bucharest during some leisure time. Only liberated 23 years ago (in 1989), who can fault Romania for taking time to show its full potential to the world? Romanian people are some of the most welcoming, curious and passionate people we’ve visited this year. After Communism, there was a conscious effort to teach English as its second language and embrace American Capitalism and pop culture. We walked the streets of Bucharest searching for a deeper explanation into its past to uncover current barriers to the future. Our old friends were excited to spend quality time for my birthday in Bucharest……… then, travel with us toward Transylvania and to the Black Sea. Their genuineness, passion for a brighter future and persistant smile didn’t disappoint.

The Big Fountain of Unirii Square

The Big Fountain of Unirii Square

How can we give a proper portrayal of Bucharest without discussing Romania’s Communist leader Nicolae Ceausescu (1965-1989)? I mean, the guy demolished much of the historic centre and built the largest Parliament building and boulevard in the world. He paid off the country’s debt and physically moved Churches to hide them from street view……. all at the expense of his Romanian people. Continue Reading

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Buda Hills + Pest = Budapest, Hungary

Posted on 17 July 2012 by christie

Hop On, Hop Off Train @ the Danube River

Hop On, Hop Off Train @ the Danube River

The enchanting two-sided city of Budapest is hard not to fall in love with. From the moment we stepped off the train, we were immediately mesmerized by the city’s timeless beauty. At every step and turn an architectural wonder awaits. Baroque, art nouveau, neoclassical and eclectic structures line the city streets, plenty to cause your head to spin. Feeling like we could spend well over a week in Budapest, we wished we had planned for a longer stay.

Interestingly enough, the city had once been three cities separated by the Danube River. Buda city lies on the western side of the Danube consisting mostly of tourist attractions, including Castle Hill. Pest is on the eastern side and is where most local Hungarians call home today. The cities joined together in the late 1800’s to mold what is today Budapest. Although the city was destroyed several times through war, the Hungarians have done a stellar job in rebuilding the structures to model its traditional architecture. When looking at buildings we were shocked to find that most were constructed only within the last century. Our guide was amazed that tourists say they love the medieval architecture when its really as new as America. She reminded us of Hungary’s sad history being conquered and ruled by the Mongols, Romans, Turks, Habsburg Austrians, Soviets and Nazi Germans. Continue Reading

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