Friday, July 11, 2014

Finally- a real travel post on Romania and Serbia!

I finally have a few minutes to myself for the first time since arriving in Europe last week. I just double-checked the date and time, and discovered it is Thursday, July 10. I honestly thought it was Monday. Traveling on tour can mess with your head that way.
I guess I’m going to have to give this travelogue in reverse order, and jump all over the place. My brain refuses to remember the beginning of this trip. It was too long ago.

Tonight I’m in Timisoara, Romania, a town once known as the Paris of Eastern Europe. It’s also famous for being the city of roses, and the first city in all of Europe to have electric street lamps. All odd claims to fame. But as it turns out, Timisoara is one of my all-time favorite cities. There is a large town square (piata – pronounced pee-awt-suh) in the center of town. My hotel is “Hotel Central,” which is conveniently right off this square. The hotel itself is very clean, but something of a 1960’s stark nightmare. The bathroom has an accordion door to it, which locks from the outside. What would you ever need to lock a bathroom door from the outside for?

The hotel has very typical European, tiny, narrow elevators, designed to hold 2-3 people. I call these the violent elevators. Someone else described it as “they buck you off.” It’s pretty comical. You squeeze into this shoebox of an elevator, which is all mirrored on all sides, and go to your floor. It may or may not actually squarely reach the right floor. But when the doors open, the elevator gives a violent bump. So far I’ve had to grab the wall each time to keep from falling over. It’s amusing to watch someone else do it for the first time. 

Which brings me back to last week in Serbia. As I’ve mentioned, I lived in a floating bar/clubhouse. Each of us that lived in there have had a rough time getting our land legs back under us. I figured it was just my Meniere’s Disease doing exactly what I would expect it to do after living on water, but apparently the other 3 houseboatmates have it too. The elevators here send all 4 of us into a funky swirly dizzy spell for just a minute. For me it’s just a very intense Meniere’s attack. I think it’s the violent jolt with the mirrors, throwing off the sense of balance, and the part where we went from sea level to high mountain altitudes in one day.

Which brings me to the town before this one. We have been in Baile Herculane, Romania for the past few days. We drove to Timisoara today. Herculane (pronounced hair-kyu-lawn) was sort of the Park City or Deer Valley of Romania. Except without shopping. It had several high end hotels (by Romanian standards), and some fun history to it. So maybe it was more the Heber City of Romania? It was way up in the mountains, and simply beautiful. It translates to the “Bath of Hercules.” It’s the natural springs and cold bath houses where Isis, Neptune, and Hercules all supposedly came to rest and relax.

In typical Romanian style they’ve built a whole town around their historical marker, but haven’t bothered to fix up the actual bath houses. So you can only look at them from the street or through a boarded up door. Very cool marble statues, and nice cool air. But no springs, because in typical Romanian tradition, they’ve blocked off the water, to reroute it for some unknown use. So really it’s all a town about “something cool used to be here, we can tell you about it, but not show it to you.”

Our experiences in Serbia were, according to my companions, typical dance tour activities. We stayed with host families, went on a tour of the city, visited the orphanages, performed with the host dance company, went to church, had a party with the hosts, and left. Pretty normal stuff for Clog America apparently.
Our time in Baile Herculane was anything but typical. Everyone was surprised. We were put up in a 4 star hotel (I even got a massage- more on that bizarre experience later), ate (for free) in the hotel restaurant, walked to the performing venue (right next door to our hotel) with was an outdoor amphitheater, and had tons of free time. We also got a tour from a nice guide who took us up to a cave and to a zip line.

So let’s stop here and discuss clogging. I’ve now seen the Clog America show several times over. I’m becoming an expert on this one show. I’ve also seen Serbian folk dancers, Romanian, Georgian, Armenian, Ukrainian, Turkish, and a dozen others. (I have an affinity for the “tiny Ukrainian dancers.” They dress in little ninja costumes and do this cute little “he-man” dance. I love it. I can’t wait to see it again tomorrow.) 

Most of these dances are pretty similar in style. Men kick, women prance daintily around them. There are lots of accordions and saxophones. You really can’t tell the difference between most countries. And after you’ve seen about 5 of these dances, you’ve seen them all. It can get pretty boring. But one thing is for certain at every show. They LOVE Clog America. Our team gets up there and does the Charleston, a 50s swing number, and a bunch of hoedown numbers, and the crowd goes wild.

We’ve come all this way for approximately a 10-20 minute show every evening. Today we were supposed to be in a parade before the big show. (I use the term “we” lightly since I’m not actually a performer.) But due to the rain that never happened. After the parade got canceled, the sun came out. So the band (and our band is awesome) went in costume to the middle of the square, and put on a concert of their own. They got a huge crowd all around them. Romanians were dancing in the square and calling out requests for “Clementine” and “Susannah.”

Speaking of our band- 3 members of the band are family. Nate, Adam, and Chrissy Keller are siblings. Their dad, Ivan, is also on tour with us. I believe Nate and Adam have been on over 10 tours with Clog America, and Chrissy maybe 5. Ivan is 77 years old. He just likes to see his kids perform and to travel. He keeps his schedule pretty easy, but he tries to keep up with the rest of us. He’s a very nice man, and always doing kind things for everyone around here. Yesterday at the outdoor show in Herculane the team was presented a trophy from the festival, and the Kellers were acknowledged. Much to everyone’s surprise, the announcer also acknowledged Ivan, sitting up in the stands. The crowd demanded he stand up and take a bow. I’m sure we missed something in the translation, but basically they gave him a standing ovation for raising 3 talented children. It was really an interesting cultural moment to see how they honored this father. It was very touching for the Americans to witness. (Of course, we all adore Ivan, and agree he deserves more ovations.)

My free time is rapidly dwindling, so I'll end this travelogue here. I'll write more about the rest of this trip the next time I'm caught up on sleep and have some free time to myself. 
And again, please go visit and for more pictures and stories. I'm putting a lot of work into those! 

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