Enigma of Cricova

Moldova – a tiny country in Eastern Europe, tucked in between Ukraine and Romania. Once Moldova supplied wine to entire Soviet Union. Today it exports wine worldwide.Cricova, found in the 1950s, is only 15 kilometres away from the nation’s capital Chisinau. Local legend says that many years ago, there was a monastery on the grounds of Cricova that was destroyed in a brutal invasion.As I step into the underground kingdom of wine that holds these monks’ legacies I wonder what stories are hidden within these stone walls.Cricova is not your usual underground wine cellar, it is not a secret facility, it is an entire underground wine town with 120 kilometres of labyrinthine roads that lies 100 metres below the ground.Monks were told to stop producing wine as a dry law took place. Nowadays it is hard to imagine dry law as governments of different countries own their private wine collections here. Government leaders are often having meetings and dinners in beautifully decorated conference rooms with imitated windows.As our guide continues her storytelling, I found out that monks didn’t obey the dry law and hid in caves of Cricova to keep producing wine. They were found and killed, however according to the legend you can still hear a ghost of one monk screaming sometimes. Cric means scream after all.As our driver hits the gas pedal and our tourist cart is moving deeper and deeper underground, I feel how chilly it gets. I try not to think about the monastery ghost, instead focusing on the 1.3 million rare bottles that are held underneath the earth. My favourite sparkling spirit Cricova Rosé boast a rich, velvety texture.The heart of the wine collection is Israel`s “Jerusalem of Easter” vintage 1902. Other impressive exhibits are the 1902 liqueur “Jan Becher” of Czech Republic and the 1938 Burgundy dry wine. I wonder if anyone will ever open them and what would they taste like.Unique production of red and white wine based here allows for a constant 12 C temperature – wine likes it cold. Shift workers are manually turning bottles not to disturb the buzz but to create a special sparkling bubbles. Where else in the world would you see such gentle care?Wine – drink of gods and emperors. For some wine is a symbol of civilization, and for others – sign of love, friendship and hospitality.

Unveiling the Mystery of Transylvania

Only God knows what I am ready to go through for travel…

I’m ready to take days long car rides, fly with crazy long layovers, go through family fights and suffer from a jet lag just to GET THERE, to stare at passport stamps later on, to check mark my bucket list, to catch that rare moment of happiness when you realize all over the sudden that you are making your dream come true and you are doing it right now.

And dreams don’t come true if you don’t work hard for it.

I talked my parent into having a road trip to Romania. I booked hotels, dad filled up gas and mom made sandwiches and next thing you know we were on our way to mysterious Romania.

It took us full day of driving from my native city of Chernivtsy, Bukovina, Ukraine to Bran, Transylvania, Romania.

Sheep were everywhere, not only on Romanian fields but also in the middle of the town crossing train rails. They were extra cute though.

I was lying on the back seat of a car and was watching bright stars in the night sky through the window. Moon was really skinny and was changing colors from orange to red. I had never saw moon so low in my entire life. As we were spinning on serpentine roads while going up on a mountain ridge, mist was covering the surface as a soft blanket. I felt like someone made this extra fog on purpose just to make it scary like in movies. However fog was real and was forming in shape of clouds in front of the car…I was scared that we will get lost and will end up in Stephen King`s Rock and Roll Heaven town.

Dad turned on Europa FM and all mystery suddenly fade away…

We stopped at the restaurant by the road to eat bean soup with smoked bacon and hunter sausages along with cheese plate. Staff was very friendly. Overall Romanian people left very nice impression on my family. I don’t know why they often get associated with gypsies in Europe. I bet they don’t like this association. However some gypsies and magicians are from Romania. There is even a special term for Carpathian magician – Molfar. There is also no doubt that there is something particularity magical about Carpathian Mountains. Count Dracula and even dragons are believed to be from dark forests of ancient Carpathian Mountains.

We arrived to our hotel in Bran almost at midnight and it was too dark to see the full picture of mountains sight. Entire sky was divided into a half. It was half foggy and half in stars.

Hello Transylvania! Hello mysterious land! I’m here, I’m yours for the night…

Romania joined European Union in 2007 however their currency is still Romanian leu (RON). I could still see their Soviet past in some communistic buildings we were driving by. Luck of architectural style can be seen also on some Soviet “box looking“ apartment buildings. I know all those buildings because I saw them in Ukraine and in Cuba.

Our first sightseeing was in city of Bran.

To get to Dracula’s castle you have to go through an outdoor market where you can buy all kinds of Dracula souvenirs and wool clothes thanks to the sheep we saw earlier on the field. Here you can also get good goulash soup, kebab and hot wine, cheeses and sausages for any taste. 

Pay admission fee and walk up to the castle. The castle itself is gorgeous and is located on the top of the hill with breathtaking view of Carpathian Mountains and roads that lie underneath the hill. I have been to number of castles in my life but I have never seen anything like this one. This 640 years old castle has way too many levels and floors to be count, secret stair case, game room, torture room, well, inner courtyard and the list goes on. It also has tourists from all over the world and it is late windy fall, just imagine what`s happening here in summer.

Did you know that Count Dracula, a fictional character in the Bram Stoker`s novel, was inspired by one of the best-known figures of Romanian history, Vlad Dracula, nicknamed Vlad Tepes (Vlad the Impaler), who was the ruler of Walachia at various times including from 1456-1462. Vlad Tepes adopted the method of impaling criminals and enemies and raising them aloft in the town square for all to see. Almost any crime, from lying and stealing to killing, could be punished by impalement.

Did you know that Bram Stoker has never been to Romania? He did the extensive research in libraries.

Disney tried to buy this castle and turn it into amusement park but Romanians are too proud of their heritage to let this happen.

Are vampires real? We will never know the answer to that questions. However Vlad Dracula was real ruler.

 Welcome to Saghisoara next.

Beautiful citadel, medieval walls and churches, narrow streets, museums and brick roads streets – all this is in one complex on the top of the hill in 14th century town of Sighisoara which is in couple hours of driving from Bran.

This is a native town of Vlad where you can visit the house in which he was born, now hosting a restaurant with dishes names that often include words bloody, red etc.

Vlad Dracula was born in 1431 in Sighisoara and resided here until he was 4 years old.

It is a 3 story house that contains restaurant and Draculas bedroom. In his room there are mostly pictures and also coffin with someone jumping out of it to scare you to death! We got there at 7 pm, restaurant was open until 8 pm however this interesting room was closed already. We were told by our waiter that “coffin person“ works only until 6 pm and that’s why bedroom is closed already.

It was upsetting but what can you do, vampires have schedules too.

Our second hotel was booked in Salina Turda which is a real museum of salt mining in Transylvania. I usually book small family style hotels with the local spirit.

Salina Turda has nothing to do with Dracula and has everything to do with salt.

This centuries-old salt mine is 100 meters deep and 75 meter wide with shape of a bell. It is an extremely interesting place. Pay your admission fee and you can spend there as many hours as you want.

Do you feel like you on another planet there? Yes, you do!

You have to go 13 floors down in the small 7 person elevator to see it as a whole. There is entire civilization down there: From fitness center to billiard tables, soccer field, bowling, fair will, mini golf and souvenirs kiosk, and even amphitheater for the events.

After being amazed you go into smaller 4 person elevator and go down 13 more floors to discover the salt lake. Rent a boat for 20 minutes and have the saltiest ride of your life. Look up but don’t freak out: You are just 100 meters below the ground. Drop a coin to return.

Salt mine is no longer active. Now it is a place for many asthmatics and just curious folks like me visit it to breathe the salt as it makes your lungs and immune system healthier.

After all it is a therapy I am writing about.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Back to Europe: Italy, Hungary and Slovenia

Where do I begin to tell the story of how great it can be to travel? Where do I start?
I was looking for a cheap ticket and ended up flying Toronto-Reykjavik-Amsterdam-Milan. Wow air turned out really Wow because it was late, no meals included, you have to pay for the hand luggage, you even have to pay for water. However mission was accomplished  because as I already mentioned it was cheap.
20171115_093634I was going to Ukraine to surprise my mom for her 60th birthday because there is no present like a surprise.
Travel is like a poison and there is no antidote from it. It took over my body and soul. 
 I lived in Milan for 2 weeks earlier this year so all I had to do was to visit the Duomo of course. This gigantic cathedral is the post card of the city and it is beautiful on the inside and out. You never get tired of it. You are not allowed to take pictures inside but just this once and just for you:
I would also suggest checking out the new 3 stories chocolate store in the same square. However not only chocolate candies and mushmellow  bouquets can be found there.
City creators decided that artificial palm trees will look cool in the same square. Well, Italians couldn’t have that happen and burned them down overnight. However, the trees came back to give you this Southern feeling. I bet you it is not going to be long until they will be burned again because it really doesn’t match the style of the church and brick roads.
Travel is my disease and there is no cure. 
While my sister and my cousin were glued to the jewelry store window in the famous shopping Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, my ear caught live music and I stepped aside to see the street musician playing guitar and singing Hallelujah.

This song really inspired me for the Happy Moment that only Travel can deliver: I am in Milan and I am listening to a song that matches this atmosphere better than fake palm trees!
Travel is my air.
After 1 amazing day in Milano and some really good pizza and macaroons, my dad and I took off driving from Italy to Ukraine for 2 days through Italy, Slovenia, Hungary and Ukraine.
20171116_141229.jpgTravel makes me stronger.
Never have I ever been in such a long car ride before.
I have never seen clouds as low as I did in Slovenia. The Alps look so gorgeous there. Every mountain came up with different shape and the snow on the top was making my heart melt…It is the end of November and the snow isn’t going to melt anytime soon on the mountain top, if ever. Driving through Italy and Hungary we didn’t see any snow, Slovenia is a really high land country. Also Melania Trump is from here. The Slovenian language is somehow similar to Ukrainian and I could crack a few jokes of similar wording. Where Slovenia ends, Euro currency ends as well. In Hungary you will need Forints. Hungary however is in the European Union so there is no border between Slovenia and Hungary. It makes me feel good to hold 10 000 Forint bill like I just won lottery. It only equals 50.00 CAD though.
 
Travel is my drug and there is no rehab for it.
It is very important that you stop at the Balaton lake as it is biggest lake in Europe. It is also extremely peaceful and beautiful.
We drove through gorgeous Budapest at night and stayed for 1 night in Nyiregyhaza, Hungary. No one really speaks English in Europe unless you are in the UK or in Ireland. The man that was checking us in was showing us how to use a faucet and said: “Open a bit and its winter! Want warm? Keep turning and it is summer now“. I found it brilliant. If you don’t know how to say hot or cold but know how to say summer and winter, you can pretty much work as a translator. Also what I noticed in Europe overall is that if the counter person doesn`t speak English they will show a wait sign with their palm and will come back with the person that speaks some English.
Travel makes me believe. 
If you are ready to travel 5 days in a row and sleep 6 nights in a different bed each night then:
Congratulations, travel is your drug too!