After six years in Africa and five years in Asia, I thought it was time for me to explore Europe. So, instead of safaris, wild game, and unique cultural groups of people, I went in search of castles, cathedrals, art history and classic architecture. There were still very unique cultural groups of people. In the “little kingdom by the sea” where I found myself, the cities of Belgium were more culturally isolated than anything I could have imagined. Belgians could identify which city someone was from by their accent. And, Dutch speakers in the east of the country could not understand Dutch speakers from the west part of the country.
I considered Antwerp one of Europe’s little secret treasures. Buildings dated back to the 1600’s and cobblestone streets wound through the city center. It was the hometown of Rubens, but most tourists fled to Brussels and Brugges -- if they even heard of the country!
Location, location, location! It was possible to do day trips or weekend trips to London, Amsterdam and Paris. I actually did a few day trips, but a much preferred long weekends. And, when a long weekend rolled around, doors flew open to welcome travelers to Madrid, Rome, Lisbon, Oslo, Tallinn, Prague, Barcelona and beyond. Yep, I loved travel in Europe!
Life had to be hard up in the mountains in Maramures where most people produced what they needed in order to live. Breakfast included homemade bread, cheese, jam, sausages and alcohol for anyone so inclined that early in the day. After food and drink, arrangements included a hike to a local farm. It happened to be the mayor’s 73 year old mother’s farm. But, the job of tour guide fell on the shoulders of 14 year old Pertu Dunku, the member of the family who spoke the most English. It wasn’t much, but it had to do.
Grandmother lived up the side of the mountain, way higher than I wanted to climb on a daily basis. Her home, a two room cabin that was eighty years old, definitely showed what a creative woman lived there. It was filled with samples of her embroidery work. In the main room, walls and ceiling both were hand-stenciled by granny. She did what she could to make her humble abode warm and welcoming. And, she most certainly succeeded.
Ever the gracious hostess, Grandma also gave samples of her home brew. It was the local favorite, called “horinca”, made from distilled plums. The region was famous for it and it seemed that most households made their own. Grandma had over 100 liters in her bedroom. I didn’t see the barrels on the first visit to the room because of all of her embroidery. Then, she took me out to the barn where there were huge barrels for distillation. So much work for something that tasted so awful! I was very grateful when a distraction took both granny and grandson out to the porch for a moment so I could dump most of my glass.
Continue on to Europe Image 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 or back to the Portraits Home Page.