Monthly Archives: July 2013

Roger Hood Lives (Tallinn, Estonia, 27-Jul-13)

We stumbled upon an archery test after a tour of the old town in Tallinn and a bottle of Prosecco at an outdoor cafe not far from the square.  Our caped crusader Roger was up to the challenge, after a brief tutorial from the world champion instructor.  The bowman more than rose to the occasion with a very respectable score of 77 (placing 4th for the day!).  Who knew of his skill?  Wild boar in San Francisco should be afraid, very afraid.

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Roger’s impressive marks:

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While Katie did not score as high of a rank as her arrow-assaulting husband, she fared well and would be able to wound a wild beast and run away if need be.  However, her sewing workload has now increased with Roger’s ignited passion for caped crusading.

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The Best Constitution – The Constitution of the Unrecognized Republic of Užupis (Vilnius, Lithuania 24-Jul-13)

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Užupis is an unrecognized Vilnius neighborhood breakaway of Lithuania similar to Montmartre in Paris, with 7,000 inhabitants, 1,000 of whom are artists.  It is entirely tongue-in-cheek.  They declared (unrecognized) independence in 1997 and have their own flag, currency (theoretical), president, cabinet of ministers, anthem, army of 11 men, and . . . the best Constitution ever.  They celebrate independence on April 1st.  Their Constitution contains 41 articles, to which I would like to add a 42nd article:

  • The right to wear flip flops in any season without being shunned as a hobo (see photo).

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Here are the highlights of the Užupis Constitution:

  • A cat is not obliged to love its owner, but it must help him in a time of need.
  • A dog has the right to be a dog.
  • Everyone has the right to be not loved, but not necessarily.
  • Everyone has the right to sometimes be unaware of his duties.
  • Everyone has the right to realize his negligibility and magnificence.
  • Everyone has the right to encroach upon eternity.
  • Everyone has the right to understand nothing.
  • Everyone shall remember his name.
  • Everyone has the right to cry.
  • Everyone has the right to be misunderstood.
  • Everyone has the right to live by the River Vilnelė, while the River Vilnelė has the right to flow by everyone.

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Reasons the Ukraine Will Overtake the United States (Various Cities, Ukraine, 21-Jul-13)

1. Superior beach plumage (we were the only english speakers on this local beach outside Bakhchysaray, Crimea)
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2. Multi-purpose cartography
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3. Rubik’s Cube virtuosi that make it look as cool as it was when we played (note official bag)
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4. Harbuzyk – Kiev restaurant that specializes in an OTT assortment of pumpkin dishes
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5. Scrat from Ice Age can smoke here (hard to see in the photo)
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Roger’s Desire to Become the American Ambassador to Breakaway Transdniestr (Tiraspol, Transdniestr 17-Jul-13)

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Transdniestr is a self declared republic and one of the world’s last surviving bastions of communism. With support from the Russians, in the early 1990s it broke away from Moldova. It has it’s own police force, army, border guards (more on that shorty), and currency; yet, no other countries recognize their status as an independent nation. It is a unforgettable and surreal atmosphere. Until recently, the border could be dangerous, corrupt, or both. If you are staying more than 24hrs, you have to register with the police.

Three factors combine to explain my love of Transdniestr in the 22hrs that we stayed:

1. Food: a top 5 meal for Roger at restaurant Kumanek on Scerdlova Street, noted in TripAdvisor, and the business card below says it all. Kumanek was a lovely atmosphere, good prices, enormous variety, and food that is tasty beyond belief. There is more meat than you can shake a cleaver at, including a pork fat and garlic spread. To top it off, Roger had a local Tiraspol cognac made by the historic Kvint distillery next to our hotel, and a cuban cigar. We visited their sister restaurant, Kumanets in Odessa, Ukraine, which is a gorgeous city. While we recommend their food highly as well, the atmosphere was a little too kitsch.

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Pig shin
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Borsch
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2. Fashion: Transdniestr is the mecca of child fashion. I was chronically unfashionable as a child, and emotional scars run deep. My advice: see it on the streets of Tiraspol and buy it before it hits “Janie and Jack” in San Francisco.

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3. Our uniqueness while there: we discovered our special snowflake status while crossing, in a mini bus, the border from Transdniestr to Ukraine. Roger’s demigod travel beard did not calm their nerves. Through a fellow bus traveler translating, the border guard exclaimed that he had never seen Americans at this particular border and rarely in Transdniestr at all. In Moldova and Ukraine yes; but, not Transdniestr. Our translator concurred with our rare species distinction. It was touch and go for 10min as the border guard could not comprehend why we would visit in the first place. The turning point was Katie pointing out her swim goggles in her bag as clear evidence that we were tourists. Not quite in the clear and keen to assist, our volunteer translator explained at one point that all would be well as he also had experience traveling and had “traveled” to many places by watching the Discovery Channel.

The rest of the mini bus passengers thought the whole situation was hysterical and there was much cackling interspersed with “ah Americans” at each turn of events. We were happy to provide such excellent amusement.

These three factors are such powerful draws that Roger is compelled (and swears that he will) write the White House to become the first locally posted American ambassador to Transdniestr. He offers his skilled services for a reasonable compensation, including a castle residence and all meals provided in the restaurant Kumanek. He looks forward to a generous offer letter and assuming his duties.

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Karma: Hitch-Hiking across the Border from Romania to Moldova (Romania & Moldova 16-Jul-13)

Katie at the border (note cows do not require passports)
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The longest day ever…..
After discovering a slow leak in one tire and changing to the spare, we set off. We drove 7hrs and 360 km with 150km worth of ridiculous car-swallowing pot holes along the Prislop mountain pass from a small Romanian village called Vadu Izei to Iasi en-route to Moldova. We spent a few hours at the bus station with a broken-English promise of a bus departing at 5:30pm, only to realize that the last bus had departed hours ago.

Insert taxi. We thought that a price had been agreed upon to Chisinau, Moldova with the taxi driver. We got in and the story changed as he didn’t want to do the 3 hour drive. He planned to take us to the border, then assist in our hitch-hiking to Chisinau. Everyone in Romania hitch-hikes. After ignoring literally hundreds along the road with disapproving hand-gestures (them, not us) for the past 5 days in our rental car, we found ourselves on the other side of the road ourselves. Karma?

At 8pm, after an hour of waiting and numerous failed attempts (despite our prize-winning smiles and hopeful glances), he thankfully arranged a ride from a couple driving a BMW X5. Another price discussion took place with a third party man at the border which smelled of a scheme but turned out not to be. Fortunately we paid less than a taxi would have cost (though more than our initial understanding, and not withstanding several moments of uncertainty) and rode in style with Moldovians who spoke no English but had a kicking Moldovian flute CD. We were told Moldova is an interesting place, it certainly is.

Katie’s commentary when we reached the hotel at 10pm: “do I get a gold medal?” Response: “hell yes.”

**By the way, Ramona Ardelean’s pension (pensiunea) in Vadu Izei, Romania, is seriously charming. We arrived the next day after a family wedding and were treated to wonderful leftovers (home smoked & cured meats, home-made liquor, you name it) and had an excellent conversation with Ramona. Look her up if you are ever in these parts.

Transylvanian Chamber of Wonders and the Storks (Sighisoara, Romania 14-Jul-13)

While our hotel in Sighisoara, Transylvania, was a wonderful respite, we found the first paragraph spa description to be false advertising. Katie was disappointed that she did not get to feel another man during her spa session.

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Romanians must be breeders as there are more stork nests built on the top of telephone poles than can be counted.

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Best Driving Road in the World (Transfăgărăşan Road – Route DN7C, Romania12-Jul-13)

According to Jeremy Clarkson, the Transfăgărăşan Road is the best driving road in the world, period. While I lusted to do it on two wheels, we did it today in an under-powered 1.4L Skoda Octavia. In a word, it was epic. It is an incredible engineering feat, breath-takng views, and more importantly a kick in the pants a minute to drive it’s 60km. Katie was an excellent co-pilot, and put up with my aggressive, frequent passing. Phrase for the day: “drive it like you stole it.” Donkey petting is complimentary.

Absolutely worth a plane ticket to Romania in itself.

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