Saturday, November 21, 2009

Bukovina in the NYT

Read below part of the article Where Art and Faith Embrace in Gura Humorului, Romania, written by Ruth Ellen Gruber and published on 07 Nov 2009 by The New York Times. You may read the whole article and watch the pictures following this link.

Once the easternmost province of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Bucovina (“land of beech trees”) today straddles the border between Romania and Ukraine: northern Bucovina was annexed by the Soviet Union in 1940 and the region’s historic capital, Chernivtsi (Czernowitz in German and Cernauti in Romanian) lies just 30 kilometers, or about 18 miles, north of the frontier.

The southern part, on the Romanian side, is a world of rolling farmland and steep forested hills, where antique villages and peasant culture coexist with new industry and modern construction. Horses and carts (and the occasional herd of cows) share the roads with SUVs, and intricately carved wood and other ornamentation still decorate many village homes and farmsteads.

Exceptional examples of a rich religious heritage form an important part of the mix.

Here are Romania’s famous painted monasteries, built in the 15th and 16th centuries when the region, a stronghold of Orthodox Christianity, was threatened by Ottoman invaders.

The vividly colored frescoes on their exterior walls, masterpieces of Byzantine painting, tell the tales of saints and heroes, and portray in epic imagery the cataclysmic struggle between good and evil at the end of days.

The monasteries are among Romania’s most celebrated cultural treasures. Listed on Unesco’s roster of world heritage sites, they draw large numbers of visitors throughout the year.

Here, too, however, are religious sites far less known and rarely visited that also form important components of the region’s deeply rooted spiritual patrimony. These are the centuries-old Jewish cemeteries, whose weathered tombstones bear extraordinary carvings that meld folk motifs and religious iconography into evocative examples of faith expressed through art.

Bucovina was once home to a large and thriving Jewish community. Today, however, as throughout much of Eastern Europe, only a few dozen Jewish families live there.

Most of the cemeteries are neglected, but several are fairly well maintained and easy to visit.

Though there are many organized tours to the painted monasteries, a car is needed to see the full range of sites. The roads and overall infrastructure in Bucovina have been upgraded significantly since Romania joined the European Union in 2007.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Nobel prize for Literature 2009

Herta Müller is a Romanian-born German novelist, poet and essayist noted for her works depicting the harsh conditions of life in Communist Romania under the repressive Nicolae Ceauşescu regime, the history of the Germans in the Banat (and more broadly, Transylvania), and the persecution of Romanian ethnic Germans by Stalinist Soviet occupying forces in Romania and the Soviet-imposed communist regime of Romania.

In October 2009 she was awarded the 2009 Nobel Prize in Literature.

She was born in 1953 in Nitzkydorf, a historically German-speaking village in the Romanian Banat in western Romania. The daughter of Banat Swabian farmers, her family was part of Romania's German minority. She studied German studies and Romanian literature at the Timişoara University.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Bukovina monastery on Russian stamp

Since June 2008 stamp collectors are able to include in their collections a beautiful (and probably first-time!) philatelic Romanian-Russian joint issue regarding monuments listed in the UNESCO World Heritage List.
The Romanian monastery of Voronet (right side) in Bukovina, famous for its unique predominating blue color, is depicted in a Russian stamp of 12 rubles.

Saturday, August 15, 2009


Rose Ausländer (1901-1988), maiden name Rosalie Beatrice Ruth Scherzer, was a German and English language poet, Jewess from Bukovina, who lived in the USA, Romania and Germany.

She was born in Czernowitz, at that time the second most important university center of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Between 1907 and 1919, she received her education in Vienna and Czernowitz, which became part of Romania after 1918. In 1919, she began studying literature and philosophy. In 1921, together with her friend and future husband Ignaz Ausländer, she left Bukovina and migrated to the US. There, she began writing poems.

In 1927, she returned home to take care of her sick mother. In 1931, she returned home again for the same reason. She left Czernowitz for Bucharest in 1936. In 1939, she emigrated again to the US but came back in the same year in order to take care of her sick mother. There in Czernowitz she published her first book; the greater part of the print run was destroyed by the Nazis in 1941, after they had occupied the city. As a Jew, she had to move into the ghetto. She remained there two years, plus another year in hiding so as not to be deported to the camps. In the ghetto, she got to know the poet Paul Celan, under whose influence she modernised her style. In 1944, the city was occupied by the Red Army. She left the country again, returning to New York. In 1967, she went to West Germany. From then on, she lived in Düsseldorf, where she died in 1988.

Source: Wikipedia

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Modernist Ukrainian writer

Olga Kobylyanska (Ольга Кобиляньска) was a Ukrainian modernist writer, born in 1863 in Gura Humorului (Gurahumora), in today's Romanian county of Suceava, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Kronland of Bukovina. She was one of the first female writers to explore feminist topics in Ukrainian literature. She is also considered the most important Ukrainian writer to emerge from the region of Bukovina. From 1891 until her death in 1942 she lived in the city of Chernivtsi (Czernowitz). The only language she knew perfectly was German, which is the language of her first writings. Only when Olga was about 20 years old, she realized, supported by other Ukrainian intellectuals, that writing in Ukrainian is inevitable.

Source: Wikipedia

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Jewish families in Arad and Hunedoara

Between 1-5 July, I guided Veronica Singer (US) through Transylvania, the land of her grandparents, searching - and finding! - records and graves related to her familiy (Roth, Grün etc.) at the Jewish Community and at the local branches of the Romanian National Archives in the towns of Arad and Deva. Our journey also included a visit to the Hunyad Castle in the city of Hunedoara, the largest gothic construction of this type in Romania, and to the villages of Bârzava, Petris, Pui and Baru, where Veronica - in the photo, holding a chick at a family house in Pui - was warmly received by local people and was able to grasp the atmosphere in which her ancestrals once lived.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Jewish Bukovina: against forgetting

Jewish Cemeteries of the Bucovina, a new guidebook-brochure to Jewish cemeteries in the Bukovina region of Romania and Ukraine, has just been published by NOI Media Print and launched last week in Bucharest.

Simon Geissbühler, a Swiss diplomat based in Bucharest, is the author of the text and most of the photos; Adrian Manafu is the editor of the book; most interesting forewords are signed by the author himself, by Aurel Vainer, current president of the Romanian Jewish Federation, and by Ruth Ellen Gruber.

The publication is available in English, German, French, Romanian or Ukrainian.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Lost shtetl in Bukovina

During this month I was twice in Cârlibaba in order to carry out a research about the families Jacob and Schapira. The small and picturesque town in today's Suceava county, also known as Kirlibaba under Austrian rule (1774-1918), when it stood at the border between Transylvania and Bukovina, was a prosperous shtetl thanks to its activities in the field of manganese and wood extraction. After the end of WWII, most of the surviving Jews emigrated. Not a single Jew lives today in Cârlibaba. The synagogue was demolished, the ritual butchery is in ruins and the old cemetery (picture) can be hardly kept by a Christian neighbor who takes care of it out of pity.

Monday, May 4, 2009

"There is nothing on earth that can prevent a poet from writing, not even the fact that he's Jewish and German is the language of his poems"

Paul Celan (1920–1970) was the most frequently used pseudonym of the Romanian Jew Paul Antschel, one of the major poets of the post-World War II era. Celan was born into a German-speaking Jewish family in Cernăuţi, Bukovina, then part of Romania (now Chernivtsi, in Ukraine). I

n 1938, Celan travelled to Tours, France to study medicine, but returned to Cernăuţi in 1939 to study literature and Romance languages. The Soviet occupation in June 1940 deprived Celan of any illusions about Stalinism and Soviet Communism stemming from his earlier socialist engagements; the Soviets quickly imposed bureaucratic reforms on the university where he was studying Romance philology, and the Red Army brought deportations to Siberia, just as Nazi Germany and Romania brought ghettos, internment, and forced labour a year later.

On arrival in July 1941 the German SS Einsatzkommando and their Romanian allies burned down the city's six-hundred-year-old Great Synagogue. In October, the Romanians deported a large number of Jews after forcing them into a ghetto, where Celan translated William Shakespeare's Sonnets and continued to write his own poetry. Celan remained in these labour camps until February 1944, when the Red Army's advance forced the Romanians to abandon them, whereupon he returned to Cernăuţi shortly before the Soviets returned to reassert their control.

Considering emigration to Palestine and wary of widespread Soviet antisemitism, Celan left Soviet-occupied territory in 1945 for Bucharest, where he remained until 1947. As Romanian autonomy became increasingly tenuous in the course of that year, Celan fled Romania for Vienna. Facing a city divided between occupying powers, he moved to Paris in 1948, where he found a publisher for his first poetry collection.

Source: Wikipedia

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

"Guide people in such a way that they feel they are visiting their Romanian friends"

Those are the kind comments our guests Katharine Vary-Belanger and James Belanger (US), whom we had the pleasure to guide and accommodate in the period November 24-30, 2008, wrote about their first trip to Romania:

"My husband and I decided to go to Romania on a whim. We found excellent airfare, and a friend had recently been there and spoke glowingly of a private guide she had found to help her to research her family's history there. Though neither of us has any genealogical ties to Romania, our sense of adventure drove us to contact this guide, Fernando, and arrange a trip. Fernando's philosophy is simple - guide people through the country in such a way that they feel they are visiting their Romanian friends. We saw many of the major sites, such as Bran Castle and the painted monasteries of Bucovina, but far more interesting and exciting was the insight we gained by getting to know Romanians. Fernando's wife, Elena, and her brother, Marinel, were our primary guides, and we had many wonderful moments of telling stories, trying new foods, getting drunk, and laughing. I can't tell all the stories which made this trip extraordinary: there was the emergency snow-boot purchase, the drinking of too much champagne and giggling like little girls in the back seat of the car with Elena, the visit to Elena's parents' house, being rude to the statue of Lenin... the list could go on for a much longer time than a one-week trip would normally merit. We were sad to find, at the end of our visit, that we had to return to our daily lives. Everything far exceeded our expectations, and the warmth and hospitality we experienced made this the best, most enjoyable, and most enlightening trip that my husband and I have taken together. I hope that, someday, we will be able to return to Romania; when we do, we will certainly contact Fernando and Elena, in the hopes that we may see more of their beautiful country."

Picture: Bran Castle, Transylvania, by Katharine Vary-Belanger

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Easter in Bukovina 2009

On April 19th the Christian-Orthodox church will commemorate Easter this year. For this occasion, the Romanian Ministry of Tourism has just launched the campaign "Easter in Bukovina", which will be developed in the period 10-23 April 2009 in Suceava county. The program includes several thematic manifestations as well as folk music shows throughout the county. During the same period, monasteries, churches, museums and memorial houses will be open according to a special schedule.

You may watch below the spot made for the Ministry of Tourism in order to promote Easter in Bukovina:

There is a place in Romania where tradition is kept with dignity, where people are inspired by the holy places' beauty, where the holiday's magic means goodwill, faith and family. Anyone can call this place "home". Easter in Bukovina. A project supported by the Ministry of Tourism.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Bucharest's Cool Underground

Matt Gross, the Frugal Traveler, seeks out high style on a low budget. Read below a fragment of his most interesting article Spying on Bucharest's Cool Underground, published on 9 July 2008 by The New York Times travel blogs section:About three years ago, Bucharest experienced a revolution that was entirely ignored by the international community. Granted, the coup was not as dramatic as Romania’s 1989 revolution, in which Nicolae Ceausescu, the Communist dictator who had brutally mismanaged this Black Sea nation for more than two decades, was deposed and executed. Nor was it as momentous as when the country joined the European Union in 2007, along with Bulgaria, its neighbor to the south.

So subtle was the transformation, in fact, that most Bucharestians probably didn’t quite realize what was going on.

Read the entire article here.

Source: The New York Times

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Top places for a bargain holiday in Romania

The article Where to holiday beyond the Eurozone, by Annabelle Thorpe, published by The Observer on 18 Jan 2009, proposes that tourists, used to famous attractions which have just become too expensive, change their destinations towards cheaper ones but not of less quality. Two of the proposals points to Romania:

The Spanish Cota de Donana national park in Andalucia is one of Europe's most spectacular wetlands, but twitchers and wildlife-spotters looking for a cheaper equivalent should head to Romania's Danube Delta. More than 300 species of bird can be found in the delta - as many as in the Cota de Donana - along with foxes, wildcats, wolves and even boars. Best of all, there are places to stay within the park, meaning that watching the sun rise or set over the tranquil marshlands is as simple as falling out of bed.

It may not have the dramatic history of its French equivalent Carcassone, but the Romanian walled town of Sibiu has an equally stunning medieval centre and fortifications. It was European Capital of Culture in 2007, but prices have remained low and the cobbled streets and squares are filled with restaurants offering meals for around £10. Sibiu is a musical city, with jazz bars and small clubs tucked away.

Source: The Observer

Monday, February 16, 2009

Romanian wine

The Wine World has recently started to sit up and take notice of an emerging, dynamic region. But its location will almost certainly take you by surprise…

After decades of Communism and some twenty years of regeneration, a few Central and Eastern European countries are starting to produce some particularly interesting wine. Isabelle Legeron sets off on a wine journey from Budapest to the Black Sea to explore this silent revolution.

Watch TODAY Travel Channel's premiere of this journey in Romania on TC Europe 20:00/TC UK 21:00

Source: Travel Channel

Tuesday, January 27, 2009


Károly Kerényi (1897-1973), born in Timişoara, now Romania, was one of the founders of modern studies in Greek mythology and one of the most important scholars on Mediterranean Mythology and History of Religions. At the University of Budapest he followed a program in classical philology with a doctorate on Plato and Longinus and aesthetic theory in Antiquity, and read widely. In the following years he taught in Hungary at the secondary school level, travelled in Greece and Italy. He became professor of classical philology and ancient history at Budapest, Pécs and Szeged, until he moved definitively to exile, in Switzerland, in 1943, where he remained for the rest of his life, marginal to any Academic engagement and enrollment. He explored consecutively and in detail, throughout his life, every classical site, known or unknown, of the entire Mediterranean.

Source: Wikipedia

Monday, January 19, 2009

Bran Castle: one of top 10

The Bran Castle in Romania, in the middle of the Carpathian mountains, also known as Dracula's Castle, has just been chosen by CNN as one of the top 10 most beautiful castles in the world. Read below the brief description made in the article:

Both the keepers of Bran Castle and the Romanian Tourist Board are keen to emphasize links between Bran Castle and Vlad the Impaler, the inspiration for Bram Stoker's Count Dracula. The connections are tenuous, but there's no denying the spooky charm of this massive structure's many turrets and towers. Some of the furniture on display was owned by Marie of Romania, a granddaughter of Queen Victoria who turned down a proposal from the future King George V of England and married the king of Romania instead.

Source: article The world's most beautiful castles, signed by Stephen Whitlock from Budget Travel and published on 15 Jan 2009 by CNN Travel.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Romanian ski resort: most affordable in Europe

A recent survey revealed that the pretty resort of Poiana Brasov is the most affordable ski resort in Europe for lessons and lift passes, bumping Borovets (in Bulgaria) off the top spot. Its well-groomed pistes suit beginners and intermediates, and a new eight-seater gondola has expanded the lift system.

Source: article Ski holidays the Euro can't spoil, written by Nicola Iseard and published on 4 January 2009 by The Observer

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Béla Lugosi

Béla Lugosi (1882–1956) was a Hungarian actor of stage and screen, well known for playing Count Dracula in the Broadway play and subsequent film version. In the last years of his career he featured in several of Ed Wood's low budget films. Lugosi, the youngest of four children, was born as Béla Ferenc Dezső Blaskó in Lugoj, then part of Austria–Hungary, now in Romania, to Paula de Vojnich and István Blasko, a banker. Lugosi began acting on stage in several Shakespearean plays and in other major roles, and when appearing in Hungarian silent films he used the stage name Arisztid Olt. Visit Lugosi's official website.

Source: Wikipedia