Rotary, Car Rental, Colorful Houses, Joinery, and other Romanian adventures along the way

After the big wedding, we decided to take a bit of a breather from the blog. This post is a chance for us to put up bunch of stuff that we found interesting but did not fit into other posts. So this is some what a hodge-podge of items, some may be less interesting than others.

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Rotary in Zalau was a much different experience from the Rotary Club of Winters. I saw the Rotary sign on the door of the hotel we were staying in for the wedding, and it said that they meet every Monday evening. As it turned out, that was one free night we had before heading out to Timisoara. Rebecca and I dressed up a bit, not knowing what the expectation might be. We got to the dining room right at 7pm.

Boy was I out of place! Most of the Rotarians were not very accepting. I was the only woman. I felt that they were suspicious–why would you want to come here? There were a couple of nice men who sat near us, and between pictures we showed them on our phones, our Romanian and their English, Woody was able to tell about the Winters Rotary Club and why we were travelling in Romania. They had a long meeting talking about fundraisers and what-not, and then dinner. It was a difficult position for me to be in since they don’t have any women in the club, but good manners meant that they were stuck with me. Some men had to leave early, Woody wanted to stay and chat for a while, so I used their exit to excuse myself. Kind of left them to their port and cigars. I was glad to go back to the room.


At one point in the meeting, I was asked to make a presentation. I hadn’t planned on speaking, but I just told them about the fundraisers we have done recently in Winters, raising money for the playground structure, helping our Interact club, donating to Polio irradication, and water projects. They all seemed to appreciate the fact that we were both working on some things together in the world and similar things in our respective communities.

After I spoke, they presented me with a banner from their club. I had a hard time reading their acceptance of us. They seemed to be pleased to have us, and would not let us pay for our dinner. After some of the more business-like leaders had left, the palinka broke out and I felt that a bond of camaraderie began to form. They asked me to come back next time we were in Zalau. I wasn’t sure if we’d be back on a Monday, but I promised I would.


Renting a car the next day was an interesting experience. Here in Romania had I found several places that advertised online cars for something like $4 or $5 dollars a day, but when you go to the website, they automatically add on $15 to $20 a day for insurance. So I talked to Cornel, and he told me he had a friend…

He has a friend that rents cars. Cornel drove across town and uphill to a place where new houses were being built. These houses looked well-to-do, but were next to older places that were falling down. One vacant lot was full of about 6-8 cars. The man who rented them lived across the street in one of these fancy new houses. He came out and showed Cornel the cars he had. It took forever and I felt invisible–the man never once looked my way. Cornel introduced Woody to him but not me. It really is a man’s world here. But then the two of them hardly spoke to Woody either. They haggled and gestured with their hands and it all seemed like it was not between friends, but between two competitors that each wanted to get the better deal.

Well, we decided to go with the friend. If it was someone that Cornel trusts, and if we had some difficulty, (like an accident) then Cornel could speak for us, he could translate, he could vouch for the deal to be good.

On the other hand, the cars that the friend rented were pretty old. The one we chose, a 2003 Volkswaggon diesel Golf with 325,000 km on it. It was the smallest car on the lot and appeared to have the best gas milage (or should I say kilometerage?). We agreed to rent it for 15 Euros a day, (about $18 a day) for a month. This was to include a 200 Euro deductible insurance policy that protect the car against anything above the deductible, and liability. However that liability was not clear. In fact, the whole contract was not clear. The car had several minor dings and the paint was completely gone from a patch on the front bumper. “Oh don’t worry about that stuff.”

We finally settled on a Volkswagon Golf–it is 15 years old and has 300,000 kilometers on it. Cornel took us for a test drive in it with us. I hope it is a good car.


In Dorina’s living room (Cornel’s friend), across the street from the small lot with six cars jammed onto it, he handed me a two page document in Romanian. Cornel tried to translate. But we did not arrive at an agreement on what happens if… What if the car breaks down? What Dorina said was that if we have any problem, he would come with another car on a trailer and trade us cars. Well, what about if we’re on the other side of the country and we call. “Oh, don’t worry, nothing will go wrong,” A handshake and a shot of palinka, and we were done with negotiations.

Oh, there was one minor detail when we went back out across the street to start up the car: the hood latch would not open. We couldn’t take off in a car that had a hood we couldn’t open, what about checking the oil? Dorina told me that he just changed the oil, no problem. What about if a hose should break. They’re new hoses, no problem. What about adding new windshield liquid; it’s going to rain. Well, THAT was a problem. “Come back in two hours and I’ll have the hood fixed,” Cornel translated.

Some readers might wonder why we would rent an old vehicle from an uncertified dealer with a contract I couldn’t read. I had those same misgivings. But weighing all the good and bad, I decided that the devil you know is better than the one you don’t. So far, the little Volkswagen Golf has been a champ through thick and thin.

Two hours later, we were on the road to Timişoara.

We stopped to admire the beautiful fall colors as we climbed out of the Salaj county in into the young forrest of neighboring Bijor county.

We have travelled at this writing about 3,000 kilometers, on freeways, in tight traffic jams of Clug and Iaşi (pronounced “Yash”), up mountainous dirt roads looking for monastaries, and through bad weather and good. We’ve crossed ferries, driven down narrow cobblestone lanes, and up gravel paths. The little Golf has never failed us. At 6 lei (about$1.50) per liter, the cost of fuel is around $6.00 a gallon. The Golf seems to be getting close to 45 miles to the gallon, if my calculations are correct.

I haven’t driven a stick shift since we had a Chevy Nova, and I think that car died aroud the year 2,000. And although it comes right back, there are certain nuances that were harder to recall. The speed at which I need to upshift or downshift is a skill that takes longer to relearn. And every car is different. Now, I’m really liking that ability that I have forgotten about, to slow up going into a turn by downshifting, and the ability to pass a car in a lower gear for acceleration, then upshift once we’re clear of the car.

As far as rules of the road, I have a hard time understanding some of it. The speed limits, no one even vaguely seems to pay attention to the posted speed. I was going about 100km/hr on a freeway where the limit was posted at 90, and people were wizzing by me like crazy. Once, in a small village where the speed was posted as 30 km/hr, I had someone pass me doing at least 80km.



On the other hand, people seem to be overly concerned about entering a round-about. Maybe from the practice we’ve all been getting in Winters with our new round-about, I feel pretty confident about entering, once I see that there is no one continuing to circle, as long as I’ve got 50 feet of clearance. These people seem to hold back unless the entire circle is empty.

Colorful Houses

Without a lot of fanfare, here is a collection of interesting, colorful houses in Romania. We don’t exactly like the color choices. But somehow we love them!


Romanian Joinery

We’ve seen a lot of old churches and monastaries. The older churches and some older homes are made of huge timbers put together with amazing joinery. Many of them are over 400 years old. Here are a few that we’ve seen.










Lists–Don’t bother to read them all!

We’ve starting making some lists. Rebecca and I talk about things we find curious, like or dislike here in Romania to pass the time while riding in the car. She’ll mention one thing and then I’ll add another, and pretty soon, we’ve got a list!

Here are a few:

Things I wish I had packed but didn’t:

  • Warmer clothes. But it’s ok. I’ve bought some really nice clothes here, and inexpensive!
  • More presents for people. The seeds were great idea Rebecca had, but should have gotten more!
  • A pocket knife would have been great but we couldn’t have gotten it on the plane, so we bought one here.
  • Scissors–but same problem as a knife. It took us a better part of a day to find a pair, but it was a fun adventure, and made us use our Romanian.

Things I wish I hadn’t packed but did:

  • Too many clothes–should have listened to Charley.
  • Too many electronic gadgets and chargers with same plugs. I’ve got one for three different phones, a camera, a laptop and a rechargable flashlight. Not all of them need to be charged at once.
  • Too many dollars–no one wants them. The exchange rate is not as good as the ATM rate. What happened to the almighty dollar?
  • Rick Steves books are heavy and we’re done reading them now. He advises you to just tear out the pge you want to use, but we can’t bring ourselves to that. Maybe we’ll give them to a ffellow tourist.
  • Some items that were duplicated and didn’t need to be, like nail clippers and chargers.

Things we’re glad we brought:

  • The packets of North American seeds were great, (though Scott says they might be illegal to bring them into Austria!)
  • Phones. You can’t function without them: getting a cab, making hotel/Airbnb rservations, checking accounts at home, communication with friends, confirming reservations, GPS for driving or even walking, you need a phone nowadays. Taking a taxi in Bucharest was great through the app Taxify. Just click and three minutes later a taxi drives up, all prepaid and the driver refused to take take a tip! But you gotta have a smart phone!
  • Along with the cell phones, I am glad that I bought an extended batteries for my cell phone.  When I bought them, I didn’t realize that they were so large that a different backing for the phone came with it to contain the larger battery size.  It in now twice the thickness and at least twice as heavy.  But the extra battery life of these batteries is a must when you’re using it all day to navigate, texting the host of the next AirBnb home stay, looking for events in the up-coming town, and searching for accomodations for next week.  These batteries last about 24 hours of continuous use, and I can charge one while using the other.  They really have been important to making successful connections.
  • Pencil sharpener
  • Quilted vest
  • Laptop
  • The multi-charger is great, takes the place of five chargers. See photo below.  I am charging the mini-laptop while charging the keyboard and another cell phone.  The device has a conversion to EU plugs, then offers four USP ports for charging plus two USA type plugs for other needs.  In the photo, we’re using one of the USA outlets to charge the extra-large cell phone batteries.  It also has a light, in case you’re in a room without a bedside light.  I bought it at Fry’s Electronics.  Useful item, but it is a bit clunky to carry around.  I think they could have built it in a little more compact form.
  • Flip-flops
  • Comfortable shoes

Things we wonder:

  • Why so many pharmacies? We counted about a dozen in one square block in Iasi
  • How do poor people do laundry? We either have to do it in the bathroom of our hotel or pay a lot to have it done. We can’t find a laundromat anywhere.
  • Why are so many things left to decay? Houses, buildings, barns…  Of course there are many places in the US where the same proplems occur.  Like our back yard?
  • Why do people park on sidewalks? They actually encourage people to park with one side of the car up on the sidewalk or you can get fined. Then, as a pedestrian, you have to walk into the street to get around them.

Poor engineering/workmanship:

  • Steps on stairs not even.
  • Covered window by stairs.
  • Uneven trim.
  • Poor caulking
  • Parking paucity
  • Traffic flow problems
  • No pedestrian entrance to some points of interest
  • No handicap access
  • Beautiful golf course has shoddy entrance
  • Communist Era (1950’s-early 1980’s) building look decayed and ugly
  • Dangerous holes and pits without any barricade or warning sign.

Things we like / things Romanians do well:

  • Wood working–some of the finest joinery and carving anywhere!
  • Embroidery and weaving–the workmanship is amazing!
  • Hay stacks–clever ways that they store hay so that it keeps dry
  • Helpfulness–people are almost always willing to help, if we can make our needs understood (which is not always the case)
  • Personal industry–we see everyone out working, cleaning, chopping wood, weatherizing, hauling, building
  • Older buildings, pre-Communist era often very stately-lookinng
  • Language ability–Everyone here speaks more English than we speak Romanian
  • Older people are very active, walking, riding bikes, helping

Things we don’t like:

  • Smoking–nearly everybody over the age of 16 seems to smoke. They passed a law here two years ago that people could not smoke in public places, so just about every restaurant has built a smoking area in front of the regular seating area, and these have become bigger than the regular dining rooms. One good thing is that Rebecca and I are able to enjoy almost the entire, (and often nicer) regular seating area almost to ourselves in reletively quiet ambiance.
  • Garbage everywhere–it seems that if it’s not in your own yard, it doesn’t matter.  Below, a good view spoiled:
  • Only bottled water at restaurants!
  • Polluted rivers–we noticed lots of junk floating down water-ways
  • Waiters make you wait to take your order–we are seated, decide on what we want, look around, and the waiters don’t seem to observe that we’ready to order. Maybe this should fall into the “Things we learned: be patient” category.

Driving dangers:

  • Passing on two lanes–people seem to pass with little margine of error
  • Wagons on road–especially in the back country, it is akin to bikes in Yolo County–share the road!
  • Dogs on the road–dogs seem to be comfortable roaming the roads
  • Stop lights–they put them where you stop, but not across the street. If you’re at the front of the line, you can’t see the stop light because it’s directly above you. You just have to listen for people to honk to let you know it’s time to go
  • People pull out in funny places, rather boldly
  • Railroad crossings are uneven and very rough and don’t always have crossing barricades
  • Poor quality roads–many roads are in great shape, some are terrible, but the transition from a major throughway to a gravel road can be sudden. A fancy boulevard in town can lad out of town to a narrow dirt or cobbled road. Or a big, busy highway can come into a town and get choked down to a narrow, winding lane through the middle of the town center.
  • Signs for turns are exactly at the turn, not before–you know if you’ve passed it if you look back and see the same arrow pointing the same way on the same post.
  • Some signs are confusing! Check this out. Which sign means you can pass. Which one means you can’t pass? (And which one means you could fall off the edge of the world?)


Things we’ve learned.

  • Some Romanian–not a lot. We’re still in the stage of listening. We sometimes can understand what people are saying but rarely can produce even the phrases we know on the spot. We practice what we want to ask someone, but rarely understand their answer!
  • People appreciate our effort–so even if we say the wrong thing, it’s better to try than not.
  • Caution on roads–like we tell beginning drivers, drive defensively, especially here where unexpected things happen.
  • Some protocols of the road–we’re learning by observing the customs
  • Don’t feed dogs–although highly appreciative, they can become agressive
  • Check credit card purchases online–there can be errors
  • Turn on lights before you enter room–switches are often on the outside of the room you’re entering, especially bathrooms
  • Be patient in traffic–especially in big cities, traffic jams can take longer than you might imagine.
  • It’s ok to get lost–people will help, and that’s half the fun.
  • Allow more time because you might get lost.
  • You’re going to get lost.
  • Few stores have a wide variety-most stores have specific items.

Advice to travelers.

  • Serendipity usually works out–our best experiences were not planned
  • Make sure you have a working phone.
  • If you’re going to be gone more than a couple of weeks, get a SIM card for your phone. They work great and they’re a much better deal than you can get on a US plan.
  • Having GPS is essential, especially if you drive, but when on buses, you can track where you are and know better when to get off, etc.
  • Having Internet connectivity is almost essential. Almost no one sells maps nowadays. Tickets, directions, schedules, bus and subway routes–they’re all on the web. in some citis, the only way to park is by texting money. I didn’t realize how important it is to have a phone connection now.
  • Have good walking shoes
  • Cash always works
  • GPS doesn’t always work
  • Real road maps are good, if you can find them. We borrowed one and it was great to have, but we found that it ws out-of-date in a couple of instances.
  • Ask people for help; people often want to help
  • Be patient
  • Have a good driver

Things we want to remember.

  • The kindness of strangers
  • The Pop family in Timisoara who shared their world with us
  • The Mandra family in Zalau who helped us with everything
  • Elena and Ion in Breb were so kind to us, making everything fresh from the farm
  • Ioana and her family in Bran
  • The woman who let us use her Metro card to buy stuff in the Metro (a membership store after she practically pushed us out of line.
  • The waiter in Meses Hotel who took time to talk to us
  • Ady and Carmen dancing.
  • The fat man dancing
  • All men dancing at the wedding
  • The old woman bending over to pick up bright leaf in autumn
  • Two old women eating ice cream–life in Cluj, how life had changed for them since 1989.

7 thoughts on “Rotary, Car Rental, Colorful Houses, Joinery, and other Romanian adventures along the way

  1. Ah , Timisoara !
    Stayed there in 1971 on a 2 week business trip.
    Demonstrating herbicide application techniques on a Collective farm out on the Danube plain!
    We had a grand time with the locals !

    Liked by 1 person

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