From Emotion to Meaning and Return. A Cultural Trip Through Oltenia

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The growling of what sounded like a bear made me stop and listen carefully for a few seconds. I looked around me. The forest was young, there wasn’t any chance a tree would have been able to withstand my weight. My next thought was that bears can climb trees and I can’t, so the age of the forest didn’t really matter.

I felt my heart rate going up, the blood going faster through my veins, my knees becoming softer and softer and my stomach filling up with butterflies. I acknowledged fear.

There was this fantastic pool party with wine flowing freely from bottles down the throats, barely stopping for a rest in its way up to the brains. I was dancing with this gorgeous guy, eyes closed, bodies touching, wobbling on slow blues rhythms. Everything else disappeared into this blissful mindfulness eternity. Out of the blue, my hands started a dance of their own on that smooth, warm, inviting skin they were resting on for a while now. They moved with the music, reached imaginary destinations only to to start their slow journey again… and again… until his soft voice whispered in my ear… stop, or it will be too late…

I felt my heart rate going up, the blood going faster through my veins, my knees becoming softer and softer and my stomach filling up with butterflies. I acknowledged lust.

While waiting in my car, in a big line of vehicles, I felt a hit in the back and heard a noise of metal and plastic crashing. I looked back and there was this huge old bus, stuck into the right side of my car. It was just before the Easter holidays, when everything is closed and people are having a great time with their families. I pictured myself spending one week in police stations, insurance agent offices, car repair shops… and…

I felt my heart rate going up, the blood going faster through my veins, my knees becoming softer and softer and my stomach filling up with butterflies. I acknowledged anger.

Fear, lust, anger, and the list could go on, what do all these emotions have in common? That’s right, the physical manifestation was the same, each and every time, yet the brain interpreted this manifestation in a totally different way.

I learned a while ago from an interesting seminar that this is how we function. This is what makes us different from other species, this is what defines us as humans: the ability of recognizing emotions in a series of physical changes in our body.

What if the “interpreter” stops working properly? Would we still be able to cope with our society or would we collapse and get buried in some mental institution or in a maximum security prison? Could we use this to our advantage, to create a life we love?

The Subjective Experience of Interpreting Art

We use this ability to create and understand art. The work of art is just a piece of stone, mud, paper or whatever other material. The artist turns that material into art just like I would describe the physical process of living an emotion, without telling what the emotion was. It is up to you to follow the reverse pathway: look at the work of art, feel the sensations and acknowledge the emotion. You may reach the same interpretation like the artist or you may open new possibilities.

This brings me to a question I found in James Joyce’s “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man”:

“- If a man hacking in fury at a block of wood – Stephen continued – make there an image of a cow, is that image a work of art? If not, why not?”

I won’t answer this now, but if you want, you can give me your opinion in the comments.

It surely wasn’t fury what guided Constantin Brancusi, the Romanian artist in whose footsteps we are going to walk today, when he created sculpture pieces that sold for $18-$37 million US. Like many great artists of the past, he was long gone when his creation started to be appreciated.

Works of Constantin Brancusi can be found in museums like The Philadelphia Museum of Art, The National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C., The Museum of Modern Art in New York and in the National Museum of Art of Romania in Bucharest. You can see some of them here, on the Guggenheim website.

Brancusi once said as a reaction to critics calling his work abstract:

“There are idiots who define my work as abstract; yet what they call abstract is what is most realistic. What is real is not the appearance, but the idea, the essence of things.”

This is it. Without emotions, bodily reactions would be nothing. Without the idea, a work of art would be nothing.

A Cultural Weekend Trip Idea

If you want to have a great weekend trip with a cultural touch, some mountain climbing and cave visits, here’s a route you’ll enjoy: go visit the house where Constantin Brancusi was born, in Hobita, stop for a couple of hours in Horezu to watch the potters at work and maybe buy some handmade ceramic pots and plates, visit Pestera Muierii or Polovragi Cave, then head towards Transalpina and stop for the night in Ranca.

You can add a religious twist to it and drop by a few of the monasteries in the region. There are lots of them. All you have to do in order to discover them is to pay attention to the brown signs on the road.

Romanian monastery in Oltenia

This is where the nuns sleep. Or the monks. Or maybe they do more praying than sleeping, who knows?

Church in a monastery in Romania

All monasteries have a church like this in the middle.

Cactii Collection at a Monastery

Nuns in this monastery seem to have a big passion for cacti. This was quite a cool collection.

Bronze Vesper Bell

What alarm clock? The vesper bell is more effective, as it can’t be set on snooze when it goes off.

Romanian Monastery in HDR

I can’t resist HDR photography, so here’s another one ;)

There isn’t much to do in the monasteries. You can say a little prayer, light a candle, admire and photograph the buildings and flowers or break your car on the road if you don’t pay attention. If you take the trip on a motorbike, skip Arnota monastery, as the road has pebbles, not asphalt and it goes pretty steep. That’s where I managed to hit my car to the ground in a moment of too much confidence in my driving skills.

The Constantin Brancusi Memorial House in Hobita

The tiny house which is now a museum was closed by the time we arrived in Hobita. We were allowed into the yard of the house, we could sit on the porch and peep through the windows to the basic, almost rudimentary interior of the house. The sunset light was simply beautiful, soft and warm, gently kissing us and the plants in the garden with its last powers for the day. Everything inside and around the house looked very old, but very well-preserved. It was like a travel back in time, in a time I haven’t witnessed but which felt peaceful and happy. Although countryside life in those times must have been tough, it has something romantic to it from the distance of so many years.

Gate of Constantin Brancusi Memorial House

The original gate of the Constantin Brancusi house is still up and looking pretty good for its age and all those harsh winters it had to withstand.

Brancusi Memorial House Porch with Flowers

The welcoming porch with red flowers. Mind the step or you’ll bite the dust.

Sleigh on the Porch of Constantin Brancusi Memorial House

Sleigh in the winter, bench in the summer, now just another piece in the Constantin Brancusi Museum

Brancusi House Museum Hobita - tools shed

Beautiful afternoon light over the tools shed nearby the house

Horezu and Olari, the Potters’ Village

In order to get from Horezu to Olari (Potters’ Village), you need to leave the main road and go up the hill for about 3 km. The road is good, it has asphalt on it and not so many holes. You’ll know when you reach Olari, because you’ll start to see pottery in front of all gates in the village. The whole thing is a bit commercial and touristy, but villagers are friendly and warm, willing to show you around and to let you take a glimpse into their well-preserved trade. If you go there, be nice and buy some pots and plates from your hosts. Prices are way lower than in Bucharest or other big cities and traditional artwork can make an awesome gift for your friends.

Pottery on Old Dacia Car in Olari

Who said a car is only good for taking you from A to B? This old Dacia makes a solid display for clay pots.

Is that a house on fire? Not quite. Let's get a bit closer, see what's cooking in there.

Is that a house on fire? Not quite.

Pottery Burning Oven

Pottery burning oven. The oven is in a shed in the back of the house. It’s a hot day, but nothing compares with the heat inside this shed. If you spend 10 minutes in here, the 40 degrees C outside will feel like a cool breeze.

Clay oven in Olari, Romania

Our host kept on putting wood on the fire while explaining us how clay turns to pottery and how raw pots get baked for many hours in order to become ready for use. She didn’t seem to mind the heat too much, but I had to get out of the shed for several times in order to survive to tell you the story.

Fire wood piles

The backyard was full of fire wood piles. It’s impressive how much wood those people burn every week.

Pottery Maker in Olari, Horezu

This is how pots look just before being put inside the oven.

Traditional Rooster on Horezu Clay Pot

This is how colors change after being burned in the oven. The plate in the middle features the rooster, a traditional pattern for Horezu pottery.

This is one of our hosts showing us how clay cups are made. He offered to train me in his trade next summer. Maybe I’ll take the offer :)

This is how pottery is painted:

Targu Jiu

Targu Jiu is where the Endless Column, the Kiss Gate and the Table of Silence are. It’s a neat town, but there’s not much one can do there apart from taking a walk in the park and see the above mentioned monuments.

Endless Column by Constantin Brancusi

Endless Column by Constantin Brancusi

Table of Silence by Constantin Brancusi

Table of Silence by Constantin Brancusi

While you’re there, you can eat some ice cream from the belly of the polar bear.

Ice Cream Dispenser Polar Bear

2 lei for an ice cream, that’s not a bad deal at all!

You can read funny warnings on this fountain in the city center:

No bathing in the fountain

The sign says “No bathing! Danger of drowning and electrocution!”. The water seemed quite shallow, so I guess one has to get electrocuted first in order to drown.

If you want to spend the night in Targu Jiu, you can. There are several hotels, but there’s not much entertainment, so you may prefer to take the road to Ranca and sleep there, nearby the top of the mountains, where there’s fresh air and millions of stars on the night sky.

No Rhododendrons on the Ciucas Mountain

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I was much too tired to remember why I went up there in the first place. The wind through my hair and through my wet clothes was fabulous, a true catalyst for forgetting. For a moment, I had no past. I was only eyes and skin, kissed by wind and sun together. I even forgot that my jeans were full of mud since my feet decided to go faster and left me behind in one of the biggest mud puddles on the path. No, I don’t have photos of that moment, in case you were wondering :)

Then I saw three little purple flowers at the edge of the path and my memory came back: I went there to see the rhododendrons. All three of them!!!

The promise of this trip was something like the photo below (which is not mine, as my rhododendrons were only three).

The Rhododendrons of Ciucas Mountain

This is where the name of Muntele Rosu (Red Mountain) comes from.

The reality was a storm came and destroyed almost all flowers just a couple of days before our trip, so we were left with this:

No Rrhododendrons on Ciucas Mountain

“And what is left of the rose is only its name…” (Umberto Eco – The Name of the Rose)

Does this sound like your life? Expectations, anticipation, plans, they all fade in front of reality at times. It’s up to you, though, to make the best out of every situation and be thankful for whatever comes your way.

Anyway, if you are in Romania during the month of June, you can do this cool hiking trip in the Ciucas Mountains and you have a chance to step on the red carpet of flowers. Even if you miss the flowers, this is an excellent walk, perfect for a one-day trip from Bucharest.

The Ciucas Mountains are a bit up from Cheia, mountain resort located at about 125 km from Bucharest, on road DN1A. In order to get there, exit Bucharest through DN1 and follow this road until you get to Ploiesti. It’s easy, it’s the way to the airport, just in case you need to ask for directions. Just before Ploiesti, you need to turn a little to the right to enter DN1A. Pay attention to road signs, because it’s very easy to end up in the parking of Carrefour supermarket. That happened to me, but I went through the whole parking and exited on its other side, just nearby DN1A.

The road from Ploiesti to Cheia is narrow and curvy and it goes through lots of villages, so you won’t be able to drive much faster than 50-70km/h, which is the legal maximum speed in most of those villages. When you get to Cheia, don’t enter the town. Follow the main road for about 5km more and you’ll see a big sign saying Muntele Rosu and a forest road turning right into the woods. That’s the road you need to take. You’ll have 5km of bumps and holes, but you can switch off the air conditioning and open the windows, because the air will be fresh and you’ll soon be all covered in sweat because of the driving conditions.

Muntele Rosu - the chalet

This is the chalet at Muntele Rosu. I didn’t crop the photo on purpose, so you can see the road condition – this is one of its best parts :)

It’s best to leave Bucharest early in the morning (7am-8am is good, if you can make it), as you need between two and three hours to get to Cabana Muntele Rosu (Red Mountain Chalet), the starting point for all hikes in the area. If you want, you can leave your car in Cheia and take a mountain path to Muntele Rosu, but that’s not as good as walking on the top of the mountains.

Muntele Rosu – Valea Berii – Cabana Ciucas – Saua Chirusca – Saua Gropsoarele – La Rascruce – Muntele Rosu

This is a round trip that takes about 6 hours to complete. There are other paths you can take, but I’ll describe only this one, because that’s the one I did two weeks ago. I’ll mention the others at the end of the article, for those of you who are interested about hiking in Romania.

The first part of the path is the most soliciting, because it starts at 1260m altitude (Cabana Muntele Rosu) and goes up to 1550m (Cabana Ciucas). If you are fit, you can do it in a bit more than one hour. If you are not so fit, you can expect to get to Cabana Ciucas in about two hours. Although soliciting, the path is not difficult at all, it is clearly marked and there are no dangerous zones on the way. It is accessible all year round, unlike more difficult paths which are not recommended in winter. It’s even safe to take your children with you, if they can walk.

Although Valea Berii means The Valley of the Beer, the first beer you’ll encounter will be at Cabana Ciucas. You can take some water with you for the road, but if you forget, it’s no big deal, because you’ll pass by the Nicolae Ioan fountain, where you can refill your bottle or fill up your stomach in case you didn’t think to take a bottle with you. From here, the path is even steeper than before, so you’ll have the chance of a good cardio exercise. It’s on paths like this, where you realize how unfit you are. I was surprised to see I was less fit than I would have thought.

Nicolae Ioan Fountain - Ciucas Mountains

You can safely drink the water from this fountain. It’s not really a fountain, the water comes from the Teleajen Spring. The fountain was first built in 1940, then rebuilt once in 1982 and a second time in 2008. This is the point where three mountain paths meet: the one that comes from Muntele Rosu Chalet, Valea Berii and Ciucas Chalet


Cabana Ciucas is the perfect place for a long rest. There’s food, water, coffee and beer. I only had a coffee. It was good and I paid 5 lei for it. I didn’t get any food, because I ate some of my homemade sandwiches, in my attempt of making my backpack lighter for the next part of the trip.

There are even rooms at Ciucas chalet, in case you want to sleep there and explore the surrounding mountains over a couple of days. I spotted some 4×4 cars in front of the chalet, so I imagine you have this alternative in case you hate hiking uphill. Anyway, here’s the link to the website of Cabana Ciucas. They don’t have an English version, but there are lots of photos, so you can make yourself an idea about the area.

Ciucas Chalet Romania

The lawn in front of the Ciucas chalet

Ciucas Peak - Romanian Carpathians

The Ciucas Peak is visible from Cabana Ciucas. It looks close, but I guess you need to walk for at least 30 minutes to get there. We didn’t this time.


From Cabana Ciucas, follow the red line mark to Saua Chirusca. This is an easy hike, because there’s almost no difference in altitude between the two. From Saua Chirusca, follow the red cross marks to Saua Gropsoarele and then to La Rascruce. You should be there in less than two hours from your departure from Cabana Ciucas. This is truly a beautiful and relaxing walk, the landscape is awesome and if you’re lucky, you’ll end up on the Rhododendrons carpet which we missed by a couple of days.

From La Rascruce, you need to take the red triangle path down to Muntele Rosu. This is a constant but not very steep descent which takes about 1.5 hours. It’s not difficult, but you surely need to pay a lot of attention to the path, because there are stones and tree roots on the most part of it.

Hiking In Ciucas Mountains

The narrow path follows the ridge and it is surrounded by spectacular landscape.

Sheep on mountains

This metal construction is a shelter where shepherds can enter when it rains. I first thought it was some oven or barbecue for cooking the sheep, that’s why I went closer to take a photo, to show you some Romanian style cooking :)

If you want, you can sleep at Muntele Rosu Chalet. I never slept there, but as far as I know, the conditions are decent. The food is good, I ate there many times, however, you have to be prepared to wait quite a while for your order.

HDR Photo with Clouds and Trees

HDR Photo with Clouds and Pine Trees

HDR in the Ciucas Mountains

HDR landscape in the Ciucas Mountains

Here’s a map of the Ciucas mountains, with hiking paths and chalets marked on it. I scanned it from an old book. Click on it to see it larger, otherwise I doubt you’ll be able to read anything.

Ciucas Mountains Map

Can you discover the trail I just described on this map?

Hiking in Romania When You Don’t Know Anybody

Regarding the dangers on these paths, I can tell you there is a wild life in these mountains, so you may meet foxes, bears, wolves and wild cats. However, I very much doubt they come on the paths that are beaten by humans, so you should probably worry more about shepherd dogs rather than wild beasts. Even so, it’s not a good idea to go by yourself, because you never know what may happen.

If you’re alone in Bucharest and feel like hiking, I have a tip for you. There’s this cool group on Meetup.com, called Friends in Bucharest, which organizes group hiking trips.

I went with Friends in Bucharest on this trip to Ciucas Mountains and I highly recommend them. We were about 60 people, which seemed like a far too big group for my taste, but everything was just perfect. Nobody was late, everybody was very nice, the trip went just as scheduled and we all enjoyed a perfect day outdoors. Well, at least I had a great time, but I guess everybody else did, too.

There are no upcoming trips scheduled yet, but I’ll let you know as soon as I have news. Meanwhile, you can check out the group and join it, because they also organize evenings in Bucharest, which are also cool.

Ciucas Mountains, Romania

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Ciucas Mountains Romania

HDR photo of the Ciucas Mountains in Romania. Can you believe I used a point-and-shoot camera and a free computer software to get this? I took the photo yesterday, during an awesome trip which I’m going to tell you about soon. Stay tuned, enter your email address in the yellow box below and you’ll get my new article right in your inbox. Later update: Here’s the story of my trip on the Ciucas mountains with photos