Back home, safe but sad…

Posted by Natalie

Sorry for the lack of updates over the past week, it’s been rather hectic with 5 days in Barlad then 3 days in Bucharest for the District Conference!

We’re now back in not so sunny England, and I am already having Romania withdrawal symptoms – a return trip will have to be booked very soon!

The GSE trip has been an amazing, once in a lifetime experience that I will never forget, so thank you to everyone who made it possible!


Bears in Bistrita

Posted by Natalie

Apologies for the lack of updates over the past week, we’ve been super busy in Bistrita!

The first thing I HAVE to mention is bears – we were fortunate enough to have the opportunity to go bear watching in the forest on Wednesday evening, and we actually saw real brown bears!

Win and I saw the daddy bear, who wandered around a little bit and gave us a good chance to watch him, and Zoe and Rachael saw two bear cubs walking along a ridge (Matt was there too but had his back turned at the time…)

I still slightly can’t believe I was 25 metres or less away from a bear in the wild, it was an amazing experience! Unfortunately it was too dark to get decent photos without using a flash, but I’m sure none of us will ever forget the image.

We’ve had a whirlwind week with lots of highlights, with a programme well tailored to our individual vocations but with lots of cultural activity too, so thanks very much to Ica, president of Bistrita Rotary Club for her military-like organisation.

We started the week with a visit to Tasuleasa Social, a volunteer led organisation which works on social and environmental projects, and runs a camp for children in the educational forest which we received a tour of. It was an amazing place, and one which a lot of us would definitely want to return to in the future.

We also watched a film about the organisation, which I’m not sure if you can watch online yet, but it has a song in it by a Romanian band which I’ve fallen in love with – they’re called Robin and the Backstabbers and the song is Marele Zgomot – have a listen!

On the subject of music, we were treated to two live concerts at the synagogue in Bistrita; first a performance by Maria Raducanu, who is not only a famous jazz singer but also provided the voice for Ariel in the Romanian version of the Little Mermaid – useful fact for you there!

My vocational days last week were spent with the Bistrita Tourist Information Centre, who I spoke to about their 20-year local strategy and how they hope to grow tourism for the town, and with Oana Milia, general manager of the Metropolis Hotel who I spoke to about all their PR and marketing. Both were really interesting and very useful!

We visited several schools and social projects in Bistrita, and other team members can probably talk about some of them better than I can, but my personal highlights were taking part in group activities with 12-year olds that included drawing rockets and writing and performing a poem, taking part in an English lesson with 10-year olds who were taller than me, and visiting a centre for young people with special needs where we made candles, painted rocks and learnt dance routines.

Our last night was spent at a VIP ball, for the chartering of a new Rotary Club in Nasaud. We scrub up pretty well, don’t you think?!

After he ceremony there was a five hour long dinner (not joking) with loads of entertainment from traditional Romanian singers, opera singers, musicians and some fantastic young dancers – a great way to spend our last night in Bistrita.

I know I’ve missed loads from our week but there was just too much to cover in one post. Thanks to our hosts who have all been brilliant, especially Tina, Nicolae, Orannia and Adi who welcomed me and Rachael into their home and looked after us for the week – we miss you already!


Week 2 in Arad – a recap

Posted by Natalie

The past week has literally flown by – I can’t believe we’re over halfway through the trip already! Although I can’t wait to get back and see family and friends, it does make me a little bit sad to think of having to leave when we’ve had such a good time so far.

Our second week spent in Arad was packed full of vocational days, cultural visits, and one or two nights of drinking one or two too many glasses of wine/tuica/cocktails (delete as appropriate).

I’ll try and run through as much as I can remember but apologies for anything I forget!

We arrived on Sunday after our wine tasting at Maderat, and was welcomed by Teo (owner of the Parc hotel at Moneasa) to his Arad hotel, Crisana. We arrived quite late, but Camelia from the Romanian GSE team took Matt and I on a quick drive around town, which looked beautiful by night, especially the town hall which is just a tad more impressive than most of those in the UK!

During the week we visited several schools, inlcuding one in a village called Santana, with a large number of gypsy students, where we were also able to visit a gypsy family to see the type of places they live.

We also visited a technological high school in the nearby town of Ineu, where they run a huge range of vocational courses with a great offer for students with special educational needs and a second chance programme for people who have previously dropped out of school but want to return.

Staying on the educational theme, we visited Camelia’s kindergarten, met her friend David who is 10 and speaks excellent English but is only interested in visiting America – we tried to convince him England was better but I’m not sure how well it worked! We also visited a few of the town’s social work projects, inlcuding an after school, a day centre for retired people, a centre for disabled people and a foster home with TEN foster children – amazing!

The team spent some time apart on individual vocational activities, which for me involved sitting down with Teo to talk about how he markets his hotels and the resort at Moneasa. It was really interesting and some of the things we talked about will definitely be good inspiration when I return to work.

I also had the chance to visit the local television station, Info TV, and watch their 6 o’clock news show being filmed – the studio was tiny and there was only the presenter, Diana, and one other person to put the whole thing together, which was very impressive!

On our last day, we were invited to a lecture at Arad University by Dorin Herlo, who as well as being a Rotarian is a lecturer in educational studies at the University. The lecture was on the subject of culture, and we asked to participate in creating a metaphor for culture and joining in with the discussions, which I think everyone found really interesting and really enjoyed (even if I was feeling ever so slightly worse for wear after the previous night…)

Speaking of, we had some great evenings last week, with an al fresco dinner hosted by Rotary member Liviu and his family (my favourite family member being Roxy, the tiny baby puppy – so cute!)

We gave our Rotary presentation on Tuesday and met lots of other Rotarians, and we were treated to a taste of Arad nightlife by Vini, a Brazilian exchange student who liked Romania so much he decided to stay – it’s not hard to see how that would happen based on our experience so far!

On Saturday we left Arad with sore heads but great memories and some new friends who I hope we will stay in touch with and see again in the future.

We’re now in Week 3, in Bistrita, and I will try and post more regular updates on what we’re doing here – looking at our schedule it should be another great week!

Wine tasting at Maderat

Posted by Natalie

On the way to Arad on Sunday, we stopped off at a small village called Maderat for an afternoon of wine tasting with Dinel Aron, one of the members of the Rotary Club of Arad.

Dinel and his wife have a beautiful vineyard and an amazing wine cellar, where they produce a variety of red and white wines.

They also had five different varieties of Tuica, a ridiculously strong spirit which can be made from all sorts of fruits, although the most common is plums.

For a couple of us it was the first time doing a proper wine tasting, and we couldn’t have asked for a better introduction.

At home I tend to only drink white wine, so I was surprised that my favourite of the five we tried was actually a red, a 2010 Cabernet. Everyone else had different favourites though and they were all a lot better than most wines I’ve tried before!

Dinel was a fabulous host and made us very welcome, so thank you Dinel!

Goodbye Targoviste, hello Arad

Posted by Natalie

After a fantastic week of being looked after by the Rotary Club of Targoviste, we have now moved on to meet the Rotary Club of Arad. The president of the club, Radu, has already given us a warm welcome and I’m sure we will enjoy another great week with them, but I for one will definitely be missing all the friends we made in Targoviste.

On Friday night we said goodbye, ate lots of food (there may have been some ‘meat sweats’ from the boys) and drank lots of wine and moonshine. An perfect end to an amazing first week!

Team Targoviste

Hello Dâmboviţa

Posted by Natalie (again, sorry!)

For one of our vocational days in Targoviste the team split up so we could each visit somewhere relevant to our work. Rachael and Win toured the city museum, Zoe and Matt visited a special school for children with disabilities, and I went to the city hall to meet Alexandra Pantu, who is responsible for promoting tourism in the county of Dâmboviţa (of which Targoviste is the largest city).

As a lot of the clients I work with are in the tourism industry, it was really interesting to meet Alexandra and find out more about how things work here, and how different it is to Cornwall.

While Cornwall has been one of the most popular tourist destinations in England for a long time, Dâmboviţa is still really coming into its own, and so the focus is much more on ensuring the infrastructure to support tourism (like decent roads leading to the main attractions) is in place so that visitors are guaranteed a good experience and will want to come back again. This is mostly being done by securing EU funding for specific projects, such as the county’s website,

Alexandra explained that Dâmboviţa is like a Romania in miniature – it has all the diversity of countryside and landscapes; more than 300 species of animals and more than 300 different birds; it has history, culture, religion and many different places of interest to visit.

Collaboration between the city hall, the tourist attractions and accommodation providers is an issue – they don’t all necessarily see the benefits of working together, and there is sometimes conflict between what’s best for the tourism industry and protecting the natural beauty of the county.

They have also been restricted from promoting individual accommodation providers by the limitations of the EU grant that funded the website, although the project ends next month so it’s something they are keen to change. I explained the membership system used by Visit Cornwall and Alexandra thought it was exactly the type of thing they needed, so hopefully something similar can be implemented in the not to distant future.

I’l hopefully be able to help a bit with checking English translations on a new map that’s being produced for the Royal Castle in Targoviste, and possibly with the website too.

It’s been interesting to see the difference between Dâmboviţa and where we are now in the mountains – there are lots of ski resorts and everything feels much more geared towards tourists, with English language translations of everything and a much less traditional feel with the restaurants and shops.

I’m looking forward to seeing what the rest of the places we visit are like, and for the rest of the vocational days we have lined up – it’s certainly got off to a fantastic start so thank you to  everyone at Rotary Targoviste for organising it and to Alexandra for taking the time to meet with me!

Scoala Gimnaziala Cojasca

Posted by Natalie

Our first vocational day on Monday began with a visit to Cojasca, a small town outside of Targoviste where the majority of the population are Roma and the mayor is a Gypsy himself.

After speaking with the mayor and the local schools inspector at the city hall, we visited one of the three local schools which has 600 students at both primary and secondary age. The students here were a mixture of Romanian and Roma, but at the other two schools the students are 100% gypsy.

We were invited into a class of 11 and 12 year olds who introduced themselves to us in excellent English – far better than our attempts to speak to them in Romanian!


We then went to see their brand new after school building, a European funded project which was completed in March. The idea of the after school is to offer somewhere for 7 to 10 year olds to go between 12 and 4pm, where they can eat a proper meal and then do their homework.

The problem is that as things stand, the school has no money to provide the meals, and if they can’t do that then the students can only stay for a couple of hours. For the gypsy students in particular this is a big issue as their families struggle to afford to feed them a nutritionally balanced meal, and also may prefer for them to go out and help the family work rather than study and do homework.

The cost of feeding the 80 students who would use the facility for a year would be around £15,000. It’s not the only financial issue the school has though, as there aren’t enough teachers living nearby and so they have to recruit from towns further away, but the cost of travel is too much for the salary they are paid, and so they would obviously prefer to find a job closer to where they live. Also, the three schools could benefit hugely from mediators, who would act as the connection between the school and the gypsy community, but even though their annual salary would only be 2,000 euros at the minute the town cannot afford any.

Although the school and the town have already done a lot to improve education, the financial problems are a massive barrier to progressing, so it’s certainly something that we are trying to think of a way that a Rotary partnership could help with.

I’m sure there will be many more projects and people we meet who could benefit from support though, so I think we are all sharing the feeling that deciding on the best way to focus our efforts and those of the Rotary clubs back home is going to be a lot harder than we could have anticipated.