Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Winter Wonderland

WE INTERRUPT THIS TRAVEL POST TO BRING YOU... well, another travel post, but hang on, this one is SO exciting! Not that the India trip wasn't exciting...  but this, this one as Pickwick would put it was EPIC!
Right, so where were we? In Romania, of course - We're kind of running low on the Baa-Lamb's holidays to be anywhere else. And of course, the kids, being kids, had decided that they were going to spend the entire half terms being horribly sick and laid up in bed. Which means:
1. The house was full of cranky, sick people itching to get out
2. Until our car actually left the driveway, we weren't actually sure the kids wold be well enough to make the trip.
So, if you've read the previous blogs, You'll know that the Baa-lamb is a meticulous planner. We don't do unplanned trips. well, I do, but not him. So, come Friday, we we headed up to Râmnicu Vâlcea. What we thought would be a quaint little town turned out to be quite a nice stopover. The next morning, for the first time ever in Romania, we actually got a meat-free breakfast that didn't involve just toast and cereal. Beautiful.  I think I actually saw a tiny tear escape from the baa-lambs eye. I also saw him furiously updating something and giving it two thumbs up on tripadvisor - The husband's friend, philosopher and guide. 
The drive to Ramnicu Valcea

Ramnicu Valcea- our stopver

Now that we were here, we thought it only fair to visit the salt mines at Ocnele Mari, just about half an hour away. Quite frankly I didn't know what to make of it. It was all rather cool when we were taken underground by bus and deposited in the massive underground caves, but the place, oddly had:
Museum exhibits that had nothing to do with the mines
Mannequins wearing ancient mining equipment
Vendors selling orange tea
Salt beds for renting
A children's play area with salt instead of sand (which I though was rather cool)
Christmas exhibits
An ancient village scene setting
A hut made of bales of straw
Seating and Swings scattered about
More children's areas where they could drive tiny trucks or jump on trampolines (for a small sum of money)
A restaurant which was closed when we arrived (with no one having any idea when it opened)
A Chapel

Now I understand that these mines are supposed to have medicinal properties and spending time with children underground for any length of time is tough, but I'm not sure this is the way to go about it. Still, I quite enjoyed the experience - especially when the kids were playing in the salt-sand, I could actually taste the salt in the air. Quite fun. Like smelling a beach, only underground.
The wooden panel outside the Chapel

mining equipment of unknown age and origin

The cool striations visible on the walls. The floor looked like it was made of marble. 
 After that, while I was in favour of heading straight to our destination, The kids (the big one included) were pretty insistent on visiting a nearby zoo. I suppose the lectures on watching cages animals will have to wait another day. I simply couldn't take the joy away from their faces while the watched a Siberian Tiger charging towards them or a Llama sticking her tongue out while posing for pictures.

Fantastic Mr. Fox

A very hungry Siberian. Thank God for plexiglass.
Finally, after waving goodbye to all the animals, and leaving me to wallow in my guilt, we set off towards Balea Cascada. We needed to go to Balea Lac, but Roads beyond the Cascada were closed, so we'd have to go by cable car from there. If you're thinking that the names sound vaguely familiar, you're right - It has been mentioned in a previous post. And if you're wondering why we'd visit the same place again, its because Balea Lac is home to the Hotel of Ice! But wait, before we head there, let me show you some of the landscape during our drive. And just to compare how the place looked a few months ago, go here and here and here.

Having parked the car in a safe spot and geared up suitably for the cold - which in my case was about 3 layers of clothes followed by a snow jacket and pants, snow gloves, snow boots and hat, and the case of the husband was a jacket and jeans (and a pair of gloves, safely stowed away in the jacket, never to be worn)
we set off in the cable care towards Balea Lac.
The solitary snowman visible from the cable car
 And wow. We were blown away by the beauty. And the wind. We we blown about just a little bit by the winds. Ahana was practically parasailing. Still, it was a sunny day, and we were standing on six meters of solid ice - or so we were told. 

The Ice Hotel itself was a collection of a couple of large igloos, a Chapel (yes, one HAS to have a Chapel), and a vault-like structure - which was the main restaurant and bar, leading off into smaller vaults, which served as rooms. The rooms themselves, were based this year on the star signs (I have no clue if this changes yearly, but it was fun running off to click pictures of yourself in 'your' room.) Pickwick, whose first introduction it was to star signs, after confirming his sign was last seen clambering all over the Ram sculpture before running off to play in the snow. The bossy baby, after perfecting the art of photobombing toddled off to join her brother and promptly lost her glove in the snow. The Baa-lamb, after gently prying the camera away from my face led me to the top of the mountain and we sat for a while absorbing the beauty and serenity. But only for a while. After which our faces were starting to get numb and the bossy baby started protesting about the loss of her glove. It was time to head indoors to the warm chalet until the evening, when we'd return for a couple of drinks at the ice-bar and bed.
Inside the Chapel of ice. complete with a donation box near the door. 

The Restaurant/ Bar

Pickwick and his Ram

Disclaimer: I have not Photoshopped these colours. These are the actual colours.
The outside views weren't too shabby either...
The ice hotel complex

Twilight at Balea Lac

Neither was the walk in the morning when we had the place all to ourselves (us being the early risers who wanted to beat the rush to the bathroom at the Chalet :)) How was the night, you ask me? Well, having being happily warmed by some vin fiert and a shot of Bailley's, you begin to enjoy the bar, with its love for 60's rock and roll music. You even get used to the curtains, instead of a door at the entrance of your room. But sleeping in a sleeping bag zipped up to your chin and under 3 additional layers of blankets takes a bit of getting used to, especially if, like me, you are a mover and shaker in your dreams. you end up moving and shaking those layers off. Not a good idea in a room of ice.

Would I do this again? In a heartbeat! This was one trip I'm not going to forget in a hurry...although I'm in no rush to relive our drive back to Bucharest battling bumper-to-bumper traffic.

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