Surprising Snow North of Karoo, a Christmas in July

Swartberg Pass near Karoo snow Christmas July South Africa

South Africans were gifted with surprising snow near Karoo, so I invite you to a Christmas in July with fresh images of snow, a Christmas tree from Bucharest and some magical doors for Thursday Doors.

While we enjoy a morning as sunny as an ice cream up here, near Pretoria, with temperatures of minus 1 degree Celsius (it is winter after all), further in the south of South Africa Antarctic pulses surprised us with snowfall.

These images were taken by members of our (very) extended South African family and we thank them for sharing the magic with us, special thanks to Cobus Pretorius.

Snow covering the road between Oudtshoorn and Swartberg Pass, South Africa, July 2021
Fresh snow covers the road between Oudtshoorn and Swartberg Pass, South Africa, July 2021

Oudtshoorn is a town in the Klein Karoo area of South Africa’s Western Cape, some 1200km south of Pretoria. Karoo is derived from the local Khoisan language, meaning ‘land of thirst.’

One would imagine that mermaids belong to the sea, and their legends are to be forever rocked by waves. It is not so.

Oudtshoorn Swartberg mountain pass snow July 2021 .jpg
Oudtshoorn Swartberg mountain pass snow July 2021

Mermaids, Watermeid, are said to inhabit ( have inhabited?) the rock pools between the Klein (Little) and Groot (Great) Karoo. That’s less than 50km from Oudtshoorn, and along the Meiringspoort mountain pass. Here, charming mermaids with alabaster hair cascading over their shoulders snatch, not lure, travelers, pulling them into their underground water holes. And ancient Khoi-San rock paintings still illustrate this legend .

Oudtshoorn pass snow July202

Further up to Swartberg Pass (Black Mountain Pass in Afrikaans) the road twists and turns, as these mountains mean business, shielding the Little Karoo to the north.

Swartberg Pass is located between Oudtshoorn in the south and Prince Albert in the north. This time, only the bravest shall pass through the foggy snowfall.

Swartberg Pass snow July South Africa
Swartberg Pass snow July South Africa

A car door covered by a layer of fluffy snow. Hard to resist the urge of tracing a Christmas tree on it, isn’t it?

Snow in South Africa
Snow in South Africa

It reminded me of a past winter holiday we spent in Sighisoara, Romania. Here, a century old house with a dragon emblem on it. I particularly like the glass bricks embedded in its door:

Another winding road, one that’s best to take on foot, as it snakes among medieval homes, and still standing (see the Historical Monument badge on the blue home?) in the upper fortress of Sighisoara:

And since we celebrate surprising snow over Karoo and a Christmas in July, here’s a Christmas tree from Bucharest:

Today the Palace of Agriculture and Domains, the edifice you see above and below was inaugurated in 1895 after the plans of Swiss architect Louis Pierre Blanc, the main building designed in the French Renaissance style. End of 19th century was a time of modernizing Bucharest.

The Palace of Agriculture and Domains, Bucharest
The Palace of Agriculture and Domains, Bucharest

I like this architect quite a bit as he also designed the main building of the University of Medicine and Pharmacy Carol Davila, Bucharest, where I studied (in a different lifetime). And a gorgeous place it is too – down to the basement where the dissection labs were buried.

thursday doors, 100 words story

For Dan Antion’s exciting Thursday Doors – weekly challenge for door lovers from all over the world hosted over on his incredible blog No Facilities.

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Classical or Innovative, Glass and Brick in Bucharest

Bucharest Royal Courthouse Curtea Veche Vlad Tepes

Be it classical or innovative, the futuristic glass architecture shakes hands with classical, elegant brick structures more often than some would want in Bucharest, Romania.

Classical or Innovative, Glass and Brick in Bucharest. Bucharest Royal Courthouse Curtea Veche Vlad Tepes
Bucharest, the Royal Courthouse, Curtea Veche, of Voivode Vlad Tepes reflected in a futuristic glass building

Zlatari Church on Calea Victoriei, Bucharest, reflected in the glass walls of an innovative office building from across the street. My daughter took this picture:

Zlatari Church, square photo
Zlatari Church, Bucharest
Classical or Innovative, Glass and Brick in Bucharest. Bucharest, old neoclassical, new glass buildings on Victoria Avenue, Calea Victoriei
Bucharest, old neoclassical, new glass buildings on Victoria Avenue, Calea Victoriei

One of our favorite bookshops in Romania is Carturesti, where one can spend whimsical hours, undisturbed. The shop below is on a narrow street, in a refurbished old building.

View towards the roof…

Carturesti Carusel Bookshop

… and a view of the door:

Carturesti bookshop Lipscani, Bucharest
Carturesti Carusel Bookshop, the one on Lipscani Street, Bucharest. “Book. Tea. Music. Frills.”

Among countless other bookshops, there are about eight Carturesti bookshops in Bucharest alone. Here’s another one, Carturesti Verona. Don’t be fooled by he modest one story entrance. The shop is a maze of rooms and floors and it had a restaurant with a garden at the back!

Carturesti Verona, Bookshop
Carturesti Verona, Bookshop

I love the entrance door to Carturesti Verona. The old wooden door was kept untouched, but a glass-panel door was added. The various rooms displaying books, CDs, gifts, teas… kept the original doors:

You can enjoy stories about Bucharest in my blog post Vlad Tepes, Bucharest, and a Medieval Curse out of Context. For simply unusual sights and seeings, Look Up in Bucharest with me.

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thursday doors, 100 words story

Thursday Doors is a blog feature everyone can take part in, hosted by Dan Antion over at No Facilities blog where you can discover more doors from around the world.

Subscribe to my e-Newsletter for fun and informative content on dogs, books, history, folklore and a castle or two:

Vlad Tepes, Bucharest, and a Medieval Curse out of Context

Vlad Tepes Bucharest curse

Vlad Tepes built a fortified fortress in 1458 Bucharest part of his defense plan against Ottoman attacks, no curse here. Vlad’s princely court remained at Târgovişte, but with fortresses at Bucharest, Comana and Snagov Vlad Ţepeş knew that his chances of fighting off any Turkish bad spells increased.

Vlad the Impaler, Curtea Veche Bucuresti

Thus, the Royal Courthouse, Curtea Veche, Vlad’s royal palace soon became the heart of Bucharest, a city nesting between the rivers of Dâmboviţa and Colentina, and with the rivulet of Bucureştioara (Little Bucharest) as a defense moat for the fortress.

Vlad-Impaler-Curtea-Veche-Bucharest

Today the plains surrounding Bucharest, the capital city of Romania are flat, and intensely involved in agriculture. But during the Middle Ages a dense forest grew here, known as Codrii Vlăsiei, the Lowland Woods (stretching it a bit, the Vlach’s Woodland). It was here, on a hill in the town of Bucur, Bucuresti, that Vlad ordered master builders from Brasov to raise him a brick and stone fortress.

Vlad-Impaler-Curtea-Veche-Bucharest close up

It is Vlad the Impaler’s Charter from 20 September 1459 that is the first ever official mention on Bucharest, thus the city’s birth certificate.

Vlad-Impaler-fortress-Bucharest

Although legend says that Bucharest’s foundation was set by a shepherd, Bucur, it is most plausible that the city was founded by Mircea cel Bătrân, Mircea the Elder, Wallachian ruler and Vlad Tepes’ paternal grandfather, on a prehistorical site.

A paragraph was included at the end of the document signed by Vlad the Impaler, document that also mentions land being purchased and sold, and such wording was common during those times in order to oblige everyone to honor the terms of the contract:

document atestare Bucuresti Vlad Tepes

“S-a scris în septembrie 20, în cetatea București, în anul 6968 (1459) Io Vlad voievod, din mila lui Dumnezeu, domn”.
“Written on September 20, in the citadel of Bucharest, in year 6968 (1459), I Vlad voievode, by the mercy of God, ruler.”

Bucharest today
A building in Bucharest.

“And he and his flesh shall be destroyed by the word of the good Lord and in the afterlife his soul shall be with Judas and Arius and with others that said: his blood over them and over their children, what it is and it will always be forever, amen.”
In the Romanian translation (as the document was originally written in Slavic, the language widely used in the Tara Romaneasca at that time:
“Pe acela Domnul Dumnezeu să-l nimicească şi să-l ucidă aici cu trupul, iar în veacul viitor sufletul lui, să fie părtaş lui Iuda şi lui Arie şi cu ceilalti care au spus: sângele lui asupra lor şi asupra copiilor lor, ceea ce este şi va fi in veci, amin.”

Romanian Commercal Bank, BCR, at Universitate Square, Bucharest
Romanian Commerical Bank, BCR, at University Square, Bucharest

Taken out of context, along the years many decided to see this curse as having being cast upon the city of Bucharest itself, yet it is not. How could it be, when Vlad the Impaler’s heart beat for his land and his people – and Vlad wrote the above charter “with his whole benevolence, with a clean and enlightened heart,” – “cu a sa bunăvoinţă, cu inimă curată şi luminată“

Bucuresti Liceul Lazar
Bucharest Lazar Highschool near Cismigiu Park

Invoking Divine wrath against those who don’t follow the Price’s or Voievode’s command was common practice in documents written in both Latin and Slavic during those times (especially between the 14ht and the 17th centuries), by the rulers of Ţara Romaneasca and Moldova. Such fashion came from the Byzantine Empire, through the Orthodox church, or influenced by the rulers of the countries south of Danube. The Hungarian rulers, however, under the Catholic faith, used not such means of threat in their official documents.

Bucharest, closing the door on history
Bucharest, closing the door on history

I grew up in Bucharest and lived there for nearly three decades, I couldn’t have left this one slip, Vlad Tepes built a royal fortified fortress in Bucharest, Curtea Veche, but the Medieval curse connected with it is out of Context 🙂 Bucharest is a vibrant, beautiful city, filled with history, art, and wonderful people.

thursday doors, 100 words story

Thursday Doors is a blog feature everyone can take part in, hosted by Dan Antion over at No Facilities – where you can discover more doors from around the world.

Red Carpet or Lavender Fields? Unusual Thursday Doors

red carpet Thursday doors

If you would have to choose, red carpet or lavender fields, your choice would be… but before you answer, let’s see what’s all about on this week’s Thursday Doors.

One of the last places where I would like to be photographed is on my way to the ladies restroom, the toilet, the loo, the john, the privy, the outhouse… Yet there is such a place in Romania, although the flashes coming on as one would stroll along don’t take actual pictures. It is the Park Lake Mall in Bucharest.

With the Oscars around the corner, here’s how it might feel walking down the red carpet:

Red Carpet or Lavender Fields, unusual Thursday Doors

Are you sure you are dressed up for the occasion? Left or right…

Red Carpet or Lavender Fields, unusual Thursday Doors. Park Lane Mall Oscars toilet entrance

If the red carpet is not your thing, then a field of French lavender, and this way’s to the Ladies room, past the French bistro.

The upside down toilet is all about decor, you have to take my word for it 🙂

Red Carpet or Lavender Fields, unusual Thursday Doors. Park Lane Mall upside down toilet

And you may hold onto the wall as you make your way.

See? All is well inside.

Red Carpet or Lavender Fields, unusual Thursday Doors. Park Lane Mall upside down toilet

Oh, and before you leave the mall, do remember where you parked your car 🙂

Mini Cooper cars hinting towards the Ladies and Gents

Public toilets are never my favorite spot – whose are ? – but this place will always be remembered as an adventure 🙂

Now, I do owe you some doors, so here is the entrance to the Nazareth House in Pretoria, an NGO living facility for old people. My daughter’s high-school choir used to hold their annual concerts there 🙂

Nazareth House opened on the 26th of October 1952. The first Sisters of Nazareth arrived in South Africa in 1881 at the invitation of the Bishop of Cape Town. Their mission was to care for indigent elderly and orphaned children.

Doors are often seen as a place of transition, as well as an opportunity for good or evil forces to enter or leave, hence doorways are often guarded, as you can see in the images above.

Shh, choir practice 🙂

The door below, this one’s seen as a right of passage… you have to be a soprano or an alto, a tenor or a bass to walk through this door 🙂

Nazareth House Pretoria, side entrance into the chapel
Nazareth House Pretoria, side entrance into the chapel

I have fond memories of this place. The chapel is spacious, without being large, and it would always fill to capacity during the annual choir concert. Seated on long, wooden benches we would tighten the rows to make space for a late arrival. There was a feeling of togetherness. I wonder if it will prevail after all the space the Covid-19 Pandemic will leave behind.

Nazareth House, Pretoria, the chapel
Nazareth House choir performance
thursday doors, 100 words story

Thursday Doors is a blog feature everyone can take part in, hosted by Dan Antion over at No Facilities – where you can discover more doors from around the world.

Travel Through Doors, Best of 2020

thursday doors, travel to Romania

Travel Through Doors and discover the best doors as seen in my 2020 Thursday Doors blog posts. Thursday Doors is a blog feature everyone can take part in, initiated by Norm who later presented the baton to Dan.

Dan has a Badge Idea contest for Thursday Doors running until 11:59 pm Thursday, December 31st (North American Eastern Time). Check his website for rules and maybe give it a try! The last image in this blog post is my entry.

Ans so it began, my journey around Europe (okay, mostly Romania) for Thursday Doors. We first traveled to Brasov, with The Church Door, a (very) short story:

Beth Israel Synagogue in Brasov and the story of a door...
Beth Israel Synagogue in Brasov

The Village Museum of Bucharest was next, with its carved wooden doors. We looked at a few and also at what their carved symbols mean:

Village Museum Bucharest, wood carvings, symbols and meaning
Village Museum Bucharest: a wood structure brought here all the way from the north of Romania, from Breaza, from a hamlet situated at a height of 1 200m together with an entire household that belonged to a family of huțulii (huțanii, hutsuls), an ethnic group living in the very NW of Romania with Dacians origins…

My all time favorite must be this 500 years old door from Corvin Castle who even made it through the great fire of 13 April 1854:

Corvin Castle, Romania, 500 years old door original
Corvin Castle, Romania, a 500 years old door

We looked at Corvin Castle’s Coat of Arms too and at two rather grand doors embellished with jambs, tympanum and pinnacles, and at a short history of door knockingfind it all here. And we returned in a second visit here.

And on we went to travel through doors with a guessing game! Bucharest or Paris?

guessing game, Bucharest or Paris?
guessing game, Bucharest or Paris?

Small shrines can often be found in Romania, build so that weary travelers can have a moment of peace, for thought, for prayer, for palliation. This is a shrine from Brasov, before reaching the Black Church as you would stroll down a winding road from Șcheii Brașovului:

The second image above reads: ‘This cross was raised in 1761 by Gh. (Gheorghe) Anania and restored in 1992.’

Our next travel stop was at a monastery built for peace, Snagov Monastery, where we looked at medieval plots and at revenge:

Paraclisul Manastirii Snagov and its full story
Paraclisul Manastirii Snagov and its full story

Snagov Monastery has seen a long an troubled past. Monks settled on Snagov Island, this snake shaped lake, during the times of Mircea the Elder, Mircea cel Batran, Vlad Dracula’s paternal grandfather and ruler of Wallachia during the 14th century.

Next we visited Brancoveanu Monastery at Sambata de Sus, a Romanian Orthodox monastery in Brașov County, in the Transylvania region of Romania, renowed for its white-washed walls. At the end of the 17th century Constantin Brâncoveanu, Prince of Wallachia, built a stone church (1688-1714) in place of an older wooden one:

Brancoveanu Monastery in Transylvania, built by a Wallachian Prince
Brancoveanu Monastery in Transylvania, built by a Wallachian Prince

If you wonder how a Wallachian Voievode built a monastery in a different principality, know that the hamlet and the land on which the monastery was built belonged to Preda Brâncoveanu, his grandfather. Who even built a small wooden church on it in 1654.

For a chilling stop we traveled next to Fagaras Castle to see its Iron Maiden, this symbol of medieval violence:

Iron Maiden of Fagaras Castle, symbol of medieval violence
Iron Maiden of Fagaras Castle, symbol of medieval violence

Bran Castle means many things to different people. To me, it is a door to heaven.
Legend says that the Doors to Heaven are here, in Bucegi Mountains, near Bran Pass and Ialomița Cave. That is you climb that peak on a clear winter night, you will be welcomed by a meadow underneath a dome of stars. And the doors to Heaven will be revealed to you. You will know it by their starry pillars, and by the energy that will seep into your bones:

carnations on a balcony, Bran Castle history, Thursday Doors
A romantic corner at Bran Castle- a secondary entrance from the Inner Bailey, a stone column and red carnations.

It was only fit to travel to a snowy place around the day of Saint Nicholas, December 6th, and we did so through a short story about Saint Nick and the meaning of the first snow in Sighisoara:

Sighisoara, the church on the hill and the meaning of the first snow and Saint Nicholas
Sighisoara, the church on the hill and the meaning of the first snow on Saint Nicholas

We said good bye and so long to 2020 with A Winter Story for Thursday Doors:

Sighisoara, face in door, Thursday doors
Sighisoara, a face in z door, for Thursday doors

Lastly, my suggestion for a Thursday Doors badge:

Thursday Doors - Around the World
Thursday Doors – Around the World