Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Romania Part 2 - Bran Castle

Welcome to part two of my series of traveling in Romania. The first entry can be found here and talks about Peles Castle.

Peles was our first stop and Bran was the second. The two buildings are a bit like night and day. While we were at Peles, we were required to stick to a guided tour and it was extra to tour anything above the first floor. At Bran, we were allowed to walk throughout the whole castle at our own leisure which I enjoyed very much. Also, there was no extra charge for photographs, so I took a ton.

Another difference between the two is that Bran feels more homey. The furniture left behind as exhibits tells a story of family life.  Smaller, cozier rooms.  Dining room tables.  Pianos.  Personal effects that make a place a home.  With Peles, it felt like the royal administrative building that it was. More removed. More stately. Now some of that may be that our tour only included the first floor which would have been where all the state business was done.  I have no idea if the other floors at Peles include rooms that would be of a more personal nature and give you a glimpse of the occupants lives while they lived there.  I definitely enjoyed Bran more. You can read more about the castle and the royal family here.

Bran is also known as Dracula's Castle, but that is not technically correct. The actual castle of Vlad the Impaler is in ruins on a hillside. We did not go see it unfortunately. We were told the reason Bran has been picked to represent Dracula or Vlad is because the castle at Bran serves a similar purpose to his castle that was burned to the ground. Bran, like Vlad's orginal castle, overlooks the valley below, giving it an excellent strategic advantage. So while, we were not able to make it to original, we were able to get a feel for what purpose that castle had served.

If you have enjoyed these posts, check out my Kickstarter project, Romania: Timeless Beauty 2015 Calendar.

Bran Castle Exterior

Bran Castle Exterior
Bran Castle - Armour Exhibit

Bran Castle - Royal Clothing Exhibit

Bran Castle - Engraving

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Peles Castle, Romania

I'm fortunate enough to be married to an MBA student. Why? Because one of the perks is being able to go on class trips. We definitely jumped at the chance to go to Romania. How could you miss a once in a lifetime opportunity like that? The icing on the cake is the program was set up by the Dean of Business at the University of Montana. She and her husband are originally from there giving the trip a personal touch which was priceless.

When I try to tell others about my trip, I find that I'm often speechless. It's so hard to know where to start. So for the sake of actually finishing posts about this wonderful place, I will stick with chronological order. Mostly. One of the first places that we visited was Peles Castle.

You can read about it here .

I love castles in general and I enjoyed touring this one.  I especially had a lot of fun taking photos of all the decorative pieces around the outside of the castle and in the courtyard.

The most impressive  pieces on the inside were the stained glass window collection and some of the Turkish pistols.  I don't have any photos of these as I opted not to pay the extra 10 lei to take photos inside.  I'm kind of glad, I made that choice in a way.  We were on a scheduled tour.  I'm not sure the constant click of my camera would have made the guide very happy.  She was very business like.  My phone camera is pretty much silent, but wouldn't have done the place justice.  On the flip side, no photos of stained glass windows or Turkish pistols. 

While, it's been awhile since I was on a guided tour and am more used to going around on my own, we did learn some interesting things.  We found out there's a secret door that goes from the King's chambers to his library.  The lever that works it is behind some fake books which I couldn't spot until the guide pointed them out.  Pretty cool.  It doesn't work anymore though.  It's been sealed off.  The guide also told us about a lot of firsts like the central heating and vacuuming systems.  And we got to see the Queen's music room which was very impressive.

One of the observations that some of the students made was this castle didn't feel very lived in.  That rang true to me.  But I think it's been a museum for awhile and it feels like one.  Also the rooms that we saw on our section of the tour were very formal.  Places that the King did business, greeted guests and as far as I could tell just took care of the business of governing.  That, and the fact that you are on a guided tour, don't really leave a lot of room for feeling at home.

I would definitely recommend going if you like castles and are interested in the history of this area.  Also, if you like medieval weapons.  They have lots of them on the walls and a whole room dedicated to that sort of thing.  We were only able to take the ground floor tour due to time constraints.  I'm sure there's lots more to see on the other two floors as well. For me, while this castle was fun to visit, I'm not much for guided tours and I had a lot more fun at some of the other places we visited where we were allowed to wander and tour a particular spot at our own pace.  Although, I think I was supposed to pay more attention at the Roman Ruins, but that's another post entirely.

The series continues with Romania Part 2 - Bran Castle.

Also, I currently have a Kickstarter project in the works titled, Romania: Timeless Beauty 2015 Calendar. Fund my project, and bring the beauty of Romania home.

Peles Castle

Lion Statue Outside the Castle

Door Inside the Courtyard

Decorative Painting on the Courtyard Wall

Fountain Inside the Courtyard

Monday, May 5, 2014

The Insects of Yellowstone

I had the great pleasure of spotting quite a bunch of interesting insects on one of my Yellowstone trips.  One of the reasons I enjoy visiting the park is the abundance and variety of insect life.  Below is a small sample of some of the smaller creatures that call the park their home.

Acraea Moth Caterpillar


Bee on my camera bag

Plant Bug on the car

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Reptile Discovery Center at the Smithsonian National Zoo

We recently visited DC. I've never been, so it was all new to me. One of my favorite spots from the trip was the Reptile Discovery Center at the Smithsonian National Zoo. I especially loved all the different carvings on the outside of the building. The turtle holding up the post is my favorite. Simply because I know that some cultures believe that a turtle holds up the world. Just strikes me as a cool idea. In general, I love the detail on these carvings. To me it makes for very interesting architecture.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Total Annihilation

The egg clutch below belongs to stink bugs. I found this out by doing some research online. I even found some great photos of stinkbug hatchlings. They are the cutest little things. You can see some at the following link Stink Bug Hatchlings

If you scroll to the second and third photo you will notice the bug on the egg clutch looks nothing like a stink bug or stink bug hatchling. In fact, like me, you may think what a cute tiny bee. You'd be getting closer. I had to do a whole lot of research to figure out why my egg clutch appeared to be hatching bees. (I didn't think bees came from eggs per se - not ones sitting on a screen door anyway.) My first hypothesis was I had a predator who was eating the nymphs as soon as they hatched. Warm, but not hot. The mystery was still unsolved.

Then it hit me why not search for stink bug predators. I didn't have a cute bee. I had a cute wasp. In specific, Trissolcus sp. wasp. Some of these tiny stingless wasps have been introduced on purpose and some appear to be native to the southern US. I wasn't looking at predation, but rather a form of parasitism. These little wasps lay their eggs inside the stink bug eggs and then their larvae hatch first and eat the stink bug larvae. Not really a pleasant thought unless you are fruit growers looking for something to control pests. Then it's a pretty nifty solution. The benefits of Trissolcus wasps.

I'm not sure how I feel about this because from my point of view I was robbed of cute stink bug nymphs. Which, if they were going to eat all my trees, then I guess I would be a bit relieved and thankful for the event. However, if they were going to eat other pests, I'm sad. (Most stink bugs are plant pests, but some are very good at hunting other insect pests.) Not which to mention, this was a total annihilation. There were about six egg clutches on our screen door to the porch. There were two more by our front door. Not one egg out of 112 hatched a stink bug that I can tell. Maybe it's wrong, but that makes me a bit sad.

It's hard to say how it would have played out. And perhaps if things had been different, and my trees or lilacs had been completely mowed down, I'd have wanted a visit from predators. It beats pesticide any day.

I do try to see the silver lining. In this case, I have a cool story to tell. And I have another "nest" for my nests of stinging insects collection. (Although I guess technically this species doesn't sting. But it's still a wasp!)