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Romania The Romanian capital of Bucharest is sometimes referred to as “the little Paris of the East.” At the center of Bucharest is Spirii Hill, where the Tates toured the Palace of Parliament, a colossal struc- ture, 3,700,000 square feet in area and 12 stories high. It took 13 years to complete at a cost of 3 billion Euros. The palace is opu- lent, but it belies a long history of severe economic hardship that the Romanian people have worked long and hard to overcome. The Romanian countryside provided a welcome change of pace for the tour-goers. “As we traveled through villages, every home had its own fruit trees, vegetable gardens and flowers. People offered their produce at roadside stands. We were again surprised by acres of sunflowers and wheat fields in every direction – we could’ve been travelling through the middle of America. “Hospitality is important to Romanians,” Jennifer said. “They were generous and welcoming wherever we went.” Bulgaria “During our stop in Bulgaria we were invited to a private home where owners Pavel and Ramona welcomed us with open arms. Ramona treated us to a hands-on cooking class. We learned how to make banitsa, a pastry dish traditionally served on Christmas and New Year’s Eve. “The custom is to add kus- meti – an element of good for- tune in the form of small bud- ding dogwood branches, coins, or fortune-cookie style notes wrapped in foil. The baked ban- itsa is sliced up and placed on a lazy susan. When it stops spin- ning, each person takes a piece, finds their fortune inside, and enjoys the banitsa. “Banitsa is a delicious blend of eggs, sunflower oil, goat cheese, and yogurt made from water buffalo milk layered between paper- thin sheets of phyllo dough. We watched Ramona make one. Then we split into groups and made our own. I was delighted that she gave us her recipe.” The Tates also visited Vidin, Bulgaria, an old fortress city and the site of the Baba Vida Castle. “We saw ancient wooden doors that are like a page from the past,” Tate said. “They were carved from top to bottom with a variety of symbols to ward off evil spirits and welcome visitors.” In the town of Plovdiv, they stayed in a charming old hotel and learned about the significance of storks. “Everywhere we went, we saw huge nests on rooftops, tele- phone poles and high walls. We asked the locals, who told us that thousands of White Storks make a yearly migration to Eastern Europe in order to breed.” Evidently, Europeans love their storks, which typically grow to 3 feet tall and build nests that average 7 feet wide. It’s easy to understand why, after that much construction effort, the birds return to their same nests every year. Some people even build wooden platforms on their rooftops to encourage new mating pairs to nest above their homes. “Legend has it that storks deliver babies and protect homes against fires,” Jennifer said. “It dates back centuries.” GILROY • MORGAN HILL • SAN MARTIN Right: Baking Banitsa with Ramona in Bulgaria Top: Palace of Parliament in Romania Above: Fountaini n Plovdiv, Bulgaria SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2015 91