before to my trip to romania, i think i was in some sort of funk. some might call it winter, some hibernation, some ‘site syndrome’ (in which if you stay at site to long you eventually never want to leave. truth). i think it might have been all three, who knows. but when the idea of traveling to romania was brought up, i didn’t dive right in as i normally would with traveling.
first of all, it’s winter and cold. secondly, as a neighbor to ukraine, i foolishly figured it would be the same (which is not what i was looking for on vacation). and as much as i wanted to just hibernate in my hobbit house, i knew i had to make myself go. i knew i had to leave the warmth of my bed, travel to romania and prove my prior assumptions wrong.
and boy did i ever get proved wrong.
with the snowy slopes of transylvania, ‘harry potter land’-ish feel, quaint historic cities, friendly people, beautiful language (sounds like a mix of french, spanish, and german), and awesome sausage romania in short — stole my heart.
my friend morgan and i did most of the planning and research for the trip. but the one, kind of important part, the crossing the border part, was left as a rather illusive and un-plannable. after meeting up with morgan in ternopil in the west of ukraine, being shocked back into speaking ukrainian (my brain still tried to throw in some russian words), we traveled down to chernivsti. the hostel owner in chernivsti warned us (quite successfully) that if we travel in an unmarked van across the border we’d basically all get arrested.
as the general rule follower that i am, i was quite freaked out. the situation boiled down to either morgan and i trying to take a marked van across the border and have our friends, brian and beth, meet up with us later or just say ‘davai’ (go for it) and stick together. in the end, i got over my fear, and decided that we’d just see what happens. and well…to get arrested would be a great adventure.
and so began the most spontaneous/impromptu journey i’ve embarked on (well, besides the time i had to travel on a million busses to camp to years ago, not knowing the language very well or how busses even worked in ukraine). once all together, we made our way one step at a time, never knowing if it would work, to get us to our destination.
we hired an unmarked ‘taxi’ from the bus station who drove us to the border. the outcome was questionable when i noticed a giant shovel in the back of his car. but no fear, we lived. for now i thought.
there were rumors that you had to be in a car to cross the border, no foot crossing allowed. but since our taxi couldn’t cross with us, we just decided to see what would happen if we tried. there was literally NO one else around or walking. cautiously we stepped across, anticipating a line of fire at any minute, but we were greeted with friendly “what’s up! hello! merry christmas!!” “i love america!” from ukrainians! it was awesome. and such a relief.
on the romanian side the we were greeted with the same friendliness. the workers all seemed intrigued by this group of roaming americans that don’t seem to know where they’re going. they even asked us to write down our names so we could all be facebook friends! i mentioned to one of the officers that we needed to get to suceava (pronounced sue-che-va) and then to sighisoara (sig-e-shwoara).
they spotted an empty van in-line headed to suceava, brought it to the front of the line for us and said jokingly ‘is this bus too small for you? too big?’. i couldn’t believe how helpful and friendly they were. before long we were hitchhiking to suceava thanks to help from the border patrol. awesome.
after the first day i knew i loved romania. we ended up sharing a train compartment with four romanian men on their way to holland for a trucking assignment. they all spoke english really well and we had a good time talking with them. they were even so kind as to share their ‘mama made’ home cooking. it was GOOD.
after 7.5 hours on the train with them we had to part was and head to our next destination. it was a long long day of train riding and we arrived to sighisoara at an ungodly hour, but our moods were still high.
city after city, romania proved all of my presumptions wrong. it might be in eastern europe but it is certainly much more westernized — the way people dressed (it was a rather awkward moment for me when, just a few days ago i contemplated the purchase of a ukrainian turtleneck with snowflakes and kittens, i realized that’s really not fashionable. but the women dressed in sensible shoes, like me! i wasn’t a freak!), foods (especially sausages!), book stores, and cafes. it was so wonderful to warm up in the cafes with a cup of good coffee and delicious dessert. to peruse a book store and visit a mall (i hadn’t done either in 2 years) was heaven.
in grocery stores we discovered, american-like mustard, peanut butter from poland, sliced deli meats, bbq sauce, and big packages of cheap cream cheese!!! we really thought we were far from where we came from. sadly, or maybe awesomely, food is usually the defining part of my travel.
after being in romania for what felt like a month but was really just around 5 days, we headed back to ukraine and the friendly border patrol. i certainly didn’t want to leave — not just because i took a HOT SHOWER almost everyday (i really really looked forward to a break from bucket bathing), but i would miss the friendliness of the people, running into so many english speakers, the up-to date fashion, the mountain views, and of course the cafes and bookshops.
i couldn’t have been more mistaken about romania. i’m so glad i didn’t let myself stay and hibernate. this trip, however short, made me realize why i love traveling — it’s never really about the sites, it’s the chance to meet new people, learn & try new things, to see where it will take you, and to sometimes (most times) have your assumptions proved completely wrong.
··········································· sighişoara, romania ······································
also known as the ‘perl of transylvania’ this quiet walled town perched a top a hill still has all the charm sighişoara native vlad dracula might have enjoyed when he wasn’t busy impaling people.
··········································· braşov, romania ······································
nestled at the foothills of the carpathian mountains in transylvania, braşov charms all that visit. with the christmas market in the center, the cobble streets lined with colorful houses, to the mountain views, irish pubs and sausage carts — braşov stole my heart…and my waistline.
··········································· bucharest, romania ······································
with the amount of french cafes, romanian version of ‘arc de triumph’, neo-classic/beaux-arts/art nouveau architecture, and a surplus of fashionistas, it’s no wonder why the capital of romania has been called ‘little paris’.
in total over the eleven days that i traveled:
train: 19 + 7.5 + 3 + 2.5 + 3 + 7 + 19 = 61 hours
bus: 3 + .5 + 3 = 6.5 hours
taxi/hitch hike: .5 + .75 + .5 + .75 + .5 = 3 hours
total spent traveling: 70.5 hours
total-ish traveled: 1,935 miles
also just for fun (and out of bordem) i made a google map marking all the places in ukraine i’ve traveled.