Saturday, September 15, 2012

Travel Update

It's been brought to my attention that I don't update this as often as a traveler probably should, so here goes!

I'm no longer in Turkey. It was an amazing place, but I rushed out to catch a CouchSurfing event in Romania.

A group of CouchSurfers created an "activity" on the website of hunting down Dracula's tomb. It was a trip that had everything. Not only vampires, but a vampire's a secluded monastery...on a forested island...surrounded by a lake and more forest. So the event was sightseeing, hiking and swimming - i.e. exactly my kind of trip.

After taking a late bus from Istanbul, I arrived in Romania (Bucharest) at around midnight. I hadn't gotten a Romanian phone yet and I didn't have wifi access, so I couldn't contact my Romanian host. I ended up sitting in the bus office from midnight to 7 am just watching old TV shows on my laptop. I love my laptop; the battery life is simply amazing.

Then the great WiFi/internet cafe search of 2012 was underway. I walked for hours around that crazy city without success. I inquired for internet cafes at local newstands and from random strangers, but no luck at all. No WiFi stickers in the windows of restaurants, nothing. McDonalds and KFC don't even have the stickers. Eventually a man on the street tells that the McD does have WiFi. So my first Romanian meal = McDonalds Pancakes (anytime you see pancakes while I'm still in Eastern Europe, read Crepes).

So internet problem solved, I contacted my host and walked over to his apartment. Octavian (that's his name) helped orient me around the city, gave me a bus pass, and helped me figure out what to do while I was there.

---I'm being far too detailed.

I took a walking tour in Bucharest and met someone who was also going on the hike the next morning. Great tour with lots of information about how the city was during the communist times (also saw lots and lots of churches).

I got up early the next day and packed my things in a little bag for the hike, just the essentials - camera, sun screen and Hayley Bear - in a little backpack that Octavian lent me. Unfortunately, it was my day to be a careless tourist and my wallet got swiped on the bus while I wasn't paying attention. I really want to stress how careless I was being, wearing a back pack on my back and standing near the door (it might even have been unzipped), because Bucharest and Romania in general get a bad rap for crime and I don't think they really deserve it. If I'd been so irresponsible in UB my wallet would have been taken as well.

So I didn't make the hike, I got off the bus, noticed my wallet was gone and went to the police. I guess I've been trained right, my automatic response was to file a report. But that was the silliest thing I've probably ever gone through and I knew it was pointless the entire time I was doing it. Octavian came down to the station to help me fill out the report since the police didn't speak/write/read English.

No hike for me...:(. That was my saddest feeling at the end of that day.

But light on the horizon!! I check the CS page and there were others who'd really anticipated the hike and missed it. So I met up with Noah and we agreed to go the next day on our own.

The hike was great, we saw the tomb that may or may not hold the headless remains of the Romanian prince who enjoyed impaling the wicked and drinking their blood. We saw pretty ponies hanging out on the island and we went swimming in the lake. It was a good day, then we met up for a game of Catan and a home made meal at Noah's apartment. I've finally learned Catan!!

The next day I met up with some more CouchSurfers for a tour of the natural history museum in town and then a walk around some parks. And we agreed to meet up again to take a trip out of the city to do some hiking in Brasov (Jason's old Romania site for the Mongol PCVs reading this).

They bailed on me at the last minute of course, but introduced me to yet another person who wanted to go hiking as well. Jo and I took a train out of Bucharest and went to Busteni where we climbed up and saw a tiny waterfall (with a cafe right next door).

Next day the museum group from before showed up (with the addition of my host for Brasov) and we all took the cable car up to a giant cross on the highest mountain in the area, then hiked back down. Great day ended with everyone heading back to Bucharest and me heading on to Brasov with Alberto.

Brasov was beautiful, just like Jason always said it was, it has a nice old town that is surrounded by communist apartment blocked. But these blocks aren't the ones I remember from Mongolia. They're tall, they've been updated and renovated. Inside Alberto's apartment was anything but spartan. And he had a gorgeous terrace with a view of the whole city. We took a night time walk around the city and then went up on of the mountains to get a view of all the lights from above.

Next day Alberto had to work, like a grown-up, and I was on my own to explore the city. I met up with another CSer from Brasov and he showed me around the city a little bit and then we took a short drive out to one of the places I most desired to see in Romania - the seven ladders waterfall. Jason had so many pictures of this waterfall on his computer that I was entranced. It was a fun climb all along the waterfall. Then that host had to work, so I joined up with the Guided Brasov walking tour and saw some more of the city (oh...I also climbed up to the big Brasov Hollywood sign). Brasov was less communism and more ancient history, a fun change.

And...the 1am train to Constanta! I really missed my Mongolian train that night. Romanian (and eastern Europe in general) oversells the tickets in 3rd class. But they sell the correct number of seats, then everyone else just has to stand or sit on the floor. I couldn't believe that...for a 7 hour train ride through the middle of the night, people were standing. I fell asleep on my bag on the floor and slept marvelously.

Sea bathing in the black sea with a big fire raging on another beach near me. And then back to Bucharest. I spent the next day arguing with the card companies and delivery companies trying to find out when/where my replacement cards would arrive. Success with FedEx and the card arrived promptly the next afternoon. Had a goodbye night on the town with my museum/hiking group and then hit the road for Sofia (1 day) and Macedonia/Albania/Montenegro.

----Really tired of writing now, so more later, I should be exploring Vienna.

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