Friday, August 5, 2011

Brasov July 29 - Aug 4

After a looong ride from Bucharest to Brasov, I finally arrived in my beautiful hometown. I was very impressed with the very wide roads, and presence of roundabouts and flowers pretty much everywhere. It looked really REALLY good compared to the crowded Bucharest.

So, I found this hostel I wanted to stay at. It had really good reviews, and was exactly what I had envisioned. It's called Kismit Dao Hostel. Unfortunately, they were fully booked for the night, so I couldn't stay there that night, but they had rooms available the night after. I booked the room and asked them to find me another room at another place. They called someone they know, and the guy came and picked me up and drove to one of the apartments he uses for tourists. It was really nice. More expensive, but really nice. I had a whole room to myself and was able to relax, take a nice much needed shower and get myself organised a bit. I didn't really do anything that first evening. I did meet the other people who were staying in the other room. It was a room with 5 bunk beds, and there were 3 guys from the US staying there. They tried to convince me to meet up with them in Hungary at the Sziget music festival. I was very very tempted, but knew there was just no way I had the time to actually get to Hungary to the festival and also do the things I wanted to do in Romania. Well, maybe next year :).

So, in the morning, the guy drove me back to Kismet and I checked in. I got my stuff all sorted out and went to venture out into town.

The hostel is on a little road that leads up and over the hill in the middle of town, Tampa.

I walked out and the street ahead looked really familiar. I decided to just walk around and go on every road that seemed familiar. I wanted to remember.

And this is where I was. Strada Agriselor :). This is where my 2nd school was. I went to 3 schools when I was little. This one I remember the most.

This is the main entrance. I don't really remember how it used to look.

But this I remember. It's the back yard where I used to play. Between classes I always used to go here and play soccer with the other kids in my class. On the other side was an orphanage I think. This whole place looks so much smaller than I remember. A lot smaller. That ramp is also new.

I remember walking down this road once when it was winter. There was so much snow everywhere. Cars couldn't go by. The roads weren't even cleared. On the sidewalk there was just a trail from where people had previously walked. It was so much fun.

And this is the inside. I only remember the hallway that lead to my classroom, which was at the end of the hall. I don't remember this part at all. Maybe they remodeled it.

And then I kept walking. I was crying a bit here... I remember walking around when I was so small. I walked with my friends, went to the shop and bought snacks... I was so little and so oblivious of the world around me.

And then I found this place. WOW! This was my first school. I don't remember very much about my time here. I don't even remember how many years I went here.

What I do remember is the playground which also looks super small now compared to what I remember it like. I remember walking around and bullies untying my uniform from the back. It's strange how we remember such random things. I'm not sure if the school is still functioning. It was locked and it looked like there was construction going on there.

And here is where my kindergarten used to be. Now, it's just a parking lot and a bar next to it. I was so surprised. I thought it would always be there. I guess not many people send their kids to German kindergarten, or maybe they do, just not to the one I used to go to. It was sad to see it gone.

Oh, and then I saw this place. It's a restaurant. Has been there for a very long time. I remember walking by it and peeking through the windows. I could see the cloth covered tables, looking so fancy and expensive. I never thought I'd be back there peeking through the same windows again.

Down this road, a friend of mine used to live.

There in the corner used to be a cinema. It's not open anymore.

Going up towards the center of town.

This is the theater. I wanted to go see something but I didn't really have the time.

 Up a little bit further...

Can you see the Brasov sign on the hill??

And this is the busiest street in town. Full of restaurants and patios and people...

The center. SO BEAUTIFUL!!! You can see the Black Church in the background.

I decided to go to one of the expensive restaurants in the square here :). Hey, why not!! I have the money, and it's not like it was expensive.

I had a salad, red wine (naturally) and a tochitura. It was ok. I was expecting a bit more. But the mamaliga (polenta) was fantastic!!!

Then, I walked on to the Black Church and to my 3rd school behind the church.

This was the building where I remember I had my main class.

In here I had choir.

This building I remember was being renovated. It didn't have any floors inside. I always wanted to go inside and see what it looked like.

And this last building is where I had a class where I remember I was sowing. I think it was some sort of home economics kind of course. The girls went here and did sowing, and the boys took another class. I have no idea what they did in their class. Through these gates you'd go into an inside courtyard where we'd play soccer and basketball. In there was also a shop where we'd buy snacks and drinks.

I tried really hard not to cry when walking around here.

And then I walked right down an alley, and ended up on another familiar road.

I saw the guy there, and the sign, and I realized this was that famous "Rope Street" I heard about. I don't think I ever went down that road, or if I did, I don't remember.

Sooooo nice :).

Cobble stone roads everywhere. It must be difficult to walk around here in heels.

And this was a remaining piece of the wall that surrounded the original town. What history!! Amazing!!

I love how everything looked. All the houses, so old, such a distinct style. So beautiful!!

And then the actual gate. I think it might have been one of the gates into the city in the old days. How fantastic to think that soldiers used to go through here, or that merchants would pass through this gate, and all other kinds of interesting people.

This is Saguna. I think it's a high school. Not sure though. We used to go there when we had gym. We'd do all the Track and Field sports there.

The classic Dana photo :). Me and my feet.

This is a hospital. I might have been born here. Again, I'm not sure though. Just seems like something I remember. Might have been a dream.  :)

And then I went back down towards the center.

On the way, I stopped at a shop to get some water, and I saw that they were selling these awesome chocolate eggs with a surprise inside. I used to love those when I was little. They had great toys. You'd build them and then play with them and collect them.

And this is the bus station where all the buses come. I this is where I took the bus to go back home from school. It looks more modern now.

This is where the buses would come from.

AND!!!! Bus # 31 is the bus that I'd take to come here and go back home with. Valea Cetatii - Livada Postei. So cool to see this bus pull in :).

Then, I walked around a bit more, and around 6pm I met up with Ioana who used to be my English teacher before leaving Romania. She's also a family friend and is very cool. It was very nice to meet up with her. We went to a restaurant in the center and had pizza and beer and talked for over 4 hours. I'm glad I got to meet up with her :).

Then, for the next day I booked myself a bicycle tour of some fortresses in the area. There wasn't anyone else that was going, so it was just me and the guide, which was super super nice. We rode for about 8 hours in total, for 50km. My butt was really sore after that. Once we got back into Brasov, we had to walk the last couple of km, because I just couldn't sit on that bike seat anymore. Auch!!

So, I went from Brasov to Prejmer, to Harman, to Sanpetru and then back to Brasov. It was very beautiful, and the weather was perfect.

There is something unique about the plants in Romania. Well, I don't know if it's unique, but all the weeds, and plants, and crops, well, they just looked right. They looked exactly the way they ought to, and they looked normal, exactly what normal means to me. I was so surprised to see and feel like that, because I never looked at that before.

There was a guy there with some sheep. I had to stop and take a picture :).

This was Prejmer.

Very beautiful and well preserved.

The rooms there were used as living quarters for the villagers when they were being attacked by invaders.

And in the middle was a church. German, Lutheran, and I think it still holds service every week.

They also had a school in there for when the villagers were taking refuge here. It was very old-school, but it reminded me of my early school days.

You could also take a walk through the wall that surrounds the fortress. It was very eerie to walk through there, because you could very easily imagine what was going on there. People were fighting, people were scared, people were dying. It was war and it was horrible. The adrenaline, the fear, the anger, the anticipation... I don't know how people were able to live that way.

I don't know which one this was, either Harman or Sanpetru. They were all pretty much the same. Same layout, same purpose, but they weren't as well kept as Prejmer.

I had a couple of really nice moments on this trip. To go into these places, if you are not going there when the church is having a service, then you have to pay some money, which they use for the upkeep of the place. Well, at Prejmer, because I spoke Romanian and it was only the two of us and we were there on bikes, the lady thought we were a local couple, not tourists, so she let us go through for free. It was really nice :). Then at the last one, at Sanpetru, you didn't have to pay anything, but you could leave a donation. I did and the keeper there gave me a receipt. He asked me what my name is and naturally, I told him my whole name, first and last, long as it is. He said OK, and wrote it down perfectly. I was ASTOUNDED!! I don't remember the last time I told someone my full name and didn't require to spell it out for them or pronounce it slowly. I was so happy. Yup, it's Romania, I'm Romanian, I have a Romanian name, so obviously he man knew how to spell and pronounce it. FANTASTIC!!! :)

That's the symbol of my hometown. That's where I got the crown for my tattoo :).

After a very long day on the bicycle, I decided to treat myself and finally go and have some food at that restaurant that I passed so many times as a kid. I went and ate at Ceasu Rau.

They have a patio on the left side, but I wanted to go inside. That's where the fancyness was. That's where they had the cloth covered tables, the cloth napkins, the nice music... and the smell. Oh, the smell. There's a smell in Romanian kitchens. I don't know why. Must be the herbs and spices they use, or the dishes they make. I don't know. But it smells so comforting :).

So, I obviously ordered red wine. The house wine they have there is absolutely fantastic!! And I was looking through the menu and I saw this thing. What do you think it is?? You won't be able to guess it right!!

Well, if you guessed brain omelet, then you are a genius!!! It was disgusting though, so I didn't eat it. But I was glad I tried.

And then I got an assortment of BBQed meat, with delicious mashed potatoes and an assortment of pickled vegetables. And then 2 'mici' afterwards just because I really wanted some. I haven't had 'mici' in such a long time... mmmmmmmmmm!!

And then I went back to the hostel and relaxed, hung out in the lounge and met some really cool people.

This is my foot and the floor of the hostel.

This cool dude is Tommy. We had a similar story. He was born in the same city as me, Brasov. When he was very little, just 2 years old, he moved with his family to California. He's been travelling and living in different countries, and came back to Romania to get his birth certificate and Romanian passport. Very cool dude :).

And the guy with long hair is Vlad. Romanian born and raised. He lives next to the hostel, and goes there to hang out pretty much every night. It's a good way to meet new people and share stories. Very good guy as well.

And this is the reception and lounge and computers. The mural on the wall is super cool. Same as the one in the basement hang out room.

Kitchen. Very cool.

Basement hangout place. Very cool also :).

That evening I hung out at the hostel, drank some beer and met some cool people. The coolest was Daniele, a half Italian and half Danish super cool guy. The other one was Tommy, who's picture I put up before. I told them what plans I had for the day after, and Daniele was totally interested. So he joined me for part of my trip.

In the morning I went on a horse back ride through the Poiana. That's an area up in the 'mountains' where there are many hotels and resorts for tourists. It's very beautiful up there. So, yea, I went horse riding. It was OK. It could have been better, but the guy who guided my horse was drunk, and Hungarian, so he didn't speak a lot of Romanian, and he was quitting his job in 2 weeks so he didn't really care about it. He didn't show me how to sit properly on the horse or how to ride, and at one point the horse started running and almost threw me off. After that I told him to hold the damn horse still and make it walk, not run. Any attempt at getting him to tell me how to ride properly was lost on him, as he was staring at my ass and trying to touch my legs. It was interesting, funny, entertaining and just a little bit creepy.

I did manage to take some pictures in between trying to steer the horse to walk straight and ignoring the rants of my not so sober guide.

Then, in the afternoon, my guide and me drove back to the hostel to pick up Daniele and go to our next adventure.


We hopped on on the ski lift and went up up up up up UP UP... it kept going up...

Daniele! Very cute :).

Him being a man and all, had to carry his own seat. I got to watch and take pictures.

He looked a bit tired.

I was getting excited now. I could see the parachutes being set up, the city was down below, the air was blowing, it was chilly... Ooooh so excited :)

This was my guy. His name is Nick. And he was AWESOME!!!! He could tell I was freaking out a little, and was very calm and comforting, reassuring me that we wont plummet down to the earth and die. He was very cool!!

Daniele looking very strapping in his jump suit. The tall guy was his jump buddy.

Ok, last chance to back out. No way, obviously! But still... I didn't really feel very scared. I just couldn't really think of anything anymore. I was just shaking and feeling the excitement.

So now we start running. Nick stops and guides me step by step. He was very good about that, telling me everything that would follow so I would not be freaked out or surprised and have some crazy panic attack.

WHOAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!! I was in the air. It was magnificent!!!

I could see Brasov below me.

This was Daniele on the other side.

I managed to let go of the strap and hold my hand out and take a pic. I think that helmet was too small for me.

So cool!!!!

Then, after we were done, we went and celebrated at our new favorite restaurant: Ceasu Rau.

I had some Tripe Soup, aka Ciorba de Burta, aka Cow Stomach Soup. YUUUUUUM!! Sour, but creamy, with sour cream and bread!! Delicious!!

We ordered some house wine, which was excellent. I got the cabbage rolls and polenta, aka Sarmale cu mamaliga. Again... YUUUUUUUUM!!!!!

For dessert, we got some cheesy things: Papanasi. But, we got them to go cuz we were both super full. We were supposed to go to the 6pm free walking tour of Brasov, but were enjoying our dinner and walking slowly, so we didn't make it. We sat down at an outside patio and enjoyed our dessert.

Then we had our own free walking tour of Brasov. I pretended to be a knowledgeable guide, just because I originated from this town. I might have made up some stories here or there, just to give the whole place a little sparkle :).

I feel very short in this picture. Even though we are the same height.

A nice road leading into the forest.

And then we went back to the hostel. We gathered our new friends and had a little substance abuse party in the back yard of the hostel. It was great to be able to enjoy ourselves!! That evening, the 3rd adventure/trip that I decided to do was Bear Watching. It sounds exciting doesn't it? Well, it was all that exciting, and very misleading.

I kind of had an idea of what was going to happen, but I was still being hopeful that this wasn't what I thought. WRONG!! It was exactly what I thought. My tour guide, the guy who took me horse riding and paragliding and on the trip next day, he came with his super cool small but large car, stuffed it with 7 foreigners and took us on a wild hunt for bears. It wasn't in a forest, or in a park, or on TV, nope, it was in the back alleys of the neighbourhood where I grew up. Yup, my neighbourhood. Daniele and me were sitting in the back of the car laughing and making jokes and having a blast, making fun of this whole ridiculous venture. We were driving around from garbage dump to garbage dump, looking to spot a bear. If we saw a bear that night, we would pay the money for the trip, if we didn't see a bear, then we wouldn't have to pay. So you can imagine how hard the tour guide tried to find a bear. It was ridiculous really. But, like I said, we were intoxicated and having a blast. We drove around in circles for about 3 hours, and by the end, I had had enough, and Daniele had had enough, one of the people fell asleep, and another one just gave up. But there was this one crazy Scottish dude who didn't want to give up. He kept wanting to drive around and look for a bear. Like seeing a bear eat some garbage was some kind of miracle, and seeing one would have given his life meaning. So, after getting pissed and resorting to Romanian to tell the tour guide Florin that I had enough and wanted to go home, one of the girls said we can home after the song that was playing on the radio finished.

I swear, that was the longest song in history. It kept going and going and going... Until, the last few lines of the song: So, this is how it was... imagine sitting in a cramped little car, for 3 hours, driving up and down the same road, looking at garbage, sometimes in absolute quiet, sometimes the music is up, music that is super cheesy, from some easy rock ballad station, needing to pee, and wanting to go home, eventually hoping we don't see a bear so that we don't have to pay for this crappy tour... waiting for this stupid and LONG song to be over so we can be done with this pointless waiting... and the last 2 lines of the song... just listen... just listen....

na na na nana... I DIDN'T SEE IT, I CAN'T BELIEVE IT!!!!

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!! I pointed that out and me and Daniele started laughing like drunk hyenas!! I mean, seriously!! How could you not laugh. The universe had a little private joke and we noticed, acknowledge and enjoyed! The others didn't get it. Oh what a fantastic end to a crappy tour.

We didn't pay anything :)

So, after a day full of adventure, I decided to go on a more cultural sightseeing trip. I hired the same guy to drive me to Sibiu and Sighisoara to get a proper tour of the places. I had been there before, but with friends and didn't really get the whole spiel. Well, I didn't get it this time either. Turns out he was just my driver, he didn't really tour me around. It sucked but meh, I got some magnets, some fountain pens and some good conversation out of it.

I won't bore you with the details of the pictures. Except... this is Sibiu.

A tower in Sibiu.

My foot in a tower in Sibiu.

Sibiu from above.

Sibiu windows.

A church in Sibiu.

Then off to Sighisoara.

The central area in Sighisoara.

Me in Sighisoara.

Pigeons in Sighisoara.

Me looking at pigeons in Sighisoara.

Me pretending to be a pigeon in Sighisoara.

And now back to Brasov, back to the awesome restaurant Ceasu Rau for another celebratory evening of awesome and delicious food and wine and company!! :)

These were cheese ball starters. With house wine, naturally!

There were these two musicians. One with the accordion, and the other with the guitar. They sang very nicely! They'd come around your table and if you nodded to them, they'd stop and sing you a song, and then you'd give them some money.

Two Koreans who were at the hostel. Funny story. They didn't know each other. They met in Brasov in the train station. As they got off the train, they spotted each other, and upon realizing that they are both Korean and of the same age, they agreed to become best friends and travel together. That is so Korean!!

Their names: Soon and Joon.

And this was a super cool Italian couple. Loved his accent. I don't remember his name, but her name is Laura. We tried to communicate. Her English is limited, but with a mix of English, Italian and Romanian, we made ourselves understood. I realized I understand a lot of Italian. It sounds so similar to Romanian. Now I want to learn that beautiful language. I'm actually studying on my own, and next year when I go to Europe, I'm going to take some language lessons on the way :).

This was my dish. I wasn't super impressed this time. I chose lamb, but didn't realize that BBQ lamb turns quite tough and very chewy. The polenta and pickled bell peppers were nice though.

I managed to get a hold of Soons (one of the Korean guys) camera and started just randomly taking pictures. Here, we can see Daniele trying to poke his eye out for some reason.

Here, Tommy looks very deep in thought.

This is a tour guide that took Daniele and Tommy on some tour somewhere while I was off in Sibiu and Sighisoara.

Joon staring in the distance at something amazing probably.

Soon trying to eat his fork. It so delicious!! It doesn't taste like anything we got in Korea!

And here comes the music!! YAY!!!

Daniele and me stand up and show the people how to really dance to accordion music!! Who knew I was so talented :).

Group photo!!

That evening, we met another Danish guy that had one of the beds in my room. He came to Romania with his car. Not sure why he was there, but he was a nice guy. Daniele suggested, and also convinced him (Dinesh), the Italian couple, and me, to go on a road trip on the Transfagarasean road.

So, we left early the next day, drove all the way from Brasov to Poienari, which is at the bottom of the road through the mountains. There we visited this ruin at the top of the hill, called Cetatea Poienari, aka Poienari Fortress, 1480 steps up. That's right, to get up there, you had to climb an insane 1480 steps.

This is the picture of the somewhat half way point. It wasn't too bad going up. But coming back down... whoa!! I almost couldn't do the last 20 steps. My legs were shaking, and I was afraid they'd slip right under me and I'd fall. I took very few breaks going down, so maybe that's why it was such a strain on my legs. I was in pain for the next 3 days. Could hardly move!! Felt good though :).

The view from the top.

There was a dirty guard dog there. I wanted to give her some water and food, but I didn't have any myself.

Touristy crap.

Magnificent view!! It was starting to get dark...

And this is the start of the Transfagarasean. A very windy and narrow road through the Fagaras mountains.

We reached a little clearing where we stopped, took pictures, and kinda got our bearings right.

It was such a beautiful evening.

Daniele. He got to drive the whole way. He was a good driver. Didn't feel in danger at all. Well, maybe only once or twice, but he drove pretty well considering the crap condition of part of that mountain road. Whoa!! Big giant pot holes.

Night caught us in the middle of the mountains, on the crazy windy roads. Dinesh saw a waterfall and wanted to stop and drink some water from it. So we stopped. We were also hungry, so the Italians got out the cheese and bread and sausage they had brought for the trip. We ate, and drank fresh mountain water from the waterfall. It was really cool. Then, Daniel had another bright idea. We were gonna play Rock-Scissor-Paper, and the looser had to be left behind and wait for us to come back. We were all in. We did R-S-P, and in the end it was between me and Laura, the Italian girl. I won. Rock is always the best choice. But she didn't want to stay. We weren't going to leave her there, obviously, but to stay alone for even 1 minute in that dark and isolated place was scary. In the end, she didn't stay, and I think her boyfriend will have to pay for trying to make her follow through, but it was a lot of fun :).

After we got out of the mountains, we had to drive west to Sibiu and drop off the Italian couple. By that time, it was 2am already. No problem, we got back into the car, Dinesh fell asleep, and Daniele and me continued talking until 4am when we finally arrived back in Brasov.

In the morning, Daniele left to go wwoofing in Miercurea Ciuc, a town in the middle of the country. I was so jealous. I totally wanted to do that too... and he suggested I come and meet up with him there. I said I might, but he'd have to ask the owners there if it was OK for me to come.

We said a very sad goodbye :( :( :( :(

That afternoon I went to visit another family friend, Rodica. It was a nice and short visit.

After that, since I was in the area, and it was my last day in Brasov, I finally had the time to go and visit the area where I used to live as a kid. I walked around, until I found familiar roads, and just followed them.

This was an intersection that to the left lead to my neighbourhood, and from the right straight ahead you'd come in from town.

Those are the hills up ahead where I used to play as a child. On the left is a really beautiful park. It used to be very simple, sad and unkept.

And this is the road where I used to sled down on. It's a very steep hill and there wasn't a lot of traffic back in the old days on this road. The building ahead is part of the L shaped building complex where I used to live.

And this where I used to live. Staircase A.

The inside looks exactly the same. My mailbox used to be #6, the one that's broken. Was it broken back then? I don't remember.

We used to play here. Sit here, pretend to have a market where we'd sell mud pies, or mud coffee, or grass vegetables...

The side of the building.

My apartment used to be on the 1st floor. Not the ground level, but the 1st floor.

This bench holds a lot of memories. We used to sit here every day. All the kids in the building. We'd sit here until it was dark and our parents would call us in from the windows. We'd sit here all the time.

This used to be the play ground. Now it's just parking space. There were no kids.

We used to play here. It all looked so much bigger then. There seemed to be a lot more things back then too. I don't remember there being grass...

Lots of kitties everywhere.

We used to play here too. I remember playing cards here, and trading picture cards from gum. In winter this was very slippery.

The window in the middle was to my room. I shared that with my sister. On the left is my parents room. On the right is the kitchen window and then the balcony that led to the living room.

Back entrance. So many memories...

We used to venture here sometimes.

And, that was that. I visited the place where I came from.

It felt good. I felt I gained a lot of perspective. I felt at peace, finally, with my origins.

Then, at 11:30pm I went to the train station and got the night train to Suceava, to visit my family up there.

1 comment:

Debbie said...

Thank you for sharing this, it is very facinating to see and hear about a place in the world you will probably never have the opportunity to see! I will have to return to read more carefully, do not want to miss anything.