Thursday, July 25, 2013

Transfagarsan: "The Best Road in the World"

Top Gear came to Romania and deemed the Transfagarsan Highway the best road in the world. The road is an incredible mountain pass that is only open about two months of the year because of harsh weather. We didn't get the same privileges as the Top Gear guys by driving the best cars in the world and having the road all to ourselves, but it really was a sweet experience. Gorgeous views and a fun drive in the Carpathian Mountains. We had both really wanted to do this for a long time and we're so glad we were here when it's open. Man, we love Romania!

^^^at the top of the mountain is a charming lake with a bunch of touristy things^^^

 And if you have no idea what I'm talking about with Top Gear, here is the clip from it. For some great views and the driving stuff, start at 3:40.

Good times.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Little Pick Me-Ups: Romania Edition

This is Florin. He saw me snapping pictures of his friends in the park playing chess and backgammon and requested that I take his picture as well. I showed him the picture, and then he kissed my hand (I LOVE how old Romanian men still do this: I think it's so old-world romantic), told me I was beautiful, and then told me that he hopes I have people in my life that tell me that. Maybe he sounds like a creeper, but I didn't think so. It was a compliment given in sincerity and it made my day.

Monday, July 22, 2013

To Know Them is to Love Them

^^^scenes of Romania^^^
I've been wanting to share my thoughts about my feelings of once again being among Romanians after living with them for 18 months (almost 5 years ago! I can't believe it), but it's been hard to organize my thoughts because I don't want to give the wrong impression or offend anyone in expressing how I feel. You see, in the last few days I've found myself more often praying to have more patience with Romanians. There are some moments when they really test it.

I did this on a daily basis (the praying part) when I was living here the first time. Praying for patience, and praying for love for these people. And there is no doubt in my mind that my prayers were answered. I love Romanians. I love their beautiful country. I prayed to come to know them and understand them. This is definitely still a prayer being answered, because even now coming back and not being a missionary I've been able to understand them a little better. They've been through a lot in the last few decades, and there is still progress to be made and lessons to be learned.

There is an expectation when you serve a mission that you will come to love the people in the mission that you are serving. And if you have complaints about them, then you keep it to yourself because you don't want to give off an impression that you don't love the people. I rarely wrote home about my frustrations with dealing with Romanians. I didn't want people to think I didn't care about Romanians, because that wasn't true at all. If anything, I have realized that I began to see Romanians as family whom I loved so much. But when you love someone as family, you are completely aware and more frustrated when they do dumb things. You want them to be happy, and it hurts to see them make choices that you know will not bring happiness.

The only other group of people that I feel like I know better than Romanians are my fellow Americans. And we all know I can write an essay even longer than this one about the flaws of Americans: the things that frustrate me so much and the stupid things Americans can do.

So in answer to my prayers for patience in moments of frustration, I am blessed remembering the good things instead. Sure, Romanians may be blunt to a fault, they may smoke like chimneys and take months off my life by blowing it in my face, they may be incredibly rude and aggressive drivers (highest number of car accident deaths in the E.U., but that's besides the point), and they may have even less patience than I have, but they are also some of the kindest I have met. Incredibly giving hosts, who make it a top priority to make you feel welcome and well fed. People who are willing to help you in any way they can. People who just want you to be happy.

I hold on to those moments and to those people and keep them in an easily accesible part of my memory to bring out in moments of frustration and impatience. And this trip has been causing that drawer in my memory to overflow because I have had so many wonderful experiences and wonderful moments with old friends and new friends. We're going to miss them. And we're going to treasure the memories we have made and the lessons we have learned this time around.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

A Romanian Meal in the Countryside

 We spent our Saturday in the north part of Romania in the Maramures county, where you find rolling hills and the Romanian folk art and traditions best preserved. We had the chance to go to a traditional pottery studio and watch the master at work, and after we got to sit and have a Romanian meal served on dishes that he had made.

I'm never good about taking pictures during the meal. I always get caught up in the food and the company and never want to pull out the camera: that's why I only got a picture of the dessert. It was delicious. The rest of the meal was as well, and it was a very pleasant afternoon with friends.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Castle Hunting

^^^current guard of the castle^^^
^^^torture device, and the only pic I'll post since the others are cray cray!^^^
^^^this looked like a party scene from "A Knight's Tale"^^^
Victor and I have both wanted to visit this castle for a long time. We finally got the chance, and it was worth it! This castle is totally medievally legit. It was the home to Matei Corvin, king of Hungary in the 1400s (and was born here in Cluj), and friend of Vlad the Impaler (aka the inspiration for Dracula). Well, kind of a friend--when Vlad came asking for money he decided to keep him as prisoner instead. Speaking of prisons: the torture chambers in this castle were intense. Like so intense that kids under 12 weren't allowed to go in since they had dummies demonstrating torture techniques. Medieval history is so gruesome. The Tower of London had nothing on these torture chambers

Anyway, it was a lovely afternoon spent stepping back in time. I love the rich history of Transylvania. 

Monday, July 15, 2013


My most favorite time of year in Europe: early July when thousands and thousands of sunflowers are in bloom. It's absolutely stunning. Before I ever came to Europe I saw the fields of sunflowers in the film "Everything is Illuminated" (one of my favorites). It was so magical to see that it really is like that. Acres and acres of beautiful sunflowers. 

On one of our little adventures last week, we pulled over to finally take some decent pictures of these beautiful sunflowers---I've usually only been in a train or bus seeing all of them since you have to leave the city to see them. It was pretty funny because SO many people kept honking at us and waving just out of bafflement that we were pulled over taking tons of pictures of sunflowers. 

Okinawa's sunflowers are beautiful, but they have NOTHING on the fields of Romania. It's gorgeous here. 

Friday, July 12, 2013


What a beautiful city Budapest, Hungary is! We took a little weekend trip there and had a great time exploring this beautiful European city. Our time there was short, so we spent most of our time walking around the city and seeing the main sites. I would have loved to have gone to a museum or two or tracked down the places where famous Hungarians walked like Bela Bartok and Franz Liszt: but maybe next time. 

One of the main "touristy" things we did was a boat tour that was a 24 hour ticket so we did it in the daytime and in the evening to see the city all lit up. Budapest is very similar to the layout of Paris, where the river flows through the center of the city and the city is connected by beautiful bridges. On the west side of the Danube is Buda and on the east side is Pest: making up Budapest. 

 ^^^Tobias was on our boat!!^^^

 The culture of this city was my favorite part. Everywhere we went there were such talented street performers and they usually were found playing Hungarian inspired music, which I really loved.

 Budapest at night:
After our evening boat tour ended, we headed over to the Rudas baths, which were built by the Turks in the 1500s. One of Victor's classmates here in Romania who lives in Budapest recommended them and it was awesome. There were at least 7 different mineral baths of different temperatures, and on Saturday evenings are "mixed" evenings meaning male and females can go together, which is what we wanted. They're open until 4am and I would have loved to stay longer but our train left Romania at 2am to get to Budapest the previous morning, so the latest we lasted was about 1am. It was so relaxing we were practically falling asleep in the baths. Oh, I loved it!
photo source
The next day we meet up with friends of ours who are living in Hungary and had lunch with them. We had a good time and we always love being able to see friends all over the world. We loved our time in Hungary, but we were happy to get back to our dear Romania where we can actually speak the language and where we really do feel at home. It was a great weekend. I highly recommend hitting up Budapest if you ever get the chance. I really want to go back!