Sunday, May 11, 2008

Trip to Brashov

May 8, 2008 (Thursday)

Today was a very leisure day. We all woke up whenever we wanted and took our time getting ready. Some of the girls took showers and some of them haven’t taken showers for a couple of days. Whatever works for them - haha. I’m still not quite to that point yet, but the girls keep saying I’ll get there…after all we have no one to impress – but I love them even if they smell haha…we just joke and tease about their lack of hygiene. I love those girls!

Then after that we all got ready and decided to roam around Brashov. We went to the town square and looked around the little shops. We also visited one of the narrowest streets in Europe – you could reach both sides of the walls that lined the street. Kind of crazy. Then we ate pizza outside at a little pizza shop. None of the pizza had sauce on it. It’s so interesting all the little but noticeable differences in different cultures. It was still good though. Then after we were almost done eating a girl came up and asked us for food – we gave her a leftover slice of pizza we had. Then we gave the rest of it to some little kids playing in the street. Children are not shy in Europe – they aren’t scared of strangers and they aren’t afraid to ask you for things. Maybe kidnapping isn’t a problem here…

When we went shopping me and the other girls saw a good deal on a light plain colored jacket so we decided to get them. I went to use my credit card and apparently in Europe they don’t know how to run just credit cards. She kept asking for a pin number and only my debit card had a pin number – so Elisa had to go and withdraw money from an ATM and pay for all of them – then we just paid her back. It was so weird. Elisa said only certain workers know how to properly run American credit cards. She said she had run into the same problem in the past. So note to self don’t go to Europe with just a credit card – you will run into problems if the cashier doesn’t know how to run the card right, and they probably don’t.

On our way home we stopped at a church located near our hostile. All the churches are so old and beautiful. When we walked in there was a guy in a black outfit who was selling little trinkets inside the church – he must have been a priest or something. Then a really really old drunk man came in and started talking to us. He wore an old worn out suit, he smelled bad and you could tell he wasn’t all the way coherent but he tried to make conversation with us nevertheless. Immediately after the old man started talking to us the priest guy hit him hard on the head with a book. We had no idea what the old guy said – but the priest gave him a pretty good hit. We all just kind of stood there awkwardly. Then as we were leaving the church the old man followed and the priest guy hit him with a broom in the rear on the way out. The priest practically knocked his legs out from under him. I don’t know if he was upset because he said something disrespectful in the church, or to us, or because he was drunk. People are much harsher here. I don’t think you’d ever see a bishop hitting someone with a broom as they walked out of church, and if you did that would definitely be a funny site. It makes me laugh just thinking about it. Who knows.

After we walked out of the church the old man continued to talk to us and bade us
to follow him to the cemetery located directly next to the church. He took us to a grave of some family members. He had a candle that he wanted to put in a little lantern on the headstone, but he realized he didn’t have a lighter and began to weep. We went and got him a lighter and listened to him for a bit. From what we could understand from his motions and body language his brothers had been killed with a gun or something like that – maybe in war? He cried and we all just listened to him and felt bad for him. The poor guy – it looked like he just wandered the streets drunken missing the dead ones he loved without any hope of seeing them again. Once again I am grateful for this church – although it is never fun for people to die that we love at least we know we will see them again. That alone is enough to make a person have joy in their life. Families are eternal – such an amazing concept!

After that we decided to make our way home and contemplate whether or not we were going to hike up to the Brashov sign located on the mountain. The sign looks exactly like the Hollywood sign in the states except it says Brashov. It was starting to get really cold outside and it looked like it was going to rain so five of the girls decided to stay in the hostel and four of us decided to make the hike. I decided to go and get some fresh air and exercise. At the beginning of the hike we had a little surprise – Mary and I were walking behind Elisa and Melissa and all of a sudden Elisa said in a serious tone “don’t look back, I mean it.” Mary and I were so confused so we just kept walking and we didn’t turn around. After a second we were like “what is going on? What happened?” Apparently some guy in the bushes along the trail made a noise that Elisa and Melissa had both heard (Mary and I hadn’t for some reason) and they turned and he exposed himself. Apparently he was doing more than that, but they didn’t tell us what…I’m glad for that. Soo disgusting. I don’t understand how or why someone would do that. There are some sick people in this world.

After we recovered from the incident we had a nice hike. We talked about favorite movies and actors and about our families. It wasn’t the prettiest day in the world, but the trees were green and the air was nice and fresh. The hike was about an hour up and an hour down and once we got to the top it was all worth it. The view was amazing! It really looked like hundreds of houses from the movie Beauty and the Beast. It was quite the site….

After the hike we decided that we deserved a treat and we got gelato ice cream. It was quite expensive but boy was it amazing. I got a caramel flavor that was to die for! We don’t have ice cream that tastes that amazing in the states. I’ve decided that it is always so sad when you eat something and you know that you will never taste anything better than that ever again. I mean how many times am I going to go to Romania – probably not many…I heard the gelato is even better in Italy. I can’t wait to try it when we go at the end of the summer.

Once we got home we packed our bags and got ready for the train ride that left at 11:00 p.m. that night. It was an overnight train, and I was ready for a terrible night sleep. I am such a light sleeper so I figured I would be quite miserable. Anyways, we made our way to the bus stop that was going to take us to the train station. The bus never ended up coming so we ran back to the hostel to ask someone to take us to the station and he wasn’t there so we quickly called a taxi. We were all afraid we were going to miss the train. Once we got to the train station we didn’t know where we were supposed to go so we all went into panic mode – we would have been in big trouble if we missed our train and there didn’t seem to be anyone around who could be of help. However, we ended up finding the right car – train stations can be quite confusing!

As if the night hadn’t been quite stressful enough we almost got kicked off the train. Half an hour after the train left the station a short, fat, stalky ticket guy came to verify our tickets to make sure that everyone was legitimately supposed to be on the train. We all pulled out our tickets and he started speaking really fast in Romanian – apparently something was wrong with our tickets. There is something quite scary and unsettling about a large, cranky, Romanian ticket collector in a suit that is too small for his body. Anyways, he kept insisting that something was wrong with our ticket – that we were missing some information that he needed, but we didn’t know what. After a couple minutes of us bantering back and forth Elisa went and got a lady who she heard speaking English earlier when we first got on the train. Earlier this particular lady had helped us tell a teenage boy that was sitting in our seats that he was in the wrong train car. Elisa ended up finding her again after going through several compartments of seats, and the lady came over to speak to the ticket collector. She began to translate for us. Apparently when you get a round ticket on a train and are on the returning ride you have to show the conductor the ticket that was from the first leg of the round ticket along with the ticket for the ride to return home. Kind of confusing. In the states you don’t need to do show the ticket from the first leg of a round trip on your return flight. Anyways, 7 of the 9 of us managed to find the ticket from the first leg of the train ride which was a miracle. Thank goodness I like to scrapbook – otherwise I would have thrown the ticket stub away the second I got off the train in Brashov. However, Elisa and Whitney Scott couldn’t find theirs and the train conductor insisted on having it. Throughout the translated conversation he said that Elisa and Whitney had to pay for another ticket that would cost them about 250 lei. He was a complete jerk – it was obvious that they were with us and that they had paid for the train, but he just wanted to be a rear. Anyways, the lady who was translating for us did everything she could to talk with him, but it was no use. She told us that she even tried bribing him, but it didn’t work. Apparently bribery is something that is common in European countries. Something else new to me. Not a surprise. The ticket collector was so creepy. At one point when they were talking he touched the scarf around her neck implying that he wanted something from her. SICK! Elyse and I were about to pounce on him if he tried anything. Although the lady couldn’t get him to give us a break she was so helpful – it was a blessing that she was there. We probably would have been kicked off the train in the middle of the night otherwise. The Lord watches out for us in the most seemingly insignificant ways and thank goodness he does. By the end of the scenario Elisa and Whitney ended up paying for another ticket, and we were all ticked about it. Elisa called him a jerk right in front of his face but he didn’t understand English so he had no idea which was kind of funny….what a bumb.
After that we all made our seats recline and we made a giant bed in our compartment and turned out the lights. I took a sleeping pill so I would get a decent night rest and it worked relatively well…

May 7, 2008 (Wednesday)

Today we went to Dracula’s castle (AKA Bran castle) and we also went to see a palace called Peles. Before we got ready to go I took a shower in the hostel – which had no shower curtain or doors which was quite uncomfortable. Plus very few of the windows in the house/hostel had curtains. Nice. Anyways, as I got out of the shower and put my shirt on a spider the size of a quarter was on my chest. I screamed and freaked out. It was a great start to my day.
We left early to go see Dracula’s castle - which was beautiful but quite simple and up on a hill overlooking the town below. It was predominantly made of wood and stone, and the outside was surrounded by trees of green. Apparently “Dracula’s” real name was Vlad the impaler and the Romanian people actually really liked him. They view him as a strong and just ruler. Apparently he was just a harsh punisher who would kill those who broke the law by impaling them in some fashion, they would bleed to death and then he would put the person out on display for all to see as an example. Only those who didn’t like him called him Dracula. Our tourist said “drac” means devil which is why some people called him that.
The other castle was named Peles. It is one of the prettiest palaces in Romania. It was ridiculously ornate and gorgeous with tons of historical background and history. I wish I understood the history better so it meant more, but it was still incredible. It was so detailed and ornate that it would take hours just to look at everything in one room. There were paintings, wood work, art work and sculptures everywhere. It was so grand, and there were secret passageways. I wanted to play hide and seek in it soo bad…
During our adventure one of the girls in my Romanian group named Elyse passed out…so that was interesting. Poor thing. Apparently that has happened to her before. She ended up being okay. We all teased her that at least she passed out in a cool place. I got part of it on video tape. It will be a good laugh for her later.
After we visited the palaces we dropped by a monastery. I don’t exactly understand what they are – but I’m going to do a bit more research on them. It was pretty, and there were antique paintings of Saints lining the walls everywhere. Then a huge crowd of old men and women walked up to the monastery. I guess they were going to worship or something. The little old men and women are adorable here. I don’t know why they seem cuter in Europe than they do in the states, but all us girls eww and aww whenever we see little old people here.
After our adventures we went and ate at Bella Musica. It was so good and it had the nicest restrooms. In Europe restrooms are quite hard to find so when you find a clean one with a toilet that flushes it is quite exciting. All us girls were talking about how we never wanted to leave because the restrooms were so amazing. At the restaurant the waiter brought out complementary shots of brandy for us all…we felt bad telling him that we didn’t drink. Apparently they will do that to be nice every once in a while – give complimentary drinks.
When we were finished we heard loud music and saw a large crowd so we decided to go see what was going on. In the town square there were a bunch of performers from children to adults. Everyone was having a blast dancing and moving around. We started jumping around and imitating the dancers. We had too much fun…there were a bunch of shops around and we just had fun being in one another’s company – dancing and laughing. As we were sitting there I looked over and saw an older missionary couple in the crowd. I got so excited, so I told the other girls and we went over and said hi. It was so nice to see them – something familiar in a place so foreign to us. Pretty soon more older missionary couples came and we chatted with them all. I hope I get to serve a mission with my future husband. They were all so cute – they just glowed. That has to be the most amazing experience ever to have with your husband…be together sharing the gospel. So fun.
After the festivities we went back to our hostel and chatted with a bunch of guys who were staying in the hostels and traveling. Some of them have been traveling for like a year. I don’t know how they get by! I love traveling but even after a few days of moving around so much I get worn out. Plus I have no idea how they make the money to survive. They told us about their adventures, and I asked them all what their country thought of Americans. They said that they didn’t hate Americans, but that Americans were loud and boisterous and sometimes arrogant. One large difference between Americans and people of other countries that I have noticed is that when you are walking down the street in America you constantly see people smiling, laughing and having a good time. Americans are enthusiastic about life and enjoy the freedoms they have. In other countries everyone walks around with a solemn look on their face, their eyes downward and they hold a stern straight face. It’s like they have no hope. So depressing. I remember before we came in our prep course we were told to be quiet on the street and to not talk or laugh to loud because we would draw attention to ourselves. I’m still not very good at keeping my mouth quiet – but I’m trying. We are so blessed to live in the United States. I don’t think we realize how lucky we are. When I was talking with a guy from Germany about it he said that I needed to remember that other countries come from a depressing past where the weight of tyrannical leadership consumed their history and therefore their lives. He said that was a lot for people to carry. I never thought about that before. That would be a hard weight to bear. We are so lucky to be a citizen in the United States. We have hope for the future, a past that lead us to freedom to choose, and we have leaders that have ruled more justly than any other nation. God has truly blessed America. Whenever people ask me I can honestly and truthfully say with pride “I’m an American.” People complain about our nation – they should try visiting other countries where you don’t pass by a dumpster without seeing someone going through it. America isn’t perfect, but it sure is grand in comparison to other nations. Even people of other nations recognize the grandeur of America. Whenever we tell people we are American their eyes light up…it’s crazy.
May 6, 2008 (Tuesday)

This morning we left for a short trip to go see Dracula’s castle located next to the city of Brashov in Transylvania. It was my first train ride and it was nine hours. To be honest I was not looking forward to sitting for that long. However, the ride ended up being amazing. When the train ride first started it was pretty, flat, and green land. It was pretty view, but nothing too scenic to keep our interest so all us girls chatted about life and other random things. It’s amazing what girls talk about when we get together. We talked about some near death experiences we’ve had, what we were like in high school and other random events in our lives. I love the girls in my group! So much fun. We had a blast just laughing and chatting as we watched the countryside go by out our window.
As we got closer to Brashov the countryside changed and so did the style of houses. Apparently the area was settled by Germans and Hungarians. Little villages were everywhere. I felt like I was in a scene from Beauty and the Beast. People really live in houses that look like that! It’s crazy….
The landscape also changed. I’ve never seen mountains more beautiful in my life. I took a video of it, but I know it won’t do them justice. The mountains were enormous and looked soft, luscious and smooth. It sounds corny but I wish I could of melted and slid down the side of them. They were the most gorgeous mountains my eyes have ever beheld. There is no other way to explain them. It looked like someone dyed every inch of every mountain in a deep, green color. All us girls kept sticking our heads out the window and breathing in the fresh air and waving at the people as we zoomed by. I felt like I was in a dream world. It was crazy I saw people driving in cars, and then I would see a horse and buggy pulling a family. I didn’t know people still got around like that! Most of the people I saw were outside plowing their yard with a horse or herding sheep. There were hundreds of miles of people in small German style houses with long narrow yards. Little men and little women lined the land wearing little European hats. So cute! I forgot that such a simple life like theirs existed. Sometimes I wonder if we are worse off with all the luxuries and technological advances that exist. Looking out I couldn’t help but want to be a part of their world. At least for a little bit. Just being on the train and looking at the landscape helped me forget any problems or concerns I have had. I stared out the window mesmerized for hours. I haven’t done anything that relaxing for quite a while. God sure does paint well in Romania!
Throughout the train ride an older Romanian gentleman who was a little drunk named Nicoli kept talking to us in Romanian. It didn’t matter how many times we told him that we didn’t speak Romanian he still seemed to tell us his entire life story. We picked up bits and pieces. He was hilarious though. He was from Brashov and everything was “foarte frumos” which means “very beautiful.” Poor, old, drunk man.
After the train ride we went to our hostel which was the first one I have ever been it. It was small and quaint. There were multiple rooms filled with bunk beds where random backpackers stayed. All of us girls took up one room so that was nice to have some privacy to ourselves. It was kind of weird to have random guys living in close quarters – but I felt safe with all the girls.
Then we went and ate at “CafĂ© Romeanasca.” The food wasn’t amazing, but I loved the atmosphere. The restaurants in Brashov were cheap but the atmosphere was really nice which made it fun.
When we got back to the hostel we got ready for bed which was quite the experience. The bathrooms were community style and the sink ended up getting clogged after we had all spit out toothpaste into the sink. So then we then had to take turns washing our face in the shower because of the clogged sink. The shower head detached so we just held it for one other. After we were about to leave someone’s toothbrush fell into the clogged sink….so disgusting! It was full of water and about six girls toothpaste spit. We all started cracking up. I thought it was my toothbrush, and I almost had a mild heart attack – but then I realized it wasn’t mine so I was okay. There would have been no way I was going down into the spit water to get it. We had no idea whose it was…sick is all I have to say. It must have been some other random person’s toothbrush who was staying in the hostel. I guess we’ll never know…hopefully whoever’s it was never ended up using it…haha…GROSS.

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