Monday, June 30, 2008

Our Mid Semester Break to Budapest, Hungary and Krakow Poland!

Our Trip Schedule:
Friday – Departure
Saturday and Sunday – Budapest
Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday – Krakow
Friday – Budapest
Saturday – Home

June 20, 2008 (Friday)
The Lord’s Hand in My Life: Understanding of the word of wisdom…the effects of drugs can easily ruin a person’s life.

This morning we all put our second and hopefully final dosage of the antibiotic cream all over our body. Hopefully it works. Apparently the medication is pretty toxic….it definitely burns when you apply it to certain areas.

The workers were a lot nicer today, but sometimes I wonder whether or not they have much common sense. While the kids were sleeping Christina was cleaning the kids’ rooms and wiping all the walls down with bleach. It is a pretty small and confined room, and I know they don’t like to open windows. Those toxins can’t be too healthy for them.

As for new developments with the kids there weren’t too many today. All the kids faces are looking a lot better. I guess they have been treating them with medicine which is excellent. If the kids get rid of the scabies then we will be able to get rid of them as well. Elisa said that Sera lectured her on how “we need to be careful about giving scabies to the kids.” She replied with “ummm….we got them from the kids – we didn’t have them before we came.” That is definitely true. Romanians reasoning is a bit off and somewhat funny at times.

Most of us weren’t able to go to the hospital in the afternoon because we were all running around like crazy people trying to get ready for our trip to Budapest and Krakow. Annie and I stocked up on lots of chocolate along with the other girls. That is never a good idea, but you can’t go on a long train ride without treats. It’d be no fun!

On the way to the train station we had some random events happen…the first being that we found soft served ice cream. We were stoked about it! It’s almost impossible to find soft served around these parts in Romania. All nine of us ate our chocolate and vanilla twist cone like it was the first time we had ever seen ice cream before. It’s amazing how you miss the small and simple things from home.

The other random event was a guy who was high on paint standing in the middle of a very busy street. He was completely out of it and staggering around. I wouldn’t be surprised if he ended up getting hit by a car. It’s amazing what drugs do to people. According to some of the videos I’ve watched on street kids in Romania it is a popular drug. They put paint in a bag and sniff it. Apparently it takes away hunger pains. Kids on the street will often use it because they don’t have enough money for food, but they don’t want to feel hungry. Admittedly that was the first person I’ve seen high on it here, but I’ve heard you see kids using it in Bucharest a lot more because it is a more populated and prominent city.

On the way to the train we also saw a drunk guy who had no shirt on and his pants were halfway off. He was showing some major crack. There is nothing more disgusting than a halfway naked, fat, hairy, sweaty, drunk guy staggering around. I think Mary got a picture of him…haha…sick…
The train was a good time until it was time to sleep. We took a sleeper train so the chairs converted to bunk beds. I didn’t sleep real well, but I’m a light sleeper and I rarely sleep well when I’m not laying in a familiar bed with a consistent noise like a fan lulling me to sleep. The bunks were small, but they could have been worse. Sleeping was manageable until a mother, father and child came and took two of the lower bunks, and they demanded that the window be closed. We had the window open when they came in – it was sooooo hot. Needless to say we were all dying of heat for the rest of the night. I kept waking up drenched in sweat. Those cabins are small and with six sleeping bodies and no air circulation it is quite the miserable night’s rest. We couldn’t figure out exactly why they demanded the windows be shut. However, we have heard that you are supposed to keep the windows shut and your luggage close by because otherwise people will try and steal your stuff by jumping in or grabbing through an open window. Only in Europe would you have to worry about that. It’s amazing how prevalent dishonesty is here. The mentality is definitely “survival of the fittest.”

June 21, 2008 (Saturday)
The Lord’s Hand in My Life:
Not getting kicked off a bus in Budapest.
Overlooking the city of Budapest and intertwining the magnificence of the city with my personal thoughts.

We had to wake up bright and early at 4:15 a.m. so we could switch trains. I was dead tired – I didn’t sleep well the night before. The next train was about a six hour ride so I slept on it for a bit. For the rest of the ride we had fun girl chat. We also did a little singing and dancing. I was dared to do a cartwheel down the middle isle of the train, and I did it without injuring myself or someone else too bad. Elyse tried, but she hurt herself. Why do we do the crazy things we do sometimes? I have no idea. I also had to get ready for the day in their small and quite disgusting bathroom they had to offer. Train bathrooms are absolutely horrid. They are just as bad if not worse as the local port potty one uses in desperation if they are at a local fair. The train restrooms are about the size of an airplane restroom except they are a thousand times dirtier and the often don’t have toilet paper in there. If you go to the restroom and there is toilet paper you’ve hit the jack pot. We quickly learned we have to haul our own around.

When we arrived in Budapest Elisa and Annie had to pick up some more train tickets so the rest of us girls sat in the train station and picked out each other’s future husbands. We all tried to find the grossest men possible. I found a big guy with tattoos and spikes for Mindy. Then the girls picked a tall, lurpy and quite padded guy for me…it’s amazing what we find to amuse ourselves. We were quite content for at least half an hour picking out spouses for each other. We even got a few pics of them as they were walking by.

The first thing we did after we stepped out of the train station was attempt to get to our hostel. We ended up getting on a bus, but apparently you can’t buy tickets when you get on them like you can in Romania. We had looked and looked for a ticket place, but we couldn’t find one - so all nine of us were on the bus without tickets. We were all praying that we didn’t get caught. We weren’t trying to be dishonest, but there wasn’t a lot we could do…we didn’t realize we couldn’t buy them on there until the bus closed its doors and started traveling. Luckily the Lord helped us out. The last thing we needed was to get a ridiculous fine or worse taken to the authorities. We didn’t even know how to say “hello” in Hungarian…Needless to say we quickly jumped off the bus and started walking as soon as we could.

After getting lost several times over to our hostel we went and got out some money. We all agreed that Hungarian money is absolutely ridiculous! $6.25 American dollars is equal to about 1000 Huff, and $31.25 American dollars was equal to 5,000 Huff. Their money had so many zeros it took us a few hours to get used to it. We had no idea what we were spending on things. Then every time we spent money on something we felt like we were spending a ton of money. We grabbed a bite to eat from McDonalds and the meal was about 1000 Huff…I had to keep reminding myself I wasn’t spending American dollars…Another annoyance was that in order to go to the bathroom in McDonald’s we had to show our receipt. Public restrooms in Europe are ridiculous. Not only are they hard to find, but in order to use them you have to buy something for validation or pay for them. I kept laughing at the thought of my Mom Mia surviving in Europe. She wouldn’t last for a second. She has to go to the restroom at least once an hour. She always has her radar up for the closest bathroom…haha…she would be spending a lot of money in Europe if she ever visits.

The Hungarian language is quite interesting. It sounds like someone is mumbling the entire time. I feel bad for missionaries here who have to learn it! Not to mention that the words are ridiculously long…every word looks like it is five American words put together. It’s crazy….
As for Budapest…let’s just say the city of Budapest is gorgeous. I absolutely love Budapest! They have the Danube River that runs down the middle of the city with tons of ornate bridges linking the land masses together. I felt like I was visiting a dream land. Although I haven’t visited too many places in Europe, if I had to live anywhere it would be Budapest. We’ll see if I change my mind by the end of my traveling adventures. While we were walking around the city it was the weirdest feeling, because I had major dejavue. I felt like I had been there before or had a dream about it. The city was strangely familiar to me, and I had no idea why – kind of a weird sensation. I wonder where those feelings come from? Who knows…

During our walk one of the bridges over the Danube River was closed to traffic because a festival that was going on. The bridge was lined with individual vendors selling trinkets, vases, jewelry, purses, etc. It was soo much fun to look at everything. Europeans are very creative and very fashionable people. Each station had a completely unique style of jewelry or craft – which was great because I love jewelry! I ended up buying a couple of necklaces. Two for myself and one for my Mom Mia. She will absolutely love it. Then we ate in a little square with people walking around, and watched a silent theatre show outside. It was so much fun and very relaxing. It was a great way to start our little mid-semester break. I’ve had some concerns on my mind lately that I need to get rid of. Relaxing and running around Budapest was perfect. I’ve realized that I worry too much about the future and don’t live in the present enough. I’m going to try harder to enjoy the events that are happening right then.

To end the day we went and walked along the Danube River at night. Talk about beautiful! The bridges, building and huge castle on the hill were all lit up. For a while us girls just looked at the view and sat in quiet contemplation. I love having moments like that – moments that are peaceful, calm and you have times to gather your thoughts. It’s times like those that everything in life seems perfect and manageable – even if it is just for a few subtle moments… at least we have them every once in a while. Heavenly Father always seems to allow me to have moments like those when I desperately need them. For me it’s the only way I keep my sanity, and he knows me well enough to know that…haha… Then we dipped our feet in the river and chatted. Some of the girls had fun catching minnows….it was a marvelous end to one exhausting day.

June 22, 2008 (Sunday)
The Lord’s Hand in My Life: Good memories of family members that I love and cherish.

This morning we went and saw the largest Jewish synagogue in Europe – 2nd largest in the world besides the one in New York. The synagogue was beautifully decorated and ornate. What was even more beautiful was the large monument directly outside of the synagogue dedicated to the memorial of all the Hungarian Jews who died in the Holocaust. The memorial was a giant weeping willow tree with the name of someone that died engraved on each leaf. They also had an area that listed the name of all the people who helped save or hide a Jewish family or multiple Jewish families during the Holocaust. It’s insane to think of how many lives were taken for no reason. It’s even more insane to think that an event like that would be allowed to take place. Seeing this memorial was only a portion of what I would see at Auschwitz in a few days…
Poor Kenz had a rough day today. Not only was she not feeling well, but while we were walking around she noticed that her camera screen was broken from when she dropped it the other day. Plus her Mac computer decided to stop working properly. She doesn’t know what’s wrong with it…bad days like that are never ever fun.

After the synagogue we decided to drop by a local LDS church in the area for sacrament meeting. It’s amazing what a small world it is…Whitney Scott ended up running into her friend who was serving a mission there, and I ended up running into a couple of executives from Nu Skin. I saw Scott Schwerdt (President of Americas and Europe) and Truman Hunt (CEO) in sacrament meeting. I definitely didn’t expect to see them at church in Budapest. I didn’t know Truman well – I’ve seen him from a distance, but I went and said hi to Scott who immediately recognized me. He used to be a high council man in my old ward, and he has been very nice and helpful to me as an employee at Nu Skin. We laughed about how ironic it was that I ran into them in Budapest. I got a picture with Truman and Scott because I thought it would be funny to send to Jodi Durrant and Steve Rich (my old bosses at Nu Skin). Apparently Truman and Scott were in Budapest on business, and they decided to drop in for church. Then they asked me about how Romania was going and I told them about some of my latest adventures in Romania and the work that I was doing there. It was great to see someone from Provo. They were both very nice and pleasant to me…and I must admit that I was impressed to see that even on business adventures across the world it is still important for them to make time for church. They are good guys…

After church we went and looked around the main castle that can be seen on every Budapest post card. It was divinely gorgeous. I love the castles in Europe. They look just like the ones I’ve seen in movies. There have beautiful ivory sculptures surrounding the castle along with magnificent waterfalls and fountains. One of the waterfalls was absolutely gorgeous. I got a good video of it on my camera. It was so hot outside though we were all dying. I really wanted to jump in, but I refrained. People might stare. Not that that would matter too much.

After we checked out the castle we found a nice pizza and pasta place for lunch…it felt soooo incredibly good to sit in the air conditioning. To make the situation even better the restaurant had Pina Coladas…I LOVE virgin pina coladas! It was good, but not as good as the pina coladas I get with my Grandma and Grandpa Alexander. One of my favorite memories is going on the boat with my Grandma and Grandpa Alexander to eat at Paradise Cove – then getting the best Strawberry Daqueris and Pina Coladas to drink in the world. Then we will just sit and chat. My grandpa will usually tease me with a twinkle in his eye and my grandma will just laugh at his teasing. I miss and love them The pina colada I got at the restaurant was good, but it didn’t compare with the one I get with them. For some reason drinks in Europe don’t have ice. You couldn’t find a slushy if your life depended on it, and they never put ice in your drinks. It’s weird. The pina colada was more of a drink than an icy drink which was quite disappointing. Oh well….

During the course of lunch we each went around answered the question “If you could do anything you wanted for a day - that was realistic - back at your home (which is now Provo for me) what would you do? I said my ideal day in Utah would be waking up, having all my aunts get baby sitters for the entire day and going four wheeling in the mountains with them. We would all laugh and have a good time playing around. Then we would have a picnic in the mountains and finish the day off with a Café Rio salad and Cake Batter ice cream from Coldstone. I love being with all the girls. We have a blast together…

Right after we ate dinner, we bought a chocolate crepe next door that was amazing and oh soooo good…then we RAN to catch our train to Krakow. When I say ran I mean we ran. We were all sweaty and panting by the time we reached our train. It felt good to run, but I didn’t enjoy the feelings of panic that come from possibly missing our train ride. When we arrived at our cabin all the t-shirts came off and tank tops were thrown in place for the remainder of the ride. It’s bad news if you miss a train in Europe…really bad news…

June 23, 2008 (Monday)
The Lord’s Hand in My Life: The ability to move on from the past and look towards the future.

This morning we arrived in Krakow…it is also a beautiful city – in small ways the buildings are similar to those in Budapest, but I still like Budapest better. All the other girls like Krakow better because they say it feels quainter. Budapest is still my favorite though – Annie says its probably because I’m a city girl – except I’ve never thought of myself as a city girl. I lived in Houston, but I was raised in the suburbs. Who knows? There is just something about Budapest that I like... On a random note my hair is starting to return to its original color. It has been a little too reddish-orange for my liking ever since it was dyed. Thank goodness the dye is fading…I’m starting to look more like an American instead of a European. Europeans thrive on awkward and outlandish hair styles and colors.

After we arrived in Krakow we went and looked at Wawel Castle and saw the king’s tombs. They were magnificent. Each tomb had a different color, sculpture and design to the tombstone and casket. They were all each very extravagant – it seemed like each attempted to outdo the previous. When we were walking threw there was the prettiest orange marble color on one of the tomb stones. The girls started laughing when I told them I wanted my future kitchen to be in that color. I was being serious though….

Outside Whitney S. decided that we should each have a little photo shoot against the castle wall – so a few of us girls had fun making weird faces and posing in awkward positions. Let’s just say some great photos came from it, and I’m sure anyone around that was watching was quite amused.

After we wandered around the castle we went and looked at this market place in Medieval Square. They had tons of jewelry and amber at good prices. It was like a flea market. We looked at booth after booth. I didn’t end up getting anything, but I will come back. Amber is the stone that pretty much symbolizes Europe. It is very popular here. I think I might get a necklace or ring or something, but I can’t but it unless I find the perfect one. I have a hard time spending money unless it’s exactly what I’m looking for.

Later on we found a Hungarian restaurant. I was kind of agitated because I couldn’t figure out what anything on the menu was. I felt like throwing a dart at the menu and saying “I want that.” The language is ridiculous! I ended up getting something that I can’t pronounce. It wasn’t the most amazing food in the world…but it was okay. Then to add to the irritation Kenz and I ran to the bathroom at the restaurant (which we had to pay for) and while we were in there some guy started banging on the door loud. I thought he was going to break it down! It was so rude. Then I opened the door – Kenz was still in the toilet stall and I was washing my hands in the sink area – and he practically pushed the door down. Then Kenz had to hurry out because he started yelling at us. I don’t know what his problem was. Maybe he had to go really really bad? Whatever it was he was not happy, and he was extremely rude. I did not like him one bit. I hope he ran out of toilet paper.

In the afternoon we laid around the hostel and relaxed. The Moldova boys met us up here for a few days and hung out with us in Krakow. Jaron played his guitar for a while and serenaded us while we all did our own little thing. Some of us played card games, read, etc. I worked on my lesson for church next Sunday. It’s on repentance – I’m amazed with how much I learn when preparing to teach a lesson to others. Whenever I think about repentance I always think about how we all have our favorite sins that we don’t want to give up. When I say that I mean that there is a characteristic or trait that we each have that we know we shouldn’t possess. However, we don’t want to work on it because in some ways it brings satisfaction. For me it has been holding grudges. I know I shouldn’t, but when someone hurts me bad I have a hard time forgiving them…I’ve come a long way, but I still need to be better.

In the middle of preparing my lesson a huge hail storm passed through Krakow. It was crazy! I’ve never seen hail so big in my life. It was the size of an ice cube! We were all quite grateful we weren’t outside when it happened…it would of hurt pretty ding dang dong bad.

Later on in the evening we decided to eat kebabs for dinner (that were amazing) and do something relaxing so we went to a live Blue’s Club. It was really fun to just sit and relax. The guy that played the saxophone was a little weird though. He kept looking up if anyone talked at all – which people usually do when it is a restaurtant/bar….at one point while they were performing he looked up and stared at this group chatting in the back of the room with complete hatred in his eyes and vocally stated “why don’t you shut the f*** up.” Let’s just say it was an awkward moment for everyone. No one really knew how to respond to the situation. Needless to say we did end up leaving a little early. To entertain ourselves during the break a couple of us girls played “never have I ever.” I was cracking up at some of the ones the girls came up with. In order to get me out Elisa looked at me and was like “never have I ever had scheduled shower times in my apartment.” We have them in our apartment in order to help things run more smooth in the morning. I get teased relentless for my desire to have things planned and organized. Oh well…that’s just the way I am.

June 24, 2008 (Tuesday)
The Lord’s Hand in My Life: Living a day full of laughter….

I slept amazing with the help of Benadryll. I brought it on the trip because I knew I would have a hard time falling asleep. I hate that I am a picky and light sleeper. It’s so inconvenient when I have to share a room with someone.

Partners was the theme of the day. Instead of Elisa taking us to every historical site she had each of us pick a partner and do whatever we wanted for the day. We all loved it! Freedom is a great thing…My partner was Whitney Scott for the day. The first thing we decided to do was go shopping at H&M. We ended up being there for two and a half hours. It’s an amazing store – good quality, average prices and cute stuff. I think the only one they have in the states is in New York. Mary and MacKenzie decided to come with us as well. We had a blast trying on clothes. We’d try them on, show each other and then the outfit would receive approval or the boot. I was cracking up because Whitney S. found these Aladdin looking pants that she really wanted, but none of us liked them. She kept making excuses like “they’re really comfortable” and “I won’t wear them out.” Finally I was like “Whitney we don’t like them, but if you really want them then buy them.” She made a joking pout face and finally gave up in trying to gain our approval. Those pants weren’t going to get it from us.

In the midst of trying things on Whitney S. and I decided that we needed to eat healthier when we get back from vacation and get in tip top shape before we get home. I want to look as good as possible and so does she…Why is it that whenever it’s vacation we automatically justify our immense consumption of sugar, sweets and fried foods. It’s not so good for our figure. It’s okay though. I will have six weeks before I go home to eat better and workout. We are going to triumph in losing a few pounds and toning up!

Elyse, Mindy and Annie shopped with us in H&M for a few minutes until Elyse said she hates shopping and she gets anxiety when she goes into a store with so many things – so they left. She is a hoot…the rest of us were like “we wish we hated shopping.” As we were trying on clothes all of us girls kept saying “we shouldn’t buy anything, but we’re only in Europe once.” I didn’t spend too much, and I don’t feel bad because I haven’t bought any clothes all summer – plus some of the other girls spent more than me. Should that make me feel better? Probably not. By the end I ended up with a classy yet simple black dress, comfy skirt and two shirts. I was quite proud of myself. After this trip I have a feeling I’m not going to have much left for school in the fall…We haven’t been living in luxury by any means – I mean we’re staying in a hostel that costs about $15 a night – but it’s still expensive to travel. I’ll figure it out somehow though. I hate worrying about money. Mark my word one of these days I will be well off so I don’t have to stress out about it on a regular basis. I’m not trying to sound like I am a lover of money, but I want to have enough money that I don’t have to worry about going out to eat every once in a while, putting my kids in activities or taking a weekend trip with my future husband. Plus I want to be able to help friends and family members out if they ever need anything. My Grandma Rich helped fund over half the amount I needed for Romania which was a great blessing. Then my Grandma and Grandpa Alexander gave me my graduation money to me early. I wouldn’t be here without my grandparents helping me out. It’s amazing how the Lord has cleared up any physical, spiritual, monetary and emotional issues that have been in my life so I could come to Romania in the best shape possible. I’ve experienced so many amazing things, and I still have a month and a half to experience even more.

The four of us girls grabbed a bite to eat at the mall…I got a calzone which was good, but it would have been better with ranch. I asked the lady if she had any and she looked at me blankly. I quickly dismissed the idea. Ranch and peanut butter aren’t popular like they are in the United States…maybe that’s a good thing because they are both fattening, but oh how I love and miss them so!

At 2:00 in the afternoon all us girls met up and seven of us decided that we wanted to go rent bikes and ride around Krakow. That was the best time I’ve had on the vacation by far. We all had a fabulous time. To start the adventure off on a humorous note I haven’t ridden a bicycle in over 10 years, and to finish I got the only bike that was blue with a big horn on it. No one wanted it – so I proudly claimed it. The guy said the leader usually rides the bike with the horn so he/she can honk it to warn people to get out of my way. I figured I could handle that...When we first exited the bike shop and started riding our bikes on narrow sidewalks with mass amounts of people everywhere it was quite interesting. I was wobbling from side to side, and I (along with several other girls – no I was not the only one) almost ran into multiple innocent bystanders. I was in the front so all the girls were laughing at the sight of my biking skills. I’m sure I got a thousand bad looks from locals, but I was laughing so hard at my inability to stabilize myself I didn’t even notice. My excuse for my inability to ride straight for the first couple of minutes was that the bike was high and my feet could barely reach the ground. Then to add to the situation I used my horn quite often at the beginning. The girls eventually told me to only honk it in emergency situations because it was so loud it was scaring people…there was a lot of laughter on that bike ride.

Within a few minutes of riding I was able to balance and ride just fine. I just needed a minute to get comfortable with riding the bike. I forgot how fun riding a bike is…maybe I’ll get one when I go home. After a few minutes I quickly called Whitney S. to lead the way because she is great at navigating. Then I told her that I would stay and honk the horn if we needed it…once again with a smile it was reiterated that I should only use it in emergency situations.

The bike ride was so relaxing…the wind whipped through our hair and once we got off the main streets we were able to ride through the park and along the river. It felt soo good. I don’t think any of us could have been any happier. At one point we all started singing “Do, Re, Mi” from Sound of Music upon Annie’s request. I felt like we were a scene from the movie. We were riding our bikes in a row, around Poland, singing “Do a deer a female deer.” We probably got more weird looks…but we had a great time.

Throughout the two hour biking adventure I had two embarrassing moments. Admittedly the second I got on the bike I knew there was no way to avoid them. It’s okay though – my life is rarely dull. Through the course of the bike ride we went by a restaurant in Medieval Square (which has a ton of people) and someone in front of me stopped suddenly. I put on the breaks so hard that I flew onto the horn. Lucky for me the majority of the people at the restaurant were seated outside and a huge table of guys laughed and applauded at my accidental horn usage. I turned red and all the my girls laughed as hard as ever. It would only happen to me.

Then when I was riding threw the middle of the square there were hundreds of birds on the ground. As I was riding through them the thought came to me “I have a horn” – so you probably can guess…I blew it! It was embarrassing, but quite the amazing site. Hundreds of birds flew up all around me and little kids who had been feeding them started laughing. Poor Whitney S. hates birds…but even she thought it was a cool scene. Sooooo fun! I felt like such a mischievous little kid.

The bike ride soon came to an end, and we were all sad, but quite hungry. We ended up finding a quaint pizza shop to dine at. Our server ended up spilling a drink on Elyse, but besides that it was a great… food is wonderful.

We soon ran to meet Elisa and Melissa at a classical concert at St. Peter and Paul’s Cathedral. It was really neat…there were a few performers playing at the center of the church and the audience sat in the booths. The church was beautiful and when it was combined with beautiful musical it paved the way for a great atmosphere. Elyse scratched MacKenzie and my back. I almost fell asleep…but I didn’t.

With the concert done seven of us decided to get ice cream...that was a bad idea. The ice cream made us quite hyper (or at least that’s our excuse)…but boy did we have fun. The adventure of the night started with us watching a performance in the square by some break dancers. When they were finished the girls decided to dare me to go up to them and just start doing break dancing moves. I was like “I don’t know how to break dance! I tried once and I’m terrible!” They were like “that’s the point.” After I denied the first dare they posed another one. I had to run up to one of the dancers and obnoxiously and excitedly ask him to autograph somewhere on my body. I decided that I could do that, and I practically skipped up to him and asked him to autograph my upper arm. I was being so cheesy I had to keep myself from laughing. I couldn’t believe he bought it. Somehow he ended up inviting me to a party that was going on afterwards instead of thinking I was some crazed and obsessed fan. The girls watched from a far. They had a good time watching. I ended up getting his autograph on a piece of paper – the pen didn’t work when he tried to autograph my arm.

That dare led the pathway for what we did next. Somehow between the group of us we got the bright idea that we would do a street performance and put out a can so people could drop money in it. There are beggars and street performers all over Europe that look ridiculous. We figured we would blend in. For the act Mindy and Elyse did interpretive dance which looked amazing, then MacKenzie sang “Stand By Me” and Whitney S. and I stood on opposite sides of her and sang the “bum, bum, bum” part with coordinated swaying. We were laughing so hard we all almost peed our pants. Annie and Mary were in the distance watching people’s reactions and video taping the performance. My favorite part was this little move that Mindy did on one leg. She hopped across our imaginary stage we made for our self on one foot with her head down. It looked absurd and awkward, but boy was it a good laugh. At first we were all really embarrassed and awkward, but after a few minutes of performing we were used to making fools of ourselves. At one point we ended up drawing a crowd, but our laughter ended up getting the best of us and people would leave once we dropped our character. We were only out for about ten minutes and two guys dropped some change in our water bottle. I have to be honest though – the first guy probably just put money in because he accidentally kicked over our jar and he felt bad– then the second guy gave us money with a bribe. We each had to kiss him. We said we would as long as it was on the cheek. He agreed and all his friends cheered when we were each done kissing him on the cheek. Whitney S. jokingly laughed and was like “Guys! That’s like prostitution! We’re selling our kisses!” Of course we didn’t mean for our act to turn into that…so we decided to quit for the night. Mindy was like “I hope this was not one of those things that I do that I will regret in the morning.” We all laughed the entire way home about the events of the day and night. I couldn’t believe that we were street performers on the streets of Poland for the night and that we actually made a profit doing it. Who ever thought interpretive dance and an unrehearsed song would draw so much attention. Talk about a great story and a good time.

On the way home an old homeless man gave MacKenzie a lingering hung. We were all so confused because MacKenzie opened her arms in almost a welcoming manner. Then he wouldn’t let go of her. I stepped in and yelled at him to go away. I’m very protective of my friends, and for some reason I always feel like it’s my duty to take charge and protect the rest of the group. I didn’t think twice about saying something. That could be bad because I might end up getting hurt in the process…oh well…Maybe it’s because I’m the oldest child? Who knows…the old man didn’t listen to anything we had to stay – plus he couldn’t understand because it was in English so we ended up running away from him. We were like “MacKenzie what were you thinking!” She innocently replied “I thought he was just an old man that needed a hug. I didn’t know he wouldn’t let go of me!” We are all so naïve sometimes. I think I’m a lot less naïve than I used to be because of some experiences that have happened to me, but boy we need to be more careful about being so naïve that we put our self in obvious bad situations…

On the way home I noticed that we are all starting to pick up each other’s phrases and mannerism. Because of Mindy everyone sings half of the words they say, and because of Whitney S. everyone says words twice like “snacky snack.” Then Elisa always says “that’s rude” and “see ya.” We have all been around each other way too much and it’s starting to show….

June 25, 2008 (Wednesday)
The Lord’s Hand in My Life: Being able to understand how lucky I am that I wasn’t one of millions of victims that lived and died in the Holocaust.

Today was one of the most depressing and eye opening days of my life. We went to Auschwitz and Birkenau all day– which were some of the largest and most famous concentration camps during the Holocaust. I don’t think I can capture in words the feelings that came from walking through the various buildings and museums where so many people lived and died. Hundreds of people’s pictures lined the walls of every building. The picture then had the date they arrived and the date they died. Most of them died within three to four months of arriving at the camp. I guess when the people arrived they took mug shots of everyone. Even standing in the middle of Auschwitz it was still hard to believe an event that horrifying took place. About six million people died in the Holocaust total – men, women and children. Between Auschwitz and Birkenau about 1.5 million people were killed – the majority of them being Jews. It felt unreal. How could the Nazi’s rationalize their actions? How could they honestly think what they were doing at that time was okay? I don’t think there is any good answer, but I’m sure Hitler used persuasion, manipulation and keen tactics to get those under his control to believe they were justified in killing so many people. Furthermore, how did the rest of the world not know what was going on until after so many people were killed?! HOW?! So many things ran through my mind as I walked around. Ironically a large cross was displayed at the top of the main entrance to Birkenau. I couldn’t believe the irony. Elisa said they believed what they were doing was sanctified by God. I hate it when people use that as an excuse to start wars and participate in acts of genocide. I mean really? Everything that God stands for is love and kindness. How could anyone think that was okay….

There were several scenes from the day that stuck out in my mind. The first most traumatizing, sickening and startling scene for me was the room filled with thousands of bundles of human hair from victims that had died. The lady told us that the hair was from about 40,000 heads – barely a fraction of the amount of people that were killed. All the hair was behind a glass wall…but it was an entire room full and it was in heaps and heaps… It made me sick to think that all those bundles of hair once belonged to a person. Seeing how much hair filled the room made the number of people that died more realistic. Apparently they sold the human hair and used it in the German textile industry. It’s unbelievable….

The rest of the buildings had rooms filled with graphic pictures, a history of the events that happened in each building and rooms filled with people’s belongings that were taken: shoes, suitcases, glasses, toothbrushes, etc. It was crazy…I found out that most of the people came under the impression that they were being given new land to live and thrive on. Quite the contrary. Immediately after they arrived (if they didn’t die on the train ride over ) they were put through a selection process. Men and women were separated and doctors would evaluate the new arrivals. If they weren’t healthy they were immediately sent to the gas chambers to be killed. In order to avoid panic they didn’t tell them that though…they told them that they had to take off their clothes and stand in the shower chamber so they could become disinfected. They soon found out that they were being killed – then they would burn their bodies and dump their ashes in ponds or use their ashes as fertilizer. Disgusting…

Another horrifying thing I learned and read about while walking through the museum was about the painful experiments doctors would perform on live men, women and children. Many people died because of them. Some of them consisted of placing live humans in frozen water for hours until they died, injecting people with different poisons and bacteria to see how they reacted, performing surgeries without any pain medication, experimenting with different ways to sterilize women and other torturous methods for the sake of “research.” I was sick to my stomach after hearing all the stories and seeing all the pictures. I just can’t comprehend how one human being could do that to another…I don’t understand, and I don’t think I ever will.

After Auschwitz we went to Birkenau that is located a few miles down the street from Auschwitz. Sadly most people only visit Auschwitz, but I was really glad we visited Birkenau. It helped put into perspective how many people were involved. When we arrived it was quite desolate, but the scene was unreal. We went and walked up to the top of the main tower that overlooked everything. All you could see in the distance was barbed wire fence with row after row after row of housing units. I couldn’t believe how many there were. Many of the houses had been blown away, but there were still quite a few left in their original form. At Birkenau the atmosphere was much more relaxed. There weren’t any museums – just the barracks and sites of the blown up crematoriums. Towards the end of World War II the Nazis tried to blow up everything in an effort to cover up all the horrifying acts they participated in – they succeeded to a certain extent…but they definitely had a lot of evidence left….

The barracks had row after row of big wooden shelves where 4 to 5 people were forced to sleep. Then there was a room that had what looked like troughs where people were supposed to go to the restroom… It was no wonder that people died quickly after they arrived.
There was one building at Birkenau that particularly caught my was the building that those who passed the selection process were taken to first in order to get initiated into the camp. When they arrived they were forced to hand over their belongings, they were then stripped, shaved of all body hair (which was quite humiliating to everyone – especially women because they were usually men that performed the task) then they were showered, disinfected, given a jumpsuit and number. They were no longer to be known by their name – only be their number. It was amazing to see how quickly the Nazis were able to take any sense of dignity away from the people that arrived – which was obviously done on purpose. I kept thinking of how I would react if I was promised land for my family and then I had everything taken away from me – my family, friends, dignity and self respect. As you walked from room to room each had a plaque that would tell what part of the initiation process that had taken place there….living through one of those camps would be worse than any nightmare I could conjure up in my mind….horrifying
By the end of the day we were all exhausted from the events of the day…it was a life changing experience – but definitely emotionally draining.

June 26, 2008 (Thursday)
The Lord’s Hand in My Life: Being able to see beautiful works of art…

We went and saw an original painting done by Leonardo Da Vinci at a museum this morning. It was beautiful. It was the one with a young girl holding a ferret. That was the only painting in the museum had an entire wall to itself. There were several levels and they all led up to that particular painting. Besides that particular piece my next favorite room was one full of sculptures and ivory. When I walked into the room I instantly loved it. All the sculptures were white and elegant. Some of the sculptures dated back to B.C. and A.D. I didn’t know art that old was still around. The museum also had mummies and mummified animals. The process of mummification is quite fascinating.

I’ve decided that Europeans are really really fashionable. All of us girls were talking about it while we were walking around. We were feeling unattractive and unfashionable with all the skinny and fashionable Europeans walking around. We only had enough room to bring one backpack for a week. We were very limited in what we were allowed to bring…I wore the same jean shorts everyday for a week…gross….but I didn’t have a choice…When I go home I’m going to get ready and straighten my hair…it’s not fun to feel dumpy while on vacation…

In order to make ourselves feel a little more beautiful and feminine we decided to drop by Sephora and give ourselves a make over. We had a blast using their makeup. Mary went all out and did a complete makeover – so did Whitney S. I was a little concerned about the germs…but I put some eye shadow on. We all played with a variety of colors. Whitney S. said whenever she feels like doing something new with her makeup she will go to the mall back home and give herself a makeover. I was cracking up…I asked one of the Sephora ladies what color of eye shadow would look best with my hazel eyes – she said purple…so I went ahead and bought it.

Once we were done with our makeovers we did a little shopping for Amber. I was so excited. I’ve been looking for some amber jewelry everywhere. After looking through over 30 booths I found the perfect amber necklace and an amber ring. I got my best friend Kendall and I matching rings that are really cute…I think she’ll really like it. I love buying gifts for people. I wish I could buy more…maybe in the future. I’ve given up on trying to buy my little brothers and sisters gifts because there are too many. Maybe I should find gifts that are inexpensive for them…at least they will know that I thought about them. Then I bought my roommate Annie a necklace…she never buys anything for herself, and she said she can’t get herself to buy jewelry unless someone buys it for her. I can’t wait to give it to her on her birthday that is coming up in a little over a week. She has no idea I bought it. Keep it a secret...The last thing I bought was a shot glass. I have collected them since I was younger. I remember the first time I saw them I was at a garage sale and I bought them because I thought they were little kid cups for a tea set or something. I’ve liked them ever since. It’s kind of ironic that I collect them and I don’t drink, but I think they are adorable. I’m trying to get one from each country…

For dinner we ate Indian food. It was the first time I’ve ever had it before…I can’t say that it is my favorite, but it was decent. I’m always up for trying something new. During dinner Elyse, Mindy and Annie came up with various awards to give us. I received “most likely to have an extravagant wedding,” “most likely to live the longest,” and “most likely to be the crazy mom that all the kids love.” I’m not sure what to think about any of those awards….

Before we left for the train to go back to Budapest for the day we went and fed the birds in Medieval Square. I bought some bread and it was disgusting so I decided to give it to the birds…while we fed the birds Elisa decided that she is going to join Whitney S. and my attempt to eat healthier when we get home. We made up rules: no eating after dinner, no sweets Monday through Thursday and we are only allowed to have one treat on each weekend day. We thought and thought about a punishment if we break it – Elisa found one that will make all of us stick to it…if we break the rules we have to get a European mullet…I will not be breaking that one…haha…I’m excited to start eating healthier, and I definitely have the motivation to do it. It starts next Monday and ends whenever we leave Romania.

We then swiftly moved to the train station for another over night train ride…I’m starting to get used to them…

June 27, 2008 (Friday)
The Lord’s Hand in My Life: We had to switch trains in the middle of the night and we barely made our second train. As the last girl jumped on the train it started to move…we were very blessed that we didn’t miss it.

We woke up in Budapest for our last day of vacation. The first agenda was the Turkish baths…The Turkish baths felt amazing. There were three pools with ivory sculptures decorating each one. Each pool had a different level of heat…Jumping into the water was completely refreshing. All of us had major farmer and flip flop tans because there aren’t pools anywhere in Romania, but we still felt decently attractive because the only people that were there were ancient – so we all felt pretty good about ourselves. Most of the old guys were wearing speedos…not the prettiest sight, but at least they weren’t nude like some of the baths. We made sure the bath we went to people were completely clothed.

After the Turkish baths Whitney S. and I signed up for pedicures so we went to get them done, and the girls told us we had missed them. When we bought them the lady didn’t say a word to us about there being an assigned time to get them done. Then we asked for a refund because we didn’t have time to wait for them to find someone to do a pedicure for us. They seemed a little annoyed, but they never told us…we were pretty sad about it. It’s amazing how beat up your feet can get walking around in flip flops 24 hours. I want to get a pedicure with my Mom Mia when I get home…that was the last request I had before I left and it will be the first thing I’d like to do when I get home…besides fixing my hair…

It felt good to get sun at the Turkish baths. It felt like it was summer for the first time this summer. Whitney S. and I usually spend summer time in our swimsuits at the pool or in my case on a boat with my grandparents. However, Romania is pretty void of swimming pools. That is so sad that they go through the summer time without water fun. So weird…I used to live at the pool with my friends. We’d lay out and tan with music playing.

Swimming made us hungry so we stopped and ate a light lunch at a café outside of the Parliament building. While we were eating I started talking about all the things I had to do when we got back and Whitney S. quickly spouted out “Whitney where are you right now?” (Her and I had had a conversation earlier in the trip about how I need to live in the present instead of always looking to the future.) It was good to have a reminder. I replied “in Hungary, eating at a café and enjoying lunch.” Then she looked at me and smiled and continued to eat. I don’t know why I am always making to do lists. It’s so hard for me to relax when I know I have something I have to do…My goal is to start appreciating where I am and what I am doing at that moment in time. I worry too much about the future when the future always takes care of itself. I need to have more trust and faith in the Lord. He always takes care of me. I was talking to my mom about it a few weeks ago and she made the comment “a lady once told me that worrying works because everything she worries about never happens.” I thought that was clever – but it’s easier said than done.

Once we finished our lunch we took our sunburned selves over to the Parliament building. We were going to take a tour of it…the outside was absolutely gorgeous so I was pretty excited to see the inside. To my dismay we had missed the last tour by half an hour. I was pretty sad about it – oh well…I can’t win them all…I was just a bit sad because I don’t think I’m going to be coming to Budapest very often. It’s a bit expensive for a flight…not to mention I rarely – if ever – have spare time to fly to foreign countries. That’s why I’m taking advantage of it now while I can. Once I head home I am going to be in my last semester of school and working full time. No fun…

The last order of business was getting a huge crepe at the shop before we left Budapest for good….it was pretty good…not as good as it could have been – but it involved chocolate and lots of it so I was satisfied.

When we arrived at the train station and got situated we were all exhausted. It had been a fun but crazy week. We had been running around everywhere and sleeping in hostels and on trains…so our lack of sleep was starting to catch up with us. We all crashed until we had to switch trains at 1:00 a.m. Oh and don’t worry we ran to our train…if we would have been 5 seconds late we would of missed it completely, and the idea of sitting at a desolate train stop for the rest of the night would have been quite miserable. Thank goodness the Lord is watching out for us in small and simple ways.

June 28, 2008 (Saturday)
The Lord’s Hand in My Life: Coming home to a familiar place…

The train came to an abrupt halt in Iasi. At least I slept good last night…that was the first time I felt like I had slept well on a train all week. When we stepped off the train we could tell we were home. Trash was everywhere, it smelled funny, and dogs were running wild, but it was home. It’s amazing how a place can become your home even if you aren’t fond of the way it looks. I thought about it for a while and decided that even though Iasi is an ugly city, I love it because it is where I learned to love the kids I work with. Kind of funny… I’ve also decided that stray dogs everywhere is just a Romanian thing – not a European thing. Budapest and Hungary had very few stray dogs. They cover Romania…I wish they’d do something about it.

The rest of the day consisted of cleaning myself up, taking a shower, unpacking writing in my journal and working on my lesson for tomorrow. Our water was turned off again when we got home. It’s really annoying…I was about to cook some pasta, but there was no water. Oh well…it’s not a surprise anymore we just have to learn to roll with the punches.

Later on we went over to the girls’ apartment to check our email. Whitney Scott found out she didn’t make it into the nursing program at BYU. Apparently it’s really competitive. I felt bad for her, but I reassured her that everything happens for a reason – even if we don’t see it at the moment. The Lord always knows the better way for us…I’m confident it will work out for her. I had a guy friend in college who didn’t make it into the advertising program the first time he applied and so he went home for a semester and ended up meeting his wife. Then there was one time I didn’t get an internship I wanted, and a few weeks later I got an even better internship that has led me to meet amazing people and develop great friendships. It didn’t make sense to me at the time, but I soon found out that the Lord was guiding my path the entire time. I hope the Lord is guiding my path towards my future husband…if he cares enough about my internship then I’m pretty sure he’ll care about my eternal spouse. I just pray and pray that my marriage isn’t going to be a huge trial in my life. For some it is and for others its not…I wonder what the secret is? Maybe there isn’t one.

To ease Whitney’s distress some of us girls decided to do pedicures to our self since we weren’t able to get them done at the Turkish baths. In between the pedicures we played a silly game with whip cream. I had never played it before, but we had a lot of fun. You spray whipped cream on your wrist, then you hit your arm with your other hand so the whip cream flies up and you have to catch it in your mouth. For some reason I’m good at catching things in my mouth so I made it in there the first time. Some of the girls weren’t so successful. It ended up going up some of the girls noses and splattering on the walls and floor…oh well – we had fun. The things we do to amuse ourselves…I love it.