Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Mulţumesc Romania!

or my general impressions from the best journey ever.

Every year I say the same: 'it was the best holidays ever!'. And so it is this time. One month in Romania was definitely full of new experiences, surprises and adventures. Travelling alone for such a long time made me open to new people, more self-confident and self-reliant. I'm very grateful to all the Romanians I met on my way, who were very friendly and helpful. Meeting local people is the best part of every journey and never before have I met so many of them as now in Romania. Most of them were friends of my friend, Alex, or friends of her friends or friends of friends of her friends... Most of the young people I met were actually from Brasov. But wherever I went I was really surprised at how friendly and open people were to me. Thank you! Mulţumesc!

Now I feel I need to invite all the helpful Romanian to Poland or to Vienna to be for them such a good host as they were to me... So, feel free to come:)

During the month I managed to learn a bit of Romanian, which doesn't seem to be a complicated language. I think I will add it up to my 'must learn languages' list:) If I could spend few weeks more in Romania, still among people who even if know English don't use it so much, I think I would definitely improve my Romanian at least to an intermediate level;):)

Travelling is more about meeting local people, not only discovering local attractions. That's why Brasov will always be a special place for me, even though the city itself is maybe not the one I liked the most. The most wonderful places I visited in Romania are without any doubts the Danube Delta and Pietra Craialui mountains. Sighisoara and Sibiu belong to my favourites as well. Now my plan is to get back to Romania and visit the northern part of the country and then go to Moldavia. And then visit Brasov once more and maybe some other places in the Danube Delta. I hope to get there in April or May next year, as soon as I graduate from my studies.

Oh, and one more thing. My journey back from Romania, which was a bit exhausting: first 5 hours on a boat (I didn't have to pay for the ticket!!!), then 5 hours by car, then 14 hours by train, which arrived to late and I missed my train from Budapest to Katowice. I tried to get to Vienna and from there to Katowice but it turned out I won't catch the train that arrives the same day in the evening. So I tried to cancel my ticket from Budapest to Vienna, but it turned out it's impossible (?!?). So now I'm in Vienna again, and in 3 hours I'll be heading for Poland. A short break on the way to the family town is not such a bad idea after all. At least I can leave here part of my luggage and go further with a lighter rucksack. Packing and unpacking again... An inseparable part of my life:)

Monday, August 16, 2010

Romanian style

or what I've noticed while travelling around Romania:

If the majority is from Romania, loud music is often an inseparable part of a camping. They go to nature, to see a lake, mountains, river but take a half of their home with them. Large gas bottles, loudspeakers or even small TVs are quite common. The most surprising for me was a scene just after climbing down from Pietra Craialui. There were some tents near a peaceful brook and cars playing loud music that successfully drowned out the voice of the nature.

They don't like being photographed. If they notice you taking a picture of them, they start to shout or try to snatch your camera. So it's better not to photograph them at all or do it from the distance.

Are everywhere. Especially in Bucharest, where stray dogs belong to the city landscape. One tried to bite me, which was not a nice experience at all.

People dressed in original colourful clothes are not very common. And if they happen to walk down a street, almost everyone else is staring at them. But almost all my new friends from Romania where like me. Bit colourful and spontaneous so we suited each other well. A visit to a small town or country was like a journey to another world. That's at least how the local people stared at us – as if we were something exotic.

Transilvania is their favourite destination, many of them come to the mountains as well. The sea is also popular. What surprised me was that there were not so many tourists in Bucharest. The city may not be attractive, but still – it's the capital and many start their journey throughout Romania in Bucharest. In hostels you can meet foreigners only, the locals usually stay in campings.

Many poor kids are begging for money. But we preferred to give food to them. Usually they're not very pushy and quite friendly.

Parks and cafes
Are usually full of Romanians, spending there their free time. Older people are sitting on the benches in parks, younger ones are sipping their drinks or coffees in cafe gardens. Many people put a chair or bench outside their house and spend their evening there. Time goes by slowly.

I just love the way Romanians are speaking English with their accent. The intonation usually goes up, conversations are full of emotions, the language becomes more melodic. They speak English almost the same way the Spanish do – with temperament.

I was surprised to see how popular the brand Fornetti is. It's a frenchise with pastry, which was also popular in Poland but about 10 years ago. Fornetti stands are almost everywhere and have always many costumers. Pretzels are very common as well. You can get them in every bakery, in various forms and tastes. And the next surprising thing is that many people on trains or in railway station eat a lot of snacks, crisps or sweets.

Conservation works
Are also everywhere. But the most 'works in progress city' was Bucharest, I think. I got the feeling that the whole city is under construction or renovation. Dug out streets are in every district and rails are being renovated, too. That's why the trains are late so often.

Or – the endless expression of surprise when I'm saying that I'm travelling alone. I met quite many lonely travellers from round the world. As I already mentioned, it has many pros and cons but the best way is a mixed style. So a bit alone, bit with someone. Explroing a place alone and then waiting to meet someone you know, or meeting new people and then joining them even for a short time. There's always someone to wait for, there's always time for independence and loneliness.
Danube Delta
or how I finally find what I've been looking for

I've come to Romania to experience the beauty of its unique nature and explore small towns and villages. Well, the latter was not really successful but I'm really happy that I had a chance to climb the mountains and then to arrive here. To the Danube Delta. It's a unique area with breathtaking nature, very different to other parts of Romania, and totally different form the other seaside areas in the country.
To my surprise Sfantu Gheorghe, a village in the Delta, was not as peaceful as I expected it to be. It turned out that there's a festival of international independent films, so many people came to the village. The camping was full of tents, one next to another, there were large queues to toilets, bathrooms, a bar or shop. Every evening there was a concert outside and few films were presented. At first I didn't like it at all but then I discovered that it's only the camping that makes me want to leave. The village is very quite, with its green, calm riverside, cows and horses breeding along the path to the beach, where commercialism has not arrived yet (so no music, no bars, no other attractions). And when the festival has finished many people left the village and I started to enjoy living on the camping.
I met here some friends that I met in Brasov before and it turned out there's some kind of Brasovian invasion. Many young people came here from Brasov and there are not many foreigners. We spent one night on the beach, lighting a fire, looking at the amazing sky full of stars. We planned to stay until the sunrise, but most of us didn't manage to wake up and see the morning show. I woke up just in time to see the sun climbing up the sky.
Along the village paths you can see nice coloruful hauses, some of them very old, some with small columns. There's an outside bar and few shops in the centre and a stand with watermelons. But the most attractive is the nature of course. To explore it more, we went on a boat trip today in the morning to see pelicans and other species. We had a chance to eat white fruit of a flower growing on the nearby lake. Unfortunately, I didn't understand much from what the boat owner was talking to us and not everything was translated to me. But it doesn't really matter.
The village by the Delta has much to offer if you're looking for a unique, peaceful place, where time slows down. That's why I changed my plans again. I was suppose to leave today but I'm leaving tomorrow. This time for sure. And this time I'll be heading for Poland.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

3 days in Constanta

or how I change my plans again...

I arrived to Constanta two days ago and wanted to stay here for one day only. But I didn't leave yesterday, neither today. I will yesterday. And it's all because of nice people I met in the hostel. There are some Poles, Czechs, Germans, a guy from the Netherlands, some Romanian and Spania. The owner of the hostel is very friendly and every night we gather together by the tables in the yard and have a lot of fun...

I still don't know why I was called a gipsy from Constanta in Brasov as I still can't find any similarities between me and the gipsies from here:) And I also don't know why so many people discouraged me from coming here. It's not so bad. The local beach is very dirty, looks like rubbish bin or a neglected garden (we found small tomatoes there!), the city centre is not very attractive but somehow I like this city. Maybe because of the people I met here.

I'll try to go to the famous Mamaia today – the type of place I really dislike. Full of tourists and commercialism. But I need to see it to have the right to criticise it:) And yesterday I tried to get to Istria with its Romanian ruins and to Corbu with its hippie beaches. But the day was totally unsuccessful. Marybe I'm just too tired or the heat is killing me. I got to late to the bus station, then the bus was late, then in Corbu it turned out that I need another 10 km to get to the beach. And the bus back to Constanta was leaving in 2 hours. Walking to the beach was not a good idea as I almost fainted because of the extreme heat. So I just got back to where I came from. And discovered the city centre, with its mosques, orthodox churches, huge harbour.

And later in the hostel we had a funny international evening again. It will be sad to leave from here but it's time to move on... To Danube Delta finally! Where I will probably meet my friends from Brasov.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Bye bye Bucharest

or how I finally stick to my plans...

Bucharest didn't convince me to change my travelling plans so I'm leaving tomorrow. Finally. One day is definitely enough. I can't stand it all any longer – heat, overwhelming greyness, stray dogs, staring people, noise and chaos on the streets. Of course there are some nice places like the Atheneum, few orthodox churches, museums or the original building of the Parliament. But it's still not enough to make the city impress me. I hope it's the last place in Romania that makes me want to leave as soon as possible.

Oh, and I forgot to mention about my visit to Sinaia. I went there on my way to Bucharest, spent there 3 hours, visited the famous monastery and palace. Both buildings were really impressive but the invasion of tourists, noisy cars and huge buses were really annoying. Actually it was the first place in Romania where I got lost. Well, I had no map but walking around the city is quite easy. Nevertheless my way back to the station somehow got more complicated as I expected. Anyway, I enjoyed my short stay in Sinaia much more than I'm enjoying Bucharest now. Somehow I really don't feel save using wireless Internet in a park, near the railway station where I am right now. So I'll finish now, go back to the calm hostel and prepare to the next journey. Tomorrow morning I'm leaving to Constanta...

Almost like in India

or about the first day in Bucharest...

It's hot. Full of contrasts. It's dirty. Full of neglected houses. Stray dogs are walking down the streets (when tried to bite me), poor people begging or sleeping outside, cars driving like crazy, ignoring the red light. And I don't really feel safe walking alone when it's dark. Almost like in India. 'Almost' because I still haven't found anything that would impress me as much as India did. Maybe I just need to explore the city more to appreciate its overwhelming contrasts and find something that would overweight its all bad sides. Or maybe these are not the bad sides at all, just an inseparable part of Bucharest that somehow builds up its charm. I'll find it out soon.

I didn't want to come here as many people said that Bucharest is boring and very tiring. And then I heard I should come there for at least one day, because it is a special city, although a bit dirty, neglected and full of contrasts. So I left friendly Brasov, awaiting new adventures. The train was few hours late, which didn't really surprise me. I didn't book any hostel, as I thought that maybe I would be lucky again and the place I found on the Internet will still have some spare beds. But I was wrong. The Funky Chicken Hostel, which is in a walking distance from the main railway station, was already full. Well, not a problem – I thought. And went back in the extreme heat to the place I came from. The railway station. Near the station there is one more cheap place to stay overnight. And this time I was lucky. A lady from America who owns the hostel welcomed me really friendly and invited to her modest place. It's small but I like it. Although there's no Internet like in other hostels. And the biggest problem is – I couldn't find any internet cafes in the vicinity. I know it's not the most important thing while travelling, but if you try to combine working with travelling you have really no choice but to be online from time to time. And in my case 'from time to time' means almost every day or every few days but for few hours. Anyway, no more complaining:) I'm alone in this huge, hot, confusing city and it's time to let it impress me!:)

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Time to move on

or how come I spent so much time in one place...

I planned to stay in Brasov only 2 days and then move to Danube Delta or Bucharest. But I realized it doesn't make any sense to plan anything for more than 1 day ahead. The week I spent in Brasov (yes! The whole week! Never happened before:) was full of spontaneous visits, trips, events, adventures. I visited nearby places (Rasnov, Harman, Campulung) together with Alex and her friends, met a lot of local young people, many young tourists from around the world and had an opportunity to go for 2 days to the mountains (Piatra Craiului) with Alex' friend and his friend. They both covered this route several times so I didn't have to worry about the way up or down or the place to stay overnight, which was a unique experience for me:) Sometimes it's good to forget about your leadership spirit and let the others lead you the way they want to. But only sometimes;)

The way up the hills wasn't always easy and on the way back I fell down several times, which also has never happened before:) Beautiful nature, wonderful views, demanding climbing and good company made me realize that summer holidays without few days in mountains are not real holidays:) It was high time for me to move away from the cities and touristic places, to go somewhere in a countryside or experience the unique Romanian nature. And the opportunity to do it showed up just on time, as well. It seems that spontaneous decisions rule over a precise schedule, even if it is my own schedule:)

Tomorrow I'm finally going to Bucharest. Not because I don't like Brasnov but I just feel I can't stay so long in one place. All the people I met here and everything I experienced here creates a very friendly image of Brasnov. After a week it's definitely a place to come back, not only a tourist attraction, the next 'must-see' as all the guidebook say.

And Bucharest... Well, I heard it's full of contrasts and not worth staying there for more than 2 days. I'll check it out soon.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

The way through mountains and marriage proposal

or how I became a gipsy from Constanta...

Hey! How old are you? Do you want to get married? Or buy my skirt??

That's what I heard when my Romanian friends took me to a gipsy market in Brasov. Before we got there, I was told that the place would surely be stinky, chaotic and loud. And so it was. But I liked it anyway. Gipsies in their typical clothes (men with cowboy-like huts and women with colourful long dresses and scarves on their heads) were selling second hand clothes and shoes, shouting loud the prices of their products and staring and the potential customers. I tried to take some pictures of this unusual place but a gipsy man started to shout at me and forbade me to use my camera.
By the other stand some women were offering me their long colourful skirts and said I must be a gipsy from Constanta. I guess it was because of my long colourful skirt... And then a gipsy man asked if I want to get married. Well, I had to say 'no' to everything I was offered and soon left this distant and magic world.

Afterwards we visited Harman, a village with fortified church. It was peaceful and empty, with almost no tourist, which is of course a big advantage. And we visited also an old neglected school that is about 100 years now and completely deserted. Only local kids spend their time there, play, listen to music and use the old building as a kind of hideout.
We were also invited to an ethnographic museum with a great variety of local traditional clothes, furniture and Eastern eggs. I was really surprise to find out that Polish and Romanian folklore is quite similar, especially when it comes to the Eastern eggs.

At the end of the day, which was really full of new experiences, I went with Alex and her family to Campulung, a small town in the other county. It's not an attractive place but the way there is very fascinating. High mountains, empty villages, streets leading through fields with sheep, horses, cows walking down a street, wooden churches, old original houses... After two hours we reached boring Campulung and when we where walking down the street (Alex and me) we felt as if we were really exotic. Everyone was staring at us (maybe because of the different, colourful image), which wasn't pleasant at all. And when suddenly a man fell down on a street and needed an immediate health care many people gathered around him, just to stare and feel the touch of sensation. Someone took a photo to a local newspaper, someone called an ambulance, someone was happy to be accidentally captured on the photo and was looking forward to seeing himself in the newspaper the day after...
And what's quite strange is that almost all the kids we met were overweighted.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Coffee future-telling and local attractions

or how the locals see the city...

I thought I was going to travel alone again when something unexpected happened. My Romanian friend invited me to her place but I already paid for the hostel so I'll stay with her from tomorrow. She invited me to lunch, as well (delicious mamaliga and beans), then offered some ice tea with honey and coffee. Actually, we drunk the coffee to see our future, because Alex' grandmother is a master at coffee future-telling. So I went for it!

And here's what I found out:
The grandma said she had never seen such good dregs before! Saying this she meant that I'm extremely strong, independent and proud (whatever that may mean...). Then she said I'd been climbing up the mountains with a rucksack, I was tired and sad but only for a short time (true!). I should be careful with my luggage because someone may want to steal it and I would be happy with my further journey. And the she said – attention please! - I would be married soon (!!!) and two guys would propose to me at the same time or I would be married twice (???). And there's a sad guy somewhere far away thinking about me a lot (!?!). And there's a lion (maybe a zodiac sign or just a strong person) who's looking after me. And that I would be happy, successful and rich. Well, I wish that at least some of these things were true. I mean, I don't care about the marriage and stuff like that but the successful life would be something nice:)

Together wit Alex we came up with a lot of ideas for the next days. Were could we go or what could we visit. We didn't plan anything for sure but I know we'll see interesting places and experience a lot.
Then we were walking up a citadel hill, then along the narrow streets and we visited a communist-like confectionery, where everything was like in the past: the same selling ladies, same cakes, same decoration. We had an ice cream called 'casate'. Delicious! From 'the past', as well. And then we walked up the hill again to meet Alex' friends. Because that's the place where young people spend their free time when they don't want or can't go to a pub;) We ate sunflower seeds, pretzels and had some other attractions. And then the girls (Alex and her friend only, because the boys disappeared suddenly) took me to an old cemetery with Russian and German graves and then showed me another cemetery with a grave of Romanian poet who wrote the national anthem.

Well, it seems you need to know the locals to see the real life of the city and to get from it as much as possible.
And tomorrow more attractions...

The lake, flood and Polish scouts

or small disappointment and big luck...

Maybe St. Anna Lake is unique but definitely not the one of the most beautiful places in Europe. Sometimes you shouldn't believe everything you're told, even if it's the locals who claim that a place is a must-see. A Romanian guy that we met by the lake was wandering why we came from such a distant country to see THAT place. Well, maybe THAT place isn't that unattractive but there are definitely much more nicer places in Romania.

But before we got disappointed we had to cover a tiresome way up the hill. After 2 hours we saw a rather strange view. Mountains, green hills and... the kingdom of commerce. There was a camping on the hill near the lake, few shops and fast food stands. And again – almost everyone was from Romania. A lot of cars, colourful tents and loud music took away the charm of the place.

After a while we finally saw the famous lake. I didn't even know how to photograph it. Its unusuality and unattractivity was so demanding that I just gave up. Many sunbathing people, swimming people, grilling people. Oh, it would have been so much better without them...

On a train back to Brasov we had some problems. There was a flood and the train got stucked in the first station. We stayed there for 2 hours and didn't know what happens next. In the last minute we changed the trains and got on to the intercity train because it was supposed to leave earlier. And it did.

In Brasov we were lucky again. We met Polish scouts who helped us find the way to the centre. And they were talking a lot about their crazy journeys. Once a year they organize a scout journey, this year to the Forgas Mountains in Romania. They just came here, found a free accommodation in a church (they always make they trips as cheap as possible), sent there they 8 colleagues and now wanted to buy some food for everyone. Both of them are travelling a lot, one was for example hitch-hiking to Ukraine from Poland, the other one got to Morocco with his friends and then hitch-hiked around the country! My soul-mates! I hope I'll meet them again some day...

We found an accommodation in a one star hotel – three of us staying in a double room for a very low price. We walked a bit in the centre, then woke up early to make a short tour around the centre again because Zofia and Andreas were leaving at 8.30 to Budapest. I saw them off to the station and then moved out to a hostel. And when I thought it was time to be alone again something unexpected happened... But more about it in the next post.

From Sighisoara to Baile Tusnad

or the next magical place and a strange camping...

From now on I'm travelling alone again. And I have mixed feelings. On the one hand I'm happy to be by myself again, on the other – I'll miss travelling with Zofia, our photo sessions, our conversations, all the crazy and spontaneous things we did...

But before she left we managed to visit few interesting places. As I already said, Sighisoara is as magical as Sibiu. With all the narrow colourful streets and legendary traces of Dracula, with its small houses and photogenic attractions.
Oh, and what's equally important – we found a very cosy and cheap hostel! Actually, the hostel found us. We wanted to go to a camping, near the city centre, but a man on the station approached us and offered a very cheap accommodation. We just couldn't say 'no'. The hostel has a good location and the rooms are just perfect. Modest but very original. The one we stayed in was decorated with puppets, there were paintings with notes on the wall and a guitar cover with a large notes sewed on it. And the beds had silver coverings. A small luxury after or before a night in the tent:)

To get to the St. Anna Lake we had to change a train in Brasov and then go to Baile Tusnad. When we arrived, we were lucky again. I knew there's a camping, but had no idea were could it be. A women we met on the railway station showed us the direction and after 10 minutes we were already there. On a camping with Romanian tourist only, with large tents covered with foil (because of the rain), with many cars playing loud music and grill places. We must have been very unique there with our small tents, small cooking set and no car,
The centre of the town resembles many Polish health-resorts , maybe this one is more old fashioned. We asked how to get on food to the Lake and decided to cover the 6-kilometre tour the day after.
And then langos!! With cheese and then another one with jam! The best langos I've ever had! Even better than the ones I had in Hungary:)

More about the Lake and other attractions in the next post...