Monday, October 31, 2011

One Month Down, Eight to Go!

Another week has gone by.  Many of the things I've done are now routine: going to class, teaching class, spending time with Josi and Angelina.  This week we were joined by a fourth friend, Camille, a theatre student from France.

The industrial harbor of Constanta

On Friday we went to the Cafe International, which is a little place operated by the missionary organization Youth with a Mission.  It's very small but so nice.  They were having a live concert by a young woman from Britain who arrived in Constanta to join in missionary work only a few weeks ago.  She was excellent, singing, playing guitar, and playing keyboard.  They have smoothies, coffee, hot chocolate, and tea, and all for exceptional prices.  And the people there are so nice.  Everyone was super friendly and we met people from Britain, Hong Kong, Sweden, and Oregon.  The cafe is only open in the evenings, and each day of the week has a different featured activity.  For example, Monday they are having conversational English lessons, and Thursdays there are guitar lessons.  I really enjoyed spending the evening there.  Afterwards, Josi, Camille, Angelina, and Atilla (Angelina's boyfriend, from Turkey) came to my apartment for pizza and a game.  We played Apples to Apples, which I brought with me to Romania, thinking it would be a great game to play with students to help them to improve their English skills.  It had a good reception with all my non-native English speaking friends, so I hope to schedule a time for interested students to play at the American Corner of the University.

On Saturday we celebrated Halloween.  Now, I should first tell you that Halloween simply is not celebrated in Romania.  (This may be surprising for people whose knowledge of Romania--at least before finding this blog--ended at "That's where Dracula was from.")  Halloween decorations are hard to come by, as are costumes.  We found three stores with VERY limited costume selections and even sadder selections of decorations.  However, we were able to scrape together so costumes for a Halloween party hosted by two German girls studying in Constanta.  I went as an angel, Camille was a witch, Angelina used her lab coat from medical school in Russia and went as a nurse, and Josi was a policewoman.  It wasn't bad, but it just wasn't the same as Halloween in the US, so I found myself with my first bout of homesickness--ever.  I was never homesick when I went to summer camp or when I left for college, but I got homesick for an American Halloween and all the traditions and people that go with it.  That said, I should let you know that it was fleeting.  While I still miss everyone back in the US, I am quite happy to be here in Romania and I'm looking forward to the exciting things happening in the weeks ahead.

Sunday I woke up not-so-bright-and-early as I thought I did.  Daylight Savings Time comes a week early in Romania and I was oblivious to the change.  (To be perfectly honest, though, I never expect the time changes.  Twice a year someone inevitably "reminds" me that I'll need to change my clock that evening and I am saved from any disasters in punctuality.)  I had to attend an orientation meeting for the program I just joined, called Money Sense (more on that in a moment).  It was scheduled to start at 11, but attendance was a bit sub par.  Noting that some people may have been confused about the time, I was suddenly informed of the time change.  It was only then that I noticed my watch was an hour ahead of my cell phone.  Luckily, while I was oblivious to the time change, my cell phone, which I use for an alarm clock, was not and took car of everything for me.  I got an extra hour of sleep and didn't know it.

Back to Money Sense.  Money Sense is a program imported from Britain, for high school students, about personal finance.  As a budding social studies teacher and former captain of my high school Life Smarts team, I am just nerdy enough to be super excited to be involved in this project.  Since I applied for the Fulbright grant, I have wanted to additionally get involved with younger students in Romania.  This program brings a series of lessons on personal finance, free of charge, to high schoolers.  It's being organized here in Constanta by the NGO (Non-Government Organization) AIESEC.  AIESEC is about international leadership among young people, and there is a student office of the group at my university here.  Interestingly enough, they found me, or rather, they found Josi.  Since many of the students in the Romanian language course are part of the educational exchange program Erasmus and since Money Sense is taught in English, AIESEC was scouting the international students for volunteers to help out with the project.  They got Josi's name, and then Josi told me about the project.  It runs through November and December.  This upcoming weekend I will be attending a training session in Bucuresti for Money Sense.

On Sunday, all I had to do was introduce myself to the student participants.  When I announced that I am from the United States, there was a small, collective gasp among many of the high school students.  Now, I can't say if it made me extra proud to be an American or other such things, but that little gasp did remind me how special the idea of America is to many people today.  I'm not saying this to sound pompous and assert that America is better than all the other countries, but to quite a few people, especially youth, America is still that land of dreams that so many immigrants have pursued over the past few centuries.  From my experience in such a short time, I can tell you that many young Romanians have dreams to visit or move to the US and seeing these dreams makes me feel two things: one, extremely fortunate to have been born into the country of so many people's dreams; and two, a strong sense of responsibility to make sure that I exemplify all the things that are truly good about the United States and down let their fascination with my country die because of my actions or demeanor.

After the orientation I went to the high school where Josi is teaching, to join her and a few of her students for their cooking project.  The four girls who participated in the activity made some traditional Romanian food: sarmale and mamaliga.  It was really delicious!
The girls from Josi's school cooking
Josi tries to grate some really soft cheese
The meal: mamaliga, sarmale, and sheep milk cheese

It's dark so early now:  Looking down the street at the church
I returned home to my apartment for a short while before heading to evening mass.  As I've been doing for the past four Sundays, I half muttered along in English and occasionally extremely broken Romanian.  Afterwards I went to the little religious shop in the back of the church to ask if they had a book with the mass parts written out so that I could follow along and learn the responses and prayers.  Luckily the young woman at the window spoke English quite well and was very helpful.  With the help of her mother, who runs the shop, she tracked down the lectors' book for October and gave me a copy, with a promise to get me one for November, she also sold me a little booklet with the standard prayers in Romanian.  Lastly, she told me that she thinks she has a book at home with the words to the liturgy all written out, and she promised to leave it for me at the little shop for the next time I come to mass.  She also gave me her number in case I need anything.  (Sidenote: I have an awful crick in my neck and her business card says she does massage, so if my crick won't go away, I know exactly who to call to help make it go away!)

Caviar from Russia
Angelina prepares the bread for caviar

Yep, fish eggs

After mass I went to Josi's apartment, where, with Angelina, we watched most of V for Vendetta, which I'd never seen before, but was really getting into.  Angelina also brought us a special Russian treat--caviar!  Josi doesn't like hates fish and was NOT a fan.  I had one half-slice of bread with it.  It wasn't terrible, but I can't say I fancied it.  The taste was very potently fishy and as you ate the eggs they popped in your mouth, which I found weird, but is Angelina's favorite part about eating caviar.  It was nice to try it, especially since Angelina gets it from Russia for much cheaper than I could ever buy it in the US, and now I know I shouldn't spend loads of money ordering in a restaurant.

Eaten on buttered bread with a cup of tea, per Angelina's recommendation
Ready to try it.

I have such a busy schedule coming up.  For November: 3rd-6th I have the "Train the Trainers" session for Money Sense in Bucuresti.  The 8th I return to Bucuresti and on the 9th I fly to Sofia, Bulgaria for a regional conference for English Teaching Assistants.  The 12th I return to Romania and on the 13th to Constanta, where I will be attending an opera that evening.  Today I just got the word that on the 23rd and 24th there will be a Fulbright get together in Bucuresti for Thanksgiving.  Flanking this little trip I have a Thanksgiving activity at the American Corner at Ovidius University on the 21st and the 25th.  And throughout this time I will be teaching classes, taking Romanian lessons, and participating three times a week in Money Sense.

Is it weird that I think this ambulance is cute?

Lastly, today Mihaela took me to the police station to register for my residency card.  I gave them all the paperwork and they accepted my application.  My card should be ready for pick up from the police station in about a month.

As promised to a commenter, here is an overhead view of Constanta, courtesy of Google Maps.  The lake I talk about is the pinpoint in the map:

Vizualizare hartă mărită

Monday, October 24, 2011

Ruminations on Toilet Paper (and other things)

Toilet Paper:
Romania seems to suffer from a dearth of toilet paper.  I have learned (luckily after being warned) never to leave home without tissues or some toilet paper.  Bathrooms in just about any public place never seem to have toilet paper.  Not on the train, at museums, or at my university.  In fact, the bathroom at my university doesn't even have a toilet paper dispenser.

There was a storm earlier in the week with really high winds.  It shredded this flag at the university.

Night Life:
I was never one to go to bars or clubs in the US, mostly because I don't drink much and would always rather do my homework.  Still, I am knowledgeable enough of clubs in DC at least to draw these comparisons among  clubs in the US and in Romania.

  1. In Romania, the party is still getting started at 1:00 am; in the US, many places have stopped serving alcohol.  Clubs in Romania stay open until 7:00 am or even 9:00 am.
  2. Clubs in Romania have much cheaper cover charges (if any) and free coat checks.  In DC, I once had to pay a $20 cover, and then they asked for an additional fee for a really creepy looking coat check.
  3. One club I visited had a buffet of free food.  That's no cover (since I'm a woman) PLUS free food!  And it wasn't lousy food either; they had chicken breast, deviled eggs, desserts, fruit, bread, cheese, and more.
  4. These cheap clubs that sometimes have free food are just as nice, if not nicer, than any club I saw in the US.

A menu at a bar.  Please note the price of the draft beers.  They have a beer for 3 lei, that's a little less than $1.00.

I witnessed this all first-hand this weekend when I went out to clubs both on Friday and Saturday with my new friends.  Josi is from Germany, and Angelina lived in Russia up until last year.  We had lots of fun dancing and hanging out together.  One of the best things is that you can go out, not drink, and still have just as much fun.  I never would have expected that I would stay out until 7:00am, but I did two nights in a row!  I can't say I want to repeat this same process every weekend, but it's nice to be able to go out, dance, and have fun and simply forget about time.  It was nice not to have to worry about time or deadlines.  It's 3:30 am at Angelina's apartment.  Do we go to sleep?  No!  We go out dancing!

Apparently students in Constanta just don't feel the need to attend class.  Of course that is a greatly exaggerated statement, but I can't help draw this conclusion after no one showed up to my first class last week and only 3 student were at my second class--and one of the students came an hour late!  i could help but ask myself: I am THAT bad a teacher?  Was my lesson last week so boring that no one wanted to come to my class anymore?  Why don't my students like me?!  Then, the next day, I had a decent showing, with students who actually were interested in discussing the topic I was presenting: success!  My life had meaning again!  Still, I can't help but be peeved that some students care so little about my class.  Some students are unable to attend class regularly because they have to work to pay for tuition; it's a vicious cycle.

This delicious treat is a dark chocolate cup and saucer with coffee cream.  It was sooooo delicious and cost less than $3.00!
Aside from these particular thoughts, it has been a nice routine week: teaching, Romanian class,a cafe with some new friends, spent time talking, watching movies, going to mass, and going dancing with friends.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Another Week Gone By

Remember when i showed you the street sign that forbids horse-drawn wagons?  Well this guy didn't care!
It's been over a week since my last post and I have tons to write about.  

Last Saturday I went to the village museum in Bucuresti.  It is an outdoor museum with traditional style homes brought in from all around Romania.  Some you can only see from the outside, but others have traditionally decorated interiors that you can view.  Afterwards I met up with my friend Maria and her boyfriend.  We went to the peasant museum, and the we sat at a cafe for a while before I headed to the train station to catch the last train of the day to Constanta.

An example of the half buried houses traditional to the southwest of Romania

Half buried house from the front

The peasant museum


Approximately $3 more for the "rapid" train got such a nicer interior!

Over the past week I went to a harvest festival here in Constanta four times.  It was a two-weekend, week-long event.  There were lots of vendors there, and all the items there were supposed to be products of Romania (although I think there were some exceptions).  There were vendors of fresh produce, wine, freshly pressed grape juice (must), handmade pottery, hand-carved wooden items, fresh cheese, assorted types of meat, honey, embroidered and handwoven cloth, and some other assorted goods.  This was right up my alley, and I got a little too enthusiastic about all these products at such amazing prices.  

The first day I went was Monday.  At first I didn't even realize there were more vendors inside the pavilion, so I only shopped for fruits and veggies outside.  The prices were great and the produce looked delicious.  I also got a big, warm loaf of bread and a delicious pastry.

A glance at some of the vendors

I bought some cheese from this lady

The branza de burduf I bought.  It is made from sheep milk and encased in  either sheep skin or sheep stomach 
Thin strips of dough are wrapped around tubes of wood and roasted until brown then sprinkled with sugar. Yummy!

I bought a half size piece of the pastry; it was still  about 8 inches tall

1 kg of sweet plums for a little less than $1
On Tuesday I went to my first Romanian class.  It is hard to understand sometimes, but I'm learning a lot.

I taught my classes on Wednesday and Thursday.  Wednesday's showing was really pathetic; one class started with only two students.  Thursday was much better, and there were some really good discussions!

Thursday afternoon I went to the harvest festival again, this time to check out the indoor vendors.  I was not disappointed! I bought a wooden bowl and spoon and some pottery.  I didn't get a picture of it, but the man who was selling the pottery was making some pieces right in the expo center on his foot-powered potter's wheel.

The pitcher I bought

Baking pot

I bought six of these matching bowls on Friday, since I liked the pottery so  much.  All the pottery together cost a little less than $30.
The carved serving bowl I bought.

In Romanian class on Friday I met a friend!  Josi is from Germany and asked if I'd heard about the harvest festival.  Since class got out a bit early, I decided to go with her to the festival for a third time.  I bought more pottery this time.  Afterwards Josi and I made plans to go out that evening to a club.

Now clubs in Romania are a bit different from the ones I went to in DC.  I have VERY little experience with clubs in general, but compared with the two I've been to before, this one was nicer.  It was decorated more elaborately, had no cover charge, had no charge for the coat check.  Plus, cocktails were quite reasonably priced, and the DJ was from the south of France.  The club didn't even open until 11:30 and when we got there at midnight, the place was deserted.  An hour later it was packed, and when we left at 2:30 am, the party was going stronger than ever.  We met a Romanian-American guy, Enus, there.  He was born in Romania but grew up and lived in L.A. until only a few months ago.  He was really nice and gave us rides home so we didn't have to take taxis.

Josi and I agreed to meet at the mall the next day, where there was supposed to be some sort of festival.  I was running late, so Josi had to wait for me outside.  It was then that she met a super nice Romanian couple, Sorin and Flory.  They tried to help us locate the festival, which no one working at the mall seemed to have any information on.  As we were all standing by the door of the mall, who should walk in but Enus!  We all made plans to meet that evening.  Only minutes after we parted ways, Josi and I stumbled upon the festival when a troupe of traditional dancers walked onto a stage in the middle of the atrium of the mall.  (It's beyond me how the information desk didn't even know about this.)  The dancers were great, and it was fun to watch.

Traditional Romanian dancing

Many of them were quite young, which impressed me

The outfits were beautiful, especially the headdresses
After watching the dancing and wandering briefly through the booths for several NGOs, we walked around the lake behind the mall most of the way to the expo center for my fourth visit to the harvest festival.  I ended up getting those last few items I'd had my eye on the previous visits, like a giant spoon!

At the lake behind the mall

My 3 ft. long spoon, in comparison to my washer; the spoon handle is on the floor.  It cost me about $3.  I love it!
After the harvest festival, we went back to our apartments and then Josi and I met back up again that evening at Cafe de Brasil with all our new friends: Sorin, Flory, Enus, and one more friend of Sorin and Flory's, Angelina.  Angelina is Romanian and Russian, but lived in Russia until last year when she moved to Romania.  Last year she took the same Romanian class that Josi and I are taking now, and she's fluent now, so it gives me a lot of hope that I can learn Romanian, too!  We all had a great time and made plans to go see a Shakepeare play on Sunday, the next day with me, Josi, Angelina, and Enus.  Sorin and Flory gave me a ride home and the others went back to the club so Josi could meet some of Angelina's German friends.  It turned into an epic adventure for them, and they went home at 7 am!  I'm glad I opted to go home!

Angelina, Josi, and Me

Sunday I went to mass and in the evening I went to see Cum Va Place (As You Like It), with Josi, Angelina, and Enus.  It was in Romanian, so it was confusing, but on the other hand, it was Shakespeare, so it would have been confusing anyways!  I was particularly glad when I understood most of the gist of an entire scene.

After the play we went and got something to eat a a sports bar, Champs.  It kind of reminded me of Applebees, except the menu wasn't as snazzy.

Today wasn't that exciting, but I did get to experience how windy it can get in Constanta!  No wonder Ovid was really sad when he got exiled here by the Roman emperor!  I think I can manage the weather, though, as long as I never forget my scarf and hat!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Peles Castle

The day began when all the Fulbrighters boarded the bus for Sinaia, to go to Peles Castle.
Bucuresti traffic

Cornfields out the bus window

This way to the castle!
We arrived after a 2 1/2 hour drive.  The walk to the castle took us up a cobbled road.  When we got tot he top, the view opened up, and it was like stepping into a fairy tale!
What a picturesque scene!
 The castle is truly more of a palace in function.  It was built by Romania's first king, Carol I in the late 19th century.  The outside is quite grand, but the interior is breathtaking.  The rooms have ornate wood carvings, Murano glass, Bohemian crystal, Persian rugs, and weaponry from across Europe and Asia.  I'd have loved to take pictures, but there was an extra fee of approximately $10, and I just couldn't justify spending the money.

The central courtyard

The gardens
 There were also vendors selling souvenirs and local crafts nearby, and I took the opportunity to buy some crocheted and embroidered tablecloths, a few postcards, and a carved wooden set of salt and pepper shakers shaped like bears.  They were all at a very reasonable price.
Stunning vistas of the Carpathian Mountains
 After visiting the castle, our group continued on a winery up the valley.  The winery began in 1892, when the original producer of the wines was brought to the area by the king to produce wines for Peles Castle..  The winery is most famous for its sparking wines, which it still makes with the same process used when it began.
The winery, founded in 1892

We got a tour of the wine cellar

At stage two of the process, bottles must be turned by hand twice a day.

This machine opens bottles, adds a sweetener, re-corks the bottle, and adds the wire cover
 After our tour of the wine cellar, we had a wine tasting with three different varieties of sparkling wine.
After the wine tasting, our group had lunch at the winery restaurant.  Afterwards, we headed back to Bucuresti.
Lunch at the winery

 When we returned to the hotel in Bucuresti, two other ETAs and I headed out into the city for the evening.  We weren't sure what to do or where to go, so we inquired at the hotel desk.  The hotel driver kindly offered to drive us to the old part of the city.  We walked around an open market and stopped for gelato.  After an hour or so, we called up the hotel and the driver returned to bring us back.
The oldest bank in Bucuresti (if I remember correctly)