Sunday, March 4, 2012

Around I Go! Cluj-Napoca and Brasov

After Eniko put me on a very early bus from Ciumani to Cluj-Napoca, I drove through Transylvania for 6 hours before arriving in the Romania's 2nd most populous city.  My friends Timea and Laszlo, who I met at Kellerhaus (my summer job), picked me up from the bus station.  I went back to the their apartment for the first of many meals they included me in.  I also got to see Timea's sister Judith, who also worked at Kellerhaus.  (For simplicity's sake, please just assume that every person I mention from my stay in Cluj worked at Kellerhaus at one time or another, unless I tell you otherwise.)
The statue of Austro-Hungarian King Matthias Corvinus, in front of  St. Michael's Church

Laszlo showed me around the historic center of the city.  He took me to some of the many churches from many different denominations and told me some of the history of the city.  It was a very cold day, so we stopped for tea before visiting the Hungarian boarding school he attended for high school with Timea and Judith.  I'm pretty sure it wasn't really allowed, but Laszlo took me all the way to the top of the building, to the boys' dormitories.
The interior of the Franciscan Church, which changed hands a lot among different sects and is the oldest church in Cluj-Napoca
Another Church
Part of the wall that used to encircle the city.

A view up at the Church that Timea, Laszlo, and Judith attend.

That evening two more friends joined us at Timea, Laszlo, and Judith's apartment.  Andreea and Silviu are both still studying in Cluj, which is a big university town.  It was nice to get to hangout with my friends in Romania when I'd met them in the US.  That evening Andreea took me to her brother's apartment, which she was borrowing since he was out of town.  This is where I stayed for my whole stay.  It was at the edge of the city, but was a really nice place to stay.

Andreea, Timea, and Silviu

The next morning, we had a bit of a Kellerhaus reunion of the people who worked at Kellerhaus during the summer of 2011.  We went to Salina Turda, a salt mine in Turda, a small city not far from Cluj-Napoca.  I got to spend the morning with: Timea, Laszlo, Andreea, Silviu, Cristina P, Doru, and Johnny.  (On a side note: Cristina and Doru are now engaged and have just moved to England for a year.  They had their interviews for the jobs the day after our trip to the mine.  So exciting!)  When we first entered into the mine we had to walk through a small tunnel for a long time.  It spit us out in a cave overlooking a small pit.  It was labeled as an echo chamber, so of course we all shouted into the abyss.  There was a little alcove and a nondescript door at the other end of the small space.  I was thinking to myself This is pretty cool, but that admission was a little steep for just this. Then, we went through this door into another long tunnel.  We went into another small cave, this one with some sort of giant screw that was used for mining the salt.  That was cool too, but I was still oblivious for what came next.  We descended some stairs and emerged on a walkway that circled a large cavern.  Now I'm not talking large as in a house, I'm talking just plain massive.  There was even a Ferris wheel inside!

The tunnel into the mine
Left to Right: Johnny, Silviu, me, Laszlo, Doru (in front), Timea, and Cristina.  Andreea was our photographer.

The echo chamber

The big screw

Climbing down the stairs, oblivious to the enormous cavern at the bottom

A blurry shot from the walkway

The walkway and the top half of the cavern

A look down at the cavern.  I couldn't tell from above, but that's a Ferris Wheel in the center.

I'm afraid of heights, so I hugged the wall as we circled the cavern. Two of my companions are civil engineers, and one of them assured me that the walkway was structurally sound.  This didn't make me feel any better...  There are two ways to get to the bottom of the cavern: the first way is an elevator; the second way is one of two loooooong stairways.  Most of us took the elevator, but a few brave souls in our group walked all the way down.

Cristina and Doru met us at the bottom of the stairs

A view of some of the stairwell, from the bottom of the cavern.

At the bottom of the cavern are all sorts of amusements.  Some things to do are ping pong, bowling, a Ferris wheel, and even row boats in a second, deeper cavern.  We were only visiting for the morning and also didn't want to spend extra money on many different things, so we all took a trip in the row boats.  It was very surreal rowing on the pitch black water, in the dimly lit cavern, carved from salt.

Looking down at the deeper cavern and the boats from the main cavern

Peeking up at the main cavern from the deeper cavern where the boats are

Boating in the salt mine

After our trip to the mine we returned to Cluj.  Andreea and I went to meet one of my oldest Romanian friends.  She goes by Ana Maria now, but I knew her as Ariana when she worked at Kellerhaus with me the summer of 2007.  I hadn't gotten a chance to see Ariana since then, so I was very excited to meet up with her again.  She was one of the first people to really get me interested in Romania--she's a big part of the reason why I am in Romania now.  We met for tea and then Ariana took me to a traditional Romanian restaurant.  I had some truly delicious mamaliga cu smantana, kaiser, si branza and some bean and ham soup in an enormous bread bowl.  It was delicious and filling.  Unfortunately it was more filling than my tummy had space for, and I had to leave some behind.  At the end of our meal we were joined by Ariana's boyfriend and one of his friends, who didn't speak English at all, so I got some good practice at my Romanian (which is still very sad and lacking).


My bean and ham soup in a giant bread bowl

My super delicious mamaliga (it's very similar to polenta), smothered with sour cream,  thick bacon, and soft cheese.

After the restaurant we headed to a bowling center, where we met up with my other friends who I'd visited the mine with.  I'm not that great at bowling, but I'm not terrible either...although I did get my fair share of gutter balls.  After bowling a few people who were left went up to a restaurant on the roof of the building for some drinks and a bit of dancing.  Since they live in Zalau, a city two hours away, Cristina and Doru stayed the night with Andreea and I.  Johnny came back with us for a late night snack (featuring sausage that Doru made) but he left to stay the night with another friend.

Me and Ariana bowling

At the bowling alley
There were animal statues on the roof...

It was a lovely view of the city at night

Me and Cristina dancing

The next day was Sunday, and Andreea took me to a spot that overlooks the city.  We took some nice photos and then walked to the dormitories so Andreea could show me where she lives.  During my freshman year of college I lived in a triple the size of a double, and we all thought that was crowded.  In these dorms, they had a room with almost the same dimensions (if not slightly smaller) but with five people.  No one gets much personal space, but it is much more affordable than any other living arrangements.  The cost per month to live in the dorm is around 80 RON (less than $30), which is waaaaay less than I had to pay in college.


Looking over the city

From here we went to a artsy sort of pub/restaurant near the dorms.  Andreea and I met up with Ariana and Cristina M.  Cristina M. worked at Kellerhaus for three years, and her last summer there was my first summer.  She recently got her PhD and is considering moving to Canada. Now I have to admit that I don't like beer.  This dismays some people, so it wasn't all that surprising when Ariana tried to convert me.  She chose this particular place because they have different flavors of syrup to add to beer.  I tried raspberry.  it was definitely an improvement over just plain beer, but I don't know if I liked it well enough to drink it all the time.  We next went to the grocery store, followed by mass in the great Gothic cathedral in the old part of the city. We took a bus back to Andreea's brother's apartment and had some dinner there.

Andreea, me, Cristina M, and Ariana

Monday morning Andreea and I took the bus into the city.  Andreea went to work and I went to the mall to meet with Jennifer Feenstra, a Senior Fulbright grantee at Babes Bolyai University in Cluj.  We met for a nice chat and warm drinks at Starbucks.  I love their hot chocolate, and it was made just the way I like it.  She walked me to Timea, Laszlo, and Judith's apartment, where I hung out until the afternoon.

Jennifer, my fellow Fulbrighter
After lunch I went to visit Orsi-- another Kellerhaus friend--at her family's house.  She introduced me to her family and her pets and told me about her trip to Nepal and her photography.  It was very nice to get to catch up with her.  She walked me to the mall where I met Timea and Judith to watch War Horse.  It is an excellent movie and all three of us loved it!  Andreea met us after it finished.  We all stopped into Auchan (a hipermarket, which is basically like a super Walmart) and then Laszlo was nice enough to bring us back to the apartment where Andreea and I were staying.

Me and Orsi

Tuesday was Valentine's Day.  Timea, Judith, and I went to the university's botanical garden and then walked around town a bit.  We popped into a bookstore.  I considered buying a book in English, but decided against it, since the selection wasn't so great and since I can borrow ebooks from my public library back home in NH via the internet.  I did buy something there, but I don't want to spoil the surprise since it's a gift for someone!  We also popped into another church, which I'd overlooked on my church tour with Laszlo.  This church was  Greek-Romanian Catholic Church, which means that it is in communion with the Holy See in Rome, but that the liturgy is celebrated in the Romanian (Eastern Orthodox) Rite, rather than the standard Latin Rite.  This was my last day in Cluj-Napoca.

A Valentine's Day potato.
I'm told the botanic garden is much more spectacular in the summer when everything is in bloom

At the botanic garden

Flowers for Valentine's Day (actually here are always flower vendors)

Walking through Cluj-Napoca

The Greek-Romanian Catholic Church: It has an iconistasis like Orthodox churches, but also has pews, which Romanian Orthodox Churches lack.

The next morning I said goodbye to Andreea and thanked her for all her hospitality as we parted ways, she to work and I to Timea, Laszlo, and Judith's apartment.  They again made me lots of delicious food to eat and then Timea and Laszlo brought me to the bus station.  We located my ride, which was a turquoise maxi taxi.  It turns out I would be driving pretty close to the village where Timea, Laszlo, and Judith are from, so I kept an eye out for where I will be spending my Easter, since I accepted Timea's offer to spend Easter with her family.
My ride to Brasov

About 6 hours later I arrived in Brasov, where my friend Nicole was waiting for me.  Nicole is another Fulbright ETA, and she is teaching at Transilvania University.  We went back to her apartment, where I was lucky enough to have my own room.  We then went our for dinner where we ran into a friend of Nicole's who is also an American.  It was a lovely evening with lots of American interaction.

The next day Nicole showed me around the city.  She lives near the center of the city, so we were able to walk everywhere.  We went to a sort of department store place to buy a second towel.  These sorts of places are very common in Romania, from my experience.  They are like department stores in that there are a wide variety of different products all indifferent parts of the several storey complex, but each department is actually it's own shop, even though there are no real walls or doors around each shop.  While there I found a shop that was selling yarn.  Since I am trying to crochet up a storm, I was very pleased with my find.  We walked around the old part of the town for a bit before going for lunch, where we again met up with Nicole's american friend, Harrison.  After lunch we went to a nice bookstore where I bought a book in English, some gourmet tea, and a clay, bird-shaped whistle, which I think is just adorable!  That evening we had dinner at Nicole's apartment, and she made the all-American classic Sloppy Joe.  It was amazing!  Sloppy Joes are just so delicious, and I hadn't had one in a while.  After dinner we went out and had some mulled wine, which Romanians make quite well.

Pigeons lined up outside the market

Part of the old wall of the city

Bullet holes from the Revolution of 1989

The walking street in the center of the city

The center square in the old part of the city

One of the gates of the city

Friday we delved deeper into some of the things we'd passed by the day before.  We went to Biserica Neagra (the Black Church).  Brasov is historically a German city.  This enormous church is a German Protestant one.  It got its name from a fire that left it charred, but today you really can't tell.  We also went to the history museum, and we walked around the Schei District, which was outside the original city and was where the Romanians lived when Brasov was a German city.  We also climbed the hill that sits at the center of the city, dividing the historical district from the newer (uglier) part of the city.  Atop this hill sits a citadel.  It was closed when we got to the top, but it was still a great view of the city.  For dinner we went to a traditional Romanian restaurant and I had my favorite Romanian food, sarmale, and some plum dumplings for dessert.

The Black Church

A picturesque church in the Schei District

The iconic Brasov sign

The citadel, perched on a hill

The recent snowfall complicated out climb to the citadel

The new part of the city, as seen from the citadel

The old part of the city, as seen from the citadel

Me at the citadel

A closer shot of the old part of the city, with the enormous Black Church in the center

Sarmale and mamliga for dinner

The next morning Nicole brought me to the bus station.  I took a maxi taxi for 3.5 hours to Bucuresti.  Unfortunately, I had some poor planning ahead, because less than an hour into the trip in the over crowded maxi taxi, I had to pee like nobody's business.  With some amazing willpower, I managed to survive until I got to Bucuresti.  Josi's dad was visiting her for a few days.  They had spent a day in Bucuresti and waited for me at the bus station so we could all travel to Constanta together.  Atilla and Angelina picked us up from the bus station.  They dropped my luggage by my apartment and then we all went for dinner at the Irish Pub, which is neither Irish nor a pub.  My long and exciting trip around Romania was over.  I was a bit sad to have to get back to work, but delighted to see my friends again.

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