Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Petrosani, Timisoara, Belgrade, Cluj-Napoca, Sovata, Mangalia, Vama Veche, and Bulgaria: The Long-Awaited Conclusion to My Journey

So... I never finished my blog.  At least, I never finished the journey of my time in Romania.  Over a year later, it's about time I get some closure!

As the train approached Petrosani, I saw these surreal, misty mountains.
 Two weeks after the Conference in Sibiu, I taught my last class and then took the overnight train (again!), this time to a conference in Petrosani.  Petrosani is a small city in Hunedoara County.  It is a poor coal mining community, more or less equivalent to West Virginia in the United States.  The conference was hosted by the University of Petrosani and organized in part by Karla Buru.  The focus of the conference was social work.

A beautiful Orthodox church in Petrosani.
 The conference was attended by both Romanians and Americans, college students, professors, and volunteers, as well as a few guests from other countries.  On the first day there was a series of lectures, workshops, and a panel of volunteers who have worked both in Romania and abroad.  There were four of that year's Romanian Fulbrighters in attendance, plus one Fulbrighter in Moldova and one in Macedonia.  We were graciously put up in some rooms owned by the Catholic charity Caritas.  All the Fulbrighters, plus three Peace Corps volunteers were all housed together.  On the second day of the conference, we went in groups to visit two daycare centers.  One is specifically for children with disabilities (but accepts other children, too) and both serve poor families.  That evening there was a dinner party for us, with plenty of food and traditional Romanian singing and dancing.  It was such a treat to get to join in the dancing.  It was so much fun!

We played games with some kids in Petrosani.

A beautiful cave that we visited near Petrosani.

Typical Romania haystacks.  This was a picture I wanted for so long!

I just think they way that they're made is so interesting.
 After the conference, I took a trip to Timisoara with fellow Fulbright ETA Jessica.  She showed me around the city (which is beautiful!), and then we plotted a day trip to Serbia.  It was a crazy, hectic day.  Our schedule: 6:00 am train to Belgrade, arriving at 9:00.  We explored the city, visiting the fortified ruins overlooking the river, stopping at some street vendors, buying delicious pastries, and enjoying a very high-class brunch for an excellent price.  Our return "train" departed Belgrade at 3:30 pm.

The main square in Timisoara.  A bloody protest was held here during the Communist Revolution.  You can see the new buildings on one side and the old ones on the other.

I think this is a Catholic church.  It is definitely in Timisoara.
 You may have notice the quotation marks surrounding "train".  This is quite intentional.  This journey between Romania and Serbia was the most suspect and confusing journey I have made in my life.  I have a feeling the same is true for Jessica.  When we departed Timisoara in the morning, we boarded the oldest and most run-down train I ever saw in Romania.  It was abysmally hot because the heat was jammed on, and our window wouldn't stay open.  The seat cushions were one massive, bulbous mound of pleather.  We got ourselves situated for the trip, and only an hour later, we arrived at the border.  There was some waiting around, then some border officials came for our passports, which they took with them into the station.  Our passports were returned and we were just waiting for the train to start back up.  It's a bit fuzzy at this point, but I believe a man came passing through the corridor shouting something about the "autocar".  Autocar means bus in Romanian.  We slowly gathered that we were supposed to get off the train.  We clambered down to the platform, passed through the station, and discovered a dated bus waiting in the parking lot.  By this point, the number of Romanian speakers had seemed to plummet, and Jessica and I found ourselves climbing aboard, without much idea of what was happening and where we were going.  We were eventually deposited in front of the train station in Belgrade.  Before heading out to explore the city, we needed to figure out how exactly our return fare worked.  Did we board a bus?  Where would we would we find it?  Were our tickets any good or were we going to have to thumb it back to Romania?  We made a beeline for the international sales office, where the clerk spoke English.  She was able to tell us that our bus/train would be waiting to pick us up in front of the train station, in the place it had dropped us off.  On our return trip, the bus left us at the border, where we hopped back on a train to Timisoara.  In contrast, my return train from Timisoara to Constanta was on the nicest car I ever rode on during my Romanian year.
Jessica, enjoying the comforts of our train to the Serbian border.

I'm jolly but confused about where on earth this Serbian bus is taking us.

Living on the edge in Belgrade.

The proliferation of birds on the citadel's walls was very unsettling.
 I should also mention our mild run-in with what could have been some sort of military or revolutionary faction...or not, we don't really know, but I guess I might as well make it sound far more exciting than it was in reality.  Jessica and I were walking down a street in Belgrade when a car drove by, with men hanging out of it, with a Serbian flag, and some sort of mild explosive.  It was probably firecrackers.

The cars of the men with the firecrackers, in Belgrade.  They stopped at a traffic light, so I was able to take this shot.
 Sooooo... I went back to Constanta, for the month of June.
The following week, Josi and I took the bus down to Mangalia and Vama Veche, near the Bulgarian border.  Mangalia is a nice little city, like a calmer version of Constanta.
Another week later, our friends Sorin and Flory took, Josi, me, and some other friends on a car trip to northern Bulgaria for the day.  It was beautiful!  We went to the beach and had lunch at a traditional Bulgarian restaurant.  On our way back to Constanta, we stopped at Vama Veche, a famous party village and beach on the Romanian side of the border.

The boardwalk in Mangalia.

The Bulgarian coast is just beautiful!

Who can walk through a field of wildflowers and NOT have a shot like this taken of them?
We had some good fun, and Josi and I took another trip to Cluj-Napoca.  Our ever-wonderful hosts Laszlo and Timea (who are now married, woohoo!) and Judith explored the city with us some more, and then took us on a trip into the countryside.  We stopped in Corund, which is the most famous town in Romania for making pottery.  I have an obsession with Romanian pottery, so of course, I bought some, plus a really cool magnet..made out of mushroom.  We continued our scenic drive, meeting up with Eniko, then heading up to a dam and a lake where we went in a row boat.  It was just perfect weather and so beautiful!  We stayed the night at a summer home belonging to Laszlo's brother, I think.  The town was Sovata, which is famous for its salt lakes.  In the morning, Laszlo decided to play a trick on us.  He went up to one of the salt lakes (more of a tiny pond) ahead of Judith, Josi, and I.  He had smeared himself with the mud and then waited for us in the bushes, jumping out at us when we walked by.  When we got to the salt lake we had to be careful of where we put our clothing, since the black mud and dirt was everywhere.  Josi refused to go in, so she made the perfect photographer.  Laszlo brought over some mud from the far end of the lake.  Judith and I had tons of fun covering our bodies with it, buy goodness gracious, it stunk!  We washed the mud off as best we could while enjoying the buoyancy of the salt water.  We were able to sit in the water with our hands and feet out, without sinking.  After our swim we walked some paths around another salt lake, as well as some tall salt hills.  There may be some sort of official name for those things, but I have no idea!  We also went to another, smaller salt mine.  It had a chapel inside, which was very beautiful in the carved out cave. We returned for a final day in Cluj, and I got to meet with my Kellerhaus friends one last time.  That night, we splurged and took a sleeper car back to Constanta.
Kellerhaus friends in Cluj

The salt lake in Sovata

We were thoroughly covered in the mud in Sovata.

Swimming was easy, thanks to the high salt content.

Me. Laszlo, and Timea at Bear Lake

Constanta, again! (Sorry this lacks the finer details and continuity of the other posts.  I'm doing a poor job of remembering chronology.  I'm relying on my pictures to help me remember the order of events.)  My group of friends through us all a goodbye party, which included games wherein Josi and I gave away things we weren't able to bring home with us.  Josi and I had made a movie on our trip to Cluj.  It had a bunch of pictures of our friends and us over the course of our year in Romania.
I just love the public notices in Romanian transportation!
I seriously wonder if Constanta's buses had past problems with people sawing at the bus seats...
 The last few days I moved in with Josi, since my rental period was up.  We planned a trip to go to Varna, Bulgaria.  We looked up bus times online, booked a hotel, and were all set to go.  When we arrived at the bus station...there was no bus, at all that day.  Or the next day. Bye, bye trip!  We went back to Josi's apartment and just hung out!  When it was time to leave, Mihaela came by Josi's apartment, to drive me to the airport.  We had a tearful goodbye, and then I was off!

This was just the most quaint little Romanian boat, in the harbor in Constanta.
 I think I covered all the main things that happened during my last month in Romania.  Now, two years after I began my grant period, so many things have changed.  I'm now living in Connecticut, teaching middle school English and in two and a half weeks, I'll be marrying the man of my dreams (Nate, of course!)  In five days, I have the pleasure of picking up Josi at the airport.  She'll be staying with me for two weeks, then she'll be a bridesmaid in my wedding, and return home to Germany just in time for her first day of a new semester.  It will be the first time we've seen each other since I said goodbye in Constanta.  I'm so excited!

The Constanta Harbor at sunset.

Thanks to all who read my blog.  Welcome to people who are stumbling upon it or who wind up here through Google image search!  I hope my ramblings made sense, and I hope to visit Romania again someday.