The last time I was in Romania, I was six years old. That’s when our family left Romania for America. I’ve been meaning to go back ever since. Everyone else in my family had made a trip at one point. I was the last one left. I was waiting for a perfect time to go, when Brad and I could go together so I could share my heritage with him, when we had enough money or enough time off. Unfortunately, none of those things ever happened. Since he’s asked for the divorce, I had to take this trip alone. It was hard facing that reality and vacationing alone, but it was good for me. It’s my first real vacation since I’ve been to Iraq, the first trip off to some exotic place.
I spent the first two days in Bucharest, since that’s where I flew in. I walked around all over the place, taking pictures, eating at restaurants, talking with the locals. I was surprised how quickly the Romanian language came back to me. I understood everything that everyone was saying, no problems. That made me happy. It just took me longer to come up with the right vocabulary to speak back. By the end of the two weeks and throughout, I was conversing with the locals everywhere I went. I purposely put myself in situations to talk to people in Romanian. Many that I spoke to didn’t know much English, if none at all. I got really good at managing alone out there. It made me feel good that I could fit in as quickly as I could. One of my purposes of going back was to get to know Romanians as adults. All I remember was in the eyes of a child. Life is still hard out there for them. Everyone looks for work and those that work don’t make that much. Living areas are small, work hours are long. Most of them are very skinny because they don’t eat much. The women are all beautiful, almost like models. You can tell their diet keeps them slim. Everyone walks around or takes the bus. Not many own a car. Taxi’s are pretty inexpensive so I took that around a lot as well as the subways, which were much cheaper.
My first night in Bucharest I decided to see what the nightlife was like. One of the taxi drivers warned me I shouldn’t go out alone, but what else was I going to do? I went to the heart of the club areas, where all the college students go. The first one was boring, so I went to another one. All of them were very smokey, but then there weren’t many places that people didn’t smoke. The music was much better in the second one and the life of the clubs didn’t really begin until about midnight. The dance floors filled to unfamiliar music. They played Romanian techno music, you could tell they were popular to them since whenever a new song began the crowd cheered and danced some more. The beat was slower than typical techno which made dancing for me very difficult, but I watched them and they danced differently, almost Greekish, like at a wedding. Not sure how else to describe it. I don’t want to go into too much detail of what happened, but let’s just say the taxi driver was right. I ended up leaving abruptly to get away from a group of guys who didn’t seem to have limits. I had enough of clubbing. I experienced it and that was enough for me.
The next day I went for a walk in the park as I decided just to walk all over the city to get to know it. While in the park I noticed this older woman feeding a bunch of stray dogs. I went near her to take a picture and she began to talk to me. She told me alot of herself all the while feeding these dogs. She felt sorry for them, all of them strays, homeless, yet tagged on the ear. She explained the city picks up the strays, gives them shots, spay/neuters them, tags them and lets them loose again. They don’t have pounds. Romania is full of stray dogs everywhere. I was getting ready to leave when all the dogs surrounded me. One started nipping at my jeans. It confused me, they were all fine a minute ago. Something changed. Then another started and I realized these dogs were serious about being angry at me. They nipped more and harder, I kept telling them no and finally the old woman enticed them over to her with more food. She protected me from them attacking me anymore. She thought maybe they were afraid I was going to do something to the old woman and take away their food. When I sat to see what the dogs had done, the first leg had some bruises from their teeth. I was surprised to see that the second leg had much more. One dog had gotten me pretty good, scraping the skin off where its teeth had been. It looked bad, but it wasn’t really bleeding. When I went to the hotel, they gave me some antiseptic to clean the wound. One said I should go to the hospital while the other said I didn’t need to since the dog had a tag. I really didn’t want to stick around Bucharest anymore. When I got to Brasov, I got it checked out.
Bucharest, the capital city, was not for me. I did not feel at home there. It was messy, it was large and it was cold. Two days there was enough for me. I took the first train ride of my vacation to Brasov where I spent the rest of my time. I went to the E.R. where they gave me a tetnus shot for the bite and cleaned the wound thoroughly. They sent me to another hospital to get the rabies shot the next day. That was the beginning of a new adventure. It was strange to see that the medical personnel all wore bath robes as their uniform at work. The system works so much more differently than I was used to in America. Everything is so old, their methods even seemed outdated. I realized this was not a place I wanted to get sick in or seriously injured. They were very nice and helpful, just behind the times.
From Brasov, I was able to go everywhere I wanted to. I visited Bran’s Castle, aka Dracula’s Castle by bus. What a beautiful area and an awesome site. I took some great pictures there. With my new camera, I was trying to take pictures like a professional. I think I got some really good ones on this entire trip.
I learned quickly that traveling with a credit card in Romania is not a good idea. Hardly any businesses take credit cards out there. Hardly any banks would either. What an adventure it was just to get some cash! I also learned that they don’t believe in laundromats, at least in Brasov they don’t. When I asked to go to somewhere to wash my clothes, each time I ended up at a dry cleaners. One finally told me there is no such thing as a place to do your own laundry. When I asked how does everyone else do their own laundry, they said they all do it at home. I found out later that many just wash them in the sink and hang them to dry in their own apartments if they don’t own a machine.
I stayed in Brasov for 10 days. I took day trips all over the place. I hiked up Tampa, the mountain that overlooks the city of Brasov. On top, they have BRASOV in big white letters like in Hollywood, as well as a restaurant. I went to Poinia Brasov to go skiing. The ride to the top of the Carpathian mountain took about 10 minutes on a tram. It felt like we were half way up to heaven. What a tall mountain! At the top, the clouds moved in quickly changing visibility from seeing white on the ground to seeing white all over and not knowing if it was the ground or the sky you were looking at. I hadn’t gone skiing in several years, so I decided to take it slow going down. Everyone had passed me leaving me all alone on that large white mountain. I stopped along the way to take pictures. The snow was great, it made that slush sound when my ski’s turned, the air breezed across my face. I built up my confidence and picked up speed. As the paths twisted and turned, I twisted and turned with it. It brought such a smile to my face, the freedom, the speed, the adventure. Even though all the while I was talking myself into the courage to continue skiing, telling myself I could still ski. It worked. The only problem was that it was March and winter hadn’t been that rough. The snow on top of the mountain was abundant, but as I went lower, there wasn’t much left and it didn’t look like they made their own snow. So whatever was on the ground was what was left. It took me about an hour to make it near the bottom. All of a sudden the beautiful slushy snow was gone and all I was left with was a layer of thin ice. Talking to myself again, I built up the confidence to get through it. It was much harder to control, let alone stop when I wanted to. But I had to get myself off the mountain. Then it got worse. The ice ran out. There were huge patches of just dirt and rocks with some ice around. Let’s just say I learned the hard way that ski’s don’t work on dirt. I had gone too fast from the ice patch before and couldn’t avoid this dirt patch in front of me. My ski’s hit and they went a little forward, but not nearly as fast. My body continued with its momentum to end up flat on my face with my hands outstretched on the ground in front of me. I crashed hard and fast. It jolted my entire body. Ouch! As I lay there in shock, I realized there was no one around. I would have to help myself. I didn’t move, not yet. I needed to collect myself again, see what I did before I got up. I was still alive and I didn’t think I broke anything, but I hurt. One ski fell off and I picked myself up to see that my hand was bleeding. I had pebbles and dirt all over myself to include inside the cut of my hand. I cleaned myself enough to be able to hold on to my ski pole without too much pain and decided I needed to get off that mountain. I managed to find enough ice spots to make it to the bottom, thank goodness! Now all I wanted was to find a first aid area to get my wound cleaned off. That’s another thing I learned about Romania, hardly anyone has first aid anywhere. I couldn’t find a medical station, the stores didn’t have a first aid kit, nothing. So I found a bathroom, washed my hands and that was all I could do until later. In the end, I took care of it myself by buying some supplies from the local pharmacies.
My two week trip ended up turning into almost a 6 week trip. As of now, I am still in Europe all because of that dog in Bucharest. My work won’t let me return until I complete the rabies shots, a series of 5 shots in 28 days plus another week to make sure I don’t have any symptoms. I’ve been hanging out in Germany since then. The scary part of all of this was coming to grips with the fact that I could die. If the dog actually had rabies and gave it to me and the vaccines didn’t work on me, this is something that could kill me. I went through many different phases of thoughts and decided that I can’t let that bother me. If I were to die over this, I don’t want to spend the last few weeks of my life worrying about whether or not I was going to die. That’s why I continued on to vacation in Germany. I’ve already been all over Germany and just got back from Berlin, visiting historical sites there. Coming up, I will go to Brussels and Luxemburg as well. I have one week left here before everything is determined, either I die or I go back to work in Iraq. This trip has been so hard on me because I love my job in Iraq and I have so badly just wanted to go back at the time I was supposed to. The fact that they can keep me away is so difficult for me to accept. I am a workaholic and I have now over-vacationed. I am needed back at work and that’s where I really want to be. I can’t wait until this trip is over, as fun as it has been, so I can go back to work. In many ways, this has been a form of torture for me. But, looking at things from a larger perspective, I do believe everything happens for a reason. I don’t know what that reason is, but it’s obvious I wasn’t meant to go back when it was planned. So all I can do is take it one day at a time and have faith that all will work out the way it’s meant to be.