We spent the day in Stei, and we headed to Oradea to get on the train. Our plan was to take a train back to Bucharest overnight so we weren’t traveling all day long which would cost us a day in Romania. We loaded up our bags and headed to the train station. It was a very rustic looking building, still very warm from the hot summer heat but we managed. It wasn’t long before we boarded the train…
….and I’m telling you. This train was old. There was no air conditioning, there were no modern restrooms…basically I just peed into a toilet and I think my pee just went down a pipe and out of the train while it was moving. Most of the windows were nailed shut for some reason and everything was squeaking and shaking while we barreled down the tracks. This is the hallway on our car:
It was quite the adventure. We traveled all evening, we watched the sunset over Romania and the train stopped every 45 minutes or so to let people off and to let people on. The train did have security and they patrolled the train cars frequently so that put us at ease.
We finally arrived in Bucharest and I was able to get a picture of one of the suspension bridges nearby:
We finally made it to the big city. Bucharest is amazing to say the least. We gathered our bags, we met up with family and friends and we departed the train station. The rest of the day we spent lounging around.
Tomorrow we would be at the airport flying back to the United States so this will be my last blog entry of our Romania vacation. Romania has taught me many things. One thing I learned, and what I was mostly interested in was communism and the rich history of these smaller European countries. Most Americans that you talk to about communism claim it’s bad, bad, bad. But that’s only because Ronald Reagan pushed so hard on the capitalistic agenda. And he did so to benefit himself and all his friends. I’m not going to get too much in depth about politics, though. The history of Romania is amazing. The castles were spectacular to see, and unfortunately they want to charge extra for taking pictures yourself but whatever. I took plenty, and have some videos of Castle Bran so I feel satisfied.
Traveling for me is therapy. Seeing the world and these remarkable places like little towns in Romania really open my eyes that modern living isn’t always going to be the way. Some of these small towns are self sustaining. They rely on one milk cow, their own crops and friends and family to get through the day. It’s a lot of hard work and there are no “sick days”, there are no vacations and no days off. It’s work 24/7.There are still places like this in the world that exist. Some of these people have very little money and have no use for it because what they grow is their currency, and it’s truly amazing to see this kind of stuff especially in 2016. I’ve lived my entire life just going to the grocery store and buying whatever I needed. A lot of the people I’ve met have built everything they need and grow everything that they eat and handle all of their problems without calling someone and paying someone to help them. It’s refreshing.
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Day 10. It was our last day on the farm with Alex’s family. We spent the night at Alex’s cousins house and Alex was going to drive us back to the little town of Stei. We made our last visit to the farm and said our goodbyes to Alex’s Aunt and Uncle. It was emotional and I did cry a little. Even though I had only spent a few days with these people, they were the most giving, kind people I have ever met. We arrived in Stei around the early afternoon and we said our sad goodbyes to Alex. He too cried a little as Alex and him were very close growing up. So it was sad. We promised to visit more often (when we could) and always welcomed them into our home (whenever they wanted to visit).
Alex drove away down the half-paved road and we went back inside Uncle Traian’s house. Who would’ve thought but he already had a bunch of food cooking…
…and I was excited. The meat is fresh. Like I’ve stated many times before, the meat is fresh. It comes straight from the animal to our plates. There is no heavy processing, there are no chemicals, no MSG’s, hormones, nothing. Just meat. And it tastes amazing. It’s like nothing you’ll ever experience in America. I envisioned even the best restaurants I’ve ever eaten at and tried to compare but there is no comparison. This food is pure. After eating very well for 10 days I really could feel my body adjusting and I felt really good. I felt like I had a lot of energy and I wasn’t getting those 2pm mid-day crashes and wanted to take a nap. It just wasn’t happening.
We feasted to say the least. We ate so good, and left overs are turned into another meal for the next day. And it all still tasted so fresh. It was awesome.
Stei is a wonderful, tight-knit community, and it was so fun to stay there. There’s a main route through the town so all throughout the day there are lots of big trucks barreling through, and the noise can get quite bothersome. But after a while you get used to it. The house we stayed in was old and full of culture. It was fun to just hangout outside, drink coffee and eat good food. I’ll miss this place, for sure.
Tomorrow we would be heading to Oradea to get on the train to head back to Bucharest. It was scheduled to be a 12 hour train ride and we decided to ride the train at night so we could sleep during travel and not lose a day just riding a train. I think the day train would’ve taken closer to 18 hours because of all the stops it would make. I’ve never been on a European cross-country train before so this would be an adventure in itself. Alex told me that we have to be extra cautious on the trains at night because some times thieves and gypsies will board the train and pay off the train guards and try to steal people’s stuff. Alex and I weren’t easy targets, though. So all this was just precautions I was prepared to take, anyway.
Tomorrow would be our final day in Stei, so we got to bed early so we could enjoy our last few hours during sunrise the next day and head to the train station. What an amazing trip it’s been so far.
We were back in Stei, and back on the farm with Uncle Traian and Tusica, (which means “Auntie” in Romanian). The mountain air did us some good as well as the food and company. It was an experience I’ll never forget. Today we were setting out to drive to Oradea to buy our train tickets so we could get on a train back to Bucharest in the up coming days.
We ate some more delicious food and then for desert we had homemade sour cherry brownies. I’m telling you. I’ve never tasted something so wonderful like this before. The sour cherries were growing right in the back yard and they had so many they used them for everything.
Uncle Traian’s dog, Jupiter loved them too:
Jupiter has kind of a sad story. They found him in a ditch as a puppy and brought him home and nursed him back to good health. I guess it isn’t that sad of a story but just the treatment of dogs in Romanian is kind of sad. Like I’ve stated before, they really aren’t looked at as a member of the family like they are in America. Although, American’s don’t exactly treat their dogs with as much love and respect as they should either. Let’s be fair.
Anyway. We drove to Oradea, (which I failed to take an really good pictures) and bought our train tickets. Initially, Alex and I wanted to take a day train back to Bucharest but we finally decided on riding the train over night. There would be less stops and it would take about 12 hours to get back and we could sleep on the train so we figured we’d actually not lose a day to travel if we did it this way. Brilliant. Little did I know that the trains were a little more dangerous during night time in Romania. Mainly because the Gypsies would target unsuspecting tourists and try to steal your stuff when you left your cabin. Not a big deal. We just wouldn’t leave our cabin.
Uncle Traian and Tusica were absolutely amazing to us on this trip. They took us anywhere without any problems and we ate the best food. It would be hard to leave this place. For the rest of the day Alex and I sat underneath the sour cherry tree in the back yard with Jupiter. The weather had cooled off a little bit which meant rain would be coming. It felt good to just lay their peacefully without a care in the world. Tomorrow we would be heading to Bihor, Romanian to visit some of Alex’s cousins again, and say our goodbyes. It would be an emotional day for everyone but that’s how it goes some times.
We woke up early to get a good start on our drive to the mountains. Today we were heading to the mountains to stay in a cabin owned by Alex’s cousins, Alina and Tavi. Rumor has it that Tavi had hand crafted this cabin with his bare hands. Tavi is this hulking machine of a human being that stands approximately 6ft 3 inches and weighs close to 280 pounds. He’s spent his entire life building things with his hands and doing farm work. When I shook his hand I could feel the raw power coming from his hand. The man had a ridiculously strong, electrifying grip that was out of this world. It was uncanny. I could feel that he had some kind of super power.
The previous night Beius had suffered a pretty crazy rain storm so my initial thought was concerning that maybe some mountain roads were washed out. Before I get into all of that, I want to highlight a couple of things. On our way to the mountains, we stopped to go fishing. Tavi broke out a fishing pole and then a sling shot. And then a bucket of maggots. He loaded the sling shot with maggots and launched them out into the water. This brought the fish closer. But the rains had been so severe that the water was pretty dirty from all the mud and dirt. So the fish would have a hard time seeing the maggots, unfortunately. So the fishing trip turned into a bust. Here’s the fishing spot:
We continued up the mountain road and stopped at a gorgeous waterfall called The Brides Veil. The water is so pure and fresh that you could literally fill your water bottle up and drink from it. Here’s a picture of the waterfall:
Up a little further was another waterfall. We were able to get water from this one and we filled up our water bottles for the road trip…
…we continued our journey towards the cabin and wouldn’t you know; my assumptions about washed out roads were right. This is what stood in our way:
The road was completely blocked by a mudslide. Big logs and rocks and lots and lots of mud covered the road. Tavi got out of the truck and immediately started picking up large boulders and throwing them aside. I couldn’t just sit in the truck and watch. I had to help. I thought to myself, “Hey, I’m strong, too!” But I wasn’t strong like this man. Not only was Tavi strong but he was an intelligent problem solver. He wasn’t just clearing the road. He was strategically placing big rocks to drive over for traction. The man was a genius. Even though he couldn’t get the truck over the washed out road on the first try, here’s how it all played out: Myself, Alex and Alina walked ten kilometers to the cabin while Tavi ran up the mountain side to get signal on his cellphone to call his friend who owned a bulldozer, (Yeah, he has a friend who owns a bulldozer) We picked wild strawberries, and laughed and joked about stuff and picked flowers and listened to nature and all that fun stuff. Tavi also called his friend, Peter who came and picked us up on the road and drove us the rest of the way to the cabin. When we arrived at the cabin, Tavi was minutes behind. It turns out these two Landrover trucks from the Czech Republic drove over the washed out road which created a pathway for Tavi to drive his truck through. And this is the cabin we were staying in…
…hand crafted by Tavi and a few of his friends. Romanians build everything themselves. Well, as much as they can, anyway. It’s not like them to hire an outside company or contractor to come out and build something for them. Even the swing in the picture was hand made. Tavi built that in two or three days. I told him that him and I could go in business together and he could build swings and sell them in America. I was a little skeptical of Peter at first because he seemed kind of out there. When he picked us up off the road, he was smoking a cigarette and speaking pretty good English. So I mean, I was like, at least I can talk to this guy. Then he drove kind of crazy through the water-filled potholes and I thought we were going to die. I looked back at Alex and Alina, (who were in the back seat of the SUV) and they seemed fine with it. I figured I was being a little too uptight and just tried to enjoy the moment, I guess.
Peter’s story is really interesting and unique. He’s Romania, works in Chicag0 6 months out of the year, and returns to Romania to do whatever he wants. He’s married and both he and his wife own a little Bed and Breakfast villa in the mountains. His wife is from Brazil, if I can remember correctly and since he earns money in America, and being that the dollar stretches pretty far in Romania, he can basically live like a king. It sparked a lot of ideas in my head about doing the same thing. And why not? Romania is awesome.
Tavi, myself and Peter hung out like brothers for the remainder of the night. Peter and I wandered off to a bar up the street and drank a few beers. We hung out with these older guys and they talked about crooked politicians, and some spoke some English and one guy had been to San Francisco quite a bit so when I told him I was from Seattle, he knew exactly what that was about. Once we got back to the cabin, Tavi was full steam ahead cooking up the best food a person could ever taste. I am not kidding. It was all done old school. And I’m not talking 1960’s style. I’m talking 19th century style cooking. It starts like this:
He brought out this huge pot looking thing and shaved up some kindling. Then he got the pot ready…
…and got the fire going…
…and then he filled the pot with fresh meat. Chicken and pork and it was mixed with some red wine and all the juices…it was so good. Before that, Tavi treated us with Slanina. It’s bread with sliced onions on it with pork fat dripped onto the bread. He was saying something like it’s “the food of the Vikings” and “only Americans eat that”. It was so funny, and of course he was joking about the American part. It was awesome tasting and so flavorful. All the food we ate was fresh. No heavy processing, no chemicals, nothing like that. So you could really taste the food and the meat just dripped off the bones. Alina made roasted eggplant paste or something like that and since I have never had eggplant, I was hesitant to try it. But after a few shots of Palinca, I was game to try anything. Tavi poured fresh honey into the bottle of Palinca that made it a bit sweeter and easier to drink. Since it takes like rubbing alcohol, (it’s basically moonshine) the honey took the edge off.
The cool mountainous air made being at the cabin so much more enjoyable than being in the city. It rained a few times while we were up there but there was nothing like it. The air was crisp and refreshing, the food was amazing and beautiful and the family atmosphere was totally awesome. I felt at peace and I didn’t feel like there was a heavy dark cloud over my head. I wasn’t looking forward to leaving the cabin environment and I certainly wasn’t excited to get back to America at this point. The daily grind, the daily 9-5, commuting to work, paying bills and bumming around on the weekends seemed pointless, and it felt frustrating to have to return to that kind of place. I get that I can’t be on vacation my whole life, there has to be some kind of aspect of work and responsibility, and I usually try not to judge places I visit, and want to move out there because I’m having a fantastic time because realistically I’m on vacation. So I have zero responsibilities. It just seemed like being an American, and living in supposedly the “greatest” country in the world, why are Romanians happier, healthier and living better than I? Happiness comes from within but our atmosphere surely can influence that.
I’m sure not everyone in Romania is happy with their living conditions or way of life. As I learned more about Communism and the state of the country, it still seems better than where I currently live. Romanians work hard and play hard. That’s their motto. Most seem carefree and worry-free and that’s probably part of my problem. I worry a lot and I can’t just focus on one day at a time. We had one more day at the cabin and I was going to enjoy the heck out of it.
I called the airport first thing this morning to get an update on the luggage situation. The lady on the phone said she sent a message to the Amsterdam aiport and they are not responding. So she said she’d keep trying. There are only three or four flights out of Amsterdam to Romania a day. The problem is this: we were leaving for the country this morning so last night we were struggling to make a decision to either A). Wait one more day to see if the bag would arrive to Bucharest or 2). Leave for the country anyway. The other problem we were facing was Alex’s uncle, Uncle Traian had driven nearly 600km to Bucharest from a small town called Stei and was staying in a hotel the night before and we were scheduled to leave for Stei this morning. So waiting on the bag one more day would really set things back.
We decided to leave and forget about the bag.
Mr. Nic dropped Alex and I off at the hotel where Uncle Traian was staying, we got into his car and off we went towards Stei. Our first stop was Castle Peles in a tourist town called Sinaia. It was absolutely stunning and this was my very first castle I’ve ever visited. I was stationed in Germany for a number of years while in the Army but never made it out to any castles. So it was pretty exciting to see an official European castle.
Here’s a picture when we first walked up:
It cost 20 Lei (which translates to about $5 USD) to get in plus an additional 15 Lei for pictures. Alex had already seen this castle and had paid to take pictures about four years ago so she talked me out of paying to be able to pay for pictures. I could’ve easily snuck a few pictures here and there but I didn’t want to be that guy getting caught and ruining the chance of seeing the castle. It was a guided tour and took approximately 25 minutes to see the bottom and 1st floor of the castle. There were lots of interesting facts and tidbits of information by the tour guide but the sheer beauty is about all I wanted to see. I did sneak a castle selfie at the end…
…but that picture doesn’t do the castle any justice. It was gorgeous inside and I almost regret not paying extra to take pictures. There was a giant mirror inside the castle that was transported by train and then by horse and buggy and it didn’t break. We also saw a painting that was painted by a man who only used his feet. We also saw a real-life bookshelf trap door in the library but it was out of service due to renovations.
Our route towards Stei was through the country. So this was a common occurrence and the Romanians joke and say, “Ambuteiaj” which means “traffic jam”:
The country was beautiful. The small towns were so unique and rustic with old world charm. I was overwhelmed by the beauty. I sat in the front seat of the car next to Uncle Traian and at first when I arrived to Romania and met Alex’s friends and family, I thought the language barrier would be a huge problem. I spoke very little Romanian and most Romanians who knew very little English were embarrassed to speak because they were worried they’d get words wrong. It turns out that the language is pretty easy to understand and learn. So the language barrier was not an issue. Plus, Alex was fluent in both languages and could easily translate.
Growing up in America I was always taught that communism was a terrible, terrible thing. As I grew older I learned to formulate my own opinion, research and learn about things on my own. Naturally. Anyone with half of a brain should be doing so. I was interested in learning about the different political governments. America is heavily capitialisitic and other countries have more socialistic outlooks and being that Romania was under heavy communistic rule, I was eager to talk to people about it. But I was nervous about bringing up the topic because like I said, I learned that communism was all bad.
The road trip we were taking would take nearly two days because of all the stopping we would be doing. So I had a lot of time to talk to Alex’s uncle about communism since he lived through that era. He told me that even though they were under strict rules and laws, the government was always there to take care of everyone. Rarely did anyone suffer. In fact, no one suffered. If you were out loitering the government officials would stop you, ask you what you were doing and if you didn’t have a good reason they’d take you in and give you a job right there. Everyone had to work. Roads were maintained, everyone had jobs and nearly everything was paid for: healthcare, child care, vacations, retreats for wellness, and free apartments. The downside to communism (and there is always a downside to every government system) was there was absolutely no room for anyone to be creative or create their own idea. It just wasn’t allowed. The government provided everything for everyone.
Communism also made sure everyone was equal. No one became more independent than anyone else. The government audited people’s bank accounts to ensure no one was accepting money from outside the country if they had reasonable suspicion. The farmers who grew crops generally sold their produce to the government and received the same amount of money like everyone else did. Meat, bread, sugar, cheese, and oil (among other things) were rationed to make sure everyone got an equal share. So therefore it was very hard to come by. But people didn’t suffer. There wasn’t any homelessness and everyone had a piece of the pie. If you’re caught getting extra rationed produce because you were close friends to a farmer, you were sent to jail. Since Communism ended, some Romania’s say, “now we have everything we want but no money to buy it”.
Communism ended in December of 1989. The people wanted it gone because of the major influence from the United States of America during the Reagan era. Romania wanted to copy America but some have the opinion that now they’ve experienced how America is, communism may not have been all that bad. Alex’s uncle seemed like it wasn’t terrible because he didn’t have to worry too much about things. He told me that since communism ended, the Romanian politicians have become very corrupt. They line their pockets with dirty money, they make laws that favor their own interests and they’re lying, dirty, corrupt people. I told him America is much the same way and he said while laughing, “A trebuit sa invatam de la cineva”. Romanians have a great sense of humor.
The thing I learned about communism is that things worked. Things functioned. Roads were repaired in a timely manner. While we drove around Romania, there was a lot of road construction. The road workers were just standing around, sleeping in tractors and drinking in the shade. No work was being done. Under communism, the roads would be fixed in a month, Uncle Traian stated, “Now? It takes them 10 years.” He wasn’t even exaggerating. Alex had visited this same area in 2012 and the roads were still being worked on. If you could see the condition of some of these roads, you’d be appalled. Some are so bad you can barely drive on them from all the potholes and road work.
Serbia actually had a better communistic program that worked a lot better than Romania. The reason why communism didn’t work in Romania is because it was overly strict. They didn’t allow Romanians to take vacation outside of the country like Serbia did. People were happier in Serbia under communism. Romanians didn’t worry about tomorrow like they do today. Back then, their money was strong. The country was in surplus by 7 billion dollars. They could buy what they needed. Today, it’s a lot harder because the Lei isn’t as strong. Ultimately, communism fell because of a revolutionary spark that started in Timisoara, Romania in 1989. Few remember the original cause but hardships with food rationing combined with growing animosity towards the government led to a full scale revolution. The most violent of all communism revolutions across Europe.
What a history lesson.
We arrived at a small restaurant in the country and I almost ordered cow stomach soup. I just couldn’t build up the courage to eat it. A lot of people seem to like it but I was told that if I saw how it was prepared I’d never want to eat it. Ever.
We finally arrived at our second castle. Bran Castle (where Dracula lived for many years) located in Sighisoara. Dracula was a real person back in the 1600’s but his real name was Vlad Tepes (also known as Vlad the Impaler). He received this name from stabbing criminals in the chest with a stake and letting them die in the streets in front of the public. It was a great crime deterrent. Bram Stoker created Dracula based on some of Vlad the Impaler’s history and background and being that the castle was located in Transylvania it gave it a nice ring. Transylvania is a region in Romania.
Here’s a few more pictures of the castle:
Sighisoara is a nice tourist town and we ended up staying in a hotel there. I learned something about hotels in Romania, too. On most of the hotel signs they use a star rating. Five stars are obvious the best. But three stars are more practical. We still got all the creature comforts that a five star hotel had but for a lower price. So it was worth it. We ate dinner at a local restaurant and the food was exceptional. Nothing compares to home cooking in Romania, though.
Initially, my girlfriend and I, Alexandra, were going to go to Georgetown today. But since we were so badly sunburnt from the day before we decided to stay indoors for the better part of the morning. We finally braved the sun and ended up in Camana Bay.
I don’t know about other hotels within the area, but the Holiday Inn has been exceptionally good to us on this trip. We’ve had complimentary shuttles all week so we haven’t had to take a cab anywhere. When I went to Chicago earlier this month, I used Uber and other taxi services to get to and from Wrigley Field but it was entirely too expensive.
Camana Bay was awesome. We ate at a place called The Upper Crust…
… and Alexandra ordered the Croque Madame…
…and I got the Fish n’ Chips:
I know, I know. I’m in the Cayman Islands and ordering typical American dishes at restaurants. Rest assure. When we hit up Georgetown and Seven Mile Beach, we will be eating exquisite seafood once we find a place. The shopping center was really pretty and the few shops that we did go into, the merchandise was extremely expensive. We went into a store called Sand Angels and they had swim suits in their for $80 dollars! Since Alaska Airlines had lost our luggage, we had to buy some swim wear so we could at least enjoy our first day in the Caymans and the store we went to was called Divers Supply. They had a lot of name brand stuff like Oakley and Polo Ralph Lauren, Hurley, etc. We ended up spending $313 dollars on one pair of board shorts, two pair of flip flops and a bikini for Alexandra. $313! Wow! Good thing the airline is reimbursing me.
We ventured over to a small island that had a bridge connecting to it…
…and once we got over there, you wouldn’t believe what we saw running in front of us in the sand:
Yep! Another Iguana!! We think the one we saw here is one of the Blue Iguanas that are protected because they were literally going extinct ten years ago.
We took our pictures on the sandy island and caught our courtesy shuttle back to the hotel:
On our way back, I noticed how much gas prices were…
…and we also passed through Georgetown. What an amazing town. We were totally excited for the next day to come to spend all day in Georgetown and while we were stopped, we snapped a bunch of pictures of three giant cruise ships that were docked close by. It was amazing to see these mammoth ships up close but the people on them have got to be the most obnoxious, egotistical humans that have ever walked this earth.
While at our hotel a couple of days ago, a huge group of people passed through while we were at the pool. One guy was chugging beer and smoking cigarettes while in the pool and they left a huge mess which allowed the Ching Ching birds to come in and scavenge all the left over food. It was pretty horrific and I couldn’t even eat my lunch because the birds wouldn’t leave me alone. That group acted so entitled like, “hey look at us, we are on a cruise”. Dumb.
Time to wrap this up and get some rest for tomorrow!