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.
Bihor, Romania. We spent the majority of the day lounging around and walking around the town. I wish that there was more to report about this day but it was just a day to kick back and relax. We had been traveling so much, it was mostly just sitting around.
Towards the end of the day we headed up to where the cows graze and start walking home on their own. It’s a real thing. The cows literally walk home on their own. We camped out on the mountain for a while and took amazing pictures while we soaked in the view…
…and from up here you could literally see for miles.
Romania has been such an adventure. We have seen the country side and the big city of Bucharest. We have been all over this country and have experienced so much culture and hospitality. It’s been so great thus far. We still have a few more days to go before we have to return home, and I’m excited to start planning a new trip for 2017.
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.
Yesterday we came up to the mountains for some good food and family time and it was amazing. Breakfast in Romania is pretty simple: fresh tomatoes, bread, sausage and coffee. The coffee here is very strong so one cup is really all you need. Before work in America, I usually drink a whole pot and one more cup after I get to work and I still felt like I was dragging. Things just aren’t the same. The coffee is so strong that they don’t really even fill the cup all the way full. It’s filled like, 3/4th of the way full and that leaves room for plenty of fresh cream and real sugar. None of that Aspartame crap.
Peter came over about mid-afternoon and Tavi, him and myself snuck away from the cabin to play a drinking game. At this point I had already had a couple half shots of Palinca and Tavi had been drinking wine all afternoon. So when we started playing this drinking game, things became hazy real fast and I had a great time. The game was really fun, too. So it goes something like this: there’s this huge round log that sits on the ground. Then a box of nails are passed around and everyone takes one. Then you hammer the nail into the log ever so slightly so it stays upright. Then the hammer is passed around. You get one shot to hit the nail into the log all the way in. You place the hammer head next to the log then take one shot. If you miss, you pass it to the next guy. Whoever is the last guy to still have his nail in the log has to buy everyone’s drinks. Peter told me that he would play this game in America and since American’s can be so cocky and arrogant, everyone thought it would be an easy challenge. Not so much. Tavi and Peter beat me every time. And we drank more beers, and Tavi drank more wine. I think by the end we could barely stand up. I’m kidding. We didn’t drink that much.
The beer in Romania is a lot better than in America. I never liked Heineken beer. It always had this sour taste to me. When Peter bought me some I was hesitant because it never tasted good to me. The Heineken beer that we drank was produced in Bucharest and the water they used was well water which was 600 meters below the ground. So you could imagine how fresh and clean it was. And that made all the difference in the world of how a beer should taste. It was crisp and carried a little bite to it. When Tavi told me this I was astounded at how fresh everything was in Romania. Even the beer, and who cares about beer! Well, Romanian’s do, obviously. I shutter at the fact that I know people who love Coors light or Budweiser. It’s sad that those people have never tasted an actual good beer in their lives. But I digress.
Anyway. Here’s a picture of Peter and I…
…after we got done playing the drinking game. The picture is horrible but it’s all we could manage at the time for obvious reasons. We hung out at Peter and his wife’s villa for a while longer and Peter jumped in this old car that was parked behind the building. He kept telling Tavi and I that it would start and based on the condition of it I had my doubts. But he got it started. It was the funniest thing in the world.
That thing looked totally beat up, no windows, cob webs and dead leaves filled every nook and cranny on that thing and yet it still started and ran like a champion. Unbelievable. We headed inside the villa and said hi to Peter’s wife and then grabbed some old style Romanian artifacts:
Peter and I marched back to the cabin from the villa (which wasn’t that far) and Peter had this cow horn he was blowing. It was absolutely hilarious. I had the stick and he dubbed me the “Mayor” of the small town we were in. And get this: this town we were in didn’t even have a name or a zipcode. It wasn’t even on the map. People just found some land and started building cabins. Alina told us that over the years more and more cabins have been popping up. It used to be so secluded with only a few people. Now it has a small population. And now the long awaited vide of Peter and I marching back to the cabin…
…you can see Tavi working on dinner while playing traditional Romanian music and, of course Peter had to do a little dance. This is the result of good food, great atmosphere, some Palinca and fresh, home grown wine. I wished that we had brought some sour cherry Palinca from Uncle Traian because that stuff is so sweet and tasty.
We finished up yet another fantastic dinner Romanian style and said goodbye to all of our friends. Peter and his wife headed back to the their Villa, George and his family left and that was basically it. Myself and Alex helped Alina pack up the cabin and get things ready to leave while Tavi took a quick nap. Like I said; they work hard and play hard. Fast forward an hour or so and we were on our way out of the mountains when we approached this car with two men trying to clear the roadway. Apparently, a tree had fallen down right as they were driving along. Good thing for Tavi and his infamous chainsaw. The man instantly jumped out of the truck, grabbed the chain saw and made quick work of the fallen tree:
And we were on our way. I tried to take pictures of the sunset but in a moving vehicle it’s kind of hard to do that. So here’s the best one:
We got back to Beius, unloaded the truck at Tavi’s parents house and finally hit the rack for the night. The last two days were amazing and we still had about a week left in Romania.
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.
Today was Bear Caves day. I was super-excited about this because I love caves. I love exploring them and learning how they were created and all that fun stuff. This cave was especially unique because it has a pretty awesome story to go with it. “Pestera Ursilor” means Bears’ Cave in Romanian. The cave was named so, as numerous cave bears (Ursus spelaeus) were found in this cave. The cave was visited by these large animals more than 15,000 years ago. But one day, a rock slide closed the entrance while more than 140 bears were still in the cave. Becoming hungry, the bears killed one another until all were dead. Today, this story is told by their remains; tons of bear bones covering the floor of large parts of the cave with the marks of bear teeth. The Bears’ Cave dwells an extraordinary range of stalagmite and stalactite formations varying in size and forms, as well as an impressive amount of Cave Bear fossils. – Ursus Spelaeus – a species which disappeared more than 15,000 years ago. The cave entrance – which is situated at 482 m altitude – is by the tourist pavilion. Bears Cave is 1 km in length. It is disposed on two-overlapped levels: one which is larger, being 488 m in length and fitted out for tourist reasons, and an interior level, temporarily active, being 521 m in length, which is used for scientific reservation.
The cave was undisturbed until 17 September 1975 when the cave was discovered during quarry works. The marble and limestone of this area was mined by the inhabitants of the nearby village of Chiscau. The first person in the cave was quarry worker Curta Traian from Chiscau. And he still lives today. I wanted to get a picture with him but he wasn’t around. When we arrived at the caves, it cost extra (just like at the castles) to take pictures. But Ana’s, (Alex’s wife) father used to work in the area and is good friends with the tour guide. So when it came time to pay to take pictures, he told the cashier that it wasn’t necessary. So I took a lot of pictures.
Here we are about to go inside:
From left to right: Alex, Soren, me, Alex and Ana.
Just like the Salt Mine that we visited, it was very cold inside. And it was nice to get out of the heat again. Romania was absurdly hot, and I think I’ve mentioned this a few times already. But it felt good to sweat and get some much needed sun.
Here’s the tunnel as we walked in…
…pretty cool, right?
And here’s all the bear bones they have been talking about:
We weren’t allowed to go off the platforms and they told us to not touch anything. The tour guide was especially concerned about people touching the stalactite formations because oils on the human skin ruins them and they stop growing. Here’s me with a bunch of stalactite formations in the background…
…and here’s a picture with a bunch of stalactite formation:
See the ones at the bottom of the picture that are kind of flat on the top? Those ones have stopped growing because people touched them. I was very curious to know what they felt like and I’m pretty sure I refrained from touching one. I think. If I did touch one, it was one that had already been touched and wasn’t growing. That’s my story. At the end of the bear caves tour, we came upon this:
This is the remains of one of the bears at the end of the tour. The bear apparently died of starvation and collapsed. Beyond the bear there is more cave to discover. Nearly 600 kilometers of cave that scientists want to explore. The tour guide had a great sense of humor and although everything he said was in Romanian, my fiancée translated the majority of it. Or at least the funny stuff. On our way out, he played a joke on us. He claimed that bats were going to fly over our heads for a few seconds when he turned on the lights. I thought that was going to be awesome but I didn’t want a bat to fly into me so I was a little nervous. When he turned on the lights, everyone jumped but no bats flew out. It was all a gaffe but the kids on the tour all jumped and screamed. It was pretty funny.
Also, make note of the green algae growing on the rocks. This is formed by the air and humidity from the outside air getting inside the cave. When we entered the cave in the beginning there were a set of doors that we had to go through so it kept the outside air out which helps preserve the cave. But at the end, it’s pretty much just a turnstile that we exited from and all the outside air flows in and helps grow the cave algae:
We left the bear cave and headed deeper into the mountains. This spot…
…was a favorite of the aforementioned group of people we went into the bear cave with. During the summer months, when it’s super hot (like today) they would jump in the river to cool off. It was like being a kid again but as an adult. The landscape and the things to do around this area was beautiful and endless at the same time. Life seemed to go back to the basics. Playing in the river, walking around town, a simple life with out all the big city lights and big city hustle.
We headed back to the city of Beius to spend the evening with Alex’s other cousins. They lived in these old looking communist apartments. They seem very rundown and old on the outside, but I assure you. They are very nice and updated on the inside. It was cozy and very peaceful. Here’s a look at some across the way:
Notice the laundry line at the top of the photo? A lot of Romanians believe that it is not necessary to have a dryer along with a washer machine. It’s not that people can not afford one. Its the idea of people just don’t feel the need to use that type of resource to dry their clothes. They hang dry everything and let the breeze and sun do the work. It takes a bit more planning and it takes longer to do laundry but it’s very effective. I was used to the idea of just throwing them into the dryer and going to do something else but not here.
We had to be up pretty early tomorrow to head to the mountains again. Alex’s cousins were working over night and they would come home, we’d load up the truck and head out. The next three days were going to be epic.
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