Dropping off the kids in Romania

Trip Start Apr 01, 1979
Trip End Ongoing

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Where I stayed
Pensiunea Ella

Flag of Romania  , Transylvania,
Wednesday, July 12, 2006

We got off the train at Timisoara. It was a beautiful day, certainly, and I was excited at the prospect of finally seeing a bit of Romania, although I had briefly wondered if I would ever make it into the country. The Romanian customs lady hassled me about my black and white passport photo. It seems they should be color, and I'll admit I've never seen another one that is black and white. She examined it for about 20 minutes, making several calls on her radio, and then asked for more identification. I gave her my Virginia driver's license, which I'm sure she's seen before, at least if she'd ever been a bouncer in a Richmond bar that is. Finally, she just wrote down all of my information, including my pants size which seemed a little out of bounds, and the train pulled away moments later.

But into the country we had made it, and it was just before mid-day on a nice Monday morning. As we left the train station, hoping to walk into the town center, one of the many taxi drivers out front sidled up to us.

"Hey, you want a taxi?"
"No thanks."
"Come on, I'll drive you."
"No, we're just going to walk, but thanks."
"WALK?!!! HA HA HA! Nobody walks in Romania!"

I looked up and saw about a dozen people within 50 feet of us who were shuffling in either direction on the sidewalks. Rather than point it out and destroy his clever sales pitch, I just proved him wrong by action, and walked quickly away. It was 10 whole minutes before we arrived in the town center. Sure, we might have saved 6 or 7 of those minutes in the taxi, but think of the children. THE CHILDREN!

Timisoara turned out to be a nice little city. The downtown area was very walkable and we had one of the best meals of the entire trip on a rooftop overlooking the city. 3 courses, including some of the best tomatoes I've ever eaten sliced into a salad, and a huge Timisoareana beer each, and the final bill was about $20 for two. Great bargain!

Since I'm now summing up my first days in Romania in this fun-filled highlights package, I'll gloss over the rest of the Timi visitations, including a church, a market, and a synagogue, all of which are recurring themes in European travel. We only stayed one night there, preferring to move on to a more tourist friendly location. To be fair, our itinerary was hardly set in stone. Besides in Budapest, we never booked a place to stay in advance, and always just jumped from place to place when we felt like it. I had a rough idea of what I wanted to do, but it was all subject to change, and often did change. Next, though, I knew we were going to Sibiu, which was proudly preparing to be the Cultural Center of Europe (along with Luxembourg) in 2007. And what a great place it was!

The quick run down on Sibiu: What a beautiful city center with a fantastic center square. I could sit in that square and enjoy the city life passing before me for hours and never get bored. It was just too much fun. We visited the cathedral while there, including watching an organ concert. We also had the chance to stay in a fantastic guesthouse with huge, comfortable rooms and fantastic breakfast for the bargain price of about $25 a night. We stayed for two nights, unfortunately changing to a second guesthouse for the second, also good but well short of our first location. But the highlight of the trip to Sibiu was the visit to a massive outdoor ethnographic museum, tucked away in the middle of the Romanian woods just outside of the town. When I say tucked away, I mean it, you literally have to walk down an overgrown wooded trail that starts off the highway in the middle of nowhere. When you come to a fork about a half mile back, signs point towards a strange zoo (right) and the ethnographic museum (left). We peered into the zoo and saw a massive bear in a cage that was significantly smaller than would have been allowed in the US. The animal had just enough room to turn around, and certainly couldn't stand on his hind legs if he wanted to. Freaky! PETA, get thee to work!

When we finally made it to the museum, our stomachs were beginning to rumble, a natural occurrence when traveling far from home and eating slightly odd foodstuffs. We asked the ticket seller in broken Romanian (i.e., English with a funny accent) where we could find the bathrooms. She pointed and gestured and nodded and ranted on and on for a few minutes. Apparently they were back that way somewhere and far. As we found out the place was massive. The exhibits were about 20-25 full size house/farm/mill replicas from the entire early history of the region, mostly made of thatch. The circuit of the grounds was almost a mile in total, and it was about mile to the shack that housed the rest facilities. When we finally made it, our guts were screaming out. They needed to be evacuated and how! I shimmied into the empty men's facilities and was punched in the face by the overwhelming stench (punched is probably too soft a word, I should have said I was stomped in the face). The place was wretched! I opened the first stall and saw a terrible sight; the entire toilet area, walls and all, was coated with a thick layer of shit. It was as if someone had exploded a shit bomb, or else enlisted the support of a dozen feces throwing monkeys. Moving to the second stall I found a slightly rosier picture. It was not clean by any means, but in comparison it might have well been on the cover of Home and Garden. But when I stepped in and began to unbutton my shorts, I looked down at my exposed arm. It was completely black with hundreds of mosquitoes covering every inch of exposed skin. I tried to brush them away, but it was no use. I saw that my legs were also covered, and fearing exposure to my most sensitive spots (and freaked out!) I dashed out of the bathroom, swatting furiously. When my girlfriend finally emerged from her own adventure, I inquired meekly about the state of affairs in the ladies facility. It was better, infested but manageable. I went quickly in, pooped, and left. My pee pee and poo poo area were bite-free.

The rest of the museum was nice and we left before the sun could set upon us. The next day we took an early bus to Medias, and made the walk of our lives... an event I'll never forget.
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