Sunday, October 25, 2009

My last post was a bit long, and I understand that perhaps you, the reader, become overhwhelmed at the daunting task of reading several paragraphs. For your sake, let me summarize my time in Romania in a clear, concise list. (Truth be told I'm just feeling lazy)

-Arrived by train to Brasov, Romania after taking a short detour to the next town over. You see, dear reader, there are things called time zones. Crossing one while going east will skip you an hour forward. This is important to remember when trying to match arrival time with destination. Instead of thinking you have another 30 minutes until your destination, a properly set watch will inform you that you're train is actually 30 minutes late. Lesson learned!

-Checked into my hostel, dropped off my pack, and headed up the nearby mountain to the Brasov sign. It's the same idea as the Hollywood sign, only shorter because clearly, the town's name isn't so big. Somehow I was surprised to learn that Romanian hiking trails might not be clearly marked, so instead of taking the short route back home, I began a trek that took me deep into the unknown Carpathian mountains with no end in sight. I realized my mistake and turned around (eventually) but will never understand why two VERY different trails would use the exact same symbol to mark the way...

-Somehow between crawling into bed and waking up in the morning I managed to misplace my locker key provided by the hostel. They have a spare, but I sadly lose my key deposit upon check-out.

-Participated in two tours to nearby areas. The first, Bran Castle, is advertised as Dracula's Castle, or more accurately Vlad the Impaler's Castle, but is actually neither. He spent some time there locked in the dungeon, but his real castle is in ruins somewhere not too far from here. It was surprisingly small for "castle" status, but still a decent tour. The second tour was to Peles Castle a bit further away. It was one of the most insanely extravagant buildings I've seen, and they made us wear slippers over our shoes while walking inside. Taking pictures cost 6 times more than the actual entrance fee of 1 euro, so sadly I don't have any photos from inside.

I leave tomorrow evening by train and have over 24 hours of travel before arriving at the train station nearest my cousin, but I am very excited to get there so I'm sure the trip will go by quickly. Until then!

Thursday, October 22, 2009


Tonight is officially my last night in Budapest, and though I'd like to stay longer my desire to have enough time in Romania coupled with the fact that my hostel is totally booked over the weekend means I leave tomorrow evening for Brasov, Romania.

My time in Budapest has been amazing from minute 1, and I could not have asked for better accomodations. It's not even that my hostel is cheap, but the fact that I feel like I'm hanging out in someone's living room, completely at home. As soon as I got here I was treated like a friend and was offered food, homemade wine, and sat down for several hours of conversation of what to do in the city. Hungarian as a language is absolutely incomprehensible to me, and I can't even pretend to know what's going on. My bumbling American mouth can't begin to attempt the subtle differences between the 12 different Hungarian vowels. But it's great feeling removed from the rest of Western Europe and one definitively notices a difference in the atmosphere once in the city. And as for the city, it may very well be one of the most magnificent and gorgeous places I've visited. The only thing more beautiful than Budapest is Budapest by night. I had the chance to climb the citadel on the Buda side of the river (didn't know beforehand that Budapest is actually 'Buda' and 'Pest' separated by the Danube river) on my first night of arrival, which provided stunning views of some of the most impressive buildings I've seen thus far.

My second day I was feeling quite worn out from all my walking, so I headed to the natural thermal spas located in the city. The one I went to was the largest complex, and although a bit confusing in the beginning, I got my changing cabin and found my way to the baths. I don't remember how many there were, but someone at my hostel claimed 18 indoor, and 2 outdoor (don't quote me on those numbers). I do know there were a heck of a lot, all with different temperatures and purposes. Types of pools included many regular hot tub style of varying temperatures, one for doing aerobics, one with a circular current, and a room full of baths emitting gasses and other natural elements. The outside pools were my favorite and much larger, with fountains cascading heavy streams of water to provide massages on the neck and back. They also had saunas of every variety, from dry to steam heat, aroma therapy, and light therapy. Outside of the hottest they provided cold water baths, and the very hottest had a room to massage yourself with ice. It was absolutely ridiculous and over the top. I spent over three and a half hours just wandering from bath to sauna and back again. Being the off season for tourism meant that the spas weren't too crowded or saturated with obnoxious foreigners. It seemed that most of the clientele were older Hungarian folk, relaxing, chatting, or playing chess within the pool. All that relaxing wore me out and worked up my appetite, so I didn't do much else exciting for the day except eat some food from a street vendor and call it a night.

Today my big activity was heading slightly out of town with two others from the hostel to go caving under the city. Budapest has heaps of underground tunnels in the limestone thanks to all the thermal springs, and our hostel arranged a tour for us even though they weren't scheduled to run today. It was only the three of us plus the guide, so we got a great, personalized tour through the caves. I was told before leaving that the trip can be a bit claustrophobic and that I should be ready for small spaces. I did not, however, imagine we would be crawling through some of the spots that we did. At some points the guide would have to tell us exactly how to fit through; "left arm straight ahead, on your right side, head up, push with your right leg." I would look at some of the holes we went through and think, "there's no flipping way I can fit through that!" but somehow my body flattened out as we crept through tunnels and passageways deep below the city. Several times we would reach an open spot, turn off our lights and sit in absolute silence and darkness, enjoying the peace and tranquility of the caves. It was incredible and not something I was expecting to do when visiting a bustling metropolis such as Budapest.

But sadly tomorrow I must continue on. I will hopefully wake up early enough for a free walking tour through the city (Assuming it still goes. Tomorrow is a national holiday so many things are closed) before grabbing a night train to Brasov, where I will be for a short time before reversing course and heading back west and north to my cousin Anna's in Germany. I'm having a heck of a great time travelling at the moment, but I am equally as thrilled to visit my cousin and her family. Part of me wants more time to explore on my own, and the other can't wait to be with loved ones and I'm very anxious to see them.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Berlin, Utrecht, Vienna

I ended up staying in Berlin one more night because I just couldn´t pull myself away. I saw a lot of cool things and met a local who showed me around to some stuff I never would have found on my own. For example, I would not have found the amusement park in the middle of the woods, overgrown with vegetation that was left to its own devices after the wall came down. Crazy stuff to be sure, and not very old in the history books.

From there I travelled to Utrecht, in the Netherlands. My original plan was to go south and east, so it´s funny that after a week of being on my own I actually managed to backtrack and head west... But I found someone to couchsurf with and I wanted to see a concert, so west it was. There were some complications with my train, I arrived late, never met my couchsurfing host, and other silly issues that arose. But I still saw the show and managed to have a great time, even if the city isn´t very visitor friendly (no hostels, no internet cafes, no road names on posted street maps). Today I left bright and early for Vienna, where I am currently enjoying the luxuries of a shower and a warm bed after my (mis)adventure in Utrecht.

I would love to go on about what I´ve been doing but internet time is short and I have other things to accomplish before I run out of time. But I am safe and warm and happy as a clam!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


That's right, I have left Scandinavia altogether and headed to mainland Europe! It all came fairly quickly and I haven't planned out too well what my itinerary will be, but I have the next three days here to figure it out. Sophie is still in Sweden and will be there until we meet up again at my cousin's in Germany. Sweden was definitely a great time but I decided that while Sophie is visiting with her family I could see some sights that originally weren't on the schedule. I really wanted to see some Eastern European countries but together Sophie and I didn't have time. Now that I'm meandering on my own I will have no problem plotting a course east!

My plan is to stay in Berlin for a few nights, maybe add another night if I feel like I haven't seen everything I want to here, then catch a train down to Vienna. Stay a while, then head to Budapest before going east into Romania. I don't know how long I will be staying each place but I will be sure to keep everyone updated. I know it's important to let people know where I am and what I'm doing while travelling alone so I will update more frequently during the next few weeks.

But so far so good! Although I've only been in Berlin for a short time, the city seems absolutely incredible! It's a big place (3.something million people) but still totally affordable with lots to see and do. Today I'm on the hunt for a cheap haircut which hopefully will go alright considering my total lack of German. I already learned that just because a giant pair of scissors hangs above a store front doesn't mean it's a hair salon (tailoring shop). The friendly, non-English speaking lady and I played a short game of charades and she pointed me across the street to a REAL salon. Once there the very well-dressed hairdresser gave me a dirty look because I obviously couldn't afford his services. (Imagine me as Julia Roberts ala Pretty Woman wandering helplessly down Rodeo Drive). And although I don't speak German I still got the message of what he was saying, turned tail, and walked out.

I needed a break in an internet cafe, but now I'm recharged and ready to try again! I still have a lot of city to see so I can't spend all day wasting my time on the computer. I will keep you posted when I change location or if any major changes come up. Until then!


Thursday, October 8, 2009

Sometimes it's hard to break away from all that we're doing and sit down on the computer. And once I'm there I usually just want to check my emails and get going again, so it's difficult to motivate myself to post something. But I do want to let everyone know that we are healthy and happy, and I'm thankful for everyone who is thinking of us and keeping tabs on our journey. We are thinking of you, too, though we might not always express that often enough via email, Facebook, or blog form. So thank you family and friends, we are grateful to you all and miss you something fierce.

With all that mushy business out of the way I can get you caught up on what we've been doing since I updated way back yonder in Kjolsdalen. Currently we are staying in Sweden in a place called StrandsgÄrden with (surprise!) more of Sophie's relatives. Everytime we meet one relative, three more pop out of the woodwork. But it's very nice because everyone is amazingly friendly and more than willing to make sure we are well-fed and warm and content. Plus Scandinavians (or at least all the ones we've met) tend to have incredible English, so I don't have to worry about not speaking Swedish or Norwegian. Today we visited a local school (our third) so we could talk to the students about the United States, Minnesota, and the influence of Scandinavia at home. It is impressive to see how well they understand at such a young age and had some really good questions for us too. We've been spending our time here doing other activities such as picking lingonberries in the forest, learning to milk cows, helping out a bit in the restaurant of the b&b that the family owns, and helping the kids with their English (aka teaching them how to say things with a horrible Minnesotan accent). It's all a lot of fun!

Before we were here we spent one night in Trondheim with the American daughter of a friend of a friend or something like that. I wasn't going to ask too many questions when offered a cozy place to stay, and although our time in Trondheim was less than 24 hours we had a lot of fun with her and her Norwegian boyfriend. Scandinavian hospitality rivals that of any I've seen and everyone pulls out all the stops for us, which is far more than we could ever ask for.

Before Trondheim we were in a place in Western Norway called Eiksund staying with not-quite relatives to Sophie, but they treated us like family none-the-less. We took a good number of day-trips seeing the surrounding area, which is made up of a chain of islands. The weather may have been a bit rough, but the scenery was phenomenal regardless. We went up a mountain in Runde which in certain months is home to colonies of birds (including puffins!) but we arrived too late in the year and were greeted instead with the strongest wind I've ever experienced. I could lean into the wind, have it support my weight, and THEN have it push me backwards. It was ridiculous and fun and if it hadn't been for the drops of water hitting my face like tiny hammers I could have played out there all day! I was also given a pair of home-made knit socks by our host, which has proven to be my new favorite posession now that the temperature has dropped and we're experiencing occasional patches of snow.

That is the abridged version of the past few weeks, which I feel doesn't do our trip justice. But there's just no way I can try and explain all the great experiences we've had and all the warm generosity we've been shown in the short time my brain can focus to write a blog (and the equally short time I can attempt to hold your attention). But we will definitely have stories to tell and pictures to show when we come home in December, so I appreciate your patience with our less than consistent updates!