Friday, January 13, 2012

¨Are you enjoying your time at home?¨

It was no surprise this year, I went home for Christmas. After last year´s big surprise visit, I knew I couldn't pull it off again - I´m actually still impressed that last year´s surprise was successful! (Ok, except for surprising my mom. But, I blame my dad for that one!)

I was able to go home for three weeks this Christmas holiday. Three weeks! While the Spaniards thought of it as ¨three weeks in America!!!¨, it was just ¨home¨ to me. I didn't go to any fancy places nor do anything really, really cool. But, it was about the little things for me. You might think I´m crazy for some points of my list, but those who really understand what it´s like living in Spain, or abroad even, will find it more than entertaining - maybe it will hit home for you, too. 

Before I get into the list, my adventure home actually began December 15, when I made a trip back to Salamanca, my second home. Not knowing where I will be next time this year really puts things into perspective - so I want to enjoy every minute. So, with that being said, instead of heading home December 15th, my last day of work for the year (thanks to my school´s gift of one extra week for holiday!) I went to Salamanca to celebrate the new year! That´s right - I celebrated bringing in 2012 about two weeks early. Salamanca is known for throwing the biggest student new year´s party in Spain, and probably the world, since I think it´s one of a kind. Since the students go home over break, they never get to celebrate together. To fix this, they organize ¨Nochevieja Universitaria¨ (Student New Year) to allow everyone to celebrate together.

Just how many students attend? This year, there were 35,000 people inside Salamanca´s Plaza Mayor and 5,000 outside. 42 Buses came from Madrid for the event, 2 buses on the hour every hour came from Valladolid, buses from Portugal and Italy... complete with Santa hats and grape gummies, 40,000 students from all over the world rang in ¨2012¨. Happy December 16th, everyone.
At midnight, the plaza turned red and green!
Friends (from left): Michael (Valladolid), Erica (WC/Theta), Dave (Valladolid), Me, Kate (Salamanca)
On December 31st, instead of counting down from 10, Spain counts down from 12. For good luck, they eat 12 grapes - one with each strike of the 12 bells, 12 seconds to midnight. One of my fellow teachers told me that one year when there was a big grape harvest, the king of Spain decided to give grapes to everybody to eat on New Year's Eve; the tradition lives on today. They also wear red panties and throw a glass of water out the window to symbolize that there will be no tears in the new year. On Nochevieja Universitaria, students don´t eat grapes - they eat gummy bears! This year, a company actually sponsored the event and provided grape shaped and flavored gummies for all attendees: ¨Uvas del fin del año¨. It was fantastic! In true ¨Spain Whitney¨ fashion, I made the most of my night, and returned home at 2pm the next day, after having tapas for breakfast around 10:30am. The end.

Nights like these, spent with friends from Salamanca, Westminster and Valladolid are what make my memories special. It´s not that I was at the big student new year´s party... but, that I was there with friends. This same idea is seen in my list of things about home... getting down to the little things that truly matter.


10. High School Basketball 
As a former high school and college basketball player, I have always had a passion for competition. I was able to watch several high school games while I was home.  I'm not sure if it was the feeling of being back in the same gyms I played in when I was younger or not, but I wanted to get out there and play! I kept yelling at the girls, saying "shoot" or "ugh, not that pass!" - but my time has come and gone and high school basketball will have to remain in my memories. But there is something about being in a gym that smells of popcorn... hearing the whistles and squeaky shoes... it brings back the pride, tradition and passion I had for pure competition.

Since it was Christmas break, holiday tournaments were all over town; on any given night, you could watch at least 5 high school games. It's not so easy to watch a high school basketball game in Spain. While I teach at a high school, and you think it would be easy to catch a game... it's literally impossible. Why? Spanish schools don't have sports teams. It's that simple. High school sports that are so important to American high school students (and parents...and the community) have absolutely no relevance here. "Letter jackets" are a novelty you buy for fun/fashion from a popular clothing store, like Blanco, that have a "B" on them because of the store name.

I have had several private lesson students who were basketball players. When I mentioned to them that I would like to come watch a game, they just stared at me. You see, they play on intramural/AAU type teams and you can count on one hand the number of spectators that attend the games. There is no concession stand. There is no entrance fee. How do I know this? I actually went to a game. There were a handful of classmates there to watch their friends, a few parents came to pick their children up at the end of the game... and me. While Marta, my student, was pleased I came, I also felt very out of place - but I was just showing support - something super common in the USA.

Spanish teenagers have no idea what American high school sports are all about. I wish they did; high school could become something more than the place they go from 8:15am - 2:05pm everyday. They could take pride in their school; there are no school colors, no mascot... no sense of tradition or loyalty. To them, high school sports are just another thing they've seen in the movies (like "those cajas (boxes) where you put your books").

I'm happy to say I got to see some really great games while I was back and cheer on my Helias Crusaders. The wins I saw will hold me over until next year's holiday hoops! Thank you, high school holiday basketball tournament for reminding me of heart, competition, and school pride. Go HHS!
High school rivalries pack the gym! Helias vs. Blair Oaks - winner: HELIAS :)
Helias students dressed in Blair Oaks "attire"...
Blair Oaks students dressed in plaid skirts to "make fun" of us.
9. Printers/Scanners
There are so many cool things I find online to use in my classes, but the fact that I don´t have a printer or scanner readily available to use in a moment´s notice is really getting on my nerves. I print some things at school, but feel bad about using up all the paper for my own personal needs. I´d go to an internet cafe like I did last year or in Salamanca, but I´ve yet to see one in Valladolid. So, I tend to stray away from things I can´t copy by hand or do orally with my students.

However, going home was a different story. I was able to scan documents for future jobs and copy cards/books to use in class. It was so easy! I love the feeling of being able to do anything I want - when I want. And. Going home gave me that power.

8. Wal-mart
On a similar note, I love being able to buy everything I need in a one-stop-shop. There is nothing of the sort here in Spain. We have chino shops (similar to a dollar store), candy stores, hardware stores, computer stores, clothing stores, book stores, really big department stores, paper stores, pharmacies, kebabs, fruit stores, bedding, butcher shops, furniture stores.... you name it, there is an individual shop to buy the one item you´re looking for. BUT. There is no Wal-Mart. My dad says, ¨if you can´t find it at Wal-mart, either it doesn't exist or you don´t need it.¨ I´m thinking he´s right... and it takes the hassle out of running all over town, which is what I do in Spain.

Once I went to the big department store here, El Corte Ingles (Literally, The English Court), that even has a grocery section, looking for bedding. And, they told me, ¨No, that is in the other Corte Ingles¨. Seriously? So, across town I went, as it was holiday when I was on the sheet hunt and not a single bedding store was open. Talk about frustration. Wal-mart is open 24-7. You really can´t beat it. Wal-mart, I miss you. 

7. Watching TV
There´s nothing like total relaxation in your favorite chair, kicked back, watching a marathon of House Hunters International. Or, staying up late to watch a movie you've seen 100 times just because it´s on Showtime. (I watched Titanic twice!) And, while I don´t particularly enjoy watching football (American football!) on TV, I was even happy to watch it with my dad, uncle and grandpa on Christmas Eve.

There is comfort in watching your favorite things at the push of a button, and not having to search for it online.

6. Carpet
Ok, so what's the big deal with carpet? Well, every house I've lived in or been in in Spain has either had hardwood floors or tile. While I appreciate the easiness to clean my hard wood floors here in Valladolid (I don't clean it enough!), I don't especially like that it is so cold under my feet. I'm not Spanish - I don't wear house-shoes. 

There is just something about American homes that have carpeting. It's nice in the morning to wake up in your bed, jump out of it (ok, crawl in my case as I am NOT a morning person!) and land on a nice, soft, warm surface. It feels homey to me.

5. Wearing Old Clothes
What do sweatpants, graphic/advertising t-shirts, tennis shoes, sorority/fraternity apparel, and rubber flip-flops have in common? You might think workout gear or comfortably clothes... but the correct answer is "American". All of these clothing items scream "AMERICANOOO". On your next trip to Europe, leave them at home. I can count on one hand the number of times I've worn a graphic t-shirt in public while living abroad... and that's even pushing it. (Irish Rover Beer Pong Championship Winner shirts don't count!)

Spaniards (Europeans in general) wear these types of clothing for working out. Flip-flops would only be seen at the beach or in a city near the beach. Greek life doesn't exist.  Over break, I took full advantage of these Americanizing clothing items - even pulled out old hoodies from high school to root on my old team! I was so happy, but sometimes felt weird when I saw someone I would have liked to look nice for... but, then I realized my clothes was normal to them and only felt strange to me. 

Well, thanks to wonderful sales just days before I left, I stocked up on "European-looking American" items. I even bought some new jeans from one of my favorite Spanish brands - IN COLUMBIA, MO! I was so excited to see MNG by Mango brand clothing in JcPenny's. And the best part? I only paid $35.00!!!! Dollars! What a sale - since my paychecks come in the form of Euros! Thank you, exchange rate!
I love you, Mango!
4. House Parties
While I'm not fond of the cleaning process that happens before and after house parties, I do like the short commute. I also like homemade dips and appetizers... and the company that comes along with all of it. In Spain, people tend to socialize in the streets and bars instead of welcoming people to their houses. I also learned plastic plates and cups are not proper dinnerware when you've cooked a nice meal. The next time you have a Spaniard in your house at a large gathering, slip them a real plate to avoid stares.

Since I miss most holidays while living abroad, we made sure to celebrate them while I was home. Christmas Eve was Christmas themed - prime rib and lots of great tasting salads. Christmas Day was celebrated Easter style - complete with ham, deviled eggs and potato salad! New Year's Eve was the typical New Year's outing - complete with steak and lobster. And, New Year's Day was spent stuffing myself full of turkey and dressing. Thank goodness Christmas and New Year's are just a week apart so we didn't have to do much cleaning in-between house parties! That's right, we had both Easter and Thanksgiving celebrations at our house! It was nice to see friends and family... and not having to drive anywhere to enjoy them! It's almost selfish in a way... but there is so much work that goes into it. Thankfully, my parents and grandparents did most of the preparing - no one would want to eat anything I fixed anyway. ;) 
Thanksgiving leftovers.
3. Spinach & Artichoke Dip
Ok. This is more than just about spinach & artichoke dip. It's about all the foods I was able to enjoy over the break....foods and flavors I haven't been able to find here. And all the lunch dates I went on during my three weeks. Buffalo sauce. Wraps. Sushi. Brickhouse Deli salad. Madison's salad. Thai food. French Toast. Raspberry lemonade. Taco Bell. Hot fudge chocolate shakes. Free Bread and butter. Mexican. Steak. A1 Sauce. Eggs Benedict. Hot chocolate with marshmallow whipped cream. Honey mustard dressing. Ruby Tuesday salad bar. Double stuff Oreos. Free drink refills!
Artichoke Dip at Beks
Endless baskets of bread AND butter
Filet and Lobster
Buffalo chicken wrap!
Crazy Roll!
While Spanish food is good and high quality, it doesn't have any spiciness to it. (Spanish food and Mexican foods are completely different, people. They are two very unique cultures.) I was happy to mix up my flavors a bit. My grandma even took me to the store to buy lots of spice packets to get some new things cooking for me over here this semester!

I made a trip back to Fulton, to Westminster College and to Bek's. I was happy to spend time with two former teammates and good friends, Brittney and Whitney (and baby McKenna due in a few weeks!) We had Bek's famous dip and chipolte chicken sandwiches.... mem.or.ies. YUM. After catching up, in true WestMO fashion, I hit up the WC Men's basketball game with my family.  It was nice to be back at Westminster cheering on the Blue Jays... but it didn't make me miss college basketball...
Brittney, Whitney, Me
Friends and Forgotten Flavors: just another one of my favorites from my break. Looking forward to tearing into the spice packets to help me remember home while I'm at my home away from home.

2. My Car
I have to say, I was a bit disappointed in the radio. I usually love coming home, driving my car and listening to the radio, catching up on all the songs I had no idea existed. But, that wasn't the case this time. Instead, I found myself putting on old CD's I had in my car, reminding me of times gone by.

But, I was SOOOO EXCITED to have my car. (I'm not sure you understand how excited I was!) I had independence again. NO PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION!!! No bus schedules to check. No trains. Just me and my car - and we could go anywhere at any time of the day! I was caught driving around parking lots, looking for the closet spot so I "didn't have to walk far" - but then I remembered, it was only a short minute walk vs. the 20 minutes I do on average here.

So, unfortunately I couldn't fit my car in my suitcase - I'm back to using my European car "my legs". Walking in Valladolid is like walking in a cloud, no me gusta. And, it's cold. Burrr
1. Family & Friends 
The best part of being home was spending it with my family. Watching a movie, talking, playing board games, eating out, eating leftovers, baking, sitting at home, watching a basketball game... you name it. When my family was involved everything was better. It wasn't all smooth sailing, but it was nice.

Everyone was a phone call or short drive away... no skyping, no expensive calls... and, I had text messaging again! It was just, easy. While I wasn't able to see as many friends as I wanted, due to holiday gatherings, jobs, or miles between us, I was happy to have seen as many as I did! I'm happy people made time to see me and helped me enjoy my favorite things about home. 
Super festive sweater party with Heater!
Christmas Eve Breakfast with high school friends!
Jeremy and Megan, Theresa, JP, Andy, Me
Christmas Eve with my aunt and uncle next to my grandparents' tree.
New Year's Eve with Kasie
Eating our grape gummies at midnight... :)
St. Louis, MO! Baking day with my aunt!
Mrs. Peacock with the candlestick in the billiard room: I won.
Cake pops!!!
My parents and I on my last night in Missouri.
My parents, me and my grandparents saying goodbyes!
Missing my Zoe!
Lunch with Fede, Mary & Jim (not pictured) and Dusty!
What a fun day we had talking about Spain and Jefferson City!
While I was home, I was asked an uncountable number of times, ¨Are you enjoying your time at home?¨ Of course, I gave a blanket answer of, ¨Yes, it's really nice being here,¨ and most people were OK with that. While I wanted to say all of the reasons mentioned above, I also wanted to avoid stares, as I receive enough of those in Spain for being a ¨rubia¨ (blonde!) (Which I am not.) Sometimes it's difficult to talk to people who can't relate to my life/have no interest, especially when it comes to walking on carpet...

However, life style differences aside, I want thank everyone I was able to connect with over my "three weeks in America" - Thank you for welcoming me home!

Sunday, January 8, 2012


I recently read an article entitled 10 Travel Risks Worth Taking. I think I have successfully completed travel risk #1: Travel on a Whim.

As mentioned in my Switzerland Splurge entry, Spain has many puente breaks. Last year, for the December puente, I had booked flights to London, Dublin, and Edinburgh. However, ahum. Due to massive amounts of snow and ice and an air traffic controller strike on top of that, I never made it out of Spain.

This year´s December puente was the opposite.
Where did I go?


When I told people I was going to Romania, they asked me ¨¿¿Porqueeee???¨ (why?) Then, they asked ¨¿Con quien vas?¨ (with who?) Well, the answer is simple. After I arrived back from Switzerland, the only thing on my mind was figuring out where to spend the next puente. Enter Kristen. Kristen and I met each other last year when we both worked in Extremadura. (Kristen stlil works there!) We talked often but never had coinciding weekends to travel juntas. But, being in year two of the teaching program, we´ve been to many places. We´ve done all the touristy places.... Italy, France, Germany... we needed something extraño/strange/weird.

We went to my favorite website: Skyscanner, and decided to choose the cheapest foreign country neither of us had visited. Skyscanner has a ¨cualquier lugar¨ (anywhere!) option, that checks all airports in every country on the dates you choose... it´s incredible! Options included: Portugal (check!), Spain (check!), Belgium (Kristen check!), Switzerland (check!), and in the fifth cheapest spot: ROMANIA (no checks then!)!

So, we booked tickets the same day: traveling on a whim.

The only thing I thought I knew about Romania was that that is where gypsies are from... in Spain, there is a group of people who are said to be Romanian gypsies. However, I find that isn´t so true. A fellow teacher explained to me that these ¨gypsies¨ have been in Spain for a very long time and are really Spanish. However, they probably came from Romania a while ago in search for a better life. So, with this stereotypical image of the people in my head, we went to Romania only to find out that the people are nothing like this at all. And. Where do gypsies who live in Romania come from? ¨India¨ -- Tom, our Romania guide. So, gypsies are not just Romanian people. It is a way to refer to the people in your country who live very different lifestyles, travelers... while they are poorer people and live off what they can find/steal/get for free, Romania as a whole is nothing like this. This is the most important thing Romania taught me: stereotypes aren´t true; they are just stereotypes. 
Gypsy villages: views from the car
Gypsy living.
I have a sweet Romanian friend, Lety, living in El Gordo/Navalmoral who taught me how to say hello in Romanian: Buna! So, when we were boarding the flight in Madrid to go to our Romanian adventure, an older Romanian woman came up to me and started speaking Romanian.... I was very confused; when I didn´t respond, it made her confused too, as she had thought I was Romanian. Her daughter translated to Spanish: ¨She said you are a pretty girl.¨ So, right there, Romania and I became good friends.

I said ¨buna!¨ for the first time on the trip to this wonderful woman and it felt so natural (a really great ice breaker that we used throughout the trip - when we entered tiny train cars, to our waiters, and most of all to win over the taxi drivers!!). When I went to the bathroom on the plane, this lady reached out to me and was smiling from ear to ear to say buna to me! And, when we were transported from the plane to the airport terminal, she waved to us on the bus -- we had made a good impression on her, just as she had on us.

Well, this wonderful Romanian hospitality didn´t last long. Enter the bus.

We bought tickets for the city bus to go to Bucharest´s city center, where we were to spend the day site-seeing before going to Brasov for the night. Each ticket is good for 2 trips, so we bought 2 tickets (We met another auxiliar on the plane, Katie, who went with us to the center!) We validated the card as soon as we entered the bus, just as the nice lady in the ticket booth taught us. We heard all the beep-ing noises and thought we were cleared. At least we thought we had....

Enter Romanian woman, dressed in a green turtle-neck, jeans, and trainers. She said to Katie, ¨Ticket?¨ So, thinking we had nothing to worry about, Katie gave this woman her ticket. The next words we heard were the beginning of a long argument that would last the remainder of our bus ride: "Not valid."

So, for the remaining 20 minutes of the ride, we argued... in Indian English: "Ticket no valid." "Yes, ticket valid." "We use machine. Valid." "No, money." "No, receipt and ticket. No money." "Money." 

I think we would have been fine, but we had given her one of our passports...which she wasn't giving back until we paid. So, when she found out we weren't paying the 150 lei fine, she lowered it to just 50 lei (10euro). Well, that was a red flag - how can you just lower a fine? She realized we weren't backing down, so she called in backup. Enter man from the back of the bus, also in normal clothes. Jokingly, I said, let's just speak in Spanish - well, he understood Spanish. He spoke perfect Spanish. So, we started arguing our points in Spanish. Again, we didn't get anywhere... so, I asked the entire bus, "Excuse me, does anyone speak English?" A woman said she did, but she didn't speak Romanian - her advice? "Get the passport!" So, we tried to take it back, and the (fake!) controller screamed at us. 

We decided to pay - but only after we got to our stop. We didn't want to take any chances of getting in a similar situation. While we knew it was a scam, we were stuck. Passports are our life - so paying any amount for its return was logical. Several women helped us afterward, trying to get our money returned, but nothing could be done. So, if you are ever traveling in Romania - and you're a blonde, don't give your passport to anyone! It's probably a scam. 

First Thoughts on the "City Center" of Bucharest
Wow. I wasn't really sure where we were, but it was an area of town I didn't want to be in for very long. "City Center" usually means the nice part of town - clean, nice buildings... but we were around nothing of the sort. We passed a church that had scary men yelling at us from scaffolding, many dogs running around in search for food, and rundown houses that would be abandoned if they were in the USA. 
City streets of Bucharest
I find this really beautiful...
We made it to the hostel, and I was extremely surprised. Doors Hostel is by far the coolest, most relaxed hostel I've ever stayed in. While we didn't have reservations there until Saturday evening, they were happy to give us a map and get us on our way. We went for a nice lunch at a famous restaurant, pointed at the menu and were surprisingly happy with all the lucky guesses. Two things about Romanian food: good and cheap! I didn't eat anything I didn't like all weekend.
Door's Hostel
Downtown Bucharest at Christmastime!
Wonderful restaurant where we had a wonderful lunch!
Random Monastery.
Romania has lots of wonderful soups... with pepper garnish!
Surprise: I picked steak and chips! Yum!
This whole meal (soup, salad, steak, chips, and cheese cake only cost 6euro!!!!!!)
Sending postcards home and eating traditional Romanian stew: Tocanita!
Kristen and I got a late train to Brasov, the next stop on our adventure. We sat in a small, private train car with 4 other people for over three hours. We attempted to speak with them... English, Espanol... but none of them spoke anything but Romanian. After the journey, we needed to find a taxi to take us to the hostel. As we stood in front of the taxis, with the drivers jumping out of their car yelling at us "taxi? taxi?" we decided to just wait. Then, we heard, "Girls, can I help you?" from a voice behind. It was a woman and her two daughters from the train. One of the daughters said to us, "My mom said you both could use some help since you don't speak Romanian. We are getting a taxi - we can get one for you all too." So, we jumped at the idea. They informed us that the first rows of taxis in public places are "gypsy taxis" and are not to be used, as their prices are higher and they will drive you around town and take all your money. We went to the second row of taxis, the girls spoke to the driver, and we were on our way. The driver was very friendly and turned his car into a disco, blaring loud, dance music until we arrived to the hostel. 
Check the taxi cab doors to see the price/km.
We got a bit scared as the taxi began sliding down the slippery hill just in front of the hostel. Again, what was the "city center" looked like a scene out of a horror film - a place you don't want to be. But, thank goodness, we had arrived to the hostel safely, quickly, and for just 10 lei (2.50euro). 
Not the type of street you want to arrive to at night. The hostel was the white house on the right..
Transylvania: 3 Castle Tour
Friday was spent visiting three casltes: Peles, Bran, and Rasnov in the middle of Transylvania - the land of Dracula!! We went with a guide, Tom, who drove us around, gave us lots of information along the way, took pictures for us, and made sure we stayed on track. He was our real life "Tomtom"! The castles were incredible. Peles was so ornate and modern for its time, complete with a central vacuum system and central heating. Bran, the setting for Dracula, was very cold and simple; its courtyard was beautiful though! Rasnov was an old fort, undergoing renovations to restore it to all its glory. 

Views of Transylvania and the Carpathian Mountains from our van!
Peles Palace was amazing!
Watch out, I'm armed! (Ok, I was excited about the snow!)
Amazing details.
Curvy roads to the next castle...
Bran - Bran Castle on the hill. (Dracula's Castle!)
View from Bran Castle
Cool circles on the windows...
Beautiful courtyard (& me!)
Or maybe a hat?
Kristen and I opted for smoked cheese. Yum!
Bye Bye Bran!
Next stop? Rasnov - the fort on the left hill.
Rasnov sunset
Kristen and I
View from Rasnov Fortress - overlooking Rasnov City below
Rasnov Fortress
When we arrived back to Brasov, we did a walking tour to learn more about Brasov. Our guide, Radish (who's real name I can't actually remember!), gave us a very interesting tour of his city. We visited the Black Church (who's name comes from a fire that burned the town long ago), old city walls, city entrances, and the white tower that had a nice view of the city. Since it was rather chilly outside, we stopped along the way for some warm drinks: vin feirt (hot wine) that is a typical winter drink! We sat around talking, sharing travel stories, hearing old Romanian legends/superstitions/traditions, and drinking free drinks that the bar owner was buying us! It was such a fun night. Since we live in Spain, where tipping is non-existent, we left a rather poor tip, but hey - at least we left one, right?
Second smallest street in Europe - Rope Street
Coolest ice skating rink I've ever seen... next to a fort and an old palace.
The music was great too.... Listen here: "Musica" by Fly Project!
Old city entrance for the Romanians during the time of Hungarian rule.
One Way. (I love being able to "read" signs!)
View from the White Tower overlooking Brasov's main square.
The girls I spent the week with - Katie, Kristen, Irene, Samantha (to my right)
and two other girls from the hostel who went on the tour with us!
Andoo's Fast Food - we got a huge meal (ordered by nice Romanian men who I asked for translation help)
for only 2 euro - chicken, rice and veggies - it was perfect!!!!!
The Last Day
Tomtom offered us an incredible offer while we were busy castle-hopping on Friday. He said he would drive us around the last day (Saturday) so we could visit two cities instead of one. So, we began our long, last day by taking the teleferico to the highest point in Brasov to overlook the city.  In the past, this point on the mountain was an old disco (said Tomtom) that caught on fire in 1559, when most of Brasov burned. Today, there is a memorial on the hill and a BRASOV Hollywood sign that is lit up at night for the whole town to see.
Beautiful Brasov
at the BRASOV sign
Our transportation!
Katie, Irene, Samantha, Teleferico opperator, Me, Kristen
We piled back into the van and we were on our way to Sighisoara and Sibiu, two beautiful towns in the middle of Transylvania. While I was tired from the night before and only wanted to shut my eyes, I couldn't! There were castles and forts on the hills nearby, old beautiful towns we were passing through, and gypsies selling anything from traditional Christmas wreathes and broomsticks to copper kettles and pots. 

Selling traditional Christmas flowers that they had to search for in special trees...
Copper, anyone?
Sometimes it was rather scary driving on the curvy streets. While Tomtom drove down the middle of the streets most times (scary!), we were moving in and out of semi-trucks, dodging cyclists, and slowing down for horse and buggies on their way back from market... carrying their new purchases of pigs and cows in their wagons. I was just happy we didn't hit anyone. When someone would cut it close and barely get back to their side of the road just before hitting us, Tomtom would say "Saturday drivers" - it would have been better to just close my eyes and sleep. If you don't believe me, Kristen has a video. Too bad you couldn't see our facial expressions on it - I'm sure they were priceless.
Avoiding horses... semi-truck on the horizon... AH!
Going to market.
A mid-evil, UNESCO World Heritage town in ancient Romanian history, welcomed us with brightly colored houses and beautiful views. Kristen and I called it "Dinosaur" before we learned to pronounce it. I wanted to take photos around every corner... these pictures don't do it justice. The colors! the streets! The chickens! The lettuce-looking plants! The towers! The houses built into the old wall! It was so pretty!!!
Dracula's house.
So peaceful!
Old = Beautiful
Tom, our guide, overlooking the city.
What if this was your house? Incredible! Built into the old city wall...
So festive!
We were only in Sibiu for a few hours, enough time to eat, visit a Christmas market, and realize getting home was going to be harder than we originally thought. We thought we could get on the 5:30pm train to Bucharest... When we asked the lady for two tickets, her response was "NO!" No? No, what? Well, we figured out that it was cancelled...and so was a second train to Brasov... the only two trains that could get us back to Bucharest in time for our flight back to Spain. We stayed calm; we went to the bus station which was next door. 

As we entered the bus station ticket office, the lights were being shut off and the workers were exiting. Seriously? This would be our luck. But, again, we stayed calm. We asked for a bus to Bucharest and they told us "11pm tonight" - well, that wouldn't work for us. We needed a bus right then and there if we were going to make our flight. We begged and asked for a bus... they said "run to that bus..." (as they pointed to a bus we could barely see named "Fany") We ran quickly, and with two minutes to spare, we boarded the bus. Finally, we were on our way to Bucharest. I was so happy we made it. We got a bit worried when we got to the "bus station" in Bucharest - as the roads to get to it made us think they were taking us to a far away place never to be seen again... but, the potholes were just to scare us, we made it safely (and an hour early!) to Bucharest. 
Christmas market before lunch.
Exotic Fanta!!!! (and a yummy pretzel.)
Upon arrival to Bucharest for our last night in Romania, we took the metro to the hostel. We met a few guys, George and Ben, in our room and decided to go out for drinks. We walked to see a Russian church (that was nearly impossible to find - and ended up being the wrong one!), we visited the second largest building in the world, only second to the Pentagon, and enjoyed walking the main streets listening to loud music as we passed bars. We had Romanian kebabs (which are better than Turkish kebabs in my opinion!) and walked around to see the Christmas lights*, which of course were still on... haha Who knew Romania had such a lively night scene! It was so inviting! However, instead of going to one of the bars, we opted for tea back at the hostel - which was a nice, relaxing way to end our Romanian adventure.
Huge. And we can't understand its sheer size from this photo!
Russian Church
Lively, Bucharest.
*We met a girl in the Brasov hostel who told us to go look at the Christmas lights upon our arrival around 11:30pm our first night (Thursday). So, around 12:30, we headed out, doubting the lights would still be on. When we came back, we spent a while speaking to the hostel worker. We told her that Spain was in crisis and so the Christmas lights are turned on for only a few hours each day. Our new Romanian friend said, "Wow, Spain is smart. When it is in a recession, it acts like it - cutting unnecessary expenses. We (Romanians) have been in crisis since '89, and we leave our lights on 24/7." Seriously, so funny! 

So, back to our last night. After tea, we slept for about 1.5 hours and went to the airport around 4am. The smallest international airport EVER. 

Not sure if you can see all the masses of people here - but note to future travelers going to Romania - you don't need to get to the airport hours ahead of schedule, about half an hour will do. Arrive early if you want to sit on the floor or use euros in their gift shop - yeah, you can't even use up your leftover lei - "only euro!" (Pretty sure this was a lie, racism at its best, since I saw the people before me use lei on the other register. Ok, yes, they were Romanian, but that's not fair... I'm still a little bitter. So, I had to use all my leftover lei at the snack machine. And, boy, did that get some stares... I bought two or three peach teas, two chicken sandwiches, pretzels, chocolate cookies... you name it, I bought it. But hey, why not bring lunch back to Spain - it was a fourth of the cost!)

As Mark Jenkins said:
“Real adventure – self-determined, self-motivated, often risky – forces you to have firsthand encounters with the world. The world the way it is, not the way you imagine it. Your body will collide with the earth and you will bear witness. This will change you. Nothing will ever again be black-and-white.”
Our adventure on a whim turned out to be one of the most interesting experiences I've ever experienced. The kindness of Romanian strangers, the beauty in the old homes and streets, the low costs of everything, overcoming language barriers, staying calm in scary situations, and the joys of new friendships. With a sense of eagerness to see and understand more places of the world and a wonderful travel companion, there is no limit to where I can go. And that excites me.