A Grand Budapest Adventure

IMG_2221.JPG

They had to tear me away from Budapest, but I am back in my little city, in my favorite cafe, with a view of the Christmas lights being set up outside. I am content to be here, but thinking back to the wonderful long weekend I spent away with a few other Fulbrighters, I am already nostalgic and dreaming about going back.

IMG_2228.JPG

Our Airbnb

We arrived on Thursday for Thanksgiving, all of us having survived various difficulties leaving Romania, and found our gorgeous airbnb apartment on the Buda side of the river. Rita, our host, welcomed us with still-warm pastries, which tasted especially good after our 7-hour train ride. We picked a restaurant on the Pest side, and enjoyed a Thanksgiving dinner toasted with delicious Hungarian wine, and three hours worth of food.Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

IMG_2016.JPG

Thanksgiving dinner

On Friday, we continued our mission to eat all the things in Hungary, starting with a cafe across the street filled with books. The food was delicious, but the atmosphere brought us back every morning we were there.

IMG_2034.JPGIMG_2215.JPG

We spent the rest of the daylight hours attempting to make up for all the food we were eating by climbing up and down the hills of the Castle District. The exercise kept us warm on a cold, but sunny, day. In addition to the stunning views, we discovered all kinds of little shops and bakeries and cafes.

15241898_10212062091094735_3417791819451464390_n.jpg

#FulbrightFunFam on Gellert Hill

Processed with VSCO with a5 preset

img_2081

Pure exhaustion

img_2084

In the evening, we soaked our sore muscles in the famous thermal baths of Budapest. The Gellert Baths were closest to our apartment, and we were stunned by the beautiful tile work and the views of the outside bath. After a long day, we couldn’t stop smiling as we let the warm water relax us under the dark and cold night air, with views of the Liberty Bridge and city lights. After a few hours, we stumbled next door to the attached restaurant, continuing our quest to eat all the things.

On Saturday, Melanie and I decided we needed to stay an extra day, and emailed Rita to ask for her advice on changing our ticket. The next thing we knew, her 87-year-old father, Matyas, approached us at our favorite cafe and had Rita explain over the phone that he would help us change our train seat reservations.

We quickly discovered that he did not speak a word of English, but did have a bit of French as well as strong German. He talked us through a neighborhood walk, took us to the metro station and showed us how to buy the kind of ticket we needed, explained the construction of the new metro line, and took us to the counter at the train station. Between the three of us and the clerk, who didn’t speak English either, we managed to complete our mission. Matyas put us back on the metro and embraced us before leaving. Later, Rita told us that even though we hadn’t been able to communicate very well, her father had enjoyed our enthusiasm and persistence, and would have coffee with us if we came back to the city. She told us a bit of his experience during World War II, and we listened to his story incredulously. Melanie and I agreed that we would love to hear more of his stories–they reminded us that history is not abstract, but personal.

img_2133

Matyas and Melanie

We spent the rest of the day on the Pest side of the river, exploring Parliament, lots of little cafes and restaurants, and St. Steven’s Basilica. But we were reminded that no matter how beautiful a place is, it is impossible to escape ugliness: we unexpectedly found monuments and reminders of Hungary’s complicity in the Holocaust, and shed tears for the Jews, the disabled, the gays, and the communists who were murdered. Especially emotional for me were the identification patches these different groups wore, displayed next to personal items such as suitcases, shoes, and a violin case.

IMG_3666.JPGimg_3689

We turned ourselves towards fun again for the evening with a girls’ night at the opera. We saw Lucia di Lammermoor, and were blown away by the beautiful voices, particularly the soprano. She gave an athletic performance, writhing and twitching on stage during her mad scene, climbing ladders, and generally astounding us while hitting perfectly clear high notes.

img_2123img_2132

On Sunday, we explored the main Christmas market, sampling Hungarian street food and mulled wine as we shopped.

img_2138Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

Since the Christmas market was near Gerbeaud (one of the top 10 chocolate shops in the world, according to some) and we were on a mission to eat everything, we stopped in around dusk to warm up and refuel.

img_2156

Dobos torte at Gerbeaud

Finally, we sat down for the evening at St. Steven’s Basilica for a string concert. Although not quite as overwhelming as the opera, it was lovely music. I was particularly happy to hear Massenet’s Thaïs Méditation, which makes me think of my sister.img_3713

img_3740

With Melanie atop St. Steven’s Basilica.

With our final day, Melanie and I explored the Castle District, visiting the stunningly painted Matthias Church, and indulging in two lunches and a visit to a bookstore for some Hungarian literature in translation.

img_3782

At Matthias Church

img_3839

Matthias Church

img_2182

Homemade chicken soup with healing properties

img_2184

Chocolate cake and rosehip sorbet

Processed with VSCO with hb2 preset

A magical bookstore

We made it back to Cluj, Romania the following afternoon (with a 5am boarding time), both utterly exhausted. Stories of our adventures in Budapest keep running through my head, and even though I didn’t sleep 5 consecutive hours our entire trip, every moment was worth it. The food, history, and company were totally captivating. We are already trying to plan our returns.

img_2193

Melanie braved train station falafel and a Coke Zero for breakfast

img_2195

I stuck with a grocery store iced coffee

Advertisements

Winter in Romania

Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

It snowed! Last Sunday I woke to this beautiful view and promptly realized I had nothing to eat, so I trekked out to the grocery store and back, slipping and sliding the whole way. Wooster snow must have been good training, because I made it back without falling and all of my eggs intact.

img_1928

Lest you think I’ve been getting too comfortable, considering my success with groceries and all, worry not! I’ve still been flailing around, the most basic tasks are still tripping me up. Some fun stories:

When I came home to Targu-Mures from Cluj last week, I went to seven (SEVEN.) windows at the bus station trying to buy a ticket before someone finally told me that you buy the ticket from the driver. This came after I decided taking the bus would be easier than taking the train–it turned out there was no direct train between the two cities, contrary to what the Internet told me, and I ended up sitting at a train station in the middle of nowhere (no cafe, no convenience store, no wifi) for three hours between trains. At least the bus only took a bit over two hours and dropped me off at my street.

img_1934

I’ve also been getting my paperwork together for my temporary residency permit, which has led me to offices all around town. Yesterday I woke up ready and motivated to face the bureaucracy of the immigration office, but life had other ideas. Instead, my heater stopped working. I called my landlady, who sent her husband, who puttered away and explained the problem to me several times in Hungarian. I still don’t know what was wrong, but by the time he fixed it the immigration office had closed for the day. Since it was only open today during my teaching hours, I’ll try again on Monday. (Please keep your fingers crossed!)

img_1935

Today I had plans to give my presentation skills students a short midterm evaluation and talk them through my vision for their final presentations–the end of the semester snuck up on me, and with the holidays, we only have a handful of meetings left. But, it’s a Friday, and the temperatures have warmed up a bit, and most of them have already presented, so I only had about 12 out of 36 show up at the start of class, and a few more showed up halfway through. The laid-back atmosphere was actually nice and fit with what I’ve learned from Romania: expect the unexpected and roll with it.

I capped off my morning with a trip to the bank. Since I’m not allowed to have an ATM card yet for some unknown reason, I have to go to a teller with my account information and passport to get money, which shouldn’t take too long. Except today, when my passport crashed the network at the bank, making my quick trip into a 40-minute one.

Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

But all in all, I am well. I walked back home with a quick stop for cookies and the skies cleared up and I have a lot to look forward to here.

Stronger Together

It has been a long week, and I feel as though a lifetime has passed between my writing about getting settled in Targu-Mures last week, and my return to this city last night.

I left for Cluj on Sunday, the city where the majority of my fellow Fulbrighters live. Our mood was generally happy: we found each other in restaurants and cafes and bars, went to the theatre, I found a medical history museum.

Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

Medical history museum in Cluj

Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

The view from a secret cafe

Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

The theatre on a Monday night

Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

On Tuesday night at 8:30, I arrived in Bucharest for an election night party hosted by the US Embassy at the Hard Rock Cafe. I traded gossip with and teased the other Fulbrighters while we danced and drank and ate. Live entertainment kept our minds off of the election. “I feel good,” a friend told me.

img_1881

Mihai showed up!

img_1896

Romanian boy band

img_1895

One of the most surreal moments of my life

The momentum of the party died a bit when an academic Skyped in to explain the electoral college. I sat down for the first time all night and switched my whiskey out for coffee. I chastised my friend for obsessively refreshing election results too early. We waited.

The mood grew more and more somber. The Romanian guests had mostly left. The staff of the embassy watched, dumbfounded, as state after state was called. I colored Montana red. “Smile!” someone shouted. I couldn’t.

At 5am, I had to leave to get on a plane back to Cluj. I reached for my phone every few minutes and then started to feel dizzy. At the security checkpoint, an airport staff member noticed my party swag and asked, “Clinton or Trump?” I pointed to my Hillary pin and explained that we were hoping she could still pull through. I stopped checking my phone and nausea overwhelmed me. “I don’t think I can get on this plane,” I said. I made it, in the end.

wxwq7099

Beginning of the night v. morning. Yikes.

I didn’t look at the news again until I had reached Melanie’s apartment and taken a shower. And my heart broke again and again and again. A young woman I consider my sister is worried she won’t be able to move to the US as she had planned because she’s muslim. Close friends worry they won’t be able to afford medication for serious conditions. Here in Romania, friends are concerned about the economy and our proximity to Russia. In short: people I love are seriously worried about their lives and livelihoods.

Over the course of the day, I thought I wouldn’t come home, that I would stay in Europe after my grant ends in July. I thought about the absurdity of the world: I had been awake for 36+ hours, watching a celebration of democracy devolve into a scramble to find a way to preserve any good we have accomplished as a nation before January. Tuesday night I danced and drank and smiled. Wednesday morning I cried.

Melanie offered me a bed for the night, and I accepted it–to be with friends and Americans, I thought, was important. And I’m glad I stayed, because even as we realized disheartening truths about our country and cried and became delirious from lack of sleep, we found comfort in each other as we talked about the good we are capable of doing.

I am lucky to be here in Romania with intelligent and compassionate and worldly people. Even as I approached hour 40 without sleep, positivity started to creep in again. We found good food, and our questions turned from “What has happened?” to “What can we do?” And even though my heart still breaks, spending time with these people brings me hope.

Maybe I’ll come home in July and maybe I won’t, but I do know that I will fight for love and education and rights in the United States. I am so grateful to my friends who kept me strong through election night, and to my friends in the United States fighting the good fight. I am still processing, but I know that hate will not win.

One Month in Romania

It’s hard to believe that it has been one month. Some days I catch myself telling someone that I was just in Helsinki “like, a week ago” (I left over 4 weeks ago). At the same time, I have a pretty good sense of Targu-Mures now, and my apartment is starting to feel like home. I’m in a happy period: I am still discovering gems of the city (like the cafe I’m writing from, which offered a spicy cinnamon latte as today’s special), but I’m not a stranger here anymore. I’ve taught my fourth week of classes, and my students seem to have warmed to my American style. My Presentation Skills students gave their first presentations today, and they did me proud.

The other day, I went to a home goods store to pick up a few things for my apartment (spare sheets, cookware, a second pillow–I lead a life of luxury). I was frustrated because I had just found out that a Romanian class I had signed up for that I thought was once a week actually meets every day, meaning I would miss half of the classes due to my teaching schedule, and wouldn’t be able to take the course after all. But along came a friendly face: a security guard walked over and held open a bag for me, then walked it to the door while I paid. He asked me a question, and I caught the word for car. I shook my head, “nu,” I don’t have a car. I tried to show him my muscles to indicate I was strong and would carry my purchases. He looked shocked and asked another question I didn’t quite catch. “Taxi?” he said, pointing to his phone. Da, da! In the two minutes it took for the taxi to arrive, he showed me pictures of his daughter and told what I’m sure were interesting stories, and made sure the taxi driver knew exactly where to take me before he left.

This sums up my Romanian experience so far. I’m confused a lot of the time. I understand a word or two per sentence, if I’m lucky. But I find when I get most frustrated, someone is extra nice to me, or I stumble upon a beautiful view I hadn’t found before, or I get good feedback from a class. I’m happy to have reached this point of understanding. My days are mostly good, people are mostly friendly, and if I ever get fed up, I know something good is right around the corner.

Spooky Halloween Weekend

Now that we are halfway through the week, reminiscing about the weekend feels appropriate.

img_1720

A few other Fulbrighters and I travelled to Bran, to the castle that might have inspired Bram Stoker’s depiction of Dracula’s castle, and has used that rumor to fuel spooky Halloween fun. It made for excellent bonding (I’m proud to be a member of the Fulbright Fun Family) and good stories.

img_1684

My b&b in Bran had friendly sheep, chickens, and kittens. Pretty sure I had this sheep’s cheese for breakfast.

I arrived in Bran after a full Friday. I taught my morning presentation skills class, missed a bus to Brasov, made friends with a German who also hadn’t been as aggressive as he needed to be to get on the bus, found another bus, realized I hadn’t eaten all day, took a rather expensive taxi to Bran, and finally met up with a group at the Transylvania Inn for a dinner of local meats and cheeses with polenta.

img_1674

So cozy!

I was glad to meet up with other Fulbrighters. Being the only one in Targu-Mures, it’s hard not to feel a little isolated when dealing with the frustrations of getting settled in a new country. Swapping stories by the fire with a glass of wine was wonderfully comforting.

img_1691

img_1697

Brasserie in Brasov

img_3520

Brasov

The next day, I visited Brasov with a few others. We wandered around some shops, peeked inside of the Black Church, and had a yummy lunch at a brasserie looking out on the main square. We found Halloween masks and drove back to Bran in time to wander the markets there and change for the party that night.

img_1716

Some of the Fulbright fam

img_1717img_1718img_1724

Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

Vlad himself!!

The night started with a long wait in line, made easier to tolerate with beer, warm street food, and good company. We finally made it to the castle for a tour including secret passageways, costumed actors, and, finally, blood-red wine.

img_1737

Bran castle on the night of the party

The castle was festively lit, and we could hear the music from the party throughout. A few of us headed there to dance and have themed cocktails and dance some more.

img_3548

Back to Brasov

The next day, on little sleep, I headed back to Brasov with another Fulbright friend. We explored some more, went to the brasserie for a late lunch, and drank coffee to try to fight the tiredness from the day before, but gave up in the late afternoon. We attempted to improve our Romanian by watching TV instead.

All around, a fun and successful weekend! I made it to Bran an Brasov, and back to Targu-Mures, which would have made the weekend a success in itself, but I also made friends, had some delicious Romanian food, and got festive for Halloween. What more could I ask for?

The Difference a Week Can Make

I am writing this from my new apartment (!)

After a week of many leads, many fallings-through, and much frustration, I found a place within my budget, 15 minutes on foot from school, and got an official lease. I thought this day would never come.

I still feel far from saying that Targu-Mures feels like home, but unpacking my suitcases has been a huge help.

My landlady brought me slippers and homemade honey with my lease while her husband puttered around fixing leaks and making sure I would have heat through the winter. Although he spoke only three words of English (“hello”, and “come see”), he spoke to me kindly and smiled rather than becoming frustrated with the language barrier.

There is a festival in Targu-Mures this weekend, and as I walked to the bank with my papers, I stopped to smell the flowers (and the sausages, and the mulled wines, and and and). I watched artisans paint and carve and taste their creations. I thought about where I was a week ago: tense and nervous, restless without a home and unsure about my place here. And I thought about all of the things that have happened since: new friends invited me out, called me at all hours to tell me about apartment leads they had, and gave me teaching advice. One new friend followed an apartment lead for days, and in the meantime made sure I had food and the Romanian cure for the cold I had come down with–țuică. That apartment didn’t work out, but c’est la vie.

Last night, before my move this afternoon, I couldn’t sleep at all. But I got up this morning and I taught four hours of presentation skills (well, more like three) and packed up all of my stuff and went through a Romanian lease and when I sat down and it was somehow evening already, I realized how much of a difference a week can make.

Now excuse me while I eat an entire pizza in my new home.

Week One

img_3510

City Center

I’ve been in Targu-Mures for a week now.

Usually I settle in to a new place pretty quickly, but it has been a challenge for me to figure out my place here so far.

Firstly, I still don’t have an apartment. Although I’ll only be here five months, I’ve been longing for a place to come home to at the end of the day–my own kitchen, my own bed, a place to sit and relax. The university accommodations I’m staying in are very nice, close to school and the city center, but knowing I can’t stay here much longer adds another layer of pressure.

img_1586

My school

Secondly, I’m always exhausted. I remember this feeling from when I was 17 and studying abroad in France. Trying to keep up with my lessons in a foreign language, I would return home every night and collapse shortly after dinner, barely able to pry my eyes open when my alarm went off in the morning. This time, I’m sure the immense culture shock is taking its toll, along with the language barrier.

img_1590

The Medieval Citadel right outside of my school

Add in AT&T refusing to unlock my phone, trying to open a bank account, navigating a new city, and teaching courses to 70 (mostly) Romanian students with varying levels of English fluency. I don’t even want to think about applying for my long stay permit in a few weeks.

But with all of the stress, I am also taking in the beauty of this new place and taking time to be thankful for the lovely people who are helping to make my transition smoother.

img_1596

The park on a gloomy day

My fellow Fulbrighters have been a source of information and support. The professors in my department have also been very supportive: one ended our meeting with a warm kiss on the cheek, another, in a crisp accent, wished me “the best of British luck.” A librarian who lived for some time in Portland, Oregon helped me print course materials at 7:30 in the morning, and my faculty contact has helped me with nearly everything else.

img_1599

If I could say anything has gone better than expected, it’s teaching. While nearly everything else around me seems to be a source of chaos and stress, my students showed up to class (I was told they wouldn’t), participated (I was told they would be reluctant), and said some encouraging things in the self-evaluations I had them write. The university has given me a lot of freedom in designing my classes, and I think they’ll go well.

img_1594

My classroom

I’m optimistic about a lot of things in the following week. Each day has gotten a little bit easier than the last. I can find my way to school without a map, I know where to find coffee and groceries, and I’m getting a feel for the town–more than I could say last week. It’s tough going, but I’ll get there.

Ta-da! I’m here!

Dear friends and family,

I’m safe and have arrived in Targu-Mures, my home for the following semester.

The last week has been a whirlwind, so I’ll start with the main bullet points:

  • Spent a week in Helsinki. Managed two sauna trips with my AFS friend Sara, lots of coffee, and visits to museums.
  • Took a day trip to Tallinn, Estonia, with Sara and new friends Rachel and Shasha.
  • Woke up at 3:30 am in order to make my 6am flight to Bucharest, via Berlin.
  • Fulbright orientation in Bucharest: so many cool people, so much information. Reception dinner: so much food.
  • Fulbright adventure to Peles and Pelisor castles. Another meal.
  • Drive to Targu-Mures with my faculty contact, Corina.

And here I am. Exhausted. Happy. Excited. Still without Romanian SIM card. (Soon, friends. The freedom of cellular data will be mine!)

I want to write about everything that has happened in the past week, but honestly, it’s all gone by so quickly my mind hasn’t caught up yet. I’ve been so lucky to be surrounded by friends, old and new, to keep me sane.

The next adventures include:

  • Finding an apartment
  • Teaching (starting Wednesday!)
  • Getting my residency permit
  • Romanian lessons (starting in November)
  • And countless more I can’t imagine

I’ll check in again soon–lots is happening, and I’m excited to share.

The Big Leap

I’m leaving on Tuesday.

This moment has felt so far away all summer, and now it’s a few days away.

First, I am stopping in Helsinki to see a study abroad friend. After a week in Finland, I’ll spend a whirlwind day in Bucharest, go on a field trip with the other Fulbrighters, and then my faculty contact will drive me to my temporary accommodations at the university.

As a planner, I have been anticipating this moment for a long time: the moment when all of my plans come together and it doesn’t seem inconceivable that everything will go smoothly.

The worrier in me is still having a ball, though. I won’t have an apartment until I arrive and find one. My clothes are shoved haphazardly into the two suitcases I’m bringing and every few minutes I think about something I’m sure to forget (at least 50% of the time I think it will be my passport). I’ve written up syllabi for my two fall classes, but leave them open on my computer so I can click over to them and second-guess myself.

Still, the reassurances of the very friendly people I have been in contact with have helped me to sleep easy at night. It’s hard to believe that the end of September has arrived already–but I’m happy it’s time to stop talking about doing the thing and do the thing!