Vienna

I could say a lot about Vienna and the things we got to do during the visit. However, since it has already been a week since I’ve returned (and I’ve been posting a lot about my travels), I’m going to settle for letting my photos do the talking. I am so glad I visited this city (although its not cheap!) The history, the culture, and the variety of activities all made this a thoroughly enjoyable trip.

Bucharest and Snagov

One week of travel down, another week to go. This week included a few days spent in Bucharest before traveling to Vienna (to be discussed in a later blog post). One thing I love about Bucharest is how I am always able to find something new to do when I am there. This time, I invested in a little culture, a little alcohol, and a little shopping. Specifically, the National Museum of Art in Romania, a tuica and palinca tasting (traditional Romanian spirits), and a fun trip to Piata Obor, a massive market full of fresh veggies, fruits, and meats.

A moment that stood out to me in the art museum was a small room off to the side labeled “In Memoriam Vacaresti.” Inside was simple room with pieces of art from the walls of a monastery. This monastery had a significant and long history and was full of beautiful artwork and treasures. During Ceausescu’s rule, he had it torn down. The few pieces in that room were all that is left of this important piece of history. It served as a sobering reminder of the destruction of communism.

While all of those experiences were brand new to me, I also got to introduce others to old experiences in Bucharest that I enjoy. The park near the National Theatre of Bucharest was one of the first places I visited when I arrived in Romania and also a place I return to when people come to visit me. And of course, enjoying traditional Romanian food is something I continue to do throughout my time in Romania and something I introduce all of my visitors to.

Because we had 3 days in Bucharest, we decided to embark on a day trip outside the city limits. I had wanted to go see Snagov Monastery for a while (the burial spot of Vlad the Impaler) so we decided to stop by. We discovered a charming little island monastery with ponies and five (FIVE) friendly dogs all begging for pats (we obliged). The monastery was beautiful inside and had a lot of interesting information about Vlad. While waiting for the bus back to Bucharest, I also discovered three adorable minions made out of tires!

By the time I arrive in Arad, I will have been traveling and living out of a backpack for 17 days. While I am certainly looking forward to settling back into a routine, I have loved my time on the road. I feel adventurous, independent, and incredibly proud of myself for being able to tackle all of the challenges that arise while traveling in foreign countries.

Chisinau

This blog is quickly becoming a travel blog (and likely will continue that way for a bit) but I am just so excited about all the wonderful places I have the opportunity to explore through my Fulbright. Last Saturday I spent the day in Chisinau with my mother. I knew I needed to stop by Chisinau before leaving Suceava since they were so close and I really wish I had more time in the city.

While the city certainly has its fair share of unattractive square, concrete buildings, I was pleasantly surprised by the number of buildings with beautiful a architecture. I found it an enjoyable city to walk through, taking in the bustle of activity, the variety of shops, and the places of historic importance. We wandered around the vibrant Piata Centrala, full of vendors selling everything from essential oils to cooking pans to grains, fruits, and meats. I was especially in awe of the stands that sold pomegranates with a few pieces of fruit cut open to display the gems inside, sparkling in the light. They really looked like gemstones.

I also absolutely loved visiting the National Art Museum of Moldova. The exterior and interior were both gorgeous and I was impressed by the diversity and quantity of the exhibits inside. The staff working there were also incredibly friendly and kind. For dinner, my mother and I stopped at a cute french cafe near the art museum for some quiche and Moldovan wine. I wish I had the opportunity to try more wine while I was there, as the one I tried was quite delicious.

I am very glad I got the chance to visit Chisinau, even if just briefly. It truly is an underrated city and one well-worth returning too if I get the chance.

Iasi

Being away from family for an extended period of time is hard and I am so blessed and grateful that my mother and brother were able to come visit me this week. We had a wonderful time touring Bucharest and taking a day trip to Ploiesti, where we visited a charming clock museum. I was so caught up in enjoying the time with them I unfortunately didn’t take any photos, but suffice it to say, I enjoyed every second. We especially enjoyed a few activities in Bucharest including stopping at Nominoe, a cafe that served traditional french food from the region of Brittany. The owner enthusiastically explained to us the history of the food we were eating and we enjoyed every bite. I was also impressed by our visit to the National History Museum of Bucharest which had a powerful exhibit on communism and the Revolution. It was well-designed, detailed, and compelling.

My brother only stayed the weekend and when he left, my mother and I took the train up to Suceava. We spent a few days where she helped me finalize packing, met my friends, and then we took a trip out into the Bucovina countryside to see the Bucovina Monastery. She was as impressed as I was the first time I saw them. Throughout this winter the weather had been surprisingly warm. It took a visit from my mother (when I promised mild weather!) for it to finally drop to below freezing temperatures. At least we got to see the snowy mountain and countryside!

We departed Suceava and made our way to Iasi, a city I had been meaning to visit for a long time had never found the time. I wish I had gone sooner, as the city was full of life, beautiful buildings, and interesting things to see and do. We met up with a fellow Fulbrighter who did a wonderful job as tour guide.

The first thing we did in Iasi was visit the Georghe Assachi Library. We saw countless photos online of the library and it was even better in person. My favorite part was the three big bowls we discovered full of colorful pieces of paper. On the paper were different quotes about books and the three bowls held slips translated in three different languages (one being English). I pulled the quote “If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need” by Marcus Tullius Cicero.

After a delicious lunch at a Gault-Millau restaurant, we wandered through the city looking at the beautiful churches and buildings, including Catedrala Mitropolitana, Palatul Culturii (with a statue of Stefan Cel Mare), and Mănăstirea Trei Ierarhi. In the evening, we made our way to the bus station to take the bus from Iasi to Chisinau, ready for our next adventure.

Newspaper and TV

On Sunday the newspaper I spoke with published the article about me (The article is here, for viewing pleasure). While it was exciting to see the positive response from people in Romania, the best thing that resulted from the article was I received an invitation from the principal of a local high school to come speak to the students at the school. I spoke to about 100 students as well as a local television station, sharing my experience in Romania, a little bit about the Fulbright program, and answering questions they had. I expected the event to take around half an hour but I ended up spending almost two hours with the students. They asked thoughtful, mature, and complex questions that impressed and challenged me. While I wish I had more time to spend in Suceava getting to experience things like this, I am so grateful that the newspaper article opened up this opportunity.

Ukraine

I had a busy and exciting last week and this upcoming week should be more of the same so, if all goes well, I will have a lot to write about coming soon. This past week I decided to take advantage of my close proximity to Ukraine and go on a quick skiing trip in Ukraine. One thing I love about being in Romania is the simplicity of travel. A quick search online, a $15 bus ticket, and I was all set to explore Ukraine.

After a painless border crossing, I peered out the window as the countryside flew past, full of farm houses, stray dogs and cats, and countless gorgeous churches. The number (and beauty) of the churches really awed me. Every single one we drove past was picturesque and I’m sure worth visiting inside as well. I arrived at the city of Chernivsti an hour earlier than scheduled which enabled me to take an earlier bus to Migovo ski resort. I am so glad the timing worked out because even with the earlier trip, finding the resort and my lodging in the pitch black was rather stressful! I spent around 20 minutes wandering around in the dark fruitlessly trying to read the Ukrainian signs before a kind staff member helped me out.

I had arranged to stay at the hostel of the ski resort and when I arrived, I found I had only one other companion in the hostel. This was an older man who spoke barely any English but showed me how to take a second mattress from an empty bed as well as additional blankets to stay warm. As I was unpacking, he came over and made an eating gesture with his hands before pouring me a big bowl of polenta with pork and mushrooms. The next day he also fed me a hearty breakfast (including honey from his bees) and spent a few trips going down the ski slopes with me giving me instructions (mostly in Ukrainian with some snow diagrams to help me understand). I also met a sweet Ukrainian girl who became my partner in riding up the ski-lift. We chatted about sports, school, and family until I had to leave.

The older gentlemen helped me pack up and then led me to the bus back to Chernivsti, making sure I got on the right bus and everything was settled. Touched by the kindness I experienced, I arrived at my hostel in Chernivsti with a full heart and excited for my upcoming day of sightseeing.

I woke up bright and early (before the sunrise, a possible first for me!) to go on a quick walk before breakfast at the hostel. I got to see some more beautiful churches very close to my hostel. After breakfast I wandered along the city to Chernivsti University. The University was completely empty of people and I walked in peace, staring in awe at the breathtaking architecture. This was one of the most beautiful Universities I had ever seen!

My favorite part about traveling alone is the giddy excitement I feel when walking down the streets of a strange city full of possibilities. I love being able to do whatever I want and stop whenever something interests me (including stopping to take a selfie in front a wall of colorful birds). I ended the day enjoying some coffee and charging my phone at a charming little shop before eating traditional Ukrainian Borscht.

Before my trip, I have to admit I was a little anxious. I was going without phone service, knowledge of the language, or anyone else to help me in case things went wrong. But I’m so glad I tackled this challenge. It was only a few short days but Ukraine was beautiful and welcoming. I was touched by the friendliness of the people and I look forward to going back!

“Last” Days

This past week, classes ended and I began the slow and sad process of saying goodbye to people, packing up, and getting ready to leave for Arad. Because of this, the week had quite a few “last” times.

On Tuesday, I had the last meeting of my English Conversation Club. This semester has been so enjoyable getting to know my three students, helping their English, and chatting with them about a variety of subjects ranging from sports to movies to politics to family and friends. We held our last meeting at a small cafe near my apartment and had a wonderful time letting the conversation flow from one topic to another. They have improved so much in their conversational skills over the semester and I am going to miss our meetings.

This weekend, I went on my last trip out into the Bucovina countryside. This was a highly-anticipated trip that had been in the works for some time and I was so excited to get to finally explore the forest and go off-roading. The experience was everything I had imagined. I traveled through the beautiful (and not open to tourists) national forest, visited feeding locations for bears, checked some motion-activated cameras, spotted countless wild boar tracks, and ate lunch outside, roasting delicious sausage and toasting bread by the fire. It was a truly a unique and unforgettable experience. Near the end of the trip we also spotted a white Stoat darting across the road. It was so cute and tiny, and I learned that they are a very rare animal to spot!

This Monday was another last day, this time with my public speaking course. Each student student worked closely with me over the second half of the semester developing a topic, writing a speech, learning that speech, and practicing their presentational skills. Monday night was the culmination of all their hard work and I could not be more proud of how they did. One thing I loved about the course was how every student had such a unique and different topic idea for their speech, ranging from 3D printing to books vs. movies to study abroad. It was such a diverse display and I learned a lot! These students have meant so much to me over the semester and I am so sad to leave them.

This week, the love and support that I’ve felt from my students and colleagues have been overwhelming. I am so humbled and grateful for the opportunity to be here. My students over this week have expressed to me that I have had an impact on their lives and their hearts. The feeling is mutual. These people have become not just students, but friends.

To keep from ending on an emotional note, here’s a photo of me with a snowman: