This website is anti-Romanian. There are absolutely no photos of it in their library. But just what would appear: a blocked footpath on account of the parked cars? A couple of fat blokes in their underwear standing together in a field (but not too close, that would be weird...)? A pack of rabid dogs? A gypsy kid crawling about in the dirt? Maybe I'll stick with the Amsterdam photo....
Once again I am lying to you. I'm not in Sibiu, though I was this morning. For those who don't know: Sibiu was one of the European Cultural Capitals of 2006. What this means in practical terms is that they've scrubbed up the main square and shopping drag for regular European sensibilities - the end result was very Italian. As far as the culture goes...well, they had an extremely large yoghurt section in the supermarket.
No, I'm joking, of course. In fact, while I was there a cultural festival, of sorts, was underway. Day 1 was goth music. There's nothing quite so ridiculous (or slimming) as wearing black, leather, gowns, boots and theatrical make-up in mid-30 temperatures. Day 2 was heavy metal. I almost feel cheated that I can come to the opposite side of the planet and see people conforming to the exact same sub-culture stereotypes as I would at home. If, as a result, I was to become reflective on my Romanian travel experience (which is rapidly drawing to a close), on one hand I would say: "hurry up and get over here". On the other: "Stay the hell away for another 5 years".
It's inconceivable that the place isn't going to massively change in the next couple of years. Even now, after only a year on the EU money tap, the more "appealing" of destinations have all been spruced up for the tourists. And every roadworks, or bridge being built, or hole being dug has a sign next to it with an incredibly accurate costing (to the cent!) with the European Union logo. This'll bring a lot of positive changes regarding infrastructure and tourist experience, but it's also going to undoubtedly become more expensive, and more of a "diluted" Romania.
The Romanian people are also going to change. Last blog I (only half tongue-in-cheek) painted them as self-centred, thoughtless people. A little bit of a generalisation perhaps, but almost without fail the Romanians who buck this description are the ones who've travelled themselves, or who work in an industry where they're exposed a lot to travellers. So, in 5 years time, when you come to a restaurant and ask for a table for 4, you're not going to be stared at sullenly for several moments, wonder if you stepped in something filthy and have to follow the haughty waitress ("I guess we're meant to be following her...") as if you were the greatest imposition Earth. And, as comfortable and convenient as it may be to be cheerily welcomed to a restaurant, there's something slightly un-Romanian about it...
And that's the last philosophical thought in this blog. Instead, in the tradition of embarrassing myself (e.g. the public airing of my accidental golden shower experience), I bring to you the following story from my time in sunny Brasov: my "seduction" of their finest waitress.
The hostel I was staying at in town unusually didn't have a common room, and no-one was in my dorm on the first night at the time, so I hit the town for a bite to eat on my own. Ordinarily, this involves me wandering over every square inch of pavement, past every single restaurant, coming up with any possible excuse not to go inside. This time instead, I was struck by a vision of beauty: Brasov's most stunning waitress, and I was drawn to her restaurant as a moth to a flame.
I was in Brasov for 6 nights. I went to her Pizza Roma for 3 of those. The remaining nights, other hostel-stayers dragged me elsewhere - where, undoubtedly, I told them about how much we were missing out on at Pizza Roma.
By second visit, everyone could see I was smitten, and were jibing me mercilessly over my shyness.
Third visit I was surprised: I was walking by with some other hostellers, and she (the beautiful waitress!) saw me and waved! :O
Her name was Andreea. She served us and during the evening, referred to bits and pieces of conversation that we'd made over the previous meals. When I decided I'd have dessert, I took her recommendation for a banana split: which she went and made especially for me. Whilst she was doing so, my Swiss dining companions helped me cook up a little plan.
"This might sound like a bit of a strange question", I warned. "But, when I go home to Australia, I'll be telling everyone about how beautiful the women are in Romania and I'm not sure they'll believe me. So, as proof, I was wondering if I could have my photo taken with the most beautiful woman in Romania: you"
Well, I bet you didn't think I had it in me...
She naturally agreed and - part two of the plan - I got her email address so I could send a copy to her.
I asked what time she finished work, and if she was interested in meeting up: "I finish at 12, or 1 if there are still customers". "Oh... probably all the other places shut around then too". "No, there are still some that are open". "Oh!". "But...I am very tired after finishing work, and would not enjoy it"
So we left it at that. My last night in Brasov. With me ruing my slowness in overcoming my shyness. And....I can almost believe that she was genuine if not for two things. One: she's just darn gorgeous. Really, c'mon. It's me. Two: the death glare she gave one of the other waitresses when she went to pick up her bill - with her tip!
She's a nice girl anyway. Everyone thought so, as much as they would've liked to have found otherwise. So if you're ever in Brasov, go to Pizza Roma (not the one in Strada Republica) and give Andreea some money so she can emigrate to Australia.
Anyway, from Brasov I went to Sighiasoara for a couple of nights (count the number of ways that I spell it...). On a recommendation, and obviously because I was a little lovesick (and not thinking straight), I booked into a "party hostel". This hostel was so party, on it's propaganda it had something along the lines of: "You'll always remember the parties here: unless you black out drinking Europe's cheapest alcohol!"
I spent the day dodging (rain)showers and checking the world heritage listed citadel - the only one still inhabited in south-eastern Europe apparently. It's also where Vlad Tepes - the dude that Dracula is sort of based on - was born. So in addition to the World Heritage towers, fortifications and whatnot, you could buy yourself some tasteful vampire fangs.
The first night was not so much party. But I met some cool people. Along with these cool people (shout out to the classy Rachel) I went on a death march to some of the nearby fortified churches. It was hot, we only had a vague idea of where we were going, and it was a long, long way. It was so long we even did some hitch-hiking. I hate hitch-hiking. I honestly do not have enough faith and trust in people to do it comfortably and - while hitching is almost part of the culture here, and I couldn't think of anywhere safer to possibly do it - I didn't enjoy it one bit. Oh well, I guess the part where we rode in a horse and cart was pretty cool. And there was the gripping half-hour long conversation with the driver's wife where we discovered that her name was Anna, and that the capital of Germany is Berlin. The language section of my guidebook is s*** for chitchat.
To say we went a little off the beaten track seems a bit of understatement. Villagers wrote songs about our visit I'm sure: "The foreigners came in 2008. In 2008 the foreigners came. They bought some ice cream and drinks, we wished they'd bought more, they came in 2008, and then they were gone...". Nature called at a charming little pub later in the day. Out the back was a charming little hole in the ground. There was no _way_ you can talk it up into an "Enviro-toilet" - it was just a hole in the floorboards...
Anyway, it was an experience. I reached my hitch-hiking threshold by the time we were in sight of a train station, so I ran away from the rest of the group who were cool about hitching all the way back to civilisation. Leading of course to the new village classic: "Only one foreigner came in 2008. In 2008 only one foreigner came. He bought a Sprite and cherry liquer, the fate of the other foreigners, we just didn't know...."
That night was a bit of party.... So was much of the next morning...
Eventually I jumped aboard a train to Sibiu, despite thoughts of running back to Brasov and the beautiful Andreea ;)
It may have been a good idea to do so, as I started a bit of a bad run in Sibiu. Firstly, when I booked the hostel I asked for a bed in the smaller dorm, if it was available. The hostel wrote back, told me it wasn't and asked if the larger one (by only one person!) was OK. In between me responding again, they gave my bed away. Which they felt pretty terrible about, and actually sorted me out in another place. The first hostel looked cool, the one I ended up staying at, was pretty sucky. The room had only been finished that day, and I was bit isolated from the rest of the place. The bathrooms were weird too: unisex, but with two showers in the one cubicle. I don't know what was supposed to happen there, but most people just steered clear of them. I was too hot and sweaty to give a s***, and hoped that whomever walked in on me was a sexy lady (with some sort of optical condition).
The town was pretty cool: as I said above, quite Italian in some respects. I was most looking forward to using it as a base to discover the Transfagarasan Road and Curtea de Arges - both considered highlights of the country by every guidebook I'd ever read about the place. Impossible to do. Either I had to hire a car (not bloody likely! I'd seen this lot drive!) or hope a larger tour group could take on a stray. While the tourist info guy tried his best to help me out: no dice. I was amazed that there wasn't a minibus doing tours as numbers were available, blanketting the half dozen hostels or so in town with pamphlets. Like I said, it's supposed to be pretty incredible.
And since bad news rarely happens by itself: Etihad have changed their flight schedule due to runway maintenance in Abu Dhabi. So, instead of a comfortable 8 hours bumming around Brussels, between Blue Air's flight from Bucharest and Etihad's; I'm now not leaving 'til the next morning. And not at a sensible time either! BEFORE the trains to the airport start running. BEFORE the hotel's shuttle services start running. So now I either have to get a hotel and a taxi in or, which I'm leaning towards at the moment, hanging around Brussels until the last train to the airport, and then finding a comfy chair for 4-5 hours or so.
It also means that I have 7 hours less to discover the wonders of Abu Dhabi on my one-night stopover. From my research, the wonders of Abu Dhabi look like they'll be much harder to find than that!
So essentially, Etihad have cost me money and sleep. They suck. Who needs a safe runway anyway....?
Back home in a couple of days. Not sure whether I'm happy about it or not at this stage.
Hope all are well, have fun, good luck,