Sunday, August 21, 2011

Romania Week - Day Four

Impressions Of Romania

I didn't fully know what to expect from Romania. We had been told various things: it's cheap, people are very rude, it's super safe, people are polite, things are expensive, it's unsafe, etc.
But the whole reason we travel is to see these things for ourselves right??

Iasi's (pronounced Yash) Palace of Culture
In my experience there was a bit of all that. The first revelation: some things are cheap and some things are expensive. One GBP equals five Romanian lei so I kept panicking when I saw such high numbers on things! (I blame the euro for making me expect standardization!) Things like food and drinks in stores, as well as transport by bus, taxi or train, were much less expensive than their British counterparts, whereas there was a huge jump up for restaurants, cafes and bars. In a lot of the places we went, drinks and food were about equal (slightly less maybe) to what you'd pay here.

Central square in Cluj-Napoca, beautiful town

Every big town or city had a huge new mall monstrosity (monstrous only in its similarity with American malls, since they were quite pleasant really). Our first day some of our students took us to have lunch at the mall food court where they excitedly pointed out KFC and McDonalds. I suppose they expected 'English' students (Come on guys, for the last time, we live in SCOTLAND! It is a different country) to prefer western crap food over local awesome food, and that makes me so sad. Anyone who knows me knows I won't touch Mcdonalds in Scotland or Germany so I was borderline horrified at the suggestion of getting some my second full day in Romania. But luckily found an awesome traditional fast food place instead. Which brings me to my impressions of traditional food. See Diagram 1 for this.

Most of what I ate I adored. Lots of meats with rich sauces, lots of rice, lots of cream, lots of cheesey and breaded things. But in a climate where you're already sweating through the soles of your feet at 9 am and you're a teacher and therefore required to dress quite conservatively rather than your go-to shorts and tank top, maybe you don't want a huge plate of polenta, bacon and cheese. Just maybe. Ahh, polenta. Mamaliga. This dish is everywhere and everyone seems to love it. I wish I could say I was a fan, tried really hard to become one. But alas. To each his own. I totally adored sarmale, these things that look like sausages but are actually porkmeat, rice, tomatoes and spices rolled up in cabbage leaves. Sooooooo yummy... I wish readers could see my face right now just thinking about those things. Or the small puddle of drool on my shirt.

Something delicious and carby.

We learned that you can't just assume the same concepts exist everywhere. We wanted a prize for our talent show winners so decided to go to this cool restaurant/pub some students had taken us to, to buy gift certificates. We put on our big girl pants and walked inside, ready to ask if it was possible. After our clear explanation, the waiter gave us first blank stares, and then frustration and shouts of "VOUCHERS FOR WHICH??? WHAT FOOD YOU WANT?? WHEN YOU COME EATING HERE?" 20 minutes later, after the most embarrassing conversation of my life, during which time we had to call our Romanian host to help us explain the situation to the waiter, while he shouted insults about us back to the roomful of his scary steroid buddies, we walked away with an 8pm reservation for the following day and two prepaid burgers and pizzas.

Bran (aka Dracula's) Castle

The concept of gift certificates does not exist in Romania. It's things like this that I find fascinating about experiencing other cultures. An idea that seems so normal and so 'duh!' to one person, can perplex another simply because they're not accustomed to it.

I wish I didn't look demented in this otherwise awesome photo of traditional handmade clothes and an antique stove.

The reverse: we were advised that the best way to get across into Ukraine was simply to hitch a ride with strangers at the border. To me this seemed like a death trap, but it was our safety-conscious host who suggested it! Apparently hitching in and out of one of the tightest borders out of and into the EU is considered normal and safe. And this, my friends, is exactly what we did. That story is coming soon.

Stray pups EVERYWHERE! :) / :(

I was also expecting more of a lively party scene, especially since I was turning 21 the day after we arrived! But it seems like the cool Romanian kids hang out in pubs and cafes with terraces
rather than nightclubs. At least that's what we noticed. From what hosts told us, clubs aren't pleasant places and you don't go there if you're classy. Waaaaayyyy different from Scotland. Nonetheless we had an amazing time getting to know the nightlife.

Our second weekend, in the resort town of Piatra-Neamt.

My actual 21st birthday was spent on a nine-hour train ride through really beautiful and rural areas where you could catch glimpses of gypsy families camping in fields. Very surreal. Also, the words 'nine-hour train ride' no longer phase me like they used to. Funny how that happens.

The train journey begins.

There was also a strange mix of friendly and unfriendly. We clearly stuck out as foreigners and encountered a lot of service people annoyed at our lack of custom and language understanding. We tried, oh did we try, but there's only so much viciously searching through the menu and "... uh, doi... nu, patru, apa plata... va rog..." that can occur before you piss off the busy waitress. So a lot of strangers on the street or in restaurants were rude, or just brisk with us.

Picnic in the mountains

But on the other hand, the hospitality of host families and teachers working at the schools was overwhelming. Just super nice people who obviously wanted to give us the best possible impression of Romania and make our time fantastic. Which it was! Of course one month is by far not enough time to be able to say you 'know' a country, but what I do know about Romania is that it's a complex, fascinating and beautiful country and i thank it for giving me such a cool experience!

Daily commute.

This post is way more wordy and less photo-ey than I normally go for but I've had lots of people asking for anecdotes and general impressions and the ole' blog seemed like the best way. It is after all called Pearlswirl Journals and it acts like my own personal record that I can read back on whenever I want. Well done if you made it this far. And if you skipped all the stuff in the middle and only read this last paragraph (Mary and Katelyn), then the congratulations don't apply to you. Now go back and read the whole thing. :)



Corinnea said...

Your wordy posts are funny and interesting. Too bad Katelyn and Mary won't know that....

Kelly's Korner said...

Bad Corinnea and Jenny! Picking on Mary and Katelyn... :)

Jenny, happy late birthday! The trip sounds scary, and fun, and hot... Interested in the hitch hiking story, and glad you're still around to tell about it! :)

Jennifer said...

oh snap! Was what came to my mind when you said certain people will not have read every thing:)

Happy late birthday! Romania looks interesting and fun.

You have to know that I am "one of those people" who searches out Mcdonalds if the local food looks dicey (meaning has vegetables in it). And I am horrified when others search out the local food;) When you don't eat veggies or fruits or seafood, you kind of screw yourself with options. So while I do search out the easy crap food I am wishing for a good grilled chicken breast, rice or fries and corn on the cob but who but Americans serves this?? I thought I found something simular in London but holy crap was that the blandest food ever!:)

longest comment ever?

Darla Dear said...

Mmmm that food sounds good! Although I'm hungry right now, so everything I see looks delicious.

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