Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Week 8.5 - Goodbye Romania Via Brasov & Bucharest

Hello Everybody!
Well I just wanted to share the final few days of my time in Romania, as it was both eventful and so typical of my experiences there. The rest of my trip home, will be for me to have to myself, though I can assure those of you that I will be seeing soon enough, there are one or two stories I will be wanting to share with you over a pint in the pub!

So after eventually leaving my Romanian home town of Tarnaveni, an entire day late, I took the bus to Brasov, a beautiful mountain town/city in Transylvania. I was there for professional reasons as much as anything, visiting a really resourceful & creative mental health organisation by the name of SCUT. My first task was finding somewhere to stay, and with the weather being pretty cold and very wet, I took the word of a pleasantly smiling woman at the bus station and headed to the 'new' hostel she was working for. On arriving at the last bus stop, and piling out into the rain, I saw the big red gate with number 41 painted on the side. The building was indeed new, new in the sense that it wasn't completely finished (see picture below).
The new PVC windows still had their stickers on, and the roof looked decidedly suspicious! But still, I was wet and cold and had learned not to be put off by first impressions here in Romania. I rang the bell, and two minutes later a cleaning lady was talking at me in rapid Romanian, but she was not opening the gate! I was really wet now, and just as I was due to leave, the owner (Gabriel) opened the gate and ushered me inside. He told me to 'just hang on' for two minutes, then proceeded to discuss something with the cleaning lady in front of me for 10 minutes! When he finally got round to 'checking me in' he simply showed me some pictures of the town, took no details from me at all, just the money for the room 35 lei = 7 pounds, and showed me up to a rather empty ten bedded room. The showers and bathrooms were very clean ( no wonder when no one was staying there), and my room looked good enough. Gabriel was friendly enough, he was very happy that I tried to speak Romanian,and faithfully promised to correct any mistakes I made when speaking... When finally left alone to survey the room I realised that there was no curtain on the window, leaving me fully exposed to the passengers at the bus stop, and giving a romantic glare from the street light directly outside the window! Perhaps most disturbing was that there appeared to be no door to the room, in fact on closer inspection, there were no doors on any of the rooms! Still Gabriel did seem friendly enough! During my stay Gabriel proved my initial suspicions totally wrong and seemed to feel he could behave like an uncle to me. He would ruffle my hair when I would speak Romanian to him (something I really don't like), he would give me free Romanian palinka, and he even wiped the sugar off my face after I'd been eating a local breaded delicacy, and didn't realise I still had sugar everywhere. His most generous gesture of all was to drive me and what I thought to be the only other guest ( a French guy, I'd been out with a few times for a beer or two), all the way to Bucharest from Brasov (over 3 hours through the mountains). So if you are going to visit Brasov, and don't mind staying somewhere without doors or curtains, I would recommend this hostel 'Guesthouse Gabriel' to anyone, who doesn't mind being open to excessive friendliness, and sleeping in a part built hostel!

The rest of my time in Brasov was pretty much spent walking around town, sightseeing and eating. I met two Chinese girls in a Chinese restaurant, who were working in London, so I joined them as we were the only diners in the entire place, I also tried going to the grandiose looking National Theatre, but failed to realise that the ridiculously cheap price was because the performance was an amateur group (I think they were amateur) and was in a studio situated in the back entrance of the theatre's rear car park!!! The one thing I really wanted to do most was go up the mountain in Brasov by cable car, but the weather was totally against me. I thought 'sod it' and went up to see the following views!

Ok to Bucharest, as I mentioned my trip to Bucharest from Brasov was courtesy of my wonderful hostel owner who drove for over three hours for a small donation to his petrol costs! I then unfortunately spent the next 2 hours, getting the wrong bus, (though I was misinformed by another passenger in my defence), and ending up almost an hour's walk from the city centre. After stopping some helpful strangers I boarded a packed tram, almost knocking 3 old ladies down in one easy spin, and getting the underground, (which was surprisingly easy to use) until I found the main train station. I was hoping to go off searching for a modern hostel, but gave in and called 'Villa 11'. It's in the lonely planet guidebook as a 'friendly family run hostel'. Hmm.. it was certainly family run, with the 16 year old son sent out on his bike to pick me up at the station. It was a very short walk and he was chatty enough, and I was soon at the hostel, which seemed to be filled with older more alternative travellers, and there seemed to be a large percentage of more older Americans. I was taken to a lovely little room for three, with it's own toilet and shower and introduced to my roommate, a 70+ year old French man, with a remarkably long beard.. he wouldn't have looked out of place in a homeless shelter.. I know that sounds bad, but I'm trying to describe the scene that met me. He seemed pleasant enough telling me that him and his wife had been here many years before and he was now clearly alone, I didn't have the heart to ask if she'd passed away. I didn't see much of him after that first meeting, he seemed to come in at quite a late hour and sleep in until long after I had got up, had breakfast and a shower and left for the day. I wonder.....

So to the highlights of Bucharest, well there is one thing above all others that stands out, - Nicolae Ceaucescu's presidential palace. Through out the day this palace imposes itself as the must see monument in this city. Given that I have been living for 9 months in total in a small town where horse and carts are seen daily, people grow vegetables to sell at market, not out of fun, but from necessity, seeing the grandiose building which was only began to be constructed in 1983 shows everything that was wrong with Ceaucescu's decision making processes. He created (well partially created, it still remains 90% complete) one of the most impressive buildings of all time. This time with no exaggeration I tell you that with prisoners, student's and 'volunteers' the presidential palace has one grand room after another, never over complicated with too many paintings or ornaments, this building astounds you with it's vastness, high ceilings, woven carpets, thousands of chandeliers, and it's simplicity! It's a modern marvel, but in a country with so many crippling financial and economical troubles, the fact that this building even exists leaves you feeling quite sick that you are enjoying the spectacle of grandness! The fact that the government is still working on completing the place suggests that Romanian politicians are still somewhat out of touch with their people.

Bucharest was affectionately known as the 'little Paris', some stunning parks, it's smaller scaled down version of the 'Arc de Triomphe', and long stretched out boulevard's you could indeed be mistaken for feeling quite Parisian. However, there are parts of the city that feel as equally stolen from the rest of the world. Several times I felt as though I was in another city, London, Paris strangely enough Saigon (Ho Chi Minh city). never really found Bucharest's own character, but did find lots of little winding streets, historic buildings and bustling crowds. The fashion seemed to comprise solely of two looks for women, tight jeans with high boots, or a more causal trainer wearing crowd, still with tight fitting jeans. Men's fashion seemed to be the typical central European look.

MY final excursion in Bucharest was an attempt to go on the spur of the moment to watch the famous Romanian football team, Steau Bucharest, (who are doing pretty badly right now). I took a crazy long taxi ride, but in doing so found the as yet undiscovered 'honest taxi driver'. I have heard nothing but scathing reports of taxi drivers here charging excessive amounts of money, but this guy whizzed me about the back streets like the dukes of hazard, and got me nearby the stadium. I was met by a sea of armed police, who initially refused me entry to the surrounding streets. Managing to get by them I was gutted to be told you could not purchase tickets on the day, so I had to walk along way home! But still, this was as close as I got to the stadium!As Dan Spitaru (a really bad Romanian singer- known to all volunteers) would say. 'Noapte Buna Bucharest, Noapte buna' It means good night Bucharest, good night!
Thanks for reading the blog!
Regards from Romania

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Week 7 - The Long Road Home!

Well folks, this is the last blog from my time here in Tarnaveni, Transylvania. I was due to get the 0830 bus to Brasov this morning, but that as never really going to happen after planning my leaving party for last night. So here I sit after a fun night out with my adopted family, (the Hadnagys), and my co volunteers, writing this blog with both excitement and sadness. First I must show you some pictures from last night, at Crama 'pub' and the infamous 'Infinity' disco!

It's been an eventful week as always, with trips to the TV company, to pay bills, soaking rain, snow in October, and reunions with old friends, so please sit comfortably, this could take a while, but I do need to get the 1400 bus, and it is now 11:47 so maybe it won't be so long!
Monday night started the process of getting TV hooked up here, my good friend Giany and his sister and her boyfriend were kind enough to take me to the nearby city to buy a TV from a big mall. This process in itself was quite bizarre, as before I could even get my hands on anything I was required to give my name to staff for their computer (services here don't seem capable of doing anything unless you give them some personal details (remember I needed a passport o buy a hoover last time I was here!). So after giving my name I was able to actually pick a TV, then I had to get it checked, to ensure it worked, so the TV was packed and unpacked, before I was then able to go and pay for it. I headed for the desk, where several documents were waiting for me, with my incorrectly spelt name on them. Several of these documents were stamped after I paid the cash, then I was ushered to desk number two. At desk number two (just 5 metres away from desk 1 ) I handed in one of the documents, where it was again stamped and taken, before I was given a new warranty document. But wait... the process was not yet complete, with my new document, I was ushered to desk 3! (just 2 metres - opposite from desk 2). This was the security desk, where I handed in my remaining documents, got another stamp of approval and was finally allowed to leave! On leaving the store with my 'degree certificate' in the field of Electrical purchasing, we bought much needed Ice cream! On Monday lunch time I again enlisted the help of my Romanian friend to not only guide me through the now tropical monsoon that flooded the town, and soaked me from head to toe, but also to go into the TV station to get the TV signal switched back on at the house. This process was fortunately far more simple, and after a quick exchange of cash, and a visit the same evening from the TV man, we had a working TV! See me and Giany in his famous Romanian DACIA car below...

Tuesday night was taken up with another visit to Targu-Mures, but this time it was to meet with my former college fro the hospital Lia. I had randomly bumped into her at the wine festival last weekend, and enjoyed a pleasant two hours with her before dashing back to catch the last bus home. I mention this because on leaving the pub it was bloody cold, but more shockingly it was snowing! Snowing in October, is unusual I am told for here... The next day I proceeded to watch lots of TV news footage of cars sliding all over the singular Romanian roads, also caught out by this freaky weather event! (There is only one motorway in the whole country and it's not that big!)

The rest of the week has been spent with friends catching up and I was given a very touching gift form my friend's son, - a scarf of Dinamo Bucharest football club, the year they won the league championship (1990 I think). So thank you Vlad for this gift! I hope you enjoy the Liverpool shirt I have left for you! And yes Carl, I know about the freak goal that sent Liverpool to another defeat at Sunderland! Catosrophie as they would say here!.. I just read about it!

I won't go on about last night leaving party, but I must mention my Friday night. I went with my adopted sister's Sari & Judith to a Hungarian class 'prom'. It was not anything like any prom/ball I have been to. It was situated in a building/tent on the outskirts of town, in the freezing cold! The night consisted of some kind of talent show, kids doing sketches of teachers, and a very funny mock class of gypsies. There was a fair bit of impressive gypsy dancing too! In between all this there were maybe 10 couples who had to do various tasks, answering random questions, sing a song, dance whilst holding a candle, and not letting the candle go out. After these varying embarrassing tasks, embarrassing to me at least, they duly elected a king and queen.. they got the king selection right, but were way off choosing a rather inconspicuous girl to be queen... Still, after a brief emptying of the hall, we returned to the now converted tent, to the disco... and danced the night away. However no one had quite expected the cold weather, so the disco initially consisted of a line of people, most wearing coats and scarfs (me included), in an almost straight line in the centre of the tent, standing and shivering under the heaters! I guess you could call it line dancing! The tent, soon hotted up as did the dancing! See pictures below!

So my round up of the past 7 weeks. Top three places visited.... 1)oh it has to be the weekend in Turda because of the randomness of the entire trip, 2) the wacky salt mines of Praid with bouncy castles and table tennis tables, and 3) The Sighisoara film festival.

Top three random moments must include: 1) the visit to evangelical church service in Turda... 2) being stranded in Mica (small village) at sunset after getting off the bus to go to the toilet, and 3) going to the class 9 or 11 talent show / prom this week... just brilliantly random!
I really am saddened to be leaving today, I hope you all have enjoyed the tales from Transylvania and I'll add a couple more entries on this of my 2 week + journey home. Thanks to everyone here for making this experience all it has been!
oh and I guess I should show some things we have been doing at the hospital with the patients! (see below!)

Regards from Romania

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Week 6 - The Pursuit of Happiness...

... was not only the name of a book I read here in Transylvania the first time I was here, but is a theme that has been churning over in my head recently. I also read a book called the 'Geography of Bliss' which also had an interesting theme... finding the world's 'happiest' places, food for thought!
As this blog is certainly not a book review, I'll return to more relevant matters, though I will give just one more review... It's the review of the idiot sat in front of me right now! He is clearly using either skype or some similar programme to talk with a friend, using a web camera and microphone. I have had to endure over 30 minutes of him 'attempting' to sing, dance (whilst sitting down), and show various picutres of women on his phone, to the person at the other end of the line, through the web camera. Now I know I am quite English in my thinking, but surely, unless this is his one and only ever 'X-Factor' audition, and therefore his only chance for a better life, via the net, then there really is no excuse for such behaviour in public!

The thought of starting a journey home, through the cities of Brasov and Bucharest, Warsaw, Berlin, Hamburg and London is exciting without question, though the idea is tinged with sadness as this journey signals my departure from Tarnaveni, and the hospital. Seven more days just does not seem enough time for me to do all the things I want to do, and I have found myself starting to find fault with the Romanian way of life. For example I have spent long periods of time enjoying the lack of planning and free thinking of the people here, though I have begun to get frustrated with the fact that should I want to make a specific plan, especially with time running out, things don't happen or no one will stick to arrangements. This is not a new sensation for me, I have often found myself considering the perceived negative aspects of life shortly before I am due to leave, I think it may well be a kind of defence mechanism to ensure I feel ready to depart. Excuse the very reflective tone of this week's blog, but this is every bit a part of this kind of travelling than the funny events that randomly happen each week.

The theme of the week has been change. Change in the volunteer team and therefore the house, change with hospital management, and changes within the mebers of the Hadnagy family, as Csilla and Joseph, have swapped with Judith and Szilard & Judith (with baby). The change in the volunteer team is certainly a positive one, as Me and Ali have been joined by Victoria. Victoria is full of life, and settled easily into life here after just a few days. We headed off to Cluj on Wednesday to meet Victoria off the plane, and were soon on a 2.5 hour bus journey home. Victoria has been recovering from a cold but this didn't phase here from having a go at speaking with the patients and learning basic words from day one. The dynamics within the team have definately changed too, as you'd expect, and during a fun weekend trip to Targu-Mures, (and the annual wine festival), topics of conversation included, word-association games, love, illness, & personal quirks! Quite the ice breakers! I was also fortunate enough to meet a former colleague (Lia) from the hospital at the wine festival who I will be catching up with on Tuesday night. Pictures from the trip to Targu-Mures and the wine festival are below.
The changes in the Hadnagy family led to another trip to the local disco 'Infinity', with Judith and Sari last night, which ended a late night, late for me anyway ending at 0300! I look forward to having a beer with Szilard and Judith, who were so welcoming to me last time by inviting me to their wedding after knowing them for just two rounds of beer!

Just one more note for the week, and no it's not to comment upon why Rio Ferdinand should not be wearing an England shirt. I received a text today from a friend in Vietnam, asking if I was free to chat. I headed off to the internet cafe and 20 mintues later I was beginning an hour long conversation with my good friend Phuong on skype. I love technology which lets me have a face to face converation with someone so many thousands of miles away. Just the idea that the world is small enough to let any two people, (who are sat at computuers) to communicate and laugh as though they were sat next to each other in a pub, is just fantastic! Ok, so it sounds like I may be going a little crazy mentioning something that may seem so mundane to you, but for just one moment the thought that I was sat in a tiny town in Transylvania, having a conversation with a friend in a bustling Vietnamese city, reminded me how weird and unexpected life can be sometimes!

Oh and for those of you wondering what the picture at the start of this week's blog, it's a rich gypsy house just outside of Turda!

Ok, thanks for reading, and drop me an email, remember, life is short and the world is small!
Regards from Romania

Monday, 5 October 2009

Week 5 - Life's simple pleasures, Old friends, & When the Circus came to town!

Hello Everybody,
(for some unknown reason my spell-check does not work on this computer! Apologies for errors now!)
Well there is no other reason for the delayed blog report, other than I have been enjoying the simple pleasures in life this week, and it's been every bit as pleasurable as my recent roaming adventures. I decided that after several weekend trips I needed to stay in here in Tarnaveni this weekend and enjoy life's simple pleasures. On my weekend agenda, was shopping, house cleaning, and looming in the back-ground the possibility of going to a visiting Circus, aptly named Circus Barcelona - more of that later. I have often talked of the amazingly friendly, people here in Romania, and certainly my neighbours sit top of that category. Take this week as an example, Tuesday night I headed out to watch one of Liverpool's 2-0 losses, (which is a very traumatising experience for me), with my good friend Giany. This was muchly appreciated as Giany is not such a big football fan. Wednesday night I went to my neighbour Sari's home, where I spent a couple of hours talking with her and her mum, getting something to drink and relaxing in a lovely homely setting. Thursday night, I headed to another neighbour's house just to pop in and say hello! After helping one of the kids (Noami, 14) with her English homework I stayed to watch the football on tv with Deli and her boyfriend Emanuel. Now on both these occasions I had simply turned up and walked in the door without planning the visits! To many of you reading this, this might be a normal occurance for you, but I really cannot remember the last time I randomly turned up at a friend's house without any warning, and just walked in the door.. O k I live in Manchester (UK) so people ALWAYS LOCK their doors! But hey it's a fantastic feeling of community here!

Now many of you might know by now that I like taking pictures of sunsets, and I don't just mean sunsets on nice beaches, but just everyday sunsets, so here are some recent Transylvanian sunsets that I want to share with you!

Ok so by the time Saturday rolled around I was ready for a serious session of cleaning! After cleaning up more mouse poo from the shelves two weeks ago, than I want to even try and describe, I set about the kicthen and bathroom, in preparation for the new volunteer's arrival on Wednesday. All cleaning was completed pretty quickly, though our mop seems to have been 'stolen' - we can't find it anyway! I set off to town to find a mop, and ran into my friend Alex and her son David... (pictured), David is six or five, and he mentioned the circus, so I thought 'oh perfect' Taking David would be the perfect excuse to go there, without looking like a seriously suspicious 30 year old, surrounded by crowds of young children! Especially as when you don't really speak the language you can seem to inadvertantly try and make conversation with hand gestures.. I though this would not be the best thing to be doing on my own in a Circus. The circus, named 'Circus Barcelona', had absoultely no resemblence to my memory of Barcelona. Firstly, no one spoke Spanish, secondly, I don't remember seeing any snakes or camels there, and thirdly the people who were on 'exhibition ' around Barcelona, were tanned, toned and pretty good looking, - something I can not apply to the company of 5 circus performers. Their rather 'average appearance' did not stop them from wearing revealing clothing, (revealing more wobbly flesh than anything else), and they were certainly lacking any 'gusto/showmanship' in their performance. Indeed I think it was fair to say that not one 'performer' actually performed with any form of charisma. You could have just imagined these acts being performed in their bedrooms, infront of a small mirror, (with the exception of the camel and snakes!) Still, there was certainly an element of entertainment about the show, with seriously large snakes and a small crocodile being taken around the audience of very small children, and one thirty year old! (where was the health and safety officer I hear you scream!). The snakes and crocodile part of the show was 'performed' by a kid of about 15, dressed, and introduced as Indianna Jones, though clearly the circus 'researcher' seemed to have forgotten that Indianna Jones hated, no had a phobia of snakes... here he carried them around as you can see in the picture below...A rather large oversight I thought! The other acts, included an acrobat, who stood on ever increasing amounts of rounded household objects (no expense spared) to perform balancing acts. The lady who had sold me popcorn, was soon transformed to the exotic dancer... carrying scorpians arouns in her hand, and the girl selling raffle tickets was almost naked whilst hoola hooping several hoops around her rounded figure. She wasn't so bad, but I thought her ample belly was unfairly aiding the hoops staying up in the air! More circus pictures below.

After the circus I headed into town to watch the Bolton vs Tottenham game. Midway through the game I received a text from one of my neighbours here in Romania, who was now living in Geramny. The text said, ok, we'll be home in two hours, you want to meet for a drink? In true Romanian style, almost FOUR hours later we were out drinking until close to five in the morning! The culprits were Csilla & Joseph, plus friends. See below.

My Sunday was effectivley a non starter, as I was too tired, and feeling rather sick. This was before Liverpool's second defeat of the week, which made me feel worse. I had just eaten, when another text message arrived inviting me for lunch at the neighbours. Ok so despite having just eaten a plateful of pasta at home, I couldn't refuse such an invitation, as Mama Hadnagy's food is never to be passed up. I joined the family dinner with a total of 7 diners for the first sitting, and another seven for the second sitting! They even gave me Enlgish Breakfast tea afterwards! Simple pleasures! - That's all I have to say.
Ok so just one more paragrapgh. I was going to write a little more about my expereince at the hospital last week, as it's been pretty tough for me and Ali. There has been an increasing number of agitated, and quite frankly, seriously ill patients on the wards. It's the closest I have come during this stay to being smacked by a very poorly and angry, old man, who has been getting steadily more agitated. Me and Ali (co -volunteer) have witnessed violence between patients, agressive behaviour towards ourselves, and had to deal more emotionally charged behaviour of patients relating to their various illnesses. All this definately can take it out of you which does take it toll. We frequently have to deny patient's requests for money, help to go home from the hospital, and access to objects that are simply not permitted for the patients. I think the last few weeks of working in this environment have definately started to effect me more recently, perhaps because I am leaving in two weeks, and inevitably now think about the things that can't be achieved here, instead of what can be achieved. Still, working in this enviroment continues to demonstrate that even the smallest changes in people's lives can be of great benefit, simply having a safe, secure and supportive environment enables the patient's to escape from the institutional life for a short time each week.

Oh just one more final thing I promise. I wrote an email last time from Romania about the search for decent public toilets in bars. Here is the toilet that greeted me in a local bar here (an old man's pub).. so you can see what I mean!
Regards from Romania